The dome rumbled viciously, the electric buzzing of the ghost shield spurring as it fought twice as hard to repel its assailant.
He was some sort of Viking ghost, a bulky specter with a braided green beard and a nasty snarl. He'd come out of nowhere, attacking the city with a ferocious skeleton army and wreaking havoc. Most towns had bomb shelters for these catastrophic events, but Amity Park wasn't a regular town一they had a ghost shield.
The entire town trekked toward Casper High, seeking refuge from the ghosts' havoc. This wasn't their first invasion, and definitely not their last. Phantom would arrive and save them soon; he was reliable like that. At the moment, he was occupied with the Viking's army, so all Amity could do was wait and hope that the ghost shield would hold up.
Things were looking fine, though. They weren't in denial… right?
Okay, maybe a little. This was cutting it a bit close.
"Stay calm." Maddie Fenton's voice, amplified by her megaphone, carried like static throughout the dome. "Our ghost shield is strong enough to fend off an entire ghost army. One powerful deviant won't knock it out!"
That's what she said, but her expression said otherwise. Pale green lights and odd shadows contoured her face underneath the dark, afternoon sky. Her violet eyes were clouded with doubt, eyebrows drawn together in concentration.
Could they do anything except wait for Phantom? What if he was defeated by the Viking's army before he could save them? What then?
The Viking struck the shield again, and the entire dome crackled. People shrieked in alarm, but the shield snapped back into place. A young girl held her hand over her heart, and an elder man took off his glasses and placed them in his lap, counting his breaths.
Just a little bit longer.
"How long is this going to take?" Star scoffed. She and Paulina sat on the curb, watching the shield shimmer above them with a resolved kind of apathy.
"Mi amor is a bit slow today," Paulina sighed. "I hope he isn't hurt!"
"He's not hurt." Star rolled her eyes. "He's Phantom. He's like invincible!"
"That's right, but I worry. This entire thing is a drag. I wish I was out there with him instead stuck in here with all these losers." She eyed a group of nerds sitting a few feet away.
"I know right?" Star narrowed her eyes over to the teens, who appeared to have a few textbooks on the ground between them. She giggled. "Are they doing homework out here?"
"Qué?" Paulina raised a brow. She looked over to them again. "Oh my God, they are! That's just too pathetic!"
"Who seriously thinks, 'Hey, this is a life-endangering situation, let's sit down and hit the books!'" Star choked. "That's true geek culture if I've seen it."
"It's really kind of sad. Like geez, we're probably gonna be fine, but can they not wait to nerd out?"
Star puffed her chest out and plugged her nose so her voice was nasally. "Oh look at me, studying during a ghost attack! I'm going to be valedictorian! Because God knows I still have my otherv-card一"
The dome shook again.
Star looked up to see the Viking trying a new tactic. He'd torn some electrical lines apart and was holding the wires over his shoulders like whips. He charged them with some ectoplasmic energy and assaulted the ghost shield again, but…
Before she could blink, the entire dome seized with energy, blinding its occupants. Branches of ectoplasmic energy arched from the ghost shield, shooting forward and pouring into any body it could find.
It all happened too fast. Green energy surged forward and tore straight into Star's chest… wracking her body with unimaginable… agony.
Her vision spun, and her world became pain. Her entire body felt like it was dissolving from the inside out. Her blood boiled and froze, erratic muscles and eyes rolling back into her skull…
Everything was dark, but the pain didn't recede. She felt her legs leave her and she crumpled onto the concrete, broken and somehow changed. It was something simplistic and innate, an inner wrongness within and Star didn't like it. She wanted it out.
Someone was saying her name, but her mind was far from coherent. Pain mangled her senses. Something wet left her lips… blood? The world was fading, but the sensation was far from dull. Fading was sharp, like a knife twisting underneath her skin. Without struggle, Star slipped into the deep threshold of sleep.
(Or perhaps, death?)
Ninety-seven injured. One dead.
Once the dome collapsed under the ectoplasmic electricity, Maddie and Jack Fenton took care of the ghost. It was a tiresome battle, resulting in Jack's arm in a sling, but they managed to weaken the specter in the nick of time.
Just when they hit rock bottom, Phantom arrived to finish him off. Phantom was worn down, bleeding ectoplasm in about five different places, but he defeated the Viking with his ghostly wail, captured him in his thermos, and swiftly flew away.
Ninety-five injured. Three dead.
It took too long for ambulances to arrive. Most of the city had hidden under the shield, which immensely buffered the hospital's response time. That, and it wasn't exactly easy to transport over ninety people, each needing critical medical attention.
