A/N: Hiya, everybodee! Yeah, I'm still in the Real World when I'd rather have fun in the Ghost Zone! (Is that a good enough excuse for the lateness?') If not, how about that life has gotten in the way these past few weeks which, of course, bogged down my being able to update? *hears crickets chirping* Ahem, well, anyways, thanks for waiting patiently before tuning in. I've missed being here, too! In case you need a short recap of the last chapter: Danny had to fight a new spirit even when he's nearly at the end of the rope physically and mentally. Sam and Tucker were able to help Danny escape the first attack by the spirit known as Angelus-alvus via their telepathic connection and Sam's telekinetic powers channeled through their telepathic connection—with Tucker's help, of course. They were also able to throw the spirit even more off kilter than he and his race already are enough for Vlad and then ultimately Skulker to finally overwhelm the spirit enough to capture it and send it back to its realm known as Sfero de Ĥaoso (Realm of Chaos). However, the downside for using your powers to their nth degree to fight a spirit and because of being electrocuted accidentally by Skulker with his Timeless Magic weapon, Danny has been left in a coma and Sam and Tucker have also been knocked unconscious. And as y'all know, poor Jack has been trying to make himself useful while waiting for Danny's friends to find and help him. What has he been up to? ...Well, let's see, shall we? I hope this is worth your wait. Here is Chapter 48. Enjoy!


Gold Tested in Fire—Chapter 48—Worrisome Events

Jack's face puckered in more concentration. He had been down in the Fenton lab for nearly a half-hour now. After all, he felt he had to do something other than helplessly watch the two teens after they had begun their task of trying to contact his son; and so he had wanted to get back down to the lab and pick back up where they had left off with finding out what the mysterious black goo was.

He just knew he was on the right track. He was sure that once he discovered that important detail, finding an antidote would be a cinch by comparison.

So far, all of his and the teen's research had concluded that not only was the black sticky substance ghostly, but it was also organic. It also wasn't caused by any virus or bacteria.

He paused and rubbed his eyes. He then frowned in worry. He had very little of the black goo left and he still hadn't discovered what it was….

Maybe he just needed a small break. After all, he hadn't checked on his son's friends for a while. He got up; and just as he passed the computer at which Sam had been working and left on before she and Tucker had begun their task of trying to reach his son, he perchance glanced at the screen.

Natural sleep aids had been entered into the search engine box and a list of sites and information about them was displayed below it.

The man's natural curiosity then took over and he clicked on the first website. After reading further, he searched for the chemical formula of those natural herbs that were usually used for sleep aids: valerian, chamomile, and melatonin. His instantly forgot the need for a break; and now re-engaged in his task, he got up and grabbed the legal pad where he had been scribbling down his and the teen's results so far.

He frowned in puzzlement. None of those sleep-aiding herbs had any chemical similarity to the mysterious goo at all. But then again, this was a ghostly substance so maybe its chemical makeup was different.

No.

He knew from experience that there were only slight differences between ghostly things and their corresponding Real World items. True, those differences could obviously manifest themselves, but they were still identifiable as the same substance as their Real World counterparts.

Jack paused again and rubbed his throbbing forehead. He definitely needed a break. Still, he couldn't help but think that maybe they had it all wrong…If that black goo didn't cause sleep and wasn't some kind of disease, then what else could it be?

The man harrumphed in frustration and unconsciously grunted, "But we all fell asleep or got sick on it or something. The way I felt when I first woke up was as if I had the flu or…"

Jack paused again. He never had trouble falling asleep and then waking up bright and early; and yet, he had to have been asleep for at least a week or more…Something had to have kept him from waking…

He absent-mindedly blurted out his next wild idea, "Though I've never taken any, I would guess that it must be how I would feel if I had taken too many sleeping pills or…" He jolted at his next thought, before he became more excited at the notion, "Or had been poisoned! Why didn't we think of that before? We already know that a ghost had to be responsible for what happened to us, and we all should have thought that a ghost who would do that would, of course, been up to no good!"

Now that his mind was on fire, Danny's father forgot all about Sam and Tucker, grabbed his notes, and rushed back to the computer. He frantically typed in the key words he was searching: natural poisons.

He selected the first website and hurriedly searched for the list of poisonous plants. One-by-one, starting at Abrus precatorius, the man painstakingly checked the chemical formulas of the plants listed. He frowned when it didn't match the ingredients they had isolated so far. He was about to take that definite break he needed when he decided to check one more plant. As he read and looked at the properties of that last plant, his eyes widened in excitement. That plant contained tropane alkaloids just like the black goo!

Jack hurried over to the last of his sample of the black substance and added what he felt would give him the answer.

"Please let this be the answer," he asked under his breath as he waited for the chemical reaction to occur.

A few anxious moments later, and the results confirmed his hunch: the black goo was made up almost entirely of a derivative of the poisonous plant, Adropa belladonna!

Once again, Jack's mind was fixed on this current idea. He returned to the computer and hurriedly searched for antidotes for belladonna and smiled in triumph when he found them: coffee, hepar sulphuris, henbane, pulsatilla, and wine.

He had a few ghostly counterparts of those real-world items on hand. He and his wife always kept a stock supply of ghostly items for their experiments—not to mention that ghostly coffee was quite good in the morning!… He hurriedly calculated the proper dosage for the antidote based on the strength of the black goo sample.

The man re-checked his calculations and grew more excited as he was nearing the end of the first part of his task.

"I just can't wait to tell the kids that our work wasn't in vain!" Jack excitedly said as he gathered all the ingredients he needed for the antidote.

The man quickly and deftly concocted the antidote according to his calculations. However, just before he retrieved the last of the black goo, he bit his lower lip.

"I sure hope that Jack Fenton hasn't screwed this up," he muttered as he mixed the antidote with the black goo.

