CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

and our ships helpless. Make sure he understands that. I also want him

to understand that we’ll be attacking a pretty fair-sized Russian force.

Russians against Russians. I want to know if he can trust his people.”

“Aye, aye, sir.”

After Boychenko replied at length, she delivered the translation. “He

says he understands the risks and thinks that Arsincevo can be taken. He

also says that his troops, specifically, the 4th Spetsnaz Fleet Brigade

and some attached support units are loyal to him, personally.”

“A Spetsnaz brigade; That’s what. .. a thousand men?”

“Twelve hundred, in this case, sir, plus a piece of a transport company

and some other odds and ends he’s scraped up in the last couple of


“He understands that we won’t be able to evacuate them as well.”

Another brief exchange in Russian.

“The general says, sir, that they are loyal to him specifically because

he promised to find a way for them to go home. They don’t want to stay

here in the Crimea. After Arsincevo, they will cross the Kerch Strait

and hook up with Krasilnikov forces there. He. .. he does say they don’t

know he will be leaving them.”

“Yeah.” Tombstone took a hard look at Boychenko, wondering what kind of

man would simply abandon his men in the field. Granted, his own death

sentence had already been signed, most likely, and his execution at the

hands of Krasilnikov’s agents would not serve any real purpose beyond

the traditional honor of the captain going down with his ship.

Still, what kind of cold-blooded bastard did it take, Tombstone

wondered, to use troops as fanatically loyal as his were supposed to be

and then calmly walk away from them while they were carrying out his

last set of orders?

The thunder started far out over the sea as a faint, distant rumble,

then swelled rapidly to a shrill, booming crescendo that rattled the

windows of the White Palace. Tombstone looked up but saw only

afterburners, brilliant, paired eyes of white-orange light gleaming in

the night as they streaked low overhead.

Hornets. With Jefferson’s two Tomcat squadrons serving as FORCECAP to

keep the enemy from striking either the American ships or the rescue

helicopters, it fell to the F/A-18 Hornets of VFA-161 and VFA-173, along

with the A-6 Intruders of VA-84 and VA-89, to deliver the massive

air-to-ground strike necessary to let Boychenko’s troops break free of

their death grip with Dmitriev’s naval infantry. The Hornets howled, two

by two, above Yalta and the White Palace, vanishing into the darkness

above the mountains to the north. Seconds later, he could hear the

thunder of their bombs and air-to-surface missiles.

It was almost time.

Pamela and Joyce both were standing on the palace’s south patio, a few

yards away, apparently deep in conversation. Tombstone wasn’t exactly

looking forward to what he had to do now, but there would be no better

time. Excusing himself from Boychenko, he walked toward them.

“Well, ladies,” he said. “Are you ready to say farewell to the sunny

Russian Riviera?”

Both women turned to him, and both looked angry. “I beg your pardon,

Matt?” Pamela said. “We’re going with you.”

As he’d expected, they were going to give him an argument.

“Negative,” Tombstone said. He nodded toward the sea. “We’ll have helos

touching down in just a few moments, and I want all unnecessary

personnel on board.”

“Is that what I am, CAG?” Tomboy demanded. “”Unnecessary personnel’?”


“Damn it, sir, my assignment was here, with you.”

“Your assignment as press liaison can continue as you escort Ms. Drake

here to the Jefferson. Take good care of her.”

“Now just one goddamn minute, Matt,” Pamela said.

“You’ve been talking about your career. Now we’re talking about mine.

There’s a story to be covered here. I’m a reporter. And you have no

right to stop me from doing my job.”

He looked at Pamela. “This is an evacuation, damn it. The Arsincevo is a

military operation and there will be no-”

“If you will check your orders, Captain,” Pamela said, ice and steel in

her voice, “you will see that ACN personnel are not under your military

command, or even the UN’s. We’re free agents, and we can come and go as

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