Chapter 5: The Long Road Home

"Angela?" Sasha asked as Angela lingered near the Bridge door. "May I speak with you?" Angela knew whatever Sasha wished to discuss was important, no one ever addressed her by her full name otherwise. Angela turned on her heel to approach Sasha. "Bridge staff, dismissed" Sasha ordered. Angela's fears regarding the current situation only grew as the half dozen Galactic Rangers operating the Phoenix's bridge without a word.

Sasha turned her command chair to face Angela. "I wanted to talk with you, alone"

Angela remained sceptical but was willing to entertain the idea. "Talk, about what?"

"I have noticed as we travel together that you have grown increasingly closer to our Lombax friend" Sasha said. "I believe the two you of you share a history"

"I believe you do as well?" Angela interjected; Sasha simply stared back at her with a piercing, feline gaze. "Yes" Angela finally conceded and answered the question. "Ratchet helped me save the Bogon Galaxy during the Protopet incident; I think it is easy to see why people call him a hero of the galaxy"

"During my childhood my father ensured I received the best education the galaxy had to offer" Sasha was swift to fluidly change the subject, she was very much the politician as you would expect of her father's daughter. "I took a keen interest in the history of ancient races, including the Lombax's. I remained particularly fascinated with Lombaxes, their culture, their art, and the etiquette rituals of Lombax society" Sasha said, rising from her command chair she stepped down to stand before her counterpart. The stark difference in height did little to dispel the air of authority her rank demanded. "I see the way you look at him, the way your eyes bulge and your chest swells. I hear your laboured breaths and feel your racing pulse" Sasha reached up to place the palm of her hand across Angela's chest, feeling the pounding rhythm of her heart as she fought valiantly to conceal it, but in vain. "Your spirit rages with barely contained passion" Sasha froze. "But still there is something different, perhaps your true desires lay elsewhere-"

Sasha suddenly realized what she had seen. At first she had put it down simply to a lack of refinement, a modern echo of rituals lost centuries ago with no one left to teach it. "But perhaps your true desires lie elsewhere"

"What makes you think that?" Angela asked.

"You disguise desire as jealousy" Sasha said. "You use feminine wiles to enflame my passions as an attractant to allure your female companion without them even replacing it" in terms of military strategy it was brilliant.

Angela smiled; it seems she could no longer deny the subtle truth of the situation. Angela leant forward, her lips brushing across Sasha's. "Well, they say that actions speak greater than words" Angela leant forward to press her lips to Sasha's, her hands raising from her sides to clasp Sasha's cheeks in a warm embrace. "I find you rather an interesting and exotic beauty" Angela nuzzled the tip of her nose against Sasha's. "Ratchet would make a fine mate, however sometimes I wish for the gentle and graceful touch of another of my kind"

"That's very sweet of you, Angela" Sasha slowly drew herself back. "You may have tried to lead us in Bogon" Sasha stepped back to keep herself at arm's length. "But now you have returned to Solana, and serve aboard my ship, there are going to be some changes"

"Oh" Angela crossed her arms across her chest. "Am I going to enjoy these changes?"

Sasha smiled deviously. "Perhaps" Sasha stepped back to gain some small distance between the two of them. The short woman reached up to the base of her neck, untying the knot which held her heavy cloak in place across her shoulders.

Galactic Federation Starship Phoenix descended into orbit around the Federation Capital planet of Marcadia. The Dropship departed the Phoenix's main hanger bay and began its descent through the atmosphere towards the planet's surface.

Having obtained clearance from Galactic Control, thanks to Captain Torns authorization codes the Dropship descended towards the main docking platform of the Presidential Palace. The craft touched down onto the landing platform, its engines whirring down to idle, the main loading ramp touching down onto surface of the platform. Captain Torn lead the precession from the ship with Angela and Sasha, dressed in their Bounty Hunter disguises, dragging Ratchet in his jet black jumpsuit with his hands secured behind his back in the model image of the prisoner. Angela and Sasha were armed with their standard pistols Captain Torn had been allowed a pistol in his holster at his thigh, the ammunition clip emptied for good measure as a guise to any who may have otherwise questioned it.

As soon as they approached the Palace itself they encountered the first of a series of ever increasing checkpoints, a guard force of four Galactic Rangers stood parting to allow the group to continue towards the central complex within the heart of the Palace.

The group were escorted into the President's office, a grand oval room with the large wooden desk dominating the centre of the room flanked on either side by Galactic Rangers in the jet black armour denoting them as Special Forces within the Galactic Military. The President himself sat behind his desk, his large form illuminated by the sunlight emanating from the window at his back casting a dark shadow across the papers on his desk.

Captain Torn stepped forward to address the President. "Mr. President, as you requested I have recaptured the fugitive Ratchet and returned him to Solana for proper sentencing"

"Very good Captain" despite the success the President appeared unconcerned by the result. "But tell me, what about my daughter? What have you learned about my daughter?"

