Minutemen: The Crucible -Chapter 4-


Chapter 3 Chapter 2 Chapter 1

MINUTEMEN: THE CRUCIBLE

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CHAPTER FOUR – “GO ON WITHOUT ME.”

Harvard University
City of Boston
United North American Protectorate
October 10, 2552
Afternoon

As Tim scrunched his eyes shut and prepared for the pain, he felt the air rush out of his lungs and his eyes popped wide open in shock. He felt a slight breeze through his hair and he realized his was speeding backwards from the cave in; Tim’s eyes flicked down to catch the Boston Police uniform that had him in a perfect form tackle.

In that instant, time normalized and he hit the ground hard,  ears ringing from the crash of the collapse, then adjusting to the scream of pain from Officer Walt Merriweather. McManus scrambled back with his hands, terrified of the scene in front of him. The selfless Marine vet was pinned from the knee down under the heavy weight of the collapsed hallway, and despite his efforts to wriggle free, the ox of a man was trapped. Ron ran into the intact portion of the hallway and rushed to Merriweather’s side.

“Can you move?” Parsons asked, trying to lift the obstruction.

“Ah’m fuckin’ pinned,” Walt moaned, eyes shut tight in pain. “Gawd damn it.”

Only then did Tim become aware of the staticy voice shouting his name. He lifted the radio to his mouth and called back, “Yeah, I’m here.”

“Are you ok?” Rachel asked, worry evident in her voice. “What was that sound?”

“Rach,” McManus said, joining Ron, “We’ve got a big problem. The cop’s pinned and we’ve got a girl in critical that we’ve gotta move out of here. Grab the packs and get up here right the hell now.”


“On it,” Lynch replied, and the radio squawked off. McManus looked down at his savior, nearly speechless. “You saved my life,” Tim said, his mouth suddenly dry.

“Shut up,” Walt replied, wincing again. “You’ve gotta get that girl out nah. She’s not gonna make it if we don’t.”

“Can you call any police or medical units?” Parsons pleaded. “We can’t help all these people, and we need help to get you out of here.”

Merriweather shifted his weight and his face blanched with pain. “When,” he gasped, gritting his teeth through the anguish, “are yah gonna figure it out? This’s the end of thah world. Anyone who could get out has gotten out. All those folks got is you.” Walt tried his best at a smile. “Poor bastahds.”

Tim and Ron’s attempt to comfort their fallen comrade was cut short by the unmistakable sound of popping underneath them and down the hall. The Boston cop swore loudly and tried to sit up, reaching into his vest. He shrugged off Tim’s attempts to stop him and pulled out a slim black device from inside his vest. Walt lay down then and sighed, catching his breath. He passed the handheld device over his head into McManus’ care.

“Lissen, shut up, just friggin’ lissen,” Walt said. “That’s my old data pahd. I got it synced ta UNSC freqs and you’ll be able tah get to thah Marines through that. They’ll get you all out of this shit. Ron,” he instructed, trying to look down his body and get a good view of his predicament, “my M6 still ok?”

M6C_Magnum_SidearmParsons glanced down at the matte black M6C pistol and nodded as Rachel, huffing and puffing, arrived on the scene dragging backpacks and the Battle Rifle. Everyone ignored Lynch’s hushed, surprised cursing in the background.

“Take the holstah and the piece. You shoot?”

“Yeah, but—”

“Take it, but it’s only good ‘gainst thah small bastahds and us. More’n likely you’re gonna use it on yahself.” Harding Hall made a very subtle shift to the right, and the splintering of beams and snapping of supports started to echo in the structure. “Get the girl and get out,” Merriweather’s demeanor changed, suddenly angry with the group for listening to him. Ron grabbed Rachel and the two scrambled into the room, leaving Tim pedaling backwards, still looking at Walt.

“Thank you,” Tim said, knowing what was about to happen.

“Get those people out of Bawston,” Walt wheezed, turning his gaze to ceiling. “All o’ them.”

