What follows is my first attempt at an Invader ZIM fanfiction. I had this idea a while ago and just had to get it out on paper…or, you know…as close as this is to paper. You don't need to know too much to read it. It's just a short story that I thought would be fun to do. My only hope is that you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
I have an account on livejournal that I use as a subsidiary to this. After I post a story here on ffnet, I then post a journal entry explaining all the fun behind the scenes aspects of this story. They're usually things such as author commentary, challenges I had, interesting facts, deleted scenes, etc. I also use my livejournal account to keep my readers updated on my progress in writing. If you like this story and want to learn more about it, or if you want to take a look at the progress on some of my other writing projects, I invite you to head on over and take a look! The link for the site is on my ffnet profile under "homepage."
I am very interested to know everyone's thoughts on this, good or bad, so feel free to drop me a review. If you don't want to do that you can send me an email, or you can talk to me in person over IM. My screenname is listed on my ffnet homepage. Other than that, enjoy!
Disclaimer: Writing for profit is fun and easy. Too bad I don't know how to have fun or follow directions.
Dedicated to Aubrey
See! I told you I would write one!
------------------ Bitter End ------------------
By: Lael Adair
"(To feel) is as vital as breath. And without it, without love, without anger, without sorrow, breath is just a clock…ticking."
- Mary O'Brien, Equilibrium
I turned him over to the scientists once I defeated him.
I suppose I was just too nostalgic to do anything else. It was, after all, a promise that had existed between us since the very beginning. To tell the truth I really wasn't expecting them to take great pains to keep him alive. Ever since the invasion started we had more than enough aliens to test on. My plan was to turn him in, sit in on a few agonizing experiments, and then laugh my head off as he slipped into oblivion.
I should have known he wouldn't give up that easily.
He fought death at our hands tooth and nail, more to spite me than anything else, I'm sure. Day after day, experiment after experiment, oblivion never came and, coincidentally, neither did my victory. I don't like to admit it but, although his reluctance to submit made me furious, at the same time I was a little proud in a weird, twisted way. The technicians were fools. They didn't know how to handle him properly. They underestimated what he was capable of time and time again, and he knew it. Battling against me for so long had molded him into a formidable opponent that they were too short-sighted to be wary of. I was the only one skilled enough to deal with him. But it wasn't my job anymore and the scientists, being the way they are, weren't too eager to hear about all the mistakes they were making. So instead I sat and watched, and laughed my head off whenever he outsmarted them.
He deserved more credit than what they gave him. He was my enemy, after all.
In the end it was his own stubbornness that sealed his doom. The scientists grew tired of trying to control him and decided to trade him out for a more docile subject. They'd lose several weeks of work in their studies, but they didn't care. That's how eager they were to get rid of him. At the same time, however, they were reluctant to destroy him; it seemed a waste to let such a hearty specimen simply expire. So, like a television network leaving a series hanging in uncertainty in hopes of future profits, my enemy was placed into storage.
The name is a bit of a euphemism. It should really be called "spare parts." At the risk of oversimplifying the concept, there are two types of experiments: those done on a whole specimen, and those done with pieces. Storage is where they get the pieces. They keep the hosts alive for as long as they can and simply harvest the parts as they need them.
I was not pleased when I heard. I had not gone to all the trouble of bringing my enemy in alive to watch him rot in some laboratory broom closet! I was the one that initiated contact with the aliens! Technically, every single one of the dozens of specimens they brought in each day should be attributed to me! But I didn't know them by name. I didn't know where they lived or how they thought. This one was my trophy, and I wanted him to be the vessel for all their discoveries.
They didn't care. They said I was obsessive and should have myself examined. They didn't realize I needed a way to revive the thrill. He would have understood it. Seeing him tortured in captivity wasn't exactly as stimulating as fighting him hand-to-hand, but at least the satisfaction of watching it gave me something to go on. They wanted to take that away from me, and that's something I wasn't about to allow.
