Chapter Four - The Normandy
Arcturus Station, Arcturus Stream
April 6, 2186
The flight to Arcturus had taken two days, though that was only because the ship they had boarded from Equestria had to transfer them to a passing carrier group before counting on with its original mission. The SSV Benjamin Davis had carried them the rest of the way to the Arcturus Stream.
Riley and Rainbow sat in a shuttle that had left from the SSV Benjamin Davis. Riley was wearing her service uniform, and Rainbow was wearing her Wonderbolt's service jacket. Equestrians had realized rather late in the game that they were the only planet where nudity was almost completely standard. Until the sphere had been broken open, clothing had been the exception, not the rule. Once they had learned how uneasy the other species were with that, those who went off world wore simple, modest outfits. The uniforms of all four branches of the Equestrian military had followed that same design.
"That's it?" Rainbow Dash asked. Through the window of the shuttle, they could both see Arcturus Station.
Riley glanced out the window, looking at the station. Arcturus had begun construction in 2151, before humanity had made contact with Equestria. With a diameter of five-kilometers, Arcturus Station followed the typical Stanford-Torus design that had been proposed one-hundred seventy six years ago in 1975. It served as the seat of the System Alliance's power, both militarily and politically.
"Yeah." Riley nodded.
"I don't like space-stations." Rainbow's wings flared. She didn't like the look of the station and it made her itch.
Riley didn't say anything.
"There's never enough room to fly." Rainbow grumbled, scuffing her hoof against the leather of the seat. Thinking about it, Rainbow shrugged. "Well, the Citadel's fine, but that's like... the exception to the rule."
"Mmm-hmm." Riley acknowledged, though she was only half paying attention to Rainbow.
"What's the name of the ship?" Rainbow glared at the station. Her own orders had mentioned nothing about that, she realized.
"I don't know." Riley shrugged.
"That's a little tacky, isn't it?"
"I don't know. I guess."
"They should have at least given us the name."
"It seems like it's the least they could have done." Rainbow shifted in her seat, uncomfortable in a shuttle made for humans. She didn't really fit, and she could only hope that whatever ship she was assigned to had a seat or two built for an Equestrian's rear.
"It was Scoots birthday." Rainbow bit her lip, annoyed. The military waited for no man, or pony for that matter. Or any race actually. "Yours too. Birthdays. Plural. We were supposed to have two parties."
"I'm not really one for birthdays," Riley said.
"I know!" Rainbow exclaimed, pointing her hoof at Riley accusatorially. She turned her full attention on her older sister. "Why is that? Everybody likes birthdays. Even Princess Celestia likes birthdays! With cake and everything."
"I don't. Never really did." Riley didn't really have an answer beyond that.
"Don't know." She didn't want to think about it. Birthdays were never something that she enjoyed. They made her feel strange inside, and she always tried to get through those days as quickly as possible.
Rainbow watched as the shuttle went in to land on the station inside of an awaiting hanger bay.
Shivering, Rainbow stretched as her coat followed the static of the barrier holding the atmosphere inside of the station. With a slight judder, the shuttle landed. The door slid open a moment later and both Riley and Rainbow stepped out, both carrying their bags.
The arrival dock of the station was massive and full of people. No one lingered about. No one took their time to do anything. Everyone was in a hurry and the fast they got where they were going, the better. They were predominantly all human, but there were enough aliens to be noticeable.
"It's big." Rainbow took in the station with wide, curious eyes.
Riley and Rainbow turned. When they saw who was behind them, Riley dropped her bag and they both saluted. "Sir!"
Admiral of the Navies Steven Hackett stood behind them. A legend in the Systems Alliance, he had been around since the beginning. Without him, humanity would have looked incredibly different. In a very real way, he was the power behind the Alliance. Hackett returned their salute.
"At ease," Hackett said, his voice gruff.
Riley and Rainbow fell at ease.
"Walk with me," Hackett said.
Picking up her bag, Riley and Rainbow followed Hackett as he turned and walked towards the exit to the docks.
Hackett led Riley, and Rainbow Dash out of the dock and into the heart of the station. Before they knew it, they were walking down a long hallway that ran the outside circumference of the entire station.
"I'm here to brief you on your assignment, Commander," Hackett said over his shoulder. "You as well, Flying Officer."
Rainbow perked up a little bit, hearing her rank.
"In here, please." Hackett stopped in front of a door guarded by a pair of marines.
Riley and Rainbow Dash entered the room, followed by Hackett.
The room was small, but it was secure and very well appointed. If Riley had to guess, she would say that it was used by some of the highest level officials in government when they wanted to speak privately.
"Please, take a seat," Hackett said, setting his cap on the table.
Riley and Rainbow Dash took a seat at the table. Hackett stayed standing, clasping his hands behind his back.
"What I am about to tell you is classified Alliance Restricted," Hackett said.
Riley and Rainbow Dash glanced at each other. Alliance Restricted was the highest level of classification within the Systems Alliance. Neither of them were rated for such a classification, though Riley was close.
"Understood, sir," Riley said, turning back to face the Admiral.
