provided by Adam Keith (email@example.com)
Three months after the disabling of the Venusian GRAF shield, the battered Exofleet continues to undergo repairs and refitting in orbit of Jupiter's moon Io. Hundreds of Terrans in E-frames and spacesuits have begun the construction of a home base for the fleet. In a shuttle inside one of the Resolute's hangars, Captain Furlong of the exocarrier Dominion complains to Captain Marcus about having to wait for the fleet to be refitted before Winfield will agree to attack Phaeton. "If I were in command, I'd spent less time making the fleet pretty and more time making it fight!" he growls. Furlong proceeds to state that Winfield doesn't have the stomach for a fight against Phaeton, which provokes an angry reaction from Marcus, who states that one can get away with questioning a superior's decisions, but not his courage. The shuttle takes off from the Resolute and soon touches down at the Io moonbase.
Maggie Weston, perched atop an antenna tower in her E-frame, demands to know where her other antennas are when a small cargo shuttle swoops around the tower and comes to a stop next to her. Kaz Takagi, piloting the shuttle, flashes a grin at Maggie and opens the shuttle's cargo hold, allowing Weston to take the remaining antennas. Maggie makes a snide comment about having a stunt pilot for an assistant, and Takagi takes off.
In Admiral Winfield's office on the Io moonbase, Captains Furlong and Marcus try to persuade Winfield of the pressing need to attack soon. Marcus reminds the admiral that three months have passed since the GRAF shields were sabotaged and that the fleet must attack before the shields can be reactivated. Furlong states that failure to attack now would most likely mean that the fleet would never be able to liberate Earth; Winfield counters by saying that attacking half ready would definitely mean that Earth would never be liberated, since there would be no Exofleet to liberate it. Marcus begins to say, "But Admiral, as you know..." but is interrupted by Winfield, who stands and barks, "I know the only thing standing between Phaeton and his total subjugation of the human race is this fleet! Until we get it back to full strength, I'm not committing it to any large scale engagements! Is that clear, Captain?" The stunned Furlong replies, "Yes, sir," and Winfield dismisses the two.
As the two captains return to their shuttle, Marcus points out that by delaying, the Exofleet gives Phaeton even more time to prepare to destroy it. When Furlong states that nothing is going to happen with Winfield in command, Marcus replies coldly, "Yes...that has become very clear." Behind them, J.T. Marsh comes through the hangar airlock in his E-frame and lands. Marcus tells Furlong to return to the shuttle and approaches J.T., who says that he thought Marcus was captaining the Resolute. "I am," Marcus replies. "Came down to Io home base to give you a special assignment." Marcus explains that he recognizes Marsh's skills as a pilot and a leader, and proceeds to explain the mission.
In Able Squad's hangar, Wolf Bronski, Marsala and Takagi finish a hand of poker as Marsala wins a massive pile of chips. Wolf grumbles as Nara explains the concept of bluffing to Marsala, who claims to have never played the game before. Alec helps Maggie as she fixes his E-frame's arm, but their flirtations are interrupted by Sergeant Torres, who demands to know why Weston isn't working on the early warning tower. The two exchange harsh words but are drowned out by Bronski's complaints about being bluffed by Marsala, who wins yet another hand. J.T. enters the hangar and Torres calls the squad to attention.
Marsh tells everyone to stand at ease and proceeds to announce that the squad has finally been given a combat mission. After the cheers die down, he explains that the squad has been assigned to take out a Neosapien weapons complex near Olympus Mons on Mars; Alec states that no mention of the facility was made at the morning's intelligence briefing, but J.T. responds that Captain Marcus told him that unmanned probes had just picked it up. He also tells the squad that morale among the Exofleet will hinge on the success or failure of their mission, and that Takagi and Weston will not be able to go with the squad because of the high-profile nature of the construction work they have been doing on the moonbase. Takagi protests, but J.T. assures him that there will still be lots of fighting left to go around.
The E-Frame Dropship carrying Able Squad enters the upper Martian atmosphere, and in its hangar, the squad scrambles about getting their E-frames ready for launch. A Neosapien station on Mars detects the approaching ship and launches two wings of fighters to deal with the intruder, prompting the transport's pilot to suggest that the squad launch immediately. The pilot tells Marsh that the ship will be waiting in high orbit until they complete their mission.
