A Tale of Ung
Marionettes in the Bilzo District
After seven days of feasting on the banyan-landscaped Avenue of Ung, the 700-foot-wide avenue of great Mecnita, I and Shandra flew Air Dorgdid, Ung’s most famous airline, back to Dorgdid. Of course, Air Dorgdid, Fulumoan Airlines, Air Fwascren and the other airline companies of Ung were in reality departments of the government. Centuries before they’d been independent companies, but one by one they had been purchased by the realm and nationalized, though often keeping names they’d used throughout their independence. To all intents and purposes, Fulumoan Airlines might, for instance, have been called the Fulumoan Bureau of the Ungian Civil Air Authority, but for simplicity the older names were kept. Though The Ungian Encyclopedia of Aircraft listed 7000 kinds of planes built regularly in the kingdom, planes in use for passengers reduced essentially to just two models, the 2000-foot, 600 meganewton jumbo jet accommodating 100,000 passengers, and the 700-foot, 20-meganewton minijet equipped to seat 2000, both with superturbofan-type engines, takeoff rockets and all the latest in technology. Air Paneblu, Air Gautsma, Air Dorgdid and Air Fwascren used the jumbos. Most other airlines used the minis. The larger airplane had a price of 50,000 talents— $50 billion roughly—while the smaller airplane fetched 2000 talents. But flights were free of charge, at least up to a limit, a limit more than ample for the ordinary flyer. In the great robot factories of the highly-automated aircraft industry, jumbo jets and minijets rolled off assembly lines almost without a need for human labor. Each individual device or fitting, whether it should be a carefully elaborated metal sheet belonging to an aileron or elevator, or a machined component of a turbine, of course, was fabricated in accordance with precisely engineered and drafted details, on specialized machines for cutting, bending, rolling, drilling, punching, chamfering and other operations. Electronic sensors that could poise themselves with six degrees of kinematic freedom would inspect the pieces as the next step. The sensors could compare with nigh-infinitesimal precision the whole surface of a piece of any shape whatever with the drawings, encoding all discrepancies, which were transmitted to the memories of the machines involved in the corrective operations that were next. When these machines received the work, they knew what to do and did it, eventually delivering letter-perfect pieces to assembly bays. There, other gear would locate, orient and hold components to be joined together, using plantwide three-dimensional coordinates, by which each particle of the material in the body of an aircraft would be related to a point in space, so that infallibly would everything assume the right position. Then bolting, riveting and screwing, soldering and welding were performed with the lightning-swiftness of high-speed machinery. Finally the airplane taxied out onto the runway of the plant and then was ferried by its autopilot to the hangars of the airline purchasing the ship. With a successful maiden flight accomplished, a monitoring human pilot would take over. The planes were paid for out of moneys that the kingdom earned from the many companies employing citizens of Ung, just as if the citizens had pooled their paychecks, hiring a financial expert to invest the fund thus aggregated. It might be argued people flew more often than they would have if they’d drawn paychecks that they had to live by, but it might be counterargued that the savings that collective enterprise and cutting-edge technology helped realize had dwindled costs enough to make frequent flying so affordable.
In about the time it took me to describe to Shandra the larger aspects of our aircraft industry, our plane negotiated the 1750 miles between the first and second cities, and we were putting down in Clipsont Airport, where we saw a score of flying cities, that is, jumbo jets, and countless smaller airplanes.
We went to Mezquinc right away, where Photon I was standing on the launching pad already, and might easily have been launched ten days ahead of schedule, but would be fired on the 50th as announced. In the facility, Bays A, B, C, D, E and F were 100%-complete, while the other bays were in varied stages of completion. Similarly, Photons II through XVII were being built, the early numbers nearly done, the later numbers just getting under way. Countless thousands of technicians and skilled laborers were busy both with finishing the structure and with readying the spaceships. In aftertime, of course, automation would reduce the on-site population almost to the point of vanishing entirely, but that awaited completion of the power plant in Shornbanc for its electricity as well as installation of Mezquaco’s labyrinth of circuitry. We didn’t tarry at Mezquaco long as we’d toured it once before.
