First place story
By Jill Ellis
In an unknown galaxy, unknown solar system. MC (main character) lives on planet with 2 moons, 1 made out of ice, 1 solid. Mined for water and precious metals and minerals.
Main species of this planet are very resilient in nature and can overtime regrow their limbs and parts back if mutilated.
Experimental drug gives control over evolution and triggered by digestion. Whatever you eat/consume, the essence and power of that you ate evolves in you due to regrowing/healing ability.
Bat ears = ecolocation ability, owl eyes = night vision, blood = recent memories and strength.
Negative aspect of this “infection” is the hangover which manifests after the consumption is wore off. Owl eyes = craving rodents, bat brain = craving and hunting flies/bugs.
MC: in late 20s, has 1 close writer/reporter friend, no family. Father used to be local known boxing coach.
There’s an underground market for fresh animal bits, organs.
Local gang/mafia who controls the shipping business and they have members who are affected by this experiment that was illegally conducted on prisoners. There’s conspiracy about the origin of the substance being the main planet, occupied by higher evolved “species”
MC: in pursuit of finding the origin of this substance when neighborhood kids/children started to go missing, possibly for harvesting blood.
The buzz from the bathroom light helped drown out the chaotic city sounds from outside of Darius’s small one bedroom apartment as he shaved off the two-day-old growth from his jaw. It wasn’t that he deplored the noise, but rather needed moments to recharge and focus. He was working a case for a client from the main planet, which meant a large paycheck at its conclusion. The problem, however, is that all his leads were dead ends and he was forced to find a new approach.
“I wonder if I could call in a favor with Chel,” Darius pondered to his reflection.
The overhead light quieted and shut off, mid-stroke of the blade. “Motherfucker!” Darius exclaimed as he heard the blood drip from his chin into the sink. He dropped his razor and banged his fist against the wall. “Can you please keep the lights on for a full day?!” he shouted at the landlord who resided in the apartment above his.
Grabbing the towel from the rack beside the sink, Darius walked to the front door and opened it. The first sun had just set, but the second had risen high enough above the horizon to allow him to see the surrounding city. Several of his neighbors exited their apartments, too, and had a similar gaze into the distance.
“Think the whole grid is out this time,” the man from two doors down said to his wife.
Darius rolled his eyes at the news and returned inside to throw on a shirt. He didn’t have time to sit around and wait for the power to be restored; he would find something to eat later.
| * | * | * |
“I haven’t heard anything about missing ore, Dar,” Chel explained as she shuffled through papers on her desk. Her office was wired into the city’s backup system, so she had the luxury of being able to see what she was rifling through. “The mafia’s supposed underground commodities market is all I’ve been researching lately. Did you know that they’re dealing in animal parts now? I thought the black market for main world technology was lucrative enough. Why are they peddling eyes and brains and blood?”
It would be easy for someone to tune out Chel’s ramblings as she pushed papers around her messy desk and muttered to herself, but Darius listened closely because she often gave him insights that were useful for cases when she went on rants about her stories she was researching. “You have a contact in the mafia, if I remember correctly,” Darius interjected as he handed Chel a piece of paper with scribbling on it.
“Ah ha!” she exclaimed. “You are the best detective I know,” she gushed, but her eyes were skimming her notes.
“I’m the only PI in the quadrant,” Darius reminded her. “But about that contact?”
“Oh, right. Barlow is the scheduler for shipments between Arcadia and here.” Chel wrote down an address on a blank piece of paper. “He probably won’t freely give you information, but I know you can negotiate with the best – or worst – of them.” Chel finally looked up at Darius and frowned. “Why haven’t you eaten today? You know that cut won’t heal properly if you skip meals.”
Darius took the paper and shrugged. “What’s another scar? I’ll grab something later. Maybe Barlow will have some spare eyes I could swallow.”
Chel scrunched her nose. “Disgusting. We’re still on for tonight, right?”
Darius smiled for the first time that day. “Pool hall at seven. Maybe you’ll have a chance of winning if there’s no power.”
Darius traditionally stayed out of the way of the mafia’s business. They controlled the shipping routes between the moons and the planet, and always turned down cases that involved investigating them. He had learned through his father’s unfortunate dealings with them that you don’t stick your nose in their business without risking a limb or three. While that isn’t much of a threat to a species that can regenerate body parts, it was enough for Darius’s father to lose his life.
“What happened, Daddy?” the eight year old boy asked as his father instructed him on how to prepare food. The boy was used to seeing his father return from working at his gym with bruises and cuts, but that night his father was dropped off at their door with a missing leg, a missing arm, and an ear cut off. The young boy had to help drag his father inside.
“Nothing to worry about, Dar. I just need you to prepare the food like I’m saying,” his father explained calmly, masking all pain he felt. He was the champion boxer of Arcadia and was used to enduring pain, but he could feel his life force rapidly depleting from the extreme loss of blood.
“Okay,” Darius replied timidly, unable to stop himself from glancing at his deformed father.
