Chapter Fourteen - Leaving
The feeling hadn't disappeared by the next morning, and Anderson ignored his tiredness from not getting any sleep the night before. He stood in the terminal of the New York Space-Port, one of only four on the entirety of the planet, and by far the largest and most opulent. He watched the Rainbow family as they checked all of their baggage. Being that there was quite a bit of it considering that they needed to get everything that they had bought for Riley to Equestria, it was taking quite a while and forming quite the line.
He frowned, sadness filling him, but he was sure to not let any of them see anything out of the ordinary whenever they turned to look at him, especially Riley and Rainbow. Neither of them needed to see him on the verge of falling apart.
He was dressed in his Alliance battle-dress uniform, a duffel bag with all of his clothes at his feet. He was heading to a different part of the terminal to check in for his flight to Arcturus Station and he was going to say his goodbyes before heading off. He had spent the entire night before trying to figure out what he wanted to say to Riley before he left, and he still wasn't sure on the details.
Anderson schooled his features when he noticed that the Rainbows had finished with checking in and were heading back on over to him, slow, and more than a little reluctant. He hoped that it was because they didn't want to see him go anymore than he actually wanted to himself.
"Well..." Prism trailed off, not quite sure on what he wanted to say. There was so much that they had to be thankful to David for, and he was never very good at expressing his own emotions. Instead, Prism sat back on his haunches in front of David, a small frown on his face. Firefly sat down next to him, leaning against his side for comfort.
"David, I cannot tell you how much I am thankful to Celestia that we met. You are a wonderful man." Thankfully, Firefly had a much easier time than Prism talking about her feelings.
"You're not such a bad mare yourself, Firefly." Anderson blushed, not used to having a lot of attention given to him.
"Thank you, David." Firefly smiled at him thankfully. She stepped forward, giving him a quick but warm hug that he returned wholeheartedly.
"You're welcome at our house anytime, David." Prism nodded to him, a manly sort of thing that he felt far more comfortable with. "Feel free to stop by whenever you can."
"I will definitely take you up on that, Prism." Anderson smiled to him, giving his own nod in return.
"Bye!" Rainbow waved at David, and she was so enthusiastic about it that her entire body wiggled from the effort.
"Come on, Rainbow." Prism looked down at Rainbow, smiling at her. "Let's let Riley have a moment with David."
"Ok!" Rainbow chirped, before brightening as a thought rushed through her head. "Hey, let's get pretzels!"
"We'll see, Rainbow." Prism tactfully sidestepped the suggestion as he, Rainbow, and Firefly all stepped away to give Riley and Anderson a chance to say their own goodbyes to each other.
They both just stood there awkwardly for a moment.
Wincing, David glanced away from Riley. What was holding him back from saying anything to the one girl that was the closest he would likely ever come to having a daughter? David shook his head, deciding that he would just tell her everything that was welling up inside him.
"Riley, I know that you never saw your life heading this way."
Riley looked down at her feet. David was conundrum to her. Her mother and father had never spoken about him to her, and she had had no idea that she had even had a god father. On the one hand, it was nice that someone was out there bothering to look out for her, but on the other, he had given her up to yet another family. She didn't know how she felt about any of this, and so instead she just kept silent.
"It's okay." David lowered his voice, wanting everything he was going to say to be for Riley alone to hear. "I want you to know, you can call me whenever you need to. I will do my best to always be there for you."
"You are growing into a beautiful woman, and this won't keep you down." He stepped forward, putting a hand under her chin to lift her head to look him in the eyes. "Don't be afraid to look to others for help. You can get through this, and we all want to help you."
"I am sorry that I can't be there for you like your parents wanted." He pulled her into a hug. He say anything about how he felt the shuddering of her body as she tried to hide her own tears. He would leave her the dignity she desperately needed. She needed to feel strong. Taking a step back, he puts his hands on both of her shoulders. "I can't give you a home, but I can do my best to make sure that your home is as safe as it possibly can be. I am going to visit you every chance that I can. I want to be a part of your life."
"I'd like that." Riley smiled up nervously at him, her voice just as quiet as his own.
They stood there for what felt like an eternity, not quite sure what to do. In their own ways, both of them were socially inept.
Seeing that they were floundering Prism started walk back towards them, Firefly and Rainbow following only a few steps behind.
"We should really get going." Prism's voice was regretful as he looked up at Anderson and Riley.
