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Vol. 2, No. 2

War Crimes
by Tom Paine

The right-engine warning light of Captain Ann Marie Alezio's F-16 started flashing bright red four minutes after the jet lifted off from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower. This occurred five nautical miles off the coast of Yugoslavia on the evening of February 2, 1994, during another "weapons hot" run on the Serbian artillery surrounding and shelling Sarajevo. Orders had come at 1800 to quiet the Serb guns following the death of two civilians in a Sarajevo marketplace.
      Captain Alezio was flying in response position twenty feet off the wing of her flight leader, Captain Rick Romny. There were four other navy F-16s in the dusk operation. This was the twentieth time the 128th Fighter Squadron had gone "weapons hot" off the deck of the USS Eisenhower, sent inbound toward the Serb gunners around Sarajevo. There was a pool among the exasperated pilots, who were betting on the nautical mile at which they would once again receive orders from Admiral Warren to return to the USS Eisenhower. None of the pilots had ever experienced such command indecision in a military operation.
      "Flight Leader," cut in Captain Alezio, "I've got a right engine shutdown." "Affirmative, Alezio. Keller, visual?"
      Captain Wendy Keller dropped back from the formation and fell in behind Captain Alezio. Keller said, "Flight Leader, Alezio streaming gas."
      "Showing full tanks," said Captain Alezio. "Left engine flameout, but repeat: full tanks. Those engines are full, Flight Leader. My crew chief topped them off this morning."
      "Affirmative, Alezio is now cold," said Captain Keller. "Alezio is now engine cold, port and starboard."
      "Switch to backup tanks," said Captain Romny.
      "Flight Leader," said Alezio, "backup tanks read . . . no fucking way . . . tanks read . . . empty."
      "Try the manual override on backup tanks," said Captain Romny. "Do not bail."
      "Don't eject, Alezio. Follow emergency procedures," said Captain Keller. "Don't lose your bird."
      "Negative recovery," said Captain Alezio. "Losing rudder control."
      "Manual override?" said Captain Romny.
      "It's . . . fucking . . . frozen," said Captain Alezio.
      Captain Alezio's F-16 was eight tons of steel falling downward toward the Yugoslavian coastline at 650 mph. Keller watched it sliding sideways. "Eject now, Alezio," yelled Captain Keller. "Eject now!"
      Captain Alezio's right engine sputtered for a split second, and the sudden tangential force kicked the falling F-16 into a cartwheeling spin. Captain Keller yelled out one last time, "Eject."
      In a second the G-force shot up into the ten to twelve range, the blood pooled near Captain Alezio's chest, and she lost consciousness. The five members of the flight team followed the tumbling F-16 until it crashed in a fireball near the Yugoslavian coastline. The Sarajevo mission was scrubbed. As they flew back to the carrier, the F-16s passed the rescue helicopters and reconnaissance O-11 prop plane making their way toward the flaming remains of the jet.
      When Keller jumped down from her jet to the carrier deck, her crew chief, Billy Larabee, came up to her and said, "Captain Keller, Seaman Alison Mervik wants to talk to you."
      Captain Keller shook her head and said, "Not now, Larabee."

 

~

Captain Wendy Keller came up on deck the next morning at 0545 and stood watching the gray predawn sea.
      With the death of Captain Ann Marie Alezio, Captain Keller was the only remaining female pilot on active duty over Yugoslavia. She tried to think through what was bothering her in a logical, military fashion until she tasted blood in her mouth and realized she was biting her own lower lip. She heard her voice replay, Don't eject, Alezio. Don't lose your bird.
      The traditional navy memorial ceremony was held for Alezio at 0600 with all nonessential hands on the carrier's flight deck. A fireball of a sun rose in the east over the Adriatic, and a forty-five-knot wind raced across the flight deck. Keller stood at attention in her dress whites on the deck, looking up at Admiral Warren as he spoke of the virtues and bravery of Captain Alezio, and of the noble aims of their mission.
      Keller heard a few men snicker as Warren went on and on about how they were helping the good people of the former Yugoslavia. One sailor behind her, in the first row of enlisted men, let out a fart. The squadron broke off into muffled laughter. She turned and glared at the sailors, wishing she knew who to report for disciplinary action. Keller had overheard a flight deck seaman that morning jokingly refer to their squadron, the Fighting Knights, as the Knights Without a Fight. She had chewed out the seaman for his poor attitude.
      Admiral Warren quickly finished his speech, but made no mention of the circumstances of Alezio's death, other than to say it was under investigation. Captain Keller locked her eyes on Admiral Warren. It seemed like Warren was looking straight at her from the deck above. She watched as the four-plane escort flew over the USS Eisenhower, as the carrier band played taps. One jet broke upward, symbolizing the dead Alezio. Keller looked back at the ceremonial bandstand to see Admiral Warren saluting the flyby. She heard Alezio's astonished voice in her head, No fucking way . . . tanks read . . . empty. . . .
      Admiral Warren had made no mention of the political discussion group called Balkan Watch that Captain Alezio had initiated on the aircraft carrier. The group had started with eight officers and a few sailors meeting on Tuesday nights as an alternative to the drinking/movie scene, and expanded into a series of lectures and small discussion groups involving over two hundred of the 1,500 sailors on board the USS Eisenhower. Alezio had been written up numerous times in the USS Eisenhower's newspaper, and recently had her work profiled in Navy Times. Keller had argued with Alezio about Balkan Watch, making it clear she saw something counterproductive about policy debates in the middle of an active military operation. Keller wondered what would happen to Balkan Watch now that Alezio was dead. Probably Alezio's friend Seaman Alison Mervik would keep the Balkan Watch group together. Keller shook her head. She knew Alison Mervik had been more than a friend to Ann Marie Alezio, but hadn't wanted to confront it.
      As the seamen were dismissed, Captain Keller looked around for Captain Romny, Alezio's flight leader on the fatal mission. He wasn't present among the pilots standing in the shimmering heat of the flight deck.
      After the flyby, Keller stood near the port railing to watch the sunrise slide upward into dark cirrus clouds and heard again, Don't eject, Alezio. Don't lose your bird.

