Plip. Plip-plip, plip.
A lone hero in blue sat on the front stoop of the tall apartment complex. Though he was waiting good and patiently, he still twiddled his thumbs and softly tapped his foot on the tiled pavement, creating barely audible 8-bit plips.
It was well past closing time, the tranquil hour when most of the Nicelanders had returned to the sanctity of their apartments, and the perpetually dark scenery was still and silent, as proper nighttime should be. It did a fine job of calming his nerves; he even caught himself beginning to nod off a few times. But he still had a personal duty to look out for one more Nicelander to return to their game before he could confidently retreat to his own apartment for rest.
It wasn't that he didn't trust the big guy, not at all! He was in fact genuinely interested in how his brother spent his after-hours now that he was starting to get to know him better. Of course, the extra security also put the other Nicelanders at ease.
Security for fears that were groundless, however. Felix sat right up and beamed as the train clanked into the drop-off station, his hulking brother squeezed into the back car.
He called out heartily and waved a gloved hand, bounding over in wide strides as Ralph heaved himself out of the train. He looked a bit distracted, so was surprised when he turned around and the small repairman was standing before him, arms outstretched in a grandiose pose.
"Welcome home, Brother!"
After recovering from nearly stepping on the little guy, Ralph slumped and grinned sheepishly. "Aw, geez, Felix, you don't have to keep waiting up for me, y'know."
"Oh, shooshshush, I'm only happy to see you home safe, that's all!" He patted a colossal hand, gaining a roll of the eyes and a casual brush-off.
"Yeah, yeah, okay… look, I'm glad you're out and about anyway, something came up—what?"
Felix cleared his throat, barely holding his composure under a cracking grin. "How was 'Tea Time with the President?'"
"Huh? Oh, no, it was great, I just—what!?" His brow furrowed as Felix's shoulders shook with contained snickers, and the movement shifted a slight weight on his head. Giant hands then feverishly scrambled to pull the pretty peppermint crown out from his tangled red hair and hide it away in a loose pocket. His indignant glower was ineffective on the giggling little man.
"Okay, but other than frilly hats and tea parties, we actually discussed some serious things!"
"Hahee, oh?" Felix took a moment to collect himself, then nodded in interest. "Such as?"
Loosening up at the repairman's sincerity, Ralph dug into his shirt collar. "Earlier she was sweeping through the castle and she found this."
Felix blinked at the small object presented to him, carefully taking it from between thick fingers. His thumb ran over the countless wrinkles and folds on the small napkin, stained with alcohol and heaven knows what else. The Tapper's logo sat in the middle, upside down, and in the top corner were scribbles of arrows and letters.
"I already showed it to Tapper," Ralph went on as Felix turned the napkin about and held it up in intense scrutiny, trying to decipher the rough scrawlings. "He said it looks like a sort of code, but he doesn't recognize it."
"Ringing any bells?"
Chewing on his lip a moment more, Felix then shook his head. "Can't say it is, Brother…" At last he tore his gaze away from it to look up at his once-rival. "But why would you think I'd have any knowledge of this 'mystery code'…?"
Ralph crossed his arms. "We think it might've belonged to Turbo."
Felix blanched, ever so slightly crumpling this napkin in his hands.
"No one knew him better than you, Felix."
"Why does everyone say that?" Felix half turned and threw his arms up in exasperation. "I barely knew him to begin with, much less on a personal level!"
"You were with him in Tapper's all the time!" Ralph gestured just as widely.
"Surely I would have remembered that!"
"Would you, though!?"
Felix fell into a tight silence, unable to contest that. Truth be told, Ralph was not the first he had had this argument with; every veteran character in the arcade was insistent that he and the rogue racer were close chums in the past, but Felix honestly could not recall having anything to do with him. He didn't know much about him beyond his massive ego and notorious actions that taught them all a hard lesson about game-jumping.
Then again… after the entire Sugar Rush fiasco, could he believe that as firmly anymore?
The extended silence soon grew on Ralph's nerves, and he sighed in frustration. "Look, I'm sorry. If you don't know anything, that's fine, I just thought—"
Felix flicked up a finger to stop him, examining the napkin again with focused concentration. Ralph watched him pace back and forth, mouthing pieces of the string of code, his free hand idly mapping out the directions; up up, down down, left right…
Then, in one motion, he froze in midstep, snapped his fingers, and spun back to face Ralph, finger raised in confidence. "I have a hunch."
