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Perseph was really ticked.

Outwardly, Io made all the right sympathetic sounds, though actually she had little use for her friend's anger. It had been Perseph's choice to hire her womb to a freelance codder of dubious pedigree, without even vetting him through an agent.

They're all sperm crazy," Io had warned months earlier, as the two of them sat together on her narrow con-apt balcony, watching a twilight-flattened sun squeeze berryjuice color into stained horizon clouds. Nearer, a warm mist sublimed from the boggy reed beds of the Mersey estuary, a haze presently fanned into tattered wisps by homebound flocks of noisy sea birds.

There's no profit in placental jobbing, and no hope for advancement," Io told Perseph that evening. “Me, I'll stick to egg work,"

But egg jobs cost you to get started," Perseph complained. “And a failure can ruin you in non-delivery charges. Then where's your investment?"

As if Perseph knew what the word meant! Like most pieceworkers, the tall brunette never saved a penny out of her delivery fees, blowing it all on the move-party circuit until it was time to return to her dole cheques and her next surro-pregnancy. No wonder Perseph stayed with placental-fab. Some people just had no ambition.

Io vividly recalled that evening, several months ago, when the two of them watched silent marsh fog diffuse raggedly over the muddy riverbanks into Ellesmere Port's cattle yards, softening the complacent lowing of the animals, if not their pungent aroma.

Twenty-four hours a day, lorries pulled out from the milking sheds and parturition barns, carrying bulk loads of gene-designed oils, polymers and industrial membranes. The mass production of specially bred fabricows dwarfed the output of small-time contractors like Perseph or Io. Rumor had it ICI housed their pampered creatures here on the south bank to intimidate the pieceworkers living in derelict marinas and towering co-op houseboats nearby.

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