Disclaimer: I don't own Kingdom Hearts or any of the characters in this story that I don't own.

...

In the almost incomparable vastness of space,within the almost but-not-unentirely-unimaginable width of a universe that happened to be fictional, dominating a small system of worlds, there was an short green alien that lived on a orange planet.

None of the inhabitants really knew why it was orange; it just was. To the general population, the same reasoning applied to why recently there was no unified leader; there just wasn't. No one really cared. Some of the more politically astute thought that it was a bit strange, but even they didn't mind: it was better than having a president too incompetent to remove the hanger on his shirt before wearing it.

The green alien in question was named Zim. He had no last name; his people, the Irkens, didn't have last names, as they didn't have families to be a part of. He thought his name probably meant something neat, but lately he was running out of interesting possibilities. He felt that once you hit a thousand and three different possibilities in the major languages of a half dozen planets, including this mudball, you'd hit bottom.

It had occurred to him that he was starting to run out of things to do at night.

He wasn't that tall, only being about three and a half feet in height. His head was a bit rounder than an ordinary human head, with a more simplified skull structure and lacking ears or a nose. Two antennae, narrow and the ends round, stuck out the back of his head. His eyes were unusually large and slightly oval in appearance, lacking scelera or pupils, just a reflective red color of varying shades at the lighter end of the spectrum. His unusually smooth skin was a tan green, unmarked by so much as a single follicle of hair anywhere on his body; there were a few small and nearly unnoticeable scars, but that was it. His teeth were a strip of enamel that were shaped and fit together like the 'teeth' of a zipper. His muscle structure was what one might expect of someone whose body chemistry was subtlety regulated to make him an adequate soldier, physically speaking anyway. His hands had only two fingers that ended in a slightly curved round tip, lacking any nails; his thumb was slightly larger in proportion to the other two fingers. His feet, visible through his shoes had only two large toes, similar in appearance to his fingers, but making up at least a third of his foot.

He wore a sleeveless shirt with no collar, colored a bright yellow. Over this, he wore a beige raincoat that slightly dwarfed him, even though he'd cut off the arms and tail so his wrists came through the sleeves and it ended at his knees. For some reason, it was covered head to foot in emoticons that made appropriate noises when you pressed them. He wore a pair of Bermuda shorts, light blue with patterns of spiraling vines with stupid monkey figures jumping across them. He also had on a pair of Japanese sandals, he forgot what they were called, you usually saw them paired with kimonos. He was also wearing a dark red hat; it looked vaguely similar to a beret; he wore it at a bit of an angle, causing one of his antennae to poke out from under it at an angle in a manner he thought to be jaunty.

The slicker and shirt had two large holes cut on the back of them; through them was a round piece of extremely advanced alien technology; it resembled a hi-tech back pack, attached to his body via two vertically placed ports on his back. It was a whitish off-gray color, with three red disclike things with grooves running right through them; they were in a pattern, one at the top, one at the upper right, and one at the lower left. It was about the diameter of the area of Zim's shoulder blades. It was an improvement on the old one Zim used to have, a little functionally smaller than the old one.

At the moment, he was squatting on the roof of his house, doing something really uncharacteristic of his usual slightly crazed hyperactive demeanor: he was brooding.

He gave the surrounding neighborhood of his particular part of Nicktown a disgruntled look. The depression was starting to get to him, again. The fact that the area around him reminded him of his current place in life didn't help matters.

"Stupid thoughts...WHY WON'T YOU JUST SHUT UP!" He shrieked self-dramatically at the sky, which, being a cluster of atmospheric layers, was oblivious to his self-important rantings.

Not really noticing that, he made what he felt was a victorious pose, starting to feel better.

Then he slipped on a loose slate and fell off the roof of his house.

When his startled scream was interrupted by the impact of dirt and mud splattering into his mouth, he started to feel the extended middle finger of discouragement settle on his his mind.

Spitting the ground-up earth compounds out of his mouth, he sat up and flecked a stray clod off his antennae.

As he brushed dirt off his two fingered hands, he paused when he saw a dirt clump.

He stared at it, spreading his fingers and raising it up.

He crushed it in his fist, letting the dirt crumble out in a small stream. He grumbled inaudibly, his antennae waving agitatedly. Not that long ago, he would have completely freaked out and caused mass destruction for the Earth's part in causing him injury. Two years ago, he had a false mission. Two years ago, he had a utterly misguided purpose.

Two years ago, he had been completely unaware of the way he'd been wasting his life.

As in with many things, the general population had mostly forgotten the fact that their planetary system had had a civil war two years ago.

The inhabitants of this particular world held interesting lives with strange frequency, and with them went irritating antagonists. They lived their lives mostly oblivious of each other's existence.

Then their enemies decided to gang up on everyone else.

Forming an alliance, the megalomaniacal freaks assaulted their victims quietly, without warning or mercy. They jumped from world to world, obliterating what they didn't need and stealing everything else. They were preparing for the really big war; Earth, the central planet of this world chain, which held the vast majority of their enemies.

Then the problem of the mighty Irken Empire came up. They had an...agent of sorts present on Earth, so they had an interest there.

They sent an envoy to the Armada's flagship, the Massive, to invite them into their alliance. They felt fairly confident about their chances.

The reply came when the envoy returned to them in the form of several dozen packages,followed by the Irkens proceeding to wage war on them.

The problem was neatly resolved by the Martian Emperor Bog, who destroyed the Irken home world.

The Irken home world was the seat of the mightiest empire there ever was in their particular world sphere; appropriately, they had the defenses to guard themselves from their enemies. But all the force fields and giant fighting robots they had couldn't save the Empire from a tactical black hole vortex that appeared at the very core of the planet.

Due to the nature of it's people, as much as half of Irk's population was generally off-world at some point or another: Almost the entire military force was held up in the Armada, and the best of them, the Invaders, were off observing various other planets, too widely separated to serve as calvary. And that didn't include the various researchers and scientists on the other planets. Irk as a planet was almost only a symbol of the Empire and not much else besides a place for the smeets to be born and grow up on. Bog realized this, and made a conclusion.

That conclusion was that none of that couldn't stop the empire from crumbling apart as Bog predicted. Without a home base to rally behind, any opposition the Irkens might conceivably pose would disintegrate, and they would cease to be a threat. With only a few birthing facilities off-world, the Tallest wouldn't be able to afford to lose troops. With their most powerful and deadliest weapons gone, they would be powerless against the enemy. The Irkens would be no more than a footloose band of height-obsessed screwballs, dangerous only to themselves. And the Irkens had another special weakness. Their bodies were simply a vessel to hold their Paks. As long as the Pak survived to be plugged into a new body, they were effectively immortal. But if the Pak was destroyed, they would die. To that end, he designed a virus to completely scramble the Pak's software. That done, he decided that they were finished.

He was wrong.

Whatever else you could say about the Irkens, they were not a people prone to kick their legs in the air, lie on tilled earth, and hold up a lily flower presumably whipped from a pocket dimension for that general purpose. The near-genocide of an entire sentient species alerted the remained unaffected planets to the danger of the Alliance, and in a rush of ships, the Allies swelled like a Froad's throat-sac; alarmingly large and semi-transparent. To resolve the Pak problem, the Irkens made a dramatic change to themselves, making their organic brains their true brain rather than the Pak's, not to mention building new Paks that could withstand the virus.

Zim, of course, was the last Invader to get the call.

This, for a change, wasn't due to Red and Purple's vague dislike of Zim or for that matter, the fact that he wasn't an Invader and refused to admit it. The Tallest spent most of their time lazing around and eating snacks, but the leadership and general qualities characteristic of the Tallest rank was ingrained within their very genetics. They knew that despite the overly obvious fact that Zim was an eccentric screwball, he had a capacity to be a one-man wrecking crew, not to mention a staggering talent for walking away from even the most absurdly dangerous situations. Unfortunately, he had a less pleasant characteristic as a soldier; a complete and total obliviousness to anything besides what he was doing at the moment. While this helped to avoid distraction, it also meant that he, to turn a phrase, didn't play well with others.

They had absolutely no intention of his short-comings tripping him up and making him screw up whatever he did in battle. This made delayed deployment and awareness of the war a necessity. Whatever else might be happening, once he became aware that the empire was disintegrating, he wouldn't wait for orders; he'd immediately drop whatever he was doing and rush off to a random area and blast the hell of whoever and whatever he perceived as the enemy who had the misfortune to occupy the area. That, and in recent communications, he had been strangely uncommunicative about his invasion reports.

When Earth got reluctantly involved in the big galactic war, everyone who was capable of doing so became involved.

Zim became aware of the war soon enough, and in a mixture of disbelief that the Empire was utterly doomed, horror that it had happened at all, and rage at the enemy for all that, he rushed off into space with his sidekicks, Minimoose and Gir, and he found it necessary to take along his rival, Dib. Realizing that the idiotic humans had already been drawn into the war, he concluded that Dib, as the single most intelligent and capable human he knew, would be an asset in the fight, despite his inferiority. They had an adventure during the war.

That caused two extremely weird things to happen.

They wound up in a strange adventure, which had the bizarre side-effect of Dib and Zim becoming friends. Zim had no idea how it occurred, it simply did. One day, you're battling hostile life-forms, and the next, you're talking to an increasingly less inferior being about your lives, what with Dib being the end result of a experiment gone wrong and Zim being a embarrassment to the military, and by extension, the entire Irken Empire, all your life spent in order to earn some respect.

Strange the way some things work out.

The second extremely weird thing happened when Zim ended up captured by the enemy. After judged guilty for the crimes of mass destruction upon the Alliance, senseless rampaging on military bases, the inability to grasp the English language coherently despite being on it for two and a half years, and generally being a royal pain in the ass, with the sentence of execution and with no opportunity of parole. Zim pointed that that was a redundant sentence, but they paid his opinion about as much attention as they had about his other inane rants throughout the mock trial.

They judged the method of execution a fitting one. He was to be placed in the hermetically sealed single chamber of the Overview Omnipresent Perspective Sphere, a device of destruction so bizarre, it's rumored it's oddball inventor's comment upon it's creation became it's eventual acronym. It was at this point that Zim became certain that he shouldn't have shared innovative ideas formulated while drunk with the other mad scientists on Friday nights when he was a researcher on Vort.

Then again, his sense of irony told him, it was sorta funny.

The device worked not unlike the Total Perspective Vortex on the distant and throughly unpleasant third Frogstar world. However, whereas the Total Perspective Vortex showed the victim the whole of the universe and themselves in relation to it, the O.O.P.S. had a more personal aspect to it. Essentially, by psychically backtracking through recesses of one's mind, the machine plugged into the Universal Unconscious. Then it gave the victim a single moment of perfect empathy with the whole of the universe, or at least that portion of it represented by thinking creatures. The user thus felt precisely what harms they had done to people they'd known, rudenesses committed to people they'd briefly met, and what they mostly likely would've have done to people they might've met, what they'd done reflected a thousand-fold. Metaphorically, it forced the victim into God's outlook, but without the whole omnipresent thing.

It's too much for a mortal mind. After all, it's creator reasoned, if sometimes simple empathy can cause a being to change their entire life, what would the next thing to universal consciousness do to someone? He observed, after a few 'tests', that when a mind was exposed to perfect empathy, their minds were completely exposed to the input and blew out due to the sheer impact, not unlike a nudist randomly being hit by a tactical nuclear strike. Concluding prematurely that it was a success, the scientist felt it was a obvious next step to installing a system to reduce their matter to energy that quickly dissipated unless it was used to power devices; utilitarian bioethics was a philosophy he adhered to closely, making it fitting that he was it's second victim. His executors felt that a mind so warped as to create such a machine was one that was nothing less than too insane to live. Didn't stop them from repeatedly using the thing, of course.

They were, of course, unaware that it was the product of a careless drunken Friday night conversation at a bar that went something like this:

"Hey, you know what, Kuuk?"

"What, Zim?"

"You, you ever wonder what would happen if you, y'know, exposed a mind to the whole universe filtered through the perspective of all other s-s-sentient minds in the universe?"

"Hee he-huh?" Started with a laugh, ended with a note of confusion. Like most Comedy Central skits.

"You know, force 'em to feel perfect empathy! Or somethin'."

"Like, ah, what's the word, arrgh, I know this, God?"

"Yeah, but with less of that 'higher being' thing."

"Hey, it'd totally blow their minds. Like what this whiskey's doing to my squeedily-splooch!" Hiccup.

"And hey! Wouldn't they feel ev'ry t'ing they've done to everyone else?"

"Y'know, you talk funny after you've downed five Ga'yannocs." This spoken with a great deal of stuttering and incoherent mumbling.

"Yeah, I'm a weeeird drunk!" Giggle.

"Whaddaya mean 'drunk'?" This caused an explosive outburst of laughter from both sides.

Of course, Kuuk forgot the conversation after the next morning's hangover, and believed it to be his idea when he had a dream about being tortured by lab Megarats. Zim completely forgot about the conceptual O.O.P.S., until the moment he stood directly before it. Then he remembered the entire conversation with a fairly large degree of apprehension.

"Shazbot," was his only comment shortly before being forced into it, and the machine was activated.

It was a strange experience, being forced to see the universe through the eyes of it's inhabitants for a brief moment.

And in that moment, something unexpected occurred. For the users of it had never tested it on a creature with two brains. They were unaware that the Pak on the Irken back was more than a biokinetic backpack with interesting features; it functioned as another brain.

Perhaps because of this, his mind wasn't destroyed once he was exposed to the all of the universe. Instead, he had a moment of clarity, an instant where he truly understood where, in the grand scheme of the world, he currently was at the moment and the actual impact of his actions.

It made him want to cry.

As it was, his mind didn't implode from the shock; his Pak brain absorbed most of the impact, somehow. Not suspecting that Zim's two brains had somehow helped him survive the experience, the Court initiated the clean-up procedure; a action which filled the chamber with dissembling that destroyed the victim's atomic lattices, turning the victim's structural matter into pure formless energy. Fortunately, he vanished before he was absorbed into the universal battery that powered the Alliance.

With Zim it was no different. He still considered the experience of being torn apart at the cellular level, transmuted into biocurrent and reduced to almost nothing one of the more painful memories in his life.

But that was nothing. He finally saw himself, reflected through the eyes of everyone who truly knew him. He saw that he wasn't the big wonderful and bright being he had always taken himself to be. He saw that he was an overbearing, obnoxious, arrogant, ignorant jerk and had almost no concept of other people. One possibly positive thing that had occurred was that Zim's previously dozing conscience woke up. And it had a really bad case of the morning grumps.

What the Court would have been well advised to consider was the most esoteric facts of science: matter and energy were just two ends of a single spectrum, therefore interchangeable by the semi-sane laws of the universe. The vanished biocurrent that was Zim inexplicably popped back up in his ship with Dib, Gir and Minimoose, sans Pak and one hell of a hangover. At the time, Gir was attempting to catch a space fish with Improbability technology, causing a flux in the serial-dimensional quantum point of existence(also called the Chelogs continuum), causing Zim's existence as a mass of biocurrent to slightly switch in position to a mass of meat with some fabric hitching a ride. For the less scientifically minded, this was the equivalent of falling off a very large cliff, having enough time to gain some proper perspective while you fall and suddenly landing on a trampoline some idiot pulled over the abyss to catch flying fish that flings you into your living room with a big book called Welcome to Your New Life, You Big Idiot.

He had been slightly, in a matter of speaking, reformatted. Looking through eyes that were finally clear, he observed that without his former Pak's corrupted software, his usual personality traits weren't being blown out of proportion. For the first time since...okay, for the first time ever he was finally himself. And all the emotional baggage that came with true self-awareness.

He felt an emotion that he had never felt before, and didn't have the words to describe it, not being familiar with certain human texts. That didn't mean that it wasn't the most searingly intense, nerve-wracking and painful emotion he had ever felt. He had never felt the need for redemption before.

He eventually found the Armada, starting to build the slightly vague suspicion that the Tallest wanted to avoid seeing him slightly less than they wanted to avoid total galactic annihilation, convincing them what he'd found out after hacking into the enemy's information network.

Six weeks later, the war was over, specifically after Gaz broke into the Major Domo Central Command Center and disabled the power switch to the Ultimate Weapon Defense Grid due to the quantum disconnecter matrice ruining her game quality, completely unaware that she single-handedly won the Battle of the Planets. Nor did she care when she did become aware of it.

The Alliance dissolved, leaving the victors free to return home. Well, except for the ones who no longer had a home, like Zim; shortly after the final battle, the Tallest held a multiplanetary party on Conventia, where they announced the official dissolution of the Irken Empire. Red and Purple then proceeded to get 'Griffin-Simpson' drunk. To say that Zim was shocked would have massively understated the situation; all his life, all that he had done, everything, was gone with a single speech.

It would have been more appropriate to say that he ran around the place screaming for a few hours until he lost his voice, drunk himself stupid, and cried until he remembered that he forgot to remember to lock the door when the people who liked him at least a little broke the door down.

His life was gone, like a really big hot dog choked down by a marauding seagull.

He was prepared to simply go off on a pilgrimage to find a new uninhabited planet to reside on when his only real friend he'd ever had told him something that marked him as having the baritone tone of unpleasant truth.

"Zim, for better or worse, Earth is your home now."

Dib had noticed that Zim started to act markedly different since his little excursion into the world of creative sentencing; he was a little more cautious when he spoke, he was less cruel and obnoxious, and he actually seemed to act...well, human. But, Dib had decided in light of his recent adventures, human had become a very nebulous quality indeed.

So after taking his sidekicks and Dib to drown his sorrows by drinking space sodas and riding giant alien bunnies, Zim returned to the only home he had left; his base back on Earth, where he proceeded to dispense with the parent robots, among other boring things, taking time to think about what he had done, what he should have done, and what he was going to do.

Much of his thinking amounted to the Irken equivalent of My life sucks. He didn't make much in the way of progressive thinking.

The next two years were interesting ones. First, he had to contend with bouts of depression, followed by incredible boredom. With the dissolution of the Empire, he had absolutely no purpose in life anymore. Whenever he had felt like this in the past, he threw himself into his work, but now he had no work.

This problem was partially resolved when a secret group of planetary guardians recruited him for an operative, but demolition in the name of good wasn't exactly a frequent occurrence.

At the very least, he had an actual friend now; Minimoose was more of a helper than anything, and Gir was...well, stupid. Not to mention too innocent to really understand Zim's problems. Occasionally he would pop out and attempt to serve him Earth food; Zim was starting to like some Earth food, not to mention he had developed an immunity to the pollutants in the water and meat; such things didn't bother him now that he had fully adapted to Earth. But comfort food only helped when you ate, and he had a low tolerance for gluttony of the culinary variety. He had found an appreciation for the planet itself, if not always for it's individual people. It's art was something else he understood now; understanding the thought placed upon print and canvas(and occasionally skin tissue) is always key to understanding a people, he'd learned on Devastasis in the academy, a lesson that had only taken hold relatively recently.

He had eventually come to think about how, in a way, Dib was actually vindicated; now that everyone knew about aliens, he wasn't seen as a lunatic as much anymore, whereas Zim was perceived as a reformed villain, which wasn't that far from that true; but in their eyes, a corrected villain was still a former enemy, someone to be respected but held at arm's length for fear of a relapse. Dib had done better, but for the most part, almost everyone still saw him as that paranoid crazy guy who kept saying that Bigfoot was in his garage and coincidentally helped save the world.

True, they had found good people when they fought in the war, and later when they came home their exploits became common knowledge among those who cared to look; The ghost boy had needed Dib's expertise on more than one occasion, Gir kept pestering a wallaby named Rocko, and recently, an aspiring director looked for their...unique outlook. Zim looked into the worlds of self beyond his own, and he found it interesting.

They'd had many interesting adventures over the last two years, and yet he still found himself wanting something...else. Something harder to pinpoint.

Clear perception, perhaps. A few months after they got back home, he set off on a pilgrimage with his sidekicks to learn what he could, traveling his strange home. He returned a changed Irken, the contrast evident to anyone who had known him before closely(admittingly, this meant that very, very, very, very few people noticed.). He was still the overbearing, loud-mouthed, and self-involved alien he'd always been, but he was different, changed in a fundamental way that hadn't been forced upon him. It was a quieter change. He had not spoken of the events of his journey to anyone, and advice from his companions wasn't forthcoming; Minimoose was strangely uncommunicative on the matter, and Gir inevitably changed the subject whenever it came up.

He occasionally felt the need to venture forth once more, but he also felt the need to remain where he was, though he didn't know why.

He inevitably looked into the sky when this feeling overtook him, but he didn't know why. He still had the Voot Cruiser, but he normally used it as a simple transport; he didn't have much reason to fly through the alleys and corridors of space anymore; whenever he did so, he invariably became depressed and starting thinking of the old days. He was unaware of the schizophrenic behavior he exhibited; half the time, he was relieved that his old life was over and he didn't have to make with that old pretense, but the other half was spent with slight longing for the role of a soldier mixed with nostalgia for the simpler days of moral innocence.

He didn't know why the stars fascinated him so these days. But that was the thing about instinctive gut feelings; there were some things you just couldn't quantify. That much the human poets understood.

It nagged at Zim's mind, and he frequently felt like threatening it with a punch that would launch it straight to the moon.

His train of thought was sharply derailed when a screeching presence popped out and yelled, "Twinkle twinkle little cat, what I wonder is BRAAAAAAAAAAAAP!" the presence's belch flooded the area with the aroma of roasted anchovies.

Zim rolled his eyes; pretty much the only way you'd notice was if you so the shift of the shoeshine's position. "What is it, Gir?"

"Aw, how'd you know it was me?"

"Next time you sneak on some one, don't try imitating the theme from Mission: Improbable. Or falling down after them and yodeling."

"Oh."

