The Frifna District lies in the extreme northeast corner of Mecnita, some 70 miles from
I was deeply impressed. Most of the clubhouses of the teams in the Girls' Volleyball Association of Greater Mecnita were not as elegant. "How do they afford such quarters?" I found myself wondering. Surely such a clubhouse was beyond the means of even the most successful teams.
Let me explain that, during my first few months of making deliveries for Gvagma, I had encountered only the merriest, most charming young ladies imaginable. Wherever I went, I was met with cheerful greetings, blithe conversations, and refreshments. Why should it be otherwise? Ungian women are statuesque, with an average height of 75 inches, whereas my height, not counting my horns, which were always a conversation piece, was slightly less than 70 inches. I was teased regularly on this account, but in the most affectionate and genteel manner, without a trace of malice or scorn.
Naturally, I should have been expecting a cordial, warm reception at Shayvurddhi too, but something about Shayvurddhi, perhaps its grandeur, perhaps the loneliness of its situation on Shayvurddhi Circle, made me shudder instinctively. I dismissed this feeling as irrational, skating on till I reached the two or three stairs of the stoop, hopping between two colonnettes with scrolled tablets before the oaken door, and knocking on the door with its large brass knocker.
A young lady, dressed in black skirt, tights and leotard, and exceedingly tall, even by Ung's lofty standards, answered my knock presently, with a distant, condescending, "Yes?"
"Hi, I'm a courier from Gvagma. I have a package for Vlijanna, of the Frifna Pantheresses. Is she about?" I asked in as merry a way as my growing apprehension permitted.
"Yes, I shall fetch her."
In about 5 minutes, she returned with another young lady, who looked exactly like her. Both these women seemed to stand at least 78 inches tall, and they were very athletic looking. I felt more inane than ever in their presence.
"Here is your guest, Vlijanna. Since when have your been hobnobbing with sprites, elves and fairies?"
"She is not my guest. Undoubtedly, she is using my name as a cat's paw to reach out to you, Ordzhozi."
I understood that I was being belittled and insulted, so I said, "Here is a parcel for you, Vlijanna." The minute she took it from my hand, I whirled about on my skates and started to hop down from the front landing.
But Ordzhozi caught me by the hem of my skirt and pulled me back into Shayvurddhi, asking, "Just where do you think you are going?"
"I have other deliveries to make."
"Oh, I suppose you have some bobby pins and donuts to deliver posthaste!" she replied, with mockery and sarcasm.
"Something like that," I admitted with humility, afraid to retort in any way.
"Well, you did not ask my leave. Egregious manners you have!"
"Oh, I'm sorry. I apologize. It was thoughtless of me. May I go now, please?"
"No, you may not go now, please." She seized me by my left wrist. "Vlijanna, grab her right wrist."
"I'd advise you not to do that. I am a personal friend of Ajinblambia."
"I'll bet you are! The king will be here presently to see why those bobby pins and donuts weren't delivered!"
"Let's lock her up in the basement for three or four days. That'll teach her to come barging into Shayvurddhi as if she owned the place," Ordzhozi said with contempt and malice.
"I wonder where these little gingerbread girls get their nerve," Vlijanna agreed.
Five minutes later they had locked me inside an old-fashioned bedroom in the basement. It was furnished with a single bed and a faded lime-colored easy chair over which a yellow chenille bedspread had been carelessly draped. There were also a couple of rickety wooden end tables, a desk, and a lamp with a dusty tan suede parchment lampshade. The floor was carpeted with a well-worn russet carpet. I was surprised to find this dreary, shabby room in the basement of such a fine house. Perhaps it was used regularly as a place of detention.
Now I was going to have to sit here, anxious and confused, for three or four days, at least, and perhaps more, if they should so decide later.
This was very tedious. I merely sat in the easy chair each day until I got tired enough to sleep. Now and then, Ordzhozi or Vlijanna brought a bite to eat. I certainly would gain no weight.
At first, it had looked as if the carpet extended from wall to wall, and the rolltop desk, opposite the easy chair, merely stood upon the carpet. However, after staring at the desk for about two days, I noticed a sizable ripple in the carpet between the pedestals of drawers of the desk, which seemed to contradict my supposition of wall-to-wall carpeting.
