For decades, even centuries, Obscont had been the paramount newspaper in Ung, especially in Mecnita, though various local editions were available in many of the other cities of the great kingdom as well. Mecnita itself had a population of around 100,000,000, while Greater Mecnita, approximately a huge circle of cities and towns 300 miles in diameter, had a population of 350,000,000. It's no surprise then that circulation in Greater Mecnita was upwards of 25,000,000.
The daily newspaper did feature a small amount of advertising, but, basically, it was supported by a government subsidy. In Ung, if you work for a salary, you do not pay taxes. The taxes are collected even before the salary is disbursed. This contrasts with practice on the planet Earth. Let's say that, on planet Earth, your nominal salary for a week is $500. Then from this amount, several deductions for various taxes are made and returned to the government. You may find that your take-home pay is only $400. This is a deceptive practice that allows employers to create the illusion that you earn more than is actually the case.
On planet Nya, your nominal salary, if it is 5 florins (about $500), is also your take-home pay. Taxes have been deducted beforehand, and you will have no idea of how many kinds and how much. After all, Ung is a kingdom not a democracy. Anyway, Obscont was financed out of tax monies withheld in advance, and was generally free, but if you elected not to subscribe, you were entitled to a token rebate.
On an average day, a copy of Obscont weighed about one pound, which amounted to 25,000,000 pounds a day in toto and implied the felling of about 25,000 tons of timber per day, since we got 500 pounds of paper out of 1000 pounds of timber, with our sophisticated methods. This came to over 10,000,000 tons of timber a year, with our 418-day year. With about 500 tons of new growth per square mile of timberland per year, we had to have 20,000 square miles of timberland from which to harvest the cellulose for Obscont. Ebbic Ung had millions of square miles of forest. Timber was considered a crop, like wheat or corn. Our leading paper manufacturer was Stotcremp Paper Works, in Stotcremp, a northern suburb of Mecnita, reachable on Pondgoir Expressway. Zwezmanarc, a long-time director, had just retired, and Fnaducina had taken over as directress. Pronounce her name: Fna-doo-key-nuh. The accent is on key.
In Mecnita, one did not merely toss a newspaper or any other kind of paper onto the sidewalk or place it in an expanded metal basket at the street corner. Throughout the city, there were receptacles with running water that wetted and shredded paper and flowed it in pipes, similar to those of sewers, to the Recycling Works of Greater Mecnita, which sprawled over one square mile in the Sulugur District, 50 miles east-northeast of Eldor. There, after being dried, the paper in worst condition was burnt to fire the machinery that recycled the salvageable paper. Recycled paper was not used by fashionable Obscont. Rather it was used for cartons, bags, drums and wrappers of many kinds.
By contrast, Cissi's Newsletter, which I founded myself, was barely ten years old. In year '392, when I had established Cissi's Intimates, a lingerie store with two or three locations, I decided to start distributing a beautiful circular, with pictures of lovely models dressed in the peignoirs, chemises, bras and panties that I was offering for sale. To these advertisements I added articles on fashion and the arts. Early on, I received the first of several Golden Owl awards that would be presented to me in the coming decade by the Periodical Publishers Guild of Mecnita. These were in recognition of the excellence of the newsletter.
At about the same time, I was elected Commissioner of the Girls' Volleyball Association of Greater Mecnita, known as Gvagma, for short. The title Commissioner, which smacked of business and politics, had since been changed to High Maid. I professionalized the association, which, until then, had been amateur and amorphous. We started earning great sums of money, and so I was able to found Gvagma Village, a gorgeous cultural center in downtown Mecnita. At first we had 1000 teams. Later we increased the number to 2000. Gvagma and Cissi's merged, and every Gvagma location featured a Cissi's store. We would have more than 2200 stores in Greater Mecnita by the turn of the century. With this expansion, the circulation of Cissi's Newsletter grew by leaps and bounds. Eventually, we carried all the news about girls' volleyball, figure skating, ballet, girls' gymnastics and acrobatics, fashion, art, music, literature and cultural events. We also published travelogs on our travels in Ub and Ungonesia and on Mli, where we were trying to introduce Gvagma and Cissi's.
