Panties and Bras

 

 

A Tale of Ung

 

Chapter 9

 

 

 

 

Oil Refinery in Ceveristan

 

 

I flew 12,000 miles from Bihaka to Tsumufuchi’s capital, the city of Futsugawa. During the Qazudi Revolution, while making broadcasts from a radio and television tower built to that very purpose by Ung in Futsugawa, I’d been kidnapped by four soldiers from Ong Pang, a country bordering both Tsumufuchi and Qazudistan, and taken in a truck to their capital, Fai Kwa, to be held prisoner. But Ungians in superhelicopters had rescued me, first diverting Ong Pang’s army by setting fire to the forest near Fai Kwa. This fire eventually had spread to the Qazudi provinces of Namganistan and Jalalabad, and made a perfect pretext for me to denounce the Jvashnas further. The provinces had then revolted and merged to form a single state—Namjala—with Dilfatty as its capital. Dilfatty would go on to be the capital of Ungistan, which had Namjala as its senior member.

So it was with nostalgia that I deplaned at Futsugawa’s Nobu Airport, but I didn’t spend more than an Ungi hour there. Next I’d have to go by train and bus—mostly bus—till I reached the city of Kholodsk, the capital of Ceveristan, once a country, now an Ungi province. I’d be passing too through Paltievsk, the eastern neighbor of Ceveristan. This would be an arduous, exhausting ride. Some of these jalopy buses could barely do 100 miles an hour, so it would take me two whole days just to go 5000 little miles. Well, at least the scenery would be a novelty to me. I’d never visited north central Ub before.

Twenty billion barrels of petroleum had been proven to exist in deposits in Ceveristan and Paltievsk. A megalopolis of wells, refineries and pipelines, along with transport installations and a superharbor, were being built. The coastline of the provinces was 1000 miles long. The facilities and plants combined to form one giant shining engine that would fill those thousand miles.

I’d called Dolomarps by scrollphone to tell him I was coming, and when finally I got there, he met me at the station and drove me to his trailer—his office on the site. It was winter, cold and windy, with light snowy patches here and there. When we got in the trailer, Dolomarps began to show me photographs and drawings, maps and models. In addition to petroleum, there were natural-gas deposits and tar sands in the region they’d be able to exploit one day, as well as shale in the sea, where offshore platforms would eventually be built. Ung gets more passenger miles per gallon of gasoline than do comparable countries on other planets in Ti and other galaxies throughout the universe, thanks to the sophisticated planes and trains and buses that have by and large supplanted private cars, according to the words of Dolomarps, who claimed that our petroleum reserves sufficed for two millennia at least. Moreover, he explained, Ceveristan and Paltievsk Oil Company—or Capoco—was sponsoring exhaustive exploration all over Ub and Eb and Oceania. Oceania includes Ungonesia and scattered other islands emergent from the oceans of the planet.

The petroleums of Nya are different from Earth’s, as are the engines and the motors that consume the fuel derived from them, but in many ways, refineries are similar. Dolomarps conducted me out to a minivan, saying he would show me all around. Immediately as we drove out, we found ourselves amidst a legion of reactors, vessels, pipelines, tanks and columns all chromium and stainless steel, like a battery of gleaming rockets that would threaten very heaven. Here, he told me, crude petroleum would undergo fractionation, cracking and reforming, polymerization, alkylation, isomerization and hydrogenation. Gasoline and kerosene; lubricating, gas and diesel oils; paraffin and grease would issue from the process. Polyvinyl, polyethylene and polystyrene plastics would be formed, as well as polyester, nylon and acrylic fibers. Synthetic rubbers and a host of other by-products rounded out the list.

