Chapter Ten - Shock and Lawyers
Earth Orbit, North American Continent
The past week and a half had been hell. After the lawyers had delivered the terrible news, Prism, Firefly, and Anderson had immediately sprung into action. Terra Firma was not content letting the court systems take care of the problem naturally and had instead called in favors from everyone that owed them. That was what had brought the entire matter before the Supreme Court of the Systems Alliance.
Telling Riley had been the hardest thing that Prism and Firefly had ever had to do in their lives. To pull all stability out from under the traumatized girl had torn at their hearts, and they would be glad to have the entire matter resolved. No matter what happened, they would see to it that she was loved, be it with them or a human family. There was no question in their mind that she deserved to be looked after like that. She needed something to go right in her life for once.
The flight to Earth had taken up the majority of that week. Commander Easyglider had seen them off personally, taking care of all of the arrangements to Earth. Unfortunately, the only way he could possibly get them there on time was to charter a roundabout flight that led them to Thessia, where they would then catch a ship leaving for Arcturus, and from there the Alliance would take care of the rest.
The flights themselves had gone off without a hitch, though Riley had stuck to her own devices the vast majority of time. She withdrew into herself, shutting off all emotions in the light of current events. She would never have been able to put it into words, but any psychologist would have been able to figure out quite quickly that she was protecting herself from further pain. The loss of her family and home had been enough, anymore would put her into a tailspin that she would never be able to climb out of.
The only one that seemed to have been able to elicit any type of response from the girl was Rainbow Dash, much to Prism's and Firefly's relief. While normally a brash and headstrong filly, Rainbow seemed to take an uncharacteristic amount of tact to her interactions with Riley on the trip. They would just sit together for hours, Riley thinking, and Rainbow amusing herself with preening, or watching shows on her omni-tool. The occasional mindless scratching from Riley certainly helped matters along on Rainbows end. Tactful though she may have been, she was still just a young filly with near endless amounts of energy. The scratching made for a great incentive.
After arriving at Arcturus Station, the decision had been made by the Alliance Police to relay the group to Earth in two shuttles. While the decision did make them disgruntled, privately, Prism and Anderson where they were coming from. Terra Firma was turning the entire case into a circus, and media coverage had been running nearly non-stop. Their lawyers had even managed to get the case scheduled for the same day as when they would arrive on Earth. The shuttle would be setting down outside Court House in as big a spectacle as possible. Taking two shuttles allowed Firefly and Rainbow to keep a relative amount of privacy. Both Prism and Firefly had agreed that Rainbow did not need that type of attention on her, both as a filly, and as a slight egomaniac. It would just be better all around.
Climbing aboard the shuttle, both Anderson and Prism had been surprised to find that two case workers from Child Protective Services were already waiting for them. Anderson had his own thoughts about their loyalties, but he kept them to himself. There was nothing he could do about it but glare and keep their attention from Riley as much as humanly possible.
Riley sat between the two case workers, a matter which they had been unwilling to budge on and forced her to do, in the police shuttle. She was wearing a simple black dress that Anderson had purchased for her on Arcturus, and her hair was tied up in a bun.
Anderson and Prism sat across from the three of them. They were both dressed in their service uniforms, which looked immaculate and perfectly pressed and starched, professional to the core. They were putting out a clear message, that they were career military and that Riley was under their protection. Anderson's steely face was going to help that message along far more than Prism ever would, but no one would ever tell him that. Having a crazed, injured pegasus trying to attack you was nobodies idea of a good time.
Looking out the window of the shuttle, Riley watched as the darkness of space gave way to burning red glare of atmosphere, then a deepening view of blue and clouds, and finally the city of New York emerged into view.
The city was a testament to human ingenuity. It had lasted the test of time, surviving countless attacks and weathering tough times, coming out the other side bruised but intact. It had been changed and redesigned time and time again, but it was always the same city. There was really nowhere else on Earth that the Alliance could have put its Supreme Court. New York just made sense. It was a symbol of everything that humanity wanted to accomplish out in the stars. Towering buildings rose up into the sky, each complementing each other, works of art in their own right. Some were even over a mile high, taking up entire city blocks. Very few buildings were left from the early 21st century, having been replaced over the past century with much larger, sturdier structures.
