A/N: Hi everyone! I finally finished Chapter 2 - sorry this took a little while, I've been working on lots of creative projects recently, a lot of them involving Wreck-It Ralph! I was very flattered to get so many reviews on the first chapter; thank you so much for all your support and encouragement, and I really hope you enjoy how it all pans out! Without further ado, here's my author responses!
BlackRobin7: Thank you, and sorry for the long(ish) wait! I hope you enjoy this chapter!
Spoons and Forks: Thanks :) I am glad he wasn't added to the film too - I think he would have diminished Calhoun's character a bit and he wouldn't really have been necessary! I've seen the reviews you write around here and they are always very long and detailed, so I just want to say thank you on behalf of all the authors for that - I know it makes me feel awesome to see that sort of review! :D
Gaby: Thanks, glad to hear you liked the idea! I hope you enjoy the second chapter too - I would love to hear what you think!
nessier15: You may be seeing some more fishing action in this chapter! I think I pressure myself to get these done more than anything, so don't worry - hehe!
FlynnieG: Well I can't promise a scene quite like that, but I hope you like the way I went about it! I tried to make Calhoun have a little more sass as I think she's not one to be messed with :D Well at least I wouldn't want to mess with her - wouldn't want a whack with her helmet!
: Thank you, I can't take full credit for the plot though - I'll pass that onto my friend Helenna who came up with the core idea!
Reeves3: Thank you! I do think Felix would say that if it came to it; I'm not sure how the general would handle it though! It was tough to think of the best way to "reveal" things, and I tried to focus more on Calhoun's PoV than Felix's; I hope that reads well for you!
atyri: Thank you for your review, and yes I know the picture you mean! There's one where she looks positively shell-shocked talking to him!
GreenWithAwesome: Thank you (Darkrai avatar - I love Pokémon too!) It means a lot when you say everyone is in character. That's one of the biggest compliments I can get!
CookiesxMilkEXCITEME: Thanks! I must admit I hadn't read the last sentence in that way but I can see why it might be readable like that XD I see it as more of a father-daughter relationship rather than anything romantic, but I think that comes out more in this chapter. I hope you and your friend enjoy!
LittleMissPanda84: Thank you very much, and I hope you do enjoy where I go with it! It was tough to do as there were so many ways I could've gone!
Shychick: Hehe you get a thumbs up! Kenneth would be proud :) Thank you for your comments about Felix - he has a very particular way of talking so he is difficult to write!
MajorNrd: Your review made me giggle! Here's your new chapter, as promised!
gaurdianangel411: Thank you, it means a lot that you said you thought the story was well-written! :) I would love to know what you think of this second chapter!
Phew! I got there in the end! And here's chapter 2!
"Oh my Land," Felix gasped to himself. The lake was ten - no, one hundred times bigger than Niceland's, which now felt like little more than a pond. The air rang with the sound of the reeds and rushes as they rustled in the cool breeze, and the sun beat down fervently, a stark contrast to the perpetual night-time of Fix-It Felix, Jr. As its warmth fell upon his face, Felix decided that it was a pleasant contrast indeed.
The game was Bass Fishing, and Felix had never visited it before. Tucked away in the corner of the arcade, it had relatively few characters to speak of and thus went fairly unnoticed. It took a while to get used to the scale of the place; even Sugar Rush, with its candy forests, chocolate streams and mountain ranges of frozen yoghurt seemed miniscule in comparison. He took in a deep breath and felt the fresh air pour into his lungs.
If he hadn't been sitting in a fishing boat with General Lockload, it might have almost been relaxing.
He cleared his throat. "Thank you for agreeing to come out with me today, sir."
The general grunted in response.
Felix sighed. He had heard of breaking the ice, but whatever barrier was between him and the hard-faced man seemed virtually impenetrable. He'd try a question. "So, have you ever been fishing before?"
Lockload didn't look at him. His gaze focused on an unseen point across the water; his eyes seemed empty, devoid of emotion. "There was one planet in the Triad System I will always remember. Beautiful place; had an ocean the likes of which I had never seen." His voice turned dark, and he chewed on his words as if they were heavy in his mouth. "That was before the cy-bugs came. Those god-forsaken insects turned that planet into ruin. An entire ecosystem devastated; thousands of native species wiped out. Now that ocean is nothing but a sickly green stew of toxic death."
