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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 25

by DarkMark

“You have failed, and failed badly, Iva Kann,” he said through the monitor screen. Iva, standing at attention in her quarters, said nothing. She didn’t dare to.

Ronan continued, “With all your superior power, with all the training you have been given, with all the preparation of a warrior of the Kree, you allowed her to invade your mind, to possess your body, and to let her cause you to attack the ship’s captain. From that, both our quarries escaped. Because of you.”

“Lord Ronan,” she began. “We had no idea she had this power–“

“Silence.” The Accuser of the Kree said it softly and let it hang in the air between them. Iva shut her mouth and kept it that way. Her future, and her very life, hung on the decision that Ronan was about to make. No, had probably already made.

“Because of your failure, the subject Ca-Rol Danvers will not be easily returned to our base for combat and dispatch. The spectacle of seeing one of our enemies destroyed by someone we formerly trusted will be denied to the Lunatic Legion. Several of our crewmen lie injured. Because of you.”

Ronan paused, and was slightly satisfied that Iva held her peace.

“You will have one chance to redeem yourself, Iva Kann. You will be sent in a shuttlecraft to Arlak. You will receive psychotreatment beforehand to block attempts at mental possession. You will go there in an undercover identity, as a warship or a spyship may not overtly enter Arlak space. Once you have established yourself there, you will come back bearing the corpse of Ca-Rol Danvers, or not at all. Is this understood?”

“It is understood, Lord Ronan,” said Iva, glad to have a chance to speak.

“It is essential she be destroyed. To keep her out of the hands of our rivals, even of the occupational Shi’ar government, this must be done. Is this understood, Agent Kann?”

“Understood, Lord Ronan,” she said.

“One more thing,” said Ronan. “Should you fail, Agent Kann, and should she choose not to destroy you, I will see to your execution myself. Personally. Is this understood?”

Iva Kann took one breath. Then she responded, “Understood perfectly, Lord Ronan.”

At present, Gladiator had to admit he didn’t know where in hell he was.

True, he was in the midst of airless space. But there’s a lot of airless space to be in the midst of, and the stars and constellations he saw around him gave him only the barest reference from which to orient himself. It’s darned easy to get lost in the cosmos without a starship or directionals to point you towards a destination.

On Earth, it would be like being stranded in the midst of a featureless desert, and trying to walk to a place where a sign of civilization could be seen. You might find it, true. But the odds were that you’d walk in circles until you died of thirst.

Thankfully, thirst, hunger, and airlessness were not things that bothered Kalarrk. But he was susceptible to the same psychological problems sensory deprivation, loneliness, and paranoia would present for any humanoid being.

However (and he almost smacked himself for forgetting it), he did have a directional device fitted into his belt. It tracked a signal coming from the shuttlecraft, and could be adjusted to track one coming from the main ship of the Imperial Guard. He activated it. The pulses of its sensor, felt as vibrations of varying intensity against his abdomen, told him in which direction Carol and the shuttlecraft had gone. There was also a readout screen, set into the interior of the belt itself.

Gladiator separated the two components of the tracker system and looked at the distance. Seven parsecs.

He wished a communications system was built into the thing, as well.

At least, he mused, he knew which way to go. But even with his speed, it was going to be awhile before he could get there. Perhaps, along the way, he could hook up with a friendly starcraft, or land on an inhabited world that wasn’t hostile.

On the other hand, if he ran into any hostiles, he had the option of beating the hell out of them.

That, and concern for Carol, filled his thoughts as he launched himself through the void. He also kept his mental shields down so that Oracle would be able to sense him, should she cast her mental nets in his direction.

The stars would be Gladiator’s only companions through almost all of his journey.

Carol awoke from her half-troubled dream, sitting upright in bed. She was glad it was morning. At least she’d gotten her eight hours in, troubled or not. Now it was time to figure out what the heck to do.

Like it or not, Iva Kann would probably be coming after her. She knew the type from her days in the CIA. There were some people, assassins, who knew from nothing except to complete the contract that had been given them. They wouldn’t rest until they were dead or locked up, or you were. The object, of course, was to make sure they were in the former category.

But she had a feeling Iva Kann could never be locked up enough to keep away from her.

Putting that aside, she thought as she went to the Arlakian equivalent of a bathroom, she had to make contact with the Starjammers, with the Imperial Guard, with Earth, and with Queen Lilandra. Each of them had to be informed of what happened to her and Gladiator, and help had to be gotten if they could manage it. Carol didn’t kid herself that she’d gotten anything less than a respite from trouble, even here.

