Ungonesia generally, and the Peokolo Archipelago particularly, are noted for their many marvels and wonders, outlandish phenomena never seen on the continent of Eb. For example the island of Panakako has carnivorous palm trees that eat monkeys and birds. They use mimicry, adopting the habit of harmless palm trees of the region and growing in their midst. An important tree in that part of Ungonesia is the Ungonesian coconut palm, Cocos archipelagica, which is absolutely harmless and yields edible fruit. However, the false Ungonesian coconut palm, Cocos pseudarchipelagica, practically indistinguishable by eye, sometimes appears in the midst of a grove of the harmless palms, so that an unsuspecting monkey frolicking or gathering food in the vicinity is deceived, and, climbing the slender trunk of one of these feather palms, is caught by the flexible midribs of the ten-foot fronds.
Then the unfortunate monkey who is caught in this wise is slowly digested by the carnivorous tree. Parrots, gulls, plovers and godwits often fall prey to the false Ungonesian coconut palm too. Although this is not an especially pretty sight, many tourists like to see it, as an 'educational' experience.
Another interesting matter is the 100-foot crocodiles of Keopuna. These gigantic beasts rival those of the Ovarolda in Ub for sheer size and frightfulness. Lying inert for weeks on end, one of these monstrous crocodiles will suddenly lunge forth and seize prey, which could be an ox, a horse or a pig. Dragging his quarry back to his lair, he will then eat his fill, returning to a coma in his slimy berth for another interminable spell.
There were many climatic, geographical and biological oddities about the Peokolo Archipelago, which is also called simply the Peokolo Islands. There were underground cities, pygmies, islands full of quicksand where treading meant certain death, islands of torrential rain and islands of perpetual drought.
Some of the islands were mere stacks or fragments of tufa
projecting from shoals, or atolls formed of coral reefs. Others were
small, barren, uninhabited rocks spattered by saltwater cast up by the
winds. Many of the other islands were barely large enough for a
village or two each. Typically they were three, four or five square
miles. There were a few sizable islands though. Loana Luhu, the largest
island in the archipelago, measured over 1000 square miles. It was quite
50 miles from tip to tip, with a varying width that averaged 20 miles.
Lengthwise on the island rose a chain of hills or small mountains called
the Malatani Range. Mount Onoko, the highest mountain, stood 7000 feet
and was never capped with snow. Nor did it have a tree line, being
always green to the top. It was afforested with acicular trees very much
like the planet Earth's Pinaceae, Araucariaceae and Taxaceae.
Of course, Zevanardia was not going to the Peokolo Archipelago to see carnivorous trees and horrifying reptiles, or to visit coral reefs or climb mountains. She was going there to sell lingerie, a much more exciting and gratifying pastime, if you ask me. Some of the intimates--peignoirs. chemises, bras and panties--marketed by Cissi's Intimates were beautiful to look at, scented delightfully and voluptuous to the touch. Zevanardia had taken two crates of such lovely apparel with her on her flight, on the understanding that these should be given as gifts rather than sold. However, she was at full liberty to make arrangements to establish Cissi's outlets where intimates would be sold, if that seemed worthwhile, but it was more likely that she would consider another maritime Cissi's, like Cissi's in Kralatimu, which had proved surprisingly profitable.
During this interlude, I had less to do
than if Zevanardia had been at home with me. So around 3 Ungi (7:12 AM)
each day, I walked over to the site of the totem pole, where I could
watch the activity of the sculptresses just arriving, as I ate my
breakfast, which was invariably a serving of potatoes Mecnita that I kept warm in a
styrofoam box. I usually brought a thermos of ice-cold pineapple juice
to drink with my breakfast.
I talked to Lady Sinsella, the chief sculptress working on the pole. She even led me around the scaffolding to see what they were doing to bring the surface of the marble heads to a state of perfection. They used electrical chisels powered by ultrahigh-strength Ungi batteries, delivering an electrical potential of 150 volts. A sculptress needed only to bring the point of the chisel in contact with the stone to make it start reciprocating. The force with which it chipped the stone depended on how hard a sculptress pressed her chisel. She let me try a chisel too, watching very closely to make sure that I did not fumble or bobble the thing.
