A deft twist here, a bit of polish there, and… "It's done."
Sour Bill took a step back, admiring the fruits of his labor. It'd only been about a month since his game had been plugged in, and he'd spent day after day working on this little project in secret. He'd started planning for it as soon as he'd watched Sugar Rush's thrilling first race, and he'd put all his spare time into the project—he hadn't even taken the opportunity to venture outside the game yet. But all that time and effort would be worth it if he could only get the approval he needed from the Princess.
But did he even have a chance at getting it? He wasn't sure. But he hadn't gone through all that trouble for nothing, now had he? Bill draped a wrapper over his project, giving it an affectionate pat. It'd be safely obscured from view until he could decide how best to approach Sugar Rush's ruler.
"Whatcha got there, Billy Boy?"
Bill practically jumped out of his shell as he spun towards the door. There, with hands behind her back and a curious smirk on her face, stood Princess Vanellope von Schweetz. She strode into the room with eyes locked on Bill's project, almost looking like she was hovering as her royal dress skirted along the floor.
Sour Bill felt himself back up against the wrapper protectively. "Your highness," he greeted in his usual monotone, giving a little bow. "What brings you here?"
Vanellope walked up to her servant, managing to tower over him despite her small stature. "Had a couple 'a racers mention seeing you duck into the Kart Bakery from time to time. Can ya blame me for being curious?" She shot another glance to the object Bill was guarding. "So, what're ya hiding there, chum?"
"Nothing important," Bill assured her, hoping against hope that she'd just leave it be for now.
"Aw, c'mon!" Vanellope whined. "Just lemme see. Just one little peek. You know you waaaaannaaaaa!"
Bill hesitated. It was true, he wanted to show her, but now wasn't the right time. He needed time to think, lest he mess up and crush his aspirations. Still, Vanellope was already trying to resort to the puppy eyes, and he knew she wouldn't stop badgering him until he'd spilled the jelly beans. Bill sighed, shaking his head. No time like the present, right?
He turned his back on the princess, gripping his project's tarp firmly. Slowly, he pulled on it, dragging it away and revealing the secret underneath. Behind him, Vanellope let out a low whistle, stepping closer to get a better look. "That is so cool!"
Sour Bill stepped aside to let her admire his work: A custom-built racing kart, lovingly crafted a little bit every day since they'd been plugged in. While most racers just played the minigame when they wanted a new ride, Bill had taken the effort to manually piece one together. And it'd been worth it; solid caramel rims, set between bulky peppermint tires, all ready to carry the low-set green gumball chasis to victory. Complete with a red velvet cake seat, a high-sugar engine, and a sleek spoiler, it was truly a sight to behold.
Vanellope ran a hand down its hood, trailing it along as the kart's front narrowed to a sloping point. "Nice job!" she praised, kneeling down to inspect the tires. "So, who had you make it? Was it Minty? Looks like something she'd drive. Oh, or maybe Candlehead…"
Bill tuned her out as she began listing off various racers. Now was his chance—it was now or never. He cleared his throat, choosing his words carefully.
"It's for me, your highness," Bill stated flatly. "I want to be a racer."
Vanllope's eyes leapt to him, but she said nothing. Finally, she inhaled through her teeth, rising to her feet and turning to her trusty servant. "Listen, Bill."
"Hear me out, Princess," Bill interrupted. "I've learned about every power-up, studied every track, watched the racers in action…"
"Bill." Vanellope sighed, rubbing her forehead. "Look," she muttered, "if I could, I'd make you a racer lickity-split. But, Bill… you're an NPC. Your code just isn't the same as a racer's, and even if I wanted to, I wouldn't be able to get it to recognize you as one."
"It can't be done, Bill. I'm sorry." Vanellope gave a half-hearted shrug before stepping forward, setting a comforting hand on Bill's head and rubbing gently. "But at the very least, I can let you drive your car off-track when the arcade is closed. It's the best I can offer, okay?"
With a sigh, Bill nodded. Vanellope gave him a pat on the head before scooting past him. "I'm sorry, Bill," she called back. "See ya."
With that, she was gone, leaving Bill alone with his creation. He tottered over to his car and thumped his head against it, groaning. Vanellope's offer was generous, but it just wouldn't be the same.
