A/N - Hello, everybody! I'm finally ready to begin the drabblefic sequel to Ghost Boy! And for those of you who haven't actually read Ghost Boy, well, you kind of need to in order to understand this. Sorry, but it's very steeply based in my headcanon, and you will get confused very quickly if you don't have all the background.
Anyway, let me explain how this will work. Every chapter of this story will be a mostly self-contained oneshot detailing an event that takes place after Ghost Boy. Think of all the little stories as a TV series: they've got their own arcs and they're slightly episodic, but in their own way, they all come together to form one continuing plotline. Why am I doing it like this instead of just writing a straight-up sequel? Because I had a ton of ideas for what could happen after the ending of Ghost Boy, so many that there was no way they'd fit into a traditional plot structure! So here, you lucky readers get to have basically the ongoing adventures of Turbo and Vanellope. And yes, this is still mostly about Turbo. The other characters will all get their time in the spotlight at one point or another, but I know how much everybody (including me) loves them some Turbo.
A few more things to take note of:
1. Occasionally, I might write a oneshot that takes place before or during Ghost Boy. I'll always make sure to warn about this in an AN ahead of time, that way nobody gets confused.
2. There also might be two-, three-, or even four-part "episodes" sometimes. These will be clearly marked with "Part 1," "Part 2," and so on.
3. This fic will be updated sporadically, as quickly or as slowly as I feel like.
4. The length of each chapter will vary. This particular story happens to be pretty long, about the length of a chapter of Ghost Boy, but that doesn't mean that future updates won't be shorter.
And I think that's about it! Now, sit back, relax, and enjoy the first drabble in the "Mountains We Haven't Climbed" series...which, by popular demand, is the story of Turbo's first Random Roster Race!
The track was set; the crowds were cheering; the racers had suited up in their protective gear and now waited on baited breath in the drivers' seats of their karts, tensed with anticipation for the upcoming event. On any normal day, the board would be displaying fifteen names, those of every possible avatar in Sugar Rush preparing to compete for the top nine slots. But today was far from normal. There were sixteen characters listed today, and underneath Adorabeezle Winterpop and Jubileena Bing-Bing and Vanellope von Schweetz was a name that was much shorter and simpler than any other: Turbo.
Vanellope had made a joke about how that wasn't right, it should really say Pajama Boy, but Turbo had been so thrilled after depositing his entry fee that he hadn't even used his own snide nickname for her, glitter-graphics. He had only attempted to enter the daily Random Roster Race once before, and that occasion had ended in disaster when he'd inadvertently triggered King Candy's name appearing on the board. And from there, he'd been forced to cope with the memories that had been deleted for his own good, including a sort of terrifying reenactment not long after...but that was all over now, he reminded himself. No more King Candy. No more scary things. His code was his own again, and he had his chance to be a real racer, and the past month of hard work wasn't going to go to waste, and he was on the board. He was on the board. He was on the board, his own name, not King Candy's.
"I can do it," the fifteen-year-old murmured in reassurance to himself, tightening his grip on the steering wheel. "I'm Turbo, the greatest racer ever. And I'm gonna win."
Technically he didn't even need to get first place to be a real racer again; any spot in ninth place or above would do. But receiving such a low rank would have been unacceptable to Turbo's pride. In his home game, even coming in third had once enraged him, although of course there had only been three racers back in Turbo Time. Truthfully, he had never raced with fifteen other people before, nor had he ever driven on a track as complex as this during his past few weeks in Sugar Rush (Royal Raceway was supposed to be the most difficult course in the entire game, and judging by the few races here that he had witnessed, that was an accurate description). But he was still going to win, if for no other reason than he needed some gold coins and would prefer not to keep borrowing them from other people.
Besides, he knew how to drive, and more importantly, he knew how to glitch.
