Chapter 26 - "Yes I would care to take that bet."

"Yes. I am. Can I see him please?" Taylor looked at this lady strangely, she was acting like her brother had just come back from the dead. He shook his head, her bedroom is probably covered in Hanson posters... you never know these days.

"I.. uhh... I'll tell him."

She picked up the phone and dialed two.

"I've got someone the Ambassador should see... I don't care.... he will want to be interrupted... oh yes he will... yes I would care to take that bet."

She put the phone down.

"Please follow me. I'll take you right up."

Isaac woke up and felt immediate surprise. Zac and Karen were sitting on the side of the bed, both asleep, both leaning on each other for support. And Zac had his arms around Karen.

What did I miss? Thought Isaac to himself. He carefully got out from under the blankets without waking the sleeping pair. It looked kinda sweet really. He tip toed across the room and used the bucket as quietly as possible then tip toed back. Even their hair was tangled together while they slept. Karen's got Zac's hair mixed in with hers Isaac thought, that's kinda nice, gross but nice. He wondered how they were going to feel when they got up... sleeping sitting up can leave you with a lot of soreness. He sat down on the floor with his legs crossed and picked up the note pad and pen from the floor. About time he did some writing.

Taylor was shown into the Ambassadors office by the still awestruck information desk lady. The ambassador was sitting in an arm chair by the window watching the sun set. He was sipping from a cup of tea.

"Ahem."

The ambassador turned to look at them, he clearly did not know what to make of the dishevelled looking figure standing before him.

"Mr. Ambassador I'm sorry to disturb you but I thought you might like to meet Taylor Hanson."

The Ambassador did the same thing the front desk lady had done. He looked at Taylor scornfully for a second before his eyes opened wide in disbelief. He too went pale and the tea cup he was holding tumbled out of his hands onto the carpet. He didn't care.

"Please come in." He was still staring at Taylor like a struck mullet. "Sit down, you must be.. uh... exhausted."

Taylor came over and took a seat by the Ambassadors desk.

"No... join me over here please." He patted the other arm chair. Taylor feeling not too sure of himself sat down.

The Ambassador spoke to the desk lady, "Please arrange for food and a good room for the night for Mr Hanson. And put a call through to Washington for me immediately. They're going to want to hear about this."

Wow thought Taylor, this is a big deal. He relaxed in the chair a little more. This could be fun.

Zac woke slowly from his sleep. He had been having a pleasant dream about penguins. Something felt odd. The bed didn't feel the same as usual. He shifted his head to get in a better position and felt it hit something hard.

"Ow!" Something hard exclaimed. Zac opened his eyes and jerked his head back fast. Karen was rubbing her head next to him.

"Sorry." He said still unsure of why he was in bed with Karen. Gradually last nights events came back to him and he relaxed, then he saw Karen was still rubbing her head.

"Oooh sorry are you okay? I didn't realize my head was THAT hard."

"No it's okay... you got where right when that guy pistol whipped me. It's still sore."

Zac remembered. "Oh sorry. And thank you - for that. In case I haven't said it enough."

"You have and besides it was my pleasure."

"You into having your head bashed?"

"Not that numbskull." She gave him a playful shove and he shoved her back. They both smiled.

"Breakfast should be here soon."

They both looked up and saw Isaac sitting on the ground, head down in his pad. They had forgotten about him.

"If they keep their promise from last night." He looked up and smiled, "And if you guys are decent."

Karen kicked Isaac in the shoulder. "Hey! Can't a girl have a little fun with her favorite drummer without it turning into an event?"

"As long as she saves some for her favorite guitarist."

Karen smiled and Zac giggled.

"F'sure Isaac f'sure."

Taylor gulped down the orange juice they brung him gratefully and began hankering for something to eat. It had been a few days now.. The Ambassador sat opposite him directing operations and making sure Taylor was well. He waited until Taylor had put down his glass before he began asking questions. First he put out his hand for Taylor to shake.

"Henry Higgins Mr. Hanson. US Ambassador to Morocco and damn glad to see you alive."

Taylor shook back, "Taylor Hanson Mr. Higgins. And damn glad to be alive."

Mr. Higgins stared out of the window for a moment before turning to Taylor with a question forming on his lips.

"And how might it be that you are alive Mr. Hanson?"

"Taylor please... okay before I tell you anything you have to promise me something."

"Anything. What is it?"

"Promise me that you will not rest until you have pulled my brothers and all the other hostages out of that Mountain alive."

"Your brothers? The other hostages? Mountain? You'd better start telling me what happened Taylor. As far as the world is concerned you're all dead."

Taylor felt his heart jump into his throat.

"Dead? But what about the negotiations for our release?"

"All contact with your plane was lost approximately two hours after the hijacking occurred. The plane vanished off radar soon after that."

"And you assumed we were dead?"

"We found bodies."

Taylor felt absolutely dumbstruck. He couldn't say a thing for the longest time. All Karen's ideas, all Taylor's worst scenarios were true. The hijackers had imprisoned them permanently.

Okay breathe Taylor breathe. You're alive, and you're safe. And you're going to ensure Isaac and Zac and Karen and everybody comes out the same way.

"We're not dead." He said quietly.

"I can see that."

"Then what do you mean bodies?"

The Ambassador got up and walked over to his desk. He unlocked his top drawer and pulled out a manila folder. Taylor eyed it suspiciously as he bought it over to him.

"This is classified material you realize..." Higgins said before realizing the pointlessness of that statement. He opened the file.

"A British Airways Concorde was found three days ago on the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. It was completely burnt out, a wreck. A few dozen badly charred bodies were found on board. Navy scientists speculated the rest of the bodies had been lost in the ocean. We were to announce to the worlds press this afternoon at a press conference in Washington. We had to wait until all the families had been contacted privately."

Taylor felt a mounting sense of horror.

"Our families? Our families have been told we're dead?"

The Ambassador nodded.

"Well we're not. One passenger was killed on board the aircraft and aside from that as far as I know we're all alive. Contact them again and tell them that. And stop the press conference."

"I think we'd better."

He pressed a button on his chair.

"Mrs. Galore has my call to Washington being made?"

"Yes Mr. Ambassador," came the reply through the intercom. "The Secretary of Defense is waiting to speak to you."

He picked up the phone and took a deep breath.

