This A/N explains some themes and symbolism; if that's not your cup of tea or you're feeling adventurous, feel free to skip to the actual story.

If I were an awesome writer, I wouldn't need to explain some things in this one-shot, but alas, I am not, so here goes. I wanted to write a fic that had sexual undertones that were unconscious to the actual character, and so everything would be…suggestive. I tried to use words and imagery that conveyed that idea and tone. I figure, Dib's a young teenager whose pretty much sole obsession is aliens, and once Zim arrives all that energy focuses nearly exclusively on him. It seems entirely plausible to me that Dib, as a budding male teenager, would unconsciously evolve a sexual fascination with Zim. Coupled with the repressive environment he's grown up in (both his father's fame and skepticism leading to an emotionally malnourished childhood), and the repressed nature of homosexuality in society in general, I thought…what better subject could there be for a story all about what's underneath the underneath?

Oh, and somehow, while I was working on that theme, little symbolisms of lost childhood innocence sprung up. But it made sense when I added a Faust allegory, connecting the idea of ambition destroying the soul's internal balance when one ruthlessly pursues knowledge with a disregard for others and the self. I'll admit, I haven't read "Faust" yet, but I've heard about it and read up on what it's about, so I think I'm interpreting one of its themes correctly. And even if I'm not, I think it's an awesome theme and I'm using it. I tried to show the deterioration of Dib's morals and his bitter cynicism as his obsessive pursuit for knowledge alienates him from with the world and his father specifically.

And just to screw around some more, I sprinkled lightly with run-on sentences (sorry!) and invented a few words.

It's a mouthful just to explain, and I think I might have bit off more than I could chew with this story. However! I will never get better unless I reach beyond my current limits.

This is a sort of experiment, so I would love to get some feedback. I'm trying to make my writing more psychologically deep and twisted—if it's working or flopping, please tell me. Any criticism at all will be appreciated.

Summary: "It's all in the name of science," Dib justifies as he strokes an antenna. (IZ)

Written: 6-10 and 6-11-08

Listening to: Ladytron "Destroy Everything You Touch"

Disclaimer: Not mine, unfortunately. Rights belong to Jhonen Vasquez.

In the Name of Science

By Ice Dragon3

The room pulsed with a hidden, throbbing power as machines whirred on and off. Dim lights, most of them blinking an optimal green, gave Dib's pale skin a soft green glow. The other inhabitant lying on the bed looked practically radioactive. The childish glow-in-the-dark stars and planets on the ceiling quelled in shame, receding into the background just as their true counterparts grow dim when faced with the sun.

Zim moaned softly, his clawed fingers flexing into the quilt beneath him. He struggled to lift them, but the cuffs encasing his small wrists allowed him minimal movement—centimeters at best. His eyes opened blearily, slow blinks punctuating the dull red glow. Another inarticulate garble rumbled from his throat, and while the mono-coloring of the eyes gave no hint as to where Zim was looking, Dib felt a thrill of excitement shiver down his spine; he was sure those eyes were swiveling wildly, trying to take everything in.

Dib leaned over Zim, his face a looming whitish-green oval that consumed Zim's entire vision. That Oz of a head gloated, "Bet you didn't see that one coming, Zim."

It had been stupidly simple to capture Zim. After all the elaborate traps and the expensive alien gear guaranteed to hypothetically work, all it took was a shovel to the back of the head. By Bigfoot's footprint, why hadn't Dib thought of it before? If the entire population refused to notice an alien hovercraft zipping down the road and bothering police cars, why would people pause to stare as one kid plowed down another kid in an alley with a shovel? Answer: they wouldn't. He hadn't been on skool property and he had made the affair sweetly brief, so no one cared.

"Whuuh?" Zim tried to speak, but something wasn't right. His head pounded, but every time he tried to rub his temples something cruelly jerked his hands down again. Had Gir convinced him to play Twister with a rope again? Was this a Gir-induced headache, a side effect from all the SIR unit's screaming and rolling and games? "Comp-usher, twelll Guer—" and he was trying to snap out the command, but a dizzy spell whirled his brain into a jumbled confusion, because it felt like he was whirling around. Irk, but his body felt more congested than Foodcourtia during the Foodening—and was he supposed to be manning the fryer or cleaning tables?

