The Rats of NIMH
Chapter Seventeen: Welcome to Vort (Enjoy Your Stay)
WARNING: Torture and anal probing ahead. Tread with caution.
"You'll never take me alive, Zim!" Dib cried, and struck a heroic pose, and waved his arms around dramatically.
"We'll just see about that, won't we?" Zim retorted, his grin maniacal and his glinting eyes deadly as he moved in for the kill. His fingers moved deftly over the controls, and the giant robot gorilla under his command maneuvered swiftly across the battlefield, taking out cars and buildings in its wake.
Dib's equally enormous mutant platypus monster screeched wetly and took a swan dive off the top of a sky-scraper to land with an earthquake force right where Zim's robot's head used to be. Zim had spun out of the way at the last second, snarling Irken obscenities in a language Dib only half understood, before picking up an eighteen-wheeler in each gargantuan hand and hurling them in Dib's direction. He ducked behind a building, and the two oil trucks went crashing into the pavement, and then promptly exploded.
"C'mon Gaz! Use your army of rat creatures to take him out! If we work together, we could win this battle!" Dib shouted through his mouth-piece, frantically dodging and weaving as Zim chucked one vehicle after another at him, firing wildly with his newly procured Tachyon Laser Blaster 4000. "Dammit platypus, do something! Yeah, that's it! Eat his face! Take THAT, alien scum!"
"Remove your disgusting duck...beaver...duck...MEAT from Zim's robot this instant! Zim commands you! Augh, you ridiculous gorilla, hit it harder!"
Gaz groaned to herself from where she was curled up on the couch, engrossed in her GameSlave Color and the new Pokemon game she'd acquired over the Christmas holidays. She scowled, and adjusted the bluetooth phone attached to her ear.
"Dib, I am two badges away from defeating all the gym leaders, and that stupid Team Rocket just took out my Haunter. Now I have to use...ugh...Chikorita. So if you don't leave me alone right now I'm gonna make you wish I was an only child."
"You have Chikorita?" Dib snorted with disdainful incredulity. "Why did you go and pick that one? Everyone knows Cyndaquil is way better. Hell, any Pokemon is better than—"
"Look, I know that, okay?" Gaz snarled. "But it's not like I have much of a choice! All my other stupid pokemon fainted! And I didn't pick it, I traded for it. There's a difference."
"DIB! Will you stop arguing about some ridiculous banana monster and PAY ATTENTION!" Zim screeched, stomping over to where Dib was crouched in some old lady's rose garden. Dib howled, and threw himself over the white picket fence just as the gorilla's elephantine foot kicked in the roof and scattered debris all over the yard. He sprinted through another garden that looked identical to the first, firing laser beams over his shoulder and generally trying not to get squashed.
"Wait," he said, suddenly coming to a screeching halt and whirling around to point an accusing finger up at Zim. Zim's gorilla staggered as he pulled up on the controls, too surprised to do anything else. "How did you know Chikorita looks like a banana?" Dib demanded. "Unless...Zim! You play pokemon, don't you!"
"What?" Zim squeaked shrilly. "LIES!"
"You do!" Dib crowed, and dissolved into a fit of laughter. "I knew it! Not only are you a contemptible alien freak, but you're also a total nerd to boot! Bahahahaha!"
"I am not!" Zim cried angrily, his face flushing a dark green and he tried to stomp Dib flat beneath the heel of his robot, but the detestable little worm was too quick. Instead, all he managed to do was make his gorilla dance a rather bizarre version of the Cucaracha. It made Gir laugh, but other than that, it wasn't very effective.
"You are! Oh, that is just priceless!" Dib managed to wheeze into his chortling giggle-fit, while he took pot-shots up at the gorilla's shins and knee-caps. "So tell me, Zim, have YOU managed to catch 'em all?"
"Shut up!" Zim bellowed, switching his robot to auto-pilot and throwing open the cockpit door so he could berate the stinking human in person. "Who are you to tease the Almighty ZIIIM! I know for a fact you play that game all the time!"
"Yeah, but that's different," Dib scoffed, waving his hand in dismissal. "I'm not the one who hates everything about the whole human race."
