Panties and Bras




A Tale of Ung


Chapter 12










Vocno Applies Ajinblambia's Lipstick











Dorgdid, Ung’s second city, with 67,000,000 souls, lies west-northwest of the capital, Mecnita, 1750 miles away, near the fourth parallel, around longitude 350° . We measure longitude only in an easterly direction. There are no time zones. Everyone upon the planet must observe Mecnita time, but if business hours are 4 till 8 inside Mecnita, elsewhere they may be, say 2 till 6, or 5 till 9, depending on your longitude. Dorgdid is a square, 80 miles long, 80 miles wide. Greater Dorgdid, with 100,000,000 people, includes the city proper and several hundred suburbs. Many of the suburbs in the eastern reaches of the great metropolis are devoted to technology and industry. Mezquinc, where Ajinblambia would build her aerospace facility, was one of Dorgdid’s eastern suburbs. Aoshneps and Shornbanc were two others. Preparatory for the aerospace facility, a steel mill would rise in Aoshneps and a power plant in Shornbanc. In Dorgdid proper near its boundary with Mezquinc, in the Tlebscuc District, a cement-producing plant would come into existence. At least, this was Queen Udi’s general idea, which she, of course, had gotten from her vice queen. It was subject to amendment and revision if better ideas came about or if economic determinants compelled it. The steel mill, the power plant and the cement-producing plant would supply construction materials and electricity for the facility, and afterwards be utilized by Greater Dorgdid for its general purposes.

Not only would the vice queen draw up the specifications and the blueprints for the aerospace facility itself, but she would also study the Ufzuan spaceship called the Supermeteor as well as our own Ungi Star. She’d try to sophisticate one or the other, maybe both, or create a wholly new ship using elements of their design, all with a view to obtaining optimal values of range, speed, deadweight and, most important, cost. With a thoroughly updated set of plans and an ultramodern facility to turn those plans into reality, Ajinblambia was confident she’d be able to exploit Dlivandor’s inexhaustible uranium deposits. Actually, by the way, the planet is named ‘Dli’, while ‘vandor’ is a surname that means ‘mysterious’. Also, now that Ufzu had been annexed to Ung, Queen Udi wanted to provide regular passenger service between the metropolis and the dominion. She had in mind an expansionistic policy she’d implement on Mli, with Ufzu as a ‘beachhead’ for her ‘invasion’ of technology and culture.

Beyond Mli and Dli, there are other moons and planets in the Dyotic solar system, so Udi was looking also to the future exploration and annexation of these other worlds and the foundation of a transdyotic empire. If such a thing were to come about, Mezquaco would be step one.

Often Udi, Ajinblambia and Usha would meet in the office of the queen, even oftener in Ajinblambia’s. As regards Mezquaco, obviously the first considerations were pecuniary: How would the facility itself and the affiliated plants be financed? Should Ajinblambia offer stock for sale? Float a bond issue? Seek a bank loan? Request a royal grant? Anyone familiar with the world of business here in Ung will tell you different approaches to financing, at least on the quotidian level, tend to paraphrase each other. It matters little what avenue you take. However, with a project of the magnitude of the aerospace facility in Mezquinc, alternative methods could spell a vast difference in results, and this was what the three great ladies met to talk about. I was not invited. My fiasco with Queen Oa had tarnished the splendor my decipherment had gilt me in. Besides, what did Vocno Ganven know of finance? I just kept to my apartment, studying the reference material on Ajinblambia and trying to prepare the outline of the biography Queen Udi had me writing. In the evenings, when I’d repair to Udi’s study, sometimes she would drop a hint as to what was taking place in those meetings of the three, but otherwise I hardly knew a thing about the groundwork for the project.

