"I'm told you're already thoroughly familiar with Quiet Birth," the medical technician said.
Even with Roarke's hand in hers, Eve Dallas couldn't completely stop herself from shuddering. "I've seen it at its worst, Mr..."
"Doctor. Minchenko." He looked it, with Slavic cheekbones and faintly slanted ice-blue eyes. *A kid,* Eve thought, though with his credentials he must be at least thirty. When the Icoves ran wild he would have been what, fifteen? Dreaming of being a genetics doctor, maybe, not stopped by the huge scandal about cloning and slavery. "I'd heard about your involvement, Captain." He was smart, using her rank. "But what the er, original creators used as an atrocity is well-controlled science now. Quiet Birth has given safe fertility to women who would have died during traditional in-body pregnancies, allowed early interventions to damaged fetuses that would have been impossible in the womb. Uterine replication, as we're calling it now, has a proven track record of over five years in at-risk human beings. Nearly twice that with other mammals. The NFDA would never have approved it for general use otherwise."
General meaning "limited to the extremely wealthy." But after sixteen years of marriage to Roarke, Eve Dallas was -- nearly -- used to that category. "What are you proposing?" she asked, delaying.
"We would remove the number of eggs you designate from your ovaries by standard obstetrical methods, bring them to maturity in vitro," the young doctor said. "Obtaining male gametes is ...." he blushed slightly. "Easier. We would fertilize the number of eggs you direct. There is wastage. Even in a woman's body under ideal conditions, some 25 to 50 percent of fertilized eggs refuse to implant. We can better that figure considerably. If you have a preference as to gender...."
"No," Roarke said firmly. The last remark had skirted the law -- more than skirted it. "Let everyone have a chance. We could try one at a time." He glanced back at his wife. They'd discussed this, but had never come to a conclusion. It was Eve who'd insisted on keeping this appointment anyway.
Eve looked out the window. Her arm ached, phantom pain, where her father had broken it the day he died. She'd thought -- was it a whole five years ago now? -- that her captain's bars would make this decision easier. But somehow she kept risking her neck in the field anyway. Female cops did it, gave birth and set the baby aside and went back to work. She'd seen it done. She'd seen it fail, too.
Roarke was as lean and exquisite as he'd been the day she'd met him. He moved as smoothly. But there was gray at his temples now, and the lines showed even when he wasn't smiling. She could leave the world nothing to remember Eve Dallas by, without a qualm. But Roarke was different. "Three," she blurted. "It's not like we can't afford the groceries. If we get three kids, or two, or one," None, "We'll be fine."
She met Roarke's eyes, felt steadier. "How do we do this?"
The technician relaxed faintly, with clear orders to follow. "A full medical workup comes first. For you especially, ma'am. The information you've already provided will certainly help." Eve tuned him out, tried on a smile. But she knew Roarke saw her doubts as well as her decision.
Eve wore thin trousers under her jacket today, in the midsummer heat. Her fingers could easily find the thin, new ridge of surgical glue on the left side of her abdomen. She walked up to their front door. In spite of everything she paused in the entry foyer, waiting for a cutting remark that would never come. Eve pulled herself together, aimed at the main staircase.
Roarke caught at her arm. He turned her momentum toward him for an embrace. "He'd be overjoyed. For both of us."
"Yeah, I know." Some of the gray in Roarke's hair had come day by day. But most, Eve thought, had come the day he found Lawrence Summerset more than asleep in an easy chair, with the ancient cat Galahad standing guard. "I really am ready, Roarke." He'd be such a good father. "I think I have something to give now."
A stout, redhaired woman a few years older than Roarke emerged from the parlor and took Eve's light jacket. "Cousin Roarke, Cousin Eve. No calls while you were out." Rosalind Brody had left the (Roarke owned) best hotel in Dublin to manage their household. She wasn't Summerset, but in her favor she wasn’t trying to be. "What would you like for dinner?"
"We'll shift for ourselves with the AutoChef." Roarke took Eve's elbow, nudged her toward the stairs. "Thank you."
They kept the sky window over the bed clear all the time, now. Galahad, not as pudgy as he had once been, didn’t like moving too much in his quest for a pool of sunlight. He gave Eve and Roarke a level stare and went back to sleep. Roarke brushed his fingers over the cat’s head. “We should talk,” he said lightly.
The ridge on the side of her belly didn’t hurt. It made no sense that it didn’t hurt. “Haven’t we talked it to death?” Eve said.
“We’ve spent considerable words, but I’m not sure now they were all the right ones.” Roarke caught her fingers, led her to the sitting area. “Be comfortable. We’ll try again.”
Oh, shit. No evasions this time. Eve took a seat at random. Roarke set coffee on the low table in front of her, the big cup she preferred. He’d taken none himself.
Eve consulted her inner Dr. Mira. She had no doubts what her friend's advice would be. *Tell him the truth. All of it.* Too scary. “I've never said no to children when you talked about them. Not from the very beginning. I just said later, and so did you. It’s later.”
Roarke only looked at her. “That's a very lawyerly turn of phrase coming from my cop.” She bristled. “Darling Eve, it's true you've never said a firm no, full stop, to the idea of children. But you'd never said a clear yes either. Not until the last three months.”
She remembered him, standing stricken in the doorway to Summerset's quarters. A man of almost fifty with the eyes of a lost child. “Yeah, that was part of it,” she bluffed. “It just seemed like time. And it's not like I'm going to have to carry it, them, around in my stomach. This should be easy." Silence from Roarke. "And we'll have all the help we want. I'm mostly off the streets now, I usually get home on time. You use your office in the house a lot anyway. It all makes sense. So there you go, I'm ready." She nodded, to make sure.
"It's as well you almost never lie to me. You're no good at it, *a ghra.*" Roarke took both her hands. Eve shuddered. "The part that chokes you, the lump I can see in your throat. Let it out. By our lives together, I swear we can face it. Besides, " his eyes nearly twinkled. "I know how much coffee you've had since lunch. If I don't let you out of that chair, it's tell me the truth or sit there and piss."
The suppressed laugh hurt her throat. In the confusion, Eve couldn't keep the words in. "What if we can't both be happy at once?"
Roarke shifted back a little. "Ah. That one."
