2010-06-03: The Challenge



Guest Starring

A village of women, children, and guerrillas

Date: June 3, 2010


"It's only after you've lost everything that you're free to do anything."

"The Challenge"

The Amazon

Hours have blended into days. Maybe longer. In the jungle, everything is so hot, damp, and uncomfortable that a moment feels like a lifetime to Max. He's long since discarded his overshirt and he's been wearing the same pair of sturdy trousers for far, far too long.

Absently, he flicks a finger against his bull-horned belt buckle. Then, grunting, he shrugs his heavy pack higher on his shoulders and steps into his dozenth stand of trees for the afternoon.

As a woodsman, Max leaves something to be desired. One can read about survival and trailcraft in books, but reading is no substitute for experience. And so he's forced to struggle every step of the way, muttering curses under his breath all the while.

When he reaches the other side of the copse and steps out, the transition in scenery is surprising, to say the least.

From his vantage in forest, the cluster of thatch roofed houses looks deserted. Not a soul can be seen on the porches or or even on the muddy paths leading to the brown flowing river. As Max passes by the first of the deserted looking huts the dirty black haired face of a little girl peeks out from a window, then another, then from around a door. Her wide brown eyes stare at him in awe before she runs out into the street and grabs him by the hand.

"Perigo.." she says quietly, tugging at his hand. Not having the strength to move him on her own volition, she points toward the house she just ran from. A woman stands in the door, the whites of her eyes highlighted with fear against her ruddy brown complexion. She is as dirty as the little girl, her ragged clothing hanging off her skeletal frame.

There's a rustle of leaves behind the lone white adventurer and the little girl freezes, her breath stilling along with the rest of her. Then she lets off a high pitched shriek and pulls frantically at Max's hand before giving up and tearing back toward the house.

This series of events is confusing, to say the least. Max wasn't expecting to see another soul out here, much less a village. When he is approached by the girl, he graces her with a small smile and reaches for his pack in search of some hard candy or chocolate.

He tenses up when she grabs his hand, but it's from inexperience, not discomfort. This is the first time he's ever been in physical contact with a child. It's… odd. He smiles wider when he notices that his thumb is almost large enough to cover the back of her hand.

When she screams and runs, Max quirks an eyebrow and shakes his head confusedly. Slowly, deliberately, he turns to face the threat at his rear.

Two men in camouflage outfits melt from the treeline, semi automatic rifles at the shoulder and pointed directly at him. Inching closer, their narrowed eyes flicker over the stranger as they should commands to him and the little girl. When the little girl runs, one of the gunmen trains on her and squeezes off a single round.


Max's eyes narrow to angry slits when the rifles are trained on him, but that's nothing compared to his expression when the young girl is fired on. He flings out a gloved hand as if catching a ball or a stone, and in response the bullet slows dramatically, then comes to a stop.

"I think you'll find that was very ill-advised," he growls. Then he flings his hand out again, this time as if throwing something at the rifleman who'd fired. Propelled by a force far greater than gunpowder, the caught bullet whistles and screams through the air as it sails along on its deadly flight path.

The force of the bullet as it hits the gunman is enough to toss him into the air and backward a few feet before exploding out of his back along with most of his vital organs. His fellow soldier's eyes widen and he suddenly lets off a spray of gunfire that in his estimation will sure hit both the large white man and the little girl.

"Mami!!" The little girl screams as she trips and hits the dirt, the front of her already dingy little dress gets covered in a wash of red brown mud. Hysterical with fear, the skeletal woman tears out of the cabin toward Max and her young child. The air is filled with the screams of the two females and the loud echoes of shots fired.

The bullets are swatted aside with flicks of Max's hand as if they were gnats. Growing progressively more irritated, he makes a come-hither gesture with one finger and magnetically yanks the rifle from the offending man's grip.

Firearm. Icky. Distasteful. Unsportsmanlike.

Though it lands in his hands, Max holds the weapon at arm's length. Shaking his head, he pinches the barrel between two of his prosthetic fingers and bends it into a rough 'U' shape. Once it has been ruined, it is dropped disdainfully into the mud.

"[If you're quite finished?]" he says, his Portuguese clipped and precise, his face stony and cold.

"[American dog! You will pay for that rifle, and for the life you cost me!]" A new voice, the voice of a man behind him. The man in front cowering like the last leaf on a branch in the dead of winter. Shivering and alone. When the call comes, he looks up, almost hopeful.

Behind Max, the young girl's mother screams as two pairs of hands drag her forcibly from the child, leaving the girl scrambling toward the American. Her arms find their way around his leg and she hugs tightly, for comfort and protection. Her little head buries itself in his thigh and her tiny whimper of fear is audible only to him.

With the addition of men, the hope in the eyes of the cowering soldier turns quickly to narrow eyed aggression. Max is only one man and thus far, there are seven melting from their surroundings with more adding on with every passing minute.

Max is no stranger to injustice. He's seen his share. Even caused his share. One thing he's never done is harm a child, or even consider it. Where he was at first exasperated and confused, now he is angry.

Very angry.

