CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

were mad at us for some reason, they might be after our UNREP.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” Garner said.

“I know. What the hell are they after down there, anyway?”

0252 hours (Zulu +3)

Air Ops, U.S.S. Thomas Jefferson “What the hell are they after down

there, anyway?” Lieutenant Brian Crosby asked aloud, and Coyote was

forced to agree. As nearly as they could tell through all of the snow

and clutter, a number–possibly a large number–of unknown aircraft were

bearing down on the entrance to the Bosporus Strait. The CBG was already

beginning to pick up the frantic and uncoded radio cries of Turkish air

control officers and pilots, who believed themselves to be under attack.

No one had yet ventured a guess, however, as to what actually might be

going on.

Coyote watched the confused tangle of blips on the main display in Ops

and swore softly. What, he wondered, would Tombstone have done in this


But Tombstone was ashore, with the transfer ceremony well under way, and

Coyote as Deputy CAG bore the responsibility for deploying Jefferson’s

air assets.

Lieutenant Brian Crosby was the Ops duty officer at the moment, and he

was watching Coyote now, obviously more than happy to allow the acting

CAG to make the tough calls.

“Okay,” he told Crosby. “Who’s in place who could go take a look?”

“Well, we’ve got BARCAP One here,” Crosby said, indicating an oval

“racetrack” path marked on the screen south of Yalta. “That’s Two-oh-one

and Two-oh-five, Batman and Libbie.”

“But they’re covering the ceremony and are in place to escort the helo

back here.”

“Yes, sir. Then there’s BARCAP Three, over here to the east. They’re out

of the running. It’d take half an hour for them to get down to where the

action is. BARCAP Two is up here, to the west. They’re in a pretty

decent position for an intercept, actually. Ten, maybe twelve minutes.”

“Who is it?”

He checked the duty board. Two-one-eight and Two-one-oh. Dixie and


Dixie! Shit. Tombstone had recommended that Dixie be kept clear of

anything but strictly routine patrolling for a few days, at least until

he’d had time to settle down after the helicopter shoot-down incident.

But sending him to get a positive ID. ..

On the other hand, it would take Batman longer to reach the bogeys and

there was still the need to cover that helo flight.

No. It would have to be Dixie.

And maybe, just for a backup, he could redeploy Batman and Libbie to

cover Dixie and Badger. BARCAP Three could be routed north to take

BARCAP Two’s place off Yalta. He glanced at the Air Ops clock on the

bulkhead. Yeah, that would work. The ceremony wasn’t due to end for

another half hour or so. The Yalta party could stand to be uncovered for

a few minutes, anyway, especially since all of the activity seemed to be

way the hell and gone off to the southwest, near the mouth of the


Of course, the jamming and unknowns down there could be some sort of

diversion, designed to get him to leave the Yalta ceremony unguarded,

but he didn’t think that was the case. It didn’t feel like a

diversion–a judgment based on a number of years of combat

experience–and, even if he was wrong, even if Yalta was the real

target, BARCAP Three would be close enough to station to employ their

AIM54S in. .. what? Make it ten minutes.

“Okay,” Coyote said, deciding. “Here’s what we do. Tell BARCAP Two to

hot tail it down there and give us a fly-by ID, pronto. Nothing fancy,

just a probe, shake ’em and see what rattles. If he can get close enough

to eyeball ’em, we’ll have some answers.”

“We’ll have some answers if they take a shot at him, too.”

“There is that. Tell Batman and Libbie to leave station and fly

overmatch for Two. And have Three leave station and take over for One.

Got it?”

“Got it, sir.” He shook his head. “Damn, it’s getting busy this


Coyote snorted. “What I’m worried about is how much busier it’s going to

get. I want to know what those-“

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