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Learning Curve

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Dana stared at the costumes in the cases, coat wrapped firmly around her. Sure, modern fabric could compensate for serious chill even with a lot of skin exposed, and the cave wasn't that cold, but underground lairs gave her the creeps. She wasn't sure that bats were much of an improvement over rats.

"So, when do you think she'll be here?" Max asked. She'd plopped herself in the chair before the main computer console when they'd arrived, and was slowly spinning around in it. She kept glancing at both entrances, the one Terry had left from and the one up to the house.

"I don't know," Dana said. "She's a busy woman." Terry and Wayne had both lectured them on it, and how important it was to make a good impression.

"I sure am, kid," came a voice from the shadows. Dana glanced up; Max almost fell out of her chair.

"How did you get in here?" Max asked.

Dana rolled her eyes. This was the former Batgirl. She'd worked with the Master of Paranoia himself for years, had Max really expected to notice her entrance? "Commissioner Gordon," she said. "It's an honor to meet you. I'm Dana Tan." She smiled and held out a hand, with manners her Dad would have been proud of.

Gordon looked her up and down with an evaluating stare before taking it. "Dana," she said, neutrally. Not "glad to meet you" or anything, but at least she wasn't dismissing Dana out of hand. That was something, right?

"Hello, Commissioner." Max stuck out her own hand. "I'm so glad to have you here. I was really excited when Bruce said you'd agreed to train us!"

"We'll see if that's still true in a week," Gordon said. "It's not going to be easy. It'll be damn hard work, and chances are you'll change your mind. But if you're serious about this, you'll stick with it."

"You sound like you don't want to train us," Dana said.

Gordon raised an eyebrow. "I don't."

"Then why are you?" Max asked. "The old man call in a favor or two?"

"Hardly," Gordon said. "Why would you assume that the favors go in his direction?"

Somewhere in the cavern, Dana could hear the sound of fluttering wings. She hoped the Commissioner had someplace better to train. Quite apart from the creep factor, neither she nor Max had any reason to be driving out here often, and the place was sparsely populated enough someone would notice—like her dad. And the only reason Commissioner Gordon had for regular visits would be a rekindling of the affair Terry swore she'd had with Wayne, once upon a time. "So why are you doing this?" Maybe Terry had been right about the romance.

Gordon sighed, and sat in the chair that Max had vacated. Max and Dana moved closer. "Look, kids, being a costumed vigilante isn't a walk in the park, particularly for non-metas. Thirty-eight percent of human vigilantes who work more than five years end up dead. Another forty-six percent end up with lasting disabilities, and all of them have mental issues. If they didn't when they started, they do by the time they're done."

"PTSD?" Dana asked. Terry got awfully jumpy, sometimes, and she'd done some checking. Though really, what was the difference between a trauma response and the reflexes he needed to do Batman's job?

"Among other things," Gordon said. She sighed again. "And the worst part, as I eventually realized, is that it isn't even necessary. Most of the things human vigilantes like Batman handle could be handled by the proper authorities, like the police."

"Maybe the gangs like the Jokerz and the Ts," Max said. "But what about the really weird cases? And the police can't be everywhere!"

"Neither can Batman, or Batgirl, or Robin, or any other vigilante," Gordon pointed out. "And capturing a criminal is no good if you can't keep him or her locked up or in therapy. Even assuming the vigilante provides evidence, they can't exactly be called in a trial. As for those threats the police genuinely can't handle, well, chances are a human vigilante can't either—or shouldn't. In those cases, it's a job for a metahuman or an alien."

Dana crossed her arms. "So, if you feel that strongly about it, why are you here?"

"Because I can't stop you from putting on a costume and going out at night," Gordon said. "At that point, the best I can do is make sure you know what you're doing as best I can. You try and do this job without training, the odds get a lot worse."

Dana glanced at Max. It figured—the other girl had her hands on her hips and an expression on her face Dana recognized. Pure stubbornness. She liked Max, but sometimes you got further by trying nice and sweet, first.

"Look," Max said. "You aren't going to scare us off, so you can stop trying."

Gordon was unimpressed. She looked over at Dana. "So, why do you want to be a superhero?"

