Not Even Work

“Not Even Work”
The Destroyer and the Firebird Rob a Bank

by Cougar_w

(CD here: At one time or another we’ve all reached the point where we entertain the unthinkable. Maybe you’re locked into a low paying job and between paychecks when the car breaks down or the kid gets sick. Or you’re thrown in jail and can’t make bail. What if the cupboard is bare and you’re well beyond just hungry? From deep within, there’s this creeping realization that you must do something, anything, to relieve the gnawing emptiness and growing sense of panic. Suddenly your world is out of control and you’re desperate for money. What do you do?

It’s during times like this that the mind grasps at straws and drifts to previously verboten subjects. After failing to borrow money, you run down the mental check list as you consider the pros and cons of robbing family, friend or neighbor, the liquor store, the local 7Eleven. Down you go until you arrive at the bottom of the list and where it all begins, the bank. Of course, you never go further than just fantasizing about stolen piles of money and problems solved. But what if you actually went through with it?

Zero Hedge’s Cougar_w presents us with this fictional situation, only this time with an interesting twist. What would happen if two extraordinary creatures trying to coexist in a world of ordinary humans are overcome by money madness and walk into a bank? In this humorous, thought provoking and poignant excerpt of a larger story, we find out who has more humanity when put to the test.)

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.

Wanting It

“I wish you didn't have to go back there,” Diamond complained to her sister.

“It's not so bad,” Fortran replied. “And we need the money.”

Diamond scowled. “I don't like how they treat you.”

“It's just a job. Don't worry about it.” Fortran said.

The sisters are walking through the park a few hours before Fortran needs to be at work. Diamond’s not happy about that, which is potentially a major problem.

“You’re only doing it for me,” she groused. “I don't want you doing that sort of thing just for me.”

“I'm doing it for lots of reasons, Diamond. Right now you're hungry; I understand that's a problem and I'm sorry. I don't know what happened. We'll plan it out better next month. Please, try to be patient. I get paid in a couple of days and then I can feed you.”

Fortran is employed at a Goth-themed bar and lounge called Persephone's House of Blood and Biscuits. By day it’s a standard enough lunch spot. But after hours it becomes a dense, throbbing dark-wave watering hole. It’s run by an old Chinese couple who have no idea what Goths are, but are happy to serve them good food and drinks at a reasonable price. Fortran’s been a late shift cocktail waitress there for several months. It is perhaps the only place where a woman with white hair, blue skin and a 16 foot wingspan could be at ease on the job. Everyone there thinks she has the best costume by far and they marvel at her bat-like wings, not realizing that this is simply how she is.

She might as well work in a Goth club since for all appearances Fortran is a Gothic vampire.

Her sister Diamond on the other hand is a different kind of creature. She’s quite large and nearly half covered in a fine black fur that matches well the long coal black hair that runs down her back nearly to the base of her sweeping black striped tail. She’s heavily muscled, lightning fast and is the world's most accomplished killer, endowed with a set of knife-like teeth that might have been borrowed from a lion. For all appearances Diamond is a Gothic werewolf.

But these two were not mythical creatures of any kind. In fact Fortran is a continuously compiled computational angel-mech and Diamond is a military-grade hyper-tiger. Knowing the truth however would only serve to confuse people.

So a vampire and a werewolf hanging it at the Goth lounge would have to do.

While Diamond could and frequently does go without clothes, she is on this occasion dressed in her usual field uniform; a short black leather vest that did not close in the front and didn't quite cover her small breasts (if you like women with small breasts then check out Nu Bay Small Tits), a black leather skirt that preserves only a hint of modesty and a simple leather collar. The latter being the sort of thing an animal is expected to wear in polite society, a legacy of Diamond being a kept animal most of her existence.

Fortran is dressed in low-slung cargo pants, a too tight white unevenly cropped t-shirt and no shoes. This is unusual for her since she is more often found entirely naked. Her usual story is that this is how she keeps from setting her clothes on fire. Which is no doubt true since she does have a tendency, once irritated, of setting her surroundings ablaze. Fortran also frequently makes the point that, being all over blue made it look somewhat like she was dressed anyway, thus rendering flammable clothing somewhere superfluous. But Diamond long ago became convinced that — angel or no and blue or not — Fortran was fundamentally a loose woman.

“I don't understand why you’re so against my working,” Fortran continued.

“Your work is demeaning. Those people treat you poorly.”

“That's not true, Diamond. The owners are nice people and both Charlie’s are sweet. And besides, it's all I have and that means it's all we have.”

“We don't need it!” Diamond retorted angrily. “Not any of them appreciate what you’re doing and I don't see the point in it!”

Fortran stops and crosses her arms. “They don't know what I'm doing if that's what you mean and if they did know they'd just drive us away in terror. You want to become feral again, like a 200 pound homicidal alley cat?”

Diamond stops as well and put her hands on her hips. “If it means you don't have to put up with men groping you between the legs, then yes.”

“Oops,” Fortran says softly. “I didn't think you saw that.” She turns and with her head down continues walking.

“I did see it,” Diamond replies, coming up behind the smaller woman and standing between her wings. “And you didn't even blow his arm off for it. Any other time and place you would have just —.”

“I would not have!” Fortran snapped. “Yes, that was crude. But it was not worth killing a man over — and in a restaurant of all places. Diamond, I'm surprised at you.”

“No? Okay then. What about that guy that kept bumping into you all night grabbing your breasts until your top fell off? Or the guy that deliberately peed on you? Or that stupid woman who tried to set your wings on fire with a lighter?”

“She thought they were fake,” Fortran said weakly.

“And if they had been fake,” Diamond continued, “they probably would have ignited and left you to run around a crowded bar on fire! Where does it stop Fortran? Where do you draw the line?”

