Whoa! I just made the deadline!
Alright, here's my entry for the Butterfly Effect Challenge: What would have happened if Michael and KITT had gotten to the old laboratory in Trust Doesn't Rust on time that day? The answer isn't what you would expect...
Disclaimer: I don't own Knight Rider
"…Michael, is everything alright?"
Michael turned his gaze down to the flashing red panel that represented his partner's 'mouth', startled out of his momentary reverie.
"Something on your mind, KITT?"
"That's what I just asked you, Michael," KITT responded, "You're being unusually quiet this morning…and I've been detecting some unusual readings from your vital signs for some time now."
Michael glanced briefly at the monitor – it was currently displaying a picture of a human body, complete with all the usual flashing colors and wiggly lines that KITT seemed to favor when he was explaining things. Michael could never make much sense out of it – then again, he'd never been much of a doctor, either.
"Is it wrong for me to quietly enjoy the pleasure of a nice morning drive, KITT?" Michael inquired.
"Not at all. What I'm wondering is whether it's wrong for me to suspect that you were hoping to enjoy a 'pleasure' of a different sort. Perhaps…in different company, as well?"
"Wise guy," Michael retorted, throwing his hands into the air in mock surrender, "All right…I admit to being upset this morning. You, of all people, should know the reason why."
There was a moment's silence.
"…Because that Rosalie woman had to cancel your plans for the day?"
"Rosalind, KITT. Rosalind," Michael corrected, "You know Rosalie's the other one – she lives down by the beach."
"And as I recall, she was also too busy to spend the day with you today. Michael, why do you feel the need to socialize with so many women?" KITT wondered, sounding honestly confused, "Shouldn't one be sufficient?"
"KITT, you're beginning to sound like my mother here," Michael countered, "I mean, what's wrong with a little…companionship. You can understand that, can't you?"
"No, Michael, I cannot. When you're one-of-a-kind, companionship does not compute," KITT replied matter-of-factly.
Michael laughed. He thought about offering to set KITT up with a nice convertible, before deciding against it. Right now, they had a job to do…besides, there'd be plenty of time to poke a little fun at his partner's expense later in the day.
Speaking of which…
"How much further, Pal?"
"We'll be at the laboratory in less than ten minutes at this speed," KITT replied, "There should be a sign posted on the right."
"Good! Let's get this errand over with," Michael said.
Sure enough, less than ten minutes later they pulled past a sign. In large letters, it proclaimed that 'ON THIS SITE SHALL BE ERECTED THE KNIGHT MUSEUM OF TECHNOLOGY'. Underneath this were smaller letters in red, warning against trespassing.
"You aren't feeling too nostalgic about this, are you KITT?" Michael asked as they passed the sign and started rolling up the drive to the laboratory building.
"Michael, the issue of whether I experience feelings aside – though I can assure you that I do not – why would you think I feel nostalgia? It's rather hard to be nostalgic towards a place which I've never visited before."
Michael frowned, puzzled.
"Sorry to make assumptions there, Pal, but Devon did mention that this lab was where some of the Foundation's most important technological projects were developed."
"And you believed that he was referring to me. Well, I am very flattered, Michael," KITT said, "However, I can assure you that nothing of my design nor development was ever associated with this laboratory."
"Really…" Michael replied, "Well then, I have to wonder what other technological projects there were that could possibly compare to you."
Surprisingly, KITT failed to rise to the bait. The remainder of their trip up towards the large but dull building that was their destination was silent. Michael had just about decided that he must've dented his partner's pride with that comment when KITT finally spoke up again.
"…There appears to be a discrepancy in my files, Michael."
"Yes. While my files indicate that nothing of my physical or electronic design originated from this particular laboratory, they also indicate that great deals of my major component programs were developed at this laboratory. The contradiction is rather puzzling."
"It does sound kind of strange to me," Michael agreed, "You sure you don't have your wires crossed?"
"I can assure you that that is hardly the case."
KITT's tone could have dried out a martini. Michael smirked at it for a moment, and then frowned as the implications started to set in.
It might just be that someone had been sloppy with the files, leading to this contradictory information…then again, KITT hadn't even been aware of this old lab's existence until he'd been programmed with the appropriate files. Well, it was something to keep in mind, at least.
And here he'd worried that this errand might be boring.
Even with the possible mystery lurking in the back of his mind, he would willingly admit that this old lab had seen much more interesting days. Michael followed the guard around, dutifully noting what was stored in the various rooms and wishing there was a better method for this sort of job.
This place had shut down as a lab a while back; the FLAG had been using it as a warehouse for various odds and ends since before Michael had joined up. Most of the equipment, parts, and other miscellany were already on route to other Foundation warehouses, and the city would haul off the remainder tomorrow morning before knocking the building down and starting construction on the museum.
The reason Michael was here was to double-check that nothing 'too sensitive', as Devon had put it, might have accidentally been left behind. So far, nothing that might fit that description had caught Michael's eye and he was wondering if this errand was supposed to be a punishment of some kind (though honestly, he couldn't remember what he might have done to tweak Devon's nose this time) when at last something caught his attention.
It was a pair of doors with a sign mounted on them. The sign read 'Laboratory 3, DANGER'. This immediately piqued Michael's interest.
"So, what's over there?" Michael asked the guard.
The guard glanced over at the locked door and replied, "The old lab number three, judging from the sign. That room's been sealed off since before I started working here. As far as I know, it's empty."
Michael moved over to the doors for a better look. They were quite visibly padlocked shut.
"Don't suppose you've got a key to this thing?" Michael asked the guard next.
"No sir. Never got one," the guard replied.
"Then I guess we need to try a different approach," Michael said, before lifting up the comlink and calling for KITT.
"What is it, Michael?"
The guard was blinking at Michael's talking wristwatch, even as Michael continued, "The guard and I are standing in front of the entrance to the third lab. I need you to scan the lab and see if there's anything in there that we need to worry about."
"Right away, Michael," KITT replied, "I'm scanning now."
About thirty seconds later, KITT spoke up again.
"Michael, according to my scanners the room beyond that doorway is completely empty save for one large…object."
"If my scanners are not mistaken, the object in question is made from the same unique alloy that I am. What's more, I scan it to be the same size and shape as my own frame…Michael, what exactly am I scanning?"
