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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 27

by DarkMark

“You have much explaining to do, sister,” said Lilandra. “And I doubt I will be satisfied with any of it.”

Deathbird turned away from her in the chamber. “There is nothing to explain, sister.”

“Do you not turn away from me!” shouted Queen Lil, stabbing a finger in her sister’s direction. Caly’see Neramani whipped her face back towards the monarch. “You engaged in combat with an ally of the Empire, and with my personal friend. Do not tell me you did this in ignorance.”

“I did this,” said Deathbird evenly, “in the abscence of other orders from you.”

Coldly, Lilandra walked towards her sister, paused an instant, then slapped her across the face. Deathbird shook her head in surprise, then snarled. She bared a deadly hand towards the queen. Lilandra stared at her without moving.

A second later, Deathbird lowered her hand. She did not stop staring at her sister.

“The bonds of hospitality towards our allies are not cast aside. Even by one of the royal family. Caly’see, you should have notified me once Ca-Rol Danvers was taken by the Guard.”

“I had no orders standing.” Deathbird’s words were low and surly.

“You know better than that,” snapped Lilandra. “Even one of the Family Royal may not throw away protocol for the sake of a grudge fight. You have shamed me, sister.”

“Sister, I warn you,” said Deathbird, sharply. “Even one such as you dares not provoke me past a certain point.”

Lilandra said, “Harm me and you will find yourself facing execution. The Guard stand outside our door. Their combined power dwarfs even yours.”

“They would not get here in time to save you,” whispered Deathbird.

“See if you dare test it,” returned Lilandra.

Silence for a long moment.

Lilandra continued. “You will remain under house arrest here until the Warbird situation is resolved. Your powers of regency are suspended until such time as I decree otherwise. The subcouncil over the Kree Empire will rule in your absence. Attempt escape, or harm one of my guards, or both, and you will be permanently removed from office and further penalized in a way I have yet to decide. Is that clear, sister?”

Deathbird said nothing.

“Is that clear?”

“Yes,” hissed Caly’see.

Lilandra Neramani reached inside her tunic and thumbed a button on a communicator. The door to the chamber opened, and three guards entered. Deathbird could have taken them all out, but she dared not defy her sister.

“Take her to the arrest chamber,” said Lilandra. “Retain her until such time as I rule otherwise. Anyone who lets her escape can expect to face the grimmest penalties prescribed. Go.”

They flanked Deathbird and guided her through the door. After they had gone, Lilandra emerged, to face a contingent of Imperial Guardsmen and Bishop, who had been waiting outside. Bishop looked questioningly at her.

“She will not be permitted visitors,” said Lilandra. “Not yet.”

“As you wish,” said Bishop.

The members of the Guard made a short formal bow to their majestrix. “Be as was,” ordered Lilandra. “Oracle, have you any visions for us?”

The pale-skinned psychic stepped forward. “Concerning Gladiator, one, my queen. I believe he is alive. Only an impression of him in space, and a feeling that he will contact us before long.”

“Well said, and may it pass,” responded the queen. “And more?”

“Another vague feeling,” said Oracle. “That Warbird and her companions are in great danger.”

Lilandra looked at her for a moment. “For that prediction, one hardly needs your powers. This assignment I give you, my Guardsmen: that half of you seek out Gladiator and return him to the ranks or learn his fate if he be passed on, and that half of you go to the world of Arlak and see to the safety of Ca-Rol Danvers and the Starjammers. Divide yourselves as you will. Bishop, you will join one of the teams. I want you not here to be possibly tempted to help my sister escape.”

Bishop concealed his anger. “As you will, Lilandra.”

Starbolt said, “Will you be safe here with your sister, my queen?”

Lilandra replied, “As safe as anyone is with her. Go, and do as I have said.”

A pulse went off in her communicator. The queen pulled it from her robes and activated it. “Yes?”

“Majestrix,” said the voice of her major domo. “We are receiving a subspace message from Gladiator. Orders?”

“Patch him through.” She turned to Oracle for a moment. “Your power still seems efficient. Count yourself lucky. All of you, stand fast till we have the news.”

Warbird sat near Raza Longknife’s healing tube, her chin on her hands, staring at the form half-seen within the semitransparent cylinder. Waldoes within it tended to his unmoving body. There was a major bulge of reconstruction on the area of his neck where Iva’s jewel had struck him. He was still alive and probably would recover, given time. But if she had taken much longer at getting him to treatment, Raza would now be occupying a slab.

