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Shuai-jan Sprouts Wings
Summary: A Vietnam-era short on how Murdock ended up with the Team. I hope to incorporate it into a longer fic telling the Vietnam-era story that is alluded to in the 'Fatal Recall' flashbacks. Unfortunately, the story keeps coming to me in 'flashes' and right now, this is the most coherent segment I can muster. I hope you enjoy!
Disclaimer: I do not own the A-Team, that is Mr. Cannell's privilege. I do, however, like to take them out and play with them every once and awhile. I make no money from this, just the enjoyment of spinning a fun tale about my favorite soldiers.
Shuai-jan Sprouts Wings
Colonel Lionel Warrington looked up from the paperwork strewn across his desk in his office at Da Nang Air Base in Vietnam. "Who the hell do you think you are . . . ?"
A relatively young Colonel stood gazing at him impassively. His casual indifference grated on Warrinton's nerves, already frayed by the man's abrupt and barely-heralded entry. He stood from behind his desk. "I said –"
"Colonel John Smith, Special Forces." Warrinton stared at the proffered hand narrowly, but did not reach out to take it. The blond-haired, blue-eyed man dropped his hand with an indifferent shrug. "I apologize for barging in, but time is of the essence. Colonel Vickers said he would tell you when my Team was arriving from Nha Trang. I need a chopper crew for a special mission."
He had a healthy contempt for these SF Teams, especially ones like Smith's. They waged war in a way that made little sense to the aging career service man. Warrington grunted. "Yeah, Vickers called. He was pretty damn vague about what you needed the crew for."
"We've got some hot intel on a target just outside of Hanoi. I need an insert within a half-day hike."
Warrington stood and walked around his desk, staring at the younger man with wide eyes. "You have to be shitting me? You aren't going to insert that deep into Hanoi Province."
"That's exactly what I want to do. I need a pilot that knows the area, and can pick a good insertion point." The man smirked. "It would help if he could read Russian, or had some experience with flying a Hind. I'd appreciate a recommendation, preferably one of your best."
Warrington's tone was contemptuous. "I only have one pilot that I would even consider for an insertion like that." He stared at Smith for several seconds, then shrugged and walked to the door of his office. "I'll have him report. If you convince him, he's all yours."
"What's this pilot's name?"
"Lieutenant HM Murdock." Warrington
pushed the door open. "Corporal, tell Murdock to report to Briefing 1
"Should I tell him what it's regarding, sir?"
"Tell him it's a special mission. Maybe that will get his ass in gear."
Smith's eyes narrowed. "I don't want one of your problem children, Warrington, I want your best."
"And that's Murdock. He knows this country better then pilots that have been on this base twice as long. You're just gonna have to deal with the fact that the kid is a pain in the ass."
Smith deadpanned. "Can't wait to meet him." He leaned down and wrote on a paper in his hand, then held it out to Warrington. "All I need is your signature on these orders for Lieutenant Murdock and his crew. You're welcome to attend the briefing, if you'd like."
"Your op, Smith. I'm not getting involved." Warrington smirked as he signed the paperwork. Let Smith deal with the kid's insubordination. "Briefing 1 is down the hall to your left, fourth door on the right. Murdock flew night ops last night, so I know he's in his quarters. He should be there shortly."
As the door closed behind the younger man, Warrington walked over to the supply cabinet in the corner of his office. He extracted a bottle of whiskey from under a stack of file folders in the bottom, unscrewed the cap, and took a swig. Lieutenant HM Murdock had challenged him from day one, and Warrington was too set in his ways to bend. The friction between them had gotten progressively worse, and was to the point that just talking about the pilot set his nerves on edge. Maybe, if he was lucky, that fucking SF mission would make the kid go away for good.
Murdock walked into the briefing room ten minutes later, eager to find out what special mission Warrington had for him and his crew. Anything more exciting than ass and trash would be a welcome change. He was glad to be out of the Company, but part of him missed the continual adrenalin rush of that life. He needed a new challenge here, something to occupy his over-active mind and keep his personal demons at bay.
He stopped short when a compact, blond Colonel stood up and looked at him with a sharp, ice-blue gaze. The guy was about as far from Warrington's tall, gray, and somber presence as your could get and still be in the Army. Murdock couldn't say he was disappointed that his CO was absent, but it did pique his curiosity.
He saluted the Colonel. "Lieutenant Murdock reporting as ordered, sir."
The man offered an off-hand salute in return. "Colonel Smith, Special Forces."
The Colonel's piercing look made Murdock uncomfortable, but he met the gaze steadily. Special Forces meant that the mission would likely be interesting after all. "Nice to meet you, sir."
Smith approached Murdock, his expression unreadable. "Heard you're a pain in the ass, Murdock."
Murdock pursed his lips. "Colonel Warrington and I don't always see eye to eye, sir. If it's any comfort, he seems to be the only officer I really irritate around here." Mostly, anyway. Murdock ground his teeth, glad Smith was an import and didn't know him, or his record.
Smith's lips curved in a smile. "He did say, grudgingly, that you were the best pilot on base."
Murdock suppressed a smile. "I'm not one to brag, sir."
The bark of laughter from the Colonel made Murdock jump, and was followed by a rumbling chuckle that continued for several seconds. Smith finally gave Murdock a nod of approval. "I don't imagine you need to." He motioned toward the table, where documents were spread out in a chaotic sort of order. "Well, Lieutenant, now that the formalities are out of the way, let's get to work."
Murdock grinned. Colonel Smith moved with a barely-contained energy that was contagious. "Yes, sir!"
Smith watched the young man poring over the information he had provided. He could practically see the wheels turning in the kid's head. He was sharp, no doubt about it. "What do you think Lieutenant?"
"You say you have a Hind for us to fly in?"
"If you think you can handle it." Smith said.
"Listen, kid, don't ask questions I can't answer. Can you and your crew get us to an insertion point somewhere within a half-day hike to Hanoi on that Russian bucket of bolts?"
"The Hind itself is not a problem, though it generally only runs with a 2-man crew . . ."
"I'm told the bird we have has a stacked cockpit for pilot and copilot with room in the back for eight fully equipped men. There are only five on my Team, including me, so your crew chief and door gunner should plan to come along for the ride. I know it's not outfitted like a Huey, but I think as a precaution we should have all the help we can get that deep in enemy territory."
The kid finished jotting notes on a piece of paper, then flipped through the info on the chopper. A minute later, he was done with the loading calculations and nodded. "I've been up in one of these before, though it was an earlier version, and I think they've made improvements since then. At least I hope so, 'cause visibility sucked on the earlier model. I'll need some time to brief the crew on the controls, since I seriously doubt they can read Russian."
Smith raised an eyebrow. "Can you?"
Murdock grinned at him, but didn't answer, instead turning his attention back to the map. He shook his head. "The delta provides damn scarce cover around Hanoi."
"That's why we have the Hind, and we're going in native dress. We don't have to actually penetrate Hanoi. The artillery depot is located just outside the city, here." Smith indicated a point just southwest of Hanoi. "The plan is to sneak in without any fanfare, set a timed charge, and be long gone before the fireworks start."
"Insertion and pickup in the same place?"
"Would make life easier."
