Part 1: Snake on a Plane

One

“I hate the cold.” Face muttered, hugging himself, his body made bulky by a Parka. “New rule, okay. No more cases that involve travelling to Alaska.”

“Try doing some work,” Hannibal said. “That’ll warm you up.”

“Yeah, grab some crates, man,” BA growled.

Face sighed and went to help BA and Hannibal unload the crates from the truck onto the DC3.

“Here, BA, let me give you a hand with that one…”

“No way, you stay away from me. All of you. None of you is getting close enough to stick me with no needles.”

“Paranoid.” Hannibal muttered.

“Ain’t paranoid when you really is out to get me. I’ll load these crates, then I’m taking the truck and going to catch a train.”

“You want to take a train all the way from Barrow to LA?” Hannibal shook his head. “And you say Murdock is nuts. Help me with this one, Face.”

Face and Hannibal lifted a long, almost coffin-like crate onto the plane. It bumped against the doorframe as they manoeuvred it in.

“Careful, Hannibal!” Face said. “This is the Rodin. You know what it’s worth?”

“Well if it’s worth its weight in gold, then a lot.” Hannibal puffed a bit as they put the heavy crate down. “Who the heck wants a naked guy made of bronze in their house anyway?”

He glanced into the now empty truck. Face and BA swung the last box aboard, a small trunk Hannibal knew held their rifles. “Okay, that’s everything? Let’s get them strapped down.”

“Hey, guys.” Murdock stuck his head in the door. He also wore a heavy Parka and had temporarily replaced his baseball cap with a furry hat with long earflaps. He currently had the flaps tied together on top of the hat. “Bad news. At least an hour before we get our fuel.”

“Great.” Face muttered. “If those MPs show up…”

“Ah, they’re nowhere near,” Hannibal said. “Probably still cuffing and stuffing Herr Krause.” He lit a cigar and beamed down at the crates of art works they had just loaded into the plane. Not only the pictures the client had employed them to retrieve, but at least a dozen other pieces of art, more paintings and a couple of sculptures, including the Rodin. Krause had apparently viewed the Second World War as a way to build his art collection without paying for any of it. Well now the stolen art would go back to the families it belonged to, courtesy of the A-Team.

“I thought ex-Nazis were supposed to hide out in Brazil or Argentina.” Face grumbled, hugging himself again. “You know, someplace warm?”

“Maybe he likes to ski.” Hannibal said. “Come on, let’s go to the terminal and get some food while we wait for the fuel truck. Lock up the plane, Captain.”

“I think I’ll get away for my train.” BA said.

“Aw, come eat with us, BA.” Murdock pleaded. “We missed Thanksgiving dinner. At least come get a turkey sandwich with the team.”

“I’m not eating no food around you guys.” BA scowled at them fiercely.

“Sergeant, you haven’t eaten since early this morning.” Hannibal put a stern and commanding tone into his voice. “You’re eating with us before you leave. That’s an order.”

“Okay.” BA scowled around at them. “But if you guys try anything you’re all dead meat.” He stomped off. The others followed. Hannibal leaned close to Murdock.

“Captain?”

Murdock took the glove off his right hand, reached up to his furry hat and slid a hand into the little pocket made by a tied up earflap. He pulled out a small phial of clear liquid and dropped it into Hannibal’s hand.

Hannibal grinned. “Thanks, Murdock.”

~~~~

An hour and a half later Murdock signed the fuel truck driver’s requisition forms.

“And you’ll charge that to my credit card?”

“Yes sir, Mister…” the driver glanced at the form, “Decker.” He glanced over nervously to where Face and Hannibal were heaving the semi conscious BA on board the plane. “Erm, is your passenger okay?”

“Told him to stay out of the bar.” Murdock shook his head, sounding exasperated. “Thanks. Happy Thanksgiving, friend.”

Once on board he went straight to the cockpit. Hannibal and Face were checking that the crates were secure for the flight. As he started his final pre-flight check, Murdock heard Face’s alarmed voice.

“Hannibal, he’s coming around!”

Murdock ticked items off his checklist.

“Radio master. Check.”

“Hannibal! Give him the shot!”

“Boost pumps. Check.”

“What the heck? I’m on the plane!”

“Hydraulic pressure. Check.”

“Hold him down, Face!”

“Directional gyro. Check.”

“Hold him? What are you kidding?”

“Navigation lights. Check.”

BA gave a howl of protest. Then there was a huge crash followed by silence.

“BA unconscious. Check. Altimeter. Check.”

~~~~

The driver parked his fuel truck in front of a hanger and jumped out. Time for some lunch. He heard the DC3 taking off, turned to watch it climb into the bright blue sky, and then he walked into the hanger.

The first person he met inside was naked and made of bronze. He jumped back, startled as he almost bumped into the life-sized statue right inside the hanger door then stood and stared at it baffled.

