Since Ann and Fran were not the most discreet of characters, it wasn't too difficult to tell who was Ann, who was Fran, where they were heading and why. Ann loved flying Pokémon; Fran liked fire. Ann lived for pink; Fran swore by yellow. Their mini suitcases had burst open on the train seats next to them, and Pokémon were buried amongst a mass of hair accessories and funny hats. The girls were taking pictures with their phones, giggling and cooing over their companions.
Across the aisle, Samus Aran felt a dull thud of realisation in the pit of her stomach – that a baseball cap perched haphazardly on her really wasn't going to cut as a passable disguise in Saffron City.
Click click, went their phones, and Sunflower Joy – a tubby Pidgey who was probably wondering what he had done wrong in his past life to deserve such a name – hooted and tried to escape onto the luggage rack. Ann and her Pokémon battled it out, but Fran's gaze – not for the first time – glanced across the aisle.
"Hey, baseball girl," Fran addressed her, "why don't you let your Pokémon out too? Bubbles and I are always looking to make new friends! What's your name? Which Pokémon do you have?" She bent her knees a little to look beneath the baseball cap. "Our dad is a professor of flying Pokémon. He gave us our starter Pokémon so that we could journey to find more. Who did you start with?"
"…I didn't really get in with having Pokémon of my own," she fabricated. "I tend to uh…just borrow my boyfriend's."
"Well, it's never too late to start," said Fran, nodding for emphasis. "They'll become your best and most loyal friends!"
Samus propped her legs up on the seat opposite her – effectively preventing Fran from joining her compartment. "Sure they will," she answered.
Minutes later, a jingle blared out over the carriage's loudspeaker and the conductor announced the final stop.
"Oh no!" whined Ann, when she realised she had about thirty seconds to re-pack.
Samus leapt to her feet and nodded goodbye. When the train pulled in at the platform, she was careful not to let the wind catch her oversized sports jacket, which would ultimately have revealed that where there should have been a belt and PokeBalls, there was a gun in its place.
To begin with, Samus was just one of many frequenters to Saffron Premier Hotel's restaurant and bar. The live music (headed by a woman who reminded her of the old phrase mutton and lamb) had an impressive ability in being able to drive away visitors and guests before they finished their first drink. The good news was that, over this cacophony of strained warbling and a piano's poorly tended strings, Samus could slink behind her cocktail and watch the long suffering hotel virtually crumble before her eyes.
There were only two bartenders, despite the heavy crowd (with frequent turnover, admittedly). The mood was sombre, accentuated with blue down-lights. Her cocktail glistened in the lonely hue and its rim clouded over as a bartender approached.
"Can I get you another one?"
She slid the glass towards him. "No, you're good," she replied, and when he saw her glance at the small stage, he said carefully, "It's not always so subdued like this. It's been a hectic few days for the hotel."
"I can imagine," said Samus. "Three blackouts in two days – this entire street went haywire with faulty electronic equipment, and authorities sourced it to this hotel."
The bartender shifted his weight from foot to foot, pondering a neutral answer. "They're actually re-investigating the incidents now," he said finally. "You know the hotel sits very close to the magnet train line? That seems a far more likely explanation—"
"—but it wasn't the first suspect, was it," Samus cut in. She cleared her throat, stretched her back as though she was waking from a year long nap. "Forgive me, I don't mean to be difficult."
"Something on your mind?" the bartender said in invitation. She wanted to get his name – to put a label to the first instance of a stranger knowing she had more than trivial matters of everyday life – but the lights veered off the edge of his badge.
"My boyfriend proposed," she said lightly.
The bartender glanced at her left hand. "Stuck for the answer?"
"Something like that." She slid off her barstool. "You ever feel your life has just reached a set of red lights that won't change until you accomplish something first? It feels like that. I know where I want to be, but I have a massive hurdle to overcome before I can get there." She crossed her arms. "So, how do I find the manager of this hotel?"
"Are you booked with us?" said the hotel receptionist, with a look on her face that suggested she really hoped Samus wasn't. Samus was aware she was the only one dressed down in Saffron Premier Hotel and Spa. The casual look didn't quite complement the grandiose lobby and its occupants, but Samus quite liked the way she could rumple the carpet of the rich just by standing there.
