CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

Persian Gulf to the Far East. In fact, we often have to cut the

Stateside rotation short, like we did for the Jeff last time in Norfolk.

Anyway you cut it, though, we’re stretched way, way too thin. Tie up

just one of our supercarriers with something like delivering food to

Ethiopia, and we could have big problems if some two-bit tyrant

somewhere decides he’s going to take us on.”

She shook her head. “I’m still not sure I understand why you’re upset.

I mean, a mission’s a mission, right? And it’s not up to you to worry

about the politics of the thing. The military is supposed to stay

separate from politics.”

“Pamela, the five-thousand-and-some men and women aboard a carrier can’t

just turn their personal feelings off. We’re not allowed to, oh, stage a

protest in front of ACN cameras, say, or call the President a scumbag on

national TV, but there’s nothing that says we can’t have our own

opinions. About the decisions that hang us out to dry in impossible

situations. And about the politicians who put us there.”

“But surely you don’t have to-” she began, then cut herself off. It was

always the same whenever they talked about politics, particularly

politics as they affected the military. They were worlds apart in their

ideas, and while there was nothing that said that husband and wife had

to always agree on things, when the things they disagreed about affected

their daily lives. .. Well, it was just another indication of how this

relationship would not, could not work.

“Matt,” she said, looking across at him and then quickly down at her

plate. She’d been avoiding this all evening. She couldn’t put it off any

longer. “Look, Matt,” she said. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since

you left last time. I just. .. I just don’t think it’s going to work out

for us.”

He said nothing, and when she looked up and met his eyes, she saw only a

carefully maintained mask, with no emotion whatsoever. “I am not

Navy-wife material,” she continued. “I need a relationship, not an

occasional house-guest. I need a person, not letters that leave me

wondering if I’m ever going to see you again. I need someone who’s there

for me, not some guy who just shows up on my doorstep once every six or

eight months for a quick bang and maybe breakfast the next morning.” She

stopped, breathing hard, her fists clenched. Now that she’d started

letting out the anger and the hurt and the gnawing frustration, it was

almost more than she could do to hold the flood in check. Damn, she

hadn’t realized there was so much bitterness penned up inside of her!

“I never thought that what we had was just a ‘quick bang,’ Pamela.” He

sounded hurt. There was no petulance there, but she could hear a

coldness, a hardness that she’d never heard in his voice before.

“How do you think it is for me? You’re home for maybe six months. I’m

just getting used to having you around, and then I blink twice and poof!

You’re gone. For six months. Maybe nine months. Damn it, Matt, I can’t

live like that!”

“Pamela, I-”

“A friend of mine, Mike Berrens, did a human-interest story last spring

when your battle group got back from the Kola. On the wives and

sweethearts waiting at home. And on what a hell their lives were,

particularly the wives, trying to run their homes, trying to keep their

families together, when their men were gone half the time or more. I

took another look at that story after you left, and that’s when I knew I

could never live like that.”

“But, Pamela, it’s different with us-” He put up a hand as she started

to continue. “Damn it, let me get a word in! I know most Navy wives have

a really hard time. Coyote’s marriage is pretty rocky right now, and for

just the reasons you’ve been talking about. I was best man at his

wedding, and it really hurts to see things falling apart for them.

“But, look, you’re different from Julie. I mean, she’s a wonderful

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