Max Arena

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Peace

4th October (almost 1 month later). Peace

2pm, 4th October, Brisbane, Australia

Looking up at the sun, Max could feel the sweat already dripping off his skin and beading on his forehead. Winter had well and truly been hurried away by the onset of an unseasonably heated spring. Spreading his gaze across the horizon, he found the expected anvil-shaped thunderhead clouds brewing over the sea. There was a storm coming, but the cooling rains would come too late for him this afternoon.

Lowering his sight, he looked around the boundary of the suburban football ground and found the usual throng of people, thirty, forty deep all around, a small army of security and military personnel managing the crowd. Overhead, the now routine sounds of circling helicopters, both media and military, added to the background noise of the thousands of onlookers chattering and shouting. It was just another Tuesday in front of the public, but complacency was the furthest thing from Max’s mind. He was here, as always, with purpose.

‘You good to go, Max?’ Kris’ voice sounded in his miniature ear piece.

Turning around, Max found Kris striding up from the Pain Train, her wireless comms set on her head, looking around at the equipment laid out on the playing field.

‘Let’s get busy,’ Max replied through his miniature microphone that was held in place around the base of his throat by a thin ribbon circlet.

‘This crowd keeps getting bigger every week,’ Kris added. ‘They’re going to need more soldiers soon.’

‘They’re always well behaved. The most trouble we’ve had yet is a few errant pairs of undies sailing over the fence. Could be a lot worse.’

Kris smiled. ‘What makes you think those undies were for you?’

Now Max smiled. ‘Don’t make me laugh. Not when you’re just about to run me into the ground. It’s too evil.’

‘Right then. Enough chit chat. We’re getting the wind up from the director anyway.’

Max flicked a glance to the top of the Pain Train where a woman stood with her hand in the air indicating the live media broadcasts were about to commence.

‘What do you want first?’ Max asked, roaming his gaze over all the equipment.

‘Straight into thirty handstand presses and then run on down to the dumbbells at the far end,’ Kris replied, walking away towards where the dumbbells lay.

Run down to the other end?’

‘Yeah, run, on your hands of course. Those fancy orange shoes of your’s aren’t going to get dirty today. You’ll be upside down most of the time.’

‘Remind me again why we’re friends?’

‘You got ten seconds. Quit your yapping,’ Kris shot back as she continued to walk away from him, waving her hand back at him.

Max shook his head and smiled as he lowered his hands to his sides. A voice sounded a ten second countdown over the loud speakers. Max’s eyes narrowed.

11:12am, 4th October, Bangkok, Thailand

Patpong Road broiled like a living sea as the throng of people heaved and surged along its length. Thousands and thousands of locals and tourists swarmed in the space, the noise deafening as the masses roared and rumbled like ocean swells crashing onto the shore.

Up and down the street, massive, three storey high television screens sucked in the masses’ collective attention, keeping them absorbed and well behaved. It was Tuesday and this event was now a regular, weekly event on the city’s calendar. Everyone was here for one reason and right now the giant screens were filled with that reason. Max.

Suddenly, the crowd erupted as one. The cheer rumbled the ground and the buildings over a full city block away. A vast field of orange flags with black “X”s sprouted from the mass, turning the street into a vibrant tempest. Up on the screens a single figure stood, his muscle clad frame almost ten metres tall, his stance firm with feet apart after having just landed from a quadruple somersault, while sailing over one of his own Team Max Land Cruisers, completely unassisted.

The vision then showed Max doing a backflip and landing cleanly on his hands to hold himself inverted on the grass. Kris then dashed past him and Max turned to chase after her, still on his hands. Max’s pursuit took him through an obstacle course, over benches, under low level bars and even up a stack of boxes arranged like stairs, not faltering once.

Patpong Road oohed and ahhed with every obstacle crossed and then when Max eventually flipped back onto his feet, the applause thundered like an army of horses, loose in the city streets.

Smiles warmed the multitude of faces comprising every colour, race and creed. Joy consumed the crowd, with laughter and cheers the common language.