One of the doctors, a Denebian named Wruth, stepped beside her, holding a readout plate. “Your friend is doing more well than could be expected,” he said, touching the screen in appropriate places.

“If he wasn’t, he’d be dead,” said Carol.

“Severe damage to veins and arteries in the neck area, some minor spinal damage, luckily nothing detectable in the nerve trunk,” continued the doctor. “The wielder of that weapon showed considerable strength in throwing it.”

Carol said nothing, but cracked her knuckles.

“They tell me you’ve already spoken with the authorities,” he said.

“I have,” said Carol.

“You registered under an assumed name,” Wruth continued.

“I was trying,” she said, “to protect myself from people who would endanger me, and others, if they knew my identity and whereabouts.”

“Were you successful?”

She shook her head. “Not enough. Not nearly enough.”

“Tell me about it,” suggested the doctor.

Carol sighed. “I’m an Earthwoman. Got captured by a Skrull working with the Aakon, fell into the hands of an enemy Shi’ar, freed myself, got into a fight with a Kree spyship that’s probably stationed just outside of orbital space here, and found out they had an assassin gunning for me. The woman who injured my friend.”

Wruth nodded. “Could be charges brought against you for deception.”

“I’m sure I’m not the first person on this world who’s come here under an assumed name,” she said.

“I can give you the name of a good lawspeaker,” he said.

“Thanks, doctor, I may need one. But I just want you to keep tending to Raza, here. We’ve got some history together, and...I don’t like the idea of people getting hurt because of me.”

A tone sounded just before a viewscreen in the wall was activated, with an attendant’s face upon it. “Physician Wruth, a party to see the patient.”

Both of them glanced up. “Let me see who it is,” said Carol.

“Complying,” said the attendant. The picture was divided into two halves. The second half showed Ch’od, Hepzibah, and Corsair sitting in a waiting room.

“Oh, they’re our friends,” said Carol. “Go ahead and let them in.”

Several seconds later, the three Starjammers entered the hospital chamber, not even trying to hide their shock. Ch’od hurried to the healing tube and put his great arms around it. “Sir, please release that,” said Wruth. “You might damage it.”

“It’s all right, Ch’od,” said Corsair. “Don’t touch the equipment.” Reluctantly, the big, scaled Starjammer let go of Raza’s chamber. But Hepzibah and Major Summers went to it and touched it, as if they could channel healing energy into their comrade. Carol and Wruth joined them there.

“How long will it be before he can come out from under?” asked Corsair, grimly.

Wruth said, “At present, we want to keep him anesthetized for another day, at least. There’s still a measure to go on the reconstruction. He’s not out of danger yet, but he is recovering.”

Hepzibah lay both hands on the tube’s surface, her fingers curling and uncurling. “Should not have happened, this. Too good a man, Raza is. How did it?” She stared then at Carol with a look of accusation.

Warbird said, quietly, “He was trying to attack Iva Kann. She got him first.”

“Your part in this, what was?”

“She struck him before I could intervene.”

There was silence. Carol knew how inadequate her response was. Without being there, none could understand the quickness and violence of Iva’s attack. But, within her, there still nagged a single thought: Could I have been faster? Could I have swept him back, and taken the attack myself?

“I’m sorry,” she said. “Let me explain, if I can.”

She told them the story of their encounter with Iva. Afterward, their eyes held a bit more understanding. Corsair said, “Perhaps we all should have come with Raza. But...there is nothing to be done about that now.”

“Except to find the bitch who did this,” said Ch’od, his fist clenching, “and kill her.”

Warbird shook her head. “No, Ch’od. This one is mine.”

Hepzibah put a hand on her shoulder. “This thing, do not say, Carol. A Starjammer you were, a Starjammer you be. For all, we are one.”

Carol smiled slightly and put an arm about Hepzibah’s furred shoulders. “Thanks, Hep, but here’s my reasoning. If she’d wanted to target me, she could have had me. She ran, after she hit Raza. That means she was just trying to show me what she could do.”

“Gods,” said Ch’od. “Raza almost dies, just for a demonstration?”

“Such has happened before,” said Corsair. “Damn it!” He slapped the tube, roughly.

“Careful,” warned Wruth.


Carol said, “If the rest of you had been there, I don’t doubt but what she would have taken you out, as well. Even Ch’od. This woman doesn’t care about the rest of you. She’s been set to take me down, and that’s the only thing that’s going to satisfy her. Ergo...I have to go after her on my own.”

“You are not on your own, Carol,” said Corsair. “Nor will you ever be.”

She faced him. “On this, I may have to be, Chris. It’s one on one.”

