It took a special kind of game to last over thirty years in the same arcade.
Amid all the high-definition graphics and the powerful processors of the newest games of the decade, there stood a humble 8-bit game in its spot in Litwak's Arcade, a testament to the simple and enduring gameplay that the gamers still loved over thirty years later.
Fix-It Felix, Jr. was doing better than ever these days, and nobody was prouder of this fact than Fix-It Felix, Jr. and Wreck-It Ralph himself.
"What a day, eh, brother?" Felix said, letting out a sigh once the all-clear reached his ears.
"No kidding," said Ralph, shaking the mud from his torn overalls and giving his enormous fists a shake. "Felt like my hands were about to fall off."
They shared a chuckle—despite how weary they both were from their day of wrecking and subsequent fixing, they couldn't be happier in this simple, 8-bit game of theirs. If Felix wanted to be honest with himself (and he almost always did), none of this could have happened without his now-close-buddy Ralph. While Ralph's misguided attempt to win the acceptance of the Nicelanders had nearly caused the complete destruction of Sugar Rush (and potentially the rest of the arcade), that attempt was what uncovered the horrible plot that had been secretly holding the Sugar Rush racers and NPCs captive for years.
Even if both Felix and Ralph had nightmares about the entire ordeal every now and then, even six years later, both were firmly of the opinion that it had all been overwhelmingly worth it. Sugar Rush was liberated from the crazed Turbo and his hold over all the characters' memories, Ralph found happiness in his position as Fix-It Felix, Jr.'s bad guy, and—more importantly—found friends in many of the characters of the arcade (although the Surge Protector still stopped him for inspections more than he liked).
And Felix—well, he finally found himself a dynamite gal to love.
"Heading off to Sugar Rush, Ralph?" Felix asked as they emerged from the tunnel leading to the brightly-lit and already-crowded Game Central Station.
"Yeah, promised Madame President that I'd help her with her 'Super Secret Presidential Project' today," said Ralph, letting out a small laugh as he turned to head for the Sugar Rush entrance. He glanced at Felix over his shoulder and wiggled his eyebrows before adding, "You have fun with the Sarge, Felix."
This was quite the tired joke of Ralph's that was (thankfully) infrequent nowadays, but it never failed to draw out the slightest blush in Felix's cheeks—even though he and the aforementioned Sarge were now Mr. and Mrs. Fix-it. And, as he did every night after the arcade closed, he took his spot on a bench right outside Hero's Duty to patiently wait for his dynamite gal to finish up shooting any nasty cybugs that may have escaped the beacon. Waiting for his Sergeant Calhoun was his favorite part of the day, and he sometimes marveled at the fact that he'd ever had a life without her.
"Hey, Short Stack."
Felix, who'd reluctantly allowed himself to be drawn into a conversation about motorcycles by Metal Slug's Tarma Roving, hopped eagerly to his feet at the sound of the voice. "Tammy!" he said hastily, before catching himself and turning to Tarma. "Sorry, Tarma, but Tamora and I have plans tonight. Maybe I can take a look at your motorcycles another night?"
"Oh. Gotcha. No biggie," was what Tarma said, but it was obvious that he was a little disappointed that he'd lost a potential admirer of his prized motorcycle collection.
"What was that all about? Looks like he's got a battery up his behind," Tamora said, frowning and putting a hand on her hip.
"Oh, don't mind him," Felix said apologetically. "He just likes showing off his motorcycles."
It was clear that the Sergeant thought motorcycles were a poor reason to be sulking off like that, but she simply rolled her eyes and said nothing more about it. "So where's Wreck-It tonight?" she asked as they made their way toward Tapper, casting her eyes about for their absent drinking companion.
"He's helping Vanellope with her big project tonight," Felix replied, bobbing happily alongside Tamora's elegant strides.
"Finally making some headway with that, then?"
Vanellope's "Super Secret Presidential Project" was probably the most widely-known secret in the whole arcade. Taking inspiration from the bonus level that Ralph and Felix had arranged in Fix-It Felix, Jr. for the arcade's gameless characters, she had finally put into motion a big project to renovate Diet Cola Mountain and implement that bonus level the programmers had never finished. Vanellope had eagerly assured Felix that his "shiny fixin' hammer" would be imminently necessary, but before that could happen, she evidently needed Ralph to help flatten out the ground and get rid of the old track was gathering dust in the mountain.
They found an open table and handyman and soldier alike sank onto their barstools in relief, both finally able to relax after a long Saturday of gaming. "How was Hero's Duty today, Tammy?" Felix asked after Tamora had called the barkeeper over to get two root beers. She caught the beer mugs that had come speeding down the table and took a swig before giving Felix a shrug.
"A stray cybug jumped those sorry excuses for soldiers and Kohut had to rescue them. But other than that—same old, same old," she said with one of those small smiles that Felix loved oh so much. When she smiled like that, Felix knew that it had been a particularly good day for her and that the stray cybug incident had been nothing more than an amusing incident. Still, a good day for Tamora was decidedly a nightmare for Felix—although the argument could be made that endlessly fixing windows in the quaint little Niceland could be her nightmare. "What about you, Felix?" she asked, her expression softening ever so slightly as she brushed her hair from her eyes.
"Oh, just about the same. Seems this 'retro' thing is still going strong so we're busy as ever," he said as he rolled his shoulders around in an attempt to mitigate the stiffness. He was loath to admit it, but his shoulders and back had been acting up lately, usually after long days like this.
