MINUTEMEN: THE CRUCIBLE
CHAPTER 1 – “CLASS DISMISSED”
“When we lost Earth, we lost everything. What got us through the first day was making sure we didn’t lose ourselves.” -Capt. Jack O’Shea, UNSC Marine Corps.
City of Boston
United North American Protectorate
October 20, 2552
Dylan was having morning sex again.
Jesus, Tim McManus thought to himself as his top bunk bed shuddered rhythmically, does he really think he’s alone at nine in the morning? Tim closed his eyes tightly and tried to block out the squeaking and pleasured grunts and muffled moans beneath him. The Harvard University Junior smothered himself with his pillow, but the smart memory foam immediately shifted to give him comfort and let the carnal symphony continue at full volume. Tim did everything he could to put himself into a comatose state, but with the early morning sunlight streaming in through the large bedroom windows, it was an impossible task. McManus rubbed his eyes vigorously, took a deep breath, and rolled so he hung over the edge of his bed and violated the airspace of the couple beneath him.
“Look, I’m not against morning sex,” Tim said nonchalantly, as Dylan and his girlfriend jumped backwards in shock and attempted to burrow underneath the sheets. “In fact, I often prefer it. The light’s nice, kinda romantic, there’s an excess of Testosterone, you get a start on the day, you wake up your roommate better than his alarm clock…”
As if on cue, Tim’s clock leapt to life from his desk in big blue holographic numbers and began playing a futuristic indie rock tune. Upside down, with unkempt, brown hair hanging from his head, McManus attempted a smile and nod. “But could you finish up? I have a big paper due in like an hour.” Tim broke out a mischievous half-grin. “Unless you guys need a hand.”
Six minutes later, the nameless girl left the dorm room in a huff, making sure she slammed the door on her way out. Tim could barely hear her angry footfalls echoing against the painted brick of the cheap hallway. He hopped down onto the floor lightly like he did most every morning and broke into a quick set of twenty pushups to get his blood flowing. Dylan Winters, his roommate, was in little mood for the routine.
“Dude,” Dylan said as he gestured at the door, intending the single word as both question and statement of dissatisfaction.
“Dude.” Tim replied as he fixed a furrowed brow in Dylan’s direction and pointed at his bunk bed, intending the single word as both rebuttal and firm disapproval of his roommate’s discretion. The point taken, Winters retreated to his desk and booted up his computer, lazily sweeping his hand across holographic displays as he checked his messages. Tim grabbed a well-worn crimson towel off the back of the door and checked his appearance against the mounted mirror.
“Whaddaya got goin’ on today?” Dylan asked, absent minded.
Tim wrapped the towel around his waist, expertly reaching under the soft cloth and tossing his Harvard Crew shorts into a laundry processor. Forty-five seconds later, the shorts dropped into a plastic bin, washed, dried, and folded. “Proofing my geometry paper and getting it in before I lose another letter grade.”
“Geometry?” Dylan said, looking over his shoulder at his roommate with a raised eyebrow. “Since when do you take math?”
“Uh, last semester. Do we not room together?”
“No, you just change your major with every phase of the moon. You do realize you have to graduate in a little over a year, right?”
“I’ll keep that in mind, Dad.”
“I’m just sayin’. You’re hoppin’ from one thing to the next and you haven’t accomplished anything.”
“There’s no way a kid with a BAC higher than his GPA is actually giving me academic advice at 9am.”
“You know what happens to kids who don’t graduate?”
McManus rolled his eyes. “Don’t start…”
“They don’t get jobs. They get put in the Marines. Against them, dude. And if they find your little home defense project, it’s gonna be sooner rather than later.”
Tim’s eyes immediately dropped to the floor and stared at a patch of worn carpet. “I don’t know what you mean,” a guilty McManus muttered unconvincingly.
Dylan marched across the institutional dorm room and reached into Tim’s closet and took out what looked like a soft guitar carry case. Fixing a look of disbelief at his brilliant but unfocused friend, he angrily unzipped the bag to reveal a sleek black BR-55 Battle Rifle, it’s long barrel polished and well-maintained. “You do a lot of stuff, but you don’t play the guitar. Where the hell did you get this?”
“Ordered the parts from separate vendors.”
Winters threw his hands up in anger and exasperation. “If the RAs found this, we’d both be fucked!”