As for Senesto Hills, a drama festival was then in progress with performances around the clock. At night, the awesome robot actresses and actors were lit by spotlights mounted on high towers, in some cases, and by internal lighting, as if they shone with auras, in the other cases. Usually there was a choice of three or four dramatic presentations going on at once, so you could try first one and maybe then another, according to your taste, with access simplified by little trolleys, which perforce were roller coasters on those hills.
In addition to the kingsize robot plays, conventional performances in the round were staged in the vicinity, and Queen Shandra wanted to see some of these as well. So we elected not to stay at the luxurious Pendagart Hotel again, but instead we rented a thatched cottage in Senesto Hills instead, an annex of the theaters where all the real connoisseurs of tragedy and comedy were wont to hobnob. Live actresses and actors could be seen there not only in their roles in dramas, but also gathering at restaurants and clubs before and after shows.
When we’d got comfortable within our little rustic cottage, we saw a couple of these miniplays, acted with true artistry and grace, but the real highlight of our holiday was the presentation by the giant robots of The Kidnapped Maiden of Cromalthnum.
One evening when we’d supped on deep-fried seafood and potatoes in our cozy cottage, we boarded trolley #7 and rode half a mile to the spot the playbill said was best for viewing that production, with no better reason for our choice than the intriguing name. We found our place on the summit of a little hill where there were wicker chairs under a pavilion roofed with oaken shakes, and we commanded quite a view of the hundred-foot performers.
In the drama, Vornalx and Crujishca were beautiful young lovers affianced to be wed. Everybody in their native city of Cromalthnum adored them for their prepossessing looks and touching mutual devotion. There lived also in Cromalthnum another fair young maiden with a lovely visage and a shapely figure, one Inrinti, who coveted Crujishca’s fiancé, this Vornalx. In the distant town of Quashpodf, there was a nunnery called Daromanda Cloister, under the administration of the abbess Sister Efinefi, worshiper of pelf. Inrinti, who was rich, paid Sister Efinefi to solicit the abduction and confinement of Crujishca. Not being so depraved as to propose Crujishca’s murder, she would settle for her disappearance. Efinefi brought to pass the evil plot and fair Crujishca vanished from Cromalthnum. One year after that, Inrinti silvered Sister Efinefi’s palm to get her to prepare a forged certificate attesting to Crujishca’s death and to present the writ to Vornalx. Vornalx had almost recovered from the grief he’d felt upon Crujishca’s disappearance, but he relapsed when he received the death certificate. Eventually, however, his sorrow was assuaged and he regained his equanimity again. Inrinti then began to show her interest in Vornalx, and he fell in love with her. So after one more year they married, and went on to raise a lovely family. In the meantime, Sister Efinefi tyrannized and terrified Crujishca, who was required, on pain of cruel punishment, forever to comport herself with the pretense of cheer and friendliness, lest anyone suspect she was a prisoner within the convent. The pitiful Crujishca lived her whole life cloistered under Sister Efinefi, no one from outside ever fathoming her anger or her anguish. Vornalx died years later, ignorant of all the machinations of Inrinti, whom his children worshiped till the day he died.
"That was a horrid play," said Shandra, "Crujishca’s honor should have been defended, and Inrinti should have been discovered and disgraced."
"That’s the nature of the tragedy," I answered, "Life has its sorrows and its ironies. Tragedy presents them starkly and severely."
"Don’t you feel sorry for Crujishca?"
"Of course I do."
"But yet you act as if the play had been a masterpiece."
"It was a masterpiece. I think the critics would agree."
"If you truly felt the evil done Crujishca, you’d hate the playwright dramatizing it to entertain an audience."
"How would you like being cloistered in a convent for a lifetime?" asked Shandra passionately, but no sooner had the question left her lips than she gasped suddenly, as if she’d inadvertently committed a terrible mistake. At first it seemed to me that she had realized that instant that her words were fateful, prompted from on high, and that she was the unwitting mouthpiece of celestial beings, which alarmed me. Afterwards, however, I got the feeling that perhaps she’d caught herself blurting out a secret plan that someone had confided to her. Whatever may have been the case, she was visibly distraught, and the horror of the drama gripped my heart.
Under the nocturnal sky of Dorgdid, the folds and fabric of the great black habits of the nuns were barely visible against the backdrop of the pitch-black firmament, but the pale luminescence of their barbes and coifs cast an eery glow upon the features of their faces as they floated here and there 100 feet above the ground.