Encouraged by his change in attitude, Ralph leaned forward in anticipation. "Yeah?"
Felix swiveled and began a swift stride towards the apartment complex. "Follow me, Brother!"
When they squeezed into the elevator, Ralph was surprised when they actually went downwards. He never recalled the building having a basement level; then again, he rarely went inside to begin with.
Limited programming left it filled with generic, pointless stacks of crates within a vast, dark cavern, pixilated dust bunnies gathering in tight corners and making it somewhat harder to breathe. It hardly matched with the rest of the game's environments, and for good reason: it was, by all standards, an unreachable room.
Ralph thought better than to ask where exactly they were going. Felix seemed so focused on getting to the bottom of this, so he quietly followed.
Reaching the far end of the grim warehouse, a door was pulled open, leading into a vastly contrasting tunnel of white. Multicolored lights ran in veins down the tunnel's rounded walls, lacking in any hard corners. It was even more alien to this world than the basement.
Curiosity got the better of the wrecker. "What is this place?"
"Haven't a clue," Felix replied, flicking the brim of his hat up out of his eyes. "But I reckon we're about to find out."
As they walked down the tunnel, he went on to explain that as far as he knew, it had been there since they were first plugged in, but he never could ascertain its purpose. He would always come face to face with a final door that he had no key or passcode for; the door they now faced, shaped as a gaming pad.
Ralph caught on quickly and let Felix, who still had the napkin, do the honors. His gloved hand inputted the code carefully.
"Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, Start."
The door hissed and shifted open. For some reason, they expected it to open more slowly than that. It had been opened before.
There would be time to worry about by whom later, though. Two pairs of wide eyes were focused past the threshold to behold the bizarrely beautiful sight within.
In a sea of inky blackness sprouted a web of shimmering blue cords, intertwining and locking between slowly spinning blocks, building blocks of code that held their tiny universe together. It was not vast or terribly complicated; one could spot various features lettered across the blocks, such as character names, terrain types, gameplay modes, and etcetera, everything that made up the world of Fix-it Felix, Jr. The lifeblood of the game itself.
When he could find his voice again, the hero squeaked, "Ralph?"
There was a pause before the wrecker realized he was being addressed. "…Yeah?"
"Y-you mentioned Turbo somehow tampered with… the coding for Sugar Rush, am I right?"
"Well…" He cocked his head towards the web of coding before them in stunned revelation. "There ya go. Now we know how he did it. One mystery solved."
"No kidding," Ralph chuckled nervously, pushing back away from the door frame. Felix didn't follow, rooted in place. "Well, heck, that answered my question. I'll let Vanellope know, and then I say we get rid of that code before anyone else can use it."
Felix idly held up a hand to stop him from leaving. "Hold the phone just a sec..." Squinting into the coding network, he thought he spotted something irregular. It sparked again, and he pointed it out. "Look! I think that cord's been ripped out."
Closer to the top, an errant strand of blue wire hovered just above the largest block, labeled as 'Fix-it Felix Jr.' Its frayed edges crackled with tiny sparks, though it seemed to have no effect on the cords around it.
Ralph glanced between Felix and the loose wire, then lightly nudged him with a thick finger and gave him a lopsided grin. "Well, then I guess you'd better go fix it."
Minutes later, scratchy construction rope from a toolkit upstairs was wrapped firmly around Felix's belly, and after some hesitation, he hopped inside. It took a moment to get used to the weightlessness as Ralph kept a constant grip on the other end, pulling up when the hero dropped too low. Once he had a handle on the swimming motions, Felix threw out a thumbs-up and turned to approach the code-web.
Careful not to touch the torn end, he grabbed the rogue wire, pulling it down to determine where it could've been plugged into. When he saw no visible outlets on the large block sporting his own name, he gave it an experimental tap and shifted away in surprise as it blossomed into countless pieces. He marveled the display as he recognized each little picture that contributed to his coding; his magic hammer, jumping and fixing stick figures, faces of dear friends... he especially smiled fondly at a gorgeous woman's face, a small block attached to it with a picture of a golden ring. He idly ran his thumb across that very same ring he now wore under his glove. Best not to touch that coding.
