Chapter 1: The Dream
Oh, come on. The magazine said it would do something cool. I paid twenty dollars for this thing! The sound of metal-on-metal. A sharp snap-something had broken. Oops. Blue light filled his mind, as if it was imprinted on the backs of his eyelids. I know I can fix it. I just have to keep prying at it! His ears rang and his own words filtered through his head despite his tossing and turning in a subconscious effort to rid himself of the sounds. What was going on? Where was that blue light coming from? Wait-there was a new sound now. What was that?
Static buzzed from the clock on the nightstand. The noise had started as soon as the digital face of the clock flicked to seven in the morning. The static faded into a grainy broadcast of a man who seemed to be holding a conversation.
"...and I think we all know how that feels!" he was saying with a laugh. "But hey-at least you now know the proper way of ridding your house of a banshee! Maybe next time you'll be more careful with the smelling salts and that rooster. Anyway, it is now seven in the A.M. and for those of you just joining us, you're listening to Parawatch, your one-stop station for news of the supernatural, twenty-four hours a day!" Some sort of off-tune jingle played after his words but ended almost as soon as it had started. "And to continue our discussion on banshees, our next guest has come all the way from Ireland to shed some light on this fascinating creature!"
Dib snapped awake and sat up quickly in bed, his strange dream about blue light vanishing immediately. "Banshees! What was that? What were they just saying about banshees? Who-nyah!" He jerked away from the morning sunlight that permeated the window above his bed and seemed harshly bright to his sleep-filled eyes. Rubbing them vigorously, he turned to stare at his alarm clock.
"Oh yes, I consider myself the foremost expert on the banshee!" a man with a reedy voice and an Irish accent said from it. "Since I've had so many encounters with them."
Dib scowled. He recognized that voice. It was some professor from Ireland who occasionally appeared on Mysterious Mysteries-and he was a total fraud. If that guy had had even one real encounter with a banshee, then Dib was a chupacabra. There really wasn't much point in listening to this any longer.
Ignoring the continuing drawl issuing from the clock radio, Dib put on his glasses and slipped out of bed. He walked about two steps before pain shot through his foot. With a gasp he stumbled backwards and searched the ground for what he had stepped on. There! Dib knelt and picked it up. It was a shard of crystal fused to a bit of twisted metal. Well. Uh. No wonder his foot hurt. But what on Earth was something like this doing on the floor? And where had it even come from? Dib shook his head and put the shard on his nightstand. He'd figure that out later-in the meantime he needed to hurry to the bathroom and bandage his foot.
The sun was warm and bright and soaked into Dib's black coat. It was almost warm enough for him to take the coat off... not that Dib would really seriously consider doing that. He liked his coat. It was nice weather for a walk to Skool, though, lots better than the cold streak of days they'd been having (and would probably be having again, since it was still March).
"Dad wasn't happy about that explosion last night."
"Huh?" Dib peered at his sister, who kept pace with him on the sidewalk.
"The explosion. The one in your room." Gaz was speaking to Dib as if he had about three brain cells. "Dad wasn't happy about it."
Dib racked his memory. Explosion? What explosion?
Gaz continued on. "He thought you were using some of his equipment for your stupid research."
"I..." Dib couldn't think of anything to say. He was completely confused. Gaz squinted at him and raised an eyebrow.
"He said you weren't allowed to use his equipment anymore at all."
"I didn't-" Dib started to protest, but Gaz had already walked off. He frowned in thought. What was Gaz talking about? Why couldn't he remember-OH! Dib stood stock-still. Right! That talisman. The one from the magazine. The one that HADN'T WORKED. The magazine had promised that the talisman contained "supernatural powers the likes of which you could never imagine." Well, despite Dib's many attempts to get the amulet to do something to merit that lofty description, nothing whatsoever had happened. And then... and then he'd tried to pry it apart with a screwdriver, sure that there was nothing paranormal about it at all. And, contrary to the magazine's description, the stupid talisman had exploded in a wave of brilliant blue light and sent shrapnel all over the room.
Talk about false advertising.
It was all coming back now-but it had only happened last night. Strange that he had forgotten. He looked around and started when he saw that Gaz was far ahead of him. Breaking into a run, he hurried to catch up.
Ms. Bitters stood at the front of the classroom and flicked through slides on a presentation. The slides displayed images of things that almost looked like statues. Casts of people and animals in contorted positions, many lying down or looking as if they were trying to crawl away.
"Ash blanketed the entire city!" Ms. Bitters drawled. "Not one miserable citizen of Pompeii escaped the dreadful rage of Mount Vesuvius. They died instantly and the hot ash was imprinted with the impressions of their bodies, allowing us, thousands of years later, to create casts of them and put them on display for tourists." Still more pictures went by on the slideshow. Dib avoided looking at them. They were just creepy-even for him.
