Hello everyone, and once again sorry for the even longer delay in getting this chapter out the door. Unfortunately, I ran into some personal tragedy that took the wind out of my sails, and really caused my writing to suffer. I had one of my cats die suddenly, and I'm one of those people for whom pets are family. I'm doing okay now, but at the time, I was a wreck, and it impacted both my personal and professional life in an immense way.
Regardless, I did manage to get this chapter finished, and once again, it's a behemoth. My thanks go out to WildeNick for managing to edit this chapter...taking time out of his Thanksgiving holiday to do it, I might add. Please show him some love, and go read his stories, Good Cops Like You and Three Months a Fox.
Now, I do have some exciting news! There is not one, but three pieces of art for Lost Causes and Broken Dreams that will be posted to the story. Unfortunately, FanFiction doesn't allow for external links, so I can't post them on that site, but AO3 has new artwork for the following chapters:
Chapter 1: "Trading Shifts" by TheWinterBunny. This piece shows the opening scene of the story, with Dave and Jim out at the smoker's corner.
Chapter 3 (also replaces the cover art for the story): "Lost Causes" by TheNightManager. I was approached by this artist, who came up with a concept for the story. I found it interesting that the scene they chose along with the quote came from two of the most emotionally crushing chapters (3 and 10).
Chapter 14: "Sad" by Steve Gallacci. Steve drew this for me a few months ago in anticipation of the concluding scene for this chapter (holy crap it was actually 5 months ago). It's utterly gorgeous, and completely captures the emotions of the moment. I won't spoil any details, but it's another emotional scene.
Please be sure to look up these artist's work. TheWinterBunny, TheNightManager and sagallacci are on DevliantArt, and I encourage you to take a look at their complete portfolios. Also, please consider contributing to TheWinterBunny's GoFundMe campaign. She's trying to raise some funds so that she can attend university in the US, and could use our help.
I'll be uploading all the artwork to my DA account (under the username assamite1...why I didn't go with eng050599 I have no idea), but I hope that you'll enjoy the new additions to the story.
Also, just as a reminder, the mammoth What If? Collaboration, headed by Cimar of Turalis WildeHopps is still motoring along, and has cracked 75 chapters in length. My contribution was back over the summer, but I've been helping out every now and then when I can. The story arcs have ranged from serious to utter fluff, and covers pretty well every possible historical setting imaginable. It's the combined work of dozens of authors and artists, and I encourage everyone to give it a read.
Now, to thank everyone who took the time to comment on Lost Causes and Broken Dreams since the last update:
Berzerker88: Chapter 13 was very much a change of pace, and I wanted to surprise the readers by showing the finer details of something other than medicine and science. I figured an extended sparring scene would fit the bill.
Steve Gallacci:We both managed to come up with interesting coyotes to season our stories with. Looking forward to the upcoming project you suggested ;-)
Tinbuzzard1: The focus on OCs in Lost Causes is both a blessing and a curse. It provides a clean slate from which the personalities of each character can be crafted, but you lose a lot of readers simply because the main characters from the film are rarely present. As for the martial arts, I tried to be as descriptive as possible without making each scene drag on too much. Hopefully, it struck the right balance.
J Shute Norway: I have quite a few friends who are either in, or retired from the military (also a bunch in law enforcement). I may have picked their brains in regards to some of the content and traditions, but I also took some time to try and come up with how those traditions would work in Zootopia. I'll try to work on the structure of any future fight scenes, to make them flow better.
Guest: I included some discussion regarding possible evolutionary pathways for Zootopia in Chapter 10. Hopefully you made it through that one, and had a chance to read it. In reality, any individual evolutionary path is highly improbable; the very fact that it's predicated on utterly random events pretty well ensures this, so while the world of Zootopia is highly unlikely to occur...so too is a world dominated by sentient psychotic apes.
Cimar: As always, I thank you for your help and devotion to this setting. It's been a privilege and an honor to be a part of your works, and I look forward to whatever comes next.
Jknight97: Glad you managed to get caught up with the story. I'm sorry to hear about the personal issues, but I hope that you get them resolved and find the motivation to write again.
greeneyesandskinnylegs: I'm glad you stumbled onto the story, and once again, the artwork that Winter made is just beautiful. I hope you are enjoying the rest of the story, and good luck with med school. It's a long road, but the rewards are huge (provided you don't work at the Honeywell Centre).
DrummerMax64: After an extended delay, you're finally giving LC&BD a shot. Hopefully, you're enjoying the ride so far.
MyNameWasPepino: Glad you managed to power through the entire story to date, and that you've enjoyed the ride so far. Hope that this latest chapter manages to maintain the same level of enrapture.
WolfGuardMeistwin: Thanks for catching that error in chapter 13. I actually watched that scene, and knew that the wolf should be Grizzoli, but when I was writing, I somehow switched him to Snarlov.
Now with that out of the way, I also have one more reader to thank. I actually should have done this back in Sept, but it completely slipped my mind. erathora commented on Reddit about how Lost Causes had managed to help her and her husband with some deeply personal issues. It was one of the most beautiful compliments I have ever received, and I am still humbled by it. As I wrote, I and other scientists are pulling for both of you, and it is my fervent hope that you succeed.
And now, after yet another massive delay, I give you chapter 14 of Lost Causes and Broken Dreams.
Chapter 14: Promises Made and Promises Kept
Both canines had collapsed into an exhausted sleep after vigorously fulfilling Carol's wish to once again express their deep devotion to each other. At least for Dave, the memory of this night's lovemaking had been less ephemeral, and he was pleased to recall much of what he'd shared with Carol. Even the moments which lacked specificity were still defined by the intermingled scent of their love for each other, and the undulating howls that he had let loose on more than one occasion. He grinned at that; far from her usual chastisement of his giving into wolfish instincts, his mate had added her own screams to the chorus on more than one occasion. Exhausted though they were, both had been happy to awake before the alarm the next morning, and after some quiet snuggling, both had been more than willing to continue on from where they had previously left off.
As they laid intertwined in the now truly destroyed remains of their bed, basking in the afterglow of their exertions, the first signs of sunrise were beginning to peek through the curtains, but neither mammal made any move to part from each other. Carol had made good on her comment from the previous evening, and was resting her head on Dave's chest with her eyes closed as she listened to the steady beating of his heart. They both knew that there were only a few minutes left before their daily responsibilities would need to take over, but for now they simply reveled in each other's presence.
Dave wrapped his arms around Carol, and reached up to stroke the fur on the top of her head. She sighed contentedly, as he worked his clawtips through the velvety soft patch at the base of her ears. They both had fairly stiff outer coats, with a much softer undercoat concealed beneath, but in several places, this became exposed, and they each enjoyed both the sensation of being groomed, and being the groomer.
"Do we have to get up?" Carol asked mournfully as she cracked open her eyes and glanced over at the clock. They still had a full ten minutes together, but the expression on her face spoke volumes regarding the insufficiency of the time remaining to fulfill her desires for Dave.
Dave chuckled at her expression, and continued to groom her fur. "I don't want to, hon, but we both have places to be, and other mammals that need us." he paused in his ministrations, and tilted her head so he could look into her green eyes. "You deserve better than this, Carol." he said sadly to his mate. "I wish we could run away for a week; just the two of us, far away from the big city." He closed his eyes and pictured the two of them, sheltered away on some tropical island, far away from their responsibilities, save those they gladly had for each other.
His revery was cut short when a sharp pain on his nose shattered his fantasy, and his eyes snapped open just in time to see Carol's paw draw back from his snout; the digit that she had used to flick the sensitive organ still extended. There was no malice in her eyes though, merely the twinkle of amusement that so frequently colored their surface when the two of them were together.
"No more of that, Dave," she said with a wry smile on her muzzle. "I knew what I was signing up for years ago, and I don't want any of that to change." She took a moment to resettle herself on his chest before looking back towards him. "Would I like the chance to disappear with you to some far off paradise? Of course I would." Her expression took on a more sultry look as she ran her paws through the fur of his chest ruff. "Who knows, I might even let you leave the bedroom for an hour or two."
Dave chuckled at her statement, and wrapped his arms around her. Carol continued to gaze down at him, and she sighed contentedly at his embrace. "But that's not who you are, and it's not who I am...at least not anymore; not since I met you. " she said softly, as if she was hesitant to admit that last part. "You showed me that a mammal could truly care about a complete stranger at a time when I was living in a very dark place. You helped me change for the better, and you need to keep helping whoever needs you. Please don't ever forget that, Dave."
Dave was taken aback by her words, and he hugged her all more more tightly in reply. "You've changed me forever too, Love," was all he could think to say in reply, his voice slightly husky as the implication of Carol's words struck home. "Without you, I would have fallen apart years ago. You showed me just how strong a mammal can be; to never back down when you are in the right."
Carol shook her head, and looked back up towards him. "What a difference a week can make," she said, realizing that their relationship had once again deepened. "We've been together for seven years, but that's the first time I've admitted that to anyone."
Dave hugged his mate tightly once more. "I think we've both known the truth for a long time, Carol. We've changed each other for the better, and we've walked side by side for every step along the way," he said, and a smile crested his muzzle as he thought back to a somewhat familiar moment from their past. "Do you remember the first night we were together?"
Carol's ears pinned back at the memory, and she looked away, her expression almost the polar opposite of Dave's, "I remember almost killing you when I woke up, if that's what you're referring to." she said quietly.
Dave gave a small chuckle, and reached out to tilt her head back so that her eyes could see his own. "No, Carol, that's not what I remember at all. You woke up in the arms of another mammal, and it brought you back to the dark place that used to be your life. Change takes time, and what he had done to you," Dave's voice hardened slightly at the context of his words, and he would never utter that mammals name again if he could, but he forced himself to soften his voice as he continued, "was your only frame of reference for that situation."
Carol's ears were still pulled back against her skull, but she met his gaze. "And you didn't almost kill me, Carol. Do you remember what I said to you when it looked like you were going to strike?"
She nodded her head, her eyes glistening as they filled with tears. "I'm here, Love" she said, her voice husky with emotion.
"And I always will be," he said as he reached down to wipe away the lone tear that escaped her eye. "Just those three words was all it took to draw you out of the darkness." He could see that she was considering his words, and her ears began to relax. "Right from the start, we were changing each other, and for the better, Carol. We've never needed words to know that, but giving those thoughts form proves just how intertwined we've become. I'm yours, Love. Now and forever."
Carol shook her head, but smiled warmly at her mate, and then moved her paws up Dave's body, placing them on his cheek ruffs, and pulling their muzzles together in a brief kiss. When they separated, Carol nuzzled against his cheek, sighing contentedly. "Oh my sweet wolf," she said with no trace of the previous sadness in her voice. "Don't ever let the caring part of you change. Just promise me that."
He returned her affectionate nuzzling for a moment before replying, "You have my word, Carol...but I did mean what I said about you deserving a break from this." Carol pushed herself up, and looked down at Dave with a disapproving glare; her right paw moving towards his snout with her index digit already in position to deliver another flick.
Dave laughed at the gesture, and shook his head, "I don't mean now, Love, but hopefully soon. Doug is scheming up some plan to get some more mammals at the Centre, and if that pans out, we might be able to make that particular fantasy a reality."
Carol sat back on Dave's chest, straddling him as she cocked her head to the side. "The Centre's been trying to get more staff for years. What's changed this time?" she asked, knowing all too well the staffing difficulties that plagued the Centre.
Dave shook his head, "I have no idea, but he seems very confident this time around. We will have a new physician coming on staff in a few months, but she's a special case." Seeing Carol's expression become more confused, he clarified, "Melissa is one of Doug's eldest does, and will be wrapping up her residency soon. Apparently she's been planning on joining us for years, but we can't expect Doug's family to fill all the positions we need. Having three of the Wilsons on staff is a major boon, but I can tell that it's taking a toll on Doug."
After taking a moment to consider things, Carol nodded her head, "Well, I'll be hoping for some progress," she said, as her gaze became distant, and Dave could tell that she was engaging in the same type of fantasy that he'd had earlier. "A week on a private island with just the two of us sounds like Heaven."
Dave laughed at her comment, "A private island? You certainly dream big, Love."
Her initial reply was a snort of derision, as she once again focused on his face, "Like we need to care about money," she stated simply, the amusement in her voice coming through clearly. "Do you ever bother to read the reports that Beverly sends us?"
Dave chuckled and shook his head in reply. As was the case for many mammals at the Honeywell Centre, Beverly Lennis was their accountant, and she managed many of the staff's investment portfolios. He knew that she issued regular reports on their financial situation, but after the first few years, Dave had ceased paying them any serious attention. The truth was that, with the exception of the house, they managed to live mainly off of Carol's salary, and had been hoarding away the majority of Dave's more considerable earnings from the get go. They could both retire that instant...but neither one was willing to give up on careers that they loved, no matter how tempting their occasional fantasies might be.
"Has the balance changed from way more than we'll ever need?", he asked jokingly. His earlier comments to Jim regarding his position on some mammal's seemingly endless pursuit of wealth flashing through his mind.
"...after a certain point, money just becomes a way of keeping score in a game that I don't even want to play."
The coyote on his chest sighed disapprovingly, but then laughed at the situation. "That's still the case, Dave. I don't think we could outright buy a private island...at least not a big one, but renting one for a week, hell even a month, would be no problem."
"Then your wish is my command, Love," Dave said before pulling Carol down into, what he had intended to be a more protracted kiss, but a harsh beeping from the nightstand forestalled any of those plans. Both he and Carol groaned as they separated themselves, and began the process of preparing for the day ahead.
As he watched his mate make her way to their ensuite and saw her paw motioning back in his direction, her digit beckoning for him to join her, as was their custom. He filed away Carol's fantasy into the back of his mind as he joined her.
"It wouldn't hurt to do some research into tropical retreats...and find out what Doug's plans are in the meantime," he thought to himself as he made to follow Carol. Looking back over his shoulder, he marveled at the destruction they had inflicted over the past two nights, but he smiled at the memory of those events. They had once again shown that they would be by each other's side from this day forth.
"And I'm going to make that vow publicly very soon," he said quietly, as he heard the sounds of the shower turn on.
For now however, reality needed to take hold for another day. He might get his first glimpse at the genome of the Rey's pup, and the prospect simultaneously filled him with a sense of wonder and dread.
Carol's earlier words came filtering back to him as he pulled back the shower curtain; Carol having already jumped in was in the process of wetting down her coat. He smiled as he stepped under the cascading water to join her. He would keep caring about every mammal who walked through the Centre's doors, but for now, his eyes were filled with the visage of the one mammal he cared about more than anything in the world.