Zim froze for a second, and glanced over at a few people standing out in their front lawns, most of them still in their pajamas and clutching mugs of coffee, all gaping in slack-jawed amazement at the two Godzilla-sized monsters currently duking it out in their neighborhood. It was the Monday morning fight before skool, which usually consisted of anything that was left over from their Epic Weekend Battle, and guaranteed that the week would always start off rather strangely. Really, this was pretty typical, and these people ought to be used to it by now. Still, Zim felt the need to defend himself and his shoddy attempt at a cover.
"Are your pants made of fire, Dib-worm?" he demanded. "Who said anything about hating the humans?"
"YOU did," Dib retorted flatly. "You've said it every day since you came to this planet. In your SPACESHIP. From SPACE."
This, of course, was said for the onlooker's benefit. If they cared to listen. Which they usually didn't.
"What?" Zim cried, throwing his hands in the air. "Zim was smeeted on this horrible planet just like the rest of you sniveling earth-monkeys! We loooove humans. Right, Gir?"
"I like potatoes," Gir said helpfully.
"People aren't smeeted, Zim," Dib replied with as much scorn as was humanly possible, with an added roll of not just his eyes, but his whole head. "It's called being born. Why don't you Google it before you open your big, stupid mouth?"
"At least my mouth isn't as big as your Snorlax sized monster of a head which is abnormally large!" Zim shot back petulantly.
"How can you people not see that he's an alien!" Dib shouted, gesticulating furiously at Zim and glaring around at the humans gathered on the street. "And quit making fun of my head, dammit!"
"Oh please," Zim snorted. "This is all completely normal. Yup, no alien plots to take over the world here."
"Yeah? And what about the giant monsters destroying the city, huh?" Dib asked, his hands on his hips.
"Them? It's a movie stunt. That's all just a bunch of special effects," Zim shrugged, before his mouth curled into a wicked grin and his garnet eyes lit with malicious glee. "In fact...if you hurry over there, you all get the chance to be extras! And the one with the best death scene gets to be in the movie. But you have to hurry, because they won't be filming for much longer."
Dib gawked, furious and flabbergasted, as his neighbors moved off towards the giant-platypus-gorilla-droid-death-match with looks of mildly excited interest.
"Ugh! You gotta be kidding me!" he shouted. A part of him hoped they got squashed. They would deserve it for being so utterly retarded.
"Did you really expect them to believe you?" Zim scoffed, preening at his own brilliance.
"Well, no, not about you," Dib admitted with a sigh. "But I really didn't think they were so stupid as to just walk into a battlefield like that."
"You over-estimate their abilities, worm-baby," the alien purred as he made his slinking way towards the boy, and gave him a mockingly consoling pat on the shoulder. Dib brushed him off with a scowl. But Zim just smiled...and then wrapped his arms around Dib's neck, and leaned in to nuzzle at his ear.
"But then, they've always been a stupid race," Zim murmured. "That's why they all burned."
"What?" Dib said, jerking back, his eyes wide and his brows knitted in confusion. Zim cocked his head, his mouth still pulled into this gentle, wane, strange little smile. He looked...almost sad.
"Wake up, Dib-thing," he said quietly. "Your world has ended."
And that's when Dib noticed that the sky had turned a bloody shade of red, and the air was filled with an unspeakable noise, and the earth was cracking apart beneath his feet...
"Wake up..." Zim said.
And then, like everything else, he was gone.
"WAKE UP, MEAT!"
Dib yelped as something small and hard and sharp drove into his ribs. He shot up and looked around in disoriented alarm, automatically searching for Zim—and blinked when he spotted the Irken standing at the door of his cell, his arms crossed and his red eyes narrowed angrily. And for a wild instant he thought...
But, no. This Irken was too small to be his long-ago rival, and yet, the resemblance was uncanny. Then again, he supposed that they all pretty much looked the same. But for a quiet moment, Dib could almost imagine that the last ten years had never happened. That he was back where things were simpler, and they were still just children, and the world was as idiotic as ever but it was still there. That this was just another stint in the Crazy House For Boys. That Zim had finally gotten bored and come to get him, if only to see the look on Dib's face at having to be rescued by his own arch nemesis. They would argue, and call each other names, and Dib would have to rush to stop whatever ridiculous plan Zim had set in motion in his absence.
...It twisted his gut that he missed it all so badly.
"What do you want?" he said coldly, and bit down on his homesickness, focusing instead on the black pool of hatred that sat in his stomach like bitter sludge.
