Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future
It was about eight a.m. at Network 23. Most of the day shift employees hadn’t arrived at work, yet. Only the security guards had come in to replace their evening counterparts. The day controllers would be arriving in about half an hour, along with their shows’ producers. Some reporters would arrive at nine, others a little earlier. Still others would head right into the field and would not see the inside of the Network 23 control room until after their morning stories were completed.
Research and Development was, for the first time in years, closed down. This was due to the fact that its one employee, Bryce Lynch, was feeling rather sick for the first time that he could remember. He lie there in bed, on his side, sobbing from the pain he could feel throbbing throughout what felt like his entire torso.
Bryce rarely showed any sort of emotion, so when Max Headroom appeared on Bryce’s vu-screen and saw him lying there in tears, the construct immediately knew that something was very wrong.
Max didn’t waste time calling for an ambulance. Once one was on the way, he stayed on screen near Bryce’s bedside until the paramedics arrived.
Once Bryce was safely on the way to the nearest medical center, Max returned to Edison’s vu-screen.
“Good morning, Max,” Edison yawned.
“For you perhaps…haps.” Max remarked.
“Unlike some people, you weren’t rushed to the medical center this morning in pain.”
“Some people meaning someone I know, I assume?” Edison asked, impatiently.
“Meaning Bryce,” Max explained.
“Jesus, Max! Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
“It just happened a min… min… minute ago.”
“Which medical center?”
“Northside,” Max explained.
“Tell Murray and Theora I’m taking the morning off,” Edison told Max as he quickly finished dressing and left without finishing his coffee.
The operating room at the Northside Medical Center was abuzz with activity. Bryce was already unconscious and the surgery had already begun. He had been rushed in with an apparent case of appendicitis. But that had been only a ruse to get him into this room, where the real reason for his attack was now being revealed to a group of onlookers who were watching the operation with keen interest.
“And you are sure the boy will live?” one man asked, his eyes fixed on the incision that had just been made in Bryce’s abdomen.
“Right up until the very end,” a second man assured him. “He might even survive it. We won’t know until the end. And in any case, we’ll have what we need to disgrace Mr. Edison Carter.”
As they watched, the surgeons performed the surgery that would lead, they hoped, to Network 23’s downfall.
In the waiting room, Edison Carter looked up at the clock. It had been eleven minutes since he had been informed that Bryce had been rushed to the medical center for emergency surgery. It felt more like eleven hours. He thought of Paddy Ashton, his friend and rival who had died a month or so earlier. He prayed inwardly that Bryce would not also die.
At sixteen, Bryce was the youngest employee at Network 23. Edison often thought of him as the little brother he’d never had, and felt very protective of the young genius. He supposed it had something to do with the events that had taken place at Security Systems, when both he and Bryce had been trapped and nearly killed in a thermal testing chamber.
Theora and Murray hurried into the waiting room. Murray didn’t like hospitals very much and was wearing a harried expression on his face. Theora looked extremely concerned.
“Did they say what was wrong?”
“Appendicitis,” Edison replied.
“Fairly routine,” Murray recalled. “My daughter, Annie, had hers out when she was nine. The recovery’s a little painful, but Bryce will manage, I’m sure.”
“We’ll see,” Edison said. “I’m guessing he’s got a low pain threshold. He hasn’t experienced too many injuries, except one or two to his pride. So, I’m guessing that he’ll be in a little more pain than some people.”
“He might surprise you,” Theora suggested, hopefully.
“It feels like we’ve been waiting for days,” Edison complained, checking the clock for what seemed to be the fiftieth time. “I just wish I knew what was taking so long. How long does an appendectomy take?”
“Not this long,” Murray replied.
“His appendix may have burst,” Theora suggested. “That happened to Shawn when he went in. They had to clean out the abdominal cavity to prevent peritonitis. It takes a little while.”
“Poor Bryce,” Edison said. “First Security Systems, now he has to have surgery. I think I’m going to suggest that Cheviot let him have some time off.”
“He’d never take it,” Murray pointed out. “Bryce loves technology too much to leave it for any length of time. It’s probably the only thing he ever will love.”
“Except…” Theora trailed off.
“Except what? That stupid parrot of his?” Murray asked, recalling a time the bird had bitten him.
“No, not the parrot,” Theora smiled, thoughtfully.
“You think he has a crush on you, Theo?” Edison asked.
“Stop calling me that,” Theora chastised. “And no, I don’t think Bryce has a crush on me.”