“What the hell?”

~~~~

Face carefully placed a small pillow behind BA’s head. Then he double-checked the handcuffs securing BA to the seat, one set on each wrist.

“He’s going to kill us when we set him loose.”

“Yeah, like all the other times he’s killed us, huh?” Hannibal did not look remotely worried. “Any more of those pillows?” Face handed him one. “Right, I’m getting some sleep, so try to keep it down to a dull roar okay?”

“Fine. I’ll go talk to Murdock.” Face went to the cockpit. Hannibal snuggled into his coat and rested his head on the pillow. The flight home would take hours. Might as well get some shut-eye. The job was done and done well, as usual. Time to relax. The drone of the engines faded from his consciousness as he drifted into sleep.

~~~~

He waited.

He waited until the only sound was the engines. Only then did he start to move. The lid of the crate was no longer nailed down. Once inside he had secured it with tape. Just enough to stop it moving around when the plane took off.

With a pocket-knife he slit each piece of tape, slowly, as quietly as possible. He paused after cutting each piece to make sure there was no new noise or movement outside in the cabin. At last, the lid of the crate was free. He put away his knife and pushed against the lid with hands and knees, lifting it just enough to push it to the side. It touched an obstruction, another crate, so he pushed it down instead, sliding it off towards his feet. In a second that gave him enough room to sit up. He did so, like a movie vampire sitting up in its coffin. His weapon was not fangs, but rather a semi-automatic pistol. He gripped it tightly.

He climbed out of the long crate that had held the bronze statue, carefully making sure his boots didn’t scrape on anything.

The crates were at the back of the cabin area. More than half of the space was set up for cargo; the rest had seats for passengers, two rows of them, the forward ones turned to face the ones behind. Very sociable. It was cold and he was glad of his heavy coat. Silently he moved to the passenger area, making sure he wasn’t visible through the open door to the cockpit.

Smith and Baracus were sitting in passenger seats, both fast asleep. Baracus was handcuffed to the chair. It seemed the stories about him being afraid to fly weren’t exaggerated. Peck was nowhere in sight. Must be in the cockpit. And who else might be in the cockpit? He smirked. Looked like he was batting four for four.

He slid a pair of handcuffs from his pocket and held them by one bracelet; let the other dangle loose, so the two bracelets couldn’t clink together. Slowly, silently he approached Smith.

~~~~

“Okay, Murdock, are you a woman?”

“Nope. Eighteen questions left, Face.”

“Were you born in the twentieth century?”

“Nope. Seventeen to go.”

“This better be a real person, Murdock, not… not… Queen Selena of the Mole People.”

“I said it’s not a woman.” Murdock grinned. “And Queen Selena was real. She used to visit me every night back in July ’76.” He sighed. “What a summer that -”

“Face!” Hannibal’s yell made them both jump in their seats. Face, wide eyed, leapt to his feet. There was panic in Hannibal’s voice. Face’s first thought was for BA. Did BA have some kind of adverse reaction to the knock out juice? Face had always dreaded that would happen one day. He ran into the cabin.

“What is -?”

“Look out, Face!” Hannibal shouted, squirming and struggling as if he couldn’t get out of his chair.

His warning was too late. As Face came through the door into the cabin, someone slammed into him from the left, knocking him to the floor on his stomach, and then landing heavily on top of him.

“Get off me, BA!” Face yelled. How the hell had BA got loose? Face struggled, panting for breath, winded by the fall. Why was Hannibal not coming to help?

The weight lifted off Face for a second and a knee in his side shoved him forcibly against a seat. Then he groaned as the same knee stuck in his back and pinned him to the floor again. A strong hand grabbed his right wrist. There was… there was something missing. No clanking. BA’s gold clattered and clanked when he moved around fast. Face looked up and…

And BA was sitting right there in his seat, still blissfully dead to the world. Face gaped. Who the hell was…?

He tried to twist around, but the knee in his back kept him flat. He felt the all too familiar bite of cold steel on his wrist, his arm was pulled behind him and he heard the clatter as the other bracelet of the cuffs closed around a seat support. Then that strong hand was roughly pulling out the pistol Face carried in a shoulder holster, leaving him unarmed. At last, the weight lifted from Face’s back and he could turn on his side. His attacker stood up, pointing a pistol and a smug grin at him.

For perhaps the first time in his life, Face was speechless.

“Face?” Murdock’s voice sounded from the cockpit. “Hannibal? What’s going on?” The smug grin got wider and Face and Hannibal both groaned.

“Four for four.”

~~~~

Okay, from now on, Murdock decided, only planes with autopilot fitted. Something bad was going on back there and he couldn’t do a thing about it. A movement behind him made him turn.

“Face?”

“Not quite, Captain Murdock.”

Murdock stared in horror, for a moment as speechless as Face, and then found his voice again.

“Decker?”

Two

“Turn us around,” Decker ordered Murdock. “Set course for the nearest airport back in Alaska.”

“Juno is nearest now.”

“Then set course for Juno.”

“Or what, Decker?” Murdock said, defiantly. “You’ll shoot me? Good luck learning to fly this plane if you do.”

Decker just smiled. “Well, whatever, Captain. Land wherever you like. The US, Canada. It really doesn’t matter any more does it?”

