Chapter 2:

A Little Birdie Told Me

The Underwriters

Yui’s veins glowed electric blue as she tightly gripped the steering wheel of the flying car. Hibiki watched entranced as the color spread from Yui’s hands up her arms and then throughout the rest of her neck and face.

“You’re not the only one with an enhancement or two. Every member of the Underwriters is enhanced in some way.” Yui glanced at Hibiki out of the corner of her eye, watching the girl as she hung her head low after being caught staring.

“At least I won’t be the only weirdo.” Maya tilted her head before chirping in protest as if to say that there was nothing wrong with Hibiki.

“Maya’s right. Nothing’s wrong with being different, little bird.”

“Stop calling me that. I am not little or a bird.”

“You’re shorter than anyone else on the team and you’re the only one with a bird.” Hibiki turned her head towards the window and puffed out her cheeks in protest. With a laugh, Yui leaned a hand towards Hibiki and stroked her head.

“Alright, that’s enough teasing for now. Any questions about our current mission?”

“So, this is a standard hostage search and rescue, right? The goal is to trace the location of the missing client and return them no matter what.” Hibiki looked up at her commander while waiting for feedback.

“Good girl. You got that perfectly right. Our current client is Van DerBilt West. You should have heard of him before, right?”

Hibiki nearly jumped out of her seat after hearing that name, the only thing holding her back being her seatbelt. She paid little attention to the glowing city lights and fantastical machinery outside of her window.

“You mean the guy who owns like a third of the property in Newton and a good chunk of the city’s outskirts?”

Yui nodded while chuckling as Hibiki’s mouth dropped in shock.

“Yep. That’s the one. Look at your holopad. I sent the currently known info to you right as we left.”

“Right!” Tapping on her wrist, Hibiki opened her holopad and looked through her most recent messages. A flurry of windows popped open one after the other, overloading her with information.

“So, it looks like Mr. West is covered by K&R Insurance Company, who we are contracted by, and his daughter, Seela, is also covered by his plan. And that’s who we’re looking for now?”

“Correct. K&R is who pays us, but Mr. West is a VIP customer so he can contact us directly like he did earlier. And he and his daughter are both considered clients. See anything else?”

“Right. According to this, as part of the insurance company requirements, both Mr. West and Seela have to wear trackers, which I’m guessing is where we’re heading now?”

“Well, no. First, we’re going to visit Mr. West himself to get more information on what exactly happened. Then, we’ll start our search with the last know location of the tracker Seela was wearing.”

Hibiki nodded as she kept looking over every bit of information that was sent to her. From photos of Seela and Mr. West to the current location of the tracker, there was a large amount of information to work through.

Maya tried to peer up at the floating screens from her cage, flying a few centimeters off her cage floor before plopping back down under her own weight. Hibiki heard several tiny squeaks and squawks before she lowered the screens for her.

“You and Maya are real close, huh?”

“Yeah, she’s my closest friend besides my dad.”

Yui looked at the tiny fluff out of the corner of her eye and raised an eyebrow. The ball of metal and sound was attentively staring at the screen alongside Hibiki. Hibiki noticed Yui’s gaze and quickly reassured her.

“Don’t, don’t worry. Maya can handle her own in a fight.”

“Can you?”

“I. I’ve got my own ways of getting out of trouble.”

“I’ll trust you on that. Try not to cause too much trouble for me, okay?”

“Mmm! I won’t let you down commander!” Yui took the stop light as a chance to lean over and look directly into Hibiki’s face. Hibiki felt those silver eyes were particularly eye-catching at that moment.

“Commander? I believe I remember asking you to call me something else not that long ago, hmm?”


Hibiki tried to shield her head from another patting session, but she failed miserably. She tried to cover her face as she was praised by her commander once again.

The rest of the drive was comfortably quiet. It had been a long time since Hibiki had been in the city of Newton proper. Everything was far too expensive to live, eat, or otherwise survive with her father anywhere besides the outskirts. Hibiki tightened her grip on Maya’s cage as she stared at the vibrant moving billboards, beautiful androids, and glittering lights of the city outside of her window. More than anything, she wanted to show her dad how the city had changed since he last wandered its streets.

“We’re here, little bird. Try not to be too shocked. Once you join the team, you’ll have to get used to places like this fast.”

Hibiki barely had a chance to listen to Yui’s words before she froze at the sight of the mega-mansion in front of her. Floating gently on top of a hill, robotic maids and butlers wandered the front yard sweeping up nonexistent leaves and dust. Rows of luxurious hover cars stood at attention in the open garage.

“Is there a waterfall in the backyard?”

“Hmm. I don’t think so. What makes you say that?” Yui looked down at her latest prospect, waiting for an answer.

“I can hear it. Wait. Let me turn my ears up real quick.” Hibiki tapped on her ears three times to raise the volume.

“Yeah. There’s a waterfall feeding into a koi pond in the backyard. Based on the rigidity of their swimming patterns, I would say they are either highly trained or robotic. Based on the rarity of real koi, I would say the latter is more likely. There are about ten of them total and…” Hibiki turned her head and stopped speaking seeing those silver eyes focused squarely on her. Maya’s beak also shuttered closely as both bird and human started fidgeting under Yui’s gaze.

“Wow. I wasn’t expecting that from you at all, little bird. I’m impressed. I’ll be relying on those wonder ears of yours a lot from now on, okay?”

“Okay…” Hibiki nodded while Yui lead the way into the floating building. Steps automatically lowered for the three as they got closer to the front door where a monotonous maid awaited them.

“Welcome to the West residence. Follow me. Mr. West has been awaiting you out back.”

A huge crystalline chandelier was hanging in the front entrance. Hibiki looked up and tried to count the number of crystals, but gave up. After running into Yui’s back, she mumbled an apology before paying closer attention to her surroundings.

“Here we are. Mr. West is waiting by the koi pond.”

The maid bowed before leaving the guests to walk the rest of the way by themselves. Finally, they came to a huge artificial waterfall rushing past shimmering jewels in place of regular stones before feeding into the koi pond below. Vibrantly colored mechanical koi swept their stiff tails back and forth as they fluttered through the pond.

A portly man stood humped near the pond in a freshly pressed suit. Every remaining head of hair was intricately placed on his head and his dark eyes sized up his latest guests.

“Commander Yui! I’m glad you’re working on this case yourself. However, I wasn’t expecting your friend.” Mr. Van DerBilt West watched Hibiki’s every move closely. It was obvious that he was everything but impressed.

“I’m sorry to hear about this tragedy, Mr. West. I hurried over as soon as I got your call. I brought my latest protégé, Hibiki, with me. She may seem non-intimidating, but her abilities are unmatched. In fact, she correctly told me about your waterfall and the koi in it just by hearing it.”

At that, Mr. West’s gaze on Hibiki became much friendlier.

“Is that so?”

“Yes, of course! May I ask how many koi you have in this pond?”

“I have hand-picked ten artificial koi from the best breeder in town.”

“Would you believe me if I told you that Hibiki told me that exact same number earlier?”

“Ah. I should have known that you would only work with the best Commander. Let’s all chat, shall we?”

Hibiki scrunched her eyebrow, clearly confused since Mr. West did not seem nearly as concerned or urgent in person as he had over the phone. However, looking up at her commander’s calm eyes, she followed them over to the nearby table to talk.