TWENTY MINUTES INTO TERROR

-Chapter 1: Hostage Crisis at Think Tank-

"Maybe you should attend that College Reunion Think T-T-T-Tank," Max suggested as Bryce went over a new program on his computer. "If nothing else, you'll p-p-p-probably spike the intellectual percentiles-tiles."

"Did that when I was eleven," Bryce said with a shrug, returning his attention to the screen which was now showing a rainbow of colors that nobody had ever seen before.

"Might want to ch-ch-check them again-gain," Max pointed out. "You never know if someone else might have messed it up up up. Nice colors. You got names for them?"

"No," Bryce admitted. "To most people they don't even exist. Only a select few can actually see them. Others will see colors that are similar but not the same."

"So, are you going to go?"

"Huh?" Bryce blinked. Then he remembered. "Oh, the Think Tank. Yeah, I guess I'll go. It's either that or try not to get a headache listening to one of the board's hare-brained schemes again."

"As oppose to yours?" Edison inquired from the doorway.

"I'll have you know that my schemes come from the finest hares," Bryce boasted with a smirk in his eyes.

"You need a ride to that college reunion of yours?" Edison asked.

"I think you'll be reporting when it's going on," Bryce said.

"I don't feel good about you being on the street alone," Edison told him. "I'll have Rik give you a ride."

"The guy who took us to Big Time during the Security Systems incident?" Bryce shivered involuntarily, remembering the time he and Edison had spent in the thermal testing chamber.

"Yeah. He's okay. I trust him with you."

"Thanks, Edison," Bryce said, getting back to what he had been doing.

At ten past four, Bryce arrived at the Academy of Computer Sciences. He hurried up the school steps and hurried into the building.

Rik waited nearby in his rickshaw. Edison had paid him top dollar to remain in the area and wait for Bryce.

"He's not very street-smart, Rik," Edison had said. "Keep an eye out for me, okay?"

Rik had agreed. For friendship. Of course the hundred dollars in street cash had sweetened the deal a bit.

He was checking his tires when he heard a lot of running feet. Looking up, he saw a group of about eight men running into ACS.

The men were dressed in what looked like army fatigues. But Rik knew they weren't soldiers. No soldier wore his fatigues the way these men were wearing them. The sleeves had been torn from the shirts and jackets. Black and green bands were criss-crossed over their exposed arms. They carried bayonets and Brownings as the raced past the rickshaw driver.

Rik ran to the nearest rack of TVs, staying low and trying not to be seen.

"Max!" he said. "Max Headroom! Max Headroom!"

"That's my- that's my- that's my name," Max said, finally appearing. "What's up?"

"We got a bad situation at ACS," Rik said. "Several armed men just ran inside. I don'tů"

Gunfire could suddenly be heard despite the bricks and mortar. Windows blew out as an explosion rocked the building. There was a larger explosion and the front entrance hall was completely destroyed.

"Bryce!" Max screamed. "Rik you've got to find him!"

"There's no way I can get in," Rik apologized. "You'd better tell Edison what's happened."

Inside the remains of the building, two soldiers flanked the outside of the door to the auditorium where the Think Tank was being held. Inside the door, two more soldiers stood guard. All four were heavily armed. Nobody was getting in or out.

The leader of the terrorists, a man in his mid thirties with fierce eyes, a balding head and a five o'clock shadow, barked orders to his men as the reunion attendees were forced to lie face down on the floor near the desks. Ropes were tied around their necks, uncomfortably tightly, but not quite enough to make them pass out. Then the ropes were tied to the bottoms of the legs of the desks. The teens' arms were tied behind their backs and blindfolds were place over their eyes.

The leader of the terrorists began to shout. But the words were in a foreign language that most of the teen geniuses present didn't recognize.

Bryce understood the language, but didn't know it well enough to reply. He wondered if anyone else had.

"Na qibal samajna Urdu," Jenny said. "English."

Two of the men began to argue violently for several minutes.

Finally one of them turned to the anxiety-ridden teens.

"Okay, you want it in English. You get it in English. We are going to kill two of you every hour, one boy and one girl, until our demands are met. We will give your networks one hour to receive, read, and reply. Then we start."

"I think I liked it better in Urdu," Bryce remarked as he, Jenny, and the others waited, wondering which of them would be shot first.

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