Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

There used to be a saying: “how long is a piece of string?” It meant that you didn’t know how long something would take. I never understood it. A piece of string has to be a specific length, because someone made it. So my reply was usually: “ask whoever made the string.” It didn’t make me popular. But it did give me that nickname.

I always had a thing for durations. Of course, to work out a duration, you needed mathematics. A lot of mathematics. Sometimes you had to come up with the mathematics that described each process involved. Turned out that I had a unique talent. I applied mathematics to things that they only thought that mathematics could be applied to. For them, it was like magic. For me, it was simply a process of envisioning the smaller processes, then the similar processes, then getting the numbers to do their ‘thing’: In my head, numbers would move about and settle themselves where they needed to be. Whole formulae in some cases. It was easy, but only for me.

When duration calculations got a little dry, I went into probable outcome prediction; the ‘tarot’ end of mathematics. My talent stretched to cover that too.

So when the world took a turn for the worse, the government engaged my services to do projections based on current situation plus various strategies they proposed. When my projections showed the narrowing prospects of victory, their proposals took a turn into dog-in-a-manger territory and from there down into last-man-standing.

My projections from the last seven options they presented to me ranged from bad, through grim, down to the extinction of life on earth. All with better than ninety-five percent certainty. They fired me. Sent me home with warnings of instant death if I spoke a word about their plans.

I said nothing. But my neighbours saw me move to high ground, one with a freshwater well and cave system. They saw me welcoming friends from all over the place. My neighbours were a solid community. They looked to their own and if one of their high-fliers thought that consolidation and fortification was needed, they would join in that work without question.

So when my former employers chose the penultimate option at the extinction end of the scale, we were ready. Well, we were somewhere that allowed us to watch the endless winter roll in. Ready would be the wrong word for listening to the transmissions that told of the slow death of over ninety percent of humanity.

It is day five hundred and ninety-three since the winter started. I’ve just finished new projections for my little colony. If we start eating each other, we can make it to day seven hundred and eleven. Otherwise it’s day six hundred and forty-one.

Looks like I’ll be asking for volunteers to make the foraging trek again. With less than a twenty-eight percent chance of returning. Because if they return, the prediction is that they will have found something that allows us to survive past a thousand days.

It’s out there somewhere. Five expeditions. Each time the chance of return drops by around eight percent. But the reward prediction remains unchanged.

Out there is our salvation, and all my mathematics can do is replace prayer in giving my people hope.

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