Chapter 2: Glitch in the Matrix

Whoever was the runt who said that pain was a stimulus which those fancy doctors used to signify if a person was conscious based on their responsiveness was a big, fat liar… the biggest liar ever, because what they said simply couldn't be true!

Why, one might ask? Because I'm living proof of the contrary… or to be more exact, maybe dead proof to the contrary… or-ah, whatever! The end meaning is the exact same!

As I was saying, the reason I am calling shenanigans on that statement was because I very highly doubt that I was actually alive right now… and yet, I could still feel searing pain coursing through my code.

C'mon, fellas… you can't have your cake and eat it too! It's nothing but simple binary — the state's either a 0 or a 1, no in-betweens (okay, so maybe I might have gone peekin' in Sugar Rush's code room back in the day to learn how these befuddling logic gate mechanics actually work).

The point is, it's either I'm alive or I'm dead! Take one or the other, but not both! Unless you're a big eater like Pac-Man. In which case, fine… take them both. Fatso.

Anyway, the blitzing pain that I was currently feeling in question was actually a mounting migraine that had surmounted in the very instant my eyes had opened. When my vision first cleared, all I was able to discern was a blinding white light which hurt both my eyes and my head.

Wa-was this where people went to when their code were deleted?

My mind didn't have enough time to answer my own question, as soon enough, I found myself being distracted. Slowly but surely, the dazzling whiteness was giving way to a blurry mish-mash of colors, making my eyes perceive a weird rainbow-like image rather similar to that of a kaleidoscope.

Then, abruptly, the pain just… stopped. The agony and discomfort ended up being compressed to a single point at the back of my head and simply vanished as I found my vision being restored to its full glory.

"Wh-wha…" A murmur of confusion left my mouth. "What happened…?"

Less than a second later, the confounded memory hit my mind with a resultant force similar to that of the energy required to maneuver and swerve out of an off-road section after missing a turn on the racetrack — in other words, the memory of the unfortunate mishap that had happened to me before I lost consciousness slammed into me pretty darn hard.

"Full virus scan now commencing. Eliminating all known threats…"

"Now commencing deletion of 1,000,001 infected items."

Gosh… that really did just happen to me, huh? A disparaging scowl was firmly on my face as I had to restrain myself from facepalming at my own stupidity when the antivirus software's announcement rocked throughout my head, perpetually playing itself over and over again like a race replay on repeat — just like all bad memories do.

The final moments before I was disintegrated to nothingness were fresh in my head, causing me to clench my fists as my palms turned clammy. I had to squint my eyes shut in a bid to eject the traumatic memory out of my head.

But the events that had went down truly was the most idiotic move on my part. It was the equivalent of gambling everything and the reward not paying off in the end.

Heeheheh, I still remember Rancis doing exactly just that — selling everything that he owned just to prove a point to Taffyta by purchasing a goofily large kart… before crashing said kart in a blaze of spectacular glory and ending up all but flat broke.

I had to admit that I laughed at the peanut butter-themed racer before feeling sorry for him and offering to fix him a new kart, just so that he wouldn't keep sobbing in that field of jelly beans he'd gotten himself stuck in.

But this was a whole different game compared to that. Honestly, how was I supposed to know that the antivirus software would get me as well via friendly fire? Like, they should've put a warning label that states, "If you have some security flaw within you, activating the scan is tantamount to committing virtual suicide! So basically, DON'T DO IT!"

I mean, the entire plan was arbitrary and flimsy to begin with, but it did work — I'll concede and give it that. Only problem was that in the end it'd never even crossed any of our minds that activating a software expertly designed to eliminate all security vulnerabilities would not work in tandem with someone like me — a kindred glitch in the source code of my home game.

"Sure you knew, Vanellope." The words left my mouth before I could stop them, my tone growing sarcastic as I get to my feet and swiftly proceed to insult myself using third-person banter, flinging my hands to my sides in anger.

"I mean, that was the whole reason why you activated the virus scan and sealed your own fate in the first place, guh-doy!" I yell with such amplitude that I could hear echoes from the distance. "Man, you're such a klutz! You should've known better…"

My words only trail off when I notice an eerie blue glow surrounding my hand.

What in the—

Okay, now that was admittedly kind of creepy.

