Ms. Marvel / Binary / Warbird:
A Prize For Three Empires
The ship’s doctor knew her stuff, Carol was glad to note. The laser-like beam had cleansed and sealed the cut she’d gotten on her face from Deathbird’s javelin, and the scars would be imperceptible. That would, she noted, prevent anyone back on Earth from noting that Carol Danvers and Ms. Marvel had face-scars in the same place.
If she ever got back to Earth. But at least that chance seemed a bit better, after having beaten the Majestrix and having forced her to agree to her release.
"Procedure done," said the surgeon, and the beam-apparatus moved upward to allow Warbird to move off the table where she lay. "Monitored vitals seem optimum. How does the patient feel?"
Carol ran a hand over her face, felt a bit of warmth where her wound had been worked on. "She feels outstanding. Thank you, ma’am, you’ve been most efficient."
The doctor, in her dress yellows, gave her a short smile. "The Majestrix wishes a short audience with you before you go."
She sat up on the edge of the table. "Wouldn’t want to disappoint the woman who just tried to kill me. Okay, lead me to her."
Gladiator stepped forward into the light. "That will be my duty, Te’ Carol."
The Earth woman jumped to her feet and went to him, so quickly that she startled herself. "Glad! Hi. Hope we put on a good enough show for you."
The Guardsman put a hand on her shoulder, and hesitated a moment before replying. They looked into each other’s eyes, and Carol wondered, for an instant, why they had done so. Then he said, "Your survival was show enough for us. We were...pleased with the outcome."
"Thank you, Glad," said Carol, grasping his hand. "I think I can understand your position." Any more talk of support for her, she knew, could open Gladiator to a charge of treason. As it was, he was brave to say as much as he did. "Will we be leaving soon?"
"Probably as soon as the audience with the Majestrix is ended," said Gladiator. "Let us go."
Holding onto his hand for a moment longer, Warbird went with him. In the hallway, they were met by Titan, Fang, Oracle, and Starbolt. "On behalf of the Guard, I will say that it’s good to see you survived, Te’ Warbird," said Titan, with a big grin.
"Thanks, Ti, and it’s beaucoup good to see the rest of you again," Carol said, pumping his big hand. "Sorry the rest of you can’t come with me."
Oracle said, "One thing I must vouchsafe, Te’ Warbird. Visions came to me of danger surrounding you in the near future, perhaps our brother Gladiator as well. But they are too indistinct to interpret well. All I may say is: the gods protect you on your way to Earth, and watch your back at all times."
Carol nodded, soberly. "Acknowledged, Oracle. Thanks for the warning. I’ve been in danger for most of my adult life, though, and I’ve been watching my back ever since I had a front." She gave Oracle a one-armed hug. "You watch out for the rest of the Guard while we’re gone."
"We watch out for ourselves," said Fang. "But we thank you for the sentiments."
"I agree," Starbolt added. "Luck to you, Te’ Warbird and Gladiator. Let’s be off. We cannot be with you in the Majestrix’s chamber, but we can escort you there."
So they did, and the four other Guardsmen waited outside while the guards admitted Carol and Gladiator to the meeting room of the ship. Deathbird was seated in the chair of honor, which was topped by her imperial crest. She did not look happy. Flanking her were the ship’s captain and several other personages, and four armed guards also stood within the room. Carol took note of them, and wondered if they might be up to an accidental misfiring of their weapons if their mistress asked for such.
"In the presence of the Queen Majestrix Cal’syee Neramani," said the captain, formally, "this audience is begun."
Deathbird took her time about speaking.
"The throne acknowledges the claim of Ca-rol Danvers, who is called Warbird. Having won her claim in battle, Ca-rol Danvers will be allowed passage unharmed from this ship aboard an Imperial shuttle bound for Earth, with no interference from the regime. Imperial Guardsman Gladiator will accomany her aboard the transfer vessel. This agreement is made, and bound by law of the Imperium. This audience is ended."
