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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.

Finally, another chapter. If you think I'm on the right track, let me know.
Previous chapters can be found on DarkMark's Domain at
THE STORY SO FAR: Carol Danvers has been kidnapped by a being who seems to be her own father.

Warbird awoke with a slight pain in her neck and some sort of light beam holding her body against a table and several yellow faces looking down at her.

Not Asian, but flat-out canary yellow. She had never encountered this race before. But she knew from the setting that she had to be in the hands of aliens. They were unknown to her human memories, but her Kree side knew who they were, and told her.

"Aakon," she murmured. It was her first word upon wakening.

One of her captors smiled a bit. "Subject awakens, Secondary Sir. Inform?"

Another one, more matter-of-fact in his expression, said, "Confirm. Price negotiations to begin soonest."

"Confirmed," said the first speaker, and moved away.

Carol pushed against the beam with all her strength, and made no progress. "Cease, Terran/Kree," said the one called Secondary Sir. "The holdbeam is proof against your strength. No harm comes to you unless you warrant it."

"I imagine I'll warrant it before long," snapped Carol. "Why the hell am I here? What did you do to my parents? Are they safe?"

"Your sire and dam are unharmed," said the Secondary. "Awakened by this time. Still on Terra. Used Skrull for operation."

"A Skrull," breathed Carol. "I should have known. So what's happening? Are you allied with the Skrull Empire now?"

The Secondary Sir folded his hands over his white uniform. The Kree data in Carol's subconscious informed her it was a gesture signifying "No."

"The Skrull is an independent operative," the Aakon confirmed. "Worked for us, for a price. We needed him to obtain you. Operation was successful."

Carol triggered a relay in her mind. Within an instant, her garments were altered molecularly. The Warbird uniform she had been wearing was replaced by her red sweatshirt, blue jeans, and Nikes. She was hoping the slight release of energy would disrupt the stasis beam, but no such luck. She was still held against the table, as if under a multiton press.

"Change of clothing means nothing to us," said her captor. "You cannot escape the stasis device."

Her mind raced through what she could call up on the Aakon. They were from an empire of worlds much smaller than the Kree, but had proven a thorn in the blue men's sides several times. Their main trait was their mercenary nature. The Kree wanted to conquer the universe, but the Aakon would be satisfied just to own most of it and sell to the part it didn't. However, they were as ruthless as the Kree in their objectives, and, when a world got in the way of their moneymaking, they took it by force or destroyed it.

Captain Marvel had fought them in his days as a military commander, and once during his mission on Earth. Since that time, they had not been seen on Carol's planet. Maybe they just didn't consider it economically worthwhile.

"You mentioned price negotiations," said Carol. "What's that all about?"

The Aakon said, "You are Terran/Kree hybrid. But, genetically, you also have remnants of sun-manipulant power. Makes you worthwhile to Kree, Skrull, other bidders."

"What?" Her eyes widened. "Listen, I'm not Binary anymore. I can't do anything with white hole power. You've got the wrong super-heroine. Let me go back, tell your bidders the merchandise was defective, and we'll all forget this mess."

He folded his hands again. "The power may be dormant, but may be duplicated, if body is studied. Warriors with white-hole power would be of great use in deepspace combat. Bidding will be vigorous with Skrull, Kree, and others who wish to keep the secret out of their hands." He smiled. "Could be responsible for capital for expansion into four new star-systems. Terran/Kree should be proud."

"Proud?" She was aghast. "Both of those races want me dead. Deathbird has been waiting to claw my head off for years. And the Skrulls see me as a half-Kree, and an Avenger. You can't do this!"

"In process of doing it," replied the Aakon. "We have taken tissue samples from skin. Will study same. Hopefully, these will key secrets of white-hole

Her mouth went dry. "And if they don't?"

"Organ harvest, possibly," said the Secondary Sir. "Will leave that to whomever wins the bidding. Will be kept well until then." He began to leave.

"You're going to murder me!" called Carol.

"We only deliver," he replied, not turning to look at her.

A crystalline door formed in a doorway after he left the chamber. Guards stood by the exit. An aide approached him. "Skrull is awaiting audience, Secondary Sir," he said.

"Will give audience," said his superior, and went with his underling to a meeting room in the Aakon starship. It was furnished with a long transparent table and chairs, above which hung holographic simulations of various worlds and their monetary worth. The displays
were constantly changing to keep track of current quotations.

There were five Aakons and a Skrull in the room.

The Skrull, in his normal, green-skinned, purple-uniformed state, grinned. He transformed his head into that of the Terran motorcycle cop he had imitated, for a moment. "Ah'd like to inform y'all that this here starship is bein' impounded by the state authorities for evidence."

The Undercommander of the ship blanched. "Is that the way they really talk down there?"

