Red Crown: I'm back with a vengeance. Okay so for those of you that don't know this is set in the real world. It is not an Ace Combat fiction story. Also I want to make something clear. I'm trying to write this story in a manner so a person who is new to it would be able to understand what is going on without having to go back and read my other story. Whereas my previous story had significant religious themes attached to it this one will not. I am still in the process of trying to get my previous story published and I'll let you know how that goes.

Also, quick word about the callsigns of some of my characters. After reading some reviews and some personal messages from friends that were very helpful, I have decided to change them. I went back in chapter 34 of High Calling and made the alterations as well. The callsigns of my characters are now as follows:






"There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds."

― Laurell K. Hamilton, Mistral's Kiss

CHAPTER ONE: "Dark Horses Air Wing"

Date: Unknown

Time: Unknown

Location: Unknown

Tony "Luck" Richardson banked hard in his F/A-18E Super Hornet and turned head on with the Su-50. He could feel all of his emotions enhanced: fear, anger, happiness, love. Once he got closer to the Russian stealth fighter he could see that on the side of the fuselage was a black star that was outlined in red and had a red outline of the uni-code symbol for the black queen chess piece centered. A warning went off in his cockpit to indicate a gun jam. The most enhanced emotion he could remember feeling at that moment was a strong hatred as he turned directly for the Su-50 and aimed for a head on collision. As the distance narrowed to nothing he let out a battle cry.

Date: December 10, 2016

Time: 0450 hours, 4:50 A.M. (Philippine Time)

Location: Island of Palawan, Philippines

Luck awoke to the feeling of a pair of gloved hands shaking him awake. The light shined brightly on his face. With his caramel colored skin and mixed heritage he had facial features that were both European and African-American. The lights in his room were on to reveal his very short black hair and a scar on his left eyebrow that practically split it in half. His lean and muscular body frame sat up in his bed. His piercing dark brown eyes scanned the room startled.

"Tony, you are alright!?" he heard a British woman say. "Everything is going to be okay! It was only a dream!"

When his eyes finally focused he saw another pilot from his squadron that was standing right in his room: Sophie "Frost" Noble. Frost had straight wheat-blond collar-length hair. Her white skin was paler than usual since she had been accustomed to doing night ops for the past two-months, which also explained why she was up at this hour and dressed in full flight gear. She had a slender figure and was on the shorter side of the height scale. The most astonishing things about her were her elegant Anglo-Saxon facial features and lively jade green eyes. She was an ex-pilot of the Royal Air Force that was battle hardened from doing the same missions that Luck had done. She was also just as much in love with him as he was with her.

As Luck calmed down he merely said, "I'm alright. Thanks, Sophie."

Frost relaxed somewhat and sat on the bed next to him. "I could hear you screaming when I was right outside your barracks, but you locked your door this time. I had to pick the lock to get to you."

The American naval aviator smiled, "Always have my back don't you?"

Frost half smiled at him before asking, "Did you have a dream about him again?"

The American fighter pilot's face became serious as he remembered exactly who she was referring to. "Yeah, it was him. I don't know why this is still haunting me. It's been over a year now."

"I have told you to seek help for that."

"Why do I need help when I got you?" he asked rhetorically with a smile.

Frost gave a light laugh. "I'm sure I'm great medicine, but there are some things I just can't help you with."

In response to this Luck gently grabbed her and pulled her into an embrace, which she completed by closing her arms above his shoulders and around his back. "I don't need some psychiatrist that I've never met before poking around through my memories."

Even so, Frost pressed on. "I know you don't want to but it might do you some good."

"I'll think about it," he responded automatically.

Frost knew that meant he really was not going to go to a psychiatrist, at least not until something bad happened. Just as Frost had done many times before she whispered prayers of comfort and healing for him. She really hoped that one day his PTSD would go away. At the same time the British woman was worried for Luck. She ultimately worried that his unwillingness to seek help would cause the old wounds from combat trauma to eat him away on the inside.

