Rhivera

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~Chapter Thirty Seven- The Fate of Rhivera Part 1~

~Chapter Thirty-Seven~

~Juaquin~

~Moments later~

Raul looked like a mess back there, like he hadn’t slept in weeks. I haven’t seen him since we buried Melissa. I can only imagine how awful things have been for him. But now isn’t the time to think about that.

We’re being escorted into the capitol by military soldiers, met by the Emperor and Head General themselves. They close the great metal gate of the defensive wall behind us. Arturo, me, and the few dozen soldiers with us are surrounded. We’re on our own. Arturo is noticeably tense.

Leading up today, Miro’s followers collectively worked together to come up with a proposal to bring with us. Before we left, Arturo asked me to stay behind with the rest of his forces, “If I don’t make it back, you need to keep things moving.”

“That’s why I need to go. To make sure you make it back.” I told him.

Arturo assembled a few of his top commanders and some trustworthy soldiers to accompany us, a few of them donning Survival Suits. All of them with pasts and reasons for fighting.

Even with that, the Emperor and his forces could kill us easily now. Even with the weapons we have on us. I trust the Emperor wouldn’t allow that though. He seemed like a reasonable man. On the off chance that fighting did break out, Miro’s army is ready with their own counterattack. Arturo implied he had some additional measure, but he wouldn’t tell me what it is. I just hope it won’t be necessary.

We travel a short road to the capitol building as rain pours on the concrete. The lot of us trail water in with us as we enter inside. We come into a great hall with a pearl staircase and several Rhiveran Flags christening each side of the room.

Emperor Rhivon turns his attention to us, “Thank you all for coming. I’m glad that we’re all willing to search for a non-violent resolution.” He says politely.

Arturo sharply responds, “There’ve been multiple attempts in the past at a peaceful resolution. Avella Santoro comes to mind. You didn’t agree to this meeting until after we started a war.”

General Elian grimaces, and the soldiers surrounding us tense up. Damn it Arturo, don’t stir them up. We’re not here for a fight.

“Perhaps. But we’re here now.” The Emperor nods and says nothing more. Maybe he knows there’s truth to that, but knows now isn’t the time to linger on it. He gestures to elevators on the right. “We’ll be holding our meeting on the 5th floor in a room for occasions such as these. Follow me.”

Arturo pensively follows the Emperor, as do the rest of Miro’s soldiers.

“You brought quite a number of you, so you’ll have to take separate elevators.” The Emperor presses a button and calls an elevator to us. The door parts, “Go on.”

Arturo stares motionlessly at the elevator, “We’re not going in.”

“Why?” The Emperor asks.

“You really think I’d endanger my people like that?” Arturo accuses.

An agitated General Elian steps forward, “If we wanted you dead, we’d do it directly. Do you really think we’d stoop to something like that?”

“If you could make it look like an accident, yes.” Arturo harshly responds.

He can’t keep being so confrontational. This will never work if he does. We haven’t even had a chance to talk things over yet.

I walk into the elevator, “It’s nothing to worry about Miro.” I announce as I enter the elevator, holding it open for him.

Still Arturo stands motionlessly, until the Emperor steps in the elevator himself. “Won’t you join me in the elevator Miro?”

The Emperor makes a good move to prove there isn’t a trap. They wouldn’t put Miro and the Emperor in the same elevator if they had some trick planned. Arturo hesitantly enters the elevator as do some of his soldiers until elevator is full. The elevator door closes and we travel up.

The Emperor takes glances as both Arturo and I, looking like he has something on his mind.

“I wanted to say this before we begin the meeting proper.” The Emperor begins, “I’m sorry about both of your parents. I know we took them from you at a young age, and I’m sorry for that. I know what it’s like to lose a parent at a young age.” The Emperor seems genuinely regretful as he speaks.

Both Arturo and I look at each other, but say nothing. The Emperor has my name, so he could find about my dad. But how could he possibly know about Arturo? Did he find out he was Miro somehow? The elevator door opens and we enter the floor.

The Emperor opens fine wooden doors to the room of the meeting. There is a large circular table, with chairs affixed to the ground around it. The room’s floor appears recently polished and looks cleaned to perfection in preparation for today. A few individuals sit across from us. The Emperor circles the table and sits at its head. Behind the Emperor is another door with a few military soldiers standing guard. The guards stand out of the way and General Elian enters the room, taking a seat next to the Emperor.

