Now that Zevanardia and I had visited Kralatimu, an island in Ungonesia, the million-island archipelago in the Southern Ocean, and Port Crelf, a port on the southern shores of Eb just north of Ungonesia, I was getting very enthusiastic about the idea of expanding Cissi's Intimates to oceania, initiating a line of swimwear to fill the needs of the insular ladies and girls, who were all regular swimmers.
As I saw it, the main difference between a bra and panty ensemble and a two-piece bathing suit lay in the choice of fabrics and colors. For bathing suits, I contemplated using batik, denim, terry, corduroy, duck, velours, twill, gingham and similar fabrics. Chiffon, lace, voile, gauze, organza, organdy, pongee, marquisette and other delicate fabrics seemed less suitable. The coarser fabrics like duck and denim might abrade tender skin, so I was thinking of lining them in such a way that there would be no large area between the seams connecting the lining to the swimsuit, so they would not bubble out or get stretched out of shape. Zevanardia and I sat down at our drafting table in Gvagma Tower, and began drawing possible bathing suits, using colored pencils and crayons on art paper, with gum erasers to make clean corrections. I wondered how much swimwear we could sell ultimately. Ungonesia did have a population of about one billion, so the market was probably there. We would have to open a great number of stores unfortunately, as it was unlikely that a lady would sail or fly from one island to another for the mere purpose of buying swimwear. Another option in the back of my mind was a maritime Cissi's, a store on a ship that would sail around on a regular itinerary, an intimates argosy, if you will.
Cissi's new factory in New Ozgingd was now operating at about 75% projected capacity. There had been some delays in construction and in the installation of equipment. Nonetheless, I thought I could organize a special room where some of our most creative girls could experiment in the design of swimsuits. As I planned it, they would take pieces of fabric in different colors, cut them up, and sew them back together like crazy quilts, trying to get the cloth to show the look they wanted to see. They were given a free hand to make, alter, unmake, remake and even discard and start again, proceeding by trial and error till they found showy but tasteful designs, with an emphasis on stripes, circles, rings, squares and triangles. Bonuses were offered for outstanding designs.
Incidentally, at about this time, I transferred Vlijanna, Ordzhozi, Mstivi, Chlapa, Endorfu and Conavash, the ladies of the Pertenasi Pantheresses, the ones who had been sentenced earlier to ten years' banishment, to the facility in New Ozgingd. They were all doing good work, but I did not offer them an opportunity to work in the swimwear design room. I considered an invitation to design swimwear something of an honor, and, though I wanted to be fair, even generous, to the Pantheresses, I did not want to give them preferential treatment. Affirmative action in employment that benefits the less deserving at the expense of the more deserving is a practice that we eschew here on Nya.
Our Ungi word for a ladies' one-piece or two-piece bathing suit is shwo. Shfo means body-shaper, cro means pair of panties and cno means brassiere. So shwoshfo means a full-length, one-piece swimsuit, shwocro means a one-piece bathing suit consisting of a bottom only, and shwocno, short for shwo ocnoecro, means a two-piece bathing suit. In all these words, o is clearly labialized. The initial o in ocnoecro is in the falling tone. Every other o is in the level tone. The e, pronounced like e in bed, is toneless. The polysyllabic words have final-syllable accent, though there is a tendency for a word ending in a succession of level-tone syllables to shift its accent onto the first of them, even if toneless e intervenes in the succession.
Actually, the idea of a full swimsuit, shaped more or less like a foundation garment or corselette, never occurred to me. I was thinking about a two-piece outfit, from which the bra could merely be omitted by anyone wishing to swim topless. So when I say swimsuit, as a translation of shwo, I mean shwo ocnoecro, which, fully translated, means bra-and-panty bathing suit.
