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Time & Space

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i.

Dib Membrane was cleaning a pan when the apocalypse started. Actually, it was more likely that he was eating scrambled eggs when the apocalypse started. Specifics aside, Dib was cleaning a pan when his father came thundering up the stairs from his laboratory.

“Good evening, son!” boomed Professor Membrane.

“Uh.” Dib looked up from his soapy pan to peer out the window, where the sun was just rising over the city. “It’s morning.”

“Right, of course it is,” said Membrane, wiping at his brow with the back of a gloved hand. “Anyway, where’s that old toy you had? Still in the garage?”

Dib put the pan back in the sink. He looked at his father, who was standing the doorway of the kitchen, chest heaving, fists planted on his hips. In his entire life, Dib was certain he’d never seen his dad look so frazzled.

“Are you okay?” asked Dib.

“Of course! Of course I am. I’m just wondering where that toy of yours is? The one that you kept in the garage when you were—” Membrane dropped his hand from his hip and held it, palm down, over the floor, “just a little guy!”

Dib squinted at his father. Membrane’s nervous energy was infectious, and Dib felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

“I need to know now, son. Very urgent. It’s for science.”

Finally, it clicked.

“Wait… do you mean my spaceship?”

“Sure, whatever! Where is it?”

“It… yeah. I think it’s still in the garage. Why do you need it?”

“Great, thanks son!” chirped Membrane, and he turned on his heel and marched out of the kitchen.

“Dad, wait!”

Dib followed his father from the kitchen to the garage, where Dib’s old Spittle Runner, dusty from years of neglect, sat tucked away in a corner.

“Yes,” Membrane muttered. “That should get the job done.”

“Wait, what job?” asked Dib.

Membrane jumped and turned around.

“Oh, hello, son,” he said, and Dib watched as his father hopped into the cockpit. “I’m just going to…”

Dib watched, still with shock, as his father tapped a few buttons on the control panel.

“Dad, wait, you don’t know—”

“Override complete,” said the ship in an unfamiliar voice. “Welcome, new pilot.”

“Wait—” Dib hastened over to the ship, peering inside as his father continued to press buttons. “How did you do that? Where’s Tak?”

“Hmm?” Membrane looked up. “Dib, I’ll be leaving now. Don’t go in the basement.”

What?”

With that, Membrane snapped the windshield shut. Dib watched as his father powered up his Spittle Runner, crashed into his Subaru Forester, and then blew through the garage door. Dib chased after him, but on two feet, there was nothing he could do but watch as his father took off into the sky.

“DAD!” he screamed. “What the hell?”

Membrane couldn’t hear him. He was already gone.

 

When Gaz got home, her brother was still in the driveway, pacing back and forth, talking to himself.

“Did you do that?” she asked, stepping out of her car and gesturing to the giant, smoking hole in the garage door. “Dad’s gonna be pissed.”

Dad did that!” shouted Dib, but his annoyance was short-lived. Maybe Gaz knew something he didn’t? “Gaz, do you know what’s going on here?”

“Uh… I dunno,” said Gaz, peering at Dib through a pair of reflective pink sunglasses. “Was it Foodio again?”

“No! I said it was Dad! He took my ship and he… he just…”

Dib couldn’t even say it, the very idea was just so unfathomable. Instead, he gestured wildly to the sky. Gaz leaned an elbow on the hood of her car and rested her cheek against her palm.

“He went into outer space? In that crappy old thing you used to chase Zim with?” she deadpanned.

“Okay, Gaz,” snapped Dib, storming toward his sister. “This isn’t funny. Dad took my ship and he just left. Where did he go? What happened? Why did he leave?”

“I don’t know,” sniffed Gaz. “I wasn’t even here.”

“He just…” Dib was staring up at the sky, his arms limp at his side. “He just left.”

Beside him, he heard the sound of Gaz slamming her door shut. She came to stand next to him, looking up. They stood together, and the hopelessness of the situation finally sunk in. Dib clenched his fists.

He figured Gaz must have gone through a similar thought process, because, next thing he knew, she was grabbing him by the collar and shoving him against the door of her sedan.