Waiting until the wee hours, when Ordzhozi and Vlijanna would probably be asleep, I managed to skid the rolltop desk about three feet from its original position. As I had guessed, the carpet was discontinuous. It had two long parallel slits, perpendicular to the wall, that created a flap, as it were. Ordinarily, the slits would have been completely hidden under the pedestals of the desk, but someone must have been careless in replacing the desk the last time it was moved. Hence the ripple I had noticed. When I rolled up the flap, I saw two very fine saw kerfs in the hardwood floorboards, as if someone had cut a trap door. There were no visible hinges or handles.
Using the flat end of a stainless steel spoon Ordzhozi and Vlijanna had given me with my food, I was able to raise the trap door ever so slightly, creating two narrow crevices, one on either side. Inserting a curtain rod, which I borrowed from the half-subterranean window, into the crevice on my right, under the door, and out the crevice on my left, I cobbled up two makeshift handles--that is, the ends of the curtain rod--that enabled me to pull open the door completely. Below was a flight of five stairs descending into a tunnel, which was really hardly more than a crawl space. Flicking a switch in the tunnel, which provided a feeble light, I discovered what appeared to be a massive cache of explosives and firearms. I saw blocks labeled trinitrotoluene and sticks of dynamite, along with rifles, tommy guns and grenades. I also found an unlocked strongbox full of banknotes and securities. I could not guess whether the banknotes and securities were genuine or counterfeit.
"So," I said to myself, "my apprehensions were justified." I surmised that the Pantheresses trafficked in arms or sponsored acts of terrorism in Mecnita. The proceeds from this nefarious business would explain the opulence of their lifestyle. I closed the entrance to the tunnel and moved the desk back to where it had been before.
The only thing I needed to do now was be patient, without showing any signs of suspicion, until Ordzhozi and Vlijanna decided to release me. Then I'd go right to Ajinblambia herself.
Two more long, tedious days passed. Finally, Ordzhozi came and said, "Let's go. We've decided to forgive you. But if you come again, call in advance. Do not just come skating up and hopping onto our stoop. Understand?"
"I understand and I apologize."
I skated back to Hozhgranga Station, inserted my plastic card in the card-acceptor in the turnstile and caught a train going southwest, to the grounds of Eldor Palace. In order to call Ajinblambia, I had to go back to Inni Villa for a minute, as I had no phone on my person just then. I told Ajinblambia that this was an extreme emergency, and implored that she merely meet me in the regal corridor outside Udi's library, waiving the intensified security procedures she had been imposing on me.
She agreed to do as I had requested and gave me an active pin number, cautioning me that if this was a trick or a joke, she would punish me condignly.
As soon as I told Ajinblambia about the arms cache at Shayvurddhi, she called Gavlidani, Mecnita's Chief of Police, who came at once with a dozen armed lady police officers in six unmarked cars. Ajinblambia, Gavlidani, the other lady officers and I raced at a breakneck 225 miles an hour northeast along Pongdoir Expressway, exiting at the outlet at Atutamba, within a mile or so of Shayvurddhi. As we approached Shayvurddhi Circle, I pointed out the house, and the lady police officers sprang out, blocking the driveway in front and going around to the rear to make sure no one went out the back door.
Again Ordzhozi answered, when one of the policewomen knocked. Without waiting for an invitation, the police rushed in and took the six Pantheresses and a housekeeper into custody.
Gavlidani, pushing Ordzhozi before us, said to me, "Show us the arms cache." Ordzhozi glared at me. I led the police downstairs, with Ordzhozi in our company. I had the police officers pull aside the desk, roll up the carpet and prise open the trap door. They took possession of the arms, the explosives, the banknotes and the securities, and called a van to haul them off. The seven arrestees were driven off in three of the unmarked police cars to Slanchgav Prison, in suburban Slanchgav.
Policewomen working as mechanics superimposed their own locks over the locks in Shayvurddi's doors and windows. A single officer was left on duty to monitor the place.
