5:30pm, 21st July (the next day). Team Max
Elsa spread the grated cheese over the two almost complete pizzas and then shuffled across the bench to the sink to wash her hands. With her back turned, Max slipped past Elsa and reached out towards the nearest pizza. Without turning to look, Elsa shot out her own hand and sharply slapped her husband on the wrist. Max recoiled and frowned at her.
‘Come on?’ he pleaded. ’You can’t leave food lying around on the bench and expect me not to eat it? Especially after what Kris just made me do. I’m hungry.’
’You’re not getting any now,’ Elsa said as she turned on the tap, ‘and if you keep back chatting me, you won’t be getting any later when they’re cooked.’
‘Wow. Cranky. Maybe you should do some training with Kris too? Get your stress levels down.’
Elsa’s eyebrows knitted as she washed her hands. ‘Hmm, that’s not a bad idea. Since this alien thing started up, you’ve been hogging Kris all to yourself. I haven’t had a session for almost a month. Maybe I will hit her up?’
’Might as well. Other than flogging me around, I don’t think she’s got much else to do. Might be good for both of you?’
‘I’m just over here, you know?’ Kris called out from the adjoining living room, where she sat on the couch reading from her iPad, ‘and a girls’ only session sounds like a great idea, Elsa. Let’s lock it in for tomorrow!’
‘Cool!’ Elsa called back. ‘That’s a date!’
Elsa then turned around and just in time found Max reaching again for the unguarded pizzas. Another slap rang out in the kitchen.
‘Unlucky,’ Elsa said. ’Now get out of here before I get Kris to make you do both your sessions tomorrow on one leg.’
Max scoffed. ‘Hmph. Too late. Did that today.’
‘How about one arm tied behind your back too then, smarty pants? Now go on, get,’ Elsa ordered as she shooed Max away from the bench and out into the living room.
Just then, Joe and Abdullah walked into the kitchen.
‘Look out,’ Max said, eyeing the pair off. ‘Management’s in the room.’
‘As you were,’ Joe said, holding both hands up. ‘Just an informal delegation.’
‘May we discuss something with you, please?’ Abdullah asked.
‘Sure,’ Elsa replied. ‘I was just keeping my thieving husband away from the kids’ dinner. What’s going on?’
Joe stepped across to the sliding glass doors leading from the living room out to the patio and ducked his head out. ‘Peter, could you come in here, please?’
A few seconds later, Peter entered from outside and slid the doors closed behind himself. Kris walked over from the couch to stand at one end of the bench, while Joe and Abdullah positioned themselves on the living room side of the bench. Max and Elsa stood side by side opposite them on the kitchen side, while Peter leaned against a wall on the edge of the gathering.
‘Thank you for your time,’ Abdullah began. ‘Joseph and I have a proposition for you all.’
‘That doesn’t sound informal,’ Max said.
‘Diplomacy one oh one,’ Joe replied. ‘Gain trust first and then escalate.’
Max nodded, but stayed silent.
Abdullah continued. ’As you are aware, societies the world over are beginning to decay into chaos. Some places more rapidly than others and some more deeply than others. The world is approaching the precipice of self-destruction and it is only one month into a six month lead up to the arena. At this rate, we will destroy ourselves long before Macktidas and his alien forces potentially sweep onto the world. Something must be done and the usual diplomacy is failing. Joseph and I have tried in vain to hold the international community together, but distrust and fear are tearing old alliances apart and reigniting old prejudices. If a unifying solution is not identified soon, very soon, then wars will erupt and our doom will be sealed.’
‘You’ve got a plan haven’t you?’ Elsa asked. ‘You and Joe have always got a plan.’
Abdullah smiled and dipped his head. ‘Of sorts. The idea is Joseph’s and the implementation is mine. I will let Joseph divulge the details and I will assist where I can.’
All heads and eyes turned to the Prime Minister.
‘The idea itself is simple,’ Joe began, ’but it’s Abdullah’s finances and resources that will make it work, if you all align behind it.’ Silence encouraged Joe to go on. ‘Essentially, the world is ensconced in uncertainty. A threat has come from a vague enemy that promises oblivion, however, that threat has disappeared again and left us all in the throes of fear and for many of us, not really sure that we believe the threat to be real. So, we have started to turn our fear of the unknown onto ourselves and each other, letting that fear feed off itself, so it becomes self perpetuating. We are in a downward spiral and we need to break the momentum and there is only one way to do that.’
