Panties and Bras

 

 

A Tale of Ung

 

Chapter 10

 

 

 

 

Nrip, Vmic and Vabg

 

Escort Us over the Gorges

 

 

 

The next morning, Pnecasto, a chauffeur at the palace, had ready at 3 Ungi in the underground garage a white V30 limousine when the queen and I descended from her office in her private elevator. The limousine was necessary as I had lots of baggage for my trip to Mli. Pongdoir Expressway proved emptier than usual and Pnecasto had us out at Pongdoir Field, 90 miles northeast of Eldor Palace, in half an earthly hour.

There was a painted red ramada in a little park just across the way from the entrance to the field, and Udi had suggested we come early so we could eat a picnic breakfast before I climbed aboard the spacecraft, especially as it would take Pnecasto time to oversee the stowing of my baggage. Queen Udi was always grateful to escape the palatine routine on any pretext whatsoever and this brief interlude was perfect. She had brought plum cakes and sour cream, with pieces of cold chicken on poppyseeded buns, and hot tuco in a stainless Ungi thermos jug. We had a leisurely repast before the mandarin-colored discus of the dawning sun, and after stretching sleepily we rose and crossed into the gates, presenting passes to the guards who sentried there.

On the field stood seven towering spaceships, Ungi Stars, about 200 feet in height, on launching pads here and there and yonder. I cringed just a bit but tried to hide my nervousness from Udi. I was escorted in a military car to the nearest spaceship, 500 feet away, and I began to climb the ladder to the module near the nose. I could see Queen Udi down below becoming smaller and smaller as I ascended. Then I disappeared into the hatch of the ship called Ungi Star III.

Soon five rockets were unsheathed from the fuselage and thrust smartly in a centrifugal direction till they stood well clear of the body of the ship. A minute later, the titanic silver bullet rose on lengthening shafts of fire in a sea of flame that billowed on the pad. Ripping through the clouds, the spaceship stabbed the sky, went screaming through the stratosphere and tore the cosmic ether all asunder. Then the rockets were withdrawn into receptacles inside the fuselage and sealed with sliding plates, but nothing was detached or jettisoned. The ship remained entire. The extra-light metallic alloy atlantite-10 had revolutionized our aerospace technology.

A while later, I could see the curvature of Nya, now a great white luminescent globe against the jet-black satin stole of night. Faintly I descried the outline of the continent of Eb and in the center of it a minuscule blotch, the city of Mecnita, wherein were Eldor Palace and Queen Udi. Was she the only Udi in creation? Or were there a million Udis in a million far-flung galaxies? Were there countless other worlds just like my own, where ladies smiled and children played, where cattle lowed and crickets chirped? Was there a better world somewhere? A world without night and winter, poverty and death? Was there an eden or a heaven?

Such vagrant musings occupied my mind for the 12 earth-hours we flew to get to Mli. Our speed was 40,000 miles an hour. Mli is larger than the Moon and farther out from Nya than the Moon is from the Earth, with a mass density exceeding that of Nya but a comparable atmosphere, somewhat more rarefied and of a deeper blue, with great changes in the relative duration of light and darkness. In equatorial Mecnita, sunup, noon and sundown portion out the day in equal quarters, but cities in the upper latitudes, like Kara Darya and Kholodsk, enjoy white nights in summer and undergo black days in winter, but that is Nya. Mli, however, rotates on its proper axis but revolves on Nya-fixed axes, with Nya atwirl in its own right, and it’s hard to guess what’s what.

My mission upon Mli would be investigation of the Vrikshayas and the legend of their lunar provenance. We did not expect that they’d originated in the Shwean kingdom at any rate, but maybe there were other, more sophisticated countries on that single populated satellite of ours.

Eventually we had Mli before us and our trajectory came to a point of tangency with the orbit we would trace around the moon. Ojojonia and Olofarxt—a woman and a man—who would be my two companions in descent, entered the module with me. Minutes after that, the module separated, advancing in a spiral of contracting radius, and we could see the attitude-controlling rockets firing as we rolled or yawed or pitched—mostly pitching in a nose-down course—till finally we landed, with a manual assist at the navigational devices, in Qabjang Stadium in Qabjang, Shwea.

