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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.

Joe and Marie Danvers were used to unexpected visits from their daughter by now. This time, at least, she'd given them a call beforehand and showed up with luggage. Both of them hugged Carol and were very glad that, after her mysterious experiences, she'd returned with no apparent damage. She was still a little hazy on memories, but both of them accepted that by now.

The main thing was that, for a little while, Carol was home.

When they asked, cautiously, about her business, Carol said that she wasn't working with her old crew. But she emphasized that the two gentlemen who had come there and helped her move were still friends. Joe wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not. But he didn't press it.

For her part, Carol was glad to be back, helping around the house, going with Joe to work for a couple of days at his construction business, sitting around and reading and, occasionally, writing. Her royalty checks from the books she had already written were routinely deposited in an account which, she was glad to discover, was fairly fat by now. Since she hadn't spent any money while working with the Starjammers, it could hardly help but be.

The Avengers' accountant had been instructed to pay her income taxes and had been given power to do so from her account before she had left. Thus, no problem with Uncle Sam.

Joe had sat down with her one evening and said, "Carol, what's in the cards for you right now? What are you going to do for a living?"

She replied, "I'm going to write, Dad. I'll be gettng an apartment near the City pretty soon, I imagine. Don't want to sponge off you and Mom too much longer."

"You ain't spongin'," Joe said. "We love having ya. Plus, you got enough money that you can live just about anywhere, am I right?"

She nodded.

"I was talkin' more about what you're gonna do for a career. If you can get back to writing, great. You've got enough experiences with, y'know, the Company to probably write five books about 'em."

Carol said, "If I did, they'd have to be fiction, Dad. There's lots of things about the Company you just can't talk about. Unless you're Philip Agee, that is."

Her face darkened. "That book put more people in danger than you can imagine. Messing with the secret stuff that's supposed to remain secret--people can die."

Joe nodded, soberly.

"If I write about the company, and I may do it, it'll be fiction," she said. "And nobody's going to get assassinated because of what I write."

"Except maybe you," said Joe.

Carol shook her head. "No. I've made enemies because of what I've done, not because of what I've written."

"What have you done, Carol?"

She said, "Whatever I had to, Dad. Let's leave it there, okay?"

After a long pause, he said, "Okay."

Later, Carol was sitting in the kitchen, alone with her mother, who was doing the dishes. "Well, how does it feel to come home after you've saved the universe?" asked Marie, scrubbing the remains of dinner out of a stainless steel pot.

Carol, sitting with her hands clasped between her thighs, said, "It feels great, Mom. It's probably the best part of saving the universe. But let's not talk too loudly, okay? Dad already knows we're talking behind his back."

"So maybe you should talk to him behind my back and equal things up. Tell me exactly what you did, Carol. The papers didn't say a whole lot about what you did specifically."

"That's because the government doesn't want every Joe Schmoe out there to know exactly how endangered the Earth gets sometimes," said Carol, stretching back in the kitchen chair. "Just us super-heroes know, most of the time."

"They say you fought aliens, in some kind of space war," said Marie, plunging the pot into rinsewater. "What were they like?"

Carol said, "I find it kind of incongruous to be sitting in your kitchen and talking about space warfare, Mom. Anyway, I didn't get that involved in the battle aspect of it. I had a fight with some gold floozy in space, we got things straightened out, and then I did the big part of the job."

"Which was?" Marie craned her head to see Carol's face.

"Which was, Mom, something to do with the sun. Let's leave it there, okay?"

Marie turned all the way around, in awe. "You did something with the sun? Baby, how could you do that? I mean, if you go out even without sunblock in the summer, you start peeling."

Carol put one hand to her face and laughed, loudly and long. "Oh, Mom. I love you, you give me such perspective. There I was, running around in space with a crew where me and Corsair were the only two from Earth, here you are, getting the dishes cleaned. I think I'd take your job anyday."

Marie started to undo her apron. "No, that's okay, that's okay, Mom," said Carol. "I'll let you do that stuff, you're so much better than I am at it."

Her mother smiled. "And I guess you're better at saving the universe," she said.

