Seemingly emotionless Praetor Gladiator holds fast the prisoner Lilandra, telling himself he serves at the pleasure of Emperor Vulcan. Sometimes though men like him need to save the emperor from himself. Case in point.
The enraged Vulcan is about to kill Lilandra when Admiral Ka’ardum asks him to stop. In his rage, the mutant emperor turns against him, asking him how dare he? Glowing with energy, Vulcan promises he’ll have Ka’ardum flayed alive for this. He’ll split him open and drop him into a Brood nest! He’ll…
Stuttering, Ka’ardum tells him that, if he kills Lilandra Neramani, he will make her a martyr. Strike her down and he will hand his opponents an undying figure to rally around. But while she lives, they are bound by her succession. Kill her and the next pretender to the throne could come from any shadow.
Vulcan begins to calm down, asking him if he really thinks that. Ka’ardum insists. Alive Lilandra embodies the lonely viable alternative to Vulcan’s rule. So keep her where he can see her. If he removes her, he invites the pro-Neramani faction to rally round a fresh figurehead.
Vulcan begins to grin and asks Gladiator what he thinks. Gladiator hesitates, then states he believes the admiral makes a valid point. Totally calm again, friendly even, Vulcan thanks Ka’ardum for that, that was a terrible risk he took. He serves at the pleasure of the emperor, Admiral Ka’ardum replies.
She should live, Vulcan replies. He’s right, she should live. She must be taken back to Chandilar in chains and disgrace, to stand a public trial. It will result in execution, of course, But due process will have been seen to be done, and the people will have no doubt of her crimes. She’ll be no martyr then.
He orders Gladiator to conduct Lilandra back to the throne world. As soon as the fighting here and in the gulf of Sarenta is contained, he will see to this personally. He serves at the pleasure of Emperor Vulcan, Gladiator replies.
Vulcan turns to the admiral, ordering him to gather his senior officers. They’ll review the most recent battlefield intel-feeds together.
The combined efforts of the fleet battlegroup and the Imperial Guard made typically impressive headway in the first two days of this conflict. But momentum is already slowing, due to Vulcan’s heavy-handedness. The Kree are fighting with a greater strategic tenacity than Gladiator has seen in the last sixteen decades. Inhuman leadership is strong, inspirational and very focused.
On Hala, Crystal keeps the hospitalized Ronan informed about the current state of the war. Some good news, she finishes, wishing there was more. The Shi’ar still have the upper hand, of course, and the advantage of sheer numbers. But the war is far from over.
Spoken like a true Kree, he commends her. She is about to correct him, then realizes this was meant as a compliment and thanks him. Ronan asks if in all the chaos on the Gon-Ket glacier where they actually married. Crystal replies she believes the high priests of Pama consider the ritual to have been legally completed. She certainly does.
Ronan remarks he’s heard Crystal has been most supportive of the common Kree these last few days. She has done what little she can, she admits. To ease their plight. War always afflicts the poor most of all. ‘“Little,” she says’, he scoffs. From what he has been told that’s a good deal more than the other members of her family. He has heard nothing about the progress of the Uplift Program. Has work there stalled? Crystal replies that she does not know but promises to inquire when she returns to Attilan.
She muses that of all Kree Ronan saw best how Inhuman rule could benefit his race. She flies back to Attilan which hovers above a Kree city. Crystal think to herself that Ronan’s foresight made him stand aside when the Inhumans struck Hala and made him kneel at Black Bolt’s feet. More than any of his kind Ronan appreciated that the proud and ancient Kree civilization was in urgent need of rescue. The empire needed the dynamic leadership Black Bolt could offer. Just as the Kree people need the vital boost of the Uplift program to accelerate them out of generations of evolutionary stagnation. She remembers Ronan’s delight when it was explained to him on the very first day of Black Bolt’s rule.
The Royal Family explains the Uplift Program. Medusa states that her husband has devised it and his brother Maximus is developing the mechanism to make it work. They propose to use the Terrigen Mists to rapidly evolve the Kree species. Karnak adds that the Kree are caught in a dead end. This program will afford many a…
Ronan interrupts. They don’t have to sell this idea to him. Forget Annihilus, rot the Phalanx or the das’t Skrulls! Evolutionary standstill has been the Kree’s real enemy for too long. He applauds this program. He embraces it!
That pleases them greatly, Medusa replies. Ronan bows before her, telling her he welcomed her husband to the Kree throne for exactly this reason. He knew that the Inhuman rule would bring the Kree a new lease on life. It is why he has placed his trust in Attilan entirely.
Crystal wonders, if what she suspects is true, how is she ever going to tell him?
Back in Attilan in the Chamber of Devices she begins to ask a very busy Maximus about the status of the Uplift Program. Don’t, don’t! he interrupts. He’s behind with everything! Setback after setback after setback! It’s this war. It’s this damn war! He climbs up to a huge device, adding he keeps getting sidetracked by requests and teleport tech and siege machines. The war effort is keeping him from really important things like the Uplift Program. Now where did he put those calibration suit?
Karnak, who witnessed the exchange, tactfully tells Crystal that Maximus is overstretched. All the things he has been in his life… including a plague upon their royal house. And, he thinks just now he is genuinely upset that the conflict is keeping him from other works. Work that matters. The social engineering of a directionless people. The destiny of the Kree! It’s as if he’s finally found a true and good calling.
