Gladiator, former Praetor of the Imperial Guard, gazes upon the Fault; a vast, puncture wound in time and space. It is seven parsecs across, splitting the border between the Kree Stellar Empire and the Shi’ar Imperium. It is an unregulated point of entry into their universe for beings from other dimensions. Who knows what threats it contains… The Shi’ar blame the Inhuman king, Black Bolt. The detonation of his Terrigen bomb triggered the Fault. But his weapon was only launched in the prosecution of a war that would never have been begun if the Shi’ar Majestor Vulcan hadn’t ordered it. War did this. With their violence, they have injured the very matter of the stars. And it has cost them the lives of their kings. Black Bolt and Vulcan are gone. After learning that this is their latest intelfleed mapping, he ends the immersive holopay.
Gladiator is on the Shi’ar homeworld Chandilar. A young, female version of Consul Araki addresses him as “praetor” and informs him that the criminal Starjammer Havok awaits him in the anteroom. Gladiator corrects her: Havok is no criminal and he is no Praetor. “Gladiator” will suffice. Araki apologizes. She is simply eager to prove her worth to the administration. The Araki sequence has deliberately constituted its latest iteration as a female in order to draw a line under the regrettable actions of her predecessor. Her sequence… her family wishes to atone for chancellor Araki’s sins.
What she means is they made her a woman so they wouldn’t have to look at a young version of that treacherous old monster? he asks. Yes, she admits. Serve well and speak plainly, he suggests, and her family will earn the absolution it craves. Additionally it may help to bear in mind what he did to the chancellor for his treachery. Araki no longer has a face to sneer at him with.
He apologizes to the three X-Men-cum-Starjammers Havok, Polaris and Marvel Girl to have kept them waiting. Alex Summers retorts he was enjoying the novelty. The Starjammers in the Shi’ar imperial palace and no sirens going off!
Lorna Dane explains that Rachel Grey has finished the psi-sculpture of the unknown assassin who killed Lilandra. Gladiator promises to have this posted through the Shi’ar territory as a meme advisory. Anyone who sees this animal will instantly know his crime!
Alex ventures that they want to talk to him. Kallark replies he’s tired and the state funeral is demanding his full attention… It’s about the succession, Alex insists. They’ll talk about it later, Kallark replies and leaves, knowing what they want to say. Others have already mentioned the succession… it will take a strong person to lead the Shi’ar through this calamitous times and that person won’t be him. The Shi’ar Imperium is on its knees. He has managed to create a safe zone around the Aerie to allow the interim administration to operate but Chandilar as a whole is burning. Civil war rages across the worlds of the imperium. Presuming there still is an imperium, at all. They lost the war and surrendered unconditionally to the Kree. Their Inhuman monarchs may simply choose to dismantle the Shi’ar imperium.
Nevertheless it was the right choice. The imperium had lost its soul in the bloodshed of Vulcan’s reign. They may need such a surrender to bring them to their senses, to help them survive!
Araki breaks him out of his reverie and announces the Inhuman mission has been sent. They will be here by dawn. She too wants to discuss the issue of succession. Not now, he replies. Yes, now, she insists. The issue is murky at best. The filial geniture of the key noble sequences have become so entangled in the last decades, any declaration of blood inheritance would simply aggravate the civil war. Putting aside the fact that the bulk of the Imperial Guard question the legality of Ka’ardum’s surrender, the Guard and many noble factions have insisted that, until physical proof of Vulcan’s death can be provided, the issue of succession is moot anyway… If the Shi’ar imperium is going to survive, they need a figurehead. Someone popular and strong and charismatic. Does he see where she is going with this?
Angrily, he repeats he is no interested. He is not her praetor. And certainly not her majestor!
He thinks to himself that everyone considers him the best choice. They are mistaken. His whole life he has served at the pleasure of the throne. He may have led the Imperial Guard but he is still a soldier, an instrument. He has no more right or qualification to the throne than a common usurper. In the end, he believes, their new lords, the Inhumans, will decide who rules them.
Attilan arrives at dawn. And Crystal feels queasy about the whole thing. Her daughter Luna asks where they are now. Back on the moon? Her mother explains they are on Chandila where the Shi’ar live. Luna holds her nose in disgust. Nasty, bird-smelly people. Will it smell like a birdcage here? How many worlds are there altogether? Too many, Crystal sighs.
Admiral Ka’ardum has escorted them to the Aerie. She senses he is broken inside. He bows and accompanies them outside. The Inhumans, all wearing mourning, are now led by the widowed Medusa with Black Bolt gone. She is mourning and hasn’t spoken. The irony isn’t lost on any of them. Everyone hopes she will be able to secure genuine peace between Kree and Shi’ar.
Medusa leads the procession outside. Both Karnak and Gorgon hold her hands. Maximus asks Gorgon if he can be king and is told no. Let him, he’d be great, he promises. No! But he wants to be king of something!
Ronan the Accuser remarks to Ka’ardum his people will need a firm hand on the tiller now. He has Neramani blood. Has he thoughts? Not anymore, comes the reply. Half the imperium would instantly rise up against him. His bloodline has stained the Shi’ar too deeply. He knows how that song goes, Ronan replies. He ruled the Kree out of necessity and would not want to take the burden back. Crystal silently fears the burden will be hers.
That’s also what she tells her former sister-in-law Lorna Dane while she arranges some flowers and Luna is playing with Lockjaw. How does she know? Lorna asks. Crystal explains that they are bred to rule. They are raised as royalty. Governance is their expectation in life. The Inhumans defeated the Shi’ar and therefore they have become their responsibility. It falls to them to oversee their future. That is what they do. They are a Royal Family and sometimes they just have to suck it up and get on with the obligations of office.