He scoops up the girl and balances her on his hip, supporting her with one arm. Then, balefully, he glares at the approaching men. There is no gesture. No spoken word. With a flick of his eyes, he grasps the discarded rifle with his power and melts it down to a floating pool of liquid steel. Compelled by the heat, the bullets left in the clip discharge at random.

Then, with a toss of his head, he sends the writhing band of hot metal toward one of the soldiers holding the child's mother. The ribbon of steel sears through his eyes, his brain, and the back of his head. Still clean and mirror-smooth, it remains floating in the air long after the offending man has crumpled to the ground.


This is what Max's display instills in some of the visible men, especially the one that just had his rifle taken away. This one runs. Pivoting on the toe of one of his boots, he leaves a few puffs of mud in his wake as he tears back into the safety of the jungle.


This is what Max's display instills in a few more. Still holding the woman by the arm, the other tough raises his pistol to her temple and fires. The splatter of blood and brains washing over the red soil just before her skeletal body crumples to the ground beside his fallen comrade.

Full of rage.

The last is reserved for the speaker. The leader of the group as he watches his order melt into chaos around him, like the metal of the gun Max used as a weapon. With a scream of frustration, he waves one arm and a volley of gunfire erupts, echoing through the village and the jungle. Heedless to whatever men they may lose to crossfire, the armed men and women unload their semi automatic and automatic rifles toward Max and the child.

The metal-on-metal clicking of a trigger being squeezed. The crisp snap of a hammer striking a bullet's primer. The carefully controlled explosion that follows.

Max can hear all of these things. He can feel them. What he can't do is stop them. Not in time for the woman. He closes his eyes and cups his hand against the back of the girl's head, hugging her closer and burying her face against his shoulder. "[Don't look,]" he whispers.

When the air around him erupts with more gunfire, he's prepared. An angry, crackling field of purple energy surrounds him and his young charge. Each bullet that contacts the field rebounds harmlessly.

Like the tide, Max's approach is inescapable. Slow. Unforgiving. Purposefully, he strides toward the closest pair of soldiers and lashes out with his metal arm.

Melons smashing. Eggs crushed under tires. Gravel in a blender.

He swats the men down with crushing blows. Heads are caved in, arms are broken like matchsticks, and ribs splinter like wishbones at a holiday table.

All the while, the little girl screams.

Though her head is tucked into his shoulder, the child can hear everything. The whistle of the bullets, the crack of the rebound, the plop as they hit the dirt. Finally, she can hear the strangled cries as two of the men who had a hand in her mother's death meet their own.

The air waves in front of Max as his field moves with him, stopping more bullets and leaving them in a sprinkle of litter in his wake. Like a confetti of bullets at a parade. All for Max and his little charge.

The leader of the guerrillas keeps firing as he backs away from the carnage and toward a small group of his own men between two buildings. Once within their shell of protection, he turns and runs, leaving them to cover his tracks.

Inch by inch, Max and the child are surrounded by 9 men and women. The houses around them sprayed with and the people inside are crying out, mourning those dead or dying from the stray shots.

Each second that passes, each whimper from the girl, each CRACK of a passing bullet deepens the scowl on Max's face. When he hears the screams of the villagers, his brow furrows into a dark, dangerous 'V' shape. Slowly, reproachfully, he lifts a single finger and wags it back and forth. "[You're scaring her,]" he says, indicating the child by shifting her in the crook of his arm.

For his next trick, the scientist-turned-adventurer sweeps his open hand toward the ground in a broad scooping gesture. One by one, the carpet of discarded bullets skitters and scoots together into a pile and then melts into a puddle.

Max isn't finished yet. His puddle of melted bullets floats into the air and splits into three identical spheroids, each one sizzling and smoking in the humid weather. As one, the spheres zoom toward the mouths of three soldiers, flattening to thin streams that creep between teeth, down throats, and nestle hotly against internal organs.

Compelled by a snap of his fingers, the liquidified metal explodes outward, leaving little more than sprays of blood and shining, rapidly cooling droplets.

The men left in the the village by their leader seem to waffle, nothing they seem to do cripples the giant who walks with a ripple in his step. In the heat of the moment, one of them pulls a grenade from his vest, the pin staying sewed to the material.

He stares at Max, the obvious fear gripping him. The hand gripping the live grenade trembles as he holds it up. "[Don't come any closer, devil!]" he calls out, the tremor in his voice making it crack like a teenager working a drive thru window.

The man beside him, unwilling to play along, glances at the grenade, then toward Max. Soon enough, he's gone, running scared into the jungle.

By now, the faces of the villagers have collected in the windows of the large huts. All of them looking like frightened hostages, some are young, some are old, some are middle aged. All are women save for one boy tucked into the arm of a gray haired grandmother.

"[Stay back! I'm warning you!]" Max's imminent approach has placed the fear of God into the armed gunmen, this one unwilling to surrender his life to the savior of the little child. With the turn of his head, he spots more of them, gathered in the windows. He shifts his gaze back toward Max and a smile twitches to his lips, it's rather obvious what is ticking through his mind.

Max arches an impeccably plucked eyebrow. "[You? You are warning me?]"

