beatrice_otter: Poirot: Little Grey Cells (Little Grey Cells)
[personal profile] beatrice_otter
Title: Great Minds
Author: [personal profile] beatrice_otter
Fandoms: DC/Torchwood
Characters: Barbara Gordon, Toshiko Sato
Rating: G
Word Count: 3,580
Written for: Multiverse 2009 ([livejournal.com profile] multiverse5000)
Summary: There's a little problem aboard Watchtower.

‘Frustrated’ was too mild a word, Barbara Gordon—Oracle—decided as she dragged herself out from under the console. She glared at the technicians who were standing around, faces pale, hangdog expressions on their faces. Good. They should be nervous. She pulled herself into her wheelchair. None of them were stupid enough to offer to help. They might not have made it through with their arms attached to their bodies, if they’d tried to help her. Babs settled her legs in place, breathing deeply and trying to get hold of her temper.

“Can you fix it?” Batman’s voice was as gravelly as ever. At least one of the techs flinched and another edged further from the corner in which he loomed.

“No.” Babs shook her head, the unfamiliar feel of a domino mask over her face giving just that little edge of irritation to make her day complete. Oracle seldom had reason to come to the Watchtower, but when she did Batman insisted on the mask. “If I’d been called right away, I might have been able to do so. But several key pieces of hardware are malfunctioning now, Batman; the software’s just trying to respond to what the hardware is doing. And each problem with the hardware forces the software further out of its normal parameters, which then sends something else out of whack. It’s a chain reaction, and it’s spreading. This is what happens when you mix the technology of five different alien worlds and try to run it all with Earth software.” There was no need to add I told you so; Batman would hear it loud and clear. She sighed. “I can keep the software from going any further haywire than it already has. But given how long this has been going on already and the number of problems … I’d need to be twins, at least. Or have a brilliant specialist in alien technology at my disposal.” There was also no need to point out that her specialty was software and infiltration, not hardware. Certainly not alien hardware. She’d explained the difference to Batman, in great detail, many times. She looked at him expectantly.

Batman stared back. A casual observer would think him still as a statue. But his cloak stirred faintly in ways not quite explained by currents from the air vents. “Out.” The techs didn’t have to be told twice. “No,” he said when the doors sealed shut behind them.

“I need her,” Babs said. “I can’t fix this if I have to rely on the same technicians who couldn’t handle it in the first place. She’s as good with alien technology as I am with computers.”

“She sold alien-influenced weapons designs to terrorists.”

“To save her mother who was being held hostage. All members of her family are currently present and accounted for, and none of them have any problems that could be used to blackmail them.”

“She works for an organization that opened the door for two simultaneous alien invasions and practically destroyed itself, and operates on a kill first, questions later mentality.”

“They’ve overhauled their mandate and methods quite thoroughly over the last few years. And they’ve saved Earth far more often than they’ve endangered it.”

“Their head is a metahuman with powers whose extent we don’t know who won’t admit he’s a meta. He might even be an alien posing as human.”

“He’s been doing his best to save Earth from a variety of threats for over a century, now.”

“None of them are professional.”

“Neither are Wally or Plastic Man or several other League members that I could name. She’s the most professional of the bunch, and she’s more than professional enough for what we need.”

Batman stared at Oracle.

Oracle stared back.

He turned on his heel and walked out, cape billowing behind him.

Babs smiled.

***

Toshiko Sato double-checked that she had all her equipment in her bag. Satisfied, she slung it over her shoulder and nodded at Jack with a nervous smile.

“You’d better be right that your transporter systems haven’t been affected,” he growled into his headset. He grimaced at whatever response he got from the computerized, distorted voice that was Oracle’s public ‘face.’ “She’s ready.”

