There was a Dib on the couch.

This would not have been a problem if he had been on his own couch, or even on some other smelly hyuman's couch. But of all the couches he possibly could have seated his filthy buttocks on, he had chosen Zim's couch. This meant, of course, that he had broken through security again and then talked GIR into letting him stay again and had probably already planted a dozen spycameras that would take Irk knows how long to track down and disable again.

Dib slouched against the cushions like some junk-crawling space drifter. GIR perched firmly on his head, holding onto his hair and giggling at the growly monkey on TV. Zim braced himself, then stiffened his spine and stormed into the living room.

"GIR! How many times do I have to tell you not to let the enemy into our base?"

"Eleventy more times, sir!" GIR barked, saluting. Then he tilted sideways off Dib's head and bounced off the cushions, clanking to the ground. "Is it Christmas yet? I want a new moose."

Growling, Zim switched off the TV and then turned back to his number one problem on this horrid, spinning rock. "Security! Seize the Dib. Don't let him escape!"

Immediately Zim sprang for the window. That was usually the first point of exit for Dib. If he covered that window fast enough, he could catch Dib trying to get out the front door, too. The farther window was trickier to cover, but he was counting on the computer to fill in the gaps in his… defense?

He stopped halfway across the room. Dib hadn't moved a muscle. The computer lazily coiled a wire around Dib's arms and torso, then tightened it. He grunted a little.

Zim drew himself straight, grinning. "Hah! Pathetic fool. Irken technology has subdued you easily."

Too easily.

Zim stamped his foot, as if grinding that thought into the ground. "It is only natural a species as inferior as yours would be caught in your infiltration attempt. Do you have any sniveling to do before I take you down to the labs for horrible experiments?"

Dib finally lifted his head. His face didn't look right. The white parts were too red and the flesh around the eyeballs was far too saggy. His mouth wasn't flapping as much as it usually did, either. In fact, it wasn't flapping at all.

Well. Zim could fix that. "Putrid fleshbag! Look at you, you miserable failure. Your efforts to spy on my activities are annoying, but in the end I will find all your primitive recording devices. Then you will have no proof, AGAIN, and nobody will ever come to rescue you, and you still will not be able to stop today's evil plan!" Now Dib would have to respond.

Ah, there. The muscles in Dib's face were moving a little. Zim folded his arms with a grin, waiting for Dib to yell at him. Then he would send him down to the labs and turn all his bones into spaghetti. Oh, today was going to be a marvelous day.

"What's today's evil plan?"

Zim blinked. What kind of droopy-voiced question was that? "Uh… It's…. it's…" he frowned, glancing at GIR. "GIR, what was the plan?"

"Hypnotic nail polish!" GIR squealed.

"No, that was yesterdays' plan, GIR. What's today's plan?"

"Living nachos!"

"Ah! Yes." He put his hands behind his back and began to march toward Dib. "Sentient liquid cheese shall be shipped to every LateEight mart and fuel station in the country. The unsuspecting food service drones will load the cheese into their squeezy pumps for nachos, contaminating the remaining dregs with sentience as well. The moment the cheese pumps are activated, the nachos shall rise from their cardboard containers!" Zim stopped in front of Dib, raising his fist in triumph. "And they shall devour the faces off the dirt-monkeys that were foolish enough to order their own doom from the menu. What do you say to that, Dib-beast?"

Dib shrugged. "Everyone's pretty dense, but there will be an awful lot of blood and screaming. You'll get shut down pretty fast. Have you considered altering it for mind control after ingestion instead? Less detectable. More chance to infiltrate important positions in local government, general infrastructure, etcetra."

Zim's antennae crossed. He grabbed Dib by the hair and yanked it aside, peering into the hole in the side of his head.

"OW! Zim, what are you doing?"

"Checking you for brainworms. This is where sound enters, yes? Indefensible. Ten worms could enter and you wouldn't even know it. What sort of species would allow an auditory organ to develop like this? So stupid. You likely have a minimum of five egg caches in your cranial fluid already."