Joe paused again.
‘Okay, I’ll ask,’ Kris said. ‘How do we break the momentum?’
‘Hope,’ Joe said. ‘We give the world hope. We have no visibility or confirmation of our enemy. Macktidas has made his threat and disappeared, but we have done the same with our hope. We have hidden it. Macktidas named it and then we hid it because we needed to protect it, safeguard it and make sure it was ready for the arena at the due time.’
‘When you say “it”, you mean Max don’t you?’ Kris asked.
‘More or less,’ Joe replied, his enthusiasm notching up. ’Max is our symbol and our instrument of hope that Macktidas can be defeated, but personally I think all of you here in this room are the heart of our hope. It is all of you that will get Max into that arena and ensure he fights like the champion we all know him to be.’
’So what would you like us to do?’ Elsa asked. ‘What are you thinking?’
’As I said, Max is our symbol and so, it’s time to reveal our symbol. It’s time for the world to see what their champion is capable of and for everyone to start grasping the hope we all so desperately need in the face of this unknown enemy, but before we can reveal Max, all of you need to agree to the plan because this is not just about Max. It’s about all of you. You are a team. Showcasing Max without any of your support will doom the venture to failure. You are all important to each other and to the whole. If any one of you chooses not to embrace this venture, it will fail.’
’What exactly did you have in mind?’ Kris asked. ’How do we reveal Max?’
‘Public relations. We’re going to market him like any movie star or sporting hero, except to the extreme. We’re going to take Max to the world with the biggest song and dance marketing campaign history has ever seen. Every living human on the planet will see Max’s face, hear Max’s voice and watch Max train. Then as they say, seeing is believing and with that collective and shared belief in Max’s capability, the world’s hope will naturally grow and order will hopefully be restored.’
The group fell silent as eyes and attentions turned inward. Kris spoke first.
‘What sort of marketing are you thinking of?’ she asked. ‘TV? Facebook?’
‘Everything,’ Joe replied. ‘Full coverage across all forms of media, both traditional and contemporary. This is potentially the end of the world we’re talking about, so this campaign is all or nothing. We need the world to see Max everywhere they look. We need the world to have him front of mind all the time. We need everyone to think they know him, who he is and what he will do for them and by that I mean lay down his life to save theirs’. The world needs a saviour and in this day and age, any good saviour lives and breathes mass media. It’s the only way to touch the whole world at the same time, every second of every day right up until the arena.’
‘Sounds a bit distracting,’ Kris continued. ‘If you’re going to plaster Max all over every media outlet on the planet, that takes time. He needs to train and nothing can get in the way of that or else everything we’re trying to do here is for nothing.’
‘I agree with you, Kris,’ Joe said, ‘and our intentions are aligned against your concerns. We will not allow anything to disrupt or impede your training. In fact, the focus on the training is the key to this plan. What we are hoping to do is to take your training sessions to the world.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘The campaign builds through phases. Phase one is we introduce Max through inviting the world’s news media onto the estate, under highly restricted terms of course. Once here, they can broadcast and record much of what they see, but with the focus squared on your training sessions. The only indulgence is a couple of brief interviews with each of you. The world needs to see and know Max, intimately. We need to showcase his extraordinary abilities, but at the same time make him human, so people can relate to him as just another person with a family and support group behind him. The only difference is, this family man is going to save all of us.’
Kris nodded, then asked, ‘What’s phase two?’
‘We take his training public,’ Joe replied. ‘We set up training sessions in local venues. Sporting grounds. Community halls. Maybe even schools, but the venues would be local to the estate to reduce the logistical challenge. Of course the security would be tight, but the key is we let the public in to see Max up close and personal as he goes through his paces with you, Kris. By doing this, we let the crowd mentality notch itself up to the next level. As I said, seeing is believing and I am quite sure that anyone who sees Max do his stuff in the flesh will quickly become believers. This will require some added showmanship in your training sessions of course, but not much. Personally, I think Max sells himself. We just need to let him loose.’
