Ajinblambia and Shandra looked so much alike that one would have had to look twice to be sure which one she was addressing, unless, of course, the surroundings helped identify, as when, for example, Ajinblambia sat upon her throne. This should have been no surprise, inasmuch as both ladies were of the ancient house of Vrikshaya, a dynasty that had flourished 500,000 years on Mli. In fact, they were two of only eight remaining natural born Vrikshayas. Udi and Oji and I were adoptive Vrikshayas.
In this part of the universe, women are quite tall, usually at least 75 inches. But Ajinblambia and Shandra, as an elite, stood 84 inches, statuesque and magnificent. With lustrous black hair to the waist and flawless complexions, they were certainly among the loveliest women in Mecnita at that time. Only Queen Udi and the other Vrikshayas might compare.
I had been functioning as Ajinblambia's biographer and beautician for several months. Each morning as I helped her bathe and dress, and did her hair, her makeup and her nails, I would ask questions and record her replies on my audio recorder, or I would jot down notes on a pad. Being her beautician was an easy task, for she was supremely beautiful in any case, even without makeup and with her long hair tousled. I merely put on the finishing touches in her boudoir.
Nonetheless, Queen Shandra praised me for my efforts and asked that I attend to her as well, part of my compensation being that she also had much information on Ajinblambia, her cousin, from the days of her girlhood on Mli. They had grown up together. This new information would add depth to my biography, which I was planning as a trilogy, at Ajinblambia's recommendation, perhaps 3000 pages in all.
From Ajinblambia's dressing room to Shandra's suite in Eldor Palace was barely 100 feet along the regal corridor, as we called the long hall that all the main offices and apartments of the palace opened on. It was indeed regal, with tapestries and paintings, carvings and statues, moldings and wainscots, chandeliers and sconces. Every day I spent three earth-hours with each lady, so that I was busy with my combs and brushes, oils and cremes, lipstick and rouge from 2.5 till 5 Ungi (6 AM till noon). I saw my efforts in their dressing rooms as a kind of artistry.
Ajinblambia and Shandra had such delicate sensibilities that they could distinguish between shades of color varying one from the other by barely perceptible degrees. Sometimes one of the ladies would inquire whether I didn't have a shade of makeup or lipstick ever so slightly lighter or darker than the one I was offering to apply. In such cases, I was usually at a loss, because, having obtained the cosmetics commercially, I had to accept the very discrete gradations in hue that were available. It wasn't that the ladies were picayune or captious. They were always understanding when I explained and always resigned themselves to the situation. Still I wanted their unqualifed approval and regretted having to disappoint them even in the slightest way.
So I decided to study the composition and manufacture of cosmetics, and the coloring agents that were used. Soon I was able to blend in additives to change the hue or texture according to their tastes. It was easy for me. I kept notes and made lists of the formulae I had devised, so that I could make the same colors again and again. Using an online depiction of the color solid that somebody devised here in Ung, I even programmed my computer so that it could derive a formula for a color. In addition to entering a formula to get a color, I could now enter a color to get a formula.
I showed all this to Zevanardia, and she was impressed. She said that, since she had so much more time than I, she too would study the subject to see if she could help. Her idea was that we open a cosmetics bar and perfumery in Cissi's Intimates, creating our own line of beauty products.
And so we did it. There is no point in waiting years to achieve administrative perfection when opening a business. It is far better just to go ahead, expanding and improving with the passage of time.
Three months after I had begun to play the part of Shandra's lady-in-waiting, Zevanardia and I opened our small cosmetics bar in one of the vacant rooms at Shayvurddhi. By this time, we were getting a regular flow of customers for lingerie. Making the entrance to our new department highly visible, we attracted a good number of the shoppers. We sold makeup of various kinds, creme, powder, lipstick and the like, as well as perfume, cologne and other alluring products, all in beautiful, feminine bottles and boxes. We worked at a small profit margin but earned enough money to make it worthwhile.
During these weeks and months I hadn't forgotten my commissionership of the Girls' Volleyball Association of Greater Mecnita, or Gvagma, as we called it. Incidentally, here on Nya we don't use any such terms as weeks and months. Our year has 418 days, and instead of weeks, we speak either of particular days or of day-decades, that is, tens of days. To simplify, I sometimes paraphrase this latter term, rationalizing it into days or weeks or months. Ajinblambia had ascended the throne in year 103,391, which we call simply '391, and the time of Shandra's visit was mid-'393.