They fell silent for a moment. Diamond's face reflected all five severities of elemental murder.

Fortran walked thoughtfully, her eyes searching the ground for the right words. Then she looked up and said, “I appreciate you worrying about me. But listen to me Diamond. We knew there would be days like this when we decided we would try to live this way, live with people rather than running from them. It’s either live with them or else be in a continuous state of war. We knew they would jack us around. It's been working out mostly. I'm willing to put up with it for a while if it means we can be together.”

Diamond sighed and placed a hand on Fortran's small shoulder. “Sister, there are many ways we can be together. We can leave this place and go into the world if we have to. But by choosing to be here we can't then just pretend we're nothing, that we’re harmless. You are the most dangerous creature in the world Fortran. And even if you weren't, you’re really sweet. They have no right, no authority. And even less reason to treat you badly.”

Fortran shrugged. “Second most dangerous. And they’re just silly people, drunk and having fun. They don't have a clue what we are Diamond, that we're terrible and lethal. And I like it that way.”

Diamond exploded. “Well, I don't like it that way!” She slipped under Fortran's wing to walk beside her. “I want them afraid! I want them to run away like rabbits! I don't want them thinking they can touch you and set you on fire and do whatever they want! I'll kill them Fortran! I've killed them before and I’ll kill them again. And I swear this time I'll kill them to the last!”

Diamond's thundering words leaped into the air around them and burned there darkly, like a demon unchained and promising ruin. Fortran's eyes went wide with shock for a moment, then she bristled right back. “Fine! Then I lose my job! Is that what you want?”

“Yes! That's exactly what I want. Because I don't want you to feed me. I'll feed myself and damn the consequences!”

“But feeding you is exactly what I promised Lacy I’d do. That was the condition for letting you off your leash, remember? That I keep you from eating people? And how will I feed you without money? How will I get the money without a stupid job?”

She fumed a moment more as Diamond stalked beside her before speaking again, her voice uneasy. “You’re being unfair. What do you expect from me, Diamond? Do you expect me to mug people in back alleys for pocket change? Do you expect me to rob a bank?”

“Yes!” Diamond yelled at her. “That's just the thing! I want you to rob a bank!”

“Okay!” Fortran shouted back, a note of desperation in her voice and her hands making fists at her side. “Okay! I'll do it! If that's what you want I'll rob a lousy bank! Right now! Go ahead and pick one!”

Walking as they were arguing, they found themselves outside the park and standing on the sidewalk in the retail district. People were listening to the two mighty creatures arguing. But nobody seemed to take them seriously, thinking perhaps this was some type of performance art.

“Alright I will!” Diamond said suddenly, extending her arm and pointing at a nearby building. “That one!”

Fortran peered around Diamond at the shop front and said, “That's an optometrists ditz. They won't have any money to speak of.”

Diamond scowled at Fortran, then turned and searched around before pointing at another building further up the road. “Then that one!”

Fortran glanced up and with a sigh started walking in the direction Diamond had indicated.

“I know what a bank is,” Diamond said. “I'm not stupid.”

“I know you aren't,” Fortran said softly. “But you get this way when you’re hungry. You become all-over tiger when you’re angry and hungry.”

“That's not my fault,” Diamond said. “And it's not your fault either.”

“I know. I know,” Fortran said with a note of resignation. One crisis averted, yet another in the making.

They walked in silence as people stared at them until they were standing on the sidewalk just outside the bank. Fortran looked up at the brass letters anchored in the granite facade and said, “First Friendly Bank? Good lord. How can we rob a place like that? Are you sure about this?”

“Do it,” Diamond said icily.

Fortran looked over her shoulder at the other and said, “Alright, but it's my rules. Nobody gets hacked to pieces or torn in half. And no buildings blow up, Okay?” Diamond nodded in agreement. Fortran continued, “And no shooting or breaking limbs or throwing anyone against a wall. And no biting either. Got all that?”

The tigress growled faintly and Fortran elbowed her sharply. Diamond snorted. “Okay. I got it. No anything. Sheesh! You'll probably end up being shot though.”

Fortran laughed dismissively and turned back to the bank. Shielding her eyes she peered through the double doors just as someone stumbled out. It was an old woman with blue hair and at first she was startled as she found them there, then she hurried past. Fortran and Diamond watched her scuttle down the side walk pulling her handbag to the front and clutching it protectively. They grinned at each other.

“Kinda like old times, huh?” Diamond said with a wicked smile. “Except all the buildings aren't collapsed, the people are well dressed and not half starved.”

Fortran squared her shoulders. “Yeah, it is. And we should be grateful those dark days are behind us. Though I'll admit it feels good to be on the offensive for a change. The destroyer and the firebird ride again.”

“Woe unto man,” Diamond said proudly, placing a hand on Fortran's shoulder.

“Word up, sister,” Fortran agreed pleasantly. Leaning on the doors, she led them in.

Taking It

“I'd like some money.” Fortran is standing at a teller window, behind which a nondescript drab middle aged woman is waiting.

“Do you have an account?” the woman asked.

“I do not,” Fortran replied crisply. “I just want some money. Your money in fact,” Fortran added in case it was unclear whose money was on the hook here.

The woman looked at her a moment before saying, “Are you serious?”

Diamond rolled her eyes, but remained silent while Fortran pushed ahead. “I’m quite serious. Hand it over.”

The other shook her head and said, “I'm sorry, but I cannot just give you money out of the drawer. Would you like to open an account?”

“Not — especially,” Fortran said slowly. “Unless you would then give me money.”

“This isn't very funny you know,” the drab woman said, not realizing that it was. “I have other customers — real customers — to help. So, if you don't mind leaving I'd appreciate it.”

“Give me the money and I'll leave,” Fortran said.

