Monday, 6 July 2015

Sand and Conflict Antiquities (Night's Black Agents)

So how does the Conspiracy get its money, anyway? It takes vast sums of cold hard cash to keep those combat choppers and armies of mooks on the payroll. Not every vampire is like that ultimate trustafarian, Dracula, with stacks of gold bullion stashed away in the dusty caverns under daddy's castle. Some of them have to work for a living; but what do they do, and what kind of payout can they expect?

I'm going to discuss two possibilities here, both ripped from the headlines: sand smuggling, and conflict antiquities.

Conflict antiquities is a topic that's been in the news frequently of late, due to its links with Isis, and the conflict in Syria. Briefly, in conflict zones organized bands of looters strip antiquities sites of anything valuable and portable, sending it to the antique shops of Europe for a quick buck. The process is helped by the traditional, mercenary attitude of collectors and dealers, a characteristic that has provided fiction with many memorable antiheroes. Most dealers don't inquire too closely into the antecedents of the items they sell, and the collectors care even less than the dealers. At the moment, profits from the trade are funding terrorist groups, but in the past it's kept many a crime lord and would-be dictator for life in clover.

Incidentally, in case you were about to argue that at least the antiques are saved for posterity, rather than destroyed, it's worth bearing in mind that the profits from each 'saved' antique go to fund the activities of the same people determined to destroy those same antiquity sites.

Religious fanaticism won't be denied, but even the fanatics are willing to bend a point to keep the movement in funds. The money's too good to resist; items flow from the conflict zone to nearby intermediary markets in, say, Turkey, before making its way to the West. It's organized looting on a massive scale. "Every day we are getting calls about Syrian gold, Syrian mosaics, Syrian statues," says one antiquities dealer. "Damascus is being sold right here in Amman, piece by piece."

Arguably the Conspiracy has a slight advantage over the ordinary looter, in that some of its members may be old enough to remember where all the best antiquities sites are. In any case, wherever the Vampires fit in the chain, it's a cinch that they're making a mint. The interesting thing about a chronicle of this type is that you can set the scene nearly anywhere, from a Middle Eastern marketplace to an oh-so-exclusive antiquities dealer in, say, Rome, or Bonn, or London. You're probably talking about several Nodes worth of the Conspyramid, from the original looters out on the sharp end, to the people organizing transport, to the vendors, and possibly also one or two of the more highly-placed collectors.

Now we've talked about that, let's talk about sand.

It's big business. Everybody needs it, and there isn't enough of it. Construction, manufacturing, technological development; it all comes, ultimately, from sand dredged up from river beds and beaches. Fresh water sand is best; you don't want to be fighting salt corrosion from sand impregnated with the stuff. Desert sand's no good, as you need it to have those rough edges, allowing it to bind together.

Ecologically this is frequently a nightmare scenario.Wisconsin's sand rush is not without its cost. "Your clothes are full of it, you can’t roll your car windows down," says one Wisconsin native, living near the Oakdale sand mines. "The breathing part of it isn’t good. You can just feel it in your throat, feel it in your nose." But that's in the United States, where you can, occasionally, oppose an industrial development on environmental grounds. Places like India, on the other hand, where there are few rules and little will to enforce them, are another question entirely. There are over a dozen nations heavily involved in illicit sand mining, and again, there are indications that profits from these scams flow back to, among others, terrorist groups.

From a Conspiracy perspective, sand lacks the sexiness of antiquities smuggling, but it's a lethal trade, worth a fortune, and might appeal to technologically-proficient vampires looking for raw materials to build their sinister devices. Or who just want to build a city in the middle of nowhere. Construction materials aren't cheap, after all.

As with antiquities, the most useful element of sand smuggling is that you can set the story pretty much anywhere. Once again there's the blasted, gang-run danger zone, where life is cheap and bribes frequent. Even if there is an actual authority, you can bet that the cops and government types will not be on the characters' side. Then there's the transport arm, and finally the delivery site, where the product is then divided up and shipped off to wherever it's needed. That could be Washington DC, or it could be Dubai. Or anywhere else in between, really; the choice is yours.

That's it from me. Enjoy!

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