Chapter Seven - First Meetings
Med Bay, SSV Olympus, Mindoir Orbit
Time had become meaningless to Riley in the med-bay on the Olympus. The entire ship had been engineered to be comfortable to humans, and that included the artificial lighting that measured her days. The nurses had told her that a week had passed, but it had all been a blur to her, marked only by periods of sleep.
Sitting up in her bed, Riley idly the TV hanging in the corner of the room. Its volume nearly too low for her to hear, it was playing some news program that she was only vaguely paying attention to. The program had been focussed on Mindoir, and it showed no sign of switching topics anytime soon. She watched the report with dead eyes, completely focussed on the screen.
"Our sources in the Systems Alliance are telling us that the casualties are still being counted." The news casters looked grim, in a very false way. They were there for the ratings. "The latest numbers have the missing at 10,000, and the dead at 500."
Riley turned away from the TV, her fists clenching, grabbing at the sheets until her knuckles were white, the only sign of the rage that was filling her chest. Her face was blank, but her eyes were steely and cold. Mindoir was her home. She had been there for nearly every part of the colonies development, seeing it go from a backwater collection of buildings to the beginnings of a truly thriving colony.
The door to the med-bay opened with a hiss and a tall black man entered, his shoes clicking sharply against the floor. He was dressed in Alliance blue, bald, his cap held under his arm. He was the very picture of the Alliance military. He looked around the room until his gaze landed on Riley laying on her bed.
The man paused, unsure. His dark eyes narrowed as he pursed his lips.
Taking a deep breath, he strode over to her, pulling up a chair. He took a seat down beside her bed.
"Hello, Riley," he spoke, his voice deep, betraying none of the nervousness that roiled inside of him.
Riley turned to look at him, her eyes quickly studying his face. She had no recognition of him, having never seen him before in his life. She didn't make any move to greet him, watching him silently.
"I wasn't expecting you to remember me." The man smiled, an uncomfortable look on him. He ducked his head in understanding. "I knew your parents when they were still in Alliance."
"I came as soon as I heard." His expression turned sad, mournful.
Riley stared at him, looking him over, sizing him up. Through his uniform, she could see that he was a nearly solid block of muscle. His eyes had the look of someone who had seen far too much in life.
"Who are you?" Riley asked after a second.
"Lieutenant Commander David Anderson, at your service." Anderson gave a small salute to her. "I served a tour with your parents on the SSV Hastings."
Riley made the connection nearly instantly, a little bit of understanding filling her at his explanation. She remembered the stories that her parents had told her about their time in the Alliance, especially during the First Contact war. They had been her favorite bed time stories when she was younger.
"Is there anyone who will take care of you?" Anderson looked around the room, finding no one who looks like they are there for her. "Are you grandparents here? Any friends, relatives?"
Riley was still for a long moment. She had never met her grandparents, and her parents had never spoken about them. She had always assumed that they were dead. Who knew where any of her families friends were.
"No." Riley shook her head.
Anderson frowned at that, but he said nothing more on the matter. Instead he asked, "How do you feel?"
"I'm fine," she said instantly, a response that had become automatic since the attack.
Anderson watched her carefully, not really believing her.
"I'm fine," Riley repeated, more insistent that time.
Anderson was silent for a moment before nodding his head. "Alright."
They sat there awkwardly for several seconds.
"Is there anything I can get you?" Anderson asked, his nervousness growing.
Riley shook her head, but she didn't say anything.
"Well..." Anderson was still for a moment, then nodded in acceptance. Riley made no sign that she had heard him. "If you need anything, if you need anything, just ask anyone for me."
Anderson stood up, leaving the room.
Stepping out into the hall, Anderson glanced back over his shoulder and took a deep breath, his shoulders sagging slightly. That had not gone at all like he had been hoping. No matter how many pep-talks he had given himself on the shuttle ride to Mindoir, he was just not comfortable around children. Hannah would smack him if she had seen how awkward he was around her daughter.
"Excuse us," a quiet voice said from behind him, breaking his concentration.
Anderson looked behind him and found two pegasi waiting to go into the med-bay, tired but hopeful looks on their faces.
"I'm sorry," He said, stepping out of the way, letting the two ponies through. He watched through the window as they walk straight to Riley's bed, cocking his head slightly in confusion.
Seeing a doctor walking by, Anderson stopped him with hand on his chest, pointing at the scene. "Who are those two ponies?"
The Doctor looked through the window at what Anderson was pointing at. "I don't know who the other one is, but the stallion is Rainbow Prism. He's a Wonderbolt and he saved that girls life."
Anderson let the Doctor go, watching the two ponies, intrigued.
Riley just stared up at the ceiling, focused and angry. Anderson's visit was already gone from her mind, the seeds of hatred flowing through her mind.
"Hey there, Riley."
Riley looked over and found Prism and pink female pegasus standing next to her bed.
"Hi, Prism," she said quietly.
"There's someone I'd like you to meet, Riley." Prism gestured at Firefly. "This is my wife, Firefly."
"Hi, Riley." Firefly waved a hoof at Riley, a small, welcoming smile on her face. Her eyes were warm and sympathetic, looking Riley over with a very motherly expression.
"Hi," Riley greeted back.
"Is it alright if we sit with you for awhile," Prism asked.
Riley shrugged, not really caring one way or another.
Prism and Firefly dragged chairs over to the bed, sitting up in them. They settled for a moment, a comfortable silence falling between the couple.
"How are you feeling?" Prism asked, folding his one good wing around Firefly's back.
"I'm fine," Riley said, repeating what she had said to Anderson just minutes before.
