CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

“As you were,” Tarrant said quietly as he reached the podium. Chairs

scraped against the deck as the assembled officers of the battle group

sat down again. The air was tense with anticipation.

“Good morning,” Tarrant said. “There have been some developments that

impact on our operations. We have new orders from Washington and will be

redeploying the battle group to extend our operational area north and

west. Commander Sykes will cover the details of the situation.


He nodded toward Commander Daniel Sykes, the Flag Intelligence Officer,

who walked up to take Tarrant’s place at the podium. He laid a thick

file folder in front of him and produced a telescoping pointer from his

pocket. A petty officer set up an easel beside him and put up a chart of

the Black Sea.

“Gentlemen,” Sykes began. “Our original purpose for this deployment was

to oversee the no-fly zone over Georgia. This was necessary because of

Turkey’s decision to deny both basing privileges and permission for

overflights of their territory in protest over the UN’s policy of

encouraging ethnic minority separatist movements. The MEU operating with

the Guadalcanal group was to be the initial ground component for the

humanitarian effort in Georgia, with a British peacekeeping unit taking

over in about two weeks.” The intelligence officer paused. “As of this

morning, however, all operations in Georgia assume a lower priority.

They are not suspended, but our new operational orders have precedence.”

Magruder heard coughs, groans, and restless movement around him. It

wasn’t uncommon to have the White House change a mission profile in

midstream; indeed, that sort of thing was all too common. But evidently

they were being asked to take on additional duties, stretch their

resources thinner to try and keep doing their original job while taking

on a whole new task as well.

Sykes waited for quiet before going on. “You all know the chaotic

situation in the former Soviet Union. The Reds and the Blues are still

fighting in Russia proper, while the other republics are for the most

part declaring independence and throwing out whichever faction has

troops on their soil. In many cases those troops are simply going home,

or defecting en masse if they contain local contingents.” The pointer

indicated the territory of the Ukraine, colored gray on the map. “By far

the best organized of the breakaway republics at present is Ukraine.

They have the largest army and a lot of first-line equipment inherited

from the Reds, and their government seems to have the only clear-cut

agenda of any of the contenders. Unfortunately, that agenda is one

Washington regards as dangerous.”

Tombstone found himself nodding. The latest group to seize power in Kiev

had been led by right-wing extremists who preached the twin sermons of

security and nationalism with an all-too-familiar and chilling fervor.

They had already been accused of attempting a program of ethnic

cleansing inside their borders, and they made little effort to hide

their intentions of expanding Ukrainian territory at the expense of

their war-torn neighbors.

“High on the list of Ukrainian priorities is the conquest of the Crimean

Peninsula,” Sykes went on. His pointer tapped the map to indicate the

rough diamond shape dangling from the underbelly of Eurasia.

“Traditionally, the Crimea has been part of Ukraine from the time modern

Russia first began to take shape, at least for geographic and

administrative purposes. But the ethnic composition of the Crimean

population contains a higher proportion of Russians, and after Gorbachev

dissolved the Union there was considerable friction between Russia and

Ukraine over the fate of the peninsula. To make matters worse, the

Crimea contains some of the most important military bases in the Black

Sea region, as well as one of its finest ports, at Sevastopol.”

Sykes paused to allow the enlisted man to put up a new map, this one a

more detailed view of Crimea proper.

“The, ah, political future of the Crimea has continued to remain in

doubt. Most of the peninsula’s population actually favor Russian

control. However, the Red faction, which maintains control of the

peninsula, is too weak and too occupied with the Blues elsewhere to

adequately defend the place. The man in charge is General Sergei

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