“Why do you feel you’re qualified for the position?”
“My father was the last driver for the old car, back in the nineties.”
The woman in nice dress clothes looked over the application again, tapping her pen on the desk. Her name was Sarah Graiman, head of the Foundation for Law and Government, and she had only skimmed over the paperwork earlier that morning. It was a pile the size of an old school phone book and contained every recorded minute of this applicant’s life thus far. She’d only gotten as far as the front page before she’d been called away to check in with Mike and KI3T. She was always being pulled in multiple directions. It was starting to take a toll on her and Mike’s relationship.
Sarah read the front page again and saw that the applicant’s full name was Vivian Marta Quinn.
Every Knight Industries driver had taken ‘Knight’ as a surname so far, so Sarah would have to fact check Vivian’s relation to the previous driver. Legacy drivers were preferred thanks to the succession from Michael Knight, to Michael Knight Jr.
“Aaaaand-” Sarah read further down over the paper. Vivian was born in 1989, and just turned thirty last month. Likely present for her father’s funeral when it happened in ‘92. “You feel some pull for the job because of that?”
“Something like that,” Vivian said flatly.
Sarah just couldn’t read her. She was very… Leveled. Bland. Didn’t seem nervous for this interview, didn’t seem excited either.
Though the levelheadedness might have been a good thing. If there was anything Sarah had learned by now, it was that emotions could get tied into the job. And then things could become disastrous. If Vivian was this leveled now, she may also be good in a crisis and make careful risk assessments.
“Do you go by Vivian or Viv?”
“I go by Marta,” the woman answered. “Just feels like it fits better.”
The comlink on her wrist was firmly buried under her pillow thanks to the position she slept in.
"Marta." KITT tried to wake her for the fourth time that morning, since 6:30 AM on the dot, in fifteen minute intervals.
She was inside of her bedroom, under a heap of blankets and sleeping off copious amounts of liquor. A frequent occurrence.
This wouldn't be an issue if Michael had never retired.
KITT remotely raised the volume of her comlink.
"Jesus-!" The woman woke with a start and quickly sat up in her bed. Head pounding from her hangover. "I was asleep! "
"I'm aware," KITT told her, volume decreasing. "I was having trouble waking you. Another late night?"
Marta Knight slowly left her bed and picked her discarded clothing up to dress herself. "I don't need a lecture, KITT."
KITT had never been driven by someone with such an aggressive drinking habit… Good thing he could drive himself or else she'd have crashed him a dozen times on the way home from the bar. "Very well, I won't lecture you."
"Thank you . "
"But I will suggest that you be more gentle on your organs. Alcohol consumption is damaging to every single one of them-"
Marta laid a hand over the microphone on the comlink so KITT wouldn't hear her sigh in annoyance. She went to the bathroom and brushed her teeth just as he fell silent.
"Is there work today?"
"There’s always work, Marta," he told her.
Marta laced up her boots and put on her jacket. She went to her kitchen sink and poured herself a glass of water. First of many to recover. "Of course there is. No rest for the wicked... What's Graiman want now?"
KITT started his engine when he saw Marta appear outside of her house and lock up. " Sarah's tasked us with looking into an alleged falsification of medical documents."
“Of course she did,” Marta strode toward KITT and pulled the hood of her jacket over her head to keep dry in the morning rain. She got in behind the wheel and removed her dampened jacket to carelessly toss it into the back seat.
Two months into partnership and she still seemed to think of him as just a car.
Or rather, a tool. A digital assistant built into a vehicle, much like the voice on her cellphone.
Though Sarah still wasn’t completely sold on Marta, she figured a psychological evaluation wouldn’t hurt. It was the next step in the screening process, and would weed out anyone who wasn’t emotionally right for the job.
After that was a physical course- where the applicant was under fire with paintball guns. FLAG didn’t permit their drivers to use firearms. Michael Knight had never needed one, so it became the standard- as all things in his run had.
