5054, Minutes Earlier
Sartaq dialed across the hall.
“One of you come here.”
Peeping out, Sartaq admitted Guo Manchu.
“In the gift shop,” Sartaq pointed down, “buy six ‘Eco bags’ with the large wooden handles. Six. Come right back.”
When he returned, one bag with five more folded inside, Sartaq finished, “Go back to your room and wait.”
The door closed behind Guo with a solid ker-chunk.
Lili sat on the edge of the desk chair, her back erect. She was fully dressed in the coordinated outfit assembled from the clothes rack last night. Her makeup after a half hour preparation was impeccable. She looked ready for a magazine fashion shoot.
She watched as Sartaq assembled, components on one bed, finished products on the other, six suicide bombs. The remote control receivers built by Alex, killed by tumbling glass shards in the Wuhan classroom, went in first, their three LEDs, green, yellow and red, all dark. The Dynamite went next, six sticks per bag, with silvery detonators already inserted, and the wiring harness with its array of five 9v batteries and armed/disarmed switch in the off position.
The final item was the hand-grip pushbutton with its meter-long, twisted black and red pair of activating wires. Sartaq carefully tucked its loose end under the Dynamite sticks where it wouldn’t show. He then passed the hand-grip through and around the bag’s round wooden handle one full turn and draped the push-button grip just inside the bag on top of everything.
Six bags ready, he picked up the only transmitter, turned it so Lili could see its red, yellow and green LEDs were off, gingerly slid it into his left pants pocket.
“Watch TV,” he ordered.
A football game was on. The picture showed the gloved goaltender crouched forward and ready to spring as he prepared to stop a penalty kick from just outside the penalty box. Sartaq tilted his head to see if the shooter would curve it around the outside or fake that but shoot hard and fast, direct for the narrow slit between goaltender and the side of the goal.
When the clocked flicked over to 11:35 and the score still nil-nil, Sartaq turned off the TV.
He crossed to the six Eco bags lined up on the bed, reached down to the bottom of the first and slowly pulled up its receiver being careful not to disturb the wiring.
Lili’s expressive, fully mascaraed eyes widened slightly when Sartaq flipped a switch and receiver’s green LED winked on.
Sartaq carefully re-tucked the receiver back under the Dynamite.
Holding his breath, Sartaq slowly slid the harness switch to the armed position.
He exhaled and smiled.
One armed and ready. Five to go.
He looked over at Lili and grinned.
When all six bombs were fully armed, he telephoned across the hall.
“It’s time. All of you come here.”
Zhou, Zixin, Yang, Guo and Lin filed into the room and stood, side by side, just inside the room, their eyes downcast.
Sartaq smiled over at Lili, pleased with the discipline he’d instilled in his recruits but her attention was on them, not him.
She was draped with a profound sadness that shaped her face, shoulders, even her hands that clasped each other in resignation, beautiful in her acceptance of life’s injustices.
A frozen moment ballooned in Sartaq’s mind. Their mother was sitting in a chair, her hands and face turned just so. His step-father softly tolled his fate according to the Party.
“You are twelve, almost thirteen. The Party says you are a man and ready to serve. Here is what you will do.”
His mother’s face overrode any memory of the rest of the sentence.
She is our mother’s daughter, he sighed.
It was the seminal moment of his life.
And now we are here.
Sartaq turned to his five and, like his step-father had done to him, intoned their fate.
“Here is what you will do.
“You will leave here, one by one, as I tell you. Each of you will take one of these,” he motioned toward the Eco bags lined up on the bed.
“You will go down to the lobby and check the clock but do not go to your pillar yet. Move around the lobby, look in the gift shop, look outside if you want. If there’s enough time— watch the clock above the check-in desk— you can step outside but don’t stay long.
“At two minutes before Noon, make your way to your assigned position. Set your bag either on the floor or the seat but make sure it is in direct contact with the column. That’s very important; it must be touching. Stand or sit by it, watch the clock and say your final prayer.