"I'm not one of your guests, but I'd like to speak to the manager of this hotel."
"Well, why don't you tell me what it's regarding before I bother him," she answered tartly.
"The basement," she answered, too blandly for it to be mistaken as a joke. "Or more precisely, the second level of the underground car park designated to members of staff. You can inform him I know its various faults, and I'm here to correct them."
The receptionist smiled. "So you're a repairwoman?"
"Exactly," Samus said. "He won't be expecting me, but I guarantee he'll be delighted to see me. I'll be on that sofa there."
The hotel manager's face did nothing to suggest delight when he came out of the showy restaurant. He quickly picked out the anomaly in the cluster of luxury and approached her while wringing his hands. "Good afternoon ma'am, I'm Arthur MacDowell, the manager of this hotel."
"Samus Aran." They briefly shook hands, and then MacDowell laughed nervously.
"I'm not sure there is a problem with the hotel's basement," he said. "We have little need for an external repairwoman—"
He sputtered a few more words of dissent, before Samus cut in, "I'm not a repairwoman – I lied. I'm here as an ambassador of the Galactic Federation, to locate a monster that terrorises Saffron City. Ever heard of a Pokémon named Mewtwo?"
MacDowell gave a shaky smile, glancing around him. "You quite happily announce your operation to anyone. One would class that as unprofessional and potentially dangerous."
"I only happily announce it when I know the person in front of me is clearly involved."
Again, MacDowell gave another look around him, as though he was expecting all of his guests to pounce on him at once. "Follow me," he said finally.
He took her past the lobby desk, nudging open an oak door with his shoulder to an empty office. As soon as they were in, he shut the door and blurted out, "Are you crazy? Do you know just what you're accusing me of? Do you have any idea how damaging it'd be on a hotel's reputation if it did house a rogue Pokémon?"
Samus perched on the end of a desk and took off her cap. It spun round her index finger in a faraway pinwheel of blue and white. "Perhaps you are out of touch with the various events that have occurred in the vicinity of your hotel. Just last week, thirteen people reported distressed Pokémon in your lobby, who all wouldn't enter the lower floors of your hotel spa. You fed a cock-and-bull story to the press about a mischievous Kadabra causing trouble, but a simple pull up of your guest log indicates there never was a Kadabra present."
MacDowell grimaced. "The log isn't always accurate—"
"Two days ago," she continued, "this entire street went haywire with faulty electronics and again, distressed Pokémon. City authorities traced the source of this disruption and obtained a location – this hotel – but you supplied no responsible Pokémon, explaining it as a small glitch in the system."
"Our hotel's electricity is supplied by Voltorbs. They were having an odd moment—"
"Your hotel receives admirable reviews and ratings," she continued, and MacDowell smiled properly for the first time.
"Yes, we are ranked as—"
"—but trawling through your negative reviews, approximately eighty percent of them raise this one point: a complaint of headaches and untraceable buzzing."
"It's a common side effect to being near psychic Pokémon. I'm afraid I have no control over what Pokémon the hotel's guests bring."
She twisted her lips in a reaction of scrutiny and doubt. "Finally – and most concerning – you do realise a man recently died on your premises. One of your own members of staff."
Whatever colour remained in MacDowell's face drained there and then.
"That's what this is about," he breathed. "Are you with the police?"
"I already told you where I'm from." She hopped off the table and stuck her cap back on. "It's been classed as an accident caused during the movement of heavy machinery. However, the man in question reportedly suffered interesting injuries, namely a battered throat, which had been ruptured at three points to form a triangle. So, either your man was operating some very odd machinery, or a Pokémon with three fingers forced his hand into the man's throat, pinned him to the wall and watched him die. In light of this death, the Galactic Federation recognises a psychic threat within Saffron City that requires urgent attention. Your duty is to let me do my job and investigate."
His lips tightened, such that Samus added, "It's all right, Mr. MacDowell. You don't have to defend yourself and your business any more. I'm not here to stitch you up, only to remove the threat."
