Chapter Seven - New Command
SSV Normandy SR1, Arcturus Station
April 6, 2183
Riley and Rainbow waited inside the Normandy’s airlock, eying the decontamination ray as it passed back and forth over their bodies.
“Decontamination complete,” The Normandy’s virtual intelligence chirped. “The Executive Officer is aboard.”
The door opposite the wall slid open, and Riley caught her first glimpse of the inside of the stealth frigate. She stepped inside, her stride confident. Rainbow followed behind her, a bit more unconfident than her older sister.
Just inside and to the left, Riley found the pilot of the ship sitting in his chair, looking up at her. Beside him, in the copilots seat, was a golden yellow pegasus. Her mouth dropped open in surprise at the sight of them, and it was obvious she didn’t know that she was speaking. “The Angels of Elysium…”
It was an unfortunate monicker that had found its way to the pair of sisters after the Skyllian Blitz, when pirates had raided the colony of Elysium. Riley had only been twenty-two at the time, and she was on her first leave since she had joined the Alliance. Elysium had been the perfect destination, and the entire family had planned to celebrate there. It was the unexpected birth of Scootaloo that had called her parents away, but Rainbow Dash had still made the trip. Anything for her sister, after all. It was supposed to be a week of fun, celebrating, and relaxation. It had turned into the single most violent action that the Systems Alliance had been a part of since the Relay 314 incident.
Elysium’s defense force had been the first to fall. The raiders landed fast and quiet, killing everyone inside the compound before they even realized what was happening. The communications network posed no problem at all, and the police went not soon after that. Small weapons and unarmored officers were no match for pirates in full body armor with military grade assault rifles. It was at that moment that the true blitz began. The raiders landed their entire force, ready to make an example of the colony planet. In one minute, Riley and Rainbow had been lounging beside a tropical beach, the next, they were on the run for their lives.
Marines had a long and cultured history, stretching back all the way too ancient China, when war ships needed to defend themselves from attackers. When humanity had taken to the stars, they had consolidated their disparate militaries into a singular branch, the Alliance Navy. The Navy had of course brought its single most effective combat element with them, and thus the galaxy at large was introduced to the marines.
Riley had been trained as a marine, and as any such marine would, she took action. With Rainbow Dash by her side, she defended the colony of Elysium from the blitz. When the Alliance Navy arrived thirty-six hours later, they found the colonists preforming sweeping patrols through their streets, led by 2nd Lieutenant Riley Shepard with twelve year old Rainbow Dash acting as her messenger among the the patrols.
When the total amount of kills had been counted from colony’s network of security cameras, Riley had been tallied as taking down over fifty pirates on her own, leading the colonists to bring down even more. She had been awarded the Star of Terra for her efforts and an invitation was extended from the “the Villa” or as it was known to the rest of the military, “N-School.”
The news across the galaxy had talked and debated the event for months afterwards, and it was from those programs that the name “the Angels of Elysium” had come. Riley Shepard and Rainbow Dash had become heroes, and the name stuck.
Rainbow’s eyes widened as she took in the older pegasus, recognizing her from the hundreds of records that she held at the Wonderbolts Academy. Captain Spitfire, the most talented flight officer in nearly one-hundred years.
“Superior officer on deck!” The pilot shouted, struggling out of his chair with the use of a simple wooden cane.
Spitfire jumped up, her training showing in her swiftness and grace as she saluted Riley. As soon as he was up on his feet, the pilot joined her in her salute, standing as straight as he could on shaky legs. Riley returned the salute, wanting the man to sit back down before he hurt himself.
“Please, as you were.”
The pilot struggled back into his seat, and Riley had to resist the urge to help him. She got the feeling that he wouldn’t appreciate any such help, and she would rather not have the man in charge of keeping them all out of harm’s way angry at her. Instead, she pulled out her letter, showing him the official seal of the Fleet Admiral of the Navies. “Flight Lieutenant, please alert Captain Anderson to my arrival.”
The Alliance military was not an incredibly formal organization, at least not in its day to day operations. Friendships and romances were only inevitable when trapped aboard a starship for months at a time. Still, there were times when formality and tradition was needed, traditions that had been around for centuries were not so easily abandoned. This was one of those times.
“Yes, ma’am,” the pilot nodded, turning his chair back to his holo-displays. With a quick motion, he contacted the Captain’s omni-tool directly. “Captain, the new Executive Officer is here.”
“Thank you, Joker,” Captain Anderson’s gravelly voice responded over the comms. With that complete, Joker shut off the connection. He spun back around to watch, settling into his chair.
