Minutemen: The Crucible -Chapter 17-


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Minutemen: The Crucible

Chapter Seventeen: “The Life and Death of Tim McManus.”

McGoohan Hall
Harvard University
Boston, United North American Protectorate
September 1, 2552
Two months before the invasion of Earth

McGoohan Hall’s largest classroom was a hundred-seat cathedral designed to worship academia. Beige and baked red bricks towered over the students from every side, reaching up the impressive, ancient-looking domed ceilings. The progressive sunlight of each day sparkled through installed filters that in turn projected soothing, soft, inspiring rays of multi-colored light during the day and real-time constellations relative to the sky at night. To counteract the possibly distracting natural light display above, the ten tiers of evenly spaced workstations were all designed to focus the pupils’ attention down toward the stage-like lectern and the rail-thin professor behind its distinctly alter-like holograph projector.

The teacher’s knee-length formal jacket and bizarre white pants coupled with his hands and arms moving like some manic composer gave the class a more cultish feel, but Tim McManus was too busy thinking about beer.

The hazel-eyed Harvard Junior leaned back in his small leather chair, feeling the responsive nanomachines in the leather shimmy and move to make his new position as comfortable as possible. Tim tapped the stylus of his study tablet against a denim-sheathed knee to the beat of an unheard song and he sighed as he ruffled his long brown hair in anticipation of his emancipation.

The Interstellar Politics professor’s voice echoed against the bricks like a tropical bird’s mating call. “Everyone in the faculty urges you to attend the relief concert Saturday night and to welcome the class of ’56. All proceeds benefit the war refugees of Tribute colony.”

On cue, the study tablet of all ninety-five students winked crimson and white, showing details for Saturday night’s concert along with three buttons forcing the children to choose between if they were attending, might attend, or had no intention to attend. McManus sighed and stabbed his stylus at the “maybe” box, waiting for his teacher’s reaction. The long jacketed-cult leader Professor frowned.

“Ninety ‘maybes’,” He grumbled, “You cowards might as well just say ‘no.’”

McManus rolled his eyes from one of the back tiers, whipping around in his chair as a flash drive knocked into the back of his skull. Tim pushed the high collar of his new crisp fall jacket to playfully glare at his roommate, Dylan Winters, no doubt the perpetrator of the classroom crime. Indeed, Winter’s bright blue eyes shone with mischief, both from his last act and the fact that he was sandwiched between two very well dressed girls that Tim thought he recognized from Harvard’s dance team.

Winter’s dark brown skin contrasted sharply but stylishly against the sky-blue chalk stripes of his tailored suit, the home and away uniform of Harvard’s population of old money students. A slick, form hugging pink shirt lay beneath the suit, accompanied by a dark holopin attached to the lapel of his suit that read in stark black letters, “Remember Reach.” Despite the enormous wealth of Dylan’s family, Tim did not hesitate for a moment to flick the flash drive back at his friend when the Professor restarted his lecture.

“What’re we doin’ tonight?” Winters hissed at McManus and not-so-subtly nodded toward his companions on either side.

Tim McManus stopped tapping his stylus and looked over his shoulder with a look of betrayal. The secretly brilliant student, who knew the Professor’s lecture backwards, pointed the sleek writing utensil at his rich friend. “Um, I’m sorry, is it not the first weekend of the first school year we can legally drink? Because I’m reasonably certain tradition demands we defile ourselves at The Foxhole.”

“It’s like you live in my head.”

Tim laughed to himself. “It’s spacious enough.”

Dylan’s bright eyes narrowed conspiratorially. “Hey,” he breathed, leaning forward cautiously to avoid the Professor’s attention, “Remember last weekend of Relative Physics?”

Tim wagged his head as if jostling the memory out of his brain, “Kinda.”

Dylan leveled a knowing look at his buddy. “Class dismissed.”

McManus’ eyebrows shot up in recollection. “Oh.” He replied, finally putting all the pieces together. “Oh!”

Winters’ eyes twinkled as he glanced down at the droning teacher and the pupil’s sagging postures of boredom. Tim shook his head vehemently.

“We cased that for, like, two weeks.” McManus explained, now actively monitoring the Professor’s position and tone, “The firewalls here are way more sophisticated—”

Winters leaned back and shook his head sadly at the two attractive girls on either side. “Sorry girls,” he apologized, “I guess he’s grown complacent in his old age.”

