Panties and Bras

 

 

A Tale of Ung

 

Chapter 8

 

 

 

 

Tufiatani

 

 

Ten thousand talents was a very small amount of money if you compare it with the astronomical amounts involved in the construction of the nuclear and geothermal plants in western Ub or the water treatment project in the east of Ub, but offices and dignities had been purchased for much less in Ung. Moreover, my decipherment of the Poilnarcs inscriptions was greeted by the accolades and acclamations of the universities and scholarly societies of the great metropolis. The Museum of Mecnita long displayed the relics and inscriptions of the lonely island in the Eastern Ocean ands crowds queued up to see them. This was the apogee of my career. This was a wreath of laurel round my head. I was restored by royal Udi to all my honors, rights and privileges. It was explained to Izmridafia I’d be needed by the realm in my capacity as prime minister. She’d have to do without me, however prematurely I was leaving.

"I’ve neglected our prime minister," said the queen to Ajinblambia and Barti in my presence in the selfsame room wherein the Geese had tested, "I’ve countenanced or conspired in his demotion much too blithely, so I’ve decided to return him to his former station. By rights, I should have asked him to participate in your appointments to your posts, but I was negligent and dictated them myself without consulting him at all. Let me now set things aright by allowing him to veto them. Vocno, will you acquiesce in these appointments or will you submit them to review?"

"Queen Udi, I second your appointments, but thank you nonetheless."

"Henceforth, however, he will grace our conferences with his presence," said Udi, giving me new face. Ajinblambia and Barti would remain where she’d installed them—I hardly could object in view of their abilities—but no longer would they just ignore me. This was a victory for me. I was a power to be reckoned with. The occasion of the announcement was the first time after the discovery of the gold and jewels when all three ladies were present in Mecnita.

Not only had I regained my reputation as prime minister, but I’d also come to see myself as a fine investigator and a great detective. Indeed I was a scholar that universities invited to give lectures. My success on Poilnarcs Island gave me fresh enthusiasm for my inquisition into Qazudi history as well. "I will shine the beacon of my perspicacity upon the continent of Ub," I thought, "Perhaps there also there’ll be worlds to conquer." My book went forward at full tilt.

Therefore, let me briefly summarize the sequence of events that climaxed with the downfall of the Jvashas and Ung’s annexation of Qazudistan, events in which I was involved so intimately and which my book would chronicle:

Back in year 386, as I’ve remarked, I left Motinia and came to Ung, settling in Mecnita, where I met Udi resident incognito in Corlamarn, a district of the city. I didn’t know that she was queen of Ung, supposing her to be just a lovely lady studying ballet and architecture at the university. This was a beautiful and joyful season in my life. This was an age of gold, a second paradise. Abruptly though, I was awakened from my dream when an Ungonesian lady whose name was Lanapopo warned me that conspirators designed to kidnap or to kill me. ‘Plubac’ was the name of their conspiracy. This is the Ungi word for ‘xenophobia’. I was their quarry as a foreigner, and so was Udi, by association with myself. It was then that she and I took flight to Fwascren dressed as nuns, and I was cloistered in Defdefa Convent in the process. Eventually however, I escaped the nunnery by scaling a high wall despite my habit and my wimple. Udi had awaited me in Fwascren and we breathed easily, assuming no one knew our whereabouts. We settled down, or so we thought, but of a sudden, Torcbu, Plubac’s leader, free because of a defective warrant, appeared in Fwascren and discovered us. I set a trap and caught and slew five men of Plubac—Torcbu himself and with him Dazbamp, Scridbo, Ovojarv and Fushnilg. Udi and I took flight again, this time to Vunu Vunu in the Hoixud Mountains north of Fwascren. The remnant of the xenophobic gang somehow found us out again, but we prevailed over them, pitching into caverns and over cliffs four others—Wezmim, Iojosc, Piluglag and Zergfa, thus ending Plubac according to out calculations.

Udi and I, enjoying false security, returned to Corlamarn and married. After the occasion of meeting Lanapopo once again, because she’d mentioned Ungonesia, I asked Udi about that million-island archipelago. Udi’s descriptions of the many wonders of the islands—giants, pygmies, flying women, talking babies, domesticated whales, monkey-eating palm trees and the rest—filled me with such awe that she and I decided on an Ungonesian honeymoon. We went by golden comet to Port Crelf, whence we sailed to Ungonesia’s largest city, Badako, Fulumoa. From there we went by elephant to Sambakang Temple, near Lobilaka, a village in the jungle near Badako. Ten-foot savages took me prisoner and caged me in a big silk-cotton tree right in Lobilaka, but Udi, who speaks Fulumoan fluently, posing as an ambassadress of gods, enchanted Tamufala, the local Fulu chief, and he released me. And Udi and I became the friends of towering Tamufala and his people.

