11:40pm, 31st December. Warlord
The crowd was delirious. It was a celebration. It was jubilation. It was sheer ecstasy. With the second alien foe dispatched and its corpse vanished from the arena, hope had been replaced by the absolute height of confidence, its deep emotion running rampant amongst the throng of humanity.
Two different species of extraterrestrial had come and gone, both of them beaten and killed by the crowd’s human champion. What had seemed impossible was now feeling like a certainty. Mankind would not only win tonight, but it would prove its worth to be greater than the alien oppressors threatening it with genocide. Humanity was the stronger race and all it had to do now was beat down the final foe and claim a righteous victory.
In contrast to the mayhem around him, Max stood silent and motionless within the confines of the arena. Unlike the masses surrounding him, he knew that the space between himself and any possible victory was wide and dark, like a chasm pitching far into the depths of the Earth. His final foe still stood between himself and the light of safety and that foe was more fearsome, more dangerous and more skilled than anything he had yet seen tonight. Macktidas.
Max had never seen the creature in real life, but he had seen and felt its potency through the mind link he shared with his mother. Macktidas was a warrior and a monster. Borne of the elite in the Nar’gellan race, he physically dominated all others and by the might of his own hands, he had wrested the rulership of his race from Max’s parents, inflicting death and carnage in the act.
Max’s mother had known Macktidas would eventually find her son and so she had guided him into a life of preparation, not of hiding. The truth had been the most effective means of helping Max come to terms with what was just about to unfold. Silently, Max thanked his mother again. She had been right to prepare him and now he was ready. Ready to fight and ready to die if needs be.
Standing at one end of the arena, Max had eyes only for three people. With no weapon in hand, he stood motionless, looking up at the glass box where his family stood. He had no words for his wife and children, but he knew in his heart what their thoughts were because those thoughts were his also. They always had been. He may right now be champion for the human race, but his family were his heroes and if his life ended in this next bout, Max knew his life had been full and rich and so had his family’s. The time had come. Max placed his open palm on his heart and sent his love up through the space between them. He watched Elsa do the same.
Then, Max sensed a change in the atmosphere. He stood at one end of the arena, nearest his family and so had the majority of the field behind him. The mood in the stadium abruptly changed, the celebration suddenly halting, like it had been rudely interrupted. Max felt a slight electric charge in the air. Arms and fingers raised all around the stadium, pointing to the centre of the arena, jubilant faces suddenly becoming tense and frightful. Something was happening behind him.
Max held his gaze on his family for just a moment longer and then slowly turned on the spot. His gaze moved round one hundred and eighty degrees and Max found the source of the interruption.
A broad, cerulean beam of light shone directly down from the heavens and onto the very centre of the grassed area. It penetrated from the dark skies overhead like a shaft of energy. Inside the blue column, Max could see tiny sparks of energy, rippling and crackling like miniature electrical storms.
‘What is that?’ Kris asked.
‘Macktidas,’ Max replied.
‘So, you really think he’s coming after all?’
‘I have no doubt and when he does come, he won’t stop. This is where it ends.’
’Then go and grab a weapon would you?
‘Make sure the gloves are charged.’
‘On it,’ Kris said, ‘and remember, our only pair is up the other end from me?’
Max acknowledged the warning. Abdullah’s engineering team had really struggled to invent this particular weapon and so only one, sole pair of electric gloves had been made in time and even now it was dangerously hap hazard to use. The charging mechanism was flaky and prone to failing, but it was all they had and to be fair, Abdullah’s engineers had come through with everything else Max had needed, including some of the weapons he had already used in the first two bouts. This was not a time to complain. This was a time to fight.
‘Thanks,’ Max replied. ‘Here we go.’
‘Go stick it to him, big guy,’ Kris growled back. ’Make him wish he’d never heard of you.’
Max opened his mouth to reply, but before he could, the atmosphere charged even higher. The shaft of blue light intensified to a deeper shade and the electricity bolts inside arced even brighter.
The crowd cowed down. A slight breeze stirred the blades of grass, ruffling the surface of the arena like ripples on the ocean. Max started to walk, slowly circling the crackling beam of energy, his attention glued to it. He kept his movements steady and fluid, his balance firm. Max knew that the moment Macktidas hit the ground, it would be relentless, right up until someone or something died.
