Thanks, everyone, for your patience, and an especially big thank you to Bluemoonalto for all her great advice and analysis. I hope you all enjoy this chapter!
Chapter 3: Sui Legalis
"As you can clearly see, Freakshow has become a ghost," Agent M announced, pointing to the screen. The continuous 24-7 feed from Mr. Showenhower's room did indeed show the ghost of their long-time prisoner rising out of his body, then getting blasted out of the room by the ecto-guns. "This is a Level Beta Alert as designated by Regulation 3.7 subsection C, line 32."
"What about the level 10.7 ectoplasmic being that breached our premises at 5:23 PM?" Inquired M's partner, Agent 0.
The attack that evening had been no surprise, but the level of the ectoplasmic apparition had been startling. From empirical evidence, the GiW had theorized that there was some sort of ghostly dealings directly involved with death – cold spots around dying persons, primarily. Intending to use Showenhower as bait, the GiW had bided their time in aiding him – but the plan had backfired, terribly. The ghost they had hoped for had come, but none of the sensors had been able to pick up his signature until he was directly outside Freakshow's cell. And then, not even their cold-seeking missiles could put a dent in him. The ghost had remained invisible to all but a handful of agents, among them, M.
"Our encounter with Ghost X is the second encounter with a being exceeding level 10. His power is remarkable, much greater than we expected," M reported, using the letter that had been assigned to their target.
"Describe his appearance," Agent Q, M and 0's boss, ordered.
"Sir! Ghost X appeared as a white-haired, green-eyed ectoplasmic being with pale complexion! He wore all black, sir, and had manacles around his wrists. Most significant was his weapon – a scythe – which we believe to be a manifestation of ectoplasmic manipulation! It is unclear what it is used for, although at one point Ghost X swung the scythe and swallowed two of our missiles."
"Swallowed?" Agent Q questioned.
"I don't know how else to describe it, sir. One moment the missiles were streaking towards him, and then they were gone." Agent M shrugged.
"I see." Agent Q nodded. "Do we have a theory as to how Ghost X is able to cloak himself from the view of some agents but not others?"
"That has not yet been ascertained," Agent 0 answered. "We are questioning all agents that interacted with the ghost according to the Questioning Act of 1987, Section 8 Paragraph 3 Line 45 in search of similarities in experiences."
"Very good." Agent Q nodded. "And I see that there are no Cleanliness Breaches. See to it things remain that way."
"Sir," both agents responded dutifully.
"I expect cleanup to be finished by 0800 hours tomorrow morning! Is that clear?"
"You're my best agents! Get on top of Ghost X ASAP," Agent Q snapped. "Consider this a Level Alpha Alert according to Regulation 3.7, subsection C, line 24!"
"Sir!" the agents responded, but they were drowned out by a disturbingly familiar alarm.
"Ghost Exceeding Level 10. Ghost Exceeding Level 10."
The three agents looked at each other before immediately going to suit up.
Danny, having been the son of ghost-hunting parents, was exceedingly familiar with the Theoretical Scale of Ectoplasmic Entities – 'Theoretical' because until his parents had opened the first Ghost Portal (and Vlad Masters had opened, not two weeks later, the second), there had been no ghosts to test the theory on. The Levels ran from 0 – zero being ghosts that could neither manipulate ectoplasm nor the physical plane - running all the way to 10 – ghosts that could shape ectoplasm at will (solid objects, blasts, and shields), duplicate their form, and directly interact with the world at large. The Box Ghost registered a 3.0 on the Scale – Danny had once checked – and Plasmius was probably a 9.5 or higher. There was no such thing as a ghost beyond level 10.
And then there had been Pariah Dark.
Pariah, while equipped with the Ring of Rage and the Crown of Fire, was enhanced to atomic proportions. Danny personally had no scale on which to measure the ghost, and he was only relieved that the combined might of most of the Usual Suspects, plus Vlad, plus the Fenton Suit had been enough to take the ghost down. At the time, Danny alone had registered a level 7 on the Scale. Just before Danny died, he had registered an 8.22.
Of course, there was no real scale for the ghosts that the human world rarely or never detected. Danny had never even thought of measuring the Ectoplasmic Entity level of Clockwork, for instance. If he had, he would have tilted the reading device. Clockwork, Mortem, and other such ghosts were never meant for such a thing.
However, Danny and other Reapers could do something far beyond the level expected by the Theoretical Scale: they could bend space. And even if Danny had been weak in every other respect, the Scale would have registered him above Level 10 for that reason alone.
Fortunately for Danny, this was not the case.
Having arrived back at the Guys in White headquarters, he floated thoughtfully for a long moment, trying to decide how to go about his infiltration. The direct approach hadn't gone so well last time, he reflected. What he needed was the files on Fredrick Issak Showenhower – anything that would give him a clue as to where Freakshow would have run to as a ghost. The rest would be … well, not a cinch, but Danny didn't need to see any files to know exactly what had made Freakshow a ghost.
