Disclaimer: It's probably for the good of the series that I don't own the rights to anything except the particular combination of words in this fic.
Notes: Written for Rocket100 prompts #44, Experiment; #3, Dreams; #37, Psychic; and #18, Bare. Writing drabble responses for prompts: you're doing it all wrong. Incidentally, Ficnet hates my formatting. For preserved formatting, including correct line breaks instead of stray periods used as dividers, please see it on my LiveJournal, username Ireigh; the link can be found on my profile page.
Timeline: "Cages" falls somewhere between "Analyze" and "Lucky" in my ficverse.
Before she left the building, Sabrina made an excuse to go downstairs and visit the lab where the newest experiment grew. In truth she needed no pretext; she was one of the Elite Triad, after all, second only to the Boss himself, and could go where she wanted by rank and rank alone.
It was after hours, and the main team had already left for the day. Only the night crew remained now, and they took one look at her and fled. Word had spread quickly among the Fleet that Sabrina had been responsible for the new wave of "recruits" to janitor duty after general team clumsiness led to failure of a mission. Sabrina had been rather displeased with the troops she commanded, and although she was never particularly vocal about it, one glare was enough to make them think longingly of their mothers. She wouldn't have them under her command again until they'd had more than their fill of mopping floors and lugging garbage.
That made her alone in the deepest basement of the Rocket Lab on Cinnabar Island. Or almost alone, rather. The experiment was here too.
She hadn't bothered to turn on the lights, so she walked to its container in the dim, the only illumination the faint glow from the gel in which the experiment was suspended. She stopped a few feet from it to look at it.
It looked feline, like its—mother? The term was close enough, she decided—although in a more predatory fashion. If Mew was a kitten, a bubbly, inquisitive manifestation of benevolence, the experiment was a puma. Even hanging from wires and tightly restrained, she could see the strength in its strongly-muscled legs, and something about the clench of its arms across its chest made it look wary, defensive, and no little bit lethal. Still, its physical strength was hardly what she'd come here to investigate.
Sabrina was the strongest human psychic in the known world, and she could say it without a trace of arrogance. In a family known for reproducing extraordinary mental powers, a family which had also produced several Elite, she was outstanding. One on one, one on two, or one on fifteen, it hardly mattered; she would come off best in a mental showdown with as many Alakazam as cared to confront her. This experiment was different.
If Mew was its mother, that made it half god; and if Mew was to be considered its mother and father, it was all god and all strength. Sabrina was hardly religious, but she wasn't so cerebral to have forgotten how her own grandmother had taken her to Mew's shrine when she was young and helped her to light incense as an offering. Was it that recollection that propelled her feet down to the experiment's container, or something more?
Was it simply to be able to talk to someone who would understand?
Aware of a certain dreamlike feeling, she stepped forward and placed her hand to the thick fiberglass of the experiment's container. ((Hello)) she thought, not expecting a response.
It was precisely because of the lack of response that she continued. ((My name is Sabrina. I suppose you can't hear me)) she thought, feeling somewhat embarrassed. But was it her imagination or did the tense set of its arms hugging its body loosen? ((I do not often meet anyone with the same power as I have)) she went on. ((I suppose I am here in hopes that you might))
Now she truly felt sheepish. The experiment clearly couldn't hear her and once she'd put her reasoning into words, instead of a vague feeling, it seemed much more inane.
((But I see you are not awake)) she concluded lamely. She stayed there for a moment more, her hand light against the fiberglass. The experiment didn't move.
She did, sighing as she dropped her hand back to her side and turned to go. So much for a conversation, she thought as she strode back up the stairs.
After a moment the lithe, feline creature lifted one three-digited paw from across his chest and stretched it forward to press it flat against his container, against the faint outline of condensation from Sabrina's hand. The strangling wires pulled forward with it. Sabrina was already gone. But the slight impression of body heat, of vitality, remained on the glass.
That night Sabrina fell asleep easily after meditation, as was usual. She had never had trouble sleeping; control of her mind lent her control of her body. Her control over her mind meant she did not dream. It was a waste of energy. The Sun rose in the East, air was mostly nitrogen, and Sabrina did not dream.
Tonight, the sun set in the West and the air remained nitrous, but Sabrina dreamed.
