~Chapter Thirty Two- Melissa~
Unmasked, I walk around the new settlement that was built. For months, so many of the people that Miro’s army protected were kept underground for safety, unable to see the sun. Ever since we captured the North, they’ve lived above ground, creating their own settlements. One of the settlements in Tolesta decided to make their place around cliffs overlooking the ocean. They enjoyed the sea air after all that time underground.
Some likeminded people from neighboring cities provided their support with food, clothes or whatever resources they could spare. Though, there were just as many who despise us, insistent that the PCC is right.
We would never harm them though. The moment he hurt or stole from civilians, we were no different than the RLA was. We had to stay above them. So we did our best to allow the civilians in the north to carry on life as usual, keeping them away from the battlefield.
I’ve been in Tolesta for the last week, making preparations. I’m acting as Miro in the north, while Melissa is acting as Miro in the south. She always wanted the more difficult objectives. For good reason, she’s far more capable than I’ll ever be. She also wanted to handle her dad herself.
Miro’s followers come to accept that there are two calling themselves Miro. I’ve heard rumors going around between among the soldiers that there were three of four people acting as Miro. If Juaquin had joined us like we had hoped, he would’ve been the third Miro. But it was always just Melissa and I, with her being the one to come up with the idea. The whole revolution was her will.
Last night was her assault of Sotra’s base, a battle that she believed could be used to leverage the war in our favor, and would put us in control of more than half of the countries territory.
We have a war meeting over radio today, where I’m sure she’ll let us know the battle was a resounding success. Maybe she’ll have captured Juaquin and Raul too. We won’t have to worry about their livelihood anymore and can move forward uninhibited. After that we should be able to move on to capturing Rhy.
It’d been over a month since I’ve seen her. We split off after we saw Juaquin at the Montoya Estate. I missed her. I go to a private place and turn my radio to the frequency Melissa and I use to communicate privately.
“Melissa, are you there?” I ask. There’s no response. I wait for a few minutes for her to potentially come on, but there’s nothing. Which is fine, we’ll be able to speak to each other at the war meeting. Although we’d both be speaking as Miro on the call.
I go to my own quarters, and equip myself in my own ebon Survival Suit and cloak, emerging as Miro. I head to our encampment near the border of Tolesta, with the region of Rhy in sight to the south. Mortars we had taken from the military are now aimed in that direction, deterring the military’s approach.
In that encampment Commanders Cecil and Andres look over things in Tolesta when I’m not present. I’m met graciously by them and communication is setup for all of our other encampments in the country. We enter the call and one by one the other Commanders join in. until everyone is accounted for except for our forces in Joldair. The ones led by Melissa.
We wait for the Joldair forces to join in for quite some time, “Should we start without them?” One of my commanders positioned in Illesto asks.
“No.” I firmly say, “We need to know how the battle went.”
Some more time passes with us idling by waiting for our Joldair forces to join in. I wait for Melissa to join in. Finally, a voice comes through.
" Commander Trinidad reporting in.” An exhausted sounding Trinidad says. Why wasn’t Melissa the one to open the call?
“Glad to hear you could make it.” Andres impatiently responds, “How did the attack fare last night?”
Trinidad and whoever else is with him is at a loss for words. I interject, “Is the other Miro on call?” Andres and Cecil give me an odd look. I’m sure it’s odd for me to be asking for another Miro, but they understood.
I can hear Trinidad push air through gritted teeth, “No... No they’re not. Things fell apart last night.”
“Everything was going according to Miro’s plan at first, we captured the General before the battle began and were able to break in through the southern entrance. But pretty soon after we lost all contact with Miro. The military regrouped and was able to force us back outside. We held our ground as long as we could, but eventually it became too much and I had to call for our retreat. We only just got to safety a few hours ago.” Trinidad spouts out, trying to rationalize things as he spoke.
“Where- Where is Miro now?” I ask, terrified of what he might say.
" We don’t know if they were captured, or if they’re even still alive. We lost a lot of our forces in the attack too.”
My heart sinks. As the others begin to question Trinidad and those with him on specifics, I lose focus. I can’t think about anything but Melissa. What could’ve possibly happened to her? If she was captured, she’d be okay. As soon as she’s unmasked she’d be revealed to be the General’s daughter, Raul and Juaquin would protect her. They had to. They had to.
She can’t be dead.
She can’t be.
“Miro!” Cecil shouts to catch my attention. I don’t know how long she’s been calling me. “What’s our next move?”
I compose myself, “Our next move? Right. For now, Trinidad, do what you can to solidify defenses in Joldair. Our best move is for our northern forces to take Rhy, we’ll be able to provide more support to Joldair from there.”
“Weren’t we counting on our southern forces to take Sotra Miro?” Another questions. Everyone is anxious after hearing of such a loss, “Our southern forces were to help us from Sotra in order to take Rhy.”
“We’ll have to do without them.” I dismiss them, “Trinidad, if you discover any information on Miro, let us know immediately.”
“Of course sir.” Trinidad responds.
Everyone continues to discuss the state of the war, but I only speak when addressed directly, hoping to keep the meeting short. I can tell the others are frustrated that I’m so short of words, but I can’t focus. My mind is on her. I look for the first opportunity I can to end the meeting.
