This was originally written under my nic: Murdock's Doc

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.


"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 y'all 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 anotherquestion. "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."

.


.

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.

.


.

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.

.


.

Hands coated with flame reached out for him and a hollow whisper beckoned him into the flame, "Help me, please help me," the haunting voice whispered over and over. Flesh on the outstretched hands bubbled and melted away in the horrible heat .

Panting heavily, Murdock's jerked in his sleep, and his eyes snapped open. The nightmare, still fresh in his mind made him shiver. 'Least it didn't get too far tonight,' the Captain thought to himself wearily. The last two nights he had woken half the camp with his screams. Shifting in his cot, the pilot's eyes fell on the empty bunk, Murray's bunk, and he quickly rolled over to avoid the reminder of his friend.

'Four more days and everything will be all right,' Murdock thought to himself as he stared into the darkness. Shifting his gaze towards the sleeping form of his CO, he wondered about the man's reason for grounding him for a week. 'In Texas, we get back on a horse when we fall off.' Deep down in his soul he knew that he needed to be back in the air before the nightmares crippled him. 'Four more days and it'll be all right.'

A stumbling noise outside the hooch startled the pilot, and memories of a drunken Murray stumbling through the door burst into his mind. Murdock's eyes grew wide in an unrealistic fright as the hooch door slowly began to open and a shadow filled the doorway.

"Captain Murdock," A voice whispered insistently from the doorway of the hooch, "General Brown wants to see you."

Murdock released a breath he hadn't been aware he had been holding and he rolled himself into a sitting position on the edge of the cot. "Coming," he whispered back as he scrubbed his face with his hands. 'Get a grip,' he silently scolded himself.

While pulling on his boots, the oddity of being summoned by the General sunk in. His brows furrowed and Murdock began to mentally click off the possible reasons for the break in protocol. 'Gotta be something about Smith or I'm gonna get an invite back into Spook land,' the pilot finally decided. 'God, if you have any sympathy for me it'll be Smith waitin for me,' he silently prayed.

Stepping out into the night air, the Captain found the messenger waiting for him. "You didn't have to wait for me, I know where the General's office is." Murdock said quietly as he closed the door behind him.

"General's order's sir."

The Captain took the lead and headed to the General's office which was located in the center of the base. "You know what this is about?" Murdock asked the Private who was following a step behind.

"Not a clue sir," the Private responded.

Frowning, Murdock continued walking as he considered several questions that might reveal the purpose of being called out into the middle of the night. "Is the General alone?" He finally asked.

"I don't think so."

"Civilian or Military?" The pilot pressed.

"Don't know," the Private responded in an apologetic tone, "Look sir, I'm really sorry. But I'm pretty far down on the totem pole of who knows what. Heck, I feel lucky to know where the latrine is."

"Sorry Private," Murdock said sincerely. "I'm just curious."

"Understood sir."

The remainder of the short walk to the General's office was made in silence. When the two men reached the building the private turned and headed to the duty hut while the Captain continued the final few steps on his own.

Making his way through the dark halls, the back of his neck began to tingle and he suddenly felt as if he was being watched. Pausing just outside the General's office, the Captain carefully looked around. "Hello?" He called out, "Anyone here?" After waiting a moment for the answer that never came, Murdock frowned and took the last few steps to the door and knocked softly.

"Enter!"

Opening the door, Murdock took a quick glance around the room and quickly spotted the interlopers. 'Gotta be spooks, no one else would be crazy enough to wear dark suits in this heat,' he thought to himself as he crisply marching past four civilians to stand in front of the General's desk. When he came to a halt a few feet from the General, he snapped to attention and saluted. "Captain

Murdock reporting as ordered sir."

"At ease Captain." General Brown said with a nod to acknowledge the salute.

"Thank you sir," Murdock replied formally as he spread his feet apart slightly and loosely gripped his hands behind his back. For the moment, the Captain outwardly focused on the General while he inwardly considered the presence of the "suits" standing behind him. 'Gotta mean there's a mission," he thought to himself, 'but why the heck are they being so dang obvious this time?'

The General cleared his throat and looked past the Captain to his visitors with contempt. In over twenty years of military service he had never found a problem with following orders, at least he didn't until now. These interlopers had waltzed in and had attempted to intimidate and make demands, and when that hadn't worked they had flashed a piece of paper in front of his nose with President Johnson's signature on it. Ultimately, it had been the orders from the commander-in-chief that had given them what they wanted, but the General was still pissed about their attitude.

Turning his attention to the officer in front of him, the General spoke. "I've been asked to supply a pilot with a wide range of flight capabilities to provide transport for several civilians." He said stiffly. "Since you're the only pilot I have that is not currently on the duty roster, I took a look at your record and I've decided that you will be able to provide the services they need.."

One of the "suits" snorted rudely, and Murdock found himself filled with resentment. Frowning slightly, the Captain decided to teach the CIA a little lesson in respect. Snapping to attention, Murdock spoke, "Sir, I respectfully decline the assignment."

The four men behind the Captain made noises of protest, and the General grinned. "You don't understand . . . " One of the men said as he stepped forward. The tall dark haired man paused and glared at the General. "General, I think it's time you leave."