Toshiko took a deep breath—and let it out in another room. She blinked; transporting up to the Watchtower had been far less disorienting than she’d expected. But then, time dislocation had been so smooth she hadn’t even realized it had happened until a few seconds after the fact, when she and Jack had accidentally gone back to World War II. She took a good look around the room; it was beautiful and new looking, warm and inviting, so very different from the Hub. Still, the Hub had character this place didn’t, she consoled herself.

In front of her was a white woman in a wheelchair, red-haired, wearing a mask that covered the top half of her face and had to be either stuck on with some kind of glue or attached with alien technology. Toshiko had never heard of a handicapped superhero, before. Did they make all of their people wear masks while on the Watchtower, even the civilian support staff, then?

“Hello, Ms. Sato,” the woman said. “Thank you for coming on such short notice. I’m Oracle.”

“Call me Tosh,” Toshiko said, smiling, hoping it covered her confusion. Given the gender discrepancies in the programming field—and in the superhero field—Tosh had assumed Oracle was a man. There was no way to tell otherwise with the voice distortion software Oracle always used.

“I’d give you a tour, but we’re a little pressed for time,” Oracle said. “Life support’s already gone offline twice, and I’ve had to take the armaments completely off-line.”

“I understand,” Tosh said. “What seems to be the problem?”

Oracle turned towards the door and gestured for Tosh to follow her. “Watchtower’s systems combine Martian, Kryptonian, Thanagarian, Terran, New Genesisian, and Apokolipsian technologies,” she said, wheeling down the corridor at a fast clip. “The software is Terran, but the hardware comes from all over, and we had some big engineering and software challenges to get it all to work together. Some of the Martian technology in the sensors started malfunctioning seven hours ago, and the software didn’t know how to handle it. Neither did the techs on duty, but J’onn J’onnz wasn’t on the station and they didn’t want to bother him. Or anyone else.”

“That’s the Martian Manhunter, right?” Tosh asked, noting how empty the corridors were. Were they this deserted normally, or had Oracle sent them home for the emergency?

“Yes,” Oracle said. “They didn’t know how to fix the sensors themselves, so they tried tweaking the software to compensate. Except they didn’t account for how that would affect other systems. The changes in code caused problems for other hardware, which caused more problems the techs didn’t know how to fix, and from there it snowballed until half the station had problems. By the time anyone thought to call for help, it wasn’t just the sensors and the software—the hardware was tearing itself to pieces. I can handle the software by myself. I could probably take care of the hardware.”

“But not both at the same time,” Tosh said. The millions of lines of code that would have to be sifted through, to find the bugs—well, she was glad that was someone else’s task. And she couldn’t wait to get her hands on the Watchtower’s systems. She was starting to relax. She didn’t have much experience with any of the technologies the Watchtower was made of except Terran, but the problems sounded a lot like the ones the Hub’s systems had had on a semi-regular basis until she’d taken over and figured out how to harmonize everything properly.

“Exactly,” Oracle said. “And I’m not exactly keen to rely on the same techs that screwed everything up so drastically.”

“Where do you want to start?”

“How about life support. I don’t want to end up breathing vacuum.”

“You might have a point, there,” Tosh said with a laugh.

***

“So you’re from Gotham?” Tosh asked, wincing as she twisted into an awkward position in the cramped quarters. This CO2 scrubber had been made with Thanagarian technology; how a Thanagarian could have gotten in it to fix it, given their wings, she had no idea. It was difficult enough as a human. After the hour it had taken to even figure out that this was the machine with the problem, then figure out which part of it probably was malfunctioning, she really needed to get out and stretch.

“Yes,” Oracle said over the comm. system. “You’re from London. And Osaka.”

“I suppose you’ve done a thorough background check?” Tosh asked. “I still don’t see—wait a minute—oh, that’s clever.” She grabbed the appropriate spanner and wriggled until she could get it at the appropriate junction. It took about half an hour of realigning things and a few replacement parts for Tosh to be satisfied. “Is that better?”