Continuing our honeymoon, Udi and I rafted to the nearby isle of Ulunono, famed for the clairvoyants and telepathists legend has it live there. Despite my skepticism, I had Tufiatani, a lovely psychic, tell my fortune. I was utterly amazed by the accuracy of her reading when she spoke of past events, so I hardly disbelieved her when she talked about the future either. She scared us by alleging two other men of Plubac—Dleodaz and Pangsba—still existed. Udi and I returned posthaste to Fwascren, where, allowing those two malefactors to abduct us, we persuaded them the Fulus still held Torcbu and the others half-alive in custody and were asking for a ransom. Then leading them to Lobilaka with the gold, we delivered them to Tamufala, who burnt them at the stake. Satisfied at last that Plubac was extinct, Udi and I went on to visit several other islands before going back to our apartment in Mecnita.

It had just so happened that when Udi and I took flight in nuns’ apparel to Fwascren, I’d agreed already to pay a visit to Tandoling, the chancellor of Onjmo, in his office in the towers of Ramdonia, but, of course, would be unable to appear. Nor had I, in the panic of our flight, remembered to advise Tandoling I was indisposed and ask to be excused. Feeling guilty, I went to his office, on our return from Ungonesia long months later, to apologize for my bad manners, but his subalterns notified me he had disappeared the very day we’d trained to Fwascren with the holy sisters. A reward was being offered, but this alone was no incentive. I feared the disappearance had to do with Plubac, and my conscience kept accusing me. So I got on the case, finding clues that led me to northeastern Ung, to the nomadic city, Tsediagdirg, one of three that make the Tripolis. There I traced the chancellor to the basement of a house owned by Afroslab and Vrinxni, themselves the hirelings of Plubac, rather than true members, who didn’t even know that Plubac had been dealt the deathblow. Tandoling was thus rescued, Afroslab and Vrinxni went to prison, and I received not only a reward but a position as assistant curator at the Museum of Mecnita, in Geography, under Jevendarl, Tandoling’s friend, for whom I’d help construct an exhibit on Motinia. Half the reward I lavished on Defdefa Convent, to appease the abbess, Sister Olezconia, enraged at my impersonation and the scandal that it had precipitated.

This was a blessed time. Udi and I would live in beauty and contentment, and I could work in dignity and pride. Unfortunately, however, one day I found a man—Rujalc was his name—watching our apartment. I captured him, interrogated him and killed him. This was when I learned that Plubac was the half-unwitting tool of Jilndij—‘Jilndij’ means ‘New Dynasty’—a vile conspiracy determined to usurp the throne of Ung. I also learned that Udi was Queen Udi, Queen of Ung. Regretting I’d slain Rujalc, but anticipating more surveillants at our Corlamarn address, I set another trap and seized alive three men of Jilndij—Dredplap, Isofongd and Twando—and caged them in some makeshift cells in a storage space I’d rented. Plying them with whisky, I got the names of all the men of Jilndij, including one called Jvashna, the leader of the ring. It took a bit of sleuthing, but finally I uncovered Jvashna’s residence at 3 Sestindinia Circle in suburban Rolasponiu, west across the Umzid River. Jvashna was a prophet and a counterfeiter of securities, whom I unmasked, with the assistance of the Bank of Ung’s director, Dzemlavang, and Uathwand, director of Mecnita’s Stock Exchange. When rumors of the fraudulent securities reached the ears of the investors, they stampeded Jvashna’s mansion at 3 Sestindinia Circle and lynched the prophet from the rafters of his porch with the turban from his head. With Culupur, the police chief of Mecnita, I rounded up the remnants of the ring.

Queen Udi, now believing that, with Jilndij gone, her throne was safe, moved us to the palace, naming me prime minister. My first assignment was to set to rest the Jilndij matter. In carrying out the follow-up, however, I consulted Zwezmanarc of Stotcremp Paper Works, and Vovovon, the head of the University of Mecnita’s Botany Department, as regards the kind of paper in the counterfeit securities. I came face to face with the frightful fact that unknown species of Abies and Picea, or fir and spruce, had been used, and that the only possible conclusion was that the paper came from Ub. At that time, the continent of Ub was completely unexplored.

Next, I found myself with a 12-man crew, flying in a helicopter ejected from a jumbo jet over Ub’s east coast, where eventually we landed near the town of Shimk in the half-anarchic realm of Sagha’a. One Tibsinurq, an Ungian expatriate in Shimk, revealed to us the existence of Qazudistan, with its capital, Bihaka. In Bihaka, I met Ajinblambia and learned from her that ‘Jvashna’ was a title, not a name, and that there were 300, not just one. My crew and I began to reconnoiter all the major cities of the theocratic country and found it all geared up for war—apparently aggressive war aimed at the throne of Ung. While returning to Bihaka from Dilulabad, my train broke down in Kshaddi, Gangawar, where I first met the Geese. Eventually, however, I got back to Eldor Palace, with my men and a wealth of information, both strategic and linguistic.

