Maddie Fenton was worried. Her son, Danny, was just about to graduate, though barely. Even constant tutoring for two years, by his friends, Maddie's older daughter Jazz, and Maddie herself had resulted in a just-passing average. The strange thing was that Maddie knew that her son was smart (the son of two geniuses would have to be). Before entering high school Danny had been running a low A average, and he'd fixed several of his parents' inventions, most notably the Ghost Portal. No, whatever else Danny might be, he wasn't stupid.
That was what worried Maddie most, really — not the lies, not the missed curfews, not the regular injuries she'd recently noticed, but what her son was getting up that he didn't have time for his schoolwork. When she realized just how much was wrong with Danny's life, and how long it had been going on (since Grade 9), the standard list of motherly worries had run through her head: fights, drugs, bullying, crime. And with Danny about to graduate, she was running out of time to act. The problem was that she couldn't help her son unless she knew what was going on.
Maddie had put a tracking chip in the latest of Danny's endless string of cell phones. The previous one had broken in a bike crash last week. The tracking chip was a modification of some of Maddie's patented ghost tracking technology, altered for solely human tracking since ectocentric devices malfunctioned around Danny and Maddie didn't want anything to go wrong. Of course, the scientist had told her husband, Jack, that it was a ghost sensor because he had caught her in the act of installing it and she didn't want to admit to spying on her son, even if it was for his own good. But that wasn't the point. The point was that Danny's curfew was twenty minutes ago and he still wasn't home.
Maddie pulled out the Ghost Finder modified for the chip's signal and turned it on. It pinpointed her eighteen-year-old four blocks away. Maddie chided herself for worrying. He'd probably been held up at Sam's again. She didn't mind that. A teenaged boy should have a healthy relationship with a member of the opposite sex (or same sex, though Maddie knew her son didn't lean that way), and Sam was as trustworthy a girl as Maddie would hope for. The woman chided herself for worrying.
The gently pinging signal on the screen suddenly vanished. It couldn't have been destroyed or removed (the Finder was designed to detect that), so how could it just disappear? Barely stopping to think, Maddie shoved the Finder into her utility belt, grabbed a large ectogun from beside the front door, and ran out into the street, pulling her hood on as she did so. Her son was in trouble.
When she reached the intersection where she knew Danny had been, Maddie found her deepest fears realized. Danny Phantom, the town's somewhat destructive (and ghostly) "hero," was engaged in determined aerial combat with the robotic ghost who appeared every so often in Amity Park. Skulker, Maddie thought he called himself. Her son was nowhere to be seen. Had the ghosts gotten him?
Well, Maddie couldn't just ask and shooting wasn't an option either since she and Jack had stopped hunting Phantom two years ago, after realizing that his increase in power was far beyond that of any other ghost and he would make a wonderful case study. But as such, he couldn't be injured or they'd lose data and probably his trust as well. That didn't mean Maddie trusted his intentions to be purely good, however. And a moving person would attract unwanted attention at the moment, so looking for Danny on her own was impossible. In other words, Maddie was an observer in this fight, and, realizing this, she squatted down behind a line of trash cans for protection.
The spring night was quiet enough that the voices of the two fighting ghosts were audible to the woman fifty yards away. She listened intently, since such an opportunity was rare, and turned on the Fenton Digital Imager she kept handy.
"Would you stop it with the pelts?" Phantom shouted at Skulker, hurling a massive ball of ectoenergy at the other ghost.
"My other trophies were grateful, whelp," Skulker replied in an offended tone. "It is an honour to hang on my wall."
"Uh-huh, and you can't just wait till I die of natural causes?" Phantom asked sarcastically.
"That would take all the fun out of the hunt, ghost child." Skulker's armour morphed and two ectocannons rose out of his shoulders. Phantom, meanwhile, had used the brief moment of distraction to teleport behind Skulker and was now staring at a wrist and doing an exaggerated countdown. Maddie stifled a laugh at the humour the ghost was displaying. Phantom hit zero just as Skulker had found him again and was priming his guns. Something began playing a metallic ringtone and Skulker's guns powered down automatically. The larger ghost looked down at his own wrist.
"Go to the Congo to observe purple-backed gorillas in their natural habitat," he intoned. Phantom grinned and waved vigorously as Skulker's wings unfolded themselves. Then the rockets kicked in and Maddie caught an "I'll get you back someday!" as he flew off.
Phantom hung in the air a moment, then landed on the ground and chuckled.
