Rhivera

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~Chapter Twelve- Victory & Defeat~

~Chapter Twelve~

~Arturo~

I guide my forces and the RLA’s to an exit point into the underground to the west of Mount Rhive. The military strolls past it, but we’re long gone by then. We wait until it’s safe to travel through various underground tunnels through the region until we reach our base in southern Joldair. Nearly all of the RLA we fought alongside join our ranks.

We’re met with high praise when we return to base. We’ve proven to everyone what we’re capable of. All across the country, more join our forces after hearing of our overwhelming victory against the military.

“We may have not killed General Lena or Nirivo, but this is a huge success for us,” I tell Melissa over the radio.

“A lot of people see it as a victory of the RLA, not Miro. The news stations are branding Miro as a terrorist.” Melissa responded.

“Our government doesn’t kill without cause like you.”

For some reason, Nirivo’s words linger in my mind. “We’ll prove them wrong.” I say.

I spend the next few days in Joldair, lying low and solidifying the position of Miro’s army within the region. Despite the victory, we’re still tight when it comes to rations. Only so many of those living in our settlement are able to contribute.

Some are too old to be able, and we’re happy to support them. If left on their own, Population Control would take them. But there are a few troublesome individuals that could help and choose not to. Most of our underground settlements are like this, but we manage to get by.

One day, a crowd forms in our settlement. Miguel, Trinidad, and I find a woman at the center of the crowd. She’s recently discovered she’s pregnant. She receives congratulations from everyone, apparently she’s been trying for quite some time.

This woman joined our settlements after leaving her job. She wasn’t in danger, at least not when she left. It became clear with time that she decided to go into hiding with us simply because she didn’t want to work. She was one of the troublesome people who never contributed to our community. Only reaped its benefits.

She smiles when she sees me, or rather Miro. She asks if she happens to have a son, if she can name him Miro, blissfully unaware of how angry I am. I can’t help but become upset with the woman.

“We’re struggling for supplies as it is, and you decide to have a child?” I chastise her, “It’s not fair for the child to be born underground and in hiding. What sort of mother are you?”

The woman is stunned, as is everyone else. “I-I’m sorry, Miro.”

I address everyone around, “I ask that no one else do something so irresponsible. We have enough mouths to feed.” I leave them with those parting words.

Miguel stops me before I return to my quarters, “I don’t think I’ve seen you get worked up like that before.”

“I try not to.” I remark, “Do you think it was unwise of me to say that?”

Miguel lazily shakes his head, a candle illuminating the space between us. “Not at all. Mind if I ask you something?”

“You may.”

“Can you tell me anything about your parents?” Miguel asks. It was the first time he’s ever asked something personal like that. Plenty of others have, but it was the first from him.

I remember what life was like when mom was around. Always struggling, staying in whatever home would take us. At least until she married Antonio and we moved into the estate.

I’ve often thought, maybe life would’ve been easier if she didn’t have me. She could’ve gotten her life together. Maybe, Population Control never would’ve taken her.

I look back to Miguel, “I’d rather not speak on that.” I say.

Miguel nods. He’s always had faith in what we do since the beginning. I’ve done my best not to disappoint him.

After things settle down, Miguel travels north to help our movement. We leave the Joldair base under Commander Trinidad’s leadership. I head back to Uneva, picking up my undisturbed suitcase in the woods on the way.

On the train I hear people talking about Miro in hushed tones. There’s fear for what Miro’s army is capable of, disdain for his movement against Population Control. And in very hushed tones, sympathy for Miro’s cause.

Melissa meets me at the train station and we walk home together. When she saw me, she smiled but said nothing. I knew why, after all these years we’re finally making a difference. Our goal of snuffing out Population Control so people like Eugenio can live happily felt feasible now.

When we reach the Montoya Estate, the gate is open. It’s never open. Melissa and I cautiously approach the house and see an expensive looking vehicle parked near the front. I know who it is; I only hope that they haven’t discovered our guests downstairs.