His smirk rapidly fell when more sparks caught his eye, directing him to the block he was looking for, and his heart skipped a beat.
A helmeted little face was giving him a maddening grin.
"Didya find where it goes?" Ralph called out, snapping Felix out of his stupor.
"Y-yes, I think so!" he replied, shaking out a curt nod. He regarded the block of data anxiously, and caught himself wondering if repairing the damage would be the wisest choice.
Of course, his programming then kicked in. It was his job to fix things, there was just no getting around that. His hesitation briefly dashed, he gripped the cord tight to press its frayed coils together, then jammed it into the empty slot.
Felix jerked back and let out a strangled sound as volts of raw energy jolted through the code-web. But even after it died down around him, flashes of blue and white leapt across his vision, his head buzzed with roaring static, and his body trembled but was otherwise paralyzed as sparks continued to run up and down his frame.
His senses were all but completely droned out, though he caught echoes of his brother calling out to him, felt dull throbs if his limp frame being yanked back into the light. He was slumped over onto his back, cradled in Ralph's massive palms as he tried to shake him out of his trance, but he was completely unresponsive, eyes wide and glassy and flashing with erratic patterns.
The hulking frame darkened by the whiteness around him cut in and out.
kkchgckkkcc—"Felix, come o-!"gckktch—
He found himself joining in rowdy laughter under the less harsh light of a tiffany lamp, then was eye-to-eye with the warped bottom of a beer mug. It took him a moment to realize he was, in fact, attempting to guzzle it all down.
He sputtered and drew back, nearly dropping it on the counter as he doubled over coughing, but as soon as he had recovered he was descending into burbling giggles. Any discomfort washed away in the pleasant haze he had slipped into, as thick as the musky bar air that resounded with celebration.
On the stool beside him, a man of his own stature still held his mug high in the air, the ochre liquid quickly draining. Once polished off, he slammed it down on the counter, belched loudly, and punctuated his victory with a raucous "HA!"
Everything was a competition to him. Even beer chugging.
But Felix never paid it no mind. It was one of his endearing qualities.
"I—hahnhee!" The Nicelander snorted, holding up a hand as he tried to string a sentence together in his head before continuing. "I can't. I can't believe—twenty years! Wow! Goodness me!" He leaned over to grab and shake his friend's shoulder eagerly. "Twenty years, Turbo!"
"I KNOWWWWW—" The motion on their swaying frames pulled the racer down, and he ended up on his back perched between two stools. Turbo was reduced to a cackling mess in Felix's lap. "Oh, how the time fliesssss…!"
"Land's sake, don't I know it!" His hazy state made it all the more easier to return a wide grin down at him. "I started gettin' worried during those Bit Wars; thought we wouldn't make it!"
"'Ey!" A grey hand shot up, a silencing finger nearly jabbing him in the nose. "Don't—don't even! Winners don't talk like that!"
In spite of himself, Felix rolled his eyes. The 'w-word' was one that came up more often than anything else in his vocabulary. He glanced down at the upside-down pout in his lap and burst into spontaneous laughter.
"I'm thhhhhhssserious!" Turbo's usually subdued lisp reared up in his intoxicated state, and he indignantly sat up and swiveled back to face his chortling friend. "Oh, sure, laugh it up, Squirrel-cheeks! Not like we were both saved from unplugging by yours truly or anythin'!"
Felix leaned back up, blowing a lazy raspberry at that. "Ohhhhh you are so full of it!"
"Says you! I drew the crowd 'a gamers in, and they stuck around for yer crummy fix-it game!" He huffed and sat up quickly to cross his arms, nearly toppling off his stool in the process. "Admit it!"
Felix shook his head, slightly dazed from the effort. He knew right away he was not going to win this twenty-year old debate, so he graciously conceded. "Of course, Turbo. How could I forget?"
"Yeah, seriously, how could you?" he replied with a snort. It was hard to tell whether he was teasing or not, but either way he seemed satisfied and moved on. "Sooooo. You comin' to the anniversary kickoff at the Turbo Time Winner's Circle tomorrow, or what?"