Meanwhile, Barti had been on the Ghasbi Project one whole year. Nya is not the kind of planet where building an amphitheater or a stadium takes three or four or half a dozen years, from the day of the decision to proceed till the day the gates are opened to the crowds. No, we do it in just half a year. It doesn’t languish on the drawing boards forever and a day. Scores of engineers get on it and get it out. Fabrication is as swift as lightning. Nor does erection lag and drag. They don’t move by fits and starts, while workers strike, malinger, underwork and blunder. Rather you can see the building grow by leaps and bounds. Of course, draining swamps and irrigating deserts involve much more than building amphitheaters and stadiums, but Barti’s project in Memleket Ghasb was hurtling forward at tremendous speed. A huge canal 1000 miles long had been excavated and revetted with concrete walls to frustrate seepage and improve appearance. A reservoir depressed below the level of the swamp had also been dug out, with sluice gates to control the influx, and a pumping station to raise it to the height of the canal. Along the course of the canal, the water would be purified and treated and enriched. Water destined for irrigation would contain nitrogen-fixing, pesticidal, herbicidal and other additives, while drinking water would contain fluorine, iodine and vitamins. These aspects of the project naturally required a whole array of auxiliary buildings and a wide variety of specialized equipment, at least some of which Barti had designed herself. In this capacity, as research worker and inventress, Barti often visited Mecnita and spent time at Mecnita Testing Laboratories, no doubt emulating her great heroine in this. She’d also go about, hiring and procuring, visiting the universities and institutes in town.

She’d always come to Eldor Palace, ever taller, ever lovelier, with her lustrous long black hair, her sandalwood complexion, her bosom high and full and shapely, her midriff slender, her hips voluptuous and wide. I liked her best in red silk crepe fitted to reveal her graceful figure without being overtight, perhaps a sleeveless sheath by day, a full décolletage by night. She was a dear, dear friend and teammate, boon companion and fellow minister of state. I’d forgiven her her innocent complicity in the benign deception of posing as a country girl from Gangawar, when in fact she was the heiress of the multimillennial Mlian ruling house of Vrikshaya with its interworld connections. Barti seemed to be emerging as the leader of the ministerial sextet, supplanting me and making herself the true prime ministress of Ung.

"My goodness, Barti, how you’ve grown!" I said to her one day.

She smiled, "We Vrikshayas are always tall. In a year of two, I’ll be as tall as Ajinblambia I hope, seven feet or so. I love the feeling of authority it gives me to tower over others." For some strange reason, I found the prospect titillating and wondered if she’d ever pick me up in fun and seat me in her lap, as Ajinblambia had done that day we’d flown to Qizilot.

Usha too was getting tall. I preferred to see her wearing ecru velvet. Her chocolate complexion was flattered by the contrast. Her natural rosy lips, full and expressive, she richened with the costly lipsticks she selected, and her infant’s face was neatly framed by the black bangs and tresses that she wore. Somehow it was fitting that she was a bank directress rather than an engineer. Her beautiful derriere was admirably suited for sitting in a cushioned chair, sinking ever so elegantly into the soft upholstery of suede. She was only slightly shorter, slightly fuller than the more athletic Barti, with just a suggestion of cuddliness in her proportions. To see her giving orders to the erstwhile pillars of the realm’s finances, Dzemlavang and Yarlomenx, would leave you in a state of uttermost astonishment. Half their size, a third their age, Usha had twice their brains and thrice their power. Her office was on the first floor of #5 Ramdonia Circle, the cerebrum whither all the kingdom’s nerves conducted.

Vinja, whom Queen Udi had let Ajinblambia install as overseer of the Turfant-Tuva Project and the Oirad Project, was 22, the third eldest of the Gangawarian quintet. She was tall and slender, very shapely, and you’d say that she was sultry and seductive if you’d seen her seeming graceful languor and provocative expression. But she was not a femme fatale or temptress in reality. Rather she was noble and intelligent, affable and gallant. With black hair falling to her waist, she had breasts not conical, but rounded teardrop-fashion on the bottom, the teat an inch or so below the center. Her incredibly flat midriff from the bosom to the waist was sculptured exquisitely to match her lap, protruding just a little from the navel downwards, apparently a cozy place to rest your head when she was sitting on a couch. Of course, as Udi’s husband, I could only admire Vinja’s delectably formed body, or maybe just innocently lay my head or hands thereon. To exceed this would be infidelity. Vinja could naturally speak Ungi and Qazudi, and Tuvan flowed melodiously on her honeyed breath, which explains why she’d been chosen for the projects. Ultimately, however, she’d be ministress of transportation and communication, supervising telephones and broadcasting, shiplines, airlines, railroads and a host of other spheres.

