MINUTEMEN: THE CRUCIBLE
Chapter Seven: “Non-essential personnel”
Newbury Street, public alley #351
City of Boston
United North American Protectorate
October 10, 2552
Tim McManus knew he and his friends had been lucky by the Charles river, but this time they would surely be found and there was no conceivable place to run. The Harvard Junior looked down at his built from scratch BR-55 Battle Rifle and knew that even if he was the best shot alive, he and his friends would not survive this. He thought back to what Walt Merriweather had said about it being more likely they’d use Ron Parsons’ pistol on each other rather than the aliens. Tim did his best to shelve that thought immediately.
As the hostile Grunts came ever closer, they suddenly stopped and started scanning the area, sniffing loudly and hopping from leg to leg nervously. Parsons had found a sliver of glass from the dock and was using it as a crude mirror to see what was going on.
“What the fuck are they doing?” Ron whispered to Tim. “What the fuck are they doing?”
“Shut up,” Rachel hissed, and Tim waved a hand for them both to quiet down. He dared to sneak a glimpse down the street again. The Covenant had now split up from their tight formation and spread out across the wide alley, inching forward into the ruined buildings’ shadowy canyon and looking in all directions for a hidden menace only they could sense. For the life of him, Tim could not figure out what it was, but he knew it was keeping the aliens from finding him and he was not about to complain. McManus withdrew back into the alley to consult with Rachel and Ron, but found the two of them staring at the brick wall they were hiding behind.
“What?” Tim hissed. All he got in reply were the two survivors pointing at the wall, and McManus had to take a step back to discover what they had found.
In large, dripping blue letters, someone had spray painted a message.
“Hazard: 40 feet ahead.”
Tim squinted at the freshly painted letters. “What the hell is this?” He whispered to himself before the answer became quite obvious. The boom of twin fragmentation grenades shook the street, accompanied in bloody harmony by the roars of Covenant troops in agony. The party ran to the edge of the wall and witnessed a scene of carnage; the entire line of Grunts had been obliterated, shredded by the grenade booby trap, and the Elites were just starting to pick themselves up when the second wave hit them.
From behind Ron, Tim, and Rachel, a whole squad of men sporting urban camouflage and UNSC armor melted out of the scenery, organized in pairs, unleashing withering fire into the invaders down the street. They wielded MA5C Assault Rifles, Battle Rifles, and two did their best with M7 submachine guns. The Elites attempted a tactical retreat, only to run into another soldier who whipped around the corner with a nasty-looking shotgun, pumping round after round into the chests of the towering warriors. Purple blood splattered up and down the street as the ghost soldiers advanced quickly, shouting brief instructions to each other and passing by the awestruck kids as if they were not even there. They sounded tired, but each man’s speech was clipped and efficient and they obviously knew what they were doing.
“I count one!”
“Oorah! Get some!”
“Police those bodies for weapons and intel.”
“Nice clean-up there, McHale.”
“Now that’s what I call a close encounter.”
“Need a mag.”
“Anyone got more frags and line? I’m out.”
“Three more blocks to take Copley.”
“No way we take Copley. Not like this.”
“Ibanez was plus four with one block to go.”
“Love this job.”
“I’m serious, who’s got frags and line?”
“Jesus McHale, I got your fucking frags and line. Just stop bitching for two—”
“Cap, Master Guns. I spy friendlies in the alley.”
The three kids had been so mesmerized by what they had just seen they had not realized the soldiers were talking about them. They only snapped out of their daze when seven men materialized right in front of them, all dressed in light armor and only discernible by subtle differences in their armor’s color and stenciled names on breastplates, helmets, and upper arms.
Those who were not wearing face-masking helmets sported balaclavas, their breath misting in the rapidly cooling autumn air. Though none of them were talking now, they all grouped around and seemed to defer to a tall, well-built soldier wearing Captain’s bars on his breastplate, a custom urban camouflaged Battle Rifle slung across his chest, and an impressive matte black suppressed M6C pistol strapped to his thigh. He took a step forward, still eerily quiet as his helmet moved ever so slightly, his unseen face scanning all of them thoroughly in the span of two seconds.
“Are any of you hurt?” His voice, though filtered and muffled through the helmet, was all business. The survivors shook their heads silently. The imposing man in charge pointed at Tim’s Battle Rifle.