The head of Oa, which, as I have noted, was more beautiful than its subject, would be the first to be emplaced. I had been under the impression that the heavy-duty box column forming the core of the totem pole would be completely erected before any of the heads were lowered. However, only the first 50 feet or so of the 180 feet of the entire column had been erected so far, but they were installing the tower crane so it would be ready to lift Oa's head. The upper surface of the foundation and the lower surface of Oa's head were scanned digitally to assure a 100% perfect fit that would leave the upper surface of Oa's head absolutely level.
Lady Sinsella told me that the approximately spherical head of the evil queen, measuring around 20 feet in diameter, had weighed around 325 tons when first cut roughly to its final shape, and that figure would not have been affected very much by the mere finishing that the sculptresses were performing, but the vertical eight-foot-diameter cylindrical bore made by a huge rock drilling machine had removed about 75 tons, so that the net weight of the head was about 250 tons. The box column was about five feet square in cross section. Thus the bore would fit over it very easily. When the head had been set in place, and the ladies had jacked everything up just right and run their final scans, concrete would be poured. This was high-strength polymer-impregnated concrete developing some 10 to 15 times the compressive strength of ordinary concrete.
I wondered how all those slender ladies with their lovely complexions had managed to retain their beauty in the face of such toilsome drudgery, but Lady Sinsella explained that toilsome drudgery was a thing of the past. She sang her praises of computerizations, robotics, precision lifting and materials-handling equipment, all manufactured in the huge automated factories that stand one after the other on the left bank of the Umzid River and in scattered locations elsewhere in Mecnita.
A while after the Oriflamme Games, I was invited to a banquet of the chancelloresses and chancellors of the city of Mecnita. So far I had done very little as chancelloress of Ramdonia beyond receiving some visiting dignitaries from other cities in Eb, Ub and Ungonesia. In this capacity, I did enjoy the use of a sumptuous office in 2 Ramdonia Circle, the tower on the north, but I found my office in Gvagma Tower more convenient, since it was only a short walk from Bo House.
At the banquet, four tables, each nearly 150 feet long, seating all 400 guests, with 50 on each side of each table, were set on the 1000th floor of that tower. Above, there was a shallow dome, shaped like an inverted saucer, which was a million-faceted polyhedron of polymethyl methacrylate supported on a labyrinth of stainless steel trusses. The dome could be retracted far enough so that, in the absence of rain, guests could sit under the open sky. At an elevation of 14,000 feet, given that Mecnita is 2,000 feet above sea level and 2 Ramdonia Circle is 12,000 feet tall, stars are very visible, encrusting the black velvet of the nocturnal sky. The banquet was held in the evening of course. As one of the 15 newly inaugurated chancelloresses, I made a little speech of about 5-minutes. I received the mandatory polite applause, and returned to my place.
We ate broiled swordfish and salmon. Afterwards we drank glasses of ice-cold champagne. I met quite a few of the chancelloresses, who, I was surprised to learn, all knew about Gvagma, Cissi's and Gvagma Village. They gave me nice compliments and I was quite flattered. I invited three chancelloresses, namely Varvina of the Egshirvazi District, Druzilla of Piljandar and Furtalissa of Frifna to Bo House for dinner a couple of nights after the banquet, and they all accepted graciously. Now that my star was rising in the firmament, I thought it would be salutary to start socializing with ladies of standing. Not only was I entitled to the pleasure of illustrious company, but also it was possible that I would realize important contacts in their milieu. This was a long way up from the days when I skated around the streets of Mecnita delivering letters to girls' volleyball clubhouses. I would almost say that I had made my mark all by myself, but I knew that Ajinblambia's favor had done much to enable my coming of age.
When Varvina, Druzilla and Furtalissa appeared at Bo House, I was there with Ezmeraudia and Nunu, and I had everything ready for dinner. Ezmeraudia had set the table with an ivory silk damask tablecloth with rose designs, and sterling silver service and candelabra. Rose Verandah I brought us a roast pheasant and bacon, with mushrooms and ewe's cheese, and of course white bread and butter.
Inevitably, in the course of the evening, right after supper and before dessert, the subject of my horns came up. Varvina asked if they were real. She wondered whether they could be removed. I explained that they were quite natural and could not be removed. Conveniently, I neglected to mention that Ojimplanct had implanted keratin-secreting glands in my frontal bones several years earlier. I was so used to having horns that I did not like to recall their origin.
