A/N: This story features a brand-new OC planet, the desert world Korla in the Lyran Alliance, a world of many feuding nation-states. Here, the Arctic Wolves mercenaries, local feuding families, and an ex-Clanner will all clash and only one faction will emerge victorious. Authors RougeBaron and Xandre have both loaned me some of their characters to help make this story possible.
The Arctic Wolves characters Nikolai Kerensky, "Fury" Lister, Lyla Lister, Thomas Jones, and Samantha Smith are property of Xandre.
Star Captain Abby is property of RougeBaron.
Everyone else is mine.
Prologue: Lines in the Sand
Main Street, Bhujorba City, Bhujorba Protectorate, Korla,
May 5, 3075
Not even an eerie, banshee-like howling wind that carried clouds of fine dust and sand particles could dampen the victorious glow of the army that marched steadily down the main street of the Bhujorba Protectorate's capital city. Towering skyscrapers and squat apartment buildings crept past as lines of armored vehicles, platoons of desert-camouflaged infantry, and lumbering Battlemechs all progressed toward the city hall. From inside the cockpit of her 55-ton Stormcrow, Star Captain Abby couldn't resist a gleeful but fierce smile as she looked down at the crowds of anxious citizens down below, bustling at the sidewalks. Abby could feel the steady up-down movement in her cockpit as the Stormcrow marched in line with the victory parade, right behind the broad back of a hulking Zeus. She could still remember taking on the Protectorate's meager defense force, her Nova Binary taking apart everything in its way until the President of the Protectorate had officially surrendered.
This nation is now mine, but the real fun is just starting, Abby reminded herself. This is one step of many. Taking control of the Bhujorba Protectorate's production facilities and turning them to my cause will take some doing, but at least Alfonso Vargas' support staff can handle that part. Too much paperwork for my taste. She remembered the invaluable aid that the head of the Vargas family had provided her in this victory, and she felt mingled gratitude and contempt. The Vargas family, ruler of the mighty Vargas Estate nation, certainly had the resources and manpower to conquer all of its neighboring nation-states, but they needed a powerful, cunning leader to do so. And Abby was just that fierce and hardened leader that they needed, earning her the nickname "Steel Wolf." She loved it.
"We're nearly there, Star Captain," came the voice of Marshal Ricardo, the head of the Vargas family's guard force. "The city hall is within range. Prepare to disembark and enter the building with the rest of the official party."
"Yes, I know," Abby bit back, unamused by the man's constant attempts to impress her. Still, she squinted her eyes past the increasing sandstorm and beheld the massive, silver-gray city hall looming up ahead. A blue and red flag waved on a pole on the building's domed roof, but soon enough that flag would be replaced with the green and gold of the Vargas Estate.
The minute Abby brought her Stormcrow to a halt with the other 'mechs in the nearby 'mech bay, she snapped he fingers at a nearby assistant. "Get me my formal uniform. Now, now!"
"Yes, ma'am!" saluted the young man, dashing off to retrieve a set of red and black formal wear. Stripping off her cooling vest and heavy boots, Abby slowly donned her uniform, enjoying the feeling of the soft but tough cloth, the hard gold buttons, and the military cap that rested on her chestnut-colored hair. She felt properly powerful and in-command in such wear and never tired of it, although such attire would never work out in the cockpit of her 'mech. Too bad, she figured as she fastened the last button of her coat, then straightened her cap and strode off toward a waiting car, four armed guards watching over her in case of attack.
The car parked right before the front steps of the city hall, and as Abby climbed out an older man with slicked-back gray hair offered his hand to help her up. She accepted it and stood to her full height, regarding Alfonso Vargas before her. "Everything still in order, Mr. Vargas?"
"Of course," Alfonso Vargas nodded tightly, but his eyes glinted and a smug grin tugged at the corners of his lips. "No one would dare make any trouble after how thoroughly we conquered this nation. Everyone is accounted for."
"Good. Then let us get going," Abby told him, and after Alfonso motioned to his guards, the guards escorted Abby and Alfonso to another waiting party of Vargas officials. While the group ascended the steps and entered the spacious entrance hall of the capital building, Abby reminded herself how this pomp and circumstance was entirely unnecessary, but she enjoyed it anyway. Accepting the President's surrender in person and settling the details in one chat session was direct and personal, the method Abby liked best. I want to see the look in the President's eyes!
Despite the luxury of the capital hall, Abby paid no attention to the lavish décor as she and the others boarded and ascended an elevator to the top floor, marching down another hallway. The sandstorm was even stronger now, howling past the windows and obscuring the view of the city beyond. Most likely, the citizens had retreated indoors to wait out one of the many sandstorms that plagued Korla.