"Well, drink up then," Tamora said, pushing Felix's still-full mug toward him, "and maybe we'll see about massaging that back of yours tonight."
Yes ma'am indeed.
As a character in such an old game, Felix had time to develop a sort of intuition about whether the day was going to be a good one or a bad one. His intuition wasn't always right, of course, but it was reliable enough that he always took any bad gut feelings into account. And today?
He had a bad feeling about today.
Felix had first noticed the feeling after the first game of the day. There was nothing obvious that was wrong: Ralph was wrecking the building per the norm, the Nicelanders implored Felix to fix the building per the norm, and Felix hopped about fixing the building, again per the norm. But something felt wrong—very fundamentally wrong—as though the very core of his code was gently pulsing in some kind of silent protest. He let another few games go by in case today was one of those days where his intuition couldn't find its way out of a pie tin, but four games later, the feeling still hadn't left his tiny, 8-bit gut.
"Hey, Ralph," Felix said, trotting over to his friend when he was reasonably sure no gamers were on their way. "Do you feel strange at all today?"
Ralph took a moment to think, glancing up into the dark sky and tilting his head slightly, before returning his gaze to Felix. "You know, now that you mention it...Yeah, something feels a little different. Not sure what it is, though," said Ralph, crossing his arms and tapping a finger on his enormous bicep thoughtfully.
The approach of a young gamer forestalled any further discussion. "Let me know if you have any ideas, all right, brother?" said Felix quickly, bounding back to his starting position on the opposite end of the game.
By late afternoon, however, neither Felix nor Ralph had found anything out of the ordinary with their game, but this did nothing to lessen their unease; in fact, Felix was about to write it off as a symptom of passing paranoia or maybe indigestion. Every game had been perfectly fine all day, and the current one at the moment was no different.
"Hey, how long can you dodge all the bricks without fixing anything? Bet you I can do it longer," came the eager voice of the current gamer's friend.
"No way! You're on!" said the gamer, determination plastered all over his face.
Jiminy jaminy, the game will last forever if they do that, Felix thought as a new level loaded for the young boys. Not that it was particularly out of the ordinary for gamers to give themselves this challenge, of course; all it really meant was that he and Ralph would be absolutely exhausted, especially now that the gamer had reached a high level that made death-by-bricking likely within the first minute or so.
The gamer was no one to scoff at—he was dodging bricks with relative ease. As he led Felix around on a merry jaunt, however, Felix noticed the feeling of unease beginning to grow. Now this feeling—this was different. He felt something wrong—something very wrong—deep in the pit of his gut, and it wasn't his pie coming back up or out the other end. He chanced a glance up at Ralph and thought that he could see the faintest look of distress on his brother's face as he sped up his wrecking. Felix glanced down to see if any Nicelanders had similarly troubled expressions, but his eyes glanced past anyone in the windows when he caught sight of a dark blob in the corner of his eye.
That was when he saw it.
Bricks were accumulating on the sidewalk below, and jaminy, there had to be over a hundred of them down there.
This had never been a problem before; normally the game cleared them away when they touched the ground. He hadn't noticed anything like this earlier in the day, but it may have been that the gamers either died or completed the level before he could take any notice of brick accumulation down below. All Felix knew was that those bricks were worrying him, but he couldn't explain why.
The gamer, it turned out, was exceptional at dodging bricks. The pile at the foot of the building had nearly doubled in size—it was large enough that even Ralph had noticed from his vantage point higher above Felix, and he was shooting Felix bewildered glances when their eyes met. Felix couldn't see what he could do in this situation, not that he was even sure the bricks were the problem and not a symptom of some other problem with their game. But as he watched the bricks drop one by one into the growing pile, he could feel something bad...something bad was going to happen and by land it wasn't going to be good...
There had to be over two hundred bricks down there...
Time seemed to slow as one more brick hit the pile, and Felix could feel something building up in him, as though something was clawing its way out of him —
And that was when it happened.
The entire building erupted into a flurry of blue pixels and binary, leaving Felix and Ralph momentarily suspended in midair, before he looked on in horror as Ralph burst into pixels himself, letting out a garbled yell as he plummeted to the ground. Felix felt himself fall to the ground just as Ralph landed—he had to get to his brother, there had to be some way to fix this—he raised his hammer, desperate to find something to fix, anything —
A distorted yell escaped his lips when he felt his body ripped apart into pixels, his hand unable to hold its form and keep hold of the hammer.
"FELIX, DO SOMETHING!" came Ralph's garbled voice, the desperation evident even amid the distortion.
Felix concentrated as best he could despite his body repeatedly breaking apart and returning to form. The entire landscape was beginning to glitch—it was difficult to see through all the pixelation and distortion and he couldn't see what he could possibly do—
His eyes fell on a small pile of bricks—the only bricks that hadn't yet dissolved into bits—and he did the only thing he knew how. He kept his hand together long enough to swing his golden hammer at them, desperately hoping that this would do something, anything to fix this terrifying glitching —
The bricks consolidated into a piece of wall, and abruptly, the apartment building reappeared, throwing Felix and Ralph sideways off screen as their bodies reformed into solid shapes. Felix lay there wide-eyed and panting, his mind blanked with fright and confusion, wondering what in creation that had all been about.
"Whoa, what was that?" he heard the gamers exclaim. "Is the game broken?"
