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Blazing Star 1-6

Blazing Star

by Murdock's Doc  Rating: R Warnings: Violence, Anguish, Lot's of Foul language. Summary: After the events in Rising Star, Murdock's life begins a change as he is forced to face the grueling challenges of being as both a Chopper Pilot and a CIA Agent in he unforgiving jungles of Vietnam.Comments: They would be appreciated Disclaimer: The A-Team is the property of Stephen J. Cannell and my writing is not to make money or to obtain fame. I write to show my appreciation of a show that is in my opinion, one of the classics in time.  
   

Part 1

 Trapped in a shell of darkness, drifting through time and space, a lone figure struggles for some control over his mind. "Naevi cang!(No more!)" He cried out, unaware if he had formed the words or merely thought them. He knew that his body existed, but he had no control over it. There was no ability to escape the darkness or the constant sounds that pressed into his mind. "Dung lai (Stop!)" In an observation booth, a doctor and his assistant watched their patient begin to fight the restraints that held him in place. "I believe we've reached our subject's absorption limitation." The Doctor said as he rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

"Do you want to use the drugs in order to continue?" The assistant asked eagerly without looking up from the monitors.

"No." The Doctor said quickly as he mentally reviewed the patient's achievements, "We have successfully implanted a mastery of four languages using hypnosis alone. I think that will be more than sufficient for this operatives projected missions." The Doctor picked up a clipboard and signed the patient's discharge form. "And," he said pausing as he signed the documents, "anything further is likely to cause damage to his thought processes."

"Lay Chua Lay Troi! (Please God!)" The patient whimpered, "Naevi cang! (No more!)

The assistant nodded with disappointment. Experience had taught them that programming a subject under hypnosis caused a temporary mild psychosis. This was acceptable to their employers within the CIA. Unfortunately they had also learned that the use of drugs for programming a subject was best reserved for national emergencies. The process often left the subject with long-term psychological difficulties.

Pushing the negative aspects of his job aside, the lab assistant looked up from the monitors. "I can't help but be curious about this one's actual capabilities. We've never been able to get this far before."

The Doctor nodded absently, "I have to admit, I'm just as curious. It's not often that we get to work with an individual with superior intelligence."

The assistant nodded.

The Doctor shrugged, "Maybe we'll be able to get him back for future testing once his missions are complete." He said tapping a pencil against his clipboard. "Begin the deprogramming, then arrange to have him returned to his quarters."

~ * ~

Several hours later, Murdock woke trembling and gasping desperately for air. The nightmare had seemed so realistic and his body had reacted to the stress of the experience. His heart and head pounded painfully to the same beat, and beads of sweat trickled down his temple from his brow. Memories of the dry burn in his throat from the heavy panting as he ran, the sharp stabs of pain as his bare feet pounding over uneven stones, the rush of adrenaline as he fought to protect himself, and the bitter taste of fear, all replayed through his mind. The feelings that his body had felt and the sights he had seen during the dream seemed real, but they had also been impossible. The Captain shivered again as the adrenaline coursing through his body began to diminish. In the dream he had been fighting off an attack by giant man-eating flying words.

The knowledge that the dream could have been nothing but a bizarre fantasy did little to ease the pain in his head or the knot in his stomach. Pushing and kicking his feet, Murdock freed himself from the sheets that had managed to get tangled around his legs during the nightmare. Once free, the pilot took a few deep breaths and swung his feet over the side of the bed. "Just a dream," He whispered into the empty room.

As soon as the words left his mouth, they repeated themselves silently in his mind. Voices repeating the words he had spoken, each echoing through his head in a different language. Murdock gasped in pain. Reached up with both hands, the pilot cradled his head in shaky hands. "Stop!" He cried out with a cracking voice, only to find the voices echoing through his mind once again. "Stop it!" He screamed out in anger as he braced himself against the repetition. Sliding his hands from the side of his head to cover his eyes he fell back into the bed and curled himself into a ball. 'Why is this happening?' the shivering figure thought to himself. 'Why?'

Three weeks ago he had proudly carried the title of a Thunderbird, and the world had been at his feet. The Captain's eyes watered and he let the tears fall unchecked through his clenched eyes. The CIA had stepped in and in an instant they had completely changed his life.

In the first week, he had received weapons training. A marine the size of a Texas Longhorn bull had snarled, growled and snapped at him until he could shoot a fly off a man's shoulder with a 9 mil and an M-16. The first few days of the second week he had learned the basics of hand to hand combat from a Navy Seal who had refused to call him anything but "puke". The remainder of the second week he had been forced to learn codes from a woman who could make a mule's ass look like the face of a beauty queen. The third week had been reserved for learning the languages he would need to accomplish missions in Southeast Asia.

Shivering, Murdock curled a bit tighter. They had expected him to learn Chinese, Russian, Vietnamese, and French. He remembered going to the language lab thinking they were nuts. Scrubbing his face with his hands to ease the pain in his head, Murdock  thought back to the last thing he remembered about the lab. A short goofy looking guy in a lab coat had rattled off an explanation about hypnosis and how it would be used to accelerate the learning process. Everything else was blank.

"Captain Murdock?" A masculine voice called out impatiently.

With his hands still covering his face, Murdock hissed out "What." Then cringed with the word repeated in the languages that were now floating through his mind.

"The effect will pass in a few hours Captain." An unsympathetic voice informed him.

Even through his pain, Murdock could tell that the information had not been given in order to assure or calm him. It was nothing more than a statement of fact. 'Cold bastard.' Murdock thought in disgust. "Ok-y-do-key." The pilot replied, bracing for the translation effect in his mind. Seconds passed and the repetition he was expecting never came.

Taking a deep breath, Murdock gained a bit of confidence. "What do you want?" The effect was instantaneous as the sentence was translated and repeated in his mind. Groaning, the Captain cringed as he waited for the words to fade.

"Your presence is required in the briefing room." The man said, ignoring the Captain's obvious discomfort. "Now." He added.

"Right-cha-roonie, right behind ya." Murdock said hesitantly. When the sentence didn't repeat he cautiously uncovered his eyes. 'Nonsense words seem to keep the voices in my head from repeating everything I say.' The pilot thought to himself. "Hey'ya, gi'me a minute, will ya?" Murdock asked slurring his words in an exaggerated Texas drawl. Without waiting for an answer the pilot struggled and pulled himself upright on the side of the bed.

"Your presence is required now." The man repeated.

"Gotcha." Murdock replied weakly. "I'ma comin' muchacho."

Staggering slightly, Captain Murdock was escorted into a dimly lit office. When the door closed behind him, the pilot squinted his eyes and searched the room. 'CIA 101, lesson 2, use dark rooms to conduct meetings.' He thought sarcastically to himself. Finally his eyes settled on the outline of a man sitting in a corner.

"Sit down Captain." The man's voice said evenly.

Shrugging his shoulders, "Nutton personal, but I'd like'ta stand."

"Very well," The deep voice from the corner replied. "You are leaving tonight for Vietnam." The man said flatly. After waiting a moment for a reaction and receiving none, the hidden man continued. "You are being assigned to the 40th ARRS, in Da Nang where you will perform your Air Force obligations as a HH-43B Search and Rescue Pilot."

