Dib paced along the halls of the labs, his hands shoved deep into his coat pockets. He glanced over at the many rows of abandoned machinery lining the various walls. Each piece of equipment was stowed away carefully, tucked under ghostly sheets to prevent the ever persistent dust from collecting on the delicate circuits. Why bother covering them at all? he wondered curiously, knowing their technology was far too outdated to be of any use. They would likely be ignored until it came time to clear up space, and then thrown out thoughtlessly into the recycle bin for scraps.
He kept his head down as passed by the night crew, his ID card dangling loosely around his neck. They ignored him while they went about their nightly business, emptying trash cans and changing out supply boxes without so much as a glance back as he strode by. They continued on with their work, whistling nonchalantly while scrubbing windows and polishing the floors until they reflected back with a lustrous shine. None seemed to care what a young twelve-year old was doing wondering around the lower corridors so late at night.
Dib wasn't entirely sure what had compelled him to venture out to his father's labs either. Normally at this hour he would be sitting at home, alone, researching paranormal conspiracies or toggling with some of the complex controls on Tak's ship. But thanks to Zim, he no longer had a ship. And as far as conspiracy theories went, he couldn't concentrate enough to make it through a single article.
He stopped walking and stared up at the sudden barricaded door in front of him. He had reached the end of the hall, and inside it was the very location Zim was being held captive. He stared at it like a clueless game show contestant, hesitant to see what was on the other side. It should have been straightforward. All he had to do was side his ID card through the security slot and step though to confront his arch nemesis about all the burning questions that had been swimming in his mind the past few weeks. But he remained where he was. Stationary. Like a doormat.
In the midst of all the chaos, Zim had been transferred to the labs for added security. The Eyeball was getting far too much attention from the media, and with the autopsy on everybody's mind, the organization quickly decided it would need the extra help from an actual scientist to do a proper job. Professor Membrane had been more than eager to take on the task, given that the shocking discovery had practically shattered all certainty of scientific knowledge.
But along with his help came a minor setback.
Unlike the eyeball, the Professor wasn't so eager to slice the Irken open the first chance he got. Being a man of science, he insisted on following proper protocol and learning as much about the creature as possible before any invasive work could be done. Consequentially, the autopsy had been set back several weeks, and Dib had been given plenty of time to dwell on the growing conflict swirling about furiously in his mind.
He thought about much how his life had changed since Zim's capture, and how quickly it had all progressed. Finally free to do all the things he wanted, he had attempted to go about his old hobbies; chasing ghosts and exploring haunted houses without the stress of trying to prove aliens were real. It was refreshing at first, but soon the media caught wind of his extravagant adventures. He was more than thrilled to have them cover him while giving a tour of a haunted house, but when he turned up empty handed, they simply lost interest and refocused their efforts back toward the alien.
The news of Zim's reveal had spread like wildfire, consuming the globe and blowing up every station that could get their hands on it. Absolutely besotted with his own act of heroism, Dib had made a point to include his name in every interview as well as his self-proclaimed job title. To say the response had been overwhelming was an understatement. Everyone wanted to talk to him, and every reporter wanted to ask him questions about the alien. He couldn't go anywhere without someone interrupting him or stopping him on the street for a picture or an autograph. They even sometimes dressed like him, mimicking his hair style and coat length in the hopes that they could question him about his discovery. He found it a little unsettling at first, but was still more than eager to share his knowledge.
As long as they were willing to listen.
Unfortunately, he soon realized it wasn't necessarily Zim they were interested in, but boosting the status and excitement of their own mediocre lives. The news casters were desperate to get their hands on a new, juicy story, and the public mostly wanted pictures to show off to their friends. Anytime he would start talking about the actual research, the reporters would interrupt him and ask something far more idiotic, such as whether the alien could read minds or do insane things like spit acid. He had insisted that Zim was, for lack of a better term, a normal alien, but they simply ignored him and went on to make up whatever headline they wanted.
At school, things fared no better. The other students took a sudden, impetuous liking to him and he become the absolute center of attention. The popular kids went out of their way to stop him in the halls, draping an arm over his shoulder like they were best friends. They invited him to sit with them at their tables during lunch and even fought over picking him first for PE and other class assignments. He declined the offers of course, knowing it was all because of the fame. Like the reporters, they were only interested in boosting their own popularity and none of them seemed the least bit concerned about what had become of their former classmate with an apparent 'skin condition'.
