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As one of the three ECA Battlefield Prototypes research protocols and the most stringent of all protocols, the Pandora Protocol is enacted when the ECA was on the brink of defeat in southern France. Seeing such measures as the only means of preventing utter annihilation, ECA high command unleashed their most destructive, but highly controversial, weapons in their possession, which marks a crucial point in the military chain of escalation.

Commanders who gained access to the Pandora Protocol can deploy the ECA's most fearsome artillery weapon, the Pandora, and Fenris Cryo-Tanks that can freeze infantry to their deaths and locks vehicles in place. In addition, the Pandora Protocol also replaces the Smart Bomb with the gruesomely lethal Neutron Bomb, turns Tear Gas Strike into Nerve Gas Strike that kills infantry in the open and inside buildings instead, and the Solar Burst becomes Solar Apocalypse which scorches a larger area in all-consuming sunlight for extended durations.

At present, the global political community is still heavily torn over the appropriateness of these extreme methods. For all intents and purposes, the Pandora Protocol constitutes a gross violation of international law and the Russian UN delegation has openly refered to it as a war crime of the highest order mere hours after its first implementation.

Fall of Man

President Jean-Philippe Marmont stared blankly at the strategic map of Europe, watching his country disappear bit-by-bit under the dark crimson overlay that marked the Russian-controlled territories. Paris, Le Mans, Lyon, Marseille; all of them had long fallen under the blood-red shadow that enchroached relentlessly upon the last fighting ECA remnants in the south near the Garonne river. Beyond that, the only thing still standing between the Federation and its total victory on the continent after three years of warfare would be the Pyrenees mountains, followed by the valiant but hopelessly outmatched armies of Spain and Portugal. Despite having repelled an amphibious invasion at the coast of England, the British were still unable to mount a landing of their own and what was left of the free Dutch, Belgian and German forces had pulled back into the Iberian Peninsula to recover. These bloodied, battle-hardened units were too precious to be wasted in the meat grinder that France had become, acting as veteran training instructors for thousands of hastily recruited volunteers that were rushed into the remaining ECA battle groups.

Fall1

The President of France contemplating on his country's fate

Nobody knew what was going to happen next. Would the Russians starve the last bastions of Europe into submission and press for a dictated peace? Or would General Aleksandr once again attempt the impossible and send his ravaging hordes onwards? In that event, the ECA would soon have to resort to a general conscription of all able-bodied men and women. To the average European, Aleksandr had long overshadowed President Suvorov as the true evil behind this increasingly ruthless, total war and nobody in their right mind would be willing to surrender to a Shock Trooper. But Marmont could no longer bear witness to an entire generation of Europeans bleeding out on the battlefield, only for their sacrifices to be erased once the victors proceed to dictate their version of history. He was tired, bitter and lonely. With the remaining European exile governments scattered and the Alliance's Prime Minister Norman Fitzgerald still fighting a hopeless diplomatic battle in front of the powerless United Nations, someone had to make the choice in favour of a last, decisive stand; draw the final line.

Near Toulouse, later that day

"Mont Blanc, this is Cuirassier. Sensors are functioning as intended and we're in position to observe", the commander of a lone Pandur IFV reported. The anxiousness and fear in his voice came through quite noticeably. "Force de frappe is standing by. Operation Pandora is a go, I say again, Pandora - is - go", a senior French officer on board the carrier replied while President Marmont stepped forth and whispered: "May our children forgive us. Vive la république". The Pandur commander took position behind his periscope, observing a full column of Sentinel tanks as they approached through a valley some kilometres away. With such heavy weaponry in action, the ECA defenders in this sector were expected to fall within a matter of hours. The senior officer started counting down to the moment of truth: "Commence fire mission in 3...2...1..."

Within seconds, more than a dozen bright spots flared up on the digital map all the way between the outskirts of Bordeaux and Toulouse and the Pandur commander had to squint his eyes at the intense flash that engulfed the entire valley, dazzling him even through the filter lenses. For a brief moment, the searing, unearthly brightness shone through even the most miniscule spaces in the vehicle's supposedly airtight hull. The flash faded and was followed by a deep grumble which grew into a raging storm that blew past the hull-down vehicle. The IFV shook violently while the surrounding trees burst into flame, bended with the blast wave, then snapped back towards ground zero from the rapid change in pressure. "It's tearing us apart!", the weapons technician panicked while the driver tried to reassure him with baseless optimism: "We'll make it, just hold on!"

Fall2

An ECA officer quietly witnessing the horrors of Operation Pandora

"Cuirassier, this is Mont Blanc. Come in, Cuirassier", the senior officer inquired. The commander regained his senses and looked through the periscope once again, reporting his observations. The lush springtime countryside down in the valley had been turned into a blackened wasteland littered with the charred, skeleton-like remains of uprooted trees and burned farmhouses, while an ominous pillar of dust and fire rose above the hellish scenery, towering miles high into the sky where the top portion transitioned into dark, looming clouds. Even the mighty Russian tanks were no match for this nigh-apocalyptic magnitude of firepower. Mesmerised by the awe-inspiring sight, the commander kept staring until he noticed a gash of blood dripping out of his nose. His heartbeat started to soar and a cutting, excruciating pain manifested in his head. "What the hell is happening to us!?", the technician screamed in terror as he experienced the same rapidly developing symptoms while his muscles went haywire with uncontrollable spasms. "Too...close...", the driver rasped before breaking into a horrifying cough with his insides writhing in pain. Moments later, the entire crew had succumbed to the intense barrage of highly penetrating neutron radiation that destroyed their bodies within minutes. Disturbed silence befell the attendants in the Richelieu's CDC as the haunting screams of the three faded into static. The line had been crossed.[1]

References