Danny was extremely frustrated...Actually, that was an understatement, he was angry, irritated and bored as well. His best friends were recovering from ecto-acne, no thanks to a certain fruit loop, and all Danny wanted to do was sit with them till they felt 100% but, all of a sudden, Clockwork had teleported the boy to his lair, deep within the Ghost Zone and instantly spoken to Danny about his actions in the last few days.
Clockwork believed that, though Danny had learned, through his recent experience, to respect time, he still didn't fully understand how important the past was. What could the Master of Time expect though? Danny was only fourteen? But, Clockwork was fearful of the future, of one major future in particular; one in which Vlad Masters is banished to the stars and in time, returns to exact a horrific vengeance on the world.
Unfortunately, the young half ghost knew nothing of this and as a child, he didn't yet respect the fact that actions have consequences - more importantly, his animosity towards the only other of his kind. Though Clockwork had to admit, it was well justified animosity after everything that Vlad had done, but if things were to be amended, he knew that Danny would have to be convicted to make a move to do so. For Vlad was far too stubborn and stuck in his ways than Danny was, and he could more easily appeal to Danny's compassion, and when it came to Vlad Masters there was enough call for compassion, even if it took a while to see why.
"I know it's difficult for you to believe..." Clockwork said again to Danny.
"Difficult!" Danny shouted, "It's impossible! The guy's a class ‘A’ jerk! He's always trying to kill my dad! He's always showing off how much better he is at using his powers than me! He's a fruit loop!"
"Then it will surprise you to know that when he was young, he had as much difficulty in controlling his powers as you did."
"Yeah, right," Danny scoffed and crossed his arms.
"It's true," Clockwork told the young half ghost, "He had just as much, if not more difficulty than you have," the Time Master added, but Danny only continued to stare at him in disbelief. "And I intend to prove it to you."
"What d'you mean 'prove it to me'?" the young boy asked.
"It's something I think you need to see for yourself if you are ever to respect him."
"Like that'll happen!" Danny frowned.
"You have more in common than you think," the ghost said.
"Not you too, dude," the boy lamented, but Clockwork chose to ignore it.
"You do; you're both intelligent, resourceful, strong willed, independent, and of course, you are the only two half ghosts in the world."
"But he's evil!"
"Perhaps," the ghost shrugged, "But 20 years ago he was just like you. He didn't know how to control his powers, but luckily you have your friends, he had no one."
"Boo hoo, I'm in tears," Danny rolled his eyes.
"And ghost sightings were much rarer, you've been surrounded by them since you first developed your powers, you know what different powers exist and you can attempt to work on them yourself. Where do you suppose he got his ideas?"
"I don't know?! Why d'you care anyway?"
"I 'care' about everything. It's my job," Clockwork replied enigmatically.
"Well, you shouldn't care about this!"
"And that, is exactly why I do," the ghost told a confused Danny.
Clockwork raised his staff at the blank time screen standing upright, and green smoke began to blur from nothing. It spiralled around and around, making Danny feel dizzy, until it separated off into different colours and shapes.
After a few seconds, it formed an image of the mid-morning sun beating down on what looked like the outer fringes of a major city with crumbling, greyish buildings coated in graffiti and streets lined with litter. Danny noticed that the cars driving there were old fashioned, at least to him they were old fashioned. In actual fact, they were actually around two decades old. There were people walking down the street as well, but the main focus seemed to be the large block of flats centred in the image. The building had certainly seen better days.
Danny looked to Clockwork for an explanation when he could find none.
"Downtown Madison, Wisconsin, May 18th, 1986," Clockwork gave a smile.
"What's so special about it?" Danny shrugged as he stared at the images on the time portal; still nothing appeared to stand out to him.
"It is exactly three weeks after 22 year old Vladimir Masters was released from hospital, after two years and four months," Clockwork answered.
"And you're showing this to me because?"
"Because it’s something you need to see, now let's take a closer look," the ghost said raising his staff again.
"No, wait, don't!" Danny cried, but it was too late for him to flee; he was already engulfed in Clockwork's power.
The next thing he knew, he was floating in Madison, Wisconsin of 20 years ago. "Great, more old culture," he muttered to himself, looking at the people walking below them.
"There," Clockwork pointed and Danny reluctantly turned his head in said direction, "That window," he specified.
"That one?" Danny asked and the ghost nodded, "What about it?"
"It is where Vladimir moved to after the hospital released him."
"But it's so...it looks so...lived in..." Danny muttered.
"Of course, here in 1986 he has hardly a penny to his name," Clockwork explained and Danny's eyes widened in shock.
"But he cheated his way up, didn't he?" the boy frowned. He'd always assumed that Vlad had always been a cheat and a liar.
"All will be explained," the time ghost said simply and together they floated towards the apartment window and through the wall into what was the main sitting room.
It was sparsely furnished and what little there was, was an odd mishmash of colours and designs. The wallpaper was a miserable faded hue, and the floor hadn't fared much better either. There were battered books, crumpled papers and cables and wires everywhere, they were on every surface in sight so it was clear that the inhabitant was an intellectual, if a generally untidy person. But Danny supposed that, in such surroundings, why would one bother being tidy; it wouldn't make a difference to the overwhelming ambience of depression that the overall colour palette produced.
A loud shattering sound made Danny jump and then he heard a voice speak. "Butter biscuits!" they heard it say and Danny stifled a laugh, "Not again!" the voice added and a second later, the source of the voice emerged from an adjoining room.
A young man stormed through into the room with an exasperated and somewhat confused expression. His pure white hair was loosely tied back with strands escaping to fall over pale skin and his clothes proved to be the cleanest things in the room by a mile, strangely, though they too showed signs of long use. The black, long sleeved shirt and jeans were clearly much loved, and he wiped his hands quickly on his jeans as he nimbly walked across to a fraying, thread bare arm chair and flopped down into it, not noticing Danny and Clockwork.
"Is he ignoring us?" Danny asked.