"In the presence of the Queen Majestrix Cal’syee Neramani," the captain said, without emotion, "this audience is ended."
Carol turned her head to Gladiator and was about to ask, "That’s it?", when he told her, "The prisoner must customarily give thanks to the Majestrix."
She paused, and then turned to Deathbird. "I would like to thank the Majestrix for her great courtesy towards this humble person."
Deathbird showed no reaction. Then Carol said, "Especially in her defeat." She armed it with a smile of real malice.
The Majestrix’s breaths came hard and fast. "Escort the prisoner to the shuttle bay. At once!"
Carol kept her smile on all the way out. Gladiator made sure he was positioned between her and the guards on the way to the shuttle bay.
Aboard the Kree spyship, an observer made a report without turning from his scanscreen. "The craft approaching the Shi’ar vessel matches that of the unit known as code name: Starjammers, milady."
Iva Kann stalked the deck of the spyship like a leopard, caged and in heat. "It is well. They play into our hands, as our prey always does. We wait, ensign."
"Acknowledged, milady," said the observer.
The ship’s captain, one of the Lunatic Legion members under Iva’s command at the time, approached her. "We have armament enough to erase both ships from existence, milady. Your orders?"
"My orders are to wait, captain," said Iva Kann, snapping her head up for a hard glare into his eyes. "The Shi’ar love them less even than we. Let them gain distance from the mothership. With enough space between them, Neramani can claim inability to reach them in time, or too great a risk to hazard it. Then we will attack."
"And destroy them, milady?"
"No. We will herd them."
As Carol, the Guardsmen, and the party of Shi’ar guards reached the shuttle bay where their craft was housed, the officer in charge received a communication and halted them all. "Acknowledged, Majestrix," he said. Then he turned to Warbird and her companions. "Departure has been delayed. The ship is being approached by another."
"What kind?" asked Carol, stepping forward.
The officer looked irritated. "The ship has identified itself as the vessel of the Starjammers group. They are keeping their distance, but a communication has been received from them."
Gladiator spoke up. "And the nature of that communication, officer?"
"It is confidential," said the Shi’ar.
"You may trust us," said Starbolt. "We have the highest clearance."
He looked at them in exasperation. "They are demanding the release of the prisoner into their custody."
Warbird overcame her surprise and asked the officer, "Can you patch me through to the Starjammers with that comm unit, sir?"
"It can be accomplished," he said.
"Then get clearance and let me talk to them," she said, reaching out her hand.
A few minutes later, Carol was talking to Major Summers himself. "Hey, Major, how’s it hanging? Long time, no talk."
"We’re fine, Carol," said the voice of the Major through the hand-held unit. "We’ve gotten word from Captain America and your mother on Earth. Both of them are worried about you. We’ve come to bring you home."
"Thanks a whole heap for that," said Warbird. "But I have to take this shuttle, or violate the terms of their agreement. Gladiator’ll be with me. Why don’t you see if you can act as escort? That might work out better for us all."
"If you’re sure about it," said Summers. "Until we get agreement from Queenie herself, we’ll keep our powder dry."
"Oh, Major Chris," said Carol in mock dismay. "How dare you speak of the Majestrix with such familiarity? And you a commoner! We’ll have to drop you from her Most Favored Pirates list for that. It simply can’t be tolerated, sir."
Gladiator said, "Have a care, Te’ Ca-rol. We are not away from this ship yet."
"I’m on the phone, Glad. Okay, Chris, we’ll get this patched up toot-sweet. Hang on." She said to the officer, "Can you make this a three-way between us and the Majestrix so we can get an agreement worked out?"
A new voice came from the communicator. "That will not be necessary," said Deathbird. "This channel has been monitored from the outset. The Starjammers may serve as escort. We desire them, and you, out of our vicinity within a standard hour. That is all."
"I think we’ve got a deal, Chris."
