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Title: To Catch a Star

To Catch a Star

by Murdock's Doc

 

Rating: R

Warnings: Violence, Anguish, Lot's of Foul language.

Summary: Vietnam era fic. After the events in Blazing Star, a struggle between Commanding Officers places Murdock in the middle. Before there is an outcome to the battle between CO's, tragedy strikes and a grieving Murdock is sent on another CIA mission that ends up going sour.

Comments: They really would be appreciated. 

Disclaimer: I don't own them, I don't profit from them, I just love them.

 

 

H H H H H H H H H H H H H

 

Part 1

 

"Captain, have you ever consider testing the full range of your talents?"

 

The question rolled though his mind and caused Murdock to grunt in disgust

before rolling over in his bunk to avoid the other thoughts that always

followed. It had started out as a simple meeting in the local bar for a beer to

say thank you, and had turned out to become a conversation that had been

haunting him for over a month.

 

"I've been able to test my talents Colonel, I've flown with the Thunderbirds."

 

The Captain could almost see himself grinning with pride as he delivered that

statement. To most of the free world the Thunderbirds were the undeniable "best

of the best" when it came to the air. The Colonel hadn't been impressed. The

pilot remembered waiting for a response, feeling a bit stupid for his boasting.

After a long pause, the Colonel had eyed him critically as he asked a question

that the pilot hadn't expected.

 

"Does that mean you've found the limit of your talents?"

 

The Captain should have seen the set up. Thinking back, any moron could see

that it was a trap big enough to catch an elephant. Unfortunately, the Captain

had fallen into the trap, hook, line, and sinker.

 

"Hell no, I know I haven't reached my limit yet."

 

The Colonel had silently listened to the pilot's response, with a gleam in his

eyes. He was pleased with the response. After taking a long drag from his

cigar, and slowly blowing the blue grey smoke into the air, the Colonel had

leaned forward and issued his offer.

 

"My team needs a pilot who's not afraid of a challenge."

 

Murdock rolled over again and opened his eyes. In the shadows, the Captain

could see that Murray's bunk was empty. 'At least I'm not the only one who

can't sleep.' Murdock thought to himself. Sighing heavily, the pilot pushed

himself off his bunk and headed out into the night to look for a kindred soul.

 

Stepping out of the hooch, Murdock glanced briefly up into the cloudy night

sky. "What's with you and the stars buckaroo?" Murray asked drunkenly from the

shadows. "Ol' doggie boy looking for a star to howl at," he added with a

snicker.

 

Murdock smiled and turned to the teasing. He shook his head in disbelief upon

finding his friend spread out on the ground at the corner of the hooch. "You're

such an ass Monkey."

 

Murray snorted, "It's hereditary, I only hope to live long enough to become a

big enough ass to make by mum and dad proud."

 

Murdock chuckled and sat down beside his friend and took the bottle being

offered. After a long swig of Murray's best friend for the night, the Captain

leaned back against the hard side of the hooch.

 

"SSSSSShare." Murray protested as he slapped Murdock's shoulder and held he

hand out for the return of the bottle.

 

Murdock took another drink from the bottle and handed it back. "Thanks buddy."

 

Murray took a drink and glanced over at his friend. "What got you up tonight?

Beginning to feel like pull toy for the big brass yet?"

 

The Captain frowned at Murray's suggestion. Although he hadn't said anything to

anyone about Smith's offer, the rumor mill was in full force with a precision

that only the military could muster. Hell, he had heard the rumors himself.

Someone had heard Colonel Smith ask Martin about reassigning one of his pilots.

Next day, word was out that there had been a loud argument and Smith had told

Martin that the kid was better off getting transferred then set up by his own

CO. "Listening to rumors again Monkey? I thought you were smarter than that."

Murdock said indifferently.

 

"Don't bullshit me Howlin'," Murray snorted as passed the bottle back to his

friend. "We all know Smith wants you in his unit. Me and the guy's, we think

it's a good idea."

