As a superhero, ghost-based or otherwise, Danny tended to be hyper-aware of changes in his environment. So long as he wasn't sleep-deprived, anyway. Which he was. Frequently. But Frostbite didn't spar with him when he was sleep deprived, so, when he called a time out to their bout, he wasn't.
"Is everything alright, Great One?" asked Frostbite.
Danny, a little out of breath despite not needing to breathe - it was a psychological thing, okay? - shrugged and pointed. "What's that?"
Frostbite turned to look and stiffened. Danny didn't blame him. The sight had surprised him, too. A flat, black disk, about the size of his pinky fingernail held at arm's length, hung in the Ghost Zone sky, over what had formerly been its brightest part. It looked like an eclipse, only with a lot less light escaping from around the edges.
"Oh, dear," said Frostbite.
"What is it?"
Frostbite turned and flew quickly out of the training stadium.
"Driftice!" he called. "The age is turning! We need the telescope!"
"The telescope?" asked Danny, matching his pace with Frostbite's.
Frostbite spared a moment to smile down at Danny. "It's very impressive, I think you'll like it."
Danny nodded. He'd never met a telescope he didn't like.
By the time they reached the buildings proper, yetis were starting to stop and stare at the black spot. A few of them would then start running, doing something, but others just… kept staring.
"The telescope!" Frostbite called again. That spurred a few more yetis into action. He started giving people directions.
Soon, they were dragging a long, ridged tube from within one of the larger caves and hooking it up to all sorts of equipment. The lens inside winked at Danny, its curve seeming highly exaggerated for the length of the telescope, until Danny realized it must be made out of ice, which didn't bend light as much as glass.
… He may have looked into making a few ice telescopes of his own. Hey, having a hobby under his circumstances was hard!
"What's going on?" asked Danny, after Frostbite paused in his orders. "Are we being attacked or something?"
"Not… as such, no." Frostbite looked back up at the black spot, clearly worried. "Every so often, the Realms… change. We call it the turning of the age. It begins with the color of the ambient ectoplasm, and the color tends to indicate the character of the age. So far, we have been experiencing a green age, which tends towards the more natural or chaotic, with differences between ghosts exaggerated. With ghosts themselves exaggerated to a degree."
"Okay," said Danny, "so… it's not normally like this?"
"Normal is relative." Frostbite waved his hand as if dismissing the entire concept. "Ages can last from anywhere from one year to thousands. This one has lasted only a few hundred."
"And I'm guessing black isn't a good color?"
"It is somewhat more complicated than that. It is possible that it isn't true black, which is why we're looking. To make sure. It could be a very deep blue, or green, or red, which tends not to be terribly comfortable, but is still bearable. It could be the color of a starry night, which is a good deal better. It could be a color we do not have the senses to see directly, such as ultraviolet or infrared, both of which give rise to rather alien ages, but…"
"But black?" prompted Danny.
"I do hope it is not truly black," said Frostbite. "How to put this… There are certain popular conceptions of afterlives, and other… let us call them worlds beyond worlds, yes?"
Danny nodded, not sure where this was going. "Like heaven and hell, or the Greek underworld?" he asked, to clarify.
"Indeed," said Frostbite. "The Realms reflect those. Or, perhaps, they reflect the Realms. Again, the color is the indicator."
"So, what does black mean? Hell?"
Frostbite shook his head. "No. Hell is red, and… to be truthful, Great One, despite all the woes that come to the fore when we become demons, red ages have positives as well. Black, true black, is… nothing."
"Nothing?" repeated Danny. He was hoping he was misunderstanding.
"Nothing," confirmed Frostbite. "Cessation. Nonexistence. Not Ending, but stopping. It is–"
"You're going to die?"
"No," said Frostbite. "As I said, no Ending. Typically. But… if the age is truly black, then we will cease to exist until the next age, only returning when it turns again. It is not sleep. It is not death. We simply will not be."
Danny wasn't sure if that was better, and he was sure that showed on his face, but Frostbite didn't look all that enthused, either.
"The black ectoplasm will spread from where it began, affecting other ectoplasm constructs, including ghosts, on contact."
"So, if it touches you, you just… stop existing?"
"There is generally a small amount of time between contact and cessation, but… yes." Frostbite turned more fully to Danny. "That is why, if the age is true black, you must leave and not return until the age changes again."
"What? Why just me?"
