Someone was laughing, high and sharp and grating. Someone else swore and then screamed as the blows began to land. He could hear each one make contact. Impossibly loud. A loose branch from the bush behind them rattled against the bars of the cage. Wind getting up, weather on the change. The branch banged and banged until his ears rang. He listened to the voices instead. They were garbled, loud and distorted, like a radio with the pickup tuned too high.
"Shh," he said. No one heard. Maybe they thought he was the wind. It was shushing loudly enough for ten of them.
"Shh." He needed them to be quiet. He needed everything to be quiet, just for a little while. He needed to sleep. Had he slept? He couldn't remember it getting dark. It must have though. How long ago? How many times? He stared up at the flickering green-filtered sunlight. Maybe those passing shadows were whole days and nights and they'd been here years already.
If they'd just be quiet so he could think, he knew he could work it out.
"Shhh." He lifted a finger to his lips. "Shhh."
A figure blocked the flickering sunlight for a moment, then the world slipped sideways. He closed his eyes against the dizziness.
"Murdock?" The voices were still garbled but this one was too loud to ignore. "Murdock, come on. Open you eyes, man."
He opened his eyes. The world wasn't sideways--he was. He reached out to try and shove himself upright and felt himself being held.
"Relax Murdock. It's BA." The hold slackened but the voice carried on. "Hannibal, I don't know if he can even hear me."
Murdock wanted to giggle--hadn't he just trying to tell them not to be so loud?
He closed his eyes again until a whisper of a sound prickled at the edge of his hearing. His eyes flew open and he rolled his head back, searching for a glimpse of sky, some break in the unending greenery overhead. The other sounds became muted, insignificant, as the whisper grew to a hammering pulse.
Hueys. Lots of them.
Murdock stared up at the sky he couldn't see and listened to the high turbine whine and the long, heavy blades cutting up the wind.
When they were so close that the branches were shaking in the rotorwash he started to count.
When the flight had passed he reached out to tug at BA's arm.
"What is it, Murdock?" The concern in the big man's voice was clearly audible and Murdock felt slightly guilty. They'd wanted to talk to him earlier and he'd just wanted them to be quiet.
"Sorry?" Was that concern or confusion? "What you talking about?"
Good question. What was he talking about?
Oh yes. The helicopters.
"You have to count them for me."
"What?" Definitely confusion now.
"Count them back. If I'm not... awake. Please. It's important."
"Count them?" BA snorted. "How? It's just noise."
Murdock shook his head. "No. No, the noise is all down here."
The noise had stopped. All the noise. Hot, dull silence lay over the camp.
Almost silence. One sound persisted. Rising and falling, fading for a few moments then returning.
The soft flutter of a propeller, barely audible over the drone of a single engine running rough in the humid air.
"Why doesn't he see us?" Murdock rested his head on his knees as he listened. "Why doesn't he tell someone we're here?"
"He can't see us, Murdock." Hannibal's voice. Calm as always, but so much quieter these days it seemed. "The trees are too thick."
Murdock threw his head back against the bars in frustration. "And why the hell doesn’t he open the throttle and let her have some power in this heat? Poor little thing!" The ragged engine note was like splinters to his ears. Maddening. "They got kids out here in goddamn Cessnas, Hannibal."
Murdock felt a hand on his shoulder but no answer came. He closed his eyes to see the small aircraft better. It was clearly madness to be out here over enemy territory in such a tiny, fragile bird, but above the trees the sky would be so clear. Sunlight on slender wings. Height your only safety, but somehow it felt like enough.
"Pretty little Bird Dog." He fought to make his tone light. To hold himself together. The others would think he was crazy for real if they knew how much it hurt wanting to be up there. "Want to scam me one when we get back, Faceman? We'll go play inverted over the beach."
Hannibal's voice again. Still quiet. So tired. "Face isn't here right now, Murdock."
Murdock drew his knees in tighter and shivered in the heat, humming to stop his teeth chattering. "Fly away, come again another day."
"Go away!" Murdock shrieked in frustration. Why wasn't anyone doing anything? "Warn him off, make him get out of here."