“Why didn’t you stop him?!” she screamed, her face inches away from Dib’s, so close that he could see big, angry eyes behind her sunglasses.

“I-I tried!” he stammered. “He just left! It was all very sudden!”

“Did he say anything to you?” growled Gaz.

“He, uh, he just asked about the ship, and I told him- ow, Gaz! That hurts!”

Gaz dropped her hands, and Dib took the opportunity to wiggle out from between her and her car.

“Look,” he said, brushing imaginary dirt off his t-shirt. “It’s not my fault. It all happened in, like, two seconds. He just asked me where my ship was, got in, and took off. And, in case you haven’t noticed, he pretty much totaled my car.”

Gaz crossed her arms.

“I noticed.”

“Yeah, well,” muttered Dib, looking up to glare at his sister. “I’m just saying, I’ve had a pretty bad morning, so maybe think about that before you try to beat me up again.”

“Did he say anything else?” asked Gaz. “Other than asking where your ship was?”

“He…” Dib thought back. “He told me not to go down to the basement.”

“Okay, well,” said Gaz. “Let’s go down to the basement.”

She shouldered past her brother and climbed through the hole in the garage door.

“Dare I say,” she called from the garage, “your car look less hideous now than it did before.”

“It’s practical!” he shot back, following her into the garage and pushing her out of his way.

 

In the basement, there were a lot of things that Dib would consider suspect. Membrane kept stacks upon stacks of notebooks documenting his secret projects, ones that he kept from the government, his employees, everyone. Even Dib wouldn’t know about them if he weren’t such a good snoop.

“But, why would he take off now?” asked Dib. “He’s been doing this stuff for years.”

“Will you stop talking to yourself?” hissed Gaz. “I’m trying to look.”

“I was talking to you, too.”

Minutes passed, and then hours, and Dib and Gaz had nothing to show for it. They’d scanned every bookshelf, checked behind every hidden door, and torn through every notebook. There was nothing.

Eventually, Professor Membrane’s children found themselves sitting crosslegged on the floor of his lab, tired, irritated, and out of ideas.

“What about those kitten soldiers he was making?” asked Dib.

“He got funding for that,” reminded Gaz. “Remember? President Man was all excited for it.”

“Right.”

“Wait, is it a Super Toast thing? Was there a recall?” asked Gaz.

Dib pulled his phone from his pocket. After a quick internet search, he found nothing.

“Nope. I checked Super Poop, too. Nothing scandalous there, either.”

“Okay,” said Gaz, leaning forward to rest her elbows on her knees. “We just have to—”

A rumble tore through the basement, so quick that Dib thought he might have imagined it. But, he knew he didn’t, because Gaz’s eyes went wide, and her shoulders shot up to her ears.

For a moment, there was nothing but the sound of test tubes clinking in their cabinets. Then, Dib got an idea.

“Gaz,” he said slowly, “didn’t Dad say he was making adjustments to PEG?”

“Yeah,” said Gaz, and they both looked down at the floor. “Yeah, he did mention that.”

In a moment, Dib and Gaz were rushing to the elevator, each muttering aloud to themselves.

“Of course! How could I forget—”

“If Dad seriously took off because that stupid thing—”

“PEG’s always been weird, but—”

“I’m gonna fly out to space myself and—”

The elevator dinged, and the Membrane children were on the secret lower floor of their father’s labs. The doors opened, revealing the single, glowing creation that occupied the giant room. The Perpetual Energy Generator. Or, as the Membranes called her: PEG.

Gaz ran for the control panel, Dib just a few paces behind her. Before she got to it, though, she stopped short.

“What… what is that?” she asked.

They both stared up at PEG, jaws slack. The entire machine, from its huge dome to its wide, square base, was encased in a giant, neon green bubble.

Dib felt a tug of recognition in his brain — he knew what that was, he’d seen those weird, bright lighting bolts that were zipping up the sides of the bubble. But, where could he have possibly seen it before?

“Dib, look,” whispered Gaz. “Look at PEG.”

Silently, Dib creeped closer until he saw it. Behind the bright green bolts that passed over PEG, the machine itself was moving. Very, very slowly.