Carol said her goodbyes to the Guardsmen, then boarded the shuttle with Gladiator. It had at least as much range as the Imperials’ craft, and, she knew from her Kree side, was quite able to get them both to Earth. If they didn’t run into any problems along the way. And, the way things had been going, she didn’t need Oracle to tell her it was likely they would.
The ship was roomy enough for a shuttle, as it would have to be. It’d take more than a few days, even with warp-drive, to get them to Earth. Thankfully, it had a couple of separate sleeping quarters, a kitchen / dining area, a library / rec room, and, of course, the john. There were two sets of controls up front, pilot / co-pilot style. Gladiator took the pilot’s seat. "I know more about navigating one of these," he said, apologetically.
"You might be surprised," she said. "I’ve got a lot of Kree data in my head, and piloting one of these ships comes pretty natural to me. But if you want, Glad, go ahead."
"Is it customary to truncate the name of one you are addressing, in your culture?" He didn’t look miffed, just curious.
"Well, it’s usually a term of affection," she said. "But just call me Carol, not War. Or Bird."
"As you will, Te’ Carol," he said. "Activation," he commanded.
The ship responded to his verbal order and powered up its engines. A lock door slid into place behind them. Shortly afterward, the door before them rose into its upper housing, and both of them looked out into space.
To Carol, it was beginning to seem more like home than Earth.
The ship moved outward. Within seconds, the Shi’ar mothership was left behind, and she and Gladiator saw the Starjammers’ vessel to their port side on their viewscreen. She couldn’t keep herself from waving, even though she knew they couldn’t see her.
They accepted a transmission from Corsair. The image of him in his command chair filled the screen, surrounded by the huge Ch’od, Cr’eee, Hepzibah, and Raza Longknife. "Welcome back to the neighborhood, Carol," said Major Summers.
"Good to be back, Major," she smiled. "Once we really get underway, we’ll dock with you and have a get-together."
"Have we all the details not," said Hepzibah, in her breathy manner, "but understand we you with Neramani combat had. Trust well went?"
"Well enough," said Carol. "I’m still standing. I’ll tell you all about it when we meet. For right now, thanks very much for coming after me. I was beginning to think everybody in the universe was after my scalp." She looked at Gladiator. "With a few noble exceptions."
"The Starjammers look after their own," said Ch’od, Cr’eee scampering across both his shoulders and down his back. "Although, Carol, I am glad that we didn’t have to make a war out of it this time."
"Me, too," she replied. "For right now, let’s just concentrate on getting to Earth. Oracle told me that we had some tough times ahead, though she couldn’t say what kind."
Raza thrust himself forward, towards the camera. "If there be ‘tough times’ for you, Binary, let them beware the blade of Raza Longknife. Our debts are paid, and once again, we are friends of the blood."
She looked upon him with sorrow, and had to call upon some strength in order to answer. "Raza–I’m sorry. I found out. They told me. I didn’t know."
Slightly, Raza nodded. "All the same, we are friends of the blood."
"That for certain," she said. "Thank you."
"Okay," said Corsair. "That being said, I’d like to say hi to Gladiator as well. Good to be on the same side for once."
"Acknowledged," said Gladiator. "I commend your loyalty to Te’ Warbird, Corsair. The Guardsmen and I have grown fond of her during our acquaintance."
"Understood," Corsair said. "Okay, we’ll keep scanning frequencies open for bogies...enemy craft, that is. I know you’ll do the same. Till later, we’ll sign off and clear ether. See you later, space cadets."
"I hear you, Flash Gordon," said Carol. "Over and out."
Gladiator looked at her. "Flash Gordon? I thought his name was Summers."
She gave him a serious look. "Flash Gordon was the greatest spacefarer of my people. He saved my world from the tyrant of the planet Mongo time and again, and was said to have even conquered the universe at one point."
"Why have we never heard of him?"
"You didn’t read Earth newspapers."
