– – –
Hello and welcome to Part One of The Mandylion Saga! Abbreviated as IZMS, this story has been in the works for a long, long time... I started it in high school (I'm now two years out of college, heh), and it has gone through countless edits and re-writes. I'm so happy to be sharing the final edit. :3
Before you begin reading, please do read the prequel to this, Time Warp Factor Five, the link to which is available on my profile. :3
A quick note regarding timeline: IZMS takes place after the events of Invader Zim, as well as TWFF. It also is written under the assumption that the unaired episode The Trial was a lead-in event. The years mentioned herein are based on the 'real' years of the show (i.e., that the Invasion began in March of 2001).
IZMS will update with at least one chapter every Friday! There are four parts total: Changes, Transitions, Memories, and Promises, plus one Epilogue. (I will already hint that part 3 is my favorite... :3) While TWFF was written solely as Gaz's journals, IZMS will be narrated in three voices, each of whom have an intro chapter, to get things rolling! There will, however, be additional chapters (commentary?) by other voices.
And before I go, some thanks: 1. For all of the positive reception to TWFF so far! 2. To J_.3. To the trifecta of bands that basically shaped this whole thing due to my constant listening of them: ThouShaltNot, Evanescence, and Nightwish (the entire series, actually, exists as it does thanks to the Nightwish song 'End of All Hope'). Okay, I'll stop being boring now.
Invader Zim is -c- Jhonen Vasquez! Only the events of this story (and the character tweaking, heh) are mine.
All musical credit is given at the end of the chapter.
Have fun! :3
– – –
~The Mandylion Saga~
~Part One: Changes ~
I'll begin with a memory.
My mother had green eyes. They were so drastically different from the bland, standard brown my father had passed to my younger sister and myself. Mom was different, and I'd always known she was. She would smile and pick me up, read to me, sing to me, teach me things I desperately wanted to know.
"What shall I read to you tonight, Dib?" she asked me.
"Tonight I'll read to you," I boasted. I was two years old.
I read her a poem. I've forgotten which one it was.
Fast forward two years, and she was out of my life completely. When I was four, Dad changed, and my life became defining myself by not being anything like him. I kept my hair like his though, because deep down, I wanted him to respect me, if not maybe even like me again.
Fast forward a few more years.
No, wait, I have the specific day. March 30, 2001: the Irken Invasion began. The Invader, Zim, sent to carry out that Invasion, wasn't much back then. February 2002: a new player entered... Tak. Much more formidable than Zim.
That's a good place to start. With Tak. She's basically the reason any of this happened.
– – –
"You're never going to get that thing to break out of orbit," my sister snarled at me. I was making modifications on Tak's Spittle Runner for the twentieth time that week. The Spittle Runner, Tak's own redesign of a common Irken Armada vessel, had caught me by surprise not long before, and I was obsessed with it. I was bound and determined to get it flying out of Earth's orbit; it would aid me in several ways as far as exposing the Irkens' plan to everyone on this planet went.
Sometimes, the thought would come to mind that Earth was begging to be destroyed. Nobody cared. Nobody listened. It made no sense to me. Why does my race have to be so stupid? I wondered. Much more, I'd begun to understand my arch-enemy's reasoning in hating humans so much. Begun to understand, yes... but I hardly sympathized.
In any case, another hope (as far as piloting the Spittle Runner went) was that I could find other planets threatened by the Irken Empire and hopefully gain a few allies that would lend Earth a hand since, well, Earth may just have been as doomed as Zim said it was.
As of that particular day, I was only aware of certain elements of what the Irkens were calling "Operation: Impending Doom II" (the "II" coming, apparently, from the failed attempts of the first O:ID thanks to my old nemesis, Zim). The objective of the Operation was simple enough: conquer as many planets as the Irken Army had Invaders to conquer them, thus expanding the Empire to the vast reaches of various galaxies. To what aim, I did not know, but most conquest, even among our own countries here on Earth, can be simply attributed to the want for more power, and more resources. Most of the planets deemed fit to conquer had, apparently, already fallen. Earth was holding on thanks to Zim's stupidity, though even that was nothing constant in him these days.
For starters, I'll give the run-down on the Irkens I knew, at that point, about:
Starting with the Tallest. Their names were nothing to write home about—I had heard Zim refer to them as simply Red and Purple, so named for the colors of their respective eyes—but their height was something to be admired. The Irkens, on the whole, are a race of fairly short subjects, all clones stemming between 4'5" and 5'2" well into adult years. The Tallest, both of whom I had seen on screen in Zim's sad excuse for a base before, I could estimate to be well over six feet tall, thus proving them to have been 'chosen' to lead the Empire. The reign was split betwen the two, and I had no knowlege yet of whether or not this was a precedent or a fluke, or whether the two—both male and both of apparently the same age—had simply been cloned from the same Tallest ancestor. Their power seemed to lie primarily in military tactics, however, while the actual governing of the race was determined by ancient, PAK-like computers known as the Control Brains. Those, I am sad to say, were subjects I had yet to thoroughly study, though I was determined to unearth more information about them.
