(The Raft. Maximum Security Penitentiary)
One of the security guards enters the warden’s office and tells him the prisoners and Mr. Cage have arrived. The warden clicks a button on his keyboard and tells the officer, Gillam, that he is well aware of it. It’s hard to miss the new federal transports. Outside, a huge flying ship heads towards the island on which the Raft is located. As it approaches the huge, fortress-like building, Luke Cage tells one of the vessel commanders, Marshal, that he appreciates the lift.
She tells Cage the shuttle taking the enhanced prisoners to the raft is about to leave and he had better catch it. They are standing next to an open hatch looking down on the island. He tells them that two of his people are in the courtyard and he wants to meet them first. She wonders what he means and Resnik, another security officer, chirps up and says they could have a mini-V.T.O.L take him down. Marshal tells him that’s not what Cage wants; he wants to be seen as separate from the government and the prison. And that’s because he is. With that, Luke Cage throws his rucksack out of the aircraft and then jumps out himself.
(One Week Ago. Office of Steve Rogers, Former Captain America)
Steve Rogers is stood in his office talking to Luke Cage. Cage asks why him; Steve knows his history. He was framed; he had to go to a place like that. Steve tells him he knows him and he had every bad break life could have dealt. But he turned it around and became an Avenger, that’s the kind of leader this programme needs. He tells Cage he doesn’t want to paint him a glowing picture. Basically, the state department is using the Thunderbolts to clean up the mess H.A.M.M.E.R. left behind. But he thinks Cage has an opportunity to turn the lives of some people around. Osborn shouldn’t have had such a talent pool to draw upon when he rose to power. They are fooling themselves if they think there is no one else out there waiting to put a team like that together again. Steve says he wants to prevent that from happening and asks Cage if he’ll take it on.
Cage hurtles towards the Raft. He passes through the upper force field shielding the prison and lands with a loud bang in the middle of the courtyard, much to the surprise of some of the prisoners. The Fixer commends his entrance and Cage greets him. They bump fists and the Fixer tells him to call him Bert. Cage tells the Fixer that he thought he would get moving on the Thunderbolts given that they have to be up and running within a week. His gear shows that the first of the team, the super hacker, is out there in the courtyard. The Fixer points to a man sitting down against one of the walls. He says that no one has been able to find out his name; they only know of him as Ghost. The man they are looking at is think and haggard-looking with short tufted hair. Flies circle him as he inspects the soles of his bare feet.
Cage walks over to Ghost and says that a lot of people aren’t crazy about how he went after Iron Man. But he also came out against Osborn during the siege of Asgard. He is on the fence, apparently ready to be pushed one way or the other. Cage picks up his duffle bag and reaches his hand inside. He pulls out Ghost’s helmet and tells him he has read his profile ten times. He hands him the helmet, which he promptly takes and places on his head. He tells Cage that he feels he would be an asset to his team and he won’t even kill Stark, should they meet. Cage takes the helmet off him and tells him a guard will bring him to the tower later that day.
Cage and the Fixer head towards the woman’s wing of the prison. As they enter, the female prisoners gather round. Titania, in her prison orange jumpsuit, points to Cage and declares that someone got her request for a man. One of the other women shouts up that he’s here for her conjugal visit. Cage ignores them and meets with Songbird. As the prisoners continue to shout inappropriate comments at him, Songbird tells them they are cruder in this section. Cage looks around and says he won’t be coming here much. As the guards usher away the other women, Cage says for them to notify the next member fast.
The go up to Moonstone, who is now in a prison jumpsuit and has her hair in scruffy bunches. Before Cage can say anything, she asks what took them so long. She tells him the Thunderbolts are nothing without her and then demands her costume be pressed. As she walks away, Cage tells her that Songbird will bring her up to the tower later. She smiles and says to let the chef know she has a peanut allergy.
Songbird glares at her as she walks away and then tells Cage she’s a bad choice. She been through the program and it didn’t help. Cage looks at a holographic display on his wristband and recites the data from it. Powerful fighter, quick to adapt, his identity issues, prone to create tension/drama, manipulative, vulnerable to authority figures and eager for attention. Songbird turns to him and says that’s a bad mix. He agrees with her and then informs her it was actually her profile he was reading.
