Case: 0 (Annalise Storm Chronicles Book 1)

By May Freighter

Sci-Fi, Thriller

Paperback, eBook

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632
13 mins

Prologue

CCTV March Street CAM, Bronze District, 22:47, March 10, 2330.
The queue outside of the Landon’s bar was nothing new. Chatter filled the air as people conversed about their day. A well-built bouncer stopped a man in his mid-thirties from entering and scanned him with his genetic scanner. Satisfied with the scan’s results, he gave a curt nod and let the man through.
A young brunette bypassed the people who waited in line. Her purposeful stride separated her from the rest as she sashayed her hips. Gasps and quiet murmurs spilt from the bystanders. Ignoring them, she drew closer to the door.
The bouncer glowered at her. “Get out of here beauty. No. Freaks. Allowed.”
Her top lip curled into a sneer, and she spat the words out. “Beauty? Scan me, idiot.”
He pointed the scanner at her chest. The result was displayed on screen in neon-blue text ‘PUREBLOOD, No modifications detected.
Grumbling under his breath, he stepped away from the door, permitting her entry.
The woman flicked her hair over her shoulder and sauntered inside.

CCTV Landon’s CAM 1, 22:52, March 10, 2330.
The patrons eyed her with suspicion. Whispers and exclamations of disgust filled the air as she walked past the tables to the bar in desperate need of a drink. Her hands balled into fists at her sides, and she sat on the hovering stool and waited.
The bartender edged closer. “What would you like?”
“Something strong.” She sighed, and her shoulders slumped. She was a pureblood who resembled an alabaster. Purebloods were rarely beautiful, and she was that rarity. She wanted to claw at her face when she saw it in the mirror. Every person in Silver looked at her as if she was a servant or worse—a worker.
“Just look at her! Someone in her family must have fucked their servant at some point.”
“I bet she went to the Black District to get something done,” someone else added.
Since the Modded Wars, when purebloods won a fifteen-year-long battle for their lives against the genetically modified humans, things had changed. The purebloods gave them a choice: live in servitude or perish. The modded were then labelled and divided into four distinct genetic groups: beast, flare, alabaster and basilisk—each with special traits to benefit the purebloods.
Something hard hit the back of the brunette’s head, and her hand shot to the affected area. Blood tinged her fingers.
“I don’t know how you’ve fooled the scanner, but you’re not welcome here, alabaster!” a woman said, rising from her stool.
Anger bubbled within the brunette. She was sick and tired of being treated as a modded freak, like one of them. Why couldn’t these people believe what the scanner told them and just leave her be? Scanners couldn’t be fooled. They were fine-tuned by the best technicians in the Divinity Police Department.
Her agitation became ire and her body tingled with an unfamiliar sensation as if something climbed in, pushing her out of her shell. She bent over, clinging to her burning chest.
The whispers in the bar morphed into shouts of outrage. More people hurled curses at her, but she no longer cared. She reached for the counter. Her hand slipped, and she tumbled off the stool. Her knees hit the ground hard and her conscience faded—all control gone…
She faced the patrons as her eyes rolled back into her head. Within seconds, she launched forwards. Her hands landed in a woman’s mop of bleached blonde hair, and she yanked chunks of it out.
A deafening scream filled the bar. Eyes of the onlookers bulged, watching the events unfold.
“The alabaster is possessed!” a man in the back shouted.
A few patrons rushed towards her. Others shrieked and ran for the exits or remained seated—too shocked to move.
Strong, masculine hands grasped the brunette’s waist, tearing her off the bleeding blonde. With a wild expression, she kicked and bit anything close enough. A loud wail of frustration escaped her. She turned and plunged her nails into the man’s eyes, bursting the whites in their sockets.
His face contorted with agony. Clear liquid ran down her fingers as he blindly aimed for her neck.
The crowd of men surrounded her. A moment later, their bodies swallowed her small frame whole.

