"What about Oji?" I asked Ajinblambia, "aren't you considering her as a candidate for the office of Queen of Ung when you retire?" Oji was Udi's and my daughter, now 16 years old, and an adoptive Vrikshaya, whose credentials were therefore equivalent to Nunu's as regards eligibility for the throne.
Ajinblambia had just commented that one of the persons most likely to be named Queen of Ung at that future time, still 20 years away, was Nunu, the daughter of Zevanardia and myself. She was Oji's half-sister and still six years old in late year '406. On the last day of the year, she'd turn seven.
"Oji is a lovely young lady. She's intelligent and refined. But she's not in a class with Nunu. Furthermore, she has never evinced any aptitude for leadership or any desire to govern. She enjoys her private life, socializing with her friends, giving dinners, attending balls and conversing with her classmates on various subjects from school. There is nothing wrong with this, of course. But I seriously doubt that she could rule Ung. Anyway, in twenty years, she'll already be thirty-six, whereas Nunu will be only twenty-six," came the Vrikshaya's reply.
Ajinblambia and Udi, both past 40, were talking about retiring from public life around year '425, though with our tremendous lifespan, 150 years or so, they would still be in the full bloom of health at age 60. But they did like peace and privacy. Anyone with insight would understand that, even after retirement, Ajinblambia would oversee the realm from on high, leaving the routine matters attendant on the throne to her successor.
Despite her tender age, in the past two or three years, little Nunu had shown herself gifted at harpsichord, mathematics, geology and dressmaking. Now she was invading the bakery too, learning to make cookies and other pastries. It was in connection with her desire to bake that she proposed the idea of building a supermarket in
Although Nunu was only a presumptive adoptive Vrikshaya so far. she had undergone intensive treatment by geneticists, who had remodeled her genome to make it almost a perfect replica of a Vrikshaya genome. In IQ tests, she had scored an unvarying 250 points.
But it was not until she dreamed up the idea of a supermarket in
"In order to train Nunu in the art of ruling, we'll need tutoresses to instruct her in such matters as the organization of cities, communications and transportation, legislative processes, public education, finance, taxation and so forth. These are areas of expertise fundamentally different from scientific disciplines like mathematics and geology, because they involve people. Let's talk about getting two or three more ladies to tutor Nunu along these lines, requiring at the same time that she devote more time each day. Please see if you can gentle her to the idea of studying from 3.5 to 8 Ungi (8:24 AM to 7:12 PM) each day. But, for the time being, don't disclose the possibility of her future queenship that we've mooted. Instead let us see how it goes for half a year or so."
I was apprehensive lest Nunu raise an outcry when I mentioned increasing the length of her school day, but, to my surprise, Nunu was very enthusiastic about broadening the range of her studies. There were so many things she wanted to know about--the Bank of Ung, the Mecnita Stock Exchange, the Mecnita Metro, Mecnita Electrical Power Company, the Parliament of Ung, Mecnita Water Works, and on and on. She was already asking questions, and was delighted that, in the very near future, knowledgeable ladies would be explaining all these things to her in detail.
Around day 325 of the year, the new regimen got under way. I arranged with Ajinblambia to adjust Nunu's school day to 3.3 to 7.8 Ungi (about 7:55 AM to 6:43 PM). In equatorial Mecnita, at 8 Ungi, nightfall is upon us, and I was not happy with the thought of Nunu's wandering around alone in darkness. At 7.8 Ungi, she'd have time to board the metro at Eldor Palace and arrive in Gvagma Village before the close of evening twilight.
On one of her first days of study, she went to the Bank of Ung with Firanza, her instructress in banking and investment. The Bank of Ung occupied
Many centuries ago, the gold standard was the monetary system practiced in Ung. Ung's national wealth, which was calculated by adding together the value of durable goods, natural resources, human resources and other measurables, was used as the basis for establishing pro rata the value of the gold in circulation in the realm. One could say, for example, that a troy pound of gold, or its Nyatic equivalent, was worth 20 drachmas (20,000 earth-dollars), and this meant that ownership of 20 drachmas made you the virtual owner of a specified share of the national wealth. In theory, your money entitled you to a fixed amount of butter, lumber, zinc, leather or whatever else you wanted. But a rich vein discovered around year 102,200 increased significantly the amount of gold in circulation without increasing national wealth. This brought about an inflation and the gold standard was abandoned. Nowadays Ung uses fiat money, whose supply is carefully regulated to be an accurate yardstick of national wealth.
Incidentally, the current year was 103,406, which is usually abbreviated to '406. So the "gold rush" had taken place 1206 years before this time. Moreover, our year is 418 days long, so this would be 1381 earth-years.
Nunu's version of the genesis of our monetary system, which she had been studying under Firanza for about thirty days, was a creditable recounting of the history of the matter, at least as far as I understood. But I'm no authority, by any means.
