Summary: Hannibal inadvertently finds his pilot, and the team begins to coalesce. Number four of the "Vietnam Chronicles."

Rating: PG

Episode Spoilers: None

Disclaimer: I don't own the A-team. They belong to Stephen J. Cannell. I do own the rest of the "Lady Crazy" crew, and anyone else who rode in the chopper this time, named or otherwise. The clerk belongs to i'mpeckable, who was agreeable to lending him out, and also to kicking any and all tails as needed.

Tenants of the Sky

Hannibal had to settle a few things before returning the call on Morrison. He sent BA to stake a claim on a recently emptied hooch. Peck needed a place to stay, and Hannibal preferred that it be near him. Military protocol dictated that senior and junior officers ought not to share quarters. Anyway, he liked his privacy, and he was sure Peck did too.

He'd arranged with BA to wait for Peck, while he conferred with Morrison. As BA had predicted, Morrison was not pleased with the addition to the team. But he had a mission for them-a bridge that needed "removal." Despite Hannibal's protests that the team wasn't quite ready, Morrison was insistent.

Morrison-at Hannibal's request-made a call for a helicopter crew. With Ray not yet released from the hospital, and Peck not arrived yet, Hannibal knew he would have to scrape a team together quickly. He sent BA to the CP to pull a squad, and to inform the staff there about Peck's arrival. Hannibal then headed for the operations shack for some hasty planning.

BA joined him there, accompanied by six men. Knowing BA's dislike for scrounging, Hannibal could only guess from where they'd been pulled. One especially, although the man's name escaped him at the moment, looked annoyed, as though it were inconvenient for him to be there.

Hannibal nodded acknowledgment of their presence. He looked at BA and asked, "Any sign of Peck?"

"Not yet," said BA. He glanced at his watch. "He got thirty minutes yet."

"True," admitted Hannibal. He sighed in exasperation. While he was known for pulling the proverbial rabbit-out-of-the-hat, he preferred a known team and some time for planning. He hoped BA's "volunteers" were up to it.

"What's the plan?"

Hannibal gestured at the map. "We need to take out this bridge," he stabbed a finger at a point on the map, "Here." He looked up at BA. "If we put the squad on perimeter guard, you and I can mine the bridge and get the hell out. Morrison's got us a chopper crew coming,"

BA grunted. "That colonel's in a hurry?" he questioned.

"Yeah," Hannibal scowled at the map, "We're gonna have to talk about that." He looked up at BA. "You get the explosives, and check on Peck. I'll get the scuba gear." Hannibal glanced at the rest of the makeshift team. "Tell those guys to check their gear. I don't want anyone going without a full load." He left the shack.

BA paused momentarily with the six men he had scrounged, giving them their orders. He headed out of the shack and toward the ammo dump. He drew the required items, signed the form, and then headed for the Command Post.

The word there was that someone had arrived, asking for Colonel Smith, and been sent to the colonel's quarters. BA growled acknowledgment at the clerk. He knew his attitude would probably egg the man into something stupid-like putting him on another patrol. At this point, he didn't care what the fool would do.

He headed for Hannibal's hootch. Someone loitered near the entrance, and as BA drew closer, he recognized Peck. The lieutenant carried a manila envelope under his arm.

He flinched slightly as BA came up to him, apparently remembering their last meeting. Setting down the case he carried, BA straightened and looked at him.

"Where's Colonel Smith?"

"He busy right now," BA said, "He'll see you when he get back."

Peck grinned. "He was in a hurry to see me before," he said lazily, "Now he doesn't have time?"

BA scowled, and Peck's grin faded slightly. BA crossed his arms as he eyed the officer. "Like I said," he repeated, "He busy." The scowl deepened, as he scrutinized the lieutenant. "We got somethin' t'take care of. When that done, then he talk t'you." He smiled at Peck. The smile was not encouraging. "Then you get t'see me."

Peck looked at him curiously, and shrugged. "So what am I supposed to do?" he asked.

BA didn't answer immediately. He picked up the crate, then paused. "You kin move in over there" he said, gesturing to the hootch Hannibal had claimed earlier. "Don't 'spect we'll be back any too soon." He met Peck's gaze. "But Hannibal's gonna want to see you when he get back. He ain't gonna go looking for you."

"Right," said Peck, eyebrows raised at the nickname. "Typical Army. Hurry up and wait."

BA shrugged. "You be there," he said. He hefted the crate to his shoulder, and walked away.

Peck watched him go. The label on the crate intrigued him, and the sergeant carried it as easily as a crate of papers. When the man had disappeared from sight, Peck turned and headed toward the previously indicated hootch.

BA walked into the operations shack and set down the crate. The rest of the team, scattered around tthe room, spoke in low voices as they waited. Hannibal and the chopper pilot--tall, thin, and vaguely familiar--leaned over the table, studying maps. Both men looked up as he approached the table, and a familiar pair of brown eyes met his.

