The Battle of Krebs' Point
(No one is allowed to take credit for this work apart from me. If you want to use it somehow, I would appreciate it if you were to get in touch with me first.)
(Not much to say about this piece, except that it's not very dark or disturbing. It's basically a quick little B-grade action flick with just a touch of nationalism and wishful thinking. There is violence, but it's not more graphic than what one might find in a PG-13 film. It's not at all at the level of some of my better works, but I did want to write a fun little feel-good piece for a change.
I think that just about covers it... so let's rock and roll.)
Suggested Music: Klaus Bedalt: Hope,
Suggested Drinks: Red Bull, Monster
Suggested Eats: MRE
Suggested Smokes: Don't smoke! It's bad for you!
Krebs' Point R&D, Subsidiary of Locke Engineering
Somewhere in Nevada
The complex of buildings was reminiscent of a corporate center in a more urban part of the nation, and the existence of several built-up facilities that were blatantly for testing of heavy-duty equipment made it clear that the installation at Krebs' Point was used for advanced engineering and research. If it had been located in a city, or perhaps even a small town, one might be reasonable to assume that the installation was used to test out the next generation of computers, or smartphones, or microwaves, or some other consumer product.
The reality of the situation, however, was that Krebs' Point was in the middle of nowhere for a reason. Named after a man who had wandered around the desert for weeks before finally meeting his end in the area, it was at least fifty miles from the nearest population center, and air and land traffic through the area was so low that the appearance of a single vehicle was an oddity. Endless parched deserts defined the area, and yet the harsh mountains and rugged, dusty plains surrounding Krebs' Point didn't compare to the grimness of the installation itself. Collections of buildings pressed against one another, so threatening in appearance that even if they had existed in a more populated part of the world, many might guess--correctly--that the installation did research and development for military purposes.
Because of how obvious of a military installation it was, Krebs' Point kept a low profile. To avoid the attention that would be associated with large volumes of soldiers, weapons, and traffic, it was protected by a single guard post operated by a fat, old Doberman, and its employees lived on-premises for five days out of the week.
In time, these employees had grown accustomed to the brutality of their surroundings--and perhaps they had even grown accustomed to the foreboding, ominous nature of the weather-beaten buildings they manned.
Yet, it seemed that none of them would ever grow accustomed to the miserable experience that working at Krebs' Point entailed.
The workplace was in shambles.
As it was, they had been running on a skeleton crew three months before, but after the layoffs and transfers that had rolled around just weeks before, there were just six of them left in the whole inspiration.
Six months before, each of them had been managers; higher-ups in the corporate chain of command, and still, each of them made six figure salaries and then some. But now, they didn't spend their days designing or testing or researching or troubleshooting--these days, they just locked up, closed up, and drank up the moment they got off work.
The entire installation was on the verge of being shut down for good. The project they'd been assigned had been promising at first--more than promising; they had been assigned to complete a project that would revolutionize small arms technology forever--but after years with no results, morale had faltered, and funding had faltered with it.
And then came the failures and the accidents. Two engineers had been killed, and the resulting military and corporate audits that had been put into place choked what life remained out of the project.
So, really, it was no surprise to anyone that their project--so secretive it hadn't been given a name--was a failure, and an expensive, embarrassing failure at that. It was no surprise that it had been defunded and that the good employees were being transferred and that the bad employees were being fired. But what shocked Katrina, the manager of the whole project, was that she and the other leaders at the installation were being liquidated, too.
She hadn't told anyone, of course, because they still had a lot of work to do. But that day, when she had received a manila parcel in the mail, the look on her face for the rest of the day had been enough to let everyone know that something had shocked her, badly. And Katrina was the kind of tigress who wasn't surprised easily.
And that's when things started to go really downhill.
Locke was cutting and running, and Katrina and her immediate subordinates were only kept around so that they could salvage what actionable information and research remained. Everything else was being packed up and stored away or destroyed; due to the bad economy and fiscal crises, even defense spending had been slashed and so even behemoths like Locke needed to be strict with expenditures in order to weather the storm.
In just a few months, she and what few of her employees remained had gone from being highly valuable assets to liabilities. They all knew this--and they knew owing to the stunning failure of their project, they would not get recommendations from the company. At best, they would find themselves excluded from the employee blacklists major engineering firms passed around, but even then there were few jobs that called for their skills.
And, so, morale was at an all time low. On good days, they came to work in the morning and read the news and puttered around, and then they worked for a few hours and then they went home. On bad days, they shouted at one another and stormed out of offices, buildings, or the entire installation altogether, and that day was a very, very, very bad day.
Katrina got in early that morning and immediately went into her office to do her reports for the day. Her brother, Alex--a dark haired white tiger like her--had joined her, in time, just to chat, to try to get both of their minds off of the unemployment and hopelessness that would surely be their fate in days rather than weeks.
For some time, Katrina had almost been coaxed into a good mood. She was a taciturn feline, not generally given to laughter and smiling, but her brother knew just how to prevent her from being as sullen and cold as she might be without him.
Then, though, Kathy--an all-American red vixen--had entered to raise some Hell about a power failure. She had been joined by Ken, a big, broad-shouldered fox with a booming voice and short temper, who had a bone to pick with his boss about missing paperwork.