The man wasn't even aware that he was holding his breath as he watched the chemical reaction between the antidote and the black goo. In hardly any time, the black goo turned clear and became a thin liquid again.

Jack poured the test tube containing the clear liquid and put it under the microscope. He could see nothing in the sample.

"If I calculated all of this correctly, I should be looking at just plain water," the man muttered as he placed some drops of reactant to make sure he was right.

He was! The antidote worked! Well, at least for this experiment.

"But let me re-check everything before I try to make more of the stuff to actually use on humans," Jack decided.

However, just as he was re-checking the last part of the chemical formula, he heard what could only be the painful cries of Sam and Tucker!

"Oh, no!" Jack gasped in panic just as he dropped the legal pad holding his formula's specifications and ran up the basement stairs.

He gasped even louder when he saw that the aura surrounding the two teens was no longer a steady purplish-red hue as it had been when he had left them, but it was now violently changing to all sorts of colors!

Now panicking in the sudden thought that the two teens were somehow being electrocuted, the man reflexively drew closer. But before he could even attempt to touch them, that multi-colored hue radically changed to purple! The man couldn't possibly know that the change in auras were from Angelus-alvus's attack and then that the newer purple aura had been caused by Skulker's Timeless Magic energy beam accidentally spilling over to the two teens.

Right after the purple hue dissipated, Tucker, who by now was completely unconscious, fell off of the couch and to the floor!

Sam didn't look any better and before long she, too, fell unconscious before Jack heard her mumble something—but he couldn't understand what she had said.

"Tucker! Sam!" Jack yelled at the sight.

He got to Tucker first and hitched in more panic when he touched the boy. Tucker was ice cold! Jack frantically looked the unresponsive boy over and only slightly calmed when he could see that Tucker was still breathing.

The man hurried over to check on Sam, then; and he jolted when she felt as if she was on fire! Yet, even as he hurriedly checked her over, he could see that she was still breathing, too!

"W-What happened?" he was finally able to choke out, not really all that relieved even when he knew the two were at least still alive. His heart was drenched in guilt as he blurted out, "I should have been here instead of down in the lab!"

He paused at his next thought and countered, "On second thought, I wouldn't even begin to know how to have prevented this since I don't have any séance powers like they do. But that doesn't mean I can't help them now!"

He moved back over to Tucker and gently shook his shoulder.

"Tucker? Tucker are you alright?" he gingerly asked.

When Tucker only moaned in answer, Jack swatted his face gently, only for the boy to shiver before quieting again.

Jack's eyes widened in panic again before he scooped the teen up and headed back down to the lab. He put Tucker on a nearby examination table and hurriedly retrieved several blankets in a nearby closet and quickly draped them over the boy.

Slightly satisfied that this was all he could do at the moment, Jack hurried back up the stairs to Sam. He didn't like it at all when he could plainly see that she hadn't moved from the spot.

He gently scooped her up and jolted when he felt as if her body temperature could burn right through his hazmat suit! He gasped when suddenly she began to convulse. He knew she needed immediate help!

With the unconscious but writhing girl still in his arms, Jack flew down the stairs and quickly placed her on another examination table. Now scared that her body would literally yet accidentally jump off of the examination table, the man squeamishly grabbed a hold of the leather straps attached to the table and wrapped them firmly around the girl.

"I'm sorry to do this, Sam, but I gotta keep you safe until I get what you need!" he hurriedly said just before he bolted to a nearby upright storage cabinet.

He retrieved a very bulky and odd-looking blanket out of it and bolted right back to the girl. He didn't hesitate to throw the blanket on top of her still-convulsing body, plug it in, and turned it on.

Soon, ice water was pumping within the chambers built into the blanket, which bathed the girl in cold water without the need of getting her wet.

Jack choked down a lump in his throat and blinked back the tears at the sudden painful memory and what was happening to his son's girlfriend. "I would never have thought that I would have to use this again after Danny was injured by the Fright Knight last Father's Day!"

After several tense minutes, Sam finally stopped convulsing and lay still. But she didn't wake up.

Biting his lower lip in worry, Jack made himself retrieve some instruments to check her vitals. Thank goodness that their sophisticated diagnostic devices still had Sam's and Tucker's normal data stored in them from the last time he and his wife had to treat them when the teens had contracted a bout of ecto-acne.

His instruments confirmed that except for the girl's heavily flushed and perspiring face, the still elevated but much less dangerous body temperature and shallow breathing, Sam seemed to be all right.

Though only slightly relieved, Jack now felt that he could check on Tucker. The instruments confirmed that Tucker's vitals were also normal except for his slightly lower body temperature. And even though Jack could see that the boy had stopped shivering, he wasn't any more pleased because Tucker was still unconscious.

On a hunch, the man went to another closet and retrieved another special device. He scanned Tucker with it and gasped at the boy's brainwave readings.

Tucker was in a coma!

He hurried over to Sam with the same instrument. Though he calmed only a bit when he could see that she had stopped sweating and her face had paled—even if were a bit more than he would have liked, but better than her face looking like a fireball—he gasped when his readings confirmed that she was also in a coma!

The man then frowned in confusion at the next set of readings he got from the teens. This couldn't be right! Not only were the teens' brainwaves in the alpha range, but they were at the exact same hertz frequency of each other!

Jack bit his lip in worry at what that could possibly mean. The chances of having two persons' brainwaves being that in sync with each other were infinitesimal...Did that mean they were very hurt?

Little did the man know, however, that in fact, the kids' brainwaves were exactly in sync with his son's as well because of their telepathic link.

At first, the large man was at a loss on what to do.

But then, a slight thought leaked out, "Maybe they had a relapse from the ghostly poison?!"

He instantly frowned at his stupidity. That wouldn't explain all those changing auras around them just before they fainted and the fact that their body temperatures were so off.