Under the Tallest was the Army, split into Invaders—the best of the best, Fleet Commanders, Guards, Advisors, Footsoldiers, and, lastly, Service Drones. Each Irken clone, to my understanding, had one of three potentials at birth: Drone, Soldier, or Advisor. The Soldiers were most abundant, and thus could train for any branch of the Army, whereas Drones and Advisors had their work cut out for them from day one. All Irkens are bred in body as clones, and, once having completed gestation, are fitted with a uniquely coded computerized organ known as a PAK. PAKs are complex and serve many functions, among them: knowlege retention, life support, longevity, and several mechanical tricks an Irken can hone throughout training, such protruding metal, cyborgian spider legs—used both for speed and attack, laser shots, atmosphere regulation, limited levitation, holographic design, and teleportation. PAKs are, again, unique to the individual to which they become attached. If the host body is disconnected, the PAK will seek out another host to latch onto, thus imbibing the new host with the life and personality of the former one.
It is possible, I have also learned, for PAKs to become corrupted, or even tampered with. Such a case to prove this point is Zim himself. Zim, given the title of Invader merely to get him out of the way of the real Operation, is classified as a Defective, which is the label given to those whose PAKs are insufficiently coordinated. What happened to him exactly that gave him that label was still unknown to me, but I had several clues to point me in the right direction of finding out.
Tak was an utterly different example. While sound in PAK structure, I was convinced that she was of unsound mind. Then again, I knew only Tak and Zim as examples of the Irken race, and only one of the two was known to be irregular. Tak, for all I knew, was more like the rest of the population. Driven, erratic, wildly insane, and, above all, omnicidal. Tak had dealt us blows with both natural and psychological warfare. She knew her enemy, and she knew how to attack. She only lacked organization.
Zim, on the other hand, 'knew the enemy' a bit too well. The September after I turned eleven, and was entering sixth grade, Tak had returned with a new plan, which radically changed all of us involved: myself, my sister Gaz, and Zim. Gaz and I now referred to that week as simply the Incident, since saying 'time warp' around anyone else was sure to draw attention we did not want. The time warp itself proved to be little more than a distraction in Tak's real plan: eradicating Zim by methods other than murder. By fast forwarding time, for what turned out to be eight days, Tak had us stuck living our lives under the worldwide assumption that life and time had progressed five years—in other words, I was aged to sixteen, Gaz to fifteen, the rest of the world, same basic jump, you get the idea. Zim was flung into a much more fitting hell: Tak had reconstructed his DNA, and temporarily turned him human.
She had achieved both of these feats with help from two machines originally invented by a previous Tallest, known as Miyuki. Tallest Miyuki was another enigma that eluded my Irken research. Touring other worlds in the Spittle Runner, I thought, could possibly set me on the right track to learning more about her, and piecing the entire Incident together. Whoever the late Tallest had been, she had been powerful, and her work seemed to be without rival. My own father, time-wasting bastard he was, had always been an inventor himself, but had never touched such complex ideas as DNA transmogrification or time travel... and he, Professor Membrane of worldwide fame (gag me now), was the top of his field. (Going off track here for a second to say that, while Dad is brilliant, he was horribly aloof, mostly crazy, and a terrible, ignorant parent. I'm sure further ranting is in order in that respect. My distaste for his methods is unavoidable.)
Now, Zim, during his time as a human, had changed quite a bit. I used to be able to read that guy like a book; anticipate his next moves precisely. And for the first couple days of the Incident, I still could. Then, things gradually became different. He appeared to enjoy being human. He expressed a liking in his new height and physical strength (at sixteen, lean, and six feet tall, yes, that much could be understandably liked), as well as human sight, taste, and other forms of perception lacking in Irkens. Slowly, his voice had become less brash, his actions less outrageous, his Irken nature more and more subdued. For all intents and purposes, yes: he was, for eight days, human.
That was not without consequence, however. Tak began tampering with his mind. He began to forget basic Irken concepts, growing ever more comfortable with his assumed human life. And then, of course, he threw me through an uncanny loop, and I, to that day, had spent too much time wondering about the cause and effect of it all. Putting it plainly, he had fallen in love.
With my sister.
To make things worse, the feeling was mutual, although, as Gaz had confessed to me, Zim had never found out her side of the whole thing. I was, of course, rather glad that Zim didn't know. In my mind, he had to have just been confused. I knew he was, I just knew it. I mean, sure, going from Irken to human in no time flat would probably screw with anyone's mind. But still... why Gaz? Why my sister? I was starting to believe that it was a subconscious Irken intention: he said he was in love with her purely to piss me off. Well, even if he didn't want that, he'd succeeded.