"Mr. Secretary I'd like to advise that you hold on that press conference about the hijacking... well we have a new development. Okay... they're not dead. No I haven't been drinking Mr. Secretary. Perhaps I have someone here who can tell you more." He passed the phone to Taylor.

This is wacked he thought as he prepared to talk. I'm on the phone with the Secretary of Defense. He cleared his throat.

"Mr. Secretary, Good afternoon, my name is Taylor Hanson..."

As promised at approximately five past seven that morning a guard knocked on the door and came into Isaac and Zac's room bearing three trays of food. They weren't exactly piled high and the food wasn't like Mom makes but for two ravenous growing young men it was like manna from heaven. Each tray contained a bowl of some kind of oatmeal and two pieces of dried toast with a selection of toppings ranging from muddy orange looking marmalade to dodgy looking marmalade. Plus an apple. To keep the doctor away. All three of them hoed in without much being said. Nothing needed to be said. Not even pass the salad forks. It was time to build up your strength now because something was definitely in the air. If yesterday was not a normal day then today had the positively abnormal feel about it.. yup this was gonna be a strange one. Isaac and Zac could both feel it.

After talking with the Secretary of Defense Taylor was taken from the Ambassadors office. He told Taylor he would see him in about an hour or two after he had time to organize a meeting involving all the Commanders of US forces in the area. That way Taylor could debrief them all without having to repeat himself. Taylor meanwhile was taken to a suite upstairs where he could take a nap if he wanted and have something to eat and bathe... ahhhh his very cells seemed to cry out in joy at the thought. Taylor felt a tremendous sense of anticipation building inside of him as he stepped from the lift into the most sumptuous room he had ever seen in his life. The soldier who had shown him the way pointed out the bathroom and said a meal would be along in about twenty minutes then left Taylor to his own devices. He could hardly contain his glee... no actually he could not contain his glee as he very quickly shed all his dirty crustified, yucky, smelly, sandy, itchy, just plain bad clothes and stepped into a bubbling, soothing, wonderful Jacuzzi bath....

This time it didn't take long for the day to turn bizarre. They were still having breakfast in fact when the door burst open and four guards stepped into the room. The lead one spoke.

"Come with us."

This is getting old thought Zac. He was no longer afraid of those guards. Just the indecisiveness of the whole thing was getting on his nerves. He got to his feet and began walking toward the door. Karen supported him on one side and Isaac on the other. The pressure in his chest was definitely noticeable but it wasn't unendurable. And his legs seemed to be healing up quite nicely now. He found he was walking without much pain at all. Just stiffness in his joints was hampering him from bigger strides.

Out into the hall they stepped. Zac wondered how many days it had been since he was here? He didn't remember ever being exactly here. The guards had dragged or carried him here after his beating and he was either unconscious at the time or he didn't want to remember it. Which he was quite happy to live with. Still being in the air-conditioned hall was a blessed relief after that sweaty room for the past few days. He enjoyed the feeling of cold air dancing on his face. After a minute or two he noticed he could breathe easier too. Well wherever we're being taken I hope it's for quite a while. I could use the coolness.

The guards ahead of them looked very professional with their holsters swinging low on their waists and their desert camouflage gear. Some of them looked positively Arabic. Zac stopped with a start. Some of them WERE Arabic. These were new guards. Something strange is going on. Where had these guys come from? Isaac nudged him and Zac started walking again. Best look like I haven't noticed he reasoned. As they rounded a corner Zac pushed Isaac and Karen's arms away from him. He appreciated the help but this was one of those moments where you have to make a grand entrance. After all most of the people in this place hadn't seen him since before the ventilation shaft adventure. Got to give them a good show. They rounded another corner and the hallway opened into the dining hall. Both Isaac and Zac both instantly flashed back to the night of the concert. Zac smiled at the memory and he saw Isaac doing the same. Just slightly though. His attention was fixed on what was up on the stage in front of them. The stage where they had performed their hearts out that night. Zac looked and saw his old friend the Commandant. And standing next to him was a man they had never seen before. He was wearing a military tunic with no kind of decoration. But the way he held his head told Zac he was someone important. The rest of the eyes in that room weren't fixed on that man of course. As soon as they had entered the room a ripple had gone through the hostages already gathered. They were all looking at Zac who was standing there unsupported putting on his most defiant face possible. He smiled and some of them smiled back. This, he thought to himself, is very cool.

His self congratulation was interrupted however by an "ahem" from the front of the room. The Commandant had stepped up to the microphone.

"Ladies and Gentlemen it is my duty to inform you that in thirty six hours time we will be moving you from this place to a more secure location. I am telling you now because this afternoon you will all be granted access to your luggage with guards present of course and you will each be allowed to bring one suitcase with you tomorrow. You will be travelling by trucks from this place at eight PM tomorrow night for the airstrip where you will board a plane. That Ladies and Gentlemen is where I relinquish responsibility for your care and your lives. You will then be under the control of the Great Serbian Army. Co operation is essential and I am sure you will be as co operative with your new Commanders..." He shot a look to us, Zac was sure, "as you have been to me. Thank you."

Fully rested, clean, with bright shiny hair and a full stomach Taylor was escorted back to the Ambassadors office wearing Marine sweatpants and shirt. He was startled to see as the door opened, just how many men and women there were in the room. And all eyes turned to him as he came through the door.

Guess they're checking to see if I'm for real, he thought as he smiled at all the faces looking back at him. I wonder how many of them actually know what Taylor Hanson looks like? Out of the corner of his eye Taylor got his answer. He couldn't believe what he saw lying on top of a pile of Ambassadors desk. He moved closer just to check if it was real. It was.

Taylor mouthed a few choice words and he leaned down and picked up the magazine from the desk. In his whole life he never expected to see this face staring back at him from the cover of this magazine...

.

Chapter 27 - "Trust Zac to think of the important issues."

Isaac wandered behind Zac and Karen as they were returned to their room. They were being moved! What the heck for? This was bad, very bad. The whole point of Tay escaping was to lead rescuers back to them here. If they were moved then that defeats the whole purpose. Oh God let Tay send help in the next thirty six hours. "It's one of their biggest selling issues."

Taylor looked at the bespeckled man speaking to him blankly.

"Huh?"

"It's one of their biggest ever selling issues - that one you're holding."

"Yes... but the cover."

"It's a good picture isn't it?"

