Minutemen: The Crucible -Chapter 9-


Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8

MINUTEMEN: THE CRUCIBLE

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Chapter Nine: “Everything Must Go.”

Broad Street
City of Boston
United North American Protectorate
October 10, 2552
Late Afternoon

Tim McManus’ face dropped in total shock, his green eyes wide as saucers as the pair of trucks tore towards his Warthog and certain death. Ron Parsons’ featured twitched with confusion at Tim’s sudden and drastic expression; he immediately turned back to face the rapidly growing front grills of what looked like large, gray mail trucks.

Before Ron could react with a scream of warning, surprise, or fear, the Warthog jerked to the left, nearly rolling the vehicle. The heavy duty Marine transport’s wheels screamed in protest and Tim’s vision blurred and the passing obliterated building facades lurched sickeningly from his perspective. Lance Corporal Adam McHale and McManus twisted in their seats and fought against the force of the skid as Ron Parsons began to fly out of the transport.

Both men barely snatched the arm holes of the tactical vest as Ron lost his balance and began to fall toward the rushing pavement and the huge tires of Delta’s trucks. As Bravo’s Warthog righted itself, Parsons managed to get a grip on his large S2 AM sniper rifle, which was slipping out of his hands. The petrified, former Harvard cook clutched the weapon like a newborn against his chest.

Tim noted for the briefest of moments that the lead Warthog had fallen back to guard the rear of the now-doubled convoy. The trucks took just as hard a turn onto the main street, flirting with tipping onto two wheels, but righting themselves at the last minute. Eventually O’Shea’s Warthog, now the head of the convoy, stopped listing to either side and found its balance. The trio in the back of the troop transport collapsed in their chairs, sweating.

“What the fuck!” Parsons gasped, gesturing angrily at the trailing trucks.

“Delta stole some trucks to move the civvies,” McHale explained. “IFF tags occasionally go nuts and we know the aliens track our COM traffic. We’re operating dark most of the time after we issue orders across town and we’re trusting our sync to time ops right.”

“You gotta be fucking kidding me,” Ron wheezed, finally finding his breath. McManus looked pale as well.

“How many close calls have there been?” Tim asked, genuinely concerned.

Adam made a point of looking away from the vehicles and avoiding the three kids’ prying eyes. “That was our first.”

Rachel looked relieved. “Well, that’s not so bad.”

“…That everyone survived.” McHale finished, shutting up the new recruits.

“Twenty seconds to the docks.” O’Shea instructed the convoy. The Lance Corporal gripped his shotgun tight and looked at the new recruits with a tight, set jaw, as if even acknowledging the present situation was defeat.

“Thing you gotta remember,” Adam said, leaning forward and picking up intact shotgun shells that had fallen out in the swerving, “we’re not exactly favored to knock out the Covies.” The former Marine gestured lazily up at the giant alien Battlecruiser that dominated Boston’s skyline. Tim shuddered when he remembered it was not the only one he saw descending through the atmosphere.

McHale shrugged, his faceshield’s opaque screen digitally melting away to give the occupants a glance into his hard-set features. Intense gray eyes flashed above a nose that had undoubtedly been broken at least twice, Adam’s stubble was absolutely longer than UNSC regulations, better suited for a young hockey player in the playoffs than a Marine. Though he barely spoke over the sound of the convoy, his words had an urgency that were not lost on the brave, but untested civilians.

“A whole lot of people died,” he stated almost mechanically, “and a whole lot more are going to die, but you suck it up. Doesn’t matter what we have to do, if we lose, we lose the whole damn thing. We’re expected to give everything. Now, so are you.”

As he became aware of the demoralized faces looking back at him, Adam’s face turned into a reassuring smile. “Look on the bright side,” he chuckled, nodding at the crumbling, formerly ornate townhouses on either side of the street, “it ain’t exactly gonna be hard to get the best condo in town.”

The convoy roared up the remaining blocks, churning concrete and taking corners harder than advisable. Tim nearly lost his rifle as the drab gray transport went up on two wheels for what felt like an eternity. As the Warthog righted itself in a high-speed wobble, everyone, even the hardened veterans, heaved sighs of relief. Gus Reynolds ‘Hog screamed up from behind the two trucks, eventually catching up and rolling alongside O’Shea’s. The rushing wind was now beginning to mix with the distant smash of the sea, and Tim realized they were getting very close now.

