Chapter 11 - "This is Normal Security For a Hanson Concert."

Well this was definitely the first time they had been introduced by a International Terrorist and to his credit he didn't do a bad job. Ike, Taylor and Zac came over to the side of the stage and waited while he made his comments. Most of it was the usual drivel about how we are all victims here and how sorry he is we have to go through this and how soon very soon we will be reunited with our friends and loved ones. Then he told the hostages a really inappropriate story about his youth considering there were kids in the room but it was a good way to make yourself likable. And finally he got to the important part.

"Ladies and Gentlemen to reward you for your patience and understanding I have personally arranged for international pop stars Hanson to perform for you." Those in the room who couldn't see Ike, Tay and Zac standing by the side of the stage were surprised and a murmur of excitement traveled the breadth of the room. Ike could swear he heard Isabelle squeal.

"For the first time in a dining room,"

Well not actually thought all three guys but who's gonna argue the point.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, Hanson!"

The applause was both loud and genuine and Ike, Tay and Zac all found broad grins plastered across their faces as they took the stage. Zac stepped to the mike first and began cracking jokes.

"Ladies and Gentlemen I'm glad you could all make it tonight."

Taylor grinned at his younger brother. He decided for once he would let the audience off and not enforce "the Rule". He thought the terrorists might not take too kindly to it.

"I know some of you have come a long way. Hope the flight was uneventful. Don't be concerned about the men with guns, that's normal security for a Hanson concert. I'm sure you've all got busy evenings planned so let's get underway."

He looked over to Ike who was still strapping on his guitar.

"We'd like to dedicate this first number to our lovely Commandant and his equally charming men. Those of you in the military clap your hands and the rest of your can just rattle your handcuffs."

He turned to Ike again, Ike smiled, he was ready. Zac stepped back from the mike and Ike stepped up to his.

"I went n' threw a party at the county jail..."

They followed up that song with a spirited version of Madaline. It was nice to play that one live again, they'd had to abandon playing it for some of the summer shows because something wasn't clicking when they tried it with a full band. But on accoustic guitar with three powerful voices it was electric. Taylor sang this time with a passion you wouldn't believe his body could hold. Zac and Ike both wondered what had possessed their brother, it inspired them too. The original plan was to follow Madaline with Thinking Of You but Taylor looked so red and so exhausted after Madaline that Ike changed the set, he played River to give Taylor's voice some rest. Ike felt a great sense of warmth coming off the crowd as they clapped and sung along. He really appreciated the energy they were feeding him and he guessed they really needed the release. It was almost possible during the songs to forget about the armed guards, the hijacking, the mountain and the dead man on the plane... Almost. Zac too was having a blast, he felt like he'd just woken up from a deep sleep and he was on top form. Cracking really awful jokes through his megaphone and getting the crowd riled up whenever he had the opportunity. His nervousness had totally vanished and instead he felt warm and free on that stage. Zac closed his eyes and just let himself go. Taylor took himself by surprise during Madaline too. He felt a power inside of him just pouring out and he was helpless to resist. This was bliss, he was totally lost in his music and it felt wonderful.

After River Zac sang Lucy and the whole room went silent to listen to the sweet melody, by now Taylor too could feel the emotion coming from the audience in waves.

He launched into I Will Come To You after Lucy and tears were beginning to form in the eyes of a lot of audience members. He could feel them coming up on him too but he fought them back as the moment threatened to overwhelm him, choking back a sob and with sheer determination he finished the song. At it's conclusion he took a deep breath and stopped Ike from starting A Minute Without You. The moment called for something very special and he knew what song.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, we're going to play I Get Around by The Beach Boys for you now."

Zac and Ike both looked at him in surprise, it was ages since they had played this one but he was right, the moment did call for it. Performing accapella they sang the song Brian Wilson had composed over thirty years before. The whole room was enraptured now, the Hanson brothers had won them over.

Out of the corner of their eyes Ike and Tay both saw Karen walk up to one of the terrorist guards and begin to flirt with him. Soon another one then a third walked over to the group and she flirted with them all. Now the doors behind the stage were unguarded. Taylor felt sick to his stomach, it was time. He nudged Zac and Zac saw too. He felt the wall of fear hit him hard, his knees began to shake but he shook it off angrily. He and Tay both stepped back from their mikes, they sat down near the back of the stage and Ike glanced back at them. He mouthed "Good luck" and Taylor gave him the thumbs up sign. Zac slipped silently off the stage followed by Taylor, they walked behind the barrier that the speakers made and picked up the pad, pencil and World Series Jacket containing the doctors bag.

Ike began to sing, "I love you. More Than Anything, more than anything I doooo..."

Tay and Zac slipped out the door.

To their surprise the hallway outside the dining room was empty, they had expected to have to dodge and weave their way to the Commandants office avoiding wandering terrorists and such but no there was nobody there. "We're more popular in the terrorist set than I knew." observed Zac quietly.

They found their way back to the Commandants office quite easily, Zac had done a good job remembering the route as they walked it this morning just incase his "crazy idea" was acted upon. Well now they were standing outside the door less than thirty seconds after Ike had begun to sing.

"Okay, hope this works." said Tay, "Pass me something to pick the lock."

Zac reached inside his jacket and pulled out the black doctors bag, he opened it up and looked intently for a moment.

"Will this do?" He handed Tay a long thin instrument with a hook on the end. Tay gently eased the hook end into the lock and tried to move it.

"Nope, gimme something else."

Zac reached into the bag again. "Ow!" He came out sucking his thumb and holding another long sharp thing.

Taylor pushed it into the lock and twisted ... nothing. He tried revolving it around a bit and to his surprise heard a click.

"Dang! I'm good."

"What?"

"I think I've got it."

He softly turned the door handle and the door opened.

"Great!" Zac moved in ahead of Tay, his sketch pad already open and ready. Taylor picked up the instruments and put them back in the bag while Zac switched the desk light on and pointed it toward the map on the wall. He began to sketch.

"Look for something leading to the surface." Tay advised.

"I know." mumbled Zac back. Taylor leaned against the wall and waited while Zac drew. He looked at his watch and saw it had taken them almost two minutes to get this far. He wondered how Ike was doing with the song.

Ike was doing very well thankyou very much. He had the whole room in the palm of his hand now and he made sure he got every ounce of emotion and length out of each line. "These feeel...eeel...liiinnnnggggsssss will uh not subsiiiiiiiiide..."

He wished someone was recording this because like Tay with Madaline he was performing More Than Anything with a passion he had seldom approached on stage before.

"When I, thi ii ink of li ife without uh you, it brings me, it bring ing iiiinnngggs me right back here tooooo you..."