I was becoming angrier than ever at my enemy. I'd seen how my sister was acting in the time after Zim became Irken again. She was trying so hard to work herself back into her old mindframe, her old thoughts and habits, but she just looked so lonely. And the worst part was, I couldn't do anything about it. She still loved him. No matter how horribly he screwed her over during the Incident, she still had feelings for him, and I felt so sorry for her. I hated Zim more than ever for what he did to her. To think: my enemy broke my sister's heart. If that wasn't motivation enough to destroy him now, nothing was.
He was going to pay.
And that Spittle Runner was somehow going to help me. Somehow, I was going to get my answers. I was bound and determined to draw up a full Irken case file, to stop the Invasion before it could start. The Swollen Eyeball Organization, a paranormal society to which I had belonged since I was about eight, had a small army itself. All I had to do was convince the SEO that the Invasion was worth our time, and I'd have Zim pinned. The prospect of alien help delighted me, as well. Surely there were other races out there, as equally fed up with the Irkens as I was.
Now, I was doing most of this behind Gaz's back, even though we had, during the Incident, become quite close as siblings, and shared more with each other now than we ever had. Gaz had been doing some investigating in her own right, though hers was purely family-oriented: she had begun digging around the house, trying to find out more about our mother. It was purely busy work, but I had to applaud her, since talking about Mom was the only thing that got her mind off of Zim.
So, that afternoon, it was no surprise that she began mocking my use of the Spittle Runner. "Even if I don't get it to fly," I told her, "it's a great resource. I'm pulling more information off of this every day."
"Don't be like Dad," she warned me, for the umpteenth time.
I took a second to take in her stance: arms folded across her darker than midnight dress, eyes narrowed to points beneath heavy black makeup, feet—in black boots—squared to show that she was not about to move. I knew what she meant, of course: Don't be like Dad. It translated to: Don't get lost in your work. It was the only phrase that she could use against me. I despised my father's work. Comparing me to him was the last thing I wanted anyone to do. That comment ended my night of work on the Runner, and I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening instead on trying to figure out what on Earth would make my sister even marginally happy. I let her talk about Finland—which was the closest she could get to finding out about or Finnish-born mother, whose name we could not remember (incidentally, we didn't know Dad's real name, either)—and amused her by letting her beat me at yet another video game, but, at the end of the night, she still plodded off to bed depressed.
It hurt that I, as her brother, could do nothing. It hurt me that Zim, an Irken, my sworn enemy, was the only one from whom Gaz would accept comfort now. Of course, they had not spoken since the Incident ended. In fact, Gaz generally avoided him, for fear of how he'd act out toward her now that he was Irken again. I liked it, of course, but her anger and loneliness was almost too much to bear. She wanted Zim back as he had been, and neither of us had any idea whether or not that was possible, probable, or—and this was the part she never spoke of—even something he still wanted.
– – –
Not long after the Incident, I started getting taller.
I'd grown two inches in four months, and I was still feeling growing pains. I honestly didn't think guys my age started with those crazy growth spurts until age fourteen our so, but there I was at eleven... still pretty short for my age, but already a lot taller than I thought I could be. It scared me, because I was still growing, and I began to fear how tall I'd be by the following August, when I turned twelve. I was already a lot taller than my sister.
Whenever my height depressed, me, though, I'd just say to myself: At least I'm taller than that damn Irken, Zim.
I had a sort of superiority complex when it came to the Me vs. Zim issue. Ever since he'd first arrived, I did whatever I could to prove that humans were better than Irkens. Then again, I've always been a lot more intelligent than any of the kids in my class. Gaz is incredibly smart, too... she simply chose not to care, so it was reflected less in her grades. I learned how to talk at a very early age, and began reading not long after that.
I just never thought I'd start in on growth spurts sooner than anyone else. That had nothing to do with intelligence. Sure, my father has always been tall. Maybe I'm just too easily surprised by some things. 'Normal' things more than others.
Something quite less than normal, however, and much more disconcerting, was the issue of my eyes. During the Incident, there had been a day during which Tak's robot assistant, MiMi (Tak's self-made version of the Invader tool known as a SIR), had infiltrated Gaz's computer, and somehow sent out a signal that had literally sparked something in the room. For a few minutes, she had turned my eyes red. As in, Irken red. It was almost no secret that Tak wanted me to side with her, and I knew full well that she had a transmogrification unit at her disposal. I wasn't about to let her trick me, though: I kept on telling myself I'd never let her catch me and turn me Irken the way she'd turned Zim human. Even so, every once in a while, when I looked at my reflection, I'd see little bits of red in my brown eyes. It could have been the light, though.
– – –
And then, one evening, life took a turn for the better.
"YES!" I cried, feeling more triumphant than I had in months. "Finally!"
The Spittle Runner was functioning perfectly. I never thought I'd get it done so quickly; it had been five months since the Incident, and I'd already successfully flown the Runner to different towns and back in a single night several times, but this was one run I was actually proud of.
I'd made it to the opposite coast and back. In one night!
When I landed the Runner in the backyard on that incredible February night, I actually felt, for the first time in my life, that I was about to do something terribly significant. I'd hoped to really get things done before, I'd hoped to make an impact on humanity, but now... now I could actually use this thing to not only my advantage, but the entire planet's.