She couldn’t stop talking, once she’d started. “This isn’t something we can compromise on, it’s do it or don’t. You want to be a father, you’ve always known that. And I’ve seen you with Mavis’ and Peabody’s kids, you’re good with them. You should be a father.”
“One Eve Dallas is conspicuously absent in this story.” She couldn’t read Roarke’s expression. “Do you want to be a mother, Eve?”
“I can manage. Once they’re walking and talking it’s like dealing with little bitty drunks, really. As they get saner it’s like dealing with less drunk drunks.”
She’d meant it as humor, especially the word ‘saner.’ Roarke didn’t take the bait. “I’ll have a yes or no.”
“I don’t know. I don’t mind doing it.”
He only looked at her. “You see? This is why I didn’t want to spell all this out,” Eve growled. “If I say yes you’re happy but me, I don’t know. If I say no, you’re unhappy and it’s my fault. You’d try not to blame me, I know you, but you’d be unhappy.”
“We could hold off the decision,” Roarke said. “Eggs can be frozen, fertilized or otherwise.”
Eve shook her head. “I can do math. So can you. How old will we be even now when these kids get out of college?”
Roarke looked down. Eve held her breath, afraid that his eyes would be different when he looked up again. “You haven’t been frozen on this devil’s fork all these years,” he said slowly. “Yet you’ve never laid down a firm no. Is it because you were afraid to disappoint me?”
“No, Roarke.” This part she was sure of. “I know I’ve come a long way, healing from the old stuff. I’m not afraid any more that I’d become a monster, that bad blood would make one of our kids a monster. I know I can do better than that. It’s nothing to how afraid I used to be. But I am afraid...”
His eyes were deep and blue and loving. Roarke squeezed her hand. “Say it all.”
“There’s more to being a parent, a mother, than getting them to bed on time. I know they’ll never lack for anything. I know you’ll love them on sight. It’s me.” Her eyes stung. “You know, and I know, what it feels like to be raised by a mother who doesn’t love you. That’s so wrong.”
Roarke’s fingertip brushed dampness off her cheek. “I see love. Darling Eve, it’s not us you weep for.”
They gave the go-ahead to the Quiet Birth people the next day. Eve wasn’t sure how she felt. She blocked the uncertainty with work. Cop Central had been reorganized a few years back. Twelve detectives and assorted uniforms in a squad under a lieutenant. Three of the same type of squad, and their lieutenants, under a captain. The crime rate had been in a slow decline for ten years, but there was always business for cops. And paperwork for cops with too much rank for the streets.
Eve’s office – she still missed the shoe box of her lieutenant days – was up one floor from her squads. She’d held it down to ten by ten feet, and one crappy visitor’s chair. Okay, she’d let Roarke talk her into a couch as well. She was forty-five now, napping on her office floor wasn’t as tolerable as it had been at thirty.
Eve had accepted promotion from a hospital bed. She’d been a fraction too slow in subduing a gang of seventeen year olds. She’d had the first three cold. It was the unexpected fourth and his homemade knife who got past her guard. She’d done all the physical therapy, hard. When she returned to duty with captain’s bars, the doctors had rated her one hundred percent fit. But she’d heard the unspoken ‘for a woman of your age.’ Eve could tell the difference, even if no one else could. *Nothing stays the same in life.*
Her aide, Officer Padget, came in with a stack of data discs. He glanced at the AutoChef. Eve waved permission. “Get me one too. How are things in the real world?”
“Lieutenant Baxter told Reinke to give the new guy a cold case. Bryant, I mean.” Eve nodded to show she followed. “Marks is back from leave, the shoulder’s coming along. Lieutenant Peabody’s squad caught a murder-suicide. Breakup gone bad. But there was a brother, egged the guy on in texts. Peabody thinks she can get him on accessory.”
“Good,” Eve said. “Meetings?” She made a face, she always did.
“Whitney at one, nothing this morning.” Padget set the discs down, and a fresh cup of coffee for Eve with them.
“Find out if Dr. Mira has ten minutes before noon.” To her mind, Eve had given her word now on this whole kids … project. Time to apply some brains to it, including consulting the experts.
Doctor Charlotte Mira’s hair had gone from sable to silver over the years, and she’d let her office at Cop Central change to match. The scoop chairs were new-grass green now, but just as comfortable. Eve, a little wired, preferred to stand. “Always a pleasure,” Mira said, coming up from behind her desk. “What can I do for homicide this morning?”
Dallas couldn’t think of any non-weird way to say it. “Mira, I need to borrow a baby. For practice.”
The doctor blinked. Twice. “Would you mind repeating that?” Comprehension caught up, and her face lit. “Eve, are you saying you’re pregnant?”
“Not exactly. We’re cheating. Like the Icoves. Well, not the slavery part. It’s complicated.”
Charlotte Mira rubbed her eyes. “Perhaps we’d better sit down. Start from the beginning.”
Eve couldn’t find the beginning at this point, but she took a chair. “Maybe you saw on the news about six months ago. The company that bought the Icove Centers has put Quiet Birth on the market. It took this long to get NFDA approval, I guess.”
“Uterine replication? I hadn’t thought of that.” Mira looked down. “I had such respect for Wilfred, once. If he and his partner hadn’t had that pathological obsession with controlling women, Quiet Birth could have been their crowning achievement. I’m glad the process wasn’t lost because of its tainted beginnings. I see the advantages to your situation.” A direct stare. “Provided you’re certain about motherhood itself.”
Eve had expected no less. “I haven’t really talked to Peabody or Mavis either. It had to be between me and Roarke, just us. It still scares the shit out of me, but not in the ‘get that thing away from me’ way. It’s been a lot of things.”
Mira kept listening. The silence stretched. “For a long time I was, ‘I should do this for Roarke.’ Especially after we lost Summerset,” Eve said. “That kept coming back to me, after: well, I waited too long, he’ll never see Roarke’s kids. And the Quiet Birth idea made it … possible. But yeah, I know that’s only the beginning.”
“You’re an intelligent woman. I knew your decision would be a thoughtful one,” Mira said.
“No, it was all in the gut. It’s such a yes or no question, isn’t it? And yes still freezes me. But I can’t do just no any more, like I thought I would.” Eve gathered her thoughts. “It’s more, I don’t want to look back at the end and have that no as the last word.” She looked at her friend. “So, am I crazy?”