Murdock's eyes widened and his Texas drawl deepened as he spoke. "Lemme get this straight, I go through all this bull shit cloak and dagger training and then ya go an assign me as a chopper pilot workin for the Air Force?"

"That is correct Captain," The man confirmed as if it were an everyday event, "For the time being, you've been designated as a Sleeper for the Company, code named Shadow 12. When circumstances require your talents and skills, you will be contacted."

Murdock watched in silent frustration as the figure in the darkness moved his hand to the arm of the chair. Seconds later the door opened, signaling the return of his escort.

"You are dismissed Captain." The man said.

*~*~*

When you get your walking papers to Nam it seems like time passes in a whirl. There is no time to think, and barely enough time to pack and say good-bye before stepping onto a plane. Every day young men from all over the United States kissed their wives and children or their girlfriends, whispered their undying love then began their journey to a country that only years before had been unknown.

On the last leg of a week long journey into Vietnam, Captain Murdock closed his eyesand remembered his last moments on U.S. soil. It hadn't been the tearful good-byes, the cries of the children clinging to their fathers, or the nervous chatter of young men speculating about their future that had gotten to him, no; it had been the protesters.

Longhaired men and women adorned in brightly colored clothing, beads and flowers had stood outside, preying unmercifully on each and every uniform that had passed. Although he didn't disagreed with their right to an opinion, it was that he just didn't understand the raw hatred towards the very people that fought for the right to freely express opinions.

Part 2

The cargo plane carrying him the place he would be calling home for the next two years began to slow. The slight change in the roaring pitch of the engines shook Murdock from his thoughts of the protesters. Although slight, he could feel the plane descending, and knew that they were on the final approach into Da Nang.

Opening his eyes and stretching, the Captain turned in his jump seat along the side of the plane and looked out the window at the landscape below. For as far as the eye could see there was nothing but treetops, littered with occasional trails of smoke rising up through the foliage. From this distance, the land looked peaceful. If he hadn't known there was a war, the sight before him would have convinced him that all was well in the world.

"Sir?" An airman interrupted. Murdock turned to find the airman holding out a flack jacket. "Sir, we're expecting turbulence shortly, and we gotta get everyone suited up."

Murdock raised an eyebrow as he wordlessly accepted the jacket. Without being told, the Captain knew that there was trouble ahead. After quickly slipping the bulky jacket on, he watched the enlisted crew pass jackets out to the remainder of the passengers. They were only half way done when the Captain heard the first "ping" of ordnance ricocheting off the outer shell of the plane. The sound of the plane changed as the flaps went up and began a more pronounced decent. At the instant the flaps raised, the pinging sound became more like the sound of rain against a tin roof.

"We're being shot at!" Shouted a soldier from the back of the plane.

Faces all around the plane paled, and the unspoken fears that had been weighing heavily on everyone's minds was vocalized when someone yelled, "We're all gonna die!"

The Airmen glanced nervously at each other and then occasionally at Murdock as they continued to distribute the jackets at a faster pace. Someone needed to calm the troops, and from the looks given by the Airmen, it looked like they were expecting the senior officer among the passengers to do something.

Murdock felt panic rising up from his gut. Give him a plane or a chopper and he could bring it under control, but troops were another story. He had no experience taking charge of a group of men. The Captain had an overwhelming feeling of dread join the already existing feeling of panic when an Airman began making his way towards him.

Realizing that his lack of experience made very little difference at this point, Murdock decided that he might be able to at least create a distraction. 'Time to prove that you deserve your bars.' Murdock thought to himself as he began to rise up from his seat.

Halfway to his feet, Murdock felt something collide against his back. As his breath rushed out in a single whoosh he was propelled forward into the cargo pallets stacked in the center of the plane. It felt as if a giant hand had reached out and slapped him heavily on the back. Gripped the cargo net for dear life and thanking God that he had been wearing the flack jacket, the Captain forced air back into his lungs.

"You alright sir?" Asked the airman who had been on his way to ask the Captain for assistance.

"Am Fine." Murdock hissed while pushing himself away from the cargo. The words had been the first he had spoken in days. Even though the voices had receded to occasional whispers, he had been cautious about speaking. Unfortunately, what he had to say would take more than just a few words, and he silently prayed that the silence in his mind would continue. "Get the passengers to make themselves smaller targets." The Captain said firmly. Somewhere on the plane a soldier cried out in fear.

"Sir?" The airman asked looking confused, "I don't understand."

Murdock looked impatient. "Make the jackets take the blunt of the attack, have them bend their heads forward. Then have them bring their feet up on their seats." Those who had heard the Captain's instructions followed them immediately. The rest followed suit as the airman began to shout instructions.

'Now what?' Murdock thought to himself. Remembering something his grandpa had always drummed into his head whenever he had a problem, Murdock began to think of a theatrical situation that was similar to the one he was in now. 'If you don't have the experience to handle something, use any example you can get.'  Images of the "Duke" began to pop into his head. 'How would John Wayne handle this?" Murdock thought to himself. Taking a deep breath, the Captain prayed that he would be able to create the distraction needed to calm the troops.

Before he opened his mouth to begin, he began to face self- doubt. 'This is crazy' Murdock thought to himself, 'No one is going to buy it.' He looked around and found several scared faces staring up at him waiting for his leadership. 'They're just scared kids,' He thought sadly. 'You're just a kid too!' His mind screamed back. 'Their gonna laugh at you making an ass out of yourself,' his mind taunted, 'But at least for a moment they won't be scared.' That was enough to convince him to do it. Succeed or fail, the Captain knew he had to create a distraction.

Letting his memory dictate his body moves he began to strut down the aisle of the plane. At that instant, he let himself become John Wayne. "Men!" He called out, "I'm goin' a tell you something, and I want you to listen, and I want you to listen good. It may sound like I'm talkin' about me, but I'm not, I'm talkin' about you. As a matter of fact, I'm talkin' about all people here." He stopped and shook his head, and was surprised to find that he had everyone's undivided attention. The plane was still being hit, but the frequency was lessening. Turning he started strutting the way he had come.

"Now I know in boot camp ya learned out of a book. Out here you've gotta remember the book and learn a thousand things that have never been printed, probably never will be. You gotta learn right and ya gotta learn fast." Murdock stood taller, and his voice deeper and more serious, "When I came down here to Viet-nam I was lookin' for somethin'. I didn't know what." He turned and headed toward the back of the plane again. 'I should have majored in acting,' he thought to himself.

As he continued, the Captain noticed that the pinging sounds had died down to an occasional strike. "Before I came here, I was empty. Well, I'm not empty any more. That's what's important. To feel useful in this old world. To hit a lick against what's wrong, or to say a word for what's right, even though you get walloped for saying that word. Out here, due process is a bullet, and we're gonna go out there an show em what's right and what's wrong." Murdock stopped and placed both hands on his hips and glanced around the plane. "Are you with me boy's?"

"HOORAY!" Shouted the soldiers, "HOORAY!"

"GOOD!" Murdock shouted back as his right arm dipped and raised over his head. "YOU MAKE ME PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN!" Starting back to his seat, the Captain reached out and shook hands with the various soldiers as he passed them, offering words of encouragement. "Give 'em hell soldier," then to another, "Leave none standing soldier," and finally, "Go out there and show em what American's are made of."

