“The Exchange"or: The Firebird Goes to Wall Street

Diamond and Fortran are principle characters in a much larger work titled Darkatana: A Black Tale that is still in preparation. The author encourages them to come out and play in other contexts, hence the current short story. Please enjoy. —c@, Sept 7 2010

Fortran and her sister Diamond were standing across the street from the New York Stock Exchange. Diamond was looking around vaguely curious at their surroundings, as was commonly the case. Fortran however was standing with her arms crossed scowling furiously.

“So here we are,” Diamond said in a bored way. “Can we go home now?”


“It's just money,” Diamond drawled. “And not as important as food. They didn't feed me on the plane and now I'm hungry and I wanna eat someone.”

“It was my money,” Fortran fumed hotly. “You can eat whomever you want after I get my money back or after I rearrange an equivalent amount in real estate.”

Fortran was known in some circles as the firebird and the prospect of her ever rearranging real estate was an officially recognized United States Department of Homeland Security Class 3 strategic cataclysm. Her sister Diamond while less pyro-technical had nevertheless earned the moniker the destroyer, and that she was hungry was nothing to worry about so long as no other living thing was present.

All that said they were generally relaxed and frequently fun to be around.

They were also very different creatures, except that Fortran was not a creature at all but a machine. That these two are here referred to as sisters at all is itself a long story, the short of it being that they became sisters by mutual accord. They were family for each other.

Fortran was small but womanly and well-proportioned with slender arms and large breasts for her size and perfectly white straight hair cut at the jawline. Significantly, she was bat-winged with a 16 foot span and colored a pleasing but stunningly unnatural blue – the same color as autumn sky – over her entire body. Her eyes likewise were an almost electric blue like paired sapphires fronting electric arcs. She was on that occasion dressed in loose, low-slung olive cargo pants that brushed the ground, was bare-foot as always with her small blue toes showing under the frayed cuff of her pants, and wore a white halter top that tied in the back which was useful when flying as it didn't interfere with her wings.

The fact that she was at that moment quite furious did not detract much from her stunning beauty. The wings being considered she was somewhat terrifying. When her halo was lit and the landscaping around her erupted in spontaneous combustion questions of her beauty were generally lost among the screaming.

Diamond was utterly unlike Fortran in appearance. Diamond could have been Asian but was uncharacteristically tall and massively muscled, with long powerful legs and shoulders as broad as a man. Her eyes were luminous metallic brass and as light-devouring as a cave. She was mostly hairy, covered in front and back in a fine, straight black fur. Diamond was wearing her usual attire; a short leather vest that didn't close in front and a leather skirt that was very nearly too short to bother with. Her modesty (a concept as alien to her as advanced calculus) was entirely preserved by the generous fur that filled the inside and backs of her thighs, and in front and back all the way to her neck. The skirt was kept that short so as not to rub against the base of her striped tail which hung behind her curling and uncurling against her thighs. The overall effect was that of an upright walking cat, in which case the impression was entirely correct.

Diamond was a neo-tiger, a man-eater, and the most accomplished killer on earth.

At the moment however it was her sister who was ready to kill someone.

“How do you propose to get your money back so we can go home after eating someone?” Diamond pressed Fortran while digging with a nail at the base of a fang.

Fortran uncrossed her arms and put her hands on her hips. “Well, the old fashioned way I suppose.”

Diamond smiled. “Might this involve offering sexual services in the mens' room?”

Fortran's face darkened significantly and she rounded on Diamond with a sweep of her wings. But then she became thoughtful.

“Uh oh,” Diamond said on seeing the transition.

“You know that's not such a bad idea,” Fortran said reflectively. “In fact, I bet I could make more than —“

“I regret having mentioned anything of the kind,” Diamond said leaning forward to address Fortran at her own level. “Tell me what is this old fashioned way?

Fortran looked up at her and said, “Oh that would be day trading.”

“Please explain,” Diamond urged the other, her usual way of saying that she didn't get it. Diamond being essentially an animal there were a lot of things she didn't get nor did this bother her.

“It's not easy to explain without the use of arithmatic,” Fortran began. “At the simplest one buys low and sells high and pockets the difference. Does that make sense?”

She looked up at Diamond, who shook her head slowly and said, “Not in the slightest. But if it means you don't have to turn tricks in the mens' room then I am necessarily in favor of it.”

Fortran reached behind her back and untied her top, lifted it over her head and handed it to Diamond.

“What are you doing?” Diamond asked, looking at the swatch of white cloth in her hand.

“Taking my clothes off,” Fortran offered unnecessarily as she worked at the knot in the rope cord bunching the cargo pants around her hips.

“I can see that, blondie. Why are you taking your clothes off?”