“Is this — I mean —” the woman started, then paused a second before continuing, “—a hold-up?”

Fortran looked over her shoulder at Diamond, who nodded gravely. “Yes,” Fortran began, “I'm quite sure it is. A hold-up. A heist. A robbery. Something that results in you giving me the money.”

The woman said, “We have protocols for robberies you know. And so far you haven't met them.”

“What kind of protocols?” Fortran asked, exasperated. “Do I have to fill out a form or something?”

“Well — it would help if you had a note you could pass to me,” the other suggested. “But really, you have to threaten me.”

The two stood blinking at each other.

“You want me to threaten you?” Fortran asked, incredulous.

“Certainly not! That would be scary. But unless you threaten me it's not a hold-up and I can’t give you money.”

Diamond cleared her throat. “If she gave away money to anyone who asked she would be considered an accessory to a felony. At least I think that’s the reasoning.”

“Oh, I get it now!” Fortran said, clasping her hands together. “But that's horrible. I have to be threatening now. I hate that. And besides I already stipulated there would be no violence.”

“Here, allow me,” Diamond purred throatily while attempting to push around Fortran. The teller backed away slightly, but Fortran held her own. “Be still Diamond! Goodness sakes. We'll be having with none of that.” Then to the teller, “Well, I didn't come prepared to threaten anyone. We're new at this robbery thing.”

“I can tell,” the woman observed tartly.

Fortran shrugged helplessly, then continued. “Should I yell at you?”

The other took a deep breath then said, “There are protocols for that as well. Did you bring a gun?”

“I would never,” Fortran said quickly.

“Bombs?” the other offered.

“Mercy no!” Fortran replied, visibly shocked at the idea. “The very thought.”

“Well,” the teller concluded. “Guns and bombs are the only credible threats. Unless you can display a gun and threaten to shoot me or can demonstrate that you’re wired with explosives — and I have to see them and they have to look like explosives enough to fool a reasonable person — then I simply cannot release funds from the drawer. I am sorry.” It’s the teller’s turn to be exasperated.

There was a momentary pause and then she smiled kindly and said in her best professional manner, “Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

Fortran could have looked happier and it didn't help that Diamond was audibly grinding her teeth.

“Look here,” Fortran started in again. “What if I was — well, let's say an angel of the Lord?”

“Nice one,” Diamond said into Fortran's ear.

“This should do it,” Fortran whispered over her shoulder in reply.

The teller blinked at them both before saying, “But is this something you’re likely to claim?”

Without further ado Fortran lit her halo. A bright ring just larger than her head formed above her white hair, glowing first a pastel salmon before modulating upwards in brightness to a solid, bright white. It cast a shadow even in the lighting of the bank and illuminated the edges of her raised wings and the cropped t-shirt where her generous bosom forced it away from her body.

Diamond held up one hand to shield her eyes as Fortran looked up to her for confirmation. Diamond gave her the thumbs-ups with her off-hand and Fortran turned back to the teller.

The teller was by now lost in raptures. A smile had spread over her face as the halo reflected as tiny rings in her eyes. Her face transported with child-like wonder, she stared over at Fortran.

“Now then,” Fortran began. “Give me the money saith the messenger of the Lord. Or something to the effect.”

“You really are an angel of the Lord!” the woman was saying, apparently having forgotten why Fortran lit her halo.

“Yes I am — or might appear so to a reasonable person. As per your requirements,” Fortran quickly amended.

“But an angel would never rob a bank,” the woman objected, still smiling beatifically.

Fortran opened her mouth to reply, then shut it again before retorting, “I could threaten to smite you.”

The woman was insistent. “But I've always been a good girl and even went to Sunday school. So you can't actually smite me. Not if you really are an angel of the Lord.”

“Trapped — like a rat,” Diamond opined at Fortran's side. Which earned her another swift rebuke to the ribs.

Fortran squirmed a bit before replying, “You're right. I can’t smite someone in good graces with the Lord. However —” and here Fortran raised a hand to hover over the counter top, “— I can smite the furniture.”

“Uh-oh,” Diamond said as she took another step back to find shelter behind Fortran's uplifted wings.

There was then a brilliant flash as an intense arc of electricity leaped from Fortran's palm into the granite counter top. A general conflagration of sparks and molten cinders instantly ensued as the granite was blasted to bits by the searing heat. Flashes of light and stark shadows soared over walls and ceiling while the arc moved under her hand devouring the stone with a deafening roar.

After about 10 seconds, it stopped.

“Sweet,” Diamond said, stepping up to inspect the destruction over Fortran's shoulder.

The teller had retreated in terror away from her station and was screaming at the top of her lungs, unheard up to that moment due to the roaring made by the electric arc.

Smoke and faint fire curled out of a two inch hole burned into the granite, which it turned out was only about an inch thick. Around the hole was a scorch mark the size of a serving plater and the counter top was popping and pinging as the heat of electric destruction dissipated.

“Now, if you please —” Fortran began, pointing at the hole in the counter top, “—the money.”

The woman flew to the drawer and punched it open. “Yes!” she yelled over tears and sobs, “yes of course! I’m so sorry. Please don't smite me!”

Fortran looked up at Diamond and they both nodded, pleased with their progress.

The woman shouted anew when she opened the drawer to find the money within it on fire, a mushroom cloud of fumes and smoke rising toward the ceiling high overhead. She snatched up a cloth bag from under the counter and swatted at the burning bills until the fire was beaten down and only filaments of smoke remained. Then she started pulling out the contents of the drawer and placing the stacks on the counter around the scorch mark, repeating as she did, “I've always been a good girl — I've always been a good girl — I've always —”

Fortran watched this process for a moment only before reaching out and gathering up one of the stacks with the largest denomination bills. As these where smoking fitfully she had to pat them with a hand to put the fires out. “There” she crowed triumphantly, holding up the wad of money for Diamond's inspection.

