Late Afternoon, Thursday, Day 11 – Wuhan, China
Carrying four backpacks of Dynamite and electronics, two in each hand, Sartaq was sweating in the late summer heat when he arrived at the meeting spot. He was twenty minutes early and had work to do, dangerous work, before the others arrived.
He set the backpacks to his right and sat down, cross-legged, and leaned back against the trunk of the biggest Dawn Redwood tree on campus to catch his breath.
With the tree’s absence of low-hanging branches, his view of the University’s track and field arena twenty meters to the southwest was unobstructed. If anyone stopped to listen, he’d know. And to passing observers, Sartaq and his associates would look just like any of the other study groups that gathered and planned team homework assignments before moving to the library.
Sartaq watched a sprinter in shorts and t-shirt hunker down at the beginning of the straight section of the rubberized red track, his feet in the starting blocks. The runner placed his hands on the starting line, pushed his butt up into starting position and then bolted out to an imaginary starting shot to sprint a few steps before slowing to turn and jog back to do it again. Two other students, similarly dressed in shorts and t-shirts, jogged around the curve of the track at a slow pace as they talked, gestured and laughed. And in the grassy area inside the rounded rectangular track, six students kicked a foot ball— American soccer, he reminded himself— practicing their passing and catching.
His heart no longer thumping in his ears, Sartaq opened the first backpack. Inside was one of the receivers Alex had constructed, three red sticks of Dynamite, five 9v batteries, the special electrical harness, and the bicycle grip with its dummy pushbutton and wires.
Sartaq had already inserted the small shiny detonator in one of the sticks of Dynamite after winding black plastic electrical tape around the Dynamite and batteries to hold them in place. Nothing else was connected yet.
Sartaq lifted out the critical electrical harness. It had a miniature phone plug at one end to plug into Alex’s receiver. At the other end was the mate for the detonator’s plug. In between were five battery clips and an on/off, Armed/Disarmed, switch. When everything was connected and armed, the receiver’s relay would connect the 45 volts from the combined batteries to the detonator.
It would be over in a fraction of a second.
Alex had instructed him carefully, “When you plug in the receiver, this switch must be in the Disarm position. Don’t forget. This kind of plug could short as it’s plugged in. In the Disarmed position, that won’t do any harm. Connect and turn everything on before arming with this switch. Assembling things, arming must be the last thing you do.”
Sitting on the bare ground beneath the trees, Sartaq began the final assembly as Alex had meticulously instructed.
First, he verified the electrical harness switch was in the ‘Disarmed’ position.
He turned on the receiver’s power. Its green LED came on but the yellow and red ones stayed off.
Next, he plugged the miniature phone plug of the cable harness into the jack on the receiver.
Moving carefully, he snapped an empty battery clip onto each of the batteries.
Double-checking the ‘Disarm’ switch, he pressed the connector onto the end of the detonator’s cord.
Pausing to take a deep breath and closing his eyes, he pushed the switch toward the ‘Armed’ position.
There was a soft click.
He opened his eyes.
Sartaq exhaled and felt the tension in his shoulders drain away.
Almost finished, he tied the end of the wire from the plastic bicycle handgrip with its dummy pushbutton to a strap deep inside the backpack where the students were unlikely to see it wasn’t connected to anything. He placed the handgrip just under the back flap where it’d be easy to find.
They would believe they controlled their own destiny through that button. But he controlled the bombs through the transmitter and remote receivers Alex had built. They couldn’t chicken out— another American phrase he liked— he would choose the moment, not them.
One down, three to go.
He finished preparing and arming the three remaining backpacks.
Through the trees and down the slight slope to the west was the old library, their target. It was a huge multi-story building with the classic blue-green sweeping tile roof common to buildings trying for an historic look. As classes ended for the day, hundreds of students would scurry to the library where many would congregate in the central study area to get a start on their homework.
Sartaq’s three arrived punctually. He scanned their apparel as they approached.
Hu Jian and Tan Ling wore Nike running shoes, white socks and blue and brown slacks respectively. Jian had a short-sleeve shirt with wide, blue and green stripes, and Tan was in a similar one with vertical blue stripes. Deng Lan had her typical black pumps, white socks folded over at the top, a pleated navy skirt and plain white blouse. They all looked solemn, perhaps a little afraid, but determined.
