Author's Note: Here's a one-shot as an X-mas present to my readers.
Disclaimer: Invader ZIM and related stuff belong to Jhonen Vasquez and Nickelodeon Studios.
Deus ex Machina
The moon looked lonely that night. No stars visible to surround it. No clouds to embrace it. Only the empty stretch of dark blue sky suspended above a landscape that was deceptively well-decorated with a collection of skyscrapers, blinking lights, tires screeching and car alarms sounding, but yet, in a rather pessimistic sounding but thought invoking sense, just as empty. At least this was the view of one certain young visionary, who stood at the edge of the woods regarding the city with clear disapproval. He beheld his entire society-for as far as he had seen, this was representative of his people as a whole-that he struggled tirelessly each day to defend, and there were a sad many times like these when he stood beyond the city limits, stared lucidly at the scene before him, and squinted in a vain effort to find, among the looming towers and extravagant lights, an answer to one of the darkest questions vexing him: "For what?".
These people...it seemed as if all that concerned them were basic needs and enjoyment. Only tangible matters. No one took time to think, to imagine, and that was where Dib and society were at conflict. Some of these people were unwilling to wonder about anything beyond their everyday lives, and some refused to believe there was anything of that sort. Some were scared of what they didn't understand, as was typical of human nature and the nature of other animals; and some simply were unaware that anything lay beyond the reality they were accustomed to.
In all honesty, Dib wasn't sure which of these reasons worried him the most. Nevertheless, he reasoned, the central dilemma was their ignorance. The boy had often read stories on fiction that told of such a situation, in which life for mankind had become a numbing monotony, lifeless repetition, each day replaying itself like a broken record: wake up, go to work, come home, lie in bed wondering what they've done with their lives, then go to sleep because they're too exhausted to mull over such things, and repeat the next day.
And above all, pretend they're happy with it.
But then, some were. For those who enjoyed such a lifestyle, no problem lay therein. But they were constantly fooled-and in turn, constantly fooled themselves-into the emphasized premise that nothing could possibly exist if it did not lay before their eyes. And then, when human mentality teetered dangerously close to collapse, on deviant philosopher would step in to show humanity that there were hidden mysteries in every aspect of life. A new dawn would come then, and life would start anew. People would start to think again.
It was a fantasy Dib turned when in need of temporary escape from the endless battle-and many times, possible chance of martyrdom-that was the core of the life he chose-the life he felt he was meant to have. And soon he had to return to it, for those stories he clung to were, after all, only fiction.
He turned from the city and dragged his feet halfheartedly towards the woods. Where was that deus ex machina-the solution in the nick of time-when it was needed? It was the nick of time now, wasn't it? After all, after the arrival of a certain visitor from the skies, the world could unsuspectingly fall victim to this power-mad extra terrestrial at any moment, so each second could well be the nick of time. So when would the hero of the story come?
Walking deeper into the woods, the child scrunched up his small face in disgust, remembering a time long past when he dared to have faith in those tales, faith that such a hero would rescue mankind when needed. His belief had only risen the day that such a thing almost happened. Just when he thought he'd found the deus ex machina-in the form of a very unique school counselor-he was betrayed and deserted, and it was that night he had decided that that was what he got for trusting.
Clenching his teeth at the memory, Dib ventured aimlessly through the trees. He wasn't quite sure why he came to the woods from time to time; a physical means of escape from this mindless civilization, probably. Just to separate himself from the ongoing fight momentarily. Stopping at the edge of a clearing, he gazed upward at the lonesome moon. At least he wasn't the only one feeling that way. He smiled slightly, then his face dropped, and he blushed. Now he was personifying the moon.
'As if it isn't bad enough that I talk to myself'', he thought. His habit of speaking to himself was one he had always found pathetic, even though he knew he had no one else who really cared to listen. His classmates passed off what he had to say as insane rambling, his father was always too busy to listen-and also thought he only spoke in insane fantasies anyway-and his sister…well, Gaz just didn't understand. She always told him she did understand-she just didn't care-but he had never allowed himself to believe such a thing. She seemed to understand, and she didn't seem concerned about anything he told her of, but he didn't want to believe it was true. She was the only one he had to talk to, even if a conversation with her was like talking to a brick wall-except that brick walls didn't interrupt him periodically to lash out with a degrading comment or a threat, or occasionally to beat him up when they were sick of hearing him.
The boy's eyes dropped to the ground listlessly, and there was something further into the clearing that caught his eye. He walked over to inspect an unusual shaped rut in the dirt near a log. It became a crude drawing that he recognized at once. He had scratched the image of Zim in the outline of an enclosure into the loose earth that one tragic night while waiting for the alien to arrive. The doodle was surprisingly still there, more or less, and Dib placed a hand gently on it as if it would revive the failed plan from that earlier night and bring it to success. He dropped to his knees. He had been so close…He had been so close a number of times. And it seemed like fate didn't find favor with him at all. Dib was sick of it all. Sick of his hopes being raised so high and then dashed mercilessly. Well his hopes couldn't dust themselves off and stand back up again forever, and they were now dwindling, diminishing, dying. With a fevered swipe, he upturned the dirt and destroyed the drawing. Satisfied, he watched the resulting dust cloud disperse into the air, and then he took hold of the tree log and lifted himself onto it in sitting position. Hunching his shoulders, he dropped his head into his arms and sat still and silently.
Dib didn't have the faintest clue how long it was before the sound of a foot crunching a dead leaf caught his attention and made him look up. His eyes still adjusting to the light change after having his head buried in his arms for so long, he squinted in an attempt to make out the approaching figure. An adult was hesitantly coming forth into the clearing, and as familiar features emerged into view, Dib found himself in flat disbelief of the person's apparent identity. A broad smile spread under the person's childlike blue eyes, and one hand rose in a small wave. The boy's eyes widened and his jaw began to lower.
