Danielle: Part VII
Twelve years after the accident
Danielle looked up at the gothic-style building that sat about two miles south of the Capitol, just across the Potomac. Like the rest of her family, she found it fitting that the national headquarters for the U.S. Ecto Security Agency, more commonly known as the Guys in White, was located in a building that once had been a hospital for the criminally insane.
She'd been by the building more times than she could count since coming to D.C. over a month ago, and she knew every entrance and exit, every security station and checkpoint. And yet, today, standing at the visitor's entrance to actually go inside the dragon's lair had her stomach doing back flips.
Beside her, Miguel Sanchez put a hand on her shoulder. "You sure about this? I told you, you don't have to be here. In fact, it would be better if you weren't."
Dani shook her head. "No. I have to do this. I have to face them myself."
"I don't know, Dani. Even putting aside all the strategic and legal reasons you should let me handle this, I'm worried about the security scan. If they figure out who and what you are, we'll have lost our ace in the hole, and all of this will be for nothing."
"They won't. This Ecto-flage Jack invented completely masks my ecto signature." She surreptitiously opened her suit jacket to show the thin band around her waist. Unlike the original Ecto-flage he'd invented for Danny a decade ago, the updated version was slim and sleek and looked like an ordinary belt. She even had it threaded through the belt loops on her skirt.
"And what's going to mask the Ecto-flage? They screen for weapons. And not just the standard issue ones."
"It's not a weapon and it's not even high-tech. It works mostly through a chemical compound running through it, and reads in x-rays and metal-detectors like an ordinary belt. I've worn it through airport security several times, and even sent it through the x-ray machine with my shoes when I flew out here with Val and Tuck, and TSA has never so much as blinked." She smirked at Miguel. "For as much as he comes off as a bit of a buffoon, Jack's actually really quite brilliant."
Miguel arched an eyebrow at her. "I've met the man, but if you say so…" He sighed. "Just remember to let me do all the talking. It's why you're paying me the big bucks."
"You're working pro-bono."
"Okay, it's why you're not paying me the big bucks but giving me the opportunity for fame and fortune if we pull this off."
"When we pull this off."
"Just let me do the talking, got it?"
"Got it, Counselor."
Danielle was surprised—although in retrospect, she shouldn't have been—when she immediately recognized the two Guys in White who were sent to meet with her.
"O. and K." She smirked. "I would've thought you'd be off at Area 51 or wherever you've got my cousin stashed, poking needles into him. Who'd you tick off to get stuck with desk duty?"
Miguel shot her a look of warning, but Operative O. gave her a tight grin. The fluorescent lights cast a sort of greenish pallor over his pale, bald head, making him look, ironically, somewhat ghost-like. "Oh, no. As soon as we heard that a member of the Fenton clan had an offer for us, we requested to be the ones to meet with you."
Operative K. folded his arms, his dark face expressionless and his eyes hidden behind the black sunglasses that all the Guys in White wore, even indoors. "We do have a long history with your family, after all."
Dani gave them her sweetest smile. "Oh, yes. I know."
Miguel coughed. "Excuse me. I am Ms. Fenton's attorney, so I will be conducting this meeting."
O. leaned forward, folding his black-gloved hands in front of him as he looked at Miguel. "Mr. Sanchez, is it? I don't believe you're one of the attorneys on record involved with the Fenton case."
"That would be because I'm not involved with the Fenton case. As I said, I'm Ms. Fenton's attorney. I don't claim to represent Danny Fenton, his wife, or his family. On the contrary, they would not approve of the offer Ms. Fenton is making to you today. And while I believe my client and theirs share similar goals regarding Mr. Fenton's imprisonment, I think you will find my client's offer a little more… intriguing."
"If your offer involves releasing a scale-nine, Class A Ectoplasmic Entity to wreak havoc on the world, then I think this meeting is over."