He turned around to look at the robot; he wasn't very tall, only coming up to Zim's waist with most of his height centered on his head, most of his body smaller in proportion. His body was shaped a little like a capsule with squarish chest and back panels, flattened at the tops. His shoulders were little balls, his jointless grooved arms swinging freely. His wrists were also little balls, his hands simplistic clamplike things. His legs looked like slightly pointed crescents that floated right where his legs would be, supported by some sort of innate anti gravity device. His head was odd; his optical sensors were two huge round platelike things, his mouth oddly organic in it's flexibility, as was all his face. His head was shaped a bit like an an outline of an upside down construction helmet, the upper part flattened with a flexible antennae ending in a small ball directly in the middle. Most of his body was an lighter gray, notably dented and worn in several places despite Zim's efforts to keep the rambunctious robot in good repair; perhaps the fact that he was made of components from a garbage can had something to do with it. His shoulders, body plates, wrists, eyes and antennae ball were a cyan blue at the moment, designating 'normal' status. Normal for Gir, that was.

"So...what is it?"

"I have gingivitis. Not many people know it tastes like Stimpy's hairball collection."

Zim said nothing. That was business as usual with Gir.

"Want some gasopagaie?"

"Eh?"

"I made snacks! The 'a' is silent! EAT 'EM! THE SILENCE TASTES LIKE BACON! They'll make you feel happy!"

"Eh, no, Gir."

", Maaaaaster! I'll go boom if you don't! Boom like a sock monkekekey with dinner mints! They don't make 'em anymore 'cause child labor's illegal in the island nation of Tonga. I think. I THOUGHT! AHHHHHHHHH! I'M NOT SUPPOSED TO DO THAT!"

Zim's left eye started twitching, than he grimaced, eyes narrowed. Even if he didn't want to admit it, he was grateful for the robot's attention. Even if he'd probably be up a few hours digesting what Gir just said. Not that he slept much anyway "Alright. Gimme! Gimme now!"

He ate one, if just to please Gir, who was watching anxiously. It tasted a little like peanut butter cookies, if you used chips of bacon and waffle mix into the mixture. The fact that they hadn't burned at all was a minor miracle in itself.

"D'you like 'em?" The question was a bit odd, coming from Gir. It was a surprise that he wanted Zim's opinion. Most of Gir's behavior originated from his hedonism innate to his nature, causing him to do pretty much any crazy thing if left to his own devices, so it was a little strange for him to not automatically assume that the world rejoiced over his cooking. For that matter, it was strange for him to be aware of the world besides what he saw.

Instead of answering the question, Zim sat up straight, his Pak morphing slightly, four odd large knobs rotating out of the center of the Pak in a pattern of the four in between directions; the knobs unfolded and elongated into four long spindly mechanical legs vaguely remniscient of spider legs as least three times Zim's height. They were slightly curved bars of a gray metal, connected to a rotating ball that functioned in the same way as a joint, and ended in a sharp looking blade-like appendage similar to the rest of it but slightly shorter than the rest. The ball joints were designed in a way so that the legs could turn in almost any way Zim desired. The lower ones were slightly thicker, as they were used to support him, while the upper one's ends had circuitlike grooves on them, as if they could unfold into other things.

It was thanks to the morphic qualities of the Pak's nanotechnology that he could manifast these immensely useful limbs, unique to him. Unique was a word that easily applied to him; to other Irkens, he was a defective; since the Trial where they had convicted him of that status, he had carried it as a badge of honor. After all, uniqueness used to be a very rare commodity among his people; another Irken named Tak was the only other unique Irken he'd known, and she hated him for some reason he could never remember. Something to do with a radioactive snake-monkey or something.

He'd originally built them into his original Pak, where they unfolded out; his new one simply morphed them as he wished. His Pak's ability to morph things was very limited; it couldn't actually make stuff up, only manifesting out of systems held within his Pak's pocket dimension. And that was for the nonessential stuff, such as the object replacement device or the scanners, not the memory drive. That always stayed.

His spider-leglike appendages cleared the ground, crawling up the wall and carrying him with them, resting down where he was before he fell; Gir flew up after him, landing neatly besides him.

The limbs retracted and they stood there for a few moments. Gir waited for his master to do something, while Zim waited for a thought to come to him. Or possibly an explanatory hallucination; he didn't feel like being picky.

A feeling of importance had crept over Zim, making him feel something completely new. It wasn't an emotion per se, nor anything as prosaic as a gut feeling; it was more primal than that, reaching to a level of thought deeper than mere instinct. It was an almost prescient feeling, a vague awareness of precognition: it wasn't quite the feeling of spiritual overwhelming called awe, but it was something close. It was indefinable, but not so much that he couldn't feel it just looming into his perspective, so close that he could almost grasp it, were it not for it jumping just out of his reach when he tried to focus on it. Perhaps this was what the spiritual felt when they sensed that events were preordained by a Divine Will.

Everything seemed full of meaning, from his frosty plume of breath to the exploding gasbags in the distant horizon. Well, maybe not the second thing. Something stranger than usual was going on, and he knew it.

Gir followed his Master's behavior, staring out to the distance with an appreciation for all existence as it was and might be, exulting in the mere being that was life. Zim wasn't doing that, but that was besides the point.

Then Gir got bored with that, seeing as that was his usual state of existence and was therefore incapable of perceiving it and started running around quadrupedal-style, chasing the Nonexistent Milkman of Firey Toes, an ancient tradition he had made up in the last five seconds. It had something to do with the ketchup writing on the wall, best not to go into it.

It wasn't exactly easy to sustain a spirit of serious thought in the face of the robot's play, and so Zim gave it up, fell down into a sitting position and watched Gir play, and ate the weird pastries the robot made. At least he hoped they were pastries.

He yawned, supporting his slumping head with his free hand. The cookies didn't make him retch so far. That was a good sign.

A few moments passed with that pleasantly interesting scenario going on. Zim ate and watched a mindless scene like a self-declared loser that stopped caring about his idiocy except in hindsight as Gir ran around like an insane moron that was too innocent to understand why his master was so despondent. Both observations fit.

Zim yawned again in boredom, wondering vaguely what Dib was up to. Lately, he'd been spending a lot of time elsewhere and showing up looking annoyed at Zim for some reason, yelling at him whenever the Irken brought the subject up. He started to think about that when he noticed a slight change in the scenery at the periphery of his vision.

He wildly scanned the neighborhood, looking for some evidence of change. This persisted for five more minutes. Feeling defeated, he looked down by his crossed feet and realized he'd been afflicted by a form of the dreaded Glasses On The Forehead Syndrome. That's a real pain in the pattila, I tell you what.

The cookie he was holding in his hand, as well as the ones on the plate, appeared to be rimmed with a thin prismatic glow. That seemed to be a sign of something, possibly hallucinogenics.

When he looked around at the one place he didn't, the rooftop, he observed that Gir appeared to be limned in that same aura. So, for that matter, was the house.

Interesting.

He saw odd things in the flickers; he couldn't quite understand them. Some appeared threatening, but only in the retroactive sense.

He stood up, feeling strange. He felt as though he wasn't in complete control of his limbs for some reason; they were spasmodically twitching and moving around. Weird.

He hadn't intended to stand up, but he had. Looking to the horizon, he saw that the scene had blurred.

He blinked excessively slowly, as if he were in the middle of a dramatic scene in a cheesy movie. "What'd you put in those cookies?"

The world wavered out of focus, like a picture taken by Gir during a junk food bender. This was accompanied by a sudden loss of control of his legs.

His feet suddenly slipped off the slates of the roof, but he wasn't aware enough to notice much due to the scant noise of the world fading to a whispered hush.

He barely heard Gir's cry of surprise and hurried rush to reach him as he fell, and he didn't see of the incoming earth.

Zim's mind was suddenly somewhere else.

Meanwhile...

The principal city of the primary continent of Earth is called Nicktown.

It's not known why exactly, though it's probably because the original foundations were made when the site that would one day became Nicktown was made when it was hit by a glancing orbital strike. Hence, it was a town built on a nick.

And almost on the opposite side of it(from Zim's perspective, that is), was a large laboratory complex.

It was blocklike in shape, and a plain gray color; it was so mind-bogglingly boring to look at, the eyes swerved away in order to avoid looking at it, as was the original intention. It's owner had no desire to announce his workplace yet, as he wasn't in the mood to have flaming mailboxes launched into his desk again.

It was nominally a division of Membrane Labs., but it was in reality a small privately funded experimentation facility.

More to the point, it was a way for Professor Membrane Vael to keep his son from being a public nuisance and embarrassment.

Within it's non-cavernous chambers, Dib Vael was at work. Well, he thought of it as work.

He sat at a small work bench in front of a laptop, scrolling through a number of case files and projects in the works. Considering the nature of the lab and his work as a licensed paranormal investigator, the two subject matters frequently crossed paths.

"Hmmm, let's see here. Alien implantation scenarios; that movie got us all concerned, didn't it? I'll have to update it. Specter Detector; nearly finalized. Got to think of a better name. Ghost anchors, bit harder to track down, even with the Specter Detector. Maybe I'll take a look at those new neighbors. They'd did seem kind of transparent. even for accountants. Genius territorialus event horizons, Bigfoot, Bigfoot's wrestling career under the name , Promethean physiology, alien civilizations, personalized supernatural assault armor suit, my dearest and most personal thoughts which Zim's appeared to have hacked into and written commentary and grammar corrections..." he muttered that last part with an annoyed hiss.

About six months ago, Membrane felt that the zombie demon chicken invasion was the last straw with Dib's experiment's with parascience. This coincided with Dib deciding that he was tired of developing supernatural combat devices in his garage and being laughed at whenever they literally blew up in his face.

So they made a compromise; Dib would get his own funded private laboratory complex to create his supernatural defenses, and Membrane's inventions wouldn't be constantly appropriated for some insane purpose. They got to put different wording in the audial contract that took place over five and a half minutes.

So, in theory, he and Zim, as well as anyone who was remotely interested and hadn't insulted him lately, had a private lab. In reality, it was almost always just him, unless Gir wandered in, Gaz was bored, or if one of their 'acquaintances' needed help.

People would say what they would about Dib, but there was no denying his expertise in paranormal matters.

He was pretty certain that Zim wasn't even aware of the lab's existence. For his 180 turn two years ago, he was still faintly oblivious to mostly everything around him.

He was currently in the process of refining a technology he'd thought of relatively recently with the help of another intellectual luminary to finalize the blueprints and schematics. All he needed was an isolated area to finish construction.

And he already had that.

Besides that, something considerably significant was bothering him.

Zim's moods had been swinging so frequently and extremely lately that Dib suspected that alcohol made him borderline bipolar. In more serious thought, he had decided that a change of pace would probably make Zim stop being so moody, as that was starting to annoy everyone in their small circle.

Still, he had business to attend to, and that was key to his plot to make the Irken less mopey. There were a few laws of the universe that were never meant to be broken, and Zim being relentlessly...Zim was one of them.

The technology he was working on was similar to the one that his father had used to look into alternate realities, but considerably different. After all, this kind was used to create a spacial rift to open a portal to another world.

Making some sort of weird smacking noise, Dib scrolled down the computer screen, looking it over. Everything seemed right, but as with everything else, you could never tell with revolutionary technology with seemingly harmless application.

Neutron was the one taking care of the building on one of the islands on an isolated isle chain 37 miles off the coast of Nicktown; considering his world's land-masses consisted primarily of archipelagos, they weren't hard to find. Nicktown rested on one of the few true continents, which corresponded roughly to North and South America. In any event, construction wasn't his problem.

He paused in his musings to look around at the area around him. Lab No. 08 was a sterile and gray chamber, due to the fact that it wasn't used for much more than his reports; it was quiet and free of distraction. The more active labs were still gray and sterile, but they at least had burn marks, dents caused by incendiary explosions, and the occasional escaped subject. But the ones like this were off somehow. It was almost empty except for this desk and computer; it was too sterile and silent.

He hated sterility and stillness. In a large part, he disliked the science his dad loved so much because of the pragmatism and coldness that was necessary to explore it to the ultimate degree. That and it was boring.

His dad believed that science was a means to help humanity, but Dib was becoming increasingly convinced that science was hardly the key to much besides knowing the way things worked. Science was the mechanics of the universe, and nothing more. His dad found the same dynamism and reality in the gears of the world that he found in the study of the things that defied logic and credulity, that lurked in nightmares and dreams since civilization was a fond dream of those who found love and compassion in a fire's warmth. He found his reality in protecting those who refused to give the night's true denizens serious thought, even when it was right behind them and hungering for their heart's blood.

He knew himself best when he shined the light into the darkness that others denied.

Dib shook his limp hair back into shape, looking casually at the clock. "It's still morning? Huh. Guess what they say about time and fun is wrong."

Trading his black lab coat for his regular duster, he reminded himself to stop by Zim's house.

He had something else on the agenda.

He fell without falling.

And he was somewhere else than his new home.

He was...

on the beach at noon?

Yep, that's were he was. Sand, surf, palm trees, the little dock; he was at that one island he owned.

He took in the beach smell, watching the sand blow in the wind. It was a nice postcard kind of place.

He looked at the beach front. It was still beautiful, with the sun sparkling of the sea. But then again, so was a sparkling bottle of sulfuric acid. He had developed an immunity to water, but that didn't mean he was comfortable with the ocean.

Not too far off from where he was standing, someone was standing waist-deep in the water. After a brief moment, Zim realized that there was only one person it could be.

Yup. There was no mistaking that black coat, swept back hair or freakishly large head. Dib was standing out in the water, looking at the horizon.

He just standing there, the lower portion of his coat flapping in the wind. Considering it's shape, the water should have weighed it down, but it didn't.

Zim blinked, something he generally only did to express surprise. This was one of those occasions.

He looked at the sand. Grabbing a handful, he watched it pool down into a little pile by his right foot. Strangely, he saw it in minute detail, able to count every individual grain of sand forming vague shapes. It was too surreal to be anything but a dream, but if anything it was the most real thing he had ever experienced.

If that was the case, it didn't make any sense. Either Dib had suddenly found waterproof clothes completely identical to his usual ones, or had gone insane. Like last Tuesday.

Dib seemed about as unemotional as the water. That seemed extremely strange. It was more normal for Dib to go off on a random tangent in a conversation and subsequently forgetting what he was originally talking about then to be this quiet.

Then something bad happened with the water.

The water was normally placid on this side, but it was being unusually violent. Then, unexpectedly, a twenty-foot wave rose out of the water, straight at them.

Dib didn't seemed particularly perturbed at that possibility. In fact, he seemed expectant at the sight. He turned around, seeing Zim; a strange look came into his eyes as he saw him.

He extended his slightly spread hand, as though inviting Zim into the water. Sunlight glinted off his glasses, giving him the appearance of someone whose mind had left the building and gone on a permanent vacation.

Zim had a dilemma on his hands. Dib clearly had no true conception of the danger he was in, but Zim sure as hell wasn't going to drown with him. He could either stay here on dry land, safe from the wave, or he could try to reach Dib and get him on the beach before the wave hit.

Wrestling with his hydrophobia, Zim's clunky sandals sank seemingly of their own accord into the wet sand. He was afraid of the water. He didn't like to think about it, but he was.

But Dib wasn't a very good swimmer, especially with that jacket on. If he stayed where it was safe, Zim would most likely watch Dib get swallowed by the dark wave, and be responsible for his death. Like with the pig-thing a few years back.

To hell with it.

Zim jumped into the water, not burning due to the lack of pollutants that burned him, and he swam.

He stumbled once or twice, tripping on cluttered debris and sand. Nonetheless, he forced himself to the surface, coughing loudly. Rushing through the silt-clouded water, he took a big flying jump and launched himself at Dib, slowed down by his coat.

Then the wave hit.

About a half-ton of water hit him, smashing Zim to the shallow sea bed and raising the water height by a few feet, to be precise.

Quickly regaining coordination, he saw that Dib was unmoved, though underwater. He still had that creepy look and that same position.

Ignoring that, he tried to swim over to the P.I., as a current pulled him away, and he saw Dib disappearing in the clouded sea silt.

Zim blinked, sputtering water. He was back at the shore, and Gir was standing right there, seeming giddy as usual.

Gir laughed at something, and Zim shook the water out of his clothes, emoticons making more annoying noises than your standard radio show.

As he walked onto the shore, Gir stopped laughing, and with what passed for astonishment, pointed at something, bouncing in animated excitement, looking from something in the sky to Zim rapidly.

Zim turned to see what Gir was pointing at, and the scene changed.

He fell through the sky, dreamily watching himself watching himself fall.

He sank through the water and through the strangely dark surface saw Gir freak out over his disappearance and scramble to the edge, unable to follow him.

And the world he knew faded away as he fell through the darkness.

How long he sank he did not know. He dropped through a endless vault of water untouched by any star, seeing nothing his eyes could see and sensing nothing either.

He was alone in a ocean of shadow, no longer in the sea he knew.

Eventually the bubbles stopped flowing from his mouth, and he breathed thick air.

He fell into an enormous edifice, and he slowly flipped up.

His feet touched solid ground that was seemingly indivisible from the rest of the unseen darkness. Then, lit by an unseen light, the ground exploded upwards, the bubbles of darkness changing into white-feathered birds, frenziedly flying away from their cells.

As they did, the ground came sharp relief; a stained glass mural lit by a strange light apparently emanating from within.

The shroud of tranquility lifted from his mind, and he truly looked around as feathers fell around him.

He was definitely not in Nicktown anymore.

Zim groaned, feeling the potential strains of a headache on.

Deciding that it would be safest for his sanity to disregard falling through the ocean and land on a single platform surrounded by an endless sea of shadow, he walked around his landing spot, getting his bearings and not being aware of the irritating clicking sounds his sandals were making.

So much to do, so little time.

"Eh?" He looked to see who had spoken. He looked around, seeing no one. Putting it aside, wandered to the periphery of where he was.

He looked out. As far as he could see, there was nothing but darkness only slightly touched by the light of the platform.

He walked to the edge, ignoring the small voice in his head that wondered whether or not walking to the edge of a gravity defying platform in the middle of a world of darkness was a bright idea.

Peering over it, he saw more of the same: nothing. He bent down to get a better look.

His head bumped into an invisible wall, his impact making it's shape appear momentarily;large octagonal plates connected together, reminding him of a turtle's armor. They disappeared quickly as Zim decided that was a dead end.

He turned around, turning his attention to the only interesting thing he could see: the platform.

At first he had assumed he had just landed on a standard issue floating platform, but he decided it was clearly more complex than that; the entire platform was made of the semi-reflective material he'd noticed.

He had no idea what it was, besides strong enough to support someone walking around on it without structural damage. Zim decided it was probably some sort of metal.

He walked around, testing it's sturdiness. His steps made a small sort of clicking sound on it, but that was it. It could obviously support a lot more than it looked. He paused a moment to wipe some sand off his sandals, rubbing the toe against a bright colored metallic plate.

It was an interesting plate, he thought. Octagonal in shape, it continually shifted it's coloration randomly but slowly, in a prismatic display that could probably induce hypnosis.

He noticed something strange about the plates. He ran around, looking at the other ones.

They weren't just shiny plates. Every single one had a completely unique shape, and fit along another like a jigsaw puzzle designed by a colorblind moron with no sense of symmetrical design. One that had been hit by a Buick after it was assembled.

Near him, three pedestals flashed out of the ground in a triangular, peculiar objects floating just above them. They hadn't been below the surface. There was no trace of the plates where they had rose up from.

Odd.

The true power lies dormant within you. If you give it form, it will give you strength.

Ignoring the voice, he walked to a pedestal and investigated the objects.

The closest one to him looked like a sword. A big silvery sword. The hilt was about the length of his fists, made of the same silver metal as the rest of it. The guard appeared to be a slightly rippled part of the blade itself. The double-edged blade was about three-and-a-half feet long and three inches thick. It looked a lot like a cleaver blade, angled at the end and composed of an odd-looking silver metal. The light obscured it enough to make a casual observation difficult, but it looked like steel and something like silver but wasn't. Whatever it was, it seemed stronger than any metal he had ever seen.

The sword looked like solidified moonlight. He liked it. He liked it a lot.

He wondered why it seemed vaguely familiar to him. He thought it looked a lot like the traditional Irken weapon in the days before they discovered the joy of guns. Thing was, it was smaller and quicker looking than the old blades he'd seen in museums, more of a serviceable weapon than the bigger cleavers. Curiously, it appeared to have been grown rather than built.

He walked around it, admiring from every possible angle. It was a beautifully deadly weapon, a fascinating blend of a practical weapon and a work of art. The light of the platform shone across it like moonlight on water, giving it the slightly organic look of a true Irken artifact.

The mysterious voice arose again, seemingly in relation to the sword as he reached into it's lifting light and pulled it out, testing it's weight and feel.

The power of the Warrior.

The invincible courage of the heart.

A sword of terrible destruction.

He swung it a few times; it swung with only a modicum of effort on his part. It was so perfectly weighted, it felt like an extension of his own arm.

Placing it back on the pedestal, he turned his attention to the two remaining objects.

Curiously, the one to his right was a slender cylindrical rod of sorts, flat at both ends. It was blue and white in various places, and appeared to be constructed almost entirely from a lot of junk welded together to make the surface of it; a cast-iron ring there for a base, tubing trailing along it here just below where the grip seemed to be, the forearm guard of prosthetic armor forming the bulge on the tip of it and other oddities.

It rotated slowly in the light, so he could look it over without having to move. The top of it looked a little like the cap of a weapon, partially due to it's actual design and Zim's own artistic intuition. It slimmed slightly in the middle, widening at the foot. All in all, it was about as tall as Zim's shoulder, and it's thickest portion was as wide as his forearm.

Judging from it's look, he thought it was probably either one heck of an unconventional prosthetic arm, or a staff of some kind. He decided staff because it sounded better.

It's appearance seemed to involve some kind of hidden truth. There was clearly more to the staff than a first glance suggested.

Then he realized the parts on it were slowly moving.

The stuff of it, which he'd taken to just be there to make a workable staff from whatever was available to it's maker, were drifting along the object at a rate that was slow but too obvious to notice. As he watched, they swapped places, criss-crossed and formed odd shapes and continually moved around. As they did, new shapes rose out of the staff and disappeared back into it.

That was weird. Not to mention slightly unnerving; Zim found himself wishing it would stop.

And it did.

They just froze, stopping into their microsimic continental drift and looking like nothing more fantastic then the things Zim had initially taken them for.

"Whaaa?"

He wondered what made them start drifting. As if as though that was the key, they started moving again.