"Hey, it's the big, ugly mud sucker." Murdock grinned and his eyes sparkled. He feigned disappointment at BA's puzzled look. "Ain't cha glad to see me?"

BA felt every eye watching him, as a sudden, shocked silence filled the room. He scowled at the pilot. It didn't work this time. "No," BA said shortly, "Don't like no crazy pilots."

The pilot gave him an exaggerated pout, "Aw, come on. Here I thought we could teach you to fly. Gonna have an empty seat when Pete gets his own bird." A fey light appeared in his eyes as the grin returned, "We don't have too many mudsuckers up there. Be something different."

"I said 'no'," the sergeant growled. The thought of trying to actually fly one of those things was terrifying. It was all he could do to ride in one, and hope the pilot was in control.

Hannibal glanced up, intrigued by the conversation. Most people backed off at this point. The pilot, however, didn't seem at all intimidated by BA.

The pilot's voice took on a wheedling tone, "I'm really hurt. Especially after all the fun we had last time." He sulked like a small child deprived of a treat.

BA stared at Murdock. He hadn't had any fun on that flight; wouldn't have thought the pilot did either. In fact, he was still surprised they made it back. "Fun?" he asked incredulously.

"Well, you weren't bored now, were you?" The grin bounced back, "Just like the ride at the county fair, gets the adrenaline going. All we needed was the cotton candy."

"Polanczyk around?" BA asked, tired of the word games. The pilot's circular reasoning confused him.

Murdock's grin grew. "He's out by the bird." He seemed to be daring BA to respond.

"Good" BA snarled, "Least he only fly with a crazy fool." He turned and walked back out the door before the situation could deteriorate further. Actually, he was glad to see the pilot, but would never tell him that.

Hannibal watched the sergeant leave, then turned back to the pilot. "What was that about?" he asked, intrigued by BA's behavior. The sergeant didn't let anyone talk to him that way. Given BA's dislike for flying and officers, how did he know this crew?

"Just an old friend," the pilot said dismissively as the laughter still danced in his eyes.

"A 'mud sucker'?" Hannibal asked carefully. Distracted by the mission set-up, he had paid little personal attention to the pilot. This man was just the next up on the duty roster; he still hadn't found the preferred pilot he was looking for.

"Well, he is," the pilot shrugged, looking at Hannibal puzzled. "You didn't notice?" He went back to studying the map and making calculations, again the professional pilot. There was no hint of the lighthearted person who had teased BA.

Hannibal decided to let it go; he could see the humor in it. This appeared to be something between the two men, and BA could deal with it. Hannibal made a mental note to check the pilot's file, in addition to talking to BA about the man. Someone who didn't fall apart dealing with the sergeant would be useful, if he could hold up his end of the team.

BA wandered out by the helicopters, looking for Murdock's. As he walked through the machines, he heard a familiar voice. In the noisy confusion of their last meeting, he hadn't realized how much the flat, midwestern twang reminded him of home. He stopped and watched for a moment, before recognizing Polanczyk. Cleaned up and rested, Cass looked much better than the last time BA had seen him, as had the pilot. The crew chief's pale blond hair gleamed in the sun as he handed boxes of ammunition up to another crewman inside the chopper. Their hogs, or M-60D machine guns, were lying across the seats.

As he lifted the last box, Cass caught sight of BA. He handed it up into the chopper, then turned and smiled as he greeted him, "Hey, long time no see. Are you going on this joyride too?" At BA's nod he went on, "We won't even make you work for your ride this time." He paused, smile turning mischievous, and added, "Unless you really want to, of course."

BA scowled. This seemed a continuation of his conversation with the pilot. Hanging out of a chopper door was not his idea of fun either, especially the ride he had with this crew. "Good," he responded, ignoring the last part. "Don't like flying no how." He swept his gaze over the chopper, stopping as the door plaque caught his eye. It read "Lady Crazy." Fits this crew.

Polanczyk was undeterred. "Sgt. Baracus had your gun the other day" he said to the other crewman, still in the chopper. He looked at BA and tipped his head to indicated the door gunner, "Remy St. James." He pronounced the last name, Sin-jen.

BA nodded in acknowledgment as he studied the black-haired, olive skinned crewman. "Call me BA," he said. Noting the Specialist Four patches on St. James flight suit, he continued, "None of us is officers."

Remy studied him in return before he slid down from inside, extending a hand. "Nice to meet you." His coal-black eyes seemed to issue a challenge, though he spoke amiably enough. "Something special about this run?" he asked, his accent from well south of the Mason-Dixon line. "We weren't given much notice."

