The next afternoon I reported to the Courier Service of the Girls' Volleyball Association of Greater Mecnita, right on Lanzzar Avenue, with a copy of the employment contract that Oijia and Barti had gotten on my behalf. The contract bore the seals and signatures of those two ladies, with only a decal of one of Ajinblambia's new heraldic devices, as more permanent official royal stamps had not yet been printed by Eldor Palace's printing office.
I spoke to Sundari, the directress of the Courier Service, proudly presenting my papers. I hardly realized that the impressiveness of the contract tended to create the illusion that I was especially talented and suited for the position of courier, while, in fact, I didn't even really know what would be expected of me.
"I take it that you have studied ballet, Sissy."
"Ballet?" I exclaimed with amazement, "What has this to do with ballet?"
"Well, our couriers don't just amble and shamble along as they make their deliveries. They are highly visible in Mecnita. At every point along the way, you will have to maintain exquisite grace, poise and posture. Look at the large picture, on the wall, of the lady in the navy leotard doing an arabesque. Let's see you perform an arabesque impromptu, there, over there, on the stage. Let's see if you can do something similar."
"Oh, no! Oh, no, no, no! I can't do anything like that. Is that the way you expect me to look on the sidewalks of Mecnita?"
"Well, that's the general idea. It's unfortunate that you have no experience in ballet, but since you come under the aegis of Ajinblambia herself, we'll have to accept you as your are. What I can do, though, is enroll you immediately in the School of Dance associated with the Royal Egrets. The School of Dance is directed by Zhvizhvi. I can arrange for intensive tutoring in ballet. Perhaps in a couple of months, you'll be able to show us a decent arabesque. If so, I'll get you out on the street, with your white wings and little red skirt and leotard, with a pouch full of letters and parcels. How does that sound?"
"That sounds perfectly delightful. I'm looking keenly forward to the dance tutorial. When do we begin? Tomorrow I hope."
"I'm glad that, at least, you are enthusiastic. You may not realize it, but dance instruction is not what it used to be. Over the past few years, it's been demonstrated in much experimentation, that the future terpsichorean's grace, balance and suppleness can be enhanced by having her use a number of new training devices. These devices may at times resemble instruments of torture, but if you can just bear up under the stress and strain, you'll emerge as a superior dancer. Also, your instructresses may administer a number of drugs to enhance your performance, sharpen your attention and alleviate your aches and pains. So get ready for an ordeal." She spoke the word ordeal as if tongue in cheek. I mean she acted as if she had been telling a little joke when, in reality, the word was quite correct.
Sundari told me to report to the School of Dance the next morning at 4 Ungi (9:36 AM) with my papers and an appointment pass that she gave me.
After the interview with Sundari, as I issued onto Lanzzar Avenue and crossed over to the side where the entrance to Rvibibsha Station was located, I saw Olivia coming from Gvagma's headquarters. She feinted at me menacingly, but I could see that she had no real intention of pursuing our dispute any further for the time being, except to raise her fists in the air with a triumphant smile on her face. I flinched visibly, deliberately in order to enable her to gloat in her victory, figuring she wouldn't taunt me any further in that case. "Let her think that she has gotten over on me," I said to myself, "I'm the real winner here, what with my new career unfolding before me. If she only knew!"
I got to Inni Villa around sunset, reporting to Barti immediately. My elation must have been contagious, for she began twirling me around the large drawing room and finally into her bedroom, where she tossed me on the bed. The other Geese, hearing the laughter, soon joined in, but I had a few chores to perform since I would be leaving early for my first day at the School of Dance. Presently I set about my chores, leaving my teammates to their merriment.
"You look awfully frail and delicate," said Zhvizhvi, as she looked me over the next morning in the reception room of the School of Dance, on Gullav Avenue, near the Chatcarc Station of Mecnita Metro. "We'll have to do something about getting an ounce or two of muscle on those arms and legs of yours. Not that we expect you to throw a discus 100 yards, but it would be helpful if you could carry a 10- or 15-pound mail pouch without getting exhausted. Don't worry, though, we have all the procedures you'll need to get into shape. Let us do do an evaluation, though. Please go upstairs to the gym, and ask for Halina. She will give you a number of tests of physical fitness, so we can find out the exact percentile that you're on. I wouldn't be surprised if your percentile is a single digit, so don't expect too much."
