Mli, the largest of Nya's five moons and the only inhabited one, had gravity somewhat less forceful than Nya's and longer days and nights, but atmospheric composition and temperature much like that of the parent planet. A Nyatic could Mlianize, i.e., acclimatize to Mli, in a few days. The mean distance was 480,000 miles. The earlier Photons flew to Mli in 12 hours, the newer ones in 6.
The map of Mli was a jigsaw puzzle of countries only some of which were at all known to the citizens of Ung. The most important of the kingdoms of Mli from our point of view was Ufzu, the homeland of the Vrikshayas, who now ruled Ung. King Ajinblambia herself had been born in Vavlu, Ufzu's largest metropolis and capital. Small by comparison with Mecnita, Greater Vavlu had no more than 5,000,000 inhabitants. Queen Shandra reigned in Ufzu. We had had some intercourse with Vrandz too. This was the country ruled by Queen Mer Elicsi, our gorgeous guest of late. Emshcro was the capital of Vrandz, and enjoyed a population of 5,000,000 or thereabouts. We had also had some contact with Queen Zipsi, the matriarch of Shwea, a backward country with its capital at Qabjang. Our relations with the
Because of my warm friendship with Queen Shandra and the brilliant display of talent made by Queen Mer Elicsi during her recent visit to Mecnita, I was emboldened to petition Ajinblambia to allow me to explore the possibility of establishing a division of the Girls' Volleyball Association of Greater Mecnita on Mlian soil. Ajinblambia had given me an affirmative answer, and that in itself constituted in my mind solid evidence that my venture would succeed. Ajinblambia is generous to a fault about sponsorship of promising enterprises, but she doesn't encourage schemes she sees as ill-starred. I was also entertaining the idea of opening Cissi's Intimates' branch stores in the lunar countries, but of course I would avoid any locales that were too rude or too alien. Who opens a store for fine lingerie in a jungle full of cannibals and yahoos?
When Shandra and Mer Elicsi were on the point of leaving, I disclosed to them the talk I had had with the Vrikshaya about introducing volleyball associations in Ufzu and Vrandz to start, later expanding them to Shwea, Liscarn and other countries if there seemed to be a chance of success. The two queens were delighted that this was actually going to get under way. We had talked about it informally, but now positive action was to be taken.
I recommended that the ladies fly home, and, in the weeks to come, start interviewing girl athletes, drawing maps, locating suitable venues, designing and sewing uniforms, and scheduling games. When they had done some preliminary work, either Zevanardia or I would travel to Mli and take part in the inauguration of the league or leagues they'd found. I hinted that there would probably be a grant from
As for the possibility of taking Cissi's to the moon, it's true that Queen Shandra, on her previous visit to Mecnita, over eight years earlier, had been absolutely enthralled by our fine selection of peignoirs, chemises, bodyshapers, bustiers and so forth. She had taken a few crates back to Mli with the thought of introducing our styles there, and I had dispatched a few more shipments thereafter. But the idea never developed into a full-fledged apparel business. Perhaps Shandra just lost interest. After all, she was a queen, and had weightier matters to attend to. To suggest that she lacked the acumen would be preposterous. There was no mental ability that Shandra, as a Vrikshaya, lacked. Whatever the cause, the original enterprise never took hold though. So I decided to talk it over with Shandra to get her thinking on the matter, instead of just rushing in harum-scarum with a rocket full of panties.
In the second half of '401, the girl's volleyball associations in Dorgdid and Fwascren had taken shape, with a few dozen teams in each metropolis. In both cities, suitable courts and stadiums had been found and in some cases rehabilitated or redecorated to make them conform to the standards set by Gvagma. So '402 would be their first full season, each of the teams playing 80 games at 5-day intervals from Day 0 through Day 395. We would not be playing any intercity games during the regular season, at least in '402. Perhaps we would change that policy in coming years, but for now each association would be intramunicipal. As for the Pennant Games. they'd begin on Day 396 of '402, so they were still way off in the future. Ellennamandia and Rubia had long since returned to Mecnita, leaving oversight of the new associations to Vranquelli and Ezmit, the mayoresses of those two cities. The associations were called Gvagdo and Gvagfwa, but were understood to be part of Gvagma, rather than coequal..