"Zim, we don't have brainworms on this planet. At least, I'm pretty sure we don't have the same thing you're thinking of. Plenty of weird viruses and parasites, but not… whatever you're thinking of."

"Uh-huh. That's just what a brainworm-infected host would claim."

"And that diagnosis is based on what?"

"Based on what? Based on what?" Zim shrilled. "You break into my base, you sit there like a Sotnorgen rejected by its Norgblather, you didn't plant a single camera… COMPUTER!"

Whaaaaaaaat.

"Has the enemy hidden any equipment onsite?"

No. He just came in to watch TV.

"SEE!" Zim screeched. "Not a single camera! And you stand there improving on the un-improvably genius plan of Zim's! Clearly infected with brainworms! Next you'll be handing the planet over to me and admitting defeat."

"Right. Well. About that."

"Shut your noise hole right this moment COMPUTER I NEED A BRAINWORM ANTIDOTE." Zim backed away, chills running up his spine. "And prepare a disinfectant chamber for me, we don't know if they've matured to the spreading stage!"

Scans indicate no parasites present in the intruder. Shall I incinerate him anyway?

"YOU'RE LYING! CHECK HIM AGAIN! TAKE SAMPLES! START PROBING!"

"ZIM!" Dib shouted. "I'm done, okay? I just came by to say I'm done, and whatever stupid plan you have, have fun. Have a ball, a fiesta, invite all your pals to watch the world burn. Hell, you don't have to do anything, okay? Really. You can just sit here on the couch and watch TV for a few years, and when you walk out the front door, there'll be nothing worth saving left. You can just pave it over, or fill it with snacks, or whatever your species does to conquered planets."

Zim sucked a breath in between his teeth. Scowling at Dib, he shouted, "Just because I had a shmoop in front of you ONE TIME, you think you can come in here and shmoop your way to victory like I did? I will not be shmoop-fooled, do you hear me?"

Dib glared at the floor. "Look, I don't have any cameras. I'm not armed. You can do what you want, but could you at least turn the TV back on?"

GIR whooped, leaping to his feet. "Can we do Willy Wonka? I wanna go through the tunnel of DOOM!"

"NO!" Zim shuddered. "Never, never again. That… that horrible chocolatey deathtrap." He shook himself, then turned to Dib. "Why are you here? Why did you not shmoop at home? Surely you must have known the consequences of trying to shmoop here."

Dib's shoulders wiggled in what Zim assumed was a shrug. He couldn't move his arms enough to do it properly.

"Computer, loose the Dib. He is a feeble mess of inaction at the moment." Zim waited until the robotic coil withdrew, then demanded, "Answer the question."

"I just didn't feel like being at home."

"You make no sense."

"Your face makes no sense."

"My face makes PERFECT sense!" Zim howled. "YOUR face is all saggy and wrong! And your smelly rear is still infecting my couch and you won't tell me WHY!"

"Then throw me out!" Dib snarled. "I'll just shmoop all over your lawn."

Clenching his fists, Zim called on his minimal reserves of GIR-wrangling patience. "Why. Are. You. Shmooping."

Dib sagged against the cushions again and stared at the dark TV screen. "Maybe I'm just tired of watching humans destroy themselves and laugh about how smart they are while doing it. So, maybe I came here because I may as well watch an alien destroy them a little bit faster."

"I don't understand. Your species has always been stupid, you are just now giving up on them?"

Dib was quiet for a minute. Then he looked up at Zim, and his eyes were extra wet which was unsafe enough for Zim to take another step backward. "I could ignore them while I was just trying to stop you if I just focused on stopping you and nothing else, y'know? I was saving the world every time you failed. That's a really great feeling. A fantastic distraction. But I slow down for two minutes and think… really think. Then I wonder, what am I saving?" He gestured to the window.

"Your leaders. Your species. Yourself. Obviously! You are clearly inferior, but every species attempts its own survival at all costs. In this you are no different, so it is only logical that you oppose me." Zim shifted. This conversation was most uncomfortable.

