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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.

The Starjammers' ship stayed in orbit long enough for Major Summers and Carol to attend the wedding of Scott Summers and Madelyne Pryor. After being introduced to Corsair's parents, Philip and Deborah, she went to sit beside Logan. She had learned that Logan had almost wed Lady Mariko Yashida in Japan, but that she had spurned him at the altar.

Carol wanted to feel sorry for him, but just didn't have enough capacity for it after learning of Mar-Vell's death. She also wondered if he would try hitting on her, or even if she would try the same on him. But Logan was too much of a gentleman for that, and, at any rate, was hurting too much after Mariko's rejection. She accepted that what they had was in the past, and cherished it as a memory.

She was also glad Xavier had forged an emotional/sensual link to it.

But she didn't miss the grim expression on Logan's face as Scott and Maddy exchanged their vows and kissed. She sneaked a hand over his and squeezed it gently, and hoped he took it as friendship and support. He appeared to, and squeezed back, briefly.

Then, after the reception and the farewell to the newlyweds, Carol said her goodbyes to Logan, who had been a friend for so long. But she avoided the other X-Men, and she and Rogue kept as much of the church between them as they could.

Xavier insisted on wheeling up and saying goodbye to Carol personally. She regarded him coolly.

"Well, Carol," he said, "I am pleased that you made the wedding. I also regret that our therapy--and our association--must be terminated at such a point."

"Thanks for everything you've done to help me," said Carol. "I am grateful for what you've done for my mind, Charles. It's just that I can't see why you're accepting the woman who took my mind away from me."

He paused, resignedly. "Perhaps it is because I see something of you in her. At any rate, Carol, I--am sorry--if my decision has made your road a bit harder. But God knows you've come through enough already. I pray your path is a little smoother after this. I still count you as a friend." Xavier extended his hand.

Carol took it, with a slight sigh. "If getting beaten up, raped, mind-raped, tortured by aliens, and ratted on by two super-groups counts as a hard road, Charles, then anything should be smooth compared to that. But I'm finally gonna get to do what I wanted to do, head into space, even if I have to fight a war doing it. And yeah, you're still a friend. But--"

"But what, Carol?"

"Read my mind, Charles."

She couldn't tell whether he had or not. But he looked a bit more resolute, so she assumed he had. "Very well, Carol. Someday, I hope the X-Men...I hope that I...can make it up to you. Goodbye, and Godspeed."

Carol let go of his hand and left with Corsair. Kitty came up to Xavier and asked, "What was she thinking, Professor? If it's okay to ask."

He looked at her for a long moment. Then he looked away and said, "She was thinking she couldn't trust me."

So Carol began her stint with the Starjammers, learning how the ship was run, learning about her new teammates, meeting Waldo, the sentient voice of their ship, and getting to know about the Shi'ar Empire from her fellow new ‘Jammer, Princess Lilandra, even as they fought it.

For over nine months they played Star Wars for keeps, bringing down Brood and Shi'ar vessels.

Then Professor X himself got wounded in battle, during the trial of Magneto, and only medtech far in advance of Earth's could save him. The passage was dangerous, and the ship took some hits. Corsair and Lil went Terraside, collected him, and beamed back up to the ship with him. Until he mended, he would be their unofficial ninth ‘Jammer.

Then they found that he'd be staying with them a lot longer. Their ship's efficiency was down quite considerably from the hits, and they had no way to return Xavier now that the Shi'ar treatments had healed him. Unable to teleport him back, unable to get through the heavily guarded warp network, and stalked by Deathbird's legions, Corsair broke the news to him. "I'm sorry, Charles," he said, "but there's no way we can take you home. Not now, maybe not ever."

So Xavier bucked up, nodded in assent, and put his arm around Lilandra. There were worse ways to spend an exile.

Carol wished she had been easier on him at their parting. Then she learned that Magneto had been tapped to lead the X-Men. She decided maybe she hadn't been hard enough.

Raza Longknife griped that, with three Earthers on board now, they were becoming too Terracentric. But Xavier was Lil's lover, and got along fine with the Starjammers, so Raza didn't gripe much.

