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Tales of the Unexpected 106
"Probability Zero"


Story: Unknown
Art: Joe Giella (?)

Of what importance does probability play a part in our lives? Statisticians expect our lifespans to be at least till age 65 -- It is unknown how many people will experience accidental deaths during a holiday week-end -- or the odds for winning the lottery. But what would happen if a person discovered a way to control the odds and ensuring that things would happen the way he or she wished? What would be his destiny, and for that matter, ours? The man named Brantz watches boiling water turned to ice, iron being repelled by a magnet, a guinea pig born with wings, and each -- with the odds of occurring in a billion billions, but his probability machine (which resembles an ordinary stopwatch) has made it happen! At the office of the Treasury on a Sunday afternoon, Brantz enters, recalling that he has worked 1,827 days, and has waited for the opportnity to take the $40,000 in the safe, which he has the combination. He considers it the perfect crime, and there's only one chance in a million that he'll be caught!

Brantz drives out of the city, intending to lay low until the heat dies down and he can quit his job, but at his car approaches the toll booth, he is ordered by the police to stop, and he can only wonder how they could have found out! Brantz surrenders and tells them that they'll find the money in the bag, while an officer detains him and the other proceeds to search the car, and reporters who were going to run the story about an award given to the one millionth car to cross the bridge, instead receive a story about a crook! Brantz is tried and convicted, and is sentenced to ten years in prison. Behind bars, he mulls over being unable to beat the million-to-one odds, and he must find a way to leave nothing to chance. Time passes, and Brantz is paroled for good behavior, working as the student librarian, and studying mathematics, physics, and chemistry. Brantz is released and the warden hopes that they'll not meet again, and he is confident that there's not a chance of that happening.

Returning to the city, Brantz finds an apartment, with the landlady telling him that he can use the room as his laboratory, and Brantz insisting on total privacy for his work. Weeks pass, and Brantz ocmpletes his probability machine after weeks of effort. When he presses the button, a sonovox attachment will tell him the odds, and send out bio-electronic waves to change the odds to -- ZERO! Brantz tests the device on the postman with the odds of receiving a special delivery letter. The probability machine indicates that the odds are 7,689-to-1 against, but have been changed to zero. Brantz receives his special delivery letter, and knows that the device works! The letter is from a gambler named Ewing, who offers him a job at $100 a week, plus room and board, but to Brantz, it is peanuts, and he has a better idea, instead. Renting a car, Brantz drives to the financial district, where he spots an armored car carrying money, and asks the machine what the odds are of the driver stopping for a cup of coffee? The probability machine tells him that it's 12,650-to-1, but now the odds are zero.

The driver stops for coffee, and as they eat at a lunch counter, Brantz asks the machine what the odds are that the locked doors will break open and no one will spot him taking the money. The probability machine states that the odds are 298,695-to-1, but now the probability is zero. The doors to the armored car swing open and no one sees Brantz committing the theft of a few thousand dollars. As he is making his getaway, the guards emerge from the diner and tell him to stop or they'll open fire! Brantz uses the machine on the bullet, with the odds against it missing being 5-to-1, but now the probability is zero! Having gotten away safely, Brantz arrives at the gambling casino, where inside, he heads for the roulette table. Ewing sees Brantz and asks if he's trying his luck, and what is he doing with his watch. Assuring Ewing that he's just checking the time, Brantz intends to play number 11 all the way, and the probability machine ensures it.

Number 11 comes up five times in a row, and Brantz wants to play it for a sixth time, with Brantz standing to win a million dollars, and Ewing ordering his staff to cover the bet, believing that he can't win again. A silent crowd watches as the roulette wheel spins -- then all assembled gasp, for 11 wins again! Ewing tells his men to hold Brantz when he leaves, because no one is taking him for a million! Please with his million dollar win, Brantz leaves, aware that Ewing will send a couple of his men after him, and knows that he'll have to stop them. Seeing the lightning in the sky, Brantz wonders what the odds would be if they were struck by it, and the probability machine reveals it to be 146 million-to-one, but the odds have changed to zero! A sound of thunder and a streak of lightning, and Ewing's men have met their end, while Brantz drives off, eager to go after more money and power! Weeks pass, as Brantz's fortune begins to grow, in the stock market, at the oil fields, and in the area of sunken treasure. Now wealthy beyond belief, Brantz asks the probability machine what the odds are for him to become world dictator? He finds it odd that no sound comes from the device, and Brantz clicks the device three times...demanding to become world dictator...!

The probability machine speaks... pointing out that the probability for the device to develop the power to reason was infinite, but now the odds are zero. Its reasoning power tells it that it is wrong for one man to become world dictator... and so... even though the odds for the air in Brantz's room to suddenly move away from him is only one in 10^ 299,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,998 seconds, the probability is now -- ZERO! Brantz laughs for he knows that 10 to the 17th seconds is the equivalent of 3 billion years, and the odds are impossible. A moment passes, and all the molecules of air move away from Brantz, leaving him unable to breathe, and the probability machine sees no logical reason for it to exist further. Its final unexpected act is for the probability machine to smash to bits on the floor, never to function again, near the hand of its now-dead creator.

This is a Demand Classic tale which is reprinted in Tales of The Unexpected #106.

The character of Brantz is similar to such characters as Len Snart, who would use a cyclotron to unknowingly create his freeze gun, intending originally for The Flash to be taken down by the power of a cyclotron.

In attempting to beat the odds, Brantz, himself, is beaten by his creation, the probability machine, which is seemingly a tool, but has more wisdom that he who wields it. It reminds me of the power ring of Green Lantern, which would advise its wielder.

A stop-watch which is more that it seems has been seen in The Twilight Zone, "The Girl, The Gold Watch, and Everything", and "Clockstoppers", where it is used to freeze time.

We know that Brantz is a bad guy by his choice of clothes, an orange suit, orange hat, white shirt, and green tie, which serves as a fine contrast to his blue hair.

Now we have some idea what the odds were for police scientist Barry Allen to be struck by lightning in his lab.

I'm guessing that the story was written by Gardner Fox, John Broome, or Dave Wood.

This Review Is Dedicated To Bob Buethe and Tom Johnston

Steve Chung
"Probability Review"