"Gaz!" I shouted, bolting into the house and up the stairs. I saw that her door was open, so I stepped in a little. "Gaz, I did it! The thing's working better than ever!"
"That's great," she groaned. "Congratulations."
She was doing something I'd caught her doing at least one hundred times since we'd returned to our proper time sphere: she was lying on her bed, using the sweatshirt that had belonged to Zim during the Incident as a pillow, turning a small box around in her hands, studying it thoroughly, deep in thought.
"I'm kinda busy," she added to her previous comment.
I sighed and leaned against her doorframe. "Let it go, Gaz," I suggested, folding my arms. "It'll be a lot easier if you do. Just open the box, whatever, see what's in there, feel glad about it, and move on. I mean, I know you hope a part of him is still human and all, but... have you seen how he's been acting, lately? He's back to his old tricks. That was a one-time deal, Gaz; he's not coming back."
"Shut up!" she barked at me, setting the box down and jumping off her bed to threaten me. "Just shut up! You have no idea what you're talking about, Dib! No idea! How can you say there's nothing human about him now? Have you even looked at his arm? He still has trouble with his arm! He must have a scar there! There's still hope left!"
I found it strange that we weren't even saying his name. I found it stranger still that I'd actually considered him a friend for a week.
We were, of course, referring to Zim. We'd seen it with our own eyes: he was human. He was a lot more human than even the two of us may seem at times. The thing is, though, he wasn't himself when he was human. Something happened to his mind during the Incident that completely reformed him. Had he always been human, had he always acted like that, I'm sure the two of us actually could be friends... maybe even partners in study. Instead, it seemed almost as if he'd completely given up on everything that had happened to him.
He had acted strange for the first couple of months after the Incident. Until December, actually, he acted incredibly human. I even saw him go red whenever he passed by my sister. He'd blush and clear his throat, then shake his head and walk on.
But now he was a lot more like his regular Irken self. He'd started referring to himself as an Invader again; he had a few new plans for world conquest.
I, of course, was right there to stop him every time.
I still felt sorry for my sister, though. Gaz and I got very close during Tak's Time Warp, and it really pained me to see her like this.
"Gaz..." I tried.
"Just leave me alone, Dib," Gaz snarled, turning her back on me. "Go away."
"Can't I just—"
"I said, go away!"
Gaz spun around again, and I saw tears forming at the corners of her eyes. She glared at me piercingly, full of anger and sadness. I sighed again and turned to leave. "Sorry," I apologized sincerely. "I'm really not being much of a help, am I?"
"No," she spat. "You're not."
I decided to tell her about my Spittle Runner triumph later, and walked down the hall into my own room. Once inside, I pressed my back against the door and slid to the ground. My entire body started to ache.
"Oh, man, not again," I groaned. "This is insane... why am I growing so fast?"
I held my head and thought of the Incident. When I'd measured myself, I was 5'11" exactly. One inch shy of six feet. It was a pretty scary thing at first, since I've always been rather small for my age... and then I ended up being one of the tallest in my class. Practically as tall as my father, even, which initially was an eerier concept still.
I pulled off my boots. I hadn't had the time to buy new ones, and these were pinching my feet. Rubbing my ankles to ease the discomfort, I silently begged the growing pains to subside. Go ahead and bug me when I'm thirteen or fourteen, I scolded the inevitable. I'm way too young to have such annoying growth spurts.
At the rate I was growing, I started to wonder if I'd actually pass 5'11" by the time I was really sixteen, and Tak's Warp merely was an assumption of the height I'd acquire.
"Dammit," I spat.
I angrily got up and dragged myself into the bathroom to grab some pain relievers. As I was opening the bottle, I concluded that I'd have grown at least another inch by the end of the month.
When I got back to my room, a thought suddenly hit me: it was February. The anniversary of the first time that damn Tak entered our lives. "I can't believe I ever actually liked her," I muttered to myself, pulling off my trench coat.
I noticed that too much of my forearm was being exposed; the long-sleeved shirts I usually wore under my trench coats weren't long enough anymore. Angrily, I tore the sleeves, creating a regular t-shirt.
The thing that bugged me the most about my rapidly increasing height was that Gaz hadn't grown a single bit. I always thought that girls were the ones to grow when they were younger, and guys had to wait a while and then keep growing until age nineteen or twenty.
Well, I was either wrong, or an exception to the unwritten rule.
When I finally laid down in my bed that night, I stayed flat on my back, wide awake, for at least an hour, contemplating what was going to happen in the future. The first thing that came to mind was, of course, my height. "Am I going to be taller than 5'11" eventually?" I wondered out loud. (I tended to talk to myself a lot.) I slapped a hand to my forehead. "Six feet, maybe? Taller? God..."
The second thing that came to mind was my rivalry with Zim. Sure, he had a few plans here and there, but for the most part, he was holding back. He wasn't even going out of his way to annoy me like he usually did, causing me to hold back as well. Which, I realized, might just have been his plan. Confuse me, make me think he still has a trace of human decency left in him, then kill me or whatever and surreptitiously take over the Earth.
