Chapter 1: Cold Lightning

October 1, 2016

Christos, Verusa

1900 hrs.

They'd finished the weapon a long time ago. Six years to be exact. It had taken that long before the 2010 war north of their country to finally unite it. And now that was finally done, there was only time, not for rebuilding, but for construction. And for six long years they toiled and worked. Some worked to death, but they worked. They were some place where a random town once existed. But random towns were ripe in Verusa. They were a "a dime a dozen" as the Oseans would say. These towns had no name before and the people lived on despite sixty years of civil war. But one had to be razed to make progress for the future.

Verusa had long been a divided war torn nation and every country had settled it, exploited, pillaged, or even raped it….or all four. But when it wasn't invaded, they were tearing themselves apart. Versua was an insane jumble of cultures, factions, religions and nationalities. Then, in 2004...everything changed. While Usea tore itself apart with its own war, a new power emerged with the promise of peace and fair treatment. They called themselves the White Crow Party. They had come out of decades of hard work and secrecy. But they were finally here to unite this divided hell.

William Masson was the architect of this rebuilding. Masson was a dreamer to many...a visionary. But to others, he was a dangerous madman or delusional war-criminal. But in reality, he did what no one else could: he brought this untamed land to heel. He did it with a mix of kindness and brute, ruthless force. But it was slow and painful. For six years they toiled and battled and on September 27, 2010, the day Yuktobania and Osea began fighting...Masson's planes, troops, and tanks rolled and flew into Ciudad...and victory was won. The cost had been high, but Verusa was whole again. But Masson and the White Crow didn't stop there. Masson had other dreams...dreams of a greater power. A world power. But he could not immediately become one. It took six years to change a culture...it would take a long time as well to become a world power. And finally, he could fulfill his allies' dreams of revenge against the world who'd taken advantage of them for so long.

The Belkans were the kindest of the foreign invaders, relatively speaking. They only fought a bloody war against the communist factions in the north as they used the combat experience for the Belkan War in 1995. But that nation was a shadow of their former selves. The Oseans weren't that much better. They stole Verusa's oil for nearly ten years. The Yukes were the worst. But they weren't that much of a concern. They were fighting it out amongst themselves now; Hard-line communists in the West against republic loyalists in the East. Sotoa was neutral power, but a paper tiger in past wars. Only the Oseans stood their way.

It had been a clever way to build a massive army. He'd done it right under the nose of Osea and Yuktobania. And yet he did it to their faces. He bought spare weapons from his enemies. He posed to the world as a peace loving man...while establishing friends overseas. He sent his pilots to different countries to be trained in the military arts...while denouncing war over the airwaves. And while the world was focused on other conflicts, the White Crow simply stood back and smiled. Slowly, they did it. Little by little, day by day. No one had a clue what was going on.

Then things hit a major snag. The liberals that had ruled the two superpowers were ousted or voted out. This was particularly a problem in Osea, where Vincent Harling was defeated for a second term by his political party rival, staunch conservative Mary Spencer Cohen. At first, things did not seem problematic. She spent most of the first year in office trying to repair the "damage" the liberals had done to Osea's military and re-correct the priorities of the country. The Verusans had laughed themselves sick at the liberal's downsizing of the Osean military. But now, they were getting worried. President Cohen wasn't buying the White Crow party's message of peace...and the other nations began to follow. But relief came when the Yukes got themselves involved in their civil war. Now Osea was alone...with a neutered military.

The Yuke hard-liners had backed the White Crow to the hilt, and now the time to repay their help...by humbling Osea and the Republican Yukes. And they could do it. They had the men, the equipment...and they had the tower. Masson was confident. Verusa could fight a defensive battle; they had the terrain and the motivation. The plan was simple, invade South Yuktobania and force the Oseans to fight. They invaded in August, taking the sparsely populated area of Gucca. But the Yukes couldn't respond...as planned. But Cohen was not easily baited. There were no civilian casualties, and in reality, Gucca once belonged to Verusa.

