~Chapter 6A- The Survival Suit~
I wake up early as usual, taking care not to wake Yolanda as I suit up. Before I leave, I peer into Melissa’s bedroom. Empty. Again.
Ever since her graduation she’s been out of the house at strange hours, no doubt with that Montoya boy. I’m sure she’s just going through a phase with him. She’ll learn he’s no good and move on soon enough. She has to.
I head out of the door for the military base. Early morning are always the best time to get work done; that’s why I reach the base before dawn most days. That was something I learned from Eugenio early in our careers. With how busy things have been lately, I need to get started as soon as possible.
Yesterday Miro’s forces struck again in Illesto, killing one of their lieutenants. He’s becoming a nuisance. Lena thinks that they’re becoming an even greater threat than the RLA. It took the incident in Sotra’s jungle for me to realize that.
I gave the order for Sotra’s jungle to be searched extensively after what happened to Juaquin there. After several days of searching, they came across a tunnel covered by shrubbery that must’ve been used for their escape. When my soldiers traveled inside, they found that the path had collapsed. Miro must’ve blocked his escape after they fled.
Juaquin and Ilyana’s squad go through exercises in the battle room early in the morning. I haven’t assigned them to a new Sergeant, and I’m not keen on sending them out another mission after nearly losing them in Sotra. I can’t let anything happen to Juaquin. But I could see him resenting me for giving him special treatment. That’s just the sort of boy he is. But I have an idea for keeping him safe.
Lena is coming through Uneva today with a present. Her convoy arrives at the military base at noon, prompt as always. I greet her at the gate. She wore a bold looking military uniform, more extravagant than my own.
“Good to see you, General.” I keep up formal appearances in front of the rest of the base.
“Good to see you as well, Colonel Rios.” Lena has the same dark tan and black hair that all in her family shared. Her long hair was tied behind her into a short ponytail. Her sharp eyes intimidated nearly all who met her; when I was a younger man a look from her would’ve frozen me in place. But I’ve known her for far too long for it to affect me anymore.
Lena grips a white suitcase which only a few know the contents of. But that will have to wait. She meets with me and my most trusted subordinates. We update her on the state of things in Uneva. With our recent efforts, we reduced the threat of the RLA in our region greatly. If there are still members of the RLA here, they are few and in hiding. Lena doesn’t seem the least bit surprised.
“The RLA is hardly a threat anymore. I anticipate that in the next few months we’ll be able to eliminate the RLA completely. ” Lena states confidently after hearing our report, “Miro is who we should be focusing on now.”
After the meeting, Lena and I leave for my quarters. She sets the white suitcase on my desk and reveals its contents to me.
I look down at it, “This is it?”
“What do you think? Is it the same as what Miro used?” She asks.
“I’m not sure. I’ll have to ask a soldier from Corporal Ilyana Ferzo’s squad.” I respond, “They saw Miro. They would know.”
“Do you still want to give it to Eugenio’s boy?” Lena prods, already knowing my intentions.
I nod, “He’s a good soldier. He’ll make good use of it.” I know it would help keep him safe as well.
“Alright, call him up.”
I call Juaquin to the administrative district of the base. While Lena and I wait we look over some of the photos I have laid out on my desk. There is a photo with Eugenio and I in our teen years on a beach. We were shirtless, flexing what we thought were huge muscles at the time. That was when we were still working as farm hands with our fathers. We had too much drive to settle for that sort of life though.
Another photo has Lena, Eugenio, and I, all in Corporal uniforms standing at attention. Lena started her military career around the same time that Eugenio and I had, and we ascended the ranks in pace with each other, usually Lena leading the charge with Eugenio and I close behind.
As of now, Lena is my direct superior. I wish I could say that she only became a General over me because she’s part of the royal family, but she earned the position. I still have much to learn to match her. She has aspirations to become Head General of the entire military one day, and I believe she’s capable of it.
Lena looks at the photo of Eugenio for a while. She’d never admit it, but I know she fancied him. However their strong wills clashed with each other, far too much for them to be together. Lena ended up with a man named Antonio, while Eugenio wed Maria.
A knock comes at the door to my office. “Come in.” I say.