A ladder was let down, and Olofarxt and Ojojonia and I, first letting down our baggage, climbed down ourselves. Nya, the mother planet, with a mean diameter of 18,607 miles and a light specific mass of 2.5, has gravitational acceleration of 10.41 meters per square second, so that an earthling of 300 pounds would weigh 318 pounds on Nya, and naturally I have corrected for this everywhere in this account of mine. In any case, this is a nugatory difference, whereas the difference from Nya to Mli was indeed considerable. Suddenly, I felt as weightless as meringue or papier-maché and raised my feet a yard at every step, though I’d been coached and trained for this before the trip. The more experienced astronauts, Olofarxt and Ojojonia, fared much better.

Across the stadium we saw four figures—tall and very thin and glossy black—wearing robes of aubergine, definitely non-Nyatic. We’d been told of course that only half a dozen people in the entire realm spoke Ungi and that only after a fashion. But we didn’t know a single word of Shwean, so how could we presume to criticize?

As they approached, all about 6’-6 and averaging 125 earth-pounds, I couldn’t guess their sexes from their faces. On one, though, I perceived a faint similitude of breasts. It must have been Queen Zipsi, I concluded, and I proved right. The others, we found out were Nrip and Vmic and Vabg.

"Welcome Qabjang. My name am Nrip. This name is Queen Zipsi. These is Vmic and Vabg."

As the leader of our delegation, I deemed it mine to introduce ourselves. "I’m Vocno, the prime minister of Ung, and these are Ojojonia and Olofarxt, fellow citizens of Ung. We’re here on business on behalf of Her Majesty, Queen Udi, Queen of Ung. Greetings and thanks I offer."

The Shweans had faint voices, almost mechanical, but we understood them when they invited us to follow them. All around, outside the stadium, stretched a grassy plain quite destitute of streets and roads. Rectangular stone buildings, low and sturdy, stood here and there at random orientations. Rocks and boulders were scattered on the plain as well, as if no one had even thought to clear it. The grass was as tall as a man in many places, in others just knee-high and elsewhere altogether absent, so patches of tawny clay were visible. Parties of Shweans gathered round numerous campfires, apparently roasting food. Qabjang was a frontier town, it would seem, rugged and rough-hewn, with the aroma of burning brush heavy in the air, not at all unpleasant really. Nrip and the three other Shweans led us to a house whose walls were single slabs of stone, 6 or 8 feet thick, with doorways just like corridors and windowsills as big as beds. In a room with a ceiling of wooden planks on wooden joists and rafters, and a floor of granite blocks tossed with furs and hides, Nrip seated us on benches and put before us turnip gruel, barley bread and eels.

When we had eaten this coarse fare, Olofarxt and Ojojonia and I presented gifts that we’d brought with us in our baggage to the Shweans—calculators, flashlights, cameras, ballpoint pens and mirrors. These things we knew were novelties in Qabjang. Zipsi, Nrip, Vmic and Vabg were delighted with the presents and amused as we explained just how to use these things, so the little party lasted for some time.

Eventually, though, I decided to get down to business. Producing photographs of Vinja, Barti, Mlechi, Dhabbi, Ajinblambia and Usha, I waited while the Shweans looked them over. At first, they thought that these were further gifts. Then they seemed to think that I was showing photographs of friends and family in Ung. Finally, however, I made them understand that I was looking for these women and thought they might be Mlians. "This no Shwea," said Nrip, "Shwea people not are look like these womans. They are look like us. More thin. More dark. This people is come from Ufzu maybe."

"Ufzu? What is Ufzu? Where is Ufzu?"

"Ufzu is other place. There be Queen Oa."

"How far is Ufzu?" I asked Nrip.

"Maybe 1000 skok."

