Epilogue: Chapter 27: Salvation
Deep Space on the way to the Moksha System. 10 January, 06:57 Standard Time
Stars streak past as the Banshee journeys the last leg of its trip to Moksha. Angela sits at the pilots seat, watching over the ship as they complete the last leg of the journey to the Kel'no'reem base. Ratchet and Clank are in the engine room, Rusko and Ranaia asleep on the warship's two bunks.
The narrow doors to the bridge slides open and the little eight-year-old strolls in. She tugs on Angela's sleeve to get her attention, looking up at her with large, curious eyes. "Miss Angela?"
The Megacorp security chief sits up in her chair. "My name is Angela Cross. Just call me Angela."
Miiksha tilts her head and looks curiously at the older lombax. "So... your family name is Angela?"
"What? No, Cross is. My friends and close associates call me Angela. Rusko's a close associate, and you would be too, I suppose, so I guess you could call me Angela. Besides, that's simpler than 'miss Cross'."
"Okay." Miiksha pokes at a dark diagnostic screen to one side, then grows bored and turns back to Cross. "Ratchet calls you Angela. Which is he?"
Angela ruffles the fur on the top of Miiksha's head as she thinks, and the child bats the hand away. "We've been through a lot together, so we're pretty close friends." She turns to look back over navigation, then remembers a question she had been avoiding asking Ranaia. "Miiksha, the computer records said that you died in a prison riot the day you arrived. How did you make it?"
"Some Kel'no'reem were trying to escape, and they started a riot to break-out, but the guards in the towers shot all of the rioters. I was caught in the middle, but none of the bullets hit me. Ta'ree don't like handling dead bodies themselves, so they made the prisoners clean up. Mom got me and made me hide in the camp so the Ta'ree couldn't find me and take me away to another prison where they keep kids."
Angela nods, a look of understanding dawning over her face in wonder at the Ta'ree. They're worse than I thought. An awkward silence stretches and the security chief notices her pulsing headache start to grow.
"So . . . this is almost over? After all this, we leave?" Cross nods and rubs the bridge of her nose, willing her strange headache to go away. Miiksha stands back on her heels. "Ratchet said he's worried about you, he hoped you'd visit him."
"Oh did he now?" She chuckles. Stars fly past the view screen and the girl stands there, waiting for her to say something, so the older lombax says the first thing that comes to mind. "Your mother doesn't seem to like me. Why is that?"
Miiksha shrugs nonchalantly. "She always acts territorial when dad's around other women."
Cross openly stares.
Miiksha stomps her foot and balls her hands into fists. "Just because I'm little doesn't mean I'm stupid!"
Cross raises her hands in mock surrender. "I never said you were." She sure knows a lot for her age.
Miiksha crosses her arms, and as if to prove that she's not an infant she continues, "Even kids can smell the pheromones. Like when y—"
"Okay, next subject." Thankfully for the embattled security chief, the Banshee drops out of warp and rushes at the Moksha asteroid field. She brings the compact Megacorp warship to a full stop and watches the irregular movements of the vast field. "I'd better get Ratchet."
Moksha System. 10 December, 09:03 Standard Time
The last of the major asteroids hurtles past and the second planet fills the view screen as Ratchet pilots the ship into the atmosphere. Cloud cover briefly obscures visual until they drop low enough to see . . .
A group of five Megacorp Mantas soar in delta formation over the lightly snow-covered field, and another round of fireworks shoot off, exploding in a dazzling array of colors. The formation turns and breaks in their aerial acrobatics as the Veldinian swings the Banshee around, dropping the pocket warship down towards the hangar.
The massive outer doors of the hangar lock together with a reverberating thud like normal, but before the ship's ramp can fully extend, the inner hangar doors open and Kanna enters, flanked by two other lombaxes in regular uniforms. Angela is the first to exit the Banshee, followed closely by the others. The Kel'no'reem colonel is the first one to greet them, which surprises everyone.
"Sergeant Rusko! Everyone, we're so glad that you're here. General Aginah is waiting for you. Come on!" She turns around and the two lombaxes wearing lieutenant chevrons wait for the crew to pass before following. Kanna takes the short, familiar route to the briefing room.
As soon as Cross enters, she notices that the wall usually dominated by a huge association matrix and Ta'ree unit chart has been retracted. A filled auditorium lies beyond where it once was. On the opposite side of the built-in long briefing table is the screen-wall showing the fireworks and Manta acrobatics.
At the far end of the table sits a tan-furred lombax, his stripes only a few shades darker than the surrounding fur. A splotch of snow-white fur passes across his face like a half-mask, completely encircling his right eye and stretching over his nose and mouth before passing down the front of his throat and disappearing into his uniform. He stands up, tall and proud, but with the weariness of a pained commander showing through his guarded expression.
Kanna rushes into the room and introduces them. "General Aginah, these are the lombaxes I told you about. Technical Sergeant Aráto, um . . . Ratchet, and Megacorp Security Chief Cross." Rusko bows lightly at his name and approaches, and the other two follow suit.
General Aginah nods his head in acknowledgement and waits until Rusko reaches approximately arm reach before motioning to one of the lieutenants who followed the crew in. He opens the first box and hands a circle-enclosed five-pointed star on a green-and-white ribbon, which the General takes and hands it to Rusko. "For your service in the face of insurmountable danger, I present the Silver Star of Merit."
The lieutenant hands a medal shaped like a blue shield ringed by wheat, on a white ribbon. "Though you are not a formal member of our military, neither are most of our Kel'no'reem. To Ratchet I present the Dragon Slayer award."
Cross stands last, in shock at the entire proceeding. She was expecting to drop off for a quick debriefing like last time, and though she had to stand in front of a group of people to present her thesis, she hasn't ever been a central person in any award ceremony. Ratchet, as subtly as he can, grabs her by the elbow and leads her forward for her portion.
Aginah takes the green ribbon of the last medal. "Miss Cross, you left behind a comfortable job serving order in another galaxy, you brought us a warship intended for the Ta'ree, you withstood days in the most nefarious prison in Tak'sen, and you were instrumental in the complete break-out of the largest gulag in the archipelago. You have been the salvation to untold thousands. It is hardly honor enough to give you the Iron Cross of Valor."
The crowd explodes into their last and loudest round of applause. Even Kanna claps her hands together. Cross tries to back up, "No, I couldn't, even Clank—"
The little robot shakes his head and cuts her off. "I have had my time in the limelight, chief Cross. You have given and suffered the most of all of us. I asked not to be awarded . . ." because I ran away and couldn't save you three on Alfheim. "This day is for you," he finishes, gesturing to the three.
The deep green ribbon throws over her head and Ratchet jerks her back towards the crowd. "C'mon, don't leave me hanging. Now wave or I'll grab your arm and wave for you." The slightly shorter lombax doesn't wait and makes good on his threat until Angela pulls away and waves on her own, a smile slowly breaking out.
Ratchet leans closer and whispers, "So, what d'ya say after this we beat this popsicle stand and get some well-deserved R and R in Solona?"
Angela allows her smile to widen a little. "I could use a vacation."