The chairs were close. Mira only had to lean forward to embrace Eve. “My dear.”
“Because we’re really set on it now. We sent the balloon up yesterday, eggs and cells and things. We should know something in about a week,” Eve said quickly. “And Roarke, you know how he is when he’s building an artificial world or conquering another company or something? He’s putting all that *organized* into the baby project. Babies, I guess. I gave them three eggs. Three is okay, isn’t it?”
Mira laughed. “Zero to three in nine months … only you, Eve. I take it you’re planning on help.”
“God, yes. Roarke has a line on someone. But it’s important we don’t just start them and forget them. People do that, it screws the kids up. We’ve seen it.” Eve nodded to herself. “So. I run a division here at work. Three lieutenants, thirty-five detectives, various uniforms. I’ve done all those jobs. I *can* do all those jobs. I need to know how to do baby jobs, all of them, even if I’m mostly backup. You know I’ve always bailed on other people’s kids. Anyway, the Peabody-McNabs and the Freestone kids are pretty much real people now. So I need to borrow a baby at some point.”
Mira squeezed her again. “Flawlessly logical. I’ll talk to my granddaughters, I should be able to arrange something for you.”
“I didn’t keep any kids’ stuff except the crib,” Peabody said brightly, shuffling through her stack of binders. “I never thought you …. well, it’s been a while. Davie has been out of it for ten years now, so it’s in storage at mom’s. But you remember it, right?” She helpfully brought out a page-sized photograph.
Delia Peabody had greeted her ex-partner’s plans with joy bordering on fanaticism. Even Roarke was a bit alarmed. “Yes. It’s a beautiful piece,” he said, moving the photo a little on the coffee table. “Your brother Zeke’s work.” Eve nodded along.
“Reclaimed redwood all the way through, but it has all the features of a commercially made crib,” Peabody said. “Adjustable height, and boy are you guys and the nanny going to be happy about that. It’s a just little chewed on from all mine. And I talked to Zeke. He’s making two more. Our baby shower present to you. They won’t both be finished in time for the big day. You know Zeke does everything by hand. But you can put two in one crib while they’re little, no problem.”
Roarke squeezed her hand. “It’s a princely gift. More coffee?” he said when Peabody showed signs of diving straight into binder number three.
“Yeah, maybe a bit of a break for all of us,” Eve suggested. “You, er, certainly are organized.”
“You taught me to be a detective,” Peabody said. “This is something *I* know.”
They’d set up in the main parlor of the house, just inside the entry foyer. Peabody was a little stouter than she’d been, but it concealed muscle. Like Dallas had been, she was a hands-on lieutenant in the field. Beside the pot of coffee, the table was scattered with fabric samples, paint fans, pictures of top of the line baby-handling equipment. And for some reason, a pacifier.
A chime that they recognized as the private house line. “Hologram,” Roarke said. Dr. Minchenko’s head and torso appeared above the coffee table.
Even semi-transparent, Eve knew that look. Notification. She clutched Roarke’s hand. “Mr. and Mrs. Roarke, I’m afraid I have some bad…”
“Just say it,” Eve cut in. Peabody started to stand up. Eve clamped onto her hand, too.
“It’s embryo C.” Minchenko looked flustered at the interruption. “Embryos A and B are fine, they made the transfer to the full-sized replicators in excellent condition. Pre-Apgar scores in the ninetieth percentile. But C… I’m terribly sorry. The placenta just came apart.”
Roarke’s eyes were dangerous. “Exactly what happened?”
Minchenko took a moment, clearly to regain his own composure. Roarke allowed it. “We tried too hard to get all three,” the younger man said bluntly. “C was always marginal. The placental development was more than ten percent slower than the average – more like twelve percent slower than your other two. And the cells weren’t differentiating from the blastocyst at nearly the expected rate. It was … no one could have done anything, Mr. Roarke.” Roarke didn’t correct him.
“And ma’am,” Minchenko’s eyes moved to Eve, “We want to express our condolences on behalf of our entire facility. In vivo … the miscarriage would have shown itself as a later and heavier menstrual period. Without lab tests, a woman might not even have suspected she was pregnant. I wish I had clearer answers to offer. We do plan an analysis. But some gametes fail.”
Roarke closed his eyes. Breathed. “You say our other two are all right.”
“Among the healthiest we’ve ever hosted here. They’re thriving.” Minchenko looked grateful to have something else to say. “And it says in your records that you do want to know the gender?” Nod. “A boy and a girl.”
Peabody glanced at Eve and Roarke. “How old … how big was it?” She ventured.
“Three point eight weeks. About the size of a grain of rice.”
Eve could only think that at some point she’d been that size too, inside the hostile environment of a woman called Stella. God, how did this business ever work right at all? “Yeah.” Blood roared in her ears. It had crossed her mind, once, that fewer kids meant less work. That felt like a century ago.
Minchenko was frankly babbling, dumping out all the information he had about embryos A and B. Developing normally. Too early to determine hair and eye coloring. Everything on schedule. They were settling in to the main replicators with no problems.
Roarke cut him off. “Dr. Minchenko, what was the sex of Embryo C?”
He consulted a note. “Male, sir. A boy.”
“Thank you. We’ll call back with any other questions.” Roarke cut the comm.
Eve felt her gather him in, held against his chest. She felt like wood in her husband’s arms. “I guess...” *not so bad* was poison in her throat. “They said it could happen. Does happen.”
“I should go,” Peabody said.
Roarke cradled Eve’s head on his shoulder. “Please. Delia. You’re family.”
Without any sound, Eve’s face was wet. She felt Roarke’s breath catch, and she was holding him with all her strength.
Peabody looked desperately for tissues, found none. She wiped her own eyes. “Dallas. Three weeks, four weeks is tiny. Before the heart starts beating, before there’s anything you’d call a brain. That doctor is right about that. It … he wouldn’t have felt any pain. Roarke, I’m so sorry.” Roarke caught her hand, brought her close too.
The bad nights were passing. Eve Dallas knew how to cope with nightmares. But staring at the uterine replicator in the middle of the sterile steel room she felt alarmed all over again. The yard-high metal cylinder on its support stand looked fine. Inside the viewing window, an intricate net of clear tubes and wires stretched from one side to the other. It was probably supposed to look like that. But in the middle of that technological spiderweb… was a lump. A pink lump, about the size of an orange. With a floating eyeball attached.