"Now wait a minute!" The General snarled as his chair scraped along the floor abruptly as he quickly stood up. "He's my pilot and if he wants to decline the mission. . . ."

"Stop right there General Brown." Another man said coldly as he stepping up beside the desk. "You've identified the pilot we need, and nothing further is required of you."

The General turned bright red, "I don't give a damn who you are, I won't allow you to speak to me like that." He snarled.

The first man pulled an envelop from an inside pocket of his suit. "Would you care to read this again General?" he said flippantly. "I believe paragraph three details our authority."

"Bastards," Brown snarled as he slammed a fist into the center of his desk.

Elsewhere, another imposing figure found himself in a similar position. "Bastards!" John 'Hannibal" Smith snapped as he pounded his fist into the top of his desk.

"I take it the answer was no?"

Smith glanced over at his blond haired, blue eyed second-in-command with a scowl on his face. "Worse," the Colonel snapped, "The bastard returned the envelop unopened."

"I thought you said that Martin didn't like this Murdock fellow." Peck said while scribbling something into a small notebook. "I don't understand why he's giving you such a hard time over this pilot."

"He doesn't like him," Smith said under his breath as he crumbled the envelope into a ball. "But the scumbag is smart enough to recognize talent that makes him look good."

Looking up from his notebook, Peck looked over at his CO, "There are alternative means available to arrange transfers."

Hannibal's brows rose slightly and he leaned back in his chair. "Are we talking theory or do you have a few experiences you want to tell me about?" The seasoned Colonel had several theories of his own when it came to Lieutenant Peck and his illustrious service record. Instinct had told him to give the kid a chance and he hadn't been disappointed.

Peck blushed slightly and he assumed a look of pure innocence. "Nothing more than unproven theories Colonel, I assure you."

The Colonel gave the Lieutenant an appraising look, "I've got one more avenue to try kid, and if that doesn't work, you and I can have a nice long talk about alternatives."

.


.

General Brown snarled as he headed out of his own office. He paused as he opened the door and turned back, to have one final word. "He's on the duty roster in four days, make damn sure Captain Murdock is back by then." On the final word, the angry General slammed the door behind him.

Murdock jumped slightly when Brown slammed the door, but he quickly recovered and turned on the agents the moment the door was closed. "Look, I don't know who the hell you think you are, but . . "

"That's enough Captain," the tall dark haired agent snarled. "You know who we are, and we don't have the luxury of time. We have as mission to complete."

The Captain's eyes narrowed, and when he spoke his words were like ice, "No, I don't know who you are." They hadn't given the code and he sure as hell wasn't going to play unless they played by the rules.

"I'm Agent Daniels," the dark haired man said coolly. Pointing to first the shorter man beside the desk then to the two men behind the Captain, he quickly introduced the men, "That is Agent Kimble, Agent Adams, and Agent Nelson. We're with the CIA."

"Thrilled to meetcha," Murdock said sarcastically, "But I ain't working with ya so take a hike."

The door opened, and all eyes turned to the new arrival. "The General has left the building." the new man said.

"That is Agent Williams." Daniels said coldly. "Now Captain Murdock, you have an agreement with the company and you're obligated to participate as requested. As I said we do not have time to play games."

"Fuck off," Murdock replied stubbornly as he folded his arms across his chest.

Daniels eye's narrowed and his face turned bright red. Without a word, the agent reached behind his back, withdrew a pistol and pointed it directly between the Captain's eyes. "I am fucking tired of dealing with you god damn military types." He growled impatiently in a low menacing voice, "Now you will work with us or I will blow your fucking brains all over the Generals carpet."

Staring down the barrel of the pistol with contempt, Murdock held Daniels threatening glare. "As far as I'm concerned you can take that pistol, shove it up your ass and rotate on it. I am not, repeat, I ain't working with you."

Tension in the room rose as the two men stood their ground. Just as Daniels began to tighten the pressure on the trigger, Agent Kimble stepped forward and grabbed Daniels wrist, pushing his aim down and to the left. "We were told that this operative is under code recognition orders, you know damn well he won't acknowledge us without it," the agent said quickly.

"Stupid bullshit," Daniels muttered under his breath while relaxing his arm.

Once the gun was lowered and the threat past, Kimble turned to face the Captain. "The empress calls to all who are able. Those who are able will call from the shadows."

After giving Daniels a triumphant look, Murdock said to Kimble, "Whatcha got for me?"

"We have an operative down behind enemy line," Kimble explained quickly, "He was on a recognizance mission for us when he was downed by enemy fire, and we need the information he has stored here," he said tapping on his right temple.

Daniels gave Murdock a hateful glare before adding additional information about the mission. "We have information that indicates that he was captured shortly after going down, and he is currently being transported north, we're assuming to the newly opened prison camp code named the Zoo which opened September of last year."

Leaning against the General's desk, Kimble continued the briefing, "We need to fly in covertly near the last known location of our target and get him out."

Nodding, the Captain asked, "How many bad guys are escorting?"

"Maybe 5 no more than 8." Agent Williams said as he joined the group around the desk.

"Are there any landing sites along the route or will you be repelling down?" Murdock asked while deep in thought.