Queen Udi brought the Geese to Eldor Palace to teach me the Qazudi language. Meanwhile, she had experts counterfeit Qazudi money and flood the cities of Qazudistan with worthless banknotes, undermining the economy of the theocracy. When unemployment, famine and a host of other ills were rife, I began appearing as a disenchanted Qazudi citizen name Abilai Kabarkaev, fomenting revolution. I started out in Osh, addressing the Qazudi public in nightly telecasts—I was fluent by this time. However, marksmen had me targeted for execution, so I fled to Futsugawa, the capital of Tsumufuchi, another Ubbic country, north-centrally located. There, soldiers from Ong Pang, an ally of Qazudistan, captured me and took me to Fai Kwa, their capital, to jail me.

Queen Udi and her counselors devised to have me rescued by a superhelicopter. In order to divert the Ong Pangese brigades that swarmed around Fai Kwa, however, they had arsonists set fire to the drought-racked forest to the south. The conflagration spread under the influence of prevailing winds into the Qazudi provinces of Namganistan and Jalalabad, where clouds of smoke drove refugees into Dilfatty. Meanwhile, I had taken refuge in the principality of Aigenshlink, west of Tsumufuchi and south of Paltievsk. I seized upon the fire as pretext, blaming Jvashnaic maladministration, and demanding that the provinces revolt. The populace did heed my call. Demoralized, the army of Qazudistan was easily repulsed, and a new republic, the Republic of Namjala, was declared, a merger of Namganistan and contiguous Jalalabad. Dilfatty was the capital.

Following the example of Namganistan-Jalalabad, the province of Alyafilah in the Qazudi east revolted, unifying with the thitherto autonomous domain of Sagha’a to form Memleket Ghasb. Then negotiations that were held in the palace at #11 Jipak Joli in Dilfatty produced the charter of the Confederacy of Ungistan, under the aegis of Mecnita, Queen Udi stepping forth to give her blessings to the league. I, still posing as one Abilai, was named lord governor, and soon thereafter went to visit Agbar in Ujjama in hopes of getting Gangawar enrolled in the confederacy. This I did with admirable address, as I assess the matter. Nonetheless, Queen Udi banished me to Kshaddi when she saw the newsphoto that showed me playing for the Geese against the Cranes.

Relenting three months later, Queen Udi vacated the order of my banishment and recalled me to Dilfatty, reinstating me as prime minister of Ung and lord governor of Ungistan. Udi had been personally supervising all negotiations with the sundry revolutionary parties, which were quite numerous as Kara Darya, Ujnalasanda, Alyakf, Utter Qazud and other provinces seceded from Qazudistan. My misdemeanor and my lackadaisical lord governorate, as Udi saw it, irritated her somewhat, and in a burst of anger she ordered me to take the revolution to Jhibilli, besieging the Rajassi and capturing the Jvashnas. Foolhardily, I rushed right to Bihaka, supposing that the Jvashnas’ forces were exhausted. We Ungians were roundly smitten by Qazudi troops and I was jailed in the Rajassi’s dungeon. Tried immediately for insurrection, treason, homicide and arson, I was sentenced to be executed. "ABILAI WILL BURN," screamed the headlines in Bihaka.

I knew, of course, that Ungi troops would come to rescue me, and I had every confidence they’d do it with great ease, but on Bihaka’s streets, Qazudi soldiers managed to maintain superiority for days. It looked as if I’d die in blazes after all. Fifteen minutes before I would be set afire, though, Ungi forces turned the tables and I was freed. Immediately, I led the populace in the storming of the great hall of the Jvashnas, the Rajassi, and the 300 turbaned hierarchs were packed in trucks and haled off to Osh at speeds above 100 miles an hour. From Osh they went to Mwalgoic Island and then to Jezgroid Airport in Mecnita. They ended up in Slanchgav Prison. Later, though, they were placed in separate houses scattered round the world, under close surveillance.

At that time, former provinces and countries began accepting Ungi rule, a process that continued two more years. Queen Udi, seeing three-quarters of the lands of Nya prostrate at her feet, named herself the Queen of Nya, on the 15th day of year 390—perhaps a trifle prematurely. It wasn’t till ’393 that no land or sea remained without the pale of her sovranty.