I began to hear Nunu talking about the money supply, assets, liabilities, banking reserves, lending, mortgages, equity and other subjects that Firanza was teaching. I didn't know how long I would be able to keep up with her.
One day, I went into Nunu's bedroom when she had gone to school. It was neat and orderly, except that the bed wasn't really made. Her little pink, yellow and blue crazy quilt was just pulled up to the head of the bed and laid over the pillows, without being tucked in or snugged up. What amazed me, though, was that she had mounted a map of Mecnita Metro on her wall. Mecnita Metro also extends into the suburbs but only the city proper was depicted on the huge map, measuring 2 by 2 meters. Within the city there are 5,000 stations along 20,000 miles of lines. Constituent sections include elevated, surface-level and underground tracks. Trains, which are electric multiple units of 6 to 12 carriages each, reach a speed of 300 miles an hour on the long runs and at least 200 on the short runs. They're powered by alternating current at 50,000 or more volts.
"Nunu dear," I asked that evening when Nunu had returned from school and seated herself at the dining room table, "are you now thinking of becoming a transportation engineer?" I set before her a plate of rice topped with a stew of beef and kidney beans, along with a bun and a glass of cold milk.
"Oh no. That map is just for me to get some idea of the size and layout of Mecnita Metro. Firanza will be teaching me how Mecnita Metro was funded. I think that Mecnita Rapid Transit Authority has issued a great many transportation bonds over the years, but so far I don't know all the details. Firanza said the bonds were revenue bonds and have been paid off from fares. Later, I'll be able to tell you more." Then she showed me a facsimile of a transportation bond, which was a stapled set of photocopies stamped SPECIMEN.
In the same period of time,
The directress of Ung Insurance Company was Evvandissa, who reported to Mlechi, Ung's Ministress of Welfare. Evvandissa received Segura and Nunu in her office, and then showed them around the various departments, introducing them to executives, attorneys, underwriters, actuaries, accountants, adjusters and other personnel. Almost all were ladies. Evvandissa explained that, in bygone millennia, a less extensive
Since they were in the vicinity,
In Ung, everyone enjoyed health and livelihood insurance. Anyone who acquired possessions worth more than a specified minimum would have to have the excess insured at her own expense. The large corporations of the realm, both public and private, also needed to subscribe to insurance.
Nunu's tutoress on the Parliament of Ung was named Duma. She would also show Nunu around other departments of the
Ajinblambia is the absolute monarch of the Kingdom of Ung, and Parliament has no power to overrule her decrees, but, of course, she is not willful or arbitrary, and if Parliament strongly disagrees with her, they can usually persuade her to yield a little. After all, her desire is to secure the most felicitous solutions for the greatest number of people, not to tyrannize or despotize.
But in the reign of a less humane, less ladylike, ruler, couldn't benevolent absolute monarchy turn into cruel totalitarianism? We'll have to solve that problem, if and when it arises. For the time being, Ung is doing splendidly.
There were more tours, plenty of classwork, detailed verbal explanations made by the tutoresses, drills, question-and-answer sessions and examinations. Nunu did have a long lunch period and two recesses, but she was still at her studies nine hours a day, eight days out of ten. The standard work week or school week in Ung is seven days out of ten, but we were pressing Nunu to do more and try harder. She did not feel beleaguered or aggrieved. Rather she responded beautifully, assimilating masses of new information. At year-end, with Ajinblambia's approval, Nunu would have a ten-day holiday, and, with the new year, redouble her efforts.
King Ajinblambia Day was a beautiful, gala affair, with multitudes of fashionable ladies filling Gvagma Village, where Nunu's Grocery Depot was almost ready to open. The Pennant Games of the Old Chiliad of girls' volleyball teams, ordinarily scheduled to run from day 396 to day 417, ended early, as the Egshirvazi Comets, captained by Jina, clinched the victory on day 405. This was the second year she had led her team to volleyball glory, and we at Bo House were in raptures.
I was still the High Maid of Gvagma, and Rubia, formerly of the Ramdonia Roses, was Assistant High Maid. Because of all my diverse activities, I could not do justice to the duties required of me by this commissionership. Rubia had her hands full too. This seemed like an opportune moment to appoint Jina as a Second Assistant High Maid. She was thrilled with this new honor. I hired another girl, named Lumi, to take over Jina's job. Jina would still work in Gvagma Tower, but she would have her own office instead of being a mere errand girl for a number of other ladies in the building.
Seeing that the supermarket would be complete within 3 or 4 days of the end of the year, I deliberately set the opening to be held on day 417, Nunu's birthday.