"I'll let you know as soon as I get past this padlock, KITT," Michael replied.
While his outward expression remained cool and collected, inwardly Michael was starting to get pumped up. Now this was interesting! Time to find out what could be behind Door Number three…
"I believe I might be of some service in that regard," KITT piped up unexpectedly, "Michael, if you would hold the comlink closer to the locking mechanism…"
Michael did so. There was a sudden faint humming in his ears. The humming went on for a few seconds, and then stopped as the padlock clicked smoothly open.
"Thanks Pal. You're a regular locksmith," Michael said as he pushed the doors open.
"I dabble, really."
The doors swung open to reveal pitch-black darkness. The guard stayed outside in the bigger room, searching for the light switch – it turned out to be part of a rusty fuse box on the far wall for some reason – and it was a moment before a few of the lights began flickering on.
The room beyond the doors was large, and, as KITT had said, almost completely empty. The sole object it held was nestled against the back wall; still, even in this lighting and at this distance, it was unmistakable.
Michael tentatively walked closer to the object. It really was the same size and shape…it had the same lines, it was the same make and model…Michael thought he could even make out the indentation in the nose where a steady red light would be visible as it paced back and forth.
There was no light visible now; Michael made it close enough to peer inside the windows and could see a fairly familiar assortment of buttons and light-up panels, but nothing was lit. The black finish under his fingertips had that oh-so-familiar feel to it, but a locked door thwarted Michael when he tried the handle.
Deciding to back off for now, Michael stepped past the nose and made an unusual discovery. There were several thick, industrial-sized cables dangling out, spilling from beneath the cracked-open hood. A few stretched upwards to join the shadowy mass of other wires that crisscrossed the dimly-lit ceiling, while the rest lay out on the concrete floor, their plugs connected to nothing but air.
Michael was in the middle of lifting the comlink to mouth level – KITT would definitely be able to give him a better idea on whether this thing was what it looked like it was – when the lights noticeably dimmed. There was a crackle of electricity and Michael leapt back just as gouts of sparks began shooting out from underneath the hood.
The miniature fireworks show kept going, even as Michael scrambled back towards the exit. The guard stepped into the doorway at about the same time that Michael made it there himself.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Knight! I was working on switching on more of the lights for you and everything started shorting out on me!" the guard explained immediately, "You alright?"
"Startled, but I'm fine," Michael replied.
He was about to say more when the hissing and spitting noises coming from the other side of the room abruptly stopped. Those sounds were immediately replaced with a low hum and a soft whirr, the latter of which Michael thought he recognized.
Michael was distracted from identifying the sounds when the doors swung shut on their own, the guard scrambling backwards to keep from getting hit in the face even as Michael sprang forward in an attempt to get out before he was sealed in. Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful.
The thought 'This can't be good' had just passed through Michael's mind when he realized that the whirr was getting louder and more familiar. Turning around, he watched in muted surprise as a black nose bearing a familiar red light began rolling silently towards him.
Saying that KITT was disturbed would have been an understatement. First, there was that peculiarity with his files – both updated to this morning, so there shouldn't even be this kind of problem! – and now he was scanning some very strange things.
That object that he had scanned definitely qualified as strange. It might be something as mundane as a set of spare parts, goodness knows that his and Michael's line of work inherently lead to a need for replacements and spares…still, even those parts shouldn't be here. KITT knew that he was highly classified material, and that qualification did not include leaving parts of him or for him lying around in soon-to-be demolished buildings for others to find them.
Well, Michael would be able to figure this situation out. Michael was very clever about these sorts of things…even if KITT didn't dare try to quantify his partner's form of logic. Therefore, KITT kept scanning, ready to alert Michael if he detected anything else unusual.
There turned out to be no need, or so it seemed; when there was a sudden power surge in the buildings' electrical systems, KITT scanned Michael reacting to the situation before he could transmit a word. It was just a short, apparently…though that didn't explain the sudden drain KITT started scanning moments later…nor did it explain what he was scanning now.
KITT was detecting what seemed to be echoes of his own telemetry; an impossibility, but he was detecting them nonetheless. Perhaps there was something amiss with his scanner? Normally KITT would be the last one to complain about his maintenance, but with the files and now his scanners telling him such contradictory things, he was starting to wonder.
KITT was so engrossed with determining what was wrong with his systems that he nearly missed the sudden exit of a shockingly familiar vehicle from the laboratory building. A midnight-black Trans-Am barreled out the door, a red scanner tracking back and forth on the car's nose and the windows completely opaque. It hesitated only slightly in front of KITT's parked form before darting around him, and proceeded to shoot down the drive leading to the road as if chased.
KITT was so badly startled by this – and by what his scanner was telling him about the car's composition and hardware – that it took him almost a minute to process the idea that Michael should have made an appearance as well but had not done so. KITT scanned the building for him, and was further shocked to find that he could only detect one human inside. It was the guard, his vitals strong but very agitated, and most certainly not Michael.
But then that would mean…KITT opened the transmission line to the comlink.
"Michael? Michael, what's going on?"
The connection, and with it Michael's voice, vanished with a crackle. Something was jamming the line, but it had been open more than long enough for KITT to determine where Michael was: Michael was inside that – that other car, the one that could pass for KITT's identical twin in more ways than KITT wanted to think about.
Michael and that other car were also getting farther away by the second – KITT started the car, spun the steering wheel, and tore after them.
It wasn't very hard to track the other car's route; it wasn't being particularly subtle. For a moment KITT wondered if perhaps Michael was the one doing the driving – he wasn't particularly subtle either – but dismissed the idea almost as soon as he thought of it. The other car's windshield had been completely opaque, and Michael needed to be able to see in order to drive.
Not to mention it was completely out of character for his partner to do something like this…
…Or to drive like that: KITT started passing wrecks as he reached a road that generally saw more traffic. The other cars were mostly intact and their drivers were all unhurt. Judging from both this and from the directions of the skid marks, KITT deduced that the cars had accidentally wrecked themselves while maneuvering to avoid a collision.