On another planet, like Earth, chancelloresses, councilwomen or alderwomen might be elderly, portly ladies, ceremonious and pompous. Everything they do is according to protocol, and if you do not observe the niceties of conduct that they expect of you, you are regarded as uncouth and perhaps even shown the door.
On our planet, Nya, such civic leaders tend to be much younger and though they are friendly and affectionate to a fault, the artificialities of bureaucratic decorum and procedure are often ignored. Letting down their hair, they become merry and playful. The occasion of my entertaining the chancelloreses of Egshirvazi, Piljandar and Frifna was a case in point.
When I had told Varvina my horns were real, she said, "I don't believe you."
"Please, Varvina, don't tease me."
"I'm not teasing. I just don't believe you."
"Very well, Varvina, come sit on my bed with me for a minute, so that you can examine my horns and satisfy yourself that they are real."
We went into my bedroom. I seated her comfortably near the head of the bed, and told her I would get on all fours, with the crown of my head where she could look it over. When I had done this, I said, "See? See?"
"I guess you're right. Are they firm? Can they be tugged?"
"Of course they can be tugged." I answered with pride.
So Varvina took my horns in her hands and rolled me over till I was lying flat on my back. Then she pounced on me.
"Varvina, what in the world are you doing? Please, Varvina. Please."
...for blueberry pie a la
When Druzilla and Furtalissa heard the laughter and cries, they came racing into the bedroom, and before I knew it, my bed had become the scene of an outrageous battle royal. Fortunately, Ezmeraudia came to my rescue, and started pulling the 'assailants' off, one at a time, chiding them playfully, as if they had been naughty girls. Then back to the dining room we went, for blueberry pie a la mode. To me, this was a vote of approval.
I invited them to come early the following morning too, so they could go with me to see the totem pole being erected. When they came, I led them out to the site, explaining the whole idea behind the pole. I accompanied Lady Sinsella, nodding my head, as she expatiated on construction procedures. The ladies had all visited Gvagma Village before, but we did ride about in an autobuggy for an hour or so after the totem pole. Then they went their ways for the day, we having agreed to meet again soon.
Excavation was just beginning at Cissi's Press too, and again the foundation would be taken down to bedrock. It was less critical at the press though, as the newspaper printing machines, though heavy, had bases large in area, so that the weight was distributed evenly. The totem pole, on the other hand, rested entirely on a single point, as it were, and the height made it susceptible to falling.
I had engaged Lidia and Amponia as architects on the project, while Idificia and Rachetina were in charge of civil and mechanical engineering respectively. I had asked Tarjima, a high-ranking officer at Rupsnoir Press, to recommend a lady knowledgeable in the technical aspects of installing printing presses, that is, on subjects like plant layout, power supply, receipt and dispatch of materials, and lighting. She introduced me to one Impressa, who had assisted in the installation and maintenance of newspaper printing equipment in the mammoth plant in Dorgdid. She and the four architects and engineers would form a select panel that would oversee the whole operation. However, before I actually granted the contracts, they and I paid a visit to our lady King. I was sure the Vrikshaya would agree to my choices, but she did like to be kept apprised of everything of moment that I was doing.
After the meeting, which was something of the nature of a formality, I gave the ladies my original proposal for Cissi's Press, which outlined the size of the lot and the building, the number and capacity of the presses and the amounts of the budget. I had worked these out under Ajinblambia's guidance, and I expected them to be workable, but I instructed the ladies to feel free to discuss any changes or corrections they felt were in order. I gave them an office in Gvagma Tower, where they could set up their computers and drafting boards. They had decided to make a model that would enable them to plan wiring, piping, ventilation, access walkways and other important plant systems, so I made sure their office was large enough.
After many studies and deliberations, it was agreed to accept bids from various manufacturers of printing presses, and the contract was awarded to Vracspongd Press Company, in the Vracspongd District, on the left bank of the Umzid, just north of Ulmla. In the atlantean city of Mecnita, there were many such manufacturers. The proven ability of Vracspongd Press Company, a real behemoth in the business, as well as the bid submitted by them, decided us. They sent their representative, Zhurnalia, to join our panel. Zhurnalia would come daily until the presses were installed, which would be in '404. But let me get back to '403 right now, and let '404 come when the time is ripe.
