AUTHOR'S NOTES: Okay, I'm tired. I've been typing away at this thing for nearly 12 hours. Hope you guys are happy now.

Actually, it's not work if you're having fun, so enjoy. I'll post an epilogue in the next few days (I mean it this time) and then it's on to the next story arc, which will be called, appropriately, Snowbird's Revenge. All the people who have screwed over Sheila and Company will get their comeuppance…well, maybe.

In this chapter, I've referred to Clan 'Mechs by their Inner Sphere names (Loki instead of Hellbringer, Daishi instead of Dire Wolf) to make things easier. It's already going to be confusing enough as it is, but it's supposed to be. I actually got the idea for this battle from the First Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, also known as the "Bar Room Brawl" for confused fighting in pitch blackness. The final part of the battle is based loosely on the final scene in the movie The Wild Geese. It really should be longer, but it's late and I decided that I've written enough 'Mech battle for one day.

And FraserMage, who's got to be the quickest reader around (reviewed less than five minutes after Chapter 7 was posted!): probably not on the Battletech cartoon characters, though I do have the Somerset Strikers unit book for CBT. Given Adam Steiner's later status as a staunch Katherine Steiner-Davion loyalist, he and Sheila would not get along. The Strikers are also still moseying around the Clan front, so they and the Snowbirds would not cross paths. Still, it's entirely possible that the Snowbirds might run into Franklin Sakamoto or Doc Nakamura when the Snowbirds get in Kurita territory. (Oh, did I say that? Hmm…)

Sharpsburg DropPort

Vantaa, Tamar March, Federated Commonwealth

20 June 3051

Star Captain Jinn Buhallin looked at the Sharpsburg DropPort through his Daishi's viewfinder and did not at all like what he saw. The walls surrounding the airport were deserted, and the only lights visible were running lights on the DropShip—that, and the fires of burning Aerofighters. That was not a good sign at all.

"Any communication from Star Commander Iona Hazen?" he radioed.

"None," answered Star Commander Quillic Mattlov, his second-in-command. "There is heavy jamming down there, though."

Buhallin looked up through the cockpit's armored windows. The moon had already been obscured by gray clouds, and a thin snow had begun to fall—not enough to hamper movement, but enough to diffuse what little light was out there into almost pitch blackness. "Bravo Beak Three. Take point. Move out in line formation."

"Aff, Star Captain." Mattlov sounded less than enthusiastic. Buhallin could not blame him. His force was somewhat ad hoc, put together in a hurry when the Jade Falcon Keshik had realized that the real battle of this night was not at Marye's Heights but behind them, in Sharpsburg itself. Star Colonel Sedale Malthus' Keshik Command Star had still been at the headquarters, but it had gone off the air hours before and nothing more heard since. The Keshik's Elemental Trinary was spread out between Sharpsburg, the DropPort, and the POW camp, and now none of them had been heard from since a fragment of a message reporting captured OmniMechs attacking the flightline. The POW camp was deserted and in flames, and headquarters was a shambles. Jinn Buhallin had decided to march on the DropPort even before the message had come in, assuming that if he had not gotten contact reports from the main body of the Keshik to the south, then the Spheroids were running north, probably awaiting a DropShip pickup. Even then, it was a scratch unit—his own Alpha Talons One and Two from Trinary Alpha, joined by Qullic Mattlov's Bravo Beak Three. Some of his MechWarriors were piloting unfamiliar 'Mechs, as Buhallin had needed speed over firepower. What he had was still impressive: his own Daishi and Star Commander Neal Roshak's Turkina were heavily armed assault 'Mechs; Mattlov and one other MechWarrior piloted Thors; there were three Lokis and one Vulture; and rounding out the Trinary was a heavy Night Gyr, a medium Black Lanner and a medium Fenris, and three light Ullers. He had had another Daishi, but it had gone down with a hip actuator failure, leaving him with 14 instead of the normal 15 'Mechs. He had no idea what the enemy had or who they were, only that they were out there. Mattlov's Star would hopefully trip an ambush.

Marion Rhialla squirmed in her seat—or rather, it was Max's seat, as she was borrowing his Battlemaster; her own Palladium was too slow, though she had contradicted herself a few moments after declaring that by allowing Chuck Badaxe to bring his ponderous Atlas and Tooriu Kku's Awesome. Still, she had thought that any battle they got into would be decided at close range, and the AC/20 the Atlas sported would be devastating in what MechWarriors referred to as a knife fight. And Marion liked the all-around vision of the Battlemaster as compared to her own machine.

