"And watch out for Ms. Bitters. She's a little scary. Hey, did I mention the—"
"Alien," she finished for him, rolling her eyes as she adjusted her bag on her shoulders. "I heard you the first FIVE THOUSAND TIMES, Dib. I HEARD you." Dib continued anyway, apparently not taking the hint.
"He tries to pass himself off as a kid with a skin condition, but he's not. I mean, what kind of skin condition gives you green skin and no ears or nose? And there's no such thing as a skin condition that gives a person antennae. I've seen him without his disguise, he—"
She'd stopped listening; it wasn't so much that she didn't find it interesting, as that in the past 24 hours, she'd heard this a hundred times. "Later, Gaz," she called after the quickly disappearing form of Dib's little sister. Gaz kept walking but briefly raised a hand, and Xet was secretly gratified for the acknowledgment—Gaz had apparently accepted her, probably because she, too, didn't go anywhere without her Game Slave. If only she shared a class with Gaz instead of Dib... She had a feeling living with Dib was going to be damaging to her social life. Then again, she realized as she glanced around at the other children rushing past them, that probably wasn't a bad thing.
Ugh, humans were a disgusting species. A large part of Xet's interest in aliens was the hope that any extraterrestrials with the technology to get to Earth were also advanced enough to have triumphed over the filth and chaos that ruled the human race.
Besides, Dib wasn't so bad. A little annoying, maybe, but she got the feeling that a lot of his clinginess and endless chatter was because he was simply so thrilled to have someone who'd actually listen to him. Or sort of listen to him. Believe him, at any rate.
Except for the whole vampire donut thing. That was a little weird, even for Xet. Nevertheless, the incessant chatter was starting to get to her. Dib had stopped them in front of a classroom door—or rather just to the side; being in front of it would be dangerous if not deadly given the way other students barreled through the doorway. Xet finally could take no more and turned on the boy.
"Will you SHUT UP about this guy already?"
Dib stared at her for a moment before collecting himself. "B-But, I thought you—"
She sighed, a sound that was actually closer to a growl. "Dib, I said I believe in aliens, and I believe there could be aliens on Earth. But you can't honestly expect me to believe that an actual alien invader would subject himself to this dump of a skool every day, and without even a decent disguise."
"Who's your girlfriend, DIB?"
Dib whirled around to face the originator of the taunt. "She's not my girlfriend, ZIM. And you'd better leave her alone. Her dad just died and—"
Startled by her interruption, they both turned to look at her. Xet was staring, open-mouthed, one hand pointed squarely at Zim's chest, unknowingly mimicking the expression Dib himself had worn the first time he'd laid eyes on Zim. The alien raised an eyebrow at her; Dib grinned and threw his fists up in the air, vindicated.
"See? I told you! Finally, someone who believes me!"
"It's a skin condition," the green 'kid' insisted. Xet closed her eyes and shook her head violently, snapping herself out of her trance. When she opened her eyes, the green kid had disappeared and Dib was pulling urgently on her arm. They stumbled through the door a beat after the bell stopped ringing.
"You're late, Dib." A voice that made Xet's skin crawl snapped at them. Dib kicked instantly into 'excuse' mode, and Xet had a feeling he was late on a regular basis.
"I'm sorry, Ms. Bitters. See, Xet's just starting today and—"
"Sit down, Dib."
Shooting Xet an apologetic—and slightly cautioning—look, Dib skittered over to his desk and took his seat. Xet swallowed, gathering her courage, and turned to face the woman who towered over her ominously.
"Um..." she cleared her throat and tried to start again, but the teacher cut her off.
"You must be Xet."
Xet nodded. "Yes ma'am."
"You'll need a desk. You!" She pointed to a boy in the front row, who shrunk back, cowering in his seat. "Get your things and move to the back of the room. I can already tell," Bitters turned her creepy gaze towards Dib, and then back to Xet (who could swear she heard something akin to a rattlesnake when the woman leaned down to leer at her), "that I'm going to need to keep an eye on this one." The ancient, shriveled woman narrowed her eyes. "You believe in aliens, girl?"
"Of course not, ma'am." No one could ever claim Xet didn't think quickly on her feet. Dib squawked from his desk.
"Wh-Wha—? Bu-But you said—"
Bitters seemed to slither bonelessly from Xet to Dib, glaring. Without the woman saying a word, Dib got the message and shut up, and Bitters returned to stand in front of her desk. "If you have something to say, Xet—" she seemed to have a real distaste for her new student already "—say it now. After this I don't want another peep out of you! Not a peep!" Xet leaned away from the teacher and turned stiffly toward the class. The students all looked extraordinarily bored, and no one seemed to care about her existence anyway, save for the fact that she'd come in with Dib. She sighed and settled on an angle for her first-impression.
"Hey, I'm Xet. My dad just died and my mom's an imbecile, so I'm living with the Membrane family for now. Yeah, I probably am as weird as they are. But don't worry; I don't want to be here anymore than you want me to be here. Leave me alone and we won't have problems. Bother me and you'll regret it." Xet glanced up at Ms. Bitters. "I think that about covers it." Without another word, Xet walked forward purposefully and slid into her new chair, cringing at the general filth coating the desk. "Uck, remind me to bring some disinfectant tomorrow..." she muttered under her breath, shuddering.
