CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

“Lassie” Lassiter, the LSO on duty for the Vipers this morning, was flat

and calm. “More power.”

He pushed the throttles forward and pulled the Tomcat’s nose up, cursing

under his breath. There was no reason for this to be anything but a

routine trap on the flight deck.

No reason beyond the simple fact that he couldn’t get the image of that

burning helicopter out of his mind.

“Easy now,” Lassiter said. “Don’t overcompensate now.”

The very best LSOS in the fleet were the ones like Lassiter who could

keep calm and unflappable, giving guidance without sounding like

world-class nags.

“Ease off, Batman!”

Shit. .. he had overcompensated. The fighter was coming in too high now.

The red lights on either side of the meatball came on, but he was almost

up to the carrier’s roundoff and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do

about it now.

“Wave off! Wave off!”

His landing gear shrieked as they touched the deck, too far forward for

the arrestor hook to snag a cable. Batman pushed the throttles forward

and pulled up on the stick, cursing aloud this time. The engines

thundered, the acceleration pressing him into his seat as the plane

lifted clear and headed back into the open sky once again.

“Bolter! Bolter! Bolter!” the LSO called. Batman felt himself flushing

behind his oxygen mask. Of all the stupid rookie tricks to pull!

“Take it easy, man,” Malibu said behind him. “Don’t let it get to you.

Just circle around and get your focus back.”

“Shit, Malibu! If you don’t like my flying, you can get out here and

walk back to the boat!”

“Chill out, dude,” the RIO responded with a trace of his usual bantering

style. “Just stay frosty, right? You can cool off while they bring Dixie

down. Nothing to worry about.”

“Yeah. Nothing to worry about.”

Except for the fact that he’d just downed an American aircraft, maybe

killed its flight crew.

Nothing to worry about at all.

1007 hours (Zulu +3)

Tomcat 218 Flight deck, U.S.S. Thomas Jefferson The Tomcat snagged the

arrestor wire with a jolt that flung Tom Mason hard against his shoulder

harness. “Good trap! Good trap!” the LSO was calling on the radio as he

cut the throttles back. The roar of the engines faded to a low rumbling

whine. A yellow-shirted traffic director ran onto the flight deck in

front of the fighter, waving his twin rods to guide Mason on his taxi


He backed the plane up far enough to take the strain off the arrestor

cable and let it drop to the deck, “spitting out the wire,” as it was

called. Then he folded the fighter’s wings and started slowly forward,

following the Yellow Shirt.

“Good trap” echoed in his mind. He’d made it down in one try, at least.

After Batman’s bolter, Mason had been worried he’d have trouble, too.

After all, if the commander had been shaken up by the downing of a U.S.

chopper, how much worse should it have been for the man who made the bad

call in the first place? Somehow, though, when the time had come to

start the approach, Dixie had been able to push his concerns aside and

concentrate on the landing.

“Does that make me a good aviator or a callous one?”

“I’d vote for callous,” Garrity said from the backseat.

Mason suppressed a curse. He hadn’t realized he’d been thinking out

loud. “Hey, lay off, Cat,” he said. “I made a mistake back there. But

just because I didn’t bolter. ..”

“Relax, Dixie,” she said. “I didn’t mean anything by it. Pressure hits

different people in different ways. The Batman was probably shaken up by

a lot more than that Black Hawk. He’s got a whole squadron to worry


“Yeah,” Mason said. He pulled into the space reserved for his plane and

killed the engines, then paused before opening the canopy. “Just between

us, Cat, what do you think’s gonna happen?. ..”

She didn’t answer for a long moment. “Look, I don’t have any answers,”

she said at last. “I didn’t get a good look at that helo when we made

the pass. From back here, though, it looked to me like you saw exactly

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