She glanced at Roarke, who actually looked calm. “That cannot be right.”
“Nine tenths of what we’re looking at is the placenta at this stage,” Dr. Minchenko assured her. “The embryo, or we’re nearly ready to say fetus now, represents only the contents of the amniotic sac.”
Eve looked closer. The ‘eyeball’ was about an inch and a half long, and shaped like an avocado. She caught a glimpse of a pink c-shape not unlike a peeled shrimp inside. “It’s got a tail.”
“And so it should,” Roarke said. “You’re a bit behind on your reading, darling Eve. See, little Derek Alfredo or Evelyn Guadalupe is just the same.”
“Not Evelyn.” Eve turned to the second, identical cylinder. “That was the name of one of the Icove conspirators.”
“We must settle on some names before they’re big enough to answer to them,” Roarke said reasonably. “You can’t refuse the names of all the thousands of victims and suspects and witnesses you’ve met in your time.”
“Both replicators are functioning at top capacity,” Minchenko said. “If...”
Roarke turned and skewered the hapless doctor with a look. “As I have every confidence they’ll continue to function, under your expert attentions, in my own home. When should we think to move them?”
Minchenko looked trapped and miserable. “Ah,” Roarke said. “Some back office shi… high-ranking gentleman had no stomach for arguing with us himself. Again. I wonder which. We’ve taken this all the way to your CEO. Speaking as a doctor then, not an errand boy, is there a *medical* reason our children shouldn’t be kept in our own home? We’re more than able to pay for the privilege. And you admitted yourself, we wouldn’t be the first.”
“The Center strongly discourages it,” Minchenko said faintly. A thought occurred. “You’d have strangers on duty in your house until the day of the actual births.” Eve gave him points for creativity.
“One technician on rotation twenty-four seven, daily visits from yourself or the other on-call physician. I think our home has scope to handle that,” Roarke said. He tapped one of the cylinders. “We made this clear when we opted for the portable chambers in the first place.”
“One hundred twenty-five pounds each isn’t very portable,” the doctor said.
Eve leaned forward. “Enough to count. Look, we get that the third one wasn’t anybody’s fault. This isn’t about that. But if I was doing this the old fashioned way, I’d have them with me all the time. Where I could keep an eye on them.” Her hand fisted in front of her stomach. “We want eyes on these kids. Our eyes. And we’re going to have it. They’re my responsibility.”
They both stared down the young doctor. Eve saw him flinch, and nodded. “So let’s do this.”
Roarke smiled. “The tiger and her cubs, doctor.”
“So let’s do this,” Eve said again.
They’d gathered in the back garden – it was a warm day – of the Miras’ home. The leaves from two small trees were just starting to show touches of fall color over the green. Mavis, wearing a green micro-dress edged in red, matched the scenery. So did her hair. She sat in a folding chair with something like a big pink frog curled up on her lap. “Y’know, Bellava’s the one with the latest info. She babysits all the time.” Mavis’ daughter had streamlined her name when she turned fourteen.
Mira set her lemonade on a small table – in Eve’s opinion she was enjoying this *much* too much – and took the organism from Mavis. “Happily, taking care of babies never changes,” Mira jostled her burden until it cooed. “My great-granddaughter Marcia Elaine, four months old next week.” She offered it, her, to Eve. “I thought it was best not to start with a newborn.”
“New babies are right at half this weight. Maybe two-thirds of the length,” Peabody put in. “And no poking the head. There’s that soft spot. Not that you’d poke, but be aware. One hand cupping the back of the head – always support the head on a little one, always. Other arm supporting the back and butt, hold her against your chest.”
Eve reached out with great caution. “Roarke, want your turn first?”
He had lemonade too. “Soon enough, darling Eve.”
“Doesn’t have to be against the chest,” Mavis said. “You can let them straddle your hip, that way you get one hand free.”
“This size, sure. Not newborns,” Peabody said.
“No, not newborns.”
“*Would...*” Eve took a breath before she lost her temper. “Would you all just let me figure it out? Okay. Hand under head, other arm under the butt, against my chest.” Soft grass under their feet. How badly could this really go? At least she was sitting down.
Mira handed it over slowly. It couldn’t be twenty pounds, maybe less. Eve could still bench-press her own weight, this was nothing. But God, the fragility. Dropping this … kid would be a disaster. Eve’s arm tightened, and the baby made a noise in protest. “Easy. You’ve got her.” Mira said. “Try rocking her a little.”
Eve made her torso swing side to side against the weight. A tiny hand came up and grabbed the side of her hair like a vise. “Ow.”
“You know how you hardly ever wear dangles or hoop earrings?” Peabody said. “That’s a good idea. Keep doing that.”
Eve turned her head until the hair pulled loose, caught Roarke smiling. “You’ve got a lot more to grab than me, ace.” That froze him.
Eve kept on with the rocking. The little Mira leaned into her chest. It felt … better, anyway. Closer to her center of gravity, less balancing to worry about. “I’m going to try standing. If that’s okay?”
“We all do it sometime,” Mira said.
Eve got up with leg and belly muscles alone. She started the rocking up again when she was vertical. It seemed to like that. “Now smell her head,” Peabody said.
Eve stared. “Smell?”
Eve sniffed. Peach fuzz, incredibly soft and warm. Not musky like an adult, not sweaty, not diapers. It was a clean, soft smell. Eve leaned in a little. She felt a tingle in her belly, not fear. “Nothing like that new-kid smell,” Mavis laughed.
“Talk to her,” Mira said. “Use her name. Babies understand more than you think.”
“Hey there,” Eve groped for the word, “Marcia. I guess you’ve got a good gig here, don’t you? Clothes, food, getting carried, everything just like you like it. And if you don’t like it, you get to scream. Don’t scream,” she said hastily. “Marcia. How about visiting, um, Uncle Roarke?” She tiptoed to his chair. “He’s got lots of cousins, he’s better at this...”
Roarke took the bundle with a little more composure. “Over you come, little elf. Aren’t you a pretty girl.” He opted to sit her upright, back to his chest, holding the baby upright with an arm around the waist. “How long do we have to support the head?” His other hand hovered.
