Chapter 36 - "'Ike!' he hollered..."

Isaac and Taylor watched with growing annoyance as the driver got out of the truck and just went and leaned against the back of it for a smoke. Now how were Zac and Karen supposed to make their way out? "What a prick!"

Taylor couldn't agree more.

"How long do you suppose he'll be there for?"

"Him or the truck? The truck I'd say all night but him I'm guessing as long as it takes him to smoke one cigarette. Unless he's like a really heavy smoker of course. In which case he could smoke a whole pack and we could be here all day."

Oh man...

"Hey how did you get out?"

Taylor turned toward Isaac expectantly.

"With a little difficulty. I sort of avoided the bullets and snuck out once they were finished."

"What's it like in there?"

Isaac sighed, "You don't want to know Taylor. I don't even want to think about it."

Taylor paused for a moment. Then he spoke again.

"Well I'm glad you made it. What happened to Zac and Karen?"

"They were too slow I guess. I sort of had to dodge a couple of guards, don't think they saw me. But maybe those two weren't so lucky."

"Zac has to still be moving pretty slow. How is he?"

"He's... it varies man... he's really energetic some days and hyper like he used to be. This morning for instance..."

"What happened this morning?"

Isaac recounted the story to Taylor's amusement and concern.

"Oh man... he's just wild when he doesn't sleep."

"Yeah tell me about it. I didn't exactly get to sleep much either."

"I'm sure he made sure of that."

Isaac laughed. "Oh yeah."

"How is he injury wise? Has Karen been able to do much?"

"She's done her best. She's a saint man. We are SO lucky to have found her."

"You ain't telling me nothing I don't know. Isaac..." Taylor got a goofy grin on his face, "You like her don't you?"

Isaac immediately went ten thousand shades of red.

"Man... I.... yeah I guess."

Taylor slapped him on his back. "No hassles man... I'd like her too if I were your age. Hey maybe her husband's a real creep!"

Isaac punched Taylor softly in the arm. He decided to change the subject. Maybe the blood would then flow from his face.

"So what do we do now?"

"Wait?"

"There's gotta be more than that!"

"Okay... I guess we could be real stealth and try to find out if anyone survived the helicopters."

Isaac's eyes opened wide. "They took out the helicopters!"

Taylor's voice wavered just a shade, "Yup... I saw the explosions over the ridge."

Isaac's eyes remained open wide, "You got to ride in helicopters!"



Taylor kept his eye on his older brother as they climbed the ridge as carefully and quietly as possible. He was beyond overjoyed to be reunited with Ike but something had changed. The way they related to each other now. It was laden with meaning... they used to just goof around automatically, jumping from serious to funny without missing a step but now funny seemed oddly out of place. Like serious is in or something. He shook his head annoyed, it was probably just the predicament they were in. He had to admit though Isaac did look like crap. He was without a doubt thinner and paler than Taylor ever remembered seeing him before. The lines on his face told of hardships Taylor wasn't sure he wanted to know about. Ike looked like maybe a year had passed since Taylor had last seen him. Could it really only have been a few days?

Isaac wondered much of the same thing about Taylor. He was almost jealous of how healthy and happy Taylor looked. However long he had been recuperating - and it couldn't have been long, it had done Taylor the world of good. Even his confidence seemed at a new found high. There was some kind of swagger in the way he walked, a hipness in the way he talked. He wasn't good ol Taylor, Isaac's shy little brother anymore, he was mature now. Mature perhaps beyond where even Isaac was at. He was issuing commands now like he was the boss. Admittedly he had just saved their asses but still there was no need to get all cocky over it. Isaac wondered what on Earth had happened to his brother to make this change so suddenly...

"Oh crap."

Taylor said it all in those two words. Even in the semi darkness the smouldering ruins of four Royal Armed Forces Attack Helicopters where highly visible on the mountainside. The wreckage was scattered across the wide area yet it was clear they had been hit within seconds of each other. None of the pilots probably had more than a moment to think. The other two must have been quick enough to respond and get the hell out of there. That was good.

"Taylor look."

Taylor looked where Isaac was pointing. His heart fell. On the next mountain's side there was two more spots of glimmering wreckage. None of them had got away.

Taylor suddenly bent down and vomited up his breakfast. Isaac held onto his head until it was over.

"We have to go look for survivors Tay." Was all he said. Taylor nodded in agreement. In morbid horror they made their way down the side of the mountain.

"Careful man... don't go too close."

Isaac didn't need his brother to tell him that. He shook off his hands.

"Look." he pointed, "I'm going to get that. It could be helpful."

Taylor nodded speechlessly as Isaac hopped over pieces of burning wreckage and pulled plastic torch out of its case that had split open in the explosion. He switched it on and the beam lit up the mountainside. Great it worked.

"Switch that thing off! You'll get us shot."

Isaac switched it off. He walked back over to Taylor.

"It must have some lower frequency of light or something."

After a few seconds of fiddling by the light of the fires they found it and switched the considerably lower beam on. The first thing the light caught was the reflection off a flight helmet. Isaac turned away this time. Taylor grabbed his wrist.

"No man. We have to check to see if he's alive."

He wasn't. None of them were. This was a sick burning sad mountain graveyard for all these brave Special Forces team members. Taylor and Isaac stood in the middle of the wreckage trying to think of anything but that.

Isaac looked thoughtfully around, "Maybe we should find the blackbox?"

"Why? We know why they crashed. They were blown out of the sky."

"Okay how about a radio?"

Taylor brightened up. "Yeah. Yeah that's a good idea. There must be some kind of portable transmitter among this lot. We need to get in touch with the planes."

"Planes?"

"We didn't come here entirely alone dude."

Isaac smiled for the first time since encountering this place.

"Good."

After several minutes searching Taylor had a stroke of good luck. He kicked a piece of bent metal out his way and underneath, a black backpack grabbed his attention. He crouched down and opened it and his eyes lit up.

"Ike!" He hollered perhaps too loudly.

Isaac came leaping over and they carefully examined the radio transmitter. It seemed simple enough to operate.

"Okay this is cool. Cmon let's get this too as high up as we possibly can. And let's call somebody!"

Isaac was grinning as much as Taylor when they gratefully left the wreckage field and climbed a reasonable distance up the mountain. The top however looked a little too far to reach right now. Especially with a big heavy backpack to carry. It looked like a serious few hours hike. And neither of them felt up for it right now. So they sat down on a flat area sort of half way up which never the less did offer a magnificent view of the whole mountainous region.

"Okay call somebody."

"Let me just get this thing configured."

Taylor rolled his eyes. Isaac was going to be difficult he could tell.

Isaac looked impatient, "Give it here Taylor I'll do it."

Taylor slapped away Isaac's wandering hands. "Just give me a second okay. "

It clicked to life.

"There we go! Now what was the frequency?"

"You don't know it?"

"I know it! They told me... I just have to access that part of my vault."

"Your vault... yeah right."

Taylor ignored Isaac's comments. A number did seem stuck in his head so he tried it.