Mlechi, 22, was just a little darker than the others, with such a pretty face and figure you’d expect to find her in a white sleeveless linen dress, seated in the papyruses and rushes, playing on a dulcimer or lyre, moving her long slender fingers with facility and grace, sweetly singing in a silvery soprano a sunny song of summer. You’d think her words were the exuberant verses of a hieroglyphic poem written on a scroll. Tall and supple, with a tiny waist and a highly interesting figure, she resembled a young girl, a tender maiden, magnified to womanly proportions, pristine and pure, naïve and innocent. In truth, though, she was shrewd and canny, provident and zealous. Queen Udi and Queen Ajinblambia, as we called her now and then, equating her with highest royalty, held Mlechi’s achievements and accomplishments in high regard and stood in awe of her intelligence—if they did, shouldn’t I?—and, for that reason, had made her ministress of education.

Dhabbi was the youngest of the five, a few days Mlechi’s junior. She was coy and bashful, modest and demure, always blushing a deep apple-red on her round, cinnamon-colored little cheeks. She’d been installed as ministress of exploration, and this meant she’d direct Ung’s space program and the proliferation of colonies and outposts in this solar system that we have here on the outskirts of the galaxy that’s home. Need I say she also was as lovely as an angel, golden brown with raven tresses, spectacular from the front, outstanding from the back. Her I. Q. was astronomical, her education unsurpassable. To think I hadn’t seen it when we were back in Kshaddi! She looked good in white or yellow cashmere, with perhaps a bit of lace. Really though, she’d look splendid in almost anything she wore.

Such were the other members of Ajinblambia’s new cabinet. No amount of exaggeration would suffice to make me seem the equal of the others. My sole claim lay in my marriage to the queen. This glaring insufficiency of mine was reflected in my role, which did not involve the oversight of great works or institutions. I was just to be a court biographer, a man to chronicle the glory and the glamour of great Ajinblambia.

I met Ajinblambia in Bihaka in ’386, as I’ve remarked. I’d come with 12 explorers in a jet-borne superhelicopter to Shimk in Sagha’a on Ub’s east coast. There, the expatriate Tibsinurq directed us to Bihaka in Qazudistan. Arriving by train in Jhibilli Place within that city, we separated, each of the 13 of us assigned to reconnoiter a different district of the city. In my district, as I walked the streets, a dangerous-looking man in white, who turned out to be amiable enough however, motioned me over and led me to an export-import office. Presiding there was Ajinblambia, who spoke Ungi and said she was from Psebol. We talked a good long while and dined together at a local restaurant. She communicated useful insights on Qazudistan and gave me a rare Qazudi-Ungi dictionary that would prove invaluable to us later on.

And, of course, there was the meeting on the train to Psebol, where Udi first made Ajinblambia’s acquaintance.

How could these meetings have been anything but chance encounters? How could these have been preplanned? Ajinblambia provided answers when I queried her:

Immediately as we 13 appeared in Jhibilli Place, a scout of hers informed her on his wristphone—yes, Qazudis had a sort of wristphone even then—that foreigners had come. She ordered agents to monitor our movements, and when I’d happened into the Pustacalay District, as I now know it to be named, she paid a local businesswoman handsomely to let her pose as the proprietress of her business for a couple hours. Then she dispatched the dangerous-looking individual to draw me to her. The businesswoman was a Sagha’ati lady residing in Qazudistan. Her name was Sita Verm. Ajinblambia had gone to all these lengths because she could well suppose that foreigners in Bihaka were Ungians come to deal with the Qazudi military buildup, and she saw this as an opportunity for a return to power for the Vrikshayas. Later, when she heard I’d gone to reconnoiter in Dilulabad and would return by train, she arranged the ‘train-failure’ in Kshaddi, where I just ‘happened’ to meet Barti, Usha, Vinja, Mlechi, Dhabbi.

Similarly, she’d staged the ‘casual’ encounter on the Psebol train that had brought Ajinblambia and Udi face to face. She’d flown to Jamblonc and boarded late at night.

Originally, Ajinblambia’s intentions had been the preservation of Qazudi sovranty for the protection of the House of Vrikshaya. Later, she realized that unification was the better course and courted the favor of Queen Udi to that end. Never, however, had she cherished sinister or evil aims. Anyone who had this opinion of the Ubbic Vrikshayas was ill-informed.

This, at least, was Ajinblambia’s version of our first acquaintance, one of the details of her life-story that intrigued me most.