"Because there's some seriously messed up people out there, and I'm not gonna be sitting on the sidelines watching other people try to deal with them," Max said. "Besides, I'm smart and strong. I figure I could do a good job."

"How about you, Dana?" Gordon asked. "What do you want out of this?"

Dana shifted. "I know what Terry goes through," she said. "I mean, I can look back at all the stuff that happened to him, that he did, and all that time I didn't know about it and gave him grief over it. I don't want to be on the sidelines, any more. I don't want to be treated like a mushroom, kept in the dark and fed shit." She'd had enough of that to last a lifetime. "And somebody needs to do something. I want to help."

"There are other things you can do besides go out in a costume yourself, you know," Gordon said. "The best ones don't work alone. Even Bruce, at his height, worked with a whole team. Besides those of us who patrolled with him, he had a doctor he could call in emergencies. Lucius Fox ran the Wayne business interests and provide plausible cover and R&D support for any number of things. My father, the first Commissioner Gordon, was a liaison with the police. And there was always someone back at the cave coordinating things."

"Wayne does that, now," Dana pointed out.

"He's not going to live forever," Gordon said. "Point is, having a network of people in the know that you can trust can literally mean the difference between life and death. Hackers, doctors, psychologists, lawyers, engineers, police officers—each provides crucial help, if you have them. And finding people who can keep your secrets is damn hard. Fact is, if you went that route, you could help more than just Terry. If you train up in one of those fields, and prove yourself trustworthy, I guarantee you you'll have heroes from all over clamoring at your door."

"But none of them live in Gotham," Dana protested. Gotham might have its seedy underbelly, but there was no place else on Earth like it, and it was her home.

"True," Gordon said, "but a lot of that kind of work can be done from a distance, for the most part. And for the stuff that can't—they'll travel, for a trustworthy expert. Not to mention, superheroes often have quick and easy transport at their disposal. Many of the aliens and metas can teleport or fly, and the Justice League members have transporters to and from the Watchtower—trust me, kid, when you start working with the caped crowd, commuting becomes a much smaller issue."

"Right," Dana said. Watchtower! Her dad was such a big Justice League fan, had a picture cycle of the various Watchtowers in his office. But even if she got to go there, she couldn't tell him about it. And, well, it was Wayne's paranoia that kept Terry out of the Justice League, and he couldn't live forever. If she went through with this and put on a costume herself, she might even get to go as a member, not just support staff.

"That's all fine," Max said. "But you said you'd train us. Are we going to start, or not?"

"I just want you to know your options," Gordon said.

"We know them," Max said.

Gordon nodded. "All right, kids, here's the deal. It will be grueling. You will probably hate me. But it will get you into better shape—physically and mentally—than you ever thought you could be in. You will follow the training regimen to the letter, not dragging your heels or cutting corners or cheating, because I will know. And you will maintain your cover as ordinary high school students while doing so, which means that your normal routine should change as little as possible. You will not allow your schoolwork to suffer, and you will not complain to your friends about being tired or sore even if you feel like your arms or legs are going to fall off. Your family should not notice anything. Do you understand?"

Dana glanced at Max, and nodded. It was about what they'd figured, and hey, at least they'd have each other and Terry to complain to. Keeping Chelsea in the dark would be simple; Blade might be another matter. It was doable. At home—Max was pretty safe. Dana would have to be careful; her dad was pretty smart, for an old guy, and he paid attention to her.

"Then let's get started," Gordon said. "Get changed, then we'll start our warm-up with a mile on the treadmill. Since you're neither of you very athletic, we'll start slow."

Running was boring, Dana's least favorite part of gym, but not running with Gordon. No, the word for that was frustrating.

"What else did you see?" Gordon asked. Her breath was nice and even—she was in great shape for an old person, and it made Dana feel like a twip to be puffing alongside her.

"I don't know—it was two hours ago!" Max objected.

"Everything seemed the same as normal," Dana said. "I didn't really notice anything."

"You're going to have to start noticing," Gordon said. "I can't tell you how many times I figured out something crucial by paying attention to things that looked normal on the surface. I checked the school's cameras. As it happens, there was a drug deal going on just down the street as you two left school today. You need to learn to really see what's going on around you, not just sleepwalk through life like most people do. There'll be memory exercises for you to do, and I'm going to keep asking you what you see until you can reliably notice and remember what's going on around you." She went on to ask them what all had happened at the club two nights ago—and somehow she'd seen footage from the club's security cameras, and was using it to check them.