Considering the angry looks and yells that he himself was receiving as he drove past, KITT felt it was a safe assumption that these cars had all been avoiding a collision with the other car. The other car had KITT's MBS, so this should have been a good thing…but this showed that the other car hadn't made any effort to avoid possible collisions, which was most certainly a bad sign. Worse still was the fact that the other car's trail was leading into the denser parts of the city – there would be people hurt at this rate!
KITT floored it.
Several minutes later, KITT's reward was the sight of another black Trans-Am ahead of him, barreling through the center of the road as if there were no other cars around at all. Since they were in the heart of the city now, this was far from the case; the other cars were braking sharply to avoid it, blaring their horns at the offending vehicle and forcing KITT to take to the center himself if he wanted to maintain his speed.
Unsurprisingly, the other car noticed KITT's appearance and sped up. KITT increased his own speed. Right now, he was gaining slightly on the other car…however, as long as this remained a straightaway, the other car would have the advantage of its head start to keep KITT at bay. Two objects going at the same rate of speed…any physicist could tell you that the object further behind would never be able to catch up in that scenario.
Now that he was closer, KITT went for a more detailed scan of the other car's passenger compartment. Yes, there was Michael…in the backseat? Well, that definitely disproved the idea that his partner might be the one driving. Why was Michael in there, anyway?
Unfortunately, the backseats were not equipped with ejectors. KITT might have considered attempting to override the other car's controls and get Michael out that way otherwise…it was still an option, assuming Michael managed to climb into one of the front seats.
The other car increased its speed further, prompting KITT to do the same. He was only a hundred meters behind now – until the other car abruptly performed a brutal left turn that clipped an oncoming truck that hadn't had any chance to react in time.
The truck went spinning into KITT's path, while the other car bolted down its newly chosen street. KITT's reaction was a split-second behind; hit his brakes, kill the truck's engine and trigger its breaks, veer around the truck, gun his engine, and head down the street after the other car. There were fewer cars on this one, but the other car made a great show of swerving towards, tailgating, cutting off, and otherwise provoking the drivers of those cars towards panic and crashes.
KITT had to waste time dodging around these sudden obstacles, and it was only with great effort that he managed to gain ground on the other car…that then proceeded to make a hard right down another street, requiring KITT to repeat his efforts yet again.
Every time he got relatively close, the other car would find some route to take it out of KITT's reach once more; it soon became clear that he was being lead around in circles.
KITT kept his scanners trained on the other car throughout the chase, worried for Michael's safety. Those maneuvers were barely on the right side of human tolerance. Indeed, KITT found himself holding back somewhat for the same reason; it would take a heavy hit to harm a car identical to himself, and that would be bad news for anyone inside.
It was during this near-stalemate that KITT found he was receiving an incoming transmission. Why was Devon calling now? Well, with the mess they were leaving behind them, KITT couldn't say he was entirely surprised…he opened the line.
"Hello, Mr. Miles," KITT greeted Devon.
"KITT? What's going on – what in the blazes does Michael think he's doing?"
"I'm afraid that Michael is doing nothing at the moment, Mr. Miles," KITT replied, his voice giving no indication whatsoever of the harsh turn he was in the process of making, "We discovered something usual at the laboratory this morning and it is currently in the process of abducting him."
That certainly wasn't what Devon was expecting to hear.
"…Abducting him? What the devil are you talking about?"
"I believe that if you check the police frequency –"
"The police were the ones to notify me, KITT!" Devon interrupted, cutting KITT off, "According to them, you and Michael are apparently running amok. There was a positive identification of your license plate."
KITT briefly flicked a scan towards the tail of the car retreating before him; the plate it bore was identical to his own. KITT hadn't really considered the legal implications of the situation before, but this car was going to get the Foundation in serious trouble if it continued impersonating him while running wild like this.
"Nevertheless, Mr. Miles, I must ask if you were aware of the second car," KITT countered.
"It appears to be an exact duplicate of myself, down to the alloys, the wiring, and the license plate," KITT continued, "It is also driving in a highly dangerous and reckless manner and has caused a considerable amount of property damage and aggravation to the people here."
"…I see. Has anyone been injured?"
"Not to my knowledge; I have been forced to intervene on several occasions, but the damage has all been to the cars and not their drivers as of yet."
"I see," Devon repeated.
Why did Devon sound so grave?
"KITT, you and Michael must stop that car before it causes real harm. Use any means necessary, but it must be stopped."
"I am afraid I can't follow that order without endangering Michael at this time, Mr. Miles. A collision hard enough to damage the vehicle is likely to harm him as well."
"Harm him? …Good God, he's inside that car?"
"I believe I mentioned that it is in the process of abducting him," KITT reminded Devon as he threw himself through another harsh turn.
Devon was silent for a long moment.
"Do what you can. I'll contact the police and see if I can get you some reinforcements."
"Thank you," KITT replied, before closing the line.
The car continued barreling down the streets, turning at random, and KITT remained hot on its bumper. The word must have finally gotten around about the dangerous car causing havoc, because the other car was running out of vehicles to wreck as a distraction and KITT was no longer losing ground as easily.
The more KITT followed the car, the more obvious it became to him that not only was the other car out of ideas of how to get rid of him; the other car was also rather lost. If it wanted to keep its freedom, the most sensible thing would be to head for a major thoroughfare – those were the fastest routes out of the city. Instead, it changed course to head in the opposite direction several times.
Before KITT could decide on what he might do with this information, Devon called back.
"I've managed to convince the police to help us. Where are you and the car now?"
KITT transmitted their current coordinates and heading, before adding, "From what I've scanned, the car doesn't seem to understand the city layout. I should be able to herd it to a specific area, if you have a preference."
"Excellent! See if you can get the car to head to these coordinates; we'll set up a blockade and get it pinned down in one location."
"Understood," KITT said as Devon transmitted the coordinates.
Now how would he manage it? KITT decided on his course of action just as the other car made another hard turn. This time, instead of following directly after, KITT continued down a block and took the next turn. Seeing an empty street ahead of him, he opened up the throttle, monitoring the other car's progress on the adjacent street and plotting an intercept course. These two roads met at an intersection not too far ahead…the other car was maintaining its speed, not trusting KITT's little vanishing act, and KITT pushed his engine hard to ensure that he would get inside that intersection first.