Fortran kicked the pants off and knelt to pick them up, folding them hastily and adding them to the top her sister was holding out. As Fortran wore no undergarments of any kind ever he was then perfectly nude from head to toe. People streamed around her set on their own affairs as if nothing unusual were happening. She ran her hands through her white hair with a relaxed air then turned and poked a finger into the garments Diamond was holding and said, “Take care of these until I come back.” Then she added, “To your question I'm taking them off because I like how they fit, they are nice cotton and they look great on me, and I don't want them to burn up in the conflagration.”

“Which conflagration would that be, dearest?”

“The one I'm going to unleash if I don't get my money back.”

“Ah, that conflagration,” Diamond said, nodding her head in emergent comprehension. “Say wouldn't it be easier and require less destruction and loss of life if we just – you know – robbed a bank or something? There are lots here.” And she looked around as if considering which one might be the most convenient.

“No, it would not be easier,” Fortran growled. “And even if it were easier it wouldn't be correct. They ripped me off, it wouldn't do for myself to rip someone else off just to make me whole.”

“I thought you said people do that sort of thing all the time,” Diamond observed shrewdly.

Fortran stepped up under Diamond's nose and looking up said, “I am not people, nor dear sister are you. We get to do things differently and probably should. Am I correct?”

Diamond made a sour face, scratched the back of her head lightly, and said, “Okay, but it sounds tedious to me. Don't take too long 'kay?”

Fortran got up on her toes high enough to peck Diamond lightly on the cheek. “Now don't wander off, and don't eat anyone, and don't set my clothes down, and don't get yourself arrested. Again.”

“Yes mother,” Diamond drawled sarcastically as Fortran turned away, but when Fortran glanced over a shoulder to wave a warning finger back at her Diamond smiled and said, “Have fun, blondie.”

The small blue female-creature-appearing-to-be-a-woman smiled and stepped out into the street, headed for the Exchange and the recovery of her lost fortune.

Fortran reached the other side of the street without major mishap. Not that anyone was going to drive their car or cab into a nude blue woman with a 16 foot wing span. At least, not unless they could stream it live.

The wide sidewalk outside the Exchange was bustling but not crowded. It was late morning and many were already busy at work bushwhacking investors or forging documents or ripping off pensioners or any of a long list of important financial services. In other words, Wall Street business as usual. As people slowed and stood and stared at her, Fortran placed her hands on her hips and looked up the face of the Exchange building as if this might help her assess the enormity of what she had planned.

The idea had begun to gel in her head on the flight from New Los Angeles. While soaring amid clouded peaks somewhere within the vast and imposing Rockie Mountains she had realized that she was facing an opponent of similar stature and power. Fortran could easily reduce buildings to ruins but that would provide only satisfaction and not funds and honestly not even justice since the real players in the game would be thousands of miles away. So rather than shout and scream about her money — and perhaps set everyone on fire as satisfying as that would certainly be and she might do it anyway just on account but that was another matter — she would maneuver them contrary to their will and general principals into re-funding her. She would enter a few trades on the open market and just earn it all back using their own tools (and just possibly their own money) while they were forced to watch helplessly.

Except you couldn't actually do that from outside. No, in order to execute anything like a trade on those terms one had to be firmly inside. Hence the flight to New York ended up with Fortran eventually standing on the sidewalk outside the Exchange rather than — oh say — flying straight through the front door in a blazing sphere of metal-devouring electric deathage.

Though she was still open to the idea.

Fortran stepped up to the large double doors and let herself in, pulling her wings in behind just as they closed, and looked around. While she was looking she placed a call to a cell phone. She did not herself possess a phone but then she didn't need one, as she could simulate any kind of wired or wireless network traffic she desired.

She was not standing on the trading floor of course, but only inside the lobby. The traders would be off in some other facility busy taking buy and sell orders and making the wheels go 'round. Fortran was interested in trading to be certain but she was not interested in the trading floor at all, nor anything those fine people might be doing.

She was interested in only one thing, and that thing resided in the basement. She just wasn't certain how to get there. She would need some help as far as that, but after she would be able to manage fine.

She waited to be noticed as that would provide just the right amount of panic to get things moving for her. A crowd began to gather, both in the lobby and outside on the sidewalk looking in, and Fortran smiled to herself. She hadn't long to wait as an agitated looking young woman in business attire headed for her at a clip, her high heels clicking on the marble tiles.

“Excuse me Miss I'm sorry but we don't allow street artists in the lobby.” She pulled up short and Fortran simply watched her looking her over. “Um – is that paint? Are you – actually naked?”

Fortran laced her hands together behind her back. “Yes I am. Isn't it perfect? And it's my natural color. And I really do not want to talk to you, sorry. Take me to the basement or I may set you on fire for my amusement. That sound okay?”

