Invader Zim was seething with glee. He had grabbed his goods, the precious metal that only existed within a cold desert wasteland of a place on earth. With Gir’s help, Zim had managed to break into the surprisingly well guarded human base. He took out the guards that he encountered, stuffing them into boxes or behind dumpsters to cover his tracks.
Zim even managed to make it halfway out of the base before a human entered his path. The human was wearing too much face gear to determine any noticeable features, the protective armor around the human’s body was too difficult to determine sex or weight.
Zim hissed at the human, crouching low without his PAK legs to try and keep his alienness a cover. The human reacted quickly and quietly, pushing forward onto legs to strike Zim. Zim was outraged but unwilling to give up the metal. He retreated from the human, far faster than the inferior beast that was still in pursuit, however pathetic.
“Let’s go Gir!” He shouted into his comm, jumping into the Voot cruiser. He trusted his SIR unit, knowing that no matter how far into the atmosphere the Voot went, the robot would somehow make it. Sure enough, Gir smacked against the glass of the Voot, smiling at Zim. Zim rolled the window down, peeling him into the cruiser before pushing forward, away from the humans.
Agent Yellow predicted the series of events that followed the break in. It was your responsibility to guard and patrol the area, stop any threats that compromised the integrity of the mission. You were standing in a dimly light room, the pain in your ribs growing as you stood at command, refusing to look weak to your underlings and superiors.
There was the option to use your extensive career to curve the blunt of the punishment. Years of service, from a young kid to a moderately aged adult, you were still young!, had earned you a nice spot in the middle of the agents. Being at the top was ill advised as it caused for many rivals and an overall lack of trust from those around you. Finding yourself in the middle of the group of surrounding agents meant you could command respect from those beneath you, excelling their own career while making a connection to the top without working all that hard for it.
Yes, there was success in your work.
But it was a lonely job.
Nights were either spent amongst brothers and sisters in the barracks or in a cold and moldy motel, waiting for the order to strike or...greet the target when the time was right.
“Agent Yellow,” the man said, “I find myself in an uncomfortable situation. While you protected the lives of our younger comrades, the lifeblood of our success, you have neglected your duty to eliminate all enemy forces.”
“I understand the nature of my transgressions,” Yellow said, breathing kept steady as to not displace the ribs.
“You shall leave by dawn’s break.” The man said, his name expunged of all records of existence, even cast from mind. “Should we find you within our country.”
“I understand sir.”
Yellow, stripped of title and citizenship, walked out the door with a head held high. This was not the worst thing that could’ve happened to you.
There was no one that greeted you in the halls or the bunk you shared. You gathered a spare set of clothes, the two passports that you had, one of your former home country that needed to be burned, the other- an American passport. The blue cardstock would become worn from use now.
Yellow burned the small keepings in the mutual fires, erasing all existence.
It was nice, in a way, you thought boarding the plane would take you to your new country, that you could give yourself a funeral.
You were finalizing the sale of your house by the time the plane to America was ready for takeoff. The agent seemed stupidly pleased that the house sold. It was a good buy for the amount of money Agent Yellow acquired over the years of service. Yellow smiled as you handed the flight attendant your ticket. It was a modest house- two bedrooms, an upper and lower bathroom, decent kitchen and an unfinished basement in case things got a little dicey with the transition.
The last thing you needed was an enemy assaulting you in your new house with a finished basement. Getting blood out of a carpet was impossible sometimes.
The plane ride was another six hours, but a brief breeze through customs since you were a “returning citizen.”
The long day of travel was beginning to grate on you. You had limited water, poor snacks on the plane, and your ribs were still, frustratingly, broken. Yellow composed the mind with several deep breaths as you got into the car you rented for the next six months. You plugged in the phone to charge and fired up the navigation.
It was a while until you arrived at your new house, a quant thing in a quaint, perfectly normal, neighborhood.
There was no furniture in the house, forcing you to sleep on the ground with your bag as a pillow. Again, there were worse things.
It took three days for everything to come together in the house. You ordered a series of matching furniture sets, making the house look put together, but there was no sign of life in the house.