As Captain Murdock dropped into his seat, he offered his co- passengers a thumbs up and a toothy smile, 'I've got to be losing my mind,' He thought to himself as he continued his act for the men, 'It worked.'

*~* ~*

The minute the hatch of the plane opened, the oppressive jungle air filled the cabin. The humidity that came with the heat carried a putrid decaying scent along with it. 'This is the smell of war.' Murdock thought to himself as he fought the reflexive twisting in his stomach.

Captain Murdock remained seated even though his rank gave him the privilege of exiting first. 'No. The ground is their sanctuary, let them reach it first. Let them find comfort in their element.' He thought, remembering a particularly interesting lesson in college. From his seat, he watched the soldiers lined up at the door, and he sighed, wondering just how much good his degrees in Philosophy and Aerodynamics were going to help him during his stay in hell. 'Not much.' He answered himself. His first experience in country told him that he would be better served by a degree in Psychology or Acting.

When the first man stepped off the plane someone on the ground began to yell. "Get your goddamn sorry asses off my plane! Move it! Get your sorry selves lined up so your units can get you FNG's out of here!"

Inside the plane, Murdock stood up and glanced out of the window, unsure of exactly what he should be doing.

"Hey!" Someone called out from the front of the plane, causing Murdock to turn away from the window. "You're the new pilot for the Jolly Greens aren't you?" Asked the pilot as he and his co-pilot stepped out of the cockpit. The Colonel reached out his hand in greeting. "I'm Allen Yohn, and this is my co-pilot Jim Kelly."

"Yes sir." Murdock responded to the Colonel as covered the distance between them. When he neared the two pilots, he reached out and clasped the Colonel's hand and shook it. "Names H.M. Murdock." The Captain said turning his head towards the new round of yelling from outside the plane.

"Don't worry," The Colonel said as he nodded his head towards the herding that was taking place with the new troops, "They won't treat you the same, they still have some semblance of respect for Officers."

Murdock smiled as he turned his head back to his fellow pilots, "I appreciate the info Colonel." The Captain paused slightly and briefly glanced out the hatch, "Ah Colonel, what is a FNG?"

The copilot grinned and looked to the Colonel to explain. "Mean's Fuckin' New Guy," the seasoned pilot explained with a laugh, "You'll be hearing yourself described as that and several other things until you're no longer the new guy." The Colonel said with a grin. "The grunts get the worst of it, but you'll be hearing a share of it."

"I can hardly wait." Murdock said dryly.

"Come on, we've got to report in at Headquarters, we'll show you where you need to report in." The Colonel offered, "After all, it's the least we can do for what you did back here when we passed through that hot zone."

"Thanks." Murdock replied as he grabbed his pack. "Is it always that interesting when ya come through Da Nang?"

"More or less," The co-pilot said with a shrug of his shoulders.

"Mostly it's just harassment." The Colonel said as he stepped off the plane. "They don't usually do much damage."

Murdock followed the Colonel down, vividly remembering the impact against his jacket. "I don't suppose they leave the helicopters alone do they?"

The co-pilot looked serious as he joined the others, and that was enough of an answer for the Captain. "How long you been flying helo's?" Kelly asked, tactfully changing the subject.

Murdock smiled, remembering his first helicopter flight, "As often as I could for the past 4 years."

"What were you flying before you got your ticket to paradise?" The Colonel asked leading the group through the maze of people and buildings.

"Jet's mostly," Murdock admitted, "But I can fly just about anything."

The Colonel and his copilot glanced at each other with the same look of confusion. Neither had heard of a jet pilot being stationed with helo's. "What unit did you just come from," Kelly asked without disguising his curiosity.

"Thunderbirds." Murdock replied as he glanced around the base. He was so distracted by the activity around him that he almost smacked into the Colonel who had come to a dead stop.

"You're shitting me, aren't you?" The Colonel asked in disbelief, "THE Thunderbirds, as in U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds?"

"Sure." Murdock confirmed with a nod. "One and the same."

"Damn." The Colonel said looking over the Captain with a new outlook, "Damn." He repeated, "Who the hell did you piss off?"

"Huh?" Murdock asked in confusion.

"What the heck is one of the Air Forces best and supposedly brightest pilots doing in Da Nang as a Chopper pilot." The co-pilot explained. "You had to have pissed someone off, either that or your nuts."

"I guess that's it then." Murdock said with a grin.

"What?" The Colonel asked.

"I guess I'm nuts." Murdock said still smiling, "I volunteered." The moment the words left his mouth, an accusing voice in the back of his mind whispered 'Liar. You were blackmailed.'

The Colonel shook his head in disbelief. "You are certifiably mad."

"Yep, that's me, Howlin Mad Murdock," the Captain responded proudly, "I'm just livin' up to my call sign."

Part 3

Murdock enjoyed talking with his fellow pilots and thanked them when they left him standing in front of a building that boldly displayed a sign, "40th ARRS - Jolly Green's - So others may live." For several long minutes, Murdock stood in front of the Jolly Greens HQ, staring at the sign. From the very beginning, he had felt pushed and bribed, and he hadn't liked that feeling one bit. But all said and done, the Jolly Green's motto wassomething that he could live with. 'So that others may live.' He repeated in his mind, 'Yah, that's something worth being proud of.'

Entering the building, Murdock was surprised to find that the building was in fact a single room. Before he could figure out who he was suppose to report to, a voice thundered out. "What the fuck do you want!?"

"Captain Murdock reporting for duty," Murdock quickly responded, and when he noted that the question had come from a Colonel, he added, "Sir."

The Colonel stood up and lazily made his way to stand in front of the newly reporting officer. "So you're the fuckin' Thunderbird pansy ass I got stuck with." The Colonel glanced up and down the Captain before him, contempt written all over his face. "I hope you don't expect any fuckin' pampering out here Cap-tain."

"No sir." Murdock responded dryly. 'You eat with that mouth?' His mind silently added.

The Colonel glared at him, then began to pace. "I ask for a god-damn helicopter pilot and I get a fuckin' spoiled prima-donna candy ass." The Colonel stopped and pointed a finger into Murdock's face. "I want you to know up front Captain, I don't have the fuckin time to baby-sit my goddamn pilot's. You fuck-up and I'll have your ass. Got that?"

Murdock looked at the Colonel with a mask of neutrality, "Yes sir, I understand." The Captain pulled his orders from his jacket and offered them to the Colonel. "If that is all sir, these are my orders."

The Colonel snatched the document from Murdock's hand. "I'm going to enjoy knocking that smart ass attitude out of you." He threatened. "Johnson! Get this FNG out of my sight."

"Sir, yes sir!" A red haired sergeant said quickly, "Follow me sir." He said heading for the door.

Murdock shifted his bag over his shoulder and followed the sergeant out. Once safely outside he turned and asked, "Does he always talk like that or did he wake up on the wrong side of the bed today."

The enlisted man shrugged, "He's been sorta ticked off since we received notification that you were coming in."

"Oh?"

"Yeah," Johnson said glancing back at the HQ, "I heard him talkin about the Thunderbirds once, and I guess he tried to get into the unit a couple of times and wasn't accepted." He looked up at the Captain. "He told the other officers that it was a private club only brown nosers get into."

Murdock frowned. "That's not true," He defended.