 

~

Captain Keller found Captain Romny down in the life support shop.
      Romny wore his flight suit open so that his gold jewelry was visible, tangled in the thick black hair of his chest. He wore a NY Giants cap on his shaved head. He glanced up when Captain Keller came in and sat down on a stack of parachutes. There were six enlisted men at work in the shop, as well as two enlisted women. Their job was to take care of the squadron's ejection seats, parachutes, and survival gear. Keller said, "You weren't at the memorial for Alezio."
      "Better shit to do than cry over a fuckup."
      "You calling Alezio a fuckup?"
      "She couldn't move the motherfucking manual fuel override."
      "She said it was frozen."
      "Sure, and the gas tanks were empty. You ever heard of an F-16's tanks going suddenly empty? It was pilot error. Alezio lost an eight million dollar bird because she was incompetent. Driving herself into the Yugoslavian coast probably saved the navy a lot of money in the long run. You knew she was fucking up, Keller. You told her not to eject, to follow proper emergency procedure."
      Captain Keller stood up. Ann Marie Alezio was one of her only friends on the carrier, even with their differences. The other fighter pilots isolated the two women, daily making it clear in small ways that they were neither wanted nor accepted in the 128th Squadron. Keller knew Alezio was a better pilot than most of the men in the squadron.
      "And you know why Alezio was up there with us?" continued Romny. "She wasn't scheduled for the run, but she convinced your pal Captain Meredith to put her on the roster. Why? She wanted the 150 bonus bucks of hazardous flight pay for the month of July. Not because she gave a shit about these Balkan nutcases slitting each other's throats. Not because she wanted more time in her F-16. Because she wanted 150 bucks to buy her mechanic girlfriend Alison Mervik a birthday present. . . ."
      Romny hadn't finished before Captain Keller surprised herself by jumping up, whipping a leg around and knocking him across the desk with a military-issue dress shoe to the side of the head. Romny fell over the desk, then stumbled to his feet and ran toward Captain Keller with his head down, driving her into the bulkhead wall. He flopped on top of her, and as she scrambled to get out from under him, Romny backhanded her across the bridge of her nose, and said, "The fucking golden girl of the navy loses her temper?"
      Keller jerked upward, twisted to the side violently, and vomited. Romny fell backward in surprise, and Keller rolled off the parachutes onto her knees.
      She felt hands under her arms, and a sailor helping her to her feet and sitting her back down on the parachutes. He held a towel under her bleeding nose and tilted her head back. Romny said, standing over her, "You better get control of yourself, Keller. You're acting like a bitch with bad PMS."

 

~

Captain Matthew Meredith walked over to her as she stood on the flight deck holding her nose. Captain Meredith was permanently grounded after fracturing his skull executing a reportedly premature ejection while serving as a test pilot at El Toro Air Force Base. He now served as senior flight deck officer on the USS Eisenhower and was dogged by rumors of cowardice. The pilots called him Captain Prozac for his depressed air and avoided talking to him, but he was one of the few male officers she could call a friend. Captain Meredith said, "You okay?"
      Keller nodded.
      "You sure?"
      Keller looked over at the steam rising from the catapult on the forward deck, watched the sailors scurrying around to ready it to fire the next jet skyward. Meredith slipped a folded-up piece of paper into Keller's hand and said, "Read this. It was posted in some of the heads on the ship the day before Alezio's plane went down. Sailors in the Balkan Watch group must have been getting tired of just sitting around and talking while Rome burns over in Bosnia, and they stepped over the line. I'm pretty sure that Captain Alezio was in on this, if she wasn't the one who wrote it."
      "Do I really need to read this now?" said Keller. "You know how I feel about this political shit."
      "I know how you feel about political shit," said Meredith. "But you need to read this now."
      Keller crumpled up the paper in her hand and said, "Alezio is dead, Meredith. I kept her from bailing until it was too late. I told her not to lose her bird."
      Meredith moved in close and whispered in her ear, "Read it. There's some shit brewing aboard the Eisenhower that you should know about." Before Captain Keller could say anything, Meredith had run off.
      Captain Keller walked back to the edge of the carrier and unfolded the piece of paper. The corners were jagged, as if it had been torn down.
      

