Provided by: Adam Keith (email@example.com)
The Exofleet now orbits the planet Earth in force, circling over the last remnant of Phaeton's conquests. On the jumpship Arnhem, J.T. Marsh begins briefing Able Squad and another E-frame squadron on their mission in the Earth invasion. He explains that their target is the Neolord brooding facility in Washington, D.C., and proceeds to warn the squads that the Neolords are the best fighters that Phaeton has to offer. Takagi leans back in his chair and says smugly, "Good," but J.T. reminds them that it won't be easy.
J.T. is climbing up to a ledge on a rock face when a Neolord, clinging to the ceiling with his huge claws, growls at him, saying, "Remember me?" J.T. climbs to the top as the Neolord taunts him, but when he tries to take out his blaster rifle, the massive warrior knocks it aside. Grabbing J.T. by the throat, the Neolord lifts him into the air above the abyss below and says, "You may have destroyed one of my wings, but I still have one more than you." He releases his grip on J.T., who falls plummeting toward the ground. Suddenly, J.T. lurches awake in bed with a start, covered in sweat and breathing heavily.
In Battle Creek, Michigan, the tank battle continues as the resistance captured Neotanks attack their identical Neosapien counterparts. Napier fires several blasts at some Neosapien tanks a short distance away, but only manages to draw their fire toward himself. Napier's tank is grazed and knocked aside by one of the shots, but he recovers quickly and fires off a series of blasts into the two Neotanks, turning them both into smoldering, smashed wrecks. As more resistance tanks enter the forest, a huge tree takes a blast from a Neotank and topples to the ground, leaving Cates' tank trapped and immobile underneath it. Napier spots him and orders Hanley and Tanaka to help Cates. The two land on Cates' tank and slide their E-frame arms under the fallen tree, struggling to lift it and then throwing it over their shoulders behind the tank. The ground shudders and Cates keeps moving, but Napier assesses the situation and orders everyone to pull back out of the woods.
Praetorius, seen through the rows of Neolord birthing tubes at the Pentagon brood facility, announces to a subordinate that there is no more time. Livia has ordered all Neolords to Phaeton City, he states, and the current brood is ready. As the release lever is pulled, the birthing tubes open and allow the Neolords within to emerge, spilling them and the chemical sludge filling the tubes on to the ground.
In another chamber of the Pentagon, Galba sits silently in a chair with two other Neosapiens guarding him. Praetorius enters and says mockingly, "Enjoy your life while you can, Galba," before informing him that he is to be sent to Phaeton City with the new brood of Neolords. "As a Neomega," he continues, "you are no doubt intelligent enough to guess what fate awaits a traitor like yourself." Galba retorts that he knows Praetorius' fate as well as his own, assuring Praetorius that Phaeton will destroy them all. Enraged by Galba's insolence, Praetorius strikes him across the face and shouts, "Take this scum away!" The two guards grab Galba by the arms and drag him out of the room.
On the hangar deck of the Arnhem, Captain Butler gives his jumptroops some final instructions, including a prod about having only one more chance to get the jump right. As the decompression alarm sounds, Weston's mind travels back to the moon's surface outside the command pyramid during Alec's last battle. She and Alec trade barbs and tell each other to be careful, and the squad takes off and leaves him with the jumptroops. As the moon's surface grows distant, she looks down and sees Alec looking up at her for the last time. Maggie's thoughts return to the imminent launch, but tears stream down her face as she remembers.
In the E-frame next to her, Marsala focuses intently on the coming battle, envisioning a past encounter with Phaeton. (see Notes and Observations) He runs across a Martian desert, pursued by three hostile exofighters, but then trips and falls to the ground as the lead fighter lands. The fighter's canopy opens and Phaeton steps out, walking toward the fallen Marsala. Phaeton taunts him and states that he should learn that he, Phaeton, will always be on the winning side. In his E- frame on Arnhem, Marsala grins determinedly and states, "Not this time, Phaeton." Marsala turns and looks at Nara, who is grimacing and wincing in pain. He asks her if she is alright, to which she replies that she is, but she holds on to her arm as if it were causing her great pain. Wolf finishes off a candy bar while Rita and Kaz exchange encouraging glances. The loose tension in the squad is suddenly forgotten as the time display reaches 2000 hours. J.T. declares, "This is it, people...good luck and good hunting," before leading the E-frames and the jumptroops down through the atmosphere.
