At first, you make it easy for yourself. You possess a member of a clade on the outskirts, away from the dark, looming presence of the London Mind. You barely have to stretch yourself: the clade's small village is halfway to your boundaries, and your ride ­– a woman named nDevan323 – shares genetic material with the last Receptive you've colonised. As you slip into her bloodstreams, assimilating nanite after nanite, you taste familiar code, with the slightly acrid aftertaste of decay – the never-ending fight of the immune system against cancerous, decaying cells, the hundred infections dormant in the body, awaiting the smallest of nudges to unfold in dark, grim coronas within muscles and flesh and bone. Of course, you do not nudge. You might not be human ­– you might be beyond the pale yourself, something dark and disgusting that your creators rejected – but you're not cruel. Equally, you don't take over, wearing your ride like a puppet glove – your lineage is a mix of

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