Kris frowned. ‘Don’t underestimate how much effort a show like that takes,’ she said. ‘It’s that sort of distraction I’m worried about. Next you’ll want to sell t-shirts and caps with Max’s face on them.’
Joe looked sideways at Abdullah. Kris spotted the glance and jumped on it.
‘You’re joking aren’t you?’ she shot back. ‘You’re not thinking of...’
‘It is a possibility,’ Joe added. ‘Like I said, people need to see Max everywhere and if that means merchandising, so be it. We’d be crazy not to.’
Kris rolled her eyes and asked, ‘Is there a phase three?’
‘Maybe,’ Joe answered, ‘but it will depend heavily on the state of play at the time. If the campaign is working and the social fabric is beginning to mend as global support for Max grows, then maybe we do something extra, but if the world is continuing to slide downwards, we will likely have to retract ourselves and hide out for the duration. There are too many variables to consider before planning too far in advance.’
Abdullah picked up the thread. ’So, there are the fundamentals for the plan and some details to consider. The concept is valid and both Joseph and I believe it has an excellent chance of success, but as Joe indicated, it needs all of you to support it or else it will fail. We do not expect any decisions to be made now and would rather you pondered our proposal overnight, but if you have any initial thoughts for us or the group, please can you voice them now?’
Kris eyed off both Joe and Abdullah in turn and then looked down at the bench. Elsa turned to lean against the sink, her head dipped and her arms folded. Peter continued to scan the windows from beneath arched eyebrows, his eyes squinting a little more than usual. The silence dug in and then Elsa spoke.
‘Well, I don’t need to sleep on it,’ she said, looking up at Abdullah and then Joe. ’I’m sold. If you think this is worth trying then I’m in. I trust you both.’
Kris looked up at Elsa from beneath her brow. Elsa looked back. A few moments later, Kris nodded.
‘Okay,’ she said, raising her head. ‘I’m in too, but the second it starts distracting the training, I’m out. We can’t let the show become the main game. Winning in the arena is what counts.’
Both Joe and Abdullah nodded. Joe then turned to look back at Peter, who was still unmoved against the wall behind them all.
‘What say you, Peter?’ Joe asked. ‘You’re our security expert and if you think this is too dangerous, then please, share your counsel?’
Peter did not shift his visual fix on the windows, but answered with total attention to the question.
‘No counsel from me, sir,’ Peter returned. ‘I’m in.’
Joe smiled. ‘You’re not just being a good soldier and following orders against your better judgement are you?’ he asked.
‘No, sir,’ Peter replied as he turned to look his Prime Minister in the eye. ’You were bang on when you said “seeing is believing”. I’ve seen Max up close and now I’m a believer. We need to do this, so I’ll make sure we get through it all safely. That’s my part in this deal.’
Joe nodded. Peter returned his gaze to the windows. Abdullah turned his attention to Max, who looked back.
‘You remain the only person unspoken, my friend,’ Abdullah said, holding his hands out wide.
Max held the Sheikh’s gaze for a few moments and then turned to reach out and grasp one of Elsa’s hands.
‘I learnt a long time ago that I can trust Elsa’s judgement in things like this,’ Max said. ‘My alien half doesn’t understand human behaviour so well, so I find things turn out better if I rely on her call, but you know what? Over the last few weeks I’ve learnt that I can trust all of your judgements as well, so if you’re all in favour then I’m in too and as for being distracted by the show and the cameras,’ Max added and turned to look at Kris, ‘not a chance. You tell me where to go and what to do and I’m doing it. No matter what.’
Kris nodded, her features softening. Elsa squeezed Max’s hand and Joe and Abdullah smiled in unison.
Then Kris said, ‘There is just one thing.’
‘And that is?’ Joe asked.
‘We need a team name.’
‘We did have a suggestion,’ Joe replied. ‘How about World Hope?’
Kris pressed her lips tightly together and bore her gaze into first Joe and then into Abdullah.
‘You don’t approve do you?’ Joe asked carefully.
Kris slowly shook her head.
‘Very well,’ Joe said. ’What would you suggest?’
Kris looked around the group and landed last of all back on her Prime Minister, a smile spreading across her face. ‘Team Max.’