Static was building up beneath the surface of his character model, pressing against his skin in a way that would cause him to bubble into pixels and binary code if he allowed it to get free, but he kept the lurking glitches under control. He wasn't in the least bit surprised that his coding was on the fritz. He had expected it, since he was so excited that he could hardly keep from bouncing out of the kart and running the race on his own power, and yet he forced himself to sit still and draw in deep breaths. Under control. Under control. Real racers couldn't glitch involuntarily on the track. He had this under control...
His attention was only drawn away when Vanellope angled her head to smirk at him. Since she was the ruler and lead character of the game, her kart was positioned front and center at the starting line, and she had insisted that his vehicle had to be situated right next to hers. He had been a tad nervous about bumping someone out of their normal spot next to the president, but no one had called him out on this so far. "Are you ready to do this thing?" she asked, bouncing in her seat slightly. Her hazel eyes glimmered at the prospect of finally racing with her new best friend.
In response, Turbo tapped his toe against the gas pedal of his car. He was still holding it steady with the clutch, so this action did nothing but produce a revving noise, which spoke volumes on its own. Vanellope secured her hot-pink goggles over her face with one swift tug and stood up.
"Is everybody ready?!" she called, her voice soaring above the din of the spectators. This was her customary way of kickstarting the daily qualifying race.
"YES!" shouted the fourteen other official Sugar Rush avatars.
"Are you SURE you guys are ready?!"
"YES!" hollered Turbo at the top of his lungs, the excitement of his current situation finally absorbing into his mind, and his voice was quickly engulfed in the cacophony of the crowd bellowing their responses and his opponents kickstarting their engines.
Vanellope flipped her ponytail dramatically as she plopped back down in her seat, her hands scuttling towards the controls of her kart. "THEN LET THE RANDOM ROSTER RACE COMMENCE!"
A momentary hush swept across the Royal Raceway.
Several quick, agile NPCs with the appearances of floating marshmallows swooped down, some of them activating various controls for the jumbotrons, others performing a final sweep of the starting line. But the one that everybody had focused on was the marshmallow lugging around a traffic light. Every racer's eyes were fixated on the red glow emanating from the instrument, awaiting its metamorphosis into yellow and then green.
And at last, the numbers began to zoom through the air overhead.
This was it. This was really happening, and it was happening now. Turbo swallowed and ensured that he had a decent grip on his gearshift.
His sneakered foot lifted slightly, ready for him to transfer it from the brake to the gas at a moment's notice.
He was really going to do this! He clenched all over as he restrained another glitch, his heart beating out a rhythm of excitement, delight, anxiety, and all-around adrenaline against his ribcage. The only thing standing between him and a real role in this game was fifteen other competitors...
That was the magic word, and it ignited an automatic reaction embedded deep within Turbo's programming. Without another thought, he stomped on the gas pedal as hard as he possibly could, flooring it as he tore past the starting line in order to collect speed. Acceleration was his kart's lowest statistic, but he knew that as soon as he really got going, he would be nearly impossible to stop. He allowed a breath to billow out of him, and his thoughts and inhibitions and preoccupations seemed to drop away from his mind, replaced by a single command repeated in a persistent chant:
Race, race, race, race.
Don't think, just react, he told himself. Just race. Let the programming take over. Even if he had never driven on this particular course before, and even if he was more accustomed to competing with one or two other people as opposed to fifteen, this was the very task that he had been created for. He was absolutely capable of winning here. After all, he was the greatest racer ever...wasn't he?
The first section of the Royal Raceway, just beyond the bleachers, was Sugar Square. This was where things first started to heat up, and the pack of karts began to lose its unified formation, with some racers noticeably falling behind while others charged to the front. Two cars swerved in front of Turbo, triggering an automatic knee-jerk, how-dare-they reaction, but he steadied his shoulders and reassured himself that everything would be fine, the race had only just begun and he had plenty of time to get ahead. Even if he wasn't nearly as much of a jerk as he'd been thirty years ago, his competitiveness didn't seem to have been quelled by the decades at all.
