On day 275 of year '402, RUS Gvagma sailed on its maiden voyage, with Zevanardia as skipper. She did know how to navigate and had taken a quick refresher course in preparation for the sail. Queen Kolomena also had taken a speedy course in navigating a yacht, so that once they had made their first rounds of the 13 islands on their itinerary, Kolomena would be able to take over at the helm. The distances between the islands were mostly under 100 nautical miles, so that RUS Gvagma, which could make 25 to 35 knots, would be at sea no more than a few hours each evening. Thus they could operate the on-board intimates and swimwear store till around 7.5 Ungi (6 PM) and still have plenty of time to reach their next port of call and get a good night's sleep.
We needed to earn about two drachmas (about $2000) a day, according to my calculations, to pay off the ship, buy fuel, provide maintenance and realize at least a token profit. This meant selling at least 200 garments on the average day, as we would probably net 10 dirhams ($10 more or less) per garment, profit amounting to about 20%. Although I didn't expect a massive turnover and would be content with modest earnings, in the name of cultural imperialism of the kind I was fostering, the venture would have to make economic sense or ultimately fade away. Whether each of the islands would be in the market to spend $10,000 every 13 days seemed doubtful, so I advised Zevanardia to include cosmetics and perfume in her inventory.
Another tack we might try was including the larger cities of Badako and Toa in our circuit. They were a little out of the way. But in cities of more than a million, there was a far greater chance of earning those two drachmas I was adamant in insisting that we earn, and with additional amounts to compensate for islands that yielded less than we wanted. Zevanardia, understanding the economic aspect, would do everything in her power to establish a pattern of success in the round or rounds she'd make. And then it would be up to Queen Kolomena to follow suit. Would the sunny, insular disposition of the tropical queen prevent her from developing the necessary ardor and enthusiasm? That remained to be seen. I didn't want to fall prey to the conventional wisdom that only ladies from the mainland have heads for business and administration.
The first circuit went fabulously well. Net profit was 35 drachmas (about $35,000). So we earned about one-third more than I had figured should be a minimum. The question now was whether we could expect this bonanza to continue or whether, once the novelty had worn off, we would subside into a less lucrative operation. Zevanardia, who was a born saleslady and public speaker, patiently explained to the islanders the need for them to spread the word to their friends and neighbors in order to keep the business afloat.
The second circuit went even better than the first. Zevanardia also took some scuba diving gear--gas cylinders, masks, valves and fins--although this was getting further and further away from our original goal of selling intimate apparel. But if it made money, at least for now, it was good.
I composed articles for Cissi's Newsletter on the first voyages of RUS Gvagma and the maritime intimates apparel magazine in its superstructure. I also contacted Jozi, one of the journalists from Obscont with whom I had established affectionate rapport, persuading her to carry similar articles in that prestigious daily. Within day-decades, the story was well known, both on the mainland and in the archipelago. We did in fact eventually expand our base of operations to Badako and Toa, at the invitation of the mayoresses of those port cities.
Queen Kolomena took over temporarily after two circuits and Zevanardia came home for a few days, feeling, however, that she should go back to RUS Gvagma for a few more rounds before committing the thing entirely into the hands of the royal islander. It was almost the end of the year before Kolomena was running the operation all by herself. Far from being the lackadaisical southerner that I was thinking she might be, Kolomena proved to be vivacious, energetic and intelligent, and was pleased when I named her a regional officer of Gvagma and Cissi's. But that was around the beginning of year '403. So let me discuss that further in the correct chronological order, returning for now to other happenings in the second half of year '402.
The apparel factory in New Ozgingd was not yet operating at full capacity. The Pantheresses were proving to be diligent and dependable, but it would still be some time before I would consider their promotion to highly responsible positions. There was no doubt as to their ability though.
The Gvagma Spiral and the Gvagma Robot Theater were running smoothly and drawing veritable throngs. The giant robot chorus girl line was dancing regularly.