He smiles, his lips stretching into a vicious, skeletal grin. He takes a step closer. Another. "[YOU are warning ME?]" he repeats, caught somewhere between furious and incredulous.

As if it has a hunger of its own that begs to be sated, his metal hand twitches with anticipation. The fingers merge into a wide, spaded blade with a vicious point that punches through his glove and renders it useless.

"[Hold still,]" Max urges the guerilla, taking yet another step, the child still snugged against his hip. "[Or there may be some momentary discomfort.]"

Hold still is exactly what the guerrilla doesn't do. In a flurry of panic, he throws the grenade with all of his might toward the closest hut and flees in the chaos.

As though in slow motion the grenade twirls through the air toward the window of dirty little faces….

The shrapnel can be contained. That part is easy. If Max were holding the grenade in his metal hand, chances are good that he could even smother the explosion itself.

He's not.

When it explodes, the fragmentation falls harmlessly to the ground, but the gout of flame and concussion are unaffected. They are on target.

Max looks away.

He locks eyes with the guerrilla. Slowly, deliberately, he approaches with long-legged strides, a hitch in his step, and a cold, implacable look on his face. With a single swipe of his hand-turned-blade, Max cuts the man's head from his shoulders. Then, gritting his teeth, he smashes his boot into a lifeless chest, crushing it and throwing the body back several meters.

The people inside the building scramble out of the way, clawing over each other to escape the force of the grenade as it rips through the large shack. Yet another body falls to the floor with the others riddled by bullets.

The little girl continues her squealing cries as she wets Max's shirt with a mess of tears, spit, and snot. She pulls her head away to look up at him, her hiccuping cries are nothing short of heart breaking.

"['Ey!! American!!]"

The shout comes from behind Max where a group of five men are collected in a formation that blocks him from getting to their leader. Or so they believe.

Behind them stands the leader, holding a tanned woman by one arm. There's a bag over her head, keeping her from being identified. Her hands are tied together in front of her and gripped tightly between her hands there is a grenade, a grenade without a pin.

"[Leave the child and my village… Or I will walk this one into one of the houses.]"

With a flick of his wrist, Max slings blood from his blade and reforms it into a hand. "[This is no longer your village,]" he says, his voice infuriatingly calm and collected. "[If you don't leave my village, I will make a necklace from your testicles.]"

He doesn't glare. He stares. In turn, he makes eye contact with each of the remaining soldiers.

"[Decide. Now.]"


None of the men move a muscle aside from their eyes, at first. First they look at each other in silent communication, then toward Max. One of them goes so far as to look behind him at their leader.

He is shot in the head. Without hesitation.

"[No, American, this is my village. Do you think this filth will survive your passing?]" The man spits on the ground at the feet of the grenade carrying woman. To prove his point, he waves his gun at the little girl in Max's arms. "[You think she will grow to be any different from any of the others here?]"

With a smile, he narrows his eyes toward Max and roughly, pitches the bound woman to the ground. There's a muffled cry as the grenade threatens to tip out of her tight grip. She fails, and falls right on top of it.

Max's roar blends with the sound of the explosion. The wretchedness and injustice of it all sickens him. For an instant, he catches a glimpse of how he's made so many people feel in the past.

The instant passes. He drops the child he's been clinging to and vaults through the flame and debris kicked up by the grenade's explosion. Though he's not as spry as most men, he is far more motivated. With great, clubbing sweeps of his arms, he clouts soldiers to the ground, heedless of their attempts to attack or flee. He stomps on throats, gouges eyes from sockets, and tears out great hunks of flesh with his teeth. It's simple, unscientific brawling fueled by rage and a great deal of muscle mass.

When the dust clears, only two men remain standing. Max and the leader of the guerrillas.

Max grabs his adversary by the throat and holds him still. Then, with brisk, professional efficiency, he latches onto the other man's genitals with unyielding metal fingers. "[I never break a promise,]" he growls.

The woman, whoever she was, lays in pieces all over the immediate area. Her arms actually blown from her body and near Max's feet, her right forearm lays fingerless.

As if by providence, a sign of his fight for the freedom of the village, the sun peeks out from behind the near constant cover of clouds. A single ray pours down over the village and reflects a flash of light from a bracelet on its wrist and into Max's face.

The leader of the small troupe of guerrillas struggles in the white giant's grip until he tires. He's not unafraid of his own death, but he's also unwilling to allow his captor see him beg like a dog. "[Do your worst, there will be others when I am gone…]"

"[Perhaps,]" Max replies. "[But you will still be gone.]"

He pulls from both ends.

Seconds later, he drops the corpse and his grisly, bloody prizes into the mud. He's craning his neck to wipe blood from his eyes and onto his shoulder when he sees it. The bracelet. The steel and diamond bracelet that he gave to Cody before she left to come to this godforsaken place.

"No," he whispers, unconsciously switching back to English. He repeats the word again, using it as a shield. "No. No. No. No."

He falls to his knees in the muck and gore, his fingers scrambling for the piece of jewelry. For the only thing intact enough to identify the woman he loves. Loved?

His vision blurs. Unbidden, tears form in his eyes.

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