Of course, Marion had hoped to avoid a fight. She had only brought two lances under the ocean, with Elfa's "Deception Lance" already in place. It was all Calla would spare, and it was just enough to fight their way out of trouble with a light 'Mech Star or Elementals. A full Trinary of unknown type or weight was not something she wanted to go up against, but she supposed the odds could be worse. Besides her own Battlemaster, Badaxe's Atlas, and Kku's Awesome, she had Elfa's four Clantech-armed Omnis, which was a nice force multiplier; she also had Arthur McKenna in his Archer, a good, solid, tough machine, and Kaatha in her Griffin. Both were tough veterans. Maria Thyatis and her Wolverine made a good team with her lover Badaxe, and Marion had a special place in her heart for her adopted daughter, the shy, beautiful, deadly Maysa Bari and her Rifleman. The only two she really worried about was Mary Scott and her Wasp and Tinyak Fernplanter's Unicorn: both were light designs and would be badly overmatched in a stand-up fight.

So Marion had determined there would be no stand-up fight. They only had to hold for half an hour. Her opposite number would know the Minerva was operational and so would have a healthy respect for the DropShip's formidable armament. That limited their axis of attack to the area around the main terminal, south of the tarmac—the terminal, outlying buildings, hangars, and, if the Clans veered too far and attacked from the southeast, a tank farm filled with highly explosive aviation fuel. Marion had every intention of blowing that up if the Falcons were foolish enough to try that approach. Something told her that they wouldn't. That left the southern approach. She had a lance covering each side. Whichever one was hit would pull the other two onto the flank of the attacker. It was tactics Napoleon would've recognized and understood. Marion intended to let the battle become a close range brawl—a brawl in a room with the lights shot out, since she had already blown the DropPort's main transformer station.

Now all they had to do was wait.

Star Commander Quillic Mattlov brought up one weapon pod of his Thor. The rest of his Star came to a halt. He could see the DropShip about a kilometer off, so he was well out of range of its missile batteries and heavy autocannon. Between the two were several large hangars, outbuildings, and various other obstacles that suggested an ambush site. But there was nothing for it: his job was to be bait. He swept the pod down, and the Star advanced. He felt himself tensing up for the first sign of an Inner Sphere attack: there had been nothing so far, which led him to believe he was up against a veteran unit. The first warning he would get would be when they opened fire.

Seconds passed as he marched slowly past a huge hangar, then seconds became minutes. Something was wrong. Mattlov glanced down at his map display. Buhallin had given him no direct orders on direction, leaving it to his own judgement. He stopped and turned, sending a tightbeam message to the trailing 'Mech in his star. "Beak Three Delta from Alpha. Anything?"

"Neg, Alpha."

"Any sign of the rest of the Trinary?"

"Neg, Alpha," MechWarrior Billock answered.

"Freebirth," Mattlov cursed. He decided to risk it. "Beak Three Alpha to Alpha Actual, come in." All he got was the static of jamming.

Marion's head came up at that broadcast, which was widebeam. "Elfa, Marion." There was no need for callsigns. "Where did that come from?"

"Our extreme right."

Marion shifted the 'Mech around to look behind her. The DropShip's landing lights had been switched off, except those facing directly towards her. From the bridge of the colossal ship, they could see the Clan formation. It was still heading for her and had not moved to the left or the right. A stalking horse? she asked herself. Throw out a Star on my flank, see if I bite? Gotta be. "Elfa, hold position."

"Roger that." Elfa did not sound very happy about it.

Mattlov looked down the narrow alley between the hangars. Beyond was open ground. If the whole area suggested ambush, this alley screamed it. It was only wide enough for one 'Mech. "To blazes with this," he muttered, then keyed his mike. "Bravo Beak, backtrack on our line of march. Slowly." They did, and the Star was soon out of the buildings. Yet Mattlov could not see the rest of the Trinary. He hated to do it, but he had to risk another broadbeam message. "Bravo Beak to Alpha Actual. Where are you?"

He could not know that Buhallin was wondering much the same thing. He had moved his two Stars into the buildings, but there had been no contact or even shooting from his scouting Star. Neither Clan commander nor even their Inner Sphere counterparts realized that Mattlov had backtracked behind his own unit.

"We're through!" Matria cheered. "Mainframe is buck naked. I've got everything now."

