Danielle: Part I
Two and a half years after the accident
In the months that civil war raged in the Ghost Zone, it was not unusual for the Fentons to be awakened at all hours of the night by the Ghost Alarm, which alerted them whenever a ghost came into the Human World through the portal in their basement lab. Terrifying, but not unusual. More often than not, the ghost that tripped the alarm was an ally, looking for Danny. Occasionally, it was one of Vlad's minions, trying to take the fight to the Human World.
Only once was it Danny himself.
Jack had adjusted the Ghost Alarm so that Danny's specific ecto-signature wouldn't set it off, so Maddie was confused the night she and Jack raced down the stairs into the basement and saw nothing but Danny—in ghost form—standing with his three closest friends, Sam Manson, Tucker Foley, and Valerie Gray, near the open hatch of the Specter Speeder, the rocket-powered vehicle Jack had designed for travel in both the Human World and the Ghost Zone.
Jack looked around wildly, his short, salt-and-pepper hair sticking out at odd angles, his tent-like fuchsia nightshirt over his orange jumpsuit, and a Fenton Bazooka, one of the many anti-ghost weapons he'd invented, in his hands. "Where's the ghost?"
"No ghost." And yet, Danny still sounded frantic. "I set off the alarm to wake you up. She's hurt, Mom. She needs help, please…"
It was only then that Maddie saw the young girl, maybe thirteen or fourteen, cradled in Danny's arms. She had long, black hair that looked matted and caked with green ectoplasm, and she was clinging to Danny's neck, moaning and mumbling incoherently. Maddie put her hand to the girl's forehead, and was startled at how cold she was. "I think she's in shock, Danny, and possibly suffering from hypothermia. We need to call nine-one-one and get her to a hospital."
"No!" Her son—she'd finally gotten to the point where she saw him as her son even when he had that ghost-white hair and glowing, ecto-green eyes—looked more panicked than she could ever remember seeing him. "She can't go to a hospital. You have to help her!"
"I'm not a medical doctor, sweetie. And FentonWorks isn't a hospital," she added, referring to their gadget-inventing business that doubled as their family home. "She needs a doctor."
"She needs someone who understands ghosts. She's a half-ghost, Mom. Like me."
Maddie frowned. Another half-ghost? Weren't Danny and Vlad the only ones? Or wait… had Danny mentioned a third the night she'd found out about his powers? She couldn't remember.
Danny's voice pitched higher. "Please, you have to help her. I think she's… I think she's dying. Vlad… he did something to her. Some kind of experiment with ectoranium. He injected it into her, I think—"
Her eyes widened at this. Ectoranium was an anti-ghost element that was very dangerous to ghosts, although somehow prolonged exposure to it had mutated Vlad into something beyond an ordinary ghost instead of destroying him. "He injected her with ectoranium?"
Danny nodded. "And she's already unstable to begin with. About a year ago, I had to give her some of that Ecto-Dejecto Dad created just to keep her from melting into a pool of green goop. This… it isn't the first time he's experimented on her."
Maddie exchanged glances with Jack over Danny's head, then she nodded at their son. "Okay. Let's get her up to the Op-Center."
The kids were all waiting in the living room when Maddie and Jack finally came downstairs. Danny—back in human form with his normal black hair and blue eyes—was sandwiched between Sam and Tucker, his face sickly pale. Maddie hoped it was just the contrast between Sam's black hair and clothes huddled against him on his right and Tucker's milk-chocolate complexion on his left that made it stand out so much, but even in his ghost form, she couldn't remember him ever looking quite so white. Sam had her hand on his back, rubbing it in a vain attempt to comfort him. Tucker, meanwhile, looked like he wasn't sure what to do with himself, so he was using that red beret he always wore to wipe his large, black-rimmed glasses as a way of keeping busy. Valerie was pacing the floor in front of them, still in that strange, skin-tight, red-and-black battle suit of hers, but with the helmet off so that Maddie could see the worry etched in her dark features. Her long, thick, black hair was pulled back from her face with a bright yellow headband that looked completely out of place in such a somber scene.
When Danny saw his parents, he jumped out of his seat, almost knocking Sam over in the process. "How is she? Is she okay?"
Maddie sighed. "She's not good. In order to keep the ectoranium from killing her, I had to flush her system with high concentrations of ecto-purifier. It's quite possible that her ghost powers could be permanently damaged, or even disabled. And you were right about her being more unstable than you are, but we can't figure out exactly why. You're going to have to tell us everything you know."
He nodded. "But she'll live?"
"I think so. She's probably going to have some long-term health issues, but I think she'll survive."
Danny sighed, his shoulders slumping in relief.