I went to the gym and asked for Halina, a beautiful tall lady about 30. She tested me in knee push-ups, sit-ups, chin hangs, dips, wall sits, standing high jumps and standing broad jumps. I ended up on the fifth percentile, which meant that 95% of the girls in the Girls' Volleyball Association of Greater Mecnita, Gvagma, would outdo me in a competition. I blushed a deep scarlet, especially when Halina joked that her score and mine, added together, came to 100%. In other words, she was on the ninety-fifth percentile in our association. "Oh, well," I said to myself.
Later, they told me report to Cathma, another lady in the School of Dance, who would make a casting of my body. Cathma literally packed me in some kind of fast-drying plastic pulp, which hardened into a styrofoam-like mold of my body. This mold she removed, in large, squarely cut pieces, and reassembled immediately, so that the pieces formed a huge block with a cavity into which I would fit precisely apparently, if someone should cut it apart. Producing a power drill, she bored a couple of dozen sprues in the block. Through the sprues, she injected gallons of some thermosetting plastic into the cavity, saying that it would solidify immediately. After some minutes, she began to remove the mold from the casting and discard the fragments into a trash buggy parked nearby. The plastic that had filled the sprues projected from the casting like pencils, which Cathma broke off, leaving nubs, spikes and splinters on the surface. Also, flashes had formed in the parting lines of the mold. With a small electrical grinder, Cathma removed all the unwanted excess and smoothed the surface beautifully. When she finished, she had a statue of me before her, saying, "There, that is what you look like." She said that they would manufacture a number of apparatuses tailored to my measurements. On the following day, I'd be able to get inside one of the apparatuses and be forced into the required configurations and postures. I was slightly alarmed when I left Cathma.
I was instructed to report to Cathma at 5 the next day. That is high noon according to an Ungian clock. We divide our day into 10 tenth-days, but our day is about 5% longer than an earth-day to start with. When I went into Cathma's workshop-gym at the appointed hour, I could see some of the apparatuses she had mentioned, already manufactured and apparently ready to be donned. My alarm grew as I beheld these wicked-looking pieces of equipment.
Cathma explained, "The stiff parts of these apparatuses are made of a kind of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene while the flexible joints are polybutadiene. The apparatuses contain wires. Some of the wires are merely reinforcing, but there are also embedded circuits, which enable us to change the configuration of an apparatus or to hold an apparatus stockstill in a given configuration robotically. She displayed a hand-held remote-control device that had what seemed like 100 buttons. But before you get inside, let me give you some injections. Producing a hypodermic syringe, she continued, "This is a super muscle relaxant that will enable you to elongate and contract your leg muscles--glutei, quadriceps, biceps and so forth--much more effectively than you have been able to do so far. When we put you inside one of the apparatuses, you will be configured in amazing new ways. Therefore, I will also administer anesthetics, to reduce the pain. There will be other injections too, for enhanced performance and heightened attention."
Fifteen minutes later, Cathma had given me a whole series of injections, mostly in the thighs and hips. I felt numb below the waist, but sensitive above the waist. I was apprehensive. However, the attention-heightening drugs must have been working, for I was keenly interested in all that was going on. Cathma opened a large apparatus that had the general shape of a pair of footless dance tights and a long-sleeved turtleneck leotard. The front flipped open like the cover of a book or a blanket on a bed, while the back remained fixed, in the position of a person reclining on a deck chair. The main difference between real tights and leotard and the plastic ones that Cathma had crafted was that the latter were about an inch thick, with a constitution much like that of automobile tires. Cathma told me to get inside, and I obeyed, if with something akin to panic. Then Cathma closed the front of the tights-and-leotard-like apparatus, and I fell motionless, except that I could move my head, hands and feet a little. Cathma jiggled and joggled the apparatus, and noticed that it was slightly loose, with a barely perceptible bit of play. So she pressed a button on the remote-control device, which made the slightly porous plastic apparatus bubble a little internally and expand, thereby snugging its inner contours to my own outer contours, convex where I was concave, and concave where I was convex.