In the center of the city sat the crowning jewel of New York, a large, circular building, designed by famed architect Teegan Montana, the Supreme Court of the Systems Alliance. It might not have towered over the surrounding buildings, but it had an air of stateliness that the others simply could not match. The shuttle flew directly towards it.
"Have you ever been to Earth before, Riley?" Anderson asked, leaning forward. The shuttle ride so far had been a quiet affair, but he felt the urge to try and make a connection with her. Those urges had saved his life more times than he was willing to admit, so he went with it without a second thought.
Riley shook her head, taking in the sight of New York with only half-interest. It was nothing like Mindoir. A single city block of the city before her held more residents than the entirety of the population of her home planet. It was more than mind-boggling, or at least it would have been if she hadn't been running on autopilot.
"This has to be a big change for you," Anderson continued, feeling that it would be good to give her some form of positive human contact, even if she didn't feel the need to respond.
Riley said nothing.
Anderson leaned back into his seat, sharing a look with the case-workers, both of whom looked at him with cold eyes. They were in Terra-Firma's pockets, Anderson guessed. He wasn't wrong.
Turning to look at Prism, the pegasus only offered a shrug. As much as he wanted to, Prism couldn't think of a single helpful thing to say.
Through the window, everyone watched as the shuttle came in for a landing in front of the building, bleeding off excess speed by making a half-circuit around the top of the Court House. Riley caught site of the massive crowd barely contained behind a line of police officers outside the entrance, full of cameras, reporters, and protesters. Even through the sound-proofed cabin of the shuttle, a dull roar of all of their voices could be heard.
The shuttle touched down with a soft thump and the case workers stood, moving to get off first. Anderson and Prism stood next, letting Riley stand between the four of them, flanking her protectively.
The door to the shuttle opened, and all four of them were hit with what felt like a solid wave of sound, an unpleasant feeling in the center of their chests. Tens of thousands of people had assembled after nearly a solid two weeks of extremely biased news reports, from both sides of the issue. They were barely being held back by police, trying to make their feelings known on the upcoming court case. The support was largely on the side of Prism and his family, but there was also a notable number of people crying out in agreement with Terra Firma and Inez Simmons.
A jolt of shock rolled through Riley, and she looked out, shocked by the amount of people before her. She didn't follow the case-workers out of the shuttle, standing frozen in the doorway.
Stepping forward, Anderson put a hand on her shoulder comfortingly. She looked back at him and he smiled encouragingly.
"It's alright," he said, his voice soft but she could still hear him, even over the din of the crowd. "We'll both be here every step of the way."
Riley looked down at Prism, who also nodded encouragingly.
Looking back, unsure at the crowd, Riley squared her shoulders and took a hesitant step out of the shuttle.
Almost instantly, she was blinded from the flashing of the hovercams as they snapped pictures and took as much video as possible, moving as close to her as the police barricades allowed. She raised a hand to cover her eyes.
Hundreds of reporters all tried to shout their questions at Riley, and she couldn't even hear her thoughts, overwhelmed by the chaos. All of the noise was sending her into a PTSD fit, the sound of gunfire, explosions, and screams filling her head, and Prism noticed that she looked like she was on the verge of running.
"Your mind belongs to me." A deep voice echoed through Riley's mind, quieting her flight response. It became the only source of noise for her, and she shivered uneasily. "You will fulfill our purpose."
Prism watched the case-workers carefully, who were looking on at the scene with an ever so slight sense of smugness. They had wanted this to happen. He stomped his hoof on the ground and pointed at them angrily.
"ENOUGH!" He shouted, his voice cutting over the noise of the crowd. He nudged Riley's side gently. "Riley, follow me!"
He felt her hand on his back and he led Riley forward, past the line of police-officers, towards the steps leading up to the Court-House.
The Supreme-Court of the Systems Alliance was massive building, built to show off every bit of the power and prestige that humanity held. It had been carefully and mathematically designed to impress, and it fulfilled its role perfectly. Built in exotic stones imported from every human colony in the galaxy, every world had contributed to it in some way or another. The flags of every colony flew proudly on poles that ringed the outside of the building, with the flag of Earth above all of them, and the flag of the Systems Alliance above even that.
