Chapter Twenty: I Am Here

He pounded. Shrieked. Wailed. "Get me out of here!" He cried, louder than his full intent. Calhoun was turning away, taking his baby away from him. "NO! You come back here right now!" His words fell on deaf ears—she had reached the exit and was closing the door. "Don't leave! Please…" As the portal slammed close and the echoes of it laughing flew like a pack of mockingbirds around the room, Turbo was left alone with the gloomy darkness.

He had always loathed the dark. It sneered at him, grinning with malevolent beasts that liked to toy with his apprehension. But now a dark void was his new home, trapped forever more in a sea of gloom and no candlelight. Somehow the sensation left him shivering for light, besides the unnatural border between worlds. Not living, not animate or breathing—just like him. Still. Lifeless.

And lonely.

So very lonely.

Vanellope was such an innocent, beautiful little girl. And now she was nothing. His heart sank into the depths of depression. He yearned for someone, something to assure him of her health. But no, he was alone, as stated. She had no guardian angel, no protector—not a ghost one, anyway. He had no spies at his fingertips to elucidate everything that went on in her empty, vacant life.

He had never wanted this! None of it! He just wanted to protect his girl… But now he knew that everything had a cost and consequence. There was a sacrifice for every ordeal, a condemning fault to whom to blame. It was his fault, he miserably let dawn on him. It was his fault…

You're fault.

He could hear snarls of her former friends as they looked down on him with such incredulous looks that made him burn in shame. Oh, Turbo was such an idiot. How could he have not foreseen this approach? Of course she was gone, and of course it was his fault why—he knew now. He was what kept her going. Through the good or the bad, he made her life adventure and fun, no matter the deleterious feat she embarked. He had assumed she was flawless, that she was unfazed by his presence. That nothing he did she cared about, and lived every day like her last—to the very end.

But he had underestimated her.

So very much.

He was the adventure spark—he was her teddy bear. He kept her alive even after all these years. There had been a time where he had been so close to finishing her off once and for all—but when he looked down, into those marvellous brown eyes, and those cheeks of red rose and beatific look of child innocence… He, King Candy nor Turbo, did not find the strength within himself to expose her to death. She was so beautiful, a cosmo in the bitter dead winter. A precious child such as herself, no matter the annoyance, did not deserve such a fate. As he had walked away from the scene, he could recall her big, wondrous eyes peering at him as she gradually sat up.

He could just hear her little voice now: why didn't he hurt me?

He would never, not even now, be able to begin to tell her.

Because she meant more to him than even he knew.

"Turbo…?"

He gasped, feeling the presence of someone else travel up his spine. He was accompanied by another being! Excitement pumped into his veins. He hungrily scanned the surrounding areas. But the void held no other hostages.

Confusion was making his head spin. "I… I don't get it. I could have sworn someone was speaking to me…"

"I was," a female voice interjected. "And you won't see me for peculiar reasons, but let me get to the point. Turbo, my name is Toyota… Toyota Zoom. I was your first ally in Turbo Time, but that was forty years ago… So your memory, if any at all, would be faint of me." His heart accelerated as memoirs of his childhood shot through his head like five bullets through hardened steel. Her voice, her face, her eyes… Those eyes he would never forget. No one could. They stared into your very soul, clear blue and stunning silver. She was diagnosed with Heterochromia iridum, just as the programmers had intended for her to be.

Just to make her look different… and unforgettable!

"I know you!" he cried, a smile gracing his lips as he spun around, trying to glimpse those fantastic eyes. "You were my friend! So shy, so independent… you didn't like Ralph very much, did you? Because you were afraid that he was going to hurt you!" he chuckled at the old and barren memories. "If I didn't know any better, you were the quietest and soft spoken child in Turbo Time. Haha, those were great times… I—"

"And you, the classy chatter box who didn't seem to stop talking about himself." Toyota's voice was cold and loathing. "The one who destroyed our game… and our lives." His stomach lurched as he recalled that day. Those poor, innocent people… they died at his feet, they died… all because of him. It was all his fault.