I couldn't let our battle die until he died, the right way. Until then we still had unfinished business between us. I would stay by my enemy's side as long as it took to squeeze every last iota of pleasure out of his utter defeat. That was really the prize of our contest. Though we both started the war with our own reasons, in the end we were fighting for the right to drive the loser to his knees and gloat until an organ exploded. I won. I would be acknowledged as the greater mind.
Gaining a job on the lab staff was just a simple matter of bringing it up. They couldn't say no; I had plenty of experience. As much as I hated to admit it, science was in my past and I knew my way around a lab. My expertise with the aliens was also an asset since I already knew more about them than most soldiers four times my age. Not to mention the scientists were as eager to get rid of me as they were their unwanted specimen. The monitoring technicians both live and work in the basement of the research facility where the storage rooms are located. Everyone seemed overjoyed that I actually expressed an interest in wanting to seal myself away down there. I never could figure out why.
The floor echoes solidly against my boots as they clack on the ground, one after another. I love the sound they make mixed with the swish of my lab coat. It's the sound of authority, power; two things I've always dreamed of. A broad metal hallway stretches before me as it has for every one of the thirteen years I've walked it. You can tell this is an older section of the facility. The architecture is boxier, used in a time before we upgraded to the curved, more modern style. The hallway itself is a perfect rectangle with square-shaped inlets on either side to frame the hundreds of doors branching off from it. It's the only perfectly-straight hall in the entire laboratory, extending a little over half a mile. The doors, also rectangular, lead to several different areas organized by function. The one I want is near the middle on the left side.
An old thrill bubbles up within me at the thought of my destination. It's become a little subdued over time. In the beginning just the sight of this corridor was enough to send shudders of excitement down my spine. I would usually have a victory speech prepared at this point, rehearsed to perfection so it would be nice and dramatic upon delivery. Seeing him helpless and at my mercy always brought a spark of joy to my day. It still does, of course, but it's faded into routine now. Fresh from the battle I needed reassurance I had finally won. I don't need that reassurance anymore. Neither does he.
I had always wanted my enemy to suffer; that was no secret, and the feeling was beyond mutual. Some people believe there's a chemistry that makes individuals fall in love. I think there's a chemistry for everything, including blind undying hatred. The human race is proof enough of that. Needless to say, I was disappointed when they moved my alien down here. I knew he wasn't going to be dismantled for organic parts, now or at any time in the future. Though he had survived the experiments he hadn't emerged without significant damage. Nearly every part of his system was tainted in some way or another. Don't ask me why—sometimes I couldn't even see the reasoning behind it myself—but I suppose even stuffy scientists are allowed to have a little fun now and then. The point is once he got down here, I knew he was going to stay down here. In case there was a shortage he might be pulled as a last resort, but more likely he'd become just another experiment they forgot to kill. Sustained within his prison he'd be kept safe, alive, and unharmed for the duration of his natural life. It seemed more of a mercy to me, a permanent reprieve from torment. The injustice of it fueled a bitter contempt I can't even describe in words. Little did I know.
He understood his situation far better than I did. The first time I checked him I was expecting him to mock me from within his safe haven. Imagine my surprise when I found him clawing frantically at the walls instead. He didn't see me approach at first but once I moved into view he stopped. I literally watched him push everything out of his mind to focus his attention on me, using the burning hate as a crutch to keep back the fear. And there was fear. He'd never shown it when we fought, but I'd imagined it enough reflecting in those big glassy eyes to know what it would look like. Somehow the sight of me had become a comfort. In that moment I was both his savior and his tormentor. I was the only thing keeping back the darkness when he was left alone to realize his fate.
To understand it, you first have to understand that storage specimens are treated as little more than objects. They're kept together in a handful of tight rows with just enough space around each of their cells to allow a technician to walk around them. The cells are soundproof rectangular prisms built as small as possible to save on material. Three of the walls are clear panels held by a thin border of metal while the back is made of a solid, sturdy composite. The subjects are restrained to this by a metal shackle on each wrist and ankle that's bolted into the panel. There are also tether restraints that pass around the chest, waist, and knees to keep at least forty-five percent of the body surface in contact with the wall at all times. This is done to prevent injury as well as ensure the most accurate biological readings.