Across the room, Zim waved one of his arms. "Ms. Bitters! Tell me... are there any active volcanoes around here?" He had a strange little smirk on his face that Dib didn't like at all.
Ms. Bitters remained impassive. "No. There aren't. Our government believes it's 'too risky' for anyone to live next to a volcano so they've all been REMOVED."
Zim attempted to hide his momentary disappointment but his eyes shone with a light that betrayed his thoughts. He was thinking about one of his horrible world-domination schemes. Dib glared at him suspiciously and scrawled down a few notes.
The lunch bell rang and Ms. Bitters made a sweeping gesture toward the door. "Go! Everyone! And if anyone tries to leave Skool grounds after lunch again, like LAST week, I'll use my supply of leeches on you again!"
With a collective shudder the class stood and started heading to the cafeteria. Dib followed, stowing his notebook in his pocket.
"Hey GUUUUYS! Watch thiiiiis!"
Dib, sitting next to Gaz at their lunch table, stared. A kid-everyone else called him Lizard Boy, but Dib didn't really know him-was standing up on one of the nearby tables and was holding up a glass cup.
"There's a spider in here!" Lizard Boy said excitedly, pointing to it. And then, to Dib's horror, he put the open end of the cup to his mouth and darted his tongue around inside. Like, well, a lizard.
"I think that guy's in your grade," Gaz said. Dib felt a bit sick and forced himself to look away from the spectacle. He occupied himself instead with the settings on his wristcom watch. It was set to monitor Zim's computer and the readings spiked into the red... What was going on? Dib did a sweeping scan of the cafeteria. Zim was nowhere to be seen. Nothing to worry about. Maybe he was still in the lunch line! No wait, it was empty. Where was he? And why did his computer look like it was active?
"Gaz! Zim's not here!" Dib said urgently, reaching over and shaking his sister's arm. "He was in class but he's not here now-d'you think he left?"
Gaz growled and turned away from him to continue eating her lunch. Okay. She wasn't going to be much help. Dib opened his notebook and flipped through it, searching for clues as to what Zim might be up to. He froze. The volcano thing. No! Even Zim couldn't be stupid enough to try to make an active volcano or something!
Dib scarfed down the rest of his lunch as fast as he could, muttered, "Cover for me!" to Gaz, and went over to dump his tray. Then, casting furtive glances left and right, he left through the back doors that led to the Dumpsters outside. All right, edge around these... duck under the windows... skirt around the corner... okay! Dib stood on the road and the Skool was out of sight. That... was easier than he'd thought. Of course if he got caught off Skool grounds he'd have to face the leeches. But that was a small price to pay for saving the Earth! Or so he convinced himself.
Dib ran all the way to Zim's house. When he reached the edge of the gnome field he skidded to a stop, panting. There was no one around. Where had Zim gone? He calmed his breathing and listened. Aha-faint maniacal-sounding laughter! There was no mistaking that. And it was coming from... the roof? Dib looked up to see Zim perched on top of his roof, doing something to the satellite dish. Dib had to get up there!
Before he could change his mind he jumped and pulled himself up to stand on the fence that surrounded the house. He flailed for a moment, then managed to regain his balance before he fell into the yard. Carefully he made his way along the fence until he reached the wall of Zim's house. He stared in disbelief. The window! It was wide open! Geez, he could just climb right inside! Wow. He could slip through there and then make his way to the roof from the inside. There had to be some sort of access to it in there... Zim had somehow gotten to the roof, after all. Dib certainly didn't want to scale the outside of the house without his climbing gear. It was a long way up.
Zim worked quickly, opening the access panel on his satellite dish and hammering the buttons in a precise order. This was brilliant. Why hadn't he thought of it before?
A touch screen opened on the satellite dish and Zim slid his fingers over it, entering in calculations. After all, Tak had created a magma pump. And that's all a volcano was, wasn't it? Magma from the center of the Earth, surging upward and destroying all in its wake? Yes, that sounded right. And his base was set up well for this, too, with the majority of it extending far underground. With this, and the signal he would send out to every other powerful structure that extended underground, he could send waves through the planet that would start up a volcano in no time! All he needed to do was pull this lever, punch in this code... Heh, it was as if he'd been anticipating this, his greatest plan EVER, when he had designed his base! How clever of him.
"Observe, GIR!" he said to his robot minion, who stood beside him slurping nastily on a Suck Monkey. Zim pulled away from the control panel and spread his arms. "Prepare to witness the destruction of ALL MANKIND!"
Suddenly there was a slam and Zim whirled around. Dib was crawling through the trapdoor in the roof. DIB! How had he gotten up here? How dare he intrude upon the house of ZIM? He should be lying dead in the gnome field!
"Zim!" Dib shouted, climbing onto the roof. "What are you doing? You won't get away with this!"
