Chapter 8: That Irksome Little Irken
"Wha--this isn't the Massive!" Zim scrunched one eye shut and peered around at the unfamiliar surroundings. He had never actually been aboard the Massive. But he knew that the interior couldn't look like this. This was much too small. It was called the "Massive," for Irk's sake! It should be BIG! This was too small, too organized, like a human office building or something. And there was no sign of snack foods anywhere. It must be a trick!
"Looks like an alien ship to me," Gaz said. She had emerged from the shack next to Zim and he instinctively shied away from her.
"Oh! Pardon me, but this ship is for Irken access only!" someone said in a faintly British accent. A short female Irken wearing some sort of ugly white tunic ran up to them. "You will have to go back."
"Lit, it's me!" Alternate-Gaz edged to the front of the group. "These guys are with me. Please can we come in?"
"Oh! Gaz!" The Irken stepped back and took in Zim in his disguise, the one-handed GIR, and the two Dibsisters. "...Okay, since it's you. Just... just don't cause any trouble."
"How dare you tell ZIM what to--" Zim snarled at the Irken, who looked at him disdainfully.
"I'm sorry about him, Lit," Alt.-Gaz said. "He's different from all the other Irkens I've met."
"He's Irken?" 'Lit' said.
"What?" Zim said, horror spiking through him. "No, of course not!" He pressed both hands over his wig, determined that it would not be ripped from his head again.
Alt.-Gaz looked at him in amusement and said, "He is--trust me--and he's sick. I thought we could find a cure here. Do you know where?"
Lit glanced from side to side and tapped her claws together a few times. "You'll have to talk to the Circle," she said, her voice low. "Take the lift to the highest level and check the door at the end of the hall; perhaps they'll speak to you about it."
Zim frowned. What circle? This had nothing to do with geometry!
"Thanks, Lit!" Alt.-Gaz headed off. Lit nodded and turned to go in the opposite direction. Zim hurried after Alt.-Gaz, marching over to reclaim his position at the front of the group.
"This place is preeeeeeetty," GIR marveled, trotting to catch up with Zim. "Where'd Gazzy go?"
Zim glanced around and flicked his antennae under his wig in indifference. The Gaz human was indeed missing. Enh. Didn't matter. He was only here for the cure.
No one noticed her walking along the pristine white tiled floor. This suited Gaz just fine. She didn't need any dumb inter-dimensional aliens getting in her way.
She had the tracking device out again, peering at it. It was much calmer now. No words appeared on the screen. It just showed a slowly-swiveling arrow, like a compass. Gaz continued to head in the direction it pointed. And she still had no idea where it was leading her.
She came to a sleek white door and paused, wondering how to open it--there was no doorknob. Gaz ran her hand over it. It felt completely smooth except for the place where the doorknob should be, and it buzzed when she touched it. She pressed her palm to it and it glowed green. Tracks of light spread over the door and it slid open. Gaz went on through it. Hmph. Trust Irkens to come up with a stupid way to open a door.
The tracking device led her through another few hallways. Fortunately she didn't meet anyone... until she found herself face-to-face with an Irken.
"Who are you?" The Irken said. It was a female and had something of a British accent, like the one that had tried to stop the group earlier.
"No one." Gaz tried to side-step the Irken, her eyes glued to the tracking device.
The corner of the Irken's mouth lifted. "Well, you look like someone. What are you doing here, human?"
"Why does that matter to you?" Gaz peered at the Irken through squinted eyes. This was annoying.
"It matters because it's my ship." The Irken moved aside to let Gaz pass, but kept pace with her. "You may be unwilling to tell me your name, human, but I will tell you mine. It's Tenn. You are in the presence of one of the Irken leaders."
"Great." Was she supposed to be impressed by that? Gaz just wanted to see where the tracking device was leading, then leave.
Tenn--or Alternate-Tenn, Gaz supposed, whoever the real Tenn was--narrowed her eyes at the tracking device. "And what's this?"
Gaz growled and walked a little faster. Alt.-Tenn matched her step for step.
"May I see it?" she asked. When Gaz didn't respond she said, "I could order you to give it to me, you know. I really don't want to do that."