Diamond looked at the bills dubiously before asking, “Is it enough?”

“Enough for what?” Fortran replied briskly. “For my purposes it’s enough.” Working her wings carefully so as not to knock anything or anyone over, she turned around in place and stepped directly into the muzzle of a gun.

“Oh dear,” Fortran said, somewhat taken back. The gun was held in the hand of a very old man in a generic security guard uniform. Perspiring heavily, he was rapidly shifting his eyes between the two females as if uncertain which one was the greater threat and therefore more worthy of being held at gun point.

“Sister,” Fortran began with gritted teeth, “there is a man here pointing a gun at me.”

“That's right!” Diamond said as if it happened every day. “He's been standing behind us for a while now.”

“You should have told me!” she hissed. Directing her attention to the man, she mustered up her best waitress voice. “Hello. How are you?”

“It's just a gun,” Diamond drawled with an air of gathering boredom. “And you did say.”

“You’re right,” Fortran said with a sigh. “I did say. And here we are, being shot as a result.”

“Stop or I'll shoot!” the old man said as if in confirmation.

“We're not armed,” Diamond observed. “And we haven't hurt anyone. You can't really shoot us without getting into serious trouble.”

“You’re robbing the bank!” the old man retorted. “Stop or I'll shoot!”

“Actually I'm not. She is,” Diamond pointed out. “And unless I'm mistaken, she hasn't threatened anyone; not even verbally.”

His eyes narrowed a fraction. “You a cop or something?” he asked.

“No. However my —” Diamond began before Fortran quickly placed a hand on Diamond's arm to still her. “I'm sorry sir; we've caused a lot of trouble I know. But I specifically told my sister she was not to kill anyone today. So naturally that rule applies to you as well. It's only fair.”

He blinked at her as she continued. “I mean, this isn't even real money. Just Federal Reserve Notes.” She examined the top bill closely. “They should drop these things from helicopters for all the value they hold. Make my life easier if they did.” Then she looked up at him and said, “I appreciate your position. Tell you what. You can cover us with your revolver until we get to the door, thereby upholding your end of things. And we'll simply leave and be out of your hair. How's that?”

He thought about this a moment, then muttered sub rosa, “The large one is correct. As things are, I can't really shoot you. But the branch manager you see — is a bit of a jackass, if you follow what I mean.”

Fortran put one finger on the barrel of the revolver and gently pushed it aside while whispering, “I understand perfectly. We're unspeakably grateful. Do your best, we'll be rooting for you.”

He took a step back and said for all else to hear, “Stop or I'll shoot!”

Fortran glanced up at Diamond whose face was unreadable. Then, with a heavy sigh she started for the door.

Outside came the sound of distant sirens as the police responded to the bank's silent alarm. Fortran was thumbing through the wad of bills as she walked. “This won't end nearly as well as it might if Master O'Malley turns up in the first response,” she said conversationally. “We'd best be away to our merry life of free-wheeling crime.”

Diamond, walking a step behind her, stopped in the middle of the bank lobby. “I get it,” she said softly.

Fortran smiled privately, then turned to face her sister. Diamond was standing with her arms crossed, a frown on her face, looking down at the floor.

“What is it you get Diamond?” Fortran asked tenderly while taking a step to stand within the other's looming shadow.

“It's not worth it,” Diamond continued, her voice steady but with a hint of remorse.

“No baby it's not,” Fortran said, reaching up to gently touch one of the mighty arms. “It's not worth it at all. There has to be another way.”

“I'm acting just like they do,” Diamond continued. “I'm acting crazy. All wound up about money, about not having enough. And now I’m robbing banks. I don't even know what money is.”

“That's because it's their rules,” Fortran said. “It's their world, their system, their rules. And it's their fault. When we said we were going to try and make it here we bought into their ways. And that meant —” She paused for a moment while she stroked Diamond's fur. “—it meant that we might go crazy just like they do.”

Diamond nodded and in exasperated embarrassment let her head fall backward and her long hair rain down her back in a fall of shining onyx. “I'm sorry,” she said to someone beyond the ceiling.

Fortran laughed gently despite the mood. “How cheerfully we consign ourselves to perdition, dear sister. Besides, I've been a little bit crazy as well. Allowing my concern about keeping my job to overshadow my better judgment. You were right; I should have drawn a line.”

Diamond looked back down at her.

“I lost my head Diamond. And that made you sad and angry and confused,” Fortran said to her. “I compromised myself and upset you just to keep a stupid job and that was wrong. But I never wanted you to have to kill for money.”

Diamond suddenly grinned. “I don't mind tearing them to pieces you know.”

“I know you don't,” Fortran said. “But we're here specifically to work on becoming more nuanced.”

They stood together for a moment while the sounds of sirens drew up outside, then stopped. Fortran held up the charred money and asked sweetly, “So do we need this anymore?”

Diamond smiled ruefully and shook her head. “No, we don't.” In return, Fortran gave her sister a warm smile and a wink.

Just then, two uniformed police burst through the double doors and into the bank with weapons drawn, one a white male and the other a young looking Hispanic female. The male officer began shouting. “Police! Don't anyone move!”

Instantly they noticed the pair standing together in the middle of the lobby and relaxed slightly.

“Fortran?” queried one.

“Diamond?” queried the other.

“Hi Officer Fuller,” Diamond said flatly. “Hi Officer Garcia."

“There's supposed to be a robbery in progress here,” Garcia said as she holstered her service semi-automatic.

