Before Danny's Accident, he and Jazz had competed for the title of "the normal one" with an intensity and ferocity achievable only by siblings in families where there was no normal one. After the Accident, he had to cede the title, however reluctantly, to his sister, who then, in a turn around only possible for siblings, then dedicated herself to giving Danny the title of "the one everyone thinks is the normal one." Combined with his chosen friend group - a girl who pursued weird as a lifestyle, and the kid who once tried to use a tamagotchi to hack a vending machine, then gave the tamagotchi an Egyptian burial when the attempt killed it - it was very easy to forget that Danny was not normal at all. Not even if you ignored the whole "half-ghost superhero" thing, which was very difficult to ignore.
It was even easier to forget what kind of not normal he originally was, before the accident, and continued to be even afterward.
However, the world (and particularly Sam and Tucker) was about to be reminded.
"Guys!" shouted Danny, literally skipping up the hallway to come to a bouncing stop between Sam and Tucker. "Guess what!" He was quivering with so much excitement that his edges looked a little blurry.
Tucker put a hand on his shoulder to get him to stop. "I guess it's a good thing, and not that your parents invented a ghost wiggler or something?"
Danny stilled. "The ghost wiggler. My enemy."
"Wait, I was joking."
"Mom and Dad weren't. That thing was evil."
"Okay, okay," said Sam, raising her hands, "it didn't have anything to do with one of your parents' inventions. What did happen?"
"Two of my summer internship applications were accepted," said Danny, almost sparkling with delight.
Actually, he was sparkling. If he had an internship outside of town, he would have to get that under control.
"That's great," said Sam. "Which ones?"
"Lexcorp and Wayne Industries!"
"You applied to Lexcorp?" demanded Sam, appalled.
"You're going to Gotham?" asked Tucker in the same tone.
Danny looked from Sam to Tucker, then back again. "Yessssss?"
"To work for the guy you call Bald Vlad? The one who keeps trying to kill Superman?"
"The place with all those crazy villains and mad scientists? That Gotham?"
Then, together, they asked, "Why did you even apply there?"
"Lexcorp is a civilian leader in astronautics, meteoritics, cosmochemistry, nuclear physics, quantum computing, robotics and medical research."
"Because Lex Luthor is trying to kill Superman."
"And even beyond Wayne Industries, there are so many great scientists in Gotham, like Dr. Isley, Dr. Crane and even Dr. Fries!"
"Danny, those are the villains."
"Well," said Danny, "I figure I'm never going to meet Lex Luthor, being an intern and all, but if I see any dangerous weapons, I can trash them! I have lots of experience."
"Don't you think it might be a little dangerous for you to work for an avowed human supremacist?"
"It's not any different from staying home."
Sam leaned back to stare at a point over Danny's head, flummoxed.
Tucker, not liking his point being ignored, squeezed Danny's shoulder. "If you miss fighting that much, I'm sure any ghost you ask will be happy to spar with you. The villains, Danny. Why do you want to go somewhere with that many villains?"
"It's not like I'm joining them." Danny rolled his eyes. "I just want to talk to them. If you're so concerned, I can take Dr. Isley and Dr. Crane off the list."
"Why only those two? Why not get rid of the whole list?" asked Tucker, shaking him slightly.
"Because Dr. Isley was mostly for Sam and Dr. Crane was mostly for Jazz. Dr. Fries is for me, and Mom and Dad want me to try to convince cousin Hugo to try therapy again."
"Why," said Sam, as Tucker glared at her, "do you think I'd want you to talk to Poison Ivy?"
"Uh," said Danny, "because you admire her work?"
"Admired, past tense, and that was before she started turning people into trees."
"But the 'turning people into trees' part is way more applicable to our lives!"
"Forget about that," said Tucker. "Why do you want to talk to Mr. Freeze?"
"Well, Doctor Fries is an expert in cryogenics and incorporating ice into technology. I want to be able to do that." Danny looked back and forth between Sam and Tucker. "Come on, I'm not interning for him. I just want to expand my knowledge base! Just think about all the cool things I could make!"
