CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

what you wanted to see, and that was a hostile bird you could go after.”


“You asked for my opinion, Dixie. I’m not saying you were making things

up, or anything like that. I just think you were a little too eager,

that’s all.” She paused. “If CAG thinks the same, he could throw the

book at you. If there’s one thing I’ve learned since I started carrier

duty, it’s to play everything as chilly and professional as possible.

Magruder doesn’t tolerate anything less and he shouldn’t.”

“Cat, I know what I saw-”

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m sure you’re convinced of it now.” There was an even

longer pause. “But I’ve got to tell you the truth, Lieutenant. I’m going

to ask to be assigned to another plane for a while. I don’t think I want

to ride with somebody I can’t trust to keep his head in a tight spot.”

The canopy lifted slowly, and the plane captain was alongside to unfold

the ladder so Mason and Garrity could climb out. He didn’t answer her.

The problem was, he wasn’t sure he could answer her.

Because, deep down, Tom Mason was very much afraid she was right.


Saturday, 31 October 1038 hours (Zulu +3)

Viper Squadron Ready Room, U.S.S. Thomas Jefferson Coyote Grant paused

outside the locker room where Viper Squadron kept their flight gear,

prey to a confusing mix of emotions. He had been a part of VF95 for more

than four years, and CO of the squadron since their deployment to Norway

nearly eighteen months ago. It was still hard to adjust to his new role

as Deputy CAG, no longer flying Tomcats almost daily alongside his men

but instead a staff officer who had to think of the entire Air Wing, the

interaction of all the different aircraft in Jefferson’s formidable


He missed the Vipers. He saw them every day, of course, and even flew

with them when he could, when he needed to log some flight time, but it

wasn’t the same.

Aviators, more than most, showed that peculiar human trait that

classified other people as “them” or “us.” It could be an especially

cold-blooded fraternity. A fellow aviator might be a close buddy, a

wingman, a fellow member of the squadron until the night when he lost

his nerve in a particularly hairy recovery on board and turned in his

wings. After that, he was an outsider, greeted, perhaps, in friendly

fashion. .. but always with a lurking trace of condescension, a knowing

smile that said, Shit, he didn’t have what it takes, after all. The guy

might still be flying, but it would be as a pilot, not a naval aviator,

definitely a cut below the best of the best.

Coyote was still rated for carrier duty; he flew whenever he could get

out from behind his desk, every chance he could find in an increasingly

paper-logged schedule. But he was no longer a member of the Vipers. He

could see it in their eyes when he greeted one in a passageway, or when

he was delivering a briefing. His feet were firmly planted now on the

same career ladder Tombstone was already climbing. Down the line he

might be a CAG himself, and someday he might even rise to command a

carrier like the Jefferson. Every naval aviator’s dream. ..

For the moment, though, his sights were fixed on the immediate future.

He could expect to follow this Deputy CAG assignment with a tour of duty

Stateside, possibly on the command staff of a Naval Air Station. That

meant time with his wife and daughter, time to try to rebuild a marriage

that was already in tatters.

It had been especially bad during this last deployment back to Norfolk.

Lots of tears, lots of recriminations, and the knowledge that there

really wasn’t much he could do about it, unless he was willing to resign

from the Navy and get a nice, normal, steady, safe civilian job. In some

ways, Coyote had almost been glad when the unexpected orders came

through, sending the CBG to the Med. .. and informing him that he’d just

been moved to the carrier’s Deputy CAG slot.

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