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The Day Before Tomorrow: Part 4
Posted By: Azrael<tondorf@bc.edu>
Date: 12 March 2009, 10:53 pm

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The Day Before Tomorrow
A prequel to the "Minutemen" Series
Part Three

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.

      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 Pace 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 today."

      Tim could not contain his surprise. "Bullshit!"

       "They're all loyal to the Captain now, not the UNSC. Guess Cap used to be some hot shit in the military. Taught a lot of these guys apparently."

      Tim turned back around in his seat, "Fuck me."

       "No kidding."

      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 there's not more soldiers?"

      Before Parsons could reply, McManus felt a rough hand grab him by the shoulder and wrench him out of his twisted position 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?"

       "Harry," he said, digging more shotgun shells out of a small bag and slipping them into his vest, "Harry 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 the Covenant, didn't you see?" One of the other soldiers across from Tim and Harry yelled over his shoulder. "Covies entered our zone and the 'SC took off like the house was on fire."

       "Ain't right." Harry said, echoed by the rest of the soldiers.

       "Really well organized for just deciding to split," 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 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 in the data pads, this wasn't just cooked up as Covies entered orbit, was it?"

      Harry 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, throwing the occupants toward the cab and smacking them hard against all imaginable surfaces in the troop bay. The adrenaline in the occupants' systems refused to acknowledge the pain though, and the veterans surged into action.

       "Bravo's securing the perimeter! On the hop, boys!"

       "Fuck! This is alpha wheel. Elite called us 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. Harry 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 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!" Harry 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, Harry 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 Harry 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 the '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.

       "Pace in!"

       "Dunbar in!"

       "Parsons in!"

       "McManus in!"

      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 Harry 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 Harry. "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. "Where the hell are they?"

      Tim's face dropped in total shock, and Parsons immediately turned back to face the rapidly growing front grills of what looked like large mail trucks. Before Ron could react with a scream of warning, surprise, or fear, the Warthog jerked to the left, nearly rolling the vehicle. Harry 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 sniper rifle, which was slipping out of his hands.

      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 radios get tracked by Covenant. 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.

      Harry looked away from the scene. "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. McHale 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," Harry said, leaning forward and picking stray intact shells from off the troop bay floor, "we're not exactly favored to knock out the Covies. A whole lot of people died and are going to die today, but you suck it up. Doesn't matter what we have to give to win this fight, 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, Harry's face turned into a reassuring smile. "Look on the bright side," he chuckled, nodding at the obliterated buildings on either side of the street, "you're officially setting a record for longest time alive during Earth invasions!"

      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. Though the wind's rushing was nearly deafening, everyone heard the chirp of the COM.

       "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 of the best take a structure! Prepare to breach on arrival! Lock and load!"

      Harry McHale thumbed in several shells into his shotgun and pumped the weapon with enthusiasm. He looked over his shoulder to address everyone else in the troop bay, smacking a fellow 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. Weapons hot on entry. Once we're clear, no matter what, we get all survivors on the transports. 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 mean look.

       "We don't do that no more, Dunbar," Harry 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 team complied and covered the distance in a full run to the gleaming, cavernous warehouse's main entrance. 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 were looking at.

       "What is it?" Parsons whispered.

       "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 himself hard against the side of the warehouse. Tim and Ron looked at the man for a second in confusion before they realized what Harry 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 UNSC's lock. 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 noticeably 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 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 Harry 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," Harry said dismissively before mounting a wooden crate, taking down his balaclava, and addressing the crowd.

       "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. Harry 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 my people behind," 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.

      Within ten minutes the warehouse had become a giant, organized line. Rachel, Tim, and Ron walked on patrol around the dock with Harry 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.

      Harry McHale saluted 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," Harry responded, grumbling as he turned away.

      Tim 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 Harry brooded in the rear. 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 S2AM sniper rifle 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," Harry said, pointing angrily at Parsons. "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. "What if you get killed, asshole? 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.

       "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."

      O'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 slipped his balaclava back on and threw a spare pack into 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 another Battle Rifle. 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."