CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

Our new fearless leader doesn’t share any of his reservations. Look at

Directive 626.”

“I try not to,” Tombstone said wryly. Directive 626 was a new order from

the upper levels of the Pentagon requiring women in combat units to be

worked into command slots on a quota basis, regardless of relative

seniority or experience. The Air Wing had been forced to make a number

of adjustments to accommodate the order, and it was one more blow to the

unit’s morale. “And Mason?”

“Is a minority, in case you were too color-blind to notice it. Sam Reed

would love to have a cause like that to get behind if it would make the

Navy look bad. You remember the trouble a couple of years back? The Top

Gun graduation?”

Magruder nodded. Before moving to the cabinet, Reed had been on the

House Armed Services Committee, one of the liberal voices pushing hard

for unpopular reforms in the military. After the committee had

recommended relaxing the standards for female pilots to compete for

slots at Top Gun and other advanced schools, a graduating class had

displayed banners calling Reed some extremely derogatory names. That had

sparked an ongoing feud between Reed and the Navy, particularly in Naval


Now Samantha Reed was America’s first female Secretary of Defense, and

she was well placed to carry on that feud.

Magruder frowned for a moment, then shook his head. “I appreciate the

advice, Coyote. I really do. But I’ll take my chances on this one. If I

have to look at an officer’s gender or color or sexual preferences

before I can hand down discipline I might as well just pack it in. If

Madam Secretary Reed wants my head, she can have it. .. but she can’t

make me screw up this unit in the name of political correctness.”

Coyote grinned and shook his head. “You always did have a bad attitude,

Stoney. Head hard as a rock. Not exactly good for the career track,


“Screw the career track,” Tombstone said. “If they take this job away

from me, maybe I can go back to flying airplanes!”

“Now you’re talking!”


Saturday, 31 October 1227 hours (Zulu +3)

Dirty Shirt Wardroom, U.S.S. Thomas Jefferson “Mind if I join you,


Batman Wayne looked up. It was Brewer Conway, his XO, standing beside

The table with a tray in her hands. He hesitated a moment before

replying, torn between a need for sympathetic company and a dread of

having to go through another round of questions about the helicopter

incident. Finally he shrugged. “It’s a free country. Drag up a seat.”

Brewer sat down across from him, looked at his plate, then looked at her

own, making a face. Gingerly, she lifted one corner of her hamburger bun

and peered uncertainly at the meat inside. “Well,” she said, “at least I

know now why they call these things ‘sliders.’ There’s enough grease in

here to clog every artery on board this bucket.”

“Hey, all the comforts of life ashore. You know how many fast-food

burgers you have to eat to get the same cholesterol spike of one of

these babies?”

“I’d hate to think.” She set the bun aside and began blotting at the

meat with her napkin.

“Just drown it in ketchup. You’ll never taste the difference.”

“You mean I’ll never know what hit me.” She dropped the wadded-up napkin

on her tray, then helped herself to the ketchup bottle. “Hey, Batman?”


“How long you think this deployment’s going to last?”

“What, our Black Sea cruise? Beats the hell out of me.”

“I mean, they cut our rotation Stateside pretty short. I was wondering

if we’d be out for a full six-month deployment, or if they might rotate

us back early.”

“You’re asking the wrong guy, Brewer. Nobody ever tells me a damned


“Nimitz was supposed to take this assignment, wasn’t she?”

“That’s the scuttlebutt,” he said. “That’s the way it goes, though. Too

many commitments, too few carriers. Maybe the Nimitz’ll relieve us after

that mess in Africa gets resolved. On the other hand, maybe by then

there’ll be some new crisis and we’ll be stuck here for months.”

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