I then started thinking about the Spittle Runner. I resolved that the second the school year was over, I'd work day in and day out trying to break the stratosphere with that thing. I grinned. Thank God Tak had lost it. Thank God it was in my hands now and not hers. I could even use the Runner to get back at her for all the misfortune she'd brought upon us.
The last conscious thought I had that night was about Tak:
– – –
The next day at school, I felt incredibly groggy. I was swallowing aspirin like crazy all day, trying to get rid of the irritating growing pains. I think I used up an entire container that day alone. Screw an inch by the end of the month, I thought to myself instead of listening to the lecture in class, try two, maybe three inches at least.
Trying to get my mind off of that for awhile, I glanced discreetly over at Zim, who looked just as bored as I currently was. He had his head propped up with his left hand, and was just staring down contemplatively at his right, turning it over and back.
"Why do you do that?" I asked him as I passed his desk after the bell rang for the lunch period.
"Eh?" he asked, looking at me angrily with his fake blue eyes. "Do what?"
"Stare at your hands all the time," I said hastily. "You've been doing it for months now."
"Why do you even care, Dib?" he spat, hissing my name. "Do you really have nothing better to do than study my every move? Maybe I should ask you why you do that!"
I just scowled at him and turned away.
I found my sister in the lunchroom, but didn't eat anything.
"I thought all people did during growth spurts was eat stuff," Gaz shot at me, giving me an odd glare.
"I hurt too much to eat," I replied. "Right now I don't care if I never eat again."
"So why aren't you and Zim fighting today?" Gaz asked, changing the subject.
"Don't really care," I answered. I glanced over at my enemy. "Look at him; I think he's just starting to realize now that he has absolutely no chance of taking over the world. He's been laying off a lot with the whole 'dooming the Earth' thing."
"Or maybe he still wants to be human," Gaz suggested hopefully.
"Go ahead and ask him," I grumbled, taking out some more pain relief tablets and throwing them into my mouth. "I highly doubt it."
"Well, you sure are a lot of fun today," Gaz snarled.
I swallowed the aspirin unemotionally and didn't respond.
The rest of the day dragged on. By the time I walked through the door of the house that afternoon, I felt like I'd just spent ten years in the same building, with no respite at all.
Breaking from my usual routine of tuning up the Spittle Runner after school, I walked immediately up to my room to measure my height. I stepped away from the wall and almost fainted when I saw how many centimeters had been tacked on to my height in just that day. Putting things into perspective, I realized I might actually grow an inch by the end of that week.
I darted into the bathroom and broke open another bottle of pain relievers, swallowing two tablets immediately. "Dammit, dammit, dammit," I cursed, leaning against the wall. "How much more annoying can this get?"
I hissed out a long breath and, aspirin bottle in hand, started back down the hall. I made a promise to myself that I'd buy new boots by the end of the week, and new clothes by the end of the month.
I hadn't gotten far when I heard guitar music coming from my sister's room. Deciding that it might take my mind off of the pain I was experiencing, I turned around and walked to her room instead of mine.
"I don't know much at all," Gaz was singing lightly as she strummed out chord after chord on her guitar, "I don't know wrong from right..."
She stopped abruptly and spat, "Crap!" She then glanced over at me and shot me one of her piercing glares. "What do you think you're doing?" she demanded.
"Listening," I replied with a shrug.
"Well, don't. I suck."
"No, you don't, honestly," I told her, tossing the aspirin bottle back and forth between my hands. "It's a lot more enjoyable than most of the stuff they play on the radio."
"They make CDs," Gaz shot at me.
"Live music is always better," I returned with a grin.
"I thought you hated music." Actually, this was true. I didn't like listening to music. I hadn't for a long time. After a beat, Gaz added, "You're really tall."
"No kidding," I groaned, rolling my eyes. "It's really draining my energy, too."
"I've kinda noticed," Gaz said, setting down her guitar. "You really haven't been acting like yourself these past few months."
"Neither have you," I accidentally responded.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing! Nothing!" I covered quickly, holding up a hand to stop any confrontation. "What I mean is... none of us has been the same since the Incident. Well, GIR, but that's a given. I mean, you, me, even—"
"Zim," Gaz finished, obviously just wanting an excuse to say the name of the person she once loved. She sighed and hung her head. "It's not fair," she commented.
I didn't respond; I didn't quite know what to say. On one hand, yes, I was quite near overjoyed that Zim had been leaving her alone, and she him. The 'love' thing had dissipated, for all I knew and liked to think, but there was something even I missed about Zim being human: in him, Gaz had found a friend. Gaz, my sister, the loner by choice. She'd never sought out companionship before. Now that she'd had a taste, it had been taken from her. I of all people knew what it was like to be forced to be alone (I've never been well liked in school), but I'd always at least had one or two people from the SEO to talk to. Gaz had, until the Incident, no one. And she had no one again, except me, but I was family so I doubt that counted in the same way to her.