McManus rolled his eyes at his longtime roommate and pointed a finger at his desk, which promptly responded to the motion by flaring to life with several mutlilayered and colored holo displays. McManus made a subtle movement for the windows to come to him and they obeyed, flying across the space quickly and hovering in between the two Harvard students. Tim impatiently flipped through the holograms until he reached a large identification window with Tim’s smiling face and information that listed him as a member in good standing of the Harvard University Junior Reserve Office Training Corps.
“You’re in the JROTC,” Dylan said, unconvinced. Tim smiled in the corner of his mouth and gave a half-shrug, still holding on to his towel with his left hand.
“This, and several other forms of dubious manufactured identification, say exactly that. Therefore, I can keep the United Nations Space Command’s premier ranged weapon in my possession, providing I don’t also have the firing pin and ammunition, which you won’t be able to find, by the way.”
Winters collected his thoughts for a second. “Always thinking a step ahead,” he said, shaking his head with admiration mixed with bewilderment.
“You know me.”
The dark-skinned Junior zipped the bag back up and tossed it onto Tim’s bed. “Get it out of here, Tim,”
Tim put his free hand up to let the irate buddy know he understood. “Ok, but the next time you start a morning sheet romp and I’m above you, I’m firing warning shots.” Tim got out just in time to avoid an angrily thrown football.
Ten minutes later, Tim McManus slipped out of the mass of Harvard University students and walked his own path across the grass of the famous Harvard Yard. Even in the morning hours, the Yard was alive with platoons of tourists trooping from statue to building to statue like penguins waddling from point to point. He side stepped and slipped around pockets of scholars huddled in discussion and engaging in debates both pretentiously intellectual and downright petty.
They were all just background noise to the thoughts shooting around in Tim’s head. The third-year math major had the body of a frequent mountain hiker and moved with the fluidity of an athlete, though he had not touched intercollegiate sports since his failed attempt to go out for the Harvard Crew team. Though Tim was a morning person, practices every day at five in the morning just did not appeal to him, especially with Boston’s notoriously long winter.
Tim considered himself an intellectual, and in a school such as Harvard it was difficult to be anything but. As he crossed the center of the yard, he felt an urgent desire to stop and take in the Yard. Though Harvard’s most well-known landmark did command attention, McManus had been walking through this Yard for years and had become accustomed to its splendor. Brilliant red brick dorms formed a perimeter around oddly shaped pentagons and trapezoids of grass, each a larger or smaller island of green sprouting old, proud trees every now and then, leaves fueled by the carbon dioxide of humanity’s most intelligent.
Academic buildings boasted facades unchanged by hundreds of years of human civilization, though their insides were composed of cutting edge architecture and design. From Tim’s location, he could take out a data pad and access systems anywhere on campus, giving him instant communication with universities across Boston, Earth, and to a lesser degree, the Sol system.
Something about the moment, about where he was and what he was doing, gave Tim McManus pause, and he turned toward the bronze statue of John Harvard, his left foot a gleaming yellow from the rubbing of millions of hands, and took a moment to take it in. No sooner did he do this than a busy tour guide walking backwards knocked him down, and they dropped awkwardly to the pavement in a heap.
“The hell is wrong with you?” The prim and immaculately dressed sophomore girl hissed at Tim. She adjusted her now slightly less than perfect hair, recharged her thousand watt smile, and motioned for the group of tourists and prospective students to continue. McManus rubbed his shoulder as he retrieved his data pad and books, threw them in the bag slung around his shoulder, and muttered an obscenity as he trudged toward the dining hall.
To say Annenberg Hall was massive was to say water was wet. The hammerbeam trusses, the stenciled ceiling, the rich walnut shell that embraced the hall was both outrageously intimidating and oddly comforting. Tim always imagined he was comically out of place in such a space, it always seemed as though some medieval king should have been seated at the end of the hall, feasting with knights and jesters and ladies in waiting, and that his presence would have to be announced by a portly man with a booming voice.
McManus chuckled at his own imagination and tried to snap back into reality, and that reality was the alarmingly long line for breakfast. Tim craned his neck to try and catch a glimpse of what awaited his appetite, but the steaming goal beyond was obstructed. With a grunt, the jacket and sweatshirt clad Junior abandoned his dream of scrambled eggs and tried to get psyched up for a roast beef sandwich. As he approached the sandwich counter, he realized today was not so miserable after all.