The 16 girls that I had sent to Ub had reached Futsugawa, the
capital of Tsumufuchi, snd were getting along splendidly. At this point,
I regretted that I had chosen one girl from each of 16 districts,
instead of two or four whole teams. They were playing exhibition games
in Futsugawa, which the people of that city loved, but since
our girls had had no mutual teamwork, they were probably not as coordinated
as they might otherwise have been. Nonetheless, they dressed in two
sets of lookalike uniforms, as if they had been old, established teams.
The Futsugawans were not aware of any incompatibility among members of
teams fortunately, and many of the local girls took up the game. At that
point, our representatives did not have enough skirts and leotards to
apparel all the teams, so many of the local girls wore
makeshifts--shorts and halters, miniskirts and short-sleeve sweaters,
knee-length pants and blouses, anything. At the same time, the goodwill
ambassadresses placed an order for twelve sets of uniforms, along with
materials for six temporary knockdown courts. It would take 5 or 6 days
for the freight to arrive by air. They also let out a franchise for a
Cissi's Intimates outlet in Kobunachi Mall, in the capital. Even though I
had given permission to them to proceed at their own discretion, they
called me by videophone, and we discussed it at length. I renewed my
permission. So they had Tsubina, a lady attorney from the city, draw up a
contract. Vnicci, of the Vrescava Hummingbirds, had been voted the
leader of our delegation in an impromptu election that had ben held when
they left Mecnita. Nobutori, the mayoress of Futsugawa, and Vnicci
signed the contract. Incidentally, pronounce -cc- in Vnicci like -kk- making sure to sound both k's.
It wasn't the case that the ladies of Tsumufuchi were ill-dressed. Quite the contrary, they wore beautiful gowns and stoles in floral patterns with wide cummerbunds and sashes about their waists. Still, the intimates from Cissi's were even more excellent in some ways, and there was the element of novelty about them too. Almost immediately, it seemed that Cissi's in Futsugawa would be a real success. If so, Vnicci would be honored and promoted.
Once the volleyball equipment had arrived and the apparel store designed, our delegation would continue to Fai Kwa, the capital of Ong Pang, a somewhat less modern country. They would go the 500 miles by one of those jalopy buses of Ub that can barely make 100 miles an hour. This would be annoying to girls who were used to 200-mile-an-hour buses.
I was beginning to get good news from Mli, the moon. Rubia
herself was supervising the interface in Shwea, while Shranzi, of the
Cadcad Hurricanes, who had learned Liscarnese, had gone on to Vornda.
Photon XV was hovering geostationary over Vornda but could always begin
orbiting in a minute and so return to Qabjang, if that was what the
moment required. I talked to Rubia and Shranzi frequently by astrophone
just to keep abreast of developments.
Queen Zipsi, like most Shweans, was dark...
Queen Zipsi, like most Shweans, was dark, tall and graceful and made an excellent volleyball player herself. Rubia, as captainess of the championship Ramdonia Roses, was as competent as anyone whatsoever to make such a judgment. Zipsi, grateful for the appreciations she was getting from the rose of Ramdonia, was now eager to visit Mecnita. No one from Shwea had ever come to Ung.
Queen Marcatarc preferred not to play herself. She was diffident of her ability to compete with all the athletic ladies in volleyball. Her forte was ballet. She elected, instead, merely to spectate from her dais in the Stadium of Vornda, which, according to Shranzi, had a pavilion of white silk with gold embroidery overlooking from on high so that it was immediately obvious that a queen was present. The girls of Vornda did take to the game enthusiastically, and it looked as if we might soon start a league there, since Vornda was very modern, and enjoyed facilities and finances.
I talked to Zipsi and Marcatarc separately and invited them to fly down to Nya for a visit to Mecnita. They did not have to wait until volleyball training and organization were complete. They could come right away, and let their subjects continue what they were doing for the time being, if they were comfortable with that. Could they not allow themselves a 30-day vacation, and have the pleasure of meeting Ajinblambia and Udi, along with the the Royal Council and other dignitaries? I told them about Eldor Palace, Ramdonia Circle, and, of course, Gvagma Village, pretending that Gvagma Village was in a class with the others. "I'm entitled to my little conceits," I said to myself.