We have adjectives oca, which means pertaining to the capital only, and ocwa, which means kingdomwide. So we would say Gvagma Oca if we meant the original Gvagma, limited to Mecnita, and Gvagma Ocwa, if we meant the new Gvagma, extending throughout the kingdom and all over the planet. These translations are compromises of course, since Gvagma is an English acronym, whereas in Ungi the corresponding acronym is Toso, for Tlucvoscro Ori Swa Omecnita But forgive me if I leave that subject at that, without getting into a detailed grammar and orthoepy of the Ungi title. I will just say Gvagma Oca or Gvagma Ocwa, if the need arises.
The Gvagma Spiral was a great success. Ladies and girls came flocking in by the thousands. It was much simpler and faster to ascend to the
The Gvagma Robot Theater was now presenting robot chorus girls dancing beautifully under the open skies. The robot girls were about 25 feet tall, and usually danced in 2 rows about 200 feet long, practically filling the theater, which was really a stadium. Sometimes they'd spin around and maneuver in different directions, very realistically. This was all accompanied by the most delightful music, sparkling, effervescent, like fizzing champagne. From the high grandstands, it was virtually impossible to see that the dancers were robots rather than living beings, though their size betrayed that fact. They wore pink and white gauze skirts filled with layered crinolines, and snug black bodices which rose only to the level of the tops of the breasts, without shoulder straps. On their feet that had black slippers, laced crisscoss about their calves. They wore rings on their fingers and in their ears, and chokers, bracelets and anklets, all simulated diamonds. The sheer size of the jewelry made it impossible, for economic reasons, to use real diamonds. These chorus girls managed to keep the theater full. On some days, the original robot volleyball players were shown instead. They too were still a drawing card.
Late in year '401, there was a revolution on Kralatimu. Ungonesia is an enormous archipelago, with about 1,000,000 islands scattered over vast tracts of the Southern Ocean. Kralatimu is one of them. Till that time, Kralatimu had been ruled by King Kohono. This was a bull of a man who stood 5'-6" tall and carried 550 pounds of solid muscle on his frame. He could lift a horse or an ox with ease. His arms were like trunks of teak trees. He had had his palace in Monopeo, the capital of Kralatimu, and there he had maintained a harem of 2000 wives, whom he had kept captive in rooms that were mere cages of bamboo knotted together with bark fiber. To outsiders, Kohono was a merry soul, jovial and friendly. But he had oppressed his harem terribly. So his wives revolted and drove him off the island. It was all planned in advance. The ladies loosened staves of their cages in such a way that they could be removed readily, without the loosened fiber's being at all obvious. When the time came, they would all be able to rush out of their rooms simultaneously. Their opportunity came one evening when Kohono got drunk, imbibing too much brandy with visitors from the mainland. The ladies, apprised of this by confederates among Kohono's service, poured in upon the king as he sat half-dozing in his throne. They pounded and kicked till Kohono took to his heels, boarding a rapid ship sailing to Toa, a city upon a nearby island of the same name. It was unlikely that he would soon return to Kralatimu, for he had word that he would be executed by the 2000 women for his wanton misdeeds if he did.
Later, the ladies found a treasure of gold and jewels hidden in a vault beneath the stony part of Kohono's palace. With the proceeds of this cache, they were able to have adequate housing--modular homes mostly--built quickly. Until that time, they had been accustomed to wearing sarongs of woven paper mulberry fibers and skirts of grass or raffia. Now they were eyeing Mecnita's styles, which they had seen on television and in magazines. They invited me to visit Monopeo with some samples from Cissi's Intimates, so they could decide whether they could afford them and would adopt them. Actually, most of the women of Kralatimu were very beautiful, with sleek, sandalwood-colored bodies exuding fragrant oils, and long glossy black hair that shone in the sun. But they did look somewhat pathetic in the chintzy sarongs and weedy skirts they wore.