Felix had been around Calhoun long enough to know that military folk had a certain way of speaking, which usually consisted of overblown metaphors and melodramatic stories. Against his better judgement he had made a point of teasing her every time she did it, and more often than not this resulted in her trademark icy glare (although if you asked Felix, he'd tell you it was worth it just to see the look of realisation on her face).
"Oh," he muttered. Then cheerily, "Well, this place seems alright. Here, I'll show you how to hold a fishing pole." He got to his feet and began to clamber his way over to the general. The weight was so uneven that the boat rocked precariously as he moved, giving out a frightening creak with every small step.
As he guided him through the motions, Lockload barely listened to what the handyman was saying. His mind was focused on one thing: whoever this man was, Sergeant Calhoun seemed to have taken a shine to him.
As he looked him up and down he didn't understand why; he couldn't be more than four feet tall, and he was almost boyish, with skinny, stumpy legs that seemed barely capable of holding up his comically oversized head. Of course, the past few weeks had been somewhat of a tour de force in absurdity. In place of the bleak, hard-edged world of Hero's Duty – a world, he thought, in which everything made sense – he had suddenly been thrown into what he could only describe as a circus. In the last three days alone he had encountered a whole host of characters: children sporting floating halos, a grotesque green monster with one bulbous, bloodshot eye, and a dinosaur with the rather inexplicable name of Gerald.
But despite all this, the blue-shirted handyman still seemed quite ridiculous.
"...and that's how we catch a fish," Felix concluded.
Lockload snatched the pole away from him. This can't be too difficult. He dislodged the chewing tobacco resting against his tongue and spat it out into the water, where it disappeared with a resounding plop. "So tell me," he smirked, "how did you and Tamora meet?"
Felix found it strange to hear somebody else refer to Calhoun by her first name; he knew all too well that she would berate most of her soldiers for doing so. When he himself had originally plucked up the courage to ask her name – though he still resorted to ma'am a lot of the time, mostly out of force of habit – it had taken her a little time to warm to it, and he used it sparingly. And Tammy? Well, that was a different story altogether.
"Well sir, I gotta tell ya, it wasn't the friendliest first meeting," he laughed. "In fact, I ended up on the barrel end of her gun."
He chose not to mention the honey glows.
Lockload scoffed. "Yeah, most men do."
"I can't blame her. After all, sir, it sounds like she's been through some mighty tough times."
Lockload glanced at him, then back out at the lake. "Brad was a good man and a good soldier. And a doctor too, you know. Damn near finest medical officer on the field."
"I'm sure he was, sir."
On the occasions Calhoun had allowed it, he had looked through the pictures. There were hundreds of them stashed away in a forgotten cabinet in her quarters; photographs of places that never existed, of events that never happened, each holding a memory as real to her as any she would ever know.
She still had a picture of him fastened to the inside of her locker.
But Felix didn't mind. She had loved him, and he had learned in his own little way that love was something you don't soon forget. Plus, he agreed that he was very handsome – and a mighty fine catch, he'd added with a smile.
He was distracted from his thoughts when the end of his line began to jiggle. "Oh!" he exclaimed, "I've got a bite!" He stood up, pulled back on the fishing pole and began to reel it in. It was only when the fish was within a few metres of the boat that he realised something was wrong. Whatever he had caught was big – very big – and it began to pull back.
The boat swung forward. This threw Felix off-balance, and seeing the imminent danger the general grabbed him by the waist and hoisted him back into the vessel. With an almighty crash they landed on top of each other; the fishing pole, now almost at breaking point, flew out of Felix's gloved hands and disappeared into the water.
Lockload pushed him aside as the boat steadied itself. "You certainly have a thing for pulling above your weight, don't you," he said with a glare. "That thing could have tipped us over!"
"Sorry, sir, that one was a little too powerful even for me."
The general growled. "Next thing I know you'll be telling me you can't swim."
Felix grinned, abashed. "Oh I can, sir. My pop taught me to swim when – well, I must have been five years old. We used to take dips in the lake all the time." He straightened his cap and drew his knees up to his chin. "Now I've been meaning to ask you something, general. You seem mighty protective over T-" he stopped himself, "miss Calhoun."
Lockload grimaced. "She's like a daughter to me, Fix-It. Always has been. When the recruits from Orion 5 first came to help out with our own special brand of pest control, well, I took Tamora under my wing. And all these months I've been cooped up in the medical bay she's taken on an entire squadron, kept the cy-bugs from devouring everything on that blasted planet. You won't find a better soldier this side of the galaxy."
