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Ersatz

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Dib rushed into the dingy living room of his house, tossing his book bag onto the floor. He had just returned from a really good Zim-stalking expedition. He was convinced he had enough photographic evidence to finally reveal Zim to the world.

"Gaz! Guess what?" the young man squealed. "I was going through Zim's garbage and I found half a squid! Do you know what this means?"

Gaz glanced up from her Game Slave and muttered, "Get out, freakazoid! I'm almost done with this level!"

Dib scowled and kicked the couch, jostling the Game Slave out of her hands. He knew she didn't give a shit, but it still stung that there'd been no mention of his birthday.

"Fuck off. It's my twentieth birthday. Can't you listen to me once a year?"

"Get the fuck out before I rip your stupid tongue out of your big stupid head!" Gaz growled, her eyes flashing threateningly. When Dib continued to affect her with his presence, she screeched, "Security!" Dib raised his hands in surrender as several seemingly inanimate stuffed animals rose to life, complete with weaponry. He slowly backed out of the room, not wanting another painful encounter.

Gaz wouldn't care if I grew a second head.

He passed the kitchen, where his father was partially hidden behind an enormous stack of files. Dib stopped, hoping for a 'Happy Birthday', at least. He stood there, watching his father shuffle through some data charts for several minutes. Finally, Professor Membrane glanced at his son, only to frown, and return even more urgently to his work. Dib sighed. Aside from agreeing to let Dib keep living in the house after graduation, his father and he hadn't spoken in almost a year.

"I'm going to my room to do some Zim work. Don't bother me, okay?" No response except for the shuffling of papers. Dib shrugged it off, grabbed a box of pizza that was apparently dinner, and headed to his room, picking his book bag up off the floor on the way. At least he had some promising photos to look at. His family might not pay attention to him now, but when he revealed Zim for what he really was, then they'd really pay attention to him. Yeah right. And it'll be all hugs and kisses and "Attaboys" happily ever after.

*

Dib threw down the stack of newly developed photos in disgust. The pictures were less relevant than he remembered. There was one picture of Zim's left foot, one of a garden gnome, and one of GIR kissing a fire hydrant. The rest hadn't even been worth printing. Some birthday, Dib thought bitterly. His eyes watered, and he blinked hard several times before opening a window to air out the acrid fumes.

Nine years. Nine fucking years, and I have nothing to show for it.

Dib flopped down on his bed and stared at the cheesy, tattered Animorphs poster on the ceiling. He remembered how much he loved those books and how, when Zim first showed up, he was so damn sure that was how his life would go. All he needed to do was convince a few people. A few friends, comrades, fellow soldiers to believe in him, to fight with him, to save the world.

That hope had finally sputtered out in high school when, instead of mocking him, everyone just stopped seeing him. Their eyes would flicker past his face, bodies moving out of the way even as their faces remained neutral. There would be no friends, no crash-landed aliens to help him, no secret powers. Just him, fighting alone for a planet not worth saving.

 

Dib sighed and sat up. Shut the fuck up and keep working. He pulled a laser he was working on out of his desk drawer and ducked as it began firing randomly.

"Stupid" duck "fucking" duck "self-defense laser!" he muttered. "You're supposed to defend me, not yourself!" The laser, apparently not agreeing, promptly grew legs and climbed up the wall.

Several hours (and some scorched furniture) later, Dib finally managed to make the weapon stop shooting at random intervals. He glanced at the clock and found it to be well past midnight. Dib took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes wearily. He dropped the laser, and it scuttled under the bed, humming malevolently. Turing towards his bed Dib jumped back in shock when he found himself face-to-face with his father.

"Holy shit!" Dib yelped, leaping back several feet. "Dad, you scared the crap--" Professor Membrane grabbed his throat and pressed a damp, sweet-smelling cloth to Dib's mouth and nose.

Dib gagged as the chloroform filled his lungs. He desperately tried to push the larger man away, his limbs feeling heavy and disconnected. Professor Membrane, looking politely disinterested, tightened his grip on Dib's neck, waiting as his struggles got weaker and weaker. When he finally went limp, Membrane released him, and Dib fell to the floor with a thud.

"We need to talk."

*

Dib groaned as consciousness rushed back, along with a throbbing headache. He felt like a porcupine had been placed inside his skull which, knowing his father, was a possibility.