Murdock leaned over the map again, and jabbed a long finger at a spot not far from the one Smith had pointed to a moment ago. "Insertion maybe six klicks southeast of Ha Dong is probably our best bet. That should put you within an hour or two of your target."
Smith was gazing at the map, as if looking enthralled by the latest movie out of Hollywood, his icy eyes sparking with an energy that set Murdock's own adrenalin pumping.
He thought he heard the Colonel murmur something like, "And the plan comes together." Then he looked up at Murdock, and raised his eyebrows. "When can we leave?"
Murdock hesitated. "Warrington Ok'd this op?"
"He said if I could convince you, you were all mine."
Murdock reflected the smug smile on the Colonel's face. No Warrington should mean no trouble. And flying that Russian lady would be a hell of a rush.
"Where's the Hind?"
The insertion went off without a hitch, even if the ride was little rough. The Hind was not exactly in top-notch condition, and it took a firm hand on the controls to keep the lady in line. Murdock and his crew even managed to get back to Da Nang without getting shot out of the sky by friendly fire. As they set down, Murdock found himself hoping the extraction went half as well.
His crew chief, Bill Harris opened the door to Murdock's cockpit. "You Ok, LT?" Harris' serious green eyes peered at him from under a shock of course brown hair that was in need of a trim.
"Yeah, I'm alright, but I'm seriously wondering if this Russian wench can make another trip like that."
"She's gonna have to."
"Well, I don't know about you, but I think we got some work to do, then."
"The crew is yours, Chief. Tell us what we need to do."
Under Harris' direction, the crew worked the next few hours to make the Hind as airworthy as possible, and then made final preparations for the flight. Now, early in the evening, they awaited the call for the extraction. They were lounging around the chopper, relaxed postures camouflaging the pent up energy that had them all strung like guitar wire.
Warrington's assistant, a Corporal whose name Murdock could never seem to remember, appeared at the chopper. "Colonel Warrington sent word that you and your crew should stand down, Lieutenant Murdock."
"We're scheduled to extract Smith's SF team any time now. Just waiting for the call," Murdock said.
"No, you're not," the Corporal responded.
Murdock looked at the Corporal in shock. "The extraction is cancelled?" Glancing at the faces of his crew, he could tell they were as surprised as he was. Smith's team had moved with a confidence that didn't seem to allow failure.
"Not cancelled, delayed. Smith and his men are pinned down deep in enemy territory. Your crew is to stand by. They'll call in when they're in the clear with coordinates. Colonel Warrington asked me to stress that you are to standby until Smith calls in to say they are in the clear."
Murdock stared at the man for several seconds, then jumped out of the chopper. "We'll see about that."
The corporal gave him a smug look. "You can go talk to the CO. He's just going to tell you what I've told you."
Murdock deliberately turned his back on the Corporal and spoke to his crew. "Get this bird ready to go. I'll be back in a few minutes."
"It's not going to do you any good." The Corporal called after him as he strode across the field.
He slammed into Warrington's office without knocking, and could tell by the expression on his CO's face that he was expected. "Sit down, Lieutenant."
"I'd rather stand. What is this about the extraction being 'delayed?'"
"I happened to be in the com room when Smith's team called in. The coordinates he provided were too deep in Hanoi Province. I told him they would have to move further south and inland if they wanted extraction."
"Show me, Colonel." Murdock turned on his heel and strode out into the hall and towards the nearest empty briefing room.
Warrington ground his teeth, but did get up and follow the pilot. In the briefing room, he found Murdock leaning over a map of Hanoi province. "Show me their last known coordinates."
Warrington looked at the young man warily, before stabbing a finger at a location on the map. "Too deep."
"We inserted them fucking deep, sir. You weren't interested enough in the op to come to the initial briefing, what makes you think you can get involved now?"
Warrington could feel his heart pounding in his head. "Now you listen here, you little prick. I am still your commanding officer."
"You told Smith I was all his for this op. As far as I'm concerned, he's the one that calls the shots. Did he ask for extraction?"
"Yes," Warrington spat.
"Give me the coordinates, Colonel."
Warrington started to hold out a piece of paper, then thought better of it. "I don't think so, Lieutenant. My original orders stand. You and your crew are to wait for Smith to call in an all clear with new coordinates."
Murdock stared him down for a few seconds, then snorted. "I'm making the extraction, Colonel." He snatched up the map and strode out of the briefing room.
Warrington stared after the Lieutenant. Furious didn't even begin to describe how he felt. This would be the last time that cock-sure pilot defied him, of that, he was damn sure.
Warrington had told him enough that he could get close to where the team had been. Hopefully from there, he would be able to raise them. Murdock broke into a run, wishing he had time to plan. Unfortunately, he suspected Warrington was already on the horn calling out the MPs. What the hell had possessed him? It was too late for second thoughts, now. He was committed to his current course of action.
At the chopper, he put on his gear and was climbing into the cockpit when Harris stopped him. "Is the extraction back on?"
Murdock looked down at his crew chief uncertainly. He didn't want to drag the rest of his crew into this.
Harris shook his head. "Shit. Warrington's being a prick, again, isn't he? What are we doing, LT?"
By now the other two members of the crew, peter pilot Lyle Burt and door gunner Mike Zappatelli, were gathered around him, all looking at him questioningly. He choked back the panic he always felt when a crew got too close, and looked to him for more than just flying the bird. Murdock took a deep breath. "I'm going to vector in to the Team's last known coordinates. I'm not asking you guys to come with me . . ." Glancing over top of his crew's heads, he could see the MPs walking out of the command post and toward a waiting jeep. "Warrington has not approved this."
"You can't go alone, LT." Lyle glanced back and the kid's eyes got round when he saw what Murdock was looking at. He was a by-the-book soldier, and still wet behind the ears. "Are they coming here? What did you do?"
"I'm coming with you, Murdock." Harris' tone was uncompromising. Murdock felt a sense of relief. If he had only one of his crew with him, his rock-steady crew chief would be his choice.
Zap grinned at him. "We're armed to the teeth. Besides, you know how I hate to miss a good party."
The MPs were burning rubber their direction. "Well, we gotta get the hell out of here. Now!" Murdock lunged into the cockpit, and looked back to see Harris and Zap heading for the back of the chopper. Lyle still stood looking up at him, uncertain. "Either get in, or get the hell out of the way, Petey!"
That catalyzed the kid, who glanced back at Harris and Lyle disappearing into the hold of the bird. He slammed his helmet onto his head and jumped up into his own cockpit. Maybe the kid was finally growing a set after all, Murdock thought grimly. As soon as the doors were closed, Murdock signaled an all clear and lifted off – just in time to wave and grin at the MPs beckoning to him.
Colonel Smith looked at Sergeant Baracus. "If I see Warrington when we get back, he's fucking toast. I'm not sure we're going to get in the clear, now."
They were dodging two separate patrols that had caught sight of them outside Hanoi. The op itself had gone smoothly, but Smith was really hoping to be in the air before the fireworks started. After that happened, they'd have so much company they wouldn't be able to avoid it.
Peck came creeping back into their cover. His eyes were tight, and he rolled his head to relieve some of the tension they all felt.
"The first patrol split and called in reinforcements. Fortunately, they fell for the false trail we laid and are headed pretty far south. The other patrol is breathing down our necks, though. Eight men, and they're moving fast. They obviously know this area."
