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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.

Third chapter in three days. Thanks to Faith Barnett for her information about emergency medical procedure. Let me know how I'm doing on this one. All characters property of Marvel Comics. No money's being made from this, no infringement is intended.

There were three holes in Warbird's stomach.

She had been hurt before. Hurt badly. Endured much pain in the hands of the KGB at Lubyanka, in the Shi'ar's sadistic "experiments," and, to a lesser degree, in innumerable super-hero fights.

But not quite like this.

Wolverine had lashed out with his six claws of bone and torn three gashes in Carol Danvers's stomach.

For a nanosecond, she wondered why he had done it. He must, some rational, stand-apart portion of her mind said, be under outside control. Logan was a bosom friend of hers from before she had even gone to work at NASA.

The seconds seemed to elongate. That was good, because it gave her a chance to stave off feeling the pain for that much longer.

She looked at Wolverine, who was turning away from her now, and saw the crazed smile of bloodlust on his face. Even in a berserker rage, he never looked quite like that. Something was wrong with him.

She also picked up on another detail: the blood that was staining his claws, fully a third of their length, jutting out from the backs of his wrists.

Then she saw the blood that was staining the ground at her feet.

It didn't come from his claws.

She screamed, felt the pain, grabbed her middle with both arms, and fell on her side. All at once.

There were cops Wolverine was fighting nearby, and a paramedic staying out of the battle and trying to get wounded people to safety and care.

There were more screams, probably from herself, and more sounds, and she wasn't watching anything, and she wondered how long it would be before she died.

Then somebody was talking to her and she thought she felt herself being turned over and someone asking her to pull her arms away from her middle, and he asked so nicely that she decided he would, and something that felt like cloth was wrapped about her middle so that what was inside wouldn't come leaking out too much, and she thought that was very nice of them. She didn't open her eyes.

Ma'am? Stay with me, ma'am. We're going to take you to the hospital now. Come on, stay with me. Tell me your name.

<I have a lot of names. Which one do you want to hear?>

Please, ma'am, you have to stay with me. Can you tell me who you are?

Somebody said, "I'm...I'm...Ms. BinaryBird. Rank. Serial number."

That's good. We're in the ambulance now. Squeeze my hand if you can hear me. Ouch! Not that hard!

She thought somebody was rolling her gloves off and sticking something in her arms, but she wasn't sure.

Hurry up, Frank, think she's going into shock.

If she had to go into something, maybe shock wouldn't be so bad.

Then everything seemed to go blank.

think she's waking up

Carol Carol are you all right

don't wake her up she may still be hurting

Voices. Familiar voices.

It was an effort to open her eyes, and she wasn't sure she wanted to. There was a large section of her in the middle that seemed like it wasn't there. That, she judged, was a good thing.

"Urummph," she said, and fluttered her eyelids open.

Colorful people in colorful costumes. Vision. Scarlet Witch. Captain America. Black Widow. Justice. Firestar. Super-heroes.


"Ah, hell," she muttered.

Captain America grinned. She focused on him to try and bring things together. "Hi, Carol," he said. "Don't move around too much. Don't even think about powering down. Just stay where you are, and talk to us."

"Cap," she said. "Wanda. Wha' happened? Where's Wolvie?"

The Vision, his stentorian voice filling the room, told her. "We don't know, Warbird. Wolverine seems to have left Earth. You were not the only one he wounded, either. The Black Cat was badly hurt. Solo and U.S. Agent were also slashed, though not as severely. All of you seem to be recovering, thankfully."

The Scarlet Witch said, "Carol, are you feeling all right? I wanted tell you..."

"C'mere, Wanda," said Warbird. She saw that both of her arms had drip-feeds poking into them, that a big plastic thing was wrapped about her midsection, and that a monitor of some sort was blipping away near her bedside. Carol waggled the fingers of her right hand, and Wanda took it and squeezed it.

Carol managed a smile. "Didn't we already play this scene with the Black Knight?"

Wanda held Carol's hand in both of her own. "Yes. Yes, we did, Carol. I just wish we'd had an Inhuman healer on hand this time. Does you hurt?"

