Sometimes, when I was around Gvagma Tower in Ramdonia, I'd wear the Ramdonia Roses' peignoir over my volleyball uniform. This was the peignoir with bridal pink hybrid tea roses embroidered on the yokes in front and back, at the shoulders. It was a very beautiful flowing white peignoir of silk blended with a synthetic fiber that imparted luster and softened silk's crispness a little. Then, if I had to go out on the grounds of Gvagma Village, I wouldn't bother taking it off. I'd just go. The peignoir had a sash that passed through a loop on either side but could still be lost, until I connected the sash to the gown itself in the back with a couple of barely visible stitches. So if the sash slipped out of the loops, it would just drag along instead of disappearing entirely.
One day, as I raced from Cissi's to Gvagma Tower, my peignoir, whose sash I had left untied, went sailing after me, fluttering in the breeze. A photographer from Obscont who just happened to be present took my picture, requesting that I consent to her publishing it in her newspaper. I agreed so congenially that she asked me to pose for a few more pictures in some of the interesting places in the village.
Ordinarily, one thinks of peignoirs and chemises as intimates to be worn in privacy, at home. But there is nothing immodest or indiscreet about appearing in public wearing them, and I said as much in a brief article I was invited to write in conjunction with the pictures when they were published.
I had become something of an oracle on fashion because of the growing popularity of Cissi's, so my opinion carried some weight. Several readers' comments on my article were published, which led to lively discussions in forums online and in printed magazines.
In early '396, all around Mecnita, a few ladies began appearing on the sidewalks, strolling about in their peignoirs, more beautiful and more comfortable than the kinds of street clothes they had been wearing, which were made of tweed, felt, velours, velvet and the like. They called this the "Cissi look". From this, I got the idea to market a complete ensemble: peignoir, chemise, scarf, purse, bra, panties, panty-hose and slippers. The pieces would be coordinated very harmoniously. The hemline of the peignoir and chemise were raised to a height of 12 inches from the floor or ground, to prevent soiling.
The new "Mecnita ensemble", as I called it, sold very well. With 350,000,000 people, mostly female, in Greater Mecnita, we needed to open new factories in several locations to keep up with orders. I was making a real impact on fashion, and I loved it. The sight of all our lovely women and girls gliding around in Cissi's gowns made me sigh with pride and adoration.
We also increased the number of retail outlets from about 100 to more than 250, by granting franchises for the most part, but also by purchasing a few stores with profits we had earned.
For all these many months, Zevanardia and I had been commuting daily from Ramdonia to Frifna, a distance of 70 miles. Even with our bullet trains, this took 20 minutes. Then there was the 15-minute walk from Hozhgranga Station to Shayvurddhi Circle.
"Why don't we move to Gvagma Village" I asked pensively one day, just as she and I were lying down on our canopy bed at Cissi's, on the second floor.
"I was wondering if you would ever ask," said Zevanardia by way of emphatic agreement.
The problem was that Zevanardia was managing Cissi's Intimates, that is, the original store in Frifna. We would have to find someone to take charge there, while we relocated downtown. Also, we'd have to rent an apartment in the vicinity or build a house in Gvagma Village. We opted for a house, learning that a modular bungalow could be ready in as little as 30 days. Later we could obtain more sumptuous quarters.
So we did it. Zafria, an assistant of mine at Cissi's in Ramdonia, who had been commuting from Frifna, where she lived, said she'd welcome the chance to manage the store on Shayvurddhi Circle. It required a couple of weeks of instruction at Zevanardia's side for Zafria to ready herself for her new position. Then Zevanardia and I would be free to take up residency in the village, with only occasional visits to Frifna.
Zevanardia and I had a bungalow built at the very southernmost corner of Gvagma Village, in a thicket of bo trees through which a crystal stream flowed. The bungalow was spartan in comparison with our old apartment, but this would be only temporary. We could see the Gvagma Wheel from a window in our new house, and it was a short walk to the Rose Verandah or Gvagma Tower.