Soon after that, José, a lean wolf who served as IT, informed Katrina that their internet lines were down. Ryan--a tall mountain lion who designed circuitry for their systems--happened to pass by at that, and loudly announced that this new revelation would make it impossible for him to do his work; there were some things he needed to look up that he couldn't without internet access.
It was all bullshit. All of it, as far as Katrina was concerned. Ryan could work without internet access; she knew it as well as he did, and he knew that she knew it. Kathy could damn well deal with a little power failure--she just had to move her equipment to another zone--and Ken was just being a lazy bastard and not looking around. Even José had to be able to do something to fix their internet; but he wasn't--and she knew why.
They just wanted to be told to take the day off to relax. They pushed their problems onto her plate and they expected her to push her problems onto the plates of her superiors, and since she wasn't doing that they were starting to yell at her. All four of them were in her office, talking loudly and angrily and even her brother, normally so well-adjusted of a feline, was starting to clench his fists and raise his voice to tell them not to mistreat his sister.
She had been holding a pencil in her paw. Now, she held it in a quivering fist as she looked at her employees--and then she squeezed it so hard that it shattered into a pile of splinters and graphite. She had had enough.
Suddenly, Katrina stood up, towering over everyone in the room except for Ryan and her brother at a full six feet tall. Her sleek business suit made her look attractive and professional, usually, but right then she looked dangerous and nothing else. Even discounting the hardness in her eyes and the vicious snarl on her face, she had her claws out and she leaned forward, slightly, with such vehemence and aggression that even Ken had to take a step back.
"This project," Katrina said, "is over. It's been a fucking disaster for weeks, and you--all of you have done jack shit about it," she hissed. She never swore, usually, but right then, her anger was so potent that it took a great deal of restraint not to express her feelings physically.
"I was authorized to hold onto you for another few weeks to clean up around here," the tigress said, "but this entire thing is a mess. I've done all I could to salvage it, but that's it. I give up--I quit," she said--and then, suddenly, she snatched up a series of documents and began to sign them.
"And you're all fired," Katrina added. "I never want to see your sorry faces ever again as long as I live--"
She froze. She stopped what she was writing mid-word and looked up. Something had been dropped--no, something had fallen, but that sound... it was so loud, yet she could tell it was distant, and there was none of the reverberation that was normally associated with a simple collision.
Katrina looked at her brother. Then, she looked at her employees--and then, she turned around, and opened several of the floor-to-ceiling windows that normally gave her office a view of hundreds of square miles of desert and desolation.
That day, though... well, there was desolation, to be sure. There was sand, there were rocks, and cacti, and there was plenty of sunlight.
There was also smoke. And flame. And heat so intense that the air shimmered as Alex, Katrina, and her employees looked at where the guard post had once been.
And then, two miles away, there were Jeeps, too. At least two dozen Jeeps, all visibly carrying multiple men with body armor, camouflage, and what were unmistakably loaded assault rifles.
Krebs' Point was under attack.
Katrina was the first to recover. She immediately closed the blinds and then turned around, struggling to deal with the thoughts racing through her mind--and then she took one look at the shock on her brother's face and she knew what she had to do.
"Alex, call the military--Ryan, Ken, Kathy, get into the lab and shut all the doors and windows. José, you're with me," the tigress said. She reached into a drawer in her desk that had rarely been opened before and produced a .45 caliber 1911.
By then, the rest of her employees had ran off to do as they were told. So, Katrina was free to get up and start to sprint to the server room in the back of the building with her pistol in her hand.
"We need to dump all of the information we've got," the tigress said as she ran. "If any of this gets into the wrong hands, you know what can happen."
José didn't question her, because she was right. One of the reasons their research didn't have any apparent practical uses was due to instability, but terrorists didn't require high-grade weapons. All it took was one dirty bomb or one proton-shift weapon to give the whole US one Hell of a bad day.
So, after Katrina unlocked the server room, she and José immediately started their work. It would take them minutes to break through the multiple levels of security put in place to prevent sabotage, but there was no choice. They had to do it before the terrorists go there.
"Katrina," a voice said, "the lines have been cut. They took everything out--internet, phone, everything."
Alex had appeared in the server room, so intensely red-faced that it showed through his fur. He didn't repeat what he'd said when his sister looked at him--he just nodded and looked away.
Katrina, on the other hand, got back to what she was doing almost immediately. She still had a chance--if she could only hack the system and initiate an assembly command to overwrite everything with zeroes, then it would all be alright.
And then, she made an incorrect keystroke--and she was locked out of the system. José continued to work for another moment--before the system locked him out, too.
By this time, the rest of the employees had piled into the server room. They had shut the windows and the doors and even then were looking at Katrina, their boss, their leader. They wanted her to convince them not to believe their own eyes, and to tell them that she had some ingenious way of making the Jeeps, and the terrorists driving them, wait until they got their communications working again.
But Katrina had nothing. She stared blankly at the server tower in front of her, for a moment, and then she began to speak to herself in such a soft and melancholic tone that not even her brother could believe she had used it.
"By the time the military notices... it'll be too late," she said. "This is a smash and grab; they had this planned out from start to finish."
