A slight scraping sound was all that was heard as a metallic appendage dug itself farther into a tree branch. Glinting red eyes narrowed at a dirty hobo a few feet away as he rolled over on his bench at the noise, and smacked his lips loudly in his sleep before returning to snoring. The stranded Irken pressed himself farther back against the rough bark of the tree trunk, and held as still and silent as possible while he thought. The hobo mumbled incoherently as Zim cast his gaze back through the trees to where his ship lay concealed miles away. The left engine had been acting up the last time he had taken his voot runner out, and despite his apathetic computer's warning- "Zim, you know your ship has been having problems….you're going to ignore me and go retrieve Gir anyway, aren't you? Well…. whatever, I guess. He would have come back to the base eventually, you know…."- the stubborn invader had fired up his ship, disregarded both the computer and the warning lights on the runner's control board, and lifted off into the still night air.

Not surprisingly, Zim came to quickly regret this decision; before he had traveled even halfway to the horrible rave club his robot frequented with the oddly moving humans- did they have medical problems? Is that why they jerked their bodies around so strangely in the presence of those oddly timed, computer-generated sounds? - a sputtering sound from outside caught his attention. An impending sense of doom washed over him as the ship dipped to one side and began rapidly descending.

As Zim's face pressed painfully into the windshield a mechanized voice informed him "Left engine failing. Crash imminent in 26.8 seconds. Have a nice day." The alien panicked and his antennae pressed themselves flat against his head, images of fire and dirt and death bees flitting through his memory.

Collecting himself after a couple tense moments of nothing happening except slow falling, Zim yelled frantically "Ship! Divert any extra fuel to the failing engine to make up for the power loss! If this crash is soft, I won't have as many repairs to deal with later." A louder sputter was his answer as the ship continued to descend, but more slowly. Remembering the capture of his vehicle (and as a result, himself) the last time he had carelessly left it in the middle of an open park, Zim angled the ship towards the closest opening within a thick stand of leafy trees. Twigs snapped and branches broke as the ship erratically touched down, and a muffled "Boom!" like thunder resounded as the runner finally gave out a few feet from the ground and thumped down.

The windshield opened with a hiss of air.

"Arrgrrh! You stupid, useless pile of junk!" Zim ranted as he exited the cockpit and hopped to the forest floor, adding more swears in various languages to the stream of foulness already rolling off his snake-like tongue. Calming down after a particularly nasty swear in Vortian, the Irken trudged to a tree and activated a spider leg, boots making soft crunching noises as they were brought down on innocent leaves scattered across the ground. The earthy smell of the soil and the clean, sharp scent of the growing plants wreathed around him, and he unconsciously inhaled deeply. The nature on Earth…..It was nice. It didn't smell revolting like that awful bus he'd ridden for all of 30 seconds while lost in the city, or the human pig-smellies he passed in the hallways at skool. "Irk never had plants….We've converted the entire natural landscape of our planet into metal and buildings. I wonder what our forests would have been like." Zim thought absently as he spotted a beetle trundling along over a piece of fallen and decomposing bark. Reaching a tree, he was almost sorry as the laser produced from the tip of the metal leg seared through nearby low-hanging branches and he tossed them over his downed runner in an effort to keep the ship not immediately obvious. Standing back and casting a cursory glance over the pile of branches and deeming it satisfactory, the Irken looked around him more intently. The moon's light pierced weakly through the canopy in shafts, creating patches of silver that mottled the floor. Irken eyes were naturally much stronger than that of a human's- but even so, turning a full circle and seeing nothing but unbroken lines of trees, a grudging decision was made.

So, grumbling to himself about defective robots and "no tacos for him a month," the alien prepared to scale the tallest tree in the area. Approaching the base of the mighty tree, all four mechanical legs shot out of his pack and embedded themselves into the wood and began to haul him up. The Irken crossed his arms and tapped his foot in the air impatiently as he probed for adequate footholds among the higher branches. The metal scrabbled and slipped against some of the smoother limbs, and with an irritated remark of "Filthy, slippery earth-beast-tree!" Zim removed his gloves and clamped them between his zipper-like teeth. Flexing his fingers and feeling the sensation of the cool night air filtering over and through them after so long of being confined within the standard-issue invader uniform gloves, he dug his claws into the trunk. Artificial limbs now aided by real ones, the ascent went much more smoothly, and both sets of claws ceased splintering into wood as they soon met with nothing but emptiness. Concentration on the climb broken, the invader took in the miles of landscape stretching around him. The clearing with his ship was most easily seen from his vantage point, and he memorized the details of the area. No clear characteristics of a crash were noticeable- good. Flicking his gaze farther out, he enjoyed the canvas of stars and the glowing quarter-moon until it was rudely broken by the harsh lights of the city. The dimmer portion was likely the neighborhood his base was situated in, and his squeedlyspooch lurched momentarily as he imagined the base empty and defenseless except for an infiltrating Dib, taking pictures of all his….his….his stuff.

Growling quietly, Zim extended his communicator; trying to contact Gir again couldn't hurt.

"Gir?" He spoke into the receiver, antennae pricked, listening for a response. "Gir, respond immediately. Your master commands it!" A click was heard after a few seconds of silence, and Zim's hopes lifted for an instant- only to be dashed against the ground far below when he heard the familiar booms and noises of the rave filtering through the static. Snarling, Zim cast a final glance over the darkened world as the communicator folded back into his Pak. Forgoing using his spider legs at all, the Irken removed his boots as well and stuffed his gloves inside them, and then into his Pak. Channeling his anger through the exertion of getting down, furrows were left in parts of the trunk where hopping down to the next branch was too far to be worth risking it, and so claws were used instead.

