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"A Prize for Three Empires"

A Prize for Three Empires

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28

This story is in progress.

Within a very short time, Carol Danvers learned that her tenure in Xavier's mansion was to be just as adventurous as her time with the Avengers. That was fine by her, as long as the professor kept up his work of relinking the connections in her brain.

It had not been two weeks since the incident with her former teammates when she joined Charles, his colleague Moira MacTaggart, and Peter Corbeau, the scientist who created the Starcore orbital lab, on a boat in which they were tracking the progress of the X-Men in a desperate fight against Magneto. Apparently Magneto didn't like the idea of Xavier being a non-participant. He used his powers from long distance, pulled Xavier's metal chair right up from where it was anchored on the boat, and drew him through the air to his island base. Carol insisted that Corbeau take the boat to the isle so that they could join in the battle. But a few seconds after that, Magneto had used his power to short-circuit every electrical device on board, depowering the craft and shocking Carol, Corbeau, and Moira unconscious.

By the time they awoke, Magneto had been beaten and had fled. Storm created a gale-force wind that blew Corbeau's hydrofoil yacht, the Dejah Thoris II, into harbor on the island. They joined the X-Men for a cookout on the beach, then repaired or replaced the damaged system components on the craft.

She also got to see the big Blackbird jet the X-Men had used to fly to the island rising apparently on its own power from a watery grave. A few seconds later, she saw it was supported by Colossus, who was carrying the whole thing on his back.

Carol figured it wasn't going to be dull around there.

In the days to come, Carol had had a decent number of talk-sessions with Logan and shared a number of Molsons with him in the process. The Prof had confided to Wolverine that such would speed up Carol's recovery, but the Canadian would have done it anyway. They talked over old times and Carol told him of her life from her escapades with Captain Marvel through the business with Rogue. Wolverine didn't say anything when she told him of the bit with Marcus and the Avengers. But the way he was looking, she figured it was good that Marcus was already dead.

Logan talked a bit about his recruitment for the team of Canadian heroes who became Alpha Flight, his encounter with the Hulk, how he became an X-Man and sliced his superior's tie in half when the latter had protested his leaving, and some of his adventures since then. There were some subjects on which he dummied up, and Carol knew not to press him on them.

For instance, when she asked how he got the adamantium in his skeleton and claws, he gave her a brief smile with one corner of his mouth and said, "I won it in a quiz program."

She also got to know the other X-Men quite well, and determined that, no matter what her subconscious fears told her, she was not going to see them as Avengers. Storm, the African weather-witch, was possibly her best friend after Logan. But she befriended all of them, Scott, Kurt, Kitty, Peter, Illyana, and Moira, in short order. In turn, they found Carol a worthy friend and ally, and all seemed touched by her emotional plight.

Thus, Carol Danvers quickly became part of the mutants' strange extended family.

Even Charles Xavier, who affected the Stern Professor role in many of his dealings with others, was a nice sort once you looked past his facade. He was a master of concealing his emotions, but Carol knew, from her therapy, that he understood the workings of the human heart more than most gave him credit.

Many of their therapy sessions took place in his study, a setting not unlike a psychiatrist's office. He had had a couch moved in there and Carol reclined on it while, not three feet away, Xavier sat in his wheelchair and probed her mind, asking for verbal feedback.

"Carol. Tell me what you see now."

Her eyes tightly shut, Carol responded: "An instrument panel. In a plane. I think I'm flying it."

"How do you feel?"

"I don't feel anything."

"Just a moment. Now. How do you feel?"

She swallowed. "A bit nauseous. The instructor's making me do a barrel roll."

"Why is he doing that?"

"He...wants to see me wash out. Doesn't think I can make it as a pilot."

"Do you want to throw up?"

"Be damned if I'll throw up! I'm not going back home and tell Dad I washed out. I came here to fly this damn plane. And I'm going to."

"Do you remember any more?"