Ajinblambia said that she was immensely pleased with my exploit in Frifna. Some days later, she held a parade in my honor. Upon a massive float, with a sea of roses and lilies covering a motor-driven 16-wheel bogie or chassis, stood a gleaming rectangular tower, which consisted of two 50-foot stainless steel flagpoles ten feet apart and a beam, across the top, from pole to pole. A saddle of nylon straps was suspended by a chain from a motorized pulley block hanging from the center of the beam, above the floral mass. I sat in the saddle, wearing my crimson Eldor Goose uniform and white Gvagma Courier Service wings, swinging back and forth by my own effort while rising and lowering with the action of the pulleys, as the procession, complete with other floats, marching bands and a cavalcade, advanced majestically along the Avenue of Ung, south from Eldor Palace, five miles to Ramdonia Circle. This was the apogee of my career!
I recalled my days as prime minister. In all my years in that capacity, there had been nothing as illustrious and joyous as this hours-long procession.
Ajinblambia explained that my feat as a detective did not retire the requirement that I submit to intensified security procedures when I came to Udi's library, inasmuch as these procedures were also aphrodisiacal.
After investigating, police learned that the girls of the Frifna Pantheresses had come from Ilocanga, a country on the continent of Ub.
In year '390, when Queen Udi had annexed that continent to Ung, she commenced a great number of improvements in various countries there. Among these projects were desalination and reclamation in the west of Ub, enlargement of the petroleum wells and refinery in Ceveristan and Paltievsk, the drainage of the swamps of Sagha'a and Ghasb in eastern Ub, electrification in Ong Pang, Tsumufuchi and Aigenshlink, and others. Nothing had been promised to Ilocanga, however, and 'Aulf', the Anti-Ungian Liberation Front, had come into being there. The Pantheresses had infiltrated Mecnita and were devising mischief, but to date had only imported explosives and arms. As far as could be determined, they had not yet sold any weapons or mounted any attacks.
This raised a moral issue. Queen Udi, who was always the defendress of justice and understanding, blamed her own neglectfulness with respect to Ilocanga for the rise of Aulf, though, of course, in no way would she ever condone Aulf's contemplated recourse to violent remedies. She favored extending some sort of clemency to the Pantheresses. However, she was no longer Queen Regnant of Ung; she was Queen Consort. King Ajinblambia would rule on the matter, and she was more disposed to take a stern view.
Since Ajinblambia, a magnificently beautiful lady, had assumed supreme authority in Ung, styling herself King, so that Queen Udi, equally beautiful, might remain queen, my role in the government had been miniscule. I was always busy as a player on the Eldor Geese, a courier for the Girls' Volleyball Association of Greater Mecnita, and the housekeeper of Inni Villa. Ajinblambia had explained affectionately and patiently that my nature suited me admirably for such duties, and that I should just forget about the days of my prime ministry. Nothing of more moment than deciding whether wisteria or hydrangeas should be planted in a newly plotted flower bed next to Eldor Palace was left to me. Ordinarily, I took no part in the deliberations concerning annexations, reclamation, electrical power, petroleum refineries, highways, railroads or aerospace.
However, my handiwork in exposing Aulf entitled me to be present during the discussions that Ajinblambia and Udi would hold in Udi's library on the subject of how to deal with the Pantheresses and Ilocanga in general. I would again have to submit to the intensified security procedures Ajinblambia had instituted. I should really have objected to this, under the circumstances, I suppose, but, like Ajinblambia and Udi, I found the procedures very gratifying. I knew that moments of rapturous passion and showers of kisses would punctuate their discussions, and if holding me helpless in the harness enhanced the lovely spectacle, let me be held!
It looked as if the discussions would be lengthy, for the ladies, instead of wearing heavy velvet and brocade dresses or robes, as was their wont, had donned peach chiffon chemises and burgundy organza peignoirs, far more comfortable attire. The crinkled cups of the chemises showed off their marvelous breasts, accentuating the exciting cleavage between them. When either lady moved her leg slightly, I could see her sheer burgundy stockings, clocked with gossamer peach embroidery, and I was rapt. I recall telling myself that I simply had to learn to clock stockings, a promise that I would soon fulfill.