Chuckling, Dib stretched a hand over Zim's face, hesitating a moment before lowering it. Fingers deftly pulled back an eyelid, shining a light directly into that luminous, cloudy orb—a moon that winked in and out of existence behind a gauze of sheer clouds. Zim's head jerked away from the penlight, and the cuffs clinked menacingly as he reflexively tried to block out the searing light. Red, it made him see red spots and never before had he directly associated a color with pain, and he wanted to peel away the layers of the rainbow, one color at a time until a black, listless void remained.

"A little out of it, Zim? Don't worry, the feeling will only get worse. My lab might be a little…crude"—because Professor Membrane never allowed his tools or pristine lab to be used for anything less than 'actual' science, and dammit but his bedroom was not the ideal setting—"but I think we'll make due. Besides, this is my discovery, and I don't want anyone interfering. I've waited too long for this."

And because it's a habit he's never broken, and it's so thrilling to actually have someone listen to him who isn't sneering superiorly, looking down on him from an impenetrably thick tower of ignorance, Dib kept talking. "I've got you hooked up to an IV with a tranquilizer in it. It's slowly feeding doses into you, so that eventually the combined effect will knock you out. I didn't know how strong a dose you'd need, or if your body would reject the serum, so I decided a drip would be best. Start small and build up. That way, I know to the exact milligram needed to make your body's natural defenses crumble."

Dib checked the makeshift IV—a hateful Frankenstein stitched together from a plastic baggie, funnel and clear tube that led down to a hollow needle piercing Zim's neon skin—and ignored the way his fingers trembled, creating tiny ripples on the liquid's surface when he held the bag. "The solution seems to have mixed completely, with no irregularity of color." The color itself was irregular, and his first thought after completing the initial batch had been that he'd somehow snitched the wrong chemicals from his father's lab, that one of the vials had been mislabeled, that his measurements hadn't been precise. The liquid was a sludgy brown-red, like blood in mud, and it was only after the bird, rat, iguanodon, and mantis had survived the solution that he had considered the possibility that this horrendous color was correct. Despite knowing nothing of Zim's biological workings, Dib's confidence increased with each species' survival that yes, this would work on Zim as well. And, well, if the substance killed Zim, then he was still saving the world—just a little more brute-like than he wanted.

Dib rubbed a hand on Zim's face, pinching his cheek a little and feeling the small amount of chub squish under his fingers. The skin was roughly pleasant, and reminded Dib of the one time his father had taken him to the beach and allowed him to run his hands through the sand, all the while lecturing about how the tiny particles turned into glass under intense heat. Zim blink slowly five seconds after the actual action. Good, already the painkiller was setting in, although Dib couldn't discount the fact that his experiment was a little dinged up before entering the lab. Hopefully no brain damage had occurred.

He wanted everything fully operational before he started taking things apart. He wouldn't learn to build a working clock by picking apart a smashed one.

A compulsive need entered Dib, an unrestrained urge to inspect his prize's head first. He wanted to look at Zim's face as he pulled and prodded the intimate housing of his enemy's mind, wanted to get a reaction out of Zim. It was all part of studying the behavior patterns of an alien species. Regretfully, he wasn't going to actually delve into Zim's brain tissue. He'd tried three attempts to do brain surgery on dogs, and each one hadn't lived for over a minute despite his best efforts. Internet instructions and cast-off books from his father failed to teach him enough to study a live example.

Zim still showed signs of cognitive abilities, although his motor skills had been reduced to tongue spasms and gargled noises and full-body twitches. That reminded him—he checked to make sure the sound recorder was picking up every frequency Zim made, and that the camera's recording light blinked one red, accusing eye at the two bodies. The crazy blinking of machine lights in the otherwise dark room blurred the barriers of lines and colors. The black in Dib's trench coat melded into the black of Zim's convulsing glove as he leaned over and the two materials brushed together. Dib's borrowed green glow made his fingers resting on Zim's face seem a natural intrusion. The red in Zim's eyes matched Dib's ruby tongue as he nervously licked his lips in anticipation.

