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Who's That Crazy Pilot?

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Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith glanced back, but could see nothing through the lush vegetation behind him. It didn't matter. He didn't need to see them to know they were there. His team only had a moment before the VC group would catch up with them, and three against twenty they wouldn't stand a chance. Especially with one of his men shot and barely able to stand.

"Hold on, Sergeant. The damned chopper will be here any minute," he said, giving Baracus' left shoulder an encouraging squeeze. The right one was covered in blood. If someone didn't pick them up right away, Baracus was going to pass out, and Hannibal wasn't sure how far they could carry the big man. It was still more than ten klicks to the clearing where they had arranged to be picked up. They really couldn't make it like that with Charlie at their heels. The chopper would have to pick them up here using the McGuire rigs.

He contacted the rescue helicopter again and quickly specified the coordinates so that the crew would have no problem finding them. Instead of a reply, the radio crackled loudly and after a good deal of groaning, squeaking and rustling, the device went mute. Hannibal swore loudly. Baracus had tried to fix the thing earlier in the morning, but with their near-zero equipment, even their technically gifted Sergeant was incapable of performing a miracle, and his work was rather makeshift - and as it now turned out, of very short duration. The Colonel only hoped that the helicopter crew had received his report before the radio broke.

Since he was no longer able to specify their position, he stopped his team and decided they would wait in place. Baracus slumped gratefully into the ferns and Peck automatically began examining his bandaged shoulder. Hannibal crept a little further away and listened intently. He wouldn't be surprised if Charlie was now closing in around them, locking them in the middle of a circle of hell from which there would be no escape.

"Where's the fucking chopper!" he hissed through his teeth, pricking up his ears even more and… there! From the southeast, the exact direction of the pick-up zone, the unmistakable sound of a roaring Huey approached hesitantly. Hannibal quickly ran back to the rest of the team.

They were waiting.

"Shit! Hannibal, they don't know where we are!" Peck exclaimed urgently as the helicopter passed their position and flew on unstoppably. After a moment, however, the regular rumble turned back as the pilot headed in their direction again.

"He's looking for us," Hannibal reassured his men.

"Yeah, but how's he going to find us here, huh? Only Superman can see us through the green roof above us!"

"But Superman wouldn't need a chopper to rescue us," Hannibal shook his head. Peck scowled at him. He wasn't in the mood for any jokes right now, and he really didn't share the Jazz that ran through his commander's system.

"Try the radio again."

Hannibal just shook his head again. "That's about as useful as last night's dinner."

The helicopter moved away from them, made another turn, and this time took it a little further north.

"He's going to fly off and leave us here, Hannibal!"

With narrowed eyes, Hannibal scanned the green canopy that separated them from the blue sky like a heavy curtain, then slid his gaze to Baracus. The Sergeant sat leaning against the trunk of a tree, seemingly unconscious. Beads of sweat trickled down his face and blood seeped through the fresh bandage. If they stayed in the jungle, the big man wouldn't stand a chance. He and Peck could probably make it to the pick-up zone in time if the chopper circled around for a while longer, but that would mean leaving Baracus behind. He couldn't let that happen. He never left anyone behind.

"Lieutenant, maybe you should-"

"No way." Peck frowned even more. He knew what the Colonel was going to suggest, and almost took offense at the thought that he was expected to agree to leave the two of them here.

Hannibal looked up again, gazing thoughtfully into the gloomy green above them. There was a tiny crack among the treetops, perhaps he could fire a signal flare. This would, of course, draw the attention of anyone in the vicinity.

He pondered indecisively for a few seconds, but when the questing Huey once again swept right above them and Baracus groaned in pain, the decision was made. Hannibal pulled a flare out of his pack and headed for a spot where he could see a bit of blue sky through the trees. Peck watched him silently, making no attempt to stop him. It was their only hope.

In a second a bright flare flew up into the sky. A regular rumble in the distance changed the tone slightly and the chopper began to approach. Hannibal rejoined the others and quickly helped Peck get Baracus back on his feet. They managed to wake the Sergeant, and when they supported him, the wounded man was able to stand.

The helicopter was now hovering directly above them, yet they were unable to see it properly through the lush vegetation. But that didn't matter. The crew knew about them and dropped three McGuire rigs down among the trees. It took Hannibal and Peck some time to help the almost unconscious Sergeant into the nylon strap and secure him safely, but eventually all three were successfully seated in the loops.

