| Millennium Babies
an extract from the novelette by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Two weeks into the second semester, she got the message. It had been sent to her house system, and was coded to her real name, Brooke Delacroix, not Brooke Cross, the name she had used since she was eighteen. At first she didn't want to open it, thinking it might be another legal conundrum from her mother, so she let the house monitor in the kitchen blink while she prepared dinner.
She made a hearty dinner, and poured herself a glass of rosé before settling down in front of the living room fireplace. The fireplace was the reason she bought this house. She had fallen in love with the idea that she could sit on cold winter nights under a pile of blankets, a real fire burning nearby, and read the ancient paperbacks she found in Madison's antique stores. She read a lot of current work on her e-book, especially research for the classes she taught at the university, but she loved to read novels in their paper form, careful not to tear the brittle pages, feeling the weight of bound paper in her hands.
She had added bookshelves to the house's dining room for her paper novels, and she had made a few other improvements as well. But she tried to keep the house's character. It was a hundred and fifty years old, built when this part of Wisconsin had been nothing but family farms. The farmland was gone now, divided into five-acre plots, but the privacy remained. She loved being out here, in the country, more than anything else. Even though the university provided her job, the house was her world.
The novel she held was a thin volume, and a favorite--The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald--but on this night, the book didn't hold her interest. Finally she gave up. If she didn't hear the damn message, she would be haunted by her mother all night.
Brooke left the glass of wine and the book on the end table, her blankets curled at the edge of the couch, and made her way back to the kitchen. She could have had House play an audio-only version of the message in the living room, but she wanted to see her mother's face, to know how serious it was this time.
The monitor was on the west wall beside the microwave. The previous owners--a charming elderly couple--had kept a small television in that spot. On nights like this, Brooke thought the monitor was no improvement.
She stood in front of it, arms crossed, sighed, and said, "House, play message."
The blinking icon disappeared from the screen. A digital voice she did not recognize said, "This message is keyed for Brooke Delacroix only. It will not be played without certification that no one else is in the room."
She stood. If this was from her mother, her tactics had changed. This sounded official. Brooke made sure she was visible to the built-in camera.
"I'm Brooke," she said, "and I'm alone."
"You're willing to certify this?" the strange voice asked her.
"Yes," she said.
"Stand-by for message."
The screen turned black. She rubbed her hands together. Goosebumps were crawling across her skin. Who would send her an official message?
"This is coded for Brooke Delacroix," a new digital voice said. "Personal identification number..."
As the voice rattled off the number, she clenched her fist. Maybe something had happened to her mother. Brooke was, after all, the only next of kin.
"This is Brooke Delacroix," she said. "How many more security protocols do we have here?"
"Five," House said.
She felt her shoulders relax as she heard the familiar voice.
"Go around them. I don't have the time."
"All right," House said. "Stand-by."
She was standing by. Now she wished she had brought her glass of wine into the kitchen. For the first time, she felt as if she needed it.
"Ms. Delacroix?" A male voice spoke, and as it did, the monitor filled with an image. A middle-aged man with dark hair and dark eyes stared at a point just beyond her. He had the look of an intellectual, an aesthetic, someone who spent too much time in artificial light. He also looked vaguely familiar. "Forgive my rudeness. I know you go by Cross now, but I wanted to make certain that you are the woman I'm searching for. I'm looking for Brooke Delacroix, born 12:05 A.M., January first in the year 2000 in Detroit, Michigan."
Another safety protocol. What was this?
"That's me," Brooke said.
The screen blinked slightly, apparently as her answer was fed into some sort of program. He must have recorded various messages for various answers. She knew she wasn't speaking to him live.
"We are actually colleagues, Ms. Cross. I'm Eldon Franke..."
Of course. That was why he looked familiar. The Human Potential Guru who had gotten all the press. He was a legitimate scientist whose most recent tome became a pop culture bestseller. Franke rehashed the nature versus nurture arguments in personality development, mixed in some sociology and some well-documented advice for improving the lot nature/nurture gave people, and somehow the book hit.
She had read it, and had been impressed with the interdisciplinary methods he had used--and the credit he had given to his colleagues.