He cleared his throat, and when he took her spot and sat on the edge of the desk, he looked utterly helpless and resigned. "That's just it. You can't do it."
"Are you going to get in my way? If you plan to defend Mewtwo, I can quite easily remove you too."
"I'm not defending him. I'm stating a fact. It's impossible to kill him." Here, MacDowell looked up, tired and cornered. "Believe me, no one wants him out of this hotel more than I do, but he can't be killed. He has…kind of an ultimate shield that means he's invulnerable."
"I think a bullet in the back of his head to cut off his psychic circuit would suffice."
MacDowell shook his head and half-smiled. It was condescending, haughty, and for the first time that afternoon, there was the suggestion MacDowell was actually one up on her. "You have no idea what you're in for, Ms Aran."
As soon as the maintenance lift doors opened, Samus rammed an elbow into the pattress box to kill the car park's lights. The darkness would hardly provide any immunity against psychic attacks, but with the visual impairment, it boosted her remaining senses. With Chozo blood coursing through her, however, she wasn't completely blind. She pulled her cap round, back to front to keep her hair out her eyes. She could just about make out the ghostly exoskeletons of luxury cars, their bulbous headlights like empty eye sockets; she could see enough to start a slow, semi-crawl along the vast expanse of lonely space the lifeless machinery bordered.
Before she had arrived at the basement, Arthur MacDowell had told her one more thing about Mewtwo that had never been mentioned or suggested in her mission brief from the Federation.
She didn't know if MacDowell was having a last ditch attempt at deterring her, or he was telling a sort of unbelievable truth – but he had informed her that Mewtwo really wasn't hostile.
As the only (recorded) Pokémon to have been genetically engineered into existence, and then to have his very life and experiment denied by his creators, all signs did point to a vehement monster bent on destruction. When someone had been screwed over as much as that, it only took one wrong word to send them over the edge to self-destruction.
Now she was left wondering if there was a return from such a journey.
Samus stopped at a parking bay labelled up for disabled people, and she retrieved her gun as easily as taking out spare change. She spotted a storage room ahead. It boasted thick walls, a rusty sign denoting the danger of death and a half-open door.
For a few seconds, she entertained the thought of devising a way to surprise a psychic. Then, she glanced back at her gun, shoulder blades digging into the pillar behind her, and with a finger firmly over the trigger, she said into the dark, "You know I'm here, Mewtwo."
To most, he would have seemingly appeared out of nowhere; but to Samus, with her gaze already set on the corner that raised the most suspicion, he merely melted out of the shadows as though he had prompted the darkness, not her. He stood proudly beyond six feet, bony and stock still, several strides away from the electrics storeroom.
"I'm Samus Aran. On behalf of the Galactic Federation, I am authorised to remove you."
He took a small step forward. "Brain waves cannot be concealed by the simple act of switching off the lights. You seem intelligent enough to know this, but there you are, at the mercy of psychic ability you cannot even begin to comprehend, and here I am, humouredly waiting for you to deliver your judgment."
She favoured him with a dry smile, keeping the gun steady. "If you were going to kill me, you would have done it long before those lift doors opened. I am at your mercy, but I have read and analysed numerous reports on your activity. All of your psychic movements have been surplus and background waves. Even when killing, you resorted to physical moves. I know you are here to hide and to defend yourself. The sad fact is that even with these seemingly innocent motivations, you are still a threat."
He took another step. "When you announce your mission is to remove me, I assume you mean to kill me."
The emergency lights flicked on and they were both no longer secure in the shadows. The green strips lit them up from underneath, throwing them onto a microscope's stage, examining their morality. Her gun jutted out harshly in the neutral ground between them, cold in her grasp. She re-aligned her aim so that his head was right in the line of fire.
He didn't look anything like the Pokémon Samus had seen on her way to Saffron City. He was missing the contentment in the company of humans, and he was devoid of the telling sign of belonging. Eyes wary and angular body arranged in a taut position of defence, Mewtwo looked ready to tear out her throat next.
