DCM Vertigo


Moon Knight

The Barter System
by Toby Kernan

Jonathan Crane hummed a favored tune, The Eagle's 'A Certain Kind Of Fool', as the elevator raced up the floors of New York City's Fujikawa Building. He was in a very wonderful mood. He assumed by now Avalanche had made his way to Moon Knight's alter ego's mansion, and was reducing it to rubble. Soon, he would have Moon Knight demoralized, reduced to little more than a speck, then having his ultimate victory, he would wipe that speck from the Earth.

Jonathan had to admit he was quite proud of himself, as of late. Most costumed criminals roaming this planet were little more than idiots - petty thugs with minor plans and delusions of grandeur. Not Jonathan Crane. He was a genius. His crimes were works of art, the kind of works other criminals just didn't have the brains or the guts to go out and commit. In a world full of amateurs, he was the pro.

Jonathan smiled as the elevator reached his desired floor, and opened, letting the joyful sociopath loose upon the building's thirteenth floor. A man on a mission, he quickly made his way down the hall, to a door labeled 'Star Creations Inc.' Taking a quick second to check his hair, and spread a wrinkle from his suit, he smiled to himself in the reflection of the glass-pane on the door, and sauntered right in.

Inside looked like any other waiting room, complete with secretary at her desk, uncomfortable chairs, and a rack of outdated magazines. Jonathan Crane knew better. The poor secretary barely had time to look up and notice him, much less make a protest, before he walked right past her, his hand raised in air to silence her, and made his way through the door.

Once he was through the door and inside, he surveyed his surroundings. He was no longer in the Fujikawa Building. He was, more than likely, not even on planet Earth. Instead, he was inside the other-dimensional base of the organization known as Star Chamber.

Unlike most people, Jonathan Crane knew very little about the history of Star Chamber. They were a very old, and very secretive organization. He knew their history dated back centuries, possibly even millennia. He knew that they always had a number of plots and schemes at work. He knew they had a constant battle with another similar organization, known as Shadow Cabinet. He knew they liked to employ a large cabal of super-agents, and had their fingers in a lot of action.

The room he stood in was a foyer, and full of doors. he thought about taking a chance and going through one, but then decided it really wasn't necessary. He knew his presence was surely already detected, and a guide would soon be there to show him the way he needed to go.

Sure enough, within minutes, one of the doors opened, and his 'guide' came through. Jonathan recognized the 'man', a huge mutated monstrosity known as Junkpile. Not really of a man, as he had no parts of flesh or bone, he was a massive molding of metal parts, formed together to create a semblance of a living creature, a Frankenstein of steel and scrap.

"Come on Scarecrow man," bellowed the creature, in a voice of grating metal that irritated Crane's ears, "the boss is waitin' for you."

The two walked through the door Junkpile had come from, into another room. This one was very strange, because it had no floor, or walls, or ceiling, just black, empty space. In the center was a large pillow, and sitting upon the center, cross-legged, was the current leader of Star Chamber, the creature known as Darkhawk.

Now, despite his relative little knowledge about the organization, Jonathan knew a great deal about it's current leader. Darkhawk had once been a member of Team Titans, a super-hero group, which was active during the early nineties. Apparently the hero, known then as Hawk, had been corrupted by some evil force known as the Dragon of the Moon, and attacked his own team. A big battle raged, and in the end, several members of Team Titans had died, sacrificing their lives to stop Darkhawk. Thought dead, the creature reemerged years later to overthrow the last leader of Star Chamber and take over the group.

"Why are you here, Crane?" asked Darkhawk. Jonathan did not like the creature's voice. It was much worse than Junkpile's grating metal whine. Instead, it was an ugly whisper, which seemed to eerily creep into the brain and cause calamity, even to someone like Crane, who was the master of fear.

"I need the services of one of your agents: Bad Betty," replied Scarecrow, trying not to sound his normally arrogant manner. He was smart enough to know Darkhawk and his Star Chamber were much better to have as allies than enemies.

"And what do I get in return?" asked Darkhawk, seemingly unenthused.

"What do you want?" asked Crane. He was smart enough to know that Darkhawk had something in mind, or he wouldn't have even asked.

Darkhawk leaned forwards, and Crane could see a glimmer in his shiny, black eyes.

