MAX HEADROOM: 20 Minutes Into the Future
Something About Her

Chapter 06: The Raker Stardancer

"Network 23 was going through some moderate financial problems at the time," Bryce began. "It's something you don't know about, Edison, because Cheviot always makes certain it's top entertainers continue to get their regular salaries."

"I take it your department is one that got cutbacks?"

"Rather large cutbacks," Bryce replied. "And considering what my equipment costs, I needed a second job for a while."

"So you picked Raking," Murray guessed. When Bryce nodded, he exclaimed. "What on Earth made you pick such a dangerous, not to mention illegal sport?"

"I didn't want Cheviot to know I was moonlighting," Bryce replied, as if that made everything okay as he looked over the electronic menu on the side of the table.

Edison put his hand on the side of Bryce's face and turned him back to face him. "That's not good enough," he said. "You might have been seriously maimed. Or killed."

"Bryce," Theora asked. She had to know. "Did you know about Shawn?"

Bryce shook his head. "I retired just after he joined the team," he explained. "By that time, the network's finances had improved. I had met him only briefly and at that time he was Ace. I didn't know you two were related until you started looking for him."

Theora accepted this. Then she and the others placed their orders with the electronic menu.

In time, Shawn returned to the table, carrying a tray laden with their food, plus one other plate.

"I hope you don't mind if I join you," he said, "my shift just ended a moment ago, so."

"That's fine," Theora smiled. "Shawn, tell us more about Stardancer."

Shawn passed around the food, then sat down with his own plate.

"Stardancer was the most elegant of Rakers," he said, wistfully. "There was a beauty about him that was almost feminine. It's no wonder he became a mom."

Edison snickered at this, almost roaring with laughter when Max took over the electronic menu screen long enough to remind them "Twice!"

"He was only ever wounded once," Shawn continued.

"He was hurt?" Edison was horrified. "How badly?"

"Pretty seriously," Shawn recalled. "It was the day after I joined the team. He was facing Victorious, an aptly named Raker who'd had twenty wins up to that time. We all thought Stardancer might be the one to break Vicky's winning streak. He didn't. Vic took down Stardancer rather nastly. Raked him right across the chest."

"What?!" Theora asked. "Bryce that could've killed you!"

"It didn't," Bryce said, simply. Closing his eyes for a moment, he thought briefly back to the time when he had faced Victorious.

It had been his seventh and final match as a Raker. And it had only been his final match because the Raking Boss had decided he didn't want to explain to Network 23 what their Head of Research and Development was doing in the queue at Gladhand Meadows crematorium.

"You're too valuable to that place from what I hear," the man had told him. "I never should've let you work here in the first place. That cut was deep. Another half inch and it would've got your heart."

Shawn's voice echoed that last sentiment aloud, causing Bryce to open his eyes.

"And here I thought that thermal testing chamber was your first encounter with death," Edison remarked.

"It was the first one where I was facing death head on," Bryce said. "When I was Raking, it was just a sport. A little dangerous, but not much more than skiing."

"Bull," Murray said. "How many skiers do you know who have competitors coming at them with razor gloves?"

"They don't," Bryce admitted. "But they do run into trees, occasionally break a limb. Their own I mean. And..."

"It's not the same thing," Murray said as Bryce took a mouthful of food. "They're not putting themselves into a situation where someone else is deliberately attacking them."

Bryce swallowed. "Be that as it may..."

"Just promise me you'll never do anything that stupid again," Murray said, sternly. "Next time you run low on funds for your research, just come to me. Don't risk your life over it."

"Thanks, Murray," Bryce smiled.

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