's 2017 Horror Write-off:

Shopping Around

Submitted by Hisham Hasan

"Beautiful, isn't it? A very docile pet." The saleswoman smiled. She was genuinely friendly; not just trying to get a sale. He should have gone to a high-class establishment in the first place.

He looked closely at the tank. "Is this as big as it gets?"

"This is our standard size, we can engineer other sizes. There is a jumbo version, and a toy size."

"But nothing under a foot?"

She shook her head. "No sir. There are attempts to engineer a micro size, and some successes, but none are available commercially."

He turned back to the tank. "Still, standard size is the easiest to care for, right?"

"That's correct."

"I've heard," he began thoughtfully, "that there were certain problems, with respiration?"

"Unfortunately, this model is well known for that problem. But we are constantly trying to perfect them. This one," she motioned at the tank, "has both gills and lungs. It will rise to take a breath every 10 minutes or so. When asleep, oxygen requirement are decreased, so gill respiration suffices. This is the most common iteration, and the one with least problems. A smaller fraction, however, have only gills, or very small lungs that are solid tissue and thus nonfunctional. Some of these fare very well, but in others the gills aren't sufficient, and well..." She shrugged apologetically.

"Finally, we a few who have just lungs. These don't last long, because everything needs to sleep eventually and they end up drowning, so we usually cull them. Some people, however, have had success with keeping them in very shallow pools and tanks, or putting them in harnesses or attaching flotation devices when it's bedtime, to keep them at the surface."

"Fortunately, those two outcomes are rare. At any rate we will not hand over any pet until we are sure of its physiology, and in the event of a defective model, should you choose not to take it home, we will gladly culture a new one, as many times as needed."

He nodded approvingly. This really was a high-class establishment; the real professionals.

"What about the scales? I've heard you had to trim them?"

She chuckled. "Oh, that! That was a problem with the earlier models. You know how nails grow continuously, and early geneticists didn't really understand the implications. But our newer models have the nail beds stop growing after a certain length, so there is limit to their length before they are naturally shed. The only time you ever need to trim them is in case of broken scales, or nails rather, or if one becomes ingrown. A rare few might have a scale or two that grows continuously, but those are isolated cases."

"Amazing how you guys think up of these things. Nails as scales. And about the tail? How did you make multi-lobed like that?"

"Oh, that was relatively simple in concept, if not implementation. Twinned pelvises, with the second pelvis rotated outward and upwards. Once the angle is correct, it's just a matter of modifying the legs.

" He pointed towards the head. "This one's eyes looks really good. It's a telescope-eyes, right? Yet I've heard of some horror stories..."

She grimaced. "It's because people don't engineer responsibly. Some people just want bigger and bigger eyes, without considering the feasibility, and then you get stories of giant eyeballs falling out of their socket. It really gives a bad name to the industry. I mean, we have a couple of researchers working on a jumbo-eye strain, but of course we won't have them for sale until the model is stabilized. But some people aren't willing to do proper work, and just want to make a quick buck. This one's eyes won't fall out, no matter how big they get."

He made sound of approval. "Good, cause I always liked telescope eyes."

She smiled. "Would you like to see the Oranda and Lionhead models now? A bit more extensive, but very beautiful..."

"No, I think someone like should stick to something easier, at least at first. Alright, I'll make my order."

"Very good sir, come this way." They headed over to desk, where he filled out a few forms. He ticked off the model (Telescope) size (standard), color (calico) and tail shape (forked plumetail) that he wanted.

She looked over the paperwork, then nodded. "Very good sir. And your DNA sample?"

He placed a small metallic cylinder on the counter. "Right here."

She scanned it, then her eyes widened. "Oh, this isn't..."

"Not me. My dearly departed mother."

Her tone became professional. "Sir, in cases where the donor of the sample is a different individual than the buyer, then the buyer must make a formal request to-"

"There's more paperwork?" He looked stunned. "But they didn't tell me-I mean, they said they just handed over the DNA! "

"As long as it's your own DNA, you are free to do whatever you want with it. But in this case, and a deceased individual at that...I'm sorry, sir, but there is a procedure-"

"Just kidding!" He grinned. "Yes, yes, I have the paperwork right here, the judge's order and my mother's signed waiver."

"Oh you," she scolded good-naturedly, trying and failing to conceal her smile.

After she scanned the documents and his debit card, she handed him a receipt. "

So when can I pick it up?"

"In about six weeks. Gestation takes around four weeks, then we monitor development for another two weeks, then if everything is fine we release it to you. You are free to visit during that time, if you want." He smiled back. "Thanks, I'll keep it in mind."

He left PersonPet with a new spring in his step. He'll see his mother soon enough. Well, time to buy a tank.