 

"I don't like ya'll talkin behind my back," Murdock snapped as he waved off the

bottle. "I ain't going no where, and you know it. Anyway, Martin would never

approve a transfer, it would deprive him of a chance to make my life miserable."

 

"Yeah, I heard Martin's havin a snit fit over the number of requests Smith's

been making." Murray said with a slur. "Guess the big bad ass Colonel really

wants ya pretty bad. Sure is a persistent guy."

 

"Nutton but rumors ya dumb ass," Murdock said with a deep sigh. "Even if Martin

decided to get rid of me, ain't no way the Air Force is gonna give one of their

pilots to the Army."

 

"As you're livin and breathin me boy, ye have ta believe that anything can

happen." Murray said in a badly butchered Irish accent. Murray looked over at

his fellow pilot and noted the pinched expression as his friend asked another

question. "Do you want to go?"

 

"Just shut up Monkey," Murdock snapped, "I really don't want to talk about

this."

 

"Sure ya do," Murray challenged with a chuckle, "Why the hell else would you be

out here with me if your didn't want to talk?"

 

Murdock closed his eyes, "What difference does my opinion really make, I have

no control over where I go or where I'm assigned, or even what I do." He was

thinking more of the control that the CIA had over his destination.

 

After taking a long drink from his bottle, Murray responded. "Ya know, you're

right." Murray said sadly, "Ain't a damn think we can do about anything, cept

get drunk or go crazy."

 

The younger man sighed and the two men fell silent for several minutes. Murray

leaned over and handed the bottle to Murdock. "So ya wanna go?" The drunk pilot

whispered.

 

Murdock took two large gulps from the bottle and gritted his teeth as it burned

its way to his stomach. When the burn let up, he muttered, "Yeah, I do."

 

Murray chuckled as he reached for his bottle, "Then stop being such a bonus for

Martin."

 

With a look of shock on his face, Murdock turned to the older man. "You mean

screw up? I can't do that." he said in shock. Too many lives depended on him

giving everything he had while in the air.

 

"You're a fuckin twit you know that?" Murray snapped back, "I meant give him a

reason to think you're not worth the kudos he gets for your ace flying."

 

As drunk as Murray was, he seemed to have hit on something. "You mean act crazy

or get busted? I can't do either. Nothing personal, but I've worked too hard to

get into the Air Force, and I'm not about to screw it up just to get a

transfer."

 

Snorting loudly, Murray grabbed the bottle and held it close. "You're smart, or

at least I think you are," he said with a slur as he reached up to scratch the

back of his head. "Or maybe it's me that's smart." Murray paused to think

through the drunken haze that was seriously fogging his mind before he

continued. "Well whoever is smart can figure it out. Got to be some way to play

a happy balancing act that will keep you out of trouble."

 

Relaxed from the effects of the alcohol, Murdock closed his eyes and decided to

give Murray's idea some thought. "Hey Monkey?" Murray grunted in response as he

hugged his bottle close. "We need to get some sleep, we're in the air

tomorrow." Murdock said to the older man.

 

"Hey Murdock?" Murray grumbled, "Shut the fuck up, I'm trying to pass out here."

 

 

 

Part 2

 

Just past the Hai Van Pass to the west, two Jolly Green Huey's headed north

toward the Quang Tri province on a mid afternoon patrol. Both Marines and Army

platoons had faced several days of fierce fighting over the past few days in

Quang Tri and the good guys had taken some back some ground from the NVA.

Unfortunately there was a price paid for every inch of soil and the Jolly

Green's had been running regular trips north then south to shuttle the injured

or dead. For the moment, all battle fronts were quiet and it looked as if

Murdock and Murray would reach Quang Tri only to returning empty.

 

'This is heaven,' Murdock thought as he nudged his chopper a higher into the

sky. The winds were light, the sky was clear, and for the moment all was

peaceful in his little neck of the woods. Glancing down to his left, Murdock

spotted Murray's chopper rising to join him in a parallel position. 'He's a

little slow today,' the pilot thought to himself. Reaching up to his helmet,

Murdock activated the ship to ship intercom. "JG 26, you awake over there?"