Taking in a deep breath, he decided to stow his insecurities and enter the chamber. He held up his ID card up to the scanner and the security system recognized it, allowing the bolts to click open. Once it opened he stepped through, stopping just shortly after the entrance and allowing the door to hiss shut as it locked behind him.
He gazed around the room and immediately noticed a large, dimly lit prism in the center. It looked like some kind of high-tech glass container, similar to the one Gaz had been put in when she had been cursed by the hog demon. But, this one was far more secure and looked to be far less breakable.
The chill of the air penetrated his lungs as he approached, a low voice greeting him from the other side.
"So you've finally come to announce your victory," Zim spoke, his tone precarious. He stared at the boy with gleaming eyes. "Suitable a detestable human like you would take the time to gloat."
Dib approached the edge of the glass, his rapid breathing catching the barrier as he exhaled. "I just wanted to ask some questions," he explained, trying to come up with some sort of excuse for being there.
Zim glared at him abhorrently. "You and half your wretched population."
Dib watched as he got up from where he was sitting and made his way over to the glass. He was a little surprised at how raw the alien's voice sounded. It was almost as if he had been screaming for hours. And his uniform was tattered and worn, like he had fought back uncooperatively every step of the way.
What had the Eyeball done to him? he wondered, his stomach suddenly churning at the idea. Had they tried to question him? What had they done when he refused to answer?
He dismissed the imagery, not liking the ideas that filled his mind. He shifted his focus back to the topic at hand. "The autopsy is tomorrow," he announced, trying to hide the obvious discomfort in his voice. "Anything you wished to say before they get started?"
Zim wrinkled his face in disgust. "Why do you talk like you have no part to play in this, human?" He snorted, shooting Dib a nasty look. "Might I remind you that YOU'RE the reason I'm in here."
Dib crossed his arms defensively. "No. The reason you're in there is because you tried to take over Earth. Remember?"
Zim glared at him in return. "You keep telling yourself that Earth-stink. But you know as well as I do that those were no longer my intentions."
"Whatever your intentions were Zim, there's no way I'm falling for any of your tricks." Dib glared back at him with equal intensity. "You would never just give up on your plans to take over the world that easily."
Zim threw an arm out in frustration. "How many times do I have to get it through your massively gargantuan head?! What I speak is the truth."
"Sure Zim. And my sister is going to just give up video games and join the Peace Corps" Dib rolled his eyes. "Come on."
Fuming, the Irken stared him down vexingly. "You don't believe me? Fine."
He took a few steps forward and slowly reached a hand into his pocket. Dib winced involuntarily and took a step back. He knew he was protected by the glass, but for some reason the gesture still put him on edge. The Irken briefly fished around his pocket before removing what looked like an advanced, miniature flash disk. Dib watched as the alien tossed it in front of him. "What's this?" he asked, leaning down to study it.
Zim straightened up rpoudly. "It's a partially segmented copy of my memory drive. At one point, I wished to remove those accursed memories of Tak from my mind, but my PAK deemed it too compelling to do so. If you DO manage to make your way through the base's defenses, you should be able to decode it and see for yourself."
Dib eyed the device skeptically. "You think handing me some sort of dinky memory file is going to change my mind?" He stood up to match the Irken's height. "I bet it contains some sort of virus to corrode your base, doesn't it?"
Zim scoffed. "I no longer care what happens to my base, Earth-stink. Do with it what you will." He turned around stiffly, shifting his glance to the side. "The Empire's already abandoned me and I have resided myself to my fate. Why should I care if a bunch of sniveling little Earth monkeys get their filthy hands on it?"
Dib eyed the Irken suspiciously. Abandoned? That was a bit of information he hadn't expected to hear. And what is with the tone? He sounded almost cynical.
Knowing better than to be reeled back into conversation, Dib kept his guard up. More than likely it's just another trick to get me to feel sorry for him. "No," he replied, snapping his eyes away from the device. "There's no way it could be that simple. You'd never let me win that easily."
Zim turned. "You sound disappointed Dib-stink."
"I'm not disappointed! It's just-" Dib frowned and grit his teeth in response. "I want to know why you stopped trying Zim. Why did you just give up on your mission so easily? Huh?! Was it because of Tak?"
To the boy's surprise, the Irken turned his head away and his expression twisted into a sad, ironic smile. "My mission was a farce from the start Dib. The Tallest sent me here never expecting me to conquer Earth. They intended for me to die on this horrible, filthy planet, and Tak was only sent here to finish the job. I never had any mission."
