How they met.

Like damned near every kid his age he wore sneakers. Not because he was sporty, or even the outdoors type at all. Who the hell would go out and get themselves all worked up enough to have to take in lungs full of the actual air without some kick-ass trait to stop whatever cancer was fashionable enough to be airborne these days. And who on earth could afford to stop themselves sweating and all the associated bodily fluid discharges that went along with it. This kid was not some spoiled little rich mans brethren, and so had to deal with his own excretions as and when they happened. Be that during the gut-wrenching excitement of talking to a girl, or fleeing for his life. It was a sad indictment that one seemed to happen far more than the other, but more on that later, sports fans.

Nah, the kid was wearing sneakers – top of line knock offs, the best that a five finger discount could get the kid – because, well, almost everyone else did. Never had a gift for fast fingers, and as his burning lungs were swiftly informing him, fast legs were, if anything, further down his list of life skills. His footwear of choice was a pair of not quite designer, but also not quite department store own brand baseball boots; laces never done up, tongues hanging out as he slouched his way around the city. Usually. And now, running like fuck, he could at least be grateful that whichever Indo-china kid younger than him had put his keds together hadn’t been beaten into stupidity when he was sewing in the final stitches. That and the big ape behind him wasn’t wearing anything close to running shoes.

And why the fuck had he thought it was a good idea to head here anyway? As if getting away from crowded areas did him any favours when chased by someone with at least a two foot height advantage on him, and wearing a badly tailored suit that just screamed ‘spook’.

Hell, you could always tell them; even under-cover cops took the time to try and hide the bulge over the chest made by a shoulder holstered 9mm. When they weren’t cold cocking some down on his luck juvie or stim-head with it that is. But not this spook, hell no! He wanted anyone he was running down to know exactly what they were about to be staring down the barrel of. And judging by the way it shifted, and the occasional glimpse as his jacket opened a little every other pace, it was bigger than a nine, mat black and could punch a hole in the kid bigger than his fist.

Every pace the kid took away from the mall, away from the strip – away from people whose presence alone seemed to have been enough to stop the man monkey from drawing iron – made it a hell of a lot more likely that any second now, the next and last thing he heard would be the bark of a gun. The goon wouldn’t have shot him in front of people right? That idea – of course – occurred too late to be of any practical use. That’s why all he’d heard was a name shouted; all he saw was the furrowed brow of a government employee who would struggle to spell ‘government’ with the right number of letter Es; all he felt was ice cold terror dripping down his down spine like a snow cone dropped by a total fucker called Steve. Long story. And then he started running.

The noise of people died out quickly, especially those shouting abuse and taking the piss at him as he broke into a full headlong run away from the arcade. Cat-calls and jeers, with not a man jack of them doing him the favour of putting a foot out and tripping the goon, not even throwing some iced slush over the shitty suit to distract him. Once away from his ‘friends’ the noise had dropped to just a crowd, a crowd he darted and dashed through, hoping that his small size would give him an advantage, not thinking that his pursuer wouldn’t care less about barging people out of his way with a linebacker’s determination and speed.

Every time he turned his head, for just a second it looked like he was opening up a lead, then that big round head would reappear, snarling as its owner shoved some preppy wannabe to the ground and in a few long strides continued to close the gap. As the garish lights of the mall fell away behind him, the no less garish illuminations of the strip took over, but ahead of him he could see them getting thinner, seeing shadows sneaking in as the density of the crowds lessened. Maybe that’s what had drove him forward; the chance to hide? Who the fuck knew. But right now, all the kid could do was curse his damned foolishness and keep on hoping. Keep on running.

Why didn’t he just stop? He could have done so pretty much as soon as he got out the mall, away from people who would never let him forget if he got taken away for some petty shit he’d pulled. The longer he’d carried on running, the harder it was to stop and submit. The redder the goon’s face had gotten, the more angry his grunts had become. He doubted the bastard was in any mood to stop and have a chat now about why he was running what seemed like half way across the city. He’d run; he must be guilty. That was all he could think must have been going through the mind of the lumbering figure behind him. And with every foot he put in front of the other, he was just making him madder, making it more and more likely that the worst that could happen, was in fact going to happen.

“Please, just hit me in the leg”, he prayed silently. A leg shot could attract some attention to the scene, not kill him, and he could still survive…

What scene? There was literally no one here bit the kid and the spook. A leg shot would be just as fatal, since the bullet that followed it would be fired at leisure and would certainly open a new breathing hole in the kids face. One he personally could do without. There was fuck all left for him to do now but hide, maybe climb. His options were as thin on the ground as grass. There was nothing here but derelict buildings and ‘Dumpster’ brand trash containers. Those things would do nothing for him, a few seconds to hide maybe, but that was it, forget what you saw in the action vids, those things could barely stop a thrown rock, let alone a bullet.

