No this isn't an April Fool's joke. I'm really updating. Again. :) Okay, this one doesn't have any epic battle scenes either, but it's got some pretty funny moments. (I think) And all of the pieces are nearing their final positions. (Evil Vlad-laugh) Prepare for the coming storm. Muahaha. XP

Thanks and adoration to all reviewer-types. Thanks to: LiLIndianPrinzess, Egyptian Ghost Kitty, cordria, Adran06, dizappearingirl, hermie-the-frog, Grumbles, Sasia93, ShiroAndFubuki, Rob Phantom, 'Quacked Lurker', Nobody Famous, egyptianqueen777, FantomoDrako, UlrichxYumi DannyxSam 4ever, Nikky Phantom of the Opera, Chaos Dragon, acosta perez jose ramiro, Me-against-the-world, cariadiorarua, Kyasarin-Maarukeehii1, dannyp14, Queen S of Randomness 016, Fan-Fic-CC27, Nubecula, SilverScreech, Esme Kali Phantom, Diamond Raider, and fan-girls2.0. Much love

Also, for those of you who figured out where Professor Ba got his name, kudos and cookies:D For those of you who didn't, if you care, look it up on Wikipedia. No prizes though, it was a one-time offer. :)

On with the show!

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A Public Spectacle

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Tucker yawned sleepily and rubbed his eyes. Sunlight streamed through his window. Eyes widening, he sat up and stared in horror at his alarm clock. How could he forget to set his alarm clock?!

"Tucker, are you up yet?" His mom called from downstairs. "We'll be going to an interview session with Sam's parents in an hour, and we thought we'd drop you off at school on the way." Tucker gulped. Oh right. School.

"Yes!" He called down after he got his composure back, rolling out of bed and searching his floor for clean clothes to wear.

"It won't be so bad." He said to himself as he fished out a pair of pants that looked like they were probably clean. "You've dealt with evil wishing ghosts and mind controlling mummies. You know where your soft spots are. No way regular school kids can get to you."

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"There's a ghost shield over our house." Bec said conversationally as Sam yawned and sat up on her small bedroom sofa. "So you probably won't be meeting with your friends here for a while." The Goth girl blinked sleepily, but slowly frowned as reality came back to her. She flushed slightly.

"Look, grandma, about last night..." The old woman lifted a hand.

"Think nothing of it, dear. What are we old folks for, if not to give shoulders for crying and good tea for drinking?" Sam smiled hesitantly.

"Thanks, grandma. And sorry about the 'crying' part. I didn't mean to." Bec snorted.

"Sam, you're my granddaughter, and I love you. But you really should open up more. If you're sad, a good cry does wonders. And who would hold it against you? Your parents tried to take everything you care about away from you yesterday; of course you'd feel a bit down." The old woman shook her head sadly.

"A bit." She chuckled hollowly. Bec smiled.

"There, you see? Sam, you should try and be more open with people. I know you're sure of who you are, but you don't need to be unemotional to be strong. Today, a lot of people are going to talk to you; treat you differently, and try and make you act like what they imagine you should act like. And acting uncaring won't change that. If you want to make it through, show them you like who you are, and talk to your friends. Heaven knows you worked hard enough to keep them close."

Sam winced. "Do you think mom and dad will really try and get rid of them?" Bec grinned wickedly.

"Of course, dear. That's what will make spending time with them so much fun."

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Danny stepped out of the shower feeling much more awake. Though he could wake completely from a dead sleep, if allowed to wake up gradually he tended to spend his time between bed and shower as a member of the living dead, and there was nothing that fixed that quite like a cool shower. Not Dani-using-ice-powers cool, but still...

"No, Pamela, I don't know for sure if Danny has been associating with Sam and Phantom on their ghost-hunting trips. You'll have to talk to him later." His mother said into the phone as he trudged by, still dripping. He paused, and shot her a curious look.

'Sam's mom' she mouthed to him.