She sighed. "Don't seem to feel anything. How bad did he get me?"

Justice said, "Ms. Warbird, he didn't do you too bad. I think you got a little intestinal nick, that's it."

"Oh, shut up, Vance," snapped Firestar, disgusted. "Don't you know how to talk in a hospital?"

"S'all right, Fire," said Carol. "Um, Wanda, I think something got ahold of Wolvie. He'd never act like that on his own."

The Black Widow took Carol's other hand. "We're pretty sure of that, Carol. Logan was fighting half the heroes in New York in that thing, and he was winning. Then he just disappeared. It's obvious some outside agency took control of him, and took him somewhere else. Just where--" She shrugged. "We don't know. We're trying to get hold of the X-Men."

"What about my parents?" said Carol.

Cap said, "I waited till we were sure of your status before calling. I spoke with your mother. They're going to be here later. Carol, I think you should tell your father."

She shook her head. "Don't wanna tell my father. Tough enough on my Mom that she knows. Do I still have my mask on?"

The Widow nodded. "Yes. You know the standard procedure in New York hospitals. When one of us comes in, unless there's injuries to the face, they leave the mask on."

"What about the name I'm registered in?" said Carol. "Won't Dad know if I'm registered as Ms. Marvel?"

"We've worked that out with the hospital," said Wanda. "You're just Room 239. We've told your mother to tell your dad that you were just one of the civilians wounded by Wolverine in his rampage."

"There were others?" She looked grave.

The Vision said, "There were, but not many. For all his rage, it seems that Wolverine was holding himself back. He didn't kill anyone, and the wounds weren't as serious as they could have been."

Cap didn't say anything. Carol knew he didn't like Wolverine. At a time like this, she could understand why.

Wanda finally said what she had on her mind. "Carol, I think it's time for you to give this thing up."

"What thing? What thing are you talking about, Wanda?"

Natasha said, "I think she means super-heroing, Carol."

"I do," Wanda confirmed. "You've had too much hard luck in your career, Carol. It doesn't seem as though anything ends up well for you, when you put on a costume."

Carol shook her head, and fought off the wooziness when she did. "I saved the sun, Wanda. Fought the Doomsday Man, the Shi'ar, Corruptor, all those freakouts. Who'd have done that if I wasn't there?"

Cap said, gently, "There's lots of heroes in New York and elsewhere, Carol. There are more Avengers than I can even keep track of. But there's only one you, and...well...let me put it this way.

"Back in the War, whenever a soldier got wounded as badly as you have, they called it ‘the million-dollar wound.' That's because he got taken out of combat and sent home. Now, your Kree/human physiology is healing you quickly, Carol. Not as quickly as, say, Wolverine" (he pronounced it with disgust) "but certainly faster than a normal woman would. But this still might be your million-dollar wound, Carol. And I think it might be the best idea for you, right now."

"Cap, I--" Carol started to say.

The Widow interrupted her, and she was coldly precise. "Carol, let me give it to you straight. We've forgiven you your lapse in judgment about not telling us of your powerloss. But you're still not enough of a team player to be an Avenger again. Also, the doctors let us know about your blood alcohol level. You were way over intoxicated, Carol. You fell off the wagon and let it roll right over you. With the kind of powers you command--that's not good. At all."

Carol put her hands to her face and felt the surface of her mask. She wanted to burst out in denunciation. She wanted to tell the Avengers to go to hell, that they should have been more understanding, that Wolverine should have known about her problem, that she wouldn't be in this hospital with a slashed stomach if not for a freak occurrence of Logan-possession.

But that was the wrong kind of thinking. And, for once, she knew it.

Should haves didn't make a damn bit of difference. You didn't have should haves.

All you had was what was.

"I'm sorry," she said.

Justice started to say something and Firestar shushed him.

Carol said, "I was wrong. I shouldn't have hit that bar at the poolroom. I should have been upfront with him about my problem. You didn't tell him, did you?"

Cap said, quietly, "No, Carol. We've kept your problem in-house."

