CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

It could be that they would be seen back there as accessories to

Boychenko’s crime.”

Kulagin swallowed. There was a thin sheen of sweat on his forehead. “I,

I see, sir. I understand.”

His veiled threat, Dmitriev knew, was exaggeration, almost certainly.

The days were long gone when an entire military unit numbering some tens

of thousands of men would be rounded up and imprisoned or shot en masse

because of its commander’s inadequacies. Terror might have worked as a

means of inspiring men in Stalin’s day, but the breakdown in command

authority within the former Soviet military hierarchy, from top to

bottom, made such measures counter-productive at best. Besides, trained

manpower was too scarce within the Rodina these days to carelessly

squander it to satisfy ego or wounded vanity.

But he desperately needed to hold his command together for a short time

longer. Operation Miaky had been scheduled for two days hence. .. as

soon as final preparations could be made for readying the Black Sea

Fleet for what would probably be its final sortie.

Miaky would be a cold wind indeed this time, one that would make its

chill felt clear across the Black Sea. .. and beyond to the rest of the


1332 hours (Zulu +3)

Yalta, Crimean Military District “ETA six minutes, gentlemen.” The noise

of the helicopter’s engine made it hard for Tombstone to hear the pilot

even over his headphones. “I’ve got clearance from the Russkis to land

at the airport.”

“Then take her the hell on in,” Captain Greg Whitehead shouted into his

headset mike. “The faster we get out of the air, the better I’ll like


Tombstone leaned back in his hard seat. He had to agree with Whitehead’s

assessment of the situation. This whole idea of accepting the surrender

of an entire Russian military administrative district had come up on

such short notice that no one really knew what was happening. .. and if

that was true for the Americans in the battle group, it must be even

more so for the Russian forces. The chance of yet another accident in

this deployment–this time of Russian antiaircraft downing an incoming

unidentified helicopter–was greater than Tombstone really cared to

think about. He would have infinitely preferred flying in on an F-14 to

this slow, bumpy, and terribly exposed approach in one of Guadalcanal’s

CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters. At least he could have distracted

himself by concentrating on the controls.

But he wasn’t an aviator today, or even CAG. He was–God help me–a

diplomat and a news media liaison, and neither diplomats nor media

liaisons came roaring into hostile territory in an F-14 with

afterburners blazing, however attractive the image might be.

Magruder looked around the compartment, studying the other

passengers–all bundled up in flight suits and life jackets and bulky

Jefferson-issue cranials. Most of the others in the group looked as

uncertain as he felt. Captain Whitehead was Admiral Tarrant’s chief of

staff, and as such was the man in command of the shore party. He looked

collected enough, but the faces of the rest showed a mixture of worry,

nervous expectation, and emotions rigidly held in check. He wondered if

he was as transparent as the others.

Commander Sykes was present, of course, and four other staff officers,

ranging from another full commander named Sedgwick to a lowly lieutenant

j.g. from Jefferson’s OZ division named Eugene Vanyek. Enlisted

personnel included Chief Radioman Joseph R. Geiger, a short, thickset

man with heavy features and the indestructible look of chiefs throughout

the Navy, and seven Marines in full battle dress who’d been asked to

come along to provide security. All together, counting Magruder, there

were fifteen men and two women on the flight, which meant that the huge

transport helo’s cargo bay was about half-full. The CH-53 wasn’t

normally carried aboard the Jefferson, which relied on the smaller

Seahawks for most of its helicopter needs, but with so many people going

ashore at once, Jefferson had borrowed the CH-53 from the Marine

carrier, which had joined the Jeff on station the afternoon before.

He glanced across the Stallion’s huge cargo compartment and caught Joyce

Flynn watching him. She grinned at him, with perhaps a trace of

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