Three years after the accident
At the beginning of senior year, all students of Casper High were required to make at least one appointment with the school guidance counselor to discuss planning for life after high school. Tucker, Sam, and Valerie all made theirs pretty early on, but Danny kept putting it off. Talking about his future was not something he was looking forward to, particularly not with a school counselor he'd spoken to maybe all of four times in his entire three years of high school thus far. He had met with the previous counselor a few times during freshman year, but the fact that she'd turned out to be an evil ghost who fed off adolescent insecurities did not exactly bolster his confidence in the whole process.
He was surprised, then, when he walked into the counseling office for his appointment and found, not Ms. Lieberman, as expected, but Mr. Lancer, their bald, paunchy vice principal.
"Uh…" Danny hesitated in the doorway. "I'm supposed to have an appointment with Ms. Lieberman?"
"Yes, Mr. Fenton, I know. Have a seat. And close the door behind you." Lancer ushered him into the room with a wave of his hand.
Danny did as directed, closing the door and walking over to the blue classroom chair set up across from Ms. Lieberman's desk, behind which Mr. Lancer was now seated. Perching himself on the edge of the chair, Danny couldn't decide which was more uncomfortable: the molded plastic, or Lancer's unexpected presence. "Am I in some sort of trouble?"
"Only if you don't take planning for your future seriously." Mr. Lancer folded his hands and leaned forward. "I thought it would be a good idea if I handled your guidance sessions rather than Ms. Lieberman. If we're going to talk about your future, you're going to need to be forthright about what exactly your plans are."
"Um… okay." Now it was definitely Lancer making him more uncomfortable. As one of the seventy-some people who'd been in Antarctica during the asteroid crisis when Danny had revealed his identity, Lancer was the only teacher at Casper High who knew Danny was half ghost.
"So what are your plans for the future, Mr. Fenton?"
Danny's shoulders slumped. "That's just it. I don't really know. I… I always wanted to be an astronaut, actually. From the time I was a little kid, anytime anyone asked what I want to be when I grow up, I always said 'astronaut.' I never even thought about doing anything else."
"I hear a 'but' in there."
"But NASA only chooses one hundred people every two years to go into the space program. And let's face it—with my math and science grades, I'm not exactly in the top 100 in the country."
"That's a copout, Mr. Fenton. Your grades have steadily improved over the last two years. Your C.A.T. and PSAT scores were decent, and there's no reason to think you won't do fairly well on the SAT. You're scheduled to take it next month, yes?"
"You probably won't get into MIT with your grades, but you won't have any trouble getting into a good university. Really buckle down and do well in college, go on to get advanced degrees, and there's no reason to think you wouldn't have a shot at the space program, if that's what you really want."
Danny shifted in his chair. "I guess."
"I suspect, however, that the 'but' isn't so much your qualifications, but rather your enthusiasm. Do you still want to be an astronaut?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. I guess, in a way, it kinda feels like 'been there, done that.'"
Lancer raised an eyebrow at him. "How so?"
"Well, ever since I got my ghost powers, I've gotten to do some pretty cool things. I've even been in space, and flown the space shuttle."
"So you aren't really interested in becoming an astronaut anymore."
"I guess not."
"Then what are you interested in doing?"
Danny let out a huff of air. "That's just it. I don't know. My friends all know exactly what they wanna do after high school. Tucker's gonna double-major in information technology and political science, and he's gonna either get some high-level job at a place like Axion, or he's gonna run for president. Maybe both, knowing him. Valerie's gonna do IT, like her dad, and Sam's gonna go to law school and work for the ACLU or something, or be a lobbyist, or some other activist thing. But me? I have no idea what I want to do. Being an astronaut was the only thing I ever wanted, but everything I thought my future was gonna be kinda got thrown out the window after the accident."
"Then maybe the problem is that you aren't asking the right question. Or at least not the full question. You're trying to figure out what Danny Fenton wants to be, but have you considered what Danny Phantom wants to be?"
Danny blinked. "What do you mean? Danny Phantom is just… he fights ghosts. That's pretty much it."
"I think there's far more to Danny Phantom than just fighting ghosts, although that's a big part of it. He's also a bit of a politician himself, not unlike Mayor Foley or Activist Manson. He's an ambassador, if you will, between the Human World and the Ghost Zone. Wouldn't you agree?"
