Chapter 7:

48 Hours

The Underwriters

The bystander effect was in full swing as everyone who made eye contact with the trio quickly scampered away to avoid answering any questions. After breakfast, Hibiki, Yui, and Maya went back to the bar from yesterday to continue their search and interview locals. Yui kept her holoband set to ring if any calls came from Tomoe or Mr. West.

Investigating the entire inside and outside of La Rendez left the team in the same spot as yesterday. Sitting down next to her commander on the grass by the front door, Hibiki closed her eyes and listened.

“There’s nothing. I’m getting nothing. Either no one saw anything or everyone saw something and is keeping quiet.”

“It’s probably a little bit of both. Keep in mind that Seela went out early in the morning when most people are asleep.”

“True. Maybe the people who would have been awake then are asleep now?”


Loud laughter caught the pair off guard, making them look across the street. A stumbling pair hiccuped while arguing with a giant wall of metal. The bulky security bot repeatedly blocked the door, keeping them from entering the pub.

Hibiki tapped her ears and listened closely.

“I told you that we didn’t break that table! And we definitely didn’t. Didn’t. Didn’t smash any sign. You freak!” One man wobbled while poking the solid chest of the bot. The other man hyped him up while trying his best not to fall flat on his face.

“You were caught on both the internal and external security cameras. Please leave. You are permanently banned from the premises.”

“And. And I told. Told you that. That those cameras lied!”

The two drunkards kept arguing while the security bot calmly kept them outside. A few patrons stared while entering the bar, but they otherwise ignored them.


“Yes, little bird?”

“I think I have a lead.” Hibiki faced Yui expectantly with shimmering eyes, practically asking for praise.

“Well, tell me and I’ll think of a reward for you.”

“I don’t need a reward! But I heard them say across the street that they have security cameras inside and outside.”

“Good girl.” Hibiki begrudgingly accepted a head pat while trying to hide her smile. Yui pulled another piece of candy out of her pocket and popped it in Hibiki’s mouth before she could protest.

Hibiki’s mouth puckered as she smacked the sweet treat. Maya chirped at being left out before relaying Hibiki’s next words.

“Why do you keep giving me candy?”

“Because you’re such a sweet and cute girl, you deserve it?” Yui chuckled as Hibiki crossed her arms and attempted to look angry.

“I am not cute! I am a full-grown woman. I can’t help it if you’re so tall.”

“I’m not even the tallest member of The Underwriters. Just wait until you meet Jun. She’s gonna love you.”

With a sigh, Hibiki seemed resigned to her fate as the new team mascot. Maya’s chirps reminded her that Yui had already begun walking over to the bar across the street. She quickly went following after to chase their latest lead.

The security bot immediately tensed up at their approach, expecting a fight. Before Yui or Hibiki could get a word out, Maya immediately began chattering away. Chirps were responded to with deep beeps before the bot stood aside to let them enter.

“I have already informed the manager of your request. Please proceed to the private room on the second floor.”

Reaching a finger into the cage, Yui affectionately petted Maya while saying, “Good job. I don’t know what you said, but it worked.”

Maya pranced around the cage with a puffed chest and fluttering wings. Hibiki shook her head while secretly giving Maya another scratch as thanks. Finally, they made it to the private room where a junior manager was waiting.

The teen was slouching on a suede couch in a disheveled hoodie. They took one look at Yui and her scars before speaking.

“Look, security said you were looking for a missing girl? I don’t want any trouble. Honestly, they don’t pay me enough anyways, so look at all the tapes you want.” Sliding a black oval across the table that Yui and Hibiki had just sat down at, a flickering video began to play.

On the screen, a beautiful young woman dressed in designer clothing approached La Rendez across the street and entered the bar. Only ten minutes passed before an all-black figure walked out alone and the remaining footage distorted.

“Damn. They must have a device of some kind to intercept the remaining footage.” Yui replayed the video over and over, trying to catch every little detail.

Hibiki also took screenshots and noted down what little details she could catch. She heard a possible lead and asked, “Yui, please turn the audio up. I think I caught something.”

“Huh? What on earth did you hear?” The manager shifted his eyes between Yui and Hibiki.

“Got it. Is this good?”

“Yep. Now, please play it back.” Hibiki leaned in and finally heard the brief snippet that had eluded her. “He said something about ‘finally getting payback for past sins’ or something close to that.”

“Good girl. If I was by myself, I would have never caught that.” Yui sent a copy of the recording to herself and Tomoe for analysis before standing.

“Um, how did you guys catch that? Who the hell are you?”

“We’re the Underwriters.”

With a bounce in her step, Hibiki practically floated out of the door.

“We, huh?”

“I was just practicing. For the future, ya know?” Hibiki paused and scratched her neck.

Yui shook her head and said chuckling, “Keep up the good work like you did in there and your practice will pay off.” Soon, another black taxi pulled up, and the trio was headed back to the hotel.

“Is it okay to just leave like this?”

“We need to be back at our temporary base to go over all our current clues. Plus, we’re still waiting for the kidnapper to make contact.”

“I really hope they send a message, but that video was freaky. Past sins?” Hibiki rubbed her arms as if trying to erase non-existent goosebumps.

“Mm. It’s looking like our guess is correct. All we can do for now is go back and regroup.”

The taxi pulled to a stop in front of the hotel, and they headed back to their suite. For a brief moment, there was peace as Yui and Hibiki chatted over food. Yet Hibiki’s tense stomach seemed to be a sign of incoming trouble.

Like clockwork, ringing started as soon as the last bite of pizza was swallowed. Rushing into the suite office, Yui answered another video call from a very disheveled Mr. West. Hibiki gripped Maya’s cage tighter while waiting to hear his next words.

“He hasn’t called. Why hasn’t the bastard who took my daughter called yet!”

“You still haven’t received any message yet?” Yui crossed her arms while keeping her face stoic. Hibiki tried her best to mimic her commander’s calm and collected approach, but her stare faltered with every scream.

“No! You said he would call by now! What the hell are you lazy bi-”

Yui calmly interrupted, “Mr. West. If you are unhappy with our services, then you are more than welcome to find someone else to find your daughter. Just remember, our client is K&R Insurance. Not you.” Her frightening glare and distinct lack of a smile made Mr. West gulp his words back down.

“I will give you 48 hours. If you don’t find my daughter, or at least give me the name of her kidnapper by then, prepare to see your names blasted all over the media.”

Almost as if he was afraid of Yui’s response, Van DerBilt West immediately ended the call after making his threat. Yui immediately began laughing as soon as the screen flashed. Her entire body shook as every pore seemed to emanate rage. With a punch, the holo screen device and the table it was standing on were split into two.

Hibiki stood in place, trying her best not to move a single inch. Coming to a decision, she placed Maya’s cage down and slowly moved forward. She stood on her tip-toes and placed a hand on Yui’s head while mumbling, “I trust you. Yui. Let’s do this and prove that crazy jerkface wrong.”

Instantly, the anger seemed to melt away from Yui’s aura. Turning her head, Yui stared straight into Hibiki’s dark eyes. Hibiki began to withdraw her hand away as the silence stretched on but was stopped by another scarred hand. Looking back at her commander, that silver gaze once again pinned her into place.

The two held hands for another second before Hibiki withdrew and dashed to the other side of the room. Hibiki tried to ignore her burning cheeks while grabbing Maya’s cage before she heard a voice behind her.

“Thanks, little bird. I won’t let you down.”

Hesitating for a bit, Hibiki decided to stretch a hand back out. Taking the invitation, Yui grabbed hold and seemed reluctant to ever let her go.