A moment passed, and on the other end of the CIC, the doors on the right side of the galaxy map opened. Captain David Anderson strode through, officers and deck crew jumping out of his way and saluting as he passed. Trailing behind him at a much more leisurely pace was a turian that Riley had never seen before in her life. He wore dark armor with red stripes, his clan paint white, with thick markings on his cheeks and mandibles, with one long streak from his eyes all the way to the back of his longest fringe.
Riley and Rainbow saluted, waiting patiently as he walked towards them down the length of the Normandy’s neck. As soon as he reached them, he saluted back.
“From Admiral of the Navies Steven Hackett,” Riley said, opening her letter to read. “To Lieutenant Commander Riley Shepard, Systems Alliance Navy. You are hereby ordered to proceed aboard the SSV Normandy SR1, there to take upon yourself the duties and responsibilities of Executive Officer.”
She held out the letter for the Captain. He reached out, taking the letter from her and holding it up to read in the dim light of the bridge, looking down at the paper over his nose. Satisfied, he carefully refolded the letter and handed it back to Riley before saluting her again.
“Welcome aboard, Commander,” he said.
“Thank you, sir.”
Taking out her own letter, Rainbow Dash held it out to Anderson. He took it and unfolded it, reading it over with the same gravitas that he had given the Commander. Tradition might not have demanded such treatment from him for any other officers than his XO, he held the young mare in the highest respect. As soon as he was finished, he saluted her, his face grim. “Welcome aboard, Flying Officer Rainbow Dash.”
“Thank you, sir,” Rainbow said, saluting back.
Behind the Captain, the turian studied Riley intently, his eyes sharp and unblinking. Riley didn’t move, didn’t make any sign that it bothered her, keeping the cloak of command wrapped around herself, but she had a feeling that the turian could see right through it. His mandibles flared, and he finally looked away. Riley breathed a soft sigh of relief, blinking.
“Joker, plot a course to Eden prime.” Anderson stepped past Riley and Rainbow into the actual bridge, standing between the two pilot’s chairs. “I want us to leave as soon as you are finished.”
“Yes, sir,” Joker nodded, looking over his shoulder at the Captain.
Turning back around, Anderson met first Riley’s eyes, then Rainbow’s. “Shepard, Rainbow, go stow your gear.”
“Yes, sir,” they said in unison. Saluting one final time, they walked down the neck of the ship to the door that Anderson had stepped through.
“Nihlus,” Anderson murmured, glancing at the turian. They shared a look.
“Captain,” Nihlus said, giving a short bow of his head before turning and lazily trailing after Riley and Rainbow.
Riley and Rainbow stepped down the stairs onto what quickly became apparent as the crew deck. A few crewmembers lingered at a pair of tables beyond the freight elevator, drinking coffee and chatting quietly. Before they could jump up and salute, Riley held a hand out to stop them.
They walked past them, coming to two rows of sleeper pods hanging underneath the bridge of the ship. Being only a frigate, there was not enough room to have actual bunks for the crew. Instead, they slept upright in what amounted to padded coffins, hot-bunking with the rest of the crew to cut down on the amount of needed pods.
Like all frigates, there was one sleeper pod that was held only for the Executive Officer.
“Lucky.” Rainbow glared half-heartedly at Riley, stowing her saddle-bags in the small locker underneath her pod, that was also marked with the name of her pod mate, Carlton Tucks.
“Oh, stop complaining,” Riley said, rolling her eyes.
“Yeah, well.” Rainbow grumbled under her breath, her wings flaring. “You don’t have to smell someone else’s sweat all night.”
Riley just laughed, stowing her own bag in the locker under her pod.
Riley and Rainbow turned to find a tall, black haired man standing behind them. He had an easy smile on his face, his hair cut short, and he filled out his uniform nicely. As he tilted his head ever so slightly, Riley caught a glimpse of what could only be a bio-amp. The insignia on his collar proclaimed him as a staff lieutenant.
“Lieutenant…” Riley trailed off, waiting for him to give his name.
“Kaidan Alenko,” he said, laughing as he realized his mistake. He held out his hand to her. “I’m the head of the marine detail, ma’am.”
Taking his hand, Riley gave him a firm shake. “It’s good to meet you, Alenko.”
Pointing at his own neck, Alenko blushed. “I uh, I saw you amp when you were passing by. I didn’t know the new XO was going to be a biotic.”
“Yeah.” Self-consciously, Riley reached up and rubbed a finger over the smooth metal of her bio-amp.