On the other hand, Obscont carried articles on business, finance, industry and politics, with quotations on the stockmarket and business charts and graphs. Of course, these were matters of vital interest to the kingdom, whereas Cissi's Newsletter focused on entertainment and culture. However, entertainment and culture seemed to be more interesting to many ladies and girls than business and finance. So it happened that, around year '400, Cissi's Newsletter began to surpass Obscont in circulation.
I submitted a petition to our lady king, King Ajinblambia, requesting that she allow me to take over Obscont and make it a part of Cissi's Newsletter. At first it would become a section of Cissi's Newsletter. Eventually, its articles would be worked into Cissi's format and fabric, and Obscont would disappear entirely. Ajinblambia assented. In '403, Cissi's Newsletter became the paramount newspaper in Mecnita and in Ung generally.
I was so busy with Cissi's Intimates and Gvagma that I could not possibly function as editress of Cissi's Newsletter too, although I was the titular publisher. So I appointed Zevanardia to take over as editress-in-chief of Cissi's Newsletter, naming Rubia Assistant High Maid of Gvagma in Zevanardia's place. By extension Rubia would also oversee Cissi's Intimates. Ansculard, the current editor of Obscont, remained in charge of the Obscont section of Cissi's Newsletter until he retired, soon after the merger. In the transition period, he trained Ellennamandia to fill his place. So she became assistant editress-in-chief. Marivanni took over from Rubia as captainess of the Ramdonia Roses, while Cygnia, one of the players on the Piljandar Swans, took over as captainess in Ellennamandia's place. The Roses chose Eglantina and the Swans chose Olorina to fill the vacancies on the teams left by the promotion of their captainesses. They were talented 17-year-old girls with no previous experience in professional girls' volleyball. Zevanardia and Ellennamandia both had masters' degrees in journalism, so it wasn't as if I had been putting square pegs in round holes.
The general format of Cissi's Newsletter was very elegant. It was illustrated profusely with excellent color photographs, drawings, copies of famous paintings, diagrams, charts, graphs, maps and other visual material. The newsletter also contained graded lessons on languages, arts and technical subjects. It featured poetry, stories and installments of novels. It contained pages and pages of news on cultural events and, now, business and finance as well. Each edition was worth saving, and to that end, pebbled pasteboard portfolios specially designed to accommodate Cissi's Newsletter were available at stationers' shops at low cost. Inside the spine of such a portfolio there was a thin rod, like an extra long knitting needle, that could be swiveled out on a small ball-and-socket joint at the bottom, threaded between the pages of the centerfold of the newsletter, and returned to its place, with another ball-and-socket joint on top to hold the newsletter securely. Some ladies kept every issue, others kept select editions that they liked. Of course, complete sets were available at libraries.
Unfortunately, Rupsnoir Press, where Obscont had been published, was in Dorgdid, about 1750 miles west-northwest of Mecnita. Rupsnoir Press also published dictionaries, encyclopedias, directories and many other books. The location was inconvenient, and I began to think of printing and publishing Cissi's Newsletter in Mecnita. For this purpose, I decided to reserve some 160 acres of the additional square mile that Ajinblambia had granted us recently. So far, the swimming pool and the totem pole were the only construction within Southeast Gvagma Village, at the northwest edge, adjacent to Gvagma Village proper. I visualized the new publishing facility at the far eastern corner of Southeast Gvagma Village. Strictly speaking, it would not be a tourist attraction like the Gvagma Wheel or the Gvagma Robot Theater, which had no function other than to entertain. Nonetheless, we could make it blend in harmoniously by featuring walking tours of the spans where the newspaper presses rolled. We would have a reading room with multiple copies of all the back issues of Cissi's Newsletter and Obscont open to the general public. We would open Rose Verandah IV there. But this would take more than a year. So perhaps by mid-'404, Cissi's Press would be a reality. I'd talk it over with Ajinblambia, to see what she said.
