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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.

After the session with Xavier, Carol slept as well as she had in weeks. The next morning, she was up bright and early and joining the X-Men aboard Lilandra's yacht for the pleasure cruise. To finally board an alien starship and meet persons of yet another alien culture...that brought back some of the thrill she'd experienced years ago when she started working for NASA.

Unfortunately, it was a thrill of a different sort than she expected.

She enjoyed her trip aboard the Shi'ar starcraft, getting the grand tour, talking to the pilot, the engineer, and just about anybody involved with the nuts-and-bolts running of the ship. If this sort of technology could be duplicated on Earth, the planet would cease being a backwards crossworld for spacefaring races and would become a spatial power in its own right. But she knew that the techstuff was far beyond Earth science as it currently stood.

They arrived on the Shi'ar throneworld. At one point, Carol was almost certain she detected the form of Deathbird. But she shrugged it off. She'd been under a lot of stress lately, and her memory was probably doing a spontaneous flashback to an earlier battle. She accompanied the rest of the group to a reception party in the capital city.

Of all of them, only Wolverine seemed discomfited. He grabbed Carol's arm at one point and burst out that they were being conned. She didn't understand it. But she chalked it up, at least in part, to job stress, and asked him to dance. He looked at her strangely, then subsided.

The others, Cyclops, Storm, Colossus, Kitty, and Nightcrawler, all seemed to be having a fine old time with their Shi'ar hosts. So Logan appeared to let it ride, and Carol prepared to cut the equivalent of a rug with him on the ballroom floor.

But before they could begin, two of the aliens cut in, asking Carol if they could do a bioscan on her. She was different, they said, from their other guests, and they were curious. "I'm not a mutant, if that's what you mean," Carol said. One of the pair said that was precisely why they wanted to examine her.

She wasn't sure how protocol worked with the Shi'ar. But she was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, the X-Men had fought beside Princess Lil and Xavier was her lover, so harming Xavier's guests would be a definite faux pas. She touched Logan's shoulder and said, "Later, pal." The two aliens had activated what appeared to be anti-gravity controls and whisked her away from the ballroom, to another chamber in the building.

Logan was yelling something at her for a second, but she wasn't sure of what it was.

A few minutes later, they set her down in another chamber full of equipment and manned by what appeared to be a number of Shi'ar techs. The two guided her forward to a spot on the floor, which appeared equidistant between two ceiling projectors. She shook their hands off.

"My apologies, sirs, but I'm really not accustomed to being pushed," she said. "A simple ‘Stand here, please', is all that would be required."

One of them looked at the other. The other nodded. The first said, "Very well, then, honored guest. Stand here, please."

So Carol stood there. She was a bit wary, but nothing untoward had been seen yet.

"Now. Lift your arms to shoulder height, and spread your legs a bit. Please."

She did so, and they thanked her.

That was when an energy field was activated which grabbed her roughly about the wrists and ankles, held her immobile, wrapped itself around her body in a nimbus of gold-white power, and lifted her several feet off the floor. "What in the--" was as much as she got out.

She looked at the Shi'ar, who weren't Shi'ar anymore.

They had dropped their illusions. She was facing a horde of Brood members. Insectoid forms of life outfitted with deadly fangs, claws, and dual poisoned stingers on their tails. They had no love for Shi'ar and even less for humans, or any sort of animal life. Mostly, they used humanoids as nesting-beings for their eggs, which they implanted in their living bodies. When the eggs hatched, the Brood-beings--the X-Men called them Sleazoids--physically took over and transformed the host-body into their image, and retained whatever knowledge, skills, and power their host possessed.

That was why they had projected the illusion. They had actually brought the X-Men to the Brood homeworld, in a living starship. They wanted to harvest the X-Men's unique powers.

But Carol Danvers's genetic makeup was not mutant. It was part-human, part-Kree. That made her an interesting case. So they conned her into the examination.

She screamed as the projectors forced energy bolts painfully up and down her body. It hurt like hell.

