Minutemen: The Crucible -Chapter 2-


MINUTEMEN: THE CRUCIBLE

city_dest

CHAPTER 2 – “FIRE SALE”

Harvard University
City of Boston
United North American Protectorate
October 20, 2552

Tim McManus could have stared at the giant hovering CCS-Class Battlecruiser for hours, mouth hanging open, standing stock still with the rest of Harvard University. It was an incredible moment for the human home world, and a city-wide silence descended on Bostonians for an unheard of amount of time. The incredible moment was broken, however, by a car colliding violently into another stopped car, the resulting crunching crash sending everyone in the immediate vicinity to cover.

Tim put his hands over his head, got into a desperate crouch, and scurried as fast as he could to a digital newspaper download stand. As he put his back to it, he realized he had left both his book bag and rifle bag in front of the stairs and sprinted to retrieve it. He took stock of the area again and noted just how quickly everything had changed in just a few seconds.

Hundreds of people were now fleeing in every direction in streams of bodies; no one knew where they were going, all they wanted to do was follow the most basic instinct of fight or flight. That flight, Tim knew, would not last long. Now he found himself in an inner conflict. What the hell do I do now?

In that moment he looked inside his bag, where the half-eaten sandwich was still waiting to be consumed. He thought back to the conversation on target shooting he had just had with the sandwich guy and made a snap decision, maybe his last. McManus began sprinting toward Annenberg Hall.

People_fleeing_tanks

The campus was utter chaos. Tim tried to wrap his mind around all that was occurring, but between the civil alert announcements, the cacophony of running people going every which way, and the wailing of people mourning the imminent loss of the human home world, McManus’ vision was limited to about five feet around him and no further.

More than once he had to dip a shoulder and shove his way through the crowd, keeping a vice grip on the handle of his gun bag before he finally slung it across his chest and used both arms to move obstacles out of his way. Annenberg Hall loomed large over the press of humanity, and not surprisingly, Tim found it locked. As he started to search for a back door in, he heard the eerie whistling roar of Covenant Phantom dropships being disgorged from the Battlecruiser.

“This isn’t fair,” Tim said to himself, stealing glances at the teardrop-shaped troop transports that had begun their assault. “This isn’t fucking—”

“Fair, we get it.” An angry voice said to McManus. The Harvard student jumped back, startled, as he regarded the business end of a large knife pointed at him by the sandwich chef. “Stop blabbin’ and get in here, smart kid.” Tim complied immediately, jumping in and placing his gear on a table as the tall blonde cook locked the heavy metal entrance. He turned and chuckled darkly, laying the knife down on top of a pile of crates by the door. “Guess this means we lose.”

Tim should have felt it coming before, but now that he had a moment to gather his thoughts and consider what all of this meant, he felt the fear and anxiety and adrenaline and nausea come up in one smooth rush of panic. He only stumbled a few awkward steps before he threw up on the kitchen floor. He heaved for a second, caught his breath, wiped a hand across his mouth, and stammered out, “I—I’m sorry…”

“Forget about it. I did the same only a couple minutes ago. This’ll take the edge off a bit.”

lowe_kitchenTim looked up in disbelief as the dining services employee tossed him a chilled bottle of beer and gestured a toast with his own half-finished brew. Who the hell is this guy? McManus twisted the cap off slowly, put the beer down, and started to open his gun bag.

“So you got a full name, smart kid?”

Tim looked down at the assembled pieces of his rifle and reflected for a brief second about how only a few minutes ago his introduction to Rachel had been the highlight of his semester. “Tim. Tim McManus.”

“Ron Parsons.”

Tim turned and awkwardly shook Parson’s hand. It felt incredibly strange to do all this as echoes of explosions started to register in the distance. Ron glanced over his shoulder. “Guess this’ll drive down real estate value.”

Tim took a swig of the brew and looked warily over the bottle at Parsons. “Are you…ok?”

“Come on, Timmy. Dark humor’s the classic defense mechanism. Would you feel better if I told you the world’s really, honestly, no-shit ending?”

McManus shrugged and downed the beer. “Guess not,” he muttered as he reached into a jacket pocket and produced the rifle’s firing pin, sliding it into the weapon with care. Parsons approached, intrigued with the new arrival, as Tim then reached into a hidden compartment in his backpack and withdrew two full magazines, slipping one into the long, matte black gun with a final click and attached the sling. Ron stepped up to Tim’s side, looking impressed.

“Sweet gat. How’d you get a BR-55?”

“Ordered the parts from different vendors.” McManus said matter-of-factly.

“You built the thing?”

“Yeah, but I’m not great at it. The scope’s not calibrated, I just fixed the barrel, and the trigger pull’s a little light. Otherwise, she shoots like the UNSC’s.”

Ron pointed over his shoulder at the door. “Better than a knife.”