Dolomarps remarked that a pipeline with a 20-foot diameter and walls 3 inches thick extending from Kholodsk the 15,000 miles to Bihaka would require 300,000,000 tons of steel. Of course, I’ve corrected all my figures to earthly weights and measures. With so much steel, Dolomarps could build 30 ultrasupertankers. He said his UST had a deadweight tonnage of 30 million tons and a light displacement of 10 million tons. It was a mile long, had a beam of some 900 feet and a draft of some 300. The engine of his UST developed upwards of 4,000,000 horsepower, that is, about 3000 megawatts. He was proud to say 10 tankers had been built, 10 others were abuilding and 10 were scheduled for construction. One day his UST’s would be as numerous as shoals of herring in the Northern Ubbic Ocean. Petroleum products already partially or totally refined would be transported on the water. They wouldn’t transport crude petroleum to faraway refineries. The UST’s would stand at sea a distance from the shore and pipelines would be used to load them.

Inland from the refineries and the harbor sprawled extensive oil fields, where black gold was pumped by a congeries of derricks. Ungi drills could drill to a depth of 30 miles, but here, of course, the subterranean ocean was shallower than that. Dirt roads led all around the wells, and on them, I was chauffeured all about by Dolomarps, bumping and jostling in my seat.

Also we inspected a construction site where housing would be provided for the workers. Long, low blocks of utilitarian apartment buildings flanked asphalt streets devoid of sidewalks. Neither shrub nor tree nor hedge nor blade of grass had been planted there apparently. Dolomarps explained this was all new housing that eventually would have amenities. In five years’ time, he said, Kholodsk would boast museums, parks and theaters. Oleanders and rhododendrons, box and arbor vitae, elms and maple would be planted. Sod would cover lawns and yards. Of course, at that particular time it was winter in Kholodsk at any rate.

Farther on, construction was barely getting under way. Everywhere were piles of sand and gravel, bags of cement and bundles of reinforcing rods bent into a great variety of shapes, planks and blocks, steel angles, beams and channels, along with bulldozers and cranes. Workers teemed, welding, bolting, grinding, digging, pounding. It was a colony of ants magnified 1000 times.

My whole impression was as if a gargantuan artillery were gearing up for a coming armageddon. Thank goodness it was peace, not war, that Ung promoted and espoused.

That evening, Dolomarps provided for our supper roast Ceveristani goose, along with steamed asparagus and cheese. When I recognized the goose, I winced a little, thinking of the mascot of our team, but explaining my predicament to Dolomarps would have been embarrassing, so I found it in me just to cooperate and eat. Next day, we toured some more early in the morning, but at midday I embarked upon a Qizilot-bound ship. The skipper’s name was Yevgen. Dolomarps had come to see me off, of course. All in all, he acted as if my visit had been an honor, but I was wondering if it wasn’t I who should account himself the honored one.

Our speed would be some 35 earth-knots, so we’d spend 8 days to sail 8000 miles. The Northern Ubbic Ocean at this time of year was cold and windy, pitiless and bleak. This is where a person’s life-expectancy would be scarcely 15 minutes but for the warmth and safety of a ship he hadn’t built and couldn’t build himself.

There were giant walruses on several snowy islands that we passed. Yevgen claimed their weight was 30 tons or so, their tusks as large as human legs. Now and then we’d spot an Ubbic whale, Balaenoptera ubbicum, truly a leviathan. Yevgen said a bull could be 300 feet in length and weigh 1000 tons. The sea was also full of elasmobranchiate monstrosities much too large and murderous to be merely classified as sharks. Day after day we sailed, rounding Cape Kenjedga and veering south to slightly warmer seas. Eventually we could descry far, far away, in the hazes shrouding the horizon, the chalky cliffs of Qizilot. In midmorning of the 80th of year 392, we put in at Tuva’s biggest port.

It was immediately obvious that Turfant-Tuva #7 was complete. The great gray masses of the enfilade of cylindrical containment buildings dominated everything, impregnable bulwarks, inexpugnable bastions that would stand 1000 years, refractory against volcanoes, earthquake-proof, recalcitrant against tornadoes. Transformers could be seen before the station with an infinity of insulators, maroon and white, from which conductors, numerous as spokes within a wheel, radiated, filling up the sky. Farther down, stood the desalination building with its spillways ready to cascade fresh water to fill the broad canal, now all fully paved with concrete. Auxiliary structures thronged around, already functioning and landscaped.