"Should we ask Mr. Litwak?"
"There he is. Mr. Litwak! Hey, Mr. Litwak!"
The mention of LItwak's name threw Felix's body into overdrive. "Ralph, Ralph, get up!" Felix shouted, leaping up onto his feet. "Litwak's coming!" Ralph, however, didn't need the warning; he had already gotten up and bolted for his starting position.
"What's the trouble?" said Litwak, his face appearing in the gamer viewport. "Looks fine to me, kids."
"You should've seen it! It looked like a glitch or something!" said the boy who'd been playing.
Litwak peered around the screen, watching curiously as Felix and Ralph went through the idle routine meant to entice gamers to play. Felix desperately hoped that they could hold it together—if Litwak saw that something was wrong, they would be unplugged...
"You know, kids, some of these older games have some glitches when you get to higher levels. I think the game's fine, but you let me know if you see it happen again," said Litwak, smiling at the kids and handing one of them a quarter.
"Okay! Thanks, Mr. Litwak!"
Felix let out a sigh of relief when Litwak and the kids finally disappeared from view. The terror of it all began filtering through him now that he had a chance to breathe, and he felt his legs trembling ever so slightly under him. What had happened? How could those little bricks cause all that glitching? The thought that someone was meddling with their game's programming, just as Turbo had done in Sugar Rush, briefly crossed his mind, but he laughed that thought away. Their game was over thirty years old—why would anyone bother going Turbo in here?
The end of the day couldn't come soon enough, and as soon as the all-clear was given, Felix bounded over and helped Ralph out of the mud. "Ralph, what was that?" he asked, careful to keep his voice down lest the already-rattled Nicelanders heard him panicking and decided to follow suit.
"I—I don't know," said Ralph, shaking the mud from his hands. "That was—that was scary, Felix. That was really scary."
"I hear you, brother. Say, did you...notice anything weird about the bricks?" asked Felix, stepping back to let Ralph out of the mud puddle.
"No, everything seemed normal. Bricks were...bricky, I guess. Maybe we can ask —"
Ralph was cut off when his body briefly flickered into binary and back.
"Ralph! Oh, Ralph..." Felix said softly when Ralph gave him a wide-eyed look of terror. It seemed that the Nicelanders had noticed too: they were staring speechlessly at the pair, the horror evident in their eyes.
"He's glitching!" Gene exclaimed, pointing an accusatory finger at Ralph. "It was him—he's doing this!"
"Hey! I didn't do anything!" Ralph retorted indignantly.
"Now, now," Felix said, quickly edging into the space between Gene and Ralph, "I'm sure there's a perfectly logical—"
He couldn't finish his sentence before he, too, flickered into bright blue binary.
"Don't panic, don't panic!" Felix said, raising his voice as the Nicelanders proceeded to, in fact, panic. "Ralph and I are going to go have a talk with some people and see if we can't find a way to fix this, right Ralph?" He made sure to give the Nicelanders his most cheerful, hopeful smile.
"You bet," said Ralph, also cracking a smile in an attempt to calm the Nicelanders (it didn't).
As they headed to the train station, any cheerful pretenses melted away into an uneasy silence. "Hey, Felix, you don't think that we're..." Ralph said finally, trailing off and taking care not to look at Felix.
Glitching, Felix thought, wincing.
Before they reached the train platform, Felix abruptly veered off and trotted toward the tunnel to Game Central Station. "Hey Felix, where you going?" called Ralph, but Felix didn't dare respond. He didn't want to say anything until he confirmed one thing...
He stopped in front of the tunnel's mouth, steeling himself. I'm not a glitch. We're not glitches, he thought as he squared his shoulders.
Exhaling, he jumped into the tunnel mouth.
There was a loud, electric hum before Felix found himself flung backward onto his back.
Felix groaned as Ralph helped him to his feet. "You...you all right, buddy?" asked Ralph uneasily.
But Felix didn't have to say anything—they both knew it wasn't all right.
"L-let me try," Ralph said quietly.
They both knew it wasn't going to work, but Felix hoped deep down that Ralph would do it—that he'd pass through that barrier—that this was all some temporary nightmare —
There was a distinct THUD as Ralph was hurled back from the gateway.
"No, no this can't be," Ralph murmured, pulling himself to his feet. "No, it can't...!"
He charged at the gateway, letting out a grunt of mingled rage and desperation as he pounded at the barrier holding him back. "GRAAHHH, COME ON!" Ralph roared. "COME ON, COME ON!"
Felix watched Ralph pummeling the impassable barrier, forcing himself to hold back the sobs that threatened to escape his throat. A horrible, sinking feeling had manifested in his chest at the thought of what all this meant—the fact that they were...glitching...and that they were unable to leave their game...
"Ralph, Ralph stop," Felix said finally, gently putting a hand on Ralph's arm.
"Felix—Felix, we can't..." Ralph said, letting out a strangled sob as he sank to his knees, his body glitching as he did so.
"Just...how did this happen?
"I wish I knew, brother..."
They sat there together in silence, acutely aware of the Nicelanders staring in silent horror, but neither able to bring themselves to speak. What was there to say? Glitched characters can't leave their games. And, if Felix was honest with himself, he wasn't actually all that surprised that this was happening. Fix-It Felix, Jr. was a thirty-year-old game, after all, so it wasn't really a shock that things were going wrong with the game after all these years. Still, his heart ached to think of his Tamora and how it would destroy her heart to lose another —
No, stop this nonsense, Fix-It, Felix thought, mentally slapping himself. There might still be a chance.