"Eight, huh?" Smith held out an expectant hand to his second in command.
Peck shook his head, smirking. "Sorry, Colonel, can't get you another 'til we get home."
"Is that supposed to be some kind of bribe, Lieutenant?" Smith ground his teeth, wishing he had a cigar to lock between them. He looked at his men: Baracus, Peck, Brenner, Gravois. Five to eight was pretty damn good odds in Smith's book, but it would be tricky, given that the bogeys had home field advantage.
"Hannibal –" Baracus' hushed but excited voice broke into his thoughts. "Warrington sent an extract after all. They're asking for coordinates."
"Give me the com." Smith keyed in. "Murdock?"
"One and only, Colonel. I think we're a few klicks south of your last reported coordinates."
"It's good to hear your voice, Lieutenant. We got bogeys bearing in on our location." Smith rattled off coded coordinates. "See any way out from the crow's nest?"
"How about a little distraction, Colonel?"
Hannibal smiled as the thrum of the approaching chopper reached them, and then they heard gunfire. The bogey now had something to hold their attention. Smith issued hasty orders, and his men quickly surrounded the distracted patrol, and took them out.
Murdock sat light on the skids in a nearby clearing, and Smith and his men boarded; all except Baracus, who was hesitant to board the same chopper they rode in. Smith had to grab the big Sergeant's arm and drag him onto the craft. As soon as they hit the seat, they were lifting off. Smith took the head set handed to him by the crew chief and slipped it on.
The chopper crew was tense, as another round of artillery fire erupted from below. The other patrol had apparently heard the commotion and come running.
"Shit, triple-A, Zap you got it on starboard."
"Locked on, LT." The door gunner let loose a volley of fire as the pilot gained altitude rapidly.
"Incoming! Evasive maneuvers." The peter pilot sounded terrified.
Murdock's calm voice was a stark contrast. "Easy, Petey."
"We shouldn't have come –"
"Get your head in the fucking game, Pete."
Smith slammed against his second-in-command as the chopper jerked around, and he heard the whistle of the antiaircraft artillery barely miss them.
"Shit, shit, shit! We took some in the tail."
"Pete if you ain't gonna help then shut the hell up!" Murdock sounded more distracted then angry.
The crew chief snapped into the com. "Listen you little FNG, get a grip! The LT needs your help, not your narrative." Smith had to agree with him.
The pilot's voice was adamant. "Harris, Zap, make sure you're locked down. Everybody, hold on!"
The door gunner and chief checked their lanyards, and wedged themselves into position so they could aim out the open gunner windows in the side of the chopper. Hannibal could see that the limited visibility was causing them problems, but they continued to lay down suppressing fire, rapidly burning through their magazines, and reloading, as the pilot continued evasive maneuvers while trying to gain altitude. Smoke was beginning to fill the cabin.
"Greased the mother fucker!" The door gunner held up a triumphant hand, as the only sound from the ground now was the fading chatter of AKs.
"Eyes sharp, we aren't in the clear yet. I'm having trouble gaining altitude. Harris . . ."
"We gotta gain altitude." The peter pilot sounded calmer, but not much.
"Flap your arms, Pete." Murdock's voice was tight, though he chuckled as he said it. Hannibal appreciated the kid's humorous way of dealing with the tension, at the same time he questioned the appropriateness of the joke. One look at his mildly acrophobic sergeant told him the banter was grating on Baracus' nerves.
The door gunner let loose a stream of expletives. "If you can't get any higher, break port."
"Everybody blow!" Weak laughter from the crew accompanied the pilot's joke. "Aw, c'mon. It wasn't that bad."
"Yeah, it was," Harris snorted.
The chopper shifted port and Smith actually thought they might be gaining some altitude when he heard more antiaircraft artillery approaching. Not a particularly religious man, he sent up a silent prayer to the powers that be, anyway, hoping that they were out of range. It felt like the bottom had fallen out, as the chopper dropped to avoid the barrage. The ping of AK fire hitting the underbelly of the ship was startling, but ineffectual, they were too high for it to cause much damage.
"Here comes another one." A dizzying maneuver, and the entire chopper shuddered as the pilot struggled to control the spin. He pulled it out and started to climb again.
"Out of range." The door gunner sounded relieved, but his relief was short-lived. "Next rise."
"We'll skirt it . . ."
Several more bursts of fire from the ground, but whatever was aimed at them seemed to be out of range, and was quickly left behind. For the next ten minutes the only sound was that of the disturbingly-uneven whap of the rotors as they flew over the flat land of the Red River Delta. Smith could feel the Hind trembling, and wondered if it would hold together long enough to at least get them out of enemy territory. Finally they broke over the open waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. They dropped low over the water and made for open sea.
There was a collective sigh of relief as land slipped further behind them. The pilot let out a whoop, and Smith could hear the grin in the kid's voice. "Hey, you guys bring your swim trunks?"
"Not funny, LT," the crew chief said.
The pilot's laughter filled their ears. "Harris is just sore 'cause he never learnt how to swim. Everybody cross your fingers that this little Russian wench holds it together long enough to get us home."
They landed at Da Nang, and Smith chuckled as his communications Sergeant stumbled out of the chopper and fell to his knees to lay his forehead on the ground. The ride back had been rough, but they made it. Smith watched as the rest of his Team, along with Zap and Harris, disembarked.
Harris opened the pilot's cockpit. Murdock leapt down, lanky and awkward-looking. He snickered at Baracus, still kneeling on the ground. "Mud sucker, suckin' mud. Seems appropriate."
Baracus lurched to his feet and glared at him. "You are crazy, man."
He shrugged. "Been called worse."
"Fuckin' dinky dau pilot." Gravois shook his head, but respect was evident in his gaze.
Murdock chuckled. "Case in point."
Smith grinned and pumped the kid's arm. "Lieutenant, I can't thank you and your crew enough. You ever need anything, just say the word."
"Harris and Zap did the hard work. All I do is hold the joystick." Intelligent brown eyes focused behind him.
Smith took a step back and noted that there was no sign of relief on the faces of the air crew that had just pulled their asses out of the fire. In fact, they all looked tense and wary.
He tried to catch the pilot's attention. "What made Warrington change his mind?"
But Murdock's attention was focused on the two MPs that strode past Smith moments later.
pilot's grin turned almost manic. "Gee guys, a personal welcoming committee,
just for little ol' me? And here the gift shops were all closed and I couldn't
get you a thing!"
Smith was stymied as the MPs each grabbed one of the kid's arms and led him toward their waiting jeep. The ranking officer growled, "Colonel Warrington wants to see you, Lieutenant."
Harris walked up beside Smith as the jeep skidded away. "Warrington didn't change his mind, sir."
"Well, shit. Why didn't the kid say so?"
Harris rolled his eyes and shrugged. "Lieutenant Murdock is a loner, Colonel. He don't ask for favors and generally takes care of himself. Been that way since the day he came to this base."
"If he went against Warrington's orders, it's not something he's going to get out of by himself," Smith said. He stared after the jeep for several seconds, then turned to his men. "Flake out for 30, then re-group back in the briefing room. I'll meet you there."
He took off after the jeep at a jog. He owed Warrington, anyway.
