Summary: When the Tallests concoct a sick plot to rid themselves of Zim once and for all, Dib goes on a rescue mission. Meantime, the Resisty recruits new members, as the battlegrounds for the war of the Universe is laid.
Disclaimer: insert creative way to say that Jhonen Vasquez/Nickolodeon, etc. own Zim, not me.
Dib had been impatient to leave the Resisty base and head out on his mission once the disguise had been activated fully and proven fool-proof to Irken equipment, but Skoodge had insisted more training be done. Though perhaps a minor detail, Dib had noticed that the alien no longer relied on simulators and holographic lessons, but instead the two took to the void of space regularly in order to learn the subtle nuances of offensive and defensive flight in real-live situations. Perhaps it was because Dib now had a good grasp of the basics, but he held his suspicions that Skoodge still retained, if merely subconsciously some vestiges of Irken prejudice.
Whatever the reason was, the days and nights of Mozmen were beginning to blur as the two worked tirelessly to mold Dib into a foolproof imitation of a fully functional appendage to the Irken Machine. Like an unnecessary luxury feature on a car dashboard, he was there to appease those who might judge, but ultimately cost more anguish than it was worth.
It had seemed like forever before Skoodge had finally judged him worthy enough to leave, but Dib felt that he had been ready for ages. Lard'Nar marched up to him in the docking bay, looking him over appraisingly.
"Take that damn disguise off!" he barked suddenly, his face twisting into an expression of loathing. Dib reached up and switched the device off with a bit of surprise. He hadn't realized he'd not bothered to remove it after all of this time.
"Sorry Sir." Dib apologized.
Lard'Nar relaxed. "Better." He said gruffly. "Now. We've made some further modifications to your ship, based off of Shloonktapooxis' recent reconnaissance. We've designed it to look, at least outwardly more like the Voot model most prominently used by Empire soldiers." He gestured over his shoulder to the purple ship, which now sported a slightly more rounded thruster design, and a second, smaller dome in the back.
Before Dib could say any kind of thank you, they were joined by Skoodge, who announced his presence by handing Dib two small chips.
"That is your connection to us." Lard'Nar cut in again, preventing Skoodge from saying anything. "You wear that black one in your ear, and place that blue one somewhere near your eyes - it's a video feed. It runs on a special frequency, developed by a famous scientist who was captured when our Planet was taken. The Irkens, to our knowledge know nothing of this, so we should be able to communicate with you, and to a certain extent - you with us."
Skoodge cut in, his voice rising demandingly. "And be careful what you say when you want to make contact with us." he paused for a quick breath, then barreled on before Lard'Nar could cut in again. "Irken dwellings and planets in general are monitored at ALL times, so it will look suspicious and...defective if you start talking aloud to someone who is not there. I would not presume you to be so foolish to use our names."
Apparently having had enough of Skoodge, Lard'Nar wrested the course of the debriefing back into his own hands. "You will have to use your actions to let us know what exactly you plan on doing, and we will have to decipher them accordingly. We will give you instructions or tell you to stop if it looks as though you are about to do something that will land you in trouble."
Dedicated as he was to the intimate details of his mission, Dib could not help but notice that the tension that had been percolating between the Irken refugee and the Vortian leader since Skoodge had arrived on the ship, was now thick enough to cut with a knife. The aliens both liked Dib well enough, and both had put plenty of effort into helping him prepare. He would have to have been a drooling moron not to realize that any agreement between the two was not a mutual friendship, but for the good of the mission. In short, because he was there to cause mediation, either purposely or unwittingly.
Dib couldn't help but wonder what would happen to their relationship after he was gone.
Dib looked up as the ship's screen announced that they would be making planet fall in about 30 minutes. Sure enough, the planet Devastis glittered in front of him, a thousand tiny lights and spires and Irken dwellings. It was beautiful, in it's own way, though for a moment Dib had never felt further from Earth.
