Ungonesia generally, and the Peokolo Archipelago particularly, are noted for their many marvels and wonders, outlandish phenomena never seen on the continent of Eb. For example the
Then the unfortunate monkey who is caught in this wise is slowly digested by the carnivorous tree. Parrots, gulls, plovers and godwits often fall prey to the false Ungonesian coconut palm too. Although this is not an especially pretty sight, many tourists like to see it, as an 'educational' experience.
Another interesting matter is the 100-foot crocodiles of Keopuna. These gigantic beasts rival those of the Ovarolda in Ub for sheer size and frightfulness. Lying inert for weeks on end, one of these monstrous crocodiles will suddenly lunge forth and seize prey, which could be an ox, a horse or a pig. Dragging his quarry back to his lair, he will then eat his fill, returning to a coma in his slimy berth for another interminable spell.
There were many climatic, geographical and biological oddities about the Peokolo Archipelago, which is also called simply the
Some of the islands were mere stacks or fragments of tufa projecting from shoals, or atolls formed of coral reefs. Others were small, barren, uninhabited rocks spattered by saltwater cast up by the winds. Many of the other islands were barely large enough for a village or two each. Typically, such an island measured three, four or five square miles. There were a few sizable islands though. Loana Luhu, the largest island in the archipelago, extended over 1000 square miles. It was quite 50 miles from tip to tip, with a varying width that averaged 20 miles. Lengthwise on the island rose a chain of hills or small mountains called the
Of course, Zevanardia was not going to the Peokolo Archipelago to see carnivorous trees and horrifying reptiles, or to visit coral reefs or climb mountains. She was going there to sell lingerie, a much more exciting and gratifying pastime, if you ask me. Some of the intimates--peignoirs, chemises, bras and panties--marketed by Cissi's Intimates were beautiful to look at, scented delightfully and voluptuous to the touch. Zevanardia had taken two crates of such lovely apparel with her on her flight, on the understanding that these should be given as gifts rather than sold. However, she was at full liberty to make arrangements to establish Cissi's outlets where intimates would be sold, if that seemed worthwhile, but it was more likely that she would consider another maritime Cissi's, like Cissi's in Kralatimu, which had proved surprisingly profitable.
During this interlude, I had less to do than if Zevanardia had been at home with me. So around 3 Ungi (7:12 AM) each day, I walked over to the site of the totem pole, where I could watch the activity of the sculptresses just arriving, as I ate my breakfast, which was invariably a serving of potatoes Mecnita that I kept warm in a styrofoam box. I usually brought a thermos of ice-cold pineapple juice to drink with my breakfast.
I talked to Lady Sinsella, the chief sculptress working on the pole. She even led me around the scaffolding to see what they were doing to bring the surface of the marble heads to a state of perfection. They used electrical chisels powered by ultrahigh-strength Ungi batteries, delivering an electrical potential of 150 volts. A sculptress needed only to bring the point of the chisel in contact with the stone to make it start reciprocating. The force with which it chipped the stone depended on how hard a sculptress pressed her chisel. She let me try a chisel too, watching very closely to make sure that I did not fumble or bobble the thing.
The head of Oa, which, as I have noted, was more beautiful than its subject, would be the first to be emplaced. I had been under the impression that the heavy-duty box column forming the core of the totem pole would be completely erected before any of the heads were lowered. However, only the first 50 feet or so of the 180 feet of the entire column had been erected so far, but they were installing the tower crane so it would be ready to lift Oa's head. The upper surface of the foundation and the lower surface of Oa's head were scanned digitally to assure a 100% perfect fit that would leave the upper surface of Oa's head absolutely level.
Lady Sinsella told me that the approximately spherical head of the evil queen, measuring around 20 feet in diameter, had weighed around 325 tons when first cut roughly to its final shape, and that figure would not have been affected very much by the mere finishing that the sculptresses were performing, but the vertical eight-foot-diameter cylindrical bore made by a huge rock drilling machine had removed about 75 tons, so that the net weight of the head was about 250 tons. The box column was about five feet square in cross section. Thus the bore would fit over it very easily. When the head had been set in place, and the ladies had jacked everything up just right and run their final scans, concrete would be poured. This was high-strength polymer-impregnated concrete developing some 10 to 15 times the compressive strength of ordinary concrete.
I wondered how all those slender ladies with their lovely complexions had managed to retain their beauty in the face of such toilsome drudgery, but Lady Sinsella explained that toilsome drudgery was a thing of the past. She sang her praises of computerizations, robotics, precision lifting and materials-handling equipment, all manufactured in the huge automated factories that stand one after the other on the left bank of the Umzid River and in scattered locations elsewhere in Mecnita.
