The Kingdom of Ung is celebrated throughout Ti, the local galaxy, for its tremendous technology, its physics, its chemistry, its medicine, its pharmacy. It should come as no surprise that in optics, we have gone beyond projection, beyond holography, beyond lasers. We can currently suspend an image, be it letters or be it pictures, in mid-air, with no artificial or natural screen or backdrop. For example, we can suspend a picture of a milkmaid milking a cow, in mid-air, over a dairy farm. We can also suspend animated images. Our technique is much more beautiful than erecting billboards with unsightly steel framing, on the ground.
As I mentioned, the Gvagma Wheel, the crowning glory of Gvagma Village, was about 1000 feet in diameter. At night, another 1000 feet above the highest point of that famous ferris wheel, we suspended the letters GVAGMA, shining white and visible for miles from the southeast, where there were no tall buildings. They could be read from the northwest as well, as we really had two separate images, back to back, as it were. But the view from the northwest was limited to Gvagma Village itself, because the 1000-story tower, 7 Ramdonia Circle, eclipsed it from anyone farther northwest. Between the ferris wheel and the letters GVAGMA, we created the image of continuously radiating fireworks. These were not real rockets, candles, torches or flares. They were animated images created by optical devices.
In late '397, Ajinblambia, our lady king, began suggesting that I consider a merger of Cissi's Intimates and the Girls' Volleyball Association of Greater Mecnita. This seemed like an improbable union, at first. After all, what does the manufacture of lingerie have to do with professional volleyball? Basically I was the foundress and principal owner of Cissi's and Commissioner of Gvagma. So, in a way, the merger already existed de facto. Ajinblambia would make it exist de jure as well.
Now that Gvagma's headquarters had been moved to Gvagma Village, the old headquarters, on Lanzzar Avenue, in Spranceld, had become a mere factory for girls' volleyball uniforms. Ajinblambia proposed to grant the building to Cissi's and appoint Cissi's to take over the manufacture of uniforms. It was not such a great leap from intimate apparel and dancewear, which we had begun making, to volleyball uniforms, she explained. The idea did appeal to me.
Gvagma was a much larger and better known organization than Cissi's. In Mecnita, professional volleyball is played, not by any girl who will play regardless of her skill, appearance and form, but by graceful, talented, lovely athletic young ladies who are admired and envied throughout the great city. So, though Cissi's was gaining a reputation as the last word in fashion and elegance, it was by no means a step down to be identified with Gvagma. Quite the contrary, it was an auspicious second beginning.
We would be able to call ourselves Cissi's, Apparelers to Gvagma, by Royal Appointment. Cissi's on clothes would be like Sterling on silver. Within very few years, we expected that every single one of Gvagma's 2000 clubhouses would have a Cissi's outlet. They would sell intimate apparel, dancewear and volleyball outfits.
I had fulfilled my destiny. This was the apogee of my career. This pleased me immensely. The thought of giving it all up and applying to be reinstated as Prime Minister of Ung was ridiculous, obnoxious, absurd.
So it was done. The sign atop the old headquarters was changed to read Cissi's instead of Gvagma. While the old sign had consisted of large royal-blue internally-illuminated acrylic letters mounted on a rooftop truss of welded angle irons, as its erection had antedated the introduction of mid-air image suspension, the new sign would be an optical image whose letters resembled ivory lace, on a ground of peach chiffon, suggesting the tones and shades of intimate apparel, without any trusswork, of course.
When Olivia emerged one afternoon and saw me motioning towards the sign as I talked with the team of lady technicians who were adjusting the proportions and hues of the image to suit my taste, she realized that I was Cissi, and she gasped in a paroxysm of fright. I merely smiled and waved benevolently. I certainly had no desire to avenge the beatings she had given me. I was confident she would try nothing further, and as it worked out, I was right for the time being. I had won our confrontation after all.
Eventually though, Olivia, probably supposing that I would deal with her in an unpleasant way in the near future, quit her job with Gvagma, though as far as I was concerned, she might have stayed on as an employee of Cissi's. I understand that she took a similar job in another factory in the same garment district.