"The warden says you're to be processed," the Irken guard informed his coldly, clapping a pair of electrostatic cuffs around his wrists, before holding up a thin black device that looked a lot like a TV remote.
"Know what this is?' the guard asked with a nasty smirk.
"No," Dib replied, though he had the sinking feeling that it wasn't pleasant.
The guard bared his teeth in a mean smile. "I'll show you," he said, and pushed a button. Dib jumped when he felt the Pak tighten around his spinal cord, and then he hit the ground with a startled yelp of pain. A jolt of energy had just shot down his back, where it shuttered along his nervous system and rendered his legs useless. It hadn't hurt as much as he knew it could have, just left him feeling as if all of his limbs had just fallen asleep.
"That's what it does," the Irken informed him smugly. "Now get up and follow me, or I'll show you worse than that."
Not seeing much of a choice, Dib struggled to get his feet under him, and then tried to stamp away the sharp tingling in his toes. One of the walls of his cell had gone semi-transparent, and as he stepped through he felt it tingle unpleasantly across his skin. Two more guards stood at attention outside his cell, each clutching what looked like a big, pink Nerf gun in their hands. Dib smirked to himself; they must consider him to be pretty dangerous if they thought they needed Tachyons.
Curiously, he glanced around. He'd been too exhausted to get a good look at everything the first time he'd been through here, but as far as he could tell his prison block was at least three stories tall. A slarge space was cut out of the middle, round and oblong, and the cells were stacked on top of one another three at a time. They shimmered and crackled and threw strange shadows up on the walls. Everything was gray here, or dyed a pale blue from the light of the force-fields. It was a boring, harsh, miserable place, and he was almost he had lost his glasses, because even half-blind he could tell that much.
He was lead out of the prison block and through a small steel door, to a room that had no windows or furniture save an uncomfortable metal chair. At least, that's what he'd thought it was. When they forced him to sit, the thing came alive beneath him. It grabbed the cuffs around his wrists with an electromagnetic force, and snapped metal restraints across his hips and ankles, while two more slid down over his shoulders. Another came up under his chin, adjusting along his jaw-line to hold his head in place.
Knives came out of the ceiling.
Dib felt his stomach drop, and he tried to recoil, but he had nowhere to go. He stared convulsively as several long arms, bristling with what looked like an array of surgical equipment, descended towards him face. Dib sucked in a breath as one of the arms reached for him, his entire body shaking, while his heart tried to claw its way out through his throat. They couldn't be doing this again...not again...
Dib stiffened. And then he realized that the "surgical knife" had just shaved a big bald streak right through his thick black hair.
"HEY!" he squawked indignantly, simultaneously embarrassed they were shaving him and relieved that it wasn't something worse. The Irkens snickered nastily, and Dib snapped his mouth shut, glaring. He just hoped that was the extent of the torture for today, and watched dispassionately as more and more inky strands drifted to the floor, flinching now and then whenever the razor nicked his ear. Well...he'd needed a hair-cut, anyway.
The chair moved beneath him, and pulled him upright. A cable was plugged into the Pak on his back, and a black computer screen emerged from the wall. One of the Irken, wearing a white lab coat and a pair of goggles, stood watching the screen as it scanned through a list of data, every now and again making notes on the clip-board in his hands.
"Specimen is under weight," he noted with clinical disinterest. "Ocular neurons are inadequate, and will probably need replacing, but for now the Pak may provide a temporary fix. Brain and cranium appear to be abnormally large for its skeletal structure. Is this normal for your species?"
Dib scowled at the Irken. "Yes," he ground out through clenched teeth.
"Sensors indicate you are lying."
"Why can't you just leave my head alone!" Dib spat angrily. The Irken raised a brow at him, then flicked his antennae in a gesture Dib had come to recognize as the Irken equivalent of a shrug. He turned back towards the screen, and began inputting several commands, his hands sweeping across the monitor with practiced ease. Dib didn't realize what was happening until he felt the Pak moving behind his eyes, creeping through his brain like crawling ivy and twining through his nerves. He drew in a sharp gasp, jerking hard against his restraints in spasmodic reflex, feeling sick. There was a burning stab of pain, and the world swam in tears, and he squeezed his lids shut for a moment when everything suddenly tilted upside down, before his vision began to blur and sharpen and blur, like someone fiddling with the focus on a camera.