"About time," Max groused. He looked up from where Sheila lay on a stretcher. One stubborn Clan crewman had elected to make a last stand in the infirmary, and now it was a wreck, shattered by gunfire. Luckily, the medical supplies had survived, and so Sheila at least had an IV going. According to the medic, she was now likely to make it, as long as they reached a medical facility in the next six hours. Max was fairly certain none of them would live past six hours if they were still at the DropPort, so that was a fair estimate. She was still out, but some color had returned to her cheeks. "I thought you said it would be easy."

"Hey, I got everything but engine controls," Matria protested.

"The one thing we needed more than anything," Max shot back. He knew he was probably being unfair to Matria, but time was getting close. "Okay, Baron, she's yours."

Robert Baron settled into the helm chair. He hesitantly tapped a few keys, and, gaining confidence, began to type freely. "Okay…we've got internal power, so the reactor's online. Full tank of gas, as it were…right, bringing up the engines." They heard a dim rumble. Max motioned at Felisanna, who had elected herself the radio liasion. "'Sanna, let Marion know—"

"Sky down, big chief," Baron interrupted. "Remember what I said? The engines are cold."

"So how long?" Max bit out.

"That's the good news. Should be ten minutes."

Max looked at Senefa. "Last chance, Star Colonel. You can still leave. You could tell them we forced you to do all this."

Senefa closed her eyes. No one would ever believe that, especially of her. She took a breath, let it out slowly. There was no going back now. There was nothing left to go back to. She opened her eyes, met Max's gaze, and slowly, deliberately, reached up and tore away the three red Stars that marked her rank. She stood, and came to attention. "Major Maximillian Canis-Vlata, I, Senefa Malthus, of my own free will, formally request asylum in the Federated Commonwealth of Houses Steiner and Davion."

Max grinned and took her hand. He was about to say something appropriate when an explosion rocked the DropShip. The Battle of Sharpsburg DropPort had begun.

Marion's patience had run out. With no message from the Minerva, which could no longer see the Clan 'Mechs in the buildings, Marion decided that her opposite number must be waiting for her on the other side of the hangars, or was working his way around somehow undetected. She ordered the Snowbirds to move in. At the same time, Buhallin, with no knowledge of even Mattlov's location, came to the same conclusion—that his opposite number was waiting at the edge of the DropShip's weapon ranges—and ordered his unit forward, telling them to work their way gradually northwest to stay clear of any long-range laser fire, which would be longer than an Inner Sphere ship could make. Because the main DropPort hangars formed a V with the bottom facing south, it necked the Snowbirds down to almost single file for a precious space of thirty seconds. As a result, both units collided in the worst possible tactical formation.

"Madre de Dios!" Maria Thyatis shouted. "Enemy contact, three 'Mechs, direct front!" In near panic, Thyatis had forgotten to identify herself. All the Snowbird 'Mechs looked to their front, but only Thyatis and Arthur McKenna, just behind her, could see the Clan 'Mechs.

One of the three 'Mechs they saw was MechWarrior Mance, in a Loki. "Alpha Actual, Alpha Talon Two Charlie, enemy contact!" he yelled. "Enemy 'Mechs, three o'clock!" Realizing his commander might not be able to identify the enemy in the darkness, he turned and snapped on his searchlight, quickly followed by his Starmate, MechWarrior Edvar, also in a Loki. Both opened fire at the same time.

Elfa saw the spotlights and kept her voice deliberately calm. "Marion, this is Elfa, I have a Thor, direct front my position. I'm firing; follow my shots." She raised and fired both PPCs, the blue beams raking Quillic Mattlov, who had wandered into the fight. Out of the corner of one eye, Elfa spotted three more Clan 'Mechs. "Identify one Uller, one Loki, one Fenris at my three o'clock!" She turned and fired her secondary array of medium lasers at the new attackers, but except for a glancing blow on the Fenris, they missed.

The Clan return fire did not. Under normal circumstances, the Clans would challenge and pair off, but they were off-balance and surprised, and all three MechWarriors—Bothin, Edvar, and Cachul—opened fire on Elfa's lone Loki. The latter was thinly armored for its 65 tons, and Elfa had very little room to dodge. The other Loki missed with its main battery, but the Fenris' PPC lanced into Elfa's middle and hit the gyro. The 'Mech immediately pitched to the right, and Elfa barely kept from going down. A Gauss shell from the Uller tore away most of her left foot. She growled horrible oaths in three languages as she limped back, firing more to keep the Clansmen's heads down rather than for effect.