Cathma pressed a button on her remote-control device, and, willy-nilly, I rose into a stand. Before me stood a frame of round chrome-plated bars, something like a lustrous jungle gym. Without doing a thing, I felt my arms rise before me. Rings on the wrists of the apparatus I was wearing opened, advanced until they circled one of the horizontal bars in the frame, and then closed around the bar, so that my wrists were locked in place. Similar rings fastened my left ankle to a vertical bar in the frame, but my right ankle remained unconnected. I still could not move my right ankle because of the rigidity of the legging of the apparatus. There were half a dozen horizontal bars before me, one above the other, like rungs of a ladder. They were supported by several vertical bars, with three- and four-way chrome unions and fittings. Suddenly, sections of the horizontal bars directly in front of the right half iof my body withdrew into chrome-plated pipe sleeves mounted for the very purpose in front of the left half of my body, so that a clear space about a foot wide, extending from the floor to the ceiling was produced.
I felt my right leg, held perfectly straight, that is, with no flexure at the knee, begin to rise. It gradually attained an angle of about 90 degrees from the vertical, which was about as high as I might have raised it myself. Then it went on till it had turned 135 degrees, assuming a position that it had never assumed before. Finally it moved slowly till the total rotation was 180 degrees, and my leg was completely vertical. My upper torso, of course, would have leant backwards, except that my wrist rings, in conjunction with the rigidity of the sleeves of the apparatus, held it erect. I was thankful for the anesthesia, for I knew that without it, I'd have been in agonies by now.
Cathma said, "That's very good. Let me lock this thing. I want you to hold this position for two tenth-days." She pressed a button on the remote-control device and I felt a stiffening of the legging that contained my right leg. Then she walked out of the room, saying, "I'll be back around 7 Ungi."
She did as she'd said she would, reappearing at 7 and freeing me. Cathma instructed me to report to her the following day. I returned by metro to Inni Villa, disoriented and sore.
Incidentally, I was informed that my salary would be ten florins per year. A florin might be compared with 100 earth-dollars. My salary was therefore about $17 a week, with our 418-day year. However, my housing, food, clothing and transportation were provided, so the weeness of my salary was unimportant. Anyway, the money would not be given to me directly, because I had not yet passed the so-called Maturity Examination. The money would be given in trust to Barti. If I wanted to buy anything, I would merely make a request with her, and, if she approved the request, she would make the purchase for me. This procedure was somewhat involved, but I accepted it with resignation.
On the very day that my salary was set, I read in Obscont, Mecnita's paramount newspaper, that the Nyatic fiscal year had just ended. Nya is our planet, coextensive with Ung, our kingdom. Nya is pronounced like Portuguese nha, but Nyatic rhymes with sciatic or dyadic. The Gross Planetary Product for the year was 300 million talents, or, since a talent is nominally equal to a million earth-dollars, about 300 trillion dollars, about 50% of which was collected as taxes. The ultimate authority on our budget was Ajinblambia herself, who would make all the final decisions on how the 150 million talents would be spent.
If I worked at my salary for 100 years, my total earnings would be one tenth of one talent, so it was very difficult for me to imagine the 150 million talents that Ajinblambia would have in her purse every year. But delivering volleyball schedules to teams of girls and running a kingdom of 8 billion citizens are responsibilities of very distinct magnitudes, so I didn't fret.