Ugh. If it would make the alien go away. Gaz stopped and handed over the tracking device, scowling. Alt.-Tenn examined it, held it to the side of her head as if listening for menacing ticking noises, and ran one of her antennae over it.
"Seems to be harmless enough," she said. "Although--" She flipped it over, opened the back, and fiddled with the circuitry. Then she closed it again and handed it back to Gaz. "There you go. Some of the wires were loose. It should work much better now."
Gaz grunted. "Thanks."
"Anytime, of course," Alt.-Tenn said. The two started walking again. "You're welcome to look around here. It is a bit unorthodox to allow humans aboard the Massive, of course, but I doubt you're here for any malevolent purpose. It's not as if we have anything to be malevolent about. We've been peaceful since we arrived here."
So, the Irken wasn't going to demand Gaz's name or what her business was aboard the ship. That was refreshing.
Speaking of the Irken, Gaz noticed that it had dropped back a little. Gaz looked at her tracking device again. It now showed a simple, flickering floorplan along with the arrow. Then it changed to display a line of text that read, "Bottom level, furthest room, Dib."
Gaz stared. She must have read it wrong. She blinked and read it again.
It stayed the same.
This thing... it was programmed to track the video game cartridge. But that was in Gaz's pocket. Then again, it hadn't worked when she tried it. And now the tracking device was taking her through an alien spaceship... towards Dib?
Did that mean... Dib was alive?
The screen blinked out, and it changed back to a floorplan. And Gaz couldn't help wondering if the message had been nothing but a figment of her imagination.
Water! It was everywhere! It washed into his ears, his mouth, his nose; plunged him under and spun him around until he couldn't tell which way was up. Was this some sort of comeuppance? Had he gone too far this time?
Something brushed past his hands and he latched onto it. It carried him up until he surged back to the surface. He gulped air into his lungs and scrabbled for a better grip on the thing that had saved him--it was a piece of wood.
He wiped his hair out of his face and frantically cast his gaze around for any sign of land. To his relief the water level was already receding. The sudden surge that had washed through the city was draining out. Only a couple feet of water covered the ground now.
He inhaled deeply and dropped the board. He wasn't entirely sure what had just happened. But whatever it was, it had to somehow be related to--
What was that?
Some sort of shadow had flitted across the water. He looked around wildly and saw something whip around the side of a building.
He stood up and ran after it. His coat dragged in the water and his boots were completely waterlogged but he pushed on, urging himself to go faster... Something was drawing him toward it. The shadow paused at the edge of a building. It turned to look at him--its eyes glinted--and it continued on. Disappeared.
"Hey! Wait!" the boy called, splashing after it. It traveled too quickly for him to keep up. It didn't even seem to be running, or making any contact with the water. It was gliding through the air close to the water's surface. "Waaaaiiiit!"
The thing stopped and looked at him again. This time the boy could clearly see its almond-shaped eyes, glowing blood-red. He stopped in a spray of water and stared. "MiMi?"
He took a step forward but suddenly there was no ground under his feet. Once more his head slipped underwater and he sank, down... down... until he felt as if his lungs would burst.
He couldn't last much longer like this!
Thump. He tell onto something soft and landed in a soaking wet heap. And he could breathe again. Ugh, where was he?
The boy propped himself up with his hands and hacked up what felt like gallons of water. Miraculously his glasses had stayed on his face. He struggled to get his breath back and felt his heart calm down in its frantic hammering. He was in... his living room? Shakily he got to his feet and took a step forward. And out of thin air sprung a spinning yellow vortex... a portal... And somehow, it had been there the whole time.
The boy know he had to get through it. He rushed forward but a force much stranger than him shoved him away. He stumbled, falling back onto the floor.
"Hmph, can't believe you didn't see that coming," a voice said. The boy looked around and saw a very familiar face. It was his sister, chewing neatly on a piece of greasy pizza in her hand. The boy's stomach growled. When was the last time he had eaten?
"I can't get through," he said desperately to her.
The girl shrugged. "Yeah, I know. Go whine about it somewhere else." She started to head away.
"Wait--I'm sorry!" the boy called. He didn't even know what he was apologizing for. "It's just--"
His sister was gone.
He sighed. With plodding steps he went into the kitchen.
