Market Crash

9:45 AM. Wall Street. A legendary location, where fortunes are made and lost in the blink of an eye, where the fates of millions are up for grabs. Where greed is good, compassion has no place, and if you lose your edge, dozens of others will jump to take your place. Boldness is rewarded and hesitation loses fortunes. Bright computer screens lined every wall, floor to ceiling, numbers and letters flying by faster then I could comprehend, the shouts of buyers and sellers on the floor jumbling together into an indistinguishable roar. By the end of the day, the strong would be rich, the weak would be poor, and we would all get together tomorrow to do it again.

I was not on Wall Street, but the same rules apply whether you are buying shares of companies or shares of lives.

9:50. Numbers and values were inundating the salesfloor. Most of the buyers were jumping on the news that birth rates were up in the Southern Hemisphere. It was a good opportunity to get in on the ground floor for cheap. Other’s were frantic over increased tension in the Middle East, buying speculations and hedging bets, just in case a new oil war broke out. I was ready to jump in on the next wave of action, but was distracted by my phone buzzing in my pocket.

9:53. I received a text, number unknown. Curious, I opened it. It was a simple message. “Earthquake. 10:13 AM. SE Asia. 200,000+ dead.” I looked around, as if the sender of the text would be visible, maybe staring at me trying to catch my eye. Instead, everyone around was occupied in their own little world, utterly oblivious to my new information. I checked the clock. I didn’t hesitate to trust the info. You hear stories sometimes of anonymous tips, and no one knew who or where they were from. Maybe from a higher power? We are money people, the big G word doesn’t come up very often, but I knew at least one guy who thought it was God himself. And who am I to disbelieve? There was no time to disbelieve or question. No time for “why me?”

9:55. Did I own shares in that area? I did, a not inconsiderable sum in fact. That’s the value of diversifying. A dozen times I’ve seen prices plummet after a disaster, but it was only once a decade or so that saw something on this scale. Selling now would net me a minor fortune, while those stuck with the falling stock would be ruined. A disaster like this could crash the entire market, lowering the price of stock worldwide.

9:58. For a transaction this large, I needed a teller. My brow furrowed as I started pushing through the crowd. More then 200,000 people dead. That amount of death at once was catastrophic. For some reason, I saw it not just as dollar amounts, but actual people. People with lives, entire families, entire cities, wiped from the Earth for no apparent reason. And me, ready to turn that tragedy to profit, through no skill or talent of my own. Was it… wrong? I’ve been betting on the lives of people for as long as I can remember. I slowly wormed my way through the crowd, lost in thought. I had never even considered the morality of what I did. 200,000 people who had lives, and souls, and thoughts and dreams and fears and everything else ephemeral that made them alive, not just numbers on a screen.

10:04. I looked around, suddenly struck by the magnitude of what was going on around me. Lives, being sold and bartered. These people around me would go home, to their own families and homes, after spending the day profiting on the business of life and death. What if their lives, our lives, were just pawns in another game, just as the people we bet on were pawns in ours. The text on my phone, it proves there’s a higher power, someone looking over us, informing us, maybe judging us, doesn’t it? I started to sweat.

10:06. There was nothing I could do though, was there? I can’t prevent an earthquake. I was running out of time. Me selling my shares and making a ton of money wouldn’t stop anything. It would just make me rich. I quickened my pace through the crowd, reaching a booth. These people were going to die, and all the morality in the world can’t change that, why shouldn’t I be the one to make money off it? Didn’t I deserve it? Wasn’t it time for me to catch a break?

10:10. I passed my info to the teller, taking a receipt. I tried reading it, but my hand was shaking. I couldn’t get it to stop. I took a deep breath, but it didn’t stop. I didn’t understand. It was just money.

10:13. A alarm bell rang.

 

In his pretend life, August Baker is a retail monkey who channels anger and loathing into something vaguely resembling literature. In his real life, he is a Space Pirate.

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