It hadn't taken them long to get themselves prepared for their day, and Carol pulled into the Honeywell Centre just before seven. As always, Jim was waiting over by the smoker's corner, but the antelope could wait a few more minutes while he and Carol said their goodbyes for the day. Dave smiled as Carol stopped in front of the main entrance, then looked over to him, her intention and desire plainly evident in her gaze.
He didn't need much in the way of encouragement, and he leaned over to cup her cheeks with his paws before pressing his muzzle against hers. He gave a sharp intake of breath when she opened her jaws slightly, and hooked his fangs with her own, effectively locking the two of them together, as their tongues intertwined. The corners of his mouth twitched upwards into what anyone would have defined as a goofy grin as he returned his mates affection with equal vigor.
If the two could had been watching from the outside, they would have seen Jim start a timer on his watch before focusing his attention on the cigarette in his hoof. The antelope giving a quiet laugh and shaking his head at the pair's heated antics.
Carol held the two of them together for a few minutes before finally releasing her hold on her mate, and the two reluctantly separated. The impish glow was readily apparent in her gaze and she reached up to stroke Dave's cheek; his own paw rising the rest on her own.
"And now we have to go our separate ways again," Carol said with a shake of her head, but the smile never left her muzzle. "Get a move on, Dave, and do what you need to to help your patients."
Dave smiled as he released Carol's paw and moved to open the door. "You know I will, Love. I don't know if we'll be able to actually help, but I promise you I will not stop trying." Just before he opened the door, he remembered Tess' request from the previous day.
"One more thing, Carol. Tess wanted to get together for dinner on Monday," he said, and another smile spread over Carol's muzzle at the prospect. Although she, Tess, and Hank were friends, it was their son, Jordan, who had melted the coyote's heart. When the kit had learned what Carol's job entailed, she had risen to hero status with the young kit. To say that the eight year old arctic fox was a martial arts fanatic was an understatement, and he would no doubt want to show his Auntie Carol the latest belt he had earned from the dojo where he had been training for a few years now...and probably also show her a new technique or two.
Carol freely offered various pointers during these meetings, and refrained from expressing her usual derision with regards to sport martial arts. For a kit like Jordan, the training and discipline was enough, and she recognized that...much to the relief of Tess and Hank, who knew better than most what Carol's training normally involved.
"That sounds perfect!" Carol said, not even trying to hide the delight in her voice. "Did she suggest a place?"
"Not yet, but I'll call her today and work out the details," He replied, and considered the question for a moment. "Given that Jordan and Hank will be coming, it's probably just going to be something casual."
Carol nodded in understanding. The two of them weren't ones to frequent fancy establishments outside of a special occasion, and without a doubt, their favored haunt was Mac's, so the idea of just a simple evening out with friends was a welcome option. He held up one digit before continuing, "Be warned though, Tess reeealy wants to talk shop with me, as my impossible patients are also hers."
Her eyes widened at the news, but then she sighed theatrically and shook her head at the wolf. "I know better than to get between the two of you when it involves your patients, but don't think I'm going to let you put the rest of us into boredom-induced comas."
"Thanks for understanding, Love," He sighed theatrically before finally opening the door and stepping out. "Time to get things started I suppose."
She nodded in approval, but snorted in amusement before placing both paws on the wheel, "You know you love the challenge," Carol said simply, but her words resonated with Dave, and he knew them to be true. "Remember, I'll pick you up at seven," she paused for a moment before looking back towards him, "...and thanks for letting me in, Dave; for letting me help."
"You said it best, Carol. We're in this together, and thanks for being there," he paused momentarily as his gaze drifted over to the main entrance of the Centre. "I think this one is going to hurt more than most."
Carol's smile slipped slightly as she shook her head at her mate, "They all hurt you, Dave, but that's what makes you who you are. Just remember, that I'm not going anywhere. Do what you need to do, and I'll be there to drag you back from the edge."
The smile returned to Dave's muzzle as he nodded towards Carol, just as she revved the engine in warning. He laughed and shut the door. She put the car in gear, and rocketed out of the parking lot, heavily burdening the suspension as she swiftly made the turn towards Savannah Central Command.
He knew Carol's day was going to be filled with meetings more than anything else. In fact, she only had one sparring session with the other AMCQC trainers, something that she was very much looking forward to due to the required attendance of a particular cheetah warrant officer. Dave smiled as he thought back to her words over breakfast.
"If that cat thinks I'm through with him, he's dumber than I thought. If Taft doesn't spoil my fun...and hasn't already busted him down to private, his voice is going to be at least an octave higher for the next few days."
Oddly enough, for all their talk about him being such a caring mammal, he had taken no small bit of pleasure from Carol's words. He knew Carol well enough that she wouldn't take things too far, but Miles had pushed things way past the point of reasonable civility, and everyone knew it.
"The cat needs to move on," he thought to himself as he raised a paw towards Jim, who was fiddling with his watch as he approached. "and if it takes another rather painful lesson from the body of his desires to get it through his thick skull, then so be it."
Jim once again had a wry smile on his muzzle as Dave approached, and the antelope tapped his hoof against his watch before taking another draw from his cigarette. "Only four minutes and twenty three seconds today, Dave," he said with a short chuckle. "Have the fires of passion burned out so soon?"
"Har, har, Jim." Dave said as he shook his head. "Believe me, the passion is still very much there." He paused momentarily and his smile broadened at the memory of the previous two evenings. "Burning to such an extent that we have now had to order a new bed...again." Dave raised an eyebrow with a smug grin.
Jim gave a bark of laughter at the comment. It was rare, but not unheard of, for the two of them to engage in such banter. They had been friends ever since Dave had started up at the Centre, and their mates had grown close during the intervening years as well. Both Carol and Diana had become particularly fond of the traditional girl's night out that Laura, Cat, and Sara organized on occasion for the Centre's female staff.
Their first night out had been Carol's first spa experience, but it had not been the last; her and Diana made it a point to indulge themselves at least a few times a year. After amicably putting up with Jim and his schedule for so long, Dave was certain that they deserved it.
Jim shook his head at Dave, and took a final draw from his cigarette before flicking the filter away...a crime for which Dave had received many a flick on the nose for from Carol when he'd been brazen enough to do it in front of her. "Why am I not surprised in the slightest?" he asked before pausing and looking Dave over from ear tips to toes and giving a low whistle as he came to a realization, "...and you're not joking at all, are you?"
Dave shrugged, and held out his paws in supplication. "What can I say? You were right about how very physical we can be," he conceded scandalously.
"Ah, the wonders of LBC," Jim said, his voice taking on an almost wistful quality.
The term was unfamiliar to Dave, who cocked his head to the side in confusion, "LBC?"
"Love Before Calves," the antelope replied, and a smile spread over his muzzle. "Trust me, things get a bit more…" Jim paused as he searched for the right word. "...clandestine once you suddenly have some very curious additions to the family. There has been many a time that Diana and I have had to come up with some excuse when we've been interrupted."
Dave gave a bark of laughter, but then grew contemplative. "Crap, that could be a very tricky thing for Carol and I in the future." He scratched at the back of his head a bit bashfully as he went on. "For canids, there's not really a quick way to wrap things up if someone has a bad dream." He shook his head at the thought, but then gave another laugh. "I guess we should think up some family friendly euphemisms before that time comes."
Jim chuckled, and held up his hooves in the universal sign for quotation marks. "'Special Hugs', was the first term we used, but we've had to think fast on occasion, and thankfully the Spirits didn't see fit to make the process quite so...protracted for cervids." Jim shook his head as he reminisced on the trials of being a parent. "Medea knows the truth...and is more than a little horrified at the prospect of her parents continuing to have sex, but that is the way of nature. Poor Frank is getting to the age where it's time for 'The Talk', but even still, it's a challenge to fit it into our lives."
He reached out and placed a hoof on Dave's shoulder and gave the wolf a slight shake. "The two of you will figure it out. It's just another trial by fire that all parents have to go through...but I gotta admit that I do not envy some of the special problems you two are going to have."
Dave looked at his friend somewhat askance, and Jim gave another bark of laughter. "Do you think that the mating tie is going to be your biggest hurdle, Dave?" he asked, the amusement radiating from his tone. He began to pace back and forth and raised one digit when he next spoke, "Let's see, your pups are going to be keen nosed," he held up a second digit, "have excellent night vision," another digit was raised, "acute hearing." He stopped and looked back towards Dave, who's face was etched with the dawning realization as to just how daunting the challenge for him and Carol would be. "And to top it off, you're right. You and Carol will be...indisposed for what? Fifteen minutes to a half hour?"
The wolf nodded dopily as the gears of his mind ground together in realization that he'd never really considered these particular ramifications before, and Jim chuckled at his friend's plight. "Yeah, you're fucked...or actually, I guess you won't be. You'll figure it out, everybody does, somehow. For now just enjoy what you two have together."
Dave shook himself a bit to help snap him back to reality. "Gee thanks for that, Jim. At least that particular milestone is still off in the future." Looking back towards the Centre, he sighed for an entirely different reason. "Any other world shattering revelations you want to share before I go in?"
Jim shook his head in reply, "No real surprises last night, but it wasn't uneventful. Ms. Robins and Ms. Paddington should be ready to be discharged." A frown formed on his muzzle as he considered the couple. "The Paddingtons weren't doing well last night, and Robert was with them for hours. I don't think either of them got any sleep."
Dave's ears pinned back at the news. Robert Cox was the night shift's grief counselor, and the bear was probably still in their room if things were that bad. He wouldn't leave the mourning couple until either Ellen or Nancy arrived at the Centre, and maybe not even then.
The antelope gave himself a shake. "The genome sequencing for the Rey's will be done today. Percy has the assemblies done, and they're workable this time around. At least enough coverage to start looking for any real issues." The antelope gestured up towards the Rey's room, and his voice was less than confident when he next spoke. "We'll also have results from the single cell runs from the fetus today, and that's going to be an utter nightmare."
"We can't put too much faith in that run though, Jim," Dave said quietly, already going over the analyses that would need to be rushed if they were going to have a chance at saving the hybrid. "The technique inserts just too many errors for us to really know what issues she's going to have."
"True, but it's all we have for now. Any idea when that Sequel system is getting here?" Jim asked, knowing full well that they would need to get the new equipment up and running as soon as possible.
Dave looked at his wristwatch and shrugged, "Should be arriving any minute now. We paid a premium to be their first install of the day."
It would appear that his words were more prophetic than he had anticipated, as his ears twitched at the diesel rumble of an approaching semi. Jim noticed the wolf's subconscious movement, and he trained his own ears, trying to catch what had set the wolf off.
It was only a pawful of seconds before the truck turned into the Centre's parking lot, and began the process of backing into the loading dock located to the side of the main structure. Both Dave and Jim shared a glance, neither one managing to hide their excitement at the prospect of a new toy for the lab. This feeling was somewhat reduced, as both mammals knew the seriousness of the situation for the Rey's, but this could represent a huge step towards being able to help the pup.
The two quickly jogged over to meet the delivery mammals, noticing that a second smaller vehicle was pulling into the Centre's parking lot. From the vivid PackBio howling wolf's head logo affixed to the side of the van, it was obvious that this was the installation team.
"Thank the Spirits, the Celestials, the Makers...hell anyone who can give us an edge here," Jim said as they approached the semi; the two physicians made it to the loading dock just as the the driver, a hulking rino, stepped out of the large cab, and looked towards them.
"One of you a Doctor Hawthorne?" the driver asked, as an equally large buffalo exited from the other side of the cab and made his way towards the back of the truck.
Dave raised his paw in reply. "That would be me." he said, and the rhino motioned for him to join his partner at the rear of the truck, before extending his hoof in greeting.
"I'm Ryan, and this is Josh," he said as he shook Dave's paw and Jim's hoof. "You'll need to sign off that the delivery is intact before we can move it for you, but we'll have it uncrated in a jiffy, and then the install team will be able to get to work."
The group quickly made their way up to the top of the loading platform as the buffalo opened the rear door. The the hydraulic lift hummed as it extended, creating a bridge between the rear of the trailer and the loading dock itself.
The single crate contained within the semi was taller than Dave, and he was pleased to note that it had been very well secured during transit. The bison quickly went about releasing the numerous straps that secured the sequencer before motioning for Dave to inspect the packaging.
Dave scrutinized the various shock and angle sensitive stickers that adorned every side of the crate. When he struggled to figure out how to check the indicators on the top of the crate, the bison chuckled and retrieved his smartphone; taking a picture of the top, and offering the oversized screen to Dave. Everything appeared okay and it looked like the unit had been handled very carefully for it's entire trip, with only a single indicator showing an acceptably miniscule ten degree tilt that had occurred at some point during transit.
"Looks good," he said, and took the clipboard that Ryan had retrieved from the wall of the trailer. He signed off on the delivery, then returned his gaze to the crate. Inside there was quite metaphorically a literal ray of hope for his patients.
A brief image of cascading mitosis flashed through his mind and the sense of urgency he felt almost took his breath away. "We need this up and running ASAP."
A voice from the loading dock drew his attention away from the crated sequencer, "Doctor Hawthorne?"
Looking back towards the loading dock, Dave noticed a small group of mammals dressed in PackBio monogrammed T-shirts. A dark grey wolf about a head shorter than Dave was at the lead, and had extended his paw in greeting to the other wolf. Dave nodded and made his way over, accepting the offered paw.
"I'm Doctor Adrian Phillips, lead installer and trainer for PackBio," the wolf said before motioning with his paw to the rest of his team. "This is Debbie Thompson, and Nate Knight," The snow leopard, and the rat perched on her shoulder both nodded in turn and offered their own paws in greeting.
"Yes, I'm Doctor David Hawthorne, and this is Doctor Jim Cerval," he said after shaking the snow leopard's paw and offering a blunted claw tip to the rat. "I'm glad to see all of you here. I realize that this is a bit of an odd situation, but we need to get this unit operational immediately."
The wolf nodded, and motioned for the delivery mammals to take charge of the unit. "I understand that this is going to be set up in a BSL three facility?" he asked, obviously having been fully briefed on the specifics of the install.
"Yes, we'll have to uncrate it in the airlock and then move it into the lab proper once we can give it a quick decon scrub," Dave said as he moved out of the way of the larger mammals. The pair didn't bother with a handcart, and simply lifted the crate using the installed handles. "Are all of you trained in the entry and exit procedures for this safety level?"
Adrian motioned towards his install team, "The three of us are, so we'll have to move the unit inside the lab once it's been uncrated."