“I’d ask that all of your soldiers step outside of the room for the meeting. Any that you wish to remain for the meeting may stay.” The Emperor says.

Miro tells his soldiers to guard the door behind us, and the Emperor asks his soldiers to do the same. The soldiers leave until there’s only a few in the room.

“Are you staying?” Arturo asks me.

“Of course.”

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Arturo stands at the head of the table directly across from the Emperor, and he gestures for me to sit at his right side. Some of Miro’s head commanders and settlement organizers sit with us, all tense. While this may be a peace meeting, none of them came here certain that they’d leave.

Across the table from us is the Emperor Rhivon Veran, Head General Elian, General Felix Falentine, and several others. The others appear to be non-military types. Politicians, governors, things of that sort. On the far left is a woman sitting with pen and paper, prepared to takes notes. Xander and General Victor aren’t here though.

“Would you like to remove your helmets?” A governor on the Emperor’s side of the building asks Arturo and I.

Without much hesitation, I undo the clasps on my helmet and remove it. I collapse it into it’s flat state, and set it on the table next to me. Those at the table look at me, surprised at how young I am.

“I’d rather not.” Arturo refuses, content to keep his face hidden, “Where is Xander Veran?”

“My son will not be present for this meeting.” The Emperor responds. “There is no need for him to be here.”

“He’ll be Emperor after you won’t he? Shouldn’t he be here?” Arturo presses him.

“We wouldn’t want anything happening to him.” General Elian answers antagonistically. The Emperor darts his eyes away. If the Emperor or anyone else with him were to be killed by us, there would be others to take their place. It seems they don’t trust us entirely either.

The Emperor takes a deep breath, “Well, shall we begin? We’ve assembled our own tentative proposal to you. I’m sure we’ll have to negotiate specific terms of this, but this should act as a decent starting point.” The Emperors draws a sheet of paper from his garb. “First off, we’d like to grant people exemption from being taken by the PCC depending on the number of years they’ve worked. For every 5 years, they’ll be granted one year of exemption. If someone has worked 40 years in life, they should be allowed to retire while being given 8 years of exemption. Also, anyone below the age of 30 shall also not be -”

“That’s enough.” Arturo interrupts, “I will not allow the PCC to kill anyone else.”

“You didn’t even hear the rest of the proposal.” The Emperor points out, clearly annoyed at being interrupted.

“The rest of your proposal doesn’t matter if the government is still killing.” Arturo sharply replies. I hoped that he’d be more amiable than this, but it isn’t in his nature to compromise too much. But that uncompromising nature might be helpful.

The Emperor stares blankly at Arturo and sets the paper on the table. He briefly rubs his temples. “What would you propose as a way to control the Population then? I was born at the time of terrible famine, and I refuse to allow such a famine to repeat itself.”

One of Miro’s commanders speaks, “We can control the population by limiting people to a single child per person.” Arturo nods in agreement. I’m surprised they led with that. But I already know the Emperor and his company will turn it down.

“It’s not that simple. That may keep the population down, but there is a greater issue.” The Emperor answers, and turns to an older woman with glasses at the table.

The woman adjusts her glasses and begins, “The PCC, as it is today, pushes people to be their best selves. Sure, a single child law might keep the population at a manageable level, but it wouldn’t ensure the population is productive and strong. Sure the drive to succeed is enough for many. But without the proper incentive, people will be lazy if allowed. It is those people who drag society down. It doesn’t matter if we keep the population low if the population is filled with those who won’t contribute.”

That sounds a lot like what Raul would tell Melissa and I when we were young. ‘Laziness is the greatest sin’ he would say.

“You’re fooling yourselves if you think it pushes people. If anything, the PCC simply eliminates those who can’t keep up. The threat of death shouldn’t be the incentive.” Arturo counters, “If anything, there should be a reward system to those who work hard and supporting those who can’t.”

“We don’t do handouts and won’t foster laziness.” General Elian answers promptly, eliciting a scowl from Miro’s commanders.

The Emperor attempts to mediate the situation. “A reward system may be fortuitous. What did you have in mind Miro?”