Zac studied the map for a moment when he sat down to try to get some logic out of it but he decided there wasn't time. It'd be best to just copy it down as fast as possible. His hands raced across the page as he added lines here and corners there, he could barely see what he was drawing it was appearing so fast but he hoped it would work. Taylor listened to the sound of Zac's pencil scratching the surface of the paper and got more and more nervous. He'd shut the door after them and was praying now that nobody would come into the room while they were in there. That was.... That was...no he wasn't going to think about that. Not at all. Boy Zac can draw fast. Ike looked out into the audience in front of him, he made eye contact with a couple of people and broke it immediately, their eyes were filling up with tears again and he didn't need to start crying now on top of everything else. No he forced himself to concentrate on one thing - the song. He wasn't, he couldn't, think about Zac and Tay right now because if he faltered, if he broke the spell someone would notice they weren't there. Their only chance was for Ike to keep the audience absolutely captivated for as long as it took them to do their thing. And that was that. Taylor started fidgeting, he checked his watch every five seconds and they were now over the five minute mark. He knew Ike would do his absolute best but there was only so long he can make the song. And still Zac wasn't showing any signs of being finished anytime soon. He began clenching and unclenching his hands. Zac was feeling it too, he didn't even have the time to check the time or to even think about what the time was. He knew it was passing by fast though, he knew he ought to be finished real quick, yet he was worried, he was worried he'd messed up the sketch somehow, that he hadn't got it all right. Ike knew the song was nearing it's end, he was slowing down as much as possible and grinding out every note as if it were an opera solo but still the end was coming. "You know, I'd do... Anyyyyyy thing for yooouuuuu..."

He swallowed nervously, could he double back and add an extra verse without seeming suspicious... I guess I have to he thought as he took a deep breath.

"Because I lo ove yoooouuuuu moooorrrreeeee than anythinggggggg thaaaaaaaan annnnyyyyyythhhhiiinnnnnggggg IIIII dooooooooooooooooooooo....."

Tay could feel his hands shaking now, he knew as older brother he should be the one to tell Zac to stop. Alright, he reasoned to himself, I'll give him five more seconds. Five seconds passed and Zac was still scribbling so frenetically he couldn't say anything. Okay, five seconds from now thought Tay. Zac could feel his hand cramping up massively but he dare not stop because he knew he wouldn't start again. Had he got it all? Was it enough? Did he get it right? What if he made a mistake? What if I've blown the whole thing? Okay another five seconds then that's it definitely. Yes definitely, yes absolutely, that's when I'll stop him, that's when I'll do it. Okay definitely, yes I will do it, this time for sure. Was that five seconds? Am I done? Is this finished? Did I miss anything? Have I got it right? Can I add another chorus? Are they getting suspicious? Am I singing too fast? Am I blowing it for them? Where are they!?! "Finished!" Taylor let out a huge breath he didn't know he'd been holding.

"C'mon lets go."

Zac packed his sketch pad into the jacket and walked out of the room. Taylor snibbed the lock to make sure the door would lock again and checked for scratch marks. Satisfied he glanced around the room and stepped out the door. Pulling it behind him he locked it back into place. He and Zac ran up the passageway gambling on there still being no one in the hallways.

Ike was beginning to sweat, he hoped it wasn't showing too much, his stomach was knotted up now and his pleadings of love sounded even more painfilled and genuine. He was beginning to hate the sound of his own voice by now as he forced out another long note. The end of the song was definitely close now, he couldn't extend it any longer, not without it looking completely transparently fake. Ike just hoped Zac and Tay would make it back in time. Zac and Tay meanwhile were sticking to the side of the wall as they made their way down the main corridor toward the door to the 'backstage' area. They had had extraordinary luck so far and wondered if it would hold out until they were back up on stage. As they walked they heard footsteps. Tay heard them first and stopped Zac with his hand. Zac looked up to see what was wrong. He was horrified to see a terrorist guard step from the shadows outside the dining room door. He was smoking a cigarette and the fire on the end of it lit up like a warning beacon every time he inhaled. There was nowhere to hide. Tay and Zac just stayed frozen to the spot as the guard walked up and down smoking his cigarette. They couldn't have been more than twenty metres away from him. It seemed like a miracle they hadn't been spotted. It was a miracle. After a moment he stepped on his cigarette butt and walked off down the other corridor. Without EVER looking down the corridor right in front of him where he would have seen two trembling blond haired boys looking as pale as ghosts with eyes as wide as saucers rooted to the spot.

Last line, thought Ike, this is it, this is the last line and they're not here. He couldn't keep the terror from overwhelming him this time. Ike shut his eyes as his voice quaked and wavered through the last line... "I love yooouuuuuuu..."

Tay and Zac slipped down to the end of the corridor, nervously they peered around the corner to check for any sign of the guard. Their hearts were beating like galloping horses and almost as loud too. Relieved he wasn't there they gingerly stepped forward and opened the door. "More than anythiiiinnnnggggg, more than anyyyythhhiiinnnngggg..."

Zac saw his brother standing at the mike shaking. Tay knew how close they had called it, he pulled Zac forward to the stage barely leaving him time to stuff the pad and pencil into his bundled up World Series jacket.

"...I do..." Silence.

A moment Ike didn't dare open his eyes.

Then applause, loud, deafening and very real, he smiled weakly but couldn't do anything in the face of his fear.

The applause died down suddenly, he knew this was it, someone was about to ask the question. Where are the other two?

He heard someone clear his throat and winced involuntarily, he waited.

The words came out,

"It's incredible the way you make me feel..."

Issac opened his eyes in complete shock. Taylor was singing into his mike and Zac was standing next to him harmonizing.

"Oooohhhh it's incredible oh incredible..."

Isaac smiled goofily and let his own voice drift in with his brothers. Together they were making magic once more.

In the Commandants office the chart that had taunted Zac so still sat unthinking unseeing all knowing on the wall. The light from the desk shone brightly over it.

.

Chapter 12 - "She blushed. Ahhh... He thought, she's shy..."

Later that night Zac lay in bed reliving the concert they had given in every minute detail. From this point of view what they had done seemed even more scary and more audacious than it had while they were doing it. He tensed up at the thought of how risky the whole thing was, it seemed utterly incredible that they had pulled it off at all but they had. If they had been bringing the audience to tears for the first half of the show they rocked them silly during the second half. Zac chuckled as he remembered the zany things he had done on that stage, he even climbed up onto Tay's shoulders and sung The Beatles With A Little Help From My Friends perched up there. The adrenalin rush when they got back from the office was both real and overwhelming. Zac wasn't alone in capitalising on his energy rush, Taylor got very obscene with a mike stand as they performed a scorching rendition of Yearbook and Ike leaped and flailed his way across the stage like Chuck Berry reincarnated. If he was dead. He reached his peak during A Minute Without You when Zac honestly thought his brother was going to lose it and start smashing up his guitar.

Afterwards they weren't surprised to notice cracks in the wooden stage made by leaping Hansons. Summertime Blues and Money, also performed Tay high got the audience dancing in the aisles and Zac was sure at one point he saw one of the guards bopping to the tunes. After a racious Man From Milwalkee they brought the house down with the most rocked up accoustic version of MMMBop they had ever done. Taylor almost smashed a hole in the floor as he kept time with his mike stand. They had gone to bed happy and even better now they were sharing a room with Ike and Karen. And he had a good feeling that thanks to them a lot of the other hostages had gone to bed with a smile on their faces and a song (or ten) in their hearts.

Taylor lay in his bed, below Zac this time, thinking much the same thing about tonights performance. It had been so high energy he wondered whether this was as good as they would ever get? It was certainly a long way from that llama droppings stinking little ampitheatre at Tulsa Zoo... Yeah this was something to be very proud of thought Taylor as he tried to make himself more comfortable. Those aching shoulders were a good reminder of the night before and he wondered how perhaps it was foolish to try to dance with Zac sitting up there. And boy that boy was getting heavy! Ike looked across to where his brothers were. He couldn't see them in the dark like this but he was much gladder than he had been the previous night. The performance had gone swimmingly and ever since he had been getting warm smiles of congratulations from other captives and even a respectable nod from a few terrorists. And his brothers seemed to have carried out their mission without any hassles. But now something worried him, he felt they had a definite responsibility to use the map and the phone for something. It was time they helped themselves but they needed to know what to do. "Taylor!" He called out loud as he reasonably could without attracting attention from the outside.