Bill watched the pop rock skip twice before getting stuck in the taffy pond, sinking below the shiny pink gloop. After the scene back at the Kart Bakery, he'd covered his kart up and left, hoping to find a nice, quiet spot to be alone for awhile. He picked up another pebble from the lakeshore, staying seated as he let it fly, only for it to sink after one weak bounce.
These poor skips weren't making him feel any better. Taffy wasn't the best surface for rock skipping, and right now, he wanted to see one soar. He picked up another pebble, spotting a gumdrop floating in the lagoon, its sugary exterior promising a much better bounce. Bill took aim, drew his hand back, and flung his pop rock as hard as he could.
The projectile hit the gummy target on its side, instantly deflecting off across the pond. It flew into a patch of candy cane trees, disappearing from sight.
Bill flinched as someone snarled in pain where the pebble had flown, followed by a dull thud. Had he accidentally hit a wandering racer? An NPC? With only one way to find out, Bill stood up and scampered off towards the shout.
Soon enough, he was in a clearing, and the source of the shout was lying face down in its center. Whatever it was, it wasn't from Sugar Rush. In fact, it looked like a short man, clad in a white and red tracksuit covering grayed skin. Bill couldn't tell if he was alright, though the man's helmet was hopefully enough to have protected him.
Suddenly, the man spasmed in a flash of violent red light. Bill stepped back, watching the man's body convulse and shimmer as his code showed, glowing hotly. Had Bill hit him harder than he'd thought?
Moments later, the flickering subsided, and the man let out a groan. Bill scuttled to his side, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Are you alright?"
The man finally looked up, taking a moment to notice the small green hand resting on him. He flicked it off, grumbling to himself as he got up and dusted himself off. "No, I'm not alright!" he snapped. "I've got enough going on without getting pelted with colorful rocks! Yer just lucky I had my helmet on…"
Sour Bill backed off. "Okay, okay. Sorry." Satisfied that the stranger was alright, he turned to go.
"Wait!" the man called out, stopping Bill in his tracks. He turned back to see the man wiping a hand down his face, going through another glitch. "Look, I think we started off on the wrong track. I've just had a cruddy freakin' day, ya know?" He cleared his throat, standing as tall as he could and pointing his thumbs at himself. "I'm Turbo, star of TurboTime, and the greatest racer ever!"
Another racer? Bill thought. He really should've stepped outside his game just once. "Can't say I've ever heard of you," Bill admitted.
Another wave of crimson sparked over Turbo's face as his eyes narrowed. "Never heard of me? That's just… forget it. And just who are you, grease monkey?"
"Sour Bill," the little ball replied. "And I'm…" He stopped himself, remembering his earlier encounter with the Princess. "…Just an NPC."
Turbo snorted, nodding. "Excuse me for asking," Bill went on, "But what happened to you?"
Turbo didn't seem to understand until another flash of red crackled through him, causing him to grit his teeth. "My game was just unplugged, bud. And I…" He paused. "I was too slow getting' out. Messed my code up real bad."
"Then why'd you come here?"
"'Cause I heard another racing game had been plugged in recently. I figured it'd be easier to integrate my code into it. And I need to fast, or…" Another glitch, this time almost causing Turbo to double over. "…Or I'm not sure how much longer my engine'll run. If I don't get plugged in soon, I'll fizzle out. I need your help, Bill. Can ya take me to your code room?"
Bill looked into the sickly racer's eyes, and received a hopeful grin in return. He could definitely take Turbo to the code room, since Vanellope had trusted him and a couple others with its password in case of emergencies. But the Princess had also instructed them not to take just anyone to the code room; just someone else who had the password to keep you tethered, and that was it. Was it really a good idea to let this stranger enter it? "I'm not sure if I should," Bill finally replied.
"C'mon, be a pal!" Turbo pleaded, clasping his hands together. "Look, there's gotta be something I can offer. Like… didn't you say you were 'just an NPC' earlier?"
The reminder stung a bit, but Bill nodded. "Yes."
"Well, what if I told you I could make you more than that?"
Bill recoiled a bit, taken by surprise. "What do you mean?"
"What I mean is that if you let me use your code room, I'm sure I can make a few changes to your code while I'm in there. Want to be playable? Done! A boss? Can do. Anything ya want, gumball. C'mon, whatcha got in mind?"