The camera caught and froze and saved the moment Dib's hands started exploring the planes of Zim's face. He let his fingers dig into the flesh a little, felt its give and then the pressure of smooth bone. He ran a finger from the forehead down to the chin, noting how smooth and flat the trip had been. No cheekbones or irregular bumps. The rough texture of Zim's skin left his finger feeling tingly, aching as if it had fallen asleep and the nerves were finally pricking awake. A few more caresses of likewise intensity and focus, nails lightly scratching the skin surface, gave Dib a mental map of Zim's outer skull structure.

"Box-like…but why?" he muttered as he absentmindedly trailed a finger up and down Zim's twitching cheek. "What caused evolution to favor such a shape? A curved shape would logically withstand more pressure…" Dib wanted so badly to open that wide, glistening—with sweat? was Zim overheating or afraid or reacting to the tranquilizer?—forehead in front of him. Maybe the shape of the actual brain would clue him in… But—no, it would just be one of the many mysterious left over once he completed this examination.

There would be many more chances, a thought that aroused great excitement in Dib. He could take his time, go slow and feel his way around.

His fingers trailed down to cup Zim's chin, authoritively tilting the alien's head as the left hand located with difficulty the jaw's connecting point. Only a thin indent, overlooked with his precursory check, marked the switch from skull to jaw. Nearly seamless, like a sleek green corvette stingray, and at that moment Dib fancied Zim a car. He was settling into the leather seat, just now twisting the key in. Push a little harder on the pedal and Zim would purr all right, and he'd get the ride of his life.

As if the oxygen really had been ripped away from him, screaming a hundred and twenty-two miles past him, Dib panted slightly from the possibilities. His name in every science and history book—Paranormal Expert Dib Membrane discovers and successfully dissects first known intelligent alien—and his father's discoveries just a footnote on page whatever.

Screw toast, Dib aimed to change the world.

A feeling of almost fondness squeezed under Dib's skin, and he smiled down at the quivering green mass.

It was all thanks to this little guy.

Dib clamped his hands on either side of Zim's cheeks, pushing his finger in to pop the jaw muscle. Zim started struggling in earnest, the too personal intrusion rattling a few of his survival instincts into action. He moaned and squirmed slowly on the bed, tangling up the once pristine blanket. His muscles wouldn't coordinate, his body rebelled and became Gir, always forgetting and half-working, half-playing. As Dib steadily pried Zim's unwilling mouth open, the epitome of Zim's struggles comprised of a few weak knocks into the wall and a length of pathetic footage.

"Open…up…Zim," Dib panted, nearly there. A few more centimeters and Dib could wedge a piece of wood into Zim's mouth. His left hand slipped on saliva and wet teeth, and suddenly he felt that powerful jaw clamp onto his left appendage, sharp razors tearing into his skin. Grunting, Dib said through clenched teeth, "And-duh this is—ah—wuh-why I need to prop—ah—open your m-mouth."

Zim's tongue spasmed wildly in his mouth, a wild animal trying to run away and always ending back up where it started, pressed up against Dib's salty, burning hand. Water, there was water in the sweat and it was a slow-dripping acid that started to unfurl and touch the roof of his mouth and his tongue. A five-headed hydra rampaged through Zim's mouth, and he wanted to unlock his jaw muscles and ask it to please leave him alone, but there had been a reason why he had bitten in the first place—a very good reason—but he was hurting now, and that wasn't a very good reason, was it?

Dib closed his eyes, gritted his teeth in order to not scream, and gave in to the fascinating, burning sensations the nerves in his hand transmitted to his brain. His head tilted back, and his circular glasses reflected a smattering of phantasmorgasmic lights. As the lights became more erratic, chaos ensuing as some sped up or slowed down, the machines seemed to shift uneasily in the ever-changing shadows, the glass filaments rolling eyes or shaking horns. Several bulbs were undergoing a string of deterioration, blinking green one moment, off the next, then on again but different, a screaming red or agitated orange. One machine started blipping worriedly, like a clucking hen, and Dib thought vaguely through the pain, 'Ah, that must be the heart monitor, the beat's increasing to an unhealthy tempo.' For a second, Dib had to remind himself that the wires were not hooked up to him, that it wasn't his pounding heart being recorded and him tied to his bed.