In a few seconds he heard a murmur. "What Ike?"

"Come over here."

"I'm asleep Ike."

He wondered why Tay was being so difficult.

"No you're not, you're talking to me."

"I'm just on the verge of sleep, leave me alone."

"Get your butt over there and stop waking me!" Zac was scowling although nobody could see.

"Zac get over here and bring Tay." "Fine!"

Ike heard the sounds of bed clothes being ripped from a bed and soon a besheeted Taylor and Zac both appeared beside him.

"Yes?"

Taylor wasn't trying to be difficult on purpose. He knew why Ike wanted to talk to him and he knew it was important. But he didn't want the euphoria of this evening to wear off so quickly. "We need a plan, what are we going to do?" "Get out the map." "It's dark."

"Here," A lighter flashed to life and Karen leaned over the edge of her top bunk to hold it nearer them.

Zac unfolded the map he'd drawn from his pocket. He laid it out on the bed for all to see. For a few moments they all studied it intently in silence then Tay spoke.

"I think I can see what we want."

He pointed to a line that extended from where they were in the depths of the mountain to the outside of the mountain in an unbroken path. It criss crossed a lot of other lines but it was definitely there.

"That notation - E3, I've seen that."

Zac looked up. "So have I, we went past that on our way to the luggage room."

"And tonight." added Taylor.

"So you think that's the way?" asked Ike.

"Am I wrong?" He was really asking not being sarcastic. "It looks like it goes all the way to the top."

"Do you think one of us could fit in one of these?"

Zac looked at everyone. Ike swallowed nervously.

"I guess we'll find out.

"Then what will you do?" asked Karen.

"The phone has a beacon, a locator, Dad customised them for us so he could keep track of us in different cities, I think it's strong enough." Taylor hoped it would be.

"If I know Dad he's given the frequency to every military base and airport in the world by now." Zac grinned optimistically.

"So he'll be looking for it?" asked Karen.

"Someone will." Zac sounded sure.

"So this is our shot then." said Ike after a moment, "We - one of us crawls through the air ventilation shaft to the surface with cellphone and sets off the beacon and leaves it there. That's our plan?" "Yes... I think it sounds good enough." Taylor felt empowered, "It's time we stopped sitting on our rears doing nothing. Not if - " He stopped himself before he said it.

Zac felt a cold dagger of fear plunge through his heart. Tay was hiding something for sure. He wasn't going to sleep tonight until he found out what. He tried not to let his discomfort show on his face.

"Guys how are we going to get to the vent and open it without being seen?"

Karen smiled.

"This I can help you with."

Ike smiled to himself as he remembered her help during the concert. He wondered what she had in mind.

"The terrorists aren't so organized as you'd think. I've been moving around a lot today and I've noticed they tend to stick in groups during patrols. They're meant to patrol alone. So there are parts of the complex at different times that stay unseen for a good twenty minutes if you're lucky."

"Hmmm... I thought they were pretty impressive with their organizing."

"I think some of them are a little scared of us." replied Karen, "Some of them are maybe a bit greener, a little less battle hardened than the others."

Ike nodded thoughtfully. "Then we should have no trouble. Right?"

Taylor and Zac both nodded willingly. No trouble at all.

After they'd been back in bed a while Zac was still lying there trying to will himself to sleep. It was no use, he felt the icy feeling of fear and it kept him wide awake. He didn't want to disturb Tay who he could tell was sleeping from his breathing sounds but he had to know. He had to. "Tay?"

No response as expected.

He wondered what would put his brother in more of a bad mood, being shouted awake or being shaken awake. He tried again.

"Tay!"

Still nothing. He pondered the possibilities in his mind, Tay would be mad either way so there was no question really. He had to wake him somehow. Zac jumped down silently and picked up his yellow boots from the floor where he had disgarded them. He chose the left one and put the other down, then he crept close to Tay's sleeping form.

"Tay!" He said one more time.

Still nothing.

Sighing he poised his boot in the air above Tay's face heel facing up.

"I'm sorry big brother.." he whispered.

Zac covered Tay's nose and his mouth with the opening of his boot. He held it close so no other air could get in.

At first there was no response. Then a slight head movement. Then a more pronounced head movement but Zac still held it tightly against his face. Tay began jerking his arm up to his face trying to wipe it away but still Zac held on. Tay's hand eventually found Zac�s wrist and tried to pull on it. Zac clenched his teeth and held on. Finally Tay's eyes popped open.

Taylor was deep in a blissful dream. He was sitting in a field surrounded by gorgeous women. He was singing to them, they were totally enraptured. One of them smiled sweetly at him and he smiled back. She blushed. Ahhh... He thought, she's shy... The field suddenly got hazy, everything went dark. He wasn't in a field anymore, he was in some kind of prison. The cold stone walls seemed to laugh at him, he tried to block the sound with his hands but they wouldn't move. He looked down and saw them tied to his side. He was tied to a chair, a man was in the room laughing at him. He was wearing a big white coat. He moved closer to Tay and produced a big oxygen mask. It was dark green and looked to be at least fifty years old. Next thing he knew the mask was strapped onto his face. The gas came on. Tay tried not to breath. It was the most foul stench imaginable. Tay felt his whole body caught up in a choking motion. He swiveled his head to try to find air but the mask stayed, he began shaking his head violently to get away but still the mask stayed. He found one of his hands was free. It was almost too late now, he felt sick to the stomach and his brain seemed very sluggish. He could feel the toxin entering his blood stream. He tried to rip the mask away but instead of the mask be felt a hand. He tried pulling it away with all his might but it was stuck fast. He clenched his eyes shut and whispered a prayer, he tried pulling again but still the hand held. He opened his eyes and tried to focus. Everything was blurry. Slowly he began to focus. He could see who was behind the hand. He could see Zac. "Good, you're up." said Zac matter of factly as he pulled the shoe away from Taylor's face.Taylor stared up at him in disbelief as he sucked in lungfull's of oxygen. The nightmare slowly faded from his mind. He coughed a couple of times, wiped his face and spoke.

"What are you trying to do?"

"You wouldn't wake up."

"So you thought..." He saw the shoe in Zac's hand, "Poisoning me would help?"

"Tay I need to talk."

Tay looked at his brothers face. Normally he would be cracking up after this kind of prank but he looked deadly serious. And a little scared too.

"What about Zac?"

"I need you to tell me what Karen told you."

Warning bells went off in Tay's mind. There was no way he wanted Zac to find out what had happened. That would just freak him out. He pretended to be nonchalant.

"About what?"

"About why you suddenly changed you mind this morning Tay, about what you almost told us before but stopped yourself, about what makes Karen think this is the most important thing in the world."

Tay took a breath. "It's nothing Zac, don't worry about it."

"But I am already Tay! I'm so worried I can't sleep. And if I can't sleep I'll just lie here worrying more and more and by morning my mind will have invented a scenario so awful the truth can't come close to matching it. So please tell me."

