Authors: Franklin W. Dixon
“Come on, Frank!” Joe Hardy exclaimed, chucking his older brother on the shoulder. “This is itâthe Max Games! Get pumped.”
Frank smiled as he tugged his ski cap down over his brown hair. He, Joe, and their friend Jamal Hawkins stood in the parking lot of the Bayport University football stadium. A hundred or so other people jostled around them.
Frank glanced up. The stadium lights blazed bright yellow against the dark sky. Hard rock blared from the speakers. “I'm psyched,” he replied calmly.
Jamal laughed. “Are you sure you're into this, Frank? Maybe you should be playing chess and sipping hot tea instead of sky surfing.”
“Wait till you see how excited I get when I humble you on the ice wall,” Frank said.
At about five feet ten, Jamal was a few inches shorter than Frank, but he was an excellent athlete and never backed down from a challenge. He nodded at Frank. “Bring it on, tall man,” he said. “We'll see if you can back up that big talk.”
A television news crew came up to the teens. “Excuse me,” a reporter said. “Did you say you were entered in the sky-surfing competition?”
When Frank nodded, the reporter snapped her fingers at the cameraman, who lifted the camera to his shoulder and aimed it at Frank. “We're rolling,” he said.
Quickly the reporter got the three friends' names. She turned back to the camera and switched on her microphone. “I'm here in Bayport at the third annual Max Games, the Olympics of extreme sports,” she said. “This weekend star athletes from around the world will compete in events such as snowboard aerials, downhill mountain bike racing, and speed ice climbing. Danger is the name of the game here at the Max Games.”
The reporter faced Frank. “Frank,” she asked, “what events are you three entered in?”
Frank looked into the camera and blushed. “Ah, Jamal and I are in the ice-climbing event andâ”
“Tell us about that.”
“Well,” Frank said, “you've got a fifty-foot-high
wall of ice, and the object is to free climb to the top as fast as you can.”
“No ropes,” Jamal interrupted. “You have a safety harness, but you can't use ropes to climb, only ice axes.”
The reporter smiled at the camera. “Doesn't sound like an event for someone afraid of heights.”
“It's only dangerous if you fall,” Jamal said. “Otherwise, it's perfectly safe.”
The reporter laughed and then turned to Joe. “How about you?”
“I'm racing in the snocross.”
“That's where souped-up snowmobiles fly around in a big circle, right?”
Joe shrugged. “I guess that about sums it up.”
“And what about the sky surfing. I know everyone at home wants to hear about that.”
“Sure,” Joe said. “All three of us are entered in that event. My brother, Frank, here jumps out of a plane at ten thousand feet. He rides a sky ski andÂ .Â .Â .”
The reporter wrinkled her brow. “A sky ski?”
“It's like a snowboard or a water ski,” Frank said.
“Exactly,” Joe continued. “While he free-falls he does all kinds of stunts. You know, flips, spins, dives.”
“And what do you do?”
“I'll be wearing a helmet camera,” Joe said. “I'll
fall with him, filming the stunts so the judges can see them.”
“You guys are insane,” the reporter teased. “Who flies the plane? That's the job I would want.”
“Jamal is our pilot,” Joe said. “He flies for his dad's air taxi service.”
“Jamal, you sound like the smart one to me. Thanks, guys.” The reporter faced the camera again. “Well, there you have it. Three Max Games contestants ready to climb walls and jump out of planes just for the chance at a medal.”
“Okay. It's time for the opening ceremony!” a loud voice called.
Max Games officials, dressed in metallic silver parkas, herded the news crew away and spoke to the athletes: “Go through the gate, around the track, and then sit in the bleachers at the far end of the stadium. Got it?”
“Not very organized,” Frank muttered, remembering the way Olympic athletes marched into a stadium in perfect columns carrying their countries' flags.
The crowd moved forward slowly. Joe grinned as he watched the group in front of him. “Those guys have more logos pasted on them than race cars.”
“Yeah,” Jamal said, pointing to an athlete whose ski jacket was covered with colorful patches with the names of soft drinks, snowboard equipment, and car makers. “That guy's a walking advertisement.”
“Landing a sponsor,” Joe said wistfully, “would be great. I'd love to have someone give me an awesome snowmobile and hire me to race all over the country.”
“Keep on dreaming,” Frank said as they passed through the gate and into the stadium.
“Right,” Jamal quipped. “That's the only place you're going to get a medalâin your dreams.”
Before Joe could reply, a huge roar went up from the crowd.
“Wow!” Joe said. “There must be twenty thousand people here.”
The athletes waved up at the cheering crowd.
A television camera followed them along the running track that circled the stadium.
“Looks like we're on TV again,” Jamal said, shouting over the crowd and music. “Wave to everyone at home.”
The athletes walked slowly past the stands. To their left was the football field, which had been transformed into a snocross course.
Like a motocross rider jumping his dirt bike over mountains of earth, Joe would soon be racing his snowmobile over mounds of snow piled three stories high. Between the big jumps the course was a rugged series of ruts, banked hairpin turns, and bone-jarring whoop-de-doos. Hay bales were stacked all along the course to stop or slow down runaway snowmobiles in order to minimize the impact of crashes.
Just after the athletes climbed into the bleachers and sat down, the stadium lights shut down and the speakers went silent. The crowd murmured in nervous anticipation.