This man was obviously trying to be friendly.

"Uh yeah but why are we on the cover?"

"You're famous."

"Famous enough for Time Magazine?"

Taylor dropped the red bordered magazine back onto the desk and took a seat in the arm chair he had been sitting in before. Courteously it had been left vacant for him. The other men and women in the room took their seats and the Ambassador spoke.

"You're rested and comfortable I trust?"

Taylor nodded.

"Good. We'd like to ask you a few questions. First I'll introduce you. Ladies and Gentlemen I'd like you to meet Taylor Hanson. Taylor these men and women are from the Departments of the Navy, the Army forces and the Airforce. Plus some intelligence personal. We'd all like you to tell us everything you remember."

Taylor took a deep breath. This was gonna be a lungful...

"Karen I'm scared." Isaac said it so bluntly Karen was a bit taken aback.

"What about honey?"

"About us moving, about Taylor sending help and them arriving too late. About us not being rescued."

"So am I Ike, it's not good, not good at all..." She shook her head, "I'm clueless as to why they are doing this but they are. So all we can do is hope and pray that Taylor will come through."

"I need MORE than that!"

She put her hand on him arm soothingly.

"There isn't more than that baby."

Isaac kicked the wall in frustration. This sucked.

"Taylor's gonna make it, he will come back for us. He's coming now. Don't be scared. We're all going home soon."

They both looked at Zac. He had the most serene look on his face.

"I hope so honey."

"I know so."

Curiously Zac's insistence that they would be okay did seem to help. Isaac felt a little less frightened and he sat down on the bed next to his brother. Zac looked to be almost willing Taylor to come back. Well it was better than being mad about it.

"I think I know so too." Isaac relaxed a little after saying that. Little brothers choose the strangest times to be wise....

Taylor finished telling their story, at least the truncated version about half an hour later. This time it was clear everyone in the room believed every word of it. It was kinda gratifying to have the rapt attention of all these high level military people. He sat and watched their faces as they digested the information. I guess it's shocking to discover your entire government and intelligence service has been conned. No one spoke for a moment so Taylor decided to.

"Have you called off the Press Conference?"

"We've postponed it for about forty-eight hours." Replied the Ambassador.

"So you can announce the recovery of the hostages?" Asked Taylor.

"Exactly." he replied.

Taylor smiled.

"Can I call my parents?"

The Ambassador's face darkened. Taylor felt alarmed.

"What's wrong, are they okay?"

"They're fine it's just... there's a complication."

"What complication?"

"It's like this... you see..."

Another man in the room spoke up. He had a bushy moustache and spoke with a Texan accent. He was in Naval uniform. Taylor immediately decided he didn't like him.

"Son... you being here is like a miracle. Hell it is a miracle. And it's a miracle we must exploit to our best advantage. I am assuming from what you told me that the terrorists as you describe them are very confident about their security."

"Very much so. It was machine tight. Except for the ventilation shaft."

"Then they wouldn't have expected you to escape and they sure as heck wouldn't expect you to survive the whole Sahara desert am I right?"

"No I doubt they would expect me to be here no."

"Then because you are here we have a card up our sleeve. We know where they are but they don't know that we know."

"True. Hopefully."

"Yes quite. Well we want to keep it that way then don't we?"

Taylor didn't appreciate the way this guy was talking to him like he was a toddler.

"Affirmative."

"So it'd be best not to let anyone know that you're here right?"

"But my parents think I'm dead!"

"Then it'll be a nice surprise for them when they find out you're not."

Jerk.

"But till then we keep you under wraps. You are now the US Governments best kept secret."

"I hope you keep me secret better than you kept Area 51." Taylor didn't say it very loudly but he could see a couple of men in the room turn a distinct shade of pink. He laughed quietly to himself. The Ambassador spoke again.

"Now Ladies and Gentlemen it is late. I'm sure Mr. Hanson will be able to answer all your questions in the morning when you have put together a plan of action. Until then however he will be sleeping and will not be disturbed. Say good night Ladies and Gentlemen."

With that the Ambassador got up and motioned for Taylor to get up too. He walked him to the door then out of the room. When the door closed behind them he turned to Taylor.

"I'm sorry about the Colonel. He can be a little hard nosed once in a while. And I am sorry we can't call your parents and let them know you're okay. It's out of my hands though. The order came directly from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Oval Office."

The President? Dang... Taylor was impressed. He listened carefully as the Ambassador walked him personally back to his suite. He explained how the men and women in that room would be working through the night to organize a rescue mission for tomorrow based on what Taylor had told them. How tomorrow he must be ready to answer any questions those women and men asked him because the safety of his brothers was at stake. Like he didn't know that. The Ambassador left him at the door of his suite and Taylor went in alone. Not before finding out this was the room the President himself stays in when and if he visits Morocco. That was nice to know.

Zac lay back on the bed with his arms behind his head. He turned to his oldest brother.

"Ike do you think man will ever develop the ability to fly?"

"We do fly Zac, how do you think we got here?"

"No I mean really fly. On our own. Like birds do."

Where does Zac come up with this stuff from?

"I dunno Zac. I hope so."

"So do I, I reckon that would be really cool."

"What made you think of that?"

"Oh I was just wondering."

Isaac smiled in spite of himself. Sometimes he wished he could spend just one hour inside the mind of his younger brother. Just to see where things like that came from. But other days he's afraid of even spending one second inside the mind of his younger brother. He might find out where things like that come from. And there's some things you maybe shouldn't know.

"Would our wings sprout out of our backs or be instead of our arms?" Isaac looked up at Karen.

"Good point," replied Zac, " I'd personally prefer them as well as not instead of. Drumming could get real hard without arms and they'd have to invent a whole new design for playstation and Nintendo controllers."

Trust Zac to think of the important issues.

"You play much?"

Oh Karen you don't know what you're in for.

"I can spend days in a game Karen. Ike tell her."

"He's not kidding Karen, for once, when he was little we used to lose him for hours at a time and he'd have completed whatever game we just hired out."

"Days Ike.. days!"

"Sometimes it felt like that yeah."

Zac seemed not to notice Isaac's sarcastic comment. He lay back again and closed his eyes.

"I can just see Goldeneye on the 64 if I concentrate hard enough."

"You clocked that one last Christmas."

"I know.. it was such fun."