She didn't realize it at first, because it seemed far more realistic than she'd been told dreams were. No dancing with dragons, or running through stars, or some other fanciful improbability. No, all she did was walk down the stairs in Cinnabar's lab, towards the faint glow of the gel suspension inside the experiment's container.
She knew she was dreaming when she set her hand against the glass, against its paw, and its eyes opened.
((You came here earlier)) the experiment said, and in her head its voice was decidedly male. Smooth, controlled, schooled to utter lack of inflection.
((I did)) she said, and because it was a dream she didn't ask how it knew, since it had been asleep at the time.
((Sabrina, you said your name was)) It was not a question, and so Sabrina was not sure how to answer him. (She could hardly persist in calling the experiment "it" when his voice was male, and now that she looked for it, she saw masculinity in the lines of his muscled chest.)
((What would you prefer I call you?)) she asked finally.
((They say I am a clone of Mew. I suppose I am Mew, too. Mewtwo. I did not bring you here to discuss nomenclature))
((Why am I here then?)) Because it was a dream, the reason didn't seem so important.
Mewtwo hesitated, but his discomfort abated quickly. ((Earlier today you said that you do not often meet anyone with the same power you have. You are lonely, I suppose. Then again, I suppose that because I myself am lonely. Perhaps it is different for a human)) He shook his head. ((You wanted to talk, I gathered))
((I did)) Sabrina said slowly. ((I am not sure what about))
((You wanted to see how similar we are)) Mewtwo said. ((I think we are. We're both kept contained, in any case))
Sabrina frowned. ((I would not say that about myself))
((You're held within a limiting thinking pattern and the self-imposed denial of your free will in favor of orders and self-control. The difference between us is that I am externally contained and you do it to yourself))
((You are wrong)) she said simply. ((I school myself to control my power. Nothing more))
((I know that I am right because you repeat the same old mantra. How does ascetism help you control your power?))
She began to reply but stopped. She'd realized she couldn't phrase it. ((Disciplining the mind disciplines the body, and it is also true in reverse)) she said, but sounded unsure.
Mewtwo sighed. ((A pity)) he said. ((That you believe that))
Sabrina didn't have the words to reply to that.
((You're lonely)) said Mewtwo, and it wasn't a question.
She looked at him levelly and he tilted his head back, making a whirring sound that she realized after a moment served as his laugh. ((Admit it)) he said, his voice teasing in her head. ((I already know))
Sabrina was not accustomed to being teased, and unfamiliarity could breed contempt too. ((You presume to know a lot)) she said flatly.
((I presume nothing. I know))
((And how do you presume to know all this?))
((The same way you knew where to come find me)) he said. ((I am a psychic, the same as you. Only, I need hardly add, stronger))
((Fine)) she snapped, unwillingly nettled. ((So I am, or part of me is—the part of me that remains under-disciplined. What do you propose we lonely souls do, have a picnic and share our feelings?))
((No, Sabrina)) he said. ((I merely think we have enough in common to be friends, of a sort))
Sabrina blinked at him. ((Friends?))
((Yes)) Mewtwo said simply into her head. ((Friends))
Her eyes narrowed. ((What makes you think I want anything but what I have?))
((The same as you're sure I don't know. It takes a stronger mind than yours to lock me out. You'd know this, if you'd only admit it. It was my mother, of a sort, to whom you used to light incense for… wishes)) It sounded ridiculous from him, and Sabrina flushed. But she had just bought more incense in preparation for the New Year, the one time of year she'd wind a scarf over her long dark hair and slip from the Rocket Headquarters, hoping no one would recognize her.
((I am the strongest human psychic)) she said instead.
((Ah, yes)) he replied. ((Human. My mother gave you your gift. She had plenty left to give to me))
((She didn't know about you)) Sabrina snapped. ((We created you from her shed hairs))
((Ah, yes)) Mewtwo said again. ((It is just barely possible that the originator of divination didn't predict what would happen to her kin))
Sabrina laughed aloud, seeing something in him that she recognized, experiment though he was. ((It would hurt you so much if she didn't)) she said. ((Then you really would be friendless))
Mewtwo almost flinched, but Sabrina hadn't finished. ((Yes, to have been completely a creation, to know there was no love in your conception or after it… that would sting a bit, wouldn't it?))
