“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,
“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
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.”