It was nearly midnight and the air was cool, so we trolleyed to our cottage and lit a fire in the fireplace, snuggling underneath a woolen blanket on a bed beside the fire. As the impact of the play wore off and the lovely fragrance of my adoptive cousin swirled about me and wafted me away, a sense of keen delight dispelled the horror I had felt, and I clung to Shandra fondly till the sun, like a golden ducat in a purse of blue silk satin, was disbursed to purchase day.
In Senesto Village, in the morning and the afternoon, we saw jugglers, gymnasts, acrobats, funambulists, comedians and mimes. Present also were the songstresses of Vunu Vunu, a village in the Hoixuds north of Fwascren. Some of the oldest songs of Ung, like Diaclaban han Vunu Vunu, were of such remote antiquity that no one knew their meanings any longer. The same great age that had consigned the import of their lyrics to oblivion had smoothed the jagged corners of their phrases to produce an elegant melodic line, one of pulchritude and sweetness. The songs were all without key signature, on the chromatic scale, not necessarily with just 12 intervals, but with any number that tradition gave them. The coloratura voices were accompanied by lutes the singers played themselves. In Vunu Vunu, with its caverns and its canyons, the echoes added depth and resonance that made the songs the loveliest in Ung. In Dorgdid’s concert halls, marvelous acoustics helped recreate those echoes. When the matinee we heard was over, Queen Shandra said she’d like to have a Vunu Vunu lute, but the singers’ lutes were of a specially handcrafted style not publicly available. In view of Shandra’s queenly rank, however, Dillabard, the impresario of the company of singers, agreed to have a lute expressly for Queen Shandra made by Larenscrol, the kingdom’s most prestigious maker. It was promised for the 55th, some days before Queen Shandra’s home return to Vavlu.
We still had time, before the night’s performance at Senesto Hills, to do some roller-skating. Queen Shandra donned a brilliant white bra top and matching shorts along with calf-length roller blades. I had on dark green. Her sleek and supple midriff, brown and glossy, was superb in contrast with the chic tricot of the garments she made shapely, and as she sped along as graceful as a ballerina, her waist-length raven tresses flapped and fluttered in her wake like a shining banner borne aloft. Her great height and peerless beauty easily made her the prima donna of the open skating ‘rink’, which really was a little concrete path meandering among the gentle hillocks of Senesto Village. Queen Shandra’s skating was so fast I hardly could keep up, and rather mostly trailed behind her a few feet. But the view of Shandra from the back was wonderfully exciting. Her exquisitely sculptured buttocks, round and full with the exertion of her glutei, were like a pair of honeydews that ripened on the vine. In the heat of day, a crystal perspiration formed on Shandra’s faultless skin, commingling with the wholesome fragrance of her body, and giving her a musky, practically narcotic, scent that drew me irresistibly along. At 7 Ungi we returned to our thatched cottage and cold showers and ice-cold drinks of peppermint. A little later, when we’d supped on lamb and rice, we put on evening clothes to attend another play.
Queen Shandra said she didn’t want to see another tragedy, so we opted to attend King Ulv. King Ulv reigned in the 732nd century and was famous for his conquest of the Peokolo Archipelago, a sickle-shaped array of 1500 isles and islets forming the eastern part of Ungonesia, 3700 southeast of Eldor Palace. In Ulv’s day, though, Ungian technology had not reached the heights characterizing it today, but, even so, engine-driven battleships, cruisers and destroyers were already in production, and the subjugation of the many tribes of the Peokolo Archipelago, all lagging in a primitive or semi-primitive existence, was an easy matter. Most of these childlike peoples yielded without resistance when they saw the gleaming ships and heard the cannonades. Ulv’s real greatness, though, depended not upon his conquest but on the establishment of Ungi rule and the concomitant enrichment and advancement of the archipelago. Peokoloans today look upon themselves as real Ungians, not as a subject people or dependent class. One feature of the play enhancing the bare story line is the quaintly olden language, ways and costumes of 300 centuries ago. King Ulv lived to the age of 93—an age considered ancient in those days before longevity techniques—and fathered sixteen sons and daughters, among whom Urbi, eldest daughter, would become Queen Urbi on the death of Ulv.
