"Hey Vector, why does it rain?"
"Because the angels are pissing."
Espio, in all of his characteristic caustic nature, had exuded the last remark with the utmost bitterness as he sat lurking in his own personal angst ridden corner, complete with cobwebs and dust bunnies. Every so often, in between his interpersonal debates on such philosophical topics as the meaning of life and why cheerios were round, he was known to pontificate on occasions just what was going on in his purpled hued head.
"I wasn't talking to you, Espio," Charmy quipped, crossing his twig like arms over his chest in a purely irritated manner. "I was asking Vector."
"Well Kiddo, I was going to provide you with an answer until Manic Depressant over there butted in with his typical pessimistic quip."
Espio glared at the luminescent green crocodile that had just referred to the chameleon by his ever so infamous nick name.
"I am not pessimistic, I'm realistic," Espio corrected vehemently.
"Go take your Prozac," Vector muttered in jest, an oversized smirk molded onto his toothy grin.
"Zoloft," Espio corrected. "I take Zoloft."
Charmy blinked in rapid succession, noncomprehending.
"There's a title for the longest book ever written," Espio continued to mutter. "Charmy: Confused. A collection of short, incoherent essays penned by the oblivious bumble bee. Next only in length to the Encyclopedia Britanica."
With Espio's chronic buffing providing as comforting background music, Vector continued to scribble away at his mahogany desk, completely engulfed with the previous year's taxes. The three sat in intense trepidation as the presumed leader of the group scanned the forms trying to figure out whether or not they had obtained sufficient monetary means to pay their dues for the year. And that is where Team Chaotix found themselves on that rainy evening; pent up in their dilapidating shack they fondly referred to as a home nestled within the infamous grim of the down town tenements in Station Square. Ends were not meeting; business was not booming. In fact, supper was hardly kept on the table. And now with the looming financial death threat of taxes on the distant horizon, all three members were displaying there nerves in various ways as they sat confined within their small living space trying not to bite each other's heads off.
"No one has answered my question yet!" Charmy whined, sticking his pug like nose on the window pane. "Why does it rain?"
"God is perspiring."
"Espio, you're gonna confuse the kid."
"What does perspiring mean?" Charmy inquired, scratching the back of his head gingerly.
"See?" Vector confronted, waiting for some kind of reaffirming action from his partner. "You're confusing the kid already."
"He's always confused," Espio drawled out in one prolonged exhalation.
Ignoring the inevitable insult, Charmy proceeded to flutter over to the desk where Vector was making his temporary residence. He landed undetectably on the wooden surface and peered over his scaly surrogate father's shoulder.
"Those red numbers are bad, right?"
"Unless you like owing people money," Vector began, "then yes."
Charmy waited a couple beats before continuing. "Ahem, you still have neglected to answer me." He leaned in over Vector's shoulder and whispered, barely audible, in his ear, "Why does it rain?"
Vector placed his pen down with a gentleness that was rarely evident in such a characteristically domineering creature. "Well, Kiddo," he began, utilizing the nick name he was ever so fond of when referring to his bumble bee companion. "Up in the sky, there are these molecular bodies called clouds which are made of itsy bitsy water droplets so light and fluffy they can actually float—"
"For all that is sacred, Vector," Espio breathed from his dismal corner. "You're not actually going to answer the kid, are you?"
"What? I'm trying to entertain him."
"Tell him to go entertain himself," the chameleon quipped. "See that stove over there in the kitchen, Charmy?" The tiny child nodded. "If you stick your head in it and turn it on you see really pretty colors. Why don't you go try it?"
"Espio," Vector groaned. "You have no soul."
"Nu-uh!" Charmy spit out, fluttering out of emotional anxiety. "You told me to go do that last weekend and Vector nearly had a hernia!"
"It was out of jubilation of your demise, I'm sure."
"Was not," Vector grunted, patting Charmy affectionately on the head, an action so second nature that it came without a second's thought.
There was a silent pause as Espio retreated back to his internal philosophizing, leaving the other two members of the team to their own devices.
"Hey Vector," Charmy petitioned. "Why do we owe so much money?"
"Because Vector has a hallow gap where his brains are supposed to be."
