Rush hour was chaotic and ceaseless on Foodcourtia, and it was times like that in which Gashloog thrived. Hatched to be a frycook, coded to be a frycook, and trained his entire life to be a frycook, that was exactly what he was, and he'd never had a reason to imagine himself as anything different. He did best in situations where hungry aliens were shouting at him for food.
He did it all with the utmost of glee, customer service down to a t. It helped that he liked what he did, that he liked the smell of the grease-choked air that filled the kitchen and the tall red hat and purposefully dirty apron that he wore. He wore the uniform proudly, like an irken Elite with their forehead tattoo or an invader and their sleek red tunics.
He had a smile wide on his face when he greeted in a drawn-out, nasally tone, "Welcome to Shloooooghoogh's!" To whatever customers entered the restaurant. He'd introduce himself in a friendly manner, take their orders, and sometimes (depending on the staff at hand) cook the food as well.
His enthusiasm had paid off, too, as he found himself a consistent face upon the Employee of the Month wall, as well as earning the steely respect and trust of his terse and stoic frylord.
This respect had one day manifested in a meeting in Sizz-lorr's office.
"Gashloog," Sizz-Lorr sighed, slow and tired like he'd exhausted himself with his own thoughts. Which he had.
"What's up?" Gashloog chirped happily, the same way he did everything.
"Things are going to change here, very soon," the frylord groaned, "I'm going to need your help."
Gashloog quirked his brow. He pushed his goggles up to his forehead so he could blink his big emerald eyes at his boss. "What's going on?" He asked slowly, head tilted to the side.
"You heard about..." Size-lorr hesitated, then finished with a shutter, "...Zim?"
Gashloog frowned. Every irken knew about Zim. The freshly-titled invader had destroyed... A lot. He'd singlehandedly ruined Operation Impending Doom before it even had a chance to start, killing hundreds of irken soldiers as he did so. It seemed he was collectively hated fiercely by the entire empire, with due cause.
Personally, Gashloog didn't care much for politics.
Sizz-lorr sighed again, rubbing at his temple. "Well, he's being sent here for his exile. To Shlooghorgh's. He'll be your coworker."
Gashloog nodded as he realized the cause of his employer's stress. He didn't find it nearly as alarming, however. A coworker was a coworker, and the more hands to get the job done, the more likely they would come to success. Still, the idea of the iconically destructive soldier serving fast food with him made his pulse jump a little faster. He assumed it was fear, but it was unknowingly excitement.
Sizz-lorr had practically begged him for his assistance in controlling what the frylord had quickly concluded to be a defect, and Gashloog didn't have any objections in the matter. Of course he would do as his frylord said, he was an irken.
Zim had arrived the next day, already recoded and clad in an apron one size too big. He hissed and growled at everything that had the nerve to so much as exist, and Gashloog found him to be quite... Unapproachable.
It wasn't a roadblock the service drone came upon often. His PAK had been equipped with the programming to overcome even the worst social situations since he was a mere smeet, yet something about this exiled invader seemed to scramble everything he had ever known.
Luckily, he didn't have to be the one to break the ice.
"This is stupid," Zim complained to him that same day he arrived, tugging at the ends of his oversized red hat as it threatened to topple him onto the filthy tile floor.
Gashloog blinked, not expecting the sudden kindling of conversation. He smoothed out his apron. "It's not the worst place you could be exiled to," he assured.
"It is though!" Zim hissed, tossing his dark goggled on the ground where they made a sound that Gashloog hoped wasn't them breaking. "They expect me to just waste away here? Do they even realize how much talent they're throwing away?! I!" He stomped his boot on the checkered floor, "Am Zim! They think they can throw away ZIM?!"
Gashloog eyed his tiny new coworker. He was small, very small, and his apron pooled at his feet like a puddle of grease. Yet he looked up at Gashloog with murder in his raspberry eyes, taking no heed to the fact that he only barely came up to the frycook's shoulders. Zim was an odd little irken, and Gashloog found that he liked him.
"Let me show you how to work the fryer," he offered with a kind smile, just happy that the labeled murderer was opening up to him.
"I don't want to work the fryer!" Zim shouted, voice bordering on a full out scream. Gashloog flinched, not expecting such volume or such pitch.
"Can you at least try to not be so loud?" He asked as politely as he could. After all, he was a people person. A service drone. It was coded into his PAK to be that way, to be kinder than the average irken, more forgiving, more patient.
