The ride is surprisingly comfortable. Vespa was right in that I wouldn’t be disappointed in his driving skills. A good vehicle has met an excellent driver.
We’re quietly driving along the highway leading to L Corp’s Nest. In the back seat, I opened the envelope Han Hee-joon gave me. It’s a brief report on the Nest and the Laundry of Dreams. The Distortion is located in the Backstreets of Nest L, situated in the southern part of the City. The Nest is currently covered in a veil of fog due to the fall of Lobotomy Corporation, the Wing. Its Nest is doomed to collapse as a result. No Wing falls with grace. They leave a permanent scar on the City before crumbling to dust. In the case of this L Corp, that would be the fog. They say everyone loses their way in that fog. And a variety of Syndicates and Fixers in the Nest are drawing their weapons against one another. To think that the Distortion is rampant in this chaos… It will be akin to a battlefield for sure.
Skipping past the tidbits of info on the misty Nest, I skimmed through the report on the Laundry of Dreams. It was degraded from an Urban Plague to Urban Legend. According to the report, it was initially designated as an Urban Plague after wiping out an entire Office of Fixers, but it has since stepped down a grade as it did not cause any notable events afterwards.
“…So, what is the task we’re supposed to take care of.”
Vespa asks from the driver’s seat, his eyes facing forward.
“I was just about to read over that part.”
“An ordinary coin-op on the outside. But, after you use it… You come out a completely different person?”
YuRia read out the report from the top of my shoulder.
“Detective! Is this gonna be a location-type Distortion like the Mock Exam one?”
Ezra turned her head and said from the passenger seat.
“Are you referring to some kind of test?”
Vespa spoke, his gaze still fixed on the road ahead.
“Ezra. Tell him about the classifications we established while doing our detective work.”
Ezra rummaged through her bag for a notebook. It has a yellow cover plastered with stickers, a glaring hallmark of Ezra’s possession. She riffles the pages until she puts a finger on a certain page as if she spotted something.
“Hm hm. Let this senior give YuRia the protégé and Vespa the baby bee of the team a lecture on the Distortion!”
I could see a vein pop out between Vespa’s brows right as she said that. Ezra studies his face for a moment, then continues her lesson.
“It’s some high-quality intel organized by Detective Moses and her capable sidekick Ezra, all based on the experience of working as the Distortion Detective! As you all know, our mentor Moses can see the Distortion. ‘Distortion’ is the name given to this phenomenon by the Hana Association. According to the data registered to the Association database…”
“It’s a phenomenon where people would suddenly transform and take monstrous shapes.”
“…I heard about the phenomenon in relation to the Pianist case of District 9.”
“Yep, you two are on the right track!”
Before I knew it, the drive turned into a little class.
“However, our mentor and detective Moses thinks there’s more to the Distortion than just people turning into monsters! She sees the Distortion as a person’s mind bursting forth into something tangible.”
“And the detective can see the Distortion before it actually manifests.”
“Mmhmm. That’s how our Office can solve cases before the Distortion fully manifests!”
“Is it up to Moses to determine whether a case of the Distortion has fully manifested?”
“It’s *Detective* Moses, lil’ junior Vespa!”
Vespa pops another vein on his forehead.
“…Is it up to Detective Moses to determine the severity…”
“Yup! She’s classified different types of Distortions and the stages of progression. Every Distortion has a cause behind it. From that, we connect the dots to explain how that cause was responsible for the person distorting. Next, we give the explanation to the subject in a way that they can accept… If they do, we can resolve the case before the Distortion manifests!”
“Can the same be done to cases of the Distortion that already have manifested?”
Vespa turned his head towards me and asked. To that, I quietly answered.
“Depends on the progress and category.”
I updated my knowledge on the Distortion after the recent series of events.
“I want you to pay attention to this one, Ezra.”
Ezra turned to a new page and picked up a pen.
“Until recently, I only categorized Distortions by type, but I’ve included severity in my newest classification system: incubation period, early stage, middle stage, and terminal stage.”
“It’s like the staging of a disease.”
YuRia made a snarky remark. She’s not wrong, however. To me, the Distortion is a disease.
“Most people’s Distortions are in the incubation period. As you’re all aware, I can see the Distortion before it manifests. Thus, I decided to title the earliest stage where the Distortion becomes visible to me as the incubation period.”
“I’d like to know the severity of the bee’s wings you can see from me.”
