"I don't even want to go there," said Carol, hugging
her knees as she sat on the bed. "Don't even want to
go there at all."
"So don't," said Marie, vacuuming the hardwood
floor of her room. "From what you've told me, they've
got enough people for a political party. What are they going
to do that's so interesting? Run a bingo game?"
"I can do the vacuuming, Mom."
"So can I, and I've got the machine right now. Carol,
answer me this. You're a grown woman, you've been through
stuff I can't even imagine going through, over and over again.
You know these people. What are you so afraid of?"
Carol lay back on the bed, her hands covering her eyes. "I'm
losing my powers. Ever since we did that trick with the white
holes in space, they've been tapering off. They'll be expecting
Binary, super-wonder girl who punches out plasma. They're
getting something closer to Ms. Marvel."
Marie Danvers shut off the vacuum. "And that's so bad?
Would it be so bad if you lost all your power, and was just
plain Carol Jane again, like you were when I had you?"
"No, Mama," she said. "You just don't get
it. The Avengers is a power organization."
"And you've got powers, for crying out loud! You told
me yourself. They recruited you, as I recall, when you were
Ms. Marvel, not this Binary character. If you don't want to
go, don't. If you do go, just act nice to everyone, say 'It's
good to see you again,' and don't commit to anything. You've
got your writing to do, anyway. Don't you?"
Carol nodded. "Yeah. But there are still folks I want
to see up there. Wanda. Cap. The Beast. Also, a lot of 'em
just came back after we thought they were dead for some time.
It'd look like a real insult if I didn't show up."
"You act like this was some high school party. What
do you want? Make a decision, and stick with it. Carol, with
all the problems you've had with these super-types, I should
think you'd let 'em alone. They only get you into trouble.
"They do," she admitted. "But they're also
friends. I'm going." She jackknifed off the bed, on the
side away from her mother. Then she pulled a drawer out of
her chest of drawers, emptied the underwear inside it onto
the bed, pulled out the fake bottom, and took what was lying
It was the suit, sash, and gloves portion of her Ms. Marvel
costume. The mask and boots were elsewhere.
"Better wash that before you put it on," said Marie.
"It's been in there awhile."
"It has," Carol said, and traipsed off to the laundry
As it was, just about everyone who had ever been in the Avengers
and who wasn't dead made the scene. She wasn't sure, after
looking at the Swordsman, if the latter condition hadn't been
waived. But he was a Swordsman from a parallel world, or so
There were new faces, new superhero names to memorize, and
Wanda hadn't gotten there when Carol arrived. She was wearing
the Ms. Marvel suit, but she powered up sufficiently to give
them the old red-skin-and-fiery-head effect. She was greeted
by Jarvis, and introduced by him to the crew in the big den
God, please don't let them know how much I'm faking it,
Natasha, the Black Widow, was one of the first to step up
and shake her hand. "It's great seeing you again, Carol.
The Big Five are in a closed meeting right now, but they'll
be joining us soon."
"The Big Five?" asked Carol. "I thought there
were just Cap, Iron Man, Hank, and Jan. Did the Hulk rejoin
"Bojemoi!" The Widow laughed. "No, Thor made
it back, too. But just about everyone here has been under
attack recently by trolls and gnomes and fairies, like something
out of Tolkien. And only old and new Avengers members have
gotten it. Have you?"
"No," she had to admit. "Maybe I'm not enough
of an Avenger for them to bother with?"
The Black Widow studied her for a second. "Well, neither
did Reed or Sue Richards, and they were with the team for
awhile. Something wrong, Carol?"
"Oh, nothing," said Carol. "'Scuse me, Tasha.
I'm going to talk to McCoy. It's nice talking to you."
She crossed the room, being greeted by a number of the others
and greeting them in turn. So many, many people in crazy costumes.
She-Hulk. Sersi. Hercules. Machine Man. Falcon. Rick Jones,
whose legs had been injured, in a floating chair like Professor
X's. Crystal. Starfox. Sandman, a former criminal. A woman
with a staff, whose name, she learned, was Magdalene. The
new Swordsman. Moondragon. D-Man. The Black Panther. Sub-Mariner.