"He can't see us, we're watching events that have happened, that is all."
"So...we're the ghosts of Christmas past?" the young boy said sarcastically, but the Time Master chose not to reply.
The young Vlad gave a world weary sigh and pushed himself up in the chair to sit cross legged and rested his elbows on his legs, then put his head in his hands. "What's wrong with me?" he said to himself and then proceeded to jump as a phone began to ring. It was partially buried under a stack of papers on a table close to him so, reluctantly, he reached out a hand to brush the papers onto the floor then lifted the receiver to speak.
"What?" he snapped and listened for a second, "...No, Jack, I'm busy...leave me alone...I really don't want to know...I don't care...now...don't call me again...I mean it..." he said and swiftly threw the phone aside. It crashed to the floor and then, Vlad sprang from his chair, unhooked the wire from the wall, picked up the whole phone and threw it across the room. Crashing into a very tall, precarious stack of books, it all came tumbling down with a loud cacophony of noise and then there came a swift 'bang' against the far wall from the other side.
"Hey! Keep it down in there, punk!" a disembodied voice screamed deeply and Vlad only glared at the direction it came from. Luckily for that neighbour, Vlad hadn't been able to shoot ectoplasm from his eyes, or he'd have been a goner.
Danny then heard Vlad scoff and then wince - confused, the young half ghost floated closer to him. He had to jump back a fraction, when a second later, the young Vlad collapsed to the floor, clutching his head and gritting his teeth as though afflicted by the worlds' worse migraine, "Not again...not now..." he said to himself, "Enough!"
"What's happening?" Danny asked.
"Same thing that happens to you in the future, only much slower," Clockwork told him and the boy continued to stare at Vlad.
"Can't we...I dunno...do something?" he asked in vain.
"No, we have no right to change his life, and remember, we are observers only here," the time ghost told him. Danny knew he was right of course, he also knew that kneeling across from him, was the very man who'd caused him so much trouble, but Danny didn't enjoy seeing anyone in so much pain...even his arch enemy.
A brief flash of black appeared around the young man and Danny retreated back even further out of habit. The light vanished, then reappeared and continued to fizzle out, this repeated several times over and Vlad's eyes began to glow red. When he was eventually engulfed in the dark rings of light, what it revealed wasn't what Danny recognised.
Vlad's skin was still the pale, pinkish hue as his human half, he didn't appear to have fangs and the flamboyant outfit of white, black and red was non-existent. In fact Vlad was wearing his human clothes. The only things that were the same as Danny remembered were that his eyes were red, and his hair was now black and he took on the same, unnatural glowing aura of all ghosts.
"I'm confused," Danny muttered, watching Vlad frown in a similar state of emotion.
Catching a glimpse of his face in the reflection off the old television screen, Vlad jumped back, uneasily landing on the cushion of the chair and toppling it backwards with him still on it. "Ouch," he muttered, rubbing the back of his head as he pushed himself off the fallen chair, and Danny giggled.
Vlad reached up and touched his hair, unable to believe what he thought he'd seen, but again, he saw a blur of red in the screen which again was strange, because he wasn't wearing any red. "I'm seeing things...I'm losing my mind...anything...it can't be real..." he said to himself, quickly stumbling through the rooms.
Danny slowly followed and he came into a small, outdated, barely finished bathroom as Vlad was staring wide eyed at himself in a small mirror above a cheap, grimy sink. The young man seemed frozen to the spot and his breathing rapidly increased. After a minute, he slowly reached out a hand and touched the mirror as though somehow testing its reliability, he placed his fingers on the reflection of his glowing red eyes and gasped.
Then, making Danny jump, he turned tail and ran swiftly out of the room, slamming the door behind him, trying to distance himself from what he saw. "Not possible," Vlad told himself, wrapping his arms round his chest and shaking. "It's a dream... It's a..." he broke off as the glowing rings appeared again and once more, he grimaced.
It didn't take as long, this time, for him to change back, but when he had, his eyes seemed heavy and he swayed where he stood. Vlad leaned back, his back hitting the wall and he slid down to the floor. His eyes were closed a second later.
"What happened?" Danny asked.
"He didn't receive ghost powers straight after his accident, it took longer for his cells to fully fuse with the ecto-energy because, unlike you, only part of his body was exposed to it, and it was contaminated, if you recall," Clockwork told Danny.
"So...that's why he was in hospital?"
"Correct, because Vladimir didn't fully 'half die', the ghost cells slowly killed of half the human cells in the space of two years. Doctors could find no explanation or cure, but the ecto-acne cleared up so they released him, after all, to them, he seemed to be improving medically."
"Even though half of him was dying?"
"Yes, but the ghost part was compensating for it, as it did with you. Now, come on," Clockwork said to Danny, "There's more," he added and they vanished as silently as they had arrived.
Danny quickly found himself at the dingy, downtown apartments again but this time, he and Clockwork were flying intangibly through the floors of the building, at the same speed as one other ghost; Vlad.
"Whoa...whoa...whoa...whoa..." Vlad cried, as he fell intangibly through level after level of his apartment building, "Stop!" he yelled to himself, and instantly he did stop, floating a foot off the ground. Eyes wide, he breathed heavily as he stared at the floor, then, in shock he then fell the remaining distance and landed flat on his stomach.
Now that he could get a better look, he saw that Vlad's skin had taken on a pale blue colour and small fangs glistened.
"What's going on with the blue skin tone?" he asked Clockwork.
"His ghost half is maturing, as yours will; it happened faster with Vladimir because he was older than you when he got his powers. It's actually only five weeks since he first transformed," the Time Ghost answered as Vlad stood up. He brushed off his clothes, which now were all black, and cracked his neck.
"I really need to stop doing that," Vlad said to himself, looking up. He then walked around, testing his limbs, and saw that he'd landed right in the basement where the washing machines and dryers were kept for the tenants. At least it was empty. "...Leave the hospital, they said...you'll be fine, they said," Vlad cursed under his breath as he moved about the room.
