Chapter 13:

Adrenaline Rush

The Underwriters

She felt like a dog abandoned by her owner. If Hibiki had a tail and sat next to the door waiting for Yui's return, then the comparison would be startling. Everything in her wanted to run after Yui and join her, but her stinging ears and muscles kept her grounded.

Being still and alone for the first time in a week was uncomfortable. Hibiki was so used to not letting anyone besides her dad and Maya in, so to get so attached to someone new was unusual. Thinking back to how safe and accepted Yui made her feel, she wasn't surprised. Remembering her promise to trust her commander, the girl's pigtails danced around her as she shook her head to refocus herself.

Turning to Maya, she began conversing internally with her friend.


Yes, Hibiki! Don't worry! I'm here! Yui will be fine. She's so so sooo strong.

Mm. I think so too. So, let's help her out by doing everything that we can here at the base.

Right! Here you go! I got a lot. I did good right?

Yes, you're the best Maya. Let's see what you found, hmm?

The holoband on Hibiki's wrist nearly crashed from the sheer volume of all the video and audio clips that Maya had sent to it. Hibiki's mouth dried up as she wondered if she could even get through half of the information that Maya had found. There was so much content that an intense feeling of overwhelm filled her stomach, causing intense cramps. In a flash, Yui's face appeared in Hibiki's mind, calming her down.

Alright. Let's start with the video first.

Video first! Video first! Yay, Hibiki is so smart!

If no one else believed in her, Maya certainly did. Hibiki was convinced that she could have sipped water and Maya would have praised her for being the healthiest person in the world. Now much calmer, she began watching the films she had.

Most were merely random conversations from the townspeople complaining about nosey outsiders, but one clip pulled her to the edge of her seat. A shot of a young couple in their home was visible. Maya had clearly flown through their open window and filmed. One wife's hands shook so hard that the tea she was drinking kept dripping out of her mug.

"I still can't believe that he did it. I mean, really? It's obvious that girl wasn't a friend of his."

"Sure she was. I carry all of my friends into town with me unconsciously across my shoulder with tape over their mouths." The other woman rubbed her fingers over her wedding band while speaking.

"It's so awful what he's doing. I mean, I know the accident in Minear was tragic, but that girl had nothing to do with that."

"Hush. You know, if he finds out we're talking about that…"

"I know. I know. If it wasn't for that warehouse." Pausing, one woman placed her teacup down and almost turned in the same direction as Maya. She clearly felt wind pass her cheeks as the bird retreated back outside the window. Maya was just in time too, as the window was quickly closed.

Warehouse? Minear? Accident? Did something happen in Minear that Tri wanted to get revenge for? How is Mr. West involved exactly?

Ooh! Maya remembers! A man was singing a song that Maya thinks is important. I'll play it for you. Opening her beak, Maya's sonic mimicry was displayed for an audience of one. A gruff voice came out singing a medley.

"In the woods, there's a shed.

Where the old workers went to get fed.

When the jobs, they went astray.

A man went in and closed it one day.

Oh, in the shed you'll find.

A tale of greed. A tale of lies.

Oh, yes, you'll find the truth.

Of what happened in old Minear.

Minear. Minear.

Listen to me, my dear.

Listen for the ghosts and you'll find.

The truth of old Minear."

Old Minear. Shed in the woods? Ghosts? Thank you mysterious old man singing oddly specific songs for the huge clue.

Thank you! Thank you! Hopping around and chirping, Maya accepted her reward of head scratches. Now that a flurry of important keywords had been attained, it was time for the next step in Hibiki's search. Several screens were spread out in front of her, one for each search engine. Using the multi-search function, Hibiki searched multiple at once. Unlike the names Tri and Shane Wilder, results did pop up. News stories of old factories closing, hundreds being laid off, and families being destroyed proliferated. Hibiki set this data to the side and kept trying different sites and search terms.

What about the ghost, Hibiki? The ghost! The ghost!

Thanks for the reminder, Maya. I nearly forgot.

Never fear. Maya is here!

Laughter filled the room, but it didn't come through Maya's beak this time. Covering her mouth, Hibiki looked around to double-check that she was alone. A memory of one of the first days on the case popped backup reminding her of the other time she let her real voice slip out and Hibiki's usual teasing.

Yui. I don't think I'd mind if she heard my laugh.

Mm. Even if something happens, she's strong enough to be just fine!

That's right. She is, isn't she? The blinking cursors on her many screens caught Hibiki's attention as she turned back to the task at hand. Lingering in the back of her mind was a growing awareness that maybe she didn't need to hide as much as she had been. Tossing all of these thoughts into her mental storage cabinet for later questioning, Hibiki searched for any ghost stories about Minear.

Barely anything popped up beside a sketchy site called Local Real Ghost Stories. Pop-up ads for cheap cyber enhancements and dating sides littered the sidebar of the blog. Hibiki ignored all of this as she read the post.