During the last many months, I had been burning midnight oil trying to put into literary form the throng of jotted notes and recorded snatches I had made in Ajinblambia's chambers as her "lady in waiting". The daily three-hour sessions were still going on, and I would read to Ajinblambia various passages from her biography's second volume, In the Fields of the Sun, so that she could make last-minute comments. The appearance of the 1000-page work was overdue, and I was hoping to finalize it well before the end of '397. The first volume, Lady of the Continents and Seas, had been a great success, since Ajinblambia was the most, or one of the two most, admired women on the planet, only Queen Udi being held in like esteem among our eight billion souls. The multitudes were looking forward to the second volume of the projected trilogy. I was not to blame for the delay in publishing the second volume, nor was our lady king. It just happened that way.
The volume concerned her later girlhood, her governance of Qazudistan during the last days of the Jvashnas and her rise to power in Mecnita. It redounded to her credit that she had made herself the ruler of the Kingdom of Ung, not by dint of arms, but by enamoring the queen of herself. Hers was a reign of beauty, intelligence and love. I was endeavoring to capture the whole pageant romance between Ajinblambia and Udi in every nuance and shade of meaning, trying to express from the diction of Nuu, our flowery language, the essence of its petals, perfuming my words duly, as those two goddesses deserved.
Finally, in the late third dayhundred of year '397, copies began to roll off the presses of Rupsnoir Press and stock the shelves of libraries and bookstores. A serialized version, in 50-page installments, was started by Obscont, our premier newspaper. This could be extracted from particular editions of the newspaper itself, or bought as separate little magazines.
In the major showrooms of Cissi's Intimates and Cissi's Vintage Intimates, in Frifna, Anavana, Piljandar, Eldor and Ramdonia, many of the garments being sold were out in the open, where ladies could look at them at their convenience, and even try them on. We had plenty of beautiful mirrors where they could admire themselves. We had a few easy chairs and sofas where they might relax between changes. But what we did not have was a genuine fashion show. We did not have a hall or parlor where models appeared wearing the latest of our creations. This would be something new in Mecnita.
I decided to build a hall to serve as a venue for full-fledged fashion shows. This would be in a separate building in Gvagma Village, on Institute Way, and I would call it the Temple of Fashion, a very charming building with a colonnade of twisted colonnettes before a row of leaded, stained-glass windows, with a narrow walkway between. Instead of having models appear on a runway, we would have them walk about a drawing room of sorts, as if they were ladies at home with their guests. The models would sit on divans, and, one by one, nonchalantly and unobtrusively, they'd rise and leave the room, while others came to replace them, so that if you watched the room for an hour, you'd see dozens of gowns and robes, peignoirs and chemises, stoles and shifts. The room would be well-lighted, with elegant furnishings and wallpaper. An audience of several hundred would be able to be accommodated conveniently, as we would have seats on the lower floor and also on a mezzanine or balcony above.
In addition to the drawing room, we would have a room where dancers would execute arabesques, entrechats and pirouettes in tights, leotards and tutus from Cissi's dancewear department. There would be a third room, where four girls from Gvagma would play a two-on-two game of volleyball in our volleyball outfits. This would all be very artistic and lovely. Jozi, a reporter from Obscont, who covered the planning of the Temple of Fashion, was full of welcome praise in the review she wrote. Completion was expected in mid-'398.
I had been supposing that fashion shows would be an occasional affair that I would schedule in accordance with hints and tips I'd pick up around the various stores, but, as it later turned out, fashion shows became a daily ritual. Our ladies and girls seemed to prefer the late afternoon, so that is when we would present the shows. It would be a very short walk from the Temple of Fashion to Cissi's in Ramdonia, scarcely 300 feet. At Cissi's, we would always have available the very garments we had shown, so that if anyone took a liking to any particular piece she had seen at the show, she'd be able to obtain it straightaway in our store, without having to wait to get her order filled.
In late '397, the Gvagma Robot Theater presented its first performance of Gvagma. This was a volleyball ballet enacted by 25-foot robots, one team being dressed in blue and white, the other in pink and black. The game was called early because of some mechanical problems that arose. Later an announcement was made that performances would be delayed 30 days. Adjustments and corrections needed to be made. Though this was a disappointment, it certainly was understandable in view of the great technical complexity involved in getting 12 robots to glide around without banging into each other.
