The city cried out for help.
[Transverse City was the bastard offspring of Chicago and Detroit, a
sprawling trans-spatial super highway with a twelve-gauge load of miles
between the mega-levels of bad road that rocketed into the sky like the
launch of the Alchemax advertisement satellite back in ’91. The
megacorp thought that a satellite beaming product placement ads straight
into peoples’ brains from outer space would make them some money.
The citizens’ broken bodies littered the fragmented infrastructure,
painting a grim picture of a madman’s genocidal tendencies.
[The biz suits and the megacorps used to rule here, too. First it was
Alchemax…then D/Monix…Doom…and now? Now everyone is pissing in
their pants, bleeding in the gutters from massive head wounds, crackling
forth with any shockin’ riotous act that could possibly be conceived.
Nobody is in control now, everything is legal again…free will is more
than just a figment of television past and Ethernet dreams. The city is
Children and the homeless scattered like rats at the sound of the
engine. The legend was true; the hollow face painted on the walls of
broken buildings was real. The halo of righteous allegiances was there
to help them, to save them, to give them back everything they had lost
in the fall of the City. The street gangs of toxic zombies and sewer
line waste paused in their gutting of small animals at the sound, their
hearts dropping into the pits of their stomachs. They knew what was
[The city may be ours. Hell, we fought hard enough for it. There’s
one question, though…who in their right mind would want a place like
The steel and rubber sole of the industrial strength, theft-deterrent
boot crushed the cracked pavement under an obscenely heavy foot. The
Ford Velociraptor 900 eased to the ground as the propulsion unit powered
off, allowing the vehicle’s owner the chance to abandon it in favor of
walking. The people in the broken hovels of unrest and dirty penance
each came out of the woodwork, one by one by one. “It’s him,” one
remarked. “The Rider,” another gasped.
[They look at me as if I’m their savior, as if I can lead them to
something better. Not my biz, I’m afraid.]
Zero Cochrane scanned the growing crowd with digital eyes. They had
taken to calling him the Ghost Rider, an archival agent of retribution
that prowled the back roads of twentieth century America. The robotic
body with the skull surrounded by holographic flame had probably helped
with that conclusion. The warbot’s sensors made him aware of every
tiny movement in the area, a bad section of anywhere straight in the
middle of the first level of Transverse City. In other words…Hell.
[These people are crying for help, but not the kind I can give. There’s
only one thing I can give them.]
“Skull Face?” a young girl asked upon approach. “My mommy, she
won’t wake up. The rocks hit her in the head. Please wake her up for
The Ghost Rider looked down at the young girl, cybernetic appendages
bulging with anger and stress.
[What can I give these people?]
“You know, once upon a time I was the greatest hacker in the
Kylie Gagarin sighed in complacency at one of the few standing
buildings in the City, a watering hole called the Bar Code. She’d
surveyed the crumbling remains of D/Monix with her own eyes, the
building having been destroyed by the Ghost Rider on his way out of
town. The information lockdown by the press in Chicago had kept the
outside world from knowing the fate of her home, the other megacorps
ecstatic at D/Monix’s fall. The big prodigal overlord of trans-atlantic
road warfare had gone the way of the dinosaurs…extinction, with
“Lately, though, I thought I’d lost my touch. Like I was slowly
becoming obsolete, while the new skeltered generation of hotwire
dominators took over my world view.”
Taking a drink of her Nuclear Sundance, the tickling sensation in her
throat grew more noticeable. This was her third drink, yet she was still
stone cold sober. One NS could knock a spud on his ass. Three should
have killed her.
“That was before the Neurotics Wizard gave me the newest in digital
sunshine…the Slaveboy Symphonic System 9011! Now I can surf data with
the best of ‘em, and all the babes in the sliverways know my name!
Just dial up the NW line and ask for a credit extension…and tell ‘em
Tsunami sent you!”
