Disclaimer: Wreck-It Ralph is the property of the Walt Disney Company.
The kart's wheels screeched as Taffyta drifted around the final turn in the Rainbow Ice Caves, giving her a boost of speed that sent her zooming past Crumbelina. She narrowed her eyes against the icy air and focused on Gloyd's taillights in front of her, shifting and accelerating and seeing the race's board in her mind. Fourth place. She passed Gloyd where the stalactite split the road without even looking at him. Third. Adorabeezle, in second, was close, and there, in first place but catchable, was Vanellope.
Taffyta grit her teeth and jammed the pedal to the floor, taking the curves too fast and whizzing by Adorabeezle. Second place. Not good enough. She had to get first, she just had to, she hadn't won a race for two weeks; this was the first time she'd been chosen by the game's randomizing roster to play in four days.
Pink Lightning's engine whined but Taffyta didn't let up. The gamers chose Vanellope more than any other avatar, practically every race, and Taffyta's popularity had fallen off a precipice steeper than the cliffs in the Frosty Mountains. Vanellope deserved the attention. She was a new racer as far as the gamers were concerned, she was the president, and she had a special ability.
Her sugar-frosted glitching.
Only fair. The thing that had gotten her tormented for fifteen years was now her advantage. Taffyta didn't begrudge her the popularity, or the winning, not really. Not all the time. But it didn't change the fact that this was the last game of the night, and she had to win.
She pulled level with Vanellope, who shot her a grin. Normally Taffyta would have returned it, probably with some light-hearted banter, but all of her attention was focused on the approaching finish line and making sure she crossed it first. The nose of her kart inched past Vanellope's, further and further—she was actually pulling ahead, she was in the lead! Only one thing could take her victory from her now—
There was a flash of blue, and Vanellope glitched across the finish line. In first place.
Taffyta had lost again.
She slammed on her brakes and squeezed her eyes shut, trying not to burst into tears. After all, she had to go stand up on the podium and act pleased about being second-best, and she didn't want her mascara running down her cheeks.
Adorabeezle punched her on the shoulder as she walked by on her way to the podium, saying, "Hey, nice comeback, Taff! Thought you were done for when you got stuck in that Sticky Slick back on Layer Cake Hill."
"Mmph," Taffyta said indistinctly. Adorabeezle would be happy with third, she hadn't placed all day.
At the podium, Vanellope accepted her trophy, sprinkle confetti flew, victory music played, and then the arcade was closing. With a frustrated sigh, Taffyta hopped down and dragged herself back over to her kart. In a few minutes, the next day's roster would go up on the board.
There had been a lot of changes since the game had reset and Vanellope had been revealed as Sugar Rush's true leader. Big changes, small changes, changes of all sizes in between. The biggest of them all, though, was the abolishment of the Random Roster Race. Its place had been taken by some kind of randomizer—Vanellope had tried to explain it when she'd presented the idea to them. Something about both possibilities being provided for in the code, and it only being a matter of flipping a switch. That was how Vanellope made it sound, though Taffyta doubted she understood it any better than the rest of them. Everyone had liked the idea, Vanellope had insisted on a vote, and boom! Faster than getting hit with a Sweet Seeker, every day's roster was randomly chosen by an impartial process somewhere deep within the code.
"Taffyta! Hey, Taffyta!"
She stopped in front of her kart and turned around. Vanellope was hurrying up to her. "Nice race! I can't believe you caught up with me, that was some pretty good driving, Ace!"
Half-heartedly, Taffyta returned the smile. "Not good enough, though. Congratulations on winning again, Pres."
"Thanks! And hey, you'll beat me next time." The president waved to Candlehead, Jubileena, and Citrusella, then turned back to Taffyta. "A bunch of us are gonna go to Licorice Meadow after the roster comes up, wanna come?"
Sticking a lollipop in her mouth, Taffyta hedged, "Maybe." That depended on whether or not she was on the next day's roster.
"Aw, c'mon, buddy!" Vanellope said, glitching over to Taffyta's side. In a wheedling tone, she added, "Citrusella's bringing some brambleberry soda…"
That gave Taffyta pause. Citrusella's brambleberry soda was really good. There were springs of the stuff just bubbling up behind her house in the Jelly Fruit Orchard. But before she could answer, there was a fanfare of midi trumpets The jumbotron lit up, and one by one, the nine randomly chosen racers went up on the board. Taffyta's eyes scanned the list and her heart contracted like a fist. Vanellope, Jubileena, Swizzle, Nougetsia, Snowanna, Sticky, Adorabeezle, Gloyd, and Minty. For the fifth time in a week, Taffyta wasn't on tomorrow's roster.
Her eyes filled with tears and she turned away from Vanellope, but not before catching the knowing—and pitying—look on the president's face. "I think I'm just gonna go t-take a drive," Taffyta said, trying to keep her voice from quavering.
"Okay…" Vanellope said, disappointment audible in her tone.
Taffyta jumped into her kart, but before she could start it, Rancis said, loudly enough for most of the racers to hear, "Don't be such a crybaby, Taffyta! I'm not up there either, see?"
She punched the starter on her kart and zoomed straight towards him, swerving within inches of his precious new kart that Vanellope had helped him make. "Hey!" Rancis yelped, but Taffyta didn't turn around. She hardly knew where she was going, all she knew was that she had to get out of there. They all felt bad for her, and she didn't want their stupid pity, she wanted to race.
And Vanellope's pity was the worst of all. Every single time Vanellope had tried to cajole her into hanging out this week, Taffyta had just known it was because of the roster. As Taffyta hit the boost pad in Gumball Gorge and soared onto the next part of the Royal Raceway, all she could think was that the president was just rubbing in Taffyta's face how nice and forgiving she was. Who did that? Who looked at the ringleader of the people who'd bullied you for fifteen years and acted like you were best friends?
