Rhivera

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~Chapter Fourty- Epilogue~

~Chapter Forty~

~Juaquin ~

I slowly wake, sun high in the sky. It’s been a long time since I’ve slept in like this. I sit up and look out the window at the ocean, the waters looks great today. On the window sill sits my Survival Suit Helmet, Nirivo’s Helmet. I haven’t needed it in quite some time. Not since I’ve decided to help out with the new PCC.

I stand up and begin to head towards the stairs, when I look back at the window. I walk back to the window, open it, and step out onto the roof. Dad and I used to sit out on the roof and watch the ocean some days, while Melissa and Raul would do the same from their home. But it’s just me now.

I pace back and began to run and jump off the roof into the sands, tucking into a roll as I hit the ground.

There is a concrete path just outside of our sliding glass doors that lead out onto the beach, a path that Eugenio can navigate with his wheelchair. I peer back into our house and enter.

“Mom? Eugenio?” I call out, but no one responds. The two of them must’ve went out while I was still asleep. Eugenio’s been eager to take trips into town ever since the war ended. Today they’re probably out helping with the restoration movement. Eugenio is always ready to help.

There was a riot against the new Population Control in Errest, but thankfully Miro was able to stop it, and no one was hurt. Only some minor property damage. Thankfully people trust Miro, that’s the only reason this new Population Control has been as well accepted as it has.

I step out into the sun, and look at the abandoned Rios household. Melissa and Yolanda are gone and Raul has been missing ever since the war ended. Though General Victor has been adamant about finding him. Raul would be executed if found. The same for Ilyana.

After learning of Raul’s war crime, the government took his property from him. Had Melissa or Yolanda been alive, they would’ve inherited the household. But seeing as the home was built by both my dad and Raul, they decided the Rios Household should go to my mom and I. Neither of us knew what to do with it so it’s sat idly by. I grab the keys to the Rios household.

It feels ominous as I approach their home, opening their door and stepping inside. The living room had portraits of the Rios family, and of course pictures of my family with them. There is one with Raul, Yolanda, and Melissa when Melissa was 14. Raul had his arms wrapped around Yolanda, while Melissa leaned her head on her dad’s shoulders, feigning a smile for the camera. She played along, but never enjoyed taking formal pictures like those. But it made her dad happy.

On their table is a half finished meal, left there for who knows how long. Raul didn’t spend much time here during the war, Yolanda was on her in that time. I peer into the upstairs bathroom and I get a feeling of dread. That was where Yolanda slit her wrists. That’s what we were told at least. Only a few days after the battle of Sotra where Melissa was killed. Raul must’ve told her what happened.

I stop at Melissa’s room, and stand in front of her door for quite some time. My heart is beating fast at the mere thought of going in. I take the doorknob in hand and enter.

It’s been years since I’ve been in here, not since I was much younger... It hasn’t changed much. Bright pink decor around the room, a neatly made bed. A desk for schoolwork which had been left empty ever since the two of us graduated. It looked normal.

There is a photo on her desk of Melissa, Arturo and I when we were 10. Melissa and I are making silly faces for the camera, while Arturo remains ever stoic.

I open the top drawer of her desk and spot a notebook. Maybe a diary? I open it up to a random page dated back to 2018.

Ms. Gonzalez- Essay due Thursday

Mr. Sanchez- Finish reading chapters 5-6 by Monday

If I finish up the essay tonight, I should be able to see Arturo early tomorrow without having to worry. Don’t procrastinate on it!

I skim through various dates. It mostly amounts to Melissa writing paragraphs about daily activities. Occasionally she’d write about how her dad was too strict, and she wished she could make him understand. In one entry she mentions how a guy flirted with her at school, and wonders if Arturo would be jealous. Another tells how much fun she had with my family that day. She took care to never mention Eugenio Jr. at any point, probably in case it was found by someone. No mention of the revolution or Miro whatsoever. She seemed like an ordinary, hardworking girl.

I sit at her chair and set her journal on the desk. How did she manage to run a revolution all those years? All while writing those journal entries and never mentioning it once.

I open up the drawer again to see if there’s anything else. A few notebooks from school, loose pencils and pens and a wrinkled photo turned on its back. I pull the photo out. It’s one of me and Melissa when we were young, we couldn’t have been more than 7 then. She’s kissing me on the cheek and I have a surprised look on my face. I remember that, mom took that picture. That was back before we even met Arturo... I slip the wrinkled photo into my pocket.