"I guess." Actually, Danny had never really thought of it that way.
"Am I correct in assuming that you plan to continue with these pursuits after graduation?"
"Well, yeah, but not as a career."
"Why not as a career?"
"What? Like, get paid to be Danny Phantom?"
"No. That would make you a mercenary, and I don't think that's exactly your style. Danny Fenton can worry about the getting paid, and we'll talk about that in a minute, but let's get back to Danny Phantom. You've been doing this for three years now, correct?"
"And you've improved quite a bit in those three years, mostly just through trial and error. But imagine the things you could do if you stopped feeling your way around, and actually planned for your career as a ghost-fighter-slash-ambassador the way you would have planned for a career as an astronaut. What fields of study could you undertake that would further these objectives?"
Danny cocked his head, considering. "I dunno. Uh… I should probably study martial arts or something. Valerie has been trying to talk me into joining her dojo anyway. Sam and Tucker, too."
"That's a start, not just for learning physical combat, but for learning tactics and strategy. But what about the other part? The ambassador part?"
"I dunno. That sounds like poli-sci, like Tucker and Sam."
"It certainly wouldn't hurt to take a few classes in diplomacy, and communications. Basic psychology and parapsychology would be helpful as well."
"That's Jazz's department."
"Well, the advantage to having an entire team behind you is that you will have others on the team that have strengths you don't, and that is most definitely one of your sister's fortes. But a good team leader needs to know a little bit about a broad array of subjects. Not to the same depth as Jazz, but an overview, at least."
"Okay. So I go to college and take poli-sci, communications, and psych, and do martial arts on the side. But that's kinda all over the map. None of that really says 'career.'"
"This is where Danny Fenton comes in. Knowing that you want to continue ghost fighting, you should think about what careers might be complimentary to that."
"I dunno. I…" Danny stopped, his eyes widening as it hit him. "You know what I really see myself doing? I can't believe I'm saying this, but… I think I wanna keep FentonWorks going. I mean, I'm no inventor like my parents, but I could see myself working with them, helping them fine-tune the weapons, point out what new technology might be needed. Like when we fought against Plasmius a few months ago. My dad was the one who figured out that we'd need a whole new kind of weapon, but I'm the one who actually figured out how to fight him and what we'd need to do it."
Lancer nodded. "Good. I think you're onto something here. What skills would you need to work with your parents at FentonWorks?"
"Science. Physics, chemistry, biological sciences. I'd probably have to at least minor in some kind of science, if not major in it. And… business. Not as a major, but I'd need to have an idea how to run a business once my parents retire."
"Now you've got a plan. Get a science degree. Take classes in poli-sci, maybe even minor in it. Study martial arts. Take a few business classes, some psych, and some communications. Does that sound about right?"
"Yeah, actually, it does." Danny leaned forward, his hands on his knees, feeling excited about the future for the first time since… well, for the first time since he went to Junior Space Camp when he was ten.
"And I suspect you'll want to stick to a university close to home—and to that Ghost Portal in your parents' basement. There are a number of excellent universities in the Chicago area, and Purdue Calumet, Indiana University Northwest, and Valparaiso are all good schools very close to Amity Park."
Danny nodded, his mind whirling. He, Sam, Tucker, and Val had already talked about all of them going to Purdue Calumet so they could stay together and be close to Amity Park, and with Dani having just started her freshman year at Casper High, Danny had even more reason to stick close to home. "Yeah, I've already been reading up on Purdue Calumet on the 'net. I just didn't know if it was the right place because I didn't know what I actually wanted to study. But I feel like I have a direction now. Thanks, Mr. Lancer."
Lancer smiled and rose from his seat. "Just make sure you keep your grades up, especially in science and math. And English wouldn't hurt, either."
Danny rolled his eyes—English was Mr. Lancer's subject.
"And study up for the SAT. None of that funny business like we had with the C.A.T." He waggled a stern finger at Danny.
"No, sir." Danny got up from his seat as well. "Is that it, then?"
"That's it for now. We'll have another chat when it comes time to submit applications, look into scholarships, that sort of thing."
"Okay. Thanks again, Mr. Lancer. I feel a whole lot better about graduation now."
"I think helping you get on course for your future is the least I can do, considering the fact that none of us would even have a future, if it weren't for you."