I'll eat my scythe if I don't know what Freakshow is obsessed with, Danny thought sourly. He's finally gotten what he always wanted – he's a ghost. So how do I convince someone who always wanted to be a ghost that he doesn't want to be a ghost any more? Especially after I went through all that trouble to make him succumb to Ghost Envy last time …
Well, this certainly wasn't getting him anywhere. Danny sighed aloud, floating closer to the building. He could just barely perceive the ghost shield that surrounded the GiW HQ this time – and he recognized the design. Ironically, it was his parents'. (He was about ninety percent sure that the shield he'd encountered around Freakshow's cell had been from VladCo. It had Vlad's fingerprints all over it – and it probably was designed to let through one ghostly signature and one ghostly signature only – that of Vlad Plasmius.)
Piece of cake, Danny thought. His scythe was made for this. He called it back into his hands and swung, tearing a brief hole through the energy. Turning his form into a wisp, he slipped through the hole before it could close up and reformed inside the GiW building.
There were instant alarms. "Ghost exceeding Level 10. Ghost Exceeding Level 10."
Danny smacked his face into his palm. "Last time was a setup, wasn't it? And you think Freakshow's a nutjob …" he muttered. He was out of practice with invisibility – he was almost never visible as a rule, anyway – but he flexed the atrophied muscle and shot down the hall at top speed. He needed to find the information, and fast – possibly as a matter of 'survival'. Although Danny couldn't die as a matter of course, if he was torn apart molecule by molecule, eventually he would be so disassembled that his form would have to slowly coalesce in the Ghost Zone, which would probably hurt, a lot, and for a long time.
Danny paused briefly to read a bulletin board, which pointed him three floors down to go to the Record Room. Slapping through floors, he hesitated again, looking for a sign.
And where were all the agents, anyway?
"There he is," Agent M announced, pointing to a blank spot on Security Camera 6 on Subfloor 2. "I told you he's here for Freakshow's records."
"Cold spot indicators show that Agent M is pointing to a clear molecular disturbance," reported one of the scrubs.
"In accordance with the Politeness Addendum (Section 1, Paragraph 2), I'm sorry for doubting you," Agent 0 sighed. "What made you think he had returned for information on Showenhower?"
"According to the files in Record Room 5, Shelf U, File 245.26B, under Unexplained Phenomena, cold spots appear only around those humans that do not become ghosts," Agent M explained. "However, Freakshow became a ghost. I believe Ghost X is trying to finish what he started."
"Not if we finish him first," Agent Q declared. "Ready, men?"
"Ready," announced his team.
And with that, they commenced to corner Ghost X on the Record Room floor.
Danny had to spend some time perusing the Record Rooms. "Like a true bureaucracy, nothing can be freaking simple," he groused, tossing some random files over his shoulder. Not only was the database not computerized, it was also filed in an apparently random system. Nothing, nothing under 'S' (Showenhower), 'F' (Freakshow), 'R' (Reality Gauntlet), or 'G' (Gothica Circus)! And there were still at least 20 rooms to check.
Danny wasn't about to chalk up the lack of agents to lucky stars, either. Something was seriously up. Growling, Danny resisted the urge to knock over a shelf in pure frustration. Could the day get any worse?
"Freeze, ghost! You are in violation of the Specter-Free Zoning Act of 1999, Section 13 Paragraph 3 Line 345!"
"Apparently it can," Danny groaned, whipping around.
The door of the Record Room banged open, admitting at least twenty agents, all armed with whining ecto-guns and grenade launchers. Danny immediately flung himself towards the ceiling, not interested in fighting these goons again – only to bang his head on a by-now-familiar ghost shield.
Danny clutched his head, seeing stars, and the next thing he knew a missile slammed into his chest. Sent flying and disoriented, Danny didn't even think to go intangible as he slammed into the shelves behind him, sending everything crashing to the floor in a wave of dust. Files fluttered to the floor, covering Danny entirely as he lay there, dazed.
Danny Phantom, Grim Reaper. Death by papercut, he thought.
Agent M was, for some unknown reason, one of the few agents who could see this particular specter. However, the papers and folders covering his form gave the rare opportunity for his outline to be seen. Ghost X had clearly been shocked to discover that the Record Room he was in now had an activated Ghost Shield around it. "There's no escape, Specter! Quick, cover the area! I'll try the Prototype Revelation Device Version 7.8!"
The agents and scrubs all obeyed instantly, surrounding the ghost while he still lay there, and Agent M threw the Revelation Device. It was designed to force invisible ghosts to reveal themselves; with any luck, it would work on this ghost as well.
Smoke filled the room. It had no effect on the agents; it wasn't really smoke. It was more like an ectoplasmic tear gas. The ghost shot up out of the papers covering him, his green eyes squeezed shut as he seemed almost to cry, coughing dryly.
"I see him!" exclaimed one agent, and there were other cries of surprise and agreement.
"Throw the Shield!" shouted M. That was all the direction the agent in question needed; four cubes flew from the circle of agents and landed all around the ghost, creating a cube of ectoplasmic energy as strong as it was possible to make a portable Ghost Shield.
The Level 10 (or beyond!) ghost was effectively captured.
Danny hadn't cried in over four years.
