There were always little rituals to be observed and even the smallest of goals to be achieved in the space of a day. They were the routines and the mental talismans that kept Hannah's overactive brain in check and allowed her to manage the obsessive nature of her thoughts from one hour to the next without spinning out of control. Deprived of their comfort and familiar nature she was often scared to imagine what might happen to the complicated interior world that was her own mind.
The chance to leave the backstage area and make it to the tour bus before any of her band mates was just one of those rituals. One that was harder than most to manage and the importance of which would have been lost on the guys with whom she shared the cramped conditions while they were on the road together.
She could have simply made her needs in this area clear to them and they would have probably understood and been accommodating towards her. But there was a deep streak of stubbornness that ran through Hannah's character, only made worse by her obsessive nature and the all too real lack of acceptance for women in the world of a touring band. This kept her from opening up and meant that her problems remained her own.
On another level, it also meant that she had earned a reputation in certain quarters as something of a demanding bitch.
The truth was that she simply felt the need to acclimatise herself to the space in which she would soon be forced to spend the best part of a day with three men before the offending parties arrived on the scene.
Hannah was as close to her band mates as it was possible for her to be on a platonic level and the band prided itself on the fact that they had managed to avoid any messy romances between the members. But no matter how much she loved the men she worked so closely with almost every day of the year, they were still men and there were just some things that one gender needed that were totally alien to the other.
Most of the time she would have been happy to hang around with them, play on the console, swap jokes and maybe even work on a song if the mood took them. It was just a fact of life that she needed no more than a few minutes to, she hated how pseudo-spiritual it sounded, centre herself and see to her more feminine needs. Once that was done she could cope with the testosterone addled minds of the guys and more often than not give back as good as she got.
But that was touring, a fine balance of grasping personal space for mind and body so that you could cope with the body odour, snoring and general mess that the other members of the band generated in order to keep working as a unit rather than descending into a fight over some stupid and pointless issue.
Tonight she had been lucky enough to be able to use one of the inevitable character flaws of the average heterosexual male against her band mates and escape the usual clamour for photos and autographs by the back entrance of the arena. The majority of the fans waiting for them had been female, and while her own admirers were by no means all male, this crowd had been more interested in the other three quarters of the band. No amount of modern male sensitivity and supposed respect for women was going to keep the guys from basking in the adoration of two dozen adoring fans.
Hannah welcomed the feeling of the air con as it hit her and then enveloped her totally with the door sliding closed behind her. She had been raised on the east coast and the ever present heat that some people in other states seemed to take for granted was hard for her to cope with. Coming back to the bus after hours spent in the relentless dry air was a little like coming home and always made her able to begin to unwind.
She savoured every second that she had the cool, shady interior of the bus to herself, thankful for the blacked out windows and the way the sounds outside were blunted and indistinct. As her mind truly started to come down, there was a moment of pause when she realised that someone must have been on the bus while they were still onstage. It was not an unusual thing to happen and she could not see that anything had been disturbed or taken, but still the interior seemed cleaner or less cluttered than she recalled.
It was, she concluded, most likely nothing.
Perhaps one of the crew had been through and tidied on a whim or cleared the space while on an errand for one of the guys.
The only reason she noticed was the damn tendency that she had for obsessing and scrutinizing the smallest detail. Anyone else, anyone normal, would have just walked into the bus and not seen that there was a difference in the way they had left it at all.
Frustrated with her own inability to turn off her thoughts, Hannah slumped onto her bunk and sank her head into the pillow.
She took a deep breath and tried to relax.
It was to no avail as she sat straight back up and stared in surprise at the bedclothes.
They were clean and fresh, as though they had just been laundered.
Now she was irate.
It was another odd little quirk, but she had made everyone who needed to know well aware of the fact that she was in charge of changing her own bedding. Some kids had grown up with security blankets, but Hannah had always been comforted by the familiar smell of her own sheets. It quite weird and more than a little filthy, she was well aware. Never the less she slept far better and woke far more refreshed when she was sleeping on bedclothes that had her own scent well and truly worked into them.
She pulled her satchel out of the locker beneath her bunk, meaning to write an entry in her journal in the hope of getting the emotions out of her system. But when she opened the flap, she found that there was nothing inside save for two or three reams of copier paper, still sealed and unopened. Her books and journal were nowhere to be seen, as if they had been replaced with something of the same size and weight in order to disguise the fact that the real contents had been removed.
Under the same circumstances, another person might have been disturbed by the realisation that their possessions had been tampered with. Hannah was different in that respect, hardened to more than a few years of oddball attention from fans who were more than capable of performing bizarre acts to show their devotion or stealing personal items as souvenirs. She was fairly sure that she could have coped with the bedclothes being taken, but her journal was a step too far.
She tossed the bag onto the floor and stormed the length of the bus, back to the door where she had climbed on board only minutes before. Not in the mood for delicacy, she hammered her foot into the bar that opened the door in a move that she hoped would facilitate her exit from the bus while at the same time bleeding off a small portion of her anger.
