The struggle between the SSDF-1 and the Zentradi armada comes to a head as, torn by desertions and social disintegration, the aliens turn their full might against the ship. The novel begins with discord between the human population and the newly-arrived Zentradi defectors. Some do better than others; the original three infiltrators and spies turned sympathizers, Bron, Rico, and Konta, are dating three members of the bridge crew.
Lisa Hayes, second-in-command of the SDF, heads off to Earth, to meet with her father, Admiral Hayes, and try to drum up support for the ship. As it travels, the shuttle is attacked by Khyron, who tussles with an escort squad of Veritechs led by Max Sterling. Initially the battle goes Khyron's way, but Rick Hunter arrives at the helm of a new experimental armored Veritech and scatters the foe. The shuttle heads on its way, and Max returns to the SDF-1. On Earth, Lisa presents her father with evidence of the genetic similarity between the Zentradi and the humans, and suggests diplomacy might be a viable option now; the admiral agrees to present the evidence to the council.
Later, Max and Rick relax in an arcade, playing at flight simulators, much to Rick's chagrin. There, they encounter Miriya, the enemy ace who has infiltrated the SDF-1 seeking revenge on the ace pilot who fought her to a standstill, who, unbeknownst to either of them, is Max. Miriya is playing a Veritech sim; Max, smitten by her skill, plays a match against her. Although Max is blinded by his affection, Miriya is able to deduce that Max is the foe she fought in the skies of Earth. Max sets up a date with her at a fountain, and she makes plans to kill him.
Minmei, in a T.V. interview, refers to Rick Hunter as a friend in response to a question about her love life. Rick finally decides that he needs to move on and abandon his hopes of a romantic future with the singer. He finds his thoughts instead turn to Lisa. Meanwhile, Lisa's data has convinced the Earth council that negotiations with the Zentradi might be possible, but the government insists on using the Earthbound Grand Cannon to try and injure the fleet first. Lisa is disgusted by their foolishness.
Miriya turns up to her date with Max with a knife in tow. She tries to kill her enemy, but is hampered by their mutual affection. Instead of murdering Max, she agrees to marry him. The wedding becomes a big, symbolic event, signifying the possibility of a peaceful end to the conflict between human and alien. The Zentradi high commander Dolza, meanwhile, fearing the further effects of the forbidden Micronian emotion on the unity of their society, plans an assault; this time, they plan to destroy the ship instead of capturing it, and scour the Earth clean of life in the process. The reception is interrupted by the attack of the fleet, and the SDF's forces scramble to try and fend off the powerful foe. Miriya deploys with the human RDF, determined to protect her adopted home.
As the fleet circles the humans, Breetai, who has doubts as to the attack, sends his adviser Exedore to speak to the humans. He explains that the Zentradi see Minmei as a psychological weapon, capable of awakening dormant emotions in the giants' hearts. The humans, on their part, explain concepts like love and entertainment which are foreign to Zentradi psychology. At the same time, Breetai, Azonia, and Khyron confer, knowing that Dolza's oncoming armada will obliterate them as tainted as well. Breetai and Azonia decide to fight; Khyron attempts to flee.
The armada shows up and begins bombarding the Earth, doing untold damage to the surface. The Grand Cannon fires in response, doing tremendous damage to the alien ships at close range. But there are just too many ships. The SDF-1, with advice from the Zentradi turncoats, tries a unique strategy: they penetrate the com network of the invaders and broadcast a Minmei performance, banking on the stirring of emotion song causes in the hearts of the giants to stop the attack. Although the fleet continues to fight, the song does cause the giants to fall into a degree of disarray. Rick runs to the Alaska base where Lisa is stationed. He finds that she is the only survivor, and rescues her. Breetai and Azonia commit their forces against the fleet; Khyron, unable to escape due to lack of fuel, turns his ship against Breetai. A volley of missiles penetrates Dolza's flagship and detonates it, ending the threat by disrupting the chain of command.
Two years later, the SDF-1 leads the efforts to rebuild the devastated Earth. It is aided by the Zentradi defectors and the newly-commissioned SDF-2, commanded by Lisa Hayes. Things seem to be calming down, but the threat of Zentradi raiders unwilling to lay down arms continues to endanger the Earth.
Best part of story, including ending:
Jack McKinney continues to do mass market right, using character moments and descriptions of technology to delve into the depths of the franchise.
Opinion about the main character:
Rick has pretty much fully matured as a person by this entry, and is a suitably-heroic protagonist.