Dib paused before continuing. "Then why steal my ship?" he asked. "Why did Tak need it so bad if she could have just stolen yours?"
"I gave Tak her ship to return to Irk," Zim explained simply, the strain evident in his voice. "She refused to make the journey back in mine, so I returned hers to her."
Dib paused again before crossing his arms. "Uh huh...A likely story Zim. I could understand you wanting to steal it to try and impress her or something, but to just give it back? That just seems-"
"WHY I did it is none of your business you filthy, wretched Earth monkey!" Zim shot back with a defensive undertone. "Not that I would expect a lowly human like YOU to understand. You couldn't even master the advanced Irken technology that landed in your own yard the night I defeated Tak!"
"The night WE defeated Tak." Dib huffed and rolled his eyes. "See. There you go again Zim. Always going on how much better you are." He stepped forward and thrust a thumb into his own chest. "Well guess what? This lowly human is the reason you're sitting in that cage right now! And you know that little device you picked up back in the park? I built that! All on my own!"
Zim glared at him. "So are you expecting praise from me as well Dib-human?"
Dib's expression hardened. He knew the question was meant as an insult, but chose not to acknowledge it. "Why can't you just admit it Zim? Why can't you just admit that I beat you fair and square!"
"The method of how you went about capturing me was never in question Dib-stink," Zim replied stiffly, turning his head away again.
"Then why can't you just say it?!"
Zim held his tongue as he stared back at the boy. He held his gaze, trying to figure out what was going on in the pestering boy's head. "What is the real reason you've come here Dib worm?" he asked calmly.
A little thrown off by the question, Dib paused to think it over. Why HAD he come? It certainly wasn't to argue all night. It seemed his feet had led him here on their own free will. He searched his brain, hoping to drum up a feasible answer. "Um, when you said the Empire's abandoned you...what exactly did you mean by that?"
Zim was about to question why the human had changed the subject so quickly, but instead his chest deflated with a heavy sigh. "The Armada will never come Dib," he answered halfheartedly. "The Tallest banished me here and threatened to kill me if I ever returned. I have nowhere else to go."
Dib stared at him in contempt. Don't buy into it. Don't believe it. He's just trying to trick you. "Then why help me with my invention?" he asked, hoping to fish out some more information. "Why bother making them work instead of just sabotaging them like you normally would?"
Zim straightened up. "I thought that by aiding you, I could gain your trust and use your labs to take over Earth. But it wasn't until after Tak's downfall that I realized my efforts were a waste." He stopped pacing, but didn't turn around. "I planned to offer your planet to the Tallest as a token in exchange for my reinstatement as an invader. But..." His fists tightened in anger. "I was a fool. The Tallest want nothing to do with me OR this miserable planet. Even if I did take it over, they would probably just leave it to rot."
Dib stared at the Irken in disbelief. Could it really be true? Could his leaders really have abandoned him? And what was that bit about Tak? What had SHE done that was so bad?
He tried to process the information, attempting to desperately piece it all together. But no matter which way he wrapped his head around it, it just didn't make any sense. Zim was an invader, sent here by his leaders to learn the planet's weaknesses and take it over for the Irken Empire. There was no way they would just let one of their own soldier's go rogue.
"Wow..." he muttered, letting a pause draw out long enough to recapture the Irken's attention. "You'll say just about anything to get of here won't you?"
Zim shot him a confined look. "I no longer wish to argue this any further human. Take from it what you will." Feeling exhausted, he went back to rest in his original spot on the other side of the prism. Dib watched as he sat down and rested his back against the wall, his next few words causing a disturbing feeling to slither through his core.
"I just wished I could have known Tak would be alright," he said, laying his head against the glass, his voice carrying only a slight hint of sadness. "But I suppose I was never worthy of such a benediction."
Dib fought the squirming sensation that wrestled in his gut. Disgusted that the Irken would resort to such trickery, he tempestuously scanned his ID card and retrieved the data drive. It teleported into the palm of his hand and he pocketed the device. Then, he left without another word.
It was late by the time he made it all the way back to Zim's base. He ventured under cover of night, avoiding any paparazzi that might seek him out as he made his way down the familiar neighborhood. Normally the eerie green house was completely swamped with picket lines and cop cars, the yard lined with armed guards keeping the alien rights activists and other crazy nut jobs at bay. But due the constant complaints from neighbors not being able to sleep at night and declining lack of interest in the situation altogether, the city decided it was best to redistribute its authority figures.