Edison nodded. “Then who…”
“You’re the one he’s got the crush on.”
Edison pointed to himself. “Me? But…”
“You two have been through a lot together,” Theora pointed out. “You’re both Max’s parents in a way. Plus you’ve both gone through a mutual near-death experience. That’s both ends of life you’ve shared together. Of course he’s going to feel some attachment to you.”
“Theora, that’s crazy,” Edison remarked.
“Amen,” Murray agreed.
“Then why does Bryce use Edison’s first name when he refers to everyone else by their last?” Theora asked, triumphantly.
“Bryce is also my friend,” Theora pointed out. “But he calls me by my last name.”
“Well, this is awkward,” Edison admitted. “I’ve always thought of him…”
“As a little brother,” Theora nodded. “We both do. I guess…”
“Edison Carter,” a doctor asked from the other side of the room.
Edison went over to the doctor, along with Murray and Theora.
“How is he?”
“He’s going to be just fine, Mr. Carter,” the doctor replied. “He’s in recovery and he’ll be waking up in about an hour. You can go and sit with him now, if you like.”
“Thank you,” Edison said as he and the others followed the doctor into the recovery room where Bryce had been put.
It was about an hour and a half before Bryce finally opened his eyes. When he did, he felt a little disoriented at first. It was a bit unsettling to find himself in an unfamiliar room. But he was relieved at least that there was no longer any pain in his midsection. Still, it was very disturbing not to wake up in the same place he’d gone to bed. It was, therefore, very comforting to see Edison, Theora, and Murray standing by his bedside. His mind calmed itself, and he reasoned that he was probably in a medical center.
“How do you feel?” Edison asked.
“Better,” Bryce admitted. “How did I get here?”
“Max called for help when he saw you were in pain,” Edison explained.
“Good old Max,” Bryce praised.
“Thank you… thank you… thank you,” Max replied from the wall-mounted TV. “And it’s good to see you’re feeling bet… bet… better.”
“Thanks, Max,” Bryce smiled, sleepily, failing to stifle a yawn.
“Sounds like you could use a little rest,” Edison said. “We’ll leave you sleep and come back in a while.”
“Stay, Edison,” Bryce said, softly, as he drifted off in spite of himself.
“Definitely in love,” Theora decided, as she took Murray’s hand and led him out of the room with Murray looked a bit nonplussed.
Edison watched Bryce sleep for about an hour before Network 23’s Head of Research and Development finally opened his eyes and tried to sit up.
“Ow…” Bryce complained, lying back down.
“You just had surgery, Bryce,” Edison explained. “Try not to move around too much.”
“Yeah. Good idea,” Bryce agreed. “Thanks for sticking around.”
Edison wondered if he should bring up Theora’s suggestion that Bryce had a crush on him. He decided it would be better to wait until Bryce broached the subject. There was no point in embarrassing the young genius. Bryce was going through enough as it was, having just come out of surgery a little more than an hour earlier.
“No problem, kid,” Edison replied.
Bryce gave a small sigh that made Edison wonder if Theora might be right after all. It certainly seemed so. Or maybe Bryce simply figured that, as a department head of a major network, he had earned the right to not be referred to as ‘kid’.
“I’m sorry if I just offended…”
“You didn’t,” Bryce smiled. “I guess I am still a kid in some respects.”
“Certainly not in intelligence,” Edison smiled.
Bryce looked intently at Edison, as if he wanted to say something, but had decided not to. This seemed to add more weight to Theora’s suggestion. Edison wondered if he were keeping his feeling secret because of Network 23’s global presence.
If the network were only a local station, the perhaps Bryce would’ve spoken outright. But as Network 23 aired all over the world, there were some places were a relationship between them would be controversial. And in some places it would even be illegal. Bryce would not want to make things awkward or uncomfortable for Edison.
So Bryce was biding his time, laying a simple foundation of friendship, until was old enough in all countries.
Edison wanted nothing more than to encourage Bryce’s emotional blossoming. The young genius had always been very closed-hearted until the point when he’d apparently started to develop his crush. But he didn’t have the same feelings that Bryce did. He wondered how he would let Bryce down without discouraging further emotion, or destroying their friendship.
Another thing came to Edison’s mind. What if he developed feelings for Bryce when he got older? Did he want to risk shutting himself out of Bryce’s heart now if that might turn out to be the case later on?