"Good." Hackett offered the two of them an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry that we had to cut your briefing short, but this takes precedence. Commander Shepard, you have been assigned to the SSV Normandy as the Executive Officer, under the command of Captain David Anderson. I believe the two of you are familiar."
"Yes, sir." Riley nods. It wasn't the full truth. To say that they were familiar was an understatement. If circumstances had been different, it was possible that David could have ended up raising her.
"Good." Hackett nodded, satisfied. "You are also in command of the Normandy's strike team."
"Yes, sir," Riley said. As an N7 Operator, it was only natural that she would be in charge of any strike team onboard a ship. There were very few who could match that level of proficiency, and she could name all of them on one hand, at least within the Alliance.
"I want you to understand, Shepard. The Normandy is a massive investment by the Alliance."
"Why is that, sir?" Riley asked.
"She's a stealth frigate, first of her class." Crossing his arms, Hackett waited eagerly for their reaction.
"Stealth?" Riley's eyebrows raised. Stealth in space was extremely difficult, nearly impossible actually. "I thought we had given up on that decades ago."
"It was." Hackett smirked, leaning forward. "We discovered a way around the problems. Needless to say, that means the Normandy is potentially the deadliest ship in the galaxy. She's fast too. In the hands of the right pilot, she could change the entire course of a battle."
"We've picked the right pilot." Picking his hat up off the table, Hackett placed it under his arm. "This ship is crewed by the best of the best."
"Why are you making me the XO then, sir?" Riley sat forward, puzzled. "There have to be more qualified officers than me."
"Maybe." Hackett shrugged. "I'm not interested in them. I want you."
"Want me for what?" Riley asked.
"Even here…" Hackett takes a look around the room. It said a lot that the most powerful man in the military was untrusting of his own station. "We're not completely secure. David will brief you on the Normandy."
"This couldn't have waited another week?" Riley glanced over at Rainbow, who looked just as confused as she felt.
"I'm afraid not." Hackett shakes his head, apologetic. "Something has come up that requires immediate action. I apologize. We'll try to make it up to you, but for now, you're needed elsewhere."
"What about me, sir?" Rainbow asked, wondering about her place. "It doesn't sound like I fit in on this ship."
"Empress Celestia recommended you for this posting herself." Hackett turned his attention to Rainbow for the first time.
"The Princess…" Rainbow sat back, more than a little stunned.
"I agree with her," Hackett said, watching the young Pegasus evenly. "It may be a bit unorthodox, but I don't believe that the Angels of Elysium should be separated."
Riley and Rainbow looked at each other, before accepting that.
"Dismissed." Hackett saluted both of them. "Report to the SSV Normandy at Dock A14."
Riley and Rainbow stood, saluting Hackett. They turned and left the room silently, struggling to take everything in.
Stepping back out into the hallway, Riley and Rainbow stood there for a moment, forcing those walking down the hall to move around them.
"Dock A14," Riley murmured. Opening her omni-tool, Riley connected with the station's database. In seconds, she had loaded a map. "It's this way."
Riley took off walking, Rainbow trailing behind her. They had to step onboard the station's transit system to get to the other side of the ring, and from there it was only a short walk to Dock A14. Civilian traffic had nearly completely disappeared, and they were heavily within the military portion of the station. Almost everyone they passed was wearing a uniform of some kind.
"Here." Riley stopped in front of an unmarked door. Hidden sensors scanning her, the door slid open letting them in.
Just on the other side, Riley and Rainbow were stopped at a checkpoint by several marines, fully armed and armored.
The marines scanned first Riley, then Rainbow. Their omni-tool's quickly flashed green, letting them through.
Stepping through, Riley and Rainbow exited through the other side of the military checkpoint, emerging out into the pressurized dock. They both stopped when they saw the ship sitting inside.
The SSV Normandy. It hung suspended by the docking collar inside the pressurized hanger. She was a sleek ship, some two-hundred meters long, with engines like wings that swept back past its main structure. A large fin sat at the rear of the ship. The entire hull was painted in shades of blue and white, with a thin red stripe running down its entire length. Its name was printed on the front in large white letters: Normandy.
"She's beautiful." Riley was instantly attracted to the ship, feeling a bond with it that she could't quite explain
"Yeah." Rainbow nodded, agreeing with her.
They walked up to the railing and Riley leaned on it, studying the ship. Rainbow had to get up on her hind-legs, resting her fore-legs on the railing.
"Do you feel that?" Riley asked, studying the ship.
"Feel what?" Rainbow glanced at Riley.
"I don't know…" Riley shrugged. "It's kind of like…"
"It's kind of like we're about to become a part of something…" She chewed her lip, trying to figure out what she was feeling. "Larger than ourselves…"
Rainbow raised an eyebrow. "Not really, no."
"So, just me, then."
They stared at the ship for another moment. "Let's get onboard."
"I'm right behind you," Rainbow chirped, dropping back down onto all four of her hooves.
The two of them passed over the docking ramp, and the airlock to the Normandy slid open, letting them in.
Riley and Rainbow Dash stepped inside. The main hull slid shut behind them and a blue decontamination light flared to life.
"Decontamination in progress."
"That's going to take some getting used to," Rainbow grumbled. She hated waiting.