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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.

Okay, here's the latest. Hope you enjoy it.

One morning, Carol Danvers woke up and saw Captain America sitting at her bedside.

"Hi, Carol," said Cap, resplendent in the famed red, white, and blue, his shield propped against the wall of the infirmary room. "I've been waiting a while to talk to you. How do you feel?"

She looked at him. His face registered some pain, some weariness. Cap had been carrying baggage like this ever since the days of World War II, she knew. But his mien and bearing indicated that he'd received a fresh load of horror.

She figured there was a lot she hadn't been told yet about Galactic Storm.

"I'm fine, Cap," she said, evenly. "I'm hungry. Still a little weak. You up for breakfast?"

"I've already eaten. I'll take a little coffee, though." He hesitated. "Got a few things to talk to you about, Carol. You want to eat first?"

"I'll eat. We can talk, but I'm hungry as hell."

Helpfully, Cap pulled the intercom cord by Carol's hospital bed. After a soft chime, the voice of Marilla, their Inhuman cook, was heard. "Good mornin', Little Miss Sun-Saver. What'll ye be eatin' for a first meal? Another one of these unpalatable God-save-us-from-it human breakfasts?"

"Toast, eggs, coffee, sausage, Mar," said Carol. "Coffee for Cap, here. And we both know how well you cook ‘human' meals, so quit ribbing me. That's all."

"Indeed all," said Marilla, and rang off.

Captain America searched for words and phrases, and Carol waited on him.

Finally, he said, "I would like to apologize for my--insensitivity--during the Marcus affair. I didn't know you were being manipulated. I did not understand how you felt. I know this is a small sop, Carol, but it's the best I can do at this time. I don't know what else to say."

Carol shook her head. "Cap, Cap. Do you know how stupid that all sounds? Look. I appreciate your apology. But there are things that you can't put back together again. You just leave the wreckage and move on." She sighed. "I've had to do that a lot of times."

"Wreckage," muttered Cap. "Yes, there's been a lot of that."

She said, "I don't hate you, Cap. It's just hard for me to trust you all as fully as I once would have. But if you want to be friends--" She shrugged, and looked away from him. "I just need somebody who won't sell me out. Because there's been an awful lot of that in my life."

Cap looked at her. "Do you really hate the time you spent in the Avengers, Carol?"

"Being in the Avengers, for most of it, was like being a bushleague ballplayer and then being tapped for the majors. Yeah, I liked it. I enjoyed those talks I had with you and Wanda, especially, and I liked being part of the team. That's why what came later hurt so much."

He said, "We didn't know what was going on. But, as you pointed out, we should have. I'm hardly perfect." He hesitated. "As has been recently demonstrated."

"What's going on, Cap? Why did you really come here?"

Cap said, "Let's save that till after breakfast, okay? You can tell me about saving the sun while you're eating."

Marilla turned up with the breakfast shortly afterward, and Carol Danvers told Captain America what it was like to swim in the sun. When she finished the meal, she said, "All right. Tell me what you wanted to talk about."

Cap sipped his coffee and focused on something a long time in the past, something that had happened only a few days ago, and the comparisons between them.

"You're not the only person with wreckage, Carol," he said. "In my personal life, there's been Bucky, Carol, Roscoe, a lot of others. A lot of G.I.'s, American and otherwise. I knew some of their names when they died. Most of them I never knew. But I saw them die. I also caused quite a few deaths, personally, on the other side. I killed a lot of people, Carol. A lot of people."

She said, "You were a soldier, Cap."

"Yes," he said. "We were all soldiers. I do not regret what I did. I regret that I had to do it. But I'm not a hypocrite, Carol. I knew what I was fighting for, and what I was fighting against. Given the situation again, put back there, I would do just what I did, again. Do you understand?"

Carol shifted in the bed. "You're not the only person in this room with blood on his hands, Cap. Or her hands. A long time ago, before I ever put on a funny suit, I was a CIA op. I did what I had to do. One of those things was doing a button woman from the other side. She'd killed 23 of our people, and I was supposed to be number 24. I don't regret shooting her."

"I wouldn't expect you to," said Cap, quietly.

"I threw up after that one," said Carol. "But I waited till I was in private to do it. Colonel Fury watched me, to make sure I wasn't going to wash out. I didn't wash out, Cap. I was a good agent." She paused. "More recently, I was in a war. When I had to, I blew up manned battlecraft in space. I also had to kill one of the Imperial Guard. For some reason, Raza started acting cooler towards me after that. And he's killed more people, probably, than either of us."