There was the obligatory TV, a coffee table, couch and a chair. In the kitchen there were enough dishes to feed a party of eight, cleaning supplies in the cupboard, the pantry neatly stocked and the house smelling of lemon from the artificial cleaner Yellow scrubbed everything down with.
There was an odd sense in your chest. This was to be an actual home. This was not a mission, not even long term. You would have to get a job, and expect to keep it. Make friends, make enemies.
It was a weird and welcome feeling.
You grabbed your bottle of whiskey, pouring in two fingers, and made your way to the table with the laptop. Job hunting was a full-time job, but if you looked carefully, Yellow could tell which companies were desperate.
There was one job that was as enticing as it was a bomb about to go off.
The pay was fantastic and the employer offered benefits for what would be considered an under the table operation. Further, the employer himself was a figurehead for the government. He would have a job at nighttime, which would allow Yellow something to do before eventually colliding into the ground. The job would also leave him the day to do as you pleased. You could clean the house, run errands, go for a walk...you’ve heard of normal people doing this.
The only thing that had you hesitating from pulling the trigger (an action that leads to getting shot yourself) was that it was babysitting. There were two charges you would be responsible for taking care of. The first charge is Dib, the firstborn son of the Membrane family who was just on the edge of blooming into manhood.
The second charge under your potential command is a second born, first daughter, of Professor Membrane, Gaz. Her full name was listed on the file, but the nickname category was filled so you used that one.
There was little information on the children. Yellow hummed. The lack of information implied that the father knew very little about his children. That or there was something the father didn’t want you and other potential sitters to know about.
You guessed it was a little bit of both.
There was the added benefit of having trained the underlings. You couldn’t say they were much older than the two children. There was the bonus of not having to train them for life or death scenarios as well.
Yellow didn’t know what to think of a life that might involve arts and crafts.
Before Yellow could lose your cool, you tipped the glass back and hit the apply button.
You grimaced at the sunlight that came in through the window. You topped off your rest of your glass and moved to sit outside. The sun wasn’t out, but the air felt warm with spring. You enjoyed your glass of alcohol sitting on the concrete step. There was a group of children that passed on their bikes, arguing about whatever they deemed important amongst each other.
Eventually, you were finished your stiff drink. Feeling a little buzzed, you grabbed your wallet, locked the door to your house, and walked to the grocery store you saw as you drove into town. The town worked on a basic grid, only a few streets broke the grid lines with a cul de sac on the edge. Yellow walked along the grid lines, making your way into the part of town that sold food rather than just had houses along the road. There were children littering the street, yellow busses taking them to their homes. Within the grocery store, the children all seemed to congregate towards the candy aisle.
Yellow maneuvered around the children, focused on the task of making dinner. As you made your way to the produce, something waist height slammed into your sides. You wheezed into the blow, moving back to attack the opponent, but froze at the familiar face.
“Watch it, human.”
Either the alien was stupid or ignorant.
Oh yes, you knew things. While the footage of the intruders break in was all disabled, there was the event of meeting the alien as he tried to escape.
What you found most odd was that the alien wasn’t wearing a disguise. Or perhaps, a very poor disguise. The creature was without ears, had green tinted skin and a superiority complex that rivaled many people you’ve met in the past.
Yellow kept trail of the alien, watching the behaviors of the creature interact with the native species. The creature was offering a constant internal narrative as he ripped into boxes of food to taste them.
You found yourself laughing at his antics. The creature, Zim, as he revealed, went to the local high school, had a nemesis and a dog. His constant talking was the easiest information grab you ever had waltz into your lap.
There was a limp in his gait, he favored his left side. If you were to approach from around the corner, you could catch him off guard.
There was a morality problem you were facing.
First, it was likely if you returned to your government with the head of the creature, you would be welcomed back, further for killing an alien and in such a short time of banishment. It would show commitment and loyalty to the cause.
However, you were given no orders to return.
You were drawn out of your thoughts as you heard the creature screech for something on a shelf he could not reach. Rolling your eyes, you walked over to the shelf and grabbed the object the alien was trying to reach.
“You dare steal from ZIM!”
Rather than answer the alien, you dropped the object in his basket and walked away. You hoped that the lack of attention on the creature would draw him closer. At the sounds of shouting for you to stop, you smirked.
