More gunfire rattles from beneath us but I already know we're going to crash. We're hit, losing fuel. Need to put down, but not here. Not into that firestorm underneath us. I let out the throttle to maximum and haul us upwards. Lesser of two evils. A crash we can survive, getting blown to bits we can't. I ram the stick forward. Full speed out of here and we may just get far enough away that we don't find the bad guys picking us out of the wreck I'm about to turn this bird into. I barely register when the gunfire stops. Too busy listening to the engine as it sputters and dies. Out of fuel.
Doesn't take a pilot to realise that the sudden lack of engine noise is a Bad Sign and I answer Hannibal's question before he asks it.
"We're going down, Colonel."
"We're falling?" The note of panic in B.A's voice sets my teeth on edge and I try to ignore it. Can't spare any concentration to soothe panicky passengers now, and up here they're all passengers. No amount of Special Forces training will teach you to survive being blown out of the sky.
"We're falling," Hannibal confirms. At least he sounds calm. He'll take care of B.A. I dismiss passenger management from my list of concerns.
"It's not the falling that scares me--it's the sudden stop at the end," Face mutters.
An old joke. Nervous laughter. He's wrong anyway. Falling is the scary part. Once you hit dirt you've got nothing left to worry about. It gets real simple, real quick. Either you've survived or you haven't and you've no choice in the matter. Falling's different. Falling, you've got time to think of all your choices. Time to realise that none of them are going to help. Time to drive yourself nuts worrying about it.
S'why I like choppers. Got to concentrate on what you're doing. Got to fly with both hands, both feet, and all your head. Get distracted worrying about the what-happens-next and chances are there's not going to be a 'next'.
Anyway we're not falling. Not yet. Even unpowered, the rotors'll kep turning for a little while. Just like playing with sycamore seed helicopters when you’re a kid. Autorotation. Used to do it for kicks back when I learned how. I can still land this bird. It won't be gentle but I can pull it out. I think. Don't think too hard, Murdock. Just fly.
I tune out everything else and ease us down until we're coasting above the canopy. Need a clearing. Need one soon. If we have to go down through those trees we're going to be a mess. All my attention taken up by what I'm doing, I jump when Hannibal touches my shoulder and points.
I follow where's he pointing. Close enough. Too close if anything. We're going to have to come in pretty steep. I head for it anyway. It's the best we've got. We drop fast, B.A still yelling about falling. We're not falling. I know the difference. Fifty feet now. Twenty. B.A.'s really going to pitch a fit when I slam on the brakes here. No time to warn him. No time to think about it. You crash or you don't. Now we get to find out. I yank my left hand up abruptly cutting our descent rate. B.A. isn't the only one to yelp at the sudden change of speed but I ignore them. Few more feet and we land we less of a bump than I expected given the number of holes we're sporting.
There's that few seconds silence as everyone realises they're still in one piece.
"We're down," I say needlessly.
"Murdock, you're a sorcerer." Hannibal is grinning like it was all a fun ride and I realise that a similar dizzy grin is spreading over my face too. Adrenaline backwash.
Another moment and Hannibal is all business again. We hoik the supplies out of the chopper and head out. It's going to be a long trek home.
But we didn't fall.
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