"Think, Great One. We are fully ghosts. We cannot survive without ectoplasm. Yes, some might try to hide in the human world, and avoid the touch of the black. Some might even succeed. But they will be much weakened, perhaps even to Fading, should the age last long at all. But here, we will return, even if much time has passed. But for you… You are different."
"Because I'm a half ghost."
"Yes," said Frostbite. "You may be affected just as we are, but imagine, what might happen to you if you suddenly lost your ghost half?"
"I'd… lose my powers, at least," said Danny, swallowing against sudden nausea. That was a little too close to what had happened in the bad future, even if it was in the opposite direction.
"Yes, and if that happened here, while the black was coming, you would not be able to escape. You would simply fall, unless you managed to hit something. What is the other option?"
Not one Danny wanted to consider. "I might… die."
"And your ghost might come back at the end of the age, or… it might not. I do not mean to frighten you unduly, Great One, but let me say it again: if the age is black, leave, and do not come back. Close your portal, leave town, go where you will not be found."
"Because other ghosts might be affected and bring it through the portal?"
"Because the portal itself would go black, and radiate throughout your town before collapsing."
"Oh," said Danny, softly. "Okay."
"I would not wish to come back to this world, only to find that you were unmade by black ectoplasm. I would far prefer to learn that you had died after a long and happy life." He smiled. "But the age might not even be black! There could be stars, or–"
"Chief Frostbite," said one of the technicians, nervously lacing and unlacing his fingers.
"I'm so sorry, Danny," said Jazz.
"It's not like anyone is dying," said Danny, mouth dry. No one but him, if he screwed up.
No one but him, Vlad, and Dani.
"It's still a loss," said Jazz, who looked like she wanted to cry herself. "How are we going to tell Mom and Dad?"
"I–" He hadn't made a decision to tell them anything. "I don't know."
"They won't close the portal unless one of us says something," said Jazz, which was very true. "We're going to have to tell them, especially if we have to move away to get away from the natural portals."
"I know," said Danny, hunching his shoulders.
"I know," said Jazz. "This is awful, but… I don't want you to die, Danny. I don't even want you to have to lose your powers."
"I know," said Danny. "I know. I'm just… I think I need to talk to Vlad first." Vlad was out of town for the rest of the weekend for some business thing, but he'd be back on Monday.
"What?" asked Jazz, making a face that was a very appropriate reaction to Danny suggesting they talk to Vlad.
"He studied the same stuff they did. He'll know how to explain it to them. And he might know how to find Dani."
Jazz cursed softly under her breath. "I didn't even think– You haven't heard from her lately?"
Danny shook his head. "Last time, she was in Eastern Europe and it was a payphone. She'd broken the burner Sam got for her and couldn't get a new one."
"Crap," she said. "Wait, what about Valerie? Isn't her board powered by ectoplasm?"
"I don't know," said Danny, chewing his lip. "Maybe. Oh, gosh, what if she falls out of the sky or something?" He rubbed his face. "Do I have to tell her, too?"
"Maybe we can get Mom and Dad to warn her," said Jazz, in a blinding display of optimism. "Maybe after we tell them, they can make a public service announcement or something."
"Maybe," said Danny, significantly more dubious. "I just– I think I need to tell Vlad first, that's all."
Jazz nodded, then paused. "We have time?"
"Yeah, it didn't look like it was getting any bigger from where I was," said Danny. "Frostbite said it could take months for the age to completely flip over, depending on stuff like where it started."
"Okay," said Jazz. "Then we can wait until you tell him."
"Okay," said Danny. "Great." He rubbed his arms. He itched to leave, to run, to fly and put this behind him, but… The idea of a touch of black, then falling–
Jazz hugged him. "It's going to be alright," she said.
Danny hugged her back. "I hope so."
"Anyway," said Danny, picking at a sliver of veneer that had come off Tucker's desk. It was only attached by one end. "That's it, I suppose. The end."
"That's… a lot," said Tucker. "Are you… okay?"
"Not really," said Danny. "It's– Maybe it's a good thing? I won't have to fight ghosts anymore and all that, right?" He rubbed his eyes.
"I mean, maybe? I'm a little… stunned about it, too."
"So am I," said Sam. "It's just going to disappear? All of it?"
Danny shook his head.
"Oh my gosh." Sam got up from the beanbag chair and started to pace. "It's just, we have friends there. And they're just going to–? Are you sure we can't do anything?"