Isaac sometimes wondered what it was with Zac and video games. He had such a close relationship with them Isaac wondered if he...

"I'm not going to marry my playstation Ike."

Dang. Okay maybe I've expressed my ideas about that subject a few too many times.

Karen was staring at the both in them. She had a wondering expression on her face.

"Guys can I ask you a question?" She said.

"Sure."

"How do you stay so close? When I was your age Ike I barely spoke to my thirteen year old half sister. You guys are like best friends. Seeing you guys being so close makes me wonder where I went wrong."

Isaac smiled. He was used to this question. And it was one of the ones he liked. He was very proud of how close he and his brothers were. He suspected too that it was one of their most appealing qualities. Talking of which...

Zac cleared his throat.

"Well you see Karen. It's very simple." He turned to Ike.

"Shall we let her in on the Hanson closeknit family secret?"

Ike nodded, "Go ahead."

"Consider yourself very privileged to be hearing this, no outsider has been privy to this secret for over a thousand years. It has been handed down from Grandfather to Grandson in a small carved urn shaped like a horses head..." Zac could spin a lot of BS when he wanted to.

"Carried on the backs of five hundred elephants that personally belonged to Ghengis Kahn himself... well to Herbert and Frank Kahn his car salesmen brothers anyway who actually ran a Corvette dealership in Reno until wolves ran them out of town which is kinda funny considering their brother was like warlord over all of Asia and they couldn't even take on a couple of puny wolves... well not puny they were kinda scary but seriously with the right kind of training they should be no problem to handle especially if you wear allergic to wolf clothing which is always helpful especially when it comes to wolves..."

"Zac!"

"Oh yeah. Superglue. Superglue is what keeps us bonded."

Ha ha ha ha ha.... Zac collapsed back onto the bed in fits of laughter, Isaac was worried he was going to start coughing but nothing happened and he soon found himself laughing at Zac's appallingly bad joke inspite of himself. Karen too began giggling then laughing and soon the room was full of joy as Zac laughed himself silly.

That evening Zac and Karen and Isaac were happy to relax on the bed now serving three. They had spent the afternoon packing after a helpful guard had asked two other hostages to bring Isaac's suitcase from his room and found Karen's bag in the luggage pile. So they sorted out what they would and would not need. Which was a little bit harder because they didn't know where they were going. But then again none of them had packed for snow when they boarded the plane in London so it wasn't really a problem. Isaac missed Karen swearing softly to herself when she opened her flight bag and saw what wasn't there. He didn't look far enough down in his own bag to notice them, so went on packing completely oblivious. That night dinner was served in their cell and they felt so tired after dinner there wasn't much to do except go to sleep.

Thousands of miles away at approximately the same time Taylor was lying on the biggest double bed he had ever seen in his life wearing a silk dressing gown with USA emblazoned on the back and the pocket. He was watching late night TV which through the wonders of modern technology had been sent by Satellite direct from America. Thus he sleepily watched David Letterman crack weak jokes about some lying politician he didn't really care about... The late news caught his attention for a moment when it mentioned the hostage taking but only in relation to tomorrows press conference being postponed due to "developments". And MTV made him smile because as soon as he turned the channel he saw himself and Zac and Ike dancing and singing in front of a big giant pansy.

"Soon guys soon..." he said to himself as he drifted off to sleep. Mmmbop ba du ba da ba du bop....

.

Chapter 28 - "But I think you want to."

Taylor awoke in the early hours of the morning. He looked around and remembered where he was. "Fuck!" That was unexpected he thought, then his dream started to come back... The pain hit him with full force, it was incredibly hard for him not to cry out. He felt tears streaming down his cheeks. It was a gut reaction, he wasn't even aware how horrible he felt. He was just was. And the feeling of helplessness was killing him. He sat up and tried to clear his head... something was really hurting him, he couldn't figure it quite out, like just somewhere... on the tip of his tongue there was something terrible that he wanted to run from and investigate at the same time. Gradually it came back to him... he had to tell himself to continue to breathe such was the intensity... but once it was over he relaxed a little. It was a nightmare. It didn't really happen. But it could... Taylor let out a loud painful yell.

She came into the room without him even noticing. Soon she had him cradled in her arms and she spoke soothing words and calmed him down. He felt the panic drop away as fast as it had come... he could breath again and he felt the tension drain out of his muscles. Then he looked up to see who she was and he was surprised.

"You?"

She nodded. "I guess I struck a jackpot finding you in the desert. What kind of reward are we talking?"

"You're holding it."

"Oh." The look of distaste on her face was so funny Taylor had to laugh.

"Hey what's your name? You obviously know who I am."

"Mandy, Mandy Toogood."

"Oh you're kidding me... Toogood! That's just too too good."

"This is gonna be a real short friendship if you ever make fun of my name again Jordan."

"Hey! Please..."

She smiled, "See?" He had to grin.

"Okay Mandy, I'll just call you man. Man."

She stayed silent for a second. Then she smiled.

"Okay, Lor."

What the heck thought Taylor.

"Agreed."

"What were you yelling about?"

Damn she's direct thought Taylor.

"Just a nightmare, no big deal." He tried to seem nonchalant about it in front of his new friend.

"It seemed like a very big deal a few moments ago. Now tell me!"

Very direct.

"I just had this dream where I..." He looked at her. This was insane, he couldn't tell her what was going on in his mind. Not this girl, not this girl he had barely even met. This was stupid.

"Hey how old are you anyway?"

"I'm seventeen but you're changing the subject. Taylor you don't have to tell me if you don't want to but I think you want to."

"I don't know you."

"It's up to you. I'm good at listening."

"Okay, you're gonna think it's pretty weak."

"I'm not going to think that, I'm going to think you're a great guy no matter what you say."

"It starts in a helicopter, we're landing just outside.."

He stopped and peered at her for a second. He shrugged. If she was in the Embassy she must be tied in somehow.

"The place where we were held hostage. There's are lots of fires and burned out cars and trucks and dead bodies all over the place.. it smells, it smells like burning flesh or something."

He shook his head to clear the image and continued.

"We go into the cave and it's more of the same in there, horrible horrible sights and I start to get all panicky about Ike and Zac and I start running and running and all the passageways have bodies, mutilated bodies in them and I'm running and running and I find the room where they are and I go in..."

He took a breath. She waited patiently for him to continue.