The pulsing, rigged cavern squeezed his fist, and instead of dispelling the fantasy Dib's concentration shattered further. Hot breath puffed onto his chaffed skin. Thick, warm blood oozed down his wrists, and he started to shake and sweat from the pain, hot and unbearable pins that dug into his flesh like that staggered breath and those gnashing teeth. Something brushed against his knuckles, a snake that only after the second greeting became a writhing tongue. A low vibrancy shook his entire world, because all his body had become an extension of his hand, and his brain was not in his head but a string of loose thoughts, like pebbles and shells tangled on a homemade necklace, that cut off his circulation right at the wrist.

Later on, when he watched the moment again and again as the impassive recorder had seen it, he would remember a ghost of the sensation and rub his left wrist, where white lacerations bit into his skin in a permanent scowl. He would wonder if this was how a mother's womb felt, if he had glimpsed at the savage world of the primordial soup—hot and tight and mind shatteringly painful, reducing the towers of civilizations into forgotten ruins, crumbling the mind into a tirade of sensations and misfiring synapses. Because, excruciating as it had been, his life had never been so painstakingly clear before. The fires of agony had taken the sand grains of Dib's life, petty disjointed moments of suffering and joy, and had welded an awesome and terrifying window of glass. For a second, he had looked through it, and had seen—nothing—and with it came the realization that the pain encompassed everything, became everything, and so the nothing he saw in fact was a something so large that he would never see it, much less comprehend it.

But during the moment, not replayed through the camera's cyclops eye but playing throughout his entire body, Dib's only coherent thought was: 'It hurts.'

A moment later, a second or a thousand years staggering drunkenly by, the furnace opened and Dib escaped. Black spots covered his vision, and once he'd blinked the dancing circles away, he saw that somehow the wood block was lodged in Zim's mouth and wide arcs of blood—his blood—were dripping on his walls and alien posters. Still detached from his hand and mind, he halfway frowned to see his favorite poster particularly gorified. It was a comical rendition of a boy fighting a ghost-alien with a ghostbusters vacuum and the words 'For the Cause Try!' written underneath. Only, now the alien and boy dripped blood, and the letters glaring out from under heavy red shutters read accusingly, 'FausT.'

"Thought you could…" and here Dib trailed off, wheezing, "thought you could stop me. A little pain…never stopped me before. Nice…nice try."

"Nuuurgh," Zim uttered, body jerking against its restraints as teeth gnashed the wood. Already splinters and fine sawdust flew into the air.

"That's quite a…strong jaw you have…like a crocodile." Dib paused, remembering all those teeth-filed sneers Zim had aimed at him at Skool, of how those white daggers shook when Zim laughed maniacally at a job well done, usually right before something went horribly wrong. They had peeped out, deceptively unassuming, whenever his thin lips contorted just enough to throw insults at Dib. Now, they quivered in front of him, every one of them barely restrained great white sharks.

Regaining his composure, Dib pushed his glassed farther up his nose and stepped closer to Zim. He lifted his hands—and stared dumbly at the mangled pulp attached to his left forearm. Shock, he realized; that's why he felt no pain. He hastily sprayed disinfectant and then wrapped the injury, hiding the wound under layers of pure white gauze. Even as he brought his hand up to cradle against his chest, as if it were a small infant in need of comfort, he saw spots of red invading the surface. He gulped two painkillers to prepare himself for when the shock wore off, and went back to work. Please, just let him be alone in a small dark corner when the pain came.

With only his right hand working and a fresh memory of what mangled his left, Dib's probing was tentative. However, curiosity and no immediate repercussions emboldened him. Zim's entire mouth gave off steam, and the roof showed excessive burns. Dib frowned, puzzled, and poked the charred black flesh, eliciting a deep-throated moan from Zim.

How…? Dib lifted a hand to wipe the sweat from his brow, and as his hand resumed its position half in and half out of Zim's mouth, a drop of sweat stung Dib's eye. A sweet clarity struck Dib, the feeling reminding him of why he loved science and all its tangled mysteries—the sweat on Dib's hand must have hurt Zim until the pain overwhelmed voluntary muscle control and the jaw reflexively opened.