“Where’d you get that?” He was not demanding the answer, but McManus certainly felt compelled to answer quickly and truthfully.
“Assembled the components. It’s mine. We got the pistol from a Marine vet when we were rescuing people from a collapsing building. He died.”
“Did you fight any Covenant?”
The trio nervously exchanged looks. “No way,” Rachel piped up. “We’ve been slipping around them all day.”
Her reply seemed to get a positive reaction from the soldiers. Their posture became a little less rigid, they seemed to relax just a hair more. The leader nodded very slightly. “Good job. They own this city now, any engagements just attract more of them, sustained firefights are a good way to end up dead.” With no apparent movement from his hands or vocal command, the silvery opaque faceshield digitally melted away and revealed his face; gray stubble across his features defined a strong jaw, straight nose, and an expression that seemed to always be assessing the situation. “Where you kids headed?”
Tim took out Merriweather’s data pad. “The vet gave us this. Told us the UNSC’s ferrying people out from Back Bay and Rowes Wharf to safety.”
The mention of the United Nations Space Command seemed like a particularly dirty word to the group in front of McManus. Immediately their eyes narrowed and a chill came over the street. One of the men whispered no-so-discreetly, “Fuck that.” In the distance, a group of unseen Wraith tanks were opening fire.
“The UNSC is no longer in Boston,” the head soldier informed the group. The kids looked at him with intense confusion, but he waved his hand as if to dismiss the topic from conversation altogether. “Trying to leave Boston is suicide right now.”
“Wait wait wait,” Tim said, putting his hands up and shaking his head, “but we saw Pelicans—”
“The Pelicans aren’t going to take you. Everyone who reaches that zone is going to be detoured to God knows where until the Covies find them.” A dark-skinned soldier to the right of the leader interjected forcefully. “The Pelicans are picking up high-value objects left behind and extracting essential personnel.”
“Then who are you?” Ron asked with concern.
“Non-essential personnel.” The leader deadpanned. The soldiers all had a brief, grim chuckle at the unintentional dark humor. “I’m Captain Jack O’Shea,” the leader finally introduced himself, letting a very quick, small smile show as a welcome. He put a hand on the shoulder of the tall dark-skinned soldier next to him. “This is my XO, Master Gunnery Sergeant Gus Reynolds.” Reynolds nodded to the kids.
“I’m Tim,” McManus said, trying to put up a front of comfort, “this is Ron and Rachel.”
An urgent beep broke up the welcoming party as Reynolds put a hand to his ear. “Ibanez has casualties,” he informed O’Shea with a frown. The Captain grunted and the frustratingly impenetrable face mask drifted swiftly up again, filtering his voice slightly as he put a hand to the side of his helmet.
“Ibanez. O’Shea. Go ahead.” Tim tried to discern meaning from the Captain’s posture, and from what he saw, he was not pleased with the news. In the middle of the unheard conversation, O’Shea’s perceived eyeline flitted over to McManus, now aware he was being studied. McManus felt his face go flush with embarrassment, as if he had just been caught checking out a girl bending over to get her books. Getting over the initial shock, Tim realized that it was not probably not a look of accusation leveled at Tim, but instead one of evaluation. If he had felt self-conscious before, it was surely doubled now.
“All right,” The Captain said tersely, finally taking his helmet off and tucking it under one arm. The other soldiers seemed to take this as an ok to remove their own helmets as well. Jack turned to Reynolds and Gus tilted his head toward his commanding officer, never taking his eyes off the students. “Ibanez is minus two.”
Reynolds spat. “He was just plus four.”
“Copley Square’s worse than we thought.”
“We’ll have to scrap it.” Gus exhaled angrily.
“Agreed. We’ll go to bravo, see if we can salvage this. Ibanez, strip two and a half of gear and regroup at Newbury. I need two males and one light female. Good. O’Shea out.”
Ron, Tim, and Rachel all exchanged glances. Had they just been drafted? Did they have any say in this? The imposing Captain took a step toward the trio and Tim fought the desire to take a step back. To Tim’s surprise, Ron Parsons stepped forward and crossed his arms over his chest.
“What’s the deal?” Parons asked, chin tilted up and trying for all the world to look like he belonged in the company of these men.
O’Shea’s brow furrowed in consternation. “I know you’ve been through a lot, but my men and I need all the help we can get. I don’t know if you can handle yourselves in combat, but unfortunately that doesn’t matter at this point. My men are dying out there and we need armed forces badly.”
