“I don’t know why our time went by. There’s nothing left to feel, but this boring kind of anger, that’s wasting me.” –Wolfsheim
I’ve truly cried three times in my life. The first time, was when I was fourteen and my family received the letter that my father had died fighting in the wars. The second was when the doctor told me my wife Miyuki had contracted TSI, an incurable mental degenerative disease. The third was the day Kenshiro left. After all the work I did, all the sacrifices I made for my family. I was completely alone.
Kenshiro didn’t leave by himself; he took with him my hopes of redemption. For in a son a father puts his dreams on his shoulders. I wanted the best for Kenshiro, and I pushed him hard to make something of himself. He was my greatest accomplishment. But like every dream he ended up rotting in the filth.
I remember having waited up well past midnight, for him to return home. The flat was ill-lit with only a dimmed yellow light staining the nine foot high ceilings of the living room. Miyuki’s constant stream of holo-vid channels echoed against the booming of thunder. The Lord Thor’s presence should have made me feel better. But my nerves felt alive with fear. I knew what was to be expected. Kenshiro had my mind, but his mother’s passion.
I had gotten a third call in as many weeks from the D/Monix School of Higher Minds. It was the same call that I’d gotten use to receiving. Kenshiro getting into some altercation with a fellow student, and they wanted my permission to administer discipline. But unlike other vid-calls, they were giving up on disciplinary punishment. They wanted to expel him. This was something I could not have.
“Dad?” Kenshiro questioned as he walked into the living room. He pulled the filthy black hoody from his face. His dark red hair ran down his clammy face in wet clumps. He walked in hesitantly. Perhaps it was the chems in his blood that were glazing over his eyes. But his smile was unmistakable. The very look of trouble-making put me over the edge.
“WHEN IS IT ENOUGH KENSHIRO?” I spat at him, leaping to my feet. “How many more chances are you going to blow? Do you simply want to make me a laughing stock?”
Kenshiro stopped in mid stride. His mischievous smile faded into a thin line. “I’m sorry dad, I didn’t notice the time. Daniel and I were…”
“This isn’t about your flagrant disregard for MY RULES. I got another call from your school today. They are threatening expulsion if you screw up one more time.”
“Then they can shocking expel me dad. I’d be glad of it! The biz-suits are running it anyways, hiding the truth so they can brain wash us with propaganda!” Kenshiro snapped back. I could see the anger festering in his slender eyes.
I moved before I knew what I was doing. My arm lifted from my side, my palm slamming into his narrow cheek. The slap sounded like another thunder clap. Kenshiro looked up at me in silence. There was a shock in his eyes. Like a domestic drone that had been scolded. “I worked hard to get you into that shocking school! It’s the best school in Transverse City! And you should be thanking Thor every shocking day, that D/Monix lets scum like you dirty its floors!”
“Shock you.” Kenshiro said to me. “You are part of the problem dad. You just can’t see it, because you’re as corrupt as everyone else is up here. Tell Haha* I love her.”
[*Echo.print = ‘Haha’ ( ??) is a humble variant for mother in Japanese. Zero’s usage was to indicate he was now an ‘outsider’ to the family. ]
And silently I watched as my only son turned his back on me and disappear into the ebbs of darkness. It would be less than two years later I would sit idly by and let my boss murder my son.
“We’ve got loyal friends you and I. We keep our heads held high, we’ll stick together you and I.” –Dropkick Murphys
The first time I met Zero I wanted to punch him in his face. He was a newb in Little Calcutta, telling anyone who would listen about his latest D-Run*. He was a fourteen year old pusbag, as solid-state as a newly minted cred card. I’d see his type before. A rich bithead coming down ramp to P2P about how he phreaked the local post office. I could have just passed him by, like I did pretty much on a daily basis. Things would have turned out much different for Zero, me and the Hotwire Martyrs. But shock if the son of a glitch didn’t know his bytes. And just hearing him infodump made me stop in my tracks. Not because I gave a bit, but because it pissed me off.
[*Echo.print = D-Run is short for Data run. It is slang to indicate an unauthorized access to protected servers, usually in relationship to criminal activity.]
“I call vaporware,” I found myself saying. I turned to the skinny pimple covered boy in a black motorcycle jacket that threatened to slide down his nimble shoulders. “Alchemax’s R&R servers aren’t even WAN! And even if you mined through troj you still have to manage three synchronous data ports in alphahex. Don’t get me wrong, the TCP brute is how I got through when I was tooling around as well. But don’t be a pusbag. That uplink is VR.”
I remember seeing Zero turn his gaze towards me. Those caramel eyes narrowed into crescent moons and a razor thin smile ripped across his face. And when he smiled his entire body seemed to change, to almost radiate with a boyish glee. “I didn’t brute the firewall, man. I troj’d the telnet through a user. Some bithead kept a log on his local, decrypting the hex was easy, and it pushed me right in. The port channels are more of an illusion by the way. The three streams looks like their pushing constant packets out the ICSX stack but two of them are looping back to one another. You touch those sons of glitches, and the ICE* will fry your meat in a micron.”
