Chapter 1:

The Test

The Underwriters

Hibiki had to turn the volume on her ears down. The usual voices, echoes, and sounds of the city were far louder than usual. She tapped twice on her right ear to lower the volume to a more reasonable level. Looking down to her left, she saw a cage holding a small, yellow blob of fluff and metal.

“Are you ready to go?” A chipper squeak exited the robot bird’s mouth. Hibiki nodded as she finished tying her curls into two tight pigtails.


She grabbed the cage and walked down the steps to the kitchen where a rusted wheelchair was hovering. Her dad was fighting with the oven’s robotic arms as he attempted to wrestle together some scrambled eggs.

“Oh, Hibiki and Maya. Morning early birds.”

“Morning.” Maya replied for Hibiki as the two looked into the now empty fridge.

“Yeah, we’re gonna need some more food. Can you pick something up after work?”

“I’ll try.” Hibiki tapped the thin bracelet on her wrist and a holographic screen popped up. Typing quickly, she added a note to grab some food when she had time. She checked her bank account once before going back and sharply decreasing her grocery list.

“I’m sorry. As soon as I get a part-time job, I can add more to the household account. Okay?”

“Don’t worry about it. I’m heading off to work now.”

Grabbing a jacket off of the shelf by the front door, Hibiki checked that Maya’s cage was firmly tied to her wrist before stepping out.

“Talk to you later.” Maya chirped as she closed the door behind her. She heard a faint ‘have a good day’ as she walked down the rickety steps of their old apartment building.

Hibiki looked up at the skyline and saw hovering skyscrapers and shimmering new flying cars in the distance. Everything closer was a different story. The metal steps between all ten floors of their apartment felt more dangerous every day. With every creak, Hibiki thought about the few dollars left in her account.

With another tap on her wrist, she called the cheapest taxi she could find. A sputtering yellow car nearly crashed in front of her a couple of minutes later. The taxi ride was deeply uncomfortable. An older AI-driven model, the car was clearly out of date. Every few minutes, Hibiki could feel the car starting to nosedive towards the ground before the taxi would slowly regain altitude.

Maya waddled towards the back of her cage, and Hibiki gently stroked her fake feathers. Leaning into the touch, Maya rubbed against Hibiki’s dark brown fingers. The taxi continued to sputter along its journey, providing a bumpy ride.

“Look! Look! The city is so pretty, Hibiki!”

Maya chirped as she edged as close to the window as possible from her cage. Hibiki turned as well to look at the approaching city of Newton. Their apartment building was on the Outskirts where most could barely afford to live.

Hibiki wondered just how much she would have to save to be able to afford to live in the city proper. Her meager savings were nowhere near enough, but her current home was getting harder for her dad to actually live in. Whenever the elevator broke, which seemed to be daily, he would be stuck inside the apartment until it was fixed.

“We have arrived at your destination. Thank you for riding with Value Rides. We hope to see you again.”

“Yeah, I hope we don’t ever see you again.” Maya chirped back as the yellow cab slowly lifted off into the air and flew away.

They were now in front of a tall, sterile building. There was no sign identifying the place. If it wasn’t for the fact that Hibiki had just interviewed for her new job at that same location a week earlier, she would have thought she was lost.

“Here we go! You’ve got this Hibiki!”

“Mmm.” She nodded back at Maya and tried to force a smile before walking into the nondescript building for herself.

Stepping inside was like entering a different building entirely. In contrast to the blank concrete exterior, the inside was full of shining silver and iron. The latest robotics were everywhere as a friendly android receptionist stood at the front desk ready to assist. Drones flitted from room to room, delivering news and messages.

“May I help you? Oh! You’re Ms. Hibiki, correct? I’ll let Commander Knight know that you just arrived.”

Hibiki nodded as she went to sit in the corner as she waited. Maya looked up at her and chirped again. Hibiki hummed as she stroked Maya’s head to calm down.

“You’re early. Good.” Hibiki jumped before looking up at the tall intruder standing before her. A golden lion’s mane of curls framed silver eyes. Commander Knight’s olive skin only highlighted the many shimmering scars painting her body.

A hand reached down in front of Hibiki and quickly pulled her up once she accepted it.

“Let’s go. We’ll start with a tour and then I’ll dive into the details of your probation. Sound good?”

“Yes, commander!”

The woman stopped and turned to look back down at Hibiki. Her silver eyes pinned the girl in her spot.

“You learned my name at the interview, didn’t you?”


“So, what should you be calling me again?”

Hibiki’s cheeks felt hot as warmth spread across her face. She paused for a moment before Maya hesitatingly responded for her.


“Good girl.” Yui gave Hibiki a head pat before moving once more.

“This is the training room and this right here is our tech lab. I would show you our armory, but Mayumi blew it up again last week and it’s still being reconstructed. Any questions?”


“Good. Let’s head to my office, then.”

Yui walked back over to the training room and plopped on one of the benches.

“Welcome to the office.”

“Wow. They really give you the c-suite treatment, huh?” Maya squawked before Hibiki had a chance to cover her beak. A light chuckle made Hibiki’s face warm once again.

“Just to be clear, was that one you or Maya? I’m still figuring out how the whole bird voice thing works.”

“I have an implant that allows me to send my thoughts to Maya who will speak them out loud for me. Some thoughts are more…intentional…than others. And Maya has a lot to say for herself too.”

“Gotcha. Well, don’t worry about offending any of us here at The Underwriters. We’ve all got thick skin. And it’ll make it easier for you to pass your test if you get comfy enough to speak your mind.”

“Test?” Hibiki looked up at Yui who smiled and patted her head again.

“Don’t worry, little bird. It’s just a little test to make sure you’ll fit right into the team. Once everyone is back, we’ll send you off to join one of the other girls on a routine investigation to see how you do.”

Yui looked down to see Hibiki nodding while taking notes on her holopad.

“It’s nothing too serious. We just want to be sure you work well with the rest of the team and that you can handle our work.”

“You said that it’ll be a routine investigation right?”

“Yep. We do everything from hostage rescue to corporate espionage. And sometimes we are hired by insurance companies to make sure that their clients aren’t committing fraud. You’ll be helping out with one of those cases.”

Hibiki continued to write down everything Yui said almost word for word. She absent-mindedly stroked Maya’s cheek while checking her notes before looking up at Yui again.

“Okay. That makes sense. So, everyone else is on a case right now?”

“Yeah. The other girls are all busy. Most of their cases are wrapping up so they should be back in the next couple of days. You’ll start your test as soon as one of them returns.”

Yui started to speak again when a piercing alarm rang out. Hibiki was confused as Yui jumped up and began to run to the front of the building. She quickly got up and followed after as Maya chirped unhappily about the sudden swinging of her cage.

When the two caught up to the commander, she was standing in the tech lab on a video call with an unknown man. Hibiki could barely see the screen from where she stood by the door, but she noticed an ornate chandelier in the background.

“I need you to find my daughter. Right now!”

“Understood. We’ll be right on it sir.” Yui turned and saw Hibiki standing at the door of the tech lab, hopping from foot to foot while clenching onto Maya’s cage.

“Hibiki, do you want to go with me?”


“I don’t know when the others will be back, but we have an urgent case now. You can either wait for one of the other girls to come back or join me now. Just know that this is not going to be easy.”

Hibiki stared at the now black video screen behind Yui. She glanced down into Maya’s beady eyes for a second before turning back to Yui. Without much hesitation, she replied.

“I’m coming with you.”