The fledgling paranormal investigator wrapped his fingers around Zim's tongue. It looked nothing like a snake, but a ghost of the feeling rose unbidden to Dib's mind and he half expected it to hiss. Instead, its inhuman length darted around, coming close to stabbing Dib's face until he stopped its frenzied murder attempts by clamping it down with a clothespin to the ruined quilt cover—just another childhood possession that the blood stains would never fade from. Running his fingers down towards Zim's mouth, the lean muscle felt smooth and almost slippery. The barest amount of friction teased Dib's fisted hand. Yet, as soon as Dib started to pull back, keeping contact with the red tongue, a thousand tiny barbs dug into his skin.

For a second Dib panicked, thinking that Zim's terrifying mouth had crushed the wood and was now working on his hand. The irrational thought passed, albeit slowly and with a lingering menace, and in an exhalation of relief Dib chuckled. It was not a sob that left his mouth, no. "Shark teeth—no, that's not what I meant! It's like shark's skin, your tongue. Rub it one way"—and he demonstrated by stroking Zim's tongue towards its base—"and its smooth. Rub the other way"—and not wanting to repeat the experience, Dib carefully removed his fingers from contact with the warm, red worm before retracting his arm—"and it's painful as hell. Reason, reason, okay, there has to be a reason for the teeth and the tongue and the jaw strength…"

Besides nearly killing Dib, that is.


"That's it! It's all part of your hunting mechanisms, before the invention of tools and the modernization of food gathering. The tongue darts out, pierces the prey. Like an arrowhead, it enters easily but gets lodged whenever the target tries to pull away or the tongue starts to tug inward. The tongue draws the prey to the mouth, where the strong jaw muscles and layers of sharp teeth chew the creature into a pulp. Imagine how effective those weapons must have been when they were working in their prime…now they're just cast-off anatomy anomalies, things that once were useful but no longer serve a purpose. Like the appendix for humans." Like moralities and fathers and skepticism.

As he allowed himself a negligible act of kindness and freed Zim's tongue from the clothespin, he buried the bitter thoughts in his mind's graveyard, fully aware that they would arise as zombies one day but unwilling to dispel them today. After all, Zim was panting heavily underneath his victorious form, the tongue slowly curling inward and Zim's curved back expressing the same desire to draw in and disappear, and Dib had barely scratched the surface. Like a mosquito bite, every nail scratch brought delicious relief in a dose of small pain, but the ache returned with greater vengeance.

Dib's next fascination lay twitching on the pillow: the antennae.

"Just what extent do you use these for? Sensors—but for what? A beauty mark to attract mates?" With the alien in his weakened state, antennae listless on the pillow and mouth pried open and eyes hazed over, Dib didn't know what kind of mate Zim could possibly attract. He didn't look high on the Darwinism scoreboard—and yet he still couldn't look away from the wrecked heap that was Zim. He was watching a plane crash from excessive heights and velocities, the highly aerodynamic vessel screaming as it crumpled into the ground, folding over on itself until the thin metal melted into a flat bubble-ridden sheet lying in a nest of its electronic organs. Complex engineering devolved into an irregular sheet of metal, and something was beautiful in how destruction simplified.

Dib's left hand bumped into his chest, and bright flashes of pain momentarily stunned him—and maybe this was the moment that started the slow process of rewriting the agony of Zim's mouth enveloping his hand into something significant. It would be months before the great terrifying creature scythed the water's surface, just a flash of fin the first time, and in the depths of the ocean many fearsome monsters grew that Dib did not want to know about. One trip into his mind had been enough, disturbing and unwelcomed.

"The antennae, that's what we're focusing on," he muttered to himself, shoving the pain away and under his conscious. He ghosted the back of his hand over one, and Zim reacted instantaneously with frenzied spasms. Startled, Dib jerked his hand away fearfully. Zim should not have such fast reflexes after having so much of that red-brown sludge pumped into him. The antennae must be especially sensitive. Already he had chewed through half the wood block, and the rest dissolved into sawdust before Dib's watching eyes. The machines, only just settled down from their panicked high, once again whirled themselves into a tornado frenzy. One machine, which had remained so impassive during the general panic that Dib wondered if it was mute—broken—started snaking a pen hypnotically back and forth over a stream of paper. It looked like an ungainly seismometer, diligently measuring an earthquake no one could feel.

Intrigued, Dib made a grab at the nearest roving stalk…and missed. His second attempt made contact, and he trapped the slender appendage in an iron, squeezing grip.