Tay felt himself relenting. Zac sounded tortured by this already. I guess he's just as well being tortured by the truth as he is being tortured by what his mind comes up with.

"Okay Zac I'll tell you. But you have to promise not to tell Ike okay? I didn't want you guys to know because I don't want you to worry about it like I have. But I think you are better off knowing now."

"I promise."

Zac felt himself take a deep breath. Tay was building it up now. Something real bad was behind this he guessed and he wondered now if he really wanted to know.

Tay watched Zac's face grow paler and paler as he told him everything Karen had told him. Zac didn't interrupt him once which was unusual, he just nodded silently every so often as he took everything in. Tay wondered if he was even hearing him, the silence was so complete it was scary. When he finished telling him still Zac didn't say anything. "Are you okay Zac?"

"I'm okay."

Zac wasn't okay actually, he was far from okay. Tay had more or less confirmed his worst fears about these people. Suddenly it didn't feel anything like the game or the lark it had felt like before. Suddenly it felt very real. These people were murderers. Not only that, they didn't care who they killed. He felt sick.

"Tay I'm going to bed now okay?"

Tay nodded as Zac climbed back up to his bunk. Zac was freaking him out now. He had never ever seen him like this. He looked like a deer caught in car headlights. Not even able to show expression on his face the fear was so great. Oh man! What have I done? He thought. He started hammering into the pillow. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! I should have listened to Karen. I should've kept my mouth shut.

He lay still to listen to Zac breathing, it was a moment before he could hear it, Zac was breathing so quietly, for a moment Tay had a nasty feeling he'd scared his brother to death.

Zac got to his bunk and into bed before he began shivering, he knew it was coming and he didn't want Tay to see. His mind was going in a thousand directions at once, he was more confused than he had ever known. Calm down Zac. He told himself. Breath steadily and calm down. He managed to control his breathing and the shaking became less pronounced. Soon he was able to concentrate on one thought if he tried hard. And there was no question what that thought was going to be. We have to make it tomorrow. We have to get help.

He felt slight relief at even thinking the thought. It felt good to have a goal. And this was the mother of all goals. There was absolutely no question that they had to do this right. The stakes were a lot higher than he'd thought.

Now this is where I can kick some ass he thought to himself. This is something I can do. We can't fail. I won't let us fail.

He leaned over the side of his bunk and looked down.

"Tay!"

"Yeah?"

"We're gonna make it tomorrow."

Taylor looked at his brother in disbelief. That was the absolute last thing he'd expected him to say. How could he have read his brother so wrong? Zac wasn't frozen with fear, he was bursting with confidence. Knowing that was an immense relief to Tay.

"Yeah we are." He replied.

There was no answer.

Zac was already asleep.

.

Chapter 13 - "Now we can be twins."

They woke up that morning feeling fresh and happy. After a quick breakfast it seemed like a smart idea to go and stake out the hallway where the air vent was. Ike figured they should keep an eye on the guard's movements so they would have some idea roughly how often to expect one to walk past. Karen chose not to join them because, she said, it would look a little odd. And so after breakfast they went to take up their positions. But soon monotony took hold. "There's one!" said Zac a little too excitedly as a guard turned into their hallway.

"Keep the volume down okay? We're not supposed to care." said Tay.

Zac nodded, sorry for his outburst, but this waiting was far harder than he had anticipated.

He started to tap his feet along with a beat he was dreaming up in his head. Tay decided not to reprimand him this time, he quite enjoyed the rhythm Zac was making and soon was itching to play along.

Which, inevitably, he did.

Ike looked at his brothers tapping to their own beat down the other end of the hallway. He was tempted to go and join them for this impromptu jam session. Heck they might even get a song out of it. But duty calls. He knew he must stay to watch the hallway from this end. The other hallway which intersected with theirs down here was far busier than their one. It had been fifteen minutes since a guard had walked past never the less and Ike was reasonably confident fifteen to twenty minutes was the norm. This was good, he was sure it was more than they needed. Tay was getting the same impression from this end. He wondered if in another life and another time he might have made a good spy. This espionage stuff seemed really easy now. He found it almost funny how clueless the terrorists were. Who'd have guessed the Hanson brothers would be the ones to save the day? "What are you laughing about?"

"I was just thinking... Nevermind."

"No what?"

I don't care what lamo jokes you're thinking of, Tay thought, Zac, anything please just to relieve this BOREDOM!

"I was just thinking how neat this is...you know, us being like..."

"Action heroes!"

"I was gonna say spies but yeah... Action heroes!"

"Maybe we should call those Hollywood people back. Reconsider those movie deals."

Taylor looked at Zac. "Don't even joke about that Zac."

He grinned. Tay grinned.

"When they make the TV Movie of this who do you think will play me?"

"I dunno Tay.... Depends if Heather Locklear is free."

Tay pretended to look mad. "You gotta have Jenny McCarthy as you then!"

Zac smiled big. "I like that idea! That's cool! She's cool!" "Yeah can you imagine?"

Zac started singing in a high falsetto, "Mmmbop ba duba du bop..."

They both laughed.

"And Ike?" Managed Zac between giggles.

Tay thought for a moment then an idea hit him. He turned to look at Zac who evidently had the same idea. EUREKA!

They both exploded excitedly, "Fabio!"

Both Tay and Zac collapsed into a fit of laughter.

"I carn believe is not budder."

They laughed even harder.

From the other end of the hallway Ike started grinning too even though he suspected he was the target of that particular joke.

Taylor wiped the tears from his eyes.

"Oh man!" He got himself up off the floor. "I needed that."

"Me too." Zac used Tay's arm to pull himself up, "Thanks, I need to laugh more often."

Zac's mock serious tone caught Tay by surprise. He started laughing again.

"You! When do you ever stop?"

Zac beamed. He loved an audience.

Taylor looked at his brother for a moment. Not it wasn't one of those self reflective moments, he just wondered if he had ever been so Zac. Guess not, he thought, some things are Zac and Zac alone and it isn't age or maturity level that controls them. As if to illustrate Tay's point Zac picked that second to start doing monkey impressions.

About an hour later all three were supremely bored. It was nearly midday now and they knew the guard's timetable with boring regularity. Ike went over to his brothers. "I think we're ready."

Tay nodded. He jerked his head toward the vent on the wall opposite from them. "So how do we do this thing?"

Zac went over to the vent and peered inside. He had been doing this all morning since early but he did it again to emphasize the point of what he was about to say.

"Umm guys?"

"How does it look in there?" asked Tay breezily.

"Small."

"How small?"

"Me small."

Oh. Ike and Tay hadn't anticipated this. They went over and checked out the vent for themselves. Zac was right, the shaft running up from it wasn't even that wide. It was definitely gonna be a tight fit for which ever of them went and Ike felt uneasy as he looked at it. It clearly couldn't be him.

"I can't fit can I guys?" He said almost apologetically.

Tay looked at him with a flash of fear in his eyes. He had been thinking the same thing about himself. They really hadn't anticipated this at all.

Zac spoke up. "It's got to be me guys."

Taylor looked pleadingly at Ike, Ike slowly shook his head.

"You're right Zac." He said resignedly. "It has to be you."

