Trying to write a hard science fiction story in less than 600 words is hard. I gave it a shot. For your enjoyment:
The Emergency Department at New Canterbury University Medical Center was busy, as always. The usual Friday-night crowd of drunks, drug-seekers, and assorted other illnesses (real and imagined), waited impatiently for treatment. They would be waiting a long time; most of the doctors, nurses, technicians, and other medical personnel were clustered in one treatment room, attending to a seven-year-old boy in acute respiratory distress.
Despite strict confidentiality policies, most of the staff were at least familiar with Mikey DeMeter’s name. He’d been a patient often enough - his entire young life had been one respiratory emergency after the other - but his name was most often spoken in hushed whispers when no one in authority was within earshot.
His mother and father were both NCU professors; his paternal grandfather was the Chairman of the Genetics Department at NCU; another NCU professor, Dr. Collins (an old fraternity brother of Mikey’s grandfather, Dr. DeMeter) had made the back page of the local papers for leading a team that found a perfectly-preserved corpse of a Bronze Age nomad under the ice in the mountains of northern Italy; Mikey’s mother Jeanette was impregnated through in-vitro fertilization shortly after Dr. Collins’ team returned from Italy. It was easy for the staff at NCUMC to jump to conclusions; especially since Dr. DeMeter’s well-known zeal for cloning experiments often butted up against the concerns of the NCU Ethics Committee.
By all accounts, Mikey DeMeter was a perfectly ordinary, if quite sickly, little boy. Almost from birth he was in the Emergency Department frequently for breathing issues. Doctors had tried everything; intubation, drug therapy, nebulizers, the whole bit. Battery after battery of tests failed to reveal any known cancers or other diseases. Teams of investigators searched his family’s home from ceiling to floor, looking for molds, bacteria cultures, anything. Nothing was ever found, and no therapies seemed to work. It was is if the boy’s lungs simply refused to accept the air he was given to breathe.
Mikey lay gasping for breath on a gurney in exam room 16A, clutching his stuffed tiger. His mother, Jeanette, sat on an uncomfortable chair by his bedside, sobbing into her hands. His father, Michael Jr., stared blithely into space. Neither seemed to notice the crush of people moving in and out of their room, scurrying this way and that around their dying little boy. Hours passed; Mikey’s breathing got weaker and weaker. A crush of family, friends, and clergy were in and out, all suppressing sobs.
Dr. Michael DeMeter, Sr., former professor at New Canterbury University, and former chair of the Genetics Department, packed the belongings from his office. Rather than face yet another Ethics Committee grilling, and the agonizing (and likely, very public) tenure revocation process, Dr. DeMeter voluntarily submitted his resignation. Unauthorized human cloning experiments weren’t likely to go over very well with the university’s donors; they would likely have lead to criminal charges, if the government had ever gotten around to writing legislation about it. Instead, Dr. DeMeter chose to put the whole business to rest as quickly and quietly as possible. And so it was that, six weeks after his grandson’s death, he showed up at work for the last time. The last of his curios, artifacts, awards, honors, and degrees, to be removed from his wall was a simple, college-ruled piece of notebook paper. Written on it, in blue Crayloa crayon, in the obvious scrawl of a young child still learning to write, were his grandson’s last words. “I’m sorry Mama. I tried.”