As for the Maturity Examination, it was required that each of the members of Gvagma be examined to see if she had attained the level of maturity necessary for certain responsibilities. The fact that I had been prime minister of Ung and was almost 30 years old, which was a carefully guarded secret anyway, with probably most of the girls unaware of my ministerial antecedents, did not change this requirement. The majority of the girls in Gvagma passed the examination at the age of 15 or so. Those who had passed the examination had earned the title Dammina, while the others still must use the title of Tilli. So anyone who did not know my name would automatically call me Tilli, after glimpsing my identification bracelet on my right wrist, as a Dammina always wore her bracelet on her left wrist. The titles Dammina and Tilli were more or less equivalent to Madam and Miss.
The Maturity Examination was a thorough accounting of a girl's intelligence, physical fitness, job experience, and attitudes. I was advised to wait a few months before appearing for the examination, as I wasn't ready.
I reported again the next day to Cathma, who made more injections and appareled me in the same tights-and-leotard-like apparatus as I had worn before. This time, however, my left leg, rather than my right leg, was raised into a vertical position, where it was held immobile for about five earth-hours.
And so it went day after day. I found that I could kick progressively higher. At first, I experienced pains and cramps, but little by little I got used to the routine. Eventually, I was able to do an arabesque of sorts. It was not exactly like the arabesque of ballet, but, rather, it was an especially modified arabesque choreographed for Gvagma couriers. I would sail along the sidewalk with one leg or the other raised gracefully behind me. This modified arabesque, of course, would not necessitate that I stand en pointe, since I would be wearing white leather skates, each with six silver wheels on a single blade.
I would also wear the white knee socks, the red leotard and red cheerleader skirt with self panties that constituted the uniform of the Eldor Geese. Most of the 1000 teams had uniforms basically very similar to our own in cut, but colors and emblems varied.
Zhvizhvi presented me with a large pair of white wings that would be fastened to my back with lightweight woven nylon straps of the same shade of red as my uniform. The straps had red acetyl plastic side release buckles. I was impressed with the painstaking artistry invested in each of the polyurethane feathers that made up the wings. The quills were inserted like flower stems in frogs woven into what appeared to be rubberized hessian stretched on a framework of sections of balsa and rattan contoured like those of swans' wings. A small remote-control device mounted on the waistband of my skirt would enable me to flap my wings when I was making a sharp turn or leaping onto or off a curb. Also, I was instructed to flap my wings gracefully every few seconds anyway, even if I was on a straight stretch of sidewalk with no curbs. This was a theatrical touch for the appreciation of Mecnita's multitudes of esthetes and balletomanes.
Ever since Ung's geneticists had developed parthenogenesis, in year 103,100 approximately, the female-to-male ratio in the population of Mecnita had been increasing. At the time when I served as a courier for Gvagma, women outnumbered men almost 100 to 1, and that explains the milieu of fine art and high fashion that pervaded Mecnita, oft called The Lady of Cities and the City of Ladies.
A few days after I began to skate around the great city, making deliveries of letters and parcels to girls in the Girls' Volleyball Association of Greater Mecnita, I received a phone call from Ajinblambia herself, inviting me to present myself at the door of Udi's library at 7.5 Ungi (6 PM) that evening. I did so, using a pin number that she gave me in order for me to enter Eldor Palace.
Ajinblambia wanted to see how I looked in my red skirt and leotard, with the white polyurethane wings that I wore as part of my costume. She said she had not relaxed the intensified security procedures that she had instituted upon becoming King of Ung, and that I must again be placed in the harness before we could continue our visit. For some reason, she seemed delighted with my new outfit and was eager to help me into the harness herself.
I advanced towards the circular opening in the floor, which had a chrome-plated collar, just as the rod with the chains was beginning to emerge. Ajinblambia circled the rings about my ankles, depressing a button on her remote-control device to retract the rod again, and very shortly thereafter, my ankles were drawn together and my soles fastened to the floor. Then she brought down and over, with a tug, the ceiling chains whose rings would bracelet my wrists. Ajinblambia next caused those chains to withdraw also, and my arms were tautly drawn laterally and upwards at 45 degrees, as before. Then she brought down the ring that would be placed around my neck like a choker necklace. This was suspended on four chains that would hold my head erect, with my neck slightly elongated. She tightened all the chains maximally with her remote-control device, so that I was virtually motionless, except for my fingers and my eyes, which still enjoyed some freedom.