So how to tempt the giant? Surely one must of thought a budding nation fighting a war against a supposed superpower was suicide. But they had the tower. It was something no one had ever seen before. There had been its imitators in the past wars; massive weapons that were nothing more than paper tigers. But they'd learned from the mistakes of the past. This one would not be toppled. But more than simply a symbol it was; it was a weapon whose system was never even expected. No one save a few brilliant scientist even thought of it. It merely applied advanced technology in...an rather ingenious fashion.

The people who built it constructed the tower with the blood and sweat of the rejects of Verusan society: criminals, killers, rapists, etc. The ones who designed it claimed genius and the work all their own. There was the Architect: Gabriella Mordova Zorba. There was the Supplier: Zerran Makin. And finally, there was the Commander: Major General Praeten Gavus Percival. They were the Holy Trinity as far as the White Crow was concerned. Sure, Grand General Morales was in charge of the military, but Zorba, Makin and Percival were the heart and soul. They'd made it possible to challenge the world with a weapon few knew existed.

Now, General Morales was here to inspect the weapon. General Percival was the young savant of the group, and actually the youngest of the entire brass. He'd burned through the ranks in the chaotic years of the White Crow's rise to power. Morales was pushing 60, Zorba pushing 50, and Makin was 40; Percival was 37. With Morales were tons of dignitaries and other officials eager to see the dress rehearsal of this new weapon. The control center was a giant room filled with technicians on several computer screens. A large screen was on back edge of the room. On it was a large map of the world.

"So, now we'll finally see how powerful this thing is." said Morales.

"Just a demonstration Alphonso," said Percival calling the general by his first name, "We can't make any major moves...yet." He called the general by his first name because he was Morales' long time protégé. Both had an equal sense of what needed to be done. They had equal amounts of intelligence and wisdom. The only difference was that while Morales was firm when he needed to be and kind when he needed to be...Percival was an absolutely vicious, cold-blooded person.

"So another random structure?" asked Makin.

"No...This time, I want it in international range. But it can't be against a military target...not yet." said Percival, stroking his chin.

"An isolated island maybe?" said Makin. Makin really didn't want to use the weapon against civilians. But if that's what the commander wanted, who was he to get in his way? The last guy that disagreed with General Percival was found in a ditch with a gaping bullet hole in his head. And that was Percival being nice...

"Sir...look...our satellite has just picked up a cruise liner on the very limit of our range. It's prowling around our waters. They are changing course though." said one of the technicians.

"Can you extend the range?" Percival asked.

"Barely sir...only a few more miles." the technician replied.

"Excellent. It's a perfect choice. By the time they figure out what went wrong...we'll control half the Pacific...if not more." said Zorba.

"Lord Masson wants more. He wants the entire West under our control." said Percival.

"An admirable dream. We've tested it against our land...now against this poor ship." said Zorba with a laugh. Zorba was an equally cruel individual. But her personality came from her scientific background. She regarded most of humanity as expendable; a people of full of idiots and fools who got in the way of her dreams. Her work was the only thing she looked forward to each day. Long before, no one appreciated her work. She was regarded as deluded and crazy. But now she was with people who let her experiment to her heart's content. They almost never got in her way. There was no better way to make this control-freak happier. As far as she was concerned, this weapon was her child. Her child in real life had long gone off to make his own way and distanced himself as far as he possibly could from his mother (and understandably so). But Zorba didn't care. She had her science...and that was more than enough.

"Process initiated. Draining power from all sources. Blackout in 3...2...1. Mark." said the head technician. All around them the facility began to shake somewhat. They didn't see the lights all around the cities in the distance shut off. But they knew exactly what was going to happen. There were smiles all across the faces of the VIPs there.

"Target vector 017, phase line red. Begin target size to intensity ratio analysis, maximum firepower within query." said another technician. A group of lights came on and the full satellite image of the ship came into view.

"Mark, countdown. Firing in sixty seconds...59...58...57..." began the technician.

October 1, 2016

Somewhere in the Pacific Osean

1900 hrs.

