Flash fiction

The professor stared at the words Top Secret on the analysis report ad the red diagonal band. She lifted it from the pile and read the title: Wuhan Biological Weapons Capability and Covid-19. She shrugged.

Covid-19

Craig McPherson had watched many civilians exposed to top secrets. Generally he could feel their excitement and awe. But not this time. ‘Professor,’ he said, ‘you’ve joined our Current Intelligence Group. Our CIG’s intelligence assessment will be seen by senior ministers and our cousins in the USA. You need to read the intelligence analysis reports rather than stare at their titles.’

The professor pulled at the sleeve of her blouse, she clenched her teeth, and she read.

The reading room was a white-walled cell, without even a window or toilet. There were two desks facing each other. One for the reader, and the other for the supervisor. Except that this time Craig had not delegated the supervision. He wanted to watch the professor, and explore his suspicion that she did not belong in their CIG. Current Intelligence Groups in the UK relied on consensus. Craig suspected mavericks were better suited to the combative approach in the USA.

‘Professor, that Top Secret report you flicked through in two minutes – it cost the United States hundreds of thousands of dollars.’

The Professor did not look up. ‘Governments like spending the people’s money.’

‘You can’t dismiss the research so lightly. China’s laboratory in Wuhan is capable of manufacturing biological weapon.’

‘Quite probably. I could manufacture them in my kitchen.’ She moved to the next report and started flicking through the pages. This report was intelligence research rather than intelligence analysis.

‘Professor, how can you provide expert testimony to our CIG if you don’t read the evidence?’

She looked up briefly. ‘The words “tunnel vision” come to mind.’

Craig pretended to read his own stack of reports, but his thoughts were on the mechanics of how to have her removed from his Current Intelligence Group. The “request” to include her had come from the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office. He’d need to show her as incompetent or subversive.

She took the next report, skimmed the synopsis, glanced at the contents, then picked a single section. Craig was sure she said the word rubbish. ‘What’s wrong?’ he asked.

‘Do any of these reports cover how China is expected to deliver these biological weapons?’

‘The fourth report on your pile: it considers scenarios. One of those is a major conflict in which China infects people in the US supply line, so they infect front-line troops.’

‘It would take weeks to spread.’

‘China is not like the Middle East. It plays a long strategic game in its conflicts.’

The professor turned to the third report. This one she read carefully.

‘Happier now?’ Craig asked.

‘No. Do any of these reports cover the development of antidotes to protect Chinese personnel involved in these supposed conflicts?’

‘The sixth report covers that. The Chinese have done trials on people in Xinjiang in the so-called “re-education camps”. There were elevated fatality rates.’

‘Then the whole research assessment is a false lead. Let’s set aside the reality that China does not have any experience of major military conflicts. The bigger question is why China would develop biological weapons that would inevitably spread to its own population, two months later.’

‘Because they don’t care if people die.’

‘Not true. Their response to natural disasters improved dramatically following public criticism. And for certain, their leaders do not want to die from a coronavirus outbreak.’

‘Are you implying this whole assessment exercise is a waste of money and time?’

‘No, Craig. It’s very worthwhile to prove it’s an absurd notion.’

‘I can’t see the current President of the United States agreeing with you.’

‘I don’t care what goes on his head or what he tweets. What’s important is that the US military would not dare go to war on evidence like this. This is the price of peace.’