Prism and Firefly shared a look and worried frowns. After raising Rainbow and looking after their neighbors fillies and colts so often, the way of a child's mind was not unknown to them. Riley wasn't anything strange.
"You've been through a horrible time, Riley," Firefly said softly. She leaned into Prism's embrace. "You don't have to hide your feelings from us. We just want to help you."
Riley looked suspiciously at Prism and Firefly. She turned her gaze on Prism, her eyes narrowed. "Why the hell do you keep coming back and talking to me? I don't even know you."
"Maybe not." Prism shrugged, watching the girl carefully. "But I didn't want to let you be alone. You need people around you who can help you get through this."
Riley watched him for a moment longer, before repeating, "I'm fine."
"You don't have to pretend." Firefly puts a hoof on the bed gently, leaning forward. "You don't have to be strong all the time, Riley. We are here for you."
"Why?" Riley's voice was questioning, her eyes narrowed. Her voice cracked as she watched the two, her composure beginning to slip. "I just want to be alone! Go away!"
"We're not going to go away." Prism shook his head, his voice calm. "You need someone to help you, and from what I can see, we're the only ones willing."
"Fuck you!" Riley shouted, slamming her fist down against the bed.
"It's alright, Riley." Prism didn't react to Riley's outburst. "You're safe. You survived."
"No!" Riley shook her head, clenching her fists until her knuckles turned white and her nails dug into her palms. "No! I should have fucking done something! I could have- I could have-"
"You could have done what?" Firefly asked gently, putting a hoof on Riley's hand, rubbing it.
"I could have gotten a gun!" Riley ignored Firefly's touch, her voice wild with desperation and regret. "I could have killed them! I could have... I could have..."
She slumped back against her bed, her eyes filling with tears.
Firefly hesitated for a moment before gathering her courage together. With a gentle flap of her wings, she got up on the bed, wrapping her forelegs around Riley, pulling her into a tight hug. "It's not your fault, Riley."
Riley did an odd hiccup-sob noise, completely undignified but chock full of emotion. She fought against the tears that were welling in her eyes, sniffling.
"It's not your fault." Firefly repeated.
Firefly looked back and gave Prism a meaningful look, gesturing at him with her head. He climbed up onto the bed, moving to Riley's opposite side, wrapping her and Firefly into a big group hug.
"It's not your fault," Prism whispered tenderly.
Riley choked out a sob, a deep sound deep in her chest, her body betraying her as her grief and sadness came smashing through her barriers. "It is my fault! I watched them die!"
"It's not your fault." Prism shook his head, his voice tender but firm.
"Yes, it is!" Riley sobbed, slumping in their embrace.
Prism pulled her tighter and Firefly wrapped her wings around Riley, rocking her gently back and forth.
"It's not your fault." She leaned forward to whisper into Riley's ear. "Your family loved you, and its not your fault."
"It's my fault!" Riley sobbed. She just couldn't accept it. She was filled with guilt and no words were going to push that away. "It's my fault. It's all my fault."
Sagging back against her bed, Riley cried herself to sleep.
Firefly and Prism left the hospital, their emotions a wreck and their minds scattered. Firefly had one of her wings thrown over Prism's shoulder, a warm comfort to the two of them. They both felt a bit forlorn, but still hopeful.
"Excuse me," a deep voice spoke behind them.
They both looked up to find Anderson sitting in a chair opposite the med-bay's door. He stood and took a step forward. "My name is David Anderson, and I was wondering if you would be willing to talk with me for a minute?"
"We're very tired, sir." Prism was barely able to keep his eyes open, his mind still racing from what had happened just moments before. His emotions were running wild. "I'm sorry but-"
"It's about Riley Shepard." Anderson holds up a hand to stop them.
"What about her?" Prism looked at him suspiciously.
"I'm her godfather," Anderson said.
Anderson, Prism, and Firefly sat at a table in the far corner of the Olympus' mess hall. Prism and Firefly both had two trays before them with a thoroughly vegetarian affair. Anderson wasn't eating.
"What is your interest in Riley?" He leaned forward, clasping his hands together as he bit his lip.
Prism and Firefly looked at each other, quickly confirming that they were on the same page.
"She needs someone to look after her," Firefly said, looking up at Anderson suspiciously. "She doesn't have anyone."
"My line of work doesn't allow me to spend a lot of time at home." Anderson sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose.
"And what exactly is it that you do?" Prism asked.
"I am an N7." Anderson leaned back.
Prism's eyes widened in recognition. As a Wonderbolt, he could be considered one of the foremost members of the Equestrian military, but the N program was on an entirely different level. As an N7, Anderson was the elite of the elite of the Alliance's special forces. He looked at the man in a new light.
"And you're Riley's godfather?" Prism asked.
"I was good friend with Hannah and Robert." Anderson nodded. "They were so proud when they adopted Riley, and they named me her godfather."
With a sigh, Anderson leaned forward, tired. "I'm listed as Riley's guardian in their will, but I don't believe that I need to tell you how difficult of a position I am in. I am a bachelor, and I don't any place to call my own. I don't lead a life that is conducive for a teenage girl."
Prism and Firefly looked at each other in understanding.
"What..." Firefly paused, biting her lip for a moment. "What are you wanting to talk about?"
"What is your intention with Riley?" Anderson asked again, watching the two of them carefully.
"We want to..." Prism paused, glancing at Firefly, who nodded in agreement. "We would like to adopt her."
They all fell silent, putting it out there. Anderson looked them over, judging them.
"Let's talk," Anderson said.