"Hello?"

"Louder man, we want to be heard not to be sensed."

"Hello!"

Nothing but static.

"Maybe it's not tuned right?"

"It's tuned right... give them time."

Three, four seconds past. Taylor was about to make another attempt when the radio cackled to life.

"This is a secure frequency. Who's calling please? State your name and location."

"Taylor Hanson and stuck on this friggin mountain!"

After a moment of disbelief the pilots believed what Taylor and Isaac told them and assured them help would be coming speedily. They told them to stay put and wait for rescue. This time there was going to be no pussy assed secret infiltration... this is gonna be full scale war! Their words....

Taylor and Isaac were very pleased to hear this. Things seemed to be going right again after the basically disastrous assault on the mountain prison by the Special Forces Team. Based on what Taylor had told them they had vastly underestimated the amount of resistance they would face. Taylor felt a certain amount of guilt for this but the rational part of his mind kept reminding him he could not possibly have known and he certainly didn't make them bring the hostages up to the top just as the attack began. He felt... overall... crappy about it but he was determined to make things right.

Perched up high on this Mountain they could watch the comings and goings of the terrorist forces without being seen themselves. They saw that not too far from the entrance to the caves there was some kind of camp being built. It occurred to Taylor that this is where Captain Flagg and the other surviving team members might be being held. He decided finding out would certainly be a lot more useful than sitting around here waiting for the big boys to do all the work.

"Ike..." he tapped Ike on the arm. He turned to Taylor.

"See that camp down there?"

"Yeah I've been watching it."

"Think you'd like to see it up close?"

Isaac looked at him quizzically. "What are you thinking Tay?"

Taylor smiled a devious smile. "Just follow me. I have an idea."

Isaac got up and followed Taylor back down the mountain.

The camp was less than a camp. Actually it was more like a bunch of trucks sitting together with tents spread out between them. The trucks formed a sort of barrier like Wagon's in the Old West and in-between them was the tent village. They sat on a mini plateau just about half a mile down the road from the cave entrance and it was very busy. Even though it was the middle of the night every so often someone would be coming out or going in the small gap, guarded, between two of the trucks that formed the entrance way. It was a fair conclusion to guess that the prisoners were being held in there somewhere. Isaac and Taylor watched all this from the protection of a rock about a hundred metres away where they had hidden themselves.

"Okay... what do you want to do?"

"What do you want to do?"

"I'm asking you." Isaac was being picky.

"How game are you?"

"As game as you."

"You sure."

"Yup."

"It's dangerous."

"Not too dangerous. Not if we're careful."

"Okay." For a minute neither of them said anything. Then both spoke at once.

"If we could get them out..." They both looked at each other. Taylor nodded and Isaac finished his thought.

"... it would save time. We could have a head start on this thing before the second rescue team arrives."

Taylor smiled, "Exactly. Besides which they're going to be much better as this stuff than we are. Once we've got them out we can sit back and let them do their job."

Both of them knew that wouldn't happen but it was a reason....

"Okay you want to do this thing then?"

"Yeah. Let's do it. Let's free them."

"Let's make a plan first."

"Okay. Shoot."

The plan was ridiculously simple... almost. It involved crawling underneath one of the trucks and then basically trying not to get caught. The darkness would be a definite advantage but still there was a high risk of being seen. They agreed if once they'd taken a look inside the camp if it looked too dangerous they wouldn't try anything foolish. This could be just a mission of observation... it all depended on what they saw. Isaac felt nervous about this... okay nervous was an understatement... he wasn't quite sure why they had both gotten so gung ho tonight but it felt like the right thing to do. They felt like they should be doing something as opposed to just sitting around talking. But they were just kids! Okay he was eighteen but right now he felt about eleven. This was way way way over his head... over both of theirs. Yet he felt a compulsion to do it. To do something really action heroey because it felt right. Hang the danger it felt right. And this worried him.

They covered the ground between their rock and the trucks with ease. Both of them were astute at not being heard. They made their way over to the truck almost exactly opposite where the guards were posted. For a moment they stood there breathing very quietly wondering if anyone had heard them. There was no sound... just the gentle hum of an electrical generator in the camp. Okay... this was good... so far. Isaac dropped to his knees and Taylor did the same. For the first time Isaac felt a sense of responsibility. He put up his hand.

"No Tay, no sense in both of us going just to have a look. I'll go. You wait here and I'll let you know what I see."

For once Taylor was relieved to hear Ike take charge. He nodded and sat back against the truck, a familiar looking truck actually, as Isaac slid under the truck across the gravel. Taylor watched his brother's legs disappear underneath the truck and wondered how Isaac was going to enjoy his turn as action hero....

.

Chapter 37 - "Maybe Taylor was going a little bop crazy."

Isaac crawled forward on all fours. The truck was a reasonable height above the ground so he wasn't bashing his head every time he looked up but at the same time it wasn't particularly comfortable either. The gravel hurt his hands and he had a sneaking suspicion there was oil or petrol leaking onto him from the truck above. He couldn't really complain though he was only covering about two metres of ground. There wasn't much visibility under here but that was all well and good. If he couldn't see anything that definitely improved his chances of not being seen. These stones did hurt though. "Uh oh." Isaac said quietly to himself. He had come within centimetres of headbutting a rather tough looking pair of boots on the other side of the truck. He wasn't so much scared of the boots as the man in them. By the looks of it he was carrying a rather nasty looking gun. Not the type to be messed with. And dang it he was the only one around. Isaac peered around and couldn't see any sign of life in this whole tented area except for this one man - right in front of his nose. Cursing quietly to himself he returned to Taylor.

"Okay dude? What's in there?"

Taylor was looking concerned.

Isaac shook the gravel off his shirt and ran his fingers through his hair looking for oil. He couldn't really tell...

"Okay...." he whispered, "It's pretty empty in there... except of course for the guard standing RIGHT there against the truck!"

Taylor's face remained hopeful. "He's the only one there?"

"Yup."

"You didn't see anyone else around?"

"Nope. Not a soul."

Taylor pondered this for a moment. He didn't say nothing. Then he had an idea.

"There is something we could do."

"I'm listening."

"It's kind of... morally iffy if you know what I mean."

"Tay this whole thing has been morally iffy. Tell me."

Taylor didn't tell him, he showed him. He bent down and picked up a rather large rock off the ground.

"Oh." said Isaac. He too pondered for a moment. I guess it's for a good cause."

Taylor nodded. "We wouldn't be trying to kill him."

"Oh no," agreed Isaac vigorously. " Just knocking him out. That's all. No permanent damage really."

"Absolutely. I mean if there were any other way..."

"Peoples lives are at stake..."

"We'd be cowards not to..."

"It would only take a second..."

"It might even save him from the carnage that will happen when help arrives."

"We'd almost be doing him a favor."

"That rock big enough?"

"It feels big enough."

"Okay. Follow me then. Quietly."

Isaac got down on his knees again. Taylor grabbed hold of his shirt.

