The Power of Probability

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The longest five seconds of my life were the ones that it took the Chancer to draw and aim. All I could see of him was the split-face mask that they all wore, a frown curving like x3 into a smile beneath his long flat, almost rectangular nose. The glass on his eyes looked faceted to me, like a spider’s, almost. There’s no way that the world looked like that to them, or aiming would be impossible, but I could see a thousand versions of myself in those facets, and the long black barrel extending towards me in each.

The glittering robes clinked gently as the glass-scales, moving with the motion of his arm, blazed with a multitude of scattered suns. I needed to close my eyes, and I did, but I couldn’t stand to be the only person who wouldn’t see the shot. The marketplace had gone silent, precious entropy going to waste as all motion ceased and every person stopped to watch us, two figures brought together by a computerized roulette ball a thousand miles away. The pinwheels on the houses flittered and spun, tiny flecks of colored light dancing across the rooftops before being drowned out by the swelling sun. I could taste my own mouth now. Dry and sour. My tongue moved slowly over parched ridges, rasping.

Then, in one motion, he reached up with his left hand and caught his fingers in one of the chamber grooves, setting the clip of his pistol spinning. I had a 50-50 chance; four bullets in an octagonal chamber. The chamber was driven by an electric motor and a random number generator, no telling where it would stop. The bullets were even designed to tumble maximally as they left the gun; the men in the boardrooms had streamlined this process, to be as random as they could make it. My forehead, my cheek, the space between my collarbone, my heart, anywhere could erupt in a fountain of steam and blood.

It was really for the best, though. The devastating wars for oil and coal and plutonium had stopped when they finally figured out how to mine the multiverse. Randomness had saved us. The world changed in that cramped auditorium as the three men showed how they could power an oscillating fan with the roll of a six-sided dice. Every second, every instant of the day, they demonstrated, an infinite number of options were chosen; the length of a stride, the fall of a leaf, and each option sprang its own little universe, an inch off from our own. And we could crack those universes open, now, and shell them and suck them dry, to power our skyscrapers and our ion drives and our forests of blinking LEDs.

I’m watching his finger pull down on the trigger now. A beam of light bounces off the mirror on his knuckle, and I’m blind, for the actual moment when the chambers stop moving. I can’t see anything at all, just hear the sighing of a jet somewhere miles away. In half of an infinity universes, a little copper firing cap is sitting right in front of the space where the hammer will be.

Why? Because the little things weren’t enough. You can’t power a skyscraper with a six-sided dice, or a breaking vase, or the convection currents in a pot of boiling water. We needed more energy. So we upped the ante. We tried bombs in china shops, we set hawks on flocks of starlings, and the randomness, the entropy, was tremendous-and it wasn’t enough. Our megacities, our skylabs and our artificial islands, cried out for more power. Las Vegas, the seat of the new world order, the probability capital of the world, answered.

The Chancers spread across the globe, glittering, silent, impersonal agents of the room-size random number generators that dictated their targets. A human life is so complex, so intricate, so erratic, that a random death could keep the flywheels spinning for days, could light humanity into the future. Any torturing of chemical or atomic bonds could not parallel the ripples caused by a single sudden shocked silence. And we were alright with that, and we went about our lives, and so did I. And every so often, in a public place, a Chancer would walk past in their shining coats and their hard masks, and every so often a single shot would ring out, and there would be a moment of silence before motion resumed and the street cleaners sped out in their moon-suits to clean up the mess.

The light is no longer in my eyes as he pulls the trigger.

It’s 50-50.





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