"Ike is lying on the floor with a big hole where his chest should be. His eyes are closed like he's asleep but he's not, he's dead. Zac is lying on the bed, his eyes are open but he's dead too. He has a hole in his stomach and his guts are sort of spilling out. I walk over to him first and I see that his hand is covered in blood and his finger is extended. I look where it's pointing and I see it. On the wall, in red, written in blood is a message for me. It says "Tay you didn't make it in time." That's all, just that. I read that and I feel totally paralysed. I slide to the floor and he's looking at me. His dead lifeless eyes are looking at me. That's when I wake up. But I'm not here, I'm at home in Tulsa. So I wake up and I'm totally relieved that it was just a dream. I feel enormous pressure lift off me and I get out of bed and open the door to go downstairs. That's when I notice the sun is really high in the sky, I'm getting up quite late. Zac and Ike aren't in their beds. I figure they must be around the house so I go to look for them.

Okay I go downstairs to the band room cos I hear them in there and I walk in and say Hi guys. They're standing there, Ike holding his guitar and Zac standing behind his kit holding a pair of sticks. Well whatever they were talking about when I came in they abruptly stop. They don't say hi or anything they're just looking at me. So I say How's it going guys? They still don't say anything... nothing at all. I begin to feel all creeped out so I leave the bandroom. As I'm going I hear Zac say to Ike 'I wish he wouldn't come and interupt us. I wish he'd just go away.'

Next thing it's some time later... I don't know how long, I'm sitting in the lounge reading a book, it's called Nothin' But The Best but I can't remember what it was about. I just know it's good. I hear people talking upstairs and I start to get worried so I run upstairs and Zac's lying on his bed with the TV on. I don't know where Ike is. Zac scares me. He looks like he's had the crap kicked out of him. And he's breathing weird. I try to wake him up but he won't wake up. He's just laying there. So I run out and Ike's in the hallway so I tell him, I tell him Ike something's wrong with Zac! He's really sick! He won't wake up! Ike pushes me out of the way and goes into our room. Next thing I know there's all these people in the house. Doctors and stuff I think. They're coming in and out of our room and they look so busy and so worried and stuff so I ask them what's wrong with Zac but they all ignore me. They all ignore me. I ask Ike and he won't say a word to me. He just shoves me out of the way and goes to wherever he wants to go." Taylor looked up at Mandy. She was staring at him but it didn't freak him out. Quite the opposite, he felt reassured somehow.

"Then he dies. I don't know how I know because no one tells me but he dies. And then there's no one in the house. Just me and Zac and he's still lying on his bed. So I go into the room. The TV is still on mysteriously and Zac is lying there so peacefully. But the curtains are open. For some reason this really bothers me. I don't know why but it does. It bothers me a lot. So I walk over and I close the curtains. Then I hear him. Behind me I hear him so I turn around. Zac is sitting up in bed. He still looks dead and his eyes his eyes are cold but he's sitting up and he says "Why did you come back?". And that's where I wake up and you come into it."

Taylor noticed now there were tears free falling down his face again. He wiped at them furiously in the vain hope she hadn't noticed. Then of course there were tears streaming down her face too. He waited nervously for what she would say. Would she think he was just the biggest pussy for having such a cliched dream? She said nothing. She just leaned toward him and enveloped him in a hug. It felt nice. Then she spoke.

"They'll never stop loving you."

Taylor didn't know how long the hug lasted, all he knew was that it felt real good. Real real good. He was glad too that by the time they had parted he had stopped crying. No need to spend all night looking like a wimp in front of her.

"So... you wanna go back to sleep now?"

He smiled a little. "No... if you've got something better in mind."

"I'm sure I could find something to do around here." Her fingers danced on the bedspread as she said it and Taylor couldn't help but laugh at the way she teased out something.

"Well then I'm up and ready for anything."

She smiled wickedly.

"C'mon then."

They both looked like kids skipping school the way the danced out of the room together...

At nine o'clock the next morning Taylor managed to find his way from her room to the Ambassadors office. Nice girl, he thought as he walked proudly along the corridors. Passerbyers gave him a strange look so he conciously tried to wipe the smug grin off his lips. It was hard.

He pushed open the door and walked into the Ambassador's office. Most of the group from last night were already there, sitting around with big maps and charts and laptops spread out everywhere. They all sure looked different now. It looked like they'd had maybe an hours sleep among them. The Ambassador himself was leaning against his desk talking to the Texan who had his back to the door. Taylor heard part of their conversation.

"So anyway I figured she had better stay here for the time being, it's safer this way."

"Soldiers can be pretty roudy."

"Yes and she is only seventeen."

The smug grin hit Taylor's lips again... this time he could not wipe it away.

.

Chapter 29 - "Duh brain!"

"WAKE UP!!!!" Ike opened his eyes slowly. "What?"

Zac was bouncing on the end of the bed.

"Quit it Zac you'll hurt yourself."

"I don't care! We're going home today!"

What the heck?

"Zac please... you don't know that."

"Yes I do."

"How?"

"It's a Zac thing?"

"A Zac thing?"

"Yup."

It was clear there was no point arguing the matter.

"Well can I sleep in a little longer? Get Karen up."

"Can't. She's gone.

Isaac sat straight up.

"Gone? Gone where?"

"Medical attention to the guards... one of them needed it."

"When?"

"I dunno... an hour ago."

Ike looked at his watch.

"Zac how long have you been up?"

"I dunno... couple of hours..."

"How long Zac?"

"A day... two maybe."

"ZAC! Why didn't you go to sleep?"

"Can't, too excited. We're going home today. Now GET UP!"

He jumped hard on the bed. Isaac almost bounced onto the floor.

"Okay okay... if it'll please you I'll get up. I'm sure there's lots for me to do now that I am up."

"Bounce on the bed with me!"

"I'm not bouncing on the bed with you."

"Bounce on the bed with me! Now!"

Zac was acting more like a four year old than a thirteen year old.

"No Zac. Calm down. Please."

Zac stopped bouncing long enough to stare Isaac in the eyes. Then he stuck his tongue out.

"Nyah! You're no fun Ike."

"Neither will you be in about three hours when your brain suddenly decides it needs sleep."

"I don't need sleep! I'm wide awake!"

"Whatever...."

Zac jumped off the bed and grabbed Isaac by the shoulders.