TO THE SAILORS ON THE USS EISENHOWER

      The Serbs are raping thousands of women in their prison camps, including girls as young as six. After raping, they torture them as well as cut off their breasts, arms, and genitals or cut them open and pull out their intestines. In the camp God Sonje in Vogo dozens of girls were raped in the presence of their mothers. In the Vilina Vlas Hotel in Vilegrad the Serbs raped several hundred girls, killed them, and threw them into the Drina River. In the village of Jezero three hundred girls from the Center for Retarded Children were raped and slaughtered by the Serbs. The U.S. Navy has the power to prevent these atrocities. We must take action!

    Captain Keller left the flight deck and walked down the steel-gray corridors back to her small cabin. She sat on her bed reading and rereading the Balkan Watch memo. Alezio had tried to get her to read this sort of material for months, until finally Keller shoved her up against a bulkhead and made it clear she wasn't interested in her politics. The two did not discuss Balkan Watch again until a few hours before the fatal mission, when Alezio had turned to Keller in the flight ops room and said, "Get your golden head out of the sand, Wendy, before someone shoots your ass off."
      A seaman knocked on her door a few hours later and told her to report to Admiral Warren. Keller dropped the Balkan Watch memo in her trash can, and then bent down and pulled it out again. She pressed it flat on her desk with her hand, folded it with precision, and holding it between thumb and forefinger, absentmindedly flew the paper jet back and forth before her eyes. It was Alezio's F-16 she was flying, and she dove the paper jet down toward her knees and opened fire on the Serb headquarters with her 20 mm nose gun, her lips sounding ptt-ptt-ptt-ptt. She stopped and held the jet in her lap, and then crumpled it up with two hands and tossed it back into the trash can.

~

Keller knocked on the door of Admiral Warren's quarters, and heard the loud command to enter. Warren rose and came around from behind his desk. Captain Keller saluted and said, "You asked to see me, Sir?"
      Warren ran his hand through his silver hair and said, "At ease, Captain Keller."
      He went to the door and locked it. He said, "How's my girl?" There was a firm swat on Keller's behind as he added, "Weren't you supposed to be here at 1600 hours?"
      Captain Keller started to say something, but Warren unzipped her flight suit. It hung for a moment on her hips and then with a shimmy it fell to the ground around her ankles. Admiral Warren dropped to his knees and yanked her panties down with his teeth. Keller reached down and grabbed her panties and said, "Warren, first I've got a question."
      "Anything," said Warren, from between clenched teeth.
      "What are you calling Alezio's death?"
      "Alezio's death."
      "Alezio wasn't driving a station wagon to a PTA meeting."
      "Investigation ongoing."
      "Are you saying Alezio was out of gas?"
      "Fireball. Plenty of gas."
      "So what happened?"
      "Investigation."
      "Did you order in an independent naval investigator from the States?"
      Admiral Warren opened his mouth, stood up, and said, "I'm leading the investigation."
      "Doesn't this qualify as unusual circumstances?"
      Admiral Warren leaned back against his desk. He took out a cigar, lit it, and as he blew a trail of smoke said, "Alezio is dead. We'll probably never know exactly what happened up there. For lack of a better answer, there will be pressure to call it pilot error and blame the female fighter pilot. Alezio was a damn good fighter pilot. I was proud to have her on my carrier. If I don't lead the investigation, all female navy fighter pilots presently in an active military operation will have their competence seriously questioned."
      Captain Keller was the only female navy fighter pilot serving in an active military operation. Admiral Warren crushed out his cigar. He took Keller by the shoulders and pushed her slowly down onto his desk.

 

~

Captain Keller left Admiral Warren's office once again assured that he was going to leave his wife. Warren shut the door behind her, then looked down and zipped up his fly. He ran both hands through his gray crew cut, took a deep breath, walked to his desk.
      His phone rang, and he picked it up, cradled it against his chin, and spinning around on his maroon leather chair, said curtly, "Warren here."
      "Warren. Carmichael."
      "Andrew. How's the weather in Washington?"
      "Forget the weather, Warren. You still on board to keep us out of the Balkans?"
      "Doing my best. But as far as I know, someone in D.C. has more responsibility for these decisions than myself."
      "It's my job to make sure we're all reading from the same script. The spin here is to say bombing alone can do nothing to control the Balkan conflict."
      "It would take me twenty minutes to bomb the Serbs back to the Stone Age," said Warren. "But if the Joint Chiefs of Staff want to hear we can't do shit, that's what you'll hear from me."
      "Excellent," said Carmichael. "That is what they want to hear."
      "Now tell me what I want to hear, Rear Admiral Carmichael. What does your script say about the INVEX funding as of this moment?" Warren had a quid pro quo with Carmichael--his job was to keep the lid on the Balkans; in return Carmichael was to get the green light on a variety of at-risk naval appropriations, specifically including development funding for the top-secret INVEX SATNAV, a technology with a billion dollar long-term commercial aviation market.
      "INVEX funding is secure, so long as you help keep us out of the Balkans. Got to run, Warren."
      Warren put the phone down, spun around in his chair. He stopped the spinning by slapping his hands down on his desk and dialing Harry Ingrams at Smith Barney in New York City.
      "Ingrams, this is Warren."
      "Admiral, how's your little Balkan war?"
      "Ingrams, I want you to sell half my portfolio."
      "INVEX has a green light?"
      "So long as we stay out of the Balkans, and as long as I'm in charge, there won't be any jets leaving this carrier for Sarajevo."
      "I'll call Doherty in Eleuthera right now and have him start buying into INVEX for you."
      Warren put the phone down, picked it up again, and then placed it down. He pulled his family's photo out of the desk drawer, and returned to spinning in his chair. There was a knock on the door, and Admiral Warren yelled out, "Enter."
      Captain Romny came in and smiled at the admiral. Romny went to the bar and poured himself a scotch. He sat down in a leather-back chair, crossed his legs, and said, "Admiral, do you want to watch the video of last night's highlights down in the Minotaur Club, or should I just leave it here so you can watch it at your pleasure?"
      "What do you have?"
      "A lot of deep-throat footage. Some two-on-one."
      "The last stuff was too damn dark. Couldn't see shit. I want to see faces. You get some more lights down there yet?"
      "Bright as day."
      "How about that little dark one with the big tits. The one with the foreign name. You got her on tape again?"
      Captain Romny took a slow sip. "Alison Mervik's off for a few days."