But whether she was serious or not she was denied her chance, for at that moment someone behind the crowd was shouting to be allowed through. She smiled and decided to wait.

The voice drew near and over the buzz of gossip a man could be heard saying, “God don't let her have killed anyone – hey are those wings? Fortran is that you?”

“Hello Theodore!” Fortran sang brightly while waving a hand overhead, then to the woman said, “It seems I will have to set you on fire another day. Teddy you're a life saver – probably.”

A tall thin man had hove into view. He looked down at the diminutive blue female and gawked. “It is you!”

“And who else would I be?” Fortran asked him archly, taking him by the wrist pulled him past the speechless woman and through the crowd in the same direction he had just arrived.

“Teddy,” she began in a conspiratorial tone. “You are just the combustible material I was needing to speak with. I need access.” She paused and looked up at him seriously, while Teddy seemed to have become lost somewhere around “combustible”.

“Access to – access to what?” he finally stammered. He seemed to notice the rest of her, and said, “You have no clothes.”

She took him by the collar, glanced around at the crowd following them at a safe distance, and said softly, “Apart from that, I have no money Teddy. They took my money and I am here to get it back.”

“Who took your money, Fortran?” he replied in like manner, trying not to stare at her.

“The bank lost it, gambling on commercial real estate or some such nonsense. They got bailed out and I lost my shirt.”

“Is that why you aren't wearing any clothes?”

She snatched at his wrist again and, fuming, dragged him further along. “Enough about my clothes. I need access Teddy, and you are going to give it to me.”

“I'm an IT guy, you know that. If you need to talk to a branch manager then – ”

“What I need, Teddy, is bandwidth.”

She stopped them and glared up at him, as best she could being just over five feet tall with the delicate facial features of a child.

“Pirate the wi-fi like last time, Fortran. We've been through this. I won't stop you this time.”

“I need bandwidth to make trades.”

“Then get a retail account. Fortran this is silly, you can't just come to the Exchange and demand – and with no clothes on – demand network access so you can – “

Real trades,” she interrupted him. “I need a lo-lat co-lo connection. I came all the way to New York just for this. You must help me.”

Theodore rolled his eyes in exasperation. “No Fortran, that's not how it works. That stuff you read about, high frequency trading, lo-latency connections, front-running. It's all machines. People like you can't make use of the co-location facility even if I took you down there.”

“I know people can't,” she replied brightly. “And that's just the point. I'm not a people.”

There was a long pause while he stared at her. Just as Theodore opened his mouth to say something Fortran interrupted. “I can't explain – but I can show you. You'll have to take me into the basement. There I will show you everything.”

As she was already entirely naked it was obvious there was something else she would be showing all of, and Theodore seemed to get the idea. “Alright,” he said. “But no shenanigans.”

“Kind sir, please lead the way. And there will be no more shenanigans than are strictly required.”

The co-location facility was in an actual basement, complete with damp cement and linoleum floors and florescent panels hung far enough apart to leave parts of the floor and walls in shadow. Huge bundles of communications cable and power leads snaked out of exposed conduits in the walls and ceiling and ran in all directions suspended from the ceiling on narrow metal cat walks just large enough for an actual cat to use. The air hummed with energy. Some of the sound came from small transformers and UPS units bolted along the hall. Some was the hiss of the air conditioning vents spaced every few yards overhead and also under the raised floor. But most of it came from the computers that were supported in racks, their fans and huge storage arrays whining loudly.

“This is questionable,” Theodore was saying as they made their way along a bank of server cages, Fortran in his wake and inspecting each setup with considerable interest. “I can't believe I brought you down here.”

“I seduced you with the promise of esoteric wisdom,” Fortran said absently as she paused to watch a network switch flashing green LEDs indicating traffic.

“You seduced me alright,” Theodore growled. “I don't know about the wisdom part. So what now?”

She was walking down the cages again, each made of galvanized pipe supporting what might pass for heavy chain link fencing material, trailing a hand along the mesh and looking at their contents when she stopped and said, “Open this one please.”

Theodore looked at the cage and said, “I can't open that one. Some of these require access cards to ...”

There was a loud, searing bang accompanied by a bright flash and a shower of metal sparks, and Fortran was lifting the chain link door off the cage and setting it aside, saying as she did, “Seems like it was loose. They ought to fix that.”

Theodore took a frightened step back as she walked into the cage and folded her wings. She stopped and looked back at him over her shoulder, her face suddenly appearing shadowed and alien in the indirect lighting and her blue eyes burning with a cold electric fire that might have been summoned from a distant ring of Hell.

