CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

Boychenko’s convoy.

If nothing went wrong. If they were able to break away from Dmitriev’s

troops and searching aircraft.

If. .. if. .. if. ..


Saturday, 7 November 0145 hours (Zulu +3)

Office of the Commander, Black Sea Fleet Sevastopol Naval Base, Crimean

Military District Starshiy-Leytenant Anton Ivanovich Kulagin stood to

attention and saluted his superior. “We cannot confirm the reports,

Comrade Admiral,” he said. His uniform, usually spotlessly immaculate,

was mussed, and there was a smudge of something, smoke or grease, on his

face. “But it appears that Boychenko has escaped.”

Dmitriev swiveled in his chair to face the young officer. “How?” The

word was flat and emotionless.

“Sir, the Americans launched a heavy air strike against our positions in

the mountains above Yalta. Under cover of that strike, they landed a

number of helicopters at the White Palace and evacuated a large number

of people. Their wounded, the UN people, their naval UN attaches. We

cannot confirm that Boychenko was among them, but-”

“But we must assume that he is.” Dmitriev closed his eyes, suddenly very

tired. Boychenko would not have missed his opportunity to flee to asylum

with the American battle group.

“Yes, sir. Casualties were light among our ground forces, moderate to

heavy in the air. We lost twenty-five aircraft of various types, mostly


He looked up. “Twenty-five? So many?” That was nearly twenty percent of

all of the combat aircraft they possessed, gone in a single engagement!

“Yes, sir. And several more damaged. Colonel Vorodin reports twelve

American aircraft shot down, but we have no confirmation on that as yet.

Fifteen of our pilots are dead or still missing.” Kulagin paused. “The

Americans, it seems, possess a considerable advantage in their Phoenix


“Da. Those monsters.” Once again, the Americans had shown the value of

their undeniable technological lead in weapons systems. An air-to-air

missile that could guide itself across nearly two hundred kilometers at

five times the speed of sound. ..

He shook his head. The best in the Russian arsenal still could not match

the AIM-54C.

“And the rebel forces?” he asked. “Surely they did not evacuate all of

them by helicopter?”

“No, sir. In fact, our observers reported that a number of Americans

remained behind when the helicopters left.”


“Yes, sir. American Marines. Our scouts were not able to get close

enough to formulate a detailed report, of course. We don’t know how many

remained ashore.”

“American military forces are helping the rebels.” Dmitriev’s fingers

drummed rapidly on his desktop. “What do they hope to achieve? They will

be trapped in Yalta-”

“Sir. ..” Kulagin stopped, obviously afraid.

“Go on, go on. Nothing you say can be worse than the news that we’ve

lost so many aircraft.”

“Sir, shortly after the helicopters left, the rebel forces evacuated the

palace as well. They appear to be retreating up the coast road.”

The news struck Dmitriev like a physical blow. “What?”

“Yes, sir. We estimate fifteen hundred rebels, mostly from the 4th Fleet

Spetsnaz, are now on the road.”

Dmitriev got up and walked around his desk. A map on the wall next to

his office door showed the entire Crimean Peninsula and the northern

third of the Black Sea in considerable detail. Pins with colored tags

had been stuck into the map at various points, marking ground forces,

while the American fleet’s movements had been drawn in with broad

strokes of a blue felt-tip pen.

“That is an interesting detail, Anton Ivanovich,” he said. “You are sure

of this?”

“Yes, Comrade Admiral. At last report.” He leaned forward, his

forefinger brushing the town of Alusta, twenty-five kilometers up the

coast from Yalta. “They were here. That was perhaps an hour ago. Vorodin

reports attempting to launch an air strike on the convoy, but American

carrier aircraft continue to provide cover for them. His aircraft have

not been able to get close enough to attack.”

“The coast road.” Dmitriev’s thoughts were spinning. “The coast road.”

Where are fifteen hundred rebel soldiers going? His eyes followed the

coast road to the northeast, to Feodosiya, where it swung gradually

eastward across the Kerch Peninsula.

“Kerch,” he said abruptly. His finger came down hard on the seaport city

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