The Brood scientists noted that drily in their records, and stepped up the test.

In a way, she was a lot luckier than the X-Men. They ended up with Brood eggs implanted within them. Save for Wolverine's ability to destroy his inhabitant with his healing factor, the team probably would have fallen prey to their foes.

But that perspective would have been mighty hard for Carol to see just then. The blazing light-heat force wound its way like a thread of red-hot iron through her every genetic helix, mapping them out for the Sleazoids. She screamed until she thought she couldn't scream any more, cursed them with every epithet she knew, and was dumbfounded when one of the Sleazoids asked her to translate one phrase for them.

Good god, she thought, when she had time to think between pulses of pain. First Marcus Immortus. Then Rogue. Then this? God, are we reenacting the book of Job here? Help me!

And when the pain didn't stop coming, she found that she almost could get used to it. That was horrifying.

It wasn't as horrifying as what they started doing to her next.

They made random alterations in her DNA. They transformed her momentarily from human into Brood-like thing, and back again, several times. Then they morphed her into different forms. They called it "evolutionary modification." She had other names for it, and them, and flung them at her captors as strongly as she could, however strongly that was.

While her mind stayed whole, her body repeatedly became things disgusting to her psyche. It made her nauseous, frightened her, and angered her. And she worried that, after any of the morphings, they might not choose to revert her to humanoid form.

There was one more strange thing about it.

Carol did not give way to despair or defeatism.

She did not collapse into a well of fatalism or depression.

In her life, she had been brutally beaten by an alien female, changed into a split-personality super-hero, endured numerous physical battles, been psychically manipulated and basically raped, had her memories and powers stolen, and somehow come through it all alive and basically sane.

Thus, the Brood had chosen a tougher specimen than they could have imagined. Carol's thoughts were not of how nice it would be for the pain and her life to end. They were more along the lines of: When I get out of this, and I will get out of it, I'll find a way to make you pay. I'll change the shape of your bodies for you...and then some. Just wait. Just wait...

Even the Sleazoid in charge admitted, "Her physical form we can alter at will. What has proven most fascinating is her psychic resistance."

What was even more fascinating, though the Brood did not comprehend it, was how Carol's half-Kree genetics were reacting with the energy matrix. They were bonding with it, reaching out to cosmic energy sources, transforming the now-naked woman in the field generators' grip. It would prove to be a lot more than the aliens could handle.

But all that would only be of concern if she survived, and the Brood were determined to push her beyond the point of survival, just to find out where it was.

Enter Wolverine, claws unsheathed, body a little lumpy from the effects of fighting off the egg's possession attempt. He tore up the Sleazoids and their devices, and a weary, naked, human-formed Carol tumbled into his arms.

She had become so used to feeling the pain that the lack of it actually felt worse.

Logan held her up, draped a cut-down section of curtain about her, and helped her fashion it into a makeshift dress. By the time they were finished with it, she was standing on both bare feet, unaided.

Her body looked normal. But she felt power pulsing inside her. More, even, than she had known as Ms. Marvel. Carol didn't know what she had become, but she was certain both she and Logan would soon find out.

So she grabbed a Brood weapon from one of the dead Sleazoids and accompanied Logan on a hunt for the other X-Men. Part of her was trying to process all the information she'd taken in over the last few days, of two alien races, one not in the least human, and all their technology and non-Earthness. The rest of her, which, thankfully, was dominant, was acting like a secret agent and a warrior, and knew such things could be contemplated later.

The two of them hooked up with the others, fought Broodlings, saved Princess Lil, and escaped in her captured space-yacht. But there were still eggs within the other X-Men, whose progeny the Queen of Broodworld wanted to claim. So Brood starships pursued them, and battle was joined.

While manning the weapons board of Lilandra's ship, Carol had a spell of altered vision. Her consciousness was impinged by a blast of color and perceived patterns that made her wonder if the Brood hadn't dosed her with something on the order of LSD. But it passed. At least, it passed the first and second times.