The Skrull's head returned to normal. "In the area to which I was sent, yes. I research my subjects very closely. Espionage isn't just appearance."

"Rk'kl, your work for us has been exemplary," said the Security Officer. "I'm sure your work for the Skrull Emperor was just as fine, but you were horribly underpaid."

"Until you made me a better offer," said Rk'kl. "I've got a family and an oceanside dwelling to support."

Gennareth, the only lower-level soldier in the group, caught the eye of the Undercommander. A slight message was conveyed, by body posturing even the Skrull could not perceive.

Secondary Sir nodded to the Paymaster. "Allot the payment to Rk'kl's family, through the usual blinds. Bonus as well."

The Skrull looked at him. "I thought you were paying me. Fires of Sha'tir, there's a pleasure planet I wanted to..."

Suddenly, the impact of the transaction came to him. He activated the change-cells of his body, tried to shrink, to become flexible, to give himself wings. But he never really made it.

Gennareth, one of the best assassins on board, let a small, very hard, very sharp ring fly from his hand.

It sliced through the Skrull's neck and left his half-transformed body in two pieces, both of which flopped to the flooring, covering a significant area of it with greenish blood.

"Couldn't afford to free him after this," noted the Undercommander. "After all, the Skrulls could have topped our offer. Are the credits in his wife's account?"

The Paymaster said, "Confirmed."

The Undercommander signalled approval. "What the Aakon buy, they pay for. Meeting adjourned."

Marie Danvers awoke in the county hospital with a start. "Oh," she cried. A nurse, waiting in the room, grasped her arms gently and helped her lie down again.

"Take it easy, Mrs. Danvers," said the nurse. "You're in the hospital. One of your neighbors saw you passed out in your front yard. You were sleeping like a baby. Are you a narcoleptic, ma'am?"

"Narco-what?" Marie grabbed the woman's arm firmly. "What about Carol? What about Joe? Where are they?"

"And Carol and Joe would be your family?" The nurse was infuriatingly calm. It was all Marie could do not to slap her.

"Yes, they would be my family. They would be my daughter and husband, dammit! I put my arms around Joe and I passed out. They didn't bring me here?"

"No, ma'am. It was a fellow named Jackson, as I recall. Peter Jackson."

"Then where are my husband and daughter?"

The nurse showed a trifle of concern. Marie took that as a major triumph. "I'm sure I don't know, ma'am. He said you were all alone on the ground when he saw you. And you said they were with you when you passed out?"

"Of course they were!"

"Perhaps they went looking for help?"

"That makes no sense at all. Joe had a perfectly good Dodge truck and he could've taken me here if I'd ... if I did what I did." Now she had to admit that she, herself, felt a bit of confusion. "And Carol had a car, too. They would have taken me here, if I passed out. But I did pass out."

"Yes, you did, ma'am," said the nurse. "That's definite."

Marie rubbed her temples. "That doesn't make any sense. Why would ...they wouldn't leave me. They just wouldn't."

The nurse said, "I'll have the doctor on duty come and take a look at you, ma'am. Will you be all right if I leave you for a moment?"

"I, I suppose so," said Marie, wonderingly. "This isn't a dream, is it?"

"No, ma'am," smiled the nurse. "My feet hurt too much for it to be a dream."

The nurse was out the door several seconds afterward. Marie looked about her. The room did seem to be a regular hospital room, though she hadn't had an occasion to visit this hospital before. But she did notice a telephone on the bedside stand.

She picked it up and dialed their house near Boston. No answer. She let it ring almost twenty times before breaking the connection.

This just couldn't be. This just really, truly, absolutely couldn't be...

Except that Carol was who she was. And someone might have been trying to get to her, with Marie standing in the way. But what about Joe?

Hell's bells.

She dialed information in New York, got a number, and had them dial it for her for a few cents more on her phone bill. A woman about her own age, by the sound of her voice, answered. "Avengers answering service. This is Peggy."

"This is Warbird's mother. I need to speak to the Avengers. I think my ... my daughter may have been kidnapped."

Only a second of silence before the voice said, "Hang on, ma'am. I'll put you right through."

Carol Danvers sighed and swiveled her head, the only part of her that could move, to survey the prison chamber. It was a pity she couldn't do power-blasts through her eyes, like the Vision's heat-bursts. Then again, she suspected the room might be insulated against it. Whatever else the Aakon were, they were evidently well-prepared.

Okay, honey, you've been in this spot before. You've been kidnapped more times than in all the Perils of Pauline. Yon-Rogg did it to you, years ago.  Remember?

I remember, she told her inner voice. That was when I got the treatment that made me a hybrid and gave me these powers. What else?

There was that time when the Brood caught you and did their little number on you. What about that?

Much less pleasant then our current circumstances, thank you, she answered. So far, the Aakon aren't torturing me. Though they've mentioned that somebody might just take me apart to see how I tick.

