Ms. Marvel / Binary / Warbird:
A Prize For Three Empires
In the afternoon, Raza Longknife arrived by aircar. After it made
touchdown, he was greeted at the landing lot by Warbird. She wondered
how he would conduct himself, how he would greet her, how she would act
For a moment, they stood before each other, and the driver of the car
wondered if they were old friends or enemies.
Then Raza said, “Blessings be upon your house.”
Carol responded, “And on yours, Raza Longknife.”
Then she went to him and hugged him and Raza, though unused to such
displays of affection, allowed it and watched her back. If a Kree was
gunning for them, somebody needed to.
“I’m sorry, Raza,” she whispered. “I’m so, so sorry.”
“The debt was repaid,” said Raza. “Let us not bring it up again.”
Wondering how the debt of a brother’s loss could ever be repaid, Carol
broke the hug and said, “Come on. Let’s get you back to the inn.”
“I wish to sing and do a fleshdance for your customers,” said Iva Kann.
“Is that permissable?”
The inn manager looked at her and then at the Identicard she had given
him. Everything checked out on it, so far. Apparently, this woman was
Mysta Tren, an entertainer from the Beta Cygni system, and the
references she had given were checkable.
“Depends,” said the manager. “I haven’t yet seen your act, mistress.
The Traveler’s Haven chain only takes talent we’re sure of.”
“You wish to see a demonstration?” Iva leaned forward, making sure her
breasts strained against the robe’s material.
The manager caught his composure and said, “Um. Transgender and
samegender harassment are strictly forbidden by Arlakian law and
statute, of which I have a copy in my office.”
Iva smiled and touched his chin lightly. “It’s only harassment if a
gift is, shall we say, not freely given and not freely taken. But I
wish to work here, Master Ch’ktheh, and all I would do for you is my
act. In your office.”
“Well,” said Ch’ktheh. “Well, I suppose that can be, um, arranged.”
The desk clerk shot him a look that said, Are you sure of this, boss?
The manager gave him a slight nod, a sign which meant the same in his
culture, Earth’s, and the Kree’s. “Follow me,” said Ch’ktheh, and led
her to his office nearby. The door was shut and sealed.
The performance was taped by a recording beam, to save the management
from legal suit. When reviewed, it disclosed a quite revealing act from
Mysta Trenn, whose services would be swiftly enquired about from the
on-world makers of videos based on female display. Yet, Mysta did not
so much as touch the manager in an inappropriate way. True, she came
close to it more than once, and left very little to the imagination. (A
casual study of Ch’ktheh’s reactions indicated he had a quite vivid
She turned out to have a pretty decent singing voice, too.
When the two of them finally emerged from the office, the manager stood
under an airspray to cool his brow, with Mysta standing behind him,
arranging her robes and giving the clerk a sly smile. “Uh, boss?” the
Without opening his eyes, Ch’ktheh said, “Her name is Mysta Trenn. Book
her as entertainment in the mid-evening block.”
Raza was polishing his blade as Carol talked to him in her room.
Somehow, this seemed reassuring to her, but she still felt a twinge of
fear as the overhead light glinted off of it.
“The important thing is that Mysta Tren and her buddies are rogue Kree,”
she was saying. “They can’t operate in the open for long. Already, if
we’re lucky, Queen Lil should have some warships coming our way. She’s
said she can have them here within three days, which ought to be a bit
less than that right now. So, if we can stay alive till then, we should
be home free.”
“Nothing is ever free, Ca-Rol,” said Raza. “Everything must be paid
for. But I understand your meaning. What do you know of this Tren?”
“Not a whole helluva lot. Just what I picked up in the mind-meld.
She’s a spy and an assassin. Ronan subjected her to the same kind of
process that hyped Captain Mar-Vell’s powers. That places her easily on
a par with me. Maybe better, I don’t know. I do know that she wants
vengeance for what I made her do on board the Kree ship. So I’m betting
we’ll catch sight of her before we get offworld again.”
“I sincerely hope so,” said Raza, examining his blade’s edge with an
expert’s eye. “This has not tasted Kree blood in many a cycle.”
“All the same, Raza, don’t underestimate this wench,” warned Carol.
“You’re good. But so is she. The fact that she’s a woman doesn’t have
anything to do with her efficiency.”