A few seconds later an explosion ripped through the darkness. Frank jumped. He looked up into the sky as a huge purple starburst opened up high over the stadium. Flickering embers shimmered above the crowd like radioactive raindrops for a second or two, then flamed out.
“Fireworks,” Joe said. “Excellent.”
Rockets exploded from tubes along the base of the stands. They shot high overhead, then burst into multicolored spheres that seemed as large as planets.
The show continued for more than ten minutes. Then, just as quickly as it had begun, it was over. The stadium was dark again, and the smell of cordite and black powder hung in the cold air.
“I wonder what's next,” Joe whispered.
“There!” Jamal said, pointing at the upper lip of the stadium.
Laser strobe lights beamed down over the crowd from both sides of the stadium. The crowd gasped as red, yellow, and green lights played off the fresh snow on the race course.
Finally all the lights focused on a stagelike platform across the field, under the scoreboard.
A big man dressed in a silver parka appeared on
the platform, a microphone in his hand. He nodded to someone on the ground and an enormous Jumbotron video monitor came on behind him. When he saw himself magnified to forty feet tall on the screen, he raised his hands over his head and called to the crowd: “I'm Fred Vale. Welcome to the third annual Max Games!”
The crowd roared in approval.
Vale wore wraparound mirrored sunglasses and a bristly dark goatee.
“Pretty intense,” Jamal said. “Mirrored shades at night.”
“Yeah,” Joe agreed. “Dude looks like a pro wrestler or something.”
Vale waited for the cheers to die down, then continued. “Our motto here is: If you don't get hurt, you didn't try hard enough!”
This time all the athletes jumped up and cheered.
Smiling broadly, Fred Vale motioned with his hands for everyone to sit back down.
“Thank you,” he said. “I can tell you all have the right attitude. This is going to be the best Max Games yet!”
The music kicked in again, though not so loud now. The crowd could easily hear Vale's booming voice over it.
“Now, to kick off the games I'd like to direct your attention to the Jumbotron,” Vale shouted.
“Watch as two-time defending sky-surfing champions Sammy Fear and Amanda Mollica demonstrate this death-defying sport.”
Frank craned his neck to look up overhead. He couldn't see anything but stars in the night sky.
He heard a murmur from the crowd and looked at the Jumbotron. Vale's image had disappeared, replaced by fuzzy static. A jumpy picture flickered on and off for a few seconds, then became clear.
“It's Bayport,” someone said.
Sure enough, Frank recognized the lights of downtown Bayport and the dark horizon as it would be seen from someone thousands of feet in the air. In the corner of the picture was the strut and part of the wing of an airplane. The picture rotated back into the plane. It focused on a lean young man in a white jumpsuit. He had long blond hair and wore tinted goggles.
“It's Sammy Fear,” Frank said. Amanda Mollica's helmet cam was obviously on and working fine.
The crowd gasped as the camera watched Fear jump from the plane. Mollica followed. The picture went black, then focused squarely on Sammy Fear. He plummeted through the air in a standing position, arms outstretched from his sides like an old-time wave surfer hanging five. Sammy totally filled the huge Jumbotron screen.
“They must be only three or four feet apart,” Frank commented.
“They're good,” Joe agreed.
With just the slightest movement of his left hand, Fear went into a superfast spin. Then just as quickly as he'd started, he halted and flipped over so he was diving headfirst toward the earth.
Joe looked up. He thought he could make out Fear's white jumpsuit against the darkness now. He knew that Fear and Mollica had about forty-five seconds of free-fall before they would have to pull their chutes.
“Cool!” someone behind them shouted.
Fear now performed a quick series of five backflips followed by some full layout front-twisting somersaults. He then froze in a standing position again.
“Now it's Mollica's turn to show off,” Jamal said.
He was right. Suddenly the picture of Fear flipped over so it looked as if he was going down headfirst, but the sky and stars were still over his head. Mollica was now filming him from upside down.
Somehow she made herself swing around Fear in a series of full circles, filming him from every angle.
“Nice!” Joe said. “Their timing is perfect.”
Frank had a concerned look on his face. “Their timing's going to be way off if they don't pull out soon. Look.”
Joe looked up in the sky. The two surfers were clearly visible now, and falling at a fast one hundred twenty miles per hour.
People in the crowd noticed them at the same
time and started pointing up in the sky and calling out nervously.
“They're just showing off,” Jamal said.
“They'd be disqualified in a competition,” Frank said. “The rules say you've got to pull at a safe altitude.”
The Jumbotron showed Fear blithely falling in a seated position now, his hands clasped behind his head as if he were relaxing in front of a TV.
Shouts started going up from the crowd. The music cut off. Fear and Mollica kept falling.
The Jumbotron went black.
“Oh, man,” Jamal said. “I don't want to see them splat.”
A cheer went up from the crowd as a bright orange chute bloomed above the smaller of the two figures.
“Mollica pulled her chute,” Frank said.
Fear kept falling, his arms and legs held out as if he were about to belly flop into a pool.
“Something must be wrong!” Frank shouted. “His chute's not opening!”
A girl close by covered her eyes and let out a frightened sob.
Sammy Fear was headed straight for the center of the stadium.
While twenty thousand people watched, Fear's body abruptly jerked up like a puppet whose strings had just been yanked.