Anyway, the redistricting of the Volleyball Association and the assignment of teams to one or another mini-association had been under consideration for several months. We interviewed all the captainesses of the teams, took surveys and distributed questionnaires.
As Zevanardia suggested, I wore a white sphere between my horns during meetings of Gvagma. The sphere symbolized a volleyball. On afternoons and evenings when I was busy with Gvagma, Zevanardia was the hostess at Cissi's Intimates. She looked so noble and imposing in her gown of white, with a sash, which emphasized her goddess-like proportions!
Redistricting Mecnita's 400 districts, arranged in 20 rows and 20 columns, like a checkerboard, was easy. We merely grouped 5 rows and 5 columns at a time to make superdistricts, so that we now had a checkerboard of 4 big rows and 4 big columns, with 16 superdistricts of 25 teams each.
For example in the far northwest superdistrict, we included the following districts: Rilwangz, Gestetmo, Kharduvo, Patnes, Flestermon; Cdaping, Zilodor, Fruxbund, Hastabampa, Norgd; Plapsvorn, Ugelmas, Vrescava, Fmolen, Tcana; Hanabata, Cloingct, Vrugo, Fiscand, Ugl; Pascoleb, Fmorci, Tizina, Cwudpa and Skhuma. Each group of five goes north to south, while the next group consists of the five next to the east. The pronunciation of these names is only faintly suggested by the inadequate literation of the English language, for Nuu, the language that we speak in Mecnita, has 288 vowels in a number of tones. These 25 districts, taken together, make a perfect square, 25 miles on an edge.
The suburban teams, 600 in number, were more difficult to group, because the suburban towns were irregular in shape and size. But we went over them one by one, and eventually found what seemed to be a very sensible arrangement.
The final decision was up to me, since I was the commissioner of Gvagma. When we reached the most generally accepted redistricting scheme, I gave my approval. We were officially ready. I had draftswomen prepare a map of the new superdistricts, issuing copies to all the teams. Of course, there was an article in Obscont too, but it did not emphasize that it was I who was commissioner and I who had given my approval. The serious nature of my oversight of the redistricting of Gvagma might have clashed with the amusing spirit of the picture of myself with the giant tarantula hawk wasp on my horn that had been such a sensation a couple of months previously. It seemed that my name and picture were prominent in an article published in Obscont only when something bizarre or hilarious happened!
We forwarded all the information to the other newspapers, gazettes and tabloids published in Greater Mecnita. This all amounted to quite a bit of clerical and administrative work.
With the redistricting complete and with Queen Shandra on the point of returning to Mli, I would have much more free time. For one thing, I would again be out in my red leotard and skirt, and my white wings and skates, making deliveries eight hours a day, instead of five. I did not object to this, as I had permission from Sundari, who ran Gvagma's Courier Service, to pass out my own flyers and brochures to all the people that I delivered parcels and letters to.
As for the biographical information that I got from Shandra about her cousin, it seemed that Ajinblambia had been known as a prodigy from earliest childhood. Whereas other children had to practice long and hard to learn to skate, ski, ride, dance and swim, Ajinblambia excelled in everything from day one. She put on a pair of skis for the first time, and skied down a mountainside immediately, as if she had been a professional. She dove into the water, without previous instruction, and swam like a mermaid straightaway. The first time she mounted a horse, off she went at a gallop, as if she had been a veteran horsewoman. She starred at gymnastics, tennis and running. She threw the javelin and did high jumps. She was an incomparable athlete and horsewoman, and all without seeming effort.
But to her, sports were only an amusement. Ajinblambia was really interested in knowledge and understanding. She had a dozen college degrees. She had studied physics, chemistry and mathematics, as well as various branches of engineering. She knew medicine and law, business administration, economics and agriculture. She had studied linguistics and spoke several languages. She could pore over a grammar and a dictionary of an unknown language, and within a week correspond, in writing at least, with anyone who knew that language, and she'd never be suspected as a novice.
