CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

more urgency now. Tombstone cocked his head, listening, as Penhall

switched the map display back to a view centered on the Jefferson. “This

is Sierra One-five. We’re over the target area at seven-five feet and

we’re trolling for big ones, over.”

“Ah, roger that, Sierra One-five. Commence active sonar.”

“And a one, and a two. ..”

The sonar pings weren’t transmitted over the open communications

channel, but Tombstone could imagine what it must sound like aboard the

Russian sub. That SH-3 was hovering just above the sub’s location, its

sonar dangling at the end of a long cable, dipping beneath the surface

of the water like bait on the end of a line. When the sonar started

broadcasting–“going active,” as opposed to passively listening–every

man aboard the sub would hear it as a sharp, ringing chirp transmitted

through the bulkheads of their tiny, enclosed world, proof positive that

they’d been spotted and were in someone’s gun sights.

“Any idea yet whose sub that is?” Tombstone asked.

“Not really,” Penhall replied. “Our best guess is that it’s Russian.

The signature matches a Victor III that’s been operating out of their

sub pens at Balaklava for some time now. It’s not conclusive, but. ..”

He shrugged.

“Understood. Hardly matters, anyway. Nobody out here likes us much.”

“They might like us even less after this,” Penhall said. “We’re telling

them, in effect, “Go away!’ Not exactly neighborly, you know?”

“More neighborly than an ADCAP torpedo,” Tombstone said. He hesitated,

watching the unmoving graphics symbols, green and red, on the screen. He

grinned. “Wonder how they’re enjoying the concert down there?”

1757 hours (Zulu +3)

Control room, Russian Submarine Kislovodsk Ping!. ..

Scowling, Captain First Rank Aleksci Aleksandrovich Vyatkin looked up

toward the control room’s overhead, past the maze of conduits, wirings,

and piping that ran fore-and-aft through the compartment like a writhing

bundle of spaghetti.

Ping!. ..

Louder this time, loud enough to hurt sensitive hearing. Kislovodsk’s

sonar officer, Valery Sofinsky, had already pulled off his headset and

was ruefully rubbing his ear. Even at a depth of four hundred feet, it

sounded as though the American helicopter-mounted sonars were right on

top of them, scant meters from the outer hull.

It hadn’t taken the bastards long to find them, either. Another Russian

sub, the Krimsky Komsomolets, had been shadowing the American battle

group up the Aegean; orders had come through from Balaklava just hours

ago for the Kislovodsk to pick up the group and continue shadowing it

inside the Black Sea. Their orders were to remain unobserved, but to get

as close to the major ships of the CBG as possible–especially either

their Aegis cruiser command ship or the carrier itself.

Ping!. ..

“They have us bracketed, Comrade Kapitan,” Captain-Lieutenant Yuri

Aleksanyan, the boat’s first officer, said. “I think they must have

known we were here all along.”

“The bastards have the devil’s own ears,” Vyatkin spat. But it was more

than the vaunted American technology. He knew that.

In the old days, in the Soviet days, Russian crews had not quite been

the match of their American counterparts. Now, with morale at rock

bottom, with machinery falling apart and no spares to be had anywhere

save, just possibly, on the black market, things were much worse. His

crew was sullen to the point of mutiny, and as likely to drop a heavy

metal tool in protest to some unwanted order as out of stupidity or

neglect. Equipment designed to run quietly didn’t. Sensors designed to

monitor sound aboard the submarine didn’t. Officers supposedly trained

in the skills necessary to navigate efficiently and silently while

submerged weren’t. Service aboard a Russian submarine, always both

dangerous and uncomfortable, was fast becoming a nightmare.

Ping!. ..

“That was from directly ahead, Comrade Captain,” the sonar officer said.

He didn’t even need his headset, so loud and bell-tone clear was the

American transmission.

“They are warning us, Captain,” the first officer added.

“They are telling us they want us to come no closer to their precious

nuclear carrier,” Vyatkin said.

PING!. ..

“Comrade Captain-”

“We will fox them, Yuri Aleksanyan,” Vyatkin said. “Ready Kukla.”

“At once, Comrade Captain.”

The submarine known to the West as a Victor III was the oldest class of

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