“Better than a knife.” Tim agreed. He turned to face Ron, but staggered for a moment as the ground shook with an explosion. The bombardments were getting close, and the sounds of people in pain began to make it through the hall’s walls.

“Shit,” muttered Parsons as he grabbed Tim’s book bag and turned it upside-down, emptying the contents on the table.

“What are you doing?” McManus demanded.

Ron looked at Tim with frustration, as if the answer was exceedingly obvious. “We’re not staying here, Tim. I don’t know about you, but I don’t plan to get killed hiding in a meat locker. There’s a whole buncha people out there who are in worse shape than us, and if I’m lucky I’m gonna take a few of these alien bastards down while I play samaratin.”

Parsons hustled over to a cabinet and threw open the doors, piling sealed packages of food inside the bag. “I’m not the smartest guy in the world, Timmy, but I don’t think you came here with that gun after our talk earlier to order some cordon bleu. So get your head in the game, grab my bag over there, and fill it with peanut butter and anything high in protein. We’re going to need energy to do this damn thing.”

McManus snapped out of his funk instantly and joined Parsons in gathering provisions. He stopped for a second, turned on his heel, and grabbed a med pack hanging by a cutting board. He shook it in Parsons’ view and received a quick, affirmative nod, and began shoveling food into the bag. “How do you know all this stuff?” Tim asked, shoving into the bag to make more room.

“My brother’s a Marine. We did stuff like this all the time. He thought it was fun.”

“Where is he?”

Parsons stopped working for a second, and turned to Tim. “Look,” he said, locking eyes with the shorter student, “I’m sure for the short time we’re alive we’re gonna trust and bond and whatever, but I don’t like talking about the fam, ok?”

Tim gave a slight shrug and a look of minor confusion. “Ok, sure,” he replied, and zipped the bag shut. He threw on the pack, slung the Battle Rifle over his shoulder, and handed the large knife to Parsons. “What’re we gonna do about your weapon situation?”

Ron began unlocking the back door, fiddling with chains as he spoke. “I’ve got stuff at my apartment. It’s not far, once we cross the Charles we’re money.” As he opened the door a distant alien Banshee fighter/bomber shot off a glob of superheated plasma gel into a running crowd across the street. The wash of crackling ionized air and the heat of the green blast knocked both of the men backwards into the doorway. As they picked themselves up, dazed, Ron looked at Tim with wide eyes and gasped, “That plan might be ambitious.”

140_john_hancock_tower_lgTim kept his eyes on the sky and scurried out of the dining hall, scrambling to the cover of a large oak tree and waving for Parsons to follow. The sky had now become dark with rising clouds of smoke and plumes of red flame; Banshees and Phantom drop ships owned the sky, taking down fleeing human transports and approaching Hornet airborne assault vehicles with impunity. It was breathtakingly disturbing to Tim, and he knew Ron was probably sharing his thoughts.

The tallest buildings in the city were gutted and belching smoke as if a giant hand had viciously ripped down their sides. A ear-splitting shriek tore through the air and caused everyone to clutch at their heads and stare in fear as three of the Battlecruiser’s pulse laser turrets flared bright blue and fired into the John Hancock Tower, decimating it in an incredible explosion. Debris rained over the entire area, a large portion splashed into the Charles River in giant chunks of steel and concrete. Another chunk careened into Tim’s own dorm, collapsing it upon itself in seconds.

A section of the Tower hurtled overhead, flipping end over end, whooshing and whistling as it careened through the air. The jagged piece ferociously smashed into the façade of the McGoohan Building and plowed through the structure, finally coming to rest like a piece of glass embedded in flesh. The dull glow of a fire starting began to emanate deep inside.

“You all right?” Ron shouted over the din. Tim nodded vigorously and noticed his hands were shaking. He balled them into tight fists and realized why the scene in front of him was so disturbing. “What’s wrong?” Parsons asked, trying to get Tim’s attention. McManus wiped sweat from his brow with a trembling hand.

“There’s—there’s a friend…a…someone I know is in that building, I think.”

Ron shook his head, brow furrowed. “They’re fucked, then.”

“We gotta go over there.”

“What?!”

“I can’t just leave her!” Tim yelled over the din, taking Parsons aback. “I sent her in there!”

Parsons threw his hands up. “I’m not getting killed ’cause you feel guilty!”

Tim shook his head with conviction, getting up, putting his back to the tree, and facing the burning building. “Don’t talk to me about trust back there and then puss out. It’s the end of the world,” he shouted to Ron, “we’re dead anyway!”

Ron swore loudly, watching Tim sprint for the structure for a second. “That wasn’t what I meant!” Parsons yelled over the sounds of devastation, running as fast as he could to catch up with his seemingly suicidal partner. “I want to make it more than ten minutes!”

