Chapter Eleven - It Begins
Systems Alliance Supreme Court, New York, Earth
The main court of the supreme court was built with over five thousand seats, and platforms at the back to hold an extensive press corp. At the current moment, every seat was filled, with the public watching on to what had already promised to be the largest custody battle in the case of humanity, thanks in large part to the fact that it was the first time that an alien family was fighting for the right to adopt a human child. The packed room was thanks in no small part to the actions of Terra Firma, who had done their absolute best to see that everyone across all of the colonies and Earth herself knew of the case.
Hundreds of cameras floated in the back, carefully tended by their operators as they streamed the live case back to countless news stations across Citadel space. The whole room was filled with the dull roar of five-thousand voices.
On the side of the court that actually mattered, Terra Firma's lawyers sat next to Inez Simmons. They looked calm and collected, dressed in expensive suits, their holo-pads neatly laid out on the table before them. Inez Simmons looked across the aisle at the defense, a smug look chiseled onto his face.
The Court Room is packed, thanks to Terra Firma. Hundreds of cameras are filling the top of the room, filming the most high-profile case that arguably has ever taken place on Earth. On the left, Terra Firma's lawyers are sitting, with Inez Simmons staring across the aisle at the defense table.
Natalie and Riley sat at the defense table. Unlike Terra Firma's lawyers, Natalie looked much more laid back. She was dressed in a simple skirt, blouse, and jacket, her hair pulled back into a harsh bun. Riley sat next to her in a dark dress, her hair loose. She stared down at the table, idly listening to Natalie scrolling through her holo-pad as she looked over the final few matters of the defense. Prism, Firefly, Rainbow, and Anderson sat just behind the railing, providing as much emotional support as they possibly could, which wasn't much considering that they weren't allowed to speak. They were going to have to trust Natalie to get them through the entire matter.
"Rise, for the Chief Justice Brian Ackerson," the guard said, stepping forward.
The entirety of the room stood, the din of voices quieting instantly. From behind the judges bench, Chief Justice Brian Ackerson stepped out. He was a sharp looking man, intelligent, well-groomed with intelligent eyes. Ackerson had been presiding over the Supreme Court of the Systems Alliance since before the First Contact war, and he had been a judge for even longer than that. Well respected, there was almost no opposition when he had been granted the role of the Chief Justice. He sat and the whole court followed his example.
The trial began, and it seemed like everyone was talking at once, scrambling to make their voices herd over everyone else. The words became a blur as Riley found that her eyes couldn't focus on anything before her. Something is happening beyond her control, and she finds herself frozen in her seat.
"Breathe." A deep voice echoed through her head, reverberating through her soul.
Riley took a deep breath, inhaling before slumping down into her seat as her body relaxed. The voices continued, but she paid no mind to them. There was simply no reason for her to pay attention. The storm of the world calmed around her, and the voice continued to speak.
"Your species could be destroyed with a single thought," it said, with a calm voice that hinted at deeper feelings of anger and malevolence. "But you may yet be worth your continued survival."
The Terra Firma lawyer stepped forward, beginning to pontificate his opening statements. Riley watched him as he slowly strode back and forth in front of the judge, speaking to both the jury, the judge, and the entirety of the court. It was all very theatrical and perfectly designed to elicit as much emotion as possible.
While all of it was clear and in English, Riley was simply unable to focus on anything that was actually being said. Her eyes followed the lawyer back and forth, but she wasn't fully in the present. In the back of her mind, she felt a darkness, cold and wet. It slipped through her veins, filling her every pore.
"Your race squabbles in the dark, fighting against every perceived slight." The voice rose and fell, at times seeming to whisper, and at other moments it seemed to roar. "The Others will use that against you. They will set you against each other, and exploit your every weakness."
The lawyer was charming, his suit perfect and his teeth brilliantly white, which he used to their full effect. The cameras loved him, and the audience loved him even more.
"You must change that. You will be the agent our wills. To defeat the Others, you must bind them all together."
Riley looked up, and saw that the lawyer was wrapping up his opening statements.
Natalie leaned over, grinning, and whispered to Riley. "Damn. I don't know where Simmons pulled that guy out from, but he is good."
Riley looked at Natalie, snapping back to reality for just a moment. Natalie's grin grew wider and she put a comforting hand on Riley's arm. "Don't worry, Riley. I'm better."
Standing up, Natalie sauntered up to begin her own statements, a wide grin on her face. She faced the judge and jury before turning to the audience and the cameras beyond.
Riley quickly lost her focus before Natalie even opened her mouth to speak. She didn't notice judge watching her, nor did she notice the worried look on his face.
