CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

Abdulhalik did not look amused. .. but after a moment he cracked a thin

smile. “I see. You will forgive me if my sense of humor is lacking this

morning. It has been a long night.”

“Just who are you working for, anyway? The FBS?”

Abdulhalik considered the question for a few seconds before answering.

“Actually, I am on the general’s personal staff. Security. At the

moment, the Federal Bureau of Security is the opposition.”

“I see. Why were you keeping an eye on me last night, then?”

A shrug. “If the general is to have his ‘quick getaway,’ as you call it,

it is important that nothing happens to you. Yes?”

Tombstone considered telling him about the knife-wielding mugger in the

stairwell, then thought better of it. Abdulhalik looked like he had

enough on his mind already without having Tombstone bother him with

irrelevant might-have-beens.

A stir in the crowd and a rising murmur of conversation marked the

appearance of General Boychenko, Admiral Tarrant, and Special Envoy

Sandoval at the front of the White Palace. Boychenko was tall and

silver-haired, with a beaklike nose that gave him the look of a bird of

prey. Sandoval was shorter and dark-haired, with a sketch of a mustache

and a self-important air. Tarrant looked businesslike and

matter-of-fact, even a little bored. Accompanied by several aides and a

small army of security troops, the three made their way up the steps and

onto the stage. Captain Whitehead stood to greet Boychenko and shake his

hand. The others stood until the VIPS took their places behind the

podium, then sat down with a creak and scrape of chairs on wood.

The speech was in Russian, and Tombstone understood not a single word.

Not that he was particularly interested in the content. Had he wanted

one, there were translations available in various languages, but he

already knew the overall topic and didn’t particularly care if he could

follow the reasoning or not. Boychenko was talking about the need for

international arbitration, the importance of the UN, the need for world


Not that anything being said had meaning. The UN hadn’t enforced a

working peace anywhere in the world yet. .. not until all parties in a

given dispute had their own reasons for stopping the fighting. Ukraine

would be watching these proceedings with considerable interest, and

Tombstone was pretty sure that they, at least, would soon be testing the

UN’s resolve. As the speech-making droned on, Tombstone looked away from

Boychenko and let his gaze move across the crowd. Pamela, he saw, was

watching Boychenko raptly, though he knew that she spoke no Russian

either; a battery of cameras, both still and video, were trained on the

Russian general as he spoke, and Tombstone could hear the ratcheting

whir-click of automatic winders as the cameras fired. There must have

been fifty or sixty reporters present, and easily ten times that many

other people–dignitaries, civilians, and soldiers. Tomboy was also in

the crowd, over with the civilians and those members of Jefferson’s

company who weren’t up on the stage. The seat was uncomfortable, and

Boychenko’s droning monotonous. How the hell had he gotten into this


Perhaps because he was watching the reporters instead of Boychenko,

Tombstone saw the movement first, a crucial second or two before anyone

else was aware. Three men detached themselves from the closely packed

group of reporters, advancing toward the stage. They wore long-hemmed

trench coats, and each was extracting something hard and metallic from

beneath his garment’s open front as he moved. Someone was shouting. A

woman screamed. Two of the running men had their weapons out and clearly

visible now–AKMS firing port weapons–basically AKM assault rifles with

folding steel-frame butts to make them smaller and more concealable

under a trench coat. The third was waving a handgun; Tombstone couldn’t

see what kind it was.

Abdulhalik was leaping forward toward the front of the stage, fumbling

inside his jacket for his own weapon. Other security men were also

reaching for their guns, but slowly. .. too slowly. Except for

Whitehead, who sat stunned and unmoving, Tombstone was closest to

Boychenko. He leaped forward with the suddenness of an F-14 catapulted

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