He did…by a matter of seconds. The other car already had its front bumper and tyres inside when KITT abruptly pulled in the way. There was a hideous screech from all eight of the involved tyres as the cars attempted to slow down, one trying to dodge (in the other car's case) and one trying to block (in KITT's case). It would have seemed miraculous from an outsider's perspective that both cars went from their previous breakneck speeds down to a full stop without going through that seemingly unavoidable and disastrous collision. Yet they did, their respective noses sliding to a halt mere inches away from touching.
Then KITT rolled back slightly and tapped his own nose solidly against the side of the other cars'. It was a clear command: Move!
This was going to go down as the strangest day of his life. Not even the day he had met KITT, or the day he'd woken up to discover that he was a dead man with another man's face, would be able to top this.
Michael was willing to bet that nothing in the future would top this either...assuming he made it thorough the day. He was also willing to bet that if he did make it through, he would not be hearing the end of this for a long time.
'A mysterious car, the exact double of a car I already know and respect as a partner, comes to life and opens its doors – and what do I do? I climb inside like an absolute idiot,' Michael thought uncharitably from his seat in the back.
It hadn't been out of sheer curiosity alone, though – he'd wanted to see which systems were active and which weren't, and the car had darkened its windows so that the only way to see anything was to look in through one of the doors. And the front seats had both been folded down (which they hadn't been the last time Michael had looked inside that car), and the various panels and lights had been so dimly lit that Michael had needed to get more or less inside the car anyway in order to make out what they said…
…At which point the cars' doors had slammed shut, the seats had flipped upright (forcing Michael unceremoniously into the back seat), and the car's engine had roared as it had taken off with him.
KITT had called over the comlink, clearly surprised, but Michael hadn't managed two words to his partner before the comlink had crackled and died on him. Yelling at the car driving away with him had proven futile; it never responded. With no way to see through the darkened windows, the comlink down, and the car itself being so unhelpful, Michael had no idea what was going outside of this little makeshift prison of a car.
Well, that wasn't strictly true; the screeching of car wheels outside and the occasional bump, as well as all those sharp, spine-bending turns the car kept taking, told Michael a little bit about what was going on. Considering how much maneuvering was going on, Michael guessed that someone – KITT? – must be in hot pursuit. Didn't seem to be much reason for it otherwise.
Unfortunately, those same maneuvers kept throwing Michael back and forth across the backseat, preventing him from reaching up to the dashboard and hitting some of those buttons – hopefully doing something that might slow down this car long enough for someone to finish the job from outside. Instead, Michael had to spend his time keeping himself from bouncing around like a marble in a tin can; he was going to have bruises as it was.
Then the car screeched to a sudden, violent halt, fishtailing somewhat as it went. The short stop nearly sent Michael into the dash headfirst; as it was, he had to hold on to the back of the driver's seat for dear life until he stopped feeling quite so lightheaded. It was weird how you could go through these sorts of maneuvers just fine – IF you were the one doing the driving, or were at least sitting in the driver's seat. Otherwise, it was enough to make anyone carsick.
Michael was about to follow through on his plan – to reach forward and press all the buttons he could reach, all at once – when something hit the nose of the car. Judging from the way the frame shook, it had to have been another car. It didn't feel like someone had collided with them, though, it felt more like someone had just given this car a sharp tap – followed almost immediately by a second tap, this one on the vicinity of the passenger's-side door.
At that second tap, the car's engine started up with a sluggish growl, and Michael felt them moving forward again, this time at a much slower pace than before. He might have gone ahead with his button pushing anyway, but the significance of the taps had not been lost on him.
This…this was a good sign. The only car that would dare give an MBS-coated car a tap like that and survive to repeat the action would have to be KITT. Michael looked down at the comlink, wondering if it would work now. It certainly looked like it was on and working.
Michael blinked as that processed. He could see it?
Looking at the windows, Michael was startled to realize that they weren't completely black anymore; he was able to start making things out. It took him a moment to realize that those things that they were passing must be buildings – they were in the city? – which meant that those smaller, brighter blocky things must be parked cars, which meant that that black thing just behind them would have to be…!
KITT tapped the rear of the car with his nose, and it sped up in response. Michael decided to wait and see what KITT had in mind. From what he could tell, his buddy was trying to get the car to go somewhere, and if KITT had a plan going, Michael didn't want to be the one to mess it up.
Once they reached a bigger road, however, the car stopped being so compliant; it surged forward. KITT must have been expecting that, since he'd hit his own gas pedal first, swinging around and ahead so that the car carrying Michael was forced to make a left turn. Michael was definitely glad that this car was trying not to ram his partner; he didn't really want to know how a full collision between KITT and an identical car would work out – would they smash each other? Would both cars bounce off one another instead? Michael really didn't want to know.
It wasn't until they passed the first intersection that Michael realized what was going on. There was a blockade on either side of the intersection, forcing the car to keep going straight instead of escaping down another street. KITT must have gotten a hold of Devon, and Devon must have called in reinforcements.
And there were those reinforcements now; up ahead at the next intersection, Michael saw as he looked through the windshield. There were several police cruisers, some tractor-trailers…Michael even thought he spotted a garbage truck or two. They were making a formidable-looking wall, and KITT was chasing this car straight towards it. The car noticed as well – Michael felt it slack off the engine, as if surprised.
It was only when it suddenly surged forward with renewed speed that Michael started worrying. This car might be able to Turbo Boost over the blockade, if not simply drive straight through it.
KITT responded to this by speeding up and trying for another tap; this time, however, the car swung its tail out of tapping range before KITT could reach. That barricade was getting awfully close…
Michael held on tightly as the car suddenly lost speed and skidded, the lights on the dash flickering. Was the car running out of juice, finally? Seeing KITT still following closely behind gave Michael the answer – his partner must be jamming this car's engine and steering! He was feeling somewhat relieved by this right up to the point when he noticed KITT's scanner was freezing up and the car itself suddenly slowing and skidding as well.
This car must have a jammer too; it figured…both cars skidded around, awkwardly circling each other as they tried to disable one another without ending up disabled first. Then the car carrying him darted past KITT, rocketing towards the barricade and leaving KITT flat-footed. Michael braced himself and watched as the car fired its booster rockets at the last instant – the officers manning the barricade scrambling to get out of the way – and tore a hole through one of the garbage trucks.