Anderson nodded, sadness filling his heart. He wasn't in tune enough with his emotions to know what to say and though his mind was shouting angrily at him, he couldn't find it in himself to say anything.
Firefly stepped forward, pushing up on her hind hooves to hug David, hoping that all of the words he would never be able to hear were coming through. She was happy to find that he hugged back.
"Thank you," Firefly murmured to him. She dropped back down to all four of her hooves, nuzzling up against Riley's thigh. Absent-mindedly, Riley tangled her fingers through her mother's bright blue mane.
Turning, the Rainbow family walked away. Anderson couldn't do anything but watch them go, feeling more helpless and powerless than he ever had before. Riley waved at him over her shoulder before they disappeared out of his sight into the crowds.
Anderson stood there for who knows how long after they were gone, unsure of what to do with himself and what to do with his future.
Ethan stood outside at the base of an absolutely mind-boggingly tall skyscraper, the home to the headquarters of Terra Firma. He watched the entrance from across the street, sitting on a bench between a pair of street lamps. He was dressed in as normal clothes as any human could possibly get, with a pair of glasses over a set of prosthetics to hide his identity from any camera that might have been fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of him.
Every so often, he would calmly watch as someone walked out of the skyscraper and he would follow them with his gaze, his brilliant mind taking note of every important detail. His glasses, a marvel of technology, almost instantly identified and catalogued the person and give him all of the information by projecting it on the lenses.
Ethan sat on that bench for hours, gathering his bearings and making his plan. When he finally stood up, Ethan stretched with a groan as his limbs cracked, a deliciously wonderful feeling after so long motionless. Immediately after, he started walking in the opposite direction of the sky-scraper. There were too many forms of security that would have him pegged if he broke in at the moment. Best to utilize one of the other entrances he had scouted out.
Twenty minutes later, Ethan found himself jogging down into the subway system of New York. It had been upgraded and changed like everything else since the twenty-first century, and it was a clean, welcoming place compared to the many pictures that he had seen from the mid-twenty-first century.
Walking to the other end of the platform, Ethan held himself confidently, holding up a small card to the card reader at the door. The card was a wonder of Cerberus engineering full of extremely advanced technology, and it tore through all of the protections and systems of the door and slaved it to its will with almost contemptuous ease.
With a happy ding, the door slid open and Ethan stepped inside.
Ethan entered the back room with a quick glance to ensure that he was alone. He walked past rows of shelves covered in machines that cleaned the subway at night, and more cleaning supplies than he ever wanted to see again. He ignored all of them, walking to a single door in the back of the room. It was labeled simply: Tunnel Access.
Ethan enters the beginning of the largest tunnel system in the world. It spreads out for miles and miles, under every building. It was built as an emergency system, allowing service men and women to quickly and efficiently get to anywhere in the city and its outlying areas as quickly as possible. The city had learned its mistake after the destruction of over a third of the city during World War III.
His glasses projected the map of the entire sub-system directly into his eye, guiding him to directly where he needs to go.
Calmly, he walked through the tunnels, his special card smashing him through every security checkpoint with absolutely no muss or fuss. No one physically guarded the system, trusting the machines to do it for them.
That was a mistake.
Ethan certainly wouldn't be letting them know about the issue after he was done.
He came to a stop at a corner, edging back against the wall. Taking a small black ball from his pocket, he knelt down and rolled the ball around the corner. Spinning under its own power, the ball found the perfect position in the room.
A second later, and a small whoomp of electricity sounded out, a powerful EMP. Ethan sauntered out from around the corner. All of the devices had been knocked out, and a large set of double doors sat underneath two cameras that died in the blast.
Stepping inside, Ethan shut the doors, forcing them closed behind him. A normal human wouldn't have been able to do that. The doors were eight inches thick, built from starship hull grade materials, with an intricate lock system designed with multiple redundancies, but Ethan wasn't exactly a normal human. The door was never designed to repel an incursion. It was built to allow the city to allow near instant access anywhere, and to lock others off if the need ever came.
"Right then, let's get started," Ethan muttered.
He strode confidently into the lowest level of the skyscraper, heading for the elevator.
Precisely forty seconds later (Ethan timed it) the elevator doors opened onto the floor that Terra Firma had rented for over a decade. Ethan stepped out calmly, but if you looked hard enough, he was ready for a fight.
He took a moment to look around at the desks and offices. They were empty, no one there, and he smiled. There was no one there to stop him, child's play.