"Skok? A thousand skok? What’s a skok?"

Nrip led me to a heavy wooden door, opened it and pointed to a granite building perhaps 1000 yards away. "You seeing there house? That house be one skok," he explained.

Six hundred miles, more or less, I thought. The question was how to get there overland without disturbing Ungi Star III’s geostationary position directly over Qabjang. Nrip anticipated I would ask.

"We carry you," he offered.

"Carry us? Then you have a car?"

"No be car. Be spider."

"Spider?" I exclaimed.

"It be machine is look like spider is look," said Nrip with a chuckle. "Tomorrow for the morning, Vmic and Vabg and me, we carry you go Ufzu."

"We’re very grateful. This is kind of you."

He led us to a room with furs and hides upon the floor, but not a scrap of furniture. "You sleeping at here until that we be wake you up."

We laid ourselves on piles of fur that we had heaped. We could see Nya like a colossal moon hanging before the tunneled window, a copper gong on the horizon. We slept 10 hours but it was still the middle of the night on Mli. Another 8 or 10 earth-hours ticked slowly by. At long last, the nearly royal blue of the Mlian sky was tinctured bright vermilion by the sun, and we got up and ready. Soon afterwards, Nrip came by to lead us to the spider, while we went tagging apprehensively along.

The spider was an iron carriage on eight legs. The carriage had three thwarts just like a rowboat’s; each could accommodate three passengers abreast. Each leg of the arachnid was fitted with three joints—black iron spheres each larger than a basketball. Presumably, inside were balls and sockets, pawls and ratchets or chains and sprockets. In the front of the strange carriage there were steering wheel and gearshift, or something of the kind. Nrip sat behind the steering wheel, with Vmic and Vabg beside him on the first thwart. We three Nyatics shared the second, while the third was empty.

When Nrip began to drive, the spider started walking forward, soon shifting to a run, the legs all moving in a complicated choreography I couldn’t comprehend, until it seemed that, on our course, the carriage would collide against a boulder, careen and capsize, or strike a leg upon the rock and knock it off, rendering it inoperative. But as one footpad of the leg came down upon the rock, I could see the angles at its joints as they began to vary from the angles of the other legs, and the leg did, as a whole, assume its own particular configuration, so that it rested safely and securely on the rock while the carriage just continued straight and level. Another leg did likewise, then another, till we had passed the boulder without mishap. Again and again, we ran through weeds and over rocks, but we experienced no discomfort or delay. For hours, we clambered over mounds, splashed through brooks, slithered in sand and gravel. By and by, however, we came to a broad river, and it looked as if we’d have to stop, but the spider merely wiggled and wriggled down the muddy bank and flopped into the water as its eight legs stuck out and straightened into oars. The spider rowed us right across and crawled up the farther bank, its jaws chewing up the sedge and reeds that littered it. When we were once again on solid ground, though it was cluttered, the spider made maybe 15 miles an hour. On clearer stretches, we’d make 20. On roads, where they existed, our speed was over 30.

Come nightfall, Nrip said we were halfway to our destination—Ufzu. We put up at a lodge or inn exactly like the buildings back in Qabjang. We ate cassava and dried fish and fungus before we retired to our heaps of fur to spend another night. How remote and eery was this place!

On the morning after, the six of us got in the spider and continued on our way, but sometime in midday, the plain that stretched before us began to undulate a little with gentle hills and dales, and later started corrugating more severely in a seemingly unending sequence of steep mountain ranges alternating with deep gorges full of water. The lower slopes and foothills of the peaks were clad in casuarinaceous or araucariaceous forests, it appeared, if I may use Nyatic adjectives to botanize the Mlian flora, darker green than Nya’s, almost black in fact. The waters were a deep, deep violet, giving to this untamed region a wild beauty tempered with a silent sorrow.

We ascended acclivity after acclivity, descended declivity after declivity and rowed river after river, chopping weeds and hopping rocks, so I could scarce believe it. I wondered how we’d cope with a mechanical misfortune, but asking Nrip was a task I couldn’t tackle, so meager was his Ungi.