 

~

Captain Wendy Keller, wearing shades, checked wearily that evening at the operations desk to confirm her next mission and schedule.
      Keller was scheduled for a routine Bosnian airspace flyover the next day at 1400 hours with Captain Romny on lead. She sat down to listen, as if in a trance, to the motherhood, the basic principles for the sortie. Captain Meredith nodded to Keller and covered the operating standards, the contracts as flight lead and wingman, the radio procedures, contingency and emergency plans. He ran through the weapons under the wings and body of the aircraft: two air-to-air missiles on the wingtips; two air-to-air missiles and two laser-guided bombs at the underwing pylons; a 20 mm Gatling gun mounted in the fuselage; and the electronic countermeasures radar-jamming devices affixed to the belly of the F-16. The drone of old facts calmed Keller down.
      Captain Meredith started to run through the squadron's search-and-rescue procedures: "After maneuvering to a safe position, fix your location on the GPS and then come up on Alpha to report your coordinates. . . ."
      Although no pilots had yet been shot down in Operation Peaceful Endeavor, NATO had called in air strikes against a munitions depot in the Bosnian Serb town of Pale. The humanitarian airlift to Sarajevo had been halted, and the Serbs were now threatening to shoot down a plane. The Serbs had anti-aircraft artillery, and surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). Most of the SAM sites were near the forty-fifth parallel around Bihac and Banja Luka, and the pilots were flying over it daily.
      Keller stood to leave and Captain Meredith said, "Keller, you want to stick around after I finish with this briefing, I've got some things I want to go over with you. The LSO asked me to go over your landing last night on the tape."
      Keller smiled. There had been nothing wrong with her landing, even with the seas running at twenty feet and a twenty-five-knot crosswind: she had a clear "meatball," a large orange "sun" in the middle of a string of horizontal green lights on the Fresnel lens. Meredith knew she had a "meatball," too. The other pilots assumed Meredith was trying to pick her up and laughed on their way out.
      Meredith shut the door, and sat down and rubbed his fingers over his face. He said, "Did you read the Balkan Watch memo I gave you?"
      "What do you want from me?" said Keller. "You know I stay clear of politics."
      There was a knock on the door. Meredith let in and introduced Alison Mervik, who said, "Captain Keller, thanks for seeing me."
      Alison Mervik's black hair looked as if it had been hacked off with a pair of dull scissors. There were dark bags around her eyes, and her hand shook as she held it out. Captain Keller took it and said, "I'm sorry, Mervik. And I'm sorry I didn't see you earlier when Larabee told me you wanted to talk."
      "I understand, Sir," said Mervik. "I'm here because Ann Marie--Captain Alezio--spoke very highly of you. She said you were a straight arrow. She told me if anything should happen I should come and talk to you." Alison Mervik hesitated, and glanced at Captain Meredith. He left the room without another word. Mervik moved closer and whispered in Captain Keller's ear, "Sir, I have to know that what I'm about to tell you will remain between us even if you don't believe me or don't want to do anything about it." Captain Keller backed off, bothered by Mervik's warm breath on her ear, and said, "Mervik, if this has to do with your personal relationship with Captain Alezio . . ."
      "It's not that, Sir," said Mervik. "But I need to know it goes no further unless you can take some action. If it goes further than this room, it could get me--or even you--killed."
      Captain Keller thought of Alezio and said, "You have my word."
      Mervik closed her eyes. "I have reason to believe that Captain Alezio was killed by Captain Romny on the orders of Admiral Warren."
      Captain Keller stared in disbelief. "Why would Captain Romny and Admiral Warren kill Ann Marie?"
      "There's a whole ring of them. Sir, you don't know what they've done to me." Mervik suddenly threw her arms around Captain Keller and said, between sobs, "You have to believe me. Please. Don't say a word. They'll kill me next if they think I've talked to you."
      Mervik was trembling uncontrollably, and Captain Keller slowly wrapped her arms around the woman and whispered, "Shhh. Alezio was my friend. Whatever it is, I'll help you." As she spoke, Captain Keller heard her own voice saying, Don't eject, Alezio. Don't lose your bird. She felt a wave of nausea, and pulled herself from Mervik's arms.