Then, the door at the far end of the room clicked open, and nearly jumped out of his skin. "Curses!" he muttered before turning himself intangible, and lucky for him it worked this time on command.
A young woman with long dark hair and tanned skin walked into the room with a basket full of clothes, she then walked across to a machine and began piling the clothes into it with a bored expression. Vlad stood not far from her, still intangible, walked away, trying to fly from the room. He managed to fly up from the floor and then prompt fell back down again, visible to the young woman.
At the sound of Vlad falling, she turned around and jumped, dropping her laundry she froze in shock.
"Umm...Boo?" Vlad shrugged and the woman ran screaming bloody murder from the room, a second later, he burst out laughing, clutching his stomach. After much effort, he then flew clear of the building and up into the air, Danny and Clockwork following behind him.
It didn't take long before Vlad floundered in the air, alternating from skimming the clouds to just being able to avoid the tops of the buildings, fortunately throughout the whole flight he somehow managed to stay invisible. A few minutes later, Vlad more or less fell back down to earth, landing in an alleyway of the main streets, transforming back was out of his control.
"Oh, sugar cookies!" Vlad rolled his eyes, dropping to the floor again, now as a human. "Ah!" he cried out as a glowing green net sprang out of nowhere, trapping him inside it.
"Ah-ha!" Skulker exclaimed happily, "A rare specimen indeed; half human, half ghost...you'll make a fine edition to my collection!"
"Your collection? How delightful," Vlad drawled, "Who exactly are you?"
"I am Skulker, Ghost Zone's greatest hunter, and you are my prey, ghost hybrid. I've never seen anything like you before; imagine my surprise when my tracker picked you up!" Skulker answered. "Tell me, would you prefer I hang your pelt above my fire place or use it as a welcome rug?"
"Erm, honestly, neither," Vlad raised an amused eyebrow even though he was still trapped in the ecto-net.
"Too bad!" Skulker chuckled, and dragged the net forwards. But Vlad phased through it with much concentration, and Skulker reeled in an empty net. "Ah, so now you can control your powers," the hunter grinned, floating up off the ground, "Come on, then hybrid, show me what you can do."
Vlad smirked back, and transformed into his increasingly developing ghost half and raised his hand. It took a few seconds, but he managed to make his limb glow with ecto-energy which he instantly released in Skulker's direction.
But so intrigued was the hunter, he didn't notice the blast until it hit him and he was surprised at its intensity. He was thrown straight up against a brick wall, slamming into it as the ectoplasm shocked his body for at least fifteen seconds before dissipating. When he landed back on the ground he saw the human looking at his hand in surprise. Perhaps the hybrid was just as shocked as he.
Skulker than flew at Vlad and the two fought hand to hand combat, and once more the hunter was surprised when he couldn't instantly throw off the hybrid. Vlad already had the strength of ten strong humans and his reflexes had improved as well, making him almost equal to the hunter.
They both jumped back, then attacked with ectoplasmic blasts and it threw the pair in opposite directions when the opposing energies met. Vlad took his chance and flew quickly away from the alley, looking back over his shoulder the whole way, made it back to his flat and collapsed onto his bed with a sigh. "Ghost Zones' greatest hunter, huh?" he muttered, his voice muffled by the quilts, "Just what I need!"
"Hey, that's what I..." Danny began, then stopped, "Erm...never mind...next, please," he smiled nervously at Clockwork who only grinned charismatically.
This time, once again, Vlad was kneeling in on sitting room floor, clearly concentrating very deeply, staring at his hand. After a while, his hand started to glow a deep pink and then it vanished. Vlad let out a snort of anger, before trying again, and again, and again.
When he failed for a fifth time, Vlad groaned and fell back into the floor, kicking away piles of books and clothes as he lay there with closed eyes. He was evidently giving up, but just as he turned to lie on his right side, he felt his hand sting painfully.
"Oww!" he muttered, sitting bolt upright and raising his hand. It was now burning with ectoplasm, shocking Vlad with its intensity. As it continued to burn he found he couldn't stop it and he was almost panicking as he shook his hand, trying to shake off the power.
Unfortunately for Vlad, his actions made the ectoplasm shoot right from his hand, and hit his sitting room wall with a crash and a loud sizzling sound. "Whoops," Vlad said to himself.
Danny giggled at the large scorch mark on the sitting room wall, but before he could actually see more, Clockwork altered the surroundings, and the year, once more.
This time, there was a man in a long, black coat, and a white ponytail walking towards a large pavilion full of people in expensive, celebration regalia. He cast a cold aura as he moved past several smiling men and women as he walked, but he spoke to none of them. Instead, he moved slowly, and silently through the throng of people, watching as a man in a sharp tuxedo dancing happily with a woman with red hair, elegantly strung with fake pearls, dressed in a white wedding gown.
Hanging on a nearby wall was a banner that read 'Just Married', and Danny could see that the man and woman were in fact his mother and father, and that it was Vlad standing off to the side. He looked jealous, angry and lonely all at the same time as the music drew to a close. When it stopped completely the crowd applauded for Jack and Maddie and they took mocking bows, laughing.
"V-man, there you are," Jack grinned, taking Maddie's hand they walked quickly towards him, "We couldn't see you earlier."
"I wasn't there," Vlad replied coldly.
"Oh, why?" Jack asked, confused.
"I was busy," the white haired, pale man said.
"Vlad, please..." Maddie frowned, "Don't be like this. What happened to you?" she asked, and Vlad narrowed his eyes.
"What happened?! What happened was I spent over two years of my life in hospital, thinking I was going to die!"
"But you're fine now," she pleaded, "You're our friend, we don't want to fight, can't things just go back to how they used to be."
"Yes, used to be," Vlad sighed, "I just came to tell you to stop harassing me, and leave me be."
"You didn't come to celebrate with us?" Maddie frowned.
"Come on, Vladdie, it'll be great..." Jack began.
"No, it won't, Jack..."