For just a moment, Bill considered responding. But his encounter with the Princess earlier came back to him, bringing skepticism with it. "If Princess Vanellope can't alter my code," Bill pointed out, "what makes you think you can?"
"Princess who-now?" Turbo muttered, rubbing his chin with a glitching hand. A smirk spread over the racer's face—a smile somehow more threatening than amused. "I'm sure this Vanellope person is great and all, but she definitely isn't Turbo! I've dabbled a bit with code, making a few changes to my own game, you know, back before… never mind. I even made some of my pit crew into racers to freshen up the game—none of them as good at racing as me, of course. It can be done… if ya know how.
"So lemme ask again, squirt…" The man leered down at him. "Whadda'ya wanna be?"
Feeling his disbelief fade away, Bill answered honestly. "A racer."
Turbo chuckled. "Good choice. Now if you can get me to your code room, I'll be feelin' fine and I'll have you cruising across this technicolor toothache before ya know it. So…" He held out his hand, which shimmered as another glitch tore through it. "What do you say… do we have a deal?"
Bill eyed the outstretched hand, his mind already running over how this could go wrong. He was risking a lot here, letting a complete stranger fiddle with the very life essence of the game. He would be giving the racer complete control over Sugar Rush's fate for a few moments, and even someone with pure intentions could be tempted by the power. But Turbo was clearly ailing, so why would he bite the hand that saves his life? And if Bill could get what he desired as well, what harm was there? Decision made, the dour advisor clasped the offered hand and gave it a firm shake. "Deal."
"That's what I like ta hear!" Turbo cheered, only to wince as another glitch jarred him. "Eugh… lead the way, buddy, and be quick about it."
Bill nodded, turning to go. Turbo followed, looking a strange mixture between exhausted and thrilled as he matched Bill's pace. "And while we walk," he added, "tell me a bit more about this game ya got here."
The trip to the castle was filled with Bill's short, monotone descriptions of Sugar Rush's facets, pointed out and described by the world's most unenthusiastic tour guide. He didn't expect Turbo to be very interested, especially with Bill's less-than-captivating voice, but to his surprise, the racer seemed to be hanging onto his every word. Which made some sort of sense, he supposed—if Turbo was going to have an extended stay in Sugar Rush while his code repaired, he might as well learn what he could about his temporary home.
As they went, Bill noticed Turbo's glitches taking more and more out of him. He'd started the trip walking tall, but as they got closer to the castle, his proud stride had degenerated into a hunched-over hobble. Fortunately, they reached the checkered road to the castle soon enough, and not long after, they found themselves in front of the frosted fortress' double-doors.
"We're here," Bill stated, more as a reassurance to himself than anything. He motioned for Turbo to stay back, and the man complied. Taking a deep breath, Bill stepped forward, nudged open the door, and peeked inside.
Within stood the throne room, thankfully quiet and empty. Vanellope must've been out and about doing who-knows-what. Most likely for the best; Bill doubted she would support his and Turbo's plan. Bill mentally noted to tell the Princess after Turbo had been integrated into the game. "Follow me," Bill finally called to his companion.
The duo slipped inside, letting the door slide shut behind them. Bill led the way across the chamber as they made their way towards the throne. "Nice digs," Turbo muttered as he glanced at the sugary walls. "A bit too pink for my tastes, though. Are we almost there?"
Bill glanced around one last time before nodding. "Right this way," he said, making his way around the throne.
Behind it sat a wall of pink drapes, set up as a backdrop for the room. Bill approached one of the middle curtains, pulling it aside to reveal a hallway just beyond. He made his way into the corridor, pausing just long enough to make sure Turbo was following.
They walked down corridor after corridor, each one unnaturally dull and colorless compared to Sugar Rush's vibrant landscape. Soon, just after passing through a sliding metal door, they found themselves in a passage eerily lit up by the blue glow of wires snaking around the tunnel. And there, at the end of that hall, sat a console wedged into one final door, the only thing keeping them from the code room.
Bill skittered up to the console, pushing buttons with the slow precision of someone making sure they were remembering something correctly. "Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start," he chanted in time with his presses.
