Chapter 54: Iron Skies Over Europe

During the Alien Invasion and the prior Machine Wars, no continent had experienced as much conflict as Europe had. It was the center of the Hamelin Organization and Project Gestalt back in the days of White Chlorination Syndrome, and was the most heavily defended as a result.

Nicknamed 'Fortress Europe' by the androids who fought there during the wars, it was a hellish place of bombed out architectural wonders, muddy trenches that cut through the landscape without care for old national borders, and rusting pieces of artillery and bodies, both android and Machine.

Cities had changed hands almost daily back during the wars, and some countries had been vastly altered due to the fighting. Forty-six percent of the Netherlands was flooded and sunken below the water due to the destruction of dykes and dams, and the island of Malta in the Caribbean had completely ceased to exist after an orbital strike hit it.

And that was just the collateral damage from the war itself. Iceland had been split in two by volcanic eruptions, earthquakes had riven Greece into a jumbled, unstable mess, and the Middle Eastern Desert had spilled out of Turkey and was slowly eroding parts of the Balkans.

There were other changes to the landscape of Europe as well. The Alps bristled with bunkers and gun emplacements, and in France the Maginot Line had been rebuilt. Then torn down. Then rebuilt a third time.

To put it simply, Europe had seen its fair share of war, and the androids who lived there were grizzled veterans. Which meant that as soon as it was learned that Purple Athena was gearing up for war, they quietly began to prepare, stockpiling weapons and rebuilding old defenses.

These preparations had been justified when the insane Ascended Machine's declaration of war was announced. Furthermore, all across Spain, New Machine Empire factories spewed forth a vast number of Neo-Machines, creating a tide of metallic death that was quick to attack and overwhelm the few Resistance units in the area.

Furthermore, Purple Athena had assembled the largest air fleet ever seen and had gathered it in the air above Madrid. Tens of thousands of Neo-Machines with their lower half replaced by Hover Discs flew alongside hundreds of Goliath fliers, and were slowly moving towards France, bombing any and all android outposts and facilities it came across.

In response, elements of the Terran Army in France, England, and Germany had mobilized their own aerial assets to counter this massive Neo-Machine force, while bunkers and artillery corps were activated in the Pyrenees Mountains.

"This is Scout-Observer Beans, reporting in. Neo-Machine air fleet still on approach to the Pyrenees Mountains. They will enter Catalonia in a few minutes."

"Thank, Beans. Return to base, and avoid being spotted," a gynoid wearing the uniform of the Terran Army replied to the holographic image of the scout. She wore the rank insignia of a colonel, and had electric blue hair.

The android on the other end of the line snapped a salute in response then hung up, the hologram going to static before turning off.

"Time to see if we've learned anything from the centuries of war we've been fighting," an android at the colonel's side muttered, wearing lieutenant rank insignia.

"The last of the units from England have arrived," an operator announced.

"And the status of the other fighter planes and aerial units?" the colonel inquired.

"Fueled up and armed to the teeth, Colonel Siesta!" the android reported.

"Then let us see how we fare against this new foe," she replied.

Holographic screens flickered on throughout the command center a second later, displaying live recordings of the combined Terran Army air assets, as well as images of the approaching New Machine Empire aerial force.

The former was depressingly smaller than the latter. The Neo-Machines darkened the skies with their tens of thousands of combat units.

In comparison, the androids had a measly four hundred air supremacy fighters available, mostly older units, alongside several dozen Hydra drones. No YoRHa units had been able to be scrambled in time, leaving them with old fighter planes, many of which resembled fighter jets from the early 90's, although the technology within them was many centuries ahead of how they looked.

"New Machine Empire aerial army formation, codename Battle Group Icarus, has entered Catalonian airspace!" an operator shouted.

"Open fire!" the colonel ordered, although the words were barely out of her mouth before the hidden AA turrets scattered through the foothills opened up with thunderous roars.

Clusters of rockets and anti-air munitions screamed towards the enemy Machines. Bubbles of energy flickered into existence around the Goliath aircraft, while lesser Machines swarmed in front of the rockets and missiles as cannon fodder.

