Dan Taylor walked slowly across the parched earth. Dressed in a dark green Kevlar armoured jacket, with matching trousers and black lace-up boots, he paced towards a small malevolent object lying on the ground.
Across the barren plain, a late afternoon haze began to settle, liquefying the blue cloudless sky. In the distance the haze parted to reveal a long ridge of hills, scorched brown by the past summer's heat. A few scrubby trees broke the monotony of the landscape, providing rare shade among the parched grasses and dust.
As he approached the object, his pace slowed. Almost reverently, he walked carefully around the object in a clockwise direction, kicking small stones and pebbles away from it.
He stopped, appraising his work as a thin cloud of dust settled in his wake, and stared at the device which lay glinting in the sun's rays. A sigh escaped his lips as he waited for his heart rate to slow down from the fierce beating between his ribs. As it calmed, he carefully crouched down in the dirt, flexed his fingers and reached out to the explosive ordnance.
His eyes blinked rapidly behind the protective visor covering his face. A bead of sweat trickled down his forehead, threatening to run into his eyes, but taking off the visor and wiping his face wasn't an option. He shook his head slightly, flexed his bare fingers and re-focussed his attention on the device on the ground next to him.
Dan rocked back on his heels away from the object, unzipped a pocket on the front of his jacket, and extracted a small set of pliers. Re-zipping the pocket, he held the pliers up to his face, nodded, then bent back down until his eyes were level with the device.
He'd studied a similar object yesterday, only then it wasn't activated and had sat benignly on a work bench while he'd methodically stripped it apart and tried to unlock its secrets.
This time it was different.
He remembered what he'd learned yesterday, which wires could be safely cut, which wires had to be left alone. And how much explosive power lay hidden under the layers of metal.
Pushing aside any thoughts of what could happen, he reached out and gently slid the pliers over the dry packed earth towards the object. Usually, any bomb disposal team would use a specially-designed robot to neutralise a threat. The problem was, some devices were placed where robots weren't an option.
Between the dirt and the shiny surface of the device, Dan saw a space, about a centimetre wide. A thin yellow wire protruded from the device, just visible to the naked eye. Pulling back the pliers, he crouched on his haunches for a few seconds, thinking. He then lowered himself onto the dirt, laying prone on the earth and wriggled forwards, reaching out with the pliers once more, his head tilted to one side.
Carefully, he applied pressure to the pliers, the claws slowly closing in on the yellow wire. As the teeth bit into the coloured plastic covering, he stopped breathing.
Above him, he could hear the distant roar of a jet engine as an airliner spewed contrails across the azure sky. He waited for it to pass, until the silence returned to the landscape and the only sound was his heartbeat echoing in his ears.
Another heartbeat, then he cut the wire. Breathing out slowly, he pulled the pliers back, his heart racing.
Suddenly, a high-pitched whine began emanating from within the object.
Dan's eyes opened wide. In one fluid motion, he stood up and began running away from the device as fast as he could, towards a piece of red tape which fluttered in the breeze between two fence posts.
In his mind he counted off the seconds - from habit rather than any know