Nonetheless, before announcing that I’d come, I decided to inspect the plant. Everything was shipshape. Workmanship was careful to a fault. Working areas were neat and clean, free of booby traps and hazardous materials. Notices were clear and legible. Passageways were free of litter and obstructions. Workmen all were properly attired. Tools were safe, lights were adequate, radiation nowhere detectable. Of course, it wasn’t provided to be otherwise, but it was doubtful in my mind if I’d have been capable of bringing it about with such address and speed. I got one of the staff to chauffeur me around the nearby Qizilot. Where before there’d been felt yurts, there were pumice buildings now, along with framework houses and huts of styrofoam, an innovation that I didn’t understand at once. Streets had been laid out in a checkerboard motif, some paved with asphalt, others not just yet. Streetlights had been erected, if not completely wired. In places, trenches had been dug for pipes and cable, visible in stacks and spools, uncovered, or covered with tarpaulins secured with rope or chain.

Eventually, we visited the Bank of Qizilot, a prism of black onyx surrounded by four colonnades of fluted silver columns with square capitals and founded pediments, with metopes and triglyphs in entablatures to match. Atop a gentle hill, with 10 acres full of larch and tamarack, juniper and fir, the building was the showpiece of the city. Inside, Dzegnent, the director of the bank, whom I knew personally, showed me balance sheets and ledgers, saying that his earlier optimism had been absolutely vindicated. The project was so far ahead of schedule he could scarce conceive how that bright picture might be dimmed. Hardly any foreseeable delays or complications could appreciably affect the date he was now predicting for completion. Not only that, he said, but considerable savings were being realized by Ajinblambia in several ways—improved design, better methods of procurement, worker motivation, moneymaking sidelines such as storage, harborage and shipping.

In the company of Dzegnent, who served as my interpreter, I toured the Qizilot Academy of Agriculture, where one Tsaadaghan was our host. He explained in Tuvan, when we visited one laboratory, how botanists had charted wheat’s entire genome and had produced a number of new strains. Auxins, hormones governing the growth of wheat, had been enriched to provide a larger, more nutritious caryopsis. He showed me a spikelet larger than an almond. Tsaadaghan remarked that out of each 500 joules of sunshine incident upon a field of wheat, just a single joule was captured in the flour ground from it. He claimed his bigger grain would double, even treble, that net energy figure and more than justify the money that his research cost. We visited another laboratory devoted to comparing the advantages and disadvantages of monoculture vis-à-vis rotation. All the happy tidings I’d been hearing about the academy apparently were true. In another department of the academy, engineers were performing tests aimed at the improved design of ploughs and harvesters. New alloys were being developed in conjunction with the manufacture of gears and shafts, cylinders and pistons. New fuel preparations, some with octane ratings of 200-plus, were being researched. Dzegnent was enthusiastic about several new discoveries. In still another laboratory, engineers were studying high-voltage transmission of electric power, particularly cable composition and line geometry, with a view to optimizing conductance, inductive and capacitive reactance, tensile strength and, most importantly, economic parameters. Their work was so deft you’d say Nature herself sat at the drawing board and pressed the keys of the computer to find the best design. I wish I’d thought of introducing research programs like the ones that Ajinblambia was fostering. A renewed humility engulfed me.

Outside again, the chauffeur drove me to a site where pylons were being fabricated. During my superintendency, pylons had been shipped in pieces and assembled in the field. Ajinblambia had directed permanent fixtures to be built in a single place instead, so that the pylons could be mass-produced. A complete assembled pylon would be transported to the field by a truck outfitted with a crane to lift the pylon and set it on its precast piers. The driver would tighten nuts on anchor bolts, get back into his seat and turn the rig around. A pylon 25 x 50 x 100 could be carried by a special supertruck that Ajinblambia had invented. Trucks of this size had been in use in Ung for centuries, but they weren’t specially equipped for hauling pylons.

