CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

had made as standard policy a rule against close relatives serving

aboard the same vessel.

When Lobo had been captured in the Kola, the Navy had suffered a public

relations defeat very nearly as severe as the one they’d faced with the

death of the Sullivan brothers. She’d been featured in a Timeweek

article, interviewed on ACN, and the entire nation had been outraged. ..

and horrified that such things could happen to its fighting women. The

Navy, Coyote was certain, would not allow Lieutenant Hanson to fly

combat missions again, not unless they wanted a conservative backlash to

reverse all of the gains women had made in the service in the past few


And that was damned unlikely, because too many high-ranking careers at

the Pentagon were already at stake over the issue of women aboard ships

and in combat roles.

And maybe it was just as well. Coyote tried to imagine what it would be

like to be abused the way Lobo had been. .. then have to climb back into

a cockpit and go face the same people who’d done that to you the first

time. He couldn’t picture it. In fact, the only reasons he could imagine

for even wanting to do such a thing were either to prove something to

yourself–like getting back on the horse after it threw you–or for


He didn’t like either thought at all. He thought of Mason, jumping the

gun on that helo ID because he was too eager to make his mark. A naval

aviator needed to be a professional, to put aside love and hate, glory

and fear.

There simply was no room for obsession in the cockpit of a Tomcat.

1508 hours (Zulu 4)

CAG Office, U.S.S. Thomas Jefferson “Okay, Coyote, what else do you have

for me?” Tombstone Magruder leaned back in his chair, feeling weary.

Sometimes it seemed as if the paperwork and the endless details of

running the Air Wing were far more difficult to cope with than the

intensity of battle. He couldn’t remember being this tired after the

hottest combat ops he’d been in, even during drawn-out situations that

had tested him to the limits of physical endurance.

Flying a desk might not be as much of a strain on his body, but it

certainly left him feeling tired, irritable, and thoroughly fed up with

his lot in life. Tombstone was starting to hate the inside of the CAG

office, the sight of stacks of paper and computer monitors and all the

rest of the paraphernalia of bureaucracy. He was an aviator, by God, not

a clerk, but lately it seemed like he never had time for even a quick

flight to keep his cockpit hours current.

Coyote was sitting across from him this time, holding a clipboard and

ticking off points with a pen. “COD flight’s in. We got eight officers

all told. That’ll fill out the Vipers, the Death Dealers, and the

Javelins, but we’ll still be two short in the Prowlers. I’ve assigned

them quarters and given them their squadron postings. You’ll probably be

getting a string of courtesy calls this afternoon.” Coyote paused,


“You’re holding something back, Will,” Magruder said. “Spill it.”

“One of ’em’s Commander Flynn.”

Tombstone’s eyes widened. “Tomboy? She’s here?”

“Yup. Leg’s healed and she’s rarin’ to go.”

“You don’t seem pleased.”

“Oh, I was happy to see her. It’s just. .. well. “He slapped the palm of

his hand on Tombstone’s desk. “Damn it, CAG. I keep wondering about the

advisability of women in combat. She was telling me about Lieutenant

Hanson. She’s doing fine, according to Tomboy. Trying to get put back in

a combat assignment, of all silly dumb-ass things.”

“That’s the career path, Coyote.” Officers who’d actually experienced

combat were preferred for promotion. .. and for choice assignments later

in their careers. Female service personnel had long complained that men

had an unfair advantage there; it was one reason why they’d been

insisting all along that they should be allowed to assume combat status.

“I know, I know. But, well, what happened to Lobo in the Kola, it could

happen to any of them. Call me old-fashioned, but I can’t shake the

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