Ajinblambia took a length of chiffon, like a long scarf, of the same shade of peach as the chemises that they wore, sprayed it with a perfume of attar of roses, walked over to me and draped it over my shoulders and around my neck, throwing one end over the other so that one end hung in front and the other in back. The irresistible perfume intoxicated me.
On many planets, both here in Ti and in other galaxies throughout the universe, government policy is formulated by councils of elderly men, with bulging stomachs, pendulous jowls, and half-bald pates with hanks of white hair at their temples. Such councils had existed on Nya also, in bygone millennia.
It was a vast improvement that, now, two supernaturally intelligent, divinely beautiful ladies deeply in love with each other might relax in the most romantic attire in a sumptuous private chamber and revolve the planet on its gimbals, deciding the fate of continents, and the rise and fall of nations. Ung had entered a new age, and I was delighted to be a part of it, to be a piece of furniture in that private chamber.
Their discourses and disquisitions lasted several hours. Finally, with Udi cajoling Ajinblambia, it was decided merely to deport the Pantheresses to Ilocanga, and to require Ilocanga to deny them exit visas for a period of ten years. Only upon violation of these terms would any of the Pantheresses be arrested or imprisoned. The housekeeper of Shayvurddhi, a girl from Mecnita, had already been interrogated, found not to be privy to the Aulf conspiracy and released from custody.
An Ungian delegation would go to Ilocanga to discuss a number of improvements that might be undertaken there, like a dam on the Apgarsh River, or a branch of the Bihaka, Qizilot and Central Railroad from Mointna, a stop along the way, to Disparhav, Ilocanga's capital.
When Ajinblambia and Udi had finally concluded their discussions, they rained torrents of sweet kisses on each other's carmine lips for a breathtaking hour. Then Ajinblambia came over, kissed me on the cheek and, working the remote-control device that regulated the harness, set me free to stretch and limber myself for a moment. Then, walking with me towards the door and tickling my buttocks playfully, she invited me to come her office for a few minutes, so we could talk at leisure.
"But first," she said, "take a minute or two to comb your hair and put on some fresh lipstick. I'm afraid that holding you in the harness like that, I'm guilty of ruffling your appearance just a trifle." I obeyed, pulling a comb and a tube of lipstick from a cosmetics purse suspended from my waist.
The drawing room of the 10-room apartment that Ajinblambia had taken over from me had been remodeled into the office that Ajinblambia called hers, and this is where we went. Seating me in a wing chair opposite the chair where she sat at her massive desk, she again thanked me for my services in undoing the Aulf conspiracy.
"I've decided that, as a reward, I will give Shayvurddhi to you, but I will not furnish you with an income for its maintenance. What I recommend is that you mortgage the house to the Bank of Ung to secure funds to start a business that will generate enough cash to pay off the loan and maintain the house."
"You're giving Shayvurddhi to me? How wonderful!"
"Is there any line of business in which you feel you might succeed? Remember that, if your business is not profitable, you will lose the house eventually."
"What I'd really like to do is make and sell intimate apparel--peignoirs and chemises like the ones that you and Queen Udi wore tonight."
"What about bras and panties?"
"Well, of course I'd make bras and panties too, as well as bustiers, panty-girdles and stockings, all very stylish and beautiful."
"I realize that you made skirts for Gvagma, but that kind of experience is simply inadequate. Fine intimate apparel is much more sophisticated and artistic than volleyball uniforms."
"I'll have to hire ladies to teach me."
"I think your idea may work, and I'll help you in any way I can."
"Then I'll do it. I'll call it Sissy's Intimates."
"If I were you, though, I'd respell your name C-I-S-S-I. That's an elegant variant spelling."
"Oh, yes, yes, I like that. So be it--Cissi's Intimates." I spelt the name aloud.
The first thing I did was change the name from Shayvurddhi to Cissi's Intimates. But in aftertime, sometimes we still used the original name, as a case of force of habit.
