All recognizable characters belong to their respective owners (Cartoon Network, Butch Hartman/Nickelodeon, Steven Spielberg/The WB). Dr. Moony borrowed from Seito's 'Today' series with permission. FailPail district borrowed from my own 'Minions' story.
It all went wrong when something blew up.
The ridiculous part was, it wasn't even a heist. It came from the outskirts of the FailPail district, so no one even bothered with it much, at first. Then little red balls came flying out of the sky, and Young Justice was reluctantly dispatched with orders to "take a look, and restore as much order as possible."
"Ten bucks says it's Moony back up to his old tricks," Wally moaned, slumping in his seat. "Man, I can't believe I'm missing cake for this."
"Why don't you complain to the bad guys?" Artemis snarked. "I'm sure they'd be happy to rearrange their schedules around you."
Wally appeared to ponder this. "You think...?" he asked. Artemis sighed and rolled her eyes, and he tossed a wink towards Megan.
"It could be an accident," Kaldur mused, watching out the window.
"Or a new player," Superboy muttered.
"Eh, given the relative location, size, color, and heat, I'd say Moony," Robin shrugged, minimizing his computer and flopping next to Wally. "Who says his failness is limited to heists and stuff?"
The bioship touched down, and the team immediately straightened up, preparing to do battle.
They started by ringing the doorbell.
"Helloooo?" Wally called obnoxiously. Superboy just shouldered him out of the way and broke down the door.
"That works too," Robin murmured, and they all trooped in, fanning out around the wall.
It was a mess. There were mechanical parts ticking uselessly, clumps of slagged metal everywhere, and some odd green substance that Artemis discovered was sticky.
"Gross! Get it off me," she said, flailing around to try dislodging the goo. Wally snickered, but moved to help.
"M'gann?" Kaldur asked, and the green girl hummed and floated a few inches off the ground.
"One mind," she said, and then corrected, "One human mind. One...other."
"Other?" Superboy asked, and Kaldur said, "Link us up."
They felt the now-familiar tug on their minds, and M'gann shared her psychic impression of the other mind.
"Other," Wally said. "Good description."
The impression was of a mind not quite set up to be human. In a way, it was two dimensional, glad and flat, like a piece of sunny yellow construction paper. But there was more to it, where the thoughts turned about ninety degrees away from reality. It wasn't painful to see, but impossible to comprehend, and their minds shied away from it instinctively.
Superboy summed it up best. "It makes my brain itch," he said.
Kaldur made the hand signal for Go, so they did, swift and silent. Kid Flash checked the rest of the building for bystanders, Robin crawled into the exploded machine, Superboy helped Miss Martian dig through the rubble to find their instigator, and Artemis and Kaldur kept guard.
It was Dr. Moony, in the end. Superboy hauled him out, and then the clown mannequin that M'gann insisted on. "It's the other," she said, and Superboy immediately dropped it on the ground.
Kid Flash was back, having cleared the area, and was currently half-in, half-out of the machine, discussing technobabble with Robin at high speeds. Kaldur and Artemis circled out, including Superboy and Miss M, and Kaldur called, "Artemis, call the police. Robin, Kid Flash! Report!"
The two popped back out of the machine, Wally frowning at some gadget or other, Robin covered in grease and soot. "I don't like it," Robin said, rubbing his soot-covered hand over his grease-covered forehead, which only succeeded in giving him streaks of both. "It's not like anything I've ever dealt with before. As far as I can tell, it...reformats the brain. Like wiping a computer. Only we can't handle that kind of stress, so it's pretty much just a giant death-ray. But..."
Wally jumped in. "It could have weird side effects like whoa. We're talking mutations, death, exploding, death, disease, death, personality replacement, brainwashing—literally—and possible death. On a large scale. Like, city-wide death. Death for everyone."
"Cake or death?" Robin muttered, so Wally stuck his tongue out at him.
"So it exploding...?" Kaldur prompted, ignoring everything he didn't want to hear.
"Was the best case scenario," Robin summed up. "I'd like to get this all shipped out to STAR labs or something, though. The hardware alone is...inturbing."