Jina, one of my teammates from the days of the Eldor Junior Geese, had reached the minimum age to be admitted to Gvagma, and was playing for the Egshirvazi Comets. At the age of eight, she had been my captainess in the Junior Geese. This was terribly embarrassing, but, nonetheless, some photographs and videos of the Junior Geese had remained in existence these eight years. When Jina proved to be a shining star among the Comets, she earned a good deal of publicity in Obscont and on television. The old videos were replayed, and I had to relive the humiliation of being assigned to a team of girls between 8 and 12 years of age. This was where my aptitude had placed me. I did love Jina though, and we had her out to Bo House for dinner. She had gone to the same school as Ezmeraudia, so it was a multiple reunion. She explained that in the days of the Junior Geese, I played exactly as if I had been about eight years old, thanks to the fact that she had coached me to play that way so that I would harmonize with the team instead of disrupting it. "Somehow," she explained, "once Sissy got into that groove, she just stayed there, a perennial little girl in a world of women and young ladies." Of course, her remark was spoken tongue in cheek.
Jina, only 16 years old on a planet where the average woman lives to 150, was still regarded as a mere girl despite her excellence on the volleyball court. Her figure was somewhat immature, but shapely and svelte. At our dinner in Bo House, where we served baked mushroom-stuffed pork chops and baked potatoes in sour cream and blue cheese with garlic and rosemary, delivered--not really catered--by Rose Verandah I, it was evident to me that Jina was also highly intelligent, with a brain like a logician or an electronics engineer. I had had her doing routine office work in
Beautiful Jina lived in Ceod with her mother and sisters, and her age dictated that she remain there for some time, but I promised her that when she had gotten ready to move closer to Ramdonia, if she should so choose, I would see to settling her comfortably in her own apartment. In the meantime, Jina could stay overnight in Bo House whenever that was convenient.
Later in year '402, while Zevanardia was still sporadically busy with Kolomena, sailing from isle to isle in the Southern Ocean, I decided to return to Mli. I had neglected to pay visits to the Kingdoms of Shwea and Liscarn that I had been planning. I asked Rubia to accompany me. She was flattered, as if the invitation amounted to a compliment, and we boarded Photon XIII on the morning of day 325 at Pongdoir Field, driven there by Vlarxbub, the new chauffeur. Once we were orbiting Mli, the landing module separated and we put down in Qabjang Stadium in Qabjang, the capital, because Shwea had no aerospace facility we could use.
There had been very little contact between Ung and Shwea over the years, decades and centuries. We knew just a handful of people there could speak Ungi, and, then, only a smattering. Neither Rubia nor I knew so much as a word of Shwean. I don't think that anyone on the Nyatic planet knew their language. Communication would be difficult.
We had brought a computer, some movies and videos, and a solid color astrofax machine, as well as a variety of household appliances that we had been informed were unavailable in Shwea, including a mini-refrigerator, a microwave oven and an air-conditioner. Shwea was electrified after a fashion and we had a lady electrician among the crew who could create adapters, rectifiers or transformers if they were needed.
Queen Zipsi and three of her councilors, namely Nrip, Vmic and Vabg, were waiting for us in Qabjang Stadium and, as we climbed down from the module, they started walking in our direction. A hatch opened in the module and a conveyor lowered the machines we had brought. The Shweans looked on inquisitively. We managed to get them to understand that these were gifts from the
Qabjang was a frontier town, with split-rail fences, dirt trails and stone houses set at random angles. People stood outside at fires roasting meat on spits, so that the smell of smoke permeated the atmosphere. I wondered whether we would be able to have any kind of cultural exchange.
Zipsi led us to Mavo Shwea--apparently the
Voltessa eventually managed to get everything in operation, but the Shweans were confused by the air-conditioner and the mini-refrigerator. We showed movies of girls playing volleyball, and had them set up a volleyball court right in the stadium, which was ordinarily used for rodeos and bullfights. They fetched a dozen girls, dressed them as two teams and attempted a game, but they were puzzled about the object of the game. Our explanations were not well understood, and I saw that the time was not ripe.
I requested that Queen Zipsi allow us to take two knowledgeable Shweans back to Mecnita to teach us the Shwean language. We would keep them for up to a year, housing and feeding them very handsomely. When Zipsi finally understood what we were proposing, she agreed cheerfully. She considered it a compliment that we wanted to learn Shwea's language. Voltessa spent half a day explaining to the Queen and her councilors, mostly with gestures, how to use the devices we had brought. Then we Ungians ascended in the module with Flaf and Shotc, the two new tutoresses, and rendezvoused with Photon XIII.
