Max Arena

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Unleashed

5pm, 4th October (later that afternoon). Unleashed

With the afternoon’s training session over, Max now sat alone in the back of his orange van as the Team Max convoy sped along the freeway towards the city where Max was scheduled to attend a public relations dinner. Kris had stayed at the training ground for an interview, while Elsa and the kids had headed straight back to the airport to get an early flight back to the island estate. So, with the spare time afforded and oblivious to the now routine protective motorcade surrounding him, Max looked out at the long afternoon shadows stretching beneath the crimson tinged sky and reflected on the question Kris had posed last night.

‘When are you going to start weapons training?’ Kris had asked.

A fair question. After three months and now being half way to the arena, apart from the odd javelin, Max had deliberately steered clear of using weapons of any kind. Not because he didn’t feel comfortable using them. Far from it. Despite not having any direct experience with hand held blades or implements of any kind, he knew his physical skills and natural instincts would hold him in good stead when the time came. No, it was not inexperience or discomfort that held him back. It was purpose.

So far, Max had had no reason to use weapons of any kind as his own bare hands, feet and muscle had been enough to get by. They were weapons enough for now. He had not yet killed anyone or anything, alien or human and Max knew that once he picked up an instrument of combat, it would not be to wound or hurt. It would be to kill and that prospect required restraint. He needed to control that side of him which he knew lurked not so deeply inside.

Max was a warrior. Not a soldier, but a killer. It was the Nar’gellan blood inside him, yearning to break free and fight, to the death. It was only his human compassion that held the blood lust in check. If Max let that lust loose too early, he may not rein it back in. It was too dangerous and could bring them all undone, especially now when the world had warmed to him and his popularity was sky high. If the public discovered his barbaric streak, he might be branded a psychopath and lose all the support he and the others had worked so hard to garner. That outcome would also jeopardise their chances of making it to the arena as public unrest would again spiral rapidly downwards. Right now, Max was the only thing holding everyone together, but still the question remained. When would he pick up a weapon?

Chatter from the front seat of the van pulled Max from his thoughts. Up front, Peter sat in the passenger seat with another member of his team behind the steering wheel. Peter was listening into his ear piece to an unseen voice while scanning the surrounds outside the windows. He looked agitated.

’From which direction?’ Peter sharply asked into his collar microphone.

A few seconds passed. Max craned slightly forwards.

Two of them? What vectors?’ Peter asked even more urgently.

Another few seconds silence, then Peter suddenly bolted up straight.

’Repeat! Say again!’ he barked.

Max shifted forward to lean on his knees, his head turned slightly askew to better hear.

Peter jolted forwards to pull the walkie talkie from the dashboard, shouting into it, ’Red Flag! Red Flag! Get us off the freeway and underground now!’

The van immediately sped up, following the lead cars in the convoy as they swerved across lanes to start weaving their way forwards.

Max broke his restraints. ‘What’s happening, Peter?’ he asked.

’Not now, mate!’ Peter quipped and then into the walkie talkie, ‘There’s a shopping centre carpark just off the next exit! Three kilometres down on the left! Sirens on and clear the path!’

Max braced himself more firmly in the back as the scenery outside started to blur. Wailing sirens now surrounded them as the four-strong motorcade of orange and black vehicles raced through the scattering traffic.

’Talk to me, Peter!’ Max called out. ‘What can I do?’

’Sit tight and…!’ Peter stopped mid-sentence, placing a finger on his earpiece. ’They did what?’

Peter abruptly leaned forwards to look through the windscreen and up to the sky. Max judged the direction of his gaze and turned to look out his own window and up to the same place in the sky. Framed against the late afternoon sky, he saw their aerial support, an Australian Army Black Hawk helicopter, shadowing them.

Suddenly, the Black Hawk banked sharply to the right, just as something streaked in from behind it. The incoming object slammed directly into the Black Hawk, instantly turning it into a fireball.