Clearly, there was much more to it than Zim had originally thought. He wondered why it was doing all that when he realized the obvious reason, fantastic as it was. The staff was responding to his thoughts.

Weird. In the interesting and neat sense, he felt. He had a hunch it could morph for some reason.

He lifted it out to look at it better. The voice spoke as he did.

The power of the Mage.

The inner power of an unbreakable will.

A staff of great and terrible might.

Putting it back and walking away, he looked at the last object; a large shield.

It was, without a doubt, the most impressive aegis he'd ever seen, not that he had seen many. It was primarily gold and white, with various other colors. It was a kind of disc, with wide leather belts on the back to hold it, and it had a sharp beveled edge. The front of it was elaborately decorated, with such precision as though someone had inscribed the shapes with some sort of laser and electron microscope. The rim was covered with feathery shapes forming a perfect circle, and the sides actually had been formed into white folded winglike shapes. It had a green symbol in the circle on the front, and as Zim leaned in to examine it, he nearly jumped in shock when he realized what it was.

It was a modified form of the insignia of the Irken Empire, a pointed triangular head with two eyes and rather hornlike antennae, with spaces to emphasize the features. But this was a bit softer looking, with longer antennae that looked a bit like the points of a crown.

It was a sigil he'd developed as his personal symbol; it wasn't the first one, not that that counted.

And he'd just realized that he'd seen it very recently; on the pommel of the sword and on the cap of the staff.

This hit him a little two close to home.

The shield appeared to be a masterwork of defense, and from the look of it, it could also be a serviceable weapon itself; the 'wings' appeared to be sharp, and it's solidity was almost tangible.

If he hit someone with this thing, it wouldn't dent like soft gold. He couldn't think of anything that could dent this shield; it looked almost supernaturally strong and resilient.

He lifted it off the pedestal. And the voice spoke again.

The power of the Guardian.

Compassion to protect friends.

A shield to repel all evil.

Returning it to the platform, he tapped his forehead, thinking on this new bit of insanity.

"Find anything interesting?" A calm voice asked.

Nearly jumping twelve feet off the ground in surprise, Zim fell down to see someone gently smiling at him as he stood back up.

That someone was an Irken a littler taller than Zim, looking like he had his build. His eyes were a more luminous shade of red, and his teeth weren't zipperlike, but gentle curves. His antennae were a little shorter than Zim's, with less of an obvious joint between them. He was wearing white robelike clothing; a shirt with long bilious sleeves, a large poncholike piece of clothing on his shoulders, a vertical green stripe on the front of his shirt, large pants with a large piece of cloth around his waist that opened in front, and big boots. His hands, presently folded demurely behind his back, were encased in white gloves with greenish stones over the knuckles. Judging by the extension lines on the sides of his shirt, he had a lump corresponding to Zim's Pak. Weirdly, a pair of feathery wings with feathers slightly reminiscent of fuzzy flower pedals floated just by that lump. For some reason, he appeared to be radiating light of some kind, shedding it the brightest from the area of his skull from the top of his eyeridges to the back of his skull; that last part reminded him of a halo, but less open to interpretation on it's origins.

His eyes had a strange look to them; a mixture of ironic humor and just general good humor. He had the vague look of someone who knew the world well and decided to make do with it at the moment.

He thought this guy looked slightly familiar. Then he realized that this guy looked a lot like him. In fact, if such ties existed among Irkens, he could've been his brother.

Maybe even a twin.

His features were smoother, less harsh. In a strange way, he had a 'perfected Zim' look.

It was odd the way that phrase lept so easily to his mind. He didn't use to think of himself less than perfect, and here he was thinking of someone else as perfected.

"Where am I?" he sputtered in shock and anger. "Who are you? What's going on? What's the capital of Prague?"

In that same slightly melodious tone of voice, similar to the strange voice he repeatedly heard here, the stranger said "That's not for me to say, the part of you that you've held back for quite a while, you'll find out soon enough, and how in the name of Toronto should I know?" he grinned broadly as Zim did, with less of an threat behind it. It was a crazy grin, but not the scary kind of crazy.

Zim's left eyelid twitched. And twitched. And just for a little change of pace, twitched some more. His reeling mind digested all that, resisted the urge to experience violent hematosis, and focused on the only answer that seemed relevant. "You're a mysterious winged glowy guy in a place of infinitely spooktacular darkness at the bottom of sea water that's about as high as my knees! Why shouldn't you know!"

The being started laughing. "Zim, Zim, Zim. Try focusing at the real issue, hmmm? Might be a bit of a change for you, Mr. I-Couldn't-Prioritize-To-Save-My-Life-And-Here-That-May-Well-Be-The-Case but-"

"What issue?" Zim snapped. "That's the only clear answer you've given this entire time. And no clever nicknames!"

"We haven't even spoken for five minutes."

"Tha..well...uh...er...your clothes aren't appropriate to this time and socio-political climate!"

"Stick to the subject. Trying to distract everyone else with nonsensical babble isn't going to help. Not now, anyway."

"I what-what a who-buh with the hey-huh?" Things didn't ordinarily go over his head, but that one didn't even come close to winging him.

"Trying to distract. Everyone. Nonsensical babble. And put another way, I'm the manifestation of the part of you that actually listens to your conscience."

"Wait. So you're my good side?"

The visitor airily waved his hand as though waving away a troublesome fly. "Not exactly. Here, things aren't so easy to define. I'm the way you could be, much like the light inside. The light you've been blinded to for far too long. And as long as we're into anthropomorphism here, call me Caritas."

"That's Latin for charity." Zim remarked.

Caritas smiled. "Not bad. Not bad at all."

Zim's snappy comeback was cut short before it could be uttered when he noticed that Caritas wasn't walking; he was actually floating three inches off the ground, apparently trodding on mid-air.

Apparently not aware of his unusual method of movement, the being pointed at the ground.

"Look, life is in some senses a series of choices. History is the observation of the end effect of thousands of choices. The big picture is made of thousands of tiny threads; no threads, no picture. The problem is that big picture people see the bark for the tree, let alone the forest. But without the trees, a forest isn't a forest; it's nothing at all.

He hovered in front of Zim.

"You have before you a choice. If you keep moving forward, you face terror, horror, soul-clenching evil, and quite possibly gruesome death and dismemberment."

"And, your point is...?"

Caritas shrugged. "Nothing. Just giving you fair warning."

Zim walked past Caritas, oblivious to the being's delighted grin.

As he reached the center, the pedestals disappeared in a flash of multicolored light and the objects suspended in them reappeared on him; the sword in his right hand, the staff in his left hand, and the shield strapped to his right forearm.

Zim looked momentarily surprised, but than a pleased expression alight on his face like a destructive firebird finding it's way into a dynamite storage shed.

Their weight felt good in his hands. Like a laser, but more visceral.

Turning around to say something snide, he saw to his confusion that the guy had disappeared.

Grunting his annoyance with the insanity here, he turned around, wondering exactly what he was to do now.

That question was resolved for him when the place shattered.

And he fell again, down into the darkness around him.

An intensely bright light illuminated around him, blasting the darkness into obscurity; he felt a softness below him. As the light faded, he found himself lying on a psychiatrist's reclining chair.

Which, from the looks of it, was in an office of some sort. The walls were framed by pictures of various people with oddly shaped heads and questionable dress senses. There were several bookshelves around the room, filled with what appeared to be thick comic book volumes and thick books that seemed to be appropriate for Dib; big books with rambling titles that seemed to focus on mental problems and psychic phenomenon. The carpet, which Zim initially thought to be a bright green shag left to bad seed, was actually a bed of grass. There was a large desk near where he was laying, with a number of small momento's on them; a clawlike trophy, some purple arrowheads bound up in a straitjacket, and a scale model of a camp. The big chair was turned away from him, preventing him from seeing who was in it. Behind the chair was some scattered things that looked like small diplomas, but looked more like excerpts from Dib's occasional treatises on psionics; for some reason, the name 'Ford Cruller' was coming up a lot. Directly behind the chair was a small board with a large number of inverted metal squares with odd images on them.

"If this is Limbo," Zim thought out loud, "it's got nice furniture."

Not really, said a strange voice that sounded like it was spoken in a deserted hall with great acoustics; it had an uncanny resemblance to his own.

"Huh? Who said that?"

Me. The chair swiveled around to reveal a strange looking child sitting in it.

Even thought he wasn't standing up, Zim judged him to be the same height as himself. He had strange green eyes, dark red hair spilling out from under a helmet similar to an aviator's, with big red goggles on a big puffy strap. Both his hands were encased in large gloves, the right one presently tapping on a large notepad. His big shoes, almost out of sight, were quietly tapping against the base of the swivel chair. He had a flight jacket on over a green jumpsuit, both looking considerably careworn. Judging from his appearance and weird clothing style, Zim thought he looked like a modern gypsy.

"Hi," the guy said in a voice that was almost identical to the weird voice he'd heard just now, without the slight reverberant and weightless quality he noticed. It sounded almost exactly like his own, but with a different sort of tone and sound. "Does the telepathy bother you? Some people don't like hearing voices in their heads. That's what people like me are for."

"People like you?"

"Psychonauts." The strange word was spoken with unmistakable pride and satisfaction.

"You mean you use illegal substances to expand your consciousness?" Zim had heard of people like that. Although he felt it had all the sense of poking little holes in your brain to let out repressed memories.

"No!" he snapped, sounding highly offended. "I'm a psychic soldier!"

"Oh, heh heh." Zim said in a tone approaching embarrassment. "Who are you, anyway?"

"I'm Razputin. They call me Raz."

"'They'? Who is they?"

"You know, they. Them. Everybody."

"Ah. Wait. No."

"Never mind."

"Anyway, what is this place? What is all this? And why am I in a comfy couch?"

"It's a psychiatrist's office, all this stuff is the stuff I got on my adventure to become a Psychonaut at Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp, and because that's what you do when you're at a psychiatrist's office."

"Wait, wait, wait." Zim raised an eyeridge. "You're my psychiatrist?"

"I guess in a few ways." A big transparent orange hand appeared out of thin air and picked up the note pad. As that happened, he rolled in, the base of his chair proving to be a big iridescent orange bubble surrounded by green rings. He looked at the notepad and the hand dropped it; as it fell into the trash can, Zim saw thin red-orange flickers of heat flicker around it. There was a loud clunk as it hit the bottom of the trash can, accompanied by a small fire suddenly lighting from within the trash can, dousing itself in short order. "So let's talk. Normally, I'd just jump into your head, exorcise your demons and help out your mental denizens, but that's not really option here. Not as fun, but on the other hand, you wouldn't believe the trouble I've had getting inside non-human minds. The last time I did that, I ended up as Godzilla in a city populated by semi-intelligent lungfish. And that was before the circus of meat."

The Irken raised an eyeridge, skeptically looking at the Psychonaut. "Okaaay. First tell me how you're doing that."

"I told you, I'm a psychic. If you want more information, you could always ask Vernon-no, that's just too cruel. Enough about me. Now let's talk about your mental problems and brain problems."

Raz stared at Zim. Weirdly enough, Zim felt his brain start to itch.

"That should be fast." Raz added as an afternote.

Zim sat up and pointed an accusing finger at Raz. "Hey! Are you defaming my character?"

Raz looked surprised and upset. "No, of course not! I'm making an insulting observation."

Zim leaned back. "Oh, okay then." A moment later..."Hey! Wait a minute!"

Raz laughed to himself. "Man, that was just too easy. Hey, watch this!"

Pulling a green question mark from behind his back, Raz pulled the dot from off it and threw the smoking mark at Zim.

At the instant it hit the ground, it shone and exploded into a green gas, which was sort of weird for a psychic power.

It blasted right past Zim, and as it touch him, he felt...weird.

As it faded away, Zim was revealed to be sitting in the Indian position, swaying slightly and muttering nonsense. "Fey. Say. I got none of that here. Hey. Hey! Hay is a grain. Grain rhymes with brain. I lost my brain. It went south for winter! Winter, hinter, pinter bean. What else have I seen? Oh my god! Dog is God spelled backwards! Does that mean Gir's in the Vatican? Answer me, you expellant muffinbutt spewing gassy dough!"

He jumped off the couch and landed on the desk in a surprisingly quick movement. Raz leaned back involuntarily; inwardly, he cursed being in such a small space. He'd been raised in a circus and been trained as an acrobat; he didn't sit well with confined spaces.

He stared at Raz's green eyes. Raz started to sweat. Those reflective red eyes were a bit creepy.

The Irken just sat there, staring at him with such motionlessness that Raz wondered briefly if his mind had left the building, so to speak.

On a whim, he softly rapped his knuckles on the alien's forehead. He didn't give any sign of being aware of that.

Raz raised an eyebrow, frowning slightly. And I thought Boyd was weird. Okay, a paranoiac with conspiracy theories and a schizophrenic pyromania was weirder, but this is still pretty bad.

As if that was an 'on' switch, Zim suddenly lunged out and grabbed Raz's collar. "Do not offend the dog deity. He will unleash screaming dramatic doom upon your toenails, unto your great-great-great-great-great-great grandchild and his male parental unit and all the rest as previously listed. BE KIND TO FROZEN MACKERAL, SOCK EATER!"

Raz start to quietly back away as best he could. "Erm..."

"SILENCE, BRINGER OF FUNGAL RASHES! I HAVE RINGWORM! SEE WHAT YOUR FOUL BAKED GOODS HAVE DONE TO MY MUFFINS! I APPRECIATED THEIR GENERAL PRESENCE GREATLY! NOW THEY ARE NAUGHT BUT BASKET REEDS COVERED IN BACON GREASE! IT'S ALMOST AS DISGUSTING AS WHAT I'M COMTEMPLATING DOING TO YOUR PEACE OF MIND! LISTEN HOW LOUD I HAVE TO YELL IN THIS HELMET! OOOOOOOOH, RAAAANAAAA!"

"ZIM!" Raz yelled. "STOP!"

Under the slightly hypnotic influence of the confusion grenade, Zim's fingers went totally limp and he sat down, overbalanced, and fell off the desk.

Peering over the desk's edge, Raz looked at his 'patient'.

Zim was clearly not dealing with the effects of the confusion grenade very well; he had taken Raz's command a bit too literally, and had completely ceased all voluntary movement. He remained in the same position he had ended up when he fell down; back lying against the front of the desk, legs so slack they were slightly curled in the air, and from what he could see of Zim's face, his segmented tongue was hanging out the side of his mouth.

He sighed loudly. "Zim, stand up."

The Irken stood up with a shocking alacrity; his antennae were waving from the speed. He didn't say anything; Raz's command had apparently jarred him from the mild insanity typical of being confused to a more obedient status.

Raz thought carefully about his next move. These sort of situations were always very...difficult to plot out.

"Zim," Raz said slowly. "Are you listening?"

"Yes," Zim said. He spoke clearly, but sounded like he was speaking through a sheep stuck in a drainer.

"Do you understand me?"

"Yes."

"Do you know who I am?"

"Yes."

"When were you born?"

Zim rattled off a date in another language entirely. The world's youngest Psychonaut didn't understand it at all, but he inferred it was quite a while ago.

"When was I born?"

"'Bout ten years ago, give or take why the hell should I care."

"What is the correct shape of the Ark?"

"A really big box."

"Didn't think you'd get that one. Okay, raise your left hand and stand only on your right foot."

Zim obeyed.

"Nice, now jump up and down while singing The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

Zim obeyed, but his baritone section was a bit off.

Raz tapped his chin. Now it was time for the tricky part.

"Zim. When the confusion fades, you will forget everything you thought you knew about life insurance. And everything from when I insulted you."

"I understand." For some reason, he had removed his left sandal and was trying to put it on his head, settling with allowing the string to dangle from his antennae wearing it as a hat.

"You will not remember your period of confusion."

"I understand."

"Put that shoe back on your foot."

Zim pulled it off and tugged it onto his foot, lazily coupling the straps.

"And for the next thirty five minutes, whenever I say 'sit boy', you'll immediately fall flat on your face."

"Wait, what?"

"Do you understand? Work with me here."

"Yes."

Despite his tone, Raz was impressed. Very few people were capable of doing much more than simply being idiots under the influence of his confusion grenades. Yet this guy was actually questioning orders and resisting them to an extent, and he was completely under.

Clearly, he was no ordinary person.

"When I snap my fingers, you will wake up. I hope, anyway."

"Okay."

Raz snapped his fingers, but due to his thick gloves, made no noise.

He tried it again, and a few times after that, his expression becoming more frustrated.

"Okay, maybe I didn't think this through. This might explain why I could never pull off that 'oh, snap' joke. What that mean, anyway?"

"I don't know."

"Sit boy!"

There was a loud crashing sound.

Raz sighed. "Okay, when I say 'wake up, you friggin' idiot,' wake up."

"Fine, whatever." a muffled voice in the floor said. There came the sound of crunching noises from the floor. He was starting to come out of it. A little, anyway.

"Wake up, you friggin' idiot!"

"WHAT?"

"Oh, nothing. Just uh, a variation of Tourette's Syndrome!"

"Oh, okay then."

Zim pulled his face out of the floor, his expression slightly puzzled. He spit large clusters of soil out of his mouth, plucking dirt grains out of his tongue.

"How did I get over here and why is there grass on my face? And ew, in my mouth!"

"You have a rare form of garden acne?"

"Oh, well, that makes perfect sense."

Going by his tone, Raz couldn't tell if Zim was being sarcastic or not. With him, it was hard to tell.

Zim sat back down on the couch.

"You know, Zim, a lot of people believe that we're defined by what we really want most, our ideal of a goal."

"Why's that?"

"I suppose for the same reason that they say that the sin we hate most in others is the worst sin in ourselves."

"I guess so."

"So, to get to the point, what do you want? In a larger cosmic sense, that is."

Zim thought about it.

"I don't know anymore."

"What do you mean, 'anymore'?

"I always wanted to be the best there is. Now I don't care about that anymore."

"Why? Did you have a life-altering experience?"

Zim raised an eyeridge knowingly. "You could say that."

Raz's telekinetic hand thingy scratched his head thoughtfully. "Well, the first step to knowing yourself is to take a look at yourself. yourself. Let's start at the beginning. What's the first thing you remember?"

"Being born."

Raz raised an eyebrow, though it was hard to tell with that helmet. "Really? That's odd. Most people don't remember their births."

Zim smirked arrogantly. "I'm not like most people."

"Hey, who is?" Raz pointed out. "So, about your old achievement compulsion. Did your mom or dad give you an inferiority complex and as a result you were compelled to over-compensate?"

"Yes and no. I was gestated in a big tube and born when the cold unfeeling robot arm let me out. I don't have parents as humans claim them."

"Okay," Raz said as if Zim had said nothing particularly noteworthy. "So tell me about your life."

"Okay, let's go back to the beginning..."

Thirty minutes later, Zim had told Raz about his birth, knowledge downloading, subsequent training and his frequent problems with accidentally knocking out the power to the planet.

"So you were insane for a while?"

"Hardly. For a while I was a self-centered dumbass and couldn't focus my priorities."

"That makes sense. Sort of. So you...what?"

"I went into military training. After a while, I got a job as a research and development scientist on planet Vort, home of the universe's most comfortable couch. Come to think of it, that was right after an oatmeal packet I tinkered with turned into a tiny supernova and wiped out half the planet's sugar supply."

"Yeah, that happened to me too! Except it was a big top tent and an accidental firing up of Pyrokinesis."

Zim stared at him. And started laughing. "Ahhahahhhaahhhahahahahahaah!"

And laughing.

And laughing. It was creepy. Not me creepy, but it was still pretty dang unnerving.

"Okay...that's okay..." Raz said, looking uncomfortable. "It's not really that funny...I really do need to work on my snappy one-liners."

Zim was still laughing.

Raz slapped his head. "Sit boy!"

"Heewahaa-ow!"

Zim raised his head off the ground, spitting out some more dirt clods. "Ooooh..."

Raz scanned his memory of the last half-hour quickly. "Wow. You've gotten so much dirt in your mouth you should start an arboretum! Heh heh, now that was funny."

Zim got back on the couch, rubbing his teeth. "No it wasn't."

"What's the matter? Jealous you can't read people's minds and come up with perfect pithy comebacks."

"Ha! Zim needs not television to deduce witty remarks, badly dressed psychopath!" And since when am I gelatinous?

"One, that's 'telepathy', and two, I don't even know where that came from. Three, true, but it helps to be able to scan brain's with the power of your mind."

Zim snorted haughtily. "If you have a big enough probe, you can scan anything."

Raz dropped the notepad and stared at him.

The Irken raised an eyeridge. "That's a joke. It's funny! Laugh at the funny!"

Raz started chuckled nervously.

"That's not laughing!" Zim leaped off the couch and in front of the desk, glowering at the young psychic. "Laugh, curse you, laugh!" he screaming, pointing a finger at him.

Raz's eye twitched. The bubble his chair was resting on showed an image of him running like hell.

Zim's expression went from fearsome to merely annoyed. "That was also a joke. Lighten up."

He sat down at the couch, mentally recalculating where they had been before he wandered off-track.

Humans, he thought.

Aliens, Raz thought.

"Anyway, we were talking about your researcher career. Didn't you like it?"

"It was a job where I could get paid for blowing stuff up for the Empire; what do you think? Then I decided to become one of the military elite."

"Why? You don't seem like a soldier type."

"You'd be surprised."

"My point is...why?"

"I dunno. Prestige? Amusement? Those neat little berets they handed out to senior officers? How I love the berets! And those cool little jackets they give you to wear on Graduation Day-"

"Hold on; you're so far off-track you almost hit Bigfoot. That's not all it, is it Zim?"

"Huh?"

"There's more to the story, isn't there?"

Zim thought for a moment. All of his being rallied against what he was about to say, and he sighed.

"I...I think I just wanted people to like me a little."

Raz nodded, jotting notes down.

"Yeah, I know what you mean."

"A few years ago, the Tallest initiated Operation Impending Doom, a divide and conquer plan to conquer the galaxy. So, I was assigned the prototype Frontline Battle Mech to use against the Ectonurite people of Anur Phaetos."

"And something went wrong."