Whirring rotors and staccato machine gun fire hissed and crackled in the air. An unseen, nightmarish fireworks display. The artillery emplacements that yesterday's Bird Dog had missed, today's Loach had found.
Found, and lured into firing and revealing their positions.
Murdock grabbed at Face. "Why is he still sitting there? Why doesn't he call in the strike and go?"
"I don't know, Murdock." Face disentangled Murdock's hands from his collar and held them gently. "Take it easy. You don't want to bring the guards over here do you?"
Murdock pulled away and scrambled his way to the opposite corner. "What does it matter?" he asked tiredly. "They're going to kill us eventually anyway." His voice rose again. "And those gunners are going to kill that chopper too if someone doesn’t warn him! Or they'll knock him down and bring him here and then these bastards will have some new pilot to play with and then they won't care that I'm yelling will they? So tell him! Someone get on the radio and tell him!"
"We can't do that, Murdock." Face sounded tired too. "We lost the radio in the crash. Don't you remember?"
A bang. A whooping, infuriating siren. His feet pressed against tail controls that suddenly and terrifyingly offered no resistance at all. Spinning. Falling. Ground moving far too fast in the wrong direction. Pull up, pull up. Second time this month--crew chief's gonna kill me. Crashing, shattering, blades against branches. A stop so sudden it seemed anticlimactic until the smell of fuel sent everyone scrambling to get away.
Yes, he remembered the crash.
"I didn't mean
to, Face. I tried.
I did try. I couldn't do it.
They hit something in the control linkages.
She wanted to fly, she really did--I just couldn't tell her how."
"It's all right,
Murdock." When had Face moved?
He was sitting next to him again, one arm around his shoulder.
"Forget about it. No
one thinks it was your fault."
Murdock nodded so hard he felt dizzy and only Face's support kept him
from falling sideways. "They must do."
He let his head sag forwards. "I
Face sounded upset. Was he
mad about the crash after all? Murdock
opened his mouth to apologise again but Face sighed then interrupted him in a
completely different, more lively, tone.
Murdock." He gave him a little
shake. "Your recon chopper has
got company coming after all."
Over the artillery
fire and thrashing rotor blades, another noise was growing louder and Murdock
grinned in sudden, fierce glee at the sound.
The animal growl from big, old radial engines blended with the drumming
of wide, four-bladed props to make a rolling, heart-lifting roar.
Skyraiders. Murdock didn't even need to close his eyes to picture them.
Ugly, rugged, stubby-winged, noisy, beautiful aircraft.
Low and fast they came in, then peeled off to bank high overhead, leaving
fire and silent guns in their wake.
Murdock let out a
defiant howl of his own and didn't care who heard it.
He reached up to tug at Face's arm again.
Hannibal. I gotta tell him
Murdock chewed his
lip and rocked himself struggling to maintain his concentration while Face spoke
to Hannibal. It was getting noisy
again. It couldn't distract him
though. Not yet.
He needed to tell Hannibal something first.
"What is it,
There he was. Murdock caught
hold of him to make sure.
gotta get out of here now."
on it. Just hold on a bit
"No." He was holding on already wasn't he? He squeezed Hannibal's arm tighter to check.
"I mean now. Now. We've got
to go now." He jabbed a finger
upwards at the fading snarl from the sky. "Did
you hear them? D'you hear what just
"I heard the
Murdock shook his
head in frustration. Hannibal
hadn't heard the airplanes. Not the
same ones he'd heard. BA had said
the Hueys were just noise. They
couldn't hear. He needed to tell
Murdock wished he could yell again, make them listen, but it was so loud
already and the guards mustn't hear. Maybe
Hannibal couldn't hear him either, but he whispered anyway, low and urgent.
"They’re close support aircraft--if they're here then there's
troops on the ground here."
on Hannibal's face. "Perfect."
Behind him, BA
frowned. "Murdock, you never
even seen these planes. You sure
BA's voice sounded so
good drowning out the jungle that Murdock gave a hiccough of a laugh. "What's up there is the only thing I'm sure about right
now, big guy."
Hannibal put a hand on Murdock's shoulder. " Nice job, Captain. All right guys, get ready to move. We've just been given the last piece of the plan."
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