"Just the solar system, Mom. I haven't worked my way up to saving the universe yet."

"Well, I want you to know that I am very proud of you, Carol. Also, that I am very sad that I can't let anyone else know that I've got a daughter who saved the sun, and runs around with the Avengers and all those things." Marie sopped her hands on the apron. "Are you ever going to come back to Earth to stay? For good?"

Carol shook her head. "I don't know. I'm going to stay on-planet for awhile, at least, 'cause I want to write another book. My agent practically jumped through the phone line at me when I called her. I think if she could've faxed herself here, she would've. She said, 'When are you gonna write another book? The publishers've been hollering at me for another book for the past year!' So I told her I'd sit down and write another book, and she asked me what it was going to be about. I told her, 'Fiction. That way, maybe somebody will believe it.'"

Marie stood before her daughter, waiting for the rest of the story.

"But I won't be able to stay here forever, I don't think, Mom. Binary--she's--I'm what the guys in the business call a 'cosmic being'. I tap into the cores of stars for power, for cripes' sake. I can fly at hyperlight speed through space without even a pressure suit. I can't stay away from that forever, Mom. Honestly, I can't even stay away from it for long."

"I had a hunch," said Marie, sadly. "But you will be with us for awhile, won't you?"

"Like I said, Mom, I'm going to write a book. So I'll have to stay here long enough to write it. I plan to keep Earth as a base. But..." She shrugged. "How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm, after they've seen the Kree?"

"What are the Kree like?"

"Like us, but they come in blue and pink."


On another occasion, she assumed her Binary identity again to ally herself with a large number of "cosmic" heroes against some spacefaring villains called the Starblasters. The 'Blasters had kidnapped Uatu, the Watcher, which meant that they were not light on the power scale. She met Hyperion in that case, re-met Quasar, and had to fight a mind-controlled Captain Marvel, the one they called Photon now. She ended up helping several others capsize an engine that was intended to push Earth's moon out of orbit. Since she had saved the sun some months earlier, she figured it was a bookend experience to the earlier one.

Carol had rented herself an apartment in Buffalo and just gotten set up when the call came. It was from Cyclops. He was asking for help, but not in a battle. Peter Corbeau, her old friend, needed some help in replenishing Starcore's power supply. With some help from her and Bishop (he didn't explain who Bishop was), they could do the job properly inside of a day. He hoped.

"Scott," she said, "you know how my luck runs every time I get involved with your kind of people."

He answered, "Please, Carol. For Corbeau, if not for me. We need that observatory. It's our DEW line against space attack."

"All right," she said. "Dammit."

She hung up and called herself several uncomplimentary names, then worked on her manuscript till the end of the day.

The next morning she drove to Westchester County to the familiar mansion on Greymalkin Lane. It still looked elegant, but her trained eye caught the spots where damaged walls and roofing had been repaired and the lawn resurfaced. It was a miracle that they could keep it in a consistent shape after all the battles that place had seen.

She parked her rented Saab in the driveway and walked to the door. Carol, dressed in a blue vest, white blouse, blue skirt, and white sandals, wondered idly what grouping of mutants would be present. Was Cyke still in X-Factor, or had he come back to the X-Men? Would she get to see some of the New Mutant kids? After their last encounter, she hoped they were still doing all right. God knew superheroing was tough enough on adults.

Cyclops and Beast met her at the door. Well, not quite at it. Hank had yelled, "Carol!", bounded through the open doorway, and leaped over her four separate times from different directions, like a puppy seeing its master after a long abscence. Carol smiled. "Stop showing off, Hank, we know you can jump! But thanks."

The blue-furred mutant touched down in front of her, hugged her with both arms and lifted her off the ground, while she strove to keep a hold on the handle of her grip. "Extremely good to see you, Miss Danvers. I would have composed an operetta on the spot in your honor from my joy, but my brain is so boggled at the moment that all I can remember is a few ditties from H.M.S. Pinafore. Shall I treat you?"

"Put me down, and you shall not!" she screamed, laughing. "Hank, Hank, for Pete's sake, everything's fine between us, okay? Okay?"

