After The Fall
By Leia Fee


At Face's insistence B.A. found himself stood outside the clubhouse when he'd far rather have been alone getting some sleep.  Off key but enthusiastic singing was drifting from inside and the smell of alcohol and cigarettes hung heavy in the hot night air.

"Face," he started to protest again but Face raised a hand and shook his head.

"No complaints.  We're going to have a fun night."

Whether I want to or not, B.A. mentally added but followed Face inside without further protest.

Inside, the singing proved to be coming from a group of gleefully drunk pilots in one corner of the room.  In the centre of the group Murdock was standing on a table, waving his hands as though conducting an entire orchestra and leading them in a very detailed and gruesome song about a plane crash.

Face laughed.  "See?" he pointed out.  "People having fun.  It's easy."

He planted a bottle firmly in B.A's hand and gave him a nudge towards one of the few empty tables.

He'd barely sat down when the words of the pilots' latest song filtered into his awareness.

"He leaped into the blast, but with his static line unhooked...  Now he ain't gonna jump no more!"

Half the room joined in on the chorus, raising their voices in a deafening roar.

"Gory, Gory, what a helluva way to die.  With your rifle strapped upon your back and falling through the sky..."

B.A. felt his stomach do an abrupt back flip.  What the hell was funny about that?  Falling...  He jumped to his feet, ignoring Face's startled look, and staggered outside, certain he was about to be sick. 


He stood sweating in the humid air, trying to calm himself down.  It's just a stupid song.  People just laughing because they're trying not to be scared.  Jeez, why d'it have to be falling though?  For a moment he could hear the rush of the wind past the open aircraft door.  Feel the harness tight about him.  He could feel the way his stomach dropped away as he fell.  The speed and noise and terror of it. 

Snap out of it!  he told himself firmly.  It was a long time ago.  Forget it.  He forced himself to take a deep breath and unclench his fists at his sides.

"I'm goin' to bed," he informed Face, who had stepped out behind him.  Without waiting for a response he strode off.


Late the following evening B.A. crossed the camp towards the airfield.  He shielded his face as he watched a slick settle to the ground and waited until the rotors stopped turning before he approached.  No matter how low he ducked he couldn't feel safe beneath those spinning blades.  Annoyed by his own hesitation he scowled and strode towards the pilot who had jumped out and was laughing at something his door gunner had just said.  They both fell silent and looked curiously at him as he approached.

"You seen Murdock?"

The pilot turned and gave him an appraising stare before answering.

"Howling Mad?  Not since last night."

B.A. turned away and the pilot called after him.

"He's probably still around here somewhere though--he came back ahead of us."

B.A. lifted a hand in thanks and headed to where another newly landed slick was being attended to. 

The ship's gunner sat in the open doorway, one leg dangling over the edge, the weapon he was cleaning resting loosely on his lap. A second man was checking the underside of the ship for damage.  Neither looked up until after B.A. spoke.

"You seen Murdock?"

The gunner looked up and tilted his head to one side as he considered the question.

"Why?  What d'you want him for?"

B.A. scowled again.  It was a simple enough question wasn't it?

"Who're you, his secretary?" he snapped.

"His gunner.  And he ain't here so why don't you go look for him someplace else okay?"  He laid the weapon down on the deck and jumped to the ground to confront B.A, apparently undeterred by the dramatic size difference.

Exasperated, B.A. wondered how this had turned into such a saga.  He found himself regretting that he had not insisted harder that Face be the one to go looking for Murdock.  God knew he owed him one for dragging him out last night.

By now the second man had extracted himself from the underside of the Huey and stood up.  B.A. recognised him as one of the crew chiefs, an utterly unflappable mechanic nicknamed 'Ready'.

"Hey man, I ain't looking for trouble.  I just want to find Murdock."  B.A. did his best to hang onto his increasingly frayed temper.

Ready stood facing him for a moment or two then sighed heavily.

"Look, we just got back in and we're all tired.  If Murdock spilled your beer or insulted your haircut or you donít like his singing, can't you just let it go this time?  He's been up there non-stop the past two days hauling you guys around.  Just give him a break okay?"