The pair got up and ran as fast as they could towards the wreckage, joining a handful of students and faculty who were risking life and limb to assist anyone who needed medical attention. Those around Tim and Ron were double-taking at the slung Battle Rifle, and Tim could not tell if they were frightened or relieved by the weapon. He decided he did not care. The fire was starting to spread, fueled by paper, solid wood desks and chairs, and the brisk Boston wind. The heat alone would make efforts difficult; the accompanying smoke would make the trek inside life threatening.

Ron reached inside his bag and took out his dining services uniform, tearing the shirt into long wide strips and soaking them with one of the bottles of water he was carrying. He handed one to Tim and they wrapped the cloth around their mouths to allow them a slight ability to breathe in the growing inferno. They left the packs behind but McManus did not want to risk leaving the rifle unattended. They took the steps two at a time and put hesitant hands on the door handles to make sure they weren’t too hot. Satisfied, they shared a nod and stepped inside.

The lobby and hallways looked like a giant tornado had just blown through. Blood had begun pooling from unseen bodies in the hallways and smoke was beginning to build from the fires upstairs. Tim took a glance inside the faculty/department lounge, where presumably people had gathered to watch the news instead of fleeing. They had all met their end in this room, crushed on impact from a smaller piece of debris that had broken off on impact. McManus felt the urge to vomit bubble up again, but fought it off.

This is crazy, Tim kept repeating in his head as he stalked down the crackling hallways. You have no idea who this girl is. Why don’t you save Dylan or anyone else on this fucking campus? McManus kept his ears open for the creaks and groans that would signal a ceiling collapsing or other calamitous event.

“This place is gonna go up!” Parsons yelled over the din. “Wrap it up, dammit!”

Tim was giving up. He finally resorted to sacrificing his vocal cords in the smoky environment. “Rachel!” He screamed, feeling his way through hallways and obliterated classrooms. “Rachel Lynch!” He continued down the last hallway on the first floor, and finding nothing, lost all sense of self-preservation. He ran past Ron, who was helping another student carry a body out, and carried on up the stairs to the second floor, where the fires were raging and the section of John Hancock Tower had torn the roof off.

“What’s wrong with you?” Parsons shouted after McManus, almost dropping the body he was carrying. He laid the lower half of the body down and sprinted after the seemingly suicidal student, yelling after him the whole time.

FRANCE VIOLENCE If the first floor was bad, the second floor was worse. There was no possible way of continuing down the hall without being incinerated, and McManus resorted to checking the small library in the front of the building, which afforded students a view of the campus and Cambridge Street. The force of the impact had knocked over stack after stack of books, and bodies lay on the floor, bleeding or worse. The glass had been completely shattered, and those who had been watching the invasion had been killed instantly. They all lay face down, indicating they had tried to run after seeing the debris heading for the building, but they had fled far too late. Tim fought to keep his composure and stammered out one last scream for Rachel. He turned to leave, but then heard a hacking cough and a breathless, “I’m here!”

McManus nearly slipped as he ran to the other end of the library where he found Rachel Lynch, her hair matted against her face and dark with sweat, her teeth grit in pain, her shoulder trapped between two stacks of books.

“I’m stuck!” She gasped. “This fucking hurts!”

Ron arrived on the scene just in time; his face scrunched up, affected by the situation in front of him. “What happened?” Tim asked urgently.

“My professor and I saw the roof coming, we ran before anyone else did and hid behind this stack. When they started falling, he fell and got…” Rachel’s right shoulder rose with a dry heave, “A stack fell on him. I almost got out, but this stack trapped me here.”

“We gotta get out of here,” Ron said, looking nervously back in the direction of the fires. “All these books, this place is gonna go up fast.”

“We can do this.” Tim said, confidence growing. He pulled off his smoke mask and positioned Parsons next to him to move the stack. “We can move this.”

“Are you kidding me?” Parsons said. “We can’t put this back.”

“We can lift enough for her to get out. Here, come on. Come on!

The two men braced themselves against the stack as best they could and pushed with all their might. They groaned and heaved and almost lost their footing on the bloody carpet, but the stack budged just enough for Rachel to worm her way out ahead of the falling books. Her left arm hung limply from the shoulder. A crash of wood on cinder mixed with shouts echoed outside in the hallway and Ron ran to the library’s exit. He cursed loudly, slammed the library doors, and ran back to the group.

“We’ve lost the stairs,” he shouted back at the two students. He ran to the edge of the now shattered windows and yelled down to the people who escaped, “There’s three of us up here! Get a ladder! Get anything!” Tim and Rachel came to Ron’s side, all of them sweating profusely, reeking of smoke, and breathing shallowly. McManus took a look at the injured redhead’s scratched and cut face, then inspected her shoulder.

Tim frowned and blinked hard to clear his vision, touching gingerly around the collarbone of the tattered jacket. “It’s dislocated, way dislocated. I don’t know how you’d climb down from here like this.”