Sam and Tucker, united in horror and purpose, grabbed Danny by the arms and dragged him bodily into Senior English.
"Jazz," said Sam, hauling Danny forward by the arm she held, "your brother is turning into a mad scientist!"
Jazz looked from Sam, to Danny, to Tucker, then back to Sam. "Yessssss?"
"Well," huffed Sam, "aren't you going to do anything about it?"
"No? Why would I?"
"Mad scientist," repeated Sam.
"That's generally a bad thing," said Tucker.
"It's fine. Danny has a very strong sense of ethics."
"And lab safety!" chimed in Danny.
"And lab safety," agreed Jazz, nodding. "Now, if you want me to help you with your internalized prejudice, I can refer you to some resources I've found quite helpful myself."
"Internalized prejudice is when you're biased against yourself," said Tucker.
"Yes." Jazz returned to the task of arranging her pens and notebook on her desk.
"Wait," said Sam, "you are not calling us mad scientists, are you?"
"Well," said Jazz, "Mad Science Disorder isn't in the DSM, but there's a movement to have it included in the next edition, and I think you would fit the proposed diagnostic criteria."
"No," said Sam.
"Yes," said Danny.
"I have seen the inside of your greenhouse, Sam," said Jazz. "You're at least on the road to being a mad botanist, if not a mad ecologist."
"I've been saying that for years," said Tucker.
"And you're obviously a mad computer scientist, with a minor in archaeology."
"Wait, why are you saying this like they're college majors?" asked Tucker.
"It's easier that way," said Jazz. She frowned slightly. "I'm not saying it's a bad thing. It's just that you should be aware of it, so you don't wake up one day and start planning involuntary human drug trials, or something like that."
"Jazz did that, once. I was five."
The warning bell rang.
"You should go to class," said Jazz, pleasantly. "You don't want to be late."
"Listen," said Sam, leaning over the desk to whisper at Danny, "couldn't you, I don't know, just do the Wayne internship?"
"Hm," said Danny, rubbing his chin, "maybe. But I kind of get the feeling I only got the Wayne internship because I got the Lexcorp one."
"What are you talking about?"
"I mean, like we talked about way back, Bruce Wayne has to be funding the Justice League, at least a little." He pushed his math homework - already finished - to one side. "It'd make sense for him to keep an eye on anyone Lex Luthor personally hires, on account of the Superman thing. It's either that or corporate espionage."
"Wait," said Tucker, leaning in from the side, "go back to the 'personally' part."
"It's a special internship?" said Danny, somehow still managing to pull off the clueless innocent look. "It was, like, competitive? You know what I mean."
"Luthor personally hired you? Reviewed your application and whatever?"
"And you think he isn't going to meet you?"
"Why would he? I'm basically going to be getting a tour, then doing drudgework for a month."
"I love you, man, but you are so, so dumb sometimes. The man is going to meet you. Jeez, I hadn't even heard he was doing internships like that for our age group."
"Age group?" asked Danny.
"Dude. No. Tell me it was at least limited to just high schoolers. Tell me you didn't apply for an internship meant for college students."
"There wasn't any age on it as far as I remember."
"Mr. Fenton," said Mr. Falluca, "will you please come solve this triangle for the class?"
Danny huffed. "Rule of cosines," he said as he stood. "Give me an easy problem…"
"Why is he even in this class?" mumbled Sam.
"Ghost hunting," Tucker mumbled back.
"How are you even going to get to Metropolis?" asked Sam as they walked away from the school. "You don't have your license yet." He probably wouldn't have his license ever. Three Fentons driving had, evidently, proven too much for the local DMVs. Jazz, as conscientious as she was, had gotten hers from the one in Elmerton before they, too, realized the horror that was Jack and Maddie.
"Jazz is going to take me," said Danny with a little shrug. "She's doing a pre-college thing there. Some kind of volunteer thing."
"And how are you getting to Gotham?"
