The wall of screens lit the room with an eerie glow, showing scenes in Tokyo, Casablanca, Paris, Mexico City, clocks with the local times flickering off the seconds below them. The steady clicking of a keyboard filled the air like a song, and excitement and energy seemed to crackle through the room.
Stephanie Brown stood in the headquarters of Batgirl Inc.--paid for without a cent of Wayne money, thank you very much--and watched her operatives around the world.
"Flamebird reporting from Hanoi," came a voice from one screen. "I've tracked down the girl. She's good, but I don't think she knows I'm--damn!"
A thunk, and on the screen a scarlet arrow quivered in the wall next to Flamebird's head. "Get out of there, Bette," barked Barbara Gordon, Batgirl Inc.'s dispatcher and liaison with the superhero community.
"Love to!" said Bette Kane, dodging a kick from a blurred figure. For an instant they glimpsed on the screen a shockingly young girl with dark hair mostly-hidden by a red cowl, and then Bette was leaping over the rooftops and away from the small assassin.
"Too young," said Barbara. "I don't care about the rumors she's Harper's daughter, we don't recruit girls that young."
"She is...conflicted." Cassandra Cain was looking at a still image of the girl on the monitor. "She does not agree with her mother's profession. She could have killed Flamebird, but she did not." Black Bat nodded once, looking at Steph. "She needs us."
"Then she'll get us," Steph said. Barbara grimaced but deferred to Black Bat, who was in charge of training new recruits. "Barbara, would you book me tickets to Hanoi for tomorrow morning?"
Somehow Steph had ended up with the job of recruiter. It suited her, actually. She was good at approaching young women and talking to them. Spoiler knew a lot about second chances, about wanting to prove yourself. She was able to reach the reticent ones, encourage the uncertain ones. She was also quite good at deflating the egos of the arrogant and cocky ones. Speaking of which...
"Another date?" Barbara asked as Steph glanced at her watch. She was looking at her computer monitor, her back to Steph and Cass, but Steph had given up being surprised by Oracle long ago. "Really, I don't know what you see in the little brat."
"Cougar," murmured Cass, grinning when Steph gave her a shove. "Oh, what is this?" She leaned forward and caught the pendant hanging around Steph's neck. "How do you have a Stone of Honor from the League of Assassins?"
"A Stone of Honor." Cass closed her eyes for a moment, collecting her thoughts as she always did before a long string of words. "When a young assassin in the League admires another person, they carve a totem animal from a specially-chosen piece of stone, then put a League rune on it. It is a mark of great esteem and admiration, carefully carved by hand." She held up the pendant, a red carnelian bird with a symbol carved on its breast. "This rune is for joy and freedom. Quite a gift."
Steph snatched the pendant back from her, feeling her cheeks burning. "It's nothing," she said brusquely, tucking it back into her sweater.
"Looks like your ride is here, Spoiler," said Barbara, pulling up an image on the monitor of a man in a leather jacket sitting on a motorcycle outside headquarters.
Steph hugged them both, grabbed her jacket and ran to the elevator, leaving her teammates and sisters behind, smiling. They all went by different code names--Oracle, Black Bat, Spoiler, Flamebird, Misfit--but they were all comrades.
Most importantly, they were all Batgirls.
: : :
Ten years ago
"Grayson told me I had to give you something for your birthday, so here." Robin thrust the package at her, scowling.
Steph unwrapped it cautiously, half-expecting something slimy and alive. When the red stone bird fell into her hand, she looked at it with something like wonder. "It's...it's beautiful," she said, slipping it over her head. "Thank you, Damian."
"I did not waste any money on a present for you," Damian announced, his face very red as he looked at the scarlet pendant dangling on her chest. "I made it myself in a free moment. Wear it or do not, it is of no import to me."
Steph felt her temper flaring. "Can't you just be gracious for one moment? Do you have to be such an obnoxious little troll?"
The insults escalated from there, and Steph tossed the necklace in a drawer when she got home--it was too pretty to throw away, she admitted grudgingly, even if the giver was such the most annoying person ever. And there it had stayed for many years.
: : :
Steph ran down the stairs and to the motorcycle, throwing her arms around Damian for a quick kiss. "Gotta leave for Vietnam tomorrow," she said as she put on her helmet.
"Then I guess we'd better make tonight memorable," Damian grinned at her.
Steph got onto the motorcycle behind him, wrapping her arms around him. She could feel the stone bird between their bodies, warming at his touch. "You're a romantic little troll, aren't you?" she murmured.
Damian kicked the motorcycle into life. "So, where do you want to go?" he asked.
And Steph answered as she always did: