Dib fell asleep on the couch upstairs. When the adrenaline wore off, he couldn't even stand up straight, he was so tired. He had skool this morning, but he decided against going. It'd been a hell of a night, after all, and he really didn't feel like listening to Ms. Bitters drone on and on about the wonders of the reproductive system. The sunlight was fighting it's way in though the thick green curtains covering the living room windows. Flecks of dust faded in and out of the narrow strip of space that the light had managed to take over. Dib's glasses lay on the coffee table, and his trenchcoat was draped over the arm of a chair. He was still asleep, snoring lightly, sprawled over the couch in the kind of position that only a teenager could fall asleep in.

He rolled over and blinked open his eyes. In his nearsighted haze, he could make out two black and motionless eyes nosed up against his face, surrounded by a mass of brown fur and blood.

"YEEEAHHH!!" Dib screamed and lurched off the couch, landing unceremoniously on the floor. "Oof!"

"HI!" Dib heard a delighted squeaking voice from above him. Looking up, he saw Gir in his dog suit perched on the back of the couch, an insane grin on his face, holding the lifeless mass of brown fur and dried blood in one hand. "Look what I found in the street!" He cheerfully said, triumphantly telescoping an arm out, holding the mangled squirrel in front of Dib's face.

"Aw, man! ZIIIIM!" Dib yelled, his voice cracking, waving away the bloody creature he was being offered. "Your stupid robot brought in roadkill again!"

The green monkey picture above the couch lifted, revealing a screen showing an irritated Zim looking at them in the foreground, and Min at a console typing something in the background, her back to the screen. "Gir! Do you remember what I told you about bringing home animal corpses?" Zim scolded.

Gir stared blankly back. "Umm, yes... Waitaminute--"

"I TOLD you not to bring them in the house! Now take that disgusting maggot-farm thingy outside!"

Crestfallen, the little robot jumped off the couch, squirrel still in hand. "Okay..." He disappeared into the kitchen, and Dib heard through the doorway "YEEEE! There's one dat's still movin'!" followed by the sound of glass being shattered and Gir cackling. Dib flinched when he heard the glass break. "Well, it's a good thing this place repairs itself, because that robot would cost anyone else a FORTUNE in repairs..."

Zim huffed in agreement. "Dib, it was fortunate that Gir woke you up when he did." He added. "I believe I'm finished with Tak's amplifier thingy. Pure genius, if I do say so myself, heh heh. The only thing left now is to power it up, and then--"

"Well, I've calculated the frequencies like you asked me to, Zim." Min interrupted, turning around and heading towards him, her eyes focused on a printout in her hands, and not on the screen. "Problem is, we've only got a tolerance of a few nanopics, and if we give her a jolt that's out of that frequency range, we'll have to scrape her brains off the ceiling with a--OH! Uh, hi, Dib." She said, finally noticing the pale teenager on the other side of the screen.

Dib huffed a laugh and waved half-heartedly. "'Morning. You've been helping too, huh?"

"Yes, she has, and I have to admit she is a natural when it comes to repairing damaged meat-vehicles like Tak." Zim answered over her response. "You'd think she was born to do this, or something." That earned a strange sideward glance from Min.

"You think so?" Min asked flatly, as though it were something she didn't want to hear. "I was just trying to help out. It's just that everything kind of falls into place, and I suddenly just know what to do. It's almost like someone else is telling me what to do..."

"Wait, wait, wait Min. You mean to tell me you DIDN'T know what you were doing when you saved Zim's life?" Dib asked though the video screen.

"Not immediately..." Min fidgeted. Now it was Zim's turn to give a strange look to her.

"That's weird..." He mumbled.

"...Really weird." Dib echoed through the video screen. "So, you have no intention of killing Tak anymore, Zim? None at ALL?"

"Eh? Of course not! Thanks to you, she's in for a fate that's A THOUSAND TIMES worse! I'll meet you down in the cybernetics lab!" Zim punched the END TRANSMISSION button, and the screen went blank.

"So, this 'Tak', she tried to take over the planet, you said?" Min said, half-sitting on the console, almond-shaped eyes fixed on Zim.