"Sorry." He whispered back. She grimaced and nodded a bit to show that his sympathy was appreciated.

"Now I know you don't appreciate what Phantom did to your house back in April, but there's no need to refer to him as a 'conscious blob of rancid ectoplasm.'"

'Rancid?' Danny mouthed quietly to himself, and discretely gave his left armpit a sniff. Maddie's lips twitched. Shrugging, he ambled off to his room.

"Yes, I suppose as Sam's...supplier, I should attend the interview as well." Maddie conceded as her son closed his door. "But we'll have to leave Danny out of this until we know more of the facts. Yes, I'll see you there. Goodbye."

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The unnamed agent handed the shaking key ring to the on-duty parking attendant. Focusing his bleary eyes, he tried for several moments to work out what business a key ring had shaking like that.

Oh. His hand was shaking.

Understandable. He'd planned on sleeping yesterday afternoon, after a long day of driving Agent S all over Amity Park. But he'd been called back to headquarters, and had once again driven non-stop to arrive as soon as possible.

"You're wanted in the next room." The young man stated calmly as he replaced the exhausted agent behind the wheel and drove off. Shrugging, and too tired to ask questions anyway, the nameless agent trudged off to the nearest door he could find.

"Agent Sigma." A calm, shadowed figure said with a crisp even tone from the other side of a low desk that filled half the room.

"Er, actually, I don't have a-"

"You do now." The man interrupted. "Keep Sigma. It suits you. Besides, if you managed to bring me what I asked for, you've more than earned an honorable reassignment." Sigma gulped.

"Thank, you sir." He said, wobbling slightly to the side as he saluted.

"Dismissed, agent." Sigma immediately strode from the room to find a place to collapse.

He was exhausted. But it had been worth it. He was already moving up through the GIW ranks, and all he'd had to do was pick up a few parts. And leave S without a car, of course, but he'd been given his orders from much higher up. S would understand.

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"What do you mean 'insufficient clearance'?" S practically shouted into the phone. "Sigma works for me! And leaving me stranded here is blatant insubordination. Now I demand to know where he took my car!" He gritted his teeth. "Yes, I mean the GIW's car." He conceded. Slowly his face turned red. "I don't know who you think you are, but I'm one of the top ranked agents in the GIW. I've served for over a decade, and I was co-head of the Phantom Project. What have you done for this organization?"

"Your job. Very funny." He growled. "Now listen to me. Get me agent Sigma or...hello? Hello?"

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"Valerie?" He was knocking on the door again. Grimacing, Val moved to turn away. "Come on Val, I know you're in there. Let's talk about it." Slowly, the huntress took a few steadying breaths and turned to face the door.

"Come in." Damon turned the latch and stepped inside, looking sheepish.

"Valerie I swear, if I'd had any idea, I never would have made you-"

"Spy on her?" Val asked, cutting in. Her dad winced, but nodded. "So what now, dad? Are you two going out?" Damon sat down on the side of the mattress and turned to look at his daughter with a carefully neutral expression.

"What do you think?" He asked gently. Val scowled.

"I don't know what to think." She admitted finally. "I mean, when I didn't know she was talking about you, I told her to give it a shot. I even knew 'he' had a family already, and told her to try anyway. But now..." She shook her head.

"It's different since it's me? Because it's you?"

"Yes." She said finally. "You've always seemed happy enough with just work. And it's been the two of us for so long, and I don't know her and now if you're dating her..." Damon held up his hand, smiling slightly.

"Relax, Valerie. We're not 'dating'. You don't need to panic." Val stared.

"Huh? You're not?" Damon shook his head.

"Anne and I had a long talk, and we decided to spend more time off-duty together before we make any decisions. Give her a chance to talk with you, let you get to know each other, let us get to know each other..." He shrugged. "Anne likes me Valerie, but neither of us is ready to make a huge commitment. Especially at your expense." He reached over and gave her a hug. "I'd never do that to you, sweetheart. And she wouldn't either. She said so herself." Valerie looked at him skeptically for a moment.