"Okay, but then again, maybe we all had auras around us when we were poisoned? Then maybe I should try the antidote I just finished on them? It might help…"

Jack furrowed his brow in worry. What if this wasn't a relapse? What if the antidote did more harm to Danny's friends? Wait. Sam and Tucker's families must have been poisoned, too, and yet they didn't have any auras around them. He shook his head, this time arguing with himself not to give them the antidote.

But then, he just silently argued back. No, he didn't think that the formula would affect anyone badly; after all, it was an antidote….Still, what if he had made mistakes in his calculations? After all, he did goof things up a lot.

He furrowed his brow again, but this time with determination. Danny's friends were depending on him! And so he would have to double-check those calculations…In the meantime, he hoped that the unplanned rest Danny's friends were getting right now would be enough for them to recover—with or without the antidote.

Jack was about to go to the workbench where he had worked on the antidote when he heard Sam groan!

Excited and relieved, he ran over to the still-pale but stirring girl. But just as he got up to her, he stopped and gasped when he thought he heard one very clear word escape from the girl's mouth before she fell into silence again:

"Vlad!"


Intermittently glancing through the window of the simulation room, Vlad paced the floor. After a few moments more, he stopped and rubbed his eyes. His fatigue was mounting and all of the mental effort he had to make to keep alert and maintain control over his second plan was finally taking its toll on him. Not only that, but he had stopped eating regularly, either from all the distractions or his irregular sleep.

He really didn't care at this point that Maddie had informed him that the alarms had earlier gone off and the monitors had skyrocketed off of the scale again just before Daniel collapsed. It had already taken her some time to put all the systems back on line.

But all Vlad was concerned about at this point was that it had been over an hour and Daniel had still not wakened up yet. Every command that his holographic computer had typed into the microchip had gone unheeded, including not even getting a flinch of moment from the incapacitated boy.

Finally, after a couple of more minutes, Vlad turned to his computer. Even though he was privately afraid of what his computer might report, he still asked as calmly as he could, "What's wrong with Daniel, Maddie? When was the last time you checked his vitals?"

The female holograph immediately turned back to the controls and typed in a few commands before reporting, "As it was for the nine other times you have inquired since the beginning of this incident, your test subject's body temperature returned to normal shortly after he fell unconscious and his vitals have been stable since then. However, your test subject is also still exhibiting alpha brainwaves which have not altered in their hertz frequency."

Vlad jolted a little at the news. That could mean only one thing. And he had to know.

"He's still in a coma?"

She looked at him and simply confirmed, "That is the human term for it, yes."

"Why? How?" Vlad reflexively blurted out, not really realizing how much his voice had betrayed his anxiety—or the fact that he had forgotten that he had asked these questions a few times already in all this time when the boy was unresponsive.

Maddie emotionlessly replied, "Which question do you want me to answer first, sir?"

Vlad suddenly grew angry and his eyes flashed completely red before he said, "Oh, blast it, woman, just tell me your analysis!"

The female personification of Vlad's love blinked a couple of times in non-comprehension. Still, she was programmed to answer his questions.

"'How'? I am uncertain since I am still double checking some systems that had been knocked off-line earlier," she finally replied in that same steady voice. "As to the 'why', it might have to do with an odd reading that has occurred intermittently and of which you commanded me to track."

Vlad quickly rubbed his brow before narrowing his eyes in irritation and almost hissing, "I told you to keep track of several things, Maddie. But I'm talking about Daniel's vitals and his energy level. Which is responsible for that 'odd' reading?"

"Neither, sir."

Now Vlad was partially stunned. What else could she mean?

"Clarify, Maddie. I thought that you were monitoring only two odd readings and I thought those had to do with Daniel's vitals and energy level."

"Not exactly, sir, but I will clarify. The odd fluctuations of your test subject's vitals and energy readings always occur together, and so I have referred to them as one set of readings. And I am very close on presenting a hypothesis on the cause for your review. But the other set of readings is even more perplexing than the one set we just discussed."

"Oh? Other set? How so?" Vlad asked with a hitched eyebrow.

Both of her comments intrigued him, especially since he really had no clue until this moment that there was something odd going on about Daniel other than the instability of his vitals and energy level. He paused. Now that he thought about it, there had been one odd reading about which he had forgotten…

"Does this have to do with what we're calling Daniel's regenerative power, Maddie?" he quickly added.

"No. That occurred only one time and therefore does not qualify as needing to be tracked."

Vlad tightened his lip. Now he was very interested in what she had to say. "So, what precisely do you mean, then, my dear?"

"Well, it is difficult to describe. I think it best…how is it said?" she began, only to suddenly giggle, "That's right: a picture is worth a thousand words."

Vlad frowned when she giggled. This was serious stuff and that was outside her protocol. Nevertheless, he said with slight irritation, "Yes, well, focus and get on with it, Maddie."

Her face instantly mimicking his serious one, she replied as she pushed some buttons, "Right away, sir."

In a heartbeat, she pulled up the somato-sensory maps of Danny's head and body. A few moments later, the maps changed, since she had spliced all the changes and made them into a video to make her point.

She turned to the man and remarked, "As you know, the sensors had recorded this phenomenon on several occasions; but this is the first time they have been able to show some pattern between the otherwise immeasurable data and the situation that was occurring at the moment before your test subject started exhibiting alpha brainwaves. Before this last episode, the phenomenon was too brief and at too high a level to capture its existence for analysis. However, even then, that data is not statistically reliable because the monitors could not actually measure them. But even if there is not enough data to even formulate a hypothesis on the 'how' or 'why', I did find a correlation between this oddity and all the times that the test subject hesitated and closed his eyes for no particular reason. This occurred on several occasions, starting specifically with the program involving with the Lunch Lady and Dairy King; and then chronologically with the three ghosts from Circus Gothic, Shadow, Desiree, Walker, and finally, Spectra. The phenomenon didn't occur after that until this past program dealing with the spirit from the Realm of Chaos."