The visit to Shwea had been unsatisfactory as far as I was concerned. The culture gap was simply too great to overcome in a visit of three days. Now that we had astrofax and astrophone installed in Qabjang, perhaps we'd be able to bring about the interface we were seeking. Was Ung hoping to conquer and annex Shwea? I wasn't. My motives were camaraderie and altruism, as I could promise Ajinblambia's would be. But would the Shweans understand that, or would they suppose that we were meditating aggression?
Hours after we left Shwea, circling Mli several times, we hovered geostationary above Vornda and descended in the module to
Vornda was a beautiful city, modern enough but exotic, with gold and silver domes, a ferris wheel, sidewalks of glazed colored tiles, an iridescent waterfall, fields of tulips and poppies, and a menagerie full of bizarre lunar beasts. There was a metro but no automobiles. People rode horses and bicycles or walked. Sidewalk cafes, elegant and immaculate, were numerous. I could see the quay along the
We set up a volleyball court in
By now, Queen Marcatarc was in a jolly mood and all her suspicions had been allayed. When she found out that I was an adoptive Vrikshaya, her enthusiasm soared. The great House of Vrikshaya was held in high regard in Liscarn, though Marcatarc also knew about Oa, the single black mark against the dynasty. Marcatarc invited us for a banquet in Ilononx Palace, where she reigned. We ate smoked grouse and baked cassavas and aubergines with cheese and sesame. Afterwards we ate ice cream and drank coffee.
She liked the idea of organizing a girls' volleyball association in Vornda, with the possibility of holding playoffs with Ufzu and maybe even with Ung. During the course of our conversation, Marcatarc mentioned five lunar kingdoms I had never even heard of: Zavoi, Limanit, Uvankafer, Cfampa and Idazwo. At that particular juncture in my career, it was out of the question for me to visit five more lunar kingdoms. Marcatarc said that she had had few contacts with the five countries and that there had been no diplomatic missions at all. She offered to inquire, but I told her not to bother for the time being. Later, of course, she might undertake exploration preparatory for delegations from Mecnita.
After a stay of three days, we ascended with Flaf and Shotc, the Shwean ladies, as well as two Liscarnese ladies--Cstavlia and Invizet--and began the flight back to Ung in Photon XIII. I guess the jaunt was worth it. Time would tell if we had planted a seed that would sprout and grow. For now, though, I had things to attend to in Mecnita and could dally no longer on Mli.
Rubia was breathless with excitement. Before that time, no one except natural and adoptive Vrikshayas and crew members of Photons had visited Mli. This would be something she could boast about among her friends on the Ramdonia Roses. Incidentally, the Ramdonia Roses were still the same young ladies--Rubia, Marivanni, Frani, Hoi, Gulaba and Sharne--who had been playing for the team for ten years, but there was talk about allowing some of them to retire, if they liked, in order to make room for younger girls. Anyway, I asked Rubia to write an account of our flight and our visits for Cissi's Newsletter, now, finally, the preeminent newspaper in Mecnita.
While we were still in outer space, I called Glafcroc, a palace chauffeur, asking him to come in a limousine to Pongdoir Field. I explained that we had four lunar guests, so we'd number six all told. I could hear something like, "Oh, wow!" in the background.
Entering the atmosphere with a nose-down pitch attitude of about five degrees, Photon XIII projected landing gear from the bottom side of the fuselage, just as if it had been an airplane, and we came rolling onto Pongdoir Field on a 20-mile runway parallel to Pongdoir Expressway at a distance of half a mile. Minutes later we were in Glafcroc's limousine with Flaf, Shotc, Cstavlia and Invizet. I'd have been glad to have the lunar ladies stay at Bo House for a couple of days, but we simply didn't have enough beds. So I had Glafcroc drive us to
Our brilliant lady King did know some Shwean and Liscarnese, addressing our guests in what seemed to me fluent diction. Calling Grishcanca, one of her housekeepers, she instructed her to show the guests to their rooms, reciting the numbers of two spacious double apartments side by side along a corridor near the regal corridor, the hallway where all the important offices of the realm have their entrances. She explained in their own tongues that she'd see them in the morning, she told me later. Glafcroc drove Rubia and me to Gvagma Village, where the three of us had supper together at Rose Verandah III. Glafcroc had goulash, Rubia had kebabs and I had grilled red snapper. After a glass or two of sparkling wine, Glafcroc headed back to the palace and Rubia to the Roses' clubhouse, adjacent to Rosebush Stadium. At Bo House, I was met by my beloved ones, Zevanardia, Nunu and Ezmeraudia.
