The sight of the notorious leaders was more than enough to silence the usual bustle of alien activity within Shloogorgh's Flavor Monster that morning, customers halting to stare as the two tall Irkens made their unannounced and overly-glorified entrance. An assortment of eyes narrowed upon the approach of the alien leaders, accompanied by their expressionless, militaristic Irken Guards, each being on high alert. The response from the citizens within was all too apparent; distrustful whispers instantly filled the restaurant, angry glares forming upon already taut features. A few customers abandoned their meals, opting to walk out, forgetting personal belongings in their haste.
The Irkens weren't liked. To the other races of the galaxy they were predominantly considered as nothing but vile, alien scum.
The opposed had good reason to; their citizens captured by the Irkens and forever enslaved into horrible working conditions, their planets taken over and their homes destroyed to pave way for whatever the Irkens desired the most at their time of enslavement. Those that rebelled were instantly executed – unless they were lucky to escape.
Tallest Red and Purple were well aware of the resentment from other alien species, however both paid no attention to the backlash. Born and bred to conquer and being the prime domineering species of the universe, the Irkens automatically considered any below them as weak. They were nothing in the eyes of the Tallest nor would they ever compare to such a strong and established race. The Tallest viewed anything other than Irken a joke, with Zim being the only exception as a mutual hatred of the defective was established among the Empire.
The sudden halt of the normally busy morning rush instantly warranted the attention of Frylord Sizz-Lorr, the larger Irken proceeding out to the front service desk to see the commotion for himself.
"My Tallest!" Sizz-Lorr's voice was laced with shock, the Irken barely able to process the sight before him before clearing his throat. This was very unexpected. "To what do I owe this pleasure?"
"Greetings Irken Frylord Sizz-Lorr," Red responded, arms folded neatly behind his back. "How's business going these days?"
"Very well. Busy, as you can see." He gestured to the astonished customers, their stances tense as they backed away slowly from the scene currently playing out before them, wanting nothing to do with the obnoxious alien leaders.
"Ah yes! Well..." Red continued. "We have a meeting to conduct and request clearance of the restaurant for approximately one hour. As well as a supreme buffet menu."
Sizz-Lorr's eyes widened in disbelief. "An hour?!"
"That's right!" Purple chimed heartedly, before frowning at the massive Irken, voice deepening to an almost hiss that made Sizz-Lorr shrink back slightly, his stance faltering. "Will that be a problem, Frylord?"
Sizz-lorr swallowed. Apprehension laced his features for a moment before the Irken's posture stiffened. He forced himself to stand tall.
"No, My Tallest. I will prepare Booth 24 immediately and vacate the restaurant as requested."
"Very good Frylord. We will return shortly!"
Red grinned at him, hastily turning to follow the lead of Purple. The appointed Irken Guards studied Sizz-Lorr momentarily, both mirroring expressionless faces before turning and swiftly following the leaders, their electric rods pointed forward as a clear warning for others to move aside or face instant punishment, affirming their universal status and reign.
As Sizz-Lorr watched them depart, more bustling and whispering began circulating from the customers around him although he paid no heed as he began gesturing them out. He wasn't happy about losing business for an entire hour, The Tallest having arrived during the morning rush – one of the Frylord's busiest periods. Defying his leaders meant consequences however, something even he was not prepared to face. Still, he was curious about the current situation as The Tallest very rarely conducted meetings outside of Conventia and this prospect alone had captured his attention.
Why his Shloogorgh's? Who would be attending this meeting with The Tallest?
"What is going on, Frylord?"
Distracted by the sudden curious tone, Sizz-Lorr turned to face a smaller Irken looking up at him apprehensively – one of his most respected and loyal employees.
"I'm not sure, Gashloog. The Almighty Tallest are conducting a meeting here shortly."
Gashloog stared at him, processing his words slowly before paling slightly. "The Tallest?! Here?"
Another worried tone cut through the brief silence, Gashloog being barrelled into directly from behind by his other employee. Sizz-Lorr was quick to capture the drink Shloo had been holding, the impact strong enough to knock it from his hands.
"The Almighty Tallest?!" he too chimed out loudly in alarm. Both Irkens stared up at their Frylord in a mixture of utter disbelief and horror.
"Yes," Sizz-Lorr noted the worry upon their features, unable to help but feel the same about the situation despite hiding it well. "T-They've requested a supreme buffet menu."
Eyes widening, the reactions were spontaneous. It took more than a few moments to calm both of the smaller Irkens down. Despite their lower positions as Food Service Drones among the Irken Hierarchy, the Frylord cared about the well being of his employees and a visit by the The Tallest provoked strong fear. It would no doubt disrupt their normal routine.
