12:25pm, 1st January. Glimmer
The impenetrable blackness beyond the windows of the helicopter made it seem as if Team Max were flying in a void, the world outside consumed and gone. Even time itself appeared to have abandoned them as the seconds stretched into minutes and the minutes stretched into something immeasurable. Reality had drifted away and in its place, Team Max had fallen into a dark, dark place, where the light and energy of life had forsaken them.
No one had spoken since they had lifted off from the arena island. Mute silence shrouded Team Max, while fear and sadness threatened to suffocate them. They had been victorious, but their triumph had been achieved at the most awful cost and now, they were all in the deep pit of mourning.
Max was dead. He had defeated all his foes, including dispatching Macktidas, but the effort had claimed his life. The final, electric struggle with the alien warlord, coupled with his horrific injuries had been too much for Max. His heart had given out and his indomitable spirit had finally been broken. The victor had become a martyr.
At the end of the final duel, as Macktidas’ dead body vanished in a golden haze, Joe had hurriedly sent Peter and his team down to retrieve Max from the wreckage in the weapons bay. The orders were clear and urgent. Get Max to the evacuation chopper, immediately. In parallel, Abdullah’s personal security team were sent to round up Elsa and the children and Kris. The arena stadium and the entire island had become perilously dangerous and they could not linger.
As soon as victory had been realised, the stadium crowd had rioted. There was no malice or aggression in the twenty thousand strong’s actions. They were in fact, jubilant, but their passions were unbridled and so the situation had just simply became too dangerous and out of control. Team Max had to leave.
While Peter and Abdullah’s security teams sprang into action, the island’s military personnel and other security teams protecting other dignitaries also mobilised into effect, but this just enhanced the chaos. In the confusion, emotions escalated, shots were fired and lives were lost. Not all of the dignitaries escaped and several helicopters crashed as the airfield adjacent the stadium descended into pandemonium.
Adding to the chaos was the very real fear that despite victory, an alien invasion was still possible. Yes, Max had defeated all his opponents, which should have secured everyone’s’ safety, but he had also killed their ruler and would that not trigger a violent backlash all the same? Invasion had to be imminent and the first place the Nar’gellan army would come would be right there to the island where the murder took place.
So, Peter and his team dashed down to the weapons bay to secure Max, while Abdullah’s team gathered the remainder of Team Max to get to Prime Minister Tollsen’s waiting helicopter. Abdullah, Joe, Elsa and the children all arrived first, buckling themselves in, eager to see Max, Kris and Peter and all be together again. Then Peter had arrived. His team had picked up Kris along the way. Max himself was draped over Peter’s own shoulders. Together, Peter’s team hauled Max up into the cabin and everyone immediately realised he was unconscious.
Joe had had the foresight to make sure a small medical team was onboard to assist Max in the case of any injuries and it was to this team that Max was passed at the rear of the cabin. Elsa sat as close as she could with Millie and Jason huddled in with her.
‘Go! Go!’ Peter called out as he pulled the cabin door shut, with all of Team Max now safely inside.
Instantly, the wheels lifted off and their aircrew navigated a safe passage away from the airfield and out over the inky blackness of the Pacific Ocean. The medical crew continued to work on Max, while everyone else looked on.
Elsa’s wide eyes feverishly watched every movement, her ears hearing every hushed word passed amongst the medics. Joe sat quietly, pensively as he observed and silently considered their situation. Kris and Abdullah sat together, hand in hand. Abdullah prayed and Kris hoped. Peter sat alone, his hands remaining clenched since he had pulled the door closed.
Max did not move. Max did not respond to stimuli. Max was beyond reach and then the doctor slowly straightened and sighed, his eyes closing as he exhaled. Then, turning his grey eyes up to Elsa, he shook his head.
‘I can’t find a pulse,’ he said softly. ‘He’s gone.’
Elsa did not react. She did not bow her head. She did not cry. She merely inched forward to sit next to her husband and take his lifeless hand into her’s as she looked down on his peaceful face. Elsa’s dream came back to her, where Max had stood alone as a giant against the tidal wave that threatened to consume the world and he had fought it off, only to be dragged away by the receding water. The dream had come to pass. Max was dead, but he had saved them all.