Kyle clinked the empty glass against the bar, signaling to the robot
waiter that she needed a refill. “Fill it to the top, C-Gram. Turn
that shit off the tube while you’re at it. Sick to death of hacker
The machine form spun its appendages in various motions, only having
been patched together for a short
time. A newborn once again, rebuilt after having been destroyed by Doom’s
agents during his takeover of the country. The Bar Code’s owner had
reactivated the robot promptly, knowing that the best way to get over a
tragedy was to drown the sorrows in drink. Only bar in town, where
everybody knows your name…then tries to kill you and steal your data
“Shockin’ wasteland now, C,” Kylie muttered as the television
screens flickered at a random pace between channels, “we’re livin’
in full ghetto preliminaries; feel free to run the hamster wheel.”
[Vengeance. Easy to commit to, harder to go through with.]
“The men, Skull Face. They did something to Mommy.”
[My life’s been one, long, burning scream since the Ghostworks made
me what I am today. They saved my life, while at the same time
condemning me to a non-existence of artificial intelligence. Ran on
autopilot for so long, I don’t even know the first place to start
The three men jumped and ran, leaving the bloody and butchered woman
lying in the rubble. Her head was caved in due to the rocks that the men
had used to subdue her. The pants she wore were ripped to shreds,
panties pulled apart at the crotch area so as to allow them easier
access. The Ghost Rider studied the woman’s body, picking up fibrous
details that would allow him to track the perpetrators into the ground.
The first man stopped his flight, turning to produce an ancient PK
[The Pillar Kaman 1130 millimeter laser sighted revolver was a big
deal back in the 40’s, until the manufacturer realized how shockin’
obsolete they were. Nosebleed violators of the ordinance law of ’57,
the PK can still be found on the black market. Owned a few myself, back
in the meat days. Now, the son of a glitch won’t even dent my chrome.]
The flash of the bullet exploding from the pistol’s muzzle lit up
the darkened roadway, streaking a golden flame trail through the air.
The Ghost Rider held his ground as the bullet flamed across his metallic
frame, barely singeing the chassis. The little girl gasped as the warbot’s
eyes blazed red, a thin laser beam igniting the air on the way to its
target. The man screamed in pain as the beam burned a hole straight
through his body, exiting out his back in a thin expulsion of red.
“The…the other two got away,” one of the downrampers explained,
their eyes transfixed on the smoldering corpse of the gunman.
“S’ok,” the Ghost Rider said, “Got their DNA strands burned
into ROM. I’ll find them, when they last shockin’ expect it.”
“But…my mommy?” the little girl questioned as she stared at her
mother’s body. Tearful eyes locked with the red sensor ports of the
Rider’s, questioning the world and everything in it with that single
gaze. The tears streamed like a river after her hero shook his head “no”.
“Listen up!” Zero shouted to everyone around him. “The corp’s
fallen. The biz suits aren’t around anymore. It’s a free for all
down here, ESPECIALLY down here. Watch your backs, or this,” he
pointed to the woman’s body, “will happen to every shockin’ last
one of you.”
“Thank you,” the mass of skunge workers expressed, some even
attempting to lay hands upon the being they felt could save them. Their
protector. Their savior.
“Don’t thank me;” Zero answered as he mounted his bike, “I’m
not here to help you. I don’t give two shocks about any of you. Vid?”
With that final statement, the living urban legend gunned the thruster
and exploded away in a gust of wind and fury.
“You know, most people such as myself would really get off on all
the carnage around here. Not me though, I think this sucks.”
“Because I didn’t get to do any of it myself.”
Salvador Sangiacomo lit up a cigarette as he studied the woman in
front of him. Fires burned on the horizon of level seven, billowing
clouds of smoke into the murky air. His own cigarette smoke just added
to the haze.
“Such a serious man,” the woman stated as she relaxed against the
cracked wall. Thirty stories up, and still the two watched the fires.
They were coming closer, Salvador could tell by the smell.
“You can taste ash in the air from the fires,” he stated. Turning
toward his companion, he noticed her black bodysuit rippling in the
crimson dawn of the outside world. Another drag on the cigarette framed
her in a halo of smoke, accentuating her beauty even more.