"Thank you, Cap," she said. "Maybe you should have, but thank you nonetheless. My God, 'should have.' I don't want to hear 'should have' ever again."

They waited.

"I'm an alcoholic," she admitted. "I admit it. And I want you to tell all the hero-groups you work with. But there's something else I want you to tell them. Tell ‘em I'm gonna whip this monkey right off my back. Starting today, I'm on the wagon again. For good."

Wanda hugged her. Cap smiled. Even the Vision said, "A most wise decision, Carol. If you manage to stick to it."

Cap added, "It took a near-death experience to convince Tony Stark to stay off the sauce. Maybe the same will prove true for you, Carol. There's one more thing.

"You've felt bad about what we had to do, and I can understand that. But I want you to know that you can count every one of us in the Avengers as your friends. If you need somebody to talk to, we'll be there. If you need help on a case, we'll be there. Don't ask about readmission yet, because there are a lot of things you'll have to work out for yourself. But whether or not you keep that costume on, just remember: we'll be here for you. And we'll be a lot better for you to turn to than any bottle would be. Understand?"

"I understand, Cap," she said. "And thank you."

Justice and Firestar stood by her bedside. "Ms. Warbird," said Justice, "the two of us are really new to this team. We don't have the history with you the rest of the guys here do. But whatever Cap said goes for us, too. Whenever you want Justice and Firestar...we'll be there."

She smiled, wanly. "I've got a lot more history with you than you might think, Vance. Of course, that was with the other Vance Astro, the one with the Guardians. Thanks, kid, I think you'll both make damned good Avengers."

Firestar grinned. "For once, I think Vance said the right thing. Thanks, Warbird."

The light for the paging system went on at the wall device beside her bed. Carol found she was able to reach the chain activating the voice pickup, and pulled it. "Uh huh?" she said.

"Room 239, you have visitors waiting," said the nurse at the desk.

"Give us about five minutes," said Carol. She pulled the chain again and the intercom shut off.

"That's our cue, folks," said Cap. The Avengers headed for the door. Captain America turned back to Carol. "Just remember what I said, Carol. About us, and about the wound. And don't forget to take off your mask."

"I won't, Cap," she said, peeling off the mask and hiding it under her back. "Thanks again."

The heroes left. A few minutes later, a very agitated Joe and Marie Danvers entered the room.

"Mom. Dad," said Carol. "Hi."

The visit had gone well. The cover story had been that Carol was in town to do business with her publisher (which was true) and she had been one of the innocent bystanders Wolverine had wounded (which was not), but that she was recovering quickly (which was). She knew Mom had a lot of things she wanted to ask, pertaining to the Warbird involvement in the incident, but both of them silently agreed that would have to wait.

Her father had asked her if this was tied up in some kind of Company business, and she told him, truthfully, it wasn't. Then he called Wolverine a son of a bitch and wondered why they didn't just take him out and shoot him. She didn't say anything.

Finally, Joe said that they'd be staying in town for a few days to make sure she was all right, and she hugged him, tearfully, making sure not to pull the drip-feeds out of her arms. Her mother let her know, covertly, that she'd be back alone sometime soon to talk about what had really happened. Carol hugged her, too. Then, after some more leavetaking and reassurances that she was getting better and the hospital had things in hand, they left.

Tracy Burke was the next one to give her a call. "Holy God, Carol, what happened?" she yelled. "You go off to the Apple for three days, and this happens?"

"Yeah, Trace," said Carol, and yawned. "Sorry."

"Sorry? You almost get yourself killed, and you're the one who's sorry? Carol, for heaven's sake, you're not going to New York again without a bodyguard. Promise me that."

"Can't promise, Trace, but I'll take it into consideration." Couldn't let a bodyguard see her changing into Warbird. That is...and she had to admit it...if she went on being Warbird.

"Tell me all about it, Carol. I feel so damn bad about this thing. It's as though I was responsible, you know. I was the one set you up with that publisher, and now..."

"Oh, Tracy, come on," she said. "I love what you did for me, girl. I just happened to be in the wrong place when something got into Wolverine and made him go on a rampage. It's not your fault at all, and I don't want to hear any of that guilty crap out of you.  Understand?"