Another aside I should make at this point, if it is not obvious, is that we were all getting older. When I had met Barti, Vinja, Usha, Dhabbi and Mlechi in Kshaddi back in the mid-380's, they were all teenagers. Now they were in their early thirties. I was approaching 40, but I pretended to be in my early thirties too. We do live to 150 here on the average, so an Ungian woman in her early thirties is like a 20-year-old earthling female. Therefore, it's not really inappropriate to refer to young ladies of Ung in that age group as girls. On earth, this would be overdoing it, but not on Nya. Still, we were on the cusp, so to speak, and it wouldn't be long before I would have to think seriously about graduating my feminine nomenclature.
Our staff produced a great number of beautiful designs. The only problem was that sewing pieces of different colors together left quite a few unsightly seams on the inside. Calendering them between heated cylinders to press flat the seams helped a little, but I was still dissatisfied. So far, Cissi's had had no experience in printing textiles. Our intimate garments were generally each of a single pastel color, like beige, rose, mint, ivory or lavender, sometimes with lace or ribbons in complementary colors, but nothing flamboyant or showy. Our volleyball uniforms were often made of bright or dark fabrics, but usually in solid colors. Numerals and names were embroidered appliques. Now I wanted arresting patterns and striking designs in crimsons, emerald greens, royal blues, oranges, scarlets, purples, canary yellows and magentas. Talking it over with Zevanardia, and then with Ajinblambia and the Geese, I decided to buy some textile printing machines and rework the designs. With the machines, we would be able to print chain mail, tracery, festoons, mosaics, zigzags, houndstooth, scrolls, floral fantasias and fractals.
Zevanardia and I, along with several of our talented young ladies, went back to our drafting boards, both at Gvagma Tower and at Cissi's in New Ozgingd, modifying the designs we had already chosen, and creating others that would best take advantage of the capabilities of our new equipment. This was great fun. At New Ozgingd, as we designed, printed and sewed our new bathing suits, we would try them on and parade around the swimsuit design room, trying to impress each other with our shapely figures and graceful motions. When the cheering and clapping climaxed, we knew we had produced a winner.
By now, it was time for me to send someone to Kralatimu with a consignment of apparel and set up shop on the island with the help of Queen Kolomena. I selected Ellennamandia and Rubia, who had become de facto the third and fourth ladies of Gvagma. I invited Ezneraudia to accompany them. This would be the vacation that I had promised her. The three agreed to go by train as far as Port Crelf, with the apparel in the goods van. In Port Crelf, they'd embark on a three-day sail to Monopeo, where they expected to spend 4 or 5 days, before returning to Mecnita. I told Ellennamandia and Rubia not to be anxious about the success or failure of the Kralatimu operation. This was only a probe. If it showed promise, we'd continue on the same tack. If it proved to be a fiasco, we'd just chalk it up to marketing research and development. I gave Ezmeraudia a couple of florins as vacation pay. This was above and beyond her fares, lodging and meals.
We had managed to design several lovely two-piece bathing suits at New Ozgingd, and we had already manufactured a few dozen of each style. Among the apparel that Ellennamandia, Rubia and Ezmeraudia were taking to Kralatimu, I had made sure to include some of these gorgeous bathing ensembles. I was hoping that the brilliant colors would appeal to the insular women. If so, we would proceed to make and ship more.
Recalling the totem pole from Kulukanongga that Zevanardia and I had seen in Port Crelf, I got the idea of having a similar totem pole erected in the southeast addition to
I had been in regular contact with Iljidia, one of Queen Shandra's secretaries on the moon. I didn't want to bother the queen for every little matter, so I would astrofax Iljidia, or have someone astrofax her, with daily reports and messages. According to Iljidia, Queen Shandra and Queen Mer Elicsi were still in the proceess of getting ready to introduce girls' volleyball as a lunar sport. They would assuredly notify me when they felt they were at a convenient point. Or she herself would fax me to invite me to contact them.