8:21am, 4th October, The Empty Quarter, Sultanate of Oman

Heat and dust filled the air of the tiny village, its ramshackle huts clustered together around a central well. Surrounding the little enclave, the desert rose, the towering, rust red sand dunes dwarfing the village, drifts of sand whisking off the lofty crests of the intricate, wind carved masses.

At midmorning, the village would normally bustle with activity as the locals busied themselves with routine chores. Hauling water. Tending to the camels or repairing the huts, but not today. Today was Tuesday and that meant only one thing. Max day.

Inside the largest of the huts, the majlis, the villagers gathered in front of the solitary television, seated on the floor on a tapestry of woven rugs, the deep rich colours of the threads matching the multicoloured abayat of the women and in stark contrast to the white, flowing dishdashas of the men. Dancing around the seated adults were the children, their shrieks and cries a symphony of fun as the vision on the screen played out.

Max had just picked up a barbell and placed it across his shoulders, the massive weight plates on each end making the steel bar wobble as he moved. The camera then cut to Kris who flicked a finger and instantly, Max turned and started to hop, great bounding hops, down the length of the field.

Suddenly, one of the Omani men jumped up and grabbed a broom from the nearby wall and slipped it over his own shoulders, mimicking Max. The whole room broke into cheers and laughter as the man proceeded to hop the best he could around the rugs. All the children jumped up and copied him, the hopping parade laughing and giggling its way around the majlis.

Then one of the women pointed at the television and called out. The man with the broom paused, looked at the screen and then dashed back to the wall to grab the mop as well. Then holding the broom in one hand and the mop in the other, he started to jump as high as he could. The children followed suit and the majlis broke out into a fresh round of cheers.

Suddenly, the door to the majlis flew open and everyone turned. An Omani man stood there, framed and unmoving against the stark sun of the desert outside. Everyone stopped, watching him. Then in a flurry, the man produced something from behind his back and held them up in front. Orange running shoes.

The majlis exploded. Applause and shouts drew the man inside to wild embraces from his fellow, male villagers. His trip to the capital had been successful. In moments, the man had the shoes on, the broom and the mop in hand and he was leading the children around the room, pretending to be their hero.

Outside the desert rolled on, the constant whistle and dull roar of the wind punctuated only by the joy bursting from the tiny village deep within its heart.

6:36am, 4th Paris, France

The faintest predawn colour tinged the eastern horizon, while overhead, a clear palette of inky blackness flooded the sky, a smattering of stars still twinkling through. Reaching up from the ground below, the Eiffel Tower’s needle-like tip soared above the urban panoply of Paris, its metallic structure fully aglow like a giant, golden sceptre defying the nocturnal shade.

In the shadow of the tower, the full length of Avenue Anatole had become a fairground, its grassed parade crowded with revellers. A string of enormous television screens lined the twin edges of the elongate space with stalls and makeshift cafes set up to keep the thousands entertained, despite the very early hour. Orange t-shirts emblazoned with black “X”s were the standard uniform with orange shoes generously spread throughout.

Right now though, the crowd stood hushed as they raised their eyes up to the huge electronic screens, watching Max thunder down the field. His orange shoes blazed as he sprinted over the turf, his entire body a powerhouse of motion. As Max ran and without slowing down, he plucked up kettlebells from the ground and with unbroken, fluid movements, hurled them diagonally away to smash into randomly placed targets. As the last target disintegrated into a cloud of splinters, Avenue Anatole cheered as one, filled champagne glasses rising together and sparkling like a field of diamonds.

Then Max stepped off his left foot and changed direction. Almost immediately back up to full speed, he fixed his focus on a new target. The camera panned across to Kris who was pointing to an object fifty metres down field, an object the rugby union mad, French people recognised. It was a scrummaging sled, padded on one side and loaded up with weights on the tray on the other side. Normally this contraption would be pushed by eight men in structural unison, but today, there was only Max, at full tilt.