Christopher Black was living two lives and after nearly five years of doing so...he was only now getting used to it. The double life though was not what most expected. His face was slightly different. His hair was shorter. He had a beautiful wife and a rather precocious, sunny four year old girl. And yet, those two things were the only two things that mattered...and the only two things about Black that were not lies. Christopher Black was not Christopher Black. He was a new man and the double life was as current as his past...his old life. They were hiding from an old life...a life where they were once heroes and legends. They were both angels...and demons.

The demon part was the most poignant of the names...because it was true to those who encountered them. Black was seeing two worlds through his eyes. He was seeing his future; he was seeing happiness, a new home, more kids, a better job. But he was seeing his past: a past where he was not Christopher Black...he was David Lovecraft. He was the son of a pilot during the Belkan War. Like most sons of heroes, he grew worshiping his father. So it came to pass that he wanted to do the same. And sure enough, he went for broke and became one of the best pilots to walk the earth. And he wasn't alone. He was instructed by veterans of that horrid past war. And with Lovecraft were three others. They were the three who became the basis for the legend. Then one more came along and the legend was complete. The "Four Wings of Sand Island" was the first name. Then...it was the Demon of Razgriz. They made their name in a war that didn't need to be. It was against an enemy from the past who sought vengeance. And their vengeance led to their deaths...or so it was thought. They returned, thought dead to the world...and saved it. Their named lived on, but the pilots returned to a life of the normal. It was basic jobs and occasional recreational flying. But no more war. And they fought to keep it that way. They hoped the world would see the folly of war.

The problem was that the world wouldn't agree with their views. War raged anyway because of human nature. The human race controlled their fate. And the four pilots constantly hoped and prayed that the Razgriz would never have to be called on again. They had been hidden by the people and the rulers they'd saved. They were dead to the world. So David Lovecraft became Christopher Black, and only the government knew the truth.

Lovecraft was in the middle of the pacific because he needed to get away...as do most of the overworked. Lovecraft fixed airplanes rather than fly them. It was a perfect segway into a peaceful life. The person he flew with, a woman of unfading loyalty and love gladly came into this new life with him. They were each other opposing wing; without one the other couldn't live. That was Anna Black...or a woman once called Kei Nagase. Both said to the other that they fell in love with each other the minute they started flying together. After the war they were inseparable. Of course, they had marry in secret...but neither cared. It was the act that counted (not to mention it was better due to the lack of the usual hassles with planning a wedding). And now, they had a beautiful child Catherine, named after David's mother. He'd been with her for five years, but by now he knew her like an open book. He could literally sense her presence. He could do it because she had a aura about her, an aura of grace mixed with a toughness that didn't even take away from her femininity. Now, night was approaching and after a day of playing around a cruise ship...Catherine was absolutely wiped and was sleeping much earlier than that little ball of energy normally would.

"She's asleep now." Kei said walking up behind them.

"Call me crazy...but I was actually thinking about just jumping into the water." David said. Nagase gave him a bizarre look, and then she just laughed. Ninety five percent of the time, David was a fine guy. But the remaining five percent was just strange random thoughts of his...almost all of which were just hysterical. It went back to the days they were in Wardog. The funny thing was that despite not being in the air force any longer, she heard all kinds of rumors from friends about another squadron with their old name "Wardog"; she heard through the grapevine that it was the 373rd Tactical Fighter Squadron out of Oured that had taken the name.

But when they were a part of Wardog, David's odd humor always got them through the day. But Kei looked back on those old days with mixed feelings. She'd always hated war. Kei had so much taken by the horrific art of war, if one could call it art. She hated to see happen over and over and over in a vicious cycle.

She hoped that terrible war five years ago would serve as a harsh lesson, but human nature prevented that. War was impossible to completely prevent. So Kei hoped that she never had to live through another one. She hoped her daughter would never have to live through a war. But even she knew that was a pipe dream given the chaotic world they lived in. But at least here on some cruise ship...there was a sense of peace and timelessness. They could forget about everything important and just be a family.

"You're insane." she said.

