CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

enemies were, and what the risks were likely to be, whether it was

delivering food to Somalia or stopping the neo-Soviets in the

snow-covered mountains of Norway. This was something totally different,

however, a tangled web of crossed interests, cross purposes, and

particularly unpleasant men with guns who weren’t always pleased to see

the U.S. troops or UN peacekeepers.

“Here they come,” WO Chris Palmer called from the rear compartment.

“Finally!” Cole muttered, powering up the Black Hawk and gently feeding

the twin T700-GE-700 turboshafts, listening to the rising whine of the

rotors with a practiced ear. “Radio silent routine, people, once we’re


Their orders had specified staying off the radios once in the air. The

idea was to surprise Russian forces who might otherwise track them by

their radio calls.

Moments later, another helicopter flew past, an odd-looking, ungainly

beast with an elongated, rounded fuselage and prominent round windows

along the sides. The Mi-8 Hip was an old Soviet design and was seen

everywhere in this part of the world, especially for transport duty.

This one had the blue UN flag painted on its side. “Hang on, everyone,”

Cole said, and he engaged the collective, lifting the Black Hawk clear

of the dirt.

Poti spread out below, shattered white buildings crowded against the

sparkling waters of the Black Sea, a ruin that looked as dilapidated

from the air as it did from the ground. Cole could almost imagine the

stink of the place fading away as he followed the Hip toward the


“That guy’s really traveling,” Cole said. The Hip was already a good

three miles ahead of them, a black spot just above the horizon. “Wonder

if he’s trying to make up for lost time?”

“Maybe so.” Dombrowski pulled out a map from under his seat, folded and

attached to a clipboard. “So where to today? Cha-something, they said?”

“Chaisi,” Cole replied. Another last-minute change, decided on just last

night by the team’s leaders. “Little village up in the mountains, just

outside the NFZ.”

“Outside the no-fly zone? Oh, joy. We get to play tag with Hind gunships


“None have been sighted so far,” Cole told the copilot. “In fact, from

everything I heard last night, it looks like the Russian regulars really

have pulled up and stolen away into the night. Not so much left behind

as a crust of black Russian bread. Piece of cake.”

“Shit. That just means we’re gonna be staying here, L-T! Maybe we should

scare up a Hind or two. Might mean we get pulled back to the ships.”

“I’m not sure which is worse,” Cole said. “Sleeping on those damned cots

at Tara, or being cooped up aboard a hip-pocket aircraft carrier.”

“Man, look at those mountains,” Dombrowski said, changing the subject.

One particularly rugged range was thrusting up in front of them, its

jagged brown walls only a few miles distant now. “We’re not going over

that thing, are we?”

“Nah. There’s a valley.” He pointed at the Hip, now reduced to a tiny

spot far ahead and to the right. “See? Two-seven’s headed straight for


“Christ,” Dombrowski said as the valley opened up around them. Trees

flashed past to left and right, some reaching well above the Black

Hawk’s cockpit. “Just like the trench on the Death Star in Star Wars.”

“At least,” Cole said with a grin, “we won’t have Imperial fighters on

our tail!”

He wished, though, that Two-seven would slow down a bit. He didn’t want

to get lost in these mountains, and with radio silence, he couldn’t call

the bastard and tell him to slow down.

Muttering an imprecation against all bureaucrats, Cole opened the

throttle a bit wider.


Saturday, 31 October 0915 hours (Zulu +3)

E-2C Hawkeye Tango 61 Over the Black Sea “Bird Dog, Bird Dog, this is

Watch Dog Six-one. Do you copy, over?”

The E-2C lurched as it hit a pocket of turbulence, but Lieutenant Arnold

Brown was as oblivious to the jolt as he was to the steady drown of the

Hawkeye’s twin turboprops. He was hunched over his radar console, his

full attention focused on yellow splotches of radar returns painted


“Bird Dog, Bird Dog, this is Watch Dog Six-one. Do you copy, over?” he

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