Where it all started
Rubbing at his tired eyes, Dib took a moment to collect himself. It was late, way into the early morning hours, but this needed to be done before the chemical reaction was over. He pushed his large glasses back up his forehead and leant over the glaringly pink microscope again. What he saw made his heart beat faster in excitement. The light yellow nanomachines beneath the thin glass were working fast, removing the faulty bases from the sample's DNA while leaving the natural structures intact. A small smile formed on his lips after a few minutes, the sample almost completely sanitized and the tiny nanomachines still working wonderfully.
But it didn't last. As soon as the faulty DNA had been perfectly removed, the leftover structures began to disintegrate, being taken apart by those wretched, little machines.
Jerking back with a frustrated yell, the boy barely had enough self-restraint to not throw his glasses, and with them a few pieces of lab equipment, to the ground in helpless exasperation. Growling to himself, he started pacing agitatedly in the pink-tinted lab, rubbing his palms over his face and trying his hardest to calm down again.
It was okay.
This was nothing new.
It was just another step in a long, long series of horrible failures.
Pulling at his forelock in another display of frustration, he let the stinging pain of it bring him back to reality and the boy finally managed to calm himself. Alright. So, the nanomachines weren't a possible cure, either. They had made so many adjustments to them, over the weeks, that Dib finally decided to abandon these little useless pieces of scrap and... try to wrack his genius mind for different ideas. A look at the digital clock at the bottom of the giant computer screen told him it was half past three in the morning, though, and this was a good opportunity to get some sleep. Sometimes during those last few weeks, he'd forgotten that he was a human. A human boy of 14 that needed at least a couple hours a day of recreational sleep.
Now, he became horribly aware of how tired he actually was and sighed, debating on whether to go back home to his own bed, or just sleep here. Again.
Making a quick note in his booklet, he came to the decision that it didn't matter where he slept anymore. With more nights spent in this base than in his own bed, Dib slowly got used to not being missed. Or having his absence noticed. Before those thoughts started to fester in his head, he made his way outside to another lab room, quickly spotting the green-skinned alien, magenta eyes glued to the screens, watching yet another of their experiments fail with a dark scowl. Stiffling a yawn, Dib couldn't bring himself to care about their newest misfiring anymore and knocked on the metal doorframe.
Zim's head snapped up, fixing the human with an annoyed glare. „What is it, Dib-thing? Zim is busy working on-"
„Yes, I know." Said boy interrupted him before this turned into another frustrated rant. „I just wanted to let you know that I'll be upstairs, sleeping on your couch. The nanomachines botched up again and I won't be using them anymore." Pausing to hide a mighty yawn behind a hand, Dib rubbed at his eyes. „Go get some rest, Spaceboy. At least take a break to eat something." Before the alien had any chance to protest or continue to rant at him, Dib had turned and was heading towards the disguised elevator. The trashcan in the kitchen opened and he awkwardly climbed out of it, groaning in relief when he finally collapsed on the surprisingly comfortable couch.
Undressing while lying down was difficult, but after a few moments, he had managed to wriggle out of his shoes, his worn jeans and the sweatjacket, leaving him in a tshirt and shorts. It was enough for the few hours of sleep he'd get and the blanket he had brought a few weeks ago would provide enough warmth in the chilly room. Curling up into a fuzzy cocoon, Dib pressed his head into the corner of the couch, as if hiding from sight even when no-one would look for him. Sighing tiredly, he inhaled the strange and faint but dulcet scent of the furniture. It was alien made and even if on first sight, there wasn't any difference to a human made couch, the fabric was far more fine and sturdy, the lingering scent giving away its alien origin. Dib smiled as his eyes closed, relaxing into sleep qiuckly.
For some reason, he found it indefinitely soothing. This started feeling more like home than the house he was raised in.
For a moment, even in his weary state, Dib felt his stomach twist at that realization and his eyes snapped open, staring into the darkened pink corner of the couch. How had it even come this far? His own house and family feeling like strangers, this strange. alien building with its two extraterrestrial beings inhabiting it becoming so very familiar...
It was a twisted reality, but one he could not escape, and the longer it all went, the less he felt like wanting to escape at all.
How had it come this far...