A confirmation jingle rang out from the door as the last button was pressed. It spun in its frame before sliding open sideways with a mechanical hiss. Turbo walked up to the opening, looking out at the void beyond it. His body glitched as he stared at the luminescent code boxes filling the void, yet strangely, he didn't seem to notice the pain.
Bill walked up to him, offering him the licorice rope he'd retrieved from beside the door. "This will keep you from flying off into who-knows-what," Bill instructed. "I'll hold onto it while you work. Tug twice when you're ready to return, and please… work quickly."
Turbo eyed the leash for a second before taking it, tying it tightly around his waist. "I'm the fastest thing west of the Whack-a-mole! And everywhere else, for that matter. I'll be in and out before you know it!"
He shot Bill a double thumbs-up before stepping up to the void. He adjusted his belt, crouched low, and leapt. He soared out into the code room, and almost instantly Bill felt the licorice lose most of its tension as Turbo went weightless. He loosened his grip on the rope and watched as Turbo swam through the inky blackness, quickly approaching the cluster of code. Within moments, the racer was lost amongst the cloud of boxes.
All Bill could do was wait. Minutes ticked by as Bill kept worriedly glancing over his shoulder, wishing Turbo would hurry. The longer they took, the bigger chance they had of getting caught, and being busted holding the intruder's lifeline—no matter how good his intentions—definitely wasn't a pleasant thought. Bill shoved that scenario out of his mind, trying to focus on the code room. He waited, with only the occasional tug from the rope to assure him that Turbo was still moving around.
Soon enough, Bill felt two sharp tugs on the rope. Relieved, Bill began reeling the leash in, moving hand over and hand to pull the racer back. Before long, Bill could barely make out a figure amongst the code, and he redoubled his efforts. He finished reeling in the rope and Turbo was finally back on solid ground, safe and sound.
Except, however, that Turbo wasn't there anymore. Where the racer had been tied to the rope now stood what might've passed for a candy-coated king. Clad in gold-striped pantaloons and a purple jacket, the newcomer quickly wiggled out of the rope and adjusted his red wrapper bowtie. He glanced down at Bill, reflecting the glow of the tunnel's wires with his crown.
Noticing Bill's confused stare, the man chuckled. "It's me, Turbo!" he assured. Even his voice sounded different—more high-pitched and bubbly. "I just gave myself a bit of a facelift. Might as well look the part if I'm gonna be staying here awhile, ya know?"
Bill supposed it made sense. "Well… are you feeling better?"
The king looked over his new form, smiling. "Never felt better, Billy boy! I'm like a fine-tuned engine!"
Bill nodded, only to pause as he remembered Turbo's side of the deal. He glanced himself over, looking for any sign of change. Nothing was off. In fact, he felt the same as he ever did. "You did remember your part of the bargain, right?"
Turbo snorted, waving him off. "Don't worry your shiny green dome, Bill. Bigger changes to the code just have a bit of delay before their effects register. Within moments, you're gonna see a whole wave of change."
Though he wished he was ready to race then and now, Bill nodded in understanding. He stepped past Turbo and pressed a small switch on the code room's inside. In response, the code room door unsheathed itself from the wall, locking itself down. "Once the code room is secured, I'll escort you outside," Bill commented as he watched the door spin back into place. "With any luck, Princess Vanellope will never find out what we did."
"Find out what, Bill?"
Bill's eyes flew wide open as the dreadfully familiar voice piped up behind him. Hoping against hope that he was just hearing things, he slowly turned away from the code room, just in time to see Vanellope enter the hall flanked by Sugar Rush's resident pastry police, Wynchel and Duncan.
Bill tried speaking up to diffuse the situation, only for Vanellope to stop him before he could start with one stern gaze. It wasn't one of anger or even annoyance—just overwhelming disappointment, and Bill found himself looking downward to avoid it. "We're gonna talk about this later, Sour Bill," she chastised. "Got it?"
"And as for you," she went on, turning to the man by Bill's side, "who the devil's food cake are you, and what are ya doing here?"
"Who, me?" Turbo chuckled, tapping a finger on his big, bulbous nose. "Just call me King Candy. And frankly, I think I could ask you the same thing."