Dave nodded, grateful that he wouldn't have to go over the procedures with the install team, "We have some large mammals in the lab already who can help. How long until you'll have things set up?" he asked as he motioned for the group to follow him into the Centre.
"About two hours, and then we'll start the training," the other wolf stated simply, and Dave sighed at the delay. "The training will take about six to eight hours, and then we'll do a validation run. You should be good to start using it by tomorrow."
Dave's ears pinned back at the timeline, and he turned to face Doctor Phillips, shaking his head. "All the lab mammals went over all the protocols and literature yesterday, and we need to skip the formal training for now," he stated simply, noticing the other wolf's eyes widen at the seriousness of his voice. "Also, we won't be making a validation run. The libraries have already been prepped, and we're going to load them the moment you get that thing initialized."
"Without the validation run, we won't be able to guarantee that the output is reliable," Adrian stated cautiously, looking between Dave and Jim. Seeing both their stern expressions, he tilted his head slightly in confusion. "You act like this is life or death."
"It is," Jim said simply, "and we're willing to accept the risk that something goes wrong because we just don't have a day to spare."
"How many of these units have failed the validation run?" Dave asked, already knowing the answer from his previous research.
"None so far, but this will also void your warranty, Doctor Hawthorne. I'm going to need a written statement that you affirmatively understand that," Adrian replied slowly, and the shocked expression on his face remained as both Dave and Jim chuckled in obvious amusement.
"Doctor Phillips," Dave said shaking his head at the situation, "We would purchase and sacrifice ten of these units to the Celestials themselves if it got us the data we are after."
The shocked expressions on the assembled mammals was obvious, but Dave continued on, "Hell, I will personally take a sledgehammer to it if you tell me it could improve the odds by even the tiniest of margins. We're getting our patient's sequence data within the next forty eight hours come hell or high water. We already have a control sample that we'll run on one flow cell, so we'll be able to validate it on the fly." He waved a paw dismissively towards the crated unit. "We still have three more of them on backorder even if we do screw things up between now and then."
"You're… You're going to have four Sequel systems? Here? In this tiny place?" Nate asked in unabashed disbelief.
Dave nodded, but there just wasn't time to go into a lengthy explanation, "Yes, we will, but for now, our only concern is this one." As he turned to lead the group towards the elevator, that image of exponential cell division flashed through his mind once more and steeled his resolve to make haste. "We need to get moving. I am completely serious about minutes counting in this instance. Every cell division just makes our job exponentially more difficult, and right now, the data that this system can generate is the only chance we have to save a life."
As he ushered the group into the suddenly quiet elevator, he once again made a mental promise to do everything in his power to help the Rey's, and his ears pinned back as he fought the sudden urge to growl. Formless as his enemy was, he was ready to fight it with every fiber of his being.
"And even if it costs me a every cent I have, I'll write the fucking check myself if it can save their pup." he thought to himself as the doors closed.
Once the surprise had worn off, the installation team had managed to start setting things up without further incident. They had been equally surprised to see that literally everything they could have possibly needed was already in place and waiting. All that was required was to initialize the system, and run through the startup procedures. There had been some additional incredulous gazes directed towards the sequencing facilities that the Centre already had. It would be rare for such a small clinic to have examples of all the major sequencing and omics-related hardware, but to have multiple units for each platform was utterly unheard of.
Debbie had given a low whistle once she entered the lab and saw the main genomics portion of the facility. "Five BGSeqs, three S-fives, and you're going to have four Sequels?" The snow leopard shook her head in disbelief, the shock clearly visible in her eyes, "I've seen core facilities with less than this. How can you afford all of it?"
A low rumble of laughter came from their right, and Donnie strode over from his workstation, offering his bent elbow in greeting, handshakes being discouraged in the heightened biosafety level of the lab. "We also have a pair of the old pyrosequencing units in the back that we rarely use anymore. As for how we can afford this, we're privately funded through a endowment from Doctors David and Elana Honeywell...a very sizable one. I'm Doctor Widelhorn, one of the PIs at the Centre."
The PackBio team bumped elbows in turn, "Good to meet you, Doctor, I'm Doctor Adrian Phillips, and this is Debbie Thompson and Nate Knight," Adrian began, motioning back towards Dave with his paw, "Just to confirm what Doctor Hawthorne has informed us, we're going to be skipping the validation and training, and moving right into a sequencing run for your patients?"
Donnie nodded his head vigorously, "Yes. As I'm sure Dave has mentioned, time is of the essence here." He motioned towards the Sequel system with one hoof, just as Arnold was settling it into place with the help of Debbie. "Just get it up and running as soon as you can. We'll take responsibility for any issues that come up." Donnie gave a sigh, and looked the grey wolf in the eyes. "So long as we can get three genomes out of this unit, it will be worth any cost. Please trust us on this."
Doctor Phillips nodded his head in understanding, "If it's this important, we'll have the unit up and running in about 90 minutes." The wolf looked thoughtful for a moment before continuing, "Are you going to be doing a de novo assembly for your patients, or combining the BGSeq data with the output from the Sequel?"
Donnie considered the request for a moment before his eyes widened in understanding, "We're willing to go either route, and we'll have over one hundred fold coverage from the short read data. We really just need the Sequel data for gap closing." The bison looked back towards the sequencer, and motioned with one hoof. "How much time can we save, if we just generate enough reads for the gap closing?"
"A lot," Adrian said simply. "We can get you up and running with a twenty four hour protocol that should give you enough data for most mammalian species' genome sizes. Once you get that, you can start a full run for all three patients and go for the full runtime, which will take a couple of days for three patients."
Donnie nodded after a moment, "Then that's what we'll do." Thunderously clapping his hooves together, he drew the attention of everyone in the lab towards him. "Everyone! The installation team now has top priority. Give them whatever they need. Jason, are the fetal cells ready for extraction?"
"Unfortunately not for another twelve hours by my estimation," Jason stated with a noticeably disappointed tone to his voice. The deer was obviously wanting a chance to examine the impossible hybrid too...even if for selfish reasons, and Dave was glad to note that there was at least some kind of interest from him. "Unless we want to delay the run, we should focus on the father's genome for now, but as soon as we're able, we should do a second quick run on the fetal DNA before we tie up the machine for days."
"No, we'll start the father's run ASAP," Donnie stated after a moment. "I'll have the initial assembly for the single cell runs later on today, and we'll be able to tear into the parent's sequences in a couple of hours at least. We'll use that data to target the regions of concern that we can identify and then use the data as it comes in. That will have to do for now. Everyone, to work!"
The pronouncement was met with a flurry of activity as the assembled mammals went about their required tasks. It was fortunate that the system was designed to sit on the floor, so no heavy lifting was going to be required. The installation team had the unit opened up within moments, and got to work getting the delicate fluidics and detectors prepared for duty.
For Dave and Jim, their work here was done, and the pair left the lab in Donnie's capable hooves. After showering and donning fresh scrubs, the pair made their way back up to the main floor, stopping off in the staff locker room so that Dave could retrieve his lab coat, and Jim could change back into his street clothes and head home for the day.
As they exited the room, Dave placed his paw on Jim's shoulder, "Sleep well, Jim," he said simply, and the antelope gave a tired chuckle in reply.
"I'm certainly going to try, but waiting on today's results is going to make that difficult to say the least." He looked back towards Dave as he started to walk towards the entrance. "Text me when the results start coming in, Dave. I'll want to start doing what I can as soon as I can."
Dave smiled and nodded, "I'll text you, but not until you've had a couple of hours to rest, at least." He laughed slightly and shook his head before continuing, "Diana would have my head mounted on a plaque above your fireplace if I let you burn yourself out."
Jim gave a bark of laughter at the comment before waving a hoof towards the smiling wolf, "You're one to talk, Dave...but thanks."
Dave once again shook his head, and began to make his way to the nurses station to see if there were any patients for him to see before Abby's committee meeting. As he passed the staff lounge, he heard Abby's voice from within, and he poked his head inside to see what the wolf was up to. Normally, she'd already be down in the lab, but if he was right, she was stewing in her own juices in anticipation of the committee meeting that would be starting in just over an hour.
As expected, the she wolf was standing by one of the tables with her notebook in front of her. She wasn't speaking loudly, but Dave's sensitive ears had no issues discerning her words, even from a distance.
"As we see here, the recombination events on the short arm of chromosome 4 from the patient, resulted in a partial deletion of the GHR gene. Fortunately this mutation was compensated for by the other copy of chromosome 4, which was intact."
Dave recognized the topic of this current portion of her talk. She had summarized it at the infamous ZMA conference...and he also noted that she had failed to respond to his presence in the slightest.
Dave chuckled at the sight which found familiarity in his own memories of graduate school. He cleared his throat to announce his presence. "Did you remember to define GHR, Abby?" he asked, noticing the slight starting motion from the other wolf.
She turned on him, her face showing a slight snarl, "Damn it, Dave! Don't do that!" Her visage quickly reverted to one of worry and she sighed before turning back to her computer, her digits working their way over the keyboard, "...and no, I didn't remember to define it. It's a common gene, and everyone on the committee knows about growth hormone receptors."
"Never take for granted what your audience does and does not know," Dave said as he walked over and placed a paw on the younger wolf's shoulder. "We're so used to these terms, that we sometimes forget that not everyone in the room is a molecular biologist. Just like when writing papers, define acronyms and abbreviations at least once...unless someone waaaay senior to you already decided that it's okay to just use the short form."
Abby groaned and took a seat at the table, covering both eyes with her paws as she rested them on the table's surface. "I just want this to be over so I can get back down to the lab," she said dejectedly.
"Look at the bright side," Dave began, "By the time we're done with the meeting, the Sequel system will be set up and ready to go." Switching to a more supportive tone, he added, "and you are going to do fine, Abby. You really do know this stuff better than anyone else. Just be confident, and you'll get through it fine."
"The logical part of my brain knows that," Abby said, as she lifted her head to look towards Dave, "It's every other part of it that's telling me to panic."
Dave laughed at the admission, "That's completely normal too." He shrugged as he considered ways to ease his grad student's fears. "Look, by this point, could you deliver this talk without even looking at the slides?"
Abby snorted in amusement, "I could deliver it half asleep, and even after an all night bar crawl."
"Then you have nothing to worry about," he said confidently. "No one is looking for you to fail, Abby. We're all there to help you get through this."
She shook her head, but then returned her gaze to the screen in front of her, "Thanks, Dave. Like I said, the logical part of me knows that. I just wish there was a way to make the rest of me shut the hell up about it."
With that, she made a dismissive gesture with one of her paws without looking back at him, "I want to run through this a couple more times, but I'll see you at the meeting."
Dave nodded in both understanding and sympathy, and made to exit the lounge after filling a wolf-sized mug with fresh coffee.
"Time to really put a start to the day", he thought to himself as he took a sip and made his way to the nurse's station.
Both Sara and Cat were already in attendance, Cat being in the process of handing over a set of charts to the bobcat. "Ms. Jones will need to be admitted overnight for observation," the jaguar said somberly. It was yet another failure for the Centre, but they all knew that moving on was the only solution for them. "She definitely miscarried at home, and we'll need to keep an eye on things given the hemorrhaging she reported."
Cat looked over towards Dave as he approached, her eyebrow arching as the shifted her gaze towards the wall mounted clock. "So glad you could join us, Dave," she said after a moment, more amused than anything else. "What kept you, or do I have to guess?"
"Nothing nefarious or titillating, Cat," he said raising his paws in a placating gesture, "The new sequencer arrived just when I did. Jim and I went down to the lab to get the installation moving."
His eyes shifted upwards towards the location of the Rey's room, "It's going to give us our best hope for helping the Rey's, so I figured rounds could wait a few minutes."
The two cats shared a knowing glance towards each other, knowing full well the enormity of the task before them, "I guess that's a valid excuse, but here you go," Sara said, as she handed over a patient's chart. "One couple is waiting in exam two."
"On it!" Dave said, as he leafed through the chart.
"Well this is an odd couple to say the least," he mused to himself while he took in the details. Interspecies hybrids between warthogs and almost any other species were truly rare finds, but that appeared to be the case here from the initial lab results.
In keeping with his normal habit, he knocked on the door to the examination room before letting himself in. To his surprise, the couple didn't appear to be experiencing the normal stress and fear that a visit to the Centre normally involved, or rather they were engaged in a seemingly normal conversation, and their outwardly appearance was one of calm.
Ms. Trotters was already seated on the examination table, the warthog seemingly at ease, but Dave's nose twitched as he picked up on the sharp odor of fear coming off from her. It was nowhere near the levels that he had become accustomed to patients exhibiting when they had to walk through the Centre's doors, but it was still present.
Mr. Trotters was the first to look towards the new arrival, and there was sincere happiness in his eyes as he hopped off his stool and offered his hoof to Dave. The boar was a fairly average example of his species in Zootopia, and aside from some darker pigmentation,he could have passed for a native of any number of districts in Zootopia.
"Good morning, Doctor," he said without a hint of apprehension as Dave took the offered hoof in his paw. "I'm Adam and this is my wife, Taona."
"Just Ta, please, Doctor." she said in a heavily accented tongue, as she offered her hoof from the table, the examination gowns provided to patients, not being overly amiable to constant repositioning...at least while maintaining any sense of modesty. Her accent was certainly foreign, but not one that Dave recognized.
"Good to meet you both," Dave said as he shook the sow's hoof. "I'm Doctor Hawthorne, one of the attending physicians at the Honeywell Centre. From your chart, I can see you were referred by your family physician," he looked back to the chart to jog his memory. "Doctor Sane from Sahara Square?"
Ms. Trotters nodded her head, "Yes, when he got the lab results, he asked us to head over here as soon as we could." She motioned with her hoof between her and her husband, "Both Adam and I and biochemists with Furzer Pharmaceutical, and although our wet biology is a bit rusty, we both know how toji...uh, rare, this is...and what our chances are."
That hint of fear once again wafted through the exam room; this time coming from both the mammals in front of him. If either mammal took notice of his twitching nose, they made no comment about it. They too would have been able to pick up the scent coming from each other, unless of course they were already scent blind to it.
"I understand Ms. Trotters...Ta," he corrected himself, wanting the parit to be as comfortable as possible, even if it did decrease the professional distance between him and his patients. "While we wait for our test results to come back, I'd like to administer a full physical on you, as well as take a sample so we can work up you and your husbands genome."
