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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.

Marie Danvers had never seen a superhero up close and personal other than her daughter.

That was why, when the man in the red and gold armor had dropped out of the sky with the light blue flame of jet afterburners coming from the soles of his shoes, and addressed her by name, the only thing she could do was gape and say, "Iron Man?"

Thankfully, he had the courtesy to land on the sidewalk, not on the lawn. His boot-jets might have ruined the grass. It was also a blessing that Joe was at work.

But there he was. One of the oldest and most powerful Avengers of all, reminding Marie in part of a knight in shining armor, of that movie RoboCop which she'd caught out of the corner of her eye and then shut off when he started slaughtering people, and, lastly, of Carol herself, who was the only superhero she could judge things by.

Iron Man apologized for his dramatic entry, then asked Mrs. Danvers if Carol was in. Marie knew that the Avengers knew who Carol was, but, until now, wasn't sure they knew she knew, as well. Obviously, they knew Joe didn't. That was why the man in the armor had come while Joe was away.

"Yes," Marie admitted. "She's been living with us again for quite some time now. Won't you come in?"

"Thank you," said Iron Man. He stepped inside.

"Uh, Mr. Iron Man, please, one thing."

He turned towards her. She saw eyes through the slits in his face plate, which was reassuring. He wasn't a robot.

"This house cost us a lot of money, and it's very dear to us. Please don't get into any fights around here. We can't afford to replace it."

"Wouldn't think of it, Mrs. Danvers. If Galactus attacks, we'll ask him to take it down the block."


Carol had just about ridden out her hangover by the time Iron Man knocked on her door. She told him to come in, saw who it was, and didn't move from the bed she sat on. "Oh, it's you. So, Captain America send you up here to check on me?"

Iron Man moved inside the room, his boots making the familiar muffled clanking noise, and shut the door behind him. Despite it all, Carol admitted that she enjoyed hearing the sound again. Then the hero in metal spoke.

"Cap didn't have to send me, Carol. We're all concerned about you, and for you. The way you flew into a rage as Warbird after our battle with the Squadron Supreme, the way you snapped at Cap and fled."

Carol was irritated. She shifted her position on the bed, under the big AIM HIGH poster from the Air Force. "I was there. I remember. I don't need a recap. What's your point?"

Iron Man said, "I thought...I thought maybe we could talk a little."

She shrugged.

The armored Avenger walked a bit closer, looked up at the model planes hanging from her ceiling, reached up and gingerly touched one. "Nice work on the models, by the way. Yours?"

"The result of a zillion Saturday afternoons and an airplane-mad youth. Anything with wings, I loved. Especially the old Warbirds. The speed. The power. The sheer beauty of them. No surprise, huh?"

He looked at her.

Carol continued, "That's why I renamed myself Warbird when I joined the Avengers again. Lying on the bed so long, looking up at these things, I guess I thought it might give me a connection to my past."

Iron Man gauged her voice tone. He saw an open bottle of Budweiser on the bedstead behind her, right next to a model of a Saturn V rocket. Like it was going to take off in tandem.

It was only beer. But if Jarvis was right when he had questioned him, Carol had been through a lot more than beer lately. He said he could smell it on her.

"Look, Carol, I didn't come here to argue with you. I just thought that, well, maybe, I might be able to help."

With that, Iron Man touched a control at the bottom of his face plate, loosened a coupling, and flipped the golden plate upward. He looked at her and showed her the face of Tony Stark.

She laughed.

"Tony Stark," she said. "Iron Man is Tony Stark. Well, doesn't that make sense? You hide it well, Tony. The voice, the attitude, the story about being your own bodyguard--I'd never have guessed."

He locked the door behind him to keep Mrs. Danvers from walking in, took off his helmet, and waited for her to speak again.

"So, Tony Stark," Carol said. "You design the world's best armor, airplanes, computers, and more. So tell me, can you fix someone who had everything, but lost it all?"

"What do you mean?"

"That's the question, isn't it?" Carol got up and looked out of the window, pressing her fingers against the glass. "What do I mean?"

She drew the curtains to keep any passers-by from looking in and possibly learning something that could hit CNN within the hour if it was revealed. Then she gave him a short but detailed history of her life as a woman. And as a superhero.

During the course of it, she finally admitted what she figured they knew by now. Her Binary powers were gone, leaving her with only the scaled-down abilities of a Ms. Marvel. "I lost everything on Earth," she said, "only to lose the stars, as well. I thought I could find a place for myself. Be an Avenger, at least. And I'm going to, no matter what Captain America tries."

Tony looked uneasy. "What Cap tries? It's not like--he's not--" He shook his head and sighed. "Carol, I'll never understand what all this has been like for you. But I do know about stress. How overwhelming it can be." He picked up the bottle of Bud from the bedstead, hefted it, looked at it as if it were an old friend and a dangerous snake at the same time. "And how attractive it can be to hide from it." He paused again.