Prism and Anderson led Riley up the steps of the courthouse, all one-hundred eighty two of them, one for every country on Earth.
Riley looked back over her shoulder at the crowd behind her. She could see the true size of it now for the first time, stretching out of her view, filling the streets between the skyscrapers. It was overwhelming and she went limp in Anderson's hold, letting him lead her inside of the Court-House.
Riley fell to her knees as soon as the doors to the Court closed behind her. It was eerily quiet in the main entrance, and she struggled to catch her breath. Anderson and Prism got down on either side of her, gently helping her back up to her feet.
"Come," the Case Worker said, looking down at them impassively. "We are going to be late."
Anderson glared up at him, but the case worker didn't flinch at his icy gaze, an impressive feat that not many people who had met the man could boast. Prism ignored the workers altogether, making sure that he was able to help Riley at a moments notice, never straying more than a step or two away from her.
The Case Workers started walking, and Anderson, Prism, and Riley had no choice but to follow. They were led through the halls of the Supreme Court, past smaller offices and small groups of politicians and lawyers abusing their own limited power to 'dawdle' in the halls and catch a glimpse of the subject of one of the highest profile cases to ever cross the System Alliance's path.
"Riley Shepard." A deep voice boomed out from one of the hallways of the building.
The group stopped walking and turned almost collectively as one to see Prime Minister Huerta walking towards them, dressed in an impeccable suit with a large group of secretaries and guards trailing behind him. Anderson's eyes widened in surprise at seeing the single most important man in the Systems Alliance and he snapped to attention, giving him a perfect salute.
"Commander," Huerta said, his voice holding a hint of a surprise. "I wasn't expecting to see you here."
"I am Riley's guardian sir," Anderson replied. The two had a passing familiarity with each other, though they had not spent any significant amount of time together.
"Oh?" Huerta cocks his head, slightly confused. He stared at Anderson carefully, taking in the new information. "If that's the case, then what is the problem? Why is Inez Simmons beating down my door and crying wolf?"
Anderson and Prism shared a look. The Prime Minister either knew what was happening and wasn't happy with it, or he had no clue whatsoever. From the looks that they were giving each other, neither soldier knew the answer.
"My wife and I are trying to adopt, Riley, sir," Prism said slowly, unsure how to take the leader of the Systems Alliance.
Huerta looked down at Prism with a blank look, making the pony shift uncomfortably under his gaze. Soldier though he may have been, Prism was still at his core a herd animal of a herbivore nature. Instincts might not control him, but he could still feel them screaming in his brain. Humans had the tendency to make even the most hardened ponies flinch, though they had nothing on the Turians and the Krogan.
"I don't lead the type of life that can accommodate a teenage girl," Anderson said, drawing Huerta's attention away from Prism and back to himself.
"I see." Huerta gave a deep hmmm.
He shrugged, turning away from them. "Well, I can't do anything to change your mind. I know you too well for that."
"I shall see you during the trial." He nodded to the three of them. Turning away, Huerta and his group walked away, leaving the small group behind them.
Anderson, Prism, and Riley watched them go.
"What pole is shoved up his ass?" Prism looked at Anderson questioningly.
"We don't exactly see eye to eye." Anderson gave a small snort of laughter. "He's a sneaky bastard through and through. You can always trust him to look out for number one."
"Who was that?" Riley asked softly, looking at both men in confused.
It took a moment for the question to work its way through his mind, but Anderson quickly realized that Riley probably had no clue who the Prime Minister was. Mindoir was so far from Earth that it didn't even really matter to her. Being a teenager, he doubted that she had paid too much attention to politics.
"That was Prime Minister Christopher Huerta," he explained. "He is the leader of the Systems Alliance."
"Oh..." She didn't look impressed.
"There you are!" A feminine voice cried out, sounding both relieved and a tad frustrated.
