Version 1 (March 2020)

“You can’t publish like that…it’ll go viral.”

“Oh haha.”  Derek’s hands, blue stained as if by some alien contagion, clapped together in sarcastic applause.

“No, seriously.  You can’t.  I mean it,” said John.

“Look, I’m on your side,” said Derek, returning to his blotted note-book to try spelling out the new name of the doom that John had just uttered: Neuromania.  “If we don’t work together on this, you know someone else will get hold of it, and then it’s out of our hands.  Who knows where it will end up…what might happen.”

John reflected on the journalist’s words as he travelled home.  He looked at the other passengers, and couldn’t help but feel a pang of sympathy for them all, even for the baby whose squealing tantrum had shattered the Tube’s zombie peace when she had been bundled on at Kilburn.  Four more stops to think about the end of the world before he could hide in his flat and shut it out.  At least until it came knocking on his door, clamouring for an interview with the man who had leaked the leak at the Centre for Virus Control.

When he finally arrived home, he locked himself in, put on both kettle and radio and stared into the freezer.  While wondering if potato croquettes could possibly inspire anyone to cooking nirvana, he heard the pips and the reassuring authority of BBC Radio 4’s continuity announcer proclaim that in a change to the scheduled episode of The Archers, there would be a statement from the Prime Minister.

* * *

While John was fretting about the wisdom of his decision to betray a confidence, Derek was still at his desk, trying to compose the headline he would give to his editor.  Despite the inky fingers, he was a careful writer, and he wanted to get this right.  But he still found it difficult to contain his excitement at getting hold of the story of the century.  This was what he had been dreaming of, what had kept him going at night school, at college, as he worked to edit the errors of his misspent teen years, and what helped him face the derision of the younger students who poked fun at his thin, grey comb-over.  He couldn’t help smiling at the thought of their white sheet faces when they read his splash in The Times.  But first, he had to get these words just right.  He toyed with a few ideas.

“Leaked Test Virus Will Kill Bill-ions”

Quentin Tarantino might snort with approval, but it smacked of insensitivity.

“Panic Over Neuromania Killer: PM Speaks.”

The PM will be among the first to go, before there is panic, so he won’t be speaking about it.  Derek pushed his chair back and rested his hands on the belly which threatened to escape from the grubby shirt that barely contained it.  He felt that he needed to eat to help inspiration, but he worried that John might already be on Facebook, or on the phone to his mother, or to another journalist. 

“Probably that smug prick at The Telegraph,” Derek muttered, thinking of the go-to guy for the BBC whenever political comment is wanted on what the PM thinks.  He was about to draw himself back to his desk when he pricked up his ears at the announcement on the TV hung over the sub-editor’s desk.

…a statement from the Prime Minister.”

“Good evening.  I need to speak to you now about a grave situation which emerged while on my visit to the Centre for Virus Control last month.  Before accusations of fake news cloud the truth.  Before panic sets in.”

Version 2

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