There were many other questions though, but Ajinblambia was always so busy conferring with the luminaries and dignitaries of the realm on the aerospace facility that she was reluctant to let herself be interrupted during daytime hours in her office, which in any case was usually full of people she was interviewing or consulting. Again and again, I tried to get a minute with her privately to pose one little question or another, but she rarely had the time to give me satisfactory replies. One of her colleagues or collocutors would come barging in and monopolize the conversation. How could I write a decent book on her? She too could understand the dilemma I was in. She definitely did not regard my efforts as just make-work or inconsequential and certainly had no mind to let my project lapse. At least, this attitude of hers was something of a compliment, but still her other matters were of paramount importance. Finally, she solved the little problem quite conveniently.

"Come to my apartment at half past two," she said. This is 6 A. M. "While I’m getting ready and eating breakfast, you’ll be able to ask me all the questions that you have. Just make a little list and come tomorrow morning. And we can get together every morning till you have the information that you’re looking for. There’ll be no one there to bother us that early."

Next morning I arrived when Ajinblambia still had on her dressing-gown of peach tricot edged with eggshell lace, immaculate and scented. She was seated in a boudoir chair of navy plush with legs of silver.

"Don’t be bashful, Vocno. We can talk right here at least an hour. Why don’t you brush and comb my hair as we carry on our little conversation? Then I won’t have to hurry so."

I was surprised, but not displeased, though perhaps she undervalued me by asking me to do such servile work, as if it were quite natural and understandable that I’d agree to do it. I knew that her intentions weren’t romantic. Still her hair was very beautiful and I fell in with the spirit of the thing. I brushed and combed her very carefully, trimming a wayward lock or two and adding just a tiny bit of lanolin. All the while, I had her tell me all about some interesting episodes and chapters in her life. I couldn’t very well take notes, so I listened as intently as I could, trying to commit it all to memory.

"Do you mind applying lotion to my face and arms, and giving me a manicure? It’ll give us a chance to talk a few more minutes," she inquired, when I’d finished with her hair and set before her a cup of tuco supercoffee and a little breakfast I’d ordered from a palace kitchen on my wristphone. I pulled up her flowing sleeves and massaged her arms and shoulders with a fragrant unguent with attar made of violets. Then I gave her an attentive little facial. Each time I’d pause, she’d eat a bite of quiche or honeydew, then continue with her memories and anecdotes. I found her tales fascinating and listened raptly. Next, I shaped her fingernails very daintily with a paddle of fine emery and enameled them with a sumptuous plum lacquer.

"Will you apply my makeup too?" she asked politely, sweetly. I put just a slight, slight trace of purple liner on her shapely eyelids, exercising greatest artistry and care, tweezed her brows and lashes very gently, added a barely perceptible blusher to her round, smooth, lovely cheeks and put her carmine lipstick on her lips.

"Why don’t you select my outfit for the day and help me dress? I’m always so preoccupied with the projects I’m directing I don’t really pay attention to my clothes. I’m sure you’ll do it better for me than I do it for myself." I chose a dress of mulberry silk crepe with a self-belt and a pleated skirt, just small degrees of color off the carmine of her mouth, along with offblack sheer stockings and black patent leather pumps. I busied myself getting her inside her dress and stockings as she continued with her account of her exciting girlhood. Finally, I had her beautifully made up and clothed, and when I’d straightened up her room a bit, picking up the dishes and hanging her peach gown, we went out of her apartment, she turning one way, I the other.

"Please return tomorrow morning. We can talk some more and you can help me dress again, if you don’t mind." Of course, I knew that she could simply summon me and I would have to go, but I loved the tactful way she had of asking me so modestly and meekly.

Again the next day at 2.5 Ungi, I presented myself at the door of Ajinblambia’s apartment on the regal corridor in the northern oval of the palace. I brushed and combed her hair, rubbed her with her lotion, manicured her, made her up, chose her clothes and helped her dress, as she reminisced about her youth and related many intriguing details I’d incorporate in my biography. I was thinking of at least a trilogy, around 3000 pages, and wanted every jot of information I could get. I ordered breakfast for her, poured her coffee, made her bed and tidied up her room, as she sat at leisure, telling me about her life and aspirations. I really rather liked this little ritual that was shaping up between us. Finally she said, "I have to go to Udi’s office. Please come with me." And we went.

