CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

“Affirmative, Uncle Vanya,” he replied. He nudged the rudder pedals and

felt the sudden pile-on of positive Gs as the Mig-27’s nose swung toward

the west. Pulling back on the stick, he sharpened the turn as he passed

over land once more, bleeding off both velocity and altitude as he

brought the aircraft around 180 degrees. He was traveling north once

more, flying less than a hundred meters now above the gray-brown,

building-dotted terrain.

“Black Leader, Bastion,” a voice called. “We have red intercepts

incoming, bearing zero-nine-five, range three-zero kilometers. Blue

intercepts incoming, bearing zero-one-eight at one-five-zero


“Black Flight reads you, Bastion. Take out red intercepts first. The

blues can wait.” The color codes referred to nationalities–the red of

the Turkish flag, the blue of the American Navy.

“Black Leader, this is Flashlight. Secondary target is illuminated.”

He checked his read-outs, confirming target acquisition and lock on his

second AS-14. Range ten kilometers. .. “Firing missile!”

Again, the Mig-27 bucked skyward as though kicked from below and behind

as the three-hundred-kilogram missile dropped from its launch rack. The

engine ignited, sending the deadly package streaking toward the north.

“Target lock!” Piotr added. “Firing missile!”

1007 hours (Zulu +3)

U.S.S. Falcon Patriot The Bosporus Strait Captain Richard Calvin walked

out onto the port-side flying bridge and leaned over the railing,

craning his head for a long, searching look aft. He wasn’t sure what

those flyboy idiots were playing at, but someone had just flown a pair

of high-performance jets over his command so fast and so low that his

bridge windscreens had rattled, and he didn’t care for that one bit.

Falcon Patriot was a brand-new member of the old Falcon Leader class, a

tanker of 42,369 tons, with a length overall of 630 feet and a transport

capacity of 225,100 barrels–very nearly ten million gallons. Despite

her long-term charter through the Maritime Administration, she was a

civilian vessel, owned by Falcon Sea and operated by Seahawk Management.

Normally, smaller oilers were used for Underway Replenishment of naval

vessels at sea, but the unusual isolation of the Jefferson battle group

inside the Black Sea had called for special measures, and the Patriot

had been taken off her normal duties as a prepositioning shuttle tanker

in the Med and assigned UNREP duties. She mounted two fueling stations

abeam, one port, one starboard, allowing her to pass fuel to two ships

at once.

Calvin didn’t like jet jockeys. More than once, while the Falcon Patriot

was attached to the Sixth Fleet in the Med, frisky Tomcat pilots had

made low passes over his command, rattling windows and upsetting

crockery in the galley. He had a reputation, he knew, among the various

commanding officers and high-ranking brass clear up the ladder to Sixth

Fleet HQ at Gaeta, Italy, for his loud and pointed complaints after each

such incident. Damn it, you didn’t play games with ten million gallons

of highly flammable petroleum products. If the pilot of one of those

sea-skimming aircraft had been just a hair off, his plane and the Falcon

Patriot would have gone up in a fireball that would be seen and heard

clear back to Istanbul, and the burning oil might block the straits for


Brady, the ship’s second mate, was already on the wing, looking aft

through a pair of watch-stander’s binoculars.

“What the hell were those two playing at?” Calvin demanded.

“Damfino, Skipper,” Brady replied without lowering the binoculars. “But

if I didn’t know any better, I’d say someone just stole themselves a


“Huh? What’s that supposed to mean?”

“We heard that thunder aft a moment ago, right?”

“Yeah, just after those jets went over. Sounded like a sonic boom.”

“Maybe.” He sounded doubtful. “I been taking a look-see through these.

I can’t see the bridge back there.”

Calvin could still hear thunder rolling in the distance, a kind of faint

thump-thump that hung above the still waters of the Bosporus. Or was

that the continuing roar of the jets in the distance? He glanced up. An

unusual number of white contrails were scrawled across the blue sky this

morning, aircraft at high altitude. Exercises of some sort, most likely.

He held out his hand for the binoculars. “Lemme see a minute.”

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