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 9: Demonstration
The black Camaro circled around the test track, the sun sparkling on its hood, its engine rumbling at peak efficiency. The driver, wearing white overalls and a black helmet, waved to the assembled dignitaries as the car passed them.
Jennifer Knight, in a rare appearance outside of her office, stood between Mr. Cross and Senator Bellis. Behind them were the members of the Board of Directors, and Dr. Yamata, representing the engineering team. "Thank you again for coming today, everyone," Ms. Knight said. "This car has been two years in development, and we're proud to be able to show it off for you. It's a re-imagining, if you will, of the original field vehicle that was used by our subsidiary, the Foundation for Law and Government, in the 1980s."
"I read about FLAG," one of the board members said. "What wasn't classified, at least. Its mission statement was that one man, with the right support, could make a difference."
"I'm glad that someone has kept informed," Ms. Knight said sincerely.
"All nostalgia aside," Mr. Cross said, "the purpose of this presentation is to allow you to assess the viability of the project for any future needs. This vehicle's functions are controlled by an advanced computer system that can assist its operator in various ways. If necessary, the car can even drive itself."
"That's hardly unusual these days," Senator Bellis remarked.
"You might find that there's more to that car than meets the eye, Senator," said Cross.
The sound of the engine changed pitch as the car sped by again, catching a few of the men by surprise. Awestruck, one observed, "That sounds more like a jet than a car."
Cross explained, "That's because its engine is a custom-built turbojet engine with modified afterburners and a rocket boost system for high-speed operation. But its true attraction is its maneuverability, which the driver will demonstrate." One corner of his mouth quirked up.
Out on the course, the driver seemed to be having some difficulty navigating the turns, prompting one man to comment, "So far I haven't seen anything that spectacular. You promised us results, Mr. Cross."
Cross was beginning to feel confident that all was going according to plan… until he noticed something different about the way the car was moving. After an unimpressive start, the driver had sped up and was now flawlessly executing hairpin turns, drifts, and power slides. How had Tomlinson improved so much in less than 24 hours? Had he been concealing his true ability all along? Or had that pesky engineer done something to the car's AI? She was supposed to be here, so where was she, anyway?
Another movement attracted his attention and he saw that two technicians were in the process of pulling a three-foot high wooden wall across the track not far from where the group was standing. "What are you doing over there?!" he bellowed. "Get that out of the way!" Privately he hoped that the driver would hit it – then the car might be damaged enough to not be able to continue.
The car had reached the straightaway and was speeding toward the obstacle. To the absolute astonishment of almost all present, there was an abrupt burst of rocket fire and the car was boosted into the air by propulsion units underneath the frame. It soared over the barrier, and its modified suspension groaned as it landed neatly on the other side. Seemingly undamaged, the car rounded the next turn and roared away.
Everyone in the group applauded enthusiastically, except for Cross, whose arms hung limply at his sides. What was going on here?
"That is what I came to see!" he heard Jennifer Knight cry exultantly. "KITT is back!"
Under his passive expression, Cross was seething. Jennifer Knight must have been planning this all along, perhaps even to spin off another iteration of FLAG. How could she be this unwise? A few days before the current FLAG had officially begun operation in January 2009, millions of dollars worth of Knight Industries stock was sold and the money had vanished. There'd been suspicions and accusations over the matter, but an internal investigation failed to determine who was responsible. It had taken years for the company to recover.
The driver approached the barrier again… but instead of leaping over it, the car careened straight through it, smashing the wood into chunks that flew in all directions across the track. Some landed at the feet of the group, startling them, but causing no injuries. The car meantime, had not sustained a single scratch.
With an ear-piercing screech and the pungent smell of smoking rubber, the Camaro slid to a stop nearby. Its driver climbed out and gave an impromptu salute before leaning against the side of the vehicle.
As the dignitaries gave another ovation, both Cross and Ms. Knight hurried toward the car.
"That was simply amazing," Jennifer gushed.
Cross brusquely interrupted his boss, hoping to salvage some part of his plan. "You," he said, shaking a fist at the driver, who still hadn't removed the helmet. "That last stunt was simply too much. People could've been hurt! I will be writing you up for reckless endangerment…"
A response came not from the driver, but the car. "Mr. Cross, I calculated the precise speed at which to strike the barrier that would cause the fragments to fall at a safe distance and not injure anyone. It's simple physics."
"Something you should've understood," the driver added, "if you've been Vice President of R&D at such a company as Knight Industries."
His expression contracted. "That voice… You're not Tomlinson!"
"No." The driver pulled off the helmet, to reveal the face of Mikayla Ferrell.
Now he knew his back was against the wall. "What is this? The Two Thousand was supposed to be operated by Tomlinson! That's what the Board was told." He glanced behind him for corroboration from the board members who had walked over to hear the exchange.
"Sir, you told me in our meeting yesterday that, I quote, the designated driver was to operate the Two Thousand for this demonstration. I happen to be KITT's designated driver today. He chose me to do it." There was a chorus of doubts from the assemblage, except for Ms. Knight and Takumi, and Mikayla smiled. They knew better.
Cross clenched his fists. "It's a computer," he growled stubbornly. "Computers must follow their programming, they don't have independent thought."
"KITT does," Mikayla said staunchly. "But he did follow his programming: he analyzed the data, compared Tomlinson's driving ability to mine, and selected the person best suited for performing this course and showing off his capabilities. Isn't that what you wanted to see?"
"Your driver is right, Dale," the senator said. "And I must say both she and the car executed the task admirably. However, there's still the matter of the field agent."
"Senator Bellis," Mikayla said quickly, "I'm sure Mr. Tomlinson would be a good agent. Gentlemen, please give me three months and I can train him to be able to handle KITT. Going into the field unprepared is a major risk in any milieu."