Hannibal could feel his feet leave the ground as the sudden bark of an AK-47 sounded and several bullets whizzed just past his head. He quickly raised his weapon and fired into the surrounding brush. Before the enemy lost him in the treetops, several more bullets flew past him. One of them lightly grazed against his right thigh, but he hardly noticed. He was far more worried about his rope getting caught in the tangled branches. He heard the chopper pilot increase power and felt a strong pull, but he didn't move an inch. He was stuck among the branches, unable to figure out where the problem was or how to free the rope. A few more bullets whizzed by somewhere to his right and he jerked in a futile effort to free himself from the uncomfortable hold.

Judging by the sound of the helicopter, the pilot did what he could to get him out of the bush, but to no avail. Knowing that his situation not only endangered the rest of his team, but the men in the chopper as well, Hannibal pulled his knife from its sheath without hesitation. Those up there were obviously reluctant to cut the rope and save themselves, even though the helicopter's engine was now screaming at the top of its mechanical lungs. The pull on Hannibal's rope was becoming almost unbearable, drawing him further and further into the tangled branches. Suddenly he heard a crack of wood and a sharp end of a branch ran painfully across his back. He yelped in pain and quickly raised his hand to cut the rope, allowing the others to escape. At that moment, the chopper jerked upwards and one of the strong branches knocked Hannibal's arm back down. The grip of his fingers loosened against his will, and the knife slipped out of his hand and was lost in the thick foliage. A few seconds later another burst of AK-47 bullets whizzed past, and the Colonel thought he also heard the bang of a hunting double-barrel shotgun in all the noise. A curse slipped out of his mouth. What the hell were those idiots doing up there? They should cut him off and get out of here right now.

Huey's engine roared desperately again and the tangled branches suddenly and unexpectedly released Hannibal from their grasp. He felt a sharp pain ran through his side, followed by something hitting him hard on his left shoulder. He didn't hear his collarbone break, but he felt it, and the last thing he noticed before the darkness engulfed him was the swaying movement in the open space and the wind blowing in his face.

 

"How are they?" the pilot asked his crew worriedly. Lieutenant Wood, the door gunner, looked out at their three-man load swaying beneath them.

"One's fine, but two seem unconscious. The one we yanked out of the trees doesn't look good," came the reply over the intercom.

Captain Murdock swore quietly and glanced out of the side window. One of the passengers was sitting upright in his harness, his convulsive posture indicating that he was conscious and probably quite frightened. But the other two were hanging limply on the end of their ropes, and one looked as if a lawnmower had run over him. Murdock swallowed the bitter saliva that had formed at his tongue. He might have killed the man by his obstinate effort to save him. But he couldn't bear even the thought of letting his door gunner cut the damn rope. He hated having to leave anyone in the jungle.

He quickly turned away and fixed his gaze back in front of him. He gently lifted the collective pitch control to get a little higher, avoiding the risk of banging his new passengers against the high trees. With a silent plea that the poor man not be crippled for life, and that he live at all, he made his way to the base.

 

***

 

Hannibal was slowly coming to. He opened his eyes slightly and quickly closed them again. The light from the lamp hanging above him was too harsh. He tried to recall recent events and the images of the jungle began to flash through his mind slowly. From what he could remember, he thought he should be dead. But even though he was weak and faint, he definitely felt alive. He was breathing and he could smell the unpleasant odor of disinfectant. So he must have been in a field hospital. And apparently they'd given him some painkillers, because he wasn't feeling any pain, even though he theoretically should have. Or did he have a severed spinal cord?

He opened his eyes again and squinted around him.

"Welcome back, Hannibal," came a familiar voice to his right. He turned his head in that direction, suddenly feeling an uncomfortable tension in his left shoulder. Colonel Morrison, his commander, was sitting in a rickety wooden chair beside his bed, looking him over carefully. "How are you feeling?"

Hannibal licked his chapped lips. His mouth was dry, and the voice that came out of it creaked like a rusty door.

"Thirsty," he said, trying to sit up. At that moment, pain shot through his left side and he found himself almost unable to move.