"Sweetie, do you know who her parents are? We need to contact them."
"Wow," Tucker said from behind Danny. "She really is an obscure cousin if your parents don't even know who she is."
Maddie frowned. "Cousin?"
"Yeah, that's a long story," Danny said quietly. "And she… she doesn't have any parents."
"Okay." Maddie's frown deepened. There was something Danny wasn't telling her about this girl, besides the fact that she wasn't really his cousin. "Then who's responsible for her?"
He looked at her like she'd punched him in the gut. "I am."
Maddie sent Danny's friends home and settled him in the kitchen with a mug of hot chocolate before she and Jack questioned him further. "I need you to tell me everything you know about this girl if I'm going to help her. Who is she?"
"Her name is Danielle. Dani for short. With an i. And she's… she's a clone. That's why she's unstable."
Maddie's eyes widened, and she felt something like a stone drop in her stomach. "A clone? Of whom?"
"Of me. Vlad made her." He paused. "I've never told anyone that before, not even Sam and Tucker. They think she's a distant cousin."
Maddie's gaze met Jack's. His eyes were dark and guarded, and he looked angrier than she'd ever seen in all the years she'd known him. She turned her attention back on Danny, carefully picking her words. "Are you sure, Danny? You're telling me Vlad made a clone of you?"
He nodded. "He had this whole cloning project going about a year and a half ago. I guess he got tired of waiting for me to choose him over Dad and be his 'perfect half-ghost son,' so he decided to make a copy of me instead. There were others, but they were failures—all mutated and weird and more like zombies than ghosts. And they melted whenever I fought them. Just melted into puddles of green goop. Dani was the only one who was… I dunno. A real person. But she was unstable, too. Not as bad as the others, but still. She kept… she would start to melt, too, whenever she used her powers. She took off into the Ghost Zone and was okay for a few months, but it was getting worse, so she came looking for me again, hoping I could help her. That was about a year ago, right when Dad was doing those experiments with that Ecto-Dejecto stuff he came up with that was supposed to make ghosts weaker, but it was making them stronger instead. So I took some from the lab and gave it to her."
"Danny!" Maddie shook her head, aghast. "You're not even a scientist, let alone a doctor. You should never, ever take chemicals from our lab and just use them on people! You could have killed her!"
"I know, Mom, but she was already dying. It was… I can't even explain how horrible it was. She was literally melting, and the only thing that stabilized her and brought her back was the Ecto-Dejecto. It was the only thing I could think of to do."
Jack put a hand on his shoulder. "You probably saved her life, Dan. You just… you need to understand that your mother and I have been studying this stuff for years, and we—well, I mostly—still screw up on a regular basis. You can't just experiment on people."
"I know. That's Vlad's department."
The bitterness in his voice broke Maddie's heart. "Okay, now let's back up here a minute. You know for a fact Vlad created her from your DNA?"
"About a year and a half ago."
She looked at Jack. "That would explain why she's unstable. He accelerated her growth, completing about a dozen years of development in less than a year. I doubt a full human would survive, but someone with ghost powers…"
"Would melt down into basic ectoplasm," Jack finished. "Green goop."
Danny cocked his head. "It's not just because she's a clone?"
Maddie chewed on her lip, again choosing her words carefully. "Clones aren't created in some sort of photocopying process. They're genetic duplicates of their hosts, but they need to grow and develop just like any other human being, from the embryo stage on through adulthood. If all Vlad had done was cloned you then, depending on when he actually began the process, and factoring in nine months gestation, we'd have anywhere from a nine-month-old to an eighteen-month-old baby with your DNA. But I'm guessing that wasn't good enough for Vlad. He wanted a copy of you, as you are. You were fifteen then, so what he wanted was a fifteen-year-old."
"Dani's not that old. She was, like, twelve when I met her. But there was another clone that looked my age. It melted, too."
Shuddering, Maddie pressed on. "Yes, Vlad obviously stopped the accelerated growth when she hit twelve, which might be why she was more stable than the others. The rapid growth is a very shaky process, and twelve years all at once is a tremendous amount, but it's better than fifteen. That's part of the reason that human cloning is so dicey. Not to mention unethical."
"So… is she gonna keep aging that fast?"
"No. Once you stop taking the hormone, you go back to aging at a normal rate. She should continue to grow and develop just like any other thirteen- or fourteen-year-old."
Hope lit up Danny's eyes. "Then… you think she's gonna be okay?"
"I don't know, sweetie. She almost certainly won't be able to use all her ghost powers, or morph into ghost form the way you do. But she should be able to live as a human. She might even retain some of her powers, the way you can float or go intangible or invisible even in your human form."
