Spoiler:- Author's Notes:
“Please come in and have a seat.”
She could never get used to how they entered her room so nervously. She didn’t know if it was still the situation or if it was her at this point. But even the cockiest and most pompous of employees would suddenly become soft-spoken and unsure of themselves once they were inside her room. In the back of her mind, she enjoyed this odd sense of power she had over them, but she knew it was only a shallow relief amidst her miserable job.
She watched him enter as she put her computer on standby. His steps were slow and uncertain, and she could see that his whole body was tense from the way the cardboard box on his hands was shivering. When he completed his perilous journey from the door to the empty seat in front of her, the contents in his box almost spilled out when he clumsily placed them beside the foot of her desk.
This is gonna be tough, she thought to herself.
He stood up beside the seat, stiff as a Sudowoodo. Sighing, she told him to sit down so they could begin. She could see the dread on his face when he saw his company papers on her desk.
“So, Mr. Gomez?”
“Oh, y-y-you can call me R-R-Rico, ma’am,” the boy, who was in his early twenties, said with a forced smile.
“Mr. Gomez is fine.”
She caught his disappearing smile and put it on her own face.
“Mr. Gomez, I understand that you have submitted your papers for resignation.”
“Y-y-yes, ma’am,” he replied, and upon seeing the golden name plate on her desk, added, “Oh, I-I apologize, ma’am. Should I c-call you Ms. Arista?”
“Ma’am would be fine.”
Rico Gomez wasn’t the first person to have gone to her office with that intention. He wasn’t even the first of her exit interviews that day—four other people had come in before him, and there were at least a dozen others waiting for their turn outside. She knew it was going to be a long day, but it was merely one more to add to her collection.
“May I know your reasons for leaving Team Flare, Mr. Gomez?”
“Well, ma’am, I feel like my, uhmm, time’s up with Team Flare. There isn’t, uh, much else I can contribute to the team now that Sir Lys—I-I mean, uhmm, n-n-now that, uh…”
“Now that Sir Lysandre’s gone,” she finished.
She knew their reasons were all the same. Even when they masked it behind sparkly formalities such as “I want to go to greener pastures” or “I’ve given everything I can contribute to the team”, she knew that their dedication to Team Flare was buried with Lysandre. After the incident in Geosenge, every grunt and admin wanted to disassociate themselves with Team Flare as soon as possible—it was only a matter of when.
Vega Arista’s job, or at least what it had become, was to process the hundreds of resignation requests and conduct the exit interviews that came with them. The thirty-five-year-old was part of a small but productive human resources department, and she had enjoyed her job for the past eleven years. But when she conducted the exit interview of the second-to-the-last admin in their department, she became the sole employee qualified to conduct them.
On top of the job’s tediousness, Malva, Team Flare’s interim leader, had requested that she try to convince team members to revoke their resignations to the best of her abilities. Before they reached Vega, they had to file their resignations to Mable, one of Lysandre’s four head scientists who have now become the catchall of administrative duties. After they braved themselves through Mable, the resignees needed to go through the much smaller obstacle in Vega, who was the entire team’s last chance of retaining any members. And of the hundreds of exit interviews she had conducted so far, none of them resulted in a cancelled resignation.
“Uhmm, uh, y-y-yes ma’am,” Rico stuttered out. “Now that Sir Lysandre’s, uh, g-gone, well, my role in the power plant division is finished since we directly reported to him. The whole team tried continuing operations after the, uhmm, incident, but it wasn’t really going anywhere without any directives from Sir Lysandre. Some of my colleagues and superiors in the division already resigned, so I thought, well…”
“So you thought you should follow their footsteps,” she interrupted. “Mankey see, Mankey do, as they say.”
Vega remembered several members from the power plant division who had resigned before Rico, and they had explained with enormous detail how the operations had become directionless. None of their machines were able to hack into the power plant’s mainframe anymore, and their quest to uncover the rumored legendary Pokémon linked to the plant had yielded zero progress ever since the incident in Geosenge. They had been one of the most productive divisions of Team Flare before, having made tremendous progress in their research in a short span of time. Lysandre had always talked fondly of them—she remembered the optimistic tone in his morning announcements when he praised the power plant division’s achievements. She had always been fond of those announcements involving them, as she had rarely seen Lysandre in such a happy demeanor.