“When the second hand is five seconds before Noon, reach down, extract the detonator grip and, when the clock twitches to exactly Noon, press the button.
“You will feel nothing. Your next awareness will be the smiling face of Allah and his open arms welcoming you. You will hear voices singing your names and we will enter Heaven together. It will be glorious!”
Sartaq swept his hand toward the bed.
“Take your bags now and line up.”
They stepped forward as a group, each one picking up a bag from the bed, went back in line and stood.
Sartaq leaned over and picked up the sixth bag in his left hand.
Walking up to the first, he nodded his head slowly and intoned, “Yang Longwei, Allah is with you.”
Yang closed his eyes and nodded.
“Guo Manchu, Allah is with you.” His chin high, Guo nodded raising it even higher.
Lin Yusheng was the youngest of the group, a second year student with uncharacteristic medium brown hair through some genetic fluke or accident of inheritance.
“Lin Yusheng, Allah is with you.” Lin was a bruiser, a ruffian. He liked to hurt people. Sartaq kept his thoughts of the justness of the boy’s coming fate to himself.
Zhao Zixin was the rebellious clown of the group, always ready with a smart answer. He’d needed more than one slap to learn to curb his tongue. Even now, Sartaq could see he wanted to say something.
Sartaq cut off any attempt.
“Zhao Zixin, Allah is with you. Await your fate.” The boy’s chin quivered once before he clamped his jaw tight, stopping the movement and silencing any final quip.
“Zhou Guang, Allah is with you.” Zhou put out his hand like an American. Sartaq was confused for an instant but, when the offered hand remained, he shook it. Zhou nodded before his eyes defocused into the distance.
It was 11:45.
Sartaq nodded to Zhou who was closest to the door.
“Remember, don’t go to your position until two minutes before Noon. Then make sure your bag is touching the column. At Noon, we will all be together again.”
Zhou nodded, opened the door and, bomb in hand, walked out.
A minute later, Zhao followed. Then Lin, Guo and Yang.
As the door closed behind Yang, Sartaq reached in his right pocket, brought out the revolver and pointed it toward Lili.
“Get up. We’re next.”
Lili slowly stood, stepped mechanically to the door and reached for the handle.
“Wait,” Sartaq ordered. “I’ll tell you when. Don’t forget I’ll shoot you if you try anything.”
Sartaq looked at the clock. It still said 11:49.
He’d timed it out to the minute.
“When we get to the lobby,” he glanced at Lili before gluing his eyes back on the clock, “I’ll let you go to him, but only when I say so.”
Lili tilted her head slightly, looked at Sartaq and said, “Taq, do you really expect me to believe that?”
She continued as he watched the clock.
“Taq, my dear brother, this is so very, very wrong. You don’t know how sick this is, how confused you are. Stop this now. Walk away and I’ll make sure you get help. You don’t have to do this.”
Sartaq felt her eyes drilling into him. He realized she saw him as a hideous monster, not the lifelong, undercover revolutionary he really was.
She didn’t understand, nor could she.
At that moment so many years ago in their Wuhan family home, their lives, their very kinship had been severed.
From that moment on, they were not family. Whatever kinship they’d shared as children was from some their previous life but no longer. They were two different people with totally different lives.
The Communists, he sneered in a last moment of regret, it’s their fault. I hate them. They marched in singing idiotic songs and wrote my father’s family out of existence. Then they erased our mother’s ancestry. And then they destroyed everything I could have been.
But in ten minutes, all that will change!
The digital clock on the night table flicked to 11:51.
“Damn!” He exclaimed. Somehow he’d missed a whole minute.
He gave his left pocket a final pat to be sure of the transmitter and picked up the last Eco bag, slipping the round wood handle up onto his left forearm like an old woman carrying her purse.
Revolver still in his right hand, he slid it into his pant’s pocket and twitched the muzzle toward the door.
“Open it,” he ordered.
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