Glancing at a nearby building that reflected my image through the mirror-like glass, I observe that my entire body was glowing blue. Involuntary shivering, I make a futile attempt to hide the fear and unease that rippled throughout my body, shaking me to my very code itself.

The only person I knew who glowed like that was Mr. Surge Protector, and he'd ever said once before on a rare day off at Tapper's that it was the electricity arcing through him that gave him that ominous blue tint.

So was I nothing but electricity now, sort of like a few scraps of code that managed to survive a hardcore deletion? My look of despair slowly turned to one of exhilarant laughter.

Sweet! Go, me! I always knew that I was awesome! Man, I had a feeling that I wasn't a quitter deep down inside. Of course good ol' me would find some way to survive! Now, all I had to do was to get back to my previous life! Slaughter Race awaits me!

I jump into the air and cheer, before my face scrunched up in confusion a few seconds later.

It didn't take long for me to realize I was still holding my fist-pump pose ten seconds into the jump. I wasn't actually falling back down to the ground… it was as though gravity had no effect on me whatsoever.

Forget about creepy… this is mortifying!

Just where am I, anyway? The antivirus district, and Ralph for that matter, were all nowhere to be seen. Looking at my surroundings, I eventually came to the conclusion that I was back at the main hub area where I had started my journey.

"This is the most beautiful miracle I've ever seen, Ralph! It's incredible…"

A wistful sigh left me as I recount the words I'd told Ralph when we first laid eyes on the silicon valley that stretched to the horizon and beyond. Even now, those words, and my opinion, held true. This place truly was marvelous, an experience that was indescribable unless one has personally gone through it themselves.

Taking in a deep breath, I brush my candy-coated bangs aside. Man, this weird eerie blue glow really messes with my color scheme. The neon blue clashes against my favorite mint-green sweater, and the two primary colors end up being juxtaposed against one another… it isn't really pleasant to the eye, I'll sorely admit.

I slowly let myself rise, tentatively waving my arms and flailing them about in an attempt to control myself. Eventually, I had enough of the stupid floating and glitched back down to solid ground.

Geez, flying was harder than it looked!

That being said… I did have to admit that it was somewhat cool to break the third dimension like that. Woo!

Taking in a deep breath, I slowly let myself hover into the air again. After a brief bout of panic where I kicked my feet repeatedly on instinct, I got a grip of myself, slowly taking in deep breaths and calming my nerves down.

This time, I let out a whoop of joy and enjoy the experience, for what it's worth.

The entire world lay before me, with no place I that I was unable to get to — all of it was within the reach of my greedy little fingertips. It was a magical experience, one that almost makes me wish that my kart was programmed to fly…

Still, I was so elated that I lower my altitude and swoop down to lower ground, glitching to the glass-covered hub and waved enthusiastically to the nearest blocky internet avatar I could see.

"Wa-hay!" I cheer next to him, jumping up and down. "Not only am I alive, now I can fly! Isn't that the greatest?"

To my surprise, the 8-bit brown-haired person merely looked around to his left and right in response, confusion etched into his facial features. However, he mused out loud a few seconds later, his words freezing me up to my very code.

"Am I hearing things? How come my browser just played some weird audio on my tab without anything showing up?"

…he couldn't see me?

A few despondent hours later, I realize that nobody can.

I tried everything, basically being as incessantly annoying as I could, but they would chalk it up to some weird error in their browser and promptly ignore me thereafter.

The weird part was that while they could hear my voice loud and clear, there was nary a soul who could actually perceive my image, and weirdly enough I couldn't touch them either… I would just fall through them. It really began to irk me after the 50th straight time.

Grouchily, I fold my arms and blew a raspberry at the next person that ignored my frenzied pleas to be noticed. The ability to fly in exchange of being unable to interact with anyone was a lousy trade, I'll say.

After flailing my arms about to attract attention in a manner worse than some pop-ups, I finally gave up and slump to the reflective ground when the hundredth person that I approached coldly dismissed my desperate begs to notice me as "hearing things in her own imagination".

The feeling of being alone was soul-crushing. It seized me like a ragdoll and never let go, its crushing embrace leaving a void in the area where my heart was. I'd almost forgotten what it was like to be by oneself, with no one by my side.