The COM link sputtered to life, a burst of static, and suddenly Skoodge's voice filled his auditory perceptions as though the Irken was sitting next to him, talking close into his ear.
"Okay then Dib, the first thing you'll be doing is docking your ship in Bay 5. Captain Lard'Nar has taken the liberty of setting you a space."
Under Skoodge's direction, Dib navigated into the hangar bay, and sure enough found his 'parking spot'. The ship was quickly locked down, and a quick scan of his hand proved that the purple-eyed Irken called 'Dib', whose Voot cruiser had always, to the knowledge of that particular computer, occupied Parking Space number 342 in Docking Bay 5. Skoodge informed him that his dwelling would have the same number.
Remembering to keep his mouth shut and not ask questions, Skoodge guided him shakily through the many twisting passageways that lead to the heart of Devastis, the Irken Soldier educational plug. His Irken Pak thankfully picked up and stored the correct route, and Dib found himself with new appreciation for the thing. He was just starting to feel comfortable when a long green arm, ending in a black gloved claw threw itself in his path. Dib looked up, to see a tall Irken with a sour expression.
"Hold up there Soldier, and join the line."
Dib almost turned to walk away, but a frantic cry of "That's the General! Salute him you fool!" from Skoodge prompted him to do exactly that. The General saluted in return, then directed Dib once more to the back of the ever-growing lineup of Irkens.
As far back as he was, Dib found himself unable to see exactly what was going on. The line moved quickly enough, and in the space between progression, each of the Irkens ahead of him stood perfectly still, so Dib did as well. It wasn't until he got to second from the front that he was actually able to see what this line was really for.
Two long uplink cables extracted themselves from the computer and hooked into the pak of the red-eyed Irken in front of him. The name of the Irken (Nirg), a large one-eyed symbol representative of the soldier class and numbers denoting the entry-test high scores blinked up on the screen. The soldier hung there for a moment, until the word 'approved' flashed in Irken across the profile, and the cables relaxed, allowing Nirg to fall back to the ground, salute the General, and enter the facility.
Dib's heartbeat sped up. This was it. He stepped forward and a second later, felt himself lifted off the ground as Nirg had been before him. In a brief pause that seemed to carry on for ages, he was sure he could hear his heart fluttering with nervous energy.
There was a gasp behind him, and Dib began to panic. He wanted to twist himself around to see what the problem was, but the cables wouldn't let him. He glanced, fearfully at the General, but the large Irken looked more confused than anything else.
"That's an incredible high score, Soldier Dib!" he barked. "You'd think I would remember a smeet like you..."
And then, to Dib's relief, the computer flashed with the 'approved' go-ahead, and it was with fervor that Dib saluted. The General seemed to like that too, and judging from the dull roar of applause that could be heard in his ear-chip frequency, the Resisty was rather pleased with their technical prowess. Dib felt a greatly intensified sense of respect for them himself.
There was no time for Dib to celebrate his first small victory, as the last of the line passed it's inspection and they were marched along rank-and-file through the hallways. They spent a small amount of time in a cafeteria area, where Dib tentatively ate some nachos and received an opportunity to practice his cover story to a group of somewhat awed Irkens, Nirg from the security line among them.
"Pretty impressive high-scores!" the shorter Irken breathed, and several of the others sitting near him nodded in agreement. "But I guess you would have pretty good scores...after all, you're kinda tall, aren't you?"
Dib glanced around, while he tried to decide how to respond. Around him, the subject of high-scores was on everyone's lips - who had received what, who was going to beat whose rank.
"Uh, well I just transferred here when I passed the fir...primary plug test." he corrected himself at a hiss from Skoodge in his ear. "So, um...I guess I'll just have to see if I can beat some of you guys when I take my first...plug tests today." he added, drawing on some of the conversation around him.
Nirg nodded, sighing. "Well...I don't know if I'll be here much longer. My high-scores aren't all that great - I guess you saw. They're okay, but not really for Invader-class." he paused and gave Dib a long look. "Something the matter?"