"Do you like her?" She asked finally. Damon shrugged.

"I think she's a very strong, caring, driven woman. But if there's something more, I'll find out by spending time with her. And you, too." He wrinkled his nose. "Now get up and get cleaned up. Please." Scowling playfully, Val threw a pillow at his head, which he quickly caught and used to pummel his giggling daughter.

"Thanks for understanding, daddy." She murmured as she rolled off the bed. Damon smiled.

"You too, sweetie. You, too."

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Danny and Tucker were waiting at the curb closest to Sam's house when she finally came jogging up to greet them. She frowned.

"What's with you guys? My house is over there." She said, pointing. Danny blinked.

"Yeah, but if I remember right, we're not allowed over there anymore." He answered, raising an eyebrow to turn his statement into a question. Sam scowled, but nodded.

"Grandma and I talked it out last night, and we figure I've got no choice. For as long as it takes to fix this mess, I'm Superdaughter." She glared back at the house. Now that she looked, the flickering green energy of the new ghost shield was just barely visible. That probably explained why Danny and Tucker assumed the ban was still on.

"Not that they want to talk to me much." She muttered as they headed off. "They just asked again if you were involved." She said to Danny.

"Which me?" Sam snorted

"Does it matter? They're still trying to pin the blame firmly somewhere else, to make it look like I was tricked into this. But I wouldn't budge, so they'll have to say it was all their idea. Or say they didn't know about it, but they'd never make themselves look bad like that." Tucker grimaced, then plastered on a smile.

"Hey, it could be worse, right?" Danny and Sam both stared incredulously at him. He flushed a bit. "I mean, yeah, people know we hunt ghosts now, but it's not like ghosts show up at the school anymore."

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"Class," Mr. Lancer announced from beside his oddly dressed guest, "I know things have been a bit hectic this last week, but I think my guest here has some news that might cheer you all up." Danny, Tucker, and Sam all stared, mouths slightly slack. "This is Mr. Parmasule. He and some associates have opened up a new shop downtown, and he's asked me to let him take the last minute of class today to speak to you."

Ghostwriter nodded hesitantly, flashing Danny an apologetic smile. The ghost boy's eyes flared darkly, but he quickly shut them and counted to ten, returning them to their usual blue.

"Yes, my, er, family has been exploring the Ghost Zone for generations." He said. He now had the class's full attention. "I suppose we were something like gypsies. We would wander until we found a natural portal, and go in. Over the years, we've found some spectacular things, and I have decided, finally, to settle the family down and sell our heirlooms as a business. We call it 'The Ghost Zone.'" A few students rose eyebrows at this. Writer flushed.

"Not very creative, I know. But it will be easy to remember. I hope you will all stop by and see what we have to sell. The Ghost Zone is full of many strange and wonderful things that science cannot yet create. I hope you'll give my family the chance to share these things with you." The class bell rang.

"Thank you class." Mr. Lancer called out as books were shoved into backpacks and students were jostled. "Remember, pages one hundred through one eighty by Wednesday, no excuses." Danny was already slipping out of the room, snagging Writer by the cuff as he went. Sam and Tucker stayed close by, more to use Writer as a deterrent to curious students than to overhear.

"What are you doing here?" Danny hissed at the spirit. Writer winced.

"You knew I was planning on opening soon. And circumstances have become a bit more...desperate." Danny dropped his forehead into his palm.

"What?" He asked.

"Ember overheard Walker talking with the head of the Ghost Council yesterday." He responded, using a low voice and looking nervously at the small crowd of students who seemed to be hovering near Danny's friends. "They know."

"How much do they know?"

"Enough. But he seems to want to cover this up for now, not come after you." Danny's eyes grew confused. Writer nodded. "I feel the same way. The only reason Gregory would want to cover up something that would finally let him lock you up would be to stop something worse from happening."