Ajinblambia recommended that, instead of trying to build a massive publishing and printing facility in Mecnita, I should think about having Cissi's Newsletter gradually go paperless. What she meant is that I should make available a special electronic journal that would enable anyone to read the newsletter in its entirety on a small, portable computer monitor that she could carry in her purse. I objected to this on esthetic grounds, saying that an electronic image could not compare with large glossy pages that came off a web offset press. Ajinblambia countered by recommending that we set up reading rooms at numerous spots around town, perhaps one in each of Cissi's Intimates' stores, so that if anyone felt she'd prefer to read a paper copy, she'd have only to go to one of these reading rooms. We could reduce circulation from 25 million to perhaps 2 or 3 million if we priced the electronic journals to be affordable to a broad segment of our population. We would be able to do this because of the economies realized by being spared the expense of buying so many presses, for it looked as if the number of presses adequate to print 25 million copies per day would cost as much as 2000 talents ($2 billion more or less). We discussed this matter again and again over a period of several days, and I finally submitted to Ajinblambia's superior judgment. Didn't I always?
...the building that housed the presses...
Finally, it was agreed that I would plan on a much smaller facility than I'd been considering but still located in the eastern corner of Southeast Gvagma Village. The building that housed the presses would be so designed that if it proved desirable to expand later, we could just add more spans to the printing area. We talked it over and talked it over, till we were of one mind. I drafted a written proposal. Ajinblambia impressed her seal. It was as good as done. So I would install half a dozen 60-inch-wide web offset presses, in spans like modules to which further modules could be added. There would also be some smaller presses for pull-out sections and so forth. The building would be 450 feet long, 300 feet wide and 75 feet high. The presses would occupy spans whose length was transverse to the length of the building, each 75 feet wide. These were ultra-high-speed presses that could each put out up to 75,000 newspapers per hour, about triple that of most of their earthly counterparts. So, altogether, in ten hours they could roll out a total of 4,500,000 newspapers, which would be more than adequate according to our plan. The transition period might become difficult at times, I was thinking, but I supposed we'd find a way. The grounds would measure 330 by 1320 feet, only 10 acres instead of 160 acres. As many as ten spans might be added later. In the meantime, the southwestern part of the grounds would be a park.
By now, the Gvagma Wheel, the Gvagma Robot Theater and other structures in Gvagma Village were largely paid off, standing like a mass of capital ready to be invested. We had too little equity in the Gvagma Spiral at this time to include it as much of an asset. Consulting with Usha, the directress of the Bank of Ung, I was able to persuade her to consent to my idea of mortgaging the aforesaid structures to secure the funds for Cissi's Press, which I was estimating would cost up to 600 talents ($600 million). While the press was being built,
Cissi's Newsletter would keep issuing in Dorgdid and flying as air freight to Mecnita. When we got ready at the unit in Gvagma Village, our interest in Rupsnoir Press would be gradually liquidated by piecemeal sales to the parent company.
At about the same time, Rmeclia, the chancelloress of Ramdonia decided to retire. Each of Mecnita's 400 districts, with an average population of 2,500,000, had a chancelloress or chancellor. This was not exactly a sinecure; there were some few small duties. But it was by no means fraught with onerous responsibilities. In '403, there were 390 chancelloresses and 10 chancellors. The best known chancellor was Tandoling, of the Onjmo District. The chancelloresses and chancellors welcomed guests to their districts, promoted business, presided social functions and the like. A chancellory was like a chamber of commerce. Chancelloress or chancellor was an elective post. On day 100 of year '403, I announced my candidacy for chancelloress of Ramdonia, perhaps the most prestigious district in the great city, or perhaps second, after Eldor. What distinguished Ramdonia was the eight 1000-story buildings ringing Ramdonia Circle, at the opposite end of the Avenue of Ung from Eldor Palace.
The election was held on day 110, and I won easily, adding a new feather in my cap. I was jumping for joy. "Now let's see what those Geese will say in Royal Council," I said to myself, smiling from ear to ear, as I relished the thought of my triumphant entrance there. Naturally, there was a complete story on the front page of Cissi's Newsletter, with a picture of me. The headline proclaimed in 2-inch letters: SISSY WILL HEAD RAMDONIA. As I have mentioned, Sissy and Cissi were merely variant spellings of my Ungi name. I was born in Motinia as Vocno Ganven, but two-word names are not the norm in Ung. Queen Udi nicknamed me Sissy, because of my sissified nature, and I adopted Sissy as my legal name. This was back in year '390. In a world of ladies and girls, there is no stigma attached to being a sissy.
