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The Measure of Life

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KITT quickly scanned the parking lot for activity before giving in to the urge to bounce on his tires a little. Normally, he was not one to fidget, but the periods of time he and Michael were away from each other were now so few, that he felt quite at a loss. It didn't help that not being able to follow Michael into the building was one of the few things KITT disliked about himself. He'd always felt as though he was letting Michael down as backup by not being able to support him fully.

Flipping idly through the stations on his radio, KITT rocked back on his wheels once more. At least there was nothing dangerous about this particular meeting. He hoped. He couldn’t help but worry. He understood all about maintenance checks, about the need to keep one’s motor and body in tip top shape. That’s all this was really. Though the way Michael complained, one would think he was getting his spark plugs replaced.

KITT checked his chronometer, chagrined to find that it was only a short while since Michael had left him. Perhaps he should see about his own checkup; his impression of the passage of time seemed to be much slower than reality. As he cycled through his systems, checking their status, it struck him that somewhere in the large building ahead of him, someone was doing the same for Michael.

It made him feel decidedly odd.

His scanner flicked back and forth, taking in the multiple makes and models of the cars and trucks and vans around him. Parking lots always gave him an uneasy feeling. In his more fanciful moments, he likened them to a graveyard for cars. Tons of steel and glass just sitting motionless, empty. He’d mentioned the thought to Michael once, hesitantly, not sure if his partner would laugh at him. Michael had got very quiet and after several minutes had let him take over the driving and spent the rest of the trip stroking his leather interior.

He thought of that moment now and wondered if he’d somehow transferred his disquiet to his friend. If that was so, he would have to apologize, but he couldn’t help how he felt. Sometimes it was as though he was on a rickety bridge between two cliffs, teetering over the chasm below. For all intents and purposes, he was a car, but in other ways he was as far removed from a car as Michael was from an ant.

While other cars would rust and wear out, his Molecular Bonded Shell and Pyroclastic Lamination insured that fate would not be his, especially now he and Michael were no longer on active duty. His internal components were regularly updated with the latest technology. By automotive standards, he was practically immortal.

Suddenly, all of KITT’s idle thoughts coalesced into one startling realization. While he would go on indefinitely, Michael certainly would not. While he was in excellent shape for his age, already KITT could see the signs of Michael’s gradual decent. He was a bit slower than he used to be and he complained of aches and pains a lot more. Regular maintenance would not halt this process, only lessen it. There would be no updates or overhauls. Michael would only get older and older, until like the lifeless heaps of metal surrounding him, one day all the maintenance checks in the world would no longer be of any use.

KITT was so entrenched in this line of thinking that it was a moment before he realized Michael was standing next to him waiting. His door swung open and as Michael settled into his seat, KITT scanned him automatically, as though he expected him to have suddenly become decrepit in the time he was gone.

He knew Michael was waiting for him to start his engine but there was something he needed to say. “I do not wish to continue after you are gone.”

He took in Michael's startled expression and felt a little bad for springing the topic on him so suddenly. He hadn't meant to. It was just he hadn't given it much thought until this very moment.

"Okay buddy, what brought that on?" Michael was rubbing his thumb against his steering wheel and that calmed him enough to put his thoughts into words.

"You are getting older and one day you will..." KITT paused. From his readings he knew that humans generally did not like discussing their mortality.

"You're getting older too, KITT." Michael's voice was soft and as always, it was pleasing to his sensors.

"Yes, chronologically but..." Again he hesitated, unsure of trespassing into what was possibly a taboo subject. He didn't know the etiquette for this situation.

"Not physically." Michael finished his sentence.

"Yes."

"KITT, you know there's more than enough money for you to be taken care of. Bonnie has copies of both my will and Wilton's. After the huge legal battle we fought, no one will even consider the possibility of deactivation anymore."

KITT wondered if turning his radio up full blast would be considered the equivalent of plugging his ears and singing loudly at the top of his lungs. He really didn't want to think about Michael and wills in the same context, but he needed to be clear. "You misunderstand me, Michael. I am not worried about being taken care of. When the time comes, I willing choose deactivation."

His scanners and sensors measured Michael's shock.

"My God, KITT. Why?"

Michael was now gripping the steering wheel tightly and KITT relished the pressure. "Michael, we have been together my whole life and nearly half of yours. To be without you is... inconceivable." KITT supposed he could run simulations to that effect but he suspected the outcome would be very bleak.