Abdullah saw the doctor shake his head and he immediately lowered his own in deeper prayer, seeking Allah’s divine intervention to guide Max’s soul to Heaven. Kris gasped and tears filled her eyes, but she fought back her sobs in respect of Elsa and the children. Joe’s gaze dipped and became unseeing. He had hoped that if victory was achieved, Max would be with them to help right the world, but now that hope had been taken away. Fate had cruelly played them one last, despairing card. Peter’s fists clenched tighter as rage filled his mind.
Then, within seconds, Team Max bonded again. Kris wiped her eyes dry and turned to gather Millie and Jason together, carefully ushering them forward to Elsa. Eagerly, the children clutched at their mother, snuggling in close. Elsa looked up at Kris, who gently smiled back. Elsa simply nodded and then looked back down at Max.
Joe broke from his internal dismay and laid a hand on Peter’s shoulder. The touch made Peter flinch as he flashed his head round to find his greatest inspiration looking kindly back at him. Instantly, Peter’s rage settled and he found enough solace to realign his mind to the present and consider what to do next. Abdullah broke from prayer and looked around, finding his friends all comforting each other and instantly, these simple acts of compassion uplifted him. They were all safe and even though Max was dead, his sacrifice had not been in vain. All of their efforts had not been in vain.
The world lived on, but all was not well. There would be no miraculous global outbreak of peace and restoration of society. Humanity had imploded and was holding on by the most tenuous of threads. Anarchy racked every corner of civilisation. Extraterrestrial genocide had been avoided, but inbred genocide was rampant. Not even the coalition of G20 nations had survived in the last few hours. The United States of America, all of Europe, Japan, Russia and all of South America had collapsed, perhaps irreparably. Death still stalked the planet, scything down millions as every hour passed.
Even here, inside the cabin of this helicopter, Death had found Team Max, but Abdullah knew that together, this remarkable band of human beings could achieve anything. He knew now that Allah had gathered them all together to help the world return from the grips of barbarity and reclaim civility and faith. This was their calling and Abdullah would devote the remainder of his existence to this task. Humanity still needed Team Max, even more now that Max himself had been called away.
Abdullah squeezed Kris’ hand and allowed her to push in close to his side. His love for her was now undeniable and he would cherish it always as he took up his new path. Looking across to Joe, his friend looked back at him and unspokenly, they reaffirmed their partnership. They were in this together again.
Next to Joe, Peter was leaning forwards to talk with the pilots. The man had already reassumed his security role. With Max dead, Peter had now realigned his focus onto his Prime Minister and once again, he was in familiar territory, protecting the man he held more dearly than any other.
Finally, Abdullah turned to Elsa. What he discovered surprised him only momentarily. Elsa’s face was serene. She had already acknowledged her husband’s passing and was preparing to let him go, but not yet. Now was the time for reflection, while he still lay close and within her touch. With Millie and Jason silently nestled into her lap, the Dyson family was together at the end. Fate could not split them apart so easily.
Abdullah smiled. The cabin was quiet. Not eerily or morbidly quiet, but just still as everyone remembered their journeys to this point. Every moment of joy and every moment of pain, all of them worth the experience.
’Al-ḥamdu lillāh,’ Abdullah said to himself. ’Praise be to Allah.’
A smile gently lifted the corners of his mouth and then, just as he began looking away from Elsa, Abdullah noticed a tiny smile caressing her features as she looked down at her husband’s hand in her’s. Abdullah lowered his gaze to follow Elsa’s and his pulse skipped. His eyes widened slightly and hope flooded his mind.
Unbelievably, within Elsa’s grasp, Max’s fingers clutched back, his knuckles creased and slightly white. That meant only one thing. The man was alive! Max was alive! Abdullah held his peace and then Elsa, as if she knew the Sheikh was watching, turned around and looked up at him. Elsa’s smile broadened as a single tear welled in her eye and rolled down her face.
’Al-ḥamdu lillāh,’ Abdullah repeated as a tear of his own fell clear.