"There's a train that goes there," said Danny. "Like, a regular one."
"And getting back?"
"Mom and Dad will pick me up."
"Where will you be sleeping?"
"There's on-site dorms on each site."
Sam curled her lips. "The return of company towns in the modern era."
"I don't know, I think the Wayne ones are probably fine."
"But you're sleeping in the Lexcorp ones?"
"I figure I can disable any subliminal programming devices that might be installed there."
"Do you not see how crazy that sounds? Tucker, back me up, here?"
Tucker sighed. "Honestly, I don't think we're going to be able to change his mind. I've been picking out funeral flowers. You still like lillies?"
"It'll be fine. I'll call you guys if I need help. Just like you'll call me if some new ghost shows up and starts causing trouble, right?"
"Yes," said Sam, exasperated. "But you understand those two things aren't the same, right? That with the way things are here, there probably won't be a new ghost causing trouble?"
Danny had made… peace probably wasn't quite the right word, with the Fentons, the Guys in White, and the lack of an organized overarching social structure, but there was an understanding between him and the ghosts. Without that understanding, he wouldn't have been able to take the time to apply for internships, let alone actually go to any.
"I mean, if it's an imposition–"
"That's not what she meant," interjected Tucker. "Nope. Nope. You aren't wriggling out of calling us when a supervillain kidnaps you. She's trying to talk you out of taking an unnecessary risk."
"It's not really a risk for me, though."
It really wasn't. Danny might not be invulnerable, but the sheer variety of his powers along with his accelerated healing made that point academic. For most enemies.
"This is the guy who fights Superman, Danny," said Sam. "For all we know, he's got some kind of anti-ghost material in the same cabinet he keeps his Kryptonite."
"I don't think that'd work very well, actually," said Danny.
"It was a metaphor. Be serious."
"I am being serious. This is something I want to do. I want to go there and learn and prepare for the future."
"You sound like Jazz, you know? You've got two more years here. You don't have to do this. If this is some kind of overcorrection because of the ghosts–"
"It's not. I told you why I wanted to do this." He stopped on the sidewalk, pulling on the hem of his shirt. "Is it really that bad? Is it really that terrible that I'm going somewhere and doing something that I'm interested in?"
"No," said Tucker, awkwardly. "We're worried about you."
"And I'll be fine," insisted Danny. "Really. I will be. And, you know, like I said, I want to do this kind of thing in the future, so it's good practice."
"For what?" asked Sam, crossing her arms. "Scamming supervillains?"
"Well, yeah," said Danny. "That, too."
Sam's arms fell, along with her jaw. "What?"
"Scamming supervillains," said Danny, starting to walk again. "Like, obviously, I want to either do something with spaceflight or something with a big humanitarian dimension, but scamming supervillains is definitely going to be my backup. Or maybe my hobby. They always have the coolest stuff, and a lot of money, too, usually."
"Yeah," said Danny, almost skipping, now. "Ice rays, supercomputers, gene therapy, rapidly growing vegetation, limb regeneration, cloning techniques… Lex Luthor came up with a cure for, like, over half a dozen different types of cancer."
"Because he wanted to kill Superman," said Sam, taking up an earlier refrain. It had only
"Yeah, but imagine what he could do if we could convince him that Superman got his strength from, like, world hunger or something."
"I hate it," said Sam, after a long moment, "but I think you have a point."
"You two could go into business with me. Some villains go through goons so fast, I bet we could hit them about a dozen times."
"You're not planning to do this now, though, are you?" asked Tucker.
"Huh? No. No, not until after graduation. Most I'll do with any supervillains I see this time around is talk."
"That's a lie," said Sam, immediately. "There's no way. The first time Man-Bat or Brainiac jumps out of a sewer, you're going to start swinging."
"Man-Bat is a geneticist and a chiropterologist, you know," said Danny. "I'd love to take Brainiac apart, though. Do you have any idea how many planets he's wiped out? And the stuff he's got to have–"
"You're floating," said Tucker.