A while after the Oriflamme Games, I was invited to a banquet of the chancelloresses and chancellors of the city of
At the banquet, four tables, each nearly 150 feet long, seating all 400 guests, with 50 on each side of each table, were set on the 1000th floor of that tower. Above, there was a shallow dome, shaped like an inverted saucer, which was a million-faceted polyhedron of polymethyl methacrylate supported on a labyrinth of stainless steel trusses. The dome could be retracted far enough so that, in the absence of rain, guests could sit under the open sky. At an elevation of 14,000 feet, given that Mecnita is 2,000 feet above sea level and
We ate broiled swordfish and salmon. Afterwards we drank glasses of ice-cold champagne. I met quite a few of the chancelloresses, who, I was surprised to learn, all knew about Gvagma, Cissi's and
When Varvina, Druzilla and Furtalissa appeared at Bo House, I was there with Ezmeraudia and Nunu, and I had everything ready for dinner. Ezmeraudia had set the table with an ivory silk damask tablecloth with rose designs, and sterling silver service and candelabra. Rose Verandah I brought us a roast pheasant and bacon, with mushrooms and ewe's cheese, and of course white bread and butter.
Inevitably, in the course of the evening, right after supper and before dessert, the subject of my horns came up. Varvina asked if they were real. She wondered whether they could be removed. I explained that they were quite natural and could not be removed. Conveniently, I neglected to mention that Ojimplanct had implanted keratin-secreting glands in my frontal bones several years earlier. I was so used to having horns that I did not like to recall their origin.
On another planet, like Earth, chancelloresses, councilwomen or alderwomen might be elderly, portly ladies, ceremonious and pompous. Everything they do is according to protocol, and if you do not observe the niceties of conduct that they expect of you, you are regarded as uncouth and perhaps even shown the door.
On our planet, Nya, such civic leaders tend to be much younger and though they are friendly and affectionate to a fault, the artificialities of bureaucratic decorum and procedure are often ignored. Letting down their hair, they become merry and playful. The occasion of my entertaining the chancelloreses of Egshirvazi, Piljandar and Frifna was a case in point.
When I had told Varvina my horns were real, she said, "I don't believe you."
"Please, Varvina, don't tease me."
"I'm not teasing. I just don't believe you."
"Very well, Varvina, come sit on my bed with me for a minute, so that you can examine my horns and satisfy yourself that they are real."
We went into my bedroom. I seated her comfortably near the head of the bed, and told her I would get on all fours, with the crown of my head where she could look it over. When I had done this, I said, "See? See?"
"I guess you're right. Are they firm? Can they be tugged?"
"Of course they can be tugged." I answered with pride.
So Varvina took my horns in her hands and rolled me over till I was lying flat on my back. Then she pounced on me.
"Varvina, what in the world are you doing? Please, Varvina. Please."
I invited them to come early the following morning too, so they could go with me to see the totem pole being erected. When they came, I led them out to the site, explaining the whole idea behind the pole. I accompanied Lady Sinsella, nodding my head, as she expatiated on construction procedures. The ladies had all visited
Excavation was just beginning at Cissi's Press too, and again the foundation would be taken down to bedrock. It was less critical at the press though, as the newspaper printing machines, though heavy, had bases large in area, so that the weight was distributed evenly. The totem pole, on the other hand, rested entirely on a single point, as it were, and the height made it susceptible to falling.
I had engaged Lidia and Amponia as architects on the project, while Idificia and Rachetina were in charge of civil and mechanical engineering respectively. I had asked Tarjima, a high-ranking officer at Rupsnoir Press, to recommend a lady knowledgeable in the technical aspects of installing printing presses, that is, on subjects like plant layout, power supply, receipt and dispatch of materials, and lighting. She introduced me to one Impressa, who had assisted in the installation and maintenance of newspaper printing equipment in the mammoth plant in Dorgdid. She and the four architects and engineers would form a select panel that would oversee the whole operation. However, before I actually granted the contracts, they and I paid a visit to our lady King. I was sure the Vrikshaya would agree to my choices, but she did like to be kept apprised of everything of moment that I was doing.