The criteria to be a driver were as follows: Minimum of twenty four years old, unmarried, no children, military experience, physical readiness, and adaptability.
Marta met all standards but one , but that could be waived as long as it was closely monitored.
What was very surprising was that Marta passed the physical with ease and came out of the course without a single paint mark after disarming and apprehending her simulated assailant.
Cool, calm, and collected. The photo definition of the Three C’s.
Then came the part that got every other applicant thus far shut down:
“So, I’m not sure if you’re aware,” Sarah said, ready to move on to her next task for the day. This had taken hours- and frankly she wanted to check on Mike and KI3T again. “The Knight Industries Two Thousand isn’t just a fancy car, he’s one of the most advanced AI in the world, built into an auto body. Just as his newer counterpart, the Knight Industries Three Thousand. The current active model.”
“I’m aware,” Marta said, again neither looking excited nor nervous as they walked toward the garage. “I heard about it growing up. My mom and my dad’s friends had a lot of stories.” There was even an old Polaroid picture of her father holding her as an infant in the Two Thousand’s driver seat. The car wasn’t likely to remember her. She hadn’t laid eyes on it since she was a toddler. Didn’t remember much of it. Just the red optical scanner on the front, moving back and forth and making gentle swishing noises.
Marta saw the vehicle undergoing maintenance as they entered the oversized garage space- practically the size of a hangar. The red LEDs on the front end swept slowly from side to side, and quickened when Marta and Sarah approached.
Marta understood that it was sizing her up just as much as she was for it.
Next to the vintage Trans Am was an early 2000’s Mustang- caved in on the driver’s side and undergoing heavy maintenance by a set of robotic armatures; the vehicle suspended on a gimbal.
Again: a scanner on the front. Split into two separate lights, slowly sweeping from side to side.
That was the out of commission model she was to work parallel to.
“What happened there?” Marta asked. She grew up hearing about how bullets and other cars bounced off of the Knight Industries cars like rubber. But this was definitely not an invulnerable machine as she believed.
“It all happened very quickly, we’re still figuring out the details,” Sarah answered, ushering Marta toward the Trans Am. “This is the Knight Industries Two Thousand-”
“K.I.T.T., or KITT, if you prefer,” the vehicle stated.
“KITT,” Marta nodded, offering a thin smile at the mention. She’d heard the name many times. Impossible to forget. “I’m Marta. My dad was Andrew Knight.”
Ah, now the name made sense to Sarah. Andy Knight, formerly known as Andrew Quinn. Killed in action and left behind a widow and a baby. He was the reason the program was shut down for so long. FLAG simply couldn’t handle the weight of losing a driver during the rapid transition of leadership, from Devon Miles to Russel Maddock to Charles Graiman. On top of this, KITT couldn’t bear the thought of having failed his partner. He had blamed himself for the ordeal, and even agreed to deactivation when the time came.
“Andrew...” KITT began. “I believe we’ve met before then. Did your name change? Wasn’t it Vivian before?”
“I use my middle name now,” Marta nodded.
KITT remembered her mother calling her Vivian as clearly as if it were just minutes ago. Yet here she was now. An adult. “How long has it been since then?”
“‘Bout twenty eight years,” Marta answered.
Sarah noted that Marta spoke casually to KITT as though he were on speakerphone, rather than a marvel of machinery right in front of her. Maybe she didn't believe it.
“Why not apply sooner?”
Their attention turned to Mike, who entered the garage with a stiff, sore walk. Arm in a sling, face badly bruised.
“Didn’t I tell you to rest? ” Sarah chided, moving over to him and trying to turn him back the way he came.
“I wanted to see who we got this time!” Mike placated, unmovable despite Sarah’s efforts to pull him along. He sized up Marta in an instant. “Mike Knight, driver for that guy right over there, if you couldn’t tell by the matching battle scars,” he motioned to the Mustang.
It was unresponsive, possibly at rest- if circuitry had the capability to rest.