It didn't help that Zim had left her a gift, with instructions to open it some time around when Gaz would turn thirteen. That thing would haunt her for the next three years, and continue teasing her with the memories of that one life-altering week.
"Hey," Gaz said, changing the subject, "don't you think it's weird that we both kinda brought items back from the 'future?'"
"Me with the box and sweatshirt, and you with your modified..."
"Right, that. It's weird, isn't it?"
"A lot has been weird since Zim came a couple years ago," I shrugged. "I guess this is just one more thing."
"I suppose. I dunno. It just seems a little more significant, that's all."
Gaz raised an eyebrow. "You know," she said, "typically, you'd be the one pointing all this stuff out. You've been acting really... I dunno... normal."
"What do you mean, 'normal?'" I wanted to know.
"Normal," Gaz explained, "as in not supernatural-paranormal freak. As in regular person. Nonbeliever. Skeptic."
"I'm not a skeptic!" I retorted in defense. "I'm just in immense amounts of pain and don't really have the energy to think about anything else!"
"Okay, jeez, fine," Gaz grumbled, looking away. "I was just saying... that's all."
"Sorry," I sighed. "I'm kinda edgy."
"Yeah, I know."
After another pause, Gaz broke the silence by saying, "Hey, Dib?"
"When do you think it's going to happen?"
"When is what going to happen?"
"The war." I was speechless once again. I just stared at my younger sister, waiting for her to embellish on her thought. "There's bound to be one," she went on. "A human-Irken war. When do you think it's going to happen?"
"Judging by the Incident," I replied, finally understanding, "not for another five or six years."
"It might be sooner now, since that was just Tak being stupid."
"Could be, I guess."
Gaz shrugged and didn't say anything after that, so I just retired to my room, once again feeling uncomfortable with my height and how quickly I was growing. The day after the Incident... well, I can't give an exact figure of how tall I was, but only a few months afterward, I stood at 4'10" plus an additional half inch. I'm sure that was at least five inches (yes, I was that short). I started to feel sick, and contemplated swallowing the entire bottle of pain relief tablets, but decided that it really wasn't worth risking anything.
– – –
As far as Tak went, I could not put into words what I thought of her at that time. When she first came to Earth, I liked her. During the Incident, well... so my sister was right. I was a little jealous that Zim was actually human for her... and all Tak did was lie to me. All she ever did was lie. That was the only thing I knew to be true about her.
I just wondered when she was going to be back. It wasn't a wish or anything; I mean, I certainly didn't still like her enough to want to say, "Hey, let's start over with everything," because she wasn't human, and she was one Irken I knew never would be. The main thing I wanted to do was just get back at her. Thank her for the Spittle Runner? Nah. Just... get back. Somehow, I told myself, I'll definitely get even for everything she's done.
Zim was going to be a little tougher to get back at. He was acting way too strange. Perhaps Gaz was right. Perhaps he actually did want to be human still. He did say something like that during the Incident, didn't he?
Wow... I thought, if he was human... if he fought for us...
NO! I shouted at myself. No. I can't think like that. He's the enemy. He always has been and he always will be. Nothing can reform him. He's Invader Zim. I won't let him hurt my sister anymore.
– – –
"It's over, Zim!" I shouted as I chased the troublesome alien down the street for the thousandth time. "Just give up now!"
"Get away from me!" he hollered back. He glanced over his shoulder and narrowed his eyes, then opened his PAK to reveal a small energy cannon. He sent a blast at me which I quickly dodged.
"It's gonna take more than your old tricks to wear me down!" I yelled, pulling a syringe out of my trench coat pocket. The trick had worked on Tak before: I knew that this truth serum worked on Irkens. "You'll confess eventually, I'll make sure of it!"
"Stop chasing me!"
I hurled the syringe at Zim and it stuck into his neck. He yelped and slapped his hand to his neck but kept on running. He pulled out the needle angrily and threw it back at me. I caught it in mid-stride and continued chasing down the alien.
By that time, we'd reached the block on which he'd set up his base of operations only two years before. "Ha!" he spat, rushing up to his base. "Nice try, Dib, but you'll have to be quicker than—" At that exact moment, GIR had come tearing out of the base, and the two collided immediately. "Ow!" Zim yelled, picking himself up. GIR made a triumphant noise.
I smirked and picked Zim up by the collar, then rammed him into the fence surrounding his base. Holding the needle dangerously close to his neck, I growled, "Now tell me, Zim! Give me the coordinates of your home planet! Where is Irk in relation to here? Tell me now or I'll force it out of you!"
"Let go of me!" Zim choked, trying to writhe free of my grip. I grinned and drove the syringe into his neck. "Goddammit!" he shouted. Zim extended his spider legs and shot a blast at me, sending me sprawling backward. Those lasers could pack an awful punch, but the taste of asphalt was sadly nothing new to me, and I'd been scuffed up worse.
