In spite of the excellent transportation provided by Mecnita Metro, with its golden-dragon bullet trains that race at 250 miles an hour on the long runs, the location of New Ozgingd made access to Cissi's new factory there somewhat problematic. If we assume that the geographical center of Mecnita is also the demographic center, the average Mecnita girl would have an 80-mile trip to Cissi's. For every girl who had to travel only 30 miles, there'd be another who had to travel 130, and so forth. Moreover, many might have to walk 5, 10 or 15 minutes to reach a metro station. So travel time might be of any duration between 30 minutes and an hour or more.
Our seamstresses did not have a union. They were not forbidden to unionize of course, but both manageresses and employees looked down upon unionization as driving a wedge between friends. Unions create antipathies and confrontations, and this is the last thing that I or anyone else wanted. It was our policy that any employee could discuss her problems with us, and we would listen with due concern and sympathy.
A delegation came to me one day when I was at the plant, and I could see that they were troubled a little. So I sat down with them very solicitously to talk things over. They told me about the long commutes, and I winced for not having considered this when I chose New Ozgingd as a place to site my plant. We talked it over for several hours and finally came up with the idea of building an apartment complex for girls who preferred to live in New Ozgingd, close to work. They loved this idea.
In the coming days, we discussed financing primarily but touched on other topics too. I proposed the idea that the apartment complex be a cooperative venture, each girl pledging a contribution from her earnings that would make her a part owner of the complex. She would continue until such time as she had paid off her own residence. If she preferred merely to rent, without any promise of subsequent fixed residence, we could oblige her in that too, granting her the option of changing her mind at any time. I didn't consider the apartment complex a money-making venture. Cissi's Intimates would seek to earn only enough to cover costs. Profits would come from the apparel factory itself, not from the apartment complex.
The first thing we did was take a survey, distributing a questionnaire to find out what percentage of the employees would like to move to New Ozgingd, how long they expected to work for the company, how much they were willing to pay for new quarters, and so forth. All of them had residences already, so it would not necessarily cost them more to live in the new development.
I also offered options in the matter of size and quality, starting with small efficiency apartments with minimal rentals, and including more commodious, more elegant apartments. The choice would depend upon the wages and the wishes of the tenant herself. Some of the employees might prefer to live simply and save more money. Others might prefer a more lavish lifestyle.
I was hoping to offer apartments that ranged between 30 and 100 drachmas (one drachma is worth about $1000), supposing that the weighted average would be nearer the lower end of the range, say, 45 drachmas. A loan of 45 drachmas, amortized at 2% annually over a period of 20 years, would have a total cost, including interest, of around 55 drachmas. I was assuming that, because of the non-profit nature of the housing development, I could persuade Usha, directress of the Bank of Ung, to let me take out the loan at 2%, this rate being the minimum rate required to administer a loan of any kind whatsoever. This would average out to about 66 dirhams (about $66) per pay period. Our paydays were at 10-day intervals. The average seamstress earned about 4 florins ($400) per pay period. So the cost of providing housing for herself in the new complex would be very manageable. I was hoping to offer a pre-payment program too for any girls who would like to accelerate the process of ownership.
I needed to borrow 45 talents (some $45,000,000) for each 1000 subscribers to the the new plan. It turned out that 4000 of the 6000 said they would move to New Ozgingd when the complex was ready. Thus I needed nearly 200 talents. Since my equity in Cissi's in New Ozgingd alone was insufficient collateral to borrow 200 talents, I would have to offset by mortgaging other properties of Cissi's. but I didn't see a problem with that.
I had also to get the construction companies involved to give me a schedule. The companies were New Ozgingd Construction Company and Joprinx Real Estate Development Company, headquartered in nearby Joprinx, another suburb. Year '403 was drawing to a close. I wanted to start moving tenants in by mid-'404. Promising to get this done quickly had been essential in getting the girls interested in the first place. I had told them that by day 259, the first day of the New Chiliad's volleyball season, they'd be moving in. I couldn't believe the spirit of excitement and sorority that reigned during the next few days. After all, New Ozgingd was a beautiful suburb, with wooded hills in the north and the Umzid River in the west, where there was a very convenient river beach.