"...have a new grant, quite a large one actually, which startled even me. With that and the proceeds from the last book, I'm able to undertake the kind of study I've always wanted to do."
She kept her hands folded and watched him. His eyes were bright, intense. She remembered seeing him at faculty parties, but she had never spoken to him. She didn't speak to many people voluntarily, especially during social occasions. She had learned, from her earliest days, the value of keeping to herself.
"I will be bringing in subjects from around the country," he was saying. "I had hoped to go around the world, but that makes this study too large even for me. As it is, I'll be working with over three hundred subjects from all over the United States. I didn't expect to find one in my own back yard."
A subject. She felt her breath catch in her throat. She had thought he was approaching her as an equal.
"I know from published reports that you dislike talking about your status as a Millennium Baby, but--"
"Off," she said to House. Franke's image froze on the screen.
"I'm sorry," House said. "This message is designed to be played in its entirety."
"So go around it," she said, "and shut the damn thing off."
"The message program is too sophisticated for my systems," House said.
Brooke cursed. The son of a bitch knew she'd try to shut him down. "How long is it?"
"You have heard a third of the message."
Brooke sighed. "All right. Continue."
The image became mobile again. "--I hope you hear me out. My work, as you may or may not know, is with human potential. I plan to build on my earlier research, but I lacked the right kind of study group. Many scientists of all stripes have studied generations, and assumed that because people were born in the same year, they had the same hopes, aspirations, and dreams. I do not believe that is so. The human creature is too diverse--"
"Get to the point," Brooke said, sitting on a wooden kitchen chair.
"--so in my quest for the right group, I stumbled on thirty-year-old articles about Millennium Babies, and I realized that the subset of your generation, born on January first of the year 2000, actually have similar beginnings."
"No, we don't," Brooke said.
"Thus you give me a chance to focus this study. I will use the raw data to continue my overall work, but this study will focus on what it is that makes human beings succeed or fail--"
"Screw you," Brooke said and walked out of the kitchen. Behind her, Franke's voice stopped.
"Do you want me to transfer audio to the living room?" House asked.
"No," Brooke said. "Let him ramble on. I'm done listening."
The fire crackled in the fireplace, her wine had warmed to room temperature, bringing out a different bouquet, and her blankets looked comfortable. She sank into them. Franke's voice droned on in the kitchen, and she ordered House to play Bach to cover him.
But her favorite Brandenburg Concerto couldn't wipe Franke's voice from her mind. Studying Millennium Babies. Brooke closed her eyes. She wondered what her mother would think of that.
Three days later, Brooke was in her office, trying to assemble her lecture for her new survey class. This one was on the two World Wars. The University of Wisconsin still believed that a teacher should stand in front of students, even for the large lecture courses, instead of delivering canned lectures that could be downloaded. Most professors saw surveys as too much wasted work, but she actually enjoyed it. She liked standing before a large room delivering a lecture.
But now she was getting past the introductory remarks and into the areas she wasn't that familiar with. She didn't believe in regurgitating the textbooks, so she was boning up on World War I. She had forgotten that its causes were so complex, its results so far reaching, especially in Europe. Sometimes she just found herself reading, lost in the past.
Her office was small and narrow, with barely enough room for her desk. Because she was new, she was assigned to Bascom Hall at the top of Bascom Hill, a building that had been around for most of the university's history. The Hall's historic walls didn't accommodate new technology, so the university made certain she had a fancy desk with a built-in screen. The problem with that was that when she did extensive research, as she was doing now, she had to look down. She often downloaded information to her palmtop or worked at home. Working in her office, in the thin light provided by the ancient fluorescents and the dirty meshed window, gave her a headache.
But she was nearly done. Tomorrow, she would take the students from the horrors of trench warfare to the first steps toward U.S. involvement. The bulk of the lecture, though, would focus on isolationism--a potent force in both world wars.
A knock on her door brought her to the twenty-first century. She rubbed the bridge of her nose impatiently. She wasn't holding office hours. She hated it when students failed to read the signs.
"Yes?" she asked.
"May I have a moment of your time?"
The voice was male and didn't sound terribly young, but many of her students were older.
"A moment," she said, using her desktop to unlock the door. "I'm not having office hours."
