Abd al Kuri Bone dry gravel crunched underneath the Fantasma's landing gear as the plane touched down. The pilot within drew a sigh of relief as his plane rolled down the dusty wash. He tore the oxygen mask from his face and pressed up against the cockpit windshield once his craft ground to a halt on the gravel. A brief burst of air whistling out through the broken seal of the cockpit could be heard as the pilot pushed the windshield canopy up and over his head; the lack of electrical power that had prompted this emergency landing prevented the cabin from depressurizing. He rolled out of the cockpit and slid down onto terra firma before taking in his surroundings. His only companions on this barren and desolate spit of land were wind-worn boulders that rested amongst the vast, flat gravel fields. The only sounds to be heard beside those of his boots crunching against sand and pebbles were the crashing of azure waves against the beach a kilometer or so to the North. As one might expect of a thoroughly inhospitable desert island, it appeared utterly devoid of any life - human or otherwise. Appreciative of the fact that he would not be disturbed, the pilot set about getting his fighter airborne as quickly as possible. A quick glance about the fighter showed no physical damage produced by the lightning strike, as expected. Lightning strikes on airplanes were, in fact, quite common. When they did occur, they almost never produced serious negative impacts to the plane. But in all his years of flying for the Spanish Fuerza Aerea, the pilot could not think of a single instance where a lightning strike had produced a loss of power to the plane. Certainly not on the part of a flash of lightning from a clear sky. The circumstances that had brought the most advanced airplane in Spain back to the Earth were exceedingly bizarre; verging on what was naturally impossible. Thoughts of revolutionary electrical defense technologies played through his mind as he stooped under the cockpit to access the panel that housed the Fantasma's battery. With one of the screwdriver attachment on his standard-issue multitool, the pilot deftly unfastened the rivets holding the aluminum panel against the airframe and peeked within the battery housing. He spotted the problem at once. A wire connector had been dislodged from the positive terminal on the battery stowed within. Fresh sootmarks covered the copper springloaded attachment points, designed to keep the wires attached to the terminals despite the intense forces imposed upon a fighter aircraft, suggested that the lightning strike had somehow caused the connection to disengage. The failure of this particular part would likely become the focus of intense investigation on the part of the Fantasma's engineers, but for the pilot it was a remarkably simple fix. He snapped off the reciprocal attachment point on the negative terminal, replaced the connection on the positive terminal, and then attached the negative terminal. A blue spark and a whiff of ozone materialized when the negative terminal was reattached, signifying that the battery was still in good working order. In three minutes, the aluminum panel was replaced and the pilot was clambering into the cockpit once again. This time, the blades of the jet engine beneath him heeded his command when he beckoned the plane to life. A cone of superheated air shot out into the desert from the exhaust on the plane's tail as the engine warmed up, driving sand and scattering pebbles. With the engine rumbling with sufficient energy below, the pilot disengaged the gear brakes and fell back into his seat as the jet rumbled across the desert with a trail of dust billowing behind. The servos in the wing elevators galvanized the Fantasma up off the desert and back into the air as the pilot yanked back hard against the yoke. A glance back to the tail of the fighter showed that thin yellow island of sand and rock falling away behind him as his Fantasma rocketed upward. The fighter levelled off gradually at its original altitude - nearly an hour now after a bolt from the blue sent it limping back to the Earth. It was likely that its prey had fallen into the sea by now, but the kill would have to be confirmed. Not a single airplane could be permitted to escape Africa before the Armada's landfall. So the pilot turned about in his seat, looking about this way and that. He scanned the cerulean void around him for any sign of the cargo aircraft that he had wounded earlier. The sky was empty. Or so it initially seemed. A flicker of light caught the pilot's eye, directing his attention to the south. A glance down toward the wider Indian Ocean revealed nothing of note. But a similar flash came momentarily into existence once again, joined by another glint of reflected sunlight. Any pilot could readily identify the source of such a fickle glimmer: reflective sunlight. The Fantasma was no longer alone in the sky. The Spanish jet banked and turned about to the south. The pilot inside punched the throttle and felt his inside sink down into his lap, his gloved hands gripping the joystick with white-knuckle force and his index finger resting alongside the trigger. As the Fantasma screamed high above the Gulf of Aden, twin pinpricks appeared in the sky, moving north at the same logic-defying speed as the Spanish fighter. The time required to close the great distance between these objects should have been double the time it actually took. The incoming aircraft before the Fantasma could only be jets. And according to field reports procured by the Oficina de Inteligencia Militar, the Pan-African Empire did not possess the technology to field jet aircraft. A startling realization dawned upon the Fantasma's pilot: These were Chinese planes.