Rating: PG for some mild violence, mild peril, and dead animals.
Author's Notes: While Mewtwo's story has had plenty of fan-adaptation and exploration, I haven't seen nearly as much done with Mew and how it ended up on Cinnabar Island in the first place. This story explores that, from a game canon perspective—i.e. an actual scientific expedition rather than a Team Rocket mission as was shown in the first movie. This will be a novella-length story with four parts.
This story is a spin-off of my current chapterfic, Salvage, but no prior knowledge of that story should be necessary to enjoy it. If you're a Salvage reader, I hope you enjoy this little (or not so little) look at how everything started.
Professor Oak was fuzzy on the tiny vidscreen, a washed-out greeny color that kept flickering to total black and white. "Good to see you again, Sara. How's the expedition going?" he asked.
"Okay, I guess. We had to walk a lot." There were no roads going deep into the jungle, and they'd had to go up, and up, up on the side of a mountain where the ruins were. There weren't just not roads, either, but not even real paths, and every day they had to stop for hours and hours to wait for someone to cut a way through the bushes so they could bring the equipment through. "And it rained every day!"
"Ah, yes, I understand they do call it a rainforest," Professor Oak said, and even though the picture was so bad Sara could barely see his face, she knew he was smiling. Well, let him come and walk in the rain and the mud and the bugs if he thought it was so funny. "But you're in camp now, so you won't have to walk so much."
"Not if I go with Dad. Mom has to go around putting cameras everywhere and stuff."
Professor Oak had been their first call after finally getting the satellite array set up. Now that they'd made camp they could talk to people back home and Sara's parents could send back their pictures and reports. Mom kept saying how much better this was than it used to be, when they'd only been able to send sound, no picture at all, and even that had been crackly and hard to hear and sometimes didn't work at all.
"Well, I hope you'll spend at least a little bit of time with your mother. You have your pokédex, don't you? It would be wonderful if you could bring back a few scans of whatever you find out there." Professor Oak did something on the little screen—took a drink, maybe? Of coffee? It was tomorrow in Kanto, and early.
"I will. Mom says I'm not allowed to catch anything, though. Because the pokémon out here don't have an a-gree-ment." Sara drew the word out in annoyance. "She won't even let me have any pokéballs."
"It's true, you shouldn't catch any pokémon that aren't on a route. That's poaching. And they don't have routes in Guyana." Professor Oak's voice was stern, even through the distortion.
"I know that. But it's still okay if you ask. I would ask. And Mom has pokéballs in case she finds something that wants to go with her, she just won't let me have any."
"I'm sure your mother knows what she's doing," Professor Oak said, and there went Sara's hopes of getting him on her side. "Now where's Titan? How's he doing?"
Sara scowled at the obvious change of subject, but the charmander had been sitting next to her, waiting his turn. Now he stood up, whining and chirping and reaching with his claws. Sara moved over so he could get in front of the screen.
"There you are, Titan!" Professor Oak said. "You've been the talk of the lab, you know. Everyone here's jealous of your adventure."
Titan leaned in over the keyboard, making singsong growls at the professor. "Well, you're looking bigger, aren't you! How's—ah, hold on, I think someone over here wants to talk to you." Professor Oak stepped back as a couple hands appeared over the edge of the table, feeling around blindly for better leverage until Squirtle manages to drag himself over the edge. Titan leaned in so close his breath fogged the crummy screen, yapping away in excitement. Squirtle trilled back, and then they were off in furious conversation about something-or-other. A few seconds later Bulbasaur joined Squirtle on the far side of the screen, and Sara waved to Professor Oak, then left them to it.
She passed close to the camp stove, which sizzled under insect-swarmed kerosene lights, but one of the grad students was standing right there poking it, so she couldn't hope to sneak anything. Instead she wandered over to where Dad was sitting, sorting through photographs. She climbed up on the bench next to him, scooted in close until she was pressed up against his side, and rested her chin on the scratchy wood tabletop in an attitude that she hoped conveyed both boredom and hunger.
"Well, look who we have here!" Dad said, smiling big. His face was spotted with weird glistening patches where he'd slathered anti-itch cream over bug bites. "Want to see what we found at the dig today?"
Sara propped her cheek up on her hand without enthusiasm, but it wasn't like there was anything else to do. And when Dad held the photos out towards her, there was actually something interesting.