He stood just past the elevator doors, looking around at the offices lining the edges of the room. He read all of the titles until he landed upon Inez Simmon's name written on the door that promised to lead to the largest office on the floor. The light was on, which he could see through the thin and tall frosted window just to the right of the door.
"Okay." Ethan nodded to himself. With long strides, he walked forward. He reached out for the door, expecting it to be locked.
He snorted to himself and shook his head when it opened without a problem.
Looking down, Ethan saw that the lock had been broken off. He looked inside of the office to find that it was absolutely trashed. Whoever had been there before him was extremely sloppy and obviously did not know how to search properly for anything. Amateurs. He snorted again.
"Huh..." He took a step inside, resting his hands on his hips.
"What are you doing?"
Ethan turned, unconcerned to find Michael Basinger standing behind him. He had taken the time to memorize all the faces of the office, and he recognized Simmon's right hand man with absolutely no difficulty. Neither of them knew each other. Michael looked tired, beaten down, like he had the weight of the galaxy sitting on his shoulders. For all that Ethan knew, he very well might have.
"Where is Inez Simmons?" Ethan's thoughts and quick assessment of Michael took only a moment, and he was sure that the man didn't even notice it.
"Don't know." Michael shrugged. He looked despondent and Ethan was able to read him like an open book. An open book that happened to be written in large, child friendly font.
"Who does?" Ethan asked softly, already working out the best way to twist the man to his own purposes.
"I don't know." Michael just shook his head, confused about the happenings of the past week. "No one does. He's disappeared."
"When?" He could see that the man was already trusting him, and god was that sad. This man had absolutely no spine. He probably didn't even know that he was being manipulated.
"Right after the trial." Michael leaned against the doorway, looking at the room with dead eyes.
"Hmmm..." Ethan turned to look at the office, frowning. "Who did this?"
"I don't know," Michael shrugged, taking a deep breath. "But the alarms started going off two hours ago."
"Cerberus, I think." Michael meets Ethan's eyes.
Ethan didn't make a single reaction to the answer.
Michael realized something, looking at Ethan with new eyes. "Who did you say you are, exactly?"
"No one you need to know." Ethan simply turned and walked out of the headquarters.
They had been traveling for four days so far, but already Riley knew that she didn't like it. Everyone on the ship, when she and the rest of her family got on, seemed like they all knew who she was. They all stared at her like she was a piece of meat, a fascinating oddity that was simply there for their amusement.
Riley had kept as much to her room as possible since then. She had made liberal use of the room service so she didn't have to head off to the buffet and be stared at even more.
The door slammed open, but Riley barely even startled. It was simply the way that her new sister entered the room.
Rainbow scampered over the floor, jumping up onto Riley's bed. With a giggle, she poked Riley with her hooves. With a groan, Riley rolled over to look at her as the little filly sat back on her haunches, grinning.
"What?" Riley couldn't help but give a tired grin at the excitement that bubbled off Rainbow.
Rainbow bounced a little on the bed, her wings fluttering happily, lifting her up off the ground every few moments. "I want to show you something!"
"What?" Riley raised an eyebrow.
"It's cool." Rainbow promised, her voice pitching up at the end.
Riley didn't look convinced, a single eyebrow raising in confusion.
"Come on," Rainbow pleaded, cocking her head. "You'll like it. I promise."
Riley still didn't look convinced, but Rainbow's wide pleading eyes were certainly changing that around.
Riley finally sat up with a groan. Her voice reluctant, she gave a quick nod. "Alright."
"Sweet!" Rainbow punched a hoof into the air, her wings flapping furiously as she bounced off the bed and back onto the floor. Rainbow rushed to the door, smiling excitedly about whatever it was that she wanted to show Riley. Flapping her wings, Rainbow grabbed the handle in her mouth and opened the door. "Come on!"
Riley rolled over and off the door, following her little sister.
Riley hesitated for just a moment in the doorway, glancing up and down the hall. It was brightly lit and warmly decorated, to be as welcoming as possible. Riley wanted nothing else than to crawl back into her bed and under her covers. Instead, she took a deep breath and stepped out of the room.
"Where are we going?" Riley asked after Rainbow, who she had to struggle to keep up with.
Rainbow looked back and up at Riley, grinning. "Trust me! It's going to be awesome."
Riley watched Rainbow carefully, unsure, but willing to trust her. While impulsive, the filly was incredibly sweet and loyal. She wouldn't bring harm to her if she could do anything at all to help it.