BA shook hands as he puzzled out the door gunner's drawl. "Nah," he said carefully. Need to know. "Find out at the briefing. If the Colonel done wit' dat pilot." He looked curiously between the two gunners. "Why he talk like a fool?"

Remy raised an eyebrow, looking at Cass, whose face was carefully blank. "He doesn't appreciate Murdock's sense of humor," the crew chief answered somberly.

"He has one?" the specialist deadpanned, "I never noticed." Apparently, they had a lot of experience flying with the pilot as neither crewman cracked a smile.

BA rolled his eyes in frustration. This was as bad as talking to Murdock. Don't nobody here talk straight? Having to concentrate on Remy's unfamiliar accent only made things more difficult. He could feel a subtle tension as the crewmen watched him in silence.

"The kid is all right," Cass finally replied. "He just has a different sense of reality. You get used to it. He is also one hell of a pilot. I'm not sure who else could have gotten you out of that situation." He gave BA a warning look, his eyes hard, giving no sign of backing down.

"See you got the bird fixed," BA said, to change the subject, having no intention of starting a fight. Not now, anyway. "How about the fool? He OK?" As he spoke, he could feel the tension dissipate.

"He's fine," Cass made a dismissive gesture as he answered lightly. "A few stitches, a little rest, he's back to normal." The crew chief paused and grinned wickedly, "Well, for him, anyway." Moving to sit in the open cargo door, he continued, "Talked his way out of his problem with the CO, too." He shook his head briefly, digging in his pocket for his cigarettes. "I wish I knew how he does it. It sure would come in handy."

"Being grounded and stuck behind a desk isn't exactly what I call getting out of it," Remy corrected, as he leaned lazily against the chopper. The dark eyes remained wary while he unconsciously played with the knife he carried.

"Been in worse trouble. We all have," shrugged the crew chief, as he shot a challenging look at the other door gunner, who nonchalantly lifted a finger in an obscene gesture, without moving from his place against the chopper. Cass shook out a cigarette and lit it, leaning back against the seat, as he continued, "Anyway, we're here now." He laughed silently as he blew out the smoke and drew his feet up on the deck, obviously not feeling threatened as he made himself comfortable.

BA had caught the silent exchange, but still didn't understand what the others were referring to.

Cass explained further, "Most pilots hate to be grounded. There is little enough to do here. Murdock is probably one of the worst." His face lit up as he grinned. "Kind of like a junkie who can't get his fix." With a wave of his hand, he continued, "I think the CO let him off because he was driving everyone crazy."

"Why he in trouble?" BA persisted.

The two aircrewmen exchanged unreadable looks. "Let's just say he has a problem with the word 'No'," the crew chief shrugged again, evading the question. "Especially when it comes to flying. Anyway, we're set here. Remy?" he questioned, looking to the other door gunner.

Remy nodded. "Just waiting for the passengers."

"Passengers?" came a voice from behind BA, "Are we running a cruise ship?" He turned and saw Murdock standing there, watching them with a small smile. As BA looked closer, he saw the pilot's sharp eyes assessing the situation, prepared to intervene in defense of his crew if necessary.

"Didn't you tell him?" Cass asked Remy as he stood, putting out his cigarette.

The other door gunner shrugged, "Nah. We'd have to split the profits."

Sensing the unspoken communication under the clowning, BA scowled. He felt as though he was watching a movie where the characters didn't speak English and someone had forgotten the subtitles. Impatiently he turned, and saw the rest of the team walking toward the chopper. His scowl deepened, for they brought the crate he had left behind. Fool make me forgetful as well.

His attention was diverted as he overheard Cass talking to Murdock. "There might be a problem . . . ," Cass' voice faded off as the two of them stepped up in the doorway of the chopper and looked up into the rotor assembly.

BA glanced at Remy, who shrugged again, noncommittally, as he straightened. The door gunner also stepped up on the chopper, spoke briefly with the others and dropped back down, before walking away from the bird.

Looking back at the chopper, BA resisted the urge to join them. He was a good vehicle mechanic, but didn't have any training on helicopters. That didn't stop his fingers from itching to try.

The door gunner came back, accompanied by the peter pilot, who glanced curiously at the team as he went to meet the pilot. St. James checked the pilot's door guards were in place, then stood back from the chopper. He waited for the two in the cargo door to move out of his way, before he could complete his own setup.

Apparently satisfied, the crew chief ducked his head, crossing inside the chopper. He slid out the open door on the other side to pull the tie downs from the blades and check the copilot's door guards were secure, before returning to the cargo door for his lifeline and helmet.

Murdock stepped down from the door and spoke to Hannibal, as the colonel came up to the chopper, "Ready when you are, sir."

"Is there a problem?" Hannibal asked, concerned.

"No, sir," the pilot replied flatly, without elaborating. His eyes flicked a greeting to the peter pilot as he joined them.