Smith walked into Warrington's office a few minutes later. The pilot stood in front of his CO's desk, looking like a wayward teenager facing the ire of an overbearing parent. He stepped in front of the kid, and glared at Warrington. "You and I need to talk."
"As soon as I'm done reprimanding my Lieutenant, Colonel."
"No. Now." Smith slammed a hand on Warrington's desk to emphasize his point.
The CO hesitated only briefly before motioning to the MPs. "Escort Lieutenant Murdock to the outside room, and keep an eye on him. This should only take a moment."
As soon as the door shut behind them, Smith placed both hands on Warrington's desk and leaned forward, his gaze intense. "Listen, you son of a bitch, that kid should get a medal, not a reaming. You weren't involved in the initial briefing, and you had no fucking business sticking you nose into the middle of my op. As far as I'm concerned, Lieutenant Murdock was following my orders for the extraction."
"I gave him specific orders to wait –"
"I don't give a flying fuck what you told him." Smith stood up. "You want to get into a pissing match over this one, Warrington, I'm up for it. Otherwise, you better back the hell off and let the kid go."
Warrington sputtered for several seconds, his face turning an alarming shade of purple. "Listen you little cock-sure bastard. That man is under my command-"
"As we discussed, and I can back up with paperwork, he was temporarily placed under my command. I could have you brought up on charges for interfering with a special op." Smith leaned forward again, and flashed Warrington a goading smile. "What do you say, Colonel – wanna dance?"
Warrington's jaw worked for several seconds. "Fuck you."
Smith recognized capitulation in the gaze and smiled. He turned and opened Warrington's office door. Nearby, Murdock still stood between the two MPs, and all three looked up when the door opened. Smith turned and raised a warning eyebrow at Warrington, who crossed his arms, and ground out, "Let Lieutenant Murdock get back to his bird, gentlemen."
Murdock's jaw dropped. He stared at his CO for several seconds, before his gaze shifted to Smith. He flashed him a grateful smile as he shook off the limp grip of the two shocked MPs.
took a step toward his CO, a mocking smile on his face. "I thought you
wanted to talk to me, sir." Contempt
practically dripped from the kid's tongue.
Warrington glared at the pilot. "Get the fuck out of my face, Murdock."
The kid snorted. "Cheerfully, sir."
Murdock disappeared outside. Smith turned and looked at Warrington. It hadn't sounded like there was any love lost between Murdock and his CO before, but now the look on Warrington's face was one of pure hatred. Murdock was in for a rough time at Da Nang - if he stayed here.
Smith smirked at Warrington, and tipped an imaginary hat, "I'll be in touch, Colonel."
He walked out of the office and headed toward briefing. He keyed his radio. "Peck, I want you in briefing now. I have a little project for you."
"What did Warrington have to say?" Harris fell into step beside Murdock.
"Told me to get the fuck out of his face."
Harris chuckled. "I knew Smith would take care of that asshole. What do you think he said to him?"
"Wish I knew."
They approached the chopper, and Murdock whistled. "Guess it was worse than I thought."
"Fucking miracle we made it back here." Harris' expression had sobered, and he put a hand on Murdock's arm to get his attention. "We do have one problem."
"Lyle ain't moved since we landed."
"Shit, I shoulda talked to the kid right away."
"You were otherwise occupied, remember? You want my opinion, you should tell the Colonel you want a new peter pilot."
"Easy, Chief. You remember what it was like as the FNG on your first hot flight. I almost pissed my pants."
"I find that hard to believe. And he's been with us long enough he should be used to flying hot. He's gonna get somebody killed. Kid's useless."
"Let me talk to him, Chief."
"Talk to him, then get rid of him." Harris turned his attention back to the chopper.
Murdock walked around the bird and stepped up to the open co-pilot's door. Lyle hadn't even removed his gear, and his usually ruddy complexion was washed in a solid gray. "You all right, kid?"
"I fucked up."
Murdock pursed his lips. "Well, I wouldn't say you fucked up, so much as you weren't a whole helluva lot of help up there."
"We were almost killed. I freaked, man. I can't do this."
Murdock gazed at the young man for several seconds collecting his thoughts before speaking. "Listen Pete . . . Lyle . . ." He took a deep breath. "You either have to come to grips with the fact that every time you get in a chopper, you may not come back, or you are going to be a liability in the air."
"I don't wanna die."
"Nobody does. And you celebrate every fucking day you make it back alive. But when you take off, you better be believing that you might not come back and accept it. It is the only way to calm your mind enough to focus on what needs to be done. If you're worried about your own ass, you aren't gonna save anyone's."
"So I have to accept that I'm gonna die?" Lyle looked at him, eyes wide and disbelieving.
"We all gonna die some day, son. Hell, being immortal sure doesn't sound like much fun to me." Murdock grinned and clapped him on the shoulder. "You just need to let what I said sink into that thick head of yours." He leaned out from the chopper and caught Harris' and Zap's attention, his voice loud as he added, "And we are going to celebrate making it out of fucking Hanoi Province alive!"
As his other two men whooped in agreement, Murdock leaned back in and smiled ruefully at the shell-shocked expression still frozen on his peter pilot's face. "I'm tellin' ya right now, Petey, if you can't accept death, then you better find a nice cushy desk job somewhere and leave the flying to us dinky dau's."
It had been a week since the escape flight out of Hanoi. Murdock figured the whole thing had blown over. In fact, he had a pretty easy week, since it seemed Warrington was avoiding him like the plague. Almost made up for having to break in a new peter pilot.
Then he got the call to Warrington's office. When he arrived to find Harris and Zap, there, too, he knew they must be in trouble. "What the hell is going on?"
Harris shook his head. "We were all told to report."
The Corporal opened the door. "You can go in now."
They filed in and saluted the Colonel, who returned the greeting perfunctorily. "At ease." Warrington's expression was sour as he walked around his desk to pace in front of them. Murdock could feel his tension increasing with each pass.
It seemed like an eternity before the CO finally stopped in front of them, stance stiff, expression severe. "First I want you men to understand that if it were up to me, you would all be spending time in the stockade for that little stunt you pulled last week."
Warrington took two steps and stood directly in front of Murdock. "Particularly you, Lieutenant." He hovered there for a few seconds before resuming his pacing. "However, in this instance I have been overruled."
Warrington stopped by his desk and turned his back on them. Murdock chanced a glance at his crew. Two sets of confused eyes gazed back, and he shrugged. All of their eyes snapped forward when Warrington turned back around. "You have each been recommended for a silver star for your valor that day." He handed a certificate to each man, then turned to Murdock. "And you have been promoted to Captain and offered a transfer to Nha Trang."
Murdock blinked as his crew surrounded him and pumped his hand in congratulations. "Nha Trang, sir?"
"Do you wish to stay here under my command, Captain?"
"Hell no, sir!"
Warrington practically snarled at him. "Then get your things and see the Corporal. I want you on the next transport to Nha Trang. The sooner you're off my base, the better."
Murdock couldn't help the relieved smile that curved his lips. "I'll miss you too, Colonel."
"At ease, Captain."
Murdock kept his eyes straight ahead, planted his feet shoulder-width apart and locked his hands behind his back. It was his first full day at Nha Trang, and he wasn't sure how much of a hard ass his new CO, Colonel Vance Vickers, was. He kept telling himself he hadn't been here long enough to get in trouble, yet, but it didn't allay the instinctual dread he felt standing in front of the CO.