"Don't you need a warrant for that?" Max asked. "You're the police commissioner!"

Gordon laughed. "Kid, if hacking surveillance videos for the greater good gives you qualms, you are going to have a lot of trouble in the course you've chosen."

After running on the treadmills, they went on to other exercises: crunches, chin-ups, push-ups, leg lifts, a whole fitness regimen. Dana was feeling wrung out and they were still only doing warm-ups?

After what seemed like an eternity, they finally were done with warm-ups and went over to the mat for the real workout.

"You want us to what?" Max said.

"I'm pretty sure I knew how to fall by the time I was one," Dana said. Her dad had a picture of her that he pulled out when he was feeling nostalgic, of her crying because she rolled herself off of the couch as a toddler. Thankfully, he'd never shown it to Terry or any of her friends.

"Not properly," Gordon said. "Babies don't get hurt when they fall because they're flexible and squishy and don't have far to go. None of those apply to you, and you're signing up to get the stuffing knocked out of you on a regular basis. Your life will depend on your ability to get knocked down—or into a building—without breaking anything, and then get up ready to fight some more. So, you're going to learn to fall."

Dana's alarm went off, and she opened her eyes with a moan. Now she wished she'd gone for the voice-activated alarm instead of the retro push-button one. Because holy cow, she did not want to move. Her arms felt like lead, and her legs were worse. The less said about her butt, the better.

"Dana, you awake?" her Dad called.

"Yeah, sure," Dana said. She gritted her teeth and reached out for the alarm clock. Next to it sat a bottle of painkillers and a glass of water, and if she could just sit up, she could get to it. A few deep breaths, and she swung her legs out of bed and pushed herself up. She checked the dosage and took two, knocking them back with a swig of water and hoping they kicked in soon.

In the top drawer of her nightstand, underneath the random assortment of stuff that lived there, were some IceMed packs, the heavy-duty kind. She dug them out and applied the patches everywhere it hurt, wincing at the cold. Huh. She knew everything hurt, but it was different to look down and see herself covered in patches. Then she frowned and read the box. A maximum of four, it said. Dana chose the four places that felt the worst and left those patches on, peeling off the rest and returning them to the box. She stood stiffly, and glanced in the mirror for the first time.

"What am I going to do?" she whispered. There were bruises all over, some of them clearly hand-shaped. She'd have to wear pants and a long-sleeved shirt to cover them up; the teachers looked out for makeup that looked like it might be covering evidence of abuse. "Of course, a girl who loves mini-dresses suddenly showing up wearing long sleeves and pants isn't suspicious at all," she muttered. She glanced at the clock and winced—she'd need to hurry through doing her hair and makeup, and she couldn't skimp on that without looking even more different from usual.

Slag it. If she grabbed a meal bar on her way out the door, she'd still be on time for school and avoid having to come up with an explanation of her new look for her dad.

"Ammonium nitrate," Dana said. They'd already been over evidence gathering and crime scene behavior.

Max scrunched up her face. "Chemical made from fertilizer that gets used in homemade bombs?"

"Correct," Dana said. "What else do you need in a fertilizer bomb?"

"A detonator and fuel."

"And the chemical composition of ammonium nitrate?"

"NH … NH … gah! Why do we have to memorize this, anyway? Why can't we just look it up?" She flopped backwards on her bed. They were over at her house because they had it to themselves, nice and private for studying things other than history and literature and the science their schoolteachers assigned. (Dana didn't even want to think about the report she had to write for Economics that was due the next day.)

"Because we might not have time to?" Dana said. "Seriously. If you're trying to find out if something is a bomb or not, do you really want to stop and take the time to do a net search?"

Max waved a hand dismissively. "Yeah, but I sure as hell can't identify chemical compounds by eye, can you? And any chemical sniffer's gonna tell us the name of the chemical, not just its formula. So what will it help us to know that the chemical formula of ammonium nitrate is—" she picked up her notes and squinted at them "—NH4NO3?"

Dana shrugged. "All right, what does it look like at room temperature?"

