a Tak/Dib ficlet in answer to a challenge
by J. Random Lurker

She was cold, cold like a snake; her lipless mouth sucked the warmth from his lips as he breathed into her.

Near tears, he pressed his hands flat against her chest and pushed in as hard as he could. Bone cracked; one of her ribs snapped. He counted in his head, pressed his mouth over hers and breathed in hard again.

Wake UP, Tak...!

Night was sweeping fast over the crash site; the flames of the Spittle Runner's remains had sunken down to sullen orange flecks. Dib had been intensely surprised- to say the least- to learn that Irken starship fuel burned so hot it actually melted metal.

But it -did- burn, which meant there was oxygen and nitrogen in the air; thin and sour-tasting it was, but they could breathe here nonetheless. Which meant they could live long enough to die slow miserable deaths.

Fantastic, he thought sourly.

He wasn't sure why he was trying to wake her, given everything. They had no food or water; their stores and food supplies were currently drifting ash scattered over 40 miles of unforgiving wasteland.

He pushed on her chest, shoved his hot breath in her mouth once again. This time she came around, her body jolting sharply under his fingers. Her eyes snapped open unseeing, and her hands clawed at the air before she settled. One of her eyes remained black; the shiny surface cracked like broken glass, oozing droplets of clear fluid.

Irkens were partly flesh, but primarily mechanical; their bodies were not intertwined with their minds in the same way that a human's was, being that their intelligences actually rested in the small egg-like pak affixed to their spines. Dib had actually seen Zim take his own eye out once, polish Dib's spit off its jeweled surface with his sleeve, and pop it back into its socket without so much as a pause for breath.

It had been connected by a long fleshy cord, Dib remembered absently, but the cord had ended at the back of the eye in a metal socket.

As Tak moaned underneath him, Dib wondered if he should try to remove her broken eye or leave it in place. He wondered if it hurt, if she felt any pain at all.

HE sure hurt; his face and hands stung. They were burned badly, and he had nothing to wrap them. Night was falling fast over the barren landscape; there was no source of light apart from the stars and the smouldering wreck, no civilization of even the remotest kind, and the small outcrop of rocks he'd managed to drag Tak's unconscious body toward for shelter was cold, hard and bitter.

Dib wondered how cold the nights were here- wherever here was. He wondered if it would rain, or if the coming night would last a hundred years. He didn't even know the name of the place- a forlorn hunk of rock deep in the forgotten space beyond the edge of the Irken Empire's boundaries. They had been trying to outrun everything: the war, the Irkens, the Resisty, themselves. They decided to do it together, once their running alone collided.

A crash. They'd crashed into each other- not literally but figuratively, crossing paths in space; he with her ship, she with the memories of his devastated world- the closest thing left in all the universe to another human being. Someone else who knew what pizza had tasted and smelled like, who had read newspapers, who gave meat on Valentine's Day for presents.

The cold was moving fast now, carried on a sudden unkind wind. Dib had tried to choose the best little outcrop he could, but the wind seemed to blow directly into their hiding place- right into their faces-as if to mock his efforts.

Tak moved her head, dimly seeing the human's thin and battered white form crouched over her. Feral and protective, shivering in the dim light under the brown and grey rocks- all he needed to do was pick fleas out of his hair and the reversion to his ancestry would be complete.

Her voice was raspy. "Human."

He looked at her, and despite the blood and burns he tried to smile. "Hey." He touched her face. It was so cold, cold like a frozen pole; so cold he couldn't remove his fingers, his white skin welded to her green.

She breathed in long, heavy shudders. "Hold me."

He moved slowly and painfully and stretched himself out over her. The wind roared over his head and shot down under his clothes to chill his skin. A very small warmth was all that he could generate, and what the wind didn't steal from him her body did.

Typical Irken: taking, always taking, never giving...

She nuzzled her face into the side of his neck. He hid his nose in the cleft of her shoulder. Her pak-legs slipped out and closed around him even as her own arms did.

"We're going to die, Tak," Dib whispered.

"I know, human. It doesn't matter."

"...I guess not."

"So hold me."

Thus entwined, forgotten by all the world except each other, they pressed together; silent beneath the curve of spreading darkness.