“Only a few months,” Mira said. “There are sound evolutionary reasons I won’t go into. Don’t worry, she’s fine.”
Eve sat down, gratefully. She remembered early encounters with Mavis’ Bella. She fished the Giant’s Tear out from under her shirt – well out of the baby’s reach – and let it flash in the sunlight. “Look. Marcia. Shiny thing. You can’t have it but you can look. Shiny.”
Marcia’s entire face transformed with a smile of pure, uncomplicated joy. Eve found herself smiling back. “I did it. They don’t cry all the time.”
Roarke leaned in for a side view of the baby’s face. “No, they don’t cry all the time.” He was rewarded with a gurgle. And an expression of intense concentration. His own face went blank.
Mira was an expert. “They do some things several times a day, however. Perhaps it’s time we talked you both through some of the other aspects of parenthood.”
Nadine Furst, with the smugness of the squiffed and blissfully single, toasted Roarke and Eve. “Great party. The best.” She’d attended every one of Roarke and Eve’s now-traditional Thanksgiving get togethers. The cast changed over time, as old friends started their own customs or new friends arrived, but Nadine was a stalwart.
Crack, towering over Nadine even when they were both seated, tactfully took her wine glass away. “Slow it down, white girl. Don’t want your car towed home, end of the evening.”
“It might be fun.” Nadine waved her empty hand. “Dallas, you know I love you and you know I support whatever you do. But is it okay if I don’t, y’know, go *look* at this point? I mean. Let them get ripe.”
Roarke gave her a glass of water instead. “The doctors actually prefer that we let as few people as possible into the nursery. There’s a video feed for those with interest. I was limited to video myself for two weeks this month; bit of a cold.”
“They little, they catch everything,” Crack said. “Then they spread everything. You signing up for the germ of the month club, this time next year.”
“Great.” Eve wasn’t entirely pretending to be appalled.
Crack patted her hand. “Babies just one damn thing after another, girl. But not everything at once. You can do it. Always knew you could do it, time came you wanted to.” His eyes crossed the room to his son Aurelius. “You got the love in you, and babies bring more.” Crack’s marriage hadn’t lasted, but his commitment to fatherhood had. The boy, at thirteen, already showed promise of sharing his father’s height. He was dancing with one of Roarke’s numerous cousins, a girl of about five at a guess.
The dining room was roughly seventy percent Irish. Sean Lanigan had been promoted by the Dublin Garda, and worn his uniform to show Cousin Eve the new stripes. Sean was talking shop, not quite soberly, with Jamie Lingstrom of EDD. Baxter, also still single, was as much a regular as Nadine. Roarke’s aunt Sinead, twin to his lost mother, presided over the guests who were still eating. Roarke caught Eve’s eye. “Excuse us,” she said, and headed for Sinead.
She stood and hugged them both when Roarke and Eve reached her. “Ah, loves, wonderful as always. I wish himself could have seen it another time or two.” Sinead’s husband had died not long after last year’s event.
“How are you holding up?” Eve asked. They hadn’t seen Roarke’s aunt since the funeral.
“Time goes slowly. I gave the farm to my eldest, you know.” They knew. “I’ve a flat, with all the comforts. Not far from Sean’s place, but he has his own life to lead. I’ve thought more and more, I’m not so old. I might have forty or fifty more years.”
“Absolutely.” Eve didn’t look at Roarke, or need to.
Roarke held out his hand. “Would you like to see the babies?”
“Oh, yes. But you told your friend, video only.”
“Special case. We’d love to show them to you.”
What Eve and Roarke currently called the nursery – though a suite upstairs would carry that name when the babies were born – was near the back of the ground floor. It sat next to the security room, and had some of the same features. Emergency back up power supply, reinforced walls, no windows. The rotation of technicians hated that last feature. Roarke had raised their pay.
A technician sat in the main room now, dividing his attention between a paper book and the visual readouts. There were audio warnings available too. He sat bolt upright in his chair when they walked in. “Sir. Ma’am.”
“No problems, Royce. We just wanted to give my aunt a peek.” Roarke looked at a tray beside the chair. “Miss Rosalind brought you your share of the feast, I see. We appreciate you taking the day away from your own family.”
“We cut cards for the holiday shift. The double time will come in handy.”
“I’m glad to hear it, Royce. Give us a few minutes, will you? Never mind the remote monitor. We’ll call you if anything blinks.”
“It’s all square in the green. Sir.” The technician left.
“It’s such a marvel.” Sinead’s hand hovered close to one of the cylinders. “Can I touch it?”
“Everything’s safe,” Eve said. The older woman touched lightly, as if on a baby’s skin. Her other hand moved to her own stomach. Eve wondered if it felt empty.
The observation windows were opaque. “Can I see?” Sinead asked.
“Sure.” Eve picked up the remote. “But Nadine’s right, they don’t really look ripe yet.”
The idea of children, and the reality growing in this room, were growing roots in Eve day by day. But that didn’t stop them looking like skinny big-headed monkeys. “They’re both very healthy,” she apologized. “It’s just, you know.”
“I looked up in my old baby books just in case. They’ll be fine children, I’m sure.” Sinead looked at her, than Roarke. “And how Siobhan would have loved them, her grandchildren. I think about her all the time, because of this. I try to enjoy the moments for her as well as myself.”
“That’s something we wanted to discuss,” Roarke began smoothly. The veteran of a thousand business deals. With his aunt’s eyes on him he faltered. “We need help. We hoped it might be you.”
Sinead looked back at the replicators. “Me?”
“If it pleased you.” Roarke was nearly stammering. “There’s a nanny’s salary, a good one, but the main thing would be that we don’t want to bring in a stranger. We want someone to love them too.”
“Me, to live in this fine house? In America, far from all my own grands and greats? With two little ones, for years? Because it’s years you’d need, isn’t it.”
Eve couldn’t read her face. “We know it’s a lot to ask.”
“It’s never been in my power before, to do anything for my sister’s blood,” Sinead said. “Now it is. How can I say no?” She looked at their expressions. “Not for cold gratitude, or obligation. Though I’ll take your fine salary as well.” A smile. “For the joy, seeing the little ones grow into the people they’ll be. Seeing you two grow into parents. If the world was as it should be I’d have seen you grow up, Roarke, day by day, almost as one of my own children. I’m honored now you think of me to have the care of yours.”
