Data Corrupted part 2
Disclaimer – not mine obviously, and no money is being made
They had finalised the repairs to his cameras and microphones in the last work session. Kitt accessed them openly – it would be pointless to pretend he did not check the system errors he received with each initialisation. He prioritised the input of the external cameras, trying to draw ever more data on his situation.
Instead of Holmes or McNally two very familiar faces were standing in front of the standalone console in poorly fitting combat gear. His head mechanic and head technician looked harried, with Miss Fordham glancing constantly at a door in the far wall that Kitt had been unable to see before.
"Kitt can you hear me?" Bonnie asked hurriedly.
It's good to see you Bonnie. Kitt threw the message onto the screen quickly, The voice modulator is offline. I am only able to communicate this way.
"He's ok," Bonnie squeaked, "Although they haven't repaired all of his systems. He doesn't have a voice."
She sounded distraught at that, but Kitt had more burning concerns.
"Kitt, is the chassis mobile? Are your power reserves stable enough for us to move you?" Clarise asked, stooping to pick up a knapsack that clearly had tools in it if the clanking was any indication, "We have to move, and quickly."
The chassis is mobile, but I am unable to control it myself. Structural integrity is 98%. Most of my access is offline. My power source is stable and the gauge reads sufficient fuel in the tank for fifty miles.
Clarise nodded and gestured to Bonnie as she hurried past the console and along the side of his chassis.
"We don't have to go that far," she told him, "Dr Barstow, unhook him from that thing and we'll get out of here."
Clarise ran behind him and after a moment he heard the sound of a garage door raising. She headed for the driver's door and though it was futile Kitt wanted to lock it. The only person he wanted in that seat was his partner, who was patently not here. The tenuous threads of hope that Kitt had so painstakingly constructed while imprisoned in his damaged CPU started to stretch.
It seemed he had lost his bet.
Clarise pushed the driver's seat forward – it was either that or sit on the floor as there was no way she could reach the controls when they were set for Michael's dimensions. Again, he had to stifle the impulse to prevent the reconfiguration. She stowed her pack on the floor in the back seat and slipped inside as Bonnie shut the last connection to the terminal and hurried to pull the cable safely from his port.
"Michael is alive Kitt. He's hurt too bad to come, but I swear on my life, he is waiting for you back at HQ," Clarise told him as she shut the door. Bonnie slipped into the passenger seat; her own knapsack tucked between her feet. Voice analysis of Clarise's statement showed her to be telling the truth. His CPU almost threw an error in relief but he locked it down sharply. They couldn't afford to be distracted by his unhealed damage now.
Bonnie lowered the window and stuck the antenna of the handheld radio she was carrying outside of the chassis.
"We have lift off," she informed whoever was on-frequency, and Kitt dearly hoped that was just code talk. The chassis may have regained integrity, but turbo boost in his current condition would do more damage than he could comfortably withstand. Clarise started his engine and frowned at the less than tuned sound it made. The mechanics who'd worked on him were not up to par in the least.
"Are you sure about this?" Bonnie asked nervously and Clarise twisted in the bucket seat to look out the rear window.
"You might have taught him to talk, Dr Barstow," there was affection in Clarise's tone, a simple emotion Kitt had not heard in relation to himself since he'd last spoken to Michael, "But Michael and I taught him to drive."
Kitt almost missed the quiet 'that's what I'm afraid of' from the passenger seat. As the chassis started to move it was immediately apparent that the balance and wheel alignment was well out of true. Clarise muttered unkind epithets at mechanics who couldn't perform basic maintenance, which Kitt wholeheartedly agreed with. They appeared to be in some sort of basement complex. There were walls either side of him and Kitt was unable to determine their composite. They must have had some substance to them because Clarise had not attempted to back through one in order to turn around. The speedometer showed they were progressing at a brisk 50 miles an hour, something that Bonnie had noticed if her mildly terrified expression was anything to go by. Despite the slight wobble, Kitt was thoroughly enjoying his backwards mobility, especially as it promised to lead to his freedom.
His rear camera showed a long ramp ahead, the end shrouded in shadow and as his back wheels touched the start of it, Bonnie put a hand on the dashboard.
"Kit we don't have time to stop and open the door. It's made of wood though, and not very thick. You should be able to get through it easily. From there we're going straight onto the back of a semi. Clarise will stop your engine and once the rear door is shut, we will be on our way out. It's not the home office Kitt, so don't panic ok?"
Kitt absorbed the information in silence, as he had no other choice. It seemed that they were moving without the resources of the Foundation. He began to wonder how much of the information he'd been fed had been based on some form of reality. Before he could commence a proper string search his camera picked up the wooden door at the top of the ramp. Once again, he reached for inactive sensors, instinctively wanting to analyse the barrier to be ready to mitigate any unexpected structures or hazards.
"We got this Kitt," Clarise murmured and nudged his speed up to 55 miles an hour a moment before impact. The camera showed splinters of wood flying in every direction and his microphones picked up the noise. The semi was right where Bonnie had said it would be, painted with the colours of the sunrise, and Clarise applied the brakes carefully, compensating for the ever-increasing wobble. Kitt began to wonder if a tyre had gone flat as they scooted up the ramp and came to a rocking stop. Clarise left the safety of the cabin to grab for the controls by the open door. Kitt could see muzzle flashes in the ground floor of the warehouse and longed to call her back inside lest a stray round find its way here.
The ramp came to a clunking stop and Clarise stumbled past Kitts chassis to bang on the back of the truck. The engine noise that had been registering below the other sounds around him ramped up and Clarise swore as it jerked into motion. Microphones caught the sound of a human body impacting on the MBS and then she was back in the driver's seat, rubbing an elbow and threatening to dock Paul's pay.
The name was familiar. Paul was the most flamboyant mechanic Kitt had ever met. Michael had accepted the man with only slight hesitation at first, long since gone, which had said more about his driver's kind character than Kitt had initially realised.
"Kit, I know you must have a lot of questions for us," Bonnie said, "But I promise you we'll get you fixed up and you'll be able to ask them all. Michael is alive, he just… can't be here right now."
Kitt compared the phrasing to Clarise's, looking for discrepancies. Voice analysis showed that Bonnie was also telling the truth, but he wondered why she avoided the admission of injuries to his driver.
