A Tough Call

5 minutes.

A digital clock shows the countdown in fat red numbers.

Colonel Steve Grant and Lieutenant Poppy Barton are desperately trying to push away a heavy stone pillar that has landed on top of Poppy’s leg. Underneath it, the leg is bent at an odd angle. Their faces turn deep red with exertion. Poppy stops pushing, leans back against a part of cave wall behind her and lets out a tiny whimper. Tears starts rolling down her cheeks. Steve stops pushing too and looks at her, then at the time.

4 minutes.

For a few moments, there is nothing but their heavy breathing.

“Poppy, I… you know I have to leave you. I have to get out with the chip.” Steve’s face is a pale mask of guilt. Poppy starts panicking.

“No no no, please. Don’t leave me here. Please don’t! Help me.” Poppy says the words in-between sobs. She is really crying now. Steve looks at her with a pained expression.

“I’m sorry.” He says simply and starts to turn around to leave.

“No! No, please! Don’t leave. Don’t leave me. Please. I’m scared. I don’t want to die. ” She’s sobbing hysterically, hyperventilating.
Steve turns back around and looks at her again with pity. He makes a decision.

“Okay… I’ll try for one more minute. I’ll stay with you.”

“Really? Thank you Steve, thank you.” She closes her eyes as she repeats her words.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Steve walks swiftly towards Poppy and goes around so he is standing almost behind her.

3 minutes.

“I’ll try pulling you out from this angle”

Poppy nods in agreement with her back to him. He looks at her for a few seconds. Then he takes out his gun and points it at her. His hands are shaking.

“I’m sorry.” He whispers.

She has no time to react before he takes a deep breath, closes his eyes and pulls the trigger. The loud gunshot rings out through the cave and Poppy’s body slides limply to the ground. Steve turns immediately, without looking at Poppy, and starts running towards the tunnels, while his trembling hands try to get the gun back in its holster. A little way down the first tunnel he stops suddenly. He retches. After he’s done he quickly wipes the back of his had across his mouth and continues running through the intricate tunnels.

2 minutes.

He stops at a cross roads, not sure which way to go.

1 minute.

He goes left. Another one. He goes right.

30 seconds.

Steve sees light ahead.

15 seconds.

He is almost there.

10 seconds.

He reaches the exit and bursts out into the early morning.

5 seconds.

He sprints down the hill towards a ridge.

1 second.

Steve jumps behind the ridge in the last second. He waits breathing hard. Nothing happens. No fire. No explosion. Nothing. Steve looks cautiously out from his hiding place. Minutes tic by and still nothing. Steve sinks down onto his knees.

“He tricked us.” He whispers.

“I killed her.”

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