Some people may pride themselves on being adventurous and brave, eager to meet challenges and willing to face danger. I am not one of those people however. I confess I love comfort and security. I don't need for anyone to stand back and regard me in admiration because of some feat of derring-do or some wild tale of wind-whipped seas and savage marauders. So I wanted to make sure that it would be perfectly safe for me to go to Kralatimu. The best way to do this was to discuss the matter with Ajinblambia.
"We have observers on Kralatimu who have assured us that there is no threat to visitors from Mecnita," Ajinblambia reported, "and we have ships in the waters nearby in case of any problems. Furthermore, we have been in touch with Kolomena, the leader of the liberated women, who has been named Queen Kolomena provisionally. She is very favorably disposed towards the
"The big Eldor Geese? Who are the big Eldor Geese?"
"Don't get excited, Sissy. That was just an extemporaneous expression. I should have said 'the other Eldor Geese' instead of 'the big Eldor Geese'. Forgive me. I meant Barti, Vinja, Usha, Dhabbi and Mlechi, of course."
"So I guess I'm the little Eldor Goose."
"You're such a silly little Goose!" said Ajinblambia, now chuckling, "Anyway, you should be completely safe on your trip to Kralatimu, but I can provide a bodyguard if you like."
"I'll just borrow my security guards from Cissi's in Ramdonia--Komoloko, Tatakuha and Tongomani. They're Ungonesian ladies anyway."
"That should be more than enough."
So I decided to go, getting the necessary permissions from Ajinblambia and Udi, who were also agreeable to letting Zevanardia accompany me. Rubia of the Ramdonia Roses would take charge of Gvagma during our absence. So we formed a party of five, including Komoloko, Tatakuha and Tongomani. There were no flights to Kralatimu. We would have to fly Fulumoan Airlines to Badako, Fulumoa, and proceed from there by ship. We'd sail one day to get from Badako to Monopeo. Actually the ship put in a few miles north of Monopeo, and we had to continue our journey by wagon, loading our boxes of intimates in a second wagon in our train. It took three hours of bumping along dirt roads to reach the capital. We saw homesteads and windmills here and there, and passed through a few hamlets, each consisting of five or six ramshackle houses. I was beginning to wonder whether it had been a wise move to come here. Could such a primitive people be interested in high fashion? I recalled my thinking about the possibility of finding uncouth nations on Mli, but I had hardly thought I'd find them right here on Nya. Here was one though. "Oh, well," I thought, "at least we'll be in for some interesting sightseeing."
The ladies of Kohono's harem were not at all as unrefined as I was supposing. They did not have the graces and affectations that typify the ladies of Mecnita perhaps, but they were good-natured, polite and friendly. When they saw Komoloko, Tatakuha and Tongomani, they recognized them at once as Ungonesians rather than mainlanders, and this ethnic bond was beneficial, annulling the outlandishness that we might otherwise have presented to their eyes, with our fairer, softer lines and blonde hair. We opened our boxes and showed our gowns and other habiliments. They understood, of course, that we were selling the garments and not merely presenting them as gifts, though we gave a few to Queen Kolomena and marked the others down 20% for the nonce. We wanted their reaction to the idea of opening a Cissi's outlet in Monopeo. The majority of the ladies approved wholeheartedly and Queen Kolomena assented. We agreed that within 30 or 40 days, we would ship consignments of garments and send a couple of girls to oversee the new store, which we were leaving to Kolomena to select from among buildings then standing in town. All we wanted to do at this point was get a start in Ungonesia, so we were not concerned with lucrative returns for the time being. Perhaps, if Cissi's on Kralatimu, as we would call the insular store, proved to be a viable enterprise, we would go ahead on Fulumoa, Toa, the
When we had finished our 'negotiations' on the topic of Cissi's on Kralatimu, Queen Kolomena invited us to an all-girl barbecue party at Ho'opiku, near Monopeo. This was a beautiful beach, with a grove of palms and a placid blue sea gently lapping golden sands. The Kralatimuan ladies set up a barbecue with rocks and a spit and roasted a whole pig. They also fried fish in skillets poised on rocks over the same fire. In the sand around the fire, they baked taro roots with glowing embers, and later we drenched them with fresh butter, sprinkling powdered red pepper on top. It was all wholesome, filling fare, different from the more culinarily sophisticated dinners of Mecnita, but scrumptious nonetheless. We ate strips of copra for dessert, and drank fermented agave liquor and pineapple beer.