“You will cease your running from Zim,” he shouted.
“Oh?” You asked, pretending to browse through the nutrition labels on the two cans of tomato soup in your hands. The alien stomped his foot and ended up climbing the display shelf, knocking a few cans down in the aisle.
“Why did you give that box to Zim?”
“You clearly wanted it enough to screech at the top of your lungs for it,” you replied, putting both cans of soup back to continue to the drinks aisle; not bothering to think about what his species counted as the equivalent of lungs. “Typically people thank those that have helped them.” You looked down at the creature, the same size as a human child. “Though, perhaps, you will learn manners as you grow.”
“Zim shall one day be taller than the Almighty!”
You walked up to the house, a strange glow coming from the back yard that only caused you to pause and think about the rationality of this job for three seconds, before knocking on the door. There was some shouting from within the house, arguments on who was going to grab the door.
Oh, this is going to be fun.
The door opened to the man of the family. He wore his lab goggles, his cowlick hair swiped back and the lab coat he wore covered his mouth. There were no identifying features that you could distinguish.
“Yellow,” you introduced, holding out your hand in greeting, “a pleasure.”
“I am so glad you are able to watch my children for me,” the father of your charges said, inviting you into his house. There was technology everywhere, the house almost breathing with it. The only organic beings within the house seemed to be the human inhabitants in the kitchen.
Gaz was sitting at the table, a plate of food in front of her, but her eyes were occupied on the video game. Dib was pushing what looked like potatoes around on the plate. A robot hovered around them, spurting out more potatoes and meat onto his plate. There was a TV humming in the distance. Gaz grunted at you in greeting, her thumbs clicking wildly on the keypad. Dib looked up at you once, nodded, then went back to his food.
You weren’t sure what your place was amongst the children other than to care and protect them. The father offered very little instructions, simply stating in an email that you passed the background checks and were hired.
“Well, I must be off,” Professor Membrane said. “I will be back later tonight, not a moment sooner.”
And just like that, he was gone.
You shrugged your shoulders, shutting the door and moved your bag to the side of the wall next to the kids things.
“Hello,” You greeted, smiling at the two. While they were not your younglings that you had to nurture and prepare for all kinds of missions, they were now your charges.
Gaz didn’t seem that interested in interacting with you, which was fine. You trusted her to approach when she was ready. You looked to Dib, the older sibling, who seemed more willing to talk to you.
“Rather than ask you the mundane question of ‘how was school’ I’ll ask you what you are interested in.”
Dib sat up straighter, his eyes shining and hands on the table.
“I like hunting the supernatural,” he said. “I’ve got a few good pictures of bigfoot and some ectoplasm from a ghost that haunts the school bathrooms.”
“Well,” You said with a smile. “I would love to see some evidence if you would be willing to share.”
“Oh, he’s willing.” Gaz growled, her eyes looking up for the first time since you arrived. She was angry at her brother, for what reasons you could only guess. Sibling rivalry, lack of familiar structure, fighting for the extremely limited attention of a father figure, it was anyone’s guess, really.
“Shut up, Gaz,” Dib hissed, his face blushed as he shrunk into his seat.
“You want to tell Yellow about the alien?” she was arched up on the table, looking to strike her brother. Before that happened, you moved to the fridge, grabbed a soda and three glasses. When you sat back at the table, you changed your seat to sit between the two siblings. Gaz would have to launch herself in front of you to attack her brother.
It was a subtle powerplay, but the glare in her eyes made you think she was onto you.
“But there is an alien!” Dib shouted, your ears wincing in pain. You hummed in consideration, popping the soda tab and dividing the drink evenly amongst the two glasses, keeping the one that was marginally smaller to yourself. You pushed the drinks to the children, Gaz draining hers quickly.
“Please use your inside voice, Dib,” you said, sitting down yourself. Dib flopped down into the chair, his shoulders in line with the table. “Come on, you can’t eat like that.”
“You should do the airplane for him, since he’s such a baby.”
“I don’t know, Gaz,” you said. “Maybe I should do an airplane for you. You have yet to eat.”
Gaz had her full attention on you, her fingers tense against the game.