To be all alone…

I could feel my chest seizing up at the realization. I've had to suffer through fifteen hard years of being lonely as a glitch… and I never wanted to go through that horrible ordeal again.

Ever.

So why couldn't I interact with anyone? Why can they only hear my voice but not actually see me? Why couldn't they discern that someone from a candy-themed game released twenty-one years ago was tearfully pleading for anyone to acknowledge her… why!?

Funnily enough, I got the answer to my own riddle soon enough.

And ironically, it was all thanks to Knowsmore, that bespectacled purple goofball dressed with the fancy scholar's hat. I ended up learning about it from him, hovering unseen around his search bar until one of his patrons searched something of interest to me.

"internet secu—"

"…Internet Security Measures?" Knowsmore butted in, auto-completing the person's search query through his trial-and-tested autofill guesswork.

"Ah yes, that's it!" The blocky middle-aged avatar interjected. "'internet security measures', that's the search I want!"

Knowsmore jolted, spazzing out as he always did whenever a search was run. "Ah, the joys of trending searches. That's the 100,000th unique search for that exact term today. Can't say I'm too surprised, given the aftermath of this whole virus fiasco," he mumbled softly, before clearing his throat and giving the avatar his response.

"Ahem! I have found 201,281,102 unique URL results for 'internet security measures'," Knowsmore informed the internet avatar as I perk my transparent head in interest. "May I perhaps recommend the 'Basic Internet Security for Dummies' webpage for you, sir?"

"Oh, yes!" He quickly reached for the preview icon that Knowsmore held out. "Take me there, asap!"

I have to admit… this was the first time throughout the whole ordeal that I'd found myself getting irritated with jolly ol' Mr. Knowsmore. I mean, he's just doing his job of being a living encyclopedia of bookmarks, sure, but when the information he gives you just depresses you… yeah, I dunno.

Following along the guy who had looked up the query was how I learnt about a funny little quirk regarding antivirus software — it turned out that when files are deleted, not all traces of them are gone.

And the exact reason as to why made so much sense in retrospect, too.

"Note: the viruses detected in this preliminary scan is currently not in our virus database bank and is likely to be a new zero-day security vulnerability. Source code for the new viruses has thus been identified and logged into our Not-ron™ Internet Security Suite backend server."

Hovering unseen around the information site, I read (bleh, how boring) that antivirus programs stored a backup of the viruses that they detect in their offline "cloud servers", which stands for some thingamajig that was too complex for my simple mind to comprehend.

The long story short was that there was a backup for what they deleted. Now as to how I actually got free of that server locale, I don't know… but hey, I can't really complain!

I suppose that was why I felt as though something was missing from me. Maybe the backup I escaped from was an incomplete copy of my code. When I glitched, I could see that I my code was more garbled than usual.

But hey, a reprieve was a reprieve. Can't really complain.

And just when I was finally getting my hopes up, that website proceeded to cruelly inform me of an obstacle to my newfound freedom.

It turned out that all around the internet, there were these "fire-wall" thingies block unwanted packets of data—or something like that, I dunno—from reaching their destinations. So that makes them like Surge Protector back at Game Central Station… except y'know, worse? Like, twenty-kajillion times worse?

Which is sort of a bummer, because that implicitly means that I'm doomed to be trapped in the internet forever… stuck floating about in this silicon limbo for eternity. Can't say that future sounds pleasant.

I mean, I can't just head back to Litwak's Arcade in my current state! After seeing how Turbo went out in a blaze of glory, I have absolutely no intention of risking what remains of my scraps of code by braving what sounds like a wall of literal searing fire. I may be reckless on the track, but I still have some standards, okay!?

I jolt up in realization, looking forlornly out to the sea of blue silicon that was outside the "For Dummies" webpage, stretched out as far as my hazel eyes could see.

Turbo…?

That racer was famous for one thing, and one thing only — ruthlessly jumping to another arcade game and soundly sabotaging it. The most famous act was Roadblasters… but less known and kept as a secret for years on end was that he'd also sabotaged my humble abode, Sugar Rush, under the guise of King Candy.

Regardless, the act of going against the program by selfishly game-jumping and sabotaging others for one's own desire was such an infamous act that it'd earned its own name around Litwak's Arcade — going Turbo.