Hannibal raised an eyebrow, but made no further comment. He nodded to the pilot, who stepped into the chopper, followed by the peter pilot. Hannibal spoke to the rest of the team, "Let's mount up."

As the team approached the helicopter, BA saw Sgt. Forsythe, the squad leader, bump St. James hard, pushing him back a step. It looked deliberate, but the door gunner only glared at the sergeant before returning to his preparations. BA glanced across the chopper and noted Polanczyk was also watching, a slight frown on his face.

The squad leader's superior smirk vanished when he saw BA watching him. BA filed that information and checked to see everyone was set. The team had quickly found places for themselves and their gear and were ready to go.

The chopper crew ran through the checklist as the door gunners collected their weapons and settled in. At the clear signal from both sides, they started up the bird. The tower gave them clearance and the Huey made a gunship takeoff, sliding along the ground like a plane, before gaining altitude.

As the bird lifted, a loud howl from the pilot startled the squad. The door gunners both grinned at the reactions, eyes meeting briefly in a quick exchange before turning to the open doors.

The flight was uneventful, almost boring. BA, sitting with his back to the cockpit, watched the door gunners lock and load as they cleared the perimeter fence. Not having a headset on this trip, the only way he had to communicate was to yell, which limited conversation. The inside of a Huey was noisy, cramped and uncomfortable, at least for the passengers. The aircrew was silent, very low-keyed today. Hannibal's rank probably had something to do with it.

This mission bothered him. Laid on hastily, he wasn't happy with the team they had. Forsythe was a bully, contemptuous of people who didn't meet his narrow standards, especially those he could push around. What was it with the door gunner?That seemed personal. Most of the rest of the team was a relative unknown, not something he preferred to risk his life on. Still, the colonel had a way of managing around these kinds of obstacles.

His thoughts turned to the new lieutenant. Way too green, in BA's book, even with that battlefield commission. Still, if he could get him trained properly, there were talents there that might come in handy. If they had more time for planning, this would have been a good time to see how he moved in the jungle.

His thoughts were interrupted as the pilot called back, "Thirty seconds, sir." Amused by the crew's attempts to keep communications clean, BA snorted and glanced forward. Not that Hannibal would care.

Murdock frowned as they approached the LZ. He had kept the bird low, almost in the treetops, hoping to hide their approach until the last possible moment. The colonel had insisted no Arc light, no arty, no LZ prep at all. With no escort either, Murdock could only cross mental fingers and hope that Charlie wasn't there waiting. Too many of his questions were brushed off with that trite phrase, 'Need to Know.' He could only hope that was true, or this would really be a Romeo Foxtrot. Sneaking around with a Huey was like trying to hide an elephant behind your back. Wonder why we even try?

Both door gunners stood in their respective doors as the Huey landed, scanning for targets. This landing zone was apparently cold, neither gunner fired. The team jumped off, running for the cover of the surrounding jungle.

After hearing the grunts had cleared the chopper, Murdock lifted off, banking in a turn for home. He had some other flights to make and hopefully could do a resupply before extracting this team.

The unit waited until the sounds of the Huey receded before moving silently through the jungle toward the bridge. The VC knew that choppers usually meant Americans, and a single Huey, without gunship escort, would be an easy target. Also, a lone chopper meant a small patrol, another easy target if caught unaware.

Hannibal quickly assessed their situation and sent BA on a point. Being the leader, he preferred to be in the middle of the group. As they moved out, Hannibal paused, hearing the squad leader mutter, "Hope that nigger don't get us lost." His eyes narrowed but he refrained from comment. Being in hostile territory, silence was essential.

They moved cautiously along the trail, so far not finding any booby traps. That didn't mean there weren't any, but not having to disarm or avoid them kept the unit on the move. They reached the bridge after several painstaking hours through the jungle, having taken a circuitous route to bring them upriver of the bridge. The squad moved to their assigned positions to provide cover while BA and Hannibal donned the scuba gear.

Dropping into the water some distance upstream, the two men moved undetected to the bridge, surfacing directly underneath. They exchanged looks, then scanned the area to make sure they were undetected. Attaching the explosives in the predetermined places, they set the timers to give them time to clear the area.

They moved downstream, exiting the water some distance from the bridge. As they did, they saw a large Charlie patrol on their side of the river, moving toward the bridge. The squad had shifted cover positions, from upstream of the bridge, to downstream as the demolition setup was completed. A quick glance at his watch and Hannibal groaned. Unless the VC patrol moved quicker, they would be on this side of the bridge when it blew. The team moved out, trying to put some distance between them and the bridge.