’All assets! We need all assets now!’ Peter yelled into his collar microphone. Pulling a mobile phone from his trousers pocket, he tossed it over his shoulder to Max and called out, ‘Hit triple one! That’s Joe’s hot line and tell him we’re under attack with full reinforcements called in!’

Max immediately pressed the required buttons as the van swerved sharply, throwing him off balance. ‘Who shot down the Black Hawk?’ Max yelled as he held the phone up to his ear.

‘Don’t know yet! Unconfirmed!’

The phone rang three times and Joe’s voice came on.

‘Yes, Peter?’ Prime Minister Joseph Tollsen asked.

’It’s Max,’ Max said. ‘Peter’s busy. We’re under attack.’

‘You’re what?’

‘Someone just shot down our Black Hawk and the whole motorcade is steaming to some underground carpark just off the freeway.’

‘Who fired at you?’

‘Pete, do you know who shot at us yet?’

Peter’s bottom jaw fell and he pulled off his sunglasses to look at the driver. Hollowly, he said, ‘The yanks. They’ve got two Apaches on us.’

Max froze. Abdullah’s warning boomed though his head. “Beware wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

‘Well, Max?’ sounded Joe’s voice in the phone. ‘Who fired on you?’

Max shook his head and answered. ‘The Americans. Two Apaches apparently are right on us.’

Silence screamed back down the line. Then Joe spoke again.

’Close the call,’ he said. ‘You keep your focus there. I’ll get things moving from here and Max, Peter will get you out of this.’

‘I know he will, Joe. I know he will,’ Max replied and the line went dead.

The van lurched again and Max threw out a forearm to stay upright.

’There!’ Peter yelled and held the walkie talkie up to his mouth. ‘There’s the off ramp. Everyone off now! The carpark entry is straight through the main intersection at the base of the ramp and then immediately to the left. Run the light if it’s red and take out the boom gate going in.’

The van lurched again, this time to the left. Max looked through the windscreen and saw the lead four wheel drives burst through the surrounding traffic to charge onto the off ramp. Other cars squealed tyres as they ducked and weaved out of the way, skittering to the sides. Then everything escalated.

The very front four wheel drive suddenly erupted in a shower of glass and metal shards. One of its front tyres blew out and the vehicle instantly lifted off the road to become momentarily airborne. Smashing back into the ground, metal shrieked and groaned as it slid further down the off ramp. The second lead car accelerated and sped around the sliding wreck, Max’s van following suit along with the last four wheel drive at the rear.

A second explosion rocked the van causing Max, Peter and the driver to flinch. Max spun round and discovered the last four wheel drive skewing wildly off the tarmac to smash into the concrete barrier on the edge of the off ramp, its chassis completely destroyed.

‘They’re picking us off!’ Peter yelled. ‘Get us into that carpark!’

The van’s engine roared as it followed the new lead four wheel drive down towards the intersection. Max fixed his gaze out in front, forsaking the burning wreckage behind them. Salvation lay in front. Death lay behind.

Then, in the blink of an eye, the new lead car suddenly lifted up and blew sideways off the road as a missile slammed into its side, igniting it into a mass of flame and smoke.

‘Keep going!’ Peter yelled.

The driver floored the accelerator, throwing Max back in his seat.

’Get us in there!’ Peter added.

Then Max heard it, the unmistakable thud, thud, thud of helicopter rotors right overhead. A shadow blew momentarily over the van from back to front and then they finally saw it. Their assailant. A United States Army AH64 Apache helicopter gunship and it was everything that fear could bring to bear on a battlefield.

The driver of the van took his foot off the accelerator as his eyes tracked the incoming beast skim over the top of the van and begin to lower itself on the far side of the intersection ahead. The slim bodied helicopter, bearing United States Army insignia, spun to face them front on as it came down, its wing mounted chain guns and missiles now pointing squarely at the van. The driver halted the van at the base of the off ramp on the opposite side of the intersection.

All traffic movement at the intersection froze, leaving the centre of the four-way junction oddly vacant and apart from random rubbish blowing in the downwash of the Apache, deathly still. A handful of people in the stationary cars at the lights broke cover and fled, but most stayed ducked down inside their cars, peeking over dashboards and window ledges.