He zoomed past buildings and little houses and sentient candies, all blurring into stripes of pinkish-crimson and brownish-red at the corners of his vision, and finally came up to the ramp that would deposit him into an area free of spectators: Gumball Gorge. It was one of the most dangerous sections of any track, he knew, and it would require timing, observation, and just a pinch of luck in order to safely make it through. At least he knew that he'd regenerate if something should happen to him...supposedly. He was still practically right next to Vanellope as he dropped off of the apex of the ramp, his stomach descending proportionally (after his little misadventure in Hero's Duty a few days ago, he rather suspected that he would be fearful of heights forevermore) until his wheels made contact with the track once again.
Now it was time to take things up a notch.
Gumballs as large as boulders weaved in holding patterns along the red-marbled sides of the canyon, dropping from the towering candy dispensers overhead in an endless avalanche. Several racers, both to the front and the rear of the back, found themselves being bowled over by the oversized sweets. Vanellope expertly zipped from side to side to avoid them, teleporting in a flash of blue when one got a bit too close to her for comfort. Turbo gritted his teeth, unwilling to let her get so far ahead of him, and shifted his kart into a higher gear.
There was a line of powerup cubes just ahead of him, and after a quick check to ensure that there were no gumballs imminent, he darted down to snag one. Sugary glitter fizzled in the air around him.
Out of nowhere, the hood of his vehicle retracted and allowed a comically oversized blaster contraption to spring out, and a button on his dashboard lit up with a small picture of three gumballs. He had received Sweet Seekers, one of his favorite items. Oh, he'd had so much fun slamming Vanellope with these during their practice races...he used a joystick on his console to take aim at the avatars closest to him and jammed his thumb down on the button, one, two, three times.
BAM! Gloyd Orangeboar was spinning to the side; BAM! There went Jubileena Bing-Bing; BAM! Good-bye, Sticky Wipplesnit. Turbo dodged the last of the falling gumballs and pulled up beside Vanellope smoothly, a smirk now creeping up on his face. The pint-sized president spotted him in her rearview mirror and shouted, "Sharp shooting, Pajama Boy! Too bad I'm still here!" With that taunt still lingering in the air, she yanked to the side in order to roll across a series of speed-boost arrows. Turbo followed her lead, and the two of them arced out of Gumball Gorge and landed on the next section of the course.
Seriously, what is up with all of the flying off edges here?! Turbo wondered, slightly jittery as he returned to solid ground. Lucky for him, he hadn't glitched once. He had no way of knowing what rank he was currently in, but as far as he could tell, there were only five or six racers ahead of him including Vanellope. He was doing pretty good for his first Random Roster Race, but "pretty good" wasn't enough for the greatest racer ever. He shifted gears again, drawing much closer to everyone else. It was time to get into the pack and start some slick maneuvering.
They were now circling a giant decorated birthday cake, lined with cherries that could become dangerous explosives at a moment's notice if Candlehead decided to stray towards the edge. Being alert was now more important than ever. He was so focused on keeping his wheel jerked to the side and passing the people in front of him that when something rammed into the side of his kart, he couldn't help but crackle with an involuntary glitch of shock. His first impossible, fleeting thought was, King Candy! But of course that was riddiculous. It was Rancis Fluggerbutter in his peanut butter cup car, trying to knock Turbo off-course. The cherubic-faced boy was grinning not unkindly, as if to assure Turbo that this was all in the spirit of friendly competition.
Turbo blinked several times to clear his head before sticking his nose up at Rancis teasingly, then pulling ahead of the chocolatey kid. He was more shaken up then he was letting on, though – how could he have let his imagination get the better of him that way?! – and another unintentional ripple of red pixels spread through him. This did not escape the notice of the racer just ahead of him, who unfortunately happened to be Taffyta Muttonfudge.
"Glitch!" she called back at him disdainfully, her eyes narrowed and unimpressed behind the visor of her strawberry helmet.
