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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.

All things come to they who waiteth and send feedback. Earlier chapters can be found on the new! improved! DarkMark's Domain, at Here we go...

Ms. Marvel / Binary / Warbird:
A Prize For Three Empires
Part 20

by DarkMark

The Kree attacked the Aakon ship with energies designed to slip past the pulses of the enemy's force field. It wasn't entirely successful, but it worked well enough. The mercantilists' starcraft was rocked enough to jinx their artificial gravity a tad, and the Aakon inside went flying.

After they picked themselves up, the helm crew reacted to orders from Commander Tynx: "Return fire! Sustain shields! Damage report!"

So the weapons chief activated a thrust of invisible energy that penetrated three of the Kree's four shields for a second and severely fractured the fourth. But before a second burst could travel down the pathway, the Kree ship had increased its power and resumed its shields, and another blast from them was on the way.

It was space warfare in its textbook classic form, and both parties knew how lethal it could become. But the Kree were only intent on disabling the Aakon vessel. At least until they could find and capture Carol Danvers.

That was going to be the sticky part of things. But if anybody could do it, the fighting Kree could manage.

Then something happened that made the Kree captain curse every bureaucrat in the Empire. A new ship dropped its spyshields and firmed up into existence within firing range. From the looks of it, it was Skrull.

"Orders, Commander?" asked the second officer.

"Open channel--" was as far as the captain got.

A Skrull rayburst slammed into the shell of force-field that protected the ship's outer layers and, with a pincer movement, shook it like a wet dog before the Kree regained control.

"Open fire on Skrull craft," barked the captain. "Alternate with fire on Aakon. Make ready to retreat, if need be. But only on my command."

"Aye, sir," said the second officer.

The Kree ship blasted at the Skrull craft just before the latter's next blast impacted.

Carol had felt the impacts of the blasts as she fought her way down the passageway of the Aakon ship. She was on the right level for the escape craft, but there was a lot of starship between her and the bay.

Now what the hell was going on? The ship was under attack, that was obvious. Who was it? Didn't really matter. She tackled another Aakon guard and smashed him to the deck, then knocked him unconscious with a karate punch.

Sweat was staining her black suit and her breath was coming in harder than before. Sooner or later, she had to get some rest. But that probably wouldn't happen unless and until she made her way to the escape craft. And, by Heaven, that was what she was going to do.

It was either that, or be sold downriver to some maniacs who'd take her apart to see if there was any Binary left in her. If there was, she was going to find out about it first.

Carol caught herself and, despite her tiredness, had to laugh. She thought she sounded like a character from one of those old Robert Heinlein books she used to enjoy. God, how much science fiction had she gone through when she was a kid? All of it she could find in the county library, that was for sure.

Warbird hurled herself into the air again, speeding towards another doorway. It opened onto a hall, which, she knew, would open onto another room, closer to her goal. She sped up her flight, trailing sparks behind her.

Then she slammed headlong into something that felt hard as steel and looked as clear as glass.

Carol fell back to the fibrous covering of the floor, butt first. She grunted in pain, winced, and felt of her forehead. Nothing bleeding, but she'd most likely have a headache for a week. What was that she'd bashed into? A crystal barrier?

She stepped forward quickly and felt of the clearness with her hand. No ... from the feel of it, its energy tactile through her gloves, this was a force-field. Well, so they'd found her. Big deal. There was always the way she came in.

But she flew back more cautiously, and wasn't really surprised when another force-field was found to be materialized behind her.

She looked back. No conscious Aakon in the chamber behind her, or before her, but if they'd located her through sensors (which, she guessed, they would have had to in order to activate the fields), it was a safe bet that they'd have men pouring into the area within minutes.

So what now? Force-fields to the front of her, force-fields to the back of her, into the valley of Aakon roared the Kree / Terran...

...Except that there was more than just a back and front to this mess. There were sides, and a top and bottom, too. They were metal, and tough to break through. She was tired.

