Chapter 11:

Dad of the Year

The Underwriters

Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz.

Two pairs of eyes, one silver and the other dark brown, turned to the vibrating holoband. Opening the new message, a voicemail began to play. At first, Hibiki thought her ears were broken as they heard only silence. Then, a shaky male voice began to ring out. Trembling vibrato and sniffs were indicators of Mr. West's tears as he spoke.

"You can stop searching now. I've accepted the fact that my daughter is gone for good. I. I can't believe that my little girl is gone so young. Thank you for all of your help, but I hope you respect my decision." The recording stopped and Hibiki gasped. Pulling up her keyboard, she typed out a long rant and sent it over to Yui.

"So, we're supposed to believe that he went from demanding that we find her in 48 hours to telling us to stop searching before the deadline? And this change didn't happen until right after we gave him the name of the likely kidnapper."

Yui let out a chuckle as she watched her short companion silently rage.

"I told you that we often dig up secrets that our 'clients' would rather keep buried. It looks like this will be one of those cases. I'll inform K&R, but we'll keep going with the investigation until they say otherwise."

Hibiki listened carefully to her commander’s words before responding.

"Doesn't that mean Mr. West might get in our way now?"

"Oh, most definitely. In fact, I expect him to threaten us and more now that we seem to be opening up the skeleton closet. Why? Are you scared?" Yui said this with a teasing voice and a smirk, but her eyes had a storm brewing.

Noticing the look in her commander's eyes, Hibiki knew that Yui was prepared to send her back home if she ever felt in danger. However, more than just a paycheck was at stake. Now, she was deeply invested in unraveling all the layers making up the enigmatic woman known as Yui Knight. Her response was short and to the point.

"No. I'm not scared because I trust you." Yui released a breath and gave Hibiki a head pat.

"Thank you, little bird. I really appreciate that. I'm gonna message Tomoe again. Between her and Maya, I think we should be able to figure out a way to move forward."

Two dings rang out from Yui's holoband again. One was a message confirming that the investigation was to proceed as normal, while the other was from Tomoe Burrows asking for an immediate video call. Passing the info on to Hibiki, Yui consoled the now nervous girl.

"Don't worry. Tomoe might seem harsh at first, but she's a nice girl at heart."

Hibiki didn't fully believe Yui's words, but she nodded anyway. The pair walked over to a relatively isolated corner behind an abandoned store and squatted down. Yui initiated the call, and it was answered fast. In the air hung a projection of a lazy-looking woman. Tomoe's sandy brown skin was clothed in an oversized hoodie while her curls were pulled back into a puffy ponytail. Hibiki thought Tomoe's face looked simultaneously bored and irritated at the same time, although she had no idea how that was even possible.

"Yo. Can you send less messages next time? I thought I was gonna get a break after finishing this last case, and what do I see as soon as I open up my inbox? A whole lotta bull. Hol up. Who's that chick in the back? The shortie."

Turning to command Maya to refute this latest height accusation for her, she was reminded that her voice was currently busy chirping around. Instead, she had no choice but to type on her notepad and show her words to Yui to respond for her.

"This little bird is Hibiki, the latest recruit. She's on her test case. Oh, and she wants you to know that she isn't short. You're just freakishly tall."

"Freakishly tall, huh? Those are some pretty big words for such a little person. Anyway, I read everything and I think I got the gist. How did you find out about the hidden tracker in the first place?"

"Hibiki heard some of the workers mention it across the house." Yui drew Tomoe's attention to Hibiki's ear implants with a point.

"Oh? Those are some pretty sick ear enhancements. That must be some secret tech you've got on your hands. You better do well on this case and join us so I can check them out for myself."

Hearing this, Hibiki protectively covered her ears with her hands and hid behind Yui. She heard two laughs while she pouted about being teased by them both.

"I'm just messing with ya. If the Commander has already given you a nickname, then you must be something special. Just send over the message you decoded and I'll try to use that to link back to Seela's holoband and find my way in." Tomoe ended the call without a single goodbye. Hibiki felt relieved to have a new lead just on the horizon.

"She doesn't seem so bad." Despite the teasing and laissez-faire attitude, Hibiki had an overall good impression of Tomoe.

"I'm glad you think so. Getting along with the rest of the team will be important for you."


Wandering around some more, it seemed that the two elderly women they had interrogated earlier had warned the rest of the area to avoid them. Even with her ears set to full volume, Hibiki could not hear anything. Returning to their last rest spot, the two found the least dirty bench available and sat. Resting her head in her hands, Hibiki started to fall asleep again. She woke up when a sharp chirp made its presence known.

"Hibiki! Yui! I'm back! I'm back!" A floating piece of blue sky came straight towards them before deactivating camouflage mode to reveal the excited bird. Maya landed right in Hibiki's waiting hands and nuzzled her owner.

"Maya, did you find out anything?"

The bird hopped over to Yui's lap where she began excitedly peeping. "Lots! Lots! Video and audio!"

"Good job, Maya. I'll give you some mango when we get back. How does that sound?"

Maya hovered around their heads, excitedly chirping about her reward. Hibiki opened the cage on her wrist back up and waited for Maya to fly back in before looking to Yui for the next steps.

"Um, are we heading back? I don't know if it would be wise to go through everything here out in the open." Even though Hibiki didn't mind typing to communicate, she much preferred using Maya as her voice instead.

"I was just going to suggest heading back to base and going over what Maya found. Hopefully, Tomoe will also have some updates for us by the time we get back."

A trek back to the town entrance and then they entered another taxi. On the way back out, Hibiki could feel several stares watching them leave. She tightened her grip on Maya's cage and stroked those fluffy feathers for reassurance. Even with her commander by her side, she didn't fully relax until they were a distance away from the town.

"We probably won't have to go back to that town so you can relax."

"But won't Tri be keeping Seela there?"

"Not likely. It would be unwise to stay in any one place for long and it seems like he's been planning this for a while. Also, Maya probably got more info than we ever could out of everyone there."

"Oh. So, it's just going through what Maya found out and connecting that to the location that Tomoe gets for us?"

"Yep. And losing the car trailing us."

"Right. Of course. And losing the car. Trailing..." Fighting the confines of her seatbelt, Hibiki managed to turn her entire body to face her commander.

She frantically inquired, "Can you please repeat that last sentence?"

"Remember how I told you that Mr. West would probably be getting in our way from now on?"

"Yeah, but isn't this fast?"

"Think back on how long we waited before getting any response from him. It was about an hour. The insurance company probably immediately sent him a message after I went to him, letting him know that the investigation would be continuing."

"But that's still only a couple hours from hearing the name Tri Wilder, so having someone tail us. And how would he even know where we are in the first place?"

"He's had someone tailing us from the beginning, but I didn't want to worry you. It seems that they've been given orders to stop us now, so fighting seems unavoidable."

Yui unbuckled her seatbelt and prepared for a possible confrontation. She was prepared to reassure Hibiki that she would keep her safe but stopped after watching the girl. Instead of trembling in fear, Hibiki opened Maya's cage and grabbed an old stun gun out of her pocket. Her eyes reflected a determination and readiness that Yui had not been expecting.

"I'm ready. Let's kick some ass."