Chapter 21 - "You're the greatest man!"

Bang! "Son of a..." Taylor opened his eyes. Dang that hurt. He looked around, blinking... something wasn't right? Where was this place? He remembered being on the tour bus. Zac was playing a video game very loudly and Isaac was watching some chick show on TV.... hang on.... that was a dream wasn't it? Wow.. weird... ow! His head still hurt. This isn't a very comfortable place is it? He thought to himself, of course the bumping cause we're moving isn't helping much. Taylor opened his eyes wide. WE'RE MOVING! Oh Crap!

He looked around as memory came flooding back. The truck. He was laying in the back of the truck. Everything was cool, nobody has discovered him in there yet. Be cool man he told himself. Suddenly he realized he wasn't alone. Someone had to be driving this thing... Taylor got slowly to his knees and peered through the gap in the canopy into the drivers cab. First thing he saw was the big mother of a gun leaning against the seat. Right in front of Taylor's face it was. This was bad. He peered to the left and saw him, sitting there casual as anything one of those stupid guards was now driving this truck. Oh this is brilliant, he thought, simply sensational! I escaped from prison for this? Still it had its up side. He was still free - no one had bothered to look in the back of the truck and there was only one guard to contend with now. That was cool. And best of all they were moving somewhere. And as far as Taylor was concerned moving anywhere was a step in the right direction. Where ever this guard took him he'd be able to find a way to get help. That helped a little. He let himself calm down a little. Everything was okay. Isaac and Zac would soon have the help they needed. This'll soon be over and we can get back to good old home. Taylor sighed as he thought of home. He hadn't let himself think about it for a day or two but now things were finally moving the right way he could let himself have that pleasure. He smiled and relaxed, leaning against the back of the cab and letting the jarring suspension of the truck bounce him up and down slightly. Swish... what the? Ow! Taylor frantically brushed at his legs to get all the embers off them. Stupid guard thinks this is an ash tray does he? He'll get a thrill when I get him thrown in prison. Stupid moron guards.....

Zac's face had barely registered the stinging sensation when he found himself watching in horror as Isaac grabbed the Commandants arm and looked him directly in the eye. The Commandant was taken aback for a second. He tried to wrestle his arm out of Isaac's grip but Isaac held tight.

"Or so help me God I'll make you pay."

Where was this coming from? Ike wasn't usually like this.. This is like some freaky scene out of an action movie not real life.

"Ike... please." Zac pleaded.

"It's okay Zac." Isaac responded without shifting his gaze from the Commandants face.

Zac didn't say anything more he just watched in horrified fascination as Isaac and the Commandant tried to stare each other down. It seemed like an eternity before either of them moved. Finally the Commandant lowered his arm slowly and Isaac relaxed and then released his grip. Zac waited for the Commandant to strike or something, for the guards by the door to be ordered to shoot... but none of that happened. He just glared at Isaac for a moment then stepped back to the door frame. Isaac stood his ground. He seemed almost superhuman to Zac now.

The Commandant spoke with a snarl in his voice.

"If your brother comes back we will kill him. I will kill him. And you will watch."

He paused for a moment to watch for a reaction. Zac felt all the blood rush from his face but the Commandant wasn't watching him. Isaac betrayed no emotion. He spoke simply in a clear voice.

"You do that and I'll kill you. I'll do it myself and I'll enjoy it."

Zac's eyes were as wide as dinner plates.

"Your right to walk around this complex is hereby revoked. You will stay in this room with your brother until we see fit to release you. IF we see fit to release you. We might feed you, it depends on what kind of mood I'm in. Don't expect anything for a few days. You have no rights. I don't acknowledge your existence anymore. I don't care who you are. Cross me one more time and I'll...."

He left it at that. The door was quickly slammed shut and Isaac and Zac were once again alone in the room.

Zac looked at Isaac in wonderment. At that moment he felt a surge of pride he had never felt before. It had never been so good to be Isaac Hanson's brother. Isaac was still staring at the door. He seemed to be shaking a little. It was undetectable unless you looked real close. Zac pulled himself off his bed and shakily to his feet. He hadn't walked in a few days but his legs seemed to be getting their strength back. He hobbled over to Isaac slowly and embraced him in a big bear hug.

"You're the greatest man!" He exclaimed.

Isaac slowly turned his head and looked down toward him. His face was noticeably pale now.

"You... you think I did good?"

"You did the best man! You were awesome! You're my total hero Ike! I love you man!"

Isaac smiled a little and let Zac drag him over to the bed where he sat down. He was glad he did because all the strength suddenly seemed to leave his body. Zac, who was still hugging him looked up into his eyes.

"Ike?" He asked.

"Yeah?"

"Where did that come from?"

Ike shook his head in wonderment. If only he knew....

Taylor managed to pass quite a lot of time dreaming up new and more degrading and colourful insults to call that guard driving him. The roadies on tour had given him a vocabulary that he couldn't use around his family but was aching to use on this guy. It was a fun pass time too. You cockroach brained maggot eating retarded daughter of a charted accountant! Yeah Taylor was really aching to use these. Maybe... maybe the opportunity will present itself.

Even behind his sunglasses he found himself squinting. The sun was pouring in through the gap in the canopy especially bright! He shielded his eyes and crawled toward the back of the truck. Peering out between the sides of the canopy he saw the sun was pretty low in the sky. Well he had been asleep for a while, guess it was a longer while than he'd realized. Well no worries. Hopefully that means we'll be getting near to.... somewhere, soon.

He decided to pass some time watching the road. He lay out on his stomach his head poking out the back of the truck and watched the gravel fly up behind the tires just below him. It was then he noticed that they were on flat ground. The mountain terrain seemed to have been left behind. Yet... he peered to his left and his right and could see mountains on either side of him. And for sure in the distance behind him he could make out the range he supposed the mountain prison was nestled in. But what were they driving toward? He wished he could just peer round the corner of the truck, but with rear vision mirrors on either side that wasn't a good idea. Something triggered a song he remembered from years ago in his mind. He began softly singing to himself,

"I took a drive today....
Time to emancipate
I guess it was a feeling...
To make me wise
I'm not about to give thanks
Or apologize
I couldn't speak
Holding me down
Hand on my face
Pushed to the ground
Spending these days
Divided by fear
I tried to endure...
What I could not.."

He smiled to himself, he never could get the words right....

"Zac I love you too but could you maybe let me go? I'm getting stifled here." Zac released his bear hug but still had the hugest grin on his face.

"Ike that was the coolest thing I've ever seen!" He was so full of admiration he couldn't stop smiling if he wanted to. Ike was like.... John McClane, Martin Riggs and Sarah Conner all rolled into one! Wow! How awesome... but it is hot in here. Zac noticed that he had started sweating. Strange, he thought, this place is air-conditioned.

Isaac was having the exact same thoughts, well without the Sarah Conner part. He looked down and noticed his shirt had big sweat patches where Zac had been hugging him. Sweat....

"Ike." said Zac a tad less enthusiastic as he had been. "I'm sweating."

"So am I Zac."

"Ike the air-conditioning has been turned off."

Ike felt a fleeting sense of apprehension.

"I guess that's part of our punishment."

"How hot is it going to get?"

"I don't know Zac. Hopefully not too hot. We're still a long way from the surface."

"Can we breath in here?"

Isaac pondered that thought for a moment. He honestly didn't know much about the logistics of air ventilation. Heck he was the only brother who hadn't been in the air vent system yet.

"I think we'll be okay. If he wanted to kill us he'd have done it by now."

Zac nodded in agreement. That did seem to make sense. He guessed this was the Commandants way of making them as uncomfortable as possible.

