~Chapter Twenty Two- Victor Veran~
After I fully recover, Raul finally allows me to return to base. Small skirmishes with Miro’s forces have taken place intermittently across the country. The new Survival Suit’s in circulation help the military win in some of those battles. Now that Santoro is dead, the RLA seems to have dissapeared.
I’ve told Melissa and Arturo that I’d leave the military once the RLA was defeated. But with Miro active, I’m not sure what I should do. His only aim seems to be to disband the Population Control Council. He’s left civilians out of it.
It wasn’t until the Equality Zone was announced that I realized how eager Eugenio was to see other people. I always thought he was content with living with us. If Miro succeeded, Eugenio would be able to go outside, live a more normal life.
But it isn’t that simple. In school, we learned that a terrible famine plagued this country and Population Control helped it recover. It could happen again if there isn’t a plan. Dad and Lena died defending Population Control. I’ve heard countless stories of people who were rightfully taken by the PCC; [eople like Ilyana’s parents, who everyone is better off without. Miro’s Revolution may be trying to save the country, but they might do even more damage.
I’ve thought of leaving the military and washing my hands of the conflict, but that feels cowardly. Dad would never do that. So it isn’t an option for me. But I’m conflicted about continuing to serve the military if it means fighting Miro. I can tell he’s not evil like the RLA.
Raul and Ilyana both support Population Control vehemently and tell me Miro needs to be stopped. If I asked Arturo or Melissa, I’m sure they’d support Miro’s Revolution. With them being gone for so long, there’s a chance that they’ve joined Miro. A terrifying thought.
Mom and Eugenio simply want the fighting to end. If only that was an option.
With the polarizing opinions I’ve been given, I can’t make up my mind. At base, I see Rico across the way, listlessly going through exercises with his squad. I wonder what he thinks? I find him during lunch.
“Rico,” I take the seat next to him, “Can I talk to you for a second?”
“Sure thing, Boss.” Rico says casually, “I have a feeling I know what you want to talk about though.”
“Yeah. You and Ilyana got into a fight, didn’t you?”
“How-How would you know that?” I ask astounded.
“You two have seemed off lately. What happened?”
“N-Nothing.” I lie. It’s amazing how Rico notices things like that.
“Doesn’t sound like it.” Rico says jestingly.
“We figured it out. That isn’t what I wanted to talk to you about though.” I say, “What do you think of Miro?”
Rico gives me a perplexed look, “Are you looking to quit the military, Juaquin?”
I hesitate, “I don’t know. With the RLA, it was easy to know I was fighting the bad guys. Now, I’m not sure.”
“Miro’s not bad. I see why he’s fighting.”
“Why’re you fighting against him then?” I ask.
“Well, I work for the military to pay the bills, help the family out. But I’ve got to believe we need the PCC too. I mean, my parents were never rich people. If the PCC didn’t take my grandparents, there’s no way my parents could’ve taken care of them. It sucks, but I feel like it’s for the best,” Rico says, his stream of consciousness flowing out of him, “...Miro has killed a lot of our friends too. I’m still pretty sore about that.”
“I feel like you’re more fair-minded about it than most people,” I compliment him.
Rico laughs, “Glad you think so. You shouldn’t leave the military though Miro isn’t going to win. I think you have a really nice future here. Better than me.”
I nod. He’s probably right. “Alright, thanks for talking to me Rico.”
“Anytime man.” Rico smiles.
Raul calls me to his new office. I find him with a letter in hand from General Victor, Lena’s older brother. “General Victor has asked your squad to report to Norino to assist in some mission he has in store. I told him I would ask you before I send you off.” Raul explains from behind his desk, “If you don’t want to go, I’m fine with refusing him.”
“If he needs help, shouldn’t I go?” I ask.
“Yes, but I could send him anyone. If he needs additional Survival Suit Soldiers, we have several. For some reason, he’s asking specifically for you. I don’t trust it.”
“You don’t know anything about the mission?”
“No, and the last time I sent you off on a mission without information, you were nearly killed.” Raul is clearly agitated.
“I’ll at least show up and see what he needs. If he’s being unreasonable, I’ll refuse him. How does that sound?” I try to reason.
Raul sits back in his chair and stares at me, “You’re not to put yourself in danger, understood?”
“Understood.” I respond hastily.
Raul abruptly stands from his chair and extends his hand to me, “Promise me you’ll come back safe.”
I stare at his hand for a moment. I hesitate, but even I don’t fully understand why. His expression becomes anxious so I take his hand, “I promise.”
He sits back in his chair, relieved.
When Ilyana hears that my squad is departing for Norino, she insists on accompanying me and those under her command, numbering around one hundred, including Rico’s squad. This served to alleviate more of Raul’s inhibitions about sending me off.
We board the train leading into Sotra, and take a second train heading northbound from there. It’s nearly midnight when we pass into the central region of Errest. Of the nine regions, Errest is the most densely populated. It’s great cities are aglow in light, clearly visible from the train. I’ve never been there; I can’t stand the crowds. Rico tells a story about some of the fun times he had when he lived in the city.
We arrive at the base of Norino the morning after. After settling into the barracks there, Ilyana and I search for General Victor. As we go around the base, I see several soldiers with the new Cobalt Survival Suits, performing exercises as a single squad.
Ilyana and I visit Victor in the administrative district. The base is laid out similarly enough to Uneva’s that we can find where the General’s office was.
