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Escape Pod 481: Temporary Friends


Temporary Friends

by Caroline M. Yoachim

The second week of kindergarten, Mimi came home with a rabbit. Despite numerous mentions of the Temporary Friends project in the parent newsletter, I wasn’t prepared to see my five-year-old girl cuddling a honey-colored fluffball that was genetically engineered to have fatally high cholesterol and die of a heart attack later in the school year.

“I named him Mr. Flufferbottom.” Mimi told me. I glared at Great-Grandpa John, who’d been watching her while I finished up my shift at the clinic. He shrugged. My gruff maternal grandfather wasn’t my first choice of babysitter, but he needed a place to stay and I needed someone to watch Mimi after school.

“Are you sure it’s a good idea to name him, honey?” I knelt down and put my hand on Mimi’s shoulder. “He’s a completely biological rabbit, and this kind doesn’t tend to live very long.”

“Teacher said to pick good names for our rabbits,” Mimi said. “Besides, you put new parts on people, so if Mr. Flufferbottom breaks you can fix him.”

Replacement pet parts were readily available online, and the self-installing models could be put in by anyone who could afford the hefty price tag and follow simple instructions. But replacement parts defeated the purpose of the lesson — research showed that children needed to experience death in order to achieve normal emotional development. Aside from the occasional suicide or tragic accident, there weren’t many occasions to deal with loss. Schools were required to incorporate Temporary Friends into their kindergarten curriculum in order to get government funding.

The school couldn’t control what parents did, of course, but the parent newsletter strongly discouraged tampering with the damned death pets in any way.

“Mimi, sweetie, that’s not how it works this time — I know we get a lot of extra parts for Graycat, but your Temporary Friend is only until…” I tried to remember from the newsletter how long the rabbits were engineered to live. Six months? “Only until March, and then we’ll say goodbye.”

I expected Mimi to put up a big fuss, but she didn’t. She took Mr. Flufferbottom to the cage we’d set up in her room and got him some food and water.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 279: Conditional Love

Show Notes

Show Notes:

  • Serious apologies – circumstances this week had me recording later than usual.
  • Feedback for Episode 271
  • Next week… A longer piece by Blake Charlton

Conditional Love

By: Felicity Shoulders

The new patient was five or six years old, male, Caucasian, John Doe as usual.  Grace checked the vitals his bed sensors were feeding her board and concluded he was asleep.  She eased the door of 408 open and stepped in.

The boy’s head was tilted on his pillow, brown curls cluttering his forehead.  Sleep had flushed his cheeks so he looked younger than the estimate.  He seemed healthy, with no visible deformities, and if he had been opted for looks, it had worked—Grace would have described him as ‘cherubic’.  He wouldn’t have been dumped if nothing was wrong, so Grace found herself stepping softly, unwilling to disturb him and discover psychological conditions.

“Don’t worry about waking him, he sleeps pretty deep.”

Grace started and turned to the other bed.  “Hi, Minnie.”

The girl grimaced.  “I go by my full name now, Dr. Steller.”  Grace brought up her board to refresh her memory, but the girl said, “Minerva.  Had you forgotten they’re doubling up rooms?”

“Yep, you caught me.”

“Is the rise in numbers caused by a rise in opting?  Or is it a rise in surrenders, or arrests of parents?”

“Lord, Minn—Minerva, I don’t know.  Planning to be a reporter when you grow up?”

“No, a scientist,” Minerva said and smiled, pleased to be asked.

“Why the scalpel-edged questions then?”

“Just curious if my campaign had had any effect,” Minerva said, nodding toward the window.  The billboard across from the Gene-Engineered Pediatric Inpatient Center flashed a smog warning, then a PSA about eye strain from computer visors, but Grace remembered when it had borne a static image:  Minnie, one year old, a pink sundress exposing the stubs of her arms and legs.  _Babies should be born, not made._  The ad had stayed up until Minnie was eight, three years after her parents turned her over to GEPIC, and apparently she had seen it.  She was twelve now, with serious eyes and a loose ponytail, dark blonde.