Zim had come to earh almost three years ago, claiming to be a normal child and somehow managing to fool each and every single person around them. All of them, except fod Dib. At once, they had believed they were enemies. It was just... natural. Zim had come to ivade earth, destroy it and annihilate mankind. Dib had taken it upon himself to stop the alien and save his planet.
At first, that and that alone had been their truth.
They had fought, battled, quarrelled and injured each other time and time again, both seriously fighting for their beliefs and their own objectives. But... at some point... things had begun to change. It had turned into a weird, dark kind of game, the intention stopped being „kill the other before he kills you", and instead turned into „show the other just how inferior they are but let them live to fully feel the shameful burn of failure". Somehow their motives had faded into the background of their game, playing it having becoming their purpose in existence, far more important than causing and preventing the annihilation of mankind.
Then, some six months ago, Zim had pulled the silliest, most impacting prank anyone could ever have come up with. A tack, covered in bologna-DNA. Up to this point, Dib had seriously failed to understand how Zim had even created DNA from food made of several types of meat and spices, but he had. And how effective the infused, impossible DNA had been. Within mere hours, the human boy had started to show mutations, his body slowly merging with the foreign substance. There had been little time, and, after failing in finding a cure in the very limited time he had had, the only logical next step had been to return the „favour" to Zim , infecting him with the same, aggressive mutagen.
After quickly having discovered that working on their own, in their incredibly weakened states, was not going to help, they had come to the decision to form an unwanted, but necessary truce. Surprisingly, the mutations had worn off with only a little tempering to both their systems, returning at least their appearance back to normal and enabling the alien to return into his own, more advanced laboratories. With their truce still extant, both of them had started working on a cure for their messed-up DNA.
Groaning, Dib curled up more, pulling the comforter up to his ears. They had failed, time and time again. Nothing they had tried had worked and over the weeks, Even their game was forgotten.
All that existed now was the need to find a cure.
Even what little life Dib had led began to vanish. He spent more and more time in Zim's lab, had started to skip school, and even though his school grades remained perfect as ever, there had been letters to his dad, meetings with this infuriating new school counselor and his classmates being even more annoying than usual.
It didn't matter.
Nothing seemed to matter anymore. His family probably didn't even notice he rarely even returned home anymore. His father was most likely too busy being famous and working on new inventions to „better mankind" and his little sister had never paid him much heed to begin with.
It didn't matter.
Tomorrow, Dib decided, he would try and pretend being a normal boy again, go to school, get laughed at by his classmates, get scolded by his teachers, tell his family some sort of story to explain his absence – not that he ever expected them to even ask – and then return here.
Here... where he was noticed. Where he was at least somewhat useful and needed. Zim never said it, even tried to hide it behind his usual antics and spazzy outbursts, but Dib knew. Somewhere deep down, the alien enjoyed his presence. They worked well together and even though they produced nothing but epic failures, it didn't feel wrong to take a breath and dive right back into a new experiment. On the contrary... it felt right. So right and again... Dib felt his stomach twist at the thought of how contorted his world was becoming, his home feeling deprecative, his enemy feeling like the closest thing he had ever known to being a friend.
His mind ran in circles lately, so with as much willpower as he could muster, he forced himself to stop this train of thought and relax.
Tomorrow would be another long day and he needed as much sleep as he could get.
Finally, he drifted off to sleep.
The next morning came way too early. Even before his alarm could wake him, a high-pitched, metallic screech tore him out of the comforting darkness of sleep, into a screaming world filled with loud clanking, some sort of warm, chunky substance being splattered over his head and the continued screeching that threatened to permanently damage his sensitive eardrums. As the human boy sat up from his now not so comfortable, makeshift bed, he blinked drowsily at his surroundings. Gir had already reduced the fake living room to complete chaos, before Dib even had the energy to wonder what the hell was going on and why he was suddenly so mucky.
After a few moments and a closer look, it turned out that Gir must have been experimenting in the kitchen again. The cooling mass on Dib looked like a mix of chilli, chicken soup, mashed potatoes and large chunks of jell-o.
In the distance, Zim was heard yelling at his deranged little robot servant.
Not for the first time, Dib found himself wishing he would just shut the annoying thing off once and for all.