Dib started, and closed his mouth. When Skoodge had told him on Mozmen that to complete his mission fully, he'd need to be in the elite rank of soldiers, it had never really registered that first-class meant, for all intents and purposes, an 'Invader'.
"Uh...sorry. Just...got a bit of chip lodged in my squeedily spooch." Skoodge was fast becoming his personal hero. "Go on." He prompted.
"Right. Well, all I was going to say is tht they're talking of moving me over to the Massive, in the snack-bays. It's an HONOR to be so close to the Tallest, of course..." Dib's heart leapt. "...but I suppose I'll never see them working that low. If your scores stay that way though, wow, you could get to MEET them even!"
Dib nodded. The conversation turned once again to high-scores, and Dib was relieved that he was able to join in a little bit, recounting the tests he'd done with Skoodge. At the end of the break period, Dib put his tray with the others and headed off to flight simulation with a renewed sense of hope for his mission.
As Skoodge was directing Dib to his position, a horrible weight settled into the pit of his stomach. Everyone was under the impression that he was some kind of incredible soldier - and he had to stay in this plug thing in order to get near the Tallest. But what if those scores in the Pak had been programmed in by Lard'Nar and the hackers? Skoodge had out-flown him in every single practice endeavor, and he could do all those neat loops and twists. He couldn't ask now, however - that was the last thing he needed - to get discovered for talking to himself.
The simulation began and Crossing his fingers, Dib took to the skies.
About five minutes in, he was starting to panic. These guys were good. It was all he could do to stay in the game. It occurred to him, Zim had not been as pathetic as he'd seemed - but Zim had also been easily distracted. Every one of these Irkens was completely and utterly focused with a machine mindset, on the destruction of him and his squadron.
The Irken in the position opposite his own had begun to seriously dog him, and it was only through Skoodge's instructions that he managed to avoid the fire. There was one bonus, however - with every successful maneuver, the high score numbers in the lower corner of his screen increased a little as well.
In the split second he'd taken to look at them, however- a shot whizzed by, too close for comfort. In horror, Dib realized that he'd just narrowly missed piloting into someone else's crossfire. Skoodge cursed in his ear, and in the view screen he could see the enemy ship in front of him, cornering him with no discernible escape route.
The noise in the earpiece lowered to a mere buzz in his ear, but in that white noise, he remembered something. Desperately, he wrenched the ship's control stick a quarter of the way to the left and pulled back while firing his front cannons.
He missed his target entirely, and the simulation ended. His heart and stomach felt like lead in his chest. With any luck, he'd be sent to the Massive 'snack bay' with Nirg. In his ear, the volume returned to normal and his heart sank further. He could hear them yelling. He hoped they wouldn't land all the blame on Skoodge.
"WHEOW! That was cool. TELL ME that wasn't cool!"
Dib started violently at the sudden burst of noise in his ear, before identifying Shloontapooxis' voice and calming down. He had to stop himself before he said anything aloud.
"...DIB! You were amazing!" yelled Lard'Nar, who apparently was crowding Skoodge to the speaker - if the protests in the foreground were any indication.
Again, Dib was forced to merely arrange his face into a neutral look, paranoid about being watched by Irken cameras.
He peered at the lower corner of the screen. The number was big, but he hadn't seen his own scores - so he wasn't sure what that could mean. Perhaps he'd beaten it - evidently he'd done SOMETHING right. Then, he saw lines of text that he hadn't noticed before – comments from other soldiers, and…a log of all maneuvers performed during the course of the simulation. According to the last line - he'd - out of sheer dumb luck - taken out the opposing squadron's commander.
Yeah, he could afford to be proud of himself for the next little while. Luck be damned.
As it turned out, there barely was any time to feel proud of himself, as their General soon returned to usher them off to yet another test, and after that - another. It was alternately dull and nerve-wracking, the worst possible combination.
