Adabat Airport was a busy place nowadays. Even in the off season, the airport was a frenzy of travelling businessmen, tourists and watersportfans. Eight years prior the place hadn't been overly crowded, but then the Dark Gaia incident had started raising interest in the faraway Polynesian town. Tourism had always been part of the economy, but not to the extent of today, when most people had abandoned their traditional fishing boats for souvenir shops and bars.
Damn shame, thought Mighty the Armadillo, silently observing the bustling arrivals hall of the airport. He cut his reminiscing short by reminding himself that he was part of the tourist economy, running one of many reefdiving shops in town, though his predated the Dark Gaia incident. He dropped his train of thought when he noticed his old friends entering the hall. He waved to get their attention before starting of in their direction.
"Mighty!" Charmy Bee shouted as he flew into Mighty's arms.
"Hey there, buddy," Mighty said back, rubbing his knuckles across Charmy's head, "missed you too."
Vector the Crocodile and Espio the Chameleon followed suit, each greeting him in turn, Espio with a brief bow and handshake, and Vector with a bearhug that made Mighty appreciate his own strength.
"Welcome to Adabat, guys. Been a long time," he said after the initial greetings were finished.
"Indeed. Some might say too long, but we've had our own issues," Espio said, answering for the group.
"So I've heard. Glad you're on top of your financial situation again. I hope you had a good flight."
Vector yawned. "Not really. You try sleeping on a plane with this walking sugar high in the seat next to you," he said, pointing at Charmy, who smiled sheepishly at the comment.
Mighty laughed at the exchange. "Come on, let's grab a drink while we're at the airport. My treat. I believe we have some catching up to do."
Espio walked past him to a nearby coffee shop. "Hope you have nothing else planned today. You know how Vector gets," he whispered in passing Mighty.
A good hour and three coffees each later (except for Charmy; caffeine didn't set well with him, so he just had soda instead), Vector finished up the last of his detective stories, each of which he obviously twisted so he was the hero.
"...and after that whole thing was wrapped up, we decided we needed a break. And since you lived here, I thought we'd come over and visit."
"I appreciate the thought, guys, I really do," Mighty said. "Sometimes our past adventures do come back to me." He remained silent for a bit.
"I really do wish you could join us again, chasing down bad guys and stuff," Charmy chimed in.
"I know, Charmy, but in the end, I'm not cut out for detective work. I don't do well under stress."
"What do you do here, actually?" Espio asked, having remained silent for most of the conversation. He knew better than to try and correct Vector. "Still on your scuba gear rental?"
"Yep. Tourism's really been on the rise the past few years. You were smart to come here in the off season, or I wouldn't have had time for you guys."
"That busy, huh?" Vector asked.
"You have no idea. Since the Gaia incident the remaining ruins got tremendous attention the world over, and given that several are in shallow water, well, you get the picture."
"So is everyone into the tourist business?" Espio asked.
"Not yet, but it won't be long. Especially now that the traditional fishery's been in crisis for three weeks now," Mighty remarked, the previous disheartment back in his voice.
"How so?" Charmy went, "Not enough fish to go around?"
"Not exactly. Recently entire schools of fish have just been showing up, bobbing on the surface. Dead. No apparent cause, but they can't sell decomposing fish."
Vector rubbed his chin in thought. "That's odd. Is there any pattern to those dead schools?"
"Never asked about it. Couldn't tell you, sorry, Vector. You should ask the fishermen if you want to find out more."
"I might do that," Vector said, "Sounds like a job for us."
"But we're on holidaaay..." Charmy whined.
"I know, but I still wanna investigate. You can still have your fun around, Charmy." Vector glanced at Espio.
"Why do I have to be the babysitter?" Espio said, inciting a shout from Charmy ("I'm not a baby!"), before continuing, "I can get as much work done as you."
"Yeah, but you need to be able to see the bigger picture, which I happen to be very good at."
Espio sighed at that. Again he had run into the brick wall that was Vector's stubbornness.