“Within normal parameters,” Oracle replied. “And the regulatory software is up and running, and the interlinks with the rest of the system have been restored. From there it spread to the oxygen reprocessors, but I believe I’ve been able to fix that from up here. The rest of what’s wrong in Environmental should be within the maintenance capacity of the regular techs. Let’s move on to weapons.”

“Okay,” Tosh said, inching her way out of the machinery. “It doesn’t seem fair, you know. I don’t even know your real name.”

“You say that as if Oracle isn’t real.”

“You know what I mean!”

Oracle didn’t respond, and Tosh hoped she hadn’t hit a sore spot. Once on her feet, she gathered her equipment and tools and smiled at her escort. “Where to next?”

“This way, ma’am,” he said, turning and threading his way through the large environmental section. Tosh followed, admiring the way the different technologies were harmonized.

“It’s different for us, you know,” Oracle said. “Your enemies don’t tend to stick around Earth once you’ve dealt with them. Most of ours stay, and many of them are obsessed with the heroes who defeated them—we can’t afford to give them that kind of information about us. And the fewer people who know a secret, the easier it is to keep.”

“You don’t trust me,” Tosh said, trying to keep her disappointment out of her voice.

“It’s nothing personal, if it helps,” Oracle said. “There are superheroes I’ve worked with, on and off, for years, who don’t know my civilian identity. And it’s not just me. If you knew who I was, you’re smart enough and have the resources to figure out the civilian identities of other superheroes. Not to mention the chance of it ending up in a Torchwood file. It would be completely unprofessional of me to unmask without a direct need.”

“I see,” Tosh said, as her guide led her into a transport tube. After a few seconds of silence, she changed the subject. “What’s wrong with the weapons systems?

***

Babs set her tray in her lap and wheeled over to a table with a good view, Toshiko following behind her with her own tray. After five hours of grueling work, making sure Tosh got to see what they were fighting for was the least she could do.

“That’s gorgeous,” Tosh said softly, sitting down.

“Isn’t it?” Babs said. She took a bite of her lunch, eyes fixed on the sight of Earth hanging in space just outside the window. “I don’t get up here often, but I make sure to see this whenever I do.”

“Well, I’ve never seen the Earth from space except in pictures,” Tosh said, starting in on her own meal. They ate in a companionable silence for a few minutes.

Babs was finishing her apple and considering going back for a second helping of veggies when Tosh spoke again. “So if the problems are in the alien systems, and the technology for them was given by the Martian Manhunter, Superman, Hawkgirl, Big Barda, and Orion up here helping fix them?”

“None of them are techs,” Babs said. “They can run the equipment, but don’t ask them to fix it. They mostly gave us the technology in the form of information or examples we could take apart and study to figure out how they worked.”

“I guess that makes sense,” Tosh said, thoughtfully. “Jack’s like that, sometimes—he can tell me what something is, but a lot of the time he needs me to figure out how to use it. He might be able to give hints, but that’s it.”

“So, Jack knows alien technology?”

“Some,” Tosh said. “But most of what he knows is human technology from—” she broke off. “Are you pumping me for information on Torchwood?”

Babs shrugged. “I wasn’t planning on it, but since you brought it up, sure. Torchwood sometimes makes us nervous. Even in its new incarnation.” Human technology, but technology that Tosh didn’t know. That meant it was likely from the future, which meant that Harkness was likely from the future. That wasn’t the first hint of such things she’d gotten, but it would be added to the file with the rest.

“We fight to save the earth the same as you,” Tosh said, her voice defensive.

“And you’re led by a man we don’t know much about,” Babs countered. “That kind of power in the hands of an unknown can be dangerous.”

“You have more power, and you’re less well known,” Tosh shot back.

Babs nodded. “Very true. And I don’t blame people if we make them nervous sometimes, too, no matter how necessary we are. But at least they know what species we are, and basically what each of us is capable of. And we’re big and diverse enough to police our own, and public enough that major problems can’t get hushed up easily. You can’t say the same about Torchwood.”