"I can handle the tropics as well as any man," Zac leaned back with his hands behind his head. "You always wanted a tropical holiday."

Isaac smiled, "Yeah... I was picturing like a beach and maybe the Swedish Bikini swim team though."

"Just close your eyes Isaac, they're there."

Zac lay with his eyes closed and a big smile on his face. Isaac had to laugh for a minute, then joined him.

Whoa! Did that camel see me? Taylor had pulled his head quickly back inside the canopy. He let his racing heart slow down for a second and reassured himself. It's only a camel Taylor, who's it gonna tell? The other camels? He smiled grimly at his little joke. Still... if there was a camel out there it was a good sign they were nearing civilization. About three seconds later the sound of a car horn removed all doubt.

Taylor's stomach tied itself up in a knot. Okay this was his moment. Whatever he had to do to save his brothers he had to start doing now. But... a thousand questions swirled around in his mind. When? Where? What? How? Who? Okay those were the five main ones. And the last one was pretty easy, But he was very nervous.

Cool it Tay. Just wait for the right moment. You'll know.

He made himself relax a little and waited for.....

Scrrrghhh! The truck pulled to a stop and Taylor heard the cab door slam and the driver talking to someone in some kind of African dialect. No hang on... that language sounds way too familiar.

"Je' mapelle Radcan, je suis... uh... umm... pour qua tu et...."

French! Why on earth were they talking French? Where on earth were they? Any ideas Taylor had were suddenly thrown out of the window. French, French, French people, France... not this is not France don't be silly. Where else do they speak French? Indo China? Guess again buddy boy... Taylor strained to remember his history and geography lessons. Then it came to him. Algeria. Algeria was a French Colony. It's right next to Libya! It's perfect. Isaac was only one country out! Wow!

Even though the information was basically useless at the moment Taylor felt immensely relieved that he at least knew what country they were in. Algeria... this place has a name and it is Algeria.

Slam! He heard the driver get back into the cab swearing under his breath as he started up the truck again. Taylor felt a slight surge of panic but he quickly let it subside. He had a feeling he knew where they were going....

....and minutes later he was proved right. The truck lurched to a stop again and Taylor heard the familiar sounds of a petrol pump being connected to the fuel tank. And now... now he felt an aching desire to see where he was. If he did it carefully he shouldn't be spotted. He just really needed to know. To really know there were real non hijacker people out there. Taylor crawled gingerly forward and pushed a tiny little gap between the two sides of the canopy at the cab window. He looked out. A small African town looked back at him. People were wandering about here and there and he could see his driver arguing something with a man in Arab clothes about twenty feet away. And the keys were still in the ignition.... Taylor knew he had about ten seconds to make this decision. He closed his eyes and hoped for an answer. One came from directly behind him. Someone shoved aside the canopy and threw a whole bunch of military hardware into the back. By some miracle they didn't look to see the dirty looking American teenager perched up the front with fear in his eyes.

"I'm not waiting for that to happen again." said Taylor to himself. He moved down to the back of the truck and looked out. There was no one about. Possibly the man who had thrown stuff in the back was in that house across the way getting more. Well it's now or now thought Taylor. He said a short prayer and launched himself out of the back of the truck and onto the dirt. No one saw.

He crawled under the truck on his stomach. No one saw. He looked for any sign of feet on the trucks right hand side. It was all clear. He scooted toward the front of the truck and looked out from under it. No one saw. He pulled himself to his feet as quietly as possible and opened the door to the cab. No one saw. He climbed in and shut the door behind him. Keeping his head low and moved over to the drivers side. Past the gun still lying on the seat. He turned the key in the ignition. The truck spluttered to life. Someone saw. The petrol pump attendant came racing out and pulled out the pump. He'd thought the driver was going to leave without paying. Seeing the driver still standing on the road surprised him greatly. Not as much as the seeing Taylor in the drivers seat surprised the guard.

He ran toward Taylor shouting in broken English.

"Hey! What you doing?"

Taylor jammed his foot down on the accelerator and put the truck in gear.

"I just have to borrow it for a while. I'll be careful, I promise."

He grinned cheekily and waved as the truck lurched forward bunnyhopping along the road.

Dang this is embarrassing... Taylor thought. He ignored the shouting behind him and gradually got the feel for this thing. The ride became a bit smoother and with considerable relish Taylor leaned back in his seat and drove.

.

Chapter 22 - "Disappointed to find no Hanson albums."

Taylor drove straight into the sunset. He knew the sun set in the west...at least he figured it must be the same here as everywhere else. Otherwise he would be driving straight to Libya... he shuddered at the thought. The sun set surprisingly quickly spreading Lawrence Of Arabia like panoramic views over the desert for a few minutes. Then darkness and the temperature drop. He had heard stories about how cold the desert could get at night but he didn't believe them, not really, until now. He started shivering as the warmth quickly melted away and was forced to wrap himself in an old blanket lying on the floor of the cab - probably to serve the driver the same purpose. Driving through the Sahara Desert at night wasn't exactly the most thrilling thing Taylor had ever done. He soon became quite bored of the experience, the vast expanse of desert didn't even give him a chance to test the driving skills Isaac had been passing on to him. Nope, out here it was just straight flat nothingness deep into the starry night. After he'd been driving for what he estimated to be about two hours, he hadn't looked at his watch when he stole the truck, he finally decided the guard wasn't in pursuit. So he stopped the truck and decided to take an inventory of what he had acquired. Firstly there as the truck itself, by the looks of it, it was an ex military vehicle probably built in the nineteen sixties or seventies. It wasn't state of the art but it would certainly do. And it might be worth something should Taylor need money fast. He opened the glove box and was surprised by the shower of tapes that landed on the seat and on the floor. By the looks of it this was driving music for long journeys but what were they played on? This truck didn't come equipped with a sound system. Even the radio had been torn out. Then Taylor peered over the edge of the front seat and found the answer. A ghetto blaster handily stored away under there complete with attachments to the truck's cigarette lighter. He rifled through the tapes, vaguely disappointed to find no Hanson albums but he did find some tapes that would make the trip across the desert a whole lot more enjoyable.

He got out of the truck and wandered around to the back. The sand underfoot was baked hard, good thing too, he had a feeling loose sand could swallow a vehicle like this one. He climbed up into the back of the truck where this expedition had begun and inspected the cache of weapons someone had thoughtfully thrown at him. They were an interesting bunch, okay he couldn't identify most of them because his gun knowledge was restricted to what Hollywood chose to equip Arnie and Bruce with but he had a rough idea about each one. There seemed to be more than a couple of machine guns in here and what looked all the world like a bazooka. And then another one. Taylor wondered why all these weapons were seemingly going to be taken back to their mountain prison? What did their captors have in mind? He handled a couple of the pieces gently before deciding it was best not to have anything to do with them at all. And when he got back into the cab of the truck he threw the guards machine gun into the back with the rest. Now at least he felt a little safer...

As he was doing up his seatbelt to drive again he caught a glimpse of a pair of eyes staring at him. His eyes. He turned on the dim inside the cab light and took a good look at himself in the mirror for the first time in days. It was a vain thing to think and he blushed for having thought it at all but his first impulse was to wonder if any of their teenage girl, and woman, fans would find him even remotely attractive in this state. The face that stared back at him hadn't bathed in at least a week. It showed the stress and strain of living in and then escaping from a mountain prison. And the wear from a trip across the desert. It was in bad shape to say the least. He couldn't really tell in the bad light but it looked as though he had gotten sunburnt during his brief time outside. His skin looked patchy and red and his lips were chaffed and mauled looking. His hair seemed to have the consistency of straw now and hung down over his face in the most annoying way possible. And it didn't shine anymore, there was too much grime build up in there now. He ran his fingers through his hair and instantly regretted it. It felt yuck. The skin around his eyes was particularly puffy, probably emphasized by his swollen tear ducts, no doubt worked way overtime lately. And his ears stuck out. They had always done that but it was more annoying now. The only part of his face he recognized as himself were his eyes. They stayed a vibrant blue despite the havoc wrecked around them. He wondered how long before they too turn green with red stripes or something.