Then it happened. The shaft of light suddenly blazed, its radiance engulfing the stadium and momentarily blinding everyone. Instead of raising his hands to cover his eyes, Max squinted into the brilliance and in that instant, he saw his foe appear.
A split second later, Macktidas was on the turf, accompanied by a great gust of swirling wind that seemed to snuff out the shaft of light. A great, gut-wrenching roar rent the night, cowering all twenty thousand people in the stands, the unholy noise trembling the ground beneath them.
Max beheld the monster, all nine feet of him, the width across his shoulders equal to Max’s height. Macktidas resembled his own soldiers in physical shape, appearing as a giant, gorilla-like humanoid with dark, shimmering skin and the heaving musculature of a Greek God. His armour shone in sparkling silver, his linked, breast and back plates covering his torso while forearm, thigh and shin plates protected his limbs. His face was pure anger, the whites of his eyes glaring balefully out from beneath a deep brow and above great, rounded cheekbones. His bared teeth bore fangs as long as short swords and molars that could grind human bones like candy. His giant nostrils flared like volcanic vents, his breathing harsh and louder than a steam train, and then he moved.
Macktidas charged forward on all fours like a gigantic silverback, his massive fists pounding into the grass, tearing up huge divots. His roar matched the shuddering of the ground as he rumbled forwards, not lumbering or ungainly, but powerfully like a huge machine that greedily ate up the space in front of it, devouring any sense of order before it.
In a matter of split seconds, Macktidas had covered the fifty metres between himself and Max, his enormous, bunched fists whipping up over his head and then swinging down towards Max like twin wrecking balls.
Max had frozen, but he was balanced, poised to move once his enemy showed its hand. As Macktidas’ blows hurtled towards him, Max took two steps forward and leapt high, somersaulting over his foe’s fists and landing nimbly on the grass to Macktidas’ left side. Max hit the ground running and just as well. Macktidas’ speed was blinding. In an instant the beast turned and thrashed out at his smaller opponent, but Max was again equal to the task, forward rolling and coming up clear.
Now Max was sprinting. If everything his mother had told him was true, he needed to get those electric gloves on. They would be his only true chance of victory and they were up the other end. Pumping his legs like pistons, Max powered across the turf, his orange shoes a blur, but Macktidas was right after him, bellowing like the world was coming to an end. As Max ran, Macktidas swung his massive fists after him, just missing, but Max could feel the rush of air on his back.
‘Gloves are out,’ Kris said into his earpiece, ‘but they’re not charged yet. They’re playing up again.’
‘He’s too close anyway,’ Max breathed back.
With Macktidas swinging at his heels, Max sprinted directly for the far end of the arena. He could see the gloves on the ledge, but he also knew that if he hit the wall, Macktidas would smash straight into him. He needed to stay in the clear and give himself room to manoeuvre.
Suddenly, with only twenty metres to go before running out of space and still at full speed, Max jumped up, tucked his feet in and spun in the air. Turning and rolling in mid flight, he flattened himself to hit the grass, chest first. As he touched down, Max kicked his feet out and dug his toes in, using his hands for added grip. Effectively facing the other way, Max juddered to a halt, looked up and found his enemy screaming onto him.
Launching forward, Max stayed low and like a bullet, he zipped straight through the monster’s lumbering legs and out into the clear, sprinting again like a man on fire.
The giant roared and spun, flailing his huge brawny arms in the air. Without pausing, Macktidas bounded off in pursuit, his eyes boring into Max’s back. Max ran even faster than before. With the extra space, he could concentrate more clearly on his plan of attack. Lasering his gaze ahead of him, Max saw the ledge at the far end where Kris and the primary weapons bay lay.
‘Tridents,’ he breathed and as he watched, two gleaming objects were placed on the ledge.
With the giant’s roar filling his senses, Max ran on. The crowd had vanished behind an impenetrable veil of adrenalin and focus. The world around him was gone. Even the wind in his hair and bracing across his face was without sensation. All Max could feel was his own heartbeat, his lungs bellowing and his blood siphoning throughout his body, fuelling him faster and faster. Until he could get to the gloves, all Max could do was evade the creature’s fury, but right now he wanted a weapon. He needed to make the alien bleed. That at least might make it pause and take notice.
