“Ugh, where is that stupid ghost?” Valerie grumbled, gliding through the air on her hoverboard. She had been on her way home from Star’s house when her watch beeped to life, alerting her of an unwanted ghostly visitor. And, if the watch was correct, it was a rather powerful ghost too.
After all, very few ghosts could ping her from so far away.
But like the dutiful hunter she was, she suited up, trying to ignore the way her stomach knotted up with nerves. As much as she enjoyed sending ghosts back to the hell they came from, going up against a ghost of that much ectoplasmic power was sure to empty out her first aid kit.
She glanced down at her watch. She was getting close now. She should be able to hear screaming, see people fleeing in terror, but there was nothing to suggest a powerful ghost had breached the city.
Which meant that Phantom was likely the ghost responsible for cutting into Valerie’s precious sleep.
Valerie was going to kill him. Again.
Her radar was leading her towards the outskirts of the city, which was odd for Phantom. When he wasn’t baiting ghosts and causing destruction to Amity, Valerie could find him at the park or on top of some tall building.
But outside of the city? This wasn’t like him.
Maybe it wasn’t Phantom. Maybe it was some tall ghost hellbent on baiting ghost hunters far away from the populace, away from any emergency response, so they could be destroyed in peace. Maybe Valerie was walking straight to her own doom.
Oh well. It wouldn’t be the first time her career as a ghost hunter had gotten her into trouble.
“Ok, he’s definitely in there,” Valerie said, shifting between her radar and the large building in front of her.
She glanced down at her watch, then back up again. Was her watch leading her to...an observatory?
“Why the hell is he in there?”
Valerie flew low to the ground, making sure to keep out of sight of the open roof. She was almost certain that Phantom was inside the round building, but she just couldn’t figure out why.
It didn’t make sense. He was a ghost. He didn’t care about space. What did he have to gain from traveling this far to the edge of Amity just for a stupid observatory?
She could turn back here. Just go home, leave Phantom to do whatever weird thing he was doing on his night off. And why wouldn’t she—it was Saturday! She could be in bed instead of keeping Phantom out of trouble.
But it was her responsibility. Her duty to Amity. Sure, maybe Phantom wasn’t a purely evil ghost hellbent on Amity’s destruction, maybe he was just a cocky asshole with a hero Obsession, but someone had to keep him in check.
And that someone was about to send him back to the Ghost Zone.
“Alright, Phantom.” Valerie launched herself through the open roof and hovered above the room. “Very funny. Now, come on, it’s time to—”
“Valerie!” came a cheerful cry from below her. “You made it!”
“Phantom?” She looked down and nearly fell off her glider. Below her was Phantom, but he looked... different.
His aura had changed, and instead of a bright white glow it swirled with violets, teels, and blues. His freckles had turned into stars and planets which shimmered across his skin, and his eyes positively sparkled .
Valerie regarded him with disgust. “What the hell? Why do you look like the Milky Way threw up on you?”
Then he did something Valerie never expected a ghost to do in a million years: he giggled.
“I’m so glad you’re here! We have so much to talk about. Saturn and Jupiter are right next to each other, and through this telescope you can even see all of Saturn’s rings. The rings, Valerie! And oh my goddess, if you thought that was cool, wait till you see the Pleiades!” Phantom reached a hand out, and his swirling aura shot forward, wrapping itself around the telescope in front of him.
“Wait, don’t break it!” Valerie shouted, touching down on the floor. But, before she could so much as ready an ecto-gun, she stopped.
Because the telescope wasn’t breaking apart.
It was moving.
Valerie watched in a mix of horror and fascination as the telescope in front of Phantom adjusted itself, shifting around and settling into place. The aura dimmed, leaving behind a telescope that didn’t look any more ghostly than before Phantom’s interference.
“Okay, what the fuck is going on right now?”
Phantom’s beamed. “Look! Take a look!”
“Oh hell no. I’m not going anywhere near that possessed thing!”
He laughed, and for a moment his aura brightened. “Just trust me, Val!”
“Don’t call me that,” Valerie muttered, but nonetheless stepped towards the telescope. She gave one last suspicious glance Phantom’s way before she leaned forward and looked through the stupid metal thing.
Saturn stared back at her, its rings preening like a peacock against the vast emptiness around it. She had never seen Saturn before, not outside of Google Images anyhow. It looked exactly like all the pictures showed, and yet seeing it in person was...really cool.