Well this wasn't doing much for him. He switched the light back off and started the ignition. It was time to be on his way to where ever it was he was going. The sooner he got there the sooner this insanity ends. He sighed... if only.

The sight of Taylor driving at full bore across the Sahara Desert in the middle of the night with a truck full of guns would have given most sane people a heart attack. The added bonus of hearing Taylor sing along to and frequently out sing songs playing on a portable stereo would have added any Hanson fan to the list, though not for the same reasons. The guard's choice of songs was proving a great distraction from the incredible scenery... After all you can't see enough stumpy looking shrubs. As the clock ticked past midnight Taylor was into his fourth album and showing no sign of slowing down. Some of the songs were songs he knew Hanson was unlikely to cover any time soon so he relished the opportunity to try out his vocal chords on unfamiliar territory.

"Do you have the time?
To listen to me whine
About nothing and everything that I want
I am one of those
Melodramatic fools
Neurotic to the bone no doubt about it
Sometimes I give myself the creeps
Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me
It all keeps adding up
I think I'm cracking up
Am I just paranoid or am I stoned?"

Taylor hit the steering wheel hard playing his imaginary keyboard on the meaty guitar parts. He looked around sheepishly when he realized he had been doing it. Fortunately no one was around.

Duh.

The map Taylor had found buried under all the tapes in the glove box was proving invaluable. Sure it was in Arabic and all but the Serb Guard had managed to make use it of it and using it with the handy dashboard compass so was Taylor. He was aiming for the nearest small town, he hoped it would be bigger than El Craphole he had jacked the truck at. But even if it wasn't there would be supplies there for sure. Food, water and gasoline. Admittedly he had no idea how he was going to pay for them but he hoped something would spring to mind.

As night crept on Taylor began to feel sleep overwhelm him. The nap he had taken for most of the afternoon had proved handy for driving through the night but he was caught up now. His eyelids were getting heavy as he and the truck surged on towards dawn. He fought it with everything he had, knowing full well falling asleep in the cab of a metal truck in the middle of the Sahara was a good way to get yourself totally cooked. No he must find a town and find water. The guard hadn't loaded his supplies for the trip back when Taylor took over. His water supply was getting dangerously low.

The first rays of sunlight were beginning to illuminate the horizon when Taylor drove past what appeared to be a junk pile - a sure sign of civilization, litter! He searched the desert intently for a minute or two before a big smile spread across his face. He slowed the truck down and waved at the young boy riding past him on a camel. The boy waved back and smiled. Taylor remembered his promise to Zac. Maybe that kid would be willing to let him ride his camel for a while. Then the smile fell from his face as he remembered, Zac can't ride anything for a week or three. Taylor smiled again. But then...

He drove into town with INXS blasting from the tinny speakers, the song was making him think of Sydney and Taylor had a big grin on his face. Spying a suitable looking parking spot he bought the truck to a rest and checked himself in the mirror. He still looked like crap but that was the aim now. For this to work he was going to have to look as old as possible. Taylor rubbed his fingers across his chin... nothing... facial hair could be really helpful right here. Oh well he would make do. He tucked his hair up underneath his cap as best he could and put on his sunglasses. A cigarette would complete the image of an American mercenary but coughing and spluttering wouldn't be a good way to impress people. Taylor got out of the truck and strode in the most manly way possible to the house across the street. He was right. It was a bar. He entered without a hint of fear on his face and stared back at anybody who stared at him as he came in. Of course they couldn't see him staring behind his sunglasses. And none of the drunks in this place really gave him more than two seconds attention. He walked up to the first shady looking character and spoke in his most deepest, huskiest, manliest voice possible.

"Parler vous Anglais?"

The man appeared to be comatose or something. He was staring at the bottles on the shelf behind the bar and not even Taylor snapping his fingers in front of his face could divert his attention. Taylor moved on to the second man.

"Parler vous Anglais?"

The man, without looking at Taylor, got up from his stool and ran out the door. Taylor found that extremely rude until he heard the sound of vomiting coming from the alley. He stepped over to the third man.

"Parler vous Anglais?"

This man actually responded. He turned and looked Taylor up and down with bloodshot eyes. Then he paused while carefully phrasing a response.

"Bugger off."

This wasn't going well...

Taylor scowled as he heard laughter from behind him. Who was laughing at his attempts to be civil? He turned around and looked. There was a man, no a teenager actually, not much older than Taylor standing leaning on the doorway laughing. Taylor glared at him. He stopped laughing for a second.

"No luck American?"

Taylor juggled his options in his mind, firstly this was the first person to actually talk to him. But this guy was mocking him. He decided to risk it.

"Can you help me?"

The laughing guy stepped out of the doorway and came over to the bar next to Taylor. He sat down and patted the seat next to him.

"Join me for a drink American and we can talk."

Taylor sat down. He felt his stomach tighten as he watched the bartender pour something very dubious looking from a bottle behind the bar. Still... when in Rome... He took the glass as soon as it was placed infront of him and downed it in one go. Instantly his throat and stomach lodged a massive protest. His face went white as he felt a burning sensation rip through his guts. For a few seconds he couldn't breath, then it passed. The guy next to him was looking at him thoughtfully.

"I prefer mine in little doses." He said shrugging his shoulders, "But each to his own."

After taking a sip of his own drink he looked back to Taylor.

"Who are you American and what are you doing in the middle of nowhere?"

Taylor had to force himself not to laugh.

He was beginning to feel weirdly light-headed.

"My name is... uh... Gene Rybeck. I'm a contractor. From Dallas."

"Uh huh."

"And I'm... say are you... are you... you know, nudge nudge, wink wink, on the level?"

"Not all Africans are bloodthirsty and corrupt con artists."

Taylor ploughed right on not even hearing the message in that answer. "I do some work on the side too... you know for a little of the green stuff." He started smiling now, he felt really good at this, "I've got some stuff... I want to sell as soon as possible. But hush hush okay?"

"What kind of stuff?"

Taylor leaned in right close to the guys ear and whispered very loudly.

"Stuff I stole from a very bad man." He burst into a fit of giggles.

The guy thought for a moment then slammed his glass back down on the bar. "Okay American, you show me."

Taylor pulled back the tarpaulin, "Ta dah!" He had to use the side of the truck to keep himself steady. For some reason the world seemed to be swaying.

"What would you like for this?"

Taylor's eyes gleamed as he imagines countless riches. Then he remembered he already was a millionaire several times over. D'oh!

"What ever the going rate is... you know... on the BLACK market."

His friend nodded.

"Okay I can make you a very good deal. Come back to my house and we'll discuss the terms over breakfast."

"Mmmm breakfast," said Taylor rubbing his stomach, "Just the thing!"