 

~

Once airborne for the 1400 tour of Bosnian Serb airspace, Captain Keller checked her vertical velocity, attitude to the horizon, and altitude. The flight-path marker on her head-up display checked out. With Captain Romny as lead, the two followed a standard straight-on routing from the USS Eisenhower toward the rocky Croatian coastline.
      She locked onto Romny with her radar, and fixed her airspeed and direction to follow one mile--ten seconds--to the rear. Once tied, she radioed Romny using her wingman's flight position number: "Two is tied."
      Over the Balkans, Romny was lost to Keller in cloud cover at 12,000 feet, and at 14,000 feet the two jets cleared to sky again. Keller called as she spotted Romny, "Two is visual."
      Romny replied, "Clear to rejoin."
      Keller pushed her throttle forward to full military power until she was five feet off Romny's port wing. Her job as wingman was to serve as lookout, using both her radar and her eyeballs. After testing each other's onboard defensive systems by dropping flares and chaff, Romny jiggled the nose of his F-16 up and down and Keller followed the signal and broke starboard until she was in standard formation, a mile and a half off and a thousand feet above Romny.
      The two jets crossed over the gorge that forms the boundary between Croatia and Bosnia, and were in for their first vulnerable or vul time at 22,000 feet.
      Romny silently set up an oval pattern for their combat air patrol. Each leg was thirty miles long. After the third lap, Keller detected four low-flying aircraft at 10,000 feet, coming from the direction of the Serb-controlled Udbina airfield, headquarters of the Krajinan Serb forces. Romny radioed the USS Eisenhower, relaying the sighting, and asked for confirmation. There was no confirmation, and the four MiGs were moving deeper into northeastern Bosnia.
      "We're going to lose radar contact," said Keller. "Bandits in attack descent. USS Eisenhower confirm bandits in attack descent."
      "Wait for confirmation," said Romny.
      "Roger, Flight Leader, we sit on our asses and watch the MiGs boogie again."
      "Repeat, Keller?"
      "Right, again await authorization from Admiral Warren."
      "Are you losing it, Keller?" said Romny. "First you kick me in the head, and now you're questioning Admiral Warren. Get a fucking grip on yourself, or I'll have your wings stripped."
      As if in answer, Captain Keller pushed her stick to starboard and broke formation. Within seconds she was a half mile away from her flight leader and had broken the cardinal rule: never leave your lead. She saw the Serb planes ahead of her dropping rapidly in altitude, trying to pull her down within range of their ground artillery.
      She felt her hand push the stick around and she pulled five Gs making a fishtail turn at Mach 2. The blood curdled down in her guts. Another ten seconds and she was back at the wingtip of her flight leader. Romny looked over at her shaking his head as the USS Eisenhower radioed in forbidding them to engage with the Serb planes, but to trail them out of their radar range, which was eighteen miles.
      Keller felt sweat on her forehead: she had never broken formation before. She was sure her foray was watched by radar back on the USS Eisenhower. Why was no one questioning her? There was just an eerie silence, as if it had never happened. There had been an action, but no proper reaction. Keller wondered for a moment if she had broken away at all.
      Captains Romny and Keller circled outside of the radar detection limits of the four Serb MiGs, and were able to confirm on radar as the MiGs bombed the Bosnian Muslim town of Srebrenica. After numerous requests with no response, the USS Eisenhower finally vetoed their request to engage. There was no cloud cover, and Keller noticed a massive antlike motion on the ground far below.
      Without requesting permission from the USS Eisenhower, Keller again left her position as Romny's wing man and dropped down to 6,000 feet. There were thousands of men running in a ragged column stretching seven or eight miles. She reported the refugees from Srebrenica to the USS Eisenhower, and was told to return immediately to her designated mission altitude. Keller asked for a confirmation of the order, and returned to altitude after her third request was met by silence. She tapped her radio with her finger. Soon after returning to altitude, she spotted five more MiGs heading for Srebrenica.
      Keller requested permission to engage four times, until Admiral Warren came on the line and confirmed her request had been rejected. Orders were to take a dip--to refuel--from an airborne tanker, and return to the oval circling in their original position twenty miles to the southwest. Keller repeatedly tried to raise the USS Eisenhower, with no response. She tried to radio Admiral Warren by name, and was told, "His orders are to refuel and complete your mission." She repeated her request a minute later, but was met by silence.
      After slowing to 330 mph, Keller parked next to Captain Romny beneath the tanker. As the operator lowered the boom from the tanker's tail and plugged it into the top of her plane, Captain Romny told Keller to go to a secure channel, and then said, "Are you trying to lose your commission, Keller?"
      Captain Romny shook his head at her, and switched back to the operational channel, and passed the time as he was refueled chatting with the tanker crew, discovering an old friend from his former squadron, the 555th, "The Triple Nickel," was piloting the plane. The pilot asked about Captain Alezio's crash, and Captain Romny said, "The bitch couldn't read her fuel gauge."
      The second half of their vul time was spent patrolling a region outside of suspected SAM rings, with Captain Keller a thousand feet below. The two jets circled in opposite directions. Again Keller spotted Serb MiGs heading toward Srebrenica. The USS Eisenhower denied permission to intercept, but ordered them to observe out of MiG operational radar range. Again the Serb MiGs were seen to drop into attack formation.
      After repeated requests from Keller, a new static-filled voice broke through on the USS Eisenhower's frequency and identified itself as NATO Command in Vicenza, Italy. The French-accented voice quietly confirmed that according to both Dutch ground commanders and satellite the Muslim civilians in Srebrenica were under heavy air and ground attack. Keller requested permission to intercept from NATO directly, and after a static-filled pause was told by the USS Eisenhower to keep to her assigned pattern. For three minutes Keller circled and tried repeatedly to raise the NATO voice that had confirmed the attack on Srebrenica. At the end of their four hours of vul time Captain Romny broke formation and the two jets headed back to the USS Eisenhower.
      On the return trip, just after entering the thin strip of Serb-controlled Croatian airspace before the Adriatic Sea, Captain Keller's threat warning system gave a verbal spike, warning that enemy radar was locking on her jet from the ground.
      "Showing spike," said Captain Keller.
      "Not likely," said Romny. "No SAMs in this area."
      Captain Keller's plane again buzzed with a spike warning.
      "Repeat," said Captain Keller. "Spike warning."
      "Don't cry wolf, Keller. It's broad-beam search radar."
      "Negative, Flight Leader," said Captain Keller. "This is tracking SAM radar."
      A mechanical voice called out in her cockpit, "SAM radar tracking you, bearing 1-9-0. Suggest preliminary evasive action." Keller looked for the white smoke plume of a SAM rocket motor, all that is visible before a SAM's motor automatically shuts down and the missile silently drives toward the underbelly of the jet. The audio warning system suddenly snapped off, but the video remained on the screen, indicating there was a continued but decreased threat. Keller's throat tightened, she felt her hands shaking on the stick.
      "Negative," said Captain Romny. "Flight Leader naked. Show no acquisition radar alert. Suggest unpinch asshole, Keller, or take a desk job like Captain Prozac."
      The two pilots continued back over the Adriatic to the USS Eisenhower and waited for the word from USS Eisenhower's airborne early warning system as it tried to determine if there was a sign of SAM radar tracking activity west of Croatia's border.
      Just before receiving clearance to land, the USS Eisenhower reported, "Keller, your SAM lock-on report was uncorroborated."
      Captain Romny said in a falsetto, "Somebody please help me! I think I'm out of gas!"