He looked at her, said, "Okay," and opened his arms. She made a three-point landing.

"Hank, enough clowning," said Cyke, the way he used to do when there were only five of them. "Carol, good to see you, definitely. Come on in, and let me introduce you to our new member."

She picked herself off the grass, the Beast holding her grip out to her by the toes of one foot. (He was standing on his head.) "New member?" she said. "That would be this Bishop, right?"

"That's him," said Scott. She took the suitcase and walked to the door, the Beast cartwheeling beside her.

"Is he a Catholic, or just a great chessplayer?"

"Are you a super-heroine, or a great comedienne?" he replied.

"Point to you," she said, and bussed him on the cheek.

There were only a few of them sitting around the living room, iced tea glasses in hand, in their civvies. A huge black guy sat in a large armchair, facing her as she stepped inside. He stood up, graciously, and extended a hand. "You must be Binary," he said. "My name is Bishop. I am from the future. We will be working together on this operation, I believe."

Carol said, "Thanks, nice to meet you," and extended her hand. As she stepped into the room proper, she saw Jean Grey, all red hair and green clothes, stepping up to give her a hug. "Welcome back, Carol, even though it hasn't been all that long."

"Only a few months," said Carol, hugging Jean with one arm and shaking Bishop's hand with her other. Then both Bishop and Jean felt her stiffen.

She had caught sight of the other person in the room.

Sitting in a rattan chair, in a green and yellow uniform and brown jacket, was the one X-Man she was sure Scott would have had sense enough to leave off of this team.

"Hello, Carol," said Rogue, meekly.

Carol relinquished her hold on Bishop and Jean and, not saying a word, turned and began walking out the door again.

"Carol, wait," said Cyclops. "Let me explain. She's not like she was before, when she--"

"Go to hell, Mr. Summers," said Carol, as she opened the door and walked through it.

She hadn't gotten five paces outside it when a roar of energy flooded past her, landed in front of her, and resolved itself into a human form. Jean Grey, the Phoenix, was blocking her way. "Carol, please hear us out," she said.

"I heard you out when Xavier took that bitch on this team," she said. "I heard enough then. I thought that you would have enough brains to, of all people, keep her off anything I was involved in--"

"We need her, Carol, she's part of the team!" Jean was blocking her way to the car. "We need you both. Please, just calm down and let me talk to you for five minutes."

"No." Carol stepped forward.

Jean turned into Phoenix, and still stood between her and the car.

Carol set her suitcase down, and, in a burst of flame, became Binary.

"You really want to match powers?" said Carol, softly. "If you do, step away from my car. I don't want it turned into a puddle. It's a rental."

Jean said, "If I tussle around with you awhile, will you agree to hear us out? We need you badly for this operation. Bishop can't generate power, only channel it."

"Channel this," said Carol, and raised her hand, about to knock Phoenix out of the way with a starbolt.

"No, Carol!"

She turned her head.

The others were out of the building already. But Rogue was in the lead, and she was the one who had spoken.

The thief of her powers and memory stood before her as she turned. Rogue wasn't looking belligerent, but she wasn't backing down, either. The others waited, and listened.

"If you've got a hassle with me, take it up with me," said Rogue. "Ah'll admit, Ah'm the problem. But don't take it out on them. And for god's sake, let me try'n explain!"

"Good," said Carol gutterally. "You explain why you beat me almost to death, stole my powers and my memories and damn near my life. Go ahead and explain that, you bitch!"

"Carol," Rogue said, reaching out her hand for her shoulder. Carol knocked it away.

"Don't you touch me," she warned. "Don't you ever dare touch me."

"Dammit, let me talk!" Rogue yelled. "You've been inside of me, driving me crazy! Ah just barely got your memories outta my head a few months ago, but Ah can still remember them. Ah wish the hell Ah'd never touched you in the first place! Ah've even turned into you. Can you believe that?"

Carol looked at her. "You make me sick. Still."