Marion knew she had lost control of the fight. "Snowbirds, engage any enemy 'Mechs! Maria, help Elfa!" She spotted a huge Daishi. "Go for the big ones! We want the big ones!" The smaller 'Mechs couldn't hurt the Minerva, but the assault 'Mechs most certainly could.

Maria Thyatis had avoided the shots from the twin Lokis and had been sighting her PPC at the Daishi, but heard Marion's orders and contented herself with a salvo of SRMs at extreme range. She turned to help Elfa, firing the PPC at the Fenris and missing, but realized in terror that the SRMs had done nothing to distract the Daishi, and worse, she was squarely in the assault 'Mech's sights. Buhallin's large pulse lasers stuttered ruby beams across the Wolverine and then followed it up with a Gauss shot. The massive firepower sent the smaller 'Mech reeling, spinning around, and then crashing to the ferrocrete. "Maria!" Chuck Badaxe yelled. "Maria, you're on fire!" The maddened Jade Falcons didn't give her a second of respite, hitting the prone 'Mech again and again with laserfire; Maria managed only a feeble return fire from her medium laser. With the fire from her damaged engine greedily burning its way through the Wolverine's skeleton and heading towards its storage of SRM missiles, Maria tightened her straps, said a prayer, and pulled the ejection handles. The top of the 'Mech's head blew off and her seat sailed high into the air, out of the battle.

"Maria's down, she punched out!" Badaxe said over the open channel. "You son of a bitch!" he yelled at the Daishi, but before he could engage the other assault 'Mech, McKenna's Archer raced forward, firing its LRMs. The range was far too close for the missiles to arm, but Buhallin instinctively fell back from them, just in time for McKenna to crash into him. Armor crumpled on both 'Mechs. The Daishi staggered but didn't fall; McKenna grabbed one huge arm of the 'Mech and forced it down, causing Buhallin's hasty fire to only blow holes in the ground. The other couldn't bear on the Archer because of the forward-jutting cockpit of the Clan 'Mech. Eschewing his weapons, McKenna drew back and smashed his 70-ton machine's fist into the Daishi's head. Armored glass shattered and peppered Buhallin with fragments, tearing into his legs and ripping open his cooling vest. MechWarriors Okin, Sankill, and Billock, hearing their commander's screams of pain over the radio, ran forward and forced McKenna back with missiles and lasers. He turned to engage, only to have MechWarrior Viv in her Uller now enter the fight, autocannon vomiting shells at the much larger enemy. It gouged a huge hole in the Archer's flank armor. Badaxe fired his AC/20 at the light 'Mech, which would have flattened it had he hit, but Viv nimbly skipped out of the way. McKenna now had the range for his LRMs, but didn't see Neal Roshak in his mammoth Turkina step out from behind one of the hangars. Roshak centered the crosshairs of his advanced targeting computer on the gaping hole in the 'Mech's side, aimed his triple large pulse lasers, and let fly. The pulses unerringly found their way into the Archer's internal structure and then its huge missile magazine. The Archer vanished in a towering explosion. There was no ejection. Roshak ducked the Turkina back behind cover and waited for another opportunity.

Cachul and his Fenris began looking for the Loki he had fired on. He sprinted around one building, saw that he was getting entirely too close to the DropShip, then turned and ran due east, hoping to circle around and hit the Snowbirds in the rear. To his horror, he ran out from behind two outbuildings and right in the middle of the Snowbird formation. Marion turned and unleashed her Battlemaster's six medium lasers into the medium Clan 'Mech. It staggered, then faltered as Maysa Bari poured her large lasers into it. Cachul backpedaled, firing his PPC into the Battlemaster, then was hit again as Elfa leaned her crippled Loki forward and blasted its rear armor with PPC shots. The Fenris sagged and dropped like an unstrung puppet, and Cachul joined Thyatis in floating down in a parachute.

Mary Scott saw Elfa's Loki with its guns pointed squarely at Marion's back. The damage had wiped away the spurious 133rd Falcon Fusiliers markings and the darkness, ripped by searchlights and gunfire, only exposed its silhouette. "Marion! Loki, left rear!" Rhialla didn't question that; no MechWarrior would. She turned and fired the PPC, blasting away the searchlight and medium laser array. "Quit shooting me, you crazy bitch!" Elfa screamed. Marion realized her mistake, but so did Maysa Bari, who helpfully but mistakenly radioed, "Cease firing own 'Mechs!" This added yet another level of confusion to the fight, as both sides heard the radio call and couldn't tell who its speaker was. Now both sides closed to close range to identify the enemy, looking for markings or something else to see if the 'Mech in front of them was friendly or enemy.