“L3, right?” Kaidan asked, hoping against hope that his new commander wasn’t an ass who would chew him out for asking a simple question. “I don’t remember you from Jump Zero, so that’d be my guess.”
“Yeah, that’s right. L3.” Riley nodded, taking a moment to judge the lieutenant. She couldn’t sense any falseness in his personality, and he seemed to just be a kind, soft-spoken man.
Turning, he pulled down the back of his collar, showing her his amp. “I’m an L2 myself.”
Riley winced, unable to help herself. Kaidan noticed. She knew about the L2 implants. She had taken the time to research everything she could about biotics after the… incident in Twilight’s tower. The Biotic Acclimation and Temperance Training Program had produced the most powerful human biotics to date, but the L2 implants that they used had a long history of giving their users medical complications like insanity, mental disabilities, and crippling pain. They had the downside of being unable to upgrade the implants because of how entwined they were with a users nervous system.
“I’m sorry,” Riley apologized.
“It’s alright, ma’am.” Kaidan waved her apology away. “I’m used to that look.”
“You shouldn’t have to be.” Riley knew that Anderson wouldn’t let anyone onboard his ship if they weren’t competent. That meant that Kaidan had dealt with his demons, or at least had found a way to hide them.
“The universe isn’t always fair,” Kaidan said with a shrug. He had come to peace with what had been done to him long ago.
“No. It’s not.” Riley frowned. Crossing her arms, Riley glanced past Kaidan to see the turian lingering by the small kitchen opposite the tables. Something about him made her uneasy, and she felt bare without her armor around him. It was only natural, considering who he was, or more accurately, what. Turning back to Kaidan, she narrowed her eyes. “Do you know any reason why their is a Council Spectre onboard?”
“No.” Kaidan took a side-long glance at the turian, nodding his understanding of her question. “Nihlus just showed up yesterday. He’s just been kind of… lurking everywhere.”
“Nihlus?” Riley asked.
“Nihlus Kryik.” Kaidan nodded. “That’s his name.”
“Strange.” Riley shifted on her feet.
While Riley was having her conversation with the hunky man, she had walked away, waggling her eyebrows at her older sister. Riley had merely rolled her eyes, turning her attention back to her conversation.
She had nothing else to do, so Rainbow did what she always did on a new command. Explore.
The crew deck was fairly boring, just like every other ship she had ever stepped foot on. On one side, behind the kitchen, she found a door marked ‘Captain’s Quarters.’ That wasn’t interesting. She trotted to the other side and found another door, this one marked med-bay.
Before she could wander away, the door slid open and Rainbow found that she couldn’t just not leave the room unexplored. With wide-eyes, she trotted inside, finding an older human woman sitting in a chair with her legs crossed, reading a hardcover book. She had short, greying hair, a functional cut that wouldn't impede her work. Her face was gentle, one that looked like it had spent a lot of time laughing and smiling, wrinkles around her mouth and eyes.
Hearing the hoofsteps, the woman looked up, smiling when she saw Rainbow standing in the doorway.
“Hello, there,” she said. Her voice was smooth, her accent soft and pleasing.
“Hi.” Rainbow gave her a short little wave. Glancing around the room, she took a few steps further into the room. “You the doctor here?”
“Yes.” She nodded, closing her book after setting a bookmark between the pages. “I’m Dr. Chakwas. Did you need something?”
“Nah.” Rainbow shook her head, settling back on her haunches. “Just exploring. I’m Rainbow Dash.”
“Do you have a rank to go along with that name,” Chakwas asked, “Or did you manage to sneak aboard this ship?”
“Oh!” Rainbow straightened up, snapping into a picture perfect Equestrian salute, her face serious. “Right. Flying Officer Rainbow Dash, ma’am.”
“You don’t need to salute me,” Chakwas said with a laugh, waving as if to clear the seriousness from the room. “Save that rubbish for someone who cares.”
“Alright…” Rainbow nodded, confused, but not unappreciative. She decided that she liked the doctor.
“Now,” Chakwas said, setting the book down on her desk. “You just came onboard, correct?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Rainbow fluffed her wings, settling them into a more comfortable position.
“Please, none of that ma’am nonsense either. Call me Karin.” She stood, crossing her arms under her breasts. “If you’re unable to break your conditioning to do that, at least call me Dr. Chakwas.”
“Alright, ma’am—“ Rainbow blushed, trying again. “Dr.— Karin.”
“Better.” Karin smirked, her thin lips curving up proudly. Walking over to the nearest exam table, she patted it. “Well, you’re here now. We might as well get your exam out of the way.”
“Exam?” Rainbow’s eyes widened and she jumped to all fours, backing away ever so slowly.