The cover of the vent was screwed on in two places so they had to return to their bedroom to get the doctors kit again. Tay felt awful, he wanted desperately to go in Zac's place. He knew the risks here and did not want Zac taking them. But there was nothing he could do. Zac was the only one small enough to crawl along the shaft and he and Ike would just have to wait and hope. His throat felt dry, he realized he had been swallowing compulsively to try to soothe his nausia. It was a horrible feeling yet he knew he couldn't alter it and he couldn't go back. Not now. Not after they had risked so much. It was best just to put on a brave face, which he did for Zac's sake and plough ahead.

They got back to their room and selected an instrument out of the doctors bag to unscrew the screws. Then slowly, like a death march Tay felt, they walked back.

The silence was unnerving, Zac wondered why both his brothers were being so quiet. He thought for a moment that it was jealousy but that seemed too stupid to consider and he banished the idea from his mind. No it was something else. Tay especially had a weird look on his face. Every time he caught his eye Zac would see a second of fear before Tay put on his comforting face. He wasn't fooling anyone. Zac tried to reassure his brothers. "I'm gonna be fine okay?"

Ike smiled and ruffled Zac's hair. How very Dad thought Zac.

"Of course you'll be fine. We're the ones who have to wait around while you're up there having fun."

Zac appreciated Ike's attempts at levity.

He smiled at Ike. Then looked at Tay.

"Okay?" The flash in Tay's eyes... it was strange. He gave the screw remover to Ike.

"Here... Can you go ahead?"

Ike looked down at his little brother. He accepted the screw remover and walked ahead to start the job. Ike had seen that look in Tay's eyes too, he'd been having similar feelings but had chosen to ignore them and concentrate totally on the job. Tay didn't seem to be making it that far. It was weird now, Zac was going to comfort Tay when it should be the other way...

"Stop for a minute."Tay stopped and looked at Zac. He tried to avoid staring into his eyes because he had a chilling feeling Zac could see right through to his soul. Zac persisted though, staring right into the centre of Tay's eyes. He knew.

"Tell me what you're scared of!"

Tay was taken aback, this was very abrupt for Zac.

He found himself being honest although he didn't mean to. Zac had some kind of power over him.

"I don't know... everything, you, that it's not me. It's not right."

"You don't think I can do it?"

"No no nothing like that... I don't want you to be taking the risks again, it's too much, I feel responsible and you're the one being put in danger."

"We're all in danger here."

"I know, I try to believe that but you... what you're doing is just so enormous I feel...."

He stopped himself.

Zac detected that. He softened his approach.

"You feel what?" He said softly.

Tay felt himself letting go of something he'd been holding onto for a long time.

"I feel like I've let Mom and Dad down. Somehow I feel responsible for this mess and now I'm making you clean it up. It's not right."

Oh... so that's what it is.

"Mom and Dad would want us to help these people Tay."

"I know."

"Well that's what we're going to do. Regardless of whether it's you me or Ike we have to do something. We can't not help. Not knowing what we know."

"I know." He almost whispered it this time.

"Okay so it's me... So it's messing with some kind of screwy big brother guilt complex you've got. Deal with it. I'm going to be fine. I'll be there and back before you know it. I will be fine."

Taylor noticed Zac had taken his hand and was holding it. For a moment he almost laughed. This was absurd. I am the older brother not Zac, I'm meant to be saying his lines. He shook his head feeling silly for having all those thoughts.

"Thanks Zac."

"Anytime man!"

Taylor grinned. Still holding hands they went to catch up to Ike.

Isaac was waiting for them when they reached him, he had a surprise waiting. "All done." He said confidently and showed Tay and Zac the little screws in his hand. With his other hand he held the grating over the air vent in place. Just incase.

"Put them back once he's in there." said Tay.

"Just not too deep okay?" added Zac, "I need to be able to kick my way of there."

"I'll just put them in enough so the whole thing doesn't fall down."

"Okay."

"Okay."

"We're ready then."

"Yup." There was a moment of silence. None of them knew quite what to say.

Zac was the first to break it. He sat down in the hallway and undid the laces on his yellow docs.

"You look after these for me okay?" He said as he pulled one off then the other and handed them to Tay. He pulled his socks off too and dropped them into the shoes while Tay held them as far away from his face as he could.

"Do you want them cleaned up for when you get back?" joked Tay.

"Or recoloured." added Ike.

Zac gave him a disapproving look. "You wouldn't dare."

They smiled at each other.

"Got the phone?" asked Tay.

"Right here," said Zac patting his pocket.

"Map?"

"Got it."

"Okay let's do it."

"I've got an idea." said Tay.

He grabbed Zac's hands and held them out infront of him. Ike put his hands on top of theirs. Together they performed the Hanson cheer.

Zac was psyched. He smiled at his brothers excitedly. The gleam in his eye was contagious. "Open this baby up."

Ike removed the cover from the vent. All three felt the rush of cool air into the passage way.

"Least it won't be stuffy in there." said Tay.

"Give me a hoist." said Zac.

Ike and Tay grabbed a leg each and lifed Zac into the vent.

"Ow!"

"What?" "Nothing... nothing but you ramming my head against the roof of this thing! Be careful!"

"Sorry Zac."

"Yeah wouldn't want to ruin Teen Beat's sexiest man alive."

Zac lashed out with his foot and managed to connect with Tay's nose.

"Now we can be twins."

Tay held his nose and tried not to laugh.

Zac was giving him the evil stare even though he couldn't see it now.

His legs were fully in now. He shouted back.

"Close it up!" Isaac replaced the cover and began putting the screws back in the holes. Tay leaned close to the grating and watched Zac crawling along.

"Zac!"

"Yeah?"

"Good luck!"

"Yeah Good luck Zac!" Added Ike.

"I'll see you later." Zac put his head down and started moving, he stopped for a moment and thought to himself. Then he turned back to them.

"I want lunch when I get out!"

"Okay Zac lunch will be here!" Shouted back Tay.

Zac resumed his journey.

Taylor and Ike both watched him until he disappeared around a bend.

"Well."

"Well."

"Now we wait."

Ike slid down against the wall and Tay sat next to him. They both reflected on their current situation. It seemed strange. No stranger than twenty five thousand people screaming your name. But definitely strange. There they were.

Tay turned to Ike.

"I wonder.."

"What?"

Tay looked thoughtful, "I wonder if there's a song in this?"

.

Chapter 14 - "Soap!"

Zac was not planning to fail. He was as determined as he had ever been as he crawled purposefully forward through the dark airshaft. He could see nothing ahead of him and nothing behind him. On either side of him was cold steel, his feet pressed against it as he moved forward. Yet this didn't bother him. He didn't even mind the millions of tons of rocks on all sides of him. Nothing fazed him because Zac had a mission. The cold steel echoed with the sounds of his movement. It was the only detectable sound - the fans that pushed the air through these things weren't audible at this distance. Oddly though it wasn't a bad trip. The shaft wasn't too wide but Zac didn't feel claustrophobic, it was certainly wide enough for him to go forward without fear of getting stuck anywhere. He did wonder where in the mountain he was, the map wasn't too clear on that, not that he could read it in this darkness. But Zac had memorized the route, he knew which turns he had to make and so far it had been exactly as the map said. Okay his arms were getting tired, his feet didn't have enough grip to push forward on their own so he was using his arms to pull himself at the same time. But that's normal and besides it wasn't naggingly sore or anything. Just a bit achy. And he could put up with that. If he had one regret it was not tying his hair up before entering the shaft. Now it just drooped down in front of his face in its freeform way and he found it annoying even though it wasn't blocking his view yet. He didn't have one.