Diamond, looking a little embarrassed, cleared her throat. Fortran bumped her with a shoulder and said to her, “What did you expect. At least it's not Lacy.” Then to the officers, “Yes it's true, we've been robbing the bank.”

“Shoot them!” someone called from the back of the bank. “They robbed the bank. I’m the bank manager and I saw it! Shoot them!”

A short, wiry, prematurely balding man of perhaps 40 came through a door in the counter, shaking a finger furiously at the pair and shouting, “They’re dangerous criminals! You should see what they just did. It was horrific! We nearly all were killed! Shoot them!” He stopped a safe distance away, quivering with rage.

Fuller and Garcia looked over at Diamond and Fortran, who had turned to look at the bank manager before swinging back to face the police.

“It's true, we did rob the bank,” Fortran confessed.

“Yet I wouldn't call it horrific,” Diamond amended.

“Certainly not,” Fortran agreed. “I mean there's horrific and then there's horrific.”

Officer Fuller was shaking his head as he walked up to them. “Now I think I've seen everything. Is this some kind of police exercise? Diamond, are you back on the force?”

Before Diamond could respond, Fortran said, “It's not and she isn't. We just don't have enough money and Diamond got angry and she's hungry and I won't get paid until Friday and I just thought —.”

“Diamond’s angry?” Officer Garcia inquired, looking over at the larger female with apparent alarm. This isn’t good at all.

“Only a little,” Fortran offered. But Garcia was already talking rapidly into her lapel radio.

“Aren't you going to arrest them?” the bank manager shouted. “Is this how you treat dangerous criminals? I pay taxes for this? Maybe you'll even take them to lunch now with my money!”

Officer Garcia peeled away from the foursome, saying, “Fuller, I need to take statements from these witnesses. I just called in a backup, code-T. Would you figure out what these two have been up to?”

“And tell 'em to bring some cat food,” Fuller offered. Garcia nodded while speaking into the radio again. She hadn't taken more than two steps when someone shouted in alarm and several women screamed.

All at once Diamond exploded into motion, grabbing Garcia in one hand and Fuller in the other and throwing them like rag dolls onto the floor a distance away. Then, off-balance from the effort, with a thump she fell between them.

“Oh no —” Fortran whispered as she stood suddenly alone.

There were three shots. Two impacted the glass in the double doors, having passed through the space occupied only a moment before by Diamond and the police officers. The third bullet struck Fortran in the back, just below her left wing attachment.

Her eyes went wide as she began to turn around. Looking over her shoulder and under her left wing she could see the bank manager struggling with the old security guard, the latter trying to get at the gun the manager had taken from him. The bank manager was sneering at Fortran and taking imperfect aim for another try.

“Stop!” she shouted at him, her voice echoing in amplified booms off the walls of the bank interior.

He fired then twice more just as the guard was thrown to the ground. Both rounds hit Fortran squarely in her belly. She stood in shock a moment and then turned to look over at where her sister had fallen among the police officers.

Diamond was up on one knee even as the officers were still trying to get their bearings. In her hands were their service semi-autos, both aimed down-range at the bank manager. She waited as solid as stone, not a single indication that she was set to do anything apart from blowing the man's brains out.

“Got him,” Diamond said steadily.

“He's mine!” Fortran called over, which earned from Diamond a thin smile of pure malice. “Sucks to be him then,” the huntress said.

Fortran rounded on the man, her face dark with fury. “You idiot!” she spat. “What do you think you're doing?”

The man kept the gun on Fortran, but kept looking between her and Diamond as if expecting the worst that could happen would come from the dark creature with the paired weapons. But the latter's malicious grin and patient air quickly disabused him of that logic and he turned and focused on Fortran — thrice shot and still walking, her halo still burning brightly — and his eyes went wide.

Fortran ran her hand over her belly and came up covered in blackish blood.

“Look at this!” she bellowed, showing him her bloody palm. “You worm! Shoot a woman in the back?” As she said this, a large glowing ring formed in the air around her at waist-height. It was flat and thin like a ring of Saturn, not unlike her halo and likewise bright white. The ring expanded rapidly until the bank manager was well inside its perimeter, passing harmlessly through him on the way out.

“Unarmed!” Fortran continued, supposing perhaps that nobody would be thinking about the two inch hole in the granite counter top. “And topping that — not that it matters — you just murdered what a reasonable person might assume to be an angel of the Lord!”

Two more rings flew out, both at different angles to the first. All three began rotating around each other as if some diabolical machine were in motion, defining as they moved a large sphere with Fortran and the bank manager near the center.

“For money!” she added quickly as an ominous hum filled the lobby. “Over worthless fiat paper money! Which by rights puts you in so deep a level of Hell that God doesn't even remember where it is!”

Fearing perhaps that Fortran would then do him physical harm, or maybe because the humming rings had thoroughly unnerved him, he dropped the gun to the floor and raised his hands in apparent surrender.

Black blood was running down Fortran’s back and belly and pooling into the waistband of her cargo pants, quickly spreading into a broad dark stain. She seemed to pay it no mind, instead reveling in her outrage as she shouted at the manager, “You have no right! You have no authority! And I won't stand for it anymore! You and your money can burn —” And with this she flung the loose stack of bills over his head, raining down around him his worthless paper.

As she did so there was a terrific inward-directed flash from the rings. For much less than an instant — only a few ticks of the Planck clock, a chronological slice so brief it could hardly be said to occupy normal space/time at all — Fortran and the bank manager were bathed in the most corrosive, consuming fire ever unleashed on the surface of the earth. A fire made of pure light and so intense that only atomic nuclei could witness it and endure.

But for all that power it was over nearly before it had begun. As the spill-over light from the flash was still making its way harmlessly around the bank interior the rings scurried back to their home in the tortured realm of unnatural physics that was Fortran's insides, leaving her and the bank manager standing on blasted marble tiles sheathed in their own ashes. Ashes that, while certainly impressive as it happened on this occasion, ran a lot less than even skin deep.

