CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass


“Us,” Tombstone said.

“That’s about the size of it. But Orlando’s squat in their baffles, and

the Russkis don’t even have a clue.”

Brandt grinned. Jeffries handed the printout to him and he glanced over

it, then handed it to Tombstone. It was a terse and to-the-point message

from Commander Lang, captain of the Los Angeles attack sub Orlando. Most

of the message consisted of numbers and code groups, but the gist of the

thing was that Orlando was still tracking the Russian sub that she’d

picked up shortly after Shiloh had entered the Black Sea late yesterday.

The data had been recorded an hour earlier and sent to the surface in a

message buoy, which had waited its programmed twenty minutes for the

Orlando to get well clear of the area before squirting its coded and

compressed digitized warning to the Jefferson by way of one of the Aegis

cruiser’s SH-3 helos.

The tail was inevitable, of course, and the discovery of the sub had

come as no surprise. Orlando’s orders were to stick tight to the Victor,

to report on its position occasionally. If the Victor made a hostile

move, such as opening her torpedo tubes, Lang was under orders to kill


It was a damned precarious position to be in. The American battle

group’s orders from both Washington and the UN officials in charge of

Sustain Hope were explicit on at least one point: Under no circumstances

were Russian units to be fired upon unless the Russians fired first.

Further bloodshed, the politicians thought, would only make the peace

process more difficult, and a unilateral, watchful truce by the

Americans might convince the Russian factions to back down and let the

UN step in with a negotiated settlement.

Those were tough orders to obey in modern warfare, however, where

ship-killer weapons could be deployed in seconds, and where a mistake

rarely permitted a second chance.

“So,” Tombstone said. “What are we going to do about friend Victor?”

“Do? Not a hell of a lot we can do. We keep track of him with Vikings

and Sea Kings and trust Orlando to nail the bastard if he so much as

looks hard at the Jeff. Other than that. ..” A shrug.

“Hell of a way to run a war.”

“It would be, if this was a real war. Who knows? Maybe the Russians just

want to make sure we stay clear of their bases in the Crimea. And you

know, that Victor could be a Ukrainian boat, too, out of Odessa.”

Tombstone nodded. “Russians and Ukrainians, they’ve both got to be a bit

nervous with us here. About the way we’d feel if a Russian battle group

steamed into Chesapeake Bay.”

“Nah. There’s a difference. Chesapeake Bay is U.S. territory, right down

to the last soft-shelled crab. The Black Sea is international waters,

whatever the Russkis and Ukes might think about the matter.”

A telephone rang, and an enlisted rating picked it up.

After a moment, he looked at Brandt. “Captain?”


“Commander Nelson, in Ops, sends his respects and says that all vessels

are clear of the Bosporus now, and the battle group is in a standard

port-heavy deployment.”

“Very well.”

Tombstone looked out the bridge windows. He could see two other ships,

both very small and on the horizon. Decatur was to the north. Leslie was

a gray smudge to the west, just off Jefferson’s starboard bow. The sea

appeared empty otherwise. So long as the Jefferson was hugging the

Turkish coast, the bulk of her screening ships could be thrown out to

north, east, and west, giving an added layer of defense across the most

likely direction of an enemy’s approach, a protective net that extended

across the surface of the water, in a broad bubble in the air overhead,

and beneath the waves as well.

Not that they ignored the southern flank. In these waters, the CBG had

no friends, and no one else to trust.

“Wishing you were on a smaller target, Tombstone?” Brandt asked,


“To tell you the truth, sir,” Tombstone said, jerking a thumb toward the

overhead, “I’d feel better up there. With my people.”

“Now, now,” Brandt admonished. “When you grow up, you put away your

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