In the Team Max van, all three men sat rigidly in their seats, eyes stuck on the aerial demon squatting not more than twenty meters away, its entire arsenal locked onto them. Peter moved first as he lowered his chin down to his collar microphone.

’Max is unsecure,’ he said slowly and clearly. ‘Single bogey has us cornered at the base of the off ramp. Detail terminated. Bogey’s intentions unclear. Say again. Bogey’s intentions unclear. No sign of second bogey. All assets hold their distance till I say.’

‘What’s he doing, boss?’ the driver asked.

Peter paused as he carefully leaned forward to look out the windscreen at the sky. ‘I don’t know, but if he wanted to kill Max, he would have done it by now.’

‘He can’t take Max hostage in that thing,’ the driver replied.

’He’s holding us here for some reason,’ Peter answered, continuing to search the sky, ‘but for what, I don’t know.’

’Maybe they want to…’ the driver started.

’There!’ Peter yelled, pointing to the left.

The driver spun his gaze to the left and found another grey helicopter coming in low over the surrounding buildings. This one was different to the Apache, its frame more squat with skids on the base instead of wheels and large, open doors on both sides. It also carried fewer armaments compared to the Apache, but the view into the big open doors revealed seated soldiers armed with guns. The aircraft also bore a United States Marines insignia.

’We have a third bogey,’ Peter said into his microphone. ‘Repeat, a third bogey. A UH-1 Yankee incoming to join the Apache sitting in front of us. We could have a kidnap in play. I need live beads on the Yankee ASAP to discourage it from taking Max. Confirm, live beads.’

’Thoughts, boss?’ the driver asked, watching the Yankee set down on the left hand side of the intersection, causing some of the stationary cars to madly back out of the way. As it set down, the new aircraft rotated ninety degrees to face the starboard side door onto the vacant junction.

’We’re a good ten minutes away from any sort of support,’ Peter replied, ‘so, we’re as good as on our own.’

‘What do we do?’ the driver asked.

’We sit tight while that thing’s in our face,’ Peter said, flicking his head toward the winged monster across the intersection.

’What the…?’ the driver suddenly said, craning slightly to the left.

Peter squinted in the same direction. Exiting from the Yankee were three very odd figures. None of them looked like soldiers, but to call them regular civilians was also off the mark. Way off.

The first man was huge. Massive. A giant black man dressed in loose, long, black pants that ruffled around his legs in the Huey’s downwash like twin parachutes and nothing but a maroon vest covering his enormous, muscle clad torso. The second man was normal build and wearing normal kit, but in his right hand he carried a long, curved sword that glittered a light orange in the late afternoon light. The third man was Asian in appearance and not overly tall, but what he lacked in size, he doubled up on in weapons. In each hand he carried a short sword, the twin blades straight, simple and unadorned, but lethal in every respect. To the average Xbox fanatic it looked just like a trio of computer game characters come to life, striding out to do battle.

‘Who are they supposed to…?’ the driver started, but was interrupted.

‘Max!’ Peter yelled, spinning in his seat.

The sound of the rear sliding door opening had caused Peter to look backwards. Max paused as he held the door half open, but not looking Peter in the eye.

‘You keep your arse in this vehicle!’ Peter yelled.

‘Wolves in sheep’s clothing,’ Max replied.

‘What?’ Peter called back. ‘What are you talking about?’

Now Max turned and looked his personal body guard and close friend directly in the eye. ‘They’re here for me. To test me,’ he said.

’What do you mean, test you?’

’Someone in the American camp wants to replace me with their own pawn. I have to prove them wrong or else you’re going to die right here and now and I won’t let that.’

‘What’s not going to happen is you getting out of this van! You sit tight till the cavalry gets here in a few minutes and that’s an order!’

‘Not going to happen, Pete.’

‘Yes, it is!’

