“Sorry,” he said, not shifting. “We
need to talk. Quickly and quietly.”
“OK,” I said, still wary.
Clarkson waved vaguely behind his
shoulder. Half a dozen people here
were reporters, their head-mounted
camera-mics discreetly hidden by strategic locks of hair. “Take a look at this
event on your phone,” he said.
“Oh, I know what to expect,” I said.
I searched on the hashtag for the
event. It brought up two sex scandals,
a corruption allegation, an embar-
rassing social media post by one of
the speakers from when she was 12
years old, and a dubious link to an oil
“Profile?” I gave him a suspicious
look. “What’s all this about?”
Throughout, Clarkson had been
backing me into a corner. I didn’t like
it, and let him know.
I BARELY RECOGNIZED Clarkson. He would
have been the last of my high school acquaintances I’d have expected to meet
at a Party event—some policy-launch
shindig, all tepid canapés, foul coffee,
and wobbly display boards—but there he
was, 10 years older. Trim beard, sharp tie.
“Oh, by the way,” he said, after the
mutual reintroductions, “is your old
man still in the Ramblers?”
“He stretches his legs on the moors
occasionally,” I said.
Clarkson put down his formerly
fizzy water and stepped forward.
“He still has a car?”
“And … let me think … he hails
from”—Clarkson named a Northern
industrial town—“doesn’t he?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Great, great!” Clarkson rubbed his
hands, and stepped forward again. “I
have something for you.”
He passed me a business card. It
predictably proclaimed him a “busi-
“Turn it over,” said Clarkson.
A string of numbers and letters,
inked carefully—an Ordnance Survey
“What does that—?”
“Just slip the card in your shirt pock-
et,” said Clarkson.
I backed off a little. I could smell the
last thing he’d eaten, a wafer of damp
oatcake with a dab of hummus and a
sliver of smoked salmon.
“You know how to read it?” he said.
“Sure,” I said. “My dad has a book-
case full of OS maps.”
Clarkson’s cheek twitched. “Fits the
profile.” [CONTINUED ON P. 119]
When all online news and comment can be digitally manipulated,
some might recall a more trustworthy way to spread the word.
DOI: 10.1145/3197548 Ken MacLeod
From the intersection of computational science and technological speculation,
with boundaries limited only by our ability to imagine what could be.
“It’s always worse
than you expect,
and it’ll go on