"I always had a little bad luck; the Tallest before Red and Purple were eaten by a giant energy absorbing monster I accidentally set loose on different occasions, I blew out the power of Devastasis because I freaked out and blew up a snack machine with a Maim Bot, and there was that time I blew out the power to Irk five minutes after I was born.

"So the Tallest wanted to make sure I didn't destroy Irk and wanted to put my anhillation talents to good use at the same time; hence my assignment."

"And...?"

"I forgot I was still on Irk and activated the Mech before I got off the planet and destroyed most of the city before I ran into a bride abutment and knocked the robot's power out. But I fell into an outhouse."

Raz couldn't really think of something to say to that. It was one of those things you couldn't reply snappily to.

"The Control Brain Judgehead Oblongciary tried me and decided I was insane, not evil. So to get me out of the way, he had me banished to Foodcourtia, the fast food industry planet. I even inspired a catch phrase! When people say 'I pulled a Zim', people pay attention."

"Uh huh."

"To be blunt, I hated it. I kinda like the cooking part, but I hated the cleaning assignments. I HATED THEM SO MUCH! So when I heard of Operation Impending Doom 2, I quit being banished and convinced them to give me an assignment. It was a while before I picked up on the fact that it was just something else to get me out of the way, but I didn't really care, not even when another Irken told me. I thought I could prove myself to the Tallest, and I didn't have anything else to do.

"And that was the start of my assignment on Earth."

Then he told Raz about his life on Earth; his 'bonding' with Gir, his rivalry with Dib, his attempts to alternately destroy the Earth and save it, and his realization that he was much better at the latter, his growing feelings that maybe humans weren't so worthless, his increasing uneasiness about his mission, the unpleasant connitions of what his victory would entail...

"And then the war broke out."

He told Raz that long and painful story, not leaving out the bit with the O.O.P.S. and his subsequent realization.

"Oh, I get it!" Raz said.

"You get what?"

"I know exactly what happened to you. What you had is an epiphany, my friend."

Raz smiled as he went over what Zim had described as the descripcies between his crazy behavior and his insane behavior, as Raz counted. From he could tell, the only real difference was that Zim's current behavior was simply more moderated than it used to be, more calm and slightly more controlled. The Pak just exaggerated those behavior patterns to a inflexible and harmful degree. For whatever reason, he had been unaware of his short-comings.

"Atrocious, isn't it? To really be able to see the mess you've gotten yourself into, and the mess you've made of yourself."

Zim scowled, but he couldn't protest what Raz was saying; it was precisely what he'd been telling himself.

"And more to the point, it's given you something."

"'Given me?' Everything I ever knew was torn away and destroyed in that damn war! What did it possibly give me!"

"You already answered that. A new perspective. A less insane outlook on like. And most important, a second chance."

"Which brings me to another question. Do you care about this...Gir?"

"Huh?"

"You heard me."

Zim shifted uncomfortably. "Well, uh...that is...er..."

Raz smiled. "That answers the question. If you truly didn't care, you would have been easily able to say so."

Zim leaned back against the couch. He hated losing, but even he had to concede defeat in this manner.

He had to admit, Gir had grown on him. At first, he would have gladly traded him in for a working SIR, as it was fairly obvious that it was pointless to try making work properly. Then, he slowly began to cease considering him as a slave, and to think of him as...well, he didn't know what. He did know that Gir loved him; it wasn't just programming, it was an actual emotion, and the anchor one in Gir's considerably anchor chain of thought, even greater than his hedonistic persuit of pleasure.

Raz realized something. Throughout the entire interview, Zim had said things multiple times that lead to a realization.

"From anyone's point of view, you have it okay, Zim. A few friends, a home, and something to occupy your time. What's missing in your life to make you so miserable?"

That required little thought. "A purpose. A reason to exist."

"And that's brings us back to the matter at hand. What's most important to you?"

Zim looked at the ceiling, then at his hands, thinking about the question.

"I'm not sure. Maybe strength, or...or my friends.

Raz smiled oddly, leaving Zim to wonder if his mind was secure in it's moorings, and the light envoluoped everything once more, white-washing all in it's blinding embrace.

"Are friends that important?" the psychic's voice said, more resounding and final than any last telepathic communication could be, dying to a whisper and cutting off a reply from Zim.

The world faded away again, and he found himself elsewhere.

He was sitting down on the shotgun seat in a car.

The car in question was in pretty bad shape; for one thing, it was a convertible only because the owner had apparently cut the top off it with some sort of weapon, presumably a really, really, really big axe. Although, it did give an authentic sort of feel. It was a faded sort of gray from what Zim could see of the front of it through what remained of the windshield, and appeared to recently have escaped from a life as target practice for hoodlums with a penchant for small cannons.

The inside was the opposite of the outside, presenting a comfortable seat and modest air-conditioning that wasn't necessary with the wind racing over his head.

At the moment, the car was racing over a paved dirt road running through a smooth path in a beautifully quiet hilly landscape reminiscent of New England. It was utterly devoid of any people he could see.

It was peaceful. And for some reason, it resonated with his heart in a way few things ever had. It gave him a sort of quiet pleasure that was different in character but otherwise like the feeling he got when he was blowing stuff up. But at the same time, something here was wrong; he wondered momentarily why there were no people.

Zim sat back, letting the wind race over his head for a few minutes.

"Ahem."

Startled, he rapidly looked around and noticed the driver.

He looked tall. That was an illusion fostered by his gangly appearance and thinness; he was probably only of average height. For some reason, his stringy hair was a blue color so dark it was almost black. He had a pair of rabbit-ear bangs hanging by his eyes, which resembled chips of gray metal that had been so hopelessly dented the blacksmith gave it up and threw them away. His skin was a weird color best described as beige, which didn't help his look, which Zim thought was mildly Gothic in the classical sense. His shirt was black with overhanging flaps at the bottom, with black and white striped sleeves that tattered at the elbow, revealing a black undershirt with longer sleeves. His pants were gray with vertical lines, and covered the tops of his shin-high boots, which had metal toes shaped slightly like the hooves of a sheep or other grazing animal.

His hands were long and tapered slightly to pointed nails, giving them a clawlike appearance. The way he was gripping the steering wheel didn't hurt that impression.

He looked slightly bored, and the character of his thin-looking face gave him an odd combination of hard as a boulder and as vulnerable as a newborn kitten.

He did seem mildly pleased when he realized that someone had taken notice of his existence and wasn't immediately compelled to make him miserable for that simple fact.

"What're you doing?" he said casually.

That question struck Zim as odd. Most people might've said Who are you, or given his lack of a disguise, what are you. But this guy was curious about what he was doing.

Another strange thing was that the quality that Zim had initially taken for casualness was actually a kind of peace with himself; this guy was clearly was weird and knew and didn't care who else knew it.

"I don't know," Zim said slowly.

The stranger made a noise that might have been assent. "Been there, done that."

"And what are you doing?" As long as he was here, he might as well ask.

"Me? I'm on a journey of self-discovery."

Another strange thing. Few people could say something like that with a straight face. Either this guy was some kind of intellectual, a stranger to the world of ordinary conversation, or just plain strange.

The guy looked at Zim sideways.

"From the looks of it, you are too."

It immediately occurred to Zim to contest his point of view, to deride his intelligence and insult his taste in clothes. Old habits were hard to break.

Instead, he simply decided to just go with it.

"Eh, I suppose so," he grumbled.

"Welcome to my world."

"Who are you, anyway?"

"I'm Johnny, Nny for short."

"As in kneecap?"

Johnny nodded. "But not spelled the same way. And you are...who?"

"My enemies call me Zim. And so do my friends, and they generally seem to be one and the same these days."

Johnny raised an eyebrow, but otherwise didn't seem bothered by that statement. He didn't seem imperturbable at all. His calmness was due to some other elusive quality. Zim noticing an odd...coldness to his temperament. This is a dangerous human, he thought momentarily. Very, very, very dangerous indeed.

"You're an alien."

It was a statement, not a question.

"Yes."

Johnny murmured agreement and continued driving.

"You know," Zim observed, "People don't ordinarily react this way to the sudden discovery of alien life."

"True, but then most people weren't the victim of a parasitic force of pure aggression."

There is really only one way to respond to that sort of reply.

"And you were?"

"Much as I can figure."

Zim looked around again. This place was...well, he had no idea where he was. "Hey, where are we?"

"I don't have the slightest idea!" Johnny replied in as close a tone to cheerfulness as he'd come yet. It was a strange outburst.

"Oh. Right."

"Yeah."

"So, why are we here?"

"I suspect because you need to realize something."

"And why don't you just tell me?"

"One, I don't know. Two, that's not my place. Three, that'd be rude, and four, this is your mystery play, not mine."

"'Mystery play'?"

Johnny smirked smugly. "Oh, you'll find out."

Zim frowned worryingly. "Why does that give me a bad feeling?"

"I don't know. The sense of steadily encroaching doom?"

"And where's that going to come from?"

"The demonic founders of the FBI from 1492?"

"I KNEW IT!"

"Why are you yelling?"

"Uh...uh...look!" Zim thought quickly of something to distract Johnny. He pointed dramatically at something behind Johnny. "A flying Bigfoot!"

Johnny looked up to see a humanoid simian with a huge pair of furry wings, apparently flying on the updraft provided by the car, land neatly on the trunk of the vehicle. He scratched his head unself-consciously, peered intently at something on his finger, and ate whatever it was.

Noticing their attention, it shook a huge finger at them. "Nuh uh uh. This isn't about me. This is about you."

Johnny and Zim looked at each other. "He's right, you know." Johnny noted.

The flying Bigfoot smiled toothily, which for some reason came off as sagely. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have to find a belt sander. I'm late for my interview at the library."

It flew off.

They stared at each other for a few minutes. "Well, that was weird," Johnny concluded.

"Shouldn't you be paying attention to the road?"

Their eyes gradually shifted to the cliff that they were quickly driving over.

"AAAAAAAAAHHHH! CLIFF! CLIFF!"

"I'M GETTING HIGH SCHOOL FLASHBACKS!" Johnny covered his eyes with his hands, trying to block the horrific visions. "WEST SIDE BAD! WEST SIDE BAD!"

Zim grabbed the steering wheel while trying to stay in his seat. "LEFT! LEFT!"

"I KNOW HOW TO DRIVE!" Johnny snapped, pushing him back into his seat.

"THEN WHY ARE WE TWO WHEEL DRIVING!" Zim yelled, making the obvious observation.

"CAR GREMLINS, THAT'S WHY!" Johnny yelled back, forced the motorized vehicle back on the road.

A gremlin popped out of the dashboard. "Stop blaming us for everything!" it scolded shrilly, waving a green scaly hand. Noticing their stares, it realized it was holding a wrench in it's hand labeled Idol of the Sleaze Gods in lovingly engraved curly script . Yelping, it threw the wrench away, clasping it's hands together and trying to look innocent. Considering it's piggish nose, huge bat ears and yellow-rimmed red eyes, that was doomed from the outset.

The homicidal maniac and former Invader gave it equally dry looks, apparently ignoring the onset of certain doom rushing at them again.

"Do you really expect that to work?" Zim said.

"Not, not really." it admitted.

Johnny was about do something grotesque to the gremlin like he would have done to jerks on the football team if he had been more violent back then when they ran right over a cliff.

"Hmm." Johnny said thoughtfully as the law of gravity took it's sweet time to assert itself. "That's cause for alarm."

As the car plummeted, the three of them shrieked in terror, holding each other out of some instinctual comedy fulfillment instinct in their bones and screaming. They flung the gremlin into the back seat and continued screaming.

They fell down, and down, and down.

And then they hit the ground. The car bounced off and landed on the ground perfectly fine.

They stared blankly out at the scenery, which for some reason had become the Mahavan Desert.

A desert wind blew by, carrying a tumbleweed with it. It bounded along the ground as their eye followed it, coming to a stop against the car door. It stood up with brambly legs, turned a thistle face with a wide mouth and tightly clenched eyes to them, bowing briefly. "Hola, senors and..whatever you are" It walked around them as they watched it opened the trunk and pull out a comically oversized sombrero, placing it on it's head.

It walked about five feet away and placed the hat on the ground, brim facing up. It reached into the hat and pulled out a pair of maracas, hopping back a few steps. It rose a leg around it's other, shaking it's instruments dramatically. "Now, mi amigos...LE FIESTA!"

Three brightly colored characters with traditional South American musical instruments made of paper mache with confetti glued to them jumped out of the hat, arranging themselves around the sombrero in a circle.

"Uno," said the talking tumbleweed.

"Dos," spoke a bright blue unicorn with castanets.

"Tres," added a dinosaurlike thing with a violin.

"Quatro!" yelled a froglike one with a pair of bongos.

They suddenly started dancing around the hat, playing their instruments in a frenzied karaoke version of La Vida Loca. They danced counterclockwise, then clockwise, bending in and out to their tune.

The three beings in the car watched wordlessly.

They all suddenly bowed to the hat; it flipped over, and a large green fur creature with a small duckbill and almost vestigial limbs emerged from under it. The Ludicolo flipped over in the air, joining in the song.

As the song finished, they rose their instruments to the sky and flew into the air, exploding in a shower of sparkling lights and candy accompanying their yell. "VIVA PINATA!"

The shower of candy swamped the car, disappearing in a puff of gas. "You suck, McLaine!" a disembodied voice yelled.

"That was...weird." Zim thought.

"I thought I was going to die. Again." Johnny noted.

"I'm hungry," the gremlin said. "You guys hungry?"

"Oh yeah, really." Zim agreed.

"Nothing like the thought of your impending demise to put the hunger in your belly," Johnny observed.

"I saw an Outback Jack's a while back. Why don't one of you guys-"

"Shut. Up." Johnny lifted the gremlin by it's scrawny tail. "You almost got us killed, and you get us lunch."

"I didn't almost get you killed, your bad driving almost got you killed!"

"My lousy driving saved our lives!"

"Oh really? All you guys did was scream like a bunch of prepubescent girls at a boy band concert!"

As if in reply, the hood of Johnny's car popped off, a Acme Wrecker Co. boxing glove popping out behind it. Zim reached in, pulling it out along with the small square box it protruded from, and threw behind him. It exploded before it even hit the ground.

The gremlin chuckled weakly.

"You have no say in this." Johnny said darkly. "You try to kill us, you get the food." He shook it a few times.

"Oh yeah? Gimme one reason why I should do that!"

Johnny held up a large dagger with a smiley face for a pommel and an noticeable red tint along the edge.

"Your lower internal organs get acquainted with Eviscerate Macstabson. Assuming I can't castrate you first."

The gremlin yelped and ran off as fast as it's legs could carry it, growling impolite things unfit for the unstable of mind. Considering who it was yelling at, it was wise they didn't hear it.

"And no special sauces!" Zim yelled after it. It shook it's fist, making some kind of rude gesture. It scrabbled out of the way as the carberator flew out of the car, nearly flattening the small monster.

They leaned against the car, looking a bit uncomfortable.

"So," Zim said, thinking of something to talk about. What do humans like to talk about? Pork, fork, Mindy and Mork? I know! Work! "What do you normally do? For, uh, work?"

"I used to be an artist, then I was possessed by a thing composed of raw aggression(or so I was told)that sucked away my painting talent in order to manifest. So now I kill people that irritate me. And draw comic strips."

"I know the feeling. Why do you do it?"

"Because the comic is popular with the-"

"Not the comics, the other thing!"

"Huh? Oh, I don't know. I guess it probably doesn't go back to my school years. Too cliche and easy. Wasn't that bad. Everyone always called me Noodle Boy, stupid crap like that. I think."

"And that's when you became a killer."

Johnny looked like him like he was the idiot of the universe. "What, are you crazier than I am? I was eleven!"

"Oh."

"Exactly. But one thing I really hate is dodgeball. I tried to go back in time and kill whoever came up with it, but I got bored. And then I started to hate all games that ended with 'ball'. Like basketball. I used to send insulting letters to the NBA. So they made my address public knowledge and people do horrible things."

Zim snorted, which was interesting considering he didn't have any apparent nostrils. "Oh, come on. No one takes the game that seriously."

There was a loud noise like a cannon. A flaming mailbox flew out off the sky, landing next to them. It had two charred words on it, Johnny was clearly visible, but only the first letter of the second part of his name, C., was clear. A note taped was taped to it, saying YOU SUCK! -Foul Larry in badly printed letters.

"Is that your mailbox?"

"NOT AGAIN!" Johnny wailed miserably.

A little later, the gremlin arrived at the car, with several bags much larger then it, and it set the bags heavily on the ground.

"There! Are you happy now!"

Zim nodded. "Fairly much, yeah. Now go away."

"Make me!"

Johnny pulled out a ridiculously large rusty scythe as Zim took his lead and pulled out his staff, which morphed into a equally big bazooka.

"Flee now, or suffer MY WRATH!"

Johnny blanched, than looked annoyed. "And me."

"And that guy!"

"Going now!" the gremlin said quickly and smally, rushing off and yelping in surprise when Zim snapped a few pictures of it's retreat.

As they pointed and laughed at it, Johnny said ""Didn't you say something about modifying dispensing machines to turn into assault robots at the approach of evil?"

"Yup!"

"And how well did that go?"

"Let me put it this way: they interpreted 'evil' a bit too broadly."

Johnny nodded in assent. "Yes, I see that. The problem is, well, the paintings all wrong."

"Painting?"

"Yeah. I used to be an artist, so that's how I see the world."

Almost quizzically, Zim said, "Sooo, what your saying is that the worlds like a big picture?"

Johnny nodded. "Yeah. Picture everyone as a single thread in a tapestry; they're all such small threads, it's hard to miss them for the big picture. But disregard them, and the picture can't hold itself together. And the painting itself has a big coffee stain on it."

"Right."

"So back to what I was saying earlier. you used to want to just please your rulers, right?"

"Yeah."

"Now, what do you think it is that you want out of life?"

The Irken looked up, watching the sky was one side-effect of the accident that he had told no one. One that was a secret from Dib and Minimoose, a untold truth that even Gir did not know. The O.O.P.S. had forced him into another life, one perhaps something that had been meant for him, but he had been forcibly ousted from everything he knew, leaving his old life to die a prolonged and brutal demise. His grasp of the world had been worse than shaken; it had been torn apart at the seams and thrown in his face, cutting it up and leaving him to nearly choke on the blood.

"I need to prove...that I exist. That there is a purpose for my existence, a reason for still being alive."

Johnny nodded. "'A purpose', huh?" and his words were distinctly faded. As if he were speaking from across a great distance.

Not again, Zim thought in irritation. These blank-out were starting to make his sqeedily-splootch warp.

The world whited out.

And as the world faded away, he covered his eyes, shutting them so tight it almost hurt.

He felt the light fade, and he opened his eyes, observing that he had appeared on a platform, not unlike where he had first appeared. It's mural showed many things, the center portraying an immense tower made of black stone stretching to the top of the image, standing in a field of wild roses. The other pictures were displayed around it in sections, as if it was the central thing here, rose plants forming the borders on the mural; here, a small band of children confronted a horrible thing; there, a lone gunfighter with a disturbing intensity walking past a series of graves, resolutely walking towards the tower from what seemed like an incomparable distance, and there, a twelve-year-old boy staring at a multicolored sphere, a malevolent looking house overlooking a cliff, a deserted town; he didn't understand what they meant, but that was undoubtedly due to the lack of reference he had for this.

He sighed. If this was anything like the other platforms, there was nowhere to go but forward.

But, he mused momentarily, that was his way. It always had been. Since his birth, he had always moved forward. Always moving the route capricious fate had provided; to turn away would be worse than madness. It would be giving up.

Zim never gave up. It wasn't merely not in his vocabulary, it was utterly unthinkable.

But he wasn't an Invader anymore. Nobody was; they simply did not exist anymore.

Perhaps things would have turned out differently if he had learned another way. Maybe his life have been completely different, less of a failure if he'd somehow learned to do something besides run ahead, heedless of the consequences. If only he learned to stand aside and let things happen-

He shook his head, dispelling the troubled thoughts like a misplaced wig. There was probably a place for these musings, but this wasn't it.

Unclenching his fists, he breathed in and exhaled forcefully.

As always, there was a choice.

But he now followed a path far harder than he might have ever suspected. A path not unlike a giant rolling gear; it was almost impossible to keep running atop it and never stumble or falter, and mightier beings than him had been crushed underneath it.

But he was Zim.

And Zim did not falter.

Not now, not never.

His sandals clicked against the hard ground, and he walked forward.

Looking around, he saw that a short distance away, there was a much higher platform with what appeared to be a bright light shining from high above. He turned his attention back to where he was standing.

Something seemed different about this place, he thought. Almost an entirely different sort of character.

It was the darkness, he realized. In the other places, it was all-around and oppressive, but there they had been held at bay by the light. Here, it was choking the light, swarming everywhere.

That was an odd thought. Darkness was not a concrete thing, not a thing of substance or material form; it was dictated by the quantity of light. Where there was a lot of light, there was little or no darkness. Where light was absent, darkness ruled.

Zim realized to his chagrin that he was unconsciously paraphrasing Earth philosophy. Then again, it was a point of view that made much sense.

But that was besides the point. Darkness could not simply rise up and choke a source of light. It was a scientific impossibility.

As his foot stepped against what might have been a balcony upon the dark tower, he sensed a presence.

Antennae twitching in alarm, he looked around the room. No one was there.

He wondered if he'd been unhinged by the admittingly insane events of the past thirty-five minutes.

Scratching his sides absently, he thought that it was actually darker than he first thought. Not something you could point to, but it was certainly noticeable.

Then he saw something that threw all his conceptions of the universe out the window and into a strangely placed shredder.

His initial impression of it being darker then he'd first thought was wrong. What he'd mistook for shadows were small patches of darkness, roughly around the size of a dinner plate and dispersed in a close-knit pattern that was completely impossible;there was nothing that could cast a shadow in those shapes.

And they were moving.

They were slightly pulsating, and on closer inspection, didn't appear to be natural shadows; they looked a little like small pools of extremely dark purple and blue, swirling with black in a chaotic mix guaranteed to make one feel ill.

Zim knew his instincts well. He might not have been as well in touch with a few of the more essential ones as he would have liked, but he spent his life relying on them, honing them as a soldier, more specifically the ones relating to life-or-death situations.