Rachel bit her lip as if she was staring at a particularly difficult exam question. Next to her, Ron nearly jumped with excitement. “They got a ladder!” He shouted, promptly dissolving into a coughing fit. “We’re getting out of here!”

Tim put a hand on Lynch’s good shoulder. “We’ll get a doctor up here or winch you down—”

“Pop it back in,” Rachel said, setting her jaw and looking at the floor.

“What?” Ron and Tim asked incredulously.

Lynch’s head snapped up in anger. “There’s no time! Fucking do it!” Rachel shouted. Parsons and McManus traded glances before Lynch hit Tim with her good arm. “Are you listening? I know it’s gonna hurt! We don’t have a choice!”

Tim grabbed a thin journal and offered it to the girl. “You’re gonna want this.” Lynch accepted the journal and bit into it hard, observing her rescuers preparing to place her arm back into the shoulder socket. Both men were preparing themselves to violently shift the limb back to its normal position. Ron tightly gripped her arm at the elbow and bicep. Tim braced under her upper arm and collarbone; the position brought Tim and Rachel nearly cheek to cheek and put McManus’ hand in almost compromising position. The injured student tried her best to flip her hair out of her eyes and flashed a courageous semi-grin at McManus.

“Don’t get any ideas,” she quipped in the din.

Tim attempted the same look. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

Rachel shut her eyes tight. Ron counted down softly, then jerked her arm up and into place. They heard a sickening but correct pop, followed immediately by Rachel screaming in blinding pain and almost dropping to the floor in shock. McManus supported her as she regained her footing. She tried to move her arm but pushed the boundaries of the injury, earning her another grunt of pain. She tested her limits again and flexed her hand as the ladder came up to the trio.

“That hurts like a bitch.” She said through grit teeth, then pushed her matted hair back and set it in place with an elastic from her good hand. Tim and Ron could not believe what they were watching.

“Tough broad,” Parsons noted under his breath. McManus nodded and joined them in climbing down from what would have been a fiery grave.

The trio gingerly walked away as McGoohan now began to be completely engulfed in flame. Tim and Ron were relieved to find their backpacks had not been stolen, and they hurried back to Rachel, who was now standing alone amongst the other Harvard residents, watching the building burn despite the destruction of Boston playing in the background. Tim did his best to put up a gentle but strong front.

“Come on,” he said, trying to lead her away, “we’re not safe here.”

“One more second.” Rachel said with resolve, blinking away a tear and trying to get whatever handle she could on the moment. After a minute, she turned and looked McManus in the eye. “Thanks for coming back for me, Tim.” She said. McManus scratched the back of his neck sheepishly and did his best to shrug it off.

“It was Ron’s idea.” He said, looking at the ground.

“Bullshit.”

McManus chuckled and met her gaze again. “Yeah.”

Ron now jogged up and joined the group. “Just talked with some of the folks back there,” he gestured back half-heartedly to the huddled masses gathered in pockets around the quad. “They say the trains have been stopped but Marines are escorting people out of the city. What do you think?”

The trio turned away from the burning building, feeling fatigue and exhaustion gnawing away at their legs and bodies. Tim took out another bottle of water and, after a long swig, offered it to his newfound friends, who gratefully drained it. In front of them, dozens of Phantoms under Banshee fighter escort were touching down around Boston, setting up legions of troops whose only desire was to purge this planet of the species that called it home. Between them all, they had five working arms, two backpacks of food, minor protection from the elements, a kitchen knife, and a do-it-yourself Battle Rifle. But two liberal arts educations, McManus chortled inwardly, that’s gotta count for something on post-apocalyptic Earth.

Tim now became aware of two hands on his shoulders; Rachel’s good arm rubbed his left shoulder as Ron patted his right in a spontaneous moment of reassurance and hope. For a second, the three of them felt connected and they drew strength from each other’s reserves. Above them, the giant bulbous Battlecruiser drifted lazily toward the center of the city. The frightening light of countless fires reflected off the shiny hull like a raised guillotine over Boston. At the very edge of the group’s vision, tiny Pelican dropships, only two or three at most, were sneaking into toward Back Bay, and back, they all dreamed, to the last safe places in the galaxy.

“Well,” McManus shrugged, returning the reassuring gestures and tightening the straps of his backpack, “if we’re gonna go out on a suicidal journey to escape the end of the world, we better start with a bad ass opening line.” A massive explosion echoed in the distance and the wind howled over the conflagration behind them.

“For Boston,” Rachel said, nodding in determination and striding off, leaving the boys in her wake.

“I’m digging on this chick, Tim.”

“I saw her first.”

halo_wars-july2811

Chapter Three

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8 Responses

  1. Woody this is all amazing. Screw semi weekly put them all up now!

    • Hahaha thanks a lot Zach! Spread the word!

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