Gigantic spools of cable, dwarfing those that I had used, glistened in the sun, in another spot. Twenty feet thick and thirty in diameter, each spool had 200,000 lineal feet of 200-strand aluminum-and-steel cable, with a gross weight of 1800 tons. But Ung’s equipment, as exploited by Ajinblambia, was equal to the task of lifting and unreeling these titanic reels. Regrettably, I hadn’t attacked the problem so successfully as she. Yes, perhaps, I’d been remiss. Ajinblambia had not. Here were the super-reels to attest her ingenuity.

We returned to Qizilot. I slept in the house of the employee who’d chauffeured me around. Next morning, I went to Ajinblambia’s field office, which she’d set up in a yurt of styrofoam. When I knocked upon her door, she opened it dressed in a sheepskin jacket, white jeans and knee-high safety boots.

"Vocno!" she exclaimed, "What a pleasant surprise! Come to see our handiwork, did you? It’s not often a prime minister comes by. Are you hungry? Please sit down."

She put before me a bowl of kidney beans and salted pork, piping hot and sprinkled with cayenne, along with half a loaf of buttered garlic bread well toasted, and a glass of ice-cold milk. She took off her sheepskin like someone who’d been planning to go out but suddenly discovered she had things to do inside. She hung it on a coat-tree. Beneath, she had on a long-sleeved turtleneck black sweater fitted to reveal the statuesque lineaments of her upper torso. She had a black silk scarf around her neck and silver bracelets on her wrists. Apparently, she’d been outside some time already, for her walnut cheeks were apple-red from exposure to cold air.

"This is how we eat at Turfant-Tuva #7," she said, "Hearty fare, isn’t it? These are our own beans. This is bread from our own wheat. In ten years, we’ll bake 3 billion loaves a day. That’ll feed this continent of Ub, don’t you think?" She was radiant.

I mused unto myself, "How could I have doubted this fine lady, this junoesque bestower of boons and bounty, this embodiment of vision and intelligence? She was the very brain of all the projects, their heart and soul. From her cerebrum, the high voltage was transmitted near and far. From her eyes were wept the waters that would make green the land. In her bosom was the power, in her arms the sheaves of wheat. On her shoulders were the destinies of cities and the fortunes of the nations. On her carmine lips were words of wisdom, in her breath the scent of providence.

"Have you seen the plant?" she asked. You’d think the possibility I’d seen the plant already might have been a clue to tell her I’d shown up all of a sudden with intent to check on her or spy, but if this occurred to her at all, her charming, friendly manner didn’t show it, and I felt a twinge of shame.

"I’ve seen quite a bit and I’m indeed impressed. I’d no idea of the magnitude of your achievement," I said with genuine humility.

"Let’s you and me go look around together. I have my car. We’ll make a day of it," she said with pride, putting her arm around me as if she’d been my elder sister, doting on me fondly. I was pleased. When I’d eaten, we went out together, she in her sheepskin polushubka, and I in a leather coat I’d brought from Kholodsk, Ceveristan.

Explaining I’d already toured the plant, driven along the coast and visited the Bank of Qizilot, I let Ajinblambia conduct me into town and choose the points she’d show me. We met a party of surveyors with transits, theodolites and geodimeters, tapes and squares and levels. They were measuring the dips and strikes of the anticlines and synclines of some fault or rift they were about to map. They were trying to determine the best route for a subway Ajinblambia envisioned for the future Qizilot of twenty million. Why allow houses to be scattered improvidently helter-skelter, only later to be razed to accommodate the traffic arteries they’d necessitated in the first place? Instead, anticipate the trends in population, reserving space beforehand for the railroads and bus lanes, garages, terminals and stations that would serve the added people. This was the kind of city-planning that she had in mind for the capital of Tuva. Once she’d laid out her transit system, housing would be developed in accordance.