B.A. stared back at Ready then glanced at the belligerent, defensive stance the gunner had adopted.  These guys really thought he'd spent the past ten minutes traipsing all over the camp looking for Murdock just to pound on him?  He shook his head.  Dammed if he was going to explain himself to them.

He was about to walk away when he heard an unexpectedly welcome voice.

"Hey, guys, did I leave my cap..." Murdock trailed off as he ducked around the tail of the Huey and took in the scene, looking in puzzlement at the confrontation before him.  He ran a hand over his face then cupped his chin and adopted a mock-parental toe.

"Now, B.A. have you been upsetting my aircrew?"

B.A. was unable to restrain a snort of mixed annoyance and disbelief.

"Me?  Man, all I did was ask them where you was!"

"I'm right here, big guy!"

Murdock gave him a bright smile, though all of the long hours Ready had mentioned showed clearly in the dark circles beneath his eyes.  Before B.A. could answer he continued.  "Donít worry, guys.  B.A. here's a dear, dear friend--"

"No I ain't."

"Sure you are.  I mean you came all the way out here looking for me.  'Cross this dusty, noisy--"

"Shut up, fool.  I only came out here 'cause Hannibal said to.  He wants to talk to you."

"Sure thing.  No problemo, friend."

B.A. growled under his breath and Murdock dropped the overly chirpy attitude and turned back to the Huey crew.  The gunner had reached back inside the cockpit and held out a battered blue baseball cap which he tossed to Murdock.

"Thanks."  Murdock caught the cap and waved it.  "See you tomorrow, guys"

"You won't see me." Ready said firmly.  "Not until you've slept you won't.  I ain't lifting with you again 'til you've had a good eight hours."

Murdock smiled tiredly.

"Thought you were supposed to keep the choppers fixed up, not the pilots too."

Ready grinned back at him.

"Just get some sleep, okay?"

Murdock nodded.  "Promise."   He turned to B.A. "So where we going this time?"


The mission had gone as routinely as possible.  Right up until the time came to leave and from nowhere they suddenly found themselves under fire.

B.A. sprinted across the clearing, pausing only briefly to turn and scatter covering fire behind him.  The helicopter was already a few inches off the ground and he could see Murdock beckoning wildly through the side window of the cockpit.  Hannibal and Face leapt aboard and B.A. allowed himself a grim smile as he swept the treeline with bullets once more, hoping to buy them a little more time for takeoff.  As he turned back towards them he broke into a full run and abruptly found himself tumbling.  Instinctively he tucked himself into a roll as he hit the ground and lay gasping for a moment with the wind knocked out of him.  He picked himself up in time to see Hannibal and Face were half out of the chopper, moving to help.  The crew chief, Ready, beat them to it.  He bounded out of the helicopter and dragged B.A. to his feet.

"You don't want to miss this ride," he grinned, yelling over the noise of the rotors before jumping lightly back inside.  The helicopter was a good two feet off the ground now and B.A. cursed as his foot slipped on the skid and the helicopter dipped sideways. 

For a moment, blind terror held him as he felt himself falling.  Oh God no.  Anything but falling.  Let one of those rounds get lucky.  Quickly, in the back of the head.  Not falling.

The moment passed as Face and Hannibal grabbed him.  He scrambled on board, still breathless and for a moment he lay flat on the deck trying to slow his pulse and breathing to something approaching normal.  He sat up slowly, only to fall back as the chopper pitched steeply forward and accelerated hard.  Silently he cursed Murdock, knowing he had to be the one on the controls.

Face had his eyes screwed shut in exaggerated terror though he was sat casually in the relative comfort of one of the hammock style seats.  Hannibal was moving cautiously around trying to find a relatively sheltered spot where he could light a cigar out of the howling gale blowing through the open side doors.

A sudden rattle of gunfire was followed by a jerk which sent Hannibal's cigar tumbling from his fingers and made all three of them duck for non-existent cover. 

B.A. suddenly felt very exposed, sprawled in the centre of the deck and found himself wishing hard for something to hold on to.  He rolled over onto his hands and knees as another rattle of gunfire shook the craft. 