~

Keller descended to the flight deck, and as the hook on her F-16's tail snagged the wire, she was yanked to a five-G stop. She taxied off to the side. No sooner was she parked than her crew chief, Billy Larabee, helped her pull back her canopy. Visibly shaken, he said, "Captain Keller, Alison Mervik is dead. It looks like she killed herself."
      Billy took Keller's helmet, and she lifted herself from the cockpit.
      When she was on the deck, she said to Larabee, "Have the MPs been alerted?"
      Larabee looked afraid. "I haven't told anyone. Maybe someone has found her since I was down there, but I doubt it. I was supposed to meet her in her quarters at 1700 hours."
      "You were good friends with Mervik?"
      Larabee looked surprised, "Sir? Harold Nance and I worked with her and Alezio on Balkan Watch. We were all very close."
      "Harold Nance?"
      Larabee stopped and said, "I'm sorry, Sir. I assumed Alezio told you . . . Harold and I . . . it's not important. I just can't believe Alezio crashed and Mervik killed herself."
      The two walked through the endless hallways, down to the small rooms of the crew six levels below deck. Since Alison Mervik bunked above the engines, she had a single room. The door was ajar, and Billy looked at it and said, "I left it shut." Keller pushed open the door. The room had been torn apart. The mattress was torn open, the drawers had been yanked out of the steel dresser and left flipped over on the floor. Uniforms were shredded. Photos had their backings ripped off. Littered across the floor were copies of the yellow Balkan Watch memo that Captain Meredith had given her the day before.
      Alison Mervik was behind the door, hanging from the ventilation grillwork. She had one leg of a pair of dress white's tied around her neck, the other end was locked into the grillwork. Larabee ran his hand up and down her back, and as tears ran down his cheek he said, "She was such a good person. I should have made her talk to me. But she was so sad, and so afraid of something."
      Captain Keller fingered the dress whites. She reached behind the body and pulled open the waistband.
      There she read on the name tag in red letters: CAPTAIN ANN MARIE ALEZIO.