I lunged at the kid in a single step. My left hand grabbed Zero’s brand new jacket in a ball of squeaking syn-leather. His smile faded to an expression of fear. My arm jack knifed, whirling him in a semicircle. I took another step and his back was slamming brutally against a brick wall. He hissed a groan of pain as wisps of cheek length dark hair fell into his face. “Are you shocking low rez?” I shouted. “There are things you talk about, and things which remain read-only. The blackboots will rip off your shocking head and piss down your throat!”
“I’m sorry,” Zero said in a quivering voice. “I thought it was safe here.”
“You really are a newb,” I said, as I loosened my grip on his jacket “you from the mid-levs?”
“Delta,” He told me, his voice lowering.
“Son of a glitch,” I said, knowing exactly WHO lived at the Delta complex. Slowly, I began to back up. A hundred thoughts raced through my mind.
“My handle is Zero,” he offered, breaking the awful silence.
“I’m uh… Warewolf,” I said, noticing his smile had returned. “How about I buy you something to eat? They don’t take black down here.”
“Sounds Jagged,” my best friend said. Two months later, that squeaky clean jacket would be marred with the flaming skull of the Hotwire Martyrs. And at that point there was no turning back for any of us.
Kenshiro “Zero” Cochrane:
“Sick for motorbike — the air of my room is foul. Sick for motorbike — I will do anything for drive. Let’s go beyond my depth. You too are against me.” –The Pillows
Most people’s heads are filled with a muddled fantasy of valor and bravery. When the news sites alight with some new unsavory violence, users come alive with the candor of bold comments about how a plasma repeater would have sorted the biz. It’s easy to convince yourself when push comes to shove, you will shove back. But that is complete VR. Meatware is not built to be brave. Common sense dictates to continue breathing, you run like hell. And when your legs ache and your lungs resist breath, you pray to Thor that there’s a grave dug for you to leap into. Because life isn’t a video game, and there isn’t a Konami code.
Take it from me -- I have the XP. If there’s one line of code to lock into your sysmem, it’s this. Don’t be brave, not even for those you love. Because you can always find another koibito*, but if you manage to find another life, it’s going to be a prison of cold steel.
[Echo.print = Koibito (??) implies not just a ‘lover’ but someone you truly love, like a soulmate.]
The last D-Run of the Hotwire Martyrs should have the hymn of legends. Instead it was our swan song. For us, it was just another backdoor hunt-and-peck. A data intercept from an under protected router caught between a secure server out of Singapore and D/Monix. What we got was half a gig of ciphered-to-hell proprietary code, we hadn’t even began to compile an algorithm for. But someone wanted it bad, and we waited too long to try to move it. 48 hours is nothing in real-time. But in the datastream, it’s a hell of a lot of bytes.
2600 was a rough-looking fellow, with a mop of overgrown onyx hair that was combed down over his steep forehead and twisted into a single spike. His dark olive skin seemed to glow even in the dim light of the crashpad. He played with his long beard with one hand as he hunched over his laptop. Believe it or not this chubby Spainard was a math genius. And where Warewolf was the best port scanner in the city, and I could code a dataminer to spoof the IP address from your dead grandma, the Martyrs would be nothing without him. In data pirating, decryption is two-thirds of the job.
“Soo…” Warewolf said, breaking the silence. I didn’t bother to look up from my own bit-trance, but my ears listened on. It had been three or four hours since we met up. Everyone was getting uneasy. The sooner we unloaded it, the sooner we’d be able to cash in our chips and get paid.
“Sorry, jefe, but this is some pretty intense bit here.” 2600 said mumbling to his screen.
“It’s just zeroes and ones -- how complicated can it be?” Phrack put in, his voice wet with the pyramid of beer cans he’d emptied.
2600 turned in an expression of disbelief but never got to say what was on his mind. A violet laser lanced through the dark storage shed in that same moment. The laser’s heat punched a smoldering hole through his left eye socket. The glowing hole shot bone, hair and meat in grimy mist from the back of his head.
“Son of glitch!” Warewolf yelled. I turned to see Phrack and Warewolf standing up and pulling hand weapons. Phrack dove behind the beaten sofa chair. Warewolf flung himself towards the server rack. Both of them doing what they could to combat the red lances of plasma that cross hatched the dimly lit storage room.
“A Pain That I’m Used To”
“All this running around, well, it’s getting me down. I just need a pain that I’m used to. I don’t need to believe all the dreams you conceive, you just need to achieve something that rings true.” – Depeche Mode
“I have to log out,” Zero Cochrane told me, pulling a faded Cranial Maniac shirt over his lean chest. The yellowed walls of my small apartment’s air were heavily saturated with the sharp fumes of methamphetamine. He didn’t bother to even give me another look. Like usual, the brain beneath the thick mane of long crimson hair was already onto other things.