Shuffle... pull.

Shuffle... pull.

Okay this wasn't exactly brain science. He was doing something though, something important and if... When he pulled it off he will have done something to help all the people unfortunate enough to be on that plane. Like them. And that was worth crawling through a steel shaft buried deep within a mountain for. Thankfully the shaft didn't have much of an incline so far. Zac had weird images of himself sliding down steep inclines and struggling to go back up again and again and again. He smiled to himself. Despite the delay that would cause it would be fun. Maybe he could build something similar at Hansonland. Zac grinned even wider as he started thinking about his pet project. Something that had been on his mind for a while now it was his brainchild and Zac secretly hoped to spend his royalty money on realizing it one day. Hansonland was perfectly simple, a Zac Hanson inspired theme park! No not one of those commercial, let's promote our product by suckering the public in with the same old rides dressed up in new designs theme park. A Zac Hanson theme park was a theme park populated by all the coolest rides and the ones Zac had dreamed up himself. He had a better imagination that most of those designers anyway. It was definitely his most brilliant idea....and oddly enough it had nothing to do with the band. Although a Man From Milwaukee theme for the Mars ride had crossed his mind. You see the problem with most theme parks today is that they are some parts thrilling, some parts chicken. He knew the chicken was there for girls and old ladies, but it was unfair on those who just came for the thrill rides. The Tea Cups at Disneyland aren't exactly heart attack material. So the solution is so blindingly obvious it's a total wonder it took a twelve-year-old boy to think of it. Then again what are the odds a twelve year old boy would think of it who actually has the capital to make it happen...

Oh.

Zac noticed he had stopped, he had been thinking so intensely about his theme park. He got going again quickly, glad no one saw that - it was almost like one of those trances Tay goes into and definitely not a Zac thing to do. He increased his pace just on the odd, obscure chance that somebody was timing him.

How long had Zac been going anyway? He stopped again, this time on purpose and checked the time on his watch using it's handy light. The shaft actually looked smaller when lit up, he decided darkness was handy that way. In any case he'd been in here for over ten minutes now. He had started the stopwatch function on his versatile new Timex Sports Watch and had had just now clicked over ten.

Soap!

Zac decided soap would make the slidy ventilation shaft ride at Zac land... Hey that's a better name! Removes that Hanson overtones too... And Slidy Ventilation Shaft Ride... well it certainly wouldn't be mistaken for Space Mountain or Autopia.

And of course the best thing about having your own theme park would be the free rides anytime he wanted. He doubted he'd ever want to leave. Infact that might be a problem. But no problem comes without a handy solution. He'll just build Tay and Ike a studio in the theme park so they can work and play at the same time.

Incredible!

What a brilliant idea!

Sensational!

Zac was in the middle of congratulating himself when he saw something that gave him a total surprise. Light.

Blinking in the harsh desert sun Zac hauled himself out of the airvent and on to the mountainside. Now he wished he had bought his sunglasses. It was SO bright after being cooped up in the artificial world of their captivity. He could see a few things, the air vent cover lay where it had landed when he hurled himself against it to get out. Seeing the cover there had given him a fright momentarily but he had guessed it would be pretty loosely held on because no one was expected to be trying to get in up here. And he was right. It flew off with one hard knock. Now he was sitting on a mountainside in the middle of North Africa somewhere. And one thing hit him and hit him hard.

The heat.

Zac pulled off his jumper almost as soon as he sat down. Sweat started pouring out of every pore on his body. He contemplated pulling off his shirt too but decided the sunburn wasn't something he wanted to risk. And it would look very suspect back down in the mountain. Well he wasn't planning to be here for long anyway. Just got to set the phone signal off. But first maybe I'll just rest a little he thought. This heat was tremendous, he wasn't prepared for it at all. That was something they hadn't contemplated. The fact that it would be so hot because it's almost midday. Zac felt drained. He sat down on a rock to catch his breath for a minute but it wasn't happening. This whole mountain was acting as some kind of heat reflector. He decided this was somewhere he didn't want to be for very long.

Zac pulled the phone out of his jumper and cradled it in his hand. He wondered whether it was built to withstand this heat. Maybe... he thought, I mean they're sposed to be versatile but this is extreme. Finding a shady place for it would be the best idea. On this mountain however there wasn't much choice. Above and below him it was barren, just loose rocks of varying sizes and an occasional straggling bush. And they didn't look happy. He dug out a shallow hole under one of the larger rocks with his feet. The ground was actually hot to the touch so he couldn't dig for long. So he decided this was the best he could do.

Now it was time. Everything they had gone through was working toward this moment. Ever since his brainwave in the bathroom this was his destiny. Okay Zac stopped himself being too caught up in the occasion. He flicked the beacon switch on the phone and watched the little light flash on and off. Then he made sure the aerial was fully extended and he lodged the phone as far under the rock as he could without it being crushed. From a few feet away the silver aerial was the only thing visible and that was barely seeable in this brightness either. Satisfied Zac stepped away from his creation and admired it for a few seconds. Before stepping back into the shaft he offered a few words of prayer to God for their success. And he prayed that the signal might reach someone who could help.

Zac dived into the shaft headfirst and maneuvered the cover back into place as best he could with his feet. He enjoyed the cool air he could feel once again in the shaft and began his long return journey. For a while the sunlight followed him. Bathing the shaft in a kind of twilight dimness. But eventually darkness enveloped him again and he was confidently crawling back to Tay and Ike. About ten minutes later Zac was feeling dozy. The sleepiness the sun had birthed in him hadn't completely gone away. He just wished he was back in his bedroom at home in Tulsa now... Zac shook himself awake. He had been daydreaming of home. That wasn't a safe thing to do when you're crawling through a dark ventilation shaft. He sped up deciding there was no reason not to expend his energy now. It was done. Contact will hopefully be made and then all they'd have to do would be wait. Someday someone will come and they will all go home. And the world will commend Zac Hanson for his heroic braveness. Perhaps even a monument will be built. Even better Zac could build one himself in Hanson Land. Sorry, Zac Land. Zac let himself get carried away this time. It was fun. Shuffle...heave. Now his arms were aching along with his legs, Zac had a sneaking suspicion the trip there had been slightly easier. It wasn't noticeable but he strongly suspected there was a slope in here. And now he was climbing back up hill. Good thing there was no soap in there. He could wish Tay or Ike had been slim enough to make this trip instead of him now. All glory ideas were disappearing from his mind and being replaced by pain and tiredness. Now there better be a statue built of him. Or he will whine and complain so much... Now this is silly thought Zac, I'm getting in a bad mood over nothing. This is almost over. In a second I'll see Tay and Ike's faces staring at me down the shaft and I'll be back. And no one will be the wiser. Until the day the Commandos burst in here and take us home. Zac let his mind fill up with the Jim Cameron version of their rescue again and was soon smiling to himself.

All through the whole adventure Zac had been keeping a map of the ventilation system in the back of his mind. He had studied it hard after he drew it and he'd learned the whole route by heart. So as he crawled along these tunnels he was mentally ticking off every part of the system that he passed. And that he passed again and he crawled back. That's how Zac knew he was near the start again when he finally started to relax.

