Chapter Twenty Two: This is the Beginning

-One week later-

Everyone was gathered around a single computer in the KITT Cave the day after Melody and Karr's return to base. Sarah, Billy, and Bonnie were finalizing Karr's new program while Melody, Michael, and Zoe waited to hear the details in "Plain English," as Michael put it.

"Alright, it's finished," Sarah pushed herself away from the desk, "KITT, you wanna double check for me?"

"I already have, Sarah. As always, your coding is flawless."

"Great. I think I met everyone's conditions," she pointedly looked between Karr, Melody, and Michael, "but I'll just run through it again. Karr, your current programming dictates self-preservation, correct?"

"That is correct," Karr said. He was in the gimble again, though this time he was not locked in.

"Well I'm going to wipe that from your system, obviously, and replace it with a modified version of Kitt's: preservation of human life, with that of Melody Rae Knight above all else." Michael frowned and looked at the ground, but said nothing. A slight smile played on Melody's lips. "Do you accept that much?"

Karr was quiet for a while, and everyone turned to stare at him.

Melody rolled her eyes, "I'm taking this dramatic pause personally, just so you know."

"I was weighing my options. I've concluded that I still to have little say in the matter, however I will agree to those terms."

Sarah looked surprised, "There's more. In addition, you are never to initiate any kind destructive contact, physical or otherwise, between yourself, the Two Thousand, and the Three Thousand. In other words, no fighting. Acting upon whatever grudge you have against Kitt and Michael will not be tolerated, and will lead to your termination. Understand?"

"Even if they deserve it?"

Next to him, Kitt scoffed.

"Under all circumstances, Karr."

He sighed dramatically, "Fine. I accept. Anything else?"

"That's it."

"Then I wish to review the exact copy of the program you will be installing."

"What, you don't trust me?" The amount of sarcasm was enough to impress even Melody. "It's on that computer. Go ahead, scan it." She turned and picked up the leads already plugged into said computer and handed them to Melody, "I'll assume you know where these go."

She took them and walked back to Karr, "These'll work, right? I mean, Karr's a little… well, older."

"They should. My father rebuilt him, so I'm sure the ports were updated."

"Awesome. Karr, are you done?"

"I am."

"So you're ready for this?" she held up the leads.

"The program is exactly what was described. So yes, I suppose I am."

She waited, but nothing happened, "Can you pop the hood, then?"

"I am… conflicted."

"What do you mean 'conflicted'?" Michael asked. It was the first time he'd spoken since the announcement was made that Karr would be reprogrammed today. He sounded a bit harsh, so Melody turned to glare at him.

"I don't think you're helping. What's wrong, Karr?"

"I cannot allow myself to be shut down. It goes against my current programming, to leave myself vulnerable in that way. I don't believe I can do this."

Melody sighed. Damn, we're so close! Just get over it for one minute and it'll be over forever. She set the long cables back on the counter and stepped up to the computer. "I think it would be easier if we were alone. How do I do this, Sarah?"

Sarah showed her how to begin the installation, which would wipe Karr's old program and automatically replace it with the new one. "I found a few notes my dad left about the rebuild," she added, "His system should be open to changes made by a recognizable Knight Industries computer, so you don't need him to do anything but shut down. You know how to reboot him, right?"

"Yeah. And I bet knowing that would've come in handy earlier. I'll come get you guys when we're done."

They moved the group to the kitchen to give Karr some freedom, though her parents were obviously not comfortable about leaving the two alone. Mike made a comment about a piece of rebar, which Melody ignored.

"Alright, we're alone," she said, "Well, mostly. They're okay, aren't they?" she pointed to the other two cars.

"They are fine."

"Suddenly I'm not so threatening?" Kitt said, sounding indignant.

"You are predictable, my twin. Humans can be so irrational that it is difficult, at best, to trust any of them."

"So you're saying you trust me?"

"Of course not. But we are on the same level; I know your limits, your capabilities, your… potential. I do not know absolutely what these people are willing and able to do, therefore I cannot simply give myself over to them."

Melody held the leads up, "So… you're not going to pop your hood?"

"I can't, alright? I literally cannot open my hood. It's stopping me."

"What's stopping you?"

"That damned program. I cannot allow you to reprogram me."

"I believe I understand," KITT started, "You are conflicted because saying no to being reprogrammed would guarantee your death, which you cannot allow. However, you cannot be sure our intentions are not equally dangerous, because you are convinced humans are not trustworthy."

"That's right."

"So how do we do this?"

"Convince me," he said.

There was a pause. Melody leaned on the gimble, the cords still dangling in one hand.