At Royal Council, for perhaps the first time since it was formally empaneled, I was showered with compliments and praise because of my winning my new chancellory. The other ladies of the Council--Usha, Vinja, Barti, Dhabbi and Mlechi--usually teased me in our meetings whenever I made a proposal or commented on anything whatsoever. So this change of attitude was welcome. After the meeting, we ate a sumptuous dinner in Ajinblambia's apartment. All six Royal Councilloresses, myself included, familiarly known as the Geese, as well as Ajinblambia and Udi, took part. Dinner was roast pork tenderloin, browned potatoes in pork gravy, asparagus with hollandaise sauce and pecans, and hot white bread, right from the oven, with pure, fresh, sweet, soft butter. Dessert, wine and coffee followed. Pixidixia and Stlembi served. They were dumbfounded at my victory in the election, flashing their ovals playfully, as if to suggest that I was still subject to their remote control. Fortunately, my neurosensors were off at the moment, so their gesture was just a cute little joke.
Ajinblambia was so elated that she proposed a toast in my honor and announced that she would arrange for a parade. I would ride on an elevated float, at a height of about 20 feet, with miniatures of the towers of Ramdonia Circle set, not at 45 degrees, like the buildings themselves, but with seven at angles of 40 degrees and one at 80 degrees, open on the forward side, so that I could stand a little inside the circle of towers but still be visible to spectators. In order to elevate the float, a frame had been installed on a chassis and the platform imposed upon the frame, with drapery and festoons hung on the sides to cover the frame. I would wear my red leotard and cheerleader's skirt with self panties, white knee socks and sneakers. and a Ramdonia Roses original peignoir with bridal pink hybrid tea roses embroidered on the yokes front and back, with slits in the back to slip over my white wings of polyurethane quills. Of course my horns with their golden balls would be visible. This was a stunningly beautiful costume that seemed to emblematize my attributes of innocuous childlikeness and joie de vivre.
The parade was held two days later. We proceeded southwards from the great gates of Eldor Palace to 2 Ramdonia Circle, the tower on the north, and passed through the anteroposterior corridor inside the tower, issuing onto Ramdonia Circle, which was 4.7 seven miles in circumference. Our procession was about 4 miles long, so we were able to complete the circle and emerge onto the Avenue of Ung again. Then we continued back to Eldor Palace. This amounted to a 15-mile trip and took over five hours. Both medians and both sidewalks of the Avenue of Ung were thronged with people, as was the entirety of Ramdonia Circle, including the peripheral walks, the walks along the radial avenues, and the landscaped sectors. An estimated 10,000,000 spectators were present, but this probably had less to do with admiration for me than with love of a parade.
Ajinblambia also hosted a ball in the throne hall of Eldor Palace that evening. The throne hall was a very lofty, spacious room in the central oval. In the center of the throne hall stood the throne room proper. There on a dais rested the platinum and sapphire throne itself, which weighed 15 tons. Rising to the throne was a flight of four stairs, carpeted in white brocade, with raised patterns of white birds--swans, egrets, cockatoos, ibises and storks--barely visible for being white on white. This is where Queen Udi reigned in state, now with Ajinblambia standing at her right side. The ball was not a royal occasion. We just used the vast open space around the throne room as a perfect place to waltz, but we did not approach the throne. Of course, there were several other ball rooms in Eldor Palace, but for some reason, Ajinblambia chose the throne hall on this occasion, which was extraordinary.
I did dance with Queen Udi, right before Ajinblambia, who of course realized that the divorce of year '390 had attained a state of immutable permanency. There was absolutely no need for jealousy, apprehension or surveillance. Queen Udi's body was stiff and erect in my arms, not the soft, yielding body it had once been. Anyway I was now married to Zevanardia and would not change that for the world.
