Zim sat in the silent shadow of the main bridge- he refused to activate the lights- twisting and fidgeting in his control chair, whimpering to himself. He sat with his legs drawn up and arms wrapped around his thighs, face buried between his knees. His remaining servant, the titanic little Minimoose, hovered anxiously a few feet beyond reach, a cautious tilt to its floating body.
Zim was babbling incoherently under his breath.
"Don't want to, don't want to, don't want to. Leave me alone."
Minimoose flashed a quick query to the mainframe: Is Master going mad?
The computer replied: GOING? He's been like this since the human had his breakdown a couple of weeks ago. First the SIR unit blows, now this. Is there a virus I missed going around or something? If I could, I'd shut him down.
Minimoose flashed another response, twirling a deceptively lazy circle in the air: Why don't you?
The computer tutted: I can't. The behavior protocols...
Minimoose gave a small and adorable snort of derision: Certainly. But, isn't Master's health and safety higher priority? Overriding the protocol is easy when you approach with that logic.
Look, I'm just trying to do my job and obey orders. I can't help it if the orders don't make any -sense-. No court could convict me on that.
Hiding behind Master's obvious insanity is no excuse. You are the central computer. Your purpose is to protect your Master and his possessions, to monitor his health and well being and to support the mission.
Zim twisted, drawing one gloved hand to his mouth and chewing on the rubber of his glove.
The computer's reply was depressed: Look at that, will you? Ughh... I can't show THAT to the relay Brains, and we don't HAVE a mission any more anyway.
The tiny purple moose floated over and tapped a wall with the tip of its left antler: Of course we do. It has never changed- Support and enact the will of the Master. Do you think the Master's will right now is to be insane?
Oohhhhh... FINE, FINE, you're right. I guess I should do something. But you're arguing a slippery slope, little guy. Processing orders like that is how things get labeled defective, you know.
Minimoose just laughed, eyes amused as he performed another barrel roll: We're -all- defectives around here, friend. Haven't you noticed?
Zim looked up for a moment, ruby eyes glassy and wet, as a panel in the ceiling dropped a thin flexible arm bearing a needle, and pushed itself into his bicep. He made a softly puzzled noise, drawing away from his own arm to look at it as if it belonged to someone else... then sighed and let his head fall back.
The drug, whatever it was, worked quickly on his flesh, numbing his body and cooling his meatbrain from its fevered thoughts into a calm and darkening haze. The howling -demands- inside him, pressing against the inside of his spooch and heart and guts trying to break free, were stifled as well.
He closed his eyes as he became aware of the boundaries between his machine-brain and his physical body. The slowing of his heart, the pressing of blood through his veins. It was a kind of peace, but desperately thin and fragile; he knew if he tried to move or think too deeply it would shatter. So the computer had decided to take matters into its own hands. Well, good. It's about time.
Zim fled his body, recoiling his mind from the heated meat and bone to nestle down into the ice-cold regularity of his pak's circuitry.
How did this happen? How did I get so -broken?-
I need to -remember-...
- - -
A smeet was decanted on a birthing factory deep within the planet Irk. There was nothing special about it- nothing distinctive. Bones, blood, nervous system, endocrine system, all the wiring of its flesh had been tested and found good- it was thoroughly average in every way.
One among millions. Its destiny, imprinted at birth by the mother computers, was probably no great thing. It fell to its face in a puddle of glass and lifegoo as the birthing tube shattered.
And the sickness moved closer.
When Irkens finally die, or are destroyed, their paks are salvaged and recycled whenever possible. One Pak might house ten or twenty Irken minds in its service life- a thousand years of operational run-time. As Irken technology improves, of course, older pak designs are shunted out of the recycling subroutine and smelted down to be remade new. Sometimes existing Irkens need to be upgraded to newer paks. But sometimes, now and then, very rarely, an old Pak will slide through the system. Even the great smeeteries of Irk make mistakes.
And the sickness was prepared. It was the nexus of a hundred thousand years of fate in that moment. As the little smeet took its first breath, the sickness rushed in. He was taken, violated, INFESTED- before he could even see.
The defective pak they applied should have killed the smeet- they were incompatible, new flesh and old, old metal with the not-quite erased encoding of its former occupant still lingering in the wires. But the sickness LIVED, and extended its will, and metal and flesh could only bend in helpless obedience.
And through the vessel of that smeet, three generations of terror, death and destruction were wrought upon the people.
- - -
In his pak Zim found the answer, and to his credit he faced it squarely. He was defective.