Taylor followed him through the back alleys of this small town to where his house was. He passed several cats on the way and resisted a strange impulse to cuddle all of them. His friend was about twenty feet ahead and getting further away, Taylor's walk had slowed right down as he admired the craftsmanship that had gone into building this place. Underneath all the sand and grime these houses were actually mighty pretty. He was just across the street from where his friend had entered his backdoor, stopping to try to get at least one of these cats to come to him when he felt something clammy go across his face. At first he was more annoyed than alarmed but then as an arm reached around his waist and pulled him off his feet he began to feel real fear. The hand across his face blocked both his nose and his mouth and in a panic he realized he couldn't breath. He tried to move them with his own hands but they were being held securely behind his back. His lungs began screaming for oxygen but there was none. Blackness crept into the edge of his vision and slowly he succumbed to unconsciousness.

Taylor woke up the second time the smelling salts were passed underneath his nose. He felt disorientated and his head was pounding but he was alive. He groggily tried to get up but a hand, much less forceful this time held him down. He looked up and saw the man holding him there. He offered Taylor a glass of water which Taylor drank greedily. The man looked familiar... he was smiling down at Taylor, something about those bloodshot eyes....

.

Chapter 23 - "Heroes don't sleep on floors."

Isaac swung his legs out over the edge of the bed he was sharing with Zac. They caught nothing but air and with a grunt he fell to the floor. This was enough to wake him up. In any case it appeared to be morning. He shook off his sleepiness and got to his feet. Zac was lying still asleep in the bed he had insisted Isaac share. He was still crunched up against the wall, Isaac wished he could let Zac know he could spread out now without waking him up. Hopefully he'll work it out on his own. Isaac began preparing himself for the busy day ahead. First on the agenda was being locked in here all day maybe still with no food. That would be followed at about lunchtime by no sign of lunch and at dinnertime, like clockwork there would be no dinner either. He sighed, yeah he was glad he was up early to catch the start of this one. Zac lay in that semi zone between sleep and wake, his mind was functioning on a conscious level again but he didn't want to open his eyes just yet. That would spell the end of night and beginning of day. He didn't need day just yet. In any case the air in the room still felt cool from the night, he knew it must be early because when the sun is up, somehow, this room heats up almost as much as the desert outside. Okay maybe not quite. But it was getting fairly smelly in here. There was some serious sweating going on and Zac never thought he'd say these words but right then he really wanted a bath. He shifted his foot and didn't run into Ike, strange, he stretched out gingerly trying out for more space and found he had an open run. Zac spread out fully on the bed and smiled as he enjoyed the sensation of just laying there and being free.

Isaac smiled as Zac spread himself out on the bed. He was glad Zac could enjoy the space for a little while. No matter how many times he offered, Zac refused to let him sleep on the floor. He said, "Heroes don't sleep on floors." And that was the end of the argument. Isaac thought about those words for a moment... he had certainly made a big impression on Zac when he told the Commandant off but at what cost? He pondered the thought and spread out on the floor to begin doing press ups. Staying in good condition, especially with Zac out of action, seemed like a really good idea.

"It's okay, it's okay, you're safe, I'm sorry I knocked you out there... I guess I should watch where I put my hands."

Taylor stared at him for a second, he seemed friendly enough now. He felt sufficiently brave enough to ask,

"Who are you?"

"I was in the bar remember?"

"Yes and you told me to bugger off."

The man smiled. He had gaps in his teeth.

"Sorry about that. I thought you were a tourist."

"Believe me I'd like to be out of this country as soon as possible."

The man smiled again.

"Why did you grab me?"

"That boy you were with, he is trouble, you mustn't be so trusting."

"Why? What has he done?"

"Not what he has done, what he would have done. He would have drugged your food when he made you breakfast. He would have stolen your truck and everything in it and if you were lucky you would have woken up by the side of the road with maybe the clothes on your back."

"If I was unlucky?"

"He might have sold you into slavery... Or worse."

Taylor knew where that was going.

"I guess I owe you a thank you."

"It is my pleasure. Us poor African nations cannot go around ripping off rich Americans... if there was no America whose flag could we burn in the streets?"

Taylor laughed and the man laughed too.

"My stuff! He'll take the - "

"Hush. I have a friend looking after that too. Your vehicle and its contents are quite safe."

Then Taylor remembered a problem he still had to solve. He felt glum. The man almost seemed to be reading his mind.

"I'll take your goods off you for some gasoline and supplies."

Wow! Thought Taylor, the people you meet in seedy bars at seven in the morning...

He looked around the room he was in for the first time; the sun was streaming in the windows, that seemed wrong.

"Hey what time is it?"

"A little after ten."

Taylor's mouth dropped open. "How long was I out?"

"A couple of hours. After making sure you were going to be okay I figured I better let you sleep. You look like you need it."

You got that right.

"Why did you wake me now?"

The man smiled and picked a tray up off the floor. It was covered in steaming food.

"Breakfast."

Taylor moved to a sitting position and smiled. "Thank you. Thank you very much. You have no idea what a good deed you're doing."

"Eat up, you look like you need that too."

"Join me?"

The man smiled as if he had been waiting for the invitation and sat down.

Zac felt the enormous pressure. The man sitting on his chest wouldn't budge and it was getting hard to breathe. He tried pushing the man off but he didn't move. It was getting so hard to suck in and exhale. It took all his energy just to do that. He decided he had to roll the man off of him, with a huge exertion of strength he rolled onto his side and felt something hit him. His eyes popped open. Ike was holding him by the shoulders, fresh pain ripped through his chest, he looked down and saw what Ike was holding him back from. He had almost rolled onto the floor. Zac let Ike lay him back on the bed. He looked up at his brother.

"So you're finally gonna join me?" said Ike, grinning.

"Why? Did you roll onto the floor too?"

Ike grinned even more. "Welcome to my suite at the Sahara Hilton." He swept his arm around the room, "As you can see we have nothing but the finest amenities at the Sahara Hilton even featuring the exclusive 'Desert Condition Mimicisor' air conditioning system."

Zac began to laugh and immediately regretted it. He started coughing and soon they turned into hacking spasms that made his whole chest explode in pain. The pale expression on his face and agonized eye thing must have given Isaac a clue that something was wrong. He put his arm gently around his brother.

"It's okay Zac, try to calm down, try to breathe slowly."

Zac concentrated all his will on slowing his breathing down and stopping the coughs. Isaac rubbed his back in a soothing movement. Zac through sheer determination got control of his lungs and forced them to breathe easier. The coughing stopped and the pain in his chest began to fade too. Zac fell back, exhausted, into Ike's arms. As he struggled to recapture his breath he wheezed out a few words.

"I...don't... know... what... it... is... Ike.... I'm... not... breathing... so... good... anymore..."

Isaac knew that and much much more, he had been woken by Zac's coughing fits twice during the night and wondered angrily just how long Zac had not told anyone about them. Then he let the rational part of his mind take control. Zac would have told someone, he would have told Karen. These must be new, maybe the hot stuffy air was affecting him badly, whatever it was it was aggravating his broken ribs and Isaac knew that wasn't good.

"It's okay Zac, just rest, try not to get so worked up okay? I mean I know I'm like Robin Williams to you but try not to laugh so much."

Zac cracked a smile.

"In your dreams buddy boy, in your dreams."

Isaac patted his head. He spoke with a posh upper class accent.

"So what's on the agenda today? Dinner at the country club perhaps then maybe tennis with the twins?"

Zac played along, "Not if that dreadful Pempleton Smythe is there. What a frightful frightful man."

"Why that codger, I've told the grounds keeper to belt him if he shows his face again. Or we'll set the hounds on him. Rex and Bobo need the exercise."

"And the breakfast."

They both relaxed into a gentle laughter. Zac took it easy this time.