And then, suddenly, Dib could see. Really see, even better than he had with his glasses. He felt the Pak retreat, and he swallowed deep gulping breaths of air, trying very hard not to hyperventilate. He didn't know the Pak could do things like that...and when he tried to imagine what else it might be capable of his mind went blank with cold, seeping terror. Heart stuttering, he watched dimly as two mechanical arms came down and cut right through the middle of his favorite shirt.
And then they went for his pants.
"Wait! What are you doing?" Dib demanded shrilly, but the guards ignored him. His skin prickled in the chill air, and heat was rising on his cheeks as he was stripped down to nothing. After that, they poked and prodded at him for almost fifteen minutes. They checked his teeth, and wrote down how many fingers and toes he had. They stuck things in his ears, and flashed a light in his eyes. They listened to his heart, and counted how many times it would beat in a minute. He felt like some hound at the Westminster Dog Show.
The examination was thorough, and the the rest of it was invasive, callous, and deeply humiliating. When it was over, Dib was flushed and shaking. After that he was blasted with cleansing chalk until his skin was rubbed raw, but the unclean feeling didn't go away. Finally, they let him go. Without a word, he accepted the black and gray jumpsuit they offered him, and pulled it on with trembling fingers, his eyes glued to the floor.
The computer in the wall gave a soft beep, and Dib glanced up automatically. For a few fleeting seconds he was able to catch his reflection in the darkened screen. His amber eyes were dull and flat, with deep bruising circles. A faint gray outline indicated where his hair used to be, and he felt strangely naked without the ever-present scythe, or his pony tail. Without it, his head looked even bigger, and his ears stuck out more than ever. His lip curled at the sight, and he grimaced at himself. He was drastically underweight, and he could see where his bones jutted out through his ill-fitting, baggy clothes. He knew if he lifted his short, he would be able to count every one of his ribs.
The black screen retreated back into the wall, and he was led out of the room. They did not take him back to his cell. Instead, he followed the Irken guards out into what looked like an exercise yard. A twenty foot wall of concrete surrounding it on all sides, with a total of three sentinel towers, and guards stationed along the top. Close to fifty prisoners milled about in the yard, doing various prisoner-things like lifting weights and looking mean. Nearly a third of them were Vortian, and Dib recognized a few other random species he'd come across whilst hacking Zim's computer, but the rest were strange and unfamiliar. Creatures with giant screws in their heads, things with four legs and no arms, green blobs that drooled pink goo all over themselves...
And then he noticed the Irken prisoners.
They were all gathered together in a corner away from everyone else, pressed up against the building nearest to the door, and huddled close in a tight-knit pack. Any other alien that tried to get close got snapped at, and quickly driven away. Even from across the yard, he could tell their faces were pinched, their antennae aggressively erect, their eyes narrowed dangerously. They looked like a bunch of meerkats, they were so twitchy and watchful.
Dib could understand why. The average Irken was about the size of a human child, and some of the aliens here practically towered over him, much less one of those little shrimps. And while the Screw-Heads and the Vortians weren't much bigger, they outnumbered the Irken ten to one. It was no wonder they were nervous. They had no power here, and some of these creatures did not look happy at having to share their space with the very species that had thrown them in prison in the first place.
"Line up along the wall, come on, get moving!" shouted a guard, grabbing Dib by the arm with his Pak and shoving him into place. Dib watched as about a dozen more aliens were brought into the yard behind him, most of them all different races, but he spotted an Irken or two among them. One of those Irken, a small female with sharp purple eyes, was slammed against the wall next to him, so forcefully he heard the back of her head crack sharply against the cement.
"Watch who you're shoving, filth!" snapped the little Irken, clutching at her head, her long curled antennae laid flat and angry. Dib did a double-take. He would have recognized that voice anywhere, but it couldn't be, he hadn't seen her in years...
"Tak?" he exclaimed, his mouth dropping open in utter disbelief. The Irken glanced up at him irritably, and then did a double-take of her own, her eyes widening in surprise. She was...so small now. Her head barely reached his stomach, though he remembered clearly they had been the same height when they'd met, all those years ago.
"Dib!" she cried. "What are you—"
"No talking in line!" snarled a guard, and waved a black remote in their direction. Dib gritted his teeth to keep from crying out as the Pak electrified his spine. His knees gave out, and the only reason he didn't fall was because he'd pressed his back up against the wall. The only indication of pain from Tak was the slight tension in her jaw, and a twitch of her antennae. They both fell silent, though they kept shooting one another curious, sidelong glances every few seconds.