First thing in the morning, when Nunu had bathed, I helped her into her white panties and camisole, drawing up her white stockings and snugging the garters so that the stockings would not come loose and fall. Then I dressed her in the freshly laundered and ironed red and white pinafore dress that she herself had made on one of our sewing machines. The pinafore dress in the optical image now suspended in mid-air above Nunu's Grocery Depot was an exact duplicate of the one Nunu had on. Dorina, of Sky Pictures Company, had activated the image five days earlier and it would be left on every day for as many hours as the store was open.
Then I led Nunu to the supermarket, where she would greet and welcome customers, presenting complimentary cookies to the girls in her own age group. When the visitors saw Nunu pushing her chrome shopping cart full of bags of cookies, and looked up and saw the optical image, they were amazed and delighted. Many of the grown ladies hugged Nunu and picked her up to kiss her on her scalp, her forehead or her cheeks. She was really the belle of the ball that day, and she loved it.
We had a number of attendants explaining the clear aisles and checkerless checkout points. This was a novelty in Mecnita, but it seemed to make sense to many of the shoppers. On the first day, we grossed about 100 drachmas ($100,000), but it was too early to attempt to divine the future of the enterprise. We'd have to wait and see.
Also in the last ten days of the year, during the vacation given her by Ajinblambia, Nunu, having reminded Jina of the promise she had made to teach her volleyball, met daily with about 15 other little girls who lived in Gvagma Village, daughters of resident employees for the most part. Jina gathered them all around herself and explained point by point the rules of the game time and time again, but most of the girls were too inattentive and playful to respond to much serious instruction. The games that they played, often with supernumeraries, tended to degenerate into games of tag, leapfrog and hide-and-seek. At any rate, it looked fairly clear that Nunu would not be a tremendous volleyball player, but I supposed that that situation could change. I was in such raptures over the possibility of her future ascent of the throne of Ung that the thought that she would be a mediocre volleyball player, just like me, didn't disturb me greatly.
We requested that Kolomena bring certified copies of all her business records, so we could look them over together. Also, I was thinking of asking Ajinblambia to meet with Kolomena, Zevanardia and myself in regards to the maritime intimate apparel operation. Ajinblambia had received Kolomena briefly in year '402, but that was before Cissi's in Ungonesia was a going concern. The Vrikshaya would certainly be more interested now.
Day 15 of '407 would be the anniversary of Queen Udi's Coronation, usually an even more gorgeous pomp than King Ajinblambia Day. Gvagma Village would be red with roses, and the flying ladies of Vingolilo would perform their aerial ballet. Therefore, I invited Kolomena to come on day 12, so she could take part in the festivities. She would stay with us again and tour any sights in Mecnita that she liked. In anticipation of her visit, we had Inokali, the mistress of the Orchid Walk, decorate A Bit of Ungonesia--our huge swimming pool--with a veritable cornucopia of orchids. We would also have water volleyball played among Ungonesian ladies in topless volleyball outfits, as they do in the archipelago.
Incidentally, Fulumoan Airlines had introduced regular helicopter flights between Monopeo and Badako that connected with jet flights between Badako and Mecnita with no lengthy waiting periods at the transfer point,
Queen Kolomena took it upon herself to send us advance copies of her business records so that we might familiarize ourselves with them right away. She would still bring the hard copies, bearing the stamps and signatures of the notary who had certified them.
Cissi's Intimates, with over 2800 stores and several factories worldwide, had its own accounting department, of course. The department occupied the fifth and sixth floors of
At the same time, I sent observers incognito to Kralatimu to check further into Kolomena's background by chatting with other people from the island in an unobtrusive way. We had no reason to doubt the gorgeous archipelagian. This was just routine practice.
Everything looked shipshape, and there could be no question but that the maritime division was earning handsome sums. Zevanardia and I were thinking of making Kolomena a junior partner in Cissi's Intimates, with enhanced authority and dignity. We would also give her a generous bonus.
We reported our preliminary findings to Ajinblambia, who was exceedingly pleased with this development. I told her that Zevanardia and I would like to entertain Kolomena for a few days and spend some time going over her business records at length. I wondered if our lady king could receive Kolomena on day 17, two days after Queen Udi's Day, and she agreed to this congenially.
Meanwhile, Nunu's new school year began on day 0. She would attend classes through day 7, and then be off days 8 and 9. Resuming classes on day 10, she'd study till day 17, and be off days 18 and 19, and so forth. An exception, of course. was day 15, a holiday that everyone celebrated. Otherwise, Nunu would continue her scholastic rhythm until just before the beginning of summer, when she would have a 30-day vacation. "Wasn't this schedule a little trying for such a tender maiden?" you may ask. Naturally, if it had proved burdensome to Nunu later, we'd have relaxed the pressure. However, it was Nunu's ability to conform to the schedule, and to do so with such ardor, that enhanced the probability of her future glory. I would have been glad to baby her, but she did not want to be babied. She wanted to study and learn. She was indeed a Vrikshaya at heart.