Dib shook his head at the idiocy. The area went unguarded every night at exactly seven PM. If someone really wanted to break in, they would just do so after hours. Why even bother having the cops show up at all? he wondered, pacing down the familiar streets. Not that anyone knew how to break in anyway. Most of the bases defenses were still online and even Gir managed to scare a few off a few onlookers with his incontrollable level of insanity.
He reached the front door and turned the knob, knowing it would be unlocked now that Zim no longer resided inside. Despite the security systems still being in place, he knew it wouldn't be difficult for him to enter. The computer no longer recognized him as a threat, and thanks to the countless spy bugs he'd installed, he could walk in anytime he wanted.
He opened the door casually and was less than surprised to find Zim's lazy robot lounging about on the couch. As always, it was buried knee deep in chips and nacho cheese, and looked to be fully intrigued with whatever it was he was watching on TV.
"HIYA MARY!" it shrieked in excitement, turning toward him. The cheese dripped down its tiny, claw-like hand as he waved it high in the air. "YOU HERE TO WATCH THE SCARY MONKEY SHOW WITH ME?!"
Dib winced and looked around the tarnished living room. "Uh...not exactly. Listen, is there any chance you could show me where to decode this?" He held up the formulated memory drive.
Hopping down from the couch, the little robot scampered over and scanned the device. "Ooooo," he cooed, eyeing it like it a piece of candy. To Dib's bewilderment, he snatched it directly out of his hand.
Dib took chase as Gir sprinted off with the device. He followed him over to the trash can that was built into the side of the kitchen. The lid lifted up automatically and he dove in after the little robot.
Feeling his stomach drop as the weight of free fall took over, he fell head-first into the passageway. Yelling the entire way down, he struggled to stay upright, but tumbled over and over down the long passageway. He thought he was going to fall indefinitely, but eventually his body decelerated and he was flipped over to land feet-first into the center of a small, circular chamber.
He grunted as he flopped down safety on a cushioned seat. Gir followed shortly after, crashing down next to him with a thud. The little robot stood up giggling as if nothing had happened.
Dib looked around the ovular room, awed by the spectacle of gadgets surrounding him. It seemed to be some kind of sophisticated viewing chamber, one where the various monitors were set up for some sort of editing process. He took in the display, trying to figure out why the little robot had led him here.
At the center of the room was an interface, conveniently placed in arms reach. He looked down at the apparatus, trying to figure out where to connect the memory drive. Using his limited knowledge of Irken mechanics, he eventually found the connection slot and managed to get the files up and running.
He sat back and watched as Zim's memories uploaded and began to play out in front of him, each one popping up onto an individual screen.
"I love this show," Gir chimed in mindlessly.
Dib ignored him and continued sorting through the footage. There were moments between him and Zim fighting, he and Tak arguing, and struggles with Gir and his many failed experiments. The files were jumbled, and seemed to have parts missing with fragmented information as they played out in full. Attached to them were collective tid-bits of other memories, as if the files weren't cleanly extracted. He must have had struggled removing which ones he wanted without pulling from others, he concluded.
Trifling through the databanks, he continued to study the images as they mirrored off his glasses, each one displaying a goldmine of information. The most intriguing being those based around Zim's home world and other glances of the Irken race. It was limited, but he paused and slowed down each segment, trying to take note of the intimate details.
He noticed one vivid memory stood out in particular. It was when Zim was back on his home planet, and he seemed to be in some sort of giant robot having the time of his life. He was destroying everything in his path, and paying little mind to the civilians that ran scared for their lives as the missiles and lasers descended upon them.
He paused the playback and restarted it to get a better look.
"But Sir! We're...still on our own planet!"
"Silence!" commanded Zim. "Twist those knobs! Twist those knobs! And you! Pull some levers! Pull some levers!"
His underlings seemed particularly disturbed with their orders, but continued doing as they were told. Soon everything around them was nothing more than dust and echoes.
Dib fast forwarded to a more recent entry and slowed down when he saw Zim's leaders standing behind him before a large, glowing alien mass. The Irken was being lifted by what appeared to be a large set of attached wires. They fed into his PAK and then began transferring data as they changed the screen in front of him from INVADER to FOODCOURTIA.
