CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

political correctness and enlightened attitudes toward women at the

higher levels of both the military and the political bureaucracies. He

was more than willing to admit that many women tended to be not only the

equals but the superiors of men in some combat-related skills,

especially technical skills like flying an aircraft, which required

dexterity and brains as opposed to the upper-body strength demanded of

grunts on the ground. They resisted G-forces better, were often more

dexterous, and frequently dealt with stress better than their male


But no matter how many directives there might be descending from

Washington, the fact remained that men were men, and men acted

differently when women were present. All the rhetoric about equality and

all the regulations and orders in the world couldn’t overcome the

biological instincts that led men to want to protect women when they

were in danger, instincts that could completely scramble a mission.

“Striker” Strickland had disobeyed orders trying to protect Lobo after

she’d been brought down, and he’d paid for it with his life and the life

of his RIO. A ZSU had knocked them out of the sky as they came in low

for a strafing run.

There was no question at all in Tombstone’s mind that this visit ashore

was dangerous. While not technically a war zone, the Crimea could become

one at any moment. Worse, the Russian men and officers present would

have nervous trigger fingers–and might be less than pleased to see

Americans on Russian soil. Seven U.S. Marines with M-16s would not be

able to provide much in the way of a defense if things turned sour.

There were, of course, the UN personnel already on the ground in the

Crimea. According to the word Tombstone had gotten last night, they’d

flown in yesterday from Turkey, part of the same contingent slated for

peacekeeping activities in Georgia. Most were administrators and

negotiators, but there were supposed to be about fifty Spanish troops

along to provide security for the group.

Not a hell of an army, no matter how you looked at it.

“Hey, CAG?” It was Tomboy’s voice, speaking over the Sea Stallion’s

intercom. “What kind of a reception do you think they’ll lay on for us?”

Before Magruder could answer, Sykes spoke up. “Probably pretty low-key

at least for now, Commander,” he told her. “General Boychenko doesn’t

have anything to gain from moving too fast or too far.”

“There could be some question about how many of his people know what’s

going on,” Vanyek added. His voice didn’t carry well against the sound

of the rotors, and Tombstone had to strain to catch the words.

“Boychenko is technically committing treason. Some of his people may not

care for that.”

“We’re going to have to watch our steps down there,” Tombstone told


“Watch what we say, and watch who we talk to, at least until the

surrender is official and we have a sizable UN contingent in place.”

“Do you think Krasilnikov will attack Boychenko, once he finds out?”

“The Ukes’ll save him the trouble,” Whitehead said. “Unless we can

convince them that invading the Crimea is a bad idea.”

“Final approach, people,” the chopper’s pilot informed them from the

cockpit. “Grab onto something and hang on. Please observe the seat-belt

and no-smoking signs!”

The SH-53 came in fast and low, as if the pilot were determined to

impress the Russians with his style and panache. Looking out the side

door’s window, Tombstone caught a blurred impression of blue sea, rock

cliffs, and a small airport, with gray-purple mountains visible in the

distance. Then they were down with a gentle bump, and the engine noise

dropped in pitch as the rotors started to slow.

“End of the line,” the Sea Stallion’s loadmaster called cheerfully. He

touched a control and the helicopter’s rear ramp began opening with a

grind of electric motors and the clatter of chains. Tombstone, with his

personal effects and clean uniforms in a seabag over his shoulder, was

first down the ramp and onto the tarmac. Captain Whitehead was close

beside him.

As Sykes had predicted, there wasn’t much of a welcoming committee on

hand. A couple of elderly limousines were drawn up on the tarmac a few

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