Video game characters were a different breed all on their own.
Characters came in many different forms and approaches, from verbal speak to written books and even the big screen. The digital world in which the heroes and villains of video games resided, however, was a bizarre case. The characters within could not travel freely, and they were forced to remain in their own game, in their own console, or in the limited boundaries of an arcade.
An arcade was the chamber that Wreck-It Ralph and his friends were forever bound to.
They were lucky, though. Throughout the years, they had heard stories about characters whose games were meant for newer generation consoles, ones that were made especially for a human's home. Those characters were stuck within those tiny boxes, and when they were unplugged so very often...who knew what happened. Surely they couldn't hold the same bonds that Wreck-It Ralph knew so very well. Messing with the mechanisms of a console wasn't meant for the souls living inside the technology, and it did things to you. Wreck-It Ralph was familiar with games and characters that glitched and that eventually disappeared all together, but he couldn't imagine what it was like to be apart of those fancy new consoles. The characters had to be cold, he thought. They knew each other, but...didn't quite work and love the same way that his friends did.
Being unplugged was about as grim as death itself, and for those characters who unplugged weekly, daily in a human home, had no way of remembering each other like the characters in Litwak's Arcade did. It was a sad, almost pointless existence in Ralph's mind, and he thanked whatever was out there that he would never have to experience such a loss.
It had been a few years since the second Turbo incident, and thankfully the power hungry character was gone for good. Peace had settled over the arcade for the most part. There were still many characters who were absolutely terrified of mishaps and inter-game relationships such as Wreck-It Ralph and Vanellope and Fix-It Felix Jr. and Sergeant Tamora Jean Calhoun only irked them further. Out of game relations were widely accepted in the arcade, but visiting other games and even housing themselves within them was more or less taboo in their eyes.
When Ralph started to visit Sugar Rush regularly and Felix had even gone to build Calhoun a house in Fix It Felix Jr., it was almost a turning point in the arcade's society. Fear was a natural emotion, and it took some time for the residents of Litwak's Arcade to get used to the new, odd relationships. Now, years later, spotting Felix holding hands with his wife and Ralph giving his eccentric companion a piggyback ride was the norm. The arcade had grown as one to accept different ideas, and with a longtime harmony settling within the games, everything was close to perfect.
"How many times do I have to beat you in one day, Stinkbrain?"
Vanellope whirled and skidded to a stop in her go cart past Sugar Rush's finish line for what seemed like...well, Ralph didn't know how long they had been racing. He had entered Sugar Rush as soon as the arcade closed, intending to pay his closest friend a visit. Vanellope cleared the raceway and stands with ease-she was the President, after all-and demanded that they take part in another one of her 'grand prix's. In these tournaments, it's always just her against Ralph, and she inevitably wins every time. She was designed for the game, after all, and with her added glitching she made an impossible opponent.
Ralph didn't mind losing, though. Her grin and victory screech every time she reached the finish line was enough to make him feel like a winner.
"Apparently not enough, President Buffalo Breath," Ralph noted, struggling to step out of his own cart. The whole vehicle shook and shuddered from his weight as he escaped. "I almost beat you that time, you have to admit. You wouldn't have gotten away without a glitch!"
Vanellope pretended to examine her nails. "Just keep telling yourself that. Hey, what time is it, anyway? This Grand Prix was the longest yet."
Ralph hopelessly looked to the sky. "I don't know, it's always too icky bright and colorful here to tell."
"At least it is bright in my game, Ralph. Your game is always night! How boring is that?"
"It can get boring sometimes." Ralph shrugged. "But like I've said before, I appreciate my job. More importantly, I probably need to start heading back. I try to avoid my game as much as possible during this time, but I don't think I have much of a choice now."
Vanellope easily climbed up his arm, resting on his shoulder. "Why?" She smirked. "Do the love birds get on your nerves?"
"You have no idea."
"Well, tell them to go build their nest somewhere else!"
Ralph made a face. "They're married, Vanellope, it's a little more complicated than that."
"Hero's Duty is one big nest itself. Why don't they just go there?"
"I don't think that's the best place for them," Ralph tried to say.
The princess sighed, hopping back down to her level. "Whatever. I'm really glad that I don't have to deal with that kind of stuff. It seems so exhausting and stupid."
"More exhausting than beating me in racing a thousand times in one night?"