“Hey smart kid, what’s goin’ on?” The blonde-haired, blue eyed sandwich “artist” asked. Tim nodded his head in greeting and stifled a yawn as he made his way to the sandwich station. To date, Tim did not know the cook’s full name; only that he was a few years older than him, just as quick with a witty comment, and always appeared bored as hell working for Harvard Dining Services. Though it would have been a long stretch to call them friends, Tim was always entertained by the tall, lithe man’s acerbic wit and triumphant sandwiches.
Tim shifted his backpack on his shoulders and leaned his elbows on the stainless steel countertop. “Cock blocked my roommate this morning, got scalded in the shower, knocked over by a plastic tour guide, and had to abandon my dreams of scrambled eggs.”
“Yeah, seems to be goin’ around today.” The server sighed, but before Tim could linger on what the chef meant, he shrugged and looked up at the hanging menu. “What overpriced lunch meat can I throw at you?”
Tim ordered the roast beef and was served a truly mouth-watering piece of culinary bliss. With expert hands, the kid, who could not have been more than twenty-five or twenty-six, wrapped the monstrosity in foil, sliced it cleanly, then swept up the excess foil and flipped it into a trash can that lay a preposterous distance away. McManus gave a low whistle.
“You should see me shoot,” The man across the counter replied.
McManus’ head tilted to the side, intrigued. “You shoot? At the Boston range?”
“Until they started posting UNSC at the door and conscripting good target shooters, yeah.”
The conversation had taken a strange turn for McManus, and he took a split second to figure out what he was saying. “That’s a myth,” Tim countered, a disbelieving smirk rising on the corner of his mouth.
“Tell you what,” the sandwich guy said as he waved in the next customer, “go over there and pop off a few rounds. The next time some oddly hot chick asks you if you want to grab a drink after shooting, slip out the back door and see who’s waiting outside.”
“You’re not serious.”
“I’m still here, makin’ the big bucks,” He chuckled, gesturing grandly around the meager surroundings. “See you around, smart kid.”
“Yeah, see you.” McManus waved over his shoulder, suddenly feeling like he lost his appetite.
The brisk Boston wind started to kick up off the Charles River as Tim left Annenberg. He thanked his foresight and distrust of New England weather as he zipped up his jacket against his neck and tried to keep the hard breeze off his body. The wind tussled and shifted his hair in all directions; McManus tried desperately to swipe his fingers through his brown locks to keep them some semblance of style.
He trudged on past numerous buildings and students and dodged shiny, bullet-like cars that rolled on into the heart of Boston. The city was alive, buzzing and eager to get into the business of the day, but McManus still couldn’t shake the feeling that today was special. Ahead of him, his destination commanded his attention with awe, as it always did.
The Pace School of Mathematics was an imposing structure. White marble, steel, and glass formed an enormous bubble rising from the ground; the students and faculty gained entrance up wide stone stairs into a dozen large doors bookended by twisting ornate obelisks in the University’s colors. What made the structure even more remarkable was the building housing classrooms and offices was a perfect sphere, a feat that had been celebrated in countless journals and the final straw that made Tim attend the University. The things men have made, he always thought as he approached. His head was still in the clouds when a voice grabbed him and threw him back to Earth.
“Excuse me, do you know where the Political Science building is?”
McManus was no stranger to lost tourists or freshmen wet behind the ears who were illiterate when it came to maps. He turned to dispense the information but found that his mouth refused to work. He blamed his female questioner.
By no means was she the drop dead gorgeous girls who graced sky banners with Gazelle-like grace, but all the same she took away Tim’s breath and then his concentration. Everything about her, from the way her long, autumnal red hair framed her face, to the perfect nose that complimented her sparkling, inquisitive green eyes, every piece glorified the whole into what Tim could only call his own personal perfection of the female form. That perfection was now expectantly staring at him, and Tim’s brain promptly went on strike, citing terrible working conditions.
“Uh…yeah. You said, uh, Poli Sci?”
“Yeah, sorry, I’m kinda in a rush.”
Tim stole a glance toward the Math building and wondered if he’d have time for a detour. Screw it, he thought to himself.
“Yeah, I’m heading that way, too. Follow me.” Tim tried to figure out a way to start normal conversation, but not matter how hard he tried, he could not turn down his own voice in his head, repeating do not screw this up. Do not screw this up. Do not—
“I never realized this campus was so big,” Perfect Girl said in a voice that rose and fell in harmony with the dancing leaves, “I totally thought I could just jump on the T and find my way, and I was way off.”
Do not screw this up.
“You’re not…a student here?”