The crowd froze again, hands clasped tightly together, lips tightly pressed and eyes wide. Mouths opened agape and all conversation stopped as Max ploughed onwards. The early morning became still and then Max slammed into the sled.

Instantly, the contraption bucked up as Max hit the pads at the front. Driving in hard, his power brutish, the pile of weights on the tray jostled and bounced, but it did not stop him. Driving forward, Max pushed the sled over the grass like it was a tenth of the colossal weight it actually bore. Avenue Anatole rose again, cheering and shouting. A chant broke out. ‘Max! Max! Max!’

Champagne spilled as embraces broke out. Hats flew through the air and dancing ripped through the crowd like a virus. It was pandemonium. It was delirious and as the sun slowly brightened the eastern sky, joy filled the streets, parks and homes of Paris.

4:48am, 4th October, 100km east of Freetown, Sierra Leone

The small rebel band crept up on the jungle encampment, their slick dark skin and dark clothing camouflaging them discretely in the deep shadows of the night shrouded foliage. In their hands, the men carried an assortment of guns and machetes, the weapons silent and restrained for now, but at the ready to deliver pain and death to their sworn enemies in this bloody civil war. Innocence lay just beyond the trees and the sole intent of these murderers was to brutalise it with no mercy.

Then they stopped. Through the trees the rebels could see what looked like the entire village huddled together in the centre of a small conclave of huts, their jostling bodies lit up by the roaring light of a nearby bonfire, its flames licking the dark, night air. The villagers cheered as they jumped up and down. Then a chant broke out, a single word repeated over and over again, filling the clearing with elation, the emotion spilling out into the glooming forest.

‘Max! Max! Max!’

Instantly, the small band of rebels froze. Looking around at each other, they also started to feverishly whisper Max’s name amongst themselves. Guns were lowered and machetes reslung. The band quickly came together and a quick, hushed conversation and vote ensued.

Then, as a group, the rebels straightened to hurry out of the jungle and into the clearing. The firelight lit up their gleaming, sweat-streaked bodies and a shout of alarm went up from the first villager to spot them.

Suddenly, the whole cluster of villagers broke out into an awful wailing, cowering as they did. The men in the group instinctively squirmed to the front of the group in a vain hope to shield their wives and children from the onslaught of the rebels. A stand-off quickly developed, a thick tension straining the scene.

Then, very slowly and carefully, the leader of the rebels laid his gun down onto the grass, never removing his gaze from the villagers as he did. As he straightened, one by one, all of his men followed suit, laying down their own weapons. Stillness enveloped the clearing as both sides eyed each other. Only two sounds could be heard. The sharp crackling of the bonfire and a scratchy voice coming from behind the clustered villagers.

Tentatively, the leader of the rebels raised his arm and pointed towards the villagers. Flicking his chin upwards he indicated he could hear the voice behind them. The nearest villager carefully turned his head to face back into the crowd and as he did, his fellow villagers copied him.

A gradual break in the group formed and as it opened back into the centre of the clearing, the rebels held their breath. Finally, the source of the voice was revealed. There stood a single television hooked up to a satellite dish, the image on the flickering screen difficult to perceive, but one single colour in the image, orange, making it absolutely clear what was on.

The nearest villager turned back to the rebels to find them enthralled. Gently, he motioned for them to come closer. The villagers moved further apart and the opening grew wider. The leader of the rebels took the first step to enter the space. His band followed gingerly behind them, their eyes darting from the faces of the villagers to the glowing television. Slowly, the two groups silently came together in front of the appliance, their eager faces all latched onto the same image.

On the screen, Max cart wheeled like a gymnast along a thin, steel pole raised high above the ground,. When he reached the end, he vaulted off amid a mixture of somersaults and twists, but as he flew through the air, two of Kris’ assistants threw two kettlebells up at him.

As Max turned in midair, he threw out both arms, plucking both kettlebells from their trajectories. A split second later, his feet planted onto the ground and he seamlessly pirouetted to hurl both kettlebells away. The camera panned sideways to lock onto the hurtling missiles and just in time, caught them as they obliterated a distant target.