"Don't get fussed up, guys. I can afford to keep the store closed during the week, and let Charmy have his fun in town. I know Adabat better than either of you anyway," Mighty proposed.
Charmy was exceedingly happy about the prospect, and very much intended to buzz around in joy, but Vector grabbed him before he could do that, so he just resorted to an ear-grating "Can I, Vector, please, please, can I, can I, can I?"
Espio retorted: "We can't ask that of you, I think. You'll miss out on income. And you know it can be a chore."
"Well, you're not asking it of me, I'm proposing, for one. And it's not like the profits would be that substantial at this time of year. Besides, it's been too long since I spent time with my little buddy here, chore or not," Mighty said, giving Charmy's pilot hat another affectionate rub.
Espio and Vector both nodded at each other and agreed to Mighty's proposal. "We should get to our hotel," Espio said, "We need to be prepared if we want to investigate anything." All four agreed to that and they left the airport to hail a cab outside.
Even before the Dark Gaia incident, there had been two sides to Adabat. The real touristic attraction was Traditional Adabat, a few smaller islands with several large fishing villages as well as the jungle-covered temples, of which the Gaia Temple had been one. Modern Adabat, settled on a single large island, allowed the touristic appeal of Traditional Adabat to bloom to its fullest and had every amenity associated with that: hotels, restaurants of all varieties, souvenir shops, tour boat managers, and so on.
The Dark Gaia incident popularity Adabat had gained, however, had caused an exodus from Traditional to Modern, so that only two of the original dozen or so villages still held up. Fishing still was the main source of income, though the fishermen did ask for fees if tourists wanted to take pictures. Some of the fishermen also offered tours, but this wasn't commonplace yet.
With fishing stocks failing, Espio and Vector entered a village in crisis. None of the tourists accompanying them on the ferry really noticed. But being detectives, they could clearly see the dreary atmosphere that hung around the village. There were no children playing around the beaches, in fact the village looked nearly deserted. The only people around, aside from tourists, were several fishermen, who'd surely got up before dawn, and were tying their boats to the dock already.
"They're back early. Probably means nothing good," remarked Vector, "I don't think they're here for the tourists."
Espio remained silent, moving towards the docks instead.
Despite his remark, Vector could see several of the fishermen desperately trying to offer their boats as tour boats. "Never gonna work," Vector muttered to himself. Tourists would want more luxury than a rickety fishing barge. He turned to follow Espio.
Espio approached the place a fisherman was aiming to dock at. When said fisherman threw out his mooring line, he missed the pole he meant to hook. Espio dashed forward and snatched the line before it slipped off the dock into the surf below. The fisherman threw him a salute as he tied the line firmly around the pole.
"Thank you for that, sir," the man said as he climbed out of the boat.
"No problem," Espio said, eyeing the boat. "I see your catch was underwhelming."
"Disastrous is the term I'd rather use," the man said, "same thing nearly every day."
Vector took over at that point. "We heard there was a problem with fishing stocks. We're trying to investigate, mr..."
"Jamal," the fisherman said, "name's Jamal."
"I'm Vector, this is Espio, and we'd like to hear your take on the situation," Vector asked.
Jamal sighed. "I can't really give you guys an explanation. All I know is that every time I've gone out for the past three weeks, tons of fish near the main islands is floating dead on the surface and none have shown up in the nets."
"Could you show us?" Espio asked, "We're willing to pay for the trip."
"I'd love to, if you could tell us what's going on at least. A few people have dived in the straights where it's happened, but nothing is out of the ordinary down there."
Half an hour later, Jamal's words proved reality. Although a lot of the fish had floated out to sea by now, several corpses still lingered. They could easily see to the bottom in the clear waters, and as Jamal had said, nothing strange seemed to be going on down there.
"The carcasses flow out during the day, and the channel fills back up with fish by sunset. Come morning they're all dead. Couldn't tell you why," Jamal said.
"But it happens at night then, whatever it is. Hasn't anyone stayed out?" Espio asked.
