CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

toys. You’re a big boy now, Stoney. Time to stop playing with airplanes

and take on some real responsibility, right?”

Tombstone wondered–not for the first time–whether he really wanted to

go on to command a carrier like this one someday. He just wasn’t

certain, and that bothered him. A man should want that next step in his

career, want it enough to taste it, to be willing to fight for it, not

to simply wait for it to be handed to him on a platter. Not that command

of a CVN was something that could be disbursed that way; there were

thousands of eager young aviators in the U.S. Navy, every one of them on

a career track straight for command of an aircraft carrier. In the

entire U.S. Navy, there were exactly twelve supercarriers, some nuclear

powered, others, like the John F. Kennedy and the three Kitty Hawk-class

carriers, powered by conventional steam boilers. Even throwing in the

various Marine amphibious assault ships and helicopter carriers, there

were only a couple of dozen carrier commands in the entire Navy, and

thousands of eager would-be skippers. His chances of landing a carrier

command were vanishingly slim.

And there was something more.

He cocked an eye at Brandt. “Tell me the truth, Captain. Do you miss it

now? The flying, I mean?”

“Every goddamn day of my life, Stoney, and that’s the truth.”

“That’s what I thought. Maybe all the grown-up responsibility isn’t such

a great idea after all, huh?”

“Second thoughts, Tombstone?”

“I’m not sure, Captain. I just know I prefer blue sky to quarterdecks,

and a Tomcat’s ejection seat to the captain’s chair on the bridge. Now,

if you’ll excuse me, sir, I think I’d better get down to CATCC. With our

planes up, it looks like I’m CAG again.”

“Well, son, thanks for keeping me company. Drop by anytime.”

“You know I will, Captain.”

“Oh, and Stoney?”


“You tell your people to keep their Mark One eyeballs peeled up there.

Hawkeyes or no Hawkeyes, I trust their judgment and their instincts more

than all the electronics between here and Silicon Valley.”

Tombstone grinned. He felt exactly the same way. “Aye, aye, sir!”


Friday, 30 October 1735 hours (Zulu +3)

Carrier Air Traffic Control Center (CATCC), U.S.S. Thomas Jefferson It

was almost time for evening chow, but work aboard a Navy carrier

continued nonstop, with no pause for food or sleep, often with a

near-constant cycle of cat launches and recoveries carried out for hour

after hour after grueling hour. Save for rare instances such as

Jefferson’s recent transiting of the Bosporus, several aircraft were

nearly always in the sky, especially in potential war zones like this;

minimum air deployment at any given time for the Jefferson’s air wing

was a couple of Tomcats on Combat Air Patrol, and at least one of the

E-2C Hawkeyes. While the actual takeoffs and landings were controlled by

the Jefferson’s Air Boss from his glass-enclosed domain high up on 0-8

deck known as Primary Flight Control, or Pri-Fly, aircraft already in

the air were directed from the darkened room on 0-3 deck designated the

Carrier Air Traffic Control Center. CATCC–pronounced “cat-see” in the

Navy’s language of acronyms and abbreviations–was a dim-lit, magical

world of computers, monitors, and complex communications systems

overseen by a staff of the Navy’s most skilled high-tech wizards.

Perhaps a dozen men occupied the consoles and radar display screens

scattered about the room, while Lieutenant Fred Penhall, the duty

officer in CATCC for this shift, surveyed his domain from the lordly

throne of an elevated, leather-backed chair at the center of the


Tombstone was tired as he pushed aside the curtains that kept out the

harsh light of the passageway outside and entered the room. He’d been

going pretty much on adrenaline since the Jeff had entered the

Hellespont the day before. Someone thrust a steaming mug of coffee–his

mug, inscribed “CAG-CVW-20”–into his hands and he gave the sailor a

brisk nod. Radio voices crackled from speakers on the bulkhead, terse

and urgent.

“As you were, Lieutenant,” he rasped as Penhall started to rise from his

chair. He took a sip from the mug. It was a particularly strong brew

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