The clearing instantly launched into cheers. Howls and hoots filled the air. Fists punched high and complete strangers draped their arms over each others’ shoulders as they jumped. Euphoria took over as villagers and rebels alike celebrated together. A chant quickly rose into tune.

‘Max! Max! Max!’

In the jungle beyond the edge of the clearing, the animals watched as the two groups of enemies melded, their conflict forgotten in the face of their shared hero. Behind them, the rebels’ weapons lay uncared for as joy took over the clearing.

3:30am, 4th October, Atlantic Ocean

The light of the full moon flowed out across the night darkened ocean like a pale, shimmering carpet. The vast, untamed mass of the Atlantic lay quiet and still in the early hours of the morning, the tranquillity normally unassailable, except here in this little patch of water.

The massive cruise liner, the Dreaming Seas, carved elegantly through the glassy waters, its huge bulk lit up like a colossal lantern against the backdrop of liquid blackness. Onboard, over two thousand passengers had not yet gone to bed. The party raged with every television tuned into the same broadcast. Max.

Young and old, married and single, all revelled in the action beaming off the screens. Orange, Team Max t-shirts and matching Team Max flags filled the decks, clubs, cinemas and bars as everyone got into the spirit. Even the crew were right into it, going a step further as they dressed themselves in black track suits and orange shoes. The Captain himself led the partying as he stood on the stage in the main theatre cheering and yelling for everyone to copy their hero as Max bounded and leaped around the playing field.

Many of the women had also dressed up as Kris, wearing tight leggings and t-shirts replete with pony tails and caps. A bunch of clearly enamoured young men had also done the same, cross-dressing in their best Kris outfits to prance around and hurl themselves into spontaneous push ups and burpees.

It was nuts. It was fun and not a single face missed a smile. The next morning, breakfast would be subdued, but that would be deserved. Tonight, the Dreaming Seas rocked in full party mode as joy took the helm.

1:14am, 4th October, New York, United States of America

Times Square at night. Iconic. Brilliant. Vibrant. Tonight it was all these things and despite being just a regular, Autumn Tuesday night, it was also as crowded as any New Year’s Eve. Over a million people crammed together, illuminated by the dizzying television screens towering over them from multiple buildings. Orange adorned almost every living body and every wall space around the square. At ground level, an army of orange shoes stamped and trod the ground.

Like a real-life computer game, the crowd stood virtually fully immersed in the giant vision surrounding them. Motion flashed all around. Images flickered into focus and then snapped onto a new picture, quicker than the brain could clearly register. Wonder and awe ran rampant amongst the masses, eyes fixed wide open and mouths gaping. Surreality had taken over.

Up on the tall, slender, twenty-five storey facade of the New York Times Tower at the head of the square, the vertical stack of huge television screens all linked together to form a single, seamless image and right now, Max filled it.

The camera view from directly head on, showed Max hunched over and driving forward, a tightly bound harness strapped around his torso. With his teeth bared and sweat pouring from his face, Max lifted each knee high to then pound it down into the turf and propel himself forward, one mighty step at a time as he struggled against an unseen force behind him.

Then the camera lifted higher to reveal two taut straps playing backwards from Max’s harness. As the camera lifted higher again, the source of Max’s resistance came into view. At the end of each strap, a Team Max Land Cruiser trailed, a driver sitting in each vehicle to keep the cars on a straight line, while Max pulled both of them together across the grass with no help what so ever.

A simple, raucous chant filled Times Square as over a million voices tried sending their encouragement direct across the globe to where Max strained and toiled.

‘Max! Max! Max!’

As if in response, Max’s pace quickened, his steady stride becoming a half-jog. Then Kris appeared next to him, shouting her own encouragement and the chant in the square grew even louder. Max got even faster, his efforts generating more momentum.

The chant of the crowd rose ever higher, becoming dangerously harmonic. The ground rumbled. The buildings shook and the air itself thrummed. The noise could be heard all through the city, seeming to shake the very foundations of the earth. Inside apartments, throughout Central Park, in the subways inside trains and on the platforms, the chant reverberated.