And, as Dib leaned in closer, he could see the flashing red emergency lights from within the dome.

“Oh, shit,” said Dib, and then he remembered.

Without a word to Gaz, Dib raced around the bubble’s perimeter until he found a small screen with a keypad. He typed as quickly as he could, muttering to himself that this better not be what he thinks it is. To his dismay, it was.

“Dib, what the hell?” shouted Gaz as she rushed to his side. “Do you know what this is?”

“Yeah,” whispered Dib. “It’s a time dilation field.” His fingers flew across the keypad as he talked. “Set to slow PEG down for as long as possible.”

Dib stepped back. His hands were shaking, and his brow was sweating.

“Gaz, do you know what this means?” he asked, and when he turned to look at his sister, her eyes were already wide with understanding.

“Dad broke PEG,” she said, “and he put her in this… time bubble, to keep her from exploding and destroying all life on Earth.”

“This thing’s only gonna last so long,” said Dib. “Eventually, PEG will generate enough energy to destroy it. Then, we’ll all…”

“God dammit,” whispered Gaz. “So, what, Dad just left? Just took off and saved himself?”

Dib took a deep breath. He knew that this was easier for him to swallow than it was for Gaz. Their dad had always favored her; she was the more level-headed, rational one. Even from a young age, she liked making machines and doing experiments. It was by no means a stretch to say that she was the apple of her father’s eye.

Dib, on the other hand, had always been the odd one out. In the rare event that they spent time together as a family, he’d always felt like the third wheel, an unfortunate add-on to what could have been a fun father-daughter outing. He’d been the one to get lost in the woods searching for Bigfoot, stranded until a rescue copter found him. He’d been the one to get himself in more than a few tangles with Zim (ugh, he hated thinking about Zim). Gaz had saved his ass dozens, if not hundreds of times over the past two decades, so, yeah, there was no question that Dib was the screw up, the one that always needed his little sister’s help. And it was no question that Membrane had looked down on him for it.

But, with his father’s rejection came real clarity about what Membrane was. He was a selfish man, too concerned with his own company to bother caring for his own children. He would leave Dib and Gaz alone for weeks at a time, and then he would always come back with some gift or promise to take them out for pizza, and that had always been enough for Gaz. But, Dib knew that he didn’t really care that they’d been lonely. He didn’t even know why his father had made them in the first place — he seemed like the last person in the universe who should be having kids. So, yeah, it wasn’t really that shocking to Dib that Membrane had doomed the whole planet and then left.

“Look, Gaz,” said Dib, trying to be gentle with his sister’s surprisingly delicate feelings, “I know you don’t see this, but Dad’s a huge asshole.”

Gaz just looked at him, her expression carefully schooled. But, Dib knew his sister better than that.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Gaz, her voice wavering just a little. “We’ve got to fix this.”

“How?” asked Dib. “If we enter the bubble, we’ll be slowed down, too. And, if we change the settings, PEG will explode before we get the chance to fix it.”   

“We have to do something! Who knows how much time we have?” snapped Gaz.

“I don’t—”

At that moment, something on the ground caught Dib’s eye. A small piece of paper, crumpled into a ball. Dib crouched down and reached for it, smoothing it out. The first thing he noticed was the letterhead: Professor Membrane’s Personal Science Notepad. The next thing he saw were the notes, clean and neat and taken with his father’s patented, famously indestructible “Membrane blue” fountain pen.

“Looks like Dad already figured that out,” he said, holding the paper up to show Gaz.

Gaz snatched the note and read over it, her eyes squinting in the dim light of PEG’s cavernous room.

“So, PEG completes a single cycle… about once a day,” she said, reading through her father’s calculations.

“That must have been what we felt before. That earthquake thing,” added Dib.

“And enough cycles will bust the time dilation field — jeez, I guess that thing really is a time bubble, huh?” asked Gaz, her gaze flickering to Dib. “It’s like science fiction.”

“Yeah, I mean, I only recognized it because I got trapped in one that Zim made,” said Dib.

