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~Chapter Thirty Four- A Solemn Reunion~

~Chapter Thirty-Four~


Mom and I have been living around pastures of farmland in Illesto. After being kept outside for so long, the grasslands looked amazing. Miro’s followers formed an outdoor community here once the war started for those who had been living underground.

I met Nina, a pale girl around my age who has some deficiency that makes her very vulnerable to sickness. When her parents find out they fled to a weaktown Miro created to protect her from the PCC. The two of us can’t help us much, but we do everything we can around the settlement. We know there’s a war going on, but Miro’s soldiers were very quiet about it. Miro’s army did well to make us feel safe.

When we have free time we visit the animals at one of the nearby farms. The farm owner was friendly with Miro’s forces and enjoys having us around. I’m especially fond of one horse with an injured front leg. It can’t get around fast, but its the friendliest of them all.

I notice a group of people in the settlement, all around Juaquin’s age. Maybe a little older. They show up for meals, but otherwise they would leave the settlement and do who knows what. Nothing seemed to be wrong with them either. I can’t help but get annoyed at them for never helping out. Especially when we didn’t quite have enough food. Nina called them Do-Nothings.

South of here is a stone bridge over a mile in length separating Illesto from the southern regions of Rhivera, Manned by hundreds of Miro’s soldiers. The war is beyond that bridge.

Nina manages to nab binoculars off one of the soldiers, we figure it’d be okay to borrow it. We climb the highest hill we can, Nina taking care to make sure I don’t roll back in my wheelchair. Once we reach the top I look through the binoculars past the bridge.

Bodies. Bodies everywhere on the other end of bridge. Some are in the military’s white and blue, but most are in Miro’s black uniforms. It isn’t all that far from us. While we’re living peacefully, people were being killed. It doesn’t feel right.

Arturo comes to Illesto as Miro. Everyone thought it odd since the plan seemed to be to target Rhy next. Arturo sits mom and me down to tell us some news.

I must’ve cried for days after I heard Melissa died. Arturo looked like he was going to start bawling when he told us too. He told us that Juaquin is coming, and wanted to take us far away from Rhivera. Away from all of the fighting.

Mom wanted to leave with Juaquin. She lost my dad and now Melissa, she wanted to get away from it all. So she waited patiently for him to show up in Illesto.

“This is for the best.” Mom told me.

I helped out around the settlement to take my mind off Melissa. Whether it was helping mom make food, moving small boxes of supplies around, or even talking with some of the elderly in the settlement. Anything to keep me occupied. When Nina became sick again I attended to her until she was better.

I lay on the bedroll in me and mom’s tent. They set mine a series of boxes to elevate off the ground so I could transition to my wheelchair more easily. It wasn’t as comfortable as my bed back in Uneva, but I don’t mind. I slide off of my sleeping space to my wheelchair seamlessly, without waking up mom. Mom has a case of all the things she wanted to take with her when we leave Rhivera.

The day before I started stitching together old clothes, since so many of us have worn out ours. I was able to pick up sewing pretty quickly and I’m eager to keep going. When I reach the sewing spot, I find Nina started without me. She’s even more eager than me.

Nina smiles sweetly at me. A light breeze passes by us as we work, the sun barely risen.

Like clockwork, that same group of Do-nothings return to our settlement, clearly drunk. They must’ve visited the nearby city for fun last night. Even more joined them the last few days. They were given food and shelter by Miro’s army without any work, and more figured they’d do the same.

“Those Do-nothings always make it worse for the rest of us.” An annoyed Nina starts, “They always made things tough at the Weak-towns before the war.”

“Even we’re trying to do our best.” I add, “They don’t even bother.”

I always figured the PCC was made to deal with people like me, but maybe it was more for people like them. Maybe that’s what the government was really fighting against. People like that. Things would be easier without them. I’m sure the Population Control would kill them if given the chance... But I don’t want that. But its not fair that they have the power to help but choose not to.

We finish up fixing what clothes that we can. A commotion comes from a part of the settlement. A small convoy of Miro’s soldiers is coming from the encampment near the bridge to our settlement. Nina helps me to the top of the hill so we can see them coming. I peer through the binoculars that we continued to borrow. In the convoy I can spot a black cloaked figure in an ebony helmet and a white figure with a silvery helmet and blue visor. Miro and Nirivo. Arturo and Juaquin.

“That’s your brother isn’t?” Nina seems scared of the sight of Nirivo.

“Yeah, that’s him.” I say. Now that Juaquin is here, we’d be leaving Rhivera soon.

When word got around that Nirivo would be coming here, I got to hear more about what my brother has done then he’d ever tell me. A few of the soldiers called him a terror of the military, able to bring down hundreds on his own. At Mount Rhive and Norino’s sand dunes, the number of casualties brought about by my brother was staggering. If not for Nirivo, more Survival Suits never would’ve been developed.

Miro ordered that he be allowed to enter safely, otherwise many would’ve tried to kill him. Tried. I don’t think anyone can kill my big brother.

Juaquin and Arturo enter the settlement to much unrest, while Nina and I watch atop the hill.

“I don’t want you to leave.” Nina says miserably.

“Me neither.” After fighting for so long... After Melissa, I understand why Juaquin wants to run. Mom too. But... I don’t want to leave. It feels wrong to leave everyone to deal with this.

I won’t leave.

The commotion comes towards us, with Juaquin and Arturo leading the way, Mom close behind them. When Juaquin sees me atop the hill and he sprints to meet me. I wish I could run to him. As soon as he reaches me he throws his arms around me in my wheelchair.

