Now that year 103,400 had just been rung in, it seemed opportune to think about time, to think about the past and the future, especially since Nunu, my daughter, had been born on the last day of the last century.
Let me interject a triviality at this point. We call the years from 0 to 99 the zeroth century, so year 103,400 is the beginning of the 1034th century as we tell it, whereas on Earth, you would call it the 1035th century, but you are entitled to your quaint and curious little illogicalities, I suppose. Anyway, we generally do not say year 103,400, we just abbreviate it, saying year '400. The beginning of the year, day 0, is also the beginning of winter in our northern hemisphere. Then spring, summer and fall follow, the last day of the year being the last day of fall. Day 0 starts summer in our southern hemisphere, with fall, winter and spring in tandem. Somehow this self-evident scheme got wrenched out of place on Earth, with a 10-day lag between the northern hibernal solstice and New Year's Day.
Queen Udi extended my maternity leave till the 15th day of the year, which would be the 10th anniversary of her coronation as Queen of Nyatic Ung. Fancy festivities and lavish galas would resplend in the city. After that, I would resume my usual schedule of making Udi's panties and bras, unless the required 8-hour day proved too strenuous, in which case I would start with a lighter schedule and work my way back to normal by degrees.
All my enterprises were doing splendidly. The Girls' Volleyball Association of Greater Mecnita was drawing sizable crowds and the girls were improving their skills with this kind of encouragement. Cissi's Intimates, with 2200 stores in Greater Mecnita, was earning great sums of money. Attendance at Gvagna Village, especially at the Gvagma Robot Theater and at the Gvagma Wheel, was not to be believed. The added sums we would reinvest in various new projects, in a continuous process of growth and improvement.
I was gaining more respect from the other members of the Royal Council of Ung, the so-called Geese--Barti, Vinja, Mlechi, Usha and Dhabbi. I was still much the junior member of the Geese in standing, if not in age, but I accepted this. I did not want to be troubled with petroleum refineries, power stations, spaceships, highways, ports, dams, banks, universities, hospitals and the other matters that the senior Geese oversaw. My little world was not vital to the existence of the realm, but it was more beautiful than their world.
Though the Old Chiliad's volleyball season had begun, and I would have been playing but for my maternity, the Eldor Geese managed without me, with Baunsilla substituting for me. She was actually better than I, but everyone pretended not to notice, since Ajinblambia had made it clear that I had a place on the Geese, no matter how well or ill I played. This was for sentimental reasons, as I had been one of the original team, back in Qazudistan in the late 380's. So when I got ready to play again, Baunsilla would have to go. But that was no problem for her, as her talent assured her a place on some team. New players with potential were ever a much sought-after commodity in Mecnita.
Baunsilla was tall and shapely, with an hourglass figure and graceful limbs, straight black hair to the waist and an exceptionally beauteous face, quick to smile. She exuded a natural fragrance that, mixed with the perfume she wore, was intoxicating, enough to make you sway and waft away on a cloud of delight. A red, sisterly kiss on her lips was a moment of paradise. I could have shed a tear that we would not be able to increase the size of the team to seven members, so that she could stay as my special friend.
Just before the 15th, I hired a live-in nanny named Ezmeraudia, 18 years old and herself a beautiful lass. She had an Associate's Degree in childcare from Valivali College, in the Valivali District of Mecnita, next south of Queshganc. Valivali College was a fully accredited junior college, and Ezmeraudia's transcripts showed that she had been an excellent student in her three years there. Moreover, she was a sweet, charming girl whom one might trust instinctively. Zevanardia and I, both always so busy, were relieved to have a third pair of hands about the house. We selected a spacious bedroom and had it decorated according to Ezmeraudia's expressed tastes. This would be her first employment. During her school days at Valivali College, she had resided on campus, and before that, with her parents, in the Ceod District, next below Valivali. She was therefore by all means a Mecnita girl. As a bonus, I gave her some of my peignoirs and chemises on condition that she wear them outdoors, at least in Gvagma Village. She was much pleased and eager to show off her elegant lineaments, accepting the gift of intimates gratefully. She could be seen drifting about the village now and then, almost as if she had been doing a glissade or a waltz.
