Lost Causes and Broken Dreams by eng050599
Chapter 1: A Bastion to False Hope
"Honeywell Genetic Counselling Centre"
The words were emblazoned above the entrance of the small building adjacent to Zootopia General Hospital. It was much more contemporary than the hospital itself, having been built barely 10 years previously. Its design was one of glass and steel, brightly lit from all sides. Cars were already filtering into the parking lot, as the staff and first patients of the day started filtering in. The night shift would be wrapping up their rounds and leaving shortly, but there was still a few minutes before he needed to head inside.
Standing across the parking lot, a white wolf in a lab coat takes a deep draw from a cigarette, and stares at the entrance. Even from here he can see the bright pastel colours that adorn the walls of the reception area. All of it was a lie though, the Centre wasn't a place of healing or of happiness. It was a place of broken dreams and misplaced hope.
Ostensibly the Centre was a specialized maternity ward; one that worked in concert with the main ward in the hospital proper. The truth was that its purpose rarely yielded the joy present in the main unit. The cases that came here were very different. They only dealt with interspecies couples, and the hybrids that those unions gave rise to on occasion. Although some species could interbreed, for most interspecies couples, having children was a fantasy at best, and a nightmare at worst. The Centre only dealt with the latter; couples from compatible pairings were welcomed at the main hospital.
The wolf flicked the cigarette away and considered the path that had brought him here.
The Centre was a gift from the late Drs. David Honeywell and his wife Elena. Dr. Honeywell had been the founder and CEO of Panacea Pharmaceuticals, and had made his fortune developing a method for rapidly altering delivery vectors for different species, thus allowing for drugs to be effectively targeted to a variety of mammals. The technology had changed Zootopian pharmacology almost overnight, and had also made Dr. Honeywell one of the richest individuals in the world.
Money as they say, cannot buy you happiness, and the tale of the Honeywells proved this more than most. The Honeywells were an interspecies couple, a wolf and an arctic fox. As with many couples, they longed to have children of their own, but genetics is a harsh mistress. All the money in the world couldn't make up for the incompatibilities between the two's fundamental makeup, although they had fought tooth and claw against it.
They invested billions into gene therapies, viral transformation vectors, DNA editing techniques, synthetic genome assembly, and targeted mutagenesis. Each of these represented huge leaps from the previous techniques, but in the end their reach exceeded their grasp. Not willing to risk others for their wish, they had attempted to use a novel editing technique to alter their own gametes into ones that would permit them to have the one thing they wanted most.
The cancers had killed them in less than six months.
With no living heirs, the entirety of their somewhat depleted fortune was granted in trust to Zootopia General for the development of the Centre, so that the research would continue, and for 10 years it had.
"Not that any of the research had saved even a single hybrid from incompatible species in that time." he thought grimly. It was one of the best funded facilities in history, yet it had failed every one of its charges. The only success stories they had to date were in helping couples from compatible pairings who were experiencing difficult pregnancies or minor genetic issues.
He had joined the Centre some six years prior. It was his first posting after completing his residency training along with his dissertation on the genetic basis for cytoplasmic incompatibility in Lagomorphs. It was the research aspect that was the only reason he stayed. Somewhere deep inside he still held on to some delusion that he might be able to help at least one of his patients. There was also the little fact that if he left, the Centre would be down another physician, and it would stay that way as well. No sane person would work in a place like this. Doctors were driven to help patients and save lives...and this facility contributed very little towards these goals.
The wolf's eyes drifted to the crematorium built into the back of the facility itself. The designers had known that it was a losing battle. It was the only facility he had ever worked in that had such a setup, and also the only one that seemed to possess an infinite supply of small boxes and urns, which were filled all too regularly.
The wolf looked up to see another lab coated mammal walk out of the front doors and head in his direction. The antelope waved tiredly at him, and he returned the gesture.
"Long night Jim?" the wolf asked as the other doctor pulled a cigarette out of the front pocked of his shirt.
"It always is Dave, it always is." Jim replied while lighting his cigarette and taking a quick puff.
"A doctor smoking in the parking lot!" Dave spoke with feigned distress. "Whatever will the patients think? You're setting a bad example."
"I can't help but notice you were out here first." Jim said with short chuckle escaping from his mouth.
"Touché, my friend." The wolf dipped his head as he spoke, acknowledging the friendly jibe. "Anything I should know about before I head in?"
"Ms. Falson miscarried last night, as we expected." Jim's voice took on an almost mechanical tone as he listed off the events from the previous evening. "Ms. White's ultrasound showed no fetal heartbeat, but she's refusing to believe it. She'll either miscarry sometime in the next 24 hours, or we'll have to go in and remove it before she goes septic. I'll need you to back me if we have to do it against her wishes Dave."
"You know I will, and Catherine will as well. You know that." Dave replied sadly, starting to walk towards the entrance. "Anything else?"
"The Clawsons are due in at 10:00."