"This is getting too easy," he remarked to himself. Maddie realized this could be her opportunity and stood up from where she'd been hiding. She left the gun.
"Wha?" The ghost teen looked up, panicked. "Mo- Maddie … what are you doing here?"
"I'm looking for my son," the woman answered. "Have you seen him?"
"Tall kid, black hair, blue eyes, red and white shirt?" Phantom questioned. Maddie nodded. "Heh, uh, no, not since last week. The attack at the school." Phantom rubbed his neck nervously. Maddie nodded again, more worried now. Phantom may have done all sorts of things, but he didn't lie. It had become publicly acknowledged a year or so ago that the things Phantom had been blamed for were setups and accidents. And that meant that whatever had happened to Danny, Phantom didn't know, but he was certainly covering up something.
"Eh, uh, look…" the ghost in the middle of the street began, "I'd, uh, better be going. Ghosts to fight, you know…?" He took off into the air before Maddie could mention cooperating with research and he went invisible as son as he was above the houses. Maddie headed back tot he garbage cans for her gun and so didn't notice the brief flash of light in the nearby alley.
She did, however, notice the pinging at her belt that occurred at the same time. Pulling the modified Ghost Finder out, she saw that Danny was once again close by. As she began moving towards the alley the flash had come from, it being the most likely place for him to be if not in the open, she heard a momentary scrapping of metal on stone, followed by the soft whir of moving bike spokes.
The whirring moved swiftly past her and the Finder in her hand appeared to follow it. There was nothing there. Maddie stared at the blinking dot on the screen in confusion for a moment before doing a quick scout of the area for her son and heading home. She was fairly certain now that something was going on, and that it was almost completely outside her realm of experience. It wasn't anything more than a feeling though.
When she arrived home, she found her son raiding the kitchen fridge. He jumped and banged his head on the inside when she said his name.
"Ow. Any idea how long the apples have been beside the ectoplasm samples? I think they're starting to grow teeth."
"Ask your father. They're his samples," Maddie said. "Where were you? Sam's?"
"Yeah," Danny answered, turning back to face his mother with a tub of leftover casserole in his hand. "We were going over math. Kinda forgot the time."
"I wish you wouldn't make a habit of coming in after curfew," the blue-clad woman sighed. "You know that's when all the ghosts come out. Didn't Sam feed you?"
"Yeah, I know, and yes, she did, but veggies don't really fill you up." Maddie thought she caught a slightly depressed tone to the first part of her son's answer. What was that about?
Danny dug into the casserole with gusto, then spoke to her with his mouth partly full.
"Anyway, I'm going to put in some time on history, so g'night!" He made a beeline for the stairs. Maddie contemplated calling him back, but decided not to distract her son from his homework if he actually volunteered to do it. Instead, she sat down at the kitchen table, flipped open the screen of the Imager, and began taking notes off the footage and on her following conversation with Phantom while it was still fresh in her mind.
"Would you stop it with the pelts?"
"My other trophies were grateful, whelp. It is an honour to hang on my wall."
"Uh-huh, and you can't just wait till I die of natural causes?"
Does that suggest that Phantom doesn't see himself as dead? Maddie wrote. Or is that merely an example of his trademark banter?
"That would take all the fun out of the hunt, ghost child."
Why is Skulker hunting Phantom in the first place? Challenge? Prestige?
Maddie watched as the hunter ghost prepared to attack Phantom, replayed the teenager's teleportation several times because footage of that power was unheard of, and noted with interest the younger ghost's display of humour.
Phantom not limited to witty banter, the researcher wrote. Also uses physical comedy and at times exhibits appreciation of sarcasm in others. Suggests he possesses a fully developed sense of humour, meaning his mind is more humanlike than other ghosts. Maddie paused as she thought of several other instances of humanlike behaviour she'd seen from him, then turned back to the paper in front of her.
Phantom also displays nervousness, fear, and happiness. Could it be that he retains all human emotions and thought patterns? Is this related to his above-average power levels? She looked back up at the Imager and hit play. Skulker stopped his attack and got angry at his arm. Phantom laughed as his opponent soared off.
"I'll get you back someday!"
Maddie paused the tape again. Phantom had rigged something into Skuker's suit to do that? The boy didn't seem to have much other knowledge of technology, although he did carry a Fenton Thermos for some reason. Perhaps he'd had someone make it for him? But no, that couldn't be, because he appeared to have no ghostly or human associates to speak of. Maddie made a note about the tech, then paused as a thought hit her.
Why purple-backed gorillas?