And of course, with his life in the balance, and every bit of him needing to concentrate on finding a way out of this cluster-fuck, the kid’s mind went off on one.

Why was he being chased by this spook? This is not a question posed to some imaginary reader of the kid’s life story, it was the thought screaming through his brain as he ran. Was he on some government hit list for net runners? Three words to answer that question; im-fucking-possible. He’d bought his first deck less than a week ago, getting bored shit-less with the lag on public terminals, and the queues to get onto a decent machine at a cyber-cafe. It had taken months of not partying to get together the funds to pick one up.

He wasn’t stupid enough to try hacking his way into any money with what passed for a computer you could get free access to, so he had been biding his time, just practicing  fucking with news feeds and blog sites he detested. Had an opinion that kid didn’t agree with? Prepare for the whole world to think that you liked masturbating to the Discovery feed. Oh yeah, he was hardcore; a real Edger. The deck he’d bought himself could take a crap on the CPU of any public terminal and get the hell out before they noticed the smell, but it was still pretty lame when compared to what the big boys played with.

And what had he done with his new pride and joy since first hooking it up? A big ball of nothing. He’d shown off a few times to people, hoping to impress where his obvious social defects had let him down in the past. And just tried to get his name out there into the hacking community. Not his real name of course, he wasn’t a total red-neck. Silver lining though; if he was to perish in a hail of gunfire in the next twenty seconds, he’d picked a damned fine name to die with.

Blaze. If you asked he would say he never remembered who called it him first and smile as he recounted how it had stuck so quickly. In truth he’d chosen himself, since ‘dickwad’ didn’t have the same ring to it, the same edgy feel he was going for. No matter how often it was hollered at him in public. So, fuck that, set up a website for yourself, use that as handle, and when you meet new people, jut say, ‘oh, everyone calls me Blaze’. Give it a few months and they might very well start doing that. Posthumously of course seemed more and more likely based on current events.

Actually, you know what, fuck dying. These weren’t even ‘Dumpster’ brand, and would offer all the stopping power of a well buttered slice of toast, but they weren’t fucking see-through! Give a well informed and desperate as hell kid a few seconds, and he might just have a chance against some grey suited government spook. A few seconds without direct line of set and any one of the half dozen rounds that would surely be pounding through the thin as hell, tin can of a waste receptacle might just miss the lad. And give him long enough; long enough to dive deep into the pack over his shoulder, grab metal and withdraw a piece. Fuck, he had a plan.

Not a great one, one that had as many holes as the rusted metal box he was diving behind was about to have in it, but it was better than just running and hoping. Would hopefully not be as sweaty either.

Sadly, the metal his grasping hand found as he slid to a halt on his knees, back pack off his shoulder before he was even in cover wasn’t anything even close to an automag. The deck had cost him a small fortune, and self protection had taken the back seat as far as his wallet, and any real effort, was concerned. No, he had not visited the gunrunners, he’d hit the hardware stores!

Not for him the flashy chrome and nickel of the solos, not even the big-ass machetes you occasionally saw the worst kind of enforcers strutting round the strip with. The kid was a fan of zombie vids, and as such, he’d sunk his money into a chainsaw. If anyone laughed at the idea, he would just claim that it had worked so often against a foe ten times more dangerous than a biker gang wannabee after your notes, and smiled to himself, thinking how cool he would look using it in a fight. Of course before that he had needed to siphon some gas out of a car to get the damned thing to work, but right now, that was not high on his list of concerns.

The retort of gunfire was accompanying Blaze’s attempts to retrieve the unwieldy weapon from its cripplingly too small pack. So far, so lucky as it punched a half inch hole though the metal about two foot away from him. Next was the fun of getting it started; he’d practiced a few times and there was no easy way of guaranteeing the motor would turn over on the first attempt. Nothing focuses the concentration quicker than a bullet hole appearing through metal just six inches above your head though, and with that a hard pull on the starter cord, the kid heard the motor purr.

How the fuck had this seemed like a good idea? He could barely move now. It took both hands to keep the damned thing steady which meant moving from his position on his knees to any kind of combat ready stance would be next to impossible. Trying to lift himself up and forward had him tottering over ready to fall face first onto the rotary steel teeth; far from an ideal situation. He had to use a hand to steady himself, had to. Keeping the chainsaw in his right hand he used the left against the cold – and slightly better ventilated – metal and tried to lever himself to his feet.

Just in time too as the Fed turned the corner of the dumpster, eyes all small but filled with rage, lips apart but teeth clenched, flecks of saliva forced between them by his ragged breaths. ‘Life or death time Blaze’, he thought. And dived backwards and away, around the other side of the dumpster, trying to get some space to make a move. Or maybe just putting off the inevitable.

