Zim flicked his tongue out, drawing it back in with immense satisfaction. The sky was a glorious shade of orange at the farthest edge of his vision and overhead there was no sun to be seen through the roiling, black clouds that rained ash for miles.
"Better than snow," he shuddered, but the thought did not disrupt his satisfaction for long. He crossed his arms behind his back and marched back and forth along the top observation deck of his base, surveying the city.
Precious little remained. Fire had merely been a decoy disaster that served to force evacuation of the human vermin—straight into the waiting arms of his newly trained squid-operated mechs and their hyuman-cages. Once the hyumans had been thoroughly scooped and gathered, however, SquidMechs entered the city and leveled it in a glorious blaze of laser fire and plasma blasts, grabbing giant chunks of building and throwing them around like babies hurling wooden blocks.
He glanced at his wrist, checking the levels of the containment bubble. A series of BubbleStakes had been planted around the city's perimeter a mile apart. Together they projected a dome that wrapped the ruined city in the illusion of normalcy, cloaking it from outside eyes and satellite imagery.
This time everything was perfect. This time Dib hadn't even seen it coming. This time GIR had a part so simple that even he could not screw it up. This time Zim had won.
And the moment he broke through the Tallests' communication firewall, they would realize how wro—error, initializing f-f-fix how incorre—errorrrrr initializing alternat-t-t-te comprehens-hens-hension how they had been right to trust him with this planet and test him with their silence. He would prove their faith was well placed.
But that would have to wait. He had a city to overhaul and recreate in his image—an image of invasion that would stretch out across the face of the globe like dreaded itch-backed zorboils, each new city falling victim and exploding outward to spread the invasion ever further. And the first order of business was to inaugurate the new slave crew, starting with the very worst worm baby to ever spawn on the surface of this gorblasted rock.
He slipped the tip of his tongue between his teeth, grinning. He couldn't wait to see the look on Dib's face. Raising his wrist again, he barked at the device, "SquidMechs, heed me! One of you is carrying a puny Earth worm, official designation 'Dib'. He has black spiky hair only on the top of his moon sized head and wears a stupid black jacket that he thinks makes him look cool. Well it makes him look stupid! So bring this vile jacketworm to Zim!"
The one SquidMech in sight stopped in its tracks, reaching terrible tentacles into the iron baskets at its waist and rummaging around. The screams and cries had died down to sobbing, so Zim was pleased to hear it rise to a panicked pitch again. The more frightened hyumans were, the easier it was to threaten and divide them. It was the ones like Dib he needed to really crush.
The SquidMech retracted its tentacles, shrugged, and slogged on through the ruins. One waved at Zim as it passed and another raised two tentacles over its head and waved them in a hideous approximation of a salute that turned Zim's stomach. None but an Irken could salute properly. But then again, only an Irken could be truly competent at anything.
The Dib, though. If anyone was capable of finding a flaw and exploiting it, it would be Dib. He was good, a little too—error, unaccept-eptable description he was of moderately tolerable intellig—error, flaw-aw-awed analysissss he was an idiot! That's all he was, but even idiocy could inspire bravery, and enough idiots together could wreck—error hamper his progress.
There. A SquidMech approached, waving a blurry figure. Zim squinted, focusing his optical implants on the prisoner.
Dib. A quick visual scan indicated no life threatening injuries. Good. He wanted the hyuman in fit condition for his punishments. Excitement wriggled in Zim's spooch and he indulged in a smeetish squeal. There were so many punishments he wanted to inflict, from turning the hyuman inside out and back again to making him shovel the dooky of his hideous kind.
The SquidMech dropped Dib on the roof of the base, and he collapsed in a gangle of limbs. Zim's antennae laid back. One of the many annoyances which could finally be rectified was that the Dib had become unfortunately tall. Perhaps removal of all bone below the knees would do the trick.
"Behold, Dib-beast!" Zim flung an arm wide, gesturing at the wreckage all around. "Behold the day you swore would never come has arrived. I, Zim, have finally become the slave-master of this city. While you slept peacefully, I was reprogramming the brains of your cephalopods so they could carry out my orders. Behold the oncoming doom of your species! Behold the downfall of the sole defender of the Earth, a mere pustule riddled child!"
