Chapter One - Reassigned
Pony Joe's, Canterlot, Equestria
April 4, 2183 CE
It had been nearly thirteen years since Riley Shepard had come to Equestria, and so much had changed since then. The scared little girl that she had been all those years ago would never be able to recognize herself now.
She was proud of that. She had come such a long way.
Mindoir had changed everything. If the attack had never happened, Riley was sure that her life would look nothing like it did now. She might have been a ballerina, like she was training to do, or maybe something even more mundane than that.
Riley couldn't imagine it though. She was a marine through and through, and it had brought her a peace in her life that nothing else had. As a part of the Alliance military, she had a place she belonged. It felt good.
There was nothing quite like having a place to belong. Humans craved contact, communion with like minded people. Riley was so glad that she had managed to find two such places. The Alliance was good, but it was nothing compared to having a family.
Leaning back in the booth that she had staked as her own, Riley threw an arm around her youngest sister, pulling the little orange filly closer. She snuggled into Riley's side, enjoying the softness of the human's t-shirt, which proudly proclaimed an advertisement for the latest Daring Do novel: Daring Do and the Eternal Flower.
She could still feel the occasional judder in the filly's shoulders, remnants of whatever dream it was the night before that woke everypony in the city up screaming. Riley hadn't known what to make of that, and neither had anypony else.
"I'm just sayin," Rainbow Dash said, sitting on the other side of the booth. She spoke with her mouth full, half a donut on a napkin before her. "There's nothing better than going fast."
Raising an eyebrow, Riley smirked at her sister's brashness, but she didn't say anything. Instead, she looked to her youngest sister, Scootaloo.
"But what about tricks?" Scootaloo asked, cocking her head to the side. "That's what a Wonderbolt does, don't they?"
"Sure, tricks are fine," Rainbow said with a shrug, but her eyes went bright as her mind turned towards flight. She grinned at Scootaloo, a cocky look that made the little filly wiggle in excitement. "But there is nothing like breaking the sound barrier in a straight dive from atmo."
"Whoa…" Scootaloo's eyes went wide at the thought. Her wings flared in excitement at the thought, buzzing like a bee. She wondered what it felt like, the wind whipping at her face, breaking the bounds of gravity that held so many lesser ponies down. She stared at Rainbow with newfound awe. "So cool."
"What about you?" Riley ruffled Scootaloo's short purple mane, making the filly sputter in protest as she tried to smooth it back down with her hooves. "We've told you everything we've done, but we still don't know what you've been getting into."
"Well…" Scootaloo blushed, rubbing the back of her head with a hoof. "Um…"
"Nothing much?" Riley nodded, understanding. There wasn't exactly a lot to do in Canterlot if you weren't above a certain age.
"Nope." Scootaloo shook her head. She sighed, rolling a straw back and forth on the table under her hooves. "Just, ya know, school, and teasing, and a bunch of boredom."
"You don't hang out with any friends?" Rainbow Dash asked. She might not have been the most popular pony in school, but even she still hung out with a few cool unicorns before she had joined the Royal Guard.
"Don't have any." Scootaloo shrugged, as if that was all she had to say on the matter.
"What?" Riley smiled sympathetically at her sister. "Why not?"
"Nopony wants to hang with a blank flank like me," Scootaloo murmured.
Riley rubbed Scootaloo's back, scratching between her little wings.
"Well, they aren't worth your time if they can't see what an awesome filly you are!" Rainbow punctuated her statement by stomping on the remains of her donut with her hoof.
Riley slid the last, non-smashed donut in front of Scootaloo. "Have another donut. It might not be friendship, but they do come close."
Scootaloo smiled at that, snarfing it down nearly before they could even blink.
Riley pulled on her jacket, standing up from the booth. "Well, come on. We've still got things to do."
Scootaloo and Rainbow Dash followed their older sister's lead, clambering off of the booth. All three of them left the pastry shop together, a human woman and two Pegasus. giving a final wave to Pony Joe as they stepped outside.
They made for an interesting sight, but they paid no mind to any of the looks that they were receiving from the ponies walking past. They had long ago learned how to ignore them.