“That’s it, then?” I asked sitting up on a rotting mattress. It laid on the floor amongst a sentiment of clothing and refuse. The thick gray comforter slid from my glowing bare skin, bunching on my crossed lap. There wasn’t a need to cover up, even if the prince of Cybernet bothered to look at me. “Just upload all my ware, and you’re done?”
“The Martyrs have a good run lined up tonight. And I’ll score some shards,” Zero said, still not bothering to turn his head in my direction.
The cool air from the open window swam across my flushed olive skin. Goose flesh patterned against my heaving chest. “How long are we going to kid ourselves, Zed?” I asked him. “Are we going to act out the same bit over and over again? Are we ever going to grow the shock up? “
“Do we have to do this now?” Zero lamented, shaking his head in agitation. Finally, he turned his slender shaped eyes towards me. As much as I despised him, his gaze always stopped my heart. His almost delicate features decried everything that came out of his mouth. Like there was another brain in that small beautiful body of his. It was his expressions, the way he smelled, and the smooth sensation of his skin against mine that kept this farce continuing. His attitude and the cold ambivalence to the world around him made me want to strangle him. But here we were, after three years and nothing had changed. We weren’t lovers in the emotional sense. Despite being in a staggered series of relationships, it was never about love. We were merely drawn by a mutual need of comfort. A comfort that existed in between the jail bars of drugs and sex.
“I’m done with this,” I told him as I had so many times before. The words came out of my mouth like a stream of déjà vu. “I’m done with the junk, and I’m done with this shocking town. I won’t be here when you get back.”
“Is it Vegas again?” Zero asked, finally pulling the battered motorcycle jacket over his shoulders.
“Well I hope it works out better this time.” He walked towards the apartment door. His heavy combat boots crunched over the litter on the wooden flooring. He turned his head to me. His eyes were wide as they searched my naked form sitting in the dark. “At least vid me when you get settled. Maybe I’ll come and visit before I head east.”
I never went to Vegas. And Zero didn’t bring home any speed. We just stayed in a constant stasis until the day Zero died. It was his murder that changed everything. Not just for us, but for everyone in Transverse City.
“The world isn’t rendered in Black and White. Other shades lie between. Don’t view the world with binary eyes we are human, not machine.” – Assemblage 23
I made a leap for the ground as the lasers threatened my own meatware. My forearms smashed into the concrete. The firefight lit the atmosphere above me. “GET OUT OF HERE, ZEROBOY!” Warewolf shouted to me over the electronic feedback of laser fire.
“Nani?” I said. “These pusbags just killed 2600!” My hand reached for the Max Power blaster in my jacket.
“Are you read-only,” Phreak yelled. “The file is in your wetware; you need to log out now.”
I shook my head, knowing they were right. I rolled myself to the wall. Laser bolts punching holes in the concrete. “You sons of glitches…” I muttered.
“Warewolf, I’m going to draw their fire,” Phrack said. “You just keep a frame on Zed.”
I heard my best friend grunt in an affirmative as I made a dash for the door. I could hear the insanity of the battle behind me as I went full tilt. Phrack’s scream whispered behind me as I shouldered the door. I didn’t look back as I hit the concrete of Little Calcutta. The rain had picked up, cooling my skin like ice. It was a good thing, too. It allowed me to stay focused. Not to dwell on the fact the only pusbags I gave a bit about were probably all dead.
I managed to make it to my Ford Velociraptor before the Artificial Kidz caught up with me. I remember thinking that it was some serious biz if the tech-mercs were hired to hose us off. The Artificial Kidz were a group of neo-tribal murderers with a passion for cybernetic implants and chems.
The chase I gave them didn’t last too long. There were too many of them, and the cybernetics made it virtually impossible to lose them. Their constant GPS tagging made every turn I tried to be easily circumvented by cybernetic eyes. But I had one last trick up my sleeve.
Dropping from the bike I ran to a Cybernet hotspot box on the 15th level. As Jeter and his cronies approached me, I’d already jacked in. By the time the Kidz raised their guns I was ready. I gave him one last ‘shock you’ before I gave up the ghost. My meat was vapor but my consciousness plunged fully into Cybernet. It was my hope that I could FTP the bootleg data before my body gave the last breath.
But the Ghostworks had other plans. The colony of artificial intelligences intercepted my stream and preserved my mind into source code. They gave me an offer for vengeance in realtime. I greedily accepted.
So for nine months I ran the streets of Transverse City, as a spirit of vengeance. My mind uploaded into a chromed up engine of murder and destruction. My war was short lived but I did what I had planned. D/Monix is now a pile of concrete and glass. I’ve given freedom to Transverse City, if the people are brave enough to accept it. With my war over I’ve retreated to the constant data-streams of Cybernet. The original Kenshiro, a backup of my original mind is now inside the warbot’s body. And though I’ve lost the taste for vengeance, my original personality has yet to taste its salty embrace. For Ghost Rider, his war continues.
Like what you’ve seen so far?
See more of Ghost Rider and his supporting cast in Ghost Rider 2099UGR, a new series by Jae Lizhini, coming soon!