Really, Zim should have acted the same. His PAK had been recoded already, after all. Gashloog assumed it had something to do with him being raised as a soldier and didn't think too much about it.
"What about the register?" Gashloog tried when his angry new coworker only responded with an acidic glare that trickled up Gashloog's throat like heartburn.
This creature was volatile, he realized. Hatched, raised and trained to be a soldier, he had no place in this field of work. He was a caustic disease, a weapon to be pointed far away from the people meant to be kept alive, not directly at them like he would be at Shlooghorgh's. He was right about himself, about how he didn't belong in a place like this.
He was a ticking time bomb. Which was the reason Gashloog was so worried for himself. Why was it that he wanted to be so close when he finally went off?
Zim lowered his head like a rabid dog, ready to snarl and bite at whoever had the naïveté to come close, and allowed Gashloog to show him the ropes.
At least, for now, the timer ticked on, leaving more than enough time for Gashloog to escape his blast zone. Not that he would, anyway.
Zim knew how the register worked, the knowledge had already been downloaded into his PAK. Not that it was even complicated enough to warrant that. Gashloog just liked the excuse, and was delighted to find that Zim went along with it.
The lesson didn't last long, though, and soon ended with the two standing awkwardly beside each other behind the counter as they waited for another customer to show up.
"Did they say how long you'll be here?" Gashloog eventually asked him.
"Indefinitely," Zim said in a small, cracked voice as he stared directly ahead of him with his eyes glazed over. He cleared his throat and said in his re-brazened voice, "Of course, once they begin the next Impending Doom, I am certain they won't forget to include my genius."
Gashloog eyed him. Did Zim not know how being exiled worked? Honestly, he wouldn't be surprised.
His lips pulled up at the corners, shifting into a helpless smile. Unexpectedly, Zim smiled back.
Zim was a murderer, having caused the death of two Tallests and a whole brigade of elite soldiers, yet Gashloog still felt a twinge of remorse watching the reprogrammed invader suffer through his new job. Sizz-lorr was relentless on him, hardly giving him a moment to catch his breath between shifts. Gashloog never saw him take a break that was longer than five minutes, and could only imagine he continued on like that when Gashloog himself clocked out for the day.
He deserved it though, didn't he? What Zim had done was treason, and was lucky to not have been immediately deactivated. But the more Gashloog thought about it, the more he found himself unable to find what he had done to be wrong. It was right there, obvious and in plain sight, but it still somehow felt like a fluke.
"It is obvious that I do not want to be here," Zim snapped at Sizz-lorr one day when the frylord had demanded to know why the smaller irken wasn't cleaning the bathroom.
"That's why it's a punishment, Zim," Sizz-lorr boomed, "You're not suppose to enjoy it."
"I'm being wasted here!" Zim screamed, drawing the eyes of all customers as he pointed a claw at Sizz-lorr's chest, "This is a waste of the genius that is ZIM!"
It hadn't been nearly his first outburst like this, but Sizz-lorr had only recently figured out what to do with it. He grabbed his employee by the PAK and dragged him to the backroom of the restaurant, pausing only to send a quick apology out to his gawking customers.
Gashloog didn't have to peek this time. Really he didn't want to have to see again. Something about that new look of fear on Zim's face didn't quite set with his features. It wasn't something he knew how to feel, yet there he was feeling it as the frylord attempted to beat the resistance out of him.
Gashloog had approached him later that night. He was curled up on a yellow beanbag, clicking through tv channels as he wasted through his five-minute break trying to heal the remaining bruises.
Gashloog stayed silent, knowing the red-eyed irken would eventually speak up.
And he did. "Someday," he whispered, "People will regret things."
Gashloog could tell that he was tired, both in the way that his eyes only half focused on the television, and in the unimaginative way he had declared the promise. Just a few days ago, Gashloog would have expected more specifics, more threats, more insults. Instead, the simple sentence, people will regret things, rang out in his mind, repeating along with all of its connotations.
"You'll make them regret it?" Gashloog asked for clarification.
Zim looked up at him with weary eyes. He'd broken down surprisingly quickly. He'd suffered through decades of intense invader training, yet this was what finally got him.
"So many will pay for what they've done to me," Zim told him slowly.
Gashloog's eyes locked onto his. Somehow, he felt like he understood all the complexities of this volatile, relentless little defect.
"This place especially," Zim added quietly.
And Gashloog thought maybe he no longer liked the filthy way the restaurant smelled.