“Ten seconds.” Captain Jack O’Shea shouted, cupping his hands around his mouth and turning around in his seat. “Let’s show Alpha how the best take a structure! Prepare to breach on arrival! Lock and load!”

Adam McHale pumped the weapon with enthusiasm, the metal sliding and clacking in place as everyone’s hearts starting beating a bit faster. He looked over his shoulder to address everyone else in the troop bay, smacking a fellow ex-Marine on the helmet to get his attention. “Soon as we hit it, stack up on me! Ginger, stay put ’til we give the all clear! Everyone else, hope for the best and expect the worst. Safeties off. No matter what, we get all survivors on the transports, so don’t take no lip. Longer we stay, the better chance we get dead. It’s not a matter for discussion, you got me?”

“Oorah!” One of the soldiers replied with gusto. McHale shot the man a hard look.

“We don’t do that no more, Coble,” Adam scolded the enthusiastic comrade.

Everyone was shoved meanly to the side as the Warthog braked hard and weaved to a stop, as if it really were an animal, trying to buck the stubborn riders off. The eager team leaped off the rolling death trap immediately and covered the distance to the gleaming, cavernous warehouse’s main entrance in a full run. One by one, they stood behind McHale, who silently motioned for another soldier to join him at the front of the line. Tim craned his head to see what the two up front were looking at.

“What is it?” Parsons whispered.

McManus shook his head in disapproval. “Big lock on the doors.”

Ron’s eyes went wide. “They were locked in?

Tim frowned and exhaled sadly. “Yeah.”

The man out of line returned from his conference with McHale and pressed his head and shoulders flush against the side of the warehouse. Tim and Ron looked at the man for a second in confusion before they realized what Adam was about to do.

“Fire in the hole!”

Both of the newcomers shoved themselves against the brine-crusted steel as the small explosive device obliterated the heavy duty pad lock and dropped the links of a large iron chain to the ground. Tim and Ron felt the pull of the stacked soldiers advancing as if the whole group was attached to a line of string. McManus was surprised at how natural the feeling was for him.

The second man ran to the middle of the doors while Tim and Ron ran up and covered him. Grunting with exertion, the soldier drew the door back on its tracks and opened up the vast dark space. Blood pumping, adrenaline flowing, and feeling the chill of the coming evening, McManus flicked his finger along the safety, readying his weapon to kill. Ron had opted to steal back his old pistol for the incursion, and so it was Parson’s hand coming down on Tim’s shoulder that signaled the breach.

“Watch my back,” Tim said over his shoulder.

Ron nodded after him. “You got it.”

The pair whipped around the open door, weapons up and sweeping the darkness. Their eyes took a second to adjust, but what they could initially see from the light of the outside world was enough to make Ron numbly drop his arms to his side and let his jaw go slack. Tim merely stood there, not entirely sure what he was seeing.

“Jesus Christ,” Parsons whispered.

From five feet in front of the door to the unseen rear of the cavernous space, row upon row of wounded, bewildered Bostonians shielded their eyes from the flare of sunlight. With the sunlight from the partially opened door, the two kids could not see to the end of the warehouse. A few survivors were able to stagger to their feet and stand in front of the would-be rescuers, causing a ripple of bodies groggily standing in fatigued confusion at the mass of armed silhouettes at the door. Besides scattered coughing, muffled moans, and the quiet idling of trucks outside the building, the place was deafeningly silent. Tim and Ron continued to stare numbly at the sight until Adam McHale pushed roughly past them.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Tim said behind the stocky soldier as McHale stood on his toes, scanning the crowd.

“You get used to it,” The Lance Corporal said dismissively before mounting a wooden crate, taking off his helmet, and addressing the crowd.
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“Everyone please listen to me,” the former Marine belted out into the space. “I speak on behalf of Captain Jack O’Shea, and we’re going to bring you to safety. Is there a doctor anywhere here?”

Coughing and moaning only answered him. Adam spat on the ground.

“Folks, we’re not UNSC. We did not lock you in here! We are going to bring you somewhere safer than here, where the Covenant cannot find you.”

