(The Raft Maximum Security Prison)
Staring out through a window that overlooks the prison recreational room, Luke Cage yells that he is done with the Thunderbolts. When Steve Rogers asked him to lead them, he talked about a chance to turn the heavy hitters on their side. But he can’t fix them as they are too bullheaded, paranoid, manipulative and ruthless. Now Steve is coming out with the senior Avengers to do an evaluation mission for the feds. Luke says that, out of respect for Steve, he will do it but once it’s over he is out of there.
Ghost has been staring at Cage the whole time, using the software in his costume to read his lips and piece together what he is saying. Cage enters the room with the Thunderbolts in and tells them to get to the courtyard as the Avengers are coming. When Moonstone asks who she gets to buddy up with, Cage tells her she will be going back to her cell. When she asks why, Cage uses his wrist device to show her a holographic image from their last mission. Fixer was stabbed and Songbird went down, but Moonstone didn’t help out. Cage tells her she’s out and then walks away from the stunned woman. He tells Songbird to take her back to her cell and then invites the rest of the team to meet some real heroes.
Thor, Captain America and Iron Man arrive in the prison courtyard, where most of the prison inmates are waiting. As the Avengers walk past them all, the prisoners jeer and threaten them. Steve Rogers shakes Cage’s hand and tells them he guesses everybody there has met. Cage says that Mach V will be there in a minute with the transport and that afterwards he wants to speak to Steve about something. Thor asks where the girl from the ruins of Asgard is and says he wants to speak to her. Cage tells him she is in the women’s section and that he will take him there himself.
Ghost floats over to Iron Man and tells him they meet again. Iron Man asks him how’s it hanging, to which Ghost points out that he is being deceptively informal. Iron Man tells him it’s par for the course for him, working with a madman one minute and then working alongside him a few months later. He tells Ghost that he only knows of his recent exploits academically because all his memories have been rebooted. Ghost turns invisible but Iron Man points out he can still uses his suit to see him.
Iron Man asks why he wanted him dead but Ghost turns it around and asks why Stark Industries is concerned what the little people do. Calling Ghost an “industrial terrorist,” Iron Man points out that he doesn’t really have room to moralize and asks why he can’t just drop the hate for him. He asks what it is about him that fits Ghost’s global conspiracy. Ghost reappears behind the Avenger and tells him that it’s everything about him and, even though his resources far surpass his, he still believes he can outthink Stark.
In the women’s section of the prison, Cage is escorting Thor through the recreational area. All the female prisoners shout suggestive things at Thor and one even flashes her boobs at him. Songbird ushers them all away except for Gunna, aka Troll. Thor overhears her calling herself “Troll” and he tells her not to do that, as she is from a proud and noble family of Asgard. He explains that her mother was captured by the Magzi and that she may have never known her people. He tells Troll he didn’t know she was imprisoned as he was away from Asgard during that time. Troll faces away from him as he comments that she has experienced a life of challenge. She stayed with the trolls but she looks like an Asgardian. Thor’s brother Loki was in the same situation although he never let go of the part of him that was meant to be an enemy of Asgard. He reaches out to her, telling her that if she goes with him she could ride the skies as a Valkyrie or fight alongside the Warriors Three. However, Troll spins around and bites Thor’s hand, catching him off-guard. With her limited speech she yells that she is not a Viking god or an Asgard wench, she is a troll. As Troll spits out the blood from her mouth, Thor mutters that he should have let Rogers do the talking.
Elsewhere, Steve is speaking to Crossbones. Crossbones tells him he finally figured it out as he has been working for Steve all this time. He assassinated him, so Steve had him put on the Thunderbolts, and then they were sent to every dark hole on the planet until he got killed. Steve tells him it wasn’t his idea but he went along with it anyway. Not to get him killed, but to set an example to the rest of the prison. That the very worst of them, like Crossbones, can contribute to a better world.