"You gots a needle in you!" GIR squealed happily, pointing at Zim's neck like it was the revelation of the century.
"Yeah, I know, GIR," Zim shot back, pulling out the syringe and glaring at the robot. Just as I was picking myself up, Zim walked over to me and stepped down hard on my right hand.
"Ow!" I spat. "Hey! Get off!"
Zim leaned down and yanked at the long part of my hair, jerking my head up.
"Ow, ow, OW!" I yelped, knowing that if I tried to free myself it would only hurt worse.
"Even though you've gotten taller, you're still pathetic," Zim snarled at me, narrowing his eyes. "Are you really stupid enough to think I'd do something as foolish as to give you the coordinates to Irk?"
"Um... yes," I replied flatly, despite how much my head hurt.
"Shut up!" barked Zim. "Why do you need them, anyway?"
"Moron," I growled at him. "Did you forget that I have Tak's old Spittle Runner, now?"
Zim burst out laughing—a coarse, almost barking sound, full of utmost superiority. "You couldn't pilot that thing if your life depended on it!"
"What are you talking about?" I shouted at him. I started to develop an irritating headache, but I continued nonetheless. "I've piloted an entire planet before! Did you forget about that?"
"Heh," Zim snorted. "I find it surprising that a human could match an Irken's piloting skills. Hey..." he added after a second of thought, his face contorting as his mind slowly caught on, "you're not planning on trying to destroy Irk, are you?"
"Well, you're planning on destroying the Earth!" I reminded him.
"Maybe so, but all your inhabitants live here," Zim said with a smirk. "You won't find anything on Irk but computers and random traces of Tavis, and the computers are backed up elsewhere, but you'll never find them. Not even we know where the backups are."
"Well, I'll just make you tell me that," I shot at him, trying to ignore my headache. "And what the hell is Tavis, anyway?"
"Nothing that would interest you, human."
"You're the most incompetent asshole I've ever—"
"Silence!" Zim commanded.
I looked down at his right hand, in which he was loosely keeping hold of the syringe still. I quickly grabbed the syringe and drove the needle deep into Zim's upper right arm and injected the truth serum.
Zim screamed in pain and dropped me, stumbling back, clutching his right arm gingerly. I tossed the syringe to the side and stood, brushing myself off. Zim fell to his knees and doubled over in pain, still lightly gripping his upper right arm. I knew that would work. During the Incident, Tak had carved an awful gash in Zim's upper right arm, which caused him more discomfort and pain than anything I had ever yet to experience. He plowed through it, but every time that area was irritated too rashly, he'd be nearly incapacitated. As an Irken, that area never bled as it had when he was human, but it was still his ultimate weak spot.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" he yelled at me, wincing. His voice was noticeably weaker, and he made no attempts to stand.
"That's a pretty easy question to answer," I replied, folding my arms.
Zim snarled at me, then winced again, clutching his arm in pain. Hanging his head, he instructed of his robot companion, "GIR... go in the house... quickly... get me that antidote..."
"Aaaw, you don't need—"
"NOW, GIR!" Zim snapped.
"Okie-dokie!" GIR zoomed back into the base.
"Antidote?" I asked skeptically, raising an eyebrow. "An antidote to truth serums?"
"No, you idiot, the antidote that prevents me from acting—" Zim gasped and drew his hand away from his arm, slapping it instead over his mouth. "Goddammit," he cursed. "This really does work..."
I stepped up to him and glared down at him darkly, trying to be as foreboding as I could so that he'd give in and tell the truth about everything. "Antidote that prevents you from what?" I demanded.
Zim struggled, trying to fight the effects of the truth serum. He growled loudly, and then the words just seemed to come out. "It prevents me from acting human!" he shouted angrily.
I gasped and took a few startled steps back. "Wh-what?"
"You heard me," Zim said in a rather sad tone, hanging his head and clutching his arm again. "It's an Irken formula for abnormality suppression. Without it, I snap. Sometimes, I don't just act human, I think that I am. Goddammit, I'm already starting to slip..."
I had no idea what could have been wrong, but I had to believe him... that truth serum was flawless. An internal struggle immediately started up: should I tell Gaz? It was an awful dilemma. On one hand, I figured that it was her right to know, but, on the other, she'd either get way too excited or way too depressed to hear that Zim was still basically human on the inside.
As though he'd been reading my thoughts, Zim said quietly, "Gaz..." He looked up at me almost pleadingly, still cringing from the pain in his upper right arm. "Where is she? Is she okay? Does she..." he hung his head yet again, "does she remember at all?"
His voice sounded hollow and lonely, and I almost felt sorry for him. "Jeez," I found myself saying. "You really are human..."
Zim lifted his head again and looked at me skeptically. "Of course I am," he said, as though I'd made a mistake. "Why wouldn't I—"
At that moment, GIR streaked out of the base again and presented a small, round pill. He dropped it into Zim's right hand and once again let out a triumphant squeal.
Zim looked down at the item hesitantly, then closed his fist around it. "Oh..." he said quietly, "right. Th-that's right... I'm not..."