She looked up. Mostly, she looked at her brother, but she made eye contact with the rest of her employees, too. Kathy had fallen into Alex's arms, and frankly, she couldn't blame her.
"They're going to take everything we have, and if they don't shoot us on the spot, they're going to take us hostage. If we're lucky, we can convince them not to torture us... too much, anyway."
Katrina tried to smile. She honestly tried, but she couldn't smile. No one in that group could smile, then, not even Alex, not after she'd so accurately and effectively described their rapidly approaching fates. None of them could even look her in the eye--except for Ryan, who seemed to have channeled his fear into anger--and she couldn't blame them. They didn't have any options, it seemed, but to surrender and take whatever came to them.
A thought came to Katrina, though. At first, she regarded it as so ridiculous that it made her smile, but then she kept thinking. She kept thinking about the Jeeps, and the armed men approaching in them, and the way they had blown up the guard post without a second thought. She thought about what they might do if they got access to the research her installation had produced, and then, briefly, she thought about the American flag, still flying strong and defiant on the roof of the building.
She looked at the 1911 in her hand. It wasn't enough, but, perhaps, Krebs' Point had some things that were enough.
Katrina had stood up, so calmly, smoothly, and proudly that her brother and her employees followed her obediently, though they knew that she was leading them to surrender, or suicide. Perhaps the last option really would be better... at least then, there would be no question about what had happened to them, and they wouldn't be tortured into giving up secrets that would make the US bleed for years.
Within a moment or two, Katrina had led the rest of the beings that were employed in Krebs' Point into the main laboratory. It was seated on a large rock that placed it several feet about the expanse of plains that the Jeeps were crossing even then, and, despite everything, they all had to appreciate what a wonderful place it was. It was state-of-the-art and had cost at least four million dollars to make to the tolerances that were required. The air conditioning units alone had had to be designed from scratch, thanks to the intensely heat the technologies they were developing outputted into the atmosphere, but--hold on, what was going on?
Alex asked that. He was staring at his sister and tilting her head, because he didn't understand what she was doing. She wasn't preparing to shoot her employees or herself so that they wouldn't be captured, and she hadn't put her pistol down--not quite. Instead, she had slid its muzzle into the belt, and after that, she had taken off her jacket, and then her shirt as well, leaving herself in nothing more than a white tank top that made her brother avert his eyes and José stare.
She cracked her neck and blushed, just a little bit, though she knew exactly what she was doing, and why. After all, she--and the rest of them, for that matter--needed to be able to move.
For a moment, Katrina disappeared from view. She had knelt on the opposite side of a workbench, and when she stood up again, she was tying a brief length of leather cord around her hair to keep it out of her face. She was also pushing a box of their latest research forward, as if she wanted her employees to do the impossible.
Alex--her own brother--stared at her like she was crazy. But she stared right back at him, and the expression on her face was not one of love.
"Katrina," Alex said gently, "we can't win this. Not even with these," he gestured to the box she was even then rummaging through to get the components together for a completed piece. "We don't have a chance. Come on--it's best to just surrender, or--"
"Or what?" the tigress sharply replied. "Commit suicide? I've got way too much to live for, and if you think I'm going to let myself get captured by some terrorist a-holes without a fight, you're out of your mind."
She glared at him for a moment, and then she tossed the large, electrical device in her arms to her brother. He caught it, but did nothing.
So, Katrina looked at the rest of her employees--Ken, Kathy, Ryan, José. Not one of them had military or police experience, and the only ones among them who took their own physical fitness seriously were herself and her brother. She was the only one among them who owned a weapon and used it very much--all in all, they were not soldiers. They were just engineers, technicians...
"Are you guys kidding me?" Katrina said. "We build guns for the military, and you don't have the guts to grab a gun when you really, really have to? Ken--your grandfather died in Normandy, right? And Kathy, your dad still has nightmares about Vietnam, right?"
She looked at the two vulpines of the group, but they did not meet her eyes. So, snarling, she continued.
"Ryan, your brother almost got killed in Afghanistan last month, fighting the Taliban. José--your dad became US citizen by joining this military--and Alex, you know the two of us are only around because of what this country did in Korea. If it hadn't been for America, we'd be... bowing down to Kim Jong-il right now." She scoffed. "Hundreds of thousands of people have died to earn freedom and peace for us, and you're not willing to defend it?" she said. She tried to look at her brother, but even he wouldn't meet her eyes.
So, after a moment, she simply looked back outside. She wanted to simply enjoy the harsh beauty of the desert for a few more minutes, but she couldn't. She really couldn't, not when half a dozen Jeeps loaded with masked Islamists were using it to race toward them, rifles in hand.
Katrina shut her eyes. If all of them worked together, they had half a chance to hold out until the military realized that something was wrong and sent in the choppers and fighter jets. But by herself... it was pointless to fight. She'd just piss the bad guys off and make them that much more cruel to whoever lived through the assault.
So, the tigress gripped her pistol in her paw. She lifted it, moving to place it under her chin--but then, something stopped her.
Alex had taken her side, then, and used his paw to firmly but gently prevent his sister from taking her own life. Then, as she glared at him and prepared to repudiate him for forgetting that she was the elder of them, he powered up the device in his arms. And then, he configured it to output at maximum power.