Date: December 10, 2016

Time: 1330 hours, 1:30 P.M. (Moscow Time)

Location: Red Square, Moscow, Russian Federation

The snow was heavy and left dirty patches of slush on the streets. The air was still crisp and cold while an overcast of clouds rested over the city. In the center of Red Square, six Spetsnaz operatives brought a man in chains to an armored car, with two more parked nearby. The man was very tall and has a powerfully muscular body frame. He was wearing an orange prison suit and boots, while his face was masked with a black hood. With a hard shove, the Spetsnaz forced the man into the back of the car and slammed the doors shut. All three vehicles start up their engines and a police officer opened the gates, letting them exit.

Outside the gates they were met with a restless crowd that numbered well into the thousands, all lined up near the streets. Police officers were struggling to hold them back and keep them off the road. The citizens had banners of support for the man in the armored car and were chanting in a constant rhythmic manner, "Free the Hero of Russia! Free the Hero of Russia! Free the Hero of Russia!…"

Inside the back of the armored car the sounds of the crowd were muffled. The masked man sat alone with a young woman, who possessed long flowing light brown hair and light brown hazel colored eyes that at the moment were reading papers in her hand regarding the prisoner transfer. On her face were a pair of narrow silver framed glasses. Being of Ukrainian descent, she naturally possessed strong Slavic features and beauty rivaled that of a Maxim magazine model. She herself also wore a dark grey FSB uniform, while the chest of her coat held a government issue ID card that indicated her name was Lena Studilina.

Lena put the papers down and looked at the man with sorrowful compassion. In a reassuring voice she said, "Don't worry, Krylov. This is only temporary. At least they can't kill you now. I've made sure of that. They have no choice but to release you."

The voice that replied back from the masked prisoner was deep, powerful, and absent of any emotion. "They will never release me, Lena. Not after what I have done. I'm simply too dangerous for them to let free now."

Lena's face looked only sadder as she heard those words. She turned her gaze outside and watched with hope as the armored car drove by the many citizens that were showing their support for his release. She looked up into the sky and could see four Russian Air Force Su-27 Flankers flying a combat air patrol over the scene. Even inside the confines of the car the roar of the powerful jet engine turbines could be heard over those of the crowd. The masked prisoner's hands twitched at the familiar sound.

Date: December 10, 2016

Time: 1200 hours, 12:00 P.M. (Philippine Time)

Location: Island of Palawan, Philippines

Scattered clouds were at lower altitudes and the sun was bright above the Philippine Islands, with the air high in both humidity and temperature. From the air, Palawan looked like a long strip of land, lush with vegetation and wild life.

This particular air base was part of a growing effort by the US and allies to overwhelm the Chinese efforts to cripple air power. The US had decided to build several air strips scattered throughout the pacific with the hope that if a conflict were ever to break out, it would be extremely difficult to knockout every single air field in the area. This air base that the Dark Horses were stationed at now was simply called Palawan Air Base and was constructed several miles southwest of Puerto Princesa International Airport.

Luck walked outside to check on his plane: an F/A-18E Super Hornet. His Super Hornet was a Block II model, the same as those operated by the US Navy, and was painted with the classic gun-metal gray of the Navy, but had no identifying markings. The Super Hornet was the US Navy's premier tactical strike fighter; it was by far the most reliable and flexible strike fighter in the US arsenal. It could be put through its paces in harsh environments and still operate perfectly fine. It also had several low observable features such as some stealth shaping and radar absorbent coatings to give it stealth capability sufficient for most operations. For everything else it had an electronic warfare suite. It even had a large payload capacity for a fighter its size and was very maneuverable. It did all of this while remaining one of the cheapest fighters on the international arms market.

He did a radio check and turned on his radio to make sure that it was working properly. Just when he turned it on a voice spoke on the frequency it was set to.

"Cobra One-one, Tower, requesting permission to land."

"Tower, Cobra One-one, you are cleared to land."

Out of the sky in the distance appeared another F/A-18E Super Hornet. Unlike the jet Luck was checking this Super Hornet still had US Navy decals and squadron markings. The jet descended and approached the runway. The landing gear pounded the airstrip before the pilot hit the brakes to slow down.