"But, Vlad, you're our friend," Maddie repeated.
"Don't you remember; we used to everything together. Why're you making things different?" Jack asked his old friend.
"I don't expect you to understand, but I have plans, and they don't involve you," Vlad said, turning to walk away. Then, suddenly, he stopped and spoke again, "Ah...congratulations...I'm sure you'll be...very...happy together," he ground out, almost painfully, and full of malice, then he walked swiftly away with the crowd parting as he moved.
"I don't understand it, Maddie, we used to be such great pals," Jack said to his new wife.
"I know, Jack...I guess what happened to him was worse than we thought," Maddie sighed.
"We'll make it up to him somehow," her husband replied, regaining his usual jovial manner.
"I hope so."
Danny watched as his father hugged his mother, and both mourned the confusing loss of a friend - lost in a way they'd never understand.
Vlad sat in his flat, dressed in a loose white shirt and dark trousers, he was in the sitting room which was now littered with boxes. Still as a statue he was leant over a microscope with a note book by his side and a pencil behind his ear. He was clearly deep in thought and Danny floated closer to try and see what was on the glass slide of the microscope.
Vlad then scribbled down a few notes on the paper and subsequently, placed the pencil behind his ear and put aside the microscope and pad with a sigh. "I'm really not human anymore," he said to himself and stood up to open the window and lean against the sill.
Danny could now see what Vlad had jotted down; it was a curiously altered, yet perfect depiction, of the mans' ghostly altered DNA.
"Is that what my DNA looks like as well?" Danny asked Clockwork who only nodded.
After a minute, Vlad returned to his microscope, he picked it up and put it away in one of the boxes lying around the room. Then, he snatched a newspaper from off a chair and stared intently at one particular page, trailing over different articles with his pencil. Then he circled something rather vigorously and gave a small smile. He reached out to grasp a coffee mug and raised it to his lips.
"Urgh...cold..." he muttered, taking the mug through into the kitchen, leaving the newspaper on the chair.
'Business Associates Wanted', it read and Danny shuddered at the thought that one relatively small article had made Vlad's whole fortune.
Vlad now, was standing in an office alone, facing a wall of windows looking out onto a bustling city at dusk. The bright lights reflecting on the glass, illuminating Vlad's dark suit and pale features from the shadows. He looked comfortable and at home, leading Danny to believe that this was Vlad private office, but then in walked an aged man who looked to be in his mid-sixties wearing a crisp suit of dark blue with stern features and thinning hair.
"Thank you for waiting, Mr Masters, I'm Adrian Anderson, CEO," the man said, moving forwards and offering his hand to Vlad. "I'm sorry for the late meeting, but I'm leaving for Beijing tomorrow, and I was told that you were the best candidate for the job and that I just had to meet you before I left. Take a seat," he gestured to the seat on either sides of the desk.
The man, Anderson, pulled out a pair of glasses from his suit jacket pocket and began to read the papers on his desk, "So, Vladimir Masters - valedictorian in high school, three in college before...two years hospitalised?" he broke off, questioning Vlad.
"A fellow students' lab experiment gone wrong before I could stop it," was all Vlad said, and Anderson continued with a light cough.
"...Graduated with honours, specialist subjects; advanced Mathematics and Applied Physics, awards for theories in Obscure Physics and Computer Development as well. Previous work experience, various shop work, managing accounts of student cafés. Impressive. But when all's said and done, you're a scientist; a very good one it seems, but not a business expert or even a business student," he raised an eyebrow at the papers.
"Business is, in a way, an exact science," Vlad replied.
"Maybe, but physics won't help you here, son. We do have a science branch, a very good one as a matter of fact, why don't you try applying for a research job there? I've no doubt you'll surpass anyone else applying."
"I like a challenge; science isn't a challenge anymore, the next thing I thought of was business," Vlad shrugged.
"Well, that's a brutally honest answer..." the man's eyes widened, "It's not one I've heard before either."
"I want this job, and I intend to succeed. In truth I care little for the idea that this job will improve either my character or my work ethic. I can't change the fact that I majored in Physics and Mathematics, but this is my choice."
"And is this what you told my Head of Staff?" Anderson asked with a small smile.
"Yes," Vlad answered, "I got the feeling he found it all rather amusing," he said stoically.
"Well, I get the feeling he's laughing at us both right now, but I'll make you a deal, kid," Anderson leaned forwards, "I'll give you two months on full pay to prove to me you have a head for business, if not, you'll have to walk out the door and stick with your science. What d'you think?"
Vlad raised his head, thinking for a moment, as the man continued, "And if this works out, imagine...we'll both be laughing at him."
"I don't doubt you'll be ridiculed for taking such a gamble," Vlad said.
"Gambles are necessary in business...and in science, sometimes they pay off, sometimes they don't. So, do we have a deal?"
"We do," Vlad replied confidently and Anderson smiled then reached out his hand for a second handshake.
"So...he got a job legit...doesn't mean he didn't cheat the guy into giving him his company," Danny said to Clockwork a minute later.
"It may surprise you to know that he didn't, Adrian Anderson retired six years later, leaving his company to Vladimir perfectly legally and without ghostly interference," the Time Master said, "...Don't believe me?"
"Erm...no," the ghost boy crossed his arms and green smoke swallowed the scene again.
It was daylight now, in the same office, only now there were cardboard boxes full of books, papers, and knick-knacks. An older looking Adrian Anderson was sitting at his desk, looking down at a framed award in reminiscence just as Vlad burst into the room.
"Ah, Vlad, do come in," Anderson gave a smile.
"You are retiring then?" Vlad questioned.
"Oh yes, I've worked all my life. I'm old and tired, I'm leaving the company to you, and I plan to spend the remainder of my life enjoying my success on a little island I know off the coast of Italy," Anderson said.
"Old and tired?" Anderson raised an eye brow.
"No, after that!" Vlad snapped.
"Retiring to Italy?"
"No, no, in the middle!"