The knob turned and a man came inside. He wasn't very tall, and he was thin--a runner's build. It wasn't until he turned toward her, though, that she let out a groan.
He held up a hand. "I'm sorry to disturb you--"
"You should be," she said. "I purposely didn't answer your message."
"I figured. Please. Just give me a few moments."
She shook her head. "I'm not interested in being the subject of any study. I don't have time."
"Is it the time? Or is it the fact that the study has to do with Millennium Babies?" His look was sharp.
"I can promise you that you'll be well compensated. And if you'll just listen to me for a moment, you might reconsider--"
"Professor Franke," she said, "I'm not interested."
"But you're a key to the study."
"Why?" she asked. "Because of my mother's lawsuits?"
"Yes," he said.
She felt the air leave her body. She had to remind herself to breathe. The feeling was familiar. It had always been familiar. Whenever anyone talked about Millennium Babies, she had this feeling in her stomach.
Millennium Babies. No one had expected the craze, but it had become apparent by March of 1999. Prospective parents were timing the conception of their children as part of a race to see if their child could be the first born in 2000--the New Millennium, as the pundits of the day inaccurately called it. There was a more-or-less informal international contest, but in the United States, the competition was quite heavy. There were other races in every developed country, and in every city. And in most of those places, the winning parent got a lot of money, and a lot of products, and some, those with the cutest babies, or the pushiest parents, got endorsements as well.
"Oh, goodie," Brooke said, filling her voice with all the sarcasm she could muster. "My mother was upset that I didn't get exploited enough as a child so you're here to fill the gap."
His back straightened. "It's not like that."
"Really? How is it then?" She regretted the words the moment she spoke them. She was giving Franke the opening he wanted.
"We've chosen our candidates with care," he said. "We are not taking babies born randomly on January first of 2000. We're taking children whose birth was planned, whose parents made public statements about the birth, and whose parents hoped to get a piece of the pie."
"Wonderful," she said. "You're studying children with dysfunctional families."
"Are we?" he asked.
"Well, if you study me, you are," she said and stood. "Now, I'd like it if you leave."
"You haven't let me finish."
"Why should I?"
"Because this study might help you, Professor Cross."
"I'm doing fine without your help."
"But you never talk about your Millennium Baby status."
"And how often do you discuss the day you were born, Professor?"
"My birthday is rather unremarkable," he said. "Unlike yours."
She crossed her arms. "Get out."
"Remember that I study human potential," he said. "And you all have the same beginnings. All of you come from parents who had the same goal--parents who were driven to achieve something unusual."
"Parents who were greedy," she said.
"Some of them," he said. "And some of them planned to have children anyway, and thought it might be fun to try to join the contest."
"I don't see how our beginnings are relevant."
He smiled, and she cursed under her breath. As long as she talked to him, as long as she asked thinly veiled questions, he had her and they both knew it.
"In the past forty years, studies of identical twins raised apart have shown that at least fifty percent of a person's disposition is apparent at birth. Which means that no matter how you're raised, if you were a happy baby, you have a greater than fifty percent chance of being a happy adult. The remaining factors are probably environmental. Are you familiar with DNA mapping?"
"You're not answering my question," she said.
"I'm trying to," he said. "Listen to me for a few moments, and then kick me out of your office."
She wouldn't get rid of him otherwise. She slowly sat in her chair.
"Are you familiar with DNA mapping?" he repeated.
"A little," she said.
"Good." He leaned back in his chair and templed his fingers. "We haven't located a happiness gene or an unhappiness gene. We're not sure what it is about the physical make-up that makes these things work. But we do know that it has something to do with serotonin levels."
"Get to the part about Millennium Babies," she said.
He smiled. "I am. My last book was partly based on the happiness/unhappiness model, but I believe that's too simplistic. Human beings are complex creatures. And as I grow older, I see a lot of lost potential. Some of us were raised to fail, and some were raised to succeed. Some of those raised to succeed have failed, and some who were raised to fail have succeeded. So clearly it isn't all environment."
"Unless some were reacting against their environment," she said, hearing the sullenness in her tone, a sullenness she hadn't used since she last spoke to her mother five years before.