And right now, at the sight of those shadows, all of them were blaring.

There were only three of them, but they were still horrifying in a odd way, reaching into a primal pit of fear within his mind that he wasn't aware even existed.

As if in response to his unease, his weapons flashed onto their places, trailing light.

The pools morphed into several small things that twitchily stumbled onto the ground. They were hunched over, composed of some dark substance like shadow given substance. Their bodies were rounded, as were their heads. Their hands and feet were small clawed shapes, attached to the body by thin sticklike limbs. Their heads were adorned by long thick jointed antennae on the top of their heads, and except for the ghostly yellow lights on their faces that corresponded to eyes, their smooth heads didn't appear to have any facial features at all. No mouths or anything approaching sensory organs; just those rudimentary eyes and antennae.

They moved in a scampering way, something between quickly crawling and small hops, constantly twitching as if their bodily portions weren't quite in synch with each other.

Oddly, their eyes appeared to be entirely for show, as they appeared to be more or less oblivious to their surroundings; they kept stumbling over the gaps in the shining plates that were too small for Zim's sandals, but obviously big enough to get their claws stuck. The only thing they seemed aware of was Zim's presence. They were staring at him with something much like hunger not at all like a hunger for simple food. This was another hunger entirely, one that defied comprehension. Dispute their slightly synonymous movements, they seemed to possess a bizarre sort of hive mind; from the looks of it, they appeared to be operating on of instinct and something else less definable.. Beyond that, there was nothing to them; just a horrible and sick all-encompassing need that had no end.

He could feel that dark desire smoldering off them like the smell of sewage at a processing plant. Just being near these things was making him feel sick.

They were small, only coming up to Gir's height and not much wider; they looked swollen, their bodies slightly pulsating from within.

But it was more than their grotesqueness that bothered him. There was something innately wrong about them.

From his occasional entries, born of boredom and a curiosity innate to his nature, into the world of the occult and theology, Zim knew that there was a rough hierarchy to those things. There were demons and there were angels, and there were beings that defied sanity, that mortal minds were simply not able to truly comprehend. They simply weren't capable of functioning that way.

But, these things...

They weren't any of those things. They weren't damned spirits. They weren't negative emotions given life and need.

He had no idea what they were, except for one possibility.

It had been wondered what would happen if shadows, if the concept of darkness itself, was given flesh. What would happen if it was given the ability to act on desire, however alien. What monstrous hungers would drive such a thing? And what the hell would it be?

Zim had the distinct feeling he was looking at the answer.

These things weren't in any occult hierarchy he'd ever seen visualized by even the most annoyingly morbid philosopher. Whatever they were, they didn't belong here.

They didn't belong anywhere at all. They were something that wasn't supposed to exist.

They were so innately wrong that just looking at them filled Zim with a strange combination of disgust, horror...

And rage.

A familiar sort of anger flood his mind, filling him with a vital energizing feeling that he remembered from his days as an Invader.

These things were wrong. And the mere thought of what they might do were they given the opportunity to indulge in their mysterious hunger made him feel that old fury again.

He pulled his sword, previously hung at his side and loosely scratching the ground, across his chest in a defensive position, planting the staff on the ground. He scowled ferociously at the repulsive things.

As if that was an open invitation, one of the twitching things suddenly jumped at him.

Empowered by a preternatural knowledge of these weapons he formerly did not possess, he side-stepped to the left, tricking the thing into flying right into his staff, an action he complemented by smashing it into the ground in a spray of dark-looking stuff, making a squished sort of thud as it hit the ground.

In the academy he'd learned that your instincts are one of the most useful tools you can have, but they can get you or someone else killed. Therefore, it was advisable to wed instinct and split-second planning as best as possible.

He done that fairly well, and he knew from years of instinctual combat that it wasn't dead.

An important thing was that in the moment before he reacted again he saw the shadowy thing perfectly well. It looked like a blob of clay someone had hit with a Brockiant bat; there was a big hollow area where he had hit it, and most of it was flattened against the ground, as though it was made of some roughly molded substance. Complementing this image was a swollen look to it in the parts of it that weren't smashed; it's legs wiggled pointlessly as it tried to reach the ground it's distended back was too warped to reach.

He was starting to think that perhaps these things didn't actually have an internal skeletal structure. Frankly, these things looked like animate balloons from a party where ill-advised adventures in diabolism had gotten out of hand.

He had barely registered this when it 'exploded', bursting into inky smoke that quickly disappeared. Unfortunately, this attracted the attention of the other things.

Okay, he thought hurriedly, watching the other things rushing at him. Fight scene.

One jumped up at him as it's former comrade had, and the other tripped itself and rolled at him.

He stepped a half-step away, the momentum of his speed causing the stray bits of...stuff on his clothes to slip off, holding the sword completely straight; he suddenly slapped the jumper away with the flat of his blade, lunging forward as he did so.

He started running at it to finish the job when the rolling one he'd forgotten about unfurled and latched onto his leg, the force of it's impact tripping him up and making him drop his weapons. He hit the ground with his hands, sparing him unnecessary injury as he grunted Irken curses and tried to pull himself up, when his left leg suddenly flattened out, making him fall again. He looked back, and cursed again; the thing that tripped him was holding onto his leg.

"Annoying shadow thing! Get off my leg!" He furiously shook his leg, unsuccessfully trying to dislodge the creature that was digging into his heel and staring up at him in an way that could beat Dib in an creepy intensity contest, unaware that the other one had recovered by this time; it jumped onto his head, clawing and scratching deeply.

"Ow! Off! NOW!" Futilely trying to slap it off and pound the leg-holder by slamming it onto the ground, he only succeeded in hitting his head and really hurting his leg on the plates on the ground as the things moved around on their respective places to avoid getting hit. Considering this humiliation, he decided his that his more lethal weaponry could be used to that end for a better and more satisfying effect.

That, and he was really, really ticked off.

"Screw this! DIE NOW!"

Rolling over to surprise the one on his head, and not incidentally try to flatten the persistent one on his leg, he slapped his leg on the ground. The thing, dazed, fell off.

Quickly getting up, he brushed the head-clawer off. Pulling his shield to his hand, he smashed the rim onto the offending thing, cutting it cleanly in half almost as it dissipated.

Seeing the other one get back up, he threw the shield at it, making a strange whistling noise as it flew, trailing what passed for it's first enemy's innards. Apparently sensing the approach of it, it dissolved into a puddle of insubstantial shadow, avoiding the discus perfectly and reforming as it passed by.

The shield flew around, embedding itself in the ground by Zim's foot as he suddenly ran to the dazed looking thing. He grabbed his sword as he ran, trying to go for a big dramatic attack. Unfortunately, it was a stuck a little too deeply and as he grabbed it, expecting the momentum of his running to pull it from the ground, he was thrown to the ground.

"Ow!"

Pulling himself up, he tried to pull the sword out again and saw to his dismay that the creature was running at him again.

"What did I do to deserve a day like this! Oh, yeah. That."

Taking advantage of his apparent distraction, it jumped at him as he swung the cleaverlike weapon free of it's prison, connecting with the part of the thing's body attached to it's makeshift head, slicing through it's 'neck' like a electron knife through warm butter. The thing's body immediately dissipated while it's head flew away, crumbling into thin shadows as it smashed against the glass. His antennae flung off a stray bit of inert matter.

Zim breathed in relief, wiping the sooty stuff off his sword. Gathering together his weapons, he thought that attack was actually kind of neat.

Just as he picked up his staff, twirling it dramatically, he heard a sound that set his antennae atwitch.

"Not again," he growled tiredly.

His staff sprouted a flame-emitting head shaped like a dragon's jaws at his mental command, and he pointed it at mid-air.

The shadow being that was jumping at him was disintegrated in the ensuing gout of flame.

He reflexively blew the smoke from the dragon head as it returned to normal. Or at least as normal as it got. Shadows. That's a good name for these things.

Turning to the four new ones, he placed his staff near his Pak, the biomechanical pod altering in shape to serve as a holster for the shapeshifting tool; it bent inwards in the same precise diameter as the staff, and a pair of clamps popped out, securing the staff in place.

He held the sword up, glaring at the creatures.

He suddenly rushed with the sword held down at an angle, swiping up through one so quickly it didn't have time to react as he followed up with another slash, and committed a coup-de-grace with a heavy downward slash-smash. On instinct, he threw the shield up to his left just as a shadow-being lept at him, bounding right into his shield and falling to the ground. The impact pushed him back by a few feet, but he jumped into the air, angling the sword downwards as he landed to impale it, carving it in half.

Breathing heavily, he spun around, swordtip the defining rim of his circle. The Shadow nimbly jumped out of his way and scooted backwards, clumsily avoiding his flurry of sword swipes through a combination of dumb luck and that irritating phasing ability; the creature struggled up out of it's phasing puddle, and Zim fell down on it, landing on his shield and squashing it, noticing for the first time that their explosions smelled a bit like burnt matches and new car smell.

Rolling onto his back and pulling his feet up to get himself up, Zim saw to his dismay a Shadow leaped straight at his vulnerable belly.

War instinct taking over, his feet kicked it in the face, sending it flying. Before it landed, he rolled to his feet and swapped the sword and staff. Zim held the staff at his shoulder as it expanded, sprouted a handle and trigger, created openings at the front and back, and generally morphed into a large explosive weapon.

The Shadow hit the floor and reformed into a standing position mere instants before Zim blasted it into sooty smoke. Using the weapon as a support, he started laughing insanely.

"! TAKE THAT, STUPID PEONS OF DOOM! FACE THE INCREDIBLY MIGHTY FURY OF ZIIIIM!"

The staff slipped and he fell down, laughing uninterrupted.

After a few minutes, he got over his fit, feeling better than he had in a long time.

"Ah," he said nostalgically, "Nothing like the feel of mass destruction to warm your soul."

The staff returned to normal, and he placed it alongside it's brother sword, the Pak morphing to accommodate both.

Exhaling contently, he saw something weird happen at the northside of the platform, a direction he estimated as being in the direction that the dark tower seemed to be pointing at.

What looked like stairs made of stained glass appeared in a slow flash of light just at the rim of the platform, making no recognizable shape. More appeared in a wavy shape, slowly at first but steadily much faster, leading to the taller platform he'd noticed earlier.

He looked left. He looked right. Seeing no other alternative, he placed a foot on the step; it felt solid enough, if not very safe. For something that was floating in midair with no visible means of support, it seemed unusually stable. Feeling a trace of his old confidence, he walked up the steps.

As he ascended, he had the definite feeling of being watched. Once or twice, he could have sworn he saw something in the dark abyss beyond move. He paused momentarily, passing off those feelings as beings the results of his uneasiness despite his desperate need to keep moving.

His footsteps made no sound as he traversed the steps. This was odd in itself, never minding the fact that he walking to a floating platform via mysterious stained-glass steps.

As he reached the platform, he realized that this place had the feel of some kind of cathedral, if a great deal harsher than a traditional one. This one reminded him more of a place where trials of ordeal were endured.

That thought had an uncanny feel to it; he wondered why. Stepping onto the platform, he looked around.

There was a bright light shining from somewhere above. He would have looked up, but the source was too bright to examine closely.

The mural at his feet seemed slightly...familiar. He didn't know why, but it did. He looked around at it.

There were various scenes on it, depicted in slices. On it's borders were four immense dragons, each touching the next one's tail. The first one was a light blue color, scales remnisciant of solidified wind, had a more pointed head then the others, horns and crest more flamboyant than the others. It was more streamlined, like a creature that spent it's life in the air. It's forelimbs elongated into immense wings, larger than the other dragon's were. It's tail trailed along behind it like a banner. It's eyes were a white swirl like a whirling storm, and within it was a young human; a Brazilian youth with brown messy hair and green eyes, wearing monk robes; the shirt of it was black with red trim and bands round the wrists, and a stylized tiger was on the left arm. His pants were also red, loose and flowing to enable easy movement, and he wore close fitting sandels wrapped around his feet. He was making some kind of pose; arms raised back and an exulted grin on his face, as if he was calling the wind around him.

The second dragon was a blue-white color, slightly stockier and more compact than the others. It's rounder head, It's thinner horns, large finlike ears, webbed feet and wings that were more like flippers than wings brought to mind an aquatic creature. It's wings weren't traditionallike; they lacked arm joints and were thicker than the other's. It's tail was slightly serrated and ended in a diamond-shaped flipper. It's eyes contained a roiling tsunami, holding another young monk of Chinese descent. He was bald, had unusually long and thin eyebrows, and appeared short for his eye, his round head large compared to his body. For some reason there were nine glowing dots on his forehead in a pattern of three by three, making a kind of square. He wore robes similar to the Brazilian, with a reversed color scheme; primarily red with black pants. He was leaping into the air, as if riding the waves.

The third dragon, colored orange-red, was the most serpentine of all of them, having a closer resemblance to the long dragons of Asiatic lore. It's slightly curled horns were more flowing, it's slender and smaller wings the most seemingly delicate. And yet it seemed to be the most ferocious of all in a strange way. It's limbs were more delicate looking than the other's were, it's claws coal black. It's scales were slightly flowing and overlapping. It's head was the most snakelike, small spikes appearing around the back of it's necked and continuing to the tip of it's tail. It's eyes appeared to contain an immense swirling inferno, and at the epicenter of the flames were a young Japanese girl, her black hair done up in pig-tails. Her robes were slightly similar to the Chinese boy's were, except for the slightly different styles; her robe didn't have sleeves, the lower part of her shirt was split up the sides, and her pants were white instead of black. She was standing on one foot, balancing on the point of a sandal, her hands touching above her hand.

The fourth dragon was the largest, slightly dwarfing the others through sheer size. It was a green color, it's bulky scales overlapping each other like huge boulders. It's large head, short horns, smaller wings, and overall appearance made it resemble a classical Western dragon, with more of a kindly aspect to it. It was broad, with huge muscles all over it's body. It's strong sinous tail ended in a spadelike shape, blades emerging from the side of the spade. It generally looked like something that spent it's days living among the plains and mountains, burrowing from time to time. It's eyes were a brown maelstrom of whirling rock, plummeting mountain ranges, and earthquake; within that chaos was a human like the others, seemingly unbothered by it all. He was of Texan extraction, proving it by wearing a broad cowboy hat. His straw-yellow hair poked out underneath it, covering one of his blue eyes. His facial structure was soft and gentle, at contrast with his large size; though he was the same age as the others, he was easily the tallest and broadest among them. His robes were like the others; red robe thing, white loose pants, sandals, you get it. He was crouched against the ground, driving a foot into the earth, a determined look on his face.

Zim noticed that in each in the dragon eyes, there was the same small gecko-sized green dragon hiding somewhere. He didn't have legs, but he had a pair of arms, two horns that resembled crests, and a pleasant demeanor. He also looked like a coward; in each little picture, he was hiding somewhere same with the monks; his tail poked out the cowboy's hat, his head checked out fearfully from behind the short kid's big head, he was wrapped around one of the girls arms, and he clung to the leg of the Brazillian kid's pants.

Zim looked at it curiously examining the other scenes.

Within the mural, the slices displayed odd scenes:

A brown haired ten year old boy, dressed in green khakis and a white shirt with a black stripe running up the front and across the shoulders was examining a strangely organic looking watch of some kind on his wrist that emanated greenish silhouettes of thousands of alien forms; he recognized several alien species from far off; a diamondoid Petrosapien, an animalistic Vulpimancer, a Pyronite composed of living flame, a ferocious Piscces Volunn, a frightning Ectonurite, a reptillian-elfin Kinecelleran, a bioorganic Galvanic Mechomorph, a four-armed Tetramand...and those were just of the few of the ones he recognized. The watch was lit with a green light, a dial-like structure rising from it; the kid was about to slam his palm down on it. Standing by him, looking annoyed, were two other humans that looked a bit like him; a ten year old girl with a blue shirt, white shorts, red hair tied with a clip and a sleeve decorated with five off-gray discs with odd symbols on them. She was glaring at him for some reason, while a sixty year old man stood behind them with a hand on both their shoulders, looking oddly calm. He had short graying hair, the same green eyes the other two had, a Hawaiian shirt over a pullover shirt and simple jeans. In the background was an odd bright green diamond shape.

On another image, there was naught but white space, except for an immense gray door on it; it had a strange emblem on it, resembling a stylistic upside down tree with names written at the branches; he recognized it as the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. The door was huge and split down the middle; standing in front of it were two humans, teenagers from the look of them. He wasn't sure how old they were, but he was certain that the shorter one was older. They were both blond-haired, with rather distinctive golden eyes. The short one wore black clothes and a red coat with a symbol on it; it resembled a cross with a snake strewn about it, with a crown flanked by feathered wings floating above it. He had hair with large overhanging bangs and a ponytail done up with braids. From the space inbetween his gloves, sleeves, pants and shoes, one could see he had a mechanical left leg and right arm. The other boy wore a blue jacket with a similar symbol; he was taller and slightly broader, with a more cropped haircut. For some reason, there was a thin outline of ancient armor surronding him. They looked somewhat apprehensive in front of the door, but also determined.

On another image, there was an indescribably stupid looking human boy with a huge pink nose, a red hair poking out from beneath a baseball cap, blue pants and little sneakers. There was also a perpetually scowling girl with blonde hair in the shape of a crab's claw and an odd pink dress with a single flower thing on the front. Standing next to them, looking vexed, was a tall figure dressed in a black robe, the back of his head obscured by a hood. Only his hands, feet and narrow face were visible, and they were nothing but living bone. For some reason, the stupid looking kid had taken his scythe and was randomly swiping at imaginary things.

Another thing he saw was several teenage beings in a large room, sitting on a couch; there was a human in a leathery looking costume that mind have been a kind of body armor; his gloves and boots were green, and he wore a mask of some kind that obscured his face as well as a yellow cape; he was reading a book called Criminal Psychology. Next to him was a cyborg that appeared to be mostly mechanical; the only organic parts of him he could see was all of his head except for the right side of his head and his upper arms, skin a brownish color. His forearms, the back of his head, and shoulders all appeared to be a light blue with a bright blue circuit lines on them. The rest of his machinery varied between gray and white. He was watching a TV the mural did not show while eating vast amounts of popcorn. There was a female alien that appeared human except for the light orange cast of her skin and spots of hair directly above her inhuman green eyes. Her clothes were mostly purple and made of the same material as the human; a sleeveless shirt with a metal collar, shorts that led to thigh-high boots, gray bracers extending from her elbows to the back of her hands. She was watching the unseen TV with a rapt fascination one expected of an anthropologist observing the actions of a strange alien culture. Standing next to her was a humanlike creature that appeared to be slightly younger than the others; he was a olive green color, had dark green hair, pointed ears, exaggerated incisors, and green eyes. His costume was light purple, with a black line running down the fron; his pants were black, his shoes large and purple. He wore white gloves that had a black bar running across the knuckles. He was telling somekind of stupid joke to a scowled girl a year or two older than he was; sitting away from the rest of them(but not far enough from the green guy with the bad jokes), was a girl with gray skin, violet eyes and purple hair, a few locks of which protruded under her hair. She wore a black full-length outfit, made of the same material as the others. She wore a dark blue cloak, blue boots of some sort, and gloves with a large gem on them. She looked mildly annoyed for some reason.

There there was the slice that seemed to depict a living room of some kind, made entirely of wood; even the machines were made of wood. Clouds were plainly visible through the various windows around the room. Sitting around another TV on various homemade chairs were the five human children, all of them around ten; a serious looking English bald boy with sunglasses, red shirt, and shorts; he seemed occupied organizing files on a cabinet that seemed to be coming out of the wall. Sitting on the floor, playing some kind of game with a wooden controller(Zim wondered off-handedly if splinters were a problem for these people)was a short Australian kid wearing an orange jacket with a hood on it and blue jeans, his straw-colored hair looking like that of the old British rock group, the Roaches or something; Zim noticed that he seemed extremely fustrated about something. Reclining on a couch of some kind, sipping from a soda, was a roundish boy in a blue short and khakis, wearing an aviator helemt and yellow goggles rather like Raz's. He seemed amused at the short guy's distress, seemingly in the middle of making some kind of bad joke. Sitting on the floor on the couch in front of the TV was a Japanese girl with unusually long hair, a baggy sweater and black pants. She was also playing the same game as the short kid and judging by the look on her face, she was winning. The last human was a black girl, possibly French in origin; she wore a red cap of some kind, that obscured her eyes, had an absurdly long ponytail reaching to her waist. She wore a blue shirt that made Zim think of baseball uniforms and black shorts. She seemed somewhat aloof from it all.

And then there was the huge old house, populated by such bizarre and unusual things that they could have only sprung forth from human imagination. There were too many for him to look at, but there were a few he could see in detail; a eight-year-olf human boy with brown hair and a squarish head, a green back pack, red shirt and tan pants. Standing next to him was a two foot tall rounded blue blob creature, with big eyes and a prankish grin. He had produced an arm of his substance and was sticking two fingers up behind the kid's head, making a 'y' shape and possibly causing the kid's annoyed look. Behind them was an extremely tall red creature that had a small body, a wide head with an equally wide smile, one arm almost as long as he was tall ending in a hand with long fingers that had suction cups on them, and an operational eye on a stalk. His other arm had apparently been broken off, the end of it sewed up. His other eye stalk was crooked, the actual eye wonky and off-center. For some reason, there appeared to be a number '1' on his body.

A thought of what these murals actually meant was starting to dawn upon him. The thought of it being like a cathedral struck him again.

Cathedrals had stained glass to depict the images of saints and martyrs. Those who had fallen unjustly for a greater purpose.

"Are these murals memorials?" Zim said to himself.

Thinking on that disturbing possibility, he walked right into the light.

He abruptly noticed the incredibly bright surface; his attention was drawn to the illumination overlooking it.

It was as if it was a spotlight, trying to tell him something.

Entranced by it, he walked into the center of the platform, limbs slightly slack.

The closer you get to light, the greater your shadow grows.

"What?" he said, jarred out of his reverie. He knew that voice. "Caritas? Is that you? What game are you playing now!"

He got no answer, and he turned around expecting to find the irritating other behind him.