(three days ago, office of the warden)
Luke Cage and some government operatives are reviewing the proposed list for the Thunderbolts team. He reads off the names and then stops when he gets to Cain Marko. One of the other men tells him he is most commonly associated with… or running foul of… the X-Men. He has a link to an extra-dimensional entity that feeds him endless kinetic power. Once he begins charging, he’s unstoppable. He lives up to the name “Juggernaut.”
Cage is walking down the wing of the Ultra block, which is designed for the most powerful prisoners. They come to Cain’s cell and find him sitting glumly in the small room. He tells them to keep their geeks away from him he doesn’t want any more scans. He turns and realizes that Luke Cage is there and says he put his name in the pool for a joke. Cage enters the cell and says that someone thought it was funny because he is on the first team if he wants it. Cain tells him he’s losing his mind in the cell. Get him out and he’ll run anyone down that they want.
Cage recalls back to his meeting and one of the government officials says that sometimes Cain is on the side of angels and sometimes he’s out for blood. Another official adds that the entity may influence it. Cage is still unsure of the candidate. He’s all over the place and, if he’s going to take him into critical situations, he doesn’t want someone powerful who might snap.
Cage tells Cain that he knows the first time he’s on a mission he will bolt. Cain gets up close and snarls at him that he has his word and tells him he’s on his side. Cage snarls back and says that he barely made the cut; if he threatens him again, he’ll get a smaller cell. He points out Cain has slid down the power scale since his run-in with Captain Universe. He tells Cain that he’s serious about him learning to shut up. If he had his way, he wouldn’t have even been considered for the team. Cain asks why they’re talking then.
Cage mentally recalls the earlier meeting he had. As he discusses Cain with the government officials, Professor Xavier interrupts. He astrally projects his head into the room and tells the group that Cain needs an opportunity like this and it will benefit from him too. He begs the group to use his half-brother and offers to take all the responsibility. Cage tells him he’ll hold him to it.
As Cage walks away from Cain’s cell, he tells him someone put in a good word for him. He approaches another cell which houses a man, sitting calmly on his bed.
Back in the earlier meeting, Cage gets to the next name on the list… Crossbones. He stands up and immediately tells them no way. He asks if any of them remembers that he shot Captain America. They tell him this is where they strongly considered the group dynamic. Any group forms natural alliances and they want them to gravitate towards Cage. They need a polar opposite they won’t identify with. Cage says he understands the reasoning but asks them what if they do identify with them.
Cage walks up to Crossbones in his cell and tells him that he’s been assigned to the Thunderbolts. He turns to Cage and asks if he gets to kill. Cage ignores the question and walks out, telling him that someone will be there for him in thirty minutes.
A guard shows Cage to Abe Jenkins’s working area, which has an opening to the roof on it. Abe flies through the opening using his heavy duty armour. As he lands, Cage greets him as Mach IV but he is corrected that it’s Mach V now. He upgraded the armour whilst he was doing the Raft’s security systems. Cage asks if it’s tight and Abe tells him that they have a number of redundancies built into the system. He’s not saying it’s foolproof but it’s adaptable. These are special people they are dealing with; someone is going to break out. But no one will be breaking out that way again. Abe says he had a lot of time to think about it as he was finishing off his sentence there. Cage commends him for coming back to the place after being on the other side.
They go to another area of the Raft. As they head to the lift, Abe says he feels he owes the Thunderbolts and wants to make it work. The team saved his life. If he hadn’t have gotten it back on track, he would have been one of those casualties in the siege in Oklahoma. Cage says that’s what he wants this team to be. Abe tells him to remember he can’t fix them all. Abe says he probably wants to see the transport. Cage gets excited at that but notes the lift is going down and not up. As they walk through some underground corridors, Cage asks if they have a pilot of whether he will need to train. Abe remains shady and tells him he’ll just have to wait and see. They head towards a room and Cage is still guessing whether it’s another Zeus or a Quinjet.