I rush into the house. The first thing I do is check the basement door. That’s most important. Fortunately, it’s still sealed.

I smell something cooking in the kitchen. A boy of 6 years old comes into view in the living room, wearing prudish clothing and slicked back blonde hair. I haven’t seen Cesar in years. His mother comes out of the kitchen and sees us.

“Arturo! It’s so good to see you!” Patricia greets us both, trying to make it sound sincere. She’s wearing an overabundance of make-up, heels, and a cooking apron. She shares the same blonde hair as Cesar. I glare at her. She looks at Melissa, “Oh, you must be his girlfriend.”

Patricia steps forward and takes Melissa’s hand, “We haven’t met. I’m Patricia, Arturo’s stepmother. You’re very... pretty.”

“Thanks. Nice to meet you too.” Melissa responds out of obligation. She heard enough about Patricia from me. My step-dad started dating her months after the PCC killed Mom as if it were normal. He always liked submissive women who he could show off like trophies.

“Is Antonio here too?” I ask coldly. Patricia’s face sours up.

“Right here.” A commanding voice comes from behind Patricia. He steps out, dressed in a businessman’s suit and tie. Some of his brown hair had started to gray. It’s probably been a few years since I saw him as well. He doesn’t drop by often.

“What do you want, Antonio?” I ask my stepfather pointedly.

“Don’t act so excited to see me,” Antonio responds. Patricia and Cesar never learned to handle my bluntness, but Antonio spent just enough time around me not be phased by it, “We’re about to eat, would you like to join us?”

“No.” I say flatly.

Antonio lets out a stressed moan, “Fine. You and I need to talk. I’m sure your girlfriend is hungry, she can join Cesar and Patricia.”

“She-.”

“I’ll eat.” Melissa interrupts me. She gives me a look as if to tell me to get it over with.

“Perfect!” Antonio says and passes by me, “Come with me.”

Antonio heads halfway upstairs while Melissa ate with the others. Just far enough that they shouldn’t hear us.

“What do you want?” I ask again.

“Well, first off, I want to know what you’ve been doing with your life as of late.”

“None of your business.”

Antonio rolls his eyes, “Of course it isn’t. Look, I told your mother when we got married that I’d always take care of you. But I should’ve pushed you to do more so you can be a contributing member of society. And I don’t want you to end up like your m-”

“Don’t you dare!” I snap at him, knowing what he was going to say.

Antonio stares at me for a while before continuing, “I don’t want Population Control to come for you one day. Which is why, at the beginning of 2021, I’m kicking you out. I won’t support you after that, and you’ll have to learn how to take care of yourself.”

My hand balls up into a fist. He was never there. I learned how to take care of myself fine without him. Sure he sent money, but I only took what I needed. But, there’s no point arguing with him. There never is.

“Is that all?”

Antonio seems to anticipate that sort of response from me, “Yes. It is.”

I begin to walk back down the stairs, away from him. I feel especially bold and say, “With how things have been lately, Population Control may not be a problem for much longer.”

Melissa and I leave the Montoya Estate promptly. Melissa was able to gather from Patricia that they would be leaving for business in Desi tomorrow.

“What did your dad talk to you about?” Melissa asks.

“He told me he’s cutting me off next year. As if that matters.” I reply, “It’s just another reason to accelerate our plans.”

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Neither of us wanted to be around Antonio while he was in the area. I hadn’t seen Juaquin or Eugenio for a while, and it should just be them at the house at the moment. A perfect time to drop by. I consider leaving the Survival Suit at the estate, but I don’t trust Antonio won’t rummage through my belongings. I clutch the black suitcase as we make our way to Juaquin’s place.

We reach Juaquin’s home, knock on the door and patiently wait for someone to answer. A very tired looking Juaquin opens the door. There are bags under his eyes. He lets us in, but his eyes stay fixed on my suitcase.