Later, over dinner, with the ship on autopilot, Carol asked Gladiator, "Is it all right to ask if you’ve ever loved someone?"
He looked up from a still-living crustacean species whose spine he idly broke with two fingers to put it out of its misery. "What prompts the question, Te’ Ca-rol?"
"Just curiosity. We’re going to be together for awhile, I just thought..."
The Guardsman broke open his meal’s shell and ate some of the pinkish meat inside before answering. "I have mated. I suppose I have loved, though I am not sure quite how your race defines it. I do not think I have merged the two concepts together, or, if I have, not effectively."
"Which means you’ve had girlfriends, but nothing steady."
"I suppose. Though, once again, I have no idea how these concepts vary from my kind to yours. And what of you?"
"Well," she said, pausing long enough to scarf down a forkful of mashed potatoes, "I’ve made love before, sure. I’ve probably even been in love once or twice. At least, far enough in love for me. But I was always so involved with my job, making something out of me, that I didn’t let love get in the way." She shrugged. "Maybe it wouldn’t have been in the way. Maybe I didn’t want to find out. I just saw a lot of the girls I grew up with go to college all bound for a career, then they met guys, got married, got knocked up, not necessarily in that order, and ended up compromising. It’s hard not to, I guess, when you’ve got a hubby and kids in your life."
"Hubby and kids?"
"Male mate and offspring."
Carol forked up some beef tips and chewed them thoughfully, then said, "I guess there were a few guys that I thought were good enough for me, but I never tied them down. One of them, I’ll admit, was Wolverine, but he was more of a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am kind of thing." She colored reddish and said, "Um. I hope I don’t have to translate that concept."
He smiled slightly. "I understand it."
"I understand you knew the Kree war hero, Captain Mar-Vell," said Gladiator.
"Yeah, but not in the Biblical sense," she said. "That is, I didn’t sleep with him. We met when I was a security officer at Cape Canaveral and he was a Kree infiltrator posing as an Earth scientist. We ended up being more allies than anything else. But I really liked him. It was a bitch when he had to share bodies with that Jones kid, and when he died..." She looked towards a viewscreen in the wall that showed a feed of the entire Milky Way Galaxy, turning slowly about its hub. "I really felt the gap. He was the template for my first other identity, Ms. Marvel. More than that. He was a friend. A brother in arms."
Gladiator nodded. "I empathize with that."
"There was a guy named Michael Rossi, and I did the trick with him. Back then, he was nice. There were some others. Sometimes, I’ll admit it, I just got so horny I picked up a guy at a bar or something."
"Picked him up? Is it a mating custom among your kind for a woman to lift a man off the ground?"
She laughed. "And here I thought we didn’t have a language barrier. No, Glad, picking somebody up, in this context, means...well...letting a person know that you want to have sex with them. Subtly, that is."
"Ah. So you do not straightforwardly go to the other and say, ‘I want to mate with you. Accept or refuse?’"
"Not quite! Although there have been a few times...well, let’s not get into that. It usually comes down to getting somebody’s attention in an appropriate place, or maybe a place a little less appropriate, if you’re brazen enough. You try to strike up a conversation, maybe ask for a dance if you’re in such a setting, try to feel them out and let them feel you out as well..."
"You exchange touches."
"I said feel out, not feel up. That comes later, if you’re lucky. My God, I really cannot believe I’m having a conversation about American mating customs with a dad-blamed alien from the Shi’ar system. And I mean that in the most complimentary way, Glad. Really I do." She lay a hand gently on his wrist. "Really," she repeated.
He looked into her eyes. "And is the touch usually a sign of a wish for intimacy?"
"Often, it is," she said. "Just as...the right look...can be an even greater sign."
He entwined the fingers of his hand with hers. "Would this also be a sign of some significance? In this context, that is?"
"In this context, it would often be significant, indeed," she said. "Just keep it as gentle as that, Glad. I know you could break my fingers."
"But I would not."
