Everything around him, everything that his scanners could detect, had a purpose. The sun arcing its way across a cloudless blue sky, its rays warming the shiny black surface of his body, provided the energy that ultimately powered every living thing on Earth. That cloudless blue sky and the sundry layers of atmosphere above it that he could not and would never see protected all of life on Earth from the harsh radiation that was a deadly side-effect of the sun's otherwise life-giving energy production. The trees and grass and the other flora in the canyon arrayed in all its glory below him diligently converted carbon dioxide to oxygen that could, in turn, be used by the various fauna inhabiting the canyon, who would convert the oxygen back to carbon dioxide for the benefit of the plants. The water in the creek that gurgled and crashed along at the bottom of the canyon, a hundred meters below, was necessary for life as well. And, farther downstream, the creek merged into a river that, still farther downstream, was dammed, and the dam provided electrical energy to a wide surrounding area. The lone turkey vulture circling serenely above him removed from sight dead creatures, allowing them to decompose, the nutrients their bodies contained returning to the earth, powering the cycle of life all over again. Even the lifeless dirt road running beside him, as pocked with crater-like potholes and ribbed with long stretches of washboard erosion as it was, had a purpose. It aided in conveying people from one place to another, to bring them, perhaps, to this lonely yet lovely spot, as it had done, all unwittingly on his part, for him.

Yes, everything had a purpose. Absolutely everything.

Except him.

Oh, Kitt had had a purpose...once. Long ago. Or so it seemed to him, at least; in reality, he knew that it had only been a few weeks since he'd been happily fulfilling that purpose even when it had been difficult -- dangerous, even -- to do so. Doing so had made him happy, had allowed him know his place in the world. And, most importantly, it had given him a reason to exist at all. But it was gone now. It was all gone now. He'd been abandoned...

No, Kitt thought dismally as he aimlessly watched the circling vulture high above him, 'abandoned' is not the correct word. Abandonment, by definition, implied a deliberate attempt on the part of one person to separate himself from another. There had been nothing deliberate about the events of that day. It had all been happenstance, all coincidence, all a simple yet fateful mechanical failure. All of it had been a series of random events that not even he, with his prodigious processing power, could have predicted or even, indeed, begun to suspect. So, he hadn't been abandoned, no.

Rather, he'd been left behind. Michael -- the person for whom he'd been created, the person whom he'd been designed to assist and to protect at all costs, even at the expense of his own life -- was gone. And he, the protector, the knight in literal shining armor, had been powerless to prevent it all from happening. He had failed in his ultimate purpose. All of his processing power, all of the strength inherent in his nigh-indestructible body, all of his rigorous programming that compelled him to protect human life at all costs, all of it had been utterly useless because Michael had been seated up in the comfortable, pressurized passenger compartment of the aircraft, completely unaware of what had been looming in his immediate future, and Kitt... Kitt had been trapped in the locked cargo hold of the plane, separated from the passenger compartment and securely tethered to the bulkheads to prevent his body from shifting around during the flight. The cargo handlers had had no idea that Kitt was perfectly capable of righting himself should that happen, and he hadn't been about to inform them otherwise. He'd simply suffered their careless manhandling in a petty, snitty, and greatly insulted silence, even turning off the sweeping front scanner so that it wouldn't attract any undue attention.

They'd been flying back from an assignment back East, he and Michael. Kitt, ever leery of flying because of the powerless and out-of-control feeling that it foisted upon him, had wanted to drive back, had argued vociferously in favor of keeping all four of his wheels squarely on terra firma. But Michael had been adamant that, even considering the jet-turbine-powered speeds of which Kitt was capable, there wasn't time for a cross-country road trip. So flying, Michael had decisively determined, systematically overruling all of his partner's passionate-yet-logical arguments, had been the only option open to them.

As it had turned out, it had been a fateful option. Something had happened. Once Kitt had emerged from his petty sulk enough to realize that something was dreadfully wrong, he hadn't had enough time to interface with the plane's on-board computers to find out what the malfunction had been, much less to attempt to avert the malfunction's ultimately disastrous consequences. Whatever the malfunction had been, though, the plane had crashed. The passenger compartment had been engulfed, he later learned, in a fireball the searing heat and noxious emissions of which had more or less instantly killed everyone in the compartment even before what was left of the plane had plowed into the ground, leaving a fiery furrow of destruction in its wake.

No one had survived the crash. No one, that is, except for himself and, somehow, a grey tabby cat that had been Kitt's fellow cargo-hold-captive during the abortive cross-country flight. Neither of them really mattered to the officials who had eventually made their way to the remote stretch of uninhabited land in Arkansas that had become the passengers' final resting place. To the investigators, he and the cat were simply cargo to be shoved carelessly aside as they tried to figure out what had gone so drastically wrong with the plane. In the end, the traumatized cat had been taken to an animal shelter, and the traumatized artificial intelligence that, unbeknownst to the investigators, dwelled within the curiously unscathed black Trans Am had been taken to police impound. Just to add insult to injury.

It was days that seemed like weeks before Bonnie, her face faintly stained with grieved tears but utterly relieved to see Kitt hale and hearty, had shown up to claim him, to take him home. The homeward journey had been a road trip this time; Kitt had vowed to himself as he'd languished in impound that he would never board an airplane again, and Bonnie had not been entirely enthused about the prospect of flying, either. She had tried her best to get Kitt to talk to her on the way home, about anything, but he hadn't been much interested in talking. He hadn't been much interested in anything.

Instead, he'd focused his attention on the road, on navigating home, on the chemical structure of the asphalt beneath him, on anything besides what had happened. Anything to distract him from self-recrimination, from torturing himself with the knowledge that if he hadn't decided to sulk, he might have decided to interface with the plane's computers instead, just for his own amusement and, in doing so, he might have discovered the malfunction before it had gone critical, before it had caused...all that had happened. The rational part of him realized that thinking about should-haves and might-have-beens was a fruitless endeavour that solved nothing and that, especially, changed nothing, but he kept returning to them nevertheless, over and over again. He couldn't seem to stop himself from doing so, as irrational and useless as he knew that it was.

Michael was gone. Gone without so much as being able to say a fond farewell to him. Without a word, without a sound. Kitt had always known that, in all likelihood, he would survive Michael, and he had been more or less fully prepared to deal with that eventuality. Forty or fifty years in the future, he was fully confident that he'd be able to deal with Michael's death with equanimity, accepting that it was one of those things that he was powerless to prevent, accepting that it was simply the nature of living, organic things. He could deal with that. But Kitt hadn't expected that Michael would die so soon, only three years into their partnership. Or that he would die so suddenly, in the blink of an eye. Or so senselessly. Or so...silently, without any kicking or screaming. His and Michael's work was decidedly dangerous, yes, but Kitt had known that, under normal circumstances, he would always be there to help Michael, to protect him as he had been born to do.

Except that circumstances weren't always normal, and he hadn't been there to protect Michael this time, this one time when it had really, truly mattered. He had allowed himself to be put into a position where he couldn't be there. He had failed. Spectacularly so. He hadn't been able to fulfill even his most basic function: to protect human life even at the cost of his own. Michael had been killed. All of the passengers and crew of the airplane had been killed. He had survived.

He had survived...but Kitt's purpose in life had died right along with the 450 souls on the airplane. He wondered what, precisely, he would do -- could do -- now.