Arturo and his commanders begin to detail their own ideas. Elian and others at the table are much more critical of their thoughts, but the Emperor remains open-minded. I sit quietly, prepared to calm Arturo down if things become heated. They make a point to avoid my idea. At least for now.

Arturo points out that higher paying jobs already provide incentive for people to work hard. Those who want a better lot in life will strive to obtain it, but support should be given to those in unfortunate circumstances.

“We can’t abandon people. Sure, some are simply lazy. But others truly do their best and are still stuck in terrible situations. I don’t believe this revolution would’ve had so many supporters if that wasn’t true.”

The Emperor and his company entertain a reward system with the contingency that any support would be temporary and would be under a high level of scrutiny. They’re determined not to give to the lazy. Arturo and his company agree, keeping in mind the exact terms will have to be discussed. They’ve had trouble with do-nothings in their own settlements, so they understand not wanting to provide for the lazy.

Arturo goes into a new idea, “Most in my army are young, but there are great number of elderly individuals among us. As things are now, people are simply killed once they become too old to work because of the PCC. You mentioned before you’d consider allowing those who have worked for decades to be exempt from the PCC. What about providing those same people with benefits? People can work hard knowing that their government will take care of them once in retirement. That’s fair incentive isn’t it?” Arturo says.

The Emperor and his company are quiet for a moment, pondering the idea.

“This could be costly for us.” A politician points out.

“Xander Veran was prepared to fund the Equality Zone a few months ago. You could put forth those funds towards those who’ve worked their whole lives. They deserve it.” Arturo succinctly counters. “If people work their entire lives only to be left on their own when they become too old, that’s only going to produce animosity towards the government.”

The Emperor shrugs and smiles, “I agree. Doing so is in our best interest. We’ll make arrangements for this. It’s something we should’ve done years ago.” The Emperor says remarkably simply, “I believe support given should be proportional to number of years and sort of work the individual has done in their life. We’ll have to determine exactly how much we should provide.”

General Elian chimes in, “An individual should have the option to be exempt from such support as well. Many are too prideful to accept it. Myself included.”

Arturo silently nods. Though I can’t see his face, I can tell he’s astounded that they’ve agreed to this. In the back of his mind I’m sure he never expected them to compromise. But I know too well that the Emperor will won’t back down from all of the killing the PCC does.

“Although.” The Emperor continues, “As I see it now, these measures should be used alongside Population Control. They’re not sufficient to ensure the strength of the country.”

Arturo grits his teeth, “If Population Control kills, there won’t be peace. Not until it’s done away with.”

The Emperor folds his hands over each other. “I’ve seen the rest of the world. Without Population Control, many are in terrible poverty and suffering, and it isn’t there fault. The odds are stacked against them. With an unchecked population, many don’t have a chance. Our country was once like that. Without a proper system in place, I refuse to forgo Population Control. If we’re able to collaborate and come up with a good enough system, Population Control will be disbanded.”

I knew this would happen. None of these proposals Arturo and the others had in mind would work. But Arturo and I came up with an idea that his followers hesitantly supported. One that we believed that even the Emperor and his company would agree to. But Arturo wasn’t too keen on the idea. He said that he’d only bring it forth if all else failed.

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“Miro, might I ask why you and your followers started this revolution?” The Emperor asks softly.

Arturo pauses a moment before answering, “...To be completely honest, I’m not the one who started this revolution. Someone far better than me did. I followed them because I believe Population Control, as it is, is evil.”

“Is it because of Victoria?” The Emperor speaks Arturo’s mother’s name. He subtly flinches. How did he find out he is Arturo? “I know she was taken from you at a very young age.” The Emperor elaborates.

Arturo is speechless. Those in the Emperor’s company look confused as well, looking at one another for clarification. “Who is Victoria?” One of them asks. Of all of them, it appears the Emperor is the only one who knows Miro’s identity.

“Victoria is Miro’s mother. She was taken by the PCC in 2009, and Miro was left with his stepfather.” The Emperor keeps his eyes firmly on Arturo.

“How did you figure out who I am? Did Raul Rios tell you?” Arturo asks.

The Emperor’s eyebrows rise, and he looks to both Elian and Felix. The three of them appear equally surprised.

