Everything was white. 'Everything' meaning the walls and ceiling; there was nothing else in the room but a large, open window.
He paced back and forth, his boots clicking on the smooth metal floor. The breeze blowing through the window was cold and biting and had the smell of changing seasons on it. It would be winter soon, snowy, shivery Earth winter. It never failed to amaze him how one planet could be both baking hot and freezing cold by turns.
He veered from his path, ending up by the window, looking out. He was on the top floor of the building and he could see the whole city from up here.
Looking through the window felt different from looking through the spherical windshield of the Voot cruiser. There was so much Earth out there. He shuddered and pulled away, pacing back and forth some more with his eyes on his legs.
Instead of his nice, formal uniform he was wearing a slightly oversized pair of overalls that were badly stained with laboratory spills. He would change as soon as he got home and in the future he would be more careful about wearing clothes he wouldn't mind being trapped in in the case of an unexpected contingency such as this one.
He realized he was holding his hands up in front of his chest. Silly of him. He was a trained Invader and surely by now he was beyond making a fuss over sore hands.
He shoved them into his pockets and kept pacing. Soon enough he found himself at the window again. There was nothing else in here to look at except for the open doorway, which led to white, empty hallway.
He put his hands on the windowsill and leaned forward, looking down at the city, then up at the cloudy sky. The window was completely open without even a screen and he realized he was leaning out rather far and could, in fact, fall fifty stories if he wasn't careful. He pulled away.
One of the deeper cuts on his knuckle was irksomely sore. He put it in his mouth and started to suck on it while studying his other hand.
His gloves had been totally shredded, so he'd taken them off. His hands looked so pale without them. The cuts and scratches stood out jarringly, even now.
The few Band-Aids that he'd bothered to haphazardly apply- and that hadn't already fallen off- were peeling and limp. Gross. He picked them off and let them fall to the floor.
He had been wearing safety goggles when he'd been taken here three days ago and had not taken them off since, not wanting to show any possible sign that he had been inconvenienced by these people. Now they were making his face awfully sore. He re-adjusted them for the hundredth time, reflecting that he would have livid marks on his face when he took them off. Hopefully they would have faded by the time he had to go to skool on Monday.
There was a noise from the doorway and the scent of human. He turned.
"Lovely view, isn't it?" the human said, and Zim realized he was still standing by the window.
"Enh," he said, glancing out at the world below. "It's Earth. And it's really time I should be leaving."
The human nodded. "Oh, of course."
Oh good. Oh good. That was a good reaction. Previously the humans had given no sign that they expected him to return to his base at all.
"There's a car outside waiting for you now," the human said.
Now? Zim started in shock, then hurried into the hallway before remembering that he didn't want to look too eager. He stopped, making an effort to look blasé about the whole thing. But not too blasé. Heaven forbid he give the impression he wanted to stay here.
"You'll need to take these home with you," the human said, handing Zim a sheaf of flyers. He took them, flipped through them rapidly to let off a bit of nervous energy and not because he cared what was in them, and stuffed them into his pocket. Then he hissed. The edge of one of the pieces of paper had caught on his skin and given him a nasty paper cut.
He stared at the fresh wound. It looked like an innocent, colorless flap of skin. It stung like a Tallest-flookar.
The human cleared his throat. "Paper cut?"
He shook himself. "It's nothing. You said there was a car?"
"Oh, yes. This way."
He led Zim down the hall to what appeared on first glance to be a blank wall. The human touched the wall and it opened to reveal an elevator.
They stepped inside. The elevator began to descend. Zim looked down, tapping his foot. He was wearing big clunky boots to protect against acid spills. He wanted his other boots back. From now on, he'd carry a change of clothes in his Pak at all times.
The elevator ride was a bit on the long side. The human, apparently becoming bored, eventually cleared his throat and said: "Forgive me if I'm rude. What happened to your hands?"
"Your hands. They're all scratched up."
Zim flipped one of the hands in question in a dismissive gesture. "It's not important."
The human shifted his weight back and forth. "Ah."
Zim stuffed his hands into his pockets to prevent further questioning. He sort of squashed the flyers in the process but whatever.
The elevator ride continued.
"Have you been an Invader long?"
One of Zim's antennae twitched. "Quite long," he said.
"Ah. What did you do before?"
Zim turned to him. "Heh. I'm sorry. I don't discuss my life with members of the species I'm assigned to utterly crush."
The human pulled away. "Sorry. I understand. I'd be the same way."
Zim stared at the elevator doors.
A lifetime later they finally opened. Zim was led down another hallway. This one had additional halls branching off of it.