Wasn’t that the truth? Decker left the cockpit and Murdock stared out into the darkness. Screwed. They were screwed. And he specifically was very screwed.

They’d escape from Decker eventually, like they always had before. But this time it would be different. This time it meant the four of them would on the run. It had to happen one day and this was that day. How many times could he be lucky? Decker only had to be lucky once. Murdock and Decker had to look each other in the eyes only once an A-Team mission and everything ended. Murdock’s life ended up lying on the floor smashed into too many bits for even his own special brand of crazy glue to stick back together.

He glanced back over his shoulder. What was going on back there? Decker could have hurt the guys and Murdock, hands full of airplane, could do nothing to help them. He couldn’t even reach his handgun, which was hung up in its holster back in the cabin. Decker would have it by now.

He checked his position. Somewhere over the Yukon. Canada. To go back to Alaska, to the US, he’d have to head north west. But Decker had said “land anywhere.”

You asked for it, Decker.

Murdock turned east.

~~~~

“Decker,” Hannibal said. “You can’t leave Face lying on the floor. It’s too cold.”

Decker looked down at Face. Was he too cold? He’d been warm enough to try and kick Decker’s legs from under him when Decker came back into the cabin.

“If he gets hypothermia I’ll peel your skin off one layer at a time.”

Decker raised an eyebrow, wondering how Hannibal intended to achieve that while chained up.

“Of course you had to let all of the heat out,” Face said, shaking his head. “Opening the damn door at this altitude! You really are nuts.”

Decker didn’t argue. He’d actually been surprised at himself and Murdock had yelled like a protesting banshee from the cockpit when the freezing air had rushed through the plane. But the plane was built to have the door opened in flight for parachutists to jump out or for making air drops of cargo. And he’d decided he just wasn’t risking keeping any more weapons on board than own handgun. The trunk of rifles he’d pushed off and then tossed four handguns after them, hanging onto any ammunition that would fit his own pistol. As he’d dropped them it had occurred to him that perhaps he should keep one spare. But then it was too late and he tugged the door closed on a plane where he was now carrying the only weapon.

So yes it was now very cold in here. Decker eyed Face suspiciously. Face glared back at him. The way Decker had cuffed him made it impossible for Face to get up into the seat he was chained to, forcing him to stay sitting or lying on the floor. Face was rather pale and shivering despite his coat. Even so Decker wasn’t going to risk trying to move him. He grabbed a couple of blankets and approached Face, pointing his gun.

“You try to kick me again and I will shoot you.”

“You won’t leave this plane alive if you do.” Hannibal said.

Decker glanced back at the Colonel.

“You talk pretty tough for a man chained to his seat.”

Hannibal just glared at him. Decker turned back to Face.

“Lie on these and wrap one around if you get too cold.” He dropped the blankets beside Face who shook them out so he could lie on them instead of the cold metal deck.

“Where the hell did you spring from anyway?” Face groused.

“He was in one of the crates.” Hannibal nodded back at the open statue crate. “Little Trojan horse manoeuvre.”

Decker smirked in a way he hoped infuriated them both.

“Not the Rodin!” Face said looking over at the cargo. “Okay, if that goes missing from wherever you stashed it we’re sending you a bill.”

Decker smirked again. All this banter and provocation meant nothing to him. He had a good feeling this time. His Trojan horse manoeuvre, as Hannibal called it, had been a pretty insane idea, but it looked like it was paying off. Too many times over the last three years he had watched the team disappear off over the horizon, laughing. Not this time.

Could he call it a plan? He hadn’t had time to think it through, it just happened. A day ago, no not even that, less than twenty four hours ago, he’d received a call that the team were in Alaska. He was on the next flight to the frozen north. He didn’t even wait to assemble his men, half of whom were on leave for the holiday weekend, Crane included.

And he’d almost missed the team. He’d almost left the airport the as soon as he arrived. But at the last moment he decided to stop just long enough for some food. The restaurant had a good view of the airfield and he saw the DC3, saw the truck pull up to it and the four men climb out and start loading crates onto the plane. They were all bundled up in bulky coats, but even so there was no mistaking Baracus.

When he called up he found the nearest MP unit was still over an hour away. He flashed his badge and found out when the DC3 was due to leave. The MPs wouldn’t arrive before the team took off. He could try and get the Air Traffic Control to delay the plane. He could call in the local police to assist him. Or he could get on board while the team were eating their lunch and take them himself once they were in the air, when they couldn’t possibly expect it.

To Decker’s mind there really wasn’t any choice.

Within minutes a couple of grouching baggage handlers were manhandling a statue off the plane and Decker was concealing himself in the crate. The last thing he saw as the lid closed was the incredulous expression of an airport security man. Perhaps it seemed like a crazy plan to someone who didn’t know the team the way Decker did. But Decker had finally learned what it took to catch these people.

BA grunted a couple of times and his chin came up off his chest. His eyes opened and he looked around.

“I’m on a plane! I’m on a -” His eyes locked with Decker’s and went huge with shock. “Hannibal!”

“Yeah, BA, we can see him too.” Hannibal said, calmly. BA pulled in vain at the cuffs holding him down and strained against his seatbelt.

“I’m on a plane! Get me off this plane right now! Someone’s gonna pay, I mean it!” His glare suggested that person was Decker.

“Is he always like this?” Decker asked Hannibal, turning away from the raging BA.

“This is a good day.” Hannibal said. He fished in his pocket with his free hand and took out a phial of liquid. “This helps keep him quiet.” Decker moved towards Hannibal to take it. But at the last second Hannibal snatched his hand away and tossed the phial hard against the wall. It shattered. Hannibal grinned maliciously as Decker stared at him.

“Plane! Plane!”

“Um, Decker.” Decker turned to Face. “I need the bathroom.”

Hannibal smirked as Decker turned back to him.

“Don’t you just love flying, Decker?”