"The preferred method is to land," Daniels added, "You are expected to be a part of the team."

"Hey Muchacho's, I ain't got no ground experience," Murdock objected.

"Your experiences are sufficient Captain." Daniels said stiffly.

The moment Daniels spoke, Murdock began to feel uncomfortable. He glanced at Daniel's and Kimble, looking for some indication of either confidence in his abilities or some hint that it was a set-up. Both men wore a stone-like expression which revealed nothing. Taking a deep breath, the Captain resigned himself for a rough trip filled with surprises. "When do we leave?"

"You have 15 minutes to put on your flight suit," Kimble replied, "There's a Cobra fueled and waiting for us at the air field."

Holding his helmet by chin strap, Captain Murdock finished zipping up his dark green flight suit as he crossed the last few feet of the air strip to the waiting group surrounding the sleek black Cobra chopper. "She's a beautiful lady," he said with an appreciative whistle.

"How long will it take for lift off?" Kimble asked when the pilot came to a stop beside the group.

"About 10 minutes," Murdock replied as he gave the chopper an appraising look.

"Everyone in," Daniels ordered the group.

True to his word, the helicopter lifted off and headed north exactly 10 minutes later. Without instructions, Murdock retracted the skids and turned the bird north. Five minutes into the air, the Captain activated the CONFICS which gave him night vision to navigate with and brought the Cobra to its full cruising speed. "What's the heading?"

Agent Williams passed the Captain a map and leaned over and flicked on a flashlight.

"Turn that off," Murdock shouted with alarm, "White light acts like a big ol' bull's-eye to the guys on the ground."

"Sorry." Williams said dryly after turning off the light.

Taking the map, the pilot held it near the green glow of the instrument panel. The night lighting system causing the white portions of the map to glow. "Where's the target?" Murdock asked impatiently.

Williams leaned over again and tapped a finger on the on the map. "Right here."

Looking closely at the map, Murdock frowned. "We sure are going deep." He commented more to himself. "I sure hope ya have this baby loaded and ready for action, cuz we're gonna see some action once we get into the bad guys back yard." When Williams pulled back onto his own side of the chopper, Murdock flashed him a curious look. "We are armed right?" The silent response spoke volumes.

"Your orders are to fly, Captain." Williams finally responded a full minute later. "This is an intelligence mission, nothing more and nothing less."

Shock was the only thing he felt and the image of an armadillo staring into the headlights of a truck flashed before his eyes. 'These guys are nutso.' Murdock screamed silently to himself as he banked the chopper into a north, northwest direction.

Less than an hour later, Murdock found himself dodging heavy anti-aircraft fire. "Hang on everyone," he called out as he turned the chopper sharply left then right as he weaved his way across the sky. When a few missiles exploded close enough to rattle the chopper, Murdock began to sing, "Oh, say can you see, by the dawn's early light, What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming? Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight, O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming? And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there."

"SHUT THE FUCK UP," Daniels shouted from the back of the chopper.

"What?" Murdock shouted back, "You don't wanna hear about the land of the free or the home of the brave? Thought you guys were patriots."

"Concentrate on FLYING," Daniels shouted as another maneuver threw him heavily into the bulkhead.

"What the hell you think I'm doin?" Murdock shouted back as he banked the chopper in the opposite direction.

"Shut up and fly or I'll shoot you myself!" Daniels shouted.

"Stand in line." Murdock snapped while fighting the controls of the chopper, pushing it past design capabilities in order to avoid being hit.

"Once we get past the front lines, this should clear up." Williams shouted.

"You better hope so buster." Murdock shouted back in frustration. "Cuz if this lady goes down, you ain't getting a refund on the flight."

.


.

Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith alternately pinched the bridge of his nose and massaged his eyelids in order to rub the sleepiness from his eyes while he walked towards the post communications shack. He really hated getting up at three in the morning, but there was little choice if he wanted to arrange for the help needed to get past the obstacles standing in the way of Captain Murdock's transfer. 'Obstacles my ass,' Hannibal thought to himself. 'Only thing preventing the Captain's transfer is Martin,' he reminded himself bitterly. For the past month, Martin had been a nagging thorn in his side. The Air Force Colonel had gone out of his way to squash any and all efforts to transfer his youngest and brightest pilot.

For the past month, Smith had tried the direct approach and it hadn't worked, so Hannibal intended to fall back on his army training. The strategy of pulling back, regrouping, then go in with bigger guns always worked in the field to achieve an objective. Using tried and true tactics, the Colonel planned to adapt the field strategy to meet his current goal, and if all went well he would have his pilot by the end of the week.

The most critical step in his plan was to enlist help from Air Force Brigadier General Randolph Koenig, a friend he'd made during the Korean war. For the first time since hatching his plan, Hannibal grinned. Yeah, if anyone could arrange Murdock's transfer right out from under Martin's nose, Randy could. Thinking back to another time, and another war, Hannibal thought about the first time he had met Randy. He and Randy had become fast friends when the plane Koenig had been flying went down behind enemy lines and Smith and a rouge group of 10 green berets had slipped behind enemy lines and to save the pilots ass. Before the war's end, Smith had saved Koenig's ass four times so there was little doubt that the Colonel would get the help he wanted.