Dani snorted. "Oh, yeah. Saving the planet from asteroids, kicking real ghost threats back into the Ghost Zone, saving kids from oncoming trains… he's a real menace. And he's not an 'Ectoplasmic Entity.' He's a person. With a name. Try using it."
Miguel flashed her another warning before turning to O. and K. with a shrewd look. "I think you might want to consider what we have to offer before you reject us out of hand."
"And that would be?"
"The identity and location of another half-ghost."
Neither O. nor K. so much as twitched. K., his arms still folded across his chest, leaned back in his chair. "And what would make another half-ghost more valuable than the one we already have?"
"Because it's his kid," Dani said, earning herself another hard glare from Miguel.
This caught their attention. Although they tried to look impassive, O. and K. both sat up a little straighter and exchanged glances. "Are you saying the unborn child Samantha Fenton is carrying is half ghost?"
Dani laughed. "Oh, please. You guys really have no idea how ridiculous you are, do you? Falling all over yourselves trying to find out if that baby's a ghost or not. Ever since the rumors that she might be pregnant hit the tabloids a month ago, Sam's had you completely chasing your tails. And now that she's officially confirmed her pregnancy, you're wasting your time with warrants for her medical records or a DNA test, all over an unborn fetus. Haven't you figured it out yet? The baby's a distraction. An unplanned but very convenient distraction."
"A distraction from what?"
"From the court case," she replied before Miguel could interrupt. "And from the real reason Danny turned himself in in the first place."
O. snorted. "He didn't turn himself in. We had to arrest him at his house—"
"He was going to turn himself in the next morning. Seriously. Do you guys honestly think you would have been able to arrest him if he hadn't let you? And haven't you ever wondered why he revealed his identity in the first place?" She learned forward. "He was protecting someone. He still is."
"Dani…" Miguel warned.
K. frowned. "His wife wasn't even pregnant when he revealed his identity. Or if she was, it had only been days or hours at most. And he didn't even know she was pregnant when we arrested him, either."
Dani rolled her eyes. "You don't listen very well, do you? Sam's baby is a boy. That much she's made public. I said Danny's protecting his daughter."
This got another reaction, and O. leaned forward, all pretense of indifference gone. "Are you saying Daniel Fenton has another child?"
Dani smirked at Miguel. "They're a little dim, aren't they?"
He sighed. "You really should be letting me handle this."
"But I'm having so much fun."
K. remained stoic behind his glasses. "Ms. Fenton. We have done an extensive background check on your family, your cousin Daniel in particular. Prior to his wife's pregnancy, there has never been record of any child—"
She wanted to laugh at how much their "extensive background check" had missed, just given the fact that he called Danny her cousin. She knew her own records would stand up to scrutiny, however. Sam and a good chunk of her trust fund had seen to that nearly a decade ago. "There wouldn't be a record of her. The family has kept it secret."
Even with their dark glasses covering their eyes, Dani could see all the possibilities whirling through their minds. "Why would they keep it a secret?"
"To protect her."
O. rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Or to protect himself, maybe? Because we know for a fact his wife has never been pregnant before this. So who's the mother?"
"The mother's irrelevant," Dani said quickly. "And Danny never cheated on Sam, if that's the gutter your minds have wandered into. His daughter was born before he and Sam ever even started dating."
K. and O. exchanged looks again. "When exactly was this? It's public knowledge that Daniel Fenton and Samantha Manson were high school sweethearts."
Dani glanced at Miguel, who had all but given up on reining her in. He gave her a nod, and she turned back to the Guys in White. "Eleven years ago."
"Eleven—?" This seemed to startle them even more. K. was practically rubbing his hands together at the implication. "You're saying Daniel Fenton fathered a child when he was fifteen?"
"Not exactly? Either he fathered a child or he didn't."