"No," she said. "And another sign of acknowledgment would be...this." She leaned over and kissed him on the forehead.
Gladiator said, "I will reciprocate," and, taking her head gingerly between his own hands, applied his lips to her forehead just above her mask. She giggled. "Is this a proper zone of intimacy among your people?"
"Not as good as this one," said Carol, and kissed him hard on the mouth.
When they broke, Gladiator regarded her quizzically. "You are right. That is a more proper zone of intimacy. Te’ Ca-rol."
"Is one given correctly to the viewpoint that you wish to demonstrate the mating customs of your race fully? In an academic context?"
"Yeah, I feel very academic tonight."
"Should we finish the meal beforehand?"
"It’ll keep. Let’s go."
Afterward, Carol felt almost spent. But she was sure that, if he’d asked for a second round, she would have obliged him. She put a bare arm behind his head and kissed him again, gently.
"A most educational experience," he said.
"Academically fulfilling," she acknowledged.
"I am grateful for that."
"Strange to see you out of costume for once," said Carol. "I like it."
"One would have to acknowledge pleasure in seeing you in similar couture, Te’ Ca-rol."
She grinned. "In shorter terms, you like seeing me naked."
"Acknowledged." He paused. "Is this the sort of thing an Earthwoman would perform in a bar encounter?"
She walked her fingers up his breastbone. "Maybe. Every time, it’s a bit different. That’s what makes it so interesting. At least to me."
"Did you have this experiment in mind, Te’ Ca-rol, for some time during our acquaintance?"
"I honestly don’t know, Glad. Sometimes an attraction is, well, obvious from the first time a woman sees a man. At least, it is on our side. Sometimes it has to grow. Sometimes you don’t even know about it until it’s there. Just from my experience."
"What category did this fit into?"
"Damned if I know," she said. "Maybe this is just a shipboard romance. Maybe it’s something else. But I don’t want to overanalyze." She grasped his hand gently. "You were good, Glad."
"Thank you. Your performance was satisfactory, as well."
She tweaked his nose. "This is a sign of affection and exasperation at the same time. Not done unless the doer is fairly certain she won’t get whacked back. I hope I can get you to speak more in Earth idioms by the time we get there."
"I hope the time will be well spent," he said. "And I hope you will not mind when I do this." He embraced her and kissed her once again. She opened her mouth and instructed him nonverbally about other Terran customs. When they broke the kiss, she hugged him tightly, her head on his shoulder.
"You’re making me feel academic again, Glad," she said.
"It may take some more effort for me to achieve..." he began.
"We’ll work on it," she said. And they did.
But in the midst of the work, she had a flash of insight. Her body stiffened, and her eyes looked towards nothing in particular at all.
Gladiator sat bolt upright. "Te’ Ca-rol, what?"
"Seventh sense," she said. "I haven’t had something like that in a long time. A precog empathic vision. Glad, get dressed. We’re in for something bad."
She got into her suit, mask, and gloves and took her boots with her, running barefoot to the helm. Gladiator, fully dressed, was right behind her. "Open channel to Starjammer," she ordered the communicator..
The green, scaly face of Ch’od was seen. "Warbird," he said. "What is the occasion?"
"The occasion is, I think we’re about to be attacked," she said, pulling a boot onto her left leg. "Just had a premonition, and I’ve learned to trust them. Get your crew ready."
"Heard and acknowledged," said Ch’od. He pressed a battle-alert signal that would rouse the other Starjammers from their beds. "Can you give me anything more?"
She shook her head. "No. There’s enough systems with a price on my head these days that it could be any of them. I can’t even say if it’s for real. But if it isn’t..."
The Kree warship appeared in their tactical screen all at once, as if it had warped in from the Fifth Dimension or some other absurdity. She swore and had to admit that the latest cloaking devices were far in advance of what her Kree-self was accustomed to.
"It is for real," said Gladiator.
And then they were under attack.
Continued in Chapter 24 >>
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