Felix hissed delicately. "Oooh, no can do, friend. Gene's been planning a soiree in the penthouse for a good month now, I simply can't miss that."
His easygoing tone faltered at the icy half-glance he received in return. "…I, I'm sorry, Turbo."
"It'ths fine," he slurred, though the bitter bite to his words and hunch to his shoulders suggested otherwise.
Felix frowned, genuinely concerned. A moment of consideration, and he called for the barkeep, "Tapper! One more serving, if you'd be so kind!"
He caught the frosty mug that slid down the counter and shifted it into Turbo's hand. He finally got a glower that was more uncertain than incensed, and the repairman beamed in response, clinking his half-full mug against his pal's once more.
"Here's to twenty more years! Am I right?"
sshhktchszz—"lix, come on, buddy, wake u—!"KRTCHshzzkzzz
The scene shifted drastically, though he never left his seat. The lights were dim, the air thick now with apprehension, and he was considerably more sober.
He gave his mug a disagreeable look and pushed it aside. Drinking was not what he was here for this night.
Beside him, Turbo was slouched over the counter, a hand grinding into the back of his helmet in seething aggravation. He seemed completely inconsolable. But that didn't mean Felix wasn't going to try.
He cleared his throat, weaving his hands together as he leaned on the counter next to his friend. His mouth opened and closed a few times as he kept trying to think of the best way to approach this delicate topic. Turbo made no movement to acknowledge his presence, so he spent a great while mulling it over.
"Now…" he started, waiting for a reaction. "…Turbo. Friend. Pal o' mine." He ventured a pat on the shoulder, and finally, squinting yellow eyes peeked out from under the helmet's brim.
"Perhaps you're overthinking all this? I am fairly certain Road Blasters doesn't, ahem, 'have it in for you.'"
The racer's glare grew hot, and he jerked to brush the gloved hand off. "Whadda you know."
As patient as he was, Felix's brow knotted in mounting frustration. "What I know is that Road Blasters is an innocent rookie game that's just getting its feet wet. It's bound to attract more gamers in its first few days here!"
His conviction faltered as Turbo's expression only worsened. "…or weeks, I suppose."
Turbo scoffed heatedly, rearing up the full extent of his inner rage. "You know what I think? I think you're being a little naïve, Fix-it."
Felix wrinkled his nose, clearly offended, but kept himself level. "Do elaborate, if you please."
"We're old news, don't you get it!?" Turbo's voice rose in volume, attracting the attention of other Tapper's patrons. "At least to those jokers past the screen! All they need is 'good grafficks' and they toss us aside!"
"Oh, now that's just plain ridiculous!" Felix countered. "We're not 'old,' we're classic. It's never been about the graphics; as long as we entertain the gamers, they'll always come back!"
Turbo snarled lowly. "Maybe they do for you. You're still getting quarters, aren't you!?"
"Well, of course we are!" He shrugged. "Admittedly, they're less than usual, but…"
"I'VE HAD NOTHING!" the racer hollered, leaping out of his chair and startling Felix and practically everyone else. "I've had to sit there and watch those snot-nosed brats flock over to Road Blasters and goosh over the 'grafficks', when by all rights they should be coming to me!" He patted his own chest in desperation. "ME!"
Felix gawked, appalled, and briskly shook his head. "Why, you're not in the least bit concerned about being outdated at all!" He too stood, casting an accusing finger. "This isn't about graphics or quarters, this is all about you! Just as it's always been!"
Turbo was taken aback for a second; he wasn't used to the Nicelander barking back. He quickly regained his scowl, clenching his fists white. "And just what are you insinuating, 'pal o' mine?'"
Felix's bravado almost dissipated right then and there. Old habits die hard, but this had been a constant issue for countless years, and it needed to be addressed. One could only humor an inflated ego for so long.
His raised finger still hovered there with uncertainty, but he jabbed it forward as punctuation. "I'm-!" Turbo's grimace, a mixture of maddening fury and haughty cunning, highly unnerved him. "I'm saying you're so wrapped up in your own little world that you're threatened at the first sign of you losing your place in the spotlight!"
