He sat with his mouth gaping, stupefied by the sight before him; the freshly washed plates, the silverware neatly arranged to either side, the containers of milk and juice on the table next to the heaping plate of waffles which contained no soap or cheese or bacon but simply waffle batter. Part of his mind was shrieking with fear. This amount of NORMAL was so ABNORMAL to what he knew that it was terrifying.
Membrane SAT DOWN AT THE TABLE, and Dib's mind almost exploded.
Somehow he managed to summon his voice. It came out terrified. "D.. don' t you have a meeting to go to or something?" Why are you HERE?!
"Oh, there's always meetings, son!" Membrane chirped. "But it would be scientifically unsound of me to ignore the volumes of research that currently exist on child psychology and create a dysfunctional family environment for my precious children!"
Dib's brain began to shriek even LOUDER. Who are you and what planet did you -come from-?! He stammered, "W...what about Gaz?"
A soft hiss of cloth moved past his left shoulder; his little sister's black-coffee-and-cigarettes voice grumbled. "What -about- me?" She rubbed her face, eyes squinted to thin and irritable lines, and climbed into the chair to the left of Dib, making a face. "I'm here already, so let's get this over with."
Gaz was miserable too! That was good. That meant their dad was just on one of his occasional guilt-pangs about not being there EVER, and they could expect that he'd soon disappear from their lives again. Dib relaxed slightly. Okay, it'd been a while since the last time- almost long enough he'd forgotten- but now the world was falling back into something recognizable. Recognizable, and horrible.
Membrane hefted his fork dramatically into the air. It was impossible to see his mouth behind the high collar of his coat, but he fairly radiated smug satisfaction. "Excellent! Let the enjoyment of family waffle breakfast begin!"
But I don't LIKE waffles any more! Dib whined to himself. If you'd really bothered to KEEP UP WITH US you'd KNOW that.... He exhaled, settling back in the plastic chair and with great reluctance reached to the stacked plate to pulled one of the horrible breakfast treats in front of him. He kept his eyes low, away from Gaz and his dad's, while applying the obligatory butter and syrup, and ate the smallest bites he could get away with, as quietly as he could. Gaz was making it a point to be as noisy as possible, chewing gracelessly, clacking her silverware with I-don't-care defiance and unnecessary force against her plate.
Dib supposed it figured, really... even when something potentially -good- happened, it was still something that was going to make him COMPLETELY MISERABLE. That was just typical, wasn't it.
He picked up one of the clean glass cups and poured juice into it, then drank. But as he was setting the cup down something very strange happened; there was something ... odd about the way the shadows played inside the empty glass. It almost looked... he narrowed his gaze, frowning... like rainbows. Not the normal refraction of light, but like broken shards of color in regular rows... like the patterns he'd see when he used to sit too close to the television...
Dib frowned, and turned the glass forward; the effect disappeared. He tipped the glass forward again, peering down its empty, juice-slick insides; there they were again. But only when he held it right to his lips and looked inside...
Wha...? Maybe it was a trick of the light or something...?
It was a comfortable, easy thing to believe- but Dib had never believed in comfortable, easy things. His morning dream came flooding back to his mind: Zim had turned into some kind of -program-...
Membrane chose exactly the wrong moment to speak. "How are the waffles, kids?"
Dib's attention was jerked away from the glass, and when he looked at it again it was just a normal glass, with light playing through it in exactly the normal way. He set it down and pushed it away, scowling. Gaz grunted something around her full mouth.
Dib had eaten very little, and looked up at his father as he set the fork down. "Actually, Dad... I'm kinda... not feeling very good this morning. I think I'll just go upstairs and lay down for a while." He gave a cringing 'please don't kill me' smile to both of them.
Gaz shot Dib the DIRTIEST look- you're SO gonna wish I had thought of that first!- but followed her elder brother's lead, "Yeah... I'm pretty full now. Good job, Dad." Then she one-upped Dib by actually just getting up and LEAVING.
Membrane exhaled as Dib's chair screeched backward over the linoleum. "Just a moment, son. I'd like to talk to you about something important, if I may."
Here it comes, thought Dib miserably. Another hour-long lecture about giving up paranormal studies and going into 'real science' to be the clone of you you always wanted. This was all just a setup for that, wasn't it? He couldn't argue, only obey- so he sat, and braced for impact, but his mind was still churning. I already TRIED it! It's not who I AM!