“In my opinion, your Distortion is at an early stage. Although I’m speaking from my subjective point of view, from what I can see, Distortions in the incubation period are mostly fragmentary. An early-stage Distortion is still minor, but it assumes a definite form. And I can feel the early symptoms of it. An example is the fact that I can feel the breeze generated by the beats of your wings, Vespa. No one else here would be able to sense it. Only I can see and perceive it. This is what I classify as an early symptom.”
“If it’s something only you can feel, it must’ve been a useful ability for you to find and resolve Distortions.”
“I think so too. But sometimes, it makes me feel unwanted sensations and pain no one else could feel.”
Rumble. The car shook a little. We came off the highway and entered a narrow road toward L Corp’s Nest. A thin veil of mist obscures the view out the window. The time is 1 PM. Sunlight scatters and shimmers in the mist.
“…We’ll listen to the rest of the explanation later.”
A group of a dozen or two people are blocking the way. Are they Fixers or Syndicate members that seized hold of this area? I want to avoid unnecessary conflict if possible. Vespa stopped the car. The group approaches us. Knock knock. One of them raps the car window. Vespa lowered it in response.
“Going on a little family trip, are ya?”
A woman puts her arm on the windowsill and asks in a serious manner. She has irezumi¹ tattooed on her arms. In her other hand is a cigarette. The irezumi on her arms is no doubt an augmentation tattoo. People carrying katanas at the girdle stand in front of the car, staring at us with their arms crossed.
“What’s your business?”
Vespa inquired with his eyes closed, not even giving a second of a glance at the woman. Ezra has her hand over her dimensional bag, preparing for combat. It seems we’re dealing with a Syndicate.
“You’re about to enter Kurokumo Clan’s territory, you see. You’re gonna have to pay a small toll to pass.”
Kurokumo Clan… I’m unfamiliar with the name. Anyhow, it’s interesting to note how Syndicates in the southern side of the City tend to be dressed in composed clothes, unlike those in the north.
“…Ezra. Just give them what they want.”
We’re giving money-hungry scoundrels what they ask for. No matter how high they set the bid, it’ll still be well within the budget Dias gave us.
“How much do you need?”
Ezra's face puckered as she asked the Syndicate member, reluctant to give away our money.
Bewildered by our generous attitude, the Syndicate member looked us up and down.
“2 million Ahn.”
It seems Ezra begrudges our money going to them. However, I don’t mind the loss as long as it is the only thing we have to give up. There’s no reason to take a gamble against a Syndicate with unknown power and affiliation just to save money. Ezra took a bundle of cash out of her bag and started counting it.
“…Changed my mind. 10 million.”
The goon said with a chuckle. Staring down the pile of money must’ve made them cuckoo.
“Sob, sob… Detective…”
“Give it to them.”
Ezra passed the 10 million Ahn through the driver’s side window. Meanwhile, Vespa remains perfectly still, his eyes shut. I can see that this Syndicate has some experience, considering they didn’t go as far as demanding every coin from us. Rookies tend to keep raising the stakes until it bites them in the ankle. On the other hand, the more experienced ones assess the opponent’s capacity and stop at an acceptable price.
“Aight, be on your way. And cutie, you can have this.”
Ezra was handed a black plastic plate.
“It’s a pass. That thing should let you freely get through any area under Kurokumo Clan’s rule. I’m Yuri, one of the vice captains of da Kurokumo Clan. Y’know, I like you gals. Why don’tcha tell my name when you drop by a bar for a drink, I’ll pay the tab for ya.”
That was resolved smoothly.
“Have a happy-sappy little family trip~”
Vice Captain Yuri ground her cigarette on the side mirror of our vehicle.
Her head was gone in the blink of an eye.
“Oh, for f… Vespa!”
Vespa’s fist cleanly removed the vice captain’s head from her body with a single thrust. He calmly steps out of the car and cleans the cigarette ash off the side mirror. The unexpected event left everyone quiet. Vespa proceeded to grab his hwando from the side of the driver’s seat and charged into the group of thugs. Amidst the thin fog, flashes of yellow light shined, followed by spurts of blood.
Another moment of silence passed.
Vespa returned to the driver’s seat.
“…The next time you want to cause a pointless bloodshed, you’ll do it over my cold, dead body.”
I said, placing a hand on my forehead.
“I’ll try not to.”
Vespa grabbed the wheel and started driving.
- Translation Notes:
¹ Irezumi (入れ墨): A special type of Japanese tattooing.
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