Out of sight of the bridge, they paused for Hannibal and BA to quickly strip out of the scuba gear, pile it together and set incendiaries. He hated to lose the gear, but they needed to move quickly. He waved his RTO over, reaching for the Prick-25 to call in the chopper. They would have to move up the rendezvous time and hope they reached the pickup point before being overrun.

After they had dropped off the team, the Lady Crazy's flight back to base had been more relaxed. Murdock tuned in the FM band and they listened to AFR as they flew. They picked up their second insert and delivered them also with no problems.

The third run was a catastrophe as they flew into a hot LZ, to extract another squad. There was a downed chopper there, burning fiercely. They could see the crew was still trapped in the wreckage. Since they were the first chopper landed in the LZ, they took the wounded, which seemed to take forever to load. The pilots waited uneasily, trying to ignore the burning chopper, before finally getting the clear signal. Both door gunners kept up a continuous stream of fire, on the ground and as they lifted. Once they cleared the AO, the chopper flew directly to the field hospital to off-load the wounded.

They had just lifted on a refuel and resupply run when the call came in. Murdock did some quick calculations, and realized the new timetable wouldn't allow time to return to base. Radioing the command post, he was informed there was not another chopper in position to make the pickup. They should have enough fuel, barely, and he questioned the door gunners, "If we go direct, can you make it on ammo?" He had already turned the chopper toward the rendezvous.

The door gunners had heard the radio communications and were already checking out their situation. "Should be OK," Cass replied, "Unless we get in another. . . ." He shrugged, not finishing the sentence. If they didn't make the pickup, Hannibal's squad probably wouldn't make it out of there.

"Let's do it," the peter pilot replied. He had been double-checking Murdock's calculations, coming to the same conclusion.

After concluding the communication with the pilot, the team moved out quickly, hoping to get some distance from the bridge before it blew. Unfortunately, the VC patrol spotted them. They quickly arranged cover positions, exchanging rounds in a firefight. It was basically a stalemate, until the bridge blew, distracting the VC. In the confusion, the team quickly retreated up the trail toward the LZ.

There were limited places for a chopper to land and Hannibal was aware the VC could be setting an ambush between his position and the LZ. Still, there wasn't much choice but to keep going. They wouldn't make it out of the area on foot. The jungle canopy covered the sky, making it impossible to see or hear the chopper before it arrived.

They paused briefly to regroup and do an ammo check. With limited supplies, they had to keep moving. Luckily there had been no casualties. Except for their radio, which had somehow been damaged in the skirmish, rendering it inoperative. Hannibal quickly checked their path with map and compass. The jungle had a way of confusing people and he needed to be sure of their direction to the Landing Zone. They watched and listened intently for the VC as they waited, but had no indication of their position.

The unit moved out again, BA again taking point. They knew the VC patrol was closing, and they didn't have the manpower for an extended battle. In 30 minutes the chopper would be at the rendezvous, an LZ about two klicks south. A walk in the park normally, but in this jungle it would be close. They hadn't detected any booby traps on the way in and hopefully, they wouldn't trip any on their way out. It was the one you didn't see that got you.

A rustling in the brush made him pause. He raised a hand and the patrol halted. BA scanned carefully, searching for the source as he turned. If Charlie wasn't sure of their position, rifle fire would only draw them in. As he held his weapon ready, the sound that reached his ears wasn't one he had expected.

"Hey, mudsucker, whatcha doin' out here?"

BA lowered his weapon as the pilot stepped on the trail, empty hands uplifted. He carried an AK-47 slung over his shoulder as well as his service pistol in its holster.

The pilot swept the team with a practiced eye, looking for trouble. He waited for Hannibal to make his way up before continuing. "We saw the bridge go, figured it was you. Vincent made a fake extract, dropped us off at the LZ. He's going to fake the pickup at the alternate LZ and come back for us." His hands dropped and he nodded in the direction, "You have another Charlie patrol heading in from the east."

"You have backup?" the colonel asked, already making adjustments to his plan. They were outnumbered now, and VC reinforcements would only make it worse. If the other Viet Cong patrol reached the landing zone first, they would never be able to make the pickup.

"St. James is backtracking. He'll set up at the top of the hill, just before the LZ, with his hog." The pilot spoke precisely, "We have fast movers en route, here in 20 mikes. They have bookoo leftovers from another job they'd rather not take home. They'll lay down a line from Sierra Echo, but we couldn't give them precise coordinates." The fey light returned to his eyes, and he grinned, "Since you didn't leave a forwarding address."

The colonel returned the grin. "We have any claymores left?" he asked. The team came up with two, which were passed back silently as they crouched, still scanning the jungle. "We can set them up behind St. James, give him time to get to the chopper."

BA started, "I could handle the hog- " as he put the claymores in his pack, where he could reach them quickly.

The pilot decisively shook his head. "Remy has it covered," he stated flatly. "He has an AK, too. Careful what you shoot at."