There were some vacant fields west of the facility and east of the river that I had purchased already, at a good price, from the municipality of New Ozgingd. The city council welcomed the new factory and the new housing development, by way of fostering commerce and industry in the suburb. I had not even concluded all the preliminary negotiations, but I took a chance that all would turn out satisfactorily.
In barely three or four days, bulldozers, tree spades, excavators and other kinds of heavy equipment were in operation at the site, which measured some 300 acres, almost half a square mile, a stone's throw from the Umzid. A population density of 8,500 per square mile, somewhat less than that of Mecnita, which had 10,000 per square mile, seemed very reasonable to me, because most of the apartments would be in four- or five-story elevator-equipped buildings. There would still be room for parks, volleyball courts, swimming pools and other outdoor amenities.
At the same time, concrete batch plants were erected on the site, and piles of reinforcing rods, bent in all sorts of geometric shapes, bristled everywhere. It was a mess, with piles of sand, oil spills, heaps of dunnage and scrap, and falsework. But the visual nightmare would be only temporary. As I saw it, a handsome, placid, comfortable little city within a city would rise miraculously, majestically, from the construction jumble. I too was excited.
My idea was to have the complex built of reinforced concrete, with a decorative veneer. I called in quite a few of the employees and had them express their preferences. Then we voted and the common choice was to face the buildings with ashlar masonry of sandstone. The majority also liked swing-out casement windows, sashed in varnished dark woods. They opted for hardwood floors instead of concrete, and preferred smaller rugs to wall-to-wall carpeting. We had quite a few sessions about all sorts of details. and, generally, we were able to find solutions that satisfied everybody.
Then work returned to its usual rhythm and routine, while the building progressed outside our windows. This was going on in the last 30 days of year '403, with Zipsi and Marcatarc still in town. I had to find time for them too, so things were hectic.
In that same time frame, Zevanardia called me from Port Zbabdo, which is about 1000 miles east of Port Crelf on the south shore of the Ebbic continent. She had chosen a yacht barely distinguishable from RUS Gvagma, now to be called RUS Gvagma I. She had a document with the specifications for the yacht and faxed me a copy as we talked on the phone. She quoted the price as 2.1 talents, saying that she thought it was a good, sound buy. She had been given leave to proceed at her own discretion, but still felt more comfortable, she said, getting my approval once again. I gave it immediately, trusting her even more than I trusted myself, when it came to judgment about such matters.
Even before she sailed out of Port Zbabdo, bound for Saiwani, she called Queen Kolomena, inviting her to come at once to Saiwani. They arrived in Saiwani at more or less the same time, and after the introduction of Kolomena to Analeahi, and the settlement of the plans for the training period whereby Analeahi would be taught to operate a maritime intimates shop on RUS Gvagma II, Zevanardia boarded a Peokolo Airlines mini-jet and found herself back in Mecnita in 3 hours. Vlarxbub drove to Jezgroid to fetch her. And she was home, arriving a few days earlier than we had supposed.
Zevanardia drove them in our sports car...
I told Zevanardia that I was extremely busy with the housing project in New Ozgingd, and asked her to help me, by seeing Zipsi and Marcatarc around for a few days. As soon as I got a chance, I would join them. I asked her to apologize to them on my behalf, explaining to them that unforeseen problems had arisen. They were understanding. Zevanardia drove them in our sports car to the factories on the left bank--Ulmactab Mills, Jilmzbra Bakery, Impulse Robot Works, Vracspongd Press, Joprinx Car-Building Works and others. As soon as I was free, I'd take them up the Gvagma Spiral and on the ride on Ramdonia Circle Guideway and give them the grand tour around Gvagma Village.