"Inturbing...?" Artemis repeated slowly. "Intuuurbing. Hmm."
"Disturbing in an interesting way. Or interesting in a disturbing way," Robin defined. "Better than dis-resting."
"Right," Kaldur said, trying to get people back on track. "Let's see if we can get Moony to talk. Where are the cops, anyway?"
"Failpail district," Wally reminded him. "Response time is always slow."
Kaldur tugged just a little water out through his tattoo, dumping it on Moony's head. It accomplished absolutely nothing. Artemis lightly slapped his cheek, which had the same effect. Robin pulled a little vial out of his utility belt and waved it under Dr. Moony's nose, and he shot upright, coughing and hacking.
"If you have Bat-Wake-Up-The-Villain spray in your utility belt, so help me, I will-" Artemis started.
"Smelling salts," Robin interrupted. "Very useful chemical mix."
Wally jumped in. "Actually..."
"Tell us your plans," Kaldur growled at the doctor, channelling his annoyance at his teammates' bickering.
"Er...?" Dr. Moony just kind of started at them all for a second. "Plans...? I had them? Yes, I did! I had plans!"
"Yes, we noticed. Care to share them? Or what this machine of yours does?"
"Machine?" Dr. Moony looked fretfully around, then realized he was pretty well trapped. "Oh, yes, that machine. Yes, that one. I was...making an army. An army of, of them," he finished, pointing to the life-sized clown doll.
There was a moment of silence before Superboy said, voice heavy with confusion and disdain, "You were making an army of clown puppets."
"Noooo, they're zombies! See, the machine kills the body and reboots the mind under my control! And everyone likes clowns, and the makeup hides their dead-ness, and they can travel anywhere! And they eat brains, to-to spread the virus!"
No one had a ready response to that, though it certainly explained the psychic impression they'd felt earlier.
And finally, finally there were sirens outside.
"What?" Dr. Moony said. "You can't arrest me for making a zombie-clown-pire machine! It's not against the law!"
"Well, if the explosion causing reckless endangerment and conspiracy to remove free will weren't enough, there're still a few warrants out for your arrest," Artemis informed him.
Then Robin said, "Wait, seriously? Seriously? Your great plan was to make an army of zombie clowns? Really? That's the worst plan I've ever heard, and I've seen some stinkers. Zombie clowns? What were you thinking?"
The team was staring at him, now, except for Kid Flash, who joined in. "No one likes clowns anyway! Clowns are scary, and the makeup doesn't hide that much! You can't seriously expect that a brain-eating zombie clown army could take over the world!"
"I mean, come on! Ten out of ten for creativity, but minus several thousand for intelligence. Did you even think this through? How could you possibly expect that to even work? It's stupid-"
"And frankly," Kid Flash finished, "we expect better from you. You're kind of one of our villains now, and we expect quality evil plans in the future, all right?"
"Yes, yes, of course!" Dr. Mooney nodded, even as the police finally cuffed him. "I don't know what I was thinking—zombie clowns, so stupid—I can't imagine—I'll do better next time, I will!"
"See that you do!" Robin called, and Dr. Moony was out of the warehouse and into a police car.
"What was that about?" Superboy wanted to know.
"You felt that thing's mind," M'gann added. "An army of them could very well take over the world. It was a great plan."
"Yes, it was," Robin agreed.
Kid Flash nodded. "If he'd succeeded, we couldn't have fought them. But this way..."
"He won't try again," Kaldur realized. "Quick thinking."
"Who says cartoons never teach you anything?" Wally asked, then he and Robin stuck their hands over their heads and made whooshing noises as they raced back to the bioship.
The rest followed, M'gann lagging behind. She looked around again, and shivered. The police had confiscated the prototype zombie clown, but there was still...something. A chill in the air.
Superboy frowned too, looking around. "Come on, let's get out of here."
"Yes," she said, and shivered. "Let's go home."
And that was how it started.
The first thing that happened was no one noticed.
The second thing that happened was Superboy's imagination.
The third thing that happened was M'gann jumping at shadows.
The fourth thing that happened was that people started to notice.