"You also saved more people than all three of us have killed," said Cap. "You were the only one of us who could have saved the sun. Even Quasar couldn't do it."

"Thanks," she said. "Where is he, by the way? I wanted to see him again. I haven't seen him since that time I opened my eyes and found myself here, instead of inside the sun."

Cap's jaw tightened. "He's taken a leave of abscence. That's part of what I wanted to tell you about, Carol. They haven't told you how Operation Galactic Storm ended. I instructed them not to. I think you're strong enough to hear it, now...and I think I'm able to talk about it."

So he did.

He spoke of how the Nega-Bomb had been detonated in Kree space, destroying their homeworld and many other planets in their system. He told her how 98 percent of the Kree had died, and the percentage that was left living was mutated by the bomb's radiation, boosted past the Kree's former evolutionary dead end. He related how the Shi'ar, ruled once again by Lilandra, had annexed what remained of the Kree and their empire, how a repentant Deathbird had been made regent over the Kree, and how the Skrulls had been involved in the operation as agents provocateur.

All of this he spoke in clipped tones, keeping his emotions in check. All of this Carol heard, in growing horror, and said nothing.

Finally, he told her of the greatest horror, at least in his estimation. It was discovered that the entire war had been manipulated into being by the Kree Supreme Intelligence, that construct of hundreds of thousands of dead Kree leaders, warriors, and intellectuals, all for the purpose of jump-starting Kree evolution. Regardless of the fact that so many billions had had to die in the Nega-Bomb's holocaust. Captain Atlas, one of the Kree's greatest warriors, had committed suicide on learning of the plot, and his partner Dr. Minerva had died with him.

The greatest horror, to Cap, was what followed.

There was dissent among the Avengers as to what should be done with the Supreme Intelligence. Iron Man led a faction which favored destroying the adversary, arguing that he was only a computer construct, not a living being, and that, if allowed to exist, he would undoubtedly plot further horrors to eclipse even the decimation of the Kree. Captain America was the nexus of a group who believed that the Intelligence might be considered a living being, and, as such, should not be killed out of hand but given a trial as a war criminal.

Iron Man's side prevailed. The enemy was sought out by his band and, to the best of their knowledge, destroyed.

"My God," said Carol.

Neither of them held any brief for the Supreme Intelligence. It was Iron Man's actions which awed her.

She knew that the great conflict had pushed him to the edge. But she had not known how he had stepped over.

Finally, Cap said, "I'm thinking of stepping out, Carol. This new age seems to be an age for killers--the Punisher, Wolverine, U.S. Agent.  I've only killed one person in recent times. Flag-Smasher manipulated me into it. I didn't like it. I'm not a killer anymore."

Carol sighed. Then she said, "But that's just why they do need you, Cap. To keep them from going down that slope anymore. I don't think we feel the same way about killing...but I won't do it unless there's no other way. I agree, I don't think the Avengers should become killers. You may be the only guy that can make sure they don't."

Cap leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. "They weren't killing a man, and they were killing a killer. But I'm more worried that they might come to see this as a solution. Super-villains outnumber super-heroes by at least a 3/1 ratio, Carol. But guys like the Punisher never seem to have trouble with repeat offenders."

"Guys like the Punisher end up hunted down as murderers," said Carol. "I don't want that to happen to the Avengers."

He looked at her. "Then you care that much about the team?"

Carol thought before she answered. Then she looked straight at him and said, "Yes. I may not be in love with the Avengers, for what I've gone through...but they mean something. To themselves, and to the whole world. They're important. Maybe as a symbol of what super-heroes can be, and how the public can trust them. Not like they do the X-Men."

Cap said, "I've never understood that. The people trust the Avengers and the Fantastic Four because we got our powers, by and large, from outside sources, in adulthood. The X-Men had their powers since birth, and people are afraid of them. Does waiting twenty years to get powers make that much of a difference?"

"I don't know. Maybe it's like being gay. If I knew any mutants when I was growing up, they stayed in the closet. Cap?"

He looked at her.

"Why the hell is it that everybody wants to talk to me?"

She looked genuinely puzzled. He chuckled.

"Don't know. Maybe you're a good listener. And maybe they like you. I know I do."

"Thanks, Cap." She held out her hand. "I appreciate that."