Under his breath, he inaudibly muttered a word that would have gotten him in a lot of trouble with the grown-ups if they'd heard him, one that rhymed with glitch and wasn't considered appropriate in polite company. To her face, he shouted, "Gee, Taffyta, if I didn't know any better, I'd say that you didn't like me very much!" More than anyone else, the pink pansy really seemed to have it out for him.
Taffyta sniffed. "Why don't you just get out of my sight!"
"Oh...gladly," he responded, quietly enough that she probably couldn't hear him. If she was going to call him a glitch, then he'd show her some glitching, all right.
He drew in a deep breath and forced himself to disperse into glowing scarlet particles. When he reassembled a second later, he was in front of Taffyta (and Candlehead and Adorabeezle Winterpop, who had both been very close by). "Turbo-Tastic!" he yelled at Taffyta's mortified face, briefly removing one hand from the wheel to flash her the thumbs-up and broadening his grin. To his surprise and delight, all of the other nearby children began practically howling with laughter at this, especially Vanellope, who was once again nearly right next to Turbo.
"Take this part fast!" she called over her shoulder to him as they swirled around the top of the birthday cake and into a tunnel. Turbo obeyed, applying as much pressure to his gas pedal as possible and shifting one more time to reach his highest gear...
And suddenly the road vanished beneath him.
"What the whaaaaaaat?!" he cried, his voice stretching out into a half-scream.
For what felt like a small eternity, he was soaring through the air, arching towards the next section of the track in a manner that seemed much more like flying than falling. All right, this was definitely a new one for him, and he was torn between laughing in joy at the sensation of freely traveling across the sky like this or trying to choke back the glitches and nausea spurned by his newly supplemented fear of heights. Vanellope was shrieking, too, but for her it was more like the reaction she might have to going over the biggest hill on a roller coaster. Finally, Turbo's vehicle bounced slightly as it reconnected with the ground, and he found himself swerving as he readjusted to driving on a solid surface.
Vanellope glanced back at him again, her cheeks flushed with excitement. "Don't worry, Pajama Boy, you're doing great!" she yelled. He offered her a shaky smile in response, his eyes still wide and slightly stunned behind their protective goggles, before returning his attention to the road.
He was now fairly certain that there were only three people ahead of him: Vanellope (of course), Snowanna Rainbeau, and Crumbelina di Caramello. As they approached another line of item boxes, Crumbelina was granted an A La Mode powerup and spun around with the intent of firing it at him, but he glitched away before the colossal ice cream scoop could smother him. This turn of events reinforced his confidence; he had never been able to react this quickly with his glitches before! He was so intent on utilizing his newfound ability that when he teleported past Snowanna, it took him completely by surprise when a slight dizzy spell struck him like a pebble between the eyes.
Oh, right. Glitching was not an unlimited power, for him anyway. Vanellope, who had been doing some glitching of her own, must have noticed him trying to blink off his disorientation, because she peered over her shoulder with concern knit into her brow. "Don't tire yourself out, Turbo," she warned.
"I won't," he promised. Now that they were clear of Crumbelina and Snowanna, the only person he had left to overtake was her, and he had done it plenty of times during their leisure races over the past month. He didn't need his glitch to win this thing, which was just as well, because he was fairly certain that he'd glitched himself out for today...and maybe second place would be acceptable once he'd done this a few more times, but today, he wouldn't settle for anything less than first.
The two of them zipped along, hugging the curves in the road, and white flecks began to speckle the lenses of Turbo's goggles after a short while. At first he thought that it was snowing, but then he realized what he was actually looking at: powdered sugar. They had come to the Ice Cream Mountains.
He squinted, abruptly overcome with a sense of malaise. There was something familiar about this place, and not just because he had seen Vanellope pass through here when he'd come to watch her competing in qualifying races. For whatever reason, this particular location was linked in his mind to anger, desperation, the fearful guilt of a lie being revealed at last...
It was only with an effort that he kept his focus as he trailed Vanellope into the dark labyrinth of caves that awaited them. He was jolted out of his uneasiness somewhat when the rainbow belt track plummeted almost vertically downwards (as he took the plunge, he once again reminded himself that he would regenerate in this game) but as he bolted through stalactite and stalagmite formations at top speed, distress percolated his penchant for racing more and more –
"Get off of my track!"