“I met an angel once, did I tell you that? He was all shine and
chrome, sparkling in the lights of a dance floor full of frenzy. He
kissed me with his fist, gave me the mark you keep staring at. The scar
reminds me to be careful, and take nothing for granted. The angel taught
“You’ve got some serious problems,” he said as he reached for
her hand. A glove made of leather and soaked in blood embraced his palm,
sweat dripping from the intense heat surrounding him. Salvador smiled as
he helped her to her feet, wiping away a bit of dirt from her face.
“You’re a good listener, that’s why I keep you around,” she
answered with a smile. The two leaned in to kiss, but the woman suddenly
pulled away. A finger extended to his lips, a shaking of her head
teasing him with a flaming passion.
“C’mon, babe,” he stated with a look of frustration, “you’re
breaking my heart here!”
“Oh, you have no idea.”
“Dude, come ON!” Valiant shouted as he pulled on the coat sleeve
of his ally. The two were running for their lives, hoping to escape the
solid steel demon that nipped at their heels. Mud just laughed, the
effects of the White Heat in his system still jacking him up to a state
of violent euphoria.
Mud threw back his shoulder, the back of his palm connecting with
Valiant’s face. “Let the freak come, man! I’ll give him a shockin’
reason to STAY dead!”
“Shockin’ synthetic courage,” Valiant muttered as he scampered
back to his feet. He knew there was no way to stop the ghost, especially
when better than they had tried and failed. There was nothing to do but
run, even if it meant leaving Mud to face certain death. His friend was
still shouting to the heavens as Val turned the corner into the blind
alley. The wall appeared out of nowhere, knocking him straight on his
The shimmering data halo of the Ghost Rider flared against the night
sky, black eye-sockets burrowing into Val’s brain.
“You should’ve seen this coming, pusbag,” the Rider said as he
lifted his massive right leg. The metal appendage crashed down, stomping
Valiant’s kneecap deep into the concrete.
“Gaaaaaaaahh! I’m sooo sorry!” the human screamed as the silver
creature ground his foot through the bone of his leg. “I tried to stop
Gill and Mud from raping that girl, I really did!”
“Sure you did,” the Rider stated with his cold, robotic
detachment, “that’s why you were the one that hit her in the head
with a shockin’ rock.”
“Please, man, don’t kill me,” Valiant pleaded, tears streaming
down his face, “don’t shockin’ kill me…”
“You pusbags killed yourselves,” Zero replied calmly, “the
moment you decided it was hunting season on downramper sex organs.”
The murderer continued to sob weakly.
“Ratbiters like you are what’s gonna get us all killed,” the
Ghost Rider began, fully realizing that his words were falling on deaf
ears. “We survived so much shit in this City, but right now we’ve
been written off by the biz suits as a lost cause. All it takes is a few
like you and your pals to make this a national emergency. If they caught
wind of the type of shit you’re doing, this place would be put under
martial law in a shockin’ heart beat. Is that what you WANT? Do you
want several stealth smokers to fly
over and obliterate this place off the map?”
“Don’ kill me, man,” Valiant reiterated.
“Shock this,” the Rider decided after a moment of thought. His
massive foot shot forward, the toe of his boot connecting under his
victim’s jaw. Valiant’s head came right off, with only a slight
tearing sound as the death knell.
He was unfiltered, like a menthol cigarette. Streaming along the
liquid data that made up the digital superhighway, Zero Cochrane was in
his own personal slice of heaven. Other people had Thor or Jesus, but
Zero had something better...he had fucking Che Guevara, Charles Manson,
and Bill Gates all rolled into one archetype.
He was reveling in his newfound freedom after having been freed from
the cybernetic shell of the Ghost Rider. He knew he wasn’t the real
Zero Cochrane now, sure, but that didn’t mean he acted any
differently. He was a copy of the original brainware, but he was still
an anarchist at heart. Being an artificial intelligence alive on the
datastreams made things seem so much simpler, but if there was one thing
he felt his new lifestyle lacked, it was a purpose. What was his new
mission, now that he’d successfully dismantled the bastard operating
system of the Ghostworks?
