Thanks to maltese, Azawrath and Dusk, MsFrizzle, syd004, LadyXSidian, ChopSuzi, and Ryuuko1 for the reviews! I hope you keep enjoying the story!
The introduction to the lab the next morning hadn't started out too promising, as Danny dramatically picked up a small blaster and told Vlad it was a gun, for shooting ghosts. Vlad was fairly certain he was being obnoxious on purpose, since he knew very well that Vlad and his friends had been using the GiW's tools for months. After a bit more horsing around, more for Danny's entertainment than Vlad's, they'd gotten down to business, which was good, because Vlad had been starting to wonder if he shouldn't have tried to run yesterday after all just to escape Danny's weird sense of humor. Most of it he could either recognize or relate to something he already knew, either from the stolen equipment or what he'd seen of his father's work. Danny did express some limited concern that Vlad might cut off an extremity working alone, but just as quickly seemed to decide it wasn't a problem at all, without Vlad helping convince him.
Vlad wasn't sure what he could use the tools for, even after being introduced to them properly and shown how a few of them worked. Danny's own inventions seemed too complex, still steps ahead of the government, and the ones left incomplete mostly baffled Vlad even after Danny explained a bit. It didn't help that Danny wasn't exerting himself to describe everything in a clear, straight-forward manner. He was a little surprised at how much Danny seemed the cliché eccentric genius in this environment, obviously brilliant but terrible at explaining to someone else what exactly it was he thought he was doing. The completed items were mostly self-explanatory in purpose if not in design, but plenty of those were puzzling when Vlad really gave them thought. Others became clear when he stopped thinking of everything in the room that wasn't an obvious engineering tool as a weapon. A vacuum cleaner that sucked up ectoplasmic residue might not be standard equipment for the GiW, but it probably kept Danny's basement clean.
It wasn't until they paused for lunch that Vlad realized this would be his first full day spent with the strange older half-ghost.
Monday morning, Danny was gone before Vlad even woke up. He was surprised, somehow. Between the lack of timepieces and Danny's generally lackadaisical attitude, it was hard to picture him rushing to some meeting or conference bright and early. Then again, he'd have to fly there first, and as fast as he was, it was probably still quite a commute.
After cleaning up from breakfast, Vlad decided someone might as well watch the television that Danny had bothered bringing out there. The reception was surprisingly good, but Vlad had never watched much TV at home, and the fact that he had few other choices for burning off mental energy somehow made the shows seem even duller.
Turning it off, Vlad next tried reading through more of Danny's books. The empty house didn't have many distractions to bother him while he read, at least. Most of the books were filled with page after page marked with notes like 'probably not' or 'nope,' very few with enlightening notes on ghosts or artifacts that Danny had actually encountered, but even the negative notes gave some new information, just by stating what wasn't true. The different books had a variety of tones, some serious and almost painfully earnest, others flippant and casual, but there was no real connection between the tone and the reality of the content so far as Vlad could tell. For every few false ghost stories, there was a true one.
Some of them, to his surprise, described ghosts Vlad had met in his ghost hunting. A few were animals, with no more note than the easiest way to get rid of them or send them home, but most were the sentient ghosts who tended to cause a much bigger problem when they showed up. Skulker was there, although his armor seemed to be drawn a bit more dramatically and classically in the book that mentioned him; the description of the flaming hair and hunting were the main proofs that the book was talking about the same ghost. Beside him was an honestly terrible hand drawing of Skulker's real body, onto which Danny had at some point added a goofy mustache. Technus was in another book, drawn somewhat more true to life than Skulker's picture, with a lurid description of lab accidents and crazed science and so forth, but little record of a tendency to declare his name and intentions bombastically and no mention of his odd ability to merge and control technology. The side notes filled that in again, along with a few theories about the lightning rod that Technus used when he didn't control others' technology.
That ate up a few hours, but after enough time peering through them, he realized he was starting to run out. There had to be more, Vlad thought. Surely Danny had made personal notes on his own discoveries in the Ghost Zone, but maybe they had some details he didn't want to share with Vlad. He obviously liked keeping secrets.
By mid-afternoon, he found himself very impatient for Danny's return. It wasn't that he liked Danny that much, but even his company beat complete solitude and boredom. After wandering the inside perimeter of the house and even glancing around the basement downstairs, he wound up on the couch again. The device Danny had used to mute Vlad's ghost powers was still sitting on the coffee table, left there like a very odd conversation piece. He hadn't gotten a very good look at it when Danny was putting it together.