The shadow was back! It darted around the room. The boy chased after it but skidded to a stop. The shadow vanished through the door leading to the garage as though it was nothing more than air. The boy yanked open the door and stepped outside. It was no more than the blink of an eye--but he saw something, something familiar...
"Dib?" someone said in utter shock.
And before Dib could register what he was seeing, a hairy hand grabbed the back of his coat, swung him into the air, and he was whisked off into the woods by Bigfoot.
They took an elevator to the top level of the Massive. The "top level" being the fourth floor. Zim scowled. This was completely wrong! The Massive was enormous! And it had teleporters, not elevators!
"We're here!" the disturbingly cheerful version of the Dibsister said when the elevator doors chimed open. She ran out into the corridor. "Come on guys, this way!"
"This is pathetic, GIR," Zim said when they moved out. "Why are we following this human? She's full of lies and... goo. No... no, I'm filled with goo."
"I'm bored," GIR moaned.
"She lies. I am not sick," Zim said. But his hands... his veins were gray, he had seen it... and GIR's warning light was still blinking... And a SIR's warning light was the most fool-proof way of telling whether the Irken master was ill. He shuddered. He didn't want to be here. He wanted to be at his base. Only there would he find the cure he needed!
"So you all are really from another dimension?" The voice came from Zim's elbow and when he turned he saw Alt.-Gaz standing there smiling up at him.
"AAAHH!" Zim screamed and jumped back a foot.
"Oh, sorry!" Alt.-Gaz said. "But I mean, I heard my brother talking about it with you. It's pretty cool, I think, and... oh, here we are." She pressed her finger to a spot on the wall. It glowed green, and a door opened. They went through it.
This room was brightly lit. Sunlight streamed in through portholes, illuminating a table around which four Irkens sat. They were talking animatedly amongst themselves.
At their arrival, one of the Irkens looked up. "Gaz!" he said.
Alt.-Gaz smiled and her face turned red again. "Hi, Zim!"
Zim started. "Eh?"
The other Irken stood up and crossed the room. Zim narrowed his eyes and regarded him in distaste. This Irken had reddish-pink eyes, like Zim himself, through of course Zim's eyes were far superior.
"Who are they?" The other Irken asked Alt.-Gaz, looking curiously at Zim and GIR. He had a British accent, too.
"An Irken I found," Alt.-Gaz replied, her gaze flicking to Zim and then back to the other Irken. "And his SIR Unit."
The other Irken looked at Zim in surprise. "Oh, you're Irken? I would never have knowm, with the... hair. And the human eyes. That's a disguise, I take it?"
Zim backed away from him. "I--have a skin condition," he said.
"Oh, I-I'm sorry," the other Irken said. "I didn't realize. I shouldn't have said anything. My name's Zim, by the way." He held out his hand.
"I am Zim!" Zim snapped. He glared. No way would he shake the hand of this filthy imposter!
The other Zim lowered his hand and looked at Alt.-Gaz--she shrugged--and then looked at GIR. His eyes widened. "That SIR's warning light is on!"
Alt.-Gaz hadn't taken her eyes away from the other Zim, and she suddenly seemed to remember what they were here for. "Oh, right! This Irken--he's sick!"
"I see." Alternate-Zim's eyes were wide. He looked back over at the table, where the other three Irkens were watching them. "Bob, what do you think of this?"
The smallest Irken at the table hopped out of his chair and trotted over to them. He took one look at Zim and whipped out an electronic device and stylus. "Sick, huh? Symptoms?"
"Well, the warning light," Alternate-Zim said. He smiled at the real Zim in what he probably thought was a comforting way. Zim hated his guts. "This is Bob, our main doctor and one of the Circle, like me."
"His veins are all gray in his wrists and palms," Alt.-Gaz said.
"I'm not sick!" Zim protested. Maybe if he could convince them he could get away and get to his lab and why had he even agreed to come here in the first place and--he jumped, staring at the Irken that the Alternate had introduced him to. "HEY! I know you! We were in a ship! And you locked the controls! And almost crashed us into a star!"
The little Irken just stared at him in utter confusion. "I am sorry... you must have mistaken me for someone else." He looked down at his notes. "...Which isn't surprising, given your current condition... if what I believe is true, is true." He stepped forward and beckoned to Zim. "Come with me. I need to scan you."