He shook her hand. Then, still holding it, he asked, "Will you stay with the Avengers? Or are you going back with the Starjammers?"

She said, "I'll be staying with you while I'm recouping. When Corsair and the rest get here, I imagine I'll be leaving with them, if they're staying together after all this. What about you?"

"I haven't decided yet." Then he released her hand, and picked something out of the cuff of his left glove. "But you're going to need this. I had it made up special for you last night." He dropped it on the bedclothes over her lap.

An Avengers ID card. With her picture on it.

"Thank you," she said.

"You're welcome, Carol. Get better for us, okay?"

"I'll certainly try, Cap. And--"


"If this is the last time we see each other before I go...have a good life, okay?"

"You too, Carol," he said, and kissed her forehead. Then he left.

She reflected that, outside of Iron Man, he hadn't told her who had been in the killer faction.

And she was just as glad he hadn't done that.

Carol looked at the Avengers card, held it between her thumb and forefinger. She knew just what use she'd put it to first.

She reached for the phone, dialed a long-distance number with an "0" first, and said to the operator, "I want this call billed to AV-18872." It was.

A few seconds later, she said, "Hello, Mom?"

As it turned out, Captain America didn't leave, but he did take a leave of abscence, and he and Iron Man tried to mend fences. At Iron Man's urging, he stayed with the group.

The ones left on active duty, Carol noted, were not the Avengers who had participated in the Marcus Immortus incident. The new crew included the Black Knight, Crystal of the Inhumans, Hercules, a brand-new Thor, the Black Widow, and a strangely altered Vision. Of course, Vizh had been one of the Avengers on duty during the Marcus thing, but since then he had been disassembled and put back together by government agents and had lost a large chunk of his emotional empathy. It made her feel for him, and for Wanda, who had ceased being his wife because of it. But her closest bond was with the Black Widow, who had also been a spy in her early days, albeit for the Other Side. Natasha enjoyed Carol's presence, too. And all of them regarded her as a topline heroine for saving Sol.

She was out of bed within a week. Shortly after that, the Widow told her, "We've got a special meeting this afternoon, Carol. Be there."

"Sure," she'd said, looking up from a Clive Cussler novel. "What's it about?"

"Guests," said Natasha. "Wear shoes."

The guests proved to be Crystal's hubby Quicksilver, Cyclops of X-Factor, and Professor Xavier.

Xavier was in some sort of high-tech mobile chair, with Cyke riding shotgun. She guessed that he'd suffered some mishap that had crippled him again. Despite her wariness, she felt sorry for him. They both shook hands with her before the meeting. "I've heard you served well during the Kree/Shi'ar War, Carol," said Charles. "Congratulations."

"Thanks," said Carol, and left it at that.

"Sorry we missed out on the action," offered Cyclops.

She looked at him dully. "You shouldn't be. Believe it."

Quicksilver took his place with the Avengers and Xavier briefed them all. Magneto had turned evil again. Carol looked hard at him when he said that, but he avoided her gaze. The X-Men had just had a major altercation with Magneto, and with a group of mutants called the Acolytes, who virtually worshipped him.

Well, thought Carol, why the hell not? Charles was dumb enough to take him in, why shouldn't they be dumb enough to make him their god?

The Widow noted her sour expression, but didn't press her about it.

There were some survivors among the Acolytes, even more fervent in their devotion to Magneto. Quicksilver was Magneto's son. He had married Crystal, an Inhuman, and fathered a daughter by her, Luna. The babe, Magneto's granddaughter, was human. Merely that, and nothing more.

Quicksilver said that Luna's humanity might be seen by the Acolytes as a blot on Magneto's legend, "an embarrassment that some would like removed."

Cyclops replied, "Pietro, it's a possibility we can't ignore. I'm sorry."

So Quicksilver and Crystal, the latter holding Luna safe in her arms, went off to discuss matters--Carol had heard of the trouble they had endured in their marriage, and of how Quicksilver had once become the Avengers' bitter enemy, but he seemed to be getting his stuff together now--and the meeting had generally broken up. Xavier had rolled over to where Carol was seated.

"At least there is one bright spot to this day," he said, giving away little emotion. "I hear you're fully recovered, Binary."

So it was Binary now, instead of Carol. Well, if that was how he wanted to play it...

"Charles," she said, "there are things you should know about--"

"Lilandra," he said. "I sense her in your thoughts. Come, let us speak in private."