Right after the parade I visited the University of Mecnita on a couple of matters. First, I wanted to talk about Nunu's education. She was ready for school and could easily compete with 7- or 8-year-olds intellectually, even though she was just 3, but I didn't like the idea of her hobnobbing socially with much older girls. Nor did I want her educated strictly by tutoresses at home, with no schoolmates. I was hoping that the Department of Child Development could place Nunu is some sort of environment with gifted children. I was grateful that the department did indeed maintain such a school, right on the campus of the university. They accepted Nunu almost immediately, no questions asked, as they all knew her personally and understood what a genius she was.
Nunu would be put in classes that lasted 4 hours a day, 7 days per day-decade, i.e., seven days in a row and three days off. On school days, I was planning to have Ezmeraudia take Nunu to school, returning her later. I'd give Ezmeraudia a few extra dirhams each day, so she could amuse herself with movies. pentesthetics or some other activity around the Plembrust District during Nunu's school hours, instead of going back and forth between Ramdonia and Plembrust twice a day. She'd be able to drive or go by metro, as she saw fit.
I had an errand at the Department of Linguistics too. I wanted a progress report, as it were, on the language classes Jrininca had organized in order to teach girls to read, write, speak and understand Shwean and Liscarnese. I was pleased to learn that there were about 50 girls now reasonably proficient in each language. Any further instruction would require that they go to Mli for live experience. Photon XV, which we have nicknamed Moonbus, could easily handle 100 girls according to Barti, who had oversight of aerospace. I asked her to arrange a flight around day 125.
I named Rubia, my new Assistant High Maid, to lead the expedition. It looked as if the volleyball tour and other deeds of goodwill ambassadorship would occupy almost the whole remainder of year '403. No sooner had I named Rubia to assist me than I was sending her off to where she could not! I invited Sundari, the directress of Gvagma Courier Service, to take over as acting Assistant High Maid in Rubia's absence. Sundari was the one who had nominated me for Commissioner of Gvagma in the first place, in '392, not knowing, of course, to what heights I'd take Gvagma. She seemed flattered that I had chosen her. Perhaps I should have chosen her, instead of Rubia, in the first place. But there was no problem. I could always use two assistants.
Among the 100 girls who would go to the moon, there were several complete volleyball teams, as well as a few lone girls not associated with teams that were going. They could be used for other purposes, like discussions with the locals and keeping diaries of their doings so that we could compose a practical guidebook, and not merely compile facts and figures in the manner of an almanac. Naturally, I was in touch with Shandra, Mer Elicsi, Zipsi and Marcatarc, the four lunar queens. They would all be delighted to receive our delegation, they said.
If one reads history books, she finds the pages filled with the deeds of brave, selfless souls who underwent great trials and tribulations for the sake of their families, their cities, their countries and their ideals. We cannot help feeling admiration and respect for them, even envy, for they command our praise and honor, and we would like to find ourselves also held up as ideals by future generations. I will be the first to confess that I had never done anything to dazzle the imagination of people looking for saints and heroines, and it didn't look as if I would do any such thing in the foreseeable future. Sure, I had attained fame and fortune in the worlds of fashion and sports, but it does not take much courage or stamina to manufacture lingerie or oversee girls' volleyball. I was comfortable, happy and secure. Should I have been? Didn't I owe the world a bit of suffering? Shouldn't I experience privation, sorrow and danger for the good of Ung, for the House of Vrikshaya and Ung, for Ajinblambia and Udi, for Mecnita, for Gvagma?
I started doing a lot of soul-searching, wondering exactly who I was and what I was doing? Why did I exist in the first place? How would things have been different if I hadn't appeared at all? Where would I be in a hundred years, in a thousand, in a million? They say that the planet Nya is seven billion years old. Somehow it managed for all those eternities without me. It could do it all again, couldn't it? Even Ajinblambia, to whom I referred everything, would not have been able to provide answers. Should I have turned to the deity? How would I do that? I called. No one answered. There was a dialog going on within me, but it was no divinity that I was talking to. It was just two faces of my own personality, a private prosecution and a private defense in my little inner court room.
This kind of mood would come upon me, linger for an hour or a day, and then disappear, only to come again another day, The best thing to do was to stay busy on my regular routine, which didn't allow me much time for aimless philosophizing.