"Alright, Rainbow." Riley sighed, keeping careful watch on the filly's brightly colored tail as she darted around other passengers.
Rainbow led her to an elevator, and happily pressed the down button before they waited patiently for it to arrive. Rainbow bounced back and forth on her hooves, a little excited dance that made Riley giggle in amusement.
The elevator door opened, and Riley was relieved to see that it was empty. Rainbow darted inside, while Riley followed at a much more sedate pace.
Rainbow got up on her back hooves with a little grunt and pressed a button on the large row of buttons before flashing a grin at Riley.
The elevator ride was thankfully short, and after it opened Rainbow led Riley down a hall and around a corner. She held up a hoof to stop Riley, peeking around the corner. The coast was clear, and Rainbow waved Riley forward. "Come on!"
Rainbow scampered around the corner and Riley followed after her, surprised to find that there was only a staff entrance at the end of the hall and Rainbow was leading her right towards it.
"Where exactly are you taking me, Rainbow?" Riley looked at her sister curiously, wondering what exactly what the little pegasus had been getting up to whenever she disappeared from the room.
"Trust me." Rainbow reached up and opened the staff door, looking back at Riley with a massive grin. "We'll be fine."
The door had been left unlocked, and they had no problem getting inside.
The staff hallways of the starship were nowhere near as nice as the rest of the ship, which was designed for passengers of a certain status. The innards of the ship were just laid bare for easy access, pipes and wires going everywhere. Easy to repair and even easier to replace.
Rainbow ignored all of that, leading Riley down the hallway confidently.
"What exactly have you been getting up to the past few days?" Riley's voice was incredulous, amused at whatever she had been getting up to.
"Explorin' and stuff." Rainbow shrugged.
"I can see that." Riley laughed quietly, a small half-grin on her face. "You've explored everything, haven't you?"
"Yep!" Was Rainbow's simple response.
The two entered a large crew relaxation room, empty luckily. It was a place where crew-members could relax off duty, with more than enough couches and TVs to seat a hundred people. As it stood, the room got very little use thanks to the work schedules of the crew.
Rainbow ignored all of that. She walked toward the large blank wall opposite the door in the room.
Standing next to a small panel, Rainbow turned and grinned at Riley. "Check this out!"
She hit the button.
Riley stepped back a little in surprise as massive shutters began sliding up outside the ship. It's a window, and it looked out over the entirety of space.
Riley's jaw dropped in awe, and Rainbow sauntered up to her, incredibly proud of herself. "Momma told me that we're going faster than any Wonderbolt has ever flown."
Riley walked forward, putting a hand up against the window. "It's amazing..."
"I know, right!" Rainbow exclaimed. She trotted up to Riley, leaning against her leg. They just sat there together for awhile.
After quite a few minutes had passed, Riley eased herself down cross-legged, wrapping her arms around Rainbow. Tears welled in her eyes, but they didn't fall.
"Thanks, Rainbow," she whispered.
"Just looking' out for my big sister." Rainbow smiled happily.
The entire Rainbow family sat around a dining table situated in a cozy corner of the large dining hall, away from most of the prying eyes of the other diners in the room. They had already ordered their food and were munching on the rather wonderful bread that had been provided for them.
"Riley," Firefly spoke up after swallowing the last of her roll. "There are some things that we thought we should tell you about before we get home."
"Like what?" Riley asked, curiosity filling her eyes.
"Equestria is different from anything that you have ever experienced, and we just want you to be prepared." Prism laughed a little as he said it. He was glad that Firefly had had the foresight and than the idea to let Riley know everything about what she was going to be experiencing.
"Okay..." Riley took a bite of her bread, glancing down at her plate.
"You've had enough, Dashie." Firefly reached a hoof over to stop Rainbow from grabbing a fourth piece of bread. "Wait for dinner."
Rainbow crossed her forelegs over her chest, sulking a little. Firefly ignored that and turned back to Riley, ready to explain and ease her into the changes that her life might end up going through living in Equestria.
"Equestira is a principality, ruled over by the sister Princesses, Celestia and Luna," Firefly explained. "They have ruled our world for thousands of years, and have lived even longer than that."
Riley listened carefully, having heard some of this before in school, but she knew that it was going to be more truthful and accurate from who was telling her, a resident and citizen of Equestria itself.