"Well, that's what we're here to find out, isn't it?" Dad said, which was one of his dumb non-answers, but Sara didn't even care. She stretched up to see better while Dad slowly flipped through the photographs. Usually all he had pictures of were different angles on bits of broken walls, bare and then with rulers propped against them, or holes with tape and little flags around them, or people digging. Sometimes a pot or something. But this—this was actually something cool.
"Is that Mew?"
"Maybe. It could be an espurr, maybe, or even an abra, but the tail, and the eyes—it certainly looks like Mew to me. What do you think?"
"Yeah!" The picture was of a wall covered in faded, shallow marks. Mostly they were nonsense squiggles and squares and things, but right in the middle was the unmistakable outline of something organic, something pokémon: little stubby arms, bit long feet, squashed face with huge eyes, and a long, snaky tail. "Mew lives here?"
"Maybe. Or did. They might be gone now. Or changed so much it would be hard to recognize them. This is from a long, long time ago. You can come with me tomorrow if you want to see it in person," Dad said.
"Will you make me pick up sticks again?"
"Well, it would be nice if you helped the grad students out a bit." Dad glanced up as Mom sat down across from them, with her notebook and her pen.
"What are you two up to?"
"Taking a look at the mural we found today. Check it out."
He handed the stack of photos across to Mom, and Sara watched them go, frowning. "Wow. That's remarkable preservation," her mother said, missing the obvious important point.
"Yeah. Most of the roof's intact, kept it pretty sheltered. About time we had a bit of luck."
"What do you think this place was? Temple? Palace?"
"That structure we're not sure. For a complex this large you'd have to think one of those two, but the rooms are much smaller than we'd expect, and the artifacts suggest a high concentration of people living there, lots of day-to-day utilitarian items. Some kind of villa, maybe? Or harem? We've got a lot more work to do."
Sara got the alarming sense that they were about to go off into boring science stuff. "But there's just one Mew. It can't be gone," Sara said. "Not if it's legendary."
"Maybe," Dad says. "It's been a long time."
"Like the birds," Sara insisted. "There's just one of them, and they've been around forever. Mew could be like that."
"That's right, Sara," Mom said. "If Mew is a legendary pokémon, it might still be alive, and it might live around here. But there are legendary pokémon that vanished, too, a lot of them. In Unova, for example, there are very good records of the dragons that split the region, but they died out thousands and thousands of years ago. Either the Unovans were wrong about them being legendary, or things can happen even to pokémon that powerful. Or they might never have existed at all, like the lords of time and space they worship in Sinnoh."
"People have seen Mew. There's pictures," Sara said sulkily.
"Well, that's a pretty generous description of what could easily be photos of abra taken with bad cameras in poor lighting," Mom said. "I'm not saying it couldn't happen, I'm just saying don't get your hopes up. There are undiscovered species out here; that's why we brought my lot, after all. There have been two new kinds of pokémon found in South America just in the last year, and we know there have to be more."
Sara knew that. It was one of the ways Mom had pitched this trip in the first place. Of course an undiscovered pokémon would be cool, but it would probably be some kind of bird thing or bug or maybe a fish, which was fine, but there were lots of those already. Nothing at all like Mew.
"Do you want to go with your mom tomorrow instead? Now that the camera traps are all set up, you get to see if they found anything. Then you're off and tracking through the jungle. That's your real adventure, right?"
"Mmmm." Going with Mom meant being out all day. If Sara visited Dad's site instead, she could go do what she wanted after a while, but also he'd probably make her do boring stuff while she was there. Right now nothing sounded very good. Even dinner would be too much effort.
Titan climbed up next to her, whining and chuffing. He was hungry, too. "When's dinner?" Sara asked while Mom distracted Titan with the photos.
"Should be just a few minutes. Sanesh has been poking at the hot dogs for a while now," Dad said. He was craning out around Sara, and she could feel how tense he was watching Titan shuffle clumsily through the photographs, holding them so tight they bent around his little claws. Dad reached over to snatch them instant Titan was done, but Sara managed to slip a picture of the wall carving out of the stack before he could get it.
"Can I keep this one?"
"I can make a copy for you, but for now I need it back."
Sara sulkily handed the picture over, then flopped over sideways, flinging one arm out dramatically across the table. "I'm hungryyyyyy." Titan whined his agreement.
"Sara, sweetie, why don't you go get plates and silverware for everybody? That way we'll be ready to go when the food gets here."