She heard Tracy sigh. "I'm sorry, Carol."

"Don't be. Wasn't your fault. I'm getting better, but it'll be a few days before I file any articles."

"For awhile there, I thought I'd gotten your last byline. Tell me true, Carol, how bad does it hurt?"

"Um. I imagine I'll need some pain medication later tonight. Right now, my middle's number than my mouth gets when I have new fillings put in. These folks are good up here, Trace. If I'd been any further out of range of an ambulance, though...I don't wanna say it."

"Yeah," said Tracy. "Carol, I want to get down and see you, but honest to gosh, I won't be able to make it for the next few days. I just can't leave the load on the rest of the staff. It's deadline time."

"I understand, Trace. Hey, you can just call. I know you care about me without you having to be down here in my room. But don't think I don't appreciate it."

"Are you doing all right, Carol? What are you eating?"

"Oh, mostly glucose, I think," said Carol. "I imagine I'll be up to soup before too much longer. Without crackers. Trace?"

"What, Carol?"

"I think I wanna go to sleep. You be all right?"

"Yes, absolutely. Will you?"

"Yup. They've got a monitor hooked up to my arm and everything. Should be all right. I'm a pretty tough cookie, Trace."

"Just one more thing, Carol." Tracy hesitated, then said it. "Is your problem any better?"

Carol was silent a minute, then said, "I fell off the wagon, Tracy."

"Oh, dear."

"But I got back on it today. And I'm not getting off it, ever again."

"That's good, Carol. That's really, really good."

"Yeah. I think so, too. Now I wanna go beddy-bye, Trace. Say goodnight."

"Goodnight, Carol. Hang in there, honey."

"You, too, Trace. Bye." She hung up, then pulled the receiver off the hook again, found the number for the front desk, and told them to hold her calls for the rest of the night but to take messages.

Then she turned out the light and went to sleep shortly thereafter.

She woke up in the middle of the night, hurting, and had them bring her a shot of painkiller. After it took effect, she slept through till morning.

The physician who handled her case, Dr. Jack Keller, was in around 9:30 to check her out and tell her what she needed to hear.

"Ms. Warbird, is it?" He was grey at the temples, wore glasses, and was slightly over 50. Not quite Marcus Welby, but in that general vicinity.

"Warbird will be fine, Doc," she told him, her mask firmly in place.   "Thanks for taking care of me."

"No problem, just my job," the physician said, ruffling through the sheets on his clipboard. "I've got a time-worn phrase for you, which is 'Good news for you, and bad news.' How's about giving you the good news first?"

She shifted a bit in bed. "Guess I can handle that."

"Mainly, the good news is that you're healing so fast. I haven't worked with too many of you super-people, but according to the Avengers, you've got a hybrid physicality that, obviously, augments your healing factor. That's very good. Your intestinal wall got nicked a bit. We had to take a little bit out, not a lot. With those kind of wounds, infection from waste products can cause real problems. So we had to try and keep your system from being poisoned, as well as keep you from bleeding to death. We managed to do both, with the help of laser surgery, internal sutures, and God. Right now, you seem to be doing very well for a person in your condition. How do you feel?"

Carol spread her hands. "Pretty well, under the circumstances. How well are the other--victims?"

"They're not all in this hospital, but the ones we have are coming along all right," said Dr. Keller. "I've heard similar scuttlebutt about the rest. Your wounds were among the most severe of any of the victims."

"That's good," said Carol. "Well, I don't mean that it's good, but you know what I mean. If I caught the worst of it, and I'm getting know."

Keller nodded. "Even though several people, including some cops, were only human. You should be very grateful for your powers, Warbird."

She shook her head. "Sometimes I am, Doc. What's the bad news?"

The doctor looked at his sheets, folded some back, then showed one sheet to Carol and pointed to a line on it. "See this right here?"

"Yeah," said Carol. "My alcohol blood level." She swallowed.

He held it steadily before her eyes for a few more seconds. "You know what the legal limit for intoxication is?"

