Brushing her hand back through stubborn patches of hair that managed to escape her prying fingers, Bonnie Barstow frowned down at the jumble of metal and wires clustered around her knees. Usually, it would take her barely a minute to figure out where she was headed, and effortlessly work through the schematic instructions like K.I.T.T. through a brick wall.
Apparently not today, though.
Bonnie reached through the mess and quickly drew her finger back. A sharp stab of pain flew up underneath her fingernail. Angrily, she shook the offending digit and surveyed it carefully. Seeing the computer chip digging into her skin, she couldn’t quite suppress the strangled growl that erupted following this discovery.
“Are you alright, Bonnie?”
Looking up from the floor of the semi at her boss Devon Miles, Bonnie masked her frustration. “I will be. Any word on Michael and Kitt yet?”
“Afraid not,” Devon answered regretfully, “But I’m sure it’s nothing to concern ourselves with. It’s not…unusual for Michael to take vacation time.”
Bonnie dug into the skin under her fingernail and gave it a savage pull. Something about this absence was bothering her. The sweltering weather hadn’t been helping much, pressing down on her skull until she thought she’d collapse. F.L.A.G. headquarters, despite boasting fearsome security technology, hadn’t quite upgraded to air conditioning. So here she was stuck with a sense of urgency that grew with each passing hour.
“He’s been gone two whole weeks, Devon,” she pointed out. “We haven’t heard hide or hair of him in all that time, and I can’t even reach Kitt’s systems anymore. Something’s wrong, I know it!”
Devon’s expression stayed frustratingly blank, but his eyes narrowed.
“You’ve been looking for him, haven’t you?” Bonnie realised.
Devon tapped one hand against his coat pocket unconsciously. “I have, as they say, put the word out. Reginald is doing much of the leg work at this stage – he wouldn’t let me say no.”
“So you’ll let him do something to find Michael, but not me.” Bonnie curled her fingers around a bolt to hide her fist. “Why didn’t you tell me it was this bad?”
A distinct air of discomfort settled over Devon’s shoulders. The hand left his side and twirled vaguely, as if trying to draw the words out. At last, he explained, “I rather thought I was doing you a favour, my dear. I didn’t want you to be too concerned, given how you feel about…well. I apologise for that assumption.”
“Great, but now I have that apology, I want to do something.”
“Then you have my permission, of course.” Devon nodded briskly. “And I am sure Reginald will not mind sharing the work on following leads. Come up to my office in a few minutes.”
Bonnie waited until he had left before climbing up to her feet, holding onto to the wall of the garage. She linked her hands together and slid them over her head to rest behind her neck, focusing on the clutter once more – just in case – and patted grease onto her jumpsuit. She should have been feeling better. Maybe a little more focused. But her nail still stung, her head hurt and her fingers suddenly wouldn’t stop trembling.
Great lot of help she would be in this state.
Tilting her neck from side to side to force out the ache that started there, she dropped her arms to her sides and headed off to the nearest bathroom. Using her relatively clean knuckles to turn the tap in the sink, Bonnie shoved her fingers under the water, scraping skin over skin a little more roughly than she should have. It hurt just enough to distract her from her headache. She stared down at her raw hands and shook her head.
“I’m going to kill him if this is one of his jokes,” she threatened the sink.
An indignant gurgle answered her. It was one thing to talk to machines, but she had to draw the line at plumbing. Well, she should. Bonnie reached to turn the tap off, but a flicker in the mirror stopped her. She half-turned but didn’t make it all the way around, as a hand clamped over her mouth.
Bonnie immediately kicked backwards, connecting her heel against her attacker’s leg. The fingers pressing over her face slackened, but not enough. Another arm looped around her, pinning her arms to her waist. She stamped down hard on his toes behind her and managed to yank an arm free. Scratching mercilessly at the arm imprisoning her, she had the satisfaction of hearing a muffled curse.