My brows furrowed in annoyance. If anyone could actually see me, they would notice the clear displeasure in my eyes.

…going Turbo?

Wasn't that what I basically did to Sugar Rush by jumping ship to Slaughter Race? The same thing that he did when he jumped ship and took over my game without a hint of remorse?

Clenching my glitchy, pixelated arms, I firmly shake my head in denial.

No! I didn't go Turbo… I didn't! I refuse to be associated with the cruel monster who'd ruined my game and my life for fifteen long years!

Because seriously, game-jumping wasn't the same thing as going Turbo. If jumping between games actually counted as a crime, then everyone who went down to Tapper's after the arcade closed would already have an arrest warrant from the Surge Protector!

So what if I game-jumped to Slaughter Race? I never had any intention of taking over that game like a madman! And it's just like what I told Ralph — I'm not all that integral to Sugar Rush! The game could survive just fine without me once the Sugar Rush replacement steering wheel got delivered to Litwak and the cabinet ended up being fixed!

Besides, I'm merely one of fifteen selectable racers, and as far as I'm concerned, no kid ever noticed that I was missing from the roster selection for fifteen whole years when Turbo took over! So why would they notice if I disappeared again now?

Try as I might, I couldn't keep a scowl from forming as my lips curled upwards in frustration. Okay, maybe they might notice. I wince at the thought as I idly kick my minty-green striped feet about.

In the six years that I'd been added to the 'Chews Your Racer' daily roster since King Candy's—Turbo's—fall, it was a pretty safe bet to assume that I was by far the most popular Sugar Rush racer picked by the regulars at Litwak's Arcade. On a good day, I could be selected at least ten consecutive times in a row by ecstatic gamers waiting to play as me — and the best part was that I didn't have to be a princess for them to do it.

It wasn't my status or my appearance that won them over. It was my special glitching ability.

The players all unanimously loved it, claiming that it was an original concept and that this powerup made me "awesome" to play, and that no other Sugar Rush cabinet had this feature. Well, duh. Of course they wouldn't, guh-doy!

As a result of these combined criteria, the selection margin between me and Taffyta, for instance, was enormous. And that was saying something, because Taffyta was probably the second-most popular character who players picked as their avatar back in the day.

Dang… I really did take that for granted. I can't believe that it had almost slipped my mind that when King Candy was in charge of Sugar Rush, I never had the chance to even drive a kart, let alone sit behind the wheel at all. Pitifully ironic how a near-death experience could wake you up to things you never noticed before, except by that time it's usually too late to make amends.

What can I do?

Was it really Turbo to chase my dreams?

I grimace.

Was it really… ah, who am I kidding?

In the end, it didn't really matter whether I actually went Turbo or not. Not when the end result of this whole fiasco is me ending up as some sort of undead, discombobulated soul floating about in this place, constantly being ignored by everyone. One tends to care less about details when they were stuck in a situation like that.

Maybe this is all just karma hitting me in the face, like a bunch of Sweet Seekers — I'll never forget the time Gloyd messed with me by deliberately staying behind my kart and firing the sugar-seeking powerups one at a time so that all three of the weapons hit me consecutively after brief reprieves. It didn't even matter that he was losing rank in the race by staying still, just so long as he could drag me down with him because of his prank.

Man, did I let that prankster get his just desserts at the end of that race.

And if I were to go on and reminiscence more about karmic payback, how about that time when a novice player drove me straight into a rolling gumball, spinning my kart off track and knocking me right down to 9th place in Gumball Gorge near the very beginning of the race. Yeah, that one hurt my teeth… and my pride as well. With that player behind the wheel, I wasn't even able to catch up to the others, even with my glitch-teleportation powerup.

…yeah, this probably is karma.

Okay, I admit it. Maybe ol' Stinkbrain wasn't the only selfish one here. Perhaps… I was selfish for wanting to stick around in Slaughter Race instead of returning back to Sugar Rush as well.

Yeah… perhaps we both were selfish. And it cost us both, too.

It cost us everything.

Maybe I was a tad conceited after achieving my lifelong dream of being a real racer that I'd taken my fortunes for granted and let my mind greedily yearn for more. Bored by my mundane existence in Sugar Rush, I hungrily grasped ahold of Shank's offer to stay in Slaughter Race. I mean, how was I to know that my impulsive choice would lead to all of this?