"Not quite. She tried to drain Earth of it's magma. She was gonna fill the thing with snacks, and present the entire thing to the Tallests, as some kind of gift, just to get herself another chance to be an Invader. Scary part is, it would've worked, if it hadn't been for me!" He explained, then added as a afterthought: "...And Dib. Come to think of it, that was the first time we were forced to work together. I agreed to help him save this miserable planet, only 'cuz I thought I'd be able to conquer it myself later." He leaned against the console and stared off resentfully into space. "Man, was I wrong..."

"So, you were an Invader..." Min said quietly, an incomprehensible expression on her face. Of course, she already knew. She would have to have been buried alive somewhere to not have heard about Zim, the maniacal, destructive force of nature that was given a role as an Invader just for entertainment value. Prak, she herself remembered laughing at his antics on the oversized holoscreens just like every other soldier in the pits. She didn't like to be reminded of that.

Zim sighed and shook his head. "No, I wasn't really an Invader. They just made me believe I was. I was given sub-standard equipment, and shoved off to the most remote planet possible, just so the Tallest could be rid of me! For two years, I toiled on this ball of dirt and flesh, gathering up every scrap of information I could find, with Dib on my heels at every step! And you know what I got for it? I got stranded here!!" He pounded the console with a clenched fist in an impact that sent thundering reverberations though the metal. Min jumped from the sudden outburst, sliding quickly off the console, staring warily at him. "To make things worse, the stupid, smug, stretched-out TALLEST were laughing at me the whole time! The entire EMPIRE was laughing at me behind my back, and I was the only one not in on the joke!" Fist still clenched against the metal, which now had a tiny depression in it, Zim glanced at Min, who was in a guarded stance, staring intensely back. Regret spread across his face, and he heaved a shaking sigh. "I don't really know where that came from." He said in a distracted tone. He absently reached the hand up to rub his forehead. "I need to learn to better control myself, I suppose... It's not like I can do anything about it all now." He pushed away from the console and started towards the tiny side hatch that lead to the Cybernetics lab. "At least, now that Tak's back, I can have my revenge on her. A meager victory, but one nonetheless."

Min watched him leave, her antennae drooping. "This just keeps getting worse." She said shakily. She wasn't even concerned about Zim's violent outburst, she was so lost in her own dilemma. Not that she didn't understand where he was coming from. That was the problem. At this point, there was no reason in rationalizing her stalling the mission anymore. She just couldn't kill him. He was only trying to survive down here. He'd cut his losses when he was marooned, and now he was just another child of Earth. With every snippet of information she got, she felt more and more sorry for him. Unfortunately, the sympathy she felt was no decent excuse for failure in the eyes of the Tallest. And anyway, was sympathy even supposed to run this deep? She huffed an irritated sigh, and shook her head. Well, if it wasn't sympathy, then what else COULD it be? Besides, she still had that data to transmit, and one out of two wasn't TOO bad. She'd been transmitting it in small packets, the better to keep the defense programs at bay, and the better to keep Zim from getting suspicious. She was overdue for another transmission, but it would have taken too long right then. Not that she really WANTED to, anyway. She still didn't think it was right. Fighting off a second wave of self-loathing, she turned sullenly and followed Zim out though the constricting portal, but not without running her head smack into the top of the arched doorway. *DINK!* "OW! Eergh... Stupid... clumsy..."


The cybernetics lab smelled slightly of acid and burning metal. The typical ambient light of Zim's base played along the reddish metal surfaces of the walls, floor and lab equipment. Like most of the other chambers in Zim's base, it was large and vacant-looking, with little equipment actually out in the open. Twisted metal tubes and wires hung from above, covering the ceiling and converging in the center of the room, attaching to a huge ruddy metal pillar that was encircled with processing kiosks and protruding robot arms. A few of the tubes on the ceiling hung down loose here and there, attached with bits and tools that were used and just left to hang. Zim was bent over a table that had Tak lying motionless on it, holding a mask in one hand and a proton welding torch in the other, putting some finishing touches on the metal tube on her temple. He turned off the torch and lowered the mask, looking over his work and smiling arrogantly. It looked exactly like it did before. The holographic disguise had even begun to grow over it again, covering the damaged areas now that every molecule was exactly way it was before. God, he was good.

"Zim?" He heard Dib's voice echo from around the pillar.