Sometimes challenges come suddenly though. To most people what befell me might not seem such a horror, but it gave me a scare. One day, I was strolling in the undeveloped part of Southeast Gvagma Village. It was all sodded and there were paved walks, with a few trees, but so far there were no buildings. Only an occasional pedestrian could be seen. It was a lonely place, where I could walk and meditate, gathering my thoughts. All at once, when I thought I was a good half-mile from the closest other person, I heard rapid footsteps behind me, and a female voice. I looked around. It was Olivia. I couldn't believe how small she was, no more than 54 inches tall. I stood 70 inches tall, and my horns made me 86 inches tall. I practically towered over Olivia. I wondered how I could possibly be afraid of her. But for some reason I was. I didn't care how small she was. I didn't want her pulling my hair, kicking my buttocks, tossing me on the ground prone, sitting on my back and pounding my derriere with the heels of her fists, as she had done on a couple of occasions previously. So I started running, but I had on my Ramdonia Roses peignoir over my volleyball costume, and this slowed me down a little,
So Olivia caught me and spanked me soundly and roundly. It just so happened that there was a rhododendron with thick, woody branches nearby. Olivia jerked and tugged me till I was practically under the rhododendron. As I mentioned earlier, I usually sewed the sash of each of my peignoirs to the back with a stitch or two, so that if it came out of the loops at the sides of the peignoir, it would not be lost altogether but would trail along behind instead. It was no problem at all for Olivia to break the little stitches and pull the sash out of the loops. She knelt me and bent me down till my forehead was practically touching the ground. With one end of the sash, she tied my horns to the rhododendron near the roots, and with the other she tied my wrists together behind my back. Then she left.
Hours later, Jozi, the journalist-photographer for Obscont, which was still edited independently at this time, appeared and took several pictures of me. Someone had called her and reported the assault and battery, identifying Olivia as the offender. A picture of me, tied helplessly to the bush, was printed in Obscont, along with a picture of Olivia. This was terribly embarrassing. Because of this crime, Olivia was arraigned, but I persuaded the prosecutress to drop the case, as I didn't want any more publicity than had already been mounted. Statutia, the prosecutress, had sought to charge Olivia with rape, but I assured her that there had been no sexual contact at all. I don't think she believed me. "You're too cute in that outfit of yours," she argued. "Anyone in her right mind would have raped you if she had had you in that position." But Ajinblambia interceded, persuading Statutia not to prosecute Olivia.
Will history remember my years-long persecution at the hands of Olivia? I doubt it. My trials and tribulations just don't measure up to the standard set by others in former ages.
"Oh well, I'm just a silly one," I said to myself.
I realized that, in all the excitement surrounding the voyages of RUS Gvagma and the flight of Photon XV to Mli, I had neglected to pay enough attention to what Gvagma and Cissi's were doing in Ub. This I would undertake forthwith. I would meet with Zevanardia, Ellennamandia and Sundari, now my fondest confidantes, since Rubia was on the moon, to see if we could organize another expedition. It was imperative at this point to keep those three ladies in Mecnita, because of the planning associated with the newspaper merger and the new press, so we would have to select a group of 10 or 20 girls to go and monitor developments.
We decided to offer the positions in
Cissi's Newsletter, the choices to be made in accordance with a series of tests
and interviews we would conduct. There would be token monetary compensation as
well as money for expenses, but the girls were supposed to be in it for
adventure and recognition rather than profit. This was the whole spirit of
Gvagma. I had myself started out on the very bottom rung of the ladder,
advancing to the heights, if my place may be called "the heights",
not because I had sought wealth, but because I had sought the glory of Ung, and
of Ajinblambia and Udi.
So one fine day, we met in a large conference room in Gvagma Tower. This room could have accommodated 20 or 30. The long oak table had a coffee urn on it, and there as a heap of donuts, cupcakes and rolls from Rose Verandah II. At this point, we did not invite Ajinblambia or any of the Geese. Once we had drafted a general plan, we would seek their good offices in arranging introductions, transport, accommodations and the like. After all the young inexperienced girls would have to meet mayoresses, governesses and queens without the benefit of an elder leader.
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