Luck knew at that moment that it was time to head to the briefing room. He immediately made his way to the Preflight Building, which had the briefing room in it. When he opened the door he found only two other people in the room. They were two of the original members of the Dark Horses squadron and also pilots of the F/A-18E Super Hornet.

The first was a Canadian man of middle height. He had dark red hair that was short and looked similar to that of an Ancient Greek warrior. He had bold blue, green eyes and pale white skin. On his flight suit patch was the name Chance "Mozart" Pitman. He had earned the nickname "Mozart" because his family had tried with all their might to get him to become a master pianist, despite the fact he wanted to join the military. In the end he told his parents that he was practicing the piano in France and went into the Royal Canadian Air Force.

The other was a woman of medium height who had silky, long black hair that went down to her elbows. She was of Chinese descent and had a very lean, lanky body frame, which earned her the callsign that she carried. Her name tape read Patricia "Stix" Ironheart. She was born in China and had dual Chinese-American citizenship. She may have looked frail but her personality was tough as nails.

As Luck looked on the only white board in the room an expression of uncertainty appeared on his face. "I'm really starting to hate this," he said to his two comrades. They both nodded with agreement.

"Look at the bright side. They are only integrating two foreign squadrons for two months and one of them we know for certain speaks English," said Mozart.

Stix merely grabbed a piece of chewing gum and popped it in her mouth before she spoke, "We've been a squadron for well over a year and we've always operated fine with only five pilots and five warplanes. With three Rhinos, one Strike Eagle, and one Typhoon we took out an entire Middle Eastern warlord army without anyone's help. I mean, sure the squadron used three different types of aircraft and we drove the maintainers crazy with what we did to those planes, but we didn't deserve to be punished liked this."

On the board was written the simple words in big bold letters: DARK HORSES AIR WING.

Luck let both his friends know the rest of his thoughts. "We did just fine as a squadron and there was much less bureaucratic red tape between us and any fighting that needed to be done. We were already a multinational unit but that doesn't mean it's a good idea to turn us into a smelting pot of foreign allies. Turning us from a squadron into an air wing might have been the worst idea they've had yet. I'm also wondering why they didn't want me as the CAG."

Mozart merely replied, "They probably didn't put you at the head of the air wing because they wanted someone who wouldn't try to fight more multinational integration like you did."

Luck shrugged. "I had good reasons for it."

"Oh damn," said Stix as she looked out the window. "Here he comes."

Luck and Mozart looked in the direction she was looking and as they saw who "he" was they felt even more uncertain about their future.

Mozart simply said, "I hope he runs the squadron in a very relaxed manner like you did, Luck. I think I could get along with that."

The man was walking right for the door. He was very tall with broad shoulders and had bright blond hair and intense blue eyes. His skin was white, but had been tanned by many outside activities and sun exposure. He had the most serious expression on his face. His jaw was unusually square. The name tape he had was labeled with the name Ryan "Duke" Wellington. On his left shoulder was the patch for an F/A-18E squadron. Also on his flight suit was a patch for the 1st place award of the TOPGUN fighter weapons school at NAS Fallon, Nevada. He looked to be approaching his late thirties.

As soon as he walked in the room all three Super Hornet pilots took their seats. Duke immediately walked right in front of them and took charge. With a bold voice he said, "My name is Lieutenant Commander Ryan Wellington. You may call me by my callsign 'Duke.' I'm your new CAG and you are the home-grown part of my air wing now. You all know that our mission is to keep our foreign allies in this area well trained and prepared for any altercation with a rising China. Since I'm trained for the Rhino I'll be flying right alongside you guys. I want all of you to be at the top of your game and giving your best in the most professional manner. Never forget that while you are here you represent the United States and should be on your best behavior. Understood?"

The three original members of the Dark Horse squadron simply nodded their heads in understanding. Just then Duke looked at all of them and paused for a moment. His eyes stopped on Stix who was sitting there quietly chewing her gum and listening carefully to him. "Miss, spit that gum out. No more of that during any briefings. It's unprofessional. You also need to cut your hair so that it's collar length. Long hair is unprofessional and you need to look clean."