Sizz-Lorr could excuse their reactions, and understandably so; one wrong move by an Irken under their rule resulted in severe punishment or even death. If the Tallest were not satisfied with their service, not only did Gashloog and Shloo face repercussions, Sizz-Lorr did too. All of them were at risk and at the mercy of The Tallest. They couldn't mess this up.
The Frylord had a stronger will than other Irkens, hence his position. He could cope with sudden stress. But seeing his two most valuable employees this shook up bothered him.
"Go back and start preparing as you would any other big order. I have no idea how many–er– customers we will be having on account of The Tallest, but the sooner this is over and done with, the better. Once I clean Booth 24 and actually find out what's happening, I'll be out to help."
"Yes my Frylord," Gashloog responded slowly, Shloo echoing a similar almost airy response before they hurried out back to begin preparations.
Sizz-Lorr frowned, sauntering over to the large booth to begin cleaning it. Gazing absent-mindedly towards the window and out at the smog induced atmosphere of Foodcourtia, he pondered.
Something about this didn't seem right and Sizz-Lorr knew this wasn't of standard protocol. A pounding sensation began to brood within his temples, raw nerves starting to shake up coherent thoughts. The large Irken ran a gloved hand through the cap upon his head to wipe back furrowing sweat. He needed to get a hold of himself and fast.
After lining the booth seats with red-laced upholstery, a requirement upon a visit by The Tallest to show utmost respect, Sizz-Lorr had just started to clean underside of the booth when the idea occurred to him.
Jumping up, he rushed up to his quarters, pushing open the door and knocking his belongings about as he almost trashed the room in his search. Upon finding what he was looking for, he smirked, once more hurrying back down to the booth.
x x x
The Tallest made their entrance. Standing straight, Sizz-Lorr stepped aside, saluting the leaders as they approached, both harbouring identical expressions of discontent as they studied the Frylord.
"Welcome, My Tallest," Sizz-Lorr greeted sincerely, stepping aside to allow them entrance to the booth.
They simply nodded, sitting down.
Feeling sweat once more line his brow, Sizz-Lorr turned to retrieve the supreme buffet menus, an Irken Guard afterwards taking them from him to provide to each Tallest himself.
And then the door chime activated once more. As The Tallest smiled upon hearing this, Sizz-Lorr looked up in surprise. Four more Irkens had entered his restaurant, Sizz-Lorr instantly recognising them to all be of Invader Class. Walking in a formation towards The Tallest, each bowed in a sign of respect. They seated themselves in besides The Tallest, who began sharing about the menus as Sizz-Lorr stood in utter disbelief.
Something strange was going on.
As Sizz-Lorr watched the scene taking place before him, Purple locked gazes with him for a moment, an icy scorn adorning his features before he whispered something to Red and the other Tallest also locked his gaze onto the Frylord. Overwhelming fear began to cloud his mind and the normally composed Irken swallowed some spit at the very back of this tightened throat into his spooch.
No... he couldn't let his nerves show. He needed to get through this, for the sake of his employees.
If he went down, they all would.
Be strong Sizz-Lorr. You got this.
Mustering a grin, Sizz-Lorr stared back into the eyes of his leaders when he suddenly Purple spoke, loudly and confidently yet the larger Frylord could still hear the disguised, underlying malice with each syllable pronounced.
"Well then Frylord, I think we're ready to order!"
Back in the roof of Zim's base, creeping coldness eventually aroused Dib from his slumber.
He woke with a start, a cold shiver running through his body. As the groggy haze coating his mind lifted, he stretched his cramped features out, a satisfying 'pop' filling his ears once his spine arched. Dib fumbled for his glasses, tiredness lacing his already blurred vision and making it next to impossible to see. He located the spectacles, planting them back against his face after rubbing his eyes multiple times. Contemplating his surroundings, he realised he'd fallen asleep in the Voot Cruiser. A loud grumble from his stomach startled him and then it occurred to him he hadn't eaten all day.
Shit... how long was I out for?
Dib pushed open the hatch with his foot, holding onto the sides of the ship with a stressed grip as he arched his feet over to once more balance on the narrow platform. There was no response from the computer at this move, although the same mechanical pathway he'd crossed before reconnected itself. He balanced his way across and proceeded back down the elevator to the living room, a rush of warmth almost instantly circulating around him.
Dib proceeded to the fridge and pulled out his snacks, sinking into the couch once again only this time, he pulled forth his laptop, spreading out the device across his legs as he chewed thoughtfully and flicked the power on. The device booted, and Dib quickly loaded up the spy-bug feed after hooking up his long range space probe, watching the screen tick by idly as the program tried to establish a link.