"Over here, Dib." Zim called back, hanging the mask onto the welding torch and letting go of it as it retracted back into the ceiling. Dib rounded the pillar, heading towards the table, his trenchcoat rippling slightly behind him. Mimi was on his shoulder, craning her neck, trying to get a better view of Tak. Dib stopped walking just long enough to reach up stroke the side of her face, mumbling something quietly to her. Leave it up to Dib to treat a cat-disguised SIR unit like a real cat, Zim thought, bemused. "You know Dib, there's something just not... not right about YOU with HER. I mean, it's almost laughable to think about..."

"And what's wrong with it?" Dib questioned with mock indignation, walking up to Zim. "She was scrapped, I rebuilt her, so that makes her mine."


the light glinting upon her black metal body as she curled her tail around herself.

Zim regarded Dib with a look that said he'd missed the point completely. "Oookay..."

"So, where's your girlfriend?" Dib asked dryly, smirking at Zim.

"She's not my-- I mean, she-- Eergh! Why do you have to do that, Dib? Stop putting this in human context! I told you, she doesn't think of me as anything more than a companion, or maybe a friend. That's IT."

"Well, what about you? Dib pressed. You said just a few days ago--"

"I SAID that I knew what you meant by human emotions and drives. That doesn't mean I'm experiencing them myself, Dib. You should listen more carefully. It's true, I have been acting strange, but that's just a by-product of this accursed growth spurt thingy. It has to be. It's starting to affect my brains, I know it."

Dib blinked a couple of times, then started chucking out loud at Zim's utter cluelessness. "You mean you haven't made the connection yet, Zim? Come on! Haven't you been paying attention in heath class??"

"...Eh? What does that have to--" Zim was cut short when he noticed Min leaning on the pillar behind Dib. "Uuh, we can talk about this later..." He mumbled to Dib, then looked past him to the female. "What took you so long?"

"I got hung up on a few things..." She said, coyly fiddling with a robot arm. "Literally. Do you have any idea how tiny those tunnels are down there?"

"Yes, I know all too well. I'd make 'em larger, but that program was erased a year ago. So, are we going to do this, or what? Dib, can you give me a hand, here?" He gestured, and Dib followed him to Tak's table. "When we turn this amplifier on, we're gonna be basically jump-starting her brain. So, we're gonna have to restrain her..." Zim explained quietly, clamping a metal cuff around Tak's wrist. Dib nodded and followed suit with the other arm. Zim had started working on her ankle when he heard Min stammer something behind him. "Min?"

She was white. Here crimson eyes wide. She was backing slowly away from the two of them. "Min, are you alright??"

"YEAH! Yes, I'm fine! I just... I'd better go. Y-You don't really need me here, do you? I'm just going to be... out here. All right?" She haltingly answered, still backing away. She nearly broke into a full run when she'd cleared the doorway.

Zim looked back at Dib. "What was THAT all about?" Dib asked.

Zim squinted his eyes in thought. "...I'm not sure. She said she was okay, though..." He answered, trying hard to steel himself against worrying about it. "Come on, Dib. Let's do this. Test electrode!" He barked aloud, which was answered by the very thing he needed snaking from the ceiling on a metal tube. He grabbed it, set the right frequency, and quickly tapped it to the side of Tak's skull. It sparked, and her head jerked to the side, while her body convulsed once, involuntarily. Zim pulled the electrode wand back and let it go, allowing it to disappear into the ceiling. The evil smile returned to his face when he saw Tak's head begin to roll back, with a high groan.

"Uuuugh. My head..." Tak mumbled, as Mimi zipped off Dib's shoulder and onto the table, nuzzling Tak's face. "...Mimi?"

"Welcome back, TAK." Zim gloated, relishing in the chance to be evil again. "I hope that was unpleasant."

The blue-haired girl's gaze snapped to the black-clad irken standing above her. She was silent at first, just looking him up and down. "...Zim?" She finally said, not without it's share of confusion.

"Yes. It is I. Zim. You just couldn't stay away from here, could you Tak?"

"Oh, go suck a slobee, Zim. I came here to get OFF this useless hunk of dirt. That's all I'm worried about now. The knowledge of how pathetic your existence really is, is vengeance enough for me..."

