The World Sees
9pm, 7th August (later that night). The World Sees
‘Well, it’s official,’ Kris said as she walked into the sitting room after dinner to join Max, Elsa, Joe and Abdullah. ‘Max, you’re the most famous human on the planet right now. This morning’s training footage just went to the all time top on YouTube, knocking Gangnam Style off the top spot with over three million hits and that was just today.’
Max who was standing at the wide open threshold leading out onto the immense stone balcony simply turned and raised his bottle of electrolytes to her, nodding as he did.
‘That’s my man,’ Elsa said, smooching over and snaking an arm around her husband’s waist and pulling in close. From his seat on the couch, Abdullah cast a quick glance over the rim of his cup of tea to Joe who nodded back from his own seat on the opposite side of the coffee table.
‘So, I think this deserves a celebration,’ Kris continued. ‘Someone mentioned something about a wine cellar downstairs and if whoever owns this place is as rich as I think they are, then that cellar must have some pretty flash champers in it. Who’s up for a glass?’
‘I’m in!’ Elsa called back.
‘Great! Who else?’ Kris asked. ’Max, as your trainer, you can have one glass. Maybe two if you promise to give me double burpees tomorrow.’
‘Gee. You know how to charm a bloke,’ Max replied, turning back in to face the rest of the group. ‘Guess I’m in then.’
‘It would be my pleasure to join you,’ Prime Minister Joseph Tollsen said.
‘Your Highness?’ Kris asked, turning to face Abdullah.
‘Thank you, but no,’ Abdullah said, bowing in his seat and lowering his cup of tea to his lap.
‘Oh,’ Kris said suddenly, raising a hand to her mouth. ‘Sorry. Sorry. Religion right?’
Abdullah smiled and nodded. Kris then held both her hands out in front, a blush colouring her cheeks.
‘Please, do not be concerned,’ Abdullah said, his smile widening. ‘My indulgence is watching you all enjoy the fruits of the cellar. Toast away.’
Kris smiled now too as she and Abdullah looked at each other a little longer than intended. Elsa nudged Max in the ribs with an elbow. Max nudged her back.
‘Well,’ Elsa said dramatically, ‘I’ll go find the butler then shall I?’
Kris stirred herself and looked around. ‘Ah, yeah,’ she said. ‘Um, I think you just dial zero or something for room service don’t you?’
‘You just sit down and I’ll sort it out,’ Elsa replied, moving across the room to the sideboard to pick up the phone.
‘So, Max,’ Joe began, ‘it’s about now we need to ask how skilled you are with Twitter?’
‘Technically, Joe, I don’t even have a smartphone,’ Max answered. ‘In my hands that Samsung I’ve got is a dumbphone. I’ve heard of Twitter, but if I had to tweet to save my life, I’d be as good as dead.’
‘Well, perhaps it’s time the old dog learnt a new trick,’ Joe replied. ‘You can’t be the lord of social media and remain mute. Tomorrow we shall have to teach you how to speak, Gen Y style.’
‘Mister Prime Minister, I wish you luck,’ Max said, turning to look back out over the balcony to see only the blackness of a moonless night. ‘I really do.’
‘Champagne is on its way,’ Elsa announced, crossing to sit on the couch next to where Kris had seated herself. The two of them slapped hands in a high five and giggled.
‘We’re number one,’ Kris sang.
‘And we’re having champagne,’ Elsa followed on.
Abdullah turned and placed his empty cup of tea on the side table next to him before rising to cross and join Max by the opening. From beneath arched eyebrows, Joe watched him move past. Instead of following, Joe deliberately leaned forward and distracted Elsa and Kris into conversation with him to leave the two men alone.
‘Come,’ Abdullah said quietly to Max, ’share some fresh air with me, please?
Max looked to his side and tracked his gaze on Abdullah as he stepped out onto the darkened balcony, his gleaming white robe still shimmering beneath the star light. Max followed him outside, leaving the halo of light from the sitting room behind.
‘I have a palace,’ Abdullah began, ‘which is washed by the shores of the Arabian Gulf. It has a balcony much like this one and it is on that balcony that I find the greatest peace, late at night.’
Max held his silence. Looking out to the horizon, the stars gleamed like a billion diamonds cast across a sable blanket. Abdullah continued.
‘The sharpness of the salt and the cool of the breeze both stimulate and ease my mind. I find it as restful and as calming as any moment I spend in prayer. As Allah is my lord and protector, right at this moment, I feel as if I am at home on that balcony.’
Abdullah closed his eyes and breathed in a deep lungful of the sea breeze. Max turned to see the silhouette of his new friend’s face against the gentle light from the living room. He then looked back up at the night sky and traced his gaze from star to star.
‘When all this is over,’ Max said,’ you should make sure that balcony is the first place you go.’
‘I will, my friend, and I would dearly love for you, your family and all of us here tonight to come with me and share my balcony with me.’
That’s a deal,’ Max said, turning and holding out a hand.
Abdullah also turned and looked down at Max’s hand and then back up at him. Reaching out, he warmly accepted the handshake with both hands and then before letting go he said, ‘Max, today you became an internet sensation and if we can keep the momentum going, we may just hold mankind’s course long enough to make the arena, but be aware, you also made some deadly enemies.’
‘How do you mean?’ Max replied.
‘Most will see you as a potential saviour, but there are some, a powerful some, who will have confirmed you as a potential threat.’
‘I’m no threat. You know that. The only thing I’m bringing down is whatever turns up in that arena.’
‘What you need to know, is that while the majority of the world is living day by day to make the arena, there are some whose pursuits force them to see beyond the arena and plan for all of the possibilities that may await after your possible victory.’
