The Irken people are a complex race. As their control spans a fourth of the galaxy, it is imperative that every being posses a basic understanding of their culture. This is a pocket guide to comprehending the mysterious and sometimes paradoxical nature of the Irken people, catalogued from every source imaginable and compacted for your safety. Keep in mind, though, that even the Irken himself rarely understands his own motivation, so there's only so much one can do when encountering them.
Good luck, and good reading.
From the Guide To the Galaxy: Irkens
February March April May
"You," Dib said, "are a freaking psychopath."
A shower of sparks flew up from the far corner of the classroom, where the reinforced titanium walls of the Skool were pitting the best child-containment technology that taxpayer dollars could buy against the unstoppable firepower of the Irken Armada. The county's taxpayers would have been proud if they could have seen how well it was holding up.
"Yes, yes," Zim said, waving one rubber glove as if shooing away flies. There was an anguished squeal from something embedded in the walls. "Save your praise for another time. The Mighty ZIM has work to do."
Dib looked over at his extraterrestrial nemesis, eyes narrowed behind glasses. Of course this whole situation was entirely Zim's fault. It had absolutely not been Dib who tried to swallow a bomb, and therefore nothing after that point could possibly be his responsibility. If he didn't need Zim's technology to get out of detention today, he'd already have wrung the creep's neck by now. He'd have to make up for it later. You had to mess up pretty bad to end up in the Funtime Delinquent Containment Cell. He was pretty sure the shadowy desk over there still had the body of the last kid to get detention with Deputy Hoosgow, and he wasn't keen on finding out if it was all in one piece.
Some bright pink lights flashed from the opposite side of the room—good sign, in this case. The ticking noise was good too, he assumed. Well, good for Dib, not so good for the school's insurance, but they should really know better than to put the two of them in detention together after all these years. It wasn't exactly a complicated concept. There should have been at least one interdepartmental memo.
A muffled detonation rattled the room, and the wall gave. Three by five feet of titanium crumpled out into the afternoon smog like a chest cavity hatching a small parasite, leaving a gaping window of smoke and freedom and concrete dust behind. The two students snatched up their bags and, without pause for comment, went dashing through the gaping hole in the wall. It wouldn't take a brain surgeon to figure out who left the hole, but by this point Dib couldn't much bring himself to care about permanent records. His growing stack of files and misdemeanors waited for him like a bear trap in a hole. Anyways, now that he'd given up worrying about school, he had more room for paranormal investigation. He'd bagged more evidence in the last year than the rest of his life altogether. Total apathy was surprisingly freeing.
Outside the building his nemesis reached over, grabbed his collar and pulled him up into the waiting voot cruiser with a hard yank. Dib bounced off a couple surfaces inside before coming to a rolling stop at the foot of the driver's seat. He glared at the alien from the floor, in lieu of actually lugging his newly sore muscles upright, and continued honing that glare right up until the ship took off, slamming him against the back wall yet again. Why that little…
"Rescuing me again?" Dib ground out, righting himself.
"It's not because I like you, Dib," Zim shot back.
"Uh-huh. Well somehow I'm having trouble coming up with alternative theories, here."
"Silence! You are the one who denies his love for the Zim, pitiful human. DO NOT DENY YOUR BURNING LOINS!"
"What. Are you even. Talking about."
The alien turned a sharp corner and the g-force slammed Dib back into the wall. He was getting to be close personal friends with the walls of this ship, lately. He groaned, and when Zim glanced back at him, an unusual moment of clarity had made his ruby eyes bright.
"Zim saves you for the sake of his honor," the alien informed him at length. "You have unwittingly and annoyingly demonstrated your claim to Zleek'a'den, and the magnificent Zim must abide by such terms. You will not disgrace Zim's honor!"
Dib peeled himself off the back and slid forward to sit beside Zim's command chair. So, this song and dance again. "You still haven't told me what the heck I accidentally signed up for."
"Ancient Irken right," the invader grunted. "Zim need not explain anything to you, human."
"Well if you're gonna blame me for ruining your honor," Dib said, making the most sarcastic quotey fingers his hands could manage around 'honor', like crazy alien scum would even know the meaning of the word, yeah, right, "maybe I should actually know what that entails?"