BA could only agree. Normally mounted on the chopper, the spade-gripped weapon was difficult to aim accurately without a pivoting stand to stabilize it. Even with the claymores, the door gunner could have trouble providing cover for the extraction. St. James would then have to make it to the chopper with little cover fire and carrying the heavy weapon. Unless he abandoned it, which would weaken the chopper's defenses. The smaller weapons the team carried, while lighter and more maneuverable, did not have the range of the hog. He wondered momentarily about St. James' abilities, then shrugged it off. This was the chopper crew's plan, and it had worked so far.

Hannibal nodded. "Let's move out. They can't be far behind us." He hand signaled the rest of the team. Sounds carried easily, and he needed to minimize their exposure. While it was necessary, they had stood and talked long enough.

The patrol moved out again, the pilot merely unslinging the Russian rifle from his back as he went. He ignored the curious looks, giving no explanation of his acquisition of the nonstandard weapon.

They cautiously moved along until they reached an incline, without making contact. As they made their way up, there was sudden weapons fire as the VC caught up with them from behind. They immediately dropped to find cover, exchanging fire with the VC.

On the rise west of the trail, an AK-47 opened up. BA turned, searching for the new threat, but the pilot yelled, "Hold your fire! It's Remy!"

The VC were confused by the distinctive sound of the Russian weapon firing from a different position. Several dropped before they adjusted to avoid the new threat. This gave the patrol time to move up the slight rise. The landing zone was visible just beyond.

BA stopped at the top to set up the claymores, one of the squad giving him a hand. He scanned the surrounding vegetation, finding the door gunner's position only when he fired.

The door gunner still had the AK-47 in his hand, but BA heard the click of an empty weapon. Remy threw it aside and picked up the M-60, his eyes continuing to watch the trail. The heavy weapon was awkward to fire without a mount, but the door gunner didn't seem to notice as he balanced it across a fallen tree.

The claymores set, BA moved beside the gunner with the firing device. He paused, double-checking the setup, as he observed the specialist. "I can take that," BA offered.

The door gunner scrutinized him from the corner of his eye, not turning. He spoke calmly as his head shook almost imperceptibly, "No, I'm OK. Get going. This is going to be close." Another very slight gesture, "Get rid of that, will you?" indicating the Russian weapon.

BA checked the rest of the team was moving toward the LZ before clapping his hand on the gunner's shoulder as he moved out. He picked up the discarded weapon, deciding to take it with him rather than destroying it. He had not gone very far when he heard the hog open up. Moving cautiously and watching the back trail, he quickly caught up with the rest of the squad.

The pilot had called in the chopper on his survival radio and the team watched it descend as they approached the landing zone. Behind them, Remy laid down a steady fire with the machine gun, covering their retreat. As he held back the pursuing forces, they could only hope they wouldn't be caught in a crossfire traversing the open ground. The bird settled and they could see Cass, machine gun in hand trying to cover both sides.

The flanking unit of the Viet Cong reached the LZ moments later, opening fire on the helicopter with automatic weapons. Cass, back at his left side position, sprayed a hail of bullets through the jungle. Hearing a shouted, "RPG!" he managed to swing his hog around, cutting down the VC before they could fire. The antitank weapon itself, apparently undamaged, lay behind a rock and he knew Charlie would retrieve it as the chopper cleared the LZ.

The squad returned fire as they made their way to the chopper. The fire from both the chopper and the edge of the LZ forced the Charlie patrol to adjust positions to fill gaps in their line. This gave the team the opportunity to make their way across the open ground to the chopper, without having to deal with the trailing unit being delayed by the door gunner. The running firefight was depleting ammunition at an alarming rate.

The pilot slipped quickly through the back door into the cockpit. He dropped his weapon on the floor, reaching immediately for his helmet. He could feel the chopper was light on its skids, but the peter pilot expertly held it in place as he waited for a signal from the back.

The rest of the team piled in haphazardly, Hannibal making a quick count. Finding firing positions within the chopper, they scanned the jungle for targets. They heard the distant sound of Remy's hog, before it cut off abruptly. There was a moment of silence before they heard the claymores detonate. As Hannibal and BA exchanged worried glances, they saw the door gunner sprinting for the chopper, weapon still in hand. He reached for the frame, and Hannibal yelled up to the pilots, "Go."

The chopper lifted abruptly, banking left, giving Remy a chance to get settled, and Cass a clearer firing area. The sergeant's weapon fired steadily, accompanied by sporadic fire from the squad's weapons. Remy hunted for more ammo for his empty hog, swearing in frustration when he found none. Hearing Cass's weapon click, he turned and stared across the chopper as the crew chief shrugged unhappily.