Max held Peter’s glare for a few moments and then slowly shook his head. Swiftly, Max threw the sliding door open and jumped out. Peter tried to turn and open his own door just as quickly, but failed. Max got there first and held his open palm flat against the outside of the window, firmly forcing the door closed against Peter’s pushing. Max looked through the glass and shook his head again. Peter tried to lower the window with the electric button, but Max’s force was too great even for the window’s motor, causing it to squeal and whine as it failed to lower the pane. Peter pressed the button harder and then pushed on the door some more, but Max held firm.

Peter closed his eyes and stopped, taking a deep breath. He opened them and found Max still staring impassively back at him through the glass. Peter stared back for a few moments and reluctantly nodded before leaning back from the door. Max nodded back and stepped out from the van to reach into his pocket and retrieve Peter’s mobile phone that he had used to call the Prime Minister. Max made a twirling motion with his finger and Peter lowered the window as instructed.

Max tossed the phone in and said, ‘You might want to video this and get it on record. You might also want to call Joe and tell him what’s happening.’

Peter nodded and replied, ‘Whatever you do, mate, after you’re done kicking these boys’ arses, get out of the way of that Apache. Not even you’re man enough to bring that thing down on your own.’

Max turned and looked first at the hulking war bird and then turned to take in the still burning wreckage of the nearest four wheel drive that had been leading the motorcade. Inside the twisted carnage lay the bodies of four loyal men and women, sworn to protect him, who had paid the ultimate price. Killed by their own allies. Max’s knuckles shone white as his fists curled into clubs of sinew and bone.

’Just make sure you get this on tape,’ Max muttered, ‘and don’t ever show it to my kids.’

Peter froze. The timbre of Max’s voice chilled the blood in his veins. Never in his extended life in combat had he ever heard anything like it. Max’s voice dripped with intent, thick with purpose and the tone forbode only one thing. Death.

Max strode out into the still vacant intersection, the swirling downwash ripping at his black training tank top and shorts that he had not yet changed out of. Errant newspaper scraps flapped around his orange shoes, skittering away as he strode further out onto the vacant bitumen. Once in the centre, Max stopped and turned to face the three characters who had also come out to line up side by side in front of him only metres away.

Peter brought up his phone and pressed the record button, aiming it at the impromptu arena in the centre of the intersection. He also dialed the Prime Minister’s number and waited while it rang three times.

‘Max or Peter?’ Joseph Tollsen’s voice asked.

‘It’s Peter. Max is a little busy.’

‘Explain?’

‘The Apaches have wiped out the rest of the motorcade and left us pinned down just off the freeway at the lights. One of the Apaches is sitting right in front of us while the other one presumably is somewhere upstairs covering the area.’

’Where are you and why is Max a little busy?’

‘A US Marines Yankee has come in too and just offloaded a trio of what I can only describe as duelers, obviously looking to challenge Max, who has stepped out to face up to them. I’m stuck in the car getting it all on tape and talking to you.’

’Are there any bystanders?’

Peter looked around the intersection. ‘A few people stuck in their cars hiding, but no one on the street. Collateral damage will be minimal if any.’

’Good,’ the Prime Minster said, a hint of relief in his voice. ‘Do these duelers look like a match for Max?’

‘Let’s just say, they’d probably belt anyone I know out of the ring, but for Max, my money’s on him.’

‘Are they armed?’

‘Two of them. With swords.’

A pause on the line. Then, ‘God help them. Everything is about to change.’

A shiver sliced its way up Peter’s spine. He kept his hands steady and silently sent a message of support out to Max.

Max no longer felt the pressure in his clenched fists, his attention locked on the trio of combatants in front of him, wondering who would come first. Not that it mattered and then he found out.

The giant black man stepped forward and closed the space between him and Max, his fists also balled into human maces. His white eyes gleamed out of his dark face, malice spitting forth. Max had no need to tense in readiness. His wits already stood poised to react.

