CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

“If so, it’s a violation,” Grant said. “What are their orders?”

“To check ’em out and enforce the edict. If that bogey’s a bandit, we

take ’em down.”

In the language of naval aviation, a bogey was an unidentified target,

while a bandit had been positively identified as hostile. And according

to UN resolution 1026, aircraft violating the Georgian no-fly zone were

to be considered hostiles.

“Where’s CAG, anyway?” Coyote wanted to know.

“Getting ready for a meeting with Top Hat, last I heard, sir. You want

me to get him down here?”

Coyote shook his head. “You’ve got the deck, Chad. And you’ve got your


“Yeah, I know.” Chadwick licked his lips. “You know, Commander, it gets

damned scary down here sometimes.”

“I know what you mean, Lieutenant. I know exactly what you mean.”

0923 hours (Zulu +4)

Tomcat 218 UN No-Fly Zone, Republic of Georgia “Hot damn!” Mason said

with boyish enthusiasm. “Just like Star Wars!”

Lieutenant Kathleen Garrity, call sign “Cat,” smiled behind her oxygen

mask with mingled condescension and amusement. Technically, the man up

front outranked her. Tom Mason had made lieutenant six months back,

while she’d received her promotion from j.g. to full lieutenant only

three months ago, while Jefferson had been undergoing her all-too-brief

refit at Norfolk. Still, Dixie was a nugget, a new arrival to the air

wing who’d transferred in from a reserve air group Stateside. Cat, on

the other hand, was a combat veteran who’d seen action in the Kola


She recognized Mason’s eagerness, though. Nine months back, she’d felt

the same way.

Cat had battled to get where she was now. She’d battled harassment,

battled prejudice, battled the sneers and jibes of fellow aviators to

get what she wanted–an assignment as a naval flight officer, as an RIO

in the backseat of an F-14 Tomcat, instead of a routine billet as just

another tech specialist in some rear-echelon base. She’d battled, she’d

gambled. .. and she’d won.

And now she was the old hand, the vet, listening with wry amusement to

the excited edge in her partner’s voice.

She and Dixie had a lot in common, she decided. A decade back, naval

aviation had largely been a private club reserved for white males with

the right connections. A few black and Asian and Hispanic officers made

it into carrier air, but not many, and damned few as NFOS. Those

minority Naval Flight Officers who did make the grade more often than

not ended up flying CODS or other support aircraft. Things had finally

started to open up, though, and if she and the other women on the

Jefferson were a success story, then so was Tom “Dixie” Mason.

Because Dixie was a black–no, an “African-American,” she wryly

corrected herself–his battle had been at least as rough as hers, in a

Navy that still sometimes had the air of an exclusive, all-white country

club at the highest levels of the command hierarchy. There’d been black

admirals and female admirals for some years now, but much of the Navy

was still run by the old boys’ network, a network that could be damned

vicious sometimes when it came to an aviator’s sex or color. .. or even

the fact that a man’s name ended with a vowel.

Mason had graduated near the top of his class at Annapolis and again at

flight school in Pensacola. For the past four years, though, he’d been

struggling against the odds to win acceptance as an aviator. Shunted

into a RAG for most of his career, he’d finally managed to land carrier

duty. .. which any flier in the squadron would insist was the one

assignment that separated aviators from mere pilots.

And she had to admit that Mason was a superb flier, one of the best

she’d ever seen. Despite the enthusiasm, technically he was an iceman,

cold and hard and precise. The emotions showed through when he was under

stress, but all he really needed there was some seasoning.

“Bird Dog, this is Dog House.” That was Lieutenant Chadwick’s voice,

from Ops. “Do you copy, over?”

“Bird Dog Leader copies, Dog House,” Batman replied over the open

channel. “What’s the gouge?”

“Bird Dog, we confirm your bogey, but we still don’t have an India Delta

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