When it hit her the third time, there was no ignoring it.

The energy pulsing within her reached out to the stars, the sources of cosmic energy, and transformed her into a red-hued being of force, emitting fiery coronas from her body. She was filled with power, and instinctively knew how to broadcast it, and manipulate it.

So she took the gift of a thousand stars and blasted four Brood ships out of existence with the equivalent of borrowed stellar plasma. She felt the Broodlings within dying.

Somehow, she wasn't torn up too much about it.

I told you I'd pay you back, she thought.

Then she looked down at herself. She saw the energy visibly exuding itself from her body, and knew that she had power beyond anything Ms.Marvel could hope to claim. She also noticed that she was nude, having burned off the curtain-dress with her powers.

Draping herself in any other sort of cloth, while she was using her power (and another track of her mind was astonished at her new might, and astonished that she wasn't more awestruck by its existence), would probably be useless. Carol wondered if the energy might be able to be manifested in some sort of visual / tangible form.

So she thought, and it was done. She designed several different forms of clothing, materialized them on her body, and discarded them in the space of seconds, until she found one she could settle on. It was a red-and-white outfit, with two stars on her left breast, the symbol of her new power.

She had not been wearing it for over a minute when she heard another voice in the chamber. "Hello? Is anyone there? Can anyone hear me?"

"Kitty," said Carol, swinging around, bathing the room in light.

Kitty, in a spacesuit, had looked up at her. "Carol! Thank heaven. Is"

Luckily enough, it was. The two of them rounded up the X-Men and Lilandra and Carol showed off her new power for them, charging the yacht's depleted energy cells with her own energies. The others were most impressed. Later, helping Colossus with hull repairs, she told him what had happened to her.

"My old friend, Captain Marvel, was gifted with cosmic awareness," she'd said through a communicator. "An ability to become one with the universe. I think I've gone beyond that. His was a spiritual merger. Mine is physical. Somehow, when I use my power, I tap into a white hole. My energy source is the primal fabric of a universe."

Piotr admitted, "Such abilities would be invaluable to the X-Men. You are now a mutant, and you have always been a friend."

Carol shook her head. She had made her decision some time before, and she chose to let Colossus know of it first.

She told him of how she had once hitchhiked off to see a manned rocket launching at the Cape where she later worked for a year. She had wanted to be an astronaut herself, to discover new worlds and meet alien cultures. "As Ms. Marvel, I almost made it," she admitted. But now such a thing was within her grasp. And she meant to take it.

"Earth was Carol Danvers's home, Colossus. But I fear it has no place for--Binary."

Nonetheless, she completed the adventure with the X-Men, setting the soul of one of the Brood's living slave-ships free and helping them and the Starjammers destroy Broodworld. The X-Men's Brood eggs were neutralized. Professor Xavier had such an egg implanted within himself, but even that turned out for the better; his old body was transformed and destroyed, while his mind was transferred into a newly-cloned body. The new Xavier had fully-healed legs, but it would take much therapy before he could use them normally.

Carol was not there for that incident, or for the X-Men's battle with the Hellfire Club, Callisto, and the Morlocks directly afterward. She had the Starjammers drop her off within flying distance of Boston, leaving the mutant band to deal with the Brood-Xavier. She needed time to think, time to wind up affairs.

Time to spend with her parents.

So she left a fire-trail across the sky that had stargazers rushing to see if they could be the first to pin their name on a new comet, and made civilians wonder if the Human Torch wasn't moving into town. She landed near Beverly, the Boston suburb in which her parents lived, changed into a sweater and pants (both synthesized for her aboard the Starslammer's spacecraft), blinked out of her Binary self, and hoofed it into town as plain old Carol Danvers.

As she treaded up the steps, she wondered how she should greet Joe and Marie. A big hug? A cry of delight? Some other demonstration?

She decided to hell with that, and voted to go with her natural feelings, whatever they were. Thus, she rang the doorbell, and was glad that the other houses on the block were fairly far away.