Ms. Bitters slid into a mind-numbing lecture almost instantly, something about cannibal lemurs and doom, and Xet promptly tuned her out, doodling idly in her notebook. She finally spared a glance at her neighbor to her right: Zim. Zim was leaning on one hand and studying her unabashedly. Startled and slightly annoyed, Xet decided to return the favor, resting her head in her hand and her elbow on the desktop. Zim narrowed his eyes at her suspiciously but didn't look away.
It became a bizarre sort of staring contest, as if each was challenging the other the longer they stared. They ended up spending the entire morning watching each other, with Zim only sparing an occasional glance past her, to glare at Dib on the other side of the room. When the bell at last rang for lunch, Zim leaped from his chair, one index finger (Xet noted he only had three fingers, and though he wore gloves, they appeared to be clawed) pointed at the ceiling.
"Lunch!" he declared loudly, before disappearing out the door among a herd of students. Xet shook her head.
"Well, that was bizarre."
"Didn't I tell you? Didn't I? Huh? I told you he was an alien! And no one ever believes me! Except you, you believe me, right?"
Xet rolled her eyes and picked up her backpack, trying to ignore the fairly frightening glare the teacher was aiming their direction—they were the last students in the classroom. "Yes, Dib, I believe you. I'd have to be a complete moron not to. Now let's go eat before she eats us."
He led the way to the cafeteria, still talking as they went through the line and paid for their lunches. "I just can't believe no one ever believes that Zim is an alien! I mean, look at him!" Xet didn't bother to point out that she'd just said the exact same thing, and Dib continued his rant. "It's obvious, isn't it?" He paused to cringe at the dubious shade of brown of the supposed mashed potatoes being slopped on his tray. Finally shrugging and digging his wallet out of his coat, he continued. "Why are we the only ones who see it?"
Xet rolled her eyes again and took a seat near Gaz—the remainder of the table was completely empty, despite the crowding in the cafeteria. 'Great. Loser table.' She sat down and eyed her lunch warily. Was it just her imagination, or had the meatloaf actually moved?
She looked around the room at the other children—pigs to the trough was a nice way of putting it—and considered Dib's last question.
"Look around you, Dib. How can you be surprised these morons can't tell the difference between a human and a non-human? The human race is stupid, Dib. We probably deserve to be annihilated."
Dib stared at her, open-mouthed and clearly shocked by her pessimistic statement. Gaz looked up from her Game Slave II with a barely visible smirk. "Maybe," she agreed, "but Zim's so bad at annihilating." She went back to her game, occasionally stopping long enough to take a gulp from her juice box—she had brought her lunch.
Xet raised an eyebrow at Dib, who was still staring at her. "Sorry I don't have the faith in mankind that you do, Dib."
He stared at her for a moment more, then seemed to understand something, and shrugged, averting his eyes. "I guess it's hard to have faith in anything when your dad's just died. I'm sorry."
Xet shrugged him off. "Don't be. I'm not."
He dropped his fork. "But—He was your dad!"
She poked experimentally at her peas—who paired peas with mustard?—and finally pushed the entire tray away from herself, resolving to bring her lunch from now on. "So what? Look, Dib, my father donated half my chromosomes—that's it. He was never home, didn't give a rat's tail about my grades or anything else about my life. To be honest, not having my father around doesn't make any difference in my life, except that I'm living with you guys now. And Membrane's a better dad than mine ever was."
"Our dad's not home much, either..."
"He's home a lot more than mine, even if he's still working. And he cares, Dib. Y'know, I fell out of a tree when I was five, broke my collarbone. My mother couldn't even call 911—the neighbors did, nearly half an hour after it happened. Mother didn't go with me in the ambulance. Neither of them visited me while I was in the hospital. I was five, Dib. Five years old, in the hospital for two months, and I never once saw my parents the entire time. When they finally sent me home, Mother acted like she hadn't even realized I was gone. Probably hadn't, either. I pretty much stopped being attached to them after that. Learned how to take care of myself. We shared a house, that's all.
"Your dad would visit you in the hospital. Heck, he visited me in the hospital, and I was only getting stitches, and I'm not even his kid." She pulled her sleeve up to show the black thread that held the still-healing, three-inch slash on her arm closed—an accidental 'gift' from her neurotic mother, right before the woman had been taken away in a straight jacket. "So no, Dib, I really don't care. If I got a phone call at dinner tonight telling me that Mom died in that home Membrane sent her to, I'd keep eating. 'Long as it's not Bloaty's pizza, anyway. That stuff is disgusting. No offense, Gaz."
"None taken." Gaz hadn't missed a beat of her game. With nothing better to do, Xet pulled out her own game—an ancient original Game Slave, that was nearly as old as she was—and plugged in the data stick for the original Vampire Piggy Slayer. Recognizing the signs of a gamer 'in the zone', Dib sighed and turned his attention to his lunch.