When he saw the questioning glances that the pair shared, he elaborated. "You're quite correct that hybrids between your two species are very rare, but they are not unheard of. If this is a true pregnancy, we'd like to be able to rule out as many genetic conditions as we can, or at least get some idea of what we're looking at." He tried to keep his tone level and pleasant, as he prepared to brace the couple for the most likely outcome. "At the very least, we'll be able to determine if there are any real red flags, and can determine the best path for the two of you."
His omission of the fetus was a calculated one, and he could tell the both mammals understood what he meant. The happy facade on Adam's face cracked slightly, as he reached out and gripped the hoof of his mate.
Dave gave the couple a moment before continuing, "I don't want to discourage you, and we really will need to wait on some further testing, but you need to prepare yourself for both the best and worst possibilities. We will do everything we can to help you and your piglet."
Ta was the first one to speak, and her voice was somewhat husky, but she nodded in understanding, "We know the odds, Doctor. I don't know if we're ready to face those odds, but we do know that Ayanmọ will need to be on our side for this to work out."
"All right then," Dave began, willing to live in ignorance of the unfamiliar term used by the sow, and motioned for Ms. Trotters to lay down on the exam table, while he went to wash his paws at the room's sink. "Adam, you're welcome to stay for the exam as long as Ta is okay with it."
The pair genuinely laughed at the comment, and Mr. Trotters moved beside his mate, and clutched her hoof in his own. "I'm not going anywhere," he said firmly, and Ms. Trotter's nodded in affirmation.
"If he tried to weasel out of helping me through this, he'll be sleeping on the couch for a month...at least!", the warthog proclaimed, but there was more amusement than malice in her voice.
Chuckling at the pair's antics, which were oh so close to those of he and Carol, he made his way to his patient, and began the physical exam. Once he had taken the usual blood pressure readings, as well as listening to her heart and lungs, Dave motioned for Ms. Trotter to scoot down to the end of the table and place her hooves into the stirrups, so that he could begin the pelvic portion of the exam.
Once he had donned a pair of examination gloves, he began to move his paw over Ta's abdomen while his other worked to manipulate the various organs of the female reproductive system so they could be felt through the abdominal wall. He was surprised that he could already make out the distended uterus, and part of him swore that he could just make out the form of the fetus itself, but that was unlikely. From the feel of things, the pregnancy was already into the second trimester, at least the early part of it. If he was palpating the fetus in the amniotic sac, it was still very small.
"Probably just over two months," he mused internally, not quite wanting yet another ember of hope to take root inside himself. He was already nursing too many of those, and he knew the risks associated with his investment should they be snuffed out. "If it's already this far along, most of the genetic issues have already worked themselves out, one way or the other."
He had just finished the abdominal portion of the exam, when a knock at the door drew his attention away from the pair. Mina, quietly entered into the exam room and handed over the test results to Dave, the knowing look in her eyes telling him what he already knew.
Flipping through the results, he confirmed that the pregnancy test was positive, "Like I needed a test to tell me that," he thought with amusement after the results from the pelvic exam.
Not seeing any red lights in the remaining test results, he motioned for Ta to sit up as he pulled a stool over to sit in front of the pair.
The smile that he wore was just that little bit more genuine as he address the couple, "From the results of the test and my exam, I can confirm that you are pregnant." He could see their faces light up at the prospect, but he raised a paw in caution, "Based on what I felt, I'd estimate the pregnancy is just over two months along. Does this match with what Dr. Sane determined?"
Ta nodded her head, "He estimated about two and a half months based on his exam as well as the timing of my last heat," the sow looked over to her husband. "We were never ones to be too careful," she paused and looked towards her husband with a more serious expression on her face, "but we will be from now on."
Adam paled slightly under his mate's gaze, but squeezed her hoof slightly, in support if nothing else.
Dave had to shake his head at the display, but he cleared his throat to bring their attention back to him. "For now, Ta, I'd like to perform a transvaginal ultrasound to get a look at the fetus. From the external exam, I didn't feel anything untowards, but there may still be issues that can't been seen from the surface." He paused for a moment to once again allow his words to sink in, "If you're more comfortable with us performing a standard ultrasound, we can also go with that procedure, but the tranvaginal approach will give us a much better resolution to work with.
"I'm fine with the transvaginal ultrasound, Doctor," she said, and surprisingly there was some humor in her voice. "You've already seen all that there is to see down there, so we may as well go for broke."
Dave and Adam laughed at the warthog's words, but Dave paused after a moment, and his expression became more serious, "Before we go on, I do need to caution you that there are still numerous hurdles in your path. You're both scientists, and you realize how wide a pairing you two represent. The fact that there are examples of hybrids between your two species is excellent news, but the total number is still vanishingly small in the grand scheme of things."
He saw some of the joy leach from their faces, but this was as much a part of the job and the examination itself; preparing these would-be parents for the awful possibility that their pregnancy was not viable. Steeling himself, and making sure his mask was in place he continued, "Based on the progress of the pregnancy, there is good deal of hope to rely on. Normally with broad hybrids, the embryos fail prior to implantation in the uterus, and the female doesn't even know she was pregnant." He motioned towards Ms. Trotter's abdomen with one paw, "By now, implantation has already occurred, and we're seeing no signs of any haemolytic incompatibility, which can be a concern in some pregnancies. You've made it past a lot of important checkpoints, but there is a long way to go before we can have you and your husband leave here with a new addition to the family." He stood, and motioned with his paw for the two to wait. "I'll go and grab the ultrasound tech, and we'll have some answers for you very soon."
As he made to leave the exam room, he stopped and snapped his digits, as he remembered something. Moving over to the supply cabinet, he retrieved two sterile swabs, and paced back over to the couple.
"While I'm here, I may as well get the cheek swabs for the genetic screening," he said, and was glad to see both mammals open their mouths in anticipation. "We already have the blood samples from both of you, but this will let us get started right away."
He mentally added to himself, "Thank the Spirits we can do the standard reference assembly and screening on these two. All our long read capacity is spoken for until we can figure out the Rey's situation."
Completing the buccal swabs, he exited the exam room and made his way to the nurse's station. Mina was at her usual post, organizing the patient's charts, but Dave was please to see Grant was also present. The rabbit was filling in some paperwork, but his long ears twitched in Dave's direction as he approached.
There was both amusement and curiosity in his eyes as he looked up towards the approaching wolf, and a wry smile appeared on his muzzle.
"I know that look, Doc," he said without preamble, "You've got the scent of something interesting...and that can be good or bad." The rabbit looked thoughtful for a moment before refocusing his gaze on Dave, "So what's it this time?"
Dave gave a shrug in reply, and his eyes were apologetic, "It's a wide cross, Sus scrofa and Phacochoerus africanus, so there's a lot that can go wrong, but from my exam, they're already into the second trimester." He handed over the chart to Grant, who quickly leafed through the pages; the buck's eyes widening in realization.
"You're concerned about congenital disorders?" he asked, already knowing the answer.
Dave nodded somberly, "Yeah, right now everything looks fine, but we need to take a close look at this one. I don't want to get the patient's hopes up until we can get a look at how things are progressing."
Grant nodded and turned back towards his workstation. In a few clicks, he was comparing the developmental notes for both species, along side the results from the exam. Dave leaned over Grant's shoulder and made some mental notes of his own.
After a moment, Grant nodded to himself and swiveled back towards Dave. "You'd know better than me, but we should be looking at most of the major skeletal structures being pretty far along in development, as will most of the organs. We'll be a bit early for all the musculature to be mature, but we should be able to see any of the major defects." He motioned back towards the chart, now sitting on the desk beside him. "Do you think the gestation period will be closer to the maternal or paternal species?"
"Based on the literature, I'd lean more towards the maternal developmental time, but probably towards the short end of the scale; say one hundred and seventy to one hundred and ninety days." He motioned for Grant to follow him, "We'll base the final estimation when we can see the fetus itself."
Grant looked askance at Dave as he motioned for them to go into exam room five, "We?" he asked with some curiosity. "You not doing it yourself is a bit of a rarity, at least with new patients, but you're going to be in the room as well? What gives?"
Dave shook his head at the comment, "This is a very wide cross, and I want to see the live image as it comes in." He shrugged as the two located the transvaginal ultrasound and began wheeling it to exam room two. "I'm not getting any warning vibes, but there's something that's tweaking my instincts here...I don't know a better way to put it, sorry."
Grant shrugged, "We all need to trust our gut every now and then." As they reached the door, Grant theatrically motioned with his paws for Dave to go in first.
He had to chuckle at the rabbits performance as he knocked on the door and let himself into the room. The couple were still in their same seats, and Dave was pleased to note that there were no signs, or scents, of any additional fear coming from the two. Part of the reason why he had left the two to themselves was to give them a chance to discuss the findings to date without another set of ears listening in. It was about a fifty/fifty chance that the opportunity would help settle the couple, and he was pleased to see that his impressions of the couple had been correct in this regard.
The pair looked up towards him as he entered, and once again, his mask was firmly in place. Motioning with his paw behind him, he motioned towards Grant, whose ears were the only thing visible behind the ultrasound unit.
"Ms. and Mr. Trotter, this is Grant WIlson, one of the ultrasound technicians here," he said without preamble, and Grant poked his head to the side and raised a paw in greeting, so that the pair could get a glance at him, rather than just a pair of disembodied ears.
"Hello Ms. and Mr. Trotter, as the Doc said, I'm Grant," he said as he positioned the machine near the foot of the bed before making his way to the sink, and hopping up onto the built in step so he could reach the taps to begin washing his paws. "And I'm going to be assisting today."
"Do you have any questions before we begin, Ta, Adam?" Dave prompted while motioning for Ms. Trotter to scoot down to the end of the table once more. "You shouldn't feel any significant discomfort from this procedure, but if you do, let us know right away."
Taona nodded as she settled into position. "Will we be able to see much at this stage?" she asked, not quite managing to hide the apprehension from her voice.
Dave made sure to keep the smile on his face as he replied, "At this stage, all the major anatomical features will be present. If I had to guess, I'd say that we're probably looking at fifteen to twenty centimeters in length, so we should have a good idea how they'll look physically."
Dave paused for a moment and flipped back through Ms. Trotter's chart. "Ta, is there a history of multiple births in your family?" he asked after a moment. His examination had only led him to believe that a single fetus was present in the warthog's womb, but multiple births were more common in porcine species, and in some cases, they were required for the pregnancy to be successful.
In the distant past, if warthog or pig female didn't have enough fetuses in a given pregnancy, they spontaneously aborted the litter, evolution having decided that the energy investment was too much for such a small clutch of young. Fortunately, this necessity had decreased over time, as civilization had developed, and child mortality rates had dropped. It still was an issue in some families, and needed to be treated with hormone replacement during the early stages of pregnancy.
Ta shook her head, "No, and I double checked with my obi...my parents when I found out I was pregnant. We haven't spoken in a long time...for many reasons." Everyone in the room could hear the relief in her voice as she spoke, "For as long as they could remember, we've only ever had one or two piglets at a time, and it was the same for Adam's family." To which the boar nodded in agreement.
"That's good to hear, although you're already past the point where it would have been a major issue, it does mean that we probably won't have yet another surprise for you two," Dave added to the amused chuckles of the assembled mammals.
Grant had finished washing his paws by this point, and after donning a pair of gloves, he performed his usual routine of gracefully hopping onto a nearby stool and gliding exactly into position at the foot of the bed. He retrieved the wand from the ultrasound unit and after placing a sterile plastic sleeve over the wand, liberally smeared with lubricant, he paused before inserting the instrument.
"Okay Ms. Trotter, we're ready to begin. Like Doctor Hawthorne said, if you feel any discomfort just raise your hoof, and I'll stop. Are you ready?" he asked, his tone more serious than his usual jovial attitude. He had learned the same lessons that all the staff had over the years. There was a time for joking, and a time for professionalism; being about to insert a probe into a patient was very much the latter scenario.
Ta, nodded her head, but gripped her husband's hoof more tightly in response. Grant nodded, and gently inserted the wand with one paw, his other already working over the controls to the ultrasound unit. It only took him a minute to locate the fetus, and both he and Dave scrutinized the monitor, looking over the small form as it came into focus.
Both he and Grant frowned when they saw the picture on the screen. Although the head and main body appeared to be normal, the left forelimb was little more than a small portion of the upper arm emerging from the shoulder, and the left leg seemed to be missing the entire lower limb, with the appendage terminating just at the knee. Oddly enough, the limbs on the right side of the body were normal.
Grant manipulated the wand and the controls effortlessly as he refocused the image on the various portions of the fetus' anatomy. Although both he and Dave were concerned by the limb malformations, the rabbit mentally checked off all of the anatomical features as he catalogued them in the system.
"Cranial structure is normal. Cerebral ventricles, cerebellar vermi and cerebellum normal. Too early for nuchal fold depth to be determined, but translucency seems good."
"Torso bone formation good, ribs are mostly cartilaginous, but the epiphyseal plates seem within the normal range."
"Heart anatomy normal, with a steady rhythm, and normal outflow. Aortic arch is fully formed, with no signs of aneurysm or distension."
"No abdominal hernia, all organs are present and appear normal; the abdominal wall is fully formed."
All together, there were over 40 features to catalogue, and Grant went about capturing images of each one as Dave looked over his shoulder, his worried expression lessening as more and more of the fetus' anatomy was found to be normal, or at least well within the range where no major contraindications were evident.
Grant made several more detailed images of the limbs, to better aid in the diagnoses of the condition, but Dave already had a good idea what had gone wrong. Once Grant was finished, and withdrew the wand, Dave caught the rabbit's eye and sought confirmation that his interpretation matched the buck's own. Grant nodded and gave Dave a surreptitious thumbs up, as he brought up the images showing the malformation in the fetus' limbs, and Dave gave a sigh of relief that they were both in agreement with the diagnoses.
Dave pulled up a stool beside the examination table and rotated the unit so that the would be parents could see, both their piglet, but also the issues that they would face.
"Ms. and Mr. Trotter," Dave began, switching back to a more professional mode of address, "There is an issue with the fetus' development, but overall it's nothing that will threaten the pregnancy."
There was relief in both their faces, but both Dave and Grant could see the shock as they took in the two deformed limbs on their child. The scent of acrid fear spiked in the small room, and even without trying, it nearly overwhelmed Dave's nose with its pungency.
"What happened to her ẹsẹ...her leg?" Ta said, her voice quiet, but the slight trembling in it couldn't be missed by anyone in the room. Dave reached over and grabbed some tissues from the small tray next to the bed; offering them to the sow in anticipation of their coming need. He wasn't surprised that they had surmised the gender of their child, the genitalia being clearly visible in the image, but this would make it all the more personal for them, and he needed to be there to help them through this.