New York was locked on to Max. They lived and breathed every step he took, every drop of sweat that beaded on his brow and every pulse of his blood. The chant was hypnotic and as powerful as any force the world had ever seen. Tonight, New York’s heart beat in time with their hero Max.

4th October, 3:30pm, Brisbane, Australia

Max stabbed his feet into the turf to slow his sprint as he arrived at the far end of the field. Breathing hard, he turned and looked up at the big digital clock on top of the Pain Train. He had just run a one hundred metre sprint and the time revealed 9.76sec. The crowd around the edge of the field was more ballistic than ever, a sea of orange filling the circumference.

‘You’re getting faster,’ Max heard Kris say through his ear piece. ‘Keep this up and you’ll be the fastest man on the planet by Christmas.’

‘That’s the plan isn’t it?’ Max said back through his throat mounted microphone.

‘You’ve already got a bagful of world records for other stuff,’ Kris replied. ‘Why stop now?’

Max started walking across to where Kris stood in the centre of the field, her assistants scurrying around and collecting all of the equipment, the session over. As he walked, Max turned and looked over to a cordoned off area in the crowd where Elsa and the kids sat, ensconced in a heavy security detail. He waved and the family waved back, their smiles beaming.

‘Hey, what do you think the global viewer count was today?’ Kris asked as he came up next to her.

‘Don’t know. Not keeping tabs on it. You tell me,’ Max replied as he panned his gaze around the still rowdy crowd, waving some more as he did.

‘Well, last week it was one point eight billion and I reckon today we might have cracked two,’ Kris said, also waving to the crowd. ‘Hell, you were virtually sprinting with two Land Cruisers strapped to your back today. You won’t see that anywhere else on TV.’

Max smiled. ‘Does that mean I’m pulling three of them next week?’ Max asked, flicking a sideways glance to her.

In reply, Kris shook her head and pointed back over Max’s shoulder. He turned and found the Pain Train.

‘Aim high, Max,’ Kris said. ‘Oooh, hey! It’s our song! The Team Max anthem. Get your hands up!’

‘You first,’ he shot back.

‘Not a chance. There’s no way you’re getting me to do that thing.’

‘Embarrassed?’

‘No. Well, maybe.’

Max chuckled and jogged away over the grass towards his family. As he ran, he caught Peter’s attention off to the side of the cordoned area and pointed towards Elsa and the kids. Understanding the request, Peter nodded. Max then motioned for his family to come out onto the grass.

With twin shrieks, Millie and Jason broke out of Elsa’s grasp and tumbled across the turf to ram into Max. Kneeling on the ground, Max placed Millie on one side and Jason on the other as Elsa quickly ran up behind them to stand over the top. Then together, the whole Dyson family lifted their hands up to clap overhead in unison with the crowd and the anthem.

The masses responded, forcing the noise levels even higher. Then Max jumped to his feet and while his family continued to clap, he scanned the crowd, tuning himself in with the music. With his timing clued in, Max stamped his foot in between the hand claps to add to the rhythm. It didn’t take long for the crowd to latch on and they followed suit, their overhead claps now blended with alternating foot stamps.

’What are you doing?’ Kris asked through his ear piece.

‘Making it harder for you,’ Max replied.

Kris grinned and shook her head as she watched Max, Elsa and the kids dance around the field together, stamping their feet and clapping their hands. Around the edge of the field, the noise rose higher again. Cameras perched on scaffolding, seated on top of the Pain Train and even from helicopters overhead, all focused on Max and his family as they joined in the fun. The images instantly relayed around the world, ensnaring over two billion people sitting, standing, jumping and dancing in front of their televisions.

Today, tonight and every other time of day across the world roared with the unifying sound and harmony of the Team Max anthem. Whatever continent, whatever city, where ever the place, remote or big city, the music was the same, but more importantly, a common emotion filled the hearts of humanity. Joy.

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