When he looked up he could see straight between the backs of the pilots' seats into the cockpit.  There was blood on the windscreen and spattered across the instrument panel.  He saw Murdock glance across at the second pilot, then back outside.  Over the racket of rotors and gunfire his shouting was audible but incoherent and with the next shot it stopped abruptly.  For a moment the chopper heeled over sideways and B.A. tensed his fingers against the deck as he felt himself slipping.  A second yell, nearer this time made him turn in time to see Ready pitch head first over his weapon and disappear out of the door.

"Jesus Christ!" he heard someone swear from behind him and took a moment to register that it was Face.

"B.A, get on that gun," Hannibal ordered loudly.

Belatedly B.A. realised they were still under fire and he edged towards the weapon.  He couldn't bring himself to look down but sent out a constant stream of fire until they were out of range of the ground forces.

The door gunner on the opposite side of the helicopter turned to Hannibal and shouted to him.  "One of the pilots is hit and we're losing fuel.  Going to put down at a firebase near here."  He stared at B.A. then across the deck.  "What the hell happened?  What happened to Ready?"

"He fell."

"Shit." The gunner shook his head and B.A. couldn't tell whether he sounded shocked or impressed.


They landed ten minutes later, B.A. still wedged into the tight cranny by the door, still holding the gun.  After a moment Hannibal walked over.


B.A. nodded but didn't get up.  Suddenly he didn't trust his legs to carry him, as though they weren't convinced yet that he was back on the ground.  He told himself not to be so stupid.

"Yeah," he said firmly.  "I'm fine."  He climbed out, stumbling slightly from cramp and not helped by the bruises incurred in his fall at the landing zone.  He jumped down to the ground and reeled giddily for a moment.  Face reached out a hand in support.  B.A. glared at him and swatted it away. 

"Does that fool Murdock know he just dropped his crew chief a couple of hundred feet?" he snapped.

Hannibal put a warning hand on his arm.

"Leave it, B.A." 

"I won't!"  He pulled away and stamped around to the front of the chopper.  Murdock was sat on the ground watching the retreating backs of his gunner and the medics who'd carried his co-pilot away.  B.A. stood over him and hauled him to his feet.

"What the hell were you playing at?"

Murdock stared at him blankly.

"Playing.  That's funny."

"Funny."  B.A. shoved him back against the side of the chopper hard enough to draw a choking gasp but Murdock still just stared at him.  "You think it's funny to fall out of a chopper in the middle of a firefight?"

"He shouldn't have fallen."  Murdock's voice was oddly quiet.

"Damn right he shouldn't have fallen.  You and your damn aerobatics--"

"No.  I mean he shouldn't have fallen.  He should have had his safety line on."

B.A. let go abruptly and Murdock flopped back to the ground.  B.A. felt his stomach turn over.  The reason Ready had unhooked his safety line was because he had left the chopper to help him.  He put a hand to his face and drew it away sharply when he felt dampness there.  Blood.  He knew he hadn't been hit.  He looked at his hands, stained red where he had grabbed Murdock's flightsuit.  Murdock watched him looking.

"It's not mine," he said in the same quiet tone.

B.A. clenched his fists tightly before forcing himself to relax.

"How badly was your co-pilot hit?"

"Too badly."


"For Tal or for Ready?"

B.A. sighed.  "For this whole damn mission."

Maybe Murdock recognised that as the closest he could come to an outright apology for the previous few minutes because he gave him a forced smile.

"Yeah.  Hasn't been one of our best has it?"

B.A. shook his head.  "You okay?"

Murdock shrugged.  "Just got the breath knocked out of me.  A round must have hit the underneath of my seat."

Hannibal and Face approached and B.A. looked up.  He gave a little shake of his head in answer to their concerned expressions, then looked back at Murdock.

"You want me to check out the chopper?  You said it was leaking fuel?"

"Yeah."  Murdock got to his feet and took a long shaky breath.  "I think it was just a nick or we wouldn't have got this far.  Might be able to fix it."