~~~~

“Isn’t this a no smoking flight?” Face said as Decker took out a cigarette.

Decker doubted it was ever a no smoking flight when Smith was aboard. He ignored Face and lit the cigarette. He glanced forward into the cockpit checking Murdock wasn’t up to anything he shouldn’t be.

Almost an hour had passed since he had secured the team and between the three of them they hadn’t given Decker a moment’s peace. Hannibal provoked, Face annoyed and BA threatened. But Decker ignored.

He dropped his lighter back in his pocket. Hannibal scowled at him, perhaps wanting a cigar, but unwilling to ask.

“I’m thirsty.” Face said.

“Me too.” BA chimed in at once. Decker sighed. He glared at Hannibal who was grinning again.

“Are we nearly there yet?” Hannibal asked in a sing-song voice.

“Shut up.”

“We’re your prisoners, Decker.” Hannibal reminded him. “You have to look after us. Feed and water us, bathroom breaks. Didn’t you pay any attention at West Point? Oh wait, that’s right. You didn’t go to West Point.”

“Shut up all of…”

The plane lurched and Decker was thrown against the bulkhead. His cigarette crushed itself out, burning his hand.

“What the hell?” He drew his pistol again and ran into the cockpit.

“What’s going on, Captain?”

“Bad weather.” Murdock said. “Storm. Flew right into it.” He looked pale and tense. Decker glanced out the windscreen. Snow piled against it, the wipers swept at it ineffectually.

“How far are we from Juno?”

“Um… hang on.” Murdock flicked switches, studied gauges.

“Captain, how far…” Decker suddenly had a very sick feeling. He sat in the co-pilot’s seat. “We’re not heading to Juno are we?”

Murdock looked back at him. “No.”

“Where are we?”

“Um,” Murdock looked away again. “Still in Canada. Somewhere over the Northwest Territories.”

Okay, Decker thought, stay calm, deal with what’s happening now.

“Where are you making for?”

“Yellowknife. But I…” Murdock shook his head, bit his lip. “I didn’t expect this weather.”

“You damn lunatic.” Decker growled.

“Hey, you said, ‘land anywhere.'” The plane lurched again and Murdock fought the controls. He started to sweat. “Ah, I think I might have to do just that.”

“What?”

“The wings are icing up.” Murdock turned back to look at Decker. “I’m picking up a radio beacon ahead, I’m making for that.”

“Is it an airfield?”

“No…”

Then what…?”

“I don’t know!” Murdock shouted. I don’t know what it is!” He took a breath, calmed himself. “I’m going to make an emergency landing.”

“No!” Decker was instantly suspicious. “This is a trick.”

“A trick? Are you nuts? It’s cold as hell out there. You think I’m doing this for laughs?”

“Can’t you get above the storm?”

“No, there’s too much ice on the wings, we’re already going down.”

“Parachutes?” Decker already knew the answer to that. Parachute into what?

“In this storm?” Murdock almost laughed. “You’d freeze to death before you landed. And the wind would blow you clear across to the Yukon.”

They were heading downwards. Decker could feel it. The nose was down.

“You damn fool.” Decker said. “Why the hell didn’t you do as I told you?”

“You ain’t the boss o’ me.” Murdock gave a half smile for a fraction of a second. “Decker, you have to free the others. If we crash and both of us are hurt -”

“This is a trick!” Decker snapped at once.

“A trick?” Murdock reached for a button and pushed it. He looked Decker in the eyes, spoke calmly. “I just dumped the fuel. Free the others now.”

“Well, I finally believe you’re insane.” Decker jumped out of the seat and ran back into the cabin.

“What’s going on, Decker?” Hannibal demanded. The plane was juddering now. BA was gripping the arms of his seat and moaning softly.

“We’re making an emergency landing.”

“Why, what’s wrong?”

BA started to say “no, no, no” over and over.

“What’s wrong? Your pilot is a god-damn lunatic that’s what’s wrong!” Decker produced the keys for the cuffs and Hannibal stared as Decker freed him. “Try anything and I’ll shoot you. You cuffed Baracus, set him loose.”