 

~

After completing his tour of Bosnian airspace with Captain Keller as his wingman, Captain Romny checked his watch and saw he was late.
      Romny took the commissary elevator down eight levels to the engine room. He nodded to one of the seamen engine mechanics, who kept the club room clean and vigilantly controlled access in return for a few bottles of Jack Daniels, and made his way alongside the massive nuclear-powered engines of the USS Eisenhower. He dropped down two more levels, slipped behind a backup turbine, moved aside a couple of sheets of plywood left against a back wall, and knocked using the three long and three short taps of the SOS call.
      The door opened and the room was black. Romny heard muffled laughter, felt a drink placed in his hand. A flashlight held aloft near the ceiling flipped on, and he could see her arm and her face. He laughed as the pilot's helmet with the tinted visor was placed on his head.
      The woman was dressed in a green sheet by Martinez, like she was the Statue of Liberty. She looked scared, and the ten pilots, three warrant officers, and four marines were on their knees with their arms stretched out before them as if worshiping a pagan goddess.
      Martinez tapped her on the ass with an officer's sword, and she jumped down off the box, threw her arms around Captain Romny, and shoved her tongue down his throat. She was already shitfaced. The men outside cheered, Romny slipped an arm around her, and into his outstretched hand Martinez placed another glass of Kentucky bourbon. He gulped it down, and led her through a fake door made from cardboard to look like that of a beach shack in the tropics. THE LOVE SHACK was spray-painted over the door.
      Once inside, he pushed her down on the bed and told her that she was about to be inducted into the Minotaur Club. The men outside cheered again, and Martinez put on the Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil." He heard Nelson adjusting the video camera hidden in the fake plywood wall of the Love Shack.
      Captain Romny said to her, "What's your name, Seaman?"
      "Seaman Laine Barton."
      "Are you a lesbian?"
      "No, Sir," she said.
      Captain Romny pulled the sheet off her body, and said, "Then prove it, bitch."
      As Captain Romny entered Seaman Barton he imagined he was entering Captain Keller and came almost immediately, although for the sake of form he kept up a steady banging for a few minutes. He finally stepped out of the Love Shack, and after doing the traditional dick wave with a spin of his hips, he ceremoniously placed the helmet on the head of Lieutenant Sprague, intoning, "My son, be the Minotaur."
      Handed another glass of hootch, Romny gagged it down and pretended to howl, throwing back his head, exhibiting a mouthful of gold molars. The men of the Minotaur Club slapped him on the back. Most then returned to watching a porn flick on the TV in the corner. Corporal Martinez handed Captain Romny an open Budweiser. Exaggerated cries of pleasure came from the Love Shack, and a few seconds later Lieutenant Sprague emerged with both fists raised as if in victory, handed the helmet to the next officer, and said, "Be the Minotaur." Sprague took the bottle of scotch and a glass, and handing them to a sailor said, "Give the lady a drink."
      Martinez gave Captain Romny a serious look and said, "Let's go outside, Sir."
      Romny looked around and said, "We have no secrets here in the Minotaur Club." He took a swig from his bottle and pointing toward the Love Shack said, "What's her story? Somebody catch her in bed with some other bitch?"
      Martinez shook his head and said, "Third time her piss test came back positive. We let her off the first few times, and told her there'd be some unbelievably serious shit if it turned up positive again. She's got four kids back stateside with her mother and her second old man's gone AWOL, so she can't afford a dishonorable discharge. We gave her the Minotaur option out, and she thought it over for about ten seconds before she said she'd do fucking anything."
      "Fucking anything," said Romny. "Didn't even have to call her a dyke?"
      "Didn't come to that, Sir."
      Captain Romny nodded and said, "Better not let anyone else in her sloppy hole. Get her fucked up good, and then show her we have the video of her as a movie star. Let her sleep it off here. Get someone to baby-sit her, and let her know we only expect her to socialize once a month or so. We're not cruel about it. And point out we take care of our girls."
      Romny started to turn away, but Martinez grabbed his arm.
      "What the fuck else, Martinez?"
      "We might have a little problem, Sir, and I really think we need to step outside." Romny looked closely at Martinez's face, and then nodded. The two stepped into the corridor. Once outside, Martinez said, "Something happened while you were on patrol."
      "Yeah? What?"
      "We went to pay a visit to Mervik, the dyke who was doing Captain Alezio."
      "So? I told you to warn her to keep her mouth shut. I would have taken her out permanently, but the Admiral liked to watch Mervik in action. He liked her big tits."
      "Sir? Alison Mervik's dead. She hung herself by Alezio's dress whites."
      Romny leaned back against the wall, and then laughed and said, "Mervik must have fucking loved Alezio, huh? Can you beat that shit?"
      "Sir, she threatened to kill herself a week ago and told some people she'd leave a suicide note. She knew Captain Alezio had told Admiral Warren about our operation down here and how the Admiral had promised to call in the naval investigators. When Alezio died, Mervik probably put two and two together. You know she could identify all of us from her months in the Minotaur Club, not to mention all the women sailors she knew we'd forced to participate. She called it an 'organized sex ring.'"
      Romny grabbed Martinez by the collar, threw him up against the wall and said, "Why the fuck didn't you tell me about this right away, you stupid shit? She threatened a fucking letter?"
      Martinez said, "We tore the room apart, Sir. There was no letter. Maybe she was bluffing."
      "Yeah, like she was bluffing about killing herself?"
      "But there was nothing there."
      "So? How do you know you were the first to get in that room? Somebody else got there before you, you stupid shit."
      "We'll do whatever you say, Sir."
      "Take a couple of those jarhead MPs. Do your own investigation. Find out who was friends with Mervik. Probably some other dyke or faggot, they all know each other."

