CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

fist up and hard against the underside of the kid’s jaw.

The blow smashed the would-be mugger backward and into a cement-block

wall. Tombstone was on him an instant later, slamming him twice more

against the cement, hard, as the knife clattered to the floor. He threw

another punch and the kid’s head lolled to the side.

He let him slide to the floor then, face bloody. Tombstone picked up the

knife, rammed the tip hard into a crevice between two concrete blocks,

then applied pressure until the blade snapped with a sharp, metallic


He dropped the useless hilt on the unconscious kid’s chest. “Sorry,

fella,” he said. “But I’ve had a really bad day.”


Thursday, 5 November 0940 hours (Zulu +3)

White Palace Yalta, Crimea Tombstone had to admit that there was a

tremendously rich symbolism in Boychenko’s choice of a meeting place for

the surrender ceremony. The welcome ceremony, he corrected himself

wryly. The Russians weren’t thinking of this as a surrender, but as a

simple transaction, with the United Nations taking responsibility for

the security of the peninsula in exchange for guarantees that the

Russian soldiers would be repatriated.

Livadia was a village less than two miles west of Yalta where the czars

had begun building summer palaces in the 1860s and where Nicholas II had

erected his summer residence in 1912. That sprawling, luxurious

building, known as the White Palace, had been the site of the

famous–the infamous, rather–Yalta Conference of February, 1945, where

Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin had carved up postwar Europe and

unwittingly launched the Cold War that followed. It was here that yet

another era of Russian history was to be inaugurated, as General

Boychenko turned over the Crimean Military District to UN control.

A stage had been erected in the broad, level park in front of the White

Palace, with plenty of chairs for the various UN and Russian officials

and a massive wooden podium already arrayed with dozens of microphones

of various types, their cables snaking off through the grass. A large

number of people were in attendance, standing in front of the stage in a

large, milling throng; though most were civilians from Yalta, the crowd

included a generous number of reporters as well. As Tombstone climbed

the three wooden steps to take his seat on the stage, he caught sight of

Pamela and her cameraman there. He felt a pang as he caught her eye and

saw the coldness there, but he pretended not to notice and kept walking.

His helmet, the regulation helmet painted baby blue to identify him as a

member of the UN contingent, chafed uncomfortably where the canvas

circle inside rubbed against his head.

He still felt stunned by Pamela’s change of heart. Not for it

suddenness; now that he looked back on it, he realized he should have

seen this coming since last summer, or even before. But he’d been so

delighted at the chance to see her here. .. and it seemed a kind of

betrayal that a romantic dinner in an exotic setting should turn into

the end of their relationship.

In a way, he supposed, it was amusing. Aboard the Jefferson, one of the

most common problems among the enlisted personnel, especially the

younger kids, was the Dear John letter, the dread correspondence from

home explaining that the Stateside partner couldn’t continue this way,

that she’d found someone else, that “it”–whether marriage,

relationship, or affair–was over. Revelations like that could be deadly

when the guy was far away from home, alone, vulnerable, unable even to

make a phone call to straighten things out. It was, Tombstone knew, one

of the problems most frequently encountered by the ship chaplain’s

department, as well as by the XOS of both the Jefferson and of the

various squadrons.

As he found his seat, a folding metal chair in a line behind the podium,

he thought of Brewer, the new XO of the Vipers, and wondered how she

coped with the kids who must be coming to her with problems like his

every day. Or … He frowned, puzzled. Were they? Admitting that your

girlfriend or wife thought you were a jerk and was leaving you didn’t

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