In addition to these athletic and intellectual achievements, Ajinblambia had utterly astonishing control of her own bodily functions. She always fell asleep immediately and slept however long she liked, waking up precisely at the time she'd chosen, without a clock. She could turn off her hearing completely, and so enjoy complete silence in a noisy room. Her memory was very remarkable, for she could remember everything she wanted to remember, forgetting everything she wanted to forget. She could read whole textbooks quickly and retain nearly perfectly the knowledge that they held. She had semi-voluntary control, not only over her respiration like most people, but also over her blood pressure, heartbeat, menses and digestion. She enjoyed very rapid healing and seemed virtually immune to every ailment. If she felt her skin was too dry, she could voluntarily increase the flow of its natural oils. If it was too moist, she could will it to dry a little.
She possessed psychic powers, understanding what was going on inside of people far better than she might have done by simple observation, however shrewd or canny. She could influence other peoples' minds and bodies too, as she had done with Udi, reforming Udi's endocrine system to make it more compatible with her own, so that Udi found her captivating and fell in love with her, as I mentioned before. She seemed capable of injecting a measure of her own ability into others too, for Udi seemed to flourish and bloom like the fairest of roses under the sunny influence of this gorgeous lady from Mli.
At the age of 18, Ajinblambia and the Geese--Vinja, Barti, Usha, Mlechi and Dhabbi--had migrated from Mli to Qazudistan. This was before Qazudistan had been annexed by Ung and Photons had begun to fly between Ung and Mli. However, aerospace was one area of expertise where Ufzu did not lag. Unbeknownst to Ungians, there were spaceships operating between Ufzu and Qazudistan in the early 380's and before. It was on one of these lunar spaceships that the six Vrikshayas had come to Nya.
At that time, Qazudistan was tyrannized by the Jvashnas, a hierarchy of 300 who had their headquarters in the Rajassi in Bihaka. Very shortly after her arrival, Ajinblambia took charge of the Jvashnas, leaving them nominally in power, while she assumed the real sovereignty of the nation. However, she preferred to govern from the shadows. Vinja, Barti, Usha, Mlechi and Dhabbi were just girls at that time, and only beginning to gain the insights and power that would stand them on the summits of the world. Ajinblambia alone was supreme.
Later, the Jvashnas schemed to infiltrate and gain control of Ung, but did not let Ajinblambia know what they were devising. They reasoned that if they apprised her of their ambitions beforehand, she would not permit them to attempt to realize them, but, if they acted on their own initiative, and afterwards presented the conquest of Ung to her as a fait accompli, she would acquiesce. However, the Jvashnas were easily defeated, and Ung annexed Qazudistan.
Ajinblambia, divested of her authority and influence, decided to come to Mecnita, win the queen and make herself the mistress of Ung, the mistress of the world in effect. Of course, I posed only a negligible obstacle to her ascent, like a kite in a hurricane.
Could anyone or anything be the rival of Ajinblambia? Wasn't our planet Nya ready to rest in the palm of her hand?
Shandra told me dozens of anecdotes about Ajinblambia that Ajinblambia had not thought of or had elected not to reveal. The section of my biography on her childhood and young womanhood would extend over many chapters in the first and second volumes. Of course everything I wrote would be reviewed by Ajinblambia herself before publication. If I had included anything told me by Shandra that displeased Ajinblambia, you can be sure it would be disallowed.
Ajinblambia had taken the title King only in order that Queen Udi remain Queen. This implied no depreciation of Ajinblambia's stunning femininity, her full bosom and broad hips, her slender waist and girlish face, with its gorgeous puckered carmine lips and silky black eyelashes, her delicately sculptured neck and lustrous long black hair. Her walk would make you sigh and her smile would make you cry, "Incredible! Incredible!" Her presence was narcotic and hypnotic. It was electrifying.
And I was her biographer! The difference between us twain was infinite, and I sorely grieved that I was just a volleyball player, courier and lingerie merchant. Did I know physics? Did I know mathematics? Could I climb mountains, dance ballet and ski? Could I read minds and speak a dozen languages fluently? Was I tall and beautiful and shapely? Was I the heiress of a dynasty of 500 millennia? Was I the ruler of eight billion people?
Sometimes I wept and wept and wept I was so envious.