"So he was banished for destroying his home world?" Dib questioned, trying to make sense of the imagery. "Geez, and here I thought here he was stupid."
He fast forwarded again to the point of the Great Assigning and watched as Zim escaped his fate simply by walking out the back door. He observed how he interrupted the ceremony, demanded his own mission, and was cast off into the far outreaches of the galaxy where he eventually found Earth.
Dib skipped around the scattered bits of their countless battles and after a few more hours, eventually got to where the Tallest finally admitted their hatred of the former Invader. He watched intently as they laid into him, tearing him into pieces and closing him off to his resources and his people. He watched Zim's anger unravel as the truth finally sunk in, and the moment of depression and clarity that followed soon after.
It couldn't be true, Dib thought, the disturbing feeling taking hold of gut once more. He HAD to be lying.
He saw their time at the science fair, the moment of Tak's arrival, and how she nearly killed him. He witnessed how he saved her life and how their relationship slowly progressed, blossoming from hatred to admiration. He saw the great lengths he went to care for her, and how she distanced herself after telling him about the smeet. And finally, he witnessed the moment where he selflessly returned her ship.
Unable to take anymore, Dib switched off the feed and sank back into the soft cushion in silence. So he was telling the truth this whole time? He let the information sink in for a moment, not really knowing what to think of it. He wasn't lying about his leaders abandoning him. They really wanted him dead. And he let Tak go because of a smeet? What was a smeet anyway?
Feeling a knot twist inside his stomach, he thought the scenario over. So he let Tak go to save her life. He actually CARED about her...
It was hard to believe, but given the evidence himself, he knew he couldn't deny it. He wondered for a moment if it was possible that Zim had somehow pre-programmed the memories, using them as a trick to fool Dib into feeling sorry for him. But somewhere deep down, Dib knew they were real. Zim would never allow access to such personal or embarrassing information, even when the alien had nothing to lose. Even back when Zim had created the elaborate ruse to make Dib feel like he'd defeated him, Zim had never let him peek too much into IRKEN memory. Even if it was just to get back at the boy for throwing a muffin at his head.
Dib's brow furrowed, thinking on the matter. But Zim isn't the type to care about anyone, he thought, trying to convince himself. I saw it first hand. He destroyed his home planet, everything he ever puts his hands on. He would have destroyed Earth if I hadn't stopped him.
"But he is so bad at it."
Gaz's words echoed in his mind like some pesky gnat that absolutely refused to buzz off. It was true. Despite all the Irken's attempts, Zim WAS bad at it. There were only a few moments where Dib thought he might actually succeed, but in the end those plans always managed to backfire. Most of the time he had been able to simply step out of the way, letting the Irken take the fall on his own. That, or he would simply just go back to bed.
Could it really be true? he wondered, still fighting the sickening feeling in his stomach. Could Zim's whole reason on Earth be nothing more than a sham? A joke? A lie?
Not having the mental fortitude to wrestle with the idea further, he ejected the disk drive and stood up, looking around for a way to exit the room. Maybe a good night's sleep will help clear my mind.
The next morning, Dib sat up on his bed, his head propped up on his hands. He had his elbows resting on his thighs and hadn't slept a wink since the previous night. Everything he had heard, everything had seen. He was still trying to process all the information he'd taken in.
He tried to wrap his mind around it, but it just all seemed too surreal. If it really was true, then Zim had nowhere left to go. He was stuck on Earth and would be forced to live out the rest of his days on a planet he claimed to hate. Even if he did take over the world, it wouldn't do him any good. His leaders had already abandoned him, and didn't seem to notice or care if he succeeded.
He felt his face fall to a frown at he stared at the freshly vacuumed carpet beneath him. The autopsy was scheduled for later that afternoon, and he had always assumed he would be ecstatic for this day to finally come. It was something he used to fantasize about, envisioning the endless praise and recognition from his peers while his enemy was mercilessly being torn to shreds only a few feet away.
But despite his success, the enthusiasm just wasn't there. No one seemed to really care about Zim's discovery like he had expected, and the fame was more obnoxious than glorifying. He found himself tossing and turning at night, catching glimpses of the Irken's cold, unforgiving gaze as he struggled to regain consciousness. He always woke the same way, in a cold sweat and wondering why such thoughts were plaguing him. But he simply shrugged them off as nothing more than a nightmare.
My mission might not be as exciting without you around to annoy me, but it will be more...pleasant.
