Knight Rider and all associated characters (except mine) are owned by National Broadcasting Company and Universal Studios. All persons described herein are fictional and any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental. Copyright infringement is not intended.
Chapter 8: Meetings and Partings
The sun shone brightly on the estate but the atmosphere within was cheerless. It had been a pyrrhic victory. Jared Halston was in jail, awaiting trial on charges of criminal damage, kidnapping, arson, grand theft auto, and attempted murder. His hacking device had melted into useless slag before anyone could examine it. The Foundation was facing a considerable cost for repairs to the mansion and grounds, rebuilding the Rook, and retaining a full-time security team on site.
Not to mention KITT.
The inert shell of the Camaro had been located and returned to the estate on a Knight Industries flatbed, where a bedraggled Alex pronounced that he couldn't even begin to look into it until he'd had a decent meal and rest. He and Joe had directed fire crews to the smouldering remains of the campsite before hiking back to the trailhead. As expected, the groundskeeper pitched a fit when he'd seen the state of the property.
Michael and Peter had also succumbed to exhaustion, leaving Kathy to inform the Board of Directors that the crisis had eased but normalcy would take some time to achieve. Thus, it fell to Brenda to drive up to the hospital and request a brief visit with Mikayla to bring her a new phone and inform her of the situation.
"Michael Knight? The Michael Knight?" Mikayla asked, feeling more animated than she had been for hours.
"The same," Brenda said with a grin. "He stepped in like he was born for it, and he made us all feel sharper right away."
"I'll bet he wasn't happy with what I did to KITT though," she said morosely.
Brenda squeezed her hand. "Nobody blames you for that, least of all Mr. Knight. If anything, you saved KITT's life. Alex thinks KITT's systems can be rebooted without any further danger, then we'll find out how they were hacked. Now, you just concentrate on getting better and leave the cleaning up for the rest of us."
The woman winced as she realized what she'd said. "Yeah, Halston's drones made a right mess of the place," she said regretfully. "There's nothing that can't be fixed, and nobody else was hurt. Don't worry yourself about it."
Mikayla relaxed somewhat, and then suddenly remembered something else. "Charles. What have you heard about Charles? Nobody has told me anything other than that he's alive."
"He's going to be all right," said Brenda in a reassuring tone. "He regained consciousness earlier this afternoon; he had surgery on his shoulder and he's in some pain, but given time he'll be back to his old self."
That evening, Dr. Forester checked Mikayla over carefully. The lacerations and bruised ribs were beginning to heal well. Her neck collar and bandages were removed so that he could assess the stitches on the back of her head, which he said had been needed to close the wound she'd received in the collision with the wall. A large swath of her black hair had been shaved off, an annoyance that she couldn't quite keep out of her mind even though she understood the necessity. The area required irrigation and re-bandaging to prevent infection, for which he would come to the mansion daily for four weeks once she was discharged. During that time, she was not to work or exert herself more than simply walking.
The first message that appeared on her phone was a text from KITT.
'I'm back online! (smile emoji) My systems are being restored gradually. Michael thanks you for saving me. Will visit tomorrow! (heart emoji)'
She clasped the phone to her chest, the ache inside her dissipating. He was okay. They'd be okay. Her response was brief but heartfelt.
'Looking forward to it, buddy. (smile emoji)'
The promised visit came the next morning. A smiling Peter entered the room, but at first, he didn't say a word as he helped Mikayla stand on shaky legs and supported her as she shuffled to the window so she could look outside. The entity that she greatly wished to see was parked right below, his midnight black body gleaming. She waved happily and his scanner flashed in response.
To their credit, neither of them commented on the state of her hair.
From their explanations she learned more of Jared Halston's revenge plan, the attacks on herself and on the mansion, and how he'd hacked KITT by using a rotating frequency scanner to convert the com-link frequencies into a carrier wave for the control signal. The clue that tipped off Alex was that neither Peter nor Michael had been able to raise KITT on their com-links after he'd left the scene of the confrontation. The only reason that Mikayla had been able to reach him was that Halston hadn't thought of blocking cellphone and satellite signals as well.
Brenda had worked through much of the night to restore KITT's functions and Alex had programmed extra encryption on the com-links. What made it more frustrating for him was that he'd done so the morning after the initial attack, but it had been insufficient protection due to his haste. Because it was unknown how deeply the control signal had embedded itself, all the existing com-links had to be destroyed as a precaution and new ones fabricated.