"Fool! I'm not going anywhere!" Zim said. Why couldn't he keep himself from shaking? Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Alternate-Bob ignored Zim and nodded to the others. Alt.-Gaz took Zim's arm and started pulling him forward. Alt.-Zim reached to take Zim's other arm but Alt.-Gaz waved him away, shaking her head.
"Hey, let go!" Zim yanked his hand away from her and backed up.
"TACKLE MASTER!" GIR yelled. He catapulted into Zim, grabbed his arm, and blasted out of the room with him with the rest of the group running after.
"Don't wait for us, Skoodge, Tak!" Alt.-Zim called to the Irkens back at the table. "I want to see what's going on and I don't know how long it'll take!"
"TAK?" Zim choked, craning his neck to see the table where the other Irkens had been sitting. He could see no more than green blobs. His amazing eyesight was going a bit blurry. "GIR! S-stop! SLOW DOWN!"
"Right here!" Alt.-Bob yelled when they reached another door in the hallway. GIR slammed to the ground, his rocket feet sputtering out. Zim landed with a crack. He let out a long, low moan.
"Are you all right?!" Alt.-Gaz cried as she came up.
"The Examination Room is through here," Alt.-Bob said, helping Zim back to his feet. He looked at Alt.-Gaz. "And yes, he's fine. It takes more than a little fall like that to harm an Irken."
Alt.-Bob ushered him into the Examination Room, told the other three to stay out, and closed the door. "You stand over there." He pushed Zim toward the corner and entered a few keys on a console in the center of the room. "Computer, scan this Irken. See if he has any sort of sickness."
<Right away,> a feminine voice replied.
"What is thi--HEY!" Zim said. Red lights like lasers had descended from the ceiling and ran over Zim. He pressed his back against the wall and looked upwards, breathing quickly. "WHAT--"
<Done,> the computer said. <Results coming through.>
The red lights vanished and Zim collapsed to the floor. He found he was panting. Alt.-Bob gazed at the console. His antennae twitched and he frowned.
Zim had had enough of the room. He scrambled to his feet, ran across the floor, and darted through the door back out into the corridor. Alt.-Gaz peeked into the room.
"What does it say?" she breathed, watching Alt.-Bob. The tiny Irken came back into the hall. He twitched an antennae again.
"It says exactly what I thought it would say, of course." He looked at Zim. "You're not sick."
Zim licked his lips in a futile effort to wetten them; his mouth was completely dry. "I knew it!" he said.
"Don't get excited yet. You've been poisoned. And this type of poison has only one known antidote."
Gaz opened the door at the end of the hall and stepped inside. It was dark in here. And quiet. Very quiet. Except for... there was a slight hum, that seemed to be coming from everywhere at once so it was impossible to pinpoint.
The only light in the room was a green glow somewhere in the back. Gaz headed toward it, doing her best to skirt by the piping and other obstacles that littered the room. Stepping lightly, she made her way over to the glow. And then she stopped. And stared. Because... Dib was there. It was some sort of machine, pushed against the wall, and he was suspended limply in the midst of green beams of light that slowly rotated around him. His eyes were tightly closed, and the back of his jacket hung down, nearly touching the floor. He wasn't conscious, that was for sure. Obviously. But he... he shouldn't be here.
Gaz reached out her hand, which passed through the lasers without harm, and touched his wrist. He felt warm. And he was moving slightly, his stomach rising and falling. Gently. He was breathing.
Gaz took a step back and looked at him. Her brother. Alive. Here, after he had vanished in front of her eyes, supposedly wiped from existence... How had he ended up here? Was Alternate-Dib here too? Why was he stuck in this... machine? What was going on? Dib had let her believe he was dead.
"Wake up!" she shouted, reaching through the lasers and shoving him. Dib did nothing more than moan and shrug her off. He was still asleep.
Sudden light spread across the floor from behind Gaz. Slowly, she turned. Two tall silhouettes stood in the doorway, though it was hard to tell through the clutter in the room.
"I would get away from there, if I were you," one of the figures said. They stepped inside, the door closed; darkness fell again, and Gaz was trapped.