I head to my own private quarters within our encampment and turn my radio’s frequency to the private one Melissa and I use.
“Melissa! Melissa please respond.” I rush to tear off my helmet and set it aside, “Please say something.” I wait for a response but there’s nothing. I fall back onto my bedstead, clutching the radio firmly. I can feel myself shaking. The mere idea that something happened to her is overwhelming. She was always there for me. The only person who I felt was after I lost my mom.
Those months after I lost my mother, I didn’t talk to anyone at school and kept to myself. When I went home each day I distanced myself from my stepfather every instance I could.
One day some kids started to harass me on the playground. I’m sure they were the sort of kids who were taught by their parents that the PCC was just. That it was right for the government to take my mother. They mocked my mother, saying it was better that she was dead. I was never a physically strong. I’m still not. I always knew most people were stronger than me. But hearing them talk about her like that drove me to fury.
I tackled one of them and threw pitifully weak punches at them, only for his friends to pull me off and throw their own more substantial punches. The kicked at me while I was on the ground. I could only wait until they stopped. If not for Melissa.
She must’ve saw me helpless and couldn’t help but get involved, Juaquin following close behind her. I don’t know how, but between the two of them they scared them off. They brought me to the school doctor to take a look at my bruises. Melissa was determined to be my friend after that. Maybe she knew I needed one.
I remember the first time she told me she loved me. It meant so much time to me. I would do anything to hear her say it.
“Melissa please.” I pitifully say into the radio, praying that something comes through.
A voice comes through, but not Melissa’s. It’s Juaquin. “Arturo?” His voice sounds hoarse. How did he get Melissa’s radio?
“Juaquin? Is Melissa with you?” I ask frantically, hoping I’ll finally hear good news.
Juaquin says nothing.
“Is she okay?” I ask again, much more panicked.
“No... No. She’s gone.”
I swear I feel my heart stop. I start to yell. “Don’t say that Juaquin. Just let me talk to Melissa! Please!” My voice begins to choke up. “Just let me speak to her.”
Juaquin is silent for a moment again, “I’m sorry man. I’m so sorry.”
He’s telling the truth. I swallow hard. “How did it happen?”
Juaquin doesn’t say anything.
“How did she die Juaquin!?” I question him furiously.
Juaquin pauses, “It was Raul... He killed her. He had a weapon that could pierce the Survival Suit. The first chance he got he shot her in the head. I couldn’t stop him.” Juaquin tells me I can feel the pain in his voice as he speaks. I drop the radio. Juaquin continues to speak. “After the military fought off her forces, we buried her. No one else knows it was her.”
I don’t want to keep going. I can’t. Not without her.
...No. I have to keep her going for her sake. I have to finish what she started. Otherwise everything we’ve done so far was a waste.
“Was she always Miro?” Juaquin voice echoes from the radio lying on the floor.
I pick it up. “It was me in Norino’s sand dunes and Mount Rhive. But usually it was her. She’s the true Miro.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Juaquin sounding betrayed.
“We had to keep Melissa’s role as Miro a secret. Even from you.”
Both of us are quiet, the weight of the situation settling in.
“You should’ve listened to me... If we just left Rhivera together Melissa wouldn’t have to die.” Juaquin is suppressing his anger as he speaks.
I pound my fist on the ground, “That was her choice... And we can’t stop. Especially now. If I stop now, everything Melissa fought for would be wasted.”
“I can’t do this anymore Arturo. I’m tired of all this fighting.” Juaquin sounds like a broken man. We both do.
“What’re you going to do?”
“I’m leaving the country. I’m going to take Eugenio and Mom with me, and we’re all going to leave. I hope you’ll come along, but I know you won’t.” Juaquin explains, “Where are the two of them?”
“They’re in one of our encampments in Illesto. I can let my forces know you’re coming. They’ll let you through.”
“Okay. It may take me awhile to reach Illesto though.”
“I’d rather you join me. It’s what Melissa would’ve wanted.” I tell him. I wish I could stop now. But I can’t.
Juaquin is quiet. I hope that he’s considering it. “I’m tired. I don’t want to fight anymore. I just want to take my family and go.” Juaquin says, sounding more exhausted than he’s been in his entire life.
“That doesn’t sound like you. Running from a fight.” I gather the strength to stand, “If we don’t win this, it won’t be over. Someone else will fight against the PCC in the future.”
“I-I can’t man.” Juaquin breaks down and I can hear him failing to stifle his sobs. He’s truly at his lowest point.
His dad always told him the PCC was in the right, I always figured that was why he stayed with the military. He was convinced it was the right thing to do. Now with Melissa gone, he might not see any other way but to run. No matter which side he fights on, people he cares about will be in danger.
“It’s okay man. I understand. ” I comfort him. I wasn’t going to ask him to fight anymore, “Do you need any help reaching Illesto?”
Juaquin slows his breaths and composes himself enough to speak, “No. I can manage.”
If he leaves the country, it’ll probably be the last time I ever see him. “I’ll be in Illesto to see you off.”
“Thanks.” Juaquin’s voice quivers. “Maybe... I should’ve joined you two at the beginning. Things might’ve turned out differently.”
“Don’t worry about the past. We’ve all made mistakes. I’ll see you soon Juaquin.”
“Yeah. See you soon.”