Oh, these children had some impulse issues. You could see it vividly with Gaz. Her jaw was tense with barely contained restraint. The glare implied she was imagining different ways of ripping you open.
This was going to be as interesting as it would be fun.
You picked up your own fork, content to let the awkwardness simmer to a low boiling point as Gaz debated her next move. You put the potatoes in your mouth, chewing the different textures. Some parts were gummy, others raw and hard to digest. The starch vegetable was poorly prepared, lacked flavor and any semblance of care. Overall, though, it was not the worst thing you had eaten.
It was, in fact, possible to survive on Crayons. It wasn’t a great existence, or mission, but it was possible, and you survived.
There was some mystery meat on the plate, slathered in a sauce that was more there to cover up the poor flavor. You ate that too, almost with a smile, as the children looked at you with poorly disguised horror from Dib and glee from Gaz.
When you were finished your plate, the children’s still untouched, you gathered all three of them and put them in the sink.
“Don’t leave the table, children,” you said, moving to the fridge. There was a steak in there, enough for both of them to share. In the crisper drawer, there were some green vegetables, asparagus. “Let me make you something with some flavor.”
The children were looking at you in confusion as you moved around the kitchen.
“Would you like to help?” you asked. These two were likely starved for any form of affection- given Gaz’s adverse reaction to it and Dib’s need for validation. Gaz growled again and went back to her game. Dib stayed in his chair. You shrugged, going about preparing the food.
When the steak hit the hot skillet, you sensed Dib by your side.
The boy was looking in the skillet, watching the reaction of heat sear the bottom of the steak. His hair was oily and face beginning to break out in acne. Without a parent role, it was unlikely he changed his child routine of bathing to the more demanding needs of a teenage boy. Rather than address that now, you pointed to the heat.
“You’ll want your pan to be hot when you put your protein in the pan,” you explained. “You can test the method by hovering your hand above the surface or putting a drop of water in.”
“How did you know it was ready?” he asked.
“I could feel the heat from here.” You handed him the asparagus. “Could you rinse those and snap off the white parts on the bottom. We don’t eat them because they are too fibrous. And they don’t taste all that good.”
Dib did as you asked, taking to his task with seriousness. Gaz was still at the table, playing on her game. Dib brought over the asparagus, cleaned and ends snapped. You smiled at him.
“Good job, Dib, thank you.” You smiled at his own, waving him closer to the pan. “Now, see how the meat as cooked up to the sides? Good, now we can flip, be careful of the splatter now, and then add the veggies.” You pushed him back with your arm, deflecting him from the spray of oil that popped from the fats in the steak. The burning only lasted for a moment against your skin.
You moved away from the burner to hunt down some cutlery.
“What about the food?” Dib cried, looking at the burner with some fear. You clicked the tongs in your hand and handed them over to him.
“It doesn’t need any attention. Let the food do it’s thing.” You found the plates stored next to the glasses, napkins next to the fridge. You moved and set the table for three.
“Dib, Gaz, please wash up before dinner.”
Dib went without hesitation, racing to the upper floor on all fours. Gaz glared at you, you held eye contact. Eye contact was an important powerplay; amongst enemies, it determined who was weaker before the fight. With friends, it showed the depth of a bond- how long two people could look at each other in the window of the soul. In social gatherings, there was a strange human behavior: all humans will direct their eyes to the most powerful person in the room. Searching for the leader of a group was as easy as watching who others looked at the most. Gaz had stared her brother down several times, you had yielded eye contact to her to not avoid confrontation.
Now, you held her eyes. She swallowed a dry throat when you did not blink after she did, trying to regain her lost ground. You said nothing as she sneered at you. When she finally gave a dramatic sigh, pushing the chair back so it made a sound against the floor.
“Thank you.” You turned back to the meat on the pan, removing it so it had time to rest. The vegetables were on the children’s plates, divided between the two. You washed their glasses, filled them with water and by the time the steak was split in two, the kids were at the table.
Gaz went to grab her game.
“I ask that you not play video games while we eat.”
“Then starve.” And you removed the food from her place. When Dib began to puff his chest, you signaled for him to stand down with a raised hand, your eyes glued to Gaz. The first introduction to all recruits determined the course of training. Should a leader fail to dictate troops correctly, the troops would push for any perceived weakness.
