“You don’t think you’re asking too much?” Shen's voice lost a measure of good humour. “Are you familiar with the Chinese idiom about the python that choked, trying to swallow an elephant?”
Gwen weathered the Patriarch's intimidation like a robust warratah, unyielding against the wind.
“Nothing of the sort, Sir. I call my request a 'favour', but in truth, my actions can only serve to benefit yourself, Nantong, and your Clan. There are no winners or losers here, only mutual benefit.”
The two locked their eyes.
To the gathering, there was no stranger sight than a Secretary in his late forties having a stare-down against a seventeen-year-old girl.
“What is it then?” Shen's knitted brows formed a deep chasm across his forehead.
“I would like an hour to make a case to you, Vice Chairman Tu, and President Chen. All you have to do is listen to a proposal, after which the favour is repaid.”
The Patriarch Shen raised a bushy brow.
“A curious gambit, Gwen Song. What makes you feel so confident? Are you so compelling that the three of us, who hold between us seven million lives between the South China Sea and Shanghai, would be compelled to act by a girl-child?”
Gwen dipped her head, maintaining her gaze.
“Then you have nothing to lose other than sixty minutes of your time, Sir, perhaps a veneer of 'face' between you and your colleagues. If anything, I would be squandering my grandfather's reputation.”
“Not to mention your Uncle, the War Hero.” Shen's expression softened.
“Yessir.” Gwen grinned. “In the un-likely event that I embarrass myself.”
The Patriarch of the Nantong Fungs rapped the table, drumming away with his fingernails. Gwen remained standing, still as a statue while her party held their breath, unsure of what to make of Gwen's grandiose gesture. What they did know was to trust that Gwen knew what she was negotiating, as she had demonstrated many times before.
After a minute, Shen spoke.
“If nothing else, lass, you have distracted me from the incident involving Lihong,” the gruff Patriarch confessed candidly. “Very well. I shall ask the other two to attend our banquet tonight. After which you have- half an hour.”
“That’s more than enough, Sir.” Gwen had an expression like the fox who just took the hen house. In all honesty, she had expected the Patriarch to make life far more difficult.
Shen caught Gwen’s rapscallion demeanour, realised he had underestimated the girl, then began to laugh.
“Go and clean yourselves up." Shen measured the Song girl against his scions and found them wanting. "You and your friend can take the guest penthouse on level 27. There will be servants there to help you. If you need anything - tell the staff. The banquet will start at 7 PM. I'll send for you when the others arrive.”
Watching Gwen curtsy comically in her combat-suit and a mismatched parka, Shen disappointingly thought of his son, Dai. In recent years, the young man had become spoiled by their success. His other children were no better. His second son, Kei, couldn't duel his way out of a mob of NoMs. Yuhua wasn't bad, though she lacked a keen mind.
He studied Gwen as her party retreated, observing their deference to her.
The girl was a Gweilo, but Shen wasn't an old guard. In the future, Dai needed a firm hand to guide him, especially in the instance of Nantong becoming an international trading port. A spouse with a war hero uncle, a Neutral Faction grandfather, as well as the beauty and ability to match the growing power of Nantong, could very well be the support the Fungs needed.
“So, what are you going to suggest?” Petra was all ears as the girls changed. The VIP suite was enormous; the main bathroom was the size of Gwen and Petra’s apartment. Presently, Gwen was having a good soak in the bubble bath while Petra dried her hair, wrapped in a towel.
“What about this one?!” Lulan ducked through the door with a pink dress that made her look like a sausage sock puppet.
“Horrendous!” Gwen shook her head. “Lulu, you’re the petite type, go for cocktail dresses, something dark, A-line, short sleeves, just above the knee and high-waisted."
“I don't know what that means!” Lulan tugged at the tube-dress, disappearing through the door in a flurry of frustration. “I need a Translation Ioun Stone!”
“Pats, have you decided?”
“No skirts.” Petra eyed the wardrobe Gwen had provided for her, laid out on the bed. “Your dresses are all so… flimsy.”
"Well then, I’ve got a suit that’s just your style,” Gwen assured her cousin. “I’ll help you in a bit.”
She slinked from the bath, soapy and slick with foam. A quick shower cleansed away the milky-suds, followed by a hasty robe.
“THIS ONE?” Lulan appeared once again, this time with an embroidered off-shoulder dress tapered at the waist and flared just above the knees.
