CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

He broke off in mid-sentence, eyes widening. “What is it, sir?” Crosby

asked, looking at him.

“I just had,” Coyote said slowly, hoping desperately that he was wrong,

“a horrible thought about what those bastards might be after!”

0959 hours (Zulu +3)

Tomcat 218 On CAP

“BARCAP Two, BARCAP Two, this is Dog House,” the voice of Jefferson’s

Air Ops watch officer said over Dixie Mason’s headset. “Come left to

two-two-zero and punch it.”

“Two-one copies,” Dixie replied. He brought his stick over, watching the

heading numbers on his HUD flicker to the right as he swung the Tomcat

into a southwesterly heading. “Coming to two-two-zero and going to Zone


“Two-two copies” sounded over the Ops channel. Tomcat 2 1 0 was flying

Dixie’s wing, with Lieutenants Cunningham and Burns in the cockpit. He

shoved the throttle forward through the last of the detents, reveling in

the familiar surge of power as the aircraft’s afterburners kicked in,

rocketing him past the speed of sound in seconds.

“What do you think the hurry is, Dixie?” his RIO called over the ICS

from the backseat.

“I expect they’ll tell us when they get around to it, Mick,” Dixie said.

“Anything on your scope?”

“Someone’s still jamming the hell out of it, off to the west, somewhere.

Maybe a Hawkeye could see through this shit, but I can’t.”

Dixie’s RIO for this flight was Lieutenant Commander Kevin Moss, handle

“Mickey,” a young, sandy-haired guy who nevertheless passed for what the

squadron thought of as “an old hand,” since he’d been flying with the

Vipers for almost a year now. For the past several days, ever since the

helicopter incident when Cat had told him flatly that she wouldn’t fly

with him again, Dixie had been paired off with a succession of Rios from

the duty pool. He was beginning to suspect that they drew lots every

day, with the loser assigned to backseating with him. The only

qualification seemed to be that the man assigned as his RIO had to be

more experienced than he was. It was humiliating. .. and unfair, and

Dixie had had just about enough.

At least CAG had allowed him to keep flying. If he’d been ordered to

stay on the deck, he’d be approaching critical mass just about now.

“BARCAP Two, this is Dog House” sounded over his headset. “We’ve got

bogeys about two hundred fifty miles southwest of your position, and we

need a positive ID. Deputy CAG wants you to go check them out.”

“Roger, Dog House,” Mickey replied. “We’re on the way.”

Dixie felt the tiniest bite of worry. A positive ID?

With the Tomcat cruising comfortably at Mach 1.5, they would be close

enough to the intruders to get a visual in about twelve minutes, and

this time Dixie was going to make damned sure of his target recognition.

At least this time the target wasn’t likely to be U.S. Army helicopters.

1004 hours (Zulu +3)

Black Leader North of the Bosporus Strait Ivanov pulled back slightly on

the stick, bringing his Mig’s altitude up to just under two hundred

meters. He could see the Turkish coast ahead; they were well into

Turkish airspace now, and he could imagine the faces of the Turk air

force officers turning purple as they screamed for identification.

Casually, he glanced left, then right, searching the skies. He could see

vapor trails on both sides, but those were almost certainly other

aircraft of the attack group. They’d be scrambling interceptors by now

at half a dozen nearby air bases, but it was already too late.

“Black Leader, this is Flashlight.” Radio silence had been broken now.

If the Turks didn’t know they were here before, they certainly did now.

“The target is illuminated.”

Ivanov flipped a line of switches, checking his laser targeting pickup.

A light winked on and a tone sounded in his helmet; his number-one AS14

missile had registered the hot, optically invisible pinpoint of laser

light gleaming on the target, now less than thirty kilometers ahead, and

was tracking it.

Not much longer. ..

His Mig27 was carrying a warload of two AS14 air-to-surface missiles,

the laser-guided monsters known in the NATO lexicon as “Kedge.” His

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