TITLE: Engineering 101
AUTHOR: Mara Greengrass
AUTHOR'S EMAIL: fishfolkix.netcom.com. Feedback is better than chocolate.
PERMISSION TO ARCHIVE: Please ask.
"Engineering is about testing to destruction," Bruce said, settling
into lecture mode. "You don't understand how you can do things better
until you understand when and why they break apart."
CONTINUITY: Dick Grayson is training to be Robin and he is about 12 years old.
DISCLAIMER: These characters belong to DC Comics. I just fantasize and worry about them.
The idea for this fic came from Avi and he assisted me on various
materials testing details. Thanks to Smitty and ratcreature for canon
assistance, although I chose to disregard some bits. All technical
definitions except the first (which I wrote) come from the Instron
Corporation's Glossary of Materials Testing Terms. Also, several lines
of dialogue in the third section are lifted from a flashback in
Nightwing 31, written by Chuck Dixon, although I've slightly changed
the visuals. Many thanks to Alexis and David for betareading and
improving this fic, especially the ending. You guys rock my socks!
TESTING: An umbrella term for tests--either destructive or
non-destructive--conducted to learn as much as possible about a
material's capacities. Materials are exposed to mechanical, thermal,
and chemical stresses, enabling manufacturers to choose the most
appropriate material for each purpose.
Before he was Batman, Bruce
Wayne was a businessman. But before he was a businessman, he was an
inventor, always interested in how things worked and making them
better. No matter how busy his life got, he was always fiddling with
Of course, for several years now, that something had been a new toy for Batman.
had access to all the best equipment, the best electronics and
manufacturing tools, and anything else the dedicated engineer might
want. Lately he'd been working on an improved titanium-aluminum alloy
for his batarangs--something that would hold a sharper edge, shatter
less frequently, and balance better.
The alloy was as ready as
it was going to get, Bruce thought, eyeing the shapes lying on his
worktable in the Cave. Dick looked at them. "Are you going to make the
new batarangs now?" he asked.
"Not quite yet. This alloy is going to have to go through some tests first."
"What kind of tests?"
is about testing to destruction," Bruce said, settling into lecture
mode. "You don't understand how you can make things better until you
understand when and why they break apart."
Dick grinned. "We get to break things?"
"Under controlled conditions."
Dick bounced up and down a few times. "But we get to break things."
TENSILE TEST: Method for
determining behavior of materials under axial stretch loading. Data
from tests are used to determine elastic limit, elongation, modulus of
elasticity, proportional limit, reduction in area, tensile strength,
yield point, yield strength, and other tensile properties.
Frowning, Bruce considered
the placement of the sample in his testing apparatus, wanting to be
certain it was secure. The consequences of material failure could
occasionally be quite spectacular. And dangerous.
From the other
side of the Cave, he could hear the rhythmic sounds of Dick working on
the uneven bars, his body shifting so smoothly he really did appear to
A pause and Bruce looked up to see Dick balancing in
a handstand atop the higher bar--a ruler straight line--before he bent
his legs and rolled up into a tremendous leap above the bars, catching
the lower bar perfectly on his way down. Dick dismounted after a few
desultory rolls around the lower bar to slow down.
Beaming, he turned. "Didja see?"
"Does this mean you've completed your other project?"
Dick's face fell and he looked down at the mat. "Not exactly. I mean, I started, but I got stuck."
"Why didn't you ask for help?"
um, you were busy. And I thought maybe I'd think of something while I
was practicing. My dad," he swallowed once, then went on, "always said
he could think better on the trapeze than any place else."
put down the Allen wrench he'd been using to tighten the apparatus.
"Then why don't you get cleaned up and we'll see how far you got.
Persistence is just as important to what we do as any physical skills."
nodded and dashed to the showers. Bruce made certain the computer was
set to receive test results, then hit the on button. The jaws of the
machine began a slow tug on the metal, stretching it out, and Bruce
kept an eye on the readings. When they reached the limit he'd selected,
the system switched off automatically and he glanced at the strain
Leaning to the side, he tapped a few commands into the computer, nodding in satisfaction as the results scrolled up the screen.
Other measurements would have to wait, however, as a much more subdued Dick emerged in jeans and a clean t-shirt.
made a few quick notes so he wouldn't forget what was completed, then
turned to find Dick already seated at the main computer. His problem
was on the auxiliary screen, which Bruce had set at a lower height. No
sense in giving the boy neck troubles for no good reason. Chewing on
one thumbnail, Dick looked frustrated.