"Gene! Hey, Gene!" Felix suddenly called, turning and beckoning to him. "Gene, could you...come over here, please?"
Gene trundled over, uncharacteristically silent and visibly shaken by the day's...incident. "Gene, do you think you could try leaving the game, friend?" Felix asked, leading Gene over to the gateway.
"Y—okay," said Gene, and with one last apprehensive look at Felix, he stepped right through the gateway.
"S-so it's just Ralph and me with the problem," Felix said quietly, pulling the bill of his hat over his eyes.
"I'll—I'll go get help, Felix," said Gene, reaching past the gateway mouth to put a hand on Felix's shoulder.
"Could you—could you find Sergeant Calhoun?"
Felix wasn't sure what was in that look that Gene gave him—pity, perhaps?—but nonetheless, Gene nodded and turned to leave.
"Oh! And Vanellope! Please...please find Vanellope," Ralph added, stepping forward and putting a hand on the barrier.
"Of course, Ralph," said Gene, before turning and running for Game Central Station.
Felix and Ralph sat in silence in front of the gateway that held them hostage for what felt like an eternity and a half, waiting anxiously for Gene's return. Felix tried to speak once or twice, but he couldn't get much more than a strangled noise out before he had to choke back a full-on sob. He tried desperately to silence the little traitorous voice in his head, telling him that he only had so much time left with his dynamite gal before...before...
He'd barely had the chance to see the light of the hoverboard approaching before a blur of green attached to Ralph's head and Felix found himself lifted off his feet by his shirt collar, staring into the eyes of none other than his dynamite gal. She looked livid with her mouth and eyebrows furrowed into a scowl, but Felix knew to look in her eyes whenever she was like this. It was clear that Gene had explained the situation to the two ladies: Tamora's eyes were wide-eyed with fear, as though imploring him to tell her that this was all some kind of sick joke.
"Is it true, Felix?"
The sight of her in that kind of pain—he felt a lump rise in his throat and tears well up in his eyes. And, without warning and without a chance to control it, his body glitched, slipping through her fingers and falling to the ground.
"Afraid so, Tammy..." said Felix quietly.
"Ralph...you too?" Vanellope asked from her position on Ralph's shoulder. To hear Vanellope skipping all the affectionate insults...
As though on cue, Ralph glitched briefly before turning away from her, unable to meet her gaze.
"This can't be right, it just can't be," Vanellope said, a hint of a sob in her voice. "Someone must be messing with your game! That's it, that's gotta be it!"
"Vanellope—" Ralph started.
"What if Turbo is back and he's trying to get revenge? What if he's messing with your code?"
"We gotta find him and fix this—come on, Ralph, we—"
"Vanellope, shut your pie hole!" Tamora snapped irately, but her expression softened when Vanellope clutched Ralph's neck in mingled fear and surprise. "I just—we can find the explanation for this. We just have to stay calm."
"Hear that, Boogerface?" said Ralph with a small smile. "We'll figure it out. Maybe later you can even teach me that glitch thing you're always doing."
This visibly cheered Vanellope up and a small smile seemed to reluctantly appear on her face. "You got it, Stinkbrain."
"All right, Fix-It," said Tamora, straightening up and clearing her throat slightly, "why don't you explain what happened?"
Felix didn't need to be asked twice—immediately he launched into the tale of how he and Ralph had both had their misgivings about the day, and how nothing had seemed out of the ordinary until the two gamers at the end of the day had challenged each other to a brick-dodging contest at one of the higher levels. And he took care to explain about the bricks—he really felt that those bricks were key to this problem, because they had been the one thing going wrong that Felix had noticed.
"So you're telling me that there was a pile of bricks, and then the game went cuckoo?" said Tamora incredulously.
"Yes, ma'am, that's what I'm saying. I have no idea what it might mean," said Felix sadly, wrapping his arms around her waist and holding her close. She held him there for a few silent moments, her fingers clenched ever so slightly around his shirt.
Finally, she gave him a small squeeze before gently peeling him off her waist. "I'm going back to get Ramirez," she said, leaping onto her hoverboard. "He was programmed with the backstory of a computer engineer—he might have an idea."
Without another word, Tamora sped off into the tunnel, leaving the trio with a heavy silence in her wake. Felix hoped that this Ramirez would be able to shed some light on their problem; even if it turned out to be the absolute worst case scenario (Don't think about it, don't think about it...), at least they wouldn't be tearing themselves apart with all the guessing and speculation.
"Hey, Felix," said Vanellope suddenly, hopping down from Ralph's shoulder, "what if you just hit yourself with that magic hammer of yours?"
"Huh. The thought hadn't occurred to me," said Felix, letting out a small laugh and hefting his hammer in his hand. "Here goes!"
He took a deep breath and shut his eyes, hoping something fierce that it would work, and tapped himself on the head with his hammer.
When he opened his eyes again, he found Ralph and Vanellope watching him with bated breath.
"Well? Do you...feel any different?" asked Ralph hopefully.
"We'll just have to see, won't we?" Felix said, stepping up to the tunnel mouth.
Please work, please work.
He pushed forward and found himself staggering backward as the barrier repelled him from the tunnel.
"Darn, I really thought that would work," said Vanellope, snapping her fingers in disappointment.
