A familiar hum echoed monotonously throughout the gloomy corridors, as large otherworldly machines worked tirelessly to maintain the modest settlement’s livability. Flickering magenta lights scattered across the twisted walls, placed seemingly at random. They provided the only source of light, almost resembling a series of wide, demonic eyes watching over the rancid haunt.
Each surface was constructed from dark ruby metal, once glistening and proud before time and abuse has stained and charred away at its finish. Thick segmented pipes snaked along the wall and ceiling as various forms of trash and waste filled a majority of the floor space. It’s residents had long since given up trying to maintain any semblance of dignity.
The creature in charge starred dimly ahead as it manoeuvred through the sea of filth, one good antennae held high to listen out for its subordinate.
“VIRUS! Where are you?” The creature screeched down the hall, voice rough and scratchy as always.
Almost immediately the sound of tiny, metallic footsteps came scuttling out from the other end of the corridor. The creature watched as a small, grey robot came into view. Her big red eyes cutting through the darkness like a hypothetical moose through the fabric of space.
“Ye-YES YES MASTER WASSP! HOooWw CAN I BE OF ASSISTANCE-TeNCE,” she asked, battling the internal damage that threatened to cut off her metallic, and oddly childlike, voice.
Despite years of botched repairs and data corruption, this little robot had remained as faithful and eager to please as the day Almighty Tallest Miyuki had gifted her to WASSP. Like an old dog that didn’t know how sick it was. WASSP looked down at Virus, “How are our guests holding up?”
“THEY theyyyy TheY HAVE RECENTLY REGAINED CONSCIOUSNESS. THE IRKEN’S PAK HAS HEALED MOST OF THE DAMAGE ITSELF, AND THE REASSEMBLED SIR UNIT WAS REACTIVATED BY VOICE COMMAND THE MOMENT SHE WOKE UP,” Virus responded, loud enough to make WASSP’s bent antenna ring.
“Virus, your volume, please. Also I hope you locked the door behind you, we still don’t know if she’s dangerous.” Truthfully WASSP didn’t care that much, it wasn’t like they had anything to lose, but they still felt like they should try to pretend they were making an effort, at least in front of Virus.
Virus shrugged, “SORR- sOrry master, and y Yes I was careful.”
“I should go talk to the irken. Now come on, I don’t like how long you’ve left her unsupervised.”
WASSP droned, stepping past Virus and heading towards the medbay. She followed close at her master’s heels.
The walk didn’t take long, as WASSP’s base was only really big enough to house a computer and basic living facilities. Pretty soon WASSP was standing in front of the locked door to the med-bay.
WASSP extended a robotic cable from their PAK and connected it to a round plug next to the door with a clunk. Straight away a series of cyan lights flashed on and the diagonal opening of the door retracted into the wall. It made a low hissing sound as the med-bay came into view.
There was… nobody there.
Scratch that, someone was now pinning WASSP to the grimy floor. They really wished they’d cleaned it now.
“WHO ARE YOU? WHAT PLANET AM I ON? ANSWER ME!” the stranger demanded. WASSP couldn’t tell if it was through fear or rage though, since the other irken had rammed their head sideways against the ground. The only things in view were their hands pinned down in front of them, and the feet of the two SIR Units. It looked like the stranger’s was holding Virus slightly off the ground. She was kicking and whining.
“Yur on planth LOOZUR-10.” WASSP spluttered out despite having both a hand squished against the side of their face, and an entire irken standing on their torso. It was really unpleasant. “I’m an invahderrr,” they added, wheezing.
“Invader? I’ve never seen you before, were you even at the Great Assigning?” the irken, probably an invader herself judging by the SIR, had stopped yelling and sounded puzzled, shifting her grip just enough to let WASSP move their mouth properly.
“Not in mission Impending Doom II! I was an invader in Impending Doom ONE!” WASSP shot back, they knew they’d been forgotten by the Control Brains and current Tallests, but even other invaders? Youch!
“Weren’t they all killed? Are you trying to trick me?” the attacker leaned forward questioningly,
which only added more weight on WASSP’s already collapsing sqeedily spooch. This was starting to get to them, all they’d wanted to do that day was lounge in their quarters and watch pirated Vortian cartoons! Was that too much to ask? Huh?