“Wonderful.” Gwen gave Lulan the A-O.K with her fingers. “Wait in the living room; I’ll do your eyes and hair.”
“Ooo.” Lulan skipped away, feeling furiously feminine. She went to show Kusu, who was with the boys taking up another section of the floor-wide suite.
“As I was saying…” Petra was thankful that finally, Lulan’s interruption had ceased. "What's your plan?"
“It's less a plan, and more a whole system." Gwen carefully made up her eyes. "I am going to present a mutually beneficial offer they cannot refuse regarding Nantong port.”
“The port?” Petra appeared taken aback.
“It’s a state project, why should they listen to you?”
“They might not,” Gwen explained. “Or they could steal my idea. If so, I’ll make it public, tell the world. Publish it via Fudan’s network. Tell Gunther to sell it to the Commonwealth. Trade it for CCs. but, if we do pull this off, it'll solve all their capital shortage for the next decade, longer if they manage fiscal responsibility.”
“Why the favour then?”
“One - to arrange a meeting. Two - to get Shen on my side. Three - to impose on them that none of this will happen without my guidance.”
“I am still not fully understanding any of this.” Petra shook her head. She was a brilliant spellcraft theorist, but Gwen’s half-baked explanation was driving her in circles.
“It’s a little complicated.” Gwen scratched her chin. “Not to be cocky, Pats, explaining it might confuse you even more.”
Gwen briefly explained the notion of flowing capital. Using short-term continuous deposits made by freight moving through Nantong to establish a stock-backed Sinking Fund. The fund can then be utilised on behalf of expanding the port, training staff, repairing ships, and offering short-term loans for misadventure. With future revenue, the fund would grow exponentially, assuming good governance was observed, and that her ‘partners’ didn’t cook their golden goose for greed.
"... and that's what I call 'Venture Capitalism'."
“St Peter… I need an Ioun Stone Translation as well.” Petra fought back the throbbing in her temple. “Your idea sounds like some ancient, forbidden magic for turning lead to gold! How do you know all this?”
"Well Pats," Gwen replied seriously. "You know how we're born with the ability to tap into Elemental Planes?"
“As it happens.” Gwen grinned. "I am born tapping into the Material-Plane of Currency."
"Hahaha." Gwen dodged Petra's scowl. Retreating to the bed, she picked out a gleaming white ankle-length pants-suit with a matching jacket - in silk. “Here, put this one on. And those white heels.”
“Saint Peter! You could kill somebody with those. And that jacket-”
“Then try not to step on any toes.” Gwen stepped back and observed her work. “Wonderful, take a seat while I’ll do your face. You can't unbutton that, by the way.”
"I don't know..."
“Do me! Do me!” Lulan returned. “I want the thing that makes your eyelashes thicker.”
“Alright.” Gwen laughed. “Kusu is going to lose his mind.”
The party emerged from the levitation platform.
The banquet took place in the grand ballroom on level 3, attended by most of the influential folk in the Fung building, as well as some of the local movers and shakers. Poor Lihong was expectedly nowhere to be seen, nor was her father, though Yuhua was there, and so was Dai.
Gwen descended the stairs, covered from neck to ankle in a sheer, skin-tight silk dress in brilliant white, hand-printed with floral accents. She wore her hair in a messy bun, causing casual strands to fall elegantly about her face, accentuating her smokey eyes. As she flowed down the semi-circular stairs, a slit in her otherwise modest dress flashed her lithe legs, then hid them with every second step.
Escorting Gwen was Petra, wearing an antique-white pant-suit likewise in silk. In contrast to Gwen's bun, Petra wore her hair loose, falling over her broad shoulders like a waterfall. Her husky-blue eyes, made more prominent by thickened lashes and her thick, ambitious lips, held the room hostage.
Behind the two, like an adopted little sister, Lulan walked with teeth-jittering care on her kitten heels, taking every step as if her first.
The boys, in contrast, lacking Gwen’s guidance, looked like the waitstaff. Richard had on a maroon vest and striped charcoal pants paired with brown Oxfords. Percy wore a borrowed tuxedo, while Kusu paired a mismatched pair of dark pants and dark blazer with a black bowtie, looking like a disgruntled valet.
“I should have just stuck with the tuxedo…” Kusu moaned, too embarrassed to follow the girls too closely.
