MINUTEMEN: THE CRUCIBLE
Chapter Eight: Backseat Drivers
City of Boston
United North American Protectorate
October 10, 2552
“Where are the seatbelts?”
“I don’t see seatbelts anywhere in the back of this Warthog.”
“That’s ’cause there aren’t any.”
Captain Jack O’Shea frowned at Tim McManus like a disappointed schoolteacher whose star pupil had botched a routine quiz. “They’re life threatening,” he stated matter of factly.
“That doesn’t make any sense!” Tim said, fumbling to keep himself secure in his seat and out of the laps of his neighboring riders. O’Shea sighed.
“At any point that this convoy has to stop, there’s going to be incoming enemy fire, and you have to be out of the vehicle and shooting, not fumbling around with a seat belt and trapped in here with your nerves.”
Tim McManus’ eyebrows arched up as if he were the only sane person in the vehicle, which he was beginning to believe. “This thing’s almost punted me twice! If I’m not strapped in, I’m gonna be street pizza!”
Captain Jack O’Shea barely shrugged, turning back around in his passenger seat and trying not to smile, “Welcome to life in the United Nations Space Command,” he said grandly over the wind and dropping temperature.
The veterans bumping around in the transport all laughed, low and appreciative, while the Harvard Junior started to worry about the drops of rain that had begun to fall.
From the back of the large troop Warthog, McManus did his best to cradle his newly-upgraded BR-55 Battle Rifle while keeping a slippery free hand on the handle next to his seat. The last thing he wanted after hours of evading non-stop danger was to be ejected from the relative safety of the military transport and separated from these armed professionals and his friends.
Inside the rear vehicle of a two-Warthog convoy, the passengers were shaking and jostling with each pile of fresh debris on the city’s streets. The addition of the tiny, hard raindrops made an already doomed life miserable, and Tim grunted a discontented curse word as he risked swiping a hand across his face. With his mind occupied with not falling headfirst at thirty miles an hour, the nervous college student missed and scrambled franticly to catch the Warthog’s handle, silently cursing his fate.
A lighthearted giggle tore Tim out of his troubled mind as he felt a gentle hand wipe the spots of water off his forehead, nose, and face with ease. The owner of the comforting hand, Rachel Lynch, tucked a rebellious lock of hair behind her ear dismissively and looked at Tim with a bemused expression. She seemed to be faring far better in the slick conditions.
The transport hit yet another pothole and bounced in the air, shaking the pair from their shared moment. The brown haired Harvard student-turned guerilla fighter turned to the stocky soldier on the other side of him, who, unbelievably, appeared to be dozing, leaning his head against the barrel of his shotgun.
“How much longer until we reach the Marines’ evac point?” Tim shouted over the engine and rushing of the wind.
The armored hockey player opened his eyes, but did not look in any other direction than straight ahead. “Dunno,” he simply replied.
“Aren’t you curious?”
McManus was thoroughly befuddled. “Why?”
“‘Cause this is the only rest I get ’til Covenant start shooting at me again. I’m not gonna ask when I have to stop relaxing. Counterintuitive.”
Tim heaved a sigh and blinked hard against the light rain. McManus turned over his shoulder, where he conveniently had the ear of his new friend, Ron Parsons. The tall, blonde former Harvard dining services chef seemed to be worlds better than his counterpart, joking and fooling around with the other two soldiers. Tim took a seemingly life-threatening moment to tap Ron on the shoulder and got his attention.
“What’s up?” Parsons shouted over the din.
“You’re having a good time,” McManus said, twisting his body around almost completely in his seat.
“Yeah,” Ron replied, “Just shooting the shit with Coble and Dunbar here. Hey,” the freshly christened sniper exclaimed suddenly, remembering something and gesturing with no thought to their mortal struggle in the Warthogs, “these guys? All of them, turns out they’re really good at killing Covenant.”
“What do you mean? How many—”
“At least two hundred. This afternoon.”
Tim could not contain his surprise. “Bullshit!”
“They’re all loyal to the Captain now, not the UNSC. Guess he used to be some hot shit in the military. Taught a lot of these guys, apparently.”
Tim turned back around in his seat, eyes wide with this new information. “Fuck me,” he muttered to himself. Ron managed to hear him over the rush of wind.
McManus, curiosity piqued, now twisted around completely, taking a hand off the safety of the roll bar so he could face his friend. “So if he’s so awesome,” Tim said, louder than he intended, “how come they don’t have more soldiers?”
Before Parsons could reply, McManus felt a rough hand grab him by the shoulder and wrench him out of his twisted pose back into a proper sitting position. The Warthog took a rough bump and would have thrown Tim out of the convoy if not for the impromptu arm bar. The soldier on the Harvard Junior’s right made a face of annoyance.