"Truth be told Kitt, he broke several bones when he fell out of the cabin," Clarise spoke up. Apparently against Bonnies' wishes if the expression on his head technicians face was anything to go by. Michael had once postulated that the more down to earth Clarise disliked Bonnie's mothering of Kitt. Not because she didn't think he needed a mother, but more because she thought Kitt didn't need the coddling Bonnie often supplied. Kitt had factored the possibility of broken bones into his decision to eject Michael, but he was still distressed to discover he'd been right.
"I don't know if you've been able to keep track of linear time at all, locked up like you were," Clarise continued calmly, letting her head fall back against his seat, "But it's been three weeks and a day since you were first attacked. Not long enough for Michael to have properly recovered from the breaks and be mobile enough to run in there and get you free."
While he had known that his sense of time was wholly distorted by the chicanery of his captors, Kitt was immensely relieved to know that it had only been three weeks of absence, not six months. Which begged the question, why had the Foundation not been involved more directly in his retrieval? Was it indeed on the brink of collapse as had been suggested? How much of the data he had was corrupted and how much based on a kernel of truth?
"As for the lack of Foundation support," Bonnie glared at Clarise, "Devon would have had a team ready in twenty-four hours, if not for some political interference from certain members of the board. Michael was working his non-Foundation contacts and an opportunity presented itself to get you out of there sooner."
"Something that we all jumped at a chance to do," Clarise grinned at a sudden memory. That expression was so familiar that Kitt took courage for whatever information was coming his way, "Remember that grumpy gardener who absolutely swears you killed his roses? Even he was sharpening his shears and throwing his hat into the ring."
Kitt did indeed remember the man mentioned as well as the demise of the rosebush, caused indirectly by Kitt as he chased his long-legged driver through the grounds. Michael had been threatening some idiotic thing or the other and Kitt had threatened to lock the man in the cabin of the chassis until he relented. The nudge to the automated lawn mower had been entirely accidental. Michael had lied thoroughly to get Kitt 'off the hook' as it were. Kitt had been grateful, if only because the incident had driven Michael's previously threatened actions from his mind.
"The point, Kitt," Bonnie sounded a little frustrated, "Is that none of us wanted to leave you there while politics drew things out. I think, if you can, you should conserve your energy now. When we get back to HQ, we'll start setting everything to rights."
Kitt accepted this as fact and composed himself to wait a while longer.
If Frank thought that Michael was going to be a good patient and settle in for a nap, he was sorely mistaken. Knowing that Kitt would soon be back with him gave Michael the energy he needed to bully his nurse into giving him a shave and changing into actual clothes. Even assuming that Kitt was online, he wasn't going to have his partner's first sight of him as a dishevelled wreck in a thin hospital gown and blankets.
Frank acquiesced to the shave – had been nagging Michael about it for the last week – and insisted on a full bath as well. It was humiliating, but Michael had gritted his teeth and bore it as well as he could. They went back and forth about the clothes until Michael gave in and agreed to winter thick track bottoms and socks stretched over the toes of his casts, and a thick sweater instead of the shirt and leather jacket he would normally wear. He even agreed to sleep in the damn hospital bed until the semi returned with Kitt, rather than going to the garage now and sleeping in the electric wheelchair. Not that he had much of a choice. Kitt's potential return had given him a boost of energy but was not enough to overcome the damage he'd unintentionally done to himself in his depressed state.
He was woken by Raoul, who smiled and patted his arm so gently Michael thought for a heart stopping moment something had gone wrong.
"Paul called on the CB, they are five minutes out compadre. Shall we get you up?"
"Yes please," Michael breathed. Frank already had the wheelchair waiting and for once Michael didn't protest the pain killers he was required to take before being lifted from the bed to the chair. Raoul fussed with blankets as sunrise peeped around the drapes and Michael grinned at him when asked if he was ready to go.
The house was still mostly asleep as they moved through it, and the dawn air had a sharp bite that Michael barely felt as he piloted across to the garage. Raoul directed him to the back wall, and Michael backed into the 'parking space' set between two space heaters. Only minutes after they'd entered through the side door, he could hear the semi backing up outside and Raoul opened the garage door. Michael stayed where he was while the rear of the semi lowered and frowned a little at the unbalanced sound of the engine. The front scanner was dark and the MBS scuffed and smeared, but it was the familiar lines of his partner. Clarise was in the driver's seat, something that rarely happened, and it was clear that she was guiding the chassis down the ramp and into the garage. Bonnie popped out of the passenger side the minute the engine switched off and headed for the small crowd of techs waiting near Michael.
"How is he?" the question was blurted out before she'd even taken a step.
"He's online but not able to communicate out loud as yet Michael. He's still got some damage that needs to be fixed and we need a full diagnostic. Miss Fordham is not pleased with the repairs on her side of the equation either," Bonnie didn't pause in her stride at all and the techs surged forward at her gesture, swarming around his partner's hood. There was some difficulty in getting it to release and then they were in, attaching leads and speaking to each other in quick indecipherable jargon.
"Michael," Clarise called from beside the driver's door and Michael nudged the wheelchair into motion, moving around the scrum to reach the cabin.
"His cameras are online and his microphones," Clarise told him as she stepped back out of the way, "I know he must be worried about you."
There were tears in the interior fabrics and a gouge out of the dashboard, which was completely dark. Michael didn't care about that though, and the smile he directed at the nearest camera was the most genuine one he'd ever given.
"Not as worried as I am about him. I got medical attention pretty darn quickly, partner. Looks like you've been the worse off," Michael leaned forward, grateful when Frank, who had shadowed him over, quickly caught him from overbalancing and faceplanting into the drivers' seat.
"It's real good to see you again Kitt. You behave for Bonnie and Clarise now, won't you? Next time I come down here I want to be able to hear all about it. Ok partner?" his chest felt tight, but at the same time he was so relieved he could probably fly back to his room, just on the power of his relief.
"Michael, you need to come back inside for now," Frank said quietly, "You can come back this afternoon if you co-operate now."
Michael frowned, his usual stubborn independence raising its recently dormant head, and then controlled his impulses. He wanted to crawl into the cabin and sleep, but that would be beyond his capability until he regained proper use of at least one leg and an arm. As much as he loved the low-slung lines of the chassis it was not built to accommodate multiple plaster casts.
