Chapter Twenty: Crystal Ball

After fastening her seatbelt, Melody reached for the door handle and closed her eyes. He's not going to crash, I won't be arrested, and everything is going to be just fine, it has to be…

Karr swerved around an oncoming truck, and a small noise of fear broke from her throat. She looked to the voice modulator and hoped Karr hadn't noticed.

Behind them the siren was getting louder. Up ahead the traffic was thickening as the road opened up into four lanes and smaller highways merged with it. They were fast approaching the next city, and Melody held her breath as Karr cut off a sedan. Red and blue lights flashed on the opposite side of the road up ahead. They cut through the grassy median and waited for the Trans Am to approach but Karr, now a black and grey bullet on wheels from anyone else's view, blew past the squad cars before their wheels could touch the pavement. Melody noticed the way their lights seemed to become long streaks as they approached, a sign to her that Karr really needed to slow the hell down.

"Are you just going to let them chase you like this?" she practically shouted. Karr didn't answer, so she continued, "You'll be on the news, Karr! Get enough police involved, and there'll be helicopters following us wherever we go. You have to stop!"

Karr replied, sounding calm despite the circumstances, "I cannot stop, you fool, or I will be apprehended."

"Good! Maybe then we can go home."

"Do not get your hopes up."

They entered the city and were forced to slow down. More police officers showed up around them and Karr clipped one of their cruisers. Melody bit her lip and tried to shrink down into the seat. She wanted so badly to tell them she wasn't driving, that she was actually kidnapped by a psychotic computer. Somehow she didn't think they would listen. Swerving through traffic with more grace and skill than the officers, Karr evaded the police for now. When he slammed on the brakes Melody looked up in fear. There were construction signs up ahead and the road was closed off. Beyond that were some smaller businesses and shops, but one sign caught Melody's attention.

"Karr, let me drive," she demanded, and grabbed the wheel. She had a plan.

"Let go of the wheel," he growled, "there is no way I am allowing you to take control."

"Please, I know how to hide you, but we need to go, now! Just let me drive!"

Karr started forward, toward the construction. The road was ripped up, and there were men and women in orange vests everywhere. Excavators, dump trucks, and other heavy equipment prevented any easy way through to the other side, where surely no police cars would be waiting for them. It would be doable for Karr, but the crew was in the way. The odds of hitting one of the workers seemed pretty high, but still Karr barreled toward them. Before had the chance to crash through the barrier though, Melody ripped the wheel to the left.

The car swerved, hit the curb, and if it were any other vehicle, would have rolled. But because it was engineered by Knight Industries, all four tires stuck to the ground and spun the vehicle to face the opposite direction, where the police now appeared from another road. They spotted Karr and began to close in.

"I told you not to interfere, Knight-"

"Shut up and let me drive, alright? Just trust me, please!" she hit the button to put the car in manual mode, and was stunned when it didn't switch back to auto cruise. Her shock only lasted for a moment, before she gunned the engine and headed for the alley on her right. The cruisers nearly had them blocked in by then, but Melody pushed one back to make room. Once in the alley she swerved to hit a large dumpster with Karr's rear fender, effectively spinning it around and turning it into a barrier. The lead car behind her hit it head on and stopped the others from following. Karr was silent, but Melody swore she could feel the irritation radiating from him. Whoever said computers couldn't experience emotion clearly had never met this one.

Leaving the little road she took a right onto the next street, then another, until they were on the other side of the construction zone. She searched the street for the sign she needed, and when she found it, she veered into the lot.

"A car wash?" Karr fumed, but she noticed something new in his voice, something she hadn't heard from him yet. It almost sounded like fear... was he beginning to panic? Did he think she planned to corner him and let the police find them here? Still, Melody hid the smile that threatened to get her in even more trouble with the AI, "I can't believe-"

"Just open the doors and start it! They'll never notice your signal at FLAG; we're too far away and it'll only take a second."

Karr obeyed, again surprising his driver. She combined this with the sound of his voice, and decided that maybe Karr didn't know what else to do but listen to her. He was out of options, and with no desire of getting caught, he would take her advice… for now. The car wash started up and Melody drove inside. The door closed behind Karr's bumper, concealing them from the road. The sound of sirens outside was drowned out by the spray of water, and soon the wailing disappeared altogether.

They sat in this kind of silence, hearing only the water and faint rumble of Karr's engine, for what seemed like forever. Melody watched the water run down the windshield, off the glass roof, down the windows, until Karr finally spoke up. There was no emotion in his voice when he quietly said:

"I ran a scan on the area."

She raised an eyebrow, "You mean you risked projecting your signal again?"