Able Squad comes under fire almost immediately after launching, Bronski taking several hits and Torres losing control of her E-frame and plummeting toward the surface. Marsh blasts down after her, grabbing her E-frame and pulling her back up with the rest of the squad, which now spreads out as the Neosapiens pull off for another attack run. J.T. pursues one of the fighters and fires off a missile which sails wide; he quickly follows with another missile that leaves the fighter a rapidly descending ball of flame. Torres reports severe damage and that she is attempting a hard landing, but when Alec tries to cover her descent, he gets shot as well. Marsala and Nara try to shake the fighter pursuing them but are unable, so Wolf and J.T. both head for the harassing neofighter. Wolf waves off J.T. and rips into the fighter with full blasters for several seconds, destroying it completely.
The last remaining fighter breaks off and runs, but J.T. denies Wolf permission to chase it down in order to complete the mission as quickly as possible. As the squad heads to the surface, Captain Marcus on the Resolute contacts the squad's dropship and orders it to return to the repair base immediately. The pilot protests that Able Squad hasn't returned, but Marcus cuts him off, snapping, "Do as I say!" Marcus adds that the pilot is not to tell anyone of the flight to Mars, ostensibly in order to keep the mission a secret. The transport turns away from Mars and heads back to Io.
Meanwhile, Phaeton reprimands Typhonus for his troops' failure to successfully deal with the intruding Terrans. Typhonus defends himself, stating that he and his men felt certain that the transport and its fighters were merely lost. He then declares that attacking a planet of five million Neosapiens with one squadron would be irrational. "So is trying to understand humans," Phaeton counters. "That can be...fatally irrational." He adds that the Neosapiens must be more prepared to deal with the unpredictable behavior of humans in order to fulfill their destiny, and then orders Typhonus to destroy the intruders.
As Marsh and the squad approach a bend in one of the canyons surrounding Olympus Mons, J.T. spots three Neosapien E-frames conveniently gathered together under a jutting ledge. Several laser blasts bring the ledge crashing down on to the E-frames, crushing them all. J.T. gloats briefly, and the squad moves on, but Marsala pauses a moment staring at the three wrecked E-frames. "Just like fifty years ago," he states, shaking his head. Nara asks him if everything is alright, but he ignores her. "Whatever happens," he says, "I must remember my vows to the fleet and to...others."
At the Io moonbase, Captain Furlong enters Marcus' office, having been called there to discuss the repair schedule. Marcus quickly drops the pretense and asks Furlong what he thinks about Winfield. "His indecision is a danger to all of us!" Furlong states, and Marcus agrees with him. "The question is," Marcus adds, reaching for a blaster rifle, "what are we going to do about it?"
The squad reaches the end of the canyon and arrives at Olympus Mons, which is swarming with Neosapien activity. Marsh states triumphantly, "I knew we'd be back." The squad flies to and lands at an area near one of the entrances into the mountain facility. As the squad gets out of their E-frames, Marsala looks at the plain in front of him and says solemnly, "The last battle..." Nara again tries to comfort Marsala and says that she understands how he feels under the circumstances, but this time he responds, curtly stating, "No...not these circumstances, Lieutenant." Nara falls silent and watches Marsala walk away.
Later, a Neosapien hovercraft transport cruising through the canyons toward Olympus Mons comes to a stop when its pilot finds several huge boulders blocking its passage. The pilot gets out of the transport and deftly flings the boulders aside as Able Squad climbs into the open cargo trailer. The pilot gets back in and soon arrives at and enters Olympus, where the two Neosapien E-frames guarding the entrance fail to notice the six Terrans hiding in the back. As the transport comes to a stop inside some sort of hangar, the pilot leaves and the squad jumps out from the transport. They run to the nearest door with J.T. at point and Marsala covering the rear; J.T. opens the door and the squad rushes through it, narrowly avoiding a pair of guards.
The next room the squad enters is a huge cavernlike chamber filled with enormous vats of greenish liquid, all below a set of catwalks and stairs, prompting J.T. to remark, "Whatever it is, this is no weapons complex." Marsala identifies the liquid as the key substance in the Neosapien brooding process, and Alec observes that the chamber holds enough to produce billions. Torres asks why they would need any more soldiers than they already have, but DeLeon suggests that the new Neosapiens would probably be workers. Marsh states fearfully, "With that many of them, they wouldn't need to keep humans around at all." He then says that he wants the storehouse to go up in five minutes, and the squad fans out throughout the cavern and between the vats. Marsala remains still, staring at the rows upon rows of chemical vats, but then says, "I have taken an oath...it must be done," and joins the squad.