“Well, Mr. Gomez,” Vega began, “as per protocol, I will be asking you a few questions before you finish your resignation process. Your input will be used by HR for the betterment of the team, so please answer them as clearly and honestly as possible.”
She expected the hesitation in his nod. The robotic way she said that spiel never failed to catch the resignees off-guard. She could imagine it has gotten more and more monotonous as each exit interview came and went.
“What do you feel was your most significant contribution to Team Flare?” she asked.
“Well, ma’am,” he began, his voice sounding the most certain it had ever been since he entered the room, “I was part of the team that figured out how to disable the power plant’s mechanisms and rendered the northern part of Lumiose City nonoperational for thirty-three days. That made it possible for other divisions of the team to move forward with their plans uninterrupted, allowing them to work within Lumiose City without the fear of being discovered by authorities. So I feel that it was my, and perhaps the entire power plant division’s, biggest contribution to the cause.”
She was impressed with the confident way he delivered his answer, and from the looks of it, he was just as impressed as she was. It was tainted, though, by the fact that his colleagues from his division—or rather, his ex-colleagues—had given her the same prepared speech with minimal variations in their own exit interviews.
“And in evaluating your contributions to the team, Mr. Gomez, which one do you feel could have been improved the most?”
“Uhmm, I guess I would have the same answer. Thirty-three days might be long, but if we had stopped that Serena girl from infiltrating the power plant, it could have been much longer.”
Ugh, Serena. She visibly winced at the thought of that name. She still could not fully fathom how the downfall of Team Flare was caused by a nosy sixteen-year-old. Because of Serena, hundreds of grunts and admins had to give up their positions and would be hard-pressed to find a new one for having been part of Team Flare. Because of Serena, her own previously enjoyable job of managing recruits had become this soulless process of letting grunts and admins out of Team Flare’s door. Because of Serena, her leader, who she previously thought was the closest human being to perfection, was stuck in Arceus-knows-where.
“What for you are the strong points of Team Flare?” she blurted out.
“Well, uh, I don’t mean to rub salt in the wound, but Sir Lysandre’s leadership really brought the team together. His passion for his vision really brought up the entire team’s spirits, and, uhmm, that goes double for our division. The day after Serena destroyed all of our progress, he personally visited us in the power plant. All of us were expecting a tough lecture on our weakness and incompetence, but the first thing he did in our meeting was ask us how we were all doing. That gesture might have been really simple, but I could remember how the heavy atmosphere in the room suddenly lightened when he did that. He still reprimanded us, but in the end it was more of a motivational speech rather than a gritty lecture.”
Vega had dozed off in the middle of Rico’s answer, imagining how much Lysandre must have gone through in that incident. She herself had been on the receiving end of many of Lysandre’s motivational speeches, and for her, what Rico said about his passion boosting the team’s spirit was a gross understatement.
“And what would you say are Team Flare’s areas for improvement?” she asked.
“Well, uhmm, in all honesty, it’s linked to why I had resigned. After Lysandre’s de—uh, disappearance, it seemed like the entire team didn’t know what to do. Sir Xerosic did things his way, Ms. Malva is doing things her way, and the scientists are doing things their own ways. And that leaves the team with no direction to follow. I guess, uhmm, the entire team was too dependent on Sir Lysandre to guide them, so without him, uh, it’s what it is now.”
Rico’s answer genuinely impressed her this time around, since it hit the nail right in the head. Most of the grunts and admins who resigned before him would talk about the ineffectiveness of their own division or their own insecurities when they answered this question. Even she wouldn’t have had the guts to put the blame on the administration if she was on the other side of the interview, but she knew that what Rico said was the only correct answer.
She didn’t know if she dreaded hearing Xerosic’s name more than Serena’s, but both elicited the same disgusted reaction from her. He was their last chance of salvaging Team Flare from the ultimate weapon’s debris, but he had the bright idea of bringing the international police into the picture with his directionless scheme. Interpol had arrested him and ordered that Lysandre Café be closed down, which was the last of Team Flare’s income-generating businesses. They had fortunately left the other members of the team alone, but their worldwide bulletin of being on the lookout for any suspicious activities from any member of the team doused what little flame ignited the team’s future.
