Zim rolled over with a frustrated grunt in his sleeping chamber. How long had it been? Minutes? Hours? It had felt like forever.

"Nggh… computer?" he inquired quietly, a rare occurrence for the loud alien. "What time is it?"

"11:14," the computer answered coldly.

That meant it had only been an hour. Still, this was the second night in a row, and Zim was simply not going to put up with it anymore. It had taken him over four hours to fall asleep last night, although he had tried to just shrug it off. Tonight, however, he would do everything in his power to succeed.

Although Irkens did not require as much sleep as humans, it was still rather hard to function without any. Knowing this, Zim had pinned insomnia to his mental list of things that could threaten the mission. And Zim always made sure that nothing threatened the mission.

Rolling over once more, Zim decided to use the first technique he had devised. "Computer… put on some music."

"Accessing audio…"

Of course, it was just Zim's luck that the computer randomly chose the loudest heavy metal song in the entire collection. Merciless electric guitar and meaningless screaming suddenly blared into the sleeping chamber.

Zim sat up instantly, snapping his eyes open in utter shock. When he had gotten over the initial adrenaline rush, his next move was to cover every sensor of sound waves he had. This included tugging harshly downward on his antennae.

"OFF!!" he then screamed over the noise. "TURN IT OFF!!"

The music stopped. Zim sighed and relaxed a bit in his sitting position. "Computer!!" he began to complain. "Who listens to HEAVY METAL at 11 at night?!"

"You'd be surprised," was the computers half-joking response.

"Really?"

"Really."

"…Hm," was Zim's bemused comment. "Still, it didn't occur to you that I may not WANT to listen to that filth at 11 at night?"

"I don't think that much unless you tell me two."

The alien growled and slumped back down onto one of his many pillows. "Well, I want you to think, computer. Now… play something… quieter." He settled into a comfortable position, bracing himself just in case another mistake was made.

"Accessing audio…"

"Yes, yes, get on with it."

Peaceful, breathy flute began the song. Violin. And then, lyrics.

"You think you own whatever land you land on… the Earth is just a dead thing you can claim… but I know every rock, and tree, and creature… has a life, has a spirit, has a name…"

"What…?" Zim opened his eyes once again, a flame of irritation flickering to life inside of him. "What is this? This is going to be about NATURE, isn't it?!"

The computer sighed. "Well, what DO you want?"

But Zim was too busy being disgusted about the lyrics of the song to reply.

"Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon?"

"BLECH!! BLECHY BLECH BLECH!!"

"Or asked the grinning bobcat why it grinned?"

"UGH!! Disgusting!!"

"Can you sing with all the voices of the mountains?"

"Turn… it… OFF."

"Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?"

"NOW."

The music switched off, leaving a slightly horrified Zim with a filthy taste in his mouth.

"NO. NATURE," he advised through gritted teeth, "EVER."

"Ugh… fine," the computer agreed, annoyed.

"Okay, let's try this AGAIN again… Perhaps music wasn't the best choice. Relaxing noise -- that could work."

"Accessing audio…"

"I GET IT."

After a few disgruntled noises from the computer, an audio track started. At first, it was too quiet to make out exactly what it was, but the noise grew, sounding like a rush of air coming closer. Then the sound ebbed away again, coming close to silence, revealing the high-pitched squawks of birds. The rushing sound became louder again…

And Zim suddenly knew what it was.

"Eep!" He squeaked, diving under his covers as the sound came closer in an eerily realistic fashion. "The Earth-water!! No, that'll never do!! NEVER…"

The track clicked off. Zim peeked out from under his covers.

"You know," the AI computer pointed out, "ocean sounds are SUPPOSED to be soothing."

"Earth-propaganda!" Zim yelled, then caught himself, fearing that too much heated dialogue would only wake him up even more. He took a deep breath. "Try a different track. And this time, you'd better not get it wrong…"

"Accessing au-"

"JUST DO IT."

More sound began to come out of the speakers in the sleeping chamber, a constant symphony of noises this time. It was mostly high-pitched squeaks, with the occasional breezy sound in the background. Zim rather liked this selection, and he began to settle back into a horizontal position.