"No. Because of this mass killing, we're forced to fish until we can hardly see anymore, after which no one feels like staying in the channel," he said, and after a slight pause, "Most people in the village say it's a divine punishment for allowing the tourists to desecrate the temples, which is the principal reason no one has stayed to observe."
Vector would have laughed if the situation wasn't as dire as it clearly was. Instead he asked: "And what do you believe?"
"I'm not the most religious man," Jamal said with a weak smile, "but I don't have a clue what else it could be."
"What about fishing elsewhere?" Vector asked. "That's the first thing I'd do."
"Well," Jamal said, "the thing about these straights is that when the low tide comes in, the fish are trapped and that allows us to have an easier time catching them. We just don't have an alternative where fishing's this good. People are trying now, though, with no success so far."
Espio tried the water. "Not warmer than at the village. Pollution maybe?" he asked Vector.
"That doesn't explain why the fish aren't dying now. I think our best bet to figuring this out is staying the night."
"In that case we should get back to the hotel and prepare. Whatever it is, if it can kill a lagoon full of fish, I want to be prepared."
"I'll take you guys back then, if you know what to do," Jamal said.
"I think we do," Vector replied, smirking.
Back at the hotel, after some research on the geography and tides, Vector and Espio updated Mighty and Charmy on the situation.
"Intriguing," Mighty said after they'd finished. "What are you guys going to do?"
"We'll stay out the night there, and hopefully at low tide tonight we'll see what's decimating the fish," Espio answered.
"A-are we sure we want to do that, though?" Charmy asked. Jamal's comment about divine punishment didn't sit well with him.
"Charmy, don't be stupid. Those people are superstitious, there are no gods involved," Vector tried and failed to calm Charmy's nerves.
"You guys want me to help?" Mighty asked. "You never know."
"Not the worst idea. We don't know the extent of the threat, after all," Espio said. "Bring some rebreathers from your store too, in case underwater work is necessary." Charmy was relieved at this development.
"Will do." Mighty got up. "I'll meet you guys at the ferry dock." He smiled. "Just like old times, huh?"
The Chaotix had set up camp after the last fishermen had left following the sunset catch. Vector took first watch, and Mighty relieved him after a few hours.
"What is it, buddy?" he said when Charmy walked up to him. "Bad dreams?"
"Kinda." He sat down next to Mighty.
"Don't worry about the divine punishment. Vector's right, it's just superstition."
"I know, but that doesn't help. I just get nightmares about it."
"'S all right." Mighty said, putting his arm around Charmy's shoulders. "We all have that now and then."
Charmy smiled at him.
Then quietly, a deep rumble arose from the lagoon. Mighty and Charmy felt it more than they heard it.
"W-what is that?" Charmy said, clinging tightly to Mighty's arm, terrified.
"We need to wake the others," Mighty said, standing up, not fazed by Charmy's hanging on to his arm. He followed up on his word and within two minutes, all four were up and about.
"I can see lights down there," Espio said from up close to the water's edge.
"L-lights?" Charmy said, cowering behind Vector.
"Mighty, get those rebreathers, we're going down," Vector said, to which Mighty complied quickly.
"I-I'm not going down there. I can't swim anyway," Charmy said.
"Don't do anything foolish while we're down there, then," Espio said before putting in the mouthpiece.
The three waded in. Once their ears were submerged, the rumble got quite a lot louder, emanating from the centre of the lagoon. There stood the apparent cause of the fish massacres: a large excavating robot. It braced itself against the bedding with six insect-like legs as its two 'hands' dug out and sieved through heaps of sand at a time, dumping it to the side. Two intake pipes on both sides of the ellipsoidal craft sucked in water, and a hose at the bottom used it for cleaning and sweeping purposes. It didn't seem to have noticed them. In the waving moonlight, it looked quite like a scorpion to Mighty, and he hoped its sting would be withheld for the time being. He signalled to head up towards the surface, and Vector and Espio quickly complied.
"Well, that's not something you see every day," Vector remarked, removing his mouthpiece when he broke the surface.