Give an order, expect it to be followed, follow up with reward or consequence.
Gaz looked like she was going to argue your claim, perhaps try and tattle on her father for neglecting to feed his child, but she blushed when her stomach growled loudly. Again, from the corner of your eye, Dib looked like he was going to laugh at her, but you raised your hand again.
“Fine,” she said, clicking a few buttons to save her game, and put it to the side.
“Thank you,” you said, passing her food back.
The awkwardness was back, filling the void in the silence, again ignored. Dib was practically inhaling his food like some animal.
These kids needed some work but you could only correct so many things in an evening.
“So, Dib,” you said, hoping some conversation would get him to not eat and breathe at the same time. “The alien?”
“He’s from this planet called Irk, and he is an Irken soldier here to invade and take over the world! Then, he plans on delivering the Earth to his leaders, the Almighty Tallest. There are two of them, I’ve seen!” He was practically vibrating in his seat. His information seemed good too. It was likely Zim gave it all to Dib in an effort to scare the boy and promote his own ego that you witnessed at the store. “And I am the only one that believes he exists! Except for Gaz-“
“It’s not like Zim ever succeeds.”
“I have to protect the earth from him. We are mortal enemies.”
Now there was something that gave you pause; the way Dib spoke of the relationship he had with the alien Zim made you think it could bud into something more.
“Why don’t you just make out with him already?”
Seems that Gaz had seen what you suspected.
Rather than correct Gaz once again, you turned to Dib.
“It’s alright if you have feelings for another boy your age Dib.”
Dib managed to turn just as bright pink as the steak had been before you cooked it.
“Gaz, will you tell me what video game you were playing? Was it a third or first person shooter?” This time her gaze wasn’t malicious but cautious. Her behavior reminded you of a stray dog; after so long alone, it became aggressive in place of fear towards those trying to help. Feeding a scared dog was the easiest way to build trust.
Humans thought with their bellies just as much as any animal.
“Piggy Slayer three,” she said, not growled (success). “It’s a third person shooter. I have to get through this level to get a key to defeat the piggy boss.” She paused, twiddling her fork around. “I just got this really awesome sword, with a bunch of mana before I go to the final boss.”
“That’s great!” You praised. The tension in the room deflated a bit.
“Since we are all here,” you said. “I wanted you to tell me what you expect from me and what I expect from you. It seems your dad wants me here three days a week, he’s given me a mandatory bed time but is there anything that you expect of me?”
“What do you mean?” Dib asked as Gaz shut down again, her arms folded and back against the chair.
“Well,” you said, not going to call her out. “I have some expectations of you two. That we get along, for starters. I don’t want any bad blood in the house, it’s difficult to scrape off the walls. If we are having a problem, I expect you both to feel comfortable talking to me about it. Then, we can solve it together before any bad feelings start. That is not to say, however, I am going to let you both walk all over me. While you are under my care, I am to protect and provide. That being said:
“Do you have any food preferences? Do you want a cooked meal each night? I would be happy to teach you both how to cook- it’s a vital part of being an adult.
“I also want to know if you have any boundaries on touch. Some people don’t like being hugged. I don’t like having my face touched, at all. I ask that you respect my boundaries as I would yours. Infringe upon them and be met with consequences.” You smiled at them both.
Some might consider this assassin tactics, making yourself seem weaker as you negotiated. In all honesty, it was People Management 101.
“I wouldn’t mind if you cooked for us,” Gaz said, making you smile down at her.
“Thank you, Gaz.”
Gaz preened a bit under your thanks.
That was another thing; these children were cast aside in the name of science. It made Dib search for any form of attention he could get while Gaz exiled herself from it completely. Giving them both praise when deserved made you a stabilizing agent of security to them. You had disciplined both of them with words, yet not held it against them.
Bad blood was beyond difficult to remove from walls.
Especially the emotional kind, that shit leaves a stain.
“This was really good, Yellow,” Dib said, pushing his plate back.
Table manners, the next task.
“Thank you, Dib,” you said, gathering their empty plates. “Gaz, could you help me dry the dishes.”
