The fungeon corridor was long, dark, and really not very fun at all.
Taffyta stood at one end of it—the well-lit end, where the stairs were right behind her and she could turn around and run back up them if she wanted to. Vanellope and Felix had both been kept down here. Vanellope more than once. The thought made her sick. And the fact that the man who'd imprisoned her friends was now locked up himself didn't make her feel any better.
Smoothing her dress over her legs, she marched down the hallway, ignoring the creepy painted animals on the walls and the exhortations to enjoy one's stay. The doors she walked by were open, and at least the cells had windows, so they weren't so dark.
At the end of the hall was the one closed door in the fungeon. Taffyta stared at it and reached into her jacket pocket, finding an uneaten lollipop. She stuck the lollipop in her mouth, then set her shoulders and approached the door. When she peered through the barred window, her eyes fell on Turbo, who was lying on a strawberry wafer bed. The racer was staring at the ceiling, his hands folded across his stomach and his knees drawn up. His handcuffs had been removed. He didn't seem to know she was there.
Taffyta wrapped her fingers around the bars and didn't bother to wait for him to notice her before she spoke. "You've always been able to regenerate in Sugar Rush," she said. "Haven't you? You're good, but you're not that good. You've been regenerating all these years." Turbo looked at her from the bed. If he was surprised to see her, or by what she was saying, he didn't show it. Emboldened by his lack of reaction, Taffyta pressed on, "You're part of this game, aren't you? You actually managed to code yourself into this game."
Of course, she'd taken his ability to regenerate for granted before Sugar Rush's reset—but since then, she'd grown so used to thinking of him as a foreign thing, a virus, that the idea now seemed incredible.
Turbo kept staring at her, dissolved into red binary, then solidified again. "Nice of you to take an interest in me," he said.
"How did you do it?" she asked, clutching at the bars.
He sat up, swinging his legs to the floor. "Gonna go tell the glitch all about it, huh?"
"Vanellope," Taffyta said. "Anyway, you're a glitch now, so I wouldn't go around calling people names."
Crossing his arms over his chest, he said, "I'm not a glitch. I just have a minor identity crisis." As if to punctuate the point, he glitched to King Candy. "There'sth a differencthe." Uncrossing his arms, he rested his wrists on his legs and laced his fingers loosely together. "In casthe you're wondering, yesth, I'm sthaying I can leave thisth game whenever I want."
"I wasn't wondering."
"Of coursthe you were."
So maybe the thought had popped into her head. She didn't believe him, anyway. He was a liar. "Well, it doesn't really matter, because you're stuck down here." Unless, she thought, he managed to escape, which from the sounds of things, he'd tried to do more than once. Shaking herself, she asked, "Anyway, how do you know you can leave the game? Did you try?"
King Candy raised an eyebrow. "What wasth it that the glitch usthed to sthay? She could feel it in her code?"
"Her name is Vanellope," Taffyta snarled, ripping the lollipop out of her mouth and letting it fall to the floor.
He shrugged, unfazed by her aggression. Glitching back to Turbo, he said, "But yeah, you're right, by the way. Of course I've been regenerating. Have you ever been hit by one of those gumballs in the Gorge? Ouch." He rubbed at his neck with a wince, then looked at her, like he expected an answer.
Before the game's reset, she would have smirked and said 'no', and they would have bantered, because of course she had been, and yes they were friendly rivals but over the years things had been much more on the friendly end of that, and…why, why couldn't it have been real?
But when she didn't answer, Turbo shrugged and said, "As for how I did it—hey, I'm just that good. I should've won a trophy for the coding I did on myself in Sugar Rush. I mean, I impress myself all the time, but this is some really impressive stuff. Do you have any idea how hard it was not to tell anyone what a turbo-tastic job I did for fifteen years?"
She rolled her eyes. Back when she'd thought he was just King Candy, his confidence had been endearing. And well deserved. Now it was just off-putting arrogance. "Bad guys don't win trophies," she said. "Especially not for being jerks. And stealing games from people."
"I'm a good guy," he said.
Taffyta stared at him. "Do you actually believe that?"
Turbo smiled slightly. "Hey, no one ever said good guys have to be good guys all the time."
Glaring, wondering what she'd really expected, she said, "Well guess what, I am gonna tell President von Schweetz that you're part of the game." She took a step back from the door. "And maybe she'll try to delete your code. How would you like that?"
