Max Arena

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Trouble On The Fenceline

10pm, 29th July (later that night). Trouble on the Fenceline

‘Max!’ came the call from down the corridor.

Max held his hand on the door knob leading to his and Elsa’s guest wing and turned to find Peter walking briskly down the hall towards him.

‘What’s up, mate?’ Max asked.

‘I know it’s crash time, but can I nab you for fifteen minutes to show you something?’

Max studied his personal bodyguard’s features for a moment and came to a quick conclusion. ‘It’s important isn’t it?’ he asked.

’Yeah. You need to see this.’

Max hesitated again.

‘Don’t worry,’ Peter added. ‘Elsa and the kids will be fine while we go for a walk. My guys are all over this place.’

‘It’s not that,’ Max replied, shaking his head and looking down. ’I trust your guys, no problem. I just had a bad feeling about something when you said I need to see this.’

‘Hair on the back of your neck type of feeling again? Like when you got spooked at Kris’ brother’s place and put six blokes in hospital?’

Max nodded, his eyes glimmering out from beneath his brow like black diamonds. ‘Like I said, that’s how it happens. The feeling comes out of nowhere and it’s always on the money.’

‘Okay,’ Peter said, ’now I’ve got the jitters and I definitely think you need to come and see this.’

Without another word, the two men filed back down the corridor, their stride and pace firm.

A minute later, Peter led Max out the front door of the mansion and through the night along the road back towards the main gate into the estate. The star strewn night glittered overhead, the stars more radiant than usual for the new moon. Max’s night vision quickly adjusted, allowing him to make out the dirt road winding away ahead of them into the pitch of the night. Either side of the road, the shadows pressed in hard from all directions.

Still the bad feeling lingered in Max’s mind. Peter’s urgency had triggered his senses like an omen foretelling doom. There was something not right in the night surrounding them, almost as though they were not alone.

Peter stopped and turned to whisper. ‘The main gate’s about fifty metres in front of us. From here it’s whispers only. There’s a platoon spread out around the gate in full camouflage, so you won’t see many of them, but rest assured they’re there and armed to the teeth. They have night vision goggles on too, so they will be able to identify us just fine and know not to shoot us.’

‘Hopefully they’re aiming through the fence to the other side, mate?’ Max replied, whispering. ‘There’s only good guys on this side.’

‘Never trust a fence, Max. Trust only the men around you and your own ears and eyes. Yes, there’s a fence, but that’s no guarantee some bad guy hasn’t breached it further down the line and is coming in from behind to shoot you in the back.’

Max nodded. ‘Fair enough. Now, why are we here?’

Peter unslung a small container from over his shoulder and pulled out two pieces of kit.

‘Night vision goggles for you,’ he said, handing one of the items to Max, ‘and some for me. You’ll need these to see what I have to show you. Just slip the strap over your head and face. The on switch is on the side there. It’ll take you a few seconds to adjust to the green colour and the different contrasts and depths, so don’t move until you’ve got a grip on it, just to be safe. We don’t want you stumbling around like a drunk with all these guns around.’

‘Thanks,’ Max said as he pulled the goggles over his head. ‘By the way, that bad feeling, it’s getting worse.’

‘You and me both,’ Peter replied as he also strapped on his goggles. A few seconds later he asked, ‘You good to go?’

Max rotated his head a couple of times to get his bearings and then replied, ‘Yep. I’m good.’

‘Okay. We’re going to walk slowly along the road some more with me in front and you right behind until we get to the gate.’

‘Then what?’

‘You’ll see.’

Then Peter turned and started walking. Max followed as instructed and suddenly, his senses piqued. Something was absolutely not right. As he walked along in the green imbued world of the night vision goggles, he could more clearly see the surroundings and make out the bordering bushland on either side of the road. The impenetrable shadow walls seemed to press in on them like a giant vice, constricting the air around them. Max realised his entire body had tensed, his nerves jingling.