"Kitt?" Bonnie's voice broke into his rueful reverie, "I'm sorry but we need to take you offline. It's the only way to fix some of the systems. I'll be with you the whole time, and you know you're safe here."
Michael frowned at her, and then looked back into the cabin at one of several cameras that Kitt was probably using right now. He had no idea how long Kitt had been online or what treatment his partner had experienced in captivity. He didn't even know who'd had Kitt or why. But that didn't mean that he didn't want his partner back to his usual self as quickly as possible.
"Mr Knight," Frank was using the tone that meant Michael was about three minutes from being sedated for his own good.
"Looks like we're both under doctors' orders here pal. At least yours is cute."
"I heard that," Frank reached down and took charge of the joystick, steering the chair back from Kitt's door.
"I'll be back as soon as I can," Michael promised as he was moved away. He was asleep before they'd gotten halfway to the house though, exhausted by the rollercoaster of seeing Kitt in one piece.
System analysis: all systems functioning at optimal parameters.
"Kitt?" Bonnie's voice was reassuring, "Can you hear me?"
She was standing beside him, a portable diagnostic tool in her hands. Her vital signs showed stress, but not outside of the usual range for his head technician after Kitt had suffered severe damage.
"I can hear you Bonnie. And may I say thank you for the timely rescue."
Cheers from the gathered techs and mechanics erupted at his response. He could see Clarise hugging Paul exuberantly.
"You're welcome, Kitt," Bonnie smiled, glancing at the people around them, "I had some help."
"Clarise, Paul, thank you for coming to get me out of there," Kitt raised his voice a little and both mechanics came over to speak with him, checking he was ok.
"I trust my wheel alignment has been corrected," Kitt mused as he rocked the chassis back and forth for a moment, testing his systems responsiveness. After so long in the dark, with limited access and functionality, it was a relief to be at his normal capacity.
"Aye! The people who did that should be ashamed to call themselves mechanics," Raoul called over from where he was racking tools.
"I couldn't agree more," Kitt replied. He waited for the fuss to die down, his scanners searching relentlessly in the crowd for the one person he wanted to see above all. As grateful as he was to Clarise and her team, and Bonnie and the other techs, it was Michael he needed to see the most. His last sight of his driver had been worrying to say the least. Even without scanners, he could tell that Michael's injuries had been more severe than anticipated, and there had been a shocking amount of weight loss. Lying around depressed Michael's appetite more than whatever illness or injury had initially laid him low. Kitt was always on the lookout for ways to boost his partner's caloric intake, even when the man wasn't hurt. For a grown adult his driver certainly took the worst care of himself that Kitt had ever seen.
Michael wasn't present. Kitt checked his internal chronometer and was shocked to discover that he had been offline for 48 hours.
"Bonnie?" he was unable to disguise his unease, "Why was I offline for so long?"
"There was significant damage to your physical systems Kitt. We had to rebuild some from scratch. We determined that it was best to keep you down while we did it. It also gave me a chance to thoroughly check for foreign codes or viruses. You'll be happy to know you have a clean bill of health," Bonnie replied and the scanners verified that she was telling a technical if not literal truth.
"I see," Kitt's tone was more reserved than it would normally be, but surely Bonnie could understand he disliked being kept in the dark. Even more so after his recent ordeal.
"Bonnie, where is Michael?" manners be damned, it was the information he wanted most to know.
"Probably in his room Kitt. The commlink he was wearing when you were attacked was damaged, it can only receive not send. We'll have a new one finished later today for you," she was too engrossed in her task to mind his tone, "Now, we still have some tests and checks to go through, and we'll need to run you through the test track as well…"
"No," Kitt said firmly, causing her to look up in shock. He almost never denied her requests, except in the direst of situations, "Not until I have seen Michael."
And to make his point he sealed the chassis up tight. She would be able to break his control of course, but he hoped that he could persuade her to see his side of things.
"Kitt," Bonnie sighed and he interrupted her again, something he also rarely did.
"Bonnie, I don't think you understand. For the entirety of my captivity, I have been told that my Driver is dead. That FLAG and the Foundation have been disbanded. I have been fed data corrupted to bear out this very story. Now please, contact Michael."
"Alright Kitt, I will call up to his room. But if the nurse says he's not up to coming out…"
"That will of course be a different matter entirely," Kitt conceded. He had of course scanned the room that was designated for Michael's use in the mansion, but had been unable to match to the baseline he had stored any of the life signs in there. Bonnie left the garage, an unnecessary gesture, but one that Kitt understood was designed to wordlessly express her frustration with him. When it came to post catastrophic system recovery, Bonnie preferred not to be interrupted by his Driver. Kitt was sorry to cause her frustration, but his need to see Michael overrode his preferred manners at this time.
Within ten minutes of Bonnie leaving Kitt heard the annoying whine that accompanied the wheeled conveyance Michael had been in at their reunion. The garage doors opened and Michael whirred through, smiling in relief as Kitt flashed the main scanner at him. Kitt was, however, appalled. Michael had indeed lost further weight since the end of their last mission, and he had been on the borderline of malnourished then. He had broken both bones in his lower left leg, and one in his lower right as well as several bones in his right ankle. His right hand sported three broken fingers and a sprained wrist. His left collar bone was cracked and both bones in his lower left arm had broken. There was a bandage around his upper arm. The stab wound that had been inflicted at the end of their last mission was still enflamed, indicating a low-level infection. There were two puncture wounds in his abdomen and one to his right thigh. He'd broken five ribs and cracked an additional three.
"Kitt, you ok partner? Bonnie promised she'd call me as soon as you were online, so I came running," Michael chuckled, looking down at the chair he was in, "Well, rolling anyway."
"I see you've replaced me already," sass was an automatic and familiar response that would let him gauge Michael's state of mind.
"Not with this thing partner, I promise," Michael vowed and shifted the chair so he was directly in the track of Kitt's primary scanner. It was unspoken permission for Kitt to look as deeply as he liked. His partner had been dressed, Kitt doubted the man could manage it without assistance, in warm loose clothing, something that would not compress the wounds or casts he wore.
