The Ghost of Christmas Present: Pt XIII
December 23, 5:30 am CST
Tucker tried not to be alarmed at how fast Danny deteriorated after everyone left. While Mr. and Mrs. Fenton and Dr. Mihashi ran his bloodwork through test after test in the main room of the Op-Center, he and Sam sat at Danny's bedside. After a little while, Danny fell asleep, and Tucker knew he should probably sneak in a catnap himself, seeing as he'd now been up for twenty-four hours. He was too worried to sleep, though. Sam was too, and she sat silently across from him, her lips pressed together as she watched Danny's chest rise and fall in a slow, steady rhythm.
Every few minutes, Tucker checked the C-SPAN feed on his phone to see what he was missing on the House floor. It was two hours since he'd left, and they'd only just now finished voting on the water bill—it had passed by a fairly wide margin—and were beginning debate on the flu shot bill. He couldn't focus on the proceedings, however, and his eyes kept drifting back to his friend, hoping to see some improvement, but every time he looked, Danny seemed to have lost a little more color. Now Tucker noticed with some concern that beads of sweat had formed on his brow. Sam was dabbing at it with the edge of her robe.
"He getting a fever?" Tucker asked her.
Sam shook her head, biting her lip as she pressed her hand to Danny's forehead. "It's a cold sweat. It feels like his body temperature has dropped ten degrees."
Tucker frowned. "That's not necessarily bad, though, right? For him, I mean. With his ice powers, his body temperature is normally really low. Isn't it?"
Sam shrugged. "He can intentionally lower it, yeah. But it isn't usually this low on its own."
Danny's parents came in to check on him, and the deep worry lines in both their faces did nothing to ease Tucker's apprehension. He looked up at Mrs. Fenton. "Do you know what they gave him yet? Can we do something?"
She shook her head. "We almost have it isolated, but I don't think we can wait. He's getting sicker much faster than I anticipated."
"He's really cold. We need to take him to Frostbite," Sam said, and Mrs. Fenton nodded.
"I think that would be best."
Mr. Fenton looked grave. "I'll go throw some things in the Specter Speeder, then I'll come back up for him."
"I think Jazz and Nick are still here," Mrs. Fenton told him. "Let them know. I'm sure they'll want to come with us." When he left, she looked at Tucker. "Do you wanna come, too?"
"You know it. Although…" He looked at the time on his phone. "I should probably give Val a call and find out where she got off to. She was just supposed to wake Danielle up and bring her back here, but she's been gone almost an hour."
Mrs. Fenton frowned. They'd already told her about Danielle's surprise return, and now she looked worried at the delay. "I hope nothing's wrong—"
"How's the patient?" Dr. Mihashi came into the curtained-off area, unintentionally interrupting Mrs. Fenton.
"Cold, sweating, and really pale," Sam told her.
Dr. Mihashi came over and, pulling a forehead-scanning thermometer out of her lab coat pocket, swiped it across his forehead. Her eyes widened in alarm. "Eighty-eight degrees? That's moderate to severe hypothermia! How did—?"
Mrs. Fenton cut her off with a hand on her arm. "It's not as bad as it seems, Leanne. Danny's ice powers allow his body temperature to go abnormally low without endangering him. Of course, that's when his DNA isn't being attacked as a foreign invader but, still, I don't think he's actually suffering from hypothermia. He is getting sicker, though."
The doctor shook her head, then took his pulse. It eased some of her alarm, but not much. "His pulse seems relatively normal. But he is very cold." She looked to Mrs. Fenton. "You're the ghost expert. You don't think he should be treated like a normal patient with hypothermia?"
"No. We're going to take him to the Ghost Zone. There's a… sort of community of Yeti-like creatures there. They are very intelligent and have advanced medical-type facilities, and their ice powers are like Danny's. They'll have a better idea of how to treat him than we do."
"Well… all right. That's probably a good idea."
"I don't suppose you can arrange to be away from your other patients for a little while so you can come with us? I would feel better if a human MD was there to work with the ghosts."
She looked torn between wonder and fear—an expression Tucker had seen before on those contemplating their first visit to the Ghost Zone. "You want me…? Is it safe?"
Sam looked up at her. "Reasonably safe. Even more so if you're with me. Most of the ghosts have sort of an injunction against hurting me while I'm pregnant. And tomorrow's Christmas Eve. From sundown Christmas Eve to sundown Christmas Day, they observe a truce. Sort of the Ghost Sabbath. Yeah, I know. It's bizarre," she added when Dr. Mihashi blinked at her.