“What did you think not a person meant, Teddy?" she asked softly. "Now do you want to see this, or not?”

Apparently he did for he followed her into the cramped space defined within the cage. She watched him with a kind smile for a moment before looking down at the floor then back up at the equipment.

“How does all this work, Theodore?” Fortran asked as she eyed a rack of blade servers. “Do you rent the hardware out or just the cages or neither or either?”

Theodore drew in a breath and sighed. “They – whoever is running the trading node – they buy the floor space and install their own kit. We provide power and essential network access.”

“And they do as they like with it, is that it?”

“Pretty much. We don't monitor too closely.”

“That's sporting of you. So you won't be monitoring what I'm about to do, either.”

“You aren't going to do anything illegal are you?” he asked.

“If you mean other than breaking and entering as just now – absolutely. Should I sign a waver for you? I'll confess in advance so long as I get a few trades in before they haul me to prison. Say – this is really sharp work.”

Fortran was gazing up at a tangle of Category 6 network wires and optical cable, strung so closely that the resulting mass of bundles was virtually a solid wall of PVC cladding. She traced a wire with a finger, pushed between two more to probe deeper, then stepped back. She looked around, found a cable sitting in a milk crate off to one side, and said, “Hand me that cable would you? I can hardly move in here. I wish I could meet the guy who wired this, it's brilliant, I feel unworthy.”

“Please don't break anything,” Theodore pleaded as he handed her the cable.

“I wouldn't think of it,” she replied as she returned to the wall of wires. “Such art. I will only – hmm it should be right here – “

Fortran gently pried apart a mass of cables and inserted the free end of the cable in her hand through the gap she'd made with her fingers. Then she held the other end up and looked over at Theodore.

“What are you – “ he began. “I mean, you don't – “

“Every female is born with a ready-made plug-in architecture and suitable APIs,” Fortran informed him dryly. “Please look away.”

Theodore turned around on the spot. “No. You can't mean that.”

After a moment Fortran said, “Alright you can turn around now.”

Theodore did, his face blushing, and whatever he was expecting to see what he found was Fortran standing with her arms crossed under her large breasts and the Category 6 cable trailing out of her navel.

Theodore exhaled a sigh of relief. Fortran favored him with a thin smile before suddenly looking stricken and saying, “Teddy! What were you expecting?”

“Ah – well you said – I mean, being female and all that plugging in business,” he stammered as his face blushed even harder.

She turned away, seeming furious and hissed, “You are the worst sort of pervert. Don't you dare try anything male.” But she was already intent on the matter at hand, watching the lights on the servers and switches.

“This isn't military-grade encryption,” she finally observed.

“I've no idea what they are using. But it's probably really solid. I could have told you everything was secure if you had let me know what you were planning. So can we go now?”

She ignored him for a moment before saying. “Hardly. I was breaking mil-grade ice back in the orphanage when I was still a B-cup. This is just a modified 2048-bit triple-DES. I suppose they have some bespoke hardware encryption engine laying around somewhere.”

Theodore was confused. “What does your bra size have to do with – “ but he stopped without finishing the though. “Oh god,” he finally added. “You don't mean – “

Fortran smiled faintly to herself. “That's right, Theodore. A platinum blond who really does think with her boobs. Or more specifically, performs 64-way Olmsford/Burns Type-3 matrix algebra with her boobs. I've got 4 trillion computational units split between a pair of analytical engines linked up in a super conductive fabric. They just fit in an F-cup. My sister hates me for it though I keep telling her that she having eight breasts is impressive in its own right. I think the problem is that she cannot count.”

Theodore had stepped closer and Fortran glanced over at him and said, “Stay away.”

“I'm sorry,” he confessed, and backed away.

“It's not that,” she said pleasantly. “It's just that I've got about 600 volts lose on my skin right now.”

“What?!?” he exclaimed with alarm.

“Just leakage current,” she said helpfully. “The analytical engines operate at 5,000 volts, unless I'm in a rush. It's not worth trying to insulate that, I just bleed it to earth. Are these cages grounded?”

“Yes they are,” he said. “The whole facility is a – “

Fortran touched a nearby rack. There was a snap of electricity as 600 volts went to ground.

“ – Faraday cage,” Theodore finished. “Are you alright? That must have – Fortran, you're hot.”

She smiled shyly over at him. “Teddy! You are such a flirt.”

“No I mean you are really hot. I can feel it from here.”

“Oh that. Well, cracking encryption is a lot of work,” she replied absently. “Oh and – I'm done.”


“Breaking their ice. I'm in.”

“How did you – that was 2048-bit DES. It should take a century to break.”

Fortran turned to him, ran her hands through her hair seductively, and said, “Which is the answer to the question you should have asked when you were instead gawking at my bosom. Which would have been, What does a girl actually do with 4 trillion computational units?

