|There were two reasons Tony Stark chose to
park the Audi R8
himself. One - he just didn't like other people
driving his car,
a man needed to keep something for himself, and Tony was a
man. Two - charity galas were undoubtedly the most
pointless wastes of time known to man and he was pointlessly
to postpone the inevitable. Why didn't they just write
a cheque in place of an invitation? 'Send us the cash
force you to stand around all evening drinking cheap
making small talk with people you wouldn't want to share an
with.' He would gladly have written a cheque with a
zeros had he been given the choice.
The entrance to the five-star Four Seasons gaped like the mouth of hell and he could foresee his future at least for the next couple of long, long hours….
A glimmer of hope caught his attention as he stepped out from a row of cars and stopped dead in his tracks. "Hello."
It was the colour of the thing that caught his eyes first, dragged them round, his head forced to move with them; it wasn't black but it wasn't any other colour either, it seemed to be soaking up all the light from the hotel, the pixie white parking lot lamps, the bright silver of the full moon.
Backtracking a couple of steps, he started to weave through the assorted high-end cars - Ferraris (too common), Mercs (lack of imagination), Porsches (all looked the same) - to where what could only be described as 'magnificent' sat, patiently waiting for whichever lucky bastard (lucky rich bastard, certainly) had the vision and the balls to own it; it sat, shimmering somehow, looking for all the world like it was alive.
Tony ran the tip of his finger along the flawless paintwork, walking from the very front of the car back, skin following the smooth upwards curve.
"If you're going to touch me like that, I believe an introduction would be in order."
He didn't jump, to his credit, didn't do more than jerk his hand momentarily away from the warm surface with a smile cornering his mouth. There wasn't anyone in the car, he was sure of it; but not a great mental leap for him to believe that this car could talk, even in a tone as… sultry as the one he'd just heard - even in a clipped, slightly nasal, upper class American accent. A male voice.
"Tony," he murmured, hand hovering just above the gleaming surface.
Smile widening, he rested his hand on the slim curve of bodywork between the windshield and the reflective driver's window. "You know you're one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen."
There was a pause before the calm, graciously accepting, "Thank you." No false modesty then; a car… no, a computer, an AI, programmed to be self-aware… or maybe something else.
That first line came back to him.
"Haven't seen you around here before." Luckily, he meant it to sound like a bad pick up line.
"We're here as a favour to an old friend."
Tony moved his thumb down the line of fine rubber between the glass and whatever the body was made of. Not metal. Not fibreglass. "We, as in you and your driver." He was careful not to mention ownership. He didn't think it would be appreciated.
Nothing else was forthcoming and he let his palm sweep over the roof as an idea formed in his head - something he would have done… "Can you feel that?"
The answer was so long in coming that Tony didn't think he was going to get one. Then he heard, a quiet… "Yes."
Wow. "How?" Who would design a car that could feel? Apart from him. Silence stretched on longer than he was willing to wait. "Hey, don't go all shy on me now. You came on to me, remember?" He hoped the note of teasing in his voice would get a reaction and he was right.
"It's a sensornet built into my skin."
Wow, seriously. "Why?"
"You know the answer to that already." That tone was back, that seductive lilt. Tony looked at his hand resting on the roof and resisted the urge to draw it away, an urge almost as strong as the one to turn his touch into something more.
He wasn't a stranger to Artificial Intelligence, wasn't afraid of high-end, high-tech, cutting edge, machines that gave the appearance of being sentient, alive.
"What's the object in your chest?"
'Kitt''s tone had changed, subdued slightly, as if it… he had already worked out the answers two questions ahead. And there was no way a simple visual scan would see it. There was so much more here it was as awe-inspiring as it was stimulating.
"An arc reactor."
"What is it doing?" This was the question he suspected Kitt already knew the answer to.
"Saving my life."
A moment passed, and then the driver's door clicked open. Feeling a little like he was slipping into the unknown, Tony slid into the leather bucket seat and tried not to react when the door closed; being inside felt like an intimate embrace. He wasn't sure he was entirely comfortable and wished he'd spent at least a couple of minutes inside the hotel - enough time to get a glass of champagne inside him and another one clutched in his hand.
"Can you see me in here?"
"Yes." A small panel to the right of the steering wheel lit up when Kitt talked - three short bars of red lights like an old voice modulator. The rest of the dash was black, simple, and he guessed when the system was full active, a heads up display would give the driver all the information he needed. This car was a billionaire geek's fantasy - his fantasy.
"Can you… feel me?"