"Could throw rocks," he suggested, "We have any?" He looked back out the door, watching the VC retrieve the RPG and aim it at the slowly rising helicopter. He scrutinized the weapon, watching for the telltale smoke when launched so he could warn the pilot.

Those who had positions in the chopper doors exchanged fire with the VC forces on the ground. The altitude gained by the chopper made it less likely any serious damage would be done by either side with the smaller weapons, but the squad M-16s lacked the firepower to deal with Charlie's RPG.

"Cas-per," Remy protested in exasperation, breaking the name in two. "Damn Polack, you're no help." He looked wildly around the chopper for an inspiration. Setting his machine gun carefully aside, he noticed one of the team still had grenades. "Give me those," he demanded, his accent heavier under stress. As the soldier looked at him blankly, Remy grabbed the grenades from him.

"Murdock, grenades," Remy snapped into his mike. The pilot obligingly straightened the helicopter as it climbed. Remy pulled the pins, dropping the grenades, one at a time, as he leaned out the cargo door. He landed a direct hit on the antitank weapon, destroying it completely. As he dropped the last one, he yelled, "Move it, Murdock! Di di mau!"

Cass dropped a smoke grenade as they moved out, marking the target for the jets as Murdock vectored them in.

As the helicopter streaked for home, the mood was one of relief. Their mission was completed with the destruction of the bridge. With the timely arrival of the chopper crew, they avoided being pinned down and were able to reach the LZ for the pickup. The jungle behind them burst into flames as the F-4's dropped their loads.

Remy turned from the open door, reaching for his lifeline, when he observed Forsythe's rifle lying carelessly against his shoulder. Remy's horrified gaze followed the barrel up toward the rotor assembly. With the image of the burning chopper still fresh in his mind, he turned on the sergeant. "Point that weapon down," he demanded, "or I'll throw you out next."

The squad leader glared contemptuously at the door gunner. Forsythe casually brought his weapon down level, pointing straight at Remy, silhouetted against the open door with his lifeline still unfastened. BA reached out a hand, pushing the weapon down to the floor, realizing as he did, the safety was not on either. In disgust, he pulled the weapon away from the soldier. Forsythe turned sharply to protest, but fell silent on seeing BA's face.

The altercation caused various degrees of consternation among the occupants of the chopper. The peter pilot stared back worried, instruments momentarily forgotten. The pilot, screened by his high-backed seat, glanced back. Distracted from his flying, he attempted to gauge the situation by the reactions.

Unable to cross the packed chopper to intervene, the crew chief watched in frustration. He felt the chopper dip as the pilot glanced around, and snapped, "Watch your ship!" Both pilots started, exchanging looks as they turned back to the task of flying.

Hannibal pulled out a cigar. He'd step in if necessary, but for now was content to let BA handle it. Glancing around the cargo hold, he observed the reactions of the squad, which ranged from shocked disbelief to eager anticipation.

Remy froze on seeing the weapon pointed at him. With the open door at his back, and his restraints unsecured, it was a long way down, even if the bullet itself wasn't fatal. As BA removed the threat, he finished fastening his gear with unsteady fingers. He heard the pilot's worried, "St. James?" over the intercom as he fastened his helmet, plugging in the radio wires. "It's okay," he spoke flatly into his mike. He eyed BA speculatively before looking across the chopper at Cass in relief.

As the worried pilot glanced back again, the crew chief signaled that it was under control. He couldn't blame Murdock, since they were all on edge. The door gunner sounded rattled, his speech nearly unintelligible to northern trained ears. Cass's gaze followed the pilot's forward to the control panel, staying there after the pilot looked away.

"Time to get out and push?" Remy asked dryly, still shaky from the adrenaline rush. They could have used the supply run. Closing his eyes, he settled uneasily on his seat. He took deep breaths, trying to regain control of himself.

"Not just yet," answered the crew chief, unperturbed. "Pray for a tailwind. 'Sides, if it gets tight, everyone can just stick their heads out the door and blow at the rotor. There should be enough hot air to keep the blades turning."

Remy started, looking around in confusion at the crew chief. After a few moments of trying to puzzle it out, he realized it couldn't possibly work. "How did you ever get in the Army?" he snorted, shaking his head ruefully. Slow on the uptake, again. Still smiling at the image, he relaxed as he settled back in his seat.

"They were desperate," the crew chief agreed, not at all insulted, "Since they had a quota to make." He smiled too, hearing the soft chuckles from up front. They were almost home and the mood had lightened considerably.

The tailwind appeared-or maybe they were just lucky-and they made it back safely to the base. The pilots shut the machine down and headed to the operations shack to work on the paperwork. Waving the peter pilot ahead, Murdock paused briefly to speak with Hannibal. The pilot's voice was low and intense as he gave the colonel little chance to interrupt. He started to walk away, then glared back at Hannibal with a final, furious gesture.