After the meeting, which was something of the nature of a formality, I gave the ladies my original proposal for Cissi's Press, which outlined the size of the lot and the building, the number and capacity of the presses and the amounts of the budget. I had worked these out under Ajinblambia's guidance, and I expected them to be workable, but I instructed the ladies to feel free to discuss any changes or corrections they felt were in order. I gave them an office in
After many studies and deliberations, it was agreed to accept bids from various manufacturers of printing presses, and the contract was awarded to Vracspongd Press Company, in the Vracspongd District, on the left bank of the Umzid, just north of Ulmla. In the atlantean city of
The 16 girls that I had sent to Ub had reached Futsugawa, the capital of Tsumufuchi, snd were getting along splendidly. At this point, I regretted that I had chosen one girl from each of 16 districts, instead of two or four whole teams. They were playing exhibition games in Futsugawa, which the people of that city loved, but since our girls had had no mutual teamwork, they were probably not as coordinated as they might otherwise have been. Nonetheless, they dressed in two sets of lookalike uniforms, as if they had been old, established teams. The Futsugawans were not aware of any incompatibility among members of teams fortunately, and many of the local girls took up the game. At that point, our representatives did not have enough skirts and leotards to apparel all the teams, so many of the local girls wore makeshifts--shorts and halters, miniskirts and short-sleeve sweaters, knee-length pants and blouses, anything. At the same time, the goodwill ambassadresses placed an order for twelve sets of uniforms, along with materials for six temporary knockdown courts. It would take 5 or 6 days for the freight to arrive by air. They also let out a franchise for a Cissi's Intimates outlet in Kobunachi Mall, in the capital. Even though I had given permission to them to proceed at their own discretion, they called me by videophone, and we discussed it at length. I renewed my permission. So they had Tsubina, a lady attorney from the city, draw up a contract. Vnicci, of the Vrescava Hummingbirds, had been voted the leader of our delegation in an impromptu election that had ben held when they left Mecnita. Nobutori, the mayoress of Futsugawa, and Vnicci signed the contract. Incidentally, pronounce -cc- in Vnicci like -kk- making sure to sound both k's.
It wasn't the case that the ladies of Tsumufuchi were ill-dressed. Quite the contrary, they wore beautiful gowns and stoles in floral patterns with wide cummerbunds and sashes about their waists. Still, the intimates from Cissi's were even more excellent in some ways, and there was the element of novelty about them too. Almost immediately, it seemed that Cissi's in Futsugawa would be a real success. If so, Vnicci would be honored and promoted.
Once the volleyball equipment had arrived and the apparel store designed, our delegation would continue to Fai Kwa, the capital of Ong Pang, a somewhat less modern country. They would go the 500 miles by one of those jalopy buses of Ub that can barely make 100 miles an hour. This would be annoying to girls who were used to 200-mile-an-hour buses.
I was beginning to get good news from Mli, the moon. Rubia herself was supervising the interface in Shwea, while Shranzi, of the Cadcad Hurricanes, who had learned Liscarnese, had gone on to Vornda. Photon XV was hovering geostationary over Vornda but could always begin orbiting in a minute and so return to Qabjang, if that was what the moment required. I talked to Rubia and Shranzi frequently by astrophone just to keep abreast of developments.
Queen Zipsi, like most Shweans, was dark, tall and graceful and made an excellent volleyball player herself. Rubia, as captainess of the championship Ramdonia Roses, was as competent as anyone whatsoever to make such a judgment. Zipsi, grateful for the appreciations she was getting from the rose of Ramdonia, was now eager to visit Mecnita. No one from Shwea had ever come to Ung.
Queen Marcatarc preferred not to play herself. She was diffident of her ability to compete with all the athletic ladies in volleyball. Her forte was ballet. She elected, instead, merely to spectate from her dais in the Stadium of Vornda, which, according to Shranzi, had a pavilion of white silk with gold embroidery overlooking from on high so that it was immediately obvious that a queen was present. The girls of Vornda did take to the game enthusiastically, and it looked as if we might soon start a league there, since Vornda was very modern, and enjoyed facilities and finances.
I talked to Zipsi and Marcatarc separately and invited them to fly down to Nya for a visit to Mecnita. They did not have to wait until volleyball training and organization were complete. They could come right away, and let their subjects continue what they were doing for the time being, if they were comfortable with that. Could they not allow themselves a 30-day vacation, and have the pleasure of meeting Ajinblambia and Udi, along with the the Royal Council and other dignitaries? I told them about
I asked the Vrikshaya to invite them too, and she did. Of course, an invitation from Ajinblambia is something that no one in her right mind turns down. So it was all settled that they would come on day 390, as they did have a few things to look after first. I asked Barti to authorize a special flight of Photon X to go to Mli and return without changing the schedule for Photon XV, which would just continue to orbit. After all, Photon XV, Moonbus, was a big ship for 100 or more passengers, where Photon X was a compact ship for a handful.