The yard fell silent. Then, one of the shortest, fattest Irken Dib had ever seen came waddling through the door, flanked by two guards, a look of pompous superiority stamped all over his blubbery face. He had stumpy little arms and stumpy little legs and his head barely came up to Dib's waist. He looked like fat green toad.
He came to a stop in front of the new prisoners, and smiled at them all with small, beady red eyes.
"Welcome to Prison Vort," said the Irken in a nasally, squeaking voice. "It's so nice to meet you all, we always enjoy seeing new faces. I am Warden Skoodge, and I am in charge of keeping order in this sector."
"You have got to be kidding me..." Dib heard Tak mutter under her breath, and got the distinct impression that she was rolling her eyes. Even Dib had to repress a snort at the ridiculous name, and regarded the chubby Irken in amusement as he puffed himself up importantly.
"From this day on, your fate is in my hands," Skoodge went on, his chin wobbling. "I alone decide whether you live, or die horribly. If you have any thoughts about escaping, you can forget them. No ship is allowed near this planet, and those detected in the atmosphere will be immediately shot down. The Teleporters will vaporize anyone stupid enough to try and use them without the proper authorization. You will be here for the rest of your miserable lives, so you better get used to it. Any misbehavior or insubordination on your part will be severely dealt with. However, I don't have to be your enemy. We're all friends here on Vort. So if you tow the line, and follow the rules as you should, we'll get along just fine."
This statement was met with silence, while the new prisoners exchanged skeptical glances with one another and disdainfully raised their brows (if they had any).
"Now then!" Skoodge said, clapping his hands. "We have a very special guest today. Everyone, I'd like you to meet former Ruler of the Empire, Purple!"
Suddenly, the door slammed open so hard it smashed into the wall about an inch from Dib's shoulder. He leapt back with a startled cry, throwing his hands up defensively—and then deflated like a punctured air-balloon when he saw who it was, a disgusted sound burbling in the back of his throat.
"Hey! Let go of me! Your Tallest commands you!" shouted a very indignant Purple as he was hauled into the yard by two burly Irken guards. They were at least half his height, but Purple was hardly equipped to fight them off. At some point, the rings around his torso had been removed, and all the guts that had been pushed up into his ribcage had sunk back to where they belonged, giving him a gangly, emaciated look. He was too long and too skinny, with no muscle-tone whatsoever. His legs, nothing more than skin and bone (and so rarely used since Purple had chosen to hover everywhere he went) collapsed under his weight the second he was released.
"Someone is gonna hear about this!" Purple howled furiously. "You can't treat me like this!"
The two guards looked at one another, and barked out a jeering laugh.
"Yeah? Like who?" one of them sneered.
"Tallest Red," Purple said, sounding both imperious and petulant at the same time. "When he hears about this—"
"Aw, give it a rest, nobody's seen Red since the Control Brains put Overlord Mar in charge," the other guard snorted. "Good thing they did, it's about time we had a competent ruler. I always said we should have gotten rid of you purple-eyed freaks a long time ago."
"Ahem," Skoodge said, giving a little cough into his hand, attempting to catch their attention.
"Hey, uh...should we be calling them that?" asked guard Number One, completely ignoring the smaller Irken.
"What? What do you mean?" said guard Number Two, looking confused.
"Well, it's just that they don't all have purple eyes," guard Number One pointed out. "Some of them have blue, or even green eyes. I'm just saying, if they don't all have purple eyes, we can't just lump them into one monochromatic category like that."
"Yeah, you're right," said guard Number Two. "Then...what should we call them?"
"Ahem," said Skoodge a bit more forcefully, one of his antennae jumping in irritation. "It's not nice to ignore your commanding officers..."
"That sounds weird. What about unred? Y'know, like a play on unread."
"A play on what?"
"Unread. You know, like illiteracy."
"AHEM," Skoodge all but shouted, his eye twitching, and his hands planted angrily on his pudgy hips.
"Oh, yeah, that was a brilliant come-back."
"Shut up. I don't hear any bright ideas from you."
"Why do you always have to be so mean to me? Can't we just call them defects, like everyone else?"
"Not all defects have different colored eyes, moron."
