CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

faux-neoclassical grandeur and Stalinist utilitarianism: large, ugly,

and shabby. In some ways, it was like an American shopping mall, with

hard currency shops and cafes. There were several tennis courts and

swimming pools, amenities not normally associated with Russian hotels,

and over twelve hundred rooms, most with their own plumbing and most

wired for cable TV.

But it also showed the decay touching everything that once had been part

of the Soviet system. Furniture was worn, mismatched, and dirty; the

chandeliers were missing many of their crystal ornaments; the carpets

were faded and showed worn tracks along the routes of heaviest traffic;

and the clerks at the big front desk were conspicuously absent, though

several guests were obviously waiting–clamoring, even–for attention.

The place, Tombstone reflected, was probably busier today than it had

been for some time, with the entire UN contingent quartered here, as

well as, no doubt, the Russian security people assigned to keep track of


As Tombstone stepped into the main lobby near the elevators, his

attention was immediately caught by a group of people in the sitting

area, next to a scraggly collection of potted palms. Joyce–Commander

Flynn–was standing there in full uniform, bathed in the glare of a pair

of hand-held camera lights. A man with a shoulder-held minicam bearing

the ACN logo was filming her and another woman, who held a microphone to

her face. The second woman’s back was to him, but Tombstone recognized

immediately her blond hair and slim figure. With only the slightest

hesitation, he started walking toward the brightly lit tableau.

“And what’s it like,” the reporter was asking Tomboy, “being one of a

few hundred women living with five thousand men aboard a nuclear-powered

aircraft carrier?”

“It’s actually not much different from being stationed on a Navy base

ashore,” Tomboy said. “You just can’t go into town when you want to.”

“And what do you think of the Crimea?”

“Well, we really haven’t had much chance to see a lot of it yet. It’s

exciting being here, though. Kind of like history in the making.”

Pamela Drake turned from Tomboy and nodded at the cameraman. “That’s a

take,” she said. She smiled at Tomboy. “Thank you, Commander. That was


“My pleasure, ma’am.”

“Hello, Pamela,” Tombstone said, walking up behind the reporter. “You’re

certainly a long way from home.”

Pamela turned sharply, eyes wide, blond hair swirling past her ears.

“Matt! What are you doing here?”

He shrugged. “Actually, I’m supposed to be here as the Navy’s liaison

with the news media. Care to do some serious liaising?”

“I. ..” She stopped, then glanced at her cameraman. “Let’s take a break,


He grinned at her. “Sure thing, Ms. Drake. Whatever you say.”

She looked at him, her expression unreadable. “I hadn’t really expected

to find you here, Matt.”

“No?” She didn’t seem particularly pleased to see him. Damn.

“I thought you were on the Jefferson.”

“You knew we were deployed to the Black Sea, didn’t you?”

“Yes. I also knew the battle group was coming to the Crimea. I guess I

just, well. .. I just didn’t expect you to come ashore.”

“You don’t sound that happy to see me.”

“Of course I am.” But the look in her eyes said otherwise. “You just

caught me by surprise, is all.” She looked at her watch. “Listen, I’ve

got a meeting to attend, but maybe we can get together a little later,


“Certainly.” Why was she being so cool? Was she still mad at him? It

wasn’t like her to hold a grudge. He knew that everything wasn’t right

between them, but right now he had the impression she’d have rather he’d

not shown up at all. “Dinner, maybe?”

“That would be nice. Meet you here in the lobby? About six?”

“Eighteen hundred hours.”

She made a face at the militarism. “Whatever.”

He was pretty sure that she was still upset about his staying in the

Navy. Damn it, why couldn’t she see that he had a career, just as she

had? They’d had this argument over and over again during the past three

or four years, and it seemed like she could never see his side of

things. He never squawked when she went gallivanting all over the world

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