Because I’d been recognized as the spearhead of the revolution, I’d decided to immortalize it in my book, The Fall of Qazudistan, though heaven knows it was in spite of, not because of, me that Ung had conquered Ub. When all is said and done, my role was but a series of mistakes and misadventures crowned with victory amounting to a miracle. So it was not my purpose in my book to glorify or glamorize my conduct of the war, not even to gloss over or to whitewash all the blunders that I had made on my haphazard way to final triumph, rather it was just to trace the causes of the fall. I’d make a contribution to Qazudi history. If I was not a real hero, at least I was a fairly good historian. Anyway, in the course of my investigations, I’d learned about this mysterious old family, the Vrikshayas, extinct or otherwise invisible 140 years. I was intrigued exceedingly, curious indeed.

Nya, our planet here in Ti, the local spiral galaxy some megaparsecs from the earth, has a single populated satellite called Mli and four deserted satellites called Cro and Ple and Sta and Vyu. The Ungi language names like things alike. Ung has, to be sure, an aerospace authority and a variety of spaceships, but outer space has never had a high priority on the agenda of the queendom. Over the decades, several flights to Mli and other places in the Dyotic solar system have been made, but not so many as many would have liked. Contact with the Mlians has been made, at least with Shwea, one of the realms in the giraffe hide of the map of Mli. Qabjang is the capital of Shwea and Zipsi is the queen. Only a desultory dialogue has been carried on between Queen Udi and Queen Zipsi. Though Shwea is considered ‘friendly’, the validity of that epithet is quite debatable. We know that, in addition to this Shwea, there are many other countries on the moon—we call only Mli ‘the moon’—but no other countries ever have been visited by astronauts from Ung. Shwea, insofar as we’re aware, has no spaceships whatsoever. As regards the other Mlian kingdoms, no one really knows, but it seems totally improbable that they’ve put ships in space, for if they had, we’d probably have seen them here in Ung. How could it be then, that the Vrikshayas were Mlians, as the most persistent legends had it?

If the other legend—that the Vrikshayas were superhuman—is true, and they therefore constituted a new and higher species, what becomes of the idea that Macs ogashta is the universal human species? The probability of the existence of a human superspecies naturally was greater if you allowed they might have come from Mli, from a sophisticated country not yet visited, but there wasn’t any evidence suggesting such a place was to be found. This question too intrigued me. I even videophoned Cocothrasp, head of the Department of Neurosciences at the University of Mecnita.

"What do you think of the doctrine of the generality of Macs ogashta?" I asked Cocothrasp even before I said hello or identified myself.

"What doctrine is that?"

"You know, that Macs ogashta is the universal human species."

"I didn’t know it was."

"Well, it’s just a doctrine, you know, a theory, you might say."

"You mean they don’t really know?"

"I don’t know. I thought perhaps you’d have some sound ideas on the subject. You know all about the nervous system, don’t you?"

"Yes, but just around Mecnita. I’ve never been in outer space."

"You’ve never heard the doctrine?’

"Offhand I can’t recall I have."

"This is a matter of cosmology."

"I’m not much of a cosmology enthusiast. My hobbies are photography and tennis."

"Well, anyway, what do you think of the idea?"

"There may be something to it. These things’ll throw you now and then, you know. Just give me a call if you find out," he chuckled as he switched off.

This is just a sample of the countless culs de sac that I got into as I tried to solve the mystery of the Vrikshayas of Ub. Another bright idea had been mocked, as if I’d been a little balmy or retarded. But now that I had time, I’d be able to keep researching every little clue. Perhaps I’d disentangle this enigma if I kept at it patiently.

During this bright flowering of my literary effort, though mostly I would write in my apartment in my alcove study lined with marbled half-bound books, at my rolltop desk, now and then of course, I’d find myself elsewhere in the palace, on one little errand or another, especially in the regal corridor, whereon so many offices and other chambers opened.

Some time after Barti had begun in Ghasb, I noticed on a number of occasions that Usha and Queen Udi were carrying on long conversations in an office on the corridor, usually with open doors but in low voices. At first, I didn’t pay it much attention. Later I got curious. Protesting I was not invited, in spite of Udi’s latest promises not to exclude me from her conferences, I was told by her that these were merely ‘little tete-a-tete’, really quite ‘informal’, nothing at all for me to get ‘excited’ over, only ‘little social get-togethers’. Queen Udi further stated that she’d reviewed again at last the test results for Usha and was considering offering her a position at the Bank of Ung. Surely, if I liked, I might take part in the meeting where’d she make the offer and state my views and raise my questions, but otherwise she’d just go ahead herself. The tone of Udi’s voice suggested this all straightforward and routine. This was fair enough. At least the queen was giving me the option to attend. "Very well, your highness, just handle it yourself as you see fit."