“I would not expect it to. But to get to you, she must first get to me.
Let us show ourselves, and thus draw her into the open.”
“We’ll try,” she said. “But I’d rather avoid fate than tempt it, after
all I’ve been through recently. I want to go home, Raza, and show my
parents I’m not dead.”
“Do they not already know it?”
“Yes, but they won’t be certain I’m safe until I show myself to them
again. I won’t be, either.”
“Then let her beware our power,” said Raza. “I will fear no being until
I have met him, or her, in combat. Neither you nor I have met her in
“We could do lunch,” said Carol, standing up and smoothing back her
hair. “But I want to find out about Gladiator as soon as we can.”
Raza’s eyebrow lifted.
“Yes, we did,” she said, matter-of-factly. “Queen Lil will be putting
on an all-points search for him, but I want to know where he is, and if
he’s all right or not.”
“Oracle should be able to track him.”
“Not if he’s out of telepathic range. But Kalarrk’s got speed enough to
reach a starbase, I think, if he knows where he is. What about lunch,
“As long as I do not have to check my steel at the door,” said the
orange-skinned man. “Lead on, Ca-Rol.”
Gladiator saw the Skrull ship a bit later than it saw him. It was only
fitting, since, despite his power, the ship could move faster than he
could. But he was still within reaching distance.
That was okay by him. He’d try to make this peaceful, if they’d let
him. But any way they played it, he was getting in that ship.
He had no idea whether or not they’d regard him as hostile. Flying
towards the ship, he held his hands out, palms open. That might be
interpreted as a sign of peaceful intentions. An instant later, they
fired a plasma salvo that struck him amidships. He was knocked
backwards by the equal and opposite reaction, but swung himself around
in a parabola to bring him near the ship again.
Okay. He wasn’t particularly welcome. Fine.
Gladiator flew towards the vessel at peak power, using his psi-abilities
to form a wedge of force. This contacted and penetrated the Skrulls’
force-field and split a second plasma-bolt, which went to either side of
him. Before the ship could get out of range, Kalarrk was upon it, and
smashing through the hull.
The few Skrulls on duty in the chamber into which he’d penetrated were
hurled towards the opening in the hull by an outrush. Gladiator
reformed his psi-wedge into a flat shield that covered the opening,
holding the mass of reinforced metal in one hand and catching Skrulls in
the other. The outrush stopped. He cautiously raised up the shield
and, before much more atmosphere could leak out, smoothed and fused the
metal debris to cover the hole once again. He tapped it gently, twice.
Then he turned towards the five fallen Skrulls, one of whom was talking
on his wrist communicator. He smiled. “I’ve gotten lost. Can I catch
a ride with you?”
Snarling, one of the green-faced men drew a blaster and triggered it at
his chest. The energies bounced harmlessly off his personal shield.
Kalarrk sighed. “You’d think, by now,” he said, reaching out for the
weapon. “You’d think you would have learned.”
He crushed the barrel of the blaster with his hand. The Skrull soldier
shrank back. Gladiator made no move against him.
“Do we have to make this difficult?” said Gladiator. “All I want is a
ride back within range of the Shi’ar Empire, or Arlak. I’m not on
One of the Skrulls said, “Understood. But they expect duty from us.”
“That’s all right,” said Gladiator, and stood with hands on hips. “Come
They did, shooting at him, battering him, doing whatever they could to
bring him down. He threw his arms wide and sent the quintet of Skrulls
Then he walked to one of the group that was still conscious. “Now can
“Assuredly,” groaned the Skrull, and offered his communicator.
Gladiator took it. After identifying himself, he said, “I need
conveyance to a Shi’ar outpost or Arlak, and I want to contact the
Guard. We can pay you for this service.”
“If it gets your Shi’ar hide off this ship a moment sooner,” said the
ship’s captain, “the whole thing is free of charge.”
Over lunch, Carol was told she had a call waiting. She took it from a
hand communicator. When she saw the identity line of the caller, her
eyes widened in her mask. Raza, sitting across from her, said,
“Anything but,” she said. Opening the connection, Carol said, “Hello,
“Hola, Ca-Rol,” came Gladiator’s voice. “You are well?”