 

~

The next morning, Captain Keller sat in the dispensary.
      She sat bent over with her head in her hands. She felt the hand of Medic Harold Nance stroking her hair as he said, "There are a lot of people worried about you, Captain. When Billy Larabee told me you said you were throwing up, I thought right away: that'll make thirty-four."
      "Thirty-four?"
      "That's how many have gotten pregnant on this cruise. Thirty-four, including you. But it was worse in the Gulf War, you know?"
      "Are you sure?"
      Nance shook his head and laughed. "No, I can't be sure. The test is only 99.7 percent accurate. So there is a chance you're not pregnant. But if you are pregnant, you might lose the baby if you keep flying."
      Captain Keller shook her head, and under her breath said, "Now Warren will have to leave his wife."
      "Admiral Warren? Jesus."
      "I know," said Captain Keller. "Don't say it."
      "You've never done this sort of thing before?"
      "I never really dated at Annapolis. And afterward, I loved my jets, I guess."
      "You don't do things half way, huh?"
      "Mach 2 all the way," said Captain Keller. "Can't help it. I always have to be pushing the envelope."
      There was a knock at the door, and Captain Keller wiped her eyes. Captain Meredith entered, and asked Harold Nance if he would leave them alone. Nance looked to Keller, and when she nodded, he slipped out.
      Keller said, "What are you doing here Meredith, is it that fucking Balkan Watch thing again? I've got my own problems."
      Closing the door behind him, Meredith said, "I'll cut to the chase here, Keller. Although there are those who still have doubts about you, myself and some others are convinced it's time you joined us."
      "What do you mean 'us'?"
      "I think you know or at least suspect what I mean when I say 'us,'" said Meredith. "We want you to join us, but first I want to show you something. One of our friends works with the intelligence team and has access to high-level documents in the operations room." Meredith opened a folder and said, "Admiral Warren was aware of the dip you took from your vul time flyover yesterday. Warren is also aware of what you saw down there."
      "All those refugees?" said Keller. "Warren knows about them?"
      "Those were refugees from Srebrenica," said Meredith. "Two days ago the Serbs mounted a full-scale assault on the designated NATO safe haven and its 36,000 Muslim civilians. Look at this photo. It was taken while you were flying in circles up there."
      Captain Keller took the black-and-white satellite photo. It was a soccer stadium filled with thousands of people. Meredith handed over a second photo. In this photo the stadium was empty, but outside four large areas of freshly dug earth were visible. Between the dug earth and the empty stadium were dozens of truck tracks. Another photo showed the streams of refugees she saw fleeing Srebrenica.
      "Those were 12,000 refugees, Muslim men, trying to make it to the UN safe haven of Tuzla. According to reports from a variety of sources, less than half made it to safety. They were butchered by General Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military commander."
      "Why wouldn't Admiral Warren let us do anything?" said Captain Keller. "He knew a slaughter was going on, and kept us circling?"
      "You were up there with Romny and could have taken out those Serb MiGs, and maybe saved hundreds of lives, by slowing down the fall of Srebrenica and keeping Mladic's troops concentrated on taking the city, instead of slaughtering civilians." Meredith handed over a final series of satellite photos of fields covered with bodies and said, "That's at Kravica and Nova Kasaba. All along the refugees' route there are fields like those, littered with fresh bodies."
      Captain Keller said, "And what do you want me to do?"
      "We want you to join us. Eight officers and over two hundred enlisted sailors. There are apparently another twelve at Aviano in Italy, and seventy-five soldiers there. We have overt and covert sympathizers all the way up the chain of command."
      "Join you to do what? Mutiny?"
      Captain Meredith stood up and said, "We plan to resign our commissions in a few days over the years of inaction in Bosnia, and the sailors plan a work stoppage. Are you with us, Captain Keller?"
      "Your careers will be over," said Keller. "That's all that will happen."
      "You have any better suggestions?"
      "Do I have any better suggestions?" said Keller. "I was up there. All we need is enough pilots on the next full scramble who don't turn around when the run is called off again."
      "Without orders?" said Captain Meredith. "I think we're better off sticking to mass resignation. You can't expect not to be fired upon when you go rogue with live ammunition."
      "But if the rogue pilots make it to Sarajevo and prove we can take out the Serb guns, what happens next?"
      "I don't know," said Captain Meredith. "I think if you have serious problems with official policy, you resign your commission."
      "And I think if the rogue pilots finally took out the guns around Sarajevo," said Captain Keller, "if they showed it could be done in the face of all this bullshit that our hands are tied . . ."
      "It would still be open mutiny," said Captain Meredith. "It would take a lot to make me sanction mutiny."
      "Maybe Alison Mervik could have convinced you."
      "What did she tell you?"
      "She said Admiral Warren and Captain Romny killed Alezio."
      "Why the hell would they do that?"
      "She didn't trust me enough to tell me," said Captain Keller. "But I'm going to find out."

~

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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