I asked the Vrikshaya to invite them too, and she did. Of course, an invitation from Ajinblambia is something that no one in her right mind turns down. So it was all settled that they would come on day 390, as they did have a few things to look after first. I asked Barti to authorize a special flight of Photon X to go to Mli and return without changing the schedule for Photon XV, which would just continue to orbit. After all, Photon XV, Moonbus, was a big ship for 100 or more passengers, where Photon X was a compact ship for a handful.
As queens, Zipsi and Marcatarc, would be received by Ajinblambia and Udi, rather than me, and they would stay in Eldor Palace. I piqued myself on taking the first step towards the unification of the lunar kingdoms that I sought, and I'm sure Ajinblambia was aware of this aspect of the athletic gesture that I was making. I would myself escort the royal ladies around our great city, almost as if I claimed personal responsibility for its existence, especially in light of my new chancellory in Ramdonia.
Zevanardia was making progress in the Peokolo Islands. Queen
Analeahi was amenable to the idea of trying a maritime Cissi's outlet in
the Peokolo Islands, at least among those islands within 100 or 150
nautical miles of Saiwani, the capital of Loana Luhu and of the entire
Peokolo Archipleago. It would not be economically feasible to sail to
all the outlying islands, not only because of the distances involved,
but because of the slight numbers of inhabitants living on them.
I told Zevanrdia just to go ahead with any sort of plan she could work out with Analeahi, not worrying herself terribly about the risk of a fiasco. So far, Cissi's Intimates had enjoyed an unbroken string of successes, so if we should suffer one single failed operation, we could just write it off by averaging it in with all the others.
Zevanardia called back in a couple of days, saying she would like to transfer Queen Kolomena temporarily from Cissi's in Kralatimu to Saiwani, to work with Analeahi as Analeahi started her own itinerary, sailing in a yacht advanced on behalf of our company. This new yacht, much like the other in size and design, would be called RUS Gvagma II, complete with an intimates boutique in the superstructure. According to Zevanardia's idea, Kolomena would train Analeahi. Though neither of them was Fulu herself, they both spoke fluent Fulu, which served as a lingua franca in Ungonesia, and so they could communicate with each other with much more facility than either could with Zevanardia.
Queen Kolomena said she could leave her assistant in maritime Cissi's in Kralatimu in charge there, while she herself was in Saiwani. Kolomena's assistant was named Valunana, and Zevanardia had met her several times. She liked and trusted her, and approved the substitution. The only thing for Zevanardia to do was to go to Port Zbabdo, the mainland port city nearest Saiwani where a yacht could be purchased. Then she would navigate it back to Saiwani and turn it over to Analeahi. At that time, she would fly Kolomena to Peokolo, and the three ladies would draw up and sign a contract.
When Queen Marcatarc and Queen Zipsi arrived at Pongdoir Field, Clixbong drove us back to Eldor Palace in Udi's white V30 limousine, which had room for their baggage as well. Ajinblambia settled them in rooms on the same floor as her own office. For two days she entertained them herself. I can only surmise what they may have discussed, as I was not invited. On the third day, I was invited, and the four of us, Ajinblambia, Marcatarc, Zipsi and I, had a long interesting conversation. But no business or policy was discussed. If anything, any affairs of state had been discussed during the two days when I wasn't there. I had been named Queen Sissy, but this was in the nature of an honorary title. I would not participate in queens' deliberations apparently.
I had Clixbong bring a four-seat sports car, which turned out to be a streamlined bullet of a car, built so smooth that, with doors closed, the closures could not even be seen. The color was lime green and the top speed was well over the 200 miles per hour lawful on expressways. However, much of our driving would be on city streets, where the speed limit was 40 miles an hour.
The first thing I wanted to do was go straight to Cissi's in
New Ozgingd, my new sewing factory. I was really proud of this facility
and I had invited the two queens to go with me mainly as a matter of
showing off, so to speak. However, Marcatarc and Zipsi were overwhelmed,
and I could see that their enthusiasm to become a part of the whole
enterprise was growing now. I had them trying on volleyball uniforms,
intimate apparel, swimwear and dancewear for half a day, even
presenting them with a few gifts to take back to Mli.