"I don't remember, okay?"

"It's a white crystal at room temperature, and it absorbs water from the air so unless you're in a desert it should be kept tightly sealed," Dana said. She handed over the packet Gordon had given them and stretched out her legs, rubbing them to deal with the soreness. They'd taken turns on Max's mother's treadmill and weight machine earlier for their daily workout, and Dana was praying that Gordon was right and it would get easier with time.

Max flipped through until she found something else. "Name the streets starting at the Locust Point Marina and heading west."

Dana glared at her.

"What?" Max said. "Now, this I get why we need to know it."

Dana scrunched up her face and tried to picture a map. It wasn't like she'd ever spent much time in that neighborhood. "Pennyfield Avenue," she began.

"Missed one," Max said. "That short stubby one at the border."

Dana stared at her. "No I didn't," she said. "There's nothing there."

"Prentiss Avenue."

"No, Prentiss Avenue is north of the Expressway, isn't it?" Dana made a face.

"Prentiss Avenue is, in fact, in two places, and it gets chopped up by the expressway. Most of it is north of there, but there is a little bit by the marina." Max showed the map to Dana and grinned smugly at her. The girl just did not know how to win gracefully.

"Right," Dana said. "Okay." She closed her eyes, trying to remember the map. "Prentiss Avenue, then Pennyfield, Meagher, Kearney, Throg's Neck Boulevard, Hollywood Avenue, Tremont …." Gah. She could see the map, why couldn't she come up with the names?

The phone rang.

"Hello?" Max said.

"How's it going?" Terry asked. Well, Batman, she supposed, since he was out in the Batmobile. Must be a slow night, if he had time to talk and chat.

"Not bad," Max said. "There's a lot of memorization of facts, and stuff, we're taking turns quizzing each other."

"What kind of facts?" Terry said.

"The chemical composition of home-made bombs," Max said. "Maps of the city. Evidence handling. Medical data and first aid techniques, though that we're going to need to study the practical stuff as well. Names and aliases of the psychos and weirdos who are most likely to pop up on a superhero's radar. That kind of thing."

"Wow." Terry sounded impressed. "That's a lot more than I had to do."

"You have Wayne hanging out back in the cave, giving you the answers in your ear," Dana said. "What are you going to do when he dies? He can't live forever."

There was a short, uncomfortable pause. Terry always did hate to face the painful truth that sometimes bad things just happened. He always wanted someone to blame, something he could fix. Like when his Dad died. Going after Powers had been the right thing to do—not that Dana had known what he was doing at the time—but it hadn't helped Terry deal with the stuff he couldn't fix. Like old age.

"Yeah, well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Terry said.

"Or you could join us in studying this," Max pointed out. "Even from the Batmobile! Just like we do for our regular classwork."

"Maybe," Terry said dubiously.

"You could also join us for the physical training," Dana said. Being able to watch her boyfriend work out would make it a lot more fun, even if (for now) he did leave her in the dust.

"I don't know," Terry said. "I don't want to hurt you."

"Maybe that would give us incentive to learn to fight better," Max said.

"I guarantee you the Jokerz won't go easy on us," Dana said. "Isn't it better to learn to handle it with you rather than out on the street?"

There was a pause. "Are you sure you want to do this, Dana? I mean, this isn't an easy life! You know that better than anyone. And it's dangerous. I don't like the idea of you out there fighting Jokerz."

"What am I, chopped liver?" Max said, rolling her eyes.

"You think I like you out there fighting Jokerz?" Dana demanded. "Why do you think you get a say in whether or not I do it, but I don't get one with you? I realize you've taken over the mantle from a character from the last century, but try not to pick up the he-man attitude along with it, okay?"

"Sorry," Terry said, although he didn't sound particularly guilty. "I guess—what are they—I gotta go—"

"It's hard to have an important discussion when the other person has such a good excuse to get out of it," Dana said thoughtfully.

Max raised an eyebrow. "You don't think he did that on purpose? Made something up?"

Dana shook her head. "Nope. That's the tough part. I really don't think so. Oh, well, I should know better than to think that while he's patrolling is a good time to talk about stuff. For one thing, I'd rather he was focused on what he was doing."