On the other hand, where was the spirit of Scar Gordon and John Carter and Kimball Kinnison in this day and age? Or better yet, the spirit of Friday and Podkyne of Mars and Dejah Thoris and Clarissa Kinnison, for Pete's sake?

"Right here," she muttered. "TANSTAAFL!"

Squatting down, Warbird hurled herself at the ceiling, her two gloved fists pointed upward.

They slammed into the metal of the ceiling, which was somebody else's floor. The three Aakon above her, all of them searching, saw the bulge that had rocked them off their feet and stared at it in wonder. "Kree / Terran can do that?" asked one.

The bulge burst, and a womanly form rocketed upward. She grabbed two of them, cracked their heads together, and kicked the third in the chops.

Before he went under, the third one had his answer. Kree / Terran could do that, all right.

Corsair was watching the readouts on the helm's sensors, monitoring what he could of subspace communications, and, in general, trying to find out what sort of ship had Carol Danvers and where it could be found. Trying to pick out a thread from that was like trying to find a worthwhile read on the spinner rack at a drugstore. Not bloody likely, but you had to keep looking.

Raza spoke. "Commander, I may have a lead."

Major Summers turned to look at the cyborg. "Details, Raza?"

"Garbled transmission from a Kree ship. Something about an attack. Caught the word ‘Aakon'. Trying to monitor known Skrull frequencies, but they're tech-sneaky. They have messageways we've never discovered."

"About as promising as anything I've heard so far," said Corsair. "See if we can pick up some more confirmation."

Hepzibah, the skunklike alien female, looked miffed. "If Carol Danvers - she with us stayed, maybe not Binary powers lose. Then all pinky-square be, and not have to go to troublesuch, us."

Corsair yawned and stretched a bit. "With us or without us, she's still a sister-in-arms, Hep. The Avengers have asked for our help, and if we have to take this crate through the Crab Nebula to do it, we're going to find her."

Ch'od and his alien pet lurked nearby, but made no comment. Then Raza's head came up again. His eyes glinted. "New transmission, Commander. It's Kree, but I caught the words ‘lyth tragom'."

"Skrull," said Corsair. "A three-way fight. Don't know if it's her, but ... it bears investigating. Plot a course and go, Raza."

"With haste, Commander." Raza's hands played over the controls.

Hepzibah curled the tip of her tail around her ankle. "Not knowing as much Kree as I'd like. ‘Lyth tragom' Kreevian for Skrull?"

Corsair said, "Actually, the literal meaning is ‘green bastards'."


Deathbird stood in her robes of office, listening to the reports from the war-vessel in the communications center. Bishop, her consort, stood beside her. "I like this not," he said.

"Warfare has been part of the Kree way ever since their inception," said Deathbird. "There is little chance for it to change now."

"With as few Kree as there are today?" retorted Bishop. "How many have you left, princess?"

She looked at him coldly. "As many as I need," she said. "You may go now."

"I would rather not."

"Guards," she called. Four armed soldiers of the Imperium assembled around Bishop. He glowered. His power was enough to trash them and this room if he wished, but that would be against Lilandra's will.

"All right, but hear me out, Deathbird," he snapped. "Even in a war, there are only so many men you can risk losing. The Kree need to build up their race, not waste it in offensive combat. Moreover, Carol Danvers is an ally. A friend."

"We shall take note of that when she comes into my hands, Bishop," noted Deathbird. "Now, please, let the guards escort you back to the governor's palace."

Seething, the X-Man from the future allowed himself to be led out by the encircling guards. Lysandra turned away, concealing her smile. Then she spoke. "How fares the ship, Colonel?"

A communications officer looked up from his console. "Not easy to determine," he said. "She's taken hits from Skrull and Aakon. Lifeloss is still within acceptible parameters. Difficult to assess damage on enemy ships. Withdrawal is possible, as an option."

"That would not give us Warbird," said Deathbird. "She is the prize we want, the prize we must have. A prize for three empires, indeed. Tell the captain to maintain his attack."