Rogue choked back a mixture of rage, guilt, and a wish for acceptance. "All right, Carol. If it makes you feel better, you just stand there 'n' call me all the names you want. Ah'm pretty sure Ah deserve most of 'em, anyway. Is that what you wanna do?"

"I wanna get the hell out of here," said Carol. She pushed past Phoenix, to the car. "Find yourself another human battery."

Rogue grabbed her by the shoulder and spun her around, barking her shin with the edge of the suitcase Carol still had in her hand. "Carol, you are gonna sit and listen to me. If'n you feel like you still can't do the mission afterwards, Ah'll drop out. Just listen to me, honey."

"Nobody's dropping out of this mission," affirmed Cyclops. "We need both of you."

"Scott, please," said Rogue.

"Scott, shut up," said Phoenix.

Bishop and Beast elected to say nothing.

Carol said nothing. But she powered down, her Carol clothes and appearance replacing her Binary self and costume. Rogue leaned against the car. "Ah've come a long way since we met, Carol. Since Ah almost killed you. Right now, Ah understand you a lot more'n maybe you understand y'self, 'cause Ah've been totin' your memories around kinda like you been totin' your clothes around in that grip. Only it's more like blood in mah body. See what I'm sayin'?"

"I'll take 'em back," said Carol, sweetly.

"If Ah could, I'd give 'em back. But Ah don't have 'em any more. Not like it was, at least. Not like I was carryin' your ghost around in me, an' it was possessin' me. But Ah can remember all about you from havin' you in me. Ah mean, Ah know about ya, honey. Ah know about your first grade composition. It was about yoah dog, Sparky, remember him? No, no, forget Ah said remember anything."

"I forgot to remember to forget," answered Carol.

"Ah remembered it for ya," Rogue pressed on. "Ah remember how your first party dress looked, all pink 'n' flouncy. An' how y'almost drowned learning how to water-ski the first time. An' how you looked at the first man y'ever loved, and how it was the first time y'made love to him. I know you. We've been very close, all this time."

"The pleasure was all yours," said Carol. "You're leaving a lot out of 'This Is Your Life, Carol Danvers.' Do you remember Lubyanka Prison? I sure as hell hope you do. I tried the rest of my life to forget it."

Rogue nodded, silently.

"How's about when I got raped by Marcus, and had him as a child, and the Avengers thought it was so great? Do you recall that, honey child?"

"Ah do," said Rogue. "It was all kinda jumbled and confused, but the whole thing darn near made me puke when I learned about it."

"Do you remember how I felt when I saw that replay of how Mystique killed Michael Barnett? Do you remember that, darling?"

Rogue said, "Yes, Carol. Ah remember."

"And how many times have you replayed how it felt when we were fighting, and you sucked the powers right out of my body, and my mind with it? How many times do you remember me going unconscious, and getting dropped in San Francisco Bay by you?"

"More times than Ah want to count," said Rogue, looking very sad. "Carol, Ah am sorry. The only good thing came outta that was, it made me turn to the X-Men. Ah've become a lot better person for it. Ah didn't think I could do it at first...didn't think they'd accept me. But they did."

Carol sat with her buttocks against the car door. "They accepted Magneto. Why not you?"

Rogue's eyes flared. Good. A palpable hit.

"Carol, that was out of line," said Cyclops. "You know why we accepted Magneto. For a long time, it worked out."

"And then it didn't, Scott," said Carol. "Did it?"

"No, Carol, it didn't," he said.

Rogue spread her hands, imploringly. "Look. You've had it really hard, Carol, an' nobody knows that more'n me, right now. Ah mean, Ah've had you inside o' me! Sometimes...sometimes mah whole body's turned into Ms. Marvel." Carol bristled, hearing the name of her long ago, stolen identity. "Ah've had to be Ms. Marvel for days at a stretch. She was in control. Then she morphed outta me, we were separated, and Ah had to fight her, and Ah got cured. Ah was schizophrenic...worse 'n schizo. Carol, you ain't the only one here who's had a hard time, y'know?"

"Oh, I hope not," Carol said, acidly.