"Me and the guys think he said that because he couldn't get in." Johnson said easily. "Me, I think it's neat that you were in the Thunderbirds."

"You ever see one of the shows?" Murdock asked.

Johnson's freckled face looked up with a smile. "Sure. It was amazing."

The two talked about the Thunderbirds and the workings of the Da Nang Jolly Greens as Johnson took him to supply for his field issued and then to his hooch. The place he was to call home during his stay in Vietnam was nothing more than a hard sided tent.

"Go ahead and drop your stuff into the empty locker and I'll take ya down to the flight line to meet the rest of the squad." Johnson said cheerfully.

Stepping inside the tent, Murdock looked around at his new abode. Four bunks, four foot lockers, ammo can's and cardboard boxes set up as night stands, and the center pole strung with laundry lines and pornography. Sighing, he took the lock off his bag, then dropped the bag into an empty footlocker before slipping the lock through the loop on the hasp.

Outside, Johnson was waiting for him. "Is your tent like that too?" Murdock asked, still finding the pigpen difficult to accept.

"There are eight guys in our tent," Johnson said with a shake of his head, "Officer's hooches are a LOT better."

'But I bet yours is at least clean.' Murdock thought as he followed the fast moving sergeant as he headed towards the flight line.

Introductions went well, which Murdock was grateful for. LtCol "Dung" Shipton a gray haired, short Korean War vet was the squad leader, Captain "Trumpet" Jarvis, a blond, 5'8" native of North Dakota was the next senior, and finally Captain "Monkey" Murray, a grumpy Irishman from Boston, made up the pilots of Murdock's new squad.

"You're gonna take over Jolly Green 24," Shipton said pointing to a HH-43B sitting a short distance away. "You might as well go over and introduce yourself to your crew. Since the Colonel say's your primed to go, you're expected to join the party when we go on patrol after chow."

Murdock nodded and considered asking for a clarification about what the Colonel had said, but decided to talk about it till after he had a chance to get into the air. Grinning broadly the Captain headed to meet his crew.

There were three in his crew, a co-pilot Lt. "Birdy" Long, a native of Brooklyn New York, his Flight Engineer Sgt. Trombetta, and his Pararescueman Sgt. Wendel a fellow Texan, Murdock spent the next few hours crawling in, under and over his bird. When he had come across the weapons mounted just inside the back doors he was mildly surprised. Search and Rescue choppers were not supposed to be armed. Turing around, Murdock found his Flight Engineer staring. The Captain looked from the Engineer to the gun and then back.

"When we find them, we prefer to bring them back alive." Trombetta said without being asked the question. Murdock nodded then continued his inspection of the bird.

By 1430, four choppers were in the air. Splitting into pairs, they headed north to patrol the area just south of the US lines.

"Jolly Green 26 to 24, are ya bored yet?"

"Negative 26, how can ya be bored when you're in the air?" Murdock joked back. Thankfully there were enough similarities between the communications between jets and choppers that he was able to slip right into the routine.

"Probably going to be a quiet day," Jolly Green 26 responded back.

Murphy's law dictates that something always happens when you least expect it, and it held true for the Jolly Green's. "MAYDAY MAYDAY, our position is overrun. MAYDAY, MAYDAY we've got too many casualties to retreat.

"Mayday is received, what's your location." Jolly Green 26 responded.

The frantic voice over the radio identified his unit and his general location. "I read you Delta 4-1-5, on our way and should be in orbit in 15." Murdock listened as Captain Murray contacted base for escort and assist, and then to the Jolly Green's 25 and 27 to stand by. "You ready 24?" Murray asked.

"Affirmative, I'm right above and behind you." Murdock responded. Glancing back at his Flight Engineer, Murdock asked, "Are you a good shot with that pop gun?"

"Yes sir, one of the best." Trombetta responded with a determined look.

"Good." Murdock said under his breath as he turned to focus his concentration on the mission.

Nearing the location given with the Mayday, four faster moving gunships joined the bulkier SAR choppers. "Jolly Green 26, Sandies 4,5, 7 and 9 are going in to soften up the area. We'll try to keep them busy while you drop, pickup and get the hell out of Dodge."

"Roger that, Sandy 4." Murray responded.

In unison, the four faster moving, heavily armed choppers dipped down over the tree. They immediately drew heavy fire as the SAR choppers slipped past the line towards the stranded troops. "Pop your smoke!" Murray called out to Delta 415.

When the red smoke began to drift into the air, Murray and Murdock headed for it. Murray went in first and as he began to land, men began to appear at the tree line, some running, some limping, some dragging or carrying along the injured who were unable to make it on their own. As Murdock began to bring his bird down he almost lost it when Trombetta began to fire into the treeline on the opposite side.

"Hurry up!" Shouted Trombetta as Wendel jumped out and began helping the stragglers into the chopper.

"Sandy 4, we got unfriendlies pouring out on us can you help?" Murdock shouted out over the radio. In front, Murray began to lift.

"On my way." Sandy 4 called back. "Keep your head down and I'll pass over."

"Damn it! Where the hell they all coming from!" Shouted Trombetta as he continued to fire at the advancing NVA.

Murdock glanced at the remaining two stragglers, one being carried over the shoulder of the other. The gunship passed overhead and began firing into the treeline, forcing the NVA to retreat back for cover.

"I got them to go back, but it isn't going to last." Sandy 4 called out over the radio. "Get the hell out of there."

Behind him, Wendel helped the last soldier into the chopper, "GO!" He shouted as he turned his attention to the injured.

Murdock didn't have to be told a second time. He brought the chopper up hard and began to chase Jolly Green 26 home.

Part 4

Death announces itself to all things living in a variety of ways, the end of movement, a body's decrease in temperature, and the smell. The smell of death is the first thing sensed and the last thing forgotten. The scent is unique in nature, a combination of all things bad. It's the smell of a body that can no longer control of it's bladder and bowels, mixed with the acidic aroma of fear and the sickly sweet scent of blood. It's a scent that saturates the delicate tissues of the sinuses and the mouth, forcing the living to remember.

By the time the skids of Murdock's chopper set down, tears were streaming down the pilot's face and his head was spinning as fast as the chopper's rotors. The open back doors in flight had done little to whisk away the smell, or drown the sound of anguished cries and sobs from those in emotional or physical pain.

As soon as the chopper landed, Murdock cut power and poured himself out of the cockpit. Grabbing the frame of the chopper to support his shaky legs, Murdock glanced into the back of the chopper as a team of medic's ran forward to help unload. Caught in a living nightmare, the Captain watched the able bodied as they exited first. Their shoulders were stooped in defeat and their eyes were empty and haunted. Some stayed to help with the walking wounded, but most stumbled away as if in deep shock.

The first site Murdock got of the wounded was the torn stub of what had once been a leg. The face that belonged to the stub was drawn and pale, his eyes unfocused. The Captain's breath caught in his throat as reality caught up with him and hit him painfully in the gut. "My god." He whispered as his stomach began to churn again and his mouth watered in warning.

Despite the oppressive heat, Murdock felt cold as he watched the wounded being unloaded. When he could take the sight no longer, the Captain looked down, only to shiver in horror to watch blood dripped onto the skids. A loud slap of something hitting inside the chopper brought Murdock's gaze up. Horror mixed with confusion as he watched the medic's walk away. A quick glance in the back of the chopper revealed that three men were left behind.