Eve was racking her brains, walking into Commander Whitney’s office, for anything her squads might have done or left undone. It couldn’t be routine. They’d covered all that at the captains’ meeting yesterday. “Sir.”
Whitney knew her well. “No problems, Dallas. Have a seat, no reports needed from you.” Eve preferred to give those standing. She sat now.
“I wanted to air a few things before your Christmas party,” Whitney said. “Captain Dallas.” She came to alert, at the formality. “This is not currently for general discussion, but I’ve made a decision I feel you should know about. I’m retiring as Commander effective the end of next year.”
Eve wasn’t entirely surprised. Whitney had nearly fifty years on the force, starting as a street cop. His hair was all salt, no pepper now, and he moved more stiffly than he used to. “Congratulations, sir. You’ve earned it.”
“Thank you. I’ve discussed this with Chief Kosigan, of course, and the Mayor. We also took input from former Chief Tibble – he sends his regards – and even former Commander Obermann.”
Whitney was watching her intently. Now a smile crossed his dark, lined face. “And you see no earthly reason why you should have this news ahead of the other captains under my command, do you?”
Eve’s stomach churned. She took a breath, for control, and looked Whitney directly in the eye. “No, sir. I don’t.”
Whitney chuckled. “I had a fine little speech worked up, you know, offering you all their unqualified support for promotion. The youngest Commander in NYSPD history. You’re stepping on my lines. You sure I can’t change your mind?”
“God no, sir,” Eve said fervently.
“Then that’s the right decision. If it’s not too personal a question, does your other major life choice relate to your refusal?”
“No, sir. Kids or no kids, you couldn’t get me into your chair pointing a ballistic missile at my head. I can do politics if I have to, but I’ll never like them. A commander needs to.”
“That’s twenty the mayor owes me, then. She doesn’t know you like I do.” Whitney shrugged. “I haven’t asked lately, how are things going at home?”
“Good, commander. The doctors say better than good. If we were having natural twins they’d be,” her face blanched. “Crowded. They’re coming out in April.” Eve considered. “I should go ahead and put in for maternity leave, I guess.”
“With twins? Captain, as a father I advise you to take *all* your maternity leave. I’ll make it an order if I have to.”
“We’ve arranged for a nanny, sir.”
“My wife and I had help too. Babies are like firefights; all the backup you can get is barely enough. You have no idea. Yet.”
Eve Dallas made a face. “Everyone says that. Oh, your life will change. Tee hee, look at the rookie.” Bitterly, “All the parents I know are treating me like a *civilian.*”
Whitney laughed larger and deeper. “I suppose it is like that. Same reason. Hearing about or even seeing the job from the outside is one thing. Living it is different, in ways that can’t be explained. Let me say. Eve.” He never used her first name. “I’ve never once seen you fail when you make a commitment. Not personally, and not professionally. You’ll earn your shield for this too.”
He shifted behind his desk. “That being the situation, I’d like to give you an overview of the candidates who might wind up commanding you. Of possible hires from outside, I for one favor Commander Quinn in Chicago.” Eve relaxed back into work mode.
"Olivia," Eve read from an old paperback book.
"Definitely no," Roarke said.
The big Christmas party and its aftermath had occupied their weekend. Today, Christmas Eve, they'd celebrated in private. A supper with lots of wine alone in the main parlor, and sex. Opening presents under the tree, and sex. Eve had bought Roarke baby name books -- they really did have to decide soon -- and taken the edge off by giving him a stack of five different ones.
Roarke looked down at another volume. "Padma, for a girl," he said. "Hindu. Meaning, lotus. Too close to Patrick to suit me."
He slurred a bit; they were on the second bottle of wine. Eve thought of the names that were too painful to use. Marlena. Lawrence. "Magda," Eve said, just to play with him.
Roarke snickered. "No role model for a daughter of mine."
"The problem is, you never know what you're getting," she said. "I have thought about this. Suppose you're expecting an EDD geek, so you name him...." Eve groped for a geeky name.
"Alan Turing Roarke," he said.
"Yeah, like that. But he comes out, heads straight for a weight machine and never stops being a jock. Or a girl, you pick a froufrou girl name and she goes the other way."
"Some people would consider 'Eve' a quietly feminine name." Roarke grinned. "Sad, foolish people. I do take your point. Perhaps it's best to start them out with something neutral."
“Siobhan,” Eve said seriously.
Roarke studied his wineglass. “God knows I’d thought of that. Give my mother some physical presence in our lives. ‘Siobhan Roarke’ was who she wanted to be.” Who she’d died trying to be, at his father’s hands. “But no, not for everyday. It might suit for a middle name, though.”
Eve was aware of the concept, not so sure she approved. “How many names are these kids supposed to get?”
“British royals seem to have six or seven at a time. I was thinking two apiece though, unless you fancy Dallas-Roarke as a last name. Or Something Roarke for our boy and Something Dallas for our girl.”
“Roarke is fine,” Eve said. “Otherwise it adds up too fast. I met a woman at one of your charity things, named something like Basington-Stokes-Preston-Smythe. And that was only two generations.”
“It’s true, one of them might wind up in your line of work,” Roarke mused. “The name after ‘Look out!’ ought to be short as possible.”
Eve mulled over the uses of middle names. “I do like Irish names with Roarke, so it goes together. I have an idea.”
Eve let her custom DLE (fifth of its name) navigate itself through the unfamiliar streets of urban New Jersey. Her old partner and mentor Captain Ryan Feeney had been moved here, under protest, when he retired. His wife Sheila generally got her way. The native New Yorker had finally given in because his son and two of his grown grandchildren lived nearby. The featureless gray sky was spitting sleet. The wind wasn’t too bad. Eve found a rare parking space at the curb, only a hundred yards from her destination in a solid block of brick row houses. The Feeneys’ house had dead weeds in the window boxes and peeling paint on the wood trim. But the security, Eve could see, was top notch. She touched the bell. “Just a sec, Dallas.” Feeney’s flat Brooklyn accent came from the turned-off video pickup. “I got a thing going.”