Theodore smiled. “And that is what you wanted me to see, was it?”

“Not even,” Fortran sighed. “Where is the market right now?”

Theodore seemed to consider the question a moment before he reached behind and produced a hand-held tablet PC “traders pad” that he kept in a belt pouch. “Well, we're up a few points on the S&P, trading is light, under 100 million shares so far. A typical day really. Why do you ask?”

“I'm going to start some test trades. I promised I would show you everything if you worked with me. You will now see what everything was intended to mean.”

She crossed her arms thoughtfully. It had an effect on her appearance that was not in any way diminished when one understood that her bosoms were actually the worlds most powerful parallel computers. If anything, she was all the sexier for it.

“So how will you manage it?” Theodore asked.

“Trading? Well. I've opened a transaction pipe with the floor marketmaking engines, and established my credentials and posted my funds-at-risk. And I've already started probing the competition. They are very fast. This should be fun.”

Theodore pulled up the milk crate and sat down on it, rubbing his face with is hands. “Yes, they get faster every year. Every month. It's like an arms race. I see guys down here once a week hauling out hardware and bringing in new stuff. They hang curtains so that nobody can see what they've – hold on, I thought you said you didn't have any money?”

She glanced over at him, then away. “I borrowed some.”

“Borrowed from whom? Tell me you didn't steal anything did you?”

“Your lack of faith is disturbing,” Fortran fumed. “I borrowed like everyone else does, from the Federal Reserve.”

Theodore sat up. “You borrowed from the Fed window? How did you manage that? Wait – whose account are you using?”

Fortran shrugged. “They call it doing God's work. Well since I was raised an orphan in a convent being constantly railed at by the Sisters, I imagine I'm as qualified to do God's work as anyone.”

“How much did you borrow?” Theodore asked faintly.

“A bit over three-hundred.”

When she did not elaborate, Theodore said, “three-hundred-thousand? You just walked up and asked for it and they gave you that kind of money?”

Fortran waved a hand in dismissal. “Teddy, Teddy. You cannot play at this level with anything as pitiful as hundreds of thousands.”

“Three-hundred-million?!?” he burst out, rising to his feet. “Fortran what have you done? I'm ruined! I'm dead! When they track this down everyone will be pointing fingers at me!”

Fortran glanced at him, and cleared her throat. “I never said I borrowed three-hundred-million.”

Theodore stood with his hands clenching his hair and his eyes bulging.

“It was only for 10 minutes,” Fortran added hastily. “Though the fees are monstrous.”

“Three-hundred-billion,” he wheezed. “Three-hundred-billion.”

“Probably happens all the time,” she continued casually. “They never blinked at it.”

“If I kill myself,” he began miserably, “They might spare my family the shame.”

“Theodore, focus. What is the market doing?”

He looked up at her vacantly before he brought the trading pad up and looked at it. “It's down. I'm ruined. I should never have – oh now it's down a lot.” He was looking closely at the floor activity report and said, “There is something going on.”

“That something going on would be me,” Fortran said. “I'm running some probes of their strategies, and they've decide to take the market down on me. Trying to keep my money out and throw me off the trail. Well it won't work I've already made adjustments.”

“It's down 2%,” he said, having temporarily forgotten he was ruined. “Volume is fairly high, too. This cannot all be you.”

“I have 18 threads forward-running now, each orthogonal to the other. It's a lot of money and a lot of shares.”

“So you are working in 18-dimensional space?”

“Actually 23-dimensional forward. I have five threads of analysis going on at the same time.” She glanced over at him smiled and said, “Plus a thread for our conversation. Makes twenty-four. In the forward.”

He smiled up at her. “I feel so important, getting a whole thread.” But then he frowned and asked, “What does in the forward mean?”

“Ah. Well you see I run simulations forwards and backwards.”

She glanced over at Theodore, who was evidently lost. So she explained further, saying, “Well after I collect some preliminary data sets I run a bunch of best-fit simulations forward into the future where apparently I will take the individual results and run a series of calculations backwards from those to the present where I start a entirely different concurrent analysis and trade strategy forward from results of the backward calculations I will have been initiating in the future now. Then I string the whole thing together and use the results in real-time, because everything already happened and was resolved before I got started. That's what makes it Type 3 matrix algebra and why Burns lost his mind before he could finish the mathematical proof. Does that make sense?”

She looked up at Theodore, who shook his head slowly and said, “Not in the slightest.”

He looked down at his t-Pad and said, “Now it's down 4%. They'll be hitting the circuit breakers and reversing your trades if you're not careful. Or maybe they already did in the future past whatever.”