"Let us make a deal, Crane," said Darkhawk, with a crooked smile across his face. "You should like it, because it will be very beneficial in your current little mission of petty vendetta you are carrying out.

"In the penthouse at the Charlton-Daye Hotel, there are two women. One is another of Moon Knight's long-time enemies, a woman that goes by the costumed name of Plasma. I am sure you two will get along real nice. More important to us, she currently has a young woman named Chloe there. The woman is a Knight Templar, and has information, which would prove very . . . useful . . . to us.

"Bring the girl to us, quietly, and Bad Betty will do what you want her to."

"She'll delete everything?" asked Jonathan, almost salivating at the delicious thought.

"Yes," replied Darkhawk, seeming annoyed by such a question. "She will transfer all of Steven Grant's money to the Swiss accounts you requested. She will also eliminate every bit of information regarding Moon Knight, and all of his identities, from every computer system. He will be nothing more than a shadow, a mere ghost."

"Excellent," cried Crane, then he made a swooshing bow, and made his way back towards the door. Almost there, he stopped.

"Oh, and by the way . . . " started Crane.

"I know," replied Darkhawk, interrupting, "and thank you, Crane. You will be happy to know Avalanche has completed his mission, and I already have agents on their way to him to offer him a position with Star Chamber."

With that, Jonathan Crane nodded enthusiastically, and walked out the door, ready to make his way to the Charlton-Daye Hotel.

Moon Knight considered his options. Right now, a fight seemed like the only option. Before them stood nearly fifty Hydra agents, and a whole lot of heavy firepower. The group was starting to splinter into several fractions, with small groups heading to several access areas to the roof, where he and Vigilante had come from. One of those groups, led by a different red and gold costumed man, was boarding the service elevator. Another group, of about a dozen agents, was heading straight for the hallway, which headed to the stair to the upper level. That hallway was the one that Moon Knight and Vigilante currently stood in.

"What is your plan Moonie?" asked the curious Vigilante.

"Well," whispered Moon Knight, "it looks like we are in for a battle either way. I think it would be best if we had the element of surprise on our side. Let's charge them quick, and try to get to the table containing the heavy-weapons first. Most Hydra agents are little more than street thugs, but those weapons could pose a serious threat."

"Agreed," whispered Vigilante, as she flung her guns in the air, preparing to launch the attack. Moon Knight also pulled a handful of moon-shaped throwing weapons from his belt.

With a sudden burst of movement, the two warriors sprung from their hiding space and ran screaming into the room of Hydra agents. The dozen agents moving towards them were caught completely unprepared, as even with their masks, their shock was apparent. The two quickly plowed into the group before they could even raise their weapons.

Moon Knight was a flurry of blows, elbowing and kicking agents, sending them sprawling to the ground in pain or unconsciousness. He looked to his side and saw Vigilante also easy beating several agents, knocking some with the butts of her weapons, others with high knees and groin kicks. Moon Knight was impressed, she was a top-notch fighter, maybe even more skilled than he was.

Suddenly he heard a yell, and the sound he didn't think anybody was stupid enough to make.

"Get down!" screamed Moon Knight, dropping himself to the ground, taking an unconscious Hydra agent on top of him.

As he hit the ground, he caught view of the idiot. One of the agents holding a rocket launcher had gotten scared, and fired the weapon. Unprepared for the kickback, the blast went wild, sending the rocket at a forty-five degree angle upward, into the ceiling. With a great explosion, the rocket struck the ceiling, sending fiery shards to ceiling and across the room. A group of agents standing below met a swift death as both the fiery ceiling and some of the product stored in the area above came crashing down upon their heads.

After the explosion, total chaos consumed the room. A handful of the most courageous Hydra agents attempted to stand their ground, but many men simply grabbed whatever they could get their hands on and ran for the nearest exit. It wasn't that they feared Moon Knight and Vigilante, they just had no desire to die in a burning building that was falling around them.

"What the hell . . . ?" someone screamed. Moon Knight turned and noticed the service elevator had returned to the ground floor, complete with passengers. These agents seemed to be less afraid than the others, possibly because of the leadership of the red and gold garbed man.