I noticed that wherever we appeared, everyone knew Ajinblambia and would approach to greet her, particularly gorgeous with her ruddy cheeks glistening in the winter sun. Men adored her. Women loved her too. She smiled and talked to children, kissed babes in arms, shook hands with elder youths. One couldn’t be more popular. And as she walked away, with light crisp snow crunching ‘neath her boots, they’d wave and call, "Good-bye," "Good luck," "So long." I saw no trace of envy, insubordination or resentment. She was a heroine, a saint, a goddess to them all. How could I presume to fault her?

She also drove me to some all-purpose buildings of her own design. These buildings served as schools, dining halls and dormitories at different times of day and night. Ajinblambia reasoned that, in the interests of conserving energy, if a building was to be heated round the clock, that is, 10 Ungi hours, it ought to serve some purpose at all times, and could do so if designed unto that end, with provisions for rapid change from one function to another. In Mecnita, no such stringent regimen is observed by anyone at all, but in western Ub, such economic measures are dictated by common sense.

In line with her utilitarian approach were the prefabricated yurts of resin-impregnated polystyrene that were clean and warm and dry. Cast in the monolithic shell were electrical circuits and water pipes. Such a yurt could be lifted by a small truck-mounted crane, installed and anchored with a sledgehammer and stakes wherever power and water were available. For people accustomed to shacks, hovels, tents or sheds, Ajinblambia’s $500 yurt was an advance. In future times, more substantial modular houses would be provided.

I visited the water works of Qizilot, the sanitation plant and the recycling facility that Ajinblambia was building, as well as a dozen other enterprises she was fostering. I was overawed by the thoroughness, the foresight and the magnitude of all her undertakings. Nowhere had I seen the likes of these so many projects and designs.

Finally, though, we’d covered most of the noteworthy activities the great lady was engaged in. I slept that night inside her office in order to be ready for my early flight to Ulucac and then onwards to Mecnita. I decided that a surprise visit to Osh to tour the Ghasbi Project—Barti’s vast swamp drainage works—would be premature. Receiving a whole suitcase full of literature—reports, drawings, prospectuses, balance sheets, tables, figures, charts—as well as souvenirs, I was driven by Ajinblambia to Nuula Airport, where she hugged and kissed me as I boarded an Ulucac-bound minijet, with maybe 1500 other passengers, early in the morning.

Hours later, I was landing in the perennial summer that the Poilnarcsians enjoy. I opted to vacation for a day or two at the Grand Hotel, then return to Udi with my findings.

During this miniholiday, I got to thinking that, even granting Barti was making first-rate progress in Memleket Ghasb—my experience with Ajinblambia had taught me not to be too skeptical—still the fact remained that the women’s antecedents were unknown. If they were indeed the Vrikshayas and consequently defendresses of Qazudistan and Ub in general, their seeming good offices in serving Udi might really have as their ultimate objective a Qazudi counteroffensive to turn defeat to victory, with Ung’s subinfeudation to Qazudistan and the unthroning of Queen Udi. If I had absolute and total confidence in the good faith of Ajinblambia, Barti, Usha and the others, I could only have loved them and admired them. But what kind of good faith could explain their assumption of false identities and names?

The question tossed back and forth in my mind like a sailing ship in a choppy sea the skipper tries to tack first one way, then another. I walked the streets of Ulucac, hardly aware of the ceibas, the papayas and the mammee apples, the cunninghamia figs, pandanuses and monkeypods that make the isle another eden ordinarily quite congenial to my eyes. Or I paced back and forth along the white wooden colonnade of my hotel, oblivious of the lotuses and jasmines, the frangipani, the peonies and the vanilla orchids whose fragrance filled the air and usually intoxicated me. I had a tremendous problem to resolve, a puzzle to unriddle. There was nothing for it, I concluded as I finished my brief holiday, but to lay the facts before the queen and let her decide just what to do.

Throngs of passengers before me, other throngs behind me, presented boarding passes at the cabin door of the superturbofan-type jumbo jet with takeoff rockets that soon would angle up into the azure firmament, leaping o’er the clouds forgathering on the sea. Hardly had I got accustomed to the roaring of the engines when I felt the gentle sinking of the plane and saw the lights of Jezgroid Airport in the distance down below. Before I knew it, I was back in Eldor Palace, in my own apartment in the oval on the north. I could see Sulugur, one of the 400 districts of Mecnita from my window, its glass and steel towers brilliantly illuminated against the violet plush of Mecnita’s evening sky.

