Captain America feels that the world is out of control. The 21st Century moves too fast and its threats are too big for most to even acknowledge. He worries about the insane villains in masks and the insane dictators with nuclear weapons. But, the things he worries about most are the threats they don't know about: the threats that hide in the shadows. The trouble with secret threats, of course, is finding them before they become problems. But, in a world like this that moves so fast and so ruthlessly, where so many artifacts or experiments can be turned into WMD's, someone has to tackle the job. Someone has to stop mankind from destroying itself.
A short, rotund man, Mister Bromley, walks along a corridor towards two armed bodyguards. On each of his arms is a beautiful woman, one blonde and one brunette. He's had a bit too much to drink and slurs his words. He tells the women that he's had the best of everything in the country, but they are enough to make him consider relocating. The blonde says he is too nice, and that all Americans are too nice. The brunette tells him he must be very important to have such guards. He replies that they are nothing. Every room on the floor has security forces in it. Roxxon doesn't send senior VIP's to the Middle East without an army of backup. She pours a drink whilst Mister Bromley sits down with the blonde. He reckons they're all tucked in safely now, and he wants some action. He tries to touch her but she swipes his hand away, warning him not to paw her. He is persistent and leans in for a kiss, but she is having none of it. The brunette sees the danger immediately and radios someone. "It's going south here. Extraction in ten."
The blonde punches Mister Bromley in the face, knocking him hard against the wall where he falls unconscious. The Black Widow, ex-Soviet super-spy grabs her stingers and asks Valkyrie, one-time shield maiden of Asgard, if she couldn't have waited five minutes before blowing their cover. She tells Natasha that she couldn't stand his hands on her any longer. Natasha understands, but says that this is now a firefight. Valkyrie apologizes as she pulls a sword from nowhere, prompting Natasha to say she's not even going to ask where she pulled it from. Valkyrie informs Natasha that she is a vulgar woman. Her sword was in the heavenly realm along with her flying horse.
Numerous armed guards wearing combat fatigues enter the room and their boss tells Team One to secure the package and Team Two to take out the two assailants. The Black Widow somersaults across the room, evading gunfire as Valkyrie uses her sword to take out some of the guards. They fight well, but suffer from a numerical disadvantage. Fortunately, Steve Rogers is on hand to assist. He crashes through the window, kicking one guard in the face before he lands. The boss orders two of his men to secure the package and take it out of there. They pick up a large white box and head for the exit as Steve Rogers gives another guard a serious headache. He then takes out the two men carrying the package with ease and asks Black Widow and Valkyrie if they're good to go. Natasha replies that assuming the box is what they're after, then yes.
Steve opens it and peers inside at the glowing green contents. "It is," he informs them. He calls Sharon Carter for a pick up and they all head to the window. He turns to the others and tells them they did good work. Valkyrie admits that she blew their cover, but Steve tells her that they won, and they're getting away without anyone knowing who they are. That's good work in his book. He leaps to the awaiting craft hovering outside, followed by the other two. As they fly away, two more characters appear on the scene wearing armor adorned with a serpent on the chest. One of them radios their boss and tells him they're too late. The thieves have gone. Their boss asks if they can track the craft. He replies yes. They left a heat signature a mile long. Their boss tells them to get on it. They can't lose the thing again.
On board the craft, Hank McCoy, otherwise known as the former X-Man called Beast, informs Steve Rogers that they have a problem. The artifact that they recovered is not the Serpent Crown. Steve replies that he already noticed that. So, he asks. What is it then? Hank isn't entirely sure. He thinks it might be some distant cousin of the Serpent Crown. Steve wonders if they're part of a set. Hank would rather not contemplate that idea. Not until they have to, at least. He looks at the crown and adds that the tentacles are shifting, or uncoiling, as if it's alive, but he can't see it moving, even with video. It's as if it moves between moments. Steve places a friendly hand on Hank's shoulder and asks him to do the best he can. If he hasn't said it before, it's good to have him back on the team. Hank turns and smiles. "Once an Avenger and all that, right?" Steve walks away and says absolutely. Hank adds one more thing before Steve leaves. He would like to find out where Roxxon got the thing.