When Ajinblambia heard about the mechanical problems that had caused the premiere of our robot ballet, Gvagma, to crash, she was annoyed. She called me into her office and asked me who had been responsible for the manufacture of the robots. When I told her the manufacturer was Impulse Robot Works in the Idparcaps District, she called Clixbong, one of Eldor Palace's chauffeurs, instructing him to be ready with an automobile in the basement of the northern oval of the palace in five minutes. We might have proceeded by metro, but since it so happened that Jonannistan Expressway went right through Idparcaps, Ajinblambia preferred the car. The three of us were at Impulse Robot Works, about 50 miles west-northwest of Eldor Palace, in 20 minutes. We go up to 200 miles an hour on our expressways, almost as fast as the metro.
I was afraid that Ajinblambia was going to make a scene, and I did not want the ladies to blame me if she did. But Ajinblambia was ladylikeness itself when we arrived. Matricia, the directress of Impulse Robot Works, met us at the front gate and led us to the floor where Vextoria worked.
Ajinblambia told Matricia and Vextoria that a 30-day delay was not acceptable, saying that she expected the corrections to be made within 7 days, even if crews had to work around the clock. A couple of trucks, with workers, parts and tools, were dispatched that very afternoon, as the work would be done right in the robot garage in Gvagma Village, rather than in Idparcaps. As might have been expected, the robots were ready in 5 working days, and the play went on. The second "premiere" was attended by 100,000 spectators, far surpassing our wildest dreams. The question was how long attendance would remain high.
Whoever sculptured the hips and derrieres of those robot volleyball players did an excellent job. It must have been a labor of love. When the robots, leaping high into the air, started coming back down, and their mini-skirts, as sheer as short petticoats, flew up, the swaying and wiggling of their buttocks was so realistic that one could get aroused quite easily by gazing at them. I could feel the estrogen within me, tingling and rapturous.
At around the same time, I appeared in the role of Ajinblambia in the human ballet entitled The Siege of Candle Tower, which was held in Rosebush Stadium. Of course, of course, Ajinblambia was there, to see what kind of work I did in emulating her. She was amused, apparently, but, all in all, she approved of my impersonation. Queen Oa was portrayed by Casmerodia, one of the most distinguished ballerinas in the Royal Egrets. You might say that her dancing was what made the duet such a success, but critics were pleased to grade my performance well too. It looked as if the ballet would run for quite some time. We danced every third night, starting with day 400 of year '397. Day 400, of course, was King Ajinblambia Day, so it was fitting that the ballet premiered then.
At that time of year, the Pennant Games, that is, the playoffs of the Old Chiliad of the Girls' Volleyball Association of Greater Mecnita, were in progress in Rosebush Stadium too, but we scheduled them for midday and early afternoon, with beginning in early evening. There was a two-hour interval during which one could dine at Rose Verandah I or II, ride the Gvagma Wheel, walk the Orchid Walk or stroll about Gallery Way or Institute Way in the Art Colony. An all-day ticket was available, which covered admission to anything and everything, with a luncheon at either of the Rose Verandahs. Thousands turned out, as dignified and beautiful a bevy of fashionable ladies as had ever been assembled on the planet.
The Eldor Geese were not in the playoffs, probably thanks to my membership on the team, but that fact was welcome enough, for if we had been involved in the playoffs, I would not have been in the best of form for the ballet. Barti, Vinja, Mlechi, Dhabbi and Usha, my teammates, were not really disappointed or angry that we had not been good enough during the season to make the playoffs. After all, volleyball was just a lark to them. Their real concern was running the planet, which they did with consummate skill, in accordance with ancient Vrikshaya tradition.