"It was a good idea, though," Felix said, smiling in an attempt to mask the horrible sinking feeling in his gut. It would've been incredible if it had worked, though he supposed his hammer could only fix game objects broken through valid means and not objects corrupted by any sort of game error. Things were looking bleaker and bleaker by the minute...
The sound of the hoverboard heralded Tamora's return. She emerged from the tunnel with Gene clinging tightly to her leg (evidently they had left him behind the first time), and an armored soldier following in their wake on his own hoverboard. Gene immediately clambered off the board and ran off to the apartment building in a huff, muttering something about "crazy" and "never doing that again."
"This is Private Ramirez," Tamora said as she hopped off her board, jabbing her thumb at the soldier.
"Pleasure to meet you, Private Ramirez," said Felix, nodding to him.
"The Sarge tells me you've got a glitching problem going on here," Ramirez said, putting his hands on his hips and glancing around the game. "Want to tell me about what happened?"
It was starting to wear on Felix to have to tell the story again, but tell it he did. Ramirez listened patiently through the whole thing, only nodding every so often and remaining silent otherwise. His facial expressions, however, were going steadily from ambivalent to downright troubled, and it didn't help the churning feeling in Felix's gut. When Felix finished, Ramirez stood there in silence, deep in thought and the group of people clustered around him waiting anxiously for his diagnosis.
"So let me get this straight, Fix-It," Ramirez said slowly, his voice cutting through the heavy silence. "The game usually destroys most of the bricks that fall, but today you noticed them piling up. And when there were a lot of bricks, the game glitched out."
"That is correct, sir. I want to say there were over two hundred, but I can't be sure."
"Hmm...Do you mind if we try something, Fix-It?" asked Ramirez.
"Sure, if you think it'll help!" Felix said brightly.
"It won't help, but it might help me figure out what's going on here," Ramirez said. "Ralph, could you...wreck the building?"
Ralph looked to Ramirez in surprise. "Wreck the building? What would that help anything?" he asked rubbing the back of his neck.
"I want to count the bricks. You'll only need to wreck until there are 256 of them. Can we get a level started somehow? You won't need to fix anything—we just need Ralph to break the building."
256 was an oddly specific number, but Felix supposed that Ramirez picked it for some reason only understood by him. "Sure, we can probably do what we do when we're waiting for quarters," said Felix, forcing his hesitation away and leading everyone toward the apartment building. He found Mary speaking to Roy outside the front door in hushed tones—no doubt they were as worried about these glitch developments as he was. "Mary, Roy, do you think we could run a level? Private Ramirez is here to try and figure out what went wrong."
Mary and Roy looked quite obviously intimidated by the bulky Ramirez and quickly nodded. "Of course, Felix. We'll go tell the others to get ready," Roy said, ushering Mary into the building.
Felix hopped over to his starting position, anxiously wringing his hands as Ralph took his place opposite him and the Fix-It Felix, Jr. visitors watched a little ways away. As soon as the Nicelanders took their places, the level would start...
"I'M GONNA WRECK IT!"
"I CAN FIX IT!"
Gameplay seemed normal enough—Ralph did his very best to wreck the building as fast as he could, and Felix hopped around taking care not to get hit by any falling bricks. After a minute or so of this, it became clear that the game was having trouble clearing the bricks properly: at first the bricks disappeared as they should, but as time went on, more and more bricks were staying decidedly un-disappeared on the ground. This certainly was a problem, and Felix wondered if it had gotten worse or if he simply hadn't noticed it earlier in the day. Eventually it got to the point where Felix had to jump solely on the windowsills for lack of space on the ground.
And when he noticed this, he noticed the growing feeling of unease in him—the very same that had preceded the horrible glitching.
"Stop, Wreck-It!" Ramirez called suddenly. Immediately Ralph stopped, frozen in his wrecking pose. "Okay! Now, one brick at a time!"
Ralph lightly tapped the building—although a light tap from Ralph could probably still flatten Felix—and sent a single brick plummeting to the pile below.
"255! One more!"
The buildup in Felix was making his skin crawl as he watched the brick tumble down, down, down—it was going to happen—he had to be prepared to fix the bricks like last time —
The building exploded into a storm of bits and pixels, dropping screaming, glitching Felix and a screaming, glitching Ralph down to the ground below. He struggled to keep himself whole long enough to find a brick to hit with his hammer—it was difficult to see —
Felix caught sight of the last couple bricks beginning to dissolve into bits and, in one monumental effort, he leapt to them, swinging his hammer before they could disappear from the game. The bricks consolidated into a wall segment, and as suddenly as the building had disappeared, it reappeared, once more flinging Ralph and Felix to the side as the game resolved itself back into working order.
Before Felix could recompose his thoughts, he found himself pressed against Tamora's armor, her arms clutching him tightly. "Felix..." she murmured, pressing her cheek into his.
"Are you all right, Tammy?" Felix asked, gently pulling his face away so he could see hers.
"Of course I'm all right. You're the one who's glitching," Tamora said, frowning.
"I'm—I'm all right."
Tamora gave him a tiny nod and set him on his feet. "All right then, soldier. Let's see what Ramirez has to say."
Felix felt his heart sink when he saw Ramirez's face, which was the pinnacle of a face not about to offer a solution to any sort of problem. "I'm gonna be straight with you, Fix-It, Wreck-It," Ramirez said slowly. "Things are looking bad."