"You look ravishing in your red uniform and white wings. Let's see how well the surgeons performed your reassignment." She pulled up my skirt, and ran her palms over my abdomen, as if she had been smoothing out my panties. She brought her hand down to my crotch, which she patted for a moment. "Very lovely, Pussy."
"'Pussy!'" I exclaimed, "Why did you call me 'Pussy'?"
"Oh, did I say 'Pussy'? I'm sorry. That was a slip of the tongue. I meant to say, 'Very lovely, Sissy,' not, 'Very lovely, Pussy.' I hope you aren't offended."
"No, no, not at all. You may call me either 'Sissy' or 'Pussy', if you like," I said, not realizing till after the words had already left my mouth how fatuous of me it was of me say, "You may," to Ajinblambia, the monarchess of the entire planet.
"Anyway, the reason that I invited you to visit us this evening is that I felt that my dalliance with Queen Udi would be more gorgeous, glamorous and glorious if you were present to witness it in utter helplessness. After all, it was my excellent fortune in winning Udi from you that brought me to worldwide majesty. When Queen Udi hugs or kisses me, which is her favorite pastime, I will be watching you to make sure that you are looking. This should be very exotic and erotic, don't you think?"
This question was apparently only rhetorical, since when I began to answer, Ajinblambia said, "Shhh!" However, I said, "But Ajinblambia, you asked me a question."
When I had watched Ajinblambia and Udi dally with abandon for an hour or so, Ajinblambia came over again, remarking that having me present had been a delightful, rapturous, exhilarating experience. It had given her a sense of her own victory and power over me. So until further notice, I was to appear in Udi's library every evening at 7.5 Ungi. She gave me a 100-day pin number, so that I could enter Eldor Palace at any time after 7.49 Ungi.
This was quite a reversal in Ajinblambia's policy towards me. Having been almost entirely excluded from Eldor Palace, I was now under orders to appear every night so Ajinblambia could revel and exult in her triumph over me. One thing I had learned, though, was that Ajinblambia was not to be opposed, and if this was her desire, then surely I would be there every night.
The next evening I noticed that a semicircular rod had been added to the front surface of the choker necklace of the harness. The semicircle ended in a spool not unlike a spool of the kind upon which knitting yarn or embroidery floss is wound in Ung. Ajinblambia rolled on the spool a fresh pair of panties from the cherry wood armoire, instead of yarn or floss, tying it securely with another grosgrain ribbon. Then she placed the choker necklace about my neck, snapping it shut with the U-shaped pull draw latch mounted in the back, at which time it was merely snug. However, as she drew taut the ceiling chains, which hung at 15 degrees from the vertical in order to clear my head as they supported the choker necklace, the panty roll began to press against my lips harder and harder, so that eventually I had no choice but to open my mouth and let it in. When the panty roll had been stuffed all the way in, pressing against my velum and my uvula, Ajinblambia said, "That should keep you from chattering so much."
She must have had the panties imbued with peppermint, as they had a delicious flavor, like some sort of heavenly candy.
A few days later, Ajinblambia ordered me to report to Ojimplanct, a male osteologist at the medical center of the University of Mecnita, in the Plembrust District. She wanted me to have a skeletal check-up and had instructed the doctor to proceed with any kind of minor surgery he felt was necessary. Ojimplanct took X-rays and reviewed them with me right on the spot. All looked good, he said, but there was some minor corrective surgery he felt it best to tend to at once.
Ojimplanct administered an anesthetic, and I fell asleep quickly in the operating room. When I awoke, I had no idea of what he had done, but I noticed some stitches in my scalp, opposite the squama frontalis of my frontal bone. "Odd," I thought.
Ojimplanct made no comments, telling me that Ajinblambia would explain everything the next time I saw her in the palace.
