A/N: Hey, everyone.
This idea started out as a one-shot, then a few chapters, then an entire story. We wanted to do a sort of noir/crime re-imagining of the Sonic universe.
Sword: I'm excited!
Pen: Is there no genre you refuse to taint?
All related characters and material in the story belong to Sega. The story, Sword, and Pen belong to me. Please do not use without permission. Thank you. So without further ado, here it is.
Chapter 1- Welcome to Station Square
Tails grunted, straining to tighten the last nut on the car wheel. Then he laid down on the wooden creeper and kicked the ground, rolling underneath the vehicle. It was a nice car, at least twenty years old, painted cherry red, built with a powerful engine, and in good shape. He was happy to see the underside as well-maintained as the engine. He wished he had a car like this to play around with.
"How is it coming?" Tails wheeled out through the front and looked up. An orange and yellow robot stood above him, covered in grease like Tails. His blue-white, empty eyes examined the car.
"Pretty good so far," Tails said. "Just checking under here and I should be done, Emerl."
Emerl nodded and headed to his office. His joints bent stiffly and he nearly fell. Tails gasped, but the robot stooped low and pretended to pick something up. He disappeared into his office and closed the blinds.
Tails shook his head. Must be running low on oil again, he figured. He hated that Emerl pushed himself like that. Polish and rust remover were luxuries that Emerl rarely treated himself, too, what with all the monthly bills that piled up. So his hard shell casing that once possessed a brilliant sheen was now dull, dirty, and caked in grime, causing him to look like an ancient machine.
Finishing the check-up on the car, Tails snuck to the office's blinds. He pulled a small invention of his out of his glove. It was small and thin, like a laser pointer. After weeks of scrounging for parts in the junkyard out back and using his downtime to build it, he held the product of his work in his palm. Tails had not had much of a chance to test his latest creation or even give a name to it.
He crouched beside the window and held the pointer up to the glass. Please let the signal work through windows. He pressed the only button on the side and pulled the pointer down. To his joy, one of the blinds slowly bent in the middle, allowing a small glimpse into the office.
Inside, Emerl sat at his desk, his chest panel open. He pushed a button on his skeletal innards and a small capsule angled outside. Emerl grabbed a funnel off his desk, wormed the small tip into the capsule's opening, and then reached for his oil. He shook the bottle, his eyes dropping. When he poured the oil into the funnel, it was barely a drizzle. A few cups worth, nowhere near enough to sustain him for long.
Tails lifted the blind back up and looked around the shop. Work was very slow and their only job at the moment was the car. Tools of all kinds hung along the wall, coated in dust.
Absent-mindedly picking up a wrench and brushing the dust off, Tails brainstormed how he could buy oil for Emerl. He had no money of his own. Neither did his friends. He headed to the bathroom in the back, tossing the wrench up and down.
Maybe I can do some work on the side. But nobody he knew was hiring. They were just as bad or worse off than Emerl and he were. At least they could afford to keep the mechanic shop open and food on the table. For now anyway.
He set the wrench down on the bathroom sink and wiped off the mirror. Peering close, he picked out bits of grease clumping his sandy orange fur together. His fluffy namesakes were worse, seeming to have acted like two giant brushes underneath the car and wiping up every ounce of grime in them. He turned on the sink and furiously scrubbed them.
What about a loan to help this month? His muzzle and chest were nearly black and it took minutes of washing for him to reveal more of the white underneath. Nah, that wouldn't work. The interest would be so high that we'd end up worse than we started.
He eyed the wrench and imagined breaking a headlight on the car. Nothing too bad, but enough that the customer shelled out a little extra when it came time to pay the bill. Tails closed his eyes and splashed water on his face. No, what you thinking? That's not how you were raised. Emerl would be upset, too. That'd be no better than anything that old Egghead does.
A loud buzzer rang throughout the shop and Tails wiped himself off with the towel. Emerl opened the front door and Tails joined him. Waiting outside, a purple weasel tipped his large, brown Stetson hat and rested a hand on his gun holster. Flanking him on either side were two barrel-chested robots. A crude insignia of a grinning, mustached man's head was painted on their chassis. One of them stared at Tails, its piercing red eyes matching the terror of its hands composed entirely of four sharp claws.
"Morning," the weasel said.
"Hello, Fang," Emerl greeted in a tone that was flat even for a robot. The weasel smiled wide, flashing his titular long tooth that jutted past his bottom lip. A few seconds passed before Emerl opened the door wider, welcoming them in half-heartedly.