Another event in the offing was a conference of the Council of Lunar
The main topics discussed by the conference would be economic and trade relations, and the dissemination of tbe Ungi language. Ungi would not replace local languages, but serve as a medium of interplanetary communications. Ajinblambia was also interested in the exploration of unknown lunar kingdoms. This had already been discussed, but so far nothing had been done. The Vrikshaya had a list of ten kingdoms she was wondering about: Zavoi, Limanit, Uvankafer, Cfampa, Idazwo, Twi, Zanfanting, Olotuts, Admino and Pedgu. She planned to prod the Mlian queens to assign scouts and explorers to investigate these mysterious realms and prepare portfolios of documents and pictures. She was perfectly willing to pay most of the expenses involved.
Although it was not of vital importance, I was keenly interested in the lunar subsidiaries of Gvagma and Cissi's Intimates, and I kept bringing the subject up with the Vrikshaya, who assured me that they would indeed talk about these two concerns too.
Beyond that, on day 100, we'd hold our second annual beauty contest in the
Vinarvi and Barti were still in bliss, and you could see in their lovely countenances the sublime dreaminess enveloping their thoughts, a benign absent-mindedness, as if they were gazing upon heaven and saw you not.
I visited their apartment in
Right after the beginning of the year, I called Vranquelli, the mayoress of Dorgdid, and asked permission to send Jina to tour and write a report on Gvagdo, a division of Gvagma in the second city. I explained that Jina was my new Assistant High Maid, and that such a visit would be an excellent opportunity for her to acquaint herself with her new duties. Gvagdo had been operating semi-autonomously for over six years in Dorgdid, though there had been ample communication by phone and in cyberspace. Innavella was still running Gvagdo, and I was confident that she and Jina would strike it off splendidly.
When I called Jina into my office in
I told Jina that there was a balloon port atop
I also assigned her to make the rounds of the Cissi's outlets in Dorgdid. There were about 50 at this time. We would select about 15 of them for her to see. A chauffeur would take her to each store for a brief visit and a couple of photographs. Still this would take two or three days.
Jina was gone for about ten days. In this span of time, Ezmeraudia seemed lonesome and dejected. I asked her if she would like to undertake a similar assignment by flying to Fwascren to meet with Ezmit, the mayoress of the city, and tour the locations of Gvagfra and Cissi's-in-Fwascren. She liked the idea, but was a little disappointed in that it had been a mere afterthought on my part. After all, she had been a valuable member of our household for seven years. I wondered whether she was seeking to be named Assistant High Maid too, but when I offered, she declined. I cheered her up a little by giving her a few florins for a shopping spree at Mecnita Mall. She returned with a mini-wardrobe of new dresses, slacks, blouses and scarves. Then she flew to Fwascren. She also wanted to ride the magnificent monorail from Fwascren to Vunu Vunu.
As I mentioned, Vunu Vunu is a scenic village in the
Unfortunately, Queen Udi and I were persecuted in the late '380's by two sinister groups, Plubac and Jilndij, who designed to usurp the throne of Ung. We fled first to Fwascren, where, somehow, they found us. So we fled to Vunu Vunu, where they found us again. Three gigantic men--Zergfa, Wezmim and Piluglag--arrived in the village to capture or slay us, but we prevailed. Wezmim and Piluglag perished in falls inside Vunu Vunu Caverns. Udi and I battled it out with Zergfa in our own garden. Udi knocked him unconscious by striking the back of his skull with a large iron poker from her fireplace as he was lunging for my neck. With a supreme effort we managed to haul his bulk to the railing at the edge of the precipice on the south side of our garden. There, we pitched him down the mountainside to his death. Investigators were unable to determine whether Zergfa's death had been homicide, suicide or an accident.
This tale was so gruesome and gory that I did not tell Ezmeraudia about it at all. I didn't want to scare her or spoil her trip.
Nunu was now a big girl and could manage without a governess for a few days. At any rate, Zevanardia and I would be at Bo House every night.
Both Jina and Ezmeraudia returned to Mecnita a couple of days before Queen Udi's Day, and, at this time, we had Kolomena at Bo House too. So the place was full, with a lot of merriment and conviviality. Nunu and Kolomena loved each other at first sight, but that was little to marvel at. Everybody else loved them at first sight too.
We led Kolomena to A Bit of Ungonesia, where it so happened that a topless water volleyball game with Ungonesian players was in progress. Without a minute's hesitation, Kolomena changed to a two-piece outfit and entered the water, joining in the game. Once she felt herself among her own, she doffed the bra, sending ripples of estrogen throughout my body as I beheld that magnificent bosom of hers.
I wondered if Nunu would be taken aback, but she seemed to take it in her stride. After all, we were all female. And that is what makes Ung such a wonderful place.