Midnight in Gotham, the dead of night, as quiet as the city ever got. The majority of her denizens safely slumbering in their beds, leaving the ones that weren't to their own devices. Devices that, for some, were anything but harmless.
One prime example was Rupert Thorne. The head of Gotham's most prominent and ruthless crime families, he kept both the Gotham police and Batman quite busy, not to mention the Dark Knight's associates.
Oracle, Gotham's resident maven of information, was one of them. The enigmatic woman spent most of her time keeping close watch on the activities of the criminal element within the city and beyond, but knowing Batman's current obsession was Thorne, her focus of the night was the dangerous crime boss. A choice proven quite justified when Batman turned up at the clocktower.
"I'm sure Thorne's moving a shipment of guns into Canada tomorrow night, but I can't find out where...or how." Frustrated, the vigilante stalked across the room and stopped before the slim blonde at the computer console. For her part, Oracle didn't spare him a glance, she kept her gaze on the computer screen as her fingers coaxed more and more information from cyberspace, putting the pieces of the puzzle in place. "He's not using any of the orthodox channels or even the unorthodox ones. There isn't even a whisper on the streets as to how he's doing it this time."
"He's finally plugged up some of the leaks in his organization I take it?" Oracle surmised, giving Batman a warning look when he closed one gloved hand into a fist and thumped it on a monitor, venting his frustration. He could be frustrated all he wanted but he knew better than to lay a hand on her equipment.
She sat back, moving her wheelchair away from the computer, leaving the search program to do its work. "Give me a few hours," she took off her glasses, folding them neatly, "I'll find out how he's getting them out of the city, the exact time, and who'll be waiting in Canada to receive them."
The calm confidence in her voice soothed the Dark Knight's ire and his eyes lit with an amused glint. "A little overconfident, aren't we, Oracle?"
She grinned a little, pushing a blonde curl out of her face. "When have I ever let you down?"
He had to concede the point, Oracle came by her codename honestly. She had the uncanny ability to find out things that eluded everyone else, Batman included. Her apparent ease at doing so occasionally aggravated the vigilante but not nearly so much as the impenetrability of the cloud of mystery Oracle had shrouded about her identity. Beyond her face, her skill with acquiring information, and the fact she never seemed to leave the clocktower, he knew absolutely nothing about the woman behind Oracle.
Over the years she'd been working with him, Batman had made several attempts to find out more about her. At first, he'd asked questions of the woman herself but was always politely but firmly shot down. Likewise, she never accidentally revealed information about herself in conversation - everything she said seemed to be measured and censored, lest she give anything away. She never referred to anything about her past no matter what the subject of conversation. She simply did not discuss the woman behind the persona.
So, when Oracle herself would not share her past, Batman had gone looking for it. Leery of working with someone whose background was a complete mystery, he'd made discreet attempts - both as Batman and as Bruce Wayne - to find out more but he'd never gotten anywhere in his search. Oracle was meticulous to the point of obsessive when it came to hiding her true identity. For all he could uncover, Oracle seemed to be a modern day Athena - springing forth fully formed. She had no past, no childhood, no name. It was an existence she seemed quite happy with. She took great pains to keep it thus and was quite successful at it.
The only things he'd been able to uncover was, in fact, pure speculation. He had every belief that whatever had happened to her to spur the birth of Oracle, her wheelchair was the physical evidence of it but there were emotional scars that ran even deeper.
He knew she cared deeply about the crime fighters around her, it was a fact no one questioned, but she kept herself removed from them - a step apart. He suspected the anonymity she'd chosen for herself was an extension of that. If she kept herself unknowable, they couldn't get too close. Couldn't hurt her again like she'd been hurt before and he was quite sure someone she'd cared about had hurt her deeply. He saw hints of it sometimes, suggestions of pain still lingering, but she never gave any acknowledgment to it. It seemed, to Oracle, pain had become an old friend and constant companion.
Batman watched Oracle move her chair to another computer, continuing her work while waiting for the search to complete, typing busily. Behind his mask, his eyes narrowed in speculation. Asking silent questions he knew he would never get outright answers to, `Who are you, Oracle? What made you hide? Who are you hiding from?'
Aloud, he asked a far less controversial question, "New computer?"
She looked up, surprised, as if she'd forgotten he was there. Recovering quickly, she looked down at the computer before her which he was nodding at and she smiled a little, "Yes, it's new - just got it in last night."
It was the smile that interested him. Even Oracle didn't smile like that about a computer and Batman stored the information with the other microscopic bits of data he'd accumulated on her. "From where?"
For a brief moment, it seemed she was about to answer, her mouth opening as if to say a name and then, she smiled knowingly. "Cute."
So, whoever it was that had furnished Oracle with her computer, it was someone important enough to distract even her when on the subject of her private life. Interesting. But then, anything relating to her mysterious, and very invisible, benefactor always was.
Though she never failed to deny it, he knew someone was paying Oracle's bills. She always seemed to have the best, most advanced and most cutting edge technology available - not to mention some that wasn't. He'd seen her use equipment and software that the intelligence communities would have given their right arm to possess. Things even the military was still testing out. How she obtained it, he didn't know.
If Oracle was meticulous about her own identity, she was downright fanatical about protecting the person helping her. She worked tirelessly to ensure that there was no connection between her and her benefactor, hiding or destroying records before Batman - or anyone else - could even find out they existed.
It seemed, no matter what Batman did, his speculations about Oracle would remain exactly that. Speculations. Things he discerned by observing her and the things around her. Concrete facts remained stubbornly beyond his reach.