A day after Xavier was out of danger, he had Lilandra wheel him to the ship's mess and asked Carol to meet them there for a private consultation. So she stepped in, wearing her red-and-white uniform and in human state, and was very, very wary.

"Well, Carol," he said, "Fate has thrown us together again."

"That Fate, he's a real big kidder," said Carol. "Okay, Charles, what do you want to talk about?"

Lilandra sat beside Xavier on a long padded seat under a holo of the starscape outside and saved her words for later.

For his part, Xavier interlaced his fingers, dropped his hands in his lap, and began his shpiel.

"You thought that I was wrong to take in Rogue, Carol. In that, you weren't alone. As you know, most of the team wanted to walk out on me when I announced my decision to take her in."

"Yeah," said Carol. "Until you rah-rahed ‘em into doing what you wanted. Again."

"Carol, please," said Lil, leaning forward. "Charles was only doing what he thought best at the time."

"For who?"

Xavier said, "For the team, for mutants everywhere, and, perhaps, for Rogue herself. She's working out, Carol, and you are the reason why."

Binary shifted back on the plush of the seat. It gauged her weight and frame and subtly altered itself to provide the most comfort possible. She gave him a keep-talking gesture, but said nothing.

"There are two factors motivating Rogue to change her former ways. One, as you may have guessed, is guilt. She has come to believe, no, to realize, that she did you a great wrong, and her penance for it is fighting for justice alongside the X-Men. The second is this: the memories she has stolen from you are greatly influencing her own personality...that, to an astonishing degree. In a way you cannot conceive, Carol, she carries within her the ghost of the old Carol Danvers. It sometimes tortures her--"

"I feel better already," murmured Carol.

"--But it also tries to make her a woman as good as Carol Danvers was, and, perhaps, as good as you are. I think that soon, Rogue may suffer split personality and dissonance. That will be a most dangerous thing, given her power. But for the moment, and for the near future, Rogue has become a heroine. All because of the gift you gave her."

Carol shook her head in disbelief. "You still don't get it, do you, Charles? She tried to kill me. She stole my mind. If a crook beats me up in my house, takes everything I have, leaves me for dead, and then reads a Bible he stole from me and becomes a good Christian afterward, it still doesn't change the fact that I got beaten up and robbed."

Lil said, "But what if this thief does great and good things, Ca-Rol, and is known far and wide as a saint, all because of the holy book which he took from you? Is it not possible, in your system of belief, that your God may have used you as a vessel for his repentance?"

"Lil, I've been used as a vessel so long that I ought to have a Mogen David label on my front," snapped Carol. "Do not expect me to empathize with Rogue. Now Magneto's in charge of your boys back home, Charles. How long is that going to last? When does he stop being a nice guy, and probably take her with him? What you've done is the equivalent of giving a grand tour of the NORAD mountain to the Commies."

Charles sighed. "All right. All right, Carol. Would it be worth telling you about a dream I once had, a dream which might still be viable, with a lot of luck and perhaps unbelievable effort?"

She crossed her legs. "Nobody's stopping you, Charles."

"I used to have a dream--and, to a large extent, I still do--of a world in which there were no evil mutants, or ‘good' mutants. Just mutants, working side by side for the common good, standing together in an alliance among themselves, and with humanity. Even in the early days, when there were only five X-Men and myself, I never stopped trying to negotiate with Magnus. But it seemed impossible. He was wedded to his vision of a totalitarian mutant state. That, he said, would be strong enough to withstand the forces of homo sapientes. He thought it was the only thing worth fighting for.

"Then, just recently, he saw what he stood to lose. He almost killed Kitty. A fourteen-year-old girl. When Ororo caught up to them, he was holding her gently to his chest, apologizing to her, cuddling her as if he were the daughter he lost so long ago, though she was unconscious and could not hear him. He admitted he had been wrong, and told Ororo that if she wished to kill him--and, a short time before, he had been trying to kill her--he would not resist.

"She could have killed him. Perhaps, with a bolt of mental force, I could have killed him. But I probed his mind as best I could, found out that his statements were sincere, and relented. Magneto had his epiphany. If I could turn him to our side, I would. And so, apparently, I have.