Laying back on her bed, Riley stared up at the ceiling of the hotel room. She had her hands folded together on her stomach, half-listening to whatever kids show was playing on the TV opposite the bed. Lying on the bed next to her, sprawled out and completely asleep was Rainbow Dash. It had been her to insist on watching the kids show, and she had fallen asleep only minutes past the first commercials. She snored softly, cuddled up as close as possible to her maybe new big sister.
Prism and Firefly watched the unresponsive girl from the doorway, which was partially cracked open. The day had ended at three, and they had been quick to return to their hotel. Rainbow had run everywhere full of pent up energy and had only calmed down after Prism took her down to the hotel's pool.
Stepping forward, Prism entered the room, Firefly following after him.
"How are you feeling, Riley?" Firefly asked, frowning.
Riley slowly refocused back on reality, looking over to see her two perspective adoptive parents looking at her with concerned smiles.
"I'm fine," she mumbled, struggling to meet their eyes.
"It's okay, Riley." Prism looked over her worriedly with concerned eyes. "You don't have to pretend."
Riley didn't say anything, just dropping her eyes to the floor, not making any eye-contact with the two pegasi.
They waited a moment to see if she was going to say anything.
Hoping she would.
Firefly put a hoof onto the mattress of the bed. "We're here if you need us, Riley. Please, come get us if you need anything."
The two pegasi turned and left the room, taking a last glance back at the girl.
Shutting the door behind themselves, Prism and Firefly back away. They shared a significant look with each other, concerned.
"I don't like this," Prism said with a sigh. His head hung low as he walked into the main room of the hotel room. "It isn't right."
"It might not be right," she said with a sigh, "But we can't do anything other than hope."
Firefly frowned, giving a small nudge. She agreed with him, but she felt absolutely useless.
"You can do a lot more than that, girl."
They turned to find Natalie standing behind them, holding a glass of wine with the top button of her shirt undone, barefoot. She smiled at them happily, and possibly a little drunk from the look of her.
"What are you doing drinking?" Firefly narrowed her eyes, looking at Natalie accusingly. "We're losing!"
"No, we're not." Natalie laughed, shaking her head confidently.
"I don't know what trial you were just at, but from where I was sitting we were losing." Prism glared at her. In his gut, worry and fear rolled through him. The entire matter was making him sick, and he just wanted it to end.
"It was only the first day." Natalie grimaced, downing the rest of her wine in the face of Prism's and Firefly's worries. "That bastard won't get me a second time."
The door opened and all three of them turned to look as Anderson stormed into the hotel room, shutting the door behind himself calmly, holding his back straight and professionally. As soon as the door was closed, he sagged as the weight of the day crashed down onto him.
"Are you alright David?" Firefly asked, stepping forward at the sight of her friend's pain. "Come on, take a seat."
David gratefully did so, sinking down onto the couch.
"Can I get you anything to drink?" Firefly asked. She was glad that she had come to know him, and counted him as one of her friends. "Something to eat? We have room service."
"No, thank you Firefly." David waved his hand in dismissal. "I just need to sit for awhile."
He closed his eyes, taking a deep breath.
"Commander, how are you doing?" Natalie asked, looking at David worriedly.
David opened his eyes, looking over to see Natalie standing with her empty wine glass. He laughed quietly to himself, shifting in his seat to get more comfortable. He shut his eyes again and leaned his head back. "Admiral Ballard called me in for a meeting. He was not happy."
"The bastard all but ordered me to cave to Terra Firma's demands." He grunted, shaking his head.
"Tell me exactly what happened." Natalie instantly perked up, instantly more focused on the conversation.
David cracked an eye open to look at Natalie for a moment before nodding.
"I was met outside of the Court House by one of Ballard's flunkies. They ordered me to accompany them on his orders for a meeting." He sighed, rubbing his eyes. "We took a shuttle to the Naval yard in Virginia, where they led me to the Admiral's office. He was kind, at least to start with. Offered me a drink before making small talk."
"I asked him why he wanted to meet with me and he instantly got serious. He told me that humanity was not ready to give our children to aliens." David shook his head. He clenched his fists together as the memories coursed through his head, and his knuckles went white.
"What exactly did he say?" Natalie asked, practically bouncing from excitement.
"Something along the lines of, 'Commander, your one of the best and brightest that has ever graced our Navy. It would be bad for a hero of humanity to tear our legs out from underneath us at such a crucial point in time. You don't want us to look weak to the rest of the galaxy, do you? It could be bad for you. You'll make the right choice, I'm sure'." David shrugged, not fully remembering but trying his best.
Natalie nodded, setting her glass down before sitting down on one of the chairs opposite the couch. She leaned forward, hanging on to his every word.
Anderson watched her, uncomfortable, before finally asking. "What?"