To his disappointment, the link failed and multiple reboots only only caused the same problem. Suppressing a surge of anger, Dib set aside his laptop to drag himself back to the fridge for another snack, feet sliding along the floor.
He decided to try again later. It was raining after all, the high heavens bucketing down something fierce outside. Dib could hear the wind through the windows, a spooky howling noise which made the hairs on his body stand on end. Walking over to the oddly shaped window, Dib leaned against it to peer outside.
Sudden banging against the roof startled him. It had started to hail.
Sighing, Dib peered up towards the sky. A bolt of lightning coursed through the grey above, causing the teenager to duck slightly as a blinding flash of white lit up the dark corners of Zim's strange living room. There was no going home during this atrocious weather.
Dib finally checked his watch as thunder boomed in the distance. It was almost three in the afternoon. Sitting down on the couch once more, Dib cushioned his chin against his hand and readjusted himself to a comfortable position, watching the rain plummet down to the Earth outside.
x x x
"See the lightning Dib? Once you see that bright flash, start counting to ten. If you reach four and you hear a loud..."
"Bang!" Dib piped happily.
"That's right! If you hear that terrible bang, that means the storm is nearby. If you reach ten and there is no bang, what does that mean?"
"Storm further away!" Dib clapped.
His mother smiled. "That's right! Good boy!"
Dib felt his mother encase his hands into her own, and together they clapped once the lightning outside struck, counting between them how long it took for the thunder to sound. Dib smiled joyously as his mother laughed, holding him close as they looked outside at the storm.
x x x
Dib closed his eyes as flash lighting up the room once more.
"One, two, three, four, five–"
The windows rattled and the teenager instantly curled up against himself on the couch, just wanting the storm to finish. Laptop pushed aside, he gazed towards the window again only this time his thoughts went back to Zim.
Lucky bastard. Having such an interesting life.
Resigning to the fact he was stranded for the time being, Dib switched on the television, the Angry Monkey Show lighting up the giant screen and casting a dull glow over the living room. He yawned, running an hand through his hair and feeling his cow-lick flick back into place.
Another much closer bang outside made him jump. He huddled close to himself on the couch and waited for the power to go out, only it never did. Another loud bang of thunder made him peek up again a short time later; the storm had passed over and the rain was finally starting to ease off. Breathing a sigh of relief, Dib pressed his hands against the cold glass of the window and looked back outside to the dreary atmosphere. A foggy haze made the neighbouring houses impossible to see.
SCARED OF THUNDER?
Dib uttered a startled cry. The computer always managed to scare him. "Thunder like that? Who wouldn't be," he responded. "Pretty sure Zim is too."
Dib smirked at that information. "So... where did Zim go off to anyway?"
Dib waited for it to continue, only it never did. "...And?"
PRETTY MUCH. I DON'T REALLY CARE.
Dib had never met such an unenthusiastic AI before. He drew his gaze away from the window and looked up towards the ceiling at the clutter of interlacing cables and tubes housed there.
"Can you... even see me?"
WHAT KIND OF QUESTION IS THAT?
Dib paused for a moment, before sitting back down on the couch and pulling out his bottle of water. "So... what are you exactly? Are you some sort of super computer, or are you some kind of robot like Zim's SIR unit?"
The computer didn't answer him straight away. Dib was about to repeat his question after a minute or so when the booming voice finally responded.
I USED TO BE AN IRKEN. NOW I'M MASTER'S COMPUTER.
Dib nearly choked and ended up spraying his water out everywhere upon hearing that.
EW? I'M NOT CLEANING THAT.
Ignoring that statement, Dib jumped up from the couch in shock. "Wait a minute! You were an IRKEN?! Like Zim?"
Eyes wide, the teenager became utterly awestruck. He knew Zim's computer was advanced, but this was incredible. He pulled out his notebook, a barrage of questions flooding his mind at once; he had no idea where to even start as he tried to process what the computer had just told him.
"But-but... how?! How is that even possible?"
EH... WELL, I GUESS I'LL TELL YOU SINCE I'M BORED AND ZIM ISN'T HERE TO BOSS ME AROUND. IT'S PRETTY SIMPLE. MY BODY PERISHED, MY PAK BECAME PART OF THE COLLECTIVE AND WAS EVENTUALLY RECYCLED AND THEN CONVERTED INTO BASE AI FORMAT. ZIM WAS THE SMEET I WAS ASSIGNED TO.
Dib hurriedly wrote this all down, highly intrigued. He wondered what the 'collective' was. "So if an Irken dies, they get turned into a computer that assists other Irkens?"