The Colonel flipped through a file sitting on his desk, a bemused look on his lean face. "You've had an interesting career path, Captain. Air Force Academy, commissioned to the Thunderbirds as a first LT, briefly, before a sudden move to the CIA, and now transferred to Army Airborne, where you are already on your second base assignment." Sharp gray eyes caught and held Murdock's gaze. "Tell me, son, are you having trouble deciding what you want to be when you grow up?"
"You do have trouble following orders, though."
Murdock's jaw clenched. "No, sir."
"Then can you explain to me why you've been with this man's army for less than 6 months and already have half a dozen write-ups? And your latest stunt, the escape flight out of Hanoi, I understand from Colonel Warrington, was done against strict orders to the contrary and without approval."
"I was following Colonel Smith's orders, sir. And my crew was recommended for a commendation for that flight."
"But you disregarded your own CO's orders, Captain. And regardless of what the brass wants to be able to advertise back home, you cannot deny that you have demonstrated a distinct lack of regard for the chain of command."
Murdock took a deep breath. This was going about as well as could be expected. His record was bound to catch up with him at some point. "Permission to speak freely, sir."
He wasn't sure if that was a smile that twitched the Colonel's lips. "I got the impression you didn't require permission, Captain."
It was a smile. Murdock allowed himself relax incrementally as the Colonel responded, "Permission granted, Captain."
"I made a command decision, sir. Those men needed an extraction . . ."
"Deep in enemy territory, where you were ordered by your CO not to go."
"They requested emergency evac, Colonel. Was I supposed to just leave them there?"
"Colonel Smith and his team are well-aware of the risks every time they undertake one of their unconventional warfare missions. They would have managed without your intervention, Captain. Trust me. I know John Smith."
This was not boding well. Murdock could feel the mounting tension in every tight muscle of his body. "Maybe, maybe not. My crew and I got them out without any casualties. That's gotta count for something."
"No casualties other than a hundred thousand dollar enemy chopper."
"I flew the chopper back to Da Nang. It was salvageable."
"As I heard it, they weren't too sure how you got the thing back to base."
Murdock couldn't help the snicker that escaped his lips. Harris could make that bucket of bolts airworthy again – the guy was a genius.
"Does something strike you as funny about that, Captain?"
Murdock pursed his lips. "No, sir."
For the next full minute, the only sound in the room was the slow tap-tap of the Colonel pacing around his desk, and across the room.
Murdock heard the door open behind him. "Colonel Smith, would you care to join us?"
Murdock took a fortifying breath. Two Colonels, one Captain, big trouble. When Smith came into sight, he snapped to attention, wishing like hell he knew the players at this base better. At least Smith had proved to be an ally. Once.
"At ease." Smith's voice sounded amused. "Have a seat."
Murdock glanced at the man uncertainly. The blond-haired Colonel looked a lot younger than Vickers, but his icy blue eyes were disturbingly old and intelligent. He hesitated, but dropped into the seat, his posture still stiff. Smith had done him a big favor at Da Nang, but Murdock figured the debt was paid. Still, he never had thanked the man. "I didn't get a chance to tell you how much I appreciated you intervening on my crew's behalf with Colonel Warrington, Sir."
"Save it. You may not be thanking me once all is said and done." Murdock felt his heart sink.
Smith leaned on the front of Vickers' desk, as Vickers took a seat behind it. Smith gazed at him in silence for several seconds before asking, "You got a problem with authority, kid?"
Murdock gritted his teeth in annoyance. He hated being called 'kid.' "No problem, sir."
Smith raised an eyebrow but didn't respond. He pulled a file from under his arm and flipped through it. "You ran black ops, Captain?"
Murdock took a deep breath before responding. "I worked for the CIA for almost a year, sir."
"I see that. Though the records, themselves are pretty much sealed – even from me. Makes me curious, Captain. What exactly did you do for the CIA?"
"This and that, sir. I'm sure you'll understand if I choose not to talk about it."
"Good answer, kid."
Murdock felt his hackles rise, again. "If I may, sir, what's with the third degree about my former work? I thought this was about what I would be doing at Nha Trang."
"It is, and it isn't. I've been discussing your future with your new CO here. As good a pilot as you are, kid, it seems to me your other talents are being wasted in Airborne. I could change that."
It took a few seconds for the import of Smith's words to register, then Murdock felt his lips curve up. "MACSOG, sir?"
Smith turned and looked at Vickers. "I told you the kid was sharp."
Turning back to Murdock, he nodded. "Not sure how you know about it, since it's supposed to be on the QT, so consider yourself warned. We are in the process of developing a small, specialized and highly mobile strike unit to undertake covert missions like the one you helped us out on. The incident in Hanoi demonstrated, to me at least, that I need a pilot at my beck and call. Are you interested?"
Murdock grinned. "Hell yes . . . sir!"
"Good. For the sake of expediency, you will remain under Colonel Vicker's chain of command, with a dotted-line reporting to me. For all intents and purposes, though, your ass is mine."
Vickers stood. "I want it understood that if we need him, he's still available for routine flight work when you aren't using him, Smith."
Smith's ice-blue eyes caught and held Murdock's gaze. Murdock couldn't help but smile as his new commanding officer responded. "When I'm not using him, Captain Murdock is all yours." He grinned and spoke directly to Murdock. "You're in limbo until tomorrow morning, Captain, at which time I expect you to be ready to go to work." Smith stood and shook his hand. "Have a nice day."
Smith walked out and Vickers stood. "I, however, have work for you today. There are a few supply runs I need completed ASAP. Corporal Hicks will introduce you to your new crew and provide you with the orders. Nothing hot, just some ash and trash work. Think you can handle that without getting into trouble, Captain?"
Murdock stood and snapped a salute. "Yes, sir." He smiled at the thought of an easy day in the air. What could be better?
Twelve hours later, Murdock slipped the headphones off and leaned his head back against the seat of the chopper. The rotors had come to a stop, and in the relative quiet he could hear the commotion in the back of the Huey, as injured soldiers were unloaded and rushed to the infirmary.
Willis, his new crew chief, a middle-aged scarecrow with a steel-gray crew cut, opened his door. "You OK, Cap?"
Murdock's head snapped up. "If I was any better I'd be an eagle, Chief. What's our next run?"
"That's it, Cap. We been goin' long enough. We need some down time."
"Hell, I could go another 12!" Murdock grinned at the grimace on Willis' face. "How's Cahill holding up?"
"Ready and rearing, Cap. I could go another 12 myself! Though I could use some more ammo." The gungho young man with fiery red hair popped into view. He was short, but heavily muscled, and could move those massive guns around like toys. Murdock was impressed with his new door gunner.
"Well, I'm old and I need a fucking break," Willis said.
"You got it, Chief. 'Sides, I think Petey, here, is all in." He glanced over at the peter pilot, Chuck Maloney.
The kid was new in country, freckles nearly invisible in his beat red face framed by sandy hair that looked almost white against his skin. "My name is Chuck, sir."
"Yeah, Petey, I know." Murdock swung his legs out and hopped down from the chopper. "Guess we're done for the day. Let's wrap it up, then you boys can show me where the nearest bar is – first round's on me!"