"Then wha-"

"Scarlet Letter!" Lancer shouted angrily from his doorway. Writer raised an eyebrow. Every student in the nearby area paused and turned towards him. "What's the meaning of this?"

"Sam and Tucker hunt ghosts!" Called a student from the back of the large human hall-plug. Lancer bristled.

"It seems half of the people in this city do that. That's no reason to block the school's hallway!" He turned towards the pair. "And you two shouldn't be standing around either, especially if you'll just draw crowds. Why on earth are you waiting outside my classroom?" Both blinked.

"We were waiting for Danny." Tucker said hesitantly.

"And I was talking to G-Mr. Parmasule, about his shop." Danny quickly finished. "My parents will want to know about this." Lancer's eyes narrowed slightly.

"I suppose, but you can talk to him in an empty classroom." He allowed. "Now get to class. If any of you are late, do not expect a pass from me." The hallway started to slowly clear. Lancer turned and smiled at Writer.

"Now I believe you mentioned something about a first edition Charles Dickens you had for sale?" Ghostwriter beamed, and nodded, heading back to the office as Danny and his friends took off, Danny mouthing 'later' to his friend.

"Yes, yes indeed. Very good condition, too." Writer answered, giving Danny a discreet bob of the head.

"You have an interesting name, Mr. Parmasule. Is it English?"

"Oh, something like that. Do you always shout out book titles like that?"

"An old habit, I've been trying to...

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Sam and Tucker collapsed down into their seats in the lunch room, both of them slightly pale and tense. Danny winced; but there was nothing to do, he didn't share the previous hour with them all the time.

"Was it that bad?" He asked. Both of them stared at him blankly for a few seconds.

"People have been staring at us all day." Tucker said dully. Sam nodded. Valerie frowned sympathetically as she took her seat beside him. "I mean, I remember the time everyone found out about you, and I guess it's not that bad, but..."

"Wait." Val interrupted. She turned towards Danny. "When did that happen? I don't remember anything like that."

"Big explosion," Danny answered. "I was chased by the government, my family and friends' families were captured, I flew a jet, a hovercraft, and a rocket, and Sam fought giant teddy bears. Altering the fundamental fabric of time and space was involved. It's a long, boring story. You wouldn't like it."

"I am so ready for this day to be over." Sam groaned, interrupting Val's more intense questioning and idly pushing around a grape with her fork. "I swear, the next big dumb idiot that bothers me about that story, I'm gonna-"

"Manson, Foley." Dash called out as he sidled over to their table. "So it's true? You two have been fighting ghosts with Phantom?" Sam turned slightly purple, but Tucker dropped a restraining hand on her arm.

"Yes, Dash." He said coolly, not moving from his seat. Danny rolled his eyes.

"I mean, you talk to him and stuff." He pressed. Tucker nodded, forking himself another slice of mystery meat.

"What exactly do you want, Dash?" Val asked from beside him. Dash scowled at her, but the returned his attention to the others.

"Could you get me his autograph?" He finally asked. Danny coughed violently. "I mean, that dude's hard core. We even fought ghosts together once."

"Dash," Sam said, "we don't like you. And you don't like us. You've never been nice to us. Why should we get you anything?" Dash's winning smile slipped for a second.

"Well, that's gonna change." He said brightly. "You and Tucker are two of the coolest kids in school right now. All of the parties, all of the perks, everything. In fact, why don't you two come with me back to my table and we'll talk about it." Both of them blinked for a second, and then turned slightly red. Dash assumed they were shy, but actually they were fighting down laughter.

"I don't know Dash." Sam said in her best hesitant voice. "Could Danny come too?" Dash frowned, and gave Danny a cursory glance.

"Does he fight with Phantom too?" He asked snidely. Danny's lip twitched.

"No, can't say I do." He said lightly. "Why?"