"Has alcohol been a part of dealing with things?"

He was looking straight at her as he said it. He hoped he was giving her a gentle expression.

She looked back at him. This man who had been one of those who betrayed her to Marcus Immortus. This man who had been an alcoholic himself, so bad of one that a substitute had to assume his armor while he dried out. This man who, despite it all, she had wanted to count as a friend.

This man who was judging her.

She powered up and her lounging clothes were replaced by the uniform of Warbird. Tony thought she looked beautiful, sexual, and powerful, all in one package. She also looked like a Fury.

"Oh, is that it?" raged Warbird. "That's the pigeonhole you've decided to stick me in? It's easy, isn't it? You're an alcoholic, so anyone you know who drinks must be an alcoholic, too. Saves the trouble of thinking about it."

She was shouting, almost. Tony remembered his promise to Mrs. Danvers. "Carol, no," he started. He wanted to tell her he had come to help, not judge. He wanted to tell her that he saw her at the top of the slope he had started down, that horrible time ago, and merely wished to keep her from sliding down any further.

But Carol wasn't giving him a chance to tell her anything.

"Sure, I take a drink or two," she snapped, pointing at his face. "I've earned it. But it doesn't affect me, not for long. The energy in my metabolism burns it off right away."

"Oh, come on, Carol," said Tony. Maybe it was time to get tough with her. "You don't really believe that. Although, I must admit, as rationalizations go, it--"

"Get out, Tony. Before I rip that armor off and throw you back to New York. I'm not what I was, but I don't have to take this."

She was breathing heavily. Her fists were clenched. In short, she was doing everything she could to keep from facing what she had become.

The terrible part of it now, Tony judged, was that nobody was doing it to Carol this time. For the first time, she was doing it to herself.

Until she was ready to listen, not a word he said would make a bit of difference. So he turned, put his helmet back on, went to the door, and unlocked it. He turned back to Carol one last time.

"When you're ready to listen, I'm ready to help," he said.

"Get out," she repeated.

He left.

After he was gone, Warbird looked at the bottle of Bud. She sniffed the top of it. It was probably flat, but there was a little left in it. So she knocked it back.

Wasn't good to have one like this on so little breakfast. Should have a whole one.

She sat with the bottle in her hand and thought. Thought about Mr. Armor with a metal rod up his ass. Mr. Self-Righteous Reformed Boozehound. Mr. Friend of Captain I'm-gonna-get-you-thrown-out-of-the-Avengers America.

Like it was her fault she felt like a drink after she'd risked her damn neck once a month for people who didn't give a damn.

Like it was her fault she'd let it slip a little after losing her powers. Didn't anybody remember her saving the sun? Didn't anybody remember Marcus Immortus, for cripes' sake?

Like any of it was her fault.

She powered down and returned to her Carol Danvers self. Then she went to the door, told her astonished mom she'd be back, and got in her car. She'd decide what to do about Phony Stork later.

At least a six-pack later.


As it was, she paid a visit to Tony Stark's Long Island plant office afterward. She came through the window, and it wasn't raised before she entered. There was somebody else with him at the time, but she didn't really give a damn. She grabbed Tony by the collar, one-handed, and told him that he wasn't going to get her thrown out of the Avengers. No way. She was lit and she felt good about it, because it made her feel like she was on top of the world. Like she was in control again.

Almost like she was Binary again.

Stark had tried to talk her down and she felt like putting her gloved fist in his face.

Then a tide of blood hit her brain and she looked at the woman who was in the office with both of them and saw the look in the woman's eyes. She was backed against the wall, trying to edge toward the door, and looking at Carol like she was some kind of super-villain, for god's sake.

She gazed at Tony again and saw that she might be hurting him.

What the hell was happening to her?

Warbird let him down, gently, tried to smooth out his suit where she had grabbed him. She tried to apologize.

That was when, of all things, a squad of three blue-skinned Kree burst into the same room. They used the door. They had big guns, and they could have wiped out everyone in the room. They wanted to take Warbird with them, for somedamnthing or another. Tony had cued her and she had blasted through the floor, sending herself and him into the room below. He got to his attache case down there, turned into Iron Man in seconds, and both of them went after the Kree.

They also had to take on a Sentry.

The Kree took off in a skycraft, and Warbird pursued it. The building they had been fighting in had sustained structural damage, even though the Sentry had been beaten. Iron Man told her that the people within were in danger. She yelled back at him to save them, she was going after the Kree.

She had faith in him. He had his job to do, she had hers. She'd show them all.

Except the Kree had showed her.