Max could feel Macktidas still behind him, but his spatial awareness also told him he had only a few moments space. Charging up to the ledge, Max leapt forward, somersaulted and twisted to land on the raised platform in a squatting position, his hands reaching down between his legs to grasp the handles of the tridents. Macktidas filled his vision, the giant’s snarling, bawling visage blotting out everything behind it, and then Max sprang.
Uncoiling his legs like steel springs, Max vaulted high overhead Macktidas. As he sailed over the creature’s left shoulder, he stabbed downwards with his right trident, puncturing Macktidas’ upper back in the fleshy part behind the collar bone. Pulling the trident out, Max fell to the ground, rolled and was up and sprinting again.
Instantly Max realised the creature was not in pursuit. Reaching the centre of the arena, he braved to stop and turn. Macktidas still stood at the end where Max had vaulted over him, clutching at his upper back where Max had stabbed him. Max could see a rich purple liquid seeping through the alien’s clenched hand covering the wound. He had hurt the monster and it had suddenly taken notice.
If Max’s focus had allowed him to, he would have heard the hysteria of the crowd as they realised their champion had drawn blood. Sparing a glance down at his trident, Max found a thin smear of the same purple substance on the steel. He had hurt the alien, but it was a flesh wound and would not waylay it for long. If Macktidas’ healing abilities were as potent as his own, the injury was probably already healing. Max needed the gloves. Without any further pause, he started sprinting for the far end, the cat and mouse game continuing.
‘Those gloves charged yet?’ he asked as he ran, the tridents flashing in silver whirls on either side of his hurtling form.
‘Yes,’ Kris replied. ’Get ‘em on.’
Then Max sensed something else. Something behind him. Without turning, Max dived chest first onto the ground and slid forwards on the slick grass, his arms and the tridents out wide. Lifting his chin, he watched a massive javelin spear the air overhead, right where his torso had been. The ten foot long spike continued on straight as a line until it crashed into the barrier at the end of the stadium, the crowd behind the clear Perspex scurrying like rats to avoid the impact should the weapon break through.
Max didn’t pause. Instantly, he was up and running again, but as he rose, he cast a glance behind him and found Macktidas already thundering down the length of the arena, voraciously chewing up the space between them. He also now had his sword in hand. Macktidas had upped the ante.
Knees driving, hands pumping and heart beating, Max drove forwards to the end. He could see the gloves lying on the ledge, but again he knew Macktidas was too close for him to retrieve them. No sooner would he have them in his hands and the behemoth would be on top of him, disallowing him the killer grip he needed around Macktidas’ throat to effect maximum injury. There was only one thing to do. Confront the beast.
Arcing slightly to his right, Max led Macktidas to the side. Out of his peripheral vision, he saw the monster raise his sword out to the right. Planting his foot, Max jumped high and spun. Macktidas’ sword sliced the air beneath him, murderously cleaving the space Max had been in. As Max flew high, he extended his tridents out, the points cutting like spikes.
Hitting the ground, Max turned and looked up at his enemy, finding him doubled over and roaring. The crowd were again going berserk, but Max was uncaring. Cautious tension racked his body. Suddenly Macktidas flicked his face round and Max saw the gash high on his right cheek. He had cut the giant’s face open, forcing more purple blood to spill out. The monster’s lips peeled back to reveal its full mouth of teeth, gleaming in rows of pearlescent death. Malevolence radiated, contorting Macktidas’ face into pure nightmare. Max knew this face. This was the face that had killed his family. Instead of fear, the expression lifted Max even higher.
As Max stared back at the beast, he suddenly realised the giant’s sword was moving, much faster than anything he had ever experienced. Buckling his knees, Max controlled a backward fall onto his heels as the sword scythed over him. Springing back up, he bounded backwards to gain more space, but Macktidas’ massive left fist drilled downwards faster than he had expected. Dodging to the right, the blow pounded the grass next to Max, the impact rocking the ground. Max turned to dodge again, but this time he was too slow. Macktidas flicked his left fist up off the ground and his knuckles caught Max full on in the chest, lifting him off his feet and hurtling backwards. The brutality of the blow knocked the air from Max’s lungs and the tridents from his hands.
Sailing backwards, Max kept his focus fixed on Macktidas who was already moving to catch up to him. In mid flight, Max sucked in a new lung full of air and flicked his feet up over his head in a backward somersault. Landing on his feet again, Max’s gaze filled with Macktidas bearing down on him, his huge sword slicing downwards like an enormous cleaver, edge down onto his head.