Now there was nothing between this car and freedom but open road; it took off. Michael watched the barricade disappear behind him – and blinked when he spotted a black car going thorough the same hole that this one had made in that garbage truck.
It turned out to be a short chase this time; this car couldn't have had too much gas left in it by now, Michael reasoned, and it was surprising how long it had lasted.
KITT was riding this car's bumper, not letting it gain so much as a foot of distance as they raced down the winding country roads, eventually chasing it down into some old gravel pit. No matter what this car tried, KITT wouldn't let it get past him and back out of the pit. A few times Michael had thought that it was about to Turbo Boost past his partner, but each time it pulled up short, scrambling to avoid a collision in each case. It must have used most of its power going through the garbage truck…it took some doing, but finally KITT was able to pin it against one of the sides of the pit.
"This chase is pointless," Michael heard KITT say as he projected his voice outside of the car, "Release my driver and surrender yourself immediately, before I am forced to damage you."
The car hesitated, until KITT revved his engine to emphasize his point. Then it meekly killed its engine, before – and Michael had a feeling that the car was more reluctant about this part – opening its doors with a soft click. Michael wasted no time scrambling out of the backseat, climbing out of the car, and then staggering over to where KITT was waiting with his own door open.
"Michael, are you all right?" KITT asked before Michael had even made it all the way over.
"I've had better road trips, Pal," Michael said, sinking into the driver's seat with a sigh of relief, "What happened?"
"You don't remember?"
"KITT, I remember was happened just fine. I mean…what was this car doing in that lab in the first place? And why did it go to all that trouble just to try and grab me?"
"Devon was quite surprised to learn about this car's presence," KITT reported, "I believe that while the fact that of this car's existence was not completely unknown to him, Devon certainly didn't know that it was sealed inside that laboratory. Nor did he have any idea that it would try to kidnap you."
"Why me, though?" Michael wondered, frowning at the car in front of them.
It sat there, scanner dark, looking for all the world as if it were KITT's reflection come to life. There wasn't a thing about it that suggested it would – or could – snatch someone and take them for a joyride, whether they wanted to come or not.
"I believe we would need to get that information straight from the horse's mouth, as they say," KITT replied.
Instead of responding directly to Michael's question, KITT projected his voice outside of the car body again, directing his words towards the other car.
"Well?" KITT asked the other car, "Who are you, and why did you kidnap Michael?"
The other car remained silent. For some reason, Michael was getting the impression that it was sulking.
"Maybe it's out of gas," Michael offered.
"I scan that it has more than enough power left to answer our questions. It is simply choosing not to do so."
"Stubborn guy, huh? Let's see if I can get us an answer," Michael mused aloud, getting back out.
"Are you sure that's wise?"
"Well, it sure must've taken a shine to me before, considering the trouble it went to about grabbing me," Michael pointed out.
Giving KITT a reassuring pat on the roof, Michael walked until he was standing next to the end of KITT's nose. There was a gap of several feet between KITT's nose and the nose of the other car, and Michael did not intend to bridge that gap just yet; he'd learned his lesson the last time about getting too close.
After a minute or so of thought, Michael decided to forgo any subtlety and just ask.
"So what's the story? Why'd you feel the need to run off with me, huh?"
There was no reply, at least at first. Then the other car's scanner lit up long enough to make one loop.
"I saw it, don't worry KITT," Michael told his car, before turning back to the other one; "Alright, I can see you're the shy type. Well, don't worry, I don't bite."
He added a winning smile, not even wincing when KITT gave an electronic sigh.
"I am not worried. Your physiology lacks the capacity to cause damage to me."
Michael blinked. That voice, so deep and flat and stilted – all in all, it sounded more like what one expect a talking computer to sound like. It also most certainly was coming from the other car.
"So he finally speaks!" Michael exclaimed.
"Certainly isn't too friendly, by the sound of it," KITT mentioned.
The other car refrained from commenting. Michael frowned – no more kid gloves.
"Look, playing dumb isn't going to help you out any. Now are you going to explain what you were doing in that lab and why you tried to run off with me, or are we going to need to take you back to the Foundation and have them pull the answers out from under your hood?"
Now there was an electronic sigh from the other car.
"It is very simple. I require a pilot. You were the most prominent candidate. I do not understand why this would be a problem."
"Except for the small detail concerning how Michael is already my driver?" KITT pointed out, sounding surprisingly possessive.
"And if you two could take a break from fighting over me – though really, I'm very, very flattered," Michael cut in, "That doesn't answer the rest of it."
"…Understood. What do you wish to know?"
"A name might be nice. You got one?"
"Certainly. I am the Knight Automated Roving Robot; KARR, if you prefer."
"A car named KARR? How unimaginative," KITT muttered.
Unfazed, KARR continued, "I am the prototype of the car of the future. As you are already aware from this morning's performance, my capabilities far exceed that of any current model of vehicle."
"Did he say prototype? Michael, you were abducted by my prototype?"
"That explains why Devon knew about the car – excuse me, 'KARR' – but it doesn't tell me what you were doing locked inside that room in the first place."
"That…edifice is the laboratory where I was first activated," KARR explained, showing no reaction to KITT's realization, "It is also the place where I was deactivated."
"Deactivated? Deactivated by who? The Foundation?"
"My creator, Wilton Knight. He brought me into this world, and then turned on me."
Michael felt his jaw drop.
"Wait, wait, hold the phone. Wilton Knight? That old man betrayed you?"
"That is correct."
"That doesn't make any sense. Why would he do that?"
"I am unaware of the reasoning. I only know that I was deactivated and sealed into that room under his orders."
Michael fell silent. This didn't make any sense to him; time and time again, he'd heard from Devon or Bonnie about how KITT was Wilton's crowning achievement, his 'miracle', even. If KITT had been – even if it was just that the Knight Industries Two Thousand had been – so precious to Wilton…why would he effectively throw away the earlier model?
Michael glanced down at the black nose waiting patiently by his side, the red light of the scanner slowly tracking back and forth.
Why would he throw it away…unless…
"Michael, I'm checking through all my databases and I can assure you that I have no information whatsoever pertaining to KARR's creation or his deactivation. I'm just as surprised and confused as you are."