"Hey! What are you, crazy?!"
He stiffened immediately as understanding slammed into him: of course this place looked familiar. He had been here before.
"I forbid you to cross that finish line!"
"Aah! Knock it off!"
Turbo sucked in a wheezing gasp, his vision blurring as the fragmented memories assaulted him. Barely identifiable disruptions flashed before his eyes...him in his King Candy disguise, swinging a rod down at Vanellope...Vanellope recoiling from him in terror...his own stunned and distorted face as he realized that his saccharine covering had been disabled...A shuddering glitch rolled through him.
"I'm not letting you undo all my hard work!"
"Hey, 'Bo, come on!"
"I'm Turbo, the greatest racer ever! And I did not reprogram this world to let you and that halitosis-riddled warthog take it away from m – "
"TURBO! Snap out of it!"
Turbo clenched his teeth and momentarily squeezed his eyes shut, shaking his head rapidly. With some difficulty, he wrenched his brain out of the past. All he was seeing were flashbacks, the last remnants of King Candy's memories before they had been erased completely, a trick of his own mind. It was done and over with now. There was no more King Candy, just him, and he was here to prove himself!
Suddenly acknowledging how close to the edge of the road he had veered, he guided his kart back towards the middle of the track and planted his foot back down on the accelerator, his glitches ceasing and his eyes returning to their normal determined expression.
Vanellope, who hadn't gotten too far ahead, beamed back at him. "That's the Pajama Boy I know!" she declared.
"I've got it, I've got it!" His pale fingers curled around the steering wheel almost defensively. "Now let's finish this race!"
They sped back out into the sunlit domain of Sugar Rush's aboveground world, neck and neck, first and second place.
They had reached the very last stretch of the course, and the grandstands and finish line were visible in the distance, drawing closer all the time. Vanellope and Turbo weaved around each other in an intricate display of driving know-how, drawing oohs and aaahs from the crowd that were only slightly muffled by distance. It was so easy to pretend that they were involved in one of the noncompetitive races that they'd done in glitch training, with the rest of the competitors far behind them and nothing but a flat expanse of packed cocoa dirt ahead. Try as he might, he just couldn't seem to pull in front of her; she matched each of his skillful maneuvers with some of her own, so that neither of them made any headway. It wasn't that he wanted her to just let him pass or anything, but...he had to win this race, he just had to!
A strategy occurred to him then. However, his timing would have to be exactly perfect in order to make it work. One second too early and he would spin out, losing his chances of winning and possibly even descending past the top nine; one second too late and Vanellope would have already crossed the finish line. It would be tricky, but he could do this. He was in control. He was the greatest racer ever, and...
Turbo stopped swerving and positioned himself directly behind Vanellope, so close that his bumper was practically nuzzling her tailpipe. He silently ticked off a string of numbers in his head, counting down, five, four, three, two, ONE –
He sucked in a deep breath, silently chanted to himself that he was in control, and forced himself to glitch.
The dizzy spell slammed into him as soon as his pixels had reassembled, and he gasped, his foot frantically scrabbling for the brake as his kart spiraled across the finish line. Somehow, he managed to twist the steering wheel in such a way that he reached the sidelines of the track, and he sat there massaging his temples, willing the bout of lightheadedness to retreat. It was several long minutes before the ecstatic cheers of the spectators penetrated his ears.
Vanellope had skidded to a halt a few feet away, and when he turned in his feet to face her, he saw that her mouth was stretching open in astonishment. "Turbo!" she exclaimed.
"What...huh? Did I win?" he asked, finally standing up to get a better view of the jumbotron.
There was the list of sixteen racers on the big screen, containing all of the same names that it had before, although now rearranged to reflect their current rankings. Small checkered flag symbols appeared next to each icon as the racers crossed the finish line, one by one. His eyes crawled up the column. Fourth place, Adorabeezle Winterpop...third place, Snowanna Rainbeau...second place, Vanellope von Schweetz...and in first place was...