"I know that this is a bit of a shock, but this is a fairly common issue, and it's one that we can manage," he began, and both mammals looked towards him, and he could see the pleading request in there eyes...but for once, there might be a way to help.
"Right now, it's a lot to take, but I want to assure both of you that there are several options that you can consider," Dave tried to ensure that the confidence he felt carried through to his words, and both the Trotters' gazes tracked back to meet his own.
"You've noticed the issues with the limbs on the fetus' left side," he began drawing on the screen with a stylus. "In both instances, we can see that the upper portion of the limb is present, although it is a bit reduced in the case of the arm." He looked back towards the pair before continuing. "This condition is commonly called hemimelia, which in English means the loss of part of a limb."
Dave drew their attention to the normal limbs on the fetus' right side, "Normally, when we see the loss of multiple limbs, exposure to some kind of teratogen, or mutagen is suspected, but in this case, with the condition only affecting one side of the body, we're probably looking an expression error in one of the genes that normally controls limb development. Quite simply, the gene that would normally tell the cells how to develop into a limb stopped working before the limb was complete." As before he tried to maintain a professional demeanor, but also worked to impart the fact that the condition, while certainly significant, would not be a death sentence for their child.
"It's more than likely an issue with the expression of the WNT-three gene, or wingless-type three," Dave began, but stopped when the couple's expression changed to one of confusion, and Dave couldn't help but chuckle at their response. "Most of this kind of research was originally done using fruit flies, or other insect models. These genes are very old, and are shared by almost all living animals." He motioned back to the screen, "We will need to wait a bit longer to be sure, but having this diagnosed early is a very good thing."
"What do you mean?" Adam asked, his voice still confused and hesitant, "Can you fix this?"
Dave shook his head in reply, "No, I can't fix this, but we can compensate for it." He motioned the pair's attention to the flat screen panel affixed to the far wall of the exam room, and while he brought the display to life, he noticed Grant incline his head towards the door.
"Thank you Mr. Wilson, I think I have everything I need for now," Dave said, and Grant nodded respectfully to the Trotters before exiting the room.
In the meantime, Dave had transferred the images from the ultrasound to the Centre's local cloud, then brought several of them back upon his tablet and mirrored the output to the big screen positioned near the bed. Additionally, he accessed several anatomical drawings and historical images of the condition for comparison.
Once he was done, he turned to face the couple. His nose once again told him that the two were frightened by their piglets deformity, but it wasn't anywhere near as strong as when he first showed them their daughter's image.
Circling the bones in the forearm and shin on the anatomical diagram, Dave connected these regions to their counterparts, or rather their missing regions in the fetus.
"Now, as I mentioned, it's not possible to regenerate the missing portion of the limb, but the fact that this has been identified now is in many ways a good thing," Dave began, knowing that neither of the Trotters would be willing to take such a statement at face value. "Although we will need to wait a bit in order to determine if any corrective surgery is needed, your daughter will be a prime candidate for early fitting with prosthetic limbs. With the advances being made, there shouldn't be much in the way of developmental delays, and we can take advantage of the natural mammalian neuroplasticity to make her view them as being a natural part of her."
Dave knew that he was taking a chance by referring to the fetus in such weighted and concrete terms, but right now, helping the Trotters decide if they wanted to continue the pregnancy was the most important detail to work out.
"But are there any other issues? Aside from the…" Adam trailed off and gestured towards the image with one hoof, his other reaching out to grasp that of his mate.
Shaking his head, Dave pointed to the fetus' head and body, while he continued, "No, in this case, the development of the remainder of the body is completely normal. Neither I, nor Mr. Wilson saw any other abnormalities in any of the major organs and structures." Switching the display to some of the previous examples of the condition that occurred, he brought up a swath of information detailing such things as the incidence of the condition, average time for developmental milestones, mean IQ, and early academic performance.
"As you can see here, this condition, as is the case for almost all incidences where the role of WNT-three is suspected, doesn't appear to be correlated with anything other than the whole or partial loss of one or more limbs," he once again attempted to make his voice sound confident in his diagnosis, but he also knew the question on the couple's minds. "You will need to decide if you want to continue the pregnancy, and that decision lies solely with the two of you. All I can provide is the facts as they present themselves, and based on all I've seen, the missing limbs are the only issues that are in play, and we can work up a treatment regime to minimize those issues."
The couple seemed at a loss, overwhelmed by the swaying emotions of seeing their child so clearly on the screen, but tempered by the whims of fate that had twisted that joy into something else. Ms. Trotter was the first to shake off the haze of uncertainty, and after blinking away the tears that had been threatening to fall since she had first seen her daughter, she looked towards Dave.
"If...if we don't want to continue with it, what are the odds we'll be able to conceive again?" she asked, her voice cracking slightly as she fought to give form to the words.
Dave nodded in understanding, but unfortunately he couldn't provide much solace, "Based on the historical data, the odds are very slim, Ta. The number of successful hybrids between your two species is less than about fifty in all the records I'm aware of." He paused and brought up some information regarding IVF treatments for hybrid couples. "We could try to produce the embryos in the lab, and then proceed to implant them, but the odds of success will still be very low. We might need to fertilize hundreds of eggs to get even a single viable one," Dave paused for a moment and gestured back to the image of the fetus, "but there's no guarantee that this won't happen again. This kind of effect rarely has an easily identifiable trigger, as would be the case if all the limbs were missing."
"What kind of treatments are you talking about?" Adam asked after a moment, and Dave could hear the pleading tone that edged his words. This would be father, wasn't ready to give up on his daughter.
"This could be problematic," Dave thought to himself as he considered the couple. It wasn't his place to make the final decisions, but he knew from experience how something like this could tear a family apart. Over the years, he'd seen couples agonize over this same question, and it hadn't become any easier to deal with. It wasn't his place to force any one choice onto this couple, and his professionalism kept him from voicing anything other than the facts regarding this case. He'd be lying to himself however if he didn't silently hope that this couple would at least give their daughter a chance; she had much better odds than most.
"Carol's right, though," he mused internally. "Me not being able to move past it is probably a good thing."
Focusing on Mr. Trotter, Dave once again brought up the ultrasound images from earlier. "As I said earlier, we'll need to see how the limbs develop before I can give you a concrete list of things that will need to happen. The key thing," he said, zooming in on the left arm, "is to determine how the bones and muscles are laid out in the limb. I may need to perform surgery to ensure that the main muscle groups are in the right places for when we fit the prosthesis."
"What will that matter?" Ms. Trotter mumbled, still unsure how to proceed. "It'll just be a hunk of plastic."
Dave cocked his head to the size before realizing the miscommunication that had occurred. "Ta, we're not talking about simple replacement limbs here," he said, while accessing some additional files from his cloud folder. Soon the screen was filled with images of countless youths, each of them proudly showing their replacement limbs.
Looking back to the Trotters, he continued. "We're in partnership with the orthopedics department at both Zootopia University and Zootopia General. These are custom prostheses, and are designed to use the existing musculature to function as close as we can get to the natural limb. We use three-D printing to tailor the limbs to the individual species and requirements of the individuals." His stylus danced over his tablet as he selected several of the photos for further scrutiny. "That's the reason why we want the musculature to be in as normal a position as we can."
Dave pulled up one of his sleeves and flexed the elbow and wiggled his digits, directing their attention to the muscles along his upper and forearm. "The sensors in these limbs make use of the same nerve signals that would control the movement of a real limb. By starting out as soon after birth as we can, this type of movement becomes second nature to the mammal. The only difficulty is having to deal with an adjustment period when the prosthetic needs to be replaced as they grow."
Mr. Trotter looked at the examples on screen and frowned slightly. "I've read about these, and I'll admit that they're way more advanced than what we're used to, but what are the costs? You said that they need to be replaced as she grows. How many of these will we need to go through?"
"To start with the costs, you won't need to worry about that," Dave said with a smile on his muzzle. Realizing his mistake in not bringing it up earlier, he elaborated, "All medical costs are covered by the Honeywell trust. The prostheses, the training, and the physical therapy will be fully supplemented. As for the number, we normally replace them once a year for the first 5 years or so, and then it's as needed...particularly during their teenage years, as the growth spurts in some species can be...dramatic." he added with a slight chuckle. "We haven't been able to provide this much functionality in the past, but we do have two former patients who are seeing the benefits of this partnership as they grow up."
He didn't add that the reason for the small number was the low survivability of most of the Centre's patients. That wasn't something that this couple would need to worry about unless something truly unforeseen were to occur. For now the question how to proceed would be solely up to them, and by the expressions on their faces, he could tell that this was something that they'd need to think about, and discuss as a couple.
"Do you have any questions for now?" Dave asked gently, knowing that this would be difficult to process under the best of conditions.
The two swines shared a look between the two of them, and then Ms. Trotter shook her head. "No, Doctor, not right now." She waved a tired hoof towards the screen, and it was obvious that the consultation had been emotionally draining for her. "All this is just...iyalenu...so much to take in."
"You don't need to decide anything right away," Dave said as he gathered up some material for the couple to take with them. "Take whatever time you need to talk it out between the two of you. I would like to see you every two weeks until you do make a decision, so that the pregnancy can be monitored."
Ta didn't reply for a while, but eventually she looked to her husband, "Do you really want this, Adam?" she asked after a moment.
Her husband blinked back tears as he looked at his mate, "I do, Ta. I'm sorry, but I do." The words seemed to be too much for the boar, and he covered his eyes with one hoof trying to mask the tears that had started to fall. Dave remained silent, but offered some tissues to the boar.
Ta was at his side in an instant, and cradled his head against her shoulder. The pair just stayed like that for a few moments, before with a shuddering breath he separated from his mate, and cupped her face between his hooves.
"We tried for so long when we first got married, and now..." he gestured with one hoof to the ultrasound image on the display, "there she is." The boar returned his gaze to Ta, and he shook his head sadly, "I won't even try to force this on you. I know that kind of thing is a sensitive issue for your family and…"
His words were cut off by the sudden look of shock on Ta's face. "Is that why you think I'm…" she began, but the words trailed off into nothingness, as tears welled in her eyes. "You ewure oshi! The old ways don't mean àtan to me, and my parents can go to Hell for all I care. They cast me out when I chose you, and that's been fine with me for years now. They were only willing to speak to us ifọnkalẹ because they might get an grandchild out of it." She gestured to the image on screen, "I'm thinking about her, Adam. This is a lifelong condition, and we need to ask ourselves if we're doing this for us, or for her?"
Her expression softened, and she reached out to wipe away one of her husband's tears before continuing. "What Doctor Hawthorne said just now made me feel a lot more comfortable about that, Adam. I don't know if it's the oriṣa or just fate, but we'll give her as much of a chance as we can."
Her husband gave a shuddering sigh of relief, and wrapped her in a fierce embrace, and Dave sat back and tried to maintain a professional demeanor, but he could feel the corners of his mouth twitch upward as he watched the couple switch from shock and worry to true celebration. It was always a rare thing at the Centre, and this week had already seen its share of tragedy, but there were always these rare moments of joy to push back the darkness, even if only for a little while.
Once again, his thoughts traveled towards the Rey's, and he allowed himself the fantasy, that they too would be celebrating an impossibility in the near future.
For now however, the Trotters needed his help, and as always, he would do whatever it took to see them leave the Centre ready to start a new chapter of their lives. All three of them.
The consultation with the Trotters had concluded shortly thereafter with the couple promising to make an appointment with Natalie on the way out. The positive outcome was still coloring Dave's perception, but for once he didn't push it away as he left the consultation room. After making a few notes in Ta's chart, he dropped it off at the nurse's station.
Checking the time, he saw that he still had just over 10 minutes until Abby's committee meeting, so he made his way to his office, and dialed in Tess' number from memory. He knew all too well that the vixen would make good on her threats from the previous day if he didn't report in regularly...and had promised to keep her apprised on the Rey's progress from here on out.
As was the case yesterday, the phone was answered before the second ring. Immediately, there was a soft chuckle on the other end of the line. "So it appears that an old wolf can learn new tricks," Tess said, the amusement coming across the line just as clearly as if they had been in the same room together.
Dave couldn't help but share in her amusement, but couldn't let the jibe go by completely untouched, "Har, har, Tess. Be careful though. We're both the same age, so your comment cuts both ways."
Tess gave a bark of laughter in reply, "You know that's not true, Dave. I'm not a day over thirty; I just have years of experience at it."
"Duly noted." he said with mock sincerity. Giving a short laugh of his own, he became more serious, "We both take our patient's well being seriously, and I said I'll keep you in the loop as much as I can."
"Hmmm, I suppose that will have to do," Tess said after a moment's consideration, "Did you ask Carol about Monday?"
"I did, and she's really looking forward to it," Dave replied warmly, "It's been too long since we had a chance to get together, and I think she missed seeing Jordan."
Tess laughed out loud at the comment, "I haven't told him yet, but I know he'll flip when he finds out he'll be able to show "Auntie Carol" his new belts."
Dave's head cocked to the side instinctively, "Belts? As in plural?" he asked after a moment.
"It has been a few months, Dave," she said with a resigned sigh. "We both tend to get swamped with patients...hell or just work in general, and then even things like a night out with friends becomes a scheduling nightmare." The vixen laughed once again, at the thought. "Hank and Carol are both saints for putting up with us. You do know that right, Dave?"
"That they are," he replied simply, knowing that it was the truth for both of them. "Did you have a preference for the restaurant?"
"Do you mind if it's something closer to home for me?" Tess asked, and Dave could hear the shift in her voice from colleague to mother in an instant. "We'll probably be a couple of hours together, and I want to have Jordan back home before it's too late. He's got school in the morning."
Dave nodded to himself in understanding, "That's fine with us, but we'll need until about seven thirty to get to Tundratown from here."
"Let Carol drive, you'll be here by seven fifteen at the latest," Tess half joked, the two of them being more than familiar with Carol's aggressive driving style. "There's a new seafood place just down the road from us, the Fishbowl. It's a family restaurant, so nothing flashy, but there should be something for everyone...even Jordan," she added with a sigh.
"Still a bit of a picky eater?" Dave asked with a soft chuckle.
"Uggh, you have no idea," she replied in an exasperated tone. "If it's green, he won't touch it unless it's covered in ketchup. I've taken to using pizza as a stealth vector for vegetables at home."
"So, I'm guessing it will be fish and chips for him then?" he surmised, the amusement plainly evident in his tone. "On the bright side, vegetables are really more of a supplement for canids. It's not like he's putting himself at any real risk. Most pups go through this kind of phase."