RECORDING DELETED

_______________________

1
Welcome to the DPD

Annalise lifted the new badge off her desk and clipped it onto her belt. Smoothing the material of her white blouse, she checked it for stains.
Today was her first day at the Divinity PD. The Academy went swimmingly, or so she had convinced herself. When it came to department selection, it was up to the person's scores, psych evaluations, and fate. The morning her sergeant handed her the black slip, everything from a torn trousers leg to the dying wrist comms told her that luck wasn't on her side, and she was right. The pity in her sergeant's dark-blue eyes still haunted her.
How bad could the Human Possession Department be?
Annalise took in a deep breath, pushing away unprofessional thoughts. She made her way to the living room and entered the open-plan kitchen.
Mavel, her beast and servant, waited for her by the kitchen island. He sipped coffee from his mug. His attention was on the digital projection of the Divinity News playing out on the wall.
From where she stood, he seemed almost human. His honey-brown hair was tied in a ponytail. If his face remained hidden, she would think he was unmodded. Yet, it was a lie she liked to tell her nervous heart when he was around. Mavel's cat-like, silver eyes informed any pureblood of what he was.
“Are you going to stare at me all morning?” he asked with a quirked brow.
Annalise poured a cup of coffee. She inhaled the pleasant aroma, letting it draw her further into an awakened state. “I could stare at you all day, but I doubt you'd let me.”
Mavel chuckled. The sound warmed her heart, so she pretended to focus on the mug in her hands.
He pointed at the screen. “There was a mass murder in the Bronze District. It says Landon's had a possessed alabaster sneak in.”
Wide-eyed, Annalise glanced past him at the nattering reporter. The longer the woman talked, the deeper her frown grew.
“I was there a few weeks ago,” she said. “With only one way in and Tim on duty with a scanner, that's improbable.”
He shrugged. “Well, either the modded drilled a hole in the concrete wall or the report is a hoax.”
“It can't be a joke. No pureblood can be possessed.”
Mavel said nothing. He finished his cup in a large mouthful. “You've got five minutes before we have to leave, princess.”
Pouting, Annalise crossed her arms. “You know I hate that nickname.”
“You're the daughter of the most influential politician in Divinity who also lives in one of the Towers. Tell me again how you're not a princess?”
Her anger sparked, and heat from her mug burned her palms. She jerked them away, gritting her teeth to keep from adding anything that could ruin the day.
Mavel knew exactly how to push her buttons which was part of the reason why she never told anyone about her feelings for him. The other part was that she couldn't love him. He was modded. Any relationship with him would result in her being cast out to the Green District. Plus, his playful demeanour had become impossible to read. She didn't want to be hurt again. Not after a painful heartbreak. Granted, she broke the guy's jaw afterwards, but it made her heart ache every time she recalled the unpleasant memory.
Closing her eyes, she concentrated on staying calm. It helped. She took a slice of buttered toast and wolfed it down along with her coffee.
“Shall we go then?” she said, her mouth still half-full.
He shook his head, his lips quirking upwards. “I am always right behind you.”
Annalise rolled her eyes. In the Academy, they were separated into modded and pureblood groups. They spent four years apart, and he could only visit during the holidays or in emergencies. A system she saw as nothing more than a tool to further segregate their society.
A light smile crept onto her lips as she thought of him finally being by her side. He could live with her, and she could see him whenever she pleased.
“Annalise, where is your coat?” Mavel asked, drawing her out of her reverie.
She yanked the black trench coat off the hanger. “I was about to grab it…” While she shrugged it on, they stepped out of the apartment into the white-and-gold hallway, spanning the thirtieth floor of Tower One.
Mavel stopped by the lift, and she raised her hand to the palm scanner. The glass doors slid open, permitting them entry. With the upgraded ETek mechanisms, it didn't take long to descend thirty storeys and arrive in the underground car park.
“I'll drive,” he said, aiming for her car amidst the sea of silver and black vehicles.
As the distance between them grew, she couldn't help staring at the way his body moved with perfect fluidity. The modded certainly had their advantages.
When she clambered in, the onboard computer came to life with a cheerful feminine voice. “Welcome, Ms Storm. Your destination, please?”