How about the last time you met the Kree? said her inner inquisitor. You really blew it that time, didn't you?

Don't remind me. I got drunk on Kreevian whiskey and tried to use my powers and blew it right in front of Captain frigging America. I got told I was not a team player by Mr. Red White and Blue Jockey Shorts himself. Like he could have saved the sun.

Well, there you go. You've been in this sort of spot before, and you've always made it out. Haven't you?

Maybe so, but before, I had a bunch of heroes, or at least Captain Marvel, to come rescue my spandex-covered behind. Now probably none of them knows where I am, not even the Starjammers. I'm here all alone. By myself.

She was conscious of a need to pass water, and did so, feeling a contrivance of sort about her pelvic region to take up such wastes. Handy. They were well-prepared.

She wet the inside of her mouth with her tongue. Was she being fed intravenuously? Didn't see anything in her arms, but might be farther down...

A drink. Lord, I need a drink. Oh, Lord, won'tcha buy me a Chivas Regal, it just takes one swig to, keep me on the ball...


She'd been doing so good about the booze. Sure, she wanted it. Every day. Just like a smoker wants her cigarette every day of her life after she quits. But she wouldn't allow herself the pleasure of spirits at the lake house. For catsake, she was on the frigging wagon! And she certainly wasn't going to fall off it in the presence of her mom.

Mom. Dad. The Aakon had told her that they were safe, and she hoped he wasn't lying. God, what would they be thinking now? Would Mom finally tell Dad what their little blonde darling had been doing all these years, traipsing around in three different super-costumes with as many changes of names and powers?

One thing was for certain. If she didn't get out of here soon, on her own, it wouldn't make any damn difference. The Skrulls would probably dissect her under anaesthesia. The Brood would lay her open bit by bit, with their sensors recording the precise amount of pain. Deathbird would probably outdo even them.

Dammit, she was not going on anybody's auction block! Even if they put her on eBay.

There was a sound of the door dematerializing and then rematerializing. She looked up.

An Aakon attendant, a female, was bringing her something on a tray. A tall plastic something with ... what looked very much like a straw.

"Welcome, Kree/Terran," said the woman. "I bring refreshment. We are assured you will enjoy it. It is Aakon policy to keep auctionees in comfort."

"Oh, goody," she said. "Is that some sort of protein juice?"

"No," said the woman, who had yellow skin, green hair, and a sharp-looking white hat and uniform. "This is alcohol, flavored and aged to your taste. Research indicates your appreciation of same."

Carol drew a deep, staggering breath.

"No, please," she said. "I'd just as soon not."

The Aakon stewardess bent towards Carol's head. "Have orders, Kree/Terran. Must fulfill, or face credit penalty. Please. Open mouth."

"Kree / Terran would rather not open mouth," said Carol. "Tell your bosses that I was absolutely impossible."

The woman stuck the end of the fiber-straw in Carol's mouth and squeezed the end of the receptacle. "No. Enjoy. Aakon insist. Your short stay with us will be pleasant."

The stuff in the bottle tasted like nectar from Zeus's own cellars and would probably go down like liquid gold.

It would hit her right in the pleasure centers and make her think she was pushing Stephen King off the best-seller lists, getting all the memory-neurons connected in her brain to experience her whole life in feel-o-rama, having sex with Sean Connery, and winning the World Series of Poker with all the Avengers watching and wishing they'd never decided to kick her off the team. All of that, and more.

She filled her cheeks with the golden liquid.

Then, with a will, she spurted it all over the stewardess's face and uniform.

"Tra!" swore the Aakon woman, shaking her head, dripping like a wet dog. Carol turned her head and spit repeatedly, clearing the stuff from her mouth, trying to drain the last single drop from her tongue. As soon as she could, she began to laugh, looking at the booze-bedecked attendant.

"Suppose you think that laughterfying," seethed the attendant, holding the bottle in one hand and the tray in the other. "A putrefying waste of good synthohol. Cost ship's company good money. Kree/Terran waster-bitch!"

Warbird couldn't stop giggling. "Put it on my tab, honey."

"Hmph!" The attendant turned on her heel and stamped out. At the door, she said, "Last time you see me, waster! And expect all your meals late!"

"Looking forward to it," she called. She heard the door dissipating and solidifying in the woman's wake.

Carol ventured to taste the inside of her mouth. Too bad. It was a waste of good booze, at that.

Except that no booze was good booze for her. She had to keep a clear head on her shoulders to have a chance to get out of this. Moreover, she had to do it to prove to herself that she could do it. She'd made a bad mistake some weeks back on the Kree ship with their whiskey. She was not going to do it again.

If only because she wanted so much to do it.

