Part 6 - Release
The following day, after a well-earned rest that extended into the early afternoon, Keita joined other developers in the conference room. There, the Director was once again addressing the team, but with a message far more relaxed in nature than in previous meetings:
"Well, I'm not fully sure how you all managed to do it…" the Director said, pausing for dramatic effect, "But this is it. Congratulations on meeting the publisher's timetable."
The people gathered in the room cheered and hollered. Their ordeal was finally over, and they'd gotten the bonuses they'd coveted all year to boot! Sure, there were bound to be problems discovered later by quality assurance... but that was not their problem anymore! They had somehow made it- the games they made worked well enough, they would go gold in a couple weeks after some final QA, and they would be sold in stores just in time for winter holidays that year.
Bracket and Paren cheered on Keita and his coworkers as the lot basked in their moment of accomplishment. A few of the developers in the room grabbed drinks from a nearby cooler and began to settle into a well-deserved moment of reverie...
All of a sudden, the door to the room opened and the festive mood abruptly ground to a halt. Much to the gathered workers' surprise, a brown-haired girl with bangs in red-and-white clothes strolled in with a cheerful, if somewhat disoriented smile. Keita and his Tropius and Corphish blinked at the interloping young girl as the three watched a pall fall over the room.
"Oh… Hello! I didn't know that there was a party here! Who are all of you?"
The members of the development team hemmed and hawed, unsure of whether or not they should just get up and shoo the youngster off. They'd had more luck with honey than vinegar when dealing with unwanted visitors in their Celadon office, but it'd been years since they were caught off-guard in such a fashion, so they'd need to think of some tactic on the fly.
After a moment's hesitation, Keita looked back up at the slides projected on the wall and noticed much to his alarm that they contained pre-release data that hadn't been distributed to media outlets yet! From the corner of his eye, he spotted Satoshi approaching the young girl, slipping a foot under a power cord as he approached.
"I'm the graphic artist! Aren't the Pokémon of Hoenn interesting?" he hastily interjected, deftly kicking the cord loose and unplugging the projector to hide their notes from the girl's eyes. He hushedly turned to Keita and whispered, "Psst! Did the publisher give us any Eevee to work with?", desperately hoping for a distraction for the intruding girl.
"Uh… I guess?" the girl said. "Anyways, I came because the hotel staff said-"
Keita shook his head at the graphics artist's question and also joined in on the effort to try and get the intruder out of the room, and plied her with some boring-sounding banter that probably sounded not far removed from a line the script-writers had come up with for some faceless NPC in their games.
"Me? You're talking to me?" Keita asked. "I'm the programmer. I wonder what the slots are like here."
"That's really nice, but-", the girl said while getting a bit flustered, only for the Director to cut in.
"I'm the game designer-", he began.
"They said that I should come here for my Pokédex!" the girl interrupted, frustrated with the way the strange people in the room were complicating her simple errand so much.
"Oh, is that right? You're working on a Pokédex?" the Director asked. "It's tough trying to complete it, but don't give up. If you do complete it, please come to me."
The director attempted to then shoo the girl out of the room, only for her to thrust a small red machine with an LCD screen into his face.
The man sized up the readings on the machine's screen, staring with a moment's surprise as he realized that the numbers on it indicated that it belonged to a fully logged Pokédex. The Director wondered for a moment how on earth a girl so young could have managed that, only to realize he'd been handed a perfect excuse to be rid of the girl.
"Er… Wow! That's awesome! Yep, it's totally awesome!" he exclaimed while looking around for a pen and something to write on. "This Pokédex is completely filled! You really must love Pokémon! I'm so impressed!" the Director cheered as he hastily grabbed a sheet of Pikachu and Wynaut stationery that was bought from a tourist stand a few months prior.
He quickly scribbled a congratulatory message onto it and thrust the paper into the girl's hand, cheerfully exclaiming, "Let me give you something in recognition for your feat!" before pushing her towards the door.
"Now, do go on," he insisted. "Be sure to show your trophy to your mom and dad!"
"But you just gave me a piece of paper and a st-!"
The Director cut short the girl's protests by slamming the door shut behind her the moment she crossed the threshold back out into the hallway. He quickly turned the lock and turned back to the rest of the people in the room.
"Now… I believe we had a party to continue?"
After the party died down, Keita took the opportunity to treat Bracket to a rare mid-day playtime in the hotel's pool. The Corphish swam about merrily, happily engaging in a splash war with Paren, not seeming to mind in the slightest that she was churning up far more water with her wings and extra bulk. Keita looked on bemusedly from a pool chair, leaning back with a quiet sigh. Just then he suddenly heard a loud call come from the distance, which jostled him from his rest and seemed to catch the attention of his Pokémon from the pool.
The three looked up, where there in the air above them, they saw the peculiar sight of a small herd of sauropods flying overhead. Keita stared blankly at the Grass-types in the air, and the strange sense of grace they seemed to have about them, as his mind turned back to the day he'd first found Paren, and what his graphics artist colleague had told him of the creatures.
"Satoshi was right," he murmured. "They really do fly past here…"
Just then, much to their astonishment, one of the larger Tropius in the group circled back from the group. The Grass-type banked in the air and flew down, coming to rest on the pool patio after knocking down an umbrella and calling out to her smaller counterpart in the pool.