“And wait!” Phantom’s childish voice bubbled from behind her. Cold swept over her and she flinched, her arm instinctively twitching for her gun, before she realized what was happening.
Phantom was wrapping his galaxy aura around the telescope and moving it again.
“Okay, look now!”
Valerie glanced quizzically back towards the ghost, searching for any signs of malevolence, but his innocent smile never wavered.
“Are you high or something?” she finally asked.
He giggled again. “Stop making jokes and look already!”
She rolled her eyes but relented once more. When she looked through the telescope this time, she was met with another tan colored planet. This one had brown stripes running through the sides, warping to show an unmistakable eye-like figure towards the middle of it.
“Is that...is that Jupiter?”
“Yeah!” Phantom clapped. “And if you look, there should be some of its moons in view too! Look around it, Val!”
“Don’t call me that,” she muttered without any real malice. Sure enough, a few tiny tan dots surrounded the planet. “How many moons does it have, anyway?”
“Seventy-nine!” Phantom said.
“Jesus, wonder what its tides are like.”
Phantom playfully nudged her. “Silly Val, it doesn’t have an ocean! I know you know that. But if you think that’s crazy, Saturn actually has more moons than Jupiter does! It has eighty two.”
She stepped away from the telescope, and once again Phantom’s aura took command, adjusting the lens to a new spot. Phantom immediately jumped to the telescope with a ferocity that Valerie had only seen him use in the heat of the moment when fighting other ghosts. Yet, she noticed the way he delicately touched the telescope, allowing his fingers to gently hold the metal shell as he peered into space with a fascination that seemed too ethereal to be real.
Phantom was destructive, he was a fighter, he was driven by his Obsession to fight and be a hero. He wasn’t... this.
“Seriously, what the hell happened to you?”
“What do you mean?” Phantom asked in a singsong voice.
“I mean this,” Valerie emphasized, allowing her arms to sweep out around her. “All of this! What...Phantom, I know we’re not friends, but—”
“Of course we are!”
Valerie blinked. “Huh?”
“We’re friends, Val!” Phantom repeated, detaching from the telescope momentarily to hover next to Valerie.
She could feel his cold aura brushing against her arm, and she suppressed a shudder. “Are you messing with me?”
Phantom peered up at her, his glowing eyes seeming almost offended by her accusation.
Offended? Hurt? Phantom?
“Val, why would you say that? Of course we’re friends! We’re hanging out right now, right? That’s what friends do!”
Up close, Valerie could see him more clearly. The stars and planets that speckled throughout his face, the tiny bits of multicolored light that sparkled in his eyes, the shooting star that traveled across his cheek, the way his aura seemed to ebb and flow as if it were the aurora in the northern sky.
It was as if Phantom was someone else entirely. It was like another ghost had taken possession over him. Was controlling him from the inside out.
Valerie’s hand slowly moved down towards her belt, but it didn’t seem to matter. Phantom didn’t notice. In fact, he shot her a beaming smile and turned his attention back to the telescope, rambling about how astronomers believe that diamonds rain on Uranus and Neptune as if Valerie’s hand wasn’t slowly inching towards her gun.
“It’s just a hypothesis really,” Phantom said. “Scientists can’t really study inside the planets yet because they’re so far away. But I hope it’s true! It would be so cool! Imagine, you’re just an alien on these planets, and then suddenly you walk outside and there’s solid diamonds falling from the sky! They wouldn’t be that pretty probably because the diamonds wouldn’t be shaped nicely, also those planets aren’t habitable to any life so there’s no aliens, but it’s still cool to imagine! Oh, oh, but if you thought that was cool, there’s this other planet—not in our galaxy—that’s really really close to its sun so it’s super hot but guess what? Val, you’ll never guess! It’s solid ice! The gravity is so strong that it forced all the water on its planets into ice and—”
Valerie gripped the gun, raising it to eye level and clicking the safety off.
Phantom’s head snapped up. He looked to the gun, then to Valerie, and his aura faltered.
“Val?” Phantom said, the stars on his face dimming. “I...I don’t understand...why…?”
“You’re not Phantom.” Valerie’s voice was steady. “I don’t know who you are, but get out of him.”
“I don’t understand…” The colored flecks of light in Phantom’s eyes faded, leaving them back to their vibrant green. “I...just…I...” His aura fluctuated before turning back to its hauntingly white glow.