Zim's antennae flattened against his head in as he scowled at her. Somehow, he managed to keep control and not rip her apart right there. "Look who's talking! A helpless escapee janitor like YOU has no right to call Zim pathetic! And after what the Tallest did to ME, did you really think they would make YOU an Invader just because of some huge tribute of salty snack foods? Who's the pathetic one here, Tak?"

Tak was unfazed. "So, you finally got it through your overly-thick cranium that the Tallest had no intention on invading Earth." She said, a smile of satisfaction on her face.

"Yes, I learned that the hard way a year ago, when they crippled my base and destroyed my cruiser, cutting off every possible way off this planet. Now I'm stuck here, with no way back home."

Tak's smile faded. "What?"

Oh, the evil grin on Zim's face. "You heard me. Make yourself comfortable, Tak. You're gonna be staying here a while."

Tak's shock turned to panic, as though she suddenly realized the position she was in. She started to pull against the restraining cuffs. "What, what are you gonna do to me, Zim?

"Nothing. Even if I wanted to further your suffering, I couldn't. You see, Dib here..." He gave a nod to Dib, calling Tak's attention to the teenage human on the other side of the table. "...brought you here after he fried your brainmeats. I, of course, was intent on liquefying you, but HE stopped me. The HUMAN saved your life, Tak." Zim added teasingly.

"The HUMAN?? HE SAVED ME!?" Tak screeched, still pulling on the metal cuffs, which were beginning to draw green blood. "No! I-I don't believe you!"

Dib, at first shocked by her extreme reaction, shot a quizzical look at Zim. "...Did I miss something here?"

He received the same look back. "You don't remember what I told you about irkens, Dib?" He asked, and when he read Dib's blank expression, Zim started to laugh. "You don't, do you? Well, that explains a lot. Alright, lemme spell it out for you. You saved her life, so she belongs to you until she returns the favor, or you let her go."

"...WHAT??" Dib screeched. All Tak did was groan from the agonizing blow to her ego. "But, but but I don't WANT her!"

"Hey, you can let her go anytime you want." Zim shrugged. "BUT!" He interrupted Dib's next sentence. "If you do, she's fair game for me, and I'll make sure she wishes she were never smeeted..."

"Oh, COME ON, Zim!" Dib practically whined. "She tried to kill me in my sleep! Why would I want this psycho mercenary irken chick anywhere around me?"

"HEY! Who are you calling a mercenary?" Tak yelled.

"If she's any kind of real irken, then she won't lay a finger on you. Besides, I have a feeling you can defend yourself against her..." He jerked a finger downwards, in the direction of the arena. "If I know you..."

Dib nodded slightly, realitization lighting his face. "You think I can?" Zim nodded, evil smirk still on his face. Dib fidgeted, and looked at Tak, who was drilling holes into them with her hard indigo-irised eyes. "...Alright."

Tak hissed in despair and threw her head back against the table. "Corn. Now I'm indebted to a human..."

"Hey, I'm not happy about it, either..." Dib mumbled, and noticed her wrists were still bleeding. The skin around it was flashing green. "You know, that's probably gonna leave a scar..."

Zim's eyes widened, as she studied her wrist. "Oh, no..."

"What, Zim?"

"Min. Her wrists. The-- Oh, slark!! What have I done? I have to find her!" He started towards the exit hatch, and turned around. "Get Tak out of those cuffs, Dib! There's no need for them anymore!"

"Heh, alone? I don't think so, Zim!"

"Fine! Take a trip downstairs first! Just get her out of here!" With that, he disappeared through the hatch.

"...What was THAT all about?" Tak mumbled, arching an eyebrow. Her confusion turned to anger as Dib just quietly gathered Mimi up and mumbled something to her, then put her down and turned towards an elevator hatch that lead down to the arena. "Where are you going? You'd better stop and explain things, human, or else I--"

"Oh, shut up, Tak." Surprisingly, she did, but she didn't look happy about it. "I'll be back in a couple of minutes to get you out of here. I set Mimi on guard until I get back."

"Another thing we have to discuss, monkey boy. My own SIR unit is guarding against me..."

"Actually, she's guarding YOU against ZIM, should he decide to come back." The fourteen-year-old made his way to the elevator and started to descend. "This won't take long. Now don't go anywhere..." His voice echoed up from the elevator shaft, followed by shortened laughter.

"Sleck off, Dib!" Tak yelled back, leaning against her restraints. "Stupid fidgety human..."