Incidentally, Ulmactab Mills is a leviathan textile factory downstream from New Ozgingd some 50 or 60 miles. It extends several miles along the bank, its huge red brick buildings resembling a train of titanic boxcars. Here cotton, wool and silk are carded, scutched, fulled and spun by awesome spinning machines, and synthetics are created in a robot refinery by distillation, cracking, reforming, alkylation, isomerization and other processes, with miles of yarn racing from millions of tiny orifices in the wall of the last in one series of buildings and passing into the first in another series of buildings. There, in the second series of buildings, it is woven at incredible speeds on herculean looms. Then the textiles are cut and rolled into bolts, and distributed to outlets everywhere by conveyors in tunnels that network the metropolis. Over 800,000,000 bolt-meters of textiles are produced annually by Ulmactab Mills. They make everything from challis to burlap, and from batiste to canvas. Cissi's Intimates generally spins its own yarns, and weaves and knits its own fabrics, but there are occasions when we have purchased lots of cloth from the great mill.
Nunu's fourth birthday was coming up, and I wanted to reward her amply for her fine showing at the Sazhau of the Department of Child Development at the University of Mecnita, where she was leading scholastically hands down. Carcsi, who was teaching the young geniuses, told me that Nunu outshone them all. She was the most brilliant child in the city, she said. What can you give a 4-year-old prodigy for her birthday? She was surely past the teddy-bear stage, I reasoned, though she did sometimes relapse into that adorable babyishness that I loved in her so much. But she was growing up, I thought. So I bought her a computer. She had played a little with our home computer, but since I had important information in it that I was afraid that she might erase accidentally, I monitored her very closely when she was at the keyboard. Now she would have her own machine, which she could punch to her heart's content.
Then too, I had to keep checking on Cissi's Press to make sure that everything was proceeding in due order. Idificia and Rachetina told me that I would have to increase the size of the lot on which the building would stand. A width of 330 feet was not quite enough to house the presses, which were 300 feet long in themselves, not counting the space for aisles at the ends. They recommended that I make the lot 440 feet wide, and I agreed. So now the lot would measure 13-1/3 acres instead of 10, still a very small piece of the 640-acre addition called Southeast Gvagma Village.
Idificia and Rachetina mentioned also that the presses would be noisy and that I should add an allowance for soundproofing if I was expecting to build other buildings in the vicinity where I'd like to maintain peace and quiet. So I went along with this proposal too. The lady engineers promised me that the building would be absolutely soundproof with the material they would install. As I understood them, they would use sponges of melamine or some similar plastic, along with resonant absorbers for the lower-pitched noises. I knew nothing about acoustics, but was embarrassed to show it, so I arched my eyebrows and nodded my head as if I had known what they were talking about. One thing was certain though, and that's that peace and tranquility were absolutely mandatory in my view. Even the Gvagma Spiral, the Gvagma Wheel and the Gvagma Robot Theater were practically noiseless.
I asked Ellennamandia to take over the negotiations at Cissi's in New Ozgingd, ministering to the seamstresses' needs and queries, and monitoring the progress of the housing development, which would be called Cissi's City. She had been directing Gvagma from my office in Gvagma Tower, but I wanted to be able to get away so I could show Zipsi and Marcatarc around properly. This would leave a vacuum at Gvagma Tower, so I asked Venedora, who was supervising Cissi's Vintage Intimates in Glasterhadd, the building of the erstwhile Miervin Society, in Anavana, to take over for a few days. This posed no problem, since Lilinaki remained at Cissi's Vintage Intimates.
Apologizing now personally to the two lunar queens, I explained the matter that had arisen at New Ozgingd right after their visit, namely, the new housing project.
Zevanardia had taken them to a few spots around town, as I mentioned, but they had not yet visited Gvagma Village, which would be my special treat.
The queens and I rode the Gvagma Wheel together, making two rounds, our lunch on trays that we placed on collapsible tables mounted inside the booths on the ferris wheel. It was a glorious golden day, and we could see the entirety of the southeast addition, where now three great marble heads had been placed on the totem pole, while six were still being readied on the ground by industrious crews of sculptresses. The huge new swimming pool had dozens of ladies swimming and others seated at poolside, on rattan chairs near the canteen and the cabanas. A game of water volleyball was in progress. In the distance, we could see the power shovels digging the foundation for Cissi's Press.
