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
“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
“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
“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