After breakfast the man, whom Taylor had still yet to be introduced to, offered him a bed to sleep off the heat of the day and be rested for the night. Taylor gratefully accepted, part of his mind was warning him to be careful but it did occur to him that this man had had ample opportunity to hurt him and had not done so, so there is no reason why he should start now. That convinced him. Thus Taylor sunk into a luxuriously comfortable bed and slept the day away.

He awoke just as the setting sun was peering in through the bedroom windows and for a moment he wondered where he was. Then this morning's curious events came back to him and he got up to look for his mysterious savior. The house was empty, no sign of his new friend and for a second he wondered whether he had imagined it. But then whose bed had he just spent the day sleeping in? Then he noticed the note. Left under a vase on the table there was a note addressed to him... This took a moment to grab his attention. He read it thoughtfully.

Taylor,
I have left food and water and gasoline in the back of your truck, I took the liberty of leaving you a fresh set of clothes too. I hope you don't mind dressing more native. My friend who is guarding your truck is expecting you. He will assist you in any way you need before you go. Good luck to you my friend, may your journey be free of hardship.


Au Revoir

Your Friend

Then scrawled underneath were a couple of lines of verse... Taylor was stunned.

When you have no light to guide you
And no one to walk to walk beside you
I will come to you
Oh I will come to you


As he wandered back through the village to his truck following the directions the man had thoughtfully drawn on the bottom of his note he wondered if this was all a bizarre dream. If it was then it had certainly taken a pleasant turn...

Just like the note said, a man was waiting for Taylor when he got back to the truck. The man filled it up with gasoline for him and helped load the food and water into the cab. Then he left, taking the cache of weapons with him, without saying much more than hello. Taylor shook his head and kicked the truck into life, he drove for a minute or two until he was clear of the town then he stopped and changed clothes. The Arab clothes his friend has given him even seemed to fit... Taylor knew he would be pondering this for years to come as he gunned the truck in the direction of the edge of the desert and drove for it.

Zac and Isaac passed the day as you do when you're locked in a room with nothing to do. They slept for a bit, talked for a bit, played a couple of games of paper battleships - Isaac won both for once, sweated a lot and generally waited for whatever would break the monotony. At about four in the afternoon it came. They heard footsteps outside the door, that in itself was nothing new, after all guards did patrol outside their room all day and night. But these footsteps were quieter and more cautious. Almost like a woman's footsteps. Then a piece of paper slid under the door and the footsteps hurried away just as quietly. Isaac looked at Zac and Zac looked at Isaac and they both knew what it meant. Isaac grabbed the piece of paper from the floor and bought it over to the bed. He and Zac read.

Hi Guys!
Karen here, your regular everyday stewardess/nurse/resistance member/spy. I just wanted to let you guys know that a lot of us out here are thinking and praying for you. Don't lose hope guys, I know it looks grim but hey things could be worse. We're all still alive remember. I want to let you know that we're all exceedingly grateful for what sacrifices you have made. Because I know, I KNOW that Taylor will make it and he will bring back help. Just be patient okay? I know things seem bleak right now but this is only temporary, I don't want to sound like Ben Kenobi here but the forces of good will triumph... or the Navy Seals - whoever gets here first.


Zac smiled at Karen's little joke and Isaac laughed.

Isaac look after Zac okay? He needs you, he may not admit it to your face but he does. Zac look after Isaac too okay? He may be older but this has scared him just as much as it has scared you. Together you will survive this. We all will. I believe in you guys. We all believe in you. I'm going to make a plea to the Commandant to be allowed to visit you to check on Zac's condition. If he's in a good mood when I ask then we might get lucky woops I mean be lucky. Sorry guys. I know what you were thinking. I hope to see you tomorrow Isaac and Zachary Hanson. Best Wishes, God bless and sweet dreams.

Love Karen.

Isaac and Zac both looked at each other again. It was heartening to know they weren't the only ones who knew Tay could do it. The note made them feel a little stronger, a little more hopeful. And tomorrow Karen might visit.

Joy!

About eight hours later Taylor sat in the cab of a lifeless truck looking very worried. The fuel gauge read Zero. And all he could see for miles and miles was desert. Something had gone wrong, very wrong....

.

Chapter 24 - "Of course they'd call him stumpy..."

Taylor felt sick and worried. He was still out here in the middle of who knows where. Dawn was a mere few hours away and his transportation has just given up on him. After trying the starter motor a couple of times Taylor got out and kicked the tire in frustration. Pointless really since it wasn't the tires that were the problem - it was the fuel tank. Somehow along the way it had become punctured. Most likely due to a pointy rock or maybe even sabotage... Taylor's eyes darkened at the thought but he brushed it away. A saboteur would have made a bigger hole than this one. It took eight hours for the fuel to leak out! He kicked the bumper this time. Not a good idea... now his foot hurt too and he was no closer to a solution. Even though he knew the only one he had was staring him in the face. He would have to walk. Across the sands of the Sahara. On his own. He shivered as the daunting task became fully clear. Best not to think about it. Best to concentrate on what he had to do. And what he had to do was survive. That was it. He climbed back into the cab and surveyed the supplies he had been given. There was far too much there for him to carry on foot. The water alone was twenty gallons worth in two ten gallon containers. If he stayed here it could last him weeks but since no one actually knows to look for him weeks may be years too short. No the best thing to do would be carry as much water as possible, either inside him or on him and set out in the direction of the nearest town. He looked at the map. Hmmm. He hadn't the foggiest idea where he actually was now. He'd left the small oasis town about eight hours ago but wasn't exactly sure how far he had traveled. But he did know which direction he had been travelling in so on the map he could sort of see which folds he was in-between. And from that he could see he was nearing the edge of the desert. It wasn't exactly in a days walking distance but there was a road that crossed it somewhere to the north of him. And that looked doable. If he was lucky.

Okay. Taylor decided the best thing to do was to drink as much of the water as possible then carry as much as he could with him in one of these smaller drinking bottles laying around the cab. As for food. He would eat some now and take a little with him for energy but the human body can last way longer without food than it can without water. He'd be dead from thirst long before he even started to starve. But that wasn't going to happen. Because this was going to be the last part of the Great Sahara Trek. One day they will make a miniseries about this he told himself, heck they'll make a feature film! One thought that did sweeten his mind was quite how the world will react when Taylor Hanson walks out of the desert in Africa. Yup yup those headlines will definitely be scrapbook worthy. Taylor bulked up on food and using his native and improvised clothing covered up as much of his body as he could from the sun. Then sunglasses on, eyes starring ahead he said goodbye to the good old truck that had served him well...

"Thankyou, thankyou for getting me this far. You've been great company girl. I'll miss you." Well he didn't know what truck etiquette was! He patted the hood of the truck then never looking back, not once, Taylor Hanson strode off into the desert.

Fifteen hundred miles away deep inside a mountain Zac Hanson wasn't sleeping very successfully. He wasn't in pain or anything - for once. It was just plain old insomnia this time. Isaac seemed to be sleeping peacefully next to him so Zac wasn't moving around too much in futile attempts to sleep. He just lay still and accepted it. And let his mind wander to where ever it wanted to take him. Well the first thought on his mind, the thought that had stuck resolutely to the front of his mind for a couple of days now was where is Taylor? It was strange being totally separated from his brother like this, not even knowing where in the world he was. I mean he could be anywhere by now! He could be in Washington talking to the President or back in Tulsa with Mom and Dad and Jessica and Avery and Zoe and Mackie... Zac realized he was feeling extremely jealous and extremely lonely at just the thought. So he tried to dismiss it. Besides it was unlikely he had got that far yet. After all it's only been about forty hours since he left here. He probably wouldn't have flown to America yet. In fact he probably won't fly to America until we're all together. Zac relaxed and smiled at the thought. He knew Tay wouldn't leave them behind. Tay would stay and see this thing out with his brothers. After all it's all for one and one for all in this family. And it always has been. Well wherever Tay is he's in my prayers said Zac to himself before, to his surprise had he been aware of it, he turned over and went to sleep.

