Emma Frost finds herself on a plane of white nothingness. “I’m not going to make it,” she hears and identifies the words as coming from Kitty Pryde. Kitty? she asks. “I thought you would help me,” the accusing voice continues. Emma wildly looks around, asking Kitty to tell her where she is. “Why did this happen?” the voice asks. Emma in vain calls for her.
Emma lies awake next to her lover, Scott Summers. Unsettled by her dream, she gets up and answers the door. It’s a Thunderbolt agent with a package for her from Norman Osborn. Aloud she wonders why that is the case. He doesn’t know, the agent replies. She knows he doesn’t know, she replies. She wasn’t asking him. She reads the letter and is very surprised.
Some time later, she flies to New York, Avengers Tower, new home of Norman Osborn. The computers welcome her and she is brought to sub-basement nine.
Sitting alone at a table is Doctor Doom. After a moment’s silence, he informs her that no man or woman shall enter the mind of Victor von Doom. He suggests she stop attempting to do so or incur his wrath. Yeah, okay, she replies and sits down at the table, as far as possible from Doom.
A newcomer greets Doom, Namor the Submariner, looking unshaved and worse for the wear. He thought Doom wasn’t going to come. A courtesy, comes the reply. Or curiosity? Namor asks. That as well. It got to him too, Namor admits.
Sitting down next to Emma, he asks who this one is. Doom introduces her as Emma Frost, leader of the X-Men and former White Queen of the Hellfire Club. Oh yes, yes, yes, Namor replies and introduces himself. She knows, Emma, replies frostily. They’ve met. It’s a pleasure to meet her, Namor insists. They’ve met, Emma repeats. Have they? Namors asks. Does he always smell like that? Emma retorts. Namor is quiet.
Doom suddenly announces there is one here who has not revealed himself. He suggests he do so or he will do it for him!
In response, a sturdy man, dressed in a hooded red cloak turns visible right on their table. Who is this? Namor demands. Parker Robbins, the Hood, Emma replies. And how the hell would she know that? the Hood snarls. There’s someone else inside there though, Emma marvels. The Hood points his gun at her and swears and orders her to get out of his head. She does not know who she is messing with. Does he? Emma retorts icily and suddenly against his will the Hood turns his gun against himself, pointing it at his mouth.
Well done, Namor commends Emma. Doom orders them to be still. They are now in the presence of a god.
A lovely brunette in archaic clothes materializes and informs them with a haughty smirk that she is Loki. S/he looks much better than the last time he saw him/her, Namor remarks, spell-bound. She’s pleased Namor finds that new form so appealing, Loki flirts. He didn’t say that, Namor begins to defend himself.
Doom announces he’s coming. Yes, Emma agrees. Thank you for meeting with me, Norman Osborn begins. Okay, it’s a new day, so listen carefully, he tells them. This is how it’s going to be. As they all know, he’s been given the keys to the kingdom. Tony Stark is out. SHIELD is no longer. Osborn is heading a new world peacekeeping task force that includes the Initiative and the Avengers franchises. And, as far as he’s concerned, that is good news for all of them.
They are kings among their people. They are rulers, tried and true. But under the thumb of Tony Stark and Nick Fury before him they were opposed. Working alone, working against the grain. They now find themselves where they find themselves ousted and dethroned. Respectfully. So… let’s do something about that. They’ll tell him what they need, and he’ll do that thing.
And in return? (That is what Doctor Doom was about to ask.) In return, loyalty, camaraderie, brothers in arms. Which, uneasy as that may be for some of them, it has to sound a whole lot better than where they find themselves today. Constantly battling Iron Man and the Fantastic Four. Constantly struggling to retain their monarchy and/or a little slice of land that is rightfully theirs. Constantly struggling to keep that which is their birthright. Constantly struggling to gain this by themselves. And knowing, whether you like it or not, you cannot win.
See… he likes the way the Hood has gone about taking over for the Kingpin. He doesn’t know whether the rest of them know but he’s turned himself into the Kingpin of… of them all actually. Strength in numbers. He likes it. Everyone working together, working to realize everyone’s common goals.
So… Osborn’s stealing his idea? the Hood asks. Good idea’s a good idea, comes the reply. But no, he doesn’t want a piece of him, or any of them. They keep theirs. What he gets in returns is…
…Credit for being the one who has got them under control, Doom points out coldly. Doing that which Fury and Stark could not. Osborn doesn’t reply.
Namor begins that he doesn’t like Osborn and doesn’t trust him. But Namor needs him, Osborn replies unfazed. He’s the new guy in charge. He’s the new Nick Fury. And Atlantis is gone. Namor’s sleeper agents spread over the world. Yes, he knows about the agents. He knows they are out there, and he knows Namor has no plan. He’s a king without a kingdom. So are Doom and Loki.
Okay, the Hood announces with a smirk. But say… when it’s time to pay the Goblin… and they tell Osborn to go @#$% himself, because that is, historically, what they do…
Osborn states he doesn’t see it that way. He sees them all as men and women of honor or he wouldn’t have called that meeting. However, if any of them would sink to their basest instincts… They must know that whatever they had gained from this relationship can easily be taken away. Like that.
Loki laughs amused, but then asks him to continue. Doom remarks he’d like to go back to a point his colleague Namor made about not liking or trusting Osborn. This newfound arrogance of his even to call them here.
Osborn replies he wasn’t done with that point. In such a case as one of them turns on him or each other, in payment for the kindness he has shown them… he has his friends. A door opens and he points towards the shape standing there. Whoever it is, it seems to impress the others.