"We only want the ghost hunters to eat with us." Dash said brusquely, turning back to Sam and Tucker. "So what'll it be? Wanna come sit with us?" The two exchanged glances for a second, then looked him right in the eye.


Dash looked like he was going to argue his point further, but suddenly his eyes flashed green, and his mouth closed. Nodding, he turned and walked off, past his table and into the school. The other three at the table turned to look at Danny. He had his eyes shut, and a small bead of sweat had formed over his right eye. Some of the color was leaching from the tip of his hair. A minute later, he took a short, gasping breath and settled back into his seat, his hair and eyes back to normal.

"Out of the school?" Tucker asked conversationally.

"Ladies room."

"Nice." Sam said casually as some shouting was heard far off in the building. Danny shrugged.

"I figured he'd bugged us enough. Besides, I wanted to see if I could do that." He confessed, grinning slightly. Val smirked.

"So, what was that about time and space?"

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"Sir!" A nearby technician saluted and flipped a large switch. The air sizzled with electrical discharge, and a swirling green gate opened at the end of the room.

Alpha smiled, his gaze flickering briefly to the prisoner at his side. Freakshow had been oddly compliant so far, but it was probably more from this chance to get out of his cell than anything else.

"All is working?" He called out. Across the board, technicians called out 'all clear'.

Nodding, the agent stepped forward. Around the rim of the ghost portal, special recesses had been formed for the ectoconverters. Once installed, the devices would continually suck out the swirling atmosphere of the Ghost Zone and convert it into more energy than the portal needed to operate. Once the first of the 'free energy' generators was running smoothly, mass production would begin with a will.

But that wasn't why this portal was activated now. Alpha had twenty-four hours between this moment and the activation of the converters. In that time, he and Freakshow would go deep into the Ghost Zone and find the last remaining ghost controlling staff. According to the criminal, it belonged to some ghost named Bartus, who Showenhower had called 'particularly powerful and devious' in his journal. Well, Alpha was more than willing to show him that humans could be every bit as dangerous as ghosts. And once he had the staff, and an army of ghosts to guard the generators, all of the Ghost Zone would fall. His lifetime effort to save humanity from the monsters on the other side would finally be finished.

"Let's go." He said shortly, dragging Freakshow along by a chain.

"Happy to be of service!" His prisoner said, smiling broadly, and immediately marched ahead of him, lifting his knees up high with each step. "Let's get this show on the road!"

Scowling, Alpha allowed the demented pale man to lead him into the swirling green abyss, his only comfort the knowledge that soon, all of this would be gone.

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The walls were painted green. The doors were purple. The lights were all dim, and cases of strange things – some moving – filled the room. And over behind the glass counter, Ember flashed the first customers of the day a hesitant smile.

"Er, welcome to The Ghost Zone?" She tried hesitantly.

Sam and Tucker didn't answer; they were too busy looking around. The cool stuff all over the shop drove all other thoughts from their minds. They forgot being bothered all day. They forgot that Danny and Ghostwriter had to turn them invisible and fly them here to avoid a large crowd of students. They even forgot that they were here to hear bad news.

Danny snorted. "What did you do to your hair?" Ember winced, and ran her fingers through the long, brown strands.

"Look, I can't just walk around as some blue-haired, spiky human." She said shortly. "And last time I checked, white and spiky wasn't the height of fashion either, so back off, Phantom-boy."

"Relax, Ember." Ghostwriter said soothingly. "He's had a rough day, and he hasn't heard your news yet."

"Oh I head most of it." Danny said shortly, floating over to a shelf to look at some green blobs that seemed to light up more as he got closer. "What I need to know is what it means."

"We don't know." Ember answered simply. "And don't touch those." She cautioned as Danny reached over to inspect an odd red flower. "Honestly, we're just as confused as you are. We thought the council would jump at the chance to get rid of you."

"Who says the council knows?" Tucker asked absently as he picked up a small metal box with odd symbols cut into it. "I thought it was just Greg and Walker. And Greg did say to keep this quiet."