The two old friends exchanged a series of looks that were a conversation in their own right. Finally Tim rolled his eyes. “Gimme your tab,” he sighed. “If anyone’s gonna get busted for this, it should be the guy whose folks bought the gym.”

“It was a library,” Winters corrected, but Tim was already hunched over Dylan’s study tablet, hands twitching over the glow of its display. The trust fund playboy draped an arm over one of the co-eds as he watched his friend with pride. After two minutes of frenzied but masked movement McManus finally slipped the tablet back under his arm and toward the waiting manicured hand of his colleague.

Dylan glanced at the smooth, thin black data pad, chuckled as he showed it off to the ladies, then tapped it with his pinky finger. Instantly, every student’s data pad faded out the lesson and replaced it with a jovial green and orange glow, accompanied by a bright white invitation in Gaelic font:

First weekend of the school year, the text message glowed in the same manner as the relief concert before. The legend is back and legal for the first time. Foxhole happy hour. Right now. Class dismissed.”

Tim shrugged innocently and lightly tapped the “Attending” box as he stood up, followed moments later by the entirety of the large auditorium. Dylan Winters laughed out loud. “Ninety-five attendings,” he crowed, slapping his friend on the back. “A new record!”

“Ninety-six,” McManus corrected, tossing his backpack onto a shoulder and nodding down at the exit. “I think the Professor beat us out the door.”

“You,” Dylan Winters said with not a little pride, “are a legend, man. They’ll sing your song forever.”

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Minutemen: The Crucible -Chapter 14-


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MINUTEMEN: THE CRUCIBLE

Chapter Fourteen: “Wind Sprints and Suicides”

Black Rose Bar
Evacuated City of Boston
October 20, 2552
Late evening

This isn’t fair.

“Tim!”

Tim McManus shifted his gaze down in reply to Rachel Lynch, who was staring at him with teary green eyes that still stubbornly sparkled in their last moments. The roaring rush of wind combined with the bucking, shuddering chassis of the Warthog disoriented him, but he fought against his churning guts and forced himself to look as brave as possible for his last friend.

They had marched across an obliterated and forgotten city. They had watched strangers and friends die. They had fought and survived firefights with no military training against superior hostile alien forces. They had faced paralyzing fears and crippling conditions, and they had walked away alive from every single encounter.

It was not good enough.

The Harvard Junior was once again lost for words and he hated himself for it. The last thing he could conjure from his racing mind was two words that he doubted she could hear over the deafening, high-pitched shriek of the incoming plasma mortar.

“I’m sorry.”

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Minutemen: The Crucible -Chapter 12-


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MINUTEMEN: THE CRUCIBLE

86076948Chapter Twelve: “An evening with Rachel Lynch”

Black Rose Bar
City of Boston
United North American Protectorate
October 19, 2552
Night before invasion of Earth

It was illegal to look that good in the Black Rose bar. It was sacrilege. The establishment simply did not deserve the beauty that was casually strutting through the front door and over the bouncer’s jaw. Autumnal red hair, meticulously blown and teased with an artist’s touch, sashayed and swayed along the middle of her back. A short black dress drew attention to her figure without being obnoxious or desperately showy. Subtle jewelry caught the dim light of arcade games, a dingy vending machine, and a single fritzing holo panel that was doing its level best to broadcast the Boston Bruins game.

To the clutches of blue collar Bostonians gathered in islands of bar stools and the midday drunks hunched over the horseshoe-shaped bar, she was gliding over the dark stained hardwood floor. The three attractive girls at the top of the horseshoe turned around on their stools to stare at incoming Aphrodite. A petite young girl with short blonde hair and a look that screamed preparatory schooling took a courageous sip of her martini, spilling a few drops on her jeans and making her curse softly. After dabbing at the drops with a cocktail napkin, she turned her attention back to the gorgeous redhead.

“I thought you were going on a date.”

“I am,” Rachel Lynch replied, a sly smile forming in the corner of her lips. The bartender was already standing at attention when the Boston College Junior perched herself on her bar stool. She could not be sure, but Rachel could have sworn the barrel chested barman was holding his breath. She put her elbows on the bar and leaned forward, craning her graceful neck to examine the arrangement of bottles, even though she knew the layout by heart. The bartender looked like he was about to pass out.