"I think so. I'm making the plane do some more maneuvers. I'm kinda pushing the envelope."

"You're smiling. Is this a pleasant memory?"

She giggled. "I'm watching the instructor turn green."

There were other times in which she broke down crying, either because the professor had connected her up with an extremely painful memory or in frustration over not being able to reclaim all of her feeling over an incident. It would take time to reforge the connections. And that was all the more frustrating in itself.

One of the most frustrating things, she told Logan, involved her old lover, Michael Rossi. "I loved him, Wolverine," she said. "Yet I can't picture his face, hear his voice. And when I think of him--"

She hesitated, knowing she was losing it.

"--I feel nothing," she finished.

Then she apologized for her outburst, and Wolverine tried to comfort her, and Kitty entered all too soon to tell him the professor needed him, and that was that.

Logan didn't ask her what she thought about their old relationship.

Then the X-Men had an adventure in which she did not participate and brought several others back with them who would figure as largely in Carol's future as the Avengers had in her past.

It began while she, Xavier, and several of the team were on the island Magneto had vacated, beginning to establish it as a "forward base" for the X-Men, since the mansion was too easy a target. (In the process, she had almost broken down in tears before Wolverine when she confessed that she couldn't remember what making love with Michael Rossi had felt like, which was probably why Xavier had done the specific psycho-session with her later.) But Cyclops and Storm, at the mansion, got a surprise visit from Corsair, one of a band of space-pirates and mercenaries whom the X-Men had worked with before.

Even more surprising was Cyclops's learning that Corsair, a big, mustached man in a red and black uniform who packed twin ray-pistols and knew how to use them to deadly effect, was his father.

The X-Men, but not Carol, were teleported away and took part in a battle in space which allied them with Corsair's band, the Starjammers, against an armada of starships led by an usurper of the Shi'ar race. The Shi'ar had established a powerful empire in space, almost as far-reaching as that of the Skrulls and Kree, and the mutant band had gotten caught up in their political upheaval by virtue of previous encounters with them and Charles Xavier's liason with their ruler, Lilandra.

When she heard about it, Carol's head whirled. She knew about the Skrulls and Kree, but the Kree-self of Ms. Marvel which might have known of the Shi'ar was inaccessible to her. Keeping up with galactic politics seemed beyond her capacities, at that time.

Moreover, Xavier himself had suffered a mental power feedback that threatened to mindwipe him, and the X-Men had returned to their new island with him, accompanied by Princess Lilandra, a telepath named Oracle who had restored his mind (and Carol felt great empathy for Charles at that moment), and Corsair's pirate band, the Starjammers.

While the mutants were tending to their stricken professor, Carol, unable to aid them, had donned a red jumpsuit with blue gloves, boots, and belt--it looked as much like a super-hero uniform as any of the X-Men's, really--and had begun a morning workout, going through some martial arts kata.

A few minutes after she began, she became aware of five persons watching her. Only one of them were human.

She looked up and saw them, standing not far off.

One of them was Raza Longknife, an orange-skinned male whose right arm was a powerful steel prosthesis and whose right eye, also lost, had been replaced by an optic sensor which fulfilled the same function. He was bald except for a long topknot of golden hair which hung down to the bottom of his shoulder blades, and he wore a blue uniform and carried a strange sword magnetically clasped to his back.

Another was the woman Corsair had named Mamselle Hepzibah, after a character in the Pogo comic strip. It seemed appropriate, because she was covered all over with black and white fur, had catlike ears abutting the top of her white hairdo, and bore a big skunklike tail behind her, though, thankfully, not the skunk's smell. She was dressed in a brief yellow body-garment and had a ray-pistol in a red gunbelt buckled about her waist.

The third, Ch'od, was the most impressive. He was very large, very green, had huge red eyes and huge red lips, finlike ears, fins on the sides of his arms, and was scaly and massive indeed. Ch'od was an amphbian and looked like the Creature from the Black Lagoon on steroids. His only garment was a pair of blue-black trunks with a red belt. Luckily, he was friendly to her.