“Marta.” She replied. She would shake his hand but she wondered if everything on him hurt.
“I heard,” Mike said. “Your old man drove too? Mine was the first.” He motioned to KITT with his free arm. “Apparently they were the Dream Team in the 80's.”
“That’s kind of you to say, Michael,” KITT said.
Mike grimaced at the name- clearly not his first choice. Apparently the Two Thousand was blind to sarcasm.
KITT had only been restored a few weeks ago, and was catching up with twenty-eight years of what must've felt like time travel to him.
“So it’s a legacy thing for every driver,” Marta said.
“Every driver so far, ” Mike corrected.
Marta nodded. “Well--- at least you made it out alive.”
His left arm, the Three Thousand's left side.
What the hell happened there? Were these cars really so flimsy?
“Just barely,” Sarah cut in. “And that’s why we’re looking for a second driver. If we double our number of operators, we double safety and effectiveness.”
“And how am I doing on this application so far?” Marta asked. “Am I coming back for a second interview?”
She was doing very well, actually. But the final say so wasn’t up to her, or Mike even.
“That’s for KITT to decide,” Sarah answered.
Marta turned to KITT. “Whaddya say? Am I getting behind the wheel anytime soon?”
“I think we should settle on getting to know each other first,” KITT answered.
Another thing KITT didn’t quite understand was that Marta seemed to have a base level of disdain for FLAG’s leadership. Particularly Russell Maddock and Charles Graiman. And because they were both gone, it had fallen on Sarah.
“ Hi, ” Marta blandly greeted Sarah Graiman. Hands in her pockets and striding right past her in the Foundation’s garage to head for the command center.
Sarah had been used to Marta snubbing her by then. And while she didn’t like it, Marta was a legacy driver. Not easy to replace, should termination be an option. The anti-theft biometrics installed into the steering columns of both vehicles took hours to calibrate for legacy drivers- and months for those who weren’t genetically similar to previous drivers. “Hi Marta. How’s the hangover?”
Marta didn’t like that Sarah knew the details of her life outside of work. KITT was essentially her informant. He told Sarah all about any and all mistakes Marta made. “Wonderful, thank you for asking.” She reached the computers that made up the center of FLAG’s hub- where Zoe Chae and Billy Morgan were situated beside each other at the command center. Where they’d remained for the last eleven years. Ever faithful to their posts. “How are the techs doing today?”
Billy and Zoe didn’t register as issues on Marta’s radar. And neither did Mike. Something Sarah didn’t understand.
Whatever the reason for default-state resentment, Marta was still subordinate to Sarah. She followed orders, that was what mattered.
“The techs are good, ” Zoe brightly replied, setting her phone down after scrolling Instagram for the fifth time in the span of three minutes. Her favorite celebrities posted constantly and it was all gold to her.
“How’s the hangover?” Billy asked, getting a swat to the back of the shoulder from Zoe.
“Don’t be mean,” she warned.
Marta snickered at the two. “The hangover’s fine, how’s the latest season of Torchwood? Still canceled?”
“Y’know, Zoe did say not to be mean,” Mike said as he approached from behind Marta. She glanced back at him to see that his bruises had healed up since she last saw him. Arm still in the sling. But according to KITT, he had been going to physical therapy to strengthen it. “That means you too, Marta.”
“When have you known me to be nice, Mike?”
“I haven’t but there’s always time to start.”
Marta scoffed and tried to hide a smirk. “Yeah, ooookaaaaay. ”
KITT observed the conversation. Marta seemed to want to fit in with the FLAG crew. After all, she was granted the Knight name upon entry and therefore belonged. Yet she had the habit of keeping others at arm’s length. Everyone . Outside of the Foundation, her social life was minimal. She turned down invitations to get together outside of work. She never spoke of family or friends to KITT, and didn’t meet up with anyone- yet he had listened through her comlink more than once and knew that she memorized the names of regulars at her favorite bar.