A middle-aged woman in a tattered jacket and sporting a blood-soaked bandage over her forehead rose to her wobbly feet. She held up a thin hand before speaking. “Prove it.”

Without hesitation, McHale slung his shotgun across his chest and dug a hand under his armor. As O’Shea, Gus Reynolds, and the rest of the rescue party opened the doors wide and filed in, McHale drew two shiny silver dogtags from inside his uniform. Tim and Ron’s brows both furrowed, wondering what he was up to.

The former hockey player took the tags off his neck, looking at them scornfully for an instant. “I didn’t sign up to leave civilians to die,” he said angrily, hurling his identification on the ground with all his strength. Even with a warehouse full of bodies, the clinking and clanking of the metal echoed throughout the space. “Now you either let us take you all to the last safe place in Boston, or I drag you out of here by your hair.”

The woman in front of McHale reached up to her forehead and took off the bandage, revealing no obvious wounds at all. She shrugged off the tattered jacket and adjusted the clean white coat of a medical professional. Any show of weakness melted away in seconds as the resident doctor of the refugees stepped forward with purpose. “Who’s in charge here?” She asked firmly.

HaloMarine55Within ten minutes the warehouse had become a giant, organized line. Rachel, Tim, and Ron walked on patrol around the dock with McHale while alpha and the rest of the soldiers tended to moving wounded into trucks. At the completion of their sweep, four men from alpha relieved them and left them standing next to Captain O’Shea and the civilian doctor. Both leaders were ending a conversation over their data pads. Satisfied, the doctor made her way to the first truck. Jack turned around as he became aware of the kids behind him.

The Lance Corporal stood at attention in front of the Captain. “Looks clear, sir,” he said. “How’s it coming in here?

O’Shea put on his helmet and nodded toward the physician. “One of the bravest people I’ve met,” O’Shea said admiringly. “Disguised herself and willfully went with these folks because she knew what was going to happen. She knew someone would help, but in the meantime she gathered data on every person in the warehouse, worst condition to best.”

“Efficient,” McManus noted. Jack’s expression, however, had changed from admiration to veiled frustration. O’Shea slid his data pad into a chest pocket with irritation.

“She cut our deployment time in half, but we’re still too vulnerable.” As the well-built leader walked out of the organized chaos of the structure, the four behind him followed. O’Shea took in the scene, then put his hands on his hips and let his head hang for a brief moment. “The second the Covenant show up on our scans,” he said, resigned, “we have to leave. No ifs, ands, or buts. There’s no way we’re getting all these people to safety.”

McHale took a step to his commanding officer’s side. “Sir,” he insisted, “I can find us another truck. Another set of wheels and we stand a better chance at a cleaner getaway.”

Jack shook his head in opposition to the notion. McHale refused to be denied.

“Sir, we lose one of these trucks, we’ll never forgive ourselves.”

“Which is exactly why I need you here to defend them, Mr. McHale,” O’Shea said icily. “You’re due to relieve alpha’s patrol. Take the kids with you.”

“Aye, sir,” Adam responded, grumbling as he turned away.

The brooding Lance took the front of the patrol, nudging past and dodging around shuffling survivors and shouting soldiers. Ron and Rachel kept eyes on the sky while Tim tried to take his eyes away from the scene at the warehouse. Finally, the team made it to the main road where the trucks and Warthogs had entered the docks. McHale took a long look along the deserted roadway.

“Hey, Tim,” the soldier built like a brick wall asked, “how good are you with that BR?”

McManus looked confused for a moment, looking down at his weapon. “Still need a lot of work. I could barely hit those Grunts at the roadblock before.”

“That’s about what I figured,” McHale said with a shrug, jogging away from the group and down the street. The three kids all shouted in confusion and Ron Parsons leveled his M6 pistol at the fleeing soldier.

“Stop!” Ron yelled, thumbing the safety off. McHale only turned around.

“You shoot that thing off and every Covie in earshot’s gonna come running,” Adam said, pointing angrily at Parsons and letting his faceshield flare back up into impenetrable silver. “If we don’t get an extra truck, we’re gonna lose the able bodied survivors, our future work force. I’m going to turn around and go get us some wheels right now, so you’re going to have to shoot me.”

