‘We could just leave it, you know.’
Liam didn’t hear him. He was on his belly, his face inches away from the device. He wasn’t about to let the outside world distract him.
Edward persisted. ‘We would have walked right past it anyway. It’s not like it’s smack in the middle of the road or anything.’
‘It’s close enough,’ Liam said. ‘I’m not leaving it here for a kid to find.’
‘Well, no, obviously. It’s not like I want a child to get blown up or anything. But maybe, and think about this for a second, they might have bigger problems if they’re out here. There’s probably Deathclaws out here, one lone bottle cap mine is the least of their worries.’
Liam shuffled another inch closer. ‘Still, it won’t take long to defuse. You forget I’ve done this before.’
‘How could I possibly forget?’ Edward grumbled to himself. ‘I hear that damn story every day.’
From his very first day in the Brotherhood, Liam had been taught to respect explosives over everything else. All technology should be respected – it was failing to respect it that had reduced the world to its current state – but they’d been particularly adamant that he never take any explosive lightly. Even ten years later, after they’d abandoned him, he hadn’t forgotten those lessons.
‘This is simple,’ he said. ‘All a bottle cap mine is, at its core, is a lunchbox with a grenade in it.’
‘The laser tripwire doesn’t usually maintain cohesion very well, so you have to get pretty close to set one off.’
Liam shifted to one side, rolling onto his left shoulder. ‘If you’re careful, you can get right up close. As long as you stay on the opposite side to the laser, it should be fine.’
‘Liam,’ Edward snapped. ‘I’ve built these before. I know.’
‘If you’re born out here, you make do with what you have. Never put much thought into defusing the things you build, but you learn to build them all the same. You can’t have walked these roads for the last decade and not noticed that?’
Liam frowned, but produced a set of wire cutters from a pocket. ‘Obviously I noticed that, I just never thought –’
‘It’s fine. You just have a habit of talking to me like you’re lecturing a class of initiates or something.’
‘Sorry,’ Liam said. He looked back over his shoulder to his travelling companion. ‘I’m impressed you used the right terminology though. Initiates. You do listen.’
‘I do nothing but listen. You talk a hell of a lot, you know.’
Liam chuckled. He’d been a bad place when he’d lost the Brotherhood, but Edward had been good for him. There had been a lot of darkness for him to deal with in those early days of isolation, and having someone to share that with had helped.
Even if that someone looked like he’d lost a fight with a slag fire.
‘Talking helps keep me calm.’
‘Shutting the hell up helps me keep calm.’
There was a metallic pop as Liam snipped one of the wires holding the laser unit to the lunchbox. The laser blinked out and, carefully, Liam pulled it from its housing and placed it on the ground. He shifted position again, forcing the blade of the cutters into one of the gaps in the box.
‘Here’s another lecture for you,’ he said. ‘Typically, when it comes to defusing ordnance, exposing the inner workings of the device is the most dangerous part.’
Edward rolled his eyes. ‘Is that so?’
‘That’s where they put the booby-traps. On the inside of the casing.’
‘I think you are giving us wastelanders too much credit.’
‘You can never give a bomb maker too much credit. The only safe way to defuse a device is to treat it as though it was built by the most devious son of a bitch imaginable. Always believe they know a lot more than you do.’
‘The Brotherhood of Steel sounds like a breeding ground for cynicism.’
He started to wiggle the blade. ‘Our motto is Ad Victorium, which I think is Latin for Miserable Bastards. Here we go.’
Another metallic pop, and the front of the lunchbox fell open. A handful of loose caps tumbled out too, partially revealing something altogether more substantial attached to the back of the box.
‘Oh, that’s interesting,’ Liam said. ‘Whoever built this actually built a little landmine for the explosive core. Makes sense I suppose. I mean it is called a bottle cap mine.’
‘What does that mean?’
‘Means it’s not as easy to defuse as putting the pin back in. Won’t be a problem, though. Come here, give me a bit more light.’
‘Um, no thanks.’
‘For god’s sake, it’s not going to explode,’ Liam said. ‘Besides, having a mine as the core means it’s a directional explosion. It’s not even aimed at you.’
Slowly, Edward crept a little closer, making sure to keep himself on the far side of Liam’s body and out of what he perceived to be the blast radius. He flipped a switch on his PipBoy – he’d had it long enough to call it his, and the corpse he had taken it from didn’t seem to object – and a green light clicked to life.