He glitched to King Candy, flicked his wrist, and grinned. "Oh, I sthimply love irony, hoo-hoo."
Her eyes filled with tears and she didn't even know why, except that he was too much for her. Whirling, she began to stomp away, when there was a jingle from the cell, a glitching sound, and then Turbo's voice. "Wait—Taffyta. Hold on a second." Her stride faltered but then she forced herself to keep going, until he said, "Please?"
Then she stopped and turned around. Turbo was at the door, holding something out between the bars. "You can give this to Felix, if you want," he said. 'This' was the terminal, but when she didn't move forward to take it, he said, "It's the last changes to your code. The virus should be taken care of after this. Then you don't have to deal with me anymore." She still didn't move, and he kept talking. He always had liked the sound of his own voice. "After I upset you yesterday, the glitch thought it'd be better if I finished this up in solitary."
She marched forward and snatched the terminal from him. "You better not be expecting me to say that you didn't upset me."
He took a step back and raised his hands. "Nope. Anyway, I don't have to fish for compliments." Plopping back down on the bed, he added thoughtfully, "Maybe I'd better get in the habit…"
For a second, she stared at him, and then she turned, without saying another word, and fled the fungeon.
Taffyta trudged up the long spiral staircase to the castle's main floor, holding the terminal tightly and wondering where she'd find Vanellope or Felix. Maybe she'd be able to go home tonight. If she wasn't sick anymore—if Turbo was telling the truth—then yeah, after Felix did…whatever he had to do in the code vault, there was no reason she had to stay here. Yeah. Definitely.
Feeling better, she turned towards the throne room, her steps much lighter. Then she heard voices coming from the other side of the door and froze. Should she go in, anyway? Or was this, like, a private conversation that she wasn't supposed to hear?
She hesitated, then continued towards the doors. Even before she was close enough to make out the conversation, she could tell that Vanellope, Ralph, Felix, and Sergeant Calhoun were in there. And that, she was positive, meant that they were having a discussion that she wasn't invited to. But the throne room doors were cracked open, and Taffyta tiptoed up to them and stood still to listen.
"—eventually gonna find a way out of there, kid," Ralph was saying. "If there's one thing we know he's good at, it's surviving."
"Wreck-It's right," Calhoun said. "You need a solution, President."
"What's wrong with the solution I have?" Vanellope asked.
Calhoun's body armor creaked. "It's not long-term."
"How about I put his name on the door of his cell? Then it'd be like, his forever. Pretty long term, don't you think?"
"I'll rephrase that. You need a permanent solution. You're just taking risks keeping him around."
"If he wasn't here, there wouldn't have been anyone to help Taffyta."
There was a silence. Taffyta couldn't help feeling that Calhoun maybe felt she would have been an acceptable loss.
Calhoun spoke again. "All right. But once he deletes the virus out of Muttonfudge's code, we don't need to keep him here. He's a liability, Vanellope."
There was a silence, and then Vanellope said, "Wait, are you saying…?"
Felix spoke up then. "I don't like that idea."
"There aren't actually any ideas on the table," Calhoun pointed out. "But if there were—"
"Hey, if you're suggesting what I think you're suggesting, there's one pretty major problem," Ralph said. "We don't even know why he didn't bite the dust in this game."
"Hey!" Vanellope said. "I don't wanna kill him, okay? I—"
Taffyta couldn't help it. She gasped. Loudly.
"Freeze, civilians!" Calhoun barked. There was the sound of her drawing her gun and then rapid footsteps. Taffyta had time to realize they were headed in her direction about a second before the doors were thrown open and she found a rifle aimed directly at her face.
With a scream, she threw herself to the floor, covering her head with her hands. "I'm sorry, I-didn't-mean-to-listen-I-was-just-walking-by-and- I'm-sorry-please-don't-shoot-me!" she wailed in one breath.
Calhoun holstered her weapon, and when Taffyta peeked out from between her fingers, she found that there was a hand being offered to her. "Well, glad to see you up and about."
Taking Calhoun's hand and scrambling to her feet, Taffyta thrust the terminal towards the woman. "Here. Um—this is for Felix. Turbo…I mean…it's, um, well he told me—in the fungeon, that is, he's still in the fungeon, hasn't escaped or anything, nope—"
There was a glitching sound, and then Vanellope appeared at Calhoun's side. "Oh, hey Taffyta! Turbo wasn't too mean to you down there, was he?"