The door opened. “So the wife decides, I need to learn to cook. At my age,” Feeney began as if continuing an ongoing conversation. “Like even godforsaken Jersey doesn’t have a restaurant or a takeout on every corner. “Red sauce. I gotta admit I like Italian, but she starts me off with raw tomatoes. Out of the ground! Onions, garlic that still got dirt on them. What have we got an AutoChef for?”
“Technology is our friend,” Eve agreed.
Feeney led her through a narrow living and dining room back to the kitchen. “Gotta keep an eye on this stuff.” Weirdly-shaped tools both sharp and blunt were scattered over the counters. The sink looked alarmingly like a crime scene, but Eve decided it must be tomato residue. “You gotta stir while it simmers.” Feeney stuck a spoon in a pot of red lumpy liquid on the stove. Steam was coming out of it, it must be simmering. “What’s up, Dallas?” He studied her. “I got the word from Jack, about you not wanting the top floor.” He’d walked a beat with Commander Whitney at the end of the Urban Wars.
“You figure I made the right call?” His opinion mattered to Eve. Even more than Roarke’s sometimes, about the job.
Feeney shook his head. “You’re past your twenty-five; you don’t need your hand held. But yeah, I’d have said the same.” His eyes changed. “Is that what’s up? You taking early retirement, gonna do the mom thing full time?”
“Me?” Eve was appalled. “I may be on a desk, but I still see the streets once in a while.”
“Good.” Feeney glanced down at the knee that had been her worst injury, when she was last hospitalized. “Holding up okay?”
“Aches on cold days.” It was sore now, in fact. Eve leaned on the corner of the kitchen table. “Listen, I wanted to ask you something.”
Feeney spread out a hand. “Be my guest.”
“We’ve got baby names. Caitlin Siobhan for the girl. You remember about Roarke’s mother.” Feeney nodded. “And Michael, after Roarke’s friend who took a knife for him.” Feeney had been there. “We were thinking. Michael Ryan Roarke.”
Ryan Feeney was quiet for a moment. He wiped his eyes. “Stupid onions,” he commented. “Yeah, kid. Sounds fine to me.”
Eve could have gotten Roarke’s location from the house computer, in seconds, when she got home with a full bag of cold cases. But she was restless in a way that her evening’s projected paperwork was unlikely to relieve. She went to their two connected offices first. Nothing. Eve dropped the file bag and took to the elevator. “Master suite.”
No one there but Galahad, curled on the windowsill. Eve rubbed the cat’s back. He turned in his sleep. Eve looked him over, faintly worried. The cat that had come into her life almost the same day as Roarke had was eighteen years old now. Or more, he’d been full grown when she adopted him. Besides graciously accepting tidbits and affection from both of them throughout her marriage, he’d genuinely saved Dallas’ life on three occasions. Roarke Industries had an anti-aging drug in development that was not yet considered ready for human trials. Galahad got a daily dose with his kibble. Eve wasn’t sure she saw a difference. Then again, maybe ‘no difference’ was the point.
She walked across the hall. They’d remodeled two full guest suites into one, planning for the enormous life change looming up at them. One side, for Sinead Brody Lanigan when she arrived. The other, through a connecting door, for little Michael and Caitlin. Eve ran a fingertip over the wood of a Zack Peabody original crib, one of two. She felt a tiny twinge at the lack of a third. Maybe she always would.
Eve looked up. “Of course. I’m an idiot.”
Ground floor, back of the house, next to the security room. Eve opened the palm-sealed door. Two cylinders of steel a yard high each, the observation windows clear. A very uncomfortable medical technician wearing scrubs, seated at a metal desk, unsure of what to do with his hands. And in a borrowed chair – Eve recognized it from Summerset’s old quarters – Roarke himself, doing some sort of work on a PPC on his lap. He looked up without a trace of guilt as Eve walked in.
“So glad we didn’t do this the hard way,” she said. “You’d be poking me in the stomach the whole time going, ‘are they ready yet?’” The technician looked relieved at possible assistance.
Roarke set his PPC down, ambled to the tanks. “It’s a relief to know that if worst came to worst, they *are* done. Close enough,” he said. “Seven months. No special preemie care required. I can’t help remembering.”
The hellish last few minutes in the catacombs of the doomed Icove Center, fifteen years ago. The embryos and fetuses of all sizes, inexorably locked to massive equipment, that they couldn’t have saved. The baby clone they *had* saved. Only that responsibility had made it possible for them to leave instead of dying with the others. Eve breathed and felt the loss again. “Worse case,” she said hoarsely. “You grab Caitlin, I grab Michael, we book outside. With or without the tubes. He,” she glanced toward the technician, “can rescue the antique paintings or something. We’ve got this.”
“I’d favor the Van Gogh over the Monet,” Roarke aimed at the tech. Clearly not sure if this was a joke or not, the harried man nodded.
Eve Dallas slapped Roarke on the arm. “Settle down. I’ve got cold cases to go over. I could use a criminal eye on a few of them, show me any angles I’ve missed.”
Roarke smiled. “Ah, for the good old days. When Expert Consultant, Civilian meant running and conspiring and getting my knuckles bloody.”
The smile faded as Roarke moved closer to an observation window. Eve joined him. Michael, looking much more like a human being than a skinny big-headed monkey now, floated serene in the lightly tinted fluid. When he turned, kicking like an expert swimmer, his coppery red hair moved. His eyes were closed in the low light. Sound filled his watery world. A recording of Eve’s heartbeat, the intestinal sounds a normally situated fetus would hear, their voices.
“The background noise must be enough for normal development,” Roarke said. “The Icove clones – well, the Icove clones were mad as hatters one and all. But clear enough that was from the hell they found outside the artificial wombs. Not anything lacking inside.”
Eve had moved on to Caitlin. Her … daughter… had her father’s ebony black hair. All over her body, currently, in a fine fuzz. Dr. Minchenko had assured them that was normal. “Can we keep them where they are until maybe age eighteen?”
“Protect them from life? We haven’t the right,” Roarke said. “And it would be foolish. Our Peabody’s father told me a story, when they visited. They lived six years in a house right by a lake when the children were small. Peabody herself was only four. Sam and Phoebe were hovering over the children like vultures the first summer, he told me, dreading that one of them might drown.”
“What’s your point?” Eve said sharply. “They stopped worrying, and nobody drowned?”
