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Hopefully not too late
Date: 7/21/14 7:47 pm

I've got my submission below. Used to post to HBOFF a lot a few years back but haven't been terribly active lately. This seemed like a great excuse to start writing again. Anyways, hope you enjoy!

A Day of their Own

Dad always talked about where he was when it happened. The day, the time, how much cream and sugar he had in his coffee that morning. I could almost imagine myself at the T stop with him, waiting in line to get breakfast when the news broke.

He cheated with the coffee, though. All my life he’s taken two creams, two sugars. He was if nothing else a creature of habit.

He said it was something that happened to everyone, once a generation. “Everyone gets a day of their own,” he’d say. My grandfather could still recall the footage of Far Isle burning when he could barely remember my name. Harvest stuck with Dad like it was yesterday, till the day he died.

“Which world’s mine?” I’d say, chuckling. “Do I get to choose?” It was never a pretty laugh.

He’d have that look every kid got growing up, that look of disappointment that you never really got till years later was actually pity at what you didn’t yet understand.

I never thought I’d have one of those days of my own. Harvest was a tragedy. Of course it was. But by the time I was in middle school, it was a good year if only ten worlds went dark. It was always there, but distant. Solemn news reports, then a flood of refugees, then a return to what passed for normal for another month or two or three.

I never got to tell Dad he was wrong. It happened to me twice.

* * *

The first day was September 15, 2552.

It was a typical evening for New England. The autumns are mild, especially in the Manchester district of the Greater Boston metro, more commonly known as Commonwealth City. As the sun was dipping down, I was sharing a beer with Derek. He’d just gotten home from deployment, and taken the MagLev from Logan on up.

The atmosphere matched the evening in Halligan’s, a little Irish pub like so many others that were a staple in this part of the URNA. There were enough people inside to get a little buzz of conversation going, and for once, it wasn’t the half-whispered buzz that had become all-too-familiar.

For once, it seemed like the UNSC was winning.

The past month had seen the Covenant pushed back in Sigma Octanus, and even though New Jerusalem and Coral were both lost, the Navy had been able to hold off long enough to get as many civilians out as they could. People died, but for once, more people lived.

Derek wasn’t buying it, though.

“I’m telling you man, something’s going on,” he said, shaking his head. “When we got to Cygnus, Covie wasn’t there yet. But lots of refugees were.”

“Stragglers from Octanus and Coral,” I’d said. “You know they can’t just jump here.”

“These guys weren’t stragglers,” he’d pressed. “Not a single Octanus registry. I heard it from the Kearsarge comms officer herself.”

“Well what about Coral, then?” I asked, but before I could even finish the sentence, he was shaking his head.

“A few here and there, but that’s it.” He paused to sip his beer. “And even that was weird. The rumor across Fleet is that Coral’s been evacuated for months, before the Covenant even got there. Our intel’s never that good.”

I looked across the tavern. There were other UNSC personnel scattered here and there, laughing and drinking. None of them had the look of stony-faced worry Joey was wearing.

“You’re getting worked up over nothing, man,” I said, shrugging off his concerns.

He wasn’t having any of it. “There was one more thing, though: my friend on Kearsarge? Said the civvies at Cygnus had all kinds of registries, way more than you’d expect from a backwater like Octanus.” He eyed me conspiratorily. “And a lot were from Reach.”

At that, I felt the skin prick at the back of my neck. I ignored it, though. “Come on,” I said, beckoning the waiter. “Let me buy you another drink.”

Joey finally broke eye contact, shrugging. “Sure. But one more, I’m on call.”

* * *

A few hours and quite a bit more than one beer later, me and Joey were stumbling down the Derry neighborhood’s historic district. Even as part of sprawling Commonwealth City, it tried to stick to some of its old town charm, the sidewalks lined with red brick and decorative lightposts styled to look like wrought iron. We had an hour left to get Joey to the MBTA station, but right then, all we could think of was the smell of pork fried rice drifting out the open storefront of a little Chinese place.