Joe opened the door, in T-shirt, brown pants, and socks. For home, Carol noted, he didn't dress formal.

He gaped at her, then had her in his arms before he even finished saying, "Carol!"

Carol hugged him tightly and said, "Hello, Dad. It's good to be home."

She hoped she could fake what love she lacked.

Several minutes later, Carol and Joe and Marie were on the back patio digging into iced sherbet in bowls and trying to catch up on what each other had been doing. But, even though they tried to keep it light and familial, it was proving a strain.

For one thing, Carol couldn't really tell them what had been going on. She wasn't even sure how much she could tell her mother, and Mom already knew she had been Ms. Marvel. For another, she knew that her responses were off by a few notches, that she wasn't the same woman they had known before, even with all of Xavier's fine work.

"Carol?" said Marie. "Do you remember Nola Cameron? You know, the one who used to live down two blocks from us when you were in grade school?"

"Oh, yeah, Mom. Sure, Nola Cameron. Um, what's she doing?"

"She got married to Tom. Isn't that nice?"

"Sure," said Carol. "Tom. Bet he'll be good for her."

After a pause, Joe had asked her, "Carol. What is Tom's last name?"


"I asked you, what is Tom's last name? Do you remember?"

She set the spoon back in her sherbet dish. "Dad. You know darn well there's a lot of things I don't remember. The answer is no. I don't remember Tom's last name, or probably this specific Tom. Is that all right?"

"Oh, dear," said Marie, wiping her hands on her apron to give her hands something to do.

"You don't even remember Nola, do you?" Joe stared at her without wavering.

Carol sat back in her metal deck chair. "No. I'm sorry, Dad, but--no."

"Then why did you lie to me? And your mother?"

"Oh, for chrissakes, Dad."

"Carol!" Mom was indignant. "You may be a grown woman, but this is still your father."

She put a hand to her forehead and rested her elbow on the chair's plastic arm cover. After a pause, she said, keeping her voice steady, "I'm sorry, Dad. And Mom. I was just trying to make you happy."

"You wanna know how to make me happy, Carol?" Joe waited for her answer.

"How, Dad?"

Joe leaned forward in his chair. "Tell me about everything this Xavier guy's been doing to you. And tell me everything you've been doing. If you haven't been working for the Company, then who?"

Mom sat like a Dresden doll, not daring to intervene at the moment.

Carol looked back at them both. "I can't tell you, Dad."

"Can't tell me about what? About Xavier, or about your work?"

"About either," she said. "About, I don't know, much of anything."

"Then why did you come here?" He spread his hands, in emphasis. "You look like my little girl, you move like her, you sound the same, but you're not the same. What are you involved in, Carol? Dope? Worse? What? Tell me."

"Joe, please," said Marie, touching his arm.

"Marie." He looked at her. She subsided.

Carol shook her head, fighting back tears. "I thought--I came back, and I thought that you'd be glad to see me."

"We are," said Joe.

"Of course we're glad to see you, Carol," said Marie, moving to Carol's side. "You know that. No matter what happens to you, you're my daughter, and I'd love you even if...well, even if you married somebody from outer space or something."

"Oh, Mom."

"Holy jeez," groaned Joe, rolling his eyes.

"Joe, that'll be enough," warned Marie. Then, to Carol, she said, "We know something bad happened to you in San Francisco. We want to believe this Mr. Xavier is, well, helping you. But if we don't know what he's doing to you--"

"He's helping me, Mom!"

"He's helping you. He's helping you," said Joe, making it sound as though he was cursing. "How the hell is he helping you? What the hell is he doing to you? Either you tell me, or I hire a private investigator and find out myself. And, Carol. You have no idea how much it hurts me--"

"Dad, please."

"--to have to say something like this to my own flesh and blood. Am I your father?"

"You know you are, dammit!"

"Carol!" warned Marie.

"Mom," retorted Carol, angrily.