The flashlight was the only part of the device that still worked reliably, but he’d found it to be the most useful part anyway. Now and then it would manage to make it halfway through a holotape before it chewed them to pieces, but that was about it.
In the light, Liam could get a much better look at the internals of the device. The natural light was good, but there was something to be said about the harshness of artificial light when it came to rooting around in something’s innards.
‘Well that’s nice,’ Liam said. ‘Seems they didn’t bother to put the outer casing onto the mine. I guess they thought the lunchbox would be good enough.’
‘That’s a good thing, is it?’
‘Means I can see the wires. Easy peasy. Now, if I can just find the yellow wire…’
Edward frowned. ‘Yellow? Isn’t it always the red wire?’
‘Beginner’s trap,’ Liam said, using the cutter’s blade to pick through the wires one by one. ‘I know a lot of those pre-war books say that you want to cut the red wire, but no-one ever wires a bomb so that’s true. If anything, they make the red one the wire that will detonate the thing just to catch out the few amateurs that get this far.’
‘Well okay, but –’
Liam was right up close now, his nose practically touching the explosive. ‘First thing they teach you in the Brotherhood – when it comes to disposing of bombs, everything you think you know is wrong.’
‘I understand that –’
‘There we are, hiding right at the back. Just one second…’
Liam froze. ‘Loud noises probably aren’t best suited to such a delicate situation, Ed.’
‘Maybe, but I think you’re about to detonate a bomb into your own face.’
‘Ed, I know what I’m doing.’
‘Have you defused one of these before? One with a landmine in it rather than a grenade?’
Slowly, Liam rolled over onto his back, staring up at Edward. ‘I’ve defused military-grade plasma mines, Edward. Those things have seventeen different redundancy circuits to make sure they go bang when a Communist gets near. That’s some of the most sophisticated ordnance you’re likely to encounter in this world.’
‘Built by people who know what they are doing, right?’
Liam frowned. ‘Of course.’
‘Unlike these things.’
Edward scratched at his head, a small lump of scalp and hair plopped free. ‘The people who build stuff like this, they aren’t concerned with being sophisticated. All they want to do is make something that explodes. Like I said, I’ve seen this built – hell, I’ve built them – and not once did anyone give a shit about the colour of the wiring.’
‘But… There’s rules. How do they know how to defuse their own creations?’
‘Are you serious?’
Edward shrugged. ‘I’m telling you, it’ll be the red wire if it’s any of them at all.’
‘This is ridiculous,’ Liam said, getting back into position. ‘No self-respecting bomb maker would take so little care when it came to manufacturing a device.’
‘Liam, seriously, I’m telling you that these people aren’t self-respecting bomb-makers. They’re Brahmin-farmers who happen to make bombs sometimes. Out of other bombs. You’re giving them too much credit again.’
His eyes narrowed. Perhaps Edward was right and some wastelander had just cobbled this thing together with no care as to correct procedure. That was exactly the sort of thing they would do. But then, if they had, that made all his training worthless. There were ways to build a bomb, but there would always be some constants that you just didn’t alter. Best practice was always going to win out.
If this device wasn’t built using those principles, there was no telling how it was actually wired. Even following the wiring to each component wouldn’t be a totally accurate way of telling, and he couldn’t second-guess the mind of a totally rank amateur. This wasn’t bomb-making, it was insulting.
‘If this goes off in my face, Ed, I’m going to be very cross with you.’
‘I had a bomb go off in my face once,’ Edward said. ‘Now I get to live forever and look handsome doing it. You get used to it.’
Liam risked a smile, then turned his attention back towards the bomb. ‘I’m going to cut the red wire. Ready?’
‘Wait,’ Edward said, taking a few steps back. ‘Okay, go.’
‘Here we go. On three. One… Two… Three.’
It didn’t explode.
Edward let himself breath again as Liam stood up, looking less than pleased. He scooped up the deactivated device and, in a single vengeful movement, dropkicked it into the brush.
‘Everything all right?’ Edward said.
‘The goddamn wires weren’t even connected to anything.’
‘There wasn’t even any damned explosives in the goddamned casing. I could have cut any wire I liked and it could never have gone off.’
Liam crossed his arms and descended into a dark sulk. ‘I hate this bloody place.’
Turning away, Edward smirked. He hated the world too, everyone did. But today he hated it a little bit less.