Most of the ladies swam bare-breasted in their sarongs, and Komoloko, Tatakuha and Tongomani joined them unembarrassedly, but Zevanardia and I felt somewhat bashful about following suit. For one thing, the sarongs kept coming undone; they were mere wraparound cloths. For another thing, plunging in the water bare-breasted was a novelty for us to say the least. We did take a few dips, but we were self-conscious.
"Maybe we should just go in in our bras and panties," suggested Zevanardia.
"I guess, but they're awfully thin and insubstantial. They're not made for that sort of thing. We may ruin them."
"Well, we have more. If we spoil one bra and panty set, it won't be the end of the world."
Mecnita is hundreds of miles from the sea, though there are a few lagoons in town, and of course there are public and private swimming pools. I had never been much of a swimmer myself, and had never given a moment's thought to the subject of what women should wear when they swim. Now that I was in Ungonesia, where women practically live in water, I could see there was a need that Cissi's could fill. I decided that, when we got back to Mecnita, I would design some bathing suits, something like bras and panties, but much more durable, perhaps in bright colors for wear under the sun, rather than in the subtle shades that one is accustomed to see in the boudoir. Zevanardia and I talked it over at length that evening as we lay in our bed in the room we had rented in Monopeo.
Some of the sarongs we had seen at Ho'opiku Beach were vivid garments perhaps colored with dyes from plants collected in the vicinity. I doubted that they were colorfast. Too, on close examination, one could see that the borders between different colors were careless and indistinct. From a distance this hardly mattered, but close up they looked like the work of an impressionist painter. I was thinking of ways to duplicate some of the designs with refinements, and of providing seams that would hold in place the bottoms as well as the tops that we would add. As far as I knew, there was no law on the books in the Kingdom of Ung that forbade ladies to bathe topless at swimming pools, but most of the shapely females were shy, preferring to cover their nipples and their breasts, except for some delectable hints they allowed to peek through. Whatever the legality and morality of the issue, I would just conform my designs to the majority opinion. In Ungonesia, ladies would have the choice of wearing or not wearing bra tops. So it was decided; Cissi's would soon start marketing swimwear, in Mecnita of course, but primarily in seaside cities in Eb and hopefully in Ungonesia.
When we had lolled about Monopeo and Ho'opiku for a couple of days, I asked Zevanardia, "Have you ever visited Port Crelf?"
"I've never even heard of Port Crelf. Where is it?"
"Oh, Port Crelf is Ung's 15th city, with about 12,000,000 people. It's on the south shore of the Ebbic continent, about 1750 miles souitheast of Mecnita. It's northwest of Badako, about a two-day sail. We could sail or fly, if you prefer,"
"Why should we even go to Port Crelf?"
"Port Crelf's docks are supposed to be one of the wonders of the Nyatic planet. Then there's the towering totem pole from Kulukanongga. We could spend a day or so, and then train back to Mecnita, getting a glimpse of the countryside."
"Great, great!" agreed Zevanardia, "Let's do it. It sounds like fun. We don't get away from our routine often enough anyway."