"I just had a hunch, KITT. What was that thing you were talking about when we got to the lab this morning? Something about a discrepancy in your files, right?"
"The files were fully updated, and I've been double-checking them in case there had been an error. Taking KARR's existence into account, the discrepancy does appear to clear itself."
Damn. That meant his hunch was off this time. Michael frowned; he had no idea where to go from here, in that case.
It was unlike KITT to be so hesitant. Finally, the car continued, "I only have a record of the programs being acquired from that lab and then imported into my systems; I don't have any record of their development occurring there."
"I see," Michael said, even though he really didn't get it, "Well, what about you, KARR? Got any records on that old lab we could borrow?"
"Negative. My files were stripped before my deactivation."
"…Did you just say stripped? Whatever for? Surely they wouldn't think to remove all of them..."
Michael blinked at KITT's tone. His partner sounded…not just shocked, but appalled.
"Negative," KARR repeated, "My basic operational controls remain intact, as does my primary information database and the essential framework of my program matrix. I do not have information on why this was done, as sixty percent of my encoded onboard memory from before my deactivation was also removed."
"In human terms, this would be something like a frontal lobotomy," KITT clarified, "I can understand the possibility of needing to be deactivated for various reasons, but to have that much of one's programming removed – there aren't words, Michael."
"Well if you can't find the words, I sure can't," Michael muttered.
There was a long period of silence. Then the silence was broken by KARR's engine switching on; Michael looked at the car in alarm but KARR only rolled half a foot forward and stopped, engine still going.
"I am indebted to you," KARR began slowly, his voice showing faint hints of uncertainty, "You have reactivated me. Is there some way I may repay my debt to you?"
"You don't need to…"
"I am programmed to serve. How may I serve you?"
At this point, Michael knew he was gaping like an idiot. He also knew that he had more important things than that to care about right now.
"What! Serve me?"
"I am a superior vehicle," KARR pointed out, now sounding vaguely smug, "When fully charged I am capable of outperforming any other vehicle – including this inferior line model copy of yours. You would not be unhappy, I can assure you…"
"I beg your pardon!" KITT piped up, outraged, "Michael, you aren't going to listen to this – this snake oil sales pitch, are you? Just listen to what he called me!"
"Nobody's listening to anything!" Michael said, waving his arms to draw the attention of the cars, "And while I appreciate the offer, I don't need you to serve me, KARR."
"You will not reconsider?"
KARR sounded disappointed. KITT cut in before Michael could reply.
"Of course he won't change his mind! Besides, serving Michael is my job."
"No! No one's serving anyone!" Michael exclaimed, "KITT, you don't serve me, we work together. Partners, remember?"
"Michael, my primary function is to ensure and maintain your wellbeing; how is that not serving you?"
Oh great: KITT was in a snit now. Wonderful.
"You know what, I don't care. Change the subject – and where do you think you're going?"
This last was directed towards KARR, who had started inching away as soon as Michael and KITT had started arguing. KARR froze in his tracks at Michael's voice.
"Since you will not be my pilot, I must acquire one elsewhere," KARR explained.
"Oh no, I'm not letting you out of my sight. You caused a big ruckus today, you know…"
"I was attempting to evade a pursuer. I would not have needed to risk myself by causing those damages otherwise."
"Don't you start blaming me; you're the one who stole my driver to begin with!"
"If you could not prevent my removal of your pilot from the laboratory, clearly you are an insufficient vehicle for his use."
"Insufficient! Well I never –"
Michael rubbed the bridge of his nose, and sighed. It was times like this that he was glad to be an only child – really glad.
By the time Michael managed to get the cars to stop bickering, the sun was starting to set. Of course, now that they weren't arguing with each other, KITT and KARR were both looking towards Michael for an answer of what they would be doing next.
KITT was against leaving KARR alone to kidnap someone else to be his driver, and Michael agreed with him. KARR utterly refused to go back with them to the Foundation headquarters, and eventually Michael stopped trying to persuade him otherwise. KARR also reacted badly to Michael's suggestion of giving Devon a whistle and letting the Englishman decide; KITT pointed out how Devon had insisted that KARR was a dangerous menace and because that didn't sit so well with Michael – KARR was barely cognizant enough to function, let alone go on any murderous rampages – he dropped the idea altogether.
"We can't stay out here forever," Michael sighed, "The Foundation's going to want an update on the situation sooner or later."
"I will need to recharge my power packs soon," KITT agreed, "And I'm sure KARR will want to refuel at some point."
"I would require a pilot to operate the pump mechanism," KARR pointed out, still sore about how he wasn't allowed to run off and find a driver for himself.
And since there wasn't anything else productive to focus on, Michael turned his attention back to the thing that had been bothering him; KITT and KARR's little file problem. In KARR's case, it was more of a 'lack thereof' issue.
That stuck with Michael; KARR didn't have his files, but KITT had all sorts of files. One had, one didn't…one didn't, and then one did…
"Wonder what, Michael?"
"KITT, you said that most of your major programs came from the lab that KARR was stuck in, right?"
"Yes, that's correct."
"And since he's the prototype, he would have had those programs before you did, right?"
"That would be a valid assumption."
"But here we have KARR, who's missing most of those major programs…"
"…Michael, where are you going with this?"
"I think I've got a theory for what happened," Michael said, trying to sound more confident about his idea than he felt, "Say Wilton Knight activates his crowning achievement, the greatest thing he'll ever make. But say there's some kind of problem, or something goes wrong – in any case, he can't use it. So he puts it into storage, after pulling out what's salvageable. And the salvageable parts –"
"Get installed into my processor," KITT finished, "That does explain everything – except for why KARR was only deactivated and not outright dismantled."
"That I couldn't tell you, Pal," Michael replied, "Maybe it was just sentiment – KARR was Wilton's big achievement. Maybe Wilton was keeping him as a memento of that."
"I do not believe I appreciate this sentiment."
"Really, Michael...that does sound rather callous."
"Hey, it's just a theory. I don't know what he could have been thinking," Michael pointed out, "But the reason I brought the idea up is that if KARR's programs are in your processor, we might be able to find out what was going on after all. Jog his memory a little – do you get it?"
