A/N: BEFORE YOU COMMENCE READING THIS CHAPTER, I would like to point out that like the early scenes in this story, it contains some surreal themes and mild body-horror, (hence the T rating of this story) though of a slightly different nature to the aforementioned content. This taken into account, please do act as you see fit and take care. Thank you.
As hours merged into days, Dib's efforts getting any information to pass Zim's zipper teeth fell short. For the most part, in fact, Zim barely spoke or interacted with him. He'd permit the crossing of the human into his personal space albeit with his head turned away and only an upturned claw to accept the food Dib pressed into it.
To say the least, this rejection agitated the boy to no end.
More than that, the boy had frequently had to pause in whatever vitally rudimentary task he was doing to keep the alien from attacking the box he'd brought with him after cramming it with what remained of any useful things he could find in his house. He was essentially going against his own ruling, having brought something he would like to keep a secret himself. The alien would be frightened if he found it, and he was intending to reverse Zim's night-time fits of terror. He was being a hypocrite for the good of the Irken, but what of Zim's own close-mouthed motives?
Dib had clung to the fishing-line of a hope that Zim might be convinced to confide in him. But as his efforts grew more and more desperate, so too did his resolve to stick to what tact he was still able to muster.
Zim was hidden by an unkempt hive of makeshift bedding in the corner of their grimly-decorated room of choice, looking as deep in a state of sleep as he ever did, when Dib swallowed the knot in his throat and pulled back the sheet concealing the contents of his treasured box.
It had come to an ultimatum.
He regretted it, make no mistake. He was unsure what horrors he may find. His roommate would probably murder if he woke up too soon.
He wished there had been a way to persuade him. He'd given too many chances, waited for too long, with too petty results. 'You have to understand my suspicions. You're keeping information to yourself, and how am I to know that we… no, everyone, isn't in grave danger? Of course I'm worried about these recent phenomena. What if they go far enough to drive a larger population off the streets? It was totally unnatural, what we saw in the city. What if all this is linked to something you haven't told me? What other secrets would you have to keep?'
'Don't try to pin this on me! Do I look like I could have caused any of this?
'I won't let you off next time. Take my word for it. I don't want to resort to worse ways to find out what's troubling you so much.'
'Stop making me out to be some world-crushing horror. It's been three years. Do you not think I would have had plenty of chance to come up with some grand scheme in that time?'
'I'd like you to tell me what you know before I come to any conclusions. Don't think I haven't noticed your guilt, these past few days. You're continuously looking over your shoulder, and what of that dirt you found on my street, that you've been poring over so much? Was it really so hard to just let me examine it? I don't see why you would keep something like that to yourself.'
'You're one to speak of guilt!'
'I have nothing to hide…'
At least he'd been good enough to give his rival a chance. But in the end, as it always had been, things boiled down to satisfying his own curiosity. And possibly unearthing a clue, far bigger than his head. And helping Zim. Maybe.
Well, what other course of action was there? He was all about the freaky and supernatural.
Colours, angular shapes.
A large, irregular room. Furniture. Thick cables. The leering image of a deformed primate dominating one wall. As the room's reddish illumination intensified a little, the pieces of this puzzle slotted into place. Visible at the far end of a couch was a short, green, tunic-clad bug-man, back presented to the intruder. Dib stared. Well that definitely settled where he was.
Taking a small step toward the rigid body, Dib inhaled deeply – his breath crackled; the air felt statically charged. Zim did not move, but he seemed to be concealing the energy of a coiled spring. Could he safely approach the alien? Would any contact be enough to stun? Kill him?
"Zim, will you look at me?"
The body shifted visibly, antennae rising, a voice replying. "Zim?"
Dib waited for some confirmation that this ignorance was feigned for the Irken's own amusement, and over the next few seconds received none. The boy scanned the room – much larger, and somewhat disproportionate, like a scene out of a cartoon. He felt small and out of place, like a timid child. "What are we doing here?"
"What are we doing where?"
"In your base, Zim! It isn't damaged by fire anymore!"
"Fire?" The alien turned to face Dib at last, a chuckle escaping his throat. "You're ignorant to fear such things." He grinned at the human, reaching out to flick his scythe-hair in a patronising gesture. Dib could only cringe away for fear of those sharpened taser-points. Magenta pooled at the edges of his vision, and it was terrifying and invigorating. A feeling that was unknown to him and yet frighteningly familiar uncoiled itself and stretched slowly.