"It is possible someone else on the council could use this." Writer mused, tapping his chin. "And Greg is working to protect himself, not you. But what could possibly be going on?"

"Whatever it is, could it involve the GIW?" Sam asked. Danny blinked.

"S?" He asked. "I don't think so. You remember how he acted; he doesn't seem like he's doing something suspicious. My money's on Vlad." He said shortly. "That creep's always got his hands in something. But aside from running for mayor, he hasn't done anything, and he's way too low in the polls to be dangerous there either."

"You could always kick him out of town." Tucker suggested. Danny snorted.

"So he can claim that Phantom is trying to control Amity Park's government? I have no reason to throw him out that people would believe, and he hasn't really done anything."

"What about that overshadowing thing?" Tucker asked.

"Can you prove it was him?" Danny asked. Nobody said anything. He sighed.

"I should probably talk to him." He admitted. "I've put it off long enough, distractions or not. I'll do it after school tomorrow. Tonight, let's just deal with this shop, Sam and Tucker's exposure, the GIW, and anything else I forgot."

"Well we're all set here." Ghostwriter said firmly. "You should go home and get things settled with your parents and Dani." Smiling nervously, he hovered over and rested his hand on the lock of the door.

"Oh, and remember, you're humans now." Danny insisted, glancing at the ghost's shoes. "You have to walk on the ground."

"You mean all the time?" Ember asked sarcastically as Writer dropped. "Relax, Danny, we've done this human bit before. Now get out of here before I decide I'm madder than I thought about the hair comment."

Chuckling, Danny looped his arms through Sam's and Tucker's and closed his eyes. A brief pop of imploding air later and Writer ushered the first group of curious customers into the new shop.

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"Ugh, it's so good to be outta that place!" Val said contentedly as she flew on her hover board. Dani nodded from her spot floating beside her.

"You're telling me. All day long, people were bugging me about how I know Danny who knows Sam and Tucker who know Phantom. Who bug's people for that kinda thing?" She asked in exasperation. Val nodded.

"It was kinda weird. I mean, they were all getting these big props about being super-cool ghost hunters. I don't know, I guess I felt like I was getting blown off."

"Tell me about it." Dani muttered. Val paused in midair and cocked her head to the side.

"Is that why you've been giving me static lately?" She asked, surprised. Dani paused too, a bit red.

"Er, sorry about that." She said. "It's just really annoying to be friends with someone who's always going on and on about how cool someone you know is, when you're just as cool but can't say so." Val nodded, taking off again.

"I guess I can understand that. If it makes you feel better, my life isn't any better. I have to get to know this officer on dad's team as me and as the Red Huntress, and he might start dating her. As Red, I already gave my approval, and she'll want me to help her out, but as me, I'm still kinda off about it. I don't really know her, but how can I say no? Red wouldn't care, and I want my dad to be happy." Dani shrugged, then brightened.

"I know the perfect solution that will instantly make everything all better." She said, grinning. Val cocked her head to one side.

"And what's that?"

"The totally cliché, ultimate feel-good food." Dani said in a matter-of-fact tone. Val laughed.

"Fine. But you're buying. You ate all of mine last time." Dani stuck out her tongue, and put on some extra speed. Laughing, Val followed close behind.

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S flipped on the television in his small motel room. The news would be starting in a few short minutes and he didn't want to miss any of the interview Miss Snow had had with the Fentons, Foleys, and Mansons earlier in the day. And later that night, perhaps, he could arrange an interview of his own. Sigma may have taken off to do who-knew-what, but S still had a job to do. And in the big, complicated mess that Amity Park had become, he desperately needed some answers.

Tonight, he would talk to Phantom.

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Jack and Maddie stumbled tiredly back into their house after a long, exhausting day of interviews. Not that either of them minded answering questions. It was just the constant strain of covering for Danny and making both him and Phantom look like two different, good people that was so draining. Sighing, they dropped off the keys on a nearby end table and staggered into the living room.