Queen Udi was at her massive walnut desk with several guests from among familiar courtiers all around her. "Look at Ajinblambia’s new look! My goodness, she is lovelier than ever!" she exclaimed, as she rose and came to greet Queen Ajinblambia. She walked around her once or twice with obvious approval and finally embraced her. As always, Ajinblambia kissed Udi on the head, while Udi, looking up and throwing her arms around the neck of Ajinblambia, let her kiss her on the mouth, voluptuously, passionately. Ever since I’d provoked the ire of Ajinblambia by showing jealousy on such occasions, even though she had apologized profusely for upbraiding me, I was afraid to get too close to Udi when Ajinblambia was present. Thus it came to pass that only Ajinblambia could hug and kiss the queen in public. Everybody knew this was a law around the palace, and I accepted it with resignation.

On the third day, I went to Ajinblambia’s apartment once again. I did her hair and made her up and helped her dress. Then I tidied up her room. I wondered if she knew I was enjoying this.

"Vocno, you’re very sweet," she said, "This really helps me quite a bit. You know I’ll be in Mecnita here till the beginning of the year. That’s when I plan to go to Dorgdid to start work upon the aerospace facility. I’m always so terribly busy every day getting ready for the project that I don’t have any time to devote to these little duties around the apartment. I was planning to engage a lady-in-waiting to assist me, you know, to look after my clothes and my effects, but I’d prefer engaging you, if you don’t mind, and, of course, with the approval of Queen Udi. I’ve set up a little chamber for the waiting-lady, but you can just move in instead."

I knew that Ajinblambia was being very gracious by making it sound as if she had been asking me to accept her offer, when, of course, she was issuing an order I’d be required to obey. I decided to be equally gracious by accepting eagerly. Recalcitrance would get me nowhere.

Thousands of years ago, when Ung was but one of many warring states, Ungi men-at-arms who’d been victorious in battle would take captives as the spoils of war. Female captives usually became the maids-in-waiting of the victors’ kinswomen, receiving no or little compensation, and thus very likely to attempt escape. Hence it arose that maids-in-waiting were kept barefoot in confinement under lock and key. Much, much later, in a more genteel age, ladies-in-waiting were selected from elegant and educated women, and remunerated handsomely. Nonetheless, the age-old custom of keeping them confined and barefoot still remained, and everyone observed it uncomplainingly. Indeed it was de rigueur.

When Ajinblambia offered me instead the position and the room she’d planned to fill with some new waiting-lady, it didn’t occur to me exactly what she had in mind. As soon as I accepted, she led me to the room, told me to slip on a gown and give her my old clothes and shoes, and this I did, standing before her barefoot on the carpet. She turned around, walked out her door with my clothes and shoes beneath her arm, and closed and locked the door behind me from outside. Then I recalled the ancient custom. I spent the next few months locked in Ajinblambia’s apartment, waiting on her hand and foot and seeing to her wardrobe and her toilet.

This may have been revenge for the arrest and the embarrassment I’d caused her, so I’d act a little petulant or cross from time to time just to let her think I suffered just a little from the vengeance she was wreaking, if indeed that was the case. If I seemed too blissful in my new capacity, she might contrive some punishment less palatable than this. But the truth is that I liked it quite a lot, and was grateful to be near the subject of my book. I still aspired to be a first-rate writer.

I learnt that Ajinblambia was 30. She hailed from Vavlu, the capital of Ufzu. She had eleven university degrees from the University of Vavlu, the first of which she’d been awarded at age 12, the youngest graduate in the thousand centuries the university had stood. In 103,249, long before the birth of Ajinblambia, when the Jvashnas founded Qazudistan’s theocracy, the fortunes of the Vrikshayas had waned and they returned to Mli. But 147 years thereafter, when the Qazudi-Ungi conflict was aborning, six of the eight remaining descendants of the house had come to Nya in quest of opportunity. These six, of course were Ajinblambia and the girls from Gangawar.

She told me all about Queen Oa and Queen Shandra and many ancient Vrikshayas as well, giving me permission to read her diaries and records. Every morning, when I’d seen to her coiffure and makeup, she’d unlock her cabinet and tell me to consult her files and copy anything I liked. Then she’d lock me in the apartment as she went off to work. In the evening, when she returned, I’d help her bathe and change her clothes, with all due regard for modesty of course, and then I’d set her table.