Good, Sartaq nodded his approval. They looked exactly like what they were, college students from wealthy Chinese families of influence. No one would give them a second look on the campus.
He motioned for them to seat themselves on the grass around him.
He showed them the backpacks, the bombs within and how to pull out the wire with bicycle grip and its pushbutton.
“Be careful,” he lied. “Don’t push this button until the time comes. We must all do it together!”
He explained they would leave here, one backpack each with Sartaq carrying the fourth, and walk to the library.
“We will enter together like any other study group. You will continue through the anteroom to the main study area. Find a table near the center and sit with these backpacks on the table. When it is time, you will carefully reach inside for the pushbutton.
“For maximum effect,” he explained, “we need to be in the main room— that will be you— and in the anteroom— that will be me.
“Watch the big clock. It is synchronized to all clocks on the campus.
“At one minute before 5:00 PM, remove the handheld detonator from beneath the flap but do not push the button. Say your final prayer as I’ve taught you and, at the exact stroke of the hour, push the button. Do not be afraid. You will feel nothing. I will be with you in Paradise and they will sing our praise.”
Turning his head and looking directly into the first boy’s eyes, Sartaq asked, “Hu Jian, are you ready?”
“Yes,” Hu Jian said giving a sharp nod, “I am ready.”
“Tan Ling, are you ready?”
Ling’s chin quivered slightly before he bit down and said through a clenched jaw, “Yes, Master.”
Sartaq commanded, “And you are ready, too, Lan.”
Of the three, her voice sounded the most determined, “Yes.”
Up in the classroom on the third floor, Spence looked up at the school’s official clock on the back wall. It was a few minutes after 4:30 PM. Spence decided it was time for Alex’s “show and tell.”
When Spence introduced him, Alex stood up where he was sitting in the first row near the window and turned to face the class. He began speaking in Cantonese.
Spence sat down to wait. The window shade behind Alex left about three inches visible at the bottom and, looking out through the glass paned window, Spence could see the main sports field about 100 yards to the southwest.
Some kids were kicking a soccer ball back and forth, another pair was jogging slowly around the track and a sprinter was practicing his starts. All in all, Spence thought, this could be a University anywhere in the world.
Twenty minutes later, Spence could tell Alex was wrapping up his presentation.
“So the power light is tied to the main switch but the two other LEDs are programmed. The yellow one comes on when the receiver has connected by WiFi and synchronized with the transmitter, and then the red LED begins flashing when it receives the GO message.”
One of the students toward the back of the classroom asked, “Can we get the source code?”
“Sure,” Alex nodded. “Just send me email.” He walked to the white board and wrote, email@example.com.
Spence glanced at clock on the back wall. It was 4:54 PM.
Time to wrap up the day, he thought.
Sartaq handed out the Dynamite-laden backpacks to his three soon-to-be martyrs and they walked together northwest along the path to the library, Deng Lan next to him with Hu Jian and Tan Ling immediately behind.
As they entered the anteroom, Sartaq checked the time. It was 4:54 PM.
He pointed to a bench off to the side in the anteroom and said, “I will be here. Go and find your table and say your prayer. Remember, at exactly 5:00 PM, we will meet in Paradise.”
The students watched Sartaq as he went to the bench in the anteroom, took off his backpack and sat down. Holding the backpack in his lap, he put his hand under the back flap and nodded.
The trio turned and walked, Deng Lan in the middle, through the arched portal into the main study area.
As soon as they were out of sight, Sartaq stood up, put his backpack under the bench, moved rapidly to a side door, pushed it open and walked out of the building.
Outside, he hurried up the path they’d come down. At the fork leading to the sport’s arena, he instead took the left fork that led away from the sports field and toward several classroom buildings. This path continued left before dropping behind a small rise not quite 200 meters from the library.
The location was ideal. Sartaq had paced if off a few days before to make sure it wasn’t too far for the transmitter and receivers. He verified he could walk to it from the library easily in less than two minutes. And the large clock opposite the grandstand on the sports field clearly visible to the south would allow him to track the exact time. And finally, the mound between him and the library would deflect the blast.
Sartaq took the grey metal box from his pocket that he’d kept hidden.