"Then if I am your father, why the hell are you going behind my back with so much? You've been keeping a large part of your whole freaking life out there a big secret from me for over a year now. If I didn't know you better, I'd think you were really into something bad."

"Like what?" Carol stood over him, hands on hips, fixing him with a laser stare, and reminded herself to keep her powers in check. "Like junk? Prostitution? Spying for the Russians? Selling insurance? Tell me, Dad, I wanna know!"

"And I wanna know!" Joe was on his feet, staring her down. "You've got a lot of explaining to do, young lady--"

"Not so young anymore, Dad--"

"--And you are going to start explaining, if you intend to stay in this house."


Both swivelled their heads in Marie's direction.

Mom didn't raise her voice very often. But when she did, even Dad knew to tread lightly till the storm was past.

"Whether you like it or not, Joseph Danvers, this is Carol, she is your daughter, and she's mine as well. And I have some say in what goes on under this roof, too. And I am not going to let you kick my daughter, our daughter, out in the street. Joe, tell me about the bids on the new Carleton project."

He looked at her with some irritation. "Marie, those are sealed bids. I don't talk about them to anybody but my partners."

"Oh? You're keeping secrets from me, Joe? I thought I knew you better than that, after being married to you for almost forty years. Well, Joe? Why are you keeping secrets?"

Carol rubbed the fingers of one hand together against her palm, thought You go, Mom, and prayed that her powers did not yet include telepathy.

"This is not the same thing, and you know it!" raged Joe.

"Oh, it isn't?" Marie stood facing him, hands on hips. "Does she have to face you like some--some damned Great Inquisitor or something, and tell you everything she's done and everybody she's done it with since the last time you've seen her?"

"Marie." He sighed, sitting down again, running his hands through what was left of his hair. "Do you know how much I care about Carol? Do you know how concerned I am about what's happening to her?"

Carol sighed, shaking her head. "Dad. A lot of bad things have happened to me, sure. But none of them because of Professor Xavier. He's helped me. Given me...I don't know. I guess you'd call it psychic therapy."

"Psychic whaaat?" asked Marie.

"Psychic therapy?" Joe was drop-jawed. "You mean that bald-headed guy with the rod up his...uh...that bald-headed guy is some kinda swami? Or a faith healer? Good Lord, I knew it. You're in a cult."

"I am not in a cult!"

"You sure as hell act like one!" He unleashed his anger now. "You don't call home enough, you keep your actions secret, and, facrissake, you show up at our house for a sleepover without even a friggin' packed bag! Tell me the truth, Carol. And if you know, Marie, I want you to tell me. Are you a Moonie?"


"Are you an agent of this government or any other government? Or working for the Mob?"


"Then what? What?"

Carol looked at her mother. Her mother begged her with her eyes to either tell her father the secret, or let her tell him. But Carol would not allow either to be done.

She sighed.

"Dad, look. This much, I can tell you. My therapy with Professor Xavier is just about over. It may already be over, I don't know, I'm going to check with him before I leave. He has helped me--lots. I've gotten a lot of my memories back, thanks to him. I've managed to make a lot of emotional connections. Not as many as I'd like, but a lot more than I would have without him. It'll just take some time."

She waited, forming her next words, and then continued before Dad could decide to get a word in edgewise.

"I've had--a really tough time lately. Part of it was due to those--enemy agents--who hit me in San Francisco. Part of it was due to something else. But I came through it, Dad. Just like you would have wanted me to. They tried to hurt me--but I guess you just raised me tougher than they expected."

Joe and Marie weren't saying a word. Carol sniffed, wiped her eyes a bit, and continued.

"There's a whole lot I just can't tell you. I want to have you be in charge of my bank account, and make sure my royalty checks are deposited while I'm away. Because I'm going away. Not forever, but...I've got a new job. And believe me, it doesn't involve drugs, or hooking, or being in a cult, or spying, or being in the Mob."

"Holy mother of...", Joe started.

"Joe, please," said Marie, cutting him off.