"Thank you," Fang said, strolling into the shop. "We'll try to make this short. Got a lot of places to go to today."
"Very well." Emerl led him into his office and shut the door, leaving Tails outside with Fang's robots. They stood at complete attention, never flinching, keeping a vigil watch straight ahead. Tails kept the car between them and himself.
Fang emerged from the office, thumbing through a wad of bills. "We did not have much work this month," Emerl tried to explain. "Maybe we could do something for Mr. Robotnik."
"What do you think he really needs from you that he doesn't have already?" Fang asked, laughing. "He has good mechanics already."
"Maybe we could give him something. A new car?" Fang raised an eyebrow and eyed the car Tails had been fixing. "I mean one from the back."
"One of those lemons in your junk heap? Oh, I'm sure that'd really win him over." He finished counting the money and tucked it into his boots.
Emerl stood in front of him. "We can fix one up for him. Make it look brand new."
"He doesn't have time to wait months for that."
"Please," Emerl begged, leaning his head closer, "do not shut us down."
"Shut you down?" Fang beckoned his robots and they plodded to his side. "That wouldn't be good business for anyone. No, no. I'll tell you what we'll do. You're a couple hundred short. So you just won't have all the protection this month that you normally get."
Fang tapped one of the robots and it knocked aside a table full of tools. Then it attacked the walls, smashing tools and cutting down shelves, throwing and demolishing everything. Tails grabbed a hammer and wailed on the robot's legs. Its head swiveled to him, as if unsure how to register his useless attacks. It raised its large arm, its razor sharp claws poised to slice through him.
At the last moment, Emerl jumped in front of Tails. The robot whacked him through his office window. "Emerl!" Tails dropped the hammer and ran after him. His desk was overturned and his head was stuck in a trash bin. Tails pulled him out and helped him to sit up. Long scratch marks ran across his chest, but he otherwise seemed unharmed.
Fang appeared at the door and snapped his fingers. The robot stopped wrecking the shop and left with its brother. "I'll see you next month, Emerl." He tipped his hat again while Tails helped Emerl to his feet. "You're looking a little peaked there. Tell you what, why don't you swing on by Mr. Robotnik's place? He'll fix you up nice. Give you some fresh oil and a tune-up."
Tails stood protectively in front of Emerl. "And turn him into one of those drones you got outside?"
"Nah, with a little upgrade, he'd be a better fighter than those two lunks," Fang said.
"You won't take him. I won't let you," Tails said, raising his fists.
Fang laughed and clapped his hands. "Oh, this is rich! Fiery little mouth on this one! Might want to put some of that fire to work so you can pay for your protection next month." Then he left, whistling for the robots to follow him to the next place of business.
Tails set the desk up and guided Emerl to his chair. He went about straightening the office, constantly checking to make sure Emerl was fine. When he finished with there, he headed into the main shop. The wall was totaled and tools of all sorts were scattered, bent, or broken. Luckily, nothing had damaged the car. Tails thanked silver linings and started to pick up the pieces of the wall, tossing them in a garbage can.
"Hello?" A small, cream-colored rabbit entered, shrugging off a patchwork coat and smoothing her old, faded orange dress. She took off her brown skullcap and her long ears flopped out, as did a blue Chao. It yawned and perched back on her head, rubbing the sleep from its eyes.
"Hey, Cream. Hey, Cheese," Tails said, waving with a broken drill.
"What happened?" Cream asked, throwing her coat on a table.
"Fang," he said. He grimaced at their last bottle of wiper fluid, smashed open on the ground. "We didn't have enough, so…"
She nodded and stooped over to clean up. Cheese joined them, lifting the small parts.
"Tails? Is that Cream?" Emerl leaned on the entrance to his office. "You are late."
"Sorry, Mr. Emerl. I had to run an errand for my mom." Tails caught the half-truth in her eye.
"Okay. We will start class soon. Just give me a moment in here." He limped away.
"How's he doing?" Cream whispered, holding the last armful of intact tools.
Tails grabbed some of her load and stuffed them into drawers. "Not good. Pretty sure he's out of oil and who knows what else. And after today, I'm not sure we'll have the money to buy any. We're going to need to replace some the tools and the wall."
Cream leaned in. "I could try to find some extra work for you. There might be a job we can do together."
"No way. I'm not getting involved with anything illegal."
"It's just delivering messages. Run and tell a guy about a meeting. Nothing much."
He tucked away the tools and shut the drawer. "You're helping the mob. Why you ever let Charmy talk you into it, I'll never know."