It took some combing of her Kree memories to sort out everything that the Arlakian lavatory possessed. Their john functioned much the same as a Terran one, with the exception that waste products were immediately recycled. The Arlakians weren’t wasteful with their water, and the rest went to be processed into fertilizer. After she used it, she positioned herself, naked, between two discs that were set in the ceiling and floor. A tubular shield descended from the ceiling and went to the floor. Then Carol was hit with a particle spray that cleansed her and doused her in a pleasant scent. She wouldn’t necessarily stop perspiring in heat or during effort, but it would by-gosh smell pretty good when she did.

After the cleansing, the tube retracted into the ceiling. Carol dabbed herself dry with a towel from a rack, wrapped herself in a robe hung near the door, and went back to her room. There was a small door in the wall near her bed. Pulled open, it revealed a drawer. In Arlakian and several other languages, a sign beside it read: FOR LAUNDRY. She put her Warbird costume in it and closed it. A sensor line on the front plate showed the progress of the cleaning process. Within thirty seconds, the drawer popped open of its own accord. Her uniform was fresh again, and dry. She got out of the robe and put on the suit, boots, and mask anew. Smoothing the last on her face, Carol decided she felt like a super-heroine again.

Which, considering what she was up against, she decided was a good way to feel.

There was a communicator in the wall. She activated it with a voice command. “Welcome to the Traveler’s Haven Number 7538,” announced a professionally friendly synthesized voice. “We exist to fulfill your needs. State your name, credit number, and desired service and we shall do our best to serve you.”

After giving her phony name and real credit number, Warbird said, “I want to put through several subspace communications. Please do not monitor. Over.”

“Connecting with Arlak Subspace Communicators, Inc.,” the voice said. “Please wait.”

A short interval, then: “Arlak Subspace Communicators, THE service for interspace communications. Between the worlds, there is no courier to compete with us. State name and credit number, then party or parties you wish to contact.”

Carol went through the ritual, then gave them the communications link to the Starjammers and sadi, “Do not monitor.”

A tone signalled that the channel was open. Carol said a silent prayer of thanks. That signified they were still alive. “Voiceprint,” said a mechanical voice.

“Carol Danvers,” she said.


“Guys, it’s Carol,” she went on. “If anybody’s there, please pick up. Over.”

Within two seconds another voice was heard. “Ca-Rol! Upon your house blessings be. Hepzibah is this. You are how and where?”

“I’m fine and in a hotel room, Hep. How the hell are you?”

“Too, us,” said Hepzibah. “Landfall made we. From your transmission source, far away you are on continent from us. No injury?”

“None. How about you?”

“Similar. Bangs and bruises, a couple of, no more. Talk to Corsair, would you like?”

“Talk to Corsair, I would,” said Carol. “Thanks, Hep.”

She heard the voice of Christopher Summers. “Carol! We were worried about you. How did you make out?”

“Hi, Chris,” she said. “I worried about you, as well. I made out fine.  But there’s some things I have to tell you.”

“Go ahead.”

“First, Gladiator is gone. I don’t know if he’s been killed or teleported away, but he went out against the Kree ship and vanished. I’m going to get in contact with the Imps, if I can, and see what can be done to track him. Second, there’s a woman on the Kree ship who is out to kill me. I found out through a psychic link. Her name is Iva Kann, and she appears to be an agent of Ronan the Accuser.”

Corsair whistled. “When you pick up enemies, you don’t fool around, do you, Carol?”

“I just wish I did. The bit is, she may be after you, as well. So watch your back. Can we hook up soon? I’m having the shuttle refuelled and looked after.”

“Like Hepzibah said, we made landfall about half a continent away from you. We could lift off again, make suborbit, and be at your port within a short time. But that might mean giving that Kree ship a crack at us again, if it’s still out there.”

“Yeah, I can see where that might be a problem,” said Carol. “Can these guys, the Arlakians, do teleports? Across land, I mean?”

“I don’t think so,” said Corsair. “When you get your ship attended to, we’ll see about a hookup again. But I don’t feel right about leaving you alone, if you’re in danger.”

“So what do you want to do?”

“I could send Raza or Ch’od over there, or I could come myself. But it’ll be over a day, even with their land transports.”

“I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” Carol said. “If there’s just one of you that comes, there’s too much of a chance the Kree woman or whoever comes with her could nail them in transit. If more than one comes, it’s dividing your forces too much. Why don’t we just sit tight for the duration?”

“Is that really what you want?”