As I mentioned, Ungian electronics engineers had developed solid color astrofax, a device whereby solid objects could be transmitted through the ether to any distant point in our solar system, as long as a unit had been installed there. The receiving unit reconstructed a transmitted object faithfully. Even the color was duplicated. Thus, one might send a red ball from Mecnita to Vavlu, the capital of Ufzu, on the moon, and there an identical red ball would come into existence in a compartment whence the operator could remove it. However, there were limnitations, the chief one being that the chemical makeup of the duplicate was not the same as that of the original. If you sent a real apple, an indistinguishable likeness would appear, but it might consist of polyvinyl chloride or polyurethane, and so be totally inedible.
Anyway, I told Iljidia about our new line of swimwear, and was pleased to learn that swimming was very popular in both Ufzu and Vrandz. I transmitted some of my two-piece bathing suits by solid color astrofax to Iljidia, explaining to her that, though the original garments were well made and durable, the duplicates might be of inferior fibers with a tendency to separate or ravel. If she handled them carefully, however, she should at least be able to try them on and show Queen Shandra what we had made. Understanding the limitation that I mentioned, Shandra would be able to give her tentative approval, whereupon I would make sure to bring some to Ufzu when I came, or send them with Zevanardia, if she came instead. Shandra liked this idea, so it was as good as done.
Now the '402 season was well under way for the Old Chiliad, whose games spanned from Day 0 to Day 395. Gvagdo and Gvagfwa, the clone girls' volleyball associations in Dorgdid and Fwascren, were following an identical schedule. But they were a thing apart from the original Gvagma, affiliated, yes, but, heretofore, not fully integrated. They would have their own playoffs and championships, with perhaps some exhibition games in the capital. In '403, maybe we would find ways to unite them more effectively, so that we could be one big, happy girls' volleyball association, but that would mean mountains of adminstrative and clerical activity, and it seemed easiest to procrastinate a year.
The situation was more erratic in Ub. Only very few cities had more than a handful of teams. Bihaka, of course, had a good many teams, maybe 100, but the number was volatile, as some teams were ephemeral, banding and disbanding in rapid succession, while others, equally short-lived, cropped up to fill their places. Still they were managing to mount a schedule and a season of sorts. In Dilfatty and Dilulabad, in Kara Darya and
Ellennamandia, Rubia and Ezmeraudia returned from Kralatimu with the good news that Queen Kolomena had provided a very handsome little building as a store for Cissi's. It was a white stucco building with fully leakproof red tiles on the roof, in contradistinction to the thatch roofs of many of the dwelling places in the vicinity. The ladies had put up tables and shelves of bamboo and rattan, varnished with clear varnish. The intimates and the swimwear that we consigned to Cissi's on Kralatimu would be safe from moisture and insects, according to our delegation. All three of the young ladies enjoyed the sunny isles and wind-swept palms of Ungonesia, but Ezmeraudia, now 20, was really excited. This was probably the first time she'd ever been out of Mecnita.
In Port Crelf, they had seen the totem pole from Kulukanongga, and like everyone, they were impressed. When I told them I was planning a totem pole in honor of the House of Vrikshaya, they all agreed that this was a splendid idea. I told them I was thinking of nine heads in limestone, sandstone or granite, which would be carved faithfully by accomplished sculptresses in the likenesses of Queen Udi and the eight Vrikshayas. I hadn't prepared, or arranged to have prepared, any sketches, but if any of them would like to try her hand at drawing the heads, I'd be glad to consider their work. Also, if they knew anyone adept at that sort of thing, I'd appreciate knowing about her. Of course, I could do what I always did, which was go to Ajinblambia and the Geese, but this might embarrass our lady King. It might make her look as if she were deciding how she should most suitably be depicted and honored. This would be like asking her to sing her own praises.