Darius was orphaned within a week of the incident. It was the reason Darius became a private investigator, to get to the bottom of his dad’s death. When he discovered that the mafia had done that to his father when he refused to throw a fight that they’d invested heavily in, Darius of course tried to get justice. Instead, he ended up missing a hand. Chel was there to take care of him through his recovery, but he’d promised her he’d steer clear of their business in the future.
Chel wasn’t Darius’s girlfriend, not anymore. They were seeing each other briefly when he had his run-in with the mafia, but they decided together that their relationship was best kept at the friend-level. Not that they didn’t occasionally blow off some stress in each other’s company, but it was strictly a platonic friendship.
Darius glanced down at the scar on his wrist left over from the last time he meddled in mafia affairs before walking up to the short, stocky man directing the work at the space dock.
“Ahem.” Darius cleared his throat to get the attention of the animated man. “You’re Barlow, correct?”
“I don’t have time to discuss employment,” he said dismissively.
“I’m here to find some more information about the missing ore shipment. It departed Eudora two -.”
Barlow scowled and grabbed Darius’s arm, pulling him off to the side. “I only schedule shipments between Arcadia and here. Anything concerning Eudora and the main planet should be taken up with the consulate there.”
Darius narrowed his eyes. “But I didn’t say the shipment was going to the main planet. You are going to tell me what you know or you might find the health inspectors taking a closer look at the dealings in the underground.”
Barlow’s mouth opened like he was about to say something, but then closed again. He motioned his head for Darius to follow. The two walked away from the dock workers and entered a small, cluttered office that would make Chel’s desk at work look organized.
“You should write off that shipment and go about your business,” Barlow instructed.
Darius sat on the edge of the desk. “My business is finding that ore. It’s in your best interest to tell me what I want to know.”
Darius gazed down at the planet as the transport ship carried him from his home moon of Orella to Syberna, AKA the icebox. As a young orphan living on the streets, he would often wonder what his life would’ve been like if he was born on Zion where the elite lived. In his fantasies, there were no orphans, no crime, and would’ve had a nice home and a comfortable bed to sleep in – and two living parents. As an adult, however, he was happy to remain on Orella. Life was hard, but at least he wasn’t a pretentious, elitist prick like all of his clients from there.
After some persuading, Barlow gave Darius just enough information to chase a lead to the icebox. The majority of the few occupants of Syberna were scientists. Darius was en route to meet with the director of the Syberna Research Institute. What they had to do with missing ore escaped Darius, but he was hopeful he’d soon find the answers.
Departing from the ship, Darius shivered for a moment until his body adapted to the extreme cold. It was a short walk from the depot to the largest of the few buildings in town. With the research institute funded by Zion, the building – both inside and out – looked like it had been transported from the planet directly. The entire structure was made of beautifully tinted glass, with black marble floors and indoor plants that Darius had only seen in pictures of Zion.
Being that there were very few visitors, there wasn’t a receptionist to greet Darius when he entered. He took the liberty of finding his way around the building. At the end of the hall on the top floor, a door opened up into a large, richly furnished office. After a brief knock and no reply, Darius entered the office.
Books lined the shelves on the three walls with the fourth being a wall of glass that gazed out on Zion in the distance. A microscope was set up next to the desk that was neatly organized with files. Darius took the liberty of opening the top one and was skimming through the first page when a woman with black hair entered.
“Who are you and why are you in my office?” she demanded, quickly crossing the room to put her hand on the file Darius was perusing.
“I’m Darius from Orella. Barlow said he’d send word that I was on my way,” he explained as he studied the woman. She was attractive, he had to admit, even with her lab coat on. He was a leg man and she definitely had plenty to see coming out of her tight pencil skirt. But he wasn’t there to flirt and internally composed himself.
“Barlow…,” she pondered aloud. “Oh wait, isn’t he one of the shipping coordinators in Eudora?”
“Drustva, actually, but yeah.”
“I’m too busy to be bothered with details of the shipments. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to leave now,” the woman demanded.
“Ms. Truella,” Darius said without following the gesture she was making towards the door. “I have some questions about the ore that went missing from a shipment between Eudora and Zion and have been told that you can provide answers.”
The woman scowled and rounded her desk to sit in the leather chair. “You got bad information. We don’t deal with ore here. I’m sorry, but you’ve wasted both our time.”
Darius tapped the file as he stared at the woman. “Your experimental analysis says differently. I don’t plan on leaving without answers.”
“Is there a problem, Director Truella?” a man asked from behind Darius.
Darius turned his gaze from the woman to size up the intruder. While Darius wasn’t as skilled of a fighter as his dad had been, he was more than capable of handling himself in most situations. Unfortunately, Darius didn’t think this would be a usual situation. The man looked more like a beast than a man, standing slightly hunched over, but still looked to be at least a head taller than Darius. His muscular forearms were nearly completely covered in hair and they lead to biceps that were larger than Darius’s thigh.
“Please escort this gentleman out. We’ve concluded our business.”