Felix felt his cheeks turn warm. "No sir. She really is something," he sighed happily.
Lockload narrowed his eyes. There was something in the handyman's voice that held a secret, and secrets were something he did not much like. Whatever was under that foolish smile, whatever was hidden in his words, he would uncover it.
A bloodhound never let its quarry escape.
Calhoun took off her helmet and shook out her hair. "It's closing time, boss. The cy-bugs are in bed." Even after these few long weeks, it still felt strange taking orders again.
"When your superior officer tells you to wait, you wait," barked Lockload. The man, she thought, was a mess; his entire body suit was covered from top to toe in green cy-bug slime. He wiped a huge glob of it away from his face and shook it onto the floor.
Calhoun stifled a sigh and gave him a salute. "Understood. Sorry, sir." It was painfully obvious from her tone of voice that she wasn't sorry at all, but Lockload gracefully ignored it.
"That Fix-It fellow. Now if I didn't know better, I'd say there's something going on between the two of you."
Calhoun said nothing.
"Letting him in here with no proper training," he continued, "putting the lives of our soldiers, the entire mission, at risk... what's going on here? That's not the Tamora I know."
"A lot has changed since we were plugged in, sir."
He came in close now, so close that she could feel his breath on her face, detect the vile stench of dead cy-bug on his skin. "And none for the better, it seems. Look at this place. These soldiers wouldn't know discipline if it smacked them round the head. Isn't it in your programming to keep these boys in line?"
"We are more," she said, "than just our programming." She was seething now, and her fingers twitched instinctively around the holster of her gun - the same way they twitched when she sensed a cy-bug nearby. She meant what she said. Although she knew that each and every one of her soldiers was created with a pre-defined personality, their own faults and foibles, likes and dislikes, they were also in a sense a blank slate. There was no mystery to their existence, no question as to who created them or why. And this grim reality would have been thoroughly miserable had it not been for this ability to grow, to learn, to discover… and to love.
Lockload sensed it too. Something had changed in her; something deep inside her code had been tampered with, rewired. Since when had the duty-driven sergeant become so rebellious?
"I want this place tidied up," he said, slamming his fist against his open palm. "Unlike the other jokers in this arcade, we have a responsibility. You of all people should understand that."
But as he turned his back, Calhoun, a wide smirk on her face, shouted out something that made him freeze.
"What makes you think you know better?"
To say Lockload was furious was an understatement. In the weeks that followed he took full control of the marines, working them double shifts and following protocol to the letter. Tapper's was virtually empty most nights - most of the soldiers were either on patrol or too exhausted to make their way to the bar, instead settling for an early night's sleep in their quarters.
Calhoun lasted longer than most, but even she was now starting to feel the weight of it. She was unnaturally angry even given her usual disposition, and would snap at the slightest annoyance. Word, as it often did, had spread around the arcade of the general and his unorthodox methods; he however was noticeably absent, spending most of his time cooped up in his ship poring over battle plans and planning the squadron's next move.
Tapper wiped a beer mug clean. "You'd think you were fighting a real war. I always knew you guys took your job seriously, but this is ridiculous."
Although Felix was not the kind to hold grudges, he was dangerously close to being tempted. He could not bear to see Calhoun this way. His game was off; as the ducks slammed into him, as he half-heartedly ate the Nicelanders' delicious pies, it was obvious his mind was elsewhere. The general had barely spoken a word to him since their fishing trip, and what little contact he did have with him was met only with frosty stares and a few heated exchanges.
"I just don't understand," he mumbled. "Why is he doing this?"
Calhoun rested her elbows on the bar and held her head in her hands. "He's insane, that's why. He can't bear the thought of us - of me - being this way."
"But surely he's been in love before."
"Maybe. Who knows, Fix-It. He'd rather be devoured by a cy-bug than talk about it."
"Ma'am, you look darn near exhausted," Felix smiled, taking her hand. "How about we go back to Niceland and I'll cook you up some pie. Why, Mary gave me a bunch of cherries that are just about the ripest I've ever seen. I'll even make the pastry extra sweet, just the way you like it."
She smiled back at him. "Alright, sweetums."
It was at times like this when Felix's homely hospitality was just the cure she needed.
Ever since Vanellope was able to leave the confines of Sugar Rush she had been fascinated by the outside world. That particular evening Ralph had chosen to satisfy one of her many curiosities, and had taken her to Bad-Anon for the first time. For weeks she had pestered, pleaded and practically begged to go along, and eventually he gave in; besides, he talked about her almost every week, regaling the other bad guys with tales of their adventures, of how this one little crumb-snatcher had changed his life around.