"And glowing," said Sam. "You're really going to have to work on that."
"Oops," said Danny. "Sorry. It's just, like, everything I'm Obsessed with." He landed, but still fidgeted, as if shaping something invisible with his hands. Which he might have been. "It's– I still want to help people." The plaintive note in his voice made it clear that 'want' was, in this case, closer to 'need.' "I don't mind doing the hero thing, and I can't ignore a cry for help. But I'm not going to just waltz into someone else's territory and start messing with stuff."
"I think the territory thing is more of a ghost thing than a hero thing."
"Eh," said Danny, "I wouldn't be so sure."
Danny waved goodbye to Jazz as she pulled away from the curb, then grinned up at the Lexcorp building. Wow, it was tall. And probably had a lot of really sketchy stuff in the basement.
But! He wouldn't start poking around with that stuff until he'd been there for at least a week.
(Okay, he'd probably last twenty-four hours at most, but who could blame him? How often did anyone get to poke around the lair of a supervillain who wasn't their archenemy?)
He walked into the lobby, craning his neck this way and that to take it all in. It was… honestly pretty boring. Not unlike Vlad's buildings. But he supposed that all corporate buildings were like that to some degree.
"Hello!" he said, walking up to the front desk. "I'm–"
"You'll have to wait for your parents to come out, I'm afraid, sweetie," said the secretary. "Company rules."
Danny blushed. "No, um, I'm here for the internship? The Innovators of Tomorrow Today internship? I'm Danny Fenton. Daniel. Daniel Fenton."
The secretary blinked at him, then looked down at her computer for a moment. "I'll need to see some ID."
"Will my passport be okay?" Danny asked, tugging on his bracelet to get it to lie more comfortably on his wrist. On account of the whole 'no driver's license' problem, he didn't have anything else, other than his student ID.
"That will be fine," said the secretary, reaching for it. She looked it over carefully, becoming more and more confused. Danny wondered if she was expecting it to be fake or something. "You're fifteen."
"I know I'm short," said Danny. "But I'm almost sixteen."
"I see," she said. "Well. Here's your visitor badge. We'll have someone come escort you to the meeting room shortly, and your internship badge will be ready when you start tomorrow. You can leave your luggage here, and it will be scanned and brought up to the dorms."
Danny bobbed his head happily and took back his passport and the badge. He couldn't wait to meet the other people he'd be working with. He bet that there'd be a lot of people his age, no matter what Tucker said after he looked it up and saw the website.
A tall man wearing an earpiece and some kind of weapon - a taser, probably - walked up to Danny a few minutes later and scanned his badge. With a few words, he directed Danny to an elevator - one with a keypad code - and brought him up to the tenth story. The elevator opened directly into a… Danny wasn't entirely sure what to call it. It was square and very large and open, with soft, rounded furniture, a kitchenette, and a catered lunch spread out on several long tables. One wall was all windows, looking down into Metropolis, and another wall was covered in cool, art-deco Lexcorp posters.
There were a lot of people.
A lot of tall people.
A lot of tall, college-aged people. Older college-aged people, even. No teenagers.
Tucker had been right. Great.
A middle-aged woman extracted herself from the loose crowd and came over to Danny, smiling.
"Hello!" she said. "You must be Daniel Fenton. My name is Liberty Rue, I'm the coordinator for the Innovators of Tomorrow Today program."
"Hi," said Danny, "it's nice to meet you."
Ms. Rue nodded. "Thank you, thank you. We're just giving everyone a chance to get to know each other before we start the orientation. Please feel free to take any of the refreshments and mingle. All of you are going to be working together closely. Your specialties were electrical engineering and space science?"
"Yes," said Danny. Although, to be honest, he didn't really have a specialty. He was more of a generalist.
(Unless you counted ghost science, but there was absolutely no way he was going to bring that up.)