He saw nothing except, except for his shadow.

Truth be told, it was unusually large; the intensity of the light had undoubtedly made it larger.

Then it turned around.

Zim gaped wordlessly. Good thing he was alone; he was starting to feel like an idiot.

His shadow looked at him. Even without eyes or a body, it looked at him.

Where it was, smoke smelling of charcoal welled out of the ground; it rose out of the ground, welling in a much more smooth manner than the Shadows Zim'd fought had; it's torso rose out, carrying it's head with it. It lifted it's arms out, standing on nothing as it's paper thing legs still connected with Zim. Then it took a step out of the ground and another, standing in front of him.

He stared at it and it stared at him.

It suddenly changed, like it was being molded by unseen hands, shadows leaping across it like barely perceptible hawks of darkness gyring about it; it quickly settled and looked precisely like him, like a silhouette given third dimensionality.

Then the sheath of darkness fell away from it in thorned streams, revealing a stranger countenance.

This form was similar to Zim, but much more vicious looking; it's skin was a bruised green color, clearly not smooth like his own, but appeared to be covered with something like rough shark-skin. It's eyes were compound windows into something frigid and appropriately colored a uniform icy blue. It's antennae seemed more like demonic horns, utterly inflexible though useless as weapons. It's fingers were true claws, lethally pointed and a little too long for Irken digits. It's clothes were a faded maroon with other colors poking through, and had a punkish look to them; a sleeveless shirt with an dizzying eighteen pointed star on it, patchy looking pants, fingerless gloves with knuckledusters and big heavy-duty boots with spiked toes. It's left arm was decorated with an intricate spiral design that looked somehow repulsive.

As much as Caritas had exuded an aura of calmness and idealism, this thing made Zim think of long-abandoned factory basements; rooms filled with a thousand repulsive things, teeming with disgusting vermin that fed upon the refuse of a thousand monsters.

As much as those things from earlier were wrong, this was so much more horrifying in a more personal manner.

It smiled, revealing a mouth full of savage broad needle teeth reminiscent of a shark's grin; cold, cruel and immoral.

Zim started circling the thing, and it mirrored his motion, grinning that sickly humored mockery of a smile all the while.

"And...what are you supposed to be?" he said darkly.

"Me? Real question is, what are you?" By the sound of it's voice, crawling with a slightly rasping and oddly accentless tone to it's words, it appeared to be male.

"I have neither the time nor the inclination to discuss that with you, putrid thing."

"How typically self-aggrandizing of you."

"Shut up, evil doppelganger."

"Hey, hey, hey. No name calling."

Zim glared at him. He matched the Irken's glare with a strange mixture of venom and jocularity.

"What? Can't take a joke?" the thing said.

"Than what are you?" Zim hissed.

"Hey, I'm the one asking the questions here. Here's one for starters: how's it feel to spend your entire life believing you're the most wonderful and bright being in the universe, and finding out just the opposite?"

"Shut up."

"What's it like to find out just what it's like to be at the end of your carelessness, to be the one at the painful side of the gun? In short, what's it like to find out what a little monster you are?"

"Shut up." Zim stopped edging around, his fists shaking with barely suppressed rage.

"What, really, is it like to really feel every single act of evil you've done throughout your pathetic life? What is it like, I wonder, is it like to know what kind of person you really are?" The corner of his lip turned up, lending him a crooked smile.

"SHUT UP, YOU SLARKING SAUCUL!" Zim lunged at him, the sword in his hand serving as a condient to his rage, the thought of the metal burying itself in this thing's ribcage an extremely pleasing idea.

The thing dodged his attack with a supernatural ease, and weaved around Zim's furious blows and frenzied swipes, and as Zim missed him with a downward swing, he suddenly and brutally kicked him in the stomach.

His gasp of shocked pain cut short by the agonizing pain of having several toe spikes drove into his stomach, he fell to the ground, small dark purple spots forming on his shirt.

His sight raked across where he was lying, and he realized with a shock that he had no shadow.

He kneeled by Zim, cooing his hateful observations. "You may have not meant to be such a malevolent little bastard, but that doesn't change anything. Just because you weren't trying to be evil didn't mean anything. Man, if you didn't regret it all, you would've made one great villain. Pity ya had to turn soft on me."

"Up-shut!" he punched him in the face with his free hand.

The monster reeled back, clutching his near-broken jaw. "Call that a punch, you little troq?" The being taunted, snapping his jaw back into place.

He sweep-kicked Zim, who rolled to this feet sideways. He jumped blindly at Zim, getting a shield-smash in his face for his troubles.

"That's not me! Not anymore!" Zim hissed.

He laughed, a strangely hollow sound that sounded like something from the infamous well that led to Hell. "Yeah, but you liked it. And one way or the other, no one ever mattered to you. Practically everyone you've ever known has been just a tool for your goals. Didn't matter to you if they died or not."

Zim savagely kicked the prone thing in the face. "Shut up! You know nothing!"

He knew what that quality was in the thing's cold cruel smile. He had fought it, he had seen it, and in his worst moments, been it.

This thing was evil.

And his reaction to it, and those Shadows from before, was nothing less than burning righteous fury.

He hated this thing. He hated it more than anything he ever had before.

And perhaps his rage was due for it's speaking the truth.

"Oh, don't I?" The enemy said knowingly.

"No." Zim said curtly, punctuating his reply by grinding his foot into the other's stomach.

"Stop lying to yourself, freak." the other advised from where it was. "Believing your own lies is what as gotten you into this mess in the first place."

Zim scowled, even though in this case it was speaking the truth. He had told himself as much.

"You know," he said evenly, hand behind his back. "I don't like talking to you."

He held the staff out, transmogrified it into a machine gun, and shot him with enough bullets manifested from ambient energy to kill five hardy humans.

The evil thing took them without flinching, the bullets pounding into it's body and leaving large entry wounds shaped like gory dimes; the impact pushed it backwards by a few feet, but it otherwise didn't seem bothered by it. Zim was disturbed by the slightly pleasured look on it's face.

He closed his eyes, and opened them; the crumpled bullets popped out like maggots from a heavily shaken corpse, the darkly glowing wounds they left sealing up with small puffs of smoke.

He spread his arms wide, grinning broadly, showcasing his healing holes.

"You see?" He whispered. "It'll take more than bullets to make me die. Look at you; you don't have the guts to kill me, not matter how hard you try," he cracked his neck reflexively. "I'll never die. There'll always be a bit up me to crawl back up."

Light glinted off the slightly metallic red stains on his pointed teeth; apparently reminded about something, he drew a ragged tear of unidentifiable meat from his jaws, heedless of the tears they left in his fingers. Inspecting it curiously, he snapped it up again. Looking back at Zim, he waved his bloody fingers, cuts healing even as they bled.

"The darkness in you is stronger than you know, defective."

Zim looked at it. "You say that like it's a bad thing."

"It's what you are. That's all you are: a failure. That's all you've ever been, all you've ever could have and all you ever will be.

"You've failed at everything you've ever attempted to in your entire pathetic existence: you've failed at meeting the minimum expectations of being an Irken.

You've failed at being a soldier.

You've failed about being a half-assed scientist.

You've failed at conquering a planet populated by vacant-skulled morons.

You're less than a failure; you're nothing at all."

The former Invader hit his legs with the telescoping staff; it knocked him down, but he was up almost as soon as he fell.

He laughed and pointed at him. "You know, you used to always think big a lot. Get back at someone for throwing water balloons at you, you dropped one big as a meteorite at their city. But not anymore. Most of what you do is watch TV and invent crap no one cares about."

Zim's eyes narrowed.

"You're afraid, Zim. But what is it you're afraid of, I wonder?"

"Hah! I fear nothing!"

"I'll bet. That's why you're standing here talking to me."

Zim said nothing to that.

"You asked me who I was." the other said ominously, standing up and tracing his claws over his palm.

Zim raised an eyebrow.

Rising to his feet, the thing continued, advancing on Zim. "I am every evil thought you've ever acted upon in your entire existence."

His hand relaxed, green talons ceasing movement. They curled into fists, and for the first time Zim realized the barely suppressed rage lurking within this creature, evident in the whiteness of the knuckles and the fury of a simple footstep.

"I am the specter of hatred dwelling in your soul."

His arms tensed, looking like the wiry muscles of a savage beast caring only of the thrill of the hunt.

"I am the roaring monster in every dark corner of your mind, telling you to obliterate everything in your path."

The strange tattoo on his arm burst, trailing a smoky fluid that was neither blood nor shadow, but something cold in between.

"I am what you see when you remember what you did wrong."

His teeth changed, melting together into larger, more functional crushing sharp molars.

"I am the horror that lurks within your broken soul."

His entire aspect changed: the ichor spewing from that laberythean wound evoluped his form, seeping into and suffusing it as he became fearsomely predatory in a way that was antithetical to nature and all things carnivorous.

"I am everything in you that is inherently wrong."

He slowly grew taller and wider, muscles standing out against his skin.

"I live on your hatred, thrive on your malice, and was born from your senseless selfishness."

Zim started to back away. His sandal's slates slid against the slick plates, friction almost gluing him against the ground. This...thing was evil. Not a theoretical value assigned to politically unpopular actions or the results of a flawed psyche, but the real thing; pure maliciousness born of inclination and the immorality of freedom unbound by anything. Something in him, something primal, rebelled at the thought of that thing existing at all, let alone standing there. Zim's retreat was cut off as his heel bumped against a invisible barrier at the perimeter of the platform.

"I am the shadow of what you are, and the truth behind what you pretend to be."

As he spoke in his increasingly vehement voice, his rough skin rippled and his entire body altered, growing what looked like spiked armor of living bone; large obsidian-black protrusions grew on his body, shredding his shirt, and destroying most of his pant legs and shoes. His mouth warped, teeth and lips becoming one. His entire body altered, growing what looked like spiked armor of living bone black as this thing's heart. His face grew armor that resembled a skull mixed with a helm face growing reptilian, bulging slightly outwards. His claws elongated, covered with small spines grooved as to let blood flow onto his skin easier. He grew at least two feet taller and about as wide, looking something like a demon the Xenomorphs would worship if they possessed the faculties to consider the universe. The peculiar diagram on his shirt was mirrored on a keloid scar that rested where his heart would be, formed of crimson lines of knotted flesh. His eye suddenly burst into baleful yellow light, as if his brain was on fire.

"I am the personification of your evil, your sins made flesh. I am the ultimate you."

He suddenly lunged at Zim, grabbing him by the throat and lifting him into the air with a strangely pulsating arm that had grown impossibly long.

"I am Wrath incarnate."

He threw Zim across the stain-glassed structure, bouncing off a few times and coming to a brutal stop against the wall, sliding to the ground squeakily.

But don't be afraid and don't forget...

Feeling as if he'd just been punched in the face by a Tetramand, Zim shakily rose to his feet. Without skipping a beat, the grotesquely altered thing rushed to him, punching his jaw with a fist that felt like a spiked gauntlet. As he fell, a spider-leg flashed out at Wrath, who didn't bother moving; the sharp limb bounced off harmlessly.

He hit the ground so hard, he thought there should've been a minor shockwave or something.

Nope. His skull might've been cracked, but the floor was unmarked.

As he stood up waveringly, he clapped a hand to his face, realizing the spiked fist had made a few wounds in his check. Not very deep, but they were bleeding profusely.

Wrath smiled; it was hard to tell with that fixed toothy grin. Zim realized with disgust that there was a wet royal purple stain flowing through the monster's inky fist-plates, bright as a searchlight on a lightless night. Opening his cavernous jaws to the widest extent possible, a whiplike tongue snaked out of his mouth, hungrily licking up Zim's split blood, smacking his tongue with a relish like it was the ambrosia of Mt. Olympus.

Zim's skin color lightened by a few degrees. "That's disgusting!" he snarled, ending it with a peculiar guttural sound reminiscent of a cricket chirping inside an empty acoustics chamber.

"Maybe so," Wrath allowed, "but it's fun."

Zim disagreed, swinging the sword at Wrath; slowed down by his bulk, the shadow-being wasn't quick enough to dodge it entirely. The sword sliced through a spike, reducing it to dust.

The freak looked surprised and clutched at the stump, futilely attempting to stem the flow of ichor flowing through fingers ill-suited to stop bleeding(in his denfense, he had the other thing covered). The fluid suddenly stopped in mid-air and congealed into a completed spine.

He glared at the silvery blade; though healed, the spine looked somewhat crumpled.

Zim smirked, pointing the offending weapon at him. "You do have a weakness after all, sharp-headed minion!"

"I'm no one's minion!" Wrath snarled. Several spines unfurled into ribbons of darkness that struck at Zim, warping into edged shapes; they harmlessly bounced off his proffered shield. Zim rose into the air on his mecharchnical appendages and jumped at him, slamming shield-first into him.

Quickly standing up, Zim slammed his foot onto the shield. "Don't lie to yourself."

"Look at you!" Wrath screamed under the shield. "You let yourself believe Red and Purple's lies!"

"I figured it out. I just didn't care."

"You and your stupid missions. Then tell me this: a few months before everything went to hell, you stopped trying to conquer the Earth. Why?"

"I didn't feel like it! I don't need to justify myself to you!"

"Oh, I get it! The mighty Zim, unstoppable death machine, quits the Invading business because he feels sympathetic! 'Cause he starts to 'see the beauty of the human race'! You pathetic little soft meathead!"

Zim stomped on the shield, accidentally hitting the edge, knocking himself fall over.

The armored beast gave him a once over, shaking his head slowly. "Sad. Just fa-reacking sa-"

"I tire of your babble! It annoys me!" Zim's foot shot out, catching Wrath in the exposed area between his ankle and leg plates.

"Hey!" He fell down.

At once, ribbons of shadow unraveled from a spike, planting themselves in the ground; they dissolved into small pools of darkness, each forming into a Shadow.

They jumped at Zim, who effortlessly 'killed' one with a single swipe. He backed away from another leaper, squashing it easily underfoot.

One bounded at him; if it had a mind, it probably would have surprised at being caught on the flat part of the sword.

Wrath was surprised at how easily Zim dispatched the shadows, and was understandably more surprised when he threw it onto his face.

"Getoff getoff GET OFF!" he shrieked, carving up his face as he slapped at his face.

In that moment of distraction, Zim took his chance; he jumped at him, plunging his sword deep into the thing.

Wrath pulled the annoying Shadow off his face, crushing it within his claws, when a dark-splattered thing appeared in his chest.

He screamed, futily trying to push it back.

"Getting better at this," Zim hissed on his back, stabbing him as best he could without a decent amount to swing.

"Don't get too confident, Irken," Wrath growled, falling onto his back.

He got up, leaving Zim embedded in the ground; to his surprise, the tenacious Irken's death grip on his weapon had pulled the sword out.

Wrath pulled his arm up, intending to bring it through the irritants heart.

As he brought it down, Zim rolled to his feet, holding the sword up and maneuvering too quickly to give Wrath a chance to react; the sword sliced through his arm at the elbow joint.

Wrath fell down, clutching the gushing stump and roaring in agony and anger.

Zim held the sword out, tip balanced on the ground, grinning maniacally.

Wrath turned to him, his glowing eyes suddenly brightening brightly. He yelled something with no grammatical equivalent and threw himself at Zim, who merely turned aside.

Wrath suddenly tumbled, crashing to the ground hard and skidding to a stop; h turned to Zim, a huge cut leaking black fluid onto his cadaverous face armor. That inflexible armor could betray no emotion, but the mere glow of his eyes expressed indefinible rage.

Zim brandished his weapon, a trail of fluid upon it.

The spiked shadow being crouched to the ground like an oversized novelty paperweight for unusually morbid horror fans; expecting an attack, Zim mimicked the gesture, brandishing sword and shield.

They stared at each momentarily, waiting for the other to make a move.

Zim's antennae twitched.

Small pods formed on Wrath's back, like carnivorous flower petals. They contracted, launching balls of darkness into the sky even as they were reabsorbed.

Both fighters looked up at the dark blobs in the sky; they formed into more Shadows that fell through the air and landed at Wrath's side, flanking him.

He said nothing, allowing his dark minions and perpetually grinning maw to speak for him. He felt he didn't have to; he knew full well that Zim's was already analyzing the scene.

A Shadow cutting off a direct attack. A Shadow preventing a quick run to his left or right, and Wrath himself was bound to notice a repeat performance of a previous strategy.

Perhaps it is time to do what I do best; improvise.

Zim switched the staff and sword, twirled the hodge-podge stick of junk like a baton and stamped it on the ground.

Wrath blinked. "What are you pretending to be? Head cheerleader for the Junkyard Heaps?"

"Clever," Zim grunted, hoisting the metamorphic tool over his shoulder. "but not as clever as-this!"

The lower half of the staff 'inflated' into a complicated structure reminiscent of a pogo stick inspired by a hydraulic press and built for the children of a race of elephant people. He pressed it to the ground, tilted it at his confused foe, and let go.

It propelled him into the air shockingly fast and reducing him to a barely visible blur.

Wrath looked up. "Hur?"

A red-green-black blur flew out of above him, slamming into his back; Wrath's breath got knocked out of him, and he crashed to the ground, carving gouges into the ground with Zim perched on his back.

The pogo stick thing folded into itself as the armguard at the staff's apex folded up and a huge concealed crescent blade easily a yard across slid out, causing the staff to elongate in order to support itself properly. Zim pulled the scythe back and sliced through the Shadows just as Wrath's dimmed eyes flashed into full effulgence again.

He roared, rising up to swat the Irken even as the alien in question jumped off, plunging his new blade into Wrath's meaty arm. Eyes glowing painfully bright at the sight of a whitish black-stained blade protruding from his bicep, Wrath shook it violently, Zim swinging; he controlled the momentum so that he turned around in a complete circle, slicing the arm off cleanly; he landed on his feet neatly, scythe returning to normal as he scurried away.

As his arm reformed clumsily, Wrath uttered the vilest curses he could come up with. How could that defective think of that so quickly!

Holding his new arm firmly, he glared at Zim, who was twirling his staff jauntily, singing a song to himself; Wrath could swear that it was nothing more than the word 'doom' being endlessly repeated with a few occasional variations on that one word.

Snarling, the shadow being launched himself at Zim; the Irken was caught off-guard, and they were propelled across the platform, smashing into a wall.

Too dizzied by the attack to react, Zim blurrily saw Wrath pick him up by the scruff of his neck.

"You clever little bastard," he growled.

"Wrong choice of words," Zim pointed out pedantically. "I can't be a bastard if I'm not the product of two beings, marriage or not, so that particular epithet doesn't apply to me."

Wrath roared, rearing his arm up, smashing him into the ground again and again and again.

It felt like a hundred times, but Zim counted it at five.

"That all you got?" Zim taunted. Wrath threw him to the ground, the sheer impact knocking one of the sandels off.

He pounded his plated fists into Zim repeatedly, each powerful blow a means to exorcise his nearly bottomless font of rage.

He hit him in the face, cutting up his face.

He punched him in the stomach, ripping up his raincoat and rending his flesh.

He savagely kicked him, stomping on his midsection.

He raised both limbs up high, bringing them down onto Zim's body.

He kept beating him as brutally as he could, pouring his rage into insanely vicious blows upon Zim's body. He grabbed him by the leg, sharp plates ripping up the Irkens skin, and threw him across the platform. Wrath kneeled down, breathing heavily.

He looked up, and saw Zim sitting on the floor where he'd landed. His face was cut up, leaking purplish blood into his eyes and shirt, and his spittle was a distinctly lavender color, right eye half-shut by a large cut going through it. His shirt was torn up, his raincoat mostly gone, the little buttons on it making constant broken noises, both looking like stitched-together rags that covered a being made of contusions and freshly dripping wounds. His remaining shoe was cracked, the slates at the bottom mostly broken off and dangling by a few stray splinters. His pant legs were ragged and his legs were twitching slightly. He was breathing slowly and heavily, as if an immense weight was squatting on him. His right antannae had been broken off entirely just at the joint; weirdly enough, his hat was exactly where it had been.

His breathing suddenly became erratic; he started breathing rapidly and shallowly, looking like he was choking. He fell over, supported by his arms, and spat up a large glob of blood. He stopped twitching, purple fluid dripping out of his mouth more copiously than it had before and he fell backwards, breathing normally.

"Aren't you dead yet?" Wrath asked disdainfully.

Zim quaked uncontrollably, spitting out blood that had gathering in his mouth. His right eye opened fully, opening the wound a bit more, the area around his eye raw and royal purple. He shifted his weight onto his feet, slowly and painfully rising upright. He grunted wetly, coughing up another glob of blood. His hand clutched his staff with a grip that Death couldn't loosen, and glared at Wrath venomously. He wiped the blood away from his face with his free hand, brushing it off on his pants. He suddenly grinned defiantly, holding the staff with both hands as it transformed in a weird kind gun similar to a blaster, but with a capsule on the area where a sight would have been, filled with a red-orange fluid.

"You just can't please some people," Zim said shortly, a viscious grin forming on his face.

He pointed the gun-thing at Wrath, pulling the trigger; a huge gout of flame exploded out of the barrel, enshrouding Wrath in a shower of napalm, melting his armor and blistering his skin.

Wrath fell down, armor reforming even as he fell. He clumsily stood up and blew out a stray flame out on his shoulder, almost as an afterthought.

"Ah, now it gets fun."

Wrath ran at Zim, the Irken slamming the razor-rim of his shield into Wrath's elbow joint, throwing him down. The makeshift flamethrower became a mallet, and was promptly smashed on the prone foe's face. "Not for you!" Zim yelled cheerfully.

Wrath turned aside quickly, knocking Zim away. He swung his fists at him, large blades elongating from his forearms as he did; Zim backed away, not fast enough to avoid getting his leg cut.

Wrath laughed. "You're getting sloppy, Zim. I wonder if that's fear slowing you down?"

Zim clenched his teeth. "Not a chance, spike head!"

The well-named shadow being scampered at him, a boxing glove tipped staff telescoping into his face, followed by another blow.

Wrath rolled to his feet, slamming his armblades to the ground. He circled around and stood up, holding one of the ground-plates. Savagely laughing, he hurled it at Zim, who quickly pulled out his sword and sliced through the ballistic projectile.