“DPD,” Annalise replied, drumming her fingers on her thigh and staring out the window.
“Voice identification complete and destination acknowledged. Have a good day, Ms Storm.” The computer switched into manual and released the steering wheel for Mavel.
Soon, the seemingly endless ocean of cars and concrete pillars became the streets of the Golden District with the Sapphire River flowing through the centre of it. The water in the sunlight appeared blue which was why the city's founding ancestors named it so after the wars. Golden District remained a place where the most influential purebloods lived with their servants. No workers—modded who decided to live a free life outside of contractual servitude—were permitted to enter Silver or Golden. They belonged to the Bronze and Green, or as the modded called it the slums.
Mavel eased them onto the highway and the best view in Divinity became visible to her. The Golden District had tall, ebony, glass-and-steel structures reaching for the sky but never brushing a single cloud. None could be taller than ten storeys as it would block the view for the rich and powerful citizens living in the Towers. The only exception remained the ETek corporate building. The corporation designed most of the technology in the city and had express permission from the government to build whatever they liked. A stupid rule she never understood. Since Divinity had a population of three million, there should have been more floors to house more people. Yet, the rich remained adamant on the matter to keep the scenery clear, and her father, William Storm, was one of them.
Mavel slowed their car at the bridging point between the Silver and Golden. Titanium gates prevented them from progressing further while scanners ran over the vehicles and the passengers inside.
He glanced her way. “Are you nervous?”
When she didn't detect any humour in his deep voice, she returned his penetrating stare. “A bit, why?”
“The HPD is not a place where you can make a career for yourself, Annalise. You could have asked your father to use his influence and help you change—”
“That's out of the question. I have chosen this path, and I will stick to it!”
Mavel sighed as his fingers clenched around the steering wheel. “I simply don't want you to regret your decision later on.”
“And what would you know about HPD that I don't? Sure, they handle a lot of strange cases. Possession remains an unknown entity to us since it began over a century ago, but I'm certain we'll be…I'll be fine.”
Mavel didn't seem convinced. Nonetheless, the clearance light came on and the gates unlocked. He drove through the bridging point in silence.
Twenty minutes later, he parked in front of the DPD headquarters in Silver. Annalise assessed the seven-storey circular architectural masterpiece as officers dressed in a black uniform walked in at their own pace.
Mavel's heavy hand landed on her shoulder. “You will be fine, Annalise. If anyone tries anything, I'll protect you.”
A scowl contorted her face. Mavel was over six feet. When comparing it to her five-foot-four frame, she had to admit she appeared like a little girl preparing for her first day at school. Perhaps the reason she wasn't intimidated by his tall frame and broad shoulders was because they had been together since she was five. That and she trained hard at the Academy. Although she was useless in Political Studies and memorising historical events, she managed to prove her combat skills. The instant she chose to become an officer of the law, she committed to it.
Annalise punched his shoulder. “Worry about yourself. I can manage anything that comes my way.”
Upon entry, she passed through the biometric scanner and showed her badge to the guard. Once Mavel's turn came, the scanner beeped the second he drew close to it.
The guard walked around his desk. “ID, beast.”
Annalise opened her mouth, ready to defend him, when Mavel stopped her by offering the guard his credentials.
“You're clear. Next time make sure to use the different entry point. All servants pass through the scanner over there.” The guard pointed to a small entrance on the left-hand side of the ground floor.
As he did so, a woman with waist-long, raven hair came in. Her golden, cat-like eyes fit well with her dark skin tone. Their eyes locked, and she smirked.
The woman walked to the first checkpoint. She showed her ID at the one-way mirror. After the light above her head changed to green, she advanced to a biometric scanner that flashed over her body. Another light changed colour and she passed through a metal detector that activated an alarm. A security guard started rising from his chair when she pulled out a pair of titanium handcuffs from her back pocket.
“Nothing to worry about, sir,” she said to the guard.