"I'm realizing it's been a while since I last updated your glasses," Membrane began, " And I'm quite concerned that you may not be seeing things correctly. Clear vision is vital to success in every aspect of life! So please, come with me, son. I'd like to correct this now while I still have a few moments."
Huh? Dib hadn't expected THAT at all. He raised his head and blinked up at his father, at the older man's calm, earnest words. "Uhm... sure."
Dib sat on the edge of a workbench in his father's basement lab, kicking his feet nervously in the air while he waited.
Should I tell him about the weird thing I saw in the glass upstairs?
Maybe this was the explanation, though. Maybe his glasses -were- starting to fritz. He HAD been noticing fuzziness creeping in around the edges of things, now that his attention was drawn to HOW he was seeing as opposed to WHAT he was seeing. Now that he thought about it, yeah. Objects distant weren't quite as sharp as they had been.
Funny thing about seeing, he thought. You just don't notice as it slowly gets worse and worse, because your brain adapts to the change. And it happens so slowly, subtly failing day by day, you can't even remember what the world was supposed to look like...
His dad was across the room, pulling down a box of tools from a shelf. Even this simple gesture had a curious tension about it- Professor Membrane just couldn't do anything halfway, telescoping each fluid movement into epic challenges against the universe. His jaw was constantly set, his voice was constantly projecting, always with a barely restrained energy. As if he had to keep himself on a leash for fear of hurting others with the sheer force of his personality. Dib abruptly realized the reason he always felt so incredibly NERVOUS around his father.
Membrane was just as frustrated as he was.
Membrane turned back toward him and approached with a delicate tool in hand. "Now...this should only take a few moments. Close your eyes, son, and try not to panic." Dib braced his hands around the edge of the workbench and, unconsciously, held his breath. His father applied the tool gently around the edge of his left eyeglass-lens until he found a hidden spot at the edge of Dib's skeletal eye-socket. The lens popped free with a soft click. The right lens soon followed, and Membrane turned away again.
Dib opened his eyes, blinked once, and immediately felt them begin to water. They were very weak now, and even the thin, colorless lights above his head were stinging his rods and cones like acid eyedrops. His vision was a hopeless snarl of fuzz and distortions. There were TONS of glitches now- digital static and compression errors in every direction, everywhere he looked a cloud of broken image data. But in the context of the fact that half his visual system had just been removed, Dib didn't think much of it...
Dib's vision- actually, everyone in his family's- was really, really bad. All of them were hopelessly nearsighted, and Professor Membrane had naturally turned to science to provide a solution. Ordinary glasses wouldn't do for small children, he had decided: they were too easily lost, stolen, misplaced or broken. Contacts were dangerous and even soft lenses could potentially damage the cornea- and were far beyond the capacity of small children to place them correctly on a daily basis.
Instead Professor Membrane had devised an entirely new kind of eyewear, which had of course required the invention of an entirely new kind of material to make them out of, and massive advancements in connective neurosurgery and opthamology and optometry to make them WORK, and the end result was this: Dib's vision was digitally enhanced by a combination of specially shaped lenses which were magnetically bonded to his skin, and 'helper' implants wired into his brain intercepted and improved the signals travelling through his optic nerves.
Dib had been three when they were installed, and now that he was older, he'd often wondered if he should have said no, as Gaz had. Two-year old Gaz had resisted having her eyes 'fixed' so violently that Membrane had let her be, and now Gaz was struggling with the consequences- squinting constantly at everything, having a limited radius of clear vision. Back then, though, Dib had been tired of banging himself up tripping over things, and had been soothed by the reassurance that Membrane was himself using the very same system and that it was perfectly safe.
To be fair, it was, and he'd never experienced any problems since. The glasses never needed to be removed, nor cleaned. They never scratched, and rain and similar irritants couldn't enter Dib's eyes due to their shape and close bonding to the skin. They were almost entirely weightless; Dib could sleep in them, shower in them, work all day in them, and never be bothered.
It was just the IDEA that made him squirm- that his brain had been TAMPERED WITH, that he wasn't the owner of his own flesh and blood. If his dad had been willing to put him under massive surgical alteration just to fix his blurry vision, what ELSE would he be willing to do to him 'for his own good'?
It was just one more reason Dib feared his father.
A/N: Slow chapter, sorry. Mostly setup for later events... more soon!