Probabilistic death


Imagine a world where lethal accidents cannot happen. But each midnight, Death calculates the probability with which you could have died that day, and that’s the probability that you will die at the moment of midnight.

(short story, 950 words)
(also available in Czech)

“You have died,” said Death.

I gulped. I looked around – I stood with Death on blue clouds that stretched towards the horizon. Over us a clear sky, under us an unending void. Death held a sword and wore a black cloak strewn with equations – exactly as the legends said.

I looked at my watch. It showed “00:00:00”, precisely midnight, the decisive moment, when death is being determined – and the watch was stopped. I looked at my second wrist device – the one that shows the probability of midnight death. It displayed “27.334%”, just like the evening before I went to bed. It had been a terrible day. I’m surprised that I was even able to fall asleep knowing there was a 1 in 4 chance that I would not wake up again.

But there was no reason to not sleep. People who were awake at midnight died just as well, except much more painfully. And centuries of research proved that as soon as you increase your chance of death, there is but one way to decrease it again – if you survive midnight, the counter immediately resets back to 0%.

So I was dead. I looked at Death.

“Before I lose consciousness, can I at least review my last day one more time, see where I made a mistake?”

Death nodded and the clouds beneath me parted. I saw myself having breakpoint – Death is showing me today’s morning. Whenever I ingested another piece of meat, the metaphorical counter moved up a couple more picomorts. The meat might not have been fried well enough, there could be lethal bacteria, somebody might have poisoned it deliberately, there might have been a bee that I’d miss. Each event highly unlikely, but the counter mercilessly added them all together.

Then the view changed. I saw myself running to school in the morning under heavy rain. Bah, not rain, a thunderstorm, with an umbrella in hand! How careless – and how much I hated myself for it in the evvening! A bolg of lightning cannot strike a human but whenever it hits, the counters of people around jump up a couple picomorts. I ran through a puddle. I didn’t slip, of course, but I saw how the counter jumped up a nanomort. I wouldn’t mind normally but this day, every moment mattered.

The view changed again and I saw the first great incident of my last day: I was in the corridor on the third floor and was looking out a fully open window. I didn’t pay it any heed at the time but now I saw it clearly: the floor was fresh cleaned, wet and slippery. It would not take much for me to slip and fall out of the window. I didn’t fall out, of course, because only the most probable thing ever happens. But every second I was looking our added more micromorts. When I entered the lecture hall, my counter already read 6.221%.

If only I had looked at the counter back then and paid attention for the rest of the day! But it’s easier not to think of death and most of us cover their counter with a black pad so that they don’t have death before their eyes all the time. It didn’t occur to me to draw the pad away at the time.


The view changed again and I immediately recognized the critical moment: I was coming back from school, walking on a sidewalk. I was in a blind bend in the town when a small child jumped on the road. I reacted instinctively – ran after him, pulled him back on the sidewalk – and a car swept through the bend just a moment afterwards.

My heartbeat could be heard even up her in the skies. What an idiot I was! The child would have survived, of course – the probability of death when jumping on a road is not greater than fifty percent. He might have died at night but I wouldn’t have known about that. Instead, I “saved” him. He might have benefited – he was in the bend for a much shorter time but I – I could have died as well. I uncovered my counter device and stopped with horror. 19.819%. This bend must be much more dangerous than I though.

I had never in my life been this close to death. Terrified, I hurried home, looking only in front of myself. It’s easy to see, looking from above, where I gathered the remaining seven percent. I ran across several pedestrian crossings on red lights. I didn’t notice a couple holes in the sidewalk. Then I hit a pole head-on – that meant there was a greater likelihood that I would hit the pole than not. I panicked even more. I had to get home.

The view dissolved and was replaced by clouds again. I remember what happened then. I successfully returned home and spent the rest of the day covered under the bed sheets, just watching my counter device stay at 27.334%. The number kept increasing, but the further increases were under the resolution of today’s technology.

And I won’t live to see counter devices with a greater resolution.

Death drew his sword and cut off my head.

I jumped out of the bed covered in sweat. Immediately I looked at my watch. It showed 03:14:58. The moment of midnight had passed. Just to be sure, I looked under the pad at my counter device. It read 0.000%, my most favourite number. In retrospect, it’s obvious – Death looked exactly as legends describe it, all of them fictitious, because whoever actually saw Death could not speak about it anymore. So I had luck. My chances of survival were 72.666% and I lived.

I decided not to risk anything this day. I’ll even miss school. I needed to calm myself down after yesterday’s horror. The entire day I was lying in bed, programming or watching videos on the internet. I didn’t go to the bathroom. I took great care when connecting the computer to the electrical socket. And in the evening, I contentedly fell asleep, still with 0.000% on my counter.

The next day, I also missed school. But that was no longer by choice. Because you may try as much as you want, but sometimes – sometimes you just have bad luck.

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