Briefly, he looked around at the rest of the last few to work at Krebs' Point. He looked at his sister in passing, and then he looked at the six rapidly-approaching vehicles.
He over turned a workbench and knelt behind it so that he could fire from cover. And then, calmly, he spoke.
The six of the Jeeps approached the Krebs' Point installation in a rough phalanx position. The lead vehicle was the most dangerous of them all; a fifty caliber machinegun had been mounted on the roof and could provide devastating fire even at long range. It was armored, too, and not with Kevlar--no, the lead Jeep's most vulnerable sections had been reinforced with ceramic plates, and its windshield had been replaced with the latest in bullet-proof technology.
Certainly, it was capable of going toe to toe with an all-American HUMVEE, or perhaps even a big APC with a chaingun. Certainly, it was the ideal tool to use for a high speed operation like this--it was all but impervious to small arms fire and more than agile enough to evade heavier fire, like RPGs, launched missiles, or artillery.
The armed men in that vehicle, therefore, tried not to be smug. They tried not to get cocky. They were the ones who had fired the RPG that had taken out the guard post, and they knew that the few other people left in Krebs' Point were as fat, lazy, cowardly, and pathetic as all Americans were.
The driver had even rolled down his window to rest his elbow outside of the vehicle and feel the wind on his masked face. He said nothing, but, briefly, he glanced to the man directly at his side to grin.
He looked back at Krebs' Point just in time to see the first ball of fire race toward him.
There was an explosion and then a terrible, searing, scorching heat. The stench of ozone and molten metal that resulted was terrible, certainly, but they didn't compare to the sheer trauma of the impact. Sparks and shrapnel flew everywhere as the entire front end of the Jeep was pulverized in a violent inferno, causing the rest of the vehicle to come to an abrupt, flaming halt.
The men in the vehicle were burned, badly, or peppered with dozens if not hundreds of pieces of shrapnel. Many of them were thrown from the vehicle and those who weren't were left screaming and struggling to escape, even as more repeated pulses of phased energy raced toward them.
Krebs' Point was fighting back.
Katrina had been the one to fire that first, overcharged bolt of pure energy. She had almost melted her weapon in doing so, but instead of turning to slag and then solidifying into a nondescript gray mass when the units safety features kicked in, her rifle had turned itself and was even then shunting the excess energy of its discharge into the atmosphere.
It had been worth it, though. Although the temperature in the lab rose by a perceptible degree, Sameera had seen her shot take out an entire Jeep of armed goons, and that was worth the temporary sacrifice of any weapon.
Even a phased plasma rifle.
That's what the Krebs' Point installation was for--the design and testing of the next generation of small arms.
Katrina and Alex had been behind it from its inception, ten years ago, when they had been wet-behind-the-ears cubs fresh out of college. They had jointly proposed the project that had eventually become the purpose of Krebs' Point to Locke's board of directors, and they had been laughed at until they showed a video of themselves using a plasma weapon to melt a pile of old electronics from twenty feet away with only a AAA battery to draw power from.
Years passed, and they had used that time to ramp up the scale, and the power, of their project. But when they had done so, they had encountered a number of unexpected problems that arouse from the complexity of the instrumentation required to keep things safe, accurate, and controlled. Millions of dollars had been poured into the project in an attempt to get it to produce an energy weapon that was up to spec for military purposes, but Katrina had never quite been able to convince the monkeys in suits that she had a product that was ready for combat. They could never even get an official go ahead for test deployment in a mil-sim environment.
Well. That day, their rifles would get a Hell of a testing. One Jeep was down, but over twenty were left--and, now, they were pissed off.
Bullets began to fly through the air. The lab's windows--already largely melted by Katrina's first shot--were pulverized to thousands of glittering smithereens within seconds as the terrorists returned fire.
Fortunately, no one was hit. Not for the moment, at least. And now that they were actively being fired upon, Ryan, Ken, Kathy, Alex, and José were starting to fight.
Alex and Kathy were on one side of the lab; Katrina was on the other. Ken and José were prone so that they could use hundreds of pounds of overturned computers and electronics to protect themselves, and Ryan was on point, using a large pillar to protect himself.
Ken and José, for the most part, were the ones who really fired a lot. From their positions, they could fill the air between themselves and the terrorists with dozens of hot globules of plasma within seconds without greatly worrying about taking reciprocal hits. True, they had to remove their shirts and tie them around their faces to avoid being seriously burned, but by providing such a volume of suppressing fire, they kept the Jeeps from getting too close.
Alex kept his flank covered, for the most part. He would peer out of cover and shoot, every few seconds, in slow, carefully staggered bursts. He aimed not to keep the Jeeps away; rather, he aimed to destroy them--but half the time, he was coaching Kathy and cajoling her and trying to get her to do more than fire a few rounds, scream, and dive for cover.
Katrina, of course, had her side locked down. And although Ryan didn't fire much, the hatred on his face left little question as to what his motives were when he did shoot.
Repeated bass pulses of sound corresponded to when they fired, and soon, Katrina got used to the dull throb. Though her ears were still half-folded, she could at least snarl and avoid flinching whenever Ken or José got scared and poured a megawatt's worth of energy downrange, and fire a series of more careful shots, herself.
Their defense was strong. But it was not perfect.