The second Spider-Woman. Tigra. Justice. Rage. Firestar. Spider-Man.
Captain Marvel II, who was now Photon, thankfully. Black Knight.
Stingray. Quasar. The Vision. Espirita. Living Lightning.
Darkhawk. And just now, Jarvis announced the arrival of three
more: Hawkeye, the Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver.
Good Lord, it was a colony.
The Beast was showing off, balancing on his toes on the mantelpiece
in front of a painting of the five original Avengers. Or maybe
it was just an attempt to find a place to stand. "Hank,"
He glanced around and saw her. "Carol," he said,
and jumped down, landing gracefully on the floor in front
of her. "How've you been? Run into any rough Shi'ar lately?"
The Beast tried a new tack. "Nice threads, Carol. So,
is it back to the divine Ms. M, or are you still going by
"Oh, what difference does it make, Beast?", she
said, tiredly. "What I want to know is, why are we standing
around wasting time? We were called by Captain America and
the others. So where are they?"
He spread his hands. "Doing something Avengerish. Sitting
around playing Original Five games again. How should I know?"
Darkhawk, the armored guy who was newer than both of them,
broke in. "I think they're trying to see if they can
contact the last remaining members, Hank. Like the Hulk, Mr.
and Mrs. Richards, and the Thing. Whatever this phenomenon
is, it's targeted almost all of the team."
"What happened to that new Thor guy?" asked Carol.
"Dead," said Hank.
"Oh," she said.
She wondered if she should find Jarvis and ask him for a
drink. She clasped both hands behind her and held onto them
to keep them from trembling. "We haven't been introduced,"
she said to the guy in the armor. "I'm Carol Danvers."
"Darkhawk," he said. "Pleased to meet you."
He stuck out his hand and, somewhat nervously, she shook it.
"I was with the West Coast branch. Didn't you serve as
Before she could answer, Jarvis's voice rang out through
"Ladies and gentlemen, excuse me," he said. "Captain
America and the others have requested your presence in the
briefing room. Please follow me."
All of them had filed into the big auditorium and occupied
the seats while Captain America, Giant-Man, the Wasp, Iron
Man, and Thor gave them a briefing. The mythological weirdies
that had attacked the various members that week were possibly
connected to something called the Twilight Sword, which was
lost, and five "norn stones", on which they had
a make. So they divided the team into five parts, mounted
Quinjets, and were off.
They found the sword, and quite a bit more than that.
They found themselves in the power of Morgan Le Fey and Mordred,
two ancient sorcerors from the time of Camelot.
Somehow, Morgan's magic, boosted by the captive Scarlet Witch,
was used to either turn Earth into a world styled after medaeval
Britain, or they were shunted into a parallel world, or something.
Whatever the case, for a time they served her, as her Imperial
Guard, under her mental domination. They all got names more
suited to the time of knights and dragons. Hers was Lady Marvel.
The good guys had won, with a little help from Wonder Man,
who was effectively brought back from the "dead"
by having his energy reassembled. She had done her part, even
though she found being under someone else's mental control
gave her harrowing flashbacks to the Immortus incident. She
was still able to fly, to fight, to use super-strength, and
to throw off a few plasma bolts.
But she was slackening off, power-wise, and hoped it wasn't
too obvious to the others.
With the breaking of Morgan's spell, the world had come back
to its normal state. The Beast had summed up the adventure
with one question, which he put before them all: "What
are we gonna do with 39 Avengers?"
Everybody knew the real answer: Throw some people out.
For a week or two, the bulk of the team was on call, with
a large mass of them answering calls, crushing whatever luckless
super-baddie happened to be in operation right then, and,
largely, getting in each other's way. Eight of them, including
the Black Widow, left fairly early. Five others followed shortly
after. The five Founding Members, who had charter power over
the entire team, took a meeting to sort out the rest.
While that was happening, Carol finally went to Hank McCoy
in the lab section of the mansion. "Hank," she said.
"I've got to tell you something. When I do, I want you
to keep it to yourself until I announce it. I'm trusting you.