"Hmm… computer? What is this?"

"Audio track is described as 'Crickets in the Moonlit Forest.' Does it satisfy you, Master Zim?" The last part was soaked in sarcasm, although it wasn't intended to be rhetorical.

"Ah, crickets," Zim realized. "Insects." It's no wonder they soothe me, Zim thought, just as the chimp-beasts find favor before the humans.

Now, he could relax; he could focus on the center of the problem.

Emotions.

Zim thought the word with contempt.

Whether or not he liked the idea, emotions were causing the insomnia. An Irken soldier isn't supposed to succumb to them, but event the greatest invaders knew that it was an impossible feat. Of course, Zim rarely showed his deeper emotions -- in fact, he rarely felt them, except for the very moment they hit him. Only things like anger, happiness, and pride got through; he stored the rest away as soon as he felt them, knowing that to show them would be to show weakness.

And, naturally, when an emotion is suppressed, it tends to come back to you when you're trying to fall asleep at night.

Zim began to concentrate on all the emotions he had felt in the past few days. Irkens had a wonderful memory for that sort of thing -- he could even remember his unimportant little thoughts from yesterday, like I wonder if we have any cereal, or Ooohhh, that Dib! He so resembles a mongoose…

Sorting through the more prominent feelings, he came across an old familiar one. Anger -- sheer loathing. For the Dib-monkey. That couldn't mean anything; it was just a part of the daily routine now.

What else was there? Ah yes, triumph, when Zim had managed to shove Dib into the mud. He snickered when he remembered this. He'd gone into a relatively long rant induced by his pride in his planet and his infinite superiority then.

Here was a strange one… a kind of happiness, one unfamiliar to Zim. When had he felt it? Ah yes, when he had shared some of his Irken casserole with Rebecca and Andrew, and they had actually enjoyed it. But it wasn't pride in his cooking skills -- it had been a frozen dinner. It was excitement, a kind of warm rush that just made him so happy in the strangest of ways… Why did he feel it? Well, they both said it was delicious, and then Andrew made some kind of crack about Irken food, and they had all begun to laugh. But it wasn't humor, either… It must have been a new feeling… One brought on by…

Zim struggled to suppress the thought, but it was too late.

Friendship.

It obviously irritated him whenever he admitted to not being a complete loner, as if it was some kind of weakness. It was especially difficult to admit that this companionship was coming from… humans. Still, it felt rather good to just get that out of his system. Still, he didn't think that was what was preventing him from sleeping.

Moving on, he remembered disappointment when he had discovered online that the security at NASA was extremely tight.

That was nothing special.

The next one, however, hit him in the stomach, and he immediately knew this was causing all his problems. It had occurred to Zim on Saturday that it had been an awfully long time since he had first landed on Earth -- approximately two years, enough time for one invader to completely take over a particular planet and for several to be ready for the Armada. For a few short seconds, Zim had pondered one disturbing question: What if I never succeed in taking over the Earth?

The answer was in black and white; the emotion was worry. Anxiety. Not quite fear, but not exactly curiosity, either. However, identifying the problem wasn't necessarily going to solve it. Zim now had to confront the question.

Well… what if? What if he never succeeded? What if he had to spend years more on this ragged heap of filth called Earth? What would happen then?

Zim's mind went blank for a few moments, during which time the delightful hums of the crickets made their way into his head. The urge to drop the question and pay attention only to the chirps was overwhelming, but he knew that, although it may be relaxing, he would never fall asleep that way.

He sighed and mustered up whatever courage could make its way through the fog of exhaustion. Okay, so maybe I'm not going to rule all mankind tomorrow afternoon, he thought, and maybe it'll take another year or two. Perhaps I'll have to spend a decade on this horrifying planet! But I've made it this far, haven't I? And now I have more invaders to help me. Besides… I am Zim!! He resisted the urge to say his all-time favorite phrase out loud. I'm invincible! I'll have the Earth in my clutches eventually, no matter how long it takes me. I'll just have to keep trying!

Zim smiled, already drifting off into slumber. Another situations solved by pride! But, even in his reasonably pleasant dreams that night, a lingering doubt, a single question hung over him ever so quietly…

What if?