Hannibal jumped up and ran to BA. Decker went to Face and knelt beside him. Before he unlocked the cuffs Decker looked over at Hannibal and BA, expecting to see BA start rampaging around. But BA had gone quiet and his eyes stared unseeingly straight ahead. Hannibal checked BA’s seatbelt was tight.

“Hurry up, Decker!” Face snapped, and Decker quickly unlocked the bracelet around Face’s wrist. Face scrambled up and run to the cockpit.

“Face!” Hannibal called.

“Strap in now!” Murdock yelled. Hannibal hesitated then sat down in the nearest seat. Decker sat in the seat Hannibal had recently vacated. It was still warm from the other man’s body heat and Decker wondered if this would be the last bit of warmth he would ever feel. He fastened his seatbelt tight and involuntarily grabbed the arm rests. His breath came fast.

The buffeting of the wind set every loose object on board jumping and Decker watched the handcuffs that had secured Hannibal bounce across the floor. He couldn’t take his eyes off them and only looked up when he heard Murdock yell again.

“Brace brace brace!”

Decker bent into the brace position, knowing he was about to die and in his head cursing each member of the A-Team over and over with every profanity he’d ever heard.

Three

“Er, is that it?”

Decker sounded almost disappointed, Hannibal thought. Not surprising. As crashes went it had gone pretty smoothly. Hannibal remembered having worse wipe-outs in his box cart when he was a boy. There had been a hell of jolt on impact, and the lights went out. But the plane stayed intact and slid for a while before coming to a gentle stop. The snow, he thought. A nice thick cushion of fresh snow had given them a soft landing. And now it was waiting outside to kill them all.

“Anyone hurt?” Hannibal called into the darkness. “Sound off.”

“Fine.” BA growled, apparently no longer comatose. The crash might have been a pretty easy one this time, but BA was still mad about it.

“Face? Murdock?”

“Okay, Hannibal.” Face’s voice confirmed for the two of them.

“Decker?”

There was a slight pause and then Decker answered. “Fine.”

“Nobody start walking around till we get the lights back or they find a flashlight.” Hannibal said, not wanting anyone hurting themselves by tripping over, or falling through a hole in the floor that they hadn’t seen.

A couple of flashlights came on up front. In a moment a dark figure came through slowly into the cabin, checking the floor ahead as he walked.

“Face?” Hannibal asked.

“Yeah.”

Hannibal was about to speak again when Decker’s voice sounded

“Report, Lieutenant.”

“Um…” Face sounded hesitant.

“Are you ordering my men around, Decker?” Hannibal’s voice was as cold as the weather.

“I’m ordering my prisoners around.”

“Are you kidding?”

“Do I sound like I’m laughing?”

“Ah,” Face said. “Does anyone want me to report? Or should I just read the in-flight magazine for a while?”

“Report, Face.” Hannibal said quickly, before Decker could answer.

“Murdock’s got a fix on the radio beacon he was following. It’s about a half a mile south of us.”

“The weather?” Decker asked.

“We’re still under the storm. Heavy snow, gale force winds.”

“Have we got power?” Hannibal asked. It sounded like they couldn’t go any place tonight, so needed to keep from freezing to death.

“We’ve got enough for a few hours. Murdock’s activated the distress beacon.”

The lights came back on, making Hannibal squint.

“Take out half those bulbs,” Decker ordered, standing up. Hannibal bristled again. He got to his feet too. BA got up, still scowling around at the hated plane.

“Stop ordering my men around, Decker.”

“There’s no sense in using more power than we absolutely need.” Decker said.

“That’s not what I have a problem with. If you think you’re in charge -”

“I am in charge. You’re still under arrest.” Decker said. He raised his pistol, not pointing it at anyone. “And I have the gun.”

“Well that can change real fast.” Hannibal said. “Face, BA.”

Face and BA looked at each other, neither of them moved.

“We ain’t got time.” BA said. “We got work to do. You two want to wait till we ain’t about to freeze to death ‘fore you start squarin’ up? C’mon, Face, let’s get organised. And you,” he jabbed a finger at Decker. “You start waving that gun around I’ll smack you with it. Take the light bulbs out yourself.”

Hannibal smirked at Decker’s outraged expression. BA was right, this wasn’t the time. If Decker wanted to strut around pretending he was king of the castle he was welcome to it.

Hannibal went forward to the cockpit to check on Murdock.

“How’s it going, Captain?”

Murdock looked at him. He still seemed shaken up, which surprised Hannibal. Murdock had been through much scarier crashes than this one.

“You okay, Murdock?”

“Yeah, I guess. I’m sorry, Colonel, I’m sorry. I just couldn’t hold it. I got lost and then the storm iced up the wings and… I’m sorry.” He stared out into the blizzard.

“That’s okay, Murdock, you got us down safe. And right by that beacon. There could be a nice little town out there, full of welcoming ladies with roaring fires and hot toddies.”