Ramdonia is the district of Mecnita next to Eldor on the south. Centrally located in the district is Ramdonia Circle, an avenue that forms a rim two miles in diameter. Eight radial avenues, at intervals of 45° , are the spokes that intersect that rim. At every intersection—east, northeast, north, northwest, west, southwest, south, southeast—stands a tower, a thousand-story tower 12,000 feet in height. These awesome cylinders have 10-yard-wide black windows alternate with 10-yard-wide white marble piers rising from the ground almost to the top. An architrave, also of white marble, caps each tower off, monolithic with the piers. The avenues along the radii, equipped with little streamlined trains, extend right to the towers, entering them by means of lofty entrances, 100 feet in width, 200 high, whose arches interrupt the black-and-white motif of the windows and the piers. The avenues divide the circle in eight sectors, all carpeted with lawn. Along the sidewalks that adjoin the avenues and crisscross the sectors bloom 10,000 flowering trees—goldenrain, acacia, dogwood, lilac, redbud, cherry, royal poinciana—a veritable sachet of fragrant blossoms. These towers are numbered 1 to 8, counterclockwise from the east. One just says, "Number five Ramdonia," if, for example, he or she is speaking of the Bank of Ung, which occupies the lower 700 stories of the tower on the west. The 300 other floors accommodate a number of establishments, both small and medium, of a variety of natures.

At one time, Ung had many banks, but one by one, the Bank of Ung had bought them up. Ung permits monopolies to operate but regulates them narrowly. In Ung’s long multibank millennia, the minister of finance played a larger role—supervisor, referee, liaison officer. Thereafter, though, the minister of finance filled a secondary place, and the director of the Bank of Ung assumed the reins of fiscal power in the realm. Yarlomenx was Udi’s finance minister and Dzemlavang her bank director.

So on the 35th, I saw Udi, Usha, Yarlomenx and Dzemlavang as they went into Udi’s office and pulled up chairs around a massive oaken table. Udi once again invited me to join, if I so chose, but said otherwise she could deal with the matter easily enough herself, almost as if it would have been an imposition to bother me with such an everyday affair. "Go ahead, Queen Udi. Later you can tell me all about it."

Therefore I was utterly astonished, later, when I had gone to Udi’s study, as she told me that the ministry of finance and the bank directorate would be combined to form a single office. Usha would be groomed to take it over. Yarlomenx and Dzemlavang would work for her and ready her to run the realm’s finances.

"No! No! No! Udi! This can’t be! Surely, you’ve gone mad! Usha’s only 22 years old, just a pretty village girl from backward rural Gangawar."

"Here’s her folder. Look it over for yourself. She scored 99% on 37 tests relating to all aspects of the bank’s activities—mortgage loans, letters of credit, bank acceptances, commercial paper, overnight money, repurchase contracts, issue of currency, clearinghouse activities, government bills, bonds and notes, investment banking, holding companies, drafts, checks, notices of withdrawal, certificates of deposit, foreign exchange, interest rates, everything. Dzemlavang scored only 93. Yarlomenx got 91. Here’s her essay on the best ways to put venture capital to use. Here’s another one on limiting inflation and deflation. And there are several others that deal with other topics."

"Frankly, Udi, this is quite impossible. Skullduggery’s afoot somehow."

"Nonsense, Vocno. The testing was monitored with totally dependable procedures. Furthermore, I’ve quizzed her personally at length. The breadth and depth of her financial wisdom are remarkable. Don’t ask me how she does it, but believe me that she does. The girl is a genius and a godsend."

I threw up my hands in exasperation and walked out without a word.

Next day I went personally to the Archives of Mecnita. This is an imposing 20-story granite building in the Celva District, where the documents and records of the kingdom are reposed. It measures 2000 x 2000 feet in plan, a mighty bastion by appearances, with a colonnade of fluted columns crowned by capitals like scrolls. In front, an avenue of stairs leads to a series of revolving doors that number fifty. As you walk in, you find yourself inside a lobby like a canyon that returns your footfalls with impressive echoes. There, a gigantic plaque of founded brass serves as the directory, and on it are embossed the names of numerous departments—Cadastre of Ung, Minutes of Sessions of Parliament, Vital Records, Registry of Academies and Institutes, University Bulletins, Citizens’ Biographies, Agricultural Statistics—but seven of the many hundred listed. It would have taken me all day to read them all, but right away I saw the listing, ‘Vital Records…1515’, and 1515 is the room I headed towards, although intimidated by the long and lofty corridors in this labyrinthine edifice of stone.

Inside the room were aisles, aisles, aisles all lined with crowded files, files, files. I looked and looked and looked but found no record on anyone named ‘Ajinblambia’. So I went to a computer screen and started fingering the keyboard. Let me explain, for anyone who may be interested in the technicalities of such a search that, in the system now in use in Ung, a name like ‘Ajinblambia’ is converted to a set of numbers denoting pitch and roundness, tension, voice, nasality and other qualities of speech. This set of numbers is transformed into a vector in a multidimensional phonetic vector space. If the name you’re looking for cannot be found, all other names with vectors in the neighborhood appear in order depending on the shortness of the vector difference, regardless of the initial letter or the spelling. This meant that any name in any way like ‘Ajinblambia’ would show up as you scrolled up and down. You wouldn’t miss a name in any case, not with our sophisticated system. Nevertheless, I scrolled and scrolled. There was no ‘Ajinblambia’ or anything resembling it at all.