"Wide awake! Ike!" He started laughing at his joke, " Awake! Ike! Awake! Ike! Awake! Ike!"

Isaac noticed his face was getting redder and redder... he had a feeling Zac's ribs were causing him pain again.

"Zac please sit down again okay? Your ribs are still broken."

"I'm ignoring the pain."

"Please Zac?"

"Fine." Zac sat down and at once started drumming on his leg. Better than the alternative thought Isaac.

Their plan seemed pretty sound. Actually Taylor was dammed impressed. The whole infiltration and rescue operation was set to only take half an hour on the outside. These guys were definite pro's. Some of the more technincal talk had gone over his head but basically they were to fly in on helicopters as soon as night fell and land a short distance from the entrance to the complex. They had the co-operation of the Algerian Government but this deep within the Sahara Desert law and order and pretty hard to maintain. The first team would neutralise any personal on the outside of the complex and maintain control of the landing and departing area. The second team would go in and take as many of the terrorists alive as they could. The third team would go in simultaniously with the second and would head straight for the hostage levels. Deadly force was to be used only when necessary but it was authorised. The hostages would be brought out as quickly as possible and loaded onto the helicopters at which point teams one and two would evacuate the area bringing as many terrorists as they could with them. A second, joint Algerian/British and American squad would arrive only after the first one had reached safe airspace. The second squad was to attack, annialate and destroy the entire complex. America doesn't take kindly to being conned. If the terrorists were found to be sponsored by the Serbian Government... well then the State Department would take it from there.

After that briefing the Amabassador picked up a pen off his desk and starting swivelling it nervously. Taylor noticed he wouldn't look him in the eye. He waited expectantly for whatever was to follow.

"Umm Taylor... this is highly irregular... and... not to mention illegal but... this is a serious situation and we have to do our best to solve it so... I... that is we... would like... uh..."

The Texan who had been quiet for a resonable while now, Taylor was even beginning to not dislike him so much, spoke up.

"Son we'd like you to go in with team three. Show us exactly where the hostages are. Can you do that?"

"I can."

"Will you do it son? For your country."

"For my brothers!" This guy was a weirdo. "Of course I'll do it. But on one condition."

The Ambassador looked relieved.

"Name it."

"My parents. I talk to them today. BEFORE we leave."

Three of the people in the room began to speak up. The Ambassador held up his hand to stop them.

"Granted."

Zac felt weird... he really couldn't sit still. He had assumed sleeplessness caused tiredness and general lazyness not this. If anything he felt even more energetic, more full of life and he couldn't understand why Ike wasn't as hyped up as he was. After all Ike had slept a lot more and they were gonna be rescued today! He looked over at his brother. Ike was staring circles in the floor. At this point even the most dependable games had given way to a boredom that threatened to drag this day out a long... long... time. But that was okay, since the rescue was happening sometime today. Boredom can be withstood if the rewards at the end were sweet enough. And this reward was surely sweet enough.

Taylor ran into Mandy as soon as he stepped into the corridor. It was almost too convenient. He got suspicious.

"Were you spying?"

"Yup."

Okay... well honesty was nice.

"Why?"

"Duh brain! Because I'm uh interested in what's going down?"

"Don't you have stuff to do?"

"Nope. Why? Do you resent me being here?"

"No... I guess not."

Taylor smiled.

"What did you hear?"

"Not much. Stupid soundproofed door." She gave it a kick. "Was my Dad hard on you?"

"He was yesterday... he's a..." He suddenly stopped, realising who he was talking to.

"It's okay... he's a jerk. I know he comes across that way. You just have to get to know him."

"I don't think I want to."

"You won't have to unless you join the navy."

"Not bloody likely?"

"I thought it was Zac who got sea sick?"

"Hey! You do know who I am then."

"Well duh brain you guys have been all over the TV in the last week, it's kinda hard to avoid hearing about you."

"Oh..." Taylor thought for a minute. It hadn't really crossed his mind what had been going on in the outside world since they'd been gone. Aside from how his parents were of course.

"Good stuff?"

She nodded. "They were treating you like heroes. Course once they find out what you did you'll be given a ticker tape parade!"

"Ugh no thanks. I just want to go home."

"Poor little rock star boy sick of the attention?"

Taylor had to smile at her tone of voice.

"No just ticker tape. It gets stuck in my hair."

She laughed then replied, "Which is looking a lot better than when I found you might I say."

"Thank you. You caught me not exactly at my best."

"I caught you not exactly alive."

They both laughed.

"Wanna do something?"

"Like breakfast?"

"Sure, follow me."

"Zac can you stop that?"

"Stop what?"

"You know what! That tapping."

"What? This?" Zac tapped louder.

"Yes stop it."

"You're not my boss."

"Fine Zac... forget about it..." Isaac grabbed Zac's wrist with lightning speed.

"There now lets see what you can do."

Zac kicked Isaac but Isaac moved too fast.

"Not good enough brainless boy."

"Let go of me Ike!"

"Not until you fall asleep or something."

"Let go of me Ike! Ike let go of me."

Isaac missed the rising panic in Zac's voice.

"What if I don't?"

"Ike... LET GO NOW! Pleaasseeee?"

Now Isaac noticed. Began loosening his grip on Zac's wrists but not letting go.

"Will you promise not to tap?" He said it in a measured tone.

"Yes Ike anything.. please... please let go of me Ike."

Zac was choking back tears as he said it. They were already running freely down his face. Ike let go immediately and embraced his brother softly.

"It's okay Zac.. I didn't mean it. I'm not mad."

Zac cried softly as Isaac rocked him back and forth. Isaac sighed to himself. Lack of sleep wrecks havoc on your emotional state but this was really out of the blue.

"Please.. please let go.." murmered Zac as Ike rocked him.

"I'm not holding on anymore Zac. Would you like me to move away?"

"Please let go.." repeated Zac but his eyes were closed, "Please I won't do it again I swear... please let go.. please..."

Isaac wasn't sure who he was talking to but he guessed by now it wasn't him. He tentatively released Zac from his embrace to let him move away but Zac responded by clinging to him even tighter. Isaac enveloped him again.

"There Zac.. you're okay.. you're okay Zac. No one's holding on to you..."

The door opened and Karen walked in. She stopped when she saw the sight in front of her. Ike put his finger to his lips.

