"Dick? Are you ready?"
"Huh?" the fourteen year old jerked his head up and turned to look at Bruce, clad in all of his Batman gear except his cowl. "Oh. Yeah, I'm ready." Putting his own mask on, he rose from where he'd been sitting cross-legged at one of the computers, studying for a chemistry exam. As his feet hit the floor lightly, a ring of pain tightened around his navel. He gasped slightly, drawing his guardian's attention.
"Robin?" The teen opened his mouth to explain what had just happened, but realized that Bruce was finish dressing and had gone, leaving Batman in his place. If alerted to the problem, Bruce would have stopped everything, asking him questions and testing the affected area personally; Batman, on the other hand, would leave him behind for the night, telling him to change back into regular clothes and have Alfred check him over. A thorough medical examination and an early bedtime weren't things he was all that interested in doing, so he ground his teeth and waved the question away.
"I'm fine. Just…indigestion, or something. It's gone now." It wasn't entirely a lie, as the pain had lessened once he'd straightened up. He'd been having these same little spasms since shortly after breakfast, and they'd been growing progressively worse all day. Between their unusually spicy dinner – Alfred never made curry, but had felt a strange urge to cook Indian food that evening – and all of the sit-ups that had been tacked onto his training the last few days, Dick figured that the pain was probably just a normal reaction. It certainly wasn't bad enough to make him give up a night of patrol at Batman's side.
"…Then let's go."
A few hours later he was regretting his decision to not stay home. The duo had stopped two robberies and a mugging early on, and each bout of exertion had elevated the urgency of his stomach pangs. They had reached the quiet part of the night now, the brief break when most of the petty crooks had completed any mission they had but before the witching hour when the truly sick and twisted preferred to operate. He was surprised that he'd been allowed to stay out this late, even on a Saturday night; Batman normally insisted on returning him to the cave before the most dangerous opponents were likely to be moving about. Happy as he was about his extended curfew, Robin was even more grateful that Batman had chosen a spot where they could crouch down and observe a single block rather than insisting that they check on multiple locations. Even if something were to occur right below them, the teen wasn't sure he'd be able to stand straight enough to address it; having his legs folded beneath him helped dull the ache somewhat, but it was still very much present.
"Do you know why we're here tonight?"
"…No. I don't."
"Do you see this building across from us?"
"Of course." It's a building, he thought archly, his discomfort souring his normally good mood. Kind of hard to miss.
"That is the records depository of one of the largest credit card companies in the country. Tonight, a group of men are planning to break into the digital archives and steal the personal financial information of several million individuals."
"…I didn't think we really worked with white-collar crimes," Robin frowned. "Besides, why do they need to break in to steal digital information? It would be safer to just hack the system."
"Normally I would agree with you. After the last time that happened to this particular company, however, they did a complete security overhaul and switched to a strictly internal network. There's no internet service in that entire building – it was specifically designed to block wireless signals, and there's no line service whatsoever – and their computers are linked only to one another. They update their system once a month, and that information is hand-delivered on an external hard drive. The people who work in there during the day are required to turn in their mobiles, notebooks, and all other electronics at the entrance. They have a call center, but the only people who know the number are the customer service representatives stationed at other locations. There's a code book that changes daily and has to be referenced correctly before the archive staff can give out the requested information." He paused to let that sink in. "As to why we're concerned about a white-collar crime tonight, there is reason for me to believe that the people involved are connected to the Pezzoli syndicate. With the level of spending power they'd garner from a successful expedition of this sort, their goal of taking over Gotham for themselves will be far more attainable."
"…Aren't there any guards inside?" he asked, working very hard to resist the need to wrap his arms around his waist. The pain was migrating now, moving from around his navel to his lower right side, and it was becoming harder to ignore with each passing minute.
"There are, but they won't be difficult to overcome. They aren't very well trained, if my information on the security company they're employed by is to be believed."
"You mean this credit card company went through all of the trouble and expense of making their building as digitally secure as possible, and then filled it with crappy guards?"
"People often put too much faith into their machinery, Robin. The things that modern technology can do are so far beyond the conscious abilities of the average human's brain that it can be difficult to believe that machinery protections, especially on this scale, could ever fail. Keep that in mind."
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," Robin muttered.
"Nothing," he shook his head. "Just…something Arthur C. Clarke wrote. You made me think of it."
Batman glanced over at him. It caught him off guard sometimes just how intelligent his young partner was. The boy had been fascinated by science fiction, especially the classic sci-fi writers of the mid-20th century, for the past six months or so. What pleased his mentor was that he seemed to grasp a great deal of the principles behind the stories without expending much effort, and he wasn't afraid to ask for elucidation or head for reliable websites when he sensed that he didn't fully understand a concept. The black-clad man wondered briefly if he had ever given Alfred similar startling glimpses of aptitude when he was growing up.
"There," he breathed, returning his eyes to the street below just in time to see a dark blue van pull around to the rear of the building. "Right on time."
Robin managed to get to his feet, driving the knife deeper into his side as a result. He bit his lip viciously to contain the scream that wanted to be let free, and a wash of blood slid over his tongue. Moving silently in spite of the fact that he was still trying to curl into the fetal position, he stayed behind the taller crime fighter as they swung down to the ground. Once there, he knew he had to stand, and wrenched himself into an upright position just as Batman looked back to verify that he was prepared. Pressing a second set of punctures into existence beside the ones that already had him tasting copper, he nodded once, insisting without words that he was ready and able.