"I hear you." Max said looked back down at her notes and groaned. "You know, when I heard the real Batgirl was going to be training us, I thought it was going to be a lot more schway than this."

"What did you expect?" Dana asked. She was in no hurry to get back to studying.

"I dunno," Max said. "And I get why she has us learning all this, I do, but … Terry got to go out on the street without it." She gestured at the materials strewn across the bed.

"Yeah, but Terry already knew how to fight, and depends on Wayne to do most of the detective work," Dana pointed out.

"I know," Max said. "But I didn't do too bad in that Kobra base, even without all of this."

"And I didn't do too badly in Rat Boy's lair, either," Dana said. "But I'd really like to make sure that in the future I succeed because I know what I’m doing, not because I'm lucky."

"Yeah," Max said. "Hey, have you ever noticed that Commissioner Gordon switches back and forth between calling superheroes "vigilantes" and "heroes"? Which term she uses depends on her mood. If she's reminiscing, they're heroes. If she's lecturing, they're vigilantes."

"Huh," Dana said. "I never noticed. I'll have to watch for that."

"You think she doesn't really dislike the ideas of superheroes as much as she says she does?"

Dana shook her head. "No, I don't think she's exaggerating. But I wouldn't be surprised if she's more conflicted about it than she lets on."

"I'll bet," Max said. "How many years was she one herself? And I'm pretty sure she still has friends in the business."

"It'd be neat to meet some of them," Dana said.

"Well, maybe we will," Max said. "But not if we don't make the grade, so we should get back to studying."

Her father had realized something was up. Dana knew that from the careful glances he kept shooting her way over supper, and the pauses between topics as he groped for something to say.

"I've noticed you've been wearing pants more, lately," he said at last.

"Yeah," Dana said. "I dunno, I thought it was just time for a change. I had that old look for years, and I'm just not sure it's me anymore." She'd had a lot of practice fielding that question at school, this last week. Hopefully, that would help her sound sincere.

He shrugged. "Well, I suppose in a city where teens want to change their genes, changing clothing styles isn't a big difference. I just wondered if there were anything you want to tell me—you know I'll always listen, don't you?"

Dana smiled. "Yes, Dad, of course I know you'll listen." That was part of the problem. It was what he'd do after he'd listened that she worried about.

"Good," he said. "Well, I had wondered if the clothing were a sign you were thinking about your future, I haven't said anything about your clothes, because it's fine for high school, but you know that appearance is important, whether you're interviewing for a job or a college. You're a senior, you know, you're going to need to make some choices soon. Either to continue on with your schooling, or to get a job right away. If you don't know what you want, you might get a job and take a few years to figure it out, and then go to school. But of course if you know what you want out of school, you should take that route."

"Have you been waiting for an opportunity to say all that?" Dana asked. She sagged back in her chair with relief and pasted a smile on her face. Hopefully he wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

Her dad sighed and sat back in his chair. "Was it that obvious?"

"A little, yeah," Dana admitted with a smile. "The segue from clothes to college was a little rough." She held up two fingers an inch apart.

"Hey, it was the best opportunity I've had since I realized we needed to talk about it," he said. "You haven't been around much lately."

"I know." Dana tensed, hoping he wouldn't pry. "Sorry."

"As long as you're back by curfew and don't get into trouble, well, I figure seventeen is old enough to start making your own mistakes," Dad said philosophically. "Do you have any plans for what you want to do after graduation? What you want to do with the rest of your life?"

"Not really any long-term goals," Dana said—at least not ones she could talk about. "I do want to go to college—I was thinking Wayne University. It's got a lot of programs. And it's in the city, so I can take the live-in-person parts of college life while still living at home."

"Very sensible," her father said. "Any idea what you'd like to study? Last time you talked to me about what you wanted to be when you grew up, you said an astronaut, but you haven't been taking any science courses past the required minimum .…"

"Dad," Dana said. "That was five years ago! I was such a total twip. No, I don't know what careers to consider."

He sat back in his chair. "When you see yourself in ten years, how do you see yourself? What kind of lifestyle? What kind of friends? You have a few years yet before you need to make a firm decision about a career, if you do want to go to college right out of high school. But if you don't start looking at the larger picture, you could easily find that ten years down the road you look around and don't like where you are, and aren't quite sure how you got there."