"You're not listening, Zim." Dib tilted his head back to stare at the ceiling. "It would take five college courses just to bring you up to speed on the nuances of how stupid the current political climate is, not to mention how we've permanently poisoned our own food and water. Sentient nachos? Hah. Do you know, the other day—you know I get skin scrapings off you in our fights sometimes?—so the other day I observed the way the water interacts with your skin. Did you know that you burn because there's microscopic plastics in our water? The base compound of water wouldn't hurt you. It's the blend of microplastics and a hundredfold cocktail of pharmaceuticals that your skin is reacting to." Dib smiled, but it was all crooked and sent bumps rising across Zim's skin. "We drink that crap. We can't stop drinking water or we'll die, but we don't know what this is doing to us, and there's no filter that can catch it all. I don't think anyone is really researching the effects. We did that, by the way, we're the reason the water's like that. Do you know how many drugs we go through?"

"Stop."

"Because our brains are turning on us. Mental illness in every category is skyrocketing—that's when some parts of our brains can't interpret some parts of reality correctly anymore, in different combinations of brain parts and aspects of reality of course. We keep making new pills to stop the symptoms so we can stay functional enough to stomach living in congested cities and continue doing all the things that make us most miserable. Did you know the birth rate is going down in a whole lot of countries? Can't imagine why."

"I said STOP."

"Not to mention the constant lies being broadcast as gospel truth everywhere I turn. Can't have anyone with enough energy to actually enact well thought out, long-lasting change, no, we have to be so divided, anxiety-riddled, enraged, and anguished that we'll leap at the first savior to promise us it'll be different this time. It'll be different this time. Swear to God it'll be different this time! And when the savior fails us, there's always the revolutionary waiting in the wings." Dib's fingers dug into the cushions and cords stood out along his neck. "And God forbid anyone try to have a civil conversation about anything anymore without capslocking that the other person should hang themselves or slit their own wrists for thinking differently."

Zim felt the wall against his PAK. He wasn't sure when he'd backed up that far. Dib's chest was heaving and his whole face was wet, now.

"So. Yeah, Zim. I came here, because screw all that. Some days it's just too much for me to distract myself from. Some days, taking down an alien threat isn't good enough to really save this place. And maybe it really is better if you just burn it all down right now. Then, at least, we can blame somebody else for our sorry state."

The Dib was serious.

In this state, it truly would be easy to incapacitate him permanently. Or use him as experimental fodder for an adjusted strain of the sentient cheese. With Dib out of the way, one of the next five plans would surely function perfectly. He could bring the planet to its knees with far less interruption.

But when he looked at Dib, all he heard in his head were his own cries. Mere months ago, he himself had rolled around on the floor like a malformed smeetling, wailing, The Tallests aren't coming! I've lost the respect of my Tallests!

Watching your species undermine themselves a bit at a time obviously paled in comparison to losing the Tallests' regard. But. It was still a pretty terrible thing to imagine. If that ever happened to Irkens...

His claws twitched. He's given me so much new information to take advantage of…

Later. He stalked over to the TV and switched it on. "GIR! I want you to go get three extra cheesy pizzas. Make it six, actually. You always eat mine, and I want at least two."

"TACO PIZZAAAAAAaaaaaaa…" GIR screamed all the way out the door.

"I said CHEESE. And don't forget your disguise… ah." Zim flapped a hand at the door, plopping down on the couch. "They don't care. I'm pretty sure the pizza man is ingesting strange chemical substances himself. He won't be able to tell the difference."

Dib scrubbed his face with the sleeve of his trench coat. "Does GIR even have money?"

"Money. Bees. Marbles. A live pig. It's all in his head."

"I'll bet."

Zim glared at the TV. "This show is terrible."

"I know a better channel."

Zim passed the remote over. "Just so you know. I'll probably use all the information you gave me in my next plan."

"Whatever. Burn it all down."

Abruptly, Zim backhanded Dib across the face. "SILENCE YOUR MOUTH!" He grabbed Dib's collar and pulled him close, glaring. "You listen to me, now. I will tolerate your shmoop temporarily, but your shmoop will end. And when that shmoop ends, you will remember that the biggest threat to this planet is me, not all these other things you speak of, me. You will also remember that as a member of a sentient race—lowly as yours is—it is your duty to drag them upward with every step you take and every breath you breathe. You make them a little more superior or a little more repulsive every day with your actions! And these other things you speak of, can you do anything about them? Anything at all, right now, right this moment?"