The sun slipped below the mountains, the orange light silhouetting the sharp outlines of the artillery.  They were silent at the moment and it was an oddly peaceful scene.  B.A. carefully stowed away the tools he'd been using and joined Face and Hannibal sitting near the perimeter of the camp.  He'd managed to fix the leak, at least well enough to get them back to base, but it was already getting dark and there seemed no good reason to risk a night flight.  The artillery crews had readily agreed to find them somewhere to sleep until tomorrow, seeming to welcome their unexpected arrival as a break in the monotony.

"Where's Murdock?" B.A. frowned, too tired to keep the concern out of his voice.

"Radioing back to base to tell them what happened."


Murdock joined them a few minutes later.

"I told them we could make it back by ourselves."  He sat down cross-legged and slumped forward, resting his chin in his hands.  "Save sending another chopper out here."

Hannibal nodded.

"Pretty night," Murdock murmured.

B.A. looked at him sharply, expecting some flippant remark, but his tone was quiet, almost wistful.  B.A. followed his gaze across the hills to the haze of pink clouds on the horizon.

"Yeah," he admitted.

"Shouldn't get this pretty out here.  Days like today aren't supposed to be pretty."

No one replied to that and after a moments silence Hannibal lit up a cigar.  The familiarity of the gesture was reassuring and B.A. allowed himself to lay back on the dry ground and closed his eyes.


His foot slipped on the skid and the chopper tipped sharply towards him.  Grabbing desperately for handholds that werenít there, he fell backwards.  But the ground that had been a few feet below had disappeared and he tumbled, yelling, through the air.  Above him he could hear Murdock whooping and see the chopper dancing wildly.  He tried to shout that he'd fallen but his voice was lost in the wind rushing past him.  Distantly he heard his name being called.


"B.A!  Hey, wake up, big guy.  You can't fall off the ground, you know."

He opened his eyes to realise he had spoken aloud and saw Murdock looking suddenly apprehensive.  Probably expecting to get thumped for that less than tactful last remark.  Before either of them could say anything, Hannibal stepped forward.

"It's time all of us were getting some sleep anyway."

Murdock backed off, looking relieved.  B.A. sighed and stood up, certain he wasn't going to be doing much sleeping.


When he started awake for the fourth time, hanging onto the side of the narrow cot as though he expected it to tip over, B.A. decided there was no point trying again.  He glanced over at the indistinguishable piles of blankets that were the rest of the team and quietly slipped away.

Outside he gave a reassuring wave to one of the patrolling soldiers, not wanting to cause an alarm at this time of night.  He thought about joining him, just for something to do but decided he really wasn't in the mood for company. 

Instead he wandered across to where the Huey stood silhouetted by the perimeter lights.  He stood a few feet away just staring at it.  He couldn't begin to guess how many of them he'd flown in by now, how many times he'd leapt from them into one firefight or another, or how many times they'd brought supplies or reinforcements or rescue.

He knew some of the other guys he'd fought with had always hated the things, regarded the whole flight as something to be endured and insisted that flying in was the most dangerous part of any mission.  Yet he'd also seen the glee in Murdock's face when he was in the air, the enthusiastic light that came into his eyes even on the ground when he talked about flying.  For himself he'd always seen the helicopters as another tool of the trade.  They were useful so you used them.  At least they took you down to the ground before you had to jump out.  Yeah, if you were unlucky or careless they'd get you killed, but so would almost anything out here that you screwed up.  He'd never been afraid of them before

Don't be so stupid, he told himself.  We're flying out of here tomorrow and we're flying out in that.  Like they flew everywhere out here.  Into combat, out of combat, medevac, transport.  In this terrain everything and everyone flew.  This would be a really bad place and time to decide you didn't like it.  Yet still he stood there, suddenly filled with the conviction that tomorrow would come and he'd find himself unable to climb on board. 

He could imagine it now, the way Hannibal would reasonably point out the obvious fact that it was the only way home, picture the way Murdock would laugh at the idea of anyone actually being afraid of flying, and see Face, hanging back out of the argument, watching.  They'd think he was a coward.  Or crazy. 

He scowled suddenly and strode towards the Huey.  It's just a machine, he told himself.  Just like a truck.  On impulse he decided to climb in and just sit for a while to prove to himself how easy it was.  He hauled the side door open and jumped up to be met with a startled yell from the cockpit.  He jumped and almost landed on his rear back outside.  He caught the edge of the door to steady himself.