Queen Shandra finally returned to Mli, with a solid color astrofax, some crates of intimates she planned to introduce there, and other gifts and purchases. She had left her Vice Queen, Dovina, in charge of her kingdom, Ufzu. Though Shandra said Dovina, who was not a Vrikshaya, was absolutely trustworthy and faithful, she felt that a queen should not absent herself from her realm any longer than she'd done already. Just before she left, she and I strolled the Avenue of Ung from the great gates of Eldor Palace to the very heart of Mecnita, which is Ramdonia Circle, with its eight majestic towers.
A couple of days later, I received a call from Masrahiyya, the playwright who had written Lady Impacta and the Pantywaist, based on my confrontation with Impacta in Shnuvi. The tragicomedy had been a real success. The scene in which the actress portraying me was lifted and packed in the drum saddle like a large hat in a small hat box was executed so well that it made audiences roar with laughter.
Now Masrahiyya had heard about the giant tarantula hawk wasp, eighteem inches long. that had alighted on my horn as I crossed a lagoon with fourteen others in a hovercraft in the Ovarolda in Qazudistan. She wanted to write a short play about the safari, and thought that Zevanardia and I could give her a more complete picture. Though a little wary at first, feeling I would be held up to ridicule again, I did agree at last, inviting Masrahiyya to Cissi's Intimates for supper one evening. Masrahiyya and Zevanardia and I struck it off quite well. We told her the whole story and I consented to her project. She looked around our showroom too and loved it. We all became good friends. The vaudeville she authored appeared with some other skits a month or so later, in a variety show at Eldor Palace Playhouse. Zevanardia and I received invitations and attended. I was introduced in person on the stage after the performance, with the stuffed wasp that Zevanardia had brought from Orchiz. I got a round of applause and bowed.
At about this time, I had completed the first volume of my biography of Ajinblambia, and submitted it to her for her review. She proved to be a very mild taskmistress, requesting only a few trivial changes to the manuscript. This leniency of hers may have been due to the worshipful key in which I had sung her praises. Who will find fault with being honored so enthusiastically and sincerely?
The question was how we should publish it. Should we just let it appear as an apparently self-contained work, without alluding to Volumes II and III that would be brought forth later? If so, how should we entitle it? Alternatively, perhaps we should commit ourselves at the outset to a trilogy, providing a common name to embrace all three volumes. Then what would we do if the work should end up as fewer or more than three volumes? Yet another approach would be to serialize it in the literary section of Obscont. This would give me time to work on the sequel and be ready when the installments of the first book ran out.
This didn't resemble profit-motivated publishing, which bases all considerations upon anticipated monetary gain. Ajinblambia needed no royalties and could even spend money to bring the publication out in the most beneficial way, the purpose being to justify her overladyship of the planet and enumerate the benefits she hoped to lavish upon its citizens.
She decided to release fifty-page installments, specially bound, every twenty days, each as an optional supplement to Obscont, our most prestigious periodical. In this way, it would take twenty installments over some 381 days, almost an Ungi year in other words, to publish the entire 1000 pages. The installments would have the format of art magazines of the finest quality. Rupsnoir Press, the publisher of Obscont, would be subsidized. The supplements would cost just enough to discourage waste. The title was Lady of the Continents and Seas.
My two buildings, Shayvurddhi and Glasterhadd, had been awarded to me for my role in the discovery of an arms cache and in the dissolution of a fraudulent religious organization. I had mortgaged both houses in order to raise money to organize my two apparel factories, Cissi's Intimates amd Cissi's Vintage Intimates, both of which were doing exceptionally well, considering my inexperience. I had made regular mortgage payments to the Bank of Ung, and had even prepaid goodly sums. Originally, I had a credit line of 900 drachmas on each house. But I had borrowed only 700 in all, and at the time of the publication of Ajinblambia's biography, I owed around 400 drachmas. (N.B.: 400 drachmas is about $400,000.)
Ajinblambia graciously paid off my two mortgages as a reward for my literary efforts. This amounted to a very significant addition to my income of $17 a week from Gvagma!
When I had first begun as a courier for Gvagma in year '390, I had to undergo exercising while clad in stiff, thick plastic leotards and tights, like automobile tires, that were maneuvered to force me into the various configurations that ballerinas assume. This was monitored by Zhvizhvi, directress of the Royal Egrets, and Cathma, one of her assistants. The idea was to make me lithe enough to skate gracefully as I delivered the parcels and letters entrusted to me. Once I was good enough to be a courier, I dropped the draconian exercises.