In other words, what could he fuck up next?
Let the original Zero ride around in the meatspace, even if he did
have the panache to finally take down D/Monix. There was Kylie, but she
was little more than a bitter memory these days, a ghost he’d long
made peace with. He needed something dense, something he could get his
digital hands dirty on...he needed something only the stream could give
He stopped his fluid movement, allowing the blur of information to
come to a screeching halt around him. The cyberspace was manipulated
around him, taking on a familiar atmosphere.
Red Jack’s Virtual Brothel, the neon button blinked before him.
With a smirk on his digitized face, the Zero who wasn’t Zero
reached forward and punched the button.
His name was Mud, and it fairly accurately summed up the extent of
his mental facilities. He’d talked bravely moments before, but the
sight of the giant metal warbot scraping his friend’s brain matter off
of the heel of it’s massive boot had caused his drug-induced courage
to take a backseat to an emotion even more primal: fear.
He’d seen the Ghost Rider before, as had most of the downramper
population, and while the monster
had always looked menacing there seemed something...different...about it
now. In the past, the Rider had seemed to focus itself on dismantling
CSS and UrMan securicops, leaving the skels to stand by and cheer him
on. Something had happened since D/Monix’s fall, something had made
the demon discontent with his former victims.
“Shockin’ system, can’t leave a fella alone to do his biz,”
he panted out as he ran, mumbling to no one in particular. Weaving in
and out of the densely packed alleyways that littered the side of the
highway, he was confident that he could lose his pursuer. He’d lived
in Transverse-Down his whole life, so he surely knew more about the area
than some blackboot serial killing appliance.
He never saw the pencil-thin red beam streak across the alley exit in
front of him. He ran full tilt through the opening, but immediately knew
something was wrong. He stopped running involuntarily, though his
momentum kept him going forward in a vertical motion. He hit the
pavement hard, coughing up blood from deep within his chest. Rolling
over onto his back, he looked down at his chest to see the cauterized
burn mark that stretched across his breast and forearms.
“That’s gotta hurt,” the buzzing voice of the Ghost Rider
sounded off, prompting Mud to roll his eyes backwards. Standing over and
behind him was the skeletal avenger, and though he knew it was
impossible Mud could’ve sworn that the monster was smiling.
“What’s...what’s hurtin’?” Mud said through more coughing
spurts of blood.
“You ran through a laser set on it’s highest frequency,” Zero
replied, his eyes pulsing with red energy, “meaning it didn’t just
cut you on its way through your body, it also interspersed enough
radiation to turn a country into a giant steambathed graveyard.”
“Wreck you, man,” Mud said, spitting a large wad of blood into
the air, splattering it across the Ghost Rider’s steel chassis.
“Oh, we ain’t done, pusbag,” Cochrane admitted as he crouched
down beside Mud’s head. Raising his right arm, he allowed the
electrically energized chainsaw emerge slowly, crackling to life as it
roared and screamed to furious life. “You know what I use this for?”
The Rider asked, enjoying the widening of the downramper’s eyes.
Mud shook his head negatively. The Ghost Rider pulled his arm back,
lining the saw with the rapist’s head.
“Emergency dental surgery...”
“I oughta shockin’ kill you, you piece of wannabe hacker shit!”
Dr. Neon raised his hands defensively as Kylie Gagarin slammed him
against the wall of the Bar Code’s unisex bathroom. “Whoa,
chick...chill out a nanosecond!”
“Let me see if I understand this,” she said through gritted
teeth. “You were contacted by
some weird freak of an AI program who wanted to destroy the Ghost Rider.
You didn’t give a shock about how the guy saved your ass from D/Monix
a while back, all you cared about...”
“...all I cared about was you!” Neon protested, prompting a
backhand slap across his cheek from Kylie’s hand.