Murdock teased, "How about a com check?"

 

"Communications confirmed," came a crackled response.

 

"Response green," the younger pilot replied. "You okay Monkey?" He asked as a

feeling of apprehension rose up in his gut. With Murray, a com check response

usually amounted to a "fuck off" or "pucker up and kiss my Irish arse".

 

"Something's out of place 24," came a tense response, "Can't pinpoint it, but I

got a funny feeling."

 

Gulping nervously, Murdock shot a quick glance at the chopper flying off to his

left. "Anything I should look for?" The Captain asked quickly.

 

"Don't know buddy, right now it's just a feeling."

 

"Roger that 26, Jolly Green 24 out," Murdock said as he turned assure himself

that his crew was on alert. When he turned back, he found his co-pilot looking

at him curiously. "Keep your eye's open Birdy." Murdock shouted in response to

the unasked question..

 

Lt. Long cocked his head slightly and curiosity turned to confusion. "Intel

says this area's clear, nothing down there but the good guys."

 

For a moment, Murdock looked as if he'd seen a ghost. A month ago he had nearly

been killed due to an Intel screw up, not once, but twice. Swallowing his own

emerging feeling of dread, the Captain shouted firmly, "Humor me Birdy and keep

your eyes peeled. I ain't got too much faith in Intel."

 

Long frowned and hesitantly nodded. "You're call," he replied loudly before

turning to scan the ground below. After fourty-five minutes of vigilant watch,

Lieutenant Long was almost surprised when he spotted puffs of red smoke rising

up from the jungle just after entering the Quang Tri province. "Red Smoke! We

got a pick up!" He called out with excitement.

 

"Contact base, find out if its been called in!" Murdock shouted as he opened

communications with Jolly Green 26. "Eleven o'clock JG 26"

 

"Spotted," Murray replied tensely.

 

"JG 24 to Base, repeat, Jolly Green 24 to Base" Long recited into his

microphone, "Red smoke sighted without radio transmission, 24 and 26 advancing

for pick-up."

 

"Acknowledged 24. Negative contact at base, we'll radio if we get a unit ID"

came the reply transmission. "Proceed with pick up and advise when complete."

 

"Jolly Green 26 to base, request fast mover assistance," Murray interrupted

before Long could respond.

 

As Captain Murray gave their coordinates Long looked over at Murdock with a

frown. "What the hell is he calling in the jets for? Isn't that kinda

overkill?" Long shouted loud enough to be heard over the changing pitch of the

rotors as their chopper maneuvered in line behind Murray's ship. Murdock

flashed the Lieutenant a look that amounted to "Later".

 

"Acknowledged 26, fast movers are scrambling, ETA 5 minutes." Base replied.

 

"Jolly Green 26 to Jolly Green 24, I'm taking point." Murray's tight voice said

over the crackle of the radio.

 

"Roger 26, we'll watch your ass." Murdock said as he cut his speed to about

twenty knots and leveled off his chopper in line behind Murray's.

 

Circling around what had been rice paddies before their dividing walls had been

blown to dust by mortars, the Huey's dipped low and began their approach

towards the edge of the clearing marked by the billowing red smoke. The moment

they dropped down to glide along the flat land, time seemed to slow.

 

Hanging out of the open cargo doors of the chopper, Trombetta was the first to

spot something out of place. "Movement! Movement!" he called out as the edge of

the jungle edge suddenly came alive as dozens of NVA appeared from behind trees

and brush. As the Sergeant shouted a second warning, a blinding flash erupted

from the clearing.

 

In shock, the crew of Jolly Green 24 watched a mortar arch towards the lead

helicopter. "Murray, get the Fuck out of there!" Murdock screamed out over the

radio as he tightened his grip on the controls of his own ship.