Crystal observes that her cousin is candid in his opinions of the Royal Brother. May he not be candid with her? he retorts. Always, she assures him. Is the Uplift Program working? No, he replies as candidly. Even before Maximus was forced to suspend work on it to focus on the war effort it was failing. All the test subjects proved immune to the effects of the Terrigen.
So what becomes of the Kree now? Crystal wonders aloud. They will care for them and rule over them, her sister Medusa states as she enters. And what will that make them? Crystal asks. Second class citizens. A slave caste like the Alpha Primitives, who toil in their catacombs.
They can only do so much, her sister insists. If the Kree genome is resistant to Terrigen mutagenesis… Crystal interrupts. The Kree are expecting a great deal of the Inhumans. They are a proud people.
They must focus on their own needs, comes the reply. What is good for the Inhumans will by extension be good for the Kree. They’ve taken them to war against the greatest power in creation, Crystal replies. How is that good for them? Then what? Another war? And another? There will always be someone to oppose them, to fight! Then they will beat them all, Medusa replies.
And if they can’t beat them, they’ll join them, or change them, Maximus adds. Maximus! Medusa shouts. He will hush his mouth, he promises.
What does he mean? Crystal wonders. Nothing, Medusa replies displeased. He is distracted. She reminds Crystal that Black Bolt is ready for her daily report.
In the throne room, Black Bolt sits alone with the dog Lockjaw. Crystal enters, stating she is concerned for the welfare of the Kree people. The Inhumans are using them without regard for their interests. She feels they may have gone too far. After a moment, she states with downcast eyes that as ever his silence speaks volumes.
On the Shi’ar warbird “Spirit of the Aerie” in the Shi’ar outworlds: Aboard Lilandra is kept in a small cell which Gladiator peers into. How is the prisoner? the latest iteration of Smasher asks him and is ordered to be quiet in turn.
Smasher tells him that refueling will be complete in eight minutes. Then they will be underway to Chandilar. Noted, Gladiator replies. Smasher begins he wanted to express his appreciation. For what? Gladiator asks aggressively. Stammering, Smasher replies that he knows there were several candidates eager to become the new Smasher. He’s grateful for the faith Gladiator has shown in commending him. He will not fail him. No, he won’t Gladiator agrees. It’s failing the Majestor he should be worried about. He serves at the pleasure of Emperor Vulcan! Smasher replies. He’s sure he does, Gladiator states.
Suddenly, the bridge calls all stations. Enemy contact! It’s the Starjammers who quickly enter. Korvus, Havok and Polaris fight their way in. Lorna warns Alex: Gladiator is at twelve o’ clock. Alex fires a cosmic blast at Kallark, Getting up, Gladiator warns them their effort is futile. Havok replies they brought some reinforcements with them this time. The Guardians of the Galaxy. The who? Gladiator asks annoyed. A moment later, the Guardians come into sight.
Say hello to his little friend! states Rocket Racoon holding a very big gun. This is a Xarthian quantum cannon, he informs Gladiator. Specifically designed to face down even a Strontian like him. He lies comes he reply. Try him! Rocket challenges him. Never doubt a Racoon, he remarks as he fires and Gladiator screams in agony.
Led by Smasher, the rest of the Imperial Guard comes attacking. Electron scoffs when Korvus attacks him with his sword. Are the laws of magnetism a mystery to him? he asks and repels the weapon. Actually, Korvus replies, Electron is why they brought a big stick. A moment later, the giant wooden being Groot slams Electron announcing (as always) “I am Groot!”
Another member of the Imperial Guard phases through Major Victory causing him agony but, moments later, she reacts as well to the cold inside his suit. Using Captain America’s shield, he slams her.
Smasher accesses his hyper-strength, only to fly straight into the fist of Drax. Accessing fist, the Guardian of the Galaxy remarks with some pleasure and then gives Smasher a beating.
Drax asks Major Victory if the Racoon needs help. Rocket Racoon replies he has the big guy old, but let’s shake it. They are outstaying their welcome. He shouts at Havok to get what they were coming for. Polaris magnetically opens the door to Lilandra’s cell and she and Havok escort Lilandra out.
Gladiator helplessly suffers the pain. The Raccoon’s Xarthian built quantum cannon is shattering the electromagnetic bonds of his very molecular structure. Belatedly, he recalls that Xarth has no tradition of Quantum weapons. This is a trick, a telepathic assault, causing him to question his psionic-fueled powers. Get out of his mind! he orders and repels the illusion caused b Rachel Grey.
It was sweet while it lasted, the Raccoon mutters, his quantum cannon revealed as a mop. Um hi, Gladiator, he states, taking of his glove. Let’s not do anything hasty, okay? He wouldn’t hurt a cute little mammal with fur this soft would he? Feel!
Lilandra, Gladiator whispers and flies off past them, past Drax and Groot, past Major Victory, to reach the cell. Quickly, he takes out Polaris and Havok. Majestrix, he states as he comes to a standstill before Lilandra.
Smasher, some feet away, orders the Shi’ar soldiers to regroup and the Imperial Guard to seize the terrorists.
Oh, Kallark, Lilandra pleads. Did Ka’ardum save her life for this? He is the most devoted and loyal man she has ever known. But who is he loyal to? If it is Vulcan, then know, he will most assuredly doom the Shi’ar!
Smasher impatiently asks Gladiator what he is waiting for. Their orders from Emperor Vulcan are clear. With his heat vision, Gladiator kills him, much to the shock of all present.
I serve at the pleasure of Empress Lilandra, he announces.