"That's one option," he said, sounding brighter. He must have taken her statement for interest. "But one of the things I learned while working on human potential is that drive is like happiness. Some children are born driven. They walk sooner than others. They learn faster. They adapt faster. They achieve more, from the moment they take their first breath."
"I don't really believe that our entire personalities are formed at birth," she said. "Or that our destinies are written before we're conceived."
"None of us do," he said. "If we did, we wouldn't have a reason to get out of bed in the morning. But we do acknowledge that we're all given traits and talents that are different from each other. Some of us have blue eyes. Some of us can hit golf balls with a power and accuracy that others only dream of. Some of us have perfect pitch, right?"
"Of course," she snapped.
"So it only stands to reason that some of us are born with more happiness than others, and some are born with more drive than others. If you consider those intangibles to be as real as, say, musical talent."
His argument had a certain logic, but she didn't want to agree with him on anything. She wanted him out of her office.
"But," he said. "Those with the most musical talent aren't always the ones on stage at Carnegie Hall. There are other factors, environmental factors. A child who grows up without hearing music might never know how to make music, right?"
"I don't know," she said.
"Likewise," he said, "if that musically inclined child had parents to whom music was important, the child might hear music all the time. From the moment that child is born, that child is familiar with music and has an edge on the child who hasn't heard a note."
She started tapping her fingers.
He glanced at them and leaned forward. "As I said in my message, this study focuses on success and failure. To my knowledge, there has never before been a group of children conceived nationwide with the same specific goal in mind."
Her mouth was dry. Her fingers had stopped moving.
"You Millennium Babies share several traits in common. Your parents conceived you at the same time. Your parents had similar goals and desires for you. You came out of the womb and instantly you were branded a success or a failure, at least for this one goal."
"So," she said, keeping her voice cold. "Are you going to deal with all those children who were abandoned by their parents when they discovered they didn't win?"
"Yes," he said.
The quiet sureness of his response startled her. He spread his hands as if in explanation. "Their parents gave up on them," he said. "Right from the start. Those babies are perhaps the purest subjects of the study. They were clearly conceived only with the race in mind."
"And you want me because I'm the most spectacular failure of the group." Her voice was cold, even though she had to clasp her hands together to keep them from trembling.
"I don't consider you a failure, Professor Cross," he said. "You're well respected in your profession. You're on a tenure track at a prestigious university--"
"I meant as a Millennium Baby. I'm the public failure. When people think of baby contests, the winners never come to mind. I do."
He sighed. "That's part of it. Part of it is your mother's attitude. In some ways, she's the most obsessed parent, at least that we can point to."
"I'd like to have you in this study," he said. "The winners will be. It would be nice to have you represented as well."
"So that you can get rich off this book, and I'll be disgraced yet again," she said.
"Maybe," he said. "Or maybe you'll get validated."
Her shoulders were so tight that it hurt to move her head. "'Validated.' Such a nice psychiatrist's word. Making me feel better will salve your conscience while you get rich."
"You seem obsessed with money," he said.
"Shouldn't I be?" she asked. "With my mother?"
He stared at her for a long moment.
Finally, she shook her head. "It's not the money. I just don't want to be exploited anymore. For any reason."
He nodded. Then he folded his hands across his stomach and squinched up his face, as if he were thinking. Finally, he said, "Look, here's how it is. I'm a scientist. You're a member of a group that interests me and will be useful in my research. If I were researching thirty-year-old history professors who happened to be on a tenure track, I'd probably interview you as well. Or professional women who lived in Wisconsin. Or--"
"Would you?" she asked. "Would you come to me, really?"
He nodded. "It's policy to check who's available for study at the university before going outside of it."
She sighed. He had a point. "A book on Millennium Babies will sell well. They all do. And you'll get interviews, and you'll become famous."
"The study uses Millennium Babies," he said, "but anything I publish will be about success and failure, not a pop psychology book about people born on January first."
"You can swear to that?" she asked.
"I'll do it in our agreement," he said.
She closed her eyes. She couldn't believe he was talking her into this.
Apparently he didn't think he had, for he continued. "You'll be compensated for your time and your travel expenses. We can't promise a lot, but we do promise that we won't abuse your assistance."