Come morning, I reported to the queen. She was at her massive walnut desk, dressed in a black silk shirtdress with her honey-colored hair combed in a roll on the back of her head, a lovely smile on her lips.

"You’re back early, aren’t you, Vocno dear? I wasn’t expecting you for three or four more days. Did you cut short your tour?"

"Not exactly, Udi. A situation possibly dangerous to you and to your throne has come to my attention." She would not dismiss so lightly words like these coming from my lips, in view of my undoing of the Plubac and the Jilndij plots and my role in the thwarting of the Jvashnas’ dreams of conquest. "Have you ever heard of a family called the Vrikshayas?"

"The Vrikshayas? That sounds Qazudi. Is it?"

"Yes, your majesty. The Vrikshayas were an extremely powerful family or clan that ruled Qazudistan 10,000 years behind the scenes, allowing only token power to emperors and kings. They were rumored to have come from Mli. They were also rumored to possess superhuman minds. They were powerful, not because they had the broad, armipotent support of puissant factions or because they had inherited the crown, but because they were able to manipulate and dominate those who did have factions and wore crowns."

"That sounds very eery," said the queen, "What became of them?"

"Well, they just vanished from the scene when the Jvashnas came to power. One conjecture has it they died off. Another has it they assimilated. A third maintains that they returned to Mli, while yet another version rumors them in hiding, waiting to return to power."

"But Vocno, however that may be, I see no relation of the matter to the fortunes of our realm, do you?"

"I’m leading up to that, Queen Udi. But first let me assure you that the Turfant-Tuva Project and the Oirad Project are doing quite as well as all the news reports declare. I was there. I went to Qizilot. I was shown around by Ajinblambia herself. Astonishing accomplishment! Unparalleled achievement!"

"Glad tidings these in any case! I’d wondered if our Ajinblambia was everything we’d thought. Indeed she is, you’d say?"

"Yes, no doubt about it. I didn’t visit Osh though. I think it’s premature to judge what Barti’s doing there. Another matter that I have, however, is that neither Ajinblambia nor any of the Qazudi girls has vital records in Bihaka or Ujjama, in Psebol or Mecnita, or anywhere, as far as I can ascertain. The probability this is ascribable to chance is one in over 60 trillion, according to my calculations."

"No vital records? What, no birth certificates?"

"Correct, Queen Udi. I checked a hundred times."

"Something is amiss."

"Have you ever noticed that Ajinblambia and the Qazudi girls look alike? They all speak the Qazudi language perfectly. And I have evidence that Ajinblambia may have used ‘Sita’ as an alias. ‘Sita’ is most surely a Qazudi name. Maybe the six of them are the descendants of the Vrikshayas, seeking to gain power in Ung at your expense. Their great works in Ub would only help them stand against you in case of a renewed Qazudi effort."

Udi shuddered. It was clear she saw how cogent were my arguments and how great the peril that engulfed her.

"Vocno, tonight just sleep in your apartment. I’ll stay up to meditate the matter. Tomorrow, we’ll decide a course of action."

I knew that this was just Queen Udi’s way of saying she’d decide a course of action, though naturally I’d be allowed to interject my own opinions, if probably quite ineffectually. She was queen, of course, and I must do her bidding.

In the morning, Udi called me to her office.

"I’m going to have all six of them arrested and confine them here in Eldor Palace until we clear this up. Meanwhile, you will have to fly to Mli and see if these six geniuses are Mlians. Queen Zipsi, Queen of Shwea, has consented to receive you in the capital of Shwea, which is Qabjang.




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Photo Credit:

Oil Refinery in Ceveristan:

http://www.flickr.com/photo_zoom.gne?id=385259543&size=m

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


**********PANTIES AND BRAS**********


 

 


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