"That was awesome!" she exclaimed, leaping out onto the platform in one excitable bound. "Y'know, I used to think you were stinky. But that zombie guy? Pee-yew! Somebody needs to give him a breath mint," she giggled, "or five."
Ralph smiled. "Well he is dead, kid." But Vanellope had already moved onto her next point of focus.
"Can we go to Tapper's, Ralph?"
"Woah, slow down there missy; I think you're a bit too young for that." Ralph laughed. "Maybe when you're older."
"Ralph," she emphasised the word with great gusto, "I'm a president."
"Yeah, and you're nine. 'Four more years?' That's almost half your age!"
"Ah, fudgemuffins." She folded her little arms. "Well, can we at least play some Pong?"
"Sure thing." Ralph - and Vanellope, having taken her favourite spot on the man-mountain's shoulder - strode into Game Central Station. It was emptying out now, most characters having retired back to their games. This however only made it a more inviting arena. Although the pong paddles could play independently, they often enjoyed the company of other characters - even if they were somewhat unable to express it. Ralph grabbed hold of a paddle with his huge, paw-like hand and prepared his serve. "You ready, kid?"
Vanellope shot him a determined grin. "Are you kidding? I was created ready."
Ralph swung back and launched the paddle at the crude-looking cuboid representing the ball. With a deafening boop the ball flew backwards, high over Vanellope's head and toward the entrance of Hero's Duty.
"I'm goin' long!" Vanellope scooted backward, her tiny little legs moving a mile a minute. "I've got it, I've-oof!"
In the next moment she tripped and tumbled onto the floor, causing her to momentarily glitch and sending the second paddle sliding across the station into a nearby bench (it promptly righted itself and let out a beep of irritation). Getting to her feet, she saw a great dark pillar of a man towering over her, his eyes firm, his expression rigid and unamused. She recognised his armour. It was the same armour Sergeant Calhoun wore: black, battle-scarred, metallic.
"Oh, uh, hey general," said Ralph. He looked at Vanellope, who was dusting herself down. "You okay there little sister?"
"Yeah," said Vanellope, shrugging her hoodie over her shoulders. "Hey Ralphie, who's this doofus?"
Ralph shot her a glare, then looked up at Lockload with a sheepish grin on his face. "Kids," he laughed nervously, scratching the back of his neck. "You're out late, sir. Everything alright?"
"Plenty of time to play around, I see," Lockload said, arching his eyebrow. "As it happens, Wreck-It, I'm looking for Sergeant Calhoun. Have you seen her?"
"No sir," said Ralph. "Just came out of Bad-Anon myself. But Felix was talking about taking her back to his place earlier, so I-"
"He what?!" The general pushed him aside.
Ralph stumbled backward. "Hey, what's the big deal?"
Lockload didn't look back. He marched away at great pace, his bootsteps heavy and measured against the plastic floor, and as Ralph looked up at the neon sign above the entrance port he saw where he was headed: Fix-It Felix, Jr. He winced.
Vanellope hopped up onto his shoulder and nudged against his cheek. "Nice going, Stinkbrain."
Calhoun spooned a large piece of cherry pie and ice cream into her mouth and let the juice dribble in a red river down her chin. She smiled with pleasure; compared to the ship-issue canteen food on offer in Hero's Duty it was positively delicious. She mopped her face with a napkin and went for another bite.
"How is it?" asked Felix.
"Wonderful as ever, Fix-It."
Felix beamed at her words. If there was one thing he took pride in outside of fixing things, it was his cooking. He cut another slice and lifted it gently onto his plate. The smell of hot fruit and perfectly-baked pastry was mouth-watering.
He was just about to tuck in when he heard a noise from outside the window. It was an odd sound; a high-pitched whoosh, as if something were moving at great speed. "Strange," he said. "I wonder what that could be."
Calhoun, rather too large for the Nicelander-sized apartment, pulled open the curtains and peered down toward the game entrance. At first it seemed undisturbed, an almost peaceful scene; the tram sat still in the station, the signal lights winking gently on and off. Then she saw him, almost camouflaged against the moonlit grass: General Lockload, mounted on his cruiser. She drew the curtains shut and slammed her fork against the table.
Felix jumped at the noise. "Sheepers. What is it?"
