CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

Black Sea.

With a thunderous roar, a Sea King gentled itself toward the deck just

ahead, guided down by a deck handler waving a pair of glowing, yellow

Chemlite wands. The SH-3 touched down, bouncing slightly against its

hydraulics as a dozen men hurried across the deck, heads bent low to

avoid the descent of the slowing rotors. The side door was already open,

and a crewman was helping the first of several black-coated men stumble

off the aircraft and onto Jefferson’s flight deck. Helmeted American

sailors reached him at the same moment, helping him walk clear of the

helicopter. Others moved in with wire-frame Stokes stretchers to take

off the men unable to walk. It took only a few minutes to off-load the

survivors. Then, as deck personnel scattered and the handler raised his

lighted wands, rotating them rapidly, the Sea King lifted off once more,

making room on the deck for the next incoming flight.

Thirty or forty Russian submarine crew members were gathered already on

the deck in the lee of the island, some lying sprawled on oil-smeared

blankets, others, unhurt but clearly in shock, sitting slumped with

their backs against steel, heads cradled in their arms. Jefferson’s

complement of hospital corpsmen moved among them, making those that

appeared to be in shock lie down, handing out blankets, talking

reassuringly to others, even though few spoke English. The more

seriously injured men had already been moved below to Jefferson’s sick


Coyote spotted a familiar figure squatting next to one of the survivors

and walked over. “Stoney!” he called.

Tombstone looked up, then stood. “Hey, Coyote. How’s things in the

Deputy CAG department?”

“They were quiet until a few minutes ago. I was just getting ready to go

to chow when I heard the incoming helo call.”

Tombstone grinned. “Me, too. No rest for the wicked, I guess. When’s

your watch?”

“Twenty-hundred hours. What the hell happened?”

“We’re still sorting it all out. As far as I can tell, though, we were

playing tag with a Russki sub, pinging him hard to make him unwelcome.”

“A concert, huh?”

“That’s right. He popped a decoy, hoping to confuse things enough to

make a getaway. Orlando was in his baffles and thought he was loosing a

war shot.”

“Oh, God.”

“Orlando’s on the surface now, taking survivors aboard. The Russian

sub’s gone. It only stayed on the surface for a few minutes before

taking the big dive.”

“How many survivors?” Coyote asked.

Tombstone shook his head. “Hell, they’re still fishing them out of the

drink. A Victor III has a complement of about eighty-five. We’ve got

maybe a quarter of them on board so far. But the evening’s still young.”

Coyote nodded, then dropped to a crouch next to a Russian officer. His

face, hands, and uniform tunic were coated slick-black with oil, and the

stuff was thickly matted in his hair and beard, contrasting startlingly

with the whites of his eyes. He scarcely looked human. “Hey, tovarisch,”

Coyote said. “You understand what I’m saying?”

“Shtoh?” the man asked. His eyes looked tired, and very, very old. “Ya

nee paneemayu.”

“You speak English?”

“Meenyq zavoot Kapitahn pervogo ranga Aleksei Aleksandrovich Vyatkin,”

the man said with quiet, exhausted dignity. “Podvodnaya lodka


“Did he say “Captain’?” Coyote asked.

“Captain first rank,” Tombstone replied. “See the shoulder boards? He

must’ve been that boat’s skipper.” He squatted next to the man. “Ya

plane mayu.”

“Damn, you speak Russian, Stoney? You never cease to amaze me!”

Tombstone shook his head. “Not more than a few words, I’m afraid. I just

told him I don’t speak it very well. What did you want to ask him,


Coyote stood up, hands on hips. “Well, this’ll sound crazy.”


“I was just wondering if we were at war with them. With Russia, I mean.”

“I doubt that these guys know any more about it than we do, actually. My

guess is that we’re both waiting to hear from the big boys up our

respective chains of command.”

“Anybody been talking to them yet? Their fleet, I mean. About this. ..


“I really don’t know,” Tombstone replied. “I think Tarrant’s been on the

horn, but I haven’t heard the word yet.”

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