Images of their countless battles began to fill his mind as tried desperately to clear his head.
You shouldn't interfere with a superior force Dib! You'd have been better off just staying on your planet and getting squished just like everybody else!
Well you shouldn't have bothered coming to Earth! Because I'll stop you at every turn.
We don't have time for this Dib. Your world might be in very great danger.
Well, yeah... You're trying to destroy the human race. Remember?
Oh, yes. But this is different. It's something else entirely.
He pushed the pesky memories aside and massaged his temple, trying to tell himself that he wouldn't miss it. He could do without all the excitement, without all the blood-pumping adrenaline running through his veins while he rushed to stop the Irken at another ill-fated attempt at taking over the world. It was all too exhausting anyway.
You're nothing Earth boy! Go home and shave your giant head of smell with your bad self!
Okay...There's all kinds of things wrong with what you just said.
Behold! The doom cannon!
I can't. It's invisible.
But you can see me?
That's what I said.
Oh that's stupid!
You dare agree with me! Prepare to face your horrible doom!
"Why do I feel like this?" he muttered, digging his palms into bed's the soft fabric. It was strange, but for all the hatred he felt toward Zim, there was still a hint of remorse that he just couldn't shake. This would be the final nail in the coffin, the last time he would ever get a chance to rub his success in his enemy's face. He wondered if he would be okay with it, going back to his old life and closing the chapter on the whole 'aliens are real' scenario once and for all. He hadn't really taken into account the reality of never being able to speak to Zim again, nor the opportunity to get his hands on the vast amount of tech that would inevitably fall victim to the Eyeball. He had handed the Irken over to them on a whim, not really considering the consequences of doing so. He had been so ready to taste sweet victory, so ready for everyone to recognize him as something other than crazy. Perhaps he had acted too quickly.
He fought the sickening feeling in his stomach as he tried to convince himself otherwise. No! Zim was the enemy! The one who wanted to enslave us all along! He wanted to make us all bow down to his stupid evil. Without me, the Earth would have been doomed. I did what I had to!
He continued to fight the battle with himself until he heard the faint clattering of kick-knacks passing down the hall. He lifted his head up to see his father appear in the doorway, carrying a box full of old household decorations.
"Something wrong son?" the professor asked, noticing the boy's melancholy posture.
Dib hung his head in defeat. "I don't get it Dad. I just don't get it." He hopped down from the bed and began pacing the floor anxiously. "I caught Zim, saved the world, and proved to everyone that I'm not crazy. I'll go down in history as the first person to ever prove aliens are real. I should be happy right?"
Saying nothing, the Professor set down the box of items and motioned to take a seat next to him. Dib readjusted as his heavy body weight sank into the bed. "Are you saying you are not satisfied with your scientific discovery son?" he asked curiously.
Dib shook his head. "No, I am happy. It's just that..."
Dib grunted in frustration. "I thought this whole thing would change everything, you know?" He tilted his head up. "I wanted people to see the truth, for them to realize that all the things I have been saying were actually right. I never thought they would get bored with a real live alien so quickly, or be so simple-minded about it. It's as if they don't even care!"
The professor looked up at the ceiling briefly. "Yes, I suppose that is an unfortunate circumstance," he said, stroking the base of his collar. He turned back down at his son. "But are you sure that's the only thing bothering you?"
Dib paused and looked at his father curiously. "What do you mean?"
The professor stood up. "I mean, did you make this discovery for the good of the public, or did you simply do it for yourself?"
Dib dipped his head back down. "Myself...I guess. But I don't see why that's such a bad thing."
The Professor walked over and casually placed a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Son, do you know why I strive so hard to come up with new technologies every day?"
Dib glanced away like a sarcastic teenager. "So you can sell them to pay for the house?"
The professor shook his head. "It's because I feel I have a responsibility to make this world a better place. Not just for you or your sister, but for all mankind. Don't you think it would be a bit silly for me to apply my talents to something like...I don't know...proving that ghosts were real?"
Dib turned to look up at his father, the offense written on his face. "But you would never have taken my study of the paranormal seriously if it weren't for Zim!" he exclaimed. "Because of him, people are now open minded to a bunch of other theories!"
The professor held a finger up. "Studying the paranormal isn't very scientific son," he stated wisely.
"How can you say that after being shown a real live alien?!" Dib exclaimed in frustration. "How can you continue to say that all of my paranormal studies are a joke when real proof was right in front of you all along?"