Ajinblambia told me the next evening that Ojimplanct had implanted keratin glands in my cranium. They would begin to secrete keratin in the very near future, and I would then grow horns. She and Ojimplanct had considered the possibility of designing the horns, that is, attempting to predetermine their shape and size, but finally decided to allow the glands themselves to generate horns of the kind that my general anatomical and physiological particulars would dictate by natural processes. She said that, although artificial horns had been installed in the skulls of various individuals in the past, this would be the first time that a human being had been seeded with keratin glands, in order to grow horns spontaneously. She and Ojimplanct could not guess the future size or shape of my horns, but, like me, would have to wait and see.
She asked me if I had ever heard the expression to put horns on someone. I admitted that I had not. She said that, in bygone millennia, when one man stole another man's wife, thereby showing he was much more masculine, he was said to put horns on the cuckolded husband. When the wife-stealer was another woman, the cuckolded husband was even more outrageously embarrassed. He had been shown to be far less competitive than the offending lady, in an age when such rivalry was in vogue. But for the wife-stealing lady also to have the husband changed surgically into a girl would have been absolutely the most extreme case imaginable of putting horns on someone. In fact, Ajinblambia was the first who had ever done such a thing in Ung. So it befitted me to be the first to grow a pair of horns.
With Barti's approval and agency, I acquired a dwarf white Fulumoan cockatoo, Cacatua fulumoensis, a rare kind of parrot from Fulunoa, the largest island in the million-island archipelago of Ungonesia, scattered throughout the Southern Ocean, south of Eb. The cockatoo, only slightly larger than a pigeon, could be taught to carry on intelligent conversation. Suzi, as I named my cockatoo, was not one of those birds that mimic human speech without any idea of what they are saying. Suzi was a bright little cockatoo who seemed to return my affection. Why shouldn't she? I took good care of her and gave her her liberties once I had confidence, that if I let her out, she would return. I taught her to fly with me as I skated about Mecnita. Often she would perch upon the forward edge of my wing. At other times she would circle about or fly to my destination ahead of me, if she had been there before and knew its location. In that way, the girls to whom I was making a delivery would be expecting me.
When Sundari first saw me with the cockatoo, she called me into her office to inquire. Having a pet cockatoo accompany me was definitely an innovation in Gvagma's Courier Service, but I think that my acquaintanceship with Ajinblambia worked some kind of magic, for after a short discussion, Sundari gave her approval.
In this same time frame, two hard off-white horns, with minute horizontal corrugations, sprouted from my cranium. In a few weeks, they had reached a length of fifteen inches, with graceful sigmoidal curvature that suggested the arms of a lyre. The only thing that alarmed me is that they continued to grow unabatedly. "What if they reach a length if three or four feet?" I wondered. Some of the girls in the Girls' Volleyball Association of Greater Mecnita, especially the other couriers, noticing my horns, were full of astonishment. They did tease me quite a bit, jesting that it was against Gvagma's code of honor to grow horns, and that I should not be allowed to play volleyball, because I had an unfair advantage. Of course, this was all silly girlish talk. I think that, deep down inside, they were envious. My teammates, Dhabbi, Mlechi, Vinja, Usha and Barti, were absolutely mirthful about this new development, and sometimes they grabbed me by my horns and tossed me on a bed. All five Gangawaran girls were so sleek and supple, svelte and shapely, that my horns by no means formed an adequate defense against their hilarious incursions.
My anxiety about the length of my horns was allayed when, reaching eighteen inches, they stopped growing entirely. They were very lovely and perfectly symmetrical. I was pleased.
One afternoon, when I was making a delivery to the clubhouse of the Spranceld Swallowtails, on Lanzzar Avenue, I saw Olivia walking towards Rvibibsha Station. I was behind her, so she did not see me at once. My right leg was raised to an angle of about 135 degrees from its normal position, so that as I skated by her, I was able to fly my leg over her head. Of course, at my speed, there was no way she could catch me. When I got far enough that I could pause and glance back, I saw that she was shocked and indignant. I merely smiled and waved before skating on. "Oh, how she must have been jealous!" I thought.