Now that I had more time, Sundari began urging me to renew the exercises and think about doing full-fledged ballet. My nature is such that when somebody tells me to do something, I just do it. So I went back to Zhvizhvi and Cathma for more torture in their plastic armor, more arabesques and pirouttes, more pas de chat and
My commissionership did not extend to Gvagma's Courier Service, which was autonomous, with Sundari in charge.
At the same time, I began thinking about professionalizing Gvagma. So far, the players had all been amateurs, receiving no compensation whatsoever. I reasoned that if we charged spectators a nominal admission fee, we could earn enough money to upgrade our fields and stadiums. Competition would be stimulated and a better sort of volleyball would be played.
With the help of the accountants at Eldor Palace, I was able to estimate that all the real estate belonging to Gvagma was worth about 250 talents, that is, about $250,000,000. Thanks to Ajinblambia's backing, I got Usha, now directress of the Bank of Ung, to authorize her investment bankers to float an issue of amortizng bonds yielding 6% interest annually, with complete amortization in 10 years. With this issue, we raised 150 talents, which enabled us to proceed with enlarging and improving our facilities and residences. My own residence was very fine already, but many of the other teams enjoyed fewer amenities. This picture would soon change.
Scheduling 12 interest periods per year, we would have to pay out slightly less than 20 talents in interest and principal on the bonds annually. So the total payout, over 10 years, would be 200 talents and the cost of financing 50.
Playing 40,000 games annually before an estimated average attendance of 250 spectators per game, we would earn gross receipts of 40 talents, if we charged an admission fee of 4 dirhams. So we'd have 20 additional talents every year, less expenses, for further improvements. Depending on the success of the venture, we might increase the tempo in the future with further issues.
Our most beautiful venue was Rosebush Stadium, the home of the Ramdonia Roses. The stadium was located in a spacious, handsomely landscaped park southeast of 7 Ramdonia Circle. Although Gvagma's administrative headquarters were and would remain, for the time being, on Lanzzar Avenue in Spranceld, I decided, after consulting with many of the captainesses, to make Rosebush Stadium our main stadium, where we would hold the playoffs every season.
To set off the stadium, we would contract to have a 1000-foot ferris wheel built in the park adjacent to the stadium. The word GVAGMA, in red capital letters formed with strokes resembling strings of roses, would appear on a rigid white banner lying along the diameter of the ferris wheel. The ferris wheel would turn clockwise for a person standing northwest of it and looking southeast, but the banner would turn counterclockwise with respect to the ferris wheel, at the same angular velocity, so that the inscribed GVAGMA would remain horizontal and right-side-up. Two hundred booths, each seating six, would hang on axles along the circumference. Turning at one mile per hour, a booth would take 36 minutes to complete a revolution.
Fwascren, Ung's third city, 6000 miles west of Mecnita, was famous for its dozens of ferris wheels. But this would be Mecnita's first, conceived on a much grander scale than those in Fwascren, however.
The wheel would cost about 300 talents, 50 of which would be advanced from the proceeds of the bond issue. The rest would come from fares we expected to collect over a 10-year period. Our projections led us to believe that we would have over 100,000,000 riders in the coming decade. So we set the fare at 4 dirhams for one 36-minute ride. We had assurances from Ajinblambia that she would see to it that the wheel become a success, in order to emblematize Mecnita. She was enthusiastic, and said Queen Udi loved it too.
Construction of the wheel would take at least a year. Amponia and Lidia were the architects. Soon after I had gotten Ajinblambia's approval and had announced the construction project, the two lady architects drew elevations depicting the wheel as they planned it, and crafted a model about 6 feet in diameter, which was installed in the lobby of Gvagma's administraton building, on Lanzzar Avenue. When Sundari saw the model and the architectural drawings, she said that the grandeur of my vision was not consistent with my continuing as a mere courier. She released me from the terms of my contract with Gvagma's Courier Service, so that it was no longer mandatory for me to make deliveries of parcels and letters every day. I told Sundari that I had really enjoyed skating about the great city in my costume, and would thank her if she allowed me the option of going out on occasion in the future. She was amenable.