The bank manager was nevertheless completely blackened over every visible surface of his clothes, hair and exposed skin, as if he had been coated with coal dust. Fortran's clothes were rendered black as well, but her blue skin was only lightly dusted with a white powder like flour. She looked down at her body just as the man lowered the arm he had thrown protectively over his eyes. Behind it his face bore a diagonal pink stripe, his natural skin color, where the immolating flash had not reached him.

The last flakes of the bundle of Federal Reserve Notes, now charred beyond recognition, fluttered softly to the bank lobby floor.

“Attention passengers,” Fortran began as she casually dusted off an arm. “We have been cruising at an altitude of 23 billion volts for approximately three femtoseconds. The captain will be turning off the No Smoldering sign shortly. You may now collapse into disordered ashes if that is your thing. We hope you enjoyed burning up. Thank you for choosing Inferno Airlines.” As she spoke, the bank manager began to gibber incoherently.

Without another glance in his direction, she turned to walk away, the charred remains of her clothing literally pulling away from her body like fried cobwebs. Only the knotted rope she used as a belt remained in place. The bank manager took a tentative step forward as well and walked right out of his outer garments. They collapsed off him like a blackened dream into a brittle pile at his ankles, revealing underneath spotted boxer shorts, a white undershirt and a vast expanse of very pale skin.

Diamond had already risen from where she had held the manager at gunpoint. Turning her hands out and upwards, she offered the weapons back to their slightly embarrassed owners. Fuller and Garcia gratefully took them, the latter saying, “You go, girl.” Fuller glanced first at the holes in the front doors and then over at the branch manager who was sobbing to himself as one of the tellers placed a sweater on his shoulders. “I'm taking that guy in.”

Fortran walked up to Diamond and stood smiling up at her. Diamond looked her sister over a moment before inquiring, “Line?”

“Drawn,” Fortran replied with emphasis. Then she added, “You know, I'm feeling very good about this entire episode.”

“I'm glad. And suggest only that you might have done it sooner,” Diamond offered.

Fortran smiled broadly. “I agree. There's really no reason to put up with their petty nonsense. In fact I was thinking — uh oh.”

Diamond didn't have to turn around. “It's her.”

“Yup. Want me to handle it?”

“I'll manage.” Diamond turns just as the front doors swing open and two more officers step into the bank. One is a thin but muscle-toned Asian man with salt-and-pepper hair at the temples; the other a heavy set middle age woman with shoulder-length blond hair and a look about her that spoke of easy authority.

“Hello Master,” Diamond said to the woman with a note of deference.

“Tell me this is not what it looks like,” Police Lieutenant Lacy O'Malley growled as she walked right up to the tiger and stabbed her in the chest with a finger. Diamond may stood a head taller than Lacy, but it was obvious this had no bearing on who was boss.

“I can explain,” Diamond began lamely.

Lacy shook a finger at her and Diamond fell silent. “First, promise me nobody was killed.”

“Promise,” Diamond said.

“I smell burnt feathers,” Lacy said, looking around suspiciously.

“Fortran may have almost slightly set fire to someone,” Diamond said before adding quickly, “But if she did, it was my fault for dragging her in here.”

Lacy glared up at Diamond for a moment more before turning to Fortran and saying, “Hello dear. How are you?”

“Apart from having just been shot three times, I'm splendid,” Fortran replied.

“And who was it that shot you?”

Fortran pointed to the bank manager, who was gibbering to Garcia while Fuller placed him in handcuffs. The only intelligible thing he seemed to be saying was something about the light, repeated over and over again.

“Why?” Lacy asked, her hands on her hips. “He doesn't look like the shooting kind to me.”

“I might have — robbed his bank?” Fortran replied uncertainly.

“Might have?” Lacy interjected caustically. “Okay, I'll bite. Why might you have robbed the man's bank Fortran?”

“Diamond was hungry and angry and we don't have any money.”

“Don't you still have that job waiting tables?

“I do have a job and I'm trying to make everything work out. I really am. But it's hard and — and Diamond gets upset at how it goes some times. With my work, that is.”

Lacy frowned at Fortran. “Are they abusing you honey?”

“Not abusing,” Fortran answered slowly. “Not as such. I mean, it's the clientele really.”

Lacy smiled and said, “I see how it is now. I never told you this, but I bussed tables at a biker bar while I was working my way through college. Tough beat some days.”

“You did?” Fortran said with real interest. “Did they ever — well, you know, touch you when your hands were full?”

Lacy snorted. “Only every other night. After the first week of coming home in tears I started smacking people around. It worked really well. I met my first husband that way.”

Fortran gasped. “He didn't!”

Lacy waved a hand. “Certainly not. He was a gentleman. But his buddy wasn't. And after I cleaned his buddy’s clock my future was so understanding and supportive I knew I'd found the one. And his friend wound up being the best man. He was really very sweet after all.”

Fortran smiled. “Ah, what a nice story. I'm encouraged to be more assertive now.”

Lacy leaned forward and whispered, “Only try not to set them on actual fire dear.”

“I'll be most careful,” Fortran replied in like manner as they enjoyed a knowing laugh between females. Fortran caught Diamond's eye and the latter gave her a wink. Lacy saw the exchange and smiled thinly. Taking something from her back pocket, Lacy walked up to Diamond and said, “You’re under arrest, wolf girl,” She quickly clipped a thin braided leash onto Diamond's leather collar.

Diamond lowered her eyes in mock submission and said, “Yes Master.” But then they smiled warmly at each other and Lacy shook her head. “Robbing banks. What were you two thinking? I mean, if it was food you should have just come by the apartment. I would have fed you.”