She opened her eyes. That intensity was back in his face. It didn't unnerve her. In fact, it reassured her. She would rather have him passionate about the study than anything else.
"All right," she said. "What do I have to do?"
First she signed waivers. She had all of them checked out by her lawyer--the fact that she even had a lawyer was yet another legacy from her mother--and he said that they were fine, even liberal. Then he tried to talk her out of the study, worried more as a friend, he said, even though he had never been her friend before.
"You've been trying to get away from all of this. Now you're opening it back up? That can't be good for you."
But she wasn't sure what was good for her anymore. She had tried not thinking about it. Maybe focussing on herself, on what happened to her from the moment she was born, was better.
She didn't know, and she didn't ask. The final agreement she signed was personalized--it guaranteed her access to her file, a copy of the completed study, and promised that any study her information was used in would concern success and failure only, and would not be marketed as a Millennium Baby product. Her lawyer asked for a few changes, but very few, considering how opposed he was to this project. She was content with the concessions Professor Franke made for her, including the one which allowed her to leave after the first two months.
But the first two months were grueling, in their own way. She had to carve time out of an already full schedule for a complete physical, which included DNA sampling. This had been a major sticking point for her lawyer--that her DNA and her genetic history would not be made available to anyone else--and he had actually gotten Franke to sign forms that attested to that fact. The sampling, for all its trouble, was relatively painless. A few strands of hair, some skin scrapings, and two vials of blood, and she was done.
The psychological exams took the longest. Most of them required the presence of the psychiatric research member of the team, a dour woman who barely spoke to Brooke when she came in. The woman watched while Brooke used a computer to take tests: a Rorschach, a Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Interview, a Thematic Apperception Test, and a dozen others whose names she just as quickly forgot. One of them was a standard IQ test. Another a specialized test designed by Franke's team for his previous experiment. All of them felt like games to Brooke, and all of them took over an hour each to complete.
Her most frustrating time, though, was with the sociologist, a well-meaning man named Meyer. He wanted to correlate her experiences with the experiences of others, and put them in the context of the society at the time. He'd ask questions, though, and she'd correct them--feeling that his knowledge of modern history was poor. Finally she complained to Franke, who smiled, and told her that her perceptions and the researchers' didn't have to match. What was important to them wasn't what was true for the society, but what was true for her. She wanted to argue, but it wasn't her study, and she decided she was placing too much energy into all of it.
Through it all, she had weekly appointments with a psychologist who asked her questions she didn't want to think about. How has being a Millennium Baby influenced your outlook on life? What's your first memory? What do you think of your mother?
Brooke couldn't answer the first. The second question was easy. Her first memory was of television lights blinding her, creating prisms, and her chubby baby fingers reaching for them, only to be caught and held by her mother's cold hand.
Brooke declined to answer the third question, but the psychologist asked it at every single meeting. And after every single meeting, Brooke went home and cried.
She gave a mid-term exam in her World Wars class, the first time she had ever done so in a survey class. But she decided to see how effective she was being, since her concentration was more on her own past than the one she was supposed to be teaching.
Her graduate assistants complained about it, especially when they looked at the exam itself. It consisted of a single question: Write an essay exploring the influences, if any, the First World War had on the Second. If you believe there were no influences, defend that position.
Her assistants tried to talk her into a simple true/false/multiple choice exam, and she had glared at them. "I don't want to give a test that can be graded by computer," she said. "I want to see a handwritten exam, and I want to know what these kids have learned." And because she wanted to know that--not because of her assistants' complaints (as she made very clear)--she took twenty of the exams to grade herself.
But before she started, she had a meeting in Franke's office. He had called her.
Franke's office was in a part of the campus she didn't get to very often. A winding road took her past Washburn Observatory on a bluff overlooking Lake Mendota, and into a grove of young trees. The parking area was large and filled with small electric and energy efficient cars. She walked up the brick sidewalk. Unlike the sidewalks around the rest of the city, this one didn't have the melting piles of dirty snow that were reminders of the long hard winter. Instead, tulips and irises poked out of the brown dirt lining the walk.
The building was an old Victorian-style house, rather large for its day. The only visible signs of a remodel (besides the pristine condition of the paint and roof) were the security system outside, and the heatpump near the driveway.