Dragging his now soggy and sticky self to the kitchen, he found Zim seething, Gir nowhere in sight, the kitchen even more a mess than the living room. They exchanged a look, magenta eyes giving the boy a once-over before smirking.
No words were needed and Dib gave a world-weary sigh, choosing the quickest route to the underground base and to the irken version of a bathroom. A quick, hot shower in pinkish-clear cleansing liquid – since Zim disapproved any and all kinds of earth water near his person – was just what he needed and once he was done, he felt much better and actually fully awake.
Dressing in the spare set of clothes he kept around, he got ready for school.
„Zim, do you need anything from the store? I'll skip afternoon classes and go shopping on my way h- back." Damn it! Had he really just almost said 'on my way home'? Had it really come so far already? Shking his head, he waited for the alien to answer.
„Inferior school. Zim fails to understand why you even bother."
Dib smiled, shrugging. He failed to understand so himself. Maybe it was that last shred of normalcy he had left. „Do you want something or not?"
Zim crossed his thin arms over his chest and huffed. „Go get more marshmallows and donuts." he finally decided and proceeded to yell at his house computer to clean up the horrible mess. With an amused sigh and a roll of his eyes, Dib left the oddly shaped house and made his way to school. Even before he arrived, he forced his face into an indifferent mask, knowing what was awaiting him. Morrons. Everywhere. They were stupid, blind and deaf to anything outside of their own little world.
Instead of trying to see beyond their horribly limited horizon, they chose to be ignorant and instead use what little intelligence they posessed to pester and harrass him.
The hours went by in a dull haze, lessons he didn't need, knowledge he already had, a low, droning buzz that became more and more meaningless with each second it continued. Finally, after a few hours, it was over and the class rose to leave for lunch break. Dib was the last to stand and leave the classroom, but his exit was blocked before he could. Looking up the dark shadow that had appeared seemingly out of nowhere, he fought a shudder to find his teacher, Ms Bitters, looming over his smaller frame.
There was something horribly off.
Dib had known his teacher since first grade, and never, NEVER, had she looked at anyone like she was looking at him right now. A heavy weight of foreboding settled in his middle and he swallowed hard, unable to make a single sound. The usual grimace of disgust, annoyance and hate for the world had been wiped off the wraith-like face, smoothing it out into an expression that had no name.
A bony hand rose and the boy flinched when it came to rest on his head, the touch so shockingly soft that he was sure he would die from the absurdity alone.
Then, she spoke, even her voice having been reduced to a low whisper as she leant down to face him on eye-level.
„Soon, child, it will all be over. You will know what to do when the time comes and all of us will readily face our doom."
Something in her terrifyingly soft words chilled Dib to the bone and even deeper. It felt like she was infusing this abysmal cold right into his very soul. Her bony hand moved over his hair in an almost-caress and his knees threatened to buckle with the terror he felt. „Endure what you must until your time has come, child."
A look of almost sympathy passed over her face and then she was gone, vanishing like she often did, with not a single proof that she had even been there at all.
Dib's knees did buckle then, as if he had been released from a chokehold, and he collapsed to the floor in a shaky, panting heap. Arms were thrown around himself in an attempt to chase away the chill that wanted to consume him. What had that even been about?
It took several minutes until the boy had calmed enough to unsteadily pull himself up to his feet, still wondering what just happened. She always had talked about doom, the end of things, how everyone was just biding their time... but... this was different, Dib could feel it. Something was going on but he for the life of him had no idea what that something might be.
Unsettled as he was, he didn't pay any attention to the approaching sound of heavy footsteps until they stopped right in front of him. Lifting his gaze from the sight of several pairs of white boots, he blinked, once again confused, at the small group of men before him. They were dressed in white coats, almost looking like lab staff. „Dib Membrane?" One of them asked and he nodded dumbly.
The men exchanged looks. „That's the one." Then, one of them stepped forward, fixing him with his eyes. „Listen, boy, we're here to help you. Come with us and don't make a fuss."
The next thing Dib knew was that he was grabbed and the men tried to drag him out of school. Too late he realized that the tiny, embroidered logo on their uniforms was the same that was found on the gate of the city's asylum.