Max Arena

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It Makes You...Human

5pm, 29th December (12 days later). It Makes You...Human

Looking down the length of the lawn, Max’s inverted perspective from his handstand position, did not impede his view of what he had to do next. Thirty metres away stood two medicine ball canons, an assistant behind each one, slightly angling the barrels upwards and inwards to aim at him. A short corridor of five javelins on each side was also laid out just in front of his position and behind each canon, there stood two very tall targets. All Max had to do, was on Kris’ command, drop back to the turf and fire all ten javelins into the targets, while dodging a flurry of body bruising medicine balls raining down on him.

A single drop of sweat beaded on the tip of Max’s nose as he waited, his gaze fixed along the length of space between himself and the canons. His hand stand position held rock steady. A gentle sea breeze floated across his wet skin. The bead of sweat swelled and then dropped.

‘Go,’ sounded Kris’ sharp command in his headset.

Instantly, Max flipped back to his feet and in that split second, he knew two medicine balls were already inbound. Driving forward, Max ducked under the first two missiles and through his peripheral vision, judged where the next two were going to come at him.

In a blur, Max grabbed the first two javelins, one in each hand and squatted down to let the next two medicine balls pass overhead. Springing up, both javelins flashed out of his hands and immediately he had the next two in hand. Springing upwards, the next two balls passed underneath his tucked feet.

Moments later, the second pair of javelins sluiced through the air to slam into the centre of each target right next to the first two. As they drove home, Max had already launched the third pair of javelins while dodging past two more balls.

Spinning on his right foot, Max plucked out another javelin and fired it forwards. Then spinning back the other way, he let two more medicine balls sail past, one of them brushing his upper arm as he grabbed another javelin and hurled it.

With one javelin left on each side, Max looked up to see two more medicine balls plummeting in, dead centre on his midriff. With millimetres to spare, Max dropped flat onto the turf on his stomach to let the heavy missiles fly past. Then quick as a blink, he sprang back up and reached out to both sides to claim the last two javelins. Taking a single step forward, he powered them away, just as the twin shadows of two more medicine balls grew on his torso.

This time he did not budge or try to evade the balls. As the javelins flew away out of his hands and his immediate field of focus, Max refixed his attention on the two incoming missiles. Taking a stride forwards, he drove his two fists out in front and literally punched both balls back and away in the direction from which they came. With resounding thuds, both balls flew like they were hollow rather than the solid masses they were.

‘Keep them coming,’ Max said in a low tone into his microphone.

‘You heard the man,’ Kris said. ‘Fire at will.’

Max fixed his sights on the two canons twenty metres away and watched as the assistants pulled their triggers again. Two more balls launched and Max stepped forward to meet them. This time, he spun and kicked out, smashing the balls way with his right foot. As he straightened, two more balls were already coming. This time he punched them away again.

Slowly, step by step, Max progressed down the lawn, smashing away every ball as it assaulted him. Fifteen metres away. Ten metres away. With every step he approached, the assistants lowered the angle of the barrel and the power of each ball grew stronger and stronger, but still Max marched on. Balls flew at him and he whacked them away with even greater power.

Like a colossus striding through a maelstrom, Max kept ploughing forwards. The balls came faster and harder and Max belted them away even faster and harder. Kris did not realise she was holding her breath and that her mouth had slipped open.

Nine metres. Seven metres. Five metres. The assistants fired one more ball each.

‘Move!’ Max bellowed.

The two assistants baulked only momentarily before they registered what was coming next. As a pair, they sprang off and away from their canons, abandoning their posts. Five metres in front of them, Max stared down the last two medicine balls as they barrelled towards him, coming in hard at chest height.

With one final step forward, Max shot out both fists, his back leg driving all the way through his core and up through his back and into his shoulders, the full force of his body erupting out along his arms and ultimately into his fists.

A body thudding sound emanated from the contact as he hammered his fists into each ball, sending them thumping backwards in straight lines back along the paths they had come. Each ball flew back and crashed into its own canon, smashing the apparatus in showers of debris.

As the ruckus settled, Kris dragged her gaze away from the broken canons to find Max still in his final, powerful pose with both fists out and his body braced. A few moments later he straightened to look down upon his mechanical victims like a victorious gladiator. Max’s voice sounded in Kris’ headset.

‘They had it coming,’ he said. ‘I should’ve done that the first time you pulled them out.’

It took Kris a few moments, but finally her smile broke free and she nodded. ‘I’m surprised it took you so long,’ she said.

‘Just being polite,’ Max replied as he turned to look at her.

Kris put her hands on her hips and looked at both her cowering assistants, still lying on the grass nearby their ruined canons.

