"Wakey wakey! I made you a muffin," GIR said, smacking Dib's cheek.
He coughed up a lungful of liquid onto the ground. He felt shaky and weak, his vision blurred from the gunk clinging to his glasses. GIR shoved a muffin into his cheek, and he could taste the frosting when the robot dragged it toward his mouth.
"Knock it off, GIR," Dib said, shoving the robot away. He wiped off his face with his arm, pulling off his water logged gloves. They hit the ground with a plop. Dib sucked in a breath and looked at the floor. He was in Zim's lab. Why was he there?
"You are such an idiot, Dib," Gaz said, standing over her confused brother. Dib looked up and blinked. "The worst kind. I'm going to kill you when we get home. Just so you know."
"Gaz?" Dib sat up. His shoulder burned and he grabbed the wound. His fingers met wet bandages thrown over his torn shirt, and it all came in a flash. "Gaz! Zim. Where's Zim?"
"He's there, and back to his usual idiot self," Gaz said, throwing her thumb over her shoulder. Dib saw Zim standing in the shadows, glaring and holding his arm. His body was hissing and he could see various wounds. "Now get up. We're going home."
Dib stood, holding his arm and looked down at himself. He still had his jeans and shirt, but his shoes and coat were missing. Dib looked behind him at the opened glass canister and shivered. He had thought for sure he'd been dead, but he couldn't help but wonder if being Zim's captive might not have turned out to be the worse option if Gaz hadn't shown up.
He was going to thank Gaz so much when they got home.
Assuming she let him live long enough.
Part of Dib begged to hold this over Zim's head, to mock him for failing. For once again losing to the human race, but something stopped him. The serious, terrifying Zim from earlier had yet to leave his mind, and Dib found that he couldn't afford to underestimate him again. Not with Gaz here. Not after coming so close to actually dying.
"You're right, let's go," Dib said, holding his arm. He followed Gaz and glanced at Zim briefly, just to make sure the alien was still where he could see him.
Zim narrowed his eyes as they passed, locking his gaze with Dib's. "You haven't won, you know."
Dib paused, and Gaz growled in irritation as their progress was halted. Zim was too quiet; Dib too curious. "Oh?"
"My machine already worked," Zim said. He looked up from his place near the wall, still holding his hissing wounds. "Power's out all over, and your pathetic species will never figure out how to fix it all in time."
"Power out?" Dib said, scrunching his nose. He looked to Gaz and she shrugged. "That was your plan you needed me out of the way for? Turn out the power?"
"All the power," Zim smirked. His antennae flickered, and his mouth stretched wide in glee. "Save for my base, which is the only fully functional electrical spot on your planet."
Something cold fell over Dib as Zim smiled.
"Speaking," Zim said. He snapped his fingers. "Computer, if you wouldn't mind?"
"Gaz!" Dib screamed as the mechanical arm shot through the wall behind Zim. It hit her square in the chest and sent her straight through a tangle of pipes behind them. Dib made a move to go after her and see if she was okay, but cursed as his own side was hit. Zim had knocked him in the opposite direction with his Pak Leg, and Dib hit the ground with a thud. "Zim!"
"Sorry, Dib, but I told you before, I don't have time for this," Zim hissed. He screamed at the ceiling, his voice echoing in the large lab. "Computer! Restrain her on ice right now!"
"Zim! I'm going to kill—"
Gaz's voice from the other room was cut off with a strangled grunt. Dib crawled to his feet just in time to see her thrown into a tube. The machine's door slammed down, trapping her in the small tube. It froze shut and Dib scrambled to get to the door, only getting there in time to see it ice over on the inside. He saw Gaz frozen, rage engraved on her face. He banged on the outside and yelled.
"Let her out, Zim!"
"What part of this don't you get?" Zim said, approaching quickly on his Pak Legs. He grabbed Dib by the edge of his shirt and lifted him off the floor as high as he could go. Dib's toes brushed the floor, and he grabbed Zim's arm. The Irken huffed. "There aren't any more games, Dib No mercy. No nothing!"
Dib hit the ground as Zim threw him across the room, sliding to a halt. He could hear Zim mutter across the room to himself, irritated that his plan was behind schedule. Small bits of "should have killed him" and "what am I even doing!?" snuck into his monologue.