She swallowed her mouthful of pie and frowned. "We've got company."
"This is it," Lockload said to himself. His mind whizzed through his pre-set bank of metaphors. The endgame. The final insult. The straw, he thought, that broke the dromedary. While Calhoun had complained about his orders, she had never outright disobeyed them. It was there on the rota for all to see: night perimeter patrol, twenty-two hundred hours sharp, her name projected in big red letters against the squadron roster.
She hadn't turned up.
He was wholly unsurprised at the look of the place. From the square-edged trees to the pixelated apartment building, the entire game looked preposterous. As he stormed his way up to the entrance of the tower, he realised just how tiny everything was. The door, the handle, the glass-paned windows – they were all Felix-sized. He looked up. One solitary, almost sickening word was carved above the porch: NICELAND. He pushed against the handle but found the door locked shut.
Everything about Calhoun's posture said that he would be bursting through their door any second - she sat tense, her lips pursed into a tight scowl. But the minutes passed without any sign of his arrival, Felix gradually emerged from his hiding spot behind the couch. "You don't suppose he went away, do you?"
"Not a chance. He'll be hunting me down like an old alley cat stalking the ever-wily mouse," said Calhoun. "Wait here, Fix-It. I'll handle him."
"But won't he blow his top?"
"That old pussy-willow?" she laughed. "I'm not afraid of him."
Calhoun was surprised to go downstairs not to the sound of wanton destruction, but the trickling of a freshly-poured cup of tea.
"I understand you're upset, but that is no need to cause a ruckus in our building. Quite unsightly, I must say." She recognised the prim, proper voice instantly: it was Beatrice, one of the older Nicelanders, a stout little woman who always seemed to dress as if it were a special occasion. "Now sit down and introduce yourself. I don't believe we've been properly acquainted." She slid the cup across the table and hopped onto a seat with an 8-bit boing.
Calhoun stayed hidden in the doorway.
"My apologies, ma'am, I – er – I didn't mean to cause any offense."
Lockload! She arched around the corner. Sat on an armchair that was far too small, the general was hunched over a table, beret in hands, revealing the ever-growing bald patch he tried so painfully to conceal.
Beatrice laughed. "That's quite alright. Now, may I ask your name?"
She watched as the huge man fumbled with his hat, his words sticking to his tongue like glue. It was strange to see him act so unsure of himself. Eventually he managed to get out a few short sentences: his name was General Lockload, he was from the Marine Corps stationed in the Triad System, and yes, he liked sugar in his tea.
Beatrice peered at him over the rim of her thick-framed glasses. "Your first name, sweetheart."
"Oh," he said. "It's, uh, Reginald."
From the way Lockload would talk it was as if he didn't have a first name. He didn't need a first name. He was defined by his job; he was a general, work-focused and duty-driven. He had no time for pleasantries.
"Oh my," Beatrice giggled. "What a charming name. You know, my cousin had a friend named Reginald. Very dashing man. Shame he wasn't programmed, but you know what they say – so many ideas, so little RAM!" She giggled again, the sound ringing like a tiny little bell around the room.
Calhoun wasn't quite sure, but she thought she saw Reginald smile.
He left three hours later.
Calhoun watched as he strode out of the apartment building, a box of homemade chocolates under his arm. She couldn't help but notice that there was a little less march to his walk (or maybe a little less walk to his march - after all, it was almost impossible to tell). Something about the man seemed lighter, as if some of his tightly-woven code had been gently unravelled.
As he booted up his cruiser she called out toward him. "Aren't you late for your briefing, sir?"
Lockload jumped in surprise. He turned around to find the sergeant leaning against the brickwork, arms folded, a curious smile on her face.
"Tamora," he nodded in acknowledgment. "Would – would you like a ride?" She realised then that the man who had perfected the most piercing of stares could barely look her in the eye.
"Negatory. I'll take the tram tonight. Besides, I have to say goodnight to Felix; he gets a bit squirrely if you just dash off."
"Oh, oh - of course," Lockload stuttered. "Well, I'll see you in the morning." He cleared his throat, "That's zero eight-hundred sharp, sergeant." Although his words were firm there was an uncertainty about them, as if he were not quite convinced himself.
"Zero eight- hundred it is, sir."
As she watched him disappear down the tunnel, she smiled to herself.
Love really could be found in the strangest of places.
A/N: Thank you so much for reading! As always, I would love to hear what you think - it always encourages me to write more!