“You looked like a funeral director!” Richard snorted. “Don't worry about it, mate, let the girls shine. We're just background characters. Besides, check that out-”
The boys followed Richard’s gaze over to a group of local girls wearing what could only be described as nouveau-riche couture, exposing more skin than cloth. Just beyond the smiling girls was a buffet table full of Wildland goodies.
“I see.” Kusu rubbed his hands. He couldn’t afford such fare back home in Shanghai.
“Oh… they have South Sea Lobster.” Percy salivated. As a growing boy, he couldn’t say no to food.
“Lea, keep an eye on Gwen. I’ll be… preoccupied,” Richard informed his Familiar, likewise gravitating toward the free food.
Lea drifted lazily across the six-meter ceiling, invisibly coiling around a set of priceless chandeliers.
Below Richard’s watchful guardian, Gwen entered the fray, becoming surrounded by young men who desired to know more about the hazel-eyed beauty from Shanghai.
Petra meanwhile, became inundated by young women, wishing to know more about the pant-wearing beauty. Simply put, Petra was the sveltest human being they had ever beheld.
“GWEN!” Dai’s voice called out. As a testament to the young man’s influence, a path opened almost instantly.
The two shook.
“It’s so wonderful to see you again.” Dai’s voice quivered with genuine emotion. “I’ve been thinking of you since that last time we parted on a sour note. Allow me to apologise again for any offence.”
Gwen caught the stickybeaking women giving her daggers.
“I've learned to think of it fondly.” Gwen leaned in, then brushed Dai across the cheek with her lips, giving him as much ‘face’ as she could muster without feeling excessively disgusted with herself. “I’ve been thinking of you as well. “
“You have?” Dai touched a hand to his face. “I am honoured.”
“It's true. Whenever I think of you, I can't help but think of the favour you owe me. It plagues my sleep.” Gwen grinned mischievously.
“Ha!” Dai snorted. “Of course, I dream of fulfilling it. It’s affecting my sleep as well. I think about our... exchange, day and night.”
“Losing sleep? Hardly. You look well.” Gwen backed away, sensing that at least half of Dai's words were no longer attempts at playful humour. "How's life?"
The young man looked less contrived than Gwen recalled. Attired in a cream tailored suit with a dark vest, Dai appeared significantly less douche-like and far more agreeable.
“Still single,” Dai stated a little too quickly, brushing off death-stares from those around him. “Introduce me to your friends?”
“Petra, this is Dai. Dai, this is Petra, my cousin and one of my best and closest companions.”
Petra beamed at Gwen's announcement, her ruby lips parting to reveal pearly teeth.
Petra's audience gave an audible moan.
The young Russian woman was taller than even Gwen, making her one of the tallest people in the room, not to mention she was outfitted with four-inch peep-toe stilettos. With her bold and uncommonly handsome facial features typical of the Eastern European beauties, her ‘couture’ factor was off the charts.
“Hello,” Petra replied in that husky voice of hers, cool as anything.
“And this is…”
Gwen gestured, only to find that their petite companion was gone.
Kusu was on his second plate when he noticed his sister holding a pheasant drumstick by the foiled knob, gnawing away beside the buffet table.
“Lulu!” He hissed, quickly approaching her. “Don’t just eat it beside the tray! Take some, go to a corner, eat it out of sight, then come back for more!”
Lulan scooped a drink from a startled waiter.
“Put that down, that’s alcohol. Don’t make trouble for Gwen.”
Lulan knocked back half a flute regardless.
“Eww.” She spat half a mouthful back in, then placed the glass next to the condiments. "Mao, its white vinegar."
The traumatised waiter stared at Lulan until Richard intervened.
“Ah~, let her have her fun.” Richard joined them. “She needs to learn how to mingle. Just look at Percy.”
Percy was busy chatting up a group of younger girls who all wanted to know more about his sister and her pants-wearing companion. Gwen's brother appeared entirely in his element, chattering away without so much as pausing for breath, eliciting bell-like laughter from his rapt audience.
“Not keen?” Richard observed. "More than likely someone would be happy to warm your penthouse bed."
“Not at all,” Kusu kept glancing at Lulan.
“K-dog," Richard borrowed some of Tao's endearing vernacular. "The forbidden fruit is tempting, but it’ll only bring grief.”
“What?” Kusu was watching the interaction between a middle-aged man and Lulan.
“Where are you from? You look kind of familiar.” A Clanner in his forties was accosting Lulan. From the look of his scarlet mien, it was probably the wine talking. “Do you like the food here?”
