CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass


“Was there any way you could have checked on Dixie’s ID?”

“What was I supposed to do? Ignore him because he’s a rookie and insist

on another pass before I made up my mind? I might’ve flown us right into

triple-A if that Zoo had turned out to be a hostile. Anyway, I can’t

treat the rest of the squadron like they’re a bunch of idiots.”

“No, you can’t,” Grant agreed. “You have to trust their training. I

remember Tombstone chewed my ass once in Norway because I wasn’t letting

the other guys do their jobs while I did mine.”

“Well, the leader still has the responsibility, right? I was supposed to

be looking out for him.” Batman gave a hollow laugh. “Good job, huh?”

“New guy. Just out of a RAG and trying to prove himself.” Grant paused.

“Is he wearing a chip? Black guy in a white-bread world?”

“I wouldn’t say he’s got a chip on his shoulder, no. He’s all right.

Seems to fit in with the others okay. But he does work extra hard to

prove he can cut it.”

“Yeah.” Grant looked away. “Look, Ed, I wasn’t out there. I don’t know

what I would have done in your place. .. but I don’t see where you made

any wrong decisions. Mason missed the ID call. Hell, that can happen

even to a veteran. But you can’t second-guess your people all the time,

veterans or newbies. If you do, you’ll burn yourself out–and you’ll

take the squadron with you.”

Batman nodded. “You’re right. But, God, I could’ve killed someone, one

of our guys.”

“Well, you didn’t. Concentrate on that. If you let it get to you, it’ll

screw your head up so bad you’ll never pull out of the spin. You’re too

good an aviator to lose your wings because of something that almost went


“I may be a good flier,” Batman said. “The question is how good a CO I

am. When I was your XO, it was pretty easy, you know? I fielded some

gripes for the guys, I helped you with the paperwork, I did my turn on

CAP or on combat ops. No big deal. Shit, Coyote, you should’ve told me

what you were going through, running the show. Then maybe I’d’ve told

them what to do when they decided to stick me in this slot.”

“You’ll handle it, Batman. Trust me. Inside a few weeks, you’ll be the

same old arrogant, cock-sure hot-dog bastard we all know and love.”

Batman finished dressing and closed his locker. “Maybe you’re right,” he

said. He managed a grin. “Of course, first I have to survive whatever

old Stoney decides to throw at me. If I don’t make it out of debriefing

alive, Coyote, you can have my CD collection.”

1110 hours (Zulu +3)

CAG office, U.S.S. Thomas Jefferson Tombstone Magruder looked up at the

four officers standing in line in front of his desk. He didn’t speak

right away. His emotions were in turmoil, caught between horror at the

incident that had so nearly turned tragic and relief that the ultimate

tragedy had somehow been averted. The fact that two of the four were

among his best friends didn’t make his job this morning any easier.

Friends are a luxury you can’t always afford in the Service, his uncle,

now a desk-bound admiral in Washington, had told him once.

He took a deep breath. “Okay. Let’s have it,” he said.

No one answered. He studied them, one after another. Mason and Garrity

were at rigid attention, looking far too young and vulnerable to be part

of the carrier’s front line of defense. Batman and Malibu were older,

steadier hands, officers he had long relied on. Friends. ..

Coyote shifted in his chair to Tombstone’s right. “Friendly fire happens

sometimes, Stoney. .. CAG.”

“That’s not an explanation,” he shot back. “You can’t just say “Shit

happens’ and leave it at that.”

Still, Coyote was right. He knew that. Friendly fire, accidental attacks

against your own people, had probably been a factor in warfare since the

first cavemen duked it out over the local water hole. In the Persian

Gulf War some of the most serious battlefield casualties taken by Allied

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