“Don’t get tossed,” the shotgun-wielder growled. “And questions like those are above your pay grade.”
Tim slipped the straps of his rifle tighter around him and grabbed both his seat handle and the roll bar above him. Feeling more secure, he took more time to look at the former UNSC soldier next to him. With the helmet on and balaclava slipped down from his face, McManus could see the craggy, no-nonsense expression paired with weary bags under sharp brown eyes. What he did not have was a name.
“Getting shot at and stuff is kind stressful!” Tim said, voice raised. “What’s your name again?”
“Adam,” he said, digging more shotgun shells out of a small bag and slipping them into his vest, “Adam McHale.”
“What’s so bad about the UNSC?” Tim wiped a hand across his face to clear the light rain from his eyes. “Aren’t you, you know, one of their Marines?”
“Not anymore,” McHale said, spitting pointedly onto the passing pavement.
“So why do you all get pissed off when I mention UNSC?”
“Fuckers left us to rot, didn’t you see?” One of the other soldiers across from Tim and Adam yelled over his shoulder. “Covenant entered our airspace and the ‘SC took off like the house was on fire. Boston never stood a chance.”
“Ain’t right.” Adam growled darkly, echoed by the rest of the soldiers.
“You’re really well organized for just deciding to leave,” Rachel noted, throwing herself into the conversation, “how quickly did you get all this stuff together after the Covenant landed?”
“Cut the chatter,” O’Shea’s gruff voice ordered over the COM, “Eyes on the road.” Tim could not help but notice that the professional soldiers in the vehicle took that chance to avoid any eye contact with the questioning civilian kids. He shifted in his handed down body armor and tried to let his unease go, but it was an itch he absolutely had to scratch.
McManus opted to whisper over the rushing air, checking the front of the transport like a child in school trying to pass a note. Tim poked McHale in the shoulder. “This plan, all those schematics and plans in your data pads, this wasn’t just cooked up as Covies entered orbit, was it?”
Adam kept his shotgun pointed along the dark alleys of Boston. After a short silence, he shook his head. Tim’s eyebrows shot up and his mouth opened, but before he could press the point, the COM erupted with voices.
“Obstruction ahead! Obstruction ahead!”
“Shit. Cap, this is Master guns. Covie roadblock ahead.”
“All teams, this is the Captain. Weapons free. Master guns, call the assault. Bravo’s got your back.”
“Alpha wheel counts four grunts, one elite. They see us…”
“Alpha wheel, swing us hot on my mark. Hang on, Alpha!”
“Bravo, standby for—”
“Bravo, brace! Alpha’s swinging hot!”
Tim, Ron, and Rachel were all shoved downwards by the soldiers around them, keeping their heads down as plasma began to fly out and barely over the Warthogs. From Tim’s obstructed view, he could see the lead Warthog break away from the single line formation and veered hard to the left.
Just before McManus could become concerned, the driver whipped the vehicle hard right at an insane angle and speed, taking the heavy troop transport on two wheels and parallel to the wall of purple light that blocked the entire street. In the middle of the road, Tim spied the device that looked like a giant purple metal snail shell. He assumed that was the origin point of the roadblock.
The left side of the lead Warthog now faced the Covenant soldiers and the humans aboard began firing at will toward the barrier. Their shots seemed to be absorbed completely by the purple energy, dropping the rounds to the pavement. While the energy shield protected the enemy within, however, it also kept them from effectively defending their position, leaving them open on their flanks. The far side of Alpha’s troop transport jumped from their seats before the wheels stopped turning, matching up in two teams of two and breaking off on either side from there.
“This is Master Guns, Alpha’s moving out. Go go go go!”
Bravo’s Warthog dipped low as the driver smashed his foot on the brake. The tires screeching protests echoing off the ruined facades as the momentum threw the occupants toward the cab and smacked them hard against all imaginable surfaces in the troop bay. The adrenaline in the occupants’ systems refused to acknowledge the pain, and the veterans surged into action.
“Bravo’s securing the perimeter! On the hop, boys!”
“-ammit! This is alpha wheel. Elite called it in. Start the shot clock! Thirty seconds to reinforcements. Bravo, acknowledge.”
“This is O’Shea. Thirty seconds. Acknowledged.”
“Let’s go, kid!”
McManus was nearly thrown from the vehicle by the bigger heavy weapons soldier. He stumbled and nearly flopped on the ground as he found his balance, looking every which way to figure out what he was supposed to do. He turned back toward the vehicle, where Rachel was starting to disembark. Adam McHale wheeled around, jabbing an angry finger at the civilian girl. In his armor, his face covered, and gleaming shotgun at his side, he was absolutely frightening.