Later we came to the ruins of a village defunct apparently for many centuries, and in our path there stood a wall some ten feet high. The spider approached the wall, stood up high with all legs straight and plumb, advanced till the upper segments of its foremost pair of legs made contact with the wall, with the underside of the carriage higher than the coping stone. Raising that foremost pair of legs in a sort of butterfly stroke till they also were above the wall, the spider leaned forward till the second pair of legs made contact with the wall, then lowered the first pair on the far side of the wall until they rested on the ground. Next the spider raised the second pair of legs, leaned again till the third pair touched the wall and let down the second pair just behind the first pair. Then it raised the third pair and the fourth pair in like fashion, and finally we’d negotiated the wall entirely. I was astonished, and made a mental note to ask Zipsi for a set of blueprints of the spider to take back to Ung.

"This be old, old place," Nrip remarked, "People die long time ago, before Shwea. Nobody is know who is them people are."

"Is Ufzu a country or a city?" I inquired, changing the subject. We’d ridden hours without a word, and this travelogue of Nrip’s that broke the silence enabled me to put the question that I’d had in mind all day. Unfortunately, Nrip didn’t understand, and after trying idly to explain, I merely dropped it, deciding just to wait and see.

Eventually, we crossed the last of all the rivers and the ridges and entered on another plain with 10-foot grass, in general appearance just like sugarcane, but purple, of a shade between the shades of eggplant and red cabbage. Though evidently the spider could’ve mown right through the purple cane, we followed instead a rambling trail a wheeled vehicle could have managed only sectionwise, for there were fallen trees in places, stairways here and there, bridgeless creeks and scattered boulders. It was a study in abandon, disrepair and sloth, a real piece of surrealistic art. This canebrake and the trail seemed at first to go on endlessly, but suddenly, in later afternoon, I saw a great white tower with a golden figure flying high above it, miles and miles in front of us.

"Ufzu," Nrip informed us, "That be Candle Tower. Queen Oa is live by Candle Tower. She top woman in Ufzu."

An hour elapsed before we found ourselves on the outskirts of a spacious city with broad avenues, graded but not paved, that formed a gridwork. Houses spaced quite far from one another stood along the avenues. The typical such house was 60 feet by 60 feet in plan, I’d guess, with a height of roughly 20, built of rusticated limestone, without a single window, but having one bronze door facing on the street. Purple ivy climbed the walls, covering one or two of them almost completely with just a vagrant tendril here and there upon the other walls. Adjacent to each house was an enclosure, fenced around with wooden posts and rails bleached ashen gray by sunshine. In the enclosure, usually there were three or four gigantic ibexes as large as bison, their horns like sharpened clubs. On the streets, I saw some native Ufzuans in blue-and-silver garments, sometimes gold-and-scarlet ones instead, mounted on great ibexes. They must have been nobility, because pedestrians wore drabber clothing. There were motor-driven vehicles as well, equipped with large, spoked wheels like chariots and upright bodies for standing passengers. They were slow enough on the unsurfaced streets. Wagon traffic added to the general hurly-burly, considerable as we got nearer Candle Tower.

We stopped about a mile from the tower. Within the royal precinct, no vehicles or mounts might enter, so we’d have to go on foot. The tower seemed about 1000 feet in height, with a 200-foot diameter, all of perfectly white stone or concrete, completely windowless, but with a massive door of bronze accessible by stairs. Atop the tower, an emblem, like a stylized flame of gold or bird in space, supported by a framework of barely visible diagonals and posts and struts, was resplendent in the sun. The tower did look like a great white candle. As we drew near, the crowds got thicker and we could overhear the voices of the passers-by. I could’ve sworn I heard Qazudi words. Was this my imagination? I could scarcely comprehend whole sentences, just phrases now and then, as if it had been a dialect of the Qazudi language being spoken here. But I really wasn’t close enough to listen very carefully.