"Are you ready, Scoots?" Riley asked.
"Yep!" She chirped. Scootaloo's wings buzzed and she smiled up at her oldest sister.
Riley knelt down and Scootaloo jumped up on her shoulders, perching like a proud, neon orange eagle.
Standing up tall, the three of them started walking down the Canterlot street.
Canterlot had been a new experience for Riley when she had first come from Mindoir. For the first sixteen years of her life, she had lived in a world surrounded by swaying grass and a slow, leisurely place. After the attack though, and her subsequent adoption by Firefly and Rainbow Prism, her move to Canterlot had been a radical paradigm shift.
Where once she spent her afternoons laying in fields and dreaming at the clouds, now she was surrounded by the fast paced life of a capital city resident. Nobles, business owners, politicians, ambassadors from far off lands. All of them blended together in a chaotic blend of a fast-paced life-style that Riley had a hard time adjusting to.
That was years ago though, and Riley had grown, adapted to her circumstances. She couldn't imagine calling anywhere else her home. Joining the Alliance had given her a chance to see the galaxy, and she had yet to find anywhere else that was quite like Canterlot.
Home was were the heart was after all, and there was nowhere else in the galaxy that held all of her loved ones. She could still remember that day back in the hospital, sitting in the maternity ward waiting room with a nervous Rainbow Dash while they waited for Firefly to give birth to their newest sibling.
Holding Scootaloo for the first time had wiped away so many of the scars that had still filled her soul. In a very real sense, the filly represented a second chance to protect a baby sister, like she had never been able to with Jane.
She wouldn't let another sister die.
It wasn't the time for such dark thoughts, Riley shook her head, focusing her mind back on the present. It was a time for celebration after all. Her own birthday was coming shortly, and Scootaloo's wasn't long after that. She had enough leave saved up for both.
Today was a time for a present, something that Scootaloo could have to remember them by when they were gone for so long on duty.
Turning down a side street, Riley, Rainbow, and Scootaloo entered a tailor shop, filled with rolls of cloth and fabric. Stepping up to the main counter, Riley rang the bell on the counter.
"Hello?" She called out, searching for any sign of life.
"One moment please," a voice responded from the back room.
The three sisters waited, looking around the tailoring shop. Pony shaped mannequins were scattered around the room in all sizes, in male and female form. Some were covered in half-completed articles of clothing, and others were bare, slightly creepy with their featureless faces.
"So, have you figured out what you want?" Rainbow asked, sitting back on her haunches.
"Yep!" Scootaloo nodded, excited. Her eyes sparkled happily.
"Well, don't leave us in suspense." Riley laughed, bouncing Scootaloo on her shoulder.
"It's a surprise!" Scootaloo shook her head, giggling. "If I told you, that would just ruin it."
"Hello." A blue unicorn with a curly grey mane and a clothespin cutie mark stepped out of his backroom, walking forward to greet the guests with a confident smile on his face. "Welcome! I am Royal Pin. What may I help you with?"
"This little one needs a jacket." Riley gestured at Scootaloo with his thumb, the filly still perched up on her shoulders.
"Wonderful!" Royal Pin nodded. He walked over to one of the several measuring tables in his shop. "That is quite a simple matter. If the young miss would hop down here, we can get started."
Scootaloo hopped down from Riley's shoulder onto the table, flaring her wings a little for stability.
"All Right then." Royal Pin looked at Scootaloo expectantly. "How do you wish this jacket to look?"
"It's a secret." She waved Royal Pin closer with a hoof. She leaned over and whispered into his ear, her words punctuated by quiet giggles.
"Ah yes, I see." Royal Pin smiled at Scootaloo. "I can certainly do that."
"Great!" Scootaloo chirped, her smile stretching wide on her muzzle.
"Let me get your measurements and I can get started." Royal Pin lifted a tape measure from a cupboard in his measuring table. "I should have it finished by the end of the week."
Royal Pin quickly measured Scootaloo for the jacket, his tape measure wrapping around her barrel. She giggled as it scratched her fur, trying to stay still, but she failed badly.