"Frostbite was pretty sure," said Danny, curling up.
"I don't want to die again, Sam." That brought Sam's pacing to a stop. "I'll always fight if it seems like there's a chance, but. I really don't want to die."
Sam sat back down.
"Frostbite really made it sound like there was nothing we could do," continued Danny. "He's been around for a while, you know? It sounded… It sounded like he's done this before."
"Okay," whispered Sam. "What do you want us to do?"
Danny shrugged, then made himself laugh. "Get into whatever college I do? That's a joke."
"Hey, you tell us where you're going, and we will," said Tucker. "Fast as anything."
"At least the same city," said Sam.
Danny had to ring the doorbell three times before Vlad opened up. Jerk.
"Why, Daniel," purred Vlad, who had clearly just been taking his time, "are you skipping school for this?"
"Shut up," said Danny, already annoyed by Vlad's whole… everything. "We need to talk."
"By all means, come inside."
Vlad's mansion was as opulent as ever.
"Can I offer you some breakfast? Guaranteed not to come alive."
Danny forced down the thought that soon his home wouldn't be at risk for that, either, and shut the door behind him. "No thanks," he said, and began to share what Frostbite had told him.
As he did, the smug look slipped off Vlad's face, replaced with something stonier.
"I'll have to confirm independently, you understand," he said. It didn't sound like a taunt or a joke, just a fact.
"Yeah, yeah, I get it. I have to go to school, so don't get yourself killed."
"I'm touched by your concern, Daniel, but unlike your father, I do understand basic lab safety."
That had to be a new addition since college, but Danny kept the snark behind his teeth and just let the door bang behind him on his way out.
Vlad was waiting in the parking lot for him when school got out.
"Why's he here?" asked Sam.
"Probably because he's just as freaked out as I am," said Danny. He sat down on the steps. "I'm going to wait for Jazz."
"You sure, dude?" asked Tucker.
"Okay," said Tucker, dubiously.
"Call us if you need us to kick some vampire butt."
Danny only had to wait a few more minutes before Jazz came out. "Why's he here?"
"Dunno," said Danny, getting up and brushing off his pants. "Want to find out?"
They walked over to the running car. It wasn't quite a limo, but it was long, and the back seats faced each other.
"So?" asked Danny, climbing in.
Vlad looked wrecked. "You were right," he said.
"Wow, no kidding."
Vlad waved off his sarcasm. "This is not time for jokes, Daniel, I– Jasmine."
"I wasn't expecting you."
"Well, you get both of us or none of us," said Danny. "You can drop Jazz off at home just as easily as you can drop me off."
"And Jasmine's car?"
"Aren't you rich or something?" asked Jazz. "Just drive me back."
Vlad rolled his eyes. "I can send someone to come pick it up." He leaned over to close the door after Jazz, then tapped on the closed divider between them and their driver. The car started forward.
"So, you'll tell them? Our parents?" asked Danny.
"I'll try. But do you really think that will stop them?"
"Yes," said Danny, forcefully.
"If they know it's something that could hurt Danny, they'll stop."
"I certainly hope you're right," said Vlad.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Vlad's sneer was a shadow of its former self. He looked genuinely ill. "Daniel, they already know their research has hurt you. Or do you think they forgot about bringing you to the hospital after your accident with the portal?"
"That's different." That was an equipment problem, not an issue with the content of their research itself.
"Is it? They are very aware that the same research landed me in the hospital for years, no matter how much they like to ignore that little fact."
Normally, Danny would dismiss this as just another ploy of Vlad's, an attempt to turn him against Jack and become Vlad's evil apprentice, but… Not today. There was a little too much truth to his words.
"Did they even put up any safety measures after that? How about when they learned their portal was spewing dangerous ghosts into town at all the hours of the day and night?"
"They did," said Jazz, although her tone rang false to Danny. It was true that they'd installed the doors on the portal, and the ecto-exodus alarm, but… for all they claimed to be dedicated to protecting people from ghosts, they hadn't done much else.
Vlad leaned back. "As I said, I hope you're right, for both our sakes. Based on my calculations, we should leave town before the month is over, to be safe. If they haven't left by the thirtieth, I advise you to come with me. My lawyers can sort everything out after the fact, and if not, I have enough contacts to be able to create entirely new identities for both of us."
"Do you have any idea how threatening that sounds?" asked Jazz, peeved.