- - -

Tak waited until the first fingers of a pale and colorless dawn touched the inside of their crude stone shelter before she moved. She used her pak-legs to lift and push Dib- not cruelly, just effectively- off of her and away, settling him back further beneath the outcropping.

Tak sighed, retracting her legs and standing slowly. The pain and cold were negligible annoyances; her Pak was dinged but still perfectly functional, with enough energy to feed her and maintain her consciousness for at least a human year. She growled at her own system diagnostic though, at her meat-body's cracked rib and shattered eye; at the human's burns, which would sicken him badly if not treated.

Useless. So easily broken... If he'd only been Irken, instead of a weak and frail human...

In her haze of initial consciousness on waking, his being there was comforting in a certain way. Even Irkens were prone to loneliness; it was the reason all Invaders were shipped to their destinations with robot companions. At one time, the Empire had tried to send Invaders alone, and they had either gone mad, disconnected from their world and all familiar things, or worse... they'd gone native. Invaders were designed to assimilate. If unchecked, unmonitored... they often assimilated -too- well.

Tak shuddered. She had spent much time - too much time - on Earth, and the MIMI unit she had built from the scraps on Dirt had not been a true SIR unit; it had not worked the way that SIR units were meant to. SIRs were meant to keep the Invader focused on the mission, support them in all things... and simply remind them that they were Irken, and not alone. But now, somehow Dib had ended up taking the place of a SIR.

And the Dib was not Irken.

Well, she sighed inwardly, If the Dib had been Irken -many- things would be different. Might as well ask for the Tallest not to be Tall.

She pulled a small tube from her pak and began to tend to her ruined eye, smearing a thick glue-like paste over the cracked implant. After a few moments her eye cleared, vision slowly returning: if the Dib had been conscious he would have seen the eye changing color again from black to purple. The rib was another matter, one that she couldn't simply slap a patch on; she would just have to hope for the best. Her pak was already adapting to alter her biochemistry, spiking her blood with painkilling agents.

Tak breathed in tentatively; the inward curve of the broken rib nudging at her organs was an unfamiliar and unpleasant sensation, worrisome.

"Well. ONE of us has to do more than lay here and rot."

She extended her pak's spider-legs in climbing mode and skittered free to explore. Their greatest problem here was ignorance; she knew nothing about this place. As she scrabbled over the rocks her mind wandered, searching her repository of Invader-class training.

The planet's pale sun rose, changing the bland grey and brown rocks around her to bland white and tan. She scrabbled up, up, up a sheerly vertical cliff face, then anchored herself there, razor-sharp metal leg-tips piercing the striped layers of stone. Small pebbles rained down the wall beneath her as she stared all around, scanning the dead world around her to the limit of her vision.

The planet was alien, but she could make some educated guesses about its nature. Since it was an atmosphere they could breathe, then it had to be similar to Earth's. It felt cold and prickled her skin, which meant moisture- and where there was moisture in the air there had to be a weather cycle, and rain. Rain meant plants, which rooted to aerated soil, which would be fed by liquid water (she shuddered again), which meant rivers, which dumped into some kind of ocean, which meant possible sources of food for the human...

"Well, maybe, but I can't see anything from here." she answered her thoughts aloud. "It all looks like nasty ROCK to me. It's Planet Dirt all over again..."

Except at least on Dirt there had been things that could be USED; pieces of starships and computers and weapons. They could -maybe- find a way to survive here.. but they would never leave.

And along with everything else that was wrong here she had also, apparently, picked up Dib's habit of talking to himself.

Going native, her Irken soul sighed.

- - -

When she made her way back to their laughable 'camp' she found Dib conscious again, huddled around himself in shivering cold and fear. She frowned and skittered to him, then pushed on him. "Get up, Dib. I found water."

It was a lie, but she infused her voice with all the calm confidence she could muster. He needed food and water true, but he needed hope more- without hope he would simply lay down and die. Just one more thing she'd learned on Earth- the power of hope. It was just another human weakness, and one she could exploit now.

A light opened up in his pale face and he forgot his wounds and rose, ready to follow.

She picked a direction at random and began to lead.

- - -


Written for the LJ community "Zimchallenge". I actually don't have any immediate plans to continue this one, though the idea is interesting- I just don't have time right now with 72 and all the other unfinished fics and an original novella in the works still to go.

However, I thought it'd be worth posting anyway...