Clearly this was a faculty-only building; no classes were held here. She turned the authentic glass doorknob and stepped into a narrow foyer. A small electronic screen floated in the center of the room. The screen moved toward her.
"I'm here to see Dr. Franke," she said.
"Second floor," the digital voice responded. "He is expecting you."
She sighed softly and mounted the stairs. With the exception of the electronics, everything in the hall reflected the period. Even the stairs weren't carpeted, but were covered instead in an old-fashioned runner, tacked on the sides, with a long gold carpet holder pushed against the back of the step.
The stairs ended in a long narrow hallway, illuminated by electric lights done up to resemble gaslights. Only one door stood open. She knocked on it, then, without waiting for an invitation, went in.
The office wasn't like hers. This office was a suite, with a main area and a private room to the side. A leather couch was pushed against the window, and two matching leather chairs flanked it. Teak tables provided the accents, with round gold table lamps the only flourish.
Professor Franke stood in the door to the private area. He looked at her examining his office.
"Impressive," she said.
He shrugged. "The university likes researchers, especially those who add to its prestige."
She knew that. She had published her thesis, and it had received some acclaim in academic circles, which was why she was as far ahead as she was. But very few historians became famous for their research. She doubted she would ever achieve this sort of success.
"Would you like a seat?" Franke asked.
She sat on one of the leather chairs. It was soft, and molded around her. "I didn't think you'd need to interview every subject to see if they wanted to continue," she said.
"Every subject isn't you." He sat across from her. His hair was slightly mussed as if he had been running his fingers through it, and he had a coffee stain above the breastpocket of his white shirt. "We had agreements."
"I will tell you some of what we have learned," he said. "It's preliminary, of course."
"Of course." She sounded calmer than she felt. Her heart was pounding.
"We've found three interesting things. The first is that all Millennium Babies in this study walked earlier than the norm, and spoke earlier as well. Since most were firstborns, this is unusual. Firstborns usually speak later than the norm because their every need is catered to. They don't need to speak right away, and when they do, they usually speak in full sentences."
"I hesitate to say for certain, but it might be indicative of great drive. Stemming, I believe, from the fact that the parents were driven." His eyes were sparkling. His enthusiasm for his work was catching. She found herself leaning forward like a student in her favorite class. "We're also finding genetic markers in the very areas we were looking for. And some interesting biochemical indications that may help us isolate the biological aspect of this."
"You're moving fast," she said.
He nodded. "That's what's nice about having a good team."
And a lot of subjects, she thought. Not to mention building on earlier research.
"We've also found that there is direct correlation between a child's winning or losing the millennium race and her perception of herself as a success or failure, independent of external evidence."
Her mouth was dry. "Meaning?"
"No matter how successful they are, the majority of Millennium Babies--at least the ones we chose for this study, the ones whose parents conceived them only as part of the race--perceive themselves as failures."
"Including me," she said.
He nodded. The movement was slight, and it was gentle.
"Why?" she asked.
"That's the thing we can only speculate at. At least at this moment." He wasn't telling her everything. But then, the study wasn't done. He tilted his head slightly. "Are you willing to go to phase two of the study?"
"If I say no, will you tell me what else you've discovered?" she asked.
"That's our agreement." He paused and then added, "I would really like it if you continued."
Brooke smiled. "That much is obvious."
He smiled too, and then looked down. "This last part is nothing like the first. You won't have test after test. It's only going to last for a few days. Can you do that?"
Some of the tension left her shoulders. She could do a few days. But that was it. "All right," she said.
"Good." He smiled at her, and she braced herself. There was more. "I'll put you down for the next segment. It doesn't start until Memorial Day. I have to ask you to stay in town, and set aside that weekend."
She had no plans. She usually stayed in town on Memorial Day weekend. Madison emptied out, the students going home, and the city became a small town--one she dearly loved.
He waited a moment, his gaze darting downward, and then meeting hers again. "There's one more thing."
This was why he had called her here. This was why she needed to see him in person.
"I was wondering if your mother ever told you who your father is. It would help our study if we knew something about both parents."
Brooke threaded her hands together willing herself to remain calm. This had been a sensitive issue her entire life. "No," she said. "My mother has no idea who my father is. She went to a sperm bank."
