CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

cruise missile into the air at a fifty-degree angle. The solid motors

burned out and fell away; the cruise missiles, gulping air now, steadied

on course at altitudes of only a few feet, arrowing toward the distant

Russian carrier at Mach 7.

The Pobedonosnyy Rodina never had a chance. Her escorts turned back even

before the huge vessel capsized beneath a funeral pall of roiling black


One of the oil-covered survivors pulled from the Black Sea by one of

Jefferson’s helicopters hours later had been one Vitse-Admiral Nikolai

Sergeivich Dmitriev, encountering the Jefferson for the second time in

his career. He’d requested asylum as soon as he was aboard.

Tombstone wondered what he and Boychenko had been talking about in the

week since.

Turning in his seat, he could see a great crowd of Jefferson’s enlisted

men and women stretched across her deck in a shoulder-to-shoulder line,

walking slowly down the deck, their eyes on the Kevlar-coated steel at

their feet. Occasionally, someone in the line would stoop, picking

something up off the deck. The exercise was called a Foreign Object

Damage walk-down, an FOD for short, and it was the most efficient way

the Navy had come up with yet to clear the flight deck of every single

dropped nut, lost tool, or anonymous chunk of metal that might be sucked

into an aircraft’s jet intakes during flight ops.

Small things could do tremendous damage, all out of proportion to their

size. It was literally true that a thirty-five-cent bolt sucked into the

air intake of a Tomcat on the deck could ruin a

thirty-five-million-dollar aircraft–at least to the point where a set

of turbine blades had to be pulled and replaced and the compressors

checked for damage. A single million-dollar Phoenix could take down a

thirty-million-dollar jet a hundred miles away.

A single carrier battle group could change the politics of a nation.

Strategically, the raid on Kerch had been a pinprick, inconsequential in

any larger scheme of things, but it had demonstrated the resourcefulness

and will that were by now defining characteristics of the United States

Navy. It had also broken the air power of the Black Sea Fleet; at last

report, Ukrainian landing craft had been coming ashore at Mikolaivka and

Kacha, just north of Sevastopol, and were on their way to overrunning

the entire peninsula. The UN had protested, insisting that the Crimea

was under UN protection, but no one seemed to be paying any heed.

The loss of the Crimea might well be the final blow to Marshal

Krasilnikov’s hard-line rule of what was left of Russia. No one could

know with any certainty, however, what the future held for that unhappy


Tombstone, however, knew exactly what was in store for him. It was the

end of the twentieth century, the beginning of a new era. .. a new

world. For a long time, he’d wondered whether technology and events had

already passed him by, whether or not it would be better if he accepted

that he’d gone as far in his naval career as he could. Civilian life,

sometimes, looked pretty good.

But he knew now that that was not for him. The special fraternity with

the men–and women–who sailed and flew with him was something he would

not easily be able to lay aside.

He looked around the bridge of the Thomas Jefferson, caught Brandt’s

eye, and winked.

The Jefferson might still have three thousand miles of open ocean

between her and her home port, but Tombstone Magruder knew that he was

already home.

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