When Smith neared the com shack, a land mine somewhere in the distance exploded. On instinct, Hannibal paused to look out into the dark landscape and listened for other sounds that would reveal what had set off the landmine. 'Could be Viet Cong or maybe an animal,' he thought to himself.

"Colonel?" Lieutenant Peck called softly from the entrance of the bunker.

"A snake probably set that one off," Hannibal whispered offhandedly as he turned his attention to the voice calling him from the bunker. "Any luck Lieutenant?"

"The base operator at Edwards Air Force Base is ready to connect the call." Peck said in a hushed voice. "I don't know how long we'll be able to hold the line so I think you better hurry."

"Thanks kid."

Stepping down into the bunker, Peck nodded towards the Com Operator to indicate that he should finish the connection.

"Operator, request a direct connection to Brigadier General Randolph Koenig." A few moments later, the corporal turned and offered the handset to the Colonel. "They are connecting now sir."

Reaching out, Hannibal took the handset and sat down on a pile of sandbags. The phone rang three times and the voice he hadn't heard in a long time answered. "General Koenig."

"Randy?" Hannibal said with a gleam in his eye and a smile on his face, "This is Hannibal."

"You old dog," Koenig replied happily, "Where the hell you been for the past ten years?"

"You know me Randy," the Colonel said with a chuckle, "I always find myself in the thick of things."

The General laughed, "Figured as much. I heard about you passing up a desk job at Bragg a couple years back for a chance to hang out on the front lines." The General's voice took on a serious tone, "I never understood why you would pass up full bird and a chance at your first star by taking a field assignment."

"Rank never was all that important Randy," Hannibal said sincerely, "Trust me, I have no regrets."

"Anyone but you and I wouldn't believe that, but you always were one that preferred to hang out in the trenches," Koenig said wistfully, "While the rest of us were striving to catch a star, you were in a foxhole somewhere training a star."

"You're one of the few that deserved getting that star Randy," Smith said remembering the discussions he and his friend had over ten years earlier about what was really important in a military career. Randy like many of their friends had placed a great importance on achieving rank. Hannibal on the other hand had always considered the survival and well being of his troops to be his greatest achievement.

There was a long pause on the line, and Koenig's tone took on a hint of seriousness, "You didn't call me to talk about old times did you Hannibal?"

"No Randy, I didn't," Smith replied, "I need a favor."

Twenty minutes later the situation had been explained, and General Koenig had promised to do everything in his power to arrange the transfer for Captain Murdock. After passing the handset back to the corporal, Hannibal turned to his Executive Officer and found the younger man fast asleep. Reaching out, the Colonel tapped the younger man's shoulder. "Come on sleeping beauty time for good little soldiers to go nighty night." he said with a chuckle.

Peck opened his eyes, "Wha. . t," he asked groggily.

"Koenig is going to see about arranging the transfer for Captain Murdock," Hannibal said as he rose to his feet. Reaching down he tucked a hand under Pecks arm and pulled the sleepy man to his feet. "Come on, it's past our bed time."

"Arrange the transfer?" the younger man asked while still half asleep. "Sleep?"

"Yeah kid," Smith said with a smile as he guided his XO out of the bunker and steered him towards their own sandbagged hole in the ground. "We need to get some sleep."

"Okay," Peck said with a yawn as he dropped into his cot. "Sleep then transfer," he muttered as he fell quickly back to sleep.

Further north, Murdock dropped the Cobra into a small clearing and set the chopper down as close as he could near the trees. It hadn't been an easy landing due to the darkness, but thanks to the multiple gadgets installed in the Cobra helped to keep the bird out of the trees. "Okay, we're down," he called out as he pulled his helmet off.

No one had responded to his announcement and Murdock really hadn't expected one. From the corner of his eye, the Captain watched his fellow agents unload and regroup outside the chopper as he powered down the bird. Shut down took a little longer than it should have due to the fact that the pilot was watching his fellow agents. He couldn't pin point the exact reason why he was watching them closely, but there were too many things that just didn't add up about this mission. The most notably inconsistencies were the differences in clothing, the gear, and the fact that the pilot wasn't going to be staying with the bird.

When the main rotor came to a halt, Murdock reluctantly exited the chopper and made his way though the darkness to his fellow agents. No words were spoken, almost as if all members of the team except the pilot had been briefed in advance. When the Captain realized that the agents were donning black pajama like clothing, he grew nervous. 'Why the hell are they dressin up like VC?' Murdock asked himself silently. His gaze dropped to the pile of gear sitting on the jungle floor and he counted 5 AK47's, 5 straw conical hats and rope. 'Not good,' he silently warned himself.

"Ah guys? Is there a reason I'm the odd man out, prop wise?" Murdock whispered.

"Don't worry about it," Kimble whispered quickly.

Murdock furrowed his brows, and he remained silent as the others finished with their disguises. Glancing from one agent to the next, the pilot began to put two and two together. One tall Agent who was going to stay with the chopper, four shorter Agents going into the field, and all dressed up as Viet Cong. Add that to one tall pilot wearing his regular flight suit and that equaled what?