"Wait."

Isaac turned to look at his brother. "What is it?"

He was tossing the rock up and down in his hands. He looked a little green. "You do it."

Isaac felt a sense of big brotherly responsibility.

"Okay. But you distract him."

"Yup. Let's rock."

He he... Taylor laughed at his own little joke.

Both of them slithered under the truck and low and behold the guard was still waiting there. Isaac moved round so he could roll over once and be out in the open, he would need to be fast to be able to jump up and smack this guy in the head before he had time to react. Taylor saw what Isaac had done and moved into the same position. He looked over to Ike. Ike gave him the thumbs up. Taylor took a deep breath and rolled out from under the truck. He quickly jumped to his feet as the guard who had been snoozing opened one eye and then spun around to face him. Out of the corner of his eye Taylor could see Ike rolling out and getting into position.

"Ummm is this McDonalds?" It was late... and it was all Taylor could think of. The guard moved closer to Taylor and Taylor got a big shock. He heard some mumbled words in Serbian before WHACK Isaac landed one squarely on the back of the head. But instead of going down she just looked fiercer. Oh crap thought Tay. The guard began reaching for her gun. He only had a split second to think. Oh crap!!!! He thought rather louder this time as he raised his fist and rammed it into the guards face. Isaac struck a second time with the rock simultaneously and one of the blows did the job. She crumpled like a dolphin. Isaac looked at Taylor's face.

"Why are you so white?"

Taylor said nothing, he just continued looking down at the guard. Isaac followed his gaze and realized the same thing.

"Oh."

"Yup."

"A girl."

"Yup."

"And Mom taught us to never hit girls."

"Yup."

"We'd better not tell Mom."

Taylor laughed a little inspite of himself.

"C'mon let's find the prisoners."

Isaac picked up the gun. "Should we take this?"

"Do you know how to use it?"

"Nope."

"Neither do I."

"We could try..."

"Macgyver made it seven seasons without using one. I think we can make it one night. Let's go."

Isaac dropped the gun and they crept over to the entrance to the first tent.

Taylor peered around the corner trying not to get himself spotted. It was easy. There was no one in there. At least no one awake. There were a few bundles on the floor that looked vaguely human shaped but he couldn't be sure. There wasn't really enough light in here to make out anything.

"You think?"

"Nope. No guards."

They tip toed around to the entrance to the next tent. There was a soft glow coming from this one so they dropped to their knees to peer through a gap in the material. Chances of someone being up seemed a lot higher this time. And they were right. A man sat looking very tired and unshaven with an AK 47 leaning between his legs. And over in the other corner sat three other people. Three people with gags in their mouths... Eureka!

"Okay," said Taylor his face going red with excitement. "This is them. This is the one. What do we do?"

Isaac thought about it for a minute.

"Is there a way we could get the guard to come out here then bop him?"

"Mmmm?" said Isaac, he was still thinking but he couldn't resist... "Okay... we could try that. But then we'd have to drag the body somewhere. I mean someone is bound to see a guy lying the middle of the yard like this."

"You're right... okay... what then bop him in the tent?"

Maybe Taylor was going a little bop crazy...

"We don't have to bop him at all. What if we could get him to leave the tent somehow, sneak in, untie the hostages (oh the irony was rich here) and then when he comes back they'll be like five of us and we can take care of him no problem."

Taylor nodded, it sounded sound. "Okay. How do we get him out here?"

Isaac looked sullen for a second then his face lit up.

"Follow my lead... and get ready to dive under the side of the tent."

Taylor lifted the side of the tent just a little so he could be under there quick as a flash. Isaac cleared his throat.

"Everyone wants something.... everyone wants something.... everyone wants something new.. everyone wants something new..."

Taylor picked it up and began singing it even more lustfully than Ike.

"Something new... new new new new new... Everyone wants something new!"

The guard in the tent stirred... it was hard not to. Probably the half the population of Algeria was wondering who's cat was being strangled. Isaac and Taylor both grinned and they continued to sing. They saw the guard get up and walk toward the flap.

Isaac stopped singing and put his hand over Taylor's mouth.

"Now!" he whispered. And quick as a flash, just as predicted, they both were in the tent. Taylor was first to the hostages. He pulled his knife from the Special Forces belt he was wearing and sliced quickly though the ropes holding them. All three of them had been asleep until seconds ago and were still groggy and Ike and Tay hauled them to their feet.

"C'mon!" Hurried Isaac. No time for niceties like introductions here. They ducked out the back of the tent figuring that would put them a little further away from the hapless guard. Only it put them directly in front of the guard post at the entry way. Both those guards were already looking around after hearing the singing and they quickly spotted the escaping group. Captain Flagg had recovered his wits enough now to know what to do. He yanked the gag out of his mouth.

"Under those trucks, behind here... now! People now! Move it! Move it!"

He almost threw Isaac and Taylor under the trucks and his team quickly followed. Taylor felt giddy as he crawled under the truck. Now Captain Flagg had taken over this was like the coolest game of paint ball ever.... They rolled out the other side and began running back up the mountain. Isaac looked around to see the whole camp light up as the guards went on rampage. Oh man this is gonna be bad if we don't get out of here soooo fast....

"Up to the left... I can see shelter." Ordered Captain Flagg behind them.

"No wait" said Taylor, "Me and Ike had a better place. Follow us."

Not even waiting for a response Taylor hauled ass up the mountainside... Ike and the Special Forces squad followed his lead.

They all caught their breath in the nice little hiding place/ viewing platform Isaac and Taylor had been broadcasting from earlier that evening. Captain Flagg and his two team members were taking a moment to contemplate their good fortune Taylor supposed as he watched them dust themselves off and relax a little leaning against the rocks of this infernal mountain. Captain Flagg opened his eyes and looked over to Isaac and Taylor.

"Thank you very much for that I must say. I certainly wasn't expecting a rescue of quite that type."

Taylor grinned. Isaac looked a little baffled at Captain Flagg's accent. He wasn't expecting a Brit. Taylor suddenly remembered his manners.

"Captain Flagg this is my brother Isaac. Ike this is Captain Flagg. SAS Captain?" He said questioningly.

Captain Flagg nodded, "Right you are." He reached out to Isaac, "Glad to meet you Isaac Hanson."

Isaac took his hand and shook it. "Likewise I'm sure."

Taylor peered past Captain Flagg and down the mountainside.

"It'll be a while before they look this far up..."

"They may never look this far up. Their forces would be stretched awfully thin to search an area this wide."

Taylor nodded, he had a point. But...

"So what now?"

"I guess we should make contact with our backup team somehow."

Isaac smiled, "Already done. They're going to be along in a few hours to 'wipe the desert with these terrorist scum.' their words."

Captain Flagg smiled. "I guess we just sit tight then. May I ask how you got out of there Isaac?"

Isaac shrugged. "I sort of walked out."

"You must have picked your moment well."

"Better than I could have hoped."