Though Tim had already deduced where this conversation was going when Jack started talking, he was still becoming more and more uneasy as O’Shea got to the point. Everyone had entertained fantasies of being a war hero, a leader of men, the bane of the Covenant and born warrior, but the truth was most war heroes were recognized after their “brave sacrifice,” and McManus wasn’t ready to sacrifice anything right now.
Tim considered himself pretty good at shooting, and the sneaking and hiding and running that he had done all day gave him confidendence, but he doubted he could do it under fire. He certainly did not consider himself a peer to these stone and shadow colored ghosts with guns. He looked down at his rifle in doubt, afraid to meet O’Shea’s eyes.
“Look” Jack said, “we need your help and we’re not going to send you somewhere that would be overly dangerous. I can tell you, right now, that leaving this city with your life is next to impossible, and staying put in one place is just as bad. We’ve prepared for this. If you want to survive, you fight with us.”
McManus did not feel inspired by the man’s words, though he knew O’Shea believed them with all his heart. Before he could answer, a Hispanic soldier and three other fighters ran into the alley and came to a halt in front of Jack. All of them were coated in sweat; their uniforms were streaked with blood and their armor was scratched and dinged, but Tim noticed the red cross on the man’s arm most of all as he spoke to the Captain.
“Charlie owns Copley,” Eddy Ibanez huffed, clearly out of breath, “and they don’t feel like sharing.” He waited for a moment, almost afraid to acknowledge O’Shea’s pointed examination of his survivors. “We lost Chan.”
His fears confirmed, Jack mashed a fist into his open hand. “Ibanez…our last sharpshooter, really? I told you to keep him close.”
The medic’s eyes dropped swiftly to the pavement and he tried his best to stammer out an apologetic explanation of their hopeless situation. “I’m not very good at this, sir. We’re doing our best, but we keep running into…and when we get there we’re not even close to…I mean we’re not trained for…” Ibanez realized he was making excuses and, despite being absolutely correct, cut himself off. “I’m sorry I let you down, sir.”
O’Shea nodded, putting a reassuring hand on the medic’s shoulder, his own frustrations giving way to the bigger task at hand. “You’re doing the best you can. Get any intel on enemy intentions?”
“Yeah, and you’re not gonna like it.” Ibanez said, taking out a data pad from a pocket in his body armor. The pad winked to life in the medic’s hand and displayed a map of the immediate area. Several mean-looking red shapes blinked and pulsed in various rhythms all around Copley, and O’Shea swore loudly. Gus looked over the Captain’s shoulder and repeated the obscenity.
“They’re digging in.” Ibanez stated.
“No shit,” Jack replied, adding a low whistle. “This doesn’t make sense. Covenant wouldn’t commit ground forces of that scale on a location like this. Boston’s not important. Strategically, I don’t get it.”
“Does that matter?” Tim piped up, drawing inquisitive looks from the soldiers in front of him. “Whether they’re sticking around or stopping by, they’ll kill us all the same.”
McManus gulped at the resulting silence as the men in front of him glared in looks that told him to shut the hell up. Ibanez tapped O’Shea on the shoulder with the back of his hand and nodded toward the kids.
Jack nodded, keeping his eyes on Tim in what could best be described as bemusement.
“Fuckin’ kid’s got moxie, I’ll give ‘im that.”
“We’ll see,” O’Shea said, his mind already moving on to the next step. “Everyone on me!”
Ibanez and the rest of the soldiers gathered around O’Shea and Reynolds. The trio stood, uncommitted, outside the circle of men and gradually stepped forward to join the conversation. Each of the urban-camouflaged warriors had a data pad out that was synced to Jack’s; every slim black device flashed with the same images that the Captain’s did, and after some tinkering with Merriweather’s own data pad, McManus managed to get his synced up as well. Ron bumped Tim’s shoulder appreciatively.
“Guess you majored in hacking.”
McManus lightly bit his lip in concentration. “I never really settled on a major,” he said distractedly.
“Slacker,” Ron jabbed. Rachel shushed them angrily.
“Okay,” O’Shea announced, tapping in commands and zooming in on a map of Boston, “Bad news first: Covies set up shop in Copley and they’re not giving it up any time soon. That means they’re buying long-term real estate and we don’t have the force to make Boston a bad neighborhood. We scrap big assault plans starting now. Let’s move to good news.”