Anderson, Prism, and Riley turn to find a middle aged woman striding toward them, a swing in her hips and a smile on her face. She was dressed in an expensive business suit, finely tailored to show off her every curve. She cut a striking figure, on modest heels and raven black hair, done in a tight but welcoming bob cut. Holding out a hand, Anderson took it and gave her a grateful shake. She did the same for Prism, shaking his hoof.
"Ms. Moore, it's good to finally meet you in person," Anderson said, thankful. He turned to Prism and Riley to introduce the woman to them. "This is Natalie Moore, our lawyer. The best on Earth."
"That's right," Natalie said with a smile and no small hint of pride. She knew her talents and was more than happy to use them to her fullest ability. She held a hand out for Riley, who shook it hesitantly. "Hello, Ms. Shepard. How are you feeling? Is there anything I can get you? Something to eat? Something to drink? We have a little bit of time before the trial starts."
Riley shook her head no, studying the older woman carefully.
"Alright then." Natalie ignored the younger girl's searching look. With what she was being paid she was willing to put up with anything that this group threw at her. "The Commander already briefed me on the flight over, but I think we should talk."
One of the Case Workers tried to cut in. "I'm not sure thats-"
"Don't even start with me." Natalie turned, staring down the case worker with an icy look that made him back down. Anderson's eyebrows rose, impressed. His already high estimation of the woman went up a couple of notches. He hadn't even been able to do that.
"I have a room upstairs where we can talk." Shaking her head, Natalie motioned over her shoulder towards a staircase. She met Riley's eyes, "And we do need to talk."
Riley looked questioningly at Anderson and Prism, both of whom nodded encouragingly to her. Uncomfortable but assured, she turned back to look at Natalie.
"Alright," she said in a small voice.
"Good!" Natalie beamed before leading Riley up the stairs. Anderson and Prism followed a few steps behind.
Natalie stopped outside a large door. She looked at Anderson and Prism. "I'm going to ask the two of you to wait out here. I'd like to talk to Riley alone if that is alright."
Anderson and Prism both gave nods to her, but the case workers looked like they wanted to protest, their faces turning interesting shades of red. A single look from Natalie made them back off.
The meeting room that Natalie had managed to secure was of medium size, furnished with a long, stained oak conference table and comfortable leather chairs. A pitcher of water and several glasses sat on the center of the table on a platinum tray.
Natalie sits down at one of the chairs, letting Riley sit uncomfortably in her own.
"Well," Natalie said getting comfortable. She smiled at Riley. "I'm sure that you never imagined this happening, did you?"
Riley shook her head. No, she had never imagined that she would have to watch her mother and father murdered before her eyes. She had never imagined that she would have to listen to the dying screams of her baby sister as she was torn to pieces by over eager slavers.
"You have my sympathies," Natalie said kindly, pouring herself a glass of water. "You shouldn't have been pulled into this politicking, not after what you have gone through, but..."
She grimaced, shaking her own head. "Well, there are quite a few bastards with way too much power. You're just caught up in a game that you have no part in."
Riley didn't say anything, letting Natalie lead the conversation.
Natalie didn't say anything for a few long moments, gathering her thoughts together.
Finally she spoke, quieter than she had been speaking, but no less kind. "I am going to ask you questions that you might not like, but please know that I am just trying to understand you better. I want our defense to be as tight as possible."
Riley just nodded her head.
Anderson, Prism, and the two case-workers stood waiting outside the meeting room, as they had been for the past half-hour. Prism slowly paced the hall, his hoofsteps echoing off the walls, while Anderson stood waiting at attention opposite the door. The two case-workers talked to each other in hushed whispers a ways away, glancing at Anderson and Prism suspiciously every few moments.
The four of them stopped and turned to look to find Rainbow rushing headlong towards Prism, her hooves clopping on the marble floor. Firefly and a Systems Alliance soldier followed a few feet behind her at a much more sedate pace.
Prism caught Rainbow as she jumped at him with her forehooves thrown open for a hug, a huge smile on her face.
"Rainbow!" Prism laughed, swinging her around. "Dear, try to be a bit more quiet. This isn't a place for loud noises."
Rainbow instantly looked embarrassed, dropping back down to the floor. Sheepishly, she spoke. "Sorry."