Stepping to the side, the blade slammed into the ground next to Max, burying deep and forming a great cleave in the turf. Max was ready this time for the follow-up blow as Macktidas’ left fist drove down. Diving forward, he got inside Macktidas’ defences and again slipped between his legs. Macktidas spun, looking down for his foe, but Max was too quick, ducking and diving to stay out of the giant’s reach.
Then Macktidas lifted a foot and Max had his advantage. Nimbly, he stepped up onto the monster’s foot and using it for a boost, drove upwards to smash his right fist in under the creature’s chin, snapping Macktidas’ head backwards, but Macktidas had simultaneously countered with a straight left punch. The blow struck Max in the stomach and he flew backwards, tumbling in flight and out of control.
Macktidas stumbled backwards, his sword flailing. Max tumbled to the ground, rolling out into the centre of the arena like a discarded rag doll. Both combatants paused. Macktidas stood dazed. Max lay unmoving. The crowd fell silent.
‘Get up!’ Kris yelled. ‘Get up!’
High in her glass box, Elsa instinctively reached forward to lay her hand on the glass, a gasp whispering past her lips. She could feel her heart hammering, her blood pulsing. Tunnel vision consumed her perspective as she searched for movement, and then Max’s fingers flinched.
‘He’s alive!’ Kris squealed, but her glee quickly dissipated as she realised Max was far from well. Then a thought entered her mind. A promise she had made and now felt an overpowering urge to break. Looking around, Kris found her second in command in the weapons bay and shouted to him. ‘Take the lead! I’ve got to do something!’
The man looked across at Kris and instantly goggled. ‘No!’ he shouted, frantically waving his arms. ‘Don’t do that!’
‘You just watch the shop!’ Kris shot back as she opened the weapons bay portal and stuck her head through.
Meanwhile, out in the arena, Max had slowly pushed himself up to all fours, his movements still strained. Across from him, Macktidas shook his head, his vision still swimming.
‘Get up,’ Peter muttered, his clenched fist and forearm planted onto the glass of the box.
Next to him, Joe bored his gaze across the space and into Max, trying to telepathically ignite him. Next to Joe, Abdullah prayed. It was all he could do.
From his all fours posture, Max looked down at the grass beneath him. The gently stirring blades confused him, making him unsure if his focus was out or if the perception was real. He bunched his fists and felt the turf in his clenches. It was real. He was alive, but he still didn’t have his balance right. Then he remembered. Macktidas!
Snapping his head back up, Max locked his gaze onto the creature, who with one final shake of his head, cleared his vision, allowing the stadium to come back into alignment. A moment later Macktidas also realised he was still holding his sword and the very next moment, Macktidas too remembered where he was and why.
Flicking his head round, the beast found Max staring back up at him. He roared. Macktidas knew Max was still struggling. Now was his best chance to finish this. Now was his best chance to rightfully claim the throne and dominion over this pathetic species. Now was Macktidas’ best chance.
The creature raised its sword and tensed to barrel forwards, but suddenly halted. Its senses had detected a warning. Max was looking at something else, instead of at him.
Forty metres away, Max had also felt something stir on the periphery of his senses. He did not know how or why he turned, but Max knew that he had to. He trusted his gut instincts too much to ignore them and right now his instincts were screaming at him to turn and look.
From his vantage point essentially in the very centre of the arena, Max could see clearly down to the end where Kris stood. She was no longer safely ensconced behind the Perspex barrier and in the weapons bay, but rather she had squeezed herself out through the weapons portal and now stood on top of the concrete parapet with both her arms stretched out full length to both sides. Not motionless, but unwavering, strong and tall, like an angelic soldier she stood, calling a divine army to arms.
Max sensed also that Macktidas had paused, so he rose slowly to his full height, feeling the deep bruising in his torso start to bloom. Around Max, the entire stadium had fallen utterly silent. The thick, humid air hung tensely inside the arena. Even the breeze had died down. Everything was still, like a tomb.
Then Kris clapped overhead, the slap of her hands loud and clear. Kris clapped again and the sound was louder. She raised her outstretched hands a third time and this time a resounding echo accompanied her. The fourth time the sound was even louder as more people joined in. By the fifth clap, Max heard the foot stomps start up.