Darius whipped his head back around. “I have more questions and you haven’t given me any answers.” The beastly man grabbed Darius’s arm with an aggressive grip and probably would’ve dragged him out if Darius hadn’t stood voluntarily.
“I’m afraid I don’t have any answers you’re looking for,” the woman said as Darius was being lead out of the office.
As the two approached the elevator, Darius tugged his arm away from the man. “I’m leaving,” he huffed and hit the elevator button while the beast towered over him. Darius thought he heard the man growl, but then was distracted as the sound of Ms. Truella’s voice faintly echoing down the hallway.
“Yes, make sure they’re compensated. I will sign off. We don’t need any more attention brought to the center.” “Yes, it’s been taken care of.”
“Is your boss always this accommodating?” Darius asked the man as the elevator door closed and started to descend. The only response he got was a grunt.
The second sun was starting to set as Darius exited the building. It would be dark soon and without a place to stay the night, he’d have to return to Orella. Besides, without access to the institute, he was at another dead end on Syberna with the only information he’d gathered was the probable location of the missing ore and some scientific data from the report he skimmed. While he wasn’t a scientist, he knew they were extracting substances from the ore, but couldn’t fathom what for. Maybe Chel would have a scientist in her list of contacts that he could use.
“Oh shit. Chel’s probably wondering where I am,” Darius said aloud to no one as he walked towards the space dock to await transport back to his home. He pulled out his phone and saw three missed calls from Chel. Without checking his voicemail, he called her back.
“Hey, sorry. I got caught up in business on the icebox,” Darius immediately explained.
“Didn’t you listen to my message? I have to work and this time I need your help. I left the details in the message. Can you meet me at my office?” Chel asked hurriedly.
“Yeah, sure. Everything okay?” Darius said.
“Just listen to the message. I’ve gotta run now. I have to interview some parents.” Chel hung up the phone before Darius could ask her any more questions.
Darius was about to listen to Chel’s message when another phone call came in. “Hello?”
“I’m glad I caught you, Mr. Darius. It seems my ore has shown up and I won’t need your services anymore. I’ll wire you money to cover your costs.”
“You found your ore?” Darius questioned.
“Oh, yes, yes. It was all a misunderstanding. Thank you again for taking my case. Goodbye.”
Darius felt something was off with this. While he should probably let it drop, he knew he had to get to the bottom of things.
The situation Chel was dealing with was right up Darius’s alley. Local children kept going missing. First it was one or two that lived in a group home, but when one of the more influential families reported their son missing, it caught the attention of the media.
Cops were on nearly every street that Darius traveled down, but thanks to some insight Chel gave him that she’d received from talking to four families with a child missing, Darius was taking a different approach than the police; he was not bound by their regulations or protocol.
“Who hired you?” Darius growled as he leaned into the man he’d pinned to the wall in an alley.
“Look, man, a job dropped and I took it. I never know who the employer is and don’t care to ask.”
Darius remained calm, but wrapped his hand around the man’s throat. “You’re going to tell me where you took the kids or I’m going to snap your neck.”
“The old ore reclamation building,” the man managed to whisper despite his constricted throat.
Darius released the man who immediately started gasping, and briskly walked away. “If this is a trap, I’m going to make sure you don’t get any more jobs,” Darius called back before rounding the corner.
“*It’s got something to do with those animal bits they’re selling. Rumor has it they need fresh blood now.*” Darius recounted the chilling details Chel had provided as he approached the rusted door of the old building.
Listening before he entered, Darius could hear scratching noises that anyone else would’ve discounted as animals inside. The image of the beast man from the research institute flashed through Darius’s mind and he wondered if there was a group of people with similar stature inside. He unholstered his laser pistol before kicking the door open. He was blind except for the street lamp that illuminated the very entrance, but as soon as the door closed, it was impossible to see if there was anyone else in there.
Darius listened again, looking with limited results around the open room he’d entered. In the far corner, he noticed four red lights – no, they were eyes – watching him. Bats? he pondered and walked carefully in their direction.
When he was within five feet of the red glow, there was a hiss followed by an ear piercing screech. As Darius reached to cover his ears, he was knocked to the ground and dragged deeper into the darkness. Perhaps it was his failing consciousness that made it seem darker, but within moments, it didn’t matter – he was out cold.
Darius didn’t know how much time had passed, but he awoke with his head throbbing and the lights in the room were extremely bright. When he tried to reach to rub his eyes and head, he noticed he was strapped to a chair. He blinked several times to adjust his eyes to his foreign surroundings – a laboratory of some kind – and no one else was around. An IV had been placed in his left forearm with an unknown milky substance draining from a bag into his body.
For what felt like hours, Darius struggled to free himself with no success. Finally, a woman in a lab coat approached the door and entered. Darius blinked again and scowled as he made out the figure. “Ms. Truella,” he said flatly.
“You should’ve stayed out of this,” she chastised. “Now you will have all the answers by becoming what you sought.”
Darius growled and struggled some more. “The children?”
“They’re not your concern anymore.”