Suddenly, the giant’s torso muscles rippled and he launched a devastating right arm punch straight towards Max’s face at blinding speed. Max stepped back and the fist pulled up just short. The man’s left fist then swung in a blur from Max’s right, headed straight at his chin. Max stepped back again, his movements definite, but almost casual. Three more straight drive punches ended in thin air in front of Max’s face, the rapid fire almost too fast for Peter to clearly see, but for Max, he foresaw them all and then stood back to watch the giant take a pause. The untrained eye would have judged Max as calm and relaxed, but Peter could see the enormous tension riled up inside him, like a dam cracking under a full load of water, waiting to burst.

The giant roared and lunged forward at Max, his huge, burly arms like a grizzly’s, swiping and swinging, clawing and grabbing, but every move the man made, Max deftly stepped aside from or ducked under, turning all the while to stay square on to his attacker.

The black man screamed now, his rage directed purely at Max who eyed him off just beyond arm’s reach. Then the giant lunged again, his massive left leg leading as he stepped into an inhuman right armed drive, his entire, goliath frame pushing his right fist through the air like a pile driver.

This time Max reacted offensively. Mirror imaging the giant, he stepped forward with his right foot and pushed his left hand out in front, his palm open. The giant’s fist and Max’s open hand smacked together, full on. An almighty slap resounded across the intersection like a sonic boom. The impact instantly brought both men to a standstill. Frozen together with the giant’s fist in Max’s hand, the two men stood locked together, both men glaring at each other from close quarters. The giant snarled, his upper lip curling. Max’s face held stern and resolute. No give came.

Then the giant tried to pull away, but couldn’t move, his hand stuck fast in Max’s grip. He pulled harder and failed again. Then in a blur, Max let fly a vicious, right-handed, upper cut, but not at the man’s chin and instead at his open right underarm. The blow cannoned upwards to connect right on target.

The giant roared as he was lifted off his feet by the blow and with Max still holding his arm firmly extended out in front, the blow also ripped the man’s shoulder joint apart. A loud pop ricocheted around the intersection and Max let the fist go.

Before anyone had time to react, Max then lashed out with his left foot, pivoting and kicking upwards into the giant’s inner left thigh. The man was again jolted momentarily off his feet as a hideous snap sounded.

As the giant fell to his knees, he glanced down at his broken femur, which was the last thing he ever did. Max rose up and lifted his right fist overhead and barreled it downwards, smashing it into the back of the giant’s head. A sickening sound like a melon cracking emanated as Max followed his blow all the way through.

Driven into the bitumen, the giant crumpled and lay still. Max straightened and stepped back, his eyes still glued on his downed opponent. He then paused to wait. Nothing. Then Max looked up, his focus now realigning onto the two remaining opponents.

In the van, silence held sway. The bout had lasted maybe one minute and Max’s own attack had been only a fraction of it, the retaliation and killing blow combination lasting only seconds.

‘One down,’ Peter mumbled.

‘That was one punch wasn’t it?’ the driver asked, awe dripping from his lips.

‘That wasn’t a punch,’ Peter replied. ‘That was a freight train.’

‘What’s happening, Peter?’ the Prime Minster asked over the still open line.

’Max just took out the unarmed guy. Monstered him.’

‘And now?’

‘Looks like the single sword guy is lining up.’

Sure enough, in the intersection, the man bearing the single, long, curved sword stepped forward to face up to Max. The downwash of the Apache and the Yankee still ripped at their clothing, but the disturbance played no problem for either man. Peter kept the phone’s viewfinder fixed on them as the second bout began.

The mystery attacker sprang instantly into action, his sword flashing in glittering arcs in and around Max’s form as Max dodged and weaved. The blade repeatedly sliced the air cleanly in front of Max’s face and chest, but each time Max was faster, pre-empting each strike and its direction to move safely out of the way.

The sword wielder moved faster, upping the speed and ferocity of his attacks. The steel of the blade became a whirl as the late afternoon light flashed and blinked off its surface. Max stepped to the left and lifted his right foot as the sword diced downwards past his leg, its tip striking sparks as it scratched the bitumen. Max then ducked down as the blade crossed murderously across his midriff level, its razor sharp edge cutting the air just millimetres over Max’s head. As he ducked, Max knew what was coming next.