“Huh,” said Gaz, and Dib watched her look off into the distance for a second. “Weird.”

“What’s weird?”

“Nothing,” said Gaz, shaking her head. “Let’s focus on this.”

“Uh… okay.”

Gaz cleared her throat, looking back to the note.

“So, one PEG cycle generates enough energy to make the ground shake,” said Dib. “How long until she’s built up enough energy to break the time dilation bubble?”

“I’m reading,” grumbled Gaz.

“Doesn’t it just say it?”

“I wanna make sure Dad did the math right.”

“Oh my god, Gaz, it’s Dad, of course he did the math right!”

“Well, he was in a rush to get out of here, so maybe he didn’t!”

“You’ve got to be—”

“Fine!” snapped Gaz. “A month!”

Dib stopped. He felt his mouth dry up.

“A… a month?”

“Yeah,” said Gaz. “Seven hundred twenty-eight point two five hours. Thirty point three four days. A month.”

“Shit,” said Dib.

“Yeah.”

“Okay, let’s check the math on that.”

 

Half an hour later, Dib was pouring coffee into his sister’s novelty Bloaty’s mug before turning his attention back to his work. They both sat at the kitchen table, Dib at his laptop, Gaz hunched over a notebook. For a while, there was nothing but the sounds of Dib clicking at his keyboard and Gaz scribbling and erasing. Finally, Gaz slammed her pencil on the table.

“Well?” she asked.

“Well,” repeated Dib, “I rounded to the nearest ten-thousandth this time, and I was able to get slightly more—”

“We have to stop,” interrupted Gaz.

“…Yeah,” agreed Dib, turning to look at his screen. “You’re right.”

Gaz leaned back in her chair. She took a sip of her coffee.

“One month,” she muttered.

“One month.”

“What do we do?”

Dib ran a hand through his hair. “I mean… we have to find Dad, right?”

Gaz looked over at him, one eyebrow raised.

“What’s Dad gonna do? He literally ran away.”

“Look, Gaz, if anyone can stop this thing, it’s Dad. Or you, I guess.”

Dib didn’t mind admitting that his sister was better at this kind of stuff than he was. She’d been making machines since she was a little kid, putting motors and mechanical limbs into her stuffed animals and programming them to do her bidding.

Dib, of course, was the paranormal expert in the family, and he took pride in that. Even if it made him the family screw up.

“I guess so,” muttered Gaz. “So… I try to find a way to fix PEG… and, what, you go after Dad? And leave me here to get blown up?”

“Of course not!” said Dib. “Obviously, we’ll need some kind of… bunker, I guess, but we could find a way to keep you safe. Maybe even get you off-planet before it happens?”

Gaz just looked at him, her brow furrowed, clearly not convinced that this plan could work.

“How would you even find him?”

“I put a tracker on my ship forever ago,” said Dib, thinking back. “I could follow him.”

“In what?”

Dib sighed. He stared at his computer screen. His calculations stared back at him. He looked at Gaz, hoping she would just read his mind.

She must have, because she actually started to laugh.

“Oh, really? You really think so?”

“Maybe, if I just—”

“Just what, Dib?” laughed Gaz, reclining in her seat. “I wanna know exactly how you’re gonna pitch this.”

“Okay, so, you’re being really condescending, and I’m actually trying to find some solutions.”

“That’s not a solution,” said Gaz.

She took another sip of her coffee. Dib had half a mind to knock it out of her hand.

“Although,” she said, the word garbled around her mug, “maybe if I go, we’ll have a better shot.”

Excuse me?” barked Dib. “Why would you be the one to go?”

“Oh my god, Dib, you need to relax,” said Gaz. “Don’t worry, I’m not coming for your man.”

“Zim’s not my ‘man,’” huffed Dib.

“Yeah, no shit,” said Gaz. “And, for your information, you really pissed him off. So, I really don’t think going to his house and asking to use his ship is a good idea.”

“What other choice do we have, Gaz?” shouted Dib. “This is the end of the world we’re talking about, here! This is a big deal!”

“I know that!” snapped Gaz.