Within moments, the temperature in the laboratory became literally unbearable. It had skyrocketed up from a comfortable 78 degrees farenheit to a blistering 120, and at that point, the installation's safety mechanisms kicked in.
With a hissing sound, sudden blossoms of vapor flowered into the air. Immediately it became difficult to breathe as suddenly evaporating nitrogen displaced much of the oxygen in the lab, but at least it grew cool again.
For some moments, Katrina and her employees--her coworkers, really--continued to fight back. But as liquid nitrogen continued to flood the laboratory and suddenly turn into gas, it became impossible to see more than twenty feet away.
Maybe it was time to take full advantage of their rifles.
"Helmets on!" Katrina yelled. "Standard daylight settings; everything else should work. Alex, you made this revision--anything we ought to know about?"
"Yeah," the male tiger replied. His sister looked at him and saw that he had already slipped on the battle helmet attached to his rifle via encrypted Bluetooth. "We're being flanked. I saw six Jeeps peel off from the rest of them; they're trying to get in through the apartments."
Katrina snarled. She put her own helmet on, and fumbled, briefly, as she struggled to activate it. After that, however, she could see through the nitrogen in the air--and the smoke and the spark as well. Better yet, the thermal enhancing capabilities of their helmets were tuned just so that they could see person, and vehicles, but not the fiery pulses of energy that tended to burn throbbing globs of color in their vision normally.
"Head 'em off," she said, after returning to the fight. She fired a long burst of plasma, and a moment later, Ken and José started to fire again as well. "You and Kathy, just keep them away from us for a few more minutes. SOCOM's got instruments--they have to have seen this by now. They're probably sending in the black helicopters right now."
Briefly, Katrina spared her brother a smile. But then, a long, staccato shriek of automatic gunfire made Swiss cheese out of the wall she was hiding behind. She dived out of the way, but not quickly enough to stop a bullet from drawing a long, bloody line across her bicep.
Alex moved to go and help her, but she yelled at him to go and do as she'd said, that she was alright. Indeed, within seconds, the tigress was back on her feet and firing back with renewed vehemence--she had to. Now, a significant chunk of the manpower in the laboratory was gone.
After seeing that his sister was alright--at least, that she wasn't terribly injured--Alex had grabbed Kathy around the waist and bodily hauled her out of the lab. Though the vixen was alternating between crying and screaming in fear, she managed to cling to her rifle so that within a few seconds, he was able to put her down and simply lead her to where all Krebs' Point employees lived during the week.
It was chilling, in a way, to be racing through the hallways of what had become "home" with a rifle in his hands, but Alex kept his cool. He had to; at least one person among the two of them had to maintain a level head, and Kathy most certainly wasn't.
Still, they managed to reach the main entrance to the apartments alright. After crossing a brief stretch of open ground, Alex and Kathy filed into the apartments and then took their positions next to a ground-floor window that offered a view of the space to the side of the installation.
Just as Alex had warned, six Jeeps were coming in.
They were still a ways off, though, and if Alex opened up just then... he'd announce his and Kathy's position, and the Jeeps would likely be able to dodge any shots he fired before they could do any real damage.
For the moment, it was best to wait. It was best to let them come closer, and then ambush them with a flurry of high energy shots. In fact, if they were careful, Alex and Kathy might well be able to take out all six Jeeps before they received reciprocal fire.
But for that to happen, Kathy needed to be able to do more than sit in the corner with her paws over her ears and her eyes tightly shut as she repeatedly whimpered a prayer to herself.
Alex said Kathy's name several times. She didn't respond. He yelled her name--she still didn't respond--and so he took her wrists into his paws and forced them away from her ears and gently told her that he needed her to be serious for him.
And, finally, she listened. She even opened her eyes and looked at Alex--shyly, at first--but when she saw him looking at her, she couldn't do anything but stare into his brilliant, dark eyes. Everyone really needed her--in fact, her entire country needed her--but what made Kathy hold her gun like a warrior for the first time that day was when it hit her, psychologically, that Alex personally needed her. He needed her to be stronger than she ever had been before, and he needed her to fight for him, and so finally, Kathy nodded. She nodded--and then she saw the twin trails of smoke tracing through the air, following two explosive warheads racing directly toward them.
"Look out!" she yelled-
Kathy hit the ground just in time. Alex, however, glanced at the window before reacting, and that was why he was a fraction of a second too slow.
He heard a dull ringing in his ears. He tasted copper. Saw only darkness--and then dull, blurred silhouettes dancing before him.
It was several seconds before he became aware that Kathy was alternatively shaking him, or slapping him, and firing rapidly out of a building that must have met the business end of a bulldozer, because it had had a nice, big chunk of it messily blown off--
"Alex! Alex! Get up right now; they're almost here!"
Alex felt energy jolt into his system. He jumped to his feet--crouched--and then poured fire out of the gaping maw that had once been the apartment building's eastern wall.
"What happened?" the tiger demanded. He quit firing, briefly, to allow his rifle to cool down--and then he carefully aimed and fired a single, targeted shot that struck one Jeep's side and caused a spray of vaporizing blood to explode into the atmosphere.
