The Nation of Bagalia, South Pacific Ocean
Baron Helmut Zemo was not a patient man.
He stood before the massive window overlooking Bagalia City. From his perch in the central government office tower, the entire city was laid out before him. The only nation that was completely open about its status as a haven for superhuman criminals, Zemo knew the potential that lay before him. He had once had an entire world at his beck and call, if only loosely, on the former Counter-Earth when he was still with his Thunderbolts. Now, back on the Prime Earth, he knew that while the scale was smaller, the dividends were potentially greater. Where Captain America had the Avengers organization to see his hopes and dreams through, Zemo had the army that had started as his father’s strike team: The Masters of Evil. Now more a movement than a small team of villains, Zemo had a population that wanted nothing but profit and the opportunity to create chaos. He simply needed to decide where that chaos was to be applied.
“Baron?” came a voice from the intercom at his desk, “The Scientist Supreme is on line two.”
“Thank you,” said Zemo. He turned to his desk and hit a keystroke. A holographic projector lifted up from the center of the room as the windows tinted black. An image of a man wearing a cylindrical helmet appeared.
“Baron,” said Andrew Forson, the current Scientist Supreme of the Advanced Idea Mechanics, “We have a problem.”
Zemo looked the holographic projection in the eye. “Not with Project: Breach, I presume?”
“No,” said Forson, “But something tangential. The Adaptoid is giving us issues with the fusion process to the mutant. Specifically, the mutant is not cooperating.”
Zemo shook his head. “He and I had…an understanding.”
“It seems he wishes to reopen your dialog on that understanding,” said Forson. “Now, my first preference would be to brainwash him or clone him and kill the original, but…”
“No,” said Zemo. “He’s worth more alive to my long term goals. His cooperation is vital to the project. Your compensation was contingent on his continued well-being.”
“Thus the call, Baron,” said Forson. “Talk to him. Get him onside. We have many moving parts with the project and as you know not all can be put on hold once things get started.”
“I will speak to him,” said Zemo. “Is there anything further?”
“No,” said Forson. “Once the mutant is onside, we are ready to test the drill.”
“There is no point in waiting,” said Zemo.
“I will schedule the test run for this evening,” said Forson.
“I plan on being there,” said Zemo. The holographic image faded as the connection ended.
Zemo turned back to his view of Bagalia City. Today was going to be a day that, years from now, the world would look back on as history making.
First, he had to make a call.
The White House, Washington, D.C.
The President of the United States said nothing as the footage was played before him.
The footage ended. He turned to the two men in the Oval Office with him. “A S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier was attacked and brought down in the span of less than twenty minutes with all hands aboard,” said the President. “I hope you have more than this to tell me.”
Steve Rogers stood with his hands behind his back off to the side of the video screen. “We do, sir.”
Nick Fury, Jr. stood beside Rogers. “The footage you just saw came to us from the attackers directly. It was logged into S.H.I.E.L.D.’s secure server to myself and Commander Rogers.”
“They take down a Helicarrier and wave it in your faces like it was nothing?” asked the President. “How did this happen? You’re S.H.I.E.L.D. for god’s sake!”
“We have all of our resources on this,” said Rogers. “The attackers resources were…impressive. We suspect an inside job of some kind but we won’t know more until the investigation progresses.”
“Captain,” said the President, “I know you will find whoever did this and put a stop to them. Who are they? Have they made any demands?”
“Not yet,” said Fury, “But they are calling themselves by a very familiar name.”
Andrew Forson turned off his communicator link and removed his helmet. It had the same basic look as other A.I.M. uniforms but was more akin to an armored suit than a beekeeper outfit. He had redesigned the suit to both intimidate and impress. Now that A.I.M. was effectively a U.N. recognized country, the sky was the limit as to what A.I.M. could accomplish. The Advanced Idea Mechanics were a force to be feared and respected in the world.
He would not live long enough to reap its benefits, however.
He felt by his right ear and touched the bio-organic implant that had been placed there only days ago. His every action was both his and not his. He was running A.I.M. but in name and surface only. He was a puppet, as were all the ruling council of A.I.M. They were all now under the thumb if someone more dangerous than any of the clients A.I.M. had ever dealt with. Their new ‘leader’ was cunning, ruthless and utterly without any human attachment that Forson could see. Forson had considered himself a man capable of anything… until he had met him.
Forson entered a private elevator and headed down. When he exited he was several hundred feet below the island surface. He walked into a spherical chamber tiled in white with glowing lights embedded in each tile. In the center of the chamber was a man floating in the air playing chess.
“The Baron will be in touch,” said Forson. “He reminds you of your…understanding with him.”
The mutant floated around to face Forson. “Fine.”
“We would like to proceed with the project tonight, if possible.” Forson wanted to kill this damn creature.
“Will Helmut be there?” asked the mutant.
“He will. He is looking forward to what you can bring to the Project.”
“Then the Project will continue,” said the mutant. He returned to his floating chess game.
Forson walked out. It was time to report to his new master.
Baron Zemo walked across the rooftop gardens to the teleport chamber in the adjoining tower. A.I.M. Island was teleport shielded and could only be entered through the special DarkforceGate that Forson had provided. Wheels were in motion; plans were in play… would he ever stop the planning? No, he decided. He wouldn’t. He was a –
“Baron Zemo!” came a booming voice from all around him. Zemo drew his sidearm and his sword from its scabbard, ready for anything. His personal teleporter was activated within his mask. If necessary, he could be half a world away in an instant.
A ship decloaked above and to the side of the garden. Standing on top of the main cabin were seven people…or near-people, as far as Zemo could tell. One of them stood out more than the others, however. This one looked very familiar.
The one wore all black with a flowing cape. His mask was silver-metallic and had two points on either side. In one hand he held a rapier. In the other, a human head.
“Baron,” said the man, “This is the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. Special Agent Daisy Johnson. My name is Citizen V. We are the Thunderbolts. “
“Is this a joke?” asked Zemo.
“No,” said Citizen V. “Consider this an audition… for employment.”