 

Jolly Green 26 tilted skyward and began to move forward. The hull of the ship

groaned loudly as the chopper made its attempt to leap out of the path of the

incoming shell. A moment of relief existed for Murray's crew as the main body

of the chopper lifted skyward, but it didn't last long.

 

The tail of Murray's chopper exploded into a ball of flame when the shell

impacted. The tail disintegrated in the explosion, sending tiny bits of

shrapnel razors flying in all directions. The chopper continued moving forward

in the air, until suddenly gravity brought it down to slide uncontrolled along

the ground. Twisted and abused metal screamed in protest as the the right skid

was ripped away, tilting the wounded bird on its side.

 

The main rotors bit into the mud and another mighty groan sounded as the blade

assembly tore away from the body of the chopper. Freed from the chopper, the

rotor assembly lifted up a couple feet into the air. Just when it looked as if

they would fall back to earth the fuel tank of the chopper exploded and sent

the blades spinning through the tall grass and into the jungle.

 

The horrifying death of Murray's chopper took less than a minute from start to

finish, and once it lay burning, time seemed to return to normal. Shrapnel

pelted Murdock's bird and he guided it left over the area of jungle where the

blast had come from.

 

"Jolly Green 26 down!" Long shouted hysterically into his microphone, "Repeat,

Jolly Green 26 down, we're under fire." Any response was drowned out by the

shouting of the crew.

 

"Incoming!" Wendel and Trombetta screamed in unison as the enemy below turned

their attention to the air. Murdock turned sharply and weaved, throwing Wendel

into the netting at the back of the Huey.

 

Long glanced down and spotted the spinning mortar flying towards them. "Headed

for the nose!" He shouted.

 

Murdock pushed the Huey into a 180 degree turn and headed back to the clearing.

The mortar whizzed past their tail, Trombetta began to fire into the jungle.

The still burning body of Jolly Green 26 came into view and reality hit both

the pilot and the co-pilot hard.

 

"oh god" Murdock whispered softly as he spotted the shadows of human forms in

the flames. Beside him Long leaned forward and vomited between his legs. The

Captain could feel his stomach churning, but he didn't have the luxury of

losing it just yet.

 

Below, the NVA was growing bold with their victory. Leaving the shelter of the

tree line, the enemy troops moved into the open to shoot at the remaining

helicopter without fear. They had tasted blood and they obviously wanted more.

 

As the enemy blasted holes into his chopper, Murdock fought against sluggish

controls to push forward onto the sky. The tail rotor was slow to respond, and

the Captain suspected that the cables had been damaged. A sense of urgency

filled his mind as he mentally reviewed what would happen if he lost full

control of the tail rotor. 'The spin'll be ten times worse than the tea cup

ride at Disneyland,' he thought to himself.

 

Behind him, Trombetta yelped when a bullet pierced his upper arm, and he fell

back heavily between the cockpit seats. Murdock stole a second to glance back

to check his Flight Engineer, and be breathed a sigh of relief when he saw an

arm wound. "Get him when you can Wendel!" the Pilot called out.

 

"Sandies get your god damn asses over here," Murdock snapped outloud as he

spotted the distant trails of incoming jets. Beside him Long screamed as a

bullet burst through the bulkhead, through his leg and smashed into the radio

console. The Huey choked and the controls paused. "Damn it!" Murdock shouted as

his left fist reached out and beat the dials in front of him. "Don't do this to

me baby, we need ya to hang on." When power returned, he pushed south past the

clearing. "Long's hit!" Murdock screamed back to Wendel.

 

Two swift flying jets screamed past the limping helicopter, releasing their

deadly cargo simultaneously into the clearing and the jungle beyond. "We're

clear," Long gasped as the chopper shook from the concussions of exploding

bombs cleared the area behind them. "Sandies got em," the co-pilot said in a

voice filled with sorrow and pain.

 

"Not yet!" Murdock replied stiffly as he fought to keep his wounded chopper in

the air. "Good chance we gonna go down before getting home."