"How far did you get?" Bruce asked as he approached.
jumped at the sound of his voice so close and Bruce considered saying
something about paying more attention to his surroundings.
at the screen, Dick leaned on the edge of the console, chin resting in
his hands. "If I've done everything right, then I've cleared all the
suspects. I went through every single thing three times and I can't
figure out who the thief is." His voice got louder as he went on.
"If you've cleared all the suspects then you haven't done anything wrong. You just didn't go far enough."
Dick tilted his head up to look at him. "What?"
"None of the suspects I gave you is guilty."
Wrinkling his nose, Dick looked back at the screen. "Then how was I supposed to solve it?"
told you this was a real crime. You could have gone into the files to
see if there were any other possible suspects. Just because I gave you
a list doesn't mean that's all there is."
let other people set parameters for you," Bruce said, watching Dick to
see if he understood. "Don't get boxed in by their perceptions of the
situation. That's intellectual laziness."
"Okay," Dick said, bowing his head over the keyboard.
FLEXURE TEST: Method for
measuring behavior of materials subjected to simple beam loading.
Specimen is supported on two edges as a simple beam and load is applied
at its midpoint.
"Are you sure about this?" Dick asked, staring at the gun in Bruce's hand. "I thought you hated guns."
took a deep breath. "But I don't fear them. There's a big difference.
They're used against us so often we need to know them, respect them.
You need to know how they work. To know even more than the punks who
rely on them for courage. We'll even practice throwing them."
"What's after this? Chainsaws at twenty paces?" The joke didn't hide the boy's obvious nervousness.
week," Bruce said. Dick had to get over his fear of guns, just as young
Bruce Wayne had, otherwise Robin would be permanently crippled. He had
to push the boy now to save him later, even if it meant poking at sore
Dick scowled, his eyebrows narrowed and his face set in a
grimace. Bruce, uncompromising as ever, held out the handgun. The
standoff held for over a minute.
"I really have to?" Dick asked.
"Before I will allow you to be Robin, yes."
With an unsteady hand, Dick took the gun, looking at it with loathing. "What do I do?"
"Let's start by taking the gun apart to see how it works."
"Okay." Dick's voice was faint and Bruce frowned at the odd tone. It wasn't the fear he'd thought, it was something else.
"What's the matter?"
blinked. The Graysons hadn't been shot, what was the boy talking about?
Dick must have seen Bruce's confusion, as he went on.
"My dad hated guns. He always said that the circus family and your brains should be the only weapons you needed."
father was very smart," Bruce said as light dawned, "but I don't think
he anticipated a situation like this. I doubt he'd begrudge you the
knowledge necessary to protect yourself and the people around you from
Dick gravely considered this logic, then nodded. "Okay."
He bent his head over the weapon as Bruce stripped it down to its
Within an hour, Dick could strip, reassemble, and
load nearly everything on the table. His arms were still too short to
comfortably handle most of the rifles, but time would take care of that.
also looked much more comfortable around the weapons, which was a
victory in itself. Target practice could wait a few more days. As they
packed everything away into the gun rack, Dick chattered about a letter
he'd gotten from the circus--something about a new elephant.
would your parents think," Bruce asked casually, as he locked the
cabinet, "if you had the chance to shoot the people who killed them?"
Dick froze in the act of wiping oil off the table.
Not looking directly at him, Bruce strode to the testing apparatus.
was no movement behind him for quite a while, enough time to place the
alloy for flexure testing. By the time he'd run the first test, Dick
stood beside him, staring at the alloy block as the machinery pushed at
it. Bruce would lay money, however, that the boy was seeing something
"My parents wouldn't want me to shoot anyone," he said, voice shaky.
"Not even the scum that made them fall?"
"Not even them." Dick crossed his arms.
test run and the alloy showed some deformation. Bruce considered it,
then glanced at Dick. "What are you willing to do to stop your parent's
Dick's eyes widened and he looked up. "What do you mean?"
"You won't shoot someone, but what about knives? Would you stab them?"
"No! I won't kill anybody!" Dick took a step back, jumping as the machinery beeped to announce it was ready for the next test.
no killing." Bruce pitched his voice a little lower, making Dick lean
forward to hear him. "How about hurting them? What if a perp had the
information you needed, but he wouldn't tell you? There are quite a few
ways the intelligent investigator can hurt someone that aren't fatal.
Some don't even leave scars."
Dick's eyes widened further. "I...I don't..."