So Zevanardia and I, along with Konoloko, Tatakuha and Tongomani, embarked in Monopeo on Skipping Dolphin, a ship that would sail us back to Badako in a day. In Badako, the Ungonesian ladies caught a flight on Fulumoan Airlines direct to Mecnita, while Zevanardia and I caught a flight bound for Port Crelf, which we reached in two earth-hours more or less. We got a taxi to take us to Hotel Kulukanonnga, near the totem. Kulukanongga is an island and a kingdom. The totem pole, consisting of 30 giant heads, was 600 feet tall. It was a gift from the
Crelf Expressway, 20 lanes with golden comets in the median, ran the length of the city. Beside the expressway,
Zevanardia and I strolled the quay arm in arm for half a day, absolutely astonished by the gargantuan vessels and machines before us, as mountains of cargo were lifted and deposited hour after hour, with infinite precision, efficiently, rhythmically. Never before had we seen such a display of Ungian majesty and might.
Eventually we came to a section of the quay where there were narrower berths for smaller vesssels. On the landward side, an open-air market for imported goods was doing a brisk business, with dozens of pedestrians milling about and inspecting the wares. We saw hemp, dracaena fibers, coir, hessian, jute and agave tow, masses of rubber, sandarach, myrrh, frankincense, henna, kaolin, chicle, gum arabic and indigo, containers of attar, balm and palm oil, piles of jackfruit, longans, papayas, mangos, breadfruit, pineapples, yams and cassavas. There were images, utensils and jewelry in gold, silver, electrum, bronze and pewter. Rawhide, finished norocco and cordovan leather, woven rattan, silks and cottons were to be had. Sticks of bamboo and sugarcane were tied in bundles. Smoked meat, jerky, sourdough bread, crackers, cheese, dried figs and dates, ground grain, coffee, tea, cacao, cashews, pistachios, chestnuts, macadamia nuts, turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, coriander, cumin, sesame, black pepper and paprika were selling like hotcakes. There were bottles of rum, sherry, mead and brandy. Some of these goods were in wooden kegs, others in clay pots and jute sacks, all colorful and aromatic.
We happened onto the Aquarium of Port Crelf, Ung's largest, famous for its whale collection. They have a specimen of the whale Balaenoptera ubbicum, the largest creature on the Nyatic planet. A bull may measure 300 feet in length and weigh as much as 1000 tons. Balaenoptera ubbicum comes from the Northern Ocean, above the continent of Ub. Port Crelf's specimen is kept in an enormous reservoir with seawater chilled to the right temperature. Some chemicals must be added to the water abstracted from the Southern Ocean to make its composition more nearly resemble the compostion of the whale's native seas. Of course, there were many other whales--right whales, killer whales, blue whales, narwhals, belugas, dolphins and porpoises--as well as a thousand temperate and tropical fishes. The aquarium was so vast that we didn't even find all the halls and galleries, let alone get a glimpse at each tank. The aquarium did have a reptile house too, and there we saw our Nyatic crocodilians, more numerous in genera and species than the crocodilians of earth. Our longest crocodiles, from Ungonesia, reach 100 feet in length, but there are smaller ones too--50, 25, 10, even 5 feet long. I was aware of the fact that there was a market for crocodilian leather and alligator hides, used in making shoes, belts and purses, but I saw no reason Cissi's needed to use this kind of leather in the manufacture of its accessories. More and more we were inclining to synthetics in any case.
When we left the Aquarium of Port Crelf, we found ourselves before the Mollusk Gallery. This was a store rather than a public museum, though it did have an area devoted to exhibits like giant clams and oysters. Slightly crestfallen on account of the fact that the Mollusk Gallery was much larger than the Nautilus Chamber at Gvagma Village, I finally brought myself to admit as much to the proprietress, whose name was Rhodoconcha, and I craved her permission to remain in contact with her once I had returned to Mecnita, so that we might discuss possible acquisitions that I was considering. She was glad to hear this, and we struck up a friendship. She had heard of me and was perfectly delighted with my horns.