"Ooh I'm forgetting my manners. Sorry I quite forgot. Taylor, Isaac this is Klaus and Maria."

Isaac smiled at Captain Flagg's embarrassment. He wondered when he was going to be introduced to the two silent commando types who had been sitting staring off into space. I mean I know those Special Forces people are trained to be able to slip in without being noticed but they're sitting right here....

Taylor and Isaac smiled and shook their hands too and Klaus and Maria smiled and shook back. It was all very polite but they still didn't say anything.

Captain Flagg looked over at Taylor, "So what's it look like down there?"

Taylor intently watched the camp for a few seconds.

"There's a lot of movement. Obviously they're pissed," he smiled, "They're searching the general area. There's a lot of lights... umm not much more I can see. There's a heck of a lot more of them now."

"It's like disturbing a beehive." commented Captain Flagg smiling. "We may have to wait a few hours before we cause any more trouble."

"Oh?" Taylor raised an eyebrow.

"Those are flares on your belt aren't they?"

Taylor grinned, "Oh yeah. That could be fun."

"And very helpful for the backup guys when they come."

"I might like to cause some kind of chaos like that." said Isaac.

"Yeah," agreed Taylor, "Count me in."

The early morning hours past slowly. Taylor and Ike and Captain Flagg mutually agreed that they should wait until the fuss down below had calmed down considerably before they actually launched their little exercise. And the terrorists were in such a fluff they showed no sign of going back to bed for hours...

At about three in the morning Taylor woke up, he found he had been asleep which surprised him, after all this was a rather queer time to sleep but still.... sometimes it hits at the weirdest moments. He had been dreaming, couldn't remember what they were, just remembered they were nasty. He shook his head to clear the dreams from his head. And looked over to Ike. Oh look... Ike's fallen asleep too. Isaac was lying against one of the rocks with his head sort of flopped down over his chest. His very matted and dirty hair sort of fell all over the place. Taylor had to laugh, Ike looked nothing like either a music superstar or an elite commando. He just looked... out of it. His laughter woke Isaac up.

"What is it?"

"Oh you."

"What about me?"

"You look funny."

"Try not bathing for two weeks... see how you feel."

"Try doing that then walk across the Sahara Desert!"

"You walked?"

"Some of it."

"You know that's a real dumb thing to do."

Taylor grinned, "Gee thanks Ike... I could have used that advice like three days ago!" He playfully smacked Ike around the head.

"How did you get across it anyway?"

"Stole a truck, met this.. guy in this little Arab town... met a chick who..."

"You met a chick?"

"Yup."

"In the middle of the Sahara Desert?"

"Yup."

Isaac had to grin this time.

"Only you man... only you could meet women in the middle of the desert!"

"What can I say? It's a gift."

"Shut up."

Taylor laughed again.

"Well you look pretty good for your ordeal."

"I had a good night's rest at the embassy, and a good breakfast too."

"What did you have?"

"Cornflakes."

"Wow... yummy... now I really am jealous."

"You're weird Ike..."

"And you're related to me."

Taylor rolled his eyes. But it was funny.

"Hey guess what!"

"What?" Isaac looked at him concernedly.

"Nothing bad dude... we're on the cover of Time Magazine!"

Isaac's eyes went very very big. "Really?"

Taylor nodded, "Me you and Zac... it's a crap photo, but it is Time!"

"Zac in the middle?"

"Of course."

"Scene stealer."

Ha ha ha....

"Wow so we're even more famous now?"

"I guess so."

"I didn't think it was possible."

"Hey do we get money from Time Magazine for that?"

"Uh no bro.... it doesn't work that way."

Isaac looked disappointed, "Okay... well we're going to have to sell our story when we get home."

"Yeah we get to choose a show!"

"Wow cool... I wonder how much they'll pay us?"

"Karen can sell her story too!"

"Yeah... 'I slept with the Hansons'."

Taylor laughed, "Hope she gives us a good review."

"I tried not to disappoint."

Oh right....

"Which show would you choose?"

Isaac pondered for a moment, "Hmmm.... I'm pretty easy.. as long as it's not Oprah."

Taylor groaned, "Yeah I'd second that... none of those penetrating 'hair' questions...."

Isaac and Taylor continued nattering on deep into the night.... what they talked about wasn't important. It was the small talk brothers have among each other that they had both been missing for the past few days. Later on Zac would probably get his turn too. What was important was that they didn't notice as they were talking how quickly time was passing by. Soon the sun was on it's way across the Indian Ocean heading for Africa and another day would begin.

At about twenty minutes to sunrise Captain Flagg woke up himself and peered over the edge of the rocks at the camp below. Now in these small hours things seemed all nice and quiet again. Taylor saw the expression on his face and knew immediately.

"It's time?"

Captain Flagg nodded.

"I'm ready. Let's go."

"I'm coming."

"Okay."

With that Isaac, Taylor and Captain Flagg began walking back down the mountain. They got to within a stones throw of the camp just as the first rays of sunlight began appearing over the horizon. Taking shelter behind a rock they finalized a plan.

"Pass me the flare."

Taylor pulled one out of his belt and gave it to the Captain. He ran Taylor's knife around the top to open the seal and demonstrated what to do.

"Okay you twist this and place it in the exhaust pipe okay? Then run like crazy."

Taylor and Isaac nodded, seemed simple enough. Taylor got one flare out of his belt for Isaac and held one himself. He looked at Captain Flagg nervously.

"Are you up for this?"

Taylor nodded, he was sick of being scared.

"Okay... now!"

Taylor leapt over the rock first and covered the ground to the nearest truck very speedily. He looked around to see Isaac reaching the next trucks along and Captain Flagg, he presumed was beyond Ike. Right. This is easy. He pulled the seal off the flare and twisted the top then shoved it in the tail pipe of the truck. Just as he was about to run off he glanced in the cab and saw a Green Day tape lying on the dashboard.... No time for music, let's go! He ran as fast as he could and jumped back behind the rock where Isaac and Captain Flagg shortly joined him.

"Get down!" said the Captain. He shoved his fingers in his ears and Taylor and Isaac did the same. They shut their eyes and waited....

Zac sat looking at Karen's face. She seemed so peaceful now, so serene and happy she couldn't be dead. But he knew. He knew she was. He stroked her hair and tidied it up a little. He didn't know why he did that. There was no point. But it felt right. He also knew that she had died for a reason. That's what he held onto. She died so he could live. And dammit he was going to do just that.

He wondered what he was going to say to her husband. How do you tell someone their wife died in your arms? What do you say? What do you give him to remember her? He guessed all he had to do was tell him exactly what happened, how brave she was, how she took care of everyone, how much she was loved. That was the best he could do. It felt like nothing but it was something. Just have to trust that.

He spied a locket around her neck underneath her blouse... wondered why he had never noticed that before? Guess it hangs lower when she's standing up he thought . After pondering for a second he decided it was right. Carefully he lifted the locket off her neck and pocketed it. That was something he had to deliver to her family. Something to let them know... something to let them know he was for real.