Now what we needed was something for Zevanardia to do. She had been managing Cissi's Intimates in Frifna, as well as the Rose Verandah in Gvagma Village, but the Rose Verandah did not require her full-time attention, so she was left with time on her hands. Rubia was doing just fine at Cissi's in Ramdonia and it simply didn't make sense to transfer her merely to find a spot for Zevanardia. This would smack of favoritism. I wanted to avoid not merely the appearance of favoritism however; I wanted to avoid the practice of favoritism as well.
I made Zevanardia Assistant Commissioner of the Girls' Volleyball Association of Greater Mecnita. On the domestic scene, Zevanardia was in charge, and I followed her around meekly when we were at home. But on the professional scene, at work in Gvagma Tower, I was in charge. There was some irony in this I know, but that's the way it was in those days.
Zevanardia had her office next to mine and relieved me of quite a few of my chores. She was something of an organizational and clerical whiz, bringing more order into Gvagma's affairs.
Now we could stroll hand in hand to the Rose Verandah daily, getting our kebabs or stuffed peppers at her very own restaurant. Then we might have a ride on the Gvagma Wheel or go out and walk the Orchid Walk. The Art Colony was beginning to bustle too, but the signs of construction still in progress here and there were a bit annoying. Oh well, it was something we would just have to live with for the time being.
There were a couple of new puppet theaters in Gvagma Village, which were like the ones in the Bilzo District of Dorgdid, Ung's second city. Also. near the Bilzo District rolled Senesto Hills, and that was where enormous robot actors and actresses enacted plays for an audience scattered over the slopes. I was wondering whether we should contemplate something similar. Senesto Hills' robot players were suspended from the jibs of cranes painted black for reduced visibility at night, when the plays were held. Still the cranes were unsightly and I wondered whether robot players could be built that would be operated from afar by pushbutton controls, instead of dangling from cranes. Zevanardia said she would take that project in charge, if I liked.
Zevanardia reviewed the matter with Rachetina, one of Mecnita's leading mechanical engineers.
It may sound like an easy matter, "Here, Rachetina, tell me straightaway whether it can be done." But it proved more involved than that.
First of all, Rachetina and Zevanardia had to familiarize themselves with the plays they thought it convenient to perform. Things to consider were the number of players, the amount and speed of motion, the kinds of costumes to be worn, and viewability, there being no hills in Gvagma Village.
This meant they had to envision the performance of a play in its entirety and make sketches of important groupings. They did this by computerized simulation. This simulation determined the construction of the robot actors and actresses themselves. A robot sitting in an armchair obviously requires much less design than a robot running, jumping, fencing and dancing.
Computer programs that would stage-manage whole plays were generated. The necessary designs of the robots were composed. Costs were estimated.
The robot actors and actresses at Senesto Hills were about 100 feet in height. Having much less space available, we would have to content ourselves with 25-foot robots. Elevated grandstands would have to be erected to enable spectators to see better. But using only remote control, without the presence of unsightly cranes, we would be able to stage plays in the late afternoon, rather than at night, in the dark. Sometimes, in Senesto Hills, it was difficult to make out the costume that a robot actress like a nun or widow wore, the black fabric nearly invisible in the darkness.
If the same robots could not be used in all our plays, we'd have to have a garage in which to hide and store the inactive robots during any performance.
According to Zevanardia and Rachetina, the whole robot theater would cost at least 50 talents (approximately $50,000,000), and that would be with a minimal crew of robot actors and actresses. More robots could be added later, of course, for any amount between 100 drachmas and one talent apiece, depending on the complexity. This would be $100,000 to $1,000,000, more or less, in earthly figures.
By this time, we had enough equity in the Gvagma Wheel, Cissi's various stores, Gvagma Tower and the Rose Verandah to negotiate a tentative loan from the Bank of Ung, Usha consenting graciously, thanks to Ajinblambia's personal guarantees. Mind you they wouldn't have agreed to advance us the money merely because they loved us. If the robot theater had not made good business sense, they'd never have accepted our proposal.
We marked out an area behind the Gvagma Wheel, on the southeastern swath. The theater would be about 300 by 300 feet and seat several thousand. The operators' cabin would be perched high on one side, where they could see the whole field.