“...Valerie?” Phantom 's voice was cautious. He took stock of the gun once more before a hint of realization bled through his expression. He slowly raised his hands. “Wait! I know what this looks like, but I swear I wasn’t doing anything. Don’t—”
“Phantom! There’s a ghost inside you. It was possessing you! I need to take it out. I need to—”
“Wait, Val, stop! You don’t know what you’re doing!”
“I think it’s trying to lead us to a trap. This will only sting for a moment!”
“No! You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Phantom glanced wildy around the room, his eyes locking onto the telescope once more.
Then, his aura flared, the aurora fought to return, his freckles sparkled like stars once more. A hint of childlike wonder hit his features and for a moment, he seemed lost in the fascination of the observatory.
It was the perfect opportunity to shoot.
But Valerie’s hands were shaking. They were unsteady, just like they were when she first started using the equipment. And in that split second of uncertainty, that moment of hesitation, Phantom gripped his hair and pulled himself out of his stupor.
“No!” he groaned. “Not now!”
“What the hell is going on?” Valerie shouted.
“Don’t shoot! Just—ugh, gimmie a sec…” He squeezed his eyes shut and groaned. “I just godda...I just need a second.”
To Valerie’s surprise, she waited. Maybe it was the growing respect she’d begun to feel for Phantom over the past year, maybe it was her fading hatred as she learned more about ghosts, maybe it wasn’t anything deep and it was just that Valerie was confused. In anycase, she followed his please and watched as he pulled himself together, drawing his shimmering aura inward and allowing the familiar homogenous white aura to wash over him.
He gave a final sigh of relief. “Okay. Okay, I’m good now. You can lower the gun.”
“Tell me first.” Her voice allowed for no arguments. “Tell me what the hell just happened, and then maybe I’ll think about it.”
Valerie noticed how he seemed to be making a visible effort to ignore all the astronomy equipment around them. His eyes were trained to her and her only.
“Then enlighten me.”
“I…” He hesitated.
“I’m giving you five seconds before I blast you unconscious.”
He blinked, and then his expression shifted into the cocky, shit-eating grin Phantom that Valerie had come to know over these months, “As if you could hit me.”
“Don’t change the subject, Phantom. I’m serious.”
He sobered. “Right. Sorry. I...listen, it’s personal, okay? I’m telling you because I trust you, but you can’t tell anyone. If any of my enemies find out…”
“Okay.” He sighed, running a hand through his hair. “What do you know of...of Obsessions?”
“Every ghost has one. It’s what controls their core, what gives them power. All ghosts are driven by their Obsession and if they manage to fulfill it or they’re somehow blocked from feeding into their Obsession for too long, they’ll cease to exist. Why? What does this have to do with anything?”
“I…” His face screwed up before he gave out a frustrated huff. “Oh, what the hell! I have two Obsessions.”
Valerie faltered, her gun lowering ever so slightly.
She didn’t know what she expected, but this?
Was this even possible? Better yet, how was it possible? Every ghost had an Obsession, but every ghost had one Obsession. It was impossible for a ghost to have two. It would be torment for the ghost, the two Obsessions constantly battling inside their core for dominance.
It would tear him apart from the inside out, wouldn’t it?
But Valerie watched as Phantom’s eyes strayed beside them to a small white telescope sitting off to the side of the room, and Valerie watched as his aura seemed to fluctuate again as the other side of him fought for control.
Once again, Phantom screwed his eyes shut and fought the aura down, allowing his natural white glow to pulsate over his form brighter than before.
“Can we take this outside?” he asked, his voice tight. “This room is...distracting.”
Valerie allowed her arm to drop, her gun hanging loosely at her side. “Sure.”
“Ok, I need to...I need to slip back into it to close the observatory walls. I can’t access those powers in this form. I’m not dangerous in that state, so please don’t shoot me.”
She nodded, momentarily forgetting that he couldn’t see her with his eyes shut. But he seemed to hear the unspoken words regardless. The blues, greens, and purples of his aura swirled around him, overtaking his aura in a brilliant display of light. The stars and planets returned to his face, and when he finally opened his eyes, it was as if Valerie could see the entire Milky Way within his corneas.
He raised his arms, his face relaxed, and allowed his aura to seep out to the walls. The room glowed, and Valerie watched with an open mouth as the incandescent colors of the northern lights guided the observatory walls closed. They cascaded through the walls before finally dimming, leaving Phantom as the only remaining source of light.
“Okay,” he said, the childlike bubble to his voice echoing around the room. “Let’s go!”
Before she could blink, Phantom grabbed her arm and spread his aura out around her. She let out a yelp of protest before she could feel a familiar chill overtake her skin.