Steve walks away and Crossbones turns to Juggernaut and tells him he still thinks they’re taking them out to get whacked. Ghost replies that either way it is likely to be their last mission. When Juggernaut enquires why he thinks that, Crossbones answers that they will scrap the program without Cage, to which Ghost adds that Cage doesn’t make idle threats. Juggernaut tells them that once they teleport he is clocking Cage on the head and running for it. Crossbones mocks him and points out that, if he outran the Avengers, the wardens would activate the nanites and he would go face down. Ghost tells them that before today he would have said the system was unassailable but something he witnessed has given him a possibility. When the others ask him about it, he tells them that every system has a built-in flaw and that is randomness, in this case it’s a member of their team.
Luke Cage and Man-Thing teleport in and Cage tells them they are going to show their guests how they roll. Dr. Banner has given them the location of one of MODOK’s hidden bases in Europe and they are going to shut it down. It will be full of automatic defenses and kill robots and they will be opening the portal with Man-Thing. Iron Man asks how they are going to use Man-Thing, to which Mach IV explains him Hank Pym put an implant in him so they can aim him through space-time.
Ghost slyly informs the other Thunderbolts he only needs to project an ion stream that connects Thor’s hammer to Man-Thing and it will throw off the transport destination. It will also render the satellite system unable to detect the nanites. If they separate at the moment of transfer, they should appear hundreds of miles away from the Avengers. The Avengers and Thunderbolts huddle around Man-Thing and Cage prepare to teleport. As he does so, Ghost covertly hits Thor’s hammer with an ion stream and then yells for everyone to separate as they teleport.
Crossbones, Juggernaut and Ghost emerge from the portal together and Ghost confirms that he is picking up Cage 2.3 km to the east. Crossbones thought they would be further away but Ghost tells him Man-Thing’s transfer was quicker than anticipated. However, the nanites still cannot be activated, as there is no satellite system to convey Cage’s signal. The three men look around the area and wonder where they are. They are in a green, hilly valley with a waterfall and lake in the middle.
Elsewhere, the Avengers have landed and Thor immediately flies into the air to get his bearings. Steve doesn’t recognize their environment and Iron Man is having trouble getting any readings. He deduces that it was Ghost’s doing and Cage mutters that he is going to wring his neck. He says he shouldn’t have waited as he could have scrapped this hours ago. Steve asks what he means and Cage explains that he isn’t having any influence on the Thunderbolts, and he is even becoming more like them. He was going to tell them after the mission that he was stepping down. Steve tries to reason with him but they are interrupted by Iron Man, who has noticed something strange about his reflection in a river. When he looks at his reflection he sees a kid but Steve tells him he just sees a shiny suit of armor. However, when Steve looks at his own reflection, he isn’t in his SHIELD uniform, he is back in his Captain America costume.
A voice suddenly gets their attention and they turn to see a humanoid frog riding on top of a large two-legged hippo-like beast. The frog man, wearing a straw hat and carrying a fishing rod, tells the men the waters have peculiar properties. Whenever people come through there, they think they are looking at their true selves or the answer to some kind of puzzle. However, he just likes to fish in them. Most people come and go through the big waterfall behind them, but they just appeared out of thin air. Iron Man asks if he is in charge and introduces themselves as the Avengers, but the frog man doesn’t seem that impressed. Cage holds out his hand and introduces himself, to which the frog man is much happier to deal with. He tells Cage everyone just calls him “The Frog.”
Cage explains they arrived there by accident and they came with some dangerous people. He says they need to get back home and asks the Frog how they can do that. The Frog gestures towards Man-Thing and tells them they have a swamp walker and there’s no better guide than that. He can get them back through the waterfall with no problem. As the Frog continues to fish from the lake, he tells them that if they stay there too long though they will forget where they came from, much like him.
Thor arrives back and Iron Man introduces him to the Frog. Thor says they are in another dimension like Midgard, but uninhabited. If he knew where they were, he would open up a portal back home. He says he hasn’t seen the Thunderbolts but Iron Man points towards a hill and tells them he is picking up Ghost’s equipment not far away. As the Avengers fly off, the Frog tells Man-Thing that he is hanging around a bunch of highly strung men.
Over the hill, Juggernaut takes a swipe at Ghost, but the man phases. Juggernaut asks what good does it do them to be in another dimension. Crossbones tells Ghost he thought he knew everything but Ghost points out he thought their goal was freedom. He assumed they would reach a similar Earth with historical discrepancies. Juggernaut angrily tells Ghost that if he can’t get him back to Earth, or at least somewhere with naked women, then he can shut up. As Ghost spots the Avengers on his equipment, he relents and tells them he will keep his findings to himself then.