I got some projections on anticipated attendance. It was hard to guess the size of the audiences we'd attract, but the proximity to the Gvagma Wheel was a definite plus. With 2,000 attendees per day. each paying 5 dirhams for her ticket, it would take over 12 years to recover the cost. But who could say there'd usually be 2,000 in the audience? As for the 12 years, of course, we planned to keep the robot theater running that many years and more, but who could foresee the results we'd actually experience? All we could do was try.
Finally, consulting with Ajinblambia and the Geese, I decided to go ahead, appointing Zevanardia to oversee the whole project. She would function much like a general contractor, bringing together all the companies that would collaborate in the project. Rachetina would design the robots themselves, but the structure of the stadium, the lighting, the plumbing, the landscaping and other phases of the project would be delegated to others. We expected to start featuring plays in '397.
When work had gotten well under way, curiosity prompted me to ask Zevanardia to accompany me to Impulse Robot Works, the factory where the theatrical robots were being built. This factory is in Idparcaps, the district of Mecnita next south of Ulmla, along the banks of the Umzid River. I simply had to see the work in progress.
When we arrived at Impulse Robot Works, we were greeted by Vextoria, one of the lady supervisors who worked on the factory floor. She led us to a large table that she called a jig. Here. steel rods of various diameters rested on saddles, each affixed with the tiniest drop of tackwelding. Each of the rods was supposed to be a schematic replica of a major bone in the body. Thus, we saw the hunerus, radius amd ulna of each arm, the femur, tibia and fibula of each leg, and the spinal column in just two or three segments, rather than 32. The rib cage and the pelvis were not each divided into separate bones, but there were independent clavicles. The details of the feet were simplified, but the hands were done with some intricacy. The steel rods were shaped, not to resemble the bones, for the most part, but only to be able to reproduce the characteristic movements of the bones, although some of the rods had some curvature. The bone joints were mini-cardans, so to speak, little universal joints. Movement was imparted by a series of cables articulating with the rods at the joints. Later, an electronic device would be installed in the body of the robot that would enable an operator using hand-operated remote control devices to cause any cable to be pulled or released and activate a movement of the limb that contained the corresponding rod. Flesh of polystyrene or polyurethane would overlie the steel rods and be sculptured to resemble human limbs and torso. And of course the robots would be dressed in costumes.
"It must take a keypad with a great number of keys to operate these complicated robots," I observed.
But Vextoria explained that conventional keys, like those on a typewriter keyboard, were not used. She showed me some flexible vinyl surfaces that looked like handprints and footprints. "The operators will remove their shoes and place their feet in the vinyl footprints, and they will place their hands in the handprints. By delicate movements of the muscles of their hands and feet, fingers and toes, they will actually have much better control than if they used keys. With keys, motion of the robots would be in discrete jumps and jerks, which might be irritating to the audience. With our method, that is, with handprints and footprints, we'll get much smoother kinematics."
"But operating the prints must be very difficult."
"Well, yes, it is an art, but we will train several talented young ladies and they will conduct the symphonies, so to speak."
Zevanardia and Rachetina were planning a robot ballet entitled Gvagma. So twelve girl robots had to be manufactured at Impulse Robot Works. Six would wear white leotards and tights, and blue cheerleaders' skirts with self-panties; the other six would wear pink leotards and tights, and black cheerleaders' skirts with self-panties. They would wear tights instead of Gvagma's standard knee-socks because that would spare the expense of making the texture of the thighs resemble that of skin convincingly. The ballet would be a make-believe game of volleyball, and it would require four operators to manipulate the robots, two for each team. No one would know at the beginning of each performance which team would win. The final score would depend on how well the operators had worked their handprints and footprints. A computer simulation was created in advance in order to see how a performance would go. Zevanardia and Rachetina would study this simulation and refine and modify their conception accordingly. Actual performances were still months off. After all, construction of the robot theater-stadium was just getting under way.
One might ask why we needed robot teams, when we had 2000 teams of real girls. I was anticipating that the novelty and ingenuity of the whole project would make it a real drawing card, and, as it later turned out, I was right.