The closest thing to a glimpse of her social life that KITT had before she took her comlink off every night at home.
“This isn’t a social call,” Sarah said as she approached. She didn’t like to have to be the one to break up the fun. But this was an important job. And being the head of the organization meant she had to be more than just everyone’s friend. She had to be their boss, first and foremost. “Zoe, please bring up the file.”
“On it,” Zoe replied, bringing up a photo of a man on the screen.
Mid-thirties, white collar, clean cut. A model citizen.
“This is Lloyd Hill,” Sarah continued. “He’s been forging documents out of a hospital in order to get patients’ family members to agree to pulling the plug-”
Okay, not a model citizen.
“-and then harvesting and selling off their organs.”
“O-Ohh…” Billy looked uneasy at the mention of organs. Ever squeamish.
“Took the words right outta my mouth,” Mike muttered.
“Better than taking your tongue, right?” Marta asked, wincing at the thought. “Great. So. Am I just going in after this guy where he works? Where he lives? Did we prove he’s even doing it?”
“He’s already been indicted on the charges,” Sarah replied. “He was awaiting sentencing and escaped from holding. Now he’s in hiding.”
“Oh. Wonderful.” Marta muttered. “Do we have any ideas of where he went?”
“Well- we have one person in mind who might know.”
“ Fuck me ,” Marta muttered under her breath as she, KITT, and Mike approached the club called The Velvet.
Sarah sent Mike along with to make sure she didn’t get ‘distracted’, given the alcohol-filled environment.
“What’s wrong?” Mike asked, following as she got out and led them up the walkway.
“You’ll figure it out soon enough,” she replied, hands in her pockets as she skipped the line to get in. Hood up over her head again. Not thrilled to be back.
“The line starts back there, ” the bouncer at the door barred her entrance with an arm across the doorway. Mike didn’t want to throw down with him if they could avoid it. He was taller, more buff. Shaved head. Typical tough guy aesthetic.
Marta sighed and looked up at the bouncer. And his expression shifted into a look of surprise when he saw her.
“Marta,” he greeted. “Didn’t think I’d be seeing you back here. How’s it been, girl?”
“Hey Cassius,” Marta offered a mirthless smile and they shook hands and bumped fists. “I gotta get in to talk to Gavin. Is he in yet?”
“Every fuckin’ night, as usual,” Cassius replied and moved aside to let her in, hand at her back. “You might wanna introduce yourself again. He might not recognize you with clothes on.”
Marta offered a short laugh as she entered the club. “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
Mike began to follow her in- but was blocked. “Dude!”
“He’s with me, Cass,” Marta said. “We’re both here to talk.”
Cassius eyed Mike, but stepped aside to let him in.
Marta wasn’t sure if Mike would be of any use with his arm still being iffy. But he insisted on doing as Sarah ordered, and essentially babysitting Marta to make sure she didn’t drink.
“So you know that guy?” Mike asked as he followed, having to shout to be heard over the music. “Did you go out or something?” He felt himself blush. He didn’t know this was a gentleman’s club. He hadn’t anticipated walking in to see women barely dressed or on full display. And even if he had, it wasn’t exactly ideal to be there with Marta . If he was gonna be there, he’d rather be there by himself.
“Nope!” Marta said back, pulling him along by the sleeve on his good arm.
Mike noted that she knew where she was going as she led him along to the very back of the building. He could barely see. It was dark inside and lit only by blue and purple stage lighting along with constantly moving effects from track lights overhead.
“Marta!” A busty girl in a corset carrying a tray of shot glasses grinned when she saw the woman. “It’s been so long, how you doin’!?”
“Great, how about you?” Marta greeted her casually as they passed her up, not stopping for conversation.
“Did you work here?” Mike gaped. He simply couldn’t picture Marta in a skimpy outfit- despite wanting to.
Marta turned back to look him in the face, and he nearly bumped chests with her when he had to suddenly stop. “Say anything about this to anyone and your arm is never gonna heal. Got it?”