As queens, Zipsi and Marcatarc, would be received by Ajinblambia and Udi, rather than me, and they would stay in
Zevanardia was making progress in the
I told Zevanrdia just to go ahead with any sort of plan she could work out with Analeahi, not worrying herself terribly about the risk of a fiasco. So far, Cissi's Intimates had enjoyed an unbroken string of successes, so if we should suffer one single failed operation, we could just write it off by averaging it in with all the others.
Zevanardia called back in a couple of days, saying she would like to transfer Queen Kolomena temporarily from Cissi's in Kralatimu to Saiwani, to work with Analeahi as Analeahi started her own itinerary, sailing in a yacht advanced on behalf of our company. This new yacht, much like the other in size and design, would be called RUS Gvagma II, complete with an intimates boutique in the superstructure. According to Zevanardia's idea, Kolomena would train Analeahi. Though neither of them was Fulu herself, they both spoke fluent Fulu, which served as a lingua franca in Ungonesia, and so they could communicate with each other with much more facility than either could with Zevanardia.
Queen Kolomena said she could leave her assistant in maritime Cissi's in Kralatimu in charge there, while she herself was in Saiwani. Kolomena's assistant was named Valunana, and Zevanardia had met her several times. She liked and trusted her, and approved the substitution. The only thing for Zevanardia to do was to go to Port Zbabdo, the mainland port city nearest Saiwani where a yacht could be purchased. Then she would navigate it back to Saiwani and turn it over to Analeahi. At that time, she would fly Kolomena to Peokolo, and the three ladies would draw up and sign a contract.
When Queen Marcatarc and Queen Zipsi arrived at Pongdoir Field, Clixbong drove us back to
I had Clixbong bring a four-seat sports car, which turned out to be a streamlined bullet of a car, built so smooth that, with doors closed, the closures could not even be seen. The color was lime green and the top speed was well over the 200 miles per hour lawful on expressways. However, much of our driving would be on city streets, where the speed limit was 40 miles an hour.
The first thing I wanted to do was go straight to Cissi's in New Ozgingd, my new sewing factory. I was really proud of this facility and I had invited the two queens to go with me mainly as a matter of showing off, so to speak. However, Marcatarc and Zipsi were overwhelmed, and I could see that their enthusiasm to become a part of the whole enterprise was growing now. I had them trying on volleyball uniforms, intimate apparel, swimwear and dancewear for half a day, even presenting them with a few gifts to take back to Mli.
I did explain that it had taken me several years to grow my company to the size that would make such a factory necessary, and that if they incorporated apparel factories on Mli, they should not expect similar miracles to befortune them, especially since their cities were so much smaller than Mecnita. The two queens understood this without my saying so, of course, but I did not want to feel as if I had been holding out false hopes that would later disappoint them. Still, now they wanted to sit down at a conference table in
After the visit to Cissi's in New Ozgingd, I had Clixbong chauffeur us across the
They were still dressed in these clothes when it occurred to me to show them Cissi's Intimates in Frifna, my very first location, since it was also in the far north of Mecnita. But their attire was no problem. This location was also a factory basically, with showrooms and a cosmetics department. Zafria, whom I hadn't seen in more than a year, was still directress of the store-factory. This was the house on
I introduced her to
I found Ezmeraudia and Nunu at home, and told them all about the hectic day, saying I was glad to be home with my own dear ones. I still wasn't hungry, so I told them just to go ahead with their supper. Later, if I got hungry, I could eat a small sandwich or perhaps a muffin or two. I missed Zevanardia, but she should be back in ten or twenty days, according to our reckoning.
Later that evening I dropped by the Nautilus Chamber in the Art Colony. Nacrea had been receiving shells and collectors' fishes in good quantities from Rhodoconcha, of the Mollusk Gallery in Port Crelf. She was now transacting much more business than she had been doing and wanted to expand. The only problem was that there were stores on both sides of hers. We might have to have her move to a new location, but she was reluctant to do this because of goodwill considerations arising from permanence and stability.
Another option would be to add a mezzanine or a basement. Nacrea might also consider the possibility of a second store in another part of the village. I walked around the Nautilus Chamber with her and I was delighted at the varied collections that she offered. She was also selling pearls now, both loose and as pieces in rings, earrings, circlets and other confections.