"What?" Rainbow Dash frowned. "Not even a hint, Scoots?"
"Nope." Scootaloo shook her head, grinning smugly at her sister.
"Well…" Rainbow scuffed her hoof on the floor, annoyed. "That's just mean."
"You're one to talk, Dash." Riley laughed, crossing her arms over her chest.
"Not cool." Rainbow rolled her eyes. "I'm paying for half the jacket. I should get to know what it is."
"You'll get over it," Riley said.
"Doesn't mean I have to like it," Rainbow grumbled, pouting. It was a completely unprofessional look on a Wonderbolt, and it didn't suit the mare at all.
"Hey, it's her gift." Riley defended Scootaloo, giving a soft glare at Rainbow. "If she wants to surprise us with it, than that's fine."
Rainbow rolled her eyes, but she didn't put up anymore protest, flimsy though it may have been.
"I am done here," Royal Pin spoke up. He helped Scootaloo down off of the table to the floor. "Come back on Saturday for the jacket."
Riley followed Royal Pin up to the register and paid for the jacket. It was a quick transaction, simply flashing her omni-tool over his register.
"We'll be back on Saturday." Riley nodded her thanks to Royal Pin. Turning to her younger sisters, Riley started walking to the front door. "Let's go. I'm sure Mom and Dad are wondering what's taking us so long."
Riley, Rainbow Dash, and Scootaloo walked out of the Royal Pin's shop, heading back home. Scootaloo quickly reclaimed her spot on Riley's shoulders, fluffing her wings at the chill breeze that was always present in Canterlot, one of the downsides of the city being built on the side of the tallest mountain on the planet.
It felt good, a change of pace that Riley absolutely relished. Structure was wonderful, but it only made the times that she was free, better. It was relaxing, just being three sisters, ignoring everything that had set her, them, so far apart from everyone else. It was nice, not having to constantly be on guard.
She knew that Rainbow Dash was just as pumped as she always was. From the constant brushes of her wing and quick, nervous nuzzles, Riley figured that Scootaloo was just happy to be able to spend some time with her two big sisters.
The three girls worked their way through the winding streets of Canterlot, making their way back to the Noble District. The houses on their street looked the same as ever, still meticulously maintained.
Scootaloo jumped down off of Riley's shoulder as they walked up to their house.
It was two stories tall, with the door set directly in the middle of the house. Eight large windows sat in the walls of both floors, looking out over the street beyond. Tall, spiraling pillars supported a large balcony that also served as the roof of a wrap-around patio. Built from white stone, it very much looked like it would be naturally cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It had been a gift from Princess Celestia, and it held so many memories.
Scootaloo rushed up the front walk to the front door, pushing it open. Riley and Rainbow Dash followed behind her at a much more sedate pace. They headed inside together.
"Mom! Dad!" Scootaloo shouted, paying no mind to the fact that she was loud enough to be heard from the next house over. "We're home!"
"We're in the living room," Firefly's soft voice came from one of the side rooms.
The three sisters entered the living room and were met with a curious sight. A human marine and a Wonderbolt, each in their respective dress uniforms were sitting on the couch opposite Firefly and Rainbow Prism.
"These fine gentlemen are here for the two of you." Firefly looked up at her two oldest daughters sadly, a wavering smile on her muzzle.
Both the Marine and the Wonderbolt stood as Riley and Rainbow entered the room, saluting.
"Ma'am," the marine, a lieutenant, stepped forward. He held out a sealed letter for Riley to take. "I have orders from command."
Riley reached out and took the letter, frowning.
The Wonderbolt stepped forward handing his own letter to Rainbow Dash. He spoke as soon as his mouth was free. "Lieutenant, your orders."
"I thought we were on leave." Rainbow Dash took the letter, confused.
"There was a change of plans." The marine straightened his uniform. "This is from the top. You are needed elsewhere immediately."
Rainbow Dash dropped back onto her haunches and opened the letter. She skimmed over the letter, taking it in as quickly as she could.
Riley and Rainbow finished reading at the same time. They looked up at the rest of their family, finding sad but accepting faces. They had a job to do after all.