Marta never made threats, only promises.
“... Got it.” Mike nodded and continued following her through the busy club and weaving between patrons and employees alike.
They reached a section separated off by a red velvet rope. A gold sign reading ‘The Velvet VIP Lounge’ and another bouncer being the only things left in their path. This one being a woman. Short, tattooed heavily from the middle of her neck, down to where her chest disappeared under her shirt, and out from her cutoff sleeves, down to her fingers.
“Marta?” The bouncer recognized her immediately, demeanor shifting from bored to an incredulous smirk. “Did you start up again? I thought you said you weren’t coming back this time.”
“I didn’t ,” Marta said pointedly with a sarcastic smile, hands resting atop a gold stanchion that blocked her and Mike from passing. “I’m working somewhere else now. In fact, I’m here on business. I gotta go talk to Gavin. Cass says he’s back here, I’ll just let myself in-” She unhooked the velvet rope from the stanchion and took a step inside the area.
“Noooonononono,” the bouncer blocked her path, taking the rope out of her hand and clipping it back into its respective loop. “If you’re not here as an employee , you’re not getting in t here without the cover charge. Did you even pay the one at the door?”
Marta let out a sigh through her nose and glanced back at Mike.
“I don’t think you heard me, Jackie, ” Marta leaned over the rope to speak to the bouncer more directly, reaching back to Mike and snapped her fingers. Signaling him to give her money. Her contingency plan to get in- even if Mike, Sarah, and KITT didn’t like her using FLAG’s money for bribery. But if it worked, it worked. And it always worked. Mike placed a fifty dollar bill in her hand. “I’m here on business. ” She brandished the bill and folded it twice, then slipped it behind Jackie’s ear. She hid the gesture with a brush of Jackie’s fire engine red hair.
Jackie’s arms crossed and she shifted her weight onto one hip to stare Marta down.
Then she cracked a smile.
“You are such an asshole, Marta,” Jackie opened up the velvet rope and stepped back for them to enter.
“You know it, Sweet Tits,” Marta winked and entered, hands back to their usual spot in her pockets.
Impressed, Mike followed after her- only to be blocked by Jackie. “Where do you think you’re goin, Bright Eyes?”
Mike frowned and motioned after Marta. “She- She just paid for us.”
“She paid for herself, ” Jackie clarified. “So unless you got another fifty on you- or something bigger , you’re waitin’ right here with me.”
“I’ll make this quick.” Marta gave Mike an apologetic shrug and went on her way toward the lounge.
Mike’s expression dropped as he watched Marta disappear. “But that was my fifty...”
“Is it wise to go on your own from here?”
“Do you have another fifty for Mike?” Marta asked KITT as she made her way through the black light illuminated hallway to the VIP lounge. It was quieter back there, so she had no problems hearing him through her earpiece. “‘Cause Sarah wouldn’t give me any cash for this job.”
“I do, actually-”
“Let’s pretend you don’t. This might go smoother if Gavin doesn’t think there’s more than one person here for him.”
When she reached the lounge, Marta pushed the swinging door open with her shoulder as she entered.
Inside the red-lit lounge was the huge, half-circle sectional beside a round, single-pole stage. In the center, Gavin Hardy kept himself comfortable with the same two girls on either side of him as any other time Marta had seen him there. A small group of his lackeys with him as well- as always. Not bodyguards or partners- just his lame-brained friends he shared his paydays with. Laughing at some dim-witted thing she hadn't heard before entering.
The girl on Gavin’s left was Christi, a petite blonde who was only working here until she got her degree for nursing. On the left, Cherry. A tall, skinny redhead who had been there longer than Marta. She refused to quit because it paid better than her old job as a receptionist- and only had half of the work involved.
“As I live and breathe, is that Moody Marta I see?” Gavin asked, removing his arm from where it was wrapped around Christi's hips to slouch forward in his seat. “How’s it going, baby? I didn’t recognize you with clothes on.”