The blue-furred acrobat peered over his granny glasses at
her. "Carol, look. We've been friends ever since you
did your original tour of duty with this team. I've worked
with you here, and with the X-Men. It behooves me to say,
if you can't trust me after all that, what must I do to earn
She said, "I just need you to run some tests on me.
We need to keep the tests, and the results, confidential for
right now. Yes, Hank, I do trust you. Can you trust me?"
He swiveled his chair around, reached out, and took her hand.
"It's about your powers, isn't it?"
"Is it that obvious?"
"I don't think everyone noticed," he said. "Not
all of them have seen you as Binary. But I've seen you punching
out Rogue and trying to tame a white hole star. I could tell,
after I got out from under Morgan's control, that you weren't
using all the power that you used to have. The Shi'ar incident
caused that, am I right?"
"Probably so," she admitted.
"Let's see what I can do."
Over the next week, her power waned more. She was still left
with what abilities she had as Ms. Marvel. The Binary force
seemed to have reenergized her Kree / human genetic matrix.
She was grateful for that, at least.
But she could barely even change form, now. It was getting
more difficult for her to even do the flare-up transformation.
Usually, it took several tries before she got going, like
a difficult cigarette lighter. She also found her flame-projecting
abilities fading. She could still use the blasts, still punch
through metal with them. But they were nowhere near what they
had been in the past. Nowhere near enough to tame a star.
Her hands clamped in power-gauging devices, Carol said to
the Beast, "I need a new name."
He looked at her. "Won't that be a giveaway, Carol?
That's admitting you don't have the star-power anymore."
She said, "I've changed names before. They'll just think
it's another title change for awhile, until I tell them."
"And you are going to tell them?" Hank looked at
her, waiting for her answer.
"Yes," she admitted. "But not now. I haven't
even thought of a new name yet."
"What about Ms. Marvel?"
"I think that lady Thing is still using it, and I don't
want to go backwards. Even if I am." She sighed. "What
name isn't taken these days?"
"Good question," said Hank, who knew that super-heroes
were still a growth market. "How's about something mythological?
Athena? Pallas? Nike?"
"Oh, come on, do I look Greek to you?" While she
spoke, she exerted her concentration once more.
She was rewarded with a flareup of transformation. The nimbus
of Binary power surrounded her, transforming her head to flame
and her skin to a reddish color. But it only lasted five seconds.
"Not at the moment, no," said the Beast. "Corona?
"Taken, I don't think so," she said, returning
to her human appearance. "And I don't think so. So what's
the score? Give it to me straight."
She had to admit, the last transformation had tired her.
"Straight you want, my dear Ms. Danvers, straight you
get. It appears that your powers have definitely decreased.
From these readings, I doubt you'll even be able to shift
into your Binary form again." He paused. "I'm sorry."
There it was. The pronouncement. Like a small lead coffin
in her stomach.
No more soaring through space with the power of thousands
of white holes broadcasting to her. No more saving the sun.
No more blasting spaceships to bits.
No more Binary.
She took a deep breath. "Don't be," she said. "It's
not your fault. Besides, you're only confirming what I already
knew. I've been feeling it for weeks." She began unhooking
the power-measuring gauntlets. "Just do me a favor, Beast,
and don't tell anyone. Hey, would a fighter plane work? One
of the old Warbirds, maybe?"
The Beast looked up from his computer screen, and gently
smiled. "For an ex-USAF cutie who flies? How outre can
you get? But hey, you go from being phenomenally powerful
to merely incredibly powerful. Where's the harm in telling--"
"No, Beast," she said, firmly. "You've got
the X-Men. I want on this team, and I'm not going to risk
jeopardizing it. Now what've you got?"
"Uh, before you look..."
She looked at the list of names he had typed up. "Warrior
Woman? Regalia? Stuka? Blitzkrieg?"
"Hey, I'm called the Beast," grinned McCoy. "What
do I know from names?"
They both laughed, and were glad of the chance.
"Promise me you won't tell," she said.
"I promise," he replied. "Promise me you will
She said, "When the time comes, Hank. When it comes."