"It's a service Daniel might find himself in need of, if Jack and Maddie are unreasonable. I have no intention of dying or letting Daniel die because of this."
The declaration made Danny feel better. Not much better, but better.
The car rolled to a stop. "In the meantime, I will try to use less drastic measures." Vlad raised an eyebrow. "The question now, I think, is whether or not you will tell them."
Danny hunched his shoulders and fiddled with the door handle. "Yeah," he said.
"Excellent. Then we can begin."
"Wait," said Danny.
"What?" asked Vlad, flatly, clearly annoyed.
"Do you know where Dani is?" asked Danny, reluctant to bring Vlad into this particular problem, but unwilling to give up even the thinnest lead.
Vlad gave him a baffled look.
"Danielle," clarified Danny, annoyed.
"Yes," said Vlad. "Don't look so surprised, Daniel. We may have parted on less than amicable terms, but she's still my daughter."
"You tried to melt her."
Danny wasn't sure how that could be a misunderstanding.
"We all do unwise things under the influence of our passions, Daniel. The important thing is that we rise above them. You'll understand someday." He climbed out of the car.
"I hope not," muttered Jazz.
Then, some of the conversation's implications caught up with Danny.
"Wait," he said, phasing through Jazz to get out fast and jogging after Vlad. "Wait. You don't expect me to tell them now, do you?"
"Daniel, there is no time. Tell them now, or tell them never." Vlad opened the door and walked in like he owned the place.
"Vladdie!" exclaimed Jack, who had been tinkering at the kitchen table. He leapt up and embraced Vlad, swirling him around. Vlad looked like he wanted to die again right then and there.
"Hello, Jack, is Maddie home?"
"Yes," said Maddie, coming up the stairs from the lab. Her voice was about as warm and cuddly as sandpaper left in Antarctica for three months. "What do you want, Vlad?"
"I have discovered some disturbing news," he said, "but I'm afraid that much of it will only make sense in the context of what Daniel is about to tell you."
Everyone looked at him expectantly. Jazz gave him a small thumbs up.
Danny very much would have liked to strangle Vlad. If someone had to out themselves, why couldn't it be him?
"What is it, Danno?" asked Jack.
Danny swallowed. "Do you remember that time I got shocked by the portal?"
As far as reveals went… it was neither everything he'd feared nor everything he'd hoped for. There had been a lot of shouting. No one thought he was dead or possessing his own corpse. Jazz had accidentally outed Vlad somewhere in the middle of an argument. He was able to go to sleep in his own house without being afraid he was going to be dissected. His parents had agreed to start the process of shutting down the portal. The only reason he wasn't super ultra forever grounded for the rest of his life was because of the whole 'might die soon' thing.
It was exhausting. Danny didn't know if he was glad it was over or not.
This whole week was exhausting.
He pressed his face into his pillow and swallowed back tears. He was going to miss his friends. Heck, he was going to miss his enemies.
He didn't want to die.
Every time he went to school that week, every time he went to Sam's, or Tucker's, or the Nasty Burger, or anywhere in town, he was acutely aware that it might be the last time he was in any of those places. Every time he went ghost, he understood that this time might be it. Every time he shooed off an animal ghost or spotted Valerie in the hall, or saw the green glow of ectotechnology–
It was ending. It was all ending. At least for Danny.
He wanted to hold onto it. He wanted to stop time - and wasn't that a temptation? To try to find Clockwork? But he'd learned his lesson about meddling with time, and there was no guarantee Clockwork was even still…
Danny settled on the word awake.
So, he did his best to savor it all, even the bad parts. It didn't always work very well. There was too much tension, too much fear.
Tension and fear did wonders for his Doomed score, though. He was actually close to beating Sam, for once.
Except, no he wasn't.
"No, no, no," said Danny as Sam pulled a power move out of nowhere. "Argh!" Annoyed, he pushed his rolling chair back so he could stare more directly at Sam, where she was playing on the other side of Tucker's attic. She wasn't even looking at the screen, but staring over her shoulder to grin smugly at Danny. "You suck," he said.
"No, that'd be you. You know, the one whose screen says 'you died' on it?"
"Ha!" exclaimed Tucker. "I've got the key!"
Danny turned back to the computer and started smashing the resurrect button.
Danny's phone began to ring. He juggled it open with one hand. "Hi, sorry, Jazz, I lost track of time and–"
"Don't come home," said Jazz.