Explosions rippled through the sky, and then the Neo-Machines retaliated, unleashing waves of energy bullets. Beams of searing maso burned through bunkers and fortifications, and the mountainsides erupted in flames and rolling explosions.

"First line of defense… off-line," an android announced solemnly.

"What of the Machines?" Colonel Siesta demanded.

"Unsure, but we estimate they took between six and eleven percent casualties, mainly among the smaller units," somebody informed her after checking the numbers.

"Do we unleash our air assets now, or see if we can't whittle them down with the next line of AA defenses?" the lieutenant inquired.

"Our aerial units will be cut down before they even reach the enemy," Colonel Siesta replied. "We have to thin the enemy out before I'm willing to risk it."

"Assuming we deal as many casualties with the next couple of rounds, we'd have to wait until the fifth line of defense," he warned her.

To that, the colonel snorted in annoyance. "I am well aware of that, Lieutenant Cross, but I wouldn't send out YoRHa units against this many Machines, let alone our own Resistance model aircraft. They're faster than the Machines, but far weaker. A single well-placed shot can bring them down."

"We could request the Bunker to fire an orbital laser shot to clear away some of the enemy forces," the lieutenant offered.

"The Goliaths have shields that can potentially block it," Colonel Siesta replied. "But, if the air units we dispatch cannot deal a significant amount of damage, then I will request for an orbital strike."

"Understood, colonel," Lt. Cross said, accepting her instructions. He then turned back to watch as the Icarus Battle Group continued to advance on the tactical screens, bombing everything in their bath.

Android bunkers, turrets, and artillery emplacements were obliterated as the Neo-Machines rolled over them, and Cross could only offer a prayer for the soldiers who hadn't managed to escape in time.

"Second line of defense, coming up," an operator announced, and the second layer of AA units opened fire. Unfortunately, the barrage only managed to take out five percent of the total enemy forces, as the Neo-Machines had reacted even quicker than before, raising shields to counter, and sending in smaller Machine units to strafe the artillery and AA emplacements.

"Damn, they reacted faster than we expected!" Cross growled as he saw the Neo-Machines adapt to the defensive lines tactics.

"Order all of the air force assets to attack in conjunction with the third line of defense," the colonel instructed after watching the second line of defense fall to the firepower of Battle Group Icarus.

"Understood!" cried out her staff members in unison, and they swiftly relayed her commands to the forces waiting to strike.

In hidden air strips and bunker-hangars all across the Pyrenees Mountains, dozens of fighter jets and attack helicopters rushed out as missiles and AA flak peppered Battle Group Icarus from the ground.

"Launching, launching! All air assets deployed! Contact with enemy forces in three… two… one!" a commsman called out. Everyone's eyes were firmly locked onto the screens, watching and waiting.

A concentrated wave of attacks, one from below, one from above, slammed into the Neo-Machines. Metal was rent asunder and sparks and explosions dotted the sky.

The Neo-Machines were slower over all, but more maneuverable than what the androids were fielding. They could tank the hits from the jets as they passed by, and filled the air with clouds of energy balls and bullets.

The battle quickly took a turn for the worse, however, as shields started to pop up all over the battlefield, various Neo-Machines linking together so their energy shields covered more area. This ended up turning the sky into a maze-like environment where the high-speed fighter jets suddenly ran out of room, and the helicopters were boxed in.

It swiftly devolved into a massacre, the Neo-Machines having sprung a massive trap to catch the androids off-guard.

Goliath Fliers bombarded the AA and artillery units on the ground, their massive cannons ripping apart the hills and mountains the Terran Army was sheltering in. Jet fighters slammed into walls made of energy barriers and exploded. Meanwhile, the smaller saucer-like Machines swarmed the helicopters, overwhelming them in dense walls of metal and energy.

The radio in the command center crackled with voices as androids fought and died, trying to escape.

"I'm hit, I'm hit! MAYDAY!"