Felicitously enough, the Ramdonia Roses won the playoffs. It was in their own stadium, Rosebush Stadium, that the playoffs were held, so it was due and proper that they won, at least as they saw it. Rubia, the captainess of the Roses, who was also the manageress of Cissi's in Ramdonia, was in ecstasies on account of their smashing victory, which boosted sales of the Ramdonia Roses peignoir that I had designed using the pattern of their volleyball uniforms, embroidered front and back with bridal pink hybrid tea roses. She was such a beautiful young lady anyway, and the glow of success shone upon her cheeks like sparkling dew on a newly blossoming rose. When I saw her, I threw my arms around her neck and kissed her hungrily upon the lips. I couldn't resist. She blushed delightfully and hugged me about the waist. The electricity of her sleek, muscular arms coursed through my whole body titillatingly. Thank goodness Zevanardia was not there at the moment! She might have felt a twinge of jealousy. Didn't I just love all these glorious girls?
Ajinblambia wanted to get right to work on the third and final volume of her biography, which we were planning to call Whither Vrikshaya and Ung? This title had reference to the 500-millennium House of Vrikshaya and the 103-millennium House of Ung, now married in the persons of Ajinblambia and Udi. We intended to summarize the first two volumes succinctly, survey the goings-on in the Kingdom of Ung at the present time, and explore the directions it would take in the future, according to the vision of our gifted lady king.
One of the major projects in progress was reclamation of 3,000,000 square miles of desert in western Ub, under the superintendence of Vinja. Also important was the leviathan petroleum facility that covered 1000 square miles of Ceveristan and Paltievsk. Then there was aerospace exploration to Dlivandor and other points in the Dyotic solar system. Not to be overlooked was the Bihaka, Qizilot and Central Railroad, 17,000 miles long. Branches were ever being added and would bring the whole Ubbic continent together. A fleet of ultrasupertankers was being built in the Northern Ocean too. And there were dozens of other projects, large and small. We would go over all of these, analyzing Ajinblambia's contribution to each.
Moreover, she had other hitherto undisclosed plans that she was nursing in her bosom. We'd get a chance to bring them out in the open too.
This meant many hours of tending to her bath and makeup, her hairstyle and her manicure. This meant many hours of relaxing in her lap with my audio recorder in my hand, committing her words to my electronic memory. I could hardly wait.
The supreme cultural center in the city of Mecnita is the Museum of Mecnita, known to us in the Nuu language as the Clasc. The Clasc occupies a square mile of land called Museum Quadrangle in the Clascar District, 20 miles northeast of Eldor Palace. Museum Quadrangle is divided into 16 smaller squares, a quarter-mile on an edge, and on each of these Mini-Quadrangles, there is an individual museum building, called a Flant. Each Flant is devoted to a particular theme: Astronomy, Geology, Geography, Zoology, Botany, Agriculture, Anthropology, Culture, Medicine, Energy, Science, Industry, Communications, Commerce, Electronics and Computers. Each building is a massive white edifice, with colonnades of huge cylindrical columns on all four sides, and with window walls of black plate glass behind them.
The Museum of Mecnita was sophisticated and superb. Everything was on the highest technical and intellectual level. But little or nothing was interactive. A visitor strolled the corridors and admired the exhibits, but rarely took part in anything. There were restaurants, of course, but beyond that there was little to do but look.
This sort of impersonal cultural center undoubtedly was important in a technocracy like the KIngdom of Ung, but a different kind of cultural center was clearly needed, and this is where Gvagma Village came in. One did not come to Gvagma Village to be informed or educated. One did not come to sense the grandeur of the realm. One came for enjoyment, an hour of beauty and merriment, a good time.
It was in this context that Obscont awarded Gvagma Village a prize as The Flower of Mecnita. A 16-page article, loaded with color pictures, was carried in the paper near the end of '397. The article discussed what had already been done and what was being planned for the future. It covered volleyball contests, ballet, figure skating, art galleries, fashion shows, the robot theater, the pentesthetics lounge, the ferris wheel, the institutes of lacemaking and haute couture, the Orchid Walk, the restaurants, the singers from Vunu Vunu, everything we had at that time. Ajinblambia and Udi were extremely pleased with what I had accomplished. Still I remained the most junior of the ministresses of the Royal Council of Ung, known familiarly as the Eldor Geese. That seemed insusceptible of change.