"Dwicky…you…Why are you here?" he asked.
"Hey, Dib!" the man exclaimed in a crisp and carefree tone, "Glad to see ya again!"
Dib felt frankly as if he had been slapped in the face.
Dwicky's smile fell in puzzlement. "What do you mean, 'what'?"
"After what you did to me," Dib's face began to feel hot with anger, "you have the nerve to come back acting like nothing ever happened?"
"I…" the former counselor's eyes wandered nervously, "I…That's what I came here about…I'm…sorry…?"
The boy stared at him expectantly, and grew more and more furious when the man said nothing more.
"That's…it? Just…just 'I'm sorry'?"
Dwicky looked up at him in sudden helplessness. "What else am I supposed to say?" he asked in a small whisper.
"Well," Dib fought to control the mounting rage rapidly filling him, "unless you were fighting for your life on that Plookesian ship, you sure had plenty of time to make up an apology speech."
"Okay, I know I did wrong, and I really am sorry, but it was just my lifelong dream to…see the galaxy."
"So you left me?" the boy grew shaky as fury became the frustration of betrayal all over again, "After you…promised you'd help?"
"I don't know what I was thinking," Dwicky answered sincerely, "It was the worst mistake I had ever made."
"You…could have…at least thought…to…" a steady sentence could not escape Dib uninterrupted, for he was now breaking into short sobs periodically. Finding himself unable to finish, he held his face in his hands and cried.
"…give back the camera?" Dwicky finished for him, and Dib felt a large, solid object placed in his lap. Uncovering his eyes, he blinked away the tears clouding his vision and beheld the device he was presented with.
"You…brought it back?" It was, at least, a small comfort.
"Now I see that face brightening a little," Dwicky observed a little more cheerily, and sat down beside the boy. "And that's not all. You see, I felt so bad about doing this to you that I decided I might make a tiny bit of it up to you by getting more alien footage."
Dib froze. "You…you have more proof…of aliens?"
"I got suspicious of the Plookesians after time, so I filmed them behind their backs. So things worked out, considering I couldn't give you back the camera once I was in the ship."
"What do you mean?" Dib questioned, "You could have tossed it down to me."
"And risk having it broken? Besides, Zim might have gotten his hands on it."
Dib's mouth opened wide, and he gazed almost speechlessly into the man's eyes, seeing him in a very different light now.
"You…were just trying to…save the camera?"
Dwicky nodded, grinning at the spark of newly found hope he ignited in the boy's eyes. Dib tensed with a fresh charge of willpower building inside of him, and finally sprang to his feet.
"So this means," a huge grin blossomed on his face, "that Zim can…finally be…brought to justice?!"
Dwicky's own face lit up in warmth. "It would seem like it, kid."
Dib clutched the camera close to him in pulsating vigor. "Well then, let's go!" He started swiftly towards the edge of the clearing, to return to the city with mankind's salvation, but halted upon seeing that Dwicky wasn't following him.
"What are you waiting for?" he asked, looking back at the man in utter confusion. Dwicky hadn't even risen from his seat, and it did not appear as if he planned to.
"What are you waiting for? Go on and bring Zim down," Dwicky encouraged.
Puzzled, Dib let his face fall. "Aren't you coming with me?"
The former psychologist fidgeted and drew his eyes to his feet. "No. I just…came to apologize and drop the camera by."
The child stared in disbelief. "But…but I need you. I've done this by just myself for so long…what if I need someone to back me up? Or just for moral support? You can't…leave me again."
Dwicky shook his head softly. "I'm not going back there. No one understands us. I'm going to run away again and hide."
"But what about me?" Dib implored in a quiet whisper. His eyes began to well up with more tears.
"I'm just too scared-"
"You're just going to do this too me again?!" the boy suddenly shouted, "You promised you'd help-you lied to me…"
Dwicky looked up, eyes reflected a solemn empathy. "I was only trying to get you to open up to me."
Dib hardened. "You lied to gain my trust?"
The man's eyes shifted away in shame. "There was a time when I was just a kid that I did believe in aliens, but aliens didn't rescue me when I needed them, so I…didn't think they existed. I still don't know how it's possible."
Dib softened again, and came closer to him. "So you believed that just because you counted on someone to help you, and they don't, then they don't exist?"
Dwicky's eyebrows rose in realization.
"But you've disproved that," Dib continued, "because you are real, and so are aliens." He received a small smile in response.
"You know," he went on, "I used to believe in stories I read about a hero, who dared to imagine, arriving when needed the most, and saving mankind from the strictly soulless lives they had trained each other to have. So I know what that's like… having a childhood belief ruined. But yours came true after all."
Dwicky eyed him with a knowing smile. "Just because you counted on them to help you, and they don't, then they don't exist?"
It was Dib's turn for his eyes to be opened.
Dwicky's smile grew. "I think you are that deus ex machina."
The boy looked a bit frightened. "But…I can't do it alone."
The ex-counselor's expression grew troubled. "Dib…I can't. I'm too scared of this world."
"I'm scared, too," Dib offered, "But we can do it together."
"I don't know how…"
"I'll show you." The young visionary extended his hand and gave his companion a comforting smile. Dwicky drew back, but after a long silence, shakily took Dib's hand. The two stood side by side, looking out towards the bustling city, to this foreboding society, and set off towards it-a counselor leading a frightened child into the big, terrifying world.
And yet, somehow, this role reversal surprised neither of them.
Author's Note: Merry X-mas! And a note on the phrase, deus ex machina: as stated in the fic, it's a solution that appears in the nick of time. It's a Latin phrase meaning, in literal terms, "god of the machine".