Well, nuke that. She was tired of being in her Warbird costume. She didn't know if the Aakon liked Terran women, but there wasn't any sense in being a pin-up for them if she didn't want to. With an effort of will, she made her costume shimmer out and her Carol Danvers clothes reappear.

As they did, she was conscious of something:

A lessening of pressure, as the transition was made.

Not very much. Probably not over a few foot-pounds. But still ... was she imagining it, or not?

To test it, she retransformed her clothes into her Warbird outfit. Yes. When the bump of transformation was done, somehow it pushed up on the pressure-stasis beam. Just a bit. Could she leach it away? Could she manage to slip out from under it, maybe just sidle away a few inches?

She tried to push up against it. Outside of the range of her breathing, she might as well have had Mount Rushmore over her body.

Well, that was something. At least, it was something to work with. If they left her enough time to work. If there was enough time between now, the auction (if it hadn't already started), and her delivery into the hands of whoever the lucky bidders were.

Warbird changed into Carol Danvers again, and back.

It took a little out of her, but she smiled.

The Kree spyship exited the sub-space continuum in a docking orbit around Earth. The aura of negativity was as proof against current Terran detection systems now as it had been in the days of Captain Mar-Vell's intelligence mission.

Commander Tor-Vonn, a survivor of the nega-bombing, ordered his crew to begin scanning for Ca-Rol Danvers. Obediently, an ensign at the bridge input the life-signs data of the hybrid woman into the detection device. A beam indetectible by Earthers began to sweep the globe. No matter where their quarry was on Earth, the scanner would find her. Then they could initiate the capture operation and prepare to deliver her unto Deathbird.

The commander was not so certain this was a good thing, not did he have any great love for the avian regent of their empire. But he had orders, and he was a Kree.

After an interval, the ensign said, "Commander, no signs."

He turned his head. "Say again, ensign."

"No signs, sir," repeated the Kree at the scan console. "Full pass over planet has been completed. Her signs are not detected."

"Run test on scanner, ensign."

Seven seconds later, the ensign said, "Equipment checks perfectly, sir."

The commander massaged the arm of his chair, the only sign he ever gave that he was concerned. Then he said, "Inform the regent majestrix that quarry has vanished."

The communications officer did so, then turned to the commander. "Incoming word, sir. Apparently, someone has stolen a march on us. Quarry has apparently been taken."

"Identity of thieves confirmed, Lieutenant?"

"Not confirmed, sir. Regent's man directs us to await orders."

"Then we shall await orders, Lieutenant."

"Aye, sir." The communications officer continued to listen.

And the commander wondered briefly what setting of the torture chair would be awaiting him when he returned to base, if he dared.

All planets are isolated, but some are harder to spy upon than others.

One of these contained an outdoor training facility, walled round about with deadly energies. Within it stood four figures. Three were armed, all from different worlds of higher gravities than the planet they stood upon. They all faced a single person, who was not armed. That person was blue-skinned, in a brief uniform of red and blue and gold, not unlike the suit that Carol Danvers had once worn as Ms. Marvel.

Above the foursome, three other blueskins looked on, impassively.

"Ho," called one of the judges, and the three who faced the blue woman began moving towards her, rapidly, without getting in each other's way. Theirs was a coordinated attack. The threesome, handpicked for this duty, were former thralls of Thanos. Their job, for which they were well-paid, was to try and kill this Kree woman.

The Marvanite, who wielded a monoblade of flexible energy, had the weapon thrust through his chest by a motion of the woman's arms which he never saw.

The Drygurian tried to blast her with his dual-charger weapon, an electrode of which was in each of his hands, but she reached through the tendrils of that blast with her foot, drove it through the body cavity of her thorax, and pulled her foot back, wet with the insides of her foe. He collapsed dead without a voluntary sound.

Her other foe threw away his weapon and came for her with his four bare hands. The world he came from was the largest of the three, and his strength here was greatest. His skill as a battler was unquestioned. He intended to block the wench's attack with one arm, tear one leg off with his second arm, rip her head off with his third, and steady her body with his fourth.

She broke the arm that reached for her first, then quickly leaped atop the screaming thrall's back and wound her sinewy legs about his head. Locking her ankles together, she squeezed and twisted her body.

The alien vertebrae of his neck separated as his skull fractured from the pressure.

The woman sat down hard on the thrall's body as he hit the sand of the arena.

She unwound her legs, breathing a bit more heavily, and stood, lifting her gaze to the judges.

The foremost of them addressed her.

"Your time is improving," he said. "Clean and reclothe yourself. Ronan has informed us of your necessity on a mission."

The Kree woman asked, "The objective?"

"The hybrid Kreevian," said the judge, with a hint of distaste. "Ca-Rol Danvers."

A smile formed on the woman's cold lips.

"Hopefully, to begin soon," she said. "And end shortly afterward."


Continued in Chapter 19.


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