Both of them froze in shock at a very odd sight.

"Please make him put me down." Jazz asked, exasperated, as Danny spun her in a circle, hugging her and laughing.

"I really missed you!" He said, beaming, as he let her go to wobble unsteadily towards her stunned parents.

"Jazz?" Maddie asked, starting to smile.

"Jazzypants!" Jack roared, rushing forward. Jazz jumped back nervously.

"No thanks, dad. One's enough." She laughed nervously. Jack hugged her anyway, smiling.

"What brings you back home, sweetie?" Maddie asked, concerned. Jazz scowled.

"As if you don't know. Look at everything that's going on! I leave for a few weeks, and everything falls apart." Danny rolled his eyes. "Vlad for mayor? Mass overshadowing? Sam and Tucker exposed?"

"And a new ghost-run shop, uncontrollable mutations, and a GIW agent!" Jack added, nodding. Jazz turned and glared at her brother, who was glaring at their dad.

"See? And I didn't even know. What? You thought if you didn't tell me I wouldn't worry?" Danny sighed and plopped down on the couch.

"I'm sorry Jazz. I knew you'd freak out and come back. I didn't want you to miss school." She scowled.

"School isn't everything you know." She stated. "I really worried about you guys." She blinked. "Where is everyone anyway?" Danny shrugged.

"I dropped off Sam and Tucker on the way here, and I don't know where Dani is. I had to leave her behind at the school so I could get Sam and Tucker away. And you haven't said what you're doing about school." He repeated pointedly. Jazz sniffed.

"I've been reassigned to do field research for the next few weeks. A study on ghost-human relations." She answered crisply. Her eyes widened slightly. "But what did dad mean about a 'ghost-run shop'?"

"Shh." Danny interrupted, holding up his hand and turning towards the television. The news was starting.

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Vlad watched avidly as the Mansons professed their long-held belief in community service, and their support of their daughter in her 'ghost hobbies'. He snorted. They might not be very bright, but they were decent liars, he had to admit.

He scowled. It seemed his plans had been thwarted at every turn. Were ghost powers the only real reason he'd ever succeeded before?

"No." He said shortly, shaking his head. Of course not. He was Vlad Masters. The powers had helped, certainly, but without his powerful mind he never would have risen so high, never attained power enough to one day perhaps become king of the Ghost Zone, and take everything that was rightfully his.

But how to manage now? He supposed he didn't really need to be mayor. The position itself wasn't particularly valuable, more a strategic move than anything else. Yet...

Hmm. His original plan had been to have Daniel discover Walker's servants, after a tip-off by him to the Towers. Then he could go public with how he and Phantom had worked together to help rid the town of ghosts. But of course that diabolical machine of Mr. Foley's had put a stop to that. Ah well, at least he still had Wulf and his friends to use, in time. But how to counteract any negative campaigning the Fentons might attempt and start raising his poll numbers?

He would have to take credit for the tip-off, and substitute the older Fentons in for Daniel in his scheme. Not quite as dramatic, perhaps, but it would serve its purpose. And as soon as he heard back from Bartus, he might be able to rally a few extra ghosts to his cause as well. Daniel's part he'd have to improvise, though as impulsive as the child usually was, he was sure he'd act sooner or later. And of course, as long-term plans go, he would have to reach the Ghost Council and find a way to wriggle out of those blasted charges Clockwork had against him if he ever wanted to become Plasmius again. But with how they felt towards Daniel, liberating one of his most motivated opponents should be an easy thing to request.

Nodding to himself, Vlad switched off the television and headed upstairs to bed. Someday he might become Plasmius again, but in the meantime he would relish taking control of Daniel's city as a human.

Far off in Wisconsin, a small Petri dish was filled with a swirling red soup. Electrodes dropped inside. Images were scanned, DNA read. And a tiny pulse was sent into the goop.

A small black ring sparked around the culture, then faded away again.