But now, it was like fate just yanked the rug out from under my oblivious feet. Now that I was nothing more than a few garbled scraps of binary code barely clinging on to existence on the world wide web, I would never be able to sit behind the wheel and enjoy the thrill of racing again, in either Sugar Rush or Slaughter Race.

I scowl at the thought. Funny, I didn't know that the mods had a wicked sense of ironic humor.

Bitterly, I reflect upon the fact that in my present state, I was now nothing more than a glitch that shouldn't even exist… just like what I'd once been when King Candy dummied me out of the game's source code and took my position as ruler so that he could callously take charge of Sugar Rush.

As that foul king entered my thoughts, I couldn't keep myself from relapsing into dark memories locked deep within the innermost synapses of my code.

"My sweet subjects! Please, I beckon you… everyone, settle down! Let me explain things!"

A shiver rocked through me despite the warm weather, shuddering me to the point where I involuntarily glitched into lines of code as I recall the scumbag who had said those words.

"That Vanellope… is a glitch! A glitch who can tear this game apart! By royal decree, I order that none of you racers shall interact with 'dat wretched glitch! And most importantly, you must never allow her to race in the Random Roster Race! If she does, we'll all be doomed… done like dinner! Make sure 'dat rotten little glitch gets the fate 'dat she deserves — to be nothing but a piece of commented-out code dat's ignored by the program for the rest of her days!"

nothing but a piece of commented-out code dat's ignored by the program…

Wait a moment!

I croak out a horrified gasp in shock as the announcement from King Candy, one made a time long past, appeared at the forefront of my mind and rang throughout my head.

Ghosted, commented-out code. That had to be what I was right now.

I'd seen that sort of code once before in the Sugar Rush code room. On one fine morning where I found myself curious about my previous home, Diet Cola Mountain, I swam into the code room to sate my curiosity, only to find that the section of the code where the mountain was programmed in the system appeared went like this:

"/*
—TRACK 6: DIET COLA MOUNTAIN—
note as of compile pull dated 01031997: track cut from Sugar Rush release v1.0 due to time constraints.
All calls to Diet Cola Mountain have been pulled — Royal Raceway Grand Prix mode will no longer call it, new track order is thus: Sweet Ride, Gumball Gorge, Cakeway, Frosty Rally, Nougat Mines.
reason for cutting track: need stable release for initial rollout, but track #6:dcm is way too buggy. might patch it in future update on fan demand. ;) or maybe not lol. :PPPPPPP
str trackname = "Diet Cola Mountain";
int trackno = 6;
int totallaps = 5;
*/"

And just like that, Diet Cola Mountain vanished from Sugar Rush, never to appear in the playable track list forever. Unlike their words, the developers at Tobikomi had quite evidently never got around to patching in a finished version of Diet Cola Mountain. Seriously, to this very day I doubt that anyone besides Ralph and I knows about the existence of the hidden track.

It was honestly shocking that the developers could just dummy out something like that on a whim. The exaggerated amount of emojis in their comments, forever sealed for posterity in Sugar Rush's source code, showed that they weren't even taking it seriously when they decided to pull the plug and cut out the course.

Hmph… the nerve.

Trying to keep my composure, I glitch out of the informative website and let myself reflect on what I've learned as I float silently in the air.

From what I knew, lines of code that were commented out still existed in theory, but they were unable to affect those around it for safety reasons.

Oh, joy. Kind of like me right now. The blissful irony. That explained why I was in a ghostly, incorporeal form.

Looking back on it, it was so obvious in retrospect. So the antivirus software did do its job… except not fully. Maybe because I was half-glitch, I was able to escape from the backend servers storing my glitched data… because it didn't delete the code that wasn't glitched? I have no clue.

Well, the very fact that I was currently floating in limbo meant that theory was all but 99.9999999% confirmed.

Still, the irony of it all tasted as bitter as dark chocolate. To think that I was thrust headfirst into the same situation I was in all those years ago.

I guess that one can say that I was lucky to survive the virus wipe… to a certain extent. I mean, come on, can you really call your entire code being obliterated to nothingness lucky? Sounds more like sweet despair! I mean, with my now code commented out, I have no physical body. I'm like some kind of glitch in the matrix who managed to transcend time and space!