"Scratch another clunker!"

"Shit, get these crazy little bastards off my tail!"

"They're swarming me! Damn it, I can't-! ARGH!"

"Locked and loaded my last missile! Firing!"

"HA! Take that! That one's for Smithy!"

"Engine's shot, ejecting in - *CRUNCH!*"

"I can't stay in the air any longer! Gonna ram one of these scrapheaps and take it with me!"

The chaos over the comm-net was sobering, and listening to the android pilots slowly be shot down, one by one, was harrowing for the command staff, who could only observe helplessly as the armored fist they'd thrust at the Machines broke apart and shattered under the weight and wiles of the enemy.

"Colonel Siesta, the aerials assets are…" the lieutenant began to speak, but was cut off by a gesture from his commanding officer.

"I know, Lt. Cross," she spat out bitterly. "Order a retreat."

Wordlessly, the gynoid stared at the screen, as if the Purple Athena might give up and surrender from the glare alone. Sadly, the Neo-Machines didn't stop their advance.

In the end, only a handful of the Terran Army's aerial assets had survived the encounter with Battle Group Icarus, fleeing over the mountains back to their home bases across Europe.

"Contact Commander White. Request an orbital laser strike on the following coordinates," Colonel Siesta eventually said as she watched the last units depart, sending the targeting grid data to one of her operators.

A silent salute was given, and the data was transmitted to the satellites orbiting up above. Several minutes later, an answer final came.

"YoRHa Command receives and confirms the request. Firing solution initiated," the android informed the command staff, and the tension ratcheted up a notch.

A few minutes later, the sky overhead lit up before the clouds split apart, and like a bolt from the heavens, a massive beam of energy fell upon the Neo-Machine army. Several Goliaths failed to get their shields up in time, and were tossed around like toys in a tornado. Assuming they didn't explode violently from the proximity to the laser beam, of course. Many smaller units were completely vaporized, and dozens of others smashed into each other, unable to remain stable.

The shielded Goliaths fared better, but even they were knocked about a bit. Only the units at the edge of the army were untouched by the shockwaves generated by the searing beam of energy. The charred crater left behind wasn't as bad as some other orbital strikes the androids had witnessed, either.

The destruction was visually impressive, and already a kill-count was pouring in from the observers, but Colonel Siesta could only grit her teeth as she saw how little damage had been done.

"That looks like it wiped out ten percent of the total units," Lieutenant Cross noted. The Machines had reacted faster than expected, breaking apart the Icarus Battle Group and spreading out their units so they weren't all clumped together.

"Damn it all, we've thrown everything we have at it, and we've not even cut it down to sixty percent!" Siesta growled in frustration.

"Some might say inflicting nearly forty-percent causalities is good enough," Cross pointed out.

"If this were any other force, I'd agree. However, the Neo-Machines and this damned Icarus Battle Group are not like the usual ground-based infantry we tend to deal with," the colonel replied bitterly. "What are they doing now, anyways?"

"Colonel Siesta! The enemy is-! They're deploying infantry units!" an operator gasped.

"What?" she uttered in disbelief as she turned to the holographic screens.

It was true. Battle Group Icarus had recovered from the orbital strike in record time, and hundreds of bipedal models of Neo-Machines were plummeting from the sky, leaping from the Goliath airships. They had jet packs which slowed their descent, and upon landing, they began swarming towards the bunkers, air strips, and AA and artillery emplacements within the area.

The Resistance androids guarding the mountainside bases were caught off guard by the assault, and many were cut down without a fight. Several units tried to perform fighting retreats, but the jet pack equipped Neo-Machines were faster and more maneuverable in the mountainous terrain, catching up to the fleeing androids and massacring them.

"Damn it, they're trying to reach our command center and take the surrounding ammo depots!" the colonel realized as she noted where the enemy infantry was landing and what sites they were advancing towards.

"They'll reach us in twenty minutes!" an operator warned her. "What do we do?"