“Heck, no. I want to see all of you again. I also want somebody to watch my back. But, right now, I think this is the smartest move so far, until we get things taken care of.”

“What about the Kree?”

“You know they can’t land that warship here,” she said. “Arlak is a mutually-recognized tradeworld.”

“A lot of skulduggery goes on in these tradeworlds,” said Corsair. “It’s worse than the Orient Express. Hold on, somebody wants to talk to you.”

Raza came on the line. “Ca-Rol Danvers, greeting. Irregardless of what you said to Corsair, I am coming to guard you.”

Carol said, “Are you sure you want to do that, Raza? I’ve just spoken with Chris about it, and you know our reasoning.”

“Pah!” spat Raza. “If any Kree wants to match steel with Raza Longknife, on the way or at your side, let him. Or her. I will engage transport and be with you as soon as can be done.”

Warbird smiled. “You’re a dear, Raza. And, once again...I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

Raza looked at her seriously. “I know you did not, Ca-Rol. But the matter has been resolved with honor. Now, you may look upon Raza Longknife again as your good right swordarm.”

“That means more than you’ll ever know, Raza. All right, I’ll be waiting.”

Ch’od cut in. “Warbird, just had to talk to you before you log off. Cr’eee and I both wish you the best of luck, and wish to press flesh with you as soon as possibly may be.”

Carol smiled. “I’m looking forward to it myself, you big lug. See you then. Anything else?”

Corsair said, “Not from here, Carol. How about you?”

“Get in touch with Queen Lil and tell her what’s gone down. Also, see if you can raise the Imperial Guard. I’m going to try to do both myself, but if we both try, at least one of us should get through. Okay?”

“Received and noted, Carol. Take care.”

“You, too. Out.”

The connection was broken and Carol made a new one. This time, it was to Queen Lilandra. It took more time than she would have liked, but one doesn’t just get through to the Empress-Majestrix of the Shi’ar without going through channels. Finally, the queen’s voice was heard. “To our ally, Carol Danvers, who is called Warbird, greeting,” she said.

“And to my ally, Lilandra, Empress of the Shi’ar, greeting,” said Carol.  “Got a message for you, Majestrix. You’ve heard about my set-to with your sister, right?”

“If you mean that I have learned of your battle with Cal’syee, yes,” replied Queen Lil. “I regret what happened, and rejoice in your survival. If I had known in time, I might have halted the conflict. But there is only so much control even I have, over my sister.”

“I think you need to have more,” Carol stated. “Shortly after we left planet, we were pursued by a Kree spy vessel that attacked us and made Gladiator vanish.”

“The Imperial Guard spoke of it. Tell me, from your perspective.”

Briefly, Carol related the story of their battle with the Kree craft. When she was done, Lilandra had a succinct reaction: “This is terrible.”

“That’s an understatement,” Carol answered.

“I intend to speak with Cal’ysee personally about this,” said the queen.  “She will not go unscathed for this conduct. As for the Kree ship, she had best know nothing about it. I have a premonition she does not.”

“Makes sense,” said Carol. “I couldn’t get at all of Iva’s mind, but from what I could gather, she seems to be part of a rogue agents’ group, out to restore Kree independence. Maybe the same as the Lunatic Legion I fought with the Avengers not long ago.”

“This could well be,” said Lilandra. “If so, it will be her responsibility to find them and penalize them. However, to speak freely, where you are concerned, she might not care to be very efficient in that area.”

“Yeah,” said Carol.

“But I can dispatch a warship or two of my own,” Lil continued. “They can be there within three standard days. If you remain on-planet till then, you should be safe from attack by the Kree ship. Will that be sufficient?”

“If Iva and I don’t have a get-together in that time, it may be,” said Carol. “I appreciate the effort very much, Queen. Thank you.”

“We have been allies and friends, Carol Danvers. I remember our time with the Starjammers fondly. This entire affair has grown too troublesome, especially with the loss of Gladiator. If he is to be found, we will find him.”

“I’m assured of that,” said Carol. “And when you do, if you do, and if he’ any shape to know it...please tell him I’ve been thinking of him.”

A pause. Carol feared she’d revealed too much of herself with that statement. But Lilandra said, “Of course. Is there anything else you wish me to know?”

“Just get in touch with the Guard. I’ll be trying to talk with them myself, and so will the Starjammers. Thanks again, Lilandra.”

“Acknowledged, and welcome. Until we speak again, break.”

The connection was broken. Since she guessed Lilandra would be trying to raise the Imperial Guard, Carol opted to call Earth next. Avengers Mansion had one of the few communications systems that could handle subspace messaging. She put through a call.