Seconds later, Cage hits the group like a cannonball, throwing everyone to the ground. Juggernaut punches Cage off him and yells that he isn’t going back to the Raft. Iron Man arrives and blasts Juggernaut into a crater, but the villain fights back by throwing a lump of earth at him. Thor suddenly arrives and strikes Juggernaut with a lightning attack. Steve starts to yell orders but Cage interrupts him and tells Iron Man to go after Ghost and Steve to get Crossbones back. Steve is impressed and heads off to track down his target. Cage leaps forward and slams into Juggernaut, as the man tells him he will have to kill him because he isn’t going back to a cell. Thor accepts the challenge and hits Juggernaut with his hammer, sending the man crashing to the floor.
As the battle wages on, Iron Man glides through the air in search of Ghost. He shouts out loud that Ghost will surely perish there, as there isn’t any tech to live off. A voice calls out and tells Iron Man that there also isn’t any corporate hierarchy or domination by individuals. Here, one can be free of his world.
Steve walks through the rugged landscape, amongst high sided ditches within the valleys. He spots a footprint in the grass and continues on; seemingly oblivious to the fact Crossbones is lying in wait a little way off. However, as Crossbones readies his gun, Steve jumps down from a ledge above and catches him by surprise. As Crossbones spicks himself up off the ground, he tells Steve he’s gotten better at stealth and asks if it was because of him. Steve replies that he isn’t dying the same way again to which Crossbones tells him he has a whole new way to kill him. With that, Crossbones activates his newly discovered flame power and launches a stream of fire at Steve.
Iron Man is also flying through the valleys, trying to figure out which of the many readings on his devices is the real Ghost. Ghost phases out of one of the cliffs behind him and zaps his armor with some kind of energy pulse. He tries to take control of Iron Man’s systems but the firewall engages. As he wrestles to find a way around it, he tells Stark that every system can be cracked. Stark turns it around and asks if that is true of him too but Ghost tells him he has no systems, as he is made of free will. Stark informs him that he is a system and that he has been going about things the wrong way. He realizes that knowledge is what Ghost wants the most, so he decides to give it him. Ghost is given access to all of Stark’s history and accounts. He discovers that all divisions and subdivisions of Starktech have recently been closed down. Stark tells him that he isn’t a corporate conglomerate anymore. He isn’t poor but Stark Resilient is a small business. Ghost moves away from Iron Man and turns towards him, declaring that he is no longer the enemy.
Elsewhere, Thor has managed to smash Juggernaut’s helmet off, but receives a huge punch for his efforts. Cage tells him he won’t be dying today but he will be going home. He dives at Juggernaut but the ground beneath them both gives way and they fall down the hillside towards the shore of the lake. Juggernaut is the first to recover and he goes to punch Cage but suddenly stops when he looks in the water. Cage asks what he can see and Juggernaut replies that he wouldn’t know what Cyttorak looks like. He is surprised when his reflection changes from a fiery form to a regular looking man and then again to a robotic form.
Juggernaut sits up and says it doesn’t matter; he’s still not going back. Just then, he spots Iron Man and Ghost floating over the hillside. When he questions what’s going on, Ghost replies that he is returning of his own accord. Juggernaut is still adamant he won’t go back, so Iron Man starts charging up a device in his suit. He tells everyone it is a localized sonic assault that put down and entire regiment before, and so he unleashes it on Juggernaut. As Juggernaut screams in pain, Iron Man is amazed that he is still standing, so he calls on Thor to help him out. Cage tells Iron Man to stop, but he doesn’t, forcing Cage to get angry with him as Juggernaut starts to bleed from the ears.
Cage angrily tells Iron Man to help Steve bring Crossbones in so they can get out of there. Ghost chips in and suggests they all go help Steve. When Cage asks why they should do that, Ghost explains that Mach IV has been trying to decrypt a file from his recordings. He tells them he saw Crossbones manifest a new power whilst they were underground, which was most likely caused by inhaling Terrigen Crystal mists on their New Guinea mission. Ghost then uses is tech to create a hologram of Crossbones killing Darris Kimbro on their previous mission, which makes Cage even angrier than before.
