Story A Week: Paying the Price

Confession: I love tragic endings. My favorite Shakespeare play? Hamlet. The scene at the end of Star Trek II when Spock dies to save the crew? My favorite scene.

For a few months now, there has been an instrumental track on my iPod that has inspired me to write a short story about self-sacrifice, and a hero’s tragic end. Sometimes though, great ideas can take a very long time to “jell” into an actual plot. This is true even of short stories! It finally came together though. Mom would have read it and walked off muttering that she had to go watch “A Muppets Christmas Carol” just to cheer herself up…

“Paying the Price”

The lab was bathed in the red glow emanating from dozens of warning lights. A shrill alarm pierced the tense atmosphere of the room. The air was filled with the acrid smell of burned-out circuits. Three figures in white coats worked desperately to avert a disaster. Urgency was evident in their movements and tone of voice, but panic was surprisingly absent.

A petite woman with coal-black hair and striking blue eyes read the data on the screen that she was bent over. Her face paled and she turned her head to call out over her shoulder to one of the other scientists.

“Alex, can you contain the reaction from your terminal?”

The sandy-haired man’s warm brown eyes peered at the controls from behind gold-rimmed glasses. His long fingers practically flew across the keyboard in front of him, as he furiously attempted to do just that. He didn’t answer her question.

“Jenny, go shut down the main breakers in the utility room,” he calmly directed.

She moved to do as she was told. As soon as she was out of earshot the third scientist, Alexander’s exact duplicate in appearance, glanced over at his twin before reading off a long string of information from the monitor in front of him.

“The temperature is rising too fast and the molecules are becoming unstable,” Kyle concluded, “Can you shut it down in time?”

The brothers made eye contact for barely three seconds, but to Kyle, those brief moments felt like an eternity. He understood everything that Alex didn’t have time to say. It was unstable, too unstable, and could not be completely contained. The damage would be catastrophic, but localized. That was the good news. The flip side was that it would come at a cost. One of them would have to stay in order to regulate the energy flow until the last moment. It had to be done manually.

“I’ll stay,” Kyle began.

“I’m the only one who can do it,” Alex interrupted with a note of finality.

They both knew the truth of that statement. It was what Alex did. Brilliant as his twin brother was, he couldn’t do it, but Alex could.

Alex’s hands stilled and his eyes slid shut for just a moment.

‘Jenny. My Jenn. I’m sorry that I ever got you into this. I’m sorry that I’ll never slip a wedding band onto your finger next to the diamond that you wear. I’m sorry that I can’t be there for you, but someone has to pay the price today. I have to do this.’

His eyes flew open and he continued with his constant adjustments.

“You’ve got maybe five minutes; get Jenny out of the building. Keep her safe.”

“Alex…” Kyle started, but his mouth went dry. What do you say in the last thirty seconds that you have with your brother in this lifetime?

Alex paused long enough to put his arms around his little brother tightly in one final hug.

“Tell her that I love her,” he whispered and released Kyle to resume his efforts.

Kyle hesitated, in his heart he wanted to stay with his twin, and probably would have but for Jenny. Alex trusted him to get her to safety. It was the last thing that he’d ever do for his brother.

GO!” Alex urged.

That one word propelled Kyle out of the room in a dead run. Jenny was rushing back to the lab when Kyle grabbed her elbow and pulled her towards the exit.

“Where’s Alex?” she demanded.

Kyle refused to answer. She tried to pull her arm out of his grasp, but he tightened his grip and dragged her resolutely to the red door marked “Emergency Exit”.

“We can’t just leave him!” she insisted desperately.

Kyle swallowed the lump in his throat and pushed her ahead of him out the door into the cool night air.

“Alex! I love you! Alex please!” she screamed over her shoulder just before they burst out the door.

A short distance down the hallway the door to the lab was still open, and the sound of Jenny’s frantic cries echoed faintly.

He knew from the levels displayed on his screen that he had only seconds left to live. A solitary tear landed on the keyboard in front of him.

“I love you too,” he whispered, “Both of you.”

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