Dib untangled his limbs, propping himself up on one elbow and staring bleakly out over the city. Zim fixed in on his face. He had taught himself how various facial contortions of this species equated to emotional states and had 73% recognition accuracy. The unfocused eyes and quivering lip indicated deep shock, and the extra sheen on the eyes indicated an overflow of skin-eating liquids was imminent; a sure sign of sorrow. The wretch was suffering.
Zim's chin lifted, his feet barely touching the ground. Zim the victorious. Zim the elite soldier. Zim the Tallest—error, insub-ubordinate the loyal servant of the Almighty Tallests.
A low barking broke through his elation and he returned focus to Dib. The facial expressions had changed. There were two shining tracks down the boy's face, but the mouth was open and twisted up at the corners. The eyes were clenched shut and his arms hugged his stomach as if to hold it in place. He heaved and rocked as he hooted. But these were not the weepy hoots of the forlorn and bereft, this was the mocking ecstasy Zim often heard in the classroom.
"Are you… are you laughing?" Shock sluiced cold through Zim's body. "What… are you mocking Zim?"
Dib shook his head. He seemed to be having trouble forming words through the laughter, but he held up on hand for patience. The seconds collected inside Zim's skull, each one setting up a terrible buzz as he waited for the explanation he was owed for this outrage.
Finally, Dib managed two words. "Thank you!" he gasped, before returning to his hilarity.
The buzzing erupted into a shrilling that Zim readily voiced, stomping his foot and demanding, "What do you mean by thanking me? Your world is in ruins! All your efforts for nothing! You are undone, now grovel before the victor!"
"I know!" Dib roared, pounding a fist on the ground. "Isn't it great? Now nobody can ever deny your existence again! Hah! Zim, nobody can ever say I was crazy or that aliens don't exist! Oh, this is the best gift ever, Zim." The laughter subsided and he wiped the moisture from his face, beaming. "Thank you."
Error. Proper response of sub-subjugated species species fear, anger, shock, g-grief. Impro-proper display.
Error. Subjugation leads t-t-t-to slavish worship. Response: Slavish Worship?
Er-r-r-r-r-r-r. Gratitude. Gratitude of subtype gift given.
ERRor. Invaders gift no gives.
Shaking himself, Zim scowled. "We'll see how worth it this is to you, Dib-filth, when you have to dig drainage for your slave camp's waste. By yourself. WITH A SPOON!" He turned on his heel, marching toward the stairs. "SquidMech, take him away."
It disturbed him, this reaction. He begrudged Dib this deflation of his moment of glory and gloating. Could he truly have caused this hyuman joy? Intolerable. This occupation would be misery for him, Zim would see to that.
The next few days blurred together, his mornings and evenings filled with organization of his new slave camps and overseeing the enforcement of their new work and production lines. He would need more Mechs, many more before he could spread to the surrounding cities. When GIR would return with a bellyful of new squids, Zim would take the lot into his base to reconstruct their brains. So much to do, and still the firewall to the Tallests had not been cracked. He chafed at this delay in his glory, but vowed that the blank screens would not shake his faith. Nothing would deter his mission.
As he passed through one of the sub-camps he came across a young hyuman man, covered in mud and trailing an unspeakable stench. Zim covered his mouth, gagging on the few particles that landed on his scent receptors. His antennae twitched at a haunting windsong that chirped through the air. Birds had long since abandoned this place, and no trees were left for the wind to blow through, so where—oh. The man-child had created a blowsong through his lips.
Zim's spooch seized up as the hyuman lifted his head and waved, a tiny spoon in his right hand.
Dib was blowsinging, an act reserved for joy or relieving of boredom, but usually joy. Indeed, as he wiped his forehead, smearing a disgusting smudge across his face, he smiled and waved at Zim again.
Despite himself, Zim descended from the SquidMech that had been carrying him through the camp. He straightened his shoulders and tilted his head back, sneering, "So, Dib. How are you enjoying yourself now that everyone knows aliens exist, huh? Has it made the doookypatrol any easier, huh?"
Once again, that insufferable laughter. "Oh, that. Well it's slow going, but hey, the more work I have to do the better my chances of getting a full meal at the end of the day, right? But man, Zim. You should hear them all talking. It's all, 'We should have listened to Dib,' and 'Can't believe he really wasn't crazy.' I tell ya, Zim. It's a wild rush getting to hear that."
errOR unacCEPTable to enemy offer the happiness.