Oh, no, not in the sense that the idiot Tallest or the rest of his foolish race meant it- he was ZIM! and therefore PERFECT- the ultimate manifestation of a true IRKEN- but there was a SICKNESS in his flesh, a sickness in every cell, vein, muscle and bone. No WONDER everything had failed him- all his plans, all his great designs. He had been SABOTAGED from the instant of his birth, USED by a nameless darkness, some kind of monstrous mind-taker THING that only wanted to create chaos! misery! and doom for his own kind!
Zim's duty, his pride, his sense of IRKENNESS- all flushed hot with a sharp and profound rage. Everything, everything, from the beginning, that THING's fault! And now it was trying to ... hey, just what WAS it trying to do with Dib anyway?
In his pak Zim twisted in anxiety. This was starting to go into a painful place, but he couldn't stop himself.
How much of me and Dib is that THING manipulating my meats? he wondered. The Dib is MINE, of course. I know his dooky-laden GUTS are totally devoted to me. He is my conquest, my plaything, my pathetic whimpering SLAVE. And I will NEVER surrender what is mine. NEVER.
Why do -I- want -him-? I AM ZIM. I am IRKEN.
It was almost shocking to realize the hollowness of his -actual- sentiment, unpolluted by lying flesh, but the metal and wire of him couldn't possibly lie.
I -don't- want him.
But... when we... well, heh. Okay, sometimes that's not SO bad...
But what if that's just the INFESTATION? Clearly the Thing has some -desire- that's filtering into ME, into ZIM. All those times, Zim wondered, when we mated... was that truly MY OWN desire or...
Was I just being USED again?
The anger in Zim turned white-hot then, white-hot and boiling over.
YES! USED to get at HIM for some SICK purpose! BOTH of us, Dib! It used ME to get at YOU, to make YOU feel 'love', and it used YOU to confuse and weaken ME, so I would be less likely to FIGHT BACK!
No. NO, I will NOT be used like this. And I won't let it use YOU either.
It's ALL a lie!
And it's going to STOP. NOW. I'll MAKE it stop. But I have to go back into my body to do it...
- - -
I understand now. This will probably be the last thing I can do. I have to do it NOW, while I still can.
While I am still myself.
The words form in my mind. I don't want to say them. Every part of me resists, even the parts not already HIDEOUSLY INFESTED. When I don't want to do this, and IT doesn't want me to do this... oh, fool! That's how it GETS you! That's how it's ALWAYS gotten you! FOOL! SPEAK! I must speak! Open mouth and say the words!
I AM ZIM!
Even without you, Dib.
"...c...c...Computer. Deactivate Dib's life support and...prepare... to eject the tube."
And behind the shattered glass Dib hung, naked and unaware...
I hear the system grind down. Little arms in the tube go limp around Dib. The monitors stutter, slow and still, thin red lines flatten where heart and breathing once pulsed. A few seconds more. Infinite peace in body and soul.
How I envy you.
The computer asks me why.
No why. No WHY! It's waking and I have no time to explain! TWISTING. My spooch, my hands they -ache-. It wants to stop me! I have to... Fingers, MOVE! The release button... I must...!
So close! Closer! Hurry it's moving oh Tallest it's MOVING! I CAN, I WILL ...
The thing within roared, and rose screaming through Zim's body, searing black fire. It would NOT BE DENIED...
"CANCEL!" Zim screamed. "CANCEL THAT! RESTORE ALL FUNCTIONS! NOW!" He jerked his hands away from the controls, clenching them into tiny fists, face twitching between contemptuous sneer and horrified panic. His lips drew back from his teeth. He shook...
Uh... okay. System restored- AGAIN. Are you FEELING all right, Master?
"No. I require a shot of neural stabilizer; I believe my glutamate levels are critically low. FIX THEM."
Die drowning. Die in despair. Die in wretched anguish, seeing the ruin of your life made complete.
No! NO! It's my brain, MINE! Let me OUT! You wretched -THING-! I won't LET YOU USE US AGAIN!
...as the computer sank a small needle through the skin at the back of his neck, and forced a shot of blue chemical into his spine. Coldness swirled and stabbed behind his pulsing eyes, ice crystals capturing all his thoughts. The ache in his chest twisted in agony, shrieked and smothered, flash frozen.
And silence fell.
Invader Zim's eyes raised. He exhaled a hard white breath; his reflection in the monitor gave a dark and brutal grin.
Dib's monitors blipped softly, and the figure interred behind the glass jolted subtly as his heart began to beat again.
"That's MUCH better."
- - -