Then, he relaxed, apparently unbothered by the endangerment. "My background waves are enough to knock people and Pokémon unconscious. In addition, before the thought even occurs to you to pull that trigger, I would have already turned you into its path. The simplest way to defeat me is to lure me into an open space with half an army and begin an assault to prompt all of my psychic defences into submission. If you allow me no rest or time for recovery, then you stand a chance in striking me at my weakest point – the neck. Given this optimum scenario, your cause to attack me now is rather benign."
She was disarmed for a handful of seconds, as her gaze slid away from his malicious stare to observe his veiny neck. It did look significantly more frail than the steely surface of his head, and in the silence that followed, Mewtwo had the tiniest smile to spare.
Perhaps fuelled by this insolence, Samus leapt and tested the waters. She fired, setting the gun to kill and not stun. Mewtwo tilted his head as though he was merely stretching, and the bullet shot past into a pillar.
"You can't use psychic," Samus said matter-of-factly. "Did the scientists finally catch up and neutralise you?"
"There's a difference between not being able to use psychic, and simply refusing." Mewtwo strode back to the storage room and Samus followed him, still keeping the gun on him. "I don't use it because they're sensitive to its stronger form."
"Who's they?" Her aim slid off Mewtwo and instead, she latched to his sight, following it across the room to a worn cardboard box.
Mewtwo had really made a den for himself. In the few seconds Samus had spared to eye her surroundings, she noticed the box of fruit atop a mound of tangled cables and at its foot, a numerous number of frayed blankets. Only one of the four spotlights were working, and in this dim glow, Samus edged forwards and glanced over the edge of the box.
She promptly lowered her gun.
Mewtwo noticed the submissive gesture, but he made no remark of it. Instead, he gave what could have been a shrug and said, "Go ahead. Kill me." He leaned against the dirt-stained wall, suggesting he had no intention of moving.
She hesitated – and she hated herself for it. She looked back at the box again, watched the three tiny infants clamber over one another in play. "…You're meant to be the only one of your kind."
His eyes rolled toward the ceiling in either a contemptuous or thoughtful move. "There are hundreds of Mew on this planet. We are too smart to be found. In the eyes of humans, that apparently makes us legendary."
Samus wetted her lips. She supposed the question was redundant at the mere fact the infants were safe and healthy, but she had to ask, "Are they yours?"
"Where's their mother?"
She turned round, remembering to keep the gun steady. Although she was aware it being superfluous round a psychic, it seemed to be the only object here in this basement that made sense. "Did you kill her?"
"She expressed a desire to leave."
Samus pursed her lips. "Perhaps she regretted her actions. Or perhaps you hadn't given her much choice."
Mewtwo blinked, a slow, deliberate action laden with more disinterest than she could tolerate. "She couldn't see much point to her existence after she had birthed the infants. Neither could I."
Her eyes wandered back to the box. One of infants had managed to clamber out. It half crawled, half jumped, springing along the stained concrete to find something to play with. That the infant's first choice of toy was his father's foot, did not quite go unnoticed. Samus felt her gun arm tense up.
"Are you lonely?" she said after a minute, and when Mewtwo stared at her, she added, "since loneliness is a common motivator towards starting a family – forcibly or otherwise."
Mewtwo offered an unmistakeable smile. "You give me the benefit of the doubt. There really is no need. The obvious answer is usually the correct answer."
He took a step forward. The infant latched to his ankle and in a small move that surprised Samus, it let out a bright blue glow that could only be a psychic wave. She watched wordlessly as Mewtwo easily channelled the wave into him, absorbing the glow, and the only resounding effect was a quick pang in the back of her head as though someone had just flicked her there.
"I'm using them," Mewtwo said without a shred of remorse. "I'm simply employing a method that guarantees my wellbeing. Over the years, people have not hesitated to neutralise me. They have chased me across continents, and once Team Rocket realised I was heavily impacting their funds, they relented and made way for bounty hunters. Like yourself," he added, not without condescension. "Eventually, these infants will grow up and lose their worth but by that point, bounty hunters and Team Rocket will have moved on to bigger prizes. I decided to father children not out of loneliness but tactical thinking. Humans tend to think twice when there are infants in the line of fire."
"Your blatant disregard of life is sickening," murmured Samus.
Mewtwo laughed, a concentrated rumble of mixed amusement and disdain. "I'm not the one holding the gun."