"There was a time in which the X-Men, my original five students, came to rescue me and the Banshee when both of us were captive of a group called Factor Three. This group was composed of five ‘evil mutants' directed by a being who called himself the ‘Mutant-Master'. But when the Mutant-Master was revealed as an alien, intent on conquering the human race, all of us united against him, and brought him down. On that day, Unus, the Blob, the Vanisher, and Mastermind fought side by side with the Beast, Cyclops, Iceman, the Angel, Marvel Girl, the Banshee, and myself. I told my students afterward that we must always remember that day, when there were no evil mutants, nor good mutants, just a desperate handful of men united against a common foe--and triumphing."

Carol didn't say anything.

"A short time after that, the fifth of the Factor Three mutants, one named Changeling, came to me and offered his services. He had cancer. He didn't have long to live. So, he asked me if he could do something of worth before he died. I told him yes, that he could be my stand-in while I worked on a plan to repel an alien invasion I foresaw in the near future. He had chameleon powers, and transformed himself into my duplicate. I endowed him with some of my mental abilities, and he, for all intents and purposes, became Professor X--and when he died, at Grotesk's hands, my students mourned him as myself."

And you didn't tell them he wasn't, thought Carol. Not for months.

"The point of this, Carol, is that I have trusted such persons, when they have shown themselves worthy of trust. I have not always been correct--the Blob and his allies returned to crime--but in several important cases, my trust was justified. If I have the chance to turn a brother gone astray towards the light, if I may use religious terms here, then I will take it. And we shall see whether I have acted well, or unwisely. But I have acted wisely, at times. In the cases of Magneto and Rogue, though we disagree on this, I believe I have acted wisely again.

"Coexistence of my kind with humanity is becoming more difficult, Carol. You know that. The existence of antihuman mutants is another goad to convince our enemies that they are right to hate us. We can fight enemy mutants, and we do. But if we can change them, reform them, turn them to the path of good, Carol...then, despite the pain you have suffered at Rogue's hands, and the pain I and my students have suffered at Magneto's, is this not a worthwhile goal?"

Sitting on one leg and dangling the other off the edge of the seat, Carol said, "Only if you reach it, Charles. Those are two very dangerous players you've let onto your team."

"They are," he agreed.

She tented her fingers. "So. What's the point of all this? I still question the hell out of your judgment. You know that. What do you want from me?"

Charles was about to speak, but Lilandra beat him to it.

"He wants you to be his friend," she said. "And I want you to keep being mine, Ca-Rol. We are still in grave jeopardy. The ship is equipped for relatively short-range travel, and life-support. You can charge our batteries, but you cannot conjure up components we do not have.

"It is imperative that we remain a team. But it is our desire that you be a friend, as well as an ally." Lilandra paused. "I am your friend, Ca-Rol. Will you be mine? And Charles's?"

Carol rubbed her brow for several seconds, in contemplation. None of the three broke the silence. Not until Carol said, "Yes, for cripes' sake. But if you try treating me like one of your students, Charles...I'm gonna see how fast your new legs can run when I singe the seat of your pants."

"Thank you, Carol," he said. "Thank you. I have a gift that I'd like to tender, if I might?"

"What? I'm kind of low on Chanel, if you've got any of that."

"No," said Xavier. "I thought that we might continue your therapy sessions. Would that be all right with you? Do me that far?"

She rested her elbows on her knees and her jaw in her hands.

"Dunno," she said. "But it's worth a try."

For the next few months their lives consisted of trying to stay out of the Empire's hands, fighting them off when they couldn't, and trying to get repair parts for the ship. In the battles, Carol unleashed her Binary powers to the fullest, revelled in them, and tried to disable enemy craft rather than send them to Kingdom Come. Unless, of course, they were Brood, in which case she went after them with gusto.

Through all that, during what down time they had, Carol submitted herself to Xavier's probing and, step by step, one memory at a time, progress was made. But the human mind is one of the most complex things in the universe, and there was only so much he could do at a time, or in toto.