Steve heads for the cockpit where he finds ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Sharon Carter at the flight controls. He asks for their ETA. Sharon reckons they're ten minutes out. She'll keep them in stealth mode once they're parked. She feels that Steve is really taking to running a shadow ops team. He replies that it's a lot like how the Invaders worked back in the war, but he likes it. With everything that's happened, it's nice to be out of the spotlight but still doing good work. Sharon says she always said he'd make a great spy, especially when he has her running his tactical operations. He admits that he wouldn't even have tried this without her. She saved his life. Sharon seems to remember it differently. They kiss passionately whilst, over in Delaware, there is more espionage going down.
It's evening, and guards at the Roxxon Corporate Headquarters in Wilmington are patrolling the building. As they chat, Moon Knight, the former mercenary soldier, grabs one of them and knocks him unconscious. Ant-Man, the former Thunderbolt, does likewise with the other. As they then drag their bodies to a hideaway, Moon Knight, Marc Spector, asks Ant-Man if he's certain that he disabled all the security cameras. Eric asks if everyone could stop treating him like an incompetent. Moon Knight asks if he knows where to go. Eric informs him that his new helmet has a GPS map of the place all loaded up. He admits that this isn't what he expected when he signed up to be an Avenger; breaking and entering. He shrinks down in size and takes flight as Moon Knight recalls how he himself was approached to join the team.
(flashback, two weeks ago)
Steve Rogers and Moon Knight meet high up on a New York rooftop. Steve asks him to join the Avengers, but Moon Knight is hesitant. He and teamwork don't work too well. Too many voices. Steve assures him that this won't be like that. It's a strike force, off the books. He would be on call, with his skills used as needed. Moon Knight still isn't sure as he has a lot on his plate at the moment. Steve knows that he's trying to change his ways and offers his hand. "Let me help."
As Moon Knight finishes off another guard, he asks Ant-Man what he expected. Eric doesn't know. Glamour, fame, paparazzi... girls! Definitely girls. He shrinks even smaller and flies through a keyhole, thinking that regardless, espionage is pretty cool.
(flashback, one week ago)
Steve sits with Eric O'Grady in a diner, chatting over a drink. Steve informs him that it won't be easy work, but he understands he is in the market for redemption. Eric doesn't know if he'd go that far. Steve offers it anyway. Eric has the chance to be a man. He can step up, take it or be a child forever. He won't make the offer twice.
Ant-Man carries a tiny bugging device to its destination, but Moon Knight asks him to hurry. Eric finds a place to hide the bug and Moon Knight then calls Steve on the radio, informing him that they're tapped in. Steve asks them to get out of there as Hank uses a computer. Steve asks if he's found anything yet, but James Rhodes, otherwise known as the powerhouse War Machine, asks him to give Hank a minute or two. Intel transfers didn't get that much faster while he was away. Hank tells James that he may actually have something. Nothing about any crown, specifically, but does he remember how Roxxon bought mineral rights to Mars during the last administration? Steve interjects, surprised that Roxxon is digging on Mars. Hank informs him that they're not anymore. Their dig was shut down a month ago, and he's not finding any reason why in any of their files. But that's the same time word of them having a 'Serpent Crown’ got out, isn't it? Steve reckons it was about then.
Hank decides to check something in a different database. Steve is amazed that mineral rights have been sold off for another planet. "That's the 21st Century for you," replies War Machine. "The future is here and it's for sale to the highest bidder." Hank tells him he's found something weird. All the Roxxon employees from the Mars dig have vanished from their payroll logs. There's no record of them being let go, no report of an incident at the dig site... It’s as if these people simply don't exist anymore according to Roxxon. Steve says he'll have someone check into it. James asks if he has someone on the team who can just check out Mars for them. Steve grins. "Of course I do. What kind of operation do you think I was running Rhodey?"