"Please forgive me." His voice was nothing more than a whisper. "Toyota, I loved you and Natalie more than anything… I never meant to do what I did…!" had he mistaken their relationship? Did she really loathe him that much? What had he done to induce her behaviour? This had happened so long ago, after all…

"If I may add," Toyota raved, "You were mixed up in the virus business, am I right? I got you out of that son of a gun's face, though… remember that dream you had?" her voice had the quality of a camera recorder. "The one where I told you how to stop Banner?" The look on his face said it all. "That's right, Turbo. That was me. What Banner truly was is a Bicentennial Arrangement of Negativity and Non-capacity, hence Elimination of Refreshing. Obviously, Banner for short."

Her sigh was as soft as a summer breeze in the evening light. "He was such a sweet boy, Turbo… But he was so sick, was to grow up and be a virus. In a way… He was just like Ralph."

Turbo's face was contorted with a vehement snarl. "He was nothing like Ralph. Ralph was—"

"Rebellious?" the voice interposed with a tranquil tone. "Seeking something greater?" The voice told him that a smile tainted his friend's lips. "Turbo, if only you knew. If only you knew the him inside… He was just like you… But," she added, "You made amends for your… 'former glory'. He… well, he didn't have much time for that, now, did he?" his face burned in shame, attempting to speak. "It's alright, Turbo. It was either kill or be killed. That's too hard a decision…"

The memories were choking him in the black mist. He jerked his head back and shook himself free of their iron grip, refreshing his mind with greater memories. "I'm sorry, Toyota. I guess… maybe I didn't have much time to redeem him. For his own good…" Her soft voice sighed peacefully; the action affected a soft glow in front of him. A faint outline of a little girl (it made his heart melt—she looked like his little Vanellope!) came into vague view. Her eyes were the brightest thing he had see in a long time.

What was worse was the smile she wore—the sad, forlorn weeping grin that swept tears down her cheeks and mode those luminous eyes dim direly. "No, Turbo… You couldn't change him—only he can change himself. But you—you could have helped influence him on that path of retribution." All this speaking of death… and he had already endured the experience. But if this was the afterlife… how were they even there?

Where was Banner himself?

"Toyota…?"

A smile graced her lips. "There's no need to explain yourself. Everything here uses energy—including your thoughts." Smirking impishly she added, "We're only here because we're only memories. Clones. Echoes of what and who we once were. That's what this place is all about, you know."

"C-clones?" he stammered in horror. "O-o-only memories—echoes?!" How was he supposed to believe that he was a mere copy file of the real thing? His memoirs, his feelings towards Vanellope… they all felt so authentic. Too authentic to be just a copy file.

"I know." She said softly. Her faint figure reached out and stroked his shoulder—her fingers were soft and cool to the touch. "My memories were like that, too. They were so strong, too powerful. But the truth is, Turbo, you're dead. And there's only us, mere spitting images because this big boy's gotta eat something." She gestured to the wall of brilliant light. "It's the save file." He tilted his head toward it, golden eyes glimmering, naturally intrigued by its mystification.

But his baby was gone—

No.

She was dead.

Not really dead, but, virtually… He choked for breath as the tears spilled in, pushing out the barrier his eyes created. He could not bare the thought. If he ever laid his pollen eyes upon her lifeless figure again, he would feel faint hearted. He would feel his stomach lurch and his eyes swivel. Most of all, he would scream. Scream her name. Sob for her soul to return to its home. Turbo was not generally a sentimental man, but Vanellope had wormed her way to his heart and very core—she was something he cherished with all his might. He sought to protect her. To adore and tenderly care for her.

But how could he do that if she was neither here nor there? He yearned for her, yes—but he didn't want her to have to waste her life in order to do so. He'd rather her to push through life and become independent—if not alone—even if it meant she would be heart broken. It broke his own to think about such tendencies, but Turbo knew that his baby must move on with her life and be proactive. She had to demonstrate resiliency. Vanellope was strong to the core—such a girl could not be softened by the mere fact that he was no longer with her physically. But he hoped with all his might that she knew he'd be with her, in her very precious memories.

