It is night, the type of bleak, starless night where one can make out the forms of great clouds, vast palls of blackness hovering over the London skyline like so much choking, toxic smog. Below, the river slashes through the sleeping city, a twisting gash of black-bubbling water, hissing with the corpses of the diseased and the dead, slowly putrefying in its darkness.
Gradually, the outlines of a large building begin to hove into view – a great warehouse surrounded by an electrified perimeter and snarling barbed wire, a warehouse whose vast windows are clogged over in a dull rusty grime. But still we move closer, an invisible presence on the air, passing through the walls, into the building’s insides.
There we can make out two figures stood in the gloom. The first is dressed in a lab-coat; a bespectacled figure who gesticulates as he speaks, a strung-out individual who has drunk way too much coffee, twitchy with fatigue and anxiety. The other figure is taller, immobile – as you get closer the recognition begins to dawn. For it is none other than the government’s special advisor Dominic Cummings.
Only at the same time it is not quite him at all. For this figure has no pupils; rather his eyes are entirely black. And where his nose should be, there are instead two lizard-like slits. His skin is a pale, translucent white – the colour of bleached bone. You suddenly understand; this is the face behind the mask, this is the real Cummings, denuded of his human apparel. His voice is toneless and deathly in the gloom.
‘Well, what do you have for me?’ he commands.
The other man at once begins to yabber excitedly.
‘My liege, my master – this one is the best yet. We have denuded it of all emotion, we have stripped it of the very possibility of empathy. The new model has been programmed entirely in line with the requirements drawn up by Conservative Party HQ – it can’t be reasoned with, it can’t be appealed to, and it will never…ever stop…’
The Dark Lord/Cummings raises his hand, cutting the other off mid-sentence.
‘Enough, let’s get to it.’
The other walks over to a large wooden container. He speaks in a softer voice now, almost reverentially.
‘My Lord, I present to you… The Tory 1000!’
He creaks open the tall wooden panel on the front of the box. Cummings leans forward. At first there is nothing but darkness, the darkness of a tomb. But then you catch the dull glinting glow of two dots of silver which gradually become eyes, as from the black, a human shaped figure begins to assume form, lurching forward. It is dressed in a business suit; the pigmentation of its smooth skin is exceptionally lifelike – manicured fingernails shine dully in the shadows. And yet, despite the attention to detail; those eyes – they are doll’s eyes, a mannequin’s eyes – there is no soul which lives behind them.
Only the ghost in the machine.
The Dark Lord/Cummings looks at the figure before speaking in a sudden, staccato burst:
‘Why did the government legally downgrade Covid 19 from a high consequence infectious disease to one which didn’t require the same level of PPE support for medical staff?’
The machine’s head swings round violently towards Cummings, its inanimate eyes, glowing, lit by a sudden manic intensity.
‘I want to be absolutely clear,’ it shrills, ‘we have been following scientific advice on this throughout…’
‘But what about those people who have lost their lives due to inadequate safe-guarding?’ the Dark Lord/Cummings presses.
The machine lurches forward, its face set in a dull, dead rictus grimace of determination.
‘The science on this is developing all the time, it is an unprecedented virus…BUT LET ME BE ABSOLUTELY CLEAR. WE HAVE BEEN ABSOLUTELY CLEAR THAT WE ARE FOLLOWING THE SCIENTIFIC ADVICE. THE PUBLIC KNOWS THAT, ON THIS ISSUE, WE ARE FOLLOWING THE VERY LATEST ADVICE, THE LATEST SCIENTIFIC ADVICE, THE SCIENTIFIC ADVICE THAT I WANT TO BE ABSOLUTELY CLEAR ABOUT. WE HAVE BEEN FOLLOWING THIS ADVICE FROM THE VERY START OF THIS CRISIS. NHS. GREAT BRITISH PUBLIC. SCIENTIFIC ADVICE…’
The Dark Lord/ Cummings turns to the diminutive scientist in whose bearing one can detect a slight tremble. The black films of the government’s ‘special adviser’s’ eyes gleam malevolent and gleeful. The one word resonates the smoky darkness.