"Oh, and did you hear? Dad's in this camp too! I haven't gotten to spend this much time with him in…" Dib trailed off, scratching his head. "Y'know, I don't even know when the last time was." He shrugged. "He's in the middle of reconstructing basic plumbing using toilet paper tubes and hardened toothpaste."
ERROROROR. Familial conneconnections disallow due to upbonding that rises mutiny.
"Hey, if you find Gaz in another camp, send her love from Dad! Well, 'Hello daughter of mine,' is what he said, but that's close enough. I gotta get back to work, slavemaster of the human race." He got back down on his knees, digging along his tiny trench with the spoon. "Good talk!"
ER. ER. ER. Enemy re-refuses always t-t-title of respect due!
Clutching his head, Zim reeled away from the camp, disoriented. What sickness had overtaken the Dib? What bizarre virus had prompted such wholehearted acceptance of Zim's superior mastery? Was it contagious? And if so, would it be contained among the humans alone or would it sweep Zim up in its horrific delusions?
It had to be watched. Carefully. The next batch of squids GIR brought were down in his basement. It wouldn't take much tweaking to turn one into more spy than sentinel soldier, and parts for a smaller machine lay all about. A stealth vehicle would only take a night of work and then he could have eyes on Dib at all times.
By dawn he dispatched the new SquidSpy. Results would be transmitted straight to his PAK and he could continue his work while monitoring Dib. In fact, he admitted to himself, he should have done this from the st—error, Invader makes no missed steaks had given Dib enough leeway for the hyuman to make mistakes. If Zim could catch him in his plotting, the punishments would be justly merited under intergalactic laws of planetary conquest.
And there was the feed, at the bottom left corner of Zim's vision. And there was the Dib, making that terrible windsong and chipping away at the ground with a spoon. He'd managed a rough outline of a trench, but the filth sludged out faster than he could properly dig. His work was always filled in by slorgs of disgustingness by the end of the day, rendering his efforts futile. But the very next day he was at it again, the smile never leaving his face. Whenever he returned to camp, there was always a small crowd around him, patting his shoulders and commending him.
So, it was true. He was deriving benefits from this situation.
And there, his parental unit, stripped of all technological devices. Distracted and strange as usual, but sparing a direct glance and a few words for his spawn. The radiant beam on Dib's face send shivers of revulsion crawling down Zim's spine. This was wrong, terribly wrong. Where was the weeping and wailing? Why was Dib not gnashing the teeth right out of his disproportionate head?
The SquidMechs came to him, now, bearing reports of each camp. He was far too busy monitoring Dib from his base. There were now exactly five SquidSpies trained on that camp and five more running between the other camps. Dib's name was on practically every lip, his name spoken in regret or awe. The filth-digger's reputation had reversed itself, and it was all Zim's efforts!
He stared at the blank screens in his house. His computer had given up trying to crack the codes. The Tallests would not see his valiant efforts. They didn't care. They had betrayed—error, Tallests above judgying they had allowed him the unprecedented honor of forging new frontiers in the universe without their guidance. He would honor their desires—error, complete subjectgation-estation-igration-egation of enemy incomplete. The enemy was conquered—error, city is conquered, enemy is invig-egg-eggorated.
Two weeks and Dib hadn't dropped the smile once. Zim no longer left his base, staring endlessly at that stupid smile on that stupid face. It ridiculed everything. There was no accomplishment of Zim's that the smile left unmocked, unsullied. His glory meant nothing, won like this. It was hollow for the gains that Dib had now.
No. It would not begin like this. He would not have his empire—err the Tallest's expanding efforts founded on his greatest enemy's satisfaction. He would have the Dib groveling at his boots or there would be no conquest.
It took three days. No rest, no snacks, no watching Dib. With single-minded focus, Zim poured his frenetic energy and rage into one purpose. And when it was all ready, he ordered Dib brought to the roof of his base once again.
The stench was even worse than before, and Zim immediately donned his space-bubble helmet to ward off the guts-churning scent. Dib weaved on his feet, noticeably less encumbered by flesh than prior sightings. "Hey, there, Zim." His voice was less energized at well, but still that flirking mouth-twist lay plastered there, deriding Zim. "Sorry, I mean, master." He got down to his knees, bowing his head. "I forget myself. To what do I owe the pleasure of these summons?"