"Volcanoes, Dib!" Zim said. He felt the need to gloat about his plan to someone besides GIR. "The human race is extremely sensitive to volcanic eruptions, yes? I am going to turn the entire CITY into a volcano and every smelly human will be wiped out-just like the horrible statue-people of Pompeii!"
"That's insane!" Dib cried. He stumbled-the roof was slicker than he thought. He gripped the side of the door he had just come through in an effort to keep from falling off.
"Isn't it?" Zim said. He pressed several more buttons on the control panel. "You can have the honor of being the first human to be DESTROYED, Dib." He narrowed his eyes and his finger hovered over the last-the very last-switch, relishing the moment.
Dib had to act. NOW. With a yell he pushed away from the door and ran at Zim, knocking the alien away from the controls. Zim sprang back to his feet.
"You're too late, Dib!" he taunted. "It's already STARTED!"
The ground was rumbling. Dib's eyes widened and he punched buttons at random. There had to be something he could do to stop this! SOMETHING! Zim rose up on the mechanical spider legs that emerged from his PAK until he towered over Dib. He stabbed down at the paranormal enthusiast with one robotic leg, but Dib dodged out of the way. None of these buttons were working! The world was literally shaking now, and he knew that it wouldn't be too much longer before they had an erupting volcano on their hands. There was only one thing he could think of to put a stop to this.
Zim spun one of his spider legs around and slammed it into Dib's stomach, flinging him backwards. Dib gasped in pain and scrambled back up to the door he had come through. Come on, follow me... follow me you stupid alien! he thought grimly.
"Pathetic human! It's OVER!" Zim snarled, chasing after him. Dib dodged a third attack and leapt back toward the control panel. Zim slashed at him with his spider legs one final time; Dib jumped out of the way, and the spider legs tore into the control panel.
The satellite dish shredded like tissue paper under the contact of the spider legs. "NO!" The legs retracted and Zim ran to the destroyed control panel. "All my calculations! My programs! GONE!" He spun around. "This is your fault, Dib!"
Dib clung to the roof as best he could. The earthquake hadn't stopped. It should've stopped!
"You'll pay for this!" Zim advanced, but at that moment the Earth gave a great lurch. Zim fell backwards and Dib's grip was jarred loose. With a scream Dib slipped and tumbled off the roof and into the empty air, down...
...And the last things he saw were the beady, glowing red eyes of the lawn gnomes, glaring up at him.
Chapter 2: Volcano Malfunction
This chapter was written by Alohilani, with input/editing from Jaywings.
Dib recoiled, covering his face with his arms in some futile attempt to absorb some of the impact. "NO! THE GNOMES! NOOOOOOOO-"
And then he fell out of bed.
Dib blinked into the morning sunlight, twice, two blinks. He sat up and rubbed the back of his head.
He was tangled in blankets, he was wearing his pajamas, he was… he was not colliding with a field of gnomes and dying. But he could remember. He could remember the sizzling smell of burning flesh and the crunch of his own body. He could remember dizzying darkness and, and…
Zim. Zim must have somehow done something to-
Static buzzed out of the clock radio. Dib jerked backwards, yelping, and hit his head on the side of the bed.
The static faded into a man's voice. "...and I think we all know how that feels!" he was saying with a laugh. "But hey- at least you now know the proper way of ridding your house of a banshee! Maybe next time you'll be more careful with-"
Dib turned off the radio. "Sorry, Parawatch," he muttered, putting on his glasses. "I have an alien to go after. Right now!"
He wrestled into his clothes and ran for the door. Zim would pay for th- "OW!"
Dib sat down heavily on the bed. He'd stepped on something. A shard of crystal… fused to a bit of twisted metal… another shard from that stupid amulet. It looked just like the one he'd stepped on yesterday.
Funny, the wound from that one didn't hurt at all anymore.
Dib blitzed down the stairs and out the front door and down the walk and-
He stopped and looked over his shoulder. When Gaz sounded that angry, you stopped and looked at her when she called your name, or really, when she did anything.
"Where are you GOING?" she demanded, glaring at him from the doorway.
"Gotta stop Zim! Messing with my brains!"
"I'm not allowed to walk to skool without you, remember? And you're not allowed to make me late."
Dib shook his head. "It's Saturday."
She opened an eye at him. "No it's not."
"Yesterday was Friday."
"Today is Friday."
Standing there arguing with his sister about what day it was didn't seem like a sane thing to do, even if Dib was right. And he had to be. "I tell you what," he said. "You can walk to skool by yourself, I won't tell Dad. You got that tracker off, right?"
She studied him a moment, then closed her eye. "Yeah."
"Okay, I think we're good, then," Dib said. "Have fun at skool." He took off down the sidewalk.
Only Zim clearly wasn't at home.
Dib prowled back and forth just outside Zim's yard. That stupid alien could be anywhere. What now?