The whole thing had been pretty cruisy but it wasn't exactly what you would call relaxing. As much as his mind drifted onto various far off subjects he still retained a nervousness about the whole thing. This only started to dissipate as he reached the beginning again. Even the aching in his limbs seemed less now as he let himself fill up with the joyful feeling of victory. Yes they have done it. The Hanson brothers have outwitted international terrorists!

Zac rounded the last corner and was thrilled to see Tay's familiar face staring down at him through the vent cover. Zac waved and pulled a goofy face. He felt great now. Hopefully his brothers would be equally as thrilled and they could all celebrate somehow. Tay smiled back but it didn't seem convincing to Zac. Strange... he thought, he isn't going to relax until we're back in our room I guess. That was pretty standard Ike ideology but not Tay. Well it must be catching. The cover was still over the end and Zac was getting pretty near now. He found himself saying,

"Now guys."

"Now guys!"

"Now! Guys!" As he got nearer. Finally as he got within a few feet of the entrance those panicky feelings he had been suppressing boiled to the surface and Zac felt very worried. What if there's a guard out there and Tay and Ike can't open it? What if he stays there for hours? What if this is his nighttime guard post?

Get rational Zac! He told himself. Then Ike's face appeared at the end. He smiled at Zac but looked concerned. His eyes seemed to be telling him something. That was pure Ike. And to Zac's immense relief he pulled the cover off the air vent.

"Finally!" Zac said aloud as he reached out to grab the edges of the shaft. "You guys don't do that again okay?"

Tay and Ike said nothing but Zac continued to grumble to himself as he tried to get a good grip outside the shaft. His hands kept slipping and he growled to himself for it when a hand reached out and grabbed hold of his wrist. Zac gladly accepted and he was pulled out of the shaft and onto the floor. That was a bit rude he thought to himself and stood up to reprimand Tay or Ike whoever had given him the hand.

To his surprise to looked up to see not Ike or Tay but the face of a very burly and angry looking Serbian terrorist.

"Umm... thanks?"

.

Chapter 15

Taylor lay face down on his bunk crying softly into his pillow. There was no need to let Ike know he was still crying. He looked bad enough without having this to worry about. Tay felt about as bad as he thought possible. Quite simply, today his life had fallen apart. The scenes played themselves out over and over again in his head. He couldn't stop them if he wanted to. And right now he didn't want to. He was searching for something, some moment where it had all gone wrong. Some moment where he could have altered the awful course of events. Some moment when he could have saved his brothers life.

Taylor was absolutely certain Zac was dead. He couldn't shake the thought from his head. His last image of his brother was the look of absolute terror on his face as he was dragged away by the guards. Then... Then the screaming. Awful awful screaming the whole complex had heard. It was louder and more horrifying than Taylor thought possible. And it seemed like it had gone on for hours. Well it felt like that anyhow. The still functioning part of his brain told him it had only been about twenty minutes. Since then he would have given anything to hear Zac screaming. The silence, for hours, the silence was even worse.

After Zac had emerged from the air vent he had acted quickly and convinced the guards it was his idea alone. He screamed and cried apologies to Tay and Ike for "disobeying them" and "trying to escape despite then telling him not to." Taylor had felt like the biggest coward in the world for not owning up but Isaac wasn't either and there didn't seem a point. It couldn't make things any better. And Zac had obviously thought this through and decided this was best. He couldn't have Zac do that for nothing... Zac... Taylor felt a fresh batch of tears coming on. His T-shirt and sheets were already sodden from his tears so he mashed his face into his sodden pillow to subdue his sobbing. They had all been marched to the Commandants office and listened to his ranting and yelling about their betrayal of his trust and how they had jepodised the safety of all their fellow hostages. Zac's protestations of sorrow had continued right on as he spoke and afterwards the Commandant asked Ike and Tay whether Zac was telling the truth. And though it hurt more than he could scarcely believe Tay said yes. And thus Taylor and Isaac were sent back to their room under guard and Zac was taken away.

Despite Tay's best attempts at quiet Ike wasn't asleep. Not that he could have slept anyway. He just lay in his bed staring at the bottom of Zacs bunk where Tay had laid himself down and didn't look to be doing too well. Isaac himself wasn't crying anymore. He wanted to. He needed to. He had been, for hours. It felt like there were no tears left. Maybe the tear ducts need time to replenish themselves. In any case he lay there dry eyed while his soul felt like it was dying. In his mind he was searching frantically for a way out of this despair. But the more frantic he got the deeper he seemed to sink. The part of his mind that appreciates goodness seemed to be missing, he didn't know whether he felt angrier or sadder. It was impossible to tell, to know sadness you have to know happiness and Ike couldn't honestly find that feeling anywhere in himself. He wished for something but he couldn't quite remember what. Nothing his mind was fathoming seemed like it would cheer him up.

But he did have one thing Taylor didn't have. Hope. He held onto it like a fragile flower. He held onto the slim hope that Zac might somehow be still alive. And Ike desperately with every fiber of his being wanted to go to find him. To comfort him and to make everything alright again. He had no idea how he would do that but he wanted to, badly. So badly infact he even toyed with the idea of taking on the guard outside their door. Fortunately he had enough sense left to fight that impulse.

Things had started to go wrong almost as soon as Zac had left the surface and started back to Ike and Tay. A guard had come down the hall and stopped to ask them why they were hanging around there. As he spoke he leaned against the air vent and the cover Ike had loosely replaced promptly fell off. The guard immediately called for back up, telling the other guards about the "escape attempt" he had "foiled." It apparently didn't occur to any of them that they caught Zac breaking into the complex. And now here they lay... two brothers wrecks of their former selves and one brother either desperately in need of help or... Ike wouldn't let his mind speak that word. He felt so cold now, had the air-conditioning been turned up? But he didn't try to get warm, it just never occurred to him to do something about it. There was something he could do something about though. Ike felt certain Tay was feeling worse than he was. He couldn't believe it was possible but he knew his brother, Tay would find a way. So if he couldn't go to one brother in need he was sure well going to come to the other. Ike got up from his bed stiffly. He wondered how long he had been laying there. Time didn't seem to exist or to matter now. He looked at Taylor. His heart fell even further. His brother looked like he had fallen to pieces. The crying had stopped now, his eyes had glazed over. It didn't look like there was any life in them. Ike climbed carefully onto Tay's bed, formally Zac's bed and lay down next to his brother. Tay's skin felt cold and clammy much like his own. If felt almost not human but Ike still wrapped his arms around his brother. He pulled him over so they were facing each other. Ike spoke hoarsely,

"Tay... Tay please."

At first nothing. No recognition, nothing.

"Tay!" Ike was more commanding this time.

For an excruciating amount of time nothing. Then he saw something in his eyes. Tay was still in there somewhere.

"Tay."

Tay blinked. Then a second later blinked again. Then he finally saw his brother. Only for a split second he thought it was Zac. His heart leaped then crashed back down again when his vision cleared.

"Tay." Ike's voice cracked, he felt a fresh deluge of tears coming on.

"Ike." Tay responded in a similar cracked voice. His eyes began welling up instantly too.

Taylor's arms reached out and encircled Isaac's body, Isaac pulled him close and felt his brother's body warm up slightly. And there they lay in each others arms needing each other dreadfully and incredibly grateful each other was there.