"Please let go... my wrists... my wrists... please let go I'll be good."

Isaac gave an 'I'm helpless what do I do?' look to Karen. Karen pointed to Zac's wrists. She spoke quietly.

"They tied him to the chair sweety."

Fifteen minutes later in the breakfast room Taylor munched on a bowl of cornflakes while Mandy ate a mango. They were talking about everything and nothing in particular.

"So then they ask you to sing it again?"

"Repeatedly. Until me, Ike, Zac and our producer are satisfied."

"So you have like creative control?"

"Oh very definitely. These are nice cornflakes, what brand are they?"

"Kellogs I think. The Embassy has a whole lot of food flown in from the States."

"Well this is the State's isn't it? Technically speaking."

"Yup. You're eating lunch in the good ol US of A. "

"Breakfast."

"Not where I come from."

"Oh yeah I forgot. Army brat."

"Army Chick thank you very much. And yeah... 6 am wake ups most days."

"Not today." said Taylor smiling.

"No today was.. special."

He made a hole in his cornflakes.

"How long have you been over here?"

"Two years on and off. My Dad is special Naval attache to the Embassy so I spend quite a lot of my time over here. My Mum takes me in Summer and stuff."

"Divorced?"

"Yup."

"The Navy?"

"Not really... well sort of.. she's Army. She's a Captain in the Marines."

"Wow impressed."

"Makes life interesting."

"I'll bet!"

"Well look who I'm talking to! Your life can't exactly be run of the mill."

"Oh it has it's plus's. Playing live is awesome. Doing interviews and stupid photoshoots for the most part is not. But it all comes with the package."

"At least you're doing something you enjoy."

"Oh totally... dang..."

He smiled.

"What?"

She was starting to smile too, wondering what he was talking about.

"This is beginning to sound like about five thousand interviews I've done!"

"Oh.." She laughed, "Do you want me to ask the penetrating questions?"

"Get the dirt on Hanson? You can try..."

They both laughed and he finished off his cornflakes.

"What now?"

"I...." She looked over to the door, "Looks like you've got a visiter."

A youngish man with a shock of brown hair came over to the table where they were sitting.

"Taylor Hanson I'm Captain Flagg."

Taylor almost choked on his last cornflake. He managed to smile and put out his hand.

"Hello."

Captain Flagg raised his hand to salute then corrected himself and shook Taylor's hand.

"I'm the Commander of Team Three. We'll be working together."

"I was promised a phone call first."

"I know. I'm to take you there now." He turned to Mandy, "If the young lady doesn't mind?"

"Please..." Mandy replied.

"Where do we go?" Asked Taylor almost knocking over the table as he got up.

"My office, third floor. We've opened a secure line to the States for you."

Taylor began walking across the breakfast room hurridly.

"Good luck!" Called Mandy after him.

"Thanks." replied Taylor turning back for a second, "I'll see you later."

Taylor and the young Captain reached his office very quickly and Taylor nervously sat down. The phone was just sitting there right in front of him. Urging him to make the call.

"I'll be outside if you need me Taylor. Just dial straight through. It's all set up."

"It's a cellphone number."

"You should be sweet then."

He left the room. Taylor took a deep breath and picked up the phone. Just what does the prodical son say?

.

Chapter 30 - "Bbbring Bbbring."

Bbbring Bbbring. "Hello?"

"Hello Dad?"

"Taylor!"

Taylor breathed out. He hadn't even been aware he had been holding his breath. His father's voice... just the tone of it, his vocal chords... everything... it felt so soothing to Taylor. He could feel an absolute will developing inside him. And he could relax now and not play adult... with his father he could be a little kid again and it was okay. The warm feeling spread all over his body. And his soul.

"Dad?"

"Oh GOD thank you."

He could hear the catch in his father's voice... it was astounding to hear.

"Taylor... Taylor... Taylor... THANK YOU GOD!"

Taylor closed his eyes and felt himself beginning to silently weep.

"How's everyone Dad?"

"How are you Taylor? How's Isaac and Zac?"

"Last I saw they were... uh... fine."

He could hear his Dad suck in his breath. There was a slight pause.

"You aren't together?"

He had never heard his Dad sound so desperate.

"No Dad I had to come and get help."

"Where are you?"

"I don't think I'm allowed to say."

"North Africa right?"

Taylor's eyes shot open... whoa...

"... how did you know!?!"

"They cellphone."

A big grin spread across his face. "Oh my God it worked!"

"We never lost faith son. Not after my beeper started going off."

For some reason Taylor found that image very amusing.. he tried not to laugh out loud.

"I was afraid you thought we were dead."

"That's what they told us."

"They are wrong."

"I know Taylor. I'm glad to hear it. Please how are Isaac and Zac? I have to know. If somethings wrong I have to know."

Now it was Taylor's turn to suck in his breath...

"Isaac's fine dad... Zac's uh..."

The words wouldn't come out. How do you tell your parents what you let happen to your brother?

"Just say it Taylor. Please... I need to know."

"Zac's hurt Dad. He's not dying or anything but he was pretty badly beaten up."

"Oh God."

Taylor wondered if his Dad had dropped the phone.

"Dad?"

"I'm here."

"Dad I missed you."

These words just came rolling out.

"I missed you too son. I love you."

"I love you too Dad..."

"Who beat up Zachary?"

He could hear the hurt in his Dad's voice.

"Let's not go into this right now Dad. It's in the past. Lets just let the people who take care of things like that take of it."

Taylor didn't want to relive that night. At least not while Zac and Ike and Karen were all still in the clutches of the very people.

"So they're safe?"

"Not exactly."

"But you are?"

"I am yes."

He heard his Dad sigh in relief.

"Okay. Are Zac and Isaac in danger?"

"Not imediately. Not that I know of."

"When did you last see them?"

"I'm not sure... a few days ago maybe... I'm not too sure."

Not sure why, Taylor stumbled over those words too...

"Are you okay Taylor?"

"I'm okay Dad. I'm fine now. I just miss everyone. I want us to be together again."

"So do I Taylor."

Taylor couldn't help the smile creeping onto his lips now.

"Well how's tomorrow for you then?"

"Sounds fine to me."

"We'll make it a date then."

"How did you get seperated? If you're allowed to tell me."

What the heck thought Taylor.

"I think so... well I went for help. Lets just say that."

"I'm glad you made it."

