Max Headroom: Winter's Warm Embrace

Blank Bruno felt terribly guilty. Just yesterday morning he had invited his former student, Bryce Lynch, to visit him for a spell to discuss the Max Headroom program. Now Bryce was missing and Network 23's staff was terribly worried about their youngest employee.

Bruno had been impressed with Max when he'd seen him at the time he and the other Blanks had been threatening the Networks with an overload device. He had made a note to himself to ask Bryce over for tea so they could discuss the construct.

It had not yet been sundown when Bryce, who had stayed for most of that Sunday, had departed from Blank Bruno's simple home to go back to Network 23. The location seemed easy enough to find, given the size of the Network 23 skyscraper.

But the Fringes are deceptive, and Bryce did not make it home that night.

Lost in the labyrinth of the Fringes, Bryce had tried to find his way out of the back ways and alleys, only to lose his way even more with each road he tried to take.

"You are in a maze of twisting turning passages," he muttered to himself, recalling an old game he'd once hacked into, "all alike."

Turning to escape the blind alley he'd just walked into, he found himself facing a group of about four men each much bigger than himself.

He didn't even have time to scream before they were upon him.

It was just less than an hour later that Blank Paula was on her way home from a day of scrounging. She was carrying a small rucksack. It was full of gadgets and small items that she had liberated from their previous owners and was working out in her mind how much she might get for them. She knew Blank Reg would buy them for a decent price, though her last arrangement with him had gone a bit weird. A book of all things. What a strange thing to try to sell her.

Books, whatever they were, were drive to the back of her mind as her path crossed the place where Bryce had been left to die by his attackers. For a brief second, she clutched her rucksack as she considered whether to continue home and hope the metros found the wounded teen. Then, she dropped the bag and hurried over to him, pulling her coat off as she ran.

Paula draped her coat over Bryce and grasped his wrist with one hand. It took her a little while to find his pulse and at first she feared he might be dead. Snow was rumored for that evening and even now the temperature was dangerously low.

"I'd better get you inside," she said, in an urgent voice as she dragged him the two blocks to her home.

Paula's home was made of two cobbled together refrigerator boxes, one for the main room, the other for the bedroom. As they were set sideways and stead of up tall, anyone inside them had to get around on their hands and knees. Paula dragged Bryce onto the dilapidated mattress and placed a second coat on top of him.

Bryce moaned and tried to wrestle the coat off in his sleep.

Paula put her hand on his forehead in concern. "I'm sorry you've got a fever. You must be terribly uncomfortable. But if you don't keep warm you'll get even worse. It's close to minus fifteen outside. We'll be lucky if we make it through as is."

Bryce had given a small moan, though Paula wasn't sure if he was trying to talk through his fever or just in pain.

"I'll go get help in the morning," she'd promised. "it's too dark right now so I'll have to be your nurse until then."

Shivering and burning up at the same time, Bryce had instinctively drew himself up closer to Paula. Normally the Blank girl would've protested at this given that he was nude under the two coats she had covered with, but her own survival instinct had soon overridden her modesty. Removing most of her own clothes to more readily absorb Bryce's body heat, she curled herself around him. They fell asleep like that, each both offering and accepting the heat of his or her body as they fought to stay alive during the bitter winter night.

In the morning snow had piled up around the little cardboard house. Paula was the first to awaken. During the night they'd shifted a bit, and now they were dangerously close to making love, prevented only by the thin layer of silk she still wore. She slipped away, carefully, to remove any temptation, and quickly put her clothes on.

She worried as she watched him sleep, barely stirring for the next few days. She wanted to go and get help, but until he woke and was out of danger she didn't dare leave him. She managed to bring him to consciousness long enough to eat or visit the old security guards' bathroom in the abandoned warehouse nearby (she couldn't live there because it was condemned), but he always went right back to sleep afterward, murmuring appreciatively in response to her soothing whispers and reassurances.

Finally, after nearly a week, Bryce woke. It was evening and Paula was sitting on her side of the mattress eating from a box of crackers. Feeling him move, she turned and smiled.

"How do you feel tonight?" she asked, cheerfully.

"Better," Bryce admitted. "Where is this place? Looks like a refrigerator box."

"This is my home, mister," Paula huffed in mock indignity, "and I will have you know this is one of the finest refrigerator boxes in the world!"

"Okay, okay," Bryce laughed. "And while I'm not really sure what my name is right now I'm pretty sure it's not mister."

'So he does have amnesia,' Paula thought to herself. "I'm sure we'll find your memory soon enough. In the meantime, how about some crackers."

"Sounds good to me," Bryce said, taking a few from the box Paula was holding out to him.

Paula looked nervously at him as she realized this would be their first night sharing the mattress with him fully aware of it. She wondered what he would think of the sleeping arrangements.

"I'm sorry you're stuck in a bathrobe for now," she apologized. "Most of my clothes won't fit you and yours were taken by whoever robbed you. Don't worry. The only blood was by your head, so I don't think anything else happened."

"What do you mean 'anything else'?" Bryce asked.

"So innocent," Paula whispered, half to herself. "He shouldn't be out here. He's like a little tiger cub who's grown up in the zoo and has been released into the wild while still young."

"What?" Bryce asked her, wondering why she was comparing him to jungle animals.

"I was just thinking of how out of place you are here. How dangerous it is for you. I can't let you out of my sight for a minute, love."

Bryce looked at the strange wild girl who had saved his life, and realized that he was memorizing every one of her features, from her long frantic curls to the warm emotion in her eyes. Was this love, he wondered.

"If you have a home in the city, we have to find it and get you back there," Paula told him as she put the crackers back in the little sack that served as a cupboard. "Tomorrow, we'll go to Big Time and see if Blank Reg can help."

She settled down next to him on the mattress and under the blankets with her head under his chin. "I'm only doing this because it's cold," she whispered, sternly.

"So am I," Bryce replied as he put his arms around her and closed his eyes.

They were both lying.

Several minutes later, both were still awake, and not because of the cold.

"I feel a bit weird," Bryce admitted.

"I noticed," Paula smirked, affectionately. "Don't worry, it's a perfectly normal reaction."

"Well, since you know so much about it, maybe you can tell me how to solve..."

"You really are naive about these things, aren't you?" Paula smiled, warmly at him. "Well, you can move away from me and the problem will resolve itself while you sleep. But given that its winter and very cold that wouldn't be a great idea. You might get sick again. So I guess we'll have to make love."

"Make... love?" Bryce asked, the idea completely foreign to him. "I don't know how."

"I'm not sure either," Paula admitted. "My mother once told me that when I was with the right guy and it was time for me to give myself to him, all I had to do was be naked with him and my body would know what to do. I'm sure its the same with you."

"We'll just have to find out," Bryce agreed, shyly.

It was a night of quiet and gentle discovery for both of them, each delighting in the wonderful tenderness of their shared experience from the timid first touches, to the delightful moment of completion.

By the time they were starting to doze in each other's arms, they had both decided one thing.

The tiger was not going back to the zoo.

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