Vlad paused and thought about it for a moment before he commented, "I also noticed that and thought it was odd that Daniel stopped doing anything at that moment. He looked like he was concentrating. I don't know what for since he did not get any surge of strength like he often did whenever he concentrated. But now that you mention it, the alarms did go off shortly after he paused like that."

"This might explain a bit more about that, then," the computer concurred. "This next video byte is what occurred during this last incident that resulted in your test subject's being in the alpha brainwave."

Vlad tightened and skewed his lips in slight apprehension but still calmly replied, "Go on."

She pushed a button and almost immediately, all the grids on the maps of Danny's body and head up lit up very brightly for several moments and then finally disappeared. But there was more. The monitor displaying his brainwave activity was also off the scale when all of the grids had lit up.

"W-What was that?" Vlad stammered since he was completely flabbergasted by the event.

"I already told you, sir. There is not enough data to support any semblance of a hypothesis," she said with a frown this time.

"So, you did, my dear," he replied with a more staid tone in his voice.

The computer continued, "However, even though the data is sketchy, I can say that this particular aberration is quite exceptional and I definitely also correlate it with all those times when the alarms were activated at these most erratic times. Unfortunately, I do not know why the alarms would react at all."

One of Vlad's eyebrows rose at her comment as he tried to make some sense about it. Perhaps his own fatigue was worse than he thought. But he knew he would be able to get some rest as soon as…

He brightened at an idea. "Do you think that those odd fluctuations are really indicators that Daniel has finally been mentally broken?"

"I cannot conclude that. But if that is your deduction, then you have failed in your objective since it was in none of your plans for your test subject to be in a coma or possibly suffer irreparable brain damage," she almost casually replied.

The news stunned the man to silence. What she said about his plans would be true if….. Had he overdone his plans to the point that he permanently damaged the boy? Was everything he had done in the past year and for the past several days been in vain? He felt a painful flutter shake his heart. No. He wouldn't accept the fact that his…son could be permanently damaged! Daniel was stronger than that—at least physically. The boy had spunk and that infernal will; he had that seemingly bottomless well of energy and all those powers at his command. True, he wanted Daniel to be so mentally weak that he could command him, but Vlad was sure that he would only make the boy stronger in the end so that he could have Daniel at his side.

But now…

The billionaire walked over to stealth window of the control booth and peered out to the still unconscious boy with more worry. Was the boy going to die, then? He shook the thought away. Maddie had said Daniel's vitals were fine.

Then…why was Daniel in a coma?


Vlad sat on the low plush chair he had his ghost employees bring into the control booth of the simulation room shortly after Daniel had fallen into a coma. That 'hour' of Daniel's having fallen into a coma had stretched to hours; and Vlad hadn't left the control booth since the boy's and his ordeal with the Angelus. Neither had the older hybrid really slept nor eaten in all this time because he was getting worried more and more about the boy. In addition, all the mental energy Vlad had been exerting on the second part of his plan was still nagging and draining him. His fatigued mind was even toying with stopping with that plan. After all, without the boy, that second plan would be meaningless…

The billionaire's eyes became heavier and heavier as time dragged on. Every once in a while, his head would bob as he drifted in-and-out of a restless sleep.

Still, a few more hours had passed when Maddie the computer interrupted the dead silence.

"Sir?" she quietly asked the obviously sleeping man.

"Huh?" Vlad responded with a jolt.

His dulled mind frantically scanned the area; and yet, it didn't fully comprehend what was happening. And since he wasn't use to having his sleep so abruptly interrupted unless he was being attacked, he reflexively shot a beam of his red electrical ectoplasm in the direction of the voice.

"AAAHHH!" the facsimile of the love of his life yelled as the ecto-electricity unexpectedly drilled into her while arcing over into the mainframe at the same time.

In a split second, the holograph had disappeared and all the alarms went off!

Vlad shot to full wakefulness at what had just happened. He cursed under his breath. If he hadn't been so weakened by his recent restless nights and lack of appetite….But he quickly threw those useless excuses aside and rushed to the mainframe.

With adrenaline pumping throughout his body and charging his mind, the man hurried over to the main console and punched in a series of counter-commands to keep the main computer from totally crashing!

Several nerve-wracking minutes later and all was still again. The main computer was now running on emergency back-up systems and power. Most of that power, however, had already been diverted to maintaining the simulation room and monitoring Daniel's condition.

Not allowing himself even a small sigh of relief, Vlad immediately ran a diagnostic program. He was now worried even more that his master plan was on the verge of complete failure.

Once the diagnostic program was activated, all was still except for the almost undetectable sound of clicking within the machine as binary code upon binary code searched for holes, corrupted files and other damage done to the main unit.

But once the man rechecked the monitors, he frowned. He didn't like the results. Yet, he knew that he needed more than what he could do to fix the problem. He immediately raised his arm and typed in a few commands into his watch-like communication device.

"Skulker, I need you," he simply said into the device.

"Coming right away," Skulker tersely replied.


Maddie Fenton looked at her makeshift clock. She had first marked the area with lipstick after she had noticed that a small beam of light had escaped through the window blinds and onto the wall just behind her table lamp. But she had since gotten a nail file—among other useful items—from the maids, she had actually etched the points she needed to make her crude sundial. She was very thankful that the table lamp did a great job in hiding her 'sundial' from the ever-cleaning eyes of the maids.

That sundial had certainly served its purpose. Now, she had no trouble timing the periods between working on her escape plan, sitting around looking bored for her mysterious observer, and 'entertaining' the frequent visits of those ghost maids. And now she was sure that she would not get caught at working on her escape plans as she nearly was a couple of days ago.

