CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

This far north of the third Bosporus bridge there was little to see of

the structures long, gray, spidery shadow on the horizon. Focusing the

binoculars, he thought he could see one of the towers. .. but he

couldn’t be sure. There was a fog or ground haze moving in, and the area

close to the water was obscured. It almost looked like smoke.

He couldn’t hear the thunder any longer.

“Did you get a look at those planes, Captain?” Brady asked. “They

weren’t ours.”

“What do you mean, not ours?” Calvin had been buzzed by U.S. Navy jets

often enough during fleet operations with them that he’d simply assumed

that this was more of the same. He’d never paid much attention to the

different classes of aircraft, though.

“They weren’t ours,” Brady insisted. “I used t’be in the Navy, remember.

Navy planes are painted gray, dark on top, light underneath. These were

kind of brownish. Couldn’t see any Navy insignia, either.”

“Maybe they were Turks,” Calvin suggested. He lowered the binoculars,


“What the hell is that?”

Brady said the words in such a curious, unexcited manner that Calvin

simply glanced toward where he was pointing. He could see something

moving across the water, something small and dark and very, very fast.

He realized what it was just as it flashed past the port side of the

Falcon Patriot’s bridge and slammed into the hull amidships. The

explosion followed instantly, the detonation sending a rippling shudder

through the tanker’s deck. A ball of black and orange erupted from

forward as Calvin and Brady both were pitched to the deck.

“What the bloody hell-” But Calvin’s words were lost in the thunder of

the blast, followed in an instant by a hurricane roar of furiously

burning aviation gasoline. The missile had ruptured Three-port, loosing

a torrent of JP-5 and igniting it.

A second missile–he thought it was a second missile, though in the

thunder and boiling smoke he couldn’t be sure of anything–struck

forward. He could feel the ship lurch to starboard with the impact,

could feel her bows drifting. ..

Smoke was pouring aft across the bridge wing, so thick now he could

scarcely see more than five feet. On hands and knees to avoid being

pitched over the safety railing by further explosions, he crawled toward

the bridge door, tumbling inside as Brady staggered in close behind him.

The bridge watch, most of them, were on the deck; the helmsman was still

at the wheel, clinging to it as if to life itself. The broad, slanted

windscreen had shattered, the safety glass spilling across the bridge

deck like millions of tiny glass spheres. Smoke made visibility worse,

if anything, inside than out.

“Johnson!” he yelled at the helmsman. “Bring her to port! Full speed!”

The helmsman gaped at him, unseeing, uncomprehending. Heaving himself up

off the deck, Calvin staggered to the wheel, shoved Johnson aside, and

shoved the throttles forward. He could still feel the bite of the rudder

as he spun the wheel left; tankers were ponderous beasts and slow to

respond to the helm, but the Falcon Patriot had enough way on that she

ought to be able to get clear of the shipping channel.

Calvin had several goals in mind, all urgent. The missile or missiles

had struck the Patriot’s port side; by bringing the bow to port, he

could slow the flooding somewhat and possibly keep the damaged hull

sections from tearing themselves apart as they plowed ahead through the

water. Too, the vessel was currently in the deepest part of the

navigable channel; if she sank here, salvage would be difficult at best,

and her hulk would block the channel for weeks, maybe months. If he

could steer her to the shoal water to the west, however, he could ground

her keel on hard bottom, keeping the channel clear and also making

salvage and on-site repair efforts easier.

“Mr. Brady!”

“Yes, Captain!”

“Pass the word for all hands to abandon ship.”

He could feel the pain in his ship, feel her wounds in the way she was

shuddering and grinding with the turn to port. The Falcon Patriot was

finished; she would break apart soon if she didn’t burn to a cinder

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