Tales of the Asp: The Asp's Gift to Parents, by Aidan Butler

     The Hearts-on-Wheels baby carriage was the most impressive model on the market: a flawlessly-crafted compromise between traditional parental concerns and the luxuries of modern technology. Like any baby carriage, it had four wheels, an adjustable sun-shield, and ample cushioning. It could be pushed with ease along the sidewalk by a loving parent or care-taker.

     Unlike more basic designs, however, it was equipped with an engine that could be switched to auto-pilot mode; its on-board computer could be programmed in detail for a particular route, allowing the parent to walk effortlessly beside it while it deftly manoevered turns, slowed down for bumps, and, with its voice-sensor, stopped, slowed down or sped up in response to verbal instructions from the parent.

     For unusually demanding babies, it could be fitted with water-cushions rather than feather pillows. Most models were equipped with small-screen televisions to entertain the children. The mattress- cover could function as an electric-blanket, providing warmth identical to that of a mother's bossom; the lower mattress was battery-powered and could be set to vibrate.

     Special features were implemented for children with health complications, such as a tinted plastic cover to protect children prone to freckling; a built-in humidifier; special gas tanks that could spray a fine mist of ritalin (or other pharmaceuticals) at the baby's face, soothing him or her into sheer chemical bliss.

     The Asp donated more than twenty of these super-expensive baby carriages to community service centers in lower-income neighborhoods, which loaned them out to economically disadvantaged families with newborns. Naturally, there were limits to the Asp's generosity. Oh, he asked for no money in return; that would be heartless; all he asked for was the opportunity to share in the families' joy.

     This he ensured for himself by modifying the carriages' on-board computers with special maps of the city's streets and sidewalks that bore little resemblance to the actual urban terrain. The carriages launched off of curbs, slammed into telephone poles; they wholly ignored the most urgent vocal commands from parents, sped up to nearly 40 MPH approaching complicated intersections, then slowed to a sluggish, jerky, zig-zag crawl while crossing wide, busy streets.

     The sabotaged voice-sensors could not decode utterances made with foreign accents -- Canadian, English, Italian, Spanish, urban slang, etc.

     Obeying the Asp's programming "errors," the pharmaceutical sprays went off at random.

     The built-in television sets switched to pirate cable stations featuring child pornography.

     The humidifier's tubes crossed with the engine's exhaust pipes.

     The water-cushions warmed up to a boil by the blanket-heaters and burst open, belching out steaming froth, transforming the carriages into geysers on wheels, poaching the babies.

     Several parents, terrified that they had destroyed the expensive carriages and would have to cover the repair costs, abandoned them, baby and all.

     One of the carriages collided forcefully with an electrical utility box. This particular carriage was not equipped with water-cushions. If it had been, the cushions might have ruptured and extinguished the initial sparks, but instead, the carriage was soon engulfed in murderous flames. Multi-colored columns of fire spurted skyward; the carriage's electrical wires swished violently through the air, spraying sparks and drops of molten plastic, while carbon monoxide clouds spewed from its exploding engine. Shreds of smouldering cloth drifted from the inferno like incinerated pigeons. The Hearts-on-Wheels baby carriage had turned into a rolling barbecue.

     The Asp, standing at the adjacent curb, laughed heartily, then dashed over with a joyous grin and a large aluminum fork. Digging through the charred remains, he made no effort to wipe the drool from his glistening chin.

Tales of the Asp
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