"Where are they going?" Murdock asked his crew in a voice bordering on hysteria. "Are they going to come back?"

Wendel looked at the Flight Engineer then back at the Pilot. "These guy's don't need medical help." He said sadly. Murdock looked back blankly, not understanding. Wendel shook his head then stooped down and grabbed a thick black bag and began to slip it over one of the men lying in the back.

The pilot watched in morbid denial as the pararescueman worked. The face of the man Wendel was working on was so peaceful, so calm. Murdock reached out to stop the Sergeant but he froze when Wendel turned the body on its side. The Captain paled and his hand began to shake. Half-stumbling the Captain began to back away, the vision of the missing portion of the man's head firmly imprinted on his mind.

Turning, Murdock ran, tripping and stumbling to the scattered patches of grass along the landing pad. Falling into the grass on his hands and knees, the Captain gave into the nausea brought on by the smells and the sights of war. Hanging his head he took one fine deep breath and he felt his gut twist and heave. He gagged when stomach acids raced up the back of his throat and out though his nose. Before he could gasp his lunch followed the acid up, then violently out his mouth. Murdock sobbed, then gagged again, continuing to vomit until nothing was left.

With his nose and mouth still draining and his head hung in misery, Murdock felt a hand upon his shoulder. "It's okay Captain, we all go through this on our first mission."

The Pilot wiped his sleeve across his face and pushed himself up on his knees. "How do ya deal with it Birdy?" He asked with a cracking voice.

Lt. Long handed Murdock a canteen and waited as the Captain took a swig to rinse his mouth. "Everybody's different, drinking, drugs, whoring, or fantasy." The co-pilot said with a shrug, "Me, I spend a lot of time writing to my wife."

"Some choices." Murdock said rubbing his face vigorously. "Maybe, I'll get a dog or something."

The co-pilot frown, "Ah, it doesn't pay to get close to the dogs or cats around here. Trust me on that one." He said reaching out a hand to help the pilot to his feet.

Accepting the hand, Murdock rose to his feet then bent down, placing his hands on his knees. Taking a deep breath, the Captain tried to pull himself together. "Why's that?"

"Dog is a delicacy to the local's," Birdy said with a shutter. "Poor half starved things run around the base scavenging for food, and sure enough some GI feels sorry for it, starts fattening it up then poof, it ends up over a cook fire."

"That's gross." Murdock said glancing up at his copilot.

The co-pilot sighed, "This is a different world that what we're used to."

"Man," Murdock said as he brought himself to a fully standing position. The expression on his face held a look of disbelief. Murdock held up his hand, "Birdy," he said, feeling his stomach warn him that it couldn't tolerate a discussion on the native cuisine. "Give me a chance to settle my stomach before you share anymore tips."

"Oh." Birdy said with a touch of guilt. "Sorry about that."

Murdock took a deep breath, "It's okay Birdy, I really appreciate the info, but would prefer it later." He glanced over at his helicopter and felt his stomach twist again, "Is . . . . is . . . Are the bodies gone?" Murdock said with a gulp.

"Yeah, we're getting ready to clean the bird, and the guys and I thought it would be a good idea for you to join us." The co-pilot said glancing over at the chopper himself.

Murdock lost any color that he had regained. "I . . "

The Lieutenant shook his head and interrupted Murdock. "Listen, I know the smell got to ya, it gets to us too. We clean the chopper with a gallon or two of ammonia and it kinda serves a dual purpose, it cuts the odor in the bird, and it seems to burn out any smell that's gotten into your head." He looked at Murdock with understanding, "It's your choice but if ya don't join us then you'll be smelling the blood during you're sleep."

"I guess anything to get rid of the smell can't be all bad." Murdock said with a sigh as he wondered how he was going to get rid of the visual images scorched into his mind.

*~*~*

Murdock and his crew scrubbed the interior of the chopper until the ammonia had their eyes watering and their hands stinging. Birdy had been right, the chemical smell overpowered and burned away the traces of death and injury. It seemed to be cheating, but for the moment Murdock considered it survival. As he worked, the Captain listened to the others talk. At first their joking around seemed tasteless and disrespectful to those that had died, but the more he listened, the more the pilot realized that the chatter was a way his crew dealt with the stress of performing their job.

*~*~*

The darkness during the night holds no power to hide a weeks worth of memories gained in a war zone. The memories combined the senses of sight, sound, smell, and touch, heart pounding nightmares which tormented those who could sleep and taunted those who avoided sleep.

After tossing and turning in his bunk for a couple hours, Murdock decided that sleep would be impossible. After letting out a heavy sigh, the newest member of the Jolly Green's rolled out of his bunk and headed out of the hooch to do a little star gazing.

Stepping out into the hot humid night air, Murdock plopped down near the corner of the tent and looked up into the sky. Wisps of smoke from distant battlegrounds masked the stars to the point that only a few of the brightest stars could be seen. Focusing on the brightest star, Murdock began to think of his mother. 'I miss you mama.' the Captain thought to himself. 'I know I haven't talked much to you since you died, but you always said you'd be there to talk to me even after you were gone if I needed to talk.' He sighed heavily before continuing his silent conversation. 'I think maybe I need to talk.'

The sound of someone snorting then spitting pulled distracted the young pilot from his thoughts. "Hello?" he whispered softly.

"Couldn't sleep either huh?" Captain Murray said with a drunken slur.

"Naw," Murdock responded with embarrassment, "I just wanted to find out what stars were up in the sky tonight."

"Howlin Mad." Murray began.

"Yeah?" Murdock responded.

"You're lying." Murray accused.

"Yeah." Murdock responded softly.

"Don't worry about one sleepless night." Murray advised. "It happens to all of us at one time to time."

"I kinda figured that." Murdock replied.

The conversation quieted for a moment, and Murdock could hear Murray struggling to stand up. Once Murray got on his feet, Murdock watched the shadow of his fellow pilot stumble toward him. The Texan remained quiet until the Irishman sat down a next to him.

"You're drunk" Murdock stated.

"Yepper doggie." Murray confirmed with a chuckle as he offered his bottle to the younger man. "Wanna join me?"

Murdock stared at the bottle being extended towards him and considered refusing the drink, but it had been a long hard week, and maybe the stuff would help him relax.

Murray saw the hesitation. "Ga ahead kid, ya got a Scottish name so ya just can't refuse an Irishman offering a gesture of friendship." Murray said extending the bottle further.

"That makes no sense Monkey." Murdock pointed out using Murray's call sign.

"Murdock." Murray said with a snort, "When you're drunk, everything makes sense."

Having everything make sense was something Murdock longed for at the moment. "What the hell," the young pilot said as he took possession of the bottle.

*~*~*

The next morning, Murdock groaned in protest as someone kicked his boots. "10 more minutes grandma." he mumbled as he tried to roll over and go back to sleep. Unfortunately the tapping on his boot continued.

"Get you're asses up!" Ltcol Shipton snapped. "Murray you good for nothin bum, get UP!"

Murray groaned as he lifted himself up off the ground, "Man, I keep saying I'll never do that again, and look what I went and did."

"I feel like shit." Murdock complained.