"It was just a crazy thought. I'm not doing any deep introspective thinking on a vacation now." David said.

"I know! You never change!" she said with a smile.

"Do you want me to? I mean, I'll stop..." David said, stretching out his hands in some odd gesture.

"No...Are you kidding me? We need our daily comedy routine!" said Kei. After all, no one found David more hilarious than their own kid.

David shook his head and laughed. "Fine, I'll jump right into this freezing water right now if you want. I'll even go naked if that suits you."

"You can…as long as I get to come with you." Nagase said, coy as ever.

As they moved to kiss each other, there were no worries at all. Their lips locked as they had a million times before. And it always got better. Kei had a taste to her; it was like a fruit that kept sticking in one's tongue. It should have been a wonderful moment...but when something bizarre prepares to occur, it usually produces thing that are several levels of weird. That weird incident was twofold. First was some strange ozone like smell in the air. The next was a strange buzzing sound that increased in loudness.

"What the hell is that noise?!" said Kei, holding her ears trying to dampen out that horrible sound. David looked up and saw something hovering towards the back of the ship. He raised an eyebrow.

"The sky...why is it so...What in the hell is that?!" David said. As David said that, a technician in a remote Versuan facility was counting down to the inevitable.

3...2...1. Boom.

What happened next was impossible to fathom. Neither saw the result, but they both felt it. Both were thrown dozens of feet into the ocean from the sheer vibration of what occurred. The entire stern of the ship exploded and debris went everywhere. The ship rocked and was torn asunder by the sheer impact. A group of Verusan brass was looking at the satellite images with glee.

Hit the bow straight on.

Yes sir. Making target acquisition...correcting...Secondary firing in 30. Mark. 30...29...28...

Kei struggled to keep their heads above the water. She could tell David was still alive because he was breathing, but he was unresponsive. She looked frantically around and actually ignored the pain in her legs. She could see the back end of the ship in flames and most distressing of all...it was listing to port. She wasn't worried about David. In fact, she'd done this before in the Ceres Osean after they left Sand Island to go to their..."deaths". Only that time, it was David keeping her afloat. Now it was the other way around. But then, they found themselves calling to everyone to see if they made it. They spent an hour in that sea. But now, Kei was vainly calling out to a different person...her daughter.

"Catherine!" she screamed. They kept floating and Kei kept screaming. There was nothing more horrible for a mother than not knowing where her child was when crisis struck; especially if the crisis was not of her making. And this was a crisis...even more than a crisis. This was a complete calamity.

5...4...3...2...1...kaboom.

Kei saw the sky again. It turned violently red again and whatever the hell happened was going to happen again. She took a deep breath and pressed her lips against the ones of her disoriented lover. She was going to breath for both of them as she took him beneath the waves and then there was nothing but a violent crash and vibration in the sea. It nearly sucked them under. David had recovered and saw the flashes. They fought for the surface and were soon being pulled away from the ship.

"What's going on?!" David said disoriented. He was totally unaware as to what was going on. He rapidly looked around and found himself in the sea!

"What the hell was that?!" David shouted.

"Where's Catherine...I can't...where is she?!" Kei said worried and breathless. She was almost hyperventilating at this point.

Soon, the entire ship was ablaze and going down quickly. There was yet another explosion. As the flames began to die down as well as the ship...both made a horrifying realization. Whatever had caused this had killed the majority of the passengers...and no doubt their child among them. At that point, both of them never felt so alone. An intense sadness came over them. They felt alone and sad because for all intents and purposes...they were alone. They huddled to each other to keep themselves afloat and warm. Although, they were thankful that it was summer time in the southern hemisphere. As night began to form...a cold, emptiness filled their hearts. They knew the obvious truth now. The only question was...what caused it? Their faces were filled with tears and anger. But in a remote facility in Verusa...there was nothing but cheers, champagne and celebration. It was perfect. Their weapon had passed all the tests. Now their weapons were complete and there would be no stopping them now. They paid no attention or cared about who was actually on that boat. It was going to be a fatal mistake.

Next: Chapter 2: The Man from Section Seven