Juaquin enters my office. “You wanted to talk to me Raul?” He asks. He and Lena’s eyes meet.
Lena laughs, “Ha, he really is the spitting image of Eugenio!” Juaquin looks at her with a puzzled but subdued expression. He’s never met Lena before. She greets him boisterously with an extended hand.
“Nice to meet you Juaquin Neruda. I’m Lena Veran.” Lena says with gusto.
“It’s nice to meet you as well.” Juaquin shakes her hand and he begins to recognize her name, “Wait, Veran? Like the royal family?”
Lena simply smirks.
I fill him in, “Yes, she’s part of the Veran royal family and General of the southern regions. She’s the daughter of the Head General of the military as well.”
“I’m also a longtime friend of Raul and your father.” She adds.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I had no idea.” Juaquin stammers, searching for the proper thing to do.
Lena smiles at Juaquin, “You’re fine, no need to worry. Come and sit, we’d like to show you something Juaquin.” Lena says, drawing him back to my desk where the suitcase waits. Lena circles the desk and stands next to me. Juaquin sits and ponders the suitcase.
Lena pops the suitcase open and pulls out a flat object. She flicks it in the air and it expands into a helmet. A silvery-white helmet with a blue visor, sharing the colors of the Rhiveran flag.
“Does this look familiar to you at all Juaquin?” I ask. She turns the visor of the mask to him.
“Yeah, it looks just like Miro’s helmet, with different coloring. His was all black.” He replies.
I turn the suitcase to him and revealed a full body suit, sporting a white and blue color scheme. It’s surface was hard, and almost armor like.
Lena begins, “This is the latest incarnation of the Survival suit, the 23rd re-design I believe. This suit provides the wearer protection from most gunfire, and still leaves them most of their mobility. Most of the older designs either restricted movement too much or didn’t provide sufficient protection. This version is a good balance. Earlier this year our R&D department created this design, but it was stolen. We always thought the RLA stole it but it sounds like it was Miro, based on your mission report. The R&D department recreated that old design. Ideally, if it does well in testing, we’ll fund mass production of these Survival Suits. I planned to hand it off to Raul so he could present it to a soldier of his choosing...”
I take it from there, “I would like you to use this Survival Suit going forward Juaquin.”
Juaquin was listening closely. Upon hearing that I wanted him to use it, his demeanor becomes more skeptical. “Why do you want me to have it?”
“Well, you’ve done a remarkable job so far and I think-”
Juaquin interrupts me, “Why do you actually want me to have it?” He glares at me. Lena raises an eyebrow at him, but he continues to stare at me unflinchingly.
I’m honest with him, although I know he’ll hate my reasons, “I need you to be safe.”
“I don’t want special treatment.” Juaquin responds sharply.
I respond just as sharply, “Well that’s too bad.”
“Why don’t you or Lena take it?”
Lena interjects, “We are very rarely on the front lines; we won’t make much use of it.”
“What if I refuse?” Juaquin asks defiantly.
“Then I won’t send you on any more missions.” I say sternly.
“You can’t do that!” Juaquin snaps back.
“Watch me.” He knew I meant it. For a workaholic like him, that is the greatest punishment.
Juaquin glares at me, sits back in his chair with a huff before begrudgingly responding, “Alright. I’ll use it.”
Lena smirks. She collapses the helmet into its flattened state and places it back into its suitcase. “With that settled. Raul, make sure and give that survival suit a good chance to test itself. If I feel it’s not being utilized properly, I’ll take it back.”
“I’ll make sure of it.” I shut the suitcase and nudge it towards Juaquin. “Take it and get back to your squad.”
Juaquin’s eyes dart from me to the suitcase, and back to me, “You want me to keep it?” He asks.
“Past Survival suit users kept their suits. I don’t see any reason it should be different with you.” I explain, “Just don’t lose it.”
“Alright. Thank you.” Juaquin says in a disingenuous way. I can tell he’s bitter about the reason I’m giving him the suit. Juaquin clutches the suitcase’s handle and leaves my office.
“Would you have given it to him if he wasn’t Eugenio’s son?” Lena asks pointedly.
“Yes. He always works to prove himself.” I say without any hesitation, “He’ll make good use of it.”