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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.

Ms. Marvel / Binary / Warbird:
A Prize For Three Empires
Part 24

by DarkMark

The first burst rocked the shuttlecraft, even through its protective force-field. Gladiator was in the pilot's seat, Carol in the co-pilot's, and both were launching plasma blasts from separate ship's cannons at the Kree attack ship. The Starjammers were doing the same, and taking hits as well. Carol clenched her teeth. This was like two PT boats attacking a freaking aircraft carrier. But she was damned if she was going to give up now.

Gladiator said something. "What?" she said, glancing at him.

"I said, you're going to have to handle the cannon. I'm going out there."


"I have no choice. My powers are more effective than these things, anyway. I'm proof against most of their weaponry." He stood and turned to her. "Ca-Rol. My name is Kalarrk."

She loosed a blast of plasma against the warship. "Kalarrk?"

"Yes. That is my name. You may call me by it when I return. If I return."

"Damn it, Kalarrk, you're going to return! I'm not going to fold up and die just because we're under attack. I'm..."

He was already gone.

The Starjammers were counterattacking as best they could, with a drill-ray that unleashed a narrow beam of force against the Kree shield.  It was the best tactic for a small ship, and would have worked against less advanced vessels. But the Kree starship was too well-outfitted, too well-shielded. Corsair and company had to concentrate on defense once again, to their regret.

Raza was the first to notice it. "Corsair," he said, over the din of tension.

"What?" Major Summers fired back, over his shoulder.

"Something does not seem right," he said. "The Kree ship could be making a much better showing against us. Against Warbird, as well. It is as if they aren't trying to kill us."

Manning a plasma cannon's controls, Ch'od remarked, "So reassuring, Raza. If this is their worst effort, I would hate to see their next-to-worst."

"No, a point Raza has," said Hepzibah, her hands hanging onto a metal bar projecting from the wall as her feet worked the controls of the communications system. "As if they don't want us dead, it is. Then attack at all, why?"

"Open the channel and we'll find out," said Corsair, tersely. But the screen was blank. The Kree ship was blacking out all transmissions.

"Open for a send, Hepzibah," Corsair ordered. When it was done, he voiced a message to the Kree ship: "This is Captain Corsair of the independent vessel Starjammer. State reason for hostilities. We see no reason for combat, other than being attacked. Would like dialogue. Over."

There was no reply. That didn't surprise Christopher Summers. "Open something to Queen Lil," he said. "To Deathbird, too."

"What about Carol?" asked Raza.

"See her on that screen?" Corsair's finger stabbed out to one of the monitors. "If her ship's still there, she's still alive. Now open the damnblasted channels."

The crew noted the approaching figure of Gladiator with some concern. "Milady," said a crew member. "The Guardsman is known to us. He has power enough to tear this ship from one end to the other, provided he penetrates our screens."

Iva Kann turned on him with frightening intensity. "Use the transport cannon," she ordered.

"Deploy transport cannon," said the captain, passing on the order to his gunner. The weapon he spoke of was an innovation on this modified Kree spyship. It directed the teleport power normally used to beam a crewman down to a planet against an approaching enemy. The focus was too narrow to transport an entire ship, but against an attacking individual...well, they would see how effective it was.

Gladiator was hurtling towards them, fists outthrust, teeth bared in a grimace.

Then the transport beams hit him, and, suddenly, he was no longer there.

Where he was, none of them could say as of right then. The beam was set to teleport Gladiator away to a random location no less than seven parsecs away, and it worked.

Carol, tracking him on the vidscreen, gaped. "My God," she said. She had no idea of what had actually happened to Kalarrk. Teleported away? Disintegrated? The only safe bet was that he was out of the battle, and possibly out of her life. A pain of sorts stabbed into her heart. Then she dropped it into an internal drawer, to be taken out and examined when she had the time. Right now she had to concentrate on saving her own life. Perhaps those of the Starjammers, as well.

"Fire needle-beam at enemy," she ordered the craft. It did. Then she said, "Open communications to Starjammer craft and Avengers channel." She'd set the comm apparatus beforehand with a line to Cap's bunch at Avengers Mansion. Hopefully, she could get through to both of them at the same time.