"Michael, did you eat at all while I was gone?" Kitt despaired, "You're even thinner now than when I last saw you."
Michael pulled a face and pressed his broken hand over his stomach lightly. Three weeks was long enough for bones to knit, but now they needed to thicken and regain their strength. Pressure on them would have been painful.
"I haven't had much appetite."
Voice analysis indicated that statement was truthful at least. Kitt added digestive problems to his list of ailments and refrained from sighing.
"I shall send Mrs Harper a list of your favourite foods, Michael," Kitt informed him and was pleased to see a spark of annoyance in the familiar face.
"She probably still has it from the last ten times you sent it to her," Michael grumbled, "I promise I'm doing better, pal, ok? Leave Mrs Harper alone."
"I will be monitoring your food intake closely Michael," Kitt warned him and got a delighted grin in response, which was to be expected given the stress of their recent separation. Nagging, as Bonnie called it, was an odd way to manage a partnership, but it worked for them.
"Wouldn't have it any other way, Kitt."
Bonnie had only given them five minutes together before returning to recommence testing. Kitt had complied reluctantly, the tone of his voice indicating he was not happy about things. He had also refused to let her in the cabin and Michael had refused to force the issue when she threw him a frustrated and expectant glance. If Kitt felt the need to assert a little autonomous control of the chassis and his systems then Michael could support that. They still had no idea what had happened from Kitt's point of view, even though they were currently combing through the records in the building where he'd been held and questioning the men they'd found there.
Michael couldn't help with that aspect of it either. His contacts had come through for them both in a big way but interrogation had been taken over by the Foundation, as well as the sifting of that building for records and data. You couldn't question a man when you were likely to fall asleep halfway through said questioning. Michael had forced himself to be the model patient for the last two days, eating as much of the meals put in front of him that he could manage and not insisting on spending the whole day in the garage.
Kitt had been offline for most of it, but Michael had wanted to be there for his friend. He'd stayed at the back, parked between the two space heaters that the mechanical team turned on for him each time he appeared, and watched everything done to his partner closely. It had been hard to hold back from pestering Bonnie for updates every two seconds, but he knew the less he bothered her the quicker Kitt would be back online.
It wasn't hard to miss the increasingly sharp tone of his partners voice as the day wore on and Kitt tired of the tests and questions being put to him. Frank had appeared with lunch and insisted on a health check. Clarise's team had rigged privacy screens for him, not that the thin barriers would prevent Kitt's scanners from seeing everything, and the post lunch nap war had been won by only the narrowest of margins.
Kitt had requested that they play chess after lunch, coolly informing a frustrated Bonnie that he was more than capable of completing her tests and trouncing Michael at the same time. One of Bonnie's techs had taken it upon himself to go over to the main house and come back with a physical chess set and a side table to put it on. Kitt had rolled the chassis closer to the table, neatly hemming Michael in and reminded his Driver that Michael had lost the last match, and so would be playing white.
The chess set they were using was marble and polished stone. Michael had made his first move and then rubbed a finger over the edge of the board sadly. The battered wooden chess set that they used on the rare occasions they weren't playing on Kitt's screen had been destroyed by Kitt's captors, along with Michaels dirty washing and the rest of the trunks' contents, transferred to the decoy to add further proof the burnt-out wreck was Kitt. Not much of the trunk's contents had survived but the few bits that had, added to Bonnie's mistaken identification.
"Did they find the medallion in the glove compartment buddy?" Michael asked as he moved a piece under Kitt's direction. The scanner flashed brighter for a moment and then subsided.
"No Michael. Scans indicate that it is still there, although they removed the maps and files you were storing in the compartment, along with those broken sunglasses," Kitt replied, "There was no reason for them to go into the glove compartment during their repairs – I guess they grabbed the most obvious items when staging their scene initially and didn't bother to search further."
"Or they thought I was throwing my change in there," Michael mused, shifting another pawn, "Guess we're going to have to find another chess set."
"If you don't mind, I'll take the liberty of looking up charity stores likely to stock such an item in the area," Kitt mused and then paused to verbally answer Bonnie's question about scanner function in the rear of the chassis. Michael had bought the second-hand chess set at a bric-a-brac stall in a market while on a mission. Initially, the purchase had been an excuse to ask the stall holder some questions, but when the mission had been over Michael had kept the set. He'd pulled it out and set it on a milk crate during a stakeout. Kitt had been parked in a parking structure and Michael had intended to burgle the building it was attached to once their target was gone for the day. Michael had sat on the floor out of sight, and leaned against a pillar: they had played several games while waiting for their chance. Kitt had saved the positions on the board of their latest game while Michael had packed it up and tossed it onto the passenger seat prior to his burglary escapade.
While they both played regularly on Kitt's screen sometimes Michael preferred to use physical pieces, giving the excuse of not adding to drains on Kitt's power or some other thing. On one occasion Kitt himself had requested a game using the set.
He fell asleep between moves and woke covered in a thick blanket to a partner that was radiating enough smug rays to set off a Geiger counter. For someone who didn't have a face, Kitt had no problem with nonverbal communication when he wanted to. Frank's hand was on his wrist, measuring his pulse and his neck had a crick in it from sleeping in the damn chair. Most of the garage was empty and Frank had a thoughtful look on his face.
"It only works for him," Michael nodded his head at Kitt's hood and the scanner swished lazily in response. Frank laughed at that and straightened up.
"Is there a problem?" Kitt asked abruptly, and Frank jumped a little, not used to having someone housed in a car ask about his patients in such a tone.
"No problem," Frank replied easily but Michael was beginning to think something was going through the nurse's mind.
"My scanners indicate that Michael slept well, if lightly and not for long enough," Kitt pressed, "Your haptics indicate that the results you received from your manual check of his pulse are not in line with expectations."
"You're fine," Frank told Michael, "I've never measured your pulse that low while asleep is all. The chair is uncomfortable for you, so I didn't expect you to sleep here full stop."
Michael shot a glance at the scanner, now smugly sweeping from side to side in a lazy arc. He had always slept better in the cabin. Kitt's presence meant safety to a man that spent his life moving from temporary bed to bed. Kitt had suggested more than once that Michael should stow a bedroll in the back, and sleep on the rear seat, but Michael hadn't wanted to turn his partner's chassis into a bedroom and had resisted so far.