The sensation drug his mind back to Skool two weeks ago, when he had taken a really tough test (not that many were difficult for him), and he hadn't gotten a chance to study because the night before he had been staking out Zim's house. Nothing had happened, not even the house fire which occurred every Wednesday night like clockwork, and tired defeat made skool an even bigger waste of time. He had gripped his wood pencil like this as well, the wood or his knuckles creaking under the pressure, and all he remembered was looking briefly over at Zim's desk and seeing that insolent smirk. Blood boiling at the silent, sneering challenge, Dib had hunched over his desk and scribbled furiously, breaking his pencil's tip once over a particularly emphatic period.

The teeth hadn't caused tremors of fear then, back when one inquisitive foot only hovered over the doorway and the other stood grounded firmly in his father's sanitized foyer, and he had aced the test.

The empathetic sludge seeped to the surface again, and Dib wondered what his score would have been if he hadn't glanced over at his nemesis.

"S…stu…p-puh," a pathetic mewl came from Zim. The altogether strangeness of the noise instantly snapped his focus onto Zim's face. The bizarre crept from Zim's razor mouth into Dib's ear and latched onto his mind. Calmly, riding a detached wave fueled by that small ripple of fondness, Dib clipped the clothespin, still wet from saliva, onto the Frankenstein IV bag to stop the drip's flow. The alien would still be out of it, but in a couple minutes he might be aware enough for semi-rational speech—because he was never 'fully there' and Dib didn't expect philosophy from an iron-blooded invader.

"Yes?" Dib asked patiently even as he began to pet the antenna again. He knew the thought was completely unprofessional, but he preferred the antenna to the tongue. It quivered playfully in his hand, soft bristles rubbing against his skin, and the single bend gave it an affectionate quirk. If the tongue was a snake, he saw the antenna as a stretched out fuzzy caterpillar, passively waiting to grow wings.

For a moment he longed for his butterfly kit from when he was six, but remembered that the fleeting wonder had been followed faithfully by bitter sorrow. One day he went to sleep, and the next day he flipped on his light switch—and found ten dead or dying butterflies, their wings limp against the plastic container. They had lived a week—one less than the manual said they would—and for a week Dib had nightmares of butterfly wings brushing past him, accusing him of intentionally murdering them with his un-nurturing, dry heart.

"Do you think I'm like a desert, Zim?" the spontaneous question pushed out. Catching himself, Dib returned to stroking the antenna, finding the methodic motion comforting. Zim didn't even seem to hear him, his mouth still open and panting, red and white and black like Christmas when he received coal from 'Santa' for getting a C in science. The once passive seismometer-like machine, now a possessed writing fiend, broke with a particularly violent swing of its neck. The pen smashed into the wall and slid down, leaving a trailing glob of ink that marked its highest reach.

The machine—what had it done? Dib frowned, shifting through his mind as with each stroke of his hand he named off a machine and its purpose. Zim began to squirm more passionately under Dib, his feet flexing and making the boot's synthetic material squeak. His back, instead of furrowing inward to futilely protect his stomach, arched beautiful upward like the Pont Neuf. The little of the covers left on the bed were pushed off, spilling in rippled folds off the bed.

"St-stop," the alien gasped, finally gaining enough control of his mouth to form the hateful, foreign english vowels, and how he longed to be back on Irk in his infant tube, asleep in the thick warm liquid. "Thi-ey-is is not sc-sc-eye-nce!"

Dib snorted scornfully, the lukewarm emotion evaporating that had caused him to halt the IV's drip. "It's not going to be a professional process the first time, Zim. In case you haven't noticed, I don't have a fully equipped lab under my bedroom!" He carefully avoided saying 'house,' because his father did in fact have one, but if he couldn't use it then it didn't exist, not really.

"I'll, I'll answer your quest-t-tions, D-dib! Ju-just stop! This isn't how you g-go about d-ew-ing science expirementa-ti-tions. Don't act like Gir!" Zim had even managed to not stutter for the last part, maybe because the phrase was a habit and the muscles in his mouth remembered the sequence.

Slowly, as Zim transformed from a pitiable, plying cat into a snarling, berating panther, Dib's face grew intensely blank. A twist of the head made the glasses' lens capture lights, and when the head tilted back to look at Zim, the cacophony of computer lights transformed seamlessly into twin flickers reflecting off Dib's pupils. A cold artificial intelligence shone, like words displayed on a computer screen demanding, 'Delete? Yes or No.'