Thought she was an easy mark, did he? It must be in the handbook for guys like this. Infiltrate F.L.A.G. and go straight for the woman. Well, she wasn’t going without a fight.
The hand dropped from her mouth to twist her free arm behind her back. Bonnie gritted her teeth as a muscle twinged up her shoulder to burn her sore neck with vengeance. It took a moment to realise she wasn’t gagged anymore.
“HELP!” she screamed, the echoes off the bathroom tiles taunting her. “Someone help! Security!”
The hand return and she snapped her teeth, but merely grazed his fingers. Mercilessly, her captor started forcing her out into the corridor. Bonnie dug her heels into the carpet, but then he merely lifted her feet just off the ground and carried her out of headquarters, easy as can be, and dumped her head first towards the ground.
“Floor it, pal!” she heard shouted from somewhere above her.
Her stomach lurched, tyres squealed and her head thumped something sharp. Bonnie watched her feet flailing against a blue sky uselessly for a few moments before a scowl of realisation crossed her face. She knew that smell. Most electronics smell the same, but she definitely knew the subtle hints of her own work.
“Kitt, take me back – now!” Bonnie demanded.
“Don’t respond to that,” Michael’s voice warned.
The barest of pauses followed, before Kitt commented, “Michael, I thought you said she would be happy to see us.”
“Just a little human error, buddy. And don’t say you told me so.”
Bonnie threw out her hands for some purchase, grabbed the sides of her prison and managed to pull herself up into the passenger seat. Glaring over at her kidnapper, she felt venomous as Michael slowly smiled that smile at her and titled his sunglasses down to his nose.
“Hello Bonnie,” he said simply.
She decided to ignore him. “Kitt, turn the car around.”
“This wasn’t my idea,” Kitt told her plaintively, “I suggested that this method was unlikely to please you – ”
Michael cleared his throat. “Ix-nay on the lan-pay, pal.”
Glancing from the speaker to the driver, Bonnie crossed her arms and glared. “You’ve got him speaking Pig Latin.”
“Oh that – that’s not my fault. You were the one who programmed Kitt to pick up on languages.”
An oncoming traffic light flicked amber. Bonnie watched it grow larger for a few tenses seconds, seeing a flash of green as Michael pressed down hard on the accelerator. As they passed through the intersection, Bonnie turned back to see the red light flash on almost immediately.
“Yellow means slow down,” she snapped.
“Actually, Bonnie, it means prepare to stop,” Kitt corrected helpfully, “If one merely slowed down but continued through the intersection, an accident could still occur.”
Bonnie glanced back to the suspiciously silent driver. “Or someone wants to make sure I don’t stage an escape if the car stops.”
Taking one hand off the wheel to flip through a few switches without actually doing anything, Michael kept quiet only for a few seconds longer. “If you’re serious about the jail break, I can always put the roof up.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Bonnie said as firmly as she could, “Unless you don’t tell me what this charade is all about. In that case, I might just have to jump into a rich handsome businessman’s Mercedes…”
Kitt sounded put out. “Oh, Bonnie, a Mercedes? Really?”
“Sorry, Kitt, nothing against you – you’re wonderful,” Bonnie corrected, patting the dashboard.
Michael reached back onto the backseat and tossed a duffel bag onto her lap. Taking the hint, Bonnie settled it across her knees. Uncertainly, she looked back over at him. Michael rested his elbow on the side of the car, meeting her gaze as he explained, “Thought you could use some time off. Kitt and I were heading up to this beach house I know.”
“You kidnapped me!” Bonnie exclaimed.
Apparently unruffled, Michael reached over and patted her shoulder lightly, grinning even as she shrugged him off. He took the steering wheel in both hands, tapping his fingers slowly. This time when oncoming traffic lights flashed yellow, he pressed on the brake, carefully keeping his gaze forward but checking Bonnie’s reaction from the corner of his eyes. Mutely, she rested her hand on the door opener, but did nothing.
Kitt’s modulator flashed. “She’s right, Michael. We didn’t ask for her consent.”