Someone chuckled behind Annalise, and she glanced over her shoulder.
“She's at it again.” A tanned man with two days’ worth of stubble smiled back at her. His shaggy hair fell over his grey eyes when he tilted his head to one side. “I haven't seen you around. I'm Rios Blanc and that's my servant, Des. We are in the HPD.”
“Nice to meet you,” Annalise replied and looked back at Des.
Rios' beast blew the guard a kiss before she waved her goodbye and joined the group. She was taller than Annalise by a few inches. Golden eyes roamed Annalise's body, settling on her chest. “Are you picking up another chick? Isn't this one a tad too flat for your tastes?”
Rios snorted and patted Annalise on the head. Feeling nothing short of a child, she stepped out of his range.
“Don't worry, Des is always like that,” he said.
Mavel stepped closer and growled his next words. “Don't touch her.”
“A possessive beast in the DPD… That bodes well. I hope you passed all the psych evals,” Rios said.
“Don't agitate him and you’ll be fine,” Annalise retorted.
“Oh?” Rios’ thick brow arched. “We all know the modded can't harm purebloods. If he does, he will face charges that may cost him his life.” He wrapped his arm around her shoulders, pulling her close.
Blood drained from her face as she considered Rios' words. Even though over two hundred years had passed since the Modded Wars, the genetically modified humans were still treated as the minority. With the unsettling thought plaguing her mind, she shook him off and moved closer to Mavel who continued glaring at the man's back.
Rios led the way to the lifts. With a gentlemanly bow, he motioned for her to go ahead. “Which floor, lady?”
“I'm not your 'lady'. I'm Annalise Storm and this is Mavel. Starting today, we are part of the HPD, too.”
Rios smirked. “So you're the junior Chief mentioned at the last briefing… At least, I get to brag I was your first.”
Annalise gaped at him. “You were my what?”
He winked. “The first team member you've met.”
Des snickered next to him.
Annalise locked her jaw, stopping her need to snap at him. Hopefully, not everyone in HPD is as strange as these two.
Mavel's trembling hand landed on her lower back. He could lose control with Rios around. Without looking up, she knew the murderous look he would be wearing. Forgetting her earlier irritation, she studied the lift buttons and prayed the numbers would change quicker.
To her relief, the strange duo changed the topic to their pool game from the previous night, and Mavel’s posture visibly became unburdened.
After arriving on their floor, Des led the way down the corridor to the Human Possession Department.
Observing her surroundings, Annalise tried to memorise the layout. A few framed pictures of different esteemed officers hung on the wall with their name and rank etched into golden plaques.
They walked into a spacious room with six desks and a small sectioned off office at the far end. The top two desks were packed with enough tech and paperwork on them to topple over. The one on her left was occupied by a man who couldn't be older than thirty. He reclined in his chair. In his left hand, he held an open manila folder. Deep in thought, he poked his full lips with a stylus held between his long fingers. His dark hair was cropped close to his scalp and his eyes scanned his notes.
At a desk across from him, a slim blonde read a paperback book with enough blood and guts on the cover to make Annalise's stomach churn. Annalise couldn't figure out why both of them were using paper instead of their terminals on their desks. Were there cuts in the budget? Then again, they may have forgotten what a terminal looked like with the amount of things clustering their workspace.
The woman lowered the book and rose from her seat with the grace of a panther. Her wheat-coloured bob with red highlights hugged her oval face. She studied everyone with curiosity.
Their eyes met, and Annalise knew she was a flare. Their genetic trait was crimson irises and an ability to read and induce emotions. They were the rarest of the modded, even rarer in a Police Department since they preferred to stay secluded. Some even ended their lives early if they were unable to control their abilities.
“The new guys are here,” she announced, sounding bored.
The man at the desk glanced up from his paperwork. He tossed his file aside and walked over. The material of his grey shirt was stretched around his biceps and chest. His body was bigger and broader than Mavel's, although their height remained the same.
“I'm Jamen,” he said, offering his hand. “And this is my partner, Calla.”
Mavel shook hands with them.
