The Distortion Detective

Chapter 1: I Can See the Distortion.

1. Cause / 2. Explanation / 3. Understanding / 4. Acknowledgement

I can see the Distortion, and the Distortion can occur to anyone. I don’t exactly know who coined the term “Distortion” for the phenomenon, but people just started calling it that at some point. No one knows how it works, but the experience so far suggests that this phenomenon is a manifestation of strong emotional desires and explosive surges of feelings.

‘The Pianist’, who, or rather which wreaked havoc on District 9, is known as one of the most notable cases of the Distortion. Not many are aware that smaller cases of the Distortion are happening here and there across the City even now. A person turning into a fish and another one’s eyes being dyed with the hues of the sky are two such examples.

The Distortion appears to me as visual distortions in a literal sense. Although I can see them, they aren’t tangible; in the case of the person whose upper body gradually turned into that of a fish, I could clearly observe scales growing on their body, yet when I touched their skin, I could only feel the soft sensation of a normal human’s skin. Hearing this much, one might think the Distortion is merely an illusion. Well, that would mean I’m simply delusional and suffering from hallucinations, however, I’ve taken up this job because that is not the case.

I am chasing after the Distortion. It’s secretive yet explicit, and it proceeds slowly. For example, the fish person I mentioned earlier, who was dubbed the ‘Merfolk’, underwent gradual changes such as having their eyes protrude, gills appear, and scales grow out of their skin. When their upper body almost completely morphed into the form of a fish, the change physically manifested in a moment’s notice. Only then could others see what had become of the ‘Merfolk’, and physically feel the fishy features of their body.

The ‘Merfolk’ (Case #5) was originally a villager in District 19’s fishing hamlet who was subject to constant abuse. It seemed that they spent most of their time staring into the great lake, yearning to escape from their current life. My conclusion is that they desired to be free from their agonies and saw the lake as a getaway, and that strong longing for water ultimately distorted them into the ‘Merfolk’. Of course, there are many other complicated factors involved, but I’ll omit the details since the Merfolk is not the main subject of my story.

My work is to look out for cases of the Distortion and prevent them. In fact, the progress of the Distortion varies for each person. Ever since I gained this ability to see omens of the Distortion with my eyes, I cannot see a single person who is not distorted in one way or another.

Once again, I don’t have a deeper understanding of the phenomenon or anything. I simply started seeing it one day, and could notice it earlier than others. Since I can see the signs in advance, I do my best to warn people to take preventative measures before it manifests. That is my job. 

I was hired by a firm that had lost several of its staff to the so-called ‘Ascension Incident’, and sought out the employees whose eyes were filled with the sky’s colors. The firm advised them to wear sunglasses. The idea to give them sunglasses so that they couldn’t keep the scenery of the sky in their eyes was so outlandish, it made me chuckle. The sky no longer being blue for them didn’t have much positive impact on their boring lives, but at least they didn’t evaporate anymore.

The people who used to look up at the sky started looking down instead. Perhaps they still wanted to get closer to the sky by going up to the rooftop, or maybe they were just one of the many who chose to jump to death. The City isn’t too interested in what happens after a case has been solved. All they need to know is if the deaths were understandable or not. I’m not a charity worker, so I don’t bother looking into cases of the Distortion I wasn’t asked to investigate, either.

Case #13 - ‘Balloon People’

This case was rather… explosive. I titled this case ‘Balloon People’ because people’s heads quite literally expanded like balloons until they went pop. This cold explosion would cover everything within a 10m radius with blood and blow to pieces everyone in its range as well. A company in O Corp’s Nest finally asked for my help after suffering five instances of those ‘Balloon People’. After some investigation, I found out that all occurrences of this Distortion had one thing in common: they all worked in the service industry.

To interpret a Distortion, you need to combine multiple pieces of evidence. This process consists of four steps: cause, explanation, understanding, and acknowledgement. First, investigate the possible causes of the Distortion, and construct a clear explanation that covers the casual relationship in a convincing manner. Then make the subject understand why they are going through the Distortion, and have them acknowledge that they could fully distort at this rate. If all of these steps succeed, the case is closed. The Distortion is considered “solved” if the subject regresses to a form that looks human enough to me.

Those who became the ‘Balloon People’ used to work in emotionally intense fields such as delivery carriers, nurses, and call center clerks. Particularly, call center clerks had the largest average explosion radius of 16 meters. Some inquiries revealed that another company had subcontracted all customer service calls to one call center. The clerks’ job was to record the claims from clients and send those records to that company. The problem lay in this process. The call center clerks lacked any expertise in the subjects of those complaints, yet they had to endure heaps of insults from their clients, even though there was no use lashing out at them. The clerks were treated like emotional garbage cans, hearing all kinds of abusive language and even threats from clients.

Service workers are compelled to put on a smile and a cheery voice while being a punching bag for others, having no way to vent out their own distress. Such stress would naturally accumulate over time. This resulted in their heads inflating like balloons, all the while they maintained a facade of serenity. They’d end up exploding once their stress reached a breaking point. From that point, my work is simple. I made a list of clerks whose heads appeared inflated to me and sent that to the company. Those clerks then lost their jobs. The company didn’t bother investing any time or effort into shrinking their heads; my work often ends before I can enter the stages of “understanding” and “acknowledgement”.

Simply interpreting the Distortion doesn’t resolve the fundamental issue. Their stress is bound to explode in one way or another, however, such matters didn’t concern my clients much. All they cared about was maintaining this abnormal status quo and evading responsibility for the Distortion, not the cause behind it. I suppose the same can be said of me. I can’t help but keep thinking that we are all missing something important. I believe I’ll be chasing after the Distortion for a while, as every single thing appears distorted to my eyes.

Right now I am looking into a mirror. To my eyes, I’m the only one who doesn’t appear distorted. In a world full of distorted people, could the one person who remains unchanged be the “distorted” one? As I look at all the distorted people, the distorted streets, and this distorted City, I come to think that maybe the whole world is distorted. I can’t fathom what would happen once the distortion of this world continues and reaches a critical point.

Until then, I’ll stay ever vigilant for the Distortion. I am the Distortion Detective.

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