“About as well as can be expected,” she said. “I’m safe on Arlak for
the moment. Raza Longknife is with me. Where are you?”
“Aboard a Skrull ship,” he said.
“You’d better fill me in.”
The two of them exchanged stories, Raza listening while he watched for
threats about them. Gladiator said, “I have already contacted the
Majestrix and the Imperial Guard. At present, I am still too far away
from Arlak to reach you under my own power before you leave.”
“If we get to,” said Carol. “All right, Kalarrk, but I’m glad as blazes
you’re unhurt. Hell, I’m glad you’re still alive. What’s the word
“Caly’see has been reprimanded by her sister. At present, that is about
all that can be done.”
“Uh huh.” Carol made a wry face.
“I am gratified you and the Starjammers made it to safety,” said
Gladiator. “Some of the Guard will be aboard the escort ships when they
get there. Are you indeed safe from the Kree ship?”
“So far,” said Carol. “But we still haven’t encountered this Iva Kann.
I’m hoping to keep it that way.”
“Ca-Rol,” said Kalarrk, in a more sober tone. “If you are not there
when my company arrives, I will tear the Kree ship asunder with my bare
hands. And Creator help the ones who are left aboard.”
“That’s sweet, Glad,” she said. “But don’t sell me short. I’m pretty
tough, too. Anyway, it’s great to hear from you. Call me soon, okay?”
“I shall,” he said. “May the stars cast soft light on you, Ca-Rol.”
She paused. “Wish I had an exit line that would do justice to that,
Kalarrk. How’s about: I hope to see you again. Real soon. Okay?”
“Okay is affirmative?”
“So long, Glad. Take care of yourself.”
“And you,” he said. The connection was broken.
“Glad they don’t know about reversing charges,” remarked Carol. “That’s
a joke, Raza.”
“I have no need of jokes,” he remarked. “Something occurs to me,
“And that is?”
He leaned forward, sword hilt still in hand. “If Iva Kann has made
landfall, she may be registered at this inn, under another name.
Provided she has discovered where you are. That is a possibility we
She ran her tongue around her lips. “I’m a bad spy not to have thought
about that. Let’s check the register.”
After their meal, Warbird and Raza found themselves before a strangely
reserved manager, who was persuaded finally to show them a holoscreen
readout of all who had checked in during the past few days. The Inn was
a fairly large affair, and no less than twenty females were listed. 15
of them were humanoid. None were blue-skinned.
“Which proves nothing,” said Carol. “I’m sure the Kree have disguise
technology that could make her purple with yellow spots, if they
wanted.” She turned to the manager again. “Have any fairly tall,
black-haired humanoid females registered in the last two days?”
“Several of them,” said the manager. “But their references all are
impeccable, Captain Blaise.”
Carol smiled wryly. She was glad she’d given enough identifiers for
Gladiator to figure out who she was, when he placed the call. But they
might be enough for the Kree to track her down, too. “Show me,” she
“Well, there is, er, this one,” he said, pointing to a name. “And then,
of course, this one. And this one right here, she’s another, I believe,
though I’m not quite sure. And possibly this one.” He indicated the
name Mysta Tren. Carol glanced at him, then at the list, then at him
again. The body language he was giving her indicated that this Mysta
Tren meant something to him more than the usual paying tenant.
“How do I contact these people?” said Carol.
Ch’ktheh blinked. “Well, you don’t, except in case of emergency. We
Raza took out a cloth and began to polish his sword, meaningfully.
“Of course, one could place a call to their rooms and see if they’d be
willing to meet with you,” he said.
Carol nodded. “That’d work.”
As it was, one of the four was out, two others consented to let Carol
see them by a viewscreen display and were eliminated as not being the
right body type or features, even with a disguise. Mysta Tren refused
all communication. Ch’ktheh couldn’t even testify that she was in her
room, or on the premises.
Warbird looked at the blank screen meaningfully. “This Mysta Tren,” she
said. “Any information you can give us?”
The manager looked a bit more at ease. “She’s an entertainer,” he said.
“She’s booked to do a song-and-fleshdance act for us at dinner
“Flashdance?” said Carol, unbelieving that an American movie would have
made it out this far.
“No, fleshdance,” Ch’ktheh explained. “A dance of display.”