“What if she kills you?” said Ch’od. “What then?”

After a pause, Carol said, “Then the rest of you will be out of danger. And this thing will finally be wrapped up.”

“Wait for the Shi’ar ships to get here, we could,” said Hepzibah. “Be here within two days, they will.”

“I think she knows that,” said Carol. “She’ll strike at me before then.”

Corsair reached inside his belt, produced a disk, and handed it to Carol. “Here,” he said. “It’s a new directional finder and transmitter. If you want to play Judas Goat, we won’t be far behind.”

Carol took it. “Chris, this one still has to be mine.”

“If you’re that stupid,” he said. “But we have to be able to help.”

Wruth said, “Excuse me. If this can be avoided, it seems that it should be. I am not eager to have to save another person’s life.”

Warbird looked at him. “We’re heroes, doctor. It’s what we do.” To the rest, she said, “Keep out of this, as much as you can. I can’t avoid her anymore. From here on in, it’s between Iva and me.” She turned and began to walk away, putting the disk within her costume.

“How will you find her?” said Ch’od.

She stopped and turned to him, briefly. “I’ll find her. Or she’ll find me.”

Then she left.

Captain America, in the Avengers Quinjet, put through a message to the X-Men on a private channel. The visage of Cyclops showed up on the viewscreen. “Hello, Cap,” said Scott. “What’s the problem today?”

“Afternoon, Cyke,” said Cap. “We’re on assignment. I assume you are, too?”

“Yeah, definitely. If you need aid, I’m afraid it’ll have to wait till we’re done here.”

“Not for me. It’s the Carol Danvers matter. Are you briefed?”

“We got a message relayed from the Scarlet Witch yesterday. That what you’re talking about?”

“Confirmed,” said Cap. “Haven’t heard from her since. No reason to believe she’s gotten into something worse, but no reason to be complacent, either.”

“What do you want to do about it?”

“After we wind up our present cases, I’d like to propose a joint effort. Both of us mount a space mission to escort her back, and / or fight off the parties trying to harm her.”

“I’ll see about it once we’re done, Cap. No definites, but Carol’s a friend of ours, too. If things work out here, I’ll ask for a task force.”

“That’s all I wanted to hear, Cyke,” said Cap. “Good luck on your mission. Out.”

“You, too, Cap. Out.”

The viewscreen blanked out. Giant-Man turned to Cap. “Getting another assignment already?”

Captain America nodded. “Let’s just hope it doesn’t turn into Galactic Storm II.”

After a moment, Hank Pym turned back to the controls.

So, thought Warbird as she flew over the buildings of the city, down these mean streets a woman must go. Or over them, at least.

She wondered if Iva had flight power. If she had been subjected to the same process that amplified Mar-Vell’s abilities, she well might. But her stay in Iva’s mind had not told her such. The ability to defy gravity might give her an edge, and she needed every edge she could get.

Inside her gloves, she felt her palms sweating.

The police authorities couldn’t give her much to go on. Evidently not too many people had seen Iva after she left the stage. Considering how much it would take to miss a fleeing, naked woman, her feat must have been impressive indeed.

Carol decided to try the old Seventh Sense again, and see if it worked. True, Iva would probably have mental blocks up. But it was one of the few cards she had left to play, outside of making herself a decoy.

Thus, while keeping one part of her mind aware of her surroundings, the structures below her and the flying vehicles she might encounter, she activated the part which contained what psi-sensing powers she had, as best she could. A half-trance was difficult, perhaps dangerous, in terms of possibly losing control of those thoughts which controlled your actions in flight. Still, it had to be done.

She went within the walls of her mental space. Shutting out most of the influences of her senses, Carol found the place where the Kree Psyche-Magnitron had increased her psychic ability somewhat, took hold of it, and prodded it into action. It was not unlike starting a stubborn car. You had to keep cranking it until the engine turned over.

Finally, it did.

It was like looking at the world below her through a colored filter or a negative. Spots of energy showed up below and above, irregularly, each point of light that of a sentient mind. She didn’t have the capacity to probe through all of them like Charles Xavier or Jean Grey could. About all she could do was call the template of Iva Kann’s mind up and try to find a match with it. Since she had once occupied Iva’s psyche, she at least had a fighting chance.

There was no guarantee Iva was anywhere around, but she had to try.

Warbird flew over the city in circles, dodging police aircars and commuter craft, drawing attention from rubberneckers of all species below, searching with her mind. Like the prince searching for Cinderella with a glass shoe. Somewhere, there had to be a woman who was a perfect fit.