Stix stared at her new CAG with disbelief. "Excuse me?" she said slightly baffled.

"You heard me. Spit that gum out and cut your hair. We aren't some rag-tag GI Joe squadron. We're professionals and we are going to look the part. Understand?"

Stix reluctantly stood up and spit her gum into a nearby trash can.

Duke then said, "I've read all your documents and files that are available regarding your previous service records. They are all very impressive and I look forward to working with each of you. Reporting time is zero-seven-thirty tomorrow. I expect you all to be up early and ready to go for training. You are dismissed."

As they were getting up Duke said, "Luck, can you stick around for a minute."

Mozart and Stix both exchanged a curious look with Luck as they exited the room, leaving him and Duke alone.

"Duke, what can I do for you?" Luck asked.

Duke then looked directly into his eyes and said, "I understand that you were formerly in command of this squadron before I took charge. The original members of the Dark Horses will still be the most experienced pilots of this air wing when it is fully brought together." His eyes narrowed with meaning. "They all trust you greatly."

Luck remained silent and simply decided to let Duke continue.

The tall blond pilot then said, "When it comes down to it, I need you to always be on my side. You understand?"

Luck narrowed his eyes on him. "Not quite."

"In order for this air wing to work I need you to not disagree with me on anything for any reason, especially my decisions. I need you to always be on my side."

This is not good, Luck thought. "I won't disagree with you in public if that's what you're asking, but if you run an idea by me I'll always give you an honest answer of what I think."

"I don't have to run my decisions by you. I'm the CAG. I just want to make sure that there isn't any infighting within the air wing," Duke said.

"Sir, if you want to avoid infighting you should make me the air wing's DCAG."

"I can't make you second in-command."

It was then that the former leader of the Dark Horses began to get slightly frustrated and decided to press forward his case for the spot. "Sir, I know these men and women much better than anyone. I've led them for a year and bled right alongside them in combat. They trust me. I'm also more experienced than anyone you have available to you. I'm your best option for DCAG."

"You also had a long term unduly familiar relationship with one of your subordinates."

Ouch, thought Luck. "My relationship with Frost? That started when the Dark Horses were made. Why is that suddenly a problem now?"

"Because now you are no longer operating in the dark like you used to be. Now you are in a multinational air wing and we represent the United States. I will not have any fraternization within my chain of command. That's unprofessional. However, I can make you DCAG if you end your relationship with her."

A flash of disgust entered Luck's eyes. "That's not going to happen."

"Then your relationship can continue, but only as the same rank." Duke replied simply. He then spoke with some reassurance. "You're both squadron commanders and will both have a full squadron at your disposal. Nothing about that will change."

Luck simply nodded and said, "Very well."

Nodding in turn, Duke decided to conclude with. "The Dark Horses are mine now Lieutenant. You may not like it, but that's how it is." he then looked Luck dead in the eyes. "As long as you adhere to that notion, we will get along just fine. Understood?"

Again Luck simply nodded.

Satisfied, Duke finished. "You're dismissed, Lieutenant."

Upon hearing those words Luck turned around and walked outside. A few seconds later, he found Stix and Mozart standing there, waiting for him.

"What was that about?" asked Mozart.

Luck looked as though he were going to spontaneously combust. "I'm never going to have command of the air wing unless I end my relationship with Frost."

Stix popped another piece of chewing gum in her mouth. "Duke indeed," she growled. "This guy's going to be hell for us, I just know it."

The three Super Hornet pilots headed to the wardroom on the base, which had a pool table, a coffee-maker, a vending machine, a sofa, and a large TV.

Inside the room were the other two remaining original pilots of the Dark Horses: Frost and Bear, both of whom were watching the TV. Nathan "Bear" Zachary was a former pilot of the USAF. He had messy brown hair and bright green eyes. His facial features were strongly Italian and he had white skin that was sunburned at the moment. He got his callsign after he had been tortured in Iran and had to go through physical therapy to requalify as an F-15E Strike Eagle pilot. He was usually known for saying one too many corny jokes on one too many occasions.