"Can we hold them off?" she asked, the first idea that popped into her head being to hold the bunkers and throw back in invaders.

A quick glance at the numbers of Machines advancing towards them told the colonel 'no.' And that wasn't even counting the aerial support the Neo-Machines had access to.

"I don't think so," one of her staff replied nervously, giving the answer she already knew. "At least, not for very long. A few days at most."

"Well, we can't let this place fall into enemy hands!" Lieutenant Cross protested.

"I know that!" Colonel Siesta snapped at him, before turning to one of her aides. "What do you suggest?"

"I think it would be safer to pull back to La Vella, and go to ground there," the officer suggested. "We have plenty of bunkers scattered throughout the area we can take advantage of."

"And what about the situation in France?" the colonel demanded. "Could they send us help?"

"I do not think they will be able to send many more reinforcements. Not with the Maginot Line about to be assaulted by Machines emerging from the German Industrial Sectors," one of the commsmen replied grimly.

Frowns filled the command room at that. The Terran Army in France had already lost a lot of its fighting power, and with its air force gutted by the failed attack against the Neo-Machine's aerial fleet just now, they would be on the backfoot for a while.

"Your orders, Colonel Siesta?" Lieutenant Cross inquired.

"We cannot allow our forces to be slaughtered in the open. Order the androids to destroy their supply depots to deny them to the enemy, and then have them retreat to the Andorran Deep Site Bunkers. That way, they can join the reinforcements in La Vella," the colonel said after thinking it over quickly.

"Andorra will serve as the main hub of the Terran Army against the New Machine Empire in the Pyrenees. But we need to delay this massive air fleet so our forces have time to gather and bunker down," Colonel Siesta declared.

"Then, does that mean we also have to destroy our supplies?" a soldier asked nervously.

"Yes. In fact, this whole place has to come down," Colonel Siesta said, glancing around the command center. "We cannot let this place fall into enemy hands. Supplies aside, the data is far too valuable to lose."

"It will take time to delete everything," a computer technician warned. "At best, thirty minutes."

"And the Neo-Machines will definitely reach this place before then," an aide spoke up.

"Then someone will have to stay here and make sure the data has been erased from the systems before blowing the whole complex sky-high," Colonel Siesta grunted darkly.

"In that case, colonel, I volunteer for duty," Lieutenant Cross said, saluting his commanding officer.

"You realize that this will likely be a suicide mission, correct?" she asked him, expression softening, and he nodded.

"I know, colonel. But if we want even a slim chance of keeping the Machines out of France and bottled up in Spain, we have to hold them here," Cross stated grimly.

Colonel Siesta was silent, before offering him a salute in return. "So be it. Lieutenant Cross, you are hereby ordered to stay behind and make sure the deletion of the Terran Army's vital data is successful, and that the compound does not fall into the hands of Purple Athena. Understood?"

"Yes, ma'am! Crystal clear!" Cross assured her.

She nodded, then gestured to her command staff. "Alright! Start to pack things in! Grab whatever supplies you can carry! Set up explosives near what you cannot bring with you! I want us exfil in ten minutes!"

"Yes!" the androids shouted, and they started to rush around. One technician began the system purge, and a progress bar appeared on a screen.

"Deletion protocols engaged!"

Nearby, another android was unlocking a different security protocol. "Self-Destruct active! It can be triggered at any time!" he said to Lieutenant Cross, pointing to a big red button encased in glass.

"Thank you, soldiers. Now, hurry up, the clankers will be here soon," he said, ushering them out of the command center.

Soon, he was alone. Or so he thought, as the door to the room opened up, revealing eight androids.

"Sergeant Rumble, what are you doing here? I thought you were retreating to La Vella with the colonel and the rest of the troops?" Cross asked, recognizing the leader of the group.

"Come on, LT, like we were going to just leave you here to die alone," Sergeant Rumble scoffed, the other members of his squad nodding along.

"Hmph! Fine, you guys do what you want!" Cross muttered, looking away in the hopes they wouldn't see him blushing. It didn't stop the men from snickered behind his back, but he waved them off.