His attacker recognised his position as being suddenly dominant and Max’s as being vulnerable, so the swordsman continued his horizontal swipe through and then seamlessly redirected it upwards until he stood, towering over Max with his blade held high in both hands. Driving his hands down, the sword followed suit, slicing downwards in a killing blow, aimed directly at Max’s head. A grimace contorted the swordsman’s face as he struck with all his power and skill. The blade flashed down.

Without looking up and still on his haunches, Max snapped both hands upwards into an overhand clap, his open palms slapping together just as the sword came between them. Max’s palms gripped the sword like a vice, instantly stopping its lethal arc. The swordsman stumbled, his momentum rudely halted and his initiative stolen away.

Max looked up, like a disciple genuflecting before a priest, except there was nothing benevolent in it. With the blade still firmly gripped between his palms, Max straightened and rose to full height. The man tried to pull the sword free, but Max’s unbreakable grip held. The swordsman was completely defenseless. Cold steel shone In Max’s eyes. Even twenty metres away and inside the van, Peter could feel his friend’s intent.

In a flash, Max stepped forward, pulling the blade along his left hand side. Fluidly, he released his right hand and shot his right fist out to smash it into the swordsman’s nose, snapping the man’s head back. Instantly, the swordsman released his grip on the hilt of the blade and with his left hand, Max reached forwards and with an underhanded flick, clipped the sword up into the air, causing it to flip and somersault end over end with the grip landing in his waiting left hand. The swordsman stumbled back, clutching at his face, oblivious to his disarming.

Max paused, sword in hand, as his attacker gathered himself, both hands pressed against his nose, his watering eyes taking in and registering his predicament. Max did not let the moment linger. With blinding speed, he reversed the blade in his left hand and pivoted on his right foot to spin into his opponent. The now backward facing tip of the blade speared directly into the man’s left breast, cleaving straight through to pierce outwards from his back like a skewer.

Time slowed. The swordsman’s hands slowly peeled downwards from his face, revealing a mixture of pain and incredulity. His knees quivered and a shuddering breath drew raggedly into his lungs. Max looked back at him over his left shoulder, his hands still on the hilt of the weapon. Blood began to drip from the man’s shattered nose and he finally rested his gaze on Max’s eyes only for the light to go out of his own. Finally, he collapsed to the ground.

Max kept his grip on the sword as the man fell, the blade pulling itself effortlessly clear of the body. Not even a drop of blood marred its immaculate surface. Max stood still, again fixing his attention on the corpse to ensure it was in fact dead. A few moments later, Max snapped his gaze up onto the third man.

‘Two down,’ Peter said.

’You said two down?’ Joe asked across the line.

‘Yeah. One to go.’

’And did he kill the second?’

‘With his own sword.’

Another pause. Then Joe spoke again. ‘Air support will be with you in eight minutes. Five Black Hawks and two Hornets. President Bartholomew is attempting to contact your bogeys directly to return them home immediately.’

’Let me tell you, sir,’ Peter added. ‘Nothing’s going to save this last bloke. Not now Max has a sword.’

Silence again streamed down the phone line.

In the middle of the intersection, Max stood tall against the last opponent, his sword held upright in both hands in front of him, unwavering. Surrounded by guns and soldiers, friendly and aggressive, the two men faced off unphased. Car doors opened as courage grew. Several bystanders had now exited their cars and crouched down behind their vehicles, hiding from the helicopters. Mobile phones filled their hands, the ensuing moments poised for registering in history.

Then the final swordsman moved, his double swords whirling like twin shredders in front of him as he advanced. Max held firm, his granite gaze lasering through the twirling blades and boring right into the heart of his attacker’s eyes, his will focused on only one outcome. Then it was Max’s turn to move.

It happened so fast that Peter’s senses didn’t immediately register that Max was in motion. One instant he was stationary, sword held in front and the next he had launched himself directly into the steel maelstrom, his own sword blazing in the late afternoon light.