"I hate to break it to you, Zim, but a little power outage isn't going to stop everyone," Dib said, getting to his feet. He was too weak to fight, so hopefully he could talk until he could get to the lab exit. He'd come back for Gaz once he got help. Surely his Dad would at least come to his aid if Gaz needed him? And more importantly, his Dad could get the power turned on! Dib scooted back, trying to find his feet. "They can still fight back."
"Your faith in your own species has always been one of your most pathetic traits," Zim said. He darted forward on his Pak Legs, and rammed into Dib's side, shoving him into the wall. "Now it's time for you to go back to sleep!"
Dib struggled but found it useless. Between the Pak Legs, Zim's anger and the computer's aid, Dib was shoved back into the same tube he'd been freed from minutes earlier. The liquid flooded around him and he banged on the side as he felt the sedative seep into the tank and draw him into sleep.
His vision faded with Zim's pensive expression and GIR banging on the side of the glass.
The next time Dib opened his eyes, he knew that something bad had happened, and that far more time had passed than he'd ever have liked to admit.
To begin, he had woken up outside of the specimen tube, sitting upright in a chair. Specifically, he was on Zim's couch in his living room. Dib was dry, clean and had been allowed to wake up at his leisure instead of the jump-start wake that he had experienced before from Gaz's attempted rescue. GIR sat next to him, humming quietly.
Dib tilted his head far enough to look out the window behind him, and sucked in a breath.
The city had been leveled.
HIs hand shook as he turned and grabbed the back of the couch, sitting up on the cushion. Dib licked his lips and clung to the back. He couldn't be seeing this. What had happened? Why didn't his father do something? Or Ms. Bitters? There was no way Zim had done…done that!
"Oh! I remembered what I was supposed to do!" GIR Said, hopping up from his seat. "Master wanted to know when you woke up."
The robot jumped off the couch, and ran toward the back of the house. Dib took this moment to stumble to his feet and head to the front door. He yanked it open, and took a few steps out into the walkway of Zim's lawn, which was still perfect and the same as the last time Dib saw it. The lawn gnomes' eyes trailed after Dib as he crossed the yard, but none of them fired.
His bare feet were loud on the pavement and he stopped at the road. The surrounding houses were leveled. Small fires burned here or there, but for the most part everything was quiet.
The sound of Zim's Pak Legs walking closer were loud in Dib's ears. The alien stopped next to his side, remaining on his legs to stay eye-to-eye with Dib.
"Impressive, isn't it?" Zim smirked. He put his hands on his hips and spread a hand out, showing off his carnage. Dib shivered wondering just how far it spread. Zim kicked Dib in the arm. "And you didn't think Zim could do it. Fool!"
"But how," Dib asked himself more than Zim. He always went on and on about being humanity's savior when he was a kid, but the fact is, Dib always hoped that the rest of the world would fight back if the alien ever really got a good plan going. Stopping Zim again and again was great, but some part of Dib always knew that he wanted the credit so badly because anyone else could have done it, too. "They had to have been able to stop you once they realized what was going on."
"Your species is more pathetic than even you realized. Denial doesn't suit you," Zim huffed. He glanced at Dib, tilting his head before reaching into his PAK. "But you and your sister really were the only ones who bothered to do anything to stop me."
Dib flinched. "Where is Gaz?"
"Still on ice," Zim said, shivering slightly. It seemed Gaz still scared him, even when she was unconscious. Dib couldn't say he blamed him. Zim tapped the rolled paper he had taken out in his hand. "You want to know the most annoying part about all of this? I've taken over your planet and they still don't acknowledge the mighty Irken race!"
He smacked the paper into Dib's chest and he unrolled it. He choked down the laugh, unsure if he wanted to laugh or cry. Dib read the headline out loud, "Teenager with skin condition and pink eye takes over planet."
"I never thought I'd be insulted on your behalf, but here we are," Zim scoffed. "No amount of screaming I was Irken changed their minds either. Your people are truly stupid, Dib-pig."
"So now what?" Dib asked, refusing to acknowledge what he said, even if he was starting to admit that it was true. "The armada comes?"
Zim fidgeted in place, his arms crossed.
"What?" Dib asked. He threw his hands out and tried to ignore the ache in his shoulder. The flesh was tender and burned with every movement. "You got you wanted. You don't want to brag about your big plans and rub it all in my face?"