Another development happened to be going on in the Art Colony at the same time we were laying out and organizing the Gvagma Robot Theater, as we decided to call the new cultural attraction Zevanardia and Rachetina were masterminding:
Centuries, millennia ago, elderly ladies in the capacity of lacemakers were kept in darkness, in a condition of virtual slavery, to make lace for queens and other wealthy people. In our technologically advanced age, this has changed. The ladies have been freed, while more and more consumers settle for machine-made lace. Still a love of the handmade look that age-old lacemaking techniques produced lingers on. Today, however, lace is made, not by ancient widows closeted in dark rooms, but by ladies of leisure who see it as an elegant pastime. It takes a good deal of practice and instruction to master all the techniques involved and all the styles that tradition dictates.
For the purpose of tutoring ladies who would like to take up this fine art, Encahia, one of Mecnita's most renowned lacemakers, decided to seek permission to open a school in Gvagma Villages' Art Colony, taking the matter up with me, the foundress and directress of Gvagma Village.
During our initial interview, Encahia said she'd like to offer classes in bobbin lace, needle lace and other laces, and perhaps also in various kinds of art needlework and embroidery. I've always loved lace and embroidery, so I was very favorably disposed to the idea. Still I needed some idea of the viability of the project. I proposed that Encahia advertise in Obscont, offering instruction and soliciting applications and pledges. If I could see promise from the financial viewpoint, I'd certainly welcome Encahia's enterprise. I said I'd also take it up with my lady and mistress, Ajinblambia.
I told Encahia to return in about 30 days with her applications and pledges in hand, and she did so. I was amazed. The desire to learn lacemaking must be very prevalent in a city of refined women and girls, like Mecnita. Encahia had a massive folder of applications and pledges. Of course, I knew that some of the pledges would not be fulfilled, nor was I of a mind to prosecute anyone who had decided to drop out after agreeing initially to matriculate. I would have merely to resign myself to it. Still it looked as if a real going concern were in the making.
I discussed the matter with Ajinblambia and the Geese, in the chamber of the Royal Council, with Encahia present. They agreed unanimously that the idea was sound and advised me to go ahead, which I did. Encahia wanted to call her school the Mecnita Institute of Lacemaking, but I insisted that it be called the Gvagma Institute of Lacemaking instead. After all, Gvagma was more than just the Girls' Volleyball Association of Greater Mecnita; it was a cultural presence, a civic institution. Encahia acquiesced in this, so thrilled she was that her dream was going to be realized.
As I mentioned, Gvagma Village's Art Colony was behind, that is, northeast of, Cissi's in Ramdonia. It consisted of two streets in the northwest-southeast direction. The street nearer Cissi's was called Gallery Way, as the first establishment there had been an art gallery by the name of Coronna's at the Wheel. Hitherto, the second street had stood vacant, while dozens of galleries and stores were opening along Gallery Way. Some were complete, others under construction. But it looked as if Gallery Way were filling nicely. I decided, therefore, to have Encahia found the Gvagma Institute of Lacemaking on the second street, the one farther from Cissi's. Since it seemed that the Gvagma Institute of Lacemaking would be large and imposing, and thus architecturally dominant, I decided to call the nameless second street Institute Way. Originally, the street we'd call Institute Way lay 330 feet northeast of Gallery Way. At that juncture, it was still easy to relocate the street northeastwards to provide more room. It was envisioned that the institute would open in late '397 or early '398. I was really eager to see it happen, and if I had time, I too would enroll. The announcement of the contemplated project in Obscont would certainly be an invitation to other cultural establishments to think of building on Institute Way. Landscaping was taken in hand, and rows of crape myrtle and kaffirboom were planted. The street was paved with stone blocks, being intended for pedestrian rather than vehicular traffic, though motorized carts were available.
As I mentioned, the number of teams in the Girls' Volleyball Association of Greater Mecnita had been increased from 1000 to 2000. So the annual playoffs involved more games and more teams, imposing a greater burden on Rosebush Stadium. As it stood, each team played 80 scheduled games per season, at intervals of 5 days, from Day 0 to Day 395. The playoffs took place in the 22 days from 396 to 417 inclusive. Day 417 is the last day or our 418-day year, since we start counting with Day 0. In those 22 days, the leading teams from the various districts and suburbs would vie for honors, not all 2000 teams to be sure, but perhaps 100 or more.