"How did they miss that?" Espio said, "They said they dove down and they didn't see anything out of the ordinary. That looked quite extraordinary to me."
"I guess it buries itself by day," Vector said, "but that still doesn't explain the dead fish."
"Did you see the intake pipes? Maybe it's polluting the water that way," Mighty proposed.
Espio nodded. "Sounds like the best option. But I don't think it's pollution. Would attract too much attention."
"Either way, we need some photos of that thing," Vector said. "I'll do that, you guys head for shore already."
They stayed there until early morning, taking turns observing the Scorpion Sieve (as Charmy had jokingly named it, but it stuck all the same) underwater, as more and more fish started bobbing to the surface. When the twilight started coming out, the scorpionbot stopped digging, lay down on the excavated bedding, and using its long spindly legs, it moved the sand it had shifted back into position, on top of the robot. All captured in photos by Vector. The first fishermen arrived a few minutes later, once more disappointed at the schools of fish floating dead.
Later that day, as Charmy napped last night away, the three discussed what they'd witnessed at their hotel. The fishermen had seemed slightly less exasperated knowing at least what the cause of the fish deaths was, but that didn't mean their conditions were going to improve.
"At least we know now what the deal is. But we need to take it down still," Mighty said, deeply concerned about the fishing villages.
"That's not going to be easy," Vector said, observing the pictures on a computer monitor. "I expect Dr. Eggman's hand in this, but I can't be sure. If it's Eggman's, though, it'll be too sturdy for rentable underwater demolition equipment, and I don't think you know any explosives up for grabs," he said, eyeing Mighty.
"What makes you think Eggman made it?" Espio asked. Vector's first hunches had a tendency of ending up correct.
"No one else I know of has the resource to build such a large specialized craft. Plus there's this." He pointed at a small black mark above one of the water intake pipes. Despite being only a few pixels wide, it looked remarkably like the Eggman Enterprises logo. "Guess he can't help himself. To be fair, the scorpion shape was what tipped me off at first."
"All that means is it makes our job harder," Mighty said, "How do we take it down?" He wasn't much of a planner, but would go for execution full force.
"We go for the vulnerable parts," Espio commented, and pointed at the intake pipes on the machine. "That looks vulnerable. If we can get large objects in there, it will probably wreak havoc on the machine's innards."
"And if there's a filter? I mean, it buries itself every day," Mighty said, skeptical.
"Then you and I can try to break them apart. You're strong enough for it," Vector said boldly.
The trio discussed the specifics for a while, before eventually settling on that plan, to be executed that night.
As it turned out, the Scorpion Sieve's intake pipes sported two filters. One was a large debris filter, easily taken care of by Mighty, while Vector held him fast against the intake current, standing on the machine. The second filter was a sand filter Mighty was forced to drive a speargun barb through in order to pull it loose. Meanwhile Espio made sure the machine didn't react and Charmy kept an eye out above water, in contact with Espio through an earpiece. Espio couldn't talk back, true, but it was better than no knowledge of the surface at all. Even if it meant having to endure Charmy's ceaseless jabbering.
When that was said and done, Vector pulled Mighty out and the pair moved to toss in a few larger rocks, a foot or so long. Espio felt uneasy. It was going too smoothly. No reaction had come from the machine at all. That was until Charmy suddenly stopped chatting mid-sentence. Espio at first welcomed the silence (a kid talking your ears off for half an hour will do that), but then he realized what it meant. He rushed over to the other two and furiously motioned for them to head up to the surface. Mighty rushed his stone into the pipe, while Vector dropped his and swam up.
When the three broke the surface, Vector immediately removed his rebreather, looked around and shouted: "What's the deal, Espio?"
"Charmy stopped talking mid-sentence. Rather unlike him, don't you think?" Espio said.
"Why? What happened?" Mighty asked, concerned.
"I don't know, he just cut off," Espio replied, "so either we're being jammed or..."
"Or I have your insect buddy held captive on shore," said a rasping voice all three recognized as belonging to Dr. Eggman. And while not in the flesh, a TV monitor floated down, displaying the doctor's moustachioed mug as he laughed evilly.