“Then it’s settled! I’ll go to Zim’s house right now, and I’ll tell him what’s happening, and he’ll give me his ship and I’ll go find Dad!”

“Dib, he’s not gonna—”

“Yes, he will!” snarled Dib, slamming his hands on the table.

“Why are you so worked up about this?!”

“Because you don’t even know what happened!”

“Then tell me!” shouted Gaz. “You’ve been keeping me in the dark about this for long enough. Just tell me what happened so I can not care and we can try to move the fuck on!”

Dib felt himself wither a little under Gaz’s angry stare. He did his best to glare back.

“I know you care,” grumbled Dib, leaning back in his seat and crossing his arms.

“In this specific situation, I do,” hissed Gaz. “But only because your stupid ego is standing in the way of us actually saving the goddamn world.”

Dib just shook his head.

“If you think he’ll give it to you, you can go,” he whispered. “I just… I dunno.”

“What?”

“If I could go see him… forget it.”

“God, Dib, stop being so dramatic,” said Gaz. “Just tell me what happened.”

“Fine,” said Dib. Ugh, this was going to be so embarrassing. “You remember prom?”

“Uh, yeah?”

“You know how Zim and I… like, drove there together?”

Gaz rolled her eyes.

“Yeah, I know how you and Zim carpooled to prom together.”

“Please stop being sarcastic and let me finish my story.”

“Fine.”

“So, like, we were at prom, right? And it was pretty fun, as far as, you know, uh, dances go… And then it was over, and, you know, then, we, like, kissedandthenheranaway.”

Gaz blinked.

“Sorry, what was that?”

“Ugh. We, uh… kissed after prom, and Zim, you know, he… ran away.”

They sat in silence while Gaz processed this information.

“Wait,” said Gaz. “Is that why he wasn’t at graduation?”

“Yes!” exclaimed Dib, his enthusiasm making Gaz jump. “He didn’t show up to the rest of skool! He straight-up disappeared, okay? And I didn’t see him, so I just thought, you know, it would be fine, if I just, ah…”

“Left town?”

“Yeah.”

“So, let me get this straight,” said Gaz. “You and Zim were friends for… seven years. And then you took him to prom, as your date… and you guys kissed. And then he holes himself up in his house for a couple of months, and you just… went to college, without saying goodbye?”

“We weren’t friends, Gaz, we were mortal enemies, sworn to—”

“Right, whatever.”

Dib rubbed at his eyes, feeling tired all of a sudden. He plucked Gaz’s mug out of her hands and took a swig of coffee.

“But yeah, that’s basically what happened.”

“And you haven’t talked to him since?” asked Gaz.

“… No.”

“And you really think he’ll lend you a ship?”

Dib considered this.

“If I ask nicely?”

Gaz just shook her head, her eyes narrowed as she stared at Dib.

“Your eyeliner looks pretty today,” commented Dib. “Very… pointy.”

“Fine, go talk to him,” grumbled Gaz, taking her mug back. “We’re all doomed anyway.”

 

ii.

Everything looked the same: the lawn gnomes, the front door, the decorative pufferfish. The house had that familiar, eerie glow. It was still attached to the houses beside it. Gaz had been certain that Zim would still be there.

Dib walked carefully to the front door, his eyes on the lawn gnomes around him. They must have powered down, though, because they didn’t move, just stared at him with big, bulbous eyes.

“Okay, Dib,” he murmured, “here’s what’s gonna happen. Just go up to the door, and just, you know, be cool. Hey, Zim, what’s up? How ya been? Then you just tell him, uh, just FYI, the world’s gonna end in a month, and we need to go find my dad, so can I please borrow a spaceship?”

Dib was at the door. He took a deep breath.

He knocked.

A minute passed.

He knocked again.

Maybe Zim had seen him? Maybe the Computer told him that it was Dib, and he wasn’t coming up? But, then, why didn’t he just turn on the gnomes?

Dib turned back, just to be sure that the gnomes weren’t charging toward him right now. He stared at one, waiting to see if it would move.

Behind him, the door opened.

Hellooooo!

Dib jumped. He whipped around, and there was GIR, dressed in his doggie suit, staring up at him.

