Author's Notes: Hey, remember me? I'm sorry—It took me forever to get back to working on this story, it's just so much more in-depth and emotionally-charged than my usual stuff that frankly I was nervous even trying to finish it. And indeed, this chapter has a lot more "action" and a lot less philosophizing than the others, but hopefully it still came out well. And so, a year and a day after Part I was published, please enjoy the conclusion of "Nobody Asked."
Instantly the hum of the engines changed, and the whiteness outside dissolved to the beautiful velvety blackness of the normal space. Almost half the screen was taken up with a picture of the planet below, a small glowing marble of swirling pink and red clouds over blue land and lime green oceans. It was the first living planet Dib had seen since leaving his home world, vastly different from Earth, but still calling out to him with its own strange and alien beauty.
Dib got about three seconds to take in all this wonder before something blasted into the ship, knocking him out of his seat and smashing his jawbone into the control panel.
Dib jumped to his feet and typed feverishly at the controls for a moment, and the holographic screen before him shifted to a diagram of the immediate space around him. Directly in the center was his own ship, with a collection of readings about its power levels and damage (left engine was currently at only half-power). On opposite sides of the screen were two groups, one made up of a small collection of broken-down alien vessels of various sizes and shapes, the other comprised of dozens of giant Irken warships armed to the metaphorical teeth. Between them, with Dib smack-dab in the middle, was a raging dogfight between scores of smaller ships like his own, zooming around each other with lasers flying every which way.
"Oh freakin' sh—"
The ship rocked again—Dib grabbed the control panel to keep from falling and managed to clamber back into his chair, fastening the safety belts over his chest as he leaned down over the controls. "Damn it!" More damage to his left engine, and the right had sustained minor damage as well. "As if this ship wasn't already enough of a hunk of crap—"
"Agh! Damn it, would you please stop?" What infuriated him even more was that it was the Resisty ships that were firing on him—which made perfect sense, of course, since he was in an Irken vessel. He had actually anticipated this sort of problem already, but he had assumed when he showed up he would be alone, beat-up and with weapons powered down, making it clear he wasn't a threat. Now, however...
"Of course, with my luck, I would show up right when the real Irkens were attacking," Dib grumbled, quickly reactivating the ship's weapons as he piloted it over to the Resisty side. "I just need to get in contact with the Resisty flagship, let them know that—" BOOM! "Agh!"
A damage report appeared on the screen in front of him—that last blast had destroyed his left engine; the ship was now leaning slightly sideways and unable to fly right. "Oh, just perfect!" He glared out of the window as the Resisty ship that had just fired at him flew ahead of him. "I'm on your side, idiot! I don't even know why I came here, you stupid little whatever-you-are—"
His eyes widened—an Irken Spittle Runner was flying up from behind the Resisty ship, its lasers glowing red. Without thinking Dib spun around the controls for his own weapons systems and fired—he hit the Spittle Runner right on its own fully-charged laser cannons, which (thanks to a rather poor design flaw) blew up its own energy cells and destroyed it in a massive explosion.
Dib let out a furious groan and threw himself back against his chair. "See? Now why did I do that? That's that stupid hero thing again, saving the idiot who blew out my own engine! I should have just been an asshole and let it—"
Dib sat up, blinking as the holo-screen told him be was being hailed by one of the larger Resisty vessels. He opened it, and the screen in front of him changed into a silhouette of an alien face—Vort, Dib guessed, based on those curled-back horn-antennae things. All this was rather annoying, actually, since it meant his view of the battle was now gone; Dib had never really learned how to work all of these buttons right and get a decent picture-in-picture.
"Unidentified vessel," said a voice, deep and commanding, "you are now entering Resisty space. What is—"
"Nar! Nar, man!" Another dark figure was moving over the silhouette's shoulder, bouncing up and down. "Who is it?"
"But who is it? Who is it, Nar?"
"Can't you see I'm trying to figure that out? For the love of—"
"HEY!" Dib screamed; the aliens on the screen turned back to him as the ship rocked again and Dib frantically worked the controls. "You're Lard Nar, right? Leader of the Resisty, that's why the Irkens are attacking you?"
"What? Who said anything about the Resisty?" the alien said, its glowing eyes looking shifty.
"You did, dude! Like twenty seconds ago!"
"I thought I told you to shut up?"
"LISTEN!" Dib screamed; in the back of his mind it occurred to him that this was the first time he had actually had a conversation with someone other than himself for months, and he was quickly remembering why he had given up on the habit in the first place. "Now let me guess. You just saw me waste one of the Irkens and are trying to figure out if I'm on their side, right?"