Tess laughed at his comment, "Oh I know all that, but I have to set an example for my patients after all." Her tone shifted to one of mock sincerity as she continued, "How can I possibly berate them for their lifestyle choices when I've failed to instill those same virtues in my own offspring?"
Dave once again shook his head in amusement, "Then we'll just have to set the example together. The restaurant sounds fine," he said as he sent off a quick text message to Carol.
One task completed, he was able to redirect the conversation. "Now, as for the Rey's, there's not much more to add from yesterday. Janet is stable, and we seemed to have caught the hemolytic incompatibility early enough that it won't be an issue."
"She hasn't experienced any cramping or further nausea then?" Tess asked, and Dave could hear the scribbling of pen on paper in the background, the arctic fox once again showing her propensity to take copious notes regarding her patients.
"We have her on vitamin B-six and doxylamine for the nausea, but I'm going to start weaning her off of it starting next week," Dave said without hesitation. He had been scrutinizing all of Janet's test results since she had been admitted, and knew her vitals better than his own. "You know better than I do that the first thirty days are the diciest when it comes to nausea for most canines."
"Uggh, don't remind me, Dave," Tess added dejectedly, the memory of her issues during pregnancy still apparently vivid in her mind. "I may as well have moved our bed in the bathroom just for the sake of expediency that first month."
Dave chuckled at the comment. He remembered the condition the arctic fox had been in on several mornings during the early parts of her pregnancy when she was still picking up shifts at Zootopia General during the time that Dave was still working there as part of his second residency.
"Fortunately, Janet doesn't appear to be quite that bad," he added after a moment. "Aside from some minor weakness and lethargy that we traced to the diet we had placed her on, everything seems to be progressing well."
Quickly checking the schedule for the next few days, Dave made a quick note before continuing, "I'm going to give her another ultrasound tomorrow, and then probably every three days until we have a better handle on how to proceed. On that note, they are priming the new Sequel system as we speak, and we should be able to start screening Tommy's genome for red flags today, and soon we'll also have some preliminary sequence results from the fetus as well."
Dave heard a sharp intake of breath from the other end of the line. He knew she was about to object to the risky method he'd employed for getting that fetal tissue sample. Anything she had to say to him about it would only be a tenth of what he deserved for taking such a risk, but he was still confident that it had been the right decision. Even still, he was no stranger to the results that came about when a physician believed himself to be beyond reproach, so he braced himself for whatever warranted critiques she had for him.
"I still can't believe you did that, Dave." Tess quietly let the statement hang for several moments. She took another breath and sighed out, "It should help in the long run...provided that there's anything you can do, but… I know you knew how risky that was."
"I know," Dave replied quietly as he closed his eyes and silently contemplated his decision.
Tess was quiet too, and it was several long seconds before she hesitant spoke up again. "Have you told Janet and Tommy what the real odds are for this to work out?"
Dave sighed again as the all too likely reality of the situation once again settled on his shoulders. "Janet asked about it yesterday, and I was honest that the odds are slim. She asked that I not mention it to Tommy, and as long as he doesn't ask himself, I'm okay with that." He shook his head as the the numbers ran through his head, the odds stacked up against the Rey's pup bordered on infinity.
"Janet's probably right on this one, Dave." Tess added, "He's stronger than he let's on, but from what I know, anything relating to Janet, and their pup by extension, means the world to him."
"That matches what Janet said yesterday." Dave frowned, remembering the other wolf's words from yesterday. "Based on what you know of them, what would Tommy's response be if they lost the pup?"
"Frankly, it would destroy him." Tess said without hesitation, "He'd probably need to be sedated immediately, and almost certainly put on some kind of antidepressant and antianxiety medication for a long, long time. As long as Janet's still there, I'm sure she can bring him back, but if something happens to her as well..."
Tess' voice trailed off but he could hear her quickened breaths coming over the line. Dave felt pressure in his chest and understood the implications immediately. "We'll lose him too."
"It's almost a certainty," Tess added glumly. "You know that pair bonding varies in strength even within a species? Well those two have one of the deepest one's I've ever seen. Even Janet's bond is uncommonly strong for a wolf, but Tommy's bond to her makes most vulpine pair bonds seem like the emotional equivalent of a high school crush."
Dave considered Tess' new insights into the couple before replying. "Thanks for letting me know, Tess. That matches up with what my own instincts have been telling me since I met the two of them," he sighed but chose to focus on what he could do to help the pair. "We'll have to tread carefully if something happens, but do you mind if I focus on making sure that doesn't happen?"
"I'd kick your tail into next week if you did anything else," Tess said with a laugh that successfully re-lightened the mood. "Forward me the ultrasound tomorrow, as well as anything you find from the genetic screen." There was more scribbling in the background as tess added to her notes. "Do you have a better handle on when you'll be able to figure out a treatment regime...provided it's possible, of course?"
Dave thought about the questions for a few seconds, "I think we'll have an inkling by Tuesday or Wednesday next week. At least we'll know about any obvious genetic issues then. From there it's all going to come down to weather on not we have the capability to fix or replace what's broken." Dave shook his head, the seemingly infinite uncertainties crowding his thoughts. "If the Spirits are kind, we can use the gene therapies that we already have to fix the issues. If they're not, we'll be flying by the seat of our pants, but I'm not giving up on being able to fix this, Tess. I promise you that."
"I know you won't, Dave. It's why I sent them to you in the first place." Tess said in a soft voice. "I'll let you get back to work...and I've got my first patients of the day arriving now, but remember! Regular updates!"
"You got it, Tess, and I'll see you Monday," he said before disconnecting the call.
Tess was right about the need to stay in regular contact with her. The call had been valuable on many levels and that information about Tommy might unfortunately prove invaluable if the grim odds became reality.
He shook out of his ruminations as it was almost 9:00 am already, and quickly padded over to the staff lounge to pour himself a good sized mug of coffee before heading up to the second floor and entered into the main boardroom for Abby's meeting. He once again chuckled at the lunacy of having been declared a professor by Doug, but at least his first bout in this role would be with a student he knew well and respected.
As he had expected, Abby was already present, and she had set up her talk well in advance of the meeting's start. She was however pacing back and forth along the front of the room, her expression and scent a mix of anxiety and fear. He could hear Elizabeth trying to comfort the wolf from her perch on Abby's shoulder, but everyone in the room had been through this trial in the past, and as such knew that words were never enough to relieve the pressure of these kind of meetings.
Doug and Donnie were doing their best to not agitate the grad student, and were setting up the video conference system, probably to allow one or more of the professors over at ZU to attend without having to leave the comfort of their office. Doug's ears twitched towards Dave as he entered, and a smile spread over the buck's muzzle.
"Glad to see you've accepted your fate, Dave," he said with mock severity before motioning towards one of the secondary displays mounted on the wall. "We're just waiting for Doctor Reed to bridge in so we can start."
Dave cocked his head to the side, "Hal Reed, the biology chair from ZU?"
Donnie nodded his sizable head in reply, "The one and only. Somehow Ms. Lupercal managed to convince him to be on her advisory committee, but she never said how she managed the feat."
The words managed to garner a laugh from the she wolf, as she stopped pacing to glare at her supervisor. "There was no convincing involved, Donnie. He just never gets asked, and he knows to keep his head down so that no one even tries."
The assembled mammals chuckled at the comment just as the screen came to life, and a bespeckled otter appeared on the screen. Although Dave had never met Dr. Reed, the mammal had garnered many accolades over the years for his research in cytology. Much of Abby's work was a direct continuation of a research project that he and Elizabeth had been the leads on.
"Good morning, Hal!" Elizabeth said warmly, and the otter squinted at his screen to make out her small form. Elizabeth waved from Abby's shoulder, and Hal smiled when he figured out her location.
"Hello, Beth!" he greeted his colleague, in a surprisingly deep voice for so small a mammal. "How's the research going in that windowless dungeon you call a lab?"
Beth laughed in response, the joke obviously having some history with the pair, "You know you'd give your right paw to have access to half the toys I get to play with."
"Why would I do that?" Hal asked good naturedly, "All I have to do is ask you to run a sample or two, and I get the results emailed to me. All of the benefits, and no amputation required."
Beth harrumphed in false indignation, "At least you have good taste in wine, Hal. That's the only reason your stuff gets priority with me. On that note, John asked me to thank you for the last bottle you sent over. He's not normally one for Merlot, but that particular vintage was delicious."
Doctor Reed waved a paw dismissively, "It took your husband long enough to come around regarding the virtues of red wine, but enough of that." The smile remained on his face, but his attention focused on Abby, "Good morning, Ms. Lupercal. I understand that you've been very busy in the lab these past few months."
Looking over to Donnie, the otter sighed theatrically, "How is it that you always get the diligent grad students, Donnie? All of mine are good, but the work reports that you send regarding Abby's performance put my romp to shame."
Donny gave a low rumble of laughter, and gestured around him with his hoof, "It's this place, Hal. Most mammals don't want to step one hoof in this building." He motioned towards Abby, and smiled broadly. "When a student like Abby comes along, and actually asks to work here, you know they are something special."
"Careful now, Donnie," Doug jokingly cautioned. "Praise like that might go to her head, and then where would we be? From the reports I get, she does at least half the work downstairs."
Once again, there was a round of laughter from the assembled mammals, although Abby seemed more embarrassed by the attention and praise than anything else.
Donnie cleared his throat, and motioned for the group to take their seats. "Regardless, we should get moving. Hal, I don't think you've met Dave yet, have you?"
The otter looked towards Dave, and his smile grew slightly wider, "No I haven't, and welcome aboard, Doctor Hawthorne. I meant to reach out earlier this week, but things have been so chaotic it slipped my mind." He made a brief note before looking back at Dave. "We'll be having a formal event later on in the month, but you should know that both you and Doctor Cerval have already ruffled some fur here." He laughed briefly before continuing, "Some of the more...entrenched faculty was hoping to foist ALL of the first year classes on you two, and they were crushed when they found out that your positions are like the rest of the faculty from the Honeywell staff, and don't involve undergraduate teaching at this time." The otter's expression shifted to a more capricious nature, "Fair warning to you, Professor Kyme over in the Department of Medicine probably won't be so lenient. She wants to leverage your surgical training ASAP. Pediatric surgeons are a fairly rare bunch."
Dave shook his head at the news, "Thank the Spirits for letting me dodge the first year classes," he said with real relief evident in his tone. Giving himself a shake, he nodded his head respectfully towards Hal, "and thanks for the warning...I guess being cross-appointed to two faculties just means double the work." he said with a laugh. "Regardless, it's good to meet you as well. I don't know how frequently Jim and I will be gracing your hallowed halls, but I did manage to get roped into some teaching responsibilities already." Dave motioned towards Abby with a free paw.
"And on that note, we should get moving," Doug said, and the assembled mammals quieted down. "This committee meeting is to update the Advisory and Examination Board on the progress of the doctoral candidate, Abbigail Lupercal, as well as to schedule her comprehensive examination." Doug motioned for Abby to take her place at the front of the room. "We'll begin with a research update, and then move onto the details of the examination. Ms. Lupercal, the floor is yours."
"Thank you, Doctor Wilson, and my thanks to all of the committee members for giving me the chance to go over some of my findings to date," Abby said confidently, and Dave was pleased to see that, in contrast to her nervousness from earlier, the wolf displayed nothing but a calm and professional demeanor as she went over her recent findings.
Dave and the other committee members, were silent as Abby presented numerous figures and tables outlining her work on the divergence between Canis and Vulpes genomes, and both her in silico and in situ hybridization of the various genetic markers were both revolutionary adaptations of the previous methods, but also beautifully elegant solutions to behold.
Dave was already familiar with the research, so he focused more on Abby's tone and delivery, making note of her improved presentation skills. She did still tend to use filler words when she lost her train of thought, but other then that, both her research and presentation were top notch. Things were fairly normal until Abby got to her most recent work.
"Here we see the full karyotype of an adult male Vulpes vulpes who was admitted to the Centre Tuesday evening with his mate, a standard Canis lupus female." She brought up the normal chromatin, and the next slide aligned Tommy's chromosomes with their counterparts. "As you can see, the chromatin of the male is highly divergent from the typical red fox, and we were able to determine that his genome is in a stable tetraploid state across all cell types and tissues."
There was a bark of laughter from Doctor Reed, interrupting Abby as she was going to describe the details of the karyotype analysis and preliminary sequence data.
"Very funny, Ms. Lupercal, but can we get back to your actual research" he said after composing himself. "I do enjoy the occasional joke in something as stuffy as a committee meeting, but we don't want to waste too much time with it."
There was a profound silence in the room, as the Centre's staff shared a knowing look. Doug was the first to respond, and the rabbit cleared his throat before speaking. "Hal, none of us are laughing here," he said, and there was no mirth in his voice this time around as he gestured towards the image on screen. "That mammal, his mate, and their unborn pup are staying just down the hall from us."
Everyone saw Doctor Reed's eyes widen in shock, and the skin visible around his eyes and nose visibly paled at Doug's pronouncement.
"My God!" he exclaimed after a moment, "You're serious aren't you?"
Abby forwarded her presentation to the next slide, which to Dave's surprise was obviously the karyotype of the fetus. Abby must have convinced Jason to give her some of his cell cultures...and probably only a pawful of hours previously. The young wolf must have been up all night to not only find a cell undergoing mitosis, but to fix, stain and sort out the chromatin.
"This image shows the karyotype of the fetus. The cells were obtained via amniocentesis and then multiplied in tissue culture," she said smoothly, and every eye in the room was fixated on the images. To the untrained eye, they looked identical to the normal wolf chromosomes, but to the mammals in this room the differences stood out like a sore thumb.
"Incredible," The words from Hal were barely above a whisper as he took in the details. Dave looked towards the monitor, and he saw the otter squint his eyes, trying to make out more of the details. "Ms. Lupercal," he said after a moment, "Can you place both the father's and the fetus' karyotypes side by side?"
Abby nodded and exited out of the presentation mode. With a few clicks, she had the two images beside each other, and once again Doctor Reed was the first to speak, "There!" he said excitedly. "Do you see it?"
"See what, Hal?" Donny said after a moment.
"Look at the banding pattern on all the Vulpes-derived chromatin between the father and the fetus," he said while vigorously pointing towards the screen with one of his paws.
The all looked back at the images, and Abby gave a short intake of breath when she saw what Professor Reed had noticed. "They're identical!" she said, shaking her head in disbelief.
Elizabeth was the next to notice the oddity, "There's not a hint of homologous recombination in ANY of the chromosomes that came from him. They're completely fixed."