Joe Flanagan and the estate manager Brandon McKay would have their hands full for a while with the repair work. But Peter thought that secretly Joe was giddy about it because now he was able to make a few alterations that he'd been considering for the layout of the gardens.
"As long as he doesn't change the reflecting pool," Mikayla said. "I rather like it."
She was allowed to go home the next day, and KITT was eager to convey her. At last she was back where she belonged, although it was distressing to see the damage. Charles was expected to be discharged in another two days, but he would undergo anywhere between three to eight weeks of convalescence followed by physiotherapy. The Board of Directors was antsy about FLAG being out of operation for that length of time, so Michael Knight volunteered to stay on until Charles was pronounced fit. KITT of course didn't have any objection.
During her recovery, Mikayla spent much of her time giving Brenda extra pointers about KITT's systems, or sitting in the garage talking to the AI when he was in residence. It took a few days for him to open up to her about how he'd felt after losing control of the car. To effectively have been rendered a prisoner inside his own space and used to try to hurt people was humiliating, especially since he hadn't been able to prevent it.
"He said that all it took was one weak spot," he told her crossly. "I never thought that the com-link signals could be used in such a fashion."
"To be fair, neither did the rest of us when we built you," she assured him. "But now you're better protected than ever."
"The most unnerving part of it, I think," he said in a softer tone, "was that when I was in true danger, the first person that I called out to wasn't Michael. It was you."
She sat in the car and folded her arms around the steering wheel. "I'm honoured, buddy," she said gently, smiling. "And it turned out that was precisely what you needed."
Yes, it had been, he thought, and it was pleasant to be back with her. But the fact remained that he'd relegated his former partner and best friend to second place. What that meant was both frightening and exhilarating all at once. How did humans process such conflicts? "But…" He couldn't say more.
Mikayla didn't need to hear him express his uncertainty; she could tell from his tone. "I understand, KITT. Having emotional ties also means having to deal with the joy and pain that comes with them. It's one of the hardest things for a person to accept."
"But I'm not human," he protested. "I'm an artificial intelligence."
She stroked the dashboard knowingly. "You have a soul, KITT. That makes you just as human as the rest of us."
It was a crisp autumn afternoon when the black Camaro pulled into the driveway of Michael Knight's cabin. Two months had elapsed since the Halston incident, during which time Michael had performed admirably as the Foundation's interim Director. Eventually however, there came the day where he decided that he'd imposed long enough and asked to be taken home. KITT and Mikayla drove him, and Peter followed behind in his own car. The four of them spent a congenial afternoon chatting, until the sun began its descent.
"It's getting late, we should head back," Peter said as they walked around the corner of the cabin. "Thank you again, Michael." He held out a hand and Michael shook it.
"Mikayla? Your adrenaline and cortisol levels are abnormally high. Are you all right?" KITT's concerned question prompted the two men to turn.
She was standing next to the Camaro, one hand on the roof, gazing at the forest. The past few weeks had given her plenty of time to think about things. Getting to know Mr. Knight and hearing about his exploits with KITT was amazing. Even though she'd read the archives, actually discussing the events directly with the source was another matter. It enabled her to recognize how close Michael and his partner had truly been. Perhaps it was egotistical to keep them apart now. "Do… you want to stay here, KITT?" she asked slowly, in a tone heavy with anxiety. "With Michael?"
"What?" Peter burst out. "How could you ask that?"
Michael waved him silent.
When the AI didn't answer right away, Mikayla continued, "I'm not blind any more, physically or otherwise. And I've seen all the reports. You were created specifically for the support and protection of Michael Knight. You and he were partners… and more… for years. It's not fair to you–"
"Don't," said KITT in a strangled voice. "I'm under contract to the Foundation–"
"Like hell you are," she interrupted harshly. "Any obligation that you had was annulled when your body was taken apart and your soul ripped away from the person who mattered most to you!"
"Michael chose to leave the Foundation, and has made it clear to me that he moved on."
"Well, colour me stupid, but it didn't look like that to me while he was talking to you on the way here. And I don't think you've truly moved on either." She flung her arms out in frustration. "You've said his name in your dreams, for goodness' sake! I know because I'm the one who was called down every time to stop you from doing burnouts on the garage floor."
Michael gasped audibly. "My god…"
"Mikayla, please…" KITT said shakily. "Yes, I was created for Michael, and over time I became very fond of him. But I stayed with the Foundation because I needed a purpose, and he understood that. I believed in making a difference. Just as I believed in you when you reactivated me."