Fortran snickered and said, “It's fine. I already have what I want, and the reverse simulations arrived last week which let me know I was supposed to be here today. I'm going to let the market drift for a bit while I code up the forward strategy model.”

“And then?”

She looked over at him and smiled. “And then the gloves come off.”

Theodore shook his head in disbelief. “I hope I survive it.”

A quiet fell on the facility. The servers and drive arrays whined faintly in their enclosures, their masters utterly oblivious to the weapons of mass computational destruction being assembled against them. Among the machines and the cables energy hummed and packets flowed as fluidly and undisturbed as water in a riverbed. To an experienced IT worker it would seem placid and serene like a silicon meadow. “I sometimes just come down here and sit,” Theodore offered over the hiss of machinery. “Just to listen really. Knowing that vast fortunes are moving invisibly. Silently. It's like when you – “

He paused. Somewhere nearby, the fan on a server had gone up a notch in volume.

It is begun,” Fortran growled pleasantly.

Theodore stared over at her, found her face intent and her eyes narrowed. He quickly whipped out his t-Pad and looked at the numbers. “Market is flat,” he said, somewhat relieved.

“Look at the volume,” Fortran whispered.

Around her the hum of all the machinery went up a decibel.

“Five-hundred-million already. That's a big day.”

Fortran didn't answer but reached out and touched the rack again. This time there was a bright flash and a significant bang.

“You better move back another click, Teddy,” Fortran began, trying to sound casual. “No matter what happens to me, stay way.”

Theodore did as instructed, moving out of the cage entirely and leaning against the far wall. “What are you going to do?” he yelled over at her even as the sound of server fans and drive arrays rose from a whine to a windy roar.

Trade!” she shouted back.

Suddenly, it was like a jet had landed in the facility so loud had the place become. And the heat rose as well as the combined heat dissipation of several hundred multi-cored blade servers leaped into battle with the worlds sexiest data cannon.

It would not have looked like conflict to someone less experienced, but Theodore knew exactly what was happening; cyber warfare had broken out in the basement.

“Fortran!” he called over the roar. “What's happening? Why have they gone nuts?”

She didn't reply, looking even more concentrated than she had just moments before and Theodore realized suddenly that perhaps there was no longer a thread reserved for their conversation. Inexplicably, he found himself rooting for her.

“Get 'em Fortran!” he shouted over the roar of machines. “Make them work for their bonuses!”

The noise increased until he had to cover his ears, and the entire spectacle was so frightening and so exciting he let out a shout like a child on a roller coaster ride as the noise climbed and the heat grew until sweat popped out on his brow.

He checked his t-Pad. “Three billion shares traded! This is huge!” he shouted over at her. “But something is broken in the reporting because the market is completely flat!”

“No it isn't!” Fortran shouted back. “I've got it swinging 20% on either side!”

“No way! It's virtually flat!”

“Not in my world it isn't! Volume!”

He looked, and gasped. “Four billion shares traded! My god that's a record! No – five billion! Fortran what's happening?!”

She didn't answer right away. A wing rose and as the leading edge brushed the cage material in the ceiling a series of bright electric arcs leaped to ground, causing the cage to smoke and the metal to shake in place like it was in the grasp of a violent gorilla. Metal fumes rose and were quickly drawn into the laboring AC vents. Around the facility other faint columns of vapor and invisible wafts of electric stench were rising as various servers, drive arrays and power supplies gave the full measure of their devotion, and died in place. Network switch front plates where solid masses of lights as packet traffic saturated every interface. And somewhere more distant, a UPS began beeping in signal that it was over capacity.

And suddenly over all this and adding to it, there was laughter. Faintly at first, then rising and growing in volume until the walls were echoing with mirth. Echoing peals of female laughter as if some goddess had found the pitiful efforts of men just too funny, and would shake the roots of the Earth with her amusement.

“This is where you loose, suckers!” Fortran shouted over her own laughter. “The mad woman is in the house! If you've got any more than this you better roll it out because I'm here to eat you alive!”

But there was no more, for there could be no more. Not in all the server rooms and basements and labyrinths of all the world combined. There in the depths of the earth, under the feet of busy humans going about their business in the mistaken belief that any of that mattered, the real power of the their world found itself in the virtual grip of a single blue female, and to its considerable horror felt itself bent under her mighty will to the point of breakage.

Theodore was experiencing the pitched battle in the lights and sound and the smell of burnt silicon when he realized that nearly 10 minutes must have passed. “Fortran!” he called over towards her. “The time!”

“Another eight seconds and I pull out.”

He glanced down at his t-Pad and whispered, “14 billion shares. Absolutely flat market. God. All. Mighty.”