"Excellent. Let me introduce you to the group you'll be working most closely with–"
What followed was something of a whirlwind. It wasn't that there was a lot of people, but it was one after the other, and Ms. Rue seemed to be… showing him off, almost? Or showing the other people off? In any case, there was a weird tension to it all.
Was it because he was younger?
He tried not to dwell on it too much, though, because everyone here had so much cool stuff to talk about. Almost all of them had been involved in serious graduate or undergraduate research projects. Strange matter, transient dimensions, reality fields, meta gene analysis, non-quantum teleportation, reproduction of extraterrestrial technologies… Danny was starting to feel a little inadequate. The project he'd sent in was a 'theoretical' blueprint for a spy-bot disabler. One that he was proud of, sure; getting a localized EMP effect without a nuke wasn't easy, but it was doable. And the EMP part was definitely the 'last resort' stage of things. It was, after all, much better to hack into Vlad's bugs and have them send him a hundred hours worth of rickrolls.
In the middle of a conversation about exactly how much room you needed for a decent particle accelerator, Ms. Rue stepped aside and put her hand to her ear. Danny hadn't noticed the earpiece before, but now he looked at it with curiosity. It was well made, and he could barely hear it, even with his slightly augmented hearing. He wondered if they were designed to counter Superman.
"Mr. Fenton," said Ms. Rue, "I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to steal you away for a moment.
"Okay," said Danny. He followed her back to the elevator, stealing a cookie as he went. They weren't as good as his Mom's, but he was pretty sure they tasted the way they did because of their ectoplasm content, so…
Ms. Rue punched a code into the elevator and scanned her badge. "Alright, Mr. Fenton. Go ahead. You'll be taken where you need to go."
Well. That was maybe a little sketchy, but Danny was nothing if not curious. He got in. "I'll be back in time for the orientation, right?"
"If you aren't, I'll make sure you're shown around personally," promised Ms. Rue.
The doors closed and the elevator went up. And up. Then stopped for a moment, during which Danny felt the tingle of a very thorough full-body scan. And up some more. All the way to the top. The doors opened to a sparkling office. Everything in it was white, chrome, or glass, with smooth straight lines and geometrically perfect curves. It blended perfectly with the skyline of Metropolis framed by the full-wall windows.
Between Danny and the windows was an enormous white desk. Behind the desk was Lex Luthor.
"Daniel Fenton," said Lex Luthor, inclining his head ever so slightly towards Danny. "It is good to meet you."
"Thank you," said Danny, trying not to squeak. "I'm happy to be here. I'm looking forward to working here for the next couple of weeks."
"It is heartening to see that you are more open to cooperation than Vlad." Luthor turned away, slightly, surveying the city below him.
Danny took that as an invitation to come closer and peer out the huge windows himself. What did Vlad have to do with this?
"I confess, I found myself frustrated by his lack of vision," continued Luthor, "but youth often holds wisdom that age lacks." He turned back to favor Danny with a smile. "On seeing your application, I was charmed by your initiative in circumventing your mentor."
Danny's train of thought, such as it was, derailed.
"Mentor?" he asked.
"You don't have to hide it," said Luthor. "Not when we are both quite aware of the others' knowledge. Considering my wealth, I am privy to a number of things that ordinary people are not. Including the beneficiaries of my fellow billionaires' wills."
Oh. Oh, no. Lex thought– But why– Was he– He couldn't be right, but– But did this make Danny a… a… nepotism baby?
The sprout of confidence that had been flourishing ever since he got the letter announcing his acceptance to the internship program withered. This was even worse than finding out he and Jazz were test tube babies. (And that was only so bad because his parents had felt the need to go on a long tangent about how they had selected their donor-parents, as large portions of Jack and Maddie's genomes were unstable due to a combination of the family proclivities and a variety of curses.)
Lex Luthor stood. "Doubtless, you're interested in the projects I outlined to Vlad when I proposed our cooperation. The device blueprint you submitted for the internship referenced them quite cleverly. I would like to show you how far they've progressed since I spoke to Vlad, and then we can discuss your contribution to their success."