Often she had Udi by for dinner, but I would serve the ladies without joining them. Ajinblambia always made a point of issuing a multitude of little orders in a definite imperative when Udi was about, apparently to make a bright display of how certainly she ruled and I obeyed. Udi was impressed, I could see in her expression.

And thus it went, day in, day out, till the beginning of ’393. By then I’d compiled quite a full portfolio of notes and memoranda. I had a very vivid mental picture of the saga of the life of Ajinblambia and had written whole long sections of the monumental book that was coming into being.

Meanwhile, Udi, Ajinblambia and Usha had agreed upon a budget and a means of financing for the aerospace facility. The Bank of Shornbanc would be chartered with paid-in capital provided by the Bank of Ung. The debt unto the Bank of Ung would be serviced by the Bank of Shornbanc by relending money to the bureaus, companies and agencies collaborating in the project, at a rate of interest exceeding the rate that it was borrowed at only by enough to pay the bank’s expenses without profit. The loss suffered by the Bank of Ung because of the low rate of the loan would be offset by levying a general tax. The Bank of Shornbanc would earn profits by making short-term loans to the general public from unused portions of the aerospace loan. No payment to the Bank of Ung on principal would be made until the spaceships were actually earning money hauling passengers and freight. Enabling legislation was put through the Parliament of Ung by Queen Udi at the instance of the vice queen, who composed the lawbills by herself. Ajinblambia was the real architect of the structure of the financing. Companies wishing to enroll as priority users of future aerospace service could secure contracts beforehand by paying fees. I was given to understand that the total cost of the facility and the spaceships was around 5 million talents, that is, 5 trillion dollars in round figures.

Ajinblambia was designing a five-trillion-dollar aerospace facility to build spaceships to fly to a lunar kingdom she had conquered for the queen, and to mine uranium on a distant planet to power projects she was directing that would feed the queen’s uncounted multitudes of citizens. I was locked in Ajinblambia’s apartment, always ready to comb her hair or help her with her stockings. Was this contrast her revenge?

In connection with the projects in the Ubbic west, Ajinblambia had redesigned the 40-gigawatt synchronous generator called the Ungi Standard #1, using atlantite-11, an alloy superlight and extrastrong, and special compact armature windings she’d invented to dwindle the weight-to-power ratio, measured in metric tons per gigavar of apparent power, to less than half the figure considered optimal in all the galaxies throughout the cosmos, according to The Universal Generator Manual. To manufacture these sophisticated syncgenerators, she’d founded Uvsnaatar Generator Company in Uvsnaatar, Tuva, in the west of Ub. One of her first steps in the Mezquaco Project would be building Shornbanc Station, an electrical power plant without desalination capabilities. A generator would be shipped from Tuva. Cement would go by rail from Mecnita’s Queshganc District and steel from Boncfilj Steel Works, Nya’s foremost metalmaking plant, in Boncfilj, one of Mecnita’s suburbs. According to the critical path worked out by Ajinblambia, Shornbanc Station had to be built so swiftly it would seem to erupt from under ground. Only upon its completion would Aoshneps Steel Works and Tlebscuc Cement Works be able to take shape and thereby obviate continued costly shipment of cement and steel from Queshganc and from Boncfilj. The savings realized in shipping costs would by no means pay for the facilities in toto, but would make a handsome discount in the price that Greater Dorgdid would otherwise be charged. Once the plants in Aoshneps and Tlebscuc had been rammed into existence and were disgorging heavy tonnages, the Mezquinc aerospace facility could go up too.

The aerospace facility would be a compound whose main building was a mile square, with 50 bays in each direction, each 100 feet—2601 steel columns each 200 feet in height. Crane girders and jack trusses with webs of 15 feet would checkerboard the columns into a mammoth steel junglegym, whereon a woof of girts and purlins would be woven for the sheeting of the shell. Ajinblambia’s tailor-made procedures anticipated prompt completion of the first whole bay, 100 by 5000 feet, where spaceships could start building first while other bays were going up. She guaranteed by year 398 the facility would be a fact, but she was hoping to get done a little sooner even. One economy I can recall consisted in crane runways with multispan continuous haunch girders instead of simple spans of constant depth, an engineering innovation.