Embedded in the composite is the complicated wiring of an environmental motherboard, a computer designed specifically to sustain and collect data on its assigned specimen. Metal contacts touching the back of the subject monitor temperature and respiratory functions. Delicate sensors inside the metal cuff on the left wrist map pulse and growth. The right cuff houses an intravenous system for feeding, blood tests and a variety of chemical analyses. The most complicated apparatus encircles the head and is designed to monitor brain activity. A thousand sensors located everywhere in the chamber—on the walls, in the floor, some even in the specimen—collect and monitor data twenty-four hours a day for the central processing unit located in the back. A port extending outside allows technicians, such as myself, to periodically extract the information so it can be added to the master database three floors above.
Beyond an occasional visit for data extraction and spot checking everything is fully automated. The computer regulates the variables necessary to keep its assigned subject alive, including air quality, nourishment, climate, and organic functions. The specimens become perfectly sustained animated dolls that will remain as such until either the scientists or time decides otherwise. Unlike the active subjects upstairs, there is neither a need nor an effort to treat them as if they were alive. The storage room isn't even kept lit unless a technician is there. Other than an occasional visit by a lab worker, silence, darkness and isolation are all these captives know.
The mind is a powerful weapon. Before then I had never realized exactly how powerful. A mere twenty hours' deprivation of light and sound had driven my hardened enemy to the brink of madness. You have to be very comfortable with yourself to spend all eternity with nothing but your own mind to keep you company. Apparently, he wasn't. He was more horrified of that prison than I had ever seen him about anything, including a scalpel. And, in perhaps the most powerful form of cruelty, death would be a long time in releasing him. I thought his torment had ended; in reality, it was just beginning.
Watching him that first day, I realized the true extent of his sentence and felt much better. He watched me as well. I think he was expecting me to let him out. In truth it had crossed my mind to destroy him myself, especially since the scientists seemed to be so inept at it. But instead I had stumbled upon something far, far more horrible than mere death. I finally found my proper punishment. With a piercing sneer, I turned on my heel with a flourish and left him in the dark.
I heard what a shattering soul sounded like that day.
I notice a laugh echoing in the hallway and realize it's mine. People passing by give me strange looks, but I can't help it. It's memories like those that make this long walk worth it.
The door is just a hundred feet away and fast approaching. As it grows nearer the thrill that's been building during my walk rises to a high. Emerging from beneath thirteen years of dust, an old sensation stirs to life and tries to overtake me. It's stupid, but as I reach the door I pause for a few seconds and allow myself to give in to it. I pretend I'm back in gradeskool, caught in the middle of a colossal battle between two dissenting worlds. I'm crouched in the bushes on the sidewalk waiting for exactly the right moment to catch my enemy at his weakest and attack. I know I need to catch him off guard to gain an advantage, but I also know it will only gain me so much. That's what makes our battles so invigorating. For every move of mine he has a countermove I have to anticipate and prepare for. If I'm not careful, there is a very real chance he could beat me. Even as I prepare to move now he's in there…waiting. He's just sad and alone and utterly helpless.
The thought strikes me cold, giving me a nasty kick out of my fantasy. For a moment I'm stunned until I regain enough control to force it away.
I don't know where that came from. He deserves every bit of what he's gotten.
My left hand reaches beside the doorframe to a delicate keypad set into the wall. Normally I can key in my access code in less than a second, but today my finger slips halfway through. I start over, moving slowly this time to make sure they're all correct. After a second try the metal doors part for me with a gentle swish to reveal an illusory wall of solid darkness sitting just behind them. The single shaft of light pouring in from the hallway only penetrates a few feet before it turns charcoal grey and loses to the room.
I smile. I can only imagine how horrible it is to live in this. I know in prisons such as Alcatraz sensory deprivation used to be the highest form of punishment for defiant criminals. For hours at a time they would be confined in a special concrete cell with no openings for light or sound to get through. To keep themselves from going insane some would sleep, or talk out loud, or play games. There was one I remember reading about specifically. They would find a large piece of debris on the floor, or take a button from their clothes, and toss it in a random direction. They would then crawl on their hands and knees in the pitch black to find it and throw it again. All just to keep from thinking.