"I'm sorry Espio," Vector responded to his permanently caustic comrade, "but I have never heard benevolency referred to in such terms."
Charmy looked up, his eyes in silent inquisition as to the meaning of the word, 'benevolency.'
"Pro bono," Espio offered tersely, seeing the question on Charmy's face and cutting it off at the knees before the child had time to ask it.
"Yeah, but what does pro bono mean—"
"It means Vector does half of our cases for free because he doesn't have the balls to ask for a pay check."
"Our clients wouldn't be able to offer us money if we asked for it," Vector cut in, matching Espio's chronic bitterness with a dose of his own authoritative voice.
"We need a better promoting agency," Espio intoned, as if his answer was sacred and absolute and he expected his ingenious proclamation to be ignored yet again.
"Don't those cost money?"
"Yes Charmy, you're right. But Espio is more concerned with gaining fodder for his complaints then actually lending a hand to help us fix the problem."
"...I can help fix a problem."
"When there's a promise of monetary compensation, sure ya can," Vector agreed, letting the pen fall lifelessly on top of the intimidating stack of paper that dwarfed Charmy in comparison. "We don't keep you around for nothing, ya know."
"Pifft," exhaled the chameleon, "I'm going so under appreciated these days."
"I like you," Charmy piped in, subconsciously complimenting what had grown to be his foster brother over the past six years. Children, more often than not, tend to forget the past transgressions of family members and don't hold grudges until they are older.
"I don't," Vector added.
The narrator rests her case.
"The feeling is mutual," Espio said, glaring vehemently at his superior. Which, given the current circumstances, could have been foretold through the simple action of staring, since Espio rarely did anything but glare and the action became almost as habitual as that of blinking or inhaling.
Charmy, on the other hand, had eyes that lit up like fire crackers on a daily basis and still saw the world through shades of monochrome rose that is only possible for those under the tender age of ten. Espio lost the ability to be optimistic a long time ago, and scarcely remembers the days where naivety was a blessing taken for granted.
Just as the three were about to self combust after being stuck in such close corners for what seemed to be an eternity and a half (in reality; four days) the phone, which was scarcely being paid for as it was and even Charmy had to make due with half a bowl of cereal in the morning to help pay off, rang off the hook and Vector fumbled with his overgrown hands trying to pick up the receiver.
Such things made cell phones out of the question.
"Hello?" the crocodile greeted in tones of promise, voice brimming with elation at the prospect of being employed once again. He then spontaneously remembered he was supposed to sound professional and deeply cleared his throat to attempt the salutation once again. "This is the Chaotix Detective Agency, how may we direct your call?"
"Vector," Espio dead panned. "There's nowhere to direct the call too."
The observation was ignored.
"...I need help," a tiny voice squeaked, barely audible and five decibels too low.
Vector paused momentarily, unsure of how to proceed with such a fragile recipient. He was not one to inspire tranquility in those of delicate nature. Charmy was the only one who was not scared of him (even Espio knew when he needed to shut up) and that's only because he knew the croc on a personal level, and almost a paternal level at that.
"That's what we're here for!" Vector boomed heartily, trying to get across the emotion of cordially executed comfort but it came out sounding more like an army order.
"Oh," the delicate response traveled through the phone, static infested but still maintaining its innate charm. "Oh, goodie."
Then she hung up.
Vector was left staring slack jawed in a hypnotic like fashion at the wall across from him. Tonsils on display and teeth shimmering spontaneously in the moonlight, he eyed Espio in that 'we got trouble' way that he reserved for when he did not want to alarm the younger participants of the group.
"Did you tell her we don't help cold blooded killers?" Espio grumbled, reminding Vector of the former (and pretty much only) policy they had when it came to lending aid. From the silent look, he assumed Vector had just heard something of that variety, and had no idea the girl on the other end of the phone didn't even sound old enough to be out of her Huggies Pull Ups yet.
"I think she was four," Vector responded, concern etched into his sharp features, evident only by the lone light bulb situated over head and the random flashes of lightening.
"Kids are growing up too fast these days," Espio chuckled to himself, finding his previous comment a riot.
"I don't get it," Charmy blurted.
"Now there's a surprise," came the retort from the talking corner, less visible than Vector's face or Charmy's transparent wings.