Hesitantly, she nodded.

Dr. Keller said, "Warbird, you were way over. I'm just glad that your liver wasn't damaged as well. You probably wouldn't have made it, if it had been. But there's more to it than that. Can you tell me, or should I go on?"

Warbird said, evenly, "Go on, Doc. I'd rather hear it from you."

"All right. It's like this. Imagine you're driving a car, and you're smashed out of your gourd. You've got the power of several tons of metal in your hands, moving at 55 miles an hour, in a city filled to the gills with people. You haven't got nearly the control you need to handle that vehicle. You're a danger to yourself, and to anyone within sight of you, on foot or in another car.

"Only, in your case, it's more like you're driving a locomotive, and you can't trust yourself to heed a stop signal. You could slam into a crossing car and drag it for miles without noticing it. I could go on with even bigger analogies. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

She couldn't look at him. But she nodded.

"Ms. Warbird, if you are an alcoholic, you badly need to get help. Until you get such help, you are not qualified to use the powers that you possess. The eyewitness reports that I've heard are conflicting--I'm certainly not a cop--but some say you were using some sort of, I don't know, radiant blast power from your hands?"

"Energy blasts," said Carol, in a small voice.

"All right, energy blasts," said the doctor. "You could have killed people. In a very real sense, you were as out of control as this Wolverine who almost gutted you. It's only due to the grace of God that you didn't cause more damage than he did."

Carol didn't say anything.

"I'm going to cut you a deal, and I suggest strongly you take it," said Keller. "I want you to enroll in a chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous, and begin their 12-step program. You can choose an alias, you don't have to enroll as Warbird. But this isn't the sort of behavior problem you can just will out of existence. You understand that, don't you?"

She said, "I'm beginning to, Doc. At least, I think I am."

"You'd better do more than think it, Ms. Warbird. You're a danger to yourself and anyone around you if you use super-powers like yours when you're drunk. You'd better understand that perfectly."

"I do," she said. And, for the first time, she began to do just that.

"They tell me you're based out of Seatlle," he said. "I want you to arrange with a clinic in that city for blood or urine testing. Give them a means of contacting you, so that the testing can be random. They'll keep your confidentiality, but I am to be mailed copies of these tests. Do you understand this?"

Softly, Warbird said, "They can't ask for my real name, my social security number, my fingerprints, or any of that. Period. I've got a deactivated Avengers I.D. card. They can use that for confirmation."

Keller nodded. "This has to begin within a week after your release from this hospital. I haven't told you what the penalties will be if you don't comply with these conditions."

Carol waited.

"If you fail to show up for testing," he said, "without a decent excuse--yes, I know you super-heroes are very often busy fighting super-villains--but if you miss more than three times without cause, in my judgment, then I will release this report to the police. You will be charged with misuse of a deadly weapon while intoxicated. Your powers, like the hands of a trained karate expert or boxer, can be and will be legally defined as deadly weapons. Do you understand, Ms. Warbird."

"I understand," she said. "Perfectly."

"All right," said Dr. Keller. "As for your going to Al-Anon, I'll just have to trust you on that one. But I can rely on the word of a super-heroine, can't I?"

After a pause, she said, "A few weeks ago, maybe you couldn't have. But from here on in, Doc...Warbird's word is her bond." She stuck her hand over the guard rail of the bed. Keller shook it, firmly.

"Well, then," he said. "Keep up the healing, and keep your word. I've got some more patients to see. Goodbye, and good luck."

Dr. Keller left.

She sighed and lay back in the bed. Her laptop was perched on the rolling board that hung over her legs. She pulled it closer, turned it on, and called up an outline she was working on for her follow-up novel.

The phone rang again. She picked it up.

"Hello, Carol," said Tony Stark. "They told me you were awake. How are you feeling?"

"Tony," she said, "I fell off the wagon. Tell me how you got back on."

"I had a feeling that happened to you," said Tony.

Then he told her the story that had almost ended with him freezing to death in a cold city snow.


And then she told him hers.


Continued in Chapter 16.


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