Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future
Starting Anew

(Authors note: Not connected to any other Max Headroom stories I've written in the past. Also, this short story contains disturbing content related to automobile accidents.)

Bryce woke in the middle of the night trying to remember when he'd gone to bed. It wasn't easy. His head was swimming in one direction and the room was spinning in another. He assumed he was drugged for some reason and tried to sit up. The sudden light stung his eyes as he wondered why he hadn't noticed it's absence before.

"Easy there, kiddo," an unfamiliar woman in a white uniform told him. "You're not going anywhere right now. Do you need to use the bathroom?"

Bryce tried to say 'no' but found that his jaw seemed to be immobilized for some reason. He went to move his arm to check for a neck brace, but the nurse stopped him suddenly with a worried look on her face.

"Your neck is fine, you can shake your head or nod," the nurse told him.

Bryce shook his head "What's wrong with me? Why can't I remember how I got here? Why am I in the hospital? Have I flipped out?"

"Not yet," the nurse muttered as she opened the curtains to let in the morning sun.

"What?" Bryce asked.

The nurse shook her head, then sat on the edge of the bed and adjusted the pillow.

"I could do that," Bryce snapped. "Or did I break my arm?"

"I'll get the doctor," the nurse told him. Instead of leaving, she reached into her pocket and touched the pager that was nestled inside.

It wasn't long before a woman in her early fifties arrived accompanied by a young burly man in his late twenties. Bryce wondered why the man was there. He looked like a bouncer. At home at a night club, but out of place in a hospital.

"Is that guy really necessary?" Theora asked, echoing Bryce's unspoken thought as she eyed the muscular man standing by the doctor.

"He might be when Bryce finds out what happened to him," Edison as he watched the scene in the room unfold with a guilt-ridden heart.

Guilt-ridden because Bryce hadn't wanted to attend the Scumball game last night. Because Edison had pressured Bryce into going. No it hadn't been Edison who'd been driving in an exhausted state. It hadn't been Edison who had fallen asleep at the wheel.

"We shouldn't be out here," Theora told Edison. "He's going to need us by him when he finds out what's happened."

"He's going to hate me," Edison replied. "I know he will. I hate me for it."

"I need you to remain calm," the doctor told Bryce as she sat on the edge of the bed. "How much do you remember about Wednesday night?"

Bryce shook his head. He tried to remember but all that came to his mind was a lot of spinning lights and then a sudden tearing pain. No. That wasn't right. The lights hadn't been spinning. He'd been spinning. Or rather, the car he was in had been spinning out of control. Edison, Theora, and Murray had been in the car with him. Had they been killed? Would these people believe he worked for Network 23? Would they send him home to his parents or maybe to one of the state homes?

He made a noise as he tried to speak. Hearing him, the doctor put a finger to his lips. "Your jaw was badly fractured in the accident. You won't be able to speak for a couple of weeks. There's something more imporant that we need to talk about right now."

Bryce went to reach for his mouth, wondering if his teeth were intact. He didn't dare risk cutting his tongue if there were only jagged bits of them left. As he brought up his right arm, he stopped and stared at it in horror. Or rather, he stared at where it should've been.

"And here's where Bryce freaks out," Edison whispered to Theora.

"My arm!" Bryce wailed, his words slightly slurred by the damage to his jaw. Tears fell down his face as he sobbed in agony.

Edison approached him, trying to offer comfort. But Bryce was inconsolable.

"Listen," the doctor said, as the burly man grabbed Bryce and held him so that he could not hurt himself, either accidentally or otherwise. "Your right arm and left hand were severed in the accident along with your right leg. We've already run tissue tests and we've found a set of limbs that are the proper size and compatibility for you. Except for the leg. You've got two choices. You can risk waiting for a biological replacement. Or we can give you a mechanical one now. If you wait, the deterioration of nerve endings may make a biological attachment impossible at a later time."

"If he takes a mechanical one now, can he get a biological one when it becomes available?" Theora asked, hoping her reasonable tone would encourage Bryce to calm down.

"I'm afraid not," the doctor told her. "Once a patient has been fitted with a mechanical limb the nerve-endings are fitted with a special device that restructures the signal patterns to make them compatible with the new limb. Once that device is in place, it cannot be removed without causing permanent damage to the nerve endings it was attached to."

Bryce's sobs subsided as his mind attached itself to the anchor of technology in the doctor's words. After a few minutes, the burly man released him and set him back down against the mattress as gently as possible.

"What happens if he goes with the wait?" Theora asked.

"If he waits too long, the only type of prosthesis he'll be able to use is a glorified peg-leg. I'd take the mechanical leg now. We don't get very many accident victims his age or size. You have just two days to decide," he added, speaking directly to Bryce this time. "I wouldn't even wait that long, if I were you, though."

"What happens if he does take the leg?"

"We'll add the adapters to the leg-stump when we operate on the other limbs. After that, he'll be in physical therapy for quite some time. He'll be learning to control a new limb. But he will be re-training his new biological limbs as well. It will take a long time."

Bryce sniffled a bit at this. Edison pulled a tissue from the box and helped the distraught young genius to blow his nose. The idea that he couldn't do it himself brought a fresh round of sobs from the teenager. Edison used a clean tissue to wipe the tears from Bryce's eyes.

Bryce gave Edison a look that held a mixture of accusation, forgiveness, gratitude and grief. Then, he looked up at the doctor.

"Do you want the mechanical leg?" Theora asked him.

Bryce nodded, just a little.

"I think you've made the right choice," the doctor told him.

"Kick?" Bryce asked, eyeing Edison. He hated being reduced to simple words and phrases. But anything more hurt his still-healing jaw. He was sure his teeth were intact now. If they hadn't been, he was sure he'd have had a bleeding tongue by this time.

"Edison's already kicking his own ass over this, Bryce," Theora reassured him.

"He can." Bryce remarked. And as the truth of his situation came back to him, Bryce began to sob again while Edison held tissues for him to blow his nose and wiped the tears from his eyes. This time, the kind act offered no consolation. The sobs grew steadily worse until Bryce began to vomit.

Theora got paper towels from the bathroom and cleaned up the mess while the doctor approached with a small syringe that contained a small amount of fluid.

"Just a mild sedative," she told them. "It'll lessen the chance of a repeat of what just happened. We can't give you too much. Your body's already heavily drugged with several painkillers."

Bryce looked up into Edison's eyes as he felt the needle being pushed into his shoulder, relaxing against Edison as drug took effect.

"He'll sleep for about an hour," the doctor reassured Edison and Theora. "We've already ordered the mechanical leg so we'll be able to do surgery once it arrives. Which should be later this afternoon."

"Nice," Bryce whispered. He opened his eyes woozily for a moment, remarked "Pretty Theora." and then fell into a light sleep.

"Well," Theora decided. "At least we know his mind is still working perfectly."

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