“-- But it will happen,” Xander Khan, the six-foot-seven, hulking, pristinely coiffured, techno-physicist media mogul exclaimed, “-and that’s as good as saying it already has”.
The keynote address to world press in the auditorium of the CERN media department was divided. A hushed silence followed by split opinion spread palpably through the crowd. Khan was divisive at the best of times but this public offering drew either beguiled admiration or ineffable venom.
His life story and what he’d coquettishly described seemed straight out of a futurist telenovela. The scientists at CERN had begun repurposing its vast, Swiss, concentric quantum engine for the purposes of data transfer. Always on the lookout for ways to increase their research budgets in a sector largely biased toward space, they hit the mother load: an unusual data packet returned from the colossal nexus, altered beyond recognition. It carried with it a predictive element, capable of fathomless outcomes which nobody could control.
Once unpacked, it produced an algorithm. The very same had somehow mysteriously fallen into Xander Khan’s hands. Every scientist in the room knew this but dared not admit as much for this would have disclosed some glaring chasm in their insecure infrastructure.
The gall, thought Candice Magellan, the only civilian cognisant of this and indie journalist in the room. She was also the first to break the story on Khan’s questionable acquisition of the algorithm. She could not prove it sufficiently enough to be taken seriously by the Digi-papers or to task by the man himself. Xander Khan knew the ferocious power of the Streisand Effect better than most.
Magellan, like everyone else in the room, couldn’t decide whether to treat Khan as a scientist or the terrifying manifestation of everything wrong with the world of Media. CERN’s scientists looked upon him with stark foreboding. If a man like Khan could make them question their talents -- when not one had managed to deduct the application of the theorem -- what did that say about their place in this profession? Or, for that matter, this room?
She worked it in her head. The algorithm, backbone to Khan’s omnipotent website, adapted to both current news and all likely / unlikely scenarios in the known universe. It actively generated metadata that predicted all known universe-possible outcomes. If, or -- in Khan’s mind -- when it actually happened, ONews, as in OnlyNews, ”The ONLY News you’ll ever Need”, would be able to break the story as quickly as it happened, thereby owning all conversations that followed. Candice remembered ONews’ catchphrase entering the public consciousness as though it were yesterday. It filled her with a creeping sickness every time she’d heard it since.
Xander Khan held a soft spot for Candice, even from a distance. He appreciated her powers of deductive reasoning and considered her more intellectually capable than any other journalist and most of the scientists he’d met.
To the obvious chagrin of every other reporter, he picked her out of the crowd for the first line of questioning. It wasn’t difficult to sense the fervour that hung like a shadow around their awkward, “special” relationship. Candice often felt frustration at the fact that this intangible energy, fielded between her and Xander, got more press than her unreported-upon intended-to-be serious journalism. Xander felt her frustration, even across the room. This they shared, but he would never admit to personally backdoor-coding ONews to draw attention away from her stories and, in doing so, away from him.
“Do the ends justify the means?” She asked, knowing he would have to let her lure him into a line of questioning before she got the honest answers he would invariably, and with considerable skill, endeavour to never give.
“Specificity, Ms. Magellan,” he remarked, pointedly. “It’s one of the basic tenets of our business.” He levelled his gaze, barrelling right through her.
“And I believe yours as well”.
This played well with the crowd.
She knew well enough to know the other news pundits in the room took their brand of journalism rather less seriously than she took her own.
She felt the room’s eyes on her.
“By creating outcomes ahead of time aren’t you, in effect, contributing to their occurrence?”
She knew enough about the algorithm to know that the scientists at CERN were secretly afraid of it. She intuited enough to be disturbed by Xander Khan's arrogant, fearless brand of confidence.
“How can you be sure by using this process you won’t end up losing control?”
“ONews can take credit for a lot but I think that might go a bit far.”
She’d hit a nerve yet to everyone but Candice it was as imperceptible as a sudden spike in his respiratory rhythm.
Xander had the other journalists in the palm of his hand.
“We enjoy our special relationship. Working with the scientific community... Together, we’re boldly harnessing the raw materials of unknown potential and frontier science to pave the way for stories waiting to be told.”
From this point on, the questions he fielded were a mere formality. In Xander’s mind, their asinine lines of inquiry would be enough to shore up public approval that would distract from the true use he’d made of the algorithm. Namely, the manipulation of personal choice without the knowledge of those he targeted it at. At the most basic of levels, he could assess the odds of nearly any future interaction and pre-emptively gamble so that when either outcome came to pass he would personally profit.
Candice’s ONews tracker pinged. She’d set it to alert any future mention of Khan himself.
“Mr. Khan,” she interjected, drawing blank stares from everyone except him.
“Have you seen the news?” The look spreading across Candice's face immediately caught him off guard.
Xander Khan watched the wave of heads take a downturn, descend toward their devices.
A bulletin had rung out across the front page of the ONews’ website.
XANDER KHAN IS DEAD, the algorithm-generated text read.
Khan’s typical expression of superior condescension fell away, sudden, like rocks from a cliff.
“Sic semper evello morgen Tyrannis!” The Anarcho-Federalist cried as the shot rang out from his gun, evincing a wisp of smoke into the perpetually mediatized ether.
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