Shipton folded his arms across his chest and glared at his men. "Well you both look and smell like shit. Murray, you know the routine, shower, change your clothes, swallow a fist full of aspirin, and meet the rest of us for chow.

"Yeah, yeah," Murray said grabbing Murdock by the arm. "Let's go kid."

"Ain't a kid," Murdock protested as the two men half stumbled towards the shower tent.

"You're a fuckin' baby faced kid," Murray snorted, "Still wet behind the ears."

"It's just sweat ya dumb ass." Murdock responded.

Shipton shook his head in annoyance as he watched his two men leave for the showers. Although it was annoying to wake up early to wake up a couple of drunks, the Ltcol was silently happy that Murdock had hooked up with Murray the night before. The kid needed an outlet for the tension that had built up in him over the past week, and Murray was a harmless role model.

"Better drinking than drugs, huh Colonel?" Captain Jarvis asked as he approached his CO.

Shipton nodded. "Always, Trumpet, always."

Part 5

A few hours later, a sobered Murdock followed the rest of the Jolly Green pilots to the air field. Today was their down day, and Shipton wanted all crews to inspect and clean their birds to ready for another week of hell. The newbie to the group smiled as he remembered his fellow pilots giving Shipton a hard time about having to work each and every day of the week, but that's as far as it went. Each pilot knew the importance of preventative maintenance.

When the pilots reached the choppers, they split up and headed to their own birds. As Murdock approached Jolly Green 24, he heard the chatter of his crew as they worked. The Captain smiled. He liked everyone on his crew, and he felt that they were getting to like him as well.

Lt. Long spotted Murdock approaching and snapped off a sloppy salute to acknowledge the Captain's approach. The Lt. smiled when Murdock returned the salute with a smile. When Murdock reached the chopper, and before he could join his crew in conversation, an airman came running towards the chopper.

"SCRAMBLE!" The airman shouted with excitement while waving a folded paper in the air. "SCRAMBLE!" He repeated.

On instinct alone, the crew reacted. Trombetta and Wendel grabbed the buckets and sponges and tossed them away from the chopper as Murdock and Long took their seats and began the start up procedures.

When the airman reached the chopper, he handed Murdock the order and backed off. The Captain looked at the order long enough to know which direction to head before passing it to Lt. Long. As the co-pilot read the full order Murdock lifted off and headed north.

LtCol Shipton had heard a chopper take off, and he hadn't thought anything of it. A few minutes after he had heard the chopper leave, Shipton look over to see how the squad's new pilot was doing and found him gone and in the chopper's place an airman stood watching the horizon. Leaving a few choice words in his wake, the LtCol raced to catch the airman.

"Where in the hell did JG 24 go?" The squad leader demanded in a booming voice as he came up behind the airman.

The airman ducked as if a bomb had exploded behind him. He was midway down when he realized that the sound had been an angry officer. Turning he took on an expression that said, "Please don't kill the messenger." After taking a step back he said, "Headquarters received a retrieval request from an Army RECON team. The Colonel said to give it to Jolly Green 24 and that they were to go alone."

"Damn it!" Snapped the squad leader, "Where are they going? What channel are they tuned into?"

The kid paled, "I. . . I don't know sir; the message was to be delivered unread. I was just following the Colonel's orders."

"That Bastard!" The Lieutenant Colonel hissed under his breath as he turned and raced back to his chopper.

"MONKEY! TRUMPET!" Shipton yelled out. "GET YOUR ASSES OVER HERE!"

There was no hesitation from either of the officers. When they gathered around their Squad Leader they immediately noticed the fire in his eyes.

"What's up boss man?" Captain Jarvis asked.

"Murdock received orders from the Colonel to retrieve a RECON team." Shipton growled.

"Huh?" Captain Murray said with a confused expression. "Since when does the CO detail any particular chopper for an assignment."

"Exactly." Shipton spit out.

"You mean those orders didn't go through you first?" Jarvis asked in disbelief.

Murray paled, "Why would Colonel Martin break SOP and send a newbie out on a RECON retrieval? Those kind of missions are tough and we always go in pairs."

"Mannnnnnnn." Captain Jarvis said slapping his forehead. "Jose, my Flight Engineer told me that Johnson told him that Martin was rough with Murdock the day he arrived, something about knocking the attitude out of him."

"Why the hell didn't you say something Trumpet?" Shipton snarled, "It's all of our jobs to take care of the newbies." The LtCol let out a frustrated breath. It was normal for the squad to watch each other's back when facing the enemy, but now they had to keep an eye on the CO as well.

*~*~*

Nearly invisible in the mist and the thick underbrush, a soldier snakes across the jungle floor from tree to bush to fallen log until he drops to the ground along the break in the jungle. There he pauses a moment to be sure that his movement have not disturbed the sounds and activity of nature around him. Once sure that nothing had alerted any potential watchers of his presence, he crawls through the mud a few feet to what looked like a mound of grass and brush. "Colonel, our ride is on its way."

"ETA?" Whispered the hidden figure.

"Maybe 15 minutes," the soldier responses in a hushed tone that was easily covered by the chatter of monkey's overhead.

"They're over there." The Colonel whispers as he peers through a small pair of binoculars. "I can smell em," he insists.

The soldier frowns. With his face in the mud and vegetation, there was no way to smell anything but the pungent scent of decay. "Colonel, we lost them over four clicks back, how could they be here?"

The Colonel shifts slightly and passes the binoculars to the soldier beside him. "Watch the trees on the other side, between 10 and 1 o'clock." He whispers with a twinkle in his eyes.

Taking the binoculars, the soldier frowns then lifts them, and slowly scans the area that the Colonel had indicated. His frown deepens when he spots the movement in the shadows. Hissing out a curse, he asks, "What's the plan Colonel? There's no way a choppers gonna make it into the LZ with those gooks waiting."

Flashing the soldier a toothy smile, he said, "While I prefer a more direct approach, we're too low on ammo to make it worth the effort. Instead, I think we'll give our friends some exercise." Taking back the binoculars, the Colonel scans the area again. "Do you see how the field curves around on their right flank?"

"Yeah." The soldier mutters in confusion.

"Get on the horn to the chopper again. Tell them to mock a LZ approach over there." The Colonel said pointing to the wide open field about a click from their position. The Colonel's eyes grew bright with self-satisfaction as he visualized the plan, "When the gooks go running in that direction, the chopper goes up, drops into the original LZ position, and we're out of here with no problem." The Colonel turned back to watch the activity on the opposite side of the field. "Piece of cake."

The soldier shrugged his grass-covered shoulders and headed back to the radioman. After a week deep in country it didn't matter how they got out, just as long as they got out alive. Smith was legendary for his plans, but it seemed to rely too much on the NVA chasing the helicopter. No matter what he thought the soldier trusted the Colonel. Of all the unit's Smith had the highest return rate. "Sparky, you're not going to believe this . . ." The messenger whispered as he neared the radioman.

"Lemme guess, front door again?" The radioman said quietly with a knowing frown. It wasn't as that he would argue with any of the Colonel's plans, but they always seemed to come from a movie script filled with suspense and action.

"Naw, more like sneaking in the back window this time." The messenger whispered back with an amused gleam in his eye. "He's gonna get us home like always."

