CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

of flight.

Rising from his hiding place, Tombstone jogged back toward the

helicopter. As he’d feared, the Sea Stallion had been the target of that

strafing run. It rested at a sharp angle now, with flames and black

smoke licking from its port-side fuel tank sponson. If there’d been any

doubt at all that those Migs were hostiles, it was gone now.

There was still a lot of confusion on the palace grounds, with civilians

and reporters milling about with aimless and seemingly random

blunderings, and Russian soldiers standing in almost comic attitudes of

readiness, obviously with no idea what was happening or what they were

supposed to do. First the attack on Boychenko, and now this. The entire

area was a scene of utter confusion.

Pushing through the crowds, Tombstone made his way toward the back of

the White Palace. He could see Boychenko standing there at the top of

the broad stone steps, surrounded by aides and guards, hands at his

sides, looking up with an almost boyish expression of slack-jawed wonder

as six Migs roared overhead. Tombstone walked closer and several of the

guards swung their weapons to aim at him.

Boychenko gestured sharply and snapped something in Russian. The guns

were lowered.

“General!” Tombstone called. “Were those planes yours?”

The general looked at him and blinked. “Nyet. .. no,” he said. “Not

mine. Is navy.”

“You didn’t order that overflight by those Migs?”

“No. Did not. .. order.” His face creased with puzzlement. “They


“General, hostile aircraft have just attacked one of the bridges over

the Bosporus and blown it up. Did you order that attack?”

Boychenko blinked helplessly at him a moment, and Tombstone wondered how

much English the man could really understand. Then the general shook his

head, a jerky side-to-side motion. Probably, Tombstone thought, he

understood English better than he could speak it. “Did not order that!


Boychenko gestured swiftly to Natalie Kardesh and spoke rapidly to her

in Russian. She turned to Tombstone. “The general wants me to ask you.

.. did you just say that his aircraft attacked the bridges over the


“Tell him yes. We don’t know yet if the aircraft were Russian or

Ukrainian.” He jerked a thumb skyward. “That overflight, though, was by

aircraft with red stars. Russians. The general says they were navy?”

“Mig-29s with fleet,” Boychenko said, nodding. He didn’t look happy.

“Admiral Dmitriev’s command.”

“Ask him,” he told Natalie, “if it’s possible that the Russian navy

could have been behind that attempt on his life? Or Dmitriev?”

“Is possible,” Boychenko said slowly, following the conversation.

One of Boychenko’s aides, a major named Fedorev, nodded agreement. “I’m

afraid that with Admiral Dmitriev, almost anything is possible. He is.

.. ambitious.”

Tombstone was beginning to fit the larger parts of the puzzle together,

but he was still missing a lot of the pieces. This had the earmarks of

an attempted coup. If this Admiral Dmitriev was trying to take over the

Crimean Military District, it might make sense to combine an

assassination attempt with an attack.

But why the Bosporus bridge? That made no sense at all. .. unless they

wanted the Jefferson and her consorts trapped in the Black Sea, and

somehow that made even less sense than the attack itself.

He cocked his head. “Tell me. Is this Admiral Dmitriev. .. is his full

name Nikolai Sergeivich?”

Fedorev nodded. “Yes, Captain. How did you know?”

“I flew with a Nikolai Sergeivich once. In joint operations in the

Indian Ocean. I was wondering if it was the same man.” The Nikolai

Dmitriev he’d known had been a hard, resourceful, and skillful

tactician. If he were now the enemy. .. Tombstone didn’t like that

thought at all.

“The helicopter’s totaled,” Tombstone said. “We’re not getting back to

the carrier that way.”

Fedorev wrinkled his brow. “”Totaled?'”

“Wrecked. Finished. We have several hundred UN and American military

personnel here, plus a bunch of civilian reporters from several

countries. What are we going to do about them?”

Natalie consulted briefly with Boychenko, then nodded at Tombstone.

“The general says that when they know just what Dmitriev is up to, we

will be informed. Until then, at least, and obviously, we are all the

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