CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

“Damn,” Coyote said. “So here we don’t even know if these guys are

guests or POWS.”

“I imagine we’ll find out soon enough,” Tombstone said. He shouted, to

make himself heard above the clatter of the next incoming helicopter.

“Maybe sooner than we really want to know.”

And Coyote knew he was right.

2245 hours (Zulu +3)

Office of the Commander, Crimean Military District Sevastopol, Crimean

Military District “Come in, Nikolai Sergeivich.”

Vice-Admiral Dmitriev entered the ornate, luxurious office. The place

was richly furnished, paneled in dark red wood, and with an elaborate

and expensive parquet wood floor. General Sergei Andreevich Boychenko

was not known for his abstemious or purse-pinching habits.

“You sent for me, Admiral?”

“I did. I did. Sit and be comfortable.” Boychenko, a lean, hawk-like man

with silver hair and a vast array of medals on his uniform coat, was

sitting behind the expanse of his desk. An elaborate silver samovar rose

from a wheeled cart beside the desk. The commanding officer of the

entire Crimean Military District gestured at a glass. “Tea?”

“Thank you, sir.” As he helped himself to the tea service, Dmitriev

wondered why he’d been summoned here. He assumed it had to do with the

sudden loss of contact with the Kislovodsk. .. and the subsequent loss

of contact with the American carrier group. He tried to read Boychenko’s

manner but failed utterly. The man betrayed no emotion–if, indeed, he

possessed any at all in the furst place. Boychenko had always struck

Dmitriev as something of a cold fish.

With the dark Russian tea steaming in his glass, he took a seat opposite

the desk. Boychenko’s corner office overlooked the port of Sevastopol,

as his did, but had larger windows and a more expansive view. The harbor

was spread out practically at his feet; normally, city and waterfront

together made a splendid sight, colored lights agleam on still, black

water, but a blackout was in force and there was little to see now. The

entire district was on full alert, of course, with the threat from

Ukraine hanging over the Crimea. Too, the Crimea was suffering from a

general power shortage, and the blackout helped save electricity.

Dmitriev thought it a singular mark of disgrace that so great a city as

Sevastopol, or the fleet anchored there, could no longer afford to keep

its lights on at night.

A third wall of the wood-paneled office was taken up by a large framed

map of southern European Russia and Ukraine. Unit positions were plotted

by pins bearing tiny colored flags, red or blue for Russian forces, gray

for Ukrainian. The gray flags were heavily clustered along the northern

Black Sea coast, from Odessa in the west to the shores of the Sea of

Azov in the east. Dmitriev noted, with a cold, sinking sensation, the

number of Ukrainian flags clustered north of the Crimean isthmus. .. and

how few red flags opposed them.

“We have had word from the Kislovodsk,” Boychenko said without further


“What!” Dmitriev sat up straighter in his chair, nearly spilling his

tea. “How? When?” As commander of the Black Sea Fleet, he should have

been the one to hear, not Boychenko, his immediate superior.

“About an hour ago. Ah, do not worry, my friend. You were not cut out of

the chain of communications. It was not the Kislovodsk, precisely, that

contacted us.”

“Not the Kislovodsk. What do you mean, Comrade General?”

“My office received a radio communique, in the open, from an Admiral

Tarrant, aboard the American cruiser Shiloh. The Kislovodsk was sunk–by

accident–at about eighteen hundred hours this evening.”

“Sunk!” Dmitriev’s eyes narrowed. “An accident, you say?”

“That is what we were told, and I am inclined to believe the story.

Captain Vyatkin, apparently, was being urged to leave the area by

antisubmarine warfare forces. He chose to fire a noisemaker torpedo in

order to deceive the Americans and was torpedoed when they assumed he

was firing on their carrier.”

“Were there. .. were there survivors?”

“Surprisingly, yes. Apparently the Americans initiated rescue operations

as soon as they realized that a mistake had been made. At last report,

sixty-eight officers and men had been pulled from the sea. Fifteen were

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