Everyone was in shock. How had this happened? Why had this happened? And could any of the injured ever recover? They'd all been electrocuted with that ectoplasm.
Ninety-four injured. Four dead.
The emergency room was swarmed. It was difficult to keep family members at bay and they were severely understaffed一two or three staff members were injured themselves. It was awful luck that out of the two-thousand residents of Amity Park, almost one hundred people had been caught in the mess of electricity. And they couldn't even provide adequate medical care because one hundred people had been electrocuted. Not even just electrocuted… there was something else too, something strange that didn't take long to notice.
The patients' vitals were impossible. Resting heart-rates of 20-40 bpm, hypothermic temperatures, entire limbs slipping out of IV drips. These weren't electrocution symptoms, this was definitely otherworldly. They needed the Fentons, but the Fentons were trying to dismantle the ghost shield so it didn't malfunction again.
This was a disaster.
About half the patients were stabilized overnight, while the other half remained in the ER. The Fentons were called into the hospital the next morning, bags drawn under their eyes and subsisting off of coffee. They pulled Jack into the ER to treat his injured arm while Maddie reviewed the condition of some of the patients.
Ninety-two injured. Six dead.
Maddie determined that all the patients were showing some degree of ecto-contamination as a result of the electrocution. Some patients were floating above their beds, some were turning invisible, some were phasing through the medical equipment, and others were glowing.
However, she was still baffled. Ecto-contamination never yielded these symptoms—at least she had never seen anything this severe. But it was the only probable explanation because humans couldn't have ghost powers. This was all just… sickness, possession, contamination.
And she had to expunge it before more lives were lost.
She informed the hospital staff of her findings, and many of them were shaken. She was too, but she had established a thin veneer for herself. She had to take leadership here. She was the only person who knew what was happening and could take charge.
She discussed her ideas with Jack. If they were going to save these people, they needed their materials. But should they even leave the hospital? What if something happened?
With paranoia suspended above them like a dark cloud, they called back-up. It was ten in the morning and school had been cancelled一Danny and Jazz were likely awake already. Maddie called Jazz and instructed her to collect a plethora of materials from the lab to bring to the hospital. About an hour later, their children arrived at the hospital.
Her daughter was poorly put together一her eyes were shot and her gray sweater was lumpy. Danny trailed behind his sister and glanced around the lobby, apparently anxious. The bags under his eyes were also defined, but that was just Danny; lately, he'd been sleep deprived under regular circumstances.
Maddie was just relieved that her children were here and safe. So many children and teenagers had been injured last night, and it could have been them. But it hadn't. It hadn't been them, and they were alright. They were lucky.
Maddie stepped forward and pulled both of them into a hug. Danny stumbled into her arms and choked back a gasp.
"I'm so glad you're alright," Maddie whispered.
"Yeah," Jazz agreed.
Danny hummed in response and stepped back. Their hug fell apart, and Danny averted his eyes to the ceiling instead. He was obviously skittish, but she couldn't blame him一many of his classmates had been among the injured. He was likely more frazzled than she initially assumed.
"Well, I should probably help you guys get those materials from the car," Maddie said. "I hope you were able to find everything, I know that some of the stuff was sort of buried."
"It was fine," Jazz assured lightly. "Danny's a whiz at going through things."
Danny coughed and elbowed his sister. Jazz kept a cool expression and took his assault with stride.
Maddie decided she missed the punchline and decided not to acknowledge it. After all, teenagers and their antics could pull an inside joke out of thin air.
They worked together to carry the first load of boxes from the car, which was only five boxes altogether. Maddie never realized how heavy their devices were until they were all stacked together. It was astounding that her children managed to pack all these boxes under an hour.
But before they could start their second trip to the car, Maddie received a phone call from Jack. That was odd; Jack rarely used his cellphone. When Jack explained why he called, Maddie felt her stomach drop… what was he saying?
"That's impossible," she denied.
"It's true!" His voice was frantic and unnerved. "It happened right in front of me! I'm on the eighth floor, room 832."
"I一I'll be right there." She hung up the call, aware that Jazz and Danny were carefully watching her.
"Was that Dad?" Danny asked.
"Was it one of the patients?" Jazz tensed. "What happened?"
Maddie shook her head. This was all too disorienting. "We don't know yet but I have to go now." She grabbed her pursed and turned toward the elevators. "I'm sorry I can't help you with those boxes一"
"Don't worry about it." Jazz waved her hand dismissively. "We have you covered."