Murdock laughed weakly, turned back to Hannibal. “I guess we’ll find out in the morning.”

~~~~

When first light came it brought clear blue sky. The storm had finally eased.

The hatch opened and Hannibal looked out across the snow. He had to squint at the glare of the sun off the vast ocean of snow. No, not an ocean, he thought. Oceans teemed with life. This was a desert. Dead and hostile.

To the north were mountains and above them heavy, brooding clouds, promising more snow soon. Hannibal lifted a pair of binoculars and trained them south, over the plane’s tail. The DC3 had gouged out a deep furrow in the snow as it came to rest. He looked beyond that and he found what he was looking for. Hard to make out details, and covered with snow anyway, but definitely buildings. Civilisation. Antenna stuck out of the roof of a structure, still transmitting a radio beacon, telling the world it was there.

During the night they had attempted to make contact with the source of the beacon, but no answer came. Well maybe no-one was listening in the middle of the night. Time to go and knock on the door and see who was at home. He glanced behind him. The others were ready. Only size and height let him distinguish which man was which, they were so completely wrapped up. Even their faces were covered, with scarves over their mouths and tinted goggles over their eyes.

“I think we can make it no problem. Best get moving though. More bad weather is not far off.”

Decker stepped up to the door, lifted his goggles and took the binoculars from Hannibal to check out the scene. After a moment he nodded.

“Right. Let’s go.”

“Decker…” Hannibal began, and then stopped. No, it’s not the time. He smiled and waved a hand.

“Please, go ahead, oh glorious leader.” He heard BA’s giggle and a muffled laugh from Face.

Decker glowered at Hannibal and lowered himself out of the door, carefully, nervous about where he put his feet. Finally he let go and at once sank up to his waist in the snow. Hannibal smirked. Yes, Decker could lead the way if it made him happy.

He glanced back at his team.

“Let’s go.”

They all followed Decker out of the plane.

~~~~

It was the slowest half mile the team had ever travelled. They’d crossed minefields faster. The snow was unpredictable. In some places it only come up to their knees, in others a drift would swallow them up to their chests. And it was hard work pushing through even the soft fresh snowfall. Despite the cold they were all soon sweating under their many layers of clothing. The clouds from the north were creeping up. Hannibal kept looking back over his shoulder at them as if they were an approaching enemy army. Which they might as well have been.

But finally they got close enough to take a good look at their destination. It was a large one storey building, which Hannibal recognised as made of prefabricated components. The windows were small. The roof was steeply raked and even as they approached a small avalanche of snow slid off part of it. The antenna Hannibal had spotted before were clustered on the eastern end of the roof. The side they approached from the north had a couple of wings on the west and east ends of building, forming a slightly sheltered area. A couple of smaller buildings stood near to the main one. There was no sign of life.

Decker strode ahead as they spotted a door. He marched up as best he could through the snow and banged on the door. It was made of heavy wood and his gloved hand didn’t produce much noise. He drew his pistol from a pocket and banged on the door with the grip producing a more satisfactory noise but no apparent effect.

“Hello?” Decker called, uncovering his mouth.

The team joined in with that, all pulling the scarves from their mouths and yelling.

“Hello? Hello?”

No response, from inside, but there was a sudden rushing sound that made them all jump back alarmed. A huge chunk of snow came sliding off the roof and hit the ground right where Decker had been standing. Damn, missed, Hannibal thought.

“Face, can you pick the lock?” Hannibal asked.

“Not in these.” Face held up his hands encased in heavy gloves. “And not if I take them off either, because my fingers will drop off.”

“I’ll shoot the lock off.” Decker said.

“Geez, he sure loves showing off about having the gun, doesn’t he?” Face said.

Decker ignored the remark and stepped up to the door.

“Wait.” Murdock darted forward and grabbed the door handle. He fumbled it a bit, with his thick gloves, but it turned. The door opened and Murdock grinned. “Something tells me there isn’t a big burglary problem out here.”

“Nice, Murdock.” Hannibal stood aside again and let Decker take the lead. If he wanted to be leader he could take all the risks.

Turned out there were no risks. The building was very cold, the corridors dim. It was deserted but not abandoned. The rooms they looked into were neat and tidy, with a small amount of dust. As if they were waiting.

“It’s some kind of outpost.” Hannibal said, as they explored. Most of the rooms were off a long central corridor that ran east-west. “A science station maybe.” They shone their flashlights into a kitchen, a dining room, a rec room, an infirmary, bathrooms, apparent laboratories and then the place they’d been looking for.

The radio room.

“Alright!” Hannibal grinned as they piled in. “Now, power…”

“There’s a battery pack right here.” BA said. Must be powering the beacon.”

BA took off his gloves, bent over the pack and started to work on getting the power to the radio on.

“There must be a generator around here,” Hannibal said.

“Agreed,” Decker said, “We’ll find it and get it going. We might have to wait several days for rescue. I hope there’s food here.”

“We’ll take inventory after we make contact with someone. How’s it going, BA?”

BA nodded. “Getting it, man, gimme a second here.” He twisted dials and the sweet sound of static hissed out of the radio speakers.

“There’s some frequencies here,” Murdock had found a clipboard on the table by the radio transmitter. He shone his flashlight on it. “This one says RCMP. The Mounties?”

