Author : Kevin Jewell

I looked up from my screen and was shocked to find the trading floor quiet. When the market was open, that did not happen. Just a moment ago, the floor had been a hectic blur of waving arms and yelling voices; runners hurrying orders from pit to pit, traders screaming into phones at the the idiocy of their clients, and clients screaming out of phones at the idiocy of the world.

In that commotion lay the power of the market. Each piece of new information updated the market’s forecast for the future. When the market was open, the board continuously clicked, the changing prices summing the expectations of the world.

But right now the board sat still, the prices frozen.

Everyone stared at a television screen on the wall. It showed the NASA channel. I had seen the landing of the last shuttle on that screen. I had seen the cable of the first space elevator connect to the base station in Brazil on that screen. I had even been watching that screen the very moment the manned Mars mission crashed into Olympus Mons and met a fiery death.

But none of those events, momentous though they were, had silenced the room. Traders celebrated mankind’s achievement on the space cable with hoots of acclaim and Interflux had traded up. We made the sign of the cross for the death and destruction of the Mars disaster with one hand and traded down Mars Dynamic with the other. Each event was just another data point, information digested and reflected in the market’s expectations for the future.

But this time, the information was not being digested.

The television screen displayed a space-suited astronaut facing away from the camera, flag in hand. In the background, one could see the grey landscape of Ganymede. Over her head, Jupiter loomed, a large dull reddish marble hung by no thread, impossibly large and close. Over her shoulder, a landing vehicle stood, dust from its recent arrival billowing from beneath its many oddly intricate landing struts.

The landing vehicle on the screen was similar to those spacecraft I’d seen before in functional form, but different in color, curves, and detail. A subtitle appeared across the bottom of the screen, perhaps courtesy of a sharp producer at the NASA production room well-read in the science fiction genre. The subtitle read “First Contact.”

That had caught the attention of the trading room. And at this moment, just as the door slowly swung open on the new arrival, we held our breath as one. This moment contained information that created no expectations. The room was silent.

When the market was open, that did not happen – except this once.

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