It took every ounce of Samus' effort to not curl her lip in haughty disbelief. Mewtwo even granted her the insulting courtesy of letting the remark settle, before continuing. "I wonder if you understand the full complexities of psychic Pokémon," he said. He lifted the stray infant, taking it in a disconnected hold devoid of a physical embrace's warmth. He dropped it back in the box lightly, casually, dispassionately. "Psychic Pokémon possess a convoluted understanding of the world around them. We think in layers, primarily the physical, emotional and intangible. Though our level of instinct is far sharper than yours, we do not rely on something so baseless. Instead, we calculate. We link to other psychics and use them as an extension to travel and learn and surmise. We form a link to other living creatures, like quiet and countless synapses, and we determine what makes it tick, what makes it smile or frown or hide – and we do it all without moving a single muscle."
Samus scoffed. She was too consumed by pride to ever admit or reveal she couldn't understand the relevance of Mewtwo's words. She flexed her fingers to rework some feeling back in them, and the butt of the gun felt clammy against her palm.
"Essentially, there exists a psychic network," said Mewtwo. "Those infants will know when a part of it is shut down."
She wetted her lips. "So when I kill you, they'll more than know it."
"Yes, they will effectively experience it all."
She tried to smile, but her face had frozen. "You know that's not a good enough reason to spare you."
"Maybe not for you," Mewtwo answered easily, and he alluded so lightly to former bounty hunters – the ones who still had something remaining beneath their assassin's skin – that her index finger flew into an uncontrollable spasm.
One, two, three – a trio of silver bullets, a cluster of raw damage – and they shot past in uncomprehending, merciless flight. Mewtwo flipped his head, skewed his tail at an elegant angle. The concrete wall behind him disgorged fractured webs of impact. He shook his head as if shaking himself awake from an idle nap.
Samus licked her lips, tipped out the contents of the gun and readjusted its settings, the tips of her fingers trembling. She pretended she was more angry than afraid. She fired, and an orange beam sprung from the gun and she swung it. A split-second before she had flung the plasma whip in a solid loop round the base of his neck, Mewtwo smiled.
"I was orphaned," she said through her teeth. "My parents were killed right before my eyes and I can attest it doesn't mean the end."
"Because you grew up to be someone so exemplary."
She snarled – a sound she had no idea she was capable of – and she yanked her arm backwards, not at full strength but with enough blind hatred to expect some visible result. However, her whip strained at Mewtwo's weight. He barely moved an inch forward, barely reacted as the noose round his neck began to burn at his flesh.
"Don't push me." Samus took a step forward, an unconscious move to double check if that was still a smile on Mewtwo's face.
"Why not? If these are my last moments, I may say as I please. What are you going to do with the infants, once you have orphaned them?"
She let her eyes meet his in a second of weakness. "…Do you care about them?"
"No," he replied, casual, "but I do have some curiosity for how well you tie loose ends."
She gripped the gun with both hands. "I'm going to kill you," she breathed, "and then I'll take your children somewhere safe, where they can grow up to be good and safe. With you out the picture, they won't grow up as monsters. I can ensure they – at least – have a place in the world. I can't extend that offer to you."
"Because I don't fit in the world my creators specifically designed me for," said Mewtwo. He circled his shoulders and movement danced along the rope that connected them, two distorted individuals who couldn't piece a heart between them. "Figures."
"You should have figured it before you killed a man."
"Overreacted? You practically decapitated him."
"He tried to take the infants away from me."
"And you needed them to continue as your shield," she spat, but the venom in her voice wavered, like a receding, resigned tide, when in Mewtwo's blank stare, there might have been the first sign of sentiment.
"Well, it's hardly because I cared about them."
She glanced back at the small box and its simple efficiency to make any hunter have potentially fatal second thoughts. "Do you want to die?" she asked finally, confronting the callous smirk she couldn't look away from.
She didn't wait for an answer. Instead, she bit so hard on the inside of her gums she tasted blood, and then she tugged, wrenching the plasma whip in a forceful, deliberate move.