The fourth was Ch'od's pet, Cr'reee, something of a cross between a monkey and a weasel, covered with pink and white fur and scampering across his shoulders, peering around Ch'od's head to look at Carol.

The fifth and last was Peter Corbeau.

"Hola, yellow-hair," said Raza. "What be you about here?"

"Combat exercises," snapped Carol. "And what are you after, Mr. Topknot? Working on a few fantasies for tonight?"

Hepzibah giggled. Even Ch'od laughed. Raza's mouth opened a second, and his orangish color went deeper.

Carol smiled and went on with her working.

"Uh, Carol," Peter Corbeau said, rather embarrasedly. But before he could say anything more, Raza stepped a bit closer to her.

"Mightn't it be a bit easier to exercise, yellow-hair, had you a partner?"

She stopped and looked at him. "If your ‘partnership' means more than just sparring, Topknot, you can forget it. Tall, shiny, and orange doesn't turn me on." Now Ch'od was laughing fit to make his little pet scamper up and down his great frame, seeking a level place on which to perch.

However, Hepzibah advised, "Tongue watch you should, pink-skin. Raza mads out easily. Gives snick-snick to people like he don't."

"Ah, Hepzibah, Raza may have a temper, but he doesn't run people through just for making light of him," rumbled Ch'od. Carol raised her eyebrows. The behemoth was almost as cultured as Hank McCoy.

Peter finally broke in. "Hold it, all of you. Carol, I'd like to run a test on you, if I might."

"What kind of test?"

"Reactions, combat skills, the whole nine yards," said Corbeau, in the manner he used when charming government bureaucrats out of more money for Starcore. "The Professor, before his, er, recent trouble, wanted to see how well your physical self was, under combat conditions. You know, coordination between mind and brain, strength levels, all that stuff."

"Oh, hell," said Carol, putting her hands on her hips. "Peter, I can fight. That I can tell you without being wired up."

"Yes, but just how well?" he asked. "Learning your exact capacities will help in your treatment. And I'm sure he intends to continue that treatment once he recovers. All I want to do is plant a few computer sensors in your gloves, your boots, and your belt for awhile, and have you roughhouse with the, er--"

"Starslammers," offered Ch'od.

"Yes, the Starslammers here. They've offered to give us a hand in the matter. What do you say, Carol? Remember, it'd help you, in both the short and long run."

She shook her head, her blonde hair cascading about her shoulders. "You have just got to be kidding, Peter. I've been fighting ever since my dad put on the gloves with me, when I was a girl. And I know you've given me the eye enough times to know how well I move. Now you've got to run me like a maze-rat through some kind of test?"

Raza looked at her. "Well, yellow-hair, you're right about one thing. Sparring with you wouldn't teach me anything."

She looked back at him, with a surly expression. Then she grinned.

"Wire me up, Doctor. I feel like kickin' some orange-colored butt."

So, a few minutes later, Carol and the Starjammers were facing off in a room of Magneto's installation in which exercise mats had been spread on the floor. Peter Corbeau sat at the controls of a computerized sensor unit which received impulses from devices he had implanted in Carol's outfit. The combatants were sizing each other up.

Raza forced a smile. He extended a hand, his living one. "Let us grasp hands, yellow-hair, as thy kind does, and swear friendship afore the fight. ‘Twould be a meet and proper thing to do, since we are allies."

Carol said, evenly, "Raza. My name is Carol. Carol Danvers. I much prefer it to ‘yellow-hair'."

She knew he was going to try to yank her off her feet when she took his hand. He figured she was going to try the same thing. They were both right. What he wasn't prepared for was just how strong the yellow-hair was.

Raza went flying, and barely had time to blurt out, "By the Black Nebula," before rolling and landing on his shoulders.

Carol grinned. He was right. Combat training was more fun with partners.