Warbird had trailed the Kree ship to her old stomping grounds, a hidden site near Cape Canaveral. It was a place out of a Nazi nightmare. The blueskins were subjecting captive humans to gas experiments, to find a method of turning them into genetic Kree. Many of the subjects had died.

They had found Carol and battle had begun. The booze was burning out of her body, and she was holding her own, but just barely.

She still had an Avengers Communicard, and could have called in the whole team. But that wouldn't give her a chance to shine. They wouldn't know she could still be a heroine. Maybe just one would be needed. She doubted that Iron Man would be particularly pleased with her right now. He just didn't understand.

So she called on Cap, and Cap came.

That was good, because a few minutes after she put through the call, the Kree captured her. She was just about to be treated to the sight of another mass murder by gassing when the American legend appeared, freed her, and helped her fight the aliens.

He was apoplectic when she told him she hadn't called in the rest of the team. The Kree had blocked outgoing signals after her call.

He just wouldn't understand.

Cap had freed the prisoners and told her to see to their safety. She pointed out, she thought reasonably enough, that the Kree were getting away, and their agenda was to wreck the whole human race. He gave her a lecture, and not a nice one. He told her that she wasn't a team player, and that she wouldn't get his approval if she didn't get her head together and start acting like an Avenger.

So she decided to act like an Avenger, and tore off after the Kree escaping in a spacecraft.

The bad guys caught her in a stasis field, dragged her inside the ship, and took off.

They looked at her not unlike the way the Brood had looked at her when they had performed their little experiments upon her. Only this time, Carol was fairly sure that the Kree wouldn't end up turning her into Binary again.

The Kree forced an artificial power-down with a ray and she returned to her Carol Danvers status. She was strapped to a table and fixed beneath another sort of beam and could look up and see the faces of the Kree biotechs and a screen with the hateful green tentacled face of the Supreme Intelligence on it.

The Black Knight hadn't gotten him, after all.

She felt queasy and nerved and wondered if the good guys would get her out before the final reel again. They owed her, after all. Hadn't she saved the sun?

A drink would help clear things up. Good Lord, she needed a drink.

She managed to ask the Kree soldier tending her for one, but he said no.


They examined Carol's hybrid human / Kree DNA and used it to program a dingus they called the Omniwave Projector. They said the Omniwave would transform normal humans into Kree, and thus replenish in part the Kree they had lost during Galactic Storm. Of course, genetically modified persons such as superheroes would die. That would be convienient for the Kree.

Quicksilver had gotten to her and freed her. Then he ran off. Carol was shaky. She thought about powering up to Warbird, but wasn't sure how she'd feel if she did so.

One of the Kreemen, to taunt her, had brought in a few flasks of some stuff and had toasted her along with his buddies. There was still about a third of a big glass left of it.

She looked at it for about five seconds, then drank it.

It burned down in her like bourbon and it made the familiar and comforting click go off in her brain. Now she could handle things. Now it was all right.

She powered up, and her Warbird uniform appeared on her body. Let the whole damn Kree Empire come at her, now. She could handle ‘em all. Handle ‘em all without Avenger one beside her.

Warbird found where the Kree were keeping the Omniwave generator. Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, and the Inhumans' big mutt Lockjaw were there. So were a bunch of Kree. That was nice.

She sent out a barrage of power bursts. They weren't going just where she wanted. Nuts. Well, she figured she just had to keep sending them out, and sooner or later all the bad guys would fall down. It was the law of averages.

The bad guys fell down. So did the big dog, when she hit him in the leg. Well, after all, he shouldn't have been standing there. Wasn't he fast enough to get out of the way? What was he doing there if he wasn't?

She hit the generator. It blew up, ruptured the roof, and made the air start leaking out.

Quicksilver whizzed up, got her, and got Lockjaw to teleport them all out of there. He said he was going to report her to the Avengers.

He was a damn ingrate. She'd heard of how he'd tried to kill the whole team, East and West Coast together, some months back, before he reformed.

Self-righteous bastard.

Back at Avengers HQ, they patched up the dog, patted his head, and sent him back home. She apologized for hurting the mutt, but pointed out that she'd stopped the Kree. She didn't think they'd bust her out for hurting a dog.

She was wrong.

The next day, the Avengers had called a special tribunal. She had slept off the booze, woke up with a three-alarmer inside her head, and threw up in the john. Then she took a painkiller, got into her costume, had breakfast, noticed that Marilla wasn't saying anything to her, and went into the conference room.

Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, the Vision, and Quicksilver were waiting for her. Court-martial was in session.

Thor, who presided, spoke to her. "Warbird, all those here know thee to be a brave warrior and true. But thou dost face most grave charges today, that alcoholism hath made thee derelict in thy duties, and a danger to thyself and thy fellow Avengers. If this be true, then let thy comrades aid thee--help thee to triumph over this."

He waited for her to say something.

