Member No.: 58
Joined: 7-August 10
Behind the locked door of her guest room, Marķa Fernandez finally allowed herself to relax. Reclining into a luxurious armchair, she kicked off her shoes and considered tonight's events. The second night of the Conclave was over, and she had made both allies and enemies this evening. The trick, as ever, would be learning how to make best use of both. Even as her body relaxed, her mind continued to work feverishly; there were a lot of variables at work here, some more predictable than others. Marķa was no oracle, but she was very experienced in playing the odds when it came to what future actions others were likely to take. Either way, making the best of the situation she now found herself in would require some planning.
Getting to her feet, she made her way over to the large wooden trunk which occupied the far corner of the room. Like many magical storage spaces, the trunk had multiple locks. The particular space which would be there when the lid was opened would depend on which combination of locks was used. Retrieving a ring of heavy brass keys from the bedside cabinet, the vampire opened several of the locks before finally lifting the lid. The inside of the trunk was of course much larger than the outside. In fact, the area which she was now peering down into was substantially larger than this room. An activated portable swamp sat at the bottom of it, making the air that rose from within damp and foetid. Lounging happily amidst the stagnant water was her caiman familiar, which looked up to see her as the guest room's lamplight came flooding in from above. Drawing her wand, Marķa silently conjured three live piranha fish, which plummeted down into the swamp. The black caiman immediatley lunged for the first one, seizing the fish in its jaws and gulping it down. The other two would soon follow. The Duchess watched her familiar eat, permitting herself a smile at its ravenous behaviour.
Once the caiman was done, she closed the trunk and opened a different set of locks. When she lifted the lid this time, the contents were little different to those of any normal suitcase. Ignoring the large collection of formal clothing, she instead picked up a small red-tinted mirror which sat atop them. Closing the lid again, she sat down on the bed and recited a quick incantation in ancient Nahuatl. The mirror of course did not hold her reflection - one thing almost all vampires had in common was that their image could not be captured - but after a few moments a blur of colours came together on its surface, forming into the image of Alejandro, the Atzlįnti Corporation executive who was overseeing her operations in Brazil. He was human, but he had served the Duchess faithfully for many years now. Despite the difference in time zones, he seemed to be as awake and alert as ever.
"Good evening, your Grace. How can I help you?"
"Certain events have come to pass at the Conclave", Marķa replied; "And actions will have to be taken. First things first, though. How are preparations coming along for next week?"
"So far things have progressed unimpeded. The opera that is to be hosted at the Teatro Amazonas is Don Giovanni, and the yacht Lobo de Rio has been moored at Manaus for the after-party. The major invitations have been sent, and most of the prominent guests have accepted. We're still waiting on responses from some of them, however."
"Understandable. Some of them will likely have enemies present, and not everyone can keep their temper in that kind of situation. All the same, get on to those who have not yet replied and make sure to get an answer from them. Everyone who was invited has been so for a reason. However, we're also going to have some uninvited guests to deal with in the near future."
"What do you mean, your Grace?"
"It seems that there are some werewolves who wish to push beyond their species' usual territorial boundaries and attempt to settle in our part of the world. Of course I have no intention of allowing the lycanthropic plague to become established, so measures will have to be taken. I assume you have your computer with you? Open up the file on the EcO217 strain."
"Of course, mistress. Here we are...Escherichia coli O217. An engineered bacterial strain developed by the company for use with the lithium biosynthesis gene. Research and Development found a way to attach a Transfiguration spell to a gene sequence, so they created one which transforms all of a bacterial cell's usual metabolic outputs into pure lithium. At its most basic, the strain gives us a self-sustaining process of synthesising otherwise rare elements without the need for direct involvement by magic-using personnel, and we've been using it to produce raw materials for vehicle batteries and specialist systems since it was developed."
"Good. But what I'm interested in right now is how easily the gene could be further modified."
"What did you have in mind, your Grace?"
"I think it would be useful if the spell which allows the gene to function could be altered to produce silver instead of lithium. And the strain that we're running it in at the moment is not really aggressive enough for my purposes...I think Plasmodium falciparum may be a better choice of carrier."
"Malaria...you wish for a strain of malaria which excretes silver into the body of its host. Do you plan to release this organism in the near future, your Grace?"
"No. For the time being, it's merely an insurance policy in case confrontation does occur. But all the same, I want a stockpile of it made. I need enough to infect every mosquito south of the Mexican border should it become necessary. Assign whatever budget is necessary to get it done."
"I shall do. If you don't mind me asking, mistress, you said this is an insurance policy. What, then, is plan A?"
"What do we usually do when a potential asset is arrayed against us? I think a measure of cultural assimilation is going to be in order. Any pack of werewolves looking to settle in the forests of Mexico or Brazil, or anywhere else in our lands, is going to be in for a very tough break. Their presence is based upon them following the same laws as everyone else, which means they won't be permitted to hunt protected species, or in designated conservation areas, and that cuts down on their list of available prey right from the start. Most of them won't be used to tropical heat or ceaseless insect bites. Then there's the Balaam to consider...let's make sure that the Jaguar-men are warned in advance that foreign predators may be showing up in their territory, and they'll be nicely pissed off about the whole thing. Give our werewolf guests a few months of living on scraps, with nothing but mosquitoes and sandflies for company, and they'll be desperate. I'll wager they won't return home, because the forest can be a remarkably effective prison for the mind. But at that point we or some Balaam loyal to the Crimson Mirror can approach them and offer them an alternative: to join us, accept our ways and our rites, and we will show them how to thrive there. The werewolf leaders need never know, and we will have gained a powerful asset."
"Of course, your Grace. I'll start putting the appropriate measures into action. Is there anything else you require of me?"
"Just one other. Mr Jacob Zotermeer has agreed to consider a joint venture between Atzlįnti Corporation and Wakefield Group. I've offered to let his company buy into our research on replicating the goblin metalworking process in exchange for us buying into Wakefield's cybernetics patents. I'm due to make a presentation to their board of directors on the matter the week after next. It would help me persuade them if I had some projected figures to show them. I'll need you to calculate some profit margins for me."
"I'll make sure that's done in time, then. How profitable do you expect this venture to be?"
"Significantly, though I suspect they will do better out of it than we will. All the same, our gains should be substantial, and monetary profit is merely a nice bonus on this operation."
Alejandro's expression had remained passive throughout the conversation, but now he actually showed a moment of surprise.
"What exactly do you mean, your Grace?"
"Profit is not the point of this venture", she told him; "The point is to increase investment in and proliferation of magi-technology. If we can engineer circumstances so that magi-technology becomes commonplace, then it is one more step towards closing the gap between Muggles and wizards. If society reaches a point where Muggles can easily counter the effects of magic, then it means we can easily counter the effects of magic. Take away a wizard's magic and all you're left with is one more frail human. Take a way a vampire's magic, and we're still strong enough to shatter bones with our bare hands. I wish to see the advances of this next century make conventional magic obsolete, thereby enabling the balance of power to shift accordingly. Building the future, Alejandro. We're building the future."