THE MIDDLE KINGDOM. The year is 2196. After more than a century of peace and stability, Chung Kuo - the great Empire of Ice controlled by seven ruling kings, the T'ang - has finally been shaken. Lwo Kang, Minister of the Edict - the legal instrument that prevents change - has been assassinated; blown away while in the imperial solarium. As the T'ang strive to maintain peace through what many see as a stagnating tyranny - their seven great mile-high, continent-spanning cities descend into chaos. As a small group of European elite, calling themselves the Dispersionists, seize the opportunity to effect change, so others emerge, like the politically-motivated Ping Tiao, the Sons of Benjamin Franklin - rich sons of powerful men who wish to re-establish the American Empire - and The Black Hand, brutal killers from amongst the teeming dispossessed. But the assassination was orchestrated by those far closer to the ruling power; far closer to those in 'The Above', sparking a devastating conflict and the world-shattering War of Two Directions.