"Well, I'm not, okay?" Dib motioned to his very un-Irken face. "So could you guys please stop—" BOOM! "agh, firing on me?"
"Alright, alright, sheesh! Ixane! Send a message to the others telling them not to fire on that Voot Cruiser!" Lard Nar called over his shoulder, then turned around to face Dib again. "Now who the heck are you, anyway?"
"Ugh—my name is Dib Membrane. I'm here to join your stupid resistance—I'm a refugee from a planet called Ear—"
Dib was thrown around in his seat again, but managed to stay in place. As he groaned and climbed to his feet he failed to notice Lard Nar's face crackle and disappear from the screen, or the new channel that forced its way open to present a new image in its place.
"Agh, freakin'—I thought you told your people to stop doing—" Dib stood and looked up, and his eyes suddenly went as wide as saucers. "Zim?"
The Invader grinned at him, a twisted, unimaginably creepy grin of triumphant fury. "Ah, hello, Dib."
"Agh!" Dib managed to stay up by grabbing the control panel again, while the ship reported its remaining engine was at half-power, his weapons were worthless and a huge chunk of its hull was gone. Choking slightly, Dib called up another screen for more information, and a new layout appeared beside Zim's face, showing his ship, with handy captions showing all of its damaged, with another ship hovering over it like a vulture, about twice as large as his and significantly less reliant on chewing gum to stay together. The computer identified it as an Elite-Class Mega-Voot with very high-energy weapons. It also reported that it was "new and shiny," and added that Dib was "screwed against it." Irken computers weren't subtle.
"Shit," Dib grumbled, staring from the readings to Zim's smirking face.
"You didn't think I was really just going to let you escape, did you, Dib-worm?" Zim asked, his pink-red eyes glittering. "As though there was ever any question of where you would try to go, hmm?"
Dib actually blinked in confusion for a moment, staring at his enemy oddly. "Huh?"
"Oh, yes, little worm. It was so easy to lay this trap for you. Why, I've already been here for a week, Dib-stink, I actually had the Tallests delay our attack on these fools just so you would have time to—"
"WAIT," Dib said, holding up his hand and making the Invader pause. "Hold it right there. You're honestly telling me that you—came here—to lay a trap for me?"
Zim stared. "Um...yes?"
Zim's eyes narrowed, both annoyed and suspicious now. "Yes..."
"You—actually left Earth—for me? You just—left your huge palatial space station with its hundreds of Irken servants, boarded yourself on a cramped little Voot Cruiser—"
"Hey, I'll have you know this is an Elite-Level—"
"-just so you could fly, for weeks, across two galaxies, park yourself here, wait another week, not because you wanted to take part of this attack on the Resisty...but just because you thought I would show up here eventually? You were that sure I would come?"
"Well, where the Irk else would you go?"
"And recapturing me is—that important to you? You couldn't just send out a 'Wanted' report for me, you had to get off your throne, quit all the human-torturing you love so much, just to come and get me here, personally?"
Zim closed his eyes, teeth grounding. "WHAT IS YOUR POINT, DIB-WORM?"
Dib didn't answer at first; he just stared at Zim, his eyes cloudy and confused, and then, after a moment, he began to tremble, his lips rubbing together oddly. They opened slightly—a snort came out, then a tiny scoff—
—and then Dib collapsed against the control panel laughing, pounding his fist as a string of insane giggles escaped from his mouth.
Zim's eyes widened momentarily, then his eyes narrowed, and an ugly sneer split a face that was turning red quickly (and rather illogically, given Irken physiology). "WHAT'S SO FUNNY?" he screamed, so angrily that holographic spittle flew out from the screen.
"HA HA HA-" Dib looked up, still laughing, and Zim couldn't help but wonder at how crazy (-er than usual) that wide, almost painful grin made him look, like a psychopathic version of his old experiment Nick. "What's so funny?" he managed to gasp out between laughter. "Don't you—HA HA—GET IT, ZIM?"
"HA HA—that YOU-" he pointed at the screen, still laughing, "-are even STUPIDER-" he wiped a tear from under his glasses "than I AM!" he jabbed his thumb to his chest, and his laughter instantly died, replaced by a sneer of arrogance that made Zim's blood boil.
"ME? Stupider than YOU?" Zim's hologram seemed to radiate fury as he gazed down at Dib. "Hmph. Impossible."
"Oh, you're wrong," Dib said, still sneering, but now chuckling lightly once again. "Oh, I'm pretty stupid, that's true, but seriously—YOU? You really take the CAKE, Zim! And do you know why?"