"Leaving the company to you?"
"That's the one...wait...why are you doing that?"
"You don't want it?"
"Of course I do," Vlad replied honestly.
"Then congratulations kid," he chuckled, "I've already taken care of everything, all you need do, is sign these, and tomorrow this office'll be yours," Anderson added, tossing a thick, brown, A4 sized envelope onto the desk from one of the boxes. "You did what you said you would, you succeeded, you improved this company, and I've no doubt that you'll do even better on your own."
Vlad stood still, meeting the gaze of the old man who spoke again, "You proved us all wrong, kid, I would say you should be proud of that, but you already are. I'll tell you one thing though; don't be too proud, it won't do you any good. You're the best businessman I've ever met, you learned the trade as fast as anything, but that's your problem; you're too good."
"If you don't trust me, give the company to someone else," Vlad scoffed.
"No, you're the best bet to keep this place going," Anderson told him, "So do what you want; change the name, expand, invest, whatever...just remember, things can come crashing down faster than they go up," he said and Vlad crossed his arms.
"Taking up Philosophy, are we?" he smirked and Anderson chuckled.
"No, no, it's too late for that, I just don't want to see you lose it all," the old man answered.
"You won't; I don't intend to," Vlad said and Anderson sighed.
"I'd like to say we've been good friends...but you never let anyone in...We’ve been good associates, haven't we?"
"You're getting sappy in your old age, Anderson," Vlad told him.
"Yeah," the man shrugged, "Maybe I am, but I'm retired now, it doesn't matter what I do. I don't have to keep up the façade anymore."
"It's a game, and you're quitting."
"No, it might be a game, but if it is, I've won and I've got my bonus prize to boot."
"No good deed goes unpunished," Vlad grinned.
"Precisely," Anderson nodded in amusement, then picked up the last framed photo on his desk, placed it on one of the boxes and stood up. "Well, that's all of it," he said, "It's all yours now, Vlad, good luck," he finished, walking over to Vlad and putting a hand on his shoulder.
"I won't need it," Vlad replied.
"I know," the man smiled, "But I'll say it anyway," he said, then left the room.
Vlad once more moved to stand in front of the wall of windows with a satisfied smile on his face, he literally felt like he was standing on top of the world now, and it showed.
"You can't be serious!" Vlad scoffed a second later. The setting was different altogether, but Vlad still wore an amused expression.
"I am!" another man shouted back.
"This is my company, you don't have the skills to take it from me."
"You're not suited to this business, everyone knows it..."
"I am the CEO, and you will show respect!" Vlad finished, and the temperature in the room dropped. It was a large, light filled room decorated with pale colours and with long, dark wood table in the centre, with each chair taken. Men and women in crisp suits and uneasy expressions sat around the table, watching Vlad stare down his would-be rival in business. The others seemed to know better than to get involved, but this other young man standing up, did not.
"Mr Smith...maybe you should sit down," a scared looking woman whispered to her young, naïve colleague.
"I won't 'sit down'," the man cried, "This man isn't qualified to run a pretzel stand, let alone buy out another company!"
"Wow, tough room," Danny breathed, "What's goin' on?"
"This first time Vlad used his powers in his work," Clockwork said, "You might argue he was somewhat justified."
"It's not up to you," another person quietly told Smith, "Now quiet down, or get out," and reluctantly, the young man sat down.
"As we were saying, Mr Masters," a confident woman spoke up. Her light brown hair was pinned back smoothly and her light grey suit was well tailored, "Your offer is very generous, and very much appreciated, but we will require further deliberation. I suggest we reconvene after further deliberation," she said and Vlad nodded sharply.
Everyone then left the room, taking their briefcases and suit jackets with them, but Smith, the young arrogant man remained. He stood up after everyone had left and walked across to Vlad, angrily speaking again, "I meant it; this company will be mine, and when it is, every pathetic worker will be fired and you will be ruined!" the man told Vlad whose eyes shone red. He then turned himself intangible and floated forwards to easily overshadow the younger mans' body.
He then picked up Smith's briefcase, floated up through the ceiling and into an office, to sit at a desk with a computer. It didn't take him long to type up a short, insulting letter of resignation in Smith's guise, then he destroyed every paper in the briefcase. Vlad put the letter in Smith's pocket, then went to another office.
Inside his own office, Vlad downed a bottle of strong whiskey, or rather, Smith downed it quickly. Then he walked out onto the main floor, and left the young man's body - he quickly fell to the floor in confusion. Vlad watched invisibly as the young man was ridiculed for his sudden drunkenness.
"He did save hundreds of jobs that day; Mr Smith had a reputation for running lives, even at such a young age," Clockwork said to Danny.
"Yeah, but Vlad only did it to save his own skin," Danny rolled his eyes.
"Perhaps," the Time Ghost shrugged, "But regardless of the reason, Vlad ruined the young and arrogant Mr Smith and began expanding his business empire. He was of course, feared, but it must be said, his companies did remarkably well."
"That's no excuse to turn into a jerk," the young half ghost said and everything faded away again.
The large, sterile lights from the offices faded into smaller, more intimate little flames, flickering in the shadows, and a much more somber atmosphere emerged. Even in the dark, though it was clear that this was no dingy, downtown flat, the room was huge and it was filled with things, unlike what Danny had seen before.
There were chairs, sofas, tables, bookshelves piled high with books and papers, there was a large television, priceless statues and artefacts, even a Ming vase or two. But despite all that, it had an aura of loneliness and Danny shivered lightly - either from cold or from some kind of fear, he wasn't quite certain.
When he heard a light cough, Danny spun around, next to the still Clockwork, and found the source of the noise. It was a man, the only person in the room, sitting in an armchair, with a glass of red wine in hand.
"Happy Birthday, Vlad," he said to himself, raising the wine glass and downing it in one.
Beside Vlad's chair was a small coffee table on which sat several, full paper folders. Vlad turned to look at them, he put down the glass at his feet, and picked up the first folder and a pen; clearly intending to work, even on his birthday.