"This could be nothing, but if we can prove that Admiral Ballard is a party member with Terra Firma, it could really help our case. This is exactly the type of thing we need." She smiled, crossing her arms in satisfaction.
"And how exactly do we do that?" Prism stepped forwards, taking a seat next to David.
"Leave that to me." Natalie glanced at Prism, a sly grin on her face.
At the headquarters of Terra Firma, a party was in full swing. Every party member and their family was present, enjoying the free drinks and dinner. Music played by a live band and cake was absolutely everywhere. The Custody Battle was absolutely going in their favor, and they knew it. There was no way that Commander Anderson was going to win, and there was absolutely no way that Riley Shepard would not end up being adopted by a human family.
"To the most cutthroat lawyer that I have ever had the displeasure of knowing!" Inez Simmons shouted, holding up his glass of champagne as he stepped out of the elevator and into the office.
The entire room cheered, raising their glasses to the toast.
Inez turns back to the small group that had followed him up. Aaron Samuels, their lawyer, stood with his hands clasped behind his back as he looked over the room. Michael stood close to Inez, ready to answer his every request at a moments notice, a true believer.
"It is always our pleasure to help further the cause of humanity," Samuels said, grinning. It was a predatory look, like a shark.
Inez laughed, but Michael looked unsure. He stepped closer to Inez, leaning closer to whisper to him.
"Where exactly did you find this guy?" Michael asked, glancing at Samuels who was busy admiring the wife of one of their accountants who was wearing a dress several sizes too small. "I've never seen him before."
Inez sobered up instantly, looking Michael over carefully. He thought about it for a minute before deciding whether or not he even wanted to answer.
Glancing at Samuels, Inez gestured to his office. Samuel nodded back, glancing at Michael before calmly stepping in.
Inez put an arm over Michael's shoulder, smiling. "Come in, and we'll tell you."
They entered the office.
Inez shut and locked the door behind the two of them as they entered his office. He gestured for Michael to take one of the seats in front of his desk, before moving to pour himself a drink from the bottle he kept in the bottom drawer.
"Please Michael, take a seat."
Michael looked at Inez for a moment before taking a seat.
Inez walked over to join Samuels on leaning against the front of his desk, taking a sip of his drink as he looked down at Michael.
"Are you sure about this, Simmons?" Samuels asked Inez, studying Michael like one might an animal at the zoo.
"Michael's been with us since nearly the beginning." Inez shrugged, glancing at the lawyer. "I think its time to bring him in our little secret."
"I'm sure that you'll take care of it and make sure that everything is okay." He gave a knowing smirk to Samuels.
Samuels nodded his head, conceding the point.
"What's this all about?" Michael asked, looking at Inez worriedly.
"You've been helping our party for nearly a decade now, haven't you Michael." Inez full well knew the answer to the question, but asked it anyway.
"You know I have," Michael said.
"Well, we haven't told you everything." Inez looked proud at the secrets that he held. "There simply wasn't a need for you to know. Now though..."
He smiled, clapping Michael on the leg. "I think you're a big enough part of this party that you need to know about this."
"Know what?" Michael asked. With every word that Inez spoke, he grew more and more confused.
Samuels leaned forward, watching Michael's reactions carefully.
"Have you ever head of an organization called Cerberus?"
Twilight sat at her book covered desk, more of a table really, studying. It was her favorite thing to do in the world, and she took absolutely every opportunity available to do so. When the Princess personally guided her studying, it made the entire affair even better. She hummed quietly to herself as she absentmindedly turned the page on her book, A Brief History of Equestria.
A soft hmm broke her concentration and she looked up from her book to see Celestia sitting a few feet away from her, facing out towards a window as she red her omni-tool. Twilight couldn't wait until she was old enough to have her own. To have a device that could access billions of books... the very thought made Twilight quiver in excitement.
Twilight turned away from her studies.
"Princess?" She asked, looking up hopefully at her mentor.
Celestia broke away from her reading to look back at Twilight, offering her a small smile.
"Is something wrong," the filly asked.
Celestia had to think about it for a moment before she was able to answer Twilight. There were times that the unicorn filly was just too curious for her own good. "There is a trial that has managed to draw my attention."
"A trial?" Twilight's face scrunched up in confusion. "What is it over?"
"A young pegasus couple from Cloudsdale is looking to adopt an orphaned human child." With a sigh, Celestia shut her omni-tool. She turned fully to face Twilight, offering the girl her full attention. "There are some humans who despise the very idea of letting 'aliens' raise one of their own..."
Celestia scowled, glancing away. It was a moment that Twilight was proud to witness. There were very few ponies that Princess Celestia ever fully acted herself around, and she was one of them.
"Though I notice that none of them are eager to see that all human children have parents," Celestia continued.