Dib caught a flash of yellow out of the corner of his eye and turned to see a skool bus going down the street.
Could he have been wrong about what day it was?
Or could Zim have done something?
Dib decided to check out the skool.
Skool was... skool was very definitely in session. Dib walked in the door to hear a general cacophonous rabble of students.
He slunk down the hall, sticking close to the wall. He could see Marco the hall monitor hanging around near the lockers.
Dib tried to hurry past in a manner that made it look like he was only coming back from a perfectly innocent trip to the restroom.
"Not so fast!"
A hand landed on Dib's shoulder. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried not to inhale too much of Marco's foul breath.
"Where's your hall pass?" Marco demanded, poking Dib in the back with his free hand. "Show it to me right now!"
Marco had used to be a sweet kid before his liver disappeared one fateful day. Now he seemed to think he needed to take his revenge for that on the entire skool.
"Well," Dib said, eyes shifting back and forth, "I... I'm just coming in to skool now, actually."
Marco slammed him up against the wall, knocking the wind out of him. "A likely story!"
"No! No, really! I'm just late- is that pepper spray? You've gotta be kidding me!"
Dib staggered into Miss Bitters' class an hour late, scrubbing the last remnants of pepper spray out of his stinging face. All sound in the room stopped when he entered. All eyes were trained on him. Dib only had eyes for one of his classmates.
"Dib!" Miss Bitters snarled. "Detention. All weekend."
"Yes, Miss Bitters," he said, marching towards a desk that was not his. The student sitting at the desk was trying to disappear into the back of his chair- if you could even call that hideous green thing a student.
Dib grabbed a generous fistful of slippery-textured pink uniform, glaring into terrified eyes at least two sizes too big to be human. "You," he said.
"Unhand me!" Zim spat, grabbing Dib's wrist. "How dare you!"
Dib let go. He was angry, but not so angry that he was going to stay within range of Zim's backhand. "You-" What had Zim done? Dib grabbed the first offense he could think of. "You exist!"
Zim had the gall to look insulted.
"And you made it not be Saturday anymore!"
"What? I did? When?"
"SILENCE!" Miss Bitters cried in a piercing, soul-rattling howl. "Dib! Sit down! Zim! Leave the fabric of space-time alone unless you magically become intelligent."
Zim sat bolt upright, his cheeks flushing bright green with anger. "I've done NOTHING! Not a single thing-" He slammed a tiny fist on the top of his desk. "This human just wants to persecute me!"
"You're trying to destroy us all!"
Zim glared. "Liar! He lies and he-"
"I SAID SHUT UP!"
Something black flickered behind Miss Bitters' glasses. Zim, Dib and everyone else in the room made themselves small and quiet.
The lunch bell rang. Dib jumped.
"Get out," Miss Bitters snarled. On the way out of the room Dib noticed 'VOLCANOES' was written on the blackboard. Hadn't she talked about that yesterday?
"It's Saturday, durr," Gaz mimicked as Dib sat down beside her.
"It's supposed to be!" Dib insisted. It was ketchup and rice day. It had been ketchup and rice day yesterday. This was shaping up to be a horrible week. "Zim did something. I think. I don't know why, or how... or why, because I think he hates skool more than anyone else here, but he did something." Dib's voice lost some of its certainty towards the end of that- there was something nagging at his brain. He couldn't quite put his finger on it.
"Whatever," Gaz muttered, sipping her chocolate milk.
"Hey GUUUUYS! Watch thiiiiis!"
Dib looked over his shoulder. A kid was standing up on one of the nearby tables and was holding up a glass cup. Hey, that was Lizard Boy. Funny, he'd gone under Dib's radar for most of the last two years- and Dib had a very sensitive radar- and here he was, making a scene two days in a row.
"There's a spider in here!" Lizard Boy said excitedly, pointing to it. And then he put the open end of the cup to his mouth and darted his tongue around inside. Like, well, a lizard.
"I think that guy's in your grade," Gaz said.
Dib frowned. "He did that yesterday."
Gaz shrugged. "Must like spiders."
Spiders might actually taste better than the cafeteria food, Dib had never tried them. And he wasn't going to. He shuddered.
He looked at the table where Zim usually sat alone, staring at his food, but the table was empty. Dib's eyes narrowed. Zim wasn't in the lunch line, either. Maybe he'd gone home because he felt too 'persecuted' or whatever... but if he had, it would be the first time.
Dib looked at his wristcom watch, still set to monitor Zim's computer, which was very definitely doing something.
"Hmm," he muttered. "Everyone else is doing the same thing they did yesterday. What if..."
"Cover for me" he said to Gaz, and ran into the hallway... where Marco the hall monitor promptly tackled him to the floor.
All he needed to do was pull this lever, punch in this code... Heh, it was as if he'd been anticipating this, his greatest plan EVER, when he had designed his base! How clever of him. Not that Zim was ever not clever. Ever.