"No killing, just persuasion. Would you cut them? Burn them? How about electric shocks?"
Dick shook, his teeth chattering. "No. I can't..."
you sure?" Bruce held Dick's gaze, not letting the boy look away. "It's
a gray area, you know. You're going to have to hurt someone in this
line of work. Kicking, punching, slicing...It's all about power--the
power you have over the lawbreakers, the fear we inspire in them."
Dick's breathing was shallow. "I won't kill. I won't torture."
Bruce held his gaze a little longer, then smiled. "Good."
"Oh!" The tension left Dick's body all at once. "Oh, you don't really want me to...you're not going to make me..."
I've had you reading up in criminology and forensic psychology, but you
need to know yourself before you're out on the streets. Understanding
your own mind is essential to control. You must consider how far you
are willing to go."
Dick shuddered. "I'll think about it, I promise."
nodded, then turned back to his work--visions of criminals he'd
crippled in pursuit of justice dancing in his mind. But Dick was...he
should be different.
COMPRESSION TEST: Method for
determining behavior of materials under crushing loads. Specimen is
compressed, and deformation at various loads is recorded. Compressive
stress and strain are calculated and plotted as a stress-strain diagram
which is used to determine elastic limit, proportional limit, yield
point, yield strength and (for some materials) compressive strength.
Sweat rolled down Dick's face as he pushed up.
"Once more," Bruce said, hands on the center of the bar, ready to grab it if necessary.
"Ugh," Dick grunted. His arms trembled, the muscles standing out as he slowly finished his last rep.
chink of the bar dropping back into its rest was satisfying to Bruce,
who managed an approving smile. Unfortunately, Dick didn't see it,
since his eyes were closed as he wiped his face with a towel.
"You're up to 150."
Dick nodded, still catching his breath, sweat drying quickly in the cool air of the Cave.
watched to make sure he was okay, then went to check on his latest
test. A series of diagrams scrolled up the monitor and Bruce considered
them. Excellent ductility from this alloy, although it wasn't quite as
elastic as he'd hoped.
"Some new books on the table for you," Bruce said as he placed a new block in the machine.
He could hear rummaging sounds, followed by a snort. "Plants of the World?" Dick asked.
"Everything from plant-based poisons to figuring out where someone's been."
you're going to incapacitate instead of kill, you have to know where to
hit." The machine hummed and Bruce frowned at the readings.
"You've got to be kidding. Sherlock Holmes?"
"Sher--" Bruce's head shot up. "I think that's Alfred's editorial comment."
Dick sighed and picked up the stack. "Right. Well, I'll just...start reading."
He trudged away and Bruce frowned, disturbed by the lack of his usual animation.
"Most men," Alfred said, coming down the steps with a pile of clean towels, "give boys a new baseball glove."
"Does he need a new glove? He didn't mention that. I can--"
"That wasn't what I meant, sir."
The machinery beeped impatiently. "I don't understand."
"Obviously." Alfred walked back up the steps to the mansion, annoyance obvious in the stiff line of his back.
stared after him, wishing that just once he could understand the people
around him as easily as he understood the criminals or the mechanical
properties of titanium and aluminum. With a shake of his head, he
turned back to the machinery, which at least made sense.
FATIGUE TEST: Method for
determining the behavior of materials under fluctuating loads. A
specified mean load (which may be zero) and an alternating load are
applied to a specimen and the number of cycles required to produce
failure (fatigue life) is recorded.
Dick's head bent over the microscope and he bit his lip. "Um, cotton?" he said after adjusting the slide several times.
Looking up from the latest S-N diagram, Bruce frowned at him. "You're guessing."
Dick frowned back. "The last one was easy, but I don't know what this is."
it up if you don't know." Bruce turned back to the computer, asking it
to replot the diagram including the old alloy. With this new material,
he'd already passed the point at which the previous batarangs had
shattered under the stress.
He heard Dick head to the computer and he nodded to himself as he turned back to his diagrams.
"Mohair?" Dick said. "I've never seen that before."
"Well, now you have."
Dick sighed. "I'm never going to learn this stuff."
"Of course you will. Identify the next three and then we'll do hand to hand."
the background of mumbling, Bruce ran one more set of tests, switching
from axial to torsion loading. It wasn't likely that pressure of that
sort would test a batarang, but you never knew.
recognized the nylon rope, but was stumped again by a cotton/wool blend
and a brand new form of lycra. Pushing himself away from the
microscope, Dick went to put on workout clothes.