I slide the drawer shut again... It’s a surprisingly weighty drawer. I open it back up again, with what’s in there it shouldn’t feel that hefty. I remove everything out of the drawer and feel it again. It still feels like something is in there. I tap the bottom of the drawer and I can feel it give. I feel the edges of the drawer and lift it up, its a false bottom. I slide the false bottom out. There’s a pistol and various documents lying beneath the false bottom of the drawer.

I empty it out and lay it out on the desk. There’s a map of Rhivera with various markings sketched onto it. Notes scribbled next to key locations. Some of the various exit points to the underground marked around the country. Just south of the capitol is one marked with the words ‘Only use when the moment was right.’ It was the exit point Arturo used to win the battle at the Capitol. And there was another journal.

I don’t simply skim over this. I can’t. Starting from 2015, it detailed every step of her journey to create Miro. It was Melissa who came up with the concept of Miro, a warrior who would defend the weak from the strong and who would pervade for all time. Miro would be the one to save the country from Population Control. It was surprisingly radical for her.

At first, she planned to do it on her own, but there was a moment when she realized she needed help, and that Arturo and I would be perfect. First she recruited Arturo, who after hearing her plan was ready to do anything to help. The days after she planned how she would ask me, jotting down various ideas on how to bring it up. Eventually she decided to start by talking about Eugenio.

It was obvious which entry was followed her talk with me. She was furious at me, at the fact that I defended such an evil system.

It’s not like I don’t understand why Juaquin thinks the way he does. But I wish I could make him understand he was wrong. I feel like I don’t even know him anymore.

Things didn’t start to solidify until 2016, when they managed to order an RLA group through radio to a safe escape into the underground. Those were the first to follow them. Over 2016 they corresponded with that small group over radio, giving them small tasks to carry out. Stealing weapons and saving people from the PCC. It slowly began to grow from year to year, and all the while Melissa and Arturo discovered more of the underground. With time, their followers trusted the voice of Miro, most of all a man named Miguel who Melissa mentioned several times.

Melissa never spoke explicitly about their plans, she mostly used this journal as means to get her thoughts out, work through some things in her mind. Over time her views on the PCC became less radical. She never changed her mind about wanting to destroy the PCC, but was more thoughtful about it with time. Her last entry was written around the time Xander announced his plans to revive the Equality Zone. I take Melissa’s journal with me and step outside.

Mom and Eugenio come home. Mom walks alongside Eugenio who’s insisted on maneuvering his wheelchair for himself. His arms have become rather strong because of it.

Eugenio is antsy throughout dinner that day, shoveling the food down as quickly as he can.

“What’re you so excited about bro?” I ask him.

“Umm!” Eugenio begins, “I was going to go see Nina today.”

Mom raises her eyebrow at him. “Oh really? When were you going to tell me about that?”

“You’re okay with that right mom? I can go on my own.” Eugenio says, thinking that’ll calm her.

“On your own!? Absolutely not.” Mom responds.

“Juaquin used to go out on his own when he was my age.” Eugenio responds surprisingly feistily.

“Your brother isn’t in a wheelchair.” Mom points out, “Maybe when you’re a little older you can make the trip on your own.”

After dinner, Mom and Eugenio get ready to head out again. Mom insisted she escort Eugenio herself, with good reason. As they step outside, I can see Arturo walking to the house, meeting them on their way out. They chat a little bit, and Arturo walks past them to meet me.

“Hey man.” Arturo greets, hands in pocket looking aloof as usual.

“Hey.” I say while watching Eugenio leave to go see his friend. I smile a little. “Look at that. Eugenio finally gets to have a normal life.”

Arturo looks back at Eugenio leaving the house, “Yeah... Just like Melissa wanted.” Arturo says. He’s smiling, but it’s bittersweet. He turns back to me. “Want to take a walk?”

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The two of us walk along the coastline together. While I’ve been allowed a break, Arturo has been acting tirelessly as Miro. He must appreciate this time off. He tells me about the riot he managed to stop. Someone among decided to try and burn a random store down in the midst of it all.

“Why?” I ask astounded.

Arturo responds, “They just want to make noise and don’t care who they hurt. Just like the RLA. The protests are peaceful however, their input is useful. It seems like things are calming down.”

Arturo reaches into his jacket, pulls out a letter and hands it to me, “Take a look at what I got in the mail this morning.”

He hands it to me. It’s a letter from the PCC, stating that until further notice Arturo Montoya shall not be permitted to bear children. Penalties and fines are listed below. At the very bottom it says that it states if one would like to make an appeal to have a child, please contact the nearest PCC center. At the corner of the letter is the crescent moon insignia of Miro’s revolution imprinted next to Rhivera’s blazing sun insignia.