I wonder what solaces my enemy finds in the darkness to save him from insanity. I'd imagine there aren't many. His world wasn't really one that leant itself to affection, I knew that much from studying him. No, he was always the type to draw strength from himself, sometimes to a fault. Now that I've taken that away I highly doubt there's anything left for him to cling to. I guess, in that light, I shouldn't be surprised at what he's become. I was the one that I drove him to it. I don't even…
…what am I thinking! And why am I still standing in the hall!
Snarling under my breath I stomp forward through the doors. At the exact moment they close behind me the lights overhead turn on, bathing the room in an almost sickly neon light. With my fists clenched determinedly I begin to stalk down the rows of containment chambers. A chorus of soft mechanical beeps sounds in the background with the rhythm of a dozen beating hearts. An acrid tint hangs in the sterile air that I've never been able to place. In a large part of my mind I've always recognized it as the smell of utter defeat.
On either side of me the lingering remnants of countless specimens watch my progress through their territory. Forced to cling to life, they hang in their prisons with mutilated bodies and pallid faces. With the exception of extreme cases the scientists don't bother to patch them up after procedures like the subjects upstairs. These prisons are intended for long-term storage and are, more or less, perfectly sterilized. An open wound here will heal on its own eventually. Life is often surprising in its persistence.
I make a sharp left and stop at the back of one of the chambers—more specifically, my enemy's eternal prison. I feel the eyes of the specimens behind me burrowing into my back but I shrug them off. I even smirk a bit. If they had been a little smarter about who they were fighting they wouldn't be in this mess.
The ancient feelings of hate and contempt wash over me as I reach to tend to his computer. Time hasn't changed the way I feel when I know he's near. Even if I didn't know he was present, I'd have been able to tell through the fire in my blood. Sometimes when the world turned its back on me that fire was the only thing to keep me warm.
I begin to upload the data since my last visit. Average heart rate and body temperature are fine; neural activity is at a minimum, but that's no surprise. We see it often. With nothing here to stimulate them, oftentimes the aliens' brains will completely shut down and enter a state of hibernation. My fingers pass over the keys quickly to bring up the system's time logs. After a few minutes I finish my data extraction, double-check the equipment, and run a quick program test. My duties done, I then turn to head back the way I came.
For the third time since entering this room, something clicks inside me. I stop.
I realize I was headed straight for the door. Without even thinking, I was going to leave without seeing him. That's not like me. Just a few moments ago in the hall I couldn't think about anything else. I try to remember the most recent instance I stood before him as an example but, to my surprise, I can't find one.
That's strange. I know for a fact I used to all the time. I'd come down here two, maybe even three times a day, if only to deliver a quick sneer. When I had more leisure I'd stay and talk to him, tell him how horribly his people were losing in the war. They were always losing, regardless of the truth. I wasn't about to give him that satisfaction. But for the life of me, I can't remember recently seeing anything but the back panel of his cell.
How long have I been coming here and only checking the equipment? And why did I change?
I consider it carefully for a moment. Probably because he changed. Back in the early days my enemy still had a little fight left in him. Though the bantering was one-sided I could see he was alive and listening. Now I'm lucky if I can tell that without first consulting the heart monitor. I think when it finally sunk in he wasn't escaping from this he went downhill, like a flower wilting in a glass jar. I had known him so long for nothing more than his stupid stubborn will that, without it, I didn't recognize him anymore. It was like gloating to a stranger.
I shake my head. That shouldn't make a difference! If anything, it makes my victory even more complete! It's my job to make sure he knows it.
I turn back to the container and stop again.
But what's the point? It's not really him anymore. There's no shred of my real opponent left in that dilapidated shell. I don't enjoy seeing him like that.
I must be losing my mind! This is ridiculous! This is him we're talking about! This is my victory! He brought all of this on himself! I warned him! I told him what would happen! He's right where he belongs and there is absolutely no reason for me to be thinking anything otherwise!
