Lauren struggled to open her eyes, the lids heavy, the light in the room blinding. What time is it? It was evening when–

“You’re awake, good”

Darren. They were having dinner when she–

“The sedative will wear off shortly, you’ll be a bit groggy, and the epidural will make it impossible for you to move, but try not to be alarmed.”

She forced her eyes open, blinked as they teared against the bright light of the room. Darren stood facing her, stripped to the waist, one hand cradling the other elbow, idly stroking his chin with his free hand.

“The van I brought you here in is radio opaque, and this entire building is wired such that we’re untraceable. I don’t expect company.”

He moved to a chair opposite, still watching her. On the table beside him she could make out an array of tools, and a camera on a long articulated arm, which he pulled and pointed at his midsection while he continued to talk.

“It’s entirely possible that you don’t know why you’re here, and if that’s the case, I will be happy to apologize, but I’ve a nagging suspicion that you do, in which case – well – we’ll get to that later.”

She could see clearly now, a flat screen on the table beside him flared to life, displaying a high definition view of his lower right abdomen, each individual muscle clearly defined, sweat glistening on the olive-coloured, tightly stretched skin.

“You won’t remember,” he continued, “around my nineteenth birthday when my appendix ruptured. Messy business, rushed to the ER. Doctor went in through my stomach with what I can only assume was an axe, judging by the scar he left behind. Hurt to do anything for months while it healed. Sneezing, oh my god sneezing was exquisitely excruciating.”

He doused a cotton swab with dark brown fluid and scrubbed his right flank.

“Three years ago my body rejected the stitches they’d used, presumably they were supposed to dissolve, but they didn’t, and eventually my body took notice and an abscess formed around them. Messier still than the first round, rushed back into the ER, and another Doctor went back through the same scar tissue with, I’m guessing, a saws-all this time and cleaned everything out.”

He picked up a scalpel from the table, and paused, making deliberate eye contact.

“I’m pretty sure that’s when they put it in.”

She flinched and looked away, there was something about his eyes, a cold clarity that she wasn’t used to that frightened her more than the fact that he’d apparently kidnapped her and stuck a drip line into her spine.

“One summer as a teenager I spent a day out at the beach, it was overcast and I didn’t think about the sun but I burnt to a crisp. Do you notice the tan I’ve got now? Don’t you think it odd that my delicate white skin has become so resilient to UV rays? Last week I was at my barber and he complemented me on my hair replacement program, wondered who I used because he’d never seen a bald patch grow back in so quickly and completely.”

Still fingering the scalpel, he retrieved a number of gauze pads on their opened sterile wrappers and laid them on his lap.

“I can hear things far beyond what’s natural, and I can feel things with a depth and fidelity that I’ve never known before. I can feel this,” he waved the blade around his abdomen, “this foreign body in me, feel the virus it controls coursing through my veins. I can sense when they change its instructions and feel the ripple through my body, the newly versioned cells overtaking the obsolete ones as they die off and my entire being upgrades.”

“Have you noticed, the scar on my stomach?” He stretched pulling the camera closer and panning across the smooth flesh, devoid of any imperfections. “You never commented that it had gone, but you must have noticed. Didn’t that seem strange to you?”

Lauren studied him then, there was no doubt he was not quite the same man she’d first been introduced to, he was better in so many subtle ways, like a Darren that had been iterated over in design relentlessly.

“What do you want from me?” She sounded braver than she felt.

“Well, first I’m going to carve out whatever device they’ve buried inside of me, and I expect I should heal back up with alarming rapidity, and then we’re going to determine whether the virus they infected me with is contagious, or if you’re an observer, or perhaps this is just a double blind study and you truly don’t know anything about it.”

Lauren flinched. “What do you mean?”

Darren drew the scalpel across his stomach, blood welling out around the wound.

“Someone’s been following me, that much I know, and I’m curious, for example, how when I met you, you were blind as a bat, and yet you’ve been able to pay such close attention to what I’m doing when your glasses are right here on my table.”