Nonetheless, it helped her.

At another time, in which many of the crew were abed, Carol wandered into the mess again and found one other there, sitting at a table with a jug of something potent. Raza Longknife looked up at her.

"Could not sleep," he said, not unpleasantly.

"Guess that makes two of us," she answered, and sat down.

Before the others were up, both of them had exchanged stories. He told of how he had been apprenticed to a smuggler when he was a youth. He also told of how he had had a wife, who had died some years back, of how he had lost an eye and an arm, and of how he became a Starjammer.

It took more than one night session to learn all these things--she still thought of the crew's downtime as "night"--but Raza talked as he was minded to talk, and she kept more rezendevous with him in the mess. They didn't get as far as loving, but the Earthwoman and the alien found they could talk to one another, and listen as well. So Raza and Binary became friends, and both wondered if, sometime, they might be more than friends. But neither yet broached that topic.

And life and swashbuckling went on.

Once, Colossus's little sister, now called Majyk and hanging with the New Mutants, was teleported onto a planet's slave auction block. It was a planet on which the ‘Jammers were landed, trying to do a parts deal. The Starjammers ended up having to save all the team of young mutants from hazards in two parallel universes, a concept that boggled Carol's mind, even though she participated fully in the adventure. Xavier's mind-reading powers helped keep them a step ahead of their pursuers in that incident. At the end of it, he was forced to stay with the Starjammers to save their lives, while the New Mutants were teleported back to Earth. Carol didn't like the idea of children so young being endangered, even if they were mutants. She liked it even less when she learned that one of their number had already died.

Then came the incident in which the ‘Jammers undertook a quest for a power-object called Phalkon, which turned out to be the Phoenix Force, now locked within a woman mutant who was the second Phoenix. Deathbird and her Shi'ar troops wanted control of the Phoenix, and almost got it, and her sister Lilandra as well. The battle allied the Starjammers with X-Factor and Excalibur, two other outgrowth groups derived from the X-Men, and pitted them all against Deathbird, the Shi'ar, and the Imperial Guard. One of those super-powered Guardsmen was an energy-wielder called Zenith. Binary engaged him in battle, and killed him.

She did not know that Zenith had been Raza Longknife's brother.

Nonetheless, the Starjammers had been victorious in that battle, had saved Lilandra and Phoenix, and had even liberated a world from Shi'ar control. During that adventure, Binary began to realize that her powers were on a level far above that of her teammates, and began to wonder whether or not the ‘Jammers were "holding her back" in some way.

Corsair read her attitude correctly, and became concerned. But, for the moment, he said little.

And Raza Longknife ended their "nighttime" meetings. He would not tell Carol why, and that hurt her. But they continued to work together, even though Raza wondered when the sad day would come in which honor would force him to repay Binary in kind for his brother's blood.

He decided to put that off for as long as he could. Raza did not hate her, but was very sick at heart, and channelled the hurt into his warring with Deathbird's legions.

So Carol kept company more with Ch'od and Corsair and sometimes with Hepzibah, who was almost as enigmatic as Raza. Life went on.

Eventually, the ship was repaired, and the Starjammers were once again thrown into conjunction with the X-Men after Deathbird captured the mutant band. Carol wasn't present for that battle, but the teams united against Deathbird, the Imperial Guard, and the Skrulls. In the wake of that episode, Charles Xavier went back to Earth with Lilandra.   Binary rejoined the ‘Jammers, and they soon found themselves involved in the most cosmos-shaking event she had ever experienced.

Lilandra regained control of her empire. This set off the cosmic turf battle between the Shi'ar and the Kree, which became known to the Earthers who were involved in it as, God help them, "Operation Intergalactic Storm." The Starjammers were called into service to help deliver a bomb to a teleportation gate, a Stargate, which would deliver it to a place in which it could be, if necessary, employed against the Kree.

The bomb was a explosive device utilizing anti-matter.  If detonated, it could destroy not only the Kree's homeworld, but a large part of their core empire planets throughout the Magellanic Cloud. It was, she assured Corsair, only meant as a safeguard against Kree incursion. She was certain she would not have to employ it.