Her face dropped. "Some of us aren't as lucky to have someone like Emerl to take care of us."
He sighed and rubbed his cheek. "Cream, I—"
"You know, I haven't seen my mom since last week. Her hours were extended. So every little bit helps." She blinked rapidly. Turning her head to cough, she surreptitiously wiped her eyes and calmed her breathing.
"Look, I'm sorry." He patted her shoulder. "I appreciate you trying to help."
She sniffed. "Don't mention it. What will you do though?"
He puffed his cheeks and blew out a heavy breath. "I don't know. Keep an ear out for any work."
"I'll do the same. Legal jobs," she quickly added.
"Thanks." He checked on Emerl, who appeared to have shut down to recharge. "You want to head out back?" he asked Cream. She nodded and they went to the junkyard with Cheese.
In one of the monstrous piles of car parts, old appliances, destroyed furniture, and general debris, Tails discovered a deflated ball. After he blew it up, he played catch with Cream and Cheese for a while until he tried to kick the ball to show off. It flew high over the junkyard's fence and bounced off an adjacent apartment window. The children looked at each other, panicked. At that time, Emerl called them in for their school lessons. They scrambled to the seats in Emerl's office, where he had written on a whiteboard their lesson for today, and acted as if nothing had happened.
Thump! Knuckles awoke with a start and flipped on his side, facing his window. Grumbling under his breath, he checked his clock. His alarm had failed to go off. Great. I'm going to be late. He threw his legs over the bed and sat hunched over, blinking hard to disperse the foggy sleep. One of his hands wandered through the clutter on his nightstand, finding the painkillers. He downed a couple and flexed his hands. The pain was on the edge of his nerves. Nothing intense yet.
He picked up an empty beer bottle and shook out the last drop. Heading to the sink, he filled it with water and took a swig, washing down the pills. Moving unsteadily toward the window, he opened it and leaned out, searching for what caused the sound. He didn't see anything besides others like him, late for work and sprinting down the sidewalk.
The metal bumps on his bare red hands vied for his attention, but he ignored them. They were always the same: corroded, rusted metal hills that rose out of his knuckles. A pair on each hand, they were connected by uneven, thin scars and filed down to jagged points on their tips.
Knuckles left the window and freshened up in the bathroom as quickly as he could. Then he grabbed a cereal bar out of his kitchenette. He sighed at the plates piled high in his sink. Guess I should wash some tonight.
The dingy apartment was so small that one needed only to take a few steps to move from the kitchenette to the cramped bathroom to the living room, bedroom combo. Knuckles grabbed his security guard cap off the headboard of his bed. The black cap fit snugly over his dreadlocks.
While he adjusted the cap, he looked at the boxing gloves hanging on the wall. Almost pure white, with red paint chips here and there that stubbornly clung to them. The gloves had seen better days. All around the gloves were newspaper clippings about local boxing matches. In each of them, a younger Knuckles raised his fists triumphantly for the photographers. In one, Knuckles' lip had been busted wide open by "Bad Bill." He touched his lip, a small closure left behind, one of many old wounds and scars to remind him of past fights. The most prominent clipping read "LOCAL FAVORITE 'KNUCKLES' WINS CHAMPIONSHIP!" in large, bold print. On it, Knuckles lifted the golden belt for the cheering crowd, hardly able to see out of his swollen black eyes.
As Knuckles reached for his boxing gloves, the bumps on his hands finally forced him to notice them. He frowned at them and his younger self, who had no such deformity on his hands. Knuckles shoved his hands into the gloves and fitted them so the bumps poked out of the holes he made on the top. Grabbing a can of spray paint, he sprayed the spikes until they were as white as the gloves. He punched his fists together, minding the spikes. He jabbed weakly and walked down to the corner bus stop.
Thankfully, one of the later buses was ahead of schedule and already loading up. Knuckles climbed aboard and paid the fare. The robotic driver attached to the steering wheel thanked him.
The whole ride, Knuckles sat by himself, leaning against the window and watching the buildings pass by. A few stores he once knew were closed and a new market had opened for business that he vaguely recalled being renovated several months beforehand. All this barely registered in his mind and his vision went hazy as he daydreamed, longing for better days.
"Next stop: Angel Island. All those for Station Square Bank and Station Square Plaza, please wait until the bus has come to a complete stop" the driver said through the speakers. The bus finished crossing one of the bridges separating the small Angel Island section of the city from the rest of Station Square. Knuckles stood as the bus slowed to a stop and climbed off. Across the street was the bank. Large gold letters spelled out its name and welcomed all the rich, fashionably dressed citizens coming and going.