At about that time, I took Gvagma's Maturity Examination, passing with a test score of 75%, the lowest acceptable score. Now I was Dammina Sissy. Cissi was only my professional name, the brand name of the lingerie I'd make and sell. Being Dammina Sissy instead of Tilli Sissy would facilitate my application for a loan at the Bank of Ung. I suppose I might have requested Ajinblambia's countersignature in any case, but I preferred to handle the negotiations on my own.
When I went to the Bank of Ung, I was surprised to see that Usha, one of my teammates on the Eldor Geese and roommates at Inni Villa, was also the supervising officer of the Home Loan Department.
Ajinblambia and Usha, as well as Mlechi, Dhabbi, Vinja and Barti, were members of a millennial family called the Vrikshayas, earlier of Mli, our moon, but more recently of Qazudistan, in Ub. These women were immensely capable administrators and rulers, so it should have been no surprise that Usha, despite her youth, had been promoted with lightning speed to a position of real responsibility in the bank, but it did take me a minute to assimilate the new information.
She inspected the title deed I had brought with me, which identified me as the sole owner of Shayvurddhi, and she looked over the business plan I had drawn up for profitably applying the proceeds of the loan I was seeking. She said she would send someone to Frifna to appraise Shayvurddhi and have someone else investigate to learn whether any adverse claims upon the title, whether or not they were of record, could be found. This would take five days. By that time she would have read my business plan carefully. The loan would not be contingent on the cogency of the plan or the viability of the business I was organizing, but Usha, as a friend, thought it worthwhile for her to offer her opinion.
Five days later, I again visited Usha at the Bank of Ung. She said that the house had been appraised at 2 talents--2 million dollars--but since I had no credit record and no current income, the bank would lend me no more than 45% of the value, or 900 drachmas--nine hundred thousand dollars. In the event of foreclosure, the bank's equity would be subject to less risk. Usha recommended that I borrow less than 900 for the time being, to reduce my payments. She could extend a line of credit in the amount of 900 drachmas, available to me upon demand. In that way, I might take 50 or 100 at a time, as the need arose.
She had read my business plan and approved wholeheartedly.
So it was done. A mortgage deed was signed and a line of credit was authorized. I could withdraw money with the help of a bank teller in the bank lobby, or make withdrawals from any ATM in Ung, or write checks. I was in business.
After purchasing a number of the finest sewing machines available in Ung, along with a supply of fabrics and sewing goods, I talked to one Lilinaki, an elderly Ungonesian lady who had resided in Mecnita many years and who had a reputation as an excellent designer and maker of intimate apparel of the fancier sort. She agreed to come instruct me and a few girls I hired. I suppose you might say I didn't really know what I was doing, but unless I took decisive steps to earn money, my equity in the house would dwindle slowly as I made payments by tapping the line of credit given me by Usha. I allowed myself six months, at the most, to operate in the red. Thereafter, I would have to start showing earnings in the black, or end up losing Cissi's Intimates. At least this was my line of reasoning at the time.
The business did work out fairly well. Within a couple of months, our group had managed to craft about 100 negligees and peignoirs that we hoped to sell for about a drachma--$1000--apiece. All expenses considered, they cost about 7 florins--$700--apiece to make. I offered them at an auction, where I started the bidding at 7 florins. We actually grossed more than I had expected.
Of course, I was bound by a 10-year contract to make deliveries for Gvagma, nor would I have missed that tour of duty for anything. It was in the late evening that I worked at Cissi's Intimates. Early evening usually found me harnessed in Udi's library. Mornings I did housework at Inni Villa. Among these activities I managed somehow to fit volleyball practice and play the games we had scheduled. My life was very hectic during those months.
Queen Udi annulled her marriage to me and married Ajinblambia instead. Oji, who was Udi's and my 2-year-old daughter, was adopted by Ajinblambia and Udi, who adopted me also.
The House of Vrikshaya thus absorbed the House of Ung. There were eleven living Vrikshayas in all--Ajinblambia, Barti, Usha, Mlechi, Dhabbi and Vinja, as well as Shandra and Oa, two ladies who still resided on Mli, and Udi, Oji and myself. So I became a member of the omnipotent Vrikshaya family of Nya and Mli. Ajinblambia was the head of our household, the lady and mistress of the entire planet and much of its lone populated satellite.