Corsair didn't fully buy it. But, reluctantly, the Starjammers agreed to help deliver it.

Carol was glad she wasn't on duty with the team, when she heard of it.

As Binary, she found herself on detached service, encountering Quasar, another Earth hero. He, too, had been an Avenger (she was beginning to think that every hero who wasn't an X-Man had been), and his blue-and-red costume with its star insignia was too close to Mar-Vell's for her liking. She spearheaded a team of Shi'ar heroes who took him on and defeated him in battle, keeping him from interfering with Lilandra's plans. Quasar and some of her unit teleported away in the midst of the fight, and she figured that was the end of it.

In short order, she found out she was utterly wrong.

A Skrull craft had captured the Nega-Bomb and had warped through a Stargate perilously close to Earth's sun. As a side-effect, it created pockets of negative matter which threatened to destroy Sol entirely. Carol was unaware of this. She did, however, receive a transmission from Princess Lil, asking her to retrieve the Nega-Bomb. Binary said, "Thanks a lot," and broke contact, grimly preparing to obey.

So, she reflected, the Skrulls were in on this Kree / Shi'ar turf war, too. It was only to be expected that they'd get their hand into something of this magnitude, especially when they'd been battling the Kree for thousands of years. She had no problem with fighting those green metamorphs, anyway.

As she pushed off of sheer space to pursue the craft, she found someone in her path.

It was a beautiful gold-skinned, blonde-haired woman in a red outfit with gold boots, belt, and wrist-bands.

Binary figured she was another Kree operative, or something. She changed course, certain she could speed past her.

Unfortunately, the golden woman was as quick as Carol, and about as powerful. She grabbed Binary's wrists and telepathed, <I am afraid I cannot let you do that.>

Oh, great, thought Carol. Another interplanetary fruit-loop female warrior. <If your hands aren't off my wrists by the count of three, I'm going to burn you,> sent Carol, figuring her foe could pick up her thoughts. <Badly.>

The woman let go of Carol's left wrist, drew back her fist, and smacked Binary in the jaw.

Carol was surprised to find herself flying backwards. And actually hurting.

But she righted herself within seconds, and was glad for the chance to have somebody she could really open up on. Especially a female.

Binary charged in, blasting and slugging. Her opponent did the same. They grappled in dead space while the ship hauling the Nega-Bomb got further away. Whoever this woman was, she was a worthy opponent, and more than human.

For a second, Carol flashed on how casually she had adapted to this spacefaring scene. Not many years ago, she had been an Earthbound, nonpowered, normal woman, looking up at the stars and wondering what it would be like to travel out there. Now, as a matter of course, she treated space as a battlefield.

The gold woman gave her a smart clout on the cheek. Carol snapped back to reality and prepared to give her a white-hole haymaker.

That was when she saw a gold partition form in space between them, which quickly became a padded barrier, like a mattress.

Both she and her foe turned to see Quasar heading towards them, clad in a golden aura to protect him from the void. He looked put-out, and he sent them a message on a communications band they could both receive.

"What's the story here, Binary? Tell me the truth or I'll bubble you up again."

Carol snapped, "I was going after the Nega-Bomb. Empress Lilandra sent me to retrieve it. Then this orange bimbo tackled me as I was about to enter the Shi'ar Stargate."

"Who are you calling a bimbo?" raged her opponent, and raised a fist to strike again.

"Chill out, Her," commanded Quasar. "The bomb isn't here anymore, Binary. It went through the other Stargate."

"And you didn't stop it?" asked Carol.

"I had something more important to worry about--Earth's sun is in its death throes."


"Go on," said Quasar. "Be my guest. Go prevent the Skrulls from detonating the Nega-Bomb. If--I mean when--I solve the problem here, I'll join you. Come here, Her." The gold woman flew to Quasar's side, and both of them phased through the Stargate, headed for Sol.

Carol stood there, as much as anyone can stand in space, for a very short time. She weighed the sun, and the Nega-Bomb, in the scale of her conscience.

When you added Joe and Marie Danvers to the equation, it tipped the scales even more nicely.