Darkness had fallen outside before Danny showed up again, with a few more bags of groceries. Vlad had almost finished taking the device entirely apart, but put it back on the coffee table to help with the groceries, or more accurately, put them away while Danny went to change out of his suit.
When Vlad left the kitchen, Danny was sitting on the couch in jeans and a t-shirt, looking over his mostly-disassembled invention.
"So, you just get in the mood to start breaking things while I was gone?" He didn't sound too upset about the idea.
"No." Feeling a little defensive, Vlad picked the parts of the device up again. "I was just taking it apart. Carefully taking it apart. So I could see how it works."
"Yeah?" Danny raised his eyebrows. "So, how does it work?"
"I don't know yet!" Irritated, Vlad sat down as far from Danny on the couch as he could manage. "I'm still looking at it."
"Well, good luck." Leaning back a little, Danny watched Vlad start to fiddle with the device again. Vlad found his hands clumsier when Danny was watching, as he grew more self-conscious. "Are you going to try to put it back together when you're done?"
"Yes!" Still feeling awkward, Vlad finally bundled it all together to take into his own room. "And I will. Stop gawking at me."
"I'm not gawking." Danny smiled. "I bet you will put it back together right. You're really smart for your age."
"What do you mean, for my age?" The compliment was completely overshadowed with that little qualification. Vlad scowled back at him.
"I just mean, when I was your age, I wasn't that good." Danny seemed to take Vlad's anger in stride, shrugging. "It wasn't until I got to college and I could decide for myself what to study that I started to realize I was pretty good at figuring out how to put things together. Didn't hurt that my first roommate was a complete techno-geek."
Still holding the disassembled parts in his hands, Vlad hesitated before asking, "What made you decide to build a ghost portal in the first place, anyway?"
"Oh... always was kind of interested in the paranormal. Stuff people wouldn't believe was true, I wanted to think it might be. And then I met my first ghost." Danny's gaze wandered, his expression loosening a bit as he got caught up in reminiscing. "It was a little girl. She wasn't scary, or anything. Just seemed kind of lost. And I started thinking, maybe she was lost because she wasn't meant to be here. Maybe there was someplace else where she'd belong."
Vlad wasn't sure what to make of the story. A little surprised at himself, he told Danny, "I believed in ghosts after my mother died. Or perhaps I wanted to believe, especially after the stories about the Ghost Portal. When my dad was hired for the government's ghost project, I was pleased, because that meant it had to be real. That the first portal wasn't a hoax."
A pained look crossed Danny's face for a moment, and he paused as if choosing his words carefully before answering. "You need to understand that dead people don't become ghosts."
"What?" Vlad frowned. "That can't be right. I've met ghosts who talked about their past lives."
"Sure. They think they're the person they were created from." Danny paused again, then took a deep breath. "Part of that person might be there. An impulse, a dying wish, or a memory that always haunted them in life. It gets imprinted on a bit of stray ectoplasmic energy in the Ghost Zone, gains shape. The new ghost'll remember whatever it got from the human it was born from, but it won't be that person anymore. Not really. That's part of why so many of the ghosts are fixated. They're built around just one or two ideas, not like a whole human. You might meet a ghost who looks like someone you once knew, who has some of the same memories. But if you talk to them, they won't look at things the same way. They won't have the same depth as a living person. Really developed ghosts can start moving on past the obsession they were born from, but they'll be moving on to a more full life as a ghost. Not a return to a human life. What happens to people after they die, I don't know. But the ghost that comes from them isn't them."
There was something unpleasant about the way Danny explained it. It lacked some of the calm distance he had when talking about other ghostly issues, like the power of the Ghost Writer, or being swallowed by a ghost. It sounded personal.
"Did you meet the ghost of someone you knew?" The question was invasive, and Vlad almost regretted asking it, but Danny nodded slowly.
"I'm sorry. You can't meet your mom again, even in the Ghost Zone."
"Oh." Vlad glanced away. "To be honest, I hadn't thought about it in years. It was just how the interest in ghosts got started. That's all."
He could tell from the look Danny gave him that he didn't believe that for a moment. Embarrassed, Vlad walked over to the door to his bedroom, avoiding looking in Danny's eyes.
"I'm going to work on this some more."
"Okay." At least Danny let it go at that, and yawned loudly. "I might take a nap before dinner. Got up early this morning."
Vlad fled into his room.