Vanellope raised an eyebrow, thrown-off guard by the man's cheerful tone. "I'll go where I want, King Cruddy, since this is my castle. And if you two didn't want us finding you, ya shouldn't have left the code room curtains open. Now, one more time… what were ya two up to?"
King Candy snorted, ignoring the girl's bodyguards as he stepped closer and leered down at her. "I think you need to get off your peppermint pedestal, you 8-bit brat. Is that any way to speak to a king?"
"I don't know what kind of punch you've been drinking, fruitloop, but you're not a king," Vanellope retorted. "Just a loony with pants poofy enough to be breaking a law somewhere."
The king grunted, walking away while discretely trying to smooth down his trousers. "I'll give you one thing—I'm not a king. Not yet, anyway… not without a kingdom."
Vanellope sighed. "You really are coocoo, aren'tcha? Whatever." She pointed at the duo. "Wynchel, Duncan, arres-"
Her outstretched arm shimmered with blue light, quickly traveling across the rest of her body. The Princess didn't make a sound as she collapsed, slumping face-forward to the ground.
Cries of "Princess!" rang through the room from all but King Candy. Sour Bill could've swore the man was smiling as he scrambled past him, rushing to his leader's aid.
The doughnut cops were already trying to pull Vanellope back on her feet. She shimmered once more and slipped right through their grasp, falling to the floor in a different dress than before. It was bright red, something that Jubileena might wear.
Bill reached her eager to help, only to fall back as the Princess flickered rapidly. She cycled through outfits and palettes—Candlehead's, Minty's, even Rancis'—before finally settling on something brand new. It was a scraggly mint-green hoodie with a chocolatey skirt and mismatched stockings. It looked as if it'd been tossed together with whatever spare scenery was lying around.
Glitching only slightly less frequently, Vanellope lay there with her hair splayed out around her, seemingly comatose. Bill turned from her, staring at the man who was now watching them panic with an amused grin. "What did you do?" Bill breathed.
King Candy gasped dramatically, pointing at himself. "Me? What makes you think I…" he stopped himself, cackling. "Okay, yeah, it was totally me. Your pint-sized princess is a glitch, I'm all set to take her place, everything's coming up Turbotastic! Oh, and while I'm still dropping bob-ombs, you're still an NPC, pally."
Somehow, that last bit didn't faze Bill. Something horrible was happening to the Princess, the kingdom might crumble because of it, and it was all his fault. He'd tried to help a stranger in exchange for a little bonus, and he'd been betrayed—just like he'd betrayed his game. He'd just wanted his dream, not this nightmare. Bill asked the only question that was on his mind. "Why?"
"Why? Because Turbo isn't second-banana to anyone, silly Billy. Only the brightest spotlights and classiest digs for this racer! And nothing personal about the whole racer thing," King Candy cooed. "I just don't need any more racers to share the stage with. But hey, serving me is just as much an honor, am I right?"
King Candy just kept smiling at Bill, looking despite everything like he'd done nothing wrong. For once, Bill could feel his lethargy melt away as his eyes narrowed. "You… monster."
The king's eyes flew wide as Bill looked up at him in defiance, anger filling up his usually monotone voice. "You think we'll just stand aside and let some tyrant take over? None of the other Sugar Rushers will stand for this, and we won't rest until Vanellope's code is fixed and you're in the fungeon."
Bill stood his ground as King Candy blinked away his surprise. Finally, he chuckled. "Cute. Looks like this fuddy-duddy sour ball has a bit of spice, after all."
Unamused, Bill whistled, calling Wynchel and Duncan's attention away from their former ruler. "I'll see to the Princess," he assured. "Officers, arrest this man."
The doughnuts got up and pulled out their nightsticks, all too happy to oblige. King Candy merely sighed. "What, is it not good enough that I let the brat live? …Okay, she was too deeply encoded into the game for me to fully remove, but still."
The cops approached, slapping their batons threateningly off their palms. King Candy seemed unimpressed, humming to himself and eyeing his wrist as if inspecting an invisible watch. Bill stepped outside to let the police pass, watching them go.
Except, for some odd reason, he couldn't remember for the life of him what the cops were marching off to. The cops stopped midstride and glanced around, seeming just as confused about their mission. Bill followed their gaze, spotting a short, kingly figure on one side of the hall and a knocked-out little girl on the other.