Titan immediately jumped down and headed for the mess tent because that was just the kind of thing he did, but Sara groaned and rolled over face-down on the table, arm still outflung. Who would have thought an expedition to mysterious ruins would be so boring?
At the dig site Dad did make her pick up sticks—clear an area so the archaeologists could excavate. But he also let her see the carving, and took a picture of her standing next to it with the special camera that spat out the pictures right away. Sara held the photo all the way through lunch, watching herself fade into view, the carving behind her even taller than she was.
She wanted to touch the stones, to run her fingers through the grooves that made up Mew's face and eyes. They were shallow, round and smooth, and the pictures around Mew had almost completely faded into the stone. Of course Dad said she couldn't touch, but he let her stay and look as long as she wanted, so she did.
In the afternoon she tried to convince him to let her go off by herself. "Are you sure you don't want to go back to camp and play with Titan or read a book? You can go with your mother tomorrow to see the forest," Dad said.
"Dad, I'm going to be a pokémon trainer. I'm going to be doing stuff like this all the time. You have to get used to it."
He made one of those frowns that meant he knew she was right but didn't like it. "The forest here is a lot different from Route 1," he said. "You have Hunter. Send him out if you get into trouble or get lost."
Hunter the kadabra belonged to one of the grad students, and he'd made it very clear he would prefer to stay right where he was, using his psychic powers to blow dirt off of uncovered artifacts. Dad absolutely refused to let her leave the excavation without somebody who could teleport, though, and Hunter was the only one.
"You have food, water, bug spray, sunscreen...?"
"Already wearing it!" Sara said brightly. "Dad, I'm only going to be gone for a few hours. I don't have to pack like I'm going on an expedition for a week."
"You don't pack supplies because you expect to be gone for days, you pack supplies because you expect to be gone a few hours but end up getting lost and have to survive for days," Dad said grimly, but he did zip Sara's backpack up and hand it over and watch gloomily while she put it on.
"It's okay, Dad. I have Titan with me."
"Char!" the charmander said brightly.
"Don't harass the wild pokémon. If they challenge you it's fine, but don't go looking for fights. Run if they let you. I mean it. Titan's only one pokémon. If he gets hurt in a battle, and then something else jumps you before you get back, you'll be in trouble. Don't hesitate to ask Hunter for help."
Sara knew the wild pokémon were more dangerous here. It was like the deepwilds: there was nothing that said they couldn't attack a human, even a defenseless one. There wasn't even anything that even said they couldn't kill people, unless they had their own pokémon-laws that did. A lot of the stuff they'd hauled up the mountainside was tribute, items to offer the local pokémon in exchange for permission to stay and reassurance that no one would bother the camp or the dig site or Mom's cameras. Even with all the high-level pokémon they'd brought they'd be in trouble if the wilds decided they wanted them gone.
But it wasn't like wild pokémon roamed around just looking for the first opportunity to murder someone, any more than people did. That didn't mean don't be cautious, but you couldn't worry too much, either.
Sara knew all about this kind of stuff. They talked about it a lot in pokémon class, so people would know how to be safe on their journey. Maybe Dad should go to Mr. Heather's class, too, if he needed a refresher.
"Be back by five, understand? That's a hard deadline. If you're not back by then, we will start looking for you, and you had better believe you won't be going off by yourself again after that."
"I know, Dad, I know." Sara also knew that bringing her along on this expedition had been Mom's idea, and Mom had probably had to listen loads of this kind of stuff and worse trying to convince Dad to let her come. Now that she'd seen the only interesting thing at the dig site, maybe Sara ought to go with Mom for a few days and see if she could get permission to go into the woods for an hour or two while everybody else was eating lunch or something. Mom at least wouldn't fuss this much about it.
"Bye, Dad," she said, feeling a bit silly as she turned towards the forest.
"Bye, Sara. Be safe," he said, and he looked so anxious that Sara walked fast, so fast Titan was almost running to catch up, until she was well between the trees and couldn't see him anymore.
Sara blew out a big breath and hiked her backpack higher on her shoulders. The weight was going to get annoying fast. The pokédex in her hand was heavy, too. Professor Oak said he'd wanted it to be portable, but in Sara's opinion it barely qualified. He said wait and see, it would get smaller in a few years, just like everything else. That didn't make it any lighter now.
"Titan, let's go!" Sara said. "Scratch that tree!"