"Oh you would like to know wouldn't you!" Zim shouted. "Wouldn't you!"
Dib let out a tortured snarl of frustration and keeled over backwards against the floor."You're so--you're impossible!" he said. "Fine, forget you. Let me off here, I'll walk the rest of the way."
Zim peered out of the cruiser, appraising the stream of concrete rushing below them. "Yes," he mused, "this is sufficient."
The human might have replied with a few choice words, but the floor opened up below him and he went rolling across the street, bruising his shoulder somewhere between the escaping ship and the other side of the road. The cruiser disappeared into the distance, about as close as a speeding object could come to looking smug.
So Dib cursed and went limp, tapping fingers on the ground. He looked up at the sky, cataloguing his bruises, and blew the limp spike of hair out of his eyes. He always ended up like this; it had ceased to surprise him a long time ago.
"Zim," he muttered. "Always the hard way with you."
The Irken race began from humble starts, as most races do. At one point, their species covered only a thin band across the equator of planet Irk, surviving with a primitive system of genetic-meritocracy. The folk-lore of this age, preserved mostly in the Vulcan archives, details many myths centered on warfare and conquest. It seems that to the ancient Irkens, combat was the focus of life itself: courtship, power, recreation, even succession. Some rudimentary psychoanalysis of Ancient Irk was put forth by the famed brain-o-scientist Frood the Younger, where he postulated that in ancestral times, flanked on either side by the reproduction drive and the feeding drive (for more on the sparse land of ancient Irk, see Food Desert Biomes), the aggression drive dominated every aspect of society.
Thus, the concept of Zleek'a'den is not so difficult to arrive at.
Guide to the Galaxy: Irkens
February March April May
History was by far the most useless and uninspired class that a public school had to offer.
Dib looked up at the board, sighing. All this about the French and Indian war, and not once had his teacher mentioned the Totem Uprising—history so conveniently forgot the huge role that the native deities played in reshuffling loyalties. There was a lot of bunkum about trade and alliances, and not one mention of so much as an anima. It was infuriating that these so-called professional historians never bothered to so much as look at the folklore or question the existence of obvious paranormal interference. Not once. Some professionals.
A wad of paper made sharp contact with the back of his head. Had to be Zim.
That was the other thing that infuriated him, at the moment. Stupid alien had been throwing objects at him all day—it was one thing when the other kids did it. That was verging on normal. This was Zim, though, and it was not normal, and he was about ready to see how far a pencil could wedge into an Irken skull. He was betting he could manage "all the way".
What ever happened to the good old days when Dib was the one harassing Zim? The human was finding lately that being the tormentor really beat being the tormented, and turnabout might be fair play but it still pretty much sucked. He remembered nostalgically paper airplanes and death threats scribbled on the backs of quizzes. Back then, all the invader wanted to do was carry out his ridiculous missions in secret—now it was like his only mission was to annoy the living crap out of Dib.
He was succeeding.
When the teacher wandered off to his seat in a haze of tuneless humming—well, that was the end of that lesson then—Dib turned around and hissed at the alien. "Leave me the heck alone in class, okay?"
"Oh yeah?" the alien whispered back. "What'cha gonna do about it, Dib?"
Spontaneously combust, he did not reply. That would probably not have the desired effect. "Punch the stupididity out of you after class, that's what. And that means a lot of punching, FYI."
They both looked down at his bruised knuckles.
In the last year or two, the boy had grudgingly taken a leaf or two out of Gaz's book- specifically, pages 27-29 of the cult classic Punch Club - and they'd served him rather well. After all, Gaz and he shared half of their genes, and the truth was that his sister managed to be a hundred percent more effective than him at… pretty much everything pretty much all the time. It was crazy that she never did anything with all that talent. Man, if they went in together as partners…
But anyways. Punching.
He'd found, ever since accidentally mixing himself up in a schoolyard brawl more than a year ago, that a good fight was better on the nerves than a bubble bath full of chamomile tea. There was something unexpectedly liberating about throwing punches, ducking arms, elbowing chests… it was wild, and awesome, and it was right up there with getting just the right shot of whatever cryptozoological creature he happened to be chasing. Victory, exertion, endorphins. Honestly, he probably should have seen this iceberg looming in his personality ages ago, but he'd spent years running from fights he'd been too small to win, and the whole growth spurt thing had reshuffled his priorities a little. Faster chase, better reach, more muscle power.
