“They can’t be real stars,” insisted Maddie, her voice tinny and static in Danny’s ear.
He paused, grimacing, and adjusted the frequency again. Something must have gotten knocked loose inside the Fenton Phones in the last fight he got into. “I didn’t say that was what they were,” he said, “I was just telling you what they look like. And they look like stars.”
Danny did tend to consider himself a bit of an expert when it came to whether or not something looked like a star. Astronomy was a special interest of his, after all.
(Despite the best efforts of both his parents and the doctors of the Far Frozen, efforts to decide whether or not he had a true, ghostly Obsession had been inconclusive. Danny was okay with that if he was being honest. Which he usually wasn’t.)
“Hm,” said Maddie. “That isn’t coming across very well in the video.”
“Mads, our video is half static that far from the portal.”
Maddie sighed. “Make sure you take pictures, sweetie.”
“I remember,” said Danny, who had forgotten. “The sky looks darker over there, too. It almost looks like real night. I wonder if someone did it on purpose?”
When Danny had first come clean to his parents about being half-ghost, he hadn’t really had any expectations that it would change his probable future. Which he had predicted to consist of a series of depressing, minimum wage jobs that he would keep losing due to ghost hunting.
His parents had something to say about that however, and although Danny had never really wanted to inherit Fentonworks or ghost hunting as a profession (ironic, he knew) he did like the exploration and science parts. Quite a bit, actually. And since he’d never be able to become an astronaut… Well. This was pretty good, too.
Especially since he was getting paid.
(All the extra equipment he had to bring with him to make forays into the Zone ‘experimentally useful’ was a bit of a drag, though. Literally, sometimes. The stuff was heavy.)
“Okay,” said Danny. “I’m going to get closer.”
The lights ahead of him really were starlike… but they were, as expected, much closer. The nearest of them stopped being pinpricks and started looking like tiny disks after just a few minutes of determined flight.
“Danny? Sweetie? You might want to slow down a little. Those speeds are rough on our sensors.”
Danny sighed, but complied.
Ghost cores were weird. Really weird. At least part of the weirdness was that, most of the time, they didn’t exist in either the Ghost Zone or ‘normal’ reality, but instead were tucked away in private self-generated pocket dimensions.
Ghost bodies were formed around the entrances to those pocket dimensions and would shift to accommodate the core that generated them, but usually didn’t actually house the core. It was a safety thing, and the reason ghosts could have their entire body destroyed only to pop up a few days later, perfectly fine.
Danny’s parents had been studying the phenomenon off and on, trying to compare it to ghostly lairs, which were also pocket dimensions. Or universes. The distinction was unclear. They’d been having trouble collecting data, however, as most ghosts would not blithely give such intimate information to ghost hunters, no matter how reformed they claimed to be.
After all, ghost cores were the equivalent of a ghost’s brain. One might even say their soul.
Danny was getting off track.
All this to say that Danny really should not have been able to physically feel his core.
He braked, ‘skidding’ to a stop.
“Danny?” said Maddie, sounding concerned. “Are you alright? Our instruments picked up a power spike…”
“I’m fine,” said Danny, pressing his fingers to his chest. Whatever he had felt was gone. “Just… a weird feeling.” He looked back up at the ‘stars.’ Some of them looked like little coins, now.
“Like, I could have imagined it,” said Danny. “Timing is a bit strange, though, with that power surge. This might be a ‘Fisher Kingdom’ area.”
Some places in the Ghost Zone had such a strong feeling about how things should be that anyone or anything entering them was altered to fit. Some were generated by an actual ghost, but usually those ghosts just had very specific ideas about death and ghosts that didn’t quite mesh with the Zone at large. A few gave the impression that they had been carefully constructed and then more or less abandoned. Others didn’t seem to have any intelligence behind their existence, were random, almost natural.
Generally, the effects of Fisher Kingdoms were strictly physical, the average ghost’s core being safe in its aforementioned pocket, but even with that limitation, Fisher Kingdoms could be… difficult. Dangerous.
But they were also interesting. And Danny didn’t mind. He had the Ultimate Cheat Code when it came to dealing with Fisher Kingdoms. He could just turn human and float away. No problem. (In theory, anyway. In practice… Sometimes it was more complicated than that.)
“Alright,” said Maddie. “If you feel safe doing so, keep up your approach, but slowly. We want to monitor your vitals.”
Danny kept going, if at a greatly reduced pace.
His core pulsed again, and he stopped, hissing. This time, the sensation didn’t go away.
“I’m okay,” he said. “I just…” He took a deep breath, feeling icy pressure on his lungs. “Oh, that’s weird.”
“What happened? Are you safe?”
“I think so. I think… I think this turned off my, uh, pocket dimension thing. You know, what my core goes in.” He blinked at his feet and the tips of his fingers, which were wisping away. The glow around his chest was bright and was becoming brighter. Something started beeping in his ear.
“Danny,” said Maddie, sounding alarmed. “That’s the stability alarm. Your numbers are dropping rapidly.”
Danny looked up, back at the not-stars. “I think I know what they are, now,” he said.
“What? Danny, you have to get out of there. Whatever is happening is seriously disrupting your ability to maintain your form.”
Danny brought his hand to touch the surface of his chest, which rippled as if made of water. The surface of his suit had started showing cracks. Even so, Danny was frozen in place by a thought:
Would it be so bad, to become a star?
His rings shuddered into life around him, forcibly and painfully returning him to human form. His heart stuttered at the ball of utter cold pressed against it. Every breath he took burned.
He cursed under his breath and followed his mother’s instructions, floating away from the field of false stars as quickly as he could. Despite how his core seemed to want to pull him back.
Eventually, the pull lessened.
“I guess,” said Danny, with extreme regret, “we should put that on the list of places I shouldn’t go.”
“Already there, kiddo,” said Jack.
“Come straight back,” said Maddie. “We need to give you a check, make sure there are no lasting effects.”
“Alright,” said Danny. “I’m on my way.”
Being a star… A shining beacon in the night…
It wouldn’t have been all that great, anyway, he was sure.
(He could settle for just chasing after them.)