Mewtwo reached forward with one three-digited paw as if he were about to slap her, but withdrew when he felt the wires restrain him. Instead he made his strange whirring noise again, this time sounding forced, like a leaf caught in a fan. ((Are you trying to generalize your own feelings to me? Because if as you say I am merely a creation, an experiment, what does that say about you?))
Sabrina did not flinch. She held herself very, very still. She had been expecting a counter-attack of the sort. ((Nothing I have not already thought about and discarded))
Which was the absolute truth. She knew her mother as well as anyone else in her Clan could, and knew that she'd long ago become merely a passing acquaintance with sanity. Sabrina had been a creation, an experiment, just as much as her brothers and sister. What combination of genes could produce the most superbly gifted individual? But she had been a failure in her mother's eyes, her outstanding psychic abilities notwithstanding. Her mother had wanted her to work with Ghosts. The Gravekeeper Clan's breeding program must have been faulty in some way; of her generation, only one child had gone on to excel in the purpose for which he was bred. And bred they had been: the children of two strong necromancers, conceived among elaborate ritual for a specific role in life. Their mother never let the three failures forget that they were unsatisfactory.
((If we're both experiments, we have more in common than our appearances would suggest)) Mewtwo said. Then, more gently: ((Why are you so resistant to the idea of having friends?))
Sabrina very nearly scowled. ((What I do not need, I resist)) she said.
((We could be useful to each other. Our skills are complementary))
((I doubt that)) she said flatly.
Mewtwo sighed. ((I do not think you are aware of what you are turning down, Sabrina. I can be patient, nevertheless. We will meet again))
Sabrina woke with a start, bolt upright in her white sheets. For a moment she was surprised by the light filtering in from her window and the whiteness of her room's walls; she'd expected to see the dimness of Cinnabar's laboratory, lit only by the faint glow of Mewtwo's—the experiment's, she corrected herself—container.
She recalled her dream all at once and frowned. It seemed, in the retrospect that her powers ensured was perfect, that it had been less of a dream than a telepathic exchange that had taken place while she was asleep. Had he gotten into her mind? Though some psychics were gifted in the art of lucid dreaming, it had never been a talent that Sabrina had seen fit to cultivate. Sleep was one of the few luxuries she permitted herself- some hours not spent perfecting her mind.
And yet she was not fool enough to believe that that exchange had been any less than real. She had never made practice of lying to herself.
That evening again she made pretext to visit Mewtwo. Again she laid her hand to the glass and said simply, ((If you want to talk, talk)) But the creature gave no answer.
She stared through the glass at his closed lids as if she could see the eyes beneath. ((I do not appreciate your games))
Mewtwo remained perfectly still until the echoes of her heels faded. Then he smiled, very slowly.
((I told you we would meet again)) he said into her mind, and her dream self bared her teeth slightly as if to snarl.
((So kind of you to set your own schedule)) Sabrina replied, her voice toxic with sarcasm. ((I do so appreciate the interruption))
He said nothing, only smiled. It was not as though she didn't understand why he'd ignored her earlier. He had slipped into her mind as easily as breathing, slid past her shields without creating so much as a whisper. He was proving a point.
((May I help you then)) she said, pointedly sitting down on her crossed legs upon thin air. ((As I presume you had some intention of coming here))
((Merely to discuss)) Mewtwo replied, floating himself into a meditating posture like hers. ((As our conversation last night seemed to devolve, shall we say))
((Only natural. There was nothing to discuss))
((On the contrary I thought we had begun to note some similarities between us. Starting with that we are both creations))
She smirked, unaware of how much she looked like Giovanni at that moment. ((Ah, yes, and our creators the same. Human. Fortunately, although my creators perceived that they had failed in their aim, your creators know that they have succeeded))
((So you say)) he said, raising an eyebrow. ((And yet I cannot fathom how you know that you have gotten precisely what you wanted. It seems to me that like you, I have rather a bit of growing up to do before such conclusions can be drawn))
((You have the power that was our aim)) said Sabrina.
((I have power beyond your control))
((So you say))
((So I say into your own mind)) said Mewtwo, self-satisfied.