At about this time, Queen Udi finally released me from the chore of making her panties and bras. She had such a trousseau of intimates that I had made in the past few years that they could not be kept in a single room. Three rooms in her 15-room suite had armoire after armoire filled with my creations. I certainly was proud of the quality and quantity of my work, and of the royal warrants I had as Panty-Maker to the Queen and Brassiere-Maker to the Queen. The constant effort and labor had grown burdensome though, especially now that I had Nunu to attend to and an expanded Gvagma to oversee. I was relieved to be free at last.
Incidentally, on my visit to Monopeo day-decades earlier, I had left a volleyball set, with ball, net, poles and uniforms for a dozen girls. I had explained the game and provided an instruction manual, but I didn't think that Monopeo, with 10,000 inhabitants, or the whole
During one of our conversations, Queen Kolomena told me that they were playing volleyball in the water, on the beach at Ho'opiku.
"Oh, no," I said, "that's not the way the game is played. It's always played on the ground."
"Why?" asked Kolomena, "Why can't we play in shallow water when the sea is calm? It's a lot of fun."
"Oh, no," I repeated myself, "It's not supposed to be played in the water."
"Who says so?"
"Well, we've been playing volleyball in Mecnita for centuries, and it's always been on the ground. Look at these videos." I attached a couple of short videos to my videophone so that she could watch them for a minute or two as we talked.
"They are beautiful, I admit," answered the Ungonesian queen, "but I think our aquatic volleyball is great too. Let me take some videos and call you again another day."
"By all means, please do," I said with mandatory politeness, but I was expecting that when she called back, I would give them a perfunctory look, dismiss them tactfully and so be done with the matter.
I surprised even myself, therefore, when, a few days later, Queen Kolomena called back with a few videos of ladies playing volleyball in the water. It did indeed look like a lot of fun, and now I felt stuffy and pompous for having supposed I'd just reject it out of hand. I hoped Kolomena had not detected that haughty attitude in the tone of my voice, for now I was changing my mind and could see the merit of the new variation from Kralatimu.
I showed the videos to Zevanardia, herself not only a star volleyball player and captainess but also a sleek, fit swimmer, and she was enchanted with the pictures. The idea of water volleyball appealed immensely to her too. We talked about it at Bo House for a few evenings, and finally we decided on a new project. Thus far, there had been no swimming pool in
Now I was begining to think that a huge swimming pool, 100 by 40 meters, could profitably be built in the new Southeast Gvagma Village--Ajinblambia's recent grant--just behind where we would stand the totem pole. We could have one part of the pool partitioned as a volleyball court, and there, the water would be of uniform depth, perhaps 100 or 125 centimeters. We could appoint the periphery of the pool with furnishings with Ungonesian motifs, and make the whole area a bit of Ungonesia in Mecnita.
I didn't need Kolomena's approval or even awareness of the new swimming pool in order to direct work to begin, nor did I want to make promises to her about invitations to Gvagma Village until we were much closer to being able to keep them, just in case the projected pool failed to be realized for some reason or another. I did, however, tell Inokali, our orchid horticulturalist from Vingolilo, and Loapuni and Mingotani, her assistants, about my plans to erect a totem pole, build a swimming pool and landscape it all in Ungonesian style. They were pleased, even flattered, especially when I told them I would commit the gardening to their oversight, giving them laborers to help with the planting of palms and other heavy work. We did have a massive mechanized tree spade on the grounds, and this enabled us to lift small trees and transplant them, but there was still a good deal of hard work, too much to impose on only three ladies. From the Vingoliloans I was seeking artistry and imagination rather than labor.
I put the pool on rush. Zevanardia took over the project, using Lidia, Amponia and Idificia as consultants. Zevanardia pressed. She pushed. She shoved. And the pool came into existence in very little time, thirty days or so. We placed deck chairs here and there and erected knockdown bleachers at poolside, opposite the water volleyball court, that is, the area in the pool that we had partitioned. For the time being, planters and urns of orchids were brought over from the garden behind the Orchid Walk that the Vingoliloan ladies used for growing orchids. This garden, in itself, was not meant as a tourist attraction, but just as a source of new flowers. So we were not improving one spot at the expense of another. I had the ladies plant orchids in the ground too, but until they flourished in quantity, we'd make do with the potted orchids. We decided to build a bamboo and thatch canteen nearby. One side would be open, with a view of the pool. On the open side, we set up a long row of little tables.