"There is almost no major crime, but our society is still in the middle of the upheavel from First Contact." Prism snorted at that. It was definitely an understatement. "We are still in the process of integrating technolgy into our day to day lives."
"That is the easy stuff." Firefly knew that they would have more time to speak in depth on the matters, but for now a simple explanation would suffice. "You won't run into any trouble if you don't do anything that would be illegal on Earth."
They all paused in their conversation as their waiter brought them their first course, salads. They thanked the waiter, and waited to resume talking after she was gone.
"Aside from the Asari, Equestria is the only planet to where cross-species relationships are normal." Equestrian relationships were possibly the largest sticking point that Firefly had seen in acclimating Riley to her new world.
"There is one thing we need to get out of the way," Prism said.
Firefly glanced at Prism worriedly, but didn't stop him. They did need to bring the matter up before Riley experienced it first hand with no prior knowledge.
"Herds are a common type of relationship on Equestria," Prism continued. "It comes from how we evolved."
"Herds?" Riley looked confused, not quite understanding the meaning of the word in the context that Prism was using it.
"A herd is a polygamous relationship." Firefly stepped in, taking over from her husband. "It stemmed from the large gender inequality that crosses all three of the pony races. It isn't as common nowadays, but they are common enough that we thought we should bring it up before you get surprised."
Riley wasn't quite sure what to make of that, her eyes widening, but she didn't have a strong opinion about it one way or another. She had bigger problems in her life.
"Have you learned about celestial mechanics and the workings of solar systems?" Prism noticed and thankfully hurried the conversation along. They would approach the matter again when it was a better time, when Riley was ready for it. At least she knew about it. There would be no great surprises for her.
"Yeah." Riley nodded, not quite sure what he was talking about.
"Forget all of that." Prism murmured. He thought about that for a second than shook his head. "No. Don't forget it. Just disregard it when you're on Equestria."
"Why?" Riley cocked her head in confusion.
"Princess Celestia and Princess Luna control the orbit of the sun and moon." Firefly had dabbled in astronomy once she learned the truth about the galaxy. "Equestria itself is the center of our star system, a bit of a misnomer, but it is widely understood by all when the topic is brought up."
"That's weird..." Riley blinked. She remembered that she'd heard that before and can't believe that she ever actually forgot about it. She had just dismissed it as unimportant at the time.
"Imagine how we all felt!" Prism laughed. "Learning that everything we knew about the universe to be an absolute anomaly."
The table turned nearly as one, noticing that an unfamiliar waiter was standing nervously nearby. She shuffled her feet and did her best to meet eyes with Firefly and Prism.
"I just wanted to apologize," the waiter said softly. "Not all of us are like Terra Firma. I'm really happy to see that everything went alright. Quite a few of us on this ship feel the same. You are a good family."
The waiter bowed her head thankfully before practically running away. The Rainbow family all glanced at each other before shrugging and continuing on with their meal.
After a long moment, Prism coughed quietly. He looked over at Firefly, who smiled encouragingly at him before steeling himself and looking at Riley.
"Riley," he said, his voice wavering for just a moment before it firmed up. "I have something to give to you."
Riley looked up at him in confusion. "What?"
Lifting his wing, Prism pulled the box out from where he had kept it for the entire night. "Here." He held it out to her on the tip of his wing. "Open it."
Riley took the box gently, looking at him and then Firefly. They both looked back at her with warm eyes. Looking down, she opened it and gasped at what she found inside. Looking back up, she shook her head.
"It's too much," she said, her voice wavering as all of her emotions threatened to crash down on her.
"No." Prism shook his head with a smile. "I think it fits. It shows that you're now a part of our family. Humans might not get cutie marks, but I'm sure that if you were a pony, you would certainly get that one."
Looking back down, Riley pulled the bracelet out of the box, holding it up to look at in the light. "It's beautiful."
It was. The bracelet had been an exceedingly lucky thing to find, especially in a human store. With a simple celtic weave in silver, with lightning bolts in yellow, red, and blue coming from a white cloud at equal distances inlaid into the metal, it was striking how similar the symbols were to Prism's and Rainbow's cutie marks. She tried her best to hold back the tears welling in her eyes.
"Thank you," she whispered, her voice cracking. "Thank you."
"You're a part of our family now, Riley. Never forget that." Firefly leaned into Riley's side, nuzzling against her arm. "We love you, Riley."
"I..." Riley put the bracelet on with infinite meaning. "I love you too."