With the speed and power of a titan, Max’s sword flashed and blurred, not parrying, but smashing into his opponent’s blades. Sparks skittered about the two men like a cloud of electric fireflies, the noise a staccato clatter of steel on steel. Max’s opponent immediately halted his advance and started to back pedal, Peter clearly noting the surprise on the man’s face. He had been instantly matched and was now in danger of being almost as quickly overcome.

Max sliced, diced, swiped and slashed, not recklessly or thoughtlessly, but methodically and cleanly, his balanced stride pushing him forwards into the fight. Despite being outnumbered in steel, Max was dominating and he knew it. Every attack struck his enemy’s weapon harder and harder, throwing his opponent more and more off balance and out of kilter. Max had him rattled.

Sensing it was time for all or nothing, Max’s foe planted his back foot and gritted his teeth. Bending his knees, he leapt high and spun three hundred and sixty degrees to bring down a double bladed strike, right onto Max’s head, using all his strength and the added power of gravity to maximize the attack to break through Max’s defenses.

Max anticipated the maneuver and like a dancer, deftly stepped to his left and spun, pivoting on the ball of his right foot, slashing his own blade downwards at the same time against his opponent’s unguarded right side. His opponent’s swords cut downwards into empty space, while Max’s cut diagonally downwards into his foe’s right leg. The blade sliced surgically through muscle and bone to sever the limb just below the knee.

A heart-stopping scream ripped through the air as the swordsman collapsed to the bitumen, blood pumping from his ruined leg. As he fell, he twisted to land on his back, his swords clattering to the road. Looking up, the man watched as Max turned to look back down at him. In that moment, he knew he had never had a chance of victory. The moment he had raised his weapons against Max, he had been dead.

Max stepped up to the prone man, who to his credit had quickly relegated the extraordinary pain that must have been racking him right now, as he defiantly glared back. Max did not speak. All he did was pause for a moment. The twin downwash of the Apache and the Yankee filled the intersection. Dust and grit swirled around the two men. On the edge of the scene, multiple smart phones captured the moment, Max filling the centre of the vision, his sword held out to his side as he stood over his downed enemy. Then, in an instant, it was over.

Abruptly, Max reversed his grip on his sword, knelt forward and drove the blade firmly into the prone man’s heart. His enemy flinched once, his arms held rigid for a few moments in the air and then falling back to the ground.

Peter sat frozen, his entire body locked in place and his eyes dilated to their maximum possible extent as adrenaline filled him. The spectacle he had just witnessed was absolutely unlike anything he had ever seen. Awe consumed him, but so too did something else. A deep, twinge of fear. Peter trusted Max, implicitly, but what he had just seen was as raw and as primal as any prehistoric animal hunting and killing its prey. Right now, Peter wasn’t sure just how human Max was and how alien he had become.

’What’s going on, Peter?’ sounded the Prime Minister’s voice.

‘He killed him, sir,’ Peter said flatly.

‘And what is Max doing now?’

‘He’s just kneeling there, in the centre of the intersection like some sort of…crusader or something, head bowed and his sword stuck in the other bloke’s chest,’ Peter struggled to say. ‘Sir, I don’t know how to describe exactly what just…’

’Leave it, Peter,’ Joe interrupted. ’What’s important is that you have reinforcements incoming in sixty seconds. POTUS should also be on the radio right now to personally send his birds home. Your instructions are to let them go. We’ll sort all this out later. You just get Max back in the van now.’

‘Yes, sir,’ Peter replied and the line went dead.

Lowering the phone to his lap, Peter remained very still. Every instinct in his mind screamed at him to get Max back into safety, but still he stayed inert. Outside, surrounded by blood, there kneeled a man that right now, Peter did not recognise. That man just a few minutes earlier had been Peter’s most respected friend, but Joe was right in what he had warned. Everything had changed. Max had killed and he was no longer the same man. What Max had become, Peter did not know and for the first time in his life, Peter was genuinely afraid.

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