Maddie let the recording move to the end, where Phantom has laughing to himself on the ground. Then she tried to recall every detail of her conversation with the ghost.
"Wha? Mo- Maddie … what are you doing here?"
Scared of me, even though we haven't fought in several years. Almost called me "mom."
"I'm looking for my son. Have you seen him?"
"Tall kid, black hair, blue eyes, red and white t-shirt? Heh, uh, no, not since last week. The attack at the school."
Phantom doesn't want to talk about Danny. He's nervous speaking to me. He's hiding something, I just don't know what. He has the same nervous gesture as Danny.
"Eh, uh, look…. I'd, uh, better be going. Ghosts to fight, you know…?"Maddie thought hard about how to phrase her comments, before choosing Phantom stutters. He's trying to act how he thinks we expect a hero to, and he's failing.
Maddie reread her notes, to see if she could pick out anything more about Phantom. She realized that a lot of what she'd written, and a lot of what she felt about him instinctually, made him out to be more human than any other ghost she'd encountered. Phantom certainly was an odd one. Not only did he register 8.8 on the Ectoplasmic Entity Scale, but he also showed none of the vicious mannerisms, coldness of the emotion, or maliciousness that characterized ghosts. In battle and to strangers he always played the bold hero, though it did seem forced at times, but when talking to Maddie or her husband he seemed unaccountably nervous and shy, and now that she thought about it, there was barely a meeting between the Fentons and Phantom where he didn't try to cover up referring to them as "Mom" and "Dad." Were she and Jack so much like the boy's parents that he could still make that slip after he'd died? And did that imply that he'd also retained memories of his life, in contrast to the other ghosts? That would make him a very unique ghost indeed. Maddie wanted more than ever to run tests on him, as him questions.
Now, what would account for Phantom's heightened "humanity," if you wanted to call it that? What, apart from the powers, would make him act like a regular teenager? Like her son?
The thought made Maddie suddenly realize that with all the excitement of the ghost fight and seeing Phantom and the video tape, that she'd forgotten about Danny's disappearing cell phone and its invisible reappearance. The thought of that made her remember Phantom's nervous neck-rubbing, not the first time she'd seen the behaviour from him. And the fact that Danny and Phantom were never seen in the same place (apart for that time three years ago when the house was possessed).
A thought popped into Maddie's mind that her boy and the ghost boy were two halves of the same person and she began to push it aside. The notion of someone being half-ghost was ridiculous, and there'd be physical similarities, not just behavioural….
The woman paused in her mental rebuttal and went quickly into the living room where she pulled a photo album off a shelf. Flicking it open to a particular page, she went back into the kitchen, left it on the table, and headed into the lab for the folder she and Jack kept on Danny Phantom. Jack was tinkering with the Ghost Gabber, which still seemed to be malfunctioning, and barely recognized her presence. Maddie was glad — his involvement in this at this stage would simply hamper things.
Once she was back in the kitchen, she pulled out an early image of the ghost and laid it beside one of her son from the same year. The faces matched, like she'd half been expecting. Two consecutive photo pairing did the same. And Maddie realized that Phantom had aged at a rate consistent to that of a human boy. She'd known that, of course, but hadn't been aware of it.
Maddie pulled out a fresh sheet of note paper. She had a hypothesis now, and like any good scientist, she was going to see if it fit the facts. She put her pen to the paper and began writing.
Fact 1: Danny skips class and is constantly late for school. He leaves class and doesn't come back.
Phantom is seen all over town, at any time of day. Many ghost attacks occur around Casper High, during school hours.
Fact 2: Danny misses curfew five to seven times a week.
Ghost attacks most often happen between 9 and 11 at night.
Fact 3: Danny sets off ecto-identifiers of all kinds.
If he's part ghost, they'd pick up his ectoplasm.
Fact 4: Phantom uses a Fenton Thermos, and occasionally other Fenton products. No one knows how he gets them.
Danny has unlimited access to the weapons vault.
Fact 5: Both Danny and Phantom are afraid of Jack and me.
Fact 6: They look the same, act the same, and age at the same rate.
Fact 7: Danny is always injured.
Phantom gets hurt regularly fighting ghosts.
Fact 8: Danny has fought ghosts on his own, without formal training from his parents. He's not in good physical shape, so there must be something else.
Phantom's been fighting ghosts for four years. If they're the same, so has Danny.
Fact 9: Danny and Phantom are rarely in the same place at the same time.
Fact 10: Danny's cell phone disappeared.
If it tracks humans, it wouldn't track ectoplasm. Changing into a ghost form would render the chip ineffective.