The other two seemed to think so as well, because Carol found herself beset by Ch'od and Hepzibah at the same time. For the next few minutes, Carol leaped, dodged, whacked, rolled with punches, and had as fine a time of it as the others. Finally, though, Raza snagged her ankle with his metallic arm. Before she could do anything about it, Raza, Hepzibah, and even the little monkey-weasel had dogpiled her, and Ch'od was holding the whole mess of them down with his two big hands. Carol's cheek abutted the cold tile floor.

"Superb effort, sunhair," gasped Hepzibah. "Impressed even me."

"Aye," affirmed Raza. "Dost thou yield?"

She worked her head around and asked, "Do I have a choice?"

"Not if you want to get up," affirmed Ch'od.

"Finks," muttered Carol, nose to nose with Cr'reee, who was chittering out his opinion of the affair.

Peter Corbeau was concealing his astonishment. The woman had taken blows that would have laid the average human female up for a week. Her agility, combat smarts, and strength were all top-of-the-line. She didn't have super-powers, but if there was an opening for a female Captain America, he was going to put her name in the running.

"How'd I do, Doctor?" asked Carol, as the others helped her up.

He nodded at her. "Pretty good," he said.

And that was how Carol met the Starjammers.

Shortly after that, she met someone not nearly so hospitable.

It started that very afternoon, with herself and several other X-Men gathered about the prof's wide-screen TV, watching a British news program on the Beeb via satellite. Senator Robert Kelly was being interviewed about the aims of his congressional Committee On Mutant Affairs. Whether he liked it or not, more people were referring to it as COMA rather than CMA, which was how he insisted on it at the office.

Their attention had been drawn to the show by a news clip, played earlier, of the X-Men's battle with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Their heroism did little to change Senator Kelly's views that mutants were dangerous--all mutants--and that they had to be investigated. If such investigation proved them too much of a threat, he said, "they must be dealt with."

Carol, standing behind Moira and Kitty, saw it and wondered if she wasn't watching the genesis of a new Hitler in blow-dried hair and three-piece suit.

Moira MacTaggart turned to the others and spelled out the problems the government could cause for them. The FBI office formerly headed by Amos Duncan held detailed files on all the original X-Men, and God only knew what on the second team. If they got into the hands of Kelly's committee, there was no telling what damage they could do to the team's security.

Kitty, belying her youth, came up with a workable solution: design a virus program open-ended enough to erase all references to the X-Men, plug it into a central federal data bank, and let it rip. There were, of course, the possibilities of isolated units, but they'd just have to deal with that as it came up. How they were to get the virus into a federal data bank was another matter, entirely.

The Starjammers designed the virus for them. Carol and Logan put their heads together, grabbed Ororo for a third party, and got to work on the cloak-and-dagger end of it.

A familiar thrill went through Carol's body. She might not be a super-heroine anymore, but she could be a secret agent with the best of ‘em till the day she died.

So it was that Nightcrawler drove the three of them up to the Pentagon one day soon afterwards. Carol wore an Air Force colonel's uniform. Wolverine had on the garb of a Canadian army captain. Ororo had on a chic black dress, hat, and shades, and hoped she looked enough like an expert in something about to testify before the Joint Chiefs to fool the guards.

Luckily, she did, and all three were admitted.

A funny thing happened on the way down the hall.

Carol bumped into a woman in a green blouse and long checkered skirt going the other way. Both of them glanced at each other, apologizing simultaneously, until they caught sight of each other's face.

"Danvers," said the woman.

"Rogue," said Carol.

That was when the fight began.

In the process of it, Rogue temporarily stole Wolverine's powers and rendered him unconscious. Nothing Carol or Storm, who switched to her working clothes, did made much difference against their powerful foe. But Nightcrawler soon bamfed in and Wolverine made a comeback, giving Carol, who was less equipped to fight the villainess--as little as she liked it--a chance to break away and get to the computer banks they sought.