"This is my department, and my decision to make," Cross said obstinately.
Jennifer Knight rounded on him. "No, it's not," she contradicted. "I finally see what you're trying to do, Dale. Your division has been hanging on by a knife edge, and you don't want a repeat of the 2009 stock crash, so you're trying to dismantle the AI development program in order to gain a few extra dollars. You're just the same as that idiot Russell Maddock was."
"I'm trying to help this company get ahead!" he insisted. "That can't happen if it's run by soft-hearted idealists!"
She put her hands on her hips and pouted. "If you think I'm an idealist, you don't know me at all," she said with scorn. "What's happened to you, Dale?"
Trying to maintain some semblance of composure, Cross cleared his throat and said, "This should be discussed back at the office." He craned his neck to see where the other people had parked their cars. "Where's the Senator's chauffeur?"
"You mean this guy?" called a new voice. Everyone turned to see Peter Tomlinson, dressed in a dark shirt and jeans, hauling along Frederick Harrison who was wearing a chauffeur uniform and had his hands tied behind his back. "I found him hiding next to the track during the demonstration, trying to shoot out the car's tires with a silenced pistol. Someone really didn't want things to go well today." He gave the man a shove and Harrison stumbled forward into the arms of two of the Board members. "Mikayla and KITT were in touch with me the entire time because they expected something to happen."
"Not that it would've made a difference," Mikayla said smugly. "KITT is completely bulletproof, including the tires. Which you would've known, Mr. Cross, had you bothered to look at the specs. I wondered why you didn't answer my question about that, so I asked Mr. Tomlinson to do some investigating. Call it a test for a prospective field agent." She smiled. "My question now is, are you acting alone or is the senator involved too?"
Senator Bellis gaped in utter disbelief and raised his hands. "I have nothing to do with Mr. Cross' rather obvious grudge. My concern was whether a vehicle of this caliber would be beneficial for use by the police or other peacekeeping force."
Mikayla turned to him. "I must object, Senator," she said icily. "KITT is not to be used as a weapon."
"I second that," Jennifer Knight said.
"All of you are fools," Cross growled. Before anyone could move, he grabbed Ms. Knight from behind and pulled a gun from his jacket. "That car is going to save this company; it's worth millions. Now, let's you and I go for a drive, Jennifer, and discuss matters." He began to drag her toward the parked cars, and the rest of the people present didn't dare take any action for fear of endangering the CEO further. "If you want her to stay safe, don't follow us."
"Mikayla, Peter," came KITT's urgent voice in the earpiece she wore, "my sensors are detecting another armed man near the track–"
A gunshot rang out.
Mikayla felt a white heat pierce her left arm and she dropped to her knees with a cry. Everyone else scattered in a panic, with the exception of Peter, who dove toward KITT and slid through the still-open door into the driver's seat. "Can you get in?" he asked as he slammed the door shut.
She struggled to her feet and hurried behind the car as a second shot ricocheted off the driver's side window. KITT obligingly opened the passenger door to let her clamber inside. "Occupant restraint system activated," he said as he sealed himself.
"KITT," she panted, "Find Cross and disable him with a tranquilizer. We don't want him to hurt Ms. Knight."
"What about–" Peter began but was interrupted as KITT switched from Normal mode to Autopilot, put himself into reverse, and swept the area.
Another shot slammed into the windshield in front of Mikayla, and she saw a spidery filigree spread outwards about two inches from the impact point as the nano-skin dissipated the energy into itself. The bullet bounced harmlessly off the MBS-coated glass. Despite her fascination with the process, she grimaced in pain. Her arm was throbbing now and despite that she had clamped onto the wound with her free hand, blood was slowly spreading into the fabric of her coveralls. This hurt way more than anything she'd experienced before.
KITT said, "The shots seem to be directed toward Mikayla."
"I figured that I'm the target," she agreed. "But now that I'm safe, we can deal with the shooter afterwards."
"Deploying tranquilizer darts," KITT reported as a tiny cylinder extended from his front bumper. He had found Cross, who was still trying to pull Ms. Knight away at gunpoint and wasn't paying attention to what was happening behind him. Two seconds after the dart hit him, he groaned and collapsed unconscious to the ground.
Ms. Knight crouched as KITT positioned himself between her and his estimated location of the shooter. Peter flung his door open and moved forward enough so that she could squeeze past him and into the back seat.
The instant that the door was closed, KITT peeled out, leaving ruts in the grass border. "Mikayla, your vitals are stable," he said, but there was concern in his voice. "My scans show that the bullet is lodged between your biceps muscle and humerus, and fortunately didn't hit any major blood vessels, but you shouldn't move your arm or you might damage more tissues."
"KITT, can you locate the shooter's position?" Peter asked as he looked around. "We have to stop him."
"I've identified the shooter as Steven Miller. He's running toward the parking area." KITT accelerated in that direction, eliciting a yelp of surprise from Ms. Knight.
"He might be trying to escape in a car," Mikayla said through gritted teeth. "Dart him as soon as you get in range."
"Consider it done," KITT said brightly. "Deploying tranquilizer darts."
Miller had reached a car and had one hand on the door handle when KITT's dart struck him. He folded up on the pavement like a rag doll as KITT corrected his course and sped past the parked vehicles toward the exit.
"Where are you going?" Peter was confused. Clearly, he'd expected KITT to stop.
"Mikayla needs medical attention," KITT said as he turned onto the street. "The threats have been neutralized, so there's no further danger. I can reach the nearest hospital faster than an ambulance can get here. After all, I am programmed to respond to the needs of my driver."
Mikayla chuckled weakly. "You're all heart, KITT."
"De nada, buddy," he replied.