Suddenly he felt like he didn't know her at all. Just a name, a person, someone he had been friendly with for a couple of weeks but not someone major in his life. Did he even have the right to be the one? To be the last person she saw? She talked to? She heard? Shouldn't someone she really loves... No. No that was silly. He didn't choose for this to happen. This was in somebody elses hands. Somebody had decided he would be here for this so there is a reason to it. There's... something... he is supposed to learn something or find something or do something from this... but what? But why? Why had God chosen to take her? Not now... now when she was so close to safety God had just snatched her up. That wasn't fair. It wasn't fair on her. It wasn't fair at all!

Zac felt fresh tears flooding his eyes, he blinked them back furiously. Then something went click in his mind. Something gave him a feeling that it was okay. Something gave him an image to remember. An image of naked honesty that made a glimmer of sense. He remembered Karen grabbing the gun.... he remembered where the gun was pointing... he remembered the man shouting and the look on his face... he remembered... Oh God. He knew. It became real for him.

She took the bullet.

She saved my life...

Zac was stunned all over again. He began to cry.

BOOM

It took an explosion to shake him back to the real world. It was followed by a couple more loud ones. For a moment he felt very afraid, then he realized they were coming from outside. Something was going on outside. It was time to go outside. Zac carefully eased Karen's head off his lap and onto the rocky floor. He kissed her once more on the forehead and promised to come back. Then he stood up and walked toward the glimmers of light coming down the entrance way.

Taylor and Isaac and Captain Flagg were all knocked down by the force of the explosion. The trucks went off like giant fire crackers. The fireball reached high into the sky. It didn't take any of them long to realize they were too close. Captain Flagg was up and running first, Taylor and Ike both sprinted after him. They ran up the road toward the cave entrance and secluded themselves behind the more substantial rocks there. Just in time too because guards and various other terrorists who had been asleep in the trucks around the entrance way were wakened by the explosions and rushed off down the road to find out what was happening. They ran past Isaac, Taylor and the Captain shouting loudly in Serbian and Arabic. Evidently the flares had done the trick.

Captain Flagg slapped them both on the back.

"Are you chaps okay here while I go up and get Klaus and Maria down to cause some more trouble?"

Taylor nodded and Isaac mumbled yes. The explosion was still ringing in their ears.

Captain Flagg ran off up the side of the mountain and Taylor idly watched him go for a moment before something else caught his attention.

Zac's mind was foggy. All he could think about was that he had to get out of this place. He didn't think about what could be outside and frankly he didn't care either. They had done their worst. He walked up the entrance way and found a big truck blocking him. However at the sides there did look to be gaps narrow enough for someone to squeeze through if they really tried. He pushed himself into the gap on the left side and found if he sucked in his breath he could slide along the wall. The dirt felt rough on his bare back and he grunted in pain as for the first time in weeks the sun hit him full in his face. It blinded him for a moment as he emerged from the cave, but he was fully determined now. He staggered on regardless out of the shadow of the truck and into the African sun.

Taylor's mouth dropped open. He was up and over the rock before Ike even had a chance to say "Who's what?" But then Ike saw too... he was not far behind Taylor. They both ran over to Zac who was standing bewildered squinting in the sun. Taylor grabbed him first and Zac looked him blankly in the eye not registering who he was.

"Zac!!!! Buddy you're free!" Isaac's words broke through. The rest of the world came flooding back in. Zac looked at Taylor's face, he looked at Isaac's, he felt an amazing sense of longing. Zac reached out and pulled both his brothers into a hug. He closed his eyes again and tears began flowing. This time he let them. He didn't say a word. He couldn't right now. Words would come later. Isaac held both of his brothers in his arms. It felt amazingly good. Better than he could scarcely have imagined. For the first time in days he felt complete. Taylor held both his brothers in his arms. He held them tight and promised himself nothing was ever going to split them up again. Right now was for being together. Right now was for being reunited. Right now felt like the best time in his life.

.

Chapter 38 - "Get in."

"C'mon guys I think we're a little exposed here." Isaac was the first to break the 'hug' moment, he didn't want to but it seemed like the smart thing to do.

Zac sniffed, "I need to tell you something. Go somewhere where we can talk."

Isaac felt a pang of nervousness. Nevermind he told himself, whatever it is can't be badder than the goodness of this moment.

"How 'bout the truck?" suggested Taylor.

"Yeah." agreed Isaac.

Taylor peered into the cab. The keys were still sitting in the ignition.

"Hey guys the keys are right here. Do you reckon I should move it?"

"Why you?"

"I've driven one of these before."

"Oh?" Isaac had to concede that one. "Yeah sure, I think that'd help the rescue team anyway. Looks like a tight fit in there."

Taylor was already halfway into the cab before Isaac finished speaking. He cranked the truck into life and slowly edged it forward out of the cave entrance and across the flat area outside the cave. After rolling it over to the side he parked it and hopped out.

"Okay guys," he said rubbing his hands, the steering wheel was sticky... "Let's get in the back before the sun gets too high. Believe me we do not want to be exposed when it gets right up there."

"Yeah especially if you're not wearing a shirt." Isaac had just noticed Zac's bare state. "What happened to your shirt Zac?"

Zac pointed to the back of the truck. "Get in."

Barely had all three of them sat down when Zac began speaking. He spoke in a low monotonous tone the whole way and didn't stop to let Isaac or Taylor comment. He just talked non-stop uncharacteristically quietly. Isaac and Taylor both had to lean in to hear what he was saying. Maybe it would have been better if they had not. He began by telling them everything that had happened since Isaac made a runner. When he mentioned the man with the gun his brothers both went white but they didn't say anything. A feeling of dread began building up inside them. Zac said Karen got shot. Isaac winced, Taylor began sweating, both of them wanted desperately to grab Zac and shake him and make him get to the end of the story but they had a strong vibe from him that all was not well. That they needed to just let Zac say it because this was hard enough for him already. He told the tale of the long night he and Karen had spent together and they smiled a little when he mentioned the bloody fate of another of his shirts. Then he took a deep breath and talked right up to him singing to Karen. Then he stopped. He was staring at the floor. Isaac and Taylor looked at each other. This couldn't be the end? Both of them felt painfully torn between wanting to know and not wanting to hurt their brother. Finally Isaac could take it no more.

"Zac...."

Zac looked up, he had tears in his eyes and for the first time while telling this story he looked both of them squarely in the face without looking away.

"Karen died."

Isaac felt his whole world drop away. He would have screamed right then if he had the faintest idea how to do it. He couldn't even look away from Zac's face. His eyes were fixated there. Zac's eyes were pleading with him but he couldn't reach them. He couldn't even reach himself. He wanted to go to sleep or get knocked out or have his brain removed or SOMETHING. He began feeling intense pressure in his chest and was only just together enough to tell himself to breath again. Everything was spinning, everything was wrong, this couldn't be true. This couldn't be true. This was true.

Karen is dead. Karen is dead and I'm alive. Karen is dead.