“We’re all human!”

“Then Captain Harkness is a meta?” Babs said. “Any powers besides immortality?”

“He’s not a meta,” Tosh said, folding her arms across her chest. “It’s … complicated. If you want to know, ask him.”

“Fair enough,” Babs said with a nod. She felt bad that this had spoiled their lunch—and their appreciation of the view—but given the opening, she couldn’t exactly turn down the chance to find out more about Torchwood and its personnel. Did Tosh even realize how much she gave away in the course of her normal conversation?

“Is the interrogation over?” Tosh asked.

Babs laughed. “I was trained in interrogation by Batman, himself. Trust me, this was just mild conversation.” Giving some information in return would help bring back some of Toshiko’s trust, and it wasn’t as if Batman’s intensity and paranoia were secrets. And Toshiko already knew she operated out of Gotham.

“You were trained by Batman?” Toshiko said. “He knows computers?”

“No,” Babs said, shaking her head. “Not for anything too in-depth. That’s what he’s got me for. I learned other things from him.”

***

“I’m missing something.” Tosh stared at her readouts, then looked into the depths of the access hatch once more. “It should be working. Both the technical specifications and the readouts say so. So why are the sensors still not working properly?” By this point, speaking to a disembodied voice had grown to seem almost natural.

“I’m not getting anything from my end, either,” Oracle said. “I’ve got the software re-written to compensate as much as possible without taking anything else offline, but until we get this fixed, there will be blind spots.”

“Is there any chance the Martian Manhunter could come and take a look at it?” Tosh said, hopefully. “I know you say he’s not a technical specialist, but surely he must have some insight into how this works. Anything would be better than nothing, at this point.”

“Unfortunately, J’onn is not available right now,” Oracle said.

Tosh groaned, turning around to lean on the wall, ignoring the tech standing across from her. At least, they said he was a tech, and he might be, but he was clearly also there to keep an eye on her. She and Oracle had been working for almost eighteen hours straight, now, trying to get everything working properly, and right now all Tosh wanted to do was collapse into a bed and sleep.

“Look, we’ve gotten everything else fixed,” she said at last. “And you’ve got the software compensating. Can’t we just finish this tomorrow?”

“I’d prefer not to,” Oracle said. “This is where the trouble started in the first place, and I’d hate for it to cause something else to go wrong overnight while we sleep.”

“Right,” Tosh said, closing her eyes. She cleared her thoughts, visualizing the schematics in her head. Sometimes it helped her deal with particularly recalcitrant problems.

Nothing came to her. She opened her mouth to tell Oracle that she wouldn’t be any good until she’d had a few hours of sleep and some food in her stomach. Then she paused.

There was something … she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Something was odd. Something … felt peculiar. She took a deep breath, let it out again, concentrating on the sensation. It tickled at the back of her mind. It was like … it was like when she’d used Mary’s necklace to try to hear Jack’s thoughts. Nothing came through but static, but it was a lonely sort of static. “Oracle,” she said thoughtfully, “Martians are telepathic, aren’t they?”

“Yes,” Oracle said. “Their technology isn’t, not really, but it is telepathically sensitive, as I understand it. J’onn takes more than his share of Monitor duty so that he can give the various bits and pieces of Martian technology a little bit of psychic resonance. They’re attuned to him, and he to them, as I understand it. That’s one of the bits I don’t quite understand about how they work. I don’t think that any human really understands that part of them.”

Other people might have thought it odd to rely so heavily on technology you didn’t truly understand, particularly under hazardous conditions. For Tosh, after four years at Torchwood, it was fairly normal. “I’ve been exposed to technology that left me slightly more sensitive to telepathy than most humans,” she said. “This … I could just be imagining things, but I think I feel it. It’s very guarded, but … lonely. And trying to reach out for a contact it just isn’t getting. But at the same time trying to maintain safe defenses.”