“Must be.” Hannibal said, nodding.

“Call them,” Decker ordered. BA looked at Hannibal, who nodded. Decker scowled. BA started to fiddle with the dials. He handed the microphone to Hannibal, but Decker grabbed it before Hannibal could take it.

“Decker…” Hannibal began. Okay, okay, was now the time or not? If not now when?

“Be quiet, Smith. This is Colonel Decker, United States Army, calling Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Please come in. Over.”

He repeated himself several times, glaring at Hannibal, who glared back. Hannibal was tense. Decker had put the gun back in his pocket. I could put him on his back right now and take it, Hannibal thought. Was this the time?

If not now when?

He sprang forward and shoved Decker back against the wall, pinning him. Decker dropped the microphone. The rest of the team stared at the two colonels.

“Give me the gun, Decker. I don’t want to have to hurt you.”

“Back off, Smith that’s an order.” Decker struggled, trying to push Hannibal away.

“Er, do you want a hand, Hannibal?” Face asked.

“No!” Hannibal snapped.

“Hello?”

The sudden strange voice startled them all. After a second they realised it came from the radio speaker. BA, Face and Murdock turned to it and Face picked up the microphone.

Hannibal, still pinning Decker against the wall heard Face talking to what he assumed was a Mountie. Well Face could handle that, while he handled Decker. Time for Decker to understand who was giving the orders around here. Decker tried to knee Hannibal in the groin and Hannibal only just twisted away in time. He had both of Decker’s wrists in his hands, so Decker couldn’t get the gun, but neither could Hannibal.

“Yeah,” Face was saying, “it’s some kind of outpost or something.”

“Oh, I think… Have you got the co-ordinates?” The voice on the radio asked.

Hannibal let go of one wrist, and tried to rip the pocket of Decker’s coat away. But Decker grabbed his wrist.

“I’m stronger than you, Decker.”

“We’ll see.”

“Are these them?” Face read off a set of co-ordinates taped over the radio set. “Do you know where we are?”

“Oh my, you’re up at station twelve. It belongs to a couple of the universities, they do climate research and…”

Hannibal managed to rip the pocket and the pistol fell to the floor. They both lunged after it. Decker fell on his stomach, grabbed at the gun. Hannibal landed on top of him and made Decker’s arm jerk sending the gun skidding away under the table with the radio on.

“You said you were heading to Yellowknife.” The voice over the radio spoke again. “My lord, you really did go off course! You’re north of the Great Bear Lake, you’re up inside the Arctic Circle there you know?”

Murdock turned from the radio to the two men struggling on the floor.

“Do you two need to be alone?” He asked with a smirk.

“Pick up the damn gun, Murdock,” Hannibal snapped.

“Do you mind?” Face scowled at the people interrupting his conversation and turned back to the radio. “Sorry about that. So you know where we are, great. So when can you come and get us out of here?”

“Well, let’s see. Where are we now, twenty-seventh November? Mm-hm.” He went silent for a moment.

Murdock bent and picked up Decker’s handgun.

“Hello?” Face prompted over the radio.

“Ah, yes, sorry.” The Mountie’s voice came back on. “Just checking something.”

“Right, so when can you come and get us?”

“April.”

Four

Hannibal and Decker froze.

Face, Murdock and BA stared at the radio for a long time. Then Face spoke.

“Er, say again.”

“I said April. Or, well if you’re lucky mid March, but that depends on -”

“April? April as in spring? April as in spring next year?” Face sounded like he was having trouble understanding.

“It’s the weather systems you see. The storms come down off the glacier.”

Decker scrambled out from under Hannibal and stood up. Hannibal stood up too.

“And now the days are getting so short too -”

“That’s ridiculous!” Decker snapped. He took the microphone back from Face. “I have dangerous prisoners here! I demand -”

“Oh, be a man, Decker.” Hannibal sneered. “We’re not going to hurt you.”

“You just attacked me!”

“Well…” Okay, he had a point, Hannibal thought, but then shrugged. He smiled, a tad smug. “Anyway, dangerous is disputable, but we’re certainly not your prisoners any more.” He nodded over to Murdock who was holding Decker’s pistol. Not pointing, just holding. Decker scowled and turned back to the radio.

“Let me speak to your supervisor.” Decker said.

“Well, okay. He’s not going to tell you any different though. I’ll go get him.”

“Helpful these Canadian folks.” Face said, dryly. He glanced over at the window. It was already growing dark again outside. Snow swirled. “Hannibal,” Face went on, “I don’t know about April, but I do know we’re going to be here tonight. I think we need to find the generator, before dark.”

Hannibal nodded. “Good idea, Face. You and BA go see what you can find, get us some heat and light.”

Decker barely noticed them go. He stood by the radio looking as if he was fuming.

Your plan slipped a cog, huh, Decker? Hannibal thought, trying to keep himself from smirking.

A new voice came over the radio.

“Captain Baker here. Are you there, Colonel Decker?”