The three friends did their best to stabilize the girl in their care and lift her safely clear off of the floor. The building was now beginning to sway as if the ground underneath them were made of shifting sands, and caution was beginning to give way to the demands of survival. They quickly shuffled out of the door, Rachel and Ron balancing the freshman’s head and shoulders while Tim turned his back to his friends and carried the girl’s leg under each arm. As they passed Merriweather’s body he yelled with all his heart and soul over the din. “Get ’em outta thah city!” He roared. “You have to!”

Ten feet before the door to the stairs, another clap of thunder sounded in the hallway and the distinctive shuffle of collapsing ceiling filled the space behind them. McManus fought the urge to look back to see if Walt was ok. Sensing Tim’s desire, Parsons roared, “Tim! We’ve got to keep moving! The door!”

Without breaking stride, McManus shoved a foot perfectly into the double doors, banging them outwards and clearing space for the girl’s head and shoulders. The trio could feel the building coming down around their ears, tiny pieces of debris raining down on them as they hustled, wheezing and huffing, down the stairs. The blistering heat of flame was rushing toward them, but Tim could feel the relatively chilly air of Harvard Yard sneaking out from the front entrance.

“Almost there!” He yelled over his shoulder, kicking open another set of double doors and yelling aloud in jubilation as he caught sight of the outside world. The team nearly sprinted the remaining distance as whole portions of the dorm fell behind them like a crashing wave. With only feet to spare, they cleared the front entrance of Harding Hall and very nearly tripped down the four brick stairs outside. Finally, they found a few seconds of peace and laid the severely injured girl on the singed grass of Harvard Yard, clear of the growing blaze. It was in that moment of respite that Tim noticed no one in his group, or in the gang of followers apart from them, was speaking. McManus looked up from the injured Freshman quizzically, then tilted his head.

“Hey Ron?” Tim said, suddenly very aware of the Battle Rifle slung across his chest, “what the hell’s going on over there?”

Tim, Ron, and Rachel now focused their eyes from the direction they had originally come, and so had the rest of the surviving group. Pockets of new survivors, two at first, then groups of six and seven, were running down the small hill toward the Yard. Parsons took a few hesitant steps toward the oncoming crowds, still several hundred yards away. Ron adjusted the knit cap on his head that hid his blonde hair and squinted in confusion. “What the hell are they running fr—”

The answer, with its haunting wail and thumps of sizzling plasma weaponry, suddenly became obvious.

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The hunting party of four Banshee attack craft screamed over the fleeing masses, streaking into view right after they deposited simultaneous fuel rod cannon blasts that vaporized most of the panicked mob. Even from farther away, the Covenant light fighter/bombers were purple blurs that left faint contrails behind glowing wingtip turbines.

Tim was shocked at just how nimble the Banshees were. Their payload away, the aerial fighters engaged in formation loops that brought them right back into perfect attack position to kill everyone in Harvard Yard, including Tim, Ron and Rachel.

To McManus’ surprise, the feeling of fear that had gripped him in the hallway had suddenly lessened, and he found himself running toward the petrified group that had wanted to follow him in the first place.

“Scatter! Get into cover right now!” He screamed, waving his arms wildly at the dumbstruck mass. Before McManus could get himself killed, however, Rachel and Ron both grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him toward a still intact fountain, glittering with numerous lucky pennies and only a vague film of spilled blood.

The trio ran headlong toward salvation as the Banshees unleashed purple and green hell on the civilians that seemed to growl and shriek before separating humans from their lives. Those who had figured out how to run were blown several feet up in the air as plasma bolts exploded turf and bodies, raining wet sod soaked in water and blood across the quad. Panicked Bostonians were gunned down savagely as they ran with no destination in mind, tripping and falling over each other to find some kind of safety in burning buildings.

Tim could smell the burning brick and his nose tingled with the ionized air as one Banshee zeroed in on the three friends. Before the trio could meet their maker, however, a single missile streaked through the sky, corkscrewing and swerving on a hard lock toward its target, slamming and exploding against a knobby purple wing and sending the Covenant air fighter into a sickeningly fast flat spin over the heads of the young adults.

The gleaming violet craft smashed into a nearby dorm like a discarded toy hurled by a toddler into a pile of blocks, burying itself into the steel and brick and raining debris across the yard.