We climbed a flight of twenty stairs at Candle Tower, each two feet wide and thirty long. At either end of every stair, a guard in iron helmet and cuirass and greaves, with black cloth sleeves and leggings, stood erect, lance and buckler in his hands, a living statue. The forty guards made no obeisance or salute as we rose past. There was a landing at the top, and there the leaves of bronze stood open on great hinges. Nrip ushered us inside without ado.

We were in a cavernous round hall with walls of fire. Orange flames danced up and down on top of blue flames, constantly in motion, changing shape, a mighty conflagration. It was very hard to tell whether a fireproof, transparent, cylindrical partition formed a chamber that contained a real fire raging all around, or whether motion pictures of a fire were being projected by unseen projectors, but the blazes shed a mellow light interspersed with fickle shadows and kept the hall half-hidden in a pale glow, creating an air of mystery, intrigue and danger.

Dozens stood around inside the flame room, in groups of four or six or eight, apparently conversing in informal fashion. We walked around, led by Nrip, threading our way among the crowds. Yes, I definitely heard Qazudi words and phrases, but somehow not entirely distinctly.

Queen Oa was exceeding tall, elegant of figure and attired in a long black gown not unlike the habit of a nun, but, of course, without a wimple or a coif. Instead she wore a crown of gold, not over-ostentatious. Her hair was long and black and straight, her complexion brownish, her expression quite severe. She was as large as Ajinblambia, but not as prepossessing certainly.

Apparently, however, she wasn’t one to stand on ceremony, for Nrip, who seemed to know her, just walked right up and greeted her, while Olofarxt and Ojojonia and I stood back a little to see exactly what would happen. Vmic and Vabg approached Queen Oa too, but Nrip did all the talking. Nrip switched from his native Shwean and his broken Ungi to the Qazudi-sounding dialect of Ufzu I’d been hearing all around. At close range like this, I understood what Nrip and Oa said, without much difficulty.

Nrip explained to Oa that we were representatives of Ung on Nya come to Mli to visit Ufzu. I wondered whether I should just intrude myself into the conversation and state my business, but I resolved to wait and see how Oa was disposed towards Ung, in other words, whether she was friend or foe, before I spoke a word.

As I edged closer though, and heard Queen Oa’s speech, her very, very lucid speech, it seemed so innocent that I was quite disarmed, and forgetting my resolve, I blurted out in crystal-clear Qazudi, "We’re looking for a family they call the Vrikshayas."

"Oh, you speak Ufzuan?" asked Oa with surprise.

"Actually I speak Qazudi. It seems Ufzuan must be a dialect."

"No, it’s vice versa, Qazudi is a dialect of Ufzuan," Queen Oa said.

"We’re looking for a family. Here, Queen Oa, let me show you pictures," I requested, as I produced the photographs of the Geese and Ajinblambia.

"Oh, these are my kinswomen. Yes, we are the Vrikshayas. What news of them can you report? Are they still living in Qazudistan?"

"No, now they’re citizens of Ung."

"And you?" she asked.

"I’m Qazudi too," I lied, "but now I also am a citizen of Ung."

"Under protest doubtlessly?" said Oa.

"Protest? No, no, not at all. Since the unification of Qazudistan and Ung, relations between the countries have been excellent."

"It wasn’t a unification. It was Ungi aggression, Ungi conquest."

"No, no," I objected, "Qazudistan was the aggressor."

"Qazudistan the aggressor!" Oa almost choked with anger, "It was Ung I say. Where’s your patriotism, man? Where’s your loyalty?"

"But this union has conferred great benefits."

"You know what I think? I think you’re an Ungi spy," she cried. At this, she took a big brass pipe hanging by a chain among the folds of her long skirt, raised it to her lips, emitting a shrill whistle audible throughout the flame room. At once the din of all the conversations ceased, and a score of guards, in skintight elasticized black jumpsuits and horned brass helmets resembling owls’ heads, appeared as if from nowhere and circled round the queen.