And a fight with Zim was something to really look forward to.
He suspected that the invader had been trained at some point, some sort of hand-to-hand course in whatever military he hailed from, because he could actually hold his own against Dib—and Dib had been practicing with anyone and everyone he could get his hands on for a while now. The last time someone had tried to shove him in a locker he'd accidentally pushed them through a window.
The school made him talk to a councilor about it once (he'd never trusted a councilor, not once since Dwicky), and the nice lady with the bright red lipstick had informed him that he was either projecting, displacing, regressing, or some fabulous combination of the three that Freud would have died to analyze. Yeah, whatever. So there was a part of him that was pissed off at the world and wanted to beat the heck out of it, so what? Everybody's mad at the world one way or the other, and it's not like he was hurting anybody who didn't literally ask for it.
The bell rang, startling him out of his musings. The crush of kids piling up on top of each other to get out the door blocked that exit, but there was a window beside his desk and it led into the empty parking lot. It was an unwritten rule of Hi Skool that you couldn't detain a student on that particular blacktop. All the best fights took place there.
The two students jumped out the window together, landing hands and feet on the narrow strip of grass between the wall and the asphalt. They walked in unspoken accord, hands in their pockets, to the edge of the grass. That was how it was done. Dib checked his pocket for that pencil.
Zim looked pleased. "Prepare for combat, pitiful Dib-thing. I shall beat the snot out of your giant head, for the last and only time!"
"Last and..." Dib shook his head. "You've never beat me before, alien scum, and you won't do it today either."
His feet met hard resistance, and that's all the go-ahead he needed. The first punch swung, and from there it's a blur of motion and shouting, and the perfect knuckle-bruising impact of a solid hit. He goes home with so many little injuries lately; the other day, one of the teachers asked him if everything was alright at home. He almost laughed. That was so off the mark that for a moment he wanted to punch her too. With all the real problems he had, they decide to pick up on the one thing he didn't need help for? How's that for screwed up?
By the end of the fight they both lay on the black-top, breathing hard and trying not to move their fingers for fear of seriously painful bodily protests. For all the times they fought, neither of them had ever managed a clear win—which, he suspected, was part of why they kept coming back. The other part was for Dib's mind only. In truth, there was something embarrassingly personal about these fights, something that couldn't be shared with the rest of the world. It was like a conversation with fists, as weird as that sounded, and he just couldn't find that level of something with anybody else.
What it was... wasn't clear to him. He just knew that this was better than chasing some stupid academic award or some apathetic girl like the rest of the guys in tenth grade were doing. A girl would be gone and even less interesting than ever in a month. Zim would be here forever. And he fought back.
"Eh," Zim panted, lying just as still as ever, "Zim did not lose."
"Yeah yeah, I know, you just choose not to win."
"Eh, yeah. That."
Dib snorted. "As soon as I can feel my limbs," he informed the Irken, "you're going to eat dirt."
Zim threw a pebble weakly at the human's head. "Not likely, meat-child."
It really wasn't likely, but Dib didn't particularly mind.
The essential Irken philosophy consist of three parts:
-loyalty to the Tallest
-refusal to permit dishonor
In the planet-bound era of Irk, ritual suicide was an integral part of maintaining honor. It was the only acceptable response to absolute loss, and the only way to redeem oneself after failure. Interestingly, this aspect of the culture is manifest today in the suicide watches (also known as the Big Red Buttons) located on every Irken's wrist, regardless of assigned profession. The BRB suicide was first brought to galactic awareness during Operation Impending Doom 1, when Invader Chom took out a brigade of Mecrobians just before the infamous Zim's equally infamous botching of the operation.
War-making, being the third tenant of Irk, stretches back into unreachable halls of history. It would appear to be a facet of their genetic code, for all that it manifests itself no matter the circumstances. Certain historians suspect that even the tradition of the Tallest began with the advantages in battle that height proffered. Long ago, Irkens would have fought for their rank, with the bigger contender winning nine times out of ten, eventually leading to an institution of the tradition- a cultural bias, if you will. Regardless, the fact remains that the Irken must fight. It is his nature, and without contest, he will wither into nothing.