"Okay, now that's just sad," Danny commented, "Who spends their birthday by themselves like this?"
"He does, every year," Clockwork answered him.
"Ouch," Danny winced briefly as the scene faded away.
"Great, now we're back to the castle!" Danny rolled his eyes, as he and Clockwork floated into Vlad's secret lab. The man himself was lying on the floor, tightening bolts around a large ghost portal.
"There," Vlad said to himself, putting down the wrench, standing up and brushing the dust from his clothes. He walked over to a control panel, carefully pressed several button in succession with the look of a hopeful child at Christmas.
He stood back as the doors to the portal separated and retracted, and then he smirked and chuckled as he saw the swirling green of the Ghost Zone open up before him, "Finally, after all these years," he spoke aloud in triumph.
"So...when was this?" Danny said, "Did he have a working portal before my parents?"
"Ten years before, to be precise," Clockwork answered, "Technically, it was the first, successful, man-made portal, and it was quite an achievement."
"Scary," he shuddered as Vlad transformed into the Plasmius that Danny would come to know, cape and costume complete.
Vlad then floated over to the control panel, set a controlled lock and floated into the Ghost Zone for the first time. Five seconds later, the metal doors slammed shut behind him, echoing throughout the lab, making Danny feel very isolated and very small.
The scene now was Fenton Works, but it was much messier than Danny recalled, and some of the larger pieces of furniture weren't even there yet. He even saw one or two removal boxes lying around. It was just a few months after his parents had moved here, with a three year old Jazz, and sixth month old Danny.
In the sitting room, Danny saw his parents sitting opposite Vlad Masters who was reading from a piece of paper with a quizzical expression on his face.
"You want me to be godfather to your children?" Vlad raised an eyebrow.
"Of course, Vladdie!" Jack said loudly, and his wife 'shushed' him.
"They're sleeping," she told him and he smiled apologetically. Maddie glanced across the room and Danny's eyes widened as he saw a pale blue infants' crib with a baby sleeping soundly inside.
"Whoa...wait up...my parents made Vlad our...godfather?!" Danny yelled, "How come they didn't tell us?!"
"Keep watching," Clockwork told him calmly, watching as Vlad stared at the pen in his hand.
"So, V-man...what d'you say?" Jack asked Vlad, but the man only sighed. "I know we've had our differences, and I know you told us not to bother you again...but this is important."
"If I do this, you have to agree never to tell either Jasmine or Daniel," Vlad told them.
"What, why?" Maddie frowned.
"I want to be left alone, I mean it this time, I think I've earned that right," the man answered harshly, "However, should it become necessary, I will render any aid I deem appropriate should the time arrive."
"Huh?" Jack furrowed his brow in confusion and his wife laid a silencing hand on his arms.
"Alright, Vlad," she nodded, "We trust you," she added, and Vlad signed the papers.
"Mommy?" a quiet, young voice spoke, and three year old Jazz appeared in the doorway wearing pale pink pyjamas. "I'm thirsty," the girl mumbled sleepily, rubbing her eyes. She gazed curiously at the stranger in the sitting room for no more than five seconds then Maddie proceeded to lift the infant into her arms.
"Okay, sweetie," Maddie smiled, taking Jazz into the kitchen.
"Thanks, Vladdie, it means a lot to us," Jack told Vlad as Maddie left.
"I can't imagine why you'd choose me...of all people," the man said.
"We've been through a lot together, we had a lot of fun," Jack reminisced.
"Yes, it was endless fun," Vlad mocked sarcastically, but it went right over Jack's head.
"That reminds me, I'll show you my latest invention, it vacuums ten times after than a regular vacuum and it should run off ecto energy once I figure out how to harness the stuff. Wait here," Jack said excitedly, and ran off to his lab.
Vlad sighed and put down the pen he still clutched in his hand, he looked rather shell shocked and pale as he squeezed the bridge of his nose. A second later, there came a loud crashing and smashing sound, followed by the sound of something heavy, heading towards the sitting room.
Vlad flickered his gaze around, using his ghostly senses, and then he shot up, ran quickly over to the baby Danny, lifted him into his arms, and made the both of them intangible just as Jack's new invention tore through the room, slamming into the cot and all but crushing it. The machine then moved by itself into another room.
"Maddie! The Fenton vacuum! It's on the run again!" Jack cried as he ran through into the room seeing Vlad holding Danny, and then the crushed baby cot in the corner, "See, V-man, you are good with kids..." he said with a smile, then ran from the room.
"You better hope you fare better than I did, Daniel," the man sighed, cradling the child in his arms, "...You and your sister," he added as the baby opened his eyes to stare at Vlad.
Vlad, using his ghost powers, encased the blanket in ecto-energy and it floated up to him, allowing him to wrap the smiling Danny inside it. "Don't get too used to them, child, they come with a hefty price," Vlad said, referring to his powers when the baby laughed, staring at the 'magic' blanket. "One I doubt you'd be willing to pay," he added almost smugly.
"I got it!" Jack yelled, "I caught the Fenton vacuum!" he ran back into the sitting room, smiling triumphantly at Vlad. "Hey, how 'bout a family photo, V-man?" Jack asked seeing his friend still holding Danny.
"I really don't..." Vlad shook his head, suddenly very uneasy.
"It'll be great," Jack smiled, going into the kitchen after his wife, "...Maddie, where'd we put the Fenton camera?"
"...Wow, talk about irony," Danny said to Clockwork.
"I don't think it was lost on Vladimir either, Danny," the ghost replied, waving his staff once more.
Danny grimaced as he once again recognised his arch enemies' high tech laboratory, and this time it was full of loud noise and several ghosts. Skulker was floating off to the side, smirking widely, as the three vulture ghosts all but cowered in fear.