Now, tears leaked from his eyes, something he hadn't even thought possible, and he coughed as if he had lungs to fill with air. Hacking and struggling, he wiped at his eyes with his forearm, blinking at the agents through the ghost shield that had been erected around him. They all had grenades and ecto-guns, and it was plainly obvious they could see him now. Danny wondered what had happened even as the smoke began to clear.
"In accordance with the Federal Anti-Ecto Control Act, Article 1, Subsection 8, you're under arrest," one of the agents declared.
Danny coughed weakly again, straightening as the worst of the effects wore away. He still felt weak and tired, but that would fade too, he figured. "Now where have I heard that before?" he managed, lips curling into a thin smirk as he recalled the words he had last heard during the Reality Gauntlet fiasco.
"Don't think for a moment you have room to mock us," the GiW warned. "We have you at a severe disadvantage."
"That's what you think," Danny muttered to himself. "All right," he said aloud, crossing his arms, his manacles clinking against each other. "So I'm guessing you have lots of really really painful experiments to put me through, right?"
The agent raised one eyebrow. "We have questions, first," he replied.
"Great," Danny forced a grin. He wasn't stupid enough to put down his feet on the ghost shield, so he crossed his legs in midair. "And I've got questions for you, too. Why did you let Freakshow die?"
"Why did you let Freakshow die?"
Agent M was taken aback by the audacity of the trapped ghost. "That's strictly classified under—"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, skip it," the ghost interrupted, waving a hand nonchalantly. His tattered coat hung almost to the edge of the ghost shield, but his legs were folded up under him as if he were sitting on air. "You and your regulations. You let him die to bait me, didn't you?"
Agent M's mouth worked for a moment. "A ghost styling himself the Grim Reaper? That's completely unacceptable."
The ghost stared at him for a moment, then clutched his sides and began to laugh.
"Styling …? Ahahaha! That's the best …"
Agent M scowled, reaching for the Ghost Shield controls irritably. He flicked a switch, and the Shield emitted a sudden, strong electromagnetic field. It had the desired effect; Ghost X cried out, then convulsed slightly, slowly recovering. "Tell me the truth. Have you been harvesting the souls of bodies for the last 176 years or longer?"
The ghost shook his head slightly as if to clear it, slowly lifting his head. He looked worn out, but determined – and still that smile lurked at the edges of his mouth. "Me, personally? No," he answered. "But I haven't been 'styling' anything." The ghost put out his hand, and the scythe from before materialized in it; he lifted his chin, unfolding his feet under himself. "And I don't have time for this."
He lifted the scythe and swung it, swathing through the shield like paper.
It had taken Danny less than a minute to figure out his prison was a good old-fashioned portable Ghost Shield a la FentonWorks style. Fortunately, it didn't stand up against his scythe. He'd been planning on milking the GiW for information while inside the portable prison, but changed his mind when he discovered the delightful little addition of electrocution.
He cut it open with his scythe to a chorus of "Fire! Fire! Fire!"
Going intangible if not invisible – that particular power seemed to have been disabled for the moment – Danny swung his scythe again, opening rifts into the nothingness of space that swallowed the projectiles thrown at him. Really, he was being more humane than he had to be; if he wasn't here, they would have been shooting each other from opposite sides of the circle.
The agent that had been questioning him looked shocked, but he quickly lifted his gun. Danny decided it was time to try out another little power he hadn't dealt with in years – he shot into the agent's body, overshadowing him.
Overshadowing was always odd. It was hard to move the unfamiliar body without somewhat melding with the host's mind – but unfortunately for the agent, this was exactly what Danny meant to do. He turned the agent's body and ran for the door. "Quick! He flew through me and out the door!"
The agents with him looked confused. One of them spoke up. "M, I'm registering high readings of ectoplasmic energy coming from you!"
Crud. "I must have been infected when he passed me," he lied lamely.
Frighteningly enough, the agent seemed to buy it."It's possible," the agent agreed.
I can't believe he believes me! They're as gullible as my parents were – unfortunately. "Go on ahead. I'll report this. He can't escape this floor until I deactivate the Ghost Shield," Danny said, businesslike.
"Right. Let's go, men! Find Ghost X!" the agent roared, and the Guys in White all filed by Danny.
Danny watched them go through M's eyes. "Sorry, big guy, but you're forcing me to do this the hard way," he apologized, before he delved into M's memories.
Fortunately, it wasn't deeply buried. Fredrick Issak Showenhower had been born in Pennsylvania, into a family of ghost researchers. He had lived in an old, old house – but that wasn't his favorite place, or his most hated place.
The place Freakshow had most often spoken of was Amity Park.
"Oh, go figure," Danny groaned. He slipped out of M's mind and lifted his arm, eying the controls. Aha! He pressed the appropriate button, and the slight static-y feeling of the Ghost Shield under his feet faded away.
"Sweet, sweet freedom," Danny grinned, as he escaped M's body and left the GiW behind for (hopefully) ever.
Next Chapter: Freakshow has plans … and they involve Sam and Tucker! Danny had better hurry up …