That's about how it went. It was three days before Superboy started hearing the wind inside his head. He could ignore the first few instances, but soon the tv's soothing static couldn't bury the susurrous in his mind anymore. It bothered him, and it finally lead him to say, just the same as before, "My brain itches."
"I've been noticing it, too," M'gann said, looking down at her hands. "It's almost there, but not quite, like a whisper in the wind, or a shadow in the dark."
"Right," Superboy said. "What is it?"
Kaldur asked, "Has anyone else noticed anything?" Artemis shrugged, Wally shook his head, and Robin pulled out his communicator.
"Wait, don't report yet," Kaldur instructed. "Let's figure out what we're dealing with first.
"It feels kind of like the clown-thing," M'gann said slowly. "But not."
A little breeze flowed through the room, and on instinct, Artemis clapped a hand over her hair and said, "Dammit, Wally-"
"Wasn't me!" he said, still sitting in his chair, hands up. "And, is it just me, or did it just get cold in here?"
Robin started typing on his wrist-com. "Cold spots, pyschic whispers, mysterious winds...Either the clown-thing's mind stuck around, or we've got ourselves a ghost, guys."
"Ghosts don't exist," Wally said helpfully.
"How long have you been hearing things?" Kaldur asked.
"A while," Superboy said. "There's been something a little off ever since the explosion."
"Maybe it's an aftereffect of the clown-thing machine blowing up?" Robin mused, still typing.
"But ghosts aren't real, guys."
"I'll see if I can make contact," M'gann said, floating out of her chair.
"I'll go check on the clown-doll," Artemis sighed.
"I'll report to Batman and the League," Kaldur said, rising. Robin headed towards the library and computer bank, nose still in his wrist-com, and Artemis peeled away to head the opposite direction, leaving Wally alone at the table.
"But guys," he whined. "There's no such thing as ghosts!"
Danny landed back on the ground, panting and clutching the thermos tightly. "There," he said. "Is that the last of them?"
Tucker was working on his Personal Data Assistant, scrolling through the list of villains, and their respective stats and capture rates. "Yeah," he said, adding another tally and making a note. "I think so."
"Jeez, you'd think the ghosts could get creative, or something. This is getting pretty repetitive," Danny sighed.
"Careful," Sam warned, looking around. "You might actually get your wish, and then where would you be?"
"Having more fun," Danny said stubbornly. "Come on, what else do we have to get done before we can play video games or something?"
Tucker switched over to the To-Do list. "We just have to finish that English assignment for Lancer, study for the math test, meet the Batman, read for history, and then we're free.!"
Sam and Danny traded What-Can-You-Do looks in the moment it took for Tucker to process what he'd just said."Wait-" he stuttered, tapping his device madly. "What is—I didn't..."
"Sure, you didn't," Danny said. "Let's head back to my place to study, all right?"
"Cool," Sam said, swinging her backpack over her shoulder. "Come on, Tucker."
"No, seriously, guys! I didn't put this in here! But there's a time and a place, and it says 'Meet Batman'!"
"And I bet the time is midnight?" Danny asked, smiling and turning to walk backwards.
"On the roof, right?" Sam added.
"Yeah, s'what I thought. Thanks for the laugh, but if I don't pass this math test-"
Tucker blinked at his PDA, and sighed. "Right, right. Let's go study math."
In the trees above, Robin pressed his comm unit. "Found them. And they took the bait."
Sure enough, come midnight, the teenagers were on the roof.
"-If your parents catch us out here," Sam was saying.
"It'd be better than if Jazz caught us out here," Danny said. "Tucker, are you sure—"
Tucker sighed, clutching his PDA tightly. "For the last time, this isn't a joke, okay?"
"I dunno, I thought it was pretty funny."
"Yeah, see?" Tucker said, turning to the other two. "He thought it was—Yipes!"
And Robin had to laugh at them. It was almost like they weren't used to ninja entrances or hadn't been expecting him, or something.
"You—you're Robin," Danny stuttered. "Robin Robin. Of-"
"-Batman and Robin; yes, yes I know. And you'd be Amnity Park's illustrious Danny Phantom. Nice to meet you."