It had the same three LEDs and power switch as the receivers but, in addition, it had a large red pushbutton. Stenciled next to it was the word “GO”.
Watching the clock on the distant sports field, at two minutes before the hour he held the transmitter high above his head, slightly above the crest of the ridge with his finger poised at the power switch.
It was time to start the final steps.
Spence said to Alex, “Before we leave for the day, could you turn it all on so the class can see the sequence?”
Alex moved to the outside end of the front table nearest his seat by the window. Picking up a gray metal box about 2x3x4 inches, he held it aloft in his right hand.
“This is one of the receivers. It only has one switch, On or Off, and the three LEDs I described.”
The power switch made a soft click when he pushed it.
“As you can see, the green LED comes on immediately. Right now, this receiver is listening for a transmitter on WiFi with the ‘ETIM’ SSID.
Putting the receiver on the table, Alex continued, “Now, let me put the batteries back in this transmitter so I can activate it.”
But he stopped when a student in the last row shouted, “Excuse me! Does ‘ETIM’ stand for the East Turkestan Independence Movement?”
Transmitter in one hand, loose batteries in the other, Alex thought for a moment but shook his head, “What’s that?”
“It’s a militant separatist group in Xinjiang. My mother lived there in the 90s and witnessed their bomb attack in Kashgar. They also did a car bomb attack in Tiananmen Square in Beijing that killed four or five people. The abbreviation you’re using, ETIM, is going to frighten people.”
Another student asked, “Didn’t they also do that knife attack in Kunming? More than two dozen were killed and a hundred injured!”
Sartaq, the transmitter held high above his head so the radios in the transmitter and receivers could “see” each other, slid the power switch to the “ON” postition.
The green LED winked on.
They are connecting and synchronizing now, he repeated to himself.
Sartaq waited anxiously for the yellow LED.
This was the culmination of months of meetings and planning sessions. Thousands of Yuan had been spent as Sartaq had manipulated Alex into unknowingly creating the remote control detonation devices. He’d coordinated with his ETIM compatriots in Kashgar who’d financed Alex’s work, obtained the explosives in Afghanistan and secretly smuggled them in two separate shipments, one to a bicycle-riding courier in Wuhan that Sartaq met, and the second by land and then ship to Singapore where Sartaq had retrieved and then stashed it behind cartons of facial tissue in the Housekeeper’s closet of the hotel there.
The first shipment, when detonated a few moments from now, would provide the proof his benefactors wanted that his bigger plan for the hotel and casino in Singapore would also succeed.
The yellow LED finally snapped on.
Sartaq knew the receivers in the Dynamite-laden backpacks Hu Jian, Tan Ling and Deng Lan now held in the library were locked to his transmitter.
Their lives were in his hands.
He felt himself swell with that awesome power. He savored the moment of his coming victory as his thumb slowly moved toward the “GO” button.
In the classroom, the yellow LED on the receiver on the table snapped on.
Looking down, Alex furrowed his brow in confusion.
“That’s odd,” he said as he set down the batteries in his right hand and picked up the now active receiver.
Everyone could see the bright yellow LED as Alex turned the receiver over in his hand trying to figure out why it had come on.
Robin asked, “Doesn’t that mean this receiver is connected to a transmitter?”
Alex nodded but then shook his head as he replied, “Yes and they’ve synchronized clocks. But that’s impossible!”
He shook the battery-less transmitter in his left hand to draw attention to it.
“This transmitter has no batteries. It can’t possibly connect.”
Still seated, Spence said the obvious, “Well, there must be another transmitter nearby.”
Sartaq mashed his thumb down on the “GO” button. It scrunched and then clicked.
After a barely perceptible pause, the red LED flashed on and started blinking.
The electronic fuse is lit!
Alex’s design had done its job. The transmitter was no longer needed. Everything was now on automatic in the receivers, each with its electrical relay whose contacts would connect the stack of batteries to the detonator that would, in turn, explode the Dynamite.
He had ten seconds to get under cover.
Sartaq squatted down behind the ridge and faced East, away from the blast and toward a four-story classroom building about a hundred meters away. He put his hands over his ears and opened his mouth as he’d been instructed but kept his head turned slightly up and eyes open.