Murdock woke in the morning with one hell of a hangover, to find a mountain of a black man throwing the meager possessions he had just gotten stowed in his new locker into two boxes. Without thinking, he lurched out of bed and grabbed the guy by the shoulder. "Hey, you big ugly mudsucker, what the hell do you think yer doing?"
The sudden movement had been a mistake, and Murdock had to concentrate to keep from hurling. He took an involuntary step backward from the dark, angry look the man turned on him.
Though several inches shorter than him, the guy had to be at least three times as wide, and he had the voice to match his girth. "You Captain HM Murdock?"
"Uh, yeah, yeah, that's me."
"You joined Colonel Smith's team yesterday, right?"
Murdock shook his head slowly, so the room wouldn't spin. "Uh, yeah, I believe I did."
He almost leapt out of his skin when the big guy starting giggling. Honestly giggling, white teeth glaring out of an obviously-amused ebony face. "Yeah, Hannibal can have that effect on a guy."
"H-Hannibal?" Murdock felt his brow furrow, and consciously relaxed it. His head was killing him.
"Colonel Smith wears that nickname like a badge o' honor. Somethin' to do with Carthenians, or somethin'."
"Oh, the famous Carthagenian general, Hannibal. I get it."
"Maybe you can explain it to me sometime." The big man turned and resumed his haphazard packing.
Murdock stepped forward, feeling a little bolder. The last two days slowly coming back to him through the murkiness of the hangover that rolled around in his head like a thunderstorm. "Just a minute. What does that have to do with you packing up my stuff?"
The big man didn't even slow his activities. "You joined the team, you bunk with the team. Hannibal wants us living, eating and training as one so when it counts, we respond as one. Like Shuai-jan."
"Shuai-jan?" Murdock had heard that name before, but he couldn't remember where.
"It's from Sun Tzu's 'Art of War.' If you ain't read it, you will. It's like Hannibal's bible."
"Oh, I read it. Once. Awhile ago." Murdock rubbed a hand down his face.
"You'll read again. And again. Until you got it stuck in your head."
"Sounds more like a fucking cult then a unit. 'Side, in airborne, I get my private quarters."
"Ain't airborne no more, fool."
Murdock squinted at the large man's profile, and snapped his fingers. "Hey, you're the mudsucker didn't wanna get on my bird outside o' Hanoi, ain't ya?"
The man's jaw clenched, and he turned an angry glare on Murdock. "Name's Baracus, Sergeant B.A. Baracus. It ain't mudsucker. And I did get on your bird."
Murdock's eyes narrowed, and he nodded. It was definitely the recalcitrant soldier that Smith had to coax onto the chopper outside Hanoi. The same one that practically kissed the ground when they landed at Da Nang. Big, scary guy like that afraid to fly. The irony amused him. "Not 'cause you wanted to, though. You was white as a sheet under that tan o' yours. Sucks to be acrophobic 'round here, huh big guy?"
Baracus grabbed the front of his t-shirt in a beefy fist, causing a sharp pain to shoot up Murdock's neck as he pulled him forward so their noses almost touched. "I ain't phobic 'bout nothin', sucker." He stared into Murdock's eyes for several seconds before releasing him to turn back to his task. "Better get dressed, man. We gotta get a move on."
Murdock rubbed the back of his neck to relieve the worst of the pain, then decided that getting dressed was probably good advice. He pulled on his pants and grabbed his boots, dropping onto the edge of the bed to put them on. "Where we goin'?"
"You gonna meet the team, then the Colonel wants to get your training started."
Murdock stopped in the middle of tying his shoes, and looked up. "I thought he wanted me because of my training."
"Don't mean you don't need more training."
Baracus reached up to remove the only two photos stuck inside the door of the locker. Murdock lurched forward to stop him. "Hey, be careful with those!"
He grimaced at the fresh wave of pain – he had to stop making those sudden moves. He carefully removed the photos, and looked down at them. One was of his mother, the other of his grandparents. What would they think about him? Of the things he had done? That train of thought kept him up some nights.
"Those your folks?"
When he looked up he found Baracus gazing at him, dark eyes full of sympathy. "It's tough losin' people ya love."
Murdock's jaw clenched. He didn't usually talk to anyone about his past. It was safer that way. He reached past Baracus and dropped the photos into the box. "That's everything. Let's go."
Baracus considered him curiously for a few seconds, then lifted Murdock's uniform bag and laid it across one box before picking it up. Murdock picked up the other and nodded to indicate that the Sergeant should lead the way.
The dull ache that throbbed behind Murdock's eyes, sharpened as they moved out into the morning sun. He dragged his feet, wishing he had thought to pop a few aspirin before leaving his quarters – make that his former quarters, which he had occupied all of about twelve hours. The aspirin was probably still in his side drawer. Damn.
The Sergeant had gotten quite a ways in front of him, and stopped to wait. "C'mon, fool, pick up the pace. The Colonel's waitin' wit the rest of the team."
Murdock groaned. "You don't have to shout."
"Oughta lay off the booze if you can't handle it, man."
Murdock stuck out his tongue.
Baracus shook his head, chuckling. "Act your age, man."
"I am acting my age."
"You and Face gonna get along good."
"First Lieutenant Templeton Peck. But we all just call him 'Face.' He's our supply officer, weapons specialist, sniper and Hannibal's second in command. Kid's handsome. Could charm the pope outta his ring, if you know what I mean."
"Who else is on the Team?"
"Second Lieutenant Ray Brenner. He's medical and engineering. Ray's been with Hannibal almost as long as me. Face may be second in command by rank, but Ray's Hannibal's right hand man, make no mistake about it."
"Sergeant Remington Gravois, he's our primary on munitions and helps out on communications. You'll find, though, that we all cross-train and back each other up. It's how Hannibal wants it."
"So what am I coming in for?"
"Hannibal been looking for a pilot for awhile. Once he saw your background in black ops, he knew you was the one."
Murdock grunted. "Sounded like he wanted more than a pilot."
"Yeah, he been looking for a good intelligence officer, too. Funny he picked you." Again, the discordant giggle.
"Hey!" Murdock looked sideways at Baracus, and caught the teasing glint in his dark eyes. He grinned in response, feeling an easy camaraderie with the big man that surprised him. But he was getting a little nervous about meeting the rest of the team. "Sounds like a tight unit. How you think I'll fit in?"
Baracus shrugged his massive shoulders. "Don' know."
"Thanks for makin' me feel all warm and fuzzy, big guy." Murdock grimaced.
"Ain't my job to make you feel easy. You either cut it or your don't. S'up to you, kid."
"I'm not a kid."
"Coulda fooled me." Baracus shouldered into a barracks. "Here we are."
Inside, Murdock blinked as his eyes adjusted to the dim light, then wished he'd stayed out in the sun. Colonel Smith was there, with three other men that stared at him like an exotic animal at the zoo. Baracus walked through the barracks and set the box on the floor in front of a locker and hung his uniform up inside. Murdock noted that there was a bare bunk with a stack of clean linens on it directly across from the locker.
He walked over to the bed and dropped his box on it before turning to look expectantly at Colonel Smith, who was grinning at him. "Welcome to the Team quarters, Captain." He proceeded to introduce the other men in the room. Murdock shook hands around, noting that the bunk next to him was inhabited by the second in command, Peck, the one they called Face. He could see how the guy got his nickname. Platinum hair carefully groomed, blue eyes, and classic angular features – the LT was definitely good-looking.