The double doors to the President's office swung inward, and Abby brought herself to the head of the party, chin held high. "It is time, President," she declared. "Show me your official surrender."
The President, a short man with wire-frame glasses, gave Abby a sour look and stood up from behind his desk, picking up an official document. He extended it, allowing Abby to accept it. "Here it is," he told her bitterly, not bothering to hide his spite.
Alfonso cleared his throat. "Abby, my lady, you must give that to me to sign. I am, after all, the official new owner of the Bhujorba Protectorate."
Abby pursed her lips slightly as Alfonso accepted the paper, placing it on the desk and signing it. Abby found Korla's legal system rather materialistic and old-fashioned, but amusing nonetheless where fancy papers and signatures had the power to affect millions of lives. But still, she was the driving force that was slowly changing the face or Korla. Alfonso ruled the expanding Vargas Estate, but it was she, Abby, a former Star Captain of Clan Wolf, who truly made this progress possible. If anything, this little President should be negotiating his nation's new fate to her, not Alfonso. But there was no helping it.
"I will, of course, assume control of all of your production facilities and mines at once," Alfonso told the President, puffing up his chest. His gray suit creaked slightly from his bulk. "Your business leaders will be dismissed and replaced with my own, but you can keep your staff. It would be troublesome to replace them all with my own men."
"Switch out the head, keep the body," the President grumbled. "But transporting my facilities' products to your foul Estate will take time and money. How will you manage that?"
One of the guards perked up at the jibe, but Alfonso motioned for the man to stand down. "I can manage," Alfonso told the President. "Perhaps your taxpayer funds can fund a fleet of transport trucks to carry your factories' goods to my cities. Don't you agree, Abby?"
"A fine plan," Abby nodded. "But don't push them too far, or they'll strike. Or sabotage you, even."
"My people are not so low as to sabotage or riot or anything of the sort!" the President snapped. "We know that we are defeated. If I recall, the Vargas Estate treats its other territories quite well... if they behave."
"Then that leaves it up to you and your people," Alfonso smirked. "Behave, serve me well, and you'll be rewarded! This can turn out well for everyone."
The President's glare could melt Ferro-Fibrous armor, but his voice was soft. "Perhaps."
"At any rate, my guards will maintain a patrol around this city until we can consolidate our holdings," Alfonso continued. "And your facilities will be used to repair any casualties to machinery I have suffered, President. A little hospitality on your part."
The President looked less than hospitable as he sank back into his chair, clenching the armrests hard. "You will not get away with this."
Alfonso raised his eyebrows. "And I thought you were going to behave?"
"I'm not talking about me," the President lowered his voice. "I mean the other nations of this world. They know what you are up to, and there's bound to be a coalition soon to prevent what has happened to my nation from ever happening again."
"Is that a threat?" Abby barked, stiffening her shoulders.
"More like a warning," the President told her above the sandstorm's howling. "You reap what you sow, you Vargas animals. My nation is not the first to fall to you, but it may very well be the last. I've heard the rumors! The other nations will make you pay and restore the status quo, putting an end to your conquest! They're drawing lines in the sand, and believe me, before long, no one would want to stand on your side of that line."
Abby threw back her head and laughed. "You do not scare me, little man. Let them come. The other nations do not know what they are dealing with. With every victory the Vargas Estate grows stronger. I grow stronger. The weak are consumed. It is the natural way."
The President didn't flinch. "You had better hope that you are right. Because if you are not, you will be sorry that you ever had reason to come into this office!"
"Perhaps I can make use of your warning," Alfonso figured, turning to Abby. "We have used mercenaries in the past, and our recent conquests have thinned our forces out somewhat."
"True..." Abby scowled, her distaste for mercenaries evident. "Which gang are you going to hire this time?"
Alfonso thumped his chest. "All of them. You have given my nation momentum, Abby, and I do not want to lose it. All of our recent mercenary gangs should be contacted: the Screaming Skulls, Morgan's Marauders, the Red Vikings, and of course... the Arctic Wolves. The quirkiest bunch, but one of the best."
Abby huffed and glanced back at the President. "Whatever you want, Alfonso. I want no part of mercenary business. Just be sure that they are worth the trouble." I do not want the President's prediction to come true. Why cannot I shake the feeling that he is correct?
"Set yourself at ease, Abby," Alfonso beamed, folding his arms across his chest. "I do not make mistakes. This world will be ours before you know it."