Vigilante noticed that as well. Dodging a flurry of bullets, she had a mission. She was making her way towards the weapons table. Several weapons still lay near or on it, including the launcher, which had almost brought the entire roof now.

Moon Knight noticed that the old building was burning rather quickly, and soon they would have to get out. Smoke had already started to permeate every area of the warehouse.

Vigilante had almost reached the launcher when a blast from the red and gold garbed man struck her in the leg. Suddenly she fell to the ground, screaming. It was obvious her leg was in a great deal of pain.

"You fools," cried the red and gold man, "Cheshire will be most displeased. You've have ruined everything. I guess I'll have to bring her your heads as proof. Feel the wraith of Stinger! ATTACK!"

Moon Knight watched as the Hydra Agents came running towards both him and Vigilante. He knew he had to make his way towards her, because she was in no shape to defend her self against a half dozen soldiers.

Moon Knight moved gracefully, like a graceful cat, every agile move graceful. Without breaking his pace he threw a handful of pellets at the feet of the agents coming towards him. The pellets all explode, sending the half dozen agents sprawling. Then he grabs a handful of throwing moons from his belt and sent them flying in the direction of the agents moving towards Vigilante. Several struck their targets, imbedding into their flesh. Moon Knight felt a blast from Stinger struck his side, but it seemed his armor took the brunt of the blast, because he felt little more than a minor stinging numbness.

Moon Knight reached Vigilante, only to find she was fighting the way through the pain. She screamed out as she moved, but still managed the scoot far enough to grab the discarded rocket launcher and prepare it to fire. The remaining agents noticed this, and had no desire to be the recipient of a rocket blast. None of them moved a muscle.

"Fine," said Stinger, reluctance in his voice, "you win. The police and fire trucks are on their way here anyway. A strategic retreat, I suppose, is in order. But this won't be forgotten. You both have made a new enemy here today. Retreat, anybody who can."

With the order, suddenly Moon Knight and Vigilante were forgotten. Agents hauled themselves, and anybody still alive, quickly out of the burning building. Moon Knight grabbed Vigilante and did the same.

Moon Knight and Vigilante sat on the roof of a nearby building, watching as fire trucks and fire fighters attempted to put out the blaze. They were not having an easy time, as the old building had gone up quickly, and they worried that the blaze might spread and sweep this entire section of the city up in flames.

"Well," said Vigilante, rubbing her stinging leg, "that was one hell of a successful mission." The sarcasm in her voice was unmistakable. "Let's see here. While we did disrupt their meeting, we also managed to set the building on fire, the bad guy got away, and we have no idea what they were meeting for in the first place. Then there is you, stuck on that device for the last fifteen minutes, what is it?"

Moon Knight replied, "It's my communicator with a friend. I wanted him to come pick us up. He's not responding. That isn't like him. This day just keeps getting better and better."

"Well," said Vigilante, "where is your cab hiding there, Jake?"

Moon Knight could not help but stand there in awe. Somehow Vigilante had discovered who he was.

"Don't stand there so stunned," said Vigilante, trying to stand up and walk on her leg. "I recognize the voice. I recognize the movements. In our line of work, it pays attention . . . to pay attention."

"Well then Patricia," said Moon Knight, letting her know that he knew her identity as well, "my cab isn't here. What are we going to do?"

Patricia Trayce took off her mask. She was happy to do so, and hiding her identity mattered little to someone whom already knew it. She took a breath of fresh air, let out a smoky cough, and scavenged through her belt for a cell phone. She placed a quick call.

"My friend is on her way," said Patricia smiling. "Good thing too. I need a shower. I need some clean clothes. Hell, I think after today I need a new life. This vigilante crime fighting stuff, in the cesspool of a city, is starting to get to me."

Moon Knight knew what she meant. Maybe it was time to end it all. Give up this life, go find Marlene, and just run away. Take a trip to some tropical island, and never come back. Spend the rest of their days on a beach, sipping tropical drinks with umbrellas in them, and making babies.

Moon Knight decided he needed that bath and clean clothes himself. Then he would call Marlene. He missed her voice. All he had to do was find Frenchie, maybe he was in the bath himself, at the Mansion . . .

Next Issue: Two of Moon Knight's greatest enemies meet - Scarecrow and Plasma!