Cyclops said, "All right, Carol, sorry to have bothered you. I don't know who we can get to take your place right now. But we'll try to find someone. See you later."

Carol looked at him. "That's it?"

"What did you expect it to be, Carol?" said Jean. "Rogue is a part of the team now. I hate to say it to your face, but she's much more a part of the team than you are."

Bishop said, "Sorry that it did not work out, Ms. Danvers. I think we would have enjoyed working in conjunction."

She nodded. "We might, Bishop. We might have, at that. Sorry." Carol opened the door on the driver's side and tossed her suitcase in.

Rogue took hold of the door on the other side, and gave her a pleading gaze. "Carol, Ah thought that Ah could talk to ya, of all people. Ah've been you for such a long time...and the you inside'a me, she was drivin' me crazy! And when she morphed out of me, she tried t'kill me."

Carol gave her a hard look back. "Good. I wish she had killed you. Like your foster mommy Mystique killed Mike Barnett. Like you tried to do to me."

The next thing Carol felt was a fist in the face.

She was powered back up to Binary status by the time her rear end hit the gravel. Carol wiped a hand across her numbed cheek and right side of her mouth, and felt a bit of blood. For a nanosecond, she realized that if she could punch that hard as Ms. Marvel, she must have been a real scrapper to go against.

Rogue was standing away from the car, in a defensive stance.

Binary pointed beyond her, to her right. "Let's fight that way. I don't want to hurt the car."

"You've got it, sugah," said Rogue, with a grin.

The sun-woman piled into her like a slumming comet.

Hank McCoy, to his credit, did not say, "Oh, my stars and garters." He simply grabbed Cyclops's arm and said, "Scott, can we trust them? I mean, they aren't going to really..."

"They're not going to kill each other, Hank," said Scott, watching the battle. "And if it comes to that, Jean will separate them."

"You hope Jean will separate them," murmured Hank, not sure how well even a Phoenix would fare against the two of them.

Bishop said, "A curious phenomenon, Scott. And the confirmation of a legend."

Scott jerked his head in Bishop's direction.

"The ancient texts said that superbeings almost always fought to introduce themselves to each other," explained Bishop.

"They got that right," opined Jean.

Rogue had permanently assimilated Carol's Ms. Marvel powers, including the flight and super-strength. Thus, she was able to swoop up and meet Carol's charging down upon her with an upward charge of her own. The two furies met in mid-air, smashed at each other, and began dealing out wallops that the Thing and the Hulk would probably have admired.

Binary could have ended it in a moment with a blast of flaming plasma, if she had desired. But she would not kill Rogue, as much as she hated her. And Rogue refused to leech away Binary's powers. That much she figured she owed Carol.

Outside of that, they felt free to punch, kick, chop, choke, knee, and pull hair with the best of them. They did that with gusto.

Carol fell victim to a perfect judo toss that sent her whipping downward and into a tree in the nearby woods. It hurt, but not as much as it would have had she been in human form. Rogue knew all the martial arts that Carol Danvers had learned in the service and as a spy, plus the considerable knowledge of hand-to-hand combat that Mystique, her foster mother, had taught her. Binary pulled herself away from the tree, met a descending Rogue with an uppercut to her chin, and then tattooed the woman's midriff with her knuckles, glad as hell she had the chance to even accounts.

Rogue slammed a knee into Carol's chin, knocking the fiery-haired heroine backwards. While she had respite, the mutant rasped, "Stop it, Carol! Haven't ya gotten it outta your system yet?"

Binary blasted herself forward with a burst of starfire thrust and rammed her shoulder into Rogue's midsection. The two of them surged forward over acres of land, a good twenty feet above the ground. "Nope," allowed Carol, and angled them down to let Rogue take the impact of their crash.

Before she could get off Rogue, Binary took a savate kick in the chops. She swore and backed away. Rogue leapt to her feet and faced her, side-on, one hand outstretched.

"Nuts to this," Binary snapped, and knocked her off her feet with a low-power plasma burst. Rogue rolled away, got to her feet, and stamped the fire out of her smouldering boots. She looked in Carol's direction, and didn't see her foe where she had been standing.