"Observe, GIR!" he said to his robot minion, who stood beside him slurping nastily on a Suck Monkey. Zim pulled away from the control panel and spread his arms. "Prepare to witness the destruction of ALL MANKIND!"
He whipped around with a dramatic flourish and slammed his fist into the big red button in the center of the control panel.
"WARNING," the computer said.
Zim tipped his head back to squint at the ceiling. His antennae flattened to his scalp.
"Warning?" He didn't want 'warning', he wanted hot, immediate death to the Earth. His hands balled into fists.
"Yes, that's what I said," the computer said. "I'm always glad when you confirm you were listening, but you don't need to repeat everything I s-"
"DO IT ANYWAY!" Zim screeched, slamming his hands against the control panel. The longer the delay, the greater the chance that some other, more annoying interruption could show up.
The computer made a throat-clearing noise. "I really don't recommend that. Heat and pressure levels are beyond critical. Everything will probably just blow up in your face."
Zim shook his head. "Computer, Computer, Computer." He couldn't even count the number of things that had blown up in his face. He'd never died from it or anything. "Just... DO IT."
"Are you sure?"
"Are you... really sure?"
Zim shook his head, growling."DOES THIS LOOK UNSURE TO YOU?"
"All right, you want it? Fine. You got it."
And then the world exploded.
Dib hopped over Zim's fence into his yard and froze. This didn't seem to be the right house. This wasn't a house at all. This was a smoking crater.
But... no, there was one last surviving lawn gnome.
Dib approached the crater. He peeked inside it, marveling at the layers and layers of burnt, severed, sparking cables.
He must have gotten here too late. Zim had already tried whatever it was he'd been going to do, and failed. Dib hadn't really even been needed. Well, that was a bit of a letdown.
Though, really. Making a volcano out of his own house? Yeah. No way that wasn't going to go wrong.
Had that been what Zim was doing? Again? Why were all these things happening again? And where was Zim?
Dib looked around the yard. He heard a small, injured noise coming from behind a bush.
Zim was curled up in the fetal position behind the bush. He was covered in some weird, dark, sticky stuff and the side of his face looked... crispy. Dib shuddered.
Zim opened one eye. It took Dib a moment to realize that the other eye actually wasn't there anymore.
"All right," Dib said. "What did you do?"
Zim shuddered. He reached one hand in Dib's direction in a jerky, weak movement. Again, the other hand just wasn't there. It was a hideous sight... too bad Zim had amazing alien regenerative properties and would be fine in an hour. Unless... hold on...
Something else was missing. Zim's Pak. Dib looked about and saw it half-embedded in a nearby tree. What was left of it, anyway.
Dib looked down at Zim. Zim was staring back up at him, remaining eye glassy and unfocused.
"Zim, is that blood?" Dib asked. "What did you do to yourself?" He must be mistaken about something. Zim couldn't be as very badly hurt as he looked.
Zim squeaked a little.
Dib squatted down, getting closer to face-to-face, though not quite there because Zim was partly burrowed into the ground. Zim looked up at him still, still with that unseeing look, and again batted his hand in Dib's direction. He looked really very bad. But he got beat up and stuff all the time. He'd be totally fine, any minute now, really...
Zim was batting at him again.
"What do you want?" Dib asked.
Zim squeaked. Dib took his hand, turning it over and examining it. Three fingers. Black rubber glove that appeared to have partially melted.
Dib let go of Zim's hand and walked over to the tree, looking at the embedded Pak. It was broken in half, displaying a dazzling array of alien gadgetry.
"Don't you need this?" Dib said. "Well, obviously."
Zim whimpered. Dib could hear his harsh breathing from several feet away.
"It's broken," Dib mused. "That can't be good." Well, duh, he thought.
Dib pulled a fragment of Pak out of the tree, studied it, and stuck it in his pocket. He tried to pull the main body of the machine out of the tree, but it was lodged tight.
He couldn't hear Zim breathing anymore. He looked over his shoulder. Zim's eye had closed and he wasn't moving.
Dib walked over and crouched next to Zim's still body. "Zim?"
Zim wasn't breathing.
Dib shook him a bit and yanked his hand away with a yelp. He looked down at his palm- there were painful red spots where he'd come into contact with the alien blood.
"Zim! I- okay. You're unconscious, and I'm not sure you need to breathe. Because you're an alien."
Dib nodded to himself, and then went back to the tree and tried again to yank Zim's Pak out of it. It wouldn't budge.
Dib needed that Pak. He needed it for research. And stuff. He pulled harder. He pulled until his hands slipped off and he fell on his butt.