"Get settled in, then come see me at my hootch in half an hour." The Colonel strode out of the barracks.
Murdock considered the box on his bed for a few seconds before setting it on the floor and shoving it underneath using his foot. He then walked to the locker, picked up the box there, and stowed it in the space under his uniform before closing the doors of the locker.
He turned around to find all four remaining sets of eyes still on him. He shrugged and grinned. "All settled. What do you guys do when you find yourself with 28 spare minutes?"
Ray Brenner, dark eyes crinkled with a humor that was contagious, chuckled. "Whatever has the potential to get us in the most trouble, right guys? 'Cept maybe Baracus, here – he'd be reassembling a tank, or building a new covert weapon or something." He nudged the large Sergeant standing next to him.
"You the one come up with those crazy ideas," Baracus growled, then grinned. "I jus' make 'em happen."
Peck stepped up next to him, grinning at Ray with a devilish twinkle in his clear blue eyes. "Hell, with a whole 28 minutes we could get into shitloads of trouble."
Average-height, average-build, with pitted and scarred chocolate skin that spoke of a rough childhood, Gravois sauntered forward, too. "Hell, ya. What I hear, wit dis fou pilot we in for loads a troub, boys."
Murdock looked at Gravois warily. His creole was a little rusty, but he was pretty sure Gravois had just called him a crazy pilot, again. He shook himself mentally. With this group, he figured he better give as good as he got. "Well I'll be damned, Gravy is a real live dinky dau Coonass. Laissez les bon temps rouler!"
"Creole, man," Gravois growled.
"Gravy, huh?" Face asked.
"Appropriate," Ray said. "Take all the good stuff, stretch it with water and thickener, and you got Gravy."
Face smirked at the Sergeant. "I like that. Payback for dubbing me 'Face', dinky dau."
Gravois' face split into a grin. "Like da man say, Laissez le bon temps rouler! Let's roll, pretty boy."
Murdock felt the First Lieutenant tense next to him. The guy looked ready for a fight, and Murdock wanted to avoid being the catalyst for divisiveness on the team this short into his tenure.
"The Lord don't like ugly, Gravy," Murdock warned.
Gravois stepped past Face and stood toe to toe with Murdock. "You and me gonna come to a understandin', ti gason."
Murdock grinned at him. "I got a firm understanding, just look at these feet." He glanced down pointedly.
continued to glare at him for a few seconds then busted out laughing, pounding
Murdock on his shoulder. "You OK, timoun. Whatcha name?
"First name, fou."
"HM? That ain't no name. C'mon, give."
Gravois tilted his head to the side. "Hmmm, hafta tink on dat."
The Cajun walked back to his bunk and dropped onto it, obviously lost in thought. Brenner grinned at Murdock. "That's the seal of approval, there, kid."
Murdock chose to ignore the 'kid' coming from Brenner. He liked the man instantly, and could see that all the men looked up to him. "Glad to hear I pass muster. Now where the hell is the Colonel's hootch?"
Baracus nodded. "It's not far. I'll take ya."
Murdock glanced at his watch. He still had 20 minutes. "Thanks. I'll be ready to leave in just a few, Ok?"
"I'll be waiting outside." The big man disappeared out the door.
Brenner clapped him on the back, and chuckled at the grimace the crossed Murdock's face as a fresh jolt of pain slipped up the back of his neck. "You look like hell, kid."
Murdock grinned weakly. "Yeah, went out drinking with my new crew last night. That was probably a mistake."
"We all blow off steam sometimes," Brenner said. "As long as it doesn't affect your work, you'll be Ok. Best learn your limits quick, though. The Colonel doesn't put up with any shit, and he's short on second chances. Good luck."
Murdock watched Brenner walk away with a sinking feeling. No second chances? Murdock was the king of second chances, and third, and fourth. Hell, he was the biggest fuck-up he knew.
His dismay must have shown on his face. "Hey, Ray's just giving you fair warning. He likes to overstate things to make his point. Truth is, Hannibal's not that big a hard-ass," Face said.
"Ya, if'n he was, Faceman woulda been history awhile ago," Gravois said.
"Fuck you, Gravy."
"In you dreams, pretty boy."
Face turned his back on Gravois and looked at Murdock, speaking quietly. "Thanks for cooling it off earlier, by the way. Gravy and me, well, we kinda butt heads, you know what I mean?"
"Not a problem." Murdock could tell by the sneer on Gravois' face that he overheard what Face said, but this time he chose not to comment. Obviously, there was precious little privacy in these living quarters. Murdock leaned in to Face and hissed. "Hey, you got any aspirin?"
"I got something better." Face led him between his and Murdock's bunk and sat on the edge of his bed. He opened the top drawer of the desk between their beds and began rummaging in it.
Murdock slumped onto his own bunk, knees jutting up, and dropped his head into his hands. All he wanted to do was lay back and close his eyes. He didn't even feel like eating, which was a testament to just how much he must have had to drink last night. Damn, he had to stop doing that.
"Here, take these. It'll help. Maybe even before you have to face the Colonel."
Murdock took the four pills the LT held out to him. "What are they?" He couldn't help the suspicion that crept into his tone. He was very wary of the drug scene. He wasn't about to let himself get wrapped up in that again.
Face pointed to the pills in turn, "Benedryl and aspirin. Entirely legal and above-board – but it will help with the hangover."
Murdock popped the pills and swallowed. When he opened his eyes, the Lieutenant was grinning at him. "You got some time. Why don't you lay down and close your eyes for a few before you go see the Colonel."
"You'll wake me up if I fall asleep?"
"I'll give you ten minutes." Face flashed him an encouraging smile.
Grateful, Murdock laid back and threw an arm over his eyes. Ten blissful minutes of rest.
Face was true to his word. Murdock walked out into the sun, relieved that the pain behind his eyes had abated to a nagging ache.
The door slammed behind Murdock and Baracus stood up from under the hood of a jeep. "Ready to go see the Colonel?"
"Ready as I'll ever be." Murdock fell into step beside the large man.
Murdock caught the sympathetic look in the dark eyes, and smiled. "Yeah, big guy, I'm feeling a lot better. Thanks."
"Jus' don' let it happen again, man."
"I'll try. Unfortunately, my impulse control isn't very good."
A faintly disturbing grin crossed the big man's face. "I think I can help you with that, man."
Murdock grimaced. He had a feeling he wouldn't like the way Sergeant BA Baracus helped.
Baracus pushed the door of a hootch open. "Good luck, man."
Murdock stepped into the dim quarters. Colonel Smith sat staring at a map of Vietnam hanging on the wall. He looked up at Murdock as the door swung shut behind him. Murdock snapped a salute that the Colonel returned idly.
"At ease, Captain. Well, you've met the Team. What do you think?"
Murdock dropped to a tense at ease stance. "Well, I don't know much about them, but they seem like a good group of men, sir."
"You're right. You don't know them. They are the worst group of misfit miscreants I've ever had the privilege to work with."
Murdock found the Colonel's impassive, ice-blue eyes almost as disconcerting as his statement. "Sir?"