Just as she was about to upload the Starslammer's virus-laden disk, she heard someone behind her say, "Hello, Carol. I've been looking forward to this moment."

She wheeled to see Nick Fury standing there with a gun.

The gun went off. Carol went backward.

Standing over her body, she heard him say, in a different voice, "That was almost too quick, too easy, Carol. I somehow expected better of you."

She let him get close enough, then kicked up high and knocked the gun out of his hand.

Whatever her combat reflexes were, Carol thought, they must have checked out A-OK. She had been able to dodge the shot just enough to take a grazing shot along the side of her temple, near the hairline. She waded in with both fists, pinned Fury under her, and had at him. No matter what had gotten into Nick--if this was Nick, and not some kind of LMD or double--nobody shot at her and got away with it, unless they shot really, really good.

After a couple of punches, she found she was slugging Storm.

The sight made her hesitate, and Storm kicked up at her and drove her back. Carol dodged several other powerful kicks, taking the blows on the front of her arms.

This wasn't Nick, and it wasn't Storm. She had a good idea now of who it was. She ducked in, wrapped her arms around her opponent's neck, and applied the kind of hold which was the real version of the Vulcan knockout pinch.

Within half a minute, Storm slumped in Carol's arms. Only she wasn't Storm anymore.

She was Mystique.

Mystique, who, as Carol now knew, had been responsible for Rogue stealing her powers in San Francisco. Mystique, without whom Carol would still have been Ms. Marvel. Mystique, without whom she would still have memory, emotional connections, in their entirety, instead of being won back a bit at a time.

Mystique, who lay unconscious beneath her, and who had obligingly dropped a most tempting gun.

Carol stepped over her hated foe. She picked up the gun

(just testing it just seeing how well it handles it's loaded it could do the job)

and held it in both hands. Not pointing it at Mystique. Not yet. That was too great a temptation.

For a long moment Carol wavered. Then she glanced at the computer console, in a portal of which the virus disk was loaded.

She sighed. Well, there'd be enough time to make a decision about Mystique afterward. She still had a job to do.

Carol bent over the keyboard and began her work, and hoped like hell Mystique would wake up and make a move so that she could shoot her.

A couple of MP's burst in right then, guns at the ready. They had heard the shot. They saw the strange, grey-fleshed woman on the floor.

"Everything under control, Colonel?" asked one of the men.

She nodded to Mystique. "I'd say so. Get her up and get her out of here, boys. And call the duty staff to take care of things here. I'll stay here till they show up."

The MP's slapped Mystique awake and took her in hand. Just before they dragged her away, she swore that she and Carol would meet again, and that she would be less merciful with her foe the next time. "There is death between us," Mystique snarled.

"Take her away," said Carol. They did.

Then she went to her task. Absently, she punched up her old access code. Two separate screens popped up, containing data on both Carol Danvers and Ms. Marvel.

She studied what she found in both reports. There was a little she didn't know, but not much.

Shrugging, she erased both files.

Then she finished the upload of the virus, took out the disk, and put it back in her purse. After the duty staff showed up, she saluted and made her way out. She rejoined Storm and Wolverine, learning that Ororo had created a mini-tornado to whip Rogue out of the area. All three of them joined Kurt in the car, and told him the mission had been a success. "Wunderbar," he said, and drove them away.

Carol thought she had finally laid her ghosts to rest, and could begin life anew.

She was half right.

Shortly after Carol's Pentagon adventure, the X-Men had two battles in which she was not involved. Considering their foes were Dracula and Belasco, she was just as glad she hadn't been. In the latter fight, Colossus's six-year-old sister spent seven years in a time-warp and came back to them a thirteen-year-old. Carol was horrified, but Ilyana seemed to take it in stride.

Professor Xavier finally brought himself out of his coma. Princess Lilandra was there to see it, and was overjoyed. She received word that required her to return home shortly thereafter, and Xavier was deemed not well enough to travel. But she insisted on having the X-Men come home with her for a short vacation, and the Starslammers too, and the invitation was extended to Carol as well. She agreed to go, with only Corsair, who had suffered at the hands of the Shi'ar, demurring.