"I don't have access to any of Vlad's resources, Mr. Luthor," said Danny, cautiously. "I couldn't provide any, er, funding to these projects."
"I am aware of that. But I think your value goes above and beyond the financial, Daniel." He put a hand on Danny's shoulder. "After all, the reason I approached Vlad was his science background. And in a few years… Well. Vlad Masters is not a young man."
Was that a murder threat? Danny thought it was a murder threat. Oh, boy, did he have something else coming for him if he thought he could just kill Vlad like that.
Luthor directed Danny back towards the elevator, and this time they went down. Far down. Into those basements Danny had been thinking about before.
They stepped out into a vestibule, and a pair of much more openly armed security guards saluted Lex before running through a series of security measures. Danny took note specifically of the ones intended to detect mind control and shapeshifting.
From there, they passed through a series of locked doors and into a maze of gleaming white hallways. The color made Danny's skin itch. Too much like the GIW for his taste.
Luthor opened a side door, and showed Danny into an empty lab. Empty in terms of people, that is. In terms of stuff… blueprints, prototypes, models, drawings, coffee cups… not so much.
"I had the team take the day off," said Luthor. "I thought you'd appreciate the chance to look at things without any distractions."
Danny surveyed the plans with interest. There were similarities between what was being built and the mini-EMP portion of his bug-zapper. There were also echoes of shield technology… some kind of energy projector or amplifier?
"What is it supposed to emit?" asked Danny, unable to hold back his curiosity. He touched, ever so gently, a hollow place he was sure the energy source was supposed to sit.
Lex smiled. "I'm glad you asked," he said. "Follow me."
They went back out into the hallway, but only briefly. The next room had even more security, but Luthor bypassed it all with businesslike efficiency and they entered a plain, all-white and bare room.
One wall of this room was taken up by a backlit display cabinet made of square cubbies. Within each cubby was a tiny chip of crystal, like a sample display of particularly expensive rock candy. Green, of many shades, was the best-represented color, but there was also red and blue. That made sense, because each crystal was made of delicious ectoplasm-infused quartz. Danny swallowed. They were making his mouth water, but the amount of death energy they would have had to be around…
"Beautiful, isn't it?" asked Luthor. "Kryptonite. The key to repelling our would-be alien overlord."
Yeah. Remnants of a planet that imploded while still inhabited by billions. That would do it.
"I intend to create a Kryptonite field over the whole of Metropolis, one that should, at the least, disable Superman to the point where we can drive him out. I will sell them to the great cities of America, and then, the world. One day, the whole Earth will be protected, and Superman must either leave, or die. But for now, it is still a dream. That is why I need you, Daniel."
Danny didn't think Luthor's weapon would work. Not now. There was too much missing. Too much being missed by scientists and engineers expecting the Kryptonite to behave in a normal, logical way. He was certain, however, that he could make something that functioned exactly as described. He could even do it quickly, building off ghost and human shield technologies. He could see the pieces of it fit together, like a puzzle.
Making it, just to prove that he, Danny Fenton, could, was tempting.
But he had this little thing called morals, and driving Superman off Earth was definitely in the category of bad.
"Well, I don't know if I can fix problems all your scientists can't, but I can sure try to help." He winced a little at the phrasing. Why did he have to use the word help?
"That's all I ask," said Luthor. "But that's far from our only project. Shall we?"
"Sure," said Danny, not at all faking his smile. Even though he'd have to sabotage this stuff, it was really cool to see it!
Later that night in his dorm room - which was, incidentally, a lot more spacious than he'd expected - Danny rotated the bracelet on his wrist and pressed a button on its side. Inside the thick band was a miniaturized and completely functional version of the spy-bot zapper he'd submitted as part of his internship application. He listened to it click as it went through the different modes available to it. It tweedled at him when it finished.
Only then did he pull out his phone and power it on. He clicked into his contacts and hit the button for his first favorite.
"Hey," he said, when the call connected, "Jazz, so… Sam and Tucker might have been just a little bit right about my internship…"