Rachel threw her hands up in frustration, her red hair billowing out in the brisk autumn breeze. Her eyes became narrow slits of anger. “What if you get killed, asshole?” She very nearly shouted. “Thought of that?”

“Nope,” McHale said, turning back around and starting down the road. As he started his jog again, he shouted over his shoulder, “must be why I’m still alive!”

The urban-camouflaged veteran disappeared around a corner and left the trio to themselves, standing in the open with the sea to their backs and Armageddon ahead. Parsons lowered his rifle. Lynch put her hand on her hips and kicked at a newspaper page. Tim clenched a fist and muttered a curse through grit teeth. The COM chirping in their ears made them collectively feel like students getting a final exam they had not studied for.

“Patrol, this is O’Shea.” Jack said, his voice hinting at worry. “Where are you? Respond.”

Tim nodded angrily as if he was trying to psych himself up to respond. Finally, he pressed two fingers to his throat. “Patrol here. Captain, McHale just—”

“Incoming!” Parsons shouted, pulling his two comrades down and pointing toward the sky. “Heads up!”

From behind several large loading cranes, a magnificently large gray and black TC-77 Pelican Dropship banked into view, its thrusters flaring orange as slalomed between the structures and the occasional plasma burst. It’s engines roared as it swooped over, fishtailing in the air and showing off the stenciled white “MARINES” on its side before beginning a vertical descent several blocks away. Tim was the first to get his jaw off the ground, sprinting toward the trucks. Rachel and Parsons were close behind.
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“Did you see that?!” Tim shouted to O’Shea, weaving past soldiers and wounded alike, pointed back toward the sky. “There’s a Pelican landing over there! UNSC’s still here!”

O’Shea and Reynolds broke their conference for a moment and shielded their eyes with their hands, catching the Pelican just before it passed out of view. “Landing close,” Reynolds noted, “maybe we could convince them to take some of our worst.”

“No.” Jack said flatly, cutting his hand across the air. “We waste time taking people from here, we’ll risk getting our men separated and exposing all of us to attack.” The Captain scrutinized the shorter McManus for a moment. “Where’s McHale?”

Tim needed a second to catch his breath. “He took off to get a truck. We tried to stop him, but—”

“God damn it!” Captain O’Shea exclaimed. The Master Gunnery Sergeant put a hand on his friend’s shoulder.

“They don’t know what we’re doing here, sir. Until a few hours ago, you ran this city for the UNSC, you can make them help us.”

“If they saw this, or Command tells them we’re supposed to be in New York, there will be consequences for our extracurriculars.”

“What does it say about us if we don’t do everything we can to get the civilians to safety, Jack? We knew the risks when we did this.”

odst2O’Shea considered for a second, holding his chin between his index finger and thumb, then glanced at Reynolds with narrowed eyes. “You know I hate when you’re right and I’m not.”

Reynolds allowed a brief smile into his answer. “I have everything under control here, sir. Check back every two minutes, and don’t take no for an answer.”

“Never do.” Captain Jack O’Shea activated his helmet’s faceshield and grabbed a spare back pack lying on the passenger seat of his Warthog. He pointed toward the Ron, Tim, and Rachel as he loaded spare magazines into his tactical vest.

“You saw where the Pelican landed?” Jack asked, all business. Tim nodded.

“Give or take a block.”

“Good enough.” O’Shea reached in the back of the cab and traded Ron Parsons his sniper rifle for a suppressed M7 Submachine gun. Ron looked much more comfortable with the smaller weapon for now, checking the magazine and inspecting the case ejector. The imposing leader of men pointed at Rachel’s makeshift sling.

“If you still want to follow these guys around, lose the sling.”

Without hesitation, the strong willed redhead slipped the medical apparatus off. Jack gave each of the new recruits a very hard, searching look. “You three are coming with me to take control of a Marine LZ. It will be dangerous. Anyone have a problem with that?”

The three friends fought the urge to trade glances between them, completely unaware of what was about to happen. Tim felt a gulp coming but masked it by clearing his throat, pushing his shoulders back a bit, and locked eyes with their commander. “No, sir.”

Chapter 10 – “Happy Landings”

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