“Oh! Uh, hey GIR.”

“You got my pizza?” asked the robot.

“Uh, no?” said Dib. “Is Zim home?”

“Mmmaaaaybe. Pizza?”

“GIR, I don’t—” Dib peeked inside, hoping to see something behind GIR, but the robot had only cracked the door a few inches, and everything behind him was dark. “I didn’t bring pizza.”

“Why not?”

“Because… I’m not a pizza delivery guy?”

“Oh,” said GIR. “Wait. Who are you?”

Dib looked down. It was probably unreasonable for him to be offended that GIR didn’t know who he was. Still, he couldn’t help but feel annoyed, and just a little bit hurt.

“I’m Dib. You know, the guy who used to fight your master all the time?”

“Oooh,” said GIR, but Dib was certain that GIR still didn’t know who he was. Whatever.

“Can I see Zim, please? It’s actually pretty urgent. Like, end of the world urgent.”

“Oookaaay,” sang GIR. “But Master don’t like visitors!”

Dib just shook his head. GIR opened the door wider and pulled Dib inside. He shoved Dib onto the couch.

Dib heard the sound of GIR jumping into the kitchen toilet, and then he was alone.

It was dark in Zim’s living room — the curtains were closed, and none of the lights were on. Dib shifted on the couch, then pulled his phone out and turned on the flashlight.

He waved the flashlight around, scanning the walls, the ceiling, the floor. Everything looked about the same. The TV was still there, and so were the pictures up on the wall. Dib felt his stomach roll at the sight of an old picture hanging to his left of the two of them — a selfie that Dib had taken of them in the woods, just outside of a cave that he’d thought was Bigfoot’s lair. The frame was still intact, but the glass had been shattered.

Dib stared at the picture for a few moments, then swung his flashlight back in front of him to find Zim, a foot away, glaring at him.

Dib screamed.

“Jesus, Zim, what the hell?” he shrieked.

Zim said nothing, just clapped his hands twice. The living room lights flickered on.

“What are you doing here?” growled Zim.

Dib struggled to catch his breath, shrinking under Zim’s murderous stare.

“Uh, h-hey, Zim? What’s up? How ya been?”

Zim kept glaring, his arms crossed, and Dib realized he’d forgotten how scary he could look sometimes when he was out of his disguise.

“You know, Gaz said you’d be here, but I really wasn’t sure, I thought, you know, it’s been so long since we last, uh…”

“Three years,” said Zim, his voice low.

“Yeah,” said Dib. “Three years.”’

“What do you want?”

“Zim,” Dib pushed himself onto his feet, and the little irken crossed his arms, “something really bad happened.”

 

The first thing Zim did was laugh. For a solid couple of minutes.

“You must be joking,” he shouted, wiping a tear from his eye. “Your idiot father seriously doomed the whole planet, and then he just left?”

“That’s what I said!” snapped Dib, his patience worn thin. “And, it’s not really funny, either.”

“I fail to see how this situation is not hysterically funny,” said Zim, still laughing, clutching his abdomen and then literally slapping his knee.

“Come on, this is bad! This will kill everyone! Not just people, but, you know, animals, plants… everything!”

“So?” asked Zim. “What does Zim care that your wretched Earth will finally meet its demise?”

“Because you live here!” shouted Dib. “You’ve lived here for a decade! This is your home, too, Zim!”

“Nonsense,” Zim sniffed, crossing his arms again. “Earth is a dump. No irken of any worth would call this miserable ball of dirt ‘home.’”

“Zim,” said Dib, pinching the bridge of his nose. “This is really serious.” He looked down, waiting for Zim to look at him so they could lock eyes. “I’m here because I need your help.”

“No.”

“I didn’t even say—”

“Still no.”

“Zim, come on.”

“You do not deserve my help.”

“Forget me, then,” said Dib, desperate to placate. “This isn’t about me, or… or us. Um. This is about Earth. Gaz needs your help, too. The people of Earth need your help.”

“I hate all of them. I want to see them die.”

“Zim, I know that’s not true.”

“Prove that I’m lying.”