"Don't move," Morrison admonished him, grabbing a glass of water from the small table. He carefully put it to Hannibal's mouth and let him drink while he continued to talk. "You're pretty beat up. From what I've heard, I'm surprised you're alive."

"How are the others?" Hannibal asked when he finished his water and Morrison put the empty glass back on the table.

"Baracus is lying two beds away. Gunshot wound to the shoulder. He'll be fine," Morrison said, nodding to the row of beds. Hannibal turned his head to see his Sergeant sleeping deeply on one of the beds. A tall, dark-haired doctor was checking his medical record. "Peck's uninjured, just a little shaken from the flight."

"Yeah, I can imagine," Hannibal grinned in amusement, feeling relieved that both his men were okay. "His first flight on the rope," he added and returned his attention to Morrison.

"He'll get used to it." Morrison waved his hand as if it were nothing, but he was glad he didn't have to attend such a party himself.

"And me?"

"Your left shoulder was dislocatedand and your collarbone is broken," Morrison began to speak, knowing what Hannibal was asking. "You also have your left side pretty bruised, a nasty cut wound on your head, and some other minor cuts and scrapes all over your body. That crazy pilot did a job on you."

"He saved my life," Hannibal replied thoughtfully. He really expected the chopper crew to cut him off. It was sheer madness trying to pull him out of the trees, but the pilot kept trying anyway, even at the risk of killing them all. If nothing else, he could have easily broken Hannibal's neck or ripped him open with all the branches around. There was little chance of saving him. And yet the man had done it. "Who was the pilot?" he asked, but Morrison just shrugged.

"Someone really crazy, I don't know."

"All pilots are crazy. If they weren't, they'd never fly those things," Hannibal laughed, but immediately became serious again. "I'd like to talk to him. Can you arrange it?"

"Yeah, I'll try. I'll check who they sent for you."

"Thanks."

"Well, I have some work to do," Morrison said, noticing Hannibal's eyes slowly starting to close with fatigue. "Behave yourself. I don't wanna hear the doctors complain that you disobey them."

Hannibal just grunted. Morrison gave him a threatening look and headed for the door.

 

***

 

Two days passed before a lanky man with the insignia of the rank of captain on his cap appeared at Hannibal's bedside.

"Colonel?" He said uncertainly, clearing his throat to draw attention to himself. Hannibal looked up from the book he was reading.

"Do we know each other?" He asked as he went through his private mental files and none of the names he found matched the face in front of him. He could definitely remember those deep dark eyes, he had a very good memory for people he met.

"Captain Murdock. The pilot who extracted you from the jungle, sir," the young man replied, taking off his cap and nervously began to crumple it.

"So you're the one who almost scalped me." Hannibal unconsciously touched the bandage wrapped around his head and took another good look at the pilot.

"I'm sorry, Colonel." Murdock bowed his head in embarrassment. He wanted to come and see his unfortunate passenger as soon as the man was treated. Find out how bad he was and apologize to him. Only he hadn't had time since. He had been flying for two days, bringing supplies to the troops in the jungle and wounded men back to base, and now for the first time since then he had a half day free. He was tired, barely able to stay on his feet, and he was also nervous when he got word that the guy he'd rescued wanted to see him. And it was even worse when he learned it was the legendary Colonel Smith, known to all as Hannibal. And now, with those icy blue eyes staring at him and penetrating to his very essence, he didn't know what to say.

"Sorry for what? For saving my life? I hope that's no reason to apologize, Captain," Hannibal smiled, and Murdock raised his head in surprise as a friendly warmth crept into the formerly austere army voice. Before he could reply, the Colonel waved his hand to silence him and added, "I nominated you for the Bronze Star Medal."

Murdock straightened up, suddenly looking determined and confident. "Cancel it, Colonel," he said in a firm voice. Hannibal raised his eyebrows questioningly. For one thing, he had never seen any soldier refuse any kind of decoration, and for another, the change that had happened to the Captain was lightning and unexpected.

"I heard that chopper needed a good overhaul after your rescue mission. And you risked the lives of your crew, including yours. That takes a lot of courage."

"Or a lot of madness," Murdock replied, and Hannibal couldn't tell if the man was joking or serious.

"They're not mutually exclusive," he said thoughtfully. "After all, you know what to do when the rope gets stuck in the trees, don't you?"