"We should teach a class in Ghost Culture at Amity Park Community College," Tucker said with a snort.
Dr. Mihashi still looked torn. "I'm… not sure. I've never considered… although… I could get my clinic partners to cover for me for a day or two, and it would be an incredible opportunity to gain new knowledge on ecto physiology…"
Mr. Fenton appeared at the opening in the plastic curtains. "Okay. Nicky took Charley home, and Jazz is adjusting one of the Speeder seats to make it recline enough for Danny to lie down on. Are we about ready?"
"Yeah, we're just—" Mrs. Fenton stopped as she noticed some papers in Mr. Fenton's hand. "Are those the lab results?"
"What? Oh, yeah." He handed the papers over to her. "Pulled 'em off the printer when I came up."
Mrs. Fenton looked at the sheet, frowning over what she saw there. "I should've known. This will be hard to flush out of his system. I hope Frostbite knows something we don't."
"Is it ectoranium?" Sam asked, the reference to the anti-ghost element that had ruined Danielle's ghost powers reminding Tucker once more that Valerie was taking an awfully long time getting her.
Mrs. Fenton shook her head. "No. It's Umbranol. A chemical compound derived from the florum cruentus plant."
Sam, an avid gardener with a backyard greenhouse that contained a rather extensive collection of rare and exotic plants, tilted her head, quizzical. "Florum cruentus? I've never heard of—" She stopped. "Wait. Cruentus? Blood? Are you talking about blood blossom?"
"That's an archaic name but, yes. Florum cruentus was once known as blood blossom."
Tucker shuddered, remembering when he had to eat a huge number of the putrid red and black flowers to save Danny from their anti-ghost properties. "They injected him with those nasty things? No wonder he's so sick."
"Well, Umbranol is a much more complex compound than the flowers themselves," Mrs. Fenton explained. "It's actually significantly more potent, and lethal to ecto-based beings."
Mr. Fenton rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "We experimented with Umbranol about ten years ago, didn't we Maddie? Back when I was working on Ecto-Dejecto?"
"Yes, but it wasn't what we used in any of the versions we tested. The chemical reactions were too unstable, and we didn't have the technology or the knowledge back then to make it sustainable in liquid form, remember? That came two years later, but by then we'd… softened our anti-ghost stance." She directed a wistful look towards her son. "Umbranol was just too toxic. But the process we developed to stabilize it in liquid form was the same one that I used to make the ghost shield serum that Sam takes to prevent the baby from phasing out of her."
Tucker rubbed the bridge of his nose, confused. "Hold up. Sam's taking the same thing as whatever they shot up Danny with?"
"Oh, no, definitely not!" Mrs. Fenton looked horrified. "Umbranol would be poisonous to the baby. She'd almost certainly have a miscarriage if she were injected with even a few CCs. No, the process used to create the serum is the same, but the drug itself is completely different. Umbranol—"
"Not… Umbranol. Fluumbrazin."
They all looked at Danny, who was awake—barely—and listening to the discussion.
"What?" his mother asked.
"I… only just remembered. I heard them… sometimes… when they thought I was… unconscious. They called it… Fluumbrazin."
Tucker's brow furrowed. He'd heard that word somewhere before, but with his brain going on twenty-five hours with no sleep, he couldn't figure out where. Mrs. Fenton looked confused as well, but Dr. Mihashi had a deep frown etched into her face as. "Fluumbrazin? That can't be right. Maddie, can I see the lab results?"
Danny's mom handed her the papers. "Have you heard of it?"
She didn't answer, instead examining the report. Then, she looked up. "I need to check something." She went over to the corner where a computer was set up. "Does this have internet access?"
"Sure does," Mr. Fenton replied.
"What is it, Leanne?" Mrs. Fenton followed her over to the computer.
While they were doing that, Tucker and Sam turned their attention to Danny. Sam offered him a drink of water from a cup and straw by his bedside. He took only a small sip, then lay back against the pillow.
Tucker winced. "Hey, dude. We didn't know you were awake. How you feeling?"
Danny gave him a wan smile. "Standard… question?"
"Pretty much." Tucker put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Hang in there, okay? We're gonna take you to see Frostbite real soon."
In the corner, he could hear Dr. Mihashi let out a breath in disbelief. "He's right. It is Fluumbrazin. But how could a simple flu vaccine be made out of a substance so toxic to ghosts?"
Tucker's eyes widened, his head jerking up as his gaze locked on Sam's. "Flu vaccine?" Then, he remembered where he'd heard the name before. Fluumbrazin was the new vaccine at the center of the bill being debated on the House floor at that very moment. He turned to Dr. Mihashi. "Are you saying this Umbranol stuff is in the new flu vaccine?"