She streaked off through the Stargate and was teleported to the proximity space around Sol. Before her was the gold woman Quasar had called Her, and some odd floating being that looked like a tree stump with a girl's face embedded in it.

"Where's Quasar?" demanded Binary.

The tree-stump answered. "The sun," it said.

"Duh," replied Carol, and blasted away for the star in question.

She exerted her white-hole power to an incredible degree, attuning herself to the rhythms of Sol before her, and found herself able to mentally image it as if she were giving the star a catscan. There were pockets of anti-matter within it, growing malignantly like cancers. If not excised, they would destroy the sun within a terribly short time.

She also sensed Quasar within it, shielded by his Kree nega-bands, having opened a warp into quantum space. The Avenger was trying to gather the contramatter and push it through the warp, leaving the sun cleansed. But he just didn't have the power. Not quite.

Binary drew upon the power of thousands of such stars, becoming the nexus of a solar network, a receiving set for their great transmissions. It was power beyond imagining. She struggled to keep her body corporeal, to keep her psyche and physical self from overloading and disintegrating. It had to be done.

The sun's light at this distance had never been measured in foot-candles. She was a bit busy to worry about such things now. She knew that its surface, the photosphere, was over 200 miles thick and was around 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. But Quasar was below that, in the convection zone, where the temperature reached 2,000,000 degrees and its density was only one-tenth that of water.

She knew these things academically. Now, blazing like a sun goddess herself, she knew them physically, diving into the sun as if leaping off a high board into a deep-ended swimming pool.

Sight was useless here. She sensed heat, light, radiation, electromagnetism, gravity, all the other factors.

She was within the sun.

She recalled, for a second, her pride and jealousy when Neil Armstrong had left a footprint on the Moon. No camera could or would record her topping of that feat. Well, what the hell, Quasar got there first, anyway.

She reached out with her transmitted power, stretching the white hole from which she took her power to its highest limits.

Quasar, at the center of a small vortex, suddenly perceived a much greater vortex, and registered the being responsible, even though he knew not who it was.

Binary felt pain.

Anti-matter was spiralling from out of the sun's convection and radiation zones (Carol thanked God it hadn't gotten into the core yet) and was coruscating through the aperture into quantum space, where it would lie harmless. The pain increased, and Carol wondered how long she could endure, and knew that she had no choice but to do so.

She recalled the tales the Avengers had told her of their great triumphs in days past. How Rick Jones had been empowered by the Supreme Intelligence to freeze armadas of Kree and Skrull ships in their tracks. How the Scarlet Witch had saved the world from Dormammu's dominion by unleashing a hex that converted him into energy, rammed him through Loki's being, and drove the Norse god mad. How, when Thanos had converted himself into the very being of the universe, the first Captain Marvel had smashed the Cosmic Cube from which he drew his power and rendered him mortal again. How that same Captain Marvel and Adam Warlock, who died in the process, had saved Earth from destruction by Thanos, and turned the villain into a stone statue.

Thanos had intended to destroy this very star surrounding her.

She clenched her teeth and exerted more power.

And finally...

...finally... was over.

How it was that she was still conscious, if only just barely, she knew not. But she knew two other things. One was that she didn't have strength enough to close the white hole through which she had pushed the last of the anti-matter, but that it would close of its own accord when she lost consciousness and was consumed. That would not, she guessed, be more than a minute away.

The other was that Quasar had taken hold of her, and was covering her in a protective aura.

Somehow, she sensed that he was rocketing the both of them out of the sun's embrace. He may even have been drawing upon her own power to do it.

As she lost consciousness, and as the white hole closed, she wondered who she would see in Heaven.

It turned out to be Jarvis.

He, Quasar, and a blonde doctor were looking down on her. "Mistress Carol?" said the butler, in his borrowed English accent. "Mistress Carol, are you awake?"

"Yes," she said, with a tremendous effort.

"The sun is safe, Mistress Carol," he said. Jarvis drew Quasar closer to her. "Master Quasar saved you, in turn."

"Good," she said.

And she closed her eyes and dropped back into a black hole of sleep.


Continued in Chapter 8.


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