"Why were you assigned to Zim?"
DECEASED IRKENS ARE ONLY CONVERTED TO AI BASES SHOULD A SMEET SUCCESSFULLY CLONE FROM THEIR COLLECTIVE BLOODLINE, THEN THEY ARE ASSIGNED TO THAT PARTICULAR SMEET. ZIM WAS THE RESULT OF MY DNA BEING PASSED DOWN.
Dib stared up at the ceiling in disbelief. "So you're like... Zim's ancestor or something?"
YOU COULD SAY THAT.
"Does he know about this?"
IS YOUR HEAD BIG?
Dib scowled. "I'll take that as a yes. Do you remember your previous life as an Irken?"
NOT REALLY. I DO REMEMBER MY NAME THOUGH. AND MY POSITION.
"What was your name and position?"
ZEETO. I WAS A NAVIGATOR FOR TALLEST SPORK AND MIYUKI.
Back on Foodcourtia, four Invaders now sat huddled around The Tallest at Booth 24. From behind the front register, Sizz-Lorr occasionally turned back to watch intently, his usually stoic composure betrayed by his anxiety. Something serious was being discussed, judging by their body language. Ahead of him in the kitchen, Gashloog and Shloo ran from station to station, hurriedly trying to process the supreme buffet order without making any mistakes.
Sizz-Lorr tapped his fingers against the metal plating of the counter, constantly readjusting the position of the fries on the tray before him. Everything had to be perfect. As the last of the buffet was served, Sizz-Lorr gestured to his employees. They raced out to the front and assisted the Fry-Lord in serving the meals to their unexpected company.
"My Tallest. Invaders," Sizz-Lorr spoke up, trying to quell the shake in his tone after approaching the table and feeling six sets of eyes turn upon him. He felt a bead of perspiration trickle down the side of his face. "Your supreme buffet."
"Thank you Frylord," Red responded, taking the tray and setting it down in the middle of the table. As Red began handing out each individual meal, Purple eyed him with a sharp gaze, causing the large Irken to step back slightly. Gashloog and Shloo quickly placed down their drinks, before looking at Sizz-Lorr.
"Well done. Now leave," Purple voiced, that same disguised malice underlying his tone once more.
Both employees flinched and Sizz-Lorr stiffened slightly before bowing; the larger Irken proceeded back to the counter, his two employees right behind him. Once within the safety of the kitchen, Sizz-Lorr collapsed against the wall and wiped at his head with his apron. Gashloog offered him a drink before kneeling beside him. Sizz-Lorr wasn't the only one flustered at that point.
"You're doing great," Sizz-Lorr encouraged his employees as they suddenly clung to each other tightly in front of him, fear evident in their eyes. "Just hang in there for a little longer until this is over."
Gashloog and Shloo nodded at him shakily, although neither Irken let go of each other. An action not uncommon, considering they were brothers.
It was approaching evening by the time Dib left the base. Having become so absorbed in conversation with Zeeto, he'd not only forgotten to check the feed on his laptop, but he'd also failed to check the time, the creeping darkness through the window alerting him he'd overstayed his visit.
Despite Zeeto was blunter than ever, admittedly he was interesting to talk to. Dib was still trying to process the fact the computer had been an Irken formerly and had an ancestral bloodline to Zim. It was bizarre to think about and he wondered what Zeeto might have looked like as he walked home, feet splashing against cold puddles as fog laced the distant streets ahead. Dib eyed the neighbourhood around him as he walked, a maze of looming houses and winding streets. Having grown up there he knew the area like the back of his hand. Zim's base was a fifteen minute walk from his home.
Yawning as he approached the Membrane residence, he let himself inside before heading to the kitchen to scout for leftover pizza to settle the painfully loud growl in his stomach. Gaz was on the couch, eyeing him as he proceeded for his bedroom upstairs and her voice disrupted his thoughts as he placed a foot on the bottom step.
"Where have you been?"
Dib turned to look at her, taking a bite of cold pizza. "Zim's."
Gaz raised an eyebrow. "All weekend?"
"He's gone into space for some trip so the base is unguarded. I had a really interesting conversation with his computer."
"Uh-huh," Gaz responded, more interested in Vampire Piggy Slayer.
"Turns out his computer used to be an Irken."
At that Gaz paused, putting her game down to much to Dib's surprise. "An Irken? Like Zim?"