To say that this revelation was unexpected was an understatement. Homologous recombination was one of the driving forces of genome diversity and evolution, where whole segments of one chromosome could be swapped with the corresponding region of its counterpart. Structurally, the chromosome pairs were generally very similar, but minor differences still allowed researchers to tease apart the individual contributors. This event only occurred during meiosis, when the gametes were being formed, but to have not one single event over all 39 chromosome pairs was yet another statistical impossibility.
Dave's mind was running over the revelation, and more importantly, how it would affect the fetus. Effectively, the chromosomes that she inherited from Tommy were 1:1 copies of his own genome. She had received the full 39 chromosomes from him...well and a couple of microchromosomes it seemed, and the lack of recombination meant that she had avoided one of the biggest risks associated with the process.
"This still doesn't explain how the father is still alive, let alone how the two parents were able to conceive," Hal said as he continued to scrutinize the images. "But the additional genomic stability that this would impart is significant." The otter waved a paw dismissively as he continued, "In the long term, it's highly detrimental, of course. It would reduce the genomic variability considerably from generation to generation, but in this case, it meant that the fetus wouldn't have to worry about recombination-induced deletions."
Hal looked over at Donnie, his curiosity obviously piqued, "Do you have sequence information for either the father or the fetus?"
Donnie nodded in reply, "A preliminary assembly was completed yesterday, but it's highly fragmented. The full sequencing run should be annotated any time now, and we have single cell sequencing runs from the fetal cells on the go."
"You don't waste time, I'll give you that." Professor Reed said shaking his head in disbelief.
Doug laughed quietly at the comment. "You have no idea, Hal. We also scooped an entire Sequel system from Doctor Messange yesterday just to help with these patients."
The otter's eyes widened once again in surprise, "So the rumor mill was right on that one." he said after shaking his head, "I don't have a copy of the paperwork yet, but I heard that Derek had managed to get his hooves on a rather sizable grant in exchange."
Doug shrugged at the comment, knowing full well that the money was effectively meaningless to them, "Only about three million and change. It will be a small price to pay if we can help this couple."
The assembled mammals nodded in agreement, and Dave was once again struck by the solidarity of every member of the Centre's staff. If it were possible, they would do whatever it took to help the Rey's, but as always he silently prayed to anyone that might be listening that their efforts would be enough.
"On that note, we may as well not beat around the bush," Donnie said and motioned with his hoof towards Abby. "Hal, right now we need Abby in the lab, and not locked away in the library studying for her comps. Her expertise in Canis and Vulpes cell biology is sorely needed right now." The bison gestured to the other committee members, "I'd like to motion that we defer her examination until the next term. She will be skirting the edge of the deadlines, but I think you'll all agree that this situation should take precedence."
Hal considered Donnie's request for a moment, "I'm not a fan of putting things like the comps off. If something happens and she goes over her term limit, it could jeopardize her degree as a whole, but if she's willing to take that risk, I agree that this situation is...unique to say the least."
Dave looked at the younger wolf, and he could already see that she had made her decision long before the meeting had started. "Well, Abby, the decision's yours."
Abby gave a snort of laughter, "Like there was any doubt. The Re...the patients need me more than I need a sheet of parchment," she said, almost forgetting to omit the Rey's names from the discussion.
"Very well then, Ms. Lupercal," Professor Reed said formally. "I second the motion. Do any of the committee members disagree with allowing Ms. Lupercal to defer her comprehensive exam until the next term?"
Silence and shaking heads were the only reply, and Hal made a note before continuing, "Very well, we'll set up a meeting four months from now, and work out the details then. Ms. Lupercal, I do recommend that you begin studying as soon as you are able, but these mammals are going to need all the help they can get if I'm not mistaken. In the meantime, I'm very interested in hearing the rest of your presentation."
The assembled mammals shared a round of laughter before focusing their attention on the results of Abby's research. The wolf, resumed her presentation from where she had left off, and everyone was once again enraptured with the mystery that was the Rey's.
The remainder of the meeting had proceeded without quite as many surprises, and every member of the committee had been more than satisfied with Abby's progress. As was also expected, the majority of the physically present mammals had made a beeline for the lab as soon as the meeting was concluded, with only Doug returning to the clinic. The lab mammals were already plotting their next steps as they rode the elevator down to the basement.
"Were you able to tease apart the individual chromosomes, Donnie?" Beth asked from her perch on Abby's shoulder.
Donnie nodded, as he checked his phone for messages, "I'm pretty sure the latest assembly was able to differentiate between the four chromosome copies for all but two of them. It would appear that chromosome twelve is almost completely homologous across all four versions, while chromosome sixteen does have some polymorphisms, but most of it is highly conserved. By and large, the contributions from his parents are quite divergent, and the sequences were fairly easy to filter apart"
"That's good to hear," Dave said, already making a mental note to use the PackBio data to see if the chromosomes differed in their epigenetic state instead of their physical sequence. "It really is looking like Tommy's genome is operating more like a traditional diploid one as opposed to the standard polyploid...but how it's all being regulated, I haven't the foggiest."
"We'll need to work quickly to identify any problems, but the divergence in his genome might work out in our favor," Donny mused openly, "If we can target the genes of major concern and edit out most of them, it should minimize the effect of the internal duplication."
A soft chime sounded as the elevator came to a stop, and the group made their way to the airlock, quickly disrobing and beginning the standard decontamination procedure.
"There's a limit as to how many vectors we can use, Donnie," Dave said as he worked the shampoo into his coat, passing the bottle over to Abby in the adjacent shower stall, "The biggest editing job we've previously done was just three genes. Unless something really surprising happens, this is going to take a lot more. We'll have to triage things and deal with the most critical conditions first."
"It might not be as bad as were painting things," Abby said after a moment. "I mean, if the genome was acting normally Mr. Rey probably wouldn't be alive, and the fetus certainly wouldn't be. Regardless, I think that we should prioritize the maternal contribution if there's any incompatibility found."
"Unless it's those quirks that give the paternal contribution it's stability, Abby," Elizabeth's voice chimed in from one of the small mammal shower stalls. "We can't discount the fact that, somehow Tommy's genome is remarkably stable...Hell, now that we've seen the lack of recombination, it's basically static. That has to be playing a role in this."
"One step at a time, Beth. One step at a time." Donnie rumbled as he turned off the shower, and made his way to the airlock's large fur dryer. "For now, I want everyone's eyes on that genome sequence. Hunt down every known disease marker and mutation you can think of. I want a full report from everyone by the end of the day, and we'll pass that data off to Percy so that he and the rest of the night shift can start screening the fetus' sequence for red flags."
As Dave turned off his shower, he was once again struck by the dedication of the mammals at the Centre. Even with this unity of purpose, the same question resonated through his mind.
"Will it be enough?"
"It has to be." He mumbled to himself as he began drying his fur, and readying himself for the task ahead.
"I can't believe Argent didn't show up!" Carol complained loudly as she and Colleen entered into the changing room; the afternoon training session with the other AMCQC instructors having wrapped up a few minutes prior, and both canines were still panting slightly following the exertion. The private instructor sessions were one of the rare times where they could really push themselves, and they always made the most of it. "That prick has a thorough beating with his name on it, and he's not going to puss out of it, even if I have to break down his front door to administer it."
The maned wolf laughed at Carol's antics as she began disrobing to head into the shower. "What? Taft didn't tell you?" she began innocently. "He suspected you'd want some payback, so he found a new task for Argent's skills. With the loss of WO Watterman, the Medowlands ROTC program needed a new mentor, and Argent was selected for the position; at least for the next month."
Carol turned to face Lupe, her eyes widening in surprise before she burst into laughter. "Miles is playing babysitter?" she asked after regaining control of herself, shaking her head in disbelief. "He hates kids… I feel bad for them, but I'm still going to kick that cat's ass the next time I see him."
Coleen chuckled at Carol's vehemence. "And there's the reason why the Captain banished Argent for a while. He knew full well that you'd be out for blood...possibly quite literally in this instance."
"Oh please, I'm not going to cause any permanent damage." Carol said with mock innocence, but the two knew each other far too well for Colleen to fall for that ruse.
"Riiiight," Lupe said, her eyes becoming little more than slits as she appraised Carol, "and would your definition if temporary be on the order of days, weeks, or months of recovery?"
Carol snorted in amusement as she entered the shower and began wetting down her fur. "Yesterday, we'd be talking months. Today, he's down to weeks, with particular attention being paid to his overactive groin."
Colleen shook her head, and made use of the adjacent stall. "Oh, I got an email from Debbie yesterday," she said happily. "Her latest deployment is wrapping up, and she should be back in Zootopia by the end of the month."
Carol gave a sigh of relief at the news. Hearing that the water buffalo was heading home was welcome news. "Thank the Spirits!" she said "We've been without a second large mammal instructor for too long. Taft's had to handle almost all of it since she shipped out."
Lupe, smiled as she scrubbed her fur before looking back towards Carol. "So are you going to be joining us at Mac's tonight?" she asked, raising her voice to be heard over the cascading water. "This is a rare chance to have the Captain pay the tab two nights in a row."
The smile faded from Carol's face as she paused from working the lather into her coat. "No, not tonight. I need to help Dave with something."
Lupe's ears twitched as she noted the change in the coyotes tone. "You don't seem too happy about it. What's up?"
"It's just something that he needs to do for a patient, but it's going to tear him up inside." she said after a moment before giving herself a shake and beginning to rinse the shampoo from her fur. Her next words barely reached a whisper, "It always tears him up."
Colleen's ears pinned back at her colleagues tone, "Why does he stay at that godsforsaken place? Why do you let him?" she asked, shaking her head. "Neither one of you says much about it, but sometimes... I've seen mammals with full on PTSD who look better than the two of you."
Carol shrugged, and turned off the water before grabbing a towel to begin drying herself off, "Duty, responsibility, pigheadedness, take your pick," she said before forcing a laugh they both knew was false. "It's who he is, I guess."
She paused while she moved to the fur dryer, her ears pinning back as she once again contemplated what this evening would involve for her mate. "The truth is that I hate that place. I hate what it does to him; to everyone who works there, but I know that none of them will quit. It's just not who they are."
Colleen looked at the coyote closely for a moment, expecting Carol to continue on, but she was greeted with silence. Moving up behind Carol, the maned wolf rested a paw on Carol's shoulder. "I guess soldier's aren't the only ones with battle scars."
Carol sighed, and leaned forward, pressing her forehead into the wall for support. "Yeah, we've both got our share of those, but when I wake up at night and hear him crying in his sleep, or mumbling 'I'm sorry' over and over, what the fuck am I supposed to do?"
"I don't know, Latrans," Lupe said after a moment before removing her paw. "Just being there is sometimes all you can do."
Carol took a deep breath before pushing herself back upright, and continued drying out her fur. "And that's what I'm going to do tonight," she said, the conviction returning to her voice.
Once again, she'd do what was needed to put him back together, as they both had done for each other so many times over the years. Colleen's words had been true: they were both scarred on the inside, and while time might fade them, they were unlikely to ever disappear.
After saying goodbye to the other instructors, Carol had driven over to the Honeywell Centre, arriving just after seven. As she pulled into the parking lot, she could see Dave standing by the front doors, a small box clenched in his paws.
She felt a lump form in her throat as she looked at his face. All the energy that had been there when she had left him that morning had drained away, leaving him tired and haggard. She was relieved when his ears twitched towards her as she came to a stop in front of him, and she saw a real smile spread across his face at her presence.
"Sometimes just being there is all that it takes," she thought to herself as he opened the door and fell into the passenger seat beside her. Not giving him a chance to speak, she leaned over and wrapped her arms around him. He sighed contentedly at her touch.
"You hanging in there, Hon?" she asked as she felt him relax. She released her embrace of him and cupped his face with her paws. Some of the glow had returned to his golden eyes. There was still that telltale sadness in them, but for now she'd managed to push back the darkness.
"I'm good, Love. We made some real progress today, but I'm kinda dwelling on other things right now," he said while motioning towards the box with one of his paws.
She nodded in understanding. Wanting more than anything to stay there and hold him for the rest of the night, she knew full well the weight of the mission they were on, and there was no benefit to be gained in delaying it. Reluctantly, she returned her paws to the steering wheel, put the car in gear, and exited the Centre's parking lot. "We're headed for the Rainforest District, right?" Carol asked as she made her way to the nearest highway on ramp.
Dave nodded, and punched in the address to the car's GPS system. "Yeah, they're on Kapok Avenue, four, three, five, seven. It's only about twenty minutes from here."
"Do they know you're coming?" Carol asked after a moment.
Dave nodded, then dropped his gaze to focus on the container in his paws. "I called them just before I left the Centre," he said, a little distance creeping into his voice as one of his paws gently caressed the box.
Carol fought the urge to glance at him directly, but she could still see out of the corner of her eye just how gently he was holding the box. Even without looking, hearing the subtle tremors in his voice and smelling the grief in his scent brought back that lump in her throat.
"Even now, he's trying to comfort the dead...or himself," she thought as she reached over and clasped his paw in her own. For all the good that they had accomplished, this was yet another reason why she resented the Honeywell's legacy. From her combat experience, she knew all too well the necessity of de-mammalizing your opponents. They ceased to be living, breathing individuals, and just became a silhouette in a scope, an anonymous statistic, or another notch on a tally sheet. It was the only way one could do it over and over without becoming a monster. For Dave, and the other mammals at the Centre, the Honeywell's decision to ensure that every cub would receive a name and a proper burial stripped away much of this psychological protection, and made this final task all the more difficult. They weren't just cold numbers on a page once they'd been given an identity. The name made them an individual, someone who might have been, and a potential that was now lost forever.
In this case, the parents had probably been the ones to name their child, but the result was still the same. She knew that for Dave, this was another failure; another one of his 'little ones' that he couldn't save. His scent told her that, just as clearly as his somber expression. She felt him squeeze her paw in return, and she forced a smile on her face.
"You're not alone here, Dave," she said simply, and she saw the corners of his mouth twitch upwards momentarily before his expression reverted back to a neutral one.
He took a shuddering breath before replying, "Thanks for being here...I think I'm going to need you more than I realized on this one." His gaze returned to the box in his lap, "I've known this couple for years, and even though it's childish, I just can't help but think how fucking unfair it all is." Dave shook his head sadly at the pronouncement, "I know all the reasons why it's impossible for them to have a kit of their own, and I've wrapped myself in that blanket of cold logic again and again, but there's still a part of me that just wants to rail against nature itself for what they've gone through."