“How do you feel about this? Them taking your right to have a child away?”
“I don’t mind. The Montoya family has a bad habit of raising spoiled brats.” Arturo says with a smirk, “With all the issues I have, it’d be irresponsible of me to have a child. They made a good call with me. A lot of the former residents of the underground Weaktowns received the same letter. For the most part, they’ve been going along with it.”

I reach into my own back pocket and pull out Melissa’s journal, “There’s something I want you to see too.”

“What’s this?” Arturo asks as he takes it from my hand. He opens to the first page and immediately recognizes her handwriting, “This is Melissa’s?”

I nod.

Arturo spends a few minutes going over the pages of the journal, faintly smiling as he does. “You know, Melissa and I originally planned to break everything down and build things from the ground up. No Population Control or Empire. Who knows how many more people would’ve died if we did. If not for you convincing me otherwise, I’m sure that’s what I would’ve done.”

I pause. I’ve thought about my choices a lot lately. Up until the day he died, my dad told me the PCC was right, and he passed that on to me. He never thought to look for another way, and neither did I. I was so sure that if we just defeated the RLA, things would be better.

“You changed my mind too. I would’ve kept defending Population Control as it was and Eugenio might not have gotten the life he deserves.”

“I’m sure you read through this... Melissa always wanted you to work with us. She knew that between the three of us could do anything.”

“I wish I did.” I say bitterly.

“Melissa wanted Miro to be warrior who would defend the weak from the strong and could pervade for all time. Miro needs to be there to keep the government in check. To make sure they have the people’s best interest in mind. But if I’m gone, someone else will need to take the mantle of Miro. If anything ever happens to me, it should be you.” Arturo unloads on me. Its clear why he came here today.

I laugh a little, “That’s a lot of pressure Arturo.”

“Is that a no?” Arturo remains serious.

I sigh aloud, “I’ll do it. I hope I never have to though.”

“You and I will have to look for other successors as well. People we can trust.” Arturo states.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us, don’t we?”

“Yeah. We do.”

Arturo and I watch the waters alight orange from the setting sun. I hear footsteps in the sand behind us. Mom must’ve come back. But Arturo pulls out a concealed pistol and points it.

“Stand back!” Arturo yells as he cocks the gun.

I look back and see a messy bearded man in a coat. It’s Raul. There are dark bags under his eyes and he looks distraught. His hands arm firmly placed in his coat pocket. He’s gripping something firmly. I rise to my feet and stand between the two of them.

“Raul. What’re you doing here?” I say as calmly as I can.

Raul slurs his words, “I-I just needed to see you.”

He begins to step towards us, but Arturo cocks his gun aggressively. His eyes narrow, “Take another step closer and I’ll kill you right now!”

Raul trudges to a stop. He stares at Arturo’s gun unafraid. If anything, he seems to invite it. “Look. I just wanted to say I’m sorry. Sorry for everything I’ve done.”

I slowly draw closer to Raul.

Arturo scowls, “What you did at the Capitol is unforgivable.”

“I-I” Raul stammers, “I was just trying to do the right thing.”

“We all were.” I respond.

Raul almost cracks when I say that. His eyes glisten with the beginnings of tears, “Well. That’s umm... That’s all I wanted to say,”

His body tenses up and I draw closer to him. His right hand fidgets with something in his coat pocket. I can see the glimmer of a gun he’s holding there. But I know its not for us.

Raul draws the gun out and I sprint at him as quickly as possible. He puts the gun to his head. I tackle him and a gunshot fires off. We fall to the sand and I look over at Raul, he’s stunned but ok. I grip his gun and tear it from his hand.

“How do you think this will help!?” I yell at him. “I don’t want to lose you too!”

Raul picks himself up, but his eyes linger on the sand, unable to look at me. “I’ve lost everything Juaquin. My best friend and family are all gone. And if the military catches me, they’ll kill me.”

“None of them would want you to kill yourself. Especially my dad. They’d want you to keep pushing forward.” I say to him, “But you’re right. You can’t do that here. Not in Rhivera. You can still leave the country and live.”

“Not after everything I’ve done...” Raul continues pitifully.

“That’s exactly why you can’t die. You have to makeup for what you’ve done. Once you have, we can meet again.” I say softly, “Just don’t give up okay. You’ve got to be strong.”

An exhausted Raul looks up to me. He chuckles, “You’re just like your dad.” Raul throws his arms around me and hugs me. “Don’t tell your mother or Junior I was here. Okay?”

“I won’t.”

Raul and I stand, all while Arturo stares with a cautious look. Raul takes one more look at me. He turns his back, and walks away. Out of sight.

I didn’t see Raul for many years after that.

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