Isaac started to shake. He couldn't help himself. His whole body seemed to be going numb from shock.

He felt warm arms go around them and he leaned into them gratefully. Trembling, at last he closed his eyes.

Taylor felt an icy stab through his heart as Zac said the words. Suddenly the world seemed to be a less colourful place. Things didn't matter so much anymore. Karen is gone. Karen who saved my brother. Twice. Is gone. Karen who was always there to help and to give advice and to convince him when he was unsure was gone. Karen who was an unshakeable rock the entire time they were down there was gone. That just isn't fair....

He didn't have much time for wallowing in his own misery. Looking back and forth between his brothers Taylor wasn't sure who was hurting more. Zac who had her die in his arms just a few minutes before or Isaac who had heard the news with no warning what so ever. Isaac who had a secret crush on her... Oh God. Taylor felt special concern for Ike. Whatever he was feeling, Ike must be feeling it ten times worse. Zac seemed to be okay, he wasn't about to collapse anyway. Ike on the other hand.... Taylor reached out and pulled his older brother into his lap. He held onto him tight and tried to figure out what the heck to do.

Saying those words felt almost like reliving it all over again. Zac looked at the faces of utter shock before him and wondered if he should have broken it to them more easily. He looked at Taylor and then at Ike and wondered what they were feeling. Whether they were feeling as bad as him. Or worse. He looked at Ike, he was shaking now. His eyes stared back at him with pure horror in them. He looked at Taylor who had already switched over to protector. He was holding onto Ike, looking after him, making sure he was okay. Suddenly Zac felt a warm rush flow through him. Relief... almost. This wasn't his burden anymore, he could share it now with Taylor and Ike. He loved his brothers for that. He loved Taylor for the way he was putting his own feelings aside now because he was so worried about Isaac. And he could tell from the way Taylor was looking at him that Taylor was worrying about him too.

He cleared his throat.

"Is he... is he okay?"

Taylor felt immense relief that Zac was asking.

He nodded. "I think it's just shock. He'll be okay in a little while. Are you okay?"

Zac's turn to nod. "I feel a little better actually."

"I'm glad you could tell us."

"So am I."

"Was she? Was she in pain?" Taylor swallowed hard on some bile as he said the words. He wasn't sure he wanted to hear the answer.

Zac had to make a choice. Truth or lies to make Taylor feel better. Mom and Dad always taught us to tell the truth. He swallowed hard too.

"She... I think she went quickly. But I think she was hurting."

"Oh."

Tears had sprung to Taylor's eyes. Zac could see them from here. He felt bad now.

Taylor looked at his younger brother. His lower lip had started to tremble. This was breaking his heart. He beckoned Zac.

"Come here."

Zac gratefully slid over to Taylor and relaxed as Taylor enveloped him in his arms too. He returned the favor, feeling strength flowing from the warmth of Taylor's body.

He looked up at Taylor.

"It's not fair is it?"

Taylor looked back at him.

"No it's not."

Tears began quietly sliding down his cheeks. That was all Zac could stand. He felt his own ducts open. Zac pulled Taylor close. He buried his face in the comforting smell of Taylor's hair and he cried. Taylor held out for maybe a few more seconds before he just let himself go too.

Isaac felt his brother's body racked with sobs. It felt good to know he wasn't alone. The numbness slowly began to fade and tears began flowing down his cheeks. He looked at his brothers and realized they were hurting too. Something powerful inside him took over. Something told him it was time to be big brother again. He shifted himself slightly so he could reach both Taylor and Zac and he wrapped them in a big bear hug too. He could feel their bodies release some tension as he held them. It felt good to be together right now.

Together they cried for Karen.

So enveloped were they in being with each other neither Isaac nor Taylor or Zac heard the helicopters until they were practically right above the truck. Even then none of them felt a need to open the canopy to have a look at what was going on outside. In anycase it was pretty obvious from the sound, should it be the deafening sound reverberating around the mountains. It was clear there were a lot more helicopters out there now than the six Taylor had come on because the air seemed to be filled with noise. It appeared the promised 'army' had eventuated. In anycase they felt fairly secure hidden in the back of this truck parked to the side of the cave. And even more so when a loudspeaker became audible OVER the sound of the rotor blades. At first the message was in Yugoslavian but then it was repeated in English and despite everything Zac, Taylor and Ike couldn't help but smile a little.

"Members of the Serbian reactionary forces... or whatever the hell you're calling yourself these days. This is GENERAL Bartholomew Wilson of the Sixty First Royal Marines squad. We have this entire place SURROUNDED. Believe me there is no escape. If you try anything stupid we will shoot any one of you we see. SO if you ever want to see the rolling fields of Serbia again then you'd better get your asses out here right now and surrender."

There was a pause before he added a little side note.

"Oh and if one single hair on any hostages head is even combed the wrong way when we come in there then I will personally rip your balls off with a pair of needle nosed pliers. And I WILL enjoy it."

They could hear feet hitting the ground as he spoke and it was a fair guess that the choppers had been unloading troops under the cover of the General's speech. This was confirmed a few seconds after "enjoy it" finished echoing through the mountains. The canopy of the truck was ripped open and a British Solider stuck his gun inside.

"Are you terrorists?"

Taylor gave him a withering look, reserved for members of the armed forces...

"Do we look like terrorists?"

"Stay put then."

He put the canopy back before Taylor could reply so he ended up just mouthing "Where does he think we're gonna go?"

Zac looked up as the foot traffic outside began to increase. There were evidently a whole lot of them out there now. He could hear orders being shouted back and forth.

"Do you think we're safe in here?"

Isaac forced himself to think of something other than.... He looked around for a moment and cocked his ear.

"I think so." His voice sounded ragged, I mean they know we're here now and there looks to be a couple of armies out there."

"Where else would we go?" questioned Taylor.

Zac thought about that for a minute, he shrugged. Guess Taylor is right.

This loading bay area was quite obviously one of the first places the Marines seized. Taylor, Ike and Zac could hear a communications post being set up near them and then later on quite clearly someone - maybe even the General was directing operations from there. It all appeared to be going smashingly. But their taste for adventure had been quelled for the moment. Right now neither of them wanted anything more than to just enjoy each others company and stay out of the way of trouble. That didn't seem too much to ask and thankfully they were left alone by both sides. Perhaps someone had told the marines that Hanson were in the truck writing a song about them....

Mostly though they just talked about Karen. Tears flowed freely all morning but in a good way. It felt right to talk among themselves about her. If they wanted to cry they just let it go and continued talking. No one was making any judgements here. Besides they found themselves laughing just as much as they cried. It was good to relive all the good times and bad that they had shared with her. She really had made an impact on their lives and for each of them sharing it made it feel even more special. Right back to the moment they had met her on the plane there had been something about Karen. And not just good chemistry either. That was some of what Isaac felt but for Taylor and Zac and for Ike too he realized, there was something more going on. She filled a need in their lives, be it mother or big sister or aunt or friend... whatever they were missing while held captive she was there to be for them. And that was the coolest thing of all. They only hoped she got as much out of knowing them as they did her. Zac wasn't sure whether to share with Ike and Tay what she had said before she died. He decided not to for the moment, this wasn't about who liked who the best anyway. But for him it was nice to think back and remember what she said. And what he had said to her. Because he really did love her.