But the computer voice said, "Communications blocked. Emanations from enemy vessel, identified as ‘Kree', interfering. Will keep trying to send."

"Do that," snapped Carol, and watched as the needle-beam of her ship spattered off the force-field of the Kree ship in a 3-D hologram simulation hanging in the air.

Then she felt the ship, and herself, being thrust to the side by an irresistable force. Even the phony gravity couldn't stop her from being flung to the floor and sent against one of the walls.

"Fire thrust engines," said Carol. "Break free."

"Firing," said the ship. The drive elements kicked in. They automatically increased their output until they were at their nth level.  But it didn't seem to make any difference.

At the present rate of output, Carol judged that the ship could waste its power in too short an interval. "Power down to normal thrust," she ordered. The command was relayed to the engines, and Warbird saw their levels dropping on the control panel readout.

It was at times like this, she recalled, that Captain Kirk would threaten to blow up the ship.

Well, to hell with that. Whoever it was would just have to come and get her if they wanted her. Or she'd find out first-hand where they were thrusting her to. Was this a reverse tractor beam? Guess that was possible.

Who would have thought that Star Trek qualified as job training?

Carol considered, then gave an order. "Computer," she said, "Open for recording input."

"Opening," the ship replied.

She cleared her throat, then began to speak. "Hello, Mom and Dad. Cap and all the Avengers, too. Maybe even the X-Men and ‘Jammers, if they get to see this. Yeah, it's me, Carol, aka Warbird. At least aka that this week. Well, I'm in a jam again. Thought I was getting to come home, but some so-and-so's in a Kree ship have other ideas about that. I'm alone in the ship and they've locked on with a reverse tractor beam.   I don't know where they're taking me, and I don't know for what. But if my luck so far is any indication, it can't be anything good. Just want to let you know that I'm not gone yet, but if you get this message, love to all. Especially to my mother and father. I could spew out a lot of cliches here, but the only thing I can really say is that I love you. And that I'm sorry to put you through this again. If I'm lucky, I'll get out of this fire into another frying pan. If I'm not...well...I intend to go down fighting. It's worked so far. Maybe it'll keep on working. And no, I'm not drinking. Thanks to all of you heroes, too, if you get to hear this. If I don't get to see you again, I hope...I hope I'm forgiven for my mistakes. I forgive you for any unpleasantness that's gone down between us. That's all I can say. Chocolate soda. Bye. Cease recording."

The light kicked off in the record sensor, and Carol let out a breath.

When was this gonna be over? When?

When was she going to quit leaping from frying pan to frying pan to frying pan?

A thought occurred to her, and made her wish she was double-jointed enough to kick herself in the head:

When you start thinking, instead of just reacting!

All right, she told herself. The Kree have got me in a tractor beam. If they wanted me dead, I'd probably be dead. So they don't want me that way, yet. Question: do they want me for the same reason everybody else does, to see if my genes have enough Binary material to make it worth their while to chop me up or whatever? Or do they want me for some other reason?

Well, her Seventh Sense power had come in handy a few minutes earlier. It was hard to manipulate...hell, almost impossible...but it was one she hadn't utilized all that much, and if it could be of help in this sitch, she was willing to try it. Gently, Carol sat cross-legged on the floor, lay her hands flat on the carpeting, closed her eyes, and relaxed as much as possible. She controlled her breathing, getting it as close to sleep-cycle as she could. Trance time, if she could make it.

Can I reach out with my mind?, she asked herself. Can I make contact with others through telepathy? Maybe find out who I'm up against, or let others know about me?

If it could be done, she resolved to do it.

There was an inner darkness of black and brown that, at another time, she might have suspected of just being what was within her skull. She continued, deeper into the trance, while the Kree beam took the shuttlecraft where it wanted.

(What about the Starjammers? What are they going through?)

(Never mind, keep at this...)

(What about Kalarrk? Has he just been sent away, or...)


It took more concentration than she thought herself capable of. The Seventh Sense was, hitherto, a thing which merely came to her unbidden. It was not a power she thought she could voluntarily wield.