"KITT.... I... I can't even begin to... explain how wrong that is! You can't just throw your life away!"

KITT's systems spiked as Michael's breathing and blood pressure changed. It bothered him that he was causing his partner such distress and he struggled for a way to make Michael understand his point of view. "Michael, if I were suddenly scrapped, how would you feel?" The brush of Michael's hair tickled as he rest his forehead on the steering wheel and slid his arms around the steering column.

"It would devastate me KITT. I would... Okay, I see your point. I'd feel like my life wasn't worth living. But KITT, I wouldn't kill myself. I'd want to probably, but Bonnie would bully me out of it I'm sure. Drag me out, get me doing things. I guess eventually life would go on."

KITT didn't even need his scanners to tell Michael was scowling. It was all there in the tone of his voice. "Yes, your life would go on. But Michael, the purpose of my life is your life. It always has been. I may not have been created for you specifically, but after so many years together, I might as well have been."

"You could get a new driver."

Now it was KITT's turn to be shocked. "Michael! Now you're just being ridiculous! Would you get a new AI if something happened to me?"

KITT mourned the lost of contact when Michael sat sharply. "Hell no! Not even if there was one available. It wouldn't be the same. Quite frankly, I'm pretty sure I won't even want to get another car after you."

"Well then. I belong to you. I do not wish to live my final years alone after you are gone."

"KITT, I know we've had this conversation before. I don't own you, okay. And five years and several million dollars later, we even have a piece of paper that says that. Besides, you know Bonnie would..."

"Again you misunderstand me. I would have thought after so many years in my company, your vocabulary would be broader. I said I belong to you, not that you owned me. It is the degree of possessiveness."

"I dunno, buddy. I get pretty possessive of you sometimes."

KITT huffed, then relaxed when Michael rubbed his thumb over the center of his steering wheel. A second later, he regained his train of thought. "Bonnie is a wonderful person but she is not you. Michael, I have never... contemplated the end of your existence before, at least not in the way that impacted on my own."

Perhaps he would need to run those simulations after all, if only to show Michael the results. Then he realized he did not need to to. He knew exactly what his life would be like without Michael in it. "Michael, Bonnie will not be able to do for me what you suppose she will do for you. There would be no dragging out, no things to get done. I am a car. Where would I go? Whom would I talk to? I hardly think an outing to the auto show would improve my state of mind. You fought long and hard to have me declared a legal entity, with the right to make my own choices. And I choose to terminate at the time of your death."

He could feel Michael's internal struggle through the tips of his fingers against the dash. "KITT, would you still do it if I told you I didn't want you to?"

KITT felt as though his processor had skipped a beat. Impossible of course but there it was. "I... You know I would never go against your wishes, Michael."

"Yeah, I know buddy. And the selfish part of me is glad for that. Look, can we pick this up later? I... It's a lot to think about."

"Of course, Michael." KITT monitored his partner as he started his engine and put himself in gear. Michael was slumped back in his seat, eyes closed, fingers aimlessly touching the inside of the door. I would miss this the most he thought as he pulled out of the parking lot and back onto the road. He said as much to Michael after a few minutes of driving in silence.

"Really?"

"Yes. And our chats. Bonnie and the other technicians only touch me when they need to connect cables or wires or replace something. Their touches are efficient but fleeting. Yours are more affectionate. Bonnie will sometimes pat my hood, but it is not the same really. And while Bonnie will ask how I am feeling, we have never spent hours discussing who has had a greater impact on comedy."

KITT registered the curve of Michael's smile as a series of pixels that he translated into the familiar face. "I still say the Three Stooges. The banana peel gag will always be classic."

"You do realize that technically that gag has been around since before Larry, Moe and Curly. Besides, the Marx Brothers proved that comedy could be intellectual as well as funny. I say that was a great advancement." It was a familiar argument.

Michael's smile widened. "Of course you would be all about the intellect."

"Of course." Then after another stretch of quiet. "I am sorry." He honestly had not meant to cause Michael any emotional upheaval.

When Michael sat up fully, KITT let him take over the controls. "Quit that. Don't ever be sorry for sharing your feelings with me. We're in this together. I just... I need some time, okay."

KITT knew there would never be enough time for his liking. "Of course, Michael. Take all the time you need."