The professor brought a finger to his chin. "Yes, I have to admit that even for me, that one was a bit of a shock." He knelt down to place a hand back on Dib's shoulder. "But you have to understand son, just because one of your outlandish theories was proven true doesn't mean the rest of them will be. That is the way of the scientific method after all."
Disappointed, Dib frowned and shook his father's arm from him. "Gee...thanks Dad."
There was a pause as the professor looked back at him sympathetically. "Son, this isn't just about me is it?" he asked, getting a feeling there was something else bothering the boy. "What is it that is really troubling you?"
Dib sighed, not expecting his father to understand anyway. "I thought that exposing Zim would fix everything. That it would make people see that I'm not...crazy." He stopped and looked down at the floor. "But now I just feel like I've made some sort of mistake. Like I've...messed things up somehow."
There was a pause, and the professor stared back at him with sympathetic eyes. "You're worried about you're little green friend aren't you?" he said directly.
Dib's eyes went wide and he stared up at his father in disbelief. "Friend? Friend?! Haven't you been listening Dad? Zim's not my friend! He's the enemy. He was sent here to destroy Earth! How can you be so casual about all this?"
The Professor took a few steps forward and once again, rested a hand on his shoulder. "Listen son, I think it's marvelous that you've finally opened the world's eyes to the reality of life on other planets, but as with anything in science, possibilities are limited if you don't consider the moral and ethical dilemmas."
Dib looked up, puzzled. "Moral and etherical dilemmas?"
The professor nodded. "You still have a few more hours to think it over. But for now, why don't you get some rest." He patted his son on the head and turned to exit the room. "You've got a big day tomorrow! I know you'll do me proud!"
Dib watched him go, not really sure what to make of what just happened. Deciding it was best not to argue, he climbed into bed and slid under the covers. He was barely able to hit the pillow before the world around him disappeared into oblivion.
Meanwhile, back on Irk
Tak's eyelids fluttered open at the sounds of the collective medical staff buzzing around her. She stirred, fighting off the lingering grogginess as the red hue from the room filled her vision. Instinct taking over, she pushed her body up slowly, groaning at the searing pain radiating from her freshly cut midsection. Grabbing her abdomen, she fought the prickling sensation and hunched over as it shot through her nerves.
She felt like she was going to vomit. Just like the time back in Zim's base, she had likely been given a heavy dose of intense pain killers to keep her from feeling anything during the surgery. She was thankful, bit it did leave the nasty side effects to deal with.
One of the medical staff noticed her and immediately rushed over. "No, no, no." The nurse chanted frantically as she ushered Tak back down on the gurney. "It is far too soon for you to get out of bed miss. You must not move until we complete the necessary recalibrations."
"The smeet?" Tak managed to mutter through a groan as she proceeded to defy the nurses instructions once again.
The nurse gently nudged her back down. "She's has been taken to the incubation chamber for now," she explained promptly, disconnecting the proper tubes and mechanics that hooked Tak up to the monitor. "You will get the opportunity to see her once you are cleared."
Tak's antennae perked up. "Her? So it's a she?"
The nurse smiled warmly. "That's right. The smeet is female. Most natural borns tend to be."
Tak settled back down as she continued about her work. She stared up at the ceiling in a daze. A female? Like me? What would she be like? She let her imagination run wild as she envisioned the various outcomes. Would she be smart and cunning, or loud and chaotic? Would she look like Zim? Or would she take more after me?
She allowed the nurse to examine her body while her mind sorted through the possibilities. What am I supposed to do now that it's born? Will I have to care for it? What will happen if I'm sentenced to prison?
The nurse finished up with her routine and scribbled down something into her data pad. "There we go," said said happily, taking a step back. "You are free to move around on your own if you wish, but you may find you are a still a bit dizzy. Be mindful to avoid agitating your stitches."
Tak nodded and then pushed herself back up. She slowly swung her legs over the side, letting them dangle a minute over the edge before pressing them against the cold surface of the sturdy floor. Taking it slow, she allowed her mind to recalibrate with her motor functions. Eventually, she managed to stand, and only wobbled slightly as her balance straightened her out.
She was about to ask the nurse where she was to report to next when she noticed a pair of soldiers standing guard nearby. They left the spot where they were waiting and made their way over to her.
Of course, she thought, rolling her eyes. As if they would let me to take two steps without being under their control.
