CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

enough to prepare him for this subtropical Eden.

The Crimea, he decided, was going to prove to be full of surprises.

Most of the Crimea Peninsula, Tombstone had learned from a guidebook

he’d picked up in the ship’s store the day before, was actually hot, dry

steppe, something that did not mesh easily with his mental image of the

vast and sprawling land that was Russia. Like most Westerners, Tombstone

had always pictured Russia as basically cold, in the grip of General

Winter from October through April, and his experience over the

far-northern tundra wastes of the Kola Peninsula in the still-winter

month of March had only reinforced that impression.

He’d known, certainly, that the former Soviet Union wasn’t just ice and

tundra, and the balmy temperatures and crystal blue skies of his first

day in Yalta were enough to convince him that there was more to this

land than Siberian wastes.

In fact, though the northern two-thirds of the Crimea was arid, the

chain of mountains stretching from Balaklava in the southwest all the

way to Kerch in the extreme east created a natural barrier that kept the

southern coast subtropically pleasant. The sun along that coast was

warm, even in early November, and the sea breeze was delightful, cool

and moist and salt-tangy. The climate and the palms reminded Tombstone a

lot of southern California; the south Crimean coast was known, in fact,

as the Crimean Riviera. For decades, the elite of the old Soviet Union’s

vaunted classless society had come to this region on holiday, and the

most powerful of Moscow’s rulers had maintained their dachas and summer

homes here. During the abortive 1991 coup, Gorbachev had been placed

under arrest and held in his dacha estate not far from Yalta, while

events elsewhere in the nation had spun far beyond the reach both of him

and of the coup plotters.

The air of affluence that permeated much of the southern Crimean coast

had marked the region since long before the Soviets had come on the

scene. Czars had kept their summer palaces here, and Lenin had issued a

decree to the effect that the palaces of the Russian aristocracy in the

region should be turned into sanatoria for the people.

The ongoing troubles in Russia, however, had been felt here as well.

From the hotel window, at least, there was actually surprisingly little

evidence of the civil war that had been tearing at Russia’s guts for the

past months. The buildings were intact, there were no soldiers in the

streets, no signs of fortifications or defenses. But the entire city had

a depressed air, a depression of the spirit as well as of the economy.

The region had depended on tourism for capital, but, reasonably enough,

tourism had been in sharp decline for some time now. Most, maybe all, of

the people visible on the street were native Russians; there’d been no

foreign visitors for some time now, not since the attempted

reintegration of the Soviet empire, and the city was showing the absence

of their hard currencies. It looked shabby and a bit run-down. There was

garbage in the streets–something unthinkable in the socialist paradise

that once had employed women to sweep each street with brooms–and many

of the people Tombstone could see from the window looked less like

vacationers than gangs, groups of tough-looking kids in jeans and

T-shirts loitering in public areas with the same swaggering

aggressiveness Tombstone had seen in their counterparts back in the

United States. He’d heard, too, that the region was a magnet for the

darker elements of Russia’s disintegrating economy. The Russian Mafia,

he’d been told, controlled many of the businesses and most of the

business transactions that went on here, while the southern Crimea was a

principal meeting place for Armenians, Georgians, Uzbeks, Tatars, and

renegade Russian military officers engaged in black market trade.

He turned away from the open window and looked over the room he’d been

given. .. clean and pleasant enough, but modest by American standards.

Rooms had been reserved for the United Nations personnel at Yalta’s

largest hotel, the Yalta–a Stalinist horror of concrete in classic

Communist-modernist-monolithic architecture. All of the foreigners were

being kept here, and Tombstone hadn’t quite decided whether that was for

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