 

"We shouldn't even be alive," Long said weakly. "Trust ya. . . " He whispered

as he passed out.

 

 

 

Part 3

 

Halfway between the city of Hue and Hai Van Pass, Shipton and Jarvis dropped

their choppers in beside Murdock's struggling bird to escort him home. With the

choking bird demanding his full attention, Murdock couldn't give the new

arrivals anything more than a quick glance and a wave to acknowledge their

presence.

 

"Hey Cap!" Wendel called out, "They're trying to signal you!"

 

"I'm kinda busy right now!" Murdock impatiently shouted back as he jiggled the

stick to keep the chopper flying straight. "Tell em to leave a message!"

 

"Colonel want's us to land Cap!" Wendel shouted as he poked his head forward

into the cockpit.

 

The Captain frowned, and the chopper coughed and dropped a couple feet. After

kicking the right pedal, the bird lifted back up again. "That what you think we

should do Wendel?" Murdock shouted tensely.

 

The pararescueman paused to think for a moment, and he watched the pilot

struggle to keep the chopper aloft. "Anybody but you flyin and I'd say land

this pig," Wendel finally shouted after careful consideration, "but I think

you'll be able to bring us home."

 

Murdock stole a quick glance at his fellow Texan, and could see the

stubbornness in the man's eyes, the same prideful obstinacy that was native to

all from the Lone Star State. Despite the grief he was feeling, the look on

Wendel's face brought a slight look of determination to his own. "You bet!"

Murdock shouted, "Let'em know we're goin home under our own power!"

 

Wendel grinned and withdrew from the cockpit to send the signal to Shipton's

chopper. A few moments later, Murdock glanced over at his CO's chopper and

noticed that Shipton looked pissed. "What the hell did you tell him Wendel,"

Murdock shouted.

 

A few seconds passed and Wendel stuck his head back into the cockpit, "They

wouldn't take no for an answer so I flipped them the bird." Wendel said in a

voice that was barely auditable over the noise of the blades beating overhead.

 

"shit" Murdock hissed under his breath as he took another quick glance at his

Commanding Officer. Gritting his teeth for a moment, he imagined the chewing

out he would get later for the action of his crewman, he finally shouted back,

"I guess I can live with that."

 

"Good!" Wendel replied loudly, "Cuz I told em the message was from you!"

 

Pursing his lips tightly, Murdock gave Wendel a quick glare. "Thanks a lot," he

called out dryly. "Now get your ass back there and check on Long and Trombetta."

 

An hour later Murdock's wounded chopper circled on its final approach towards

Da Nang. Even at a distance, the pilot could see a crowd gathering to greet

their arrival home. 'They sure as hell don't give me much room to land,'

Murdock thought to himself. As the Captain dipped into the final approach, the

chopper choked again and tilted to the left. The Captain paled from the sudden

and very vivid visions racing through his mind of a fiery crash into the crowd

below. The images were enough the throw him into a panicked fight to regain

control.

 

When the chopper finally leveled out, Murdock looked ahead to the landing zone

and silently thanked god that the crowd had backed off in the face of danger.

At least there was a positive side to the last struggle for control. With the

crowd scattered he now had more room to land. 'Now or never,' the Captain

thought to himself as he took a deep breath and pushed his chopper down. "Hang

on!" Murdock shouted to the back of the chopper as he decreased power and aimed

for the center of the landing pad. A few yards from the target, the Huey choked

again and died. The blades above screamed a protest as the steady beating

quickly became a shrieking whoosh. With the lift power gone, the chopper

dropped, bounced forward several times then slid several feet until it finally

came to a stop a few feet from its target.

 

Dazed by the less than perfect landing, Murdock watched in awe as the crowd of

medics rush forward like a wave racing for the shore. The movement itself

signaled an end to the stresses of the past few hours and he began to shiver

slightly in response to the shock. Deep in his own private nightmare of

memories, the Captain jumped when something touched his shoulder. It took a few

moments longer to realized that someone was talking to him. "What?" he asked

weakly.