‘That’s a wrap, people,’ she said, clapping her hands. ‘Let’s get it all back in the truck...or the bin.’

Kris then turned to look back up at the balcony overlooking the lawn. There stood the whole gang. Elsa, the kids, Abdullah and Joe. She waved and they all waved back before turning to go back inside out of the heat. Only one remained. Abdullah. She kept her eyes on him and he kept his on her’s. Though too far apart to hear or even really see each other clearly, their unspoken moments were enough.

Finally, Kris gave a little wave and a smile and turned away. Making her way back through the training course and weaving past the equipment and scurrying assistants, she walked over to the Pain Train. At the foot of the ramp leading up into the trailer, a sun shelter had been set up with some fold-out chairs and a big cooler box full of ice and drinks. There sat Max, gulping down a bottle of electrolyte drink. Two empty bottles already lay at his feet, while sweat poured off him.

Kris stepped into the shade and pulled up a chair next to Max. Grabbing a drink of her own out of the cooler box, she cracked the seal and said, ‘I don’t think we should expect snow on New Year’s Eve.’

Max drained the last of his own drink and took in a breath. ‘No,’ he said as he reached across and pulled out another drink. ‘Just as well we didn’t go with team beanies in the uniform then.’

Kris nodded and took a swig of her own drink. She then added, ‘Hey, I forgot to tell you, you broke another record this morning. Mike Powell’s eight point nine five metres for long jump. You cleared just over nine metres and you didn’t even need a sand pit.’

‘Awesome,’ Max said flatly as he swirled his drink, watching the bright red liquid swish around inside the bottle.

‘Yep, you’re a walking record book. One hundred metres. Two hundred metres. Four hundred and eight hundred. Long Jump. Javelin. All the power lifting events. If the world was a normal place, you’d be a shoe-in at the Olympics for a bag full of medals.’

‘If the world was a normal place?’ Max mused. ‘Pity I’m not eligible.’ Kris looked sideways at him. Max slid a look back. ‘Alien hybrid. Remember?’

Kris nodded slowly and then pulled another gulp from her bottle.

Max rose and dropped his empty bottle onto the ground with the others and reached down into the cool box to grab another. Cracking the seal, he walked across to the edge of the shade to look out at Kris’ assistants as they cleared the equipment away.

‘Are you scared?’ Max asked.

Kris looked up at Max’s back for a few moments and then out to her assistants as well. ‘Terrified,’ she said.

‘It doesn’t show. You’re putting on a brave face and it’s impressive.’

‘You should see me when you’re not around.’

Max looked down at the ground. ‘He’s the best man I’ve ever known and even though I haven’t known many, I reckon he’s about as good as a man gets.’

Kris flicked her gaze back to Max’s back. ‘Abdullah you mean?’

‘Yeah. You two have only been seeing each other for a couple of weeks, but already, he’s rubbing off on you,’ Max said. He then turned to face her. ‘I know you’ve struggled with the whole end of the world thing. We all have, but I think you’ve had it really bad. I don’t know why and it doesn’t matter, but since you let Abdullah in, you’ve seemed stronger. You spring a little higher. You smile a little more and when you do smile, that hint of sorrow isn’t there. Instead it’s exactly what it is. A smile and it’s great. I wasn’t sure I’d ever see you genuinely happy, but maybe, just maybe I can see it now.’

Kris smiled and looked away.

‘There it is,’ Max said, ‘and it looks good on you. Oh, and hey, you’ve rubbed off on Abdullah too.’

‘How so?’ Kris asked, looking back.

’He’d started to slow down. The man’s a naturally pretty fluid kind of mover, but bit by bit, he was starting to just become slow. Worn down, but now, he’s back, but he’s different too. He’s back to normal speed, but now when he talks, he reminisces more. He talks about his homeland. The desert. The seasons and even his family. You could say he was a bit of a closed book before when it came to his personal life. He’d easily sprout all sorts of wise words and deep and meaningful thoughts about life in general, but his own life? Off limits. Now he’s an open book. Last night I sat with him for a couple of hours and I must have said maybe five words, while he rattled off story after story about his father. It was great. It was really great and that’s you, Kris. That’s you bringing out the very best in the man. Up until now, all we’ve seen is the best in him. Now we get to see the very best, so thanks.’

‘You’re welcome, I guess,’ Kris replied, tilting her bottle a little and watching the bright blue electrolyte liquid angle inside. ‘I was wondering where he was last night. If I’d known he was having a boys’ night with you, I would’ve just dragged him out.’

‘It’s not like there were cigars and brandy,’ Max said, turning back to the lawn to watch two assistants push a trolley bearing the remains of the medicine ball canons across the grass towards the Pain Train.