"Are you kidding?" Vanellope snorted. "Racing you is like rocking a baby to sleep, though I think the latter is harder."
"Sure, sure, kid." The massive man turned in the direction of Sugar Rush's exit, waving his hand behind him as he went. "Just wait until tomorrow, and we'll see who the real champion is!"
Vanellope waved goodbye like royalty would. "Au revior, Snot Rag!"
One great thing about defeating Turbo was that Ralph was no longer stopped by the Surge Protector every time he went to Grand Central Station.
He wasn't bothered by anyone, really. In the past, characters would squeal and scuttle away from his huge feet, gape at his size, and just...try to avoid him. But now people greeted him like an old friend, appreciative of his heroic deeds to save the arcade. Ralph admitted that it did take him a while to get used to, but he was much more comfortable with it now. His occupation no longer clashed with his social status.
As usual, the Surge Protector walked right by Ralph, acting as though he didn't even exist. Ralph liked it that way. It saved him a lot of trouble. He waltzed into Fix it Felix Jr.'s entrance with ease, and hopped aboard the rickety train.
It was still strange to see the game's setting so much brighter now that Felix had built a new street for his wife and Q*Bert's crew. The new residents made up for the Nicelanders' irritating programming. Ralph found himself only entering the apartments for parties, for it was much more enjoyable to visit the other characters in their homes and inviting them to his own humble abode. Although the Nicelanders had learned to appreciate the massive man now, he still preferred Felix and the others' presence.
The characters from Q*Bert's game were scrambling about in the square in the middle of the houses, playing a sort of silent tag that only they could understand. Ralph smiled at the sight, always happy to see them enjoying themselves even outside their game. When they saw the villain, they spoke in Q*bertese, hopping up and down with joy. In an instant, they were by his side, whirling around his feet in a dance.
"Hey, guys," Ralph greeted, patting Coily on the head. The miniature character shrieked with glee. "Nice to see you. I don't have anything for you today, I'm afraid, but I'll be sure to bring back some cherries tomorrow."
They were content either way, going back to playing their game. Ralph shook his head, chuckling as he headed over to the first house in line on the street. Felix had more or less made it his own, and in time Calhoun came to visit more often. She had claimed that it was a nice break from the insanity over in Hero's Duty, and Ralph believed it. He could see the sunlight peeking in through the arcade's doors from where he stood inside the game, and he knew that it couldn't be long before someone ran up to the console. Felix was probably by himself now.
With one giant finger, Ralph rang the doorbell, rocking back and forth on his heels as he waited. Instead of an answer, a crash sounded, followed by frantic voices. A particularly feminine, angry voice stood out among them.
Sighing deeply, Ralph knew what would come next.
The door swung open, rather too fast, and a disheveled Felix stood in the entryway with an anxious grin on his face. His cheeks were beet red, and somehow the handyman thought that plastering his hands there would hide the fact.
"W-Well, hey there, brother!" Felix said, his eyes wandering everywhere but his companion's face.
Ralph remained unimpressed. "Hi, Felix."
"Is it opening time already? Gosh, I'm so sorry for keeping you waiting. I, uh, lost track of time. Heh."
"I've only been here for a few minutes," Ralph told him, resting an arm on the door frame. Felix noticeably twitched, staring at the man's gaze that looked within the house.
"Oh, okay." Felix's grin was starting to falter, replacing itself with an almost terrified smile.
"You know, uh, Felix."
"You don't have to do...this everyday."
The handyman tried at confusion. "Do what, Ralph?"
The larger man stared down at him for a few moments, contemplating his next reply. Soon, he realized that it wasn't worth his time, and turned to dropping the subject. "Never mind, Felix," he sighed. "Just...Just make sure that Calhoun is dressed and out here in the next few minutes. The arcade is close to opening."
Felix flushed deeper, running a hand through his hat less hair. He took hold of the doorknob. "R-Right, okay. Will do."
Without a hint of hesitation, the handyman slammed the door in Ralph's face, clearly embarrassed. Ralph was used to situations like this-whenever the couple had the chance, they met alone, and often it was at the wrong time. This wasn't the first encounter Ralph had with a red-faced, unbuckled Felix.