Dani hesitated. She and Miguel had discussed at length how much of the circumstances of her birth they should detail at their first meeting. They'd considered letting the Guys in White assume whatever they wanted about how she came to be, thus sending them off on a wild goose chase trying to track her down, but Miguel was worried that they might decide to use the information to defame Danny in the press rather than cut a deal for his release. In the end, she and Miguel decided it was best to avoid giving them anything that could be used to impugn Danny's character or reputation, even if it meant giving them more of the truth than they'd like.
"Well?" O. prompted. "Did Daniel Fenton father a child when he was fifteen or didn't he?"
She glared at the two federal operatives. "It's a little more complicated than that. This isn't a case of youthful indiscretion. Danny's daughter was biogenetically engineered."
Twin sets of eyebrows raised behind twin pairs of dark glasses. "Go on," K. said.
Miguel took over. "I assume you gentlemen are familiar with Vlad Masters? Otherwise known as Vlad Plasmius?"
"Well, very shortly after Danny Fenton's accident, Mr. Masters discovered that the boy was a human-ghost hybrid like himself. Without Mr. Fenton's knowledge or consent, Mr. Masters used his DNA to genetically engineer a child."
K. arched an eyebrow. "Wouldn't that make her a clone?"
"Clones are genetic duplicates. Mr. Masters combined Mr. Fenton's DNA with that of an anonymous donor—the girl's biological mother—to create an individual with her own unique DNA. A daughter, not a clone."
"Why would he do such a thing?"
"I'm not privy to the inner workings of Mr. Masters' mind and, unfortunately, he destroyed all his records before revealing his identity to the world ten years ago. Otherwise, this would all be public knowledge. When Danny Fenton discovered the existence of the girl, he removed her from Mr. Master's…let's just say care, for lack of a better word. Fearing for the girl's safety, Jack and Maddie Fenton arranged for suitable foster parents, ones who were willing to conceal her identity and ghost powers. There is no record of this. Only the Fentons and Danny's closest friends—all of whom are covered under the immunity agreement made when he went public—know who the foster parents are and where the girl is located."
"And the biological mother?"
"As I said, an anonymous donor, and irrelevant."
"And where are the child and her foster parents now?"
Miguel shook his head. "That would be the part we're not sharing with you until you agree to our terms."
He reached into his briefcase and pulled out a file. "Danny Fenton, released from custody and granted full immunity, in perpetuity, from any and all crimes under the anti-ecto laws. If he goes out and robs a bank, or gets caught speeding or, heck, jaywalking, then he goes through the regular courts and gets whatever the appropriate penalty would be. But if he uses his powers for anything that wouldn't otherwise be illegal, then you don't touch him. Ever. Same goes for his unborn child and any future children he might have, should they be found to have ghost powers. And full immunity for the girl's biological mother and foster parents as well."
O. barked out a harsh laugh. "Is that all? We give up Danny Phantom, some co-conspirators, and any number of possible future half-ghost offspring he might have to get one kid now? A kid we don't even have any proof really exists? Why would we want to do that?"
"Oh, she exists." Miguel pulled another file from his briefcase and handed it over to them. "DNA records. The top one is Danny Fenton's DNA. I'm sure you can cross-reference it with samples you must have after having him in custody for three months. The bottom one is his daughter's. You can see from the report on page two that, given Mr. Fenton's nearly unique ecto profile, which matches the girl's exactly, the probability of paternity is 99.99999 percent."
"How do we know this is real? Or isn't from his unborn baby?"
"First of all, as Ms. Fenton pointed out, the baby is a boy. You'll see that the DNA sample in question is from a girl. I also have this." He pulled out a small vial. "Samples of her hair. You can test it for yourself."
K. took the vial from him. "How do we know where it came from?"
"You don't. That's the whole point. It does prove the existence of a daughter, however."
"Can we have something more conclusive? A blood sample, maybe?"
Miguel gave Dani the barest of glances. "That's out of the question."