*~*~*

In the air, Jolly Green 24 was flying in the low level clouds, at time, skimming across the tops of the trees over the mountains, then high above the ground through the valley's as they headed for the rendezvous point. There hadn't been any activity so far, but the hair on the back of Murdock's neck stood up, reflecting the nervousness that had fallen over his crew since discovering that they had been sent on the retrieval mission solo.

"Jolly Green, this is Red Nine, rendezvous has shifted southeast two marks over a half click, repeat, rendezvous has shifted southeast two marks over a half a click." The radio squawked out. "Original LZ is hot."

"I read you Red Nine, we are within a short orbital range and should be visible. Copy?" Murdock responded with a nervous glance over at his co-pilot as he dipped the chopper out of the security of the clouds.

"Contact made. You will be making one plus one landings. New zone is ghost. Original zone is hot."

Murdock glanced over at his co-pilot, "Ghost?"

"It's a fake out." Long explained. "Should we call in the fast movers to clear the zone?" The co-pilot suggested. "If gomers are waiting we won't be able to pick up without risk."

"Let's see what we got before calling in the cavalry." Murdock said as he guided the chopper in an arch towards the southeast section of the clearing. "Maybe there's a reason why we're doing this solo," Murdock added. At the high point of the arch, the Captain glanced back at his crew, "Trombetta, how about to pop off a few shots to get some attention, after that you are in a free fire zone."

"Sure thing Cap," The Flight Engineer called back as he grabbed onto their sole defensive weapon.

"What the hell do you think is going on down there?" Long asked as he scanned the clearing. "I don't see anything so why the fake out?"

Murdock shrugged, "You're the expert here. Maybe RECON want's us to draw their attention before going to the original plan." He grinned and stole a quick glance at the Lieutenant, "But I think it's a good plan."

"It's your call Captain," Long said in a tone that indicated his disapproval. "But I gotta remind you that we're not built for combat and we're running solo."

"Gotcha," Murdock said with a quick glance over at Long. "Guess everybody better hang on back there."

"Huh?" The co-pilot spat out.

The Captain was too busy calculating out the choppers abilities and possible maneuvers to answer. Coming out of the arch, Murdock leveled the chopper and made a pass towards the clearing towards the southeast corner. The chopper dipped below the tree line as they neared the bogus location as it prepared to hover as if running a pickup. As the chopper dropped, and the elephant grass below danced to life, swirling in time with the downdraft.

"Hang on guys!" Lieutenant Long shouted as he began to scan the forest for unfriendlies.

Murdock turned and rocked the chopper as he brought it down to hover a few feet off the ground. There had been no firing to warrant the evasive maneuvers, but he wanted to test the bird's capabilities before they were actually needed. With their hearts in their throats the crew waited for something to happen. Their wait was short, and less than a minute passed before they heard the rounds being fired at a distance. Manning the M-60 on the right, Trombetta cut loose with 50 rounds into the forest edge.

Watching from a distance, the RECON Colonel held up a hand and signaled his squad forward. When the radioman crawled up beside him, the Colonel spoke without taking his eyes off the enemy movements. "Contact the chopper, let them know that they will be overrun in less than two minutes. Have them hold position for 90 seconds."

"They're not going to like it." The radioman commented as he followed the order.

Part 6

As the RECON team watched the NVA race towards the chopper, the crew of the chopper watched the oncoming storm of angry bullets. " . . . . you're to hold for 90 seconds," called a voice over the radio static.

"Are they nuts?" Long shouted as he nervously watched the tree line. He knew from experience that the NVA were only shooting blind at the moment and the chances of being hit were pretty slim. The trees on the other hand were sure to be taking casualties. The moment the NVA cleared the trees the story would be different. "Why the wait? The original LZ has got to be clear enough for us to make the hop."

"I won't risk the chopper or my crew." Murdock assured him stiffly, "We've been given instructions, and we follow them unless there's just cause. Keep your eyes open and just give me the facts of what's out there."

Long turned and looked at the Captain. In a flash of an instant, the co-pilot's face reflected a decision being considered. He didn't like the situation he was in, it made him feel further out of control than he normally felt on a rescue. He had his doubts about the situation he was in, but there was something in the pilot's air of confidence that won theLieutenant over. In a second, he came to a decision. "You're the boss," He said before turning back to watch the tree line.

"Here they come!" Shouted the Pararescueman

Wendel's announcement was quickly followed by the sound of bullet's ricocheting off the shell of the chopper. Murdock horizontally inched the chopper away from the advancing troops as Trombetta returned fire, laying a line of lead over the advancing line of North Vietnamese troops.

The enemy firing continued and the hits became more than misses. That was enough for Murdock. The Captain bellowed out an ear-splitting howl as he lifted the bird up like a rocket, and headed south away from the gunfire. Once clear, he turned the chopper, he raced high over the heads of the stunned Vietnamese troops.

With the chopper was safely away, Long shook his head in disbelief. "Did you see their faces? You're fucking crazy Murdock."

Trombetta stuck his head between the two pilots and grinned. "They expected us to head south and run."

Murdock smiled at his crew, but remained silent as his co-pilot and Flight Engineer discussed what had just happened. The Captain didn't have the same luxury. His concentration had to remain focused on getting back to the original LZ before the enemy troops could turn back to meet them. "Jolly Green 24 to RED Nine. Be ready to load, we're coming in fast," Murdock called out over the radio as he brought the chopper back down below the tree line on the opposite end of the clearing.

As the chopper neared the ground, five men darted through the elephant grass, followed by a sixth who followed at a slower, more relaxed pace. Trombetta and Wendel hung onto the side of the open door and leaned out to offer a hand up to the men as they reached the chopper. All five men were stowed in the back by the time the sixth made it to the chopper. Ignoring the hands being offered to help him in the Colonel launched himself up into the chopper and sat in the open door with his feet braced against the skids.

"Everyone's in!" Wendel called up into the cockpit. "Almost," he added under his breath as he glanced at the Colonel.

Lifting the chopper, Murdock turned the chopper back over their first drop point and headed for home. As they passed back over the NVA, the Captain looked back to see a grinning Colonel leaning out and waving a gleeful good-bye to the enemy. Shaking his head, the pilot decided that he didn't want to understand the contrasts that Vietnam was turning out to be.

The trip back to Da Nang was thankfully a quiet one. It almost seemed as if the crew was overwhelmed with the uniqueness of this mission and the cockiness of the RECON team they had just retrieved.

Back at base, Shipton was waiting for Jolly Green 24's return. Pacing back and forth, he mentally reviewed the confrontation he had just come from. Colonel Martin had let him rant for only a few minutes. After that, Martin had ordered him to leave, and he had issued a warning. "All pilot's belong to me, remember that!" Martin had said, leaving no room for argument or discussion. A shiver raced up Shipton's spine as he remembered the look on Martin's face as he ended the conversation. "Murdock is mine and don't you forget it." The LtCol was split between thankfulness that he wasn't Murdock, and a real fear for the kid's life. Martin had it in for the kid.

As the wayward Jolly Green finally made it's appearance, Shipton stepped closer to the point where the chopper would come down. When the chopper finally set down, Shipton ducked down and raced towards the Captain's side of the cockpit. Murdock spotted him and leaped out of the chopper to meet his CO halfway. "What's up sir?" Murdock yelled to be heard over the sound of the rotors as they shut down.