Zevanardia and I dined after our visit to the aquarium and the gallery, and then we returned to Hotel Kulukanongga for one more good night's sleep. The first thing in the morning, we were up and dressed. We walked out to the metro station on the Crelf Expressway Line, boarding a golden dragon of a bullet train there, and we were at Central Crelf Station in 10 minutes. Half an hour later, we were sitting in our compartment on a nonstop train bound for Mecnita. This ride used to take eight hours. Now it took six, with the latest improvements in the engineering of locomotives. Our locomotives generate 50,000 horsepower and more, and pull at speeds up to 300 miles an hour.
Our compartment was wallpapered in designs of rosy festoons on a background of white, very elegant and cheerful. The woodwork looked like varnished maple, reddish-brown. There were white velvet drapes on the window, engrailed at the top with grommets for rings that slipped on a brass rod mounted on little brackets. The upholstery on the seats was also white velvet, and immaculate. There was a microwave oven in the compartment, as well as a mini-refrigerator. We had an excellent view from our window. We rolled over hill and dale and passed through forests of beech, she-oak, araucaria, ombu and eucalyptus. We also saw great numbers of royal poincianas blooming lipstick-red and floss silk trees blooming lovely lavender. We had hardly got used to the scenery when we found ourselves slowing down to 200, 100, 50, 25, 10 and 0. We were in Forgsha Station. I had neglected to call Vlarxbub, Glafcroc or any other chauffeur from Eldor Palace. Nor did we need a chauffeur. We merely boarded the metro right in Forgsha Station and we were back at 7 Ramdonia Circle in 10 minutes. It was a little anticlimactic to return home after an exciting vacation, but I was eager to see that Nunu was safe in Ezmeraudia's care.
Ezmeraudia was right at home, in Bo House. She had done her chores for the day, and was sitting at her computer, visiting her favorite websites. Nunu was sitting in an easy chair beside her, nonchalantly reading a book called The Kings and Queens of Ung. This book had terse, simple little biographies of our 5319 kings and queens. Our year, year '402, was short for the full designation, which was year 103,402. The kingdom of Ung had been in uninterrupted existence for over a thousand centuries. It is easy to calculate that the average reign of the kings and queens of Ung was almost 20 years. The first king was King Ung-la-Pog, a barbarian who founded the realm amid bloody battles. Over the millennia, the kingdom has become ever more urbane and genteel. Our last male king was King Zhwem, who reigned about 150 years ago. Since then there have been half a dozen queens, Udi the latest. Of course Ung has now merged with Vrikshaya, and we have our first female king in Ajinblambia. She is reckoned the last monarch of the House of Ung and the first of the House of Vrikshaya.
I wondered whether Nunu, a little over two years old, was ready to read and understand these biographies, prodigy though she may have been. So far, though, she had read only a few pages, and was appalled at the violence that was the order of the day in the first centuries of Ung. Poor child! She had to learn sooner or later. Seeing her concentrating so earnestly on her little book, as if she had been a mini-scholar, I couldn't resist the urge to pick her up, press her to my bosom and smother her with kisses. I wondered if she would sit upon the throne of Ung one day.
Ezmeraudia asked about our vacation, and Zevanardia and I told her all about our stay in Monopeo and our visit to Port Crelf. It seemed more exciting than ever to retell it all in a few sentences, and Ezmeraudia's eyes filled with wonder and envy, as if we were favored ones to be able to go traipsing off to distant isles while she was confined in Bo House. Sensing her wanderlust and wistfulness, and at the same time feeling grateful for her services, I felt that I should offer her a chance to go on vacation to Monopeo too, if she liked. She was delighted with this suggestion. So I told her that when we had the first consignment of intimates ready to be taken to Monopeo, she could go along and help with the organization of Cissi's on Kralatimu. All four of us beamed at this idea, and then we ordered supper from Rose Verandah I, We ate sweet and sour pork with white buns and cold coffee. This soft food was something that Nunu could manage.