Bryce returned to his studio the next day. He immediately resumed work on a project he had started earlier that week. He wondered if Edison suspected that he’d developed some rather unusual thought patterns concerning him. He wasn’t sure what these thought patterns were, or why he was so worried about them. They certainly were not unpleasant.
His dreams about Edison were not exactly unpleasant either. But they were, paradoxically, upsetting, involving weird body interfaces that Bryce felt rather confused and awkward about. He decided to try not to think about them, as they usually made him blush for reasons he could not fathom.
Turning back to the project on hand, he wondered if Edison suspected anything about Bryce’s unusual thought processes about him. Deciding that Edison probably didn’t, he gave an inward sigh of relief.
“Why is it suddenly so important to me?” he wondered, aloud.
“What?” Edison asked.
“Uh… nothing, Edison,” Bryce stumbled.
“There are a lot of important things in nothing,” Edison replied.
“Yeah. I guess so,” Bryce smiled, glad of the apparent reprieve.
Bryce recovered slowly but steadily from his appendectomy. After about two and half months, he seemed to be back to normal. The lingering pain in his midsection was gone, and he was able to fully concentrate on his work once more.
The rest of the team were happy about Bryce’s recovery. But Theora was a bit concerned. There was something different about the young genius. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but the difference seemed familiar somehow. It was something she’d seen before. Something that reminded her of similar changes in another person who was close to her.
She called Bryce’s studio to inform him that Edison was on his way to get help with his current report. Bryce was not at his computer. At first she thought he’d gone out to one of the vending machines to get a snack. Then, she heard him throwing up in the bathroom. She turned off the vu-phone and contacted Edison.
“Cancel your request and find out what’s wrong with Bryce? It sounds to me like he’s not feeling too hot.”
“Throwing up?” Edison guessed.
“Sounds like it,” Theora confirmed.
“I’ll get on it right away,” Edison said. “Tell Murray to expect a possible delay in the show. Bryce comes first.”
“I’ll do that, but I doubt he’ll be happy.”
“Who gives a crap if Murray’s happy?” Edison said, too quickly to stop himself as Murray walked into the viewing range of Theora’s screen.
“Well, I do,” Murray muttered. “What’s up?”
“Bryce is sick,” Theora explained.
“I bet something got left inside when they did that surgery,” Murray said. “That’s why I hate those places. They always make mistakes like that.”
“If it were something forgotten inside, there would’ve been side-effects a long time ago,” Theora said. “I’m betting its food poisoning. Probably from one of the vending machines. They really ought to replace the snacks in those more often.”
By the time Edison had reached the Research and Development department, Bryce had finished being sick. The young genius washed his face and headed back to his computer. He was half-way there when Edison stopped him.
“You really ought to take the day off if you’re not feeling well,” the reporter said, firmly.
“I’ll be fine,” Bryce assured him. “My stomach always settles back down around eleven or so.”
“Then this has happened before?”
“Fourth day this week,” Bryce admitted. “No need for concern. It always goes away by eleven or noon at the latest.”
“Now I’m concerned,” Theora told Murray. She had realized where she had seen Bryce’s changes in mood and behavior. It had been in her sister-in-law, Winnie when she was expecting. Turning her attention back to her vu-screen she contacted Edison. “Edison. Please, take Bryce to Dr. Duncan,” he said. “Have him do an ultrasound on his abdomen. If what I suspect is true, and there is a way it could be, we have to act quickly.”
“What is it that you suspect?” Murray asked, after Theora had disconnected the call.
“I think that Bryce might just be pregnant.” Theora told him.
“That’s…” Murray stopped as he recalled the report Edison had done shortly before Bryce’s surgery. The report on Ovu-Vat. “I hope he isn’t. The last thing I need is a miniature Bryce Lynch.”
“Bryce isn’t so bad,” Theora admonished.
“Not so bad?” Murray exclaimed. “I’m still waiting for him to lock all my TV sets to some of his favorite music videos.”
“The zipping incident was months ago,” Theora pointed out. “And Cheviot has forgiven him.”
“Where are we going?” Bryce was asking Edison at about the same time that Theora was telling Murray that Bryce wasn’t all that bad.
“Dr. Duncan’s office,” Edison told him. “Theora says you should get an ultrasound. Sounds like she thinks they left something in you when they took out your appendix.”
They walked down the corridor from the lift and into Dr. Duncan’s office. The receptionist looked up. “The doctor is with Mr. Cheviot right now. He’ll just be a few minutes. Please sit down and wait.”