“Vodka soda,” Lynch said, locking eyes with her server. “Make it cheap and hard.”

The bartender’s legs buckled ever so slightly as he turned to fetch the beverage. Rachel now turned to face her friends as they threw her mildly disapproving looks.

“That’s just not fair to the new guy,” the blonde said, swirling her olive around in the martini glass as the rest of the attractive girls in the group turned back to their conversations. “So when’s this date?”

Lynch glanced at the ancient clock above the bar. “Should be…any minute now.”

Each of the girls turned as one and gave their well-dressed “bestie” a collective sideways glance. Blonde spoke for the group.

“He’s coming…here.”

Rachel nodded, avoiding eye contact and draining her cocktail hastily.

“R. Lynch! You’re breaking the rules!”

Lynch spun in her bar stool and stared at the ceiling tiles with feigned exasperation. “Am not.”

A striking girl with long, wavy, raven black hair fixed pleading eyes on Rachel and reached to put a soft, manicured hand on her arm to get Lynch’s attention. “R. Lynch. We. Like. This. Bar. We like that no one else from BC comes here. We like that us girls can be ourselves where no one can find us, and no strange guys hit on us. We like drinking here for next to nothing. You’re breaking rule number one: no boys, and rule number two: don’t dress to impress.”

Rachel shot a look at Raven like she had just been stabbed in the back. “I am not that dressed up,” the Boston College Junior declared.

All the girls swivled on their barstools like a Broadway musical chorus line. Their eyes flitted across the bar and locked on to the only cute boy in the entire establishment: a moderately built bar back sporting a backwards Boston Red Sox cap with a shock of red hair slipping out from underneath it. He was casual to the point of scruffy and shier than a nun at Mardi Gras. He was the girls’ favorite target. Their voices turned to honey while his knees turned to jello.

“Seamus,” Raven and Blonde cooed, “Seamus Conner, come here.”

Seamus looked over his shoulder, a schoolboy being called on in a class he never studied for. He seemed to be taking a second to answer the Sirens’ call. Finally, he stammered, “Yeah?”

“It’s all right,” Rachel said in a reassuring tone. The Irish import flipped a bar towel over his shoulder, thought better of it too late, then grabbed it again and began nervously wiping his hands as he approached.

“Seamus,” Blonde took over, “is Rachel overdressed?”

Seamus looked over his shoulder, then quickly examined the other rough-looking patrons around the bar. He looked at the girls uneasily and responded as if he detected a trick question. “…We don’t really have a dress code here.” His face was doing its best to match his hair.

“When Rachel walked in,” Blonde prodded, “did you notice her?”

“Oh hell yes,” Seamus blurted out, realizing simultaneously that he had indeed said those words and he was indeed staring at the girl in question. These thoughts caused a four-car pile up in his mind, and as the mental conflagration blazed, the young bar back beat a hasty retreat to a phantom emergency that had to be tended to immediately. The rest of the girls turned to Rachel with serene satisfied looks on their faces. Rachel was quietly amused.

“It’s not nice, or fair, to pick on Seamus.”

“Rach,” Blonde said, perfectly plucked eyebrow raised, “we’re picking on you.”

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Minutemen: The Crucible -Chapter 11-


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MINUTEMEN: THE CRUCIBLE

Chapter Eleven: “End of the road.”

Rowes Wharf
Evacuated City of Boston
Late afternoon

The scene at the warehouse was now the embodiment of chaos. While everyone at the scene had witnessed their fair share of violence and destruction over the course of the day, the Pelican being shot out of the air in full view of the civilians was the equivalent of a match being thrown on a long trail of gasoline. Master Gunnery Sergeant Gus Reynolds and the rest of the soldiers were doing their best to get everyone out before the wharves went up in flames.

Captain Jack O’Shea, Tim McManus, Ron Parsons, and Rachel Lynch jogged back into the tumultuous loading area only a minute after the airship went down, but they hardly recognized the scene now.