The speed with which we had proceeded in building the pool was only too obvious to an experienced observer like myself, but it would be only a matter of time till the dust settled, and the whole project had the semblance of permanence and stability that is the hallmark of all things Mecnitan. At this time, I called Queen Kolomena and told her about the pool, attaching pictures to my videophone. I invited her to select a dozen good-looking girl athletes from Kralatimu and come with them by ship and plane to Mecnita. We'd send a chauffeur to Jezgroid in a limousine to bring them to
At that time, the Vrikshaya totem pole was not yet standing. I was supposing that the pole would take a year or more, as I wanted the heads carved meticulously, in the classical style, and not as expressionist exercises. But we had planted several coconut palms and queen palms around the pool, and a road that ran next to the pool was flanked with rows of royal palms, forming, as it were, twin colonnades. The whole effect was indeed reminiscent of the south seas, as we sometimes referred to Ungonesian waters.
The Ungonesian girl volleyball players did not even have matching uniforms, and perhaps this was not terribly important, but I invited them to our showroom in New Ozgingd, where we had a variety of two-piece bathing suits in sufficient quantity to dress the girls in each of the teams in identical costumes. So far, we had not stocked them in Ramdonia. The players, mostly younger girls, were very excited about taking the metro from Ramdonia to New Ozgingd, a distance of about 90 miles. Zevanardia and I led them to the trains and accompanied them to our factory. Assuredly, we could have gone by limousine, with Clixbong or one of the other chauffeurs at the wheel. Going by metro seemed more fun though. We'd have to walk a quarter-mile once we detrained in the northwestern suburb on the Umzid. On the way back, we would stop at
For the time being, I decided just to let the Ungonesians play informally, without any specific times and without any notices in Cissi's Newsletter or Obscont, or on television. We would merely see how many of the visitors to Gvagma Village would wander towards the pool once they saw activity, and what their reaction would be. Our local ladies and girls, so accustomed to the games of the Girls' Volleyball Association of Greater Mecnita, craned their necks at poolside, as if they could not quite make out what was going on. Every day for a while, there were more spectators, and the word went around that this was an Ungonesian adaptation of our traditional game of volleyball. Finally, Jozi, a reporter from Obscont, heard about the games and came to see what was happening. A short article with a picture was carried by the prestigious newspaper, and many must have read about the pool, for all at once, we started drawing a goodly crowd. We had to put up more knockdown bleachers, adding more tables and chairs among the palms outside the canteen.
One of the teams had chosen bathing suits with white tops and maroon bottoms. The other had chosen yellow tops and black bottoms. We called the teams the Monopeo Maroons and the Kanakahe Blacks. Kanakahe was another town on Kralatimu. The Maroons were Ifehi, Kopuni, Ilaka, Monona, Pokoli and E'emo. The Blacks were Simahi, Kolobura, Alapi, Nohono, Tika and Opena. The spectators began forming loyalties and cheering for the rival teams. Within days of the arrival of the Kralatimuans, girls in Mecnita were trying water volleyball in pools around town, wherever they could. They clubbed easily and gave names to their 'teams'. I followed this phenomenon with interest, asking myself whether I should just let it happen as it would, or whether I should try to spread the Gvagma umbrella over the new teams. I surely didn't want to appear to be a girls' volleyball totalitarian.
As it turned out, the question answered itself. There were benefits in being a member of Gvagma. The association had wide recognition in the realm. There were allowances for travel when the need arose. There were discounts on apparel. There was coaching. There was instruction. There were opportunities for transfers. In view of all this, several of the new water volleyball teams actively sought inclusion in the association.