"Eggman!" Vector shouted, "I knew you were behind this."
"Too little, too late, my friends. My Egg Scorpion has just recovered the Chaos Emerald." A small missile blasted out of the water, quickly banking right and vanishing over the horizon.
"Wait, a Chaos Emerald?" Espio said, "That's what you were after?"
Eggman laughed. "Some detectives you are. Why else would I be digging around here?"
"So what killed the fish?" Mighty asked.
"It runs on oxygen it absorbs from the water. Minor collateral damage, compared to what's about to happen," Eggman said, before laughing again.
The Chaotix looked at each other. "What do you mean?" Vector asked.
"I couldn't leave without leaving a mark, could I? I programmed the Egg Scorpion to self-destruct after finding the Emerald, catching Adabat in the blast radius. Another conquest off the bucket list," Eggman replied, before laughing evilly once more. At least until a message from a monitor off-screen interrupted him. "What?" His face turned sour. "It's stalling. Something's clogging its power system." His eyes widened. "It can't gather enough power? NO!!" he shouted before looking at the Chaotix again. Mighty and Vector high-fived and cheered. "You're behind this, aren't you? You'll...you'll PAY for this!"
Unseen by Eggman in his rage, Espio had swum to shore and was approaching the robots that held Charmy captive. Cuffed by hands and feet, Charmy fought back as much as he could, but with the Egg Pawn having a firm grip on his wings, it didn't amount to much. At least his shouting gave Espio extra cover. One of the robots seemed to be receiving instructions as Espio arrived ("Bring the little twerp back to base," as Vector and Mighty could hear, still out on the water). Espio, turning invisible, snuck up to one of the Egg Pawns and drove one of his throwing knives through its head. This caused some commotion amongst the other robots. Charmy instantly knew Espio was behind it and started making fighting harder to allow Espio more cover.
With Charmy's guard distracted by his ruckus, Espio managed to apply the same tactic to said guard. He whispered: "Pretend like you took him down and are trying to escape. I'll take care of the others as they chase you." Charmy nodded and did as he was told. Needless to say, with how stupid Egg Pawns are, it went off without a hitch, and a few minutes later Espio was taking off Charmy's cuffs.
"They ganged up on me and threw the walkie-talkie in the water. I didn't have time to react," Charmy said apologetically.
"It's fine, we did what we came here to do. Eggman isn't using his scorpion for anything else." Espio said, as he removed the last of Charmy's cuffs.
"What was that thing that flew out of the water?" Charmy asked, rubbing his wrists where the cuffs has chafed them.
"A Chaos Emerald in a transport missile. Eggman got his hands on that, unfortunately."
Charmy looked sad. "Awww. But we stopped the thing, right? The fish won't die anymore?"
"No, they won't," Espio said as he looked out over the water. He could hear Eggman's screams of rage echo across the water, "And that's what counts."
"Are you sure you don't want to come?" Charmy asked. "I miss having you around."
A week after the Egg Scorpion's downfall, life in Adabat was returning to normal. The fish were returning to the lagoon and while the authorities had been informed (and clean-up on the robot had started), the wide-spread public would be kept in the dark, as the Chaotix liked it. With a week of proper vacation under their belt, Espio, Vector and Charmy felt rested and ready for more work back home. Mighty, however, insisted on staying.
"I'll miss you too, buddy, but I can't drop everything here. Besides, it's not like we'll never see each other again," Mighty said.
"You're always welcome to stay with us, if you should ever find yourself in Station Square," Vector said. "C'mon, guys, let's get boarding."
And so final goodbyes were exchanged. A firm handshake with Espio and brotherly hugs with Vector and Charmy.
"I'll make a point of it to write you more," Mighty told Charmy.
"I'll hold you to that," came the reply.
And then they were off. Off to more detective work in the comfortable environment of Station Square. And while Mighty was confident in his choice, he couldn't help but have some regret about turning them down.