He flew forwards and Samus knew he hadn't moved a muscle in protest. She gritted her teeth, shortened the length of the whip and yanked back on her arm, twisting her upper body round.
"…If it proves I'm not the worst creature alive, why not?"
With a sickening crunch that made the infants whimper, she snapped his neck cleanly in half.
Were she not such a good judge of the passing of time, Samus could have believed she spent hours in the storage room, sporadically checking for any sign of Mewtwo's pulse.
However, only thirty-six minutes had gone, and they were long, unfilled minutes of bitter victory. When Samus stood up, her legs had to work twice as hard to keep her upright. She scooped up the cardboard box, suppressing the stream of headaches that echoed their protests with the unconscious urge to jam her lips tight together.
She was brought back to life as the maintenance lift doors opened, and she somehow found her way back into the lobby of the hotel. She whittled down the crowd of exuberant people and their Pokémon, and Arthur MacDowell glanced up from the gleaming counter of the front desk. He promptly let go of his wonky tie and it hung limply in a clash of blue and orange.
Wordlessly, Samus deposited the cardboard box on the counter. MacDowell winced as three infants poked their wet noses out from the blanket she had thrown in there with them. When he looked back at her, he appeared ready to bolt; and at last, Samus knew for certain she was on the wrong side of the glass, the peeling and lifeless condensation to the fizzing bubbles of life within.
"…I'm not familiar with this world," she said after a moment, "but these three are legendary creatures, and they've recently been orphaned. Maybe…you could get in touch with that network of professors."
MacDowell took the box in his arms, attempting to create a barrier between them. "…I'll do that," he said. He didn't say anything else until Samus had reached the revolving doors of the lobby, and then her surname echoed across the grandiose hall. She turned round.
"Funny thing is," said MacDowell, unsmiling, "there's still a monster in Saffron City."
To his credit, Douglas Jay Falcon always knew exactly what Samus needed when she was never sure. He was sat on the plastic seats at the train station, eyes glued to his phone, when her shadow slinked across him and he stood up to wordlessly hand her a bottle of water. He had even taking the liberty of unscrewing the cap for her.
"Thanks," she said, downing half of it and almost believing it was enough to prove she had a body that was alive. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and let him shake her hair out the baseball cap.
"The Federation said this would have been a hard one." Falcon dug in his pockets for their magnet train tickets. "So, how was it?"
She thought about it for a minute, although she had long planned this conversation – the one that mattered. "It was difficult," she admitted. "I had to stand back and think hard this time. He had children. It's how he escaped before – daring his hunters to orphan his children."
Falcon followed her through the ticket barrier. Normally, Samus' subtle moves that replaced any sign of betrayal in her face would have gone unnoticed, but he was quick to notice the minute change in her pace. "It's still bothering you," he said. "You know, going by your current record, I don't think the Federation will mind if you let one mission slip. In all fairness, they shouldn't put you on tasks that are obviously personal to you."
She studied her ticket, if only to escape his eyes. "You think I finally broke my faultless record and failed my mission," she said, "or you think I did the one thing I know how to do best – follow orders?"
The electronic gates that separated the platform from the track served as the cold platform for her to rest her forearms and weigh up the answer that'd determine her life. Now that she looked, with the setting sun casting their shapes across the ladders below, Falcon's shadow was solid and certain. She was thin, ghostly, barely there.
"Tell you what." She turned and worked a light smile out of him. "Answer right, and I'll marry you."
She rolled her eyes back to the track, counting the bare planks and the gaps they left, and trying to decide which of the two had more semblance. Falcon didn't answer straightaway. He even went as far as checking his phone for messages and commenting on how nicely she had curled her hair today.
"You let him go," he said. The train peeked round from the bend up ahead, and an announcement rang over the station. "Course you did," he elaborated. "A parent trying to protect its family – that rings too close to home that you'd ever let it happen."
You know me too well, she wanted to say, but even if she did, the rolling train and its screeching brakes would have rendered her voice into silence and all he would have seen was her betraying gaze that whispered, You don't know me at all.
"Stand back from the barrier please, the gates will be opening," announced the station attendant.
Samus smiled up at him, at her own tailored shield to convince her of her humanity.
She held out her left hand.