They walk into a small room to see Hank Pym operating some equipment. He tells them they asked him to work on their transportation. He tells him he appreciates it but he assumed Stark would whip up a Quinjet or Mach V would upgrade the Zeus. Pym says it sounds like they want the team to be ready for quick global and low-key travel. He saw the opportunity to continue his line of thought from the Infinite Mansion the Avengers had. He heads through an archway and says that he found out about a capture that H.A.M.M.E.R. made and the feds were now saddled with. They walk up to a huge round door with a small circular window in it. Pym says that it’s a very unique creature that he has been curious about for years. Cage stares through the window amazed at the creature on the other side.
He realizes that he is staring at Man-Thing. Pym confirms it is and says he will have to get used to him because he is their Quinjet. They stare at Man-Thing, who is standing in the middle of a lush swamp as butterflies flutter about him.
Cage tells Pym he’s lost him. Pym explains that one of the wonders of his work in teleportation is the natural wonder in the Everglades where Man-Thing lived. It’s a nexus of time and space and Man-Thing has a special connection to it, probably because he’s made of the organic material that originates there. Pym opens the door and continues to tell Cage that Man-Thing can naturally manipulate the nexus to open up alternate realities for him. But Pym is building an implant that will allow them to travel over the globe. Cage says he’s all for teleportation but maybe they could get a mutant, some of them do that.
They enter the habitat and Man-Thing slowly walks towards them. Pym says they need to use him to keep him alive. The feds want him destroyed because he is linked to a number of deaths over the years but Pym thinks he’s a one-of-a-kind life form that needs protecting. Cage tells Pym that he doesn’t think anywhere near the box. As Man-Thing stands towering over him, Cage asks if it can talk. Pym says not that he has seen but he believes it’s cognizant; just in a different way from them. Cage asks if it has to do anything to open a shortcut to which Pym informs him it will all be done by him. Pym adds in a “but,” which Cage picks up on. Pym explains that Man-Thing is an empath and it doesn’t like it when people are afraid. It makes him emit a chemical that’s caustic to any organism; even Cage’s skin wouldn’t like it.
Cage says he may as well meet him now. He addresses Man-Thing and says he knows he doesn’t want to be there but there isn’t much that can be done about it. He says he hopes they can get along. Man-Thing just stares at him with his intense red eyes. Cage holds out his hand and Man-Thing takes hold of it. The relieved men smile and Cage says he’s obviously in the club.
Later on the new recruits, kitted out in their uniforms, are being escorted across the jagged stones of the island outside of the Raft. One of them points out that Thunderbolts tower is behind them. Mach V says that they aren’t going to the tower, as it’s not finished yet. Songbird tells them they are going to do manoeuvres on the east side of the island. Moonstone says that, back in the day, they had a lavish training area but now they practice in a seagull toilet. Songbird tells her to keep it shut as Cage is irked enough as it is.
They approach Cage, who is standing on one of the rocks. He tells them that they are a team and it’s a new start. He says that some of them were on the Thunderbolts before but he asks for them to forget about that because it’s not going to be their old routine. They are going to be dealing with some ugly stuff but now it’s for the greater good. For some of them, it will knock serious time off their sentences. He looks at Moonstone and Ghost when he says the later part. Glancing at Juggernaut and Crossbones, he says that for some it won’t matter, as they are lifers. But while they are working for them, they aren’t rotting in their cells. He says that he knows what it’s like; he screwed up as a kid and hung out with the wrong people. He took a fall and it didn’t matter that he wasn’t guilty. His only way out was to volunteer in a lab experiment. That’s how he can do the things he can do. He messed up… it’s a twisted road but it worked out.
He continues his speech but he is suddenly blasted by something from behind. As he falls to the ground, the ocean behind him parts and a huge vessel surges out of it. The Thunderbolts and their handlers look on confused. From inside the vessel, a figure stares out of the windows. It says that a frequency that can kill Cage will most certainly kill them. But he doesn’t want to harm them; he wants to recruits them. The Thunderbolts have always been rightfully his. Their time on the Raft is done and now is the time to serve their true leader… Baron Zemo. Zemo, the original lead of the Thunderbolts, stands in the window in his full costume.