Turbo closed his eyes and sat down, leaned quietly against the barrier of pale milky light. The contact sizzled him like static electricity, but did no further damage as he sighed forlornly and pondered in his petite reverie. He'd never felt so… depressed. Toyota took a seat beside him and stared ahead.

"I can't imagine what that's like."

Turbo felt another sigh exhaling from his nonexistent lungs. "It's horrible. Everything that you've ever loved—gone, just like that. Separated from you forever."

He could somehow hear her faint, joking laugh in his head. Though the gag was weak…

Well, in that case, I can relate to you.

A little nervous habit visualized in his complexion; he chewed his lip anxiously. Toyota winced slightly. Bad joke, huh? She asked tentatively. He bobbed his head gradually, eyes heavy with grief. Sorry. He waved it off with a hand and wrapped himself to his knees, wondering vacantly why she was choosing telepathy over speech but not daring to manifest them into thoughts.

Instead, he looked up at her. "Why did you come here, Toyota?" the tone shared no particular indifference as she peeped up at him and threw him the most ingenious look he'd ever seen.

"I wanted to tell you that there's… still hope for you." He cocked his head in confusion, triggering the elucidation. "Look, Turd-o, I already told you that we're memories… But these memories have little energy to go back. That's why it's impossible." Her eyes flew elsewhere. "Which is why I've gathered some people from around the save file to do what we are to do next. And I'll tell ya, you ain't gonna be happy to see some of them, but they are willing to risk it."

Turbo made an attempt to voice his thoughts when something sparked before the pair, glitches exploding into various patterns of numbers. Explosions of green and blue lit his eyes like fireworks as he flailed for an understanding of what was occurring, but when no placid idea came up, he simply watched, amazed, as the glitches grew and grew and grew…

A bridge was built from these hues and tints, and the figures walking across it were faces he recalled and some he could not. There were only six strolling up to meet him, conversely, and Toyota was right—he wasn't happy to see some of them. "I'm so happy," she squealed. "It's been so long since the group has been together!" Turbo chuckled softly when she went to greet Ford, Dash, Montana, and Nitro; all NPC's of Turbo Time. He looked on as she welcomed them with a hug and chattered like a hummingbird. Such zeal and joy somehow filled him with sadness. Had he not destroyed their game, there would be no need for long-distance reunions and happiness to see them all. Not that he was against her behaviour—he just thought that her happiness was only for the fact that she hadn't seen them in decades.

He wondered to the barrier again, putting a hand against its soft, encasing bubble as he looked to the location where Calhoun had carried his baby girl off.

"Our baby girl."

He gasped, spinning around in horror, to see a couple that he had not seen for ages.

Vanellope's mother and father.

In spite their former statement, their eyes were not flooding with rage of fury. No, rather with affection and gratitude as her mother—with the same raven hair and soft milky cheeks, but Caribbean blue eyes—kissed Turbo's cheek. "Thank you for watching over her." She breathed in his ear. Her voice resembled the closest sound to honeysuckle and was the sweetest sound his ears had ever perceived. He found himself giving way for a wide smile as she linked hands with her husband, who shared equal thankfulness.

"Without you, she'd had been alone for so long." He added with a baritone voice. Turbo shook his head.

"Without her, I'd have never sought out redemption, sir, with all due respect. Thank you both for accepting me as her guardian before… I did what I did."

French Ven-Ella gave him a pitiful smile as Jelly Dean's bean brown eyes sparkled. "Our baby has always been… intent on few things. But never like she was with you… She experienced minor comprehension for Banner's death, but was just… her sadness is almost indescribable." Turbo sighed and let his eyes slide shut. Guilt was churning his stomach. Had he shown more responsibility by not bonding with her in the first place… He could have saved his baby girl from destruction.

"Miss Ven-Ella, Mr. Dean… Did Banner come here after his death?" he wanted to know that more than anything at that second. Though his concern for Vanellope was still waveringly strong, he could do nothing for her in the state he was in and could only converse with his enemy for the time being. When they merely shook their heads, he prompted another question.

"What… what are we doing here? All together, I mean."