Jack tapped his screen again and swept a finger along the smooth surface, flying across the digital city and landing on the east side of the city, where wharves spit out into Boston harbor like knobby fingers.
“UNSC is telling stragglers to go to Rowes Wharf area for evac. We know that’s bullshit, but survivors don’t. We split into two squads. Reynolds takes Ibanez and Alpha, I’ve got McHale and Bravo. We go back where we stashed the two troop ‘hogs, sync some haulers, and we roll to Rowes. Alpha will secure the site and Bravo will take first run of the wounded. Take no lip, load the worst into your hog and start running trips into the waypoint on your pads.
“And word on what to expect at Rowes?”
“High counts of unarmed civilians, probably all those who were too slow or wounded in the first surge to get out.” Jack looked up briefly and made sure he made his point. “We double time it to the wharves and get those civilians to safety. It’s about saving those people now. Questions?”
“Rules of engagement?” A disembodied voice asked from across the huddle.
“Engage all hostiles that see you, don’t stick around.”
“How likely is it the Covenant will hit the evac site?” McHale asked.
“Very likely; so move as quickly as possible and stay out of sight every chance you can.”
“Waypoint on my pad is fifty feet below street level. What’s underground that we’re taking survivors to?”
O’Shea flicked his fingers across the data pad once more, pulling up rail schematics for the entire city, terminating at a central point and highlighted in an orange diamond. “UNSC evacuation protocols freeze all rapid transit movement after a certain amount of time. Right now there’s makeshift blockades of maglev trains all around South Station terminal. We take the civilians underground, blow the tunnels and seal ourselves in.”
Tim felt ridiculous craning his head above the huddle, but he also felt it was necessary. “Uhhh?” He uttered, again feeling the heat of everyone around him, “Seal ourselves in?”
“We’ll be able to get out,” O’Shea sighed.
“Any other questions?” The Captain asked, expecting none. “Good. Form up and prepare to move. Reynolds, Ibanez, with me.”
The soldiers broke the huddle and settled into two groups of eight on each side of the alley. Ibanez tossed a large sack to O’Shea and the Captain began digging around inside. Tim and the kids looked all over the alley, each of them briefly entertaining the notion of just plain running away from these men with guns who wanted to run smack into the heart of the invasion. Jack withdrew two sets of gray body armor from the sack and tossed them to Ron and Tim, who, to their credit, only stumbled a half step when catching the plated protection. Both of them looked at the Captain questioningly.
“People are going to die if we don’t help them now,” Jack said in his best no-nonsense tone. “They, and I, need your help.”
Tim and Ron took a very brief moment, then nodded at the same time, sliding their backpacks off and picking up the armor. O’Shea cleared his throat to get their attention and traded their jackets for more practical urban-camouflaged autumn gear.Tim and Ron took a few extra moments sliding the flexible connected plates over their heads and felt more than a little ridiculous navigating the snaps, straps, and hooks that connected the torso armor to their bodies. McManus shimmied around in the new gear, expecting the bulky looking protection to hinder his movement, but surprised at the agility he still had.
O’Shea handed the two boys throat mics and COM transmitters and gave them a crash course on the devices as Ibanez tore white medical tape off with his teeth and stuck the strips over the past owner’s names, scrawling their first names hastily with a thick black marker. McManus tried his best to ignore the blood on his uniform, or the plasma scorch marks on his body armor.
After he was done with the men, O’Shea presented Rachel with a set of very light upper body armor, though he had to wait for Eddy, who was examining the feisty civilian. Ibanez was both quite confused and slightly alarmed. He turned to his superior officer and pointed incredulously at Lynch’s arm.
“Do you know she just dislocated her shoulder?” The latino medic asked, eyes widening.
Lynch made a half-smile, half-frown, and did her best to shrug. “Few hours and a bunch of miles ago. They put it back in.”
Ibanez shook his head admiringly. “The hell are you made of, girl?”
“Sugar and spice, and a hundred twenty pounds of division one girls pyramid ball.” Rachel flashed a smile over Ibanez’s laugh and accepted the armor from O’Shea gratefully.
“If it’s ok,” she said, pointing in the direction of Ron and Tim, “I’d like to stay with them.”
“I understand,” Jack said, as Rachel tightened the last strap on the armor, “just keep your head down.” O’Shea reached back in the bag and withdrew a dark gray jeep cap, giving it to Lynch who covered the top of her deep red hair with it and skewed the brim just a bit sideways.