"Alright, alright! Quit yucking it up and take your positions!" he ordered, and the scurried out, taking up firing positions along the hallway that led to the command center.

Silently, Cross watched the security camera feeds as the Neo-Machines reached the entrance to the bunker. They hurled themselves at the blast doors, even as the automatic turrets blew them into scrap.

After a bit, the horde stopped trying to break in via brute force, and stepped back, allowing a group of brand-new units to approach. They were quadrupedal with a biped's mannequin-esque upper torso, almost centaur-like in appearance. However, one of their arms was replaced by a massive laser cannon, and they glowed an ominous purple before firing.

Laser beams lashed out from the new units, melting holes in the meter-thick wall of metal that served as the door and destroying the turrets. A minute later, the blast door had a gaping hole in it, large enough for the Neo-Machines to enter.

They started to pour in, only for a heavy machine gun Sergeant Rumble and his men had set up began to fire, scything down anything foolish enough to try and step inside the bunker.

But the enemy was numerous, far too much so for a single heavy weapon, and when it ran dry, the Neo-Machines burst in.

Lieutenant Cross clenched his hands into fists, helpless as he watched his soldiers get torn apart by the Neo-Machines. There was no mercy to be had, and Sergeant Rumble and his squad responded in kind.

The hallway was awash in gunfire and lasers. Smoke and flames. Screams and shouts. Rumble and his squad were skilled, and took down dozens of attackers before they even got close, but they were forced to pull back as the enemy continued to surge forward.

Bit by bit, they conceded parts of the hallway to the enemy, slowly being pushed back to the doors of the command center, their backs literally against the walls.

And through it all, Lieutenant Cross watched.

The lieutenant was so distracted by what was happening inside the bunker that he almost missed what was going on in the skies outside. One of the screens showed a group of five Goliath-type airships approaching, their massive laser cannons pointed directly at the mountainside where the command center was hidden beneath.

He barely had time to react as several Goliath Fliers opened fired on the mountain side, trying to crack open the bunker that way. The whole facility shook, and chunks of the ceiling gave way, dirt and metal crashing down into the command center.

Groaning, the lieutenant rolled onto his back, before looking down with a grimace. A large amount of rubble had fallen onto his legs, crushing them and pinning him down. He had to use his sword to hack away at his limbs, severing them so he could free himself.

"Damn, that's gonna take some work to buff out," Cross chuckled to himself weakly, before crawling over to the console. Miraculously, it had survived, though the screens had been cracked and shattered and parts of it were spewing sparks. But a quick glance told him the important components were still working.

And to his utmost relief, the progress bar for the deletion protocols were flashing green, the numbers '100%' visible despite the cracks.

He glanced over his shoulder, grimacing as he saw the doors to the control room buckle inward as the Neo-Machines tried to force their way in, Sergeant Rumble and his soldiers either dead or retreating. Cross privately hoped it was the latter.

"Guess this is it," he muttered to himself. "Had a good run… even got to see the return of humanity. Couldn't ask for much else, I suppose."

He pulled himself up, and stared down at the detonation trigger for the base's self-destruct.

"Glory… TO MANKIND!" Lieutenant Cross roared out as he pressed the console's big red button, breaking the glass with his fist.

Seconds later, Lieutenant Cross of the Pyrenees Division of the Terran Army was engulfed in an expanding fireball that vaporized him completely.

All across the base, countless bombs went off, flooding the hallways with explosions and fire, obliterating the Neo-Machine invaders. In addition, the last remaining stockpiles of ammo were detonated to prevent them falling into the enemy's hands, and hundreds of rockets, missiles, and artillery cannons fired one final volley at Purple Athena's aerial legions.

Caught off guard and unable to react fast enough, dozens of airships were shot down, exploding in the sky or as they impacted on the mountainsides.

This was not a victory. But it had bought the androids time to reinforce themselves. It would have to be enough.
LINE BREAK

Author's Note:
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Enjoy some turkey and a bonus chapter!