“You allowed whatever this thing was to kick Zero out of the Ghost
Rider body, you shockin’ moron! Who knows what kinda trouble that GIANT
FUCKING WARBOT is gonna do with somebody else in the driver’s
“But...but...” Neon stuttered, “I thought it was the only way
to get you to, y’know, hook up with me. With the big GR outta the way,
I thought you’d be all happy.”
“Wreck me,” Kylie whispered, closing her eyes in disbelief.
Finally, without notice, she rammed her knee high into Jimmy Alhazared’s
groin, causing him to fall to the urine soaked floor. After kicking him
the gut once for good measure, Kylie turned and made her way to the
bathroom door. As she reached the exit, she turned back at the moaning
teenager she was leaving behind.
“I hope you piss blood for a month,” she spat, “I’m going to
find Zero. Something tells me you’re gonna get worse from him.”
Neon watched as the girl he thought he’d loved leave, and as he
massaged his testicles a single thought kept repeating in his head.
“I’m so dead...”
[I’d made up my mind after D/Monix fell. I was gonna leave this
city and hit the open road, make my own destiny out in the destination
unknown. I don’t have a conscience; I purged that a long time ago. So
why does one little girl with haunted eyes make me feel like my whole
life is a lie?]
He sat straddling his bike, allowing the crowd of downrampers to
slowly emerge into the street from their strategically built shanty
town. There was blood on his fist and bits of hair sticking to the wet
parts of his boots, but that only made the homeless denizens want to
inspect their hero further. Within moments, the Ghost Rider was
surrounded by his people, the huddled and crying masses of Transverse
City. It wasn’t until he saw the little girl from before that he
“I spent the better part of my life fightin’ against this shockin’
place,” he stated, his voice amplified from in-built speaker systems
installed in his throat, “but that doesn’t make me your hero. I hate
everyone in this place, from the lowest ratbiter in Level One to the
highest biz suit in Level Ten. But we’re in anarchy now, and what’s
to keep you all from killing each other?”
No response came from the crowd, nothing but a muted blanket of
[Don’t do it. Don’t give me a reason...]
“Mr. Skull Face?” the little girl that had become an orphan in
less time than it took to conceive her began.
[Don’t give me a reason to stay.]
“Thank you, Mr. Skull Face,” she said, her eyes welling up with
tears as she placed a small hand on his silver arm, “thank you for
hurting the men that killed my mommy.”
“If you need me,” the Ghost Rider said as he placed his hands on
the handlebars of his bike, “I’ll be around.”
Gunning the combustible engine, Zero Cochrane popped a hovering
wheelie before he sped off, the noise of the vehicle echoing through the
buildings that lined the highway. Unfortunately, the engines weren’t
quite loud enough to drown out the cheers of the crowd that followed
Salvador Sangiacomo had just died, having choked to death on the pool
of blood that had risen from his lungs into his throat. Strapped to his
bed, the last sight caught by his eyes had been the large knife being
stabbed into his chest and then slowly pulled downward through his body,
cleaving organs and entrails as it progressed down past his navel. He
had died painfully and in agony, and the woman named Heartbreaker had
loved every minute of it.
“My therapist said I should’ve been aborted in the womb,” the
naked woman said aloud, speaking to the dead Salvador as if he were
still able to hold a conversation, “in order to – in his own words,
no less – save us all from the misery a person like you will
She laughed hysterically at this for several long moments.
“He told me this when I was ten years old,” she continued after
regaining her composure, “and me being me, I just had to prove
him right. We had sex on his desk during our second meeting, and when he
hit an orgasm I ripped out his throat...with my teeth.”
Standing from her chair, she sauntered across the room to the 35th
floor apartment’s balcony. The red light from the ongoing blaze that
ran rampant through the city bathed her nude body in crimson light,
illuminating her in the tint of Hell. Raising her arms over her head and
running her hands through her raven hair, she giggled like a school
“I’m coming for you, Ghost Rider,” she said in the most
innocent sounding voice she could muster, “and we’ll see just who is
the better kisser once and for all...”