Dib shook his head, wide-eyed. Blood trickled from his lip.

"Do you think you can become amazing enough to do something about it in five years?"

He shook his head again.

"Ten? Twenty?" Zim shook him. "Are you going to fix any one of those problems? Do you have the talent? Are you going to make it your talent?"

Dib sagged.

"I didn't think so!" Releasing his grip, Zim shoved Dib hard. "What is your talent, groveling smellworm?"

"Huh?"

"What are you good at?" Zim bellowed. "What do you live and breathe, day in and day out? What is your amazingness?!"

"Proving the paranormal exists…?"

"Stopping alien threats to your planet, you single-cell piece of idiocy! If you want to sit there and groan about all these things forever out of your reach and waste time, you go ahead do that. In the meantime I will level every mountain, fill every valley, and shoot all the water out into space so I don't have to deal with it! You can't do anything about the big long list you yelled about, but you see me every day! Now, have your shmoop and stuff your face with pizza, then go home and shut your brain off for many hours like you do every night, then get up and FIGHT ME."

Huffing, Zim folded his arms and turned back toward the TV. "Also change the channel. That monkey makes me uneasy."

There was a soft click and the channel switched. Now there were malformed cartoon horses frolicking everywhere. "Ugh, I thought you said you had a better channel."

"This is it."

"There's too much color, too many smiles. GIR watches this sometimes. I swear they're trying to infect my brain with their insipid friendship messages."

"Shut up. It's relaxing. You wanna go back to the monkey?"

"No."

They sat there for a while. Zim kept one eye on Dib, who finally wiped the blood from his mouth and ran his tongue over the cut on his lip. His eyes looked a little less… unDiblike. His body still sagged, though, and he was staring at Zim like Zim had turned purple.

"Hey, Zim?"

"What?"

"Why are you trying to get me back in the fight?"

Zim turned his whole focus on the TV screen. He did not appreciate the scrutiny rebounding on him. "This is not interrogate Zim time. This is…" his lips curled. "Fffffffriendship magick watchtime, apparently."

"Seriously. If I stopped fighting you…"

Zim shrugged. "Your action or inaction makes no difference to my plans."

"That's not how it sounded a minute ago."

He ground his teeth over the words. You keep me in practice. You are just the right level of threat that I am not in overwhelming danger of being captured, but I have to always pay attention. If my plan fails, it is a horrible tearing in my squeedly spooch, but it proves the plan was not good enough. Someday the plan will be good enough, and it has to bring you down too. You are not allowed to give up until I break you myself. My plan has to pass the Dib Test.

Aloud, he said, "You flatter yourself too much. Shut up and have your shmoopday."

At that moment, a stack of pizza boxes burst through the door, propelled by metal legs. "I HAVE ALL THE PANCAKES."

"GIR! I said six pizzas, not twenty!"

"But the pig's tea party!" GIR flung the stack down, waving his arms in distress. "Not enough eggs for the tea party!"

Zim dragged his claws down his face. "Just shut the door." He glared at the boxes. "At least we have food for the week."

"Oh! It's my favorite show!" GIR flipped open a box and plotched himself right in the middle of a large cheese pizza.

"They're all your favorite show." Zim grabbed a box and dropped it between himself and Dib. After a minute, Dib grabbed a slice and started eating.

Everything would be back to normal by tomorrow. At latest, the day after that. Plenty of time to modify the sentient cheese plan for the Dib Testing phase. But for now…

"Hey, earthworm. Explain why the blue horse makes rainbows when it flies fast. The meteorological impossibility of this event alone… why are you laughing?"


Note: First post-Florpus fic! Not my strongest work, I know I made Zim a little out of character without breaking down his personality first. I needed a little venting, and also making Zim yell dumb things cheers me up. Also I unrepentantly enjoy My Little Pony, and I unrepentantly use some shows I love to mock other shows I love. Cover photo by Nicolás Perondi on Unsplash.