He lives only for the next encounter.
Guide to the Galaxy: Irkens
February March April May
Real darkness, not the cheap copy you get at night with the blinds closed. Actual, real, zero-light darkness. It surrounded Dib, a void gaping in all directions, and left him leaning against a wall shakily. Humans aren't built to withstand cave darkness, it's not suited to the ancestry or to the modern world—and Dib spent half his nights in front of his laptop, bleaching his skin with artificial light.
This was a prison ship, he was pretty sure. He had stumbled onto it in the midst of a space recon outing, but they hadn't been speaking any language he could understand, and if they had understood his rushed apology then they hadn't shown any sign of it. They had looked like prison guards, anyway, the ones that Dib had run into. Prison guards all have the same kind of tack-chewing humorless expression.
The human ran fingers over the surface behind him, searching for anything from a light switch to a handhold. Something that could mean progress. The worst part of darkness is that it slows the world like tar clinging to the treads of a tire.
There, a depression! Dib curled his fingers around the edge and pulled.
He tugged and pushed, searched out any buttons or knobs, beat against the wall until his hands were sore and pounding. Nothing budged, and he sank to his knees with fingers still hooked in that stupid depression. Just dandy. What the heck was he going to do now?
One way or another, Dib always found his way out of a jam. He just had to… think of something. Something… something… the darkness was really starting to freak him out, imaginary blotches of color were waxing and waining in front of his eyes, and what if there was somebody else waiting in here? What if what if whatifwhatif…
There was an explosion on the other side of the wall, huge enough to be heard through what felt like steel. Pressure waves vibrated against his fingers.
Before he could throw himself backwards, a second explosion split a seam down the wall and blinding light poured in. Smoke and light, and the blast had knocked him down so he couldn't see much else. Coughing, he rolled over and tried to sit up.
He heard screaming—angry screaming, he thought—from the outside, and a couple muffled bangs. And as his eyes finally adjusted somewhat to the light, a figure stepped into the opening. Hands on hips, it tapped a foot.
"Well?" the figure said. "Are you coming, Dib-thing?"
The human blinked, slowly. "…Zim?"
"Duh." The invader tossed him a gun, some typical shiny purple monstrosity of questionable origin. "Now move your shebs, human. The mighty Zim will not accept defeat on behalf of your pitiful earthenoid biology. Not that, ya know, I need your help or anything."
The human rose a little wobbly to his feet, wrapped fingers around the trigger of the gun, and joined Zim at the make-shift entrance.
"Sure you don't," he replied.
"I don't," Zim insisted.
Dib looked at his reluctant savior, took in the massive piles of bodies and rubble throughout the corridor, and decided that maybe he really didn't need help. Maybe.
"Then why'd you rescue me?"
In the hallway, one misshapen body let out a tortured groan. Smoke curled around their feet, and far away a klaxon was screaming in a high pitched, unearthly tone. The ship was in a panic.
"I was in the neightborhood, and besides..." Zim paused, took on an exaggeratedly heroic pose, a mocking flash in his huge red eyes. "Nobody touches him!" Zim quoted, "That bastard is mine!"
Dib narrowed his eyes. "Is that so?"
"Yes," Zim answered, cocking his gun, "it is."
Zleek'a'den is a complex concept, lacking parallel in more or less any culture save perhaps Andorian. It can be most effectively translated as 'best enemy', but even that fails to convey the emotional baggage it carries along.
To begin with, the concept is ancient. Many things were lost in the ravages of Irk's first interplanetary war, which will be further elaborated under Control Brains. In essence, what remained intact of their culture afterwards was heavily filtered folklore and shameless anti-emotional propaganda. It is a testament to the sheer power of Zleek'a'den that it survived the purge, despite its inherent individualism and passion.
We have already mentioned that an Irken must never cease fighting, just as a Morphian shark must never cease to swim, lest it suffocate from grime encrusted gills. Zleek'a'den is a primal bond, formed from the most intimate of relationships available to an Irken: conflict. The partners of Zleek'a'den might be considered archrivals. Once invoked, it has three principal aspects: Jurkadir ("to attack; to mess with"), kur'taylir ("to hold in one's heart"), gra'tua ("vengeance"). The etymology of these terms is telling, but for lack of space their basic meaning will do.