"Not in the vaccine. It is the vaccine. It's the exact same chemical compound, just with a different brand name."
Tucker looked back at Sam, smashing his fist down on his knee. "I told you! I knew they were using one of those bills to do an end run! Only, instead of just testing for ghost DNA, they're going straight to poisoning the ghost out of anyone who might be 'contaminated'!" He jumped out of his seat and went over to Dr. Mihashi and the Fentons. "You said if Sam took that shot, it'd kill the baby?"
Mrs. Fenton looked pale. "That's right. And this is something they want to recommend to the general population as a flu vaccine?"
"Not just recommend, Mrs. F. They wanna mandate it. No exceptions. They claim it's non-allergenic."
"It is non-allergenic. " Dr. Mihashi look perplexed. "I've seen the studies."
"Somehow, I doubt they included ghosts—or half-ghosts—in their clinical trials."
Behind him, Danny grunted weakly. "What…are you…?"
"Shh. Save your energy." Sam put a hand on his chest to stop him. "Ever since you revealed your identity, showing them that it was possible for humans to be part ghost, the anti-ecto forces have been trying to get some sort of genetic testing bill through Congress, requiring everyone to undergo DNA testing for 'ecto contamination.' It failed, and when the new Congress convenes after the New Year, they'll have lost the majority. Tucker's been saying for a while that he thought they were gonna use this end-of-session push to try and slip something in, and this looks like it's it. There's a bill before the House today that would mandate everyone in the country getting this flu vaccine."
Danny's eyes widened. "Danielle…"
"It would be worse for her than you," his mother confirmed. "Her ecto-immune system is already compromised."
"What about Valerie?" Tucker asked Mrs. Fenton. "Her DNA has been altered, too. Not like Danny's, but…"
"I… I think it's likely she'd get very sick at least, yes."
"And the Casper High students who got bit by those ghost bugs our freshman year? Or the people in town who got tapped by Undergrowth's Mind Vine? How would it affect them?"
Mrs. Fenton shrugged. "There's no way of knowing without doing a study. I doubt it would kill any of us outright, but it might make us ill."
Tucker had a horrifying thought. "Wait. I ate some of those blood blossoms once!"
"You ate blood blossoms? Why on earth—?"
"Long story, Mrs. F. Made me queasy and sent me to the bathroom every five minutes, but it didn't make me sick. Although… that was before the Undergrowth thing, and I was never bitten by those ghost bugs…"
"There's a big difference between ingesting florum cruentus and having the more potent distillation Umbranol injected into your bloodstream. It's still possible that your long-term exposure to ecto energies in all its various forms, including the high number of times you've visited the Ghost Zone itself, could cause at least some sort of reaction. It just depends on how integrated into our own systems the ecto elements are."
Mr. Fenton narrowed his eyes, his jaw clenched in anger. "Then anyone who had any kind of reaction to this vaccine could automatically be flagged by the Guys in White. They could quarantine the whole town. Put us under lockdown."
"This is so much worse than the DNA testing bill." Tucker pulled his phone out of his pocket to check C-SPAN. Debate on the bill had just begun in the House, but when he flipped over to the Senate channel, he swore under his breath. "Senate already passed it. Forty-nine to forty-seven." He thumbed the switch to go from online browser to cell phone mode. "I gotta get back to D.C. right away and make sure this thing fails. Mrs. F. How fast could you write up a report on what this stuff'll do? Could you e-mail it to me in fifteen minutes or less?"
"And CC my administrative assistant," he added, rattling off her e-mail address even as he dialed her cell phone number. He'd sent her and other members of his staff home around midnight, right before he'd called Sam what seemed like a lifetime ago, but his key staff members would remain on-call until Congress adjourned. "Allison, wake up," he barked when a groggy voice answered on the fourth ring. "I need you to get down to the Capitol right away. In your PJs if you have to. The House is still in session, and I'm in Amity Park."
"You're where?" Even over the phone he could hear the confusion in her voice. "How did that happen in the… six hours since I left?"
"Long story. I need to get word to one of the representatives on our side of the ecto debate. Chris Sanders, Andrew Martin, Colleen Kath. Anyone. The flu vaccine bill is an end run. The new vaccine is made out of an anti-ecto drug called Umbranol. There's no telling what it could do to people who've been 'contaminated' with ecto-energy."
"What? Sir, what are you talking about?"
