CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

stretchers. Hospital corpsmen dashed out to meet them, beginning to

check each man as the stretcher-bearers continued carrying them up the

ramp and into the aircraft’s cargo compartment.

Admiral Tarrant, still unconscious, was first up the ramp.

Tomboy was gone. Pamela still stood at his side. “Seriously, Pamela.

This could be your last chance to get out of this hellhole.”

“I told you, Matt. You have your career. I have mine.” He gave a short,

hard nod, then left her, trotting down the beach toward one of the


“Captain Magruder?”

A hard-looking man in camouflage fatigues and a floppy, broad-brimmed

booney hat, with an H&K MP5 submachine gun slung over his shoulder and

his face blackened with paint, approached him. He was carrying two

heavy-looking canvas satchels.

“I’m Magruder.”

“Ellsworth,” the man said. “Got your satcom shit here.”

“Great.” Magruder’s eyes narrowed. The man wore no insignia at all but

was carrying enough grenades and other gear in his combat load-bearing

vest to equip a small army. “Ellsworth. You’re a Marine?”

Ellsworth grinned, his teeth startlingly white in his paint-blackened

face. “That’s a negative, sir. I just work with ’em now and again. And.

.. you can just call me Doc. Everybody else does.”

A SEAL. He had to be, with that outfit and that cocksure attitude.

Tombstone pointed back up the beach. “We’re getting ready to move out,

Ellsworth. Get the satcom up to that BMP.”

“Right, Captain.”

Nearby, Joyce Flynn stopped at the ramp long enough to give Tombstone a

long, indecipherable look. He waved, and she tossed her head, obviously

still angry, and strode up the ramp.

Moments later, the last of the civilians and evacuating UN personnel

were on board. The Marines on LZ perimeter defense, who were joining the

shore party, leaped to their feet and scrambled up the beach as the helo

pilots set their rotors spinning faster once more. Sailors on the beach

waved all-clears with their flashlights, and one by one the CH-53s rose

off the sand, hovered momentarily, then swung their bows toward the

night and the sea and vanished, swallowed by the darkness.

Tombstone watched with a terrible, icy apprehension. It was impossible

to see those big CH-53s lifting off from their makeshift LZ without

remembering that Operation Eagle’s Claw, the failed Delta Force op to

free the American hostages in Iran in 1980, had used Sea Stallions as

well. Military operations never went entirely as planned, and mechanical

or human failures were constants in any endeavor as big and as complex

as Operation Ranger. The entire operation could fail right here, right

now, if one of those big aircraft crashed, if two collided in midair, if

the enemy attacked. ..

“I like her,” Pamela said.

He turned. He’d not noticed her approach. “She’s a good person.”

“I wish you hadn’t split us up. I was just getting to know her.”

“You could have gone with her, you know.” She gave him a warning look,

and he held up his hands. “Okay! Okay! But, anyway, I had to split you

two up. I had the distinct impression you were joining forces against


More aircraft thundered overhead. .. A-6 Intruders, this time, on their

way to hit Dmitriev’s positions north of Yalta. It was time to move out,

before the attacks ran out of steam, before Dmitriev’s fighters broke

through the American air perimeter, before Boychenko’s people just plain

ran out of time.

Boychenko had rounded up a fair-sized transport convoy–Zil trucks,

mostly, but an odd collection of other mismatched vehicles as well,

including ZSU-34-4s, BMP personnel carriers, and even a T-80 tank. They

were parked along the highway on the north side of the palace complex,

engines idling, ready to go. It would be a long and dangerous passage,

especially if Dmitriev’s people figured out what Boychenko was up to.

The coast highway followed the Crimea’s southeastern coast for nearly

120 kilometers to the point where it joined highway M25 east of

Feodosija, then turned east for another hundred kilometers the rest of

the way to their final destination.

Two hundred twenty kilometers–over 130 miles. A four- to five-hour

trip, calculated by the best highway speed of the slowest vehicles in

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