Wait. There was someone else there, a figure stood in a doorway, pretty much just a shadow in front of the light spilling from behind and within. What was totally fucked up though was that the kid was certain he recognized that shadow. Something about the careless ease that they stood there, like whatever was happening in the world was either of no interest to them, or could be solved with bare minimum of effort. Then the shadow got better lit, and the blue jeans and white tee shirt were obvious. The shadow had a name, and that name was Jasper.

For a fleeting quarter second the two of them locked eye contact; the kid, terrified with a side order of embarrassment at knowing he was almost certainly about to die whilst under the watchful eye of someone who would retell the story to anyone he met. Jasper, a smile that played across his entire face as he took in the play unfolding before him. Jasper. ‘The nice guy’. Everyone liked him, even though he seemed to put no effort in at all. They would all listen with rapt attention as he waxed lyrical about the kid, trying to fight off a guy twice his size with a K-mart hedge trimmer. Fuck.

The time to worry about about though would be if he was still sucking breathe in thirty seconds. The goon was following him round the corner; his bulk slowing him down on the tight turn just enough to give Blaze a window of opportunity to strike. He lunged forward, whirring blade whipping up from crotch level to try and hit the guy. Just hitting him would be enough; let the record show that Blaze fought back, that he did not just cower away and die!

He only realised he’d had his eyes closed while making the swing when he had to open them again to see what the hell the blade had gotten snagged on. Oh, and why his face was feeling a bit damp.

AS he opened his eyes he felt what cold have a plant mister spraying onto his face, but it was just a bit too warm for that. The motor was still running, but the teeth had gotten snagged on something. He didn’t want to think about what that could have been, but the word ‘bone’ just kept pushing itself to the front of his brain. He throttled the engine hard and pushed, eyes closed again to keep the fluid from his eyes.

With one last surge of effort he pulled the chainsaw up another half foot and it tore clean through the agents outstretched arm, the business end of it falling to floor with a rather unpleasant noise. The rage had vanished from the Fed’s eyes, replaced with surprise. Surprise and fear – Blaze was amazed to see – before his legs gave up the fight against panic and gravity’s winning combination and slumped to the ground, chainsaw dropped in front of him and still running. The Fed just looked down at him, speechless, his left hand moving up with almost glacial speed to try and stem the blood that was pumping from what remained of his right forearm.

Blaze just watched as the man in front of him went pale, went down on one knee, tried to say something, fell sideways to the ground and stopped moving. Better start breathing, he thought, the worst’s over now and oxygen seems like a damned good thing to have inside me. Someone should tell the Fed that, he looks like he needs some. So naturally, with that funny as shit line rattling round in a mind suffering quite poorly from shock, the kid started laughing. High pitched and knocking on the door of crazy, but thankfully, not being let in.

And that was how jasper found him, laughing and looking down at a man he’d just killed. That shut Blaze up pretty damned sharpish. Being thought of as crazy by this lad with with blue jeans and wife-beater shirt was enough to bring him under control. He turned what he thought would be a ‘seen-it-all-before’ look on the bigger kid, but barely managed to stop himself blurting out with laughter again. Jasper just sat next to him, back against the dumpster, head tilted up as if trying to see the stars through the pollution.

After five minutes, he spoke, ‘It’s Blaze, right? Well done’. The kid turned and took a long hard look at the guy sat next to him and immediately realised he couldn’t much older than he was, maybe even younger, just tall for his age, built a little better too, but his face was just as young. He couldn’t think of a response. Just shocked that he was known at all to Jasper, let alone by the handle he had created for himself. The bigger kid just smiled and slapped his hand onto the kids thigh as he went to stand, reaching forward and down to the Fed’s body, checking his wallet. He was about to sit again when a second thought seemed to occur to him and he picked the gun from out of the tightly curled fingers of the severed arm and a couple of spare clips from a strap on the shoulder holster.

Sitting down again he opened the wallet, taking out what looked like 500 bucks in notes and passed them to Blaze, ‘I think you earned these’, he said before pocketing the wallet and badge for himself. ‘And, no offence, although the chainsaw looked pretty bitchin’, in future, this might be of a bit more use to you’, and with that handed over the pistol that had almost ended Blaze’s life a few short moments ago.

It was heavier than he’d expected, but judging by the gaping maw of a barrel and the size of the holes it had punched through the dumpster, this thing could easily be classified as a ‘hand-cannon’. He slipped it into his backpack, and set about turning off the running chainsaw as Jasper got to his feet once more, smiling at the kid as he did so.

‘The name’s Jasper by the way. And after the excitement you’ve just had, I think we could both use a drink. And you’re paying’. With another slap, this time on the kid’s shoulder he started leading him back to the lights and people of the strip.

‘What were you doing round here?’, the kid asked as they walked, stuffing the tacky chainsaw back into his bag.

‘Trying to get some work. Actually, I hear you’re supposed to be some up and coming net runner! I think you should meet my mates, we might have a use for you.’

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