"Seize them," she commanded, motioning in our direction. Soon six or seven owlheads were holding Olofarxt and Ojojonia and me, while Queen Oa reprimanded Nrip and Vmic and Vabg, whom, nonetheless, she ordered ejected from the palace without arrest.

Minutes later, the six or seven owlheads, having led us down three flights of stairs, dragged us to a cellar room with a massive oaken door on iron hinges. Opening the door, they pushed us in and closed it once again, dropping in place an iron bar to bolt it from outside.

The room was dimly lit and had a putrid stench. Several rotting beds and couches filled up half the floorspace of the room. Apparently the commotion of our arrival caused a giant centipede—some three feet long!—to crawl from underneath a bed. Each segment of its body looked exactly like a clam and its legs resembled children’s fingers. Ojojonia began to shriek, and I jumped up and stamped to death the miserable arthropod. We cleaned up the mess and searched the room lest other monsters show their heads. Finishing our check and ready to conclude that we were safe, I suddenly looked up and saw in a corner of the ceiling a terrible huge spider like a briquet of charcoal on eight black velvet legs. It was my turn to recoil in fright, but Olofarxt killed this grim, frightening arachnid.

We were all afraid to sleep, so we did so only cautiously, with one of us always remaining wide-awake to watch for vermin. Our captors held us in the cellar for what seemed two whole days without a thing to eat or drink. At last a group of owlhead guards returned and opened up the massive oaken door. Handling us roughly, pushing and pulling us rudely, they took us to an office off the flame room.

Queen Oa was inside the office with two elderly, maroon-robed counselors—Moko and Truxi they were called—and a page, whose name was Abro, standing in the corner motionless. Their names, which actually I learnt moments later, are not Qazudi-sounding names at all, a fact that I cannot explain in the light of my present knowledge, if Ufzuan and Qazudi are but related dialects.

"I haven’t yet decided exactly what to do with you," said Oa, "I’ve a good mind just to hang you. I hate spies and traitors. Can you give me one good reason why I should not just go ahead and hang you?"

"We haven’t committed or intended any offense to your person or to Ufzu," I replied.

"Enough!" said Oa angrily, "You’re not giving reasons. You’re just blubbering and whining. What do you think, Moko? What do you think, Truxi? Shall I hang them."

"Yes, just hang them and be done with it," Moko counseled.

"I agree with Moko," Truxi said, "There is no negotiating with such spies and enemies. Hang them, and the sooner the better."

"Doubtlessly you’re right, my Truxi, but I’m thinking maybe we can hold them here for ransom. Perhaps they’re nobles or important personages back in Ung. What’s the queen’s name? Udi, is it? Maybe Udi will be willing to redeem them. Perhaps she’ll give us military secrets, designs and plans, patents, processes and programs. Who knows? Maybe all these things and money too. You know how I love money. And of course you two would get your share of all and any proceeds. What do you think of this idea?"

"This idea is certainly the best," said Moko, "Let’s get in touch with this Queen Udi and make known to her what we’re demanding."

"Yes, let’s do it! No! First, let’s wait and plan out our strategy precisely, then call Udi. But let’s treat our hostages a little better and make sure they’re still alive and healthy when the time arrives."

"Our lady is so wise she makes our counsel idle," Moko flattered Oa.

"Abro," Oa ordered, "Go get the owlheads and tell them to escort these hostages to a chamber on the dome and treat them with all courtesy, but not to let them go, on pain of death." Abro dashed right out.