“Ack, get OFF of me! It’s not my fault the head count was done before the clean-up. Search up Invader WASSP, I’m listed as deceased but I was on that mission.” they whined, kicking their legs uselessly behind the stranger. WASSP could try to use their PAK to fight off the stranger, but their PAK was old, damaged, and embarrassingly slow. The stranger would no doubt notice if WASSP tried anything and WASSP wasn’t sure they wanted to know what kind of consequences that could have when dealing with a healthier opponent.
“Hmmmm, hold on,” the stranger sighed, WASSP heard what sounded like a PAK opening and the stranger lifted her hand from their face.
WASSP was then able to look up at the stranger and saw that she was typing something into her PAK’s computer, which was suspended from a mechanical arm reaching out from her PAK and over her head. It looked like she was at least willing to test WASSP’s explanation.
“Oh, yeah, there’s an old news post listing all the invaders from Impending Doom I, it even has a picture of you.” The stranger retracted her computer and quickly got off of WASSP, awkwardly avoiding direct eye contact as they groaned and picked themself up from the filthy floor. Their head hurt and as always the damn bent antenna made it hard to remember which direction was up. Regardless they straightened to their full height and attempted to look at least somewhat imposing.
“Now can you tell me who you are? Also how did you end up crashing outside my base, there’s nobody even OUT here to shoot you down.” WASSP glared at the other irken, who was now trying to look like she hadn’t just assaulted someone in their own home.
She was around the same height, if not slightly taller than WASSP, with a thinner face and narrow, purple eyes. Not the same cloudy violet purple as WASSP’s though, it was leaning closer to indigo and they still had a healthy shine to them. She also had some kind of implant embedded in the side of her forehead.
None of this information was important after being tackled to the floor, but WASSP had to admit that the other irken was kinda cool-looking.
The stranger’s eyes widened with some kind of realisation and turned her head slightly to look at WASSP, albeit still not quite meeting their eyes. “I...I did crash didn’t I,” it wasn’t a question.
She made a frustrated noise and ran a hand down her face before continuing, “I’m TAK, I lost my ship to an IDIOT, so I bought a cheap one off of some dodgy alien.” TAK paused, “I was ripped off. Once I realised that, I’d honed in on the closest irken signal and everything after that is... blurry.”
“So you came here intentionally and still felt the need to attack me?” WASSP asked.
“We-well like I said! Everything got blurry, and I was a little freaked out from waking up on a stranger’s operating table and then getting locked in here by your SIR Unit.” Her voice hiked up defensively and she clenched her hands into fists by her sides. Then relaxed and turned to her SIR, “Speaking of, Mimi you can drop it now!”
'Mimi' nodded obediently and released the iron grip she had around Virus’ head. Virus squeaked as she fell and landed on her butt, looking very unhappy.
“That wa-was RUUUDe,” she complained.
“So how’d you end up way out here in the first place? Nobody ever goes anywhere near the LOOZUR system because they want to be here.” Except maybe WASSP themself, but that wasn’t any of TAK’s business.
TAK narrowed her eyes and flattened her antennae, “uhh, well, it’s kind of complicated .” She scrunched up her face at the last word. “I was on a mission when my old ship was lost, and besides getting Mimi functional again I have NOTHING” she grumpily kicked a stray piece of miscellaneous trash “to show for the two years since.”
WASSP had to admit they kind of enjoyed how animated TAK was compared to their own lethargic, raspy voice and disposition. It’d been a while since they’d talked with another irken, though that was entirely their own fault.
“What was your mission? Couldn’t you contact the Tallest for assistance?” WASSP asked, walking over to the operating table beside TAK and hopping up to sit on it. They were getting tired of standing around in the middle of the room.
TAK sighed and moved to sit next to them. “Well since I’ve got nothing else to do, It’s a long HORRIBLE story, and the horribleness all started around 50 years ago.”
WASSP sat patiently as TAK summarized her 'HORRIBLE' story. Although WASSP had zoned out several times, they were at least semi-confident that they’d caught the important parts. In short, the same moron that had ruined mission Impending Doom I had also ruined TAK’s career. She’d then escaped the disgusting back-up assignment she’d been given, and later been launched into space after she’d tried to steal the same moron’s mission.
WASSP and TAK were now sitting silently as the latter seethed. WASSP could even see her trying to dig her claws into the metal of the table they were sitting on. They should probably say something.
“That’s rough buddy,” they blurted lamely. At least it was better than staring at her any more.