"Is being in the spotlight so bad!?" the racer spat. By now they had everyone in the bar's attention. "Is recognition really so much to ask for?! What would you do without all your precious pies and medals, you tell me that, Fix-it!"
"I fix things! I help people! I'm a hero; I don't become a sore loser just because I'm not always number one!"
It wasn't until the silence hit that he realized what he said. It was the most callous thing to ever come out of him.
His outstretched hand trembled and snapped back to cover his gaping mouth. Watching the progression of shock, hurt, and anger flash across his friend's face was neatly cleaving his heart in two. How could he say such a thing?
Turbo was always a winner. No one had ever dared call him a loser before.
fffsshhrtzrt—"up! Felix! FELI—"bzzzzzzrt
Now he stood at the entrance of Tapper's, rubbing his arms nervously. He hadn't shown his face here in some time, not after storming out in an embarrassed hopping fit. Nor had he heard from Turbo, which of course was understandable.
He puffed out his chest and blew out an exasperated sigh to calm his nerves. The best thing to do was to man up and apologize for his inexcusable, hurtful words, and hope things turn out for the best.
The Nicelander strolled in as nonchalantly as he could manage, meeting the other patron's gazes levelly. Thankfully, most of them civilly nodded back; it seemed like his public embarrassment was forgiven and excused, and he relaxed somewhat.
He took his usual seat, the one next to him vacant. He bit his lip, slightly worried, then called out, "Tapper—" A fresh mug was automatically pushed in front of him. "Oh. Thank you."
"Welcome back, Felix," Tapper greeted. "Been a while, how've you been?"
"Oh, just fine and dandy, sir," he replied distractedly, glancing around the bar. "Has… has Turbo been around lately, or…?"
The barkeep sighed. "He's been skulking through here and there on occasion. I tell ya, he's way less pleasant when you're not around."
Felix forced an awkward chuckle, burying it in a burbling swig of his mug.
"If you hang around for a bit, he should turn up." His name was called from across the bar, and he straightened up. "Hope you two can work things out."
"Me too, Tapper… me too."
And so he waited. Minutes quickly turned into hours as he nursed his beer, quietly observing the bustle of the bar as he watched out for that blur of red and white. After some time he grew drowsy and leaned over the counter next to his empty mug, nestling his heavy head in his crossed arms. He kept on watching, though his gaze was becoming less and less alert by the second.
Just as his eyelids were drooping shut, he yelped at a rough pinch on his arm.
"Psst!" came a hiss beside him. To his left, crouched below the counter as if he had a secret, was his old friend, and Felix couldn't hold back a bright grin.
"Turbo!" he cried out, earning a grimace and a desperate shushing that went unnoticed as he brought the racer into a hug. Turbo instantly went rigid, then pushed him off, giving him that familiar pout.
"Cut that out!" he jeered just above a whisper. "We had a rule about hugging!"
"Right, goodness, I'm sorry!" Felix chuckled, amazed that he was even approached in the first place. "Listen, I—"
"Aa-aa-aa! Before you you go flappin' your gums, I found—"
"Ohhh, no no no no, I'm not waiting to clear the air, here!" Turbo winced, already seething in annoyance as Felix insisted on going first. "I want to apologize for the things I said during our last tiff. They were completely uncalled for, and any harm done was unintentional."
"Yeah, terrific, thanks." Felix faltered his diplomatic stance as Turbo instantly brushed it off, but before he could protest, a dirtied napkin was shoved in his face. "Now, look."
Felix pursed his lips in confusion at the rough scrawling presented to him. He glanced tensely between the napkin and Turbo, whose wide grin was a little more unhinged than he was used to.
"Turbo, what is this?"
"It's a code, you dunderhead!" His giggling did not improve his outward display of deteriorating sanity one bit. "And it's my meal ticket back into the limelight!"
Felix's expression fell completely. He gave Turbo the full extent of his guarded look. "Turbo… you're not still hung up on that Road Blasters business, are you?"
Turbo's face instantly soured, and he crumpled the napkin in his hand, raising a deadly finger. "I'm not gonna be hearin' any more lectures from you, Nicelander. I've put too much time into planning this; you should be honored I'm even filling you in!"
"Filling me into what, Turbo!?" He grabbed the racer by the arms. "Just what have you been scheming!?"