Vector began to swivel around in the office chair that barely supported his weight. He then rolled to the abandoned computer located at the far side of the room that was used more as an overgrown paperweight than anything else. Papers were piled high under the keyboard and the mouse was holding a bag of Charmy's gummi worms shut. He claimed they tasted like gutter water once they went stale. Of course, Espio immediately inquired as to the last time Charmy ingested gutter water, and the bumble bee threatened him with his stinger once again. The dispute ended with Vector threatening both of them with tearing their limbs off, and their voices died down after that.
"You're not actually gonna try to boot that thing up, are you?"
Vector didn't deem the previous question worthy of a response.
"He's trying to conserve the oxygen of the planet by not answering you," Charmy replied, smiling saucily.
Espio growled something in another language that Charmy wasn't quite familiar with, but it sounded a lot like a foreign disease, and fluttered over to Vector's shoulder as the leader began to push the power button and give the computer a few good whacks before it started to boot up.
"Doesn't that thing still work on the DOS system?" Charmy asked, leaning in for a better few. Shiny things enticed him.
"No, that's just what Espio says," Vector grumbled off hand, attention obviously averted to other matters.
Eventually the archaic monitor flickered to life (Charmy squealed with glee accordingly; he is easily amused to say the least) and Vector began poking away at the elevated keyboard with his two pointer fingers, since the rest were too large to manipulate the keys properly.
He loaded up the ancient tracking program Espio had devised about five years back when business was actually decent and he was able to dedicate time to his small infatuation with computers. His partner's interest in machines was still evident, Vector was sure, but they no longer could afford to waste money on technology when their primary concern was eating supper and purchasing toilet paper. Then Charmy was introduced into their lives and that pretty much solidified the extinction of Espio's dabblings in the computer realm. Sometimes Vector wondered if that was part of the unspoken reason Espio held such a grudge towards the kid.
"Dude," the chameleon drawled. "Please don't tell me you're doing what I think you're doing."
"What's that?" Charmy asked, eyes glowing with reflected light, for he had never seen the computer turned on, much less the programs that lay hidden within its confines.
"A little somethin' Espio wrote awhile back when he still took his pills," Vector supplied, clicking away at various icons and displays. "It's a program he made to trace calls we either lost or were cut off for external reasons, say a kidnapper gets hold of the receiver the victim it using, or the power of their cell phone dies and they're stuck in some isolated area."
"Does it actually work?"
"No," Espio shot out.
Another profanity was exuded in another language. This time Charmy thought he heard hints of Portuguese.
Vector didn't so Espio's life was spared.
Charmy watched in child like fascination as Vector loaded up the aforementioned program and the screen hummed with life. Espio could see his lost but not forgotten program working away by connecting to the previous recorded information from the call that stayed locked safely in the phone until the next time it rang. It operated via wireless connection, and he knew just like he knew the double visioned version of the horn between his eyes that it would soon begin trying to locate where the call was made from through the hastily maintained ID the caller unwittingly left with their initiation. Charmy was giggling with the type of joy that can only be found in a six year old, for the program was not visually stunning in the least, and Espio sighed as Vector's voice began to rise in volume due to unwarranted excitement.
"We've got a district!" the crocodile boomed.
A few seconds past.
"We've got a street!"
Another few second passed.
"We've got a—"
"I get it, I get it. I made the program, you retard."
Espio rolled his eyes. Vector's mind never worked properly under pressure or excitement, another reason why he probably kept Espio around.
It was then that a crack of lightening could be heard all across town and the light bulb then randomly flickered and went out.
The computer followed soon after.
"Oh, you have got to be kidding me!" Vector yelled in agitation, rattling the lone window pane that was showcased on the adjacent wall. "The power did so not just go out!"
"Told you God was pissing on us," Espio muttered sardonically.
Charmy's voice could be heard in the darkness, and it said the most foul thing that can come to a first grader's mind: "Poopie."
Sometimes Vector clandestinely thought that Espio enjoyed being miserable. Or that he wasn't truly happy unless he was unhappy. So when the three had to resort to digging through their closet full of mismatched winter coats and hats that they never really used due to the fact clothes were pretty much a foreign concept on Mobius, he knew it wouldn't be too much to request the chameleon's aid in searching haphazardly through the torrents of rain for the anonymous caller that had just graced them with about four words and a dial tone.