Gavin’s drunk guy friends laughed in time with his shitty punchline.
Marta would have to tell Cassius he was right on her way out.
She was very glad Mike didn’t make it into the VIP lounge for this specific conversation.
“I thought you moved away or something,” Gavin continued. “We haven’t been in this room together since I got you alone in it…” He smirked. Cocky motherfucker. “What brings you crawling back? Business or-” his tongue glided over his bared teeth as his eyes drifted away from her face. “- pleasure? ”
Marta’s expression didn’t shift. She didn’t so much as blink in response to his lewd references. “Business,” she told him. “I don’t have the three and a half minutes to spare for ‘pleasure’.”
Gavin’s smile dropped when some of his friends snickered at that.
"Give us the room," she told his friends without breaking eye contact with the man himself.
"Do it," Gavin repeated the order. His buddies and the other women saw themselves out.
"I heard you know something about a doctor," Marta began, once the room was vacated.
Gavin didn't like that her hands were in her pockets. A mark of someone who was armed. "There's lots of doctors. If you want, I can hook you up with episodes of Dr. Phil so you learn to deal with your emotions better than drinking 'em away."
Marta let out a sharp sigh and her lips were pulled into a tight smile when she decided to change her approach.
Another thing he didn't like.
She took a few steps towards him and he kept as still as a statue. What was she doing?
She knelt in front of him, between his knees, face level with his and so very close.
"I know you can tell me something ," she said in a low, breathy tone. Lips close to his. Eyes on his. Hands on his shoulders. "I know you want to… I can do something for you if you do..."
KITT spoke into her ear. "Marta, I don't see how this will get him to-"
"Can't do it, baby," Gavin's tone matched hers. Only his was genuine. "Not unless I can name my price. Make it worth my while..."
Marta smirked at him and slowly got back up to her feet. Hands still on his shoulders and moving up to either side of his face…
Then she grabbed him by either side of his head and smashed his face into her knee.
Gavin slid off the couch and onto his knees when his nose gushed blood. Marta felt the blood from the impact seep in through the bottom half of her pant leg as she let him go and took a few steps back in case he lashed out.
But Gavin wasn't much of a fighter.
"FUCK! " Gavin gasped, hands over his nose. Still seeing stars from the pain.
"I'm naming the price here."
"Calm down, it's not broken ," Marta said flatly, hands on her hips. "You didn't hear a pop, did you?"
"Not broken," she confirmed and took a few relaxed steps around him. "Is that worth your while? Keeping your face looking pretty so the girls keep coming?"
"Fuck, Marta! " He was stunned, to say the least. He knew she had a short fuse, but not a violent streak. She didn't seem bothered by this. What else was she willing to do? "What do you wanna know?"
"Dr. Lloyd Hill," she began, glancing at the time on her comlink's screen as she came to a stop at his side. It had only been about two minutes since she left Mike. "Where's he at?"
"You could've led with that!" Gavin spat blood out of his mouth after it had leaked between his lips.
"You could've avoided being an asshole when I came in. We all make mistakes." She wasn't a stripper anymore and she wasn't sleeping with him again. Nobody, not even Gavin, had a free pass to be a creep to her anymore. "So ," she moved past him to sit on the couch and cross her legs, arms outstretched over either side of the backrest. "Where's Dr. Hill?"
"Was all of that necessary?"
"Nope, just felt really good to put him in his place for once," Marta told KITT as she passed Gavin's friends in the hallway- not even a full three and a half minutes after they left.
"That was quick," Mike said when he saw her. "What did you ask him? Did he spill?"
"I suppose you could say that," KITT told him.
“What’s that mean?” Mike asked, just as Marta grabbed him by his good arm and led him back out of The Velvet and to KITT in the parking lot. “Is that blood? ” He asked when they were side-by-side in the vehicle. “What the hell did you do? ”
“My job,” Marta breezily replied and buckled up. Driving on manual mode to the location Gavin had so graciously surrendered.