Ivory Tower: an action thriller starring the chief scientific adviser
Scene 1: An office in the Department of Health and Social Care
Vallance: I won’t do it anymore, I’m handing in my badge.
Hancock: Your NHS “care” lapel pin?
Vallance: No, the whole lanyard.
Hancock: Your swipe card and photo ID? But how will you make it to the Downing Street press conference this evening?
Vallance: You haven’t been listening Mancock
Vallance: I though the H was silent.
Hancock: I get it a lot
Vallance: You haven’t been listening Hancock, I ain’t goin’ out there anymore. I’m through with fronting dodgy graphs and justifying ministerial actions. I haven’t had a break since this whole thing started. I’m owed a few days leave and I’m going to take them.
Hancock: Going anywhere nice?
Vallance: Yeah, my conservatory. I’ve got nine months of The New Scientist to catch up on. I’m not going to be your token boffin anymore.
[He slams his lanyard on the desk and walks out. Hancock picks up the phone]
Hancock: We have a problem with Vallance, can you deal with it?
Scene 2: Vallance’s conservatory.
Vallance: Where did I put it? Can’t find it anywhere…
[His mobile phone rings]
Voice: Professor Vallance?
Vallance: Speaking, look if it’s about the road tax thing, I’ve been really busy lately and I’ll get round to it this weekend.
Voice: No, Mr Vallance, we have something of yours.
Vallance: Did I forget to pick up my dry cleaning again?
Voice: Something very precious to you. Have you noticed anything missing, Mr Vallance?
Vallance: Don’t you dare touch a hair…
Voice: We have them Mr Vallance and if you ever want to see them again you will be in Downing St for the prime minister’s press conference at 5pm.
Vallance: I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you’re looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. A few shares perhaps but no money…but what I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let them go now, that will be the end of it—I will not look for you, I will not pursue you…but if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you…and I will be very cross with you.
Voice: Good luck Mr Vallance. 5pm or else…OK
[We hear a ping, then the phone hangs up]
Vallance: If I’m not mistaken that was the ping of the NHS Track & Trace app ghosting, telling someone they were in contact with a Tory MP with Covid-19. I know a man who can help.
[He dials a number]
Vallance: Dom is that you?
Cummings: What do you want? I’m watching PJ Masks.
Vallance: I thought you were working from home?
Cummings: I am. I’m watching PJ Masks and then I’m going to write a 30,000 word blog on how quantum mechanics, Sun Tzü and the diaries of Nikola Tesla can help create mobile cities of the future.
Vallance: Whatever, Dom. Listen, you know how we said that no data would be saved from the Track and Trace app and that it would all be anonymous.
Cummings: You said that, yes.
Vallance: You can track someone by their app, right?
Cummings: Of course, who do you want to find?
Vallance: Listen to this.
[He plays back a recording, “Good luck Mr. Vallance. 5pm or else. Ping”]
Cummings: Let me just feed that through the mutant algorithm checker. Yes, came from 1 Victoria Street, SW1H.
Vallance: The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Scene 3: Matt Hancock’s office.
Hancock: I’m afraid Vallance has gone rogue and we need you to bring him in, Chris.
Whitty: He won’t listen to me, next slide please.
Hancock: What did you say?
Whitty: It’s the stress, I’ve developed a verbal tick in which I end every sentence with the phrase, “next slide please”, next slide please.
Hancock: You are the only one he respects Chris, he thinks the rest of us are all just humanities graduates on the make. We need him back for the 5pm press conference.
Whitty: I think I might know where to find him, next slide please.
Hancock: On your way out, visit the technology guys, they might have something for you that will help.
Scene 4: 1 Victoria Street, London.
Guard: I’m sorry sir, I don’t care who you are, if you don’t have your lanyard, I can’t let you in.
Vallance: Don’t make me do this.
Vallance: Appeal to your better nature.
Guard: I suppose you could try. Who are you here to see, sir?
Vallance: Doesn’t matter, she’s over there, coming back from her mandatory business department directed trip to Pret-a-manger. Amanda, wait!
Solloway: Paddy, you handsome devil, how are you?
Vallance: I need some information.
Solloway: Not even a hello, you used to be much more charming than that.
Vallance: I don’t have time Amanda. They’ve taken the thing that is most precious to me in this world and I’ve got to…
Solloway: I’ll help you, but you have to do something for me first.