"Hello." Sauntering up to Prism Firefly gave him a hug as well.
"Hey," Prism said, leaning into the embrace. The tenseness in his shoulders was already bleeding away now that his wife and child were with him again.
"David." Firefly smiled up at Anderson, who gave a small bow of his head in greeting. Even with the short amount of time that they had known, the Rainbow family was already coming to think of him as family. He was an honorable man, a rare find in the galaxy.
"Firefly." Anderson smiled back. "How was your flight?"
"Loud." Her face deadpanned and she looked over at her daughter.
Rainbow bounced up, about to start jabbering loudly but remembered where she was instead takes a softer tone of voice. "There was a giant crowd, and they were all-"
She put her hooves around her mouth and imitated a crowd yelling.
"We heard it too, Rainbow." Prism laughed.
"Where's Riley?" Rainbow switched topics on a whim, noticing that she couldn't see her almost sister anywhere.
"She's in there." Anderson pointed at the meeting room. "Talking to our lawyer."
"Lawyer?" Firefly asked, not having had a chance to fully learn all of the details in the chaos of their trip across the galaxy. Most of her time had been spent trying to keep Rainbow from breaking anything vitally important on the ships they travelled on. "I wasn't aware that we'd hired one yet."
"I got a message from Princess Celestia on the shuttle ride down." Anderson still was amazed at how quickly the Equestrian Princess had acted. She not only set everything up without leaving her own planet, she had also picked the best, most ruthless lawyer on Earth, paying for the entire affair from the Royal coffers. "She arranged everything."
"The Princess is taking a personal interest in us?" Firefly looked impressed at that.
Prism glanced at the two case workers then led Firefly a little ways away to talk without being overheard.
"The Princesses have thought of everything," Prism said with a whisper, leaning close to his wife's ear. She listened carefully. "She wants nothing to go wrong with this."
"Nothing to go wrong?" Firefly asked quietly. She looked at Prism in confusion. "Like what?"
"We are adopting a human child." Prism would miss Cloudsdale, but Riley was more than worth it. "She can't cloudwalk."
"Yeah, we already knew that though," Firefly said. She looked at Prism questioningly, waiting for him to explain.
"But we didn't have any plans on where we were going to move, or anything set up for her." Prism looked sheepish at that, but what was done was done, and the Princess had thought of everything. "The Princess already took care of it."
"What?" Firefly asked, her confusion growing. "What do you mean?"
"She's giving a house in Canterlot." Prism opened his omni-tool, showing Firefly a picture of a modestly sized house in Equestria. "Paid for by the crown and completely furnished to suit a growing human child. No expense spared."
Firefly's eyes went wide and she was silent for several moments, just staring at the picture with her mouth gaping.
"That's a bit over the top, isn't it?" She finally made herself ask.
Prism shrugged. With humans so Tartarus bent on keeping Riley from their home, who was to say what was over the top. He would take all the help he could get.
"She sent a message for the two of us," Prism said.
He reversed the image on his omnitool so that she could read the message that Celestia sent them.
Lieutenant Rainbow Prism,
I was most pleased to learn of your actions during the raid of Mindoir. You acted with the comportment that I expect of all soldiers of Equestria. It saddens me to hear of your injury, and I would like you to know that the Crown will help you and your family through this difficult time.
I have learned of your plans to adopt the human girl, Riley Shepard, and it has brought a warmth to my heart. I am writing to inform you thatmy sister and I are committed to seeing that this adoption hits no 'snags' so to speak. We are taking care of everything.
From the Desk of Her Royal Highness,
Princess Celestia, the Eternal Sun
Firefly reread the letter four times, and then went quiet for another minute after that.
"That is..." She trailed off, unsure of what to say as her own emotions roiled within her. "That is incredible. I... I don't know what to say."
"We'll have to thank her ourselves." Prism smiled and kisses his wife.
The door to the meeting room opened and everyone out in the hall turned to watch as Natalie stepped out, followed by Riley. Rainbow was instantly at her side, pestering her with questions that Riley answered with a small smile.
"We best be going," Natalie said with a smile. "We don't have much time left. We don't want to be late."