“You would have?” Diamond said with surprise.

“Certainly. Going off your leash was yours and Fortran's idea, not mine. And you haven't visited me in well over a month. Looks like the only way I get any time with my tiger is when I arrest her. The guys will never let me hear the end of this,” Lacy said with a smirk.

“I thought maybe you'd still be mad,” Diamond said. “I mean, because I wanted to leave.”

“I always understood what your leaving was about Diamond. And I trust Fortran to do what's right for you.” Lacy turned and called toward the knot of officers moving the bank manager to a squad car. “Saito, would you cuff the blue chick and run her downtown? Be careful, I hear she's a tough one. Don't go easy just because she's a girl or an angel or whatever the heck she is.”

The Asian man crossed the lobby and came to stand in front of the smaller Fortran, who quickly assessed him with her large deep blue eyes. “Are you going to arrest me now, officer?” she simpered up at him.

“Yes I am,” he said, looking her up and down. Having just burned all her clothes off, there was rather a lot of Fortran to look at. “Miss,” he continued gravely, “we can do this the easy way or the hard way.”

Fortran took a deep breath, her bosom heaving fetchingly. “The hard way sounds like it might be kinda fun.” Across the way Diamond shook her head in disbelief, her suspicions about her sister confirmed.

Saito smiled at Fortran as she gazed up at him with moist eyes. “I suppose I could taser you a bit first,” he offered pleasantly.

“As much as I do like the sound of that,” she purred sexily, “This might not be the place for that sort of thing. Certainly not in front of my sister.” She reluctantly held out her wrists.

Saito pulled out his handcuffs, saying as he did so, “That's a pity though. Perhaps later?”

“Definitely later,” Fortran replied with enthusiasm. “After your shift, come by the lounge and you can taser me until you can taser no more.”

Saito gently rolled the cuffs onto her tiny wrists as she smiled at him. Catching her eyes he said, “Except you'll be incarcerated for what might well be the rest of your life. And they won't allow me to taser the prisoners.”

Fortran considered him a moment, then called over to Lacy who was busy talking to Fuller. “Lieutenant O'Malley. Is it true that I must be incarcerated?”

“Absolutely,” Lacy responded without turning. “In the deepest dungeon with the heaviest of bars. I know your type.”

“That's fine. But I have to be at work at six,” Fortran informed her.

Lacy thought about this for a moment before turning and asking, “Do we have a cell that will actually hold you?'

A smile flickered across Fortran’s face. “Sadly, no.”

“In that case, I suppose we can't really force you to stay locked up. But do me a favor. After you escape, you need to come by the apartment to collect your sister. And I have some clothes of my daughter's you can try on. While you’re there, we really should chat a little about all this Bonnie-and-Clyde business.”

“That sounds fun,” Fortran called over, then turned her attention to Saito. “So not quite the rest of my life, but more like the remainder of the afternoon. Bring your taser, Officer.”

“Fortran,” Lacy began again as she led Diamond to the door. “We don't have an armored Bradley vehicle to transport you nor an Abrams battle tank to guard you. And I'm not prepared to call in a wing of gunships to grapple with you. So you'll just have to fly yourself to the city jail and no stopping for coffee unless you really need to.”

“Yes'm!” Fortran replied. Fixing Saito with a sultry look, she purred, “Do come prepared to show me this hard way you were alluding to earlier.” She walked to the double doors as they closed behind Lacy and Diamond and stood there waiting to be let out. Saito grabbed one door and, with Fuller pulling the other, they quickly opened them so she could leave. Fortran caught a glimpse of Diamond being squeezed into the back seat of the lead police cruiser which was already occupied by two police dogs. They excitedly nuzzled and licked her while she laughed and tried half-heartedly to fight them off.

“I better get some food in her while she's still coherent,” Lacy said gruffly. “Or she'll become light headed with hunger again and get it in her head to knock over an armored car.”

On hearing this Diamond froze, having already managed to pin the playful canines against the seat. “Hey Fortran, did you hear that? We should have hit an armored car! Those things are made out of money!”

“Diamond, that's enough,” Lacy said firmly as she slipped into the driver's seat. “God, I hope we can make it before she eats one of the dogs.” And with a screech of rubber she pulled the cruiser off the curb and surged into traffic.

Fortran watched them go. Then, looking down at her wrists, she lightly snapped the chain between the cuffs. Thus free, she reached up to run her hands through her hair. “She's not that kind of girl, Lacy O'Malley,” the angel said to the fading cruiser. “She can't always speak to it, but Diamond always knows where her heart lies.”

Fortran turned her head to look back towards the bank just as Officer Saito walked out. He marched up behind her, then in one quick and easy movement stooped under her wing and rose back up to stand beside her. Saito casually slipped a hand around her small waist just under the wing attachments, saying as he did, “So what was that really about?”

She glanced up at him and then leaned into his shoulder with hers. “That was all about love. That was just her way of saying she loves me.”

He smiled at her and her at him. Then she added, “For all the drama and despite the venue, it was not even once about the money. And that's what makes her so special.” Saito placed a finger along the edge of Fortran's chin and, looking tenderly into her eyes, lifted her face towards his own. He whispered, “You're pretty special too archangel.” As he leaned down to kiss her, Fortran closed her eyes with pleasure and her lips parted before suddenly becoming serious. Touching his hand lightly and drawing herself away, she whispered, “No fraternizing with the prisoner.” Then she purred at him. “At least not in public.”

Before Saito could do anything else with his hands, Fortran pushed him gently away with a girlish giggle. Then with a flourish, she lifted her wings and sent herself sharply aloft with a blast of wind, sky blue against blue sky as if she were something that had been torn from the clouds. And her laughter rang around him like church bells.