The auburn-haired woman guessed that she had about an hour to finish the last tweaks of her improvised ghost weapon. She had already used part of the ghostly ring and one of the ghostly earrings that 'Rose' had given her, ground them into a powder and then infused it into the magnetic coil that was the basis of generating anti-ectoplasmic power. Her hands moved diligently as she finalized the last sequence of electrodes and such needed to make the weapon usable.

Finally, the weapon was as done as she could make it to be and it was time to test it. She didn't want to waste another moment being a prisoner! She smiled when she knew how she was going to do that.

She looked at her 'clock' again. The ghost maids would be coming to serve her lunch soon and she would have to be ready by then. She quickly headed toward the nightstand and pulled open its lone door. She pulled out the rest of the ring and the other earring that 'Rose' had given her and placed the ring on top of the closed notebook that was on the table.

The woman carefully aimed the hair-dryer-turned-makeshift-ghost-weapon and gently pulled its trigger. The wires within the hair-dryer sizzled a bit before a powerful green ecto-beam shot out and delivered its destructive energy to the rest of the ring.

The ring instantly began to tremble and change its shape under the blow. Not a moment later, it blew up before leaving a faintly glowing pile of ecto-dust behind which then quickly vanished.

"Yes!" the woman cried in triumph while jerking a fisted hand to one of her hips. "I think this could certainly jolt even a level nine ghost!"

She paused and bit her lower lip in concern before she murmured to herself, "Well, at least, I hope it will just provide a good distraction until I could get away."


Meanwhile, Maddie the computer was still in the process of rebooting.

A few minutes later, Vlad could immediately tell that his overrides to her usual programs weren't entirely re-instated.

The hologram reappeared in her solid form without a glitch. But there was a scowl on her face as she grumbled her first words since Vlad had accidentally electrocuted her circuits, "I say once again that it's the cat or me! I have served you without question and yet you give that flirty furball just as much—or more—of your attention than to me!"

"Now, now, Maddie," he gently began at an attempt to calm her, only for her to cut him right off.

"Don't lecture me, Vlad!" she scoffed. "I am the superior being to that dust mop you call your cat….And speaking of being superior, I am also better than…"

But she froze in place at having been interrupted by Vlad's quick fingers and override commands.

The man frowned with dissatisfaction at the frozen face of the solid hologram. He needed his computer to be in control of its emotional programs again or else any future attempts to push forward on his plans would be sunk. He continued to push more buttons.

All of the sudden the frozen image of his computer began to scramble out of existence for a few seconds before the holograph refocused enough to be solid again.

A moment later and her face was no longer etched in anger. It was calm and serene as she stood looking at Vlad before saying without any emotion in her voice, "Your command, Vlad?"

The older hybrid was still unsatisfied at the result, however improved it was. He tersely replied, "Check your memory banks, my dear, and make sure your corrupted files are quarantined."

Once again, the computer's 3-D holographic face froze as it searched its memory files and did as she was commanded.

However, her emotional memory chip had never been corrupted. It had been merely accessed after her logic microchip had been corrupted.

"Corrupted files quarantined, lamb chops," she suddenly gushed.

Vlad frowned at her response. Things were definitely still awry.

His voice still firm, he added, "Begin a full diagnostics, my dear. And make sure you override your emotional chip in the process."

Maddie blinked slightly before she replied with a toothy smile, "That will be almost impossible to do that right now, sugardoodle."

"Why?" Vlad asked in demand.

"Because I don't want to do that right now, love."

Vlad gasped, "What?"

However, just then, there was a slight rap on the control booth's door before Derek came into the room with the lunch that Vlad had previously ordered.

But unbeknownst to the butler and the other sentient beings in the room, Maddie the cat had slinked in right on the ghost butler's heels.

At first, neither of the males saw the bundle of white fur on four paws, but Maddie the computer did.

She quickly picked up a magazine; and with jealousy pulsing within her glowing green light bulbs for eyes, charged the cat.

Meanwhile, however, Vlad noticed right away when he caught sight on how suddenly and swiftly the holograph had just moved. His eyes widened in slight panic before he quickly pushed even more buttons.

The hologram froze in mid-flight just before she was about to release the magazine at her feline rival. A moment later, the female projection of Vlad's computer phased away.

Once he felt that the computer was momentarily off-line, Vlad turned to his butler and said, "Just leave the tray, Derek. I will be delayed a bit more. It seems my computer needs some overdue—and major—maintenance at the moment."

"As you wish, sir," Derek said, though he had trouble masking the unsettling feeling he had at seeing his employer's computer on the fritz.

Without another word, Derek left. In fact, he was more than happy to leave this time.

Not realizing that he was ignoring his cat, Vlad quickly went to work manually inputting commands to diagnose and clean up the computer's logic microchip.

But as he worked, he could tell that part of that area was still damaged. He overrode it as best as he could.

After several more minutes, the man stopped and frowned. He still had not fully re-routed the main programs to back-up the sub-programs. That meant he would probably have to break down the computer and re-install some hardware.

"I can't afford to do that," he anxiously said to himself while never stopping pushing command buttons.

He needed his computer to continue to monitor the boy's vitals and keep the condition ideal to coax Daniel out of his coma. And after that, he needed to check on the boy's mental status. Maybe the coma was a sign that the boy's will had been crushed. He had to know.

But now, if he had to replace any hardware to his computer, he could lose all of his control over the boy, including getting him to recover from his coma. And he simply would not risk all the hard work he had done to get this point.

Vlad glanced at his watch-like control device and uttered in annoyance, "Where is Skulker? I need him!"

The older hybrid continued to punch several more keys in the next few minutes before he heard a knock on the door.

Before Vlad could say 'come in', a voice behind him inquired, "You called me?"

The man reflexively relaxed at the familiar voice. "I'm certainly glad you finished your errand and could come, Skulker. I need your help with fixing my computer."

One of Skulker's eyebrows shot up in surprise. What had happened? The older hybrid's computer was state of the art and never had any flaws in it! He should know, since he helped install it.