"They–" Jazz inhaled sharply, angrily. "The ectoweenies are dead."
Danny's hand fell still. "What do you mean… dead?"
"They're just. They're hot dogs! Rotting hot dogs. I don't– I think they're experimenting with it. Mom and Dad. I overheard– I think they found some, and they're experimenting with it, and some of them got into the fridge full of stuff we eat because neither of them ever heard about lab safety, and I don't know if it's safe for you to be around me, Danny."
The death jingle played tauntingly over the speakers, three times over.
"What- Why wouldn't it be safe for you to be around me?"
"For you to be around me. I could have black ectoplasm on me and not even know it. I don't think it's really detectable without an energy signature, is it?"
"Jazz," said Danny, voice cracking. "Do you– Why?" He gasped. "Why would they–?"
"I don't know."
"You have to know!" Danny had to know!
"They said something about fixing– I don't know if I heard it right. I just–" Her voice crackled over the phone. "Go to Vlad's. Forget whatever they promised. Leave now. I'll– If they ask, I'll say you're in bed."
Danny closed his eyes. His face was wet. "Okay," he said. "Okay. I– I love you, Jazz."
"I love you, too, little brother. Stay safe." She hung up first. She must have known he wouldn't.
"You have to go, don't you?" asked Sam.
"Yeah," said Danny, hoarsely. He scrubbed at his face. "I do. But… I will see you guys again."
Tucker nodded. "You've still got our numbers and our Doomed codes, right?"
Sam threw a pen at him. "Not the time?"
"Then when is the time?" demanded Tucker, rubbing the back of his head. "When is the time, huh? When he's gone and can't contact us because he doesn't have our phone numbers?"
"I have them," said Danny. "Memorized. I– I'll call. As soon as it's safe."
"You'd better," said Sam.
He hugged them.
(He hoped it wasn't the last time.)
The sun was just beginning to set when Danny reached Vlad's house, and the comparison between the darkening sky and the darkening Ghost Zone made him shiver. He bypassed security and knocked on Vlad's door.
"Daniel? What are you doing here?" Vlad asked. Unlike before, he was wearing clearly casual clothes. "Did something happen?"
"You were right," said Danny. "They didn't stop." Danny's voice cracked and he swallowed. "Jazz says we need to leave, now."
"Oh, Daniel," said Vlad. "I'm so sorry. Genuinely, I would have preferred them to see reason, for both our sakes.'" He reached back inside and grabbed a pair of long coats. The first he threw at Danny, the second he put on around his own shoulder. "Can I assume that second bag is your 'go-bag?'"
Danny nodded. He'd kept one at the school, and hadn't brought it home after the reveal. He hadn't thought to. He'd raided his locker on the way to get it, and before he'd left Tucker had shoved a lot of other stuff at him that had gotten squished either into his backpack or the go-bag.
"Good." Vlad knelt and phased a hand through his entryway tile before pulling out a hefty duffel bag of his own. "Then we don't need to wait. I've had my plane fueled and ready to go at a moments' notice since you told me." He took two steps back into the house. "We will transform and fly there invisibly, to avoid notice. Can you maintain that for the entire journey?"
"Yeah," said Danny, stepping inside and closing the door behind him.
"Don't let your pride get in the way. Can you? Surely, you've noticed our abilities becoming more difficult to access."
Danny had thought that was just him. Some kind of psychological thing. But if Vlad had noticed it, too… "I can do it," he said.
"Good," said Vlad, transforming. "Follow me." He turned invisible and flew through the ceiling.
Danny paced him. "So, where are we going?" he asked. "On the plane," he clarified, catching Vlad's look.
"For now? Missouri. I have properties there that I never involved in my research and which should be safe for us. Afterwards, we will be able to assess our situation and move from there. I will have to contact my lawyers - our lawyers, now. The child endangerment and neglect case against your parents will have to be absolutely airtight, which shouldn't be too difficult, considering the deathtrap they have downstairs and how long I've been collecting evidence."
Danny wrinkled his nose. "And how long have you been collecting evidence?"
"Quite some time. Don't forget, I've just been vindicated, Daniel."
He wouldn't. Not for a long, long time. "Is there anything else I ought to know?"
"I was able to get into contact with Danielle earlier today," said Vlad.
"What did she say?"
"Not much to me," said Vlad, with a hint of wryness. "She wants to hear everything from you before she believes anything I say."