Something subtle happened to the noise. Almost as if the entire facility exhaled with relief. The level of raw electricity rapidly decreased and the noise of rattling cage walls halted.

Fortran it seemed was done trading.

Theodore approached the cage opening and stepped inside. The facility was hot and reeked of burnt electronics, but he could tell that the war was over. He looked over at Fortran just as she reached down and pulled the Cat6 cable from her navel.

She stood a moment with her head down, her hair fallen around her face. She was chuckling lightly to herself. Just as Theodore was about to ask her if she was okay, she turned her head and looked over at him, her eyes glowing reflectively with a combination of pleasure and intense insanity.

“I made it with a second to spare,” she said throatily. “I hated to pay that fee to those jerks at the Fed. But my sister probably wouldn't allow me to trade for sex, so that decided it.”

“May I ask,” Theodore began. “What was you target?”

“They owed me $2,100” Fortran said seriously.

Theodore gawked. “All this for that? I could have written you a check myself!”

Fortran sighed and said, “But you would not have nor would I have asked. And the battle and the damage created is part of the expected sacrifice. This is money. Money before all else. Money is sacred.”

Theodore turned away. Fortran stepped up to the mass of cables she had been appreciating earlier, grounded herself on the rack just to be sure, and reached in between the bundles to recover the other end of the cable. When she had coiled it up she stood looking down at it in her hands.

“May I have that?” Theodore asked. She looked up at him curiously, then she smiled and handed it to him.

“A souvenir,” he said, smiling back.

Fortran grew serious and said, “Your bank card, Teddy.” And she held out her hand.

He hesitated, but reached back and came up with his wallet and extracted the bank card. She smiled up at him as he surrendered it then looked at it closely before wiping the tip of her finger across it.

“And now, your PIN,” she said.

Theodore drew up and said, “What are you doing to my bank account?”

“Teddy,” she began dryly. “I just moved three-hundred-billion dollars several times, the contents of your bank account are relatively unimportant. Besides,” and here she smiled sweetly, “I bet I won't need F-cups to guess your PIN. Don't make me embarrass you.”

He shifted uneasily before answering, “2-4-6-8.”

Fortran snickered and handed him back his card. “I just transferred the excess over my target profit into your bank account. A little present for your valued assistance in helping me get my money back.”

When Theodore started, so she added, “Relax, I traded it pretty close. After I repaid the Fed and restored my own bank account there was $117 left. Is there a Misses Theodore?” He nodded. “Take her to dinner and tell her it is a gift woman to woman from The Firebird.”

“She'll understand that?” he asked, as if women had a secret language. Which they do but that had nothing to do with this. “I should think not,” Fortran replied. “But it will sound intriguing and slightly naughty, and she'll be inspired to enjoy herself at your expense. Besides — “ And Fortran leaned toward him, “You did spend part of the morning with a naked female not your wife.”

As if he suddenly realized that Fortran was still nude, he turned away and rubbed his face with his hands. “How do you do that?” he asked. “It's because I'm blue,” she replied evenly. “It creates the illusion I'm clothed.”

Theodore led them out of the basement, at least in part so that he would not be tempted walking behind her. As they went Fortran was answering a question, being why she hadn't made any more money than she had when she'd clearly held the advantage.

“I might have mentioned that I was raised in a convent,” she was saying. “I was taught many things by the Sisters – most of it silly I'm sorry to say – but there were some things I learned which I still value. One that applies here was that while it was no excuse towards covetousness, it was acceptable to protect one's meager holdings against unjust theft – especially by the wealthy, who covet more than anyone – and to share in any God-send, and to not be greedy. I've always thought this sound advice.”

She paused a moment before adding, “I provide only for my sister really. She's good at warfare and killing and the like but she can't work for anyone and has no concept of money. I have a parttime job as a waitress at a Goth club, it's where my savings came from – Persephone's House of Blood and Biscuits – I hear the food is actually quite good though I can't eat it of course – and that way I can provide for her modest needs. Bullets, knives, boots, rarely hospitalization. And the occasional meal at a real restaurant.”

He was smiling at her. “Now I see why this was so important. But you don't think it taints your honor at all having traded with the Wall Street oligarchs?”

Fortran cocked her head up at him. “Oh but I wasn't trading with them.”

Theodore turned at the top of the stairs and looked back at her. Fortran continued, saying, “Despite what you saw, and all that volume, and the money, I wasn't actually trading with any of those machines.”

Theodore blinked down at her. “Then who – “

“People,” she said. “Just people.”

“But there aren't any people in the market,” he pressed, frowning.

“Yes there are,” she continued. “They don't know they aren't supposed to be there. Random people, who maybe inherit some shares from an uncle, or decide to cash out some options they've been holding for a rainy day. Or someone wants to own part of a company they work for. They open a retail account and hope for the best.”