“Enter,” Victor’s voice comes when we knock on his door.
We find the general in deep thought gazing at a map of the region laid out before him with different markers arranged upon it. Victor fidgets with one of the markers in his hand. His sharp eyes meet ours.
Ilyana steps forward, “General Victor, I’m Lieutenant Ferzo. I’ve brought my forces with me and accompanied Corporal Neruda to assist you.”
Victor sets the marker on the map, “I remember you from the Equality Zone. You were a Sergeant back then.”
“I’ve recently been promoted by General Rios,” Ilyana states formally.
“Well, congratulations on your new rank. I only needed Corporal Neruda but thank you for your aid. You’ll bolster our numbers.” Victor says cordially.
I step forward, “What did you need me for?”
Victor’s eyes shift to me, “I’ll explain that to you now actually. Would you please step out Lieutenant?”
Ilyana interjects, “I’d like to be aware of what you have in mind for him. He is my subo-”
Victor’s expression becomes intense, “For this mission, not everyone can be informed. I’ll fill you in on the details relevant to you later. Step out.” Victor orders impatiently.
Ilyana winces and looks at me. I nod to assure her that I’ll be fine and she takes her leave.
“So, what do you have in mind?” I ask warily.
Victor motions me to the map he had been looking at. It displays the western portion of Norino, most prominently the sand dunes and the woods bordering it, sprawling westward into the region of Illesto. There are white markers near the coast, south of the sand dunes, and within the woods. Against them are black markers concentrated at two points. One in the sand dunes and another in the woods.
“We believe much of Miro’s followers are hiding within the sand dunes here,” Victor places his index finger on the black marker on the table, “I would like you to scope out the area and draw Miro out. You’ll hold this position and the rest of my forces will come to aid you. You can take your personal squad and I’ll send several other squads to accompany you.”
I stay silent. This feels familiar. At Mount Rhive, Lena was sure that the RLA was there, but it turned into a terrible ambush where hundreds lost their lives to Miro’s forces. She received the information through a supposed leak. “I assume you heard a leak that Miro was hiding there?” I ask suspiciously.
“That would be correct.” Victor answers.
“It’s a trap. Miro’s pulled this before at Mount Rhive. You’ll send us in and he’ll ambush us and escape before you have a chance to support us.”
Victor begins to nod, “It’s impressive you figured that out. Rest assured, I’ve accounted for that.”
“Why do you need me?” I ask pointedly.
“You could send anyone out there to scope out the sand dunes. You have plenty of Survival Suit users so any of them would do. Yet you called me here all the way from Uneva for this. Why?”
Victor gives me the same annoyed look he gave Ilyana, “That’s none of your concern. It’s important to the mission that this information stays hidden. Just carry out your part.”
“I refuse then.” I say defiantly.
Victor’s eyes grow more intense, “Excuse you?”
“I’m not going to bring my squad out there if you won’t tell me why.”
Victor calmly responds, “You don’t have much of a choice.”
“General Rios told me not to accept a mission I feel is unsafe. I report to him before you.” I stand my ground.
Victor looks harshly at me but I remain steadfast. He begins to tap the table fiercely. He takes a sharp breath, “You’ve encountered Miro personally several times. Possibly more than anyone else. He remembered you back in the Equality Zone, didn’t he? He remembered Nirivo.”
“Miro has been very cautious, only engaging in battles he’s confident he’ll win. But he sees you as valuable. Valuable enough to take a risk. If I send anyone out there, he won’t come forth. I promise that if you can draw him out, I’ll put an end to Miro.” Victor says without a hint of doubt and all the confidence in the world.
I believe him, but I still hesitate. “I’ll have to think about it.”
Victor rolls his eyes, “Fine. It’ll be a few days before I need you. Make up your mind soon. If you don’t take up the mission, I’ll be taking your Survival suit. You’re dismissed.”
We retire to the boarding area within the base that night. Ilyana inquires what Victor asked of me, but I can’t tell her. That could compromise whatever plan he has in mind. She mentions that the role she received in the mission is secret as well.
In the barracks that night, I lay awake. I’m not sure what to do. I’m still not sure how I feel about Miro’s revolution. I thought about what dad would do... If it was the RLA he’d do everything he could to help, even if it meant throwing down his life... But I’m sure dad would see that Miro isn’t entirely wrong.
In the bunk below me, I hear Rico snoring... Rico! He’ll be on the mission with me and I’d have to brief him. I can get his opinion. I hop out of bed and shake him awake.
“What-what is it man?” A distraught Rico answers.
“I want to talk to you about something,” I say, only now realizing how annoying I must be.
The tired Rico shakes himself awake and answers, still half asleep, “What is it?”
I whisper so only Rico will hear, “The mission General Victor wants us on, it might be dangerous. But he said if we go on the mission, he should be able to kill Miro.”
“Then we should do it. If Miro’s dead, all the fighting will finally be over, right?” Rico stares blankly at me. Such a straightforward answer! I didn’t expect that. “Was that all?
“Okay, I’m going to go back to sleep,” Rico says, throwing himself back into his pillow. Within seconds, his snoring resumes. I always find myself overthinking things, but Rico had a simple way of looking at things that I can appreciate.
Once Miro’s is defeated, I can focus on changing Population Control peacefully. It may take time, but I could change things from inside so that one day, Eugenio wouldn’t have to hide anymore. The next day, I meet with General Victor and tell him that my squad will take the mission.