The only reason she knew that she had for wanting to stay
on the team was because some of the people on it, such as
Jan and Cap, were good friends. And because it was a place
to go. And maybe because the writing wasn't taking off again
like she wanted it to.
Maybe it was because being a super-hero was something she
knew how to do. Or maybe it was because she wanted to know
if she still could do it.
Whatever the case, she told her parents that she was staying
in New York for awhile, and would be back whenever time permitted.
After finishing a call to her mother, she hung up, walked
out of her room, and headed for the den.
Nobody was there at the moment.
She was still shaky. She didn't know how long she could keep
faking it, or what the rest would think of her--especially
Wanda and Jan--when she had to tell them.
There was a wet bar against the wall. As far as she knew,
most of the team were neither lushes nor teetotallers. She'd
never seen Iron Man drink, but she'd never seen him eat, either.
He would have had to lift his faceplate for that.
She picked her way through the various bottles, hefted one
which contained Scotch, and looked at it.
Her hands didn't seem to be shaking.
Maybe this was the ticket. Just a quick one, to clean out
the old pipes. Like she used to have before she went up in
the fighter birds. Those had always made her feel a bit steadier.
She heard someone clearing his throat.
She looked up and saw Iron Man, standing in the doorway.
"Oh, ah--hi, Iron Man," she fumbled, putting on
a smile. "What's up?"
He looked at her hands and what was in them.
"We're ready for you in the meeting room. If you're
ready, that is."
"Of course," said Carol. She set the Scotch bottle
on the bar and shoved the cork in a bit more firmly. "I
was just, uh, making sure we were well stocked. There'll be
a press conference later, after all. And I used to be a magazine
editor. I know how reporters can drink."
"Um," Iron Man said, in his mechanically filtered
Carol smoothed the mask back onto her face. "So let's
go, okay?" She turned and went through the door he had
opened, not waiting for him to follow.
Iron Man looked at her retreating back. For him, just being
this close to booze was an experience he could do without.
He had had his Lost Weekend some years back. It had cost him
his reputation, his company, his career as a super-hero, and
damn near his life. He'd gotten that all back, piecemeal,
after he quit the stuff.
He didn't see any used glasses around. But he knew the signs
of covering up.
He'd done that many times before, himself.
Perhaps Carol wasn't into the stuff. Perhaps, if she was,
she could handle it. Many could.
But the ones who couldn't always covered up.
As it was, the Original Five came out of the meeting, gave
the news to the remaining members, and announced the team
lineup. Captain America said, "Hank and Jan are leaving
active membership for the moment. So now, the current team
consists of myself, Thor, Iron Man, Hawkeye, the Vision, the
Scarlet Witch, Justice, Firebird, and Binary."
"Warbird," she said.
Cap looked up. "Excuse me?"
"I'm calling myself Warbird now, Cap," she said.
"After an old fighter plane. Hope you don't mind."
He said, "Is this a formal change, Carol? As in, permanent?
The press is going to be confused enough about some of these
names as it is."
"Permanent for the moment, Cap," Carol said, with
a smile. "I feel more comfortable with my new name. Not
too many folks outside of our community know about Binary.
Just tell 'em I used to be Ms. Marvel."
"Okay," said Cap. "If you're sure about it."
"I'm sure about it," she said.
Iron Man had given her a look, but hadn't said anything.
Which was fine by her.
So they called the press conference, and presented the new
team, and Carol smiled and posed with the others and got a
charge out of Cap raising his fist and yelling, "Avengers
assemble!" The flashbulbs had popped and the newsies
ran their videocameras and everyone from CNN was happy.
After the ceremony, she went back to her room, locked the
door, and pulled a bottle of Scotch out of the back of a drawer.
This was one she had bought, so they wouldn't miss it from
She poured one in a water glass and sipped it and felt it
Carol had flashbacks of throwing one down with the boys just
before they went up in a jet. That made her feel better. Nostalgiac.
So she threw another one down in honor of the memory. She
kept throwing them down till half the bottle was gone and
the memories weren't clear anymore, but she really didn't
give a damn.
Not giving a damn was very nice.
