The Ghost of Christmas Present: Pt VIII
December 23, 1:00 am EST
A nudge in his ribs jarred Tucker awake, almost knocking him out of his chair. Catching himself just in time, he blinked through bleary eyes, then turned to glare at the source of the offending elbow. "Hey!"
Chris Sanders, a stocky, redheaded freshman representative from Oregon, smirked at him. "I'll bet you sat in the back and slept through class in high school, too."
Tucker shook his head. "Only if I was out late fighting ghosts the night before. Not even Lancer's classes were as boring as tax debates. And they didn't go all night, either."
"English and Science teacher. Made that guy from Ferris Bueller's Day Off seem fascinating." Tucker blinked again, then took off his glasses and wiped them off on his tie, which was pulled loose from his neck. Normally he wore his contacts but, anticipating the all-nighter, he'd opted for his glasses this morning instead.
Or, rather, yesterday morning. Tucker slumped down in his chair, exhausted, only to earn himself another elbow in the ribs from Chris. "Hey, come on. We can't let all the old fogies outlast us. We should be able to pull off the all-nighters better than they can." At twenty-eight, Chris had been the youngest member of this Congress until Tucker was elected the previous September. Their youth and similar interests—both sat on the Science and Technology Committee's Technology and Innovation Subcommittee, and Chris was a staunch supporter of ecto-rights—made them instant friends, and they often sat together in the back of the chamber when in session.
Tucker shook his head. "I just wish they'd stop stalling and get on with it already. I am so sick of tax talk, my ears are starting to bleed."
"Well, good news then. The vote'll be in less than half an hour and, if it passes, we're taking a recess to wait for the Senate vote. With any luck, they won't amend it, and then we can move onto flu shots and clean water, and we just might be outta here by breakfast."
"Maybe I can get in a nap during the recess. I wanna be alert during those debates."
Chris gave him a sideways glance. "You still think they're gonna try and sneak something anti-ecto into one of those bills?"
Tucker just arched an eyebrow in response.
Chris sighed. "Not everything is all about ghosts, you know."
"Tell that to Sam Fenton. Or anyone else who lives in Amity Park." Tucker shook his head. "This was supposed to be the anti-ecto crowd's year, especially after Danny Phantom outed himself, 'proving' that ghosts hiding out as humans are a 'threat to national security and the safety of the American people.'"
Chris clucked his tongue. "Didn't exactly work out that way, did it?"
"That's exactly my point. The backlash from what they did to Danny cost them the election, so this is their last shot. Now that they know humans can have ghost powers, they won't be satisfied until they find a way to smoke out anyone who might possibly be 'contaminated.'" Tucker's mouth automatically hardened on the word, and it was difficult for him to bite back the bile it always produced. "And you know they're hoping to find proof that his baby is a ghost 'cause, wow, a newborn baby, now there's a threat." He rolled his eyes. "But since they haven't been able to get a judge to force Sam's doctor to release her medical records, they're trying to cast a broad net instead."
"I don't blame you for being worried about your friend, but the mandatory DNA test bill failed," Chris pointed out. "And that was even with them having the majority. The flu shot bill got tightened up, too, so it'd be impossible for DNA to be collected through the vaccinations. That leaves only the water bill, and I don't see how they could possibly do anything through legislation requiring the removal of impurities from drinking water. And it's a good bill. You need to vote for it."
Tucker grimaced in frustration. Chris was right, of course, and although Tucker had pored over both remaining bills looking for something—anything—in them that the Guys in White could use to test people for "ecto-contamination," he'd found nothing. The water bill in particular was causing him some angst, because he did want to vote for it, but he couldn't get rid of the nagging suspicion that it would come back to haunt him if he did. It had been introduced late in the session and was part of the end-of-session crunch, and two of its sponsors were the chief backers of the failed DNA Testing Act. Even more suspicious was the fact that they'd never backed any environmental bills before this one. The whole setup set off all sorts of red flags for Tucker, but no matter how many times he read through the text, or had Sam and a couple of her lawyers look it over for anything he might have missed, he couldn't find any way that cleaning up the drinking water could somehow be used to collect DNA samples from people against their will. There was no one set prescription for cleaning the water—that would be left to the states. It simply set a new standard for water quality.
"I know the water bill looks good," he conceded, "but what about the flu shot bill? The whole thing's been a bad idea from the get-go, even if it can't be used to collect DNA samples from people. Don't you think the Department of Homeland Security is going too far, declaring a 'national emergency' just for the flu?"
"You're just suspicious of everything that comes out of DHS because they're the parent department of the Guys in White."
"Well, duh. I mean, look how riddled with loopholes that bill was when they first proposed it. It would have been so easy to surreptitiously collect DNA samples from everyone who was vaccinated."
"True, but note your use of past tense. They closed all the loopholes."
"Yeah, and it only took sending it back to committee three times to do it," Tucker responded dryly. "But even putting that aside, DHS's powers have gotten way too broad. I don't care how bad the flu pandemic was last month, vaccination issues belong at the state level, not federal."
Chris snorted. "Spoken like a former state legislator. This isn't the 1800s, where viruses can be easily contained to one location. The flu pandemic is a national health crisis. And we haven't even hit the height of flu season yet. It's only gonna get worse after the holidays."
"Yeah, but mandating vaccinations, with no opt-out clause? I'm all for vaccinations and education about vaccinations, but this is going too far. And even though they claim that new super-vaccine is non-allergenic, they're rushing it through the FDA approval process way too fast for me to buy it. There just hasn't been enough time for thorough testing."