Eugenio gives me a true smile when he sees me. I haven’t seen him recently. I’ve been too busy.

“What’s in the suitcase man?” Juaquin asks.

Why is he so curious?

I place the suitcase on the table and open it up, pulling out one of the board game pieces.

“Remember that strategy game I forced you to play with me when we were kids?” I ask, drawing Juaquin’s attention to the piece I’m holding.

Juaquin looks relieved. He laughs, “You’re such a dork Arturo, lugging that game around with you.”

“It’s fun!” Melissa advocates, “I bet Eugenio wants to play.”

Eugenio nods excitedly, taking his wheelchair up to the board game. He looks at all of the pieces, and the suitcase they were in. There’s no way he’d access the compartment where the Survival Suit is hidden. But my eyes are trained on him nonetheless.

Juaquin leans back in his chair, “I bet Eugenio will be better at it than me. I could never keep up with the two of you.”

“You played fine, you just got bored too quickly.” Melissa comments.

“Bro, this suitcase sort of looks like yours,” Eugenio says to Juaquin. Juaquin’s eyes grew large for a moment.

“Yeah a little bit.” Juaquin nervously answers. His eyes dart to Melissa and I, “I have a suitcase for work. Paperwork.”

We set up the board game pieces on the table, and Melissa began to walk Eugenio through the game.

“You took a trip out of Uneva for work recently didn’t you? How was that?” Melissa asks Juaquin.

“It went fine.”

“You look exhausted.” I point out.

“Yeah,” Juaquin affirmed in a drained voice, “It’s a lot of work.”

Melissa frowns, “It doesn’t seem like you enjoy it very much. Maybe it’s about time you leave the military entirely. Especially with Miro’s revolution.”

That seems to light a spark in Juaquin, “No. That’s exactly why I can’t leave. The country won’t be safe until the RLA and Miro are gone. I’ve got to do my part.”

Melissa gets quiet and returns to setting up the board game for Eugenio.

I decide to challenge Juaquin’s views. “I agree about the RLA, but it seems like Miro is trying to do good. He’ll let people like Eugenio have normal lives.” I said.

Juaquin’s calmness transitions to agitation, “Do you have any idea how many people Miro has killed so far? Good people!”

“You could say the same for Population Control,” I argue calmly.

“That-that’s not the same.” Juaquin says, growing flustered, “At least it has a point. Miro and the RLA are just causing needless violence. There are better ways to change things.”

“How would you change things then?” Melissa entertains the idea.

Juaquin thinks for a moment, “I’d change it from the inside. After the RLA and Miro are gone, maybe I’ll join the government.” Juaquin says. I raise my eyebrow at him, “I’ll admit, I don’t know anything about working for the government, but I’ll learn. At least that’s a way to change things without any bloodshed.”

If only he knew. I ask, “Have you ever heard of Avella Santoro?”

Juaquin gives me an inquisitive look, “I’d assume she’s related to Eduardo Santoro.”

Melissa speaks, “Yeah, she’s his grandmother. Back before we were born, she tried to disband Population Control through peaceful protest for decades. But the government never budged. Population control took her life when she grew old. After that, her family formed the Rhiveran Liberation Army. People only resorted to violence because the government didn’t respond to peaceful tactics.”

“Are you trying to say the RLA is in the right?” Juaquin presses her

“Don’t put my words in my mouth.” Melissa shouts at him, “Obviously, the RLA is no good. Just don’t lump them together with Miro.”

“They seem no different to me,” Juaquin says defiantly.

“Can you all stop arguing?” Eugenio says with a quiet voice. We all know better than to keep going. If not for Eugenio reigning us in, I could’ve gone back and forth with Juaquin forever.

Juaquin’s father and Raul truly brainwashed Juaquin. He’d defend Population Control to a fault. Melissa and I always wanted Juaquin to help us in our fight against Population Control, but it never happened. Maybe, as Miro’s Revolution grows, Juaquin could be convinced. One day.

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