"We will be gone by the time your friends arrive, if they notice it at all. However, the police are now patrolling other parts of the city. They do not know where we are."

Now, she let herself smile. "You don't say?"

"How did you know they would not look here?"

"I saw it in a movie once… it doesn't matter. I'm just surprised you let me do it."

"What else was I supposed to do?" he asked, "You ruined my chance of getting through that construction zone, and there was insufficient room for a turbo boost. If I had known what you were planning, I could have done this myself."

She laughed at that, "Oh really?"

"Of course," he said matter-of-factly, then paused. "Why are you so happy?"

"Because you let me do it. I didn't think you would trust me enough to get us out of there, but here we are." Now it was her turn to pause, her giddiness fading. "Thank you, for that."

"Melody," he said.

She looked at the gold voice modulator, "Yeah?"

"Thank you for not screwing up that opportunity."

She quietly laughed and patted the door where her arm rested, "Not a problem, Karr."

Rainbow colored wax streamed down the windshield, and the smell of it filtered in through the vents. It was then that Melody realized with a small shock of humor that Karr had instructed the machine to perform the most expensive Supreme Wash, despite the danger he knew they were in, and she was sure now more than ever that Karr was really more than what the others thought they knew.

/-/

One of the gas station's employees had stood by the door to the car wash when Karr exited (the AI took his sweet time with the dryers by overriding the timer, which only irritated the man further.) Melody handed the irate manager a $20 out the window -more than enough for the wash- but it was all she had, and she wanted to apologize for hijacking the machine. Karr just wanted to leave, but he let her pay the man without complaint.

That was an hour ago. Now he was cruising down the highway at a safe, inconspicuous 55 miles per hour, the sunlight glinting off every surface of the freshly waxed metal. But something was bothering him. How could he feel this way… this good, when he still wasn't free from FLAG? He was still running and Melody was still under his control… although she seemed to be happy, too. What was wrong with them?

He was… confused, more than anything, when Melody grabbed the wheel. She didn't want him to win, did she? No, she wanted him to go back to FLAG. And yet she helped him escape when he saw no way out. Why would she do that?

Why did he let her do that? Or, more accurately, how did he let her do that? It went against his number one rule: humans could never be trusted. His self-preservation program (now appeased and unobtrusive as he drove) should have prevented him from letting her take control. It should have screamed at him to stop her, but instead it did the opposite. When she switched the car to manual, he didn't feel the fear that should have been there.

It was so confusing…

/-/

"If I'm still not allowed to talk, can you at least play some music?" Melody asked, pulling Karr from his thoughts.

Karr seemed surprised at the request. The lights in the modulator flickered once, as if he didn't know what to say. Finally he asked, "What would you like to hear?"

"Classic rock, please."

The radio was tuned in just as the speaker finished announcing the next song. Melody was immediately pleased with the station.

I used to like to walk the straight and narrow line

I used to think that everything was fine

Sometimes I'd to sit and gaze for days through sleepless dreams

All alone and trapped in time

All alone and trapped in time

She mouthed the words as the song played, staring out the window and wishing that this was her Styx CD playing in her Grand Am, not Karr's radio. She wanted all this to be over already.

I wonder what tomorrow has in mind for me

Or am I even in its mind at all?

Perhaps I'll get a chance to look ahead and see

Soon as I find myself a crystal ball

Soon as I find myself a crystal ball

She relaxed in the seat. What was she thinking? Everything was going to be okay. She just had to find a way to convince Karr to go back. Everyone would be so relieved that she wouldn't even get in trouble for going with Karr to begin with… hopefully.

Well tell me, tell me where I'm going

I don't know where I've been

Tell me, tell me, won't you tell me

And then tell me again

My heart is breaking, my body's aching

And I don't know where to go

So tell me, tell me, won't you tell me

I've just got to know

Crystal-

The song barely got to the chorus when it was cut off. Melody turned to the dash to ask what was wrong, but every light on the dash was out.

"Karr?"

The only response was the engine shutting itself off. The car began to drift into the other lane.

"Karr, what the hell! Karr!" the car crossed the center line and Melody grabbed the wheel to pulled it back, just time to avoid a collision with an Expedition, which nearly swerved off the road to avoid her. She put the car in neutral as it rolled and tried starting it, but nothing happened. She stopped on the side of the road and put the car in park. The doors unlocked.

"Karr, can you hear me? Say something!" she pleaded, but he didn't respond. One moment he was there, and the next… nothing. Why would he just turn off without some kind of warning? Couldn't that go against his programming, putting himself in danger like that? He would never risk it…

Something was wrong.