He did know that whoever it was helping her, they cared about Oracle as a person and not just an information source. Everything within the clocktower was outfitted for someone who lived in a wheelchair, nothing was out of her reach, everything completely accessible. And, while her work area was exactly that, the part of the clocktower which served as Oracle's home was as elegant and as comfortable as anything the high-class neighborhoods of Gotham could produce.
As well, once or twice, there had been signs that not only did Oracle's benefactor supply her material needs, he sometimes visited as well - a man's cologne on the air, a coat hanging in a corner, the remnants of a meal for two, Oracle's demeanor. Sometimes, when he visited, he had the distinct impression she wasn't alone. Her clothing, her attitude, and the speed with which she would find the information he needed would suggest she had a visitor she wanted to get back to. Not that he'd ever been able to confirm that fact.
A part of him was jealous of this unknown man, Oracle's mysterious protector, for the role he played in her life. She obviously trusted him with her secrets, something she hadn't even done with Batman himself, and with her past. Her private hurts. As strong and as independent as she was, she was a woman living with pain and emotional scars which had never truly healed. She needed someone to protect her, but, on a level Batman couldn't even admit to, he wished it was he whom that duty belonged to.
"I should be flattered," Oracle said softly, her eyes amused.
He looked up to find those eyes fixed on him. "By?"
"The fact that the Dark Knight himself is so absolutely fascinated by the unsolvable mystery that is `my true identity.' Really, Batman, one would think that Gotham's most feared vigilante would have more important matters on his mind," Oracle inclined her head in the direction of her monitor. "Like finding out Mr. Thorne's latest diabolical imag...uh oh."
"Uh oh?" Batman echoed dryly. Oracle didn't say uh oh. It wasn't in her vocabulary. "Do I get to ask what `uh oh' means?"
"No." She said bluntly, her fingers flying across the keyboard, isolating a video capture from one of the live feeds and enhancing it. Waiting for the enhancement to complete, she impatiently pushed a stray lock of hair back from her eyes as she leaned forward, watching the screen intently.
Whatever it was that had captured Oracle's attention it wasn't a trivial matter and Batman moved closer, deciding to take a look. "What is it?"
Before he had a chance to examine the face on the screen, she turned it off and lifted her gaze to face him as her hands moved to turn her chair in his direction. "Nothing you need to concern yourself with." She said firmly, her voice calm. "Back off, Batman."
An order she knew he would have no intention of following. "Whatever it is, it's important enough to have your complete attention. You're worried," Batman frowned ominously. "And if it has you worried, I have the right to know. This is my city, Oracle. I need to know."
"No, you don't." She insisted quietly, an edge creeping into her words. "I do deal with more than just your concerns, Batman. This? This relates to someone else and a matter they asked me to look into."
He stood taller, meeting her gaze and staring intently. Oracle didn't back down, she merely tilted her head back, looking up without flinching. Standing there, both knew they could be there all night and well into the next day and Oracle still wouldn't say a word. If she said she had no intentions of telling him, she wouldn't tell him. She was nothing if not a stubborn woman.
"Thorne?" He asked finally, breaking the stalemate - backing down without really backing down.
She didn't smile, her mouth didn't so much as twitch, but he saw a brief flash of triumph in her eyes before she turned her chair and moved back across the floor to the computer where she'd begun her search. "Hm...did you check the sewers?"
"Yes - why?" Knowing it was now safe to approach, Batman leaned over the lovely blonde's shoulder, his eyes on the screen.
"Huh." Oracle brought up a diagram of the city's sewer system and pointed. "See that?"
"Yes, straight tunnel. I went through there, it's a single tunnel running for half a mile until it branches off three ways. Checked them all out and came up with nothing."
She smiled a little. "You weren't looking with the right eyes. Check this out." Typing quickly, she overlaid the map with another one. "This is a scan of the same tunnel that I took - infared, sonar and a few other scans. See that?" One well-shaped nail guided his gaze along a tunnel lit in bright red.
A faint grin played along Batman's face and he felt that familiar feeling begin to surge through his veins, triumph intermingled with anticipation. He had him. "That's not supposed to be there."
"No it is not." She agreed with a soft laugh. "It's a part of the original subway system - a line they replaced about fifteen years ago. It's closed off now, not even on any old maps...."
"And perfect for Thorne's use."
"It is. It provides a link between the section of the sewer that runs underneath Thorne's warehouse to another section which leads right out into Gotham Harbor. How much you want to bet he's got divers and equipment there ready to transport the guns to a boat that'll be waiting offshore?"
"Can you get me information on any ships that will be in the area tomorrow night?"
"Already working on it. I'm checking satellite feeds for any ships moving toward the harbor and checking them against the registries and the harbor master's computers. It shouldn't wake me long to find out which ships have legitimate business in the city and which ones don't." With a flick of her fingers, Oracle had printed out a copy of the map for him and was working on the satellite data. "Throne's been watching too many James Bond movies. This trick never works - but, just in case it's a decoy," she smiled at him. "I'm checking out other avenues too. If anything else looks promising, I'll contact you."
"Make sure Commissioner Gordon gets a copy of this information as well." Batman looked faintly amused. "We don't want Detective Bullock to miss the party."
Oracle laughed. "No we don't want..." She turned around in time to see a flick of cape as the vigilante took his favorite exit. The window. "Just once," she complained in irritation, "I would like that man to leave like a normal human being. A goodbye, an exit through the door, it wouldn't kill him."
Shaking her head, she turned back to her computer, bringing up the picture she'd been working on and frowned again.
"Lucas, what are you doing getting mixed up with Rupert Thorne?" She asked with a sigh, reaching for the phone. She dialed the number instinctively and, when the other party picked up, spoke without fear of wiretaps. One of the benefits of being Oracle, her phone lines were always secure. "Lex...it's me...you have a problem. It's about Lucas." She looked at the young man on the screen. "He's in trouble."
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