A large craft tails the Avengers' ship, piloted by the two guys with serpents on their chest plates. One of them radios his boss and informs him that they have their craft in sight. All indications are that the item is still onboard. He asks for some orders, and is told to stay on them. He'll be there soon to evaluate their next move.
(two nights later, former H.A.M.M.E.R. storage facility)
Steve Rogers thanks his team for assembling so quickly. War Machine, Black Widow, Moon Knight, Ant-Man, Beast and Valkyrie listen on as he tells them that he knows when he called them to join the team, he told them what their mission was. It was about stealth tactics and pre-emptive intervention. They would go where they were needed and perform surgical strikes, because when Osborn was running the show, things unsurprisingly fell apart. Project: Pegasus was practically looted when he shut it down, for example. That is their primary objective. But, tonight, they have a different mission. He didn't expect to call them all together this soon, but they have to go to Mars. Ant-Man's face lights up. "Seriously? Cool."
Hank assumes that this is the reason that they're looking at some kind of Kree warship, which sits nearby. Steve tells him that Osborn had his scientists rebuild the controls, so Rhodey should have no trouble piloting it. James says he's never met a ship he didn't at least want to try and fly. Steve asks Valkyrie if she's okay to journey to the stars. She reckons it can't be as bad as going undercover as an escort. Steve's happy. They could use someone with her power set. James takes the controls and asks what's going on. He thought Steve had someone checking on the Mars thing. Steve replies that he did, but he lost contact with him this morning. This is a rescue mission.
(Mars, that morning)
Nova flies over Mars, talking to himself. "It'll be no big deal, Rich... just lend a hand once in a while. Be an Avenger... join the big leagues." Worldmind asks if he's talking to it, but Rich replies that he's just mocking himself... mocking himself for thinking this was going to be a simple recon mission. As he flies, explosions hit home all around him, and he asks Worldmind if it has any data on these guys yet. Who are they and why can't he absorb their blasts? Worldmind informs him that his initial analysis shows that their weapons array was designed millions of years ago. It would estimate a pre-Celestial origin. Rich asks exactly what that means. There are humans in those humvees, right? Worldmind thinks that it's very interesting. Rich is glad one of them is amused, but he could use a break from the constant barrage.
He flies towards a mountain and blasts his way in. As he makes his way through the rock, Worldmind tells him that there appears to be an artificially formed cavern three hundred feet ahead. Nova breaks through into the cavern. "We can regroup and contact the Avengers... and... what the hell?" he exclaims. He lands at the foot of some steps leading to a glowing artifact. "What is that?" he wonders. There are ancient drawings carved on the walls, one showing an axe-wielding being fighting a tentacled creature. Worldmind warns Rich that it doesn't think they should be there. Rich tells him to shut up as he ascends the staircase. He removes his helmet and drops it to the floor. "Richard, stop!" warns the Worldmind. "Stop!" Rich reaches for the crown.
(twenty-four hours later)
The Kree ship rockets towards Mars. Steve contacts Sharon Carter on Earth and tells her they will begin the search and rescue tomorrow. Sharon thinks she should have gone with them. She doesn't like this. Steve says someone has to stay and run the shop, and keep an eye on Maria Hill and Victoria Hand. Sharon smiles. "Right, like that's even possible." Steve asks her to be safe. He'll contact her when they land.
When the communication ends, Sharon notices a shadowy figure dart across the room. She calls out and asks if anyone's there. No one responds so pulls out her firearm. She warns whoever it is that they've just made a big mistake. They don't know how big. From nowhere, someone smashes her on the back of the head and she drops to the floor. Standing there is someone who looks unmistakeably like Nick Fury, wearing a costume similar to the two men who followed Steve's craft earlier. "Sorry babe..." he says." Didn't wanna hurt ya, but you got somethin' that belongs to the Shadow Council.