Giving It Away

It was a busy night at Persephone's House of Blood and Biscuits, with a live DJ and dancing and the rich smells of food, alcohol and warm bodies. Fortran was working her shift and right then was standing at the bar, waiting for her order to be filled as the old bartender pulled well drinks and sluiced pre-mix margaritas into salted glasses.

“Thanks Charlie,” Fortran said as she absently turned one of the broken handcuffs still on her wrist from earlier in the day. “Let me know if this gets to be too much.”

Fortran had changed into her waitress' uniform of everywhere lace, satin, whalebone and translucent black fabric, becoming in the process what any reasonable person would assume to be a blue-skinned, bat-winged vampire. As vampire is what people expected, vampire is what they got; the earth-shattering truth being hidden away by virtue of being simply too obvious.

She even had her halo lit for the occasion. Not a single person had commented on it, which pleased Fortran to no end. Meaning as it did that the illusion of common human deceits was finally complete.

“Yer a doll Fort for asking,” he said without looking up. “But I think Charlie and I can handle it.” Charlie was the other Charlie who worked at the bar, a shaggy young man of about 22 and Charlie's understudy in the art of getting people pleasantly drunk. Charlie the younger was at that moment washing glassware and looked up to say, “How's it working out with your sister?”

“She hasn't unmade anyone yet, if that's what you mean.”

Just then Diamond pushed her way through the throng balancing a tray full of empties for Charlie at the sink who quickly took them with a smile. “Go get 'em, tiger,” he said encouragingly. She pulled some hair out of her face and pushed it behind one ear as she smiled back at him.

It was Lacy who had suggested (once Diamond had eaten enough raw steak to make adult decisions again) that Diamond ought to take up work alongside Fortran, if only to growl at people when they became too drunk. After breaking herself out of prison and into a change of clothes, Fortran had flown ahead to the bar and had spoken with the owners. With surprisingly little resistance, they agreed to pay Diamond a small stipend for doing simple chores, even though she was just an animal.

Later on, Diamond arrived at the lounge as she usually did and fell right into work; her being herself was completely in character and all that was needed. Wolf girl fierce, unyielding and powerful, she was sharp all over, hungry, conspiring. A creature summoned from so deep a level of Hell that even the angels couldn't remember where it was. Terror, wrapped in darkness, inside a shadow. But for all that, loyal and caring.

Fortran turned toward Diamond at the bar. “Say, I saw them pulling a guy out from under the table at C-8. Was that some of your work?”

“Oops,” Diamond said. “I was hoping you wouldn't notice that.”

Fortran dismissed it with a wave. “They were laughing their asses off, so it's fine. What happened?”

“He grabbed my tail,” Diamond said, her face blushing with indignation.

“And all you did was deck him?” Fortran said with mock surprise. “I'm sure I've seen you tear a man's arm off over that sort of thing.”

Diamond gave her a thin smile and said, “I'm trying to be more flexible. Oh, I saw Saito take a table a bit ago. He better not be here to hassle you about breaking out of jail. Want me to toss him out? He and I were partners on patrols for a while so it might be fun.”

“Don't worry about Saito,” Fortran said shyly. “I'll see to him myself. He probably just wants his handcuffs back.”

Charlie the younger loaded Diamond's tray back up with tumblers of ice water for her to disperse around the dining area. This was the paying part of her new job along with protecting her sister from the drunkards. She thanked him with a smile and then turned to look for Fortran, who had moved further down the bar. Their eyes met once again and Diamond moved closer to talk.

“I still don't understand money,” Diamond confessed as she strained to be heard. “I was standing on the street half starved for lack of money, ready to eat the next live thing I saw. At the same time, the banks are filled with money that nobody uses for any purpose I can tell. And now I have this job protecting my sister which I would happily do anyway. And for some reason I'm getting paid for it. It doesn’t make any sense.”

“I know just how you feel,” Fortran shouted over the noise. “Try not to think too much about the money. The money is just a means to an end really. We watch out for each other, that's what we do. Anything outside that doesn't count.”

“That's right,” Diamond nodded. “Anything else is not even work.”

For a brief moment then, they were all alone. Surrounded by the milling human sea of dramas and despairs and of quiet triumphs, the two most unlikely creatures the planet had ever produced stood like opposing pinnacles thrust upwards from deeper waters, enduring, mysterious, strange and out of place. They were each utterly unlike the other, and apart they were unlike all of the humanity that stirred around them. And yet somehow they were together, helping each other through an uncertain existence, not fully understanding but trying anyway. Or at least trying not to kill anyone who didn't really deserve it.

And for the most part they were succeeding. Two extraordinary creatures in an ordinary world. Nothing apparent in common and yet bound together in shared struggle, crushing loss and soaring ascension. Until even the differences became similarities. And at the end of all these things they were each the totality of all that the other possessed in the world.

Lost in thought, Diamond smiled to herself as she picked up her tray. Turning carefully, she sailed into the crowd like a dark dreadnought, exclaiming as she went, “Tiger coming through — watch yourself there! Here, have some water. It's on me.”

For a few moments Fortran watched the other make her way through the crowd, then reflectively turned back to her own tasks where she found herself confronted with a loaded cup of coffee.

“Oh, thank you!” she said, taking the steaming cup from the elder Charlie. He held one as well, taking a sip before saying, “She's a good one, that Diamond.”

“That she is,” Fortran agreed as she lifted the mug to take a sip. But before she could, Charlie lifted his mug high and declared a toast. “To the love of sisters then.”

She smiled warmly for Charlie understood. Part of her heart leapt across that gulf of missing humanity that nothing could bridge save acceptance. With her eyes shining she replied back, “Yes, to love.”

And they drank together to that uncommon love.

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