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Hands to Hold

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                Garage bay 3 was uncharacteristically silent. It’s two occupants did not speak, and the only sound was the soft clink of tools as Bonnie Barstow worked on something under KITT’s hood. Worry gripped the pair too tightly for casual conversation, both on edge waiting for any news from the medical wing. Where Michael lay, fighting for his life.

 

 

                No FLAG mission could ever be seen as routine, but this particular assignment hadn’t seemed out of the ordinary. Illegal gun-runners to chase down, a pretty girl to rescue, a final fist-fight with the baddies. Nothing Michael Knight couldn’t handle.

                They were out in the desert somewhere, miles from the nearest town, and Michael was kicking up clouds of thick dust as he and the leader of the gun-running cartel tussled in the dirt. A pickup truck full of illegally obtained weapons sat not far away, plenty of evidence for the local sheriff to make an arrest, with both right-side tires in shreds courtesy of KITT and some caltrops. The black car now guarded the truck, making sure that the leader didn’t get any bright ideas of bringing a high-powered assault rifle to a fist fight, but could do little more. KITT had taken out the man’s two minions, but Michael was too close to his opponent for any of the AI’s offensive weaponry to be of use. State police had been called, were currently rushing their way there, but would likely not arrive until it was all over.

                Neither Michael nor KITT noticed the flash of silver from the bad guy’s waistband until it was too late. A concealed handgun, small caliber but still packing plenty of punch. A gunshot cracked the hot, dry desert air, and crimson colored the dirt. Michael staggered back from the hit, but only briefly before he lunged for the gun and knocked it from his assailant’s grasp. The handgun skittered across the cracked ground of the dry riverbed, but thankfully did not go off again. KITT immediately moved to put the gun underneath one of his tires, preventing it from re-entering the fight, but the damage had already been done.

                Michael’s movements were slowing down, even as he threw punch at his opponent’s head. The other man ducked and buried a jab into Michael’s abs, drawing a strangled cry from the Foundation operative. Blood stained Michael’s shirt in an ever-widening bloom, and his breaths were coming harsh and ragged.

                A kick from Michael had slightly better luck, forcing his opponent back several steps, and Michael immediately followed with a haymaker to the man’s jaw that put him down for the count. It was over.

                “Michael?” KITT questioned anxiously as he crept closer to his partner, scanner flashing as he observed the man’s vital signs. It wasn’t good. Blood was still flowing freely out of the bullet hole in his gut, and though it seemed to have missed any vital organs, blood loss was still a very real concern. “Michael, you need to go to a hospital. Can you get in?” He swung the driver’s door open, the thought of what all that blood would do to his seats never even crossing the AI’s mind. Michael was more important.

                Michael made it two staggering steps before he collapsed, a red pool beginning to spread underneath him in the dirt.

                “Michael? Michael!” KITT went as close as he dared, but could do nothing to get Michael up and to safety. For all of his programs and gadgets and tools, he had no way of actually picking his partner up and getting him into his cabin. “Michael! Please! Get up!”

                An ambulance had already been called, was rushing its way there along with the police, but not fast enough. Not near as quickly as KITT was capable of travelling. If only Michael could crawl closer. Could climb in through his open door and be whisked away to help. But no matter how KITT pleaded, his partner continued to lay there, his life bleeding out all over the desert floor. KITT’s sophisticated suite of sensors told him in plain terms how much blood Michael had lost, how much more he could lose, how much time he had left. KITT could do nothing but wait for help.

 

                The ambulance did eventually arrive, EMT’s moving quickly to get Michael strapped to a gurney and into the back of the vehicle before racing off again, lights and sirens blazing. KITT immediately followed, sensors trained on the heat signatures of the humans inside as he watched the paramedics try to save Michael’s life.

                Devon arrived in the Foundation jet not long after, and as soon as Michael was stable enough to be moved, he was flown back to the Knight manor to the care of Dr. Alpert. Bonnie showed up with the semi for KITT a little later, the pair making their way back only slightly slower.

                And now, they waited. They all did. Michael had received a blood transfusion, and the bullet’s entry and exit holes had been stitched up, and now it was up to Michael. He hadn’t awoken, but tossed in bed with fever and nightmares until Dr. Alpert had been forced to strap him down for his own safety.

               

                Hours later, Devon stepped through the door of garage bay 3, instantly receiving the full attention of its two occupants.