"Silence!" Zim shouted, rising up on the end of his legs. "ZIm was amazing! I conquered your planet! I won! I was every bit the Invader I knew I was!"
"I'm sensing a 'but' coming up in this monologue," Dib said, dropping his shoulders. GIR came running out of the house and dashed between the two of them. He started to roll around in the remains and screaming about open space. "Isn't there?"
Zim muttered something under his breath, hissing.
Dib lifted a hand to his ear, and asked. "Couldn't quite hear that."
Zim screeched, "The Tallest didn't want your stupid planet!"
Dib couldn't help it; this time he laughed.
Dib nursed the black eye on his face, feeling it was worth it.
It's not like Zim punched him that hard. Sure, it knocked Dib over, but compared to being stabbed earlier, it was nothing. And he'd gotten to laugh at Zim's expense, so small price to pay, really.
Zim marched back and forth in the base of his lab, and Dib sat on a table with a piece of beef on his eye that GIR had been so thoughtful to bring him. He could see Gaz's frozen chamber hidden in the back corner of the room. Zim had covered it with a sheet, and when Dib had gotten close enough to let her out, the computer had activated all of its defenses and Dib had to make a strategic retreat.
So, he appreciated that Zim wasn't killing him or shoving him back into the specimen tube, and sat quietly while Zim worked on his computer. On the various screens, Dib could see his human peers rounded up and trapped in various large, monitored pens. They looked like cattle, but even more importantly:
"You have no idea what to do with everyone now, do you?" Dib asked, his lip quirking to the side in a half smile.
"Quiet! Zim knows exactly what he's going to do!" Zim said. He smacked his hand down on the console and hissed. "Shut your big head!"
Dib snorted and shifted the slice of meat. He pulled his leg up, already missing his coat. And boots. Would it really have killed Zim to let him have the rest of his clothes back? Dib clicked his tongue. "You could just let everyone go?"
"HA, your attempt at humor is as pathetic as you are!" Zim shouted. He jumped to his Pak Legs and crossed the room. He leaned into Dib's face and smacked the meat to the ground. GIR whined at its loss, but Dib let it fall. "Zim conquered this planet and Zim will decide it's fate!"
"And what fate will that be?" Dib asked, leaning forward.
"Simple," Zim said, shrugging. "If the Tallest don't want this planet, than clearly it has no worth. Surely they weren't aware of this when they sent the Mighty Zim here to conquer it."
"Then what's the point in keeping it?" Dib asked, resisting the urge to lean back.
Something shifted in Zim's gaze, and Dib stilled on the table. He knew that look. Dib had seen it before, back in the park when Zim first had decided he was done playing around. Dib grit his teeth together. His heart pounded harder as he realized he'd said the exact wrong thing.
"There isn't," Zim answered.
Dib still had no idea what happened to his father.
Part of him wondered if that might not be for the best in some twisted way. Gaz was still somewhere in the depths of Zim's new ship, the entirety of his old base having been transferred over with ease. If you'd told Dib that Zim's lab could compress into the size of a spaceship when they'd first met, he would have laughed. But it started small, compresesd small again, and then came back into being, snuggling into its new mobile surroundings.
"Wheeeee!" GIR shouted, running around the main deck. The open space must have been surreal compared to the tiny space he'd been used to in Zim's Voot Cruiser. GIR came to a halt in front of Dib and handed him a cupcake. "I made cupcakes!"
"Thanks, GIR," Dib said. The robot saluted and ran off again. Dib bit into the cupcake and was glad for at least some reminders of home.
He still couldn't make up his mind if what Zim had done was brilliant or stupid.
The idiot had sold the entire planet and its population to some other alien race. In exchange, he'd gotten a fancy new battleship. As far as Dib was concerned, it was a fairly unfair trade. Surely a planet was worth more than a ship, even if it was advanced, and was about the size of a football stadium. Zim had to have been ripped off, but then again, it's not like Zim really wanted to run the planet anyway.
He wanted to conquer things, not take care of them afterwards.
"Don't argue with me computer! Zim wants to find another planet! One the Tallest can't refuse!" Zim screamed at the controls. Dib leaned back in his seat and huffed, almost smiling. He had been looking for weeks, but most planets were either already controlled by someone else or didn't hold up to Zim's standards. "Give me something!"