Dave stopped and looked back, trying to see if this was a joke, but Jim's face still had that clinical expression that said he was being completely serious. "Shit!" he cursed softly. "This is what, their 5th time here?"
"Their 6th actually." The antelope replied. "There was one previous pregnancy before you started here."
"Well today is going to suck." he thought ruefully. "How far along is she?" he asked.
"About six weeks from her file. That is farther along than any of her previous pregnancies." Jim continued on. "They didn't have any exams before now however, so I have no idea how things look"
"So she's almost full term? Well I guess there's always hope." Dave spoke quietly, although in his head a different thought was forming "…and that glimmer of hope is the cruelest joke of them all."
He turned back to the Centre and walked in through the doors. It was time to set aside his emotions for another day, and give more parents the worst news possible. He walked through the reception area and stopped at the nurse's station to grab the patient's charts. He flipped through the files, and noted the ones that would almost certainly be lost causes.
Debbie and Michael Pandel: A zebra couple from Savanah Square.
"Wait, why are they here?" he thought to himself. "Hybrids between Grevi's and Planes Zebras were genetically compatible. The hybrids even had a high chance of being fertile themselves. This was a case that should be over at Zootopia General."
He flipped through the rest of the chart, and found the reason.
"That cowardly little fuck!" he cursed quietly, noting that the attending physician at General was Dr. Gerald Lamboski. This wouldn't be the first time that he had noticed something wrong with a pregnancy, and rather than telling the patient what the issue was, he would send them over to the Centre for a "consultation". One that inevitably meant that one of the physicians here had to crush the couple's dreams.
He made a note to draft yet another complaint against Dr. Lamboski, while checking the availability of the ultrasound tech for the day. That had been the last test that Gerald had run before sending them over, yet the images were mysteriously absent from the chart. It was almost a certainty that something wrong had been discovered, and the fact that he had sent them here meant that it was probably fatal for the foal.
Closing the chart for now, he focused on the next file in his paws.
Anne and Jacob Miller: A fox and a dingo couple who suspected that Anne was pregnant. The chart indicated that they had gone to their primary physician and that a pregnancy test was positive. His first thought was to order an ultrasound of her ovaries, as the test was probably a false positive. There were no indications that she had been using any infertility drugs, but he'd check that when he did the consult.
Beth Woodman and Steven Chipworth: A young beaver couple, which made him frown momentarily until he spotted the note indicating that Ms. Woodman was Castor canadensis while Mr. Chipworth was Castor fiber. In all of history, there had only been one cub born in such a pairing, and it had been stillborn. He'd have to prepare them for the worst, as this meant that a pregnancy could be carried to term, yet still fail to produce a living child.
He sighed mournfully, as he looked at the fourth chart.
Isara and William Clawson: A Fennec and gray fox couple. This one was particularly cruel for all involved. Genetically they were so close, but every attempt had ended in tragedy, as it had for the few other documented cases he had been able to dig up. He flipped through their previous visits and noted the various outcomes. In three of the pregnancies, miscarriage had occurred between 3-4 weeks into the pregnancy. In two, there were either false positives, or failed pregnancies that had been reabsorbed prior to the first ultrasound.
This was the sixth attempt for them, and he knew that it wouldn't be their last either.
Closing the charts, he looked up at the duty board. Anne Miller had been put in exam 3, and had been waiting for a half hour already. After washing his paws, he put on a false smile and prepared for the inevitable bad news he would be delivering in short order.
First off, damn you u/WildeNick for basically daring me to write this. I whipped this up over lunch, after giving it a bit of thought last night.
Secondly, readers should note that this is the first piece of fiction I have written in probably a decade. IRL I'm a scientist (Molecular Biology, Biochemistry and Genomics predominantly), so almost all of my writing is for journal articles and textbooks. This is the first time I've managed to write something with a Fleish reading ease score 20, so I'm really not used to this style. I quite honestly have no idea if this counts as good or bad fiction, so all of your comments are welcome.
In regards to the biology for Zootopia, I'm keeping things close to as they are in the real world, with one big exception. The development of intelligence, and the consequent increase in brain size and complexity does tend to increase the gestation times for mammals. As a result, I arbitrarily bumped up the gestation times for species in Zootopia by 10-30%. I have almost no empirical data to back this up, as the only comparison that really works is that between humans and chimpanzees. I'll also be taking some liberties with the underlying genetics, but still try to keep things as accurate as possible...well accurate for a fictional society that in many ways stands known evolutionary history on its head.
As mentioned in the summary, this isn't going to be a happy story. As someone who is an ardent shipper for Nick and Judy, it's not pleasant to write, but if the genetic of Zootopia are as they are here, this story represents the sad truth when it comes to hybrids.
I may include a happy thread here and there, as I might end up drinking myself to sleep if I kept up this level of sadness for too long.
Questions? Comments? Feel free to ask.
Also as a note to other authors, if you have a question relating to science in your own works, feel free to send me a message. I've had a great deal of fun working though some thought experiments for other authors.
Remember, there are no dumb questions, only dumb answers…and those are my responsibility.