Trouble. Smarter than most, Murdock quickly deduced their plan and he was sure that he was ending up with the short end of the deal. Leaning down, he picked up the rope. "I guess this is my prop for this gig isn't it?" he asked sarcastically.

"It's for appearances only." Kimble quickly pointed out after disguising his surprise that the Captain had figured out their plan, "Anyone sees us will think we're bringing a prisoner north and they'll leave us alone." Daniels added a sinister smile to Kimble's explanation, and Murdock bit back his protest. He had to admit that the plan had some merit, even if he didn't like it.

"Just so ya know," Murdock whispered with distaste, "the shadow in this spook group ain't happy."

After a few hours of jogging through the dark jungle, Murdock had gained a healthy respect for his arms ability to maintain his overall balance. Even though his hands were tied loose enough to break free if needed, he was still being dragged along with his arms stretched out in front. As a result, he'd lost his balance three times and had fallen hard.

He was still on his knees from his last fall, and three of the four other agents on the mission with him were now playing out their part as impatient and very angry Viet Cong. Sighing heavily, the Captain listened to the men shouting at him in Vietnamese, telling him to get back on his feet. Not surprisingly, Daniels seemed to be enjoying this part of the mission. When the fourth pseudo Viet Cong reappeared from what Murdock could only guess was recon, the shouting came to an end.

"Our target is camped about a half mile up the trail." Agent Adams whispered in Vietnamese as he joined the group. "I'm pretty sure they heard you shouting. It looked like they were getting ready to send out a couple of guys to check."

"If they take one look at our so called prisoner, they're going to know something is up," Daniels added quickly. Four sets of eyes glanced quickly at Murdock.

"I hate to admit it, but Daniels has a point." Agent Nelson whispered, and Agent Adams nodded in agreement.

"Don't even think about it," Murdock snarled under his breath as he glared into the overeager face of Agent Daniels.

"He's right," Kimble said shaking his head. "I'm sorry, but we can not risk compromising our mission."

Murdock opened his mouth to offer another protest when Daniels suddenly brought the butt of his AK47 down on the Captain's head. Bright stars blurred the pilots vision and he fell back onto the moist jungle floor in a daze. A strong sense of self preservation kicked in and Murdock brought his arms up to defect another blow aimed for his cheek. In return for the deflected blow, Daniels kicked the pilot viciously in the ribs causing the pilot to grunt in pain.

"Get him to his feet." Kimble shouted in Vietnamese. "We have to move."

Daniels lashed out one final time, and swung his fist down and clipped Murdock in the face. He flashed the groaning pilot a look of satisfaction that equaled the look the Captain had given after playing his little game in the General's office.

The sound of a rifle being cocked disturbed the night and a new voice shouted "danh to (Hault)!"

.


.

'Stupid, stupid, stupid plan,' Murdock mentally repeated over and over. His face hurt like hell, and however ironic the Viet Cong patrol's arrival had saved him from any further blows. Lying motionless flat on his back with his eyes closed, he listened to the soft foot falls of the approaching VC. The nearer they got, the more anxious he became. Everything relied on the darkness.

"Problem with your prisoner?" The first Viet Cong soldier asked in Vietnamese.

Daniel's nodded. "Stupid American is clumsy," he said in flawless Vietnamese while delivering a vicious kick into Murdock's ribs.

The two Viet Cong soldiers chuckled and approached the struggling prisoner. When one poked the pilot's head with the tip of his rifle, Murdock held his breath. "Is he anyone important?" The soldier asked with interest.

Kimble nodded vigorously and added in Vietnamese, "An American Captain. He is a pilot."

"CIA?" The second Viet Cong solider asked.

"Yes," Daniels said without flinching. "He should be able to reveal valuable information."

"Come," The first soldier said turning back towards the direction that they had come from. "Bring your prisoner and put him with the ones we are moving north."

"Will we be permitted to return south if we leave him with you?" Kimble asked eagerly.

Murdock was terrified by the conversation in Vietnamese taking place around him, and his mind was in a whirl. Is it really that dark or are the VC really that stupid? Not only had the two Viet Cong soldiers bought everyone's disguises, but they were now carrying on a friendly conversation. Why in the hell had Daniels identify him as CIA? Slowly the pilot opened his eyes and in the dark, the Agents did in fact look like genuine Viet Cong. But would Kimble really leave him if they had a chance? Doubt and terror filled him as he realized that he had no control over what the team did with him or to him. 'I'm in trouble now.' was the pilot's final thought before the focus returned to him.

"Get up!" Daniels shouted into the pilot's face, still speaking Vietnamese. The Agent playing VC shifted his rifle and placed the tip of the barrel under the pilot's chin. "Get up or you are dead." His tone and stance radiated hatred, which wasn't entirely difficult to act out since he didn't like the military and he certainly didn't like Murdock.

Given no other option, the pilot struggled to get up as ordered. With his hands tied, Murdock had difficulty getting to his feet. When he managed to roll over onto his hands and knees, he groaned from the pain in his ribs. While the Captain silently cursed Daniels for kicking him in the ribs, both the VC and the pseudo VC laughed at the pilot's distress.