The front, or northwestern side, of Rosebush Stadium was half a mile southeast of the southeastern tangent plane of cylindrical 7 Ramdonia Circle, one of the eight great towers of Mecnita. The Gvagma Wheel, as we named the ferris wheel, was surrounded by an enclosure consisting of an ornamental palisade fence of white spear-tipped rods. This enclosure was a half-mile long, in the northeast-southwest direction, and an eighth-mile wide. Between the southeast side of Rosebush Stadium, itself an eighth-mile wide, and the northwest side of the enclosure, there was a quarter-mile of grassy campus. So, the whole area described by the extreme lines of the structures was a half-mile square, 160 acres.
While construction of the ferris wheel was in progress, in addition to volleyball, we featured ballet and ice-skating fantasias in Rosebush Stadium. Sundari kept pressing me to continue my dance lessons as energetically as possible so that I could be in one of the ballets. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and I redoubled my efforts.
Unfortunately, the anatomy of the bones of my feet did not lend itself to my standing en pointe. My original sexual reformation did not extend to my tarsals, metatarsals and podalic phalanges. I found out that this defect could be corrected by podiatry. So I swallowed the bitter pill, submitting to orthopedic surgery. For three months I walked around in reinforced shoes with my ankles and shins heavily bandaged. Someone took my picture in this guise, entitling it "Sissy, the Ballerina", and mailing it to Obscont, which printed it on the front page one day. "Oh, well," I said to myself, "This is just innocent teasing."
The results were positive however. Eventually, I managed to stand en pointe.
As year '393 was drawing to a close, my beloved Zevanardia and I, auditing our books for Cissi's Intimates and Cissi's Vintage Intimates, concluded that our accumulated earnings enabled us to open a store in Ramdonia, near the Gvagma Wheel. This would not be a factory. We would merely deliver lingerie from Shayvurddhi and Glasterhadd to Cissi's in Ramdonia. The crowds that we expected at the stadium and the wheel would certainly bring business to our new location. Rubia, the captainess of the Roses, was selected to manage the store, thus binding Gvagma and Cissi's in a relationship that would grow in the years to come.
A few centuries ago, violent and dangerous sports like boxing, wrestling, football, bull-fighting and automobile racing had been outlawed. An exception was the mild form of wrestling called girls' sumo, seen annually during the Epgarcs. Sports like baseball, hockey and basketball are unheard-of on Nya. So the only team sports still being played and watched in '393 were girls' volleyball and girls' soccer. With the construction of the Gvagma Wheel and the professionalization of girls' volleyball, girls' soccer began to wane. So by '394, it could be said that Mecnita's only important spectated athletic team contest was girls' volleyball. Tennis, badminton and other individual games were still in vogue, however.
Greater Mecnita's population at that time was 350,000,000, while Mecnita's was 100,000,000, with over 99% of the population being female. This demography probably explains our preference in sports. The emphasis in our games was not so much on winning as on making a fine display of grace and beauty, and showing off shapely legs and buttocks. It was ballet with a scoreboard.
The feminization of Mecnita's population came about with the introduction of genetics-assisted parthenogenesis. The breakneck pace of advancing technology contributed to this tendency too, as now women could perform all the work that at one time depended on men.
I haven't said much about the quality of volleyball that we, the Eldor Geese, had been playing. The other Geese--Dhabbi, Vinja, Mlechi, Barti and Usha--were all tall, shapely and swift, and made excellent volleyballers. I was short, slight and somewhat timid, a fact that probably inhibited our collective performance. In '390, we had played just a partial season. In '391, '392 and '393, we did fairly well, if you call .600 or .700 fairly good. We were committed to a banner year in '394, however.
A few months previously Ajinblambia had installed a merry-go-round on the grounds of Eldor Palace. The merry-go-round had little booths only. There were no horses rising and falling along poles. Sometimes when I was on the grounds on a pleasant afternoon, I would sit in the merry-go-round for an hour. Usually, the only other riders were girls from six to ten. I should have understood that this identified me, indicating my rank on some kind of scale of pubescence or maturity. I should have realized that I was a perennial six-year-old girl! Puberty would be as unattainable as nirvana for the likes of me.
Anyway, I found the girls charming, and I was led into their games. Now and then, you could have seen me playing tag or hide-and-seek or hopskotch. When the other Geese heard about this, they started teasing me, saying that perhaps I would do better in junior volleyball, competing with the little girls instead of the big ones.