Up ahead, the front gate of the estate emerged out of the gloom. Peter pulled up and Max stopped behind him, glancing over his bodyguard’s right shoulder. Two soldiers materialised off the ground, their camouflage in the dark rendering them essentially invisible until they stood up. A series of hand and arm gestures between Peter and one of the soldiers led Peter to move to the grass on the left side of the road and crouch down on his haunches with both of the soldiers. Max moved across and followed suit. Then Peter and the soldiers lay down on their fronts and began crawling towards the gate. Again Max followed their lead. A few moments later all four men had reached the fence line, Peter waving Max into the middle next to him and both soldiers flanking them, their rifles aiming out through the fence and into the dark bushland beyond.

Peter leaned across and whispered in Max’s ear. ‘Focus on the bush. Give it a minute and you’ll see them.’

Max held his obvious question to himself and did as he was asked. Looking through the fence, all he could see was a mottled blackness as the starlight reflected off the complex pattern of leaves, branches and bark. Nothing stirred. Not a breath of wind shifted the night. Silence roared and then a twig snapped. Not loudly, but in the absence of any other sound it was like a gunshot. Then he saw them. Eyes.

They were unmistakable. Two bright, blinking pinpoints appeared in the mass of dark foliage. Then they moved and another set appeared a little further to the right. Then two more near the first set and then Max heard the whispering. Spoken words, in English. They weren’t animals. They were people and then Max grasped the cause of his unease. These eyes belonged to hostile people seeking a way into the estate. They were all under threat.

As the minutes passed, more and more sets of eyes appeared and every now and again Max made out the shape and movement of human forms amongst the trees. He could not be sure, but he estimated upwards of fifteen or so individuals. That probably meant there were more that he could not see. Max also got the feeling that these people were not just moving randomly around, but were in fact scouting the fence line, looking for security and ways to circumvent it. Unconsciously, Max clenched his fists and started to consider various combat scenarios if the need arose.

A tap on his shoulder made Max look to his left. Peter was waving him back away from the fence. Leaving the two soldiers on guard on the ground, Max and Peter crawled back over the grass until they were about twenty metres clear of the perimeter. They both then stood up and Peter indicated for Max to remove his goggles. A few seconds later with their natural night vision restored, the two men stepped back onto the road and started walking back to the house.

Max started. ‘They’re trying to find a way in aren’t they?’ he asked. ‘They know the place is heavily guarded, but they’re still keen?’

‘Yes,’ Peter replied.

‘Which means they’re desperate?’

‘Yes.’

‘Which is why you’re worried and why my intuition went nuts?’

‘Yes.’

The two men walked in silence for a few moments.

‘How long till they run the gauntlet?’ Max finally asked.

‘Two days. Maybe three at the most. I figure as soon as whatever food they have runs low enough, that’s it. They’re coming over the fence.’

‘You think these are people from some town nearby, forced to scavenge for food?’

‘You’ve heard the same security reports I have,’ Peter replied. ‘We all know there’s a growing migration of people from the regional centres towards the capital cities due to food shortages. My guess is these people are on their way to Brisbane and this is a convenient opportunity along the way for some pillaging, but who cares where they’re from. Like you say, they’re desperate. Anarchy is only three square meals away and by the looks of this lot, they’ve already missed at least one if not two meals.’ Then Peter stopped and turned to face Max who stopped right next to him, the two men squaring off on the road in the night. Peter continued. ’I had to show you this, Max so you knew the truth in advance of any potential trouble. The outside world is just on the other side of that fence, keen to come in and cause chaos. If these guys do breach the fence, don’t worry. We’ve got an evacuation plan ready to go, which we’ll discuss in the morning, so your family and Kris will all be safe, but what you need to be ready for is what you might have to do to protect your family.’

‘Tell me,’ Max replied.

‘I’m trained to do whatever is necessary, so I can pull a trigger if I have to, but you, Max, if the ugly side of humanity breaks through that fence and gets right up in our faces, they could well be ready to kill for what they need, so you need to be ready to fight fire with the same. You need to gear yourself up for retaliation.’

‘You mean I might have to kill someone?’

Peter paused and then said, ‘Yes. You might have to kill someone. Do you think you can do that?’

Even in the gloom of the moonless night, Max could see the glimmer of Peter’s eyes and he held them in the gaze of his own. He then shifted his attention down to his own hands, holding them out, palms up. Then, clenching them, he looked back up at Peter and said one word.

‘Yes.’

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