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Vol. 2, No. 2

War Crimes
by Tom Paine

~

After quietly closing the door behind him, Crew Chief Billy Larabee said to his lover Medic Harold Nance, "I think we should tell Captain Keller that I have the Alison Mervik suicide note that exposes everything about the sex ring."
      Nance shook his head and said, "The Admiral's got her pregnant, Billy. She's flying on an overdose of industrial-strength estrogen, courtesy of the man who ordered Alezio killed."
      "Get out of here."
      "She's been sleeping with him since the beginning of the cruise," said Nance.
      Larabee went to the bunk, sat down, and put his face in his hands. Nance looked at him for a moment and sat down next to him.
      "When Keller hears what's going on with the sex ring, I know she'll help us out," said Larabee. "She'll be able to do something. We have to trust someone with this."
      "You're as crazy as Keller right now, Billy. We can't trust anyone, and no fucking way Captain Keller. You think Keller's going to throw out her whole career for us based on some bullshit story you tell her? All her training is to be one of the boys, to keep her wings polished. You're putting a lot of faith in this feeling you have about Keller."
      "She's the only one on the whole carrier Alezio said to trust if the shit comes down."
      "Billy, if you do tell Keller and she can't or won't help us to convince the naval special investigators to fly out from Stateside--which I think is a long shot--they'll be coming after us next. And there will be no one on this tin can to stop them from dropping us over the side in the middle of the night."
      Larabee put his arms around Nance and, kissing him on the ear, said, "We have to trust Keller. If Captain Alezio had faith in her, that's good enough for me."

 

~

Corporal Martinez and two MPs left Medic Harold Nance tied and beaten on the floor of his bunk room and took a back route to the officers' quarters through the carrier's enormous galley. Billy Larabee was quietly knocking on the door of Captain Keller when he spotted Martinez and the MPs running down the hall toward him with their guns drawn. Larabee banged his fist on Keller's door, yelling, "Come on, Captain, wake up," until the sailors were a few steps from him and he yelled "Shit" and ran down the corridor.
      Larabee ran, yelling, "Someone find Captain Keller! Tell her Billy Larabee has Alison Mervik's suicide note!"
      Larabee was slowed by three sailors talking in the hallway, and one of the MPs dove and caught his ankle. Martinez ran up and cracked Larabee in the back with the butt end of his M-16. Larabee fell to the ground, and as he fell caught a glimpse of Captain Meredith walking down the hall toward him.
      Martinez beat on Larabee's back with the M-16 in a frenzy, yelling, "Give me the letter! Give me the letter you cocksucker!"
      Meredith barked, "Break off, sailors! That's an order!" He grabbed for Martinez's M-16, but the marine swung it around and caught him in the gut. The officer doubled over and fell to his knees, and Martinez yelled, "Stay out of this, Sir. It's none of your goddamn business."
      On his knees, Captain Meredith saw the outstretched hand of Billy Larabee holding a crumpled piece of paper. As Larabee twisted his arm to pass the letter to Meredith, Martinez knocked him unconscious with a crack to the back of his head. Meredith took the letter into both his hands, and found the muzzle end of the M-16 in his face.
      Martinez said, "That letter's my property, Sir."
      The muzzle of the M-16 was pressed to the officer's forehead. Martinez said, checking the officer's nameplate, "Give it up, Captain Meredith."
      "You'll have to shoot me dead," Meredith said.

 