“Delicious.” Lulan nodded, chewing away on her drumstick.
“Want to come with Uncle?” the man asked delightfully. “There’s even better food on the other table.”
“There’s another table?!” Lulan blinked.
"It's a dessert table," the man assured her.
“HEY!” Kusu’s voice came from behind.
The Clanner turned to behold a waiter dual-wielding a crab claw in either hand, one of had a chunk missing. Studying Kusu's face, something clicked within the man’s mind.
“Hey, aren't you two the siblings kicked out by Huashan?” The man chuckled, struggling to fight back the alcohol. “Ha, you’re moonlighting as a waiter now?”
“What? No!” Kusu lowered the claws. “We're guests!”
The man gave him a look of pity.
“Look, we’re all Clanners here. A bad turn could happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone say that Meng of Kunlun bullied a waiter from Huashan just because his chips are down."
"Good Man." Richard gave the guy a thumbs up.
Nodding, the Clanner turned to Lulan.
“Eat up, lass.” He leered at her nubile body. “You won’t eat like this again for a while. Don’t worry; Uncle will keep your thieving a secret, eh? Just between you and me. If ever you need some cultivation resources…”
“Get out of here!” Kusu growled.
The man laughed out loud before snatching up an abandoned flute of wine left by the condiments to wandering away unsteadily.
Richard observed the whole thing with captive interest.
“What?” Kusu angrily bit into a Nordic crab claw.
“It’s alright, K.” Richard patted him on the shoulder. “So long as you stick with Gwen and I. We’ll do ya right.”
“They’re waiting for you inside.” Wang stopped outside the adjacent smoking room waiting for Gwen. The old Magus then turned to the Fung heir. “Master Dai, you are to remain here.”
“I am?” Dai had been surprised when Wang came to spirit Gwen away. He was now doubly surprised that it was his father who was interested in Gwen. The old man wasn't thinking of having a young mistress, was he? His mother was no pushover. If his parents had a falling out, they might need to rebuild the Fung Group sky tower. “I mean, as he wishes.”
Wang acknowledged his young master's piety.
“Miss Song should rejoin you after thirty minutes, I would imagine.”
“I wouldn’t bet on it.” Gwen turned on her heels. “Petra, can you keep me company? I imagine I could use some of your crystals in my demonstration. Master Wang, is that acceptable?”
“Of course, Miss Song.”
The door opened just enough for the two girls to pass. Leaving Dai standing outside scratching his head.
The young master watched his smiling teacher, Magus Wang, close the door behind them. He was now alone, consciously so. He had spent the better part of the evening entertaining Gwen and her friend to the neglect of his usual social circles.
Dai turned to see the tall Eurasian cousin and Gwen's brother, the grandson of Secretary Guo Song.
“Not any more.” Dai called a waiter over to hydrate the trio while he changed out the flute of wine for a tall neck of Tsingtao. “I still haven’t thanked you for your service to Nantong, not to mention saving my cousin, the poor girl.”
“It’s a tragedy.” Richard reached for a fresh bottle. The two clinked. “I hope she recovers.”
“She’s a strong girl,” Dai agreed. “She’ll have the whole Clan behind her.”
“That’s good to know.”
“How about you, young master Song, are you enjoying the evening?”
“I am, thank you, Master Fung.”
“Call me Dai, please.”
“Elder Brother Dai.”
“Brother Percy," Dai replied, then snorted to himself.
Percy appeared confused by Dai’s quip.
“A potential suitor for our princess.” Richard raised a toast to Dai. “One of many Jasons come in pursuit of her, haha.”
“She has many lovers?”
Richard took a casual swig.
“You don’t think she would?”
“Well, of course, someone of her calibre. I mean… how many are we talking here?”
Richard chuckled, evidently enjoying Dai’s growing displeasure.
“It’s an expression,” Percy hurriedly interjected. “Jason was the leader of the Argonauts?”
“A Clan of the Western world?”
“No, no…” Percy struggled with the context. “It’s a myth, you know, Jason the hero, chasing after a golden treasure to woe Creusa, the daughter of King Corinth?”
“So, its an expression of speech?” Dai regarded Richard accusingly.
“She’s never had a boyfriend,” Percy stated with absolute confidence.
Dai glanced at Richard, who grinned at him.
“Why don't you ask her yourself?” Richard implored.
“Not a single one?” Dai turned to Percy.