Shandra liked the play and saved her program and a gold medallion of King Ulv on a purple grosgrain ribbon as a souvenir.
Right at the center of the eighty-mile-by-eighty-mile municipality of Dorgdid, the 500-story chromium and black-glass cylinder known as Drunscop Tower stood. A ring drive around the tower served as the interchange of Jegpard, Vlictong, Aclarebd and Ellesblund Expressways, which ran east-west, northeast-southwest, north-south, northwest-southeast, across the city and beyond. Forty octagons at one-mile intervals were centered on the tower and passed over the expressways at right angles. Many smaller streets connected all the octagons. Four L-shaped avenues made a square of Ronusgaling Octagon, the 40th and last, and mile-streets transverse to the diagonal expressways filled the corners of the city. Dorgdid abounded in preserves and parks, as well as shopping malls, and several rivers flowed and several mountains rose within the city limits. At the observatory on top of Drunscop Tower, next a heliport, was a balloon port. There one could hire a balloon, operated by a hand-held pushbutton device childishly easy to manipulate, which enabled someone acting as the pilot to maneuver with facility.
The morning after we attended the performance of King Ulv, the Mlian queen and I got on a golden comet at Ebniuzgo Octagon, the 32nd octagon, and transferred to the line on Ellesblund, but, even with the transfer, managed the forty-mile trip to Drunscop Tower in 22 earth-minutes. We ascended in the tower in a high-speed elevator and found the spot with the balloons. Shandra, in a sweater of pink cashmere and a pair of burgundy felt culottes, selected a balloon striped in the selfsame pink and burgundy. Insisting she would be the pilot, she carried the remote control in her right hand and got aboard, but I, much shorter than the average Dorgdider for whom the basket was constructed, had just a bit of trouble getting in.
"My, my, dear Vocno," Shandra teased, "you dispute with me about who’s skipper of the ship, but you can’t even get inside without my help." She boosted, tugged and hugged me, and I was aboard.
"Very well, Queen Shandra," I conceded, "you’re the skipper."
It was a glorious, warm, sunny day in Dorgdid, typically, but as we rose we felt a markéd cooling, which Shandra had anticipated with her cashmere and her felt. We soared to heights where eagles, hawks and vultures fly, and there beheld a gorgeous panorama of the mighty city. We flew over Shornbanc Station and the aerospace facility, where the many cranes and power shovels looked like mantises and beetles. We flew the length of the entire city, over Aclarebd Expressway, north to south, passing over Drunscop Tower once again, our jets enabling us to go where we might go. Ours was a hot-air balloon with an ample fuel tank, which freed us from the chore of handling ballast. The balloon itself was an untearable synthetic with a yield point near steel’s but lighter than shantung or pongee, so we felt that we were safe.
When we reached Daccarolling, a southern suburb of the city, we set down in Daccarolling Park, a spacious lawn and wood that, in the ultra-fashionable and sparsely populated village, was almost always nearly empty, as if you’d been upon your private grounds. Mooring our balloon on an expanse of grass adjacent to a grove of peepul trees with massive mossy branches, where there was a brooklet with a babbling waterfall, the queen and I picked out a sunny spot and spread a sheet of burgundy percale Queen Shandra had in her big calfskin bag. We lay down to take a nap. She used her bag to pillow up her head, and I used her shapely thigh to pillow mine. Ever since my banishment from Udi’s bed, I’d relaxed my earlier restraint and become a little more affectionate with my adoptive cousins.
Daccarolling Mall, spreading over nearly a square mile, was adjacent to the park, and when, in later afternoon, the sacred figs had blocked our sun entirely, it seemed cool to Shandra and myself, so we got up and walked the underpass below the 18 lanes of Aclarebd Expressway, ascending to the mall upon a spiral escalator with treads like oversized piano keys of ivory revolving round a newel of black walnut. Across a spacious campus, an outlet of Ulmactab Mills was recognizable by its broad frieze of porphyry with sculptured spinning-wheels that was a trademark known to everyone in Ung. Ulmactab Mills was the clothier of the kingdom, with its main facility in Devanasc, a district of Mecnita on the Umzid. Dorgdid, as the second city, also had a major plant, in the Erizgengmo District, not far from Daccarolling Mall. Naturally, the outlet in the mall would be a large one. We decided to go in and look around.