“I guess that’s… ONE way of putting it,” TAK replied looking a little taken aback by the flat response. “Hey, y’know, I’m sorry for tackling you earlier.” Apologies were rare among irkens but that didn’t mean they never felt necessary. It was a strangely pleasant surprise to WASSP after decades of being ignored.“So… what now?” TAK asked.
It was a fair question, TAK’s ship was little more than scrap when WASSP had found it, so she couldn’t leave on that. Meanwhile giving away their own ship was completely out of the question, they’d be stranded on LOOZUR-10 until they died. That would be bad probably.
WASSP tapped the metal tip of a gloved claw on the table in thought. “Where do you need to go? I can drop you off, there’s not enough space here to house both of us.” They decided to ignore the fact that there had been a few years prior, before the hoarding got out of control.
TAK’s eyes widened at them and blinked a couple times before she responded, “You have a SHIP ? A functioning one? And you haven’t LEFT this dirt pile of a planet yet?” She then swung her arm out and gestured at the garbage piles behind her in utter disgust and astonishment. “You live like this WILLINGLY ?!”
Well, WASSP hadn’t expected that kind of reaction. Admittedly their base’s condition had gotten pretty out of hand but it’s not like they were expecting company. In fact the reason they were even on LOOZUR-10 was to be alone and mope in peace. Free of all judgement, ridicule, and reminders of their wasted existence.
“I don’t have to justify myself to you.” WASSP retorted, “I keep my quarters clean enough and that’s all I really use anyway. I only come out here for snack deliveries and sometimes to rescue ungrateful little-”
“Okay okay I get it.” TAK cut them off, “you’ve had nothing to do for a long time and stopped caring, also you’re gross and lazy.”
“Not gross! Just lazy!”
“You realise if you ever need to use this medbay you’ll get fifty different kinds of infection right?”
“Then I won’t get hurt!”
“YOUR BASE LOOKS LIKE A HOGULUS CHEWED IT UP AND SPAT IT INTO THE MASSIVE’S WASTE CHUTE! It’s embarrassing!”
“HEY! You realise I’m still technically a senior invader right? You’re just a janitor, so I outrank you!” WASSP leaned back to point a claw at TAK’s face.
“Yeah well, you’re legally dead.” TAK stated flatly, swatting WASSP’s hand away from her face.
“Ir-Irrelevant!” WASSP stuttered back.
“I’d rather be a janitor than a walking grave stone.”
Okay that one actually hurt a little. Unable to come up with a satisfactory response, WASSP went silent and stared down at the ground. They didn’t feel like looking at TAK anymore. “Well lucky for you, I’m still willing to fly you out of here. Just tell me where you want me to dump you.”
TAK was silent for a moment. “Earth, if we can get some equipment on the way.”
“Didn’t you almost die there?” WASSP questioned, raising a brow questioningly.
“Well I’ve got nothing else going for me, conquering Earth is my best shot at getting my life back.” Her face hardened with determination. It’d been a long time since WASSP had worn a face like that,
if they hadn’t spent almost a decade in a depression shack they would probably take a moment to ponder why that was, and maybe, just maybe, how to change it. Instead WASSP’s thoughts drifted off as TAK began ranting again. They looked over at where the two SIR Units were sitting on the floor by the doorway, it was the cleanest space in the room and they were rolling a soda can to and from each other.
WASSP spoke without letting TAK finish her tangent “I think we should start getting the ship ready. Virus will bring you everything we could salvage from your crash.” Virus perked up at the mention of their name and scampered off through the door. Mimi simply stood up and stared after her before turning back to the two irken not-quite-soldiers, presumably waiting for TAK’s command.
WASSP lead the two guests-slash-borderline-intruders down to the base’s main exit. The moment the heavy doors slid open the air conditioned base gave way to endless mounds of sun baked stone. Hot, dry air washed over the irkens' faces uncomfortably. Squinting at the first natural light they’d seen in weeks, WASSP decided that maybe a trip off-world might be a good idea.
“-and that’s how rabbits obtained the blood thirst needed to become the third most dangerous predator on the planet. Furthermore-” Ms Bitters’ sentence was cut short as the skool bell rang through the classroom.
As usual the moment the sound blared deafeningly through the room, the children scattering. They were like the rats in ratatouille except with absolutely no regard for whether the classmate ahead of them lived or died. The laws of man did not apply there.