In the end it achieved neither as the bar refused to budge an inch and she succeeded only in jarring her ankle in the effort. Hannah tried again, this time pushing the bar by hand. But there was still no movement and the door remained firmly closed.
Before she could ponder the mystery of the uncooperative door any further, Hannah was forced to brace herself against the nearest wall as the bus lurched beneath her feet and the sound of the engine filled her ears. She had spent long enough cooped up in vehicles of its type to be perfectly aware of the sounds and sensations that meant the thing was starting up and preparing to get back on the road.
In that moment, none of it made sense.
Why would someone steal her journal, lock her on the tour bus and then drive the damn thing away while she was still stuck inside? If she was being kidnapped, her abductor had chosen the single most conspicuous vehicle possible to drive her away in. The bus was massive, cumbersome and had the band's livery painted on almost every surface in rather vibrant colours as well.
Hannah's overactive mind clambered over the situation until a thought occurred to her; the bus was the worst choice for a kidnapper, but then there was far more to be said for something that might at first seem to be the tour bus when in fact it was a different vehicle altogether.
It had been the realisation that the objects in the satchel had been almost a perfect match for what she expected to find inside in terms of weight and heft. What if the idea was to simply make the whole thing look like the real bus at first glance? Just enough to fool the eye for long enough so that a trap could be sprung?
She made her way carefully back along the corridor that ran the length of the interior of the bus, stopping to examine things as she passed that had seemed perfectly normal and innocent only minutes before. Guitar case opened to reveal nothing but blocks of heavy plastic moulded in the shape of the absent instruments. Bags that should have contained clothes and shoes were simply stuffed with bundles of fabric that mimicked the form and weight of the items that should have been within. Nothing that she could find inside the bus was as it should have been, noting was genuine and everything was a fake.
By now she was aware of an increase in speed as the bus seemed to have left the relatively narrow streets around the arena behind in favour of more open road. Hannah could only guess that the vehicle had reached the outskirts of the city and was now driving on the multi-lane highways that linked it to the other municipalities in the same state and beyond.
The one thing that she was determined not to do was give in to panic in the face of her being kidnapped. There was no way that she could break the windows of the bus with what she had to hand and she was not about to try to use the intercom to speak with whoever was up in the driver's seat. So she resolved that the only thing she could do for the moment was to keep herself as calm as possible and make her attempt to escape when the bus finally came to a stop and the kidnappers made their next move.
It was times like this that she really regretted the rule the band had stuck to for so long, the one that banned them all from taking mobiles anywhere near the stage. At the time it had been a stroke of genius intended to keep them focussed on the task at hand, but who could have known how it would come back to bite her in such a way?
"Sit down and relax."
The sound of a voice over the intercom took Hannah by surprise, which was only added to by the fact that it was clearly a string of words that had been edited together from a number of different sources. The pitch and volume jumped between each separate word and it was clear that the original source had been taken from a recording of someone singing rather than speaking.
"Believe me, you'll make it easier on yourself if you don't resist."
Hannah realised with a sense of disgust that she was listening to her own voice, chopped and sampled from songs that she had written and performed herself. Whoever was responsible for her abduction was using her own words and even her own voice to urge her to cooperate.
She found the nearest intercom panel and literally pounded on the button that would allow her to speak to the person on the other end. But all that she was rewarded with was the sound of a catch being released perhaps a foot below the intercom itself.
Before she could glance down and see what was responsible for the sound, there was a noise that could have been a sharp shot of air and no more than a fraction of a second later a cold sensation began to spread out from her stomach.
Hannah stepped back a pace and looked down at her abdomen to see a small object pinning her T-shirt to her belly. It was no more than half an inch in length and as she gingerly pulled on one end, a pointed tip emerged from where it had been buried in her flesh a moment earlier.
She had time only to regard the thing for a few seconds, coming to the conclusion that it looked just like a tiny dart even as her thoughts began to grow slow and clouded. The cold sensation had spread through most of her body by that time and as it reached her hands, she dropped the dart onto the floor.
There could not have been another ten seconds between the thing landing and her legs folding under her as she joined it upon the floor of the bus.
The bus pulled off the highway and into a deserted warren of streets that were populated with vacant lots and slowly decaying industrial buildings. There was no sign of a living person for blocks in any direction as it passed and it was alone on those empty streets as it had been on the highway before them.
There had been no reason for anyone to suspect or follow the tour bus, because despite the gaudy livery in which it was covered and the large number of fans that jostled to see the members of the band, there was still a seemingly identical vehicle parked outside the arena from which it had come. A clever trick of switching performed just at the correct moment had allowed this decoy to snare its target and then leave the scene of the crime with no witnesses and arousing no suspicions.
Still alone and unseen, the bus turned off the road and into a nondescript compound surrounded by a chain link fence and characterised by nothing beyond grey concrete in the middle of a landscape that was made of the same material. It came to a halt in front of the only building on the plot, a vast and impersonal block of brick that could have served any number of purposes; such was its anonymous shape and lack of external features. Only a vast sliding door that stood at the top of a wide ramp could be seen as a means of entrance and it was towards this that the bus drove once it was within the limits of the compound.