Fact 11: When the phone reappeared, it and a bike went past me invisibly.
That one puzzled Maddie a little until she realized it was feasibly possible that, if you had ghost powers, you could use them while human as well. Danny had made himself invisible to avoid her.
Fact 12: Danny makes slips that suggest he knows more about ghosts than he lets on. Phantom makes slips that suggest he has intimate knowledge of the Fentons.
If they're the same person, they'd naturally have knowledge of both.
Fact 13: Danny is nearly failing. He never studies or turns in homework, even with tutoring. He's a smart kid.
Fighting ghosts at all hours would prevent him from doing enough homework to get good grades.
Fact 14: Danny's problems started four years ago. Phantom appeared four years ago.
Fact 15: Phantom thinks he's alive.
Fifteen points, about all the mysteries of Danny's life and the similarities he had to Danny Phantom. Enough to give Maddie ammunition at least. She tapped her pencil thoughtfully on the paper for a moment, then stood up, pulled her hood off her face to make herself less intimidating, grabbed the list of facts, and headed upstairs.
"Danny?" she asked, knocking on the door to her son's room. "Danny? I know you're studying, but we need to talk, sweetie." She thought she heard a groan from the other side of the door before Danny told her she could come in. When she entered, Danny was seated crosswise in his desk chair, facing her with bored but inwardly cautious interest. She shut the door behind her and he raised a questioning eyebrow.
"I want us to have warning if your father bursts in," she explained as she crossed the room and sat on the edge of Danny's bed near his desk. There was a moment of awkward silence as Maddie tried to come up with the right words to start herself off. Finally, she spoke quietly, looking at her son.
"I ran into Phantom tonight. I was out looking for you and I came across him. We talked for about thirty seconds."
"That's great, Mom!" Danny said excitedly. "Did you mention the research stuff?"
"No. He took off before I could. But the encounter got me thinking, Danny. Phantom's as human as I've ever seen a ghost, more than I thought was possible. That alone makes him as unique as his power level does. He's an 8.8, you know. Pariah Dark was barely stronger." Danny paled, and Maddie made a mental note of it before pushing on.
"That got me wondering what could cause that, the human thing, not the powers, and I realized that if he were somehow both ghost and human at the same time…." Maddie trailed off to let Danny digest that. He'd turned green.
"I thought you said being half-ghost was impossible," Danny challenged.
"I … might have been wrong," Maddie admitted, looking down at the floor briefly. She caught sight of a metal cylinder under her son's desk. He furtively kicked it out of sight when he noticed her gaze. She went on.
"I think I might even know who the human half of Phantom is. I've been thinking a lot about you too, Danny, and I know something's been going on that you don't want to talk about. If you're Phantom, it explains everything." Maddie picked up the list from where she'd set it beside herself on the quilt. She was preparing to read it aloud when he asked to see it. She handed it over, and waited the several minutes it took for her son to read it thoroughly three times. When he finally spoke, his voice was strained.
"You've got quite the case there." He returned the paper to Maddie and settled back in his chair. He was tenser than he had been. "What do you want from me?"
"Some proof, one way or the other. And the truth." Danny sighed, stood up, and massaged the back of his neck.
"And if you're right, what happens?" he asked cautiously.
"Well, I'd naturally have questions about how and why and powers and ghosts," Maddie told him frankly, "and I'd like to do some tests as well, but only if and when you're comfortable, and nothing before you graduate. Mostly, I'd be supportive and help as best I could with anything. And just so you know, your dad doesn't know anything about this."
"Right…." Danny began to pace. He stopped after a few minutes and turned to face the auburn-haired woman on his bed, having made up his mind.
"Do you want powers or a full transformation?" he asked bluntly.
"Whatever you want." Maddie was pleased that he's admitted it, but blown away at the same time that she'd actually been right. Her son, Phantom, hated, untrusted, misunderstood…. Her thoughts were interrupted by a ring of glowing white-silver light that suddenly appeared at Danny's waist. Maddie watching in amazement as it split apart and the pieces moved in opposite directions, splitting again as they came to his limbs and neck. As they moved, Phantom's black jumpsuit with the white DP logo was revealed, and finally the ghost's green eyes and white hair appeared as well. She became aware of her mouth hanging open and hastily shut it. Danny was looking at her expectantly, wondering if she was going to say something. She spoke.
"Why didn't you tell us?"