"That's awful!" Twilight exclaimed, anger coursing through her body. "Why are they fighting to keep someone from having parents?"
"You are truly special to think so, Twilight." Celestia looked at Twilight compassionately. "You are better than quite a few of the people of the galaxy."
"What do you mean, Princess?" Twilight asked, cocking her head in confusion.
"It is alright, Twilight." Celestia laughed. "There is no need for you to worry about such matters."
"Okay, Princess!" Twilight smiled, trusting Celestia completely. The Princess would never lie to her. Turning back to her desk, Twilight got back to her studying.
When Twilight looked up again from her desk, she blushed in embarrassment when she realized that it was nighttime. The Princess had left at some point, but Twilight was embarrassed to remember that she can't quite remember when. She knew that she got too involved in her reading, and hated every time that she lost track of time. It wasn't proper for a pony to just lose themselves from the world around them.
Never the less, it happened too much for Twilight to ever actually admit.
Turning at the regal voice, Twilight found Princess Luna standing in the doorway, a smile on her face.
"It is time for us to escort you home, Twilight." Luna fluffed her wings.
Twilight smiled at the dark Alicorn, quickly stuffing some of her books into a pair of saddle-bags that sat her foot, already packed and ready to go. "Sure thing, Princess!"
Slipping on the saddle-bags, Twilight trotted over to the Princess, beaming up at her. "I'm Ready!"
"I can see that," Luna said, amused. She enjoyed her biweekly trips too and from the Sparkle household. It was a part of the arrangement that the Sparkle family had worked out with the crown over their daughter's studies. Weekdays at the castle learning with the Princesses, and weekends at her home. It had become one of her favorite times of the week. "Let us depart."
Bounding to her side, the two of them left the study room together.
Princess Luna had long ago learned that the long way around to the Sparkle house was the most beautiful. It allowed her the chance to see her little ponies outside of the night-court, and it was absolutely wonderful. The street lights were beautiful, and the night-life was even better. Her ponies loved the night. She had watched over the decades since Chelsea had awoken them all as they tended to get to sleep later and later.
Princess Luna escorted Twilight through the streets of Canterlot, trailed by two of her night-guards. Twilight was being unusually quiet, but Luna was more than happy to let her have her peace. She instead took the time to pony watch. They passed by the ponies waiting outside of the night-clubs and those enjoying the night air. Romance often filled the air, and Luna loved to provide nights perfect for such a mood. The moon hung overhead, casting its calming light down below and the stars twinkled happily.
"Princess..." Twilight finally spoke up, her voice hesitant.
Luna looked down at Twilight as they continued walking. "Yes, Twilight?"
Twilight chewed on her lip for a moment before asking her question. She sounded conflicted. "Why would anypony want to keep a foal from being adopted?"
Stopping, Luna looked back at Twilight contemplatively. She thought for a moment before the answer appeared to her. "You are speaking of the trial of Riley Shepard?"
"I think so?" Twilight wasn't sure, but she willing to guess.
"The human that a pony family wants to adopt?" Luna clarified.
"Yeah!" Twilight almost bounced in excitement. When Celestia wouldn't answer a question of hers, Luna was the one to go to. "That's what Princess Celestia said."
Luna was silent for a moment, looking Twilight over before answering. "You ask a difficult question, Twilight."
"Princess Celestia said I was too young for such matters," Twilight explained, glaring ever so slightly. She truly loved Celestia, but sometimes she treated Twilight like she was four, not seven.
"That does indeed sound like my sister." Luna laughed. She leaned close to Twilight, speaking conspiratorially. "Sometimes, she forgets that she cannot make every problem disappear, and that our ponies can handle so much more than she believes sometimes. She has more than a bit of our mother in her."
Luna stood back up to her full height.
Thinking it over for a moment, Luna finalized an answer in her mind that satisfied her. "They are afraid."
"Afraid?" Twilight scrunched up her nose. "What do you mean, Princess?"
"They are afraid of change, of the other, of those that they cannot comprehend. They are afraid, so they fight back against that which they fear. First it was us, then it was the Turians, and now it seems that it is anyone who is not human." As she explained the way the galaxy worked, Luna hung her head ever so slightly. "It is not always a logical thing, but there are even those among Equestria who feel the same way."
Looking down at Twilight, Luna gave the filly an encouraging smile. "You do not need to be afraid, Twilight Sparkle. Always remember that. Though everything might seem to be crashing down around you, there are always those who will stand by your side no matter what."
Twilight looked up at Luna, seeing her in a new light. She nodded her head. "I promise, Princess."
"That is good." Luna held out a hoof for Twilight, motioning down the street. "Now, let us return you home. We are sure that your parents are waiting."