He tried to sit up but found his legs and left arm strapped to the long, metal examination table he was lying on. He was in his father's laboratory, surrounded by gleaming contraptions, bubbling vials, and scientific instruments. Dib reached his right hand over to untie his left arm before a fist crashed into his head. He fell back, ears ringing, and latex-gloved hands swiftly strapped down his right arm. Blinking the spots out of his eyes, Dib saw his father leaning over him.

"What- what the fuck are you doing?" Membrane ignored him and slid a syringe into Dib's arm, pulling back the plunger until the vial was half full of blood.

"The root of the error will be found," Professor Membrane muttered to himself. "The next attempt will be far superior thanks to the failure. Dissection-"

"DISSECTION?!" Dib bellowed. "Dad, are you fucking crazy?"

"Stop calling me that," Professor Membrane said sharply.

"Dad, if you don't tell me what the fuck is going on, I- " Dib stopped, not knowing what to say. This is what he hated about "real science". It was vague and cryptic and gave him the chills.

"Don't call me that!" Professor Membrane yelled, his fingers twitching.

As Dib stared at him, terrified, Professor Membrane laughed humorlessly. "You know, it's so interesting how this whole experiment turned out, despite its failure. You see, Dib, about twenty years ago, I considered two unalterable truths: my greatness and my mortality. It was truly terrible to think that I, Professor Membrane, champion of REAL SCIENCE would one day die. For the good of SCIENCE I resolved to never let that happen. So I resolved to create someone who could continue my great works of SCIENCE when I died. It took many many tries, four hundred and ninety-two to be exact, but I finally did it."

Dib shook his head, unable to comprehend what his father was telling him.

"Dad- Dad, I want to go home-"

Professor Membrane backhanded him and continued his monologue.

"Specimen 492 was the only specimen that reached the zygote stage. I thought I'd succeeded, that my legacy was assured, but I was wrong. There is an error, an irreversible error. It took longer to realize, but 492 was no less a failure than the previous experiments.

Dib couldn't move. Every muscle in his body was frozen, locked in place. He was too smart to not realize what his father was saying. For a few seconds, nothing. Then a small grin twitched Dib's mouth. A giggle escaped, high pitched and hysterical. Then Dib threw back his head and laughed a shrill, panicked sound.

"That's great, Dad! So what if one of your experiments failed? Can we go home now?"

Professor Membrane stood up, and, in a steely voice, he said, "You and I are created from the same genetic material. You were intended to be another me. Instead you are irreversibly flawed: the insanity, the disregard for real science, innumerable personality flaws. You fail to fulfill the purpose you were designed for."

As he said this, the scientist squeezed out a few drops of blood from the syringe onto a computer pad then deftly cut his own finger and pressed it into an adjacent pad. Instantly, the computer program began analyzing the two samples. Similarity after similarity appeared on the screen. After a few numb seconds, a flat computerized voice rang out into the lab, "Analysis complete. Result- full DNA match."

Dib's insane giggles caught in his throat, denial no longer a viable option. This isn't possible. It's a bad sci-fi movie. I'm not- He tried to quell the growing panic in his head. He jerked frantically, trying to free himself as his heart raced. His left arm felt looser. Keep him talking. He asked the first question that came to mind.

"Did- did Mom know about- me? Did she know I- I wasn't-" the words caught in Dib's throat. Real? Normal? Everything he thought about who he was- lies.

"She is not your mother," Membrane growled, his fingers again twitching. "And the answer is no. She thought it was a natural pregnancy. She never suspected a thing."

Dib's eyes widened in shock. "You- you used her like a- a fucking incubator? You sick bastard!"

His left arm was almost free, but then what?

Professor Membrane frowned, his voice becoming icy and robotic, "Specimen 492, you are a corrupted exercise. As such you will be eliminated for public safety through injection of-"

Dib screamed, "I wish she found out everything, knew that she married a MONSTER!"

On the word monster, Dib's hand shot out, grabbing a bubbling flask. His brain shut down into survival mode, he didn't register the searing heat as he threw it directly at Membrane's head.The scientist jerked back, trying to avoid the flask and lost his balance. He fell, his head thwacking against the exam table on the way down. Dip stared at the limp form, heart pounding. Get the fuck out! He untied his arm and legs, his fingers trembling so much it took three tries to free his legs.

Dib fled through the double doors, down a gleaming white hallway, through another set of double doors, and another, and finally escaped the hateful building, fleeing into the night.