"Ugh! Let's just drop it, I don't want to argue anymore."
"No, we can't move on until this has been settled!"
"HEY! I'M TRYING TO TALK HERE!" screamed Skoodge, and the sound of his temper finally snapping reverberated through the prison yard for a full ten seconds. "LISTEN TO ME!"
Number One turned around with a snarl on his lips, right on the verge of jumping down that insolent smaller's throat, before he remembered who was in charge and caught himself just in time, throwing a quick salute and clicking his heels together. Number Two was less intelligent. He reached out and back-handed Skoodge across the face without thinking—and then froze in horror when he realized what he'd just done.
"Oh...Wa-Warden," Number Two stammered, taking a step backwards. "I-I didn't—I wasn't—I meant no dis-disrespect..."
"No disrespect?" Skoodge asked in a deceptively calm, quiet voice, one hand cupping his cheek and his eyes burning crimson. "No disrespect?"
"Who is the Warden of this sector?" Skoodge hissed.
"Who conquered the slaughtering rat people and was the first Invader to subdue their planet in Impending Doom II?"
"Who was promoted over your head as Commanding Officer?"
"THAT'S RIGHT!" Skoodge shrieked, and actually started jumping up and down in fury, his eyes bugging right out of his skull. "I conquered the slaughtering rat people! I took over Blorch! Overlord Mar put MEin charge! ME, ME, ME! Being tall doesn't matter anymore! Getting results, that's what matters! So you'll do what I say, or else!"
Number Two clenched his teeth together, his antennae trembling and his hands fisted tightly. He was fighting to keep a straight face, despite the defiant scowl simmering in his eyes, torn between the instinctive urge to smack the smaller down, and his duty as a soldier to obey those in charge.
"Yes...Commander," he ground out, failing to keep the bitter resentment out of his tone. Skoodge's eyes narrowed to slits, and he snapped his teeth angrily.
"I think a day in the boiler will teach you some respect," he said, his mouth twisting into a cruel smile. Number Two's eyes widened, and he stared at Skoodge for a moment in pure fear.
"N-no...!" he cried, tripping back several paces. "Y-you can't put me in there! It's only for prisoners! You can't! You can't!"
"I can," Skoodge replied with a simmering little smirk, and jerked his head at Number One. "Take him."
Number One hesitated, his fearful gaze darting back and forth between Skoodge and his partner. But there was something mad in the smaller's burning eyes, and it convinced him to do as he was told. He put the now screaming, crying, frantic Number Two in hand-cuffs and dragged him away.
"Send in two more guards on your way out, will you?" Skoodge called after them cheerfully, before turning back to face the prisoners in smug self-satisfaction. "Well, then, where was I? Ah, yes. Before we were so rudely interrupted, I was introducing everyone to Purple, here."
"That's Tallest Purple to you, Skoodge," Purple snapped. He'd managed to sit up, but that seemed to be the extent of his capabilities at the moment. His frame was too weak to support him if he tried to stand, though he was making a valiant effort of it.
A slow smile spread like molasses across Skoodge's face, and he pointed a thick black remote in Purple's direction.
"What—?" Purple started to say, but he was abruptly cut off when Skoodge pushed the button. His back arched so hard Dib heard several of the vertebrae pop. He thrashed and flailed and kicked in seizure reflex, flopping like a fish out of water. The noise was unspeakable. It drove six feet into Dib's skull, and was still ringing in his ears when Purple finally stopped screaming—but only because he'd bitten through his own tongue and was choking on blood instead. His head was banging into the ground over and over, and the veins were popping in his eyes, turning them a murky, muddy brown. And still, Skoodge didn't stop.
The Irken's mouth was quirked into a horrifying little grin, and his eyes were alight with an insane glee as he watched Purple writhe in the dirt. Awful, giddy laughter was bubbling out of his throat like acid.
"That's Warden Skoodge to you," he said in an unhinged, sing-song voice. "And it's time for a little payback..."
Dib's feet were rooted to the spot, horror-stuck and lightheaded, feeling as if all his insides had been scooped out. Tak was trembling so hard he could feel it through the wall—and then he startled when she subconsciously pressed against his leg, one clawed hand clutching at his pants, her eyes tightly closed.
His heart clenched.