When Murdock appeared to be having real difficulty rising to his feet, Daniels and one of the genuine VC grabbed a fistful of the pilot's flight suit and roughly pull him to his feet, while both shouted in unison "Get up!" The CIA's ploy had worked so far, and Daniels working side by side with the enemy proved their success.

"Bastards," Murdock mumbled softly in English once he was on his feet. He hadn't realized he had said it out loud until the real VC soldier who had helped to drag him to his feet cut loose and popped the butt of his rifle against the underside of the pilot's jaw. The blow caused Murdock's mouth to snap painfully shut. Momentarily dazed by the pain and the sickly coppery taste of blood in his mouth, he missed what was being said around him and before he knew it he was being dragged forward.

For the first few minutes of travel, Murdock concentrated on placing one foot in front of the other. The beating he had taken to make things look realistic certainly did more than give the appearance of a defeated prisoner, he hurt like hell. When he was able to divert some of his concentration towards the conversation around him, his stomach tightened in disbelief. They were trading stories of what they had done to the American's, and from the tone of their voices both the genuine VC and the pseudo VC sounded proud of their accomplishments. 'Reality is unreal and the unreal is reality.' he thought to himself, remembering a lesson from the Logic class in college. Any further thoughts ended as they came to a stop and one of the VC whistled.

Another whistle was heard further up the path in reply. "Come," the soldier said moving forward.

A yards further they emerged into a small camp that contained two additional VC and two American prisoners trussed up like cattle for a branding. The small fire burning in the center of the camp spoke volumes about the Viet Cong's level of confidence safely behind their own lines. The light cast by the fire was minimal but it was enough that it would eventually give away the identity of the pseudo Viet Cong.

Panic rose in the pilot with each step towards the fire. He was sure that their ruse would be discovered within seconds. Suddenly, a foot appeared in his path and the pilot tripped and went down hard. Kimble went down with him and as shouts of alarm echoed through the camp, the Agent whispered urgently in Murdock's ear, "Fight back, we need a diversion."

Adrenaline was already pumping through the pilot's veins from the fear and panic he was feeling, and he was more than willing to comply with Kimble's request. Murdock started to kick out with all his might. Freeing his hands from the loose bindings on his wrists he quickly add his fists into the fray. Shouts for help from the pseudo Viet Cong brought the two soldiers sitting running to help contain the unruly pilot. Adams and Nelson backed away from the pilot's flying feet and brought their AK47's into position as if to fire at their prisoner.

With the Viet Cong's attention on Murdock, the tables suddenly turned. In rapid succession, five deafening pop's echoed through the jungle and the shouting came to an abrupt end. Turning his head to the left as a Viet Cong soldier fell dead beside him to the right, Murdock caught sight of Daniels lowering his rifle. As he watched the Agent turn towards the group, the Captain saw a glimmer of cool unadulterated evil reflected in the man's eyes.

"Let me give you a hand up, Captain," Kimble said stepping into Murdock's line of sight. Reaching out a hand he clasped one of the Captain's hands and pulled.

Rising to his feet, Murdock quietly looked at where Daniels had been only a moment before. From there his eyes followed the direction that the Agent's rifle had been pointed. The Captain paled when he found Daniels target. Behind him, Nelson was confirming what his eyes clearly saw.

"Our target has a few bumps and bruises, but he'll be fine." Nelson said reporting to Kimble, "The co-pilot wasn't so lucky. He's dead."

Murdock narrowed his eyes and he glanced from the body of the co-pilot to Daniels who stood over the body like a triumphant hunter. Without taking his eyes off of Daniels, Murdock stooped down and liberated an AK47 from one of the dead Viet Cong. Slowly and with purpose, Murdock began to move towards Daniels. Anger poured from his soul and he brought the rifle up and took aim at the center of the Agent's chest. The Captain fingered the trigger when the unfeeling bastard looked down at his victim with a sadistic smile. Tightening his jaw, the Captain struggled with an internal battle to decide if Daniels was really human or if he was just a rabid animal who needed to be put down. The decision was suddenly taken from his hands as Kimble ripped the rifle from his grasp.

"We know Captain." Kimble said softly as he nodded towards Daniels, "Adams saw him do it."

Nelson trotted up and interrupted any further conversation. "Sir, the bodies of the VC have been hidden in the jungle and a shallow grave has been made for Lieutenant Carmichael's body."

Kimble nodded, "Take one of the Lieutenant's dog tags and then get Adams to help you bury the body." Nelson nodded and took off to complete the task. When they were once again alone, Kimble turned to Murdock. "We'll need to move fast. Go and see if you can give Commander Tanner some help."

"What about Daniels?" Murdock asked.

Looking down at the ground, Kimble sighed. "We need him to get out." Looking back up into the Captain's eyes he found nothing but anger. "Once we get back, he'll be disciplined."

"That sounds like you're going to nothing but smack his hand. He murdered one of our guys." Murdock spat out accusingly.

"You have your orders," Kimble said sternly with a tone that indicated that the discussion was at an end. "It's almost dawn and we have no time for this."

"Ah, there isn't anything more beautiful than a sunrise over the mine fields." Lieutenant Peck said as he stepped up out of their underground hooch.