"What should I fear?" He asked quietly. The desire to please was overwhelming, hardwired into his thoughts. Admiration festered, mingling with the fear of rejection.
Zim's smile became solemn and his voice lowered an octave. The outstretched hand fell to his side. "The enemy. The unknown. What is not advocated by the Empire will surely bring harm to you and those around you."
Dib's eyes grew wide as this sunk in. One of the far walls buckled. "You didn't like the thread I made?"
Zim opened his mouth to reply. But his words, far from answering the question, were replaced by a long tendril of black vapour that snaked slowly up to the almost-solid roof of Zim's base. Dib reached out, trying to catch some of these curious wisps, and they slipped easily around his fingers, not paying the slightest bit of notice to the boy. He stared after them, confused and frightened. Why couldn't he hear the words? Why did they slip away from him?
The boy turned frustrated eyes back towards Zim in askance, the bug returning his look with a baffled grin. More smoke-like curls seeped from his mouth. His body gave a peculiar spasm. "Was I bad?" The colour drained out of his face. He shuddered, grin swamped by uncertainty. "I can do better tomorrow. Please… I can do better…" Dib flinched violently as he was hit by a pang of something massive – not the pity one would expect, but a sense of utter, jarring self-consciousness. He felt guilty; a perfect traitor. Why were they mad? What had he done wrong?
"Z-Zim…? What's happening?" He felt smaller, more compact. His limbs were scrawny, body more wiry, muscles tightly strung and brimming under the surface with infinite energy. A spider-web of cables sent a schmillion predetermined thoughts and feelings to his brain, switching on every sense, strapping his mind down to the tracks that had been paved for it. Obey. Obey. Obey. He fisted his hands and felt warm, metallic liquid pooling in them. He ran his tongue around keen-edged teeth. Every new breath tasted of blood. Caving under all these new sensations, Dib writhed and thrashed. He could still see Zim, now on his knees on the floor, a wild, deranged hissing escaping his mouth accompanied by plumes of evil-smelling smoke. Dib fought to call out desperately.
The figure of Zim raised his eyes to the human, uncertainly on his face giving way to terror. His eyes glazed sightlessly over. The alien's jaw slackened, gaping open, and his body gave another shudder before a voice that was certainly not his own answered the name.
"You are not speaking to Zim…"
Zim retched. A small, white shape emerged from his throat, smooth and stark as a bleached bone. The Irken was catatonic, at a loss for control, mouth gaping impossibly wide - merely presenting this apparition to Dib like some macabre welcome present.
"It is I you are speaking to." The voice continued in a drawl – now confirmed to be coming from whatever this arrival was. Dib was unable to move from his place. He wasn't sure how to take all this in. The thing that had risen from Zim's throat was a head.
The head drew itself forward, stretching the limits of Zim's throat ungraciously so that vapour leached out the sides of the insect's mouth. Seen now in the light, the pate was sleek and tapered gradually, dripping with saliva and a darker fluid. The eyes were reptilian and beady, the snout had a crocodile's grin.
Zim seemed to be trapped in a seizure of sorts. Limbs jerking at intervals, his spine twisted and arched as though the Irken were trying to throw a tremendous weight off his back – or like something was thrashing around inside. Dib could swear he heard a quiet tearing of tissue. Zim could be taken apart at the seams if this continued. The monstrous thing oozed out further, practically shedding the small alien like an old skin. It flashed a jaw full of needles to the pale-faced boy, flicking out a forked protuberance in a quest to smell and touch.
"I remember you." The being addressed Dib, who couldn't bring himself to reply in kind. …Well. He didn't recall being familiar with this bizarre and frightening creature, so why should recognition loom in the front of his mind? At least it was distracting him from the sight of its host's spasmodic, distorted body.
After a miniscule inner battle, Dib's uncertainty took the upper hand, "I-I can't say the same for you." Liar…
The apparition appeared displeased with this answer and inched closer to the boy, scrutinising him. "That saddens me. I thought you would remember…" It paused. "Perhaps you are not all there?"
Indignation boiled over. "BE QUIET!" Dib screamed, rage and fear meshing into denial. "I DON'T WANT TO HEAR THAT FROM YOU, TOO!" An inhuman hiss broke forth behind his teeth.