He knew he shouldn't get involved. He ought to keep his head down, and concentrate on surviving this hell-hole until he could figure a way out of here. But...In that moment, Tak looked just like a scared little kid. And maybe she had tried to destroy the earth...but she had also been his friend. Suddenly, Dib had broken away from the wall and was moving across the yard before he even realized what was happening. Skoodge's back was turned, so he didn't even notice the human until Dib had pulled back his foot and kicked him as hard as he could, punting him across the yard like a big, green football. Skoodge let out a sharp squeal, and landed in a heap, skidding face-down into the mud.
Everything stopped, suspended in a state of absolute stupefaction.
Purple collapsed against the ground, his chest heaving with every breath, his mouth hanging limp, and his eyes unseeing, and his hand opening and closing in spasmodic reflex. Blood oozed out through his teeth, and ran in slow rivulets from his eyes.
"That's enough!" Dib barked into the silence. "You'll kill him!"
Skoodge slowly right himself and turned to stare at Dib in frothing, demented fury. He flushed a dark green, and his eyes nearly popped out of his head, and Dib had the crazed urge to laugh at him, he looked so ridiculous. It was as if, for one fleeting instant, the whole universe held its breath. For one fleeting instant, Dib stood tall and proud and confident.
And then his back ripped open, and the world melted into white-hot agony.
Dib didn't know how long he'd been under, but he must have passed out at some point, because when he slowly awoke he was back in his cell. Everything hurt, and he could smell the clotting stench of blood and dried urine. He groaned into the floor, and tried to get more comfortable, intent on going back to sleep.
"That was a pretty stupid thing to do, Stink-Beast."
Dib's eyes snapped open. He pushed himself up, even though every muscle in his body protested the movement. And slowly, his eyes traveled up the length of the figure standing in his cell. The creature smirked down at him, with his arms crossed and his hips canted and a look of supreme self-satisfaction in his brightly burning eyes.
"...Zim?" Dib whispered.
"Hello, Dib-Stink," Zim grinned, showing all of his zipper-teeth.
"You...how...what..." Dib stammered. His brain had gone blank, entirely unable to comprehend what he was seeing, or react to it in the slightest. It fired back and forth randomly, twitching from one idea to the other, but none of them made any sense. He felt as if the floor was tilting out from under him. "How did you get in...?"
"I didn't," Zim replied, rocking slightly on his heels and glancing curiously around at Dib's cell.
The smile Zim gave him was bone-chilling.
"I'm not actually here, human," he said, looking far too pleased with himself. "You've finally gone as mad as everyone said you were."
"I...What? I don't understand," Dib said. "You're right there..."
"I'm not," Zim said, his Cheshire cat grin nearly splitting his face in two. "I'm not here at all. I'm inside your head. You're losing it, Dib."
You're losing it.
To be continued...
Disclaimer: All rights belong to the people who own them.
Wow, you guys, I don't even know what to say. It's been over two-hundred years since I wrote on this thing, and I can't decide whether that's good or bad. Well, bad for you I suppose, having to wait that long, but good because I'm STILL writing it. A hopeful sign that I might finish this someday, probably, in the distant future. Maybe. It's only been FOUR YEARS since I started it, after all...
I know Skoodge may be a little out of character. I'll explain more about how he got like that in coming chapters, but I hope I got across most of it. Basically, he's been stomped on most of his life. Now he's in a position of power. So, naturally, he's going to abuse that power. However, the Taller Irken under his command don't listen to him because he's short and ugly, which has kind of driven him around the bend. Again, I will explain more later, so don't bite my head off if he doesn't act like you think he should. I know how protective of these characters you guys can be. Seriously.
I'll try to have the next chapter out soon, to make up for all the time I've been off doing other things (My Little Pony, Ninja Turtles, Avatar: The Last Airbender...damn you ninja pony benders!). I want to give a special shout out to Shego1142 and cupidity11 for inspiring me to start writing on NIMH again. And, to RealityPhobia for nominating this on TV Tropes. At least, I think it was RealityPhobia, I can't get ON TV Tropes anymore to make sure...but I was rather flattered that this little fic was actually mentioned on the interwebs somewhere other than fanfiction. THANK YOU, GUYS! And thank you to everyone that has stuck with me so far. I LOVE YOU ALL!
Also, those guards just started arguing on their own. I had nothing to do with that.
PS: please inform me of spelling errors, I was in a hurry to get this out and didn't proof-read. I need a beta...