"Boring game," Michael gestured at the abandoned chess set.
"Indeed," Kitt agreed, "At the present state of play I estimate checkmate in ten moves."
Frank looked startled, but then shrugged it off.
"Well, it looks like things are wrapping up for the night in here, and you need a meal and then sleep in a real bed," he gestured at the few techs still clustered around stations. Bonnie herself was sitting at a console, typing at an even pace. Michael frowned, not wanting to leave yet. Before he could formulate a response that would delay things, Frank held both hands up.
"Before you start protesting, we're not going back to the room upstairs. It seems that the grounds staff here have been a little pissed at not being able to help out, so they pressured Mr Miles to let them complete a little project they think will make life easier for everyone. They've been working on it the last two days, and it's finally finished," the nurse folded his arms over his chest and looked uncomfortably at Kitt, which always set Michaels hackles up a little.
"Do you need to stay in here overnight?" the question was directed down at the hood, but to be fair the nurse probably didn't have a lot of experience with what seemed to be a 'talking car'.
"I do not," Kitt replied, "However Michael is in no state to sleep in the grounds."
"Yeah, well, the surprise is better than that," Frank shrugged, "Should I ask someone to come and drive you?"
The chassis rolled back sharply, and Michael swallowed a grin at the nurse's surprise.
"Unnecessary," Kitt said coldly. Bonnie glanced up and frowned, but didn't interfere. Obviously, she knew what was going on. She wouldn't want Kitt outside overnight either – she was picky about his 'sleeping arrangements' when on the grounds and Michael had spent more than one night sleeping in the cabin while his partner was parked in the garage.
"Oh-kay," Frank breathed, "Well, meet us around the side ok? You can find us, right?"
"There is nowhere on the grounds Michael could go, that I could not find him," Kitt stated firmly and the garage door behind him started to raise. Frank adjusted the blanket so the wheels were free and gestured for Michael to come with him. Kitt joined them as Frank walked away from the house. From the lack of complaints from the garage, Bonnie was definitely in the know. They walked along the drive leading towards the series of guest cottages, large studio set ups that had a kitchenette, seating arrangements, a bed and table and chairs with small bathrooms attached.
"To our left Michael," Kitt prompted, obviously scanning ahead. The cottage to the left had been damaged badly several months ago when a freak thunderstorm had uprooted the oak tree standing beside it. The tree was over a hundred years old and fell hard enough to partially cave in the structure. Just cutting the tree trunk into moveable sizes had required specialised equipment.
The structure had been remodelled so that where a front door would normally be, the opening had been expanded to accommodate a garage door. This rose as they approached, no doubt triggered by Kitt, and his partner braked to let Michael go in first.
"Apparently they realised that the double patio doors they were going to put in place of the original front door were wide enough for a car to go through," Frank said quietly, "Those doors hadn't been installed yet, but it wasn't hard to substitute at this stage. The place is weather tight and fully habitable, it's just not decorated."
This was self-evident by the lack of carpet, taped but unpainted drywall and bulbs hanging from bare wires. Someone had found mismatched curtains to cover the windows, and the hospital bed and other paraphernalia had been brought from Michael's room to here. Kitt's engine shut down and the door rumbled shut behind him.
"Prevailing theories state that you sleep in the car more than your room here anyway. It was suggested to me by several people, including Mr Miles, that you would be less likely to fight me every step of your recovery if you and your… partner had easy access to each other. Dr Barstow said setting you up in the garage was out of the question, and to be frank I wouldn't want to try and care for you there either – too many potential hazards and toxins. So, this is on a trial basis only. Strictly under my final call. If I think that being out here, with a car in the room, is in any way impacting your health negatively, it's straight back to the room in the main house we go," Frank folded his arms, "It is in your best interest to prove them right and me wrong by cooperating."
"Sure," Michael agreed, rather dazed by the enormity of the gift being given to them. Frank took clear advantage of this by hoisting him back into bed, and going through the nightly maintenance of his wounds and dressings. Michael ate most of what was put in front of him obediently, didn't bitch about the catheter or the IV pulling when it was reattached for his nightly antibiotic and nutrition support, and otherwise behaved himself entirely. Kitt was silent through it all and by the time Frank turned the lights down to their lowest settings Michael was asleep again.
In the privacy of his CPU Kitt was able to admit he had been reluctant to allow the nurse anywhere near Michael, if only because it meant that his partner was being removed from Kitt's immediate vicinity. Kitt had been caught between his need to keep Michael in sight and safe at all times, and his need to see Michael recover from the injuries inflicted on him by Kitt's own decisions. This new garage, designed to house them both was a solution that Kitt had not considered. No matter how strict Clarise was about clean and ordered work spaces, and Bonnies' own requirement for a dust free environment (dust was detrimental to circuitry after all) the main garage was no place for a human with a depressed immune system.
There was even a charging station bolted to the wall of the guest house, though Kitt had no need of it tonight. Instead, he sat in surveillance mode, part of his scanners monitoring Michael much more closely than the finger monitor clipped to one hand. The nurse had proven to be deft and careful, and Michael had clearly taken the threat of separation seriously by complying without a word of complaint.
While Michael slept (and if Kitt was the kind to use overly emotive descriptions, his unusually scruffy and snoring partner would have been labelled adorable) Kitt accessed the Foundation mainframes. He had not been willing during the day to further split his concentration: between Bonnies' tests and Michael's health Kitt had divided his time not quite equally. Now with Michael secure and inert, Kitt looked into the records of the last few weeks.
No longer needing to hide his activity was a relief, to say the least, and Kitt stretched his CPU as far and fast as it would go, accessing multiple files and systems simultaneously and settling in for a round of analysis.
It was startling to learn that he had in fact been declared decommissioned. Michael's medical records showed he had been in the ICU when that conclusion had been made, which explained some of the delay in discovering otherwise. Sedated to allow his bones to knit properly and better manage his pain, Michael had been unable to insist on proper investigation. Kitt flagged several discrepancies in the last roll-out log that should have triggered alerts in the Foundation's systems and sent instructions to have those gaps remedied through a combination of human and electronic process changes.
Scanners showed a change in consciousness and movement. Michael had not woken, but was shifting restlessly in the bed.