"I do," the Captain nodded, but immediately added in a firm voice, "but I also know I can't leave anyone in the jungle, Colonel." He paused for a second, and added quietly, "I'll never leave anyone to hell."

Hannibal couldn't help a smile. He was liking the man more and more. The skinny pilot was exhausted, with dark circles under his eyes, and his legs were almost buckling under him. Yet here he stood before Hannibal with firm resolve, confidently defying him. From the way those dark eyes looked, he must have been in country for some time and had obviously been through a lot. Something about the man reminded him of himself. There was some kind of Jazz in him.

"All right, Captain," he spoke after a moment, "you've earned that medal, but I'll see what I can do about it. In any case, I owe you a drink."

Murdock sized him up suspiciously, but when he saw the sheer sincerity in the Colonel's face and the unusual friendliness for a senior officer, his lips automatically parted into a broad smile.

"I'm happy to accept that, sir," he replied, with a first-class salute.

"Nice," Hannibal nodded and returned the salute in a more casual manner. "You can go now. I'd say you need a rest pretty badly."

"Yeah, I guess I do. I'm starting to see things that exist," the pilot smiled again and headed off past the beds.

Hannibal thought about that strange statement, but then just shook his head and went back to his book. He hadn't even read a paragraph when he was snapped out of the vision of the historic battle by his Sergeant's angry voice and a shriek. He looked up quickly and remained staring in surprise at the scene going on two beds away. Baracus, pinned to the bed by two doctors, was angrily shouting at the Captain who had been standing by Hannibal's bedside a few minutes before. The pilot, gesticulating widely and yelling something unintelligible, was held tightly by another member of the medical staff who was trying to delegate the hysterical man to the door with some urgency, while his colleagues were busy trying to hold the raging Sergeant.

Despite the pain and the strict prohibition against getting out of bed, Hannibal lowered his bare feet to the floor and walked limply towards Baracus.

"Sergeant!" He barked as the big man flung one of the doctors to the ground with his good arm. "Stop it!"

Baracus gave him a glare, but he fell silent and stopped fighting. The sweaty and panting doctors turned their heads to Hannibal.

"Colonel Smith, you're not supposed to get up yet!" one of them blurted out.

"If you want my Sergeant to throw you against the wall, no problem, I'll climb back into bed. But believe me, Doc, he can do it with just his left hand," Hannibal said. The authority was oozing from him and the medical staff preferred to quietly withdraw to a safe distance.

"I'm gonna kill that man, Hannibal. If he walks in here again, I swear I'm gonna kill him!"

"Who?" Hannibal asked, sitting down on the Sergeant's bed and waited with interest for an explanation.

"That stupid fool! I can understand them calling him Howlin' Mad. He's such a nutcase!"

"That pilot? You know him?"

"Yeah. Met him twice. He gave me a headache as he jabbered on and on and never shut up. Nothing he says makes any sense."

"What did he say to make you so mad today?" Hannibal tried not to smile in amusement.

"Nah, man. He don't have to say anythin'. It's enough to see him. That stupid grin of him."

"Listen, that charge for assaulting the officer after the fight in the mess, that was..."

"Yeah, that was him."

Hannibal mused; it wasn't hard to make this man's blood boil, because Baracus had a short fuse, but what could the pilot say that drove his Sergeant so mad?

"BA," he spoke calmly, using Baracus' nickname for now. At the same time, he reached out and squeezed the big man's left shoulder. "He saved your life a few days ago."

"I don't care. The man's nuts," the Sergeant growled. But his expression showed that he was well aware of the truth. And maybe that made him even angrier.

"You should be grateful to him for that," Hannibal pointed out. This time the Sergeant just mumbled something inarticulate. "Try to leave him alone, will you?" The Colonel added just in case.

There was another unintelligible grunt, but Hannibal didn't hear it this time. He automatically reached into his pocket for a cigar, only to realize that he was wearing only a T-shirt and shorts, and all his cigars were stored in his tent. Peck had brought him two, but he'd already smoked them secretly during the night. So he rubbed his chin thoughtfully. He was getting more and more interested in the skinny pilot. He'd have to request the man's record and take a closer look at him. A good pilot could come in handy. Even if he was crazy. Especially when he was crazy.

 

 

THE END