What I decided to do was divide the 2000 teams into Chiliads, the Old Chiliad comprising the original 1000 teams, with the New Chiliad comprising the added teams. The Old Chiliad would follow the schedule outlined above, but the schedule of the New Chiliad would be displaced 209 days. Thus, they would play at 5-day intervals from Day 209 of one year to Day 186 of the next. The playoffs would last from Day 187 to Day 208, inclusively. Some people referred to the Chiliads as Thousands. This was a much more familiar word.
With this new arrangement, there'd be semi-annual playoffs. Peak attendance would be halved and Rosebush Stadium spared. However, we decided also to enlarge Rosebush Stadium, accommodating growth we were expecting in coming years. To help justify the expansion of the beautiful facility, we increased the number of ballet and figure-skating performances we hosted. We also added acrobatics and gymnastics, which partake of the nature of ballet, as well.
During the playoffs of the Old Chiliad, white and gold pennants were flown on poles all around Gvagma Village, but during the playoffs of the New Chiliad, a three-pointed red banner, like an oriflamme, was used instead. So the playoffs of the Old Chiliad were called the Pennant Games, while those of the New Chiliad were called the Oriflamme Games.
Just as the Epgarcs were about to get under way, Mlechi mischievously suggested that they be held in Gvagma Village instead of on the grounds of Eldor Palace, where they had been going on for years. The Epgarcs, of course, were the annual contests in girls' sumo wrestling that all palatines, myself included, were required to take part in. On the basis of your showing, you were assigned to a cohort based on age-equivalency. I was always ranked as the equal of a girl of some tender age, from 7 to 10, and I did not want this seen at my very own Gvagma Village. Pleading my cause eloquently before Ajinblambia and the Geese, I won out over Mlechi. Later, I stuck out my tongue at her, playfully, of course, and she challenged me to girls' sumo right on the spot. I settled that by running off in a fright that I tried to make look like a joke, though it was real enough.
Mlechi was Ministress of Welfare, overseeing health care, pharmaceuticals, education, insurance, social security, pension funds and related areas of expertise within the realm, so I had had few dealings with her. Most of my dealings were with Usha, the Ministress of Finance, and Barti, Prime Ministress. My contacts with Vinja, Ministress of Land, were friendly rather than business-related.
The next time I saw Mlechi, she said. "Why don't we lunch together sometime at the Rose Verandah or some other place, if you prefer? We should get to know each other better."
I was agreeable to this, of course, and a few days later, in early afternoon, she and I had filets mignons and lobster at the Rose Verandah. She took a lively interest in the Gvagma Institute of Lacemaking, and wondered if she should attempt to rate it and accredit it somehow. Accreditation would make the institute eligible for grants and add luster to its name. I was enthusiastic about this.
Mlechi was beautiful in her dress of white batiste, with white ruffles and pink ribbons. The skirt came down close to the floor, but you could see her white-stockinged ankles, delicate and shapely. It was hard to fathom how she held such awesome power in her hands, given her age of less than 30, the youngest of the Royal Ministresses, but here she was, talking as if she owned the whole world or at least a sizable part of it.
Mlechi proposed, "As long as you are going to build an institute of lacemaking, why don't you consider an institute of fashion design as well? Given your success with Cissi's Intimates and the Royal Warrants you've earned as Panty-Maker to the Queen and Lady-in-Waiting to the King, I don't see how anyone could think you are not qualified to found such an institute."
"Well, I've specialized in intimate apparel. There are so many areas of fashion design that I know nothing about that I would hate to give myself out to be an authority."
"You would have trained ladies helping you, heading the various departments. It's unlikely you'd have the time to conduct clasees yourself anyway. You'd have to learn to delegate."
"Well, I suppose."
"My idea would be to build it across the street from the Gvagma Institute of Lacemaking, making it identical architecturally, a mirror image as it were."