Outside the Pentagon, Galba and the new brood of Neolords board a large shuttle, presumably intended to go to Phaeton City. Several thousand feet above, Able Squad and Butler's jumptroop platoon rapidly descend on the Pentagon; Takagi announces that he's going to take out the shuttle just as it lifts off. J.T. gives him a negative and insists that the mission come first, but any further discussion is cut off by the fire of several dozen laser batteries on the roof of the Pentagon. Kaz jinks and weaves to avoid the gun turrets' fire, then picks one and fires a quick burst into it. Nara passes the smoking ruin of Kaz's turret and takes out two more in swift succession. The gun turrets swivel madly trying to find a target, and one finally succeeds, hitting Bronski's E-frame with a solid blast. Bronski yells out, "I'm going down!" as his blazing and deformed E-frame hits the roof of the Pentagon.
Wolf manages to stand again for a moment, his E-frame a fused and melted collection of scrap metal, before collapsing again. He forces his E-frame open and jumps away from it, covering his head as a gun turret fires into the already wrecked E-frame, finishing it off. From the air above, Kaz spots a Neosapien soldier coming up behind Wolf. Takagi sweeps down parallel to the roof and fires a single shot, barely missing Bronski but hitting the guard squarely in the chest and flinging his lifeless body several feet away. "Way to go, Kaz," Bronski says, coughing violently. "You're the man." Nearby, J.T. dusts two more of the turrets with his gunfire, but the roof is still thick with the batteries as the jumptroop capsules touch down. Some are picked off in the air and two more on the ground are destroyed before they can open, but Longfeather leaps clear of his pod and immediately takes out the nearest one.
Longfeather and the other jumptroops gather behind a wall of debris near a roof access door, and Longfeather declares their position on the roof to be secure. The E-frames land with them and Bronski jumps into the copilot seat of Marsala's heavy frame after dodging fire from the few remaining turrets. J.T. is about to lead the E-frame squad and the jumptroops into the building when, once more, Admiral Winfield orders him and his squad to return to the Resolute immediately. Marsh acknowledges but adds that he intends to wait for the jumptroops to be evacuated. Winfield refuses, and J.T. protests, "We're talking about a dozen lives here!" but the Admiral responds, "And I'm talking about five billion!"
Marsh gives in and orders the squad back to the fleet, wishing Captain Butler good luck. "You guys don't stick around much, do you?" Butler quips. "Don't worry, we can take care of ourselves...again." J.T. glares in frustration at having to abandon the jumptroops, but wishes Butler luck again and blasts off with the squad. The jumptroops become smaller and smaller as J.T. looks down at Colleen O'Reilly, who watches him as he takes off. The two maintain a distant eye contact for a moment, but J.T. forces himself to look away. Abandoned by the E-frames, Butler orders his troops to keep the Neosapien soldiers off balance until the evac shuttle arrives. Pellegrino turns and blasts away the roof access door, descending into the building with guns blazing.
Stalking past the rows of Neolord breeding tubes, Praetorius announces that Livia has refused to reinforce the Pentagon complex. He tells one of the officers that the current brood needs to be released, but the officer states that the Neolords aren't ready yet, not having developed wings or sentience. Praetorius disregards the officer's protests and pulls the lever to release the new brood. As the floor fills with the greenish sludge of brooding chemicals and the premature Neolords with twitching stubs of wings fall to the ground, Praetorius coolly states, "They don't need wings to fight...or intelligence."
Longfeather and O'Reilly continue exploring deeper into the Pentagon, but find no one. O'Reilly kicks open a door into a large room, still finding nothing, and reports to Captain Butler that the entire place seems too quiet. Finding a data port on the room's computer terminal, O'Reilly links up with it and watches the screen.
In the brooding chamber, Praetorius continues to watch the new Neolords being released before him. One collapses at his feet, then rises, staring at Praetorius with a mindless, cruel glare.
Meanwhile, the Exofleet continues laying down thick volleys of laser blasts at targets across the American landmass, smashing Neosapien strongholds and covering the withdrawal of its E-frames. Able Squad sidesteps the laser blasts and lands in a small hangar on Resolute, where they are met by Admiral Winfield and Professor Algernon. J.T. asks the Admiral what happened, and he explains that the Exofleet received a message about Phaeton's creation of a doomsday device intended to destroy the entire planet. J.T. suggests that it might be a trick, but when Winfield tells him that the message was from the Neomega Galba, he agrees that it might be a legitimate warning.