Vinja, Usha, Barti, Dhabbi and Mlechi, my colleagues in the Royal Council, were pleased with the raves that Gvagma Village had gotten. So, one day, unbeknownst to me, they visited the village again. Naturally, they rode the wheel and visited the institutes, which were nearing completion. They lunched at Rose Verandah II. There was no robot performance going on at that particular time, but they toured the robot theater, and the custodian admitted them to the robot garage, where they saw the 12 lovely volleyball-playing robots propped up under the high ceiling. Of course, they visited the Orchid Walk, and they went down to the southern corner to see the bungalow that Zevanardia and I were sharing. They were scandalized by the austerity of the place when they thought of my stay in sumptuous Inni Villa and on the second floor of the house on Shayvurddhi Circle, which they had visited. Truth to tell, Zevanardia and I had been neglectful about the bungalow, and had done little to improve it. The Geese agreed among themselves to arrange for rooms to be added and for the decor to be reworked thoroughly.
Except for the bungalow, they liked everything they saw, appreciating that we had used less than 200 acres of the 640 acres that the village covered. They would be urging us to do more in the same vein. They thought that Gvagma Village was a real gem on the throat of the city, thanks to its central location near Ramdonia Circle and the ready access to it from all points in the metropolis that Mecnita Metro thus provided.
Later they advised me to write an article in Cissi's Newsletter too. This newsletter of mine was getting a sizable circulation, and such an article would probably increase the popularity of the village as well. I should explore every avenue to expand and popularize the facility, they counseled.
The Geese housed Zevanardia and me in my old room in Inni Villa temporarily, so that they could see to the enlargement and beautification of our bungalow in Gvagma Village. We called the bungalow Bo House, because of the grove of bo trees in the midst of which it stood. The Geese put the work on a rush basis, so that we could return in 30 days. In the meantime, we went daily by metro from Eldor to Ramdonia, which was only five miles, so that we had barely boarded each morning when it was time to deboard. The work on Bo House was given to us as a gift, a token of appreciation for the creation of Gvagma Village.
Once we got settled in our newly refurbished house, Zevanardia and I decided to start more regular habits. For one thing, we placed a standing order with Rose Verandah I to deliver to us each morning one order of eggs Paradise and one order of potatoes Mecnita. Eggs Paradise, of course, were fried eggs on toasted white flatbread, with cheese and butter, topped with grilled mushrooms and onions, and sprinkled with cayenne. Potatoes Mecnita were whipped potatoes filled with boiled diced carrots, peas, beans and kernels of corn, then browned, heaped on toasted white flatbread and smothered in cheese and butter. Zevanardia had chosen eggs Paradise and I had chosen potatoes Mecnita. But more often than not, each of us would eat half of her own breakfast and half of the other's breakfast. Oh, these breakfasts were so delicious! Of course, we had coffee right in the house, but I preferred cold raspberry, strawberry or pineapple juice with breakfast.
I had an alcove in the house, with a rolltop desk and walls lined with bookshelves with glass doors. I would often sit in there late at night in a large leather wing chair, just like the one Ajinblambia had in her dressing room, which I copycatted from her. I would listen to my recorded snatches and jotted notes from the day's session with our lady King, and I would write pages for Volume III of her biography, Whither Vriksaya and Ung? Often I would write and rewrite till I had the tone and register just as I wished, and then I'd insert the final versions of the pages in vinyl sheet protectors bound together with cords passed through the perforations, so that the next time I saw Ajinblambia, I'd be able to read them aloud and crave her approval. I was amazed at how readily Ajinblambia accepted my writings. I was amazed and glad, because my appointment as Royal Biographer kept me in good standing with the throne, and this made things happen for me.
On nights like that, Zevanardia would join me in the alcove, in another chair I had there especially for her. We'd have a pot of cappuccino coffee on a table there, along with peanut butter cookies with walnuts, frosted with chocolate and topped with shredded copra. Zevanardia would remain silent for the most part, watching me patiently. Sometimes she'd reach over and run her fingers through my hair, or raising the hem of my chemise, she'd stroke my thighs gently and affectionately. When it got too late, according to her lights, she'd grasp my knee and rock my leg right and left a few times. Then I knew it was time to rise. She'd pick me up in her arms and carry me to our canopy bed, which we had finally moved from Shayvurddhi. This was the way she liked to do it, and so I liked it too. Then I'd lie in her arms. Her embrace was hypnagogic and soporific. When she held me, I slept blissfully and soundly. When her arms were absent, which happened on rare occasions, I'd toss and turn all night. Insomnia would be upon me.