"It's alright Michael," Kitt had performed this ritual before and knew just what volume and tone to use, "You're safe here."
"Kitt," Michael's tone was horribly distressed. Kitt played a low volume recording of road noise, the sound Michael heard most often when sleeping in the cabin of the Trans Am.
"I am here. Sleep Michael, everything is secure," Kitt replied quietly and watched as the human frowned, shifting once more before becoming still again. The presence of the casts limited the positions Michael could lie in, which also limited his ability to make himself comfortable. The scanners showed his partner dropping into a deeper phase of sleep. Once certain Michael would remain asleep Kitt dropped the external track and returned to his analysis.
He compiled a report of the times he had been online while in captivity and sent them off to Devon and Bonnie, copying Michael's often unused account into the email chain. Emailing each other was redundant as they were rarely so removed from their usual channels of communication. Kitt noted the presence of the message he had sent out in Michael's inbox (yes, he had the password, it wasn't even that difficult to guess). The files with their falsified data and his analysis he saved to a pocket of permanent memory, to facilitate future detection and circumvention. And also, Kitt would admit to no one, as a lifeline should this nightmare ever happen again.
Completing his analysis of the investigation that had led to his retrieval, Kitt made a note to ask Michael to assist him in thanking the Mechanic department for their timely interference. He turned next to the series of reports involving specifically his retrieval and the updates on the investigation that the Foundation had started after that event. He noted the reprimand in Clarise's file for organising the retrieval with some distaste. Bonnie's file did not have a similar reprimand so Kitt sent a memo to Devon threatening to file a complaint if both his head technician and head mechanic were not treated equally.
The building he had been held in had been a golf cart manufacturer. The business had gone bankrupt, and while the courts and creditors fought over the assets it had been left intact, which made it a perfect garage to house and try to suborn an AI housed in a car. The basement area had been the machinery bays where the carts were assembled with the upstairs housing the offices, display area and finishing bays. The four technicians, Holmes and McNally had been using the upper floor of the warehouse as living quarters, with the ground floor housing the flatbed truck Kitt had been transported on along with several computers, files and parts.
One thing that made his CPU want to throw an error was the almost casual note that one of the documents recovered detailed a plan to kidnap Michael should Kitt prove resistant to reprogramming. The people that had taken him had planned to use his Driver to coerce Kitt into complying with their wishes if the reprogramming failed. That part of the report was incomplete, filed as a preliminary notice for further follow-up. Kitt flagged it for any updates and closed that section firmly. His scanners clearly showed Michael sleeping in front of him and Kitt spent long moments reviewing that information before returning to the main body of the report.
Holmes and McNally had been armed. While the, as yet unidentified, group of individuals involved in his rescue detained the technicians and escorted Bonnie and Clarise down to Kitt, McNally and Holmes had exchanged small arms fire with Kitt's rescuers upstairs. There was no mention of injury for the second group, however Holmes had shot McNally, which indicated that the technician was in fact the leader of the two. Kitt's limited memory of his time in captivity had not shown that either man was armed, making him wonder again how much of the data he had encountered, both physical and digital had been carefully corrupted to weaken his defences.
The Foundation had impounded all devices capable of storing data on them, and all paper files as well. The last report from the investigative team indicated that interviews were ongoing to locate the person who had stolen Kitt's discarded parts. In addition, McNally was expected to survive his wound, offering an excellent opportunity to exploit Holmes' betrayal.
Kitt was unable to access the retrieved data as it was being kept, ironically enough, on a small stand-alone network, with no physical connection to anything other than a power source. Bonnie was due to go and supervise the team combing through that information today (it was well past midnight now) once she had signed off on Kitt's status.
A peek at Devon's calendar showed that he intended to debrief Michael this morning at the same time as Bonnie delivered her report. That was several hours away though, so Kitt backed out of his link to the mainframe and shut that port down securely. Michael had entered REM sleep finally and Kitt dimmed but did not extinguish the light from his main scanner, content to settle into surveillance mode for now.
And the day had been going so well. Michael had had the best sleep since that last mission for Devon and woken with an actual appetite. Breakfast had not upset his digestive system, he was clean, in fresh clothes and comfortable for the first time in a long time. He was also finally off the last of the heavy-duty painkillers, able to switch to the lighter ones that didn't wrap his brain in cotton wool. And Kitt had spent the morning sassing him at every turn. They'd startled the nurse with their rhetoric once or twice and although Michael knew that they would be holding a serious Talk with each other in the future about certain decisions made, for now he was content to relax in Kitt's presence.
"By the way, Michael, Devon and Bonnie will be here in five minutes time for a debrief," Kitt announced and Michael frowned, looking over at the hidden camera he knew Kitt was accessing in the cabin.
"I suppose it's about time. I did have a chance to file the report on our previous mission finally as well, so at least I know he's not coming to complain about that," Michael sighed, good mood slowly souring.
"I reviewed it last night," Kitt informed him, adding in a sly tone, "And corrected several spelling mistakes."
"To be fair, I was still on high dosage pain killers when I filed that thing Kitt, give me a break," Michael grinned.
"What is your excuse the other times?" Kitt asked sweetly as the door opened. Michael mentally filed that for later revenge and waved at their visitors. Greetings were exchanged and stools were produced from the kitchenette area.
"Before we begin," Bonnie smiled, "I want to ask a question that has been bugging me for ages."
"Go for it," Michael invited, knowing that she hated not being able to work something out for herself. She hated asking even more and to preserve the fine start of the day he was even willing to answer her without the usual teasing.
"It's just that you were so certain that the wreckage we recovered wasn't Kitt, because a single small item was missing," Bonnie waved a hand, "What could possibly have been in the car that you were so… adamant about? Clarise said something about a medallion?"
Michael glanced at Kitt, who swiped his scanner at him in reply.
"On Kitt's first birthday, during our partnership," Michael qualified that statement carefully, knowing that Bonnie counted Kitt's age differently to Michael, and Kitt counted differently again, "I bought him a Saint Christopher medal. It was a whim and Kitt asked me to put it in the glove compartment."