"Blast it all!" Vlad yelled furiously, as he shot a bright blast of pink ectoplasm into his open ghost portal. His cape flew behind him, pushed back from the force of his attacks. He continued to do this over and over again, screaming and yelling hoarsely each time. "Why didn't you tell me that the ghost boy was Jack Fenton's son?!" he bellowed, turning to face the three vultures Danny knew so well. "I had to find like this! It's not good enough I tell you!"
"Ve didn't know, boss, ve svear!" one of the birds answered in his heavily accented voice.
"Ve didn't know it vas so important to find out..." another of them added.
"Why Daniel? Why him?!"
"Get out!" Vlad ordered the ghosts, and they didn't need telling twice. They fled into the portal faster than Danny had ever seen them move, leaving Vlad alone with Skulker. "And what do you have to say for yourself?!" he demanded of the hunter.
"What?" Skulker said in confusion, "Me? What'd I do?"
"You knew, didn't you? Why didn't you inform me Daniel Fenton was the ghost child you so badly wanted to capture?"
"I didn't think his human life was important; you didn't say anything about it and even ghosts can't read minds, Plasmius," the hunter answered sensibly.
"...Everything I lost, and he gets his powers for nothing!" Vlad scowled, sending another strong blast into the Ghost Zone, enjoying the crackling sound it made on impact with the other dimension.
"You know, if you end up hitting something in there, it'll come in here after you," Skulker said to him, pointing his thumb at the portal.
"I don't care!" Vlad yelled.
"Okay," Skulker shrugged his huge shoulders and crossed his arms. "I don't know why you bother with those three anyway, they can't do anything right."
"They don't ask questions for a start," Vlad hissed, "And it's not like you've never messed up before...speaking of which, shouldn't you be checking out a book on a purple back gorilla or something?" he added, in a calmer tone.
"Hey! That wasn't my fault, and when are you gonna get rid of that damn thing for me?!"
"All in good time," Vlad chuckled.
"I'm losing good prey because of it, and you gave me your word..."
"I'll see to it, Skulker," the older hybrid replied. "Meantime...hunt the boy if you wish, it will serve to improve his hold on his powers," he added slowly.
"I'm no one’s teacher, Plasmius!" the hunter growled threateningly, but Vlad didn't flinch.
"The boy is too stubborn; he won't learn anything from me, or anyone else willingly."
"Why does that sound familiar?" Skulker asked him, still with a hint of anger.
"Oh, you're hilarious," Vlad rolled his eyes.
"If you want him to learn anything, why don't you teach him? He is like you, after all."
"He already thinks of me as a villain, it's better off if it stays that way," the man answered the hunter.
"I never thought of you as having a martyr complex, Plasmius."
"Nor I you as having a second death wish, Skulker," Vlad growled back, his eyes shining a deeper red. The hunter backed off reluctantly and Vlad continued, "I expect you to inform the others; no one is to do the boy any lasting harm."
"Why should I be your messenger?!
"Because if anyone harms Daniel irrevocably, I will do the same to you and the ghost in question, ten times over - and you'll most definitely be first."
"Right, I'll do that then," Skulker swallowed nervously, "But...they boy...why do you care?" he asked after a moment.
"It's my job to care," Vlad answered and Danny's eyes widened.
He remembered having the same conversation with Clockwork just before this had all begun. Had Clockwork said the same thing as Vlad on purpose? "Daniel will learn what he needs to know...whether he wants to or not," Vlad said, snapping Danny from his thoughts.
Skulker sighed heavily and started at his employer, "I still don't understand you at all," the hunter admitted.
"That's not important, what is important is that you do the task I've given you. It's what was agreed, and though I'm loathe to interfere, I never go back on my word...even if that promise was made to Jack Fenton," Vlad muttered.
"Just to be clear...I have no idea what you're talking about..." Skulker said, wide eyed to Vlad.
"I don't expect you to," Vlad replied enigmatically, "Now, if you will..." he added, indicating towards the ghost portal.
"Alright, but if you fire at me I'll come back and start hunting you again, I swear, I'll..."
"I highly doubt you'll succeed should you do so - you quit for a reason, if you recall," was the confident reply he got.
"Fine," the hunter sagged in defeat and then flew into the portal, Vlad then preceded to close it and lock it. Clockwork raised his staff again.
"Well, what did you want, Skulker," Vlad asked. He was standing in his castle library; it was huge, constructed from dark wood, each shelf was piled high with books and two spiral staircases, one at either end of the room, lead up to an upper mezzanine. Danny and Clockwork floated on the main ground level, listening as Skulker spoke back.
"I'm doing what you wanted, Plasmius, you said you wanted reports on the ghost child," the hunter answered, floating up to where Vlad stood in the mezzanine.
"He'd getting better, he and the female hunter...managed to elude me..."
"Together?" Vlad raised an eyebrow.
"You failed then?" Vlad chuckled. "I fully expected them to escape," Vlad replied, "Your plan wasn't exactly a stroke of genius."
"What? How do you know about it? You weren't there!"
"I don't have to be; do you really think I'd leave two of my best pawns alone in another state to do as they please, with only one ghost to pick and choose what and when he reports to me?" the man scoffed, pulling out a book only to return it a second later.
"I should've seen that coming," Skulker sighed, "So you've been spying on the both of them all along?"
"Hey!" Danny cried, "That fruit loop! He was spying on me all the way back then?!" he expected a reply from Clockwork, but the ghost was silent.
"And I should tell you, Skulker, if you damaged either of them, it won't turn out well for you," Vlad threatened.
"I thought I told you; I want that whelps' pelt on my wall!"
"Daniel and the girl are mine, Skulker, they are my pawns, and I expect they'll both prove useful, one day," Vlad said narcissistically.
"That's all well and good, but I swore an oath to hunt the ghost child to his death!"
"You'll have to get through me to do that," Vlad growled, his eyes flashing red in anger.
"You're a warped man, Plasmius," Skulker shook his head.
"No doubt, but my promise was made before yours, and I am stronger," the man said, "I had a feeling they'd work well together," he added, mostly to himself.
