Chapter 7:

The Fastest Esper


Regra District had erupted into a wild warzone.

Turned out the visit was far more complicated than Takagi had ever realised.

He had known it to be a "hot zone", so a dangerous trip was expected. The place was not called "Little Hell District" for nothing. It was true that many parts of the outer districts were embroiled in chaos. However, this district was very different.

His sedan sped almost one hundred and sixty kilometres on an elevated highway. It was an Arturo 500, an AI-assisted and electric-powered car.

Takagi was the only one on the highway. Other vehicles had stopped way far back, presumably because of the situation.

His eyes watched the occasional flashes unfold before him. He still kept his mask on. His ears would not stop catching the booms and rumbles from the district. At such a distance, the sounds were not something that could be called "a joke."

The district could be seen from afar. It was still kilometres away. It was akin to a devastated city after a war, with only a handful of buildings and towers left intact or half-intact. There were lights in some places, but most were just darkness. The rest were just ruins. Either they were already razed to the ground or just husks of what they were in the past.

Back then, it was a sprawling district, but more than that, a symbol of hope for everyone in Podzemgrad.

Takagi, for one, had found some comfort inside it for some time. However, he understood that the city's destruction was inevitable. Unlike those who tried to drown the reality in the dream of peacefulness provided there, he maintained a pragmatic mind and could see reason. That was why he could escape the trouble when the technocrat finally decided to eradicate the city.

Still, from all places, Regra held a special place in his heart. However, it was not the time for being nostalgic.

The escalation of the situation was not something he had in mind.

The security drones, which should have floated above him, were nowhere to be found because of the unfolding situation. He did not know precisely what had happened there, except it was also a part of other wars after Pavlov's demise.

Travis did not inform him about anything. Worse, Takagi could not contact him either, telling him that the situation was anything but ordinary.

Unfortunately, the tunnel networks could not help him here. Almost all tunnels below Regra were closed or destroyed after Krasinski invaded the district. It had not been repaired since. To reach Regra, he had to go by vehicle or on foot.

He checked his equipment on the driving seat. The interior's light was on. His hands were not on the steering wheel. He let the AI control his car.

He had checked the Spitfire's magazines, all three of them. One was already loaded into the gun, and the other two were pocketed inside his coat. He also lined up four flashbangs and three high-explosive grenades there.

Besides that, he had a set of five mini-drones for recon purposes–a black, metallic sphere with one camera at the centre. Then, he had three electronic jammers, shaped like a disk ten centimetres in diameter.

The last one was the Murakumo S-11 searing knife, also holstered inside his coat. It was shaped like a standard tactical military knife, except for the white metal on its edge. It would be more than a mere knife by a single voice from Takagi. However, it was something he would do if he were in trouble.

Remembering "trouble," Takagi spoke to the AI, "Arturo, contact Travis again. This time, do not stop until he picks it up."

"Yes, Owner." The male robotic AI replied from the speaker in the middle of the dashboard. "Initiating a call towards Contact List Number Fifty-Eight: Travis."

The calling tone reverberated inside the car as Takagi looked upon the raging district. He better picks it up, he thought.

Ten minutes later, Travis had not answered the call, and Takagi was about to arrive at the city's outskirts.

"Arturo, stop the call."

"Yes, Owner. Stopping the call towards Contact List Number Fifty-Eight: Travis."

The tone finally stopped.

"Remove the speed limiter, but maintain the safety at a reasonable level."

"Yes, Owner. Speed limiter, off. Safety level on normal mode."

The engine then whined louder as Takagi turned off the interior's light. The view around him moved faster through the car's window. The speedometer ticked towards two hundred kilometres per hour. Regra District came closer, so as the rumbles and then the gunshots.

He looked at the Spitfire for a moment, then switched the safety into firing mode. The gun was ready and set. He kept his eyes on the roads before him for several minutes with the Spitfire.

"The nearest possible intersection to Regra District is five hundred metres ahead."

"Just take that one."

"Yes, Owner. Establishing a new checkpoint."

"Set speed limiter to Level Two."

"Yes, Owner. The speed limiter is set to Level Two."

The car slowed down. Not long after, it went down the junction and turned into the two-way road beneath the elevated highway.

Takagi had arrived at the western outskirts of Regra. Despite the occasional gunfights from time to time, it was arguably the calmest area in the district, and he felt lucky at that time the roads were not embroiled in gunfights.

However, one moment or even one turn could change everything. Takagi's eyes kept scanning the buildings and roads around him when the car travelled forward.

It was almost dark. There were many holes where streetlights supposedly stood. Shards of fluorescent tubes and crushed windows littered the sidewalks. They were also dented in some places, leaving craters in various sizes. Buildings were left doorless, vandalised with graffiti and perverse posters.

Once, the whole district was a place full of life, a combination between the inner districts' majestic buildings and the energy of Ceres District. People crowded the streets, stores filled with goods, and loud laughs at the bars, restaurants, and street casinos. In the past, he sometimes visited the place and ate at Bobby's Burger down the 13th Molly St.

After the crackdown by the technocrats three years ago, Regra became a slum filled with rubbles and homeless people. Worse, it became a battlefield for gangs and syndicates nearby, vying for territories and leftover resources for their own gain. In Podzemgrad, dirt and stones could become money, let alone more valuable resources.

Some people cowered and hid behind the pillars and ruins, looking at his Arturo as Takagi drove down the street. The old, the children, and disabled people who had refused to get implants. Sometimes, they could also become slaves if fate was cruel, but this time they were lucky. Perhaps the gangs and syndicates had taken enough of the adults and young people so they could let these people alone.

Then, Takagi noticed something. He looked at a building that had passed him–a red store. He was surprised at first, but he knew he was lucky.

"Stop the car, Arturo. I'm going out."

"Owner. Getting out in this location is not advisable as per-"

"I'm temporarily overriding the safety precautions."

"Yes, Owner. Safety precautions skipped for one minute."

"Set pattern Standby-52 after I close the door."

"Yes, Owner."

The car, which had just travelled more than one kilometre, stopped in the middle of the road after a few seconds.

Takagi opened the door manually by its handle with Spitfire still in his other hand. His boot stepped onto the cracked asphalt as he emerged outside.

A cold wind brushed through the gap of his mask. Without looking back, he closed the door with one hand, and the Arturo 500 whined again, speeding forward and leaving a stream of wind in its wake. It then turned ahead at the nearest intersection and disappeared from sight.

He turned his back and shouted, "I know you're there!"

His voice echoed throughout the roads, and silence was the only reply. He decided to wait, but seconds passed, and nobody answered him.

However, he knew she was there. "Talia!"

Then, the curly-haired and dark-skinned woman stepped out of the red store. She wore goggles, a tank top, and training pants. Her right arm was all cybernetic, implanted on her torso.

"What do you want, you masked psycho?!" she shouted.

"I'm here to meet Travis. However, I've lost contact with him–tried to call him, but he didn't respond," he shouted. "What has happened here?"

She walked closer. "Travis didn't say anything about meeting someone."

She looked at Takagi's eyes. Her left hand formed a fist and suddenly blazed with flames.

Takagi frowned behind the mask as he saw several people emerge from the windows with guns pointing at him.

"Even if he is, you're one of the least people he wants to meet." She continued.

Takagi felt irritated a bit. There was no time for this. "I'm not lying, Talia."

"Who've sent you, Phantom?" she asked. "Is it Markov? Tan Meng?"

"I have nothing to do with them."

Talia crept ever closer, but Takagi stood his ground. He still kept pointing Spitfire down as she took more steps towards him.

At the fourth time, the woman suddenly blitzed forward. Her fist was pointed towards his face.