"What was all that counting about?" Ralph asked, glitching slightly as he rolled his shoulders.
"Your game is an 8-bit one, right?" said Ramirez, gesturing vaguely at the building. "I figure the game is keeping track of the bricks until they're destroyed. Since this game is an 8-bit one, the most bricks it can keep track of is 256."
"But you stopped at 255!" Vanellope exclaimed in a huff, putting her hands on her hips.
"Computers count a little different than a person would—they start at zero instead of one...Just trust me on this one," Ramirez said quickly when he noticed the looks of confusion on everyone's faces. "The real problem is that it can only keep count up to 255: it's called overflow. After 255, the game gets confused and—well—you glitch."
"But we've never had this issue before," Felix said, perplexed. "Why would the brick problem happen now?"
Ramirez gave a shrug. "Wish I could say. The hardware's probably just...getting old," he said.
"What if someone's messing with the code?" Vanellope said fervently, casting her eyes around as though imploring someone to agree with her. When no one said a word, she continued, "I mean, come on, it happened in my game. What if someone made you two into glitches? What if someone's going Turbo?"
"I doubt that's what's going on here," said Ramirez, shaking his head. "Especially since it's just an 8-bit game."
"You're lying!" Vanellope shouted, clenching her tiny fists. "You're lying! Ralph can't be glitching just because he's old!
Felix couldn't bring himself to say anything. He wanted that to be true, but he just couldn't believe that anybody would have anything to gain by taking control of a thirty-year-old game that apparently can't count bricks past 255. What would they gain? A hammer that fixes things (which wasn't all that useful of a tool as far as conquering enemies and such went...unless they were going to fix people into submission)? Unless, of course, there was some nefarious person in the shadows hoping to steal the limelight by modifying the game's code. Felix could see that happening (if he squinted).
"Sorry, kid, but I don't think that's what's going on here," Ralph said, kneeling down to pull Vanellope into a hug. She let out a sob, burying her face in Ralph's neck.
"Who's gonna watch me do the Roster Race now?"
Felix couldn't bear to watch the tiny sobs wracking Vanellope's body, but when he turned to Tamora, it felt as though an enormous crack had suddenly rent his heart—her face was screwed up into a scowl, her body quivering slightly as she tried not to lose her composure in such a public place. He took her hand and tried to pull her close, but met resistance—she was trying to look tough, she didn't want to lose control—but finally he managed to pull her to him, clutching her tightly. "Tamora..." he whispered, his body glitching slightly as tears began to well up in his eyes.
"I'll...I'll meet you back at Hero's Duty, Sarge," Ramirez said, shuffling uncomfortably. Tamora's head nodded almost imperceptibly as she clung tightly to Felix. "I'm—I'm sorry, Fix-It, Wreck-It," he added, before solemnly turning and taking his leave.
Tamora's body was beginning to tremble more and more against Felix's own, the tiniest sobs slipping from her throat. "Come on, let's go to my apartment," Felix murmured, patting her gently on the arm. He glanced over his shoulder at Ralph as they left, who gave him a helpless smile-shrug as Vanellope sobbed into his shirt.
The walk to Felix's apartment—a new one built to allow Tamora to comfortably stand—felt like an eternity. It felt as though a lead weight had hung itself in his chest. If Ramirez was right and the hardware was just getting old, then inevitably he would disappear from Tamora's life, another husband lost...And the worst part was that there was nothing to be done. No villains to defeat, nothing that she could vow revenge on. Everyone had to deal with old age sooner or later, and nobody could do a thing about that...
When they finally reached the apartment and were safely cloistered away from curious eyes, they simply stood in the living room in silence, Felix staring down at the floor and Tamora standing in the shadows of the unlit room. She couldn't bear to face him and stood with her back to him, head bowed and body trembling slightly. The weight in his chest was unbearable, and he felt like he too was on the verge of bursting into tears. Video game characters often didn't subscribe to any sort of religion so there was usually no talk of the afterlife to speak of, but just the thought that one day he wouldn't be able to hold her and caress her and be near her...
He felt like he was dying.
Felix glanced up at her at the sound of her voice.
"How could this happen?" she said, clenching her fists. "HOW CAN THIS BE HAPPENING?"
He jumped in shock when she let out a howl of anguish and flipped the dinner table into the wall, the deafening crash of shattering mugs and cracking drywall seemingly echoing through the apartment and back. The fragments of drywall barely had the time to fall to the floor before she raised her fist and swiped the flower vase from its end table, splattering the wall with water.
"IS THIS SOME KIND OF SICK JOKE?" she howled, her voice quavering perceptibly.
And before Felix could do anything to stop her, she punched her fist straight through the drywall with an anguished scream before sinking to her knees, heartbreaking sobs wracking her body. Felix hesitated a moment, unsure if she would give him a backhand to the face if he tried to touch her, but he quickly discarded that thought and reached down to put his arms around her. But as soon as he touched her, she turned and pulled him down into a tight hug, pressing her face to his cheek as tears ran openly down her own. Tamora didn't show her feelings easily, so to see her so uncharacteristically crying like this—surely her heart must have broken to pieces.
"I—I can't lose you," she sobbed.
"I—" Felix started, but he had no idea what to say. He wished that he could simply say "I can fix it!" and fix everything with his hammer, but his golden hammer didn't have the power to work miracles.
But jaminy, could he use one.