Albeit still cold towards him when in one of her moods, the relationship had improved significantly between brother and sister over the years. She would never admit it but Dib knew all too well that Gaz had enjoyed their escapade to Moo-Ping 10 to rescue their father. Now fifteen, she'd matured from her goth phase and Dib found he was able to hold a proper conversation with her as opposed to risking being plunged into a nightmare world for simply entering her bedroom.
"Yeah!" he chirped. "His name was Zeeto. He mentioned something about being a Navigator – whatever that is," Dib pulled out his notebook and flicked through it. "Apparently there were two other leaders before Zim's current ones. You know... those tall purple and red Irkens?" he clarified, noticing his sister's confusion and a look of realisation dawned on her face.
"Oh. Those two weirdos."
"Mhmm. With Zim gone I've been able to fully explore the base. Nick looks terrible. I don't know how he's still alive with that thing in his brain."
"Gross. Wasn't that like... years back?"
"Yeah. I don't even want to imagine being trapped in an alien base like that," Dib shuddered. "You'd love the base Gaz! You should come with me after skool tomorrow and check it out."
Gaz stared at him boredly before turning back to her game. "I've been in there before. Had to save your ass from Zim once, remember?"
"That was years ago. It's different now. Whaddya say?"
"Eh... if that gaming tournament doesn't go ahead tomorrow night, maybe. Got nothing better to do," she muttered.
"Sweet!" Dib headed for the stairwell, calling back over his shoulder. "You can see that stupid holograph of me Zim made!"
He was glad Gaz was taking more of an interest in what he enjoyed. Finishing the last of his pizza upon stepping into his room, he threw himself down onto his bed and pulled out his laptop, eyes shining with excitement as he clicked open the recording of Zim leaving with the charter, turning up the sound.
GIR was positioned into the back of the ship and Dib got his first real look at the unknown Irken. It was tall – much taller than Zim, adorned in a strange looking uniform Dib had never seen before. A high collar covered it's face and that was when Dib realised the uniform was different. Unlike the various shades of purple, pink and maroon he was used to seeing, this Irken's uniform was entirely blue. It's PAK was also blue.
As GIR looked up, the Irken's face came into view. Deep blue eyes stared back at the robot and the Irken had a device attached around the back of it's head. It was male, Dib realised upon seeing the antennae. He'd never seen an Irken quite like him before so he was intrigued. Zim quickly climbed in beside GIR and the robot hugged him.
Fortunately for Dib, GIR plastered himself against the window so he was able to watch in amazement as the Earth vanished from view, a smile on his face. It looked beautiful.
And then, he heard the Irken speak. Turning his head slightly, he leaned close to his laptop speakers while turning the volume up as loud as he could.
"Am'yhet srek'nnin hakzu zyahns naghtzt Zim."
"Uragha huryaha s'sc chck." Zim responded dryly.
The language was smooth and rolled off the tongue – a series of guttural words accompanied by soft clicks – almost sounding as if they spoke from their chests rather than their throats. Dib was in awe, having never heard Zim speak in such a way before. A human would not be able to replicate it, the syllables drawn out in such a pitch vocal cords could not produce.
Zim's accent often came though during conversations, but now that he was hearing it in full it truly captivated him. The language sounded beautiful and outer worldly, Dib unable to help the envious feeling from resurfacing again. Irkens were truly a unique species.
The blue eyed Irken seemed to start talking to another Irken via a communication device after that and Zim went quiet. The more he watched the taller Irken's body language, the more it seemed apparent he wanted nothing to do with Zim, confirmed when Zim began to ramble about something and was ignored entirely. Dib felt a small pang in his chest at that, knowing all too well how that felt. The fact that aliens were capable of doing it made him realise it was universal and perhaps Irkens weren't that different to humans after all. For the longest time Dib had believed his nemesis was well respected, but now he wasn't sure what to think. The taller Irken seemed more annoyed by the minute.
He noticed there was no more exchanges between the two aliens after that.
Dib was about to replay the conversation over a few times, when he saw GIR lie down across Zim's lap. Zim was looking right down, almost directly into the spy-bug but Dib knew he couldn't see it. The Irken looked almost apprehensive, something clearly on his mind. After another ten minutes the video stopped. The spy-bug was programmed to record small bursts of activity in order to save room on his hard-drive. Once they reached their destination, Dib would stream live. He just hoped it wasn't during skool hours.
He was eager to start documenting his research, but his blood turned to ice when he realised it was Sunday night. His assignment, due tomorrow, had remained untouched in his backpack the entire weekend, his focus entirely elsewhere with Zim being off-planet. In a panic, the teenager fumbled to his backpack, pulling out the papers to start working on it, trying his hardest not to be distracted by the open notebook on the pillow beside him as the calls of an unknown language lured him from afar.