"Okay, I'll bite. Karr, if we wanted to hurt you, don't you think we would've done it already? We've seen what lengths you'll go to to protect yourself, and there's no way we can allow that. There really is no choice. I don't want to force this life on you, but it's the only way you can get out of the life you've so thoroughly screwed up."

Karr's scanner paced in the silence that followed. Sensitive topic?

"Look, I'm sorry it has to be like this. I'm sorry you've had a pretty crap life so far and that you're going to be stuck with me. But all they've seen is the corrupted prototype Wilton Knight built. I don't think we have any idea who you really are, who you were supposed to be. But if you let me do this, you can have the life you were built for. Isn't that what you want?"

There was no response, and Melody suddenly felt self-conscious. Time to end this speech…

"Anyway, if you don't do this, we're done here and now. Today is all you get, and I don't think anyone will bring you back again. At least if you agree, you'll be here tomorrow. I'll help you figure things out from there, but you have to trust me now."

Still no response, although his scanner was back at a normal speed. Melody felt her heart drop, but then there was the most beautiful sound.

The click of a hood release.

/-/

"Riley Mae Johnson, daughter of Matt and Suzanne Johnson."

Melody glanced down at her hands and the black gown she wore while Riley approached the stage. A large group of people behind them cheered and yelled "We love you, Riley!" Good for her, Melody thought. She and Riley had never been close, but she was a nice girl and deserved some support.

She touched the face of her watch, willing her heart rate to slow.

"You'll do fine, Melody. We're all proud of you, you know," a quiet voice said in her ear, and she smiled. She would know that voice anywhere.

"Thanks, Kitt," she whispered. She was still getting used to her new earwig and only wore the comlink for backup, since she'd already misplaced the earwig twice. Kitt's encouraging words helped ease her mind a bit, but she still couldn't put an end to the butterflies in her stomach. As soon as Riley was at the other end of the stage Melody approached the ramp, as they had practiced.

"Melody Rae Knight, daughter of Michael and Bonnie Knight."

She was acutely aware of the ramp and the way her rhinestone sandals drug and caught on the carpet. Every bit of her attention was focused on this simple task of walking up to the stage and not falling down, until the noise started.

Off to the right of the brightly lit gym a small group of people stood in the bleachers and began cheer. She smiled at them; her parents were in a one-armed half hug, Bonnie smiling happily while Michael cheered and fist-pumped. Oh god, dad… Mike and Zoe were clapping and carrying on, while Sarah applauded and good-naturedly shook her head at them from behind. Billy looked a little out of his element to say the least, but he cheered anyway. And above the sound of their celebration, three cars out in the street, strategically parked beside the gymnasium wall for maximum effect, blared their horns and revved their high-powered engines in an applause of their own. Some of the crowd looked confused, but cheerleaders across the gym just laughed. The principal shook his head disapprovingly at the interference and frowned at her when she shook his hand, but Melody smiled broadly and took the black book with shining gold calligraphy. She shifted the tassel to the left of her cap and paused for a picture at the bottom of the far ramp, while the noise reluctantly died down. She circled back to take her seat and sighed in relief, so happy that she'd remained upright.

More names were called and more hollers were belted, a few of which were embarrassingly hilarious: Max Gilmore's mother shouting "That's my Maxie!" had to be the crowd favorite, because while poor Max walked red-faced off the stage, the stands erupted in laughter. Illegal instruments like air horns and silly string were also put to proper use, much to the dismay of the principal and the closest members of the audience.

But while the band played a less than accurate version of Renegade, Melody was busy turning over the book she'd spent twelve years of her life working for. She admired her full name written in scrolling print on the diploma inside, but she imagined this moment to be different. To her left Riley's eyes shone bright with happy tears, and on her right Zach Lundgren sharing a fist bump with his fellow football players around them. She thought that she would be like Riley, crying happy tears, but also sad because she knew her life was about to change, when everyone would go their separate ways and she would be left to embark on her own journey. But the black book she held didn't carry the same connotation it had before. It should have been her biggest accomplishment thus far, but that was no longer the case. Her biggest accomplishment was waiting for her outside, and though her life was about to change again, she was ready for it.

She was a Knight, after all. And her journey was just beginning.

/-/

AN: So this is it! I'm deeply sorry that it took so long to complete, but I think it was better this way. I do plan on doing an entire rewrite of this story, but I'll keep up this original copy for nostalgic purposes. Let me know what you think of the ending! I've loved every single review and have been grateful for every follower, reader, and guest who stumbled upon this story. Thanks especially to those who've stuck with it, even though it's been… a process, to say the least.

P.S. Look out for the sequel! I also plan on a series of one-shots to accompany the rewrite. You haven't seen the last of us, I assure you.