Rhivera

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~Chapter Eight- The Suitcase~

~Chapter Eight~

~Arturo~

~August 2020~

On the way to the railroad station, there’s a familiar bridge that I stop by. Mom and I slept under this bridge one night after we were kicked out of one of her friend’s homes. Mom wasn’t working at the time and we were getting by through the charity of her friends. They were tired of us living there rent-free.

Mom was used to homelessness; her parents kicked her out when she was 15. She was pregnant with me by the time she was 18.

Population Control doesn’t take kindly to the homeless, and if she didn’t have me I’m sure they would’ve taken her. But they don’t target anyone who is caring for a child. That was before mom married my stepfather.

I hear a harmonica playing from under the bridge. I follow the path below and find an old man with a heavy coat, white curly hair and a cap on his head. His skin was dark and when he sees me, his smile reveals a golden tooth.

I smile back at him, “Hello Noel, long time no see!”

“Hello boy.” Noel responds with his always soothing voice. That night when mom and I slept down here he shared some of his food with us. I’ve made a point of seeing him often.

“How have you been? You look good.” I say, setting the black suitcase I hold against the wall.

“Doing great boy.” Noel says, setting his harmonica on his lap, “What’s in the suitcase?”

Noel motions to the suitcase against the wall, “Nothing important.” I reply shortly.

“Stayin’ out of trouble?”

I smirk at him, “Of course not.” Noel smiles and nods. “Where have you been living?” I ask.

Noel looks around the bridge and shrugs. He’s still homeless. Somehow he’s managed to evade Population Control all of these years.

“It’s a miracle Population Control hasn’t caught you yet you know,” I tell him, “You could always come live with me. I have more than enough room.”

Noel shakes his head, “I’ll be fine, boy. But thanks for offerin’.”

He always turns me down. “Alright. Well, I’ve got to get going. I’ll see you soon, okay.” I pick the suitcase from the wall and turn back the way I came.

“Don’t forget about me.” Noel says softly.

“Never.”

I reach the train station. The front carriages of the train are filled with passengers and the back with supplies and goods being transported across the country. I board the Eastbound train and take a seat, setting my suitcase on my lap. Each passenger car has a soldier manning it. I suppose the military is playing it safe after the incident with the RLA.

Recently, the RLA had taken over the station, but the military eliminated them. Now it’s operating with additional security.

They were able to take it back so quickly thanks to someone using a Survival Suit, one they call Nirivo. I was surprised that they had a second Survival Suit.

The soldier manning the passenger car looks to be in her late 30′s, and has a stoic expression on her face. I’ve noticed people in that age range were pretty accepting of Population Control. Their parents would’ve grown up in an age where it was ingrained into their minds that Population Control was in the right, and they would pass those teachings onto their children, indoctrinating them as well.

My generation has it right though. They see the PCC for what it was, an evil that needs to be destroyed. Melissa and I know it, as well as so many others. People like Juaquin are an anomaly that still sees the PCC as just. I guess his dad indoctrinated him too. But maybe Juaquin is finally coming to his senses. He stopped being a soldier after all.

The soldier stares at the suitcase on my lap. She stands, places her hand on the pistol at her hip and walks over to me.

“What’s in the case?” She asks pointedly.

“Nothing important,” I answer, not bothering to make eye contact.

She doesn’t appreciate my response, “Let me see inside.”

I undo the suitcase and open it for her. There were game pieces for the strategy board game, Damin, “I’m meeting up with some friends for games. That’s all.”

The soldier takes out a piece and briefly inspects it. The woman gives a breathy laugh, “Just had to make sure. After everything that’s happened, can’t be too safe, you know?” She returns to her seat at the front of the passenger car. I quietly nodded in agreement.

The train leaves Uneva, taking several stops throughout Sotra before arriving in Joldair, the Southeastern region of Rhivera. To the north, I can see mountain ranges referred to as Mount Rhive, named after an ancestor of the royal family. I step out of the train in Joldair, not too far from the mountains.

I leave the city and head towards the woods a mile out from the station. I set the suitcase on the ground and take a quick look around to ensure I’m completely alone among the trees. I open it up, lift the panel holding all of the game pieces, and set it aside. I press a concealed switch that lies beneath it, and a second compartment beneath opens up.

I pull out a flat object and flick it in the air. It expands into a black helmet. Beneath it was the Survival Suit that accompanies it, sharing the same Black color scheme. It bears a white Crescent moon symbol on the chest of the Survival Suit. Along with it is a black cloak that veils the body.

I don the helmet, Survival suit, and cloak. I pull out a radio and pistol from the suitcase, hooking them to the hip of the suit. Even if the staff at the train station was more thorough, I doubt they would’ve uncovered any of this. I leave the suitcase covered in branches and leaves in the woods. I’ll come back for it later.