Taking advantage of his opponent's distraction, Wrath charged at Zim, knocking him to the ground and sinking his teeth into Zim's exposed leg.

"ARRRRRRGH!" The former Invader shrieked, and swung his sword at the pain-bringer in question, pain and panic making it miss and hit a cheek spine.

Wrath clamped down harder, throwing him to the perimeter. Zim hit it hard, sliding down slowly.

He tried to get up, but a black flash slammed into him; Wrath's armblades criss-crossed in front of his throat scissors-style.

"Your fear is what holds you back," Wrath whispered. "You're afraid. And it's going to pull you down and tear you apart."

"You lie-"

"SHUT UP!" He roared, showering Zim with spittle, a knee spike piercing Zim's stomach as he leaned forward. "You're an blithering idiot too afraid to even look in the mirror! You can't even deal with your own nature, you stupid defective!"

Zim tried to speak, but Wrath's ranting interrupted him.

"And you don't even know what that is! What the hell is it that you're so afraid of?"

"You...really want to know?" Zim whispered.

Wrath leaned in, expectantly. Zim had to fight the urge to recoil and decapitate himself on the armblades; his breath was bad enough without having to wonder on what sort of meat was between those teeth.

Occupied by Zim's apparent confession, Wrath didn't see the staff flow around the hilt and guard of the staff, stretching out slightly and attaching itself to the shield in likewise manner, forming a handle under the shield.

"What I'm really afraid of...is..."

"Yeah?" Wrath leaned in, so close their face almost touched. Every moral fiber in the tapestry of his mind rebelled at being so close to something so obviously and inherently evil.

Zim abruptly and suddenly twisted his arm, thrusting the makeshift combination of his three weapons directly between Wrath's eyes.

The brutal things arms fell, gasping wordlessly. Zim stood up, twisting the spear slightly, pleased at the agonized grunts of his victim.

"What I'm afraid of is not being smart enough to see things like you, being too cruel to not care about things like you, and not being strong enough to kill things like you!"

He thrust it deeper into Wrath's brain, a silver blade protruding through the back of his head. Strangely, there was little resistance, as if there was nearly nothing to block it's path. It circled upwards, profusely dripping dark blood and splattering it on the ground.

Wrath tried to speak, in too much pain to do much more than squeal in pain, blood spilling down from his open jaws.

Zim thrust it deeper and twisted more, a prismatic light emanating from his weapon; at it's touch, his foe's armor dissolved into the smoke it had been, sucking back into the open wound that sealed back into a tattoo.

"You...can't...not-"

"Shut your noise-orifice." Zim snapped. "Double negatives. And people say I abuse the English langauge."

He shoved the spear sideways, leaving a massive exit wound; the tendons snapped and Wrath's head spewed blood as he toppled sideways.

Wrath's eyes dulled and he ceased movement.

Zim set his weapon upright, blood seeping down the blade, droplets dripping off onto the ground.

He turned around, muttering to himself. "That was...educational."

A sharp pain in his leg and sides suddenly forced him to his knees, and he grabbed his spear to prevent falling down. Grunting in pain, he pulled himself up.

Looking down, he saw that his side and leg were somewhat bulged out of shape. He snarled inarticulately. At least a few of his ribs and leg bones were broken.

"Wrath..."he said angrily. That abomination's impossible strength had nearly shattered his body! Too bad it was already dead; he could have done something truly vengeful.

Tearing a few strips from his shirt, he wrapped them around his sides to keep his ribs from getting any worse. Realizing that the broken shoe was only hobbling him, he tossed it away, wondering why he hadn't done it sooner, remembering how it had happened too fast to do that. Awkwardly hopping on his undamaged leg, he started to walk away.

"At least he's dead," he told himself.

"Not going to be...that easy."

Zim snapped around.

Wrath had halfway risen off the floor, wavering slightly. He was somehow talking dispute half his face being partially severed, only a few dark strands and solid shadow keeping it from falling off completely. Weirdly, he didn't see anything remotely resembling organs or anything that made up a living being; only blackness beyond that. It was like he had been created by an good artist with little knowledge of anatomy. Both halves of his face appeared to be functioning equally well despite the utter impossibility of that, never mind his voice; rasping and hollow as it was now, he never should have been able to speak without vocal chords or some means of manipulating sounds.

He rose off the ground, staring at Zim with what must have been a gaze lacking in peripheral vision. One of his arms twitched, large cracks oozing dark blue smoke spreading through it similarly to pressure shifting under tectonic plates. The arm suddenly exploded from the cracks outward, spewing bloodlike ooze that stained the ground, dark goo still dripping from the stump. The goop stretched out, elongating into a featureless and rubbery limb ending in three huge claws with a single joint apiece.

His remaining arm hung useless at his side, swinging loosely as he slowly advanced upon the hapless and nearly helpless alien. The nearly severed side of his face shimmered, and apparently spurred by his relentless movement, it shook roughly as if it were a ill-fitting mask. It suddenly sloughed off, distengrating as it hit the ground. In it's place there might have been it's true face, except it was no face at all; it was an amorphous and dark head, devoid of any features other than a single unflickering light the color of a baleful moon of ill omen. It sat unsteadily next to what remained of Wrath's original face, tendrillike cracks spreading from it's exposed face downwards.

"What in the hell...?" Zim had been too entranced by the spectacle, and quickly regaining his senses, started backing away and as before, he hit a wall.

"Not that easy...to destroy the darkness." Wrath continued advancing, not slowing down even as his other arm swelled and mutated grotesquely, as if a large mass of huge tumors had suddenly grown inside it. One of the large bumps on his arm popped, a large smokey tendril extending; near it's top, an unblinking slitted eye swiveled around to see it's prey.

"Heeey, didn't I just kill you?" Unnerved by what he was seeing, he leaned against the glimmering wall for support, pointing his spear at it. Implements of death sprang out along it's edge, shining threateningly at Wrath.

Wrath didn't appear to be at all aware of the potential for his demise; this seriously disturbed Zim. He preferred the ranting and abusive Wrath to this emotionless zombie thing. Okay, maybe not when he was beating the crap out of him. "You can't just destroy...the darkness."

Zim's weapon elongated, spearing through Wrath's organic arm; as it retracted, the arm dissembled into a mass of Shadows.

He prepared to sweep it through them when the spear disappeared in a flash of prismatic light.

This was disheartening, to make an understatement. "Not good. Very, very not good!"

The Shadows swarmed Wrath, covering him like a living and really bulgy blanket. His remaining arm suddenly stretched and expanded grotesquely as it slammed into Zim, claws puncturing his sides and filling him with something cold and violating.

"No matter how many times you destroy it...no matter how many times you deny it...you can never escape the darkness inside...and out."

Tendrils of darkness melted around Zim, dissolving into a pool of darkness.

His feet abruptly sank into the swirling black-purple-blue, his knees disappearing into somewhere frigidly cold and with things there; thousands of what felt like hands covered his legs as unknowable things drew their numerous claws across him, hungrily exploring their new 'visitor'.

Long claw-handed limbs rose out of the pool, spinning around Zim's body and fastening around his shoulders. More rose and encased his broken arm, and even more simply sank into his neck and head. Their touch was impossibly, monstrously cold; it was a coldness that had nothing to do with temperature. Hands pried his eyes wide open, forcing him to see Wrath's slowly sloughing skin reveal the true darkness within him. Several swung around his mouth and shut it, preventing his ability to speak out or breath.

Thicker black vines rose out of the much, wrapping around that part of his body that was above the pool; his legs and waist. Where they constricted themselves, vinelike plants grew, tightening and cutting off any hope of resistance.

Wrath's last mask of shadows slid away, and Zim saw Wrath's true shape, what that thing really was. The shadows melted away, disappearing.

Zim's breath escaped in a gasp as Wrath's internals disappeared as Wrath's face slid over it again, hiding that hollow emptiness. Wrath was nothing at all, Zim realized; he was a hollow mockery, whatever else he might claim. He was nothing more than a peversion.

The limbs started to pull him down. Down into the dark muck.

He attempted to fight and strain, but they tightened against his movements, cutting off his ability to resist at all.

They pulled him down all too slowly, forcing him to feel the inevitability of it all. Forcing him to know the horror being pulled down into somewhere unknowable and dark, where hope would soon be a forgotten myth. Making him know the misery of knowing that even this grim place was better than the dark hell he was being drawn into.

And he knew despair.

His body below the waist had already been swallowed, and his torso and arms slid into the mire and muck; the darkness stirred at the feel of him, and suddenly swarmed over him, tangled vines formed over him and pulling him under.

His neck disappeared under the pool and Wrath's gaze started to die, as did everything else. Zim suddenly realized why; the entire world was going even darker than it had been, the hands of the dark retreating as his head was pulled into where ever the rest of him had gone. His forehead and eyes were underneath the surface of the dark pool.

Dark. It was so dark it defied the mind, challenged it and utterly humiliated it.

And in this place, the voice spoke again one last time.

Know that you hold the mightiest weapon of all.

Even under the grip of the limbs, his eyes under the Zim yelled through their bonds.

He yelled with no words, but with sheer rage. Rage that this realm of darkness existed at all, that this blantant perversion existed at all, that he had allowed himself to be drawn into it. He knew what true darkness was as it caressed him and drew it into it's foul embrace...and he felt righteous fury that he could do nothing about it. He hated this dark place, and his rage filled him with strength as he struggled against it.

"Let...me...GO!" he screamed, vocalising at last his inarticulate fury.

The painfully bright light above roared into skin-scarring radiance; the darkness recoiled at it's touch, the hands disintegrated into quickly absent smoke, Wrath boiled away with a final shriek of eternal dismay, and the cold reminder of sorrow and despair everything was burned away in it's light...

"Master! Master!"

"Zim, wake up!"

"Squeak!"

Zim opened his eyes, groaning softly, and abruptly sat up so fast his spine might've snapped from friction burn.

No Shadows. No darkness. He wasn't drowning in an oily pool of darkness. He wasn't being menaced by a doppelganger. He patted himself frantically, trying to sense that this was real. His clothes were normal again, proven by the honking noise a little horn emoticon made.

He was sitting among the flamingos and security gnomes on his front lawn. Gir, Dib and Minimoose were looking at him with concern. Gir and Minimoose did, anyway. Dib seemed to be between curiosity and confusion, judging by his quizzical look.

Zim shook his head wearily, looking at his house. Home. He was home.

Dib sighed, shaking his head in bewilderment. The human's skin was a pale tan sort of color, like he spent a lot of time away from the sun. His hair was a black color that had slight blue highlights in direct light, and happened to be constantly slicked back. Lately, he'd taken to shaving the sides and back of his head, which helped to make his head slightly less emphasized. He had a large lock of hair that stood up at an angle away from the rest of his hair, bringing to mind the blade of a scythe. He had big spectacles on at all times, at least as big as Zim's eyes but rounder, his brown-yellow eyes slightly magnified by the glasses. He had a thin and lanky sort of body type; considering all the running he did, that was no surprise. He almost always wore a sleeveless navy blue shirt that was darker blue at the sides with a neutral looking round gray face on it, simple lines for a mouth and eyes. Over this, he wore his trademark leather duster; no one knew why he wore it. Possibly it was for the same reason Zim tended to wear clothes from what had been voted The Most Annoying Wardrobe In Nicktown. He wore black jeans and simple sneakers.

Seeing Zim's movement, Gir wailed and jumped at Zim, knocking him over again as he started frantically hugging him and babbling incoherently.

"Master! Master! You ate the snackies and then and then you went blargh! and fell down! I thought the dancing hotdogs of doom got you!"

He started crying loudly.

Zim pulled a squeaky pig toy out of his Pak and squeezed it a few times in front of Gir's face; the robot grabbed the pig and started running around the yard, giggling loudly.

Zim rubbed his head. It hurt a little, but he otherwise had no trace of the injuries he'd just undergone.

The flying moose android hovered around Zim's face, squeaking worriedly.

"No, no, no." Zim said, waving his hand as if warding off a fly. "I'm fine, but test Gir's snacks for hallucinogenics."

"Hallucinogenics?" Dib and Minimoose said at the same time, in different ways.

"Just do it." Zim stood up unsteadily, feeling his antennae. No breaks there.

He held his hand out, trying to summon the weapons. Far back in his mind, he felt a strange flicker, but nothing happened.

He frowned, looking inwardly. Was it a dream? Or something else?

He shrugged to himself and dismissed the dream as nothing more than that.

"Something wrong?" Dib inquired.

"No, no."

"Em hem," The paranormal investigator muttered.

"What was that?"

"Nothing."

Minimoose was still hovering silently.

"Squeek! Squeak squeek, squeeeak!"

"I didn't fall that hard! All I had was a really weird dream!"

"Dream?"

"I'll tell you later, and I'm perfectly fine!"

"Squeak."

Zim looked back to where he had fallen; there was a impression of his body where he'd fallen that was at least two feet deep. He walked over to it; his hat had become dislodged and had fallen in. He reached in, pulling the beret out. He dusted it off, blowing on it. He placed it back on his head, patting it as if it were a beloved old friend. Minimoose hovered by his head, squeaking inquiringly like.

"My head hurts a little, that's it. Lemme alone."

Minimoose squeaked resignedly, and floated off to the roof.

Dib continued watching him, and something occurred to Zim.

"Hey, when did you get here?"

"I was at my lab working on some stuff and was going to track down some nosferatu when Gir called me after you fell."

"You mean Gir actually had the presence of mind to call you and tell you I just fell off my roof twice in a row? Gir?"

"No, actually. He was calling for some pizza. I saw you in the background of the communicator. I pointed you out and he freaked out for five and a half seconds, than when back to the pizza call. He was still trying to order when I got here and disabled it."

"Oh."

Dib suddenly slapped his forehead. "Oh, now I remember! I need your help on a...project of mine."

"A project where?"

"On one of those islands we go to."

Zim knew those islands well; they'd landed on them when they came back from space. "And why do you need my help? Aren't there at least a dozen other people for this sort of thing that we know?"

"I already have. It's a big project and I need your particular 'expertise' for this sort of thing."

"What kind of 'thing'?" the alien asked suspiciously.

"It's better if you wait until we get there." Clicking a button on what appeared to be a wristwatch, a blue-gray ship flew out of the general direction of Dib's house, coming to a stop just above the driveway Zim had put in.

"Hey!" Zim said. "That looks like Tak's ship! You reverse-engineered this from Tak's ship, didn't you?"

Dib crossed his arms proudly. "Why, yes I-"

"Didn't you?"

Dib grimaced. "I already said I-"

"Didn't you!"

"I already said I did! Pay attention already!"

"I DON'T HAVE AN ATTENTION PROBLEM!"

"I...didn't say anything about a attention problem."

"You didn't? You were supposed to. Where did you build it?"

Only Zim could handle those kind of 360-degree conversation turns. Dib rubbed his big forehead and said, "In the lab complex we own."

Zim's jaw dropped out of sheer surprise. "We own a lab? Why didn't you tell me!"

Dib slapped his face. "I told you six months ago when it was first operational! And at least five times since then!"

Clicking another button on his wristwatch, his ship hovered by them; it was about the size of Tak's modified Spittle Runner, but considerably different. It was constructed of a mishmash of different technologies, human and otherwise. There was probably supernatural components in there; judging by it's construction and what Dib said, it had to have built fairly recently. It's cockpit and body was the shape of a bullet, the flat portion of which was connected to the rest of it by tubelike connectors. The actual cockpit was built similarly to Zim's Voot Runner, except for a look reminiscent of Earth fighter jet cockpits. There didn't appear to be any weapons; there was just two oblong pods slung almost directly on the bottom. The flight mechanisms were similar pods along the back with large openings centered on them. The main body was slightly raised away from the others, and all in all it looked almost cute, like a large robot pet.

Dib pressed another button and the cockpit opened; a screen extended out of the controls on a prehensile limb of sorts.

"Dibship, display video records and prepare for specific dates." He told the ship.

"Yes, O Great Paranormal Investigator With A Not At All Abnormally Sized Cranium." It said in a cheerful sounding digitized version of Dib's own voice.

"O Great Paranormal Investigator With A Not At All Abnormally Sized Cranium'?" Zim asked, eyeridge raised.

"I'm not overcompensating for my big head!" Dib yelled. "I can't be overcompensating for my big head if I don't have a big head and I do not have a big head so I can't be overcompensating for my big head and so I'm not compensating BECAUSE I DON'T HAVE A BIG HEAD!"

He breathed in and out heavily, gasping a little.

"I...didn't say anything about your head." Zim said, confused.

"You didn't? Oh, uh..." Dib scratched the back of his big head sheepishly. "Well, this is a little embarrassing. At least no one else saw that."

A reporter popped out behind a bush, holding a camcorder. "What a scoop!"

The bush he had been hiding behind popped out of the ground, also holding a camcorder. "You can't have this scoop, it's mine!"

Above Zim and Dib, several squirrels ran along a tree branch, trailing a complicated system of very small cameras and sound equipment. "Hey, we got dibs on the Dib stories!"

The tree they were standing on morphed into a very small green-haired human like being with a small pair of wings and a little crowny thing with a digital camera stuck in it floating above his head. "No fair, faeries got first call on clever alliteration! Hey, I didn't know I knew what that means! Five points for me! I'm finally winning the game!"

His pink haired wife popped out of nowhere. "What game are you talking about!"

"There's a game?" he said blankly. "No one tells me anything!"

A koala popped out of a cleverly designed knothole, a wallaby jumped out of a chiminy and an eagle flew out a tree. "We were here first!"

"Thirteen against one?" A magic talking pinata said, falling from the tree. "That be cheatery!"

A sasquatch wandered out of the direction of Dib's street, fitting a freshly sanded belt and a really big digital recorder. "Uh, thirteen? I counted twenty."

Three crocodile reporters popped out of a manhole. "Us too!"

Gir flew by, filming a flying super-snail. "Stop following me, you freak!"

"I'm filled with love! Eat it! It tastes like earwig honey and worm meal!"

"Well, it's obvious that it's impossible to establish credit!" A squirrel pointed out.

"Maybe the telebloids will cut a deal with us." The sasquatch suggested.

A guy with spiky blue hair, one with red hair and glasses and two twins ran out behind the sasquatch. "We know some studio people!"

A human with white hair and green eyes, wearing some sort of black jumpsuit with a stylized 'D' on the front, also wearing with white boots and gloves, shimmered into view about six feet up, hovering in the air. And yes, he also had video/sound recording equipment, this one marked The Specter Hector. "And there's this really great guy a few blocks from here! Pays big money for clips on Dib!" He yelled an address.

"Isn't that your house?" Zim said as they ran off there.

"I HATE THIS TOWN!" Dib yelled. "Hey! What are you doing with that audio-visual device?"

Zim vainly tried to hide it behind his back, attempting to look innocent. "Eh, recording the moment for posterity?" He formed a smile which he obviously thought looked winning, looking more like an alien Jeffrey Dahmer in a movie directed by Wess Craven.

Gaz wandered by, holding another camcorder.

A stark look of terror lightened Dib's face by enough degrees to earn him a place as an extra on the quadquel on Tommy Pickles' famous multimovie comedy epic, Yawn of the Dead: The Telemarketing Scam.

"No," he said, voice like that of the damned when they're suddenly aware of their ultimate destination in Hell's Irony District. "No...not you too..."

"Eeh," Gaz said as the the camcorder burst into flames and became naught but ashes. "I was going to use as blackmail against food thievery, but I guess that's pointless now. Whatever."

She walked off into the sunset(which was odd, as it was in the middle of the morning), and all small furry creatures trembled in her wake.

Dib scowled, clicking another button on his wrist-mounted control device.

The monitor turned on, showing a recording from the date, unknown to Zim, that Dib's lab was finished. Zim's masterfully brilliant mind sensed this because it said so at the bottom, along with the words Hey, Moron! It's preceding the date.

"I really should fix that bug," Dib thought aloud. "Duly noted! Awesome job, Hero Of All Mankind Past And/Or Present!" Dibship added.

Dib sagged. "I really should do something about the yesman and seventies lingo module. I knew I shouldn't let Dad tinker with it."

"Absolutely, Almightily Awesome Master of All Greatness!"

On the screen, Zim was sitting at a desk at the Libario Publico in Chinatown's Inuit District, playing with a Rubix Quadrangle; at the moment, every color was present on every side, including a few that had just been discovered on the cube.

He continually toyed with it, twisting it around, periodically looking close to utter loss of sanity when he twisted it too far and it would momentarily vanish into hyper space and return with more sides and potential color combinations. Judging by the scorch marks around the walls and desktop, this wasn't an infrequent occurrence.

Dib came on screen, and watched Zim toy with the quadrangle momentarily.

It was after Zim threw it in frustration and it bounced back off his face and into his hands that Dib chose the time to speak.

"Hey Zim, I got something to tell you."

Zim continued playing with his puzzle, showing no sign of being aware that Dib had spoken.

"Hey, Zim! I just-"

Zim raised his hand, signaling Dib to remain quiet. He looked the thing over, still trying to solve it.

"Uh, Zim?"

Zim held it by one corner, making it spin around and around, causing the space-time continuum to bend until Dib angrily placed his finger on it, making it stop. "ZIM!"

"Huh? Hey? What?" He spoke real quickly, looked around rapidly to see who had spoken, and noticed Dib. "What?" he said more normally.

"I have something to tell you."

"Oh."

"Well?"

"Well what?"

"Well, are you going to listen?"

"Sure, go ahead."

"Like I was trying to tell you, I broke a deal with my Dad, so I now have my own fully-funded private laboratory. Since your closest-okay, my only friend(which is the most pathetic thing I've ever heard of), I was wondering if you'd like to use the laboratory's facilities. Interested in becoming co-founder and fellow user?"

"Yeah sure whatever," Zim said quickly, still playing with the quadrangle and obviously paying no attention to what Dib was saying. The monitor went dark.

"And oh yeah, there's more!" Dib said.

The screen lit up, showing the Skool lunchroom at an overhead angle. Zim was eating his own prepared lunch, and Dib walked by, wearing his new lab-coat. From the date, this was only a week later.