The next morning, Rubia and I reported to Ajinblambia's office, as she had instructed us to do. She had Stlembi go get Flaf, Shotc, Cstavlia and Invizet and lead them to her office too. Then she called Shvampronx, telling him to be ready with a limousine for seven passengers in five minutes at the bank of stainless steel elevator doors in the basement of the northern oval. We went right down in Udi's private elevator, instead of bothering with the ones summoned by fingering keypads, leveling in the basement just as Shvampronx was tooling Udi's white V30 in. He was shocked and confused at the sight of our four lunar companions, who were definitely not of this world, to judge by their physiques and apparel, In addition to this, the Shweans were very tall, black-skinned, lean and muscular, while the Liscarnese were of yellowish-brown complexion, shorter and of medium weight. All had black hair, but the Shweans' hair was curly while the Liscarnese had straight hair.
At any rate, we all got in and Shvampronx was on Joprinx Expressway in a minute. We drove the forty miles to the
Once Jrininca understood the purpose of our visit, she was very enthusiastic about assigning a team of linguistics specialists to make an intensive study of the two lunar languages, using all the sophisticated devices at her disposal, to record, transcribe, translate and publish online and in books. It was agreed that the lunars could be housed comfortably right in the Department's building, which had a number of suites for visiting professors and the like. After a brunch of rolls, fruit and coffee, Ajinblambia, Rubia, Shvampronx and I took our leave, entrusting the welfare of Flaf, Shotc, Cstavlia and Invizet to Jrininca. Minutes later, Shvampronx delivered Ajinblambia to
After a couple of days of orientation, Jrininca organized two teams of scholars to work with the ladies from Mli, one team with the Shweans, the other with the Liscarnese. Some of the scholars would interview, listen and record, gathering as many data as possible in the briefest space of time. Others, adept at speaking, would learn the languages immediately as they were compiled, in order to facilitate further investigation.
Both languages had writing systems.
Shwea used a syllabary of 100 characters, with series like na, ne, ni, no, nu and fa, fe, fe, fo, fu. But many of the series had undergone phonetic change--lenition, fortition, elision and so forth--over the centuries. For example, instead of ka, ke, ki, ko, ku, they had ka, che, chi, ko, ku. Instead of ya, ye, yi, yo, yu and wa, we, wi, wo, wu, they had ya, ye, i, yo, yu and wa. we, wi, wo, u. Sometimes, vowels within words had been syncopated, as kamna for kamana. There was no indication of word-accent. Geminate consonants were not shown double, mini for minni, fasa for fassa. Within a month, the researchers had assembled a lexicon of about 20,000 words. There were many homonyms, synonyms and polysemes. The language was full of figures of speech and allusions to imaginary deities. Shwean had three numbers--singular, dual and plural--and two genders--feminine and masculine. It had a fairly elaborate conjugation for person, number, gender, tense, aspect, mood and voice, with many irregular and defective verbs. There was also a declension, but this affected pronouns for the most part. Postpositions, rather than prepositions, were used. Generally, the order of words in a sentence was subject-object-verb. Tones were used in a few cases but were not reflected in the writing. In other words, it was the antithesis of Ungi in almost every way.
Liscarnese had an alphabet with separate letters for consonants and vowels. There were 40 letters, but two were silent. In a case or two, there was no audible distinction between two letters. Apparently, this was an historic coalescence, and Cstavlia and Invizet were surprised at our findings, as they had never even noticed this phonetic indistinguishability. The writing also contained numerous digraphs for consonantal and vocalic sounds that were not represented in the alphabet. Spelling was problematic, with many final letters or syllables apocopated, perhaps worn away by the passage of the centuries. Conjugations and declensions were numerous and complex. Declensions were supplemented by prepositions. Grammatical number--just singular and plural--was present in the language, but grammatical gender was absent. However, there were some classifiers. Liscarnese used a vigesimal number system. A grammatical distinction was made between animate and inanimate beings. Liscarnese used the subject-verb-object order, and adjectives preceded the nouns that governed them. Personal pronouns were erratic.