The hair was safe to give them because the only information they could get from it beyond her DNA was the fact that her hair was black and a little on the dry side. Blood, however, was much more telling. Her blood would have traces of the ectoranium Vlad had exposed her to nine years ago, the ecto-purifier Maddie regularly treated her with whenever she would get sick from the residual ectoranium contamination, particularly if she'd used her powers and, most dangerous of all, it would show signs of the accelerated growth hormone that Vlad had used to age her twelve years all at once. If they found that, if they had any reason to suspect that Danny's daughter was not an eleven-year-old child but, rather, a full-grown woman, then it would be a short leap to deducing the identity of that woman, and then they would no longer have any reason to agree to Danny's release. Everything hinged on them focusing on a preteen child they could never, ever find on their own.
"Why is it out of the question?"
Miguel sighed. "The Fenton family—and that includes Danny's wife, by the way—has gone to great lengths to hide and protect this girl. If they so much as get the slightest inkling that you know of her existence, they will make her disappear so fast you'll think they studied under David Copperfield."
"Disappear? What you are suggesting constitutes conspiracy—"
"A charge from which the Fentons and everyone else who was in Antarctica during the asteroid crisis and knew Danny Phantom's identity are immune. That was part of the agreement your organization signed off on when Danny Phantom went public."
O. and K. both started sputtering. "That…"
"It didn't include…"
"It only applied to…"
"I've read the agreement, gentleman. You can neither arrest nor prosecute anyone named therein for any ecto-related conspiracy charges. The only way you have any shot at all of finding Danny Fenton's daughter is with the full cooperation of my client."
K. regarded Danielle with a hard look. "I don't recall your name being on the list of people who were in Antarctica during the asteroid crisis. We could just arrest you for conspiracy."
Dani gave them an unconcerned shrug. "Fine. Arrest me. But under arrest or not, I only talk once Danny's home and fully exonerated. And if you do arrest me, how long do you think it will take my family to figure out what you're looking for?"
"I suggest you consider my client's offer," Miguel said. "She's the only one willing to name Mr. Fenton's daughter, and only if you agree to her terms."
O. scrutinized her a moment. "And why exactly are you willing to name her, Ms. Fenton? You don't have a problem giving up an eleven-year-old girl?"
"Not just a girl. A genetically engineered half-ghost," she reminded them, knowing it would play into their prejudices. "And if it means getting Danny back, I'd…" She sighed, emotion bubbling up to the surface. "I love him. He's been like a brother to me since the day I came to live with his parents. And the world needs him. It doesn't need her."
She saw Miguel look down at his briefcase. When she'd first approached him more than a month ago, he'd balked at taking her case. A staunch ecto ally, he didn't want the Guys in White to get their hands on anyone, least of all another half-human. It had taken a lot of work on her part to talk him into this plan, and she'd only managed to convince him by arguing that it would be better for the cause as a whole for Danny Phantom to be exonerated.
K. shrugged, an ugly sneer on his face. "The world's better off without either of them. Or any spectral entity, for that matter. But again, why would we grant one of them—a known criminal under Article One, Section One, Subsection A of the Federal Anti-Ecto Control Act—full immunity just to get the other one?"
Dani's emotion hardened into anger, but Miguel put a hand on her arm to restrain her. To K., he said, "I can think of several reasons why this deal would be in your best interest." He began ticking them off on his fingers. "One: his daughter is in violation of the same law. That makes her just as much a 'criminal' as her father. Two: holding Danny Phantom is like having the tiger by the tail. The way you've arrested him and are holding him without granting him habeas corpus rights and without allowing him any contact with his family whatsoever—it's killing you in the court of public opinion. Many of the politicians who support your agency are likely to lose their seats in the election less than two weeks from now. But you can't just let him go, either. Not without invalidating everything you've been arguing for the past four months since he revealed his identity. What we're offering you is a graceful way to extricate yourselves from this political quagmire of your own making."
"We're not politicians, Mr. Sanchez."