One of the first teams to be organized was the Eldor Sandpipers. Of course, I was not a member of the Sandpipers, nor were any of the young ladies from Gangawar--Barti, Vinja, Usha, Dhabbi and Mlechi. It was enough that they played for the Geese. No one wanted dual team membership, certainly. Other girls from around the palace made up the roster of the Sandpipers. Another founding team was the Ramdonia Penguins. There were ten other teams in the Near Southwest Mini-Associatiuon of Gvagma. They played some games in the pool in Gvagma Village, on days when the Ungonesians were idle, and they found several suitable venues in the included districts.
News of developments in Mecnita reached Fulumoa, Toa, the Peokolo Islands, Pi'i, Vingolilo and other points in the immense archipelago, and soon games started being played in a hundred places. Also, in Gautsma and Port Crelf, both on the south shore of Eb, the game caught on. It was not limited to maritime cities though. Even in Psebol, Paneblu, Orboluc, Tsediagdirg, Bogolrog, Zladnropol, Zhiginards, Ilgotranx, Buscobox and Cnaizdadf, all far inland, there were new water volleyball teams. Since many of these teams hoped to be enrolled in Gvagma, I felt a surge of elation at new power in my hands.
It was with something akin to amazement that Ajinblambia, Udi and the Geese looked upon the new flowering in the girls' volleyball world. Things had gotten very regular and predictable, as if there had been nothing new under ther sun, and now the new game burst out in a hundred colors and became a renaissance. Talking to Ajinblambia, I smiled proudly as I explained how this had all come about.
"Oh, I suppose you think you're a genius now!" said Ajinblambia.
"I didn't say I was a genius.".
"You didn't say it maybe, but that's what you were thinking, wasn't it?"
"Please, dear Sita, you're embarrassing me," I said, using her nickname playfully.
"I'll do more than embarrass you," she said, "Come over here and let me pinch you."
She pinched my right buttock playfully, reaching under my volleyball miniskirt, which I happened to be wearing at the moment. Then she tugged me to, bent me over her knee and gave me a mock little spanking.
"Sita, you're so mean!"
We laughed merrily together. Our magnificent lady king could be such a zany, silly one when she wanted to be, and this was welcome, of course. Otherwise, she might have seemed fearsome in her majesty.
There had been no pool at Eldor Palace either. So Ajinblambia decided to have one built, as a venue for the Eldor Sandpipers, and also as a resort for some of the people around the palace--courtiers and retainers. Spotlights were erected around the pool. These emitted a mellow light that would illuminate poolside tables set up for evening parties. If you walked by before midnight, you might see parties of beautiful ladies chatting and drinking wine and cordials. During the day, it was a different crowd. a less sedentary crowd, that splashed around with their playmates. One corner of the pool always had water volleyball games in progress. This pool came into existence in no time, with Ajinblambia working shifts of lady masons, plumbers and electricians around the clock. We do not dilly-dally in Ung, especially when prodded by royalty.
It was now mid '402. The Oriflamme Games of the New Chiliad would soon be up. Gvagma was finally getting a foothold in Ub and Ungonesia,What remained was for Zevanardia and myself to fly to Vavlu, the capital of Ufzu, the lunar kingdom where Shandra reigned as Queen. When we had seen how volleyball was going there, we could sail the Narni River to Emshcro, where Queen Mer Elicsi had her palace. The novelty and otherworldliness of the expedition we were planning had put butterflies in my stomach. I was as nervous as a tightrope walker, but there was nothing for it but to go. I suppose I could have sent Zevanardia alone, but this seemed unjust, as if I would dump on her an assignment that I didn't have the nerve to undertake myself. As attractive as it might have been to unload the responsibility, I knew I'd feel guilty. So I braced myself for the ordeal, and we went, flying in Photon XIII for six hours to reach Mli, the Moon.