I had absolutely no idea what to do at this point. It was true: Zim was acting human. During the Incident, yes, he'd gotten so used to his human frame of mind that he'd actually forgotten a lot about being Irken, and it seemed as though, without this antidote, that was somehow continuing. The question now was what I was going to do with that information.
My process for two years now had been: track Zim, log his movements, log his plans, gather as much Irken information to use against the Armada as possible. The ultimate goal was, of course, catch him. Win, in other words. At the beginning, my goal had been autopsy. Alien study. Now, my ideas centered more around keeping him alive for information. Making him share Irken secrets, such as space travel, computer advancements, and things like that.
This human issue had no place in any of my previous plans. The more human Zim became, the less useful he'd be to my studying and presenting more about other worlds. I had planned from a young age to be a professional paranormal investigator; maybe set up my own research lab, joined with the SEO somehow, if all went well. The Irken Invasion was the perfect catalyst for setting my dreams in motion.
So Goddammit, why did Zim have to settle so easily into being human? And being human, of course, had the catch of being around my sister, which left a sour taste in my mouth no matter how I looked at it. Gaz with the enemy? No way in Hell. I wasn't about to lose the only family I had, not to the Irkens. Not to Zim.
He just had to go and ruin it. Just before he took the antidote, Zim begged, "Don't tell Gaz." With that, he swallowed the tablet and got back onto his feet. He underwent the quickest personality switch I'd ever witnessed, following up the first statement with, "You're gonna have to try harder than that, human! It'll take a lot more than your filthy truth serum to get anything out of Zim!"
GIR cheered, then shrieked, "Yay! I have no idea what's going on!"
"Come on, GIR," Zim barked at the little robot, turning his back on me and walking headstrong into the base.
I just stood there staring after them for a moment, then shook my head, trying to piece things together. Unable to do that, I simply yelled to no one, "What the hell just happened?"
– – –
"You went chasing after Zim again, didn't you?"
Gaz was on the sofa, plucking the strings of her guitar, looking very bored and even more distant. Being a Saturday, she'd arranged and styled her violet hair, which she was starting to grow out. She'd worn her hair similarly every Saturday since her 'date' with Zim during the Incident, since she'd had it done like that on that particular day. She was also, for some reason, wearing Zim's sweatshirt. It was huge on her petite ten-year-old frame, but she still wore it. I suppose that's why she wasn't playing any actual songs on her guitar: the long sleeves hindered her hand movements.
"Why do you ask?" I wondered.
"You look like you've been shot by a laser cannon or something," Gaz observed. "Your trench coat's all screwed up. You went chasing after Zim again, didn't you?" she asked me again.
"I was just trying to get some answers out of him," I replied.
"Did you get any?"
More than I would have liked, I wanted to say. Instead, I shrugged and said, "You know Zim."
"Yeah," Gaz grumbled. "I do."
I slapped a hand to my forehead. Gaz was getting easier to upset by the day. "Dammit, Gaz, I didn't mean that," I tried to tell her.
"Well, what did you mean?" she spat at me, abruptly stopping her guitar playing. "Tell me or I'll smash this guitar over your big head!"
At that moment, I snapped. I'd been getting enough abuse from her lately, and this was just the point at which I could take no more. "For the love of God, Gaz, stop living in the past!" I shouted at my sister. "It's over! It's done! It's gone! That time—"
"That time was the future, Dib!" Gaz refuted, setting her guitar aside and shooting me a piercing glare.
"What's to say it's going to happen again?" I yelled. "That was an accident, Gaz! An accident! It was just Tak messing around with us, and—"
"Why do I still have this, then?" Gaz nearly screamed in order to interrupt me, tugging at the sweatshirt. "This isn't even supposed to exist! Why would I have it if he's not going to be human again, huh? What about the—"
I growled in the back of my throat. "The box?" I guessed. I wasn't yelling anymore, but I spoke firmly. "Just open it. Open it and move on!"
"No!" Gaz affirmed. "He said to wait three years, so I'm going to wait three years!"
"Whatever," I groaned, heading towards the stairs.
After a silent moment, Gaz said quietly, "He still says 'Goddammit,' you know."
"What does that—"
"Irkens don't believe in God."
"He never used that phrase before he became human." I walked over to my sister again and she tucked her knees up to her chest, wrapping the sweatshirt tightly around her. "He wouldn't keep on saying it if..." she trailed off. I saw tears forming at the corners of her eyes.
I sighed, realizing I probably should tell her what I'd just witnessed. Zim had asked me not to, but I really hated seeing Gaz so depressed. Besides, who was I to completely listen to him, anyway? I didn't care.
"Gaz..." I began.
"Dib, I want to be alone right now."
"But there's something I really should—"
"Just go." She rested her head on her knees.
I turned dejectedly and walked toward the stairs again. As I began my ascent to the top floor of the house, I could actually hear my sister start to cry.
– – –
"My Bloody Valentine" - Good Charlotte