Before they departed, though, Xavier called Carol to his bedside. "I believe I'm up for one last session before you go," he said. "Are you?"

Thunderstruck, she said, "Well, I suppose, yes, Charles, but why now?  Why for me? You've just been through a coma, and all..."

"Consider it a gift," he said, and did not smile.

He dimmed the lights and Carol pulled up a chair and sat beside his bed. When she had made herself comfortable as she could, given the circumstances, she closed her eyes and went as far into a trance state as she could on her own.

Xavier's mental tendrils pushed slowly and gently into her brain-self, like a plant's roots extending into soil.

He seemed to know what he was looking for, and he found it. She found out later that Wolverine had told him how she had spoken to him of remembering having sex with Col. Rossi, her first lover, but not being able to remember what it felt like, or why she had done it. Telling it, she almost shed tears of frustration.

"Oh," she said, feeling Xavier's mind touching a node of memory.

"What do you see, Carol?"

"I--" She breathed for a few moments, flushing with embarrassment.   "I--really--I see Logan. We're in his room."

"You may speak without fear, Carol. No one will disturb you. No one will reveal your feelings. Tell me what you see."

"I'm--we're both back from Lubyanka. I'm recovering. He wanted to see me. I wanted to see him, oh, god, I wanted to see him. I--"

She was silent for a few moments. Then she said, "I, I can feel--"

"Tell me what you see, Carol."

"I see Logan's chest. I've unbuttoned, unbuttoned his shirt. And I...and I..."

Xavier didn't say anything.

Carol let it loose in a stream of consciousness and couldn't stop.  Feelings, sensations, touching textures, smells, remembered sounds and sights and how it felt...down there...

She had long since forgotten about the presence of Charles Xavier. And if he felt like a voyeur at that moment, he never revealed it.

Within a very few minutes, Carol had experienced her first satisfying climax since the day of her encounter with Rogue.

She sat there, panting, coming back to herself, putting the pieces together again. That was when she finally registered, again, that Charles Xavier was still in the room with her.

"You," she said. "Like Marcus. You wanted me to put on a show for you." Her rage began to rise within her like a great black beast.

"No, Carol," he said, quietly. "I pulled out of your mind shortly after activating your memory. There was no pleasure for me in that doing, physically. I just made sure that you did not hurt yourself. Did you want to be able to feel physical love again, Carol?"

"I--yes," she admitted. "Yes, I did want it."

He said, "Do you think you will be able to feel physical love, now? By yourself, or with a partner?"

Carol sighed. "Maybe," she said. Then she said, "No. I know I'll be able to. If I could feel--that."

Then she gasped and said, "I can make love again. Professor, I can make love again."

"Yes, Carol," he said. "I believe you can, too. If you think I have acted in an improper manner, I apologize."

She sighed. "No. Not really, I guess. Thank you, Professor. Very much."

"You're welcome, Carol. But you're giving me too much credit. And yourself, not enough."

That was when Carol bent double in her chair, and began shedding the first of a very long series of tears.

She had her womanness back.

When it was done, she insisted on hugging Xavier, much to his dismay. Then she stumbled out of the room, glad nobody was in the hall at the time, and made her way back to her own quarters.

After bathing and dressing again, she sought out Wolverine, who was supervising Colossus's workout in the Danger Room. "Thank you," she said, coming up behind him and laying a hand gently on his shoulder.

"For what?" he asked. He turned to look at her.

The look in her eyes gave him enough information.

"Thank you," she said again.

Wolverine nodded. "Yer welcome, hon," he said.

Carol left, and nothing more was said about it. To himself, Wolverine mused: I knew I was good. But I didn't know I was that good.

Then he turned back to watching Colossus trying to lift a multi-ton weight.


Continued in Chapter 5.


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