She gave Tim a playful sideways glance that could conceivably knock him to the ground. A hint of a smile played at the corner of her petite mouth, and she looked at him with a look that said, “Are you kidding?” in the cutest way possible.
“If I went here, do you really think I’d be lost?”
You’re screwing this up. “Oh, no. It’s just a lot of new students…get…turned around and stuff…when they’re starting out.”
She diffused the situation with a small giggle that turned McManus’ heart to oatmeal. She switched her books to her other arm to give a tiny, quick punch to Tim’s shoulder. “I’m just messing with you! God, and I thought Boston College kids were uptight.”
“Oh, you go to BC,” Tim remarked, more to himself than anyone else. “What’re you doing here?”
Perfect Girl rolled her eyes. “I overslept. I stayed up all night finishing a, um, project…and I thought I could grab an hour’s sleep. When I woke up, I was screwed. I had to bribe two TAs and hold a secretary hostage to find out where my professor was going today.”
“Could be worse,” Tim heard someone with his exact voice say out of his own mouth, “you could have been woken up by your roommate having sex below you again.” WHAT? Why did I just say that? What in blue hell is wrong with me? You’re screwing this—
If Tim’s heart melted from a giggle, it exploded from her laugh. It was pure, loud but not piercing, and lasted just long enough to make Tim rack his brain for another joke. Her eyes were wide with disbelief.
“Shut up.” She said, now standing still in front of Tim.
“I’m serious!” McManus said, arms open wide in a gesture of surrender.
“Shut up!” She was laughing again, and Tim wanted her to stay in those spirits more than anything in the world.
Tim was on the cusp of a great follow-up when his data pad beeped meanly at him. The display read in angry red letters, “Exam paper late. Full letter grade penalty.” McManus looked up in exasperation and realized they were both on the steps of the regal McGoohan Building of Political Science. Perfect Girl was standing a few steps above him, arms crossed over her chest, holding her books.
“Well,” she said, “this was fun, tour guide…”
“Tim!” McManus said a little too excitedly, extending his hand to shake hers. “Tim McManus, tour guide.”
Her hands were smooth and gentle, but her handshake was firm and purposeful. “Rachel Lynch, lost Boston Collegian.” Tim was perfectly fine dying in this exact moment. She took a couple backwards steps up the stairs, bold for a girl who had never climbed them before. The moment felt a bit strange for Tim right now, as if no one else around them was moving. “I’ll see if I can help next time you’re lost at BC,” she said with a half smile.
“Yeah,” Tim replied as best he could, mimicking her retreat, “I’ll get lost.”
She gave him a final look that said she didn’t completely know what he meant, but she was ok with it all the same. “Nice meeting you, Tim.”
The two students turned and began walking their separate ways, though Tim realized after four steps that he was making the biggest mistake he’d made in years, possibly ever. He wheeled around and called her name, but found nothing but closed doors and students standing still in small groups.
Tim spotted a falling leaf tumbling end over end toward him and thought frustrated thoughts about his horrific timing. With a vengeful step, he crushed the particularly crunchy piece of foliage underfoot and swept it forward to inspect the damage. As he took a moment to observe the shredded cellular layers and the three-pronged intact veins, a long shadow swept across his field of vision.
Now he became aware of what had been bothering him for the last few minutes: there did not seem to be any sound coming from anyone or anything. He slowly shifted his gaze up and took in his surroundings. Everywhere around him, Bostonians had stopped dead in their tracks and were staring up at the sky, jaws open and personal belongings dropped. McManus jerked his eyes up to the sky and did exactly the same.
Tim was no stranger to the UNSC newsfeeds and the constant “Know Your Enemy” broadcasts that, though heavily edited and censored, gave humans an idea of the kind of enemy the species was facing. As the giant, bulbous, purple and blue monstrosity blocked out the sun, McManus knew he was looking at a CCS-Class Battlecruiser.
If Tim had been able to put a full thought together, he would have thought the giant hostile starship looked graceful as it drifted effortlessly through Boston airspace, giving off a low drone of alien technology working with deadly efficiency. The giant purple craft was extremely high in the sky, but it still commanded everyone’s view. It was one of the enemy’s greatest weapons in a war that humanity had been conceding planet by planet, and now it had come to Boston.
The war was over. Humanity lost.
Filed under: Minutemen | Tagged: boston, boston college, covenant, Halo, halo 2, halo 3, halo fan fiction, harvard, jack o'shea, Minutemen, rachel lynch, ron parsons, the crucible, tim mcmanus, UNSC, woody tondorf |