’People like you, you mean?’
‘Yes. People like me, who recognise this time for what it is. A watershed. Win or lose in the arena, Max, be rest assured, the world will never be the same again. If you die, we all will possibly perish in a storm of violence and death. However, if you win, the man-made boundaries of international politics and sovereignty will shift and change. How exactly, I do not know, but it is inevitable. I can already see it happening and as I said, there are those among us in the international diplomatic community that are already seeking to gain advantage in any unsettled time post the arena and it is these people who feel threatened by you, who may rise as a force to be reckoned with.’
‘Do you know who these people are?’
‘I know some and many of them I can waylay or fend off, but we are fast heading for even more tenuous times. We may be able to restore some semblance of order back to the world in these last few months, but these new enemies will now target you directly. Be vigilant, Max. You are surrounded by friends here in this place, but as the saying goes, sometimes the wolf presents itself in sheep’s clothing and when the disguise falls away, you must act and act decisively.’
Max held his gaze locked on to the gleam in the Sheikh’s eyes. From inside the living room, Joseph looked out onto the balcony and found them, standing close together in firm silence. At that moment, Joseph felt the same tingle run up his spine that he had felt this morning while watching Max perform for the media.
Greatness stood outside, just beyond the light, but Joseph knew that in those two men, Max and Abdullah, the light shone so powerfully that the world had to stand up and take notice. Today’s spike on social media would take hold and it would grow. They had planted a seed of hope and now they needed to make sure it bloomed. A stand had finally been made.
* * *
From behind his White House desk, the United States Chief of Staff scrutinised the face of General Robert Stratton. Seated across the room in the burgundy coloured chesterfield couch, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had held his pause for longer than was comfortable, the extended silence not boding well for a palatable response.
‘I can hear those big, brass wheels of your’s grinding inside your head from this side of the room, General,’ Charles Ingot the Third said. ‘What are they telling you?’
General Stratton looked up and said, ‘No.’
It was now Ingot’s turn to pause. ’What precisely does “no” mean, General?’
The General’s eyes locked onto the Chief of Staff’s, his pupils chips of blue steel. ’I will not provide you with any assets to challenge this man.’
Ingot’s eyes creased to slants as his knuckles whitened. With a tense jaw he spoke in a highly measured tone.
’I thought we were in this together?’ he asked. ‘No, doesn’t feel like a team play.’
General Stratton did not flinch. ‘In matters of politics and diplomacy, you Mister Ingot, are the expert. In matters of military combat on scales both grand and individual, I am the expert and in this matter I say, I have no assets that can best this man, so I will not place them in harm’s way. If you wish to further this pursuit, you will have to find alternate means outside of the United States armed forces.’
’Ingot’s tone remained venomous. ’Let me be plain, General. You will provide me with a challenger.’
‘Mister Ingot, the vision you just watched from CNN was recorded by two of my finest soldiers who infiltrated the media gallery. If I was to provide you with the asset you seek, it would likely have been either of those two men, but they clearly indicated through the course of the footage by coded means that they recognise their skills to be inferior to this Max. In short, they conclude they are no match for him and their opinions guide my decision. I cannot help you. If a worthy challenger exists, he or she does not reside within the United States armed forces.’
Ingot sat bolt upright and craned forwards, his eyes firing bullets. ‘No way! You’ve got over two million soldiers at your beck and call and you’re telling me not a single one of them can beat this Max? No SEAL. No Delta. No Ranger or any other Special Forces or secret damn soldier you’ve got hidden anywhere can knock this man over?’
‘No!’ Ingot shouted back, banging his fist on the desk. Rising, he leaned forward on his clenched fists and glared across the room. General Stratton did not move, his demeanour holding steely cold. ’Let me repeat myself, General! You will find me a man who can beat this Max! That’s a direct order!’
General Stratton remained steadfast, the abuse thrown at him as ineffectively erosive as a cloud drift against a craggy, alpine peak. Then, after a few moments, he too rose to gather up his attaché and peaked cap. Once collected, General Stratton flicked his cap under his arm and straightened to squarely address the Chief of Staff.
‘You will note, Mister Ingot,’ the General began, ‘that I do not salute you as it is not my requirement. Nor is it my wish. I serve at the pleasure of the President of the United States and you are not him and as such, I will ignore your demand. I have other matters to attend to and so will take your leave. Have a good day.’
‘You will not turn your back on me!’
General Stratton continued walking towards the door.
‘Damn it, man!’ Ingot erupted. ’You will find me a man who can kill this Max, so I can control them in turn and then kill them off!’
General Stratton paused, his hand clasping the door handle. Ingot stood ramrod behind his desk. Tension rippled throughout the room. Finally, General Stratton turned, slowly and deliberately to refix his gaze on the Chief of Staff whose red, tendon lined face glowered back. The elderly soldier’s ice blue focus polarised the politician’s volcanic fury. The General spoke first.
‘Mister Ingot, you underestimate the nature of my patriotism. Whilst I too wish the champion of the human race could be a United States born and bred warrior, that wish will not be borne true from the ranks of our military. So, to serve the greater good of all mankind, I defer the honour of champion to the individual who is clearly best suited for the endeavour and from my estimations, that individual is Max. He appears to be the warrior we need and as such I encourage you to leave him unhindered. At the very least, your quest to usurp Max’s role will gain no support from myself. This conversation is concluded and again, I bid you good day.’
The two men stayed glued together for a few moments longer and then General Stratton turned and opened the door. With fresh colour rising in his face, Charles Ingot the Third watched the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff close the door and leave him alone.