                “Devon, how’s Michael?” Bonnie asked, words mixing with KITT’s as the AI asked “Is Michael okay?” at the same time.

                “Michael is.  . .improving.” Devon sat down on the steps, looking tired and drawn. “It was close, but Dr. Alpert believes he will pull through.”

                “Believes?” KITT didn’t like the uncertainty of that word one bit. “Michael has to be okay!”

                “He will be, KITT,” Bonnie reassured him, trying to use the words to sooth her own fears as well. “Dr. Alpert is the best there is.”

                Slowly, wearily, Devon stood back up and straightened his rumpled suit. He didn’t have time to sit and worry, he still had to work with local and state police on wrapping up the gun-runner case. Even when all he wanted to do was be in the company of his only family.

                “I will page you if there is any news.” Devon promised before he left again. Bonnie and KITT went back to their tasks of tinkering, thinking, and worrying.

 

                “There had to have been something I could do.” KITT finally spoke, needing to give voice to the thoughts chasing each other in his CPU.

                “KITT.” Bonnie sighed heavily and removed herself from under his hood to address his scanner. “Sometimes. Things happen. You did everything you could.”

                “He was right there, in front of me, dying.” Distress leaked into KITT’s voice, betraying how truly torn up the AI was. “And there was nothing I could do. If- if I could only have picked him up!”

                When KITT was in production, placing him into a car body had made the most sense. It made him mobile, gave him access to a wide variety of scanners and tools that would never fit into a smaller frame, and provided transportation and protection to his partner. Michael also would never have accepted a more humanoid partner in those early days. Barely tolerated a talking car the first couple missions.

                KITT had never voiced a complaint about his frame, and in fact usually seemed quite proud of his looks and capabilities. Now, Bonnie had to wonder if he ever felt constricted by it too.

                As if he’d heard her thoughts, KITT continued in a softer voice. “Last year. When Michael and I switched bodies. I am quite glad to be a car again, but sometimes I do miss the ability to hold things.”

                Bonnie pondered the issue. This was something she could fix. Should fix. Giving KITT the ability to move around in a smaller shape would be useful. For the rare, serious incidents like this, but even for the smaller things that sometimes plagued him and Michael. Getting put up on a car lift and being unable to get down on his own. Getting picked up by forklifts and cranes.

                A robotic body? No. Too difficult to transport, too attention-grabbing, and besides. The Robotics department of Knight Industries was still working on small, wheeled units. For this task, something bipedal and humanoid would be ideal.

                Bonnie snapped her fingers, “What about a hologram?”

                “A hologram?” KITT repeated in confusion. “I don’t understand, Bonnie. I can project small holograms, but they aren’t solid.”

                “No, but what if you project them onto something that is?” Ideas were flowing through Bonnie’s mind, and she suddenly itched to create. She often invented in stressful times, finding the methodical work of building or programming a welcome distraction, and that this was something potentially useful to KITT was a bonus. “I have to run over to R&D to look into things. If you get any word on Michael, page me.”

                Left alone, KITT sighed and returned to monitoring his partner through the commlink Dr. Alpert had left on his wrist. It wasn’t the first time he’d been left in this position, but it never got any easier.

               

                As Bonnie busied herself with her new project, tinkering at one of the workbenches in the garage, KITT kept up his surveillance of his partner. Michael was improving day by day, slowly but surely. He was still feverish, and rarely lucid, but Dr. Alpert was now quite confident in his recovery. KITT kept the commlink open at all times, listening for the rare times when Michael would awaken. Usually it was from nightmares, and it was never a pleasant sound, but KITT hated the thought of him suffering alone.

                Michael often had nightmares, and KITT was fairly used to the man awakening in his cab abruptly, pulse beating and palms sweaty. The fever-dreams were much worse, though. Michael shouted, and yelled. Called out for Muntzy, for Stevie, for other names that held no meaning to KITT. Sometimes he babbled and plead in another language, one KITT identified as Vietnamese.  All KITT could do was speak in a soothing voice through the commlink, reassuring Michael that he wasn’t in a POW camp in the Vietnamese jungle, or facing down the barrel of a gun held by Tanya Walker, or watching another partner die. It seemed to work, at least, with Michael usually settling back to sleep at the sound of KITT’s voice. KITT only took brief breaks to shut down and defrag when Bonnie left her project to go sit with Michael for a little while.