Half a dozen owlhead guards answered Abro’s summons, appearing in the office off the flame room in a minute. Obeying Oa, they conducted Olofarxt and Ojojonia and me out of the office and across the empty flame room through an entrance to a hall. I could not quite picture where we were, because the hall was longer than the diameter of Candle Tower. It must have lain directly opposite us as we’d approached from Shwea with Nrip and Vmic and Vabg, behind the tower and therefore out of sight. The hall extended 1000 feet or more and terminated in a dome of glass on a framework of stainless steel purlins, girts and rafters. Its lower edge though rested on a wall, circular in plan, that ringed a spacious marble floor with a gigantic inlaid sunburst in every shade of red imaginable—garnet, carmine, scarlet, rose, crimson, pink, cerise, vermilion—beautiful and cheerful. In the wall at intervals of 10° were doors with red surrounds of marble flanked by aedicules with little statues, very lavish, very costly. The walls themselves were white. The hall and dome together were a very handsome blend of modern and traditional motifs. I was amazed that Ufzu—a country that I hadn’t even known existed—was so sophisticated architecturally.

The owlhead guards then chose and opened up a door and showed us in politely. We found ourselves in a sumptuous apartment with two double beds, four couches, four big armchairs, a pair of dressers, a table with four chairs, a desk and several smaller pieces. The only windows, though, were plate glass windows high above, providing us with clerestory lighting and enabling us only to distinguish day and night. There’d be no escaping here, I thought. Artificial lighting was afforded by concealed ceiling lamps.

We relaxed and bathed, hardly speaking to each other. An atmosphere of depression and futility prevailed. Later on, two guards appeared again, with dinner for us three, and also linens, clothes and toiletries, pens and paper, playing cards and books and chessmen. Dinner was a roasted grouse, stuffed with nuts and mushrooms, hot white bread and butter, with sparkling wine and shortcake afterwards.

Thereafter, they appeared at regular intervals, bringing food and sometimes other items. They always entered, inspecting the apartment, as if they might expect us to be devising mischief or escape. So glum were we in general, though, we only sat around, with vacant gazes, listlessly, contriving absolutely nothing.

Two or three days later, the owlheads fetched us once again and led us to Queen Oa’s office off the flame room. This time, a navy linen curtain hanging in the middle of a wall inside her office—I had noticed it before—was drawn to reveal what seemed to be a large rectangular motion-picture screen. On the screen, I saw Queen Udi’s frightened, but still lovely, face, obviously broadcast live.

"Vocno! Vocno! Are you safe and sound? How are they treating you? I’ve been sick with worry," I heard Udi’s earnest, anxious voice.

"We’re fine for now, but there’s no telling what they have in mind," I answered.

After some few seconds, Udi said, "You know Queen Oa is demanding an exorbitant, outrageous ransom—strategic information, scientific data, industrial techniques, computer circuits, genetic secrets and sums of money too."

"Don’t give it to her."

"She says she’ll hang you three."

"Then let her hang us! You can’t give away the kingdom as a ransom." I tried to sound heroic, noble, patriotic. This is what the situation called for.

When I said this, though, Oa threw a noose around my neck. Above, the noose passed through an eye-bolt someone had installed, apparently just now, and for the very purpose. Queen Oa jerked the rope so tight I thought she’d strangle me or hang me on the spot. I could feel the blood swell in the bloodstreams on my brow. I must have turned a nearly mortal shade of red.

"Udi," said Oa with a fiendish voice, "I’ll hang him here before you very eyes."

"Don’t give her one brass penny," I found it in me to utter with a gasp.

Queen Oa then let go the noose and simultaneously she battered me so hard with her big, bony hand she knocked me down upon the floor. I saw Udi looking on from half a million miles away, helplessly affrighted, a tear upon her guileless cheek. Then Truxi turned the television off, declaring, "We’ll give her 90 days to pay the ransom. You’ll go on living in the dome for now. But heaven help you if Udi doesn’t pay!"

The owlhead guards then led us back and locked us in our stylish prison cell. We sat around dejectedly, debating what to do. A day went by. Another followed. The guards kept bringing meals. On the third day, Olofarxt and Ojojonia made a very interesting discovery: there was a ventilation register mounted in the wall behind one of the heavy double beds. The bed itself, though, was bolted to the floor.


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Photo Credit:

Nrip, Vmic and Vabg Escort Us over the Gorges:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:YangtzeCruise.jpg

**********A TALE OF UNG**********


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