We placed our orders and sat at a battered table. I tried to ignore the smell, instead focusing on the ISN broadcast above the counter. Some pundit was advocating re-focusing efforts on the Innies with the string of recent successes. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Joey sigh.

A chime sounded from Joey’s thigh, and he rifled through his pocket for his chatter just as our order came up. I swiped my card and collected the tray, sitting to see Joey frowning at whatever message he received.

I slid his carton of lo mein in front of him and popped open my own pork fried rice, immediately shoveling a spoonful into my mouth. “What’s up?” I asked, voice muffled by the rice.

“Recalled already,” he answered. “Guess I won’t be spending some downtime on the New York.”

“Shame,” I mumbled, choking down far too much rice for one bite. “But the MagLev won’t get here for another half hour.”

He nodded absently, still staring at his chatter. Before I could ask him what was wrong, though, a change in the broadcast on the screen caught both our attention.

I’m sure you could guess what it was. Joey figured it out quicker than I did, but he was already suspicious. For me though, the words all jumbled in my head until they came crashing down on me in sudden clarity.

Breaking news…

...UNSC breaks silence to answer…

...sudden influx of refugees…

...devastating civilian and military losses…

...Epsilon Eridani…



* * *

Dad was wrong on that one, too, now that I think about it. He always said I’d remember it with perfect recall, but that night was mostly flashes.

I remember the anchor on ISN, a pretty blonde woman I’d seen dozens of times but whose name I still didn’t recall. I remember walking in silence to the station with Joey. I remember the alcohol, cheap rice, and dread stewing into something wretched in the pit of my stomach. I remember telling him to be safe before he boarded the MagLev back to Logan, or thinking it, or just hoping he’d manage it.

I remember emptying my stomach onto the brick, sitting with my head in one hand and a cigarette in the other as cars drove past on the abandoned street. I remember somehow ending back at the tavern, no longer cheerful and bright but no less crowded. The bartender slid me a coffee and called me a cab, and poured a round for everyone else.

And I remember thinking that that was the closest the war had ever hit home.

And that’d I’d finally had my day.

* * *

If Reach was an unexpected jab, Mombasa was the right cross.

October 20 started the same as any other day since Reach. It’d been thundering the night before, and morning was a slate gray sky, with barely enough rain to get you wet but just enough to put you in a mood.

Nobody was in a good mood anymore anyways.

The news of Reach was shortly followed by a flood of refugees. Prefab camps were thrown together on the edges of major cities to keep the refues out, but tens of thousands slipped through the cracks. The UEG never took kindly to refugees after the Innies started sneaking in with them decades back, and their attitude never really changed. Some folks on Earth felt the same, but just as many didn’t care. They were another reminder of the war and how bad it got, but they were still people.

My roommate and I’d ended up with two sleeping in our living room. They were friends of friends, with nothing left, just looking for a way out of the camps. What were we gonna do, put them on the streets?

That morning, I’d taken the car we’d share down to the distribution office with Luis, one of the two. We shared what we could, but even that wasn’t enough. With half the colonies gone and Earth’s population exploding, food prices had skyrocketed, even the synthetic stuff.

We didn’t talk much. Luis never did, but I was okay with that. The car radio droned in the background. “For the sixth week since the fall of Reach, communications blackouts continue with the colonies, as per Article 6 of the Cole Protocol. President Narang, when asked for comment, again stressed that the measure is a temporary safeguard.

Luis grunted in the passenger seat. I couldn’t help but share the sentiment. Since Reach, Earth had been on lockdown. No one left without a damn good reason, and no communications came in or out. That wasn’t a precaution. I’d missed the signs before when Joey had seen them, and now, I couldn’t help but see them everywhere.

We parked downtown, walking the short distance to the office and finding a spot in the already dozens-long line, despite the sun only just now rising. I lit a cigarette and offered one to Luis, and we stood in silence, shuffling forwards every few minutes.

After standing in the drizzling rain for long enough to get uncomfortably damp, we reached the government clerk’s desk. She was a smiling older woman, blissfully ignorant of the world around her. After a few attempts at small talk, though, she gave up, leaving Luis to his paperwork in relative peace.