When Jarvis buzzed her about dinner, she said that she wouldn't
be down, that the others should go on without her, and she'd
have something later herself.
She hoped she sounded sober. But really, at the moment, she
didn't give a damn.
Carol was careful enough to keep it sober around the others,
during the daytime. She performed in the training exercises
like a trouper, using her starbolt powers to trash exercise-robots,
setting a record for performance which impressed Cap thoroughly.
But he asked her why she hadn't just powered up to her Binary
status and blasted through all the robots and obstacles like
a laser through tissue paper.
She switched the subject.
Shortly afterward, they had to rescue the passengers of an
airliner which crashed just off the Maine coast, and ran into
the Squadron Supreme. They ended up fighting, and Carol acquitted
herself fairly well. But Cap had ordered her to switch to
her Binary form while fighting Hyperion, and she pretended
she couldn't hear him. She also ran into one of Hype's super-powerful
punches, and got knocked practically into the next county.
During that gig, she had been careless enough to leave her
door unlocked. Wanda had walked in on her, wanting to talk
to her about some problems of her own.
She had seen Carol taking a bottle of whiskey and a glass
from the cabinet in her room.
For a second, Carol had frozen. Then, she told herself, What
the hell, nobody exactly expected me to be Carrie Nation anyway.
"C'mon in, Wanda. Make yourself at home. This whole
impostor thing's getting to me, and I thought a little nip
or two might settle my nerves. Care to join me?"
She didn't, but she did take some Bavarian Chocolate Pecan
ice cream from Carol's fridge and helped herself to a bowlful.
During the conversation, Wanda had said, "Are you sure
you should be drinking that much? It's only--"
"Back off, hon," said Carol, and hoped she wasn't
doing it too forcefully. "I know my limit. Besides, once
you get to be my age, you'll realize that stuff goes to your
hips a lot faster than this."
And she knocked one back, and felt it burn down, and didn't
give much of a damn what Wanda thought at the moment.
After all, Wanda was a friend. And friends covered for you.
At least, they were supposed to.
Captain America had bluntly questioned her about her powers,
a while later. She had put him off, and flatly said, "Look,
Cap. They're my powers, and I'll be the judge of how best
to use them. You just butt out, and I'll do my job--without
interference. Got that?"
Cap didn't look at all please. "Now, see here,"
he started. But Iron Man had put a metal-gloved hand on his
shoulder, whispered something to him, and Cap had subsided.
"All right," he said. "For now."
She had performed up to expectations, and beyond. Warbird
had cracked the case, exposing one of the enemy as the Corruptor,
an old foe of theirs. The Squadron and the Avengers captured
him and patched up difficulties. Afterward, she had handed
Cap the scanner with which she detected the villain's imposture.
"Here. Thought you might like to have this. Maybe it'll
remind you next time that us peons can think for ourselves."
Cap took the hand-held instrument from her. "I've got
nothing against initiative, Warbird, or independent thought.
What I don't like is not knowing my team's capabilities. If
there's something wrong with your powers that I should know
She blazed at that.
This was Captain America. Her old friend. The one with whom,
at first, she thought she had had the best rapport. The one
who had been one of the idiots who betrayed her to Marcus
Immortus, and had begged her forgiveness, and gotten it. The
one who had congratulated her for saving the sun. The one
who had helped welcome her back into the team.
The one who thought he had the right, now, to judge her.
"So that's it, eh?" she said. "You've been
looking for any excuse you can find to get me off this team--and
now you think you've found it. Well, I'm wise to you, Captain,
and it's not going to work. You hear? It's not going to work!"
She had flown off, then, leaving a nonplussed Cap and the
rest of the team below her.
In a while, she'd be back. But she was going back to Boston
for a short bit. Avengers Mansion would hold too much of a
stench for her to be there, right now.
On the way, she was going to see if her Avengers I.D. could
get her credit at a liquor store. If it could, there was always
the chance that the group could trace the purchases. And if
they had their eye on her right now, they might do just that.
But right now, there was one thing she had to admit.
She didn't really give a damn.
Continued in Chapter
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