Espio whined about it accordingly, but Vector knew he would tolerate it simply because it gave him something else to complain about.
Charmy, on the other hand, seemed to be enticed with the concept that he would finally get to splash through the puddles like a real kid, as opposed to a member of the Chaotix Detective Agency that Espio sometimes joked advocated child labor due to the employment of a six year old bumble bee. Even if Charmy wasn't a child forced into numerous grown up situations, Vector would never allow him to prance around in rainstorms anyway. Lightening was a real and present danger that many oblivious parents seemed to have a tendency to over look, not to mention star struck lovers intent on kissing in the rain and being poured upon until their camisoles were sticky and see through. Espio always said the romance would be killed off, quite literally, if one of them were to be struck dead by lightening.
He said such things with sadistic pleasure yet at the same time Vector knew deep down he would never truly wish that on anybody.
Well, maybe anybody save for Charmy.
But then again, he probably had even better demises in store for him.
The oven was one of the more humane ones.
"So we have a street," Vector said, his voice resonating off the metal trashcans of downtown Station Square. He had to raise his volume to be heard over the downpour, especially since certain chameleons had taken to sulking characteristically behind him, and his voice had a tendency to be carried off with the wind.
Sometimes, when it blew right, Espio could swear even the ridiculously deaf and hard of hearing Antoine could hear him. And that furry had a skull about as thick as Omegas with a stubborn streak to match.
Well Espio, it takes one to know one.
"Yes," the purple fiend confirmed. "But do we have a house?"
"...No," Vector clarified, almost abashedly.
"Well then what do you propose we do about that?"
Espio derived too much pleasure from twisting the knife in the wound.
"Go trick or treating!" Charmy squealed, voice habitually cracking because puberty was not yet dawning on him.
"Yes, Charmy could go as our adorable, innocent little brother, I could go as an undercover bouncer, and Espio could go as the mentally deranged psychopath who just escaped from the mental ward!"
"...How about Charmy goes as the retarded sugar addict, you go as the over protective worry wart, and I go as the only one with brains in this god damn agency?"
"Your computer program sucked," Charmy threw in for good measure. "The graphics were lame and nothing blew up."
It was a completely irrelevant statement, but Charmy was not caustic enough to keep an arsenal of ready insults at hand and had to rely on whatever had happened moments prior for fodder to fuel his complaints.
"It ran on DOS," Espio continued to buff. "There are no graphics on DOS."
"Can we concentrate on the topic at hand, please?"
"He started it," Espio grumbled.
"...Ya know, maybe you should go as the retarded little brother," Charmy snipped.
Vector had a hard time repressing a smirk at that one.
"We're almost coming up on the street," Vector announced, trying to steer the subject back on track even though the current argument was nothing short of terribly amusing.
The rain was picking up in intensity now, and Espio was very thankful for his luminescent scales and their innate water repellent capabilities, and secretly chuckled to himself as Charmy's wings proceeded to grow damper and damper due to the unprecedented amounts of downpour.
The puddles were growing big enough for him to drown in. That delightful demise had crossed Espio's mind more than once.
"And here's the street," Vector said, staring down an insufficiently lit roadway. "Sunshine Road."
"Am I the only one who sees the irony in this?" Espio inquired, and to no confirmation.
"There's, like, ten houses on Sunshine Road," Charmy keenly noted. Espio applauded accordingly.
"If you can call them that," came the voice of Vector. "They seem more comparable to shacks than houses. And I thought we had it rough."
"We do," Espio confirmed.
The three stood awkwardly at the end of the street, trying to guess which ramshackled shed housed their caller. No one was volunteering any bright ideas, so Vector took it upon himself to march up to every threshold and introduce the team to whoever was unfortunate enough to open the door.
Nine houses into the investigation, he determined that it wasn't going well.
"This is the last one," Vector said, voice bereft of emotion due to the previous encounters with less than hospitable marsupials. "So put on a good face, fellas, 'cause this one's gonna be it!"
"That's what you said last time," Espio grumbled.
