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~Chapter Fifteen- The Equality Zone Cometh~

~Chapter Fifteen~


With Xander Veran’s announcement of the Equality Zone, things start to become quiet. Both the RLA and Miro were active leading up to that an announcement, there was even a skirmish in the region of Errest. But since then, nothing. Even the RLA who’ve been relentlessly persistent. The sudden quiet is disorienting.

After the battle of Mount Rhive, the surviving members of our squads are promoted. Those that remained in the military after the ordeal. Rico and I became Corporals with squads of our own under our command while Ilyana became our Sergeant. She managed our squads as well as a few others.

At first, commanding my own squad was stressful, I was constantly doubting myself as I tried to mimic Ilyana’s way of managing us. Nearly all of the members of my squad were older than me and I felt judged by them. But with time, things start to piece together.

With our promotions, I don’t see Ilyana as often at the base, she only guided me at a distance. But we’ve kept seeing each other outside of work. Usually something simple, like sharing a meal with each other. I’ve seen her at her apartment a few times. She seems to let her guard down with me. At base though, Ilyana returns to her more rigid ways. Even more so now that she was a Sergeant.

Ilyana calls the squads under her command together for our weekly meeting. She briefly smiles at me before addressing everyone, “Alright, I’m sure everyone is aware of the Equality Zone by now. Our superiors believe there may be some turbulence in the region of Rhy leading up to the conference there. All of the squads under Lieutenant Torres are being sent there to lend support, including us.”

A murmur comes from one of the squads, “Why us?”

“It’s obviously because they want Nirivo.” Someone murmurs under their breath.

Ilyana frowned. “We’ll be leaving tomorrow for Rhy. We’ll plan to stay in the area until after the conference.”

“What do you think of the Equality Zone, Sergeant?” A corporal asks her.

She answers without hesitation, ” I don’t think people should be rewarded for being lazy. The people who live in the zone will be taken care of whether they contribute or not.”

Rico interjects, “I don’t think it’s that bad of an idea, Sergeant. It’s quieted Miro and the RLA after all. That has to be worth something.”

“Out of principle, I hate it. I acknowledge it might deter them from fighting though.” Ilyana responds derisively.

After finishing training exercises for the day, I leave my squad to see Raul.

“Come in,” He hollers when I knock on his office door.

He’s poring over some paperwork on his desk as I come in, “Hey Raul, are you busy?”

“I can talk Corporal,” Raul says with a grin, setting the paperwork to the side, “You’re heading to Rhy tomorrow, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, but that’s not what I want to talk to you about,” I place my hand on the edge of his desk, “What do you think of the Equality Zone?”

Raul picks at his beard, “I’m not sure. It’s an effective way of giving the terrorists just enough to give them reason not to fight. They’re not disbanding the PCC, but they’re giving them something they might settle for. But the concept of the Equality Zone sort of disgusts me.”

“Ilyana said something similar.” I look around the room to make sure we’re alone and no one will overhear us, “Mom said she might take Eugenio and go live there.”

He scrunches up his face, “No, Maria is better than that. The Equality Zone is for people who are too lazy or aren’t good enough to do things themselves. I can understand sending Junior off to the Equality Zone, but not her.”

I tense up. Raul has never been fond of Eugenio, but I hate it whenever he talks about him like that, “You know, Eugenio’s been learning to take care of himself.”

Raul snickers, “Sure, sure. Just make sure your mother doesn’t make a poor decision like that. Won’t you?”

I scowl at him for a moment. I want to tell him off, tell him to never talk about my brother that way. But I stop myself, leaving his office abruptly after that. I should’ve known better than to ask Raul.

I’m still wasn’t sure how to feel about the Equality Zone. I don’t know who else to talk to. Ilyana was pretty set in her beliefs, she wouldn’t be good to talk to on that. She and Raul are both fairly rigid in their beliefs.

If Arturo or Melissa were around, they would be good to talk to. They’re against the PCC, but I wonder how they feel about this. Knowing them, they’ll probably visit the conference in Rhy. I might see them while we’re out there.

As I head back to the barracks, I see Rico with his new squad. They’re all circled around him, grins plastered on their faces, all of them laughing and joking with each other. He’s been doing well... I wonder what he thinks of the Equality Zone?

“Corporal Gratia.” I say as I approach Rico, “May I have a word?”

Rico turns, a big grin still on his face, “Yeah, yeah, sure thing boss.” Rico nods to his squad and they head out for the day, “What’s on your mind?”

“Well, I’ve been thinking lately-”

“About Ilyana?” Rico interrupts, smiling coyly at me.

“What?” I stammer.

Rico wraps his arm around me, “I’ve seen you two. You’ve been leaving the base together. She keeps giving you little glances throughout the day. She’s been real sweet on you. Am I right?”

“I mean- yeah. We’ve been seeing each other a lot.” I say, completely caught off guard by his forwardness.

“Have you two been together at all?” Rico watches for my reaction, and his eyes light up. “You have, haven’t you?”

I’m not sure what face I made, but whatever I did must’ve given it away. “I’m not telling you anything man.” I say, trying to keep my expression plain.

Rico smiles even bigger at me, “Well, whether you are or not, just be safe. You’re a good guy, but good guys like you can be dumb sometimes. ”

I shrug, “I hear you man. That actually isn’t what I wanted to talk to you about though. What do you think of the Equality Zone?”

Rico’s face twists and his smile goes away, “I-I don’t know man.”

“Back in the meeting, you seemed to support it.” I point out.

“I guess I do. It might’ve been nice for my grandparents. They could’ve stayed there instead of being taken by the PCC.” Rico answers in a stream of consciousness way, “If it stops the fighting too, that’d be great. I don’t want to be caught in another Mount Rhive.”

“You’d be okay with your grandparents, or a family member staying there?” I ask.

“If I could see them, sure. Which it sounds like people can.” Rico answers, “Why? Do you have family who’s thinking about living there?”

“Sort of, yeah.” I say. Maybe it would be better for Eugenio. Mom and I have always felt bad about keeping him isolated indoors as we have. This could be a nice change for him. “I think you have the right idea Rico. Thanks for talking with me.”

Rico smiles, “Anytime man.”

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