Bruce saved the
latest data and considered what he'd learned. Maybe he could exploit
the ductility to his advantage, altering the batarang design just a bit
A series of thumps made him turn in time to see Dick
execute a tumbling run along the floor, cartwheels and flips
culminating in a one-armed handstand and a slow roll to standing.
Bruce's lip quirked. Dick bowed regally.
boy was certainly agile, he thought. "Now perhaps if we could channel
some of that energy into practice?" Dick nodded and they moved over to
the mats. "We'll begin with a tai chi warm-up."
As they moved
through each position, their bodies synchronized, Bruce tried to clear
his mind. He hoped Dick was doing the same, although the way the boy's
mind worked was often a mystery to him. Had he ever been like that,
Bruce concentrated on nothingness, the flowing stream of the form taking away his thoughts.
they were done, they stretched, careful to hit each muscle group. Bruce
watched but saw nothing here that needed correcting. The Graysons had
taught their son well, giving him a solid base for the abilities his
partner would need.
Dick finished first and he amused himself by walking around on his hands while waiting for Bruce.
Bruce slapped a foot as it went by. "Let's run through the blocking moves I showed you on Thursday."
Standing up, Dick scrubbed his hair back into order. "Okay, but I'm still not very good."
just nodded and kicked out with his right foot, catching Dick lightly
in the side. Dick jumped back, but too late. While he was figuring out
what he'd done wrong, Bruce aimed a punch at his right side, pulling it
to make it a tap.
Dick said nothing, just scowled and tried to
get back in balance. Bruce was tempted to sweep his feet out from under
him, but decided to save that for later. For the moment, best to stick
to basic punches and kicks.
The next kick, Dick blocked, but
Bruce suspected it was more luck than skill. He kicked again, when Dick
had obviously been expecting a punch.
"Don't try to outthink me,
just react." Uppercut with the right, which Dick deflected easily,
using the movement to spin away. "Better. Just watch for what's coming,
It took more effort to telegraph his moves like a
lesser fighter would than to actually punch and kick. Bruce tried to
keep it varied, not create a pattern the boy could guess.
danced all around the Cave, off and on the mats, backward, forward,
rolling, ducking, Dick scowling when Bruce caught him, grinning when he
succeeded in blocking or avoiding.
Bruce snapped a kick at
Dick's head, but sweat dripped into Dick's eyes and Bruce used the
moment's inattention to sweep his feet out, dropping him to the ground.
Training and instinct made Dick slap the floor as he hit, in the
force-distributing move beloved of acrobats and martial artists.
Nonetheless, the fall bumped a startled "oof" out of Dick and he rolled away.
"Master Bruce?" Alfred called from the steps as Dick jumped to his feet. "Perhaps this might be an appropriate stopping point?"
looked at Alfred in surprise--he'd never interrupted like this before.
But when he turned back to Dick, he saw the way the boy's arms and legs
trembled. How long had they been practicing?
Remorseful, Bruce nodded. "That's enough for this evening."
did a fairly good job of covering up his relief as he went to clean up,
but even a man unfamiliar with children could see it.
"I didn't see how tired he was," Bruce admitted to Alfred.
"Your thoughts were elsewhere," was the diplomatic reply.
DUCTILITY: Extent to which a material can sustain plastic deformation without rupture.
ELASTICITY: Ability of a material to return to its original shape when load-causing deformation is removed.
Alfred appeared in the doorway of the study. "Sir?"
Looking up from a merger progress report from the Central City office, Bruce said, "Hmm?"
"I believe there is something you should see."
"What's wrong?" Alarmed, he dropped the report on his desk.
Alfred strode down the front hallway and out the door, followed by a puzzled Bruce. They rounded a corner and Alfred pointed up.
the night wasn't bright, it was easy to see the figure of a boy perched
on a battlement atop one of the square towers, his white t-shirt an
unsightly blotch against the dark stone.
"How do we get him down?" Bruce asked.
Alfred raised an eyebrow and frowned at him. "We, sir?" He turned away.
stood stock-still. Why was Alfred leaving him at a time like this? He
knew how bad Bruce was at these things. Damn the man.
But if he
could face insane criminals, surely he could face one young boy.