Zim swallowed a scream. Patience. He would rout this creature so thoroughly he would never lift his head again. His eyelid twitched, his teeth scraping across each other.
"I have come to a decision, filthpig. And I wanted you to witness the demise of your dreams." Stretching an extra glove up his arm, Zim reached over and grabbed Dib's jacket collar, yanking him to a risen position on his knees. "Look, hyuman. Look well. What do you see?"
Dib squinted through cracked lenses. "Um. I see a burning city? I see a bunch of squid robots over there at the edge. Like, a lot. Whoah. Looks like they're building something." Dib turned to him, smiling wide. "What is it, a statue of you?"
Zim sank his teeth into his tongue, forcing a steadiness to his breathing before answering. "No, Dib. That is your town hall."
Dib's head snapped back as he peered again. "Huh. It is. Weird. You gonna make that your new base?"
"No, Dib. That is where your presidential mayor listens to demon cats and secondtime public men, yes?"
"Well…" Dib scanned the horizon, his eyes widening slightly. "Hey. Zim. How come they're rebuilding all over?"
"I have ordered the rebuilding of your city, maggot. I have decided this is not the method by which I choose to humble your species."
A vein pulsed in Dib's forehead and he swallowed several times. His grin looked less decisive as he turned back to Zim. "Hah. Hah. That's funny. You're joking, right?"
"Invaders have no use for humor, imbecile."
"But… but you can't!" Dib lunged for him, grabbing his wrists. Oh, yes. Zim relished the feeling of control and power returning as Dib's eyes darted wildly. "You can't just put everything back and expect it to be normal! They… they won't…"
"They won't need you. You'll be completely unimportant. And," Zim added, directing Dib's attention to the line forming in front of his base, "in a few moments, this will be completely forgotten. They walk in as slaves, they walk out wondering why they're on this unfamiliar street. Two weeks, completely erased."
"No!" Dib raced to the edge of the roof, halted by a SquidMech's grip coiling around his middle. "No, don't go in! You'll forget everything! He's an alien, an alien! You can't stop him if you don't know that!"
"Can't stop me, Dib?" Zim challenged, a smirk creeping across his face. "Or is it that you are losing your newly won place in their hearts? Oh, might your father go back to his newly reconstructed tower and lock himself away in his newly reconstructed vaults? Is that a problem, Dib?"
Dib's fists flew, beating ineffectually on the mech that held him, screaming, "You can't do this!"
"Oh, but I can, Dib," Zim purred, "and you will watch."
And so he did. By the end of the day, the SquidMechs had rebuilt the city from the ground up according to every satellite image and traced purchase of each inhabitant for the last forty years. By nightfall, the last of the inhabitants trudged through the doors to Zim's base, past the hoarse shouts of warning from Dib, and surrendered their memories.
Only then did the SquidMech lift Dib up and deposit him roughly on Zim's front lawn. Gripping the edge of the roof, Zim shouted down, "You lose, Dib! You're all alone, and nobody will help you now. This was merely a practice run! When I take over this ball of filth for real, I expect to see you miserable and shaking at my boots!"
Dib shot to his feet, hollering back, "Do it! Take us over again! You have the Mechs to do it, right? Look, I'll help!" He rushed at the front door, only to be repelled by the lawn gnomes.
"There will never be another Squid invasion!" Zim shouted back, whipping out a datapad and entering a code. "As I speak they are self-destructing. You cannot regain your reputation that way, Dib! You failed!"
"Noooooooo!" Dib wailed, sinking to his knees and beating his fists on the ground. "Nooooo!"
Finally. The enemy was truly subdued. Everything was right in the world. Zim turned on his heel, marching back into his base. It was time to work on his next plan, one that would involve Dib not getting what he wanted.
Dib waited for the footsteps to fade away before rising to his feet. He couldn't even smell himself anymore, and that was probably a mercy. He leaned heavily on the fence, the barest smile spreading across his face.
"No, Zim. I just won."
Turning, he limped off down the street, making a mental note to leave a generous donation for his Skool's theater and psychology programs. They had, after all, just helped him save the world.
Note: Not tied to any of my other stories or universes. Just taking a mental break from MSA for a bit. Missed me my favorite conquest-crazy bug-eyed lizard.