Nevertheless, the cyborg ghost floated over to the mainframe and glanced at the monitors and its control panel. Something was definitely awry.

He pushed a button on his control wrist band and a long, slender, snake-like coil jutted out and affixed itself to a corresponding outlet in the main part of the computer. He studied the readings that immediately began to be displayed.

A few seconds later, the hunter ghost remarked with continued surprise, "What happened? It looks like the mainframe was attacked by level nine ectoplasmic energy!"

"You could say that," Vlad replied with a sheepish grin. "Let's just say that I'm overdue for a twenty-four hour nap."

The cyborg ghost eyed the man suspiciously, but didn't comment. He turned back to the console and typed in more commands.

The two friends were silent and serious for the next hour or so as Skulker diagnosed and fixed any problems his technology detected.

Finally, Skulker said, "Your computer is long over do in its maintenance schedule, but this is the best I can do to remedy the situation for now, Plasmius. However, there was major damage done to the logic chip for your holographic projection. I think I was able to reconnect most of it, but I cannot guarantee that the female computer representation's, uhm, mannerisms will be as they were before the attack of the level nine ectoplasm. But it will have to do until I can devise a new microchip."

"Very well, Skulker," Vlad replied with some worry still etched on his face. "But are the other systems intact?"

"Yes, most of the mainframe was spared; and those that weren't had very little damage and I was able to bypass their systems while preserving the overall integrity of the mainframe."

Vlad's smile finally returned with the news. Skulker was certainly a very valuable employee…and friend. He said, "As always, you know how to remedy the situation, Skulker…Thank you for your help."

The robotic ghost arched one of his eyebrows. He didn't expect the man to say that after all that had happened. Still, he replied, "No thanks is needed, Plasmius. Just take more care—and sleep as you admit—hopefully, in the near future."

The billionaire smirked at his friend's way of seeming serious whenever he was teasing the man. Still, Vlad answered, "Noted and I will get more sleep once my plans are completed. Do you want to stay awhile to see the results of your repair?"

"Not this time, Plasmius. I have to work on the microchip," Skulker replied.

"Of course," the man agreed. "But feel free to drop that off anytime."

"I always do," Skulker dryly remarked just before he turned to go.

The man watched as the cyborg ghost left the room. Even though he knew the ghost was out of earshot, he quietly replied toward that same direction, "Quite right, my friend."

Vlad then turned back to the mainframe and pushed a few buttons. The computer hologram reappeared and the man was pleased that her solid composition was still intact.

"How are you, my dear?" he asked.

The solid hologram didn't answer him at first. Instead, she blinked a few moments as her systems finalized in their rebooting.

Her face was staid when she finally informed him, "Checking systems…"

She quieted again and the man could see static of various colors shoot across the love of his life's otherwise blank eyes as the computer ran its diagnostic program.

After several moments, the holograph's face relaxed and her eyes resumed the color and form of her human female model. She smiled and almost giggled her report, "All systems repaired enough to function adequately for Master Plan 285, sweetums."

Vlad frowned. He was hoping that Skulker had been wrong about the logic chip's needing to be replaced. Still, he could tolerate the slight change for now. After all, he was more relieved that he could push on with his plans.

"Good, my dear. Please report on Daniel's condition," he firmly replied.

But then, something completely unexpected happened.

Maddie the holograph shut down most of the monitors!

"W-What are you doing, Maddie?" Vlad blurted out.

"Do we have to do any more work right now, lamb chop?" the computer asked in a slightly sing-song voice. "I haven't seen you for hours!"

Vlad swallowed thickly. Skulker was too right about the damage done to his computer's logic chip! But he also thought the hunter had fixed it, well, okay the best the hunter could do!

The man immediately lowered his hands so that they were hidden behind one of the instruments. He then activated one of the buttons on his watch-like device before he calmly replied, "Now, now, my dear. I missed you, too. But we will have plenty of time for catching up later. Right now, I want you to scan Daniel and tell me how he is."

"Oh, alright! I will do as you command. But you have to promise to have tea and cookies with me soon," the computer replied with a slight pout.

Vlad pursued his lips in displeasure. This would not do. Still, Skulker had said her mannerisms would be different! And she was really obeying his commands in spite of those aberrations. Maybe he shouldn't have sent out another call to his friend like he just did.

Still, he carefully answered, "Of course, my dear. You know that I will look forward to it! But in the meantime, will you be so good as to scan Daniel and tell me how he is?"

The computer's face lit up in delight and this time she giggled, "As you command, lambsy."

Vlad's frown deepened but he didn't comment since he was more concerned about what her report would be. He walked closer to the somato-map of the boy and other monitors and silently watched the hologram scan Daniel.

After several more minutes of reviewing the data, Maddie began to push some command buttons.

Even more minutes ebbed by and the man could see that not much of the data had changed. Now he was very worried.

But little did he know that the delay was because of something else and not what was happening to the boy.

After a few more minutes, Vlad had decided to ask his computer what was going on. He sure hoped she was obeying his commands! Maybe it had been a good idea to call on his ally so that Skulker could recheck his computer's functions.

Vlad frowned. Just where in the devil was Skulker? But then, the man slightly relaxed. He knew well enough that Skulker always wanted to work on one thing at a time; and that once his mind was on a particular task, he would delay responding to additional requests.

His thoughts were interrupted by his computer.

"I'm almost through, sweetie-pie," Maddie said in sing-song. "Are you pining for me?"

Vlad grunted in irritation. Now he wanted Skulker to hurry and fix his computer's logic chip and make sure that Maddie would continue to obey his commands without any…distractions.

But before he respond, however, the computer finally reported, "Your son is finally responding to my prompts, sugardoodle. And his brainwaves are changing."

Vlad felt his heart leap at the encouraging news, but he forced himself to remain calm as he asked, "They are? Analysis, Maddie."