“Oh,” said Carol. “That kind of dance.”
“Thank you for your cooperation, sir,” said Raza, and sheathed his
sword. The manager breathed a sigh of relief. Then Raza and Warbird
left the room.
On their way back, Raza said, “We intend to see her dance tonight?”
Grimly, Carol said, “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“So you’re just going to be sitting ducks for that Kree murderess?”
asked Corsair in disbelief.
Carol’s voice came back to him on the communicator. “It’s risky, I
know, Major. But she’s calling us out. It’s just too obvious. Tren is
the only one she could be.”
“If so,” said Ch’od, standing behind Corsair, “why not avoid her? All
you would have to do, apparently, is go somewhere else for evening
Raza’s was the next voice heard. “If we do not appear, Ch’od, we are
cowards. But more than that, if she does not see us there, her wrath
might be visited on the other patrons. Just to demonstrate what she
would do if we tried to avoid her.”
Hepzibah said, “Know this, how do you?”
“It is what I would do,” said Raza. “In her position, that is.”
Carol said, “I don’t know that we can play keepaway this time, gang.
But Raza and I aren’t exactly lightweights. I’d feel a lot better with
you beside me, but you won’t be able to get here before tomorrow. I can
take care of myself.”
“I sincerely hope you’re right about this, Carol,” said Corsair. “I
don’t like taking unnecessary risks with my friends’ lives.”
“We’ve risked them enough already,” Carol replied.
“Chris, she may not even be Iva Kann. If she isn’t, we’re okay. If she
is, I’ll have to face her sooner or later. I may as well do it now, and
find out what she’s got. Show her what I’ve got, as well.”
“She was apparently chosen and trained to destroy you, Carol. Maybe
“Maybe so,” said Carol. “If I don’t make it through...send my dog tags
home to Mom, okay?”
“Dog tags?” sniffed Hepzibah. “These dog tags, what are?”
“I’ll tell you later, Hep,” said Corsair. “Carol...Godspeed. We’re
going to catch a transport within the hour, and we’ll be there ASAP.
But I’ll have the comm with me. I want to hear from you before, after,
and maybe during that meal. Agreed?”
“Agreed, Chris. And thank you. You’ve all been among my best friends.
My brothers in arms. Anything else?”
“Just live,” said Corsair. “That’s all we want.”
“Ten-four,” she said. “See you later.”
The link was broken. After a moment of staring at the comm unit in his
hand, Corsair turned to the other two Starjammers. “Get packed again,”
he said. “I’ll settle the bill.”
The Travelers’ Haven dining room was spacious, equipped with whatever
various species needed to rest on while they ate...chairs, couch-type
affairs, racks on which to hang tentacles, even bowls for more amorphous
forms of life. Waiters and waitresses both humanoid and not flitted
about the various patrons, some in a balcony seating arrangement,
bearing foodstuff both familiar to Carol and some even the Kree didn’t
seem to know about. A lot of starfaring races were represented, but
none of them seemed to be Kree.
Carol and Raza had balcony seats. The stage for performers was clearly
visible below and before them, and floating holoscreens brought the
images of the artistes to their view in close-up. It reminded her of
the big video screen at a rock concert cameramen would use to show
images of, say, the Who performing for those too far back to get a good
look at them.
An Astran metal-bender did his act for them, followed by a Rigellian
comedic duo who performed some mind-over-matter and did topical jokes
Carol couldn’t get the gist of. An Aakon singer came on, did a few
numbers that had a lot to do with money, and left to some applause. She
clapped politely. Raza was silent.
“You didn’t like it?”
“None of it has anything to do with us,” he said.
After that, the lights were lowered somewhat, and music began to play
from hidden sources. Carol drew in a breath and held it. All her
instincts were set on high. She didn’t know if she was getting input
from her Seventh Sense, but she knew who would step into sight.
“Steady,” advised Raza. She remained silent.
Somehow, it was impossible to see when the woman had entered. A dim
light picked her out, revealing a very female figure clad in a sort of
ribbon-robe and eye-mask. An identifying line on the holoscreens named
her: MYSTA TREN.