Until she wielded it.

There was a Sensing.

A sensing of dozens of minds nearby, even separated by the void. The nearest ones, Kree and Starjammers, like local radio stations coming through on a fairly stormy day...hard to the background, beyond, indications of more and more minds...

It was as if she could see each mind in the Universe as a broadcasting station, some clear, some overlapped by others, all varying by distance, most indistinct, making for near-static. Some great, some small, some so titanic she didn't even want to touch them with whatever sensors she had.

(Keep it TOGETHER, Carol.)

(All right, all right...)

Now: filter. Try and project. Find who is the mind who opposes you. Charles Xavier, watch my dust.

(Don't get arrogant about this. You can get lost out there. Like a six-year-old dumped from an elevated train.)

Drive in for the Kree minds. You can tell them from others. Your half-Kree senses give you that power. Filter, filter, filter...

(Want me to dump the coffee grounds while I'm at it?)

(Shut up and work, kid.)

A mass of Kree minds. Each one of them briefly touched. Did they know it? Were they capable of knowing it? True, the Kree had knowledge of psiwar. But did they have any experience of something like this?

Reach up through their minds. Who is in command of that vessel? There's a captain, true, but he's under command of someone else. Find an image which is in most of their minds, correlate it, then you'll have the answer.

A woman?

A blue-skinned Kree woman?

We have the image. We can track her. We can make...

The ship's captain saw Iva Kann stiffen and rear back in her seat. Her eyes went as wild as that of a burdenbeast in taming, for a second.

"Milady," he said, tentatively.

After a beat, she turned on him. "Be silent," she said. Then she closed her eyes and grasped the armrests of her chair. It was facing one of the holosims of the shuttlecraft, and the captain thought she might somehow be having a hunter's reaction. The prey was close, after all.

No. It was more like a drug reaction, in appearance. He glanced about and saw that he was not the only one who noticed.

"If Agent Kann is somehow taken ill," a lieutenant began.

Iva's darkling eyes snapped open and glared lasers at him. "Agent Kann is...prevailing. Agent Kann is...under..."

At that, she leaped up from her chair.

She got her hands around the lieutenant's throat just before the captain and one of his mates could grab her.

(Keep using it...keep pushing...don't know what you're doing exactly to this Kree bitch, but it feels better than having somebody do it to you...)

<Ca-Rol! Can you read me? This is a transmission from Oracle.>

<What? Say again?>

<This is your mind, is it not, Ca-Rol? It sounds like you, but with a different texture.>

<It's me, Oracle. Don't have much time to talk, I'm into someone else's mind. What's the score where you are?>

<We were trying to make contact with you and Gladiator. There is a blackout of communications. Is he with you?>

<No. We were attacked by a rogue Kree vessel. He left the ship, went after them, and vanished. They either teleported him or...unghh...disintegrated him. Sorry. I'm kinda busy here.>

<Gladiator is gone?>

<Yeah. The rogue ship has attacked us and the Starjammers, and they've got me in a tractor beam, pushing me somewhere. Get word to Queen Lil and to Earth. I need help. As usual.>

<We will be there as swiftly as possible. I will alert the Guard.>

<You do that. Talk to Earth, too. I have a feeling even Deathbird doesn't know about this thing. I've gotta go.>

<Luck to you, Ca-Rol. As much luck as you have had hitherto, and more.>

<Thanks, hon. You too. Over and out.>

Warbird reluctantly let Oracle go, smiled grimly to herself, and kept pushing into another woman's mind.

Iva Kann had not been prepared for a psychic attack, and she swore at herself for her lack of foresight. She began focusing her indomitable will throughout her being again, resisting the pressure from without, resisting the effort by another to control her body and motor functions.  She was a Kree warrior, by the great Pama. One selected by the Lunatic Legion, by the great Ronan the Accuser himself. A blueskin who was, by rights, superior to all pinks. Including pinks who came from Earth.

Especially the pink she had been assigned to kill, as a test of her abilities.