Juaquin unclasps his helmet and tosses it into the grass and hugs me again, “I missed you bud.”

“I missed you too.” I hold him tight.

Juaquin stands and looks at Nina who stepped away. She stares at him with a frightened look. Juaquin delicately smiles at her. “Is this a friend of yours?”

“Yeah. Her names Nina.”

Juaquin slowly approaches her, but she flinches, “It’s okay. I’m harmless.” Juaquin kneels and extends his hand to her. “I’m Juaquin.”

Nina stares at Juaquin. “Please don’t take Eugenio away.” She says.

Juaquin’s hand curls, and his face takes an unsure expression.

Arturo and Mom arrive behind us. Arturo is holding another ebon helmet in his hand matching the one he’s wearing. The visor is cracked. I don’t want to believe it, but I know it was Melissa’s helmet. She really is gone.

Arturo sees Nina. Through his helmet Arturo’s voice is unnaturally deepened, “Nina. Can you leave us?” Arturo asks. Nina nods and hesitantly heads down the hill back to the settlement.

Mom smiles in a bittersweet way, “Eugenio, are you ready to go?”

Arturo set us up with a boat so that ‘we could go anywhere’. Mom is eager get away from Rhivera. But I don’t want to leave.

I’m quiet. Juaquin looks at me waiting for me to say something. Mom develops a nervous look on her face. “I’m not leaving.” I say.

“Eugenio, it’s not safe for us here anymore.” Mom replies.

“That’s exactly why we have to stay. We have to help until the fighting is all over.” I say defiantly.

Mom becomes agitated, before she can speak Juaquin asks calmly, “What would you want me to do Eugenio? Do you want me to fight against Population Control?”

“No. I kind of get why they made it.”

Arturo jumps to attention. “What do you mean?”

“There are people in the settlement who could help but don’t. They’re able to walk and run, and act normal, but even I’m helping out more than them. I think people like them might be the reason they made Population Control. I don’t think Population Control should kill people, but maybe we can find another way. So we don’t have to fight anymore. ” I say. “I just don’t want to run away and leave everyone.”

All of them are quiet. Juaquin’s face was mostly expressionless. Juaquin nods, “Eugenio’s right. I’m not leaving either.”

"Just like your father.” Mom whispers under her breath.

Juaquin turns to Arturo, “What do you think of trying to make peace?”

Arturo scoffs, ” It won’t work. There’s no way they’ll want to end this peacefully.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure. I’ve been around the military and government. They’re pragmatic people. They want to end this as much as anyone else.” Juaquin says, “I’ll bet they’d be willing to compromise.”

Arturo scoffs again when a voice comes through on the radio at his hip. “Miro Sir!”

Dolefully he unclips it from his hip and says, “I asked not be contacted until after I’ve finished speaking with Nirivo.”

“But sir!” The voice from the radio comes again, the voice of one of Miro’s commanders. “A military convoy is crossing the bridge and heading towards us.”

All of us look southward towards the bridge. Arturo says into the radio, “Prepare our defenses now. What sort of numbers do the have?”

“Sir. It’s only a carriage being drawn by horses. They’re waving a white flag over them.”

“What?” Arturo is puzzled, “Send a few soldiers to meet them, but be careful.”

I peer through the binoculars at the bridge, and I spot a blue and white carriage being drawn by two white horses. A white flag is being waved over the carriage as the horses trot along.

“Juaquin, look.” I pass the binoculars to him. Juaquin kneels down next to me and looks through the binoculars.

“It doesn’t even look like they’re armed.” Juaquin comments.

We watch until Miro’s soldiers meet the carriage partway along the bridge. An old man with silvery hair and dark skin steps out in a suit. I’ve never seen someone so old, but he still holds himself with strength. He holds the white flag over his head as a sign of surrender to Miro’s soldiers. “Who is that?” I ask Juaquin, passing the binoculars back to him.

Juaquin looks through. “Is... is that the Emperor?”

Arturo whips his head to us, and takes the binoculars from Juaquin. He peers through and confirms it, “Why would the Emperor be here alone?”

Miro’s soldiers stop the Emperor and ask him why he came. He simply says, “I wish to speak to your Commanding Officer. If that’s okay.”

“It’s a trap.” Arturo says with complete certainty.

“How could it be a trap? Why would the Emperor come himself?” Juaquin retorts, “This might be our chance to end the fighting Arturo.”

“I think you should go talk to him.” I add.

Arturo paces back and forth in deep thought, “Who’s to say that I even want to negotiate with him? The way I see it, the Emperor is responsible for my mother’s death. Your dad’s death too.”

“Damn it Arturo. He wouldn’t be here if he didn’t want to peace. Let’s not waste the opportunity. We have the chance to save a lot of people’s lives.” Juaquin chides him, “You and Melissa started this revolution so Population Control would stop killing right. If he can agree to that, then we can end all of this. Unless this is about taking control for yourself?”

“No. I’ve never cared about that sort of thing. Of ruling. You should know that.” Arturo responds, continuing to pace. He stops and looks down at the bridge. The Emperor took a seat along the side of the bridge and waited patiently for someone to come to meet him, with Miro’s soldiers only a few meters away, watching.

“If you try to make peace with him, I’ll join you.” Juaquin bargains.

Arturo stops and turns to Juaquin. He drops his head for a moment, before raising it and looking to Juaquin.

Arturo nods, “Okay.”

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