Taffyta opened her mouth, ready to say that Turbo clearly had a personality disorder that made him incapable of being really nice to anyone, but then she remembered that she'd just heard a discussion about killing him. And that was something that she didn't want to happen. "No, he was…he was okay. I mean, I don't think he likes the fungeon very much…"
"Yeah, he lets us know every chance he gets," Ralph said.
Felix joined them and, taking the terminal from Calhoun, said, "San-fantastic! I'll hop into the code vault right away! Tammy, do you mind helping me with the tether?"
The two of them hurried off and Taffyta leaned to one side to watch them go behind the throne and underneath the curtain there. That was the code vault? Right back there? She had seen King Candy come out from back there and thought nothing of it. Though he hadn't seemed all that pleased to see her on that occasion, now that she was remembering… Huh. As though she'd ever have suspected anything.
"So," Ralph said, making her jump. "What were you doing in the fungeon?"
The look he was giving her was distinctly devoid of trust. She shrank back in nervousness, then straightened up. She hadn't been doing anything wrong, and she wasn't going to act like she had been. "I went down there to ask Turbo why he's still alive."
Ralph folded his arms over his chest. "Oh, you figured since you're such a little charming princess, he'd tell you when he didn't tell the rest of us, huh?"
She planted her hands on her hips. That wasn't fair! She got that Ralph didn't like her because of the way she'd treated Vanellope, and maybe she deserved it. But things were different now. She was loyal to Vanellope—they were friends. Maybe even good friends.
Though she did think she was pretty charming. "I guess I had one advantage over you," she said, "which is that I've actually raced with him. And hit him with Sweet Seekers and seen him get blown off the track or crushed by gigantic gumballs." She twirled to face Vanellope. "He's in the code, Vanellope. This is his game. He can regenerate here."
Vanellope didn't say anything, but blue binary rippled across her. Ralph stomped back into Taffyta's field of vision. "Did he tell you that?" the wrecker demanded.
"I asked him," Taffyta replied coolly, "and he told me. Yeah."
That made Vanellope exchange a significant glance with Ralph, and Taffyta asked, "What? What was that?"
"Oh, nothing," Vanellope said, in a way that made it really obvious that it was the opposite of nothing.
"Kid," Ralph said. "Just because he told her something that he wouldn't tell the rest of us…"
Taffyta crossed her arms over her chest and looked between the two of them. "What's going on here?" Suddenly, a weird, tingly feeling jolted through her, and she gasped and put a hand over her heart. When she noticed Ralph and Vanellope staring at her, she looked down at herself.
She was flickering blue, zeroes and ones rolling in waves across her body. She was glitching. "What—?"
Then, as abruptly as the glitching had begun, it stopped. "Whoa," Vanellope said. "I like that look on you, Taffyta."
"Sorry about that!" came Felix's voice faintly from the direction of the code vault
Taffyta glanced in that direction and then back to Vanellope, shuddering. "I don't." The feeling had been creepy, just as bad as the one time she'd glitched through contact with Vanellope. Definitely nothing she wanted to experience ever again. "I'm glad everything's going to be fixed after today." She made a face, then returned to the question at hand, which if Vanellope thought she'd forgotten, she was about to get a lesson in the Taffyta Muttonfudge School of Getting to the Bottom of Things. "You two," she said, pointing at Ralph and Vanellope, "are acting like I'm part of some kind of…of scheme."
Ralph crossed his arms over his chest and gave Vanellope a look that said, clearly, 'I told you so'. Vanellope cleared her throat and replied, "It's not a scheme. I just…might've let you be under the impression that Turbo had to be in the same room with you to work on your code."
"Yeah, I was kinda hoping he'd chill out a little. 'Cause I mean, when he heard you were sick, that was the first time I saw him get worked up over anything except himself."
"How did he even hear I was sick? You said you were keeping him in the fungeon alone!"
Vanellope rolled her eyes. "Wynchel and Duncan let it slip while they were down there. And then he wouldn't leave Sour Bill alone—I mean like, seriously, he didn't have to throw his entire plate of food at the little guy, you know? So finally I went down there to talk to him, and you weren't getting any better so that was when I decided to let him work on the code. And then, since he was acting like a human being for once when it came to you…"
"This one had the brilliant idea to let him out of the fungeon and into your room," Ralph supplied. "Unsupervised."