Without resisting, she complied as they forcefully placed her gloved hands in a pair of lasered cuffs once again. Knowing there was no use arguing, she let out a grunt as they nudged her forward. She was too weak to physically fight back given her current state, and even if she were at full strength, the facility they were in was littered with deadlocks and heightened security. It was virtually impossible to escape undetected.
They led her back to the chamber that housed the smeets and main control brain. They dumped her off in the center of the room, this time leaving her wrists cuffed. She pushed herself up, and looked back as they strode out. She then humbly looked to the mass of advanced biotech before her.
"Ah, so I see you've returned my dear," the control brain spoke as it lowered down to her.
Tak felt her body kneel down in respect. "I was told I could see my smeet before I was transferred," she answered, biting through the pain that screamed within her.
The control brain glowed warmly as it spoke. "Certainly." It illuminated one of the fluid chambers lining the wall. "See for yourself. She is very healthy."
Tak sprinted over to the chamber and stared at the small bundle of flesh floating inside. It was small, tinier than anything she had ever seen in her life, and it looked a lot like Zim, but with a few of her own features mixed in. Of course she knew its appearance didn't mean much. Ultimately its personality would be based on the PAK it was integrated with, and the experiences it had with the outside world.
How could something so small make me feel so weak and helpless, she wondered, fighting back her emotions. There was a small part of her that wanted to stay in that moment forever, standing there in awe as she gazed down at the small ball of flesh before her.
"She's a lot like you you know," interjected the control brain, interrupting her thoughts. "Intelligent, headstrong, and a bit on the stubborn side if I dare say."
Tak's head swiveled and she stared back into the fabricated womb. "You forgot beautiful," she added, mesmerized at the miracle of life before her. It stirred, but only slightly, its fuchsia eyes opening briefly to take a quick look at the world before closing again. She placed a hand on the chamber, feeling its steady organic pulse beat against her palm. "She's destined for a great life," she muttered sadly, chocking back a sob. "As long as I don't mess it up for her."
"What do you mean by that my dear?" the control brain asked curiously.
Tak lowered her head. "I've been thinking about what you said...about leaving my profile behind for her to run through the database." She turned away and looked back at the smeet. "But I'm not sure it would be best if she knew who her donors were."
The control brain remained silent for a moment, processing the statement. "You certainly seemed eager to find out who yours were when you got here," she replied. "Are you sure you want to bestow that same hardship on her?"
Tak looked back at the smeet, a sad expression on her face. "She will hate me for it. Probably forever. But her life will be hard enough as it is." She raised a hand and stared into the sac sympathetically. "She doesn't need my help in making it worse."
Responding to the request, the control brain descended a panel that came to rest within arm's reach. "Very well," it said, indicating for her to turn around. "If you are ready to make that decision, I will allow you to enter your declination."
Tak stared at the panel, deciding for herself if it was what she really wanted. She had promised that she wouldn't abandon the smeet, but the alternative was just too risky. If anyone, especially the Tallest, found out it was related to Zim, they might choose have her killed. And as far as her own disgraceful title went, she couldn't bear the thought of her offspring knowing what a failure she was.
She hovered her claw over the declination option and waited a moment before pressing down. When she clicked it, a beep was heard, and the information digitally began wiping itself from the database.
"It is done," announced the control brain. It brought the panel back up and opened a whole in the ceiling for it to be swallowed.
"Will I ever get to see her again?" Tak asked, foolishly knowing the answer was far from yes.
"It is not likely considering you have chosen to erase your personal information from the database," answered the control brain. "But I suppose it's possible. IF she ever does manage to track you down."
Tak looked back at the smeet dolefully. She placed her hand on the chamber to felt its heart beat one last time as she waited for the guards to drag her off to her next destination.
Author's note: Wow, this chapter turned out a lot better than I anticipated! I would have released it sooner, but I wasn't too happy with the original 'flow' of the story so I spent a little more time fleshing it out. And boy, I'm glad I did! I really felt like I got the emotions to come across like they were supposed to this time without making it feel too rushed. And it has officially become my new years resolution to finish this saga of a story, so I won't be giving up on it anytime soon.
I should mention that I was listening to a radio station the other day and the song "Unwell" by Matchbox Twenty came on the rewind list. I couldn't help but recall what a perfect song it was for Dib and how it came out around the same time as the show. So of course I had to listen to it while writing this chapter. If you haven't heard it yet, I highly recommend giving it a listen. You won't be disappointed.
Till next time!