The voice of an ex-astronaut she knew came to her. “Avengers Mansion. John Jameson speaking.”

“John, this is Warbird,” she said.

“Warbird? Hey, this is outstanding!” said John. “Where are you? What happened?”

“I’m on a planet called Arlak, and I’m safe for the moment,” she said. “Is Cap there, or any other Avenger?”

“The Scarlet Witch and Wonder Man are. Any prefs?”

“Let me talk to Wanda.”

“Hang on a sec.”

A second later, Wanda Maximoff’s European accent came clearly over the channel. “This is the Scarlet Witch.”

“Wanda, it’s Carol. How are you, girl?”

“Carol!” Wanda almost squealed in joy. “Oh, you’ve given us such a fright with your last message. Are you all right? Where are you, now?”

“Let me give you the Reader’s Digest version, Wanda,” said Warbird. In brief, she told the mutant Avenger what had befallen her of late, and ended with, “That’s where I am right now.”

Wanda said, “It seems you fall from one fire into another, Carol. And this Kree woman—“

“Iva Kann.”

“—this Iva Kann wishes to destroy you just as a test?”

“That’s part of it. But the real reasons are, one: the Kree just don’t like me. I’m a hybrid of one of them and one of their hated enemies, the Terrans. The Blues have a real problem with the Pinks among the Kree. Imagine what they feel like to somebody who’s not only Kree-pink, but Kree-Terran. Two: several planetary races have shown an interest in me, because they think I may still have the Binary stuff in my genes, and they want to cut me up and see if they can isolate its essence and duplicate it in their warriors. Three: I was a member of the Avengers, involved in Galactic Storm. For those reasons, and probably others I don’t like, she was supposed to nab me, bring me back, and fight me to the death in front of an audience of Blues. Probably the Lunatic Legion.”

“And you picked that up just from the brief contact you had with her mind?”

“Some of it. Some’s just deduction. I guess I’ve become a real prize, Wanda. A prize for at least three Empires...Skrull, Kree, Aakon, maybe even Shi’ar. But I just want to get back to Earth and be done with it.”

“If you live through the next few days, you probably will,” said Wanda. “Oh, I’m sorry I said that. My tongue ran away with my thoughts.”

“That’s all right, honey. I’ve been living with stuff like this since I joined the CIA. I know the Avengers can’t get here within the deadline.  But...well...”

She heard Wanda draw in a breath. “Go ahead and say it, Carol.”

“If something happens to me, can you...come investigate?”

“Dear, there is a reason why we’re called the Avengers.”

Carol sighed. “Thank you, Wanda. Thank you very much.”

“You may have left the team, Carol. But to us, you are still an Avenger.”

“Wanda. I’m sorry it went down like it did, when I left. I...oh, damn it.”

“It is all right, Carol,” said Wanda. “It is in the past. Now, you are in danger, and you are a sister in arms. That is what is important.”

“I’m glad, Wanda. And I’m sorry for being such a pain in the rear the last time we talked.”


“I’m on the wagon, now. That isn’t just a cliche. I’m sober, and I...I intend to stay that way.” She laughed, incongruously. “Provided I live. But I just...I just want to know that I’m still your friend.”

“Carol. Listen to me. I have a brother who tried to destroy the entire team, once. I have a father who has tried to conquer the human race, time and again. I have a husband who was lost to me, thanks to what was done to his brain, and I lost...I lost my two children, Carol.”

“Wanda, my God, I’m sorry.”

“It is past, Carol, and I am coping. Now, do you mean to tell me that I should be upset because of some silly tiff we had not long past? Knowing what you, too, have undergone, should I hate you? If so, I disregard it, Carol. I am your friend. And I am glad you are mine.”

Tears welled in the corner of Carol’s eyes. She fought them back. “Wanda. After all that’s gone down in the past week or two, that...makes up for almost all of it. Thank you, honey. Thank you very much.”

“You are welcome, Carol. But save your thanks for when you return. And when you do get back to Earth, I want to see you—we all want to see you—at Avengers Mansion. Promise me that you’ll come see us.”

“I promise, Wanda, I promise. Nothing could keep me back. And please tell Cap, Iron Man, and the rest that I think they’re the greatest. Especially Cap and Iron Man. Tell them I’m sober, too.”

“I will, Carol. And if you are harmed, the Avengers will avenge. That is a promise of the entire team.”

“Thanks, but I hope you don’t have to. Now, could you do me a favor?”