Looking in the other direction, we could see the huge Gvagma Spiral and towers 6, 7 and 8 Ramdonia Circle clearly, with glimpses of the others. Gvagma Tower, much smaller, of course, could be seen as well. We could see Rosebush Stadium, the Art Colony, the Temple of Fashion, Cissi's in Ramdonia, and the Gvagma Institutes of Haute Couture and Lacemaking. On the other side we could see the Orchid Walk. I pointed out Rose Verandahs I, II and III. The ladies found the whole panorama breathtaking, but they had seen nothing yet.
Then we rode in an autobuggy to the ticket window at the entrance to the Gvagma Spiral. A nail-polish red monorail train was due to depart any minute, so we hurried in and sat in our bucket seats, now pivoted for the ascent, so that we would sit with our backs upright. We circled and circled seemingly endlessly along the helical rail, despite our brisk clip of around 30 miles an hour. Once we transferred to the guideway, we'd slow to 6 miles an hour, as the caravan of buggies that navigates the 12,000-foot-high avenue in its trough-shaped ring trundles along leisurely, affording a perfect view of the city. The buildings that make up Ulmactab Mills' train are barely visible from the guideway, but a majestic colonnade of smokestacks reaches from their rooftops almost to the clouds, and these I pointed out to Zipsi and Marcatarc, who could discern them far, far in the distance, 50 miles away. A few minutes later, rolling past Spranceld, we beheld Mount Ajinblambia-and-Udi, once called Mount Vlacva. On the summit there's a 2000-foot marble statue of Ajinblambia and Udi, nude and in each other's embraces. The nine great ovals of Eldor Palace and its walled grounds were also clearly visible when we had been riding for about 40 minutes. Beyond Eldor Palace, Comargash See, the main cathedral and convent of Mecnita, rose solemnly and pompously, like an altar to the Sun. As we neared the end of our ride, we could also see the Gvagma Wheel again, though from this height, it looked like a toy.
Finally we were back at 7 Ramdonia Circle and descended in another red train, detraining in Gvagma Village. We repaired immediately to Rose Verandah III, where we had a late lunch of spaghetti and meatballs with toasted garlic bread and a sip of warm ruby-red wine, poured from a lute-shaped bottle, jacketed in straw.
Zipsi and Marcatarc said they'd like to go see Mount Ajinblambia-and-Udi and Comargash See, but I explained that we should devote a whole day to each of these sightseeing excursions. We chose the following day to go to Comargash See, and the day after that to visit Mount Ajinblambia-and-Udi and adjacent Pantoflambo Field. I recommended that we go the third day, at least, to the Museum of Mecnita. An exhaustive tour would take 16 days, one for each Flant, but I doubted that the merry young ladies from the Moon wanted to spend so much time there. There were many other imposing landmarks in the great capital. The two queens would be able to choose from among dozens. Then out-of-town excursions were a possibility too. We'd just have to see.
Comargash See, in the Comargash District, is an awesome new religious city walled in granite. Within, dozens of separate little cloisters, chapels and shrines huddle together in the midst of woods and gardens. This see had been built only a few years earlier by Olezconia, the High Abbess of the Defdefan Order of nuns. Defdefa Convent, north of Fwascren, 6000 miles west of Mecnita, had been the main nunnery of the order for centuries, millennia even. Only a nunciature had been maintained in Eldor Palace. Comargash See would be much bigger, more modern and more convenient. It was noted for its inimitable architecture, with spires, domes, buttresses and arcades carved gracefully in granite. Lay people, whether female or male, were allowed to visit only if they wore nuns' habits for as long as they remained within the see.
I personally drove the two lunar queens to see Comasrgash See. I couldn't imagine Clixbong in a nun's habit, but he said he had already visited the religious landmark and everyone had said he looked fine in his nun's habit. Still he'd just as soon skip it, he said. So we came without him. We did redress in black cashmere habits to the floor, black wimples, and barbes and coifs of starched white batiste. I found it exhilarating. If I hadn't been such a realist about divinity, I might have considered the nunhood myself.