"Just a minute, milady," I’d say as Ajinblambia described her project, "Pucker just a little so I can shape your lipstick. There, there, how beautiful you are! Now what were you saying about those girders? It was so very, very interesting." Then I’d take her silver brush and brush her hair.

Ajinblambia and Usha drew up all the financial provisions of the contracts between the Banks of Ung and Shornbanc, and also those between the banks and the sundry parties who’d participate in the construction. Of course, they worked under the instruction of Queen Udi. The contracts made half a dozen inch-thick volumes 9 by 12. Only trifling changes to the texts were made in parliament and by the queen before they bore the royal seal and were subscribed by Udi, Ajinblambia, Usha, Dzemlavang and Yarlomenx.

This done, Ajinblambia got engineering under way, with specifications, surveys, estimates and layouts. Calculations, with design and detail drawings, would come later, along with purchase orders and authorizations for hires. In essence, Ajinblambia created an all-in-one computer program to generate the figures and the drawings. She worked so deftly she could compose her code extemporaneously as fast as she could fly her fingers on the keyboard, usually infallibly. Once the program was complete, she’d have only to depress a single key and all the contract documents would come tumbling out of printers and fold up like bellows of accordions in mad profusion all around her office. For every minute she added to her workday, one fewer engineer would be needed on the project.

Ordinarily, I’d just hear about these goings-on from Ajinblambia’s own lips, but two or three times—the only times that she unlocked me during those few months—she took me to her office for the project, not the one she’d taken over once from me, but another office she’d set up. She showed me all around, explained her new routines, unrolled big rolls of blueprints, let me leaf through documents and manuals she’d composed with such address, adroitness and dexterity that I blushed recalling my administration of the projects with all its havoc and confusion. Once she saw she’d awed me with her work, she led me back and locked me up again.

I’d peruse her diaries and journals, notes and memoranda otherwise, trying to discern the spirit of their authoress and learning what I could. Yet as carefully and thoughtfully as I reviewed these writings, still there were many facts a little foggy and many undelineated deeds I’d have like more fully to research if only I had had the documents that I desired—certificates, diplomas, transcripts, title deeds, testaments, awards and genealogies, for instance.

"Why don’t you go to Vavlu as soon as I start work in Dorgdid? I won’t need you any longer here. I really love the way you’ve helped me. In Vavlu, you’ll be able to obtain the documents and records you require. I want your book to be as accurate and thorough as can be. I’ll call Queen Shandra on interworld videophone and have her receive and entertain you as an honored guest. Spend a little time in Ufzu and get to know the people and the customs. See the sights. You’ll just love Queen Shandra—she’s such a charming, kindly lady. Hunting and riding are all the rage in Ufzu. Try them. Maybe you can bag a pheasant. You’ll have a lot of fun."

On day 5 of year 393, Ajinblambia left for Dorgdid. Land for Shornbanc Station had been bought and needed clearing. A fleet of power shovels, cranes and backhoes, bulldozers and dumptrucks—all colossal ones—would arrive simultaneously with the vice queen. They’d tear up and haul away the thicket covering the site and flatten out a knoll or two. In five days’ time, excavations for foundations, channels and a reservoir would start, soil bores would be in progress and pile-drivers would be pounding.

On day 6 of year 393, Queen Udi drove me in the sleek, white V30 limousine to Pongdoir Field. She wanted to drive about alone that afternoon, after my departure, and therefore had excused Ezvlando from the chauffeuring. As before, we ate breakfast in the red ramada opposite the gates of Pongdoir Field. I counted seven Ungi Stars pointing to the zenith, all ready to be launched. I’d go in Ungi Star III, after cakes and steaks and tuco with Queen Udi in the red ramada. Queen Udi was elated and exhilarated by the thought of my adventure. Since Ajinblambia had proposed the trip, Udi felt that I’d be safe enough. Apparently my blunders and miscalculations had not affected the affection that she felt for me. With a huge hug and copious kisses, she wished me bon voyage.

I climbed the ladder to the hatch, embarked and took my place. Minutes later, the spaceship catapulted o’er the clouds and vaulted into heaven. An hour later, Nya was a tremendous moon that nearly filled the sky.


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


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