"I've been watching Road Blasters," he muttered in a low, deranged tenor. His hands snaked up to rest on Felix's arms, tugging him closer, much to the other's discomfort. "I know all its nuances, I understand its controls and gameplay... But it's still lacking something: a face."
Felix balked at the lack of space between them all of the sudden. His breath smelled of motor oil, and the creases in his grey face held together the most terrifying face he'd ever seen his dear old friend wear.
"I'm going to become the face of Road Blasters, Felix."
His gut dropped down into his shoes.
"Y… you—" Jaw gaping like a guppy, he stared at Turbo with eyes bulged and cried out, "YOU'RE GAME JUMPI-!"
A clammy hand slapped over his mouth rather harshly, and Turbo gave any suspecting patron of Tapper's a nasty look. He didn't release Felix until he had dragged him into the back hallway, out of earshot.
He gasped for air first, then erupted in a burst of a whisper, "You can't DO that, Turbo! Game jumping during arcade hours… that…!" He staggered back in sheer awe of the absolute insanity behind the very thought. "Why, that's unheard of!"
Turbo regarded him flatly with a cold sneer. "…I knew I shouldn't have told you. I knew you wouldn't get it."
"Ohhhh no, don't you start that put-upon nonsense with me!" Felix was bubbling up with anger all over again, just as easily as last time. He had a feeling it was becoming routine by now. "The arcade rules exist for a reason, Turbo!"
Reasoning seemed to be futile at this point; Turbo was not budging. "I thought we were friends, Fix-it."
"We are, darnit!" Felix replied wearily, taking a moment to slip off his hat and run a hand through his hair. "Forgive my language, but… Turbo, I'm just concerned for your safety, not to mention the safety of others—"
"Why would you have any concern for a loser like me?"
Felix visibly winced, and his demeanor shifted considerably. All of his confident air had been completely deflated in one fell swoop.
"It's not your fault," said the racer bitterly. "Not everyone is a visionary."
Felix stood rigid, trying hopelessly to swing control back his way. He couldn't look his friend in the eye anymore. "I… I won't be having anything to do with this."
"You don't have to. Just keep your big mouth shut, and I'll take care of everything else."
The hero shut his eyes tight and silently nodded. A calloused hand patted him on the shoulder.
"That's more like it. Yer a good friend, Felix."
He wasn't anywhere near the bar now. He stood in a crowded Game Central Station, in front of a gaping plugway that resounded with a dull roar, then went silent.
Wide eyes watched in horror as the LED sign above, reading 'Turbo Time,' flickered away.
Felix felt his heart collapsing in his chest. "Oh… oh, Turbo, no…!"
He clutched at his shirt in withdrawn agony. Voices cried out behind him, indicating that Road Blasters had also been unplugged.
Why didn't he stop him when he had the chance?
He vaguely acknowledged nameless faces of other game characters graciously expressing their condolences to him, as their friendship was well known even outside Tapper's. He forced out a grateful smile to each, lost in a dreary, stunned stupor.
It was then he spotted a small shadow darting into another entryway further down the strip. Above it sported the title 'Fix-it Felix, Jr.'
Felix shot off like a bottle rocket, bumping into others with exasperated "oops, sorry"'s and "excuse me"'s. It would take precious seconds for him to make his way through the crowd before he finally reached his own game in pursuit of the intruder.
The trolley couldn't have sped down the power cord fast enough. He hopped off before it came to a complete stop and staggered into Niceland, eyes scanning his dark world for any irregularities. The front door of the apartment complex swayed gently, left open in haste, and Felix immediately hurried over.
He was left wheezing in the lobby, turning this way and that in a mounting panic. Did he use the elevator? Did he go up or down? And what in sam hill was he doing here?!
He froze at the lurching clanks below, and without stopping to ask himself what had made them, he swept down the stairwell and careened into the basement. Curls of smoky pixel-dust had been kicked up in the trespasser's haste, tracing a path down to the white, foreign hallway that led to the game's very core.
Felix's chest clenched in swelling terror. "Oh, no. No."
He was no longer himself. He was floating through blackness, suspended on a construction cord, as he swam towards the glowing blue lifeblood of his once friend's game.