Danny nodded, the hope fading back into misery. "This is all my fault. She's my responsibility, and I completely blew it off. She was, like, twelve when I let her go off on her own into the Ghost Zone the first time I met her, and maybe thirteen the last time. And if what you're saying about her accelerated growth is true, then she's not even really that old. She'd really only have been barely one then. But she was on her own in the Ghost Zone, and because of that, Vlad got a hold of her—again—and experimented on her—again. I think…" He looked up at them. "I think he's trying to figure out if there's a way to give me the same powers the ectoranium gave him, and he was testing it out on her. He's always treated her like she's expendable."
Maddie felt her blood boil, and she saw Jack clench his jaw so hard she was afraid it might shatter. "Danny, you are not responsible for what Vlad does. Ever." She spat his name—it was impossible for her to say it with anything other than utter contempt anymore. And to think, she'd once counted him a friend. "Don't you worry about Danielle. She's our responsibility now."
Danny frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Exactly what she said, son." Jack slapped a hand down on Danny's shoulder once more. "Don't worry about her. We'll take care of everything. You just get some sleep. It's three o'clock in the morning, and you've already missed enough school lately."
"Can I see her first?"
Maddie nodded. "She's asleep, but you can sit with her. Or sleep in the room if you like. But do try and get some sleep, okay, sweetie?"
She ruffled his hair, and he scowled and pulled away from her, then abruptly reached over and hugged her. "Thanks, Mom. For everything."
She blinked, fighting the tears that wanted to fill her eyes.
They stared at each other in silence until they were sure Danny was well out of earshot. Then Jack stood up, picked up one of the kitchen chairs, and hurled it across the room.
Maddie jumped. "Jack—"
Normally, her husband's mammoth size, coupled with his usual childlike exuberance, gave him an almost teddy-bear-like quality. When he was angry, however, he looked more like a grizzly bear out for blood. "And I felt bad about leaving Vlad in space during the asteroid crisis. I should have torn him apart, is what I should've done! That… that… sick, twisted, sadistic…" He trailed off, as if at a loss for words foul enough to describe his former best friend. "And it's my fault, Maddie. I'm the one who let him into Danny's life, because I wanted to ease my guilty conscience over a stupid accident twenty years ago. And he does this. To our son."
"You didn't know."
But she'd known. Not the extent to which Vlad was manipulating and… violating their son, but she'd known he was in love with her and obsessed with Danny. That alone should have been enough for her to make sure he didn't get within fifty miles of their family. Despite what she knew, however, she'd never said a word. For Jack's sake, she'd stayed silent, because the renewed friendship he'd thought he'd had with Vlad had meant so much to him. And it was their son who'd paid the price.
Jack was not about to let himself off the hook, however. "I didn't know only because I didn't want to know. Vlad—" He shook his head, looking as if he was swallowing his own bile. "That girl is no clone. Not of Danny, anyway."
Maddie sighed. "We don't know anything for certain, not without a DNA test—"
"She's not his clone. Clones are genetic duplicates. Bio-engineered identical twins. And maybe you noticed—she's a girl."
"There are variations in sex development, including females with XY chromosomes. Maleness is determined by the SRY gene, which is usually on the Y chromosome, but not always. It's possible she has something like Swyer Syndrome, and has XY chromosomes, but a mutated or missing SRY gene. The cloning process could even have caused it."
Jack's eyes narrowed. "That's not what happened, and you know it. You know exactly what kinds of genetic experimentations Vlad was researching in college. He was interested in way more than just cloning."
Nodding, Maddie closed her eyes. She didn't really believe Dani had Swyer Syndrome, or any other type of SRY-related genetic anomaly. Girls with Swyer Syndrome had no ovaries and consequently experienced delayed puberty. Dani, in contrast, had clearly already hit puberty and seemed to be developing normally for a girl of thirteen or fourteen. Although, who knew what the accelerated growth could do?
She looked up at her husband. "We need to do a DNA test, and then we'll know. But, Jack. No matter what, that girl is our responsibility. If she's Danny's clone, it's the same as if she's our child. If she's… well, it doesn't matter. She needs someone to take care of her no matter who she is. We owe it to her. And to Danny."
"That was never a question, Maddie. You know that."
"And whatever we find out, we tell Danny the truth. No more secrets in this family."
He nodded, but they both knew that their lives were built upon a foundation of secrets, from the moment Danny first had the accident. Maybe even from the moment Vlad had had his accident twenty years earlier. Whatever they found out about Danielle, they would tell Danny the truth, and Jazz, too. But it still would be just one more secret to hide from the world.