…or however that stupid convoluted idiom went.

And thus, I was now like some kind of otherworldly apparition, a fortunate—or perhaps it was unfortunate—freak of nature.

I let a chuckle grace my lips at the thought. Freak of nature? As if!

Unsurprisingly, having my own code ripped from my living insides didn't do much to change my snarky personality. Like, in the slightest. If anything, the incident only served to make me even more cheeky.

Hey, being deleted and almost killed off for real hasn't got rid of this petite girl's spunky attitude! It sure did try, but if anything, the whole process and ordeal doubled down on it and made my snarky self even more nonchalant and obnoxious with my behavior!

You can take the code out of the girl, but you can't take the spunk out of her!

My personality is so ingrained into me that even though I've had my code ripped out from me twice—once with Turbo, once with the antivirus program—deep down within my candy-coated body, I'm still the same sarcastic sharp-tongue shooter, quick-witted racer, and adorable winner that is Vanellope von Schweetz!

Muhihihihi! They can certainly try, but no one can ever change who I really am!

As I thought that, a flash of red juxtaposed against the blue backdrop caught my eye, causing me to flinch when I realize that I'd unintentionally let myself hover back to the scene of my apparent demise.

Without even noticing it, I unconsciously let a forlorn and somber smile creep onto my face.

"Ralph…"

The reluctant murmur that left my mouth was as soft as a hushed whisper, a voice that was so inaudible that an outsider could practically pass it off as the wind playing tricks on their ears.

Biting my lip tentatively, I let myself glitch down, stopping short of splatting on the floor by using my newfound powers to hover off the polished ground.

Taking in a deep breath, I apprehensively approach my distraught former friend. I could feel the butterflies swirling in my stomach as I strode towards him… gosh, why is this so hard!?

My throat started to swell, forcing me to gulp and swallow my saliva. Sucking in all the breath that my discombobulated body can take in, I gently tapped the shoulder of the big lug… the loyal Stinkbrain who I had known tenderly for six years.

Here we go, I guess. I can only hope this goes well…

Author's Note:

I hope this explanation of commenting out code and backend server backups, aka how Vanellope "survives" suffices. And yes, I know an arcade machine like Sugar Rush would likely be programmed in ASM and not something like C, but I am unfortunately unaware as to how a low-level language like assembly code works, so you'll have to settle with a mid-level language like C. Hush, y'all!

The Diet Cola Mountain mockup code I wrote broke gloriously on FFN (because of course it did), so I had to change it there. It doesn't use object-oriented programming, and the comment gag kind of falls flat there because FFN text editor rips out tabs, double-slashes, and blanks. I kept the original version of the code on AO3 at least.

So, fun fact — I only saw the first Wreck-It Ralph AFTER viewing the sequel, so I didn't understand the internet's reaction on why Vanellope shouldn't have ditched Ralph to head off to Slaughter Race in the conclusion until I did more research. For as much as the moral lesson of WIR2 is poignant and heartwarming, I do have to admit that with prior knowledge of its predecessor, it actually does seem to go against the messages taught in the first film.

So what better way to avoid all these contradictory plot holes and bring forth the touching message of the second film than to write my own take on Ralph letting go of Vanellope. In other words… with a horrifying tragedy. :p

By the way, I'm not going to lie, the working title for this fic was "It's a Slaughterful Life" — based off Vanellope's dream game Slaughter Race and the film "It's a Wonderful Life" due to the supernatural twist and the reminiscence angle that this story is headed in… but right before I uploaded the first chapter, I went to check the FFN archives just in case. 'Twas incredibly lucky that I did so too, because apparently another fic beat me to that title. Whew, barely dodged a bullet there.

Also, to the guest reviewer asking if I would dare to undo everything by giving Vanellope a happily ever after and letting her stay in Slaughter Race with Shank… how cute. Wouldn't that go against the whole point of this tragedy story? Yeah, I thought so too. :P

Anyway, next time — Ralph and Vanellope scene. You all better prepare your tissues, because I fully intend to make it as tragically poignant as possible. No mercy from me whatsoever. Apologies in advance once again.