A few steps ahead, Sergeant Baracus turned and gave the Lieutenant a fierce glare. "Ain't nutton worth lookin at."

"Careful Sergeant, your face is going to freeze like that." Peck teased.

Baracus growled. "Ah'm gonna get chow," he said turning back around. "Colonel said I was ta go wit you to Da Nang s'afternoon so be at the pool when it time to go." The large black man called over his shoulder.

"I thought we were taking a chopper," Peck called out.

Baracus turned around quickly and pointed a beefy finger at the Lieutenant. "Ah ain't flyin lessin I have to. We drivin, you got that sucka."

Peck lifted his hands in defeat. "Sure, no problem." When the Sergeant turned around and continued his stomp towards the enlisted mess, the Lieutenant shook his head and said out loud, "Wonderful, an hour drive ducking sniper bullets and the occasional land mine planted by the friendly neighborhood Viet Cong."

"You are a Lieutenant," an amused voice said from behind. "You can order him to fly."

Peck turned around to face his Commanding Officer. "Nothing personal Colonel, but I'd like to save any orders for Baracus for when it really counts."

Hannibal chuckled. "He respects you enough to follow your orders. Trust me."

"I don't know about that." Peck said looking towards the direction that the bulky Sergeant had gone. "He has done nothing but growl at me since I transferred into this unit."

Chuckling, Hannibal swung an arm over the younger man's shoulder. "Kid, the fact that he hasn't hit you yet speaks volumes." After patting the younger man's back, Hannibal dropped his arm then asked, "Your business in Da Nang will be taken care of by tomorrow afternoon right?"

Peck nodded, "I have a few things to do here before leaving, then everything I need to do in Da Nang should done within twenty four hours."

"Just make sure you pick up another box or two of cigars," Hannibal added.

"Sure thing Colonel." the younger man said as he mentally reviewed what he needed to do while in Da Nang. "With any luck we'll be flying back late tomorrow." He didn't remember much from the conversation in the wee hours of the morning, but one thing for sure was the fact that he didn't want to disappoint the Colonel. He silently prayed that everything went as planned and that they did in fact fly back with everything the Colonel wanted.

.


.

By the time the light of dawn touched the now empty Viet Cong camp, the CIA was long gone. They moved back towards the helicopter as fast as they could in the pre-dawn light, but Tanner was weak from his ordeal and as a result he slowed them down. By the time the full light of day filtered through the dense jungle canopy overhead, they had slowed to a crawl in order to avoid meeting up with both NVA and Viet Cong who were now actively moving around the area in the daylight. The journey that had taken two and a half hours during the night ended up taking six during the day.

When Kimble called for a break, Murdock sat down heavily between a large tree and a patch of heavy brush and closed his eyes. The little sleep he had gotten the night before, the exertion of this mission, and the beating he had taken by Daniels hands had all brought him to the point of both mental and physical exhaustion. The bushes in front of him rustled slightly and before he could get his eyes open someone dropped down beside him.

"Mind if I join you?" Tanner asked in a weary voice that mirrored how Murdock felt. Nodding weakly, the Air Force Captain closed his eyes once more. "Rest when you can, it's SOP at its best," Tanner commented faintly as he closed his own eyes.

Murdock tensed when he heard Tanner comment about SOP. This had been the second reference that the Navy Commander had made that day about Standard Operating Procedures. After this mornings conversation with the Commander, Murdock doubted that he would ever be able to hear the word again without cringing. The memory of the conversation filled his mind.

Murdock's heart filled with compassion as he moved across the Viet Cong Camp towards Tanner. In the flickers of light from the small campfire the Captain could see the gut wrenching look of sadness on the older pilot's face as the man watched Nelson and Adams carry away his dead co-pilot. Kneeling down, Murdock placed a gentle hand on the Commander's shoulder "Sir, are you able to walk? We have to get moving."

Still watching the Agent's moving his co-pilot's body, the Commander's voice was filled with emotion when he spoke, "Which one did it?"

Murdock swallowed hard, knowing exactly what Tanner was asking for. "Agent Daniels," he replied.

"Which one?" The Commander said with a steely voice.

Murdock glanced quickly behind him to located Daniels then turned back. "The one by the fire." Tanner's expression of sadness mixed with anger. "They know he did it, and he'll be disciplined." Murdock added.

Tanner looked into Murdock's eyes and studied him for a moment. "You're new at this aren't you?" He finally asked.

"Huh?" Murdock asked, now feeling completely confused.

"It's SOP for the company," Tanner said in an hollow voice, "you never leave any witnesses on an operation." The older pilot looked off into the jungle where his co-pilot had been taken and he repeated himself in a hauntingly pain filled whisper, "never leave a witness."

Movement nearby alerted both Murdock and Tanner, drawing them both from their individual thoughts. Another second passed and Kimble pushed his face through the brush. "Get comfortable, we're going to stay here till dusk before moving again," the Agent whispered.

"How much further?" Tanner asked in a low voice.

"A couple yards," Kimble replied softly as he pulled away, leaving the two military members alone.