 

"They're taking Long and Trombetta," Wendel said softly. "If it's okay with

you, I'd like to go with them."

 

Murdock nodded, "I'll be at the hospital as soon as I can."

 

"Cap," Wendel said as he squeezed Murdock's shoulder, "They wanted me to tell

you thanks for getting them home."

 

The Captain's voice momentarily caught in his throat and he offered a nod in

response. When Wendel disappeared, Murdock turned his head and rested his

forehead on the glass portion of the door to watch the medics carry his men

away on stretchers. 'Could I have done anything different?' the Captain asked

himself as his heart twisted in pain. After only a moment, the Captain was

unable to watch his men being carried off any longer. The pilot turned away

from door and bent forward to hide his face in his hands.

 

The pain the pilot felt inside was something he couldn't even describe to

himself. Coping with the sight of death and injuries was a lesson quickly

taught in the first days since arriving in Vietnam, but this was something

different and it was tearing him up inside. The countless faces of injured and

dead he had carried from the front lines flashed through his mind, but none had

been so close and none had been injured or killed before his eyes. This hurt so

much more, and his heart ached for the time he no longer had to spend with his

friend. Breath caught in his throat, and he choked out an agonizing cry while

tears began to flow unchecked.

 

Twenty minutes later, Lieutenant Colonel Shipton cautiously opened the pilot

side door of the battered chopper. In an almost fatherly gesture, the older man

placed a hand gently on Murdock's back. "Captain?" he asked softly, "do you

need help getting out?"

 

"I'm okay," Murdock said hoarsely through his hands. His body shivered from the

release of emotion. "Gimme a minute." The pilot added between soft sniffles as

he fought to get himself back under control.

 

Shipton lightly patted the younger man's back. "Sure thing kid." He said

softly, "We'll wait for you." As promised, Shipton backed off and gently closed

the door behind him.

 

The minute turned out to be ten, but when Murdock emerged he had his emotions

locked down tight even though his red rimmed eyes betrayed the trauma he was

feeling. "You okay?" Jarvis asked with concern before Shipton had a chance to

do the same.

 

Murdock nodded stiffly and took a deep breath. "I know you need a report, but

I'd like to see my crew first." he said tightly.

 

"Your report can wait until tomorrow," Shipton replied quickly, "your crew is

more important than the paperwork."

 

"Thanks Colonel," Murdock said gratefully. Taking a couple steps in the

direction of the hospital, the Captain suddenly turned. "Martin know yet?" he

asked with a slight catch in his voice.

 

Shipton nodded and replied, "We told him." The Colonel paused for a moment and

eyed the Captain carefully, "He's approved my recommendation to take you off

the roster for a few days till we have a chance to get you a new Chopper and

arrange for any crew replacements needed."

 

Murdock's eyes narrowed and he said quickly, "Replacements?"

 

Shipton nodded, "Trombetta's going home for sure since he was due to rotate in

a few weeks anyway, Long's a maybe, but you have to be ready just in case."

 

Shivering, Murdock wrapped his arms tightly across his chest. "Everything

happened so fast." He finally said in a haunted voice, "I haven't been able to

think past right now."

 

Jarvis took a few steps toward the younger pilot and reached out to lay a

comforting hand on Murdock's shoulder. "You did good kid. Most of us, including

me, wouldn't have been able to bring that bird home."

 

"Damn thing had more holes in it than swiss cheese." Shipton added with a quick

jerk of his head towards the damaged chopper, "You should be proud."

 

Looking down, the last thing Murdock felt he could muster was pride. Murray and

his crew were dead, two from his own crew were injured, what the hell was there

to feel proud about.

 

 

TBC

 

 


To Catch A Star 1-3 by Murdock's Doc
To Catch A Star 4-9 by Murdock's Doc
To Catch A Star 10 by Murdock's Doc
To Catch A Star 11 by Murdock's Doc