What had once been orderly lines of shuffling wounded refugees was now a wobbling, pulsing, bending and breaking mass of desperate people clawing for a chance to board the last available truck, a salty cargo vehicle that, while quite large, did not stand a chance of fitting everyone. The soldiers on hand were on the verge of losing control of the horde and looked like they were considering using their weapons to maintain order. The Captain craned his head and searched the crowd for his second in command, and upon finding the Master Guns directing a pair of soldiers back into action, picked up the pace and ran the rest of the distance to the tall, dark-skinned leader.

“Captain!” Reynolds shouted over the growing noise, “COMs were a mess after that Pelican got—well, truck two’s safely away, we’re loading up Mr. McHale’s commandeered vehicle and throwing the rest on truck one’s return.”

Jack turned around and jumped on the back of Adam McHale’s commandeered mail vehicle, which was sitting lower and lower to the ground with the sheer weight of the refugees. O’Shea frowned. “We’re going to need an escort Warthog right the hell now. Where’s the doctor?” O’Shea began snapping his fingers, trying to recall something. “What was her name again?
Halo Marine
Gus glanced down at his data pad. “Kathleen. Dr. Kathleen De Vere.”

“Dr. De Vere. Where is she?”

“Truck two. Said she wanted to get to camp ASAP to take care of the worst. Didn’t see any harm.”

Jack grunted, taking the pad from Reynolds’ hand. “I would have felt better keeping her in sight.”

“She wasn’t taking ‘no’ for an answer, sir, and I wasn’t about to restrain her in front of all these folks.”

“For a smart woman, she wasn’t exactly thinking about the mess she left behind.” The Captain shook his head in brief exasperation, scanning the crowd again. “All right,” he yelled to huddled masses, “we’re locking down this transport and loading the remainder in the returning truck, warthogs, wherever we can fit people! It’s a short ride, so sit tight!”

Rachel groaned, doing a mental headcount of the remaining soldiers and civilians. “It’s going to be a hot meat locker in that last truck,” she said, tilting her head toward Tim, “I think I’d rather walk.”

“We might have to,” McManus replied, checking his watch. “No way we fit all these people. But if push comes to shove,” he said, patting Ron on the arm, “We’ve slipped by Covenant already, we can do it again.”

“And please don’t diss meat lockers,” Parsons interjected, still looking up at the sky where the Pelican had been shot down. “At this point, I kinda miss my pride-swallowing, soul-sucking sandwich gig.”

“So you’re cool getting packed into a container?” Lynch turned toward Ron, tilting her head at the people crowding into the truck. The lithe amateur sniper shook his head, finally taking his eyes off the sky.

“It beats flying, apparently,” Parsons took a step back as the truck fired up its engine and began rolling away from the docks.

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Minutemen: The Crucible -Chapter 9-


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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.
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Minutemen: The Crucible -Chapter 8-


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MINUTEMEN: THE CRUCIBLE

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Chapter Eight: Backseat Drivers

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

“Where are the seatbelts?”

“Say again?”

“I don’t see seatbelts anywhere in the back of this Warthog.”

“That’s ’cause there aren’t any.”

“What? Why?

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.

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Minutemen: The Crucible -Chapter 6-


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MINUTEMEN: THE CRUCIBLE

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Chapter 6: “The Prisoner’s Dilemma”

UNSC Administration Post 53
City of Boston
United North American Protectorate
September 19, 2552 (Three weeks before invasion of Earth)
Afternoon

“Some of the guys think the Sox don’t stand a chance going deep in the playoffs.”

“Some of the guys are idiots.”

A wall of translucent emerald and turquoise sped toward Master Gunnery Sergeant Gus Reynolds’ face and stopped dead two feet from it. With weathered but agile fingers, the UNSC soldier navigated through the mass of data, pushing away statistics and sliding down pictures until he reached his destination. “There,” Reynolds chuckled, turning in his chair and poking the Private First Class hard in the shoulder, “look at that. In the past six years the Red Sox have gotten to the sol system championship. Six years! You tell those New York transfers to look at those numbers before I shove ’em down their throats.”

“Yes, sir,” the Private First Class sighed mockingly. Reynolds spun back around in his chair, rolled his eyes, and smiled to himself. It would be a few weeks before the new arrivals got used to his tough love style of humor. Until then, Gus decided he would have as much fun squeezing the comfort out of them as he could. The dark-skinned UNSC soldier sighed and got back to work, twitching his hand making the data on the Boston Red Sox fall from view in an instant waterfall of ethereal holograms.
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