“Ugh!” Dib threw his hands up. “If everyone on Earth is wiped out, and I mean everyone, and you somehow manage to survive because you’re Zim, then what will you do, huh? What are you gonna do when everyone’s dead? Just be alone?”

“Can’t say that would be anything new for me,” said Zim with a pointed look at Dib. “I’ve had three years of practice already.”

Dib bit his lip. He knew Zim probably had a right to be mad at him for leaving. But, still, that had been years ago, and it’s not like Dib had planned to leave without saying goodbye.

“You left first,” he muttered.

Zim’s antennae twitched.

“I went to my base,” he said. “You went across the country.”

You ran off. You left me stranded, with no way to get home. You—”

“I don’t want to hear it!” shouted Zim, throwing his hands in the air. “This is your fault, not mine! You moved away!”

Dib was about to retort, but then a vibration and a chime, coming from right near his foot, startled him.

It was his cell phone, which must have dropped when Zim scared him. He looked down to see that he’d gotten a text from Gaz.

He reached down to pick it up, ignoring the feeling of Zim’s eyes boring into his head.

Gaz: Getting another look at PEG. Not good. How’s it going with you?

Dib bit his lip. This wasn’t supposed to be about fighting with Zim. This was about saving the world.

“Look, Zim,” he said, looking up from his phone. Zim was staring at him, his arms still crossed, his face still flushed and angry. “I know things are bad between us. But, I didn’t come here to fight with you, or even to make up.”

Zim squinted at him.

“You should be begging for my forgiveness.”

“Well, I’m not,” said Dib, trying to calm his anger. “I’m here to ask you to help me save my planet. And, I know that it’s your home, too. I know you like Earth. I don’t know why, but you wouldn’t have stayed here for the past three years if you didn’t. There’s something you like about it, and I don’t know what it is, but I know that’s worth protecting. My dad fucked up, big time, and I need your help fixing his mistake. Forget what happened with you and me. This isn’t about that.”

Zim kept glaring at him, but Dib could see that he was calming down a little, too.

“I will not forget what you did.”

“Fine,” said Dib. “But don’t say no just because you’re mad at me.”

They stared at each other, and Dib knew that Zim was looking for some kind of weakness, some show of emotion that he could exploit. But, Dib stood tall, looking down at Zim with determination. Careful not to betray to Zim that he was still hurting, too.

After some time, Zim sighed.

“What do you need?”

“A ship.”

“No.”

“Zim, come on.”

“No.”

“I need to find my dad. I need to figure out what’s going on. Gaz will stay here and try to fix PEG but, for now, I really need to get going, and my only ride into outer space is gone.”

Zim stared at him, and, for a second, Dib thought that he might be asking too much. He knew how much Zim treasured his Voot Cruiser.

After a pause, Zim finally spoke.

“I will go with you.”

“You… what?”

“I will go with you,” repeated Zim. “You’ll probably need my help.”

“Uh, no offense, Zim,” said Dib, “but I think it’ll be a little cramped with the two of us in your Voot.”

“We won’t take the Voot,” said Zim. “I have something else.”

“Oh, uh, okay,” said Dib. “Didn’t realize you had another ship.”

“Yes, well,” Zim looked away, and Dib saw the ghost of a blush creep along his face. “I do.”

“Uh, okay,” said Dib, and he bit his lip. “You’ll help us, then?”

“Yes,” muttered Zim. “I will help you.”

Dib looked down at Zim, feeling a little bit of his anger toward the alien crumble. He wondered what Zim had done for the past three years. Had he been lonely? Had he missed Dib as much as Dib had missed him?

“Thank you,” said Dib, his voice soft.

“You’re welcome.”

“Should we—?”

“Go to your house and get ready. I’ll be there soon.”

“Oh, okay,” said Dib. “I’ll, uh, I’ll see you later then.”

“Yes, see you later.”

Dib turned and walked out, feeling Zim’s eyes on him as he left. He took a deep breath. That had gone well. So, why was he feeling so nervous?

He paused at the sidewalk and turned back to look at Zim’s house, one more time. He bit his lip and started the walk home.