Zevanardia and I usually slept anywhere from 6 to 10 hours, depending upon the exigencies of the day. Ordinarily I had to be at Ajinblambia's at 2.5 Ungi (6 AM), and I'd be there three earth-hours. With the ride back, I'd get to Gvagma Tower around 4 Ungi (9:36 AM), ready for my administrative duties, but Zevanardia would already be there. We would work till about 8 Ungi (7:12 PM), unless I was dancing with Casmerodia in our ballet duet, in which case I'd have to leave earlier. Of course, there were always several things to attend to around the village and around the city every day. There was no telling what might come up. But we'd have to go out and deal with them in any case.
We had an hour for lunch. We'd usually eat at Rose Verandah I and walk the Orchid Walk. Now and then we'd ride the Gvagma Wheel, but this took 36 minutes so we were a bit rushed if we did. It was a very beautiful existence that I had made for myself or had been lucky enough to have thrust upon me by fate.
Year '397 was ending. Year '398 would be even better, we hoped.
We had built a small recital hall for the Vunu Vunu Singers, who had agreed to relocate to Gvagma Village from their native Vunu Vunu, in the Hoixuds, north of Fwascren.
Incidentally, a tremendous monorail joins Fwascren and Vunu Vunu, so that passengers alight at an elevation 6,000 feet above the plain below, instead of having to climb the thousands of stairs carved in the side of the mountain. The girders that carry the monorail are each one mile long and are supported by awesome towers up to 6,000 feet tall.
Anyway, the ten singers, Zilla, Marda, Glemba, Tanahu, Torzha, Dappidoni, Cocala, Dampsi, Gastaneva and Lilihai, had agreed to relocate on condition of being granted generous vacations that would allow them to return to Vunu Vunu to visit friends and relatives. At the end of the year '397, they were in Vunu Vunu, on vacation, but we expected them back to Mecnita in the early dates of '398. They had gotten quite a following, and many of the ladies and girls around Mecnita were learning their songs. Mecnitans are a musical people, but only provided that the music is delicate and sonorous. They care not a whit for loud, rowdy, uncouth music, with a lot of drums, cymbals and other noisemakers.
The Vunu Vunu singers accompany themselves on special lutes, which are made by the famous lutemaker, Larenscrol. In a mini-museum attached to Vunu Vunu Hall, as we called the recital hall, several of the lutes were on display. This woke an interest in lute-playing in the capital, and sometimes the Vunu Vunuans gave instructions.
The 15th day of year '398 would be the eighth anniversary of the coronation of Queen Udi as Queen of Nyatic Ung.. Before that time, she had been Queen of a much smaller Ung, but with the annexation of the continent of Ub, Ung became coextensive with Nya, our planet, being sometimes called Nyatic Ung on that account, and Udi was crowned again.
In year '390, ten thousand lovely maidens in rose red gowns had paraded down the septempartite Avenue of Ung from the great gates of Eldor Palace to Ramdonia Circle, with its eight 1000-story towers. At that time, of course, there had been no Gvagma Village, so the parade just terminated at Ramdonia Circle. Temporary chrome posts resembling flagpoles had been inserted in sockets along either side of the middle of three carriageways that formed the avenue. Every successive set of four temporary chrome posts had two festoons along the carriageway and two across, with diagonal festoons inside the square thus created, like an X within a box. So each transverse pair of posts figured in two crisscrossed squares, one south and one north.
Floats proceeded down the Avenue of Ung, driven by barely visible limousines and cars. Ajinblambia and the Geese appeared in the penultimate float, with Queen Udi herself in the ultimate. I strolled behind Queen Udi holding the train of her gown. I was still prime minister in those days.
Now that Gvagma Village existed, what part should we play in the anniversary?
This was not something I could decide myself. All matters of moment in the realm had to be referred to Ajinblambia herself. I was hoping that Gvagma Village would play a significant role in the celebration, so I would plead my cause as eloquently as I could before our lady king and the Royal Council.