Ideas as to where the doomsday device might be are scarce, but Winfield believes that it might be the secret facility in northern Canada that Bronski and the resistance attacked recently. The Admiral states that the Resolute's guns can take out the base once located, but he adds that Algernon must accompany the squad in order to make sure the device will not be detonated if fired upon. While the squad prepares to leave, Algernon climbs into the back of Marsala's two-seater E-frame as Bronski mopes at being left behind. Takagi jokes with him, consoling him with the fact that the Resolute has the best mess hall in the fleet, but Wolf says that, for once, he's not hungry. As the squad takes off and bears down on the Earth once again, Bronski watches and tells the Admiral, "Wish I was going with 'em...sir." "So do I, trooper," Winfield replies. "So do I."
The outside of the Pentagon remains furiously alive with laser blasts and explosions, and the jumptroops are being gradually overwhelmed by the larger Neosapien force. Butler exclaims that the evac shuttle should have arrived already, but he is interrupted as Longfeather calls out a warning through the stairwell to O'Reilly and Pellegrino, still inside on the level below the roof. The two spin around to see a mass of Neolords charging toward them, and they light up the hallway with their blasters. They manage to blunt the Neolords' attack for the moment, and Butler shouts out from the roof, "What's going on down there?"
Several other jumptroops join O'Reilly and Pellegrino in trying to blast back the tide of Neolords, but a few make it through their fire. One kicks Pellegrino in the head in the process of leaping over him, and O'Reilly has to cover him as he struggles to stay conscious. On the roof, Butler goes down to help his troops and leaves Longfeather topside, ordering him to watch for the shuttle and keep back the roof guards. Longfeather nods and never stops firing. Butler goes down the stairs and orders everyone to withdraw, but the Neolords' continuous attack makes that difficult.
O'Reilly drops a Neolord rushing at Pellegrino, who gets to his feet again and begins to back out of the corridor. Another jumptrooper is tackled and presumably killed by three Neolords, but Pellegrino blasts them off. The surviving jumptroops back out of the hall firing, ascending to the roof where Longfeather is still plugging away at the guards with plasma grenades. The evac shuttle pulls into pickup position above the platoon, but suddenly a Neolord jumps out of the stairwell and pounces on Butler, using him to leap up to the shuttle and slap a mine on to its side. The bomb's timer quickly runs out and cripples the shuttle, sending its flaming remains to a grinding halt on the Pentagon's roof before the whole thing explodes.
The jumptroops run away from the wreckage and the pursuing Neolords and O'Reilly mentions a tunnel she discovered that goes under the Potomac to the White House. Butler agrees to take the tunnel, and the squad blasts over the edge of the building. As the jumptroops fly downward, Butler smashes through a window and brings the squad in with him, raking dozens of pursuing Neolords off the outside walls with his blaster. The platoon blasts its way into an elevator shaft, then arrives at the basement level with a pleasant "ding".
On the Resolute, Wolf tries unsuccessfully to raise the jumptroops on the comm channels. Wolf tells Admiral Winfield that they've lost contact with the shuttle and asks the admiral if he would minding lending a shuttle to help Butler out. Winfield offers his personal shuttle, but asks Bronski to bring it back in one piece. Bronski says, "You know me, Admiral," and Winfield grimaces as Bronski leaves.
Meanwhile, Butler's platoon slogs through the Pentagon-White House tunnel, still being chased by the Neolords. O'Reilly tells Butler that the squad has walked too far to still be under the Potomac, so the Captain orders Longfeather to bring the roof down on their pursuers. One plasma grenade later, water comes flooding into the tunnel and Pellegrino starts to run for it. O'Reilly climbs out of the hole in the roof and finds that it was not the Potomac River but the Reflecting Pool that was above the tunnel. The platoon climbs out and heads for the ruined Washington Monument.
The jumptroops climb the stairs to the monument's peak, blasting back any Neolords that follow them, but dozens of others have already begun climbing up the obelisk's surface. Pellegrino sweeps several of them off and Longfeather uses his last plasma grenade to take down another group, but soon the platoon is surrounded. Suddenly, as the Neolords hiss in triumph and it looks to be all over, enormous blasts from the sky send the Neolords flailing to the ground below. O'Reilly spots the admiral's shuttle in the distance, and as it closes on the monument, the heat from its engines convinces dozens more of the Neolords to give up their grip on the building. The jumptroops blast up to the shuttle's open cargo door, but one surviving Neolord manages to grab hold of Butler as he climbs in. Longfeather shoots him off, but not before the Captain is wounded.
On the shuttle, the exhausted jumptroops lay down and sleep as Bronski takes them away from Washington. The officers tend to Butler, who gives command of the platoon to O'Reilly as the shuttle flies away over the setting sun.