The process that had empowered Captain Mar-Vell in years past, pioneered by Zarek, had been, in part, administered to her. It had increased her strength, speed, and stamina to a great degree, above that of the normal Kree, Skrull, or human. If she succeeded in her assignment, to destroy Warbird in a one-on-one combat assassination, for the pleasure of her superiors and to make the grade as a Kree agent...she would, she felt, ascend to the level of prestige Mar-Vell himself had gained, before he switched loyalties.

Well, what could one expect of a pink?

There were four men, Kree soldiers, hanging onto her, trying to pry her away from the lieutenant's throat. She let go of her victim and threw them off. But it was still not her in control, not quite yet.

The bitch within her was making her run, leap towards the control helm.

(Damn it beyond the seven Hells, no...)

Iva resisted, sweated, screamed out, "I am not in control! I am being controlled!" Her rate of progress slowed, but not enough. A crewman drew a blaster on her. Before he could aim it properly, the captain behind her took aim and killed him.

She tried to halt her motion, knew she was regaining control, but also knew it would be too late. And she knew where she was going.

Iva Kann's possessed body smashed past two soldiers, grabbed the man at the tractor beam controls, and yanked him from his seat.

Then, with a single blow, she smashed the controls.

An energy discharge knocked her back and away, and made the helmsmen on both sides of her lurch away for safety. A second later, a stun-beam paralyzed her, and a squad of Kreemen pinned her to the floor. One of them slapped an anaesthetic patch on her forehead. Within ten seconds, Iva Kann was asleep.

The lieutenant had missed serious injury, just barely. The captain was not pleased.

"Orders, sir?" said the first mate, when he could manage to speak.

"Get her into med chambers and under guard," snapped the captain. "And get our beam fixed so we can grab that ship, or, failing that, shoot it down."

Carol drew herself back into herself immediately. She came up from the trance like a swimmer kicking off the bottom of the deep end of the pool. Time to surface, or everything that had been won would be lost.

It did take some effort to regain her normal mental equilibrium. She sighed, opened her eyes. Yeah, it had been scary. Being inside that witch's mind, finding what she could from the unshielded parts (still so much she didn't know about her foe), and, finally, using her body to smash the tractor controls. Now, it was time to act.

Warbird pushed herself up, stood, drew in a deep breath, and said, "Thrust engines. Full force on. Get us out of here."

The shuttlecraft responded with a will.

She sat in the command chair and barked orders. "Scan for class 1A planets nearest. Try and raise comm with Starjammer craft. Also, scan to detect Gladiator life-signs. Keep thrusting."

The computer's voice, partly in her ear and partly in her mind, responded. "Query one. Class 1A planet reachable, with warp-drive cut in. Warp-drive will require refueling once planetfall is made."

"Do it," she said. Carol heard the humming tone of the engines change. The hum was artificial, to signify the level of power. The ship's engines themselves made no noise.

"Reference: Class 1A world: Arlak. Medieval society and economy, some space contact. Designated tradeworld. Neutrality between Skrull / Kree / Shi'ar empires. H1 inhabitants, 98 percent."

"Let them know we're coming," she said. "Broadcast a signal."


"Query two," the computer continued. "Attempting link."

A viewscreen of holographics shimmered into being before her, with much static in the picture. She almost expected to see a ONE MOMENT, PLEASE sign on it. Ch'od and Corsair, at the helm of their ship, were barely visible.

"Ca***," Summers said, his voice breaking up. "We're out o****** beam. Can you ******* peat, can you read me? Over."

She replied, "I can barely hear you, Chris. We're breaking up pretty badly. Over."

Major Summers tried to keep his answer terse, but she had to lip-read his fuzzy image to get all the gist of it. "We're headed for Arlak. ****** What about you? Over."

"Same here," she said. "Going to hit warp and pray we've still got a head start on the bad guys. Over."

"Hard to hear you. ******* hookup after pl*******. Sorry for diffi********. Out."

"Out," repeated Carol. The image faded.

"Query three," said the computer. "No scans for designate Gladiator detected in available space."

"Okay," said Carol, grimly. "Hit the warp."