Vega went through the rest of the questions of the interview methodically, asking Rico about his division, his superiors, and his thoughts about the team as a whole. After asking him for any suggestions he had for the betterment of the team, she told him that the last thing he needed to do was to surrender his possessions that he had been given upon becoming a grunt.
Rico hastily got the box of his belongings from under his chair and put it on Vega’s desk. She checked to see if all of the necessary items were in the box—uniforms, manuals, Holo Caster, the three volumes of the Team Flare handbook. When she realized what was missing, she let out a long sigh.
“Your Poké Ball, Mr. Gomez?”
His reaction to the query told her that it had only hit him at that very moment. These kinds of resignees were always the toughest to talk to, but they were the closest opportunities she ever got to fulfill Malva’s special request.
“I will need your Poké Ball, Mr. Gomez,” Vega repeated. “I hope you have not forgotten that your Pokémon was only given to you when you joined the team. Your departure makes it necessary that it be returned, for it is the property of Team Flare.”
She could see sweat drops form on Rico’s forehead. His eyes shifted around quickly, looking for any sort of reprieve from whatever pocket of the room.
“I have to give back my Pokémon?” he finally said.
“Yes, Mr. Gomez,” she replied. “The contract you had signed when you joined the team clearly states that any Pokémon given to you at the start of your membership was to be returned if ever you exited the team. This does not count any Pokémon you brought with you when you entered or any Pokémon you caught yourself during the duration of your membership with the team, but since your records show that the lone Pokémon in your possession was the one loaned to you by the team, you will need to return the Mightyena you’ve been assigned.”
She saw him wince at the mention of his Pokémon, and she noticed how his expression shifted from nervousness to dread. A majority of resignees had at least prepared for this moment, and many had the luxury of having other Pokémon that they could keep. But for Rico, who not only had a single Pokémon to his name but had also not thought about this before he entered her room, she thought that he might be the first resignee she could successfully convince to stay.
“I-Is there, uhmm, is there any way I could k-k-keep him?” he asked hopelessly.
“If you’re intent on resigning, then no, there isn’t.”
She herself didn’t know why, but the team handbook stated that it was one of the rules Lysandre had established when Team Flare began recruiting more members. The handbook mentioned that Pokémon were valuable assets that shouldn’t be wasted, and every Pokémon Team Flare caught should only be used for the furthering of the team’s motives. When she first read it, she was taken aback by the technical way it was describing Pokémon, but she eventually came to accept it as part of Lysandre’s grand plan of a beautiful world. And as she became more and more ingrained into the team, she knew that the last thing she should ever do was oppose Lysandre’s vision.
“B-b-but, well, uhmm, you s-see, ma’am, Barker and I have, uh, we’ve grown really close this past year. We have each other’s backs, and, uhmm, we’ve been through everything together. He’s my best friend, and, and…”
“Mr. Gomez, I’m sorry, but you signed a contract when you entered the team that explicitly states that all possessions you receive from Team Flare will be returned when you leave the team, and that includes the Pokémon we gave you.” Vega paused to catch her breath, then continued. “Now, if you really want to keep the Pokémon assigned to you, then you can continue serving Team Flare as a loyal member of the power plant division. I can cancel your entire resignation process with the click of a button, and we can pretend this exit interview never happened.”
She wondered if she had brought up the possibility of terminating his resignation too soon, but she knew it needed to be said somehow. Malva had told her to offer it to them when they were the most vulnerable, saying that it would be the time where their judgments would be most clouded. And for Vega, there seemed to be no better display of vulnerability than mulling over whether or not you wanted to let go of your Pokémon.
“No, I can’t stay anymore,” Rico said in a defeated tone. “Th-there’s just so much going on, and s-so much that already happened. I-it’s just, I can’t—”
“I understand, Mr. Gomez,” Vega interrupted. “Now, please hand me the Mightyena’s Poké Ball.”
She could feel that he was holding back his tears. She had witnessed many hearts break whenever the interview came to this point, although it never came to the point of the resignee breaking down. Everyone else had either already mentally prepared themselves for the moment or didn’t have that strong a bond with their Pokémon to care. Vega knew that she herself would be less than composed if and when she had to give up the Liepard assigned to her when she would have her own exit interview—whenever that would be—but she knew there was nothing she could do about it.