"You could always just ask your precious Tallest for a planet they want," Dib offered. He tore off the wrapper of the cupcake and balled it up. He tossed it at GIR and the robot ate it. "Since it's a gift for them, anyway."
"SILENCE," Zim shrieked. He turned around and pointed his finger at Dib. "i let you live so you could see Zim's brilliance! Not talk!"
Dib had translated that a long time ago as "Zim didn't want to be alone with only the robot for company." Someone had to listen to that egomaniac's monologuing. It just wasn't the same without an audience.
"Just saying, it'd save you some time," Dib said, slumping back in the seat. He rubbed his bandaged shoulder and frowned at it. If Zim had bothered to take care of the wound properly when it happened, it wouldn't still be hurting now. But as it stood, Dib was sure the muscles there would be ruined for the rest of his life. "And you're impatient enough as it is."
"You don't have to be conscious, Dib-pig," Zim growled. He hopped onto his Pak Legs and hissed. "You could go back into that little tube until each victory occurs."
Dib glared, but didn't answer.
"Good, filthy-beast," Zim said. He patted Dib's head, and scurried back to the front console. Zim went back to his business, searching for planets. "It's nice to see you've started to appreciate the superiority that is Zim."
Dib turned his head and stared out into the vastness of space out of the window. He took a bite out of his cupcake and counted to ten.
Zim had said when this all started, that he was out of time, and couldn't afford to play fair any more.
As far as Dib was concerned, his planet was enslaved, but still safe So, on the opposite end of things: Dib had all the time in the world. And besides, how long would it really take him to overthrow Zim's ship, and get back to his planet? From there, it'd be a simple matter of learning new technology to give him an edge, and then overthrow the new alien menace.
Dib got up from his seat, the sound of his movements covered by Zim's growling at the controls. He tapped quietly toward the back of the ship, happy that he managed to snatch a pair of shoes from someone before he was roughly shoved onto Zim's new ship by GIR. They were loose, but it was better than being too small. Dib looked over his shoulder, making sure that Zim and the Computer were occupied with each other.
He had all the time in the world, but he felt like hurrying step one along.
The main deck of the ship was open, housing the control switch and a few passenger chairs. The large windows were the biggest benefit, showing off the view of space, and everything around the ship. The interior, however, was a series of catwalks and small square rooms that were jammed in next to each other like a block set. They were interchangeable, and Zim moved them around whenever he got bored.
Dib walked past his own room, where he spent most of his time locked up. Zim let him out whenever he felt like bragging, or whenever GIR wanted to play with his "big headed friend." Whether or not Zim locked him back up afterwards usually depended on that first criteria, or again, his boredom. Today was a GIR day, and Dib was going to make the best of it.
He reached the last square on the row, and opened the door. The room was full of exhaust from the eternally working machines, and to the back was the frozen chamber that held Gaz.
The alarms to the door sounded, and Dib knew that Zim would be there in a matter of minutes, cursing and ready to break Dib's legs. He had always threatened as much before when warning Dib to stay the hell away.
Dib slammed his hand into the release mechanism of the case, and watched the countdown to release begin. The loud hiss of the chamber sounded, covering the sound of Zim's Pak Legs.
"DIB-PIG," Zim screeched.
Dib felt the Pak Leg go through his shoulder again, in Zim's favorite place, but remained standing. He grabbed the leg, almost amused to see it touch the ground again, having gone straight through Dib's flesh. Zim dragged the Pak Leg back, and Dib stumbled with it, feeling the blood hit the ground.
"Why are you smiling!?" Zim screeched, grabbing Dib's cheek. "Stop it!"
The single name echoed through the entire room, stilling the alien. Dib looked over, almost amused as he felt Zim's Pak Leg tremble through his wound. They both watched as Gaz stepped down from the frozen prison, anger in her eyes. Her fingers twitched, and darkness swooshed into the room, coming to her call.
"It's like you said, Zim," Dib coughed, spitting a splatter of blood on Zim's cheek. It hissed, and the smoke that rose from it filled the air. "We really can't afford to play fair any more."
Zim shrieked as Gaz ran at him, and Dib hit the ground with a thud. He tugged himself over to the side wall and held in the laugh as Zim began screaming. It really wasn't that funny.
He wouldn't have wished an angry Gaz on anyone.