"Thank you so much, sweetie. You two are lifesavers."
Maddie spun and waved down the nurse getting onto the elevator to hold the doors for her.
She ran her fingers through her hair, trying to assert her thoughts. Even though she doubted Jack's claim, she couldn't let her preconceptions cloud her judgment. She had to do her job and they couldn't afford human error, especially when lives were at stake. If there was one thing for sure, it was that this entire day was a mess.
Danny and Jazz watched their mother disappear upstairs, urgency drawn across her face. Danny gave Jazz a pointed look. "I have to follow her."
Jazz groaned. "Danny一"
"You know why I have to check! And you can't stop me, either. These people clearly have powers. It's all anyone's talking about. My ghost sense is going off like crazy too!"
"But what you're suggesting is crazy," Jazz said darkly. "You and Vlad… you're one一two一in a million. All those people can't be halfas."
"And why not? I'm one. I was electrocuted with ectoplasmic energy and so were they. It's really not that different! Even if they aren't full-fledged halfas, I have to check!"
She sighed. "You have a point. I'm just having trouble wrapping my mind around this. I just never thought… it'd be so easy for someone to become like you. And now there's so many…"
"I thought so too," he murmured. "But if I'm right, I can help them. I'm the only person who knows what this is like. Please." He took his sister's hand. "Trust me, Jazz."
Jazz bit her lip. "Be safe, alright?"
Danny moved to let go of her hand, but she held on to it firmly. He met her eyes with surprise, taken aback by their palpable tenderness.
"Be safe," she repeated.
He rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah. I won't do anything especially life-threatening today if that's what you're worried about."
She let go of his hand and smiled. "Good. Now… I guess it's up to me to take care of those boxes."
"Yeah… sorry about that."
"Like I told Mom, I'll manage." She nudged him. "Now go do your thing."
Danny left the lobby and found a deserted alcove where he could transform. He changed into Phantom and phased through the hospital, searching for room 842. Or was it room 832?
Shit. He'd already forgotten.
Good going, Fenton. Half-ghost, superhero, and lousy investigator. You're already off to a good start.
"一this way Dr. Fenton," a voice instructed.
Danny turned and found his Mom, who was being guided toward room 832 by a nurse. He flew closer to trail behind them.
"It's not good," the nurse said. She was a thin woman with cropped, brown hair and striking blue eyes. "There was all this light and then… he just changed一" her voice cracked. "Frightened the hell out of both of us. He's not dealing with it well."
Maddie's expression was guarded, but Danny knew her well enough to see beneath her guise. She was scared because she didn't understand what was happening. She was confused, and that terrified her.
"Changed in what way?" she asked.
Short and to the point.
The nurse struggled for words. "It was like…well, it's better if you just see it. Just don't freak out一you might startle him more."
They were standing in front of the room now. The curtains were drawn, acting as a barrier between the rest of the hospital and inside. The nurse looked to Maddie one more time and Maddie nodded. They stepped into the room and Danny followed, floating at their side.
Jack was already inside, fiddling with a device with his good arm. It wasn't one of the ones that they had brought from the lab so Danny figured it was one of his recent projects, one of those enhanced ghost detectors. He couldn't be positive, though.
Aside from Jack, there was an entire team of doctors, nurses, and various medical associates all standing around the bed, obscuring the patient from sight. They bustled around the room, at a loss.
Danny flew a few feet higher and looked down…the man had indigo hair, pale white skin, and glowing red eyes. He was wearing a hospital gown, but it was dark-orange rather than teal, similarly to how Danny's hazmat suit had inverted when he was electrocuted.
He was exactly what he'd expected.
This guy was an actual halfa.
Danny couldn't believe that he'd been correct. He wasn't… alone anymore. There were other people一people besides Vlad一that were like him! His core spasmed with joy. He wasn't isolated, wasn't his own species, wasn't the only freak一
And now these people carried the same burden that he carried. His momentary elation dissolved as he processed what ninety new halfas meant: initial panic, insecurity upon insecurity, spontaneous power malfunctions and stress that your very existence will hurt someone, and the crushing realization that you're something inhuman, something erroneous and wrong.
Being a halfa was difficult. Being a halfa was painful. And these people, these innocent people… didn't deserve this.
He was selfish for thinking that this was a good thing. This was a tragedy, and he should feel ashamed. After all, it's all his fault that this happened to these people in the first place. If he hadn't wasted all that time fighting the Viking's army, he could've stopped the Viking before he electrocuted all those people.
Danny grit his teeth. How am I a hero?