“But – they get clobbered. By the machines,” Theodore said, confused. “They don't last a second, they pay too much and earn too little, they get burned, they are taken.”

Fortran smiled up at him and said, “Not while I was plugged in they weren't.”

Theodore smiled. “I get it now. That was interference. You made a fair market! You withdrew the machines and cleared the marketplace!”

She nodded and said, “I made sure everyone got a fair price, and I still made a modest profit.”

“And the Fed funds?”

“I didn't feel too badly forcing the algos to surrender enough to pay my fee for funds. Though they severely resented it and fought over every dime. As you may have noticed.”

Theodore came down the steps and shook her hand. “Thank you, thank you! That was splendid! Brilliant! A fair market. I don't think we've had anything like that for 20 years. No – longer. Thirty years.”

Fortran smiled up at him and said, “It was entirely my pleasure.”

Diamond was biding her time sitting on a stoop on the sidewalk when a broad, ominous shadow loomed over her. She smiled and looked up to see Fortran's familiar outline against the sun and sky.

“Ah ha. So you changed your mind did you?” She asked while scooting over to make room. Fortran sat down beside her sister, folded her wings slightly and said, “Not at all. Rather, I am done.”

Diamond looked over at her. “That was quick. They didn't pitch a fuss?”

“Oh they fussed plenty. To no avail. I have my money back.”

Diamond looked Fortran up and down and frowned. “Nobody shot you?”

“Not nearly.”

Diamond looked up at the exchange and the sky overhead. “No conflagration? No explosion? No one running down the street on fire?”

“None at all.”

“So that bi-lo-sel-hi thing worked?” Diamond asked.

Fortran turned toward her with renewed appreciation. “Say, I think you might be getting the hang of this.”

“Not even remotely,” Diamond confessed. “But I'm pleased you didn't have to sell your innocent body.” And here she handed Fortran her clothes. Fortran thanked her and first slipped the top over her head and turned so Diamond could tie it. She stood and stepped out into the throngs of pedestrians and pulled her pants on. Across the street people could be seen running in and out of the exchange, shouting into cell phones, stopping each other before shouting more instructions as they ran anew.

“Ah,” Diamond began knowingly. “On a closer look I believe I do detect your handiwork.”

Fortran didn't even glance up as she tied the rope at the top of her cargo pants and adjusted the fit further down on her belly. “I suppose there might have been some excitement. Though you know how people are.”

“Excitable,” Diamond agreed with a bored air as the throngs milled past her intent on their conversations and texting, unaware that at any moment one of them might be pulled into an alley and devoured.

“Money,” Fortran said with a sigh. “About the only thing they notice in the world. Touch their money and you have a fight on your hands.”

Diamond stood and grinned broadly. “Speaking of excitement, I could eat and I was thinking Korean.”

Fortran glanced around them innocently. “Oh? Anyone in mind? Probably not many Koreans in New York – “

« back

Diamond leaned forward and whispered, “That was not my meaning, blondie.”

Fortran smiled thinly and turned toward her sister and said, “I knew what you were meaning. And I think it a splendid idea. My treat, for you suffering this journey. I recall that Korean place we went to the last time we were in New York, it is not so far from here actually. They were willing to serve you raw beef. And they thought you were fabulous tail and all.” She hooked a small, blue hand around the back of Diamond's thick neck and pulled her down and said, “As do I,” and kissed the other firmly on the mouth.

It was not exactly a kiss between sisters, nor between lovers. Not passionate, but not entirely dispassionate either. It was a kiss between opposites, as where day meets night and lingers for a while in gentle dusk or dawn but always in fond appreciation of the unique qualities of the other. Lingers — and then struggles — and then laughing relents and hands over all the world to be transformed. Day into night. Night into day. Around and around giving away in perfect measure that which is infinite.

They parted to favor each other adoringly. Fortran took a step back, lifted her wings dramatically, and with a hollow metal ringing, lit her halo. An electric light so piercing, so powerful that it could on a clear day peel paint at a distance, on that occasion bathed the buildings in soft white. Then with a powerful downwards beat she flung herself into the sky. Around her people had already fled shouting and screaming in sudden fright having noticed – finally, nearly too late – that something unearthly was among them.

Diamond, laughing, flew onto the streets in pursuit. Bounding over cars and cabs, bursting through the crowds like a tiger through the underbrush, her golden eyes fixed on the course of the light in the sky.

The destroyer and the firebird. Darkness after light. And then they were gone.

Thus was New York spared. Except for Wall Street, where for a generation they would talk in muted whispers about the day the Devil came to trade. Which of course is nonsense. Fortran being among other things an angel, and a good sister besides.