Silently, Murdock prayed that no one would say that any of this was SOP, he already had enough nightmares to cope with and he didn't want a reminder of the latest edition to the rapidly growing list of things that would haunt his dreams.

Further south, one man's nightmare was another man's playground. "Is it SOP for a admin clerk to interrogate a senior officer about materials requisitioned?" Lieutenant Peck asked in mock surprise. He suddenly leaned forward and gave the enlisted man behind the counter an appraising look. "Exactly what is your clearance Private?"

The private cringed under the Lieutenants glare. "Sooorrry sir," the clerk stuttered, "but these are controlled forms."

"I'm well aware of that private," Peck relied quickly, "but I must point out that it is SOP for a Supply Officer to maintain copies of each and every form that may be required to achieve the missions of my unit. If you will refer to the signature authority log book, you will clearly see my name and signature listed under those authorized to obtain controlled substances."

The clerk turned around and pulled the log book from the shelf behind him and when he turned back to the counter he found the Lieutenant watching impatiently. The private opened the log book on top of the forms in dispute and flipped the pages until he came to the page listing those authorized to obtain controlled forms. "Sir, you're not on the list for these forms." The private said in a more confident voice.

Peck leaned over the counter to inspect the page and frowned. "I'll be, It appears as if you're correct," he said looking up with embarrassment. "I don't know how I could have made such a mistake. But it's a good thing that you were on your toes Private. We can't have controlled materials falling into unauthorized hands."

The Private smiled with relief. He had expected the Lieutenant to continue to argue. "If you still require the forms, your CO will have to come in and put you on the list," the clerk said helpfully.

Shaking his head, Peck said, "to tell you the truth, I'll let the Colonel know that my name wasn't on the list and since I wasn't on the list I'll also tell him we don't need the form, heaven only knows how many useless forms I have to inventory as it is. The last thing I need is another one."

The clerk nodded in agreement. "I know what you mean sir, especially the ones that are serialized."

"I didn't know the form I requested was serialized," the Lieutenant said in mock surprise.

"Yes sir," the private said pointing to the corner of the top form. "See this number here? When I give out forms like these I have to register them in the back of the log book." The clerk flipped the pages in the log book until he came to the page that identified the form. "The number matches the next number in the log."

"Paperwork for the papers," Peck said with a toothy smile, "What will the Army think of next."

"Don't know sir, but I'm sure whatever it is will mean more work for me." The clerk said shrugging his shoulders.

"Isn't that always the way," Peck said wistfully. "Well," he said slapping the top of the counter, "I've got work to do and it won't get done with me standing around chit chatting. Thanks for everything Private, and keep up the good work."

"You bet sir," the clerk replied to the retreating back of the Lieutenant, "And have a good day."

Stepping out into the early afternoon sun, Peck patted the front of his uniform where two serialized forms, taken from the bottom of the stack, lay hidden. "Yes, I think it will be a good day," he said happily to himself as he headed away from the admin bunker in search of a typewriter to complete his task. Briefly he wondered about the conversation Hannibal had with General Koenig and why the Colonel had ultimately asked him to take care of the transfer, but with so much else to do the topic hadn't come up. Sighing heavily, Peck thought more about the conversation after Hannibal's call and there was very little he could actually remember hearing or saying. He had the distinct feeling that he had probably missed more than half of what was even said. Shrugging his shoulders, he dismissed the minor points of the conversation in favor of what he knew needed to be done. 'Good thing I knew what the Colonel's objective had been or I might have misunderstood what Hannibal wanted,' he thought smugly to himself.

Drifting into an uneasy sleep the images that had plagued him since Murray's death twisted with the images from the early morning hours, forming a new and more terrifying nightmare. Breathing heavily the dream placed him in what had been Daniels position and the Captain found himself staring through the sights at a prisoner roasting over the campfire. "Murray?" Murdock called out in his dream. The body, trussed up like a pig over a barbecue pit, was blistered and burned beyond recognition, but somehow Murdock knew. Eyes on the body snapped open and crispy brown flesh crackled and popping as the flame consumed its prize. Murdock began to shiver in his dream as blistered lips began to move and Murray's voice echoed through the camp, "Leave no witnesses ya dumb ass". Another voice joined the echo, "Yep it's SOP, you have to take him out." The pilot struggled against the dream and in the nightmare he screamed.

A bruising pressure against his mouth brought Murdock fully awake in an instant. Panic filled his eyes as he realized that he may have screamed out during his sleep. Above him Commander Tanner looked down at him patiently and mouthed "Are you okay?"

When the Captain nodded, Tanner slowly released the death grip he had on the younger man's mouth and settled into a comfortable spot beside the younger man. Murdock mouthed back "Did I scream?"

Tanner shook his head no and placed a hand over his own mouth to indicate that he had stopped the scream. He pointed at his ear and shook his head no again, indicating that no one had heard.

"Thank you," Murdock mouthed without making a sound. Tanner nodded, and for a moment a look of sadness washed over his face and Murdock suspected that the older man had a few nightmares of his own.

Shadows began to appear in the jungle, and Murdock glanced at his watch to check the time and was surprised to discover that he had slept for nearly five and a half hours. The light of day had begun to fade and soon, when darkness filled the jungle floor, they would be on their way.