The TV was on the CNN channel and all of the pilots quickly gathered around to watch as a young female news anchor covered the various topics of interest. "Russia is commemorating its first month since the end of the civil war, a war that was fought between government loyalists and ultra-nationalists. With the ultra-nationalists defeated the country seems secure once again from having a radical rogue government in power. However, this seems to be of the least concern to the United Nations. The world is still suffering from a shortage of oil as the recent war and a series of meteor strikes have left the Middle Eastern governments and their armed forces in shambles. Without the ability to provide security for oil deposits the Middle East has not been able to rebuild the oil industry fast enough to meet growing demands from the rest of the world. The United States has had to focus on trying to get permission from various places, including the United Nations, to allow American military forces into the priority areas where oil is vulnerable not only to local warlords, but also to foreign entities..."

Bear immediately said, "Glad our turn doing that shit is over. It consumed more than a year of our lives just pounding dirt all day." All the pilots in the room breathed a sigh of relief as well. The Dark Horses were not part of the regular uniformed services of the allied nations. Because of this they were sent into the Middle East shortly after the oil crisis began and were helping special forces take out any threats to Middle East oil, no bureaucratic tape cutting necessary.

The anchor continued, "…As if to make things even more unsettling for the UN, China is at a record low on its reserve supplies of oil. They would normally have resorted to increasing imports from Russia, but the Russian oil industry was crippled by the civil war. Many eyes are watching to see what China will do. The Chinese government has not responded to any questions on possible measures they will take to get new oil to their rising infrastructure."

Just then the image on the screen changed to that of the United States.

"Oh boy," Bear said full of sarcasm, "I can't wait to hear how great we're doing."

The news anchor switched notes before talking. "The US economy has taken another dip as overspending has increased this year. The US has significant defense cuts put in place and has been unable to cancel spending on programs that don't serve the purpose of the armed forces true needs, such as the $400 billion dollar F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, which has become immersed in allegations of corruption and bribery…"

Mozart got up and said, "I think that's enough TV for me. Anyone up for going outside to meet our new air wing? They're supposed to be landing soon."

All the pilots checked their watches before they got up and left the TV to head outside. The Dark Horse pilots looked up in the sky and were soon able to see their new air wing squadrons as they made their own landing approaches.

The first squadron consisted of twelve JAS-39 Gripens. There were eight single-seater JAS-39Cs and four two-seater JAS-39Ds. The JAS-39 Gripen was a single-engine small lightweight fighter that was built by Sweden. It was extremely rugged and reliable as well as packed an advanced weapons suit. It was also highly maneuverable and agile. These particular Gripens had the markings of the Royal Thai Air Force. Thailand was a nation that had aligned itself with the United States because of a growing fear of rising China. Cooperation between Thailand and the United States was tightly knit as a result. Part of integrating the Thai into the Dark Horses was an effort to increase cooperation between the two nations.

The second was a small contingent from a squadron that consisted of four EA-18G Growlers. The roundels they had were a circle with a kangaroo centered, the mark of the Royal Australian Air Force. The EA-18G Growler was an advanced electronic warfare aircraft that was based on the two seat F/A-18F Super Hornet. It was the most advanced electronic attack aircraft in the world and featured powerful jamming capabilities that could cripple air defenses. Needless to say the Australians quickly became proficient at using its jamming capabilities and were quick to show that they had the skills to be highly formidable on the battlefield. The alliance between the United States and Australia went all the way back to the Vietnam War. They had cooperated with American forces in many major military actions since then, including both Iraq wars, Afghanistan, and many covert operations. The Australians were easily considered to be among the most reliable, trustworthy, and honest nations in the region.

The original members of the Dark Horses watched as the Thai and Australian operators landed, exited their aircraft, and headed over to the barracks assigned to them.

"It's like I said," Mozart remarked. "At least we know one of them speaks English."

Red Crown: Please tell me what you think. As before reviews increase my motivation to write by a large margin. They are like fuel for my writing engines. More reviews means that you will get the next chapter sooner.