Half of them were rushing to throw themselves out of windows, or fought viciously with each other to be the first one out of the door. Dib, also as usual, decided that he’d rather hang back and wait for his least favourite classmate to make the first move. Dib glared at him. On the other side of the room ZIM stared back, visibly far less bothered by the boy’s presence than DIB was by the alien’s. Smug little monster.
ZIM had been pretty easy to deal with after the whole Florpus Incident, even if his behaviour had been a little more unnerving. He always seemed somewhere between serene and manically excited about nothing in particular. Even at his most arrogant, ZIM had usually appeared at least a little paranoid and moody. Especially during skool hours.
As the exits cleared and became slightly less of a death trap, ZIM got up from his desk and began marching to the door. Naturally, Dib followed closely behind.
“You can’t keep this whole... happy, well-behaved act going forever,” Dib shot as he caught up with ZIM. “You almost killed us both a few months ago and you’ve been acting different ever since. It’s creepy and I just know you're hiding something.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” ZIM replied dismissively, sounding bored. “I’ve just been taking it easy since my ingenious plan to steal the clown dog.”
Dib rolled his eyes “We both know that wasn’t your plan. Plus didn’t your leaders abandon you? Your plan failed so shouldn’t you be moping around in cheese or something?”
“Not that it’s any of you FILTHY business but, according to my hm," he paused, "my sources. The armada is no longer on their old flight pattern. Obviously that means they’ve changed course to bask in my AMAZING SELF!” ZIM raised his fists in emphasis.
“Or your florpus killed them.”
“Don’t be stupid earth boy, that can’t happen a third time.”
Dib’s eyes widened, “what do you mean a THIRD time?”
ZIM ignored him, and as curious as Dib was, he decided he didn’t really want to know the full extent of ZIM’s galactic screw-ups. Not today at least. So Dib just narrowed his eyes to show his annoyance and pushed past ZIM.
He met up with Gaz at the skool's front gate. There was still a fair amount of debris and bottomless chasms left over from Peace Day, so his dad had insisted that Dib and Gaz walked home together, in case one of them fell in. That way the other could tell their dad which pit to try fishing them out of.
Gaz grumbled one of her usual insults when she saw Dib approaching and the two headed back home. They took the long way as usual, neither of them were looking forward to one of Clembrane’s “welcome home” hugs, or worse, a plate full of his special “after skool” pudding. Dib felt nauseous just thinking about it.
“Hey Gaz?” He asked, trying to think of something, anything else.
“What?” She replied.
“Have you noticed how weird ZIM’s been lately, like, weirder than usual?” Gaz still didn’t care about Dib’s so-called “obsession” with the supernatural, but she’d at least been a little less dismissive about ZIM recently. Now that she’d seen how badly his stupidity could endanger people other than himself.
She shrugged, “I dunno, you realise I never see the guy outside of lunch right? It’s not like I have class with him.”
That was a fair point.
“But yeah even I can tell he’s been acting funky. I tripped him up when I passed him in the hall yesterday and he apologised for being in the way. Didn’t yell or anything.” Gaz shuddered, “it was so wrong. It took away all the fun of hurting him.”
Dib felt a small glow of brotherly pride at hearing that his little sister had put at least that much effort into tormenting the irken. Though hearing that she was also off-put by his change in attitude also unsettled Dib. Gaz would never validate his observations unless there was something really abnormal going on.
“You know, he was acting strange before he messed up Peace Day too, but in the complete opposite way.” Dib continued, “he was moping around and wailing about his leaders losing faith in him and kinda just, abandoning him here or something. He even handcuffed himself and turned himself in." Gaz looked up at him grimly. Dib added, "uhh, before he found out about the mem-bracelets at least.” He cringed at the memory. He just had to show pity to that monster. The same monster that literally stole his left lung.
At least the artificial lung his dad made him came with a wifi hotspot. It'd certainly made him more popular at skool.
“Sounds like a huge improvement,” Gaz interrupted his train of thought.
“Nah, turns out all his emotions are unbearable. I can’t believe I actually let myself feel sorry for him.” Dib groaned, but couldn't hide a tiny smirk.
“Me neither. That was pretty dumb.” She stated, like it was a simple fact and not at all an attempt to tease him. She was right.
“Wow thanks Gaz, you always make me feel so much better.” Dib replied sarcastically.
When they both walked up to the house. They stopped dead at the front door.
The two siblings looked at each other in mute resignation and solidarity. The sound of Clembrane’s frenzied footsteps barrelled mercilessly towards them.