“I wasn’t aware that General Rios knew. I would’ve thought he’d have told us if he did. But I did some digging within the PCC’s files. You’re clearly a friend of Juaquin Neruda, so I figured you lived around him and was around the same age. I looked through everyone’s files and narrowed it down until I found the one who was most plausible to be Miro.” The Emperor explains.

General Elian asks, “Who is he?”

The Emperor glances to the General, “That’s between Miro and I. I just want him to know I understand what he’s come from. There’s no need for his identity to be public.” The Emperor turns back to Arturo, “I’m truly sorry about your mother, but we believed it to be the right choice at the time.”

Arturo sits back in his seat in silence, I can practically feel heat coming off him. I see him place his hand at his hip, near his pistol. I clench up, prepared to stop him if he takes things too far.

“My mother never stood a chance.” Arturo says oddly solemnly. “I know you took her because she couldn’t hold a job. But that isn’t her fault. From the moment she was born the odds were against her. Her parents kicked her out as a teenager. There was never anyone to guide her, which only got her into more trouble. Whether Population Control was there or not, the odds were stacked against her.” Arturo spurs out. “When I was born, it only made things worse.”

He doesn’t talk about his mother often, at least not to me. I never expected him to be so open with strangers like this.

Arturo continues, ” It can become a vicious cycle where each generation leaves the next one worse off. Maybe what we should be doing is setting people up to succeed from birth. Juaquin, mind telling them your idea?”

I take a long look at him, making sure he wants to go down this path. He nods. I pause and think on it for a moment. I think back to what Ilyana told me when I first received the Survival suit.

"If taking a life can be a crime, creating a life should be as well. In the wrong circumstances." I say, “What if we keep people from being born into those terrible situations. The Population could be controlled by selecting who should have children. Only those deemed capable of raising a child would have one.” I explain.

“You mean sanctioning pregnancies?” The Emperor sheepishly asks.

I nod. Once again, everyone is silent, pondering the idea. In the weeks leading up to this meeting, we came up with this concept. It was hard to sell this idea to the rest of Miro’s followers. There were hours of debate until the majority agreed on the idea. We came to the conclusion that so much of the struggle in one’s life comes from what they’re born into. You never choose what you’re born into, others always make that decision for you. So much of the suffering in the world comes from those who irresponsibly bring about new life. Maybe we can change that.

“I like this idea.” The Emperor interjects, sweeping his gaze to everyone at the table, gathering their attention, “Let’s entertain how this would work. We already collect data on every citizen in the country from day to day and add them PCC’s files. We’ve used those files to determine who should be eliminated by the PCC in the past. Instead we can use them to select those worthy of having children.”

“How would we ensure people don’t have children illegally then?” The older woman asks, clearly doubtful.

The Emperor rolls his hand, “Fines would have to be in place to deter people. We’d have to do mandatory checks on women to make sure they aren’t pregnant as well. Maybe every... two to three months.” The Emperor is practically doing our work for us, explaining ideas Arturo and I had worked over prior.

“That is what Miro and I figured as well.” I add.

The women winces at the idea, “That’d be rather invasive wouldn’t it?”

Arturo counters, “Less invasive than being killed by Population Control. In the event that a woman who is not deemed fit to care for a child is found pregnant, the mother can appeal to keep the child. If these are denied, either new parents for the child will be found, or the child will be aborted if possible. We’ll take the parent’s wishes in consideration when making the decision.” Arturo explains. “That is how we envisioned it at least. If we don’t take all of these measures, the system won’t stand.”

“Fines and community service would be elicited on those who illegally become pregnant or have a child.” I add.

The Emperor nods to the two of us. For once, we’re of the same mind. Though not everyone at the table is.

The woman leaves her gaze on the Emperor, “What you’re suggesting is not a simple change. You’re asking for a systematic change to... everything. There’ll be much protest to such a change. A system like that would be costly to maintain as well.”

The Emperor sternly responds, “I’m sure the resources put forth to maintain the PCC as it is today are equal if not greater. We’ll manage. I’m sure we’ll have to tune the system for a while, just as was done when the PCC was first created. We’ll have to determine what percentage of the population should be permitted to have children, what is optimal, and the criteria upon which citizens will be judged. I’m sure it’d take at least a decade to fine tune such a system. All of that is worth it to end the bloodshed.”

