The Last of His Kind
By Lars Ahn
The vet shakes his head and looks sadly at me. The stable, usually a place of warmth and comfort, suddenly feels like a prison.
“How serious is it?” I ask.
“It’s grass sickness. He is not going to survive the night. I recommend we end his sufferings and put him down right now.”
“You’re certain of that?” I say, even though he has only confirmed my own suspicion. This is what I feared when Chiron became ill less than 24 hours ago.
The vet nods. “He’s got all the symptoms. Colic, excess salivation, difficulties in swallowing, lack of appetite, muscle tremors … Grass sickness is a terrible disease. The mortality rate is over 95 per cent, and we still don’t know what causes it or how to treat it.”
He sighs. “I’ve seen it in all types of horses, donkeys and ponies and when you guys called me to examine your unicorn, I thought that would be my strangest case ever. But this …”
“I know,” I say. “This is something else.”
An abomination. That was my reaction, I am ashamed to say, when I first heard about them, so I can’t really blame the vet for acting a bit weird towards Chiron. That’s not to say he doesn’t conduct himself like a true professional in the situation. He keeps his comments neutral and to the point and refrains from making faces, unlike some of his colleagues. Of course, it is to be expected because he is paid handsomely under the table to do so, due to the clandestine nature of this place, but I’m still grateful for his restraint.
I don’t know why I was offered the task of being their caretaker. I suppose something in my history as a succesful horse breeder and riding instructor must have put me on somebody’s map. And facing a ban of several years from the sport after accusations of illegal training methods, I wasn’t hard to persuade.
But I like to believe I would have taken the job anyway. You see, whatever my opinions were about them beforehand, they vanished the instant I met them. It was not just the spectacle of mythological creatures brought alive, that so entranced me, but also the combination of sheer elegance and savagery. They were an imposing sight, 1200 lbs. of pure muscle power on four legs, and with their sculptured torsos and chiseled features you could readily believe Greek gods were their creators and not, as in fact, scientists in a lab.
It may sound odd, coming from a big horse-lover as myself, but my time with Chiron and his buddies was probably the happiest I have ever been. I came to love them all, but Chiron was my favorite. He stood out from the others, who lived up to their reputation by being warlike and ferocious. Chiron was a more gentle spirit, although he still cut a frightening figure when he came charging at you at full speed. At first, I feared his lack of temper and strength would make him an easy target in combat, but he made up for his weaknesses by being agile and clever. To my surprise, he very rarely lost a duel.
I am often asked how intelligent creatures like Chiron really are? Are they more human than animal and does one part dominate the other? Do they have a consciousness?
My default reply is that they are neither man nor beast, but something new, and we should be thankful we have been given the chance of experiencing them. If I have to be honest that’s just bullshit and I’m not even sure I know the real answer. Chiron can’t speak and I have never heard him utter a single sound that can be construed as an actual word. Yes, he is able to smile and laugh but it feels more like instinctive gestures than actual signs of emotions. Ultimately, he may not be smarter than a chimpanzee or an expertly trained circus horse, no matter how much he looks like us.
“Which method do you prefer?” The vet asks. “Bolt or- “
I don’t hesitate. “An injection.”
“Are you sure? Last time-“
“Do I have to repeat myself?” I say, sounding more curt than I intend.
I am well aware the decision to use a lethal injection will not make me popular with my superiors. I can’t prevent the autopsy, but at least the chimeras and griffins won’t be able to feast on Chiron’s remains like they did with the unicorns. In that respect, this zoo is no different from the regular ones.
I am not naive. I was well aware of the controversy surrounding Chiron and his fellows, but I was still taken by surprise when the law was amended. Almost overnight, all artificially created animals were deemed illegal and had to be eliminated.
But as I was preparing to say goodbye to Chiron, I got an unexpected call. It came from a group who opposed the new law and wanted to open their own private zoo for these doomed creatures. It was, without saying, blatantly illegal, but they were people with enough influence and financial means not to care. The one negative: They only had room for one specimen. Was I interested? I only had to look at Chiron to know the answer.
So we fled and left the rest of the herd to their tragic fate, only to learn it had all been in vain. I have heard experts claim creatures like Chiron are an impossibility, that should have stayed a myth and never been brought to life. Compared to a horse, the human body doesn’t have the heart, brain and lung capacity to be paired with the body of an animal, that weighs so much more and requires an enormous amount of energy to keep functioning. The scientists probably did try to compensate for it in the labs but instead it seems to have weakened the immune system – not only in Chiron’s kind but in other creatures as well. As a consequence, the mortality rate at our zoo is alarmingly high. So far, we have lost two unicorns, a minotaur and three mermaids, and our sponsors are definitely not happy, and I won’t be surprised if they soon decide to close us down.
And now, it is Chiron’s turn. A horse disease will be end of him and his species, and I’m trying hard not to see the irony in that fact. It’s almost as if God has decided to give the opponents a win and mock the part of humanity who foolishly thought they had discovered the ability to create life.
The vet is preparing the syringe. Chiron is already lying on the floor and I am patting him without really knowing if it is for the benefit of him or me. But as I sit by his side I catch a look in his eyes, and for the first time I feel it is not just me watching him, but he is actually trying to tell me something. It might be wishful thinking but finally I can’t reject the notion: Chiron knows he is about to die and it makes him afraid. I suppress a sob and wipe my eyes before standing up. I approach the vet and touch his shoulder.
“I should do it,” I say.
He looks astonished but let me take the syring without protests. Perhaps he is secretly relieved, he is not about to go down in history as the man who killed off the last specimen of a race, who, according to most people, should never have been created in the first place. I kneel beside Chiron and inject the powerful dose of sleeping medicine into his neck artery. The effect kicks in immediately. Life rapidly vanishes from his eyes and while I am waiting for his steadily weakening breathing to stop, I say goodbye, the only way I can think of to honor him and his species and everything they were.
I hold his hand.