"Will relay," answered the commander, and did just that.

Deathbird stood for a moment, her eyes closed, and pictured her wings slashing into the face and body of the Earthwoman, ruining her beauty, destroying her forever. A fantasy that would have been impossible had the enemy still been Binary, but which was all too possible now that she was reduced in power.

The overseer of the Kree took a deep, shuddering breath and let it out. The Kree ship would have to win this battle, or the Guardsmen would have to take action. One or the other, she would have to prevail. She could always tell the Empire that it was important to keep Warbird out of the hands of the Skrulls. She didn't know that she had to tell Bishop anything.

But she only had to remind herself of the pleasure of stripping Carol Danvers's flesh from her bones, and ending their conflict once and for all.

That was the only real reason she needed.

The Aakon ship had finally yielded its greatest treasure to her. Warbird cracked two yellow heads together, and tossed the warriors down at the floor. Panting, sweaty, she stood within the chamber she had sought since escaping: the housing deck for the shuttlecraft.

Before her, five small cruisers sat in a row before the spacelock. Normally, someone had to open both of the massive doors before them at a control panel, while the occupant of the cruiser guided the machine. But in times of need, the door servos could be put on automatic, and would open and close in conjunction with the forward motion of the cruiser.

Well, this was a time of need.

Carol stepped over to the nearest cruiser. It was built to hold only ten people, at most, and wasn't much bigger than a NASA space shuttle. But it did have space-spanning capacities, and it could sustain her life until she could get back to Earth.

Provided she didn't get shot down in the battle outside. Provided the warring parties didn't manage to chase and capture her. Well, that was enough provideds for right now. The Lord helps those who help themselves, and Carol was about to help herself to an Aakon shuttle.

She went to the control interface, drew upon the Kree manuals that had been impressed into her consciousness about captured Aakon craft, and set her hands in the correct positions. Within seconds, the process had begun. She also knew that a signal had been sent to the helm that the shuttle room was in operation, so she hoped that the process would be fast enough.

Warbird hurried to the craft she had chosen. It was locked, and normally would respond only to an Aakon with the correct opening procedures. She expelled some of her photonic energy--it cost her, but she could manage it--and the hatch slid open. Carol entered, then manually pulled the hatch shut and activated the lock.

It was dim inside, with roof lights putting out only a small amount of light. That would probably change once she got out of the mother ship. The interior was mostly painted a dull red with some white highlights and the insignia of the Aakon star fleet in several places. No time to admire the decor now, she told herself. Warbird went to the control chair and sat down. She placed her hands on the helm switches and opened the power.

"Forward," she said in Aakon. She marvelled that the tongue came so naturally to her. Then again, with her Kree half at the fore, why wouldn't it?

The ship began to rise from its cradle. It hung suspended between floor housing and ceiling, while the first door before her began groaning open.

She was too much of a USAF jock to let her nerves overpower her. A part of her mind was chorusing, "What if the Aakon bust in before I can escape? What if I'm caught by the other ships? What do I do then?" The rest of her mind advised her, "Shut up and fly."

Carol heeded the rest of her mind. She sent the shuttle forth, through the opened doorway. Another two lie ahead, one of them already opening. The second was a safeguard in case the airlock malfunctioned. With a silent prayer, Warbird got through the second hatch.

One remained. She saw it opening before her. Outside, dark space was visible, though no stars could be discerned. The ship, after all, was still travelling, even in battle.

Then an alarm light went off on the left-hand wall, and the third door, halfway opened, froze.

Warbird swore. The hatchway wasn't nearly open wide enough for her ship to get through. Her powers would only shield her from the airlessness and death-cold of space for a minute or two. But the alternative, leaving her in the hands of the Aakon or whoever won the battle, wasn't exactly attractive to her.

"Hell," she muttered. "If we couldn't pull off a last desperate chance, the Avengers'd be dead seventeen times by now."