“Hey!” He yelled. “Stay in the goddamn ‘Hog and keep your head down!”
“Alpha front, take the middle. We’ll soften ’em with frags.”
“Copy. Moving in.”
“Bravo, how’s it lookin’?”
“Clear so far. Hustle up!”
McManus now understood as he saw the other three soldiers, Parsons included, jumping off the Warthog and fanning out a short distance from the transport to cover 270 degrees around the space. Each man had a piece of the invisible pie, each member of the team kept his weapon trained down the windy streets that reeked of death and imminent danger.
The lack of any activity anywhere was worse than a road filled with targets, and Tim realized he had advanced too far. He shuffled backwards, praying he would not trip and trying not to look back at the cacophony of human and alien fire that echoed harshly against the broken buildings.
“Elite’s in cover! Keep it pinned! I need a frag!”
“Tim!” Adam bellowed a short distance from McManus. “Closer to me!”
“Bravo, shot clock.”
“Twenty seconds! Hurry the fuck up!”
Tim McManus fell to a knee and pointed his rifle down the street, trying to will his hands to stop shaking. Several arms lengths away, Adam swore loudly.
“Bravo, pop smoke!”
As one, the soldiers around Tim and Ron reached to their chests and withdrew short gray metal cylinders marked with white electrical tape. They yanked pins and tossed them overhand in three directions, masking them from anyone coming down the road but limiting their visibility as well. From behind Tim, a quick thump of bass registered as a thrown fragmentation grenade.
“Hostile’s in the open.”
“He’s down! Ibanez, C-6 on the power source!”
“Alpha, get in that hog right now!”
“Shot clock ten seconds! Bravo, back in your vehicle!”
Suddenly, everyone around Tim had something to say, and somehow it was all constructive. He had never heard so many instructions all at once, but by some small miracle he could make out every distinctive piece of information that pertained to him. On the other side of the semi-circle, the soldier closest to the rear of the Warthog retreated from his position, slapping Parsons on the shoulder as he went, taking position in the troop bay and watching his partners’ backs.
Tim mimicked the action, and found Adam midway into coming to collect him. The former UNSC Marine nodded in satisfaction, getting back on one knee to cover Tim, yelling as the Harvard student passed, “Bravo, in your ‘Hog now!“
“Alpha’s clear! Shot clock expired!”
One by one the troops jumped in, yelling their names as they secured themselves back in the vehicle, never letting their guard down, weapons hot and scanning every piece of the scene in front of them.
Tim once again experienced a kind of lightness, a rush that powered every muscle to its peak physical performance and removed all doubt and cloudiness from his head. As the well-built hockey player ran for the vehicle, McManus already thought ahead to the more efficient way to do his job and tapped Rachel on the shoulder as he slid down a seat. Using Lynch’s good arm and his own, both of the civilians hoisted Adam easily into Bravo’s vehicle, where the support gunner landed heavily in his seat like he had undoubtedly done hundreds of times before.
“McHale in! Bravo clear!”
The collective torque of the heavy military vehicles buckled the pavement and nearly lifted the noses of the Warthogs into the air as the convoy squealed over the Covenant roadblock.
“Convoy, Bravo wheel. I have long range enemy contact behind. Looks like Ghosts and they’re gaining.”
“Master Guns, Captain O’Shea. Divert. I say again, divert.”
“Captain, Master Guns. Our only other route will bring us on intercept with the haulers.”
“We have to risk it, Master Guns. Divert.”
“All wheels, divert convoy on intercept route with haulers. ETA forty seconds.”
Ron Parsons turned to face Adam. “What are the ‘haulers?’ What are they talking about?”
McManus could not help but notice that even McHale was getting a tighter grip on the roll bar of the drab gray military transport before he spoke. “We can’t take all those civilians by ‘Hog,” he shouted, “so delta outsourced.”
“Delta? There’s more of you?” Ron asked, one eyebrow raised and completely unaware of two very large trucks barreling down a commercial street on a high-speed collision course with Bravo’s right side, and Parsons’ exposed back. Tim’s eyes went wide and his jaw locked in terror as the trucks came so close, the view of the street behind them disappeared. Their front grills looked like they would swallow Ron whole. Impact was equal parts certain and fatal. Parsons was still oblivious.
“Where the hell are they?”
Filed under: Minutemen | Tagged: backseat drivers, boston, covenant, crucible, fan fiction, gus reynolds, Halo, halo 3, jack o'shea, militia, Minutemen, rachel lynch, ron parsons, tim mcmanus, UNSC, woody tondorf |