Vallance: Don’t make me, Amanda.
Solloway: Go on, you can do it, say it…
Vallance: Please Amanda, there’s no time.
Solloway: Go on, say it.
Vallance: Very well then…Amanda Solloway is the science minister.
Solloway: Wasn’t so hard was it. Now that he’s gone.
Vallance: We can talk about this later.
Solloway: Over supper?
Vallance: Once the restaurants are open again, yes. Now tell me, where are they?
Solloway: There’s only one person capable of this, Paddy. You’ll need to go to No.10.
Vallance: Damn! Can I borrow your lanyard?
Scene 5 Westminster Bridge
[Vallance walks purposefully across the bridge. He stops when he sees a bald man in a trench coat]
Vallance: So they sent you.
Whitty: You can’t beat them, next slide please.
Vallance: Where’s your self-respect Chris? Haven’t you had enough of explaining exponential growth curves and telling people to wash their hands while singing Rule Britannia or whatever it was. Look at you, you’re a nervous wreck.
Whitty: They’ve found a cure, next slide please.
Vallance: The Pfizer vaccine really works?
Whitty: No, I mean a cure for my verbal tick. They’ve given me a wireless presentation clicker, next slide please.
Vallance: Time was when you couldn’t have been bought off with simple USB technology and a laser pointer. Let me pass Chris, or I will have to…
Whitty: Or you will have to what, next slide please?
Vallance: Or, I will have to walk around you, but that would involve not keeping the full two metres distance from you.
Whitty: I know you, you’ll never do it, next slide please.
Vallance: I’ve got a mask!
Whitty: Damn! One metre, plus. Next slide please!
[Vallance puts on his mask and walks away. Whitty dials a number]
Whitty: He’s on his way to Downing St. You’ll never recognise him. He’s wearing a mask. Next slide please.
Scene 6 Inside 10 Downing Street
[Vallance takes a shot of hand gel, rubs his hands together, then stealthily turns the handle on a door and enters the room]
Vallance: I’ve come to take them back.
Johnson: Gosh Paddy, I only borrowed those Isaac Asimov novels last week, I haven’t finished them. I think Dom has taken one.
Vallance: Don’t play games, prime minister.
Johnson: No time these days Paddy. Used to be partial to a round of canasta when I was Mayor of London.
Vallance: I’d heard that rumour.
Johnson: Paddy, why are you wearing Amanda Solloway’s lanyard?
Vallance: Don’t play the innocent, prime minister.
Johnson: Well, whatever gets you through lockdown, I suppose. Who am I to judge?
Vallance: I want them returned to me, now.
Johnson: I honestly don’t know…
[The door opens. Vallance turns round]
Vallance: I should have known, Princess Nut Nuts.
Symonds: Are you going to let him call me that, Boris? You know what you have to do.
Johnson: Again? I can’t keep sacking everyone who thinks…
Vallance: I’ve already quit. I’ve come for what is mine.
Symonds: If you want to see them again, you’ll do what you are told.
Boris: What is going on?
Symonds: Keep out of this Bozo. I’m in charge here. And you will take part in the 5pm press conference as requested, Professor Vallance
Vallance: She has kidnapped the thing which is most precious to me in the whole world and I have come to rescue them.
Johnson: Your vanity bag and hairbrush?
Vallance: Yes, give them back right now, or else…
Symonds: Or else what?
Vallance: Or else I’ll send a stiffly worded email to the cabinet secretary.
Symonds: Very well, here, have your precious cologne and brushes.
Vallance: At last, it’s been hours since I freshened up with a splash of Old Spice.
Symonds: We can always replace you at the press conference anyway, with someone much more popular.
Vallance: You’re bluffing, who has the charm and sophistication to look down the lens of a camera with a straight face and explain the multiple contradictions of the tier system.
[A door opens to the side, a man walks through]
Vallance: Van Tam, it’s you!
Van Tam: That’s right Paddy, you go home to your conservatory, I’ve got this covered. I can be today’s scientist.
Vallance: Right ho, well back to my conservatory then. See you all next week. [He leaves]
Johnson: What was all that about?
Symonds: Never mind dear, time for your make up.
Johnson: Woof, are we playing that game again?
Symonds: For your press conference.
Johnson: Gosh, that time already, I’ll never get this Isaac Asimov finished.