“Yes, now listen to me, man -”

“I’m sorry, Colonel. What the constable told you is correct. It’s impossible to reach the area you’re in before the spring. The only access is by helicopter and the days are too short and the weather too unpredictable. You should never have been flying up there in the first place.”

“Yes.” Decker glared at Murdock, who looked at the floor. “We know that. But you can’t just leave us here!”

“You’ll be fine.” Baker sounded unconcerned. “Teams have stayed up there for the winter before.”

“What about food and fuel?” Decker asked.

“Well, you’ll have to check yourselves, but it’s an eight man station and only four people were there over the summer, so there should be plenty of supplies left.”

“Should be?” Hannibal said. “That’s reassuring.”

“I’ll do that inventory, Colonel,” Murdock said, a slightly forced enthusiasm in his voice.

“Good. Pay special attention to anything we can transport easily.”

The other two looked at him.

“Transport?” Decker asked.

“Yeah. If the Mounties think I’m sitting here looking at your face until the spring they’re nuts.” The face in question warred between a smile and a scowl, as if Decker agreed with the sentiment, if not the way it was expressed. Hannibal stepped up and took the microphone.

“Okay, Baker. There have to be maps here, we can plot a route out, you can help with that. There must be survival gear too. My plan is simple. We build a sled and walk out of here. You’ll need to tell me where we should make for.”

“Who is this?”

“Colonel Smith.”

“Er, two colonels? Which of you is in charge?”

“Me.” Hannibal and Decker said together and glared at each other.

“Colonel Smith is my prisoner,” Decker said. “I’m in charge.”

“What do you think of my idea?” Hannibal asked Baker, ignoring Decker.

“A sled?” Baker said, sounding dubious. “You’re going to build one?”

“We happen to be real good at that sort of thing.” Hannibal grinned at Murdock and winked. Murdock smiled back, rather wanly.

“But you have no dogs to pull it.” Baker said.

“We’ll pull it.”

“I see.” Baker was silent a moment. “Can I make one suggestion?”

“Of course,” Hannibal said. “Any advice you can give us that will help us out.”

“Could you all wear name tags?”

“Huh?” Hannibal frowned. “How will that help?”

“Well it will make it so much easier for us to identify you when we dig out your frozen corpses in the spring.”

They all heard giggling in the background. Hannibal and Decker looked at each other, frowning.

“We’ve got a real comedian here.” Hannibal said to Decker, and then turned back to the microphone. “Listen, pal, we’re all soldiers, war vets. We’re trained in survival.”

“A lot of snow in Vietnam was there?” More giggling.

Hannibal closed the microphone. “I can’t wait to meet this guy. I’m gonna pop him so hard.”

Decker looked as if he agreed. He gestured for the microphone, Hannibal handed it over.

“Look, Captain Baker, this just isn’t acceptable. What if one of us gets sick, or hurt?”

Hannibal glanced from Decker over to Murdock. Yeah, what if one of them did get sick? How likely was the infirmary here to have that kind of medication?

“The infirmary should be fully stocked. We can bring in a doctor to advise you over the radio if you don’t have one of your own there. Colonel, um, whichever of you is in charge. What you need to do now is find the station manager’s office and find the station operations manual. The manual will tell you everything you need to know about living there, all the jobs you need to do. Getting the generator running must be your priority.”

Right on cue a lamp on the desk came on. Murdock quickly ran and flicked on the overhead lights. He turned off the desk lamp.

“Yeah, looks like we got that part figured out.” Hannibal said. He got up. He was tired of talking to Baker. Tired of being told to sit tight. “Come on,” he said to Murdock. “Let’s start that inventory.” They left Decker arguing with Baker over the radio

“Hannibal,” Murdock said as they left the radio room and headed along the main corridor. Hannibal flicked light switches as he passed and the corridor was flooded in fluorescent light. “Hannibal, I feel really bad about this.” He passed Decker’s pistol to Hannibal.

“Thanks.” Hannibal put the handgun in his pocket. “It’s not your fault, Murdock.”

“Decker told me to head for Juno. I should have, but I thought I’d be smart. I wanted to land us somewhere in Canada.”

“Logical. You figured that would buy us time. The Canadians would lock us up but -”

“But then the US would have to extradite us and that kind of thing can take months and meantime -”

“We could figure out a way to escape and get home.” Hannibal nodded, following Murdock’s thinking.

Murdock nodded too, looking sad at the word ‘home’. He wasn’t going home this time, Hannibal thought. Murdock moved jerkily, uncomfortably as they walked.

“I didn’t crash on purpose, Hannibal. I swear. I just got lost.”

Hannibal frowned. On purpose? He’d never thought Murdock had crashed on purpose. Why would Murdock believe anyone thought that? He put a hand on Murdock’s shoulder.

“Captain, you were acting for the best. It’s not your fault it backfired.”

“It sure did that!” Murdock sighed hugely, shaking his head. “How the hell are we going to cope being stuck here with Decker till the spring?”

“We won’t have to. I’m not sitting on my butt for four months. We are getting out of here, Murdock. I swear that to you.”


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