Gus Reynolds stepped into McManus’ field of vision and looked down at the boy seriously.
“So you built that BR?” He asked.
“Yeah,” Tim replied, wondering where this was going.
“Not bad, but you could do better. You mind?” Reynolds held out a heavy hand that looked like it could batter steel. Tim frowned for a second, then relented and presented the Master Gunnery Sergeant with the firearm. Gus lowered his balaclava, expelling steamy breath into the crisp air and began working with the rifle.
“Scope’s off, charging handle’s loose, magazine release is clumsy,” he muttered, turning his giant fists into precision instruments of repair and improvement, “but she should be ok to you now.” Reynolds reached into a pouch on his left hip and withdrew a long black suppressor. “Sound and flash suppressor. Sight in on a couple of those bodies and see how she feels.”
McManus placed the stock of the rifle firmly against his shoulder and remembered to squeeze, not pull, the trigger. The suppressor did not completely mask the report of the bullet, but in the ambient dull roar of urban warfare, it would be nearly impossible to identify the source. The rounds smacked into an Elite’s fallen body downrange, and Reynolds nodded happily and clapped Tim on the shoulder. “Nice work, kid.”
Tim smiled along with the larger soldier and nodded, even though he knew he had been aiming for the body farther down the alley. I’ll figure it out, Tim told himself, I’ll figure it out.
O’Shea now waved Tim and Ron over as the rest of the soldiers gathered on either side of the alley, one stocky Marine returning from booby trapping the fallen Covenant with explosives. Jack’s conversation with Tim’s newest and probably last guy friend brought him back to Earth.
“Ron,” O’Shea started, looking pointedly at the large pistol in Parsons’ hands, “how familiar are you with firearms?”
“I shoot Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and weekends.” Parsons replied matter-of-factly. “Went to the local range a lot.”
McManus was unsure how to read the Captain’s eyes in repsonse to Ron’s answer. The flash of satisfaction was disconcerting, and the brown-haired Harvard junior wondered just how reluctant the commander was to throw these obviously untested kids into the middle of a war.
“What’re your full names?” O’Shea asked. Over his shoulder, Gus Reynolds had taken out his data pad like a reporter getting a hot tip. Against their better judgment, Tim and Ron gave their full names to the soldiers they had just met minutes ago.
Jack looked over his shoulder at Reynolds. “Can you run them?” He asked.
“Already on it,” Gus responded, holding up his pad for his commander to see. “Looks like McManus shoots there, too.”
O’Shea’s eyebrows arched up in pleasant surprise. “Hmm,” he muttered, taking his eyes off the pad and looking at the lithe cook with new eyes, “Scored well in tactical, better marksman than some of mine. Your groupings are tight and you place them well.”
Tim and Ron were confused for a moment, then snapped into realization almost simultaneously. “You’ve been monitoring shooters at the gun ranges.” Tim said, his hushed voice impressed and terrified.
O’Shea chuckled to himself, still reading the data pad. “Looks like Parsons slipped out of a few conscription ‘appointments.’ I think I like this kid, Master Guns.”
McManus’ head whipped around to look at the Captain. “Stealing people from the shooting ranges? That’s true?” He asked. “I thought Ron was bullshitting me.”
Parsons wore a self-satisfied grin and shrugged nonchalantly. “You sent hot chicks just out of basic and thought I wouldn’t think twice when she saw my shooting and invited me out? If you had really wanted to get me, you shouldn’t have sent tens who score head shots.”
O’Shea laughed as he waved over Ibanez, who jogged over with a S2 AM sniper rifle strapped to his back. The Captain grabbed the used precision weapon off the medic’s back and nodded slighty with Ron’s awed, excited expression. Tim felt a small pang of jealousy as he realized that Ron was going to get to shoot that.
As he passed the weapon on to the tall, newly acquired talent, O’Shea locked eyes with Ron and then on to Tim. “Our two teams are going to have to move down this block, and we can’t do it blind. I need you on this roof and provide intel and possibly support, then we’ll pick you up. If we survive today I intend to teach you two how to work together and use these weapons to their full capability.
“I’m hoping you don’t have to use these today, but in case you do, I want you both to understand something. This. Is. Not. A. Game. If you don’t kill every Covenant you see, they will find you, they will call in support, and you will be killed. They do not take prisoners and they do not show mercy. Do you understand?”
