nervousness behind her dark eyes, and winked. The enlisted woman sitting
beside her, an ordnanceman second class named Natalie Kardesh, had her
arms folded across her chest and appeared to be asleep, though the front
of her cranial was down so far Tombstone couldn’t see her eyes. She’d
been included on this flight because she spoke fluent Russian.
It was Flynn who concerned him, though. Why, why had it been Tomboy
who’d volunteered for this party?
Tarrant, he knew, had specifically wanted some women along on the
flight, especially one of fairly senior rank with flight status, and
Tomboy certainly qualified on both counts. The admiral’s reasoning,
Tombstone assumed, was that there would be lots of news personnel
ashore–including ACN’s Pamela Drake, of course–and he wanted to be
sure that the U.S. Navy’s progressive attitude concerning women in
combat roles was well documented. The coming negotiations with
Boychenko’s people would have a high profile in the media, and Samantha
Reed and her cronies back Stateside would see and approve. Politics,
pure and simple. .. and it grated against Tombstone to see political
standards–worse, standards of political correctness–used to make
decisions such as who would go ashore on this mission, rather than more
straightforward considerations such as who was best qualified.
And of all the women aboard the Jefferson, why did it have to be Joyce?
She’d flown as his RIO over the Kola Peninsula seven months before, when
the squadron had been shorthanded and an alpha strike had been needed
against a Russian Typhoon submarine base. They’d been shot down, had
punched out together, and she’d broken a leg on landing. When he’d
reached her, a Russian soldier was already there, standing over her; in
a blurred confusion of a firefight that would have been funny had the
situation not been so deadly, Tombstone and Tomboy both had shot the man
with their service pistols before he could reach his AK. A recon force
of U.S. Marines had arrived shortly afterward, beating a large Russian
unit in a race to the downed fliers by two minutes.
The two of them had shared. .. something. Call it the camaraderie shared
by all warriors who face fire and death together. Or the camaraderie of
people who owe one another their lives; in that last desperate
firefight, as they’d tried to bring the Russian soldier down with
pistols before he could bring his AK to bear, they’d saved each other’s
lives. She’d then demanded he leave her and save himself, and he’d
refused. There was a bond there, as undeniable as it was deep. It was
not sexual, either, though Tombstone could easily imagine it becoming
But he was engaged to Pamela Drake. At least he assumed they were still
engaged. They never wrote much in the best of times, and after that last
quarrel. .. Well, he guessed they’d both needed time to cool down.
Perhaps they could patch things up now that she was coming out here. He
grinned to himself as he wondered if Pamela would understand the
warriors’ bond, the mutual friendship of military professionals that he
shared with Tomboy Flynn.
Tombstone often thought of those hours on the Kola Peninsula. .. just as
he tried not to think about what would have happened if the Russians had
gotten there first. Lobo–Lieutenant Chris Hanson–had been captured
that same afternoon.
It wasn’t, he told himself, just the fact that female combat personnel
might be–often were–raped or otherwise sexually assaulted when they
were captured. Despite the Geneva Convention, a protocol that somehow
seemed almost quaint nowadays in its assumptions that signatories would
obey the limits it set, POWS could be subjected to a variety of
indignities, assaults, and outright tortures, both physical and mental,
regardless of their sex. No, his concern went deeper, to the very basic
question of whether women should serve in combat at all, partly because
of the physical threat to them, of course, but more because of the
damage it did to the military system that Tombstone was a part of.
Tombstone was still old-fashioned enough to believe that biology had
assigned men the task of defending home and hearth. .. a decidedly
sexist attitude that he’d learned to keep to himself in these days of
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