They went to a private room and the first words out of Carol's mouth were, "Stay out of my damned head unless I invite you, Charles."

Smoothly, Xavier said, "I apologize, Carol. Recent events have proven somewhat taxing for me, as you may have noted." He gestured to the mobile-chair which enveloped his body from the waist down.

Despite herself, she softened. "How did it happen?"

"An altercation. With the Shadow King and a being called Legion. Now. What of Lilandra?"

She sat in a chair across from him and told him all that she knew of the Kree / Shi'ar War. She had learned more of it since speaking with Cap. By the end, Xavier was looking grim indeed.

"So, who do you blame the Nega-Bomb on?" said Carol. "The Shi'ar, for having it? The Skrulls, for stealing it and putting it in place? Simon and Vizh, for accidentally setting it off, accidentally killing all those people? Hell, you could probably make a case for blaming the Kree. Especially the Supreme Intelligence." She sighed, and shook her head. "You can blame everyone. That's just as easy as blaming no one."

After a second, Xavier asked, "There is still Kree in your makeup, Carol. Do you hate that part of you that is Kree?"

"Hell, no. The Kree were more victim of this thing than anybody. I might as well hate the part of me that's Irish, or French, or whatever else I've got in my genes." She did a short, bitter laugh. "I think I've even got a little American Indian in me, Charles. Know from what tribe?"


"The Cree."

He didn't laugh.

"As for Queen Lil...she's busy running two empires, now. The Shi'ar, and what's left of the Kree, and all their worlds and mineral holdings and such. I have a feeling the Skrulls are going to be making trouble for her any day now. They're probably doing it right now. They're the main competitors, now. Deathbird is viceroy over the Kree worlds, with what's left of that team of Kree heroes to watch over her. That's it, Charles. That's all I know."

After a brief pause, Xavier said, "Thank you, Carol. Once again, congratulations for saving our sun."

She shrugged, and hugged her knees. "She didn't give us any message for you that I know of."

He nodded. "Perhaps it would be best to leave her to her duties, at present. They are--bound to be onerous."

Carol looked at him, and didn't need to read his mind to see his sadness.

"I'm sorry you got your legs injured, Charles."

He nodded. "I've never quite believed that famous quote from Nietsche, the one about whatever that doesn't kill us making us stronger. But at least whatever it is hasn't killed either of us yet, has it, Carol? I suppose, at this point, that's all we can hope for."

She was struck by an urge to hold him, to empathize with his pain, and hope that he would empathize with hers. Despite all that had come between them (or, perhaps, because of it), that was what she wanted to do most of all, at that moment.

But she only sat there, with brimming eyes, and could not speak, and did not move towards him.

Xavier sighed, and said, "Carol," and meant to say something after it.

But that was when they heard a tremendous sound that seemed to come from above them. It sounded, to both of them, like the landing system of a starcraft they had both been upon. One very specific starcraft.

Carol stood up quickly and said, "Think we've got company, Charles."

The Starjammers had come for a visit, at Raza's and Hepzibah's insistence, and it turned into a horror.

Carol had switched to her Binary costume and joined the other Avengers, and, at first, all were glad to see Corsair and company. Especially Scott, who got into a father-and-son talk with his dad very quickly. Jarvis had whipped up some refreshments for all concerned, and a party of sorts was thrown. She was glad to see the ‘Jammers, and they appeared glad to see her.

All but one of their number: Raza. She soon found out what that was all about.

Raza sought out the Black Knight, Dane Whitman, when the latter was alone in the Quinjet hangar, and tried to kill him. Dane, astonished, unleashed his energy-blade and fought back. But Marilla, all unknowing, burst in, holding little Luna to her breast, and Raza grabbed the girl and threatened to kill her. It was a bluff, he admitted later, but he only admitted it after he ran the Knight through with his sword.

Ch'od soon appeared, stood up for his teammate, helped stand off the Avengers, and escaped with Raza into the night. The Avengers and Starjammers--all save Hepzibah--were aghast. Dane's life was saved by Sikorsky and an Inhuman healer from Attilan. Thor, new arrival Sersi, Hercules, and the Vision had tracked down Raza and Ch'od and defeated them. But Binary and Corsair arrived seconds later and halted the fight.