The two boys nodded, deathly serious. Jack held out a gloved hand.
“The M6, Ron.”
Parsons, only too happy to trade, gave Jack the sidearm, which he handed to a thoroughly surprised Rachel.
“I don’t shoot,” Lynch insisted.
O’Shea slipped his helmet back on, indicating the subject was closed. “You do today. Watch their backs when they’re up there. They’re your responsibility.” O’Shea pointed around the alley. “Low and fast around this corner, first door on your left. The stairs are still intact and there’s still roof access. Keep out of sight.”
“You got it,” Tim replied, and the three took off on a jog between the two stacks of guerilla fighters. Upon reaching the end of the alley, McManus heard the shotgun-wielding soldier, McHale, clear his throat. Tim looked back inquisitively.
“You fuck this up,” McHale breathed, “we all die.” Parsons shot him a withering look.
“Hadn’t occurred to me.” Ron responded over his shoulder, and he was gone into the street.
The three kids ran in a crouch like they had done all day, their thighs burning with fatigue, backs aching from the unnatural position. Rachel was in the middle of the formation, keeping her good arm on Tim’s shoulder as they scurried along the sidewalk to the building’s stairs. A chirp sounded in the trio’s ears and each of them found it more than a little weird.
“This is O’Shea,” The disembodied voice said. “You hear me ok?”
“I think we hear you,” Tim said, reaching the door and placing an unsteady hand on the knob.
“Piece of advice: never assume a building is clear. Check and re-check.”
McManus took a deep breath and nodded to himself, turning the knob slowly and edging the door open into the foyer of a hastily abandoned townhouse. He entered the open space quickly and knelt down, sweeping the area with his rifle. As soon as he established his position, he was bowled over by Ron, who was running into the room with the bulky rifle. Both men tumbled to the floor, helpless to stop their motion with the heavy armor and gear on their bodies. Parsons was livid.
“What the hell were you doing?” He asked incredulously, arms open wide before he retrieved his gun.
“I was, uh,” Tim found himself stammering, “you know, securing the foyer.”
“This isn’t the fucking holo films, Timmy,” the Harvard cook said in disbelief, “we gotta keep moving or we’re dead. Jesus.” Ron took off, taking the stairs two at a time to catch Rachel.
McManus grit his teeth in frustration and jogged along, mounting the stairs as fast as he could to keep up. Three minutes later they had climbed the stairs and shimmied their way up onto the roof of the building. The setting sun combined with the thick haze of smoke had now thrust Boston into a dark orange dusk that seemed to coat every surface with a thin layer of rust. Even through her layers, Rachel shivered.
“I’m sufficiently creeped out.” She muttered. Ron crept along the roof, motioning for the group to get low. Once again the COM chirped a tone in everyone’s ear.
“We’re in position.” O’Shea informed them. “Where are you?”
“Made it to the roof,” Tim responded. “What now?”
“North-northeast corner,” the Captain informed them. “I need eyes on that street. Hurry up, the longer we stay here, the more danger we’re in.”
“Gotcha,” Tim said, taking his hand off his ear. He stood there for a few seconds, trading looks with Rachel and Ron, until Rachel huffed in frustration.
“North-Northeast corner is over there,” she pointed. Ron and Tim mumbled excuses as they crawled toward the corner of the roof.
The two black and gray clad shooters scurried as fast as they could to their position. Tim already had his Battle Rifle high and tight against his chest and pointing out toward unseen threats. Ron looked like he was having more difficulty with the bulky high-powered rifle than he had anticipated. McManus slid his backpack across the roof and it collided against the brick and mortar lip softly. The two newfound friends slipped into position, Parsons unfolding the bipod from underneath the S2 AM, Tim digging into his backpack and pressing binoculars to his eyes.
“Are you set?” Tim asked.
“Yeah,” Ron muttered, tinkering with the scope, “think so.”
As Rachel crawled over to the pair and kept her focus on the roof access, Tim opened a channel to the Captain.
“We’re set and standing by,” he called in, feeling more at ease with the position he was in.
“Call out everything you see.” Jack instructed. McManus could hear the Warthog’s engine idling in the background and knew that time was short.