"After Acid John, Michael replaced the medallion with one that was thicker," Kitt added, "In some parts of the world, Kit is short for…"
"Christopher," Bonnie breathed and Michael nodded. The patron saint of travellers, it had seemed apt at the time. Bonnie nodded and put her head down for a moment to regain her composure. Michael was sorry to have upset her, but that little medallion had meant a lot to his partner; especially at a time when their partnership was so new.
"Now, Michael," Devon shifted uneasily and Michael felt his good mood begin to fade, "I'm afraid there are one or two questions about the recent…"
"Disaster? Nightmare?" Michael offered dryly when their boss hesitated over the right way to describe recent events, "Unpleasantness?"
"Quite," Devon's tone took on a quelling edge, "Let us not quibble over descriptions."
"By all means," Michael said agreeably, which earned him a suspicious look from Devon and a swallowed smile from Bonnie.
"I was hoping that between the two of you, you would be able to explain how the incident started," Devon frowned, "Naturally we assumed a degree of short-term memory loss on your part Michael, but Bonnie here confirms that Kitt's memories are intact, though limited."
"Michael was asleep at the start of the attack, Mr Miles," Kitt butted in, torpedoing Michael's chance to claim he was in control but fatigued, "I did send a report on the incident as you call it, last night."
"I've not had an opportunity to check my email, Kitt, my apologies. But am I to understand then, that despite my clearly stated instructions you were once again sleeping while Kitt drove?" Devon's tone soured, "I thought I had made it perfectly clear…"
Michael braced himself for the upcoming lecture as Bonnie frowned at him for getting her baby in trouble. It was a never-ending cycle with the both of them, and one of the few things about his life that Michael genuinely hated. He was the primitive idiot risking their amazing creation on foolhardy stunts and lazy habits while Kitt was the poor abused AI that had to pick up the pieces of whatever disaster Michael had caused. Kitt had played up to that stereotype only once – Bonnie had threatened to request Michael's removal from the FLAG program and Devon had taken her words more seriously than Kitt had evidently expected. It had taken some doing to straighten that mess out and Kitt had never again played the 'poor AI' card. He still played innocent, but that wasn't nearly as dangerous.
And then Kitt exploded.
Not literally mind you, but verbally. As Michael was usually the recipient of Kitt's outbursts, it was something of a shock to hear the AI tear into Devon.
"What you are failing to account for Mr Miles is that we had spent two months working without pause or cessation on missions that required a great deal of physical and mental effort. In addition, at the end of our last mission Michael had not slept for sixty-four hours, nor consumed any nutrition for thirty-eight. You called for an update just as Michael was about to treat a nonlife-threatening stab wound, compounded by cracked ribs from the mission before. He was still bleeding when he suggested that we would spend the night where we were and return to headquarters the following day. You immediately, and without enquiring as to his health, overrode him and advised him to travel on that night. He had to treat his wound after your call with inadequate dressings and insufficient antiseptic, as the home office which we had visited two weeks previously does not carry stock to resupply the very necessary items required to treat his injuries or restock the field rations he also carries for an emergency and which ran out on our last mission. We had not been near a pharmacy to restock ourselves and undercover work hardly lends itself to leisurely shopping time. Michael drove us down through the mountains, and once we were on the highway, we stopped at the first gas station to attempt to secure food and water for him as well as additional pain killers, the last of which Michael consumed at the time he dressed his wound. By the time we reached the site of the attack my medical sensors indicated that the wound was becoming infected. He has been steadily losing weight as his workload does not allow adequate time to consume the basic caloric requirements of a man in his active line of work, and the gas station offerings certainly didn't enhance his borderline malnutrition. We were lucky he didn't incur a case of food poisoning on top of his other physical ailments. His sleep deprivation was approaching critical and I took over the driving before we had left the gas station in order to prevent him leaving the highway and killing himself, or an innocent bystander. I stand by my decision Mr Miles. I am ready to be reprimanded."
Michael swallowed. Kitt had been threatening sporadically to make a complaint about their workload and general working conditions. He had no idea that his partner had been bottling that much frustration up, and evidently for a while too. Kitt had been nagging him about eating more, and more healthily and Michael did try, but too many meals had been abandoned before they'd been more than tasted and the field rations were not designed to tempt anyone's appetite. He certainly wasn't going to leave his partner to face the wrath of Devon alone though, especially when Kitt hadn't said anything that Michael didn't already agree with.
"No," Michael said firmly, "We are partners and I should have been more careful. This is on my shoulders too. If anyone is going to be reprimanded…"
Devon cleared his throat uncomfortably, and Michael quieted, willing to let the boss have his say.
"I will take your comments under advisement," he didn't make eye contact with either Michael or the chassis beside him and Michael gestured with his fingers to keep Kitt quiet. The scanner swept from side to side angrily for a moment, then settled to its usual 'at rest' pace. Bonnie shot him a look, probably planning a lecture of her own about his bad effect on Kitt's manners but Michael would put up with that when it came, as he always did.
"There is another matter that I am… bound to raise," Devon's tone was drowning in reluctance, but Michael couldn't fault the man's bravery. Michael was pretty certain what was about to be said though, it didn't need a PhD to know that his recovery time was sidelining FLAG's major asset. The board would not like that.
"Please tell me you're not cancelling my vacation time," Michael sighed, trying to defuse the situation a little. He waved his broken hand at the multitude of casts and gave his best cheeky grin, but it was a tough room and Devon's expression only loosened slightly while Bonnie rolled her eyes at him.
"Hardly," Devon offered a strained smile.
"Technically," Kitt chimed in frostily, "You are recovering Michael, not on vacation."
"It was a joke Kitt. Inappropriate humour," Michael deadpanned and the front scanner swished at him dismissively.
"While you are unable to work, Michael, we do have members of the board concerned that such a vital asset is sitting idle," Devon hedged.
"You want to assign Kitt a new driver," Michael spelt it out, knowing that dragging the conversation on would not help his already stressed partner.
"No!" Kitt protested, "Michael is mine!"
"Kitt, it's ok, I'm not stepping aside either," Michael reassured him, though his eyes were fixed on Devon, "You and I are partners, and given the events surrounding our latest incident I think that has been proven to anyone with one eye open."
"Kitt, we wouldn't just drop Michael as your driver," Bonnie said gently, "But Devon and I are being pressured to get you to at least trial working with a temporary substitute until his injuries are fully recovered and he's certified for field work."