It was an older game, so it was not a complicated pattern. Road Blaster's map of coding was much more intricate.
A red glitch flickered on his outstretched hand, his coding ripped apart and messily strung back together after his failed attempt of controlling the aforementioned racing game. A small loss, however. There was time to grasp a better handle on this coding business. And that started here.
He had one objective in mind, and that was priority. He hovered over to the main character's block, tapping and activating its spring of code. Flicking aside pointless blocks of memory, he spotted the one he needed and gripped the cord that attached it to the rest of the nest.
Telling his friend had been a grievous error. Maybe having him as a friend to begin with was an error. Winners never got ahead by paying any mind to those lower than them.
It was about time he severed those ties.
"TURBO!" He cringed, his body curling inward tightly at the shriek of his name, from the voice he was hoping to never hear again. At the white tunnel's doorway stood Felix, leaned forward in desperation.
Turbo openly snarled back. "Stay right where you are, Fix-it! Or I'll tear your game apart code by code!"
"It's over, Turbo!" Felix cried out, a tormented pitch in his words. "Your game's unplugged! Road Blasters is unplugged!" A sob echoed. "Please don't do this, I'm begging you, friend!"
"What have I got left to lose?" Turbo hollered back, still curled like a beaten animal. "I'm not finished yet! It'll take more than that to get rid of the great Turbo!"
Felix was visibly trembling even at this distance, fists clenched tight. And then, without warning, he dived in.
Turbo blanched. "Wh—ARE YOU INSANE!?" He had never ventured into a code sea without some tether back into the game, or else he risked falling into the dark abyss, or getting lost in the network.
The brave, or perhaps stupid, repairman did not respond. He grew closer with powerful breaststrokes, his brow knotted in stoic concentration.
Forgetting himself for a brief moment, Turbo lurched forward to meet him, failing to remember his hand was still gripping the cord.
Turbo made a strangled cry as Felix convulsed in mid stroke, crackling with blue and white sparks, his wide eyes flashing with static. Losing consciousness, he revolved gently like a dying fish and slowly descended into empty blackness.
There was no time to think, no time to rationalize what he was doing. He dipped down and caught the Nicelander, holding him close with one arm while his other still held the severed cord, anchoring them to the code-web. The two of them hovered softly in the unmoving current as his brain caught up to his actions. He was almost appalled to find Felix limp in his grasp, as if he had blacked out while rescuing him.
He could've let him fall. That would've done the job twice as good. Looking up at the coding, he could easily tear this game asunder. He had every right to, with the way his so-called friend had treated him. It would be just desserts. It would flawlessly cover his tracks. He saw no downside to this.
Then he glanced down at Felix's face, locked in quiet pain. That would be his undoing.
Now he spent the entire trip back up the apartment in rationalizing his irrational actions, begrudgingly climbing the stairwell with Felix slung over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, and grumbled to himself. It was a long, toiling march up to the roof, where he finally dumped the repairman, obvious enough to be discovered later by the Nicelanders, but out of the way enough for him to make a clean getaway.
Still… he lingered, looking over his former friend's prone form with little outward emotion.
It wasn't that he cared or anything.
Tearing up this game would've been a waste of his valuable time.
He needed to focus on trading games, not revenge.
Not like he cared.
His gaze wandered up to the large glass window in the black sky. In the dimly lit arcade, two technicians had just dropped off a large, brand-new, two-player racing game, coated with images of candy and sweets.
Yes… that would do just fine.
Turbo strolled back towards the stairwell, casting Felix one last glance.
"Keep your crummy fix-it game. I've got bigger fish to fry."
Felix's eyes fluttered into focus, his senses returning to him one by one. He noted he was settled by something warm, and bouncing a bit in urgency. Squinting up, he realized he was back in the basement, his brother cradling him in one arm as he raced through the maze of boxes in worry.
Still winded, Felix gained a weak grip on his overalls, gasping out, "R-hhn, Rah-alph. Ralph…!"
The wrecker glanced down and skidded to a halt, deflating in massive relief. "Felix…!" he sighed, pressing the elevator button with considerably less hurry. "Geez, finally. I was about to go get Gene."
His hand flopped down on his forehead dizzily. "Land's sake… h-how long was I out…?"