"Char!" Titan leapt up and gouged the wood with his claws, clear sap oozing from the rents.
Sara didn't really need to mark a path back. In the first place, she wasn't going to get lost, in the second, she had a compass, and third, she had Hunter, too, so it would only take her a second to get back to camp no matter how far off course she definitely wouldn't get. But it was probably better to practice what you were supposed to do, and besides, Titan was enjoying himself.
Now, where would Mew hang out? The forest looked the same to Sara no matter which way she turned. She wouldn't even be able to tell which way the dig site was if she didn't already know.
Ahead and to the left the land sloped down, and Sara thought she heard water running. She knew from wildlife documentaries that predators in Africa liked to wait around watering holes to catch prey, because everything would have to come and drink sometime. Even Mew needed to drink. It was an easy decision.
The water turned out to be farther away than Sara thought, but that was okay. There were bats on the underside of a big leaf, lined up in a furry row along the vein, upside-down with their wings folded around them. Sara wanted to touch one real bad, but she knew she shouldn't. Strange birds called overhead, and once Sara heard a woodpecker knocking, but she couldn't see it. Next time she would go with Mom, so she could borrow some binoculars.
Twice she ran into a really thick spiderweb and shrieked with delighted disgust, and then she found a massive bug that looked like a cross between a crab and a spider, bigger than two of her hands put together. She thought it had to be a pokémon, but the pokédex kept saying there was nothing in range, so she decided it was a bug after all and ran away shrieking and laughing, Titan following after making confused growly noises.
He recovered quickly enough and went back to slashing through the undergrowth and ripping chunks out of tree trunks. He ran yelling at any pokémon he saw, which meant Sara usually didn't get to see them herself before they ran off, but that was okay. Eventually one of them was bound to stick around for a battle.
One pokémon she did see was combee, and she had to keep yelling at Titan not to attack them. It was too bad. They were perfect targets, droning lazily through the forest, and Titan could take one, easy. The problem was there were a lot of them, and they would all come buzzing over if you went after one, and then their vespiquen, too. Sara wanted to see a vespiquen, but not when the only pokémon between her and it and the entire swarm was a single charmander, even if he was a really good charmander.
Mew wasn't by the stream, but Sara wasn't too disappointed. She started to take off her shoes to go wading, but then thought of piranhas and leeches and angry water pokémon. She settled for sitting nearby and chucking rocks into the water, enjoying the plunking noise and hoping to stir up some kind of activity.
Titan sat down, too, well away from the water's edge, and Sara split her snacks with him. "They say Mew only appears before people who're pure of heart," she said. "That's like us! You have to want to see it, too, and I do, real bad. The reason nobody ever found it before is they kept sending grown-ups. This is the sort of thing only kids can do."
"Mahn." Titan scratched the edge of his jaw and watched the stream like it might slip quietly from its banks and jump at him.
"Do you know about Mew? Do pokémon talk about it, too?"
"Man-man." He didn't seem very interested. That was okay. He'd change his mind once they actually found Mew. No way he could meet a real live legendary pokémon and not get excited about it.
Now, where were they going to go next? Sara took a long look around. There was jungle and more jungle in every direction. She took a second to make sure she knew which way they'd come from, too. Titan's sappy scratches in the tree bark made it easy, and her footprints in the damp soil.
"Which way should we go next, Titan?"
"Char." He pointed away from the stream, naturally.
"That's the way we came from."
The charmander put his claws up near his face, a gesture he must have learned from humans, and made an uncertain humming noise.
"Anywhere you want! Do you hear anything interesting around here? Or smell anything?"
"Char?" He pawed at his snout as though confused by the question. But then he got to his feet, padded a few paces to where the bank sloped steeply up, and pointed decisively in a direction Sara was 100% sure he'd picked at random. "Char!"
"Okay, let's check it out!" she said, and from then on, Titan led. He took a meandering path through the forest, idly scraping his claws against the sides of trees as he went past, stopping to sniff the air, detouring wide around mud-sloughs and puddles. Sara followed, daydreaming.
So what if Mom and Dad didn't think Mew was out here? This was one of those things grown-ups thought they understood but really didn't. Mew was out here, and Sara was going to find it. She didn't have any pokéballs, but she'd convince it to come with her anyway. She'd bring it home with her, and Professor Oak would be so impressed he'd say she could go off on her journey right away, and then she'd beat the entire League. With Mew on her team, there was no way she could lose.