Though in the modern age these pair bonds are rare, Irkens tied in such a way have been known to commit every crime from murder to defection for the sake of their ongoing struggle. In the days of their first contact with the galaxy, and Irken poet once wrote:
"For every star above me I carry a scar from you
And for every breath I take I will take a breath from you."
Today, the Machine's agenda leaves little room for any such non-patriotic statements from the lower ranks, but the burn is just as strong. Your author once encountered a Zleek'a'den pair-bond in the depths of Vortian space. It shall suffice to say that such couples are not to be taken lightly. Not if one values one's limbs.
Guide to the Galaxy: Irkens
February March April May
Somehow, Dib always ended up in these kinds of situations. Currently, he'd backed himself into both a literal and figurative corner with his last maneuver, trying to regroup and formulate a plan B. All he'd ended up doing was surrounding himself with a host of ghouls at the back of the hi-skool, nasty pieces of work that had absolutely no reason to follow him so doggedly. No reason. At all.
Okay, so he might have resurrected this particular army of the damned last night. It was an accident. He'd only meant to bring one up, for research purposes, and it wasn't his fault that the directions were in traditional measurements. Everybody used metric.
The nearest ghoul gave him a nasty look, the kind that said, in no uncertain terms, "I'm going to rip your organs out and beat you with them." It wouldn't be much longer before the monster could make good on that promise, because Dib was down to his last vial of holy water after that episode with the vampires a month ago and he hadn't bothered gathering protective herbs since he was thirteen. So much for digital-age snobbery; those herbs would be really helpful right now.
Think, Dib. What do you know about undead vengeance driven monsters? You've seen like every horror movie ever filmed, you must have learned something.
Bricks scratched his palms. Okay, well, here goes nothing.
"Look!" he shouted, "a truck full of black comedians and cheerleaders!"
The ghouls all looked.
Dib ducked under limbs and rolled out of the alley before they gathered their undead wits. The street was mostly creature free—also human free, since the much-beloved professor Membrane was having one of his SCIENCE! ™ lectures downtown. Which of course meant that no one else was going to see the army of the dead wandering around outside. Of course.
As Dib fled, he struggled for a solution to the problem. There are two ways to send the dead back to hell: you can use the reversal spell in the Grimoire, or you can nuke their ectoplasm molecularly. Since the first ghoul he summoned had eaten his Grimoire, that left only option two. Now, where could he get his hands on Utonium and trihydrogen-monophosphide?
Rhetorical question. Obviously it was Zim's house.
So… he was going to have to ask Zim for help. And hope that Zim didn't just laugh in his face, which he totally would, but there wasn't time to hack into the house's system right now. He'd have to think on his feet.
Dib raced across town—luckily, Zim's house was kind of in the middle of it, so it didn't take him long. He stopped at the fence, panting, and eyed the gnomes; the little guardians sat motionless, lightless, almost… dead. The human took a tentative step onto the property, and then another, and was worried to find himself not sporting laser-burns. He really should have been shot at by now.
As a paranormal mentor had once told him, there are only two reasons why a door is left open: someone is expecting you, or there's no one alive left to close it.
He dashed up to the door unmolested and wrapped cold fingers around the knob. Okay, the moment of truth was at hand, now to determine the fate of humanity. He pushed it open.
It was dark inside, which was a very bad sign, and GIR was nowhere to be seen, which was a worse sign. He heard something muffled, like a body hitting a wall two rooms away (yes, he was well acquainted with the sound). Severely unnerved now, Dib made his way to the edge of Zim's kitchen and peeked inside, spying a dark lump curled against the far wall. The processing center of his brain skittered over that detail like a truck sliding across ice. What? No. Couldn't be.
And then, he noticed the ghouls.
Two things went through his head in that moment: first, that Zim really couldn't keep anything out of his house, and second, that Zim was in actual, real danger.
That took precious seconds to wrap his mind around. Zim never got killed. Zim was always, always alright. He was nuclear, he was a freak of nature, he was too damn stupid to die. But… those ghouls looked extra-pissed off, and Zim was out cold there on the floor. Dib realized in a moment of sinking horror that the invader didn't stand a chance.
Before he knew what was going on, he was uncorking that last vial of holy water and skidding past a quintet of homicidal spirits into his second figurative/literal corner of the last thirty minutes.