Murdock stared at him around the back of the pilot's seat and B.A. glared back.  Angry and more than a little embarrassed he didn't bother to contain his anger.

"Murdock, what the hell are you doing out here!"

To his surprise Murdock appeared just as annoyed and snapped right back at him.

"I'm a helicopter pilot.  This is a helicopter.  What are you doing out here?"

"It's the middle of the night, you fool!"

"I know that.  I was asleep.  You're the one wandering about the place at god-knows what time."

B.A. stared at him.  He had a point of course, it was an odd time to choose for a stroll.  But then he hadn't exactly been expecting company, and certainly hadn't been expecting the helicopter to be occupied.

"You were asleep?  Out here?"  The oddity of that remark suddenly struck him, even though he knew he should be used to Murdock's various oddities by now. 

Murdock shrugged and the anger of a moment before seemed to drain away.

"I know.  It's stupid really.  In theory inside's got to be much safer.  But it just doesn't feel it, you know?"

B.A. suddenly couldn't restrain a laugh at the ludicrousness of the situation.  Here was Murdock out with the Huey in the middle of the night because he felt safer here, and here he was for the exact opposite reason.

Murdock watched him laugh.

"Glad I could brighten your night."  He turned to curl up in his seat again.  "Now if you don't mind..."

B.A. stopped laughing and frowned.  Murdock hadn't bothered to ask what he was laughing about.



"I wasn't laughing at you."

Murdock sat up and twisted in his seat.


"What?"  Again B.A. found himself wrong-footed.

"I said why?  That's funny isn't it?  Hot shot chopper pilot too scared to sleep indoors?"

"It's not funny."

Murdock looked at him for a few seconds longer then squeezed between the seats and joined him in the back.

"So why are you out here?"

B.A. sighed and sank onto a seat.

"I couldn't sleep."

Murdock nodded.

"And because you love helicopters so much you decided to come visit?"

B.A. scowled.

"That isn't funny either."

Murdock sighed.  "No.  Sorry."

B.A. fiddled with a clip on one of the dangling safety harnesses.

"Does..." He started to trail off then finished in a rush, "does that happen often?  Someone falling?"

Murdock sighed again and shrugged.

"It happens.  Far as I'm concerned it's still safer in here than out in a firefight.  But safety's only relative isn't it?  You can still catch a bullet or get careless and walk into a rotor blade, or forget your harness.  We scrambled for a rescue run once and I'd been sleeping and forgot to put my flak jacket on."  He smiled wryly.  "Tal was my co-pilot then too and he swore at me all the way there and back.  Said he wasn't flying me home if I got myself killed.  People are only people.  A lot of the time we're just scared and stupid."

"We're supposed to be soldiers.  Scared ain't supposed to be part of the job."  B.A. looked out of the open door, trying to not remember the paralysing terror of that evening's flight.

Murdock snorted in open amusement. 

"What recruiting leaflet d'you read that in?  Who the hell else has got better reasons to be scared?"

"But what if you get too scared?  What if you can't do the job any more?"

He looked round to find Murdock watching him thoughtfully.

"Well then you pack it in, I guess.  Quit.  Not like they're going to physically carry people to the chopper if they won't go, is it?"

"Just like that?  Just quit?"


B.A. considered it.  The idea was so entirely alien it was impossible to imagine himself doing it.

"Could you do it?" he asked Murdock.

"I don't know."  Murdock frowned.  "I hope so.  If I needed to.  A helicopter is no place to lose it."  He shook his head suddenly and smiled brightly.  "Hey, you want some coffee?"

"You got coffee?  Where'd you get coffee?  We've been out for ages."

"Face got it.  I didn't ask from where."

B.A. smiled and shook his head, willing to have to the subject changed.

"Yeah, sounds good."

Murdock fished out several packets of instant coffee and sachets of sugar.  He tossed them to B.A and pulled a small homemade stove from under a seat.

"There's a canteen of water at the back.  Grab it while I set this up?"

B.A. nodded and Murdock slipped outside to top up his stove with fuel from the helicopter.

Silence prevailed for a few minutes as both men watched the water boil.