He hardly noticed when tears were rolling down his own face as he glitched in and out of bits and pixels. "I—I love you, Tammy," he said, struggling to keep control of the quavers in his voice. "Always will."
She buried her face in the crook of his neck and held on tightly, as though her grip was the only thing keeping him from dissolving into bits.
They sat there in the dark together, clinging each other tightly as though tonight might be their last night together.
For all Felix knew, it could be.
Fix-It Felix, Jr. was holding up surprisingly well.
Every so often, the game would forget to get rid of bricks and would glitch out, but for the most part, it held together and most gamers were none the wiser. Felix and Ralph and the Nicelanders were still as busy as they'd ever been, and fortunately they never had a glitching incident while Litwak was nearby (and even more fortunately still, the gamers that did get the glitch usually didn't bother to report it to him).
In order to make up for the fact that Felix and Ralph could no longer leave their game, Vanellope and Tamora had been spending as much time as absolutely possible in Fix-It Felix, Jr. Vanellope had taken it upon herself to teach Felix and Ralph how to control the glitching (and was trying to teach Ralph how to use it to teleport around). Tamora, on the other hand, had rebounded with a vengeance after that first, tearful night: any time she was not spending with Felix or killing cybugs in Hero's Duty, she spent asking various game characters about any possible fixes to the problem Fix-It Felix, Jr. was having. Once in a while, other characters from the arcade came to visit; Zangief and M. Bison were becoming familiar faces.
Felix managed to keep from going stir-crazy by doing his best to find things to do with Tamora (and sometimes Ralph and Vanellope too). Just the other day he had prepared a rooftop picnic for his dynamite gal—the idea had always been in the back of his mind to take her to Green Hill Zone over at Sonic's to have a picnic, but now that he couldn't, his rooftop had to do. They also spent an almost inordinate amount of time simply holding each other close, sometimes telling each other stories—or, more often, in complete silence as they just listened to the other's heartbeats.
Eventually, however, the glitching starting growing worse and more uncontrollable. Nearly a year after the initial incident, Ralph had started glitching during a level even though the game had been clearing the bricks away with no other issue. And shortly after that, Felix found himself regularly struggling to desperately hold it together as the gamers led him around the screen. Both Tamora and Vanellope tried to take the new developments in stride, but it was painfully obvious that they were both being brave in the face of an as yet unfixable situation.
The uncomfortable (and painful at times) feeling of buildup that Felix felt right before any episode of glitching eventually became ever-present in him. It was beginning to wear him down—each day was becoming a struggle to keep it together and make it to closing time. Ralph, too, was markedly struggling to do his job, and though they exchanged knowing glances and danced around the topic, they both knew that their time was fast approaching.
"Hey there, Tammy," Felix said, attempting to sound bright and cheerful but ultimately unable to keep the weariness from his voice.
"Hey there, Short Stack," Tamora said, leaning down to plant a kiss on his lips. Normally he would have leapt up to kiss her, but jumping was getting to be difficult. "Brought a little something for you and Wreck-It tonight."
Felix hadn't noticed it at first, but she had been hiding something behind her back—which turned out to be several bottles of root beer. "Brought it over from Tapper's. Had to persuade the Surge Protector to get it through, though," she added, smirking slightly. Felix could only imagine that said persuasion involved a gun and some light threats.
"Why thank you, Tammy," he said gratefully, managing to pull it together enough to hop up and give her a kiss.
They laid out a picnic on the rooftop of the Niceland Apartments building, drinking and telling stories while they watched Vanellope's Roster Race as best they could in the console's viewport. "Kid's getting better and better," Ralph said, grinning from ear to ear as he flickered slightly. "Wish I could watch her race..."
"We have to make the most of it, Ralph," said Felix.
"I know, I know."
"Oh! Mary said she'd have a cake for us tonight," Felix said, slowly getting to his feet. "I'll go get—hnngh."
He felt a sharp pain shoot through him, flickering wildly into binary and back as he toppled to the floor. He hardly noticed that Tamora had rolled him over and was madly saying something or other with Ralph hovering worriedly in the background. Felix felt like his body was going to rip apart, but in one tremendous effort, he concentrated and forced his body to pull itself back together.
"Are you all right, Felix?!" Tamora asked, her beautiful face screwed up with concern.
"I'm fine, I'm fine. Sorry to worry you," he said, grimacing as he sat up. She looked wholly unconvinced and frowned at him.
"Whatever that was, it was not fine."
Obviously it wasn't—he could hardly pretend that it was—so he pulled her into a hug.
There was nothing that could be done.
"I'M GONNA WRECK IT!"
"I CAN FIX IT!"
Felix hopped deftly from windowsill to windowsill, doggedly concentrating as his traitorous body tried to break down on him while he fixed the broken windows. It was getting more and more difficult to keep it together, and only the thought of seeing his dynamite gal after hours kept him going on some days.
Today was one of those days.
Both he and Ralph were struggling to keep it together—to keep the game playable for the gamers—but today was absolutely awful. The pain was usually manageable, but today he could barely hold on as the gamers led him around. It felt as though any little movement was sending ripples throughout the game, about to topple some precarious game logic that was only just able to keep the game functional.
And then, without warning, it happened.