The Team Max anthem was on and if Max could hear it, he would know that all around the world, where ever humanity huddled in front of a television screen or clustered around a radio, they too were on their feet, their hands clapping in unison overhead, their feet stamping the Earth.
Max absorbed the atmosphere as he fixed on Kris’ proud form at the end of the arena. Macktidas stared frantically around at the crowd as they chanted and stomped together.
Raising his right hand, Max pointed directly at Kris, saluting her and her bravery to venture inside the arena and personally lift the crowd to help him. He felt his blood surge, his vision sharpen and his mind clear. Looking up higher, Max again found his family, ensconced in a backdrop of light. His love reached out and Max felt the love in return. He let his hand drop.
It was time. The preamble was over and destiny beckoned. Max knew he would never get the perfect opportunity to gain an advantage over Macktidas, so he had to take the fight to him. He had to face either victory or death head on and that time was now. Kris had just shown him that.
With the anthem roaring through his senses, Max slowly turned and fronted up to Macktidas, who was still uncertainly scanning the crowd. A moment later the beast realised Max had squared up to him and his demeanour instantly changed back to combat.
Suddenly, Max sprang forwards, his movements a blur and his orange shoes instantly transforming into twin arcs of flame against the brilliant green of the light-washed grass. He had become a human bullet, slicing a path directly towards his foe.
Macktidas instantly reared up on his massive legs to tower into the night, an obscene bellow issuing forth from his maw like a demon’s cry. If fear had an opus, this was it. Lifting his sword high, Macktidas launched forwards, his eyes like white pyres, his teeth bared. Holding the hilt of his weapon in his right hand, he thundered forwards with only one hand to help balance his gait.
Max did not veer. He did not slow. He did not deviate from the straightest of lines into Macktidas. The giant alien held its line equally as aggressively. The anthem continued unabated, the chant, the foot stomps and the hand claps shaking the stands and the ground beneath. The entire island had become a seismic event as the two foes charged towards each other with a shared intention. Death.
With the distance between them rapidly diminishing, Max judged his timing and with twenty metres to spare and just as Macktidas was rearing up again on his back legs and lifting his sword overhead for a double handed strike, Max made his move.
Without slowing, Max fractionally hunched down and then planting his left foot just a little harder, he sprung upwards. Leaving the turf, Max literally became a missile. With both arms outstretched in front and his legs trailing ramrod straight behind, he became a javelin, firing upwards at Macktidas’ head.
In the same flurry of nanoseconds, Macktidas roared again as he swung his great sword blade downwards, cleaving the night air in a killing stroke, right down onto Max’s flying form.
Max looked past his clenched fists to focus on Macktidas’ slicing blade, its glittering edge seeking to rip his life away. Again, judging the distance to be right, Max snapped his arms and legs inwards to somersault in mid flight. As he spun, he half rolled and with his body still pulled in tight, he felt Macktidas’ blade swipe down past his back, the rush of air icy cold. Max then snapped his legs back out straight and hard as he continued on his arrow like trajectory.
In that instant, Macktidas’ reflexes allowed him to see that his sword had missed its mark and that Max was now incoming towards his unprotected face. A split second later, all he could was grimace as Max’s feet smashed into the bridge of his nose, his momentum huge despite his much smaller size.
Macktidas’ head cracked back and Max ricocheted sideways. The giant alien stumbled two more steps forwards to crash headlong into the turf, great divots flying into the air as he ploughed forwards. The anthem converted to unrestrained cheering. The world erupted and humanity rejoiced. Max had sent their greatest enemy careering to the ground. Victory at last seemed possible.
Meanwhile, Max had bounced off Macktidas’ face and tumbled to the ground unharmed. It took two seconds for him to regain his bearings, but as soon as he turned to see Macktidas crashing to the ground, he knew he was clear. He had space and time to get to the gloves.
Without any further thought, Max was off again. As he ran, he could feel that the bruising in his chest from Macktidas’ last blow had spread right across his torso. He was undoubtedly bleeding deep inside and that it could well be fatal, but not even that would stop him. Max drove forward as fast as he could. If he was slower because of his injuries, he had no idea. He was just running.