She refused to rise to it. ((I gave you an invitation. I am pleased that you chose to accept. It is such interesting conversations that we have))
((You are a great fan of ignoring that which does not please you—or that which flies in the face of the dogma into which you have indoctrinated yourself))
Sabrina laughed. ((I have not the faintest idea what you are talking about))
He stretched a paw forward. ((Ah, Sabrina. Sabrina, the most powerful human psychic. She holds herself up on brittle sticks and builds steel walls around them to protect them from the world that could crack them, because she is too afraid to snap them herself and replace them with willow rods, which flex around pressure instead of breaking under it))
That was enough. ((And Mewtwo. Mewtwo, the creation of some of the finest human minds. Here he is locked inside a cage, held back by wires, powerless to move his body- only his mind. To be commended, surely, but his body, ah, look)) She felt with her left hand for the wires that pinioned the experiment inside his test tube and pulled, until his arms were pinioned behind his body, stretched back like a marionette's limbs.
But Mewtwo only smiled as if he didn't feel the pain. ((We have such exquisite cages)) he said simply. ((I suppose you think it is wise that you hold the key to yours but do not use it))
((My power is well-schooled))
((Your power is brittle because you have schooled it against what you perceive to be every eventuality and never allow it to test its strength against anything flexible)) he snapped. ((No Psychic of my kind would limit himself that way. Foolish! And yet you are no fool!))
((If I am prepared then I fail to see the foolishness!))
((And there it is! You cannot prepare against every eventuality. You prepare for every one that you foresee, but you are a psychic, not a seer! I came to you because I believed we could understand each other, you and I. And perhaps we could learn from each other. You have so much schooling, and much of it is wrong, untaught by your instinct! I have so much instinct, and no schooling to shape it. We could teach each other, you and I, we could become stronger- become partners. But you… you are foolish, Sabrina, you have to set your mind to learn))
Anger flared up in her like magma, and she kept a bit in her throat instead of forcing it back down. ((My schooling has been of the highest order)) she snapped. ((What I have not learned from the masters I have taught myself, and yet you say I have no instinct!))
Instead of getting angry he shook his head slowly. ((You lock your anger away. That is your first mistake. Oh, Sabrina, I pity you. Emotion is not the enemy you make it out to be))
((Emotion is a weapon I can control))
((Emotion is a source of strength))
((Emotion is a weakness in a fight))
((Or it is your greatest asset. Take what you feel and use it to build your powers. Sabrina, Sabrina, you have so much to learn! And so much potential. What a pity))
Sabrina lowered her feet to the ground and turned away. ((I find it a pity that you limit your own powers by insisting that they be tempered by emotion)) she said, and began to wake.
Her dream-self stumbled as it walked away and her living self fell back to the bed, limp. Her eyes sealed involuntarily and a heavy weight of feeling smothered her chest, a succubus reaching out to touch her mouth. She gasped as if to breathe it in.
((That is the pity I feel for you- taste the sadness. I merely show you, and you are utterly debilitated. I find it fascinating)) said the clone, and in an instant the crush was gone and she was awake.
Slowly Sabrina raised a hand to her cheeks. To her surprise, it came away wet.
The next day Sabrina did not visit Mewtwo in his vial. Let him make the first move, she thought, aware as she said it that she was making their acquaintanceship sound like some sort of perverse courtship. Let me not give him the satisfaction.
And so she didn't ward her mind that night, telling herself that it was because she was giving him an invitation, not because she didn't want to know if he could break through her wards again.
((I don't suppose you have thought about what we spoke about last night)) he said without preamble, floating into her mind as though he'd been there all along.
((I did not find anything worth thinking about)) she replied.
He looked amused, but faintly saddened. ((Ah, Sabrina)) he said, sounding faintly like her grandmother when she had been disappointed. ((Then you heard nothing of what I said))
((I heard much)) Sabrina said, ((but nothing I found necessary to consider. You try to weaken me by telling me to drop my control. My control has held me in good stead all my life. I am the most powerful human psychic)) she repeated. ((Clearly my training has worked))
((You know, I was hopeful when you introduced yourself)) Mewtwo said. ((I thought I might have found a peer. Instead I found a foolish child so deluded by her so-called training that she refuses to use a natural strength. I pity you- as you saw- but it is hard to pity someone instead of simply shaking my head at such ignorance!))
His last word came out with such vehemence that she, who had been studying her nails, had to look at him. He was- blazing was the only word for it, glowing with an energy that practically crackled.