Dib disregarded Zim's insult. He finally knew what the machine had been monitoring, but first…he sat down and over his crossed arms asked, "What is the primary use of your antennae?"

"The Dib asks a ridiculous question of Zim, if he cannot figure—" and then the mouth clamped fearfully shut, all swagger gone as red eyes watched Dib's right hand nervously. It returned patiently to its owner's lap, folding over the one covered in a curiously white and red candy cane gauze.

The IV bag looming over Zim's head, one squeeze of a clothespin away from delivering Zim to his own personal hell again. "What is the primary use of your antennae?" the novice paranormal investigator repeated monotonously.

"Eh—it serves a dual purpose. Hearing and smell. In case you didn't notice, I lack those disgusting human organs." A reflex, that's all it was. Zim hated humans and even the thought of their squishy organs and too many gaping head holes—and bellybuttons, for Irk's sake!—sent him into passionate bouts of insults. It was a reflex, his antennae tried to communicate by flattening themselves on his head, please don't hurt me for it. Look! see how small and harmless I am?

Dib, wired up like an automaton, hardly seemed in a position to feel insulted on humanity's behalf.

"Any secondary purposes?"

Zim shook his head no, and his brain sloshed around in his skull with the motion. Dizziness enveloped him, and maybe the drugs were still circulating through his veins and he wasn't feeling his best.

In a burst of speed, Dib sprung from his seated position and his hands pushed into Zim's shoulders. The bed groaned a protest and sunk under the combined weight. The long lines of his black trench coat framed Zim's head, and forced his eyes to travel up and up until they reached Dib's impassive—no, angry? was it anger when humans had a small furrow between their eyebrows?—face. "Don't lie to me."

Zim hiccupped a giggle and wagged his head again. It felt good to hold some power again, like his wonderful time during Operation Impending Doom I. The monster paws pressing down on him trembled, vibrating his aching body. His right shoulder felt warm and sticky, and he saw that the candy cane bandage had become a cumbersome paw-cherry. Its shape distorted in proportion to the increase of pain in his compressed chest, and Zim wondered when it would pop and splatter him with little bits of cherry flesh.

Dib's arms shook uncontrollably until something clicked, maybe an arm socket or an idea. Like a sliding glass door rattled out of place, like jimmying a lock, Dib's face opened up with a wicked sneer.

"That's okay, you don't really need to answer that question anyways. I already know that it acts as a primitive feeler, sensitive to touch…and plays a part in your species' biological reproduction cycle. Your pheromone glands were working so hard that you broke my detector." The glass door slid another notch, and the sneer became lewd, an inside joke genetically grafted onto every young teen's mind. Without even waiting for a response, Dib leaned farther over Zim and broke the clothespin holding back the muddy mixture.

"Once the serum starts flowing through your blood again, we'll continue the experiment where we left off. Since you already have trace amounts in your bloodstream, I'm sure you'll be knocked out twice as fast. You were almost gone by the time we stopped, anyways. Just…moaning and writhing pitifully."

"No, stop!" Zim begged as his eyes watched in horror the sludge's slow descent. Gravity pulled it down, and then the tube redirected it towards the needle in his quivering, thin wrist.

"I don't need your permission, Zim, you aren't my father," Dib spat out, "This is for the sake of humanity!"

"No, no, don't experiment on them, please. The Dib! There's no reason—that's an obsolete function! We all come from tubes now, it's true, I swear on the Irken Empire."

And maybe Zim, in his desperation, was telling the truth. However, all Dib knew for sure was that his fingers itched to return to those delectably curious antennae. Only hard fact garnered from first-hand observation would reveal the truth.

"This—this isn't science," the alien cried plaintively, a last childish defense of a petulant loser. Who was he to say what was or wasn't science?

Science was not a desiccated flower pressed between the pages of a leathery volume, it was a thriving orchid blossoming eternally in front of him, opening and closing its petals teasingly. Dib wanted to reach forward, caress his fingers upon that thick green stem, and then snap it. In his palm it would no longer move in and out of his reach; cradled in his hands it would open willingly to his intrusion.