“Why do I have to do it?”
“Dib did help make your dinner,” you explained moving to the sink. “And because I asked nicely.”
Gaz debated for a second, but hopped out of her chair. This time without any scraping on the ground. Dishes didn’t take long with Gaz’ aid as she knew where everything went.
“Do you have any homework?”
“Completed it at school,” Gaz replied.
“Only a little,” Dib confessed, rubbing the back of his head.
“Well, if you want help, I could try and assist you.” You went to your bag and pulled out your laptop, letting it begin the process of warming up.
“Can I show you my room first?” You smiled at Dib and nodded. He took your hand and pulled you up the stairs. The little hallway had four doors, one open to the bathroom, two with sheets of paper on the doors, Gaz’s room- STAY AWAY DIB and Dib’s Room. Dib lead you into the room marked as his.
There were little green glow in the dark stars on his ceiling, his bed poorly made and clothes scattered around. The desk shoved next to his closet was piled with circuitry and monitors, different types of technology that you didn’t know about.
“Might I see your supernatural collection?” Dib jumped up onto his bed and reached for a book overflowing with paper.
“This is hair that I found in the park behind the oil tankers- I think that bigfoot rests there in the winter. And this is a werewolf fang that I stole after it was fighting a giant robot monkey.”
“Your notes are very organized,” you commented. Each specimen of evidence was neatly put in the book, little notes attached to the sides of the scrapbook that had the date, time and location of where he found it. Some of the places he went into that had ghosts even had a scale schematic of the building. As he spoke about different ghosts he found, you noticed that his fascination went beyond the supernatural but to the astrophysical.
“Dib,” you commented, eyes caught on a series of equations that projected the next lunar eclipse and the location the shadow would take across the planet sketched onto a globe map. “This is extremely complex.” Your finger traced the predicted path of the shadow. “You must be very proud of yourself.”
Dib awkwardly chuckled, closing the book and putting it on the desk.
“Do you really believe there are aliens?” he asked.
“I think it’s ignorant for humans to be the sole intelligent creature within the expanse of the universe.”
“This alien isn’t all that intelligent.”
“Human’s aren’t either, Dib. We kill and pollute and conquer.” You paused, dropping a hand onto his shoulder. “Perhaps you and your alien Zim have more in common than you think.”
“So, you really believe me?” Dib asked, looking up at you with big doe eyes. “But I haven’t shown you any evidence.”
You smiled at him, recognizing his need to be seen rather than grapple with his obsession of the alien.
“I believe you,” you said.
Dib’s smile grew wider than he launched himself at you, arms outstretched. You squeezed him against you as he soaked in your warmth.
The kid was oddly muscular under the trench coat he wore. You saw no evidence of sporting equipment in his room. Perhaps him fighting the alien would become a larger problem for you than you thought.
“Now how about that homework?”
The groan he gave mimicked his sister to the point it had you laughing.
Your charges were safe in their beds, both asleep. When they were asleep for an hour, therefore entering the stages of REM, you moved about the house. Cameras in the house were not new for you, and their were obvious ones that you ignored. You suspected there were at least three hidden cameras about the house, but suspected that Professor Membrane only looked at them if there was an incident given the amount of dust covering the lenses.
The house was clean, thanks to the numerous robots wheeling about.
There was little for you to do other than wait for Professor Membrane to arrive back home. He was due at midnight, but when one passed without any sound of a car engine, you were ready to bunker in for the night on the couch. An alarm was set on your phone for an early wake up so the kids could have breakfast.
You perked up when you heard a car rumble close to the house. Moving quietly, already beginning to memorize parts of the house that squeaked or croaked under pressure, you checked the window. You fell at ease when you saw the professor exit his car and walk to the door.
“Good morning!” he announced.
“Indeed.” You moved from the table with your laptop and to the man. “I would politely request you return to your house at the given time or send me a message of your late departure.”
“Ah, yes, well,” he rubbed the back of his head, a trait his son inherited, it seemed. It appeared the man was not used to constructive criticism either. “I will do better next time.”
You nodded your head to the man, gathering your belongings.
“We shall see,” you said. You dipped your head goodnight and walked back to your home, crashing on the bed.