Hanging on hooks and hangers, stacked on shelves and racks, folded in drawers and boxes, up and down the aisles, in every nook and corner, there were clothes and clothes and clothes. There were coats and jackets, cloaks and capes, blouses, sweaters, smocks and shirts, robes and gowns and dresses, stoles and shawls, pants and skirts, sashes, scarves and kerchiefs, stockings, garters, gloves and hats, of every fabric you could name—brocade and baldachin and plush, velvet, satin, corduroy and camlet, cloth-of-gold, organdy and tulle, gabardine and tweed, worsted, jersey, taffeta and voile—these and many more in great abundance. Many of the gorgeous garments were trimmed with appliqués, galloon and lace, tufts, embroidery and shirring, ruffles, darts and pleats, flounces, falbalas and froufrou, brooches, bezants, buttons, bells and bows. This was the vogue in Ung. Everyone was fashionable, flamboyant. They loved color—scarlet and maroon, wine and navy, purple, plum, and olive, if darker shades be mentioned, pink and beige, ivory and primrose, peach and lavender, if lighter. You could smell the wool, the linen, the cotton and the silk. Synthetic fibers were innumerable as well—acrylic, nylon, rayon, acetate and spandex—to use earthly nomenclature. However, our synthetics are a little different, depending on our oils, and much more numerous in our advanced technology. Of course, our natural fibers aren’t perfectly identical to your planet’s either.
I presumed Ulmactab Mills’ facility in Erizgengmo was like the one in Devanasc, which Shandra asked me to describe. This is what I said:
"The compound stretches several miles along the Umzid River, which forms the western city limit of Mecnita. On the south end sprawls a mile-long refinery, where synthetics are produced from distillates of petroleum, and natural fibers undergo ginning, scutching, carding, combing. The refinery consists of sleek reactors, columns, tanks and towers, a robot city of chrome and stainless steel. It is the ‘locomotive’ of a ‘train’ of infinite proportions, you would say. Three other mile-long buildings of dark yellow brick are the ‘boxcars’ of that ‘train’, one behind the other to the north, with stacks that puncture clouds and sunder heaven. In the first brick building, spinning, bleaching, coloring and drying are performed in a machine 1000 feet in width, 300 high, 5000 long. Its entire northern face is perforated by a galaxy of orifices—upwards of a million—from which yarns of every possible description are drawn in parallel, at incredible velocities, without even being reeled on spools and bobbins, but instead advancing to the second building through a gallery directly. There an endless horde of looms and like machines creates a boundless multitude of fabrics, from thick brocade to rosepoint lace, from brown tarpaulins to nun’s veiling of unblemished white, from coarse white felt for gers to silken marquisette, from burlap to sheer stockinette. Although a million yarns or threads traveling an average speed of sixty miles an hour go to the second building to make fabric, only half a million widths of cloth go out of it, at about one foot a minute. Since metropolitan Mecnita numbers about 350,000,000, it takes twelve hours for the Devanasc facility of Ulmactab Mills to produce one foot of cloth 3 to 5 feet wide for every person in the urban complex. This amounts to some 850 bolt-feet per capita per year, of which around 300 are destined for apparel.
"The finished fabrics go directly to the last of the three buildings for cutting, matching, sewing. A width of cloth is laid upon a table, taut enough to keep it smooth and even. Then a cutter like a press, with blades of a variety of shapes, is brought down smartly to divide the fabric into garment pieces. The segment of this press that has a given piece—a bodice or a sleeve, for instance—then rises to withdraw its blades while continuing to grasp the piece with a series of fine needles it projects like bristles from a hairbrush temporarily flared slightly outward. The segment, carrying the piece, disengages from the press and travels on a track until it meets another segment, from the same press or another one, that holds the matching garment piece. Then the needles in the places to be sewn are squared and threaded automatically and set in perfect motion by computers till the seam has been completed. When two pieces have been sewn together—not necessarily coplanarly—the garment part thus fashioned is gripped again by needles flaring outward as before, and travels on a track to meet a third piece to be sewn, all the pieces being shaped and poised in any way the pattern specifies, and another seam emerges. Eventually an item of apparel is created and deposited in a massive heap of garments on the floor—a spotless, level area where no one walks about. Gigantic garment-sorting mechanisms hurry back and forth on tracks and splines and gantries above the heaps of clothes, picking up, inspecting, sizing, labeling and folding garments with a countless battery of grippers and a labyrinth of lasers. When a garment has been folded, it is boxed, and the box is dropped onto a belt. Weight causes the conveyor to advance in time for other boxes to be added. Conveyor joins conveyor, like the tributaries of a river, until the stream of cartons enters one of those ten thousand tunnels in the maze that networks all Mecnita under ground. Thus the city’s clothing outlets get the garments they distribute.