Mecnita is basically a secular community. The Defdefan order is the relic of a bygone age, but its way of life does have its appeal. We spent three or four hours seeing the churches and convents, and interviewing many nuns. Finally we changed back into our skirts and leotards, ponytailing our long hair and drove back to Eldor Palace. The ladies said they felt spiritually uplifted after seeing the sorority of nuns that has endured 20,000 years, from the days of Sister Mevandolia, foundress of Defdefa Convent and its first abbess, now regarded as a saint.
The next morning, Shvampronx would drive us in the sleek vermilion bullet of a sports car that Ajinblambia kept in the basement of the northern oval, along with a dozen other sports cars of brilliant design and color. As soon as I reached Eldor Palace, I met the two lunar queens in Ajinblambia's office, and we went down in Udi's private elevator to the parking level, which is the next level above the metro station. On the parking level, long south-north and east-west rows of 20-foot-diameter concrete columns, hundreds of them, bear the immense burden of the superimposed oval, and among them, a sea of cars is parked, with certain column spans left open to form underground 'streets'.
As we stepped out of the elevator, Shvampronx spotted us, and putting his right index finger to the wheel, glided the car right over. We got in, seated ourselves and swooshed back against the resilient black vinyl seats as Shvampronx spun out the entrance. We entered Joprinx Expressway right north of Eldor Palace, but our ride would be only ten miles, so we wouldn't even accelerate the car all the way when we'd have to slow down to exit.
A few minutes later, the four of us were climbing into a cable car that would raise us to the plateau that the statue stands upon, near the summit of the peak. Then we ascended another 500 feet or so to a spur of Mount Ajinblambia-and-Udi. Walking along a path provided with handrails, we came to a ledge above a steep precipice that commanded an excellent view of the great sculpture. We were at the height of the knees of the statue, and far enough that we could make out the features of the two beautiful goddesses clasping each other as if in perpetual love. They say that on a clear day, the statue can be seen from a distance of 200 miles. Our large planet has a diameter of 18,000 miles, with much less local curvature than earth. However, often there are clouds or hazes that limit visibility.
As I mentioned, the Museum of Mecnita comprises 16 buildings, each 750 feet square and rising to a height of 280 feet, and each set upon a quarter-mile square, together forming a 4 x 4 checkerboard that measures a square mile and is called Museum Quadrangle, in Clascar. Each of the four sides of each building consists of a colonnade of 13 marble columns, 30 feet in diameter, standing the full height of the building. Window walls of black plate glass, set back ten feet or so, create covered walkways behind the colonnades. No statelier, more splendid and serene an array of edifices is conceivable. Each building is centered on its quarter-mile, with a perfectly manicured emerald-green lawn 225 feet wide all around. Broad sidewalks and a grid of noble streets join the buildings with each other. There are few trees to block the view of the black-and-white buildings, awesome as you approach.
Each of the sixteen flants is devoted to a special sphere of interest: Astronomy, Geology, Geography, Zoology, Botany, Agriculture, Anthropology, Culture, Medicine, Energy, Science, Industry, Communications, Commerce, Electronics and Computers. I recommended that we go see the Museum of Energy and the Museum of Agriculture. Here I am using museum to translate flant, but when I speak of the Museum of Mecnita, I am using museum to translate clasc, which comprises all 16 flants, and gives it name to Clascar, the district where it is located. I had met Pontisilia, the chancelloress of Clascar, at the banquet in 2 Ramdonia Circle, but so far, we had had no further social contact. Of course the Museum of Mecnita had existed for about 50 years, whereas Pontisilia was no more than 30 years old, so it was clear that she did not take part in its construction. Still she was understandably proud of the great center of culture and learning.
Anyway, Zipsi and Marcatarc, not knowing what else to visit, merely assented docilely to my recommendations. Again Shvampronx drove us. Ordinarily I would just have stepped into a golden dragon of a metro train, arriving in Clascar in 10 minutes, but I was trying to escort the ladies around in a style befitting queens.