Bronski charges across a catwalk toward another door leading out of the cavern just as a guard opens and walks through it, but he manages to slam the guard over the rail of the catwalk down into one of the vats before the guard can fire. This finally alerts a nearby worker to the squad's presence, and he hits an alarm that screeches throughout the entire complex. Several nearby guards immediately bolt for the brood center while the main command orders several E-frames on patrol to return to the mountain.
Torres sprints from behind one chemical vat to another, coming under fire from a pair of guards on a catwalk nearby her. She takes out a mine already down to three minutes and sticks it on to one of the vats. Nearby, Marsh picks off one of three guards on a catwalk above the one on which he stands, but the other two guards manage to blast his catwalk out from under him. As the catwalk beneath him gives way, J.T. grabs on to one of several hoses attached at both ends to the cavern's ceiling, swinging helplessly hundreds of feet above the floor. Alec sees three guards coming close to J.T.'s location and picks off one, warning J.T. about the other two. J.T. sees them raising their blasters and decides to shoot the hose with his blaster rifle, clutching to the hose as it swings downward toward the floor and sprays the greenish liquid everywhere. Moments after J.T. lands safely on the floor, Marsala slaps a mine on to another of the vats and runs.
Nara and Alec are backed into a wall by a trio of Neosapiens firing from behind a large vat several meters away, so Rita fires off a few blasts to distract the guards and give Alec and Nara a chance to get out of the way. The guards pay no attention to Torres until a few moments later when she blasts down a hose above them, knocking the guards away with blasts of greenish sludge. The three exotroopers run for the door as the mines begin exploding and destroying the chemical vats. They meet up with the rest of the squad in the next chamber, where the others have already found and piled into a hovercraft. Torres jumps in and slams the throttle to full, using the shuttle's guns to blast through the rapidly closing hatch leading to the surface. The hovercraft shoots out of the mountainside and tears away from Olympus Mons at full speed.
As the rest of the mines bring the storehouse down in blazing ruin, three Neosapien E-frames spot the escaping hovercraft and begin pursuit, opening fire on the squad. The four pilots in the back seat of the hovercraft begin firing at the E-frames with their hand blasters, but to little effect. The hovercraft scrapes the side of the mountain for a brief moment, forcing Rita to make a crash landing in the canyon where the squad left their E-frames. The exotroopers jump out of the hovercraft and run for their E-frames, except for Bronski, who stops and tries to shoot the pursuing E-frames until they fire a missile into the crashed shuttle, destroying it and flinging Bronski to the ground.
J.T. frames up and signals the transport to pick up the squad, but gets no response. The rest of the squad continues trying to down the Neosapien E-frames, which begin circling above the canyon and firing into the trapped group of Terrans. At Marsh's order, Alec blasts several hundred meters into the air and sets up a communication link with the Resolute, allowing J.T. to send an urgent request for help.
On the Resolute's bridge, Admiral Winfield receives Marsh's transmission and shouts furiously, "Something is very wrong here, I didn't order Able Squad to Mars or anywhere else!" Suddenly, the doors behind him slide open and Captain Marcus announces, "I did." Two armed guards rush past Captains Marcus and Furlong and grab Winfield by the arms, removing his headset. "This better not be what it looks like, Captain!" he snarls, to which Furlong replies, "It's exactly what it looks like." Marcus states that Winfield has lost the will to fight and that he has no choice but to relieve him of command. Winfield growls, "I don't care what you call it, Marcus, it's still mutiny!" Marcus orders his guards to take Winfield to the brig, and Furlong and the others spread out to secure the Resolute as well as the moonbase itself.
Meanwhile, still setting up the warning tower on the moonbase, Maggie continues bossing Kaz around until he convinces her to stop working for the day. Takagi blasts away in his shuttle, telling Weston that he's going to ask Marcus for any word about the squad. Shortly after arriving on the Resolute, Takagi is fired at by a group of guards with blaster rifles, and he leaps behind a large metal crate for cover. Three other troopers are already behind the crate, and one of them informs Takagi of Marcus' takeover. One of Marcus'men calls out for Takagi and the rest to surrender, but the men behind the crate stand and are about to fire back when they hear the sound of another set of blaster rifles being loaded behind them. Surrounded, Takagi and the other men drop their weapons, and Captain Furlong orders that they be taken to the brig.
On the Resolute's bridge, Captain Marcus receives reports from the ship and Io indicating that the fleet has been secured and that the last of Winfield's men have been placed in the brig. Marcus is ecstatic and orders Furlong to prepare the fleet for combat. "At oh-five-hundred," he states, "we fly for Earth."
Credit goes ot: Patrick Danner's ExoSquad page.