Almost an hour later, it happened.

In an industrial section of the city, Carol picked up something. Not the mental pattern that would match Iva Kann, but the abscence of that pattern, like a cutout in a puzzle. She had her shields up. But at least Warbird could sense the shape of that shield.

Which, she reflected, was probably just what Iva intended her to do.

And, suddenly, she sensed that pattern moving up. Moving off the ground. Towards her.

Quickly, Carol began folding her Seventh Sense capacity back into the section of her mind it usually occupied. Now was the time for full consciousness.

She barely had time to get her hands up before Iva struck.

The woman’s flesh was now blue, and she was wearing a uniform of red and blue, not unlike the one Carol herself had worn as Ms. Marvel. She had on black gloves and boots, as well, but wasn’t wearing the neckerchief that had gotten grabbed by opponents so many times when Carol wore it. Fashionwise, at least, she was sensible.

Warbird had all the time she needed to take in those details before Iva’s fists crashed into her. They knocked her backwards, almost out of the sky. She flailed for a second, reeling in sudden pain, then kicked in her flight power again and righted herself.

The woman could hit, all right. That was to be expected. Now it was time to show her some competition.

But Iva was at her almost immediately. Carol barely had time to bring up a booted foot, but she did it full force, slamming hard into Iva’s chest and knocking her backward. The Earthwoman spurted forward, both of them about fifty feet over the tops of the highest buildings, and tried to slam a blow into Iva’s face. Her foe blocked it, and Carol barely managed to avoid a flat-handed blow from Iva. The two of them separated and hovered apart from each other in the sky.

Iva Kann was smiling.

“How is your partner?” she asked. “Is he still alive?”

Carol’s eyes narrowed, and she cursed herself for losing control even as she did it. “You bitch,” she snarled.

They rocketed into one another, collided, fought. The impact threw them downward. As they punched, kneed, kicked, and throttled, Carol angled their flight to bring them within range of one of the buildings. She was hoping the window that she aimed for was made of something not much harder than Terran glass.

It was, and it was double-plated. But they made it through.

Both of them were on the third level of a factory, on which some massive but unidentified (to Carol) machinery was stored. The workers on duty screeched and scattered. A guard on duty drew his weapon. Carol freed one of her hands and shot it out of his grasp with a plasma burst. Then she tried to loose a burst in Iva’s face.

The woman grabbed her fingers and bent them back almost to the breaking point. Warbird cried out in pain. At least, until she took a blow to the throat.

Carol struggled to rally, brought her knee up hard into Iva’s gut, tried to head-butt her in the forehead. But Iva’s free hand was striking her with piston swiftness and impact. With a burst of effort, Carol kicked them both up from the floor, took flight, and slammed Iva hard into one of the massive machines. Her foe stiffened in pain for a moment, and Carol blasted her with plasma.

It might have reduced another foe to ashes. There was a smell of singed hair about them. But as the glow of the burst faded, Warbird saw Iva’s face staring out at her, unharmed. “I’ve received treatments against that,” she confided.

Then she struck.

This time, Iva Kann was a dervish of destruction. Her fists and feet drove Carol before her, backwards, sending her reeling to the outer wall. The harried heroine from Earth fought back as best she could, but even she could tell Iva had her on speed, probably on skill, possibly on strength. She blasted at the ceiling, trying to bring it down on the Kree woman. A large chunk of it fell down, along with some apparatus it had been supporting, but Iva rolled out of the way as it crashed.

A flying kick sent Carol backwards. Another one drove the breath from her lungs. An uppercut almost stole her consciousness. She tried to pull herself together, to get up her hand for another blow, but Iva grabbed it. All that filled Carol’s field of vision was that hellish, conceited smile on the face of her enemy.

“You never told me if you partner lived,” said Iva. “But I suppose it doesn’t really matter, now.”

With that, she unleashed a blow that Carol didn’t have a hope of avoiding.

It knocked her straight through the wall of the building. She fell, but was not aware of it.

About twenty feet above the pavement, Iva Kann caught her and bore her upward. Warbird was battered, bruised, and, best of all from Iva’s point of view, unconscious.

A few bystanders on the ground were able to look up and point. But they weren’t able to follow the flying Kreewoman across the sky. Especially when she ducked between buildings and made for a lower level.

By the time the authorities arrived, there was no trace of her. Iva Kann had made one of the more memorable escapes on Arlakian police annals.

And Carol Danvers was gone with her.


Continued in Chapter 28 >>


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