He was stunned to see their eyes glow as they gave each other knowing looks. "You'll find out." Ven-Ella promised him, her cerulean eyes batting against the gloomy darkness.

He was more so frightened at would he would become—

Or what would become of him.

"Alright now, you all ready?" I asked her, knees bent as I hunched over her protectively. Her eyes would never change, nor her vacant expression or behaviour, but we had managed to make her move when prompted, and knew that this was all she could really need for racing. Her colleagues would be concerned for her health, but tomorrow was Wednesday, and the holidays would be over—we couldn't provide her with shelter when that home would be tumbling at my wrath. Trust me, it was safer for her to be where she belonged before anything happened. We'd help her and attempt many times to heal her—we weren't going to give up until we exceeded our former results.

We were outside, and the weather was unusually bright and sunny. But maybe that's why it was titled "Niceland". We were just outside the train station, in the bed of grass and flowers as I checked her over. We had provided her with a backpack full of goodies—to bribe her into coming back to us, to no avail—and some water in case she was quenched. She was capable of feeding herself if necessary, and it gave me some relief to know, even if I was going to miss baby-feeding her. She was so quiet and peaceful.

My hand on her shoulder, I flashed her a toothy grin in hopes of a benefit. But her eyes remained at their hollow, vacant state as her little head tilted to meet mine, shoulders slouched over and a pout playing her lips as she sucked on candy. If you could get past the fact that this cover wasn't really her, you'd have thought nothing had ever occurred. Promptly, I smiled. "All righty, kiddo. Yer off to the big city again without my help. I hope yer gonna be okay." Silence answered me, and I suppressed the sigh that collected in my throat for another day.

"Look, Vanilla…" I stood up; put my hands on my hips with a forced type of enthusiasm. "You ain't gonna be a good racer if you can't talk, you little cavity." And I continued to affectionately lecture her. "You won't smile and wave to your fans, you won't glitch when you need to—your super power, Vanilla! It… it was your super power…" I could no longer suppress the wavering in my voice—I just wanted that lively, zealous little girl back. I didn't want this deformed, distorted version.

Her face remained stony and still, except—her eyebrow was twitching. My heart accelerated as I watched it eagerly, waiting for something—anything—to come up. But the quivering stopped and she resumed her naturally soft face, no expression playing her complexion as she gazed up with those mesmerizing, pixilated eyes. Cerulean, teal… both hues danced frivolously in her eyes as the background resumed darkness.

Only darkness.

It was quite depressing if you think about it.

3rd Person

He stood tall once more, smiled at her with what strength he had left, and then Ralph let his eyes wander elsewhere. But with sudden mystification he froze, his jaw falling slack with incredulous disbelief as they fell into horror. Empty Vanellope had no choice to pursue his direction, her eyes soulless as she prepared herself to examine the information. She leisurely turned her pace. Eyes half closed. Vacancy a blunt truth.

When her eyes laid eyes on the sight before her, her very pupils shrank as the astonishment reverberated throughout her body—shaking her to her very core. The pixels in her eyes were suddenly gone, settling with only gloom that engulfed her eyes. Her strength sapped as she stood slouched, her eyes all for the sight ahead.

A lone man, his hand on that station's beam as he grinned uncontrollably. He was staring at those very two, eyes boring into their faces. But he was all for her.

Because.

It.

Was.

Her.

TURBO.

The thought shook in her head. The wiring undid itself, wheeling over and over. As the process occurred, she took a step forward. Stared at him as he echoed her with those two steps.

And then, the malware released her force.

She snapped.

She ran to him at full speed, her voice a high-pitched scream. "TURBO!" It came out as a rusty, uncontrollable wail. Tears replaced her eyes. They faded into their normal, chocolaty hue.

FOOM!

She slammed into him, toppling him over. His laughter filled her ears. She felt blessed. A splash of tears flooded her cheeks as she consumed him, laid on top of him as he sobbed in sync. His arms wrapped around her little shoulders as he cried, embracing her with warm fingertips, cradling her in a rocking position.

"I'm here," he sobbed with zeal. "I-I'm here."