Annalise studied the woman. She was pretty, but not alabaster-beautiful. Her willowy form seemed almost fragile, and Annalise knew too well she wouldn't have been allowed into the Department if she didn't pass all the stamina and strength tests. What more could she be hiding?
Rios scratched his head and flopped into a chair by the window. “Guess I better start on my report.”
“Did Chief already assign you to the Landon's case?” Jamen asked.
“Yeah, I've been awake all night looking through the CCTV footage. The finale of it is missing for some reason,” Rios replied.
“Missing?” Calla asked, curiosity lacing her voice.
Rios winked. “Sorry, luv, the rest is on a need-to-know basis. Chief doesn't want me spilling the beans to everyone. Same goes for you, Des, mouth zipped about this one.”
“I believe our Chief said that to you personally,” Des replied with a cocky smile and took her place at the desk across from him.
Annalise guessed the last two empty desks belonged to her and Mavel, or they would if she managed to get past everyone. “Mavel—”
He met her gaze, and they brushed past Jamen and Calla. They headed for what seemed to be the Chief's office at the back. Lifting her hand in the air, her heart kicked into another nervous dance only, this time, it had nothing to do with Mavel being next to her. Drawing in a steadying breath, she knocked on the glass.
A rumbling voice ordered for her to enter.
They inched inside and waited for the man on the other side to finish his call. Upon closer inspection, Annalise noted he was in his fifties. Chief Kevin Sunderland sat behind a desk too small for his generous weight. The buttons of his snug pink shirt stretched over his belly.
He finished his call by tapping his wrist comms and lifted his piercing pale-blue eyes to meet hers. “I take it you're Annalise? Great, I'll skip the tutorial stage as I expect the Academy had taught you enough to handle minor cases. You'll be assessed by Jamen for the duration of this case.” With his chubby fingers, Chief handed her a digital tablet he had laying on his desk. “This is your case zero, Storm. It'll be your test to see if you truly fit into this division.”
She stared at him in disbelief. In her hands, she already held a case. Just how unorthodox was the HPD? Usually, new detectives and officers had to shadow their seniors for three to six months, depending on the department, prior to being allowed to lead a case.
“But—”
“What are you standing around for? Get moving and talk to your superior.” Chief huffed and dismissed them with a flick of his hand.
“Understood,” she mumbled and walked out of his office, dumbfounded.
Calla glided over. “He's a charmer, I know. Well, don't look so worried. If you have any questions regarding the procedure, I'm willing to help.”
“Thanks.”
“But, I have a condition…”
“Don't do it,” Rios shouted from his desk. He was already reclining as far as the seat would let him with a purple eye mask covering half of his face.
Calla grinned like a mischievous little girl. “All I want is to get any and every image of the dead you find. Disassembled bodies are fine, too. The more blood the better.”
Annalise grimaced. Why would anyone willingly want to stare at those things? During her second year at the Academy, they had to study Criminology and were forced to assess images of crime scenes. The labs had vents through which a gas was pumped to simulate the smells. The majority of the students brought their own bags to puke into. Those who didn't, well, the cleaners had a lot to deal with at the end of each session.
Mavel nudged her side. “We should speak to Jamen.”
“Yes, we should.”
Trying her best to avoid touching any of the paperwork, she beamed at her superior and offered him the tablet. “This is the case we are going to work on together. Is there anything I need before we head out?”
Jamen mumbled something and tossed his case file atop of the wobbly pile. “Follow me. I have to acquaint you with AID and then we can get your gun issued.”
Annalise frowned. “AID?”
As Jamen marched towards the door, he said, “It's short for Artificial Intelligence of Divinity. We use it to upload data to the DPD servers when we’re on the go. It can record witness statements as well as be your personal time manager.”
She hastened her steps to try to match his strides. Mavel, on the other hand, had no trouble keeping up.
They headed down the corridor, and Jamen said, “AID organises your cases by updating them. If you want to access any cases from the past, you will need to do so from here. So, outside of the headquarters, you only have access to the current case until Chief closes it or sends it to someone else.” Jamen faced her. “Am I talking too fast?”
Annalise shook her head, and they filed into a lift.
“Good”—he pressed the 'F-1' button on the panel—“because I don't like repeating myself.”




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