"I can tell you this much. You might be endangered if I did stay here. One of the agents that did the hit on me is still in circulation. When I leave--I'm going to see about getting you protection."

"Oh, my," said Marie.

"Don't worry, Mom, this is just a what-if precaution. With me gone, I don't think you'll be in any danger. But you know how it is...just because you're out of the Company doesn't mean the other side forgives you for what you've done."

For the first time since the conversation started, Joe nodded in agreement.

"When I leave here, I'll be gone for a while. It might be a long while. I'll be out of might even say, in deep cover. But I'll check back whenever I can. And I'll write. I promise I'll try to write. I won't be able to tell you everything. But at least I'll let you know I'm there."

"Wherever there is," muttered Joe. Marie put her hand on his shoulder, and he held his own hand over it.

"As for why I don't have a me a ditz." Carol smiled. "As for what Professor Xavier's been doing with me...well, let me give you a sample. Are you game, Dad?"

"Me?" He pointed a forefinger at his own chest, incredulously. "You want to do some psychowhatsis with me?"

"Uh, Carol, are you sure about this?" said Marie, warily.

"Sure I'm sure," said Carol. "You think I'd do something to hurt my dear old dad, who's probably got to get up early in the morning and bust the nuts of some ‘crete and steel guys at the Carleton site? Not me, Mom."

"Carol, where you picked up that language I'll never know," said Marie. "And I don't want to hear it from you again while you're staying in this house. Agreed?"

"Agreed, Mom. Sorry."

"She probably picked it up from me, honey," said Joe. "You're only wrong about one thing. I'll have to bust their nuts about that a couple of weeks from now, when the project's underway. Tomorrow I gotta do it about something altogether different. But. What is this thing that you want to do? Is it habit-forming?"

"Come inside, lie down on the sofa, and you'll find out."

So they went inside, with Joe muttering, "This had better be good," and he lay down on the sofa with his hands laced over his stomach. Carol lifted his head and sat down, putting his head on her legs. Marie sat in a straightbacked chair and watched.

Carol placed her hands on his temples, closed her eyes, and went to work.

She had no psychic power to speak of, so the bit about giving him a Xavier treatment was a white lie. But she did command the powers of light, gravity, heat, and other solar-based powers. The gravity and magnetic flows were what she manipulated now.

Carol radiated her sensory powers through her father's body, and took note of his bloodflow, his magnetic aura, the state of each component of his body. There was much she could do, but much which had to be left to Nature.

Joe Danvers, lying closed-eyed in his daughter's lap, was soon quietly amazed.

His overwrought heartbeat, cranked up by work worries and fear over his daughter's fate, calmed and was made even, and an irregularity in it was corrected.

Several tired muscles in his back unknotted, and an area of his spine which was giving him a twinge of pain was attended to, and eased.

His breathing calmed, and he appeared to take in the same amount of oxygen with much fewer, better regulated breaths.

The redness left his face and a slight imperfection in one of his eyes was corrected.

Joe Danvers couldn't detect all of what his daughter was doing to him. But he had to admit to himself, If this is what that crazy bald guru-guy is teaching her, I gotta learn how to do it myself. And Marie, who was more attuned to her husband than any other person besides himself, was wide-eyed at first, sensing her husband's calm, and then grateful for it. Carol apparently had developed a new super-power. She hoped it ran in the family.

Finally, Carol opened her eyes. "Session's done, Dad. How do you feel?"

"Great." He wiggled his toes, still encased in socks. "Did you Rolf me, or Est me? Did I reach Clear?"

"Nope. Just a little Danvers Diddle. Think it'll sell on the open market?"

"Honey, if you market this, I wanna be in on the ground floor!"

Both Carol and Marie were glad for the chance to laugh.

Joe finally said something else. "Just one more thing, Carol."

"What's that?"

"Next time you come, don't forget your luggage. Okay?"

"Okay, Dad." She wrinkled her nose in a grin. "I promise."

And a while after that, she slept in her old bed for the first time in a very, very long time.


Continued in Chapter 6.


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