I head deeper into the woods before coming to a familiar large tree. I take 5 steps away from the tree and tap my foot on the ground beneath me 4 times. There is a metal ′clank’ from the ground with each tap. I step back and in moments the trap door is opened by two individuals in black and gray uniforms.

“Miro sir!” One of them exclaims. They wave me in and I enter the underground. They seal the trapdoor behind them. I step into a dimly lit tunnel, but it appears as if they’ve set a few more candles along the pathway since I was last here.

“We’ve been waiting for you, Miro” A familiar voice greets me deeper down the tunnel. It’s Miguel, a man who’s worked with me ever since I first referred to myself as Miro. He was tan with a shaved head, and was muscular, far more muscular than I’ll ever be. But he doesn’t have the same boundless strength that Juaquin seems to have.

“Hello, commander. How have our new guests been doing?” I ask. My voice is deepened from the device installed into the helmet, effectively disguising my true voice.

“We’ve been managing. It’s more difficult with so many mouths to feed, but the farm nearby has been helping.” Miguel answers.

Miguel and I travel further down the tunnel and come to an opening. There are dozens of people in tents that called this place their home. Many have lived here for a few years, but some were people saved from Sotra’s jungles. If we hadn’t intervened, they would’ve been killed by Population Control.

With the new people living here, this became one of our larger bases. I believe there are around a thousand living in this location, with around half of them serving as soldiers for Miro’s army. In case this location is ever discovered there a few escape routes and everyone knows where to flee. Everyone here was given explicit instructions to collapse in the tunnels behind them once they’ve escaped.

All across Rhivera, Miro’s army had cells like this one, with our largest in Illesto, the Northwest region. We used the large network of underground tunnels scattered across the country as hideouts. All my research into these underground tunnels across the country bore fruit.

I meet with those in charge of this location in an area designated for meetings with a round table with a map of the country laid out before us. The commanding officers here look to Miro for answers.

“We’re running low on supplies, Miro. I don’t know how we’ll keep feeding everyone.” Trinidad, a burly man and one of the leaders of this location explains. A year ago he joined us when doctors diagnosed him with some sort of immune system deficiency. That turned him into a potential target of the PCC, and he decided to run before they could come for him. He became sick often, but whenever he was well he fought alongside us.

“We’ll see if the farm that’s been helping us will be able to spare more.” I say. “Perhaps we could offer them assistance for more supplies?”

“Alternatively, we could just take what we need.” Another commander says, one that I hadn’t appointed.

“Absolutely not.” I respond calmly but sternly, “We target the people responsible for Population Control itself, and leave the civilians out of it. That’s the only way we’ll be able to change things. Even if we stooped to that level, it’d only make it more likely for this location to be compromised.”

“I agree with Miro. If we turn on civilians, we’re no better than the RLA.” Miguel adds. Miguel was once a member of the RLA, but came to see them for the cowards that they are.

“I’m sorry sir,” The other commander responds, averting his eyes from me.

“Speaking of the RLA,” I begin, “Eduardo Santoro himself is in the RLA base hidden in Mount Rhive. They’ve agreed to meet with me. We may acquire supplies from the meeting.”

“Do you think you’ll be able to come to an agreement with them? They’re almost as stubborn as the government.” Trinidad comments.

“They will. They just need the right encouragement.” I respond confidently, “I have a plan for the occasion.”

I spend the next hour explaining my plan and formation patterns for how we’ll pull this off. I’ve studied the military’s battle tactics and learned how rigid they could be. Using the underground tunnels as points to attack and escape from, we’ve been able to outdo forces that far outnumber us over the last few years.

Once they hear my plan in its entirety they feel reassured and ready to carry it out when the time comes. Sometimes I wonder if they’d have the same faith in Miro if they discovered he was so young.

I retire to my personal quarters in the tunnels, removing my helmet now that I was alone. It was better to keep my helmet on around Miro’s followers here, he could serve as a better symbol that way.

I dialed my radio to a very specific frequency, and spoke into it softly, “Hello.”

In a few moments Melissa’s voice comes through, “Hey! How did everything go?”

“They like the plan. Everything should turn out well.” I say proudly.

“That’s good, that’s good. Be careful though. You’ve heard about how unstable Santoro can be.” Melissa cautions.

“I’m prepared.” I state. I know exactly how I’ll deal with him. After what he did to Juaquin’s dad, there’s no way I’ll let him live.

“Have you heard much about Nirivo?” Melissa asks, “I guess we didn’t take their only Survival Suit. That or they built another one. He was in another skirmish with the RLA.”

“They’re trying to turn him into a symbol for Population Control. Or maybe a symbol against Miro.” I say. They’ve been sensationalizing him lately. Every mission he’s gone on has received a lot of media coverage.

“I know,” Melissa sighs, “We’ll just have to kill him. Sooner rather than later. Can’t be a symbol if he’s dead.”

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