The building and landscape exploded into binary and pixels, wildly flickering from binary and back just as the player pressed the Jump button. Felix screamed as he was caught up in the storm of pixels and bits, but as he desperately cast his eyes around for anything that would fix it, he could see nothing—there were no bricks on the ground and the building could not hold itself together long enough for him to fix any of the broken windows. If he didn't find a way to fix this soon, the gamer was going to —
"Mr. Litwak! The game is busted again!"
No no no.
"Whoa! The game's really gone cuckoo," came Litwak's voice.
We're not going cuckoo, Felix thought frantically, trying with all his might to pull his pixelating body together. We can't. We can't!
"I'll have to have someone take a look at it later, but I think this might be it for old Ralph and Felix."
But before Felix could do anything more—before he could even figure out what he could do in his state—they were bathed with the orange glow of the Out of Order sign. Mad hysteria would have broken out if the game hadn't already been going mad—the building and landscape still couldn't draw itself properly and Felix wasn't sure what had become of the Nicelanders inside it. "Ralph! Ralph, where are you?" Felix called, his voice garbled as he stumbled backward on the ground.
"I'm here! I'm here!" came Ralph's distorted voice. It took Felix a moment to pinpoint Ralph, who was crawling toward him from the mud pit, his body glitching madly. "We have to—we gotta get to—"
Ralph didn't need to finish his sentence: Felix had the same idea. He dragged himself to Ralph and hooked an arm around his brother's giant, glitchy forearm, helping him up as they staggered toward the tunnel to Game Central Station.
There wasn't much time.
It was unspoken between them, but nonetheless they knew they had to make it to that tunnel entrance. They had to make it there—they had to be there in case Litwak—in case he—
"Hang in there, brother," Felix said through clenched teeth. The pain was unbearable, but he had to keep it together so he could see Tamora one last time...
Ralph had never called him that before—always opting to go with the more casual "buddy" or "pal"—and through all the pain of glitching, Felix felt himself truly moved.
They managed to drag each other to the tunnel entrance before collapsing at the mouth. They only had to hold out for another hour or so before the arcade would close and Felix could see his beloved Sergeant one last time. It was difficult, though—the environment and their bodies continued to glitch, and it was all they could do to keep control.
A thin spasm of joy shot through him at the sight of Tamora on her hoverboard with Vanellope clinging to her leg. "Tammy, I'm—I'm so happy to see you," Felix managed to say, painstakingly trying to pull himself to his feet. Before he could do so, he was scooped up into her arms as she clutched him tightly despite the uncontrollable glitching his body was doing.
"You can't go," Tamora said softly, looking imploringly into his eyes. The Out of Order sign cast an orange glow that only made the sorrow in her eyes more pronounced—and seeing that pain in her eyes was a hundred times worse than any pain he'd ever felt. It was only compounded when he heard Vanellope's sobbing as she clung to Ralph, who was doing his very best to keep his body together and hold her.
"I don't want to," said Felix. "I don't."
It seemed that the game was unable to fix itself this time—the glitching continued throughout the night as Tamora held Felix tightly near the mouth of the tunnel. He talked about his day as best he could throughout all the garbling and distortion, and talked about silly things that had happened in the early days of Litwak's arcade. He talked just for the sake of talking—because he only had so much time left with his dynamite gal, and he hadn't even begun to tell her all the things that he could...
And then the morning arrived.
"Litwak's—Litwak's coming," said Ralph.
"Felix—Felix, I can't do this—" Tamora sobbed, clutching him tighter.
Felix felt as though his heart was tearing to pieces, and it took every ounce of willpower for him to gently pry himself out of Tamora's arms. "You can—I know you can," he said, smiling. "You're Sergeant Calhoun. You can do this."
"Felix, Felix no—" she sobbed, tears streaming from her eyes as Felix pushed her past the barrier and into the tunnel. Vanellope was crying, desperately begging Ralph not to go—
They could hear Litwak at the plug.
This was it.
"Tammy—Tammy I—" Felix started, tears rolling down his cheeks as he clutched Tamora's armored hands.
In one infinitesimal moment, he thought back on his life—from the moment thirty years ago that they'd been plugged in to this painful, glitchy mess—and he decided that well, he really had only one regret.
And that was not being able to spend more time with his dynamite gal.
"Tamora—don't ever forget," said Felix through the tears and the glitching. She quickly shook her head.
"I won't—of course not—"
"Tamora, I love you."
A little push to send her hands past the barrier.
A small smile, a whispered "goodbye."
Until finally, Fix-It Felix and Wreck-It Ralph were gone.
A/N: HAHAHA OHGOD THIS WAS ONLY SUPPOSED TO BE 7 PAGES TOPS.
So I'd been struck with the urge to write a Wreck-It Ralph fanfic, and it wasn't about to go away until I wrote something. Sorry to anyone who'd been waiting for me to write Close or Design Paradigm. The groove hit me, but it was a WIR groove and refused to work with Portal or Harry Potter.
To explain the 255 thing:
8-bit values can only go up to 255 (computers count starting at 0). If it tries to count more, instead of becoming 256 the, value wraps around back to zero, and then funky shit tends to happen. For example: the original Pacman game's kill screen was caused by this. The developers didn't take into account that players would ever get past 255 levels, so it only used an 8-bit number to keep track. Once the player got past the 255th level, it wraps back to 0 and the game glitches out. So yeah. That's the general idea.
Anywho, hope you guys enjoyed. I had fun writing it, anyway. I didn't beta it or proofread too hard, so if you guys see any derpy mistakes, PM me or leave a review or something. XD