"Up here, honey," came a voice from above her. It was accompanied by a fireball.

Rogue jumped, and the ball of flame seared a section of green grass to blackness.

The Southern mutant-woman ran zigzagging across the sward, jumping away from Carol's repeated fire-blasts like Daffy Duck dodging buckshot blasts in an old cartoon. "Dance, you varmint!" yelled Binary.

In response, Rogue crouched and launched herself into the sky. A human missle, she intersected Carol's flight-path and knocked them both out of the sky. They tumbled to the ground, landed hard, and rolled.

Both of them rolled down a small incline of land over a rock restraining wall and splashed down into a stream which ran by not far from the school. Rogue ended up on top. It didn't much matter, as she didn't get in a punch before Carol did. Actually, she didn't even seem to try.

Within seconds, Carol had womanhandled Rogue onto the sandy bank of the stream and was engaged in the serious business of clobberation. She didn't know where the X-Men were at the time. All she hoped was that they'd leave her alone long enough to finish changing the bitch's face.

But after the third blow, she hesitated.

Rogue had not answered any of her punches.

Binary sat there, kneeling on Rogue's legs, and held one fist cocked at the ready. The mutant's face was bruised, even bleeding a bit. But she was awake, and aware.

"Go ahead, Carol," said Rogue. "Aren't ya gonna hit me with that big ol' fist? Or are ya gonna just let it hang till all the blood drains down t'your shoulder?"

Binary said, "Give me a good reason. Tell me why I shouldn't do it."

"Don't have to give you no reasons not to hit me," said Rogue, coughing a bit. "You wanna hit me, go right on ahead. Seems like it's pretty good therapy for you."

"Damn you to hell, you soulsucking little bitch," rasped Carol. "Damn your bloody black soul all the way down to hell and New Jersey." She lowered her fist a bit, spread the fingers, made the fist again, and waited.

Rogue looked up at her, and did not smile. "Carol, gotta tell y' something. Y'listening?"

"What do you think?"

"Ah'll tell ya what Ah think, Carol. If it means that much t'you t'kill me, go right on ahead. Won't stop ya. You're just doin' on the outside what'cha been doin' to me on the inside. Maybe..." She sighed. "Maybe that way'd be best."

Carol dropped her hand. "You know I can't do that. Not to...somebody who won't even fight back. Not even to you."

After a moment, Rogue said, "The you inside o'me taught me a lot, Carol. She taught me a lot of things. Like Ah hope Ah don't ever have to learn that way again. Ah mean it, Carol...Ah'm sorry for what Ah did t'you. Ah know that doesn't bring none o'your memories back. Ah know it doesn't bring those powers back. But outside o' the blood from my body...there ain't nothin' else I can give you, but sorry."

Carol swore, and slowly got up. "Shove your sorry," she said. "I just hope someday somebody steals your memories away from you. I hope you get to feel what it's like not to feel any of your memories."

Rogue, getting up to a sitting position, said, "Carol...d'you think that's any harder'n havin' two sets o' memories? An' knowin' one of 'em hates ya so much it wants ta almost kill ya, inside?"

Carol didn't say anything.

"Carol, Ah gotta tell ya something," said Rogue. She moved a bit closer. Carol tensed in wariness. "Darlin', I ain't gonna hurt you," Rogue declared. "But it's somethin' you might wanna know. About me, an'...the you inside of me."

"Like what? My shade of lipstick? My diet secrets?"

"No," said Rogue. "About your brother, Carol. We went by the Vietnam Memorial. We saw where they put his name. We cried, Carol. Both of us."

Carol breathed, deeply but easily. "Do you know that I can't even feel as much about him as I ought to? Do you know I can't even c--"

But she couldn't finish it.

She was already crying. Whether for her brother, or her sorrow at her lack of emotion for him, or herself, or all three, she was crying.

By the time Phoenix jetted up with the other three along, they saw Rogue holding Carol, who was still crying, and not shrinking away from her touch.

Rogue looked up at them. "I think she'll come with us," she said.


Continued in Chapter 10.


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