"The building where the clothes are cut and sewn is in truth a single awesome, huge machine, a complicated, nightmarish infinity of gears and cams, pawls and ratchets, bobbins, spools and reels, chains and sprockets, belts and drives, idlers, pulleys, blocks and tackle, windlasses and winches, bolts and nuts, cotters, pins and bearings, cranks and shafts, brakes and clutches, rings and gaskets, cylinders and pistons, vanes and blades, counterweights and levers. Some revolve and others slide; some reciprocate and others rotate. There is an all-embracing hubbub of whirring, banging, knocking, whistling, scraping, pounding, ringing, hissing, buzzing. Everything is in incessant, tireless, automated, high-speed motion, as blades make cuts and needles sew, as carts and trolleys travel, rendezvous and travel once again, first here, now there, then somewhere else, to the accompaniment of flashing lights—yellow, green and red—and blasts of steam and hot dry air and baths of ice-cold water. Everywhere the eye can see, there are gauges, dials, sensors, viewers, buttons, switches, sockets, screens and consoles.
"And the clothes come tumbling out in heaps as big as mountains to be gathered by the sorters and boxed for distribution, all without the application of tiresome human labor. There are a few inspectors who monitor the operation, but inspection too is largely automated, with devices checking tensile strength and elasticity, colorfastness, shrinkproofness, chemical consistency, absorbency, diameter and other properties of yarns, with devices to check selvedges and seams, regularity, fidelity to patterns, size and weight of garments, with devices to fulfill production quotas and consignments. The highly-trained human inspectors that are present deal with unforeseen eventualities, seldom though they are. Of course, occasionally one of these inspectors will peer through a microscope, examining a thread, or cut a coupon to conduct a test, but inspection is a virtual sinecure, as is many a job in the ultra-welfare state."
Queen Shandra listened raptly to my story of the Devanasc facility, perhaps not so much because she had a connoisseur’s enchantment with the textile industry, but probably because she was considering an operation of the kind in Ufzu. I offered to escort her on a tour in Erizgengmo, but she preferred to wait to see the central plant in Devanasc.
Most clothes in Ung were free, nor was there any ration on most garments, but the more sumptuous apparel, say of baldachin or cloth-of-gold, did cost money. Queen Shandra was a relatively simple dresser, and chose a little pleated gray tweed tam-and-cape-and-miniskirt ensemble with a white lawn blouse, more as a souvenir than as an annex to her wardrobe. She was as darling as a little girl when she tried her outfit on.
We spent a few more days in Dorgdid, mostly at Senesto Hills and in the Bilzo District, but we also made a tour of Rupsnoir Press, publisher of the unrivaled Ungi Dictionary in 507 volumes. The entire procedure—reading, writing, editing and publishing—was conducted in the Dorgdid plant, in collaboration with Ung’s greatest universities of course.
On the 33rd, we finally returned to Clipsont Airport and got in a flying city. With a two-Mach cruising speed, the flight did not give us much time for on-board tennis or a swim, but there was an excellent observatory atop the fuselage. The queen and I surveyed the glacial Hestadespa Mountains, the cedarn Glozbanc Forest, the swelling Colocampa River, and the endless plains and countless cities that were Ungia. Then we saw the greatest city of them all, extending a degree of latitude upon the far horizon.
We descended for our landing in Mecnita, ran the mighty runway and taxied to a terminal. Thrulxmarj met us at the gate, assisting Shandra with her souvenirs and baggage. Of course, palace chauffeurs in Mecnita are regarded as gracious benefactors, not as menials or servants, so when the baggage had been loaded in the limousine, the three of us went merrily back home to Eldor Palace.
Marionettes in the Bilzo District:
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