Isaac woke him about three hours later. He would have let him sleep but he knew Zac would want to be presentable for when Karen arrived. Which he hoped wasn't too many hours away. Isaac had a strange feeling about today... something was gonna happen. It wasn't going to be normal... well actually to tell the total truth none of the days since they had been captured had been normal days... but he had an especially strong feeling about this one. Zac rolled over and opened his eyes. He shook the sleep from them and pushed himself into a sitting position. He pointed to the pile of clothes on the floor and smiled at Ike.

"Hand me my yellow shirt please?"

Taylor ignored the sun as best he could - it had crept over the horizon with surprising speed and even now the cold night air had disappeared like it had never been and the hot sunlight was making itself felt. He pulled his headdress closer to his head and ploughed on determined to make as much headway as he could while... while he still could.

South America had nothing on this...

"Ike what are you singing man?"

Isaac felt his cheeks got a little red, he hadn't realized Zac could hear him.

"Shadowboxer... Fiona Apple."

"Cool song. You sing it well."

"Thanks Zac."

Where's Karen?

"We could add it to the set if you wanted."

Where is she?

"Sure maybe... I dunno, there's loads of songs I'd like to cover."

What time is it?

"Yeah... let alone the songs the fans want us to cover."

Did the Commandant wake up happy today?

"Have you checked those lists on the internet? Phew.. man... I tell you man, shoot me if I ever even contemplate covering a Spice Girls song."

"Yeah, do these guys even know what our sound is?"

Karen! We need you now!

"Although some of their suggestions... it's uncanny sometimes."

Please!!

"I know.. some of them I wish we could play..."

Do I hear footsteps?

"Yeah, it's like how do you tell the fans that? Umm... uh.. we're not that good."

It's a guard.

"They refuse to believe I'm not Jimi Hendrix reincarnated."

I hope she brings food.

"Dude... you could pull that off... just tease up your hair a little and grow some facial hair."

Is it even dawn yet?

"Yeah I'd love to see those headlines... 'Isaac Hanson closes Woodstock 2019 with Star Spangled Banner'."

She's coming, I know she is.

"We could be... we could be The Isaac Hanson Experience."

He he he...

Click.

"Guys!"

"Karen!"

The sun was getting real hot. Not that Taylor needed reminding... even with sunglasses on the glare from the white stony ground was painful to look at. He found himself peering through the smallest slits he could make with his eyelids. It had been four hours now since he left the truck. Roughly he guessed he had walked ten or fifteen miles... good going for anyone, excellent for someone walking across the desert. That cheered him up... but he still felt a sense of doubt... what if there was no road? Or what if there were no cars on the road? No. That was not going to happen. Taylor Hanson is going to be sleeping on a bed tonight. He promised himself that.

At the sight of Karen a whole lot of things happened to Isaac and Zac. For a start they both realized how much they had missed seeing a friendly face. And they realized how hungry they had become. And they realized what living in a mountain for a week without the proper "accessories" can do to a woman. Isaac mentally slapped himself on the forehead. He had never given Karen her stuff! Most of all they really wanted to hug her...

"Stop staring at me Isaac Hanson and get over here and hug me!"

Isaac didn't need no second telling. He wrapped his arms around her and felt tremendous comfort in her embrace.

"How are you guys?"

"Fine." said Zac and Isaac together, then Isaac leaned in close and whispered in Karen's ear.

"Not so fine, he's not breathing so good Karen... I don't know what to do."

Karen's face fell for a second but she quickly recomposed herself. She gave Isaac an almost imperceptible squeeze.

She smiled at Zac. "What I'm not good enough for a hug?"

"Don't be lazy lady... I'm a cripple! I'm ready... you come over here!"

Karen stepped over and gave Zac a hug, making sure not to put any pressure on his chest. He broke out of it and patted the bed. She sat down.

"Howya doing buddy?"

"Oh so so... Isaac here is such a slob to live with."

"Hey whose clothes are they all over the floor?"

"That's YOUR job man... geez didn't you read the job description?"

"Guess I skipped the find print."

"Help these days..." Zac muttered to himself.

Karen laughed, a bright ringing laugh. Her eyes shone around these two.

"Guys you must entertain each other for hours in here..."

"Oh yeah," replied Zac, "It's a regular yuck fest."

"'Cept when Zac goes into his Bergman period."

"Hey man I need my gloomy time. That's when I sit here and repeat "It's your fault Isaac" to myself about fifty times."

"Well glad to know you have such deep feelings about me Zac..."

"Sometimes my bowels make me think of you..."

"Guys!" Karen put up her hand to stop them, she was still laughing, "Ladies present. I don't think I want to hear the rest of that conversation."

"Look in that bucket over there."

"Zac!"

"Zac that's gross!"

Zac threw back his head and laughed like a mad man. Karen turned to Isaac.

"You're right, he has lost his mind."

Zac smiled, "You assume I had one to begin with?"

Sunlight sunbright burns a hole through my head tonight. Taylor shook his head... he was feeling a little light headed... And now he was making up the wildest lyrics... too bad no one was around to take them down. A camel would be SO useful right now, a right arm for a camel, my right arm for a camel.. hmmm.. he considered the thought. No he needed the arm for keyboard playing... what limb could he do without? For trading purposes? Arms were out of the question... head was kinda important... legs though... he could still do his thumper thing with one leg. He could prop it up on a stool... yeah... then of course they'd call him stumpy.. but that wouldn't be so bad... not for a camel...

Zac reached over and put his arm around Karen. She smiled a little when she felt it. Subtly she moved closer to him on the bed and started rubbing his back softly with her hand. Zac smiled and closed his eyes for a second to fully enjoy the experience. Isaac stood over the two of them feeling a little out of place. And a little jealous too.

"Don't mind me or anything." He said in his most jovial voice.

He hoped she wouldn't see through it.

"Sit down Isaac." She patted the space on the bed next to her. Isaac pushed the bunched up blanket against the wall and sat down. He smiled too as Karen wrapped her arm around him as well. Zac winked at him, he mouthed something to Ike, it took him a moment to work out what he said.

"There's enough of her to go around."

Isaac smiled AND blushed.

He composed himself then turned to Karen.

"Tell us, how are you? How is it out there?"

Karen stared off into the distance.

"I'm not gonna lie to you guys... it's getting desperate. People are beginning to lose hope."

"But Tay..."

"Not everyone has as much faith as I do."

"Everyone is wrong." Zac sounded absolutely certain.

"I know sweety, I know... but... well you guys are almost lucky to be in here... the rest of us... it gets pretty hostile. I mean we're seriously bored."

"And you think we're.."

"Yes but you're in here and there's only two of you. One hundred people all in one room all bored can make trouble."

"Where do you go during the day Karen? We never got to see it... they had us working or in here or in our room the whole time."

"There's a recreation area... it's not spectacular and I've read all the magazines... On the plus side I am developing a mean table tennis game and the co-pilot is fun to beat."

"Think you could arrange to have that table shipped in here?"

"Hey!" Zac protested, "I'm not exactly in tip top condition you know?"

"That's why Zac! I just want to beat you at something."

"Good point... may be your only chance..."