“I don’t see you turning around to take her back,” Michael shot in response.
“It’s in my program to obey you, Michael,” Kitt confirmed.
“And I appreciate the backup, partner.”
Bonnie turned away and glowered at the sidewalk, tempted to jump out and start running. The light switched to green and they moved forward. Opportunity wasted.
“Aren’t you going to give me a reason for going with you?” Bonnie asked at last.
Michael’s voice actually managed to sound sincere. “Would you believe I wanted to spend a little time with you?”
Damn him, Bonnie thought as she found herself unable to look away from him. A fresh wave of anger surged through her when his smile turned triumphant. “Maybe you should try asking. And what about the Foundation? Devon needed you on assignment a fortnight ago. Neither of us have time for…”
“Has anyone told you that you talk too much?” Michael interrupted. “Relax. I left a message for Devon.”
“Did he?” Bonnie directed her question at the dashboard.
“Yes, Bonnie, but I am sure Michael should have written more than ‘back in four days’.”
She indicated the bag on her lap. “What’s this for?”
“Just a few things you’ll need on our vacation,” Michael said offhandedly.
Regarding him suspiciously, Bonnie slipped a hand into the bag and dug around. Finding very few lumps, she pulled out the items and stared at them for a moment. She demanded, “And what’s the use of my swimsuit and one of your shirts? How did you even find my – no, I don’t think I want to know that. Is this all you brought?”
“Come on, Bon, I didn’t have that much time,” he defended.
Bonnie wadded the items up into a ball and stuffed them into the bag. She ordered, “Kitt, drop me off at the next corner.”
“Kitt, don’t,” Michael countered swiftly.
“I’m going to have to pick a side,” Kitt said after a moment’s consideration, “And it’s unlikely to please everyone. Perhaps a compromise can be reached?”
Michael stared impassively ahead for a couple of minutes before he turned the wheel and pulled over on the side of the road. He turned in the seat, resting his hand on Bonnie’s knee. He gave a short reassuring squeeze. It was a mistake to look up. His gaze trapped hers in the heavy silence. He leaned in towards her and Bonnie found herself mirroring the movement.
“Five days,” Michael implored. “You, me and Kitt. Five days in paradise – almost paradise, but close enough. What’s the worst that can happen?”
“Sand in my tyres, salt water in my systems, seagull excrement on my windshield …” Kitt mused gloomily.
Bonnie had to smile at that. “Those are very sound reasons not to go, Kitt. But I was thinking a little more about my lack of wardrobe and all the work I have waiting for me.”
“So let it wait!” Michael insisted. “Tell you what, we can pick some more things up on the way there. Just say yes.”
“What do you think, Kitt?” Bonnie asked lightly.
The AI answered quickly, “Please say yes, Bonnie. He’s been preparing this for two whole weeks and if you don’t agree, I’ll never hear the end of it.”
Bonnie bit back the laugh threatening to escape. Poor Kitt. She really couldn’t do that to him. Absently, she rubbed her temples, before realising that she’d left her headache back at the Foundation. And already the smog of the traffic had begun to turn fresh with the promise of good sea air…
“Five days,” she repeated firmly. “Including the time it takes to travel there and back. And you’re going to keep Kitt off the sand and water. I don’t want to spend my vacation fixing up any damage.”
“Hear that, buddy?” Michael crowed.
Kitt’s voice was of affectionate resignation. “You know very well that I heard what Bonnie said. You’re waiting for some sort of praise for your efforts, and I can assure you I won’t be giving any.”
Bonnie really did laugh at that, and after a pause Michael joined her. He placed both hands back on the wheel, tossed her that same smile and took off into the dusty horizon beyond the dwindling houses of the suburbs. Despite the sun still beating away, a swift breath of nippy air tugged at her hair.
Bonnie thought it might not be a good idea to point out the murderous grey storm clouds to Michael. Evidently Kitt had the same thought, because the AI didn’t say a word.