So saying, she exited the hatch of her ship, and stepped into vacuum.

It was horrifying.

Even though she had taken a deep breath and held it with her hybrid strength, Carol could feel the air trying to balloon forth from her nose and mouth, and draw in nothingness. The veins in her arms and legs began to show. Her heart labored more strenuously. And the cold ... great heaven, the cold was forming frost on her half-exposed body.

She devoted some of her energy-power to an aura of heat that partially protected her, but she could still feel the cold through it. All of this, she sensed and accomplished within three seconds time. She doubted she had many more seconds to live, outside the ship.

Warbird ran at the third hatch, blasting away at it with her power, possibly denting it but not moving it much. What she wouldn't give for Iron Man's repulsors today ... holy blazes, just for Iron Man's armor!, she thought.

The blood pounded in her temples like the soundtrack to a reading of Poe's "Tell-Tale Heart." Her autonomic nervous system was signalling her to expel old air, take in whatever was left (or not left) outside. The running didn't help.

The alarm light was still going off. She paid it no attention.

Carol lay both hands on the hatch door, still only half-retracted into its housing. Ten seconds had passed so far.

She set her back against one side of the hatch housing, set her legs and arms against the door, and, using all her strength, pushed.


She pushed again.


The hybrid powers that were sustaining her life would soon reach their limit. So would her strength. The sweat poured down her brow, evaporating in globules. If this didn't move, she'd have to get back to the shuttle pronto, just to save her life ... to breathe...

She felt a give in the door.

Carol opened her eyes wide, felt her cheeks fill with the used-up air in her body, and made another terrible, straining effort.

The door was giving. Inch by inch, but ... it was giving.

So, unfortunately, was she.

Breaking off, Warbird hurried back to the shuttlecraft, her vision beginning to fade, stabbed a control node near the shuttle hatch with her forefinger, and tumbled in as the door opened. Air rushed past her into vacuum. She crawled inward far enough for the door to close behind her.

Air. Sweet, invisible, lung-filling air. And warmth. She expelled her old breath from her body and drew in a new breath. Choking on it, coughing, she nonetheless kept breathing, until her breath rate normalized.

As soon as Carol came around, she looked out of the viewport and scowled at the half-open hatch. Not enough ground had been gained.

She'd have to try again.

This time, Warbird made a quick check of the ship's stores by computer, found what she was looking for--a protective suit--and cursed herself for stupidity. Of course the ship would have some suits! Not great ones, true, but enough to protect passengers should life-support fail or in case of other accidents.

There was no telling how much time she had left before the Aakon burst through. As quickly as possible, she found the cache of spacesuits, made of a greenish-grey mesh material, and donned one, encasing her head in a transparent helmet. The suit's life-sustaining functions kicked in automatically.

"This time, Kree / Terran uses her brains as well as her bod," Carol told herself. She opened the shuttle's airlock again, flew to the obstinate mothership door, braced her spacesuited back against the jamb, and pressed her gloved hands against the door itself.

Then she pushed.

And pushed.

And pushed some more.

The blasted Aakon had to know where she was, what she was doing or trying to do. The alarm had gone off minutes ago. They must have become occupied with something else. But still, she couldn't rely on their abscence for much longer. If this door didn't give quickly, it might as well not give at all.

Grunting, sweating, Warbird pushed harder. She felt the metal give a little more.

Come on, come on, just a little more than that...

It took a lot more than a little. But, several minutes later, with a final thrust and an "Unghh!", and the feeling that she'd either turned purple or given herself a hernia, she felt the damned door finally lock itself in an open position.

Carol fell to her knees, feeling the metal deck beneath her, but hearing no sound save for her own gasping. Naturally not. All outside was vacuum.

She managed to raise her helmeted head. Surely there would have to be yellow-skinned, space-suited Aakon before her, weapons at the ready, to take her back into custody. She wasn't even sure she could fight them off. It felt like she had carried a small mountain on a thirty-mile run.