"Back off!" he shouted, wrapping an arm around the alien's limp form. "Back off and I won't melt your stupid souls from your stupid molecules!"
The ghouls grimaced and moved closer, hesitantly, as if they weren't quite sure whether he was bluffing or not. Well, he could take out two of them, maybe three if his aim was good, but it was something of a bluff for all of that. He couldn't just leave Zim here; he'd have to think of something. Something crazy enough to work.
Popping the cork out of the vial with his teeth, Dib poured half the liquid over his hands and tucked the rest of it into the crook of Zim's arm. He took a deep breath and jumped, fist connecting with the stomach of the closest ghoul—another blow to the forehead, leaving glowing marks where his fingers met ectoplasm. The monster dissolved into radioactive goop on the linoleum, just as its brother figured out what had happened.
Dib found himself in the particularly unique situation of a fistfight with three ghouls, thanking the universe between blows for all his recently acquired fistfighting expertise. Foreheads were the place to aim, he remembered that now.
As he took down the last two of his opponents, he realized belatedly that there had been one more of the resurrected freaks wandering around. An unaccounted-for aggressor. Now, where was the last monster always waiting?
His heart sank. Oh, oh crap.
He turned back to Zim—Zim's crumpled form—and found his final ghoul swooping in for the kill. Inches away and closing in fast. The next thing he was aware of, Dib had his knees planted in the not-quite-solid creature's abdomen, punching the hell out of it. His knuckles screamed against the hard pane of the ghoul's forehead.
"Don't you touch him!" he shouted, feeling the last of the holy water smear off his hands and still not stopping. "Don't you fucking touch him!"
The ghoul started to glow, and it was only then that Dib's hands slowed, only then that his heart started to beat properly again. As the monster below him dissipated into ectoplasm and air, he gave the soggy remains one last punch.
"Nobody touches him," Dib said. "That bastard is mine."
There was a groan from behind him, then, and Dib nearly flipped himself over trying to turn backwards. Ruby-red eyes blinked at him, a little dull from something akin to a concussion- Irken or human, living beings were not meant to be thrown at walls. The alien coughed, a fleck of pink blood on his lips.
"...Dar ke'jurkadi kaysh. Verd'ika... cuyi ner."
What? Was that Irken? "Um… hold on, man. Dang it, just give me a second, I can… um…"
The invader's PAK gave a buzz and jolted him, causing tremors in his gloved fingers. "Relax, pitiful human," Zim muttered, "your future overlord is unharmed."
"Overlord my…" Dib stopped and considered the collection of bruises and cuts on his enemy. The waspishness bled right out of him. What the heck had he used, a grenade? The crazy little… "Tis but a flesh wound, huh?"
Zim crawled to his feet, unsteady, and leaned against the wall. "Come, Dibling," the Irken said, a bit more life in his voice now. "We have war to make on these filthy zom-ees. For now, the magnificent Zim must lower himself to your microscopic level, if he wishes to keep them out of his beloved Zim-home."
"Hey, screw you," Dib said, but accepted the vial of clear liquid in the alien's now outstretched hand all the same. Well, he did come here for help, after all. He could ignore some token insults if it got rid of the ghouls.
And if he had the slightest idea what that buzzing in his chest was, where the relief seeping through his veins came from—or the slightest idea what those Irken words had meant…
Well, he wouldn't have been Dib.
The ritual of Zleek'a'den is simple. Irken ceremonies in general are simple things, with little pomp and fewer words. Like the ritual of alliance, Tsad ("partake of our battle, drink of our thirst, let our kills be one"), the Zleek'a'den ritual is constructed so that it can be recited anywhere from the heat of battle to a private communiqué. The interesting facet of the partnership is that it is retroactive as well as anticipatorily binding, meaning that one must save his partner from past and future dangers both.
Your author mentions this because of its greatest implication: the Irken belief in a soul mate, and in destiny.
Guide to the Galaxy: Irkens
"So," said Dib.
Something in the back compartment of the truck with them rattled dangerously.
"I've decided to give up on ever having a semblance of a normal life," Dib went on, conversationally. "I think I may just shave my head and wear a tinfoil hat at all times. I'm also thinking of converting to an intergalactic cult. Have any good recommendations?"