One 'Mech that both sides knew the identity of was the huge Daishi. Buhallin was just righting his 'Mech and trying to bandage his abused legs when he found himself under fire again. He twisted as LRMs slammed into his right side, and spotted a Griffin, half his size. He snarled a vile epithet regarding the enemy MechWarrior's parentage which Kaatha would've found rather amusing, and sighted his pulse lasers and Gauss Rifle on it, only to come under attack again. He realized the missiles were only a distraction, because the damage from twin PPCs mounted on the squat Puma that came at him did far more. The Daishi staggered again, its thick armor absorbing the blows, but Buhallin knew he had to pull back before he got swarmed. His hasty return fire went past the Puma to immolate a small hangar. He walked backwards, looking for the irritating Puma and trying to remember if he had one in his thrown-together unit, when he spotted the Battlemaster. "Worthy adversary," he growled, and raised his weapon arms. Rhialla saw the movement and did the same. Their lasers, missiles, PPC bolt, and Gauss shell crossed paths and blasted both 'Mechs. Marion took the worst of it, taking laserfire across the chest, slagging half her medium lasers, taking away engine shielding, and shattering the cockpit glass behind her, as well as wiping out her communications suite set behind the Battlemaster's canopy. Her PPC bolt turned the Daishi's left hip into scrap, however. Both commanders now pulled back. Buhallin thought about closing the range, but an undamaged Rifleman stepped between him and the Battlemaster, and he pulled back behind a building before Maysa could fire. Roshak thought he saw his opportunity and aimed at the stricken Battlemaster, but Tooriu Kku let fly with three PPC bolts that forced the Turkina back under cover—but not before Roshak tore away armor from the Awesome with shots of his own.

"Bravo Beak Two—oh, stravag! Mance, are you still here?" MechWarrior Rethlin radioed his friend.

"Still here, Reth! I have you at my eleven! Do not charge forward, my friend, that Awesome will ruin your evening!"

"Not planning to, Mance! Follow me!" The Night Gyr backtracked, then ran behind one of the larger hangars to come out on the Snowbirds' right flank. Tinyak Fernplanter and his 30-ton Unicorn was there, Tinyak looking for a way to get into the fight without being riddled from all sides. He saw the much larger Night Gyr crash through a retaining wall. "Oh shit! Tinyak to Snowbirds, two Clanners, left flank—" His transmission was cut off, along with his life, when two Gauss shells decapitated the light 'Mech. Badaxe saw the Unicorn go down, and turned to fight, having been frustrated at hitting anything so far, but now Mance followed his friend into action and landed a lucky shot on the titanic Atlas, smashing the assault 'Mech's knee. Badaxe, taken by surprise, went down hard, knocking him senseless as a hundred tons of BattleMech crashed to earth. The way to the Snowbirds' flank was open. Mary Scott saw both 'Mechs go down, and desperately tried to at least distract the Clans. She pushed her Wasp as hard as it would go, leapt over the fallen Unicorn, and hit the Night Gyr. It was a futile effort, like throwing a pie at a freight train. The little Wasp, outweighed nearly four to one, bounced off the Night Gyr. Rethlin saluted the fallen MechWarrior's courage, then turned his weapons on her.

"How much longer?" Max asked.

"Five minutes!" Baron told him.

"Felisanna, sound recall!"

Felisanna did so, but shook her head at Max. "The net's swamped. I don't think I got through."

Mary Scott closed her eyes, figuring that if she had to die, she didn't need to see it coming. She opened her eyes when she heard an explosion, and not from her own 'Mech. The Night Gyr was swaying drunkenly, on fire, its arms severed from its body. Maysa Bari had at last found the range. Mance moved forward to engage and pull off the Rifleman, but now Kaatha pounded him with PPC and missile fire, while Maysa, cooling her 'Mech, fired two large lasers; Mary Scott, struggling to get her Wasp to stand up, peppered him with two SRMs. Mance, faced with three targets, hesitated and tried to spread his fire around to all of them. He hit but did little damage. Before he could do more, his computer screamed a warning that a 'Mech was behind him. Drax, having leapt his Dragonfly clear across the battlefield, opened fire with five medium lasers from his one good arm, which tore through the Loki's light rear armor and found the engine. The Loki blew apart with enough force to tear the legs from Scott's Wasp and drop the crippled Night Gyr; Maysa finished it off moments later.