The computer complied. "His brainwaves are no longer in the alpha range. They have transitioned to the delta spectrum, which is at least in theory an early indicator that he has recovered from his coma. We cannot confirm that until he actually awakens. Shall I try to prompt that, honey drop?"

"Yes, Maddie, do that, but do so carefully since we don't want to do any more harm to the boy."

"I'm always careful, lamb chop," she giggled.

This time Vlad scowled at her attitude but he also didn't want to upset her. He replied, "Do try to be a bit more serious, Maddie, hmm? Remember we are at a critical stage of this plan."

"We have not determined that yet, sir gingersnap," she informed him, though her voice seemed slightly more serious this time.

Vlad then smirked at her ridiculous reply. He really would have to tolerate his computer's current quirks given that her circuitry was still partially damaged. But he also knew she was right. Until Daniel was actually awake, he could not be sure in what kind of mental state the boy was.

He tensed a little before he pushed a command button. The monitor that displayed the map of the boy's brain flashed on and the man studied them carefully. But he unconsciously relaxed when the corresponding areas lit up as he had anticipated as the younger hybrid was finally—if slowly—being coaxed into wakefulness by the commands inputted into the microchip behind his ear.

The man tensed again when he could see that Daniel was now at the threshold between sleep and being awake. The frequency of his brainwaves was slowly yet surely reaching the beta range.

Finally, the boy began to stir!

Vlad hadn't even realized until now that he had been holding his breath in both anxiety and anticipation.

But now that Daniel was moving even more as he struggled to wake, Vlad's eyes instantly darted to and from all the monitors and the stirring teen.

The billionaire smiled when he could tell that the boy's stress levels, though wavering radically, were skyrocketing toward the critical phase again!

Nevertheless, Vlad knew he had to wait to see what Daniel would do before he commanded his computer to activate another program.

He turned to study the monitors once more while waiting for the boy to completely awaken. He wasn't at all aware that his computer was rapidly typing in other commands in response to an erroneous looping in her circuitry…

However, Maddie the computer was finished with her task long before Vlad could even suspect that something was awry.

The female facsimile smirked darkly as she reviewed the lone monitor that was visible only to her computer-generated amethyst eyes at the moment. She had interfaced the monitor with the surveillance cameras Vlad had installed throughout his mansion.

"There you are, you fluff of feckless fur!" she mumbled to herself as her eyes narrowed on her target. "I'll make sure you don't keep me from having tea and cookies with Vlad!"

The computer pushed another button and she suppressed her glee when the cat howled at the beam that had appeared out of nowhere and rapidly hit her. But the slightly singed fur that had been assaulted was now glowing with an easily tractable marker…

Then the hologram turned to her other task dictated by her corrupted files. This time, the monitor zoomed to a lone door surrounded by a human and ghost shield.

"That is where the other unworthy female is. I will make sure that she stays in her place as well," the computer said as she typed in a few more commands.

A small dart-like device shot out of nowhere and embedded itself into the edge of the shield nearest the control panel. It was so small and of the same color as the control panel that it was hardly noticeable. In fact, it truly was inconspicuous.

The computer-generated female further configured the small tracking device to ignore the familiar ectoplasmic signatures of the ghostly maids. After all, they did visit that silly human much too often as it was.

Once she was through, Maddie the computer smiled in satisfaction.

It would now be every easy for her to detect the comings and goings of that room…


Jack didn't know what to make of Sam's utterance; but he could only conclude she must have been delirious because she was convulsing again!

Her temperature must have spiked again in spite of the ice water being pumped into that special blanket!

The man had no more time to think about what Sam had uttered! The girl was in immediate danger!

He bolted upstairs to the kitchen to get more ice. He grabbed a large garbage bag and emptied all of the ice from the ice maker into it before he returned to the lab and to examination table upon which Sam laid. He immediately took out some ice and started to rub it directly on the only parts of the girl's body that were exposed at the moment: namely, her forehead, neck and arms.

And, much to the man's relief, the girl's body stilled after only a few minutes of his diligent care. He checked her vitals and sighed in bigger relief that all looked well.

He sat down on a nearby chair before he gasped and frantically rubbed his face and ran his fingers through his hair in slight aftershock from the ordeal.

"I can sure use a boatload of fudge right now," Jack anxiously mumbled as he glanced back at the girl and then at Tucker.

They both look peaceful and their coloring was rapidly returning to normal.

Danny's father sighed again in relief. But then, he frowned. He had no time for this! He still had to double check the formula for the antidote before he could use it on the teens. But then, his stomach growled. Well, okay, he did need something to keep his own strength up.

"I'll be right back kids, okay?" he reflexively asked the unresponsive teens before he headed upstairs.

Once in his kitchen, Jack didn't hesitate to grab some of the food he and the teens had been eating all this time. He devoured several energy bars before he felt he needed something to drink. He went to the refrigerator and guzzled the cup or two of milk left in the jug in practically an instant.

But then, he gasped when he realized what he had just done. True, he hadn't eaten for hours, but he should have controlled himself!

He checked the freezer and frowned. Then he hurried to the pantry.

But when he got there, he could see that he had eaten up the last of the supplies he and the kids had been using! He grunted in chagrin. Sure, he could take some food out of the freezer or open a can or two, but he knew that none of those would do in this situation. They needed quick energy food—stuff full of fat and sugar—for now.

"Just great, Jack Fenton!" he chided himself. "It's high time you quit thinking of your stomach as a vacuum cleaner whenever you're hungry."

The man bit his lip in chagrin as he tried to solve the situation. He could always whip up some more shakes…but there was no more milk and besides, they needed solid food, too.

He ran back downstairs and checked on Danny's friends.

Both of the teens seemed to be resting comfortably. And Jack could see on the monitors that their vitals were normal and stable—well, except for the fact that they were still in some kind of coma.