"I'm thinking Blortian," Zim replied, eyes narrow. "It involves rolling in mud. Zim imagines you would enjoy that, filth-child."
"Yeah? Child, says the undersized ego-maniac with a skin condition."
"Lies! This invader has gained five inches in the last galactic year!"
"With growth serum, which is cheating, Earth to Space-boy. And anyways, that puts you at what? Five feet?"
Zim never got a chance to reply, because the truck they were being transported in hit the fifth pot hole in the last ten minutes and knocked them both to the aluminum floor. Dib swore and peeled himself off the metal, rubbing new bruises carefully.
"If you hadn't tried to abduct that agent, we wouldn't be here right now!"
"And if you had not botched my ingenious abduction then we would not be here either!"
"Take a hike, you're incompetent enough for both of us!"
"Bal gar mirsh solus!"
Dib sat back on the metal floor, interlocking his fingers over his knees. There was suddenly a twinge of guilt behind his eyes, and it felt like the onset of a particularly bad headache. "You only talk in Irken when you're really stressed," he muttered. "Are you ...actually worried?"
Zim snorted unconvincingly. "Whaaat? Zim, afraid of a little autopsy? Why would the almighty Zim fear a few scalpels and restraints? Pffft, gar seri—I mean, uh, I am not worried!"
The human clenched his fingers, feeling rather than seeing the knuckles turn white.
The truck ground to a halt with the tell-tale thud of brakes engaged too quickly, and Dib twisted his handcuffs so that the links faced away from him. There were footsteps outside, and padlocks clicking.
"Follow my lead, okay?" he murmured.
"Zim follows no one!" the Irken hissed back.
"Yeah?" The door's last lock clicked open. "Well there's a first time for everything."
As the door swung wide, Dib leapt forward, fists clenched tight against each other, and crunched the first agent's nose with a repulsive meaty sound. Things happened quickly after that.
For all of Zim's professed uncooperativeness, the alien was only about two second behind Dib with gloved fists swinging. Together they combined the powers of surprise and violence, fending off the three federal agents long enough to escape across the sand and pavement into the nearest building. The structure loomed, a couching monster on the featureless sand, as Dib ducked through the darkened hallway first, his eyes peeled for trouble.
"Gar ke'hukaati," the Irken mumbled, probably without realizing it, and pushed his way in front of Dib. His maroon eyes glowed in the half-light, and Dib knew they were feeling the same thing: fear, adrenalin, elation. He knew because Zim had the same bent shoulders, the same grimace-smirk that he did.
The tiles stretched out, black and white endlessly in front of them, doors on either side. You had to wonder what was going on behind those doors—empty space, dust and files, or the stuff of Zim's nightmares. Judging from the occasional cursing mumbles, it wasn't hard to tell which Zim believed. In the near-darkness, Zim zapped their handcuffs with one of those very handy tools in his PAK.
Dib stared down at the heat-twisted metal links. "Why didn't you do that before?"
Dib wasn't very good with words, not really. He talked a lot, but people never seemed to hear what he was actually trying to say. Right now he would have given a lot of things to know the right words. The right words to make Zim calm down, to distract him, to bring him back to the important thing: the adrenalin, and the escape. Partially, because he knew that Zim's fear of autopsy was entirely his own fault… and partially, because he didn't like the invader being threatened by someone who wasn't him.
He couldn't trust anyone else to not kill Zim, and if Zim died… judging from past evidence, he would definitely flip out.
So Dib did about the only thing he could think to do: he started talking anyway.
"I never thought I'd actually get into area 51," he said. "I mean, I've tried but the government really doesn't like my organization and they're kind of stingy with the evidence. Actually, I never really knew if it was a hoax or not—until now, this doesn't look like a hoax does it? I can't believe I'm here and I'm still not gonna get to see anything cool. I can't believe they picked me up too, I mean, what the heck did I do? It's like every time you do something idiotic, I'm the one who pays for it. I'd say it's your doing, but that's giving you way too much credit."
"I deserve all your credit, dirt-beast. All your credit is belonging to Zim!"
Dib gave a little sigh of relief. Good. "Don't shout, space-boy. Or do you want the whole compound to hear us?"
Zim kicked him.