Bryce stumbled into the bathroom, instead, and threw up again.
“I’ll get the doctor,” the receptionist decided.
Bryce sat on the examination table in Dr. Duncan’s office. Edison was sitting in a chair in the corner. Some instinct that Bryce could not identify made him request the reporter’s presence.
“Lift up your t-shirt,” Dr. Duncan requested.
Bryce pulled up his shirt while the doctor rubbed a clear gel between his fingers.
“This is going to be a little cool,” the doctor warned as he rubbed the gel on Bryce’s abdomen.
Bryce shivered, involuntarily, despite the warning. A moment later, the doctor placed the ultrasound paddle against his midsection.
At first they could see only a vague outline, the shape of the sac that had been implanted in Bryce’s abdomen.
“It can’t be…” Edison said, in wonder. “Can you see through that shape?”
Dr. Duncan enhanced the power of the ultrasound, just a little.
Three pairs of eyes widened at what they were seeing. It was tiny, only beginning to take its rudimentary form, but there was no doubt in their minds that it was a baby.
“Bryce,” Dr. Duncan told the young genius. “This is a very unique and delicate situation. There is a part of me that wants to suggest that you have it removed soon as possible since there is a great risk to your life. Another part of me wants to see what would happen if you carried to term. However, none of that matters. The important question is what do you want? Don’t worry about what anyone else wants. What do you want to do with this baby?”
“If he were to carry it, is there any way we could find out who the actual parents are?” Edison asked. “He’s really not old enough to handle this much responsibility.”
“We can find out the parents’ identity right now, if you like.”
“It won’t hurt the baby, will it?” Bryce inquired.
“The procedure is perfectly safe,” Dr. Duncan assured him, taking a needle and extracting a fluid sample from within the sac.
The doctor took out a chart and compared the samples with network employees first. He intended to start at the Network, then work his search outward until he found what he was looking for. It never got that far.
“Seems to me that the child is yours, Mr. Carter,” he explained.
“Then who is the mother? Theora? Vanna Smith?”
“Excuse me?” Edison blinked.
“So, you’re saying it’s a gene-spice?” Bryce said, sounding impressed. “But why?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Edison decided. “Dr. Duncan is right. The choice in this matter is entirely up to you, Bryce.”
“I’m keeping the baby,” Bryce decided.
“Don’t you want to think about it?” Edison asked Bryce for the fifth time that evening while they, Murray, Theora, and Cheviot were having dinner together in the cafeteria.
“There’s nothing to think about.” Bryce said, pointedly.
“There’s a lot to think about,” Edison argued. “You’ve got a life inside of you.”
“If it means that much to you, why do you want me to destroy it?”
“I don’t,” Edison told him. “I just think you’d be better off if you found someone else to carry and raise it. This is a gro-bag. It’s not a natural part of your body. It can be removed without…”
“The baby is a natural part of me,” Bryce reminded Edison. “And a natural part of you as well. Or doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
“Would you two stop arguing about it?” Theora asked. “Bryce is right. This is his decision.”
“He’s sixteen,” Edison pointed out. “His body isn’t even completely grown yet. Who knows what will happen to him? He might even be too delicate to carry it to term.”
“I’m right here, Edison,” Bryce complained. “Please don’t talk as if I’m not.”
“Why is this baby so important to you, Bryce?” Theora asked.
“Because it’s… because it just is.”
“Because Edison is the father?” Theora asked.
Bryce bit his lower lip in silent embarrasment, but nodded in confirmation. “Yeah.”
“This Network cannot afford a scandal involving it’s top reporter,” Cheviot said, firmly. “I’m ordering you to get an abortion immediately.”
“I will not,” Bryce refused. “Do whatever is needed to protect this network’s reputation. Hire the best spin-doctors you can find to deal with it. But I am not having an abortion.”
“Nor do you have to,” Theora agreed.
“Then, I suggest you pack your things,” Cheviot told Bryce. “I will not have a pregnant teenager working on my staff.”
“You can’t fire me just because I’m pregnant, sir,” Bryce pointed out.
“I’m not,” Cheviot told him. “I’m firing you because keeping you on staff at this point would risk this network’s reputation, and that’s something I’m not prepared to do. Not even for Edison Carter.”
“I’ll talk to Shawn and Winnie,” Theora told Bryce. “I’m sure they’ll be willing to put you up and help out with the baby when it comes. They have a child of their own, so you’ll be able to get a few parenting tips. It’ll also help you to come to terms with the reality of your situation.”