The surge of indignation unlocks my knees. Digging my nails into my own palms, I boldly stride between the two cells before me and emerge in the front of the row. Without a second's hesitation I whirl on my feet, lab coat trailing behind me, and glare at my enemy through the glass.
You think you can do spite! Well I can do it, too.
The anger fades into the background as I study my once-great opponent. I never noticed before how fragile he is. I suppose battling him for so long built him up to be much greater in my mind's eye. Looking at him now, it's hard to imagine he was ever anything great. He hangs lifeless against the restraints, moving only to pull his skeletal chest in and out to breathe. Old scars gleam red on his wrists from countless hours of fighting against the shackles. His skin is a sickly pale, at least four shades lighter than what it should be. I shift on my feet and his eyes open, but only a little; the color underneath just barely peeks through the tired lids. A neural readout screen set for convenience at the chamber's top shows a spike of activity as his brain processes what, or rather who, he sees. Outwardly he gives no sign he's noticed me, but I know what he's thinking. I always know what you're thinking, don't I?
He hates me. Granted as my sworn enemy he's always hated me, but I think recently he's come to appreciate the true meaning of the word. His eyes are glazed with a pain that's more of the mind than of the body, as every day he's left with nothing to do but contemplate all the ways he's lost. The knowledge of being helpless like this in my hands is far worse than any physical pain I could ever inflict on him. I know because if the roles were reversed, I'd feel the same way.
A part of me says I should be ecstatic at finally seeing this rare weakness in my enemy. Not only is it a weakness, it's the weakness, my one opportunity to really stick a nail in him and drive it deep. I have no doubt the individual in the hall would have done it in a heartbeat, but now…I feel like I'm different from what I was a few minutes ago. Standing here, seeing him like this introduces something new—an anomaly I can't place or explain. I…I don't even think this is what I wanted….
I blink, yanking myself from my own wayward thoughts yet again. Where are these coming from!
"I suppose you're enjoying this!" I snap at him in frustration. I know he can hear me. "You did this to me!"
It's true. The interactions day by day, the necessity to know everything about him, immersing myself in his world; it all changed me in a way I can never completely undo. That must be why I don't like going near him—why I'm thinking these…uncharacteristic things. He reminds me my victory wasn't so total after all.
To defeat my enemy I must study my enemy, then become my enemy, then move in with my enemy, then wear my enemy's clothes then….
I had to change a lot about myself to be able to fight him and stay on my feet. Even now I still carry those changes with me. They're not visible from the outside. Having finally proved myself, I walk among the halls each day with everyone else and feel as if I belong. It's only when I come here that I realize I fit in even less than I used to. I've forgotten what I used to be like before him. Slipping back into my old life is strange and unnatural. I'm caught somewhere halfway between his world and mine and I can't go back. This is the only place I still feel I belong. I keep him alive in a jar not for the scientists or for my victory, but for myself; because I need something to cling to in the darkness as well. But as much as I still hate him, does he really deserve this?
My mind tries to tilt again, letting me know how disgusted I should be in thinking that. He's not a thing that deserves this kind of…contemplation. From the second we locked eyes on each other we both knew this wasn't going to end in a tie. We're enemies, and we always will be. Even if I could erase the years between us our fight would pick up exactly where it left off. Hate and contempt are the only things we share; there shouldn't be a place in my mind for anything else. Yet with my victory in hand, staring at me with its half-dead eyes, I can't even force a laugh from myself.
This is wrong. Even between us.
My eyes trail to the left side of the glass where a bright red button sits inside a protective case.
If I were to let you walk away from this, you'd win. You understand….I worked too hard not to care about keeping my victory. It's funny, I was never even happy with the way it went. It wasn't at all the way I pictured it. You made a mistake, I didn't. That's it. When compared to most of our other battles it was disappointingly mundane; there weren't even any giant robots involved. Still, a victory is a victory, and I've never been ashamed of calling it mine. All that lingers now is the mere memory of our contest.
I can't let you out…but I can end it.