Franke frowned. "I just figured, since your mother seemed so meticulous about everything else, she would have researched your father as well."
"She did," Brooke said. "He was a physicist, very well known, apparently. It was one of those sperm banks that specialized in famous or successful people. And my mother did check that out."
Your father must not have been as wonderful as they said he was. Look at you. It had to come from somewhere.
"Do you know the name of the bank?"
Franke sighed. "I guess we have all that we can, then."
She hated the disapproval in his tone. "Surely others in this study only have one parent."
"Yes," he said. "There's a subset of you. I was just hoping--"
"Anything to make the study complete," she said sarcastically.
"Not anything," he said. "You can trust me on that."
Brooke didn't hear from Professor Franke again for nearly a month, and then only in the form of a message, delivered to House, giving her the exact times, dates, and places of the Memorial Day meetings. She forgot about the study except when she saw it on her calendar.
The semester was winding down. The mid-term in her World Wars class showed her two things: that she had an affinity for the topic which she was sharing with the students; and that at least two of her graduate assistants had a strong aversion to work. She lectured both assistants, spoke to the chair of the department about teaching the survey class next semester, and continued on with the lectures, focusing on them as if she were the graduate student instead of the professor.
By late April, she had her final exam written--a long cumbersome thing, a mixture of true/false/multiple choice for the assistants, and two essay questions for her. She was thinking of a paper herself--one on the way those wars still echoed through the generations--and she was trying to decide if she wanted the summer to work on it or to teach as she usually did.
The last Saturday in April was unusually balmy, in the seventies without much humidity, promising a beautiful summer ahead. The lilac bush near her kitchen window had bloomed. The birds had returned, and her azaleas were blossoming as well. She was in the garage, digging for a lawn chair that she was convinced she still had when she heard the hum of an electric car.
She came out of the garage, dusty and streaked with grime. A green car pulled into her driveway, next to the ancient pick-up she used for hauling.
Something warned her right from the start. A glimpse, perhaps, or a movement. Her stomach flipped over, and she had to swallow sudden nausea. She had left her personal phone inside--it was too nice to be connected to the world today--and she had never gotten the garage hooked into House's computer because she hadn't seen the need for the expense.
Still, as the car shuddered to a stop, she glanced at the screen door, wondering if she could make it in time. But the car's door was already opening, and in this kind of stand-off, fake courage was better than obvious panic.
Her mother stepped out. She was a slender woman. She wore blue jeans and a pale peach summer sweater that accented her silver and gold hair. The hair was new, and had the look of permanence. Apparently her mother had finally decided to settle on a color. She wore gold bangles, and a matching necklace, but her ears were bare.
"I have a restraining order against you," Brooke said, struggling to keep her voice level. "You are not supposed to be here."
"I'm not the one who broke the order." Her mother's voice was smooth and seductive. Her courtroom voice. She had won a lot of cases with that melodious warmth. It didn't seem too strident. It just seemed sure.
"I sure as hell didn't want contact with you," Brooke said.
"No? Is that why your university contacted me?"
Brooke's heart was pounding so hard she wondered if her mother could hear it. "Who contacted you?"
"A Professor Franke, for some study. Something to do with DNA samples. I was to send them through my doctor, but you know I wouldn't do such a thing with anything that delicate."
Son of a bitch. Brooke hadn't known they were going to try something like that. She didn't remember any mention of it, nothing in the forms.
"I have nothing to do with that," Brooke said.
"It seems you're in some study. That seems like involvement to me," her mother said.
"Not the kind that gets you around a restraining order. Now get the hell off my property."
"Brooke, honey," her mother said, taking a step toward her. "I think you and I should discuss this--"
"There's nothing to discuss," Brooke said. "I want you to stay away from me."
"That's silly." Her mother took another step forward. "We should be able to settle this, Brooke. Like adults. I'm your mother--"
"That's not my fault," Brooke snapped. She glanced at the screen door again.
"A restraining order is for people who threaten your life. I've never hurt you, Brooke."
"There's a judge in Dane County who disagrees, Mother."
"Because you were so hysterical," her mother said. "We've had a good run of it, you and I."