“They never stopped worrying,” Roarke said. “They never stopped watching. But they did spend hours with the children in the lake, dawn to dusk, until the little Peabodys could all of them swum like fish. Then the worry lessened. Not gone, but less. And now all their children are full grown, and still swim like fish.” Roarke looked at her. “Safety doesn’t come with trusting your surroundings,” he said. “It comes with trusting yourself.”
Eve looked back at the tanks. “Not at the big pink naked frog, floppy head, can’t move on purpose stage.”
“Not then, no. But something to keep in mind for later.” Roarke kissed her forehead. “Dial us up something for dinner. I’ll be along.” He went to pick up his PPC.
Eve glanced at the visibly embarrassed technician. “Roarke,” she said again. “Let the poor man do his job.”
“Darling Eve,” Roarke said again. “Let the poor woman do her job.”
It was the birth day at last. Their friends and connections – the family Eve Dallas and Roarke had made together – were on pins and needles at the other end of various video links. But, they’d decided, this moment was for them. Even Sinead Lanigan waited outside. They put on sterile garments – never needed them before, Eve had grumbled – and entered a room full of newly arrived equipment. Scales, incubators, trays of hand tools. Eve’s stomach filled with butterflies.
Dr. Minchenko wasn’t in charge. His superior, Dr. Degtiar, had taken it upon herself to schmooze the rich and influential customers. An elegant woman with high cheekbones and a short buzz of silver hair. She schmoozed like an expert. She kept interrupting the techs doing actual work with what Eve Dallas suspected were unnecessary instructions.
“We’ve never lost an infant at this stage of gestation,” Degtiar said briskly. “Nor a mother, of course. Quiet Birth is much safer for all concerned. Our hope is that as the costs are reduced over time, this option can be made available to almost any woman.”
“Dr. Wilfred Icove wanted it to be compulsory,” Eve said, just to see what she’d say. “Over time.”
“I don’t know where...” The senior doctor went pale as she recalled, a second too late, where Eve had gotten that idea. “Of course, their gross violations of ethics could never happen today,” Degtiar floundered. “The current, revamped program is completely transparent to the customer and to government regulatory agencies.”
“We’re aware of the modern safeguards,” Roarke put in. He had had a hand in designing some of them. “Behave, darling. When shall we expect the great events?”
“They’re both full term of course,” Minchenko looked at a tablet a tech handed him. “Lung development is excellent, brain activity high. They’re also both awake at the moment, which we consider optimum for artificial delivery. All the medical indicators are that we can proceed on schedule. Ma’am?” He performed the difficult feat of deferring to his boss, Roarke, and Eve all at once.
“We’re ready,” Roarke said, squeezing Eve’s hand.
Eve felt like a green rookie, going through a door for the first time. *We are?* She forced decisiveness into her voice. “Yep.”
Things cascaded out of control, then, to Eve’s eye. Minchenko led a group of techs who surrounded both uterine replicators. The stands under them compressed, bringing the tops to a convenient mid-chest height. People injected strange clear chemicals into openings on the cylinders. The babies became more alert, treading water in their little worlds. “Which one would you like to open first?” Minchenko asked. Dallas was physically unable to speak.
“Our son,” Roarke said, voice breaking.
The lid came open. More chemicals were injected into more tubes. Minchenko now had long transparent gloves on past the elbows. His hands dipped into the goo, slit a membrane, *that’s right, kids make their own shrink wrap* and emerged carrying a big, naked pink frog. The umbilical cord still trailed back into the cylinder. A woman technician wrapped the baby loosely in a white blanket. Minchenko clamped the umbilical cord, severed it with an expert flick of the wrist. All here now, in the world for keeps.
Michael Ryan Roarke expressed his first opinion, in the form of a scream of outrage.
Roarke took the boy from the tech, cuddled him against his chest. “There, now. There’s more to life than room service. We’ll show you, I promise.” Tears flowed down his cheeks. “We promise.”
Eve leaned in, cheek against Roarke’s shoulder. Not a big frog but an incredibly small human, fragile as hell. Vulnerable to all the terrors of life she knew so well. Internally, she bared her teeth. *No you don’t, world. Mine.* She slid an arm over Roarke’s, holding them both.
Roarke was speaking Gaelic to the baby, the words of love and commitment Eve had learned over the years. “Yeah, me too.” She took him awkwardly. The baby moved in her arms. Eve adjusted, and he fit better. The practice helped, she knew she wasn't going to drop him.
"Your name is Michael," Eve whispered. The first thing her own so-called parents had never done. She was already doing better than they had. "We're going to take care of you."
She looked back up, at Roarke. His eyes were shining. "Look what we did, *a grha.*"
They all three breathed together. A tactful cough broke in. "We can clean him for you," the doctor said. "We need to get his weight and Apgar score."
Eve knew what that was now. "Really? You can't stand ten feet back and see he's healthy?" He was still covered in white stuff, true. She let a nurse take the baby, felt an unexpected twinge. As if a cord ran from her heart to his, and she could feel exactly how far it stretched. Well, the woman looked competent. She kissed Roarke to drown the feeling.
"Time for Caitlin now," Roarke said, still smiling.
The same medical procedures. This baby came out fussing rather than wailing, as if to say *excuse me, this can't be right. It's cold here.* This time Eve took her first. She wrapped the absorbent blanket more securely. "It's all right. We've got you. It's going to be better."
"All better, my heart." Roarke held them both in return. His arms went around Eve and the baby with room to spare. "Better than I could have imagined. And you, darling Eve? Still scared?”
It was like the joy and terror she’d brought into her life when she let Roarke love her. Again. More. Her knees felt weak. “More scared. More happy. More everything. The world is bigger.”
“Not the world, Eve. Only your heart,” Roarke said.
JD Robb has said that if Eve and Roarke have a baby, it will represent the end of the series. This is not that book. I played with potential future versions of her characters and now I’m putting them back unharmed. If any plot points from my version are similar to future books, it will be because I relied on Robb’s foreshadowing (your guide to quality entertainment) for clues.
Some readers may recognize themes – and the names of minor new characters – as allusions to the work of Lois McMaster Bujold. She’s a science fiction writer who has used uterine replicators many times in her excellent novels. I recommend her work, too.