I could have sworn that I recalled she’d told me she’d been born in Psebol and wasn’t merely resident therein, so, if indeed that was the case, she’d definitely be archived in Mecnita, both cities being located in Ungia, unless of course somehow her record had been ruined or purloined, which was quite unlikely. I double-checked by fax with the provincial archives serving Psebol, which ordinarily would also have a copy of the record, even if, for one reason or another, the original was missing in Mecnita. The answer to my phototelegraphic query was, "No record found." Another cul de sac had stopped me in my tracks. Maybe Ajinblambia was Qazudi after all.

I’d also started wondering about the girls from Gangawar, especially the two that Udi had appointed to important posts—Barti and her cousin Usha. Who were these beautiful young prodigies from Ub? How had they risen to the heights?

I decided on a trip to the city of Bihaka in the old Qazudi province of Jhibilli. I had a list of three important errands:

Visit Ajinblambia’s former place of business and trace her antecedents;

Get vital records on the five Qazudi girls;

Do more research on the Vrikshayas.

Then it struck me like a bolt of lightning! My three errands were but one! Ajinblambia and the Qazudi girls were the Vrikshayas! The Vrikshayas had reappeared and aimed to seize the mond of Ung from Udi’s guileless hand. They were Qazudis who’d make Ung Qazudi instead of letting Qazudistan be Ungi, as was meet. This was just the next move in the intercontinental conflict that began when Plubac started persecuting me and Udi. Udi was in danger. She was being deluded and deceived by these six superhuman women. Or was this merely paranoia on my part?

I realized I’d better do some checking before I leveled any accusations.

"Udi, I think it would be beneficial to the realm," I told the queen, "for me to tour the cities of Qazudistan—Bihaka, Nalawaddy, Kara Darya, Dilulabad, Dilfatty and others—and meet the local governors and potentates. This will build good will and let me see first hand how Ungi rule is working there. How do you opine?" I said absolutely nothing about my real motives.

"I agree, dear Vocno. Do it if you please."

"I’ll be gone some 30 days."

"That part I don’t like at all, but we’ll manage somehow, won’t we, Toto?"

"We’ll manage somehow, Udi," said the long white bird.

"Make sure you visit Oji, Vocno dear, before you leave."

I went to the royal nursery, and Anjardrandia, the governess, was there to greet me. We talked a minute and then I took my baby daughter in my arms. "Where are you going, daddy?" she asked me in her precious little voice, "And when will you be back?"

I told her I was going o’er the ocean to a far, far land, and she wanted to come with me. Instead, we played with rubber balls of six or seven colors and little jacks of chrome you’d have to grab before the ball you’d bounced came down again. She was good, but I was better. I’d found a sport where I could win. I kissed the pretty darling, then I left.

Another ‘flying city’—that’s what we call our jumbo jets—flew me from Mecnita’s Jezgroid Airport nonstop to Mwalgoic Airport, with its 20-mile runway slicing through the jungle. Mwalgoic Island is 20,000 miles from Mecnita, but well within the range of Ungi jumbo jets with their oceanic fuel tanks. I couldn’t fly directly to Bihaka with its little 3 or 4 mile runways. I’d have to transfer to a minijet at Mwalgoic. An autobuggy took me from the jumbo to departure gate eleven. There I waited 15 earthly minutes before I climbed the boarding ramp and stepped into the cabin door. This plane would fly 900 miles an hour, a wingéd tortoise, a snail of the air. You’d wonder how it built up the lift to cancel out the force of gravity. Rolling slightly, yawing to the left, we assumed a course towards the southwest, turning from the westward takeoff determined by the runway. This would be a junior jump. An Ungi hour later, we were landing in Bhilgopta Airport in Bihaka.

Morning found me at Jhibilli Place, the great square of the city of Bihaka. This square is where I’d led the populace when I’d been rescued from the pyre where I’d been sentenced to expire for insurrection, treason, homicide and arson, and this is where they’d seized the Jvashnas from the halls of the Rajassi, which dominates the square. A broad white building with a jade-green mansard roof and jade-green turrets at the corners, the Rajassi, fenestrated with tall, narrow, five-by-forty windows, a hundred in two banks, has a dozen doors of gold-and-silver tracery between, and an avenue of stairs with balustrades of marble right and left. A pair of lions rampant, green with verdigris, tower fifteen meters, one on either side, sentrying the stairs. The populace had broken in by shattering the panes and knocking out the muntins with hammers, clubs and bats, but, following my orders, they’d spared the Jvashnas’ lives, allowing them to be hauled off in Osh-bound trucks, as I have said, that made 500 miles in five hours. The storming of the great hall of the Jvashnas took place in year 388. Of course, since then the edifice had been restored and once again was elegant and gorgeous. But I hadn’t come to tour the landmarks of Bihaka.