Danny floundered, and Sam stepped in. "I think you've got the wrong guy, er, Robin. I mean, Danny's not-"
Robin flashed her a charming smile. "Right, let's just pretend we've already done the whole no-he-isn't, yes-he-is thing, hmm? I'm on a schedule, and I'm certainly in no position to go around revealing secret identities, you know."
"But I'm not Danny Phantom!" Danny said, and Tucker nodded enthusiastically in support of this.
Robin stared at them, the blank white eyes on his mask quite disturbing. "Seems I made a mistake, then, sorry. Do you know where I could find the real Danny Phantom? Only Batman and the Justice League want his help on a top-secret mission, is all."
"Wait, no, wait! I'm him, I am, really! I'm totally Danny Phantom!"
"Wait, we'd get to meet Batman? The Batman? 'Cause he's totally Danny Phantom!"
"You're not serious? Dude, wait, this is totally Danny Phantom!"
Robin grinned, and Danny smacked himself on the forehead. "Kind of walked right into that, didn't we?" he asked sheepishly.
"Lucky for you, I'm not lying," Robin said. "But, yeah, yeah you did."
"But the Batman!" Sam said as if it explained everything, and it really pretty much did.
"Do we get to ride in, like, a Bat-plane or a Bat-car or something?" Tucker asked excitedly
"Definetley 'or something'," Robin said, already anticipating the looks on their faces when they saw the bioship. "But first things first. We have a problem with a ghost. What equipment will you need?"
"Right!" Danny said, "we've got to pack! And tell Jazz that we're leaving for a while. You wanna wait for us here, or come inside, or...?"
"He'd be pretty hard to explain to your mother," Sam pointed out.
"Yeah, that's true," Tucker agreed. "Hey, maybe you should just-"
But, of course, Robin was gone.
"Wow," Danny said. "I've got to learn to do that."
"Yeah," Sam said. "You'd almost think he was a ghost."
Back aboard the ship, Megan touched down on the ground, slowly shading back into visibility.
"Whatcha think?" Robin asked, spinning in the chair.
"I like them," she said. "I think they'll be able to help us. Their intentions are pure, at least, and that Danny? His mind was...amazing. Like, watered-down lightening, or something. It was...almost human."
"As in, not human, then?"
"No, he was, but also, I don't know, a little bit more. Oh, hello, Megan! That would be his ghost-stuff, wouldn't it?"
Robin grinned at her. "Yeah, probably. I wonder how that works..."
She smiled back. "You know you're not allowed to disassemble our guests, right? Or reprogram them, or hack them, or anything them."
He pulled his legs into the chair and pouted at her. "Take all my fun away, why don't you. Suck the aster out of it. Aster-sucker."
He was like the dorky little brother on all the sitcoms she'd ever watched, and she loved it. "It's only for your own good, you know."
"Yeah, yeah," he sighed, and levered himself out of the seat. He overbalanced and began to fall, and Megan was right there, hand out and heart in throat before he landed the flip. He grinned, a little happy and a whole lot mischievous, and was out the door to fetch their guests before she could stop him.
"Bad Robin," she called after him. "No cookies!"
His laughter echoed back around her, and she smiled, settling in to wait.
It wasn't too long before she heard the chorus of awed "Woah"s from outside, which was totally her cue. She gave herself one last lookover, human form, complete outfit, pink skin, check, before opening the door.
"Hi, guys!" she beamed. "I'm Megan. It's a pleasure to meet you all!"
"Uh. Hi. Hi, I'm Danny. Yeah, and this is Tucker, and Sam. Samantha," Danny said, and then tripped over the perfectly smooth ramp.
Sam shot him a dirty look. Oh. Oh, she thought. So it's like that, is it? Well, she could fix that. She levitated over the the kids, tucking her feet up so she could float at their level, watching the visible backpedaling on their faces. "Sam, and Tucker, and Danny," she recited, shaking their rather limp hands. "Thanks for coming to help us with this. Here, you boys get the backseat, and Sam and I will ride up front, yeah?" Robin gave her a subtle nod, and she winked back at him. "Come on, let me show you around the ship..."