Tucker growled at the back of his throat. "I don't have time to explain it, Allison. Just… get down there and find someone who can call for the bill to be tabled. Or find someone who's scheduled to speak against the bill who'll yield their time to me."
"How am I supposed to do that? All the pages are gone already, and I'm not allowed on the floor—" She paused. "Wait. Did you say you want someone to yield their time to you? Didn't you just say you're in Amity Park?"
"Never mind what I said. I'll be back on the Hill in less than half an hour. In the meantime, you'll be getting an e-mail from Maddie Fenton with a report. Get that into everyone's hands you can. I don't care how you do it."
"Yes, sir. I'll do my best."
"Okay. I'll be there as soon as I can." He hung up the phone.
Mrs. Fenton frowned at him. "How are you going to get there in half an hour?"
"Hopefully, the same way I got here in the first place." He turned to Mr. Fenton. "The Porta-Portal we used to get here. If we use it to get back, would it lead back to the same spot in the Human World where we opened it in the first place?"
"You'll have to open it where you entered the Ghost Zone. Then, it should spit you back into the Human World where you left, yes."
"Good. Then Valerie—" He slapped his forehead with the palm of his head. "Oh, man! Valerie! Where the heck did that girl get off to?" He thumbed the speed dial for Valerie's cell, but only got her voice mail. Hanging up, he bit back another curse. "As if we didn't have enough problems. I'm gonna have to go get her."
"Jazz's car is here," Mr. Fenton told him. "She and Nick came separately. I'm sure she'll let you borrow it. She's down in the lab."
"Good idea." He turned around and looked at Danny, who was still awake but seemed a little out of it. "You hang tight, you got me? I'll come see you in the Far Frozen when I'm done, and you'd better…" A lump in his throat stopped him.
Danny gave him a weak smile. "I'll be… fine, Tuck."
He clasped his friend's hand a moment, swallowing over the lump, then turned to Sam. "I'm probably gonna have to go public with the fact that he's back."
She nodded. "Whatever you have to do. I trust you completely."
He leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek. "Take care of him."
"Always. And Tuck… give 'em hell."
"You know it." He turned and dashed out of the Op-Center and into the pneumatic tube exit, but he must've taken the wrong one, because it spit him out in the Fentons' bedroom instead of the kitchen. He ran out into the hallway and down the stairs, taking them two at a time, intending to go down to the basement to find Jazz, but as he hit the bottom stair, the front door open and in walked Valerie.
Tucker skidded to a stop, almost crashing into her. "Valerie! There you are! I was just coming to find you! What took you—never mind. No time. I need you to take me back to D.C. on your sled."
She blinked, confused. "You… wait. You're asking for a ride on my sled?"
"It's the only way to get back in time."
"In time for what?"
"The thing they poisoned Danny with? It's the flu vaccine. The one they're gonna mandate for everyone if I don't get back there and stop the vaccine bill from passing."
He grabbed her arm, pulling her towards the basement. "No time, Val. We gotta go."
"Tucker, wait!" She dug in her heels, stopping him from dragging her further. "We have another problem."
"We don't have time for any other problems, Val!"
"Tucker, Danielle is missing!"
He turned around. "She's what?"
"She's missing. She wasn't at home. Hadn't been there at all. So I called the airline. It took the better part of an hour to get someone who would give me the passenger information, but… she never got on the plane."
"She never got on the plane? Well, where is she, then? You dropped her off at the airport more than twelve hours ago. If she chickened out, why didn't she come home?"
"I don't know." Valerie looked distraught. "She's not answering her cell, there's no answer at the apartment in Alexandria, the Queequeg's where she works isn't open yet… I can't think of anyone else to call. I was supposed to be looking out for her, Tuck!"
He sighed. "She's an adult, Val, not a little kid."
"Physically. But sometimes, I swear that girl thinks like the eleven-year-old she really is." Valerie closed her eyes. "What am I supposed to tell Danny?"
"I…" Tucker scrubbed his face with his hand. "You're not gonna tell him anything right now. He's too sick. His folks and Sam are about to take him to the Far Frozen to see if Frostbite can get rid of the stuff they pumped into him. Just… take me back to D.C. You can go back to Alexandria and see if she went home and just isn't answering the phone. If she's not there, search her room. Hack into her computer if you have to. You hunt ghosts for a living, and she's a half-ghost. And she's Dani. You'll find her."
He took her by the shoulders and looked her in the eye. "Val. You'll find her."
She nodded, and together, they ran down into the basement to the Fenton Portal and the Ghost Zone beyond.