In either case, the researchers would try to extract grammatical rules from the conversations that they held with their lunar informants. Whenever they felt they had found one, they would inquire, to the extent inquiry was possible, whether the proposed rule was indeed correct. Sometimes they would merely frame a few sentences according to the proposed rule, then ask whether they were using correct speech. Little by little, they pieced together a grammatical compendium for each language, with sections on phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics and pragmatics. These grammars would be expanded and refined almost on a daily basis, as new data were fed into the department's computers.
Liscarnese had an extensive literature, according to Cstavlia and Invizet, so I called Queen Marcatarc and requested that she astrofax some books to me. When I received them, I turned them over to Jrininca. Soon thereafter, Cstavlia and Invizet were reading them aloud, translating and making very nuanced explications of words, phrases and sentences. Of course, all this information was incorporated into the Liscarnese lexicon and grammar the researchers were composing.
On day 400, King Ajimblambia Day, after several hours of diurnal fun and merriment, a nocturnal masquerade took place. All the ladies and girls at
The Pennant Games were in progress too, but no contests were held on day 400, as that would conflict with the great party in
On the last day of the year, Nunu was three years old, but she was rated as the intellectual equal of the average ten-year-old girl. In many ways, in her craving for affection, her smiling and giggling, her mirthfulness and cheerfulness, she remained a three-year-old, sometimes not even very sure-footed as she toddled around.
At about the same time, the Department of Linguistics of the University of Mecnita published grammars on Shwean and Liscarnese, two on each language, one being descriptive and scholarly, the other consisting of graded lessons for classroom instruction. We planned to hold classes to teach volleyball players and other interested girls the languages. If we could get 50 girls capable at making themselves understood in each language, we could plan on extensive tours on Mli, the moon, very much like the excursions to Ub. The main difference was that many people in Ub spoke Ungi, whereas far fewer Mlians knew the royal language.
What we needed was beautiful, intelligent, athletic, adventurous young women who would be proud to be goodwill ambassadresses for the
Eight entire teams applied to take part and there were around 100 individual girls, so Jrininca set up ten classrooms, planning on having around 15 girls in each. Extra copies of the grammars were struck on the press, enrollment was carried out and actual instruction began on day 0 of year '403. Zevanardia and I decided to sit in on a few classes ourselves, but I wondered whether we could get enough free time to take the courses seriously.
I visited Nacrea, the proprietress of the Nautilus Chamber, a store on Gallery Way, in Gvagma Village, that offered seashells and live collectors' fish for sale and maintained some exhibits as a sort of oceanic mini-museum in the far-inland city of Mecnita. I told her about the Mollusk Gallery in Port Crelf and how it dwarfed the Nautilus Chamber. I suggested that she travel to Port Crelf, look the place over, adjudging the collections she saw there, and return to let me know.
Nacrea did go down to Port Crelf, as I had recommended, and when she got back, she seemed crestfallen, as if she had been completely outdone and upstaged. But I told her that rather than fretting about it, she should go back and see if she could buy out Rhodoconcha entirely, or at least purchase much of her inventory, explaining that she could depend on me to provide funds if that should prove needful. This offer made her smile. I also got Ajinblambia's backing for the endeavor.
Nacrea made a second trip and negotiated with Rhodoconcha, who, however, would not sell the Mollusk Gallery. She did agree, however, to supply shells and fish in quantities sufficient to put the Nautilus Chamber in at least the same class as the Mollusk Gallery. Most of the shells were shipped to Port Crelf from various islands in Ungonesia, where beachcombers were always on the lookout. Nacrea wondered why Gvagma and Cissi's did not have a presence in Port Crelf. Its seaside location seemed very propitious for a union of the two volleyballs--dry volleyball and wet volleyball--as we playfully dubbed them. In Nuu, these are cvowhra and cvowhri. Here wh is voiceless w, o is unrounded and in the falling-rising tone, and a and i have their Italianate values, but nasalized and in the falling tone, word accent being on the final syllable in each case. Whra, whre, whri form a typical set: wet, medium, dry. Cvo means volleyball player or players, being innumerate, and therefore, it also means volleyball, the game, whereas dbive is the ball itself. This is from dbe, ball, with infix iv, which particularizes volleyball as against tennis ball, billiard ball, etc.