Brooke felt the color drain from her face. "How's that, Mother? The family that sues together stays together?"
"Brooke, we have been denied what's rightfully ours. We--"
"It never said in any of those contests that a child had to be born by natural means. You misunderstood, Mother. Or you tried to be even more perfect than anyone else. So what if I'm the first vaginal birth of the new millennium. So what? It was thirty years ago. Let it go."
"The first baby received enough in endorsements to pay for a college education and to have a trust fund--"
"And you've racked up enough in legal fees that you could have done the same." Brooke rubbed her hands over her arms. The day had grown colder.
"No, honey," her mother said in that patronizing tone that Brooke hated. "I handled my own case. There were no fees."
It was like arguing with a wall. "I have made it really, really clear that I never wanted to see you again," Brooke said. "So why do you keep hounding me? You don't even like me."
"Of course I like you, Brooke. You're my daughter."
"I don't like you," Brooke said.
"We're flesh and blood," her mother said softly. "We owe it to each other to be there for each other."
"Maybe you should have remembered that when I was growing up. I was a child, Mother, not a trophy. You saw me as a means to an end, an end you now think you got cheated out of. Sometimes you blame me for that--I was too big, I didn't come out fast enough, I was breach--and sometimes you blame the contest people for not discounting all those 'artificial methods' of birth, but you never, ever blame yourself. For anything."
"Brooke," her mother said, and took another step forward.
Brooke held up her hand. "Did you ever think, Mother, that it's your fault we missed the brass ring? Maybe you should have pushed harder. Maybe you should have had a C-section. Or maybe you shouldn't have gotten pregnant at all."
"You weren't fit to be a parent. That's what the judge decided. You're right. You never hit me. You didn't have to. You told me how worthless I was from the moment I could hear. All that anger you felt about losing you directed at me. Because, until I was born, you never lost anything."
Her mother shook her head slightly. "I never meant that. When I would say that, I meant--"
"See? You're so good at taking credit for anything that goes well, and so bad at taking it when something doesn't."
"I still don't see why you're so angry at me," her mother said.
This time, it was Brooke's turn to take a step forward. "You don't? You don't remember that last official letter? The one cited in my restraining order?"
"You have never understood the difference between a legal argument and the real issues."
"Apparently the judge is just as stupid about legal arguments as I am, Mother." Brooke was shaking. "He believed it when you said that I was brought into this world simply to win that contest, and by rights, the state should be responsible for my care, not you."
"It was a lawsuit, Brooke. I had an argument to make."
"Maybe you can justify it that way, but I can't. I know the truth when I hear it. And so does the rest of the world." Brooke swallowed. Her throat was so tight it hurt. "Now get out of here."
"I mean it, Mother. Or I will call the police."
"Do you want me at least to do the DNA work?"
"I don't give a damn what you do, so long as I never see you again."
Her mother sighed. "Other children forgive their parents for mistakes they made in raising them."
"Was your attitude a mistake, Mother? Have you reformed? Or do you still have lawsuits out there? Are you still trying to collect on a thirty-year-old dream?"
Her mother shook her head and went back to the car. Brooke knew that posture. It meant that Brooke was being unreasonable. Brooke was impossible to argue with. Brooke was the burden.
"Some day," her mother said. "You'll regret how you treated me."
"Why?" Brooke asked. "You don't seem to regret how you treated me."
"Oh, I regret it, Brooke. If I had known it would have made you so bitter toward me, I never would have talked to you about our problems. I would have handled them alone."
Brooke clenched a fist and then unclenched it. She made herself take a deep breath and, instead of pointing out to her mother that she had done it again--she had blamed Brooke--Brooke said, "I'm calling the police now," and started toward the house.
"There's no need," her mother said. "I'm going. I'm just sorry--"
And the rest of her words got lost in the bang of the screen door.
The full text of "Millennium Babies" is available in Kristine Kathryn Rusch's collection of short fiction, Stories for an Enchanted Afternoon, published by Golden Gryphon Press.
This excerpt of "Millennium
Babies", nominated for the 2001 Hugo Award in the novelette category,
is reprinted with the permission of author Kristine Kathryn Rusch
and publisher Golden Gryphon Press.
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