Inside, the opulence of the clientele was matched by the décor. Brightly furnished mahogany walls were interlaced with gleaming golden separators. The marble floor reflected every face that looked into it and the fine forest green carpet of the offices was soft to the touch.
Knuckles headed to the employee lounge in the back, where a few other security guards were hanging out. One nodded to Knuckles. He returned it and stamped his time card.
Afterwards, he took his position at the front doors, keeping a watchful eye on anyone that passed him. Not that he needed to put in much effort. His reputation preceded him and if anyone forgot, one look at his gloves caused people to give him a wide berth.
But every once in a while, someone decided to test him. "Loser," a young man muttered as he walked in with a few friends.
"Want to say that a little louder?" Knuckles asked, clenching his fist.
The man turned around and sneered, his face very punchable. His jaw stuck out in such a way that Knuckles prayed he would say something else. It was a clean, perfect shot, an easy knockout. "Got nothing to say to a has-been."
Knuckles wound up his fist, but a hand held him back. He glanced over his shoulder and sighed. An orange echidna stood there, shaking her head. The group had already filed into one of the teller lines, so Knuckles dropped his arm.
"And what did you think you were going to do?" the echidna asked, smoothing down her maroon blazer.
"Throw them out before they start anything," he said.
"Look, I can't have unnecessary violence in my bank. You know that. And I can't have employees showing up late, no matter who they are."
He sighed. "Sorry, Tikal."
She pinched the bridge of her nose and tapped the middle of her forehead. "Come to my office."
Tikal's office put the others to shame. Lavishly furnished was the only way to describe it. Several rows of bookshelves attached to the wall held enough books about business to induct anyone into her position. A piece of abstract art that looked like silly putty pulled and stretched to its limits was fixed to a pillar beside her desk. Knuckles sat in one of the chairs in front of her desk, dreading the oncoming lecture.
She shut the door. "We have a special delivery coming in tomorrow night." He breathed a little easier. "I'd like you to be there."
"You expecting trouble?"
"In this town?" She let the question dangle for him to answer himself.
"What is it?"
"Have you heard of the Master Emerald?" she asked.
He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Yeah, some huge gem. Supposedly has legendary powers or something like that." His jaw dropped. "That's coming here?"
Tikal nodded and sat down. "Its owner would like to place it somewhere secure. Given our reputation, we've been chosen. Can I count on you tomorrow night?"
"Yeah, of course."
She leaned forward, searching his violet eyes. "Please, Knuckles. I know you still have that boxer's urge to fight. You were—are still in your prime and what happened was terrible. But don't let it affect your work. I don't want to let you go, but I'll be forced to if this keeps happening. Okay?"
He lowered his gaze. "Okay."
"Good. Be here at six tomorrow." He turned to leave. "Knuckles?" She smiled at him. "Thanks."
The rest of the day passed by uneventfully. At the end of his shift, Knuckles declined an invitation from the other guards to join them for a drink. He rode the bus back to his apartment, passing the police station on the way. He wondered if Vector and Espio had been promoted detective yet. He couldn't remember the last time he saw them. Then again, he didn't make himself very available to any company. Knuckles filed away the thought of checking in on them one day, which eventually became lost in the folds of his tired mind.
Amy drummed her fingers testily on the desk. She frowned, glaring at the crocodile before her, who tried his best to act like her pressure wasn't bothering him. Yet the constant squirming, shifty glances, and shuffling and re-shuffling of papers needlessly gave him away.
Finally, he covered his eyes, refusing to look at her. "Vector," she said.
"If you have any further questions, please talk to the front desk, Ms. Rose," he told her. He sounded like an answering machine. She turned to his partner, a chameleon who wouldn't back down from her intense stare. He calmly matched her with a thousand-yard stare; the result of his intense martial arts training, Amy supposed.
"Cut a girl a break here, guys," she pleaded. "Just one little tidbit. A quote even." She clicked her pen several times, holding it at the ready above her notepad.
"You know the department's answer: No comment," the chameleon said. He flicked a bit of dust off his clean tie. It was a far cry from Vector's, hanging loosely around his neck. Amy let it slide, as he had been working longer hours than her.
"Look, one comment," she stared at Vector as he peered out between his fingers. He quickly hid his face again. "One comment and I'll be out of your hair. Not even one for each story. You pick. The recent string of robberies, Robotnik's races—"
"No comment," the chameleon stated.