"Can I feel you?" The question seemed like a natural follow-up to his previous one but the answer didn't surprise him.
'Can your driver?' But he didn't ask it, as much as he wanted to. Instead he ran light fingers over the top of the steering wheel. "What are you for?"
Kitt seemed to actually think about his response. "Protection. What are you for?"
Something in his tone made Tony think too. "Revenge. Justice."
"They aren't the same things."
"Aren't they?" The cabin was comfortable but Tony swore it was getting warmer.
"There's shrapnel too close to your heart." Not as clinical, not as matter-of-fact as Jarvis might have put it. "Is that what the arc reactor is saving you from?" Tony nodded, assured Kitt could see his response just as well as he would have heard it. "Can I see it?" The question was quietly put, as if he expected Tony to say no. But he didn't - he shrugged, pulled his impeccable bow-tie undone and unfastened his pristine white shirt, holding the edges of expensive silk open to expose the gently glowing disc in his chest.
In the warm, dark silence he imagined digital eyes roaming his chest and felt his whole body respond.
"It is a thing of beauty."
Tony snorted. "It's functional."
"It's perfect. Who designed it?"
"I did. Although I can't take all the credit. The idea came from a man called Yinsen who saved my life with something built from scrap metal in a cave in a Godforsaken hellhole in Afghanistan."
"Where is Yinsen now?"
"He's dead." Tony dropped his hands to his lap, the edges of his shirt falling to half-cover the reactor.
"Me too." His eyes flicked up to the dash - it was difficult to shake the strangeness of feeling that he was being watched by, studied by this AI. Did Jarvis watch him in the same way? Or was it with disinterest and detachment? Certainly traits Kitt wasn't displaying. "I should get to the party. People will be looking for me. My personal assistant will hunt me down and kill me if she thinks for a second that I'm not planning on putting in an appearance."
"There's a sensor patch on the top of the dash, behind and to the right of the steering wheel."
He was lost for a moment. Then he realised without asking what he was being told. Leaning forward, shirt falling open again, he peered over and saw a large patch set into the dash, two inches by two inches, a different shade of black, a different material. Taking Kitt's revelation of its location as permission, he reached up and brushed light fingertips over the so-soft square.
Something happened, although he wasn't sure what. It manifested physically as a brightening of the amber ambient light in the cabin, a slight rise in temperature, a hum over the electronics of the voice modulator.
He paused with his fingers just over the patch. "Kitt?"
"Do you know what you're doing?" There was something approaching a shudder to the voice. Tony nodded, swallowing. "I can't touch you."
"How do you... touch your driver?" Realistically, there was only one reason for the patch to have been installed.
Kitt audibly hesitated, but Tony guessed that for whatever reason, he was being trusted as way more than a passing acquaintance.
"There's a chip in his head that allows us to communicate."
Tony's eyes widened of their own accord. "Digital telepathy?"
"That is as good an explanation as any."
There was only one obvious conclusion. "Can he... communicate with you now?"
"And? Is he on his way over to tear my throat out for even looking at you?"
"No." There was definite amusement there now. "It's usual for us to hold light blocks in place."
"Right. So... he probably thinks you're surfing the net, getting off on Bugatti Veyrons." It was irony, a burst of reality lowering his arousal to a simmer. Before Kitt could respond he held up a hand. "I'm kidding. I just don't... this doesn't happen to me every day."
"I believe I'm far from the strangest thing to happen to you on a daily basis."
Realisation rolled over him. "You know who I am." It made perfect sense. Why else would he have been so easily trusted?
"I know who you are. Tony Stark, owner of Stark Industries; business man, billionaire play boy and super hero."
"Which one of those people were you coming on to?"
"Which one are you tonight?" Tony didn't answer. "I think you're all of them while at the same time, you're none of them."
He took a deep breath and put his hand on the door release. "I'm going to go." This time, Kitt didn't try to stop him. He climbed out of the car and closed the door behind him gently, hand resting on the warm skin. There didn't seem to be anything else to say, so he turned his back and started again towards the hotel.
He'd taken three steps before he looked up to see a tall man with dark, wavy hair standing outside the entrance, cigarette glowing between his fingers. Tony was close enough to see his mouth curve into a smile and he glanced down at himself; shirt unbuttoned, bowtie undone, arc reactor glowing in the dark. He gave a little smile and a wave back, and decided he really wasn't in the mood to make small talk.
Changing direction he headed for the Audi. He'd go for a drive, then he'd go back to the house and have a heart-to-heart with Jarvis. After all, it was only tonight that he'd realised there was a possibility his AI had a heart.