So she is going to be queen of the Shi’ar? She believes the correct term is “Majestrix,” Crystal replies while raising some water for the flowers. She doesn’t want to be queen of anything but she will be queen if she has to. Medusa is high queen, monarch of the Kree in Black Bolt’s stead. She is next in line. If the Shi’ar dependencies need a regent, it’s right and proper she accept the role. That’s huge, Lorna remarks. It’s what royalty does, Crystal insists, eyes cast down. It’s about duty. Lord knows she doesn’t want it though. She has become very afflicted by the plight of the Kree. She feels a great dedication to their cause, a cause she cannot pursue if she is light years away, ruling the shattered remains of the Shi’ar Empire.
Luna and Lockjaw throw down a vase with their roughhousing, but Polaris magnetically levitates it back. So, is this “bond” with the Kree in part due to her dashing young husband? Lorna teases. Crystal asks her not to be so mocking of lord Ronan. Lord Ronan huh? Lorna smiles. Is that what she calls him in bed? They do not share a bed! Crystal shouts out so loud Luna and Lockjaw look up. Well, maybe they should, Lorna jokes. Jumpstart the Kree genetic line the old-fashioned way. Crystal looks at her flabbergasted and blushes. It was a joke, Lorna bursts out. She doesn’t actually have feelings for Ronan, does she? Crystal turns away, then changes the topic back to the question of the Shi’ar succession. So Polaris tells her about Gladiator.
The man in question is spending the day in the suburb of Za’tai, fifty kilometers north of the Aerie, aiding relief compounds. Suddenly, someone shouts there is someone alive under the K’kyen plant which was leveled by orbital bombing six days ago. Gladiator lifts up the rubble, ordering the relief workers to get in and reach the people. The mass isn’t stable!
He begins to lose his grip, then the weight is lifted as Crystal uses her control over earth to stabilize the rubble. She introduces herself. Gladiator curtly replies he knows who she is. She tells him he has done amazing work keeping everything together. He’s served the throne all his life. He isn’t about to stop now, he replies as the relief workers take the survivors out.
He could do more, Crystal offers. He is not going to be drawn into this conversation! He serves the throne in an appropriate fashion, he will not overstep his limits. But he is capable of it, she urges. He renounced the sitting Majestor in order to support Lilandra because he believed it was in the best interest of the Shi’ar… And thus he is responsible for her death and this civil war! he snarls. The guilt will live with him, he can assure her. Crystal tells him to spare her his self pity. He is prepared to break any rule if the cause is morally right.
What does she know about it? he scoffs and turns away. Nothing. She knows nothing about the Shi’ar, she admits. Nothing about their spirit or their needs. Nothing about their culture or lives. Absolutely nothing. So God help them when they put her in charge!
The next day, Lilandra’s funeral proceeds in silence. The coffin is carried first. The Inhuman Royal Family follows dressed in mourning; later still come the Starjammers and others. Crystal wonders why she has to carry the scepter. Karnak explains in whispers that it’s symbolic. It ties in the Shi’ar philosophy of cultural marriage.
So, reviewing, Maximus still insists, why can’t he be the king of the Shi’ar? He’s quite clever; they may have noticed that about him. And Medusa gets to rule the Kree apparently, so-- Shut. Up. Gorgon orders annoyed.
Consul Araki observes to Admiral Ka’Ardum that both Vulcan and Black Bolt are Earth born, The Shi’ar and the Kree, two ancient empires brought down by Earthborn usurpers… Earth has a lot to answer for…
Polaris tries to address Gladiator again who ignores her. A moment later, they have other problems as the Imperial Guard, led by Mentor, bars their way. They will not allow this travesty to proceed any further! he announces. They do not recognize the authority of the interim administration. They do not recognize the legality of the terms of surrender. There is no proof of Majestor Vulcan’s death. Until such time as a legitimate mandated rule can be established, the Imperial Guard will assume control. And the Inhumans will go home.
She told them it was a bad idea, Crystal whispers. Karnak, Triton and Gorgon get ready to fight. This would never have happened under his regime, Maximus points out. Medusa is silent until rage overcomes her. With a guttural snarl she lashes out with her hair at Mentor and other Guard members. Immediately, her family moves to protect her fighting the Guard.
Her husband laid down his life to defeat them and still they defy them? Medusa shouts. They are Inhumans and the Shi’ar will kneel! With her hair she takes out Manta, and Astra .
Even Lockjaw joins the battle giving WarStar trouble. Beat the upstart Shi’ar until they learn some manners, Gorgon shouts.
Only Crystal holds back in exasperation, refusing to believe this is happening. This is a funeral, for Randac’s sake! she shouts. Her gaze falls on another, Gladiator, who brings down his mighty fist, creating a shockwave, as he shouts enough! Everyone stops. Show some respect! he demands. He will not see this imperium fall any further or split any deeper. He was Praetor once. He will not watch them do this!
This belongs to him, Crystal announces and offers him the scepter. He refuses. Sometimes to serve the throne you’ve got to be the throne, Crystal points out. “Damn you,” he replies and takes it. He holds it up in the air and the Shi’ar, including the Imperial Guard, kneel.
Consul Araki steps into the shadows. Kallark, the first… It will do for now. A place holder in the great purpose. She switches to her true form… the great purpose of Talon and the Fraternity of Raptors…
Elsewhere, another has watched the proceedings. So the Shi’ar have a new ruler; a strong figurehead to lead them into this dangerous new age. If they could only see what he can sees. If they could only see half of the horror that Fault will bring to their universe… He pities the Shi’ar. They have spent so long agonizing about who will rule… when they all know the Magus will rule in the end…