“Yes. There’s a Spectre onboard,” she said, scowling unhappily at that. “Which means that trouble is not far behind. There is every chance that you could end up shot, and I’ll be the one having to stitch you back together.”
She gave Rainbow a coy look. “It would be better for everyone involved if I knew where to put everything afterwards. Now come on, get up here.”
Gulping, Rainbow slunk over to the table. She hopped up, using her wings to hold herself upright as her knees shook.
“I will admit,” Chakwas said, pulling on a pair of rubber gloves. “You are only the second Equestrian that I have had the pleasure of having in my medical bay.”
“Second?” Rainbow asked, trying to keep the nervous look off her face.
“Our esteemed copilot was the first.” Noticing Rainbow’s nervousness, Chakwas laughed. “There’s no reason to be so frightened. It’s just a simple exam.”
“Yeah, sure,” Rainbow muttered to herself, looking longingly at the door. “Next you’ll be pulling out the needles and sucking out all of my blood.”
“What was that, dear?” Chakwas asked, looking at her from the corner of her eyes. “I didn’t hear you.”
“Nothing!” She blushed, ducking her head.
“Very well.” Stepping forward, Chakwas looked expectantly at the pegasus. “Please spread your legs and extend your wings.”
Slowly and reluctantly, Rainbow did as Chakwas asked her to.
Taking her stethoscope, Chakwas placed it against Rainbow’s chest, listening to first her heart, then her lungs. “You have a strong heart, Flying Officer.”
“Call me Rainbow,” she murmured, shifting uneasily on her hooves.
“It must be wonderful to be able to fly,” Chakwas said as she set her stethoscope aside. Pulling out a small device, she placed it against first Rainbow’s left eye, then her right, peering past her pupils.
“Yeah, it is!” Flying was one subject that Rainbow could talk on for hours.
“Flight has been a dream of humanities since the time we saw the first bird fly,” Chakwas said, placing down both her stethoscope and her eye examiner on her desk. “It’s why I joined the Alliance. I wanted adventure. I wanted to fly. Spaceships are the closest I could come to that.”
“Adventure?” Rainbow raised an eyebrow, looking at Chakwas like she was crazy. “Aren’t you supposed to be a doctor?”
“What does that have to do with anything?” Laughing, Chakwas shook her head.
“I just thought that all doctors were, like, eggheads or something.” She blanched when she saw Chakwas’ face. “Sorry.”
“Eggheads?” With narrowed eyes, Chakwas continued her examination, taking Rainbow’s pulse, then her temperature. “No. I may have a PhD, but I’m no egghead.”
“Yeah, I’m starting to see that,” Rainbow murmured. She caught sight of the cover of the book Chakwas was reading before she came in. She jumped as Chakwas started to inspect her wings, giggling as the woman ran her hands down both of her sides.
“Impressive.” Chakwas hummed in appreciation. “You take amazing care of them.”
“Well, yeah!” Rainbow snorted, rolling her eyes. “I’m a Wonderbolt after all. I have to keep my wings in top condition.”
“What’s that?” Rainbow asked, pointing a hoof at the book.”
“That?” She followed her hoof. “It’s just a book I’m reading.”
“I recognize the cover.” She did. She had one just like it on her bookshelf at home.
“You should,” Chakwas said, turning her attention back to Rainbow’s exam. “It’s Equestrian. One of your more popular series, if I’m not mistaken.”
“What’s that?” She didn’t want to appear too eggheady herself. That would just be bad for her image.
“Daring Do.” Chakwas said the name with such an air of importance that it sent a shiver of excitement down Rainbow’s spine. “Captain Spitfire introduced me, and I find them incredibly enjoyable to read.”
“You read Daring Do?”
“Yes. I’m currently making my way through the third.”
“Daring Do and the Forbidden City of Clouds!” Realizing that she had chirped the last part, Rainbow blushed. “It’s my favorite.”
“I’m enjoying it myself. Daring Do is such a well written character. I have to applaud the author for her attention to detail.”
“Author?” Rainbow Dash scrunched up her muzzle in confusion.
“Yes, the author.” At Rainbow’s blank star, Chakwas realized that she was going to have to explain further. “The pony who wrote the book.”
“How else did you think was produced?” Chakwas asked with a giggle.
“I dunno?” Rainbow shrugged, blushing as embarrassment flushed through her body. “A computer, or something.”
Laughing, Chakwas shook her head. “Lift your tail, please.”
“Lift my tail?” Rainbow Dash looked at Chakwas with sudden suspicion. “What for?”
“This is an exam, dear.”