Carol squeezed his paw again, the slight growl edging his voice telling her just how deeply this was affecting him, "You're not some machine, Dave. You can't just quit feeling, and the fact that you do care so much is what makes you such a good doctor. I wouldn't have you any other way."
Dave chuckled at her words, and looked towards her, the beginnings of a real smile on his muzzle. "I never thought I'd be envious of Jason, but right now, not caring would be a blessing."
Carol gave a snort of amusement before clicking her tongue at Dave in reproach, "None of that you silly wolf. You're doing this because you care, and that's the wolf I fell in love with." she released his paw, and raised it to his muzzle, turning his head to face her own, "Go and be there for your patients. Grieve with them, and then come back to me. I'm not going anywhere without you."
Dave nodded in reply, and once again he caressed the box, but he didn't say anything more.
They spent the rest of the drive in silence save for the occasional notification from the GPS, each of them lost in their own thoughts. All too soon, Carol pulled to a stop in front of a older townhouse development designed to look like it was carved from a single gigantic tree. All the units were well lit; the artificial light reflecting an earthy ambiance off the dense foliage that permeated the Rainforest District.
As luck would have it, they had arrived in between the frequent artificial showers that served to maintain the high humidity of the district, and Dave took a steadying breath before looking over at his mate. She didn't need to be told what he needed, as she could see it in his eyes. She once again leaned over and wrapped him in an embrace, trying to shoulder some of his burden.
They just stayed that way for a long while before Dave finally pulled away, opened the passenger door, and stepped out onto the sidewalk. He gazed back a Carol, and gave her a nod and a sad smile before walking to the stairs, and making his way up to the address of his patients.
Carol could see the change in his gait as he climbed those stairs, each one adding just a little bit more weight onto his shoulders. By the time he had reached the front door, his shoulders were already hunched, but he gave himself a shake and straightened himself out before knocking on the door.
She couldn't see the occupants from her position, but when the door opened, she saw Dave kneel down, which implied their being one of the smaller sized species of Zootopia. She knew that he was probably exchanging kind words with them, before delivering to them the remains of their kit, but it was when she saw two small paws wrap her mate in an embrace that his control finally shattered, and he shared in their grief.
"Damn that place to Hell," she growled to herself as she watched her mate's frame shudder while he openly wept; her own tears threatening to fall at the sight. She knew her anger was misplaced, but seeing him once again fall apart was like a dagger to her heart. The two of them were truly linked, and she couldn't help but resent the pain that his work caused. There was no way to defend him from this and she could only watch as another piece was torn out of him as he tried to comfort his patients.
Seeing first paw just how badly this hurt him, and knowing it was inevitable that he'd be forced to perform this duty again, she made a vow to herself. "I'm not letting him do this alone again."
It was taking all her control not to rush over to comfort him, but she had given her word that she would give both Dave and the couple some privacy, and even observing the tragic tableaux from this distance seemed like an invasion on that promise.
The scene dragged on for what seemed like an eternity, before those tiny paws released her mate. After shaking the paw of one of the mammals, Dave stood back up. Once the door was closed, he leaned against it tiredly, and his shoulders shook as the after effects of the meeting took hold.
It was the sight of him the moment he turned around that had her jumping out of the car and racing towards her mate. His once golden eyes had become dead, empty things; utterly devoid of the glow that was everything she loved about him. She could see in an instant the gaping wound that had been torn in him, and she instinctively knew that he wouldn't make it back to the car on his own. His steps had been leaden as he made his way back towards the sidewalk, seemingly unaware of his mate's presence until she wrapped him in a fierce embrace.
He didn't react for several seconds, staring dumbly off into the distance, but then, with a high pitched whine, he went limp in her arms; his body and mind having finally reached their breaking point. His wracking sobs filled her ears as she took on his considerably greater weight. It threatened to drag them both down to the ground, but she was strong, and she braced herself as her own tears flowed freely. She had already vowed to do whatever it took to put him back together, but in that moment there was only one thought that rang through her mind as she held him in silence.
"I will never let him fall."
Due to the lateness of this chapter, I'm going to only include some older musings regarding science in Zootopia, but there will be some science to discuss from this chapter, fear not:
Now before I delve into the usual end notes, I wanted to mention that, when I was plotting out the story for Lost Causes, this was the original ending. The story started with Isara and William, and was going to end with the final scene you see here. This didn't stay that way for long, and this chapter merely became a way of closing off the Clawson's arc, while continuing to show the dedication of the mammals at the Honeywell Centre, but also to give some more details into how Carol feels about the effect that working there has on Dave, and all the other staff.
It was just over a year ago that I decided to write LC&BD, and ending it here just seemed too tragic, and also it didn't allow me to teach as much of the science as I can.
Regardless, let's move onto some science stuff. I'm going to repost an earlier segment, more as a reminder, but also to add in some extra points that I've considered over the last few months.
Genomic Research in Zootopia
With regards to genomic research, I'm increasingly of the mind that a society like Zootopia would have access to a great deal more genetic information than what we possess, simply out of necessity. There are probably hundreds of sentient species (if not thousands) and there would be a very real need to have reference genomes for all of these. As with our own genome project, the results from this kind of research would help in the diagnosis and treatment of quite a few conditions, and represents a functional baseline for pure research to build upon.
Here's where we run into a problem. To date, we've only sequenced the genomes of 50 mammalian species...that's really it. Now we've often times sequenced multiple individuals within each species, particularly the ones where there is an economic interest involved (think animals used in agriculture), but overall we really have only scratched the surface of the mammalian diversity that's out there.
...as i've mentioned before, we've invested hundreds of billions of dollars to do so.
In fact, the overwhelming majority of that money has gone towards researching one mammalian genome, Homo sapiens (Humans).
I hope you're starting to see the issue as it relates to Zootopia.
We've invested billions of dollars, as well as work hours towards understanding a single species...and a much smaller fraction towards understanding other species. As a result, we have made INCREDIBLE advances in the intervening decades, but as I wrote earlier, we still don't have a complete picture of what makes us tick biochemically. There are still thousands of proteins contained in our genome that we have no idea what their function is, and that's when we've focused very hard on one species.
In Zootopia we've seen that resources are finite; have and have-nots exist. We don't have specific details on the economics...or even real demographic numbers, but the fact remains that the ability of researchers to focus their efforts on any single species is far less than what we can get away with.
In my mind this would lead to an issue of "Jack of all Trades, Master of None", where the amount of genetic information available in Zootopia would be much greater than our own, but their understanding of that information would, at best, be on par with our own, but more likely significantly behind our level of understanding. How could this be overcome? Well things get messy here, as there are 3 ways that they could deal with this.
More money directed to basic research. Yes, as always this is the easiest solution. Fund more projects, generate more data, and work to increase the scale of research.
In combination with #1, have more mammals enter into scientific research. Just throwing money at the problem won't solve anything unless there are sufficient bodies to perform the research. By increasing the number of scientists, the amount of research done will also increase, but as with money, there are limits as to what you can achieve.
Which brings us to #3, focusing resources on specific demographics. This is one that plays into the species dynamics of Zootopia. In a world of finite resources, prioritizing research would be key to discovering and applying new findings. Let's start with the basics, 90% of the population is prey, and only 10% predator. Already this means that almost all the resources could be (in some ways justifiably directed away from an entire Class of mammals). Then within each group, sub-populations would vie for an increasingly small piece of the pie, and it's quite likely that species with lower social standing (eg Foxes or Raccoons) would be even further marginalized.
Yes, the racial (species) tensions from the movie could well be influencing things in research as well...in fact from experience, I can guarantee that that they would be. From what we've seen of their society, mammals like foxes, mustelids, perhaps some rodent species would probably be the recipient of very little research dollars, and as a result, even from a medical perspective would be second class citizens. The odds are that there would be very limited species-specific research and drug discovery done on these mammals, and they'd probably rely more on research performed for the more "respected" species in Zootopia.
For genera such as Vulpes, they'd probably have to rely on treatments and protocols designed for other canids, but this can lead to problems, as foxes do differ from Canis species, both in terms of metabolism, but also in how they respond to certain classes of drugs.
Of course, some aspects of medicine are pretty much species agnostic, so many surgical techniques could be used across the entire range of mammalian species. Where things get tricky is that, for fields such as anesthesiology, this may not be the case, and ensuring proper sedation can require far more than a back of the envelope calculation based on body weight.
Effectively, I'd wager that for things like drug discovery and genomic research, these lower social status species would be about 10-20 years behind the larger or more respected classes, and this would have an effect on every aspect of their health. Their overall life expectancies might be as much as 30 percent lower than could be possible, and even things such as diet and nutrition guidelines might be based more on tradition than science.
…God it's depressing to think about, but we saw in the film that these kinds of species-specific prejudices do exist, and for the affected predator species in particular, the effect could be dramatic. Not only are they considered as less desirable member of society, they only represent a small fraction of the population.
Now that that's out of the way, it back to the usual Science Time! This chapter had quite a few terms and techniques being discussed, and I wanted to offer some more detailed explanations.
Validation Run: Modern DNA sequencers have some kind of fluidic system involved with them. These fluids flow through extremely narrow tubes and a variety of detectors (based on charge, fluorescence, or time). What this means is that, when you buy one of these machines, there's a bit more involved than just plugging them in. My lab recently bought one small model (only $150,000), and the setup took almost three hours, with two technicians involved. Once that was done, we had to run one sample in accordance with the company's very strict guidelines, or they wouldn't guarantee any data generated by the system.
Rejecting the validation run is vanishingly rare, particularly as it's generally included in the price of the sequencer. Considering that the instant you hit start on one of these units, you basically kiss several thousand dollars worth of reagents goodbye (a full run on a HiSeq costs about $30,000 worth of reagents), a free run is not something to sneeze at.
In situ, in vitro, in silico: This was brought up by WildeNick as he was editing this chapter. The first two terms have been in use for centuries, and are used to differentiate between experiments conducted in the natural location for an object or organism (in situ), or are conducted in an artificial environment, often times a test tube hence the term in vitro (in glass). There are other terms that get used ex vivo, in vivo, and in modern times, in silico. This last term came about once computer simulations came into being, and referred to experiments occurring entirely inside of a computer (in silicon).
Reference vs de novo assembly and sequencing depth: This was covered earlier, but I wanted to go over it again. Most next generation sequencing systems work by generating billions of fragments of DNA sequence. The length of these fragments ranges from as little as 36 base pairs, to over 100,000bp. Where these fragments come from is generally random, as the DNA being sequenced is either enzymatically (think molecular scissors) or physically fragmented (AKA sheared) and then it's all up to random chance what gets sequenced.
As so much of this is random chance, you need to generate far more than one genome's worth of sequence in order to capture all the DNA in an organism. How much you need, depends on how you're going to assemble the data, but generally we aim for a sequencing depth of between 10X (ten times the actual genome size of the organism) to over 100X.
If you already have a sequence for an organism, you can perform what's known as a reference assembly. Basically, it's like having the picture on a puzzle box to work with. You take the sequencing reads, and match them up to the known sequence. Since you have something to build on, you don't need as much data to get the whole genome sequence, but the issue is that, if your sequence diverges too much from the reference, you can lose whole regions, or worse, erroneously assemble the sequence.
To get around this, a de novo (from new) assembly can be performed. The issue here is that you need a lot more depth, as you are assembling a puzzle with no picture on the box to work with. Confounding things is the presence of long repetitive regions in many species' genomes, some of which can go on for over 10,000bp. When you have fragments that are only a few hundred bp in length, I think you can see the problem.
There are two ways to get around this. As is the case in Lost Causes, using a sequencing technology that creates long reads can help you bridge these repetitive regions. These are generally newer systems, but they don't tend to generate as much data per run. For instance, a full run on an Illumina HiSeq (150bp read length) can generate over a trillion base pairs worth of sequence data. Conversely, the Sequel system caps out at about 64-100 billion base pairs. The difference is that the Sequel system creates reads that average over 10,000bp.
Growth Hormone Receptor: This is a highly conserved mammalian receptor that is found in pretty well all sequenced species. It serves to detect the presence of somatotrpphin (more commonly called hGH or human growth hormone), which in turn regulates cell growth and division.
Mammalian Neuroplasticity: This is an interesting aspect of mammalian neural development. Although it continues on throughout our lives, the brain is particularly adept at adapting to new sensory input and control during the early years. This is exemplified by instances where children are better able to adapt to things like missing limbs, and brain damage as a whole. Children take to things like language assimilation, and injury compensation far more easily than adults do, and this can be a big benefit for some conditions. In the case of the Trotter's piglet, having their child begin using modern prostheses as soon as possible will allow her to more full assimilate them into what she'll consider as normal life. Now there are still some aspects that she'll be deficient in, as even the best replacement limbs are still generally deficient in such things as tactile feedback, flexibility and broad usage, but she'll be able to master the use of these limbs far more easily than an adult who would be in a similar situation.
Homologous Recombination: This is a key driver of genetic diversity in eukaryotic species. During meiosis (which produces the sperm and egg cell), it is possible for entire regions of chromosomes to be swapped for the content of the corresponding region of their sister chromatin. The allows for the true melding of the genomes from both the paternal and maternal contribution.
If we think as the chromosomes as a book containing all the instructions for how to build a mammal, what this means is that (for diploid species) you have two copies of each book, and during meiosis, you cut out pager 20-200 from each book and swap them. Provided you swap the same region, or close to it at least, no information is lost, and everything works out fine.
...except when it doesn't. If the recombination goes wrong, and one chromosome gets pages 40-200, while the other gets 20-200, it's possible that critical genes can be lost. When this happens, the gamete either fails, or if it is fertilized, the embryo is non-viable. This is one of the main reasons why many hybrid species are infertile. Although the chromosomes for a lion and a tiger are almost identical, they do differ in where many genes are located on the individual chromosomes.
To use the book analogy again, the two books contain all the same instructions, but have the chapters in a different order, or sometimes even have certain chapters contained in completely different books.
During recombination, this makes it almost a certainty that a recombination event will result in the loss of some genetic content, and as such the overwhelming majority of the gametes that are produced are non-viable. It's only when chance favors the individual, that these events result in an individual with all the required genes.
I'll close things off here, and once again thank everyone who's given this story a chance. Things will be speeding up in the timeline, as the focus will be on the Rey's and their impossible hybrid. I won't promise when chapter 15 will be out, but I will try to make it sooner than two months as was the case for the last two chapters.
My thanks again go out to WIldeNick for editing yet another behemoth of a chapter.
Finally, if you have any questions, please send me a message. I'll try to get back to as soon as I can.
All the best,