"It's always been in the name of science," Dib retorted. Ah, but Zim was already being pumped full of the tranquilizer fluids, and while his head lolled towards Dib's voice his smooth features only held a jumbled haze of anger and confusion. In the empty air, the statement wobbled like a—a justification—and Dib quelled an angry urge to break something.

Instead, he dug his fingers into the base of Zim's antenna and massaged the warm flesh. If anything, Zim reacted even more fervently than before. He squirmed and gurgled moans, tongue coiling inside his mouth as an ever-moving snake, and arched his back to painfully artistic proportions. Maybe Dib's observant eyes were just cataloguing the movements more closely, understanding what he was looking at.

"The tranq must still be in the process of circulating, his body seems mostly alert as is," Dib muttered huskily, coughing to clear his throat. He needed a glass of water; his mouth was so dry.

He danced his fingers across the felt surface, fuzz causing static electricity to crackle between the two of them. His left hand started to throb a deep, painful ache. Dib visualized that each pulse of his heart thrust blood through his vessels and into his left hand, where it then squirted out like an overused ketchup pump. His hand found a rhythm all of its own volition, stroking up and down and pinching and teasing.

Dib detached himself from the process, allowing awareness to travel from his right hand to his left and back again, the rest of the body just a circuit to travel. His hands were perfectly synchronized, the deepest pain always hitting him at the exact moment his hand slid down to bump the crown of Zim's head.

A particularly strong wave of pain stunned Dib momentarily, and his dazed mind wondered, 'Can Zim feel this pain through my pores, can he smell it through the pheromones clinging to my skin?' and an even more compelling question arose, 'Does it rile him up?' A warrior-oriented species might get off on pain and battles, the need programmed into their aggressive minds as a way to slowly breed more and more violent fiends.

With Dib working determinedly towards a goal, the process ended abruptly with an intense spasm from Zim. His entire form went rigid, looking like it had entered the earliest forms of rigor mortis, and just as suddenly flopped into a boneless jelly state. A dirty thought entered the teenager's mind—was he just that good or did aliens have less stamina?—and he ignored it for its lack of scientific value. Gently checking Zim's body and antennae especially, he found no fluids or spores or anything that could identifiably transmit genetic material. Unless some sort of bizarre frequency wave between antennae gave prospective mothers the genetic code for Irken life (highly unlikely in a species that displayed no telepathy abilities), Dib grudgingly conceded that Zim could have been telling the truth. Irkens did not appear to have the necessary body functions to physically exchange DNA.

Sitting back on the bed, Dib allowed himself to mimic the excessively relaxed state of his subject. Mimicry easily slid into authenticity, and Dib realized with a bit of mild surprise (because Gaz could sic a pit bull on him right now and he wouldn't even flinch) that he genuinely felt better. Refreshed. He looked over at the bed, and groaned to see his pillow splattered with blood right where his had been supporting his body weight. Some specks even clung to Zim's cheek. Looking down at his once bandaged hand, he saw the red mangled digits wave sheepishly at him, only the faintest amount of limp cotton gauze left to valiantly fight a suicidal war.

Dib rose slowly from the bed and picked up a meat cleaver he had taken from the kitchen—and god only knows why it was there in the first place, as the only cooking around the house involved opening cans and making toast—and returned to the bed. Finished with inspecting the head, Dib eagerly bent his mind to the task of exploring the torso. Confidence permeated Dib's stance. From practice on various animals, he knew he could perform on a life subject. And more importantly, keep the subject alive.

Shaking Zim's prone form, first gently and then with progressively fiercer motions, Dib declared him effectively knocked out. The machines agreed, lights green as grass slowing down as if sleep-heavy. Only the camera kept its vigilant surveillance, a steady red-eyed witness. He first used the knife to slice open Zim's shirt, his fingers brushing against mountainous ribs as he shoved the soft material to Zim's sides. Then he placed the tip carefully over that green, faintly rising and falling chest. The knife pierced the skin, burying itself in a little way before pulling out and shoving back in. An in-out rhythm established, Dib opened a jagged line from the thorax to the pelvic brim.

Zim's skin curled away like an exotic two-petal green flower, and Dib pushed his hand in slowly, heat enveloping him like sun-warmed sand.