.

Chapter 39 - "Have a splendid trip home."

As the day wore on it got hotter and sweatier inside the truck. It wasn't super uncomfortable, especially for Isaac and Zac who were used to sweltering in the non-air-conditioned room but it was verging on icky. That being said it was cooler in the truck than it was outside where the hot desert sun was baking everything super hot. So none of them really had any great desire to go back out unless there was some specific reason to. That's when Captain Flagg pulled back the canopy and looked inside.

"Ahhh so that's where you chaps are. Be ready to leave when we tell you okay? The helicopters will be here to begin ferrying the hostages away in a few minutes and no arguments this time you are going on the first one."

"What about Karen?" said Zac looking up.

Captain Flagg looked perplexed, "We don't have a Karen on the hostage lists."

Taylor crawled over to him and whispered quietly. Captain Flagg nodded as he listened.

"Okay, Zac would you like to come and show us where she is?"

Zac nodded. He got out of the truck with Captain Flagg. Isaac got up to follow but Taylor put his arm up and stopped him.

"I think Zac needs to do this on his own."

Zac walked with Captain Flagg back into the cave. The Captain recruited two other soldiers to act as pallbearers and they went and he talked softly to Zac.

"I'm very sorry Zac. I know she must have meant a lot to you."

Zac nodded, he felt a little apprehensive about seeing her dead body but he knew he had to. Captain Flagg continued talking.

"If you'd like we can put her on the same helicopter as you. If that's okay? She'll be in a body bag. I think she'd like to have you close."

"I told her I wouldn't leave her. I think she'd like that."

Captain Flagg nodded, "Okay we'll do that. You don't have to come too close now Zac. These gentlemen will take care of her. She'll be okay I promise."

"No I have to." was all Zac said.

The rest of the walk was in silence. Even though it was still fairly dark in the cave Zac knew exactly where he was going. He moved ahead of Captain Flagg and his two men so that they wouldn't trip over her body in the dark. He found the body no trouble. Karen was still lying there looking as peaceful as ever. She still looked like she was just sleeping. Zac felt feelings of affection washing over him as he bent down and whispered to her.

"These guys are going to get you ready to go home okay Karen? I'll be right here. I'm not leaving you. Not till you're home."

Zac stood back and let the men do their work.

Taylor and Isaac sat in the truck wondering how long Zac was going to take. Both of them were immensely tired now. They felt like this whole thing was winding down but doing it agonisingly slow. The idea that they'd finally be out of here for good was something difficult to come to terms with. This mountain had become such a large part of both of their lives it was weird to think of leaving it. Outside the truck they could hear the sound of masses of people being freed from their prison. There were gasps of shock as they emerged into the sunlight for the first time in weeks. Neither Isaac nor Taylor felt any desire to actually participate or even watch the proceedings. This sucks. Let's get out of here.

Zac felt satisfied and relieved as he supervised the removal of Karen's body from the cave. He and Captain Flagg walked out behind the two pallbearers as they made their way carefully through the cave entrance. The Captain put his arm around Zac to comfort him. Zac shook it off. It wasn't that he wasn't appreciated it was just that Zac felt like he was strong enough to do this on his own and if he was strong enough then he should just do it. Captain Flagg did get his attention when he pointed to the sky as they emerged from the cave. A fleet of large black helicopters was approaching from the South West.

"That's your ride."

Zac looked at them and felt, like his brothers now, that intense desire to get out of here.

Taylor and Isaac looked up as Zac pulled open the canopy. He made no motion to get back in the truck.

"Get up. We're going home. Our rides here."

A smile played on his face as he said it. Taylor first then Isaac clambered back out of the truck.

"Shotgun!" said Zac slyly as he started walking. Taylor smiled.

Now that they were out in the open they could see with their own eyes exactly what had been going on. The place which had been so deserted a few hours ago was now teeming with people. The number of soldiers milling around now was literally over whelming. There had to be a couple of hundred here at least and more inside and around the mountain. A tent had been set up in a prominent position and the General could be heard barking orders inside. Sitting like school children on the nearby rocks were most of the hostages. They looked tired and bedraggled and didn't even give the guys a second look. Guess they've gotten used to the Hanson brothers. More hostages were coming out of the mountain all the time as patrols investigated every inch of the place. A little further down the road was another group of men and women sitting like school children except these ones had their hands clasped firmly together behind their heads and were silent. Those guards didn't look so threatening now. Both Zac and Isaac were peering intently at them trying to spot a familiar face.

Neither of them had any luck.

"Where's the Commandant?" said Isaac feeling frustrated. No one answered him.

"Where's that prick with the gun?" said Zac more quietly, Taylor heard him and guessed who he was talking about. He wished he could help.

The hot wind was both annoying and comforting. It was annoying because it blew sand in their faces but it was comforting to be outside in the weather - what ever kind of weather it was. Except of course Taylor, he was sick of deserts absolutely and completely. 'For my next adventure' he thought to himself, 'I think I want a lot of snow.' He laughed quietly at his own little joke. Ahead of them a landing pad of sorts had been created with a portable giant X marking where the choppers were to touch down. Which was exactly what one of them was now doing. Taylor, Zac and Isaac all sensed this was their ticket home.

Captain Flagg confirmed their senses by pointing over at the helicopter and shouting over the noise,

"That's yours. Get in."

Zac watched to make sure that Karen was being bought over to the chopper too and when he saw she was he gladly walked towards it. Taylor and Isaac followed closely behind, both of them using their hands to keep their fiercely whipped up hair from getting in their eyes. As they got closer they got to admire the helicopter they were to ride in. It was an impressive beast, large even by military standards, Isaac wondered what the army actually used it for. The door slid open and Karen's body was slid in on the floor and fixed down with straps. Several other former hostages were climbing in on the other side so Zac ushered his brothers in quickly. He had to make sure he got the window seat this time. Taylor and Isaac climbed up and after getting used to the vibrating body of the machine they strapped themselves into the seats and smiled at the hostages who had joined them.

Zac took one last look around. The mountain looked so.... so unimpressive now that it was crawling with men. He remembered how awe-struck he had been the day he... oh crap!

"Wait here a minute, I'll be back in five!" Zac shouted to Taylor before running off. Taylor couldn't even unstrap himself in time to stop him so he had to lean back and yell into the pilots ear.

"I'm sorry... my brother had to go to the bathroom. Can we wait a few minutes?"