Planting his feet on the ground, the two claws on each foot kneaded the dirt below them comfortably. Looking up from the scores in the dirt, the Irken began to head towards home at an unhurried run. The exercise felt good when not fueled by the added adrenaline of the Dib-monkey chasing him with his foolish, stinky Earth-junk sleep cuffs. Padding quietly through the peaceful forest, with just the occasional frantic flapping of a startled bird and a lonely owl hoot to accompany him, Zim wondered if destroying the planet was the right thing to do. "I suppose I could just rule it….or maybe, have my army of human slaves destroy the very disgusting pig-dirt cities they themselves built! Oh, the delicious irony." he said to himself as he grinned and hopped over a fallen tree.

Not tall by young human standards, the Irken had regardless gained over a foot in height over the course of the few years he'd spent on the planet. Perhaps it was just his Pak's natural way of acclimating him to the surrounding indigenous population, or perhaps it had something to do with the lessened gravity on the Earth; either way, the small increase was not lost on Zim, who cleared another tree easily.

He might have grown up a little, he reminded himself, but he certainly hadn't filled out. His torso was still as thin and featureless as it had always been, and his arms and legs were also still of the same twiglike thinness. His attire hadn't changed much over the years either, but a taunt from Dib- "Hey ZIM! Don't you ever go shopping for new clothes? Huh? Do ya? I guess not. Do you not have STORES on your planet? Huh?"- had caused him to slightly alter his standard uniform. A simple black undershirt and changing of the red uniform top into more of a thin short trench coat-like overshirt, and his outfit was not much changed- but changed enough to scathingly reply to Dib "Happy now, Earth monkey? Zim has CHANGED OUTFITS! And is wearing pants! I'm NORMAL!" This had been received with a scoff and a "Whatever." by Dib, who had stalked away from his triumphantly grinning nemesis.

Running on autopilot and idly reflecting on his fashion victory over the Dib, Zim didn't notice the sudden change in scenery from the dense trees to the open field of a park. Thus he found himself in his current situation; clinging to a tree, scared to death of a sleeping hobo.

Glaring at the homeless dirt-human as he rolled over and scratched his belly with a fingerless-gloved hand, Zim removed himself from his state of fusion with the tree and hung down from the lowest branch. His feet hung irritatingly above the ground by a good foot- a height the Dib human would be able to reach easily. Snorting quietly in annoyance at the height difference- height in Irken society did mean status after all- Zim let himself drop to the ground, crouching with the landing to reduce the thud made by his weight. The hobo merely twitched at the sound and mumbled something about Bloaty's Pizzeria, and Zim stuck his tongue out at the bearded man childishly before creeping away back to the treeline over the cool, smooth grass.

Irken endurance was clearly superior to that of a human's as well- scaling the first building he came to at the edge of the woods to get his bearings, the alien noted how far he had come and how far he had yet to go, and didn't feel tired in the least. The Invader stepped to the edge of the building, feet making quiet clicking sounds as he hung his toes over the divide. Reaching a hand back and pulling out his gloves and boots again from his Pak, he slipped them on. Human buildings would be far less forgiving on his claws than the trees were, and his spider legs had the advantage with all the masonry cracks and footholds in the city anyhow. Observing the lack of people out at the late hour and easily traversable terrain, Zim decided stealth would be too time-consuming and instead quickly launched himself to the neighboring building's rooftop with his spider legs and from there to the next, and so on into the night.

At last clinging to the side of the building next to his own eerily glowing green and purple house, he hissed "Computer!"

"Whhhhaaaat?" a voice droned, sounding exasperated.

"Open the launch bay doors just a little so I can slip inside." Zim ordered, and waited. A couple seconds went by, and the computer finally gave a long winded sigh.

"Fiiiiine." It drawled, and the roof of the house split open a fraction of the way.

"Thank you, computer." Zim grumbled once he was inside. A beeping was all that he got in the form of acknowledgement, and he glared up at the tangle of wires and tubes and pipes on the ceiling. He shrugged; better than nothing. Pulling in his spider legs and dropping to the floor fluidly, Zim proceeded into his living room and flumped down onto the stained pink couch. His feet actually reached the floor when he sat fully on it- but just barely. Grumping at the fact that his measly foot of growth was still not an awful lot, all things considered, he was just reaching for the remote when a blur of grey and blue assaulted his head.

"MASTAH! Computer said you exploded-ed! But, you's here! So you's NOT exploded-ed!" At the last exclamation, the manic robot yanked Zim's antennae painfully and hugged himself to the Irken's head.

"Computer?" Zim barked between Gir's giggles. "You KNEW Gir would react like this- why did you tell him-rrrgh!- I exploded?" Zim managed to pry Gir off his head in the middle of his question, but that didn't stop the defective SIR unit from proceeding to hug himself to Zim's arm, weighing it down instead.

"Well…I dunno." The computerized voice supplied unhelpfully in a flat, uninterested tone.

"Gir! Release Zim's arm this instant!" the Irken screamed at the pile of metal attached to his arm. The robot flashed red and dropped off obediently, but quickly returned to blue and latched itself on to Zim's leg.

In the midst of all the commotion, a black-clad figure slipped past on the ceiling and ducked silently down the trash chute.