“Mr. Gomez, I can see how tough this is for you, and again I apologize for having it come to this. Should you want to say goodbye to Mightyena, feel free to do so in the storage room,” she said as she pointed to a door that led to an empty storage closet. “You have the next fifteen minutes to do so. I trust that would be enough?” She had made sure to make that room available for any of the resignees who had wanted to properly say goodbye to their Pokémon.
But Rico had not heard Vega’s request and immediately called out his Mightyena when he was given his chance to say goodbye.
“Mr. Gomez,” Vega started, “please use the storage room—“
“Barker,” he began. “Hey buddy, I missed you. How are you?”
When the Pokémon materialized, he immediately turned to his owner and licked his face all over, taking out the tears that had began to form in his eyes. The black fur covering his body was well combed, and Vega was treated to the sight of a tail wagging in glee. Her room was filled with low, content growls, and she prepared herself for when those growls would become less optimistic.
“Hey, listen, I gotta tell you something, Barker. Something really important,” started Rico, his voice already betraying his emotions. Barker sensed it as well, and his tail slowed down its wagging.
“So you know how we were talking about leaving Team Flare and living on our own these past few weeks?” he said. Barker licked Rico’s face in reply, which seemed to convey a yes. “Well, it turns out that, well, uh, I’m gonna be the only one leaving Team Flare.”
Vega saw Barker’s tail stop wagging and droop down, and she knew that she was in for a painful conversation.
“You see,” Rico continued, “remember when we met last year? You were still a cute little Poochyena back then. Well, we met when I called you out of your Poké Ball, remember? That was the first time I saw you, too. So that means that I wasn’t the one who caught you, which means that, technically, I’m not your official trainer.”
Barker let out a fierce growl in reply. It echoed through the room and the waiting hall, and Vega heard some gasps from outside.
“Hey, hey, I was surprised, too. I completely forgot about it. But it’s part of my contract, so I can’t do anything about it unless I don’t resign. And you know I have to get out of here. I’m really, really sorry, Barker. I wish we didn’t have to say goodbye.”
Barker started crying, his low sobs making each word coming out of Rico’s mouth a stab in the neck. Vega shifted uneasily in her seat, distracting herself by arranging and rearranging Rico’s company papers on her desk.
“Hey, Barker, don’t cry,” Rico said while wiping the tears off of Barker’s eyes. “Hey, it’s all right, we’ll get through this. We always get through difficult things if we talk it out, right? Remember when Ms. Aliana threatened to fire me because I thought her plan to shut down Lumiose was inefficient? Everyone in the division was against me, and I thought there was no way I’d still have my job in the morning. I told you I was gonna run away, that it wasn’t worth being part of the team anymore. But you convinced me not to, and all you had to do was hug me. I never really told you how much that meant to me, but to know you cared about me like that, to know you still had my back even if I screwed up—well, it turned my whole attitude about the situation around. You gave me the words and the confidence to defend my argument the next morning, and I—no, we ended up shutting down Lumiose sooner and getting a commendation from Sir Lysandre because of it.”
Rico’s own tears now muddled up his vision, and Barker returned the favor by licking them off his face. Vega shifted to rebooting her computer and opening up a document, although the only words she could type were several variations of “What the hell”.
“Barker,” he continued, “you may be the only Pokémon I’ve ever owned, and probably ever will own, but you made me see how the relationship between a trainer and a Pokémon can truly be beautiful. I know Sir Lysandre didn’t believe that, but if he saw both of us in action, I really think he would have changed his mind about Pokémon. But he’s gone, and the team’s falling apart, and you know that I can’t stay here anymore. As much as I want to be with you, and I really do, I need to get out of here and look for a new job. I’ll never forget you, Barker. You’re the best Pokémon any trainer could ever have.”
Vega’s eyes never left her computer screen. She tried tuning out their crying, but their sobs filled every pocket of her room. She wondered what the grunts outside were thinking at that moment, for she was sure that they overheard the crying. Maybe it would give them the idea that I made this resignee cry and would make them not want to resign anymore? she thought. Vega stifled a laugh, knowing that they would never revoke their resignations over such a shallow reason. She herself couldn’t count how many times she had thought about resigning, and being in charge of exit interviews didn’t help her waning spirit. She knew that the reason she hasn’t been able to fulfill Malva’s special request in the hundreds of exit interviews she had conducted was because she herself saw little benefit in staying with the team.