To his credit, Macktidas recovered his wits quickly. No sooner had he driven head first into the ground and he was he back up on all fours. Shaking his head once, he flicked his gaze backwards and found Max sprinting away. Without knowing exactly where the little human was going, in one fluid motion, Macktidas rose up, spun and shook his left fist. A flash of brilliant blue filled his left hand and another silver lance appeared in his clenched fist. Continuing the movement, Macktidas hurled the missile at Max’s back, his aim as accurate as any sharp shooter.
With his gaze deeply fixed on his destination where the charged gloves lay on the parapet at the end of the arena and in his slightly winded state, Max’s instincts did not fire as strongly as normal. The incoming missile remained undetected and his back completely exposed.
‘Behind you!’ screamed Kris’ voice in Max’s earpiece.
Without thinking, Max reacted. In his peripheral vision, he detected an object on the ground and instinctively, without slowing, Max flipped into a cartwheel at high speed and placed his hand on the straps of the object lying on the grass. It was the small silver shield he had discarded during the second bout with the tentacle ogre.
Nimbly clutching the shield and simultaneously spinning head over heels, Max came back up on to his feet facing the opposite direction. He pulled the shield in tightly to his chest and as he did, Macktidas’ javelin closed the gap.
The gleaming silver lance smashed directly into the centre of Max’s shield, but its strength held. The point did not penetrate and with every ounce of reflexive power, Max flicked the shining silver shield upwards and the tip of the javelin deflected over his right shoulder to send it tumbling away.
However, the force of the blow spun Max like a toy in mid air, his body flipping and tumbling in an airborne trajectory another twenty metres backwards. Slamming into the ground, Max rolled uncontrollably until he crashed into the concrete wall at the end of the stadium.
Macktidas roared again, sensing victory lay within reach. Hurling himself forwards, he cast his sword away and with his bare fists, he galloped in towards Max’s still form.
Despite the appearance, Max was not unconscious. All he needed was a few seconds of respite. Enough time for his lungs to refill with air and oxygen to flood his body again. The glancing blow of the javelin had deepened the bruising around his torso and Max was convinced his sternum had been cracked and maybe a couple of ribs, but that was irrelevant. All he needed was air. His external and internal injuries were not severe enough to prevent him from fighting on.
The rumbling of Macktidas’ approach shook the earth like an earthquake, sending Max the signal he needed to know that his rest was over. As the ground trembled beneath him, Max lifted himself to all fours and reached up to grab the edge of the parapet next to him. Hauling himself to his feet, he turned to face the ledge and there was his prize. The gauntlets.
Even over the cacophony of the crowd, Max could hear his foe’s roaring approach. Humanity’s doom was thundering down upon him and all he needed was one more lungful of oxygen. Closing his eyes, Max sucked in a single, chest shuddering breath.
At the other end of the stadium, high in his own box, Abdullah gripped his prayer beads with white knuckles as he sent a silent Quranic verse heavenward. Prime Minister Joseph Tollsen froze, his breath catching in his own lungs. Peter leaned forwards with his open palms flat against the glass of the booth and down below, still out on the parapet, Kris’ hands covered her mouth, a knot tying her stomach up.
Meanwhile, Elsa looked down the length of the arena at her husband, their children pulled in tight to her waist. There was no prayer. There was no wish. There was nothing at all in her mind. Right now Max was not the world’s hero. Right now Max was her flesh and blood husband and the father of their children and all he needed was a single word from her to finish this, so she whispered it.
And Max flicked his eyes open. Snatching up the sable coloured gauntlets, Max sprang away, just as Macktidas’ double fisted blow crashed into the ground where he had been standing.
Dodging around the behemoth’s soaring bulk, Max made a bee line for the opposite end of the arena. He needed to get as much distance between himself and Macktidas for his plan to work. Like a bullet, he sprinted, pulling the gauntlets onto his hands as he pelted away.
Behind Max, Macktidas nimbly pivoted and took off right after him. His fists pounded the earth as he charged on. His feet ripped up the turf, great clods flying out behind him. His roar was relentless. Fury powered him. Raw, unquenchable fury.
Max continued to sprint down the very centre of the arena, his injuries ripping at him and fatigue finally starting to consume him. Driving his arms and legs, Max kept his pace up as fast as he could, his breathing ragged and broken.
‘Kris,’ Max gasped as he ran. ‘Get out of the way. I’m coming through.’