Zim stared at him darkly, smoldering rage glittering in his bug-like crimson eyes. But he didn't interrupt the smelly Earth-beast, wondering what he was getting at, and what it had to do with pastries that he had no memory of ever purloining.
"Because I...almost...didn't come here," Dib admitted, locking eyes with his old nemesis, and hoping that he wouldn't notice the way Dib's hands were slowly floating across the control panel. "I almost passed right by without stopping. I almost went with a totally different plan."
Zim's eyes narrowed. "And what plan is that?"
Dib nonchalantly pressed a button, transferring most of the ship's remaining power to his one crippled engine.
"To let you have Earth."
"No, I'm serious," Dib said, and Zim looked at him oddly; he sounded it. "I was just going to fly away, ignore the Resisty and the Irkens and just let you all fight it out by yourselves. But I couldn't really do it in the end." The boy gave a twisted, oddly vicious smile. "I guess you know me well enough to realize that, huh Zim?"
"Well, I am the Amazing Ziii-"
"I can't—" Zim actually stopped talking at Dib's interruption, Dib wondered vaguely if that was a first "stop fighting. Not as long as you and the rest of you evil little lizards are enslaving my people, or any other innocent species. Because even when I escaped from you, I'm enslaved...enslaved to the whole human race." Dib's mocking, laughing smile returned. "But you, Zim? You managed to conquer an entire planet, but you're so freaking pathetic that you couldn't stand the thought of just one of your billions of prisoners getting away!" He punched himself on the breastbone. "I'm willing to throw my entire life away for doing what's right. But you? You're really a slave. You threw your whole life away just to get me!"
Zim's eyes widened slightly. "What do you mean, Dib-worm?" he growled, barely moving his lips with each word.
Dib's smile grew even more manic. "Well, like I said, Zim..." One hand wrapped around the control stick in front of him, while another hovered over the remaining engine's ignition. "I just can't seem to stop—FIGHTING!"
Dib's hand slammed down on the button in front of him, and with a twist of his joystick the ship shot straight upwards, right towards the underside of Zim's hull.
The Invader got about one second to realize that something was happening.
The holo-screen went staticky as Dib was thrown from his position, forcing himself just up enough to hit another button on the control panel—instantly a wall sealed itself just behind his chair, separating the main cockpit, and a second later the whole tiny chamber shot out from the rest of the Goodbye, blasting away through space. Zim righted himself just in time to see the escape pod blasting away, visible on his own holo-screen along with a damage report from the crash.
Zim took one more second to register his shock, but no more.
"Oh no you don't!"
Dib, meanwhile, was flying away from Zim's ship as fast as his escape pod could go, which, as it turned out, was not very fast given how beaten-up and damaged it was. He didn't even have enough power to go into hyperspace, there was no way he could outrun Zim's ship, no way he could escape—
"NO!" Dib screamed, closing his eyes tight. "I am not going back I am not going back I am NOT going back with that asshole—" His mind began to swirl with harsh images, memories of pain, memories of torture, with memories of the other humans inexorably but illogically mixed in—he was not going back, he was not going back to that hellhole, he was going to save that hellhole, but the thought of returning beforehand was abhorrent. He wasn't going back, not going back he repeated to himself, over and over, he was going to defeat Zim and the Irkens and save the Earth, he would not go back to slavery and torture he had a plan damn it and he did NOT come all this way to see it collapse on itself now!
The problem, of course, was that Dib had no idea what to do now; he had almost forgotten about the battle raging around him, the Irken and Resisty ships all firing wildly, Dib swerved to avoid getting hit, but where was he going, as he watched more and more of his allies were vanishing, some being destroyed, some retreating into hyperspace with bright white flashes of light. He typed furiously at the controls, trying to open another link with Lard Nar, assuming he was still here—but as the Vort's face appeared the ship suddenly rocked, and his screen flickered between two alien visages, one ally and one foe.
"You'll nev—TSSST!—away from the amaz—TSSST!—ZIIIII—TSSST!—IIIIIIII—TSSST!—IIIIM!"
Dib cursed—he had known, in the back of his mind, that getting rid of Zim probably wouldn't have been that easy, but he had really, really hoped it would be.
"—TSSST!—if—TSSST!—need of assistance—TSSST!"
"—on for size, Dib—TSSST!"
Suddenly the ship rocked; Dib let out a choking noise as he froze in the middle of space, then began to move backwards, towards Zim's ship.
He blanched. "A tractor beam? What the hell, why didn't he just—well, then again, he once trapped me in a cage made out of candy canes, so why even ask?"