It was the most he'd ever said on a serious topic, or at least the most in the last few years. Not counting lectures about why she should dump Terry. Dana thought about his words for a second. "It sounds like," she said slowly, "you think I should focus on who I want to be, not what."


Who did she want to be?

She fell asleep when her head hit the pillow and didn't stir until the alarm went off, all thoughts chased away by fatigue. (It was a hazard of the fitness and fighting regime Gordon had them on.) But she stopped and stared at herself in the mirror for almost five minutes as she was doing her hair and makeup.

Who did she want to be? She pictured herself in a Batgirl costume, beating up criminals. Maybe, but … she tried to tell herself that the reason the Batgirl in her head didn't wear her face was that she didn't know what she'd look like in a decade. Max, on the other hand, it was hard to picture her as anything else.

If she didn't hurry up, she would be late for school. She didn't have time for philosophical debate, even internally.

"I don't know," Dana said as she ran on the treadmill. Max was on the weight machine, and soon would switch to doing crunches. Both of them had a lot more breath to spare to talk than they had even a week ago. "I'm starting to think … I don't know if I want to be a superhero, really."

"What, are you letting Commissioner Gordon scare you off?" Max said.

"No, actually, I'm not," Dana said. "Ten years from now, I try to picture myself as a superhero, and I don't see it. It's just … I guess it feels a little like something temporary, something I'm doing to pass the time while I'm in school."

"If I'm putting in all this work, I sure hope it's not just a temporary thing to pass the time!" Max said.

"Yeah," Dana said. "I totally see you doing this and loving it all your life. But I don't know if I could. Mostly, I just want to help people."

"Hey, putting crazy criminals behind bars is helping people!"

"I know, but I don't know if it's the way I want to do it." Dana shook her head. "I just … I just don't know."

"You're not going to abandon me, are you?" Max asked. Her voice treated it like a joke, but Dana could tell she was serious. Even if Max hadn't come from a broken home, nobody would want to be studying this hard and training this hard alone.

"No, of course not," Dana said. "And I do definitely want to help, do some of the support stuff. I want to stay involved, and also because you need someone to help with stuff. And I could be wrong, so I don't want to burn any bridges, I'll keep up with the training, at least until I decide. I just … I don't want to start going out in a cape just to keep you company or help out. I think it should be something I do because I want to do it. And right now, I don't know."

Somewhere along the line, Max had set the bar-bell back on its rack, and was just lying on the bench staring at the ceiling. Dana watched her out of the corner of her eye, keeping running as if it were no big deal. After a bit, Max reached back up to the bar and lifted it again, the spotter arm hovering between her hands. "Okay," she said.

The next time they met with Commissioner Gordon, Max watched her out of the corner of her eye. Not judging, just … waiting. So Dana didn't say anything as they got down to business. Warm-ups, hand-to-hand training, weapons training (they were starting with throwing knives; Gordon said they'd work up to batarangs). Then when they were all worn out came the hard part: Gordon quizzed them on the material she'd assigned them. Gordon praised and criticized them, depending on how well they were doing and how much they'd improved. There was more criticism than praise. Dana wondered if she were doing it on purpose to discourage them, or if they were really that bad.

Once they were done and Gordon had given them the next week's assignment, Max headed off to the showers, though not without a few backwards glances. Dana hung around.

Gordon studied her. "You wanted something Dana?"

"Yes," Dana said, hesitating. She didn't want to sound like she was chickening out, or wimping out, or that Gordon had scared her away—it wasn't like that!—but she hadn't come up with a way to say what she wanted that didn't sound like that. "What kinds of other things do people do for support?" she said. "I mean, I know doctors and nurses would treat someone off the books, and engineers would design and build equipment. What other possibilities are there?"

"Lots," Gordon said briskly. "Of varying degrees of risk and commitment. Just for starters, there's what Bruce does for Terry: stays back at headquarters coordinating and doing the analysis work that leaves the hero time and brainpower to stay focused on their surroundings and immediate needs. I did that for years, after I stopped being Batgirl. My name was Oracle, and in addition to helping out various Bats as needed, I also ran my own team, the Birds of Prey."

"Bats, plural?" Dana asked. "There was more than one Batman?" She scrunched up her face, trying to imagine how that would work, with Bruce's paranoia and control-freak tendencies.