The Emperor places his focus on Arturo. “Do you support a system like this Miro. Population Control via sanctioned pregnancies.”

“Personally, I’d prefer that people make the right choices by themselves. But I admit some people will make the wrong choice. My own mother’s life might’ve been better had I not been born. It’s far from perfect, but we’ll work with this system.”

This is good. This is turning better than I would’ve hoped. But Eugenio! If there was a time to speak on his behalf, this was it, “Those born with physical defects should be untouched as well?” I rush to ask.

“Defects?”

I elaborate, “My brother was born with a defect that made him unable to walk. If we hadn’t hidden him, the PCC would’ve taken his life. He’s a hard worker, and he does all that he can. He shouldn’t be harmed.”

The Emperor and General Elian seem especially surprised by this.

General Felix is the one who answers, “So long as he wants to continue living, no one should stop him. He should never be permitted to bear his own children though.”

The Emperor and those on that side of table shrug in agreement. Good. He’ll be safe. I look to the note taker and seem them frantically writing everything down.

General Elian promptly speaks, “Now its fine that we’ve found a compromise and all, but we can’t ignore the fact that there is still a war going on. Territory in dispute. I doubt that Miro and his forces will simply disappear after this.”

Emperor brazenly turns to the General, “I certainly hope not. Miro should be present to assist us in this system. I believe we have far too much to discuss in a single sitting. I suggest we continue for a little longer before Miro and his forces return home. We can arrange a meeting next week and continue our discussion until we’ve sorted everything out.”

We continue speaking about whatever other issues comes to mind. Everyone eventually comes to the idea that the upper 50% of the population should be permitted to have children, though we’re sure that number will change once its put into practice, and will fluctuate with time. We’re certain that there will plenty of individuals on both sides who protest this, being denied the right to have children. It may take decades until people begin the accept the new system. If ever. But everyone present believes its the best choice for our country.

One of Miro’s commanders voices a concern, “This is something that’s bothered me for some time. I don’t think there should be a royal family.”

“I agree!” The Emperor enthusiastically responds, “While Elian and my children have turned out great, so many other members of our family have turned into entitled brats.”

Elian and Felix laugh, as well as many of the other politicians at the table.

“Now, I’ll insist that my son Xander succeed me as the next Emperor. He’s been preparing for the role for a long time.” The Emperor insists, ” But the next Emperor he appoints should be outside of the Veran family. Who knows, perhaps Miro can become Emperor after him.”

All of Miro’s commanders turn to Miro, clearly excited at the prospect. Meanwhile Arturo remains stoic, “I don’t believe I’d be a good Emperor. If anyone Juaquin would be a better successor.”

“Oh. No. No. I wouldn’t want to be Emperor.” I stammer.

“Why not? You’re far more level-headed then me. You’re the one who convinced me to attend this peace meeting in the first place.” Arturo continues to praise me.

The idea of it is more startling than anything.

The Emperor laughs, “That quite a way into the future. Not something to consider now.”

The doors behind the Emperor abruptly open. Several Military soldiers begin to enter the room. Behind them is a single Azure-colored Survival Suit soldier. Arturo and everyone in his company stand from the table, immediately drawn to alertness. The Emperor and General Elian look to the them with surprise and annoyance.

“You were not to disturb us until the meeting was over.” General Elian barks at the soldiers. Oddly they don’t respond.

The begin to line up behind the Emperor and his company, blocking the doorway. I stand as well, flicking my helmet to expand it. The azure Survival Suit Soldier pivots their back foot and takes a familiar stance... Ilyana? She puts her hand on the pistol at her hip, and the air becomes cold. I rush to put my helmet on.

“Now.” The Survival Suit Soldier says sternly, its unmistakably Ilyana.

All of the soldier’s raise their rifles, not to us, but to the Emperor and his company. Smoke and fire bursts from the guns, and screams erupt from everyone on that side of the table. The Emperor and Generals fall to the ground. The bullets pass through them and begin to target us.

Without warning, Miro’s soldiers waiting outside the door behind us rush into the room, returning fire. I grab Arturo and pull him away from the screams and gunfire pervading the room.

Ilyana and the soldiers with her are forced to call back. I can hear her shout, “THEY’VE KILLED THE EMPEROR! WE NEED REINFORCEMENTS NOW!”

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