"Remember soldiers!" the large, spear-carrying Irken barked, as they lined up once more after completing a long stealth mission. Dib longed to groan. After the activites, he sorely wished to rest and think, but he dared not move. Not when all the other soldiers were standing around him, perfectly stiff and straight as boards. "Tomorrow, the Tallest will be choosing Soldiers for Operation Meekrob!"
Dib's heart gave a leap. He hadn't expected to be seeing the Tallest this soon into the mission. Already his brain began formulating plans. He could end this early.
"Dismissed" was the next word he heard from the Irken superior's mouth, and Dib came back to reality with a jolt. He'd been so distracted by the excitement of being able to end his mission this early and efficiently that he'd completely missed when his break was over. To his ultimate surprise, his pak kicked in, informing him of the accurate information that it had taken in while he'd been otherwise occupied.
Dib breathed out a sigh as he let himself into his assigned quarters. He'd made it through the first "day". What ever was coming up next, he was now sure he could take it.
Skoodge breathed a sigh of relief as he watched Dib sit down and open a snack bag. That was their agreed upon signal that promised he would remain in his quarters until the Soldiers were called back to training. He turned to Lard'Nar, who was busying himself making repairs and modifications to the power core of their ship.
"I'm going to go check on Zim." he said. Privately, he thought that the only thing that would make Zim even willing to speak to the Resisty, let alone change his mind was the intervention of a fellow Irken. Besides, he was not about to give up on his new purpose in life. Skoodge could make the Resisty see his point of view, appreciate him as an asset instead of a dangerous liability.
"Fine." snapped the Captain, without looking up. "But take Spleenk with you."
Skoodge fought his frustration, deciding that the situation could be worse. Spleenk had never seemed to share his Captain's prejudice, and they actually made small talk as they walked together down to Zim's cell.
They knew something was wrong the second they entered. There were bits of the metal bars scrapped all over the place, hunks of earth and debris from the walls were shattered in an unnecessary display of destruction across the floor. The whole mess had 'Zim' written all over it. One quick look into the now empty cell confirmed Skoodge's suspicions – the prisoner was nowhere in sight.
No further discussion was necessary - both turned and high tailed it back to the main base. Spleenk told the Captain, and Skoodge could see the Vortian's mind working on how he was going to pin the incident on him. Of course, Skoodge had been directing Dib all day in plain view of every single Resisty soldier.
"How much of a head start does he have on us?" Lard'Nar asked eventually, once he had decided that finger pointing would get him nowhere.
"Depends on when he got out." Skoodge said. "However, since he spent extra time to wreck the hold as thoroughly as he could, even if he got out seconds after we last checked on him, he'd likely only have about two to four hours as a head start."
Spleenk spoke up hopefully. "But your leaders are planning to destroy him on sight, right? So maybe he won't even get to tell them anything of any importance."
"Probably." Skoodge said, thoughtfully. "Though he may have enough time to give them just enough vital information..."
"Okay." Lard'Nar said. "We'll send out a group to go after him. I don't care if you kill him, or bring him back alive, but your goal is to prevent him from taking ANY information about our location back to the Irken Empire. Bring him back alive IF you can, but only if it's a feasible option. I still want to try and question him."
As if reading Skoodge's thoughts, he rounded on him. "You, are NOT going. I need you here to look after Dib."
Orders were given and Resisty soldiers scrambled to give Zim chase, but not a one of them noticed the pair of red eyes that peered from the darkness of a small rift in the base rock wall.
Zim nodded to himself from his hiding spot. The FOOLS had fallen for his diversion. Nothing could prevent him from going back to Irk and destroying the Tallest before they could cause the Empire any more harm.
Well long wait, wasn't it. I'm sorry – Real Life Zim Fanfic. But now that Real Life has given me a little breather, I do intend on finishing this thing. It hasn't faded off into the depths of oblivion.
Enjoy the chapter – and the next chapter of 'The Only Way Is Up' will soon follow. I've been BUSY.