Up in the classroom and standing next to the window, Alex literally jumped when the red LED winked on in the receiver in his right hand.
Several students in the classroom jumped up from their chairs and exclamations rang out.
Spence was also startled but kept silent and remained in his seat. Without conscious volition, his OCD started silently counting the seconds.
Alex laughed and shrugged, “Now I’m completely— Two— stumped. This receiver says— Three— it has the GO message and will fire its relay— Four— in ten seconds!”
A couple of students toward the back had started toward the door of the classroom.
“Stop! It’s Ok— Five— see?” Alex insisted as he held the receiver high up for everyone to see. “There’s nothing plugged in. It can’t— Six— hurt you.”
Everyone in the room stopped.
All eyes watched the red LED blink.
As Spence’s mind pronounced the “T” of ten, everything seemed to shift into slow motion.
Spence felt something— a force— pass through through the room diagonally from behind and right toward the back left corner.
Spence’s gaze was up and toward the red LED on the receiver in Alex’s upraised arm. A few feet beyond, Spence noticed that the support columns between the windows looked as if they were in a double exposed photograph. He realized it was dust suspended in mid-air and floating six inches out from the actual columns.
Simultaneously, hundreds of star like points of light appeared up and down the long, dark green shades over the windows as a constellation of sparkling points, tiny crystals of shattered glass, streaked across the classroom, right to left.
The whole building seemed to move away from Spence as if it were being suddenly but firmly pushed by a giant hand against the corner of the building behind to his right.
The tall star-studded shades slowly began to billow inward as longer streaks appeared in the dark fabric. Big shards of glass, tumbling end over end, erupted through the shades and spun across the classroom.
A big angular fragment, flying like a razor-edged Frisbee, struck the side of Alex’s head opposite what Spence could see. Alex’s head thudded left as the glass reversed its spin and continued away at a 45 degree angle.
Alex began falling to his left, his right arm coming down toward his head where the glass had hit him. The receiver he’d been holding in that hand, it’s red LED still on, hung in the air for a moment before beginning to fall.
Spence’s chair tipped backward as the floor beneath it swayed back and forth. Spence’s arms rose as he tumbled toward the floor.
A terrific “Boom!” rolled across the classroom and the overhead lights and projector winked out.
When the shockwave passed over Sartaq’s head, he could actually see it, a visible ripple passing in the air.
In the yellowing trees, thousands of leaves high up were suddenly hanging in the air several centimeters from their branches while the leaves below were still attached, the ridge behind him clearly outlining the effect. The disconnected leaves began to fall.
The sound reached him an instant later, a tremendous “Boom” that rippled and reverberated off dozens of buildings all over the campus.
Taking hands off his ears, Sartaq stood and turned to look above the ridge toward the old library. High up and still rising were hundreds of large tumbling objects — pieces of blue-green roof tile, long boards, pieces of chairs and whole books. Also peppering the sky and still rising were thousands and thousands of smaller, unidentifiable chunks and fragments.
Sartaq thought it was quite beautiful, like a graceful ballet, choreographed and synchronized to cover the entire sky.
The cloud of debris slowed its rise as pieces continued to pass almost horizontally over his head. Looking straight up, some of the bigger ones were starting down, headed directly toward him.
Sartaq turned and ran from the blast. As the pieces began hitting the trees, pavement and ground, he joined others also running from the blast. Ahead he could see the outside of one of the University’s classrooms, the four story building he’d noted earlier. As he ran he could see that all of its upper windows were now empty, the glass blown in. Screams and cries filtered down to him from high up inside the building.
Sartaq fought to hide his grin. The blast had been far more powerful, the damage much greater, than he’d dreamed.
This demonstration of the remote control detonators, the choice of Dynamite instead of newer explosives and, especially his planning, organizing and ability to motivate Hu Jian, Tan Ling and Deng Lan had all been confirmed.
His ultimate plan would now move ahead without argument or delay. His dream that had been hatched, nurtured, tweaked and groomed for nearly a year, was now going to happen.
Nothing could stop him!
Sartaq raised his arms as he ran, put his face down and allowed the joy to cover his face. His muffled shriek of pure ecstasy went unrecognized against the cries and screams all around him. He wanted to but suppressed the desire to dance.
Magnificent destruction rained down as he ran.
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