8am, 7th August (2 days later). Unveiled
‘Do your make-up this morning?’ Kris asked.
‘Yes, Ma’am,’ Max replied as he walked across the grass towards her with Jason perched on his shoulders and Elsa and Millie walking along side. ‘Even got some product in my hair.’
Suddenly, Millie broke out of her mother’s hand hold and sprinted towards Kris, who held her arms out wide.
‘Come here, you,’ Kris called out as the little girl charged into her embrace. Sweeping Millie off her feet, Kris spun around, Millie’s legs swinging outwards in unison as she giggled.
Max lifted Jason off his shoulders and plonked him down on the grass, letting him run over and wrap his arms around Kris’ legs as well. Elsa smiled and slipped an arm around Max’s waist. A few moments later, the sound of approaching aircraft made them all turn and look towards the west.
‘Here they come,’ Elsa said just as three helicopter silhouettes appeared over the tree tops, heading right for the estate.
‘Show time,’ Kris said as she put Millie back down on the ground.
‘Yes, it is,’ sounded a voice behind them.
Everyone turned to find Joseph and Abdullah walking up behind them, also looking up at the incoming craft.
‘I pray this works,’ Abdullah said.
‘No fear, Your Highness,’ Kris said, still holding Millie’s hand. ‘One look at what Max is just about to do and I guarantee the whole world will sit up and watch.’
* * *
On the edge of Kris’ training area on the southern lawn of the estate, Prime Minister Joseph Tollsen stood in front of the assembled media and waited for them all to fix their attention on him. All up, about twenty press professionals stood restlessly in the warm winter’s sun, cordoned together and clearly eager to get their first look at this mysterious champion of theirs’.
After disgorging from the helicopters, the men and women of the media gallery had been herded into this particular space and instructed to set up their cameras, which they all did quickly and without question. Several individuals had also attempted to snatch a few shots of the generous scattering of military security across the broad lawn, but were quickly and forthrightly told to be patient, or else. Joe cleared his throat and all eyes fixed on him.
‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ he began, ‘firstly, thank you for accepting our invitation to be here with us for the next few days. We will show you to your lodgings in a short while and endeavour to make your stay both comfortable and rewarding.’
A few heads turned and looked around, mostly to remind themselves of just how much security surrounded them. Some looked up to the constantly circling Black Hawk high overhead, but most held their stance, eyes in front and fingers cocked on the trigger buttons of their digital cameras hanging around their necks.
Joe continued. ’Secondly, this is no holiday retreat you’ve been invited to. We need your help, sincerely. As you know, mankind and indeed all the world, has been threatened by an alien menace that seeks to destroy us for reasons we do not know. We will continue to try and establish the reason for this threat, but also as you all know, this menace has indicated one means of averting and nullifying this threat and that is through the actions of one man. A chosen man. A man who from the six billion people on this planet, has been selected to enter a life and death arena to fight for the survival of all that we know and hold dear. If this man is victorious against whatever foes are pitted against him, we all will be spared this threat and live on unchallenged and unharmed.’
The contingent of reporters and photographers stood transfixed to Joe’s monologue . He had them in his sway and he knew it. Joe kept on.
’However, despite this glimmer of optimism for peace, our way of life has begun to erode due to the uncertainty of our future. Doom gathers over us like storm clouds and fear has taken root in our society, across all the world. The very fabric of our civilisation is in jeopardy, even before this alien menace has set foot on our planet. If we are to survive beyond the arena, then we as a species must bond together to first make it to the arena. We are beginning to falter as we let our fears grow unchecked and unchallenged. We are beginning to die before we have even tried to fight back. We are in fact killing ourselves. So, what we bring to you today and in turn ask you to send across the world, is hope. We have a weapon with which to combat our fears in this gathering darkness. We have a torch that will shine a light on all our faces and lead us forward. We have a champion, the likes of which none of us have ever seen and have only ever imagined or read about in the wilds of mythology and legend. We have a man, just one man and why he was chosen, we don’t know, but thank God it was him because he is worthy of legend and today, you will see him for the first time and the help we ask of you is to tell the world about him. Take your message to every corner of the globe. Show your pictures and vision to all who can see. Shout his name and his might across the world for all who can hear. It is time to beat the drums and bring ourselves together and remind ourselves that we are human and we are powerful and in the face of this spectre that seeks to bring us down, we are one. We are one.’
Jaws dropped. Eyes grew wide and the world became still behind Joe’s passion. Goose bumps rose and tingled over skin. Even those in military dress standing within earshot felt that same tingle. Joe held the pause just long enough for his words to escalate the emotion he needed his audience to feel. Searching the eyes of the gallery, he found his message ingrained. His first job was done. Joe then raised his left arm to the green expanse adjacent and said firmly, ‘I give you Max.’
All heads flicked around to the circuit course laid out on the grass and the group scrambled to their cameras, jostling as they moved. Joe slipped quietly away and started to make his way towards a marquee that had been set up at the end of the circuit closest the house. Under the shade sat Abdullah, his gaze hooded behind his sunglasses, but Joe knew he was scanning the scene in front; the grassed circuit, the media gallery and across the other side of the circuit, the Pain Train, it’s orange bulk and massive “X” the perfect backdrop.
Joe sat in the vacant chair next to Abdullah and also cast his gaze across the scene in front. Then, lifting his hand, Abdullah rested it on Joe’s forearm next to him and without turning spoke quietly.
‘Thank you, Joseph. Your words reflect your soul. You are indeed the right man to lead us.’
Joe nodded and felt goose bumps rise on his own skin. Even he was looking forward to this.
Then the door of the Pain Train began to lower, the ramp slowly opening until it closed onto the rich green turf. A few moments later, Max strode out of the trailer and directly into the public eye, the world collectively holding its breath.