“None.” Percy crossed his fingers behind him.
Dai took a liberal swig of his beer.
“Thanks, little brother.” He smiled at Percy far too happy. “If there’s anything you need in Shanghai, just let Big Brother Dai know, eh?”
“Petra, if you would?” Gwen’s voice echoed across the conference room.
The tea had long since cooled as her captive audience listened with mouths half open.
Petra had constructed a ‘model’ of Gwen’s proposal.
“Let me explain again so that we’re on the same page.”
“Please!” Vice Chairman Tu reiterated.
“Yes, once more. I too am lacking in comprehension.” Magister Quin was likewise eager to have the proposal clarified.
The girl had drawn a pie in the sky that was impossible to ignore but also unlikely to exist. Nonetheless, it was right there in front of them, clear as the crystalline display.
“I am happy to clarify.” Gwen exhibited a dazzling smile sweet enough to give the old men tooth decay.
“As I was saying - your port is run at a loss. The administration - that's you gentlemen - fears that having costs subsidised by fees would make the venture unattractive for overseas shipping. To remain competitive, the port loses money every year to the tune of just under a million HDMs, made even via trade surplus. Yours is an unsustainable model - think, how long could you run the place until it collapses under the burden of its weight? The more successful Nantong’s Tonglv Canal becomes, the more crystals it burns. The only advantage the CCP currently possesses is the fact that labour is cheap and China has massive internal consumption - but that won’t help increase the efficiency of the port, which desperately needs more transport Golems and freight staff, not to mention skilled Administrators to manage tax and accounts.”
“As such - Petra, can you empty the pie-chart? Thank you.”
Gwen skirted around a circular tank constructed from Petra's crystalline mineral.
“I propose abolishing the Port Fee altogether. Instead, we implement a new system utilising a mandatory deposit, plus a flat, marginal administrative fee.”
“I still don’t follow how getting rid of the docking fees would make the port currency.” Magister Chen folded his fingers.
“It’s the deposit,” Patriarch Fung added helpfully. He was surprised himself at how quickly he understood Gwen’s ingenious proposal. The girl had a mind sharper than a void-tinged sword and as twisted as a Goblin warren.
“Indeed, the deposit is key. What we will do…” Gwen allowed Almudj’s Essence to circulate. “…is to create a Venture Fund using an Assurance system. When a ship arrives, it needs to 'deposit' with Natong’s Port Authority 10% of its manifest in crystals, stock, or promissory certificate, kept safe as a bond."
The men nodded.
“Vice Chair Tu, what is the average turn around for a freight ship?”
“Three weeks for short haul, up to six for a long haul. Varies pending on crew numbers as well, as well as country of origin. Danish ships have the fastest turnaround, followed by the Americans and the Singaporeans and so on. Some ships stay for as long as three months if there are complications.
“Indeed, now. Here’s the clincher. If a ship is capable of completing its transit without incident - and if declared manifest and deposit pass scrutiny, then the ship receives a 100% refund on its bond. If a ship falsely reports on volume, displacement, and or freight, then a penalty is extracted from the bond. If there is contraband, they will lose their deposit pending appeal. In the case of piracy or smuggling, the entire cargo is forfeit anyway, and we can seize the ship."
The men continued nodding.
“This way, there is a great incentive for freight carriers to perform their tasks as quickly as possible and as lawfully as possible because in-effect, the port will service them for free, barring, of course, a negligible admin-fee, and customs.”
“Then how are we making crystals?” Vice Chairman Tu furrowed his brows. “They’re getting serviced for free!”
Petra grew crystals into the ‘pie-chart’.
“This is the deposit in our venture fund - it comes from the ships using Tonglv Canal.”
They watched as the 'chart' filled with blue and pink crystals.
"If you would notice, the blue crystals are time sensitive. The pink crystals are long term.”
"The blue crystals will disappear after thirty seconds. The Pink, sixty. Using the information provided by Vice Chair Tu, I am splitting the ratio sixty to forty."
As the earlier injected crystals began to disappear, new ones replaced them.
“What do you see?”
"The crystals are ever-present, the volume is persistent so long as the shipping doesn't cease."
"Yes. Petra, can you increase the overall volume?"
The 'pie' on the table grew to double its size.
"Growth of Nantong, as you can see, does not impact the flow rate, only the volume."
A look of understanding began to spread on the faces of Vice Chairman Tu and Magister Chen.