"I...I won?" Turbo blinked, and all of a sudden, he was unable to prevent the enormous yellow-toothed smile from spreading across his ghostly white face. "I won! I won! Turbo-Tastic!"
Vanellope leapt out of her kart and zipped over to him in a burst of cerulean binary, laughing all the way. She swept him up in a hug. "You did it, 'Bo! I always knew you had it in ya! You're finally gonna be a real racer again!"
"Turbo-Tastic!" he repeated emphatically, and she fell back laughing.
In the Assorted Fans section, Felix, Calhoun, and Ralph were cheering loudest of all. Felix was so excited that he propelled himself into the air with a platformer's leap, Calhoun was grinning and nodding and undoubtedly impressed with the victor, and Ralph slapped his massive hands together and hollered, "Way to go, kid!" Turbo's happiness multiplied by a hundredfold when he saw that he had made them proud, and he bounced on his feet, waving at them with vigor. He would never have gotten anywhere near this far if it wasn't for them.
And he certainly wouldn't have been able to pull out that win if it hadn't been for Vanellope's help.
Turbo trotted over to the podium, and for the first time that he could remember since losing his own game, he took his place on the highest tier. Vanellope awarded the bronze medal to Snowanna, looped the silver medal around her neck, and then hoisted a golden trophy brimming with royal tokens into Turbo's arms, grinning broadly the entire time. He breathed out in amazement as he accepted the award. It was a little larger than he had expected, and it appeared to be constructed out of butterscotch hard candy instead of metal, but none of that mattered. This trophy represented his first true win in Sugar Rush, his first time becoming a part of the roster, and most importantly, all of the hard work and strife that he had endured in order to get to this point.
He would never forget what he'd gone through in order to get here. From now on, every win would mean more to him than just another chance for praise and adulation.
"Thanks, Vanny," he said, smiling down at her from his perch.
"No problem, 'Bo," she answered. "You earned it, after all!"
"I never could have done it without you."
"Well, it took you long enough to finally get that glitch under control, but you did it!" She reached up and squeezed his hand. "Oh, this is so exciting! We're going to be racing together all the time! The gamers will love ya – they always think that the easter eggs from retro games are super cool! You're going to get picked so many times tomorrow!"
His eyes sparkled at the thought of what would come in the morning. It had been so long...so long since he'd been more than an outsider, hiding in the fringes of this game until he was ready to be revealed to the masses...
"Just remember to be careful with your glitch, okay?" she finished. "We don't want you to faint on the track!"
"I just hope that the gamers will be careful with it tomorrow!" he proclaimed. Wow, this was a new one for all of them – a glitch who wasn't secretly royalty getting the chance to legitimately race...
When Turbo arrived home at the castle, he borrowed a penknife from Sergeant Calhoun and scratched an engraving into the back of his trophy. It was much more difficult than he thought it would be, and in the end, he settled on an extremely short inscription: Vanny and Bo first RRR. Then he placed the golden cup front and center atop his wardrobe, having to stretch on tiptoes a bit to reach that high, where it would be visible from nearly everywhere in his bedroom.
In the days, weeks, and eventually months to come, he would accumulate many more like it, as well as a whole host of second- and third-place medals, and it wasn't long before he would completely give up trying to keep track of which race had resulted in which award. But that first trophy would always stand out. It was special, and if he ever started feeling frustrated or dissatisfied and needed a reminder of how far he had come, he could take it down from its spot and run his fingers over the letters carved into the back. Doing this always seemed to restore him to the peaceful state of mind he'd been in after that very first Random Roster Race, and he would remember that he should be happy just to be here.
It wasn't about the trophies. It wasn't about winning first place. It was about being in a place where he was useful, and needed, and where he had a home and a family to come back to whenever the races got rough. And at the end of the day, he wouldn't have sacrificed that for all of the attention in the world.