Twenty-Seven, Bakdida, Iraq, 2015
Ian positioned his pistol awkwardly in its holster while he retrieved a combat knife from a sheath on his leg. Then he picked the pistol back up. A crash, stones either from the construction or perhaps some sculptural elements, in the next room caused one of the two guards to leave via the opposite hall. The remaining guard watched his exit, and continued facing away.
Ian crept inside the room, taking care to make his footsteps as silent as possible. He was within a few feet of the ISIL fighter when the man began to turn. Ian didn’t have time to swear, but sprang into action, leaping towards the man with his knife outstretched. He pocketed his pistol, and used his free hand to cover the fighter’s mouth as he pushed the knife into his back. He twisted it, slicing into his spine. The fighter went limp from the waist down, and fought to breathe as his diaphragm stopped responding. Ian couldn’t hold all of his weight up, but helped him collapse forward as quietly as he could. Ian removed the knife from his back, and slit the fighter’s throat. Either way he was dying, but it was a quicker death, a courtesy, one he likely didn’t deserve.
The more cautious move, at least as far as his safety was concerned, was likely to rendezvous with India and Jalal. But that could mean the man he killed getting discovered, and them blowing the explosives, killing the hostages, possibly all of them.
No, the better option for the mission was disabling the bombs as quickly as possible, and hoping that India returned before the guard did.
The bomb wasn’t terribly intelligently designed. There was a single detonator in the center, with wires to each explosive spiraling out from that center. He didn’t see any battery back-ups or the like, so he didn’t have to worry about one explosive going off after being disconnected. But that still left the wires themselves.
Ian retrieved a set of wire cutters from a pouch on his belt, as well as some forceps. He never liked this kind of work. Maybe that was because for every two men who successfully disarmed bombs, he knew someone who died in the attempt, usually when they became overconfident about their own skills, or too pressed for time.
He followed the wire again with his eyes, starting at the detonator, trailing along the wall, before being planted into a home-cooked plastic explosive at a half-dozen locations.
The largest danger was the receiver, designed to accept a signal from who knows how many sources. It was possible each of the ISIL fighters had a switch, or only one of them. It was wired with multiple redundancies, any attempt to remove it from the battery would set off multiple explosives. Which meant he was going to have to disconnect every explosive individually.
He used the forceps to separate out the right wire at the detonator, then positioned the wire cutters. He took a deep breath, then cut through. He traced the next wire from the explosive to the detonator, again found no redundancies, and snipped it, as well.
“This is too easy,” Ian said, and stopped. He stood up, and traced the wiring from the third device. It was taped about eye-level along the wall. He did the same for the remaining explosives, and aside from taped wires, they all seemed just as simple in their design as the first two. It was all sloppy, even down to a strip of tape that seemed to just be hanging off the wall, like it had been placed there momentarily, and then left even after it became clear it wasn’t necessary.
Ian returned to the detonator, lined up the third set of wires and cut through them. He moved to the wires on the opposite side, and positioned his snippers on the wires leading to the fourth, but stopped. Something screamed at Ian from the back of his mind, and he glanced again at the wires taped along the wall.
His eyes caught particularly on the stray strip of tape hanging off the wires above, but it was only designed to look innocuous. He could see a slight extrusion, where a wire connected the two, largely hidden by the hanging length of tape.
He got up, and traced the taped section along the wall, and nearly jumped. Not only were the wires interconnected, ensuring that both needed to be cut simultaneously, but they were both wired to a simple push-button detonator. Not only couldn’t he cut those now, but even once the explosives were disconnected from the central detonator and battery, they were still hooked up to a secondary device. He was going to need to hold the room until he could finish dismantling the bomb, or those last two explosives would still remain live.
He traced the wiring from the final explosive to the detonator. This one was straightforward, like the others before. He took a breath, closed his eyes, and cut it.
He felt a twinge in his shoulder. Had he pulled something? He could feel himself hurtling towards the floor, unable to brace. The twinge burned hotter, like he was on fire, and only then did the report from the rifle register in his brain, leading him to the realization that he’d been shot.
He tried to reach back to the wound on instinct, which only made it hurt worse, confirming that it had just missed his vest. Moving his arm was agony, breathing pained him nearly enough to make him black out. And he could hear angry, excited Arabic. They were coming for him, and quickly.
With his left hand he groped for his pistol, but it wasn’t in his holster. He tried to replay getting shot, how he fell, where it would have landed. Somewhere to his left, by his shoulder, seemed like the best expectation. He patted the stone floor, but his hand came up empty. He decided to check by his side, as he heard the shouting in Arabic coming closer, when his hand brushed something that skid across the stones, definitely plastic and metal. He got his finger into the trigger well, and managed to spin the gun so he could grip it. He raised it just as an ISIL fighter came into view, and fired three shots center mass. For a man bleeding out and nearly unconscious, his grouping was surprisingly tight.
He managed to turn enough to put four shots into the next man. Someone screamed from elsewhere in the room, and Ian heard the sound of feet beating a quick retreat. It wasn’t terribly comforting, because he knew that he could be retreating to the remote for the detonator. Ian knew he needed to get up, hold this room, and finish decommissioning that bomb. It would all start with a single step. But he found he couldn’t even lift his pistol off the ground again. This was going to prove more challenging than he’d expected.