There was a pause. “You think we need a telepath to figure out what’s wrong?”

Tosh shook her head. “I don’t think there is anything wrong, not that we can fix. I think it just needs … company. Look, are there any more pieces of Martian equipment in the area?”

“No,” Oracle said slowly. “And the sensors are the only piece of Martian technology so isolated. Let me check … the only portable pieces of Martian technology on-station are some of the diagnostic equipment in Med-lab. I’ll get someone to take it down. Are you telepathic enough to help it with its loneliness?”

“No,” Tosh said. “I can only sense it just barely, and I don’t think it’s got any idea I’m here, even.”

“If the equipment from Med-lab is enough to help, how long do you think it’ll take to have an effect, and is there anything more you can do down there to help it along?”

“I have no idea,” Tosh said. “This is beyond even my experience. I doubt it’ll work immediately, though, and I doubt there’s anything I can do to help. J’onn J’onnz might be able to do more, when he gets back from wherever he is.” She sighed. “Probably it’ll take time, if it works.”

“Then let’s call it a night and see how it looks tomorrow.”

Tosh sighed in relief. “That sounds wonderful.”

“Would you like me to assign you some temporary quarters so you can be here tomorrow to check, or do you want to go home?”

Tempting as it was to spend the night in space—Tosh glanced over at the ‘tech.’ Now she knew how strangers in the Hub must feel. And the thought of her own bed, instead of some generic room.... “If you promise to let me know if it works, I’d like to go home, I think.”

***

“Thanks for your help,” Babs said, leaning back into her wheelchair. “I couldn’t have done it without you.”

Toshiko smiled wanly. “It was no trouble,” she said. “I enjoyed the chance to crawl through your systems.”

She looked tired, and Babs could sympathize—she just wanted to crawl into bed, too. But she’d have to write up a report on what she’d learned from and about Tosh while it was still fresh in her mind. “I’ll call you tomorrow, tell you how it’s going,” she said, smiling.

Tosh nodded, and stepped up to the transport pad. “I’m ready now,” she said to the technician, and disappeared.

It was a pity she was so firmly attached to Torchwood and the UK, Babs thought as she pushed herself out of the room. Babs could have used her technical abilities. If not here on the Watchtower, then certainly on the Birds of Prey. Gotham could always use more good women.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-04 11:37 am (UTC)
selenak: (Tourists by Kathyh)
From: [personal profile] selenak
Barbara staring Batman down, the Tosh and Babs interaction - it was all a joy to read!

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-04 11:56 am (UTC)
mara: (Toshiko)
From: [personal profile] mara
Awesome! That was exactly what I wanted when I created that prompt :) I love seeing them both be smart and defend their teams and stuff.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-05 04:44 pm (UTC)
ffutures: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ffutures
Nice one - and it occurs to me that in a world containing the JLA the problems we saw at the end of the last season might have a happier ending.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-22 04:38 am (UTC)
lilacsigil: Toshiko Sato, "oh no toshiko!" (toshiko)
From: [personal profile] lilacsigil
This was absolutely brilliant! I love the interaction between Tosh and Oracle, and the way that their different knowledge sets (both of technology and of their hidden worlds) fit together, with some abrasion. Tosh's disappointment at not being trusted in return - and her own quick trust - is so very Tosh, as well as Barbara's perfectly sane level of paranoia. The telepathic technology needing company was a particularly great touch.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-22 09:43 pm (UTC)
petra: Barbara Gordon smiling knowingly (Default)
From: [personal profile] petra
I had a blast reading this. Tosh and Babs ought to get on like this, and I can easily see all the scenes. Well done!

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-27 01:09 am (UTC)
st_aurafina: (Torchwood)
From: [personal profile] st_aurafina
Yay! This was awesome - I love the push and pull between Tosh and Barbara, and the slightly uneasy truce between the two organisations. I really like the cautious friendship they built up over the assignment, and the telepathic circuitry solution was ace.

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