Swallowing his apprehension, he made his way through the mansion to the
Dick didn't look at him, just stared out across the
treetops from his perch in one of the crenellations. Bruce sat down
next to him in the stone niche, and looked out as well. He didn't own
everything you could see from this vantage point--just most of it.
of the corner of his eye, he watched Dick, who slowly swung his legs
back and forth, banging them against the wall. It was hard to tell in
the faint moonlight, but it looked like he might have been crying.
shifted his position slightly, but still didn't speak, and Bruce
sighed. Dick was normally so talkative, why did he have to choose times
like this to clam up? "Were you thinking about your parents?" he asked.
Dick tensed. He nodded once, then stared down toward the ground, many stories below.
considered the lowered head. Obviously there was something more, but
what? And how to find out without interrogating him? This wasn't a
lesson, after all. "What else is bothering you?"
Dick shook his head. "Nothing," he mumbled.
"Are you sure?"
But Dick still wasn't looking at him, and that was unusual if he was
only disturbed by missing his parents. Dick knew Bruce understood how
"Whatever it is, you can tell me. I won't be angry or upset."
Dick shook his head again, lips pursed tight.
"I hate to see you unhappy. Isn't there anything I can do?"
Well, every word was progress. "How do you know if you don't ask?"
"It's nothing." His chest heaved slightly.
criminals was easier than this. "If it's got you upset, it must be
something." Bruce patted Dick's shoulder, feeling stiff and awkward.
There was a long silence, which Bruce hoped Dick would fill.
Dick's voice, when it came, was small and choked. "I'm never gonna be Robin."
"What?" Bruce stared at him. Had he changed his mind? Heaven only knew he wouldn't force him into the life if he didn't want it.
"I'm never gonna be Robin 'cause I'm not good enough."
My god. "How can you think that?"
finally looked up and the words poured out of him like Niagara Falls.
"I'm never gonna be able to do what you do and I'm not smart enough and
I get everything wrong and--"
snapped shut and he looked afraid but defiant. Which was better, Bruce
supposed, than defeated. He took a second to breathe deeply and regroup.
"None of that is true. You're an excellent student. You can't expect to learn everything I know in such a short period of time."
Dick looked unconvinced. "But I couldn't solve the puzzles and I got the fibers wrong and stuff."
didn't get everything wrong, but that's beside the point. You're
learning. You're picking things up so quickly, sometimes it's a
struggle to stay ahead."
Dick stared at him, hope dawning on his face.
I..." He struggled for the right words. "I've been pushing you because
I need to know what you can do. You need to be as prepared as possible.
I didn't...I had no idea you'd think you weren't good enough. You are."
looked thoughtful. "You've been testing me, haven't you? I mean you
said that stuff about seeing when and why things break."
He opened his mouth, couldn't decide what to say, closed it again, and thought about it. "I was talking about the new alloy."
"But you meant me, too."
It sounded cold when put like that, but wasn't that what he'd been doing? "I don't want to break you."
Dick shrugged. "It's okay, that's just how you test things."
"But if I crack an alloy block, I make another one. I can't make another you."
"There are other kids."
not you." The fact hit him like a punch in the stomach--there was only
one Dick Grayson. There was something profound there that he needed to
Dick rubbed his face fiercely. "Are there gonna be more tests?"
"There's still a great deal for you to learn."
"Okay. Now I know." Dick nodded once, then yawned.
"You should probably be in bed. In fact, that's where I thought you were."
"I'll go to sleep soon, but I'd like to sit here a while longer."
"Certainly. Perhaps tomorrow you can help me test the first new batarang."
"Cool!" Dick grinned.
Bruce nodded and pulled his legs up, planning to go back to work.
Dick looked up at him, eyes very wide. "Will you stay for a while?"
He let his legs dangle next to Dick's and stared across the grounds.
Silence fell again, leaving Bruce to ponder the considerable amount of
trust that had just been placed in him.
He'd hurt the boy, made
him think he wasn't smart enough, but with just a few words of apology,
Dick had forgiven him and agreed to give him another chance.
the first time in many years, Bruce found himself afraid--afraid of
ruining this opportunity, afraid of hurting the boy he'd made himself
responsible for. Dick was a forgiving boy--obviously. But what if one
day he pushed him too far, too fast? What if he pushed him away?
imagined his life without Dick in it, without his voice echoing through
the halls, without the challenges of raising a smart and aggravating
child. It wasn't a pleasant thought.
Not long ago, he hadn't been able to imagine being a father and now he found himself with a son he'd do anything for.
in Dick had added endless levels of complication to his life, but he
wouldn't want it any other way. He'd just have to hope Dick remained as
forgiving of his flaws as he'd been tonight.