~

Five minutes later there was a full-squadron scramble.
      Captain Romny was first to the flight deck and got the word that the Serb gunners ringing Sarajevo had lobbed a shell into a market, killing sixty-eight civilians.
      After receiving an abbreviated briefing for a staggered bombing raid on the Serb artillery, the pilots ran to their jets. Romny saw Captain Keller climbing up into her cockpit, and after trading a few brief words with his crew chief, Romny climbed into the cockpit of his own forty-seven-foot jet.
      He snapped his G-suit into his air hose, and as he hooked the harness clips at his shoulders to his parachute risers, he saw Captain Meredith running across the tarmac toward Captain Keller's jet.
      Captain Romny put on his helmet and secured his oxygen mask.
      "Rail clear?" the crew chief yelled up.
      Romny gave the thumbs-up, and the crew chief started to push the ladder away from the plane. Ahead, Captain Romny saw Captain Meredith dart up the ladder to Keller's cockpit.
      Meredith was holding a letter.
      Romny watched Meredith hand it to Keller and scramble back down her ladder.
      Romny held down the spring-loaded switch on the front cockpit wall. The aerodynamic bubble canopy lowered into place and locked automatically. His crew chief came on his intercom and said, "Chocks are in place. Ready for run-up, Captain Romny."
      Romny went through the battle-ready speed ground checks, brought the F-16's systems on-line one by one, and started to taxi toward the flight deck. He was in position right behind Captain Keller. He glanced down and noticed Captain Meredith standing on the tarmac in front of his F-16.
      Romny braked, popped his canopy, stuck his head out, and said, "Get the fuck out of my way, Captain Prozac." Meredith raised his arm and silently pointed a finger at Romny for a five count and then stepped aside. The canopy rolled forward and slid back into place, and Romny drove the F-16 forward into the ready zone.
      Keller catapulted off the deck ahead of him, and Romny, with his feet on his brakes, pushed the throttle to 90 percent power. The flight control officer dropped his flag, and with a roar and a burn Romny was aloft. He punched his F-16 toward the speck in the sky that was the disappearing Captain Keller. He moved his throttle to full afterburner, and as it kicked in, he was thrust up to Mach 2.

 

~

At 13,000 feet Romny broke through the clouds and saw Captain Keller had slowed down and was waiting for him. He said to her, "Two is visual."
      "Clear to rejoin," said Keller. When they were close in, they conducted a prebattle check of each other's planes, and tested their on-board defensive systems. Keller jiggled the nose of her plane, and Romny dropped back to tactical line formation.
      Soon they crossed the rocky edge of the Croatian coast, passing over miles of vineyards, and then the gorge that formed the boundary between Croatia and Bosnia opened beneath them. Captain Keller was intent on her mission, she had no time for the letter tucked into her flight suit.
      Both planes were registering pinpoint tracking radar on and off from the Serbs below, and both made a continual series of evasive maneuvers, pushing their F-16s to the limit. Keller and Romny were the lead team in the staggered run of twenty jets, and they radioed back to the others to be aware of the tracking radar.
      As they were dropping down for the run on Sarajevo, the voice of Admiral Warren came over their radio canceling the run. Keller radioed back twice, trying to confirm the order, and received no response. Romny had executed a slow oval to begin to make his way back to the USS Eisenhower.
      Captain Keller hesitated, but then turned back toward the USS Eisenhower, and fell in wingtip to wingtip with Romny. As they climbed out of range of the Serb gunners for an easy ride home at 23,000 feet, she reached in her flight suit and holding her stick with her knees, opened the letter Captain Meredith had thrust into her hands. She read it through once, and then again, reading Alison Mervik's last line aloud in her cockpit: "We are like the Bosnians and the officers are the Serbs and nobody is doing anything."
      Captain Keller kicked the controls with her knee and the jet fell away from Captain Romny. She did a five-G reverse and set a course back toward Sarajevo. She heard Romny calling to her and then radioing back to flight control on the USS Eisenhower. She pushed her F-16 up to full military power and listened to the spike warnings coming over her headset.
      A secondary buzzer went off in her cockpit. She was locked onto by Captain Romny. She heard Romny requesting orders from the USS Eisenhower to fire on her, and she heard Admiral Warren deny the request, then change his mind and give the go-ahead. Keller closed her eyes as a wave of nausea passed over her and radioed back to the USS Eisenhower, "I'm fucking pregnant with your child, Warren." She took evasive action and blew chaff, pulled six Gs straight up in a corkscrew, and the lock-on buzzer fell away.
      As she arced at full power she felt the blood draining from her head, realized she was about to pass out, but held her breath until the darkening ring around her vision steadied. She remained conscious and pulled out of the roll, spun around in a fishtail, and found herself flying two miles behind Captain Romny.
      She radioed to him, "Out of gas, Romny?" and then listened for a second to Romny swearing at her in his cockpit. She pressed down with her thumb, firing one of the laser-guided missiles from her wingtips and said, "That's for killing Captain Alezio, you bastard." She broke away from the fireball and dove toward Serb territory. She fell at the extreme of her aircraft's capability, pulling up fifty feet off the deck of Yugoslavia.
      In fifteen minutes she flew in range of the Serb guns on the Romanija Mountains circling Sarajevo, and then locked on to an artillery target, rolled over, and fired one of her laser-guided missiles. Rather than pull away, she circled outside the city of Sarajevo until she came in on the Serb artillery from the same direction, released a second missile that took out a second Serb gun, and caught a glimpse of the flaming wreckage of the first gun. Keller was spiked by tracking radar, and she saw the trail of a Serbian SAM shoot past her. Releasing chaff she came around for a third run, this time out of the setting sun, at the same time emptying her 20 mm Gatling gun onto the Serb positions.