‘I don’t see him as much as I’d like to you know,’ Kris continued. ‘He’s always got something that needs doing. It’s like he’s trying to save the world all by himself.’

‘You know if we win, you’ll probably see even less of him?’

Kris looked down between her feet and nodded. ‘Yeah. He told me. The world’s a mess and even if you do win, it’s going to take a long time to put it back together and he’s the perfect man to do that.’ She shrugged and looked up. ‘That’s who he is. It’s what he does and I won’t stand in the way of it.’

‘You know, it’s fast turning out that if we save the world,’ Max started, glancing across to see two Black Hawks appear on the opposite horizon, flying in formation as they circled around the island, ’it’s not for ourselves, but for our children. Lots of people have said over the years we should strive to ensure a better world for our kids. Well, here’s our chance. Our grandparents did it after the world wars. Our great grand parents did it after the great depression and now, we get to have our chance if we beat Macktidas. Let’s hope we’re up to it?’

Kris sat quietly and just listened to Max’s words. As the silence deepened, Max turned to look back to find Kris looking right back at him, a softness in her expression. There was no smile as such, but a gentleness in her face.

‘You’re just like him, you know?’ she said.

‘Like who?’ Max replied, squinting a little.

‘Abdullah.’

‘Not a chance,’ Max replied, shaking his head and taking a swig from his bottle.

’Yes, you are. Whether you know it or not doesn’t matter, but you are. You’re a natural leader, Max. Physically, you’re just plain inspiring, but more and more, when you speak, it’s from the heart and you’re even more inspiring. You touch people in ways that make them feel recognised, acknowledged and that’s special. You’re deep. You’re meaningful, but you’re more than that. You’re genuine. You talk about Abdullah being the perfect man to lead the world, but you’re the complete package. You could lead on and off the battlefield if you had to. People would follow you where ever you went, whatever the need and in a lot of ways, billions already are. The world has placed their trust in you, not just because you’re a giant physically, but because of the way you talk as well. The way you think. The way you feel about things. What you said on Sally Sainsbury’s wasn’t just a flash of brilliance. It was awesome. You’ve got a natural talent to lead. Let’s face it. It’s in your blood. You’re Nar’gellan royalty, but what makes you even more special is your humanity. It makes you real. It makes you...human. Just like the rest of us.’

Max looked back at Kris as she spoke her final words. ’Now you sound just like Abdullah. He said something similar to me after I killed those three blokes in the city.’

Kris got to her feet and walked over to stand next to Max. ‘Maybe we’re all rubbing off on each other,’ she said, ‘but I mean what I said. We all know you’re unique in this world and I hate the fact that you have to step into that arena and put your life on the line for all of us, but I’m glad it is you. I also hope you win not just to save us all from Macktidas, but because if you do win, you’ll be there on the other side to save us from ourselves.’

Max looked edgeways at Kris and silently appraised her. Her return look was a mixture of hope and maybe a little desperation. It suddenly dawned on Max that perhaps the way she felt right now was an exact representation of how millions if not billions of people around the world felt right now. Hope that maybe there would be life after the arena, but desperate for it to be a life worth living.

Instead of saying anything in reply, Max turned and wrapped his arms around Kris. She responded by hugging him back just as tightly and for a few quiet seconds they stayed together as the summer heat stirred a gentle sea breeze across the lawn.

Stepping back, they unlocked their embrace and Max gestured towards the mansion. ‘Dinner time,’ he said. ‘We’ve been doing a week of last suppers and tonight’s my choice, so it’s roast lamb. Elsa’s a star in the kitchen, which is just one of the reasons why I love her.’

‘Yeah, she’s a good woman alright,’ Kris agreed. ‘Got room for two more at the table?’

‘You and Abdullah?’

‘Yep.’

‘Shouldn’t you be off having a romantic candlelight dinner or something?’

‘Nah,’ Kris said, waiving the comment away and starting to walk towards the mansion. ‘Not that kind of girl, besides, lamb roast would be my last supper too, so make sure there’s plenty of gravy.’

Max nodded. ’Maybe I should’ve married you?’

Kris shook her head. ‘Forget it, champ. You can’t afford me.’

At that moment, Elsa stepped out onto the balcony to wave them in for dinner and stopped. Folding her arms, she smiled and shook her head. Out on the lawn, Max had wrestled Kris up over his shoulders into a fireman’s carry and was jogging back to the house. There was no talking and no shouting. Only laughter and it was the sweetest sound Elsa could hope for. With just two days to the arena, laughter was what they all needed. It proved they were still alive and holding onto hope.

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