The beast lurched suddenly forward, and in an anguished heartbeat of tearing flesh and fabric, Dib found himself standing in a shadow. Nearly losing his balance in the process, he squinted upward at the massive figure reared before him. Haloed though it was in whatever illumination had been defining their surroundings, Dib could make out the glitter of severe teeth that threw spangled patterns of light on his face. It was a pliable body, wrapping itself around the confining perimeters of the room in a sinuous fashion, and was adorned at intervals with finlike prominences. The end of the tail was bulbous and, as Dib painstakingly realised, decorated with a design that seemed awfully inappropriate in this time and place. Most dreadful of all this, though, was the tiny and hopelessly withered form that hung draped about the creature's neck like an immorally tasteless cravat, mangled almost beyond recognition but for the eyes that stood out like glass beads, drained of their fire and rage, still holding a small core of ruby.
Zim torn to pieces. Broken, at the twitch of an eye. A pang rippled through Dib's spine, right at the place where perhaps a PAK might have been. He otherwise felt numb. A piece of him… blasted away. Physically amputated.
What are you going to do?
Seeming to bask in Dib's inevitable reaction, the creature remained in this position, undulating its coils, lapping up the scent of his fear, its grotesque headdress on full display.
"There's no hammer with you." The being addressed him, at length, having turned to scrutinise him again (for which it had to incline its head rather far).
It broke into a vast grin, stretching its monstrous neck down to give Dib a much closer view than he wanted of its long, smiling, toothy snout. "You've lost it, haven't you? You've lost your hammer."
A spark rolled off its tongue. The room flickered out of vision for a moment. Then two, then an eternity.
Zim felt the detected presence leave his vicinity in two hearty thuds. The second had been impact with the floor, he calculated, while the first, discernable without guess, was made by his foot. Sitting up tentatively, he narrowed his eyes at the pale, loosely-clad alien that had come to share his permanent refuge. He looked stunned for the moment, coming to terms with the fact that his head must have been very sore. Had this been only the first time he'd felt a presence in his sleep?
He craned his head forward but stopped with a sharp gasp. He could feel something. Intrusive, wedged under a bandage over his neck. Over his neck. Shuddering briefly as a chill took over him, Zim swiveled his body slowly hoping to see the source of the intrusion, but to no avail. His claws met a hard surface and attempted to scratch. It budged, so he pushed. It stuck before ripping loose from the bandage with a sharp pain.
Something clattered to the floor. A cylindrical, grey, bulky something.
The Irken gave himself ample seconds to comprehend what the thing was, where he remembered it from and what it might mean for him. His head jerked back in horror, body following in its wake. Oh no, not that… please to Irk not that!
Could this be the reason for everything? The dreams… nightmares… this was the cause? Logic would tell him it was a questionable assumption. But as always, logic was out to breakfast and had left anger to fill its place.
Lies and betrayal! He thought he could trust his company! Why did everyone, EVERYONE have to turn on him in the end?
Zim's eye twitched ominously as he turned his attention to the human that had, by this point in time, regained enough of his original vision to see that something was about to hit him very, very hard.
A third thud rang out, and it was accompanied by the boy's scream.
"OW! ZIM!" The metallic thing rolled around by his feet, still ringing a little from the force with which it had met his head.
Zim's eyes darted like a snakes tongue. From the hook-like curve of the object, up to the human's face. Dib sure as hell looked guilty. His pale complexion paled even more as the Irken bore down on him.
Zim looked at him for a long time, his gaze rigid as the rest of his body. His claw reached hesitantly out, grasping the cylindrical body with disgust, slowly bringing it up in front of the boy's face. Nothing short of an accusatory action.
Dib averted his eyes as he took the dimensional scope from the alien's hand. His shoulders slumped when it reached his lap, and he quickly took his hands off it, as though actually trying to communicate that he meant no harm with it. Zim wasn't going to buy that in two hundred planetary rotations.
A/N: Woot, we've passed the 20-chapter mark! :D *throws a ridiculously small amount of confetti. Ah yes, confusion-inducing dreams of slurry and proverbial spam. I didn't have a layout planned for this chapter, so I do hope it isn't too confusing for you. I basically wrote a bit here, wrote a bit there, edited. And indeed, the dreaded Halloween-scope is back in the picture. Oh what a derp am I. :B
Some inspiration for the nightmare sequence was drawn from a couple of outside sources; hence the title being a reference to a further reference made in the RPG game OFF by Mortis Ghost. That and Felidae's Mendel nightmare sequence were the main sources of inspiration, so big acknowledgements to their respective owners. *bows head in homage*
Invader Zim and all related characters (c) Jhonen Vasquez