"—ha-ha, foolish—TSSST! You're mine now!"
Dib felt hot tears burning behind his eyelids; he bent down over the controls and searched frantically—he powered the engine but it did no good, weapon systems were down, what was left, what was there he could do?
The ship rocked slightly as it bumped into Zim's; Dib let out a cry as it rumbled again, and his eyes widened as metallic tentacles (apparently coming from Zim's ship) wrapped themselves over the pod's window, holding the ship in place against Zim's hull. Meanwhile the screen's reception finally seemed to clear, and the Irken's face appeared glowing with triumphant fury.
"Okay, Dib...THAT made me MAD!"
The ship shook again; the tentacles from Zim's craft tightened, making the hull groan and the plastic material in the window curve in. Zim's hologram grinned widely, enjoying the look of terror that spread across his rival's race.
"Ha! Ha-ha! Really, Dib. You honestly thought you could get away like that? Oh, I'm going to enjoy dragging you back to the Earth in chains! Heavy chains! Heavy chains made of itchiness and—and heavy! Mwa-ha-ha!"
"No..." Dib shook his head, eyes closed but failing to hold back the tears streaming down his face. "No no no no NO!"
The boy could only tremble as Zim's cackling sounded in his ears.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Dib," the Invader mocked. "And you really thought you could do it, too, didn't you? Huh? You thought that you could just fail on Earth, and then blast off into space and guess what? You failed again! Mwa-ha! MWA-HA-HA!"
"No...NO..." Dib tried to cover his ears, but he couldn't block out Zim's triumphant voice.
"Oh, and don't you think you'll be able to start anything up on Earth, either," Zim continued, as his ship's hold on Dib's tightened even more, making the metal scream even louder. "I have special plans for you, now—the other slaves tell me you don't like them very much? Well, no problem!" he laughed. "I've prepared a special cell for you on my space station, where you'll never have to be around another disgusting human ever again!"
"No no no..."
"Oh, but don't worry. You'll get to see all your little dirt-friends all day long, because we'll have holograms up so you can watch everything we're doing on Earth—not that there's anything you'll be able to do about it! HA HA! How do you like that, huh? Because really, I put a lot of thought into all this, my torture expert thought it was—"
"NO!" Dib screamed, suddenly recovering from his horror and pointing at Zim's hologram, a sneer on his face even as tears continued to flow down his cheeks. "You're wrong, Zim! I'm not going back to Earth, and neither are you! And you know what? Not only did you give up your amazing conquest just to get me, but you just made TWO MORE BIG mistakes!"
Zim scoffed. "What?"
"One," Dib held up a finger, "you forgot what I said about how I will never stop fighting. And two," he held up another finger while forming his other hand into a fist, "you brought me close enough to you to make doing this worthwhile."
He pounded down on the control panel. Instantly read lights began to flash.
Zim raised a non-existent eyebrow, antennae quirked. "Eugh?"
"Self-destruct sequence activated."
Dib had a few more seconds to take in Zim's falling face, antennae drooping against his head. The human's face twisted into one last insane, maniac look.
"One last gift to Earth. That answer you're question?"
Zim didn't have time to really register Dib's words. He didn't even have time to figure out that should really detach the tentacles quickly and fly away while he still had a chance.
He could just stare at Dib's insane eyes before a blast of white light blasted through both of their ships, and everything went black.
So, this was it, then.
The ship exploded, blasting a hole in the hull of Zim's ship and sending Dib hurtling into space. There was no way anyone could survive that. It was the end for him.
The end of his sad, miserable life.
He wondered, vaguely, if any of it even mattered.
He'd blown a hole in Zim's ship. So? It was much bigger than Dib's measly little escape pod, he quite literally had no idea whether or not it would put Zim's out of commission, if the explosion was anywhere near where Zim actually was on his ship, or if the Invader would somehow survive the attack even if it did manage to hit him. And if he did kill Zim, would that even make a difference? It wouldn't liberate the planet; the Irken occupation would go on, the Tallests could simply replace him with a more-competent, saner viceroy who would almost certainly be just as evil. Was kamikazeing his old enemy really the best idea? It had seemed like it at the time...but maybe he had been wrong. Maybe if he had just let Zim take him back to Earth he could have escaped when they got there, gone back to start his resistance and do some real good?
It had all been worthless. He'd done the best he could, he went through all that grief, and even when he decided to do the right thing in the end he hadn't really been able to. The Earth would still be enslaved, and there was nothing he could do about it.