While passing one of them, Zim stopped and looked down it.
"What is it?" the human asked.
The hall turned halfway in so Zim couldn't see what was at the end. The floor was tile and very clean. It had a very surgical look to it.
For some reason Zim had the distinct idea that he never wanted to go in there. He couldn't explain it, really. Though, there was just a hint of a funny smell in the air… even though the humans had apparently tried extremely hard to extinguish whatever it was with air freshener.
Zim shook his head. "Never mind. Bring me to this car."
The parking lot was not as bare as the inside of the building, but close. Zim counted three cars in the entire lot besides the one that was by the doorway, waiting for him.
The human went to the passenger door and opened it helpfully. Zim did not go towards the car but lingered in the open a minute, looking around at the parking lot, the city lights in the distance, the tall, gleaming building behind him, the sidewalk, the stars (fuzzy through a thin haze of clouds) and the gleaming full moon. He had never thought he would be glad to see Earth scenery, but after three days of nothing but white metal-
The human cleared his throat. Zim got in the car. It was a smallish car, and he knew of course that he wouldn't be able to get out once it started moving, but that shouldn't be a problem... it wouldn't be a problem, would it?
"Now remember to give out those flyers wherever you can," the human said. Zim muttered incoherently in a tone of grudging assent, and shut the door.
The driver was too polite, too disinterested or too brain-dead to offer any conversation. Zim spent the ride home silently staring glassy-eyed out the window at the passing scenery.
He wasn't used to riding in land vehicles and he was feeling rather carsick by the time they pulled up in front of the base. He scrambled out of the car without a word to the driver and stood for a moment doubled over with his hands on his knees, breathing slowly. The car sped off behind him.
Zim headed into his base, shutting the door behind him and leaning on it. He let out a long, hissing breath and pulled the stupid goggles off his head, letting them drop to the floor beside him. He rubbed his eyes, then kicked off the clunky boots and undid the snaps of the overalls, wriggling out of them. This left him with just an undershirt and pants.
The base seemed unusually quiet.
"Computer. Where is GIR?"
"Eh?" the computer said. "Oh. You're back. I don't know where GIR is."
Zim nodded and folded his arms over his chest. "Of course you don't. He's probably out spending my collected Earth money."
He tapped his foot on the floor. "I'll need to call the Tallest and give them a full report." He yawned. "But not now. Take me to the research room."
The floor lowered beneath him, dropping him into a room that contained nothing but a comfortable purple chair and a computer station.
Zim turned on the screen and checked for messages left by the Tallest while he was away. Finding none, he leaned back in the chair, closing his eyes. It felt good to finally be away from humans.
Greaves entered the control room with some hesitation. His boss was sitting at the monitoring station, as usual.
Greaves went close enough to be noticed and hung there for a moment, waiting to be spoken to. A few moments of silence drug on before:
"Did you get rid of the Irken?"
Greaves nodded. "Just in time, too."
Peter exhaled a cloud of cigarette smoke. "Meaning?"
"It asked about going home when I went up to get it. It was getting anxious. They can be trouble when they're anxious."
Peter nodded. "What did you think of it, observing it in person?"
Greaves considered this. "What did you think of it?"
Peter raised an eyebrow at the main monitoring screen. "Typical snotty Irken."
Greaves was silent for a moment, considering, and then he said: "I'm not so sure."
"Really. Why not?"
"It seems a bit…" Greaves hesitated. "Different. Not right in the head. For one thing, I think it suspected something. It paused when it passed the hall to the Chamber. And for another…" He bit his lip lightly while Peter waited for him to continue. "I think it's distrustful of us in general. It's not enthusiastic about the flyers. Have you bugged its base?"
Peter gave him a cold stare. "Do I look stupid to you? I had its base bugged the day we took it here. Bugged the robots, too."
"There were two."
Greaves's eyes went wide. "Two SIR units?"
"No, a SIR and some kind of toy."
Greaves smoothed his hair back. "A toy. What's it doing with a toy?"
Peter looked back at his screens. "They're spoiled, violent children. I'll check their networks for any information about an Invader Zim if it makes you feel better."
"I think you should. I really think you should. It was completely alert at all times and its responses to my questions were snide and showed strong signs of individuality. I really think it could be a problem."
Peter nodded. "I'll run a full check on it and review our footage for warning signs. Now get back to work."
Greaves nodded and turned away. He hesitated, and looked back over his shoulder. "Sir- what's the most trouble an Irken could cause us?"
"Call the Armada down on our heads and annihilate our species. As long as we handle things correctly that won't happen. Now get back to work."
Not much comforted, Greaves left the room.