A/N: So, this takes place before Phantom Planet, clearly, but otherwise doesn't have a distinct position in the timeline. Somewhere near the end. As always, standard disclaimers apply.
Maddie Fenton heaved the box of inventions onto the kitchen table with a sigh. If Jack hadn't had the contents of his latest experiment strewn all over the lab in the basement, she wouldn't have to do this tinkering up here. This box wasn't full of their discard inventions, exactly, but each and every invention in it had a fault, and she felt it was beyond time that she tried to actively fix it.
The Fenton Finder. The Ghost Gabber. Even the Booo-merang. She could understand a similar glitch affecting the first two inventions, or the first and third invention, but she wasn't convinced it was a single glitch that was affecting all three. For whatever reason, those three inventions—and potentially others, for all she knew—registered her son as a ghost.
Her son. Danny Fenton. A ghost. It was laughable. Ludicrous. Fodder for a practical joke, if anything. She wouldn't doubt that the thought may have once crossed Tucker Foley's mind, but she would have hoped that Danny's friends would have known how important their work was and decided against tampering with it. Besides, if it had been a joke on the part of Danny's friends, Danny would have known about it. He would've had to have given Tucker and Sam their inventions, after all. But Danny clearly didn't like being thought a ghost by their inventions, and the problem had always been evident from the very beginning.
It was something they had done wrong. It had to be. But why only Danny? Why always Danny? How on earth had their defect managed to single him out every single time?
It wasn't as if their inventions didn't work otherwise. The Fenton Finder was merely a portable unit based on the ghost radar that they had in the Assault Vehicle. Both devices picked up plenty of real ghosts. They hadn't had much cause to use the Ghost Gabber of late, given that most of the ghosts that tended to come through were humanoid and did speak English. Granted, she had run into one or two animalistic ghosts not too long ago and wished she'd had the Ghost Gabber on hand. Still. It was only the Booo-merang that had never, as far as she could remember, keyed into a real ghost.
Then again, it was supposed to key into the specific ecto-signature of a ghost. Since it had somehow fixated on Danny, they should, theoretically, have to completely reset the device to clear it. Unfortunately, Jack hadn't included that little feature, so she was going to have to take it apart completely to accomplish that.
Maddie reached for the screwdriver, but a thought struck her before she actually used it.
Over the past year, Danny had drifted apart from their family. He cringed whenever they mentioned ghost hunting. He made up excuses to avoid seeing whatever new invention they'd come up with, though Jazz assured them she always filled Danny in later. He ducked away whenever she waved at him when she saw him during one of the ghost drills at his school. He didn't confide in her, or Jack, like he once had.
She could understand his reluctance, given the accident with the Ghost Portal, but it wasn't like he avoided the lab altogether. He was quite happy to track them down if he needed something or if he had plans to use the computer to play video games with his friends into the wee hours of the morning. She didn't really approve of that habit. Weekends, yes. She wouldn't restrict him then. But even though she had yet to catch him at it, she was sure he was sneaking down to play at night, too. He never looked like he was getting enough sleep these days.
That was probably one of the main reasons for the drop in his grades. She knew Danny was clever, and he'd always been good at thinking on his feet. But he simply wasn't trying in school anymore. Mr. Lancer had had to put Danny in detention more than once for coming in late, falling asleep in class, or skipping it altogether. And whatever he was doing, it usually wasn't with Sam and Tucker. She had asked Mr. Lancer, and they were usually in class even when Danny wasn't.
If they weren't, he'd told her, quite bluntly, Danny would probably be failing English, and doubtless a number of other classes as well.
But discipline, in whatever form, didn't seem to get through to Danny, and the absences, tardiness, and napping continued. And if that wasn't bad enough, he routinely missed his ten-o'-clock curfew on school nights.
Just what was her son getting into?
Maddie looked at the Booo-merang in her hand.
It might just give her the answer. Right now, Danny was supposed to be in school. It would be a simple enough thing to toss the Booo-merang and follow it to Casper High with the Assault Vehicle. And if she wasn't led there, well, then she might very well find out what Danny was up to.
"Jack," Maddie called, "I'm going out for a bit."
"Be sure to pick up some more fudge!"
"I wasn't going for groceries, sweetie," she replied, but Jack didn't seem to hear her. A moment later, she could hear the unmistakable sound of him working in the lab, and she knew he was too preoccupied to pay her much mind. She was probably lucky he'd heard her the first time.
As it was, she lost no time in setting her little plan into action. It was a simple test, and if the Booo-merang went straight to Casper High School like it was supposed to, it would put her mind at ease. She could convince herself that Mr. Lancer was, perhaps, exaggerating, and that Danny wasn't absent quite as often as he thought he was. And, if she kept up these random checks, that might very well hold true. Danny wouldn't very well keep up whatever he was doing if she kept following the Booo-merang to find out precisely what he was trying to keep from her.
Almost as if it knew what she was planning, the Booo-merang, once activated and thrown, spun high above the streets—and stuck to those streets rather than skimming across the rooftops as the crow flies. She followed it easily, chuckling as she saw other drivers on the road pull off to one side or take the next turn as soon as they spotted the Assault Vehicle. The reputation of Jack's driving wasn't lost on the people of Amity Park, and even when she was behind the wheel, people still tried to be accommodating in case they were chasing ghosts.
Or perhaps they tried to avoid the Assault Vehicle on principle. For all she knew, the adjustable steering wheel was common knowledge, and her fellow townsfolk might well know how easily Jack could have grabbed hold of the wheel if he had been here and had circumstances necessitated it.
Maddie breathed a sigh of relief as Casper High came into sight, and she eased into a parking spot around the corner before getting out to follow the Booo-merang on foot.
But the Booo-merang didn't angle down towards the school as she'd anticipated. Danny should be in English now, but the Booo-merang didn't make a beeline for Mr. Lancer's classroom. Instead, it swung around to the back of the school, heading lazily in the general direction of the football field.
"Oh, Danny," Maddie groaned. "Why?"
And then she noticed the distinct green flash of an ectoblast.
She should have had the ghost radar operating in the Assault Vehicle. She'd have had warning then. And why weren't there any alarms? Why hadn't anyone told them? This wasn't just a ghost drill. This was the real thing, a ghost attack, right outside the school, and they had carried on as if they hadn't even noticed!
Which meant, Maddie realized as she turned back to grab a few emergency weapons from the Assault Vehicle, that Phantom was fighting one of the ghosts. And Danny was there…. But why? What was he doing? If the ghosts had tried to take him hostage or use him as bait, the school would have known, and they should have been alerted, but….
Maddie started running, cutting across the parking lot—an option she wouldn't have had if she'd taken the time to start up the Assault Vehicle again—and rounded the corner, hugging the brick wall. In a split second, she realized Phantom was fighting the ghost known as Skulker. The former appeared to have the upper hand and had just pulled out his stolen Fenton Thermos. Ectoblasts were still being exchanged, but it was clear even to her that Phantom would be winning this battle.
It took Maddie a second longer to find the Booo-merang. It was still circling around, coming in closer to the fighting ghosts. Phantom had activated the thermos and had trapped Skulker in its beam. Tearing her eyes away, Maddie scanned the grounds, searching for Danny. She couldn't spot him.
He had to be there somewhere. She had no idea what he was doing there, but she was certainly looking forward to hearing the answer. Just as soon as she found him.
Expecting to have Danny pointed out to her, Maddie turned her gaze back to the Booo-merang—just in time to see it knock Phantom on the side of the head.