 

~

As Captain Wendy Keller returned to the USS Eisenhower she came upon the staggered teams again heading back toward Sarajevo for a full-scale bombing run. She landed on the deck of the USS Eisenhower, climbed down from her jet, and tossed her helmet to Crew Chief Larabee. He said, "What the hell happened up there, Captain Keller?"
      "What the fuck happened to you?" Keller said, pointing to the bandage on the back of his head.
      Larabee was looking at the belly of her plane and said, "Where are all your missiles?"
      "Are you fucking serious, Larabee?" Captain Keller scanned the flight deck of the carrier. No one was looking over at her. There were no MPs waiting to take her into custody. She turned to Larabee and said, "You haven't heard anything?"
      "Like what Captain?"
      "Like what happened to Captain Romny?"
      "You're asking me?"
      "Yes, I'm asking you," said Captain Keller. "Where do you think Romny is?"
      "Word from operations is Romny's engine malfunctioned just west of the Croatian border. Didn't it?" Larabee looked at the belly of Keller's jet and said, "Is that what happened out there, Captain?"
      "Engine malfunctioned?"
      "Just after we heard about Romny, there was no time to think. Another full-squadron run was ordered on Sarajevo. We had to gas the birds that had just landed and send them right back up. They haven't been called back yet, so they should be just about to Sarajevo now."
      Keller glanced back at the belly of her jet, and then took off at a run.
      Larabee yelled after her.

 

~

Captain Keller burst into Admiral Warren's quarters. He was smoking a cigar and looking at his bookcase filled with rows of gold-leaf Naval Institute annuals. She walked up to him until their faces were inches away and said, "Give me the fucking cigar, Warren."
      Warren turned his head and removed the cigar from his lips. He blew out the smoke, and handing her the cigar said, "Congratulations, Keller. Washington was very impressed. You forced us to do a U-turn on Bosnia. Of course, no one will ever know about your heroics. It would place certain important people in a negative light."
      Keller blew a stream toward the ceiling and said, "I don't see the pleasure in cigars." Warren placed his hands on her hips and said, "Some pleasures are for men only."
      Captain Keller placed the cigar back between her lips, tilted back her head, and puffed on it with her eyes closed. She removed the cigar from her lips and blew the smoke into Warren's face, and as she snapped her knee up sharply into his crotch said, "Enjoy this male pleasure, Admiral."

 

~

Captain Wendy Keller was quickly cashiered from the U.S. Navy on a Section Eight mental instability discharge, after seeking to prove that she made an unauthorized run on Sarajevo and shot down Captain Romny, and that Captain Ann Marie Alezio was murdered as part of the cover-up of a large-scale sex ring aboard the USS Eisenhower. She was also stripped of her rank and benefits for assaulting a superior officer. During her Section Eight discharge hearings on the USS Eisenhower, a heavily sedated Captain Keller was shown radar and flight data records from the USS Eisenhower showing no solo run on Sarajevo, as well as an audiotape of Captain Romny's malfunction and crash.
      Presented with a possible court-martial on trumped-up charges, which might have led to years apart in naval prisons, Crew Chief Billy Larabee and Medic Harold Nance accepted a dual transfer to a satellite tracking station in Greenland in March, 1994.
      Captain Matthew Meredith was reported as missing from the USS Eisenhower two days after the Sarajevo run. A week after returning to her parent's home in Langhorn, Texas, Keller received a black-and-white photo of an officer in his dress whites, face down on a bunk. Half his head was missing. Scrawled across the top of the photo in smeared red ink was: SERBS RULE.
      The decision to take out the Serb guns ringing Sarajevo after two years of inaction and thus bring about the Dayton Accords and a tentative peace in Bosnia has been credited by history to the commander in chief, who reportedly gave the executive order "out of moral imperative" while putting in the Rose Garden.

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