Sensing that free time was over, Q*Bert's crew headed for the Nicelander apartments, ready for action if a player made it to the bonus levels. Quickly, Calhoun emerged from the house, looking far from satisfied as she struggled to put on her military jacket in mid walk She mumbled a greeting to Ralph when she passed, silently headed for the game's train. It was best not to get involved with the hot-headed soldier, especially when she looked intent for murder.
Moments later, Felix came out of the house as well, a hand print now tattooed on his face. He nervously looked about the area, hopelessly trying to wipe the slap off of his cheek. When that didn't work, he resorted to his hammer, and tapped it to the spot. Ralph failed at hiding a laugh. Felix always had trouble with women.
"Felix, are you ready?" The massive man called, already in position by the apartments. The Nicelanders were awake now, standing inside their designated windows and trying to yawn away the remnants of sleep.
Felix hooked his hammer back into his belt loop, waltzing over to the building. He was trying in vain to gain his composure for the Nicelanders, Ralph knew. "Give me one second, partner!"
In the middle of his run, Felix looked to the console's screen, curious to see who the visitor was. Through the glass he saw that it wasn't a child, but a man. The only other person in the arcade besides the new man was Mr. Litwak, who was standing at the entrance to greet the guest. From what Felix could tell, the man was taller that Mr. Litwak, and was merely clad in jeans and a t-shirt. They shook hands like old friends, and began to talk at the door. Felix subconsciously slowed down, taking the scene in.
"Hey, Felix, are you coming? We don't have much time!"
Ralph was starting to grow impatient with the handyman's stalling. With a groan, he retreated from his puddle, walking toward the now immobile Felix. Puzzled, Ralph put a hand to his friend's shoulder. "Come on, what are you staring at?" he asked.
"That man," Felix started, pointing a gloved finger at the screen. "He's the only person in the arcade so far, but he keeps on talking to Mr. Litwak and I don't know why."
"So? People talk to him all the time, it doesn't matter. He'll probably start playing soon, so we need to get going," Ralph urged. It was strange; Felix was usually the one that was telling everyone what to do.
The man was telling Litwak something important now, for he had lost his smile. Their discussion changed entirely in the characters' minds as the man gestured to the Fix It Felix Jr. console.
"Ralph...?" Felix concernedly glanced at the villain.
"He probably just wants to play our game," Ralph rationalized. "After all, we're over 30 years old. The guy looks even older than that." He thumped the smaller man on the back. "Come on, before he heads over here."
Litwak rubbed the back of his neck, using his other hand to describe what he was saying to the man. The man nodded in understanding, and immediately he pulled a wad of cash out of his pocket.
Litwak looked taken aback by the amount of money outstretched in the visitor's palm.
Ralph cracked an uneasy grin. "Heh...maybe he just wants to play it several times?"
"Boys, what's going on down there?" Mary had opened her window, and was now leaning outside the apartment trying to get a good look at the characters below.
Felix waved a hand behind him, his voice starting to grow hysterical. "Nothing, nothing! Stay where you are! We're going to start soon!" He placed a glove over his mouth, leaning close to Ralph. "I don't think someone would take that much loot into an arcade, Ralph."
The villain continued to stare at the scene outside their game. "Then what?"
The man and Litwak talked for a few more minutes, and with another hand shake, the man left, leaving the arcade silent once more. It was eerily quiet as Litwak leaned against the wall, putting a hand to his chin. He appeared lost in his own thoughts as he stared at the arcade's floor. Time seemed to be moving far too slowly, everything was too confusing, and the stillness of everything was starting to get under the characters' skins.
Ralph and Felix just breathed as Litwak retreated from the wall and begin to walk toward their console. As he grew nearer, they reverted to their default sprite positions, as if the game was still in demo mode. They were all ears though, and they were intent on finding out what was going on.
"Hey, Felix," Litwak said once he was close enough to their game. He nodded to the villain "You too, Ralph. It looks like you two have sparked a collector's interest. Boy, I didn't know how much this old game was worth. It was hard not to take the offer into consideration."
He patted the console, causing it to shake slightly. "He's going to come back tomorrow afternoon, and I'll have a decision ready then. I think this game would be better off protected than in my place."
Litwak left the console's side far too soon, leaving the characters inside feeling empty and betrayed.
Ralph and Felix exchanged looks, their eyes full of unanswered questions, and most of all, fear.
"Ralph," the handyman whispered to break the silence. "We're gonna be unplugged."