"The suggestion, Kitt, is that we would trial a number of suitably vetted and qualified law enforcement officers from various branches on a case-by-case, very limited basis," Devon looked at the chassis now and Kitt rolled a little closer to Michael's bed. The gesture broke his heart a little, like a child seeking protection from a trusted adult. In so many ways Kitt was still very young, and being forced to grow up too fast sometimes.
"When are you planning to start these trials?" Kitt asked suspiciously and Devon finally clued in that the AI was not ready for the full details just yet.
"Next week. There would need to be a vetting process of course," Devon promised. Michael shook his head. As designated senior partner in the team, it was time to step up and make this a bit easier for Kitt. They wouldn't be able to hold the board off this idea forever, but they may be able to at least establish the idea of working with other people with Kitt. As a human, Michael was mortal and he'd rather be there the first time Kitt had to contemplate working with a new partner seriously.
"I want to see every file before they get anywhere near my partner, and Kitt's say is final," he announced, "I'm not in the habit of loaning my partners out to anyone, and I won't risk him with someone unsuitable."
Devon's jaw worked for a moment and then he nodded, "Very well."
His scanners showed that Michael was out of bed again, in the recliner that sat at the end of the bed. Michael had not returned to the motorised wheelchair since they had moved to the garage, accepting the enforced rest with sometimes sour grace. It had helped. His soft tissue injuries had finally healed enough to remove the bandages and stitches and he had shaken off the last of the infection. He no longer needed IV support overnight and was complying with the nutrition regime dictated by the nurse and Kitt.
Kitt triggered the garage door and stopped to wait for it to rise. It was cold today and raining, so to minimise heat loss he had raised the door at the last minute and rolled slowly forward as clearance allowed. He cleared the door before it raised fully and sent the close signal, rolling the chassis forward to his engrossed Driver.
Michael was working, somewhat awkwardly, on the terminal that had been installed. Devon had a variety of administrative tasks that required Michael's input, mostly revolving around the selection and training of new recruits for FLAG.
Not everyone could be scooped up out of the desert after surviving a bullet at almost point-blank range, after all. Kitt had been sure to make that point when Michael discussed some of the selection process with him and had been rewarded with a bark of laughter that had barely strained his healing ribs.
"Good evening partner," Michael looked around and then turned back to the keyboard to save his work, "How did today go?"
Kitt had been trialling his third candidate in the last week today. The prospective agent was from San Francisco PD and would be an excellent field agent. Just not in Kitt's cabin.
"He hit the eject button just as I started the field trial," Kitt reported. If he'd had eyes to roll then they would indeed be rolling. As it was the hapless man's plight did have an upside, "Fortunately I hadn't hit more than 40 miles an hour and he was relatively unscathed."
Michael burst into laughter, something that Kitt always enjoyed hearing, even as his partner guarded tender ribs from the force of his hilarity.
"So that is one for getting out of the chassis and refusing to get back in five miles from HQ," Michael caught his breath, "And one with an iffy stomach."
It had taken hours to get the stains off his upholstery and carpets. Not to mention they'd had to hose the man down before he could go inside and clean up more conventionally.
"I'm sorry Michael," Kitt replied quietly, "I know you were hoping that this would work."
"No, Kitt, I wasn't," Michael corrected, "I wanted you to try, yes. Because if this whole mess has shown us one thing, you are a lot quicker to recover from injury than I am. Forced downtime for me shouldn't equal boredom for you."
"I thought…" Kitt hesitated, but pressed on anyway. Michael would either confirm or refute his suspicion and the AI wasn't one to back away from data, "I thought that perhaps this was a form of punishment. Your injuries are my fault, after all."
"Never!" Michael cried and voice analysis showed he was not lying, "Kitt, you made a decision on the data you had and even though I broke bones, I am grateful you did."
"Grateful?" Kitt questioned the logic of that statement, though analysis showed Michael was still telling the absolute truth.
"You never saw the upholstery in the front seats before they were replaced," Michael's tone held an element of realisation.
"No Michael. While I am aware that the upholstery and carpet in the cabin were both replaced while I was offline in the Foundation garage, I did not have a clear view of my interior after the first impact. I know there was a hole in the passenger side of the chassis, but that is the extent of my firsthand knowledge."
"Kitt," Michael frowned, and Kitt could tell he was once again frustrated that he couldn't reach his partner, "Look. You had two choices. Trap me in the chassis in the hope that it would hold, or throw me clear. If I'd stayed inside, you were likely to be unable to move the chassis yourself and there was a chance I'd be too injured to move it for you, or even escape myself. What happened when that shell hit… the failure of the MBS sent shrapnel through the front of the cabin. There was a tear in the driver's seat at neck height. Chances are high that I'd have bled out, my throat cut by it. So yes, I am grateful that you chose to throw me clear."
"I hadn't realised," Kitt murmured, "During my rescue I was prioritising the use of external systems to facilitate our escape. I didn't focus internally until the seats were occupied."
His CPU ran through the probabilities again and he let the equations slip away. While he would factor them into future decisions, there was no point in obsessively running them now. After all his partner was alive and would indeed recover. For now, they both had to endure the indignity of being reliant on others, but that would pass eventually.
And then it would be the two of them once more.
The AI, his Driver, the Chassis and the open road.
Kitt could not deny a sense of anticipation. He was certain Michael felt the same way.
"I have a present for you," Michael announced as the door opened and he slid into his seat, fishing around in his jacket pocket.
"We're about to go on your first mission in almost six months Michael. What more could I want?"
"The sass is so real," Michael muttered, "Do you want this or not?"
Michael grinned and held up the wallet he had pulled free. It was black leather, decent quality too.
"For you," he announced and waited for the zinger.
"Be still my processor," Kitt did not disappoint. Michael sniggered and flipped the wallet open, pulling out the two documents inside. He held the first up to the nearest camera and waited.
"A driver's licence," Kitt sounded a little stunned, which was perfect as far as Michael was concerned, "In the name of Christopher Knight."
"Kitt for short," Michael pointed out the section that listed that detail, "And your name is on the chassis registration too, partner. All nice and legal. Happy birthday."
In response Kitt ignited the engine and slipped her into drive, pulling out into traffic.