"C'mon, Espio. Can you at least confirm that Robotnik has ended the gang war once and for all? Don Cardag's missing and a lot of his former associates have been seen with Robotnik now."
"We can neither confirm or deny that," Vector said. "No one has filed a missing person's report."
"That's because you don't file a report on a missing crime boss," she said, jotting down in her notepad. "You trench the lakes. Or in Robotnik's case, check if there's any new roboticized members."
"Ms. Rose, we need to get back to our work. Would you kindly leave?" Espio asked. "If you have any information regarding a missing person, please see the front desk."
She snatched up her camera and purse. "Can you at least tell me if you're investigating the possibility of it?"
"We have several on-going investigations," Vector said, finally daring to lower his hands. He kept the brim of his officer's cap low, shielding his eyes. "That's all."
Amy snorted and left the station, unsatisfied as always. She wondered why she continued coming back time and again to interview those two. Because they're the only ones who will talk. She flipped through her notepad. Still, that was more trouble than it was worth.
She tapped her pen on her teeth and walked down the sidewalk, pondering how to put a spin on what she had. "Local police no closer to solving Don Cardag's mysterious disappearance," she mumbled, writing it down. "Looks like the power is all but consolidated under 'The Eggman', Rosy readers. My own sources say the police are searching for him. Between us, we know the truth, don't we?"
Amy paused at the street corner lamp, using the light to finish writing. "Check those Eggman robots a little closer. You may see Don Cardag among the latest victims. As always, stay sweet. Amy Rose." She dotted the final period with a sharp, proud jab.
A roaring engine zipped down the dark streets and a shiny blue car pulled alongside her. One glance told Amy that, from its sleek hood to the pair of fish-tail spoilers, it was built to race. In the only seat, a hedgehog leaned close to her. She couldn't get a good look at his face, but was certain she had never seen him before. The car didn't belong to any of the normal street racers either. Perhaps he was new to town.
"Excuse me, Miss. Do you know where I could get a tune-up?" he asked. He flashed a toothy grin and Amy found herself a little charmed by it.
"You could head to any of Robotnik's garages," she said. "But if you want the best, go to Emerl's. He knows what he's doing." She gave him directions to the garage.
"Emerl's," he repeated. "Thanks, Miss?"
"Rose. Amy Rose of the Rosy Report."
"Thanks, Amy Rose of the Rosy Report," he said. She chuckled and shook her head. The driver revved up his car and took off before she could ask his name. She watched him turn a corner and twirled her pen in her fingers.
Hm, a new racer? If that was the case, then this was juicy material and she had first dibs on the scoop. She jogged back to her office, determined to find out anything about the hedgehog. She called several contacts, ignoring their rants and curses about waking them. Tomorrow, I'll pay a visit to Emerl's, Amy thought, marking it on her calendar.
Tails turned off all the lights on the outside of the shop. The lessons had finished hours ago and Cream left shortly after to run more errands. He worried about her dealing with those dangerous people, but there was nothing he could do or say to sway her. Emerl had tried talking her out of it several times and she pretended like those took effect. If Tails had the money to spare, he would gladly give to her so she wouldn't have to be a courier.
He stayed quiet about her errands to Emerl. Cream needed the money to get by and they couldn't afford to help her. Can barely make ends meet for ourselves. After calculating the damages today, Tails resolved to skip meals so Emerl could put the money toward the repairs and buying replacement tools. If they were lucky, they could spring for a little oil as well.
When he jumped for the shutter door in the front and started to pull it down, a pair of headlights blinded him. He froze in place, afraid Nack had returned for a second round of leveling the shop. But as the headlights dimmed, he saw a hedgehog jump out of a racecar.
"Hey, is this Emerl's?" the hedgehog asked. He was twice Tails' height and his wind-swept quills seemed as if they were permanently blown back, always caught in the rush of speeding through the street.
"Yeah, it is," Tails answered.
His light green eyes smiled and he thumbed his car. "Great. I heard you're the best in town and I need someone to take a look at my car here."
Internally, Tails jumped for joy. He maintained a calm outward demeanor, trying not to appear too excited at having more work. "Sure, we can. It's a bit late, but you can leave it here overnight if you want."
"Sounds good." He hopped back into his car and drove it inside. Tails shut the shutter door behind him.
"Oh, I don't think I caught your name," Tails said.
He spun around. "Name's Sonic."
A/N: What do you think so far? Do you like it? Hate it? Have suggestions? Please, let us know.
Sword: Ooo, does this mean we can talk like we're in the forties?
Pen: No and stop encouraging him.
Sword: Fugghed about it!