Phantom was...he was turning her intangible.
“Ready?” He asked. His eyes seemed to glow brighter in the dark.
Valerie looked up at him, breathless.
He grinned and pulled her forward, shooting them both through the walls. They flew up for a moment before shooting back down towards a cluster of trees.
Valerie had flown on her hoverboard many times, but this was incredible. It was as if gravity didn’t exist. Her body was weightless, flowing across the air with a precision that she'd never felt before.
But as soon as it started, it stopped. The duo landed on the ground, and Phantom broke contact with her. Warmth immediately filled her veins. She glanced back towards the observatory, but the trees blocked her view.
That was probably intentional, if Phantom’s earlier display of cognitive dissonance had anything to do with it.
Valerie waited once more, watching as Phantom’s aura seemed to waver, before settling back into white. When it seemed like he was more or less back to normal, she finally spoke. “Okay, explain. What do you mean you have two Obsessions? How is that possible?”
“I don’t know.” Phantom’s gaze was downcast. “I mean, my, uh... death was rather, um, complicated. I think.”
She raised an eyebrow.
Ghosts never talked about their death. According to Maddie Fenton, it was a taboo. Bringing the topic up would only result in angering the ghost.
So for Phantom to bring his own death up like this…
This was uncharted waters for any human.
This was serious.
Phantom pinched the bridge of his nose. “I can’t explain it, but it didn’t go right. I don’t—I can’t…” He huffed, his eyes turning up to her with an almost desperate look. “You must have noticed that I’m just different, right?”
Valerie nodded slowly. “I have, but you’re still just a ghost.”
Phantom’s eyes widened before turning back to the ground. “Right. I...no, you’re right. I’m just a ghost. But I…”
Valerie watched as his eyebrows pinched, his mouth thinning as something inside of him fought to surface. She wanted to speak, wanted to ask what did he mean when he said he was different, but she didn’t.
She didn’t know what to say.
When he finally spoke again, his voice was quiet. “When I died, it went wrong. And my core couldn’t decide on what it wanted to be, so something inside of it fractured. One part of it focused on the people in the room with me, the people that I was worried about. I wanted to make sure they were safe. My friends. I wanted to protect them.”
Valerie held her breath.
According to studies, most ghosts didn’t remember their prior life, or the people in it. Memory loss was just a part of the process of transforming from human to ghost.
Phantom clearly did.
“The other part of my core went to the thing I was doing just moments before. I was...I wanted to explore. I always loved space and astronomy. I wanted to work for NASA and see other worlds and...other dimensions. I know it sounds crazy, but it was just who I was. Who I still am.”
He looked up at her, and Valerie saw remnants of stars speckle in his eyes. “So my core settled on two modes. And depending on where I am or what I’m doing, it switches between them. My powers shift too. When I’m normal, I can project ectoblasts and control ice. But when I go into my space mode, I can’t do any of that. But I can control astronomy equipment, as you saw, and I can locate any star or planet in the sky.”
“So that’s how you knew where to move the telescope?”
“Yeah.” He held out his hand, and a little ice Saturn formed in his palm. “I don’t know how I know where things are, but I just know. But it only happens when I let that part of my core take control of my body.”
“I see.” Valerie breathed out. “I get it. I get why you don’t want anyone to know. That’s kind of terrifying, knowing that you have a half of you that’s so defenseless.”
“Right…” Phantom set the planet down on the grass. “If word got out...if the government found out…”
Realization hit Valerie like a truck. “They could set up a trap, couldn’t they? Lure you into a place like this and take you out. It would be too easy.”
“Exactly,” Phantom said bitterly. “You can’t tell anyone.”
“I won’t. I swear.”
Phantom nodded, relief evident on his features. “Thank you, Valerie.”
Before she could stop herself, she stepped forward. And then again, approaching him slowly as if she were afraid he would disappear.
But he didn’t move. He didn’t flinch.
He trusted her. Even after everything, he trusted her with one of his most vulnerable secrets.
She closed the gap between them, resting a hand on his shoulder and looking him square in the face. “I mean it, Phantom. I won’t tell anyone. Well, so long as you promise me one thing.”
“What is it?”
“Bring me back here sometime, alright?” She shot him a grin. “This place is pretty cool, and if I have some sort of space wizard with me, I bet we could find a lot of sweet stuff, yeah?”
His aura brightened, and the smile was evident on his face. “Sure thing, Val!”