We hit the grocery store next for the basic necessities: rice, beans, pasta, and other non-perishables, along with synthetic meats and hydroponic produce. Anything fresh was too scarce, and too expensive regardless.

Fridays, even early in the morning, were still busy, and we did our best to navigate the crowded aisles. The shelves were bare save the essentials, cans and boxes of dry goods and not much else. We filled the carriage with what our meager budget allowed and began to make our way to the checkout when a three-tone ring we’d all come to expect preceding a public service announcement sounded over the PA.

Good morning, citizens,” came the voice of UEG President Benjamin Narang, soft and deliberate, like a university professor. It had a certain weight to it this morning, though, heavier than normal, and I felt my stomach knot up.

A long pause hung in the air before the president spoke again. “Less than an hour ago, Covenant warships entered Earth’s orbit.

The grocery store, previously quiet, went absolutely silent, the air ringing like a tuning fork. Before the address could continue, though, the silence erupted into chaos. Suddenly we were surrounded by panicked noise and movement and a rush of bodies making their way to the front of the store.

Luis and I stood still, though. Me, I was trying to process the whole thing. He just looked tired, though. He’d survived Coral, then Reach. He’d known better than most what was coming.

“We should call Rachel and Eyad,” I’d said slowly, barely audible over the sudden din.

He’d looked at me and nodded, and without a word, picked up a pair of wine bottles and tossed them into the carriage.

And that was day number two.

* * *

The next two weeks were punctuated by anxiety and humdrum normalcy. The first few days saw an exodus from the big cities, with droves of people driving up north from Commonwealth City into the woods of New Hampshire and Maine.

We stayed put. We had food and shelter, and nowhere else to go.

We watched on Waypoint as New Mombasa fell, and the Covenant fled. There were some scattered celebrations, but they didn’t last. Within days the Covenant were back in force, this time hitting every major city in the world.

We watched as New York fell. Then, despite the efforts of the UNSC and ad-hoc Minutemen militiamen, Boston fell too. We didn’t have a choice anymore. Government men came to our doors, telling us it wasn’t safe anymore, like it ever was, and we joined the flow up north, hoping to keep just ahead as the Covenant spread.

We jumped from camp to camp, day after day. First I lost track of Luis and Rachel. Then I was separated from Eyad, and it was just me, spending night after night, sharing cold floors with strangers.

No one talked much. But when they did, they always talked about where they were.

Me, I talked about DAD. About how he’d been right, then wrong. About how I’d been a fool to doubt him. It didn’t really matter either way.

Now, I just hoped I didn’t have a third day.

Messages In This Thread

Visualizing the Halo Universe: Writing Round 1Postmortem7/6/14 12:22 pm
     Re: Visualizing the Halo Universe: Writing Round 1thebruce07/15/14 11:19 am
           Re: Visualizing the Halo Universe: Writing Round 1Postmortem7/15/14 6:22 pm
                 Re: Visualizing the Halo Universe: Writing Round 1thebruce07/16/14 9:12 am
     Bah...munky-0587/17/14 1:34 am
           Re: Bah...thebruce07/17/14 9:21 am
           Re: Bah...Postmortem7/21/14 12:08 pm
     Re: Visualizing the Halo Universe: Writing Round 1Quirel7/21/14 12:29 am
     Apologies.Postmortem7/21/14 12:06 pm
           Re: Apologies.Postmortem7/21/14 12:07 pm
     Hopefully not too latekr17/21/14 7:47 pm
           Re: Hopefully not too lateJoe Duplessie (SNIPE 316)7/22/14 12:30 am
                 Re: Hopefully not too latekr17/22/14 1:15 am
           Re: Hopefully not too lateDEEP NNN7/22/14 8:31 am
                 Re: Hopefully not too latethebruce07/22/14 7:57 pm
                       Re: Hopefully not too latekr17/22/14 11:08 pm
     Writing Round 1 SummaryPostmortem7/26/14 5:48 pm

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