No, wait, she'd have to go back to school for at least a little bit so all her friends could see Mew, too. So she'd do that first. But then, then she'd go on her journey. And people would remember her always, the girl who'd rediscovered Mew and become League Champion... Titan stopped abruptly, head tilted as he listened, and after a moment Sara heard what he did, too: an irregular clicking. The clatter of mandibles, Sara thought. The tap of many legs over bark. Bug pokémon.
There were venipede out here. Sara had seen one, briefly, before Titan sent it running. He was tense now, ready, Sara thought, to hurl himself at the pokémon, and no doubt scare it off.
"Shh, Titan," she said, keeping her voice low. "Let me talk to this one first. I want to try and catch it." Venipede were really cool, and you couldn't find them in Kanto at all. Sara would love to have one for her team.
Titan glanced back at her like he didn't know what she was talking about, but he didn't go charging off this time. He was actually going slow, gently pushing the undergrowth aside, although his tail-flame was flickering orange with excitement, letting off a thin trail of smoke.
Sara crept after him, holding her breath and carefully withdrawing an energy bar from her pocket. Maybe a snack would be enough to convince the bug to come with her. Mom and Dad wouldn't be able to do anything if it decided it wanted to leave the forest even without a pokéball.
Titan stopped, and Sara thrashed her way through a clutching bush to join him, annoyed that now she might be the one to scare the venipede off. The charmander didn't react to all the crunching and thrashing and flying leaves. He was looking up at a young Ceiba tree, had to be young, not even two stories high. Its trunk was wrapped with ropes dyed all different colors, its branches laden with wooden wind chimes trailing colorful tassels. Those were what was making the clicking noises, not a pokémon, their frayed tails swaying gently.
All around the tree's massive buttress roots were pots, little clay statues, piled berries. With a fascinated shiver Sara recognized the huddled lumps among them as dead animals, some bloody or twisted and some just laid out still.
Sara felt like tiptoeing as she moved up next to Titan. A pokémon altar—it had to be pokémon, didn't it? There weren't any humans out here, not for miles and miles. She'd only ever read about places like this in books.
The wind chimes clattered, a delicate sound in a forest that was usually full of harsh noises. Sara took a picture with her pokédex, then immediately wondered if she shouldn't have.
"Char!" Titan tugged on Sara's pants, and she looked down in surprise. The charmander was wide-eyed, his tail still glowing orange with excitement. "Char char!"
"What's wrong?" Had he seen a pokémon? They were alone as far as Sara could tell.
Titan whined and shot a look around before returning his gaze to Sara, patting at her leg with one hand. Sara couldn't see anything scary. Maybe it was going to rain? But no, the sun was bright where it shone through the gaps in the canopy. There were trees and fallen trunks bristling with mushrooms and ferns, climbing vines, sprays of flowers. Nothing scary. Maybe there was a snake? Sara looked around in sudden panic. No snake.
"What is it, Titan?" Why was she whispering?
The charmander whined again and scratched at his head. Did he have a headache? Something did feel off, Sara realized. Or maybe she was just getting nervous because Titan was nervous. But no, something was wrong.
Goosebumps rose on Sara's arms. There was a cold feeling in the air, a kind of icy charge, like something was there. Something Sara couldn't see, but not something good, not something good at all. Something watching her.
Shouldn't there be birds? The wind chimes stirred to discordant rattle, like they'd caught a sudden breeze. They struck louder now, and Sara could start to hear real notes instead of a bunch of clicks. Why were they all she could hear? Where were the birds?
The dead animals around the base of the tree suddenly seemed a warning. Sara tried not to look at their still, contorted faces.
"Come on, Titan," she whispered. She was going to be calm. She wasn't going to run, especially not in any old direction where she would end up getting lost in the woods. She was going to turn around and follow Titan's marks back until the weird feeling went away.
Titan was panting, mouth hanging open to show his sharp little fangs. His tail-flame flared and danced. But he stayed by Sara's side, actually holding onto the fabric of her pants half the time. He was brave. He was going to protect his trainer no matter what. And Sara didn't run. She walked and she followed the trail back to the stream, and then why not, turned from there and headed back towards the dig site. She needed to get back soon anyhow.
She never ran, although a couple of times maybe she sped up, just a little. And she never looked back more than two or three times. There was nothing there, and soon she couldn't even hear the wind chimes anymore.