Danny glanced back at the patient below him. He was scared out of his mind, shaking like a leaf and staring at his hands like they weren't his own. His aura curled around him as he trembled.
It brought back some memories, but Danny dismissed them. He'd rather forget his first experiences as a halfa. That sick realization that he wasn't the same person he had been… that wasn't pleasant.
"He still has a heartbeat!" someone announced. "But how?"
Maddie coughed. "May I see?"
She was still standing by the door, behind the hospital staff. A dark-skinned woman moved, allowing Maddie full view of the patient. Her eyes went wide and she gasped. "Impossible."
"Isn't it, Mads?" Jack looked up from his device. He waved it around the room and scowled. "This was going off before he… changed, but now it's off the charts! It's like he's an actual ghost! I can't understand one bit of it."
"This is beyond contamination." Maddie shook her head. "This is something new."
Well, new to them.
Maddie moved forward and gently touched his shoulder. "He's corporeal...but cold." She stared at the man, who appeared to be on the verge of hyperventilation. "How do you feel?"
"W一weird," he stuttered. "The world is tilted, like my depth perception is just wrong… and everything feels tingly. Am I一am I moving my fingers?"
Danny remembered that. When he first got his powers, his entire body felt like it was distant and numb. He could feel, but it didn't feel like he was in his own skin. His core was fluttery and light and carried an odd weight in his chest. Over time, he adapted and ignored those sensations, and now they were just part of him.
"You are moving your fingers," Maddie said slowly. "What were you doing when this"—she gestured to him—"happened?"
He averted his eyes to the far corner of the room. "I was just here and watching TV, and then I felt really cold, like I'd swallowed a bunch of ice. Mainly in my chest, kinda below my heart, and the more I thought about it, the deeper it felt. And then there was just this light, and then it washed over me, and… and—"
"Go on," Maddie pressed.
Tears welled beneath his eyes. Green tears. "And then the coldness just spread ev—everywhere, and I look like a ghost. Am I dead? Did I just die?"
"That's what we're trying to figure out," a doctor said. "You have a heartbeat, so if that indicates anything… no. You're still alive."
Maddie's lips thinned. "But is a heartbeat really the line between life and death?"
"Mrs. Fenton一" The doctor gave her a pointed look. From what Danny could tell, he was telling her to drop it in front of the patient. Maddie frowned and conceded.
That was probably a good choice, it wouldn't do well to scare the patient any further.
"So…" Jack butted in. "You changed to look like a ghost, but you're still alive underneath it all. Maybe you can try to change back?"
"And一and how the hell would I do that?" the man sputtered. "I don't even know how I did this! I didn't want this to happen! I didn't want your fucking ghost shield to electrocute me!"
Without warning, the man's body floated from the bed and phased through the sheets. The man flapped his arms in alarm, shouting incomprehensibly. Danny instinctively floated out of the way, but then the patient fell. The hospital bed groaned under his weight and he gasped for air, clearly shaken.
For a good twenty seconds, no one moved nor spoke. Finally, a nurse ran her hand over her face and said, "What the hell was that?"
"Flight," Jack responded, wide-eyed. "You flew!"
The patient shook his head. "I一I didn't mean to!"
"We know that," Jack assured him. "It's still just… impossible!"
"This isn't fucking fair. I'm normal!"
Danny felt another pang of pity slice through his demeanor. By all means, this man should be normal. But he wasn't because Danny had taken too long to arrive and fight the Viking ghost. If only he'd been faster.
But what good would it do to linger on things he couldn't change?
"Hey," a doctor soothed, "I'm sure the Fentons will find a way to fix this. They are the experts."
Sure, experts that didn't know anything about halfas.
"We'll try," Maddie said weakly.
They worked for a few minutes, observing the patient's vitals but nothing made sense. Many of the doctors were called to treat other patients and the crowd around the man's bed dissipated. There wasn't much that anyone could do at the moment, much to the patient's frustration. Eventually, Maddie pulled Jack out into the hallway to speak, and Danny receded to the corner of the patient's room, observing the new halfa.
The man lay in his bed, staring up at the ceiling. Danny could see the cogs in his head, turning, trying to piece together what he was now.
Danny was tempted to reveal himself, to let go of his invisibility and assure the man that everything would be okay. That he wasn't alone, and they weren't the first people like this. That he could still maintain a normal life.
But that would be a lie. Danny didn't have a normal life anymore. But maybe… maybe this guy would. Maybe he would be luckier than Danny in that respect.
That's what he hoped.