Colonel Smith stood and began pacing. Murdock noted that the cigar he held in his teeth wasn't lit. His jaw worked as he gnawed on it, like a dog worrying a bone. It was a full minute before Smith's pacing brought him in front of Murdock. He stopped and turned so he faced the pilot, expression uncompromising.
"I'm going to tell you exactly what I told each of those fuckups when they started with this Team, Captain. I don't give a fuck about your past. What I do care about is your future, with this unit. I don't put up with any bullshit, soldier. I'm in charge, and what in the end, what I say, goes."
Murdock's jaw clenched. He thought coming into this that Colonel Smith might be different. But he was sounding just like his other CO, big head full of lots of hot air.
He opened his mouth to retort, but Smith cut him off. "You'll get your say as soon as I'm done. While I want it clearly understood who is in charge, it is equally as important that you speak your mind at all times. I do not recruit mindless soldiers who are good at following mindless orders. The kind of work we do requires a thinking soldier who can act on his own, when necessary. That doesn't mean I'm looking for a fucking vigilante. Above all else, we are a unit."
Murdock locked gazes with the Colonel, as Baracus' comments replayed in his head. "Shuai-jan."
"Shuai-jan." Smith's voice was almost reverent. "'Strike at his head, he attacks with his tail. Strike at his tail, he attacks with his head. Strike at his middle, he will attack with head and tail, both.'" Smith's eyes sparked with a zeal for his subject that Murdock found revitalizing. "We live, eat and breathe as a unit, and when it counts, we respond as a unit. If you have a problem with that arrangement, leave now."
Shuai-jan. He had never been part of anything that ignited his imagination so thoroughly. Perhaps not a cult, but almost a religion. He looked at Smith steadily. "No problem, sir."
Smith held his gaze for several seconds before nodding in approval. He turned and began pacing, again.
"One order of business that we need to discuss up front, Captain, and that is your rank and role in this unit. As you are still technically under Colonel Vickers, you do not really fall within our chain of command. Peck is my second, but we play it pretty loose, anyway. I recognize that you outrank him – recommended your promotion myself – but I would rather not muddy the waters. I expect you and Peck to help each other out. You're both awful damn young to be where you are."
Murdock weighed what to say to that. He shrugged. "I only outrank Peck by 48 hours, sir. Not something I'm gonna get hung up on. I do have a question, though."
"Why is Brenner only a 2nd LT – he seems a much more logical choice for your second. I'm just curious."
Hannibal chuckled, and muttered under his breath, "Sharp, even with a hangover."
Murdock heard it and grimaced. "How –"
Smith interrupted him. "Ray Brenner is one hell of a soldier, but however boy-scout he looks, he has been in more trouble then the rest of them put together. Every promotion I've put through for him gets rejected. Somebody higher up just doesn't like him, and he'll likely stay a second lieutenant for the rest of his career. Kind of like how you probably would have stayed where you were for the rest of your days in this war if you'd stayed at Da Nang. Warrington had it in for you kid. Think how it woulda been if he had three or four silver stars on his collar. By the way, it's not something you should discuss with Ray. He's a little sensitive about the subject."
"Another thing we need to sort out is your air crew. In the air, you are the boss. You can hand pick your preferred crew. I won't promise you'll always get them, but I was hoping to arrange it so it would be likely. Recommendations for making that happen would be helpful."
"When you say hand pick, you mean, anybody, or just anybody on this base?"
Smith flashed him a knowing smile. "You want Harris."
Murdock found if vaguely disturbing that Smith seemed to know what he was thinking, but he pushed the thought aside. "The man's a genius when it comes to all things airborne. Best crew chief I ever met."
"I'll see what I can do. What about gunner and copilot?"
Murdock shook his head. "As good a gunner as Zap is, I liked the kid I flew with yesterday – Cahill." He hesitated as he considered options for the final position. "Peter pilots are tricky."
"They just are. You never can tell whether their gonna cut it or not, and by the time you know, they either drop out, take command of their own bird, or . . . die."
When he looked up, Smith's gaze was sympathetic. Murdock pursed his lips. "I'll have to consider the options, sir."
"You can think on it for a couple days and get back to me."
"Yes, sir. Anything else?"
"One last thing." A slight smile curved the man's lips. "You smell like a fucking brewery, kid. Never come into my hootch like that, again. Understood?"
Murdock pressed his lips into a thin line. Last night had been a definite mistake. "I apologize. It won't happen again, sir."
He heard the door open behind him. "No, it won't. And to drive that message home, you will hump a 50-pound pack for 20 klicks. Sergeant Baracus will accompany you to make sure you don't slack off on your pace."
Murdock's eyes widened, and Smith chuckled. "You can have your say, now, Captain."
Murdock turned to find the large Sergeant standing in the doorway of the hootch, a sadistic grin spreading ear to ear on his broad face. Murdock grimaced and turned back to the Colonel. "Um, perhaps one of the other men –"
"Sergeant Baracus volunteered to oversee your punishment, Captain. The other men will be joining you after your little walk. At which time we will start your team training."
Murdock swallowed, but decided to hold his tongue. Anything he said would probably only make it worse.
Smith raised an eyebrow and smiled. "That's it? You're smarter than you look. Dismissed. Oh, and by the way, kid, don't piss BA off. He can get real cranky."
Murdock turned and followed Baracus out into the sun, wondering idly what part of the Shuai-jan he would become – after all, a snake didn't have wings. Maybe the Colonel was thinking of a mutation. He grinned at the thought, and Baracus gave him a curious look. Let the big mudsucker wonder what he was thinking. At least his headache was fading. If he survived the next couple hours, he would have to remember to thank Face.
* * * *
FINI for now.
And don't forget to hit the review button and let me know what you think – please J
5th Special Forces were based at Nha Trang, though detachments were numerous. Reality during the war and A-Team dogma don't always mesh well. MACSOG was a special op group that undertook unconventional warfare, and I have taken some aritistic license (since I don't know specifics) in making Hannibal organizer of a small, elite group: his own incarnation of Sun Tzu's shuai-jan (read 'The Art of War' – several translations are available online for free). Perhaps not a reality, but it makes the pieces in my little fantasy world fit together, and keeps it at least loosely related to historic reality.
Glossary (Feel free to correct. This is based on what I've read online, and I'm sure there are much better sources. Since I don't make any money at this, I'm unwilling to take the research thing TOO far):
AAA/Triple-A: Anti-aircraft artillery
Ash & Trash/Ass & Trash: non-combative (kind of) supply/evac runs between base camp and the field.
CO: Commanding Officer
Coonass: Cajun, derogatory
Dinky Dau: Americanized Vietnamese meaning 'crazy'
Fou: crazy or mad (Creole)
FNG: Fucking New Guy
Hind: MI24-Hind, a Russian helicopter gunship with limited troop carrying capability.
Laissez les bon temps rouler!: Let the good times roll (Creole)
Lord don't like ugly: a sort of 'shame on you' Creole saying
LZ: Landing Zone
Pete/Petey/Peter Pilot: Co-pilot. Murdock calls all of his Pete or Petey.
MACSOG (or MACV-SOG): Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group – a highly-classified (at the time) multi-service, special ops unit that conducted unconventional warfare before and during the Vietnam War.
SF: Special Forces
Ti gason: boy (Creole)
Timoun: child (Creole)
Troub: trouble (Creole)
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