First we drove to the Museum of Energy. What I wanted to show the ladies was a scale model of Thlipso Station, the largest nuclear power station on the Nyatic planet. Thlipso Station generates one terawatt--a million megawatts--of electrical power, at potentials approaching 10,000,000 volts. Thousands of steel-reinforced aluminum cables, up to 4 inches in diameter, carry electrical current at unearthly amperages to all the far-flung reaches of the Ebbic continent, along infinite processions of pylons marching over hill and valley, dune and peak, prairie and wood. The plant occupies 300 square miles of land and water, with its docks along the River Zvan, where equipment and supplies are unloaded from its barges. The containment structures are like giants' houses or immense gray towers that would poke the sky. I always considered Thlipso Station one of the wonders of the planet.
The scale model measured 220 x 220 feet, over an acre in itself, so standing at the edge of the model, we could barely see what was in the middle. Fortunately, there was a suspension scaffold, something like one of those that window washers use, but more streamlined, and operable with a hand-held remote-control device. As we rode about over the model, peering down, Queen Zipsi began to play with the remote-control device, so that we zipped here and darted there. We were all laughing merrily, eager to try it ourselves, when a guard came over and chided us, telling us the suspension scaffold was not a toy, and that if we could not comport ourselves with more dignity, she would have to ask us to leave. Shvampronx, who was standing at the edge of the model, blushed and averted his gaze, as if he had not been with us.
Pausing for a few minutes at an outdoor cafe adjacent to the museum, we sat under the lavender blossoms of half a dozen jacaranda trees, eating a little salad of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, olives, hard-boiled eggs and ivory-colored cheese. This was accompanied by tall glasses of iced raspberry water. Then we strolled across the street to the Museum of Agriculture. I wanted to show them the exhibits of the Oirad Project and the Turfant-Tuva Project, which Vinja, the Ministress of Land, was directing. These were devoted to reclamation of desert lands and electrification of rural places, in western Ub.
The projects included over 100 desalination plants spread over nine provinces that were independent countries until recently. They had been Queen Udi's generous gift, as an incentive to draw the countries into the worldwide Kingdom of Ung. The gargantuan reclamation works had begun to rise in the desert as early as the late 380's. Railroads had to be built in order to transport 25-foot-diameter concrete pipes to the points of their emplacement, so that fresh water could be flowed over the sandy wastes. Both multistage flash evaporation towers and geothermal wells were being used to desalt 600 cubic miles of water a year. Then an electrical power grid had to be installed to run the huge tractors and harvesters that would grow and gather a continent's wheat. The work was nearing completion now that Vinja had been oversseing it these 7 or 8 years.
There was a 30-foot map of western Ub showing the nine provinces and the various tracts of land to be irrigated. Cities and other points of interest were marked with red thumbtacks. Again there was a suspension scaffold that enabled us to view the map in detail, but we behaved ourselves with decorum this time.
Models of the enormous farm machines bowled us over. The harvesters bore spheres 150 feet in diameter and were able to reap for hundreds of miles at a time, carrying thousands of tons of wheat on tires ten stories high, driven with 100,000-horsepower engines, under the benign gaze of operators in robotic control towers who did little but watch for any irregularities.
Photographs and videos of the vast projects filled glass cases, accessible for the asking. Queen Marcatarc and Queen Zipsi could hardly believe their eyes when they saw bolts as large as columns with nuts and heads like truck tires. The steam rising from geothermal wells in ducts to the ridges of low hills, there to be condensed into water poured into great spillways to one of the canals, had been filmed with such clarity that you almost felt that you were there as you watched a video.
The hub of the project, the city of Qizilot, appearing on another video, seemed to contradict my explanation that 15 years ago, Qizilot had been an aul of felt yurts. Now it had tall buildings, broad avenues, a metro, schools, hospitals, factories and handsome houses.
The ladies were now flaming with enthusiasm about the possibility of establishing commercial and social links with Ung. I called Ajinblambia on my cell phone, asking if we might come to her office in a short while to discuss alliances with the two kingdoms on the Moon, explaining to her how excited the queens were and how they loved everything they had seen in Mecnita. They hadn't even seen it all. There was much, much more.
The Vrikshaya was pleased, and invited us warmly just to come straight to her office when we got back to Eldor Palace. If we hadn't eaten supper, we could dine with her, she said. She even asked to speak to my two companions, and greeted them affably, so I knew that she was very likely to make an offer right away, perhaps that very evening.
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