"They hit us with RPGs," Kathy replied. She had taken quite a beating from the explosion, too--part of her blouse was shredded; even then parts of cloth around her midriff were simply falling away into bloody, burning pieces. She shouldered her rifle and fired, for a moment, before turning away to get behind cover and try to catch her breath.
It was then that Alex noticed that there weren't six Jeeps left, anymore. Apart from the one he'd seriously damaged, there were three others. Which meant that...
He looked at Kathy. After a moment, the vixen smiled, almost shyly, and it was then that Alex saw why she had always been so kind to him... why she brought him coffee in the morning, why she always stopped to chat with him, and why she had fallen into his arms rather than Ryan's or Ken's or José's.
He smiled back at her. And, even as he began to fire at the Jeeps with renewed vigor, he promised himself that if they got out of this alive, he'd kiss her like they were at Times Square in the August of '45.
Katrina and the rest of the employees in the lab were still stubbornly fighting back, but after they'd thinned the Jeeps' ranks by occasionally causing one of the vehicles to go up in violent balls of flame and smoke, the terrorists had wizened up. Rather than advancing in neat formations, they simply drove all about the desert and allowed their gunners to pepper the lab with bullets.
In time, the incoming fire would chew through the building and find flesh within. And now, the drivers had learned how to evade the plasma rifles' slow-moving projectiles, so there was little point in firing except for when they got a little too close to the lab.
"Where the fuck is the God-damned military?" Ken demanded a moment later. An LCD screen in front of him exploded, suddenly, causing him to jump back and shout a series of swear words until Katrina yelled back.
"Shut up and keep shooting!" the tigress yelled. "They'll be here any minute; we just need to hold out a little longer--"
There was an explosion, then, that was chillingly similar to the thunderous blast that had announced the destruction of the security post, and the guard that manned it. This time, however, it was closer, much closer, and when Katrina realized where it had come from, she felt her blood run cold.
For a moment, she was unable to fight.
And then, she ran like a rabbit, leaving José, Ken, and Ryan to fight off the terrorists on their own.
But she returned, about two minutes later, from Krebs' Point's secondary lab, a small, rarely-used room in the back, not far from her office. The rest of the employees still employed at the installation had only been in there a handful of times, and even then, only under her supervision. And that was because there, Katrina was doing her own research. She was perfecting a technology that had already been proven on the battlefield, but had never quite made its way into a small arms package.
For months, she had tinkered away, struggling to come up with a weapon that was both powerful and man portable. She hadn't succeeded, exactly--her end product weighed over two hundred and fifty pounds and was the size of a fully-grown man--but it was a devastating firearm.
It was a laser rifle.
As Ken and José continued to hold the terrorists off, Katrina took a few moments to set her weapon up, to plug it into the industrial-grade power outlets on the wall and to link its cooling system up with the rest of the lab's. She yelled at Ryan to do more than hide behind the pillar and look angry--and then, she managed to power her weapon up.
She half-crouched behind the massive, ultra-futuristic device. She aimed, for a moment, using the arm's Bluetooth output to link to her helmet, and then squeezed the triggers.
A red, flaming lance spat from the weapon's barrel, literally at the speed of light. It burned the air and the metal frames that had once kept the windows in place, but then, it struck Katrina's target and burned that too. The tigress locked on to the Jeep she'd hit, and after keeping the laser on it for a few seconds, it had been skewered and was billowing flames even as she continued to melt it into oblivion.
The appearance of this new weapon on the battlefield shocked everyone present--the terrorists for sure, and Katrina's employees for damn sure--but Ken and José recovered before their enemies did. Within a few seconds, they managed to blow up no less than three enemy Jeeps.
Whooping in exhilaration, Ken checked the coolant system on his rifle--it needed a moment' respite--and called out to Katrina.
"Why didn't you tell us you had a laser rifle?" he yelled.
"Why don't you keep shooting?" Katrina yelled back--but this time, for the first time in months, there was a smile on her face. She targeted another Jeep--and a few seconds later, there was another fiery explosion followed by distant screams in some harsh Middle Eastern tongue.
José and Ken cheered again, and the outgoing fire intensified. Katrina also became aware, around this time, that there was a firefight going on at the side of the installation. The Jeeps that had gone to flank them were being accosted... which meant that Alex or Kathy or both of them were alive and well enough to fight back.
They really could win this. Even though they had been on their own for at least ten minutes, they could really win this.
"Hey--RPG, RPG, get down!"
José yelled that barely in time for Katrina and the rest of the fighters in the laboratory to take cover. Each of them hit the ground and curled up, and so serious injuries were avoided, even though the explosive weapons struck the lab head on. The front part of the building was damaged, but the structure was strong enough that there was no catastrophic failure and it was still the ideal place to fight off an attack from.
Ken proved this point by getting to his feet not ten seconds after the RPG had struck and unleashing a salvo of white-hot energy toward the Jeeps until radiant heat burned his paws and forced him to take cover again.
It was alright, though. By that point, Katrina and José had managed to shake their heads out of the numbness and the confusion and the dull, disorienting ringing they heard. They blearily began to fire as well--and then when they remembered what was going on, they managed to take down two Jeeps that had gotten just a little too hopeful after the RPG had struck.