"Hey, Zim! Want to come to the lab later?"

"What lab?"

"You know, the one I mentioned last Tuesday!"

"Oh," Zim said, speaking in the tone of voice reserved for speaking to those referred to as special-in-the-oh-so-sensitive-and-not-all-offensive-way-at-least-no-one-that's-ever-been-on-it's-receiving-end. "That lab. Yeeah, suuuure I'll see you there, wink wink."

Dib stared at him in an annoyed way. "You..do realize you just said 'wink wink' out loud."

"No I didn't, slap Dib's back friendly-like while sticking a kick-me sign on his back."

Dib sighed loudly, looking down at the floor. "No, I mean an actual lab my Dad gave me. That's the one I'm-" He looked up to see that Zim was already across the cafeteria at a snack machine. "Never mind." Someone snuck up behind him and kicked him. "Ow!"

The screen went blank again, and Zim was scratching the back of his head nervously. "Okaay, so maybe I haven't been paying attention, oh, once or twice..."

Dib looked at him with his eyes half-closed, frowning faintly. "'Once or twice', huh?"

He hit a number of buttons in succession. The screen lit up again, showing Zim's laboratory. He was at work in it, pointing some kind of laser at a sheet of metal secured in midair by a clamp rising from the ground. The safety goggles he was wearing lit by the light flashing off the sheet of metal. Dib fell in from the top of the monitor, presumably one of Gir's little entry hatches secreted throughout the building.

He bent over, dusting himself off. Noticing that Zim appeared to be in an alert status, he crept behind him. Dib noticed that a nearby screen displayed readouts that had something to do with explosive compressed mineral.

He pulled out a recorder and clicked a play button. The recorder made a good imitation of an explosion.

Screaming in sheer terror, Zim fell over and ran to an escape hatch, momentarily noticing that Dib was rolling on the floor, laughing. "Very funny, Dib," he said sarcastically.

"Oh, it was. It was." Wiping something from his eye, Dib stood up.

Shaking his head slowly, Zim sat back on the chair, slipping the goggles back over his eyes and resuming laser shooting.

Dib watched him for a few minutes, and sensing that absolutely nothing about this was going to change, he decided to try again.

"Whatever you're doing could probably done at the lab. We've got resources and this could be done a lot more efficiently."

"Uh huh."

"You're not listening to a word I'm saying, are you?"

"No, the mini-PEG hasn't spontaneously developed sentient consciousness again. Personally, I blame the whole robot rebellion on talk-shows. And the advent of bad rap music."

Dib blanched as the screen went blank. It lit up again, showing Zim at the park sitting at a little stone desk on a little floating chair.

He was reading a book entitled Sneaky Traps For Dummies, taking occasional bites from a snack. He looked around quickly, checking that no one was looking. He jumped up and sneaked over behind a nearby snack machine; his Pak opened up a compartment, from which he pulled out a small bag. Setting it on the ground softly, he opened it and pulled out a weird device like a bulky pistol that ended in a disclike shape, pointing it at the machine and pulling the trigger; all; the screws on the back of it forcibly ejected themselves. He pulled off the back off the machine as several spider-legs with hand attachments sprouted from his Pak and grabbed some more devices from the bag. He looked from both sides of the machine, checking again. Seeing no one, he ducked inside the machine, loud noises coming from within.

Dib walked on-screen, noticed what Zim was doing, and slammed a scale model of the laboratory complex on the desk. He ran off, out of sight as Zim came back on-screen.

Zim sat back down, yawned loudly, and suddenly noticed the model.

"It's the Helmacrons again!" he screamed, and blasted it with a really big laser he pulled out of his pod, reducing it to a smoking wreck. He laughed and abruptly stopped. "I must prepare against any further incursions of tiny eeeevil! TO THE FOODCOURT!"

He ran off, going "Da, da da da da!" like a trumpet doing the bugle, not noticed the little declaratory signs that popped out of the wreckage. The screen went black and lit up once more.

It appeared to be a foodcourt. The walls, for some reason, were covered nearly head to foot in an orange wallpaper that was just a lot of banners overlaying each other; words were written on them in Irken, drawings that roughly translated to sentences like Come to Dib's New Lab! In The East District! That Zim and Dib jointly own! And Is Vastly Funded! And Doom-proof! This Means You, Zim!

Zim walked in, looking around at the banners, more or less heedless of the way everyone else was looking at him.

He scratched the side of his face. "I sense that someone's trying to tell me something, but what? What could it be!"

Every single other person in the building slapped their faces simultaneously. "Oh, you've got to be kidding!" They all said.

"Are you really that dense?" Danny Fenton yelled.

"Ha! Zim's molecular configuration is at precisely the correct density!"

Everyone face-faulted as the screen went blank, and Dib looked at Zim, eyes half-closed sardonically.

"Why would you tape that?" Zim said quickly, trying to get off the subject of himself.

"For posterity," Dib hissed.

Admitting defeat, Zim sighed. "Fine, fine. I wasn't paying attention, blah blah, so very sorry, will never do it again, yadda yadda yadda, dooby dang bang. You came about something?"

Dib smiled. "Actually, I did. Interested in helping with my project?"

Zim shrugged half-heartedly. "Sure, why not. What is it?"

Dib held out his hand. "Wait. I want you to see it first before you decide anything."

"Alright. Who else is there?"

"Most of the people we know and a few we don't."

"Oh, a little short on staff, are we?"

"Shut up."

"Squeak!" Minimoose flew in.

Zim turned to his other robot sidekick. "Already finished? Give me the report!"

"Squeeek!" A long piece of diagnostic paper slid out of Minimoose's mouth; Zim ripped out the report, looking it over. "Eeeh? Negative!"

A hot blast of air knocked Zim to the floor; Dib was already in the Dibship, ready to fly off. "We're wasting time here!" Dib yelled, flying off.

"GIR!" Gir popped out of the ground, a large gopher kicking him out. Gir saluted, his eyes turning red. "Yes, my master!" Minimoose landed on Gir's head and sat there.

"Ready the Voot Cruiser, and be quick! I haven't a moment to lose!"

"Sir!" Gir's eyes turned blue again, and he ran off to the house, laughing madly. He ran into the door and fell down, still laughing. The sidewalk slab he was standing on flipped inwards and Gir fell down.

Moments later, the Voot Cruiser rose out of the roof, landing right by Zim; Gir and Minimoose were both in it, singing a variation of the Doom Song, this one replacing the words with 'doom' to 'moose'; Minimoose appeared to be singing along, in his own way.

The cockpit opened and Zim jumped into the pilot's seat. Almost immediately, it rose into the air as it flew after Dib, both of them trading the insults and taunts that marked people as friends, however odd, Zim's odd dream already fading to a dim memory.

Meanwhile, on another world entirely...

The principal world of the Nickelodeon system was insane in it's own way; laws of physics that frequently corresponded to cartoonish ones, a frequent lack of regard to the laws of conservation of matter, and odder things.

Another distant world, inhabited what was for the moment a single nation called the Comic Kingdom for various reasons by it's inhabitants, was insane in it's own ways.

One of those ways involved a frequent lack of regard for the law of gravity.

The castle that was home for it's ruler and his assistants was one such example; it was almost ludicrously tall, it's towers and spires looking like rolled up newspapers topped by funnel caps that were emitting a many-colored spray. It looked a lot like a typical castle, though much bigger, grander, and with a lot of magitech and plenty of odd emblems that resembled an orange cat's paw print.

It's size was almost uncountable, and there were hundreds of pathways in it; some said it had existed since the beginning of the world. Others said that it had been around for a long time, but not that long. However long that had been was hard to say, as no records existed from before it's construction, but there was no contesting it's extremely magical nature.

It's labyrinthine corridors hadn't all been mapped, nor did were the maps necessarily consistent from ruler to ruler; they changed as often as a change of throne, and sometimes just on what might've been the collective whims of those who were there.

Traveling it's hallways and many, many, many rooms based more on intuition and instinct was much smarter than using anything as pedestrian as a map.

This was something Calvin Nocker was forced to bear in mind on a daily basis.

It was extremely important that he knew about as much of Comic Castle as possible; as the Head Technomancer of The Royal Magi, it was his responsibility to ensure that all the technomagical devices in the place were operational, lest it blow up in a organ-frying Paradox backlash. It was a responsibility he took seriously, even if he didn't take anything else seriously.

At least, that's what he told people. It was better then telling them that he kept getting lost three times a day at best.

Frankly, his duties didn't actually amount to much; mostly he invented stuff for the king, kept a few devices in repair out of boredom and tinkered with his inventions while competing with peer reviewers. Still, he wasn't the best there was here for nothing.

At the moment, he was trying to find the king's courtroom, having headed up from the cafeteria with the king's breakfast on a heavy foodcart. Given the king's food habits, the two rooms were as close as possible, but...well, he was starting to become convinced that the castle was alive and obsessed with driving lost people insane.

"I HATE THIS STUPID CASTLE! IT'S COMPLETELY INSANE!" He yelled. A huge blob rose out of the ground by him.

"Tell me about it. I used to be a little blonde girl named Antonnete Wilkens." It disappeared under a trapdoor; Calvin hid a remote control back in his pocket, laughing scarily under his breath.

He looked around the big hall, annoyed. It was a big hall; saurians fit comfortably in here. To tell the truth, it's sheer size was daunting and the emptiness gave him the heebie-jeebies. The way the engravings on his shoes left loud clicks on the hall didn't help at all.

Calvin was a young boy that wasn't quite a teenager, perhaps twelve or thirteen but practically boiling with a manic brilliance that shamed a man twice his age. He was small for his age and scrawny besides, dressed in an outfit loosely based on the Adeptus Mechanus of long ago (their philosophy of machine power and transhumanism long since absorbed into mainstream culture, though their secrets remained); a long red coat set over a complicated but lightweight mechanical apparatus set over his body, the hood set high over his wild and slightly long blonde hair (so light it was nearly white in places) and a set of brass multi-faceted goggles over his brown eyes (red, with the specialized contacts he habitually wore) and a mechanical thing over his face that resembled a gasmask. On his hands and feet were oversized machine-gauntlets bristling with vents and gauges and lenses and small metal tendrils extending from slots that probably did weird and disturbing things to creep people out.

(The ominous effect was somewhat spoiled by a gray-blue wide-brimmed and pointed wizard's hat set right on top of his hooded head and rather clashed with the rest of his outfit. Opinions differed on why he felt the need to wear one for official meetings; some said it was really a magic device for increasing his intelligence. Others believed that it was a symbol of office; nobody really knew what that office was, but they agreed it was important and anyway the other previous officials had instituted their own odd symbols, so why not? And still others solemnly claimed that it was a Wonder of mad science that channeled the mysterious power of Inspiration that fueled his miraculous super-science. They were all wrong; he just thought it looked cool. He was gravely mistaken.)

He was Calvin (and he had no last name, though he often went by 'Nocker', a kind of mechanic fae-thing he dealt with often or 'Catach', since his ancestors had come from Catachan), a mad scientist that specialized in engineering sciences and had been mainly concerned with transformation and mobility-based Wonders before he'd started branching out, well-known for his enthusiasm to study virtually any branch of reality-bending magical arts (as well as study the effects of experimenting on himself), a dedicated alchemist of the 'drawing-circles-and-transmuting-stuff' variety and also a walking disaster area who had the dubious pleasure of holding a number of official responsibilities and titles including his own department (he changed the name of it every so often just to screw with people: currently he was sticking with the 'Bereau of Tellos Research and Develoupment and Also Defense', and if they didn't say the whole thing each time they had to wear ugly hats while playing Bloodbowl), a great deal of professional leeway for his personal projects and the freedom to interfere in the official research teams. This wasn't precisely a good thing; his inability to really think things through had resulted in sixty-six incidents of mass destruction this year alone and had earned him a lot of rightly deserved dislike from a lot of very important people. Fortunately, the King kept him around precisely because he had an uncanny talent for pissing people off, a fact he abused with malicious glee.

He was, after all, a mad scientist. He felt it expected of him.

At the moment, he was pushing a cart loaded with breakfast foods; at the very least, he didn't have to prepare it. That was Jon's job. He pitied him, in the "but for the grace of God go I" sense.

Say what you would about King Garfield, but the cat was nothing if not a glutton.

Some occasionally how Calvin and a few other key members of Garfield's inner circle had made it there at all. In a few cases it was a thing of merit, but they were often the sort of people who had the knack of always being under the radar all the time.

He was the King, though, and did what he would. As for the other appointments, Calvin and Hobbes...well, neither of them quite knew just how they got their jobs. That was the thing about things going by real fast. And the King liked to keep some people close.

Some might protest appointing a teddy bear the Secretary of State, but other rulers had made more insane rulings, like the time Mhooeny The Loony had declared all executions to be performed by beating the condemned to death with salmon.

He liked his job; once you got past the falsities, it was enormously easy and at the very least he now had a budget that could keep up with his ideas.

That didn't make the stupid food cart any less heavier, though.

He idlely considered transmuting the food and cart to make it all less heavy, but the last time he tried that it blew up in his face. Literally.

Muttering long and pointlessly about how unfair his life was and why it was so much to ask that the King just go on an actual diet again, he ran right into a stone post.

Actually, it wasn't a post. It was the base of a statue he had transmutated from the crumbled bits of the old statue of the King of Od when he had been dethroned and made the statue of King Garfield.

Turning around, leaving the cart, he saw a huge pair of blue double doors. And that wasn't exaggeration; it looked as it had been built for the Titans of yore, and the golden doorknob was at least ten feet above his head. The doors loomed over him, inspiring thoughts of an ancient reptilian beast waiting within to bore all with stories of his time.

Undeterred, he knocked on the door sharply, the noise resounding several times in the huge deserted hallway.

Three feet and ten inches of the door he was standing in front of folded away like the page of a book. Stepping back behind the foodcart, he wheeled it into the vast room.

It was a big rounded antechamber, and mostly empty most of the time. The only noticeable features were the two giant statues of himself and Hobbes alongside the throne, the long red carpet trailing from the entrance to the throne and the throne itself.

The throne was about four feet tall, which was a little superfluous since the King was only two and a half feet tall when he was standing up. It was a little wider than King Garfield was, so there was some proportion. It's metal was made of a magical metal called perfected silver, better known as lunargent, and the cushioning on it was silk filled with adjusted stuffing, both made of unstable molecules for maximum comfort. The upper part of it was engraved in a flowed design that melded together in the romantized form of a heart. Considering that he'd been on the throne for at least a few years, he'd made quite an impression on it.

"Hey, Your Majesty!" He yelled, slowly rolling the cart in. "You wouldn't believe how weird everything's been today! First I couldn't find my hat because a little gremlin stole it and then it just got worse when it mutated into a horrific thing and then-"

He looked around. Something was wrong. By now King Garfield should had interjected with some kind of remark or rude observation, but he was being uncharacteristically quiet.

Odd.

Looking over the foodcart, he realized what was wrong; King Garfield wasn't in the throne or anywhere in the room. Looking up, he saw the TV that was hidden in the ceiling and could lower down in front of the throne was concealed in the ceiling and showed no sign of having lowering itself since last night; he noticed a dopey looking anthropomorphic sandy beagle Garfield's height crept out from behind the throne, and on that throne a note sealed with a familiar orange wax paw print.

Grand High Deputy Odie, walking on all fours, grabbed the note in his mouth and walked over to Calvin, depositing it on the ground. He sat down, staring blankly into space and panting heavily. Shrugging, Calvin picked up the letter and opened it. Unfolding it, he saw that it was written in a computer font as usual. That signified it was the King's writing as he couldn't write intelligibly. He read the letter, thinking it was probably just another leave of absence again for a few weeks.

Then he froze, taking in what it said. An eyebrow twitched. Fifteen seconds later, he exploded out of the room screaming as Odie followed him, yipping loudly.

"HOBBES! HOOOOOBBESSSS!"

There were a few basic reactions to Calvin's mind, and one of them was to freak out and get Hobbes.

Fifteen minutes later...

In the garden of the Comic Castle , Hobbes Pooka was catnapping.

He was an anthropomorphic tiger (humanoid animals being quite common in the Kingdom) and probably in his mid-teens, tall by human standards but slightly short by tiger standards, his powerfully built martial artist's body covered by pale orange fur fading to creamy white around his front and boyish muzzle, the erratic black stripes mixing with stylized tribal tattoo-like markings that went all over his entire body with a small degree of obsessive decoration. It should have made him look a little intimidating but his face, boyishly handsome by his people's standards and sweetly kittenish by most other's, gave him the impression of a curious young warrior on a pilgrammage from the reservation. Crouching over like one of his most distant feline ancestors, animatedly explaining some point or another to his audience, he gave the impression that he was romancing all of them without being aware of it. This was an accurate impression. Another impression, based on his markings, fur color and facial features, was that he was a member of a tribe that primarily occupied the planet formerly known as the homelands of the long-gone Space Wolves (only recently reclaimed by the Kingdom); more specifically, the Kotirrim, a loose organization of cat-themed humanoids with a grudge against humanity, and even more specifically a subset that descended from Siberian tigers. (Or, more likely, Fenris tigers.) This impression was technically true, but not in a particular pleasant way. It certainly wasn't something he was comfortable discussing, and so most people assumed that he had nothing to do with him and just didn't like being associated with them for whatever reason. This impression was very mistaken indeed.

His uniform was...odd. Unlike Calvin, who had a number of departments to operate in dictatorial cheerfulness, Hobbes took a more democratic approach to things and instead wandered in and out of various military organizations within the Kingdom, holding fairly high positions in all of them and able to exercise authority in all of them and prone to going to taking charge of different positions when the mood struck him, generally just in the nick of time for one dangerous misison or another; the general concensus was that he was like a lucky penny that turned up just when his skills were needed, his rambunctious personality and carefree attitude constantly putting him at odds with the more stern top brass that regarded him as a monkey wrench in the most carefully laid-up plans. (For his part, Hobbes thought he had the worst luck in the world; just when he took up a different position to get away from the action, he wound up in a different problem. And to top it off, his superiors thought he was a pain in the neck. Granted, that was fun, but he prefered to avoid conflict unless it was more fun to start some.) Accordingly, he had a tendency to mix-up uniforms when he wasn't strictly attached to a particular regiment; right now, he wore the armored longcoat of a Battle-Sister (an all-women organization of religious women warriors going back to the Imperium; he shouldn't have been part of them due to being male, but it was astonishing what sheer dumb luck can cause), the layered vestments of the Disorganized Latter-Day Chaplains, the combat leathers of the Interplanetary Marines, a pair of steel-toed combat boots that were probably part of the Planetary Defense Legion's uniform, and other odds and ends.

Just about the only things on him that wasn't mix-and-match uniform were his markings, a massively oversized and floppy sombrero (which he'd tried, without much success, to be instated as the uniform hat of over a dozen different regiments), and a number of necklaces made with the same care and artistic turn of mind that had led to the garden's current incarnations; most of the necklaces were collections of teeth strung on shiny beads and pretty stones he'd found (each tooth taken from a single monster he'd killed, and there were a lot of teeth on those necklaces, including ones from an cannibal shark-man that made the misfortune of going after Calvin in Hobbes' proximity), but one was a small plate on a chain that read WWAD? (What Would Aslan Do?). The end result was that the average mind couldn't be sure if he was a heroic warrior, a childlike joker, or a mixture of the two. The answer was more complicated than that.

He was using his arms as a pillow and snoring softly. Anyone who saw him at the moment would not have thought him to be the Captain of the Royal Order of Crusaders; once you got past the fact that he was a tiger covered almost head to foot in tribal tattoos and wore armor constructed from the most fearsome of beasts in the world(he believed in making the most of one's prey, considering it a basic courtesy), he took on an overwhelming resemblence to something cuddly and adorable, like an oversized plush toy.

A mechanical hoverpod crashed into the ground five feet from him, covering him in dust; he stretched lazily, he turned aside, muttering sleepily.

Calvin and Odie popped out of a concealed hatch in it, the former wildly looking for his best friend, the latter panting with a tongue the size of a zucchini.

"Hobbes!" Calvin yelled, catching sight of the tiger. "Hobbes, wake up!" He ran up to the tiger's side, panting shallowly. "Wake up, we've got a problem even worse than that time I accidentally made twenty evil duplicates and they conquered the world for five and a half days but then spontaneously imploded for reasons I have yet to establish!"

Hobbes rolled over, still snoring. His tail uncurled and twitched from side to side.

"Arrrgh!" Calvin laid his arms on his elbows, touching similar circles on each side that had odd symbols that looked like four lightning bolts touching each other in the middle. They suddenly emitted a bright purple light that met between his arms and formed a small ball of lightning that striked out in a concentrated bolt; Hobbes rolled onto his feet suddenly, holding up a shield; the bolt jumped off the shield and hit Calvin, knocking him into a tree and snagging his shoulder flap on a branch.

He kicked himself off the tree, yelping when he hit the ground.. He glared at Hobbes, who had rolled onto his back laughing. "Very funny."

"You had it coming. Good morning, by the way."

"Yeah yeah-wait! Hobbes, we got a problem!" Calvin ran up to his friend, lowering his voice. "But we have to keep it quiet, so don't tell anyone!"

Hobbes frowned thoughtfully. "Queen Arlene?"

"Not even the Queen!" He snapped.

Hobbes cocked his head, looking surprised. "Susie?"

Calvin grabbed his hair, on the verge of making himself prematurely bald. "No, no, no! It's top secret, you idiot!"

Hobbes cocked an, looking at something behind Calvin. He wagged his index finger in a come hither gesture.

Calvin broke off his ranting, staring at Hobbes with his brand of bewilderment.

He pointed at Calvin's head and twirled that same finger around in the same manner as a ring on a solar system diagram.

"Wha..?" Calvin said as he slowly turned around, seeing two females behind him; a human girl his age, with neatly trimmed brown hair, wearing yellow robes similar to his and a small mechanical rabbit on her shoulder. Next to her was a pink anthropomorphic cat about two feet and a half tall, wearing a red dress and a surprised expression.

Susie Derkins crossed her arms and looked annoyed, while Queen Arlene looked at the two boys curiously.

"Heh heh heh," Calvin said weakly, while Hobbes snickered behind him.