Keita's Tropius abruptly clambered out of the pool and ran over to the grown Tropius, eagerly nuzzling her. The programmer was at first at a loss as to what would cause this, when he thought back to about seven months earlier… and realized that although Paren had grown since then, this larger Tropius recognized her, and from their interactions was more than just a mere companion.
"Oh… this is your mother, isn't she?", he murmured.
All this time, he'd assumed that Paren never would've found her herd again, and yet in spite of the odds here it was, along with a choice that neither of the two would have expected to have to make. Over the past nine months, he'd watched the scared and confused Tropius he and Satoshi found on the pool concrete grow, both physically and closer to him and Bracket. She'd been there through rain and shine, at multiple points when the project seemed lost, and was the reason why they were making their publisher's timetable in the first place!
… could he really just let all of that go?
Paren looked over at Keita and Bracket just as he climbed out of the pool. She then turned her gaze towards the mother Tropius which she was still pressed up against, and began to visibly falter. She must've been going through the same gnawing indecision as her trainer, trying to weigh the life she had interrupted after getting separated from her herd that by fate had come back versus the life she'd shared along with Keita and Bracket. The Grass-type stood there blankly for a moment, as if she were standing on the precipice of two worlds, and unsure to which one she ought to go to.
Keita looked down at the green and yellow ball that belonged to the faltering Tropius and, after a long pause, answered her.
"It's alright," he insisted. "If you want to go, go."
Paren appeared surprised by the programmer's attitude, and at first started to head over to Keita, thinking that perhaps the sleep deprivation was affecting him... only to be interrupted by her trainer embracing her tightly and patting her head.
"It's fine. I can see that you two mean a lot to each other," he insisted. "And I'm sure that we'll meet again."
The younger Tropius nuzzled Keita back, and after a moment lingering in their shared embrace, the programmer let go. Paren shuffled back falteringly, before she turned and began to head off. A faint chime rang out, as the Tropius glanced back towards Keita just in time to catch him doing something to her Nest Ball that caused a blue light to connect to her, and then dissipate.
"You stay safe, you hear," Keita called back. "I'm totally putting you back to work debugging the next time we meet!"
Paren gave a bemused toss of her head as Bracket and his trainer waved her off and bade her farewell. She waited for the elder Tropius to jump up and take flight first, and paused to look back at her companions one last time. After a moment's hesitation, she took to the skies with her mother, disappearing into their herd as they headed off into the distance.
While Paren flew off into the blue skies over Hoenn, the Director was kept busy back in the Cove Lily Motel with a teleconference with his superiors, wrapping up his account of the project to a few men gathered around a table on the screen.
"And that's how the project managed to make the timetable's final deadline."
"Really, from what we'd heard of all the struggles your team faced to implement just around half of the overall roster and of last-minute cuts like that one monster we modeled after Shellos, we were starting to get worried," one of the men said. "But I see that Hoenn wound up contributing more than just a convenient place for your team to meet."
"It's quite fascinating, really," another added. "When we started to base game settings off of real-world locations more with the second set of Capsule Monsters games, at first I thought that we'd be making a massive mistake. But maybe the strategy lends itself to development better than we thought."
The Director chuckled, "What can I say? In a big world full of wonderful things, you'll never run short on places and things to draw inspiration from." And it truly was, he thought, especially if his junior roommate's account of the last-minute discovery that saved the project's timeline was remotely accurate.
"That is true, and I think that the team back in our Celadon office ought to be able to plug gaps somewhat with those remakes of the original games we pitched to our publisher," one of the men on the screen replied. "Not that we can really do much about the last-minute cuts – after all, what are we supposed to do? Just add monsters in the middle of a new generation of games?"
A few nervous laughs came from other channels on the videoconference call. The idea was surely a nonstarter. After all, how would they ever update the ROMs of the millions of cartridges that would be produced for data that was flatly not on it? The internet?
"I suppose it'll have to be something we learn from for future projects," the first man said. "I think that perhaps the local weather didn't lend itself well to an orderly development, even if things wound up pulling together at the end."
"Perhaps for the next Capsule Monsters games your team handles, we should consider having the developers work someplace a bit colder," another man jokingly suggested. At once the conference call burst into laughter and the Director couldn't help but join in. Sure, it was premature, but with Hoenn a tropical region, they'd have all the time in the world to narrow down 'someplace a bit colder'. Perhaps if they were feeling adventurous, they'd try developing in Sinnoh!
Developing in Sinnoh… now there was a thought to keep in mind…
About a week after the work on the new Capsule Monsters games concluded, it came time for Keita to leave Hoenn. He looked out from the deck of a ferry, back out towards Mossdeep City- his home away from home for the past year- vanishing over the horizon.
Yet he could not help but be troubled by something that had been said towards the beginning of that year. Back then, the Director had asserted that the bonds that he would form during his project would far outlast its end. While the man had indeed developed a number of contacts with his partners and roommates during his experience…
He couldn't help but feel as if they somehow rang hollow.
Keita's thoughts were interrupted after he felt his Corphish tugging at his pant leg and pointing off in another direction.
"Huh? Do you see something, Bracket?"
Keita turned, and saw his Corphish was pointing off at a herd of flying Tropius passing nearby. Among them was a smaller individual, who as she passed, made eye contact with him and his Corphish and gave out a joyful call.
"Heh… guess we're not the only ones who took something away from this project."
And in that moment as his and Paren's worlds fleetingly brushed up against each other, the programmer's doubts about the Director's words finally melted away under the Hoenn sun.