The woman moved like water on steel. She began to sing, a song in equal
parts Kree, Shi’ar, and Galactic Standard about love, lust, and
betrayal. As she moved, the ribbons would reveal various parts of her
form below. She appeared to Carol to be naked under the robe. Warbird
tightened her grip on her chair’s handrests so hard that they broke with
an audible crack.
“Ca-Rol,” warned Raza.
“I’m all right,” she said, not turning to look at him.
Abruptly, Mysta Tren threw off the robe on the left side of her, leaving
her right covered, and gained an appreciative yawp from the audience.
She danced to the other side of the stage and exposed her right side,
covering her left. Even Carol had to admit that the dame looked like
she had a body to kill for. Or kill with.
She also didn’t have a bad voice.
Finally the light came up a bit more definitely, and the robes were
thrown off altogether. Except for the eyemask and a jewel which covered
only what part of her anatomy it had to, the dancer was naked. And she
made the most of it.
It was her. Great Pama, it was her.
Warbird drew in great breaths, sure as hell that the woman was looking
at her on every pass, only at her. What should she do? Leap down and
start a brawl? That might put the others in the audience at danger,
unless she could finesse it. Leave? No telling what she’d do then.
She looked at Raza.
The orange-skinned man had his steel in hand. “Wait,” he advised.
“I hope we can,” she said, tensely.
Iva spun, leaped, split, landed, threw her torso and hair back,
performed like the greatest of gymnasts. The audience was signaling its
approval in various ways, some of it conventional applause. The
non-humanoids appeared to appreciate her grace, the rest were just
turned on by her body. Her skin was normal Earth flesh-tone. Not blue.
But there was no mistaking the face or body of the woman whose mind
Carol had once been in.
Maybe she was just taunting Carol, after all. Maybe she was only doing
this to advertise her presence to her enemy, not to attack. Not just
yet. But Carol decided she couldn’t count on that.
The dance had gone on for a good fifteen minutes now, and Iva was still
whirling like a dervish, in full voice despite her efforts. Raza was
gathering himself for a leap. “What are you doing?” asked Carol.
“I will strike,” he said, “before she can.”
Carol didn’t think there was any way Iva could have heard his words from
the stage, and over the sound of her music. But he had barely finished
the sentence before Iva plucked the jewel from her body, swung her
powerful arm around, and let it fly.
The gem arced in ruby splendor over the heads of the patrons on the
ground floor, up to the balcony level, straight at the target Iva aimed
It hit Raza Longknife on the neck, with enough velocity and impact to
produce an audible crack.
His eyes widened some, more in surprise and annoyance, Carol thought,
than in pain. His mouth was open. No sound came out. Only a trickle
of blood. The jewel was embedded in the side of his neck.
Raza fell backwards, overturning the chair behind him. Warbird was
there to grab him before he hit the floor.
The lights came up almost as soon as the scream left her mouth. The
patrons of the restaurant reacted with surprise, even terror, as they
looked towards its source and began to register what had happened.
Carol was already in flight, Raza in her arms, the sword still gripped
in his hand but hanging down from it.
She felt a pulse in him. God help her, Raza Longknife was still alive.
Warbird shot a glance down at the stage. A guard was rushing it, trying
to grab a fleeing Iva Kann. She turned, seemingly without concern, and
planed a flat-handed blow at his neck.
It separated his head from his body.
“Oh, god,” gasped Carol. “Oh, my God...”
Involuntarily, she flew towards the stage, past the fallen body. Iva
Kann had already fled. She could catch her, conceivably. She could do
that, and confront her, and see if vengeance could be had.
But by that time, Raza would inevitably be dead.
With a sorrowful curse, Warbird sped in the other direction, bearing
Raza towards the entranceway, knocking down a couple of attendants in
her path. The Inn had an infirmary, and the medical science of this
world, she knew, would be able to prolong his life, provided she could
get him there in time. She knew that she could do that. Her speed was
Corsair was right. They had been idiots, trusting in their own prowess,
checkmated by the woman before they started.
But now, Carol vowed as she flew near the ceiling of the passageway, Iva
Kann had made it personal for her. She wanted a fight? All right,
Warbird would damned well give it to her. And only one would survive.
Even though a twinge of fear made her admit that she wasn’t at all
certain it would be Warbird who did.
Continued in Chapter 27 >>
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