Gordon laughed. "Not really, no. But all of us who were trained with Batman and on his team were Bats, and even after things went to hell and the rest of us left, even after we took new names, well, we're all still Bats. There were the Robins—four, all told, though not all at once. And another Batgirl besides myself. All of us trained and guided by Bruce. We don't keep in touch, much, but I'd lay down my life in a heartbeat for any of them, if I had to. Some things run deeper than blood."

Dana shook her head, still bemused at the idea of Bruce Wayne with a whole family of Bats. "What about your team, were they Bats too?"

"Oh, no. Black Canary was one of the founding members of the Justice Society, and was in the superhero business almost before Bruce was. Besides, Bruce would never have allowed a meta or an alien on his team. Huntress was perfectly human, and got a later start, but … she and Bruce never got along. Lady Blackhawk I recruited specifically for the skills she already had. We worked with a lot of different people on an as-needed basis, including some Bats, but the four of us were the core of the team."

"Why did you stop?" Dana asked.

"Nothing lasts forever, kid," Gordon replied. "The other thing I did, as Oracle, besides coordinate things, was hacking. For a while there, I was one of the best hackers in the business. I kept various vigilantes' records and personal details from getting exposed, I buried information that could harm us and sought out information that could help. The problem was, of course, that information hacked by an anonymous vigilante is not generally considered permissible in a court of law. We could use it, but we had to figure out other ways to prove what we knew to the police, which was a hassle. The other major problem is one of boundaries: if you're playing God with other peoples' data, and violating the rights to privacy, where do you stop? What evidence of wrongdoing is required before you take what you need, and if you don't have sufficient evidence, how does that make you different from the black hat hackers? And if you have probable cause, why don't you just hand the whole thing over to the police and let them do it with actual, legal warrants and subpoenas that will hold up in court? It's a slippery slope, kid. I've seen too many good people slide all the way down to the bottom of it."

"Well, I'm not much of a hacker, anyway," Dana said. "If one of us was going to be a hacker, it would be Max." She bit her lip. "You mentioned lawyers, before?"

Gordon shrugged. "What happens if you get outed and sued for properties damaged in a fight? What happens if you get caught in a place you weren't supposed to be, assuming that you ditched the costume and they didn't know who you were? How do you explain why you were at the murder scene and no, really, you're not the killer or the killer's accomplice? A good lawyer who knows to quash anything headed in the direction of your secret identity is priceless. There are so many things that you need a lawyer for, and while most of them don't crop up often, when they do you really need a lawyer you can trust. And when someone you've caught goes on trial, a quiet word about things that can't be legally proven can often nudge the prosecution towards evidence they otherwise might not have uncovered." She smiled. "And I'm sure there are many other ways to contribute. The best way to do it is to figure out what you want to do with your life, and then figure out how that skill set and position can be used within the community."

"Okay," Dana said. "I don't know if any of those appeal to me." She didn't think she wanted to be a lawyer, anyway. Doctor or nurse … probably not. With all those possibilities, what did she want to be?

"Take your time thinking it over," Gordon said. "We are talking about the rest of your life, after all. You should make your decisions with your eyes wide open. If you need to talk with others in the business, I could probably set you up for an interview or something. I will say, though, that what I'm covering with you and Max right now is pretty basic. It'll stand you in good stead, particularly the physical training. Next to a superhero is a dangerous place to stand."

"Yeah," Dana said. "Terry's kid brother got kidnapped, once, because he's Batman." She tilted her head. "Those teams of yours—the Bats and the Birds of Prey—those were your family, weren't they?"

"Truest family I ever had." Gordon's eyes were steady and calm.

"And you walked away."

"It was the right decision." Not a flicker of doubt in her voice, either.

Dana nodded. "I guess I've got a lot to think about."

"You've got time," Gordon said. "You're young yet. And just because you choose one path now doesn't mean you have to stay on it forever. I was Batgirl, and then I was Oracle, and now I'm a police commissioner."

"I don't know where I want to be in ten years," Dana said. "But for right now, I think I want to be here, learning and keeping my options open."

"All right, then," Gordon said. "I'll see you next week."

They headed for the showers.