Zim wasn't breathing and he wasn't moving, and he didn't move even when Dib knelt next to him and screamed his name, you know, to be sure the alien menace was really dead, and he didn't move when Dib shook him until his shoulder made a cracking noise, just to be sure the enemy was really gone, and when Dib picked him up, and started running for home, he just was limp and heavy and silent and dead like a rag doll.
Chapter 3: Alien Problem
This chapter was written by Jaywings with editing and input from Alohilani.
It wasn't until Dib skidded to a halt in front of his house that he realized he had no idea what he was going to do.
He was panting. He had run all the way from Zim's house. And his arms ached... Zim was heavy... and he was sweating. It was still hot out. It was March. It shouldn't be this hot.
And what was he supposed to do with Zim? He couldn't really be dead. Zim didn't die. He was stupid that way.
It was some kind of trick. A trap, maybe.
Dib stepped up his front walk, slowly. His head was whirling with everything that had happened that day. And yesterday. The two blended together, leaving him utterly confused... he couldn't think straight...
Despite the fact that Zim was about the same size and weight that he was, Dib somehow managed to open the door and stumble into the house. Exhaustion settled over him and he could do no more than drag the alien across the floor. Faintly, he registered that if Zim was still alive, Dib had just granted an alien threat entry to his house.
He stopped—he couldn't even lift Zim onto the couch. Not that he would want to, really. Zim was covered in blood and melted rubber and plastic, and gunk, and who knows what else... Dib just left him in sort of a messy, huddled mass on the floor.
Dib backed away and stared. Zim's remaining eye was open but unblinking, unseeing. It didn't reflect light the way it had in the past. Instead of the usual glisten that Dib was so familiar with in those horrible insectoid eyes, it was just an expanse of glazed-over raspberry red. As for Zim's antennae, well, they weren't there anymore. Dib wasn't exactly surprised. If the blast had taken Zim's hand and reduced him to this state, his antennae really hadn't stood a chance.
Dib left Zim and ran to the phone. He rapidly punched in numbers and was just about to push the last digit for the Swollen Eyeball Network line when he paused. Maybe... maybe it would be better to... He hung up the phone, cancelling the call. His breath came in gasps. Dib picked up the phone once more, hesitated, and dialed his father's number instead.
"For the last time, I do not make private appearances!" Professor Membrane's voice said over the phone. "I am an incredibly busy and important scientist—"
"Dad, it's me!" Dib broke in.
Membrane seemed taken aback. "Son? This is unorthodox. I hope you're not using my equipment again after what happened last night. And shouldn't you be in Skool?"
Skool? What was he talking abou—oh. Dib remembered. He had left Skool. A million years ago. It was still in session... and the class was bound to notice that both he and Zim were missing. With them gone, the classroom might be downright quiet and that was just weird.
"No, Dad, I—I mean yeah, but this is important!"
"Son, NOTHING is more important than your education! Run along back to Skool, now."
"But Dad, it's Zi—" The phone beeped. Membrane had hung up. Dib pushed the receiver back onto its stand with a dazed expression. Maybe it would have been better to call the Swollen Eyeba—
"What is this?"
Dib whirled around, his heart pounding, for a split second absolutely certain that Zim had come back to life and was preparing to blast Dib with a laser or break into his dad's lab or destroy Gaz's Game Slave or—but it was Gaz. He hadn't heard her come in. She was standing next to Zim's body, taking care not to step in any of the dark spots that had formed in the carpet around him. Her eyes were wide.
"Gaz!" This was not something he wanted his little sister to see.
"Is that Zim? What did you do to him?"
"I—didn't... it was him, it was his plan—he blew himself up—"
"And you brought him here in the living room and left him on the carpet?"
"I didn't know what else to..." Dib trailed off. Gaz was kneeling beside Zim's body, feeling his neck and the wrist that was the least damaged. She pressed on his chest a little—probably looking for signs of life. Dib just stood there lamely. He repeated Professor Membrane's words, "...Shouldn't you be in Skool?"
Gaz looked up and narrowed her eyes at him in a glare. "It let out early because of some giant explosion nearby." She stood once more, and her face went back to its normal cross between impassiveness and a frown. "He's dead," she stated.
The room rang with silence.
Somehow, hearing it from Gaz confirmed everything. Dib hadn't been sure, not entirely. But even Gaz's call was still not enough to cement it in reality.
Because Zim being dead meant he was... gone. No longer a threat. No longer dangerous. After months of struggling to defeat the Irken, thinking there would be no end to the war between good and evil, humans and aliens, just like that, his mortal enemy, the thing he hated above all others, was just... gone. It seemed too easy. It didn't feel real.
"Well, don't just stand there." Gaz pushed past Dib—as she brushed by he could tell she was shaking, just a little bit—and took the phone down again. She punched in some numbers.
"I've told you, I have no time for—" It was Professor Membrane.
"Dad, Dib left a dead alien in the living room," Gaz said.
Dib started to say something but Gaz silenced him with one look.
"Gaz? You're not in Skool, either? It must have gotten out early! Well, children, have fun and clean up any messes you've made. The cleaning bot is malfunctioning." Membrane hung up again.
Well, that was it. Professor Membrane wasn't listening to either of them. Not even Gaz.
Dib took the phone from her. "I'm calling the Swollen Eyeballs," he said quietly, not thinking that Gaz probably wouldn't know who they were. He didn't think to call Mysterious Mysteries.
Gaz went and sat down on the couch, not looking at Zim or Dib. She didn't even pick up her Game Slave. She just sort of stared off into space with her eyes nearly-closed like they always were.
Dib dialed the number for TSEN, completing it this time. It started ringing on the other end. It was the only sound in the room.
"Yes?" Agent Darkbootie picked up, his voice-disguiser sounding much more filtered and grainy through the telephone than it did on Dib's computer or floating video screens.
"Agent Darkbootie, this is Agent Mothman. I'm sorry for not calling you with a video communication but this is urgent..."
"What is it, Mothman?" Darkbootie's tone indicated that his patience for calls from Dib was wearing a bit thin.
Dib swallowed. "It's about the Spider. Y'know, the alien? There's been a... a development."
"...at least you now know the proper way of riding your house of a banshee! Maybe next time you'll be more careful with the smelling salts and that rooster. Anyway, it is now seven in the A.M. and for those of you just joining us..."
Dib's eyes opened to slits and he peered at his alarm clock. Sunlight streamed in through the window. Parawatch was playing the same broadcast that it had on Friday... yesterday. And two days ago. Today should be Sunday.
Dib sat up, putting on his glasses and reaching over to pick up the clock, messing with the settings until it showed the current date and day of the week.
He felt queasy.
Dib swung his legs over the edge of the bed and, before hopping down, looked at the floor. There it was. Sure enough. A large shard from the broken amulet was lying near his bed. He looked at his dresser-the one he had put there two days ago was gone.
Dib ran downstairs taking the steps two at a time. He stumbled into the kitchen. Gaz was eating a bowl of cereal and didn't even look up. Dib ran to the opposite side of the table and gripped it, staring at her earnestly. "Gaz, what day is it?"
"Friday," Gaz replied. She took another bite of cereal.
"Friday? Are you sure?"
Gaz put down her spoon. "What did you do this time?"
"Nothing!" Dib cried. "It's not me! It's Zim! It's gotta be. He's... but he's..." But Zim was dead.
If it was Friday again, the same Friday it had been for the past two days, that meant that Zim was probably still...
Dib collapsed into his chair.
He looked at his sister. "Gaz... do you remember anything from yesterday? Anything... different?"
"There was an explosion in your room. Dad wasn't happy about it. Maybe that's why you're so delusional today."
Dib shook his head. "No, no, not that yesterday. The yesterday that was today and the day before it, the second Friday. That yesterday!"
Gaz stood up and left the room.
Dib grabbed handfuls of his hair and wound it around his fingers. Maybe the last two days had been nothing but a dream. Or maybe he was going insane. Or... both.
"Well? Are you coming?" Dib looked up. Gaz was standing by the front door. "I'm not allowed to walk to Skool without you, remember? And you're not allowed to make me late."
"Yeah... yeah..." Still pondering the weirdness of all this, Dib grabbed one of the gross cereal bars from the cupboard and followed Gaz out the door.
Well, after being a mangled, nearly-unrecognizable mess yesterday, Zim looked absolutely fine today. He was sitting at his desk by the classroom door looking bored out of his mind as usual. Dib stared. And stared. And stared. Zim seemed to notice his penetrating gaze and looked up, scowling. Both eyes. Both hands. Not looking dead in any way. Or even injured.
"Class, today we will be discussing the HORRORS of volcanic eruptions and the devastating DISASTER that befell the unfortunate town of Pompeii." Ms. Bitters turned on a projector that displayed a slideshow. "Pompeii was—"
"Ms. Bitters, can I go to the restroom?" Dib blurted out.
Ms. Bitters raised an eyebrow. "May you?" she barked.
"May I go to the restroom?" Dib corrected himself.
"Fine," Ms. Bitters said, reaching into her desk and pulling out an electric hall pass. Dib took it and left the room as fast as he could without actually running. As he left he heard Ms. Bitters mutter something about doomed children still needing to learn grammar.
When Dib was a ways from the classroom he pressed his back against a row of lockers, breathing heavily. He had to get his bearings. Today was going like yesterday and the day before it had gone. Zim was still alive. Dib was still alive. He remembered trying to stop Zim's plan the first time, and falling off the roof. Maybe all that hadn't been in his mind, after all...