The G-forces on Layer Cake Hill's curves pressed her into her seat and she upshifted in the cookie straw at the top, then cut her engine entirely as she shot out towards the taffy ramp that led up into the Frosty Mountains. All she could hear was wind whistling in her ears, and she savored that sound for as long as possible. Then, at the last second, she started the engine again and revved it, shifting as her tires hit the road.
Snow began blowing across her face as she traveled into the mountains, and she pulled her visor over her eyes and scrunched down in her seat. During a race she didn't get cold up here, but this wasn't a race. This was her feeling miserable and going to the loneliest place in the game to wallow in that misery.
The air grew colder and the road icier. Taffyta could feel her wheels slipping and adjusted her driving. Her kart handled well in slippery conditions but she didn't feel like wiping out right now. With her luck, someone else would be up here and they'd see her do it and they'd probably tell her she shouldn't be on the roster anyway if she couldn't even drive when she was all alone and not even racing—
She careened around a sharp curve and the triple peaks of the Frosty Mountains came into view. Snow fell more heavily and wind gusted, and Taffyta flexed her fingers, stiff from cold, on the wheel. Then she slammed on her brakes. Her kart turned ninety degrees until she was skidding down the road sideways, but she was on a straightaway and kept Pink Lightning in the center of the snow-covered track.
When she stopped sliding, she turned off the kart and just sat there in the blowing snow, listening to the wind howl across the road. From this spot on the Royal Raceway, she couldn't see the stadium or the town square or the castle. All she could see were mountains and snow and off to one side, the turquoise sea far below.
Taffyta took her finished lollipop out of her mouth and flicked the stick away. Right in front of her was a barricade that said 'Danger: Road Closed'. Unwrapping another lollipop, she narrowed her eyes at the closed shortcut, by far the most dangerous one in the game. She'd only known one person who could successfully navigate it without dropping off into the never-ending chasm of the Rainbow Ice Caves. Just days prior to—to the game's reset, he'd insisted to her that she should try it. Taffyta had laughed and said she hated falling off the track, it made her sick to her stomach. Only thing on the race course that did.
King Candy had patted her shoulder and said, with that irrepressible laugh of his, "But you won't fall!"
She stared at the barricade, no longer really seeing it, and sniffled. He'd been so nice to her. He'd made her want to do anything for him. And she had, hadn't she? Taffyta had been completely awful to Vanellope, her princess, for fifteen long years. All for a liar, for an evil man who didn't care about anyone except himself.
A tear rolled down her face, hot against her cold skin. Rancis was right. She was a crybaby.
With a sigh, she re-started her engine. The only thing that could make her feel worse right now was thinking about him. King Candy, or—or whatever his real name had been. Despite her best efforts, another memory snuck into her head.
She was in the castle library, pulling books on kart maintenance off the shelves while King Candy sat at a table, his reading glasses perched on his nose. For the first time since the game had been plugged in, Sugar Rush's night was actually dark. Out-of-order signs covered both of the console's screens.
It was all Vanellope von Glitch's fault, of course, She'd run out onto the track in the middle of a race, glitching like always, and the gamers—admittedly a pretty inexperienced bunch, one of them kept choosing Taffyta and she'd been in eighth or ninth place every game they'd played—they'd run to Litwak immediately. The other racers had continued driving, but Taffyta, as one of the gamers' avatars, had rolled to a stop and used her side mirror to watch Litwak's face as he studied the glitch and her intrusion.
Then the unthinkable happened. The signs were slapped down over the screens with two hollow clunks.
Everyone was scared. Well, that was an understatement. Everyone was terrified. Taffyta had gone to the castle because she couldn't sleep, and she wasn't surprised that King Candy was still awake, either.
"I sthwear," King Candy muttered as he sat at the table, drumming his fingers, "that glitch is almostht enough to…to…to make me go Turbo!" He giggled at the phrase, though Taffyta didn't understand why it was funny, or what it meant. "I never should have let her out of the fungeon lastht time."
Sitting down across from him with a stack of books, she asked, "What's going Turbo?"
King Candy took his glasses off and steepled his fingers on the table. "Oh. You've never heard that?" He chuckled. "Justht sthomething they sthay in the arcade. You need to get out more, Missth Muttonfudge."
"I like it here," she said with a shrug. She'd been to Tapper's and Burgertime. They weren't that great.
Putting a hand over his heart, he said, "You have no idea how happy it makesth me to hear that."
She smiled at him, though she could tell he was sort of joking. Sort-of-but-not-really. "So what does it mean? Going Turbo?"
There was a funny look in his eyes for a second. "It'sth when you abandon your game."
Taffyta sat up straight, horrified by the thought. "Who would—you wouldn't actually do that, would you? Not over the glitch? I mean, she's in the fungeon, she can't cause any more trouble—"
King Candy held out his hands, palms facing her and fingers splayed. "Taffyta! Don't worry." He smiled at her. "If there'sth one persthon who'd never go Turbo, you're looking at him."
The memory faded, and Taffyta shivered from the cold. This was getting her nowhere. Sometimes she wished her memories could be locked up all over again.
With a sigh, she put her foot to the pedal and continued down the track. Maybe the randomizer would choose her tomorrow. If she could only race…that would go a long way towards helping her forget everything that was wrong—and the fact that everything was supposed to be right.
Author's note: Vanellope helping Rancis make a kart is a reference to the Wreck-It Ralph tie-in book, One Sweet Race.