CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

That second or two was all she needed, though, as the Mig continued its

climb, rolling onto its back and twisting clear of its aerial embrace

with the Tomcat.

She’d anticipated his break; ninety percent of being a good tactical

combat flyer was being able to guess what the other guy was going to do

and matching or countering the move almost before he made it. Her port

engine stuttered, dangerously close to a stall, but she nursed the

throttle, felt the engine resume its accustomed thunder, and watched the

Flogger drop across her gun sight.

Tomboy had already shifted to guns, since her M-61A1 was the only weapon

she had left. Reacting instantly, and at a range of less than fifty

yards, she squeezed the firing button on her control stick; the

six-barreled cannon howled, sending a tight-spaced volley of 20mm rounds

into the Flogger’s left wing, sawing through from front to back in a

splintering, slashing burst. The skin of the wing pocked, then shredded;

fuel from the wing tank gushed into the air, then ignited in the hail of

white-hot shells. A fireball erupted scant yards from the nose of

Tomboy’s F-14 as the Flogger disintegrated. Jagged fragments hurtled

past her head; shrapnel pinged and rattled from her aircraft’s skin–and

then she was hurtling through the fireball with a hard jolt and smashing

through into open sky.

“Whee-ooh!” Tomboy exulted, her voice shrill. “Got him!” Then, sobering

as she eased into a gentle turn, she said, “Did you see a chute?”

“Negative,” Hacker told her. “I didn’t see anything but fire.”

“Too bad,” Tomboy replied. “He was good.”

0910 hours (Zulu +3)

Near Arsincevo By now, Tombstone knew that he simply was not cut out for

life as an infantryman. In the sky, strapped into the cockpit of an

F-14, he had an impressive array of sophisticated electronics and

high-powered weaponry at his command, available literally at the touch

of a button. His machine spoke to him, in the warble of warning tones

and flashing threat indicators, in the yellow-green glow of radar blips

scattered across his VDI, in the feel of the aircraft as he pulled it

into a turn or nursed it out of a plunging, hell-bent-for-leather dive

through thirty thousand feet.

Here, in the mud and cold and blood of man-to-man combat, there was

nothing to speak to him but his own pounding heart and his own ragged

fear. Combat, for the aviator, still possessed something of the

romantic, medieval flavor of single combat between knights. Here,

though, there was no glory, no romance of single combat. There was only

stink, pain, fear, and death.

Tombstone and several other naval personnel were huddled inside the

partly wrecked stone building just below the crest of the ridge

overlooking Arsincevo, not far from the spot where Tombstone had first

seen the storage facility. A dead Russian lay face-up in the mud a few

feet away. He was naval infantry, wearing a one-piece light-camo

jumpsuit, his black beret lying by his side. His eyes, wide open and

very, very blue, stared sightlessly at the sky.

Stoney had appropriated the man’s AKM assault rifle and a canvas pouch

with five spare magazines, fully loaded, but his mind was full of images

of the Russian he and Tomboy had killed in Kola. There’d been nothing

romantic about that encounter, either, and he was not eager to get into

a firefight.

Pamela and several members of her ACN crew were sitting on the ground

nearby. No one had been hurt, and all were accounted for, but they

seemed a bit lost now that they didn’t have their van of high-tech


He walked over and slumped down at Pamela’s side. “Sorry you came?”

“Are you looking for some kind of victory?” she asked him. “All right.

I’m sorry I came. I’m sorry I ever heard of this godforsaken place.


“I wasn’t looking for satisfaction,” he told her.

“What are you looking for?”

“I don’t know. I know I wish you’d flown out on that helo.” He

hesitated, wondering if he should say it. “I still love you, you know.”

She didn’t answer, and Tombstone knew that their relationship was truly

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