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Tim could not even hear his own panicked exclamation as the event happened, but he did manage to catch out of the corner of his vision a drab olive D77H-TC Pelican transport that had undoubtedly sent the missile that put the Banshee into a building.

Before McManus could point it out, he crunched his shin against the raised granite edge of the fountain and plunged face first into the lukewarm water, right next to Parsons and Lynch. The chaos and murder and stench of destruction around him disappeared in a hazy blue of chlorine, tiny dirty tiles, and discarded coins.

It was heaven on Earth.

The Harvard junior had no clue about the passage of time. Perhaps he had jumped in that fountain seconds ago, perhaps he had been in that dirty water for hours. There was no way for him to tell.

Despite past experience, Tim opened his eyes in the fountain and fought to keep them opening in the stinging chlorine. On either side of him, Rachel and Ron lay perfectly still in the shallow water. Were it not for the air bubbles occasionally drifting to the surface, McManus would have feared them dead. It was a surreal experience, as if he were back in the womb.

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He did not dare move, did not dare disturb the tranquil peace that the war outside could only try to shatter. Muffled explosions and muted cries of pain only became soothing reverberations in the granite pool, even the shooting pain in Tim’s shin was only an afterthought, locked away in the back of his mind.

After an eternity, the thuds and booms of the Banshee assault melted into nothing, and the group began to feel the burning urge to breathe fresh air again. Tim fought hard to stay down there, but the will to live finally overcame his desire for tranquility, and he pushed hard against the slick tile and shoved himself out of the water, gasping loudly for oxygen.

Two minutes ago Tim had fallen into a fountain in Harvard Yard. When he got out, he stepped soggy foot onto Mars.

Deep, wide craters from the Banshee’s plasma bolts dotted the quad. Bodies lay strewn around the space, and not a single person was moving. Buildings that had half a chance of remaining standing were now rubble. Everyone who had counted on Tim and his friends for guidance and safety had been slaughtered. Harding Hall lay in ruins, collapsed upon itself.

Only the two rescued Freshmen were intact, lying still several feet from their former dorm. The now soaking trio trudged across the space, shaking themselves free of water like dogs. Rachel wrung her deep red hair out over her shoulder, shivering in the strong autumn breeze. Ron checked on the girl that Walt had carried out while Tim and Rachel knelt by her roommate. McManus heard Parsons mutter a swear word and punch the ground.

“She’s gone.” Parsons spat in anger.

“Ours too.” Tim replied sadly. McManus and Parsons sat down, miserable. Rachel instead stood up and shrugged off her backpack, slamming it down on the ground in rage.

“Fuck!” She screamed across the quad, collapsing to her knees and beating her hands against the mangled turf. “Fuck this shit! It’s not! Fucking! Fair! Give us a goddamn chance!” Lynch would have screamed until she passed out if Tim and Ron did not jump up and huddle around her for warmth and comfort. The Boston College co-ed began crying uncontrollably, rocking back and forth. McManus stroked her head and tried to soothe her, but his mind had now changed somehow.

He could not put his finger on it, but he became aware he was scrutinizing every detail. Every sound, shadow, even faint smells were becoming minute and detailed. His awareness of the land was heightened, and he felt a tingling feeling in the back of his skull that told him this place, even though it was now quite devoid of life, would not be safe for long. His green eyes scanned the sky and shifted to his partner, Ron. In a stronger voice than he had previously used, he stated, “We’ve got to go.”

“No way,” Parsons said. “She’s in no condition and we don’t have any idea where we’re going. We wouldn’t stand a chance.”

“We don’t stand a chance here.” McManus insisted, gesturing around the obliterated Yard. “Boston’s a lost cause, Ron. We gotta get outta this city. Walt said—”

“Walt said to save all these people, and look how that worked out for us.” Ron interrupted, chastising Tim and immediately regretting it. McManus went silent at once, scrutinizing the bloodstained bricks as the weight of their first failure finally registered.

“Walt said the Marines could get us out. I saw a Pelican fly over Harvard when the Banshees hit us. They know there’s still people here. They’ve gotta wait for us. See if the pad’s still working.”