Taylor was sure his sweat was starting to sweat. The rivers of fluid streamed down every part of the outside of his body. Meanwhile the inside was beginning to resemble sandpaper. It hurt to swallow... not that there was anything to swallow... and he knew his water supply was almost gone now. He held up his bottle, it felt very light... maybe it was evaporating from inside there too... Taylor thought about it for a second. Maybe he should just drink it now and then at least he'd know it wasn't going to waste... but how irresponsible is that? He tried to maintain a logical approach to this question but his thirst was almost unbearable. Every part of his body seemed to be crying out for water. He weighed it up in his mind... the temptation was too great... it's now or never. He needed the water just as much now as he would in a few hours when he may have gone beyond point of recovery.. yup this made sense. Taylor unscrewed the cap and poured the last few precious mouthfuls of water down his throat. He felt this instant energy surge and a feeling of momentary relief that felt so good he staggered for a second. It was second wind time... he was even more determined to plough ahead... despite what the sun had to say about it.

Isaac and Zac and Karen just sat there and talked and talked and talked and talked all morning and deep into the afternoon. Karen did take a look a Zac's wounds at one point while he was chattering about ewoks. Mostly she was just there for them. Isaac appreciated that more than he could put into words. Sometimes he just sat there and watch her and Zac converse away... sometimes Zac just sat and watched her and Isaac just chat away... both of them with smiles on their faces. And Karen was a pretty cool gal. It turned out she had been in the army as well as nursing and air hostessing. As much as he tried Zac could not picture Karen as an army chick. She was too pretty for that. Army chicks are supposed to be ugly right? Like Demi Moore in that movie... Not once all day did Isaac or Zac remove their arms from around Karen's shoulders. Even when her blouse became soaked with sweat, which by the way was giving them a whole new way of looking at Karen, did they even contemplate it. This one, they had both decided they were keeping.

His legs felt like lead. No. They felt like lead tied down with lead weights. And dragging concrete blocks behind them for good measure. It took tremendous effort to keep lifting them and moving them forward. Taylor knew he was fast running out of the ability to do that. The desert seemed so endless, so hopeless now. He was fighting it with all the mental agility he had but a feeling of losing was pushing in on all sides of his mind. It was terrible. The only other thing he could think about was water and that was torture. His last drink had been six hours ago. It felt like six years. He wasn't even sweating anymore - you need fluid for that and his body was running critically low. Now his face and exposed parts of his arms were covered in dried crustified sand. He had stumbled and fallen a few times and was nagging himself to be more careful. Because he KNEW the next time he fell he wasn't going to get up. The Desert in front of him was swimming... somewhere back there his glasses had fallen off... the whole desert looked like a giant ocean in his eyes... the few shreds of sense he had left told him it was not so. The sun was lower on the horizon now and was basically blinding him. And burning him. And following him. And eating him.

There was no escape now... he could feel the blackness closing in around his vision. But this wasn't like going to sleep... this blackness was total. Taylor tried to fight is as much as he could but... he had nothing left.

Squwaarrrkk!!!! Taylor's last thoughts were a dim recognition of some kind of bird... probably a vulture... sorry bird he thought to himself... slim pickings tonight. He almost laughed at his own joke. But no. His last defenses fell. Taylor surrendered. The blackness won.

Taylor crumpled like a snowman in summer to the desert floor. A thin white shape joining the countless others who had disappeared into the desert sands....

"Hey buddy wake up!"

Taylor tried to open his eyes. It hurt too much. He felt something cool running down his face. It felt so good it hurt.

"Buddy please... gimme something!"

Taylor forced... he blinked a couple of times and let his eyes drift into focus. Something stood between him and the sky. Or rather someone. He blinked again. He could see her now. Glasses he saw first then long brown hair framing a worried face. Not what I expected he thought. They were right. It's a she.

"God?" He rasped.

She smiled.

"Only to my close friends buddy."

.

Chapter 25 - "A porterhouse steak medium rare."

Taylor came to fully about twenty minutes later. At once he felt incredible thirst overwhelm him. And equally at once a bottle of cool water was shoved into his mouth. He drank gratefully for several seconds before fully recovering his wits and looking to see who had poured it for him. His eyes fell on her for a second time and this time he drank in everything there was to see. Well she looked to be little older than him, European by the looks of it with wavy brown hair falling down to her shoulders and glasses. She was wearing a khaki T-shirt and what looked to be cargo pants. Taylor figured she must be army although she looked very young for it. "Enough?" She asked. He nodded. She pulled the bottle away from his lips and moved back so he could sit up. She seemed to be staring into his eyes.

"What?" Okay it wasn't the best way to start a relationship with someone who had just saved your life but Taylor didn't like it when people stared into his eyes. Unless he invited them.

"You're American."

He nodded, suddenly the desire to sleep began to overwhelm him. He lay back down on the backseat.

"I'll get you to somewhere that can help you, how long have you been out here?"

"Too long" he managed to murmur before letting sleep envelope him. He dimly remembered her kicking a vehicle into gear and the feeling of motion. That's when he noticed he was now in a car. The he slept.

Karen was preparing to leave at about six pm. She told Isaac and Zac she'd see what she could do about getting them some food. Although they hadn't wanted to bother her with that problem she could read it on their faces, their very thin looking faces. She was standing by the door waiting to hear the footsteps of the guard when it happened. All three of them turned their heads sharply toward the ceiling. The air conditioning system had switched on. Cool air at last began flowing into the room and Isaac and Zac felt almost giddy with relief. Karen however was worried.

"This is weird."

"Maybe it's a concession?" Isaac suggested.

"It was hard enough getting here to see you... the Commandant seemed very unlikely to grant any other favours."

"Maybe it's part of the hostage deal?"

Zac turned toward Isaac with pity on his face. He still didn't know. Karen knew.

"I don't think so. No something's up. I hope the others are safe." As if to confirm her worst fears a lot of noise flooded the corridor outside. Shouting, screaming and lastly gunshots. Zac and Ike stayed rooted to the spot. Their faces drained of any color. Karen pulled them both down onto the bed and held them there. The crack of gunfire was now clearly distinguishable among the other noises. Zac started trembling.

"They're gonna shoot us."

Karen tried to sooth him.

"No hon they're not gonna shoot us. They're not coming in here."

Two pairs of loud footsteps went past the door. Zac could have had a heart attack right there. He looked over at Ike, strange... he'd never seen that expression on his brother's face before, he looked to be in intense concentration. Or pain. Or both. Zac supposed he might just look the same right then. But the odd thing was he wasn't crying. It wasn't that he was holding the tears back, it was that he felt a thousand miles from needing to cry. All he felt was a total desire to still be alive when the gunfire ended.

Eight, ten, twelve hours.. Taylor had no idea how long he had been out when he finally woke up. What he did know was that the sun was up and he was feeling more rested and more thirsty - still than he cared to remember. Yesterday was right now only a blur of memory. He lifted his head a little and finally took in his complete surroundings. Not a car he was in but a land rover. In the front seat driving was the girl who had saved his life. Outside the window.. most astonishing of all... was not desert but farmland. He couldn't resist it. Taylor pinched himself to make sure he wasn't dreaming. Then he felt an incredible sense of joy. Damn. He HAD DONE IT. He had survived the Sahara desert. Oh this is too good. Too too good. I'm like the greatest for real now. Now I've REALLY done something.

He started laughing... he couldn't help it... joy just bubbled inside of him. He was safe, he was free and now he was going to get Isaac and Zac and all the other hostages the rescue they need. Too TOO cool...

"Hey what's so funny?"

And don't forget the girl who had saved his life.

"Thank you."