"Thank you, Lieutenant." Riley saluted the marine, and he saluted back. "Dismissed."
"Thank you, ma'am." Turning on his heel, the marine left, followed by the Wonderbolt.
They all stood there for what felt like an eternity. None of them wanted to make the first move.
Scootaloo was the first to move, hopping up onto the couch next to her mother while Riley and Rainbow took a seat the other couch. They all sat in quiet sadness for a moment before Riley gathered her courage to start talking.
"I have orders to make all haste to Arcturus Station," Riley said, holding up the letter. "I am to take over as the Executive Officer of an experimental starship."
"Me too." Rainbow nodded, glaring at her own letter.
Riley looked at her surprised.
"The Arcturus thing, not the XO." Seeing her sister's confusion, Rainbow explained further. "I'm not cut out for that type of responsibility."
"I thought that you had another week." Firefly looked utterly despondent, tears welling in her eyes.
"Something's come up." Riley shrugged, holding up her orders. They were frustratingly vague.
"When do you have to leave?" Prism asked, putting his good wing around Scootaloo.
"I'm supposed to catch an Alliance flight back to the Arcturus Relay tonight." Riley smiled sadly.
"Same." Rainbow Dash fought the urge to crumple up her orders.
"Can you at least stay for dinner?" Firefly asked, smiling sadly, her voice hopeful.
"Yeah." Riley nodded. "We've got the time for that."
"Well... that's good. One last meal. I guess we don't know when we'll get another." Firefly got up and walked out of the room. Scootaloo rubbed a hoof over her eyes, trying to wipe away her tears as discreetly as possible. Her plans for the week had been put on hold, and she feared how long it would be until she saw them again.
"Hey…" Riley stood up and moved to sit by Scootaloo, putting an arm around her. "I'm sorry, Scoots."
"It's not your fault," Scootaloo murmured, shrugging. She didn't meet Riley's or Rainbow's eyes, chewing on her bottom lip.
"Yeah." Riley scratched between Scootaloo's wings, her favorite place. "Doesn't mean it doesn't suck."
"Well!" Rainbow got up, throwing a false smile on her face. "Let's not waste our last few hours just sitting around being mopey. Let's go make some memories."
"Yeah." Scootaloo sniffled, leaning into Riley's side. "That sounds good."
"Come on." Rainbow Dash stood, stretching her wings.
The three of them got up and left the living room.
The rest of the day had passed in what felt like the blink of an eye. Riley and Rainbow had spent the entire time with Scootaloo, making ice-cream and whatever other funny activities passed through the filly's mind. Firefly and Prism were never far away, lingering nearby, not wanting to waste a single minute with their eldest daughters. It was a day that none of them would forget.
As soon as the sun had set, Firefly and Prism had gathered their children together and shuffled them into a waiting taxi. In less than twenty minutes, the taxi had dropped the entire family off outside of the nicest restaurant in Canterlot, The Sun and the Moon.
Heading inside, they were quickly ushered to a table in the back, removed from the other diners. They quickly ordered, and had simply sat in silence for thirty minutes, waiting for their food to come.
Riley and Rainbow's imminent departure hung over all of their heads, and none of them wanted to speak. That would make it real.
The waiter brought them their meals, setting the plates before them before leaving. They all smelled wonderful, but it simply wasn't enough.
They all started eating quietly.
Firefly huffed, getting up from the table. "This is ridiculous!"
Trotting around the table to hug Rainbow and Riley, Firefly nuzzled both of her older daughters lovingly. "This isn't a goodbye. It's just a farewell for now."
She smiled at her husband and youngest daughter, a sad but proud mother.
"We're going to be fine, mom," Riley said, placing a hand on Firefly's shoulder.
"I know, Riley." Firefly nodded, going back to sit at her spot on the table. "Still, every time…"
"We'll try not to get stuck in any battles that'll get our names on every news network across the galaxy." Rainbow grinned sheepishly. "Again, I mean."
"I think we'd all appreciate that," Prism dryly murmured.
The entire table laughed, but it had the tinge of an uncomfortable truth that none of them were proud of.