Slowly, I extend my hand towards the kill switch for the life equipment. I'm surprised to feel no anger or shame at granting this mercy to my opponent. For all he's put me through he's the last one that deserves this, but I don't falter.
Congratulations, Dib. I never thought I'd feel pity for you.
Warning: Behavioral Object Failure – Adherence Upgrade 62X572
Deviant Neural Activity Detected: prefrontal cortex
My muscles suddenly seize up, paralyzing me in mid-motion. I feel a deft authority gripping down on my mind like a vice. I try to fight back, but I can't move. The presence is everywhere. All around me. Inescapable.
Identified As: unauthorized emotional impulse
Reloading Behavioral Programming….
At first I'm confused. Within seconds I feel my memories of the last few minutes begin to slip from my grasp. I struggle desperately to hold onto them any way I can, but the more I fight, the more apathetic I become. I watch my mind fall away, pulling me back to the hall where I first made the fatal mistake of following a voice other than cold, unquestioning logic. I begin to sense a familiar personality emerging in lieu of my compassion. The anger rushes back, the cruelty, the pride, the indifference. Everything that makes me "Irken" moves to replace everything that makes me alive.
My eyes meet with Dib's. He's watching me, a weak yet sardonic grin set into his face. It turns victorious as he sees that I finally understand.
How many times has he watched me do this, I wonder? Come here and discover I actually have a soul, only to have it all suppressed in the interest of control, conformity. I had always seen him as so weak trapped in that computerized cell. It's a terrifying thing when you suddenly realize you aren't the master you thought you were.
I shut my eyes, unable to look at him. The walls of my own prison move faster to close in around me as my Pak works to correct the "error." Technology binds Dib and I both, it seems, each in our own way. I can't believe this is how it ends…our grand and glorious contest reduced to the only thing we ever truly fought against together: a draw. But even so I envy him.
Standby for Reactivation….
At least he was free for part of his life.
That's right. Go back and read it again, because you SO thought Dib was the narrator.
The title of this story was taken from "The Bitter End" by Placebo. The story, however, was not written with the song in mind. I found the song after I had finished and just thought it fit. Plus, if it wasn't for this song, the title of this would still be "No Title." (As a side note, I think the lyrics are way better than the song itself. Just a warning.)
I'm going to put all the author commentary and extras in my livejournal entry (found under "homepage" on my ffnet profile). But there is one thing I'd like to say here:
There are many things in this fanfiction that are fantasy, but the section about Alcatraz is true. For those of you that don't know, Alcatraz is an infamous prison in the United States used for holding criminals of all types that were too difficult to control. Al Capone, the famous gangster, was a prisoner there, as well as Robert Franklin Stroud (the Birdman of Alcatraz) and Floyd Hamilton (Bonnie & Clyde's driver). The sensory deprivation chamber I described as well as the games they would play in the cells are all true. I took a tour of the prison-island when I visited San Francisco and was able to see and walk in one of the SD cells. As an outsider looking in, it's really, really hard to imagine why that would be the ultimate form of punishment. You think, No sound or light for a few hours, that's nothing. But try to imagine a time in your life when you've encountered complete and utter silence.
No wind in the air, no cars always in the background, no clocks ticking anywhere, no hum of computers, no coughs, no sneezes, no footsteps, no rustling of papers, no purring of an air conditioner or appliance motor, no birds, no dogs barking. Nothing.
I'd be very surprised if you could come up with one. There's only one time in my life I've ever encountered total silence, and that was when I went parasailing. And let me tell you, it felt weird. Anyway, Zim's thoughts in the story about the Alcatraz cells are really what I was thinking the day I stood in one (molded to fit his character, of course). I thought it would be a good addition to the story especially since, being alien, Zim's even further on the outside than I was.
If you'd like to read more about Alcatraz, there are tons of books at your local library or bookstore. You can also check here, on the United States government national park service website: www . nps . gov/alcatraz/ (no spaces)
Inmates' names: www . notfrisco2 . com/alcatraz/inmates/famous.html
Brain info: www . brainplace . com/bp/brainsystem/frontallobes.asp