Parsons shrugged off his backpack and left Tim to care for Rachel. Digging into the pack, he pulled out the dripping black device and shook it once in a futile effort to clear off excess moisture. “This thing’s effed.” Ron muttered. “Taking a data pad for a swim and expecting—” Parsons rant was interrupted by the soft blue light of the personal digital assistant winking on, silencing the smart-ass dining services employee and earning a slight laugh through his nose.

“How ’bout that?” He said to himself, shaking his head. “UNSC makes some tough stuff.” Parsons reached over and handed the device to Tim, who was still holding Rachel close. As McManus took hold of the data pad, Rachel disengaged, stood up, and rubbed her arms self-consciously.

“Sorry,” Lynch sniffed. “It’s just, you know.”

Tim and Ron nodded understandingly. McManus looked over toward the girl’s backpack. “We should eat,” he said. “Take my pack and figure out what’s still viable, okay? I need a second to look at this thing and figure out where we’re going.”

Parsons cleared his throat and wrung water out of his knit cap. “We, uh,” Ron lowered his voice. “We might wanna think about getting some dry clothes off some of the, uh,” Ron subtly nodded toward the bodies in the Yard, but Lynch caught the look.

“No,” she stated emphatically. “No we’re not doing that. I’m not about to strip dead bodies. I won’t. I don’t care if the world’s ending, I’m not going to let us stoop to that level.” Rachel looked to Tim for backup. McManus nodded sadly with the girl.

“I can’t do that, Ron,” he said. “There’re enough fires around to warm us. Let’s give ’em at least some dignity.” Parsons shrugged and dropped the topic, opting to join McManus in scrutinizing the digital map in front of them.

“Is this real time?” The tall, blonde-haired Harvard employee asked. Tim grunted in the affirmative.

“Covenant ass-raped us,” the student frowned. “All the bridges near us are out, but there’s a route that looks ok right over the Charles River.”

“Ok,” Parsons said, confusion creeping into his voice, “but you said all the bridges are out.”

“I tried out for crew two years ago,” McManus said, scrolling along the bird’s eye view of the city with his middle finger and thumb and settling on a crimson and white roofed building along the Charles River. “There’s a boathouse that we can get into and ferry across. We’ll be exposed, but I doubt the Covenant will be patrolling the area again so soon.”

“Bet your life on that?” Parsons half-joked. Tim looked over his shoulder at his friend with a very serious look on his face.

“We gotta get outta here, Ron.” He said in a level voice. “We’re gonna have to take some chances if we want to reach the Marines, and we gotta trust each other.” Parsons reached down and gave the student a hand up and the two men walked toward the now-recomposed Rachel Lynch, who handed them both beef jerky and bottles of water.

“What’s the word?” She asked as Parsons attached Merriweather’s holster to his right thigh.

“Well,” Ron said, checking the magazine of the M6C before racking the slide and placing it in the holster, “Timmy’s winning the ‘willingly going into deathtraps’ competition two to one.”

“Do I want to know?” Lynch asked, turning to McManus, who took one last look at the data pad before shutting it off and stuffing it in his pocket. Tim shook his head.

3-people-walking“I’ll tell you on the way,” Tim said, taking the lead and pressing his Battle Rifle to his shoulder.

The attractive redheaded college student wiped her nose with a damp sleeve and traded trusting nods with both men. Rachel secured a drier cap over her head once more and focused on the sturdy frame of McManus to ground herself back in the moment.

She caught Tim looking back over his shoulder at her and the two locked eyes for another moment, McManus immediately going back to scanning the path ahead of them as if he were embarrassed to be looking anywhere but straight. Lynch jogged a few steps up and adjusted Tim’s backpack, wiping soot off his jacket and patting him on the shoulder reassuringly. She was delighted to get a smile out of him.

Parsons brought up the rear, looking ahead into an increasingly creepy silence of a murdered city. In the distance, the giant Covenant Battlecruiser hung overhead with no intention of leaving.

“What could possibly go wrong?” Ron sighed.

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CHAPTER FIVE

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4 Responses

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