"It has become apparent that Mount Justice is being haunted. We're uncertain of the type of entity, exactly, as it flees from all attempted contact, psychic or otherwise." Batman stopped talking for a moment, tilting his head. "Given the situation, we felt it best to call in experts on the subject. Robin and M'gann should be arriving with them right now."
And because the Dynamic Duo really were that good, the door wooshed open on cue, revealing Robin, M'gann and three other kids.
"Guys, meet Daniel Fenton, son of Jack and Madeleine Fenton, the US's premiere ghost hunters. This is Sam, who's slightly insane, and Tucker, who's cool like me. And this is Kid Flash, fastest stomach on two legs, almost, and Artemis, who's as paranoid as she is pretty. Kaldur'ahm, who probably hates that I'm butchering these introductions, and is also the team leader. Miss Martian you've met, and she's our resident psychic and chef extraordinaire, and that's Superboy. He can crush you, so smile and play nice, mmkay, kids?"
"Very...inter-curate," Kaldur murmured before standing. "How do you do? Welcome to Mount Justice."
Robin beamed, and pulled up his computer to add the new word, listing the definition as accurate, with an interesting viewpoint/twist. The rest of them stood as well, and there were handshakes all around.
"How long did Robin keep you waiting outside the door in order to make a dramatic entrance?" Artemis asked Tucker.
"Er, what? Uh, no. We just...came right in. No waiting," Tucker managed to get out, flush high on his cheeks. "Uh. I'm Tucker. Nice to meet you."
"Right," she said, and sat back down.
Once the rest were done mingling, Batman pulled a sheaf of papers out of nowhere, as usual, and laid them on the table. "These are the blueprints we were able to reverse-engineer from the machine in Moony's lab." He glided back into the shadows, and let the kids get on with it.
Tucker leaned over to see the papers better, and whistled. "I recognize this design. Patented by Vlad Masters. Not a good sign, guys."
Danny groaned. "Not him again."
"Who's this Masters?" M'gann wanted to know.
"You've seen this kind of tech before?"
"He's a bad guy. Mostly."
"It's complicated, but see this bypass here? It allows for the connection to this chip, which, when powered with ectopower-"
"If you've dealt with him before, you know his strengths and weaknesses, right? We can create a workable strategy and-"
"-vultures. In fezzes. No, really. And-"
"-gives access to the brain. He wasn't wiping their minds so much as pushing them under control of a ghost, see?"
"-don't want to deal with him, really. Trust me on this."
"-your hair! How do you get it to stand up like that?"
"I have no idea what's going on."
"Maybe we won't have to. Look, I think that Vlad might only be the money behind this, and not directly involved, see? So all we have to deal with-"
"No, ultrarecyclovegetarianism is a lifestyle choice. It's better for you and for the environment, and-"
"Wait, sorry, I'm still back with the fez-wearing bird-ghosts."
"Anyone want something to drink?"
"They talk, too."
"So it was just parts of a single entity being forced on people, and the explosion caused backlash, tearing this ghost into our dimension completely. So we're only dealing with-"
"-An unknown enemy capable of mind control, right? And, oh, also invisible. And dead. And can fly. Yeah, not so 'only'-"
"-ghosts can't do that! More than one shadowing at a time is impossible; it stretches them too thin!"
"We have a thermos that catches ghosts. It works pretty well."
"Oh, here we go, not again."
"No worries, I've got Ghost Repellent."
And finally, there was silence.
"You've got what, exactly?" Danny wanted to know.
"Ghost Repellent," Robin repeated, balancing the little spray bottle on his hand. "Works like a charm, pun totally intended."
"Okay, look, I've had a lot of experience with amateur ghost-hunters' tools, and I have to tell you, I don't think it'll work."
Tucker asked, "What's in it? How's it work?" just as Wally muttered, "It's Bat-made. Of course it works."
"Doesn't matter," Robin shrugged. "What matters is we have an unknown entity haunting the mountain, capable of invisibility, intangibility, and mind-control, who's pretty much immune to our standard arsenal."
"But that's why you have us," Sam pointed out. "This is what we do."
"Right," Kaldur says. "So let's make a plan."
To be continued (eventually)