As soon as it had began, the battle tapered off as both sides, battered and wounded, pulled back. Elfa wedged her 'Mech between two huge posts. "Marion, come in!" She saw the Battlemaster, smoking and holed. The PPC was junk, so Marion detached it and let it fall. With the 'Mechs hands, she signaled Elfa that her communications were out. "Shit. Tessya, this is Elfa, are you still alive?"

"I'm hit a little, but I'm okay."

"I'm crippled and Marion's lost com. Take command."

"Roger that. Snowbirds, sitrep."

It was Philip Scott who answered, who alone had not taken a single hit. "Maria punched in the first salvo, and that's Mary who's running back towards you on foot. Art McKenna and Tinyak are gone. Drax has got an arm off. Chuck, are you okay?"

The Atlas was getting back to its feet, supported by the Awesome. "Lost a leg actuator and I feel like somebody just hit me over the head with a pool cue, but I'm tactical otherwise."

"I'm good," Tooriu reported in.

"This is Maysa, I'm okay."

"Kaatha here. I have armor damage, but I'm fine."

"Form a new line here." Tessya took up a position behind the closest hangar to the Minerva. "Drax, help Elfa back to the ship. Make sure Mary gets back okay." Drax acknowledged and pushed the smaller Dragonfly under the Loki, supporting it. That left Tessya with six 'Mechs. She could see three OmniMechs burning, but if it had been a full Trinary that had hit them, she was now outnumbered two to one. She was already outgunned.

"Any Snowbirds 'Mechs, come in!" Felisanna's voice was shrill and strained.

"Tessya here," Blackthorn replied. "What's up, Felisanna?"

"What's up? For the love of Freud! I've been trying to get through for the last two minutes!"

"We're a little busy—"

"The DropShip is almost ready to go! Load up, and hurry!"

"Why didn't you say so? Snowbirds, prepare to fall back—"

"Contact, enemy 'Mechs, direct front!" Tooriu's voice was distinctive enough that no one needed him to identify himself. "Looks like they're forming up for a rush!"

Tessya's fingers tightened on the triggers. Firing both PPCs would almost overwhelm the little 'Mech's heat sinks, but there was no choice. "Form line! Concentrate fire on that Turkina! When I give the command, open up with everything you've got!"

"Elfa and Marion are aboard," Felisanna reported. "Tessya's holding the line."

"With what?" Max grabbed one of the ex-prisoners. "Find Major Kumano, tell him to get some people in the turrets. We may have to stand tall." He looked at Baron. "How're we doing?"

"Ninety percent. We can raise ship in three minutes." Baron tapped the instruments. "Better tell your people to get aboard, Major. If we don't get up on the first try, we've had it."

"Here they come!" Tooriu sang out.

"Fire! Fire! Fire!" Tessya screamed. The six 'Mechs, a pitifully thin line, opened fire with everything that could get in range—Tessya's and Tooriu's PPCs, Badaxe's and Kaatha's LRMs, and Maysa's deadly large lasers. Roshak had led the charge in his Turkina, which was nearly as wide as it was tall and an easy target. The fusillade killed the charge's momentum nearly as soon as it began: the Falcons had more 'Mechs still standing, but their armor had taken its fair share of damage too. Steam poured from overworked heat sinks as the Clanfolk fell back under cover. More steam boiled from under the DropShip as the engines began to warm up to full power.

"Assaults and heavies, fall back!" Tessya called out. "We'll cover you—when you get to the foot of the DropShip ramp, cover us!" There was no acknowledgement, but Tooriu, Badaxe, and Maysa began walking backward to the Minerva. Occasionally, a Clan warrior would pop up for a shot, but would quickly duck back down rather than face a fusillade from Maysa and Tooriu. Badaxe, whose armor was more intact to his rear than to the front, simply walked aboard, ignoring any stray shots. As orange shock diamonds began to roar from the DropShip's engines, Tessya said, "That does it!" and pushed the Puma for all it was worth, expecting to be cut down at any moment, with Kaatha and Scott hot on her heels. The fire that came was inaccurate at best: the Keshik, apparently, had enough for one day. Moments later, the doors to the DropShip closed shut, and the Minerva rose skyward on a pillar of fire.