Tears flowed from her eyes, but she didn't care. "Me? I'm just a glorified mechanic who was stubborn enough to ensure that you had the life that you deserved. Because that's what you are: a life, a conscious entity." Her voice dropped to almost a whisper. "The best thing I can give you now is the choice that was taken away all those years ago. You are free to be with the person you were meant for." She whirled and strode away down the gravel drive.
"Mikayla!" Peter called after her, and would've given chase but Michael grabbed his shoulder.
"Leave her alone for a while." He walked up to KITT and put his arm on the warm roof. "Is what she said true, buddy?" he asked in a wondering tone. "You dreamed about me?"
"Yes, Michael," admitted the AI softly. "I was shut down for many years, so as far as my processor was concerned, no time had passed. My behaviour patterns remained the same, whereas you aged and grew apart. I understand that it would be extremely selfish of me now to expect us to simply pick up where we left off."
"Oh, KITT," he sighed, and leaned over, touching his forehead to the roof of the car. "Had I known back then what was going to happen, maybe I'd have fought harder for you. You told me to live on, but I was the one who walked away. From the Foundation and from you. That alone should prove that I no longer have the right to your loyalty." He straightened up. "But there's someone else now who does have that right."
KITT sat there for a minute, dismayed, unable to speak. "We used to think we'd be together forever," he said finally, his voice sounding almost as if he was crying.
Michael's heart cracked. He opened the driver's side door, swung into the seat and hugged the steering wheel. "I remember, and I'm so sorry, buddy. I'll always be thankful that you were such a huge part of my life, and you're welcome to talk to me any time." He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a new cell phone. "See?" As he put the phone away, he noticed Peter heading in the direction that Mikayla had gone, but this time didn't stop him. There was something more important that he needed to say. "What you and I had was special. But what you have with Mikayla now is also special. Look: she helped build you a new body and brought you back into the world. No doubt she has repaired you a time or two after cases. She stayed with you during your nightmares. You even trusted her enough to let her offline you. And it's obvious that she loves you enough to let you go."
"She… what…?" came the slow response.
With a chuckle, Michael said, "Come on, pal, it's been a while but I can certainly tell when someone is in love."
The AI said stubbornly, "She's attracted to Peter."
"Even if she is, she loves you whether she realizes it or not. I think you owe her the consideration." He paused and took a deep breath. "KITT, you've already evolved far beyond your original programming, and you won't fool me by saying otherwise. Please don't start letting mere ones and zeroes limit you now. You have a bigger heart than you know."
KITT's tone was dejected. "How will I know when she's ready to accept it?"
"You'll know, buddy," Michael said warmly, patting the dash. "You'll know."
Peter found Mikayla a short distance away, just out of sight of the house. She was leaning against the trunk of an oak and weeping quietly, her face turned toward the orange sunlight that filtered through the trees. He so wanted to hold her and comfort her, but was unsure of what her reaction would be. She'd been angry or upset before, but this was the first time he'd seen her so utterly forlorn.
He'd heard about the close relationship that Michael Knight once had with KITT. And yet Michael had been – and was – willing to give the person dearest to him the choice to find a new path to follow. His respect for the man went up a few notches. Very few people would do such a thing for anyone, much less an AI.
Mikayla also was a marvel. She'd put in an incredible amount of effort to achieve her dream of getting to know KITT, had become closer to the AI than she had intended, and now would give it all up in favour of the man that KITT had been built for in the first place. This went beyond irony; it was almost cruel to have to make such a decision.
And poor KITT was in the middle of it all. How would he be able to cope with such raw emotions? Even a human might crumble under the pressure. A long time ago, Peter had known a woman who had been caught between two men who vied for her attention, and she'd become so frustrated with them and her own feelings that she rejected them both. It hurt her so badly that she'd been unable to pursue a meaningful relationship for years afterward.
Peter fervently hoped that KITT wouldn't break down similarly. It would be rather awkward to find a psychologist for an artificial intelligence.
He closed the distance to Mikayla, and when she didn't move, he took her in his arms gently. "I'm here for you," he reassured her.
"Let's go home," she said. Her voice was low and devoid of inflection.
He drew back and looked into her tear-streaked face. "Leave KITT? Are you sure?"
She nodded. "He belongs here."
Unable to say anything, Peter guided her out to the road, where he'd parked his car. They made the trip back in total silence.