CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

Bosporus. The transit agreement with Turkey called for Jefferson’s

aircraft to stay grounded while the vessel was in Turkish waters, and

that was part of what was making Tombstone uneasy. With none of her

aircraft aloft, Jefferson was completely dependent on the electronic

eyes and ears of those ships of her battle group that had already

entered the Black Sea. Shiloh was already out there, beyond the

Truesdale and over the horizon, as were Winslow and Leslie, while

Decatur brought up the rear. If Washington had guessed wrong about

Russian intentions or Russian sensitivity to an American task force

entering their traditional waters, enough of the CBG was already in

place to protect the carrier as it moved ponderously through the narrow


At least, that was what the CBG Ops Staff hoped. Tombstone, as CAG, had

been in on all of the planning sessions and knew the logistical and

deployment rationalizations by heart.

Stupid. .. stupid. .. stupid. ..

Leaning forward, he peered up at the sky, a jumbled mix of towering

blue-and-white cumulus clouds and patches of blue sky. .. as if he could

spot incoming aircraft before the battle group’s radar could. He shook

his head at the thought. An aviator’s hands-on instincts. .. and

impossible to ignore. This was a critical time for the CBG. If the

Russians were going to try something, they couldn’t ask for a better

moment than now, while the Jeff was pinned in the straits with her air


Were they still at war with Russia? Tombstone honestly wasn’t sure, and

neither was anyone else in CBG-14. Most likely the politicians weren’t

sure either; officially a truce was on, and American forces had been

directed to fire at Russian units only if the other guy fired first. The

trouble was that things were rather confused inside Russia these days,

and no one, inside the country or outside, knew for sure who was

speaking for them. So far as Tombstone could tell, the truce was

strictly unilateral, if only because no one knew whether the people

who’d agreed to it in either the Krasilnikov or Leonov factions had the

authority to do so.

In fact, the short, hard-fought naval war that had started just after

the neo-Soviets had invaded Norway and led up to the Marine landings on

the Kola Peninsula had finally ended more through Russia’s internal

collapse and exhaustion than anything else. Prisoners taken during that

campaign had indicated that Russian morale was at zero, that their

troops were short of food, of clothing, of ammunition, of boots, of

everything, in fact, that a modern army needed in order to fight.

That was seven months ago, and things within the borders of the former

Soviet state had gotten a hell of a lot worse since then. The civil war

continued, bloody and relentless, and there was no clear-cut government

to deal with, no one to sign a cease-fire or agree to a cessation of

hostilities. The UN had been trying to bring about a truce for months

now, and the closest they’d come was in establishing a tiny enclave in

Georgia–nominally an independent nation but largely controlled now by

one or another of the Russian army factions that were battling it out

all across the length and breadth of the vast and once-powerful land of

Russia. UN officials hoped, however, that a United Nations peacekeeping

victory in those nations would open the way to a UN-bartered peace

throughout the Russian Federation.

And that, indirectly at least, was why the Jefferson and her battle

group were sailing into this land-locked potential death trap. They’d

already arranged to have a Marine Expeditionary Unit–MEU-25–moved to

the waters off the Georgian port of Poti, and now the Jefferson was

going in to add her air wing to the UN’s arguments. Whether or not

American forces should be put under the command of UN commanders was an

issue that had been debated for many years now; a group of advisers

close to the President had acquired the nickname of the

“Internationalists” because of their insistence that the long-touted New

World Order would evolve only when the UN possessed the military teeth

of a world power, while national armed forces were weakened.

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