Tie-downs in hand, Cass watched the discussion with interest. As the pilot walked away, he turned back to the chopper, tied down the rotors, and started to refuel the bird. Murdock threw another hard look in Remy's direction, while continuing to the operations shack.

Face grim, Hannibal pulled the squad leader aside to talk to him. The rest of the squad headed out, done for the day. BA collected both Russian weapons and headed up to the administration building.

Remy watched the infantry men disperse and sighed, wiping his face with his sleeve. The chopper crew wasn't finished, still having to prepare for the next flight. He had caught that look from the pilot, knowing it meant Murdock expected an explanation. The alternative was a chewing-out. Neither option appealed to him. Lost in his thoughts as he turned back to the chopper, he was startled to hear a low, incensed voice behind him.

"So you think you're hot stuff, getting me in trouble with the colonel?" Forsythe sneered as he stood there, glowering scornfully. He looked down upon the door gunner with derision, furious at the trouble he caused. The colonel was nowhere in sight.

"You should know better," Remy argued, his eyes narrowing as he turned to face the sergeant. "A bullet in the rotor assembly? Merde! You'd get us all killed."

"Stupid Cajun bastard," the man growled. "You should crawl back in the swamp where you belong." He reached out, his fist tightening on the front of Remy's flightsuit. "I'll teach you to show some respect."

Remy broke the hold and pushed the other away, retorting, "You and what army?" He stepped away from the chopper, giving himself maneuvering room. "Any time, dinky-dau," he continued with contempt, "if you can."

Abruptly, Cass intervened, pushing the sergeant further back as he moved between them. "Knock it off," he demanded.

Forsythe hadn't seen the crew chief on the other side of the bird. "Stay out of this, Polanczyk. It's none of your business," the squad leader ordered. "I intend to teach that bastard a lesson. One he should have learned long ago."

"Knock it off, I said," Cass repeated harshly. "Or I'll put you on report."

"You can't do that," the man threw back. The two sergeants faced off, neither intending to back down.

"No? Then I can talk to the colonel," Cass snapped, not at all intimidated. "If that doesn't work, I can talk to Murdock. And if that doesn't work, I can let Remy take you in a dark alley and slit your throat. Take your pick!" He emphasized the points with his finger in the man's face as he stood his ground, glaring. "Right now, we need to get this bird ready to go back out, so I suggest you leave, now."

Cass sensed movement behind him, as he kept his eyes on Forsythe. "Shut up, St. James," Cass threw over his shoulder, "or it will go both ways. This stops, right here, right now." He didn't trust Forsythe, especially after that stunt in the chopper, and Remy would never back down voluntarily.

Forsythe considered his position. Outnumbered, he didn't need Polanczyk reporting him interfering with the chopper. He would teach the door gunner a much needed lesson some other time. It could wait. "Later, Saint James," the man said, deliberately mispronouncing the name as written. He looked scornfully at Remy, sneering, "When you don't have someone to hide behind." He walked off without looking back.

Cass turned on the door gunner, speaking sharply, "You going to tell me what that's about?"

Remy's eyes shifted from the retreating squad leader and met the crew chief's squarely. "No," he replied defensively.

Cass ran a hand through his sweat-soaked hair and sighed in exasperation. "You have a sign on your back or what?" he questioned acerbically, glad he didn't have to referee a fight. Without waiting for the answer, he walked to the chopper, reaching for his hog.

"Old business, Cass," Remy relented, relieved the sergeant wasn't going to push for answers. He picked up his own weapon. The guns needed servicing as well as the chopper. They settled into their usual routine, hoping to be done in time to clean up before supper.

Unnoticed by the participants, BA watched a moment longer. Then he turned and headed down the path to Hannibal's hootch.

FINI-- for now.

Author's Notes--for those not of a military persuasion.

The Mason-Dixon line is the boundary line from the SW corner of Del N to PA to approximately the SW corner of PA. Named after the men who surveyed it, it is considered the boundary line between North and South on the eastern seaboard.

The Pric-25 is the AN/PRC-25 tactical radio; the standard radio carried by infantrymen.

VC, Viet Cong, and Charlie are all terms for the South Vietnamese Communists.

A Romeo Foxtrot is a pseudonym using military phonetics for another term with the same initials, describing a totally confused situation, that is not used in proper company.

A Claymore is a directional, command-detonated, antipersonnel mine, usually carried by infantrymen.

An RPG is a Rocket Propelled Grenade. Made for use against tanks, they were especially deadly against the thin skin of a chopper.

An AO is the Area of Operations, or a place where military action is taking place.

A Cajun is a person of mixed White, Indian and Negro ancestry, or descended from French-speaking immigrants living in the Mississippi delta area.

And while the "n-word" is not PC, it was commonly used by all races in the '60's.