"Yeah, and I was right, he's buttloads nicer to her than he is to anyone else!" Vanellope said. "Bet he hasn't called her a mean name once."
"Wait a second!" Taffyta said, louder than she'd meant to. At least it got their attention. "So I'm some kind of, like, Turbo rehabilitation program?" She supposed she could have felt used about that, but it was so baffling—why would Vanellope want to do anything but keep him locked up forever? Especially when her friends wanted to kill him?
"Rehabilitation's an awfully strong word," Ralph snorted. "I keep saying, kid, he's never gonna be anything more than a menace, and he hates everyone—including you. Especially you."
"He doesn't hate Taffyta," Vanellope said stubbornly. "Anyway, something Felix said made me think." When Taffyta looked at her questioningly, she went on, "He told me that before Turbo took over RoadBlasters, well, he wasn't like the greatest guy to hang out with, because he's always been so full of himself, but he wasn't the worst guy, either."
"Wow," Taffyta deadpanned. "Those are some really compelling words."
"I just thought…if that guy's still in there somewhere, then it's worth giving him a chance to not be a psycho, game-stealing jerk."
Ralph shook his head. "Look, I'm all for giving people second chances." He hesitated, glanced at Taffyta, and sighed. "Even if I don't do the greatest job of showing it all the time." That made Taffyta look at him in surprise, and he offered her a small, sheepish smile, which she returned. "But I really think Turbo's gonna spend the rest of his life trying to take this game back. And if he can't get this one, he's just gonna game jump, and he might be smart enough about it that he's not easy to catch. What if he doesn't create a new character? What if he just overwrites an existing character?" He crossed his arms over his chest. "Those guys over in Finish Line are already pretty freaked out, and for all the rest of the arcade knows, Turbo's dead."
"I'm not going to kill him," Vanellope said steadily. Then, with a smirk she added, "Anyway, Sugar Rush doesn't have the death penalty."
With a glance towards Taffyta, Ralph said, "You don't need it to. Like pretty-in-pink said, this is his game. That means we have to bring him outside to do him in."
"Ralph!" Vanellope yelled. "C'mon, I don't wanna be like him!"
Sighing and rubbing a hand over his face, he said, "I know, kid. I know. I don't want to either. I just…none of us knows what to do. We don't want to see you get hurt again."
Vanellope looked like she couldn't decide whether to be touched or annoyed. Looking up at Ralph, the president said, "Yeah, yeah, I know you guys are just looking out for me. For the whole arcade, actually." She stopped and added musingly, "Pretty cool, actually…you and Felix and the Sarge are like the guardians of the arcade! But." She took a breath. "Maybe if things hadn't gone down the way they did here after Turbo threw himself into broiling diet cola, I'd feel a little different. But people can change." She looked over at Taffyta but didn't say anything.
She didn't need to. Her point was clear. Taffyta just wondered if Vanellope was right. Sure, she was trying not to be mean like she'd been while Turbo had been in power. But her dream was in the back of her mind.
Ralph looked like he wanted to continue the discussion, but at that moment, Calhoun brushed the curtain behind the throne aside, and her and Felix reappeared. Neither of them had the terminal—they must have left it in the code vault.
"All fixed, kiddo!" Felix said.
"Really?" She didn't feel any different. Well, she felt like herself, but besides the glitch, there was no sign Felix had done anything. "Wow, thank you!" On impulse, she hugged Felix briefly, though she was way too intimidated by Calhoun to do the same for her, and Ralph…well, she wasn't sure they were good yet. They were on their way but it might still be a little while.
Felix blushed a little. "Aw shucks, it was nothing. I didn't even really do any real work."
Putting a hand on his shoulder and squeezing it, Calhoun said, "He's being modest, as usual."
That made Felix blush even harder, and he mumbled something that sounded like, "—givin' me the honeyglow, Tammy…"
Taffyta had no doubt that Felix had done plenty of work. But as she made arrangements to go home, bubbling with happiness, she couldn't help but think with a twinge of guilt that there was one person she hadn't thanked. And considering she never wanted to go back to the fungeon ever again, that made him one person she'd never thank.
She shook herself and told herself not to feel bad. After all, he didn't, not about anything.
Author's note: I know that we technically only see the clown faces and whatnot in Vanellope's fungeon cell, but I really like to imagine that King Candy wouldn't have stopped there with his decorating scheme.