I did explain that it had taken me several years to grow my
company to the size that would make such a factory necessary, and that
if they incorporated apparel factories on Mli, they should not expect
similar miracles to befortune them, especially since their
cities were so much smaller than Mecnita. The two queens understood this
without my saying so, of course, but I did not want to feel as if I had
been holding out false hopes that would later disappoint them. Still,
now they wanted to sit down at a conference table in Gvagma Tower, and
do some serious negotiation. At this particular juncture, they were more
excited about Cissi's than about Gvagma.
After the visit to Cissi's in New Ozgingd, I had Clixbong chauffeur us across the Umzid River on the stainless steel bridge. Joprinx Expressway turns into Glozbanc Highway on the right bank. There, in Transumzidia, thousand-year-old larch and cedar bristle in massed array in Glozbanc Forest, and the clean, healthy fragrance of pine resin fills the air. I knew that there was a rustic restaurant, in a log cabin, a few miles down the road, so I had Clixbong drive us. The four of us had big, thick, barbecued hamburgers on black bread, with thick slices of purple onions, and lettuce, tomato, and fried potatoes, with root beer. It was such a quiet scenic place that we sat and talked an hour before tooling back southeastwards on the highway.
Queen Marcatarc preferred a leotard...
At Cissi's in New Ozgingd, I had anticipated that I would invite the queens to Cormozhna's Cabin, as the restaurant was called. So I had asked each to choose an outfit to wear, explaining that this would be informal. Queen Zipsi said she'd like to wear a red dress with a mini-skirt that she saw in the factory and liked. So I agreed to that. Queen Marcatarc preferred a leotard, tights and shorts that she had tried on, so I gave it to her. It was a silvery gray off-the-shoulder leotard in which she looked absolutely devastating.
They were still dressed in these clothes when it occurred to me to show them Cissi's Intimates in Frifna, my very first location, since it was also in the far north of Mecnita. But their attire was no problem. This location was also a factory basically, with showrooms and a cosmetics department. Zafria, whom I hadn't seen in more than a year, was still directress of the store-factory. This was the house on Shayvurddhi Circle that had been given to me as a reward for my role in the apprehension and exile of the Pantheresses, the very same Pantheresses I now had in my employ in New Ozgingd. Zafria had taken over in Frifna, so Zevanardia could move to Ramdonia, but this was no sacrifice on her part. She lived on Hozhgranga Avenue near Shayvurddhi Circle, and had welcomed the opportunity to work so close to home. When we met, we embraced tenderly and kissed each other passionately, I was grateful to her for doing such a commendable job running the business there.
I introduced her to Queens Zipsi and Marcatarc, who had coffee with Zafria, Clixbong and me. We couldn't eat another bite though. We looked around the immaculate sales room, with its three-way mirrors. We visited the cosmetics and perfume counter. Finally, we went back down Pongdoir Expressway to Eldor Palace, where I led them back to Ajinblambia's office. I had dismissed Clixbong for the day, so descending to the purple, lavender and lilac metro station in the basement of the palace, I caught a train to 7 Ramdonia Circle, and walked lazily home.
I found Ezmeraudia and Nunu at home, and
told them all about the hectic day, saying I was glad to be home with my
own dear ones. I still wasn't hungry, so I told them just to
go ahead with their supper. Later, if I got hungry, I could eat a small
sandwich or perhaps a muffin or two. I missed Zevanardia, but she should
be back in ten or twenty days, according to our reckoning.
Later that evening I dropped by the Nautilus Chamber in the Art Colony. Nacrea had been receiving shells and collectors' fishes in good quantities from Rhodoconcha, of the Mollusk Gallery in Port Crelf. She was now transacting much more business than she had been doing and wanted to expand. The only problem was that there were stores on both sides of hers. We might have to have her move to a new location, but she was reluctant to do this because of goodwill considerations arising from permanence and stability.
Another option would be to add a mezzanine or a basement. Nacrea might also consider the possibility of a second store in another part of the village. I walked around the Nautilus Chamber with her and I was delighted at the varied collections that she offered. She was also selling pearls now, both loose and as pieces in rings, earrings, circlets and other confections.
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