Zac was not dead. It is fair to say for some periods that day he had wished he was. Sometimes he had dreamed he was. But he wasn't, he was very much alive. And very much in pain. He lay now in a room he didn't know where. And it was pitch black too. He knew he had eventually been thrown in here. He was lying either on the floor or on a bed, he wasn't entirely sure where and he didn't really care. All he knew was that the hitting had stopped. And for that he feverantly thanked God. He didn't try to move. He wasn't sure he could. The darkness too while scary was also helpful. He really didn't want to see what he looked like. He could feel something sticky all over his body and not unreasonably decided it must be blood. That was one coherent thought he could hold onto. Most thoughts seemed to expire in the thick sludge of his brain before he could get a grip on them. He felt oddly comfortable, he could feel how much pain he was in but it didn't connect entirely with his consciousness. It was more like something he was watching rather than something he was living. It felt safer that way anyway and he held stubbornly onto any sense of safety. He had felt like he had lost all connection to the word this afternoon. Fear itself had bottomed out for him and down there in his darkest hour he found a strange new outlook on life in general.

Vague memories, some more like dreams, some more like visions drifted in front of his eyes. He remembered thinking instantly that Tay and Ike had to look innocent when he saw the guard standing there. He remembered with a small degree of satisfaction that the guards and the Commandant had bought it. He hadn't thought much ahead of that though, he just knew it was the best thing to do.

Parts of the day were blank now, parts he may never remember. Parts he wondered if he ever wanted to know about. What he did know was terrible enough. The room he was taken to was simple to the extreme. Just a chair in the center of a bare room to which he was tied. He recalled now how tight the ropes were. At the time they seemed the least of his problems. Once the door was shut they didn't make him wait long. The two guards in there took turns on him. The first blow was to his head. It was with the butt of a pistol. Zac felt the shock of the blow followed by the devastating realization it was the first of many. He felt their boots as they kicked him in the stomach, the ribs... then in the face. Then his chair fell over and he was showered with blows. He drifted in and out of consciousness for what seemed like eternity and they never let up! They never even got tired.

He remembered hearing a far off screaming and suddenly realizing it was his own voice. All the while he kept one image in mind. Blow after blow it stayed. The image of Taylor and Isaac's faces frozen in terror as he was dragged away. Boy it would be nice to see them again Zac thought. But he didn't seriously think it would ever happen.

Zac lay in that room reliving his worst moments, that he could remember, from that day, feeling each punch and each kick as if they were being administered still. He lay there flinching from his imaginary blows alone in the dark yet he did not cry.

Morning came finally. Ike and Tay lay together on Zac's bed neither sleeping nor being awake. They were just in some kind of semi-conscious limbo. Zac was asleep finally, when he would wake up he would be able to see clearly the extent of his wounds. It would not be a nice experience.

Ike was the first to come back to reality. He heard someone speaking and looked up to see a guard standing just inside the door to their room.

"Breakfast. Five minutes."

It was a command Ike knew better than to disobey.

But as he became fully aware again reality crashed into him like a ton of bricks. He physically hurt thinking about it. He jumped down onto the floor and walked over to the wash basin to splash some water on his face. He didn't bother looking in the mirror. If he had he would have probably been shocked at his own appearance. His skin was a ghastly grey colour except for his eyes, which were ringed with red and very bloodshot. He walked hunched over a little because his stomach really did hurt.

Taylor was roused by Ike's movement. He too had a few precious seconds in limbo before the memory of last night crashed into him. The tears welled up in his eyes again but this morning he was determined not to give in. He too felt the dull ache in his stomach but real pain was a pleasant relief from the torment raging through his heart. He tried to concentrate on simple things to get through each moment without caving in.

"Ike?" His voice was horse like he hadn't used it in a year or two. "Whatcha doing?"

Ike looked up at his brother. He normally would have been appalled at the state Taylor appeared to be in. His skin was almost transparent and he looked like he hadn't eaten in a month. But right now Ike didn't even notice. He answered with as much feeling as he could muster which wasn't much.

"Getting ready for breakfast. We have to go."

"Oh." replied Taylor. He hopped down from the bed too and pondered the coldness of floor on his feet.

Nothing more was said and presently the guard opened the door and ordered them to follow him. This they did meekly and without acknowledgement. They didn't even notice the dining room go silent as they entered. All eyes were turned their way. It was clear everybody had heard and they were all watching to see if Zac joined them. When he didn't a lot of people looked genuinely unhappy.

Ike and Tay were seated at a table and two trays of food were produced. They ate without a sound and quickly too. Neither brother was at all hungry and they both made halfhearted attempts before giving up.

Karen was seated at a table near to them but not near enough to talk. She looked at them with a great deal of concern on her face, her complexion gave away the fact she hadn't slept much last night either. If Ike or Tay had had the will to look up they would have seen her.

Someone did make an effort though, a girl walked over to their table and with the nodded approval of the guards stood before Ike and Taylor. It was Isabelle. Eventually Tay looked up and saw her and he attracted Ike's attention. He looked up. It didn't look like they were going to say anything so she spoke up.

"I just wanted to say I'm real sorry about your brother." She stood back, uncertain of what to do next. Taylor managed a halfhearted smile and Ike caught her eye. What she saw in his made her catch her breath.

"Thanks." He said softly.

Nothing more seemed forthcoming so she moved away and back to her own table.

Ike noticed that Taylor was beginning to breathe unusually hard. His brother's distress was the only thing that could snap him out of his own trance and he grabbed the guard by the sleeve. "Please. Can we get out of here now?"

The guard checked with his superiors and they nodded.

Ike got up and walked around to Taylor's side of the table where he gently helped his brother out of his seat. They were escorted out of the dining room with Ike acting as Taylor's support. He was beginning to feel the beginnings of panic because Taylor was breathing in short sharp bursts and appeared to be having trouble sucking in enough oxygen. They got back to their room and Ike sat Taylor down on the bed. He talked softly to his brother to calm him down.

"Breath slow Tay... please, breath slow... just in and out... it's okay... I'm right here."

Still Tay couldn't quite do it. His body was beginning to shake now as the effects of oxygen deprivation made themselves felt. Ike felt panic seriously rising in his throat.

"Please Tay!" He cried a lot louder than he'd planned, then more softly, "I can't lose two brothers in one day."

Taylor's body froze and Ike felt a sudden rush of coldness in his own bloodstream as he realized what he had said.

"I didn't mean that." He mumbled quickly but the words had finally been spoken. And they had a powerful effect on Taylor.

He spoke. "Do you really think he's..." Taylor swallowed hard and felt the shaking subside as his mind became focused. "Dead?"

Ike felt his head swimming. He couldn't answer the question. He so desperately wanted to tell Tay a thousand times NO but he wasn't sure. He knew he had to say something though, Taylor needed him right now like he never had before. Ike summoned up his courage and opened his mouth.

"I have made my decision."

Ike and Tay both looked up absolutely startled.

The Commandant was standing in the center of the room. The door was open and out in the hall they could see six or seven guards milling about.

"Your brother will be kept isolated until you are all released. Together."

The words washed through Isaac and Taylor's minds like a great cleansing wave. It took a moment for them to really penetrate, then both brothers were filled with absolute joy.

Zac was alive!