There were still over a dozen vehicles out there in the desert, angrily swarming about like an angry group of bees. But Katrina's laser rifle could reach out and touch them before they could get out of the way, and with José's and Ken's covering fire, she was more or less impervious to what bullets came their way.
Another Jeep exploded in a violent fireball, and at this point, Katrina really was starting to feel confident. Even if the military didn't come for a few more minutes, or an hour--even if it didn't show up at all, they could defend Krebs' Point. They could destroy all of the remaining Jeeps, and they could win.
And then there was a grunt--that was all, just a grunt. It was close, though, and so chillingly familiar that the tigress immediately dropped behind cover and looked at where Ken and José were hiding.
She saw blood.
"I'm hit," Ken said in an almost businesslike tone, albeit through clenched teeth. He was holding tightly to his abdomen, but when he moved his paw away for a moment to look at his wound, he winced, horribly, and immediately held on more tightly. He snarled, but when he tried to lift his rifle to fire again, his strength failed and he simply lay on the floor.
After staring at her coworker--her subordinate, her friend, a beloved comrade and employee--Katrina started to fire again. Her laser rifle speared the rear section of another Jeep, but didn't quite damage it seriously enough to take it down, so she got behind cover again and gave it a moment to recharge.
"Just hold on for a few more minutes!" the tigress called. "The military will be here any minute now--José, tell Ken to hold on!"
The wolf stopped firing--drew his paw away from the red-hot surface of his rifle--and looked directly into Katrina's eyes. He'd taken a hit on the cheek, it seemed, from some shrapnel that had shredded parts of his fur and left him messily bleeding. Still, he fought without complaint or negativity... and yet he couldn't keep the sadness out of his eyes when he glanced at Ken and shook his head.
Katrina swore to herself. She was just about to get up and start shooting away when her eyes widened and she dived to the floor, yelling at José to take cover, fast.
One RPG had harmed them so severely. Now, five were racing toward the lab too fast to be stopped--
Katrina regained her consciousness in an extremely bad position. She was covered with debris--parts of the lab, computer components, and various other chunks of concrete and hardware. Judging by the pain in her side, she'd broken a rib--but she was still alive. She was still alive--and as long as she was alive, she would fight back.
Her weapon. Her laser rifle--she was still clutching it in one hand, but now the Jeeps were no more than fifty yards away. They were parking--and the armed men inside were getting out. No--now, they were swarming the area. They were so close--they believed they had won, and so they were laughing and resting their Kalashnikovs on their shoulders and congratulating one another in their native tongue.
Involuntarily, Katrina coughed up a mouthful of blood. She winced, terribly, and struggled to move--the terrorists were on them, now. They were rooting through the debris--they had gotten to Ken, José, and Ryan--they were standing over the former two and they were about to execute them, and yet they seemed not to be aiming their guns at Ryan.
And then Katrina felt something in her other paw. She grasped it, and pulled--and then she remembered that the weight in her striped appendage was her .45. Her vintage, all-American, .45 caliber Colt 1911.
Her arm burst free of the rubble. And then she emptied the magazine of her gun more rapidly and accurately than she ever had before.
Though Katrina held it only with one hand, she managed to strike all of her targets. The nearest seven terrorists--the ones standing over Ken, Ryan, and José--went down from shots to the skull, but that alerted the rest of the terrorist. Swearing in their native language, they lifted their rifles and aimed them at Katrina--
And then, for the first time, the employees of Krebs' Point saw what their weapons could do to flesh at close range.
Suddenly, two distinct gunmen had opened up with plasma fire, rapidly clearing the area of the masked terrorists. Burning bits of flesh resulted from the grievous wounds, but the trauma was so severe that anyone unfortunate enough to get hit died before their next heartbeats.
Ken and José seem to have passed out; Ryan simply stared in shock with his hands wrapped defensively around his head--but Katrina broke free of the debris and started to fire her laser rifle. She shouted at her brother and Kathy to spread out, quick, before the terrorists could get them all with saturated fire, and so the strobes of plasma racing over her head diverged, slowly, as one of the two remaining fighters peeled off and knelt near the other side of the lab.
The terrorists ran to take cover behind their Jeeps, but that did little good. They fired their rifles wildly, and that, too, did little good. And when José regained consciousness and started to fire back, they resorted to desperate measures.
With a chilling scream, one terrorist broke free of the Jeeps and sprinted to the lab. He had dropped his weapon; he held something beeping and blinking in his paw--and then Katrina shot him in the chest and he exploded.
They were using themselves as weapons, now. The battle at Krebs' Point had just taken a turn for the brutal.
José kept up a stream of outgoing fire that deterred most would-be suicide bombers from rushing forward while Alex and Kathy carefully targeted the now-static vehicles. At the same time, Katrina kept her eyes open for any terrorists that had dropped their weapons in favor of blowing themselves up close enough to the lab to kill some of them--and, every few seconds, she had to snap up her rifle and shoot one of the masked men through the heart or brain fast.
Ryan had lost his weapon, it seemed. But Ken was alive--and although he was still tightly holding on to his injured abdomen, he was well enough to heave his plasma rifle onto a pile of rubble in front of him and fire several shots.
The terrorists were firing back, certainly. But the lab was such a mess by then and those in it were so well-protected by junk and debris that even at this close range, their bullets were useless.