Tim stared several blocks ahead, straining his eyes to take in every detail. He could see six Grunts and an Elite meandering back and forth across the road. In the middle of the street, two of the Covenant foot soldiers were putting together what looked like a purple metal snail shell. He relayed all that information to the Captain. Everyone in the group could hear O’Shea’s voice growing tenser when he called back.
“Tim, Ron, I need you to listen to me very carefully.” The two shooters nodded, even though Jack was nowhere around. “That purple thing will make a road block that our vehicles can’t cross, and we’ll lose men trying to offline it. We’re out of time and we must take this street. Keep them away from the device and kill every hostile that you can. Got me?”
Ron gulped. Tim felt lightheaded. Both of them croaked, “OK,” in response. Parsons settled in behind his rifle, stock nuzzled tight against his shoulder, hat off and right hand glove resting in his lap. Tim turned to Ron, now confused.
“Do I start shooting, too?” He asked. “Or do I tell you what to hit through the binoculars?”
Ron continued to stare through his scope. “I don’t care, Timmy,” he muttered. “I can see fine. Just…I dunno…do what you want to do.”
“Ok,” McManus said, more to himself than as a reply. He tossed down the binoculars and did his best to rest the barrel of the Battle Rifle against the lip of the roof for stability. “Purple snail shell, start there. I’ll take the one on the left, you got right.”
“I got right,” Ron repeated.
“Ok,” Tim said, desperately trying to calm down his soaring heart rate. “On my mark. Three, two, one, mark.”
McManus almost jumped at the crack of the sniper rifle and did his best to keep his three-round burst even close to the target. Both men missed by three feet at least, the only consolation being Tim’s errant shot miraculously dropped a Grunt farther up the street. Its partner jumped backwards, dropping its plasma pistol and running toward the Elite in charge of the operation.
“Fuck!” Parsons hissed. “Missed. Good shot, Timmy.”
“I fucking missed, too,” Tim said, trying to find a new target. “They’re moving too fast! I can’t get a shot!”
“What’s the situation?” O’Shea’s concerned voice sounded over the COM.
“Just—just be quiet for a second!” Rachel interjected, turning around and seeing the stress on her friends’ faces. “We’re in the middle of something!” The COM bleeped off and Lynch now grabbed the binoculars that Tim had dropped. “What do I do?” She asked, the stress of the situation making her frantic. “What do I do!”
“Look at that purple snail thing! Middle of the street!” Tim shouted back as another rifle shot split the air with deafening force. “Tell us if any of them are getting near it! You hit anything, Ron?”
“Will you just calm the fuck down?” Parsons yelled. “I’m doing the best that I can!” Another shot bucked the rifle back into the blonde shooter’s shoulder, causing him to move errant strands of hair out of his view. “Yes!” He exclaimed. “Got one! Stay down, ya prick!”
“Guys…” the redheaded Boston College co-ed stammered, “the big one, the Elite’s running for the snail shell.”
“Oh God dammit,” Tim said, snapping his aim back to the center of the street. “Ron?”
“I see him,” Parsons said through grit teeth. “Aim for the chest! We gotta drop it!”
The two men began firing as controlled as they could, tracking the Elite’s sprint from cover to the device but always missing by inches. Pavement spat up into the air as the armored alien warrior dashed toward its objective. Finally, one of McManus’ shots found its target, igniting the Elite’s energy shield and causing it to stumble slightly.
“Convoy in thirty seconds!” Jack shouted over the COM. “You can’t let them turn that roadblock on!”
“Grunt sneaking on the left! Really close!” Rachel cried out, answered by Tim’s Battle Rifle flitting to the left, tracking, and taking down the cannon fodder. In doing so, however, the Battle Rifle’s bolt snapped back, indicating he was out of ammunition. McManus frantically thumbed the release and the empty metal box clattered to the ground. The Harvard Junior knew he could not get another fresh mag into the rifle in time to stop the Elite from reaching its destination.
“Ron? Little help!” Tim said, panic creeping into his voice. In a quick glance, the Harvard Junior saw his partner reloading, slamming the magazine home and chambering the next round with dizzying speed. The newly appointed sniper took a deep breath.
“No jaywalking.” Parsons muttered as he squeezed the trigger, the discarding SABOT round tearing out of the barrel and slamming full on into the chest of the Elite. The blue-armored Covenant soldier’s feet kept going as it fell backwards, hitting hard against the ground. Before the humans above felt too good about themselves, the alien propped itself up with its massive arms, roared at its unseen attackers, and charged with more ferocity than before.