"You didn't plan this, there's no what you could've know how..."
"No, but I could guess; I know Daniel, I know what he believes, and the girl is ruled by the same morals," Vlad told Skulker.
"I'm still going to hunt him."
"I know, I won't stop you...unless I have to," Vlad vowed aloud and Skulker nodded, flying up out of the building, leaving Vlad to his library.
"Man, they're both screwed up," Danny crossed his arms and closed his eyes as the green smoke appeared again.
When he opened his eyes Danny found himself in Vlad's lab again, but this time he saw something very familiar; his parents' ecto-suit. It had been taken apart, piece by piece and lay scattered methodically on a large table.
"It's almost completely perfect," Vlad said, examining a small part of the suit, "Who'd thought Jack Fenton could design something so ingenious."
He then out down the piece and moved across the room to sit down at a computer with several monitors and a glass, touch sensitive keyboard. In Danny's opinion it was very possible to have too many monitors on one computer. Vlad began typing rapidly, analysing the data from the ecto-suit, which was shown on one of the screens. "Almost completely perfect," the man repeated, "But I can do better," he chuckled and continued to type.
A second later, Vlad opened a drawer and took out, what looked to Danny to be a small radio. "Skulker, come to my lab, I may have a job for you," Vlad smirked.
"What kind of job?" the hunter replied, "And I'd rather you remember that I'm not your personal lackey, Plasmius."
"You're paid well, Skulker, dot complain or I'll get someone else; The Fright Knight could get the job done just as well as you."
"Fine, fine, what d'you want me to do?" Skulker sighed.
"I need you to get me a few things...from Amity Park," Vlad answered.
Now, Vlad was sitting in a window seat on a luxuriously decorated plane, it was of course his private plane, with deep red upholstery, and the curtains closed it had a womb like feel. The lights were dimmed, making it seem even darker, and the man himself had his head resting in his hands. He was weak and unsteady, and in recovery from ecto-acne for the second time in twenty years.
At least he knew the cure this time, but if the disease returned a third time, Vlad wasn't sure if he could survive it; cure or no, ecto-acne took its toll on the body. In the few short hours since he'd been cured he'd already been afflicted with severe headaches accompanied by intermittent loss of vision and palpitations, hot sweats and cold fits and his motor functions were damaged making him unsteady.
He knew that Danny's friends would recover a lot quicker than him because they were young and they'd never had the disease before. So, luckily for them there'd be no lasting damage. The purpose they had served was complete; Vlad was cured and now he had only to deal with the aftermath, which was almost as bad as the disease itself.
Vlad shivered violently, hugging his jacket closer around himself as he was hit with yet another severe chill, even his teeth chattered as his core body temperature plummeted and he could feel his limbs freeze up.
"What's going on now?" Danny asked, confused by what little he'd seen.
"This happened only hours ago, Vlad is returning to Wisconsin," Clockwork replied, "He was lucky to survive."
"But..." Danny frowned, then shook his head as Vlad continued to shiver, "...Well, I don't care anyway," he shook his head, walking down the spacious aisle, "He could've killed Sam and Tucker!"
Vlad then breathed deeply, and his hands ignited with ghostly energy and he began to emit a strong, warm aura. His shivering began to subside and he let out a nasally growl of frustration, irritated beyond measure at his own weaknesses.
Slowly, he felt the cold leave him completely, and he slouched motionless for a good few minutes, simply too weak to move. Then, even slower, trying not to jostle his heavy, aching limbs, Vlad suddenly reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out his wallet, and opened it. From behind a pocket full of business cards he retrieved a folded up photograph. Vlad stared down at the old, crumpled piece of laminated paper with a strange look.
"Sir?" a quiet voice spoke up, and Vlad looked up, dropping the photo as he did.
"What?" Vlad demanded, weakly attempting a semblance of confidence.
"Erm...we'll be landing in a few minutes...sir," the man blinked nervously and left as quickly as possible after Vlad nodded once with a sigh.
In between this short exchange of words, Danny had floated across the aisle, and knelt down to get a batter look at the photo and saw, to his great surprise, that it showed his mother holding a three year old Jazz, and his father with one arm around his wife, and the other around Vlad who was looking down at the baby Danny in his arms.
When the nameless man was gone, Vlad gently picked up the photo in his right hand and held it at eye level, then his left hand lit up with ghostly energy once again. He adopted a stern, emotionless expression as he moved his right hand closer and closer to his left...and then he stopped.
Vlad sighed and let the energy dissipate and put the photograph away, hiding it at the back of his wallet again. He then buckled his seat belt before the plane began its descent.
Danny remerged in Clockwork's lair, looking dazed and disoriented as his feet touched the ground. "Should that be makin' a guy dizzy?" he rhetorically asked the Time Master.
"Well, what do you think of what I showed you?" Clockwork asked him, tilting his head curiously.
"W..." Danny shrugged, "What am I supposed to think? Ok, I get it; Vlad had trouble with his powers, big deal...why'd you show me, anyway?" Danny crossed his arms, "Yeah, it's all kinda sad, but it's not like I can change anything that happened, and it's not like Vlad'd let me if I could, anyway."
"No, but you can change things that could happen," Clockwork replied mysteriously and Danny rolled his eyes.
"Can't you just drop the riddles for one day...please?"
"No," the Time Master said simply.
"Well...then how am I supposed to know what the heck you're talking about?!"
"Maybe you're not...just don't forget any of what you saw."
"Why? What would it change? I didn't want this! I didn't have a choice! He's the one always on my back. He's the one with the evil plots! It doesn't matter if he really is my godfather or not - which I still can't believe no one ever told me about that - but if he cared, he wouldn't have done half of what he did! Vlad only cares about himself."
"Just think about it," Clockwork said simply, only frustrating Danny further.
Danny threw up his arms in irritation and flew up into the air, "I give up, I'm going home. See you 'round, dude," he sighed and flew away, finding it impossible, no matter how hard he tried, to forget it all.here ...