Gwalgarh Rasta is one of four great avenues that bound Jhibilli Place. Farther down, at 211 Gwalgarh Rasta, the National Archives of Qazudistan are located. They’re impressive in their own right, but of course don’t rival the Archives of Mecnita for sheer size and grandeur. Inside the archives, I found a spacious room with rows and rows of screens with keyboards. A good-looking Qazudi lady in a purple sari, who identified herself as Lecsmi, led me to a screen and showed me how to fetch a record. A Qazudi always has two names—a surname following a given name—unlike an Ungi, who always has a single name. Barti’s name was ‘Barti Presed’. Neither ‘Barti’ nor her surname ‘Presed’ was unique. Not even her whole name was necessarily unique. There might be several Barti Preseds in the country. Lecsmi told me, when I’d keyed a name, I’d be able to review a listing of all the persons using it. Then I could choose a single record, providing I could figure out which record was the right one. Otherwise, I could view all the records one by one until I found the right one. Failing that, there’s nothing one might do. But Lecsmi told me that the files were usually correct.

I found seven Barti Preseds, but none from Gangawar, and none whose age was anywhere from 12 to 30. I tried Usha Sing. There were five. All were over 40, none from Gangawar. Then I looked for Mlechi Padel and Vinja Kan and Dhabbi Chand. Nothing, nothing, nothing. I’d been deceived. I tried Ajinblambia as either given name or surname. There was nothing.

I returned to ask the lady if the archives had records or statistics on the Vrikshayas. I learnt that ‘Vrikshaya’ was the designation of a loosely organized association called a ‘clan’ and would not appear on any vital records. If I was searching for a Barti Presed supposedly a Vrikshaya, I’d look only under ‘Barti Presed’ and not under ‘Barti Vrikshaya’ or any other variation that I could contrive from the names I had. There were names missing, Lecsmi said, but on the average, the records were 99.5% correct. If still I couldn’t find it, there was nothing she could do but offer her apologies. She further stated the provincial archives in Ujjama would have no records not also in Bihaka. If I so wished, continued Lecsmi, I could of course go to Ujjama to check the records for myself, but she predicted disappointment if I did. I stayed for several hours longer in the archives, keyboarding the data and reviewing the displays. I tried and tried again. No records could be found on any of the six.

In spite of Lecsmi’s pessimism, I decided on a trip to Gangawar. There were no flights within a dozen days, so I reserved a berth on an express Qazudistani train, that is, express by local standards, but somewhat slow to me, with its 30 hours for 4500 miles. In Ungia, I’d make it in just 20 hours.

The train went through the farmlands round the city, then entered a savannah veined here and there with creeks. I saw many a giant rhino—some weigh 30 tons—along with massive mammoths and a ‘hairy dinosaur’. A ‘hairy dinosaur’ is really a colossal anteater, bigger than a brontosaur, that feeds on ants with thoraces and abdomens like eggplants. This is the land of gigantism on our planet. Here are the mighty mastodons and awesome apes. Here are the foot-long hornets and the half-pound scorpions and spiders. Later came a stretch of desert that lasted all night long, and then again we entered thicket-punctuated grasslands. Finally, on the evening of the second day, with a gnashing of couplings and a clanging of buffers, we came to a sudden stop at the station in Ujjama.

The nexr morning, I hurried to Gangawar’s Provincial Archives. As I had naturally supposed, the predictions made by Lecsmi proved perfectly correct. I checked and checked again. There were no vital records on the girls. Backstation 50 miles from Ujjama lay the town of Kshaddi, whence the girls hailed supposedly. I caught a local train southeast, back in the direction of Bihaka, but I got off at Kshaddi. I’d go right to the houses of the girls’ parents. I didn’t have addresses, but I’d been there 4 or 5 years earlier and assumed I’d locate them without a problem. I was wrong. I couldn’t find them. I asked a hundred people. No one seemed to know the girls. In Kshaddi, names like ‘Barti’ and like ‘Usha’ are quite common, so everyone knew someone by those names, but no one knew the certain ones that I was looking for. I went to our address, number 6 on Jagna Lane, the one-time clubhouse of the Geese. The building was abandoned, dusty, boarded up. No one in the neighborhood knew what had happened to any members of the Geese. Most had quite forgotten or could only vaguely recollect that there had been a team in Kshaddi once upon a time. I spent a couple days in Kshaddi but didn’t learn a thing. So I went right back to Bihaka.