Tim caught a dark smile flash across Ron’s face as he spoke again. “What did I just say, douchebag?” Another crisp shot of the S2 and the giant alien’s head disappeared in a splatter of metal, concrete, and bone.
“Convoy’s coming in hot!” Reynolds voice sounded in everyone’s ear. “Road better be clear, recon!”
Two seconds later, the two Warthogs fishtailed onto the attempted roadblock’s street, their combined firepower cutting the remaining Grunts to ribbons. Tim and Ron exhaled heavily, their shoulders sagging and wearing expressions like they had just run a 10K. Rachel was jumping up and down, cheering and taunting the fallen aliens.
The lead Warthog skid to a stop by the roadblock, and the new guerilla soldiers watched from the roof as the men below piled out, fast and low, securing a perimeter around the vehicle. The second Warthog pulled a long fishtail around the perimeter, sweeping the intersection before peeling off toward the snipers’ townhouse.
One of the men from the lead convoy attached what looked like a small shipping package to the purple snail shell and ran back to help the others, who were relieving the dead aliens of their weapons. A few seconds later, a small explosion obliterated the Covenant device. Immediately afterwards, the COM chirped to life again.
“Captain, this is Reynolds,” Gus’ deep voice informed everyone, “street’s clear and nav says they’ve got a good route to the wharf. You’re good to extract recon.”
“On it, Master Guns. Kids, you’re gonna miss the bus if you don’t hurry.”
“Let’s go!” Tim said, jumping up and remembering to grab his backpack at the last second. The two men helped Rachel down the ladder and almost fell down the stairs from the speed of their descent, adrenaline powering their weary muscles to clear creaking wooden steps. McManus risked a look back and caught Rachel’s face lit up in the thrill of victory and adventure. Everyone was truly on a high.
As the trio neared the door, the long gray Warthog screeched to a halt, engine still growling for more. Three empty seats in an roofless troop bay beckoned the survivors as they all burst into the open air of Boston’s last afternoon. Whatever distance the soldiers had effected around the newcomers was now gone; helping hands and strong arms lifted the grateful students into Captain O’Shea’s transport. In the front cab only the back of the Captain’s helmet could be seen, but Tim imagined the leader had a look of satisfaction. Rachel and Tim piled in to once side as Ron sat in between two soldiers in their late twenties. They both smacked the tall sniper on the shoulders.
“How’d it feel to kill?” One asked, a devilish smile spreading across his face.
Parsons gave a nonchalant shrug and did his best at a cocksure smile. “Brisk,” he replied, accepting even rougher gestures of approval from his new comrades.
Tim stared up at the roof of the townhouse and wondered how much time had just passed. Two minutes? Two hours? He had no earthly idea. All he knew was the world was starting to spin and they had not even started to drive yet. Before he could think upon it further, however, McManus stared at a crumpled pack of cigarettes being thrust in his face. He looked over at McHale, the shotgun wielding trooper who looked better suited for hockey than war. McHale thrust his chin up and set his jaw in what must have been smile.
“Solid fuckin’ killin’,” he stated, “gets a victory smoke.”
“No thanks,” Tim said, trying to sound appreciative as the Warthog lurched forward down the street, “I don’t smoke.”
“You will, kid.” McHale chuckled, igniting his own with a lighter that read, “Sinn Fein.”
“What does that mean?” The brown haired sharpshooter could not help but ask. McHale tucked the lighter away.
“It’s Gaelic,” the hockey player said back in a gruff voice. “Means, ‘ourselves alone.’ You’ll understand, if ya live long enough.”
Everyone’s heads started bobbing around as the two vehicles rolled hard down buckled and cracked pavement. Towering buildings sagged and leaned against one another as the new soldiers embarked on a dangerous tour of post-apocalyptic Boston. As the group took in the desolate scene, Rachel patted Tim’s leg to get his attention. He turned and looked into sparkling green eyes and a look of sincere gratitude. Tim’s mind went completely blank again.
“You did good, Timmy,” Lynch smiled, a explosion of joy in a city of dark desolation. “Thanks for getting us out of this.”
The world had ended, everyone he knew was probably dead, and he was traveling in a military transport with soldiers he did not know to rescue wounded people in the heart of the Covenant occupation force. Despite all that, Tim McManus could not remember when he felt this good.
Filed under: Minutemen |