               

                After several days, Bonnie presented her project to KITT. It was a hybrid between a kind of forcefield one division of Knight Industries had been messing with, and an upgraded version of the hologram emitter KITT already possessed.

                “I’ve altered this to project a solid, three dimensional form, which you should then be able to display a hologram on top of.” Bonnie explained.

                “What sort of form should I project?” KITT queried, intrigued by the possibilities.

                “Something human-shaped would probably be easiest.” Bonnie suggested. “You get to work with your 3-D modelling program and design what you want it to look like, I’m going to see if I can make this a little more compact.If I can get a version to fit into the commlink shell, you’ll be able to go anywhere Michael does.”

                KITT was glad for the distraction, splitting his awareness so that he could work on a design for the hologram and monitor Michael at the same time. The man only woke up once, but didn’t seem to be distressed. Instead, he babbled something about KITT, and a divorce, and custody, before falling back to sleep. It was much better than the nightmares.

 

                Michael’s fever was dropping, the nightmares becoming less frequent, and work was progressing well down in the garage. Bonnie was eager to test the new system, fiddling with aligning the hologram and the forcefield, trying to produce a realistic, solid image. She also critiqued KITT’s chosen human image, going up to visit Michael’s room while the AI did re-designs. It took a few more days of tinkering before finally, they agreed they had something workable.

 

 

                Groaning softly, Michael slowly struggled out of the blackness he seemed trapped in. Gradually, he became aware of his body again. His abs felt like they’d been used as a punching bag by a champion prize-fighter, and he was light-headed in a way that spoke of severe blood-loss. Right. He’d been shot. It was not a first for Michael, though the experience never got any better.

                He could feel the distinctive itch of an IV in one wrist, just above a leather strap holding his hand securely to the medical berth. His other hand, though, was being held by someone. Opening his eyes, Michael blinked away the spots in his vision and looked to see who was with him. He was expecting Bonnie, or maybe Devon. Instead, the person sitting in the chair next to his bed wasn’t anyone he recognized.

                The stranger wore all black, a turtleneck and gloves ensuring almost every inch of skin was covered aside from his face. He seemed young, a few years younger than Michael perhaps, with shortly-cropped black hair and a pair of red-tinted, wrap-around sunglasses that completely shielded his eyes.

                Michael tried to pull his hand from the strange man’s grasp, but found he didn’t have the strength. Before he could panic, though, a very familiar voice spoke.

                “Hello, Michael.”

                “KITT?” Michael’s mouth fell opened as he struggled to comprehend what was happening. What had happened while he was out? “What-?”

                “Thank Bonnie.” A smile graced KITT’s lips, and boy was it strange to see. “This is a hologram. A solid hologram. It was the easiest way to give me hands.”

                Michael was still having trouble understanding what was going on, and wasn’t entirely certain that this wasn’t all a drug-addled dream. “Hands?”

                KITT’s expression grew more serious. “Michael. You collapsed in front of me, bleeding out heavily, and I couldn’t do anything because you weren’t in my cab. Now, if something like this happens again, I will be able to help you.”

                “Well, I certainly hope this won’t happen again.” Michael tried for humor, but was hampered by the fact that laughing sent a shooting pain through his midsection. Okay, no jokes quite yet. Instead, he looked again at the hand holding his and rubbed his thumb against the false leather glove. It certainly looked real, though to the touch there was something slightly fake about it. “S’ kind of weird to feel.”

It was odd to feel for KITT as well. This ‘holoform’ didn’t sense touch like an actual human body did, but KITT’s sensors had been upgraded so that he could interpret changes of pressure as heat, cold, or touch. It was very different from being human, but it was more than satisfying for KITT. That he could hold his partner’s hand was more than he’d ever thought he’d get.

“Well, now I shall be able to get myself down from car lifts should I ever suffer that indignity again.” KITT’s tone turned a little more light and teasing, and he was rewarded with a soft, amused snort from his partner.

“You’ll be able to pull your own butt out of the fire as well as mine.”

“Too true. Please, don’t make a habit of it, though.”

“No.  .. promises,” Michael could feel his eyelids dragging shut, sleep beckoning once more. His body relaxed as he sank back into the medical berth, asleep once more. His hand was still cradled in KITT’s.