Captain Torn was careful in selecting his words with the same care and diligence as if he were attempting to disarm a nuclear device with a pair of nail clippers. "I am afraid that there has been no indication as to the whereabouts of your daughter, sir" The President appeared understandable sullen by the lack of news; Sasha suppressed any instinctive urge she had to react. "She was last believed to be on Maktar with the fugitive, alive and well, though there has been no sighting of her since then" Captain Torn nodded subtly to the President, the brief gesture passing beneath the gaze of all others present, dismissing the movement as an involuntary twitch or unconscious action. "However in the meantime I feel that the assistance of these Bounty Hunters proved invaluable in securing the fugitive. I therefore recommend that they be rewarded for their contribution in the capture who is not only a dangerous fugitive of the Federation but who may also hold information regarding the whereabouts of your daughter"

The President leant forward in his chair, his large brown fingers interlocked and his eyes narrow and direct as he contemplated his response. "Bounty Hunters?" he asked the title like a question to no one in particular. "I guess the Captain did what was required to capture the fugitive and return him to Galactic Federation custody. I suppose given these unique circumstances it would only be fair that you be reimbursed for-" the President was on his feet before anyone could react, the large brown index finger of his right hand pointed directly at the two Bounty Hunters standing before him. "Now! Arrest them, they have my daughter!"

The Galactic Rangers swiftly stepped forward to surround the group, Captain Torn stepping aside to allow the Rangers a clear line to their targets. Angela and Ratchet reacted purely on instinct, Angela drew her pistol from her belt, aiming at the closest target of opportunity. Ratchet broke free of his sabotaged restraints and took hold of the spare pistol offered by Angela and took aim at the President himself, fearing that any further escalation would leave him no choice but to pull the trigger.

"Wait!" the muzzled voice of the short hunter shattered the looming silence, stepping forward they stood between the 'fugitive' she had worked so hard to capture and the President who had chosen to betray them. The Bounty Hunter reached up to clasp their mask in their right hand, pulling it free and allowing their hood to fall back and flutter to the base of their neck.

"Sasha!" the President was stunned beyond the ability to respond, the stark reality of the situation quickly dawning upon him. The President raised his arms from his sides, motioning his soldiers to stand down. "Lower your weapons, all of you put your weapons down now"

The Rangers followed the order without question or hesitation, lowering their arm mounted cannons to their sides. The President stared across the desk at his daughter, unable or unwilling to believe his own eyes. "Sasha, you came home" The President hefted himself from his seat, circling around his desk he held his arms out, ready to consume his only daughter in a crushing fatherly hug. "I thought I had lost you, but now you have returned safely to me-"

"No dad" Sasha reacted sharply, freezing the President in his step, his arms falling slack at his sides. "I did not come back for you"

"But, but…" the Presidents usually composed features, trained through years of Galactic Politics, suddenly began to falter. "But I thought you had been kidnapped, I sent the Captain after you, I sent the Phoenix. I thought he had taken you-"

"No" Sasha said sternly, making her true intentions clear of any interpretation. "I left with Ratchet to protect him" Sasha pointed an accusing finger into the face of her father. "From you"

The President was stunned into silence. "But what I found in your room" he stammered through quivering lips. "What he did to you-"

"Yes, Ratchet took pictures of me" Sasha stepped back to stand beside her partner; placing her hand atop his wrist she gently lowered the weapon. "I asked him for those, it was a gift, for him"

"But how and why?" the President attempted to decipher this cryptic conundrum which had been laid out before him.

Sasha stepped forward to stand before her father. Even though she was considerably shorter than most she could stand head and shoulders above the tallest man when she wished to. "I know it's hard for you to accept, but I am afraid that I am no longer your little girl anymore. I'm my own woman; I'm free to make my choice, to make my own mistakes"

The President lowered his head, pondering the revelation of his daughter's words. "I'm sorry, Sasha" The President straightened, raising his gaze to face his daughter. "But why did you not say anything before"

"You did not give me the chance" Sasha said. "As soon as you found out about us you arrested Ratchet and fired him off to the edge of the galaxy while you cast me to my room like a child"

The President could no longer remain blind. "I realize now that I was wrong, so wrong" Sasha knew that it was something that was hard for her father to admit. "You have become a strong and independent woman, your mother would be so proud of you. I already lost your mother, I thought I could not bear losing you as well" a warm smile creased his lips at the memory of his long departed sweetheart, Maria. He held his arms out wide in offering of a crushing embrace "Can you forgive an old galactic fool?"

Sasha stepped forward and clutched her father tightly, his large arms wrapping around her. "Of course I can, dad"

It was only once the door to the Galactic Presidents office had been closed, it was only once the band of three intergalactic fugitives found themselves out in the open air of the grounds of the Presidential Palace, as far away from the office where moments ago Ratchet had held a gun to the head of the most powerful political figure in the galaxy he could finally allow a breath to escape past his lips.

"So what do we do now?" Angela asked no one in particular.

"Blackwater City hover board track?"Ratchet suggested.

"You're on Fuzzball" the group walked along the walkway towards the waiting Federation Dropship.

"It looks as though we have finally been given your dads blessing for us" Ratchet said with a grin.

Sasha smiled. "Whoever said I needed it" Sasha snaked her arm around Ratchets waist, planting a playful kiss on his cheek her lips pressed to his ear. "Hotshot"