"B.A?" Murdock asked after a while.  "Can I ask you something?  You can tell me to shut up."

B.A. didn't take his eyes of the water.

"Yeah, what?"

"You don't like flying.  I get that, I guess.  Only I've seen you got up formal and you were wearing para wings.  So I gotta ask--"

"No you don't."

"--Why someone who hates to fly---"

"Murdock, shut up." 

"-- would go jumping out of planes?"

Almost out of habit, B.A. snapped back, "Maybe it's just your flying I don't like."

"N'uh uh, nice try, big guy.  You just don't care if I know.  You hide it pretty good from everyone else."

B.A. wondered why he wasn't angrier.  Maybe he was just too tired.  He stared at the stove.  It had gone out without either of them getting around to making their coffee.

"I don't jump no more," he finally answered flatly.

Murdock eyes widened in distress at the unintentional repetition of the raucous refrain from the previous night's singing.

"Something went wrong," he guessed aloud.  "Someone you knew?"

"Leave it alone, Murdock.  Please?"

Murdock dropped his gaze.

"All right.  Sorry.  Look the water's still hot.  Want that coffee?"

B.A. sighed.  "Na.  Think I'll try and get some sleep.  We still have to get back to base tomorrow after all."

"Yeah.  Night then."


B.A. hopped down to the ground and headed back towards the bunker.  He turned as Murdock called out.

"Hey," Murdock leaned out of the door and gave him a grin.  "No aerobatics okay?

In spite of himself B.A. returned the smile and waved goodnight.  After all, while he still had to fly, there were worse pilots.




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Note for the curious

The song Murdock and the other pilots are singing which B.A. takes offence at is a real song called "Blood on the Risers" but I have to confess I cheated a little teeny bit here.  It's a variant on a song which I remember singing (in the lovely morbid glee of childhood) in the playground.  I was being a horrible influence and teaching it to a younger cousin when my grandad mentioned they used to sing a version of it when he was in the RAF.  I have no idea whether it was known on the other side of the Atlantic as well but decided the tune was probably well enough know that most people would get the reference and there were certainly plenty of similar songs about with the same sort of attitude of laughing off all the horrible things that could happen.


Blood On The Risers

He was just a rookie trooper, and he surely shook with fright
He checked all his equipment and made sure his pack was tight.
He had to sit and listen to those awful engines roar...
"You ain't gonna jump no more!"

Gory gory, what a helluva way to die
Your rifle strapped upon your back and falling through the sky

"Is everyone happy?" cried the sergeant, looking up,
Our hero feebly answered, "Yes," and then they stood him up
He leaped into the blast, but with his static line unhooked,
Now he ain't gonna jump no more!

He counted long, he counted loud, he waited for the shock
He felt the wind, he felt the clouds, he felt the awful drop,
The silk from his reserve spilled out and wrapped around his legs,
(There's a more obvious rhyme but keep it clean eh?)
Now he ain't gonna jump no more!

The risers wrapped around his neck, connectors cracked his dome
Suspension lines were tied in knots around his skinny bones
The canopy became his shroud, he hurtled to the ground,
Now he ain't gonna jump no more!

The days he'd lived and loved and laughed kept running through his mind,
He thought about his girl back home, the one he left behind,
He thought about the medics and wondered what they'd find,
Now he ain't gonna jump no more!

The ambulance was on the scene, the jeeps were running wild,
The medics jumped and screamed with glee, rolled up their sleeves and smiled
For it had been a week or more since last a 'chute had failed
Now he ain't gonna jump no more!

He hit the ground, the sound was, "Splat!" His blood went spurting high.
His comrades there were heard to say, "A helluva way to die!"
He lay there rolling 'round in the welter of his gore
Now he ain't gonna jump no more!

There was blood upon the risers, there were brains upon the 'chute
Intestines were a'dangling from his paratrooper's suit,
He was a mess, they picked him up, and poured him from his boots.
Now he ain't gonna jump no more!

His ghost now jumps without a chute from fourteen thousand feet
His ghost now jumps without a chute from fourteen thousand feet
His ghost now jumps without a chute from fourteen thousand feet
And he'll jump for evermoreÖ

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