“Anything I can, dear.”

“Could you call up my parents’ place at the lake and patch me through? I need to talk to them. To let them know what’s happened to me.”

“Your mother has already called, and we relayed the gist of your last message back. She’ll be glad to hear from you.”

“Oh, Lord, I hope so,” said Warbird. “Please connect me, Wanda.”

“I will, as soon as John can look it up. I’m glad you called, Carol.”

“I’m very glad I did, too, Wanda.”

Carol had the longest wait yet for the connection between the Avengers’ devices, AT&T, and the pickup on her parents’ phone line. When she finally got through, her mother’s voice came through, the stress in it evident. “Hello?”

“Mom, it’s me. It’s Carol.”

“Carol? Oh, my God, Carol, Carol, is it really you?”

“It’s really me, Mom. It’ can tell it’s me, right? My voice is the same as you remember, isn’t it? I’m, I’m speaking over millions and millions of miles of space. If we hadn’t comped for time differential...Oh, what the hell am I saying?”

“I don’t know what you’re saying, Carol, but please, please keep saying it. I want to hear you speak. I want to hear you speak as long as you can, and tell them to reverse the charges. Just keep talking.”

Carol laughed despite herself. “No, don’t worry about that. But I wanted you and Dad to know I was all right, and I wanted to know if you’ve been okay since I got kidnapped.”

“Oh, heavens. Your father and I got knocked out—well, not knocked out, really, just put to sleep by somebody who, who looked just like him.”

Carol’s jaw muscles clenched. “I can guess. A Skrull.”

“That was a Skrull?” Her mother’s voice was awed, not a little fearful.

“Yep,” said Warbird. “And I owe them one for that. Provided I can find the one who did it, of course. You’re not hurt? You, or Dad?”

“No, dear, we’re fine. are you?”

“Oh, jeez,” she sighed. “You wouldn’t believe it. But after everything I’ve been through, I’m fine. I’m sitting in a pretty nice hotel room on this crossroads planet, and I’m hoping to start home again in about three days. I don’t know what that’ll be relative to you, but we’ll comp for it by using space-warps.”

“You’re confusing me. I never even liked Daylight Savings Time.”

“Neither did anybody else. I’m fine right now, Mom, and for the moment, nobody’s shooting at me, paralyzing me, or trying to beat me up. I had a good night’s sleep and I need to get breakfast in a bit. But I wanted to talk to you. Is Dad there?”

“He’s in town, trying to get a detective to look for you,” said Marie Danvers. “But, Carol, it’s getting harder for me to keep your secret a secret.”

“I can imagine,” said Carol. She took a deep breath. “You want to go ahead and tell him?”

“Carol. I think you should, if that’s what you want to do.”

“Well, I will, the next time we talk,” said Warbird. “It’s too hard keeping it from him, too, and I guess...I guess I’ve decided it’s not fair. I love Dad, and it’s not right to keep him in the dark all this time.”

“I’m glad you feel that way, Carol,” said Marie. “I don’t know how Joe will take it. But I do know he’ll love you, too, because he does.”

“That’s good to know, Mom. Real good. But it’s never been in doubt. Listen. I’ll call you back tonight. In the meantime, tell Dad to forget about the detective. It’d just be wasted money.”

“Can’t you give me a number where we can reach you?”

“Uh. Mom. You can’t reach me.”


“I’ll reach you,” she said. “And Mom, thanks. For everything.”

“You have to go now?”

“‘Fraid so. But I’ll be back.”

“Good. Make sure you do. I’ll glue Joe to his chair, if I have to, to make sure he’s here when you call. Can you give me a time?”

“Probably not. But unless something comes up, I’ll make sure and give you a call back tonight.”

“What could come up, Carol?”

“Goodbye, Mom,” said Carol, and broke the connection.

She sat there for a long moment, hands in her lap, staring at the communications device.

Then she got her stuff together, got up, and left to go find some breakfast.

In another spaceport, in another processing office, an Arlakian functionary was checking the bona fides of another routine visitor.

“You are Mysta Tren?”

“That is myself.”

“And your business?”

“Entertainment,” the woman beamed. “I am a singer. Also a flesh-dancer.” She adjusted her robes as if to suggest there was a lot behind them to be seen, but that the prize would be forever beyond the Arlakian’s reach.

He kept a straight face. “Well. Everything seems to be in order. You will be putting on a show on-planet soon, Mistress Tren?”

“Oh, yes,” smiled Iva Kann. “Very soon.”


Continued in Chapter 26 >>


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