“So you’re saying, as long as there’s this 10 per cent deposit in our coffers at all times, it is as though the crystals are ours to spend? Due to the Sink Fund's possession of these circulating 'deposits'?"
“Under careful management, of course,” Gwen reiterated. “The Sink fund's capital flow cannot fall below a certain threshold. Petra, if you please.”
Half of the container emptied. The trio noted that the state of decay remained constant and that still, a portion the 'funds' existed perpetually.
"The model is sound as long as the amount paid out each day is sustainably supplied by the income."
Gwen then moved to the opposite end of the table.
“For now, I am going to assume that we are in possession of 50% of the Sink Fund, which Patriarch Fung estimates to be…”
“1.4 Million HDMs…”
“Thank you. Patriarch. You are very helpful.”
Against all the odds, the patronised Shen felt rather good about himself. He was the first to grasp Gwen’s idea, and he was the first to understand her scheme.
“Now, we establish a second Fund: The Nantong Port Authority Venture Fund. The Fund will service the Port Authority directly. I'll stick with 50% of the Sink Fund."
Gwen portioned the '50%' slice, separating a sliver of about 10%.
“This is our initial cut. 3% to each of you, and 1% for me - this will be our administration strata, levied against the fund.”
The three men regarded one another carefully.
Gwen felt they needed another push.
"Let's not have a misunderstanding," she explained. "What I am proposing isn't something as corrupt as skimming crystals from a government project. We have to earn our keep. Petra, can you make me three rectangles, three sizes, please?"
Petra performed her duties without complaint.
"This largest block-" Gwen raised the brick. "Is the Venture Fund, the 40%. Think of it as our Investors' assets. We BORROW currency from this fund to invest."
She took a marker and drew a line between the large block and a smaller one.
"This is our Venture Firm. We will direct what investments the fund will make. Our initial income is the 10% consultancy levied on the fund. New levies will apply pending performance."
Gwen then laid her hand on the smallest block.
"This is a portfolio under the Venture Fund, owned by the fund, but invested by us. This one is called Warehouse. Petra, can I get a few more of those? Thanks."
Gwen drew a line between the 'Fund' block and the smallest one, labelling it 'Warehouse'.
"This one is Freight."
"This one is Machinery."
"This one is Real Estate."
"This one is Staff and Training."
"This one is for Rest and Relaxation."
Soon, the structure was evident for all to see.
"Let's me explain how each of these portfolios will generate wealth for the venture."
“Take real estate for example: once built, a warehouse can be rented out to increase the revenue of the port itself. Shipping companies are always in need of storage. What’s the rental on a 100 twenty-foot equivalent unit Warehouse?”
“About 10 HDMs a month in Singapore.” Vice Chair Tu answered.
“How many is Nantong hoping to build in its 2004 Expansion?”
“That’s 5,000 HDMs per month of income, less cost of operation. What's preventing the expansion from happening?"
"Tied up funding from the Central Bank?" Magister Chen made an 'O' with his lips. "I see!"
Gwen picked up another block.
"This portfolio, we can execute very quickly. How much are Golem rentals?”
“25 HDMs for standard cargo-mover unit per 5-day cycle, excluding pilot, excluding fuel.”
"How are we for pilots?
"There are more pilots than Golems in Nantong..."
“Cost of machinery?”
“About 1750 HDMs for a Mitsubishi unit.”
“In 350 days or 70 cycles, the Golems would have paid for themselves. Not to mention if they wish to hire our pilots, that’s an additional charge. Give it a three-year cycle, and we’ll refresh our fleet - yes Gentlemen - Nantong's fleet of Construction and Freight Golems! Sell the old loaders or trade them in! Again, the operation is scalable!”
The men were nodding so much they were beginning to resemble chooks bobbing for feed.
“And that’s stage 1! Stage 2!” Gwen continued, picking up more crystal slabs. “Nantong is a port city, but the city itself is closed off to our overseas visitors, all lonely seamen with currency to spend. Stage 2 will be the construction of a free economic zone within the port itself! Souvenirs, hotels, restaurants, bars! Whatever those sailors are earning, they should leave at least 30% of their pay packet in Nantong! The employment this could provide for the local NoMs would also greatly reduce strain on the Governor's coffers.”
Looking at Gwen, the men thought a specific something that would most definitely strip the sailors of their hard earned pay packet. Assuming upstairs was willing, perhaps Stage Two would proceed even faster than Stage One.