She wasn't going to give him the satisfaction.

After a few more seconds, he said, "Very well. We shall handle testimony in this matter in chronological order. And thuys, we shall begin with Iron Man."

Warbird listened to the whole damn thing. She heard Iron Pants, Captain-friggin-American Pie, and Slicksilver give their testimony. She objected, pointed up parts that they should have understood, that they could have understood if they'd only been trying. But they hadn't tried. And they still weren't.

Finally, the testimony was done. Thor asked if she had anything to say in her own defense.

"Yes," she said, and didn't bother to cover up the anger. Maybe it was the remnants of her headache, maybe she was undergoing some major PMS, maybe all the Kreevian booze hadn't flushed itself out of her system. All that she knew was that she was mad as hell, and didn't mind getting a chance to tell these asinine Avenger schmucks off.

"It's a crock, all of it. From beginning to end. I made a few mistakes, granted, but everyone does that. I've done pretty well, all told. I'm the one who exposed the Corruptor, after all. I'm the one who found the Kree, and I'm the one who blew up their power unit. Okay, so I shouldn't have hidden my power loss. But I'd already lost my past, my family, my friends, the stars. I didn't want to risk losing Avengers membership, as well.

"And now--now--you want to label me an alcoholic because I take a drink now and then? Try to throw me off the team? It's not just a crock. It's an outrage! If it wasn't for me, everyone'd be speaking Kreevian right now. If it wasn't for me, there wouldn't be anyone to speak it, because I saved the sun! Remember?"

There was a pause. Carol was hyperventilating. Her neck veins were visible to the others. They struggled to hold their composure.

Thor broke the silence. "And that is thy defense?"

She didn't say anything. She didn't think she had anything else to say.

They called a vote. They all went against her. Even Wanda, who was on the point of tears as she begged Carol to get some help, to beat this thing that was dragging her down.

They'd even gotten to Wanda, too.

An alarm came in. The Kree had been detected on the Blue Area of the Moon. Cap told the other members of the team to get ready for action, and had the Vision call up Justice and Firestar.

Carol gave them one last chance. She'd show them. She could swallow her pride one last time. Maybe they wouldn't be such hypocritical bastards after all. She put a smile on her face and turned to Cap.

"I've been on this from the start," she said. "And I know the battleground. You can't mean to--"

"No, Warbird." He said it firmly. His face was stone.

That did it.

"Well, fine," she snapped. "If that's the way you're going to be, I'll save you the trouble of finishing your kangaroo court's vote. Effective immediately--I quit."

So she stomped up to her quarters, powered down, packed what she had in a duffel bag, and left by a way which would not bring her into contact with any of the Avengers.

She chanced a look back as she reached the front gate, and saw Wanda looking down at her from a window.

Then she stepped through the gates, which automatically shut behind her.

She didn't look back.

That evening, she looked up at the moon. The Avengers were up there. So were the Kree. She had started in this fight, and she could help finish it. She'd show them. Then, after she showed them, she'd tell them where to stick their crummy team. By gosh, she'd do that.

Carol powered up, turned into Warbird, and streaked into the sky. Flying under her own power, that was a trip even jocking a fighter jet couldn't match. Nothing beat self-flight.

She soared up and up and up, into the farthest reaches of the atmosphere. She'd hit open space, soon, just like when she was Binary. She'd make a beeline for the Moon, plow into those Kree, and not even bother taking names when she kicked their blue butts.

It was getting kind of hard to breathe.

Well, maybe she just needed a little more determination. She forced more power into her flight. Warbird hurtled forward, upward.

The stars beckoned.

Her lungs were laboring for air.

Damn it damn it damn it NO...

The blue was turning to blackness, and she couldn't




She choked.

She began to fall towards Earth.

She plummeted back, as she had when she was Binary, some weeks past. Only her flight wasn't nearly so well-controlled. At the end of it, she was glad she had aimed herself over the bay. It still hurt, when she hit the water, even using all of her remaining power to pull up.

She managed to get to shore, to drag herself into an alley. She lay there a few minutes, gasping and gulping in the sweet, sweet air, as bad as the New York variety tasted.

She had blown it. The Avengers were fighting the Kree up there, and she had not been able to aid them. She had washed out.

She needed a drink.

She powered down, got up, and went in search of a bar.

It wasn't hard to find. It was there in the night with a friendly light and a cute SAFETY CHUTE parachute sign outside and the sign on the window said that it was indeed a bar and stayed open 24 hours.

It was her haven and her home.

While she was inside, the TV over the bar flashed a picture of the Avengers from stock footage and mentioned that they had beaten the Kree again.

She looked at the drink before her, which she had been nursing like she was afraid it would go away and leave her alone.

Then she knocked it back.

There was plenty more where that came from.


Continued in Chapter 13.


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