The door slid open with a speed and silence that was seemingly at odds with its outer appearance of rust and neglect and it was not long before the bus had disappeared inside. As soon as the vehicle was inside, the door began to sweep closed with the same speed, sealing the building and whatever lay inside from the sight of the outside world.
Unforgiving artificial lighting guttered into life, illuminating every corner of the chamber into which the bus had driven. There was no proper way in which the space could have been described as anything but a chamber; it was a vast expanse of grey that stood fully two stories in height and was empty save for its new occupant and a number of metal doors set into the walls at floor level. The only sound was that of the bus as it filled the space with noise that dwindled to nothing as it came to a halt and the engine was brought to a stop.
The bus stood still and silent for a number of minutes until the sound of the nearest door sliding open broke the silence. The way in which the door slid to one side and revealed only a small space beyond instantly gave away the fact that it was the entrance to a lift, rather than simply a portal into another room on the same level. The interior of the lift car was barely large enough to accommodate the two men and the medical gurney that they wheeled out into the chamber; but if they had been cramped during the course of their ride the men made no show of discomfort.
In reality they made no show of emotion whatsoever as their faces were hidden behind breathing apparatus that formed part of the white jumpsuits that each of them wore. The suits covered them from head to toe and made the men appear to be prepped for handling the most hazardous materials imaginable. But there was no sign of danger to them as they made their way quickly to the closest door of the tour bus, making no sign of reaction as the door that had refused to open for Hannah, hissed quietly and swung open at their approach.
One man boarded the bus as soon as he was able and made his way to where Hannah's unconscious form lay, blocking the corridor. As he began to make what looked like a rudimentary examination of her condition, the second man climbed aboard and watched his progress from a distance of a few feet. When the first man looked back over his shoulder and nodded to the second, he closed the space between them and helped as his colleague began to lift the girl gently off the floor.
The first man stepped over Hannah's body and grasped her beneath the arms while the second seized her around the knees. Together they carried her carefully off the bus and laid her on the gurney, taking care to strap her down at the hands, ankles and across the midriff. It was impossible to tell if this was done to keep her from falling off the thing or in order to prevent her struggling should she regain consciousness. Possibly there was a measure of both concerns, but in all likelihood it seemed that the true reason was the latter rather than the former.
With their charge strapped to the gurney, the men retraced their steps to the lift.
Some form of mechanical courtesy that was more often than not absent from such contraptions elsewhere in the world had meant that the door remained open, as if awaiting their return.
They wheeled the gurney inside and flattened themselves against the walls as the doors slid shut once more and the lift began to descend silently into whatever basement levels lay below.
The lift doors opened to allow the gurney to be wheeled out into a corridor so utilitarian and devoid of features that it might have been the interior of a fallout bunker. The same strip lighting as served on the floors above lit the corridor, but down here it did not reach every corner and strange shadows lurked on the edges of vision. There were no marks or signage to differentiate right from left as they emerged from the lift, nevertheless the men took no time to pause as they turned to the left and made their way off down the corridor.
They frequently passed heavy metal doors on either side of the corridor and from behind them were audible only a faint hint of what was going on behind them. The corridor itself was silent apart from the sound of the gurney and the feet of the men as they ignored every passing portal and hurried onwards, making one turn after another seemingly from memory alone.
All at once they stopped, standing before a door no different to the eye than any other.
This one they turned the gurney towards and entered as one opened the door and the other wheeled their charge inside.
With the door closed behind them, the men flipped switches to light the interior of the room.
They were standing in a space that had been fitted with what could have been mistaken at first sight for an operating theatre. There was a metal table in the rough centre of the room and the walls were lined with what could have been diagnostic instruments. But closer examination revealed the lack of any actual medical supplies, no drips, scalpels or clamps could be seen. In addition the devices that could be noted would have been more in keeping with household maintenance, including what looked like adhesive guns, staplers and sheets of plastic or tarpaulin.
The room now fully lit, the men unstrapped Hannah from the gurney and placed her on the table. This done, one of them made a final appraisal of her while the other plucked a clipboard from a nearby work surface and proceeded to scribble down some notes on the paper it held.
Before he was finished making his notes, the door to the room opened and they were joined by four men in theatre robes that seemed to incorporate many of the features of the first men's hazmat suits. The newcomer closest to the man who had been writing on the clipboard plucked it from his hand and made a motion towards the door without a second glance at him.
Without a word or gesture of objection, the first man made his way to the door where he was joined a moment later by the second. Both exited the room, closing the door behind them and leaving Hannah with the new arrivals.
Almost the moment that the original men left the room, those in theatre robes who had been doing little more than standing still all the while, suddenly seemed to come to life as they moved off to different corners of the room and began to prepare various items the purpose of which was truly baffling to the casual observer.