“And all of this!” Gwen pointed to the model. "Is scalable! Think of it, gentlemen, what is the best course of action for any freight travelling through Nantong toward Shanghai? To report manifest honestly and abide by our laws legally. They will suffer no charge at the end of the day, who wouldn’t want that? Furthermore, once our shipyards begin operation, the port will repair and service their ships at a rate just below our competitors. We will be able to use the Sink Fund to subsidise our labourers better than any other port in China. If freight-carriers want to employ a port that doesn’t impact their bottom line, all they need is provide ten per cent of their honestly reported manifest! At the ends of which they get back in full. Who wouldn't want that?”
“Now, in addition to reduced operating expense from encouraging best practice...” Gwen told Petra to grow a mass of green crystals. "We have the gains from our portfolios, owned by the Venture Fund."
Gwen added the green crystals to the fund.
"Time passes. Expansion continues. After Stage 1-"
More and more green crystals piled onto the fund.
"It gets fed back into the Venture Fund."
The fund that had consisted of pink and blue crystals now possessed more and more greens even as it continued to expand.
"As the Port grows, so does the Fund, the more traffic we service, the larger our liquid capital. The more capital we have to provide extra services, the more customers the port attracts! Furthermore, the withdraw ratio from the Sink Fund can be increased, so long as currency outgoing matches incoming shipping plus portfolio income.”
Gwen then apportioned green crystals in front of each of her audience members, as well as a tiny sliver for herself.
"If you wish to play it safe, our fees can be extracted from the proceeds, rather than the fund itself."
Magister Chen touched a hand to his face.
“Wocao, I am sweating!” the old Mage laughed. “By Mao, you’ve made this old man sweat!”
“I am in awe.” Vice-Chairman Tu wiped a trail of drool from his lips.
“Well done, Gwen.” Patriarch Fung felt as though he’d sat through an hour-long sauna. “Mao! Look at the time!”
The men stared at the clock.
Thirty minutes had turned into two-and-a-half hours.
“The inner workings of our economic model has to be kept confidential,” Gwen warned them. “Our competitors will learn of it eventually, but by then, we would have stolen their customers and locked in our clients with loyalty service and membership discounts.”
“A close-system ecology?” Patriarch Fung recalled Gwen boasting about such a thing in the first hour.
“A closed-loop ecosystem,” Gwen corrected the Patriarch. “Well done, Sir.”
“Hahaha!” Patriarch Shen gloated.
“Well, gentlemen?” Vice-Chairman Tu turned to his partners.
“I am in!” Magister Chen nodded at Gwen. “I cannot see why we should not proceed.”
“I was ready the moment I called the two of you,” Patriarch Fung told a white-lie, winking at Gwen. “Guangshao?”
“I am happy to be a part of this venture.” Guangshao Tu was already imagining the accolades he would receive after five years, when Nantong becomes the ‘new miracle’ of southern China, completely demolishing all expectations set by the upper echelon. That the operating expense of the Port may even turn a profit would blow the minds of the old men sitting atop the Party’s thrones. There was also the three per cent 'bonus'. In a few years, his family would be swimming in Crystals to the tune of hundreds of thousands of HDMs a year. If nothing else, it would pave the way for his eventual chairmanship among the twelve Vice General-Secretaries of the CCP, an enormously expensive endeavour.
Patriarch Fung meanwhile, was dreaming of a day when he could finally stand toe to toe with Wang Enterprises as one of Shanghai’s the Big Ten. Knowing that Gwen was related to the Patriarch of the Wang Group furthermore eased his mind, knowing that Gwen wouldn’t want a conflict of interest to impact her 1 per cent stake.
Lastly, Magister Chen, who had been brought on as a technical consultant on international trade and to serve as the CCP’s inside man on the matter, could only think about the absurd volume of resources he would soon access to continue his research. Perhaps in time, he could donate to Jianqiao and finally get that damn west wing of the library completed. ‘The Chen Quin West Wing’ the plaque would read, and his portrait would benevolently look down on students as they entered the hall.
In front of the smiling men, Petra dispelled her crystal display, sensing the greed radiating from the men like an odour. Astronomical numbers had been tossed back and forth between Gwen and the men as though they meant nothing at all.
She glanced at Gwen, unsure of what to make of her cousin.
What would they call her now?
Gwen Song of the Money Tree?