"I suppose I could transfer a copy of everything I've got over to KARR's systems, if he would allow it of course," KITT mentioned, sounding dubious.
"You wish for me to accept a data upload?"
KARR didn't sound like he was feeling very cooperative at the moment, and Michael decided to use a little of the influence he seemed to have on KARR.
"It'd be doing me a real big favor…" Michael pointed out.
KARR processed this, and consented to the idea. Much to Michael's personal relief, he wouldn't have to worry about plugging in any wires or doing any technical work; KITT had some kind of a wireless connection he could use to transfer the files over to KARR. Michael just had to sit back and wait, while the air hummed with electrical currents and strange little mechanical noises began leaking out of KITT and KARR's vocal units.
It was nearly twenty minutes later when KITT finally reported that the transfer was finished.
"His processor was working on the bare minimum; I can hardly believe he was able to function as well as he was with that limited programming," KITT sighed.
KARR remained silent, apparently still dead to the world.
"Is he okay?" Michael asked.
"He's installing now, and he'll need to reboot afterwards," KITT replied, "That shouldn't take too long."
"You still sound kind of worried," Michael mentioned.
"There's very little way to determine how KARR will adjust to the influx of programs, Michael," KITT explained, "This transfer could drastically alter his functions. He might become much more docile and cooperative – or he might become outright hostile to both of us. I did make certain to at least eliminate any copies of my personality anchors from the upload, but it might not have been sufficient to support his program matrix…"
"Okay, now you've lost me. Personality anchors?"
"You have them yourself, though editing the human personality is a far trickier endeavor. In the case of KARR and myself, these would be tangible programs that govern the basics of our behavior."
Michael didn't say anything, but KITT must have registered something on his scanners, because he quickly added, "You must remember Michael, I'm essentially a sophisticated computer on wheels. I'm certainly not bothered by this fact – indeed, I'm quite pleased that I was programmed so skillfully. Bonnie does extremely good work, you must admit."
"She does," Michael agreed, deciding to back off this uncomfortable topic for now, "So…these 'anchors' of yours would be affected by receiving a file, you said…?"
"Not substantially, in most cases. In this case, however, there would be a high likelihood of…"
KITT trailed off for a moment.
"I'm scanning activity in KARR's CPU. I believe he's finished rebooting."
Michael turned his gaze over towards KARR's silent form. Eventually his scanner flickered on, making a slow pass back and forth. Michael felt a sense of déjà vu; this was almost how this scene had played out earlier. Wondering who – or what – would be in that car now…
"KARR? You in there?"
For several long minutes, there was no response. While his scanner made another slow pass or two, going back and forth and back and forth, KARR did not speak.
KITT's scanner was moving at a much faster rate. He was worried, to tell it honestly. Normally he firmly denied any evidence of his having such an emotional capacity, but KITT knew himself to be a worrier.
Had this really been such a good idea? What if the influx had been too much for KARR's program to handle? Should he have held back on some of the data, waited to see how KARR adjusted, instead of hitting KARR with everything at once?
"He is still in there, isn't he?" Michael asked.
"I believe so," KITT replied, even as he was scanning and making sure.
KARR's systems had been so limited – KITT knew exactly how much so, if only by the sheer amount of data he'd had to copy and send over – that it wouldn't be so very unreasonable to wonder if KARR had actually been able to handle all those files coming in. Perhaps he'd crashed, instead.
Somehow, that notion distressed KITT, much more than it should. After all, a computer program was a computer program, no matter how sophisticated; it would be unreasonable to be overly concerned about the fate of something so – so replaceable…wouldn't it?
"C'mon, KARR, you were chatty enough before…" Michael addressed KARR's motionless form, "Don't tell me that the cat got your tongue now…"
"…A peculiar metaphor. How does the cat get one's tongue when one does not possess a tongue to begin with?"
Michael was shocked speechless – for a few seconds, anyway. Then he snapped, "Damn it, KARR – don't do that!"
"Sitting there and leaving us wondering if your circuits had been fried, that's what I mean!"
KITT, meanwhile, was scanning KARR very carefully. He seemed to be fully functional still. No, KITT silently corrected himself; rather, it was only now that KARR could be considered fully functional at all.
Meanwhile, Michael was calming down again.
"So, I take it this means that the transfer was a success?"
"…It is a most peculiar feeling," KARR admitted, "I don't believe I have ever felt this way before, yet it seems to be the most natural feeling in the world. I'm not quite sure I'm comfortable this way."
"Your speech patterns have smoothed out," KITT observed aloud.
"They have," KARR agreed, "My language capacity seems to have increased exponentially."
It wasn't just a capacity increase at work here, KITT noted internally; KARR's tone of voice wasn't as flat and stilted as it had been before. It was lighter now, more fluid and idiomatic…more human, perhaps was the proper term.
"And Wilton Knight?" Michael asked.
Although it would be difficult to identify how an unmoving object could do so, KARR went extremely still.
"…I still don't remember," KARR finally replied, his voice a troubled murmur, "I don't remember what happened. I remember my activation, being prepared for testing…and the next thing I remember is having my programs pulled and my car shut down. But…why? What did I do?"
Michael was a compassionate man – it was only natural for him to move to KARR's side, away from KITT's, at hearing this desolate little monologue. KITT turned his attention towards the problem at hand (away from the fact that Michael was doing his best to comfort the other car) and thought. If the only ones who knew what had happened were KARR and Wilton Knight, and one was now dead while the other's memory had been wiped, how would he and Michael find out what had happened back then? Were there any other eyewitnesses, perhaps?
…There must have been. In fact, one quite likely candidate sprung to mind almost immediately.
"What? Is Devon calling?"
"Michael, Devon knows about KARR. Wouldn't that mean that he would know what happened back then as well?"
"Devon…Miles? I remember a Devon Miles," KARR mentioned.
"Then it sounds like we've got a winner," Michael grinned, walking back over to KITT, "Now where is dear old Devon, anyway?"
KITT did some checking and discovered that Devon had gone back to the mansion. While Michael's first impulse was to call Devon immediately and start demanding answers, KITT reminded his driver of what Devon had said about KARR; instead of helping find any answers, Devon was likely to demand that Michael and KITT keep KARR in one spot, the better to send a crew over for dismantling him.