"What?"

"Thank you. For saving my life."

She turned back for a minute and grinned.

"My pleasure cutie. What the heck were you doing out there anyway?"

"My truck broke down."

"Why were you driving a truck across the Sahara? You seem awful young to be doing that..."

"So do you to be driving this thing."

She laughed, "Touche. One of the benefits of having a father in the military."

He just noticed she spoke with a distinct American accent... with maybe a Chicago twang to it.

"What about you?"

"It's a long story..."

"We got time desert boy."

"Okay me and my brothers were on this plane..."

He told her the story straight through with no interruptions. She didn't even stop him when he talked about the concert... it seemed she had no idea who he was. When he got to the end she was silent for a minute.

"Wow that's some story. Do you want to stop for something to eat?"

Great. She didn't believe him. Oh well who cares, she isn't important. Except she saved your life idiot!

"Better not.. I think I'd better get to the US Embassy or something.. uh... what country is this? Algeria?"

"Nope. We crossed the border while you were dozing. This is Morocco."

"Where's the embassy?"

"Where I'm taking you, the Capital city. Casablanca."

Casablanca? Huh... this was just too much! Taylor lay back on the seat and giggled himself into another nap. Casablanca... of all the Gin joints in all the world....

About twenty minutes after the gunfire ended - it had only lasted ten minutes, Karen felt safe enough to bang on the door for a guard. Just as she did so the air conditioner shut off again. Zac shivered. Were the two connected? A guard came and opened the door and grabbed Karen by the arm.

"You a nurse? We need you now. Help us and we will bring food to these two. And you will stay in here from now on okay?"

Karen nodded, she turned back to Isaac and Zac, "See you guys later on I guess."

Then she was gone.

For about five minutes afterwards Zac just stared at Isaac as if waiting for an answer. Finally it began to piss Isaac off.

"Dammit Zac what do you want?"

"A porterhouse steak medium rare."

Isaac smiled in spite of himself, Zac chose the strangest times...

"And garlic butter on top."

Now Isaac felt his mouth watering at the thought. He hoped the guard wasn't kidding about food. It had been... he wasn't sure how long since but it had built up to quite a lot. Of time. He got up and began pacing around the room. Zac looked at him questioningly.

"What are you doing that for?"

"Cos you made me hungry."

"You mean you weren't already!"

"I wasn't thinking about it no. Now I can't get the thought from my head."

"Better than thinking about other things..."

Dang the guy was right...

They didn't talk much for the rest of the car ride. Taylor kept slipping in and out of his naps. He was aware his body had suffered and needed some off time to repair itself, besides the dreams were pleasent. Ice cream cones and Tulsa summers... The girl, his driver, his rescuer seemed to be fine with the no talking thing. She put some tapes in the land drovers sound system and Taylor found himself drifting in and out of sleep to the sound of Radiohead. It was nice...

Isaac had fallen asleep but Zac was still awake when the door opened softly and Karen stepped back into the room. He sat up carefully to avoid waking Ike.

"Hi there. You okay?"

"Sorry did I wake you?"

"Nope. You okay?"

"I'm.... I've seen worse."

Zac felt a tinge of concern. Her voice was shaking. He wished he could see her but the lights were off.

"Come over here."

"Oh no I don't want to wake Isaac, I'll just lay down here."

"Come over here."

It was an order.

She came over and sat on the edge of the bed. Zac clambered over Isaac and rolled him over to the wall side of the bed. His chest hurt a little from the effort but that was Isaac's fault. Big fat ass. He swung his legs down and shifted over so he was sitting next to Karen. She WAS shaking. He put his arm around her and pulled her close to him.

"Hey hey I'm supposed to be the scared one you know? Little kid and all."

She laughed a little, "You're far from a little kid."

"Yeah well you're about as close as you're gonna get."

He smiled although she couldn't see it.

"Unless you want to, you know... get to know me better." He put his hand on her knee in a suggestive manner and she laughed louder this time and put her hand on top of his knee.

"In five years time Zac... and if I wasn't married."

"You're married!?!"

It had never come up.

"Yes. Four years next January."

"Kids?"

"Not yet, both of us have careers. But I want to."

"You'll be a great mother."

"I can only hope they come out like you guys."

"Trust me Karen. You do not want that."

She smiled. He could see because her teeth shone in the little light that came from under the door.

"You're sweet."

"Thank you." He pulled her closer. "What's wrong?"

He felt her body relax as she sighed.

"Oh Zac you don't want to.."

He cut her off, "Yes I do. Tell me."

"I had to give medical aid to two of the guards. They were shot." Zac's eyes almost bulged out of his head.

"Who by?"

"Another guard. I think he was a spy or something... I'm not sure, I can't remember much Yugoslav and they were speaking so fast but I got the impression this guard had turned on the air in here among other acts of sabatage. He was from another organizaton but I couldn't tell you which one."

"What happened to him?"

"They killed him. That's what all the shooting was about. Apparently he holed up somewhere and was sniping at them. That's how these two I had to help got shot."

"Was anyone else hurt?"

"No thank God."

Zac breathed a silent prayer of thanks. He had too much on his mind already.

"These two I helped them as best I could.. it was pretty nasty, one of them was a neck wound and it was just so messy and I was all alone and the other guards and the Commandant were in there yelling at each other and I was just so scared and shit... I'm sorry I shouldn't be scaring you with this stuff."

"It's okay Karen. I'm MTV generation remember? Nothing bothers me. And besides, there is an upside to this. The Commandant isn't going to be too worried about what me and Ike are up to now."

She was silent for a moment then nodded, "No you're right, he's got bigger fish to fry now. I just hope none of us are caught in the crossfire."

Zac sat there for a minute. Then spoke thoughtfully.

"Who do you think that guard was?"

"Who knows..."

"Wake up buddy."

"Huh?" Taylor struggled to a sitting position. They were parked outside some kind of building in some city.

"Is this Ricks?"

She laughed, "No, The US Embassy nimrod. Come on, you said you were in such a hurry before. Scoot."

"Where are you going?"

"To find my Dad since you're being so nosey, to explain what happened."

"I hope I haven't inconvenienced you."

"Nah... besides you might turn out to be rich. This could work very nicely."

She REALLY doesn't know... Taylor marvelled at the irony.

"Thank you. I really mean it. Thank you for saving me."

"It was my pleasure bud. Now get out.. I'll see you round okay?"

Taylor stepped onto the pavement.

"Yeah sure.. uh... see ya!"

Without another word, waving, she drove off. Taylor shook his head, that was a strange rescue... but who am I to pick straws? He looked up at the US Embassy sign and the Marine at the doorway. Oh well. Let's do this.

The Marine gave him a strange look as he walked past him but didn't try to prevent him going in. Inside the embassy there was a vast lobby... it looked a lot like a posh international hotel. Taylor had seen enough of those... he spotted what looked like the information desk and walked over to it. The lady behind it was busy it seems until he banged on the little bell right in front of him.

"Yes?" She said kind of coldly.

"I would like to see the ambassador."

It seemed as good a place as any to start.

"He doesn't see anyone.. do you have an appointment."

"No I..."

"Then you'll have to make one, hold on I'll call his secretary and see what's available."

This was stupid. Taylor put his finger on the hang up button. He realized he was still wearing Arab costume so he pulled the head dress off and let his matted greasy yucky hair fall around his face.

"Look sweetheart. My name is Taylor Hanson and I would like to see the Ambassador. Please."

She stared at him for a moment looking like she thought he was crazy, then her face went pale as she realized he was telling the truth. Her mouth dropped open.

"You're alive?"