But it was interviews like this that made her wonder—how were these people able to handle leaving such a vital part of their lives? Whether it be the Pokémon, the friends, or the memories, how could they be willing to turn their backs on them so quickly? And after all they’ve been through, after all they’ve worked for, after all they’ve contributed to the team, how was it so easy for them to give all of it up?
She knew the sole answer to those questions. He was buried in the depths of Geosenge, his body still nowhere to be found after two whole months of searching.
“M-Ma’am? Ms. Arista?”
The sight of a red-faced Rico filled her vision as she looked away from the screen. Barker had been returned to his Poké Ball, which Rico had clutched tightly and placed over his heart. Under normal circumstances, Vega would have ridiculed him for such a melodramatic display, but she knew that the exit interview had strayed far away from normal.
“Ms. Arista—I mean, ma’am, uh…”
“Ms. Arista would be fine.”
“Ms. Arista, uhmm, I know it’s against protocol, and I know it’s asking so much from you, but I beg you, please, please let me keep my Barker. It would mean the world to me, and I…I would thank you a million times if you do this for me.”
Vega imagined what would happen if she heeded his request. In her mind, she saw other grunts and admins doing more dramatic but less authentic displays of affection to their assigned Pokémon in order to tug her heartstrings. She could feel Malva’s cold stare tear her apart for softening up, and she sensed the looming threat of being assigned to an even more hopeless position within the team.
But she also saw Rico and Barker in a quaint home in a quiet city like Santalune or Dendemille, going about their days normally and free from the pressures of Team Flare. The scene then dissolved into a moderate-sized apartment in Coumarine overlooking the sea, and she saw herself reading a book on the patio while affectionately petting the Liepard that she herself had been assigned years ago.
“Mr. Gomez, Rico, I—“
Her seaside apartment disappeared in a flash, and it turned into the ultimate weapon, standing proudly in the middle of Geosenge. Then, a blinding light consumed it, turning the entire weapon into an abyssal hole. She peered into it, and her sight was filled with a vast expanse of nothing.
“—I’m sorry, Mr. Gomez. I can’t let you do that.”
She saw Rico’s eyes shift from longing to despair. She had seen similar expressions throughout the hundreds of resignees that had entered her room, but she couldn’t make out why this particular display was making her uncomfortable.
“Mr. Gomez, the terms and conditions of the contract you signed clearly state that all assets and possessions Team Flare has loaned to you will be returned upon resignation or termination,” she said, struggling to keep the words coming out. “I have told you that you can stay with your Pokémon if you decide not to resign, but unless you’ve changed your mind, I cannot heed your request.”
She tried looking for any sort of sign that indicated a willingness to stay, but his scrunched up eyes and bowed head told her otherwise.
“You have been a good member of Team Flare, Mr. Gomez,” she continued, “not having any sanctions or warnings to your name, and even having a commendation from Sir Lysandre. So you would know how important abiding by the rules is. Sir Lysandre established these rules a long time ago, and I’m sure he would have wanted the same thing if—“
“Well Sir Lysandre’s dead!” Rico blurted out. “Or he might as well be in that blasted hole!”
Vega had stared him down at the mention of that word, and she could see the regret that immediately came to his face as he finished his outburst. Rico tried speaking up, attempting to blurt out an “I’m sorry”, but the words never left his mouth.
“Yes, Mr. Gomez,” she began, her eyes never leaving his. “Sir Lysandre is, for all intents and purposes, dead. But that doesn’t mean we should stop abiding by his rules. That doesn’t mean we should stop respecting him as our true leader. In fact, I would venture to say that it would be a grave dishonor to him if we do otherwise.”
“M-Ms. Arista, ma’am, I’m sorry for speaking out of turn,” Rico said. “I don’t mean to dishonor Sir Lysandre with my request. That’s the last thing I would ever want to do. If I had the chance, I would have taken Lysandre’s place in Geosenge and surrendered myself to the ultimate weapon if I knew it would keep him alive.”
There was a pause in the room, as if the mention of Lysandre’s fate demanded silence.
“But Ms. Arista, I love Barker,” he continued. “I’ve never cared for anyone, human or Pokémon, more than I’ve cared for Barker. Sir Lysandre envisioned a perfect world for all of us, and I can’t imagine mine without Barker. I know I’m asking a lot, but please, please let me keep him.”