"No more than a minute, but… you worried me, man! What happened back there?"
Felix shut his eyes solemnly. "You were… you were right. You were right all along."
"No one really knew him better than I did."
They brought as little attention to themselves as they could, taking the elevator up to the penthouse. Though still a bit weak, Felix only complained of a minor headache, taking his place on the couch and insisting on filling Ralph in.
"…and then he yanked that cord right out," he reached the end of his explanation, using proper hand gestures. "I'd wager that block of memory was my memories of him…"
"And he had to make sure everyone thought he disappeared with his game," Ralph finished, nodding. "Cunning little snot."
"Mm-hmm." Felix was reduced to staring at his twiddling thumbs.
"Are you sure that's all he did, though?" He glanced up at the wrecker's inquisitive look. "I mean, he had the chance to do way worse damage while he was worming through there."
Felix didn't respond right way. He wasn't sure it was wise to bring up the last part in that surge of memories, because that one wasn't his. Turbo's code had been unstable, it might've rubbed off when he pulled the cord.
"I… I, I don't know," he replied uncomfortably, rubbing his arms. "Maybe he had other priorities? It's difficult to say."
How he would've liked to believe that. Ralph nodded thoughtfully and didn't press the issue, and the two of them fell into a contemplative silence.
Eventually, Felix sighed. "I feel like a goshdarn fool, brother."
Ralph's heavy brow furrowed. "Wha—for what?"
"I was his chum, his compadre." He slumped back into the couch. "I should've supported him. I could've done my part to keep him from game jumping in the first place." He threw up a hand in exasperation. "And what do I go and do? Call him a sore loser."
Mirthlessly chuckling, Ralph shook his head in what seemed to be disagreement. "Oh, please. Felix, you weren't his friend, you were his 'number two.'"
Felix titled his head up to give him a distasteful pout. "Well, see, that's unfair-!"
"Look, based on what you've told me, he's not the kind of guy I'd call a friend. You were there to stroke his ego because you're the only one who had the patience to put up with him, and he gave you squat in return."
"And then when you wouldn't bend over backwards for him, he spites you for it and scares you into keeping quiet? What kind of friend is that!?"
"…he, wasn't always that way…"
Ralph would've gone on, but that defeated tone brought him back to find Felix hunched over in grief. Realizing that he got carried away, the wrecker let his anger simmer down as he took some time to think of the right thing to say. Soon enough, he knelt down in front of the repairman, tapping his chin to get him to look up.
"Hey." Tired blue eyes met his own. "I just don't want you to start thinking you're a terrible friend. Because you aren't. You look out for everyone, even those of us whom others can't stand to be around."
Knowing exactly what he was referring to, Felix half-smiled. "I keep telling you a good shower will take care of half of your detractors, Ralph."
There came a glare that instantly cracked under the pressure of laughter. Felix joined in, lightening up the mood considerably.
"Ahah, ok, no, but seriously," Ralph went on. "You did the best you could with Turbo. You really did. He just didn't see that. Or maybe he did, I don't know, but he sure didn't show it." With a sigh, he finished, "When someone doesn't want to be fixed, there's only so much you can do."
Felix considered this for a long moment, and finally went into a gradual nod. "Ahh, you… you know what, you're right." He gave Ralph a meek grin. "I… there's no point in dwelling on it, is there?"
"Now you're making sense-!" He paused as Felix leaned forward and embraced him, his arms barely reaching halfway across his large chest.
"Thanks, brother," he choked out. "For bringing the code here, and… just, everything. I, I needed this."
Ralph hesitated, only because he was still getting used to affectionate gestures, and eventually patted his back in return. "Sure thing."
When they pulled away and Felix began readjusting his clothes, his once rival asked, "You turning in, or…?"
"Mmm… I was planning to, but… small change of plans." He fitted his hat on firmly. "I'm going to make a quick stop at Tapper's. For old time's sake." A sober smile. "You don't have to wait up for me, of course."
"I'll do you one better," Ralph replied, standing up and following him to the elevator. "I'll come with you."
Felix couldn't say no even if he wanted to. "That'd be terrific. Thank you, Ralph."
Even if he regretted what couldn't be helped... he was glad he got it right this time.