"We'll be safe," Riley repeated, as much to reassure her family as to reassure herself.
"You better be." Firefly glared at Riley and Rainbow, though it was a humorous look that made both of the girls giggle. "You better be or I'll come to wherever the hell you are and beat some sense into your commanding officers."
"I'm not sure that David would appreciate that." Riley laughed, taking a sip of her wine.
That caught both Firefly and Prism's attention.
"David? David Anderson?" Prism smiled. There was no one else in the galaxy that he would trust more to protect his daughters. "He's your CO?"
"Yeah. Apparently I'm serving under him." She gestured at Rainbow. "We both are."
"Cool." Rainbow looked at Riley, her eyes wide. She hadn't know that. "I like David."
"That's cause he snuck you candy." Rolling her eyes, Riley nudged Rainbow.
"Seems like as good a reason to like somepony as any." Rainbow shrugged.
David Anderson was one of the most impressive humans alive in the galaxy. The decorations that he had earned in his time with the N7s were long and extensive, and he had only continued to make an impressive carrier captaining ships with the Navy. None of that included the fact that he had been Riley's original guardian. It was thanks to him that she had ever been placed with Firefly and Rainbow.
"You would think that," Riley muttered, entirely unimpressed with her sister.
Rainbow shrugged, eating her meal.
"So... Arcturus." Prism switched the topic. "What's it like?"
"It's big." Riley didn't know how else to describe it. Arcturus was the seat of the System Alliance's power, a gleaming beacon of humanities own creativity and industriousness. "Not as big as the Citadel, but still... It's an impressive sight. It's alive, and just stepping onboard you can tell that it's a center of life and politics. I haven't seen anything else quite like it."
"We'll have to visit sometime." Firefly couldn't help but begin to imagine meeting her daughters on Arcturus when their ship returned to dock. "Do you know where you'll be headed?"
"No." Riley shook her head. "Even if I did though, it'd still be classified. I couldn't tell you."
"I hate classified," Firefly muttered, taking a bite of her meal and chewing angrily
"It's certainly not awesome," Rainbow Dash agreed, nodding.
"No." Prism took a deep breath, nuzzling his wife's cheek. "It isn't."
They all fell silent, finishing their meals.
The mountain air had only gotten colder by the time that they returned home. Riley had donned her hoody, the red stripe on her right arm a comforting familiarity that she had worked so hard to earn. She rested her rucksack comfortably over her shoulder, holding Rainbow's own much lighter saddle-bags in her other hand. There were perks to being a part of species that barely wore clothing, and light packing was one of them.
They all stood just outside the front door the house, Firefly, Prism, and Scootaloo trying to avoid looking at the waiting taxi on the street.
"Stay safe," Firefly said, trotting forward to hug her oldest daughters. She wrapped Rainbow in a hug first before turning to Riley. The human woman knelt down to her level, and Firefly nuzzled against her cheek.
"We'll be fine, mom." Rainbow nodded, confident in herself and in Riley.
"Try to call home." Prism followed his wife's lead, and he hugged them both in the opposite order. "Let us know how you're doing."
"We will we can, dad." Riley hefted her rucksack higher on her shoulder, getting it into a more comfortable position. "I don't know how often we'll be in range of comm-buoys, but we'll try."
Scootaloo stepped up to them. She didn't really know what to say, but sadness was written across her face as plain as day.
"I'm sorry we couldn't have all the time that we promised, Scoots." Riley got down on her knees to hug Scootaloo, lifting the filly up.
"It's alright," Scootaloo murmured, shrugging helplessly.
"We'll make it up to you." Rainbow Dash said, sure of herself. "Just wait and see."
"I'll miss you." Scootaloo hugged Rainbow Dash, tears welling in her eyes.
"We'll miss you too." Riley stood. "Don't forget. Your jacket will be ready on Saturday. You should go with mom and dad to pick it up."
"I will." Scootaloo sat between her parents, watching her older sisters.
Riley and Rainbow lingered for a moment. Riley gave a final wave before stepping into the waiting taxi. As soon as they clambered inside, the taxi left, taking them away to their next mission.