CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

minutes. If the target aircraft could stay ahead of it until its fuel

was exhausted, the missile would fall into the sea.

“What’s the gouge? Where’re the bad guys?”

“I think we’re clear. Batman and Libbie’ll be here in a few minutes.

I’ve got you in sight now. Coming up on your five.”

“The damage is on my port side,” Dixie told him. “I think I’m losing

fuel from the left wing.”

“On your six and low. Coming around to port. Yeah, buddy. Looks like you

took a near one. No blast damage, but your belly and left wing got

peppered by shrapnel. So did your left stabilizer. Looks to me like it

missed you, but the proximity fuse triggered the thing right under your


Looking left, he could see Tomcat 210 coming up from behind, just off

his wingtip.

“Can you see Mickey?”

“We see him,” Red replied. “Head’s slumped forward a bit. Can’t tell

from here how bad he’s hit.”

“Is his oxygen mask on?” Dixie was worried about the pressure loss in

the cockpit.

“It’s on,” Red told him.

“How’s she handling, Dix?” Badger added.

“Okay, I think.” Cautiously, he played with his stick, testing the

feedback. “I get a bit of flutter when I try giving it some left

maneuver flap.”

“Okay,” Badger said. “Let’s not try anything fancy. We’ll escort you

back, nice and easy. You can punch out when you’re close to the Jeff.”

“Not if Mickey’s still out of it,” Dixie said, determination giving his

voice a hard edge.

“Right. Shit, I wasn’t thinking. Okay, Dix. Let’s come to

zero-five-five, and maintain four hundred knots.”

“Copy, Badge. Zero-five-five at four-zero-zero.”

“Let’s take ‘er home.”

1014 hours (Zulu +3)

The White Palace, Yalta Tombstone was alighting from the CH-53

helicopter when he heard the thunder of approaching aircraft. At first,

he thought it might be BARCAP Three, which Coyote had told him was

coming, but then he realized that the sound seemed to be coming from the

Crimean Mountains from north of Yalta.

The sound might be an echo. Sound did strange things between sea and

Mountainside. But too many strange things were happening this afternoon

for him to be willing to take chances. He waved at the helicopter’s

crew, gesturing for them to get out of their aircraft and take cover.

After a moment’s hesitation, they scrambled out, and together the men

started running toward the White Palace.

The jets appeared with almost magical abruptness, howling in from the

mountains, passing above the White Palace complex at an altitude of less

than two hundred feet. The planes were so low that Tombstone could look

up and see individual pilots, could see the sun-glint of canopies and

dark visors, could see the numerals painted on their noses and the

prominent red stars on stabilizers and wings.

Mig-29 Fulcrums. Some of the best fighter planes in Russia’s inventory.

Dropping down a shallow embankment that might offer some cover if the

Migs started dropping nasty stuff, Tombstone stared after the jets. They

were breaking formation now, far out over the sea. He glanced at his

watch. BARCAP Three wouldn’t be in their patrol position yet. He didn’t

think the Migs were headed for the carrier. Where. ..

Yes. Two of them were swinging around in a full one-eighty, streaking

back toward the White Palace. They came in low, wingtips almost

touching; he saw the flicker of their rotary cannon, tucked away at the

root of their port-side wings, before he heard the shrill whine of

high-speed gunfire above the thunder of their strafing run.

An explosion sounded an instant later, a dull boom echoing from the

improvised landing pad on the east side of the palace. The incoming jets

lifted slightly, white vapor blossoming off their wings in the moist air

as they increased their angles of attack. .. and then they were howling

overhead, rising swiftly as they climbed the face of the mountains

inland. A missile streaked into the sky after them, trailing smoke–a

Grail or other shoulder-launched anti-air missile released by one of the

soldiers on the ground–but it had been fired too late. .. or possibly

without a firm heat source lock, and it twisted away after a few seconds

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