Charmy had fallen asleep some time ago. Say, around house five.
The shack that stood before them was hardly standing at all. It seemed liable to blow over given a strong enough current of wind, and appeared as though it was being held together by nothing more than some Elmer's glue and some heavy duty duct tape.
"It has crossed your mind," Espio began insipidly as they encroached on the dilapidating front porch of the house in question. "That the owner of this dump will most likely be unable to pay."
"She didn't exactly sound old enough to have her own bank account, if that's what you're asking."
"Taxes," the chameleon proffered. "We need to pay the taxes."
"We also need to help this girl."
"Why? She didn't even bother to leave her name. I don't see why you take it upon yourself to help every anonymous caller-"
But Vector was already rapping on the door.
"Oh! Oh dear! Hold on! Hold on please! I'm coming!"
The two members exchanged amused looks.
"We're not going anywhere, sweetheart," Vector assured the owner, who sounded remarkably like the caller, and that was a good thing.
There was some unscripted fumbling heard from behind the door.
"Oh! Oh fiddlesticks! I so hate bolt locks!"
Espio made an odd noise in the back of his throat that seemed to allude to the oncoming of a stroke.
"Take your time, dear. You're not in any imminent danger, are ya sweetheart?"
"What? Oh, no, no, not at…not at the moment. I mean, I was in some considerable amount of danger a while ago. But as of right now—"
"So it's a no," Espio finished for her.
"Yes," she concluded. "Yes, you are correct."
The clatter of something metallic could be heard resonating off the floorboards on the opposite side.
"Oh! I dropped it!"
Vector cleared his throat.
"Are you the miss who placed a call to the Chaotix Detective Agency a little while ago?"
"Hm? Oh, yes, yes indeed. That was me."
"How come you didn't leave your name?" Espio snapped. "You expect us to come traipsing all the way out here to find your sorry imprudent rear—"
The mail slot opened with a slick sound and revealed a pair of hugely disproportionate eyes.
"But someone could have been listening!" the girl in question cried, her voice too high for her vocal chords as she fell victim to cracking.
"She does make a point."
"Shaddup," Espio quipped, glaring his partner down, which was quite a feat considering the crocodile had about five feet on him.
"And, besides, I am entitled to my privacy," she continued blithely, still fiddling with the aforementioned bolt lock. She wasn't getting very far. "If you don't mind, Mr. Vector sir, could you please use some of your brute strength and help me out? I seem to have locked myself in my own house."
While Espio had to fight the initial urge to roll his eyes, the action was quickly pushed to the back burner as he slowly registered what the anonymous caller had just said.
"Hey, how'd she know your name was Vector?"
The crocodile was too busy trying to rescue said girl from her own house.
"This better not be why you called us," Vector teased, wrapping a monstrous claw around the handle. He exerted the 'brute strength' the female was talking about, and successfully managed to dislocate the entire door knob.
The door seemed to teeter on its hinges, and then there was a startled little cry of surprise as the wooden frame seemed to collapse in on itself, falling away from the trio but towards the caller, who was at least smart enough to get out of the way.
And it wasn't so much the breaking of the door that made the team's mouths go agape and eyes bulge respectively in their sockets. It wasn't the dust or the grime or the fact Vector has single handedly broken over two hundred dollars worth of household equipment. It wasn't the loud crash or the fact that dead bolts had nothing on a crocodile intent on rescuing a damsel in distress.
It was the identity of the caller, who was standing cowardly before them, that had their pulse thudding in their ears and their adrenaline shooting through their veins.
"Aw, hell no," Espio breathed.
"I'm very sorry to trouble you all like this, but it seems that I have no other choice."
Vector tried to form a sentence, but it got lodged halfway up his throat.
"Cream?" he finally choked out.
Yes. Yes it was Cream the Rabbit, standing before them, just as tiny and innocent as ever, face the epitome of saccharine and sweetness, and eyes so pure and so white they almost hurt to look at. Corn fed, flaxen haired Cream, in all of her naivety and purity, was standing amidst the rubble of a home, clutching a particularly gruesome looking chao in her arms, and patiently waiting for the dust to settle.
"Well, then," she said, swallowing hard and maintaining her composure. "How about some tea?"