"I'm more so."

"Taylor everything will be okay you know? It's almost over now."

"I know Dad I just..."

"What is it son?"

"I'm so tired of all this shit."

"Taylor! I..."

He could hear how genuinely surprised his Dad was to use language like that... actually he was surprised at himself, but at this point he had bigger fish to worry about.

His Dad continued, "I can see why. Hang in there son. You're in our prayers."

"Have I ever not been?"

"No... not in the past week for sure."

That warm feeling again.

"How are you and Mom and Jessie and Avie and Mackie and Zoe?"

"We're fine Taylor, it's you three we're worried about."

"Don't worry, we're having a fun desert vacation."

"You must show us around one day."

"I don't think so."

"I don't blame you... yes... yes... it's Taylor."

He pricked up his ears, someone was talking to his Dad in the background. His heart leapt once again into his throat as he realized who.

"Who's that? Are you talking to Mom?"

"Yeah she just came back, she was out with the kids."

"I can hear her crying. Tell her not to cry okay?"

"She's happy Taylor."

"She can be happy without crying. She could sing or something..."

"That's your job."

Taylor smiled,"I know."

It was still nice to hear it occasionally.

"Where are you guys?"

"New York."

Really?

"Why are you still there?"

"We're not leaving the airport son, at least the airport hotel until you guys come home."

"Thanks Dad... that's cool to know."

Very cool... Taylor didn't feel so alone now. Positively.

"Does that surprise you?"

"Guess not..."

He smiled, now a question jumped into his mind. He spoke without even thinking.

"Please... please can I talk to Mom?"

"Yes Taylor. I think she'd like that."

"I'll talk to you some more afterwards okay?"

"I'm not going anywhere son."

"See you Dad."

He could hear the phone being handed over. And he felt like a little kid again. It was great.

"He.. hello?"

"Mom!"

"Taylor! I love you Taylor!"

"I'm sorry Mom!!"

Suddenly all this anxiety Taylor had been repressing started to tumble out. He felt vaguely embarrassed about it for a moment then figured that that's what Moms are for.

"Sorry?"

"Uh huh."

"What for?"

"For this whole thing... I shoulda been taking care of him, I shoulda said no I shoulda done something. I didn't stop him Mom it's my fault."

He could hear his mother's gasp from several thousand miles away.

"....what happened Taylor? Speak slowly and clearly."

His voice meanwhile was shaking.

"Zac Mom..."

"Zac....?"

Crap... I could have done this better... tell her now Taylor before she feels any worse.

"He got hurt Mom, he got hurt and I shoulda stopped them. I shoulda stopped him."

"He's...?"

He realized what the missing word was and hurried to calm her fears.

"Hurt Mom he's hurt. That's why I escaped."

"You escaped? Good Lord."

"I escaped so I could get help."

There was a pause, Taylor waited for something... he expected it to be trouble, he wasn't sure why. Then...

"Taylor I love you so much right now."

Whoa...

"Why? I'm a wretch.. I failed you."

"Failed me? Taylor you risked your life to save your brother. In no way does that qualify as failure."

"But I shoulda done it sooner."

"Whatever it was Taylor.. you weren't to know."

"I know but... I'm his older brother dammit!"

Taylor felt the tears sliding down his face again. He WAS reliving those terrible hours again and was powerless to halt the memories.

"Taylor he knows what he was doing. You can't look after him twenty four hours a day... he's thirteen now. He's not a child anymore."

"Mom you weren't there! I failed him."

"Taylor I know you! You wouldn't be feeling the way you do right now if you hadn't been watching out for him your entire life. And I don't believe you let up for a second when you were... when you were wherever you were."

"I..."

"You're the best older brother he could possibly have."

"I guess.."

"I know."

That did it... Mom's word was bond. He felt a little less guilty now. He felt maybe even a little... a little pride.

"Okay Mom."

"That's better."

"Mom? Thanks."

He meant it.

"You shouldn't beat yourself up over this Taylor. You weren't to know you were going to be hijacked."

"I shoulda known those passengers with AK 47's were trouble."

"Ha ha Taylor. How's Isaac?"

Taylor was glad to lighten to atmosphere.

"Probably really stressed right now. I left him with Zac."

"Is Zac... is Zac concious?"

"Oh yeah Mom... very much so."

"Oh... poor Ike."

Taylor had to laugh.

"So.. how are you Taylor? You've talked about Zac but what about you? Are you okay?"

"Yeah Mom I really am. I feel like I've come through something that was maybe a test of character or something... you know what I mean?"

"Yes I do Taylor. Maybe God was trying to show you something."

"I think I got the message alright."

"Do you know what the message is?"

"Y'know I think I really do."

"I'm glad."

"Mom."

"Yes sweety?"

"Can you put Dad back on?"

"Sure I can. Taylor honey look after yourself and look after Isaac and Zac when you get to them again. And be strong okay? You're going to be fine."

"I know Mom... thanks. I love you."

"I love you too."

Hand over...

"Hi Taylor."

"Hi Dad."

"Your Mom is glowing... you've made her very happy."

"I'm glad Dad... but you know this thing isn't over?"

"I know."

"I just wanted you to know."

"I know son. You're going to all be home very soon. And then we'll be all together for Christmas."

No... it's not Christmas time already is it? Wow... how cool. He smiled even broader at the prospect.

"I'm looking forward to it."

"So are we son... so are we."

"But..."

"No buts son. God is going to bring us back together for Christmas."

' At Christmas' his Dad had almost said...

"I know."

"Then it's simple. Hold onto that thought okay?"

"I will."

"So will I."

It was nice to have that kind of support... it filled him with some kind of strength... but... he guessed... that's what family had always done.

"I love you Dad."

"I love you Taylor."

"Hug Mom and Jessie, Avie, Mackie and Zoe for me 'kay?"

"I will son. They've missed you lots."

"I've missed them lots. I've missed all of you."

"Tell us in person Taylor."

"I will Dad I will."

"Do you have to go now?"

Taylor wasn't sure why but he felt like he did.

"I think I do yeah.."

"God bless you son, goodbye, I love you."

He heard his Mother shouting "I love you Taylor!" in the background. It made him smile even more.

"Bye Dad, I love you I love Mom too."

"Did you hear that?"

"Yeah..."

"Bye Taylor."

"Bye."

Click.