CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

Tombstone–were holding off the approaching naval infantry detachment.

“Okay, Tombstone,” she said. “I see the ridge. Talk to me.”

“We’ve got three, maybe four PT-76 tanks,” he told her. “They’re on the

east side of the ridge, moving toward the top in a line-abreast

formation, about two hundred meters from the crest. I can see them

pretty well from here. Doesn’t look like there’s too much ground cover,

so you ought to have a clear shot.”

“I think. ..” She stared ahead through her HUD, straining to see.

“Watch it, Tomboy,” Hacker called from the rear seat. “I’ve got a Gun

Dish paint!”

“Ah, Tombstone, this is Tomboy,” she called. “Your band of gypsies

happen to have a Zoo in the parade?”

“That’s a negative, Tomboy. No Zoos.”

“Okay. We’ve got one in the area. If you see it, give me a yell, will


“Will do.”

There they were. She could see the tanks now, four of them stretched out

in a line almost directly ahead. She only had an instant to react, and

she had to aim and fire by instinct. Her thumb closed on the trigger,

and she felt the vibration as her six-barreled Gatling gun screamed

white death at four thousand rounds per minute.

A white cloud appeared on the naked slope of the ridge just short of the

first amphibious tank. Holding the aircraft steady, she walked that

cloud along the slope, sending it smashing into the first tank, then

adjusting slightly to the left to hit the second.

At better than four hundred miles per hour, she roared overhead so fast

that the terrain was a gray-brown blur, though she had a brief instant’s

impression of men in camouflage uniforms on the ground, some running,

some falling, some simply standing and staring up at her with mouths

agape. One tank, at least, was burning, and she thought she’d hit

another one, but now she was out of sky and out of time. She pulled back

on the stick, climbing hard.

0913 hours (Zulu +3)

Near Arsincevo Tombstone and Pamela were peering over the shattered wall

of the building when the Tomcat rose from behind the crest of the ridge,

a huge, gray bird riding fire and thunder. An explosion fireballed on

the ground beyond the crest.

“You know, Matt,” Pamela said as the F-14 clawed for sky, turning back

over the Arsincevo Valley with sun flashing from its wings, “I’m

beginning to think she’s more your type. I think you must have a lot in

common with her.”

Tombstone looked at Pamela, defensive. .. and then he saw her tired

smile. He grinned, a bit ruefully. “Maybe you’re right. I do like her

style!” He still couldn’t deny the feelings he had for Pamela, but he

was able to accept the simple, cold fact that their relationship really

did have no future. He understood, he thought, what Pamela must have

been going through and why she wanted to end their relationship.

And maybe, after all, that would be best.

Tomboy was bringing her F-14 in for another strafing run.

He stood up behind the wall, exposing himself to fire from below so that

he could see. Dust and smoke erupted from a third PT-76; from further

down the valley, a squat, ugly-looking tracked vehicle with a low, open

turret slewed quad-mounted 23mm cannons and opened fire. “Tomboy!” he

yelled. “ZSU on the road-”

“I’m hit! I’m hit!” he heard her calling. White smoke was streaming aft

from her Tomcat as she hurtled past the east face of the ridge, angling

toward the sea eight miles away.


“I’m. .. okay,” he heard her say. “We’re okay, but I don’t think we’re

going to make it back to the Jeff.”

“Get some altitude!”

“Already on it.”

He could see the F-14 coming up now. It was hard to see, but he thought

one of the engines was out. The smoke streaming off the aircraft’s tail

was thicker now.

“Okay,” Tomboy said. “We’ve got an engine fire. We’re definitely not

going to make it to the Jefferson. She’s still taking on fuel, and

they’re not going to let us come anywhere near her with a dinged Tomcat.

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