"Rumors say that right outside that old factory town, Minear, one can hear ghosts. The town was one of the few still thriving after the Robot Revolution of 3042 as the factories switched to creating android replacement parts. Yet, all the factories mysteriously closed one day. I went to the town myself and can confirm that if you go to the part of the forest closest to the former site of the ReBilt Industries factory, you can hear voices speaking. I didn't get too close since rumors say that anyone who tries to investigate goes missing and I wanted to be sure that this story made its way back to you! Be sure to tune in next time where I recall the tale of the haunted bakery with a ghost baker!"

I think I smell a lead, Maya.

Maya does too! Maya also senses some people outside.

That's great. Wait? People? Is it Yui?

Hibiki increased her ear's volume slightly and regretted it immediately.

"Are you sure we should be doing this? I mean, isn't it a bit much to bomb the entire building and everyone in it?"

"I mean, sure, but did you see the size of the check Mr. West gave us? Just pretend that it's empty."

"True. And with all of the money we get, we can afford therapy anyways."

"Exactly! Now keep working and shush before they hear us inside."

Well, shit. That's definitely not good.

I don't think so either. Maya thinks we should call Yui.

Ring ring. Ring ring. The beating of her heart was so intense that Hibiki worried the muscle would fly out of her chest. She hunkered down under a table while holding onto her knees. While tears began to fill her eyes, she regretted not going with Yui. Finally, a hologram rendition of her new favorite face appeared.

"Sorry it took so long to pick up. I had no luck over here. I don't know if Mr. West got here, but. What the hell is going on?" Yui was in the middle of updating Hibiki when she finally noticed the unusual situation. Picking up on her little bird's obvious fear, her entire countenance changed.

"Maya will tell Yui since Hibiki is in the middle of a panic attack right now. Maya and Hibiki heard people outside talking about bombing the building. I don't think this is good. Can Yui come save us?"

Maya said this in the sweetest voice possible, while Hibiki was practically gasping for air from panic.

"How many? Can you hear what kind of explosives? Hibiki, look at me. Okay, little bird? Just listen to my voice."

Hibiki closed her eyes and focused solely on Yui's voice, shutting out all the other sounds for the moment.

"Good girl. Just focus on me. Now breathe in. And breathe out. That's it. Good job. I'll reward you when I get back."

"Thank you." Hibiki breathed out a shaky reply with her real voice. Her words were so light they practically dissipated the moment they entered the air, but Yui heard them. The commander was just about to speak when Hibiki continued, "I can hear two of them. I don't know what kind of explosives, but I think I hear them say only 10 minutes left. I can hear multiple beeps all around the building."

"Good girl. I'm going to send some friends to help out. Don't move, okay? I'll be right there."

As the screen went black, panic began to set in again. Repeating Yui's words to herself helped Hibiki to calm down as she waited. She wanted to run and she would have if this had happened last week, but she trusted that Yui would make it in time. Beeps began filling the air faster and faster as time wore down. Hibiki held Maya in her arms as she mentally counted down the last few minutes.

5 minutes. 4 minutes. 3 minutes.

"Hibiki!" Right when the final beeps began to signal impending doom, the air went silent. Then, Hibiki heard the most beautiful voice. Crawling out from under the desk, she was swept up into Yui's arms.

Now that she was safe, tears began to slide down her cheeks, one after the other. Yui cooed, "I got you. You did so well, little bird. You're safe now."

"Oh wow. These are some high-tech explosives! They can be manually and remotely discharged. This main hub controls all of them too? Man, I need some of these for myself."

Mayumi Davis was fangirling while the pair hugged. Deep blue eyes and hair gave the illusion of a distant ice princess. This delusion was shattered by the joyful way Mayumi pawed the mass weapon of destruction in her hands.

"This maniac over here is Mayumi. The heiress to the Gigolith Weapons fortune and the one who disabled the bombs in time."

"Thank you." Hibiki nodded over to the girl who paid no attention to the pair. Instead, she watched Mayumi wander off in the direction of the newly rebuilt armory to destroy the room once again with her experiments.

"Did you end up finding anything?"

"No. The holoband was a dead end. It was completely broken. I don't think it was destroyed by Mr. West either, but he definitely knew about it before we did."

"That's too bad."

"What about you? I understand if you didn't find anything with what happened, so don't worry. We can always figure out our next steps after you get some rest."

Despite everything that happened, Hibiki was not deterred. Instead, the threat to her life only made her more determined to get to the truth. Sliding out of Yui's protective hold, she shook her head.

As she met her commander's worried eyes, Hibiki smiled.

"No. I'm ready to take Mr. West down and find Seela once and for all. I found our next lead near Minear." She turned to walk outside of the Underwriters’ HQ with confident steps. With Maya and Yui by her side, she was ready to finish this. It felt like they were knocking right on the door of the truth, waiting for Tri Wilder to open up.