"Good job, boys!" the king called out, smiling proudly. "You've stopped that little glitch before she managed to sneak into the code room."
Confused, yet enjoying the praise, Wynchel and Duncan nodded. "Thanks, uh… boss?" the taller of the two said. Turning and noticing the glitch in question, he gestured back at her. "You, uh, want us to take her to the fungeon?"
The king chuckled, shaking his head. "No, no, no. King Candy is a kind, benevolent ruler. Just drop her off as far from the castle as possible. Oh, and the racetrack, too."
Bewildered but compliant, the cops shrugged at each other and turned to do their duty. Bill watched them leave, taking the girl with them and occasionally stumbling when she flashed and slipped through their hands. Soon enough, they'd walked out of sight and the door slid shut behind them.
"Good thing you were around to report the glitch, eh, Sour Bill?" The servant turned, seeing that King Candy had snuck up to watch with him. "I knew I could count on you, my loyal little grouch."
Bill blinked. "Uh… thank you, sir?"
Before he could say anything else, he found himself being pushed forward. "Now that that's out of the way," King Candy continued, "be a peach and grab me something to write with, would ya?"
Still a bit disorientated, Bill simply nodded, heading towards the exit to complete his task. King Candy waited for te doors to shut behind him before reaching into his coat and fumbling around. Soon enough, he found what he was looking a pulled it out: a tatty brown napkin, fresh from the local Tapper's.
"Now, let's see, what was it he said? …Ah, yes! Up, up, down, down…"
"As you can see, your highness, I've already got my own vehicle." Bill patted the kart behind him, which he'd driven all the way to the throne room just for this presentation. "So, with your permission, I humbly request to be put on the racing roster."
King Candy sat opposite him, lounging in his customized kart/throne. He leaned on the dashboard, chin in hand and unimpressed stare on his face. Bill gulped.
That is, until the King burst out laughing—not very uncharacteristic of him, but not comforting, either. "Hah! Good one, Sour Bill. Which of those rascally racers put you up to this? It was Gloyd, wasn't it?"
Bill shook his head, finding himself at a loss for words. "N-no, I…"
"Tut, tut, Bill. It's poor form to extend a joke past the punchline."
"Anyway," King Candy went on, "I'd hate to let such an exquisite vehicle go to waste. Deliver it to my royal garage, would ya? I'd do it myself, but you know how it is… places to go, things to do, races to dominate…" He groaned, revving up his engine and strapping on his cruising goggles. "A King's work is never done! Tata, Bill."
The servant could only stand there mouth agape as his boss hit the gas, roaring out of his throne and down the nearby exit tunnel. With a defeated sigh, Bill climbed into his—well, King Candy's now—car, and started it up. He was nothing if not loyal.
Moments later, the car was parked away safely, to be used at the King's discretion. Bill allowed himself one last lok at his creation. It sat there amongst Candy's legions of other karts, likely to never be noticed amongst the field of other promising rides. Feeling nothing but empty, Bill left the garage behind.
He found himself wandering the halls for a bit, without purpose or direction. Passing by an open balcony, Bill stepped out onto it, looking over the land.
Racetracks spread as far as the eye could see. From the nearby Rocky Road Mountains to the faraway Fanta Sea, the game was filled with courses that Bill knew he'd never get the chance to cruise across. He leaned against the railing, simply taking in the view and—wait, what was that?
Far below the balcony, Bill spotted a familiar green get-up. The glitch was at it again, scavenging for things to do who-knew-what with. Bill watched her pry some licorice off a nearby tree, pulling at it to test its flexibility before using it to tie her filthy hair into a ponytail.
He considered heading off to report her to Wynchel and Duncan again, but thought better of it—she always escaped quickly with that sporadic, teleporting glitch of hers, and it's not like she was near the racetrack, one of the few places she was explicitly forbidden to visit.
Something felt off, though. Bill curiously watched her wander around, picking up scraps and occasionally glitching. With her hair up like that, Bill felt like he'd seen someone wear their hair like that before. He couldn't remember who for the life of him, though.
Soon, the girl wandered off, shimmering blue as she went. Bill remained, though, trying desperately to figure out why she looked so familiar. There was something off about that glitchy girl… more than the blatantly obvious, that is. And maybe someday, he'd find out what it was.