TITLE: Engineering 101

AUTHOR: Mara Greengrass

AUTHOR'S EMAIL: fishfolkix.netcom.com. Feedback is better than chocolate.

PERMISSION TO ARCHIVE: Please ask.

CATEGORY: Drama

RATING: G

SUMMARY: "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.

NOTES: 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!
MATERIAL-TECHNOLOGICAL 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 something.

Of course, for several years now, that something had been a new toy for Batman.

Bruce 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?"

"Engineering 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."

"Yes."

"Neat!"
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 be flying.

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?"

"Well, 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."

Bruce 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."

Dick 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 gauge.

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.

Bruce 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.

Dick jumped at the sound of his voice so close and Bruce considered saying something about paying more attention to his surroundings.

Frowning 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?"

"I 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."

"Oh."

"Never 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."

Bruce 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.

"Next 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 spots.

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?"

"My dad."

Bruce 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."

"Your 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 guns."

Dick gravely considered this logic, then nodded. "Okay." He bent his head over the weapon as Bruce stripped it down to its components.

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.

Dick 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.

"What 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.

There 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 else.

"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.

Another 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 killers?"

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.

"Okay, 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..."

"Are 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..."

"No. 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."

Bruce 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.

The 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.

Bruce 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."

"Gray's Anatomy?"

"If 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.

Bruce 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."

"Look 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."

To 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.

Dick easily 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 by--

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.

The 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, before...

Bruce concentrated on nothingness, the flowing stream of the form taking away his thoughts.

When 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."

Bruce 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, don't guess."

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.

They 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?"

Bruce 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."

Dick 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.

Although 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.

Bruce 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 roof.

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.

Out 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.

Dick 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.

Bruce 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?"

"Mm-hmm." 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 that felt.

"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?"

"No."

Well, every word was progress. "How do you know if you don't ask?"

"It's nothing." His chest heaved slightly.

Interrogating 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?"

Dick 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--"

"Dick!"

Dick's mouth 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."

"You 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.

"Dick, 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."

Dick 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."

"They're 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 consider.

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?"

"Absolutely." 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.

For 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?

Bruce 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.

Taking 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.

--end--