If the same stuff was happening again today, it meant that Zim was going to try the stupid volcano thing again. Dib could remember it all too clearly—struggling with Zim to stop the world from shaking, falling to his death, a giant crater where the alien base used to be, Zim, dead... Who knew how many people were hurt in that explosion? What if Zim tried it today and it actually worked? Dib had to get over there!
He sprinted down the hall, took off the hall pass and threw it into the boys' bathroom, and plunged outside into the open air. It wasn't lunchtime yet. Zim should still be in the classroom. If Dib got to the base before Zim did, maybe he could stop this insane plan before it ever got underway!
He ran in the direction of Zim's house. By the time he arrived he was panting. He stopped, his heart pounding, and listened. All was quiet. No one was here yet. Hm... should he wait for Zim? Probably a bad idea... the stupid Irken wasn't likely to listen to reason, and Dib wasn't sure he could overpower him. How had Zim perpetrated his plan? Something to do with the satellite dish. Dib considered this. Should he climb onto the roof and try to sabotage the dish? The thought filled him with dread—after his fall into the gnome field, he never wanted to climb another building again. Maybe he should—
"DIB!" someone snarled. Dib whirled around to see Zim stalking toward him on the sidewalk. Apparently his decision was made for him. "I knew you'd be here!"
"No you didn't," Dib said.
Zim scowled. "Let me into my house, Dib. I have, eh, important... stuff."
Dib realized he was standing directly in front of the gap in the fence. Huh, he hadn't even meant to be blocking the way. Whatever, he definitely wasn't moving now. "Zim, you can't do this!" he said, waving his arms.
"I'm not doing anything!" Zim retorted. He paused. "Eh... do what?"
"Make a volcano out of your house! Or whatever you thought you were doing!"
Zim actually looked stunned. Then his eyes narrowed. "How do you know—"
"Never mind how I know! It's your fault, anyway! I don't know what you did to the time stream but it had better stop or else—" Dib shook his head. "Listen, just don't do it! Go back to Skool!"
"Blathering fool-boy!" Zim snapped. His robotic spider legs whipped out of his PAK and Dib tensed, expecting an attack. Instead Zim simply vaulted over the fence, skittered over the lawn, and ducked into his house. He also slammed shut the window that Dib had used to gain entry into the house the first time. Now there was no way in.
"ZIM!" Dib yelled. He ran onto the walkway in front of the house but the creepy lawn gnomes swung around to face him and he jumped back out again.
He gazed up at the roof of the house. What was he going to do? A tiny green face with red dots for eyes peered over the edge of the roof.
"HELLO DIB!" Zim called down mockingly. "Your pitiful attempt to stop me has been PITIFUL! Gnomes, keep him away from the yard!"
"Zim, don't do this!" Dib scrambled onto the top of the fence but toppled backwards when a laser seared by an inch from his face.
The world began to shake. Zim had started his plan. Dib backed away in horror.
"There's nothing you can do now, Dib," he muttered to himself. "Let the idiot alien blow himself up. RUN!"
With the ground still rumbling, Dib tore off down the sidewalk toward the Skool. All the way there he expected to hear an explosion. But... there was nothing.
Dib ran into the Skool and darted into the cafeteria. He slid onto the bench beside Gaz, who raised an eyebrow at his tardiness but made no comment.
Dib sat silently for a moment. Then he demanded, "Did you hear an explosion?"
"No," Gaz said. She took a bite of her sandwich. "You're not eating today?"
"Not hungry," Dib said automatically. He drummed his fingernails on the tabletop. When would they announce the explosion? Skool had been let out early yesterday because of it. Should he go back to what was left of Zim's house and...? ...He shuddered.
"What's your problem?" Gaz said. Dib had accidentally nudged her with his elbow.
"Sorry," he muttered. "You know what, I am hungry." And he needed something to calm his nerves. He stood and got into the lunch line, loading up a tray with food.
He was heading back to the table when a hover screen crashed through the cafeteria windows and floated above everyone. Dib's stomach lurched. Here it was. The explosion had happened and—
"Professor Membrane's roommates—Dib and Gazlene—a word with you!" the guy on the screen said.
Gaz looked up and the screen flew over to her. Curious, Dib went over as well. This was about the explosion, right? Why would he and Gaz be singled out? No one ever used Gaz's full name.
The person on the screen nodded in acknowledgement when Dib arrived with his tray. "I'm sure you felt the freak earthquake," he said.
"Is this about the explosion?" Dib asked. "I didn't have anything to do with it! It was all Zim! I tried to stop him! And Gaz reallydidn't have anything to do with it!"
The man looked confused. "No, there wasn't any explosion. But there was something odd about the earthquake. Every underground structure collapsed. Including... Professor Membrane's labs."
Dib froze. Gaz's eyes were wide open and horrified, knowing what would come next.
"Kids... your father was killed in the collapse. The great Professor Membrane is dead."
Dib dropped his tray; it clattered to the floor, plastering his boots with untouched food.