Vega closed her eyes, and her vision was filled with images of Malva and Mable staring her down. Looming over them was the image of Lysandre, looking at her with the intensity she had become familiar with in the past eleven years. She tried looking for any sort of guidance from him, any sign of clarity from his powerful eyes. But all he gave her was a sigh, which was immediately succeeded by his image slowly dissolving into a million pieces, taking Malva and Mable with him.
“All right,” Vega sighed after opening her eyes, her face now matching his in redness. “Let me have the Poké Ball.”
“But Ms. Arista—“
“Mr. Gomez, the last thing you want to do right now is disobey me. Hand me the Poké Ball now.”
Rico felt uncomfortable about the uncertainty of the situation, but Vega’s stare made him unable to refuse. He reluctantly offered the Poké Ball to her, which she forcefully took out of his hands. Vega turned back to her computer and scanned his Poké Ball, once in a while glancing at the nervous expression of the concerned grunt. After some swift but sloppy clicking and typing, she gave it back to him, almost shoving it onto his welcoming palm.
“Now you listen to me,” Vega started, exerting as much authority in her voice as possible. “If word of this gets to anyone, and I mean anyone aside from the two people in this room right now, I will personally ask Mable, Aliana, and the other scientists to go to your home, drag you back to this base, give you your uniform, and reinstate you into the lowest position a grunt could ever have in the team. Yes, you may have resigned from Team Flare, but that does not mean you have completely disconnected yourself from us. Any word you say against Team Flare and any act you do breaching this agreement will be met with the most severe punishment possible both for you and this Pokémon. Do I make myself clear, Mr. Gomez?”
All Rico could give in reply was an affirmative nod.
“I have changed this Mightyena’s last ownership activity from a loan into a trade, with what was given in return listed as ‘a year of outstanding service’. You are officially his current trainer, Mr. Gomez, and you may do with him as you see fit. Save your tears of joy for when you’ve completely left the base. If I find out any of the grunts outside got word of this transaction, I can revoke the change of ownership with the click of a button, and you will be asked by the guards at the entrance to surrender the Poké Ball. You may leave my office, Mr. Gomez. Your exit interview, and your time with Team Flare, has officially come to an end.”
Rico swiftly pocketed Barker’s Poké Ball, and he mouthed out a quick “Thank you” at Vega before standing up and heading for the door. “Please close the door on your way out,” commanded Vega when he reached for the doorknob, “and tell the person next in line to wait for ten minutes before knocking.”
As she was left alone, Vega tucked Rico's file in her drawer and retrieved a similarly colored envelope within it. Inside it was a blank resignation form that had been left unfilled for two months—and counting. She stared at it long and hard, as she always did after every exit interview she failed to turn around.
“I’m sorry, Sir Lysandre,” she said softly. “I’ve failed you yet again, only this time it’s even worse. I’ve deliberately disobeyed you, and I’ve let another grunt do the same.”
Tears began to fall from her eyes, some of it smudging onto the blank resignation form she was clutching tightly. She tried hard to repair the broken image of Lysandre in her mind, but all she saw was the nothingness he had left behind.
“Why did it have to be this way?” she continued, her voice becoming progressively louder. “Why did you have to leave us? Why did you have to leave me?”
Her mind was now filled with the looming forms of Malva and Mable, who would have already received the notification of a change in Team Flare’s Pokémon records. She could already hear all the curse words they would shout at her, and she could already sense how she would be removed from her current role and assigned to an even less appealing job within the team. She imagined the punishments they would give her, and she knew they could very well go as far as taking away her own assigned Pokémon from her.
At the thought of her Pokémon, she retrieved a Poké Ball from her pocket and looked at it with the same longing eyes Rico had left her with. “I’ll never leave you, Mira,” she said as she placed her Liepard’s Poké Ball over her own heart. “We’ll get through this together.”
Three swift knocks on the door interrupted her. She hastily placed Mira’s Poké Ball back in her pocket and wiped her face as the door creaked open. The head of a female grunt peeked in with a questioning and worried look.
“Please,” Vega said after clearing her throat, her hand still clutching Mira’s Poké Ball tightly, “please come in and have a seat.”