A little red glow faded into being at the distant end of the hall—exit sign, buzzing anxiously in the dark. They burst into a run, and their footsteps rang between the walls. Zim grinned at him with zippered teeth, flexing fists, and Dib grinned back because, in his heart of hearts, he didn't really think that anything could take down either of them. Nothing ever had, and nothing ever would—certainly not as long as they were fighting together, because for all that he spent most of his life these days messing with the alien, there was really nobody he'd rather have at his back at moments like these.
Something like pride stirred in his chest, but sharper and more invidious.
"You ready?" he asked, hand on the opening bar.
Zim's grin grew. "You have no idea, Dibling."
They burst into the sunlight. Some number of agents were milling outside, and across the courtyard there was a garage, the huge military kind jacked up with hummers and helicopters and everything in between. Zim extended the legs in his PAK, points dangerously sharp, and dove in; Dib applied the remains of his handcuffs to a few choice faces. Once in the middle of the chaos, a glint of steel caught Dib's eye and he turned, swiping aside the gun that had been pointed at Zim's back.
You have to watch your partner's back.
A couple close calls and five steady minutes of punching, stabbing and kicking found them panting in the dust, surrounded by six uniformed bodies—not all of which were certain to have a pulse at that point. They took a second to simply breathe.
"No so-" gasp, "-tough, huh?"
"Chakaare," Zim agreed, retracting spider-like legs. "Ke nu jurkad sha mhi, burc'ya."
Dib gave him a look. "You're just doing that to confuse me now, aren't you?"
"Don't be silly, Verd'ika."
A shout rang out before Dib could start another fight, and more suits rushed into the courtyard behind them. The human took one look at the new arrivals, grabbed Zim's gloved hand, and took off for the hangar, dragging the alien along with him. His boots fought for traction in the Nevada desert sand, miraculously finding it as a bullet buried itself about an inch to the left of him. Okay, so now they wouldn't shoot at Zim but they'd shoot at him? How was that fair?
They skidded through the entrance and punched the door-close button, waited for tense seconds while the agents raced to beat the shrinking entrance—and the door slammed shut in front of them.
Zim glanced at Dib. "So… I CALL PILOT!"
He dashed towards the nearest military vehicle, which in the darkness looked like a hummer on steroids. Might have been a buffalo.
"You're a terrible pilot!" Dib cried, racing after him. "No way I'm letting you take us out of here!"
"You could always stay, Dib-human!" Zim sang back, ducking into the driver's seat.
"…Fat chance of that," Dib mumbled, flopping into the passenger seat. He figured he could probably wrestle the control away once they left Area 51—until then, maybe some of Zim's patently destructive driving could be useful.
The Irken grabbed the key—what idiot left the key in the ignition? Was this a military base or wasn't it?—and he turned it, grinning manically as the engine roared to life.
"Bust through the wall?" Dib suggested, buckling his seat belt.
"Bust through the wall," Zim agreed.
They looked at each other for a split second, and something passed between them that Dib had felt before, a hundred times in a hundred fleeting, crazy moments, and never quite understood. But it was like hysteria and triumph, and it was the sight of Zim laughing viciously on a battle field, and it was the burning sensation in his veins just before a fight, and it was knowing that no matter what he did or where he went Zim would be there—his partner or his enemy, or both.
Verd'ika cuyi ner, he remembered Zim saying
"Zleek'a'den, huh," he said, as the engine revved.
"Yes," Zim replied, dark eyes burning dangerously. "And Zim is pleased to have you, Verd'ika. He would take no one else."
Dib fished a handgun out from under the seat and smiled the kind of smile that spread like toxins and oozed with glee.
And they broke out into the desert sunlight.
Love is everywhere in the galaxy. In all your author's travels, it is the one constant that seems to exist in all places and among all sentient races. It goes by many names, carries many connotations, many practices, many meanings. But in all places at all times, it exists. Perhaps it is the nature of sentience.
To hold someone or something almost-irrationally above all other things; to relinquish—even if for a few seconds only—your own perspective in favor of theirs. It defies all logic, all should-be's and would-be's. It is a kind of madness: sometimes a subtle lunacy, sometimes a wild stupidity.
That is love. And let no Irken tell you that he is immune.
He is not.
Guide to the Galaxy: Irkens