But no, no Aakon were visible. The shuttlecraft still waited for her. It was unbelievable.

The only bad part about it was that she couldn't celebrate her good fortune with a drink.

"And ... I'll drink to that," she muttered, getting one foot and then the other under her, wobbling her way to the craft. Once there, she clambered in the airlock, shut the outer door behind her, opened the inner one, crawled into the pilot's seat, opened her helmet, breathed the cabin air with a series of sighs, and again said "Forward" in Aakon.

The shuttle responded, levitating from the deck and thrusting away from the hangar area, into the starscape beyond.

Carol manipulated the controls to accelerate the shuttle's speed. A viewscreen on the control panel gave her several views of immediate space, and she saw the reason for the Aakon's abscence. The ship was being battered by the blasts of two other vessels, one Kree, the other apparently Skrull. That meant she was in danger from both. A warning screen cut in, showing a plasma blast headed in her direction. The craft automatically avoided it, twisting sideways to dodge yet another burst.

She kept her hands on the controls and thought about the good old days in a fighter jet.

This thing had weapons, too, but nothing to match those on the three warring starships. Best chance was to get the hell out of here and hope she was either (a) not seen, which was unlikely, or (b) allowed to escape because the combatants had other things on their minds, such as survival. (B) was best.

She gunned the engines as much as she could and, wondering where she could go, decided that anyplace away from here was good enough for the moment.

Actually, Carol's piloting was quite impressive. She guided the shuttle (with the help of its computer pilot) past a mass of force beams, plasma bursts, and similar destructive agencies without being blown to pieces. The three combative ships had each, by this time, taken note of her presence, but were too busy fighting each other to do much about it.

She knew that status wouldn't last long--only till one or two of them were blown to bits by the others' armament--so she arrowed the shuttle away from the battlesite as far and quickly as possible.

In another instance, she might have gotten away with it, managed to find a nonhostile planet to land on, made contact with Earth, and gotten home in time for a reunion with her folks, the Avengers, and anyone else she felt like seeing just then.

But it was not far distant from the spacewar at all that she felt the craft's forward motion halted so abruptly it almost gave her whiplash.

Warbird gunned the engines again and again, but couldn't break the grip laid upon her craft. Desperately, she directed the computers to identify her foe. They couldn't come up with much. The attacker's stealth tech was too good. All she could ascertain was that she was held by a tractor beam that had about five times the power of the shuttle's engines.

There wasn't much left to do except see what happened next.

The shuttle was dragged closer to the abductor, and, after a threshold was passed, Carol saw the ship clearly. It was a Shi'ar craft. She clenched her fists and swore. With her luck, Deathbird would be on board. The only thing she could expect from her would be dissection, without anaesthetic.

The maw of the ship's dock opened and the shuttle was placed in it, as gently as possible. The beam of the tractor still held it, until a pair of figures she couldn't see raced up to the hull, opened a panel, and manually deactivated her ship's engines. She tried overriding them. No dice. Besides, the hangar door was now closed.

Carol wasn't in great condition to fight. She'd been doing that long enough aboard the Aakon ship, and had followed that up with the exercise in airlock isometrics. She was bone-weary and wanted a hot meal, a hot bath, and a cool bed. Really, that wasn't too much to ask.

Except that the types opening her airlock hatch from the outside didn't seem like the type from which to ask any favors.

She did a double-take as she saw the ones who entered her craft. She knew them both. Carol stood, letting them make the first move. Both of them stopped, a few feet away from her.

Gladiator spoke.

"Carol Danvers, called Warbird, we bring you greetings from the Imperial Guard. You are detained by order of the Imperial Majestrix. Please do not resist, as I have no desire to cause you harm."

The other one appeared to be the Guardsman called Fang. She looked them both over.

"Just take me someplace where I can eat, don't tie me up, and I'll come with you," she said.

Gladiator nodded, without enthusiasm.

She let them accompany her out of the shuttle.


Continued in Chapter 21..


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