"No, but your existence depends on politics and public opinion." Miguel held up a third finger. "Three: you've had Danny Fenton for three months. No doubt you've subjected him to numerous experiments to try and find out just what makes him tick."
Dani shifted in her seat, not wanting to think about what they might be doing to him, even as they sat here negotiating his future.
"The problem," Miguel continued, "is that he is an anomaly. A perfectly normal human being who happened to be the victim of a freak accidental mutation. What you learn from him cannot be extrapolated to any other beings, ghost or human. Any offspring he might have, on the other hand, who have inherited his ghost powers genetically, would be extremely valuable to you. The fact that you've spent so much time and energy over the past month first trying to verify Samantha Fenton's pregnancy, and then trying to verify whether or not the baby is a ghost confirms this. The truth is, however, you might never be granted access to Mrs. Fenton's or the baby's medical records, and even if you are, he might well not be a ghost hybrid, and all your efforts will have been for nothing. We, on the other hand, have documented proof of the existence of a child that we know for a fact inherited Mr. Fenton's DNA ecto-profile. You know the old saying about a bird in the hand…"
The Guys in White glared stone-faced at him.
Miguel's eyes narrowed. "And four: you will never, ever locate this girl without my client's help. If you want her at all, it will only be by agreeing to Ms. Fenton's terms."
O. and K. looked at each other then, in unison, stood. "We'll take your proposal under advisement, Ms. Fenton," O. said. "And we'll get back to you."
"One more thing," she replied, standing as well. "I want my cousin home by Christmas Eve." She'd wanted to give them an earlier deadline, but Miguel had warned her they wouldn't go for anything until well after the elections to see if Congress would come through with some kind of DNA testing law before adjourning. "If he isn't released by Christmas Eve, then the deal is off."
"We'll take it under advisement," O. repeated. "Good day, Ms. Fenton. Mr. Sanchez."
Special Operatives O. and K. sat together in their headquarters' surveillance room watching the tape of their meeting with Danielle Fenton and her lawyer. They'd hoped that after they'd left the room that either the girl or her lawyer would say something that would give them more information, but Mr. Sanchez merely packed up his briefcase, and they left without saying a word.
"Do you believe their story?" K. asked.
O. stroked his chin. "The DNA evidence and hair samples they gave us will prove whether or not this daughter exists easily enough. I assume that part is true at least, or they wouldn't have bothered. The stuff about Masters and biogenetic engineering, though…"
"Think they might have just been trying to throw us off the trail? Keep us from looking for one of Fenton's classmates that might have gotten herself 'in a family way' around that time?"
"It's possible. And we can certainly still look into it. But very, very quietly. I do think they were telling the truth about one thing—if the rest of the Fenton family finds out, they'll make it that much harder for us to find the girl."
K. arched an eyebrow. "What about Jack Fenton? He could be a weak link in all this. He is an idiot, after all."
"But anything he knows, his wife'll know, and she's a lot more on the ball. No. We need to make sure they don't get wind of this."
"And the Fenton girl's offer?"
O. shrugged. "It's not our decision to make, but I don't think it'll come to that. As soon as the elections are over, Senator Seema will introduce a mandatory DNA testing bill. And the bigwigs in Congress have some other ideas, too. We just have to ride it out until we can find this kid on our own."
"But think it'll get through by Christmas? Or are we gonna have to call her bluff?"
O. slapped his partner on the shoulder. "By Christmas, I don't think it'll matter. Did you see the report from Section Nu-Alpha? They've made some sort of anti-ecto drug into a new flu super vaccine. They're gonna start testing it out on Phantom. They think it'll knock the ghost right out of him."
K. smiled. "So by Christmas…"
"He'll be fully human again."
"Then it won't matter if we release him or not." Then, K.'s smile turned into a frown. "What about the baby? We're not giving that up, are we?"
"If this drug works, our friends in Congress will find a way to get it into the baby, too." O. gave his partner another pat on the shoulder. "One way or another, we're gonna get all these half-ghost freaks."