Heh. Look at him. Still worrying about nothing but that stupid little planet he hated, even when he was dead.
Was he dead? He was still thinking...was that how it was supposed to work? He had never quite figured out what he believed about the afterlife, but this really wasn't like anything he had expected—he still existed, cogito ergo sum and all that, but he couldn't see any Pearly Gates or fiery caverns or anything. Mostly couldn't really see anything, he just felt pain. Strong pain, but also sort of dull and distant, not really real enough to think this was "abandoning all hope" time quite yet.
Maybe he wasn't dead. Maybe was just asleep or something. Yeah, that was it...maybe he was just asleep and this was all a bad dream or something. Maybe he would wake up in a second to find out that Zim never even existed, or that he never won, or that Dib never left Earth...and then he would have another chance to do something better this time.
If only he could wake up...
"Shloonktapooxis, man the weapons! K'N'Gungun, take the controls, make sure we're not being pursued! Ixane, see how many ships are with us and start tracking down anyone who got separated! And Vogtix, by the moons and stars, would you put some bloggin' pants on!"
Lard Nar turned as, amongst all the chaos and noise of the ship, Ixane rushed forward, followed by two medics pushing a hover-stretcher before them. The Vort turned and sighed, rubbing his tired eyes with a fist. "That's the alien?"
"The one who destroyed the Mega-Voot, yes."
"How's his condition?"
"Not good, sir," one of the medics said, pulling back the stretcher's sheet.
Lard Nar leaned forward, extending his antennae and then immediately withdrawing them at the smell the creature was letting off, a mixture of fetid alien sweat and salty, metallic blood. He could easily see cuts on his skin and clothes, bits of metal shrapnel sticking out of his flesh, and burns that seemed to have left its head-fur patchy and smoldering. His two eyes seemed to be moving quickly beneath their eyelids, and his breathing was ragged and strained.
"Is there anything you can do?"
"We're not sure, sir," the second medic said, half of her eyes on him and half of her patient. "Preliminary scans show a lot of internal bleeding, we'll need to try to operate immediately."
"Do what you can. Take him down to sick bay, siphon off any spare power we can—"
Suddenly the alien made a harsh, choking sound, making everyone around him jump.
The alien was trying to open its eyes, now—it blinked painfully, staring up at Lard Nar desperately. When he had first spoken to the thing Lard Nar remembered its eyes looking very round, reflecting white light at him in a harsh, eerie manner—they looked smaller, now, less intense, with brown irises that pleaded in agony.
"What is it, what are you saying?"
"What is it, what do you need?"
"Need—Er—Earth!" The creature coughed violently, blood splattering down its chin.
"'Erf?'" Lard Nar repeated. "What's that?"
"Sir, we need to get him to sick bay," the second medic said again, both mouths frowning with concern.
Lard Nar straightened up, waving his hand. "Yes, yes, of course," he said, glancing downward at the pleading creature again. "Hurry."
"Please—need—Earth! Help, Earth!"
The medics pushed him away, vanishing down the corridor that would take them to the medical bay.
Lard Nar watched them go, frowning slightly to himself. He felt a twist of sympathy for the probably-doomed creature—whatever he was, he had certainly shown himself to be a determined soldier, just the sort of man (...or woman or whatever, who could tell with aliens?) that Lard Nar needed on his side. A pity, really, to come all that way and wind up like this in your first battle...he hoped the alien recovered. Cross-species medicine was never a safe science, but hopefully his doctors had some of this "erf" the patient needed so badly, whatever that was , and could fix up his wounds without damaging something else by mistake.
"Captain, we need you at the bridge!"
"What?" Lard Nar snapped out of his daze, blinking. "Oh..."
He rushed to the front of the ship, pushing the strange creature out of his mind as best he could. He had other things to worry about now, like reorganizing the fleet, finding a new base of operations, figuring out a new way to attack the Irkens...he had to keep fighting, after all.
Still, even as he rushed to do his duties, that alien's unknown request remained in the back of Lard Nar's mind. Whatever he was trying to ask for, it seemed to be a very important question.
Oh, well. If the creature survived, maybe he would have a chance to answer it.
A/N: In some ways more hopeful than the ending of the first chapter, but still ambiguous enough to leave everyone's fates in the dark. Seems fitting.
Anyway, I thank everyone who reads this fic, I'm honestly surprised how popular it's been and how it's grown from its original idea. I wish I had planned it out better from the beginning (it sort of feels more like three one-shots than one story to me), but I'm glad so many people appreciate it.
Please review with any comments, and if you're interested see my profile for a poll on other IZ ideas I have. :-)