"And that's where I agree with you. I'm definitely voting no, but not because I think this has anything to do with flushing out ghosts."
"I hope not, 'cause it's looking like both bills are gonna pass. We're all tired and wanna go home and not have to come back the day after Christmas. I think at this point, we'd pass Prohibition again just to go home."
Chris nodded up towards the Speaker's podium. "Speaking of, looks like Madam Speaker's about to call for the vote on the tax code. Wanna bet it passes for that very reason?"
As Chris predicted, the tax code revisions passed, and the Speaker of the House called a recess to await the Senate's vote. Tucker took that opportunity to duck into a committee room again for another phone call. It took four rings before a somewhat groggy voice answered.
Tucker winced. "Hey. I didn't wake you, did I?"
"Kinda. I was trying to watch you on C-SPAN, but I dozed off."
"Don't feel bad. I dozed off, too. So, no ghosts to hunt tonight?"
There was a snort on the other end of the line. "In D.C.? Please. The place is already too crowded with evil, non-human entities."
He snickered. "You got that right."
"So, any chance of getting back to Amity Park any time this century, or is the current Congress just gonna keep going right up until the next one gets sworn in?"
"Well, we just passed the tax code, and we're waiting to hear from the Senate. Hopefully there won't be any amendments, and then just two more bills and we're outta here. Might even be by breakfast."
"Well, that's good news. I was beginning to think you'd be brown-bagging Christmas Eve dinner on the House floor."
He knew she was joking, but the thought gave him an unexpected pang of melancholy. "This isn't exactly how we planned this Christmas to be, is it, Val?"
She was silent a moment before answering. "No. It would've been..." She trailed off.
Sighing, Tucker brushed away the words she couldn't bring herself to say. "Yeah, well. At least we'll be home in time to spend it with our families. Have you rebooked our flights?"
"Not yet. I was waiting to see whether or not you thought I should shoot for tomorrow—or, actually, it's already today, isn't it? So, we're good to go today, then, instead of Christmas Eve?"
"Should be. Although... there's a chance we might not need to rebook at all. I talked to Sam earlier, and she wants to send her Learjet. I put in a request with the Ethics Committee to see if I can accept, but I don't know if anyone will have time to look at it before we adjourn."
"Oooh, I hope you can get it approved. That'd be sweet! But sounds like I should try and find something commercial just in case. It's gonna be tough, though, this close to Christmas. We might have to fly somewhere other than Chicago and rent a car."
"Just so long as we make it back in time for the Christmas Eve vigil. I promised Sam. And Mrs. Fenton really wants us all there for Christmas Eve."
"Somehow, I don't think she's gonna notice if we're there or not once Danielle shows up."
Tucker slapped his forehead. "Hey, that's right! The tax code stuff has my brain so fried, I completely forgot that you managed to convince Dani to finally go home to see the Fentons again. I ever tell you you're a miracle worker, Val?"
She snorted. "Wasn't much of a miracle. She was so upset when we pushed back our flights, I knew she really wanted to go. Although it cost a mint—and a little judicious use of the name of a certain member Congress—to get the airline to transfer my ticket to her."
"Hey, whatever it takes. Did she get off okay?"
"Yeah. I went with her to the airport at six, and her flight left at eight. She would've gotten into O'Hare a little after nine their time."
Tucker frowned. "Hm. I talked to Sam around eleven their time, and she didn't mention Dani."
"Of course not. By the time she would've gotten her luggage and a shuttle to Amity Park, it'd be too late for her to just show up on the Fentons' doorstep. She wanted to surprise them, but not that late. She's staying the night at the townhouse, then she'll go see them in the morning."
"You sure she won't chicken out?"
"I'll call first thing in the morning and make sure she doesn't."
Tucker nodded, even though she couldn't see him. He was glad they could give Mr. and Mrs. Fenton something to celebrate this Christmas, but they weren't the only ones who needed to hear from Danielle. "What about Sam? Is Dani ready to talk to her, too?"
Valerie let out a small breath of air. "I think so. She said she gets why Sam did what she did. It was just… well, you've seen the video. It must've really killed her to be there and not be able to stop it."
Tucker couldn't help but feel a little defensive on behalf of his best friend. "You don't think it killed Sam, too?"
A grunt of annoyance came from Valerie's end of the line. "You know that's not what I meant, Tucker Foley. I saw her that night, same as you. It about killed all of us, but it was worst for the two of them. I think Dani's finally coming to terms with it, though. She just needed some time and some distance. It's been good for her, getting out of Amity Park, but it's time to go back"
"Yep." For some reason, the way she put that brought back the melancholy, and a touch of resentment crept into his voice. "Everyone's moving on."
She was silent for a moment before replying in a gentle voice. "We can't stay walking open wounds forever, Tuck. It doesn't mean we've forgotten, or that we've given up."
"That's not what I meant. I'm talking about us."
Valerie sighed. "This have anything to do with you talking to Sam?"
"Yeah," he admitted. "And she does have a point. He wouldn't have wanted us to stop living. Do you think that's what we did?"
"No, that's not what we did. You know that. It just… it didn't feel right. To either of us." But there was a sadness to her voice that belied her certainty.
"Only, this doesn't feel quite right, either, does it?"
"No, it doesn't." She let out a long breath of air and, even over the phone, Tucker could feel her struggling with her emotions. "It wasn't supposed to be this way. But without Danny, nothing will ever be right."
He chewed on that a moment. "Sam said without him, the center's gone. The team's all still here, fighting the good fight, but…"
"So what do we do, Val?"
"What we've been doing since that night. Take it day by day and keep believing."