And so they started to retreat. They started to drive away, but Katrina shouted and stood up and aimed her rifle and fired at the departing Jeeps. Alex joined her--and so did Kathy, and José, and even Ken, after José and Alex wrapped their arms under his shoulders so that he too could curse and shout at the defeated terrorists and punch burning holes into their vehicles as they turned tail and ran from Krebs' Point.
They were sweating, panting, bleeding, exhausted, and burned from the dissipating heat of their energy rifles. Those rifles were piled up to the side of them, though--apart from Katrina, who had slapped a fresh magazine into her 1911 and then racked the slide--they were unarmed. After all, they had no reason to be armed, and no desire to be armed, when they had the opportunity to see the terrorists they had defeated driving out of the desert at best speed.
They had won. They had defended Krebs' Point from their enemies--they had killed dozens of terrorists without taking more than a single fatality. Ken was injured... and the hit he had taken was mortal. He wouldn't live to see the next day, but while he still lived he was enjoying himself--even then, he was talking and laughing and trying to catch his breath with the rest of them as they held his paws and gradually came down from their collective adrenaline high.
Katrina noticed that Alex and Kathy seemed to be sitting arm in arm. She also noticed that José seemed to be sitting quite close to her, and that her tank top had been damaged in the fighting to the point that her midriff was bare--at least until the wolf at her side removed his shirt and handed it to her so that she might wrap it around her belly to conserve her modest.
She thanked him, then, by nuzzling at his shoulder. That made him blink--Katrina was a feline, sure, but she was a freezing cold white tigress who had never shown affection to her own brother, let alone to him. Yet now, though she had stopped nuzzling him, she was simply resting her head against his shoulder and sitting right up against him, smiling, slightly, at the sight of the Jeeps struggling to maintain structural integrity as they continued to flee the scene.
"I'll have a Hell of a story to tell my baby girl when I get home," Ken grunted. He coughed--and then grinned at everyone present. "If my wife lets me get in a word edgeways, anyway. I can hear her yellin' at me right now... 'You went into defense research because you said it would be safe; look at what happened now, you brute!' Heheh..."
The fox chuckled. He seemed saddened, briefly--but then, for the first time, he realized why his wife had forced him to be the first man in his family to fail to join the military. She had forced him to serve his country in a more passive way because she loved him, and she wanted him to be safe. And he had failed her.
For a long moment, Ken said nothing. Then, he looked at his coworkers so seriously that he didn't need to say anything to tell them to tell his wife that he had died doing what he was born to do, and to tell his daughter that her father had been a brave, selfless, patriotic man, right until the very end.
"One thing I don't get," José said after some time, "is how they knew everything... where we were, what to do... how they cut the communication lines, just like that. They must have had--"
José's voice broke mid-word. He looked to his left, then to his right--Ken, Kathy, Alex, and Katrina were with him, and although the tigress looked so venomous, then, that he couldn't look away for a second, he noticed that someone was missing.
What happened next happened so quickly than none of them properly saw it. Later, they managed to conclude the following: Ryan had shouted some sort of battle cry and lifted a captured Kalashnikov, intending to mow down his coworkers with it. But before he could pull the trigger, Katrina had stood up, spun around, and shot him in the chest and arm six time,s knocking him off his feet and to the ground where he shouted and hissed and cursed them in a pool of his own blood.
Then, violently, the tigress had strode toward him and kicked the rifle from his paw. Standing over him, she aimed her 1911 at his skull, and snarled.
"I don't think you're getting your seventy-two virgins, you treasonous fuck. Maybe I'm wrong... but if not, see you in Hell."
She pulled the trigger, then.
And that was that.
Somewhere in the distance, there was an explosion. Those who had worked at Krebs' Point, on projects so secret and mysterious and outlandish that the suits that ran their company didn't see the value in them that terrorists could had looked up--but there was no cause for alarm. Several Apache gunships were firing Hellfire missiles and Hydra rockets down at the escaping Jeeps, blowing them up even more completely than Katrina's laser rifle had.
Hopefully, they'd leave a few of the masked goons alive. If so... well, even Kathy, a liberal Democrat, wouldn't be particularly upset if they were locked away in Gitmo for the rest of their lives.
By the time the black helicopters got to Krebs' Point, and by the time the soldiers cleared the area so that medical personnel could approach, Ken had passed on. Kathy was at his side, shutting his eyes and keeping his body warm--and the news helicopters that had managed to get to the area captured that.
But they also captured what José, Alex, and Katrina were doing. After Katrina had reloaded her pistol and stuck it back in her belt, she had called forth her brother, and, well, her boyfriend, to go to the roof of the building with her. They had to make sure that the flag was still flying strong.
(I am sorry for killing Ken. Originally, I had planned on having him survive, but when the time came to end the story, I realized that it would be much better if I didn't give Katrina and her team an absolute victory.
Anyway, what do you think? I know this isn't exactly my greatest piece in terms of plot, drama, or anything else, but it was fun to write. Besides, even I need to create something uplifting once in a while. Death, destruction, and treason aside, this is sort of a feel good piece.
I guess that's about all I have to say for now. So, this is Tiger Khan, black metal warrior numero uno in these parts... see you next chapter.)