Before Shipton could answer the RECON team passed them as they headed away from the chopper, "Thank's for the lift kid." Colonel Smith called out as he and his men. "Stop into the local pub Friday night and I'll buy ya a beer."

Murdock nodded and waved his acknowledgment to the RECON Colonel before turning back to his CO to wait for an answer.

"We need to talk." Shipton said in an ominous tone.

*~*~*

That night, Murdock sat motionless in his chopper watching the sun set. The conversation with Shipton that afternoon had disturbed him more than the Captain had let on during the conversation. Shipton was worried, and although Murdock had brushed it off, he was worried too. At that moment, while he was alone, Murdock allowed himself the luxury of being the 19 year old kid that he was instead of the experienced 25 year old the rest of the world saw. Tears streamed down his face unchecked as he thought of the pressures that now sat heavily on his shoulders. 'All I wanted to do was fly.' Murdock thought to himself.

Everything had gone fine up until the end of his tour as a Thunderbird. "Lies will catch up with ya, HM." his grandfather had warned. "They caught up with me Grandpa," Murdock said sadly into the empty chopper. "My world is spinning out of control, and if playing spook doesn't get me killed, Colonel Martin or this war will."

Looking through the windshield of his chopper, Murdock looked up into the sky. 'Mama, I'm in over my head, and it's all my fault.' he thought to himself. For a moment Murdock could almost feel his mother's presence, and when that feeling was gone he was left with a vivid memory of a song his mother sang to him when he needed comforting. Maybe it was wishful thinking, maybe not.  All he knew was that he needed something to help him cope with what was beyond his control, and right now that was just about everything.

Closing his eyes to block out the last views of the setting sun, Murdock began to sing, "You are my sunshine, my only sun shine . . . ."

*~*~*

Returning to base from a simple patrol, Murdock was met by Shipton after he and Murray had landed their choppers. From the look on his CO's face, Murdock knew that it wouldn't be good news.  After hopping out of his chopper, Murdock ducked down and ran towards Shipton. "What's up boss?" Murdock shouted over the noise of the choppers.

"Martin wants to see you." Shipton replied in a tone low enough to be heard. When Murdock nodded to acknowledge his CO, Shipton added, "Keep me informed."

Murdock acknowledged with a salute and took off towards the Jolly Green Headquarters. He didn't have a clue as to why Martin had summoned him, but considering how pleasant their first meeting had been, Murdock was pretty sure that this one was going to be just as ugly.

When he arrived, the Captain paused in front of the Jolly Green Head Quarters long enough to gaze at the doors and the Jolly Green motto and mentally reviewed everything that had happened since his arrival. He had done nothing wrong, and in fact, he had done a few things that he could be proud of. Shrugging his shoulders, he figured it would be best to get it over with rather than spend his time guessing.

Stepping into the hardback tent, Murdock found himself alone. "Hello?" He called out. The sound of silence caused the hair on the back of his neck to stand on end, and the Captain began to suspect that Martin was setting him up for something.

Stepping further into the building, the pilot inched towards the Colonel's desk. "Colonel Martin?" When he reached the desk, Murdock stretched to peer over the desk. Just when he was convinced that he was about to find a dead body behind the desk a hand reached out and tapped him on the shoulder.

"Ahhh!" Murdock cried out in surprise as he turned quickly to face whatever had touched him. As he turned he stumbled slightly and knocked over a few items on the Colonel's desk. When he found a sergeant with an amused look on his face the Captain quickly snapped out, "Don't do that!"

"You should be more observant." The sergeant replied flatly.

"I was told that the Colonel wanted to see me." The Captain said loudly to cover his own rattled nerves. "I didn't expect to find anyone lurking in the shadows."

The look on the Sergeant's face turned cold. "We only have a few moments Captain." He said in a serious tone.

"Oh?" Murdock responded curiously, realizing that he had not seen this particular Sergeant in the tent on his last visit.

The Sergeant frowned, "I'm your contact."

The pilot furrowed his brows and eyed the man suspiciously. "Contact for what?" He had been told that he would be contacted when there was a mission, but so soon?

"The empress calls to all who are able." The Sergeant droned sarcastically. "Those who are able will call from the shadows."

Murdock took a deep breath. That was the code that he had been told to expect. "Whatcha got for me?"

The Sergeant pulled an envelope from inside his shirt and opened it. "The Chinese are supplying the NVA with weapons and supplies. We have several operatives inside the supply network who have been sabotaging the equipment and supplies being sent across the border." He pulled a paper from the contents of the envelope and handed it to the Captain. "Three days ago there was a break in our communications line and we've lost contact with the network."

"So you need someone to go in and reestablish communications?" Murdock asked.

"Exactly." The Sergeant responded pulling a small photograph and handing it over. "We need you to go in disguised as a Russian who has been sent to evaluate the possibility of furthering the Communist cause in North Vietnam. You'll meet with this man, Sung Lau Cho." He said indicating the picture, "and ask to evaluate the network. We have already laid the groundwork for your appearance and have set up channel's to confirm your identity if they check." The man looked at the Captain suspiciously. "You do speak Russian don't you?"

"Da, nyet prablyem (Yes, no problem)," Murdock said without thinking as he looked at the pinched face of the Cho character carefully before handing it back. "Der'mo, etot trudnasti (Shit, this is complicated.)"

"English please," The Sergeant snapped.

Murdock looked confused for a moment before realizing that he had been speaking Russian, "Sorry." He apologized quickly. "I said this is complicated. How the heck am I going to get out of here without causing some suspicion, and will anyone really believe that I'm a Russian?"

"Martin will take care of getting you out of here." The sergeant took on a satisfied look. "He won't realize he's doing it though. He has been ordered to give up one of his pilots for a insertion up north."

"And since he obviously doesn't like me, you think he's going to send me." Murdock asked, not liking the thought of how convenient it was that he had been assigned to a unit where the CIA would be able to use his CO's grudge to their advantage.

"Exactly." The Sergeant replied. "After dropping off the Special Forces team, you're going to have mechanical trouble." The man looked carefully at the Captain. "Your chopper will go down and you will be reported MIA for the time it takes to complete the mission."

"What?!" Murdock blurted out. "You're expecting me to crash a chopper? Are you nuts?"

The Sergeant ignored the Captains interruption and continued, handing him another slip of paper, "You will be going down at these coordinates. There you will be met by another operative who will supply you with the remainder of the information you need to complete your mission."

After memorizing the coordinates, Murdock handed the paper back to the Sergeant. "What happens when it's over?" He said out loud while thinking, 'What happens if I survive?'

"Simple, you return to friendly lines with a story of how you found your way back through the jungle after going down."

Murdock frowned, "There seems to be so many holes in this plan, I can't see how it will convince to anyone."

"The operative you meet after going down will provide all the information you will need." The Sergeant assured. "We can not take the chance of providing you with all the information up front in case something happens that places you in the hands of the enemy. It's for your own safety as well as in the interest of National Security."

"That's reassuring," Murdock said sarcastically.

"I have to go." The Sergeant said as he started to leave.

Before Murdock could protest or ask any questions, his contact slipped out of the hut. Shaking his head, the Captain reached up and rubbed the back of his neck to ease the tension that had begun to grow during the conversation with the mysterious sergeant.

TBC


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