Steve narrowly dodges out of the way from one of Crossbones’s attacks. The villain taunts him and points out he doesn’t like it when the enemy has the power for a change. The bloodied and bruised Steve regains his footing as Crossbones continues his assault. With flames pouring from his head, Crossbones tells Steve he doesn’t need guns anymore, as he is a gun. Steve uses his shield to block another flame attack and then swings his arm to smack Crossbones in the head. The ground beneath the two explodes when it gets hit by a flame attack. As Steve lies on the ground, Crossbones tells him he is finishing what he started and this time Captain America will stay dead.
As he says that, though, Steve grabs a rock and hurls it at his head. Steve quickly stands up and punches Crossbones numerous times. He tells the man he has become talky since he became a Thunderbolt. He also says it is a shame because he has done some good since he started the program, but he has to go back into solitary now. Crossbones fights back and knocks Steve to the ground. He tries to crawl towards the lake but, when he reaches it, he looks at his reflection and sees Captain America staring back.
When Crossbones catches up with him and stands over Steve, though, he sees the Red Skull instead. Steve mocks him and tells him it figures that he would see himself as a pale reflection of someone else. Crossbones screams that he is the best and fires his jet of flame downwards. Steve dodges, grabs him from behind and then shoves his head under the water. As he holds Crossbones head under the frothing water, he says that he is nothing and he didn’t kill Captain America.
The other Avengers arrive and see Steve seemingly drowning Crossbones. However, Steve pulls the man’s head out of the water and tells them he isn’t a killer. Crossbones’ head has turned back to normal and he moans wearily.
On the other side of the lake, the Frog tells Man-Thing he fells like he has seen him somewhere else before. Suddenly, the Avengers appear and startle the Frog, and ask about the waterfall. The Frog points to the waterfall at the end of the lake and tells the group that he has seen beings like Man-Thing bring people through it before. Luke Cage wades out into the water and asks Man-Thing if he can transport them home. Man-Thing slowly turns to Cage and then turns away again without a response. Thor says he can push the beast through but Cage stops him and says that Man-Thing has to want to go through. Steve can’t figure out how to get him through but Juggernaut points out they are over thinking it. He leans down to Ghost and tells him to project an image of Moonstone on the waterfall.
Ghost creates an illusion of Moonstone just in front of the waterfall and it gets Man-Thing’s attention. Cage commends Juggernaut for his idea and asks if he is ready to go back. Juggernaut reluctantly says he is, even though he is sure to regret it later when he is in his cell. Cage says he doesn’t know why, as he has a lot more missions coming up and he won’t see the inside of the cell much. Steve asks if Cage will stay with the team after they tried to escape. Cage denies that they tried to escape and tells him it was a simple transporter malfunction.
As the team heads through the waterfall, Steve asks Cage what he saw when he looked in the water. Cage tells him that maybe they all see something else but he just sees himself. The Frog watches as they disappear and then suddenly leaps off his beast and runs to the waterfall, hoping that it was where he was originally from.
The team appears back at the prison and is met by Mach IV, who tells them he has been searching for them for an hour and a half. Cage says that it seems if you mix Thor’s hammer and Man-Thing’s “whatever,” it confuses the system. Steve asks Iron Man if Ghost stopped hating him just because he changed his organization. Iron Man replies that Ghost’s mind is very binary. Once he didn’t fit into category “A” anymore, Ghost was no longer a threat. Cage says that’s the best they can hope for, tricking them into doing the right thing.
Steve tells Cage this is what he wanted to talk about earlier. He knows Cage views the Thunderbolts as a failure as Moonstone still wants to control and Ghost still wants to topple corporations. Crossbones was an extreme example and they are done with him now. But all these people would have been rotting in a jail cell but instead they have been out fixing the world. They have done a better job than some of the teams of pure heroes wanting to help. Cage has done the best with the worst just like Steve thought he would. As they walk away, Cage tells Steve he really is good at the motivating thing.
Unbeknownst to them, a small frog hops out of Man-Thing’s enclosure. It stops in the doorway to gather its surroundings but, as it does so, the door slams shut and splatters the poor creature.