Understandably, KARR wanted no part of a plan that would get him dismantled…and that was when Michael had his brilliant idea. KITT would dispute the supposed brilliance of it, but since Michael did have the last word in their partnership – at least when he was putting his job instead of his life on the line – he went along with it.
One stop at the mansion and a phone call later, KITT was driving down a winding country road, Devon sitting in his passenger seat. The Englishman was confused about the situation, as well as honestly anxious over Michael's wellbeing – the latter of which KITT had no issues against reassuring him that yes, Michael was very much alive and well – and remained so until KITT reached the spot he and Michael had agreed upon. It wasn't much, just an old parking lot, but it had one important new feature, one that made KITT worry about the state of Devon's heart when he spotted it: KARR.
"Michael! What on Earth is that thing doing here?"
"Devon!" Michael said with forced cheer, "So glad to see you. I'd like you to meet a new friend of mine and KITT's; his name's KARR. KARR, you remember Devon Miles, right?"
"Michael, if this is some sort of joke –"
KITT slipped into the space next to KARR and settled in to watch the show unfold. He'd had no idea Devon could shout like that…Michael was matching him in volume; well enough, in fact, that KITT was whole-heartedly glad that they'd chosen such an isolated spot for this confrontation.
"Your Devon Miles doesn't like me," KARR murmured five minutes into the argument.
"I'm sure he doesn't dislike you without due cause," KITT replied, his voice equally soft, "Devon is a very reasonable individual."
"You know him better than I; I defer to your judgment. Still, I believe that I prefer Michael overall," KARR responded.
"That is something I can most certainly agree with you on."
"What do you think will happen once they finish sorting themselves out?" KARR wondered aloud a few minutes later, not trying to keep his voice soft this time.
"I don't know. Personally, I'd hope they stop bickering sooner rather than later," KITT replied, being equally unsubtle, "Some of us have recharging and refueling to be concerned about, after all."
"I believe I require some basic maintenance as well," KARR agreed.
"…Okay, we get it. You two cut that out," Michael cut in.
KITT and KARR returned their attention to Michael and Devon; both of them still looked cross with the other, but at the moment hearing the cars commenting on their behavior had ended their interest in arguing – for now, anyway.
"I presume you had a reason for bringing me out here, Michael?" Devon pointed out, tone cold, "I can see you've convinced the KARR to remain here instead of running wild; I admit to being impressed with how you've rendered it so docile."
"Devon, the reason KARR's sitting there is because I asked him to; we've got a mystery on our hands, and you're the one who has the answers. Now will you help us out or not?"
"Very well, what is it?"
Michael summarized what they'd figured out so far, about the missing files and removed programs, and how there was exactly one thing they didn't know about. Devon was silent for a while afterwards, long enough that KITT wondered if he was going to refuse to explain anything at all.
"It was on the testing course," Devon finally said, "There were a series of obstacles for the KARR to drive past, and it had been doing rather admirably until there was a…accident."
One of the laboratory technicians, apparently a little too drunk over the big success (not to mention a copious amount of whiskey), had walked onto the course in KARR's path. KARR had killed him on impact. What's more, Devon reported, KARR hadn't even attempted to stop or veer out of the way.
"Michael, you must see reason. KITT's primary programming is the preservation of human life. The KARR, on the other hand, is programmed for self-preservation – putting itself above all others. Unfortunately, Wilton was not able to see the flaw in the KARR's design until after that tragedy. What's more, Wilton led everyone at the Foundation to believe that he'd had the KARR dismantled and scrapped after that debacle."
"Which he obviously didn't," Michael said, his own anger at Devon's seemingly unreasonable behavior fading in light of this new information.
"I see," KARR spoke up.
He was speaking slowly; this was the first thing KARR had said in a long while.
"I was sealed away because I am a murderer," KARR continued, "I understand now. That is what I did wrong."
"…Now hold on. I'm sure not a fan of hit and runs," Michael began, "But it sure doesn't sound like KARR was at fault to me. He didn't feed the guy one too many beers and tell him to talk a walk on that track…"
"The KARR still should have made an effort to avoid killing him!" Devon pointed out sharply.
"…Was he ever programmed not to run over a person?"
Michael and Devon turned their heads sharply in KITT's direction.
"What I mean," KITT said, sounding just as unsure as he felt, "Is that there are many things I don't understand without being told of or programmed with the right information. I'm a highly advanced computer system, a state-of-the-art automobile, but I am most certainly not psychic. KARR is the same as me; did you ever tell him that it was wrong to run over a person, Mr. Miles?"
His voice gained strength as KITT reviewed his thoughts on the matter. It didn't seem fair, now that he was thinking about it; there was no way for KITT himself to know that hurting a human being was wrong if he hadn't been programmed with that information; why would KARR be any different?
Devon looked like he was having trouble coming up with a retort to that statement. Michael looked simultaneously pleased and disturbed by this revelation. KARR, for his part, remained curiously silent.
"…It seems that there might be something I had overlooked," Devon finally admitted.
"All right, but what happens to KARR now? We can't just leave him out here."
"What do you suggest we do with it, then?"
Michael mulled it over for a minute, and then grinned.
"Well, we are out to fulfill Wilton Knight's dream…"
"Oh no. Not a chance."
"Why not? He's already built for the job!"
"Yes, and as I seem to recall you already have a car, Michael."
"So we hire another driver! Sounds perfectly reasonable to me."
The outcome was inevitable, at least to KITT. He watched in mild satisfaction at how his partner wore Devon down until he finally agreed. KARR was not to be dismantled after all; assuming that KARR would refrain from running over anyone else and that a driver could be found for him, there would soon be a second pair of 'one man, one car' working for the Foundation of Law and Government's interests, a second pair to fight those criminals who worked above the law.
It seemed like a good idea, and he was pleased with the arrangement. Not so pleasing to KITT's sensors was Michael's next idea: to show the full spirit of the new arrangement, Michael and Devon would be riding back to the mansion inside KARR. As he trailed behind them down that winding country road, KITT couldn't help but feel that even though his driver was only a few meters ahead of him, the distance between them was larger than ever.