As I mentioned, I had met Ajinblambia some years earlier in Bihaka, the capital of Jhibilli Province and of all Qazudistan as well. Then we lost touch.
Much later, when Queen Udi and I, on holiday, had decided to go the scenic way by taking a train to Psebol, a city in northwestern Eb, Ajinblambia, as if by coincidence, boarded at Jamblonc, one of the cities along the railway. Recognizing her, I invited her into our compartment. During the animated conversations that ensued, Queen Udi realized that Ajinblambia was possessed of great genius. Udi invited her to visit us in Eldor Palace for a few weeks. Udi supposed that Ajinblambia might have the potential to play a significant role in the government of Ung.
"How right she was! How right she was!" I thought as I skated north along 200th Street in the Queshganc District. Mecnita Metro's Line 111, which runs in the median of Dhnanto Var Expressway, has a station at 200th Street, the city limit. East lies Queshganc Heights, a suburb famous for its limestone mountains and its titanic cement works.
Also I tried to visualize Ajinblambia and myself, mutatis mutandis, with me as ruler of the planet and her as a messenger for Gvagma. It was utterly impossible to conceive of such a thing, nor was there a need to do so, for it could never, never have come to pass.
I had a letter and a parcel for Zevanardia, the captainess of the Queshganc Quails. Zevanardia was one of the supernovas in our galaxy of girl volleyball players. We Geese had played the Quails some weeks earlier, but Zevanardia was too good for us, and they beat us easily 25-11. So when I arrived at the Quails' clubhouse, I was blushing.
I didn't know the contents of the letter, but the parcel was a lovely bra-and-panty set from Cissi's Intimates that I would present to Zevanardia as a gift.
"Sissy! What a pleasant surprise to see you!" said statuesque Zevanardia, as she leant over me. I threw my arms about her neck and jumped up to put my legs around her waist. "Hey, watch those horns of yours, or there'll be no more Zevanardia to give you volleyball lessons," she continued, with charming laughter, before she kissed me on the mouth so fervently you'd have thought we were long-separated lovers.
"I have a letter and a parcel for you, O glorious Zevanardia."
"A letter and a parcel for me? What can the parcel be?"
"Well, open it and find out,"
"Oh, what a gorgeous bra and what gorgeous panties! But there's no note with them that tells the name of the giver."
"That's because the giver has come in person."
"Oh, these are a present from you? How sweet of you! Shall I take this as a romantic overture?"
"If you like, you certainly may, but, to be honest, these are from my new lingerie showroom, Cissi's Intimates, on Shayvurddhi Circle, in Frifna. I am hoping to entice you and your teammates to visit us. Bring anyone else you think may be interested in our exquisite peignoirs, chemises, slips and other intimates. As for the romantic overture, we can talk that over when you get to Frifna."
"In that case, I will indeed come with my teammates to review your new enterprise. Just give me a card with the store hours, and we will decide a day."
I explained that she should call first, so I might make sure to be about when she arrived.
I returned to Inni Villa after this delivery. The remark about my horns did disturb me somewhat, for I surely did not want to gore anyone accidentally. I took this up with Barti, my captainess and chatelaine. She proposed that golden balls, the size of billiard balls, be added to enclose the points of my horns.
I spent the rest of the day with the goldsmith of Eldor Palace, who made the desired finials. She drilled a hole in each of my horns, and when each ball, with its fitted cavity, had been placed over the point of one of the horns, she passed a brass pin through a drilled hole in one lobe of the ball, through the hole in the horn, and then into a blind hole in the opposite lobe of the ball, all three holes being in perfect alignment. Driven all the way home, the pin left a slight recess on one side, which the goldsmith filled with molten gold. When the gold cooled, she ground the nub smooth. Then she did the other horn. In nowise might the golden balls be removed, nor could the pins be seen or removed.
You can imagine Zevanardia's surprise and delight when she next saw me, at Cissi's Intimates, about a week after my delivery to Queshganc.