"And you didn't call me?"
"She hung up on me. Don't worry, she's far away from any major supernatural hotspots. I thought I'd give her time to cool down and then contact her again while you were present."
"Fine," said Danny. "Where is she?"
"Poland, at the moment."
They reached the airport and descended into the plane. Danny let go of his invisibility with a heavy sigh as Vlad went about turning on the lights.
"Our pilot will be here momentarily," said Vlad. "Make yourself at home."
Home. Danny put his bags on his lap and hunched around them. He'd been bracing himself for this. Really. He'd known he was going to have to leave for a whole week, now.
It still felt worse than getting thrown clear through a building.
"It's true," said Danny, looking out the landscape windows of Vlad's Missouri estate. "I'm with Vlad, the Ghost Zone isn't safe, the…" He trailed off, not wanting to recap everything. "I'm the one who told Vlad it was happening."
"Okay," said Dani, voice small and distant. "So… What should I do? If even your powers are getting harder to use…" She trailed off, but she didn't have to finish the sentence. In more ways than one, Dani's existence depended on the careful use of her powers.
"Let Vlad bring you back here. It's– I know," he said in response to Dani's groan. "I know. But he doesn't actually want either of us dead, and he's got, you know, resources. And– And I don't want you out on the streets in a foreign country, okay?"
"All countries are foreign to me," grumbled Dani. "I don't want anything to do with him."
"Please," said Danny. "Even if it's just long enough for him to set us up in a boarding school or give us our own apartment or something."
"You think he'd do that?"
"I have no idea," admitted Danny. "He's rich enough to. Please come, Dani." Vlad was… not being as terrible as he could be, about all this. Actually, he was being… fine.
There was a long silence on the other end of the line. "Alright," she said, finally. "I'll come."
Living in Missouri… Well, living in Vlad's version of Missouri was beautiful, lavish, luxurious. Vlad was definitely going all out. But every day Danny spent here, it felt more and more like living in a photograph. The sunlight, the grass, the leaves on the trees… it all felt flat, as if something vital had been drained from underneath the world. Even sitting in the garden, bare feet in the fountain, felt unreal.
Danny didn't know if that was just him, or if it was another side effect of the Ghost Zone going dormant. He hoped it was just him. That would mean it might go away if he got a grip.
"Daniel," said Vlad, shoes crunching along the gravel path. "I think you'll be pleased to know the court case is going well, and I am attempting to develop a decontamination procedure that might allow Jasmine to visit us here someday."
"Okay," said Danny. He swished his feet through the water. "Do you feel like…" He sighed, not being able to find the words.
"Every day," said Vlad, sitting down next to Danny. "We won't be able to stay here longer than a year. Our own ectoplasm will tend to form a thin spot."
"That's fine," said Danny. "Dani likes traveling." She liked traveling, and hopefully Vlad would hurry up and get her fake passport made already.
"I hope you will come to like it, too… Although, I'm not sure we'll need to keep up that pace for very long. Our ectosignatures are fading. I suppose we owed more of our powers to the Ghost Zone proper than I expected." He shook his head. "In any case, we should look towards the future. Our futures. You want to be an astronaut, don't you?"
"Does that even matter, now?"
"Daniel, you are aware of how rich I am, aren't you? I could buy NASA." Vlad's dramatic gestures matched his words. He even went as far as to light his hands with pink ectoplasm. Danny watched them flicker through the reflection in the basin of the fountain.
"No, you couldn't."
"No," said Vlad, lowering and extinguishing his hands, "I couldn't." He kept looking up at the sky. "It's strange, isn't it? It's strange. All this power we've had, and our passions, all our goals, simply… remained out of our reach. But now we're losing them. Our powers. Our passions."
"Do you think we'll find them again?" asked Danny.
"Perhaps. Perhaps if we live long enough, if we fight hard enough. You do want to be an astronaut, don't you, Daniel?"
Danny looked up, but not towards Vlad. He focused on the thin, faint gibbous moon, visible even in daylight.
"I guess," he said.
Vlad patted his shoulder as he stood. "There," he said. "Then we should start discussing your education, little badger! You can't become an astronaut by moping around my mansion all day!"
Danny turned his head to regard Vlad with a mixture of disbelief and disgust. "Don't call me that, fruitloop."
"That's more like it! Now, come along. We have tutors to vet!"