Raza was disarmed, literally--his cybernetic limb had been shattered against the Vision's diamond-hard body--and Carol went to his side. He was in anguish, and looked it, and looked anything but the picture of a hardened killer. So she talked to him, the way she had in all those late-night sessions aboard the Starjammer ship, both of them on their knees in the rain in the middle of a Manhattan alley, with the other heroes standing guard at the alley's mouth.

He told her that he was not worthy of life, and she wouldn't accept that. He asked her to go, and she wouldn't.

Finally, he admitted the truth.

He had fathered a son named Rion, many years ago, who had been taken from him and dragged into the slave pits of D'Ken Neramani, Lilandra's foul brother. Just days ago, a Kree had secretly contacted Raza and Hepzibah, gave to Raza a medallion the ‘Jammer had given to his son, long ago, and made a devil's bargain with him. Kill the Black Knight, who had killed the Supreme Intelligence, and his son would be returned to him.

Carol took the medallion from Raza, bade him forgive her, and crushed it in her hand.

Reacting without thought, Raza slammed her against the alley wall and put a knife to her throat. Thor and Hercules whipped in their direction. Binary called out for them to stop. She could melt the knife, anyway, if it came to that.

She hoped.

Carol told Raza that the medallion was a memory implant device, designed by the Kree. The Kree portion of her recognized it, and knew that it was used by the Kree Empire to make subjects more obidient to their iron will. That, she said, was what she was going to tell the Avengers.

After a few seconds, Raza dropped the knife.

He went back to his knees, and if all the wet on his face was not from the rain, few could tell.

Carol went on her knees before him, held him, and said that the Shi'ar slave pits which he had been entrapped in were horrific places indeed. She told him that what the Kree did to him was evil, unforgiveable, and irredeemable. She told him, and the Avengers and ‘Jammers who were listening, that the Kree, through their memory inducer, were solely responsible for what had happened that night.

She also said that she was a friend, and that the Avengers would listen to her, because she was an Avenger as much as she was a Starjammer. She said she would do anything for those teams. Even die for them.

And in a voice only Raza heard, she said, "Dear Lord, I'd even lie."

Raza said nothing.

After a few seconds, Thor said, "All right, let's go."

On the way to the mansion, nobody made conversation.

When the small party arrived, they found good news. Dane Whitman had pulled through, and would recover fully, thanks to the combination of Shi'ar and Inhuman medical treatments.

Incredibly enough, Dane even was reconciled to Raza, once he learned of the Kree memory inducer. Raza apologized abjectly, and warned him that the Kree would never forgive the Avengers for what they had done, and especially they would not forgive the Black Knight.

Corsair made an apology on behalf of the group, and convinced the Avengers that the other ‘Jammers had had no knowledge of Raza's purpose. The Earth heroes seemed to accept it, though they said little in response.

Finally, it came down to Carol again. Corsair asked if she wanted to return to the Starjammers. The Black Widow offered her the chance to continue as an Avenger. She replied, "Thank you both. But I think it's time Carol Danvers gave up the stars and went home to visit her parents. And rediscover her roots."

"Okay, then," said Natasha. "But it's been great having you. And remember--don't lose that Avengers I.D. card. You never know when it'll get you in a movie."

Carol chuckled.

Corsair stepped closer to her. "Carol, there are no adequate words for such a moment. There will always be a place for you on the Starjammer ship. There will always be room for you among the Starjammers. And, between all of us--there will always be friendship."

He shook her hand. "Thank you, Corsair," she said. And she shook hands with all of the other ‘Jammers too, big Ch'od, the now somewhat sinister Hepzibah, little Cr'reee.

Last of all, there was Raza.

He stepped up. She clasped hands with him in a strong grip, both of them grasping each other's wrist, rather than the hand. He did not look up at her for several seconds.

When he finally did, he said, "Carol. There was a matter which--put some distance between us for a time. Suffice it to say--the debt of honor is repaid. No more shall be said. Thank you, my friend."

She said, "Thank you, my friend Raza," and, wisely, said no more.

The Starjammers filed into their shuttlecraft, lifted off from the roof, and soon docked with their orbiting ship. Within minutes after that, they had left Earthspace.

Binary looked after it for a long time.

Only she and Raza, and perhaps Hepzibah, knew that there had been no memory inducer at all. That she had lied, to give Raza an out, and that the lie had been bought, so that he might find his son someday.

She doubted that she would rejoin the Starjammers again.

Like the Avengers and the X-Men before them, they had shown her that super-teams, at best, are little more than dysfunctional families.


Continued in Chapter 9.


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