Osborn asks Emma to look in his head and tell them if he is lying. No, Emma states. Something for even a goddess of mischief to think about, he suggests. He tells them this isn’t about who’s got the biggest or who’s the most badass. But it’s a language he knows they respect and he does speak it. Stark and Fury did it wrong. They should have embraced them all and their causes. They should have worked with them. This is his offer. Everyone gets what they want.
Why is she here? Emma asks. She is not like them? She’s not? Osborn asks mockingly. Since when? She is Emma Frost. White Queen of the Hellfire Club. Leader of the X-Men. She is the spokesperson for a powerful people who are dying out. It’s time to make some bold moves on their behalf or they will be done.
The mutant population is decimated and if they don’t want to be rounded up into Canadian concentration camps (which, by the way, is an idea being proposed right now by those who propose such things), she needs to tap into her own true self and make some tough decisions. And for him, it’s nice to have a psychic on the team. It keeps everyone relatively honest. Except…
He’s sure Doom has guards and magic stuff blocking everything. But that’s okay. He knows what Victor wants. He wants Latveria. And he can have it. As of today, right now, he’s extradited back to his homeland. There’s an argument that says that when Tony Stark arrested Doom, he did so under the influence of a Skrull virus and that means Doom was unlawfully imprisoned and is free to go, pending further international investigation by a world court. See how easy it is? He’s going home… on Norman’s dime. He’s got a better offer than that, take it.
He turns to Namor telling him and Doom to live their lives, feed their people and stay there. They all know that their best moments have been private ones. While their defeats have been very public. He says instead of pushing against that fate, embrace it. Let’s keep their wins private. Let’s keep their victories between them. Let’s do it in a way that works to their strengths.
His guys are in a business, the Hood points out. They ain’t gonna see the upside financially to anything that has to do with Osborn or the Avengers or them, so he’s gonna take a pass. Actually, he’ll tell him what he and his men are gonna do, Osborn replies. He’s gonna register with the Initiative. He’s going legit. Each and every one of them.
He also looks at Emma. Every mutant and crook under their hood. They’re going to sign up and say “I’m with him.” They’ll do so publicly. They’ll publicly reform. He’ll make them Thunderbolts. He’ll make them the Wisconsin Avengers. Whatever they are comfortable with. After that, they keep doing what they do. He’s not even going to ask for a kickback. They’ll keep theirs.
He turns to Loki. But no attacking government facilities. No mischief for the sake of mischief. And when Osborn calls them and tells them to hit something, they hit it. And he promises there isn’t anything he wants hit that they’d have a problem hitting.
And what the hell do they get in return? the Hood asks. Immunity, comes the reply. They get pinched, they walk. And they get to live their lives unpunished. He was… two years ago he was institutionalized. Now he’s in charge of things. He’s saying they get over themselves and the world loves a second chance. He’s offering them a get-out-of-jail-free-card. As long as they don’t kill a puppy on television.
What about the Avengers? the Hood asks. They’ll find out in a week. Tony Stark? Doom asks. Is not going to have a good year, Norma replies. He signed the Tower and the Avengers over to SHIELD, so SHIELD would pay for it. So he lost it. He put the target on his head, he opened the door.
Namor asks about Loki’s opinion. I want Asgard, comes the reply. In the heavens where it doth belong. Then they want the same thing, Norman replies.
Okay, well, he has a lunch. Leave the way they came. They’ll be in touch. Victor will be escorted to a transport ship back to his own country. See it as a goodwill gesture. He’ll be calling them soon. And don’t talk about him behind his back now.
He’s gone and there is a moment’s silence. Then the Hood leaves. So do Emma and Loki. Are they alone? Namor asks Doom. They are comes the reply. What’s the move here? It is as before, Doom replies. Let Osborn set them up. He will soon implode. Then, when all this is over, Namor will get the seas and Doom will get the land. And if Osborn doesn’t? Namor wonders. It’s his nature, Doom replies. He will. But if he doesn’t? Namor again asks. Then they’ll have a battle on the hands the likes of which this dimension has never seen, Doom prophesies.
Later, Osborn returns to Thunderbolts Mountain and orders his men to pack his equipment and send it to Avengers Tower. While he is musing, he is interrupted by the angry Swordsman who curses him. So the Thunderbolts Program, the Swordman asks, all the promises Osborn made? All was just bull! Osborn orders him to calm down. Calm down? Does Osborn think he doesn’t know what’s going on? That he’s already made side deals with half the Thunderbolts team? What about him? What is he? Is he in? He’s not, is he? Get screwed, you piece of §/&§! he tells him.
It’s complicated, Norman replies hesitantly. They are restructuring. They have to reevaluate all the different…
Another outburst from the Swordman. All the work he did for Osborn. He was promised an out! Is he getting it?
Norman is getting nervous. He turns around. He knew it, the Swordman snarls. Well, guess what, Osborn’s not Nick Fury. He’s not even sane! He’s a whack job in a fancy suit! And everyone here knows it.
He’s not going back to prison, he vows, calling Osborn “Goblin.” Osborn orders him to settle down but the Swordsman goes on, threatening he will go public. About what Osborn has done here, about all the &%$§ in his life.
He’s not letting him finish the sentence, Osborn states. He grabs Swordsman by his throat and impales him on his own sword, then he throws him outside into the ocean. He is in charge! Osborn shouts. Him! Him! HIM!
Oh no! he moans a moment later, trying to regain control.
Back in San Francisco, Emma lives through her nightmare once more and awakes screaming… and doubting.