"Because you guys were always talking about capturing a ghost, and then you were trying to kill me, and then you shifted back to research and by that point it had been two years and I thought you'd get mad and it's really not that safe if you guys know…."
"What do you mean?" Not safe if they knew?
"Heroes have enemies and enemies get at heroes by capturing family," Danny stated. Maddie felt that there was more to that statement than Danny wanted her to know, but decided not to push it now.
"So who knows?" she asked the boy floating in front of her. "Does anyone? If you'd be more comfortable human…."
"Sam and Tucker were three for it," Danny told her and he reversed the transformation. "And Jazz found out the first year. Most of the ghosts know. I'm kinda a legend." He laughed nervously.
"And what's 'it' exactly?"
"Remember how I fixed the Portal? Well, turns out you guys forgot to turn it on and with the button inside…"
"You were caught in the power-up," Maddie finished. "That makes sense, electricity, ectoplasm, some sort of fusing…." Her stomach churned at the pain her son must have gone through. The colour drained from her face and she stated shaking. Danny sat down beside her and hugged her to himself tenderly.
"Danny … I can't imagine what you've been through…," Maddie stuttered, "What you go through… How frightened you must have been of your parents…." Maddie buried her face in her son's chest and he let her cry into him. Finally, her sobs abated and he spoke soothingly.
"Mom, I've dealt with all that, the pain, fear, worry, everything. I know who I am and I like it and I wouldn't give it up for anything. I feel like I'm doing something important. And sure, it's tough sometimes, but most of that's school, and I've only got a month of that left. I'm planning to take a year or two off, maybe do some adult ed classes at Amity Park Community to get my grades where they need to be for university, and by then I'm hoping to have solved the ghost attack problem for good. I'm working on that already, actually, with Sam and Tucker and a couple allies in the Ghost Zone. It's okay, Mom, I promise." Maddie straightened up and wiped the tears off her face. Danny looked at her, the soft emotion he'd just displayed gone a little from his expression.
"Now, Mom, if you've got any more questions, go ahead and ask. I don't think I'm going to get any more studying done tonight, so you might as well." Maddie nodded, left to get the Phantom file, and came back. She brought her pad of paper as well so she could take notes for a separate, unofficial file. She sat back down on the bed, and they began.
By the time she left Danny's room, Maddie had gotten answers to most of her questions. Danny had command of all his powers in human form, except for floating and flying, but that didn't matter because he could teleport instead. He listed the standard range of ghost powers, as well as cyrokinesis, telekinesis, and three kinds of sonic attacks. He gave her the binder of stats Tucker had taken from their training and testing sessions over the years, along with the passwords to his computer and the main ghost files. There was a second folder that Danny said was "more personal" and wanted to leave off talking about for a while.
Maddie was told the stories behind Phantom's former reputation, learned of the Guys in White's interest in him, and found out that the Wisconsin Ghost at Vlad's mansion was known as Plasmius and had declared himself Danny's archenemy. She guessed that Plasmius was the ghost Danny saw as the main threat to their family, but said nothing.
Maddie finally left around midnight when Danny started yawning. Along with Danny's binder, she took with her the following promises. Danny would give her a briefing on Ghost Zone geography, politics, and customs that weekend, and would take her into the Zone itself at some point so she could study it. If he was late because of a ghost fight, he would let her know, and in return she'd get Jack to ease up on chores. He would let Sam and Tucker know that Maddie knew and have them call her for backup, with code words in case Jack answered the phone. Danny and Maddie would tell Jack together in mid-July, once Maddie had worked on her husband a little so he wouldn't reach for the nearest gun or needle.
She also left knowing that she had a lot to think through, not just in terms of the facts she'd been given, but also in terms of the knowledge that her son was deliberately putting himself in harm's way, and the biology of the "halfa" as Danny called himself.
One other thing was certain — she wouldn't be sleeping much that night. However, the ghost researcher was comforted by the fact that now she knew why Danny's life seemed such a mess and that he'd turn to her if he needed help, and seemed almost glad that she'd found out.
Maddie took the file on Phantom back into the lab after hiding the binder of information and her notes in the back of the linen closet. Jack was putting the finishing touches on the Ghost Gabber 8.0 and dragged her over to show it off. Maddie was enthusiastic about it for his sake, even though she knew now that there was no way to prevent it from being attracted to Danny and that Jack would just get depressed about it when he tested it in the morning. She left Jack "for bed" before he pressed her on the evening, and as proof changed into her nightclothes and climbed into bed. She lay in the dark thinking long after Jack come to bed, and even after she heard Danny get up and leave at three.