“Thanks,” Bryce said, a tone of relief in his voice.
Shawn Jones had taken back his old job at the restaurant, with a little bit of help from Theora. He was there when his older sister walked in with Bryce the day after Cheviot had informed him of his being fired.
“Shawn,” Theora told him, “This is Bryce. The one I told you about on the vu-phone last night.”
“If anyone other than you had told me that story, I never would’ve believed it.” Shawn told her. He turned to Bryce. “Would you like to sit down for a bit? I remember Winnie was always a little worn out.”
“I’m fine, unless you count being fired for no good reason. But, thanks all the same,” Bryce told him.
“Bryce,” Theora told him, “you may no longer be working for Cheviot, but remember Edison is paying you to work for him.”
“Cheviot is an idiot if this boy is as brilliant as you say,” Shawn told Theora. He turned to Bryce. “Look I’ve got to finish up my shift. I’ve still got almost an hour. Why don’t you two order something for dinner and then I’ll take you home afterward.”
“You should have something,” Theora told Bryce.
“Alright,” Bryce agreed. “I am feeling a little hungry.”
Edison stormed into the medical center where Bryce had been impregnated.
“Where is the doctor who operated on Bryce Lynch?” he demanded of the receptionist.
“I don’t know,” she told him.
“Not good enough,” Edison told her. “Find out.”
“What day was the surgery?”
“About two months ago. On a Tuesday.”
“Dr. Parker was the head physician on that day. He’ll know. I’ll page him for you.”
“That’s better,” Edison said, firmly.
“Dr. Parker to reception,” the woman summoned.
About ten minutes later, Dr. Parker walked into the reception area. “I was with a patient,” he apologized. “What can I do for you?”
“Who performed the surgery on Bryce Lynch?” Edison demanded, grabbing the doctor by the collar. “I know it had to be someone from Ovu-Vat. Who was it.”
Dr. Parker fought to compose himself. That wasn’t easy with an angry reporter throttling him. “It was Dr. Tsung!”
“Thank you,” Edison said, releasing him. “And you just let him do it?”
“He wanted revenge on you, Mr. Carter,” Dr. Parker explained. “I just went along with it out of a sense of curiosity. I was, honestly, fascinated by the idea of a male bearing a child.”
“Then you should’ve had the operation performed on yourself,” Edison snapped. “Bryce is sixteen. Did you even think of that?”
“That’s what made him the perfect candidate,” Dr. Parker told him. “There are people in other countries who would peg you as a pedophile when they found out. They wouldn’t even think about the fact that there was no way the pregnancy could’ve happened through sex. All they’ll hear is that he’s pregnant and you’re the father. The sex will be assumed because they relate pregnancy with intercourse. Think of what that will do to your ratings, Mr. Carter.”
“So Bryce has to suffer because you have a grudge against me,” Edison said, angrily.
“Life isn’t fair, Mr. Carter.”
“You’re right,” Edison said, ending the sentence by punching Dr. Parker in the mouth.
“I’m guessing you’re Bryce,” Winnie said as Bryce and Shawn walked into the small home that she and Shawn shared.
“Yes,” Bryce replied. “You’re Winnie Jones?”
“Yes,” Winnie told him. “I’m pleased to meet you. I’m sorry we don’t have a bed for you right now. We’re planning on getting one in a day or too. The sofa is comfortable enough in the meantime.”
“The sofa will do just fine,” Bryce told her.
“You’ll be wanting a bed later on in your pregnancy. Trust me,” Winnie said. At the sound of her own child crying, she smiled. “Excuse me.”
Bryce watched her tend to her baby from across the room. As he did, it dawned on him that one of these tiny human beings was what was growing inside of his own body. One that had been created from simple cells stolen from himself and Edison Carter. It would be his job, for many years he guessed, to protect and look after that little life.”
“It can be overwhelming sometimes,” Winnie warned him, guessing at what he was thinking. “But there will come a day when she’s old enough to talk and she’ll tell me that she loves me. That’s the moment that makes this all worth it. Until then, she tells me in other ways. Her little smile, her laughter. The smile in her eyes. Those make the wait for those words memorable. But it’s hard work all the same. You’ve got a difficult but rewarding time ahead. But I think you made the right choice. If you were a different teenager, I’d suggest giving it up for adoption. But you’re smart and you have a steady income from Edison Carter, so I think you’ll be alright.”
“I hope so,” Bryce sighed.
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