’You’re what?’ Kris asked, wide eyed and still standing out on the parapet, mesmerised by the vision of Max sprinting towards her and Macktidas hurtling behind him.
‘I’m coming through and he’s coming with me,’ Max rasped out.
Kris froze, blinked and then it dawned. Turning, she pushed open the Perspex doors behind her and jumped down into the weapons bay.
‘Get out of here! Now!’ she screamed at the handful of people around the weapons bay, waving her hands. “Max is coming through!’
No one gave it a second thought. Instantly everyone scurried for the exit, dropping whatever they were doing. Kris looked up above her to the glass front of Elsa’s private box. There she stood with the kids, looking down at her. Kris held a clenched fist up to her lips, kissed it and then blew the kiss up to her friend. A split second later she was running.
In the arena, Max was half way down the field, his orange shoes flashing like the heels of Hermes and despite his injuries, was still tearing up the turf faster than any man had ever run in history. Directly ahead of him was the end. The end of the arena and the end of the duel. Max’s plan was all or nothing.
If doom took him, at least Max would die beneath his wife and children. His vision angled slightly up and Max focused on Elsa’s private box as it grew in size, her form and the huddled kids’ forms silhouetted behind the glass. There was no need for prayers now. No need for silent hope. No need for anything except purpose.
‘Juice on!’ Max yelled.
The words triggered the voice activation of the gloves and Max immediately felt a slight vibration in them as the electric current snapped on. Now Max was armed and lethal. In his hands he carried the power to kill his foe, but also quite likely take his own life. In seconds he would know.
Twenty metres to go and the crowd realised Max was not slowing down this time. There was no evasion plan. There was no intention to do anything other than crash into the end. Hands raised up to faces. Fists clenched neighbour’s arms. Breath froze in lungs.
Ten metres to go and Abdullah raised his hands to his face, palms together in prayer. Joe straightened and stood tall. Peter snarled and Kris stopped running, safely now out of the way to the side and watching the inevitable come to pass.
Elsa mouthed, ‘I love you.’
Max fixed his sights on a spot high on the barrier. Directly behind him, Macktidas reared up onto his legs, his fists raised high overhead in a killing strike. Mere metres separated the two opponents, their speed blinding. Their momentum unbreakable.
With five metres to spare, Max ducked slightly and launched himself, propelling his form like a rocket up towards the barrier. As he shot upwards, Max executed a mid air tumble turn like a swimmer, completing the move by planting both his feet on the vertical Perspex barrier. While inertia held him there, he looked up and stretched out in front, his gloved hands reaching forwards into space, and then Macktidas hit him.
The beast careered straight into the wall, smashing into Max and the barrier like a stampede of freight trains. In the split second before impact, Max found his target, Macktidas’ neck and he grabbed it, feeling the electricity jolt out of the gauntlets like an explosion. Electricity arced around Max’s forearms and bridged across onto the giant alien’s neck and torso, the crackling forks of energy wrapping themselves around the creature’s glimmering black skin like coils of razor wire. An acrid smell scorched the air as Macktidas burned.
Max’s senses absorbed all these sights, sounds and smells in the milliseconds following impact, but he also absorbed much more. Pain. Immense pain. He felt his chest compress and one of his forearms snap. He also felt his back bend brutally as the monster’s mass squashed him into the barrier like a bug on a car windshield. Max saw great shards of the barrier shatter all around him as he flew backwards and more arcs of electricity streamed off his gloves into the night air, his form now like a giant fire cracker amidst the carnage and destruction.
Then Max was falling. Flying clear of the wreckage, he crashed into the ground, coming to rest on his back in the weapons bay that Kris and her team had been in seconds before. Max could not feel the hard concrete beneath him, nor any of his injuries. His body was shutting down. He did not know where Macktidas had finished up or the state of his enemy, dead or alive. Right now he did not care. His fight was finished and all he could do was lie on his back and look upwards through his fading vision.
A serene image came to him. It was an angel and two cherubs, looking down on him from above; Elsa, Millie and Jason. Max didn’t know if he deserved to go to Heaven, but he did know he had tried his best to save his family and those that he cared about and if that was enough to gain him peace, then he was thankful for that.
Just before the dim light faded completely to darkness, Max mouthed the three words in his life that meant the most to him.
‘I love you.’
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