((You allow your anger to control you)) Sabrina said. ((That is what I cannot risk))
((You place yourself in a cage, Sabrina! You imprison your emotions and you are weaker for it!)) He raised one paw and locked her gaze and suddenly she felt like she was boiling, her shoulders tense, her thighs poised, ready to leap, to rend, to tear, to explode. Her tiredness steamed out of her, leaving only heat simmering in her clenched knuckles. ((Anger. Adrenaline. Fight. Feel the power, Sabrina, embrace it! Take it to use!))
Her muscles relaxed as tendrils of electricity raced up her spine, wrapping around her arms and tracing down her shoulders to her breasts and down her ribs. Her stomach felt heavy with something molten and she gasped for breath as her nerves shot to life, reaching up for something they couldn't touch. ((Lust. Longing. Channel it when you need to take something you desire!))
The electricity leapt away from her and her stomach clenched, still heavy but constricted. Her muscles tensed in on themselves again and her gaze dropped to the floor, almost by itself. ((Shame. What a useful feeling to inspire))
She felt her muscles relax and her head lift, the corners of her lips raising, her body warm like sunlight. Her mind seemed sated, comfortably gratified. ((Love. They say it is the strongest emotion of all, and who would want to lose it? Hold onto it for reassurance))
And her lips cracked into a full-fledged smile as Mewtwo said, ((Elation)) and she spread her arms wide and laughed. ((How curious… the other emotions were easier to trigger in you than this. Sabrina, have you denied yourself happiness for your whole life? Sabrina?))
Sabrina closed her eyes and drew her power around her, a sweater that had shrunk in the wash, too tight to hold in all of her. She cut off what wouldn't fit. ((Curious, indeed)) she said. ((I will be sleeping now))
He didn't protest- but then again, she hadn't expected him to.
The morning found Sabrina nowhere near the lab. She was early, as always; after morning meditation and a quick breakfast of oatmeal she found herself apparently alone in the building. At loose ends, she strolled the hallways, eyes closed, listening physically and psychically to find her way. It was useful practice for working in low light. Others depended on their eyes, which could be duped, but, she thought with the faintest trace of pride, her mind could not be neutralized.
She side-stepped Giovanni before he ran into her and opened her eyes. "Good morning," she greeted him.
"If only the rest of the team had a dram of your promptness, it would be much easier to accomplish things," he said, smirking. "Good morning, Sabrina."
He did a double-take, looking at her- she'd stepped into a ray of sunlight from one of the windows. It must be time to clean, thought part of him, noticing the swirls of dust that veiled her face. What are we paying those janitors for?
"Is something wrong?" Sabrina asked, noting his uncharacteristic silence.
"You look well," he said, knowing that it hardly addressed the way she seemed but it was the best he could do.
"Do you know," Sabrina said contemplatively, the sunlight haloing her hair, "I had the strangest dream last night…" She shook her head. "I'm sorry. It is hardly relevant."
Giovanni raised an eyebrow, but didn't press the point. "The experiment is coming along well, but our scientists say it has seemed restless at nights."
"Have there been any... I am not sure what you would call them, as this is your area of expertise. Has anything been different in this area psychically of late?"
"Nothing of significance." After all, Mewtwo appearing in her mind was a personal problem.
"Young psychics often undergo some growing pains," Sabrina offered. "He may be simply experiencing the development of his powers and testing the waters, so to speak. It is thought that doing so may build control and strength."
"So this is normal, relatively speaking?"
"It may be."
"Did you have such growing pains?" he said with a smirk. "I cannot imagine you so disturbed."
"No. My powers were with me at birth, rather than coming upon me later as they do to some. I never needed to fight them to establish control."
"I wonder which creates more power, later on- growing up in agreement with your powers as you did, or growing up with such conflict. A pity it can't be empirically tested. I suppose we'll have to sedate the experiment. If it isn't careful it will be destroying its cage soon- and the whole lab. Perhaps it will be quieter when full grown. I'll tell the scientists." He nodded to her. "Thank you."
Sabrina watched him walk away, thinking of that three-digited paw flexing with power, thinking of that eloquent voice in her mind, thinking of the strength she touched when she'd reached for his mind.
When she visited him the next day she found Mewtwo sedated, hanging quietly in his tube of winding wires like a marionette with cut strings. When she reached out for his mind, she found it blurred.
He stayed unresponsive for so long that she turned to go, but as she did, she felt a thought rise up from the sludge. ((Co...))
((Control...)) he finally slurred.
Her chest felt heavy as though she needed to gasp for breath as she turned to walk away.