Back in year 386, in the city of Bihaka, when I’d met Ajinblambia quite accidentally, as I’d walked through the district where she’d maintained her office, I couldn’t speak or read Qazudi, didn’t even know the alphabet, and therefore would hardly have been able to tell you where it was. The only thing that I could do was go to her old neighborhood, indeed if I could find it, and start walking up and down the streets till I caught sight of her old building, then inquire. Unfortunately, I glimpsed several buildings that might have answered the description I could give. Apparently my memory was less reliable than I’d have liked. So I began by interviewing the present tenants of the offices in question. Although most of them were reticent, perhaps because they were suspicious, I was able to extract some information, just enough to rule them out, when I persisted. No Ungi lady or any lady whatsoever had ever had an export-import business in those places in times memorial. There was but a lone exception, the last one on my list. There I interviewed a man who’d rented just a year at that location. He didn’t know the former tenant and couldn’t tell me if it was a woman or a man. He referred me to the landlady, who resided in retirement nearby. I went to her address and introduced myself, explaining what I wanted. She told me that the previous tenant indeed had been a woman, only ‘Ajinblambia’ was not her name. It was ‘Sita Verm’, as she recalled. Yes, she had run an export-import business or something of the kind at least. The landlady, however, was nearly blind and couldn’t offer a description of this Sita, though she remembered she was tall. Her exact height she couldn’t tell me naturally. I produced a photograph, but the landlady couldn’t see it well enough to identify her positively. She had no forwarding address for Sita, didn’t have the faintest notion where she’d gone. She no longer had a specimen of Sita’s writing.

I returned immediately to the National Archives, smiling admiringly at Lecsmi, now in a sari of rose silk with gold embroidery, very lovely, as I hurried to the section with computers. Keypunching the name of ‘Sita Verm’, I encountered yet another cul de sac. All of Qazudistan’s Sita Verms were aged women, much older than our Ajinblambia could be. Well, maybe Ajinblambia was from Psebol after all, but having as a true name ‘Sita Verm’. Usually a two-word foreign name like ‘Sita Verm’ would be transformed into a one-word Ungi-style name like ‘Sitavermia’, though I supposed it was conceivable a name like that remained intact in the Archives of Mecnita. I made the 20,000-mile phone call to find out. No, there was no Sita Verm or Sitavermia from Psebol or from any other place in Ungia. Nor was there any name even vaguely similar to ‘Sita Verm’ in the phonetic vector space adjacent to it. So that was that. All I had was a lady’s name, not even certainly an alias that Ajinblambia had ever used, which led exactly nowhere anyway.

I paid a visit to Jeprakas Sivaj, the head of the Department of History at Jhibilli University right there in Bihaka. I wanted to know about the Vrikshayas of course. He offered me the books he’d authored. I’d already read them. Didn’t he know more than he’d written in his books? Apparently he didn’t, I found out. What did he conjecture as to the origin and fate of the great family? Perhaps the Vrikshayas were superhuman. Perhaps they’d come from Mli. Perhaps they were in hiding, waiting to return. Very likely that was so, he went so far as to suppose. But this was nothing new. All these musings were just the same old legends that had been around a century. His writings said it all. I thanked him for his time and took my leave, writing this off as just another cul de sac.

As I lay around my room in the Pustacalay District of Bihaka, pondering the mystery of Ajinblambia and the Geese, and realizing something here was quite amiss, it suddenly occurred to me that all the information that we had about the progress Ajinblambia was making on the projects emanated ultimately from Ajinblambia herself. Did I really know what was going on in Qizilot and elsewhere in the nine collaborating provinces? Perhaps she’d been embezzling funds. Perhaps she’d been exaggerating her achievement. Perhaps she’d falsified reports. Perhaps she had the banker Dzegnent in her pay. I hated being forced to entertain suspicions of the kind. Where else would my investigations lead me though? I decided to surprise her by showing up in Qizilot all of a sudden, catch her unawares and get a candid picture of the situation. Yes, I’d just appear there unannounced and see myself what Ajinblambia was doing.

I’d be able to fly to Tsumufuchi, but from there I’d have to travel overland to reach Ceveristan, where, as a brief aside, I could visit Nya’s tremendous oil refineries before sailing on to Qizilot. This route was indeed circuitous. I’d be traveling some 25,000 miles, whereas along a geodesic from Bihaka, it’s just 17,000 miles to Qizilot. My other choice would be to go back to Mecnita and then fly eastwards via Poilnarcs to Qizilot, a trip of maybe 40,000 miles, but faster nonetheless.

However, I thought I’d take advantage of the opportunity to tour the refineries of Ceveristan and Paltievsk, where Dolomarps was superintendent. This installation was supposed to be incomparably vast.



M

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