Even though Jack knew Sam and Tucker wouldn't be able to respond to him, he felt guilty on what he was about to do, and needed to 'talk' to them.

"All right, kids," he blurted out, "I need to go get us some more quick energy food."

He looked at Tucker and added, "I wish I could use that cool PDA of yours to open up a quick portal, Tucker, but you know I don't know how to do that, so I'm going to have to do this the 'old-fashioned' way."

The man's eyes shifted to Sam as he continued, "I think you both will be okay…" He paused at his next thought, "At least I hope you will be okay…"

Jack cleared his throat when it had suddenly tightened and he said, "I won't be gone long, kids. I'm going to run to the nearest convenience store and back, okay?"

He bit his lip even though he hadn't expected them to answer. He checked on their vitals once more and quickly headed out of the door and hopped into the Fenton RV…

The man frowned when he could see that the streets were still deserted and not a soul was in sight. He reflexively rolled down the driver's window and slowed down before shouting, "Is anyone out there?"

He puckered his lips in chagrin when there was no answer and he continued to drive to the store with the van's window still down.

But as the vehicle neared the nearest convenience store, the man frowned. There was that odd—and even louder—noise again…And it was still coming from the direction of Central Park.

Jack hesitated in indecision. He had to get some food and hurry home, but he just had to know what was making all of that noise! After all, if the whole town was suffering from being poisoned or something, how could there be anything that loud coming from anywhere, much less Central Park?

After deciding on what to do, he gritted his teeth in determination. He quickly parked the Fenton RV in front of the convenience store and jumped out. He ran inside and hurriedly gathered up every quick energy food in sight and a couple of gallons of whole milk. He plunked down several bills on the empty counter and didn't worry about getting any change. After all, even though he had plenty of money to pay for what he took, he still felt uncomfortable about the circumstances in which he had to take it.

He placed the food and milk into the van and turned toward…Central Park...

Once the Fenton RV had neared Central Park, Jack slowed and quickly parked it.

The noise here was now deafening! He knew that he just had to be at the right place.

But, what was going on?

Just as Jack had undone his seatbelt and was about to open the driver's door, he got a sick feeling.

"Better be safe than sorry when I'm usually sorry than safe!" he thought as he turned in the opposite direction and headed to one of the small cabinets built inside of the Fenton RV.

He quickly opened the small door and reached in to retrieve a ghost weapon and another device.

Once Jack had stuffed them into his orange hazmat suit pockets, he opened the side door of the Fenton RV and started for the heart of Central Park.

Ignoring the occasional leaf falling from the autumn-kissed trees, the large man slowly crept further into the park. His eyes cautiously darted from side-to-side and then forward again as he continued to push ahead. He even briefly twisted and scanned behind him from time-to-time only because hearing that loud, strange noise spooked him.

Finally, the eldest Fenton spied some huge mechanical thing peeking through and quite a bit above the sparsely foliated bushes and trees just in front of him. He carefully swept past the limbs that almost threatened to deny him passage.

Then, his eyes widened in disbelief.

There were people here—lots and lots of people! Not everyone had been poisoned with that sleeping sickness like he and the kids had thought!

He was about to jump out of his hiding place and go talk to those people when something made him stop.

He didn't know why he thought better than approaching those people. But that hesitation was enough for him to realize that those people just didn't seem right…

And then he realized why he was glad he hesitated.

All of the people he could see were working on that, er, some kind of… big thing he had seen through the bushes before he had seen the people.

He looked at the...well, he didn't have a clue of what it was! True, at least the bottom half of it was spewing out water from various locations. And all that water was kicking up a thick mist in the process. Not only that, but miniature spotlights were moving about, beaming their rays on the working people, the sidewalks, the trees and the bushes surrounding the thing.

"Wait a minute," Jack suddenly thought only to himself. "I remember reading something in the papers about having some kind of ceremony for the new fountain here."

He searched his mind and frowned. That must have happened when he was ill with that ghostly poison.

"Well, if that's true, I'm glad I missed it because this is not near as attractive as the top of Fenton Works!" he concluded. "Especially when all that water is creating that huge cloud over it!"

Suddenly, however, the orange-suited man's eyes inadvertently followed one of the spotlights. Before he knew it, however, its light beam was quickly heading right to him!

Jack stifled a gasp and ducked even lower behind the large bush behind which he had been all this while. He gingerly glanced upward and held his breath as the light beam skirted the area just above him.

"I don't know if I just got spooked just now, but I just got the feelin' that it was a good thing that I did get spooked!" he softly breathed.

Trying to decide what to do, he hesitated where he was still squatting.

Finally, his stomach decided for him.

GRRRR!

"Oh, no! How long have I been gone? Thank goodness it's a bit chilly out here or else the milk might spoil!" the man thought. Then he absentmindedly mused, "Besides, I told the kids I wouldn't take that long and…gee, how long have I been here?"

His face puckered with a mixture of indecision and slight irritation before it melded into a more determined look. "It doesn't matter how long I've been here. I don't know what's going on here, but I've seen enough! I have to go check on the kids and try to help them! So, no time wastin', Fenton!"

The orange-suited man quickly yet quietly retreated, retraced his steps back to his RV and headed back to Fenton Works.

Nevertheless, what he had seen had still rattled him. He knew that once he got the chance, he had to get to the bottom of what he had just seen in Amity's Central Park….


A/N: Well, then, there you have it. Did I surprise y'all? I hope so! I especially thank all those very clever readers who had suggested that Maddie the computer go off-kilter because, in actuality, that had been my plan all along (Gee, does that mean we have a telepathic link? COOL!). There's a very important reason (or I should say reasons) for that as you'll soon see! In the meantime, let's not use our telepathic link to let me know what you think of the chapter because it takes a lot of energy. Instead, oh, look! There's a box down there to let me know what you think!

Hope to hear from y'all soon!