It wasn't like when they put the hammer down in Star Wars. No strobe effect of stars turning into comet-like shapes. Since this was a momentary effect of tracking through sub-space, of gunning the engines and causing an effect of interdimensional travel, the aspect in the viewscreen just changed. An instant before, Warbird was in deep space. Now, she was within reaching distance of an inhabited planet in a solar system.

Carol ran her hands through her blonde hair. Well, this was a step in the right direction, at least.

Her Kree nature knew only a little about this world of Arlak. She didn't quite possess a subconscious Encyclopedia Galactica, as she well knew. Lots of times, it was just working knowledge. The globe loomed in her viewscreen, with a more sharply defined 3D image in a holo. Less water surface than Earth, but still comparable. At least a place to stop over, hide, and hopefully get fuelled for a return trip to Earth.

But she wondered if she dared return, before she found out about Gladiator. One thing the Air Force had taught her: never leave a brother in arms. He was much more than that, now. Carol wanted to see her mother and father again, her surviving brother, as well, and even good old Cap and Wanda. How could she do it, though, without learning what had happened to Kalarrk? And, if he was dead, without helping punish those responsible?

She guessed she'd have to play it as it came. And think beforehand, this time.

The computer's comm system relayed a message. "Intercept Control of Arlak to Shuttlecraft Delta 157/09. Confirm contact."

"Contact confirmed, Intercept," Carol replied.

"If you wish to land and dock, please state name and business and wait for permission."

She thought for a moment, crossed two fingers behind her back, and spoke again. "This is Captain Modesty Blaise. On my way to the Tellurian System, needing refueling and retooling, possibly. No hostile intentions. Awaiting permission."

There was a short wait while, she guessed, the planet's defense mechs scanned her ship. She crossed her arms and waited.

Finally, the verdict came back, "Permission granted, Captain Blaise. Sending beacon signal to your ship. Please link."

"Thanks. Link to their beacon, computer."

As ordered, the ship's mechanism accepted the signals of the Arlak homing beacon and adjusted its course to make landfall on the designated area of the world. Warbird breathed calmly, looking at the planet's aspect enlarge on her screen, and wondered at herself. It wasn't so long ago that she would have given her pilot's license to get into space. Now, it all seemed so, well, routine.

As long as nothing messed up too badly.

Thankfully, it did not. The shuttlecraft managed a perfect landing at the Arlak spaceport, and Carol tumbled out of the hatch to set her boots down on the tarmac. She took a few steps just to get used to this world's gravity. It was, thankfully, comparable to Earth's.

A couple of clerk-types in tunics, robes, and hats were approaching, accompanied by a few uniformed soldiers armed incongruously with blasters. One of the clerks, who held a flat board-gimmick in both hands, said, officiously, "The Arlak Authority greets Captain Blaise through this functionary, and wishes her a peaceful and prosperous stay on Arlak."

She smiled, slightly. "Captain Blaise returns greetings, and wishes the same for your houses. What's the procedure?"

"Hand here," said the clerk, indicating the board.

"Do I have to take my glove off?"

"No. It will scan through. But, Captain Blaise...why the mask?"

She looked at him as she slapped her palm down on the board's surface. "Part of my uniform."


Carol knew that she still had a credit account in what amounted to an interstellar bank, thanks to her work with the Starjammers. She made arrangements on the spot to have her bills sent there, and the deed was done. "I'm also expecting friends, on another ship," she said. "Commanded by a Major Summers. If he arrives, tell him Modesty Blaise is already here."

"It will be done," said the clerk. She figured Chris would be swift enough to figure her alias, even if he'd never read the comic strip.

A short while later, she was in an inn, marvelling somewhat at the cultural distance one travelled when one stepped away from the spaceport on Arlak. Beds of handmade material, not machined at all, and maids that could have stepped from an Earth historical novel, with a bit of imagination.

True, Iva Kann was bound to be on her trail. But, for now, she was tired, and relatively safe.

So, after a brief meal she had brought to her room, Warbird got out of her costume, changed into the nightthings she had carried from the ship in a small case, got into the double-sized bed, and slept.

It would have been restful, but midway through her sleep a face invaded her dream, and she sensed, even there, that it was probably from Outside.

It was the face of Iva Kann.


Continued in Chapter 25 >>


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