I listened with growing interest, and before I realized it, I was making plans for the Gvagma Institute of Haute Couture, which would stand at the northwestern end of Institute Way, opposite the Gvagma Institute of Lacemaking, There was enough space between the institutes to hold a rotunda with a fountain. It was a lovely conception, and Mlechi promised to do all she could to make sure that the Institute of Haute Couture deserved and was awarded accreditation. "Oh, great!" I said to myself, "Simply wonderful!"
This was a new page in the chronicles of Cissi's, Gvagma and Gvagma Village.
Within months, construction of the Gvagma Institute of Lacemaking was well under way, and the Gvagma Institute of Haute Couture was following at a space of mere weeks. Amponia and Lidia, who had designed the Gvagma Wheel, the Rose Verandah and other structures and buildings in Gvagma Village, really outdid themselves in the design of the Institutes with their elegant sandstone facades. In addition to classrooms and workshops, the institutes would have exhibition halls and stores.
On most planets throughout Ti, our galaxy, and probably throughout Zwafna, as we call your galaxy, the Milky Way, an institute of lacemaking, indeed if an institute of lacemaking there were, would not be housed in such an opulent building, but Nya, our planet, with which our kingdom Ung is coextensive, is a nonpareil of natural and technological resources. We often can afford what others cannot.
We planned to make lace of linen, silk, wool, and other natural and synthetic fibers, but the production of the fibers would not be done in Gvagma Village proper. Our square mile was simply not large enough for us to maintain flocks of sheep, fields of flax and groves of mulberry trees to feed silkworms. However, Ung abounds in fertile lands, many of which are available. Within 200 miles of Mecnita, Gvagma would have a farm to supply those needs. To be sure, some sheep, some flax and some silkworms would be present at the institute for purposes of instruction and observation.
Some of Encahia's disciples were already expert in making bobbin lace, and did so, in Encahia's atelier in Tbitro. Of course, when the Institute of Lacemaking was complete, they'd move to the environs of Gvagma Village.
I was pondering the possibility of dedicating the institute to Queen Udi, who, in that case, would preside the grand opening. For the occasion, I had in mind to have Encahia's disciples make a Mecnita ensemble of blonde lace for Udi to wear. This of course was a set consisting of peignoir, chemise, scarf, purse, bra, panties and pantyhose, along with slippers. Encahia prepared drawings to present to Queen Udi, who loved the design. Her only reservation was the transparency of blonde lace. She wanted the chemise to be lined with a lustrous fine tricot of silk or a synthetic for opacity. And so it was done.
Queen Udi would dedicate the institute and deliver a short address. Then there would be a banquet, in the building itself and on the lawn, with hundreds of ladies and girls who had enrolled joining in the festivities. Of course, Ajinblambia, the Geese and I, along with many servitors and courtiers from Eldor Palace, would be present too.
Vividities was Mecnita's most famous pentesthetic lounge. As I mentioned, pentesthetics are "cinema" in five senses. Vividities was located on Opera Square, opposite the Opera of Mecnita, in the Egshirvazi District. Senshua, the directress of Vividities, wanted to open another pentesthetics lounge on Institute Way, and I agreed without a minute's hesitation, providing only that, architecturally, it grace that already handsome street. The new lounge would be called the Gvagmarium and would accommodate 2000 attendees at a time. The Gvagmarium would open in '398.
By now, the Rose Verandah was constantly filled to bursting. Zevanardia was prepaying considerable amounts on the mortgage, and she felt enough confidence to contemplate a Rose Verandah II, which would also be built on Institute Way, around five-eighths of a mile northwest of Rose Verandah I, as we now called her original restaurant. She took my authorization as a foregone conclusion, and it was as much. The menu would remain the same. The prices would be identical. The food was so good that she and I ate at Rose Verandah I every day and would doubtless patronize Rose Verandah II when it opened.
The Oriflamme Games were just getting under way as the meetings and events that I've described above took place, so Gvagma Village was a beehive of activity, festive and colorful. This was what we had been trying to bring about. A great feeling of accomplishment and contentment overtook Zevanardia and me, adding depth to the love and devotion that we felt for each other.