first. His instrumentation showed that automated fire control systems
were engaged, but the flames from amidships were so hot, so violent, he
knew that any fire-fighting efforts mounted by the automatic systems or
by his twenty-man crew were doomed to failure. Better to get his people
off now, while they could.
“Aye, aye, sir,” Brady replied. He reached for the intercom mike.
“Make sure you have a head count before you go over the side. I don’t
want anybody left behind to fry!”
Another missile struck, the impact smashing at the bottoms of his feet
through the steel deck. Damn, what was this? Someone was deliberately
slamming missile after missile into his vessel! All he could imagine was
that a full-fledged war had just broken out, and the Falcon Patriot was
squarely in its eye.
The fire forward was so thick he could not see where they were going.
Heat was blasting back at the face of the bridge, turning the
compartment into a furnace. He kept his eyes on the compass, however,
bringing the ship around into a more and more westerly heading, praying
that she stay afloat and responsive to the helm for just a few more
precious moments. ..
1008 hours (Zulu +3)
Air Ops, U.S.S. Thomas Jefferson “It’s confirmed, Commander,” Lieutenant
Crosby said as he hung up the telephone handset. “At least a dozen
Russian aircraft just hit the northern Bosporus bridge and dumped it in
the water. The Falcon Patriot was hit and is afire. Her skipper appears
to be trying to put her aground near Sariyer, but her cargo is going up
Coyote felt a dawning horror. .. not just at the loss of the UNREP
ship–though that was certainly a factor–but at what the attack meant.
The Falcon Patriot had been carrying almost ten million gallons of
fuel–three million gallons of aviation gasoline, and the rest diesel
fuel for the nonnuclear elements of the carrier battle group.
Without avgas, Jefferson’s aircraft would not fly. Worse, while the
Jefferson, the Shiloh, and the attack subs were all nuclear powered, the
battle group’s guided-missile destroyers and frigates were powered by
gas turbines fired by diesel fuel. With their current stores, they could
operate under normal routine for perhaps another ten days. .. but then
the entire carrier battle group would virtually have to shut down
completely. And if they found themselves in combat, making rapid surface
maneuvers and flying aircraft off the roof round the clock, that ten-day
leeway would be cut back to two to four days at the most.
And after that time, Jefferson and her escorts would be little more than
large, expensive, and utterly useless toys, locked into the Black Sea by
the closing of the Bosporus Strait.
It was impossible to escape the obvious conclusion–that someone,
Russians or Ukrainians, had just found an indirect but deadly means of
rendering the CBG impotent.
He turned. “What is it?”
Crosby was holding out a headset. “Sir, CAG’s on the line. Something’s
going on ashore.”
Coyote felt cold. Had the attack on the Bosporus bridge been timed to
coincide with an attack against the UN party ashore?
He took the headset and slipped it down over his ears. “CAG? This is
Coyote! What’s happening?”
“Coyote!” Tombstone’s voice sounded distant and static rough. “There’s
just been an attempt on Boychenko’s life! The Ops duty officer just told
me you pulled our air cover out! What the hell’s going on?”
Oh, God, no. ..
“Tombstone, we’ve got trouble, big-time. We picked up a flock of bogeys
heading toward the Bosporus.” Quickly, he told Tombstone about the
reshuffling of the three CAP groups, explaining that BARCAP Three would
be on station south of Yalta in another few minutes. “But things have
already started going down,” he concluded. “We’ve just had a report that
unidentified aircraft dropped the northern Bosporus bridge across the
channel, and fired on one of our UNREP ships.”
“Sounds like someone doesn’t want us leaving,” Tombstone said. He
“That’s the way it looks. We have BARCAP One and Two investigating, but
it’s going to be another few-”
“Coyote!” Crosby said. “BARCAP Two’s engaging!”