Zac ran past all the soldiers and clambered up the side of the mountain. Nothing not even the heat was going to slow him down. He had one goal in mind. Higher and higher he got with everyone getting smaller and smaller, almost like ants, behind him. But still he kept climbing up the jagged rocks. His shoes were strong enough to grip onto anything now so aside from a couple of crumbling stones nothing hindered him. Zac saw the glistening faintly in the distance and he veered off towards it. Slowly it came closer and closer until finally he stopped and let himself breathe for a minute. The ventilation shaft cover still lay where Taylor had left it, lying shining in the sunlight. And nearby, under a small rock, with it's light still flashing rhythmically on and off Zac found his cellphone. He picked it up his and switched the beacon signal off. Then he put it back into his pocket where it always belonged and climbed back down the mountainside.

Streaming with sweat but happy Zac climbed on board the helicopter.

"I forgot something." he said to his mullet-like dumbstruck brothers as he strapped himself in. Captain Flagg had been waiting outside to shut the door. Before he did Taylor leaned out from his seat and grabbed his hand. He shook it firmly and shouted over the din.

"Captain Flagg it has been a pleasure."

Captain Flagg blushed slightly and smiled.

"I must say the same Taylor, you and your brothers are quite quite extraordinary young men. "

Zac and Isaac and Taylor smiled back.

"Have a splendid trip home." Captain Flagg slid the helicopters door firmly shut and with a slight judder they lifted off the ground.

The mountains passed peacefully underneath as they ploughed through the crystal clear African air. Even the harsh desert looked beautiful from this high up. Small white fluffy clouds dotted the horizon and Zac wondered idly if it was actually going to rain in the Sahara today. Confidently the rotor blades chugged through the air and Zac felt relaxed enough to just watch the scenery passing beneath him with nary a worry in the world. From this high up, what people there were looked like tiny tiny ants. He could see the occasional truck or car travelling across the roads which those brave or foolhardy enough used to cross the desert. One truck seemed to be stopped in the middle of the vast plain. Zac wondered if it was broken down. Maybe he should tell the pilot. Zac saw there were people outside the truck. One of them appeared to be holding something. Zac froze as something leaving a white vapour trail began climbing towards them. He had absolutely no doubt what it was. Zac had just opened his mouth to scream when the missile hit....

Zac woke up with a start. The chopper was still chugging methodically forward. It hadn't been blown up. It was just a dream... He remembered feeling dozy almost straight after take off, he must have dropped off right then. Whoa... that was freaky. He looked at Isaac and Taylor next to him. Both of them were somewhere else too. Taylor looked to be asleep and Isaac seemed to be staring off into space somewhere. He decided for once not to disturb them.

The helicopter landed after about one and half hours in the air. Waiting on the ground at this make shift desert airstrip was the C-130 Hercules aircraft that would take them the rest of the journey. They did have to wait on the ground for about ten or fifteen minutes for another seven helicopters to reach here too. Then there were enough passengers for a full aircraft and the Hercules could take off. As they strapped themselves into the Hercules Isaac pondered the days then the weeks and the months events. This whole thing had been decidedly unHanson like. Not that anyone plans their vacations around international terrorism of course but some people do like to go to danger zones and such for their holidays. Well not the Hansons. They were into safety and reliability and this was a marked departure from all that. But... in its own peculiar way this 'vacation' did have it's merits too. They had met some wonderful people, well actually one wonderful person who had sadly not made it through the whole ordeal. But there was comfort in the fact that they are better off having known her than not having met her at all. And in a way she would be with them always, there are some things you just have a feeling about and Isaac had a strong feeling that after all the discomfort and pain and anguish fades into the dusty background of his memory he will still remember Karen clearly just like the day they met. Because she was special.

Taylor has having more or less the same thoughts as the Hercules lifted off the ground. He wondered whether life was going to be the same as before, whether they can just slot back into routine... whatever that is, and forget this ever happened. I don't think so he thought. This experience had changed him, changed all of them, maybe they were a little bit older, a little bit wiser now. Whether it affects the music or not is something they'll find out in the long run but he couldn't imagine life being quite the same for him or Zac or Ike ever again. That however was something they had gotten used to over the past couple of years. Life changing events had become decidedly frequent as first they got signed to a record contract then the song and the album went through the roof turning them into 'Hanson' the product as well as Hanson the brothers and Hanson the people. This he guessed would just be another event in that long line, something to learn from, to adjust to, something to reflect upon in the future. Karen he knew he would never forget. He wasn't as close to her as either Isaac or Zac but he saw reflected in their faces how much she had meant to them and knowing that she had died to save Zac's life made her fiercely special in Taylor's mind. She would be someone he would remember as an ideal of how good the human spirit can be. Taylor looked at both of his brothers as the plane climbed high into the sky. Both of them were droopy with sleep now and Taylor could feel his own eyelids becoming heavy. He looked at the stress on their faces and wondered if his own looked the same. Just before dropping off to sleep Taylor decided they should travel with their parents on any international routes for the immediate future.....

The plane landed at Algiers approximately five hours later. Isaac, Taylor and Zac slept through the entire flight. Only the thump of the wheels actually touching the runway was enough to wake them up. The route took them to Algiers because it was closer for the planes to fly since they had to go back and forth several times to pick up everybody involved and because the Algerian Government had kindly offered the use of one of their military airports and their best hotels. But anyway... Zac opened his eyes and squinted out the tiny porthole windows of the plane as they taxied across the tarmac. He could see there was a welcoming reception of sorts over by the terminal buildings but he couldn't exactly see who was there. Taylor and Isaac roused too and Taylor adjusted the blanket Zac had wound around himself so it covered up his shoulders properly. He didn't want his brother getting any more burnt.. Zac meanwhile remained oblivious, he was staring at the people waiting on the tarmac...

The plane rolled slowly to a stop and even more agonisingly slowly the back of the plane lowered to the ground. Quickly checking to make sure Karen was being looked after Zac got up and made his way with Taylor and Isaac toward the back of the aircraft. They were all walking slowly unsure of what to expect. The hot Algerian sun shone down on them but compared to the Sahara it was a welcome relief. The sun did make it hard to see anything though and Zac was forced to reach into his pocket and fish out his Ozzy Osbourne glasses. Taylor and Isaac weren't so fortunate. Taylor was still wearing his special forces jump suit although without the helmet which he had left somewhere and Isaac was just dressed normally. Zac blinked a couple of times to clear up his vision then stared deep into the crowd of people waiting for them. Then he saw....

Zac took off running across the tarmac at full speed with that blanket flying out behind him like a cape. Taylor and Isaac took off after him, neither of them was sure why but they trusted their brother's judgement when it came to spontaneously running across foreign airports. Then they saw too....

Zac got there first and threw his arms around his mother's neck. He almost knocked her off her feet with the force of his embrace. Taylor did the same thing for his Dad and Isaac just grabbed them all. Together they enjoyed the most rapturous hug and tears of joy flowed freely down their faces. Zac breathed in the smell of his Mom and felt himself laughing and crying. Shutting his eyes to fully enjoy the moment he murmured,

"Mommy I'm back."

It felt so good.... it felt so good.... it felt SO good.... to be home.