I took Nunu to the University of Mecnita for observation and testing. I was told that she had a remarkably high I.Q., probably far surpassing mine. I don't know how they make these evaluations of subjects so young, but they're reputed to be very accurate, since, in aftertime, various kinds of aptitude tests generally bear out their earlier estimates. My own I.Q. was about 150, as was Zevanardia's, which, of course, is very high in comparison with that of most people, but almost pathetic when compared with the I.Q.'s of Ajinblambia and the Geese, who were almost supernaturally intelligent, easily in the 200 range and even considerably higher. This was the legacy of the Vrikshayas, who certain experts argued constituted a new species, Macs vrikshaya, to quote the oft-proffered binomial biological designation. Ordinary folk belong to Macs ogashta. Was it possible that some of that divine intelligence seeped into me in my daily dealings with the Vrikshayas, as if by osmosis, and that it would make its manifestation in the person of Nunu?
I wondered if I would have to wait for a whole year to get Nunu to do a little talking or whether there was some method whereby I could accelerate her language-learning process. As I mentioned earlier, Ajinblambia, our gorgeous lady king, had mental powers that the rest of us simply lack altogether. I am not speaking merely of I.Q. She also possessed voluntary or semi-voluntary control of many of the bodily functions that are only involuntary among other people. She could control her blood pressure, heartbeat, menses, healing and other ordinarily unconscious processes. She could also increase the secretions of her glands and had a way of influencing the endocrine systems of people around her. She always knew directions, the time of day and the temperature. She slept and woke at precisely the hours that she chose, without sleeplessness and never oversleeping. She had certain paranormal gifts as well. All these of course were the key to her unchallengeable authority on our planet. It was a blessing that I stood in her good graces. I decided to report the findings of the University of Mecnita to Ajinblambia with a request that she advise me in the matter of stimulating Nunu's inborn genius, as I was naturally eager for Nunu to accomplish great things, especially now that I was an adoptive Vrikshaya.
Whatever the destiny of Nunu's intelligence, I loved her to the point of doting she was such a lovely, pretty little thing. I could sit for hours dandling her on my knee and planting kisses all over her smiling face. Even if my expectations about her future greatness should prove unrealistic, there was no time like the present to drench her in love and affection. Fortunately, both Zevanardia and Ezmeraudia were in love with Nunu too, and she would never want for attention and care.
Ajinblambia was taken with Nunu too on the day that I first took her to Eldor Palace, driven by the chauffeur Clixbong. So it was easy to persuade Ajinblambia to take a keen interest, especially inasmuch as Nunu was the first child born to the Vrikshayas in several years and would play a pivotal role in continuing the merged dynasties of Ung and Vrikshaya, now usually called just the House of Vrikshaya. Ajinblambia told me to let her have Nunu every day for an hour or two. She would send Clixbong, Shvampronx or Glafcroc in a palace car to me at Bo House to fetch her, with Ezmeraudia in accompaniment, if I liked, during the hours when I would be busy sewing anyway. Then she would see what she could do to help guide the infant along the path that we both desired. In the mornings I would be busy with Ajinblambia's bath and dictation, so that would not be the most convenient time for her to see to Nunu's education. It was a stroke of the greatest luck that my daughter merited the enthusiastic patronage of the ruler of our planet. Now let's see where she goes!
It looked as if the third volume of Ajinblambia's biography would be ready to go to press by around day 100 of that year. Then I would have some respite from my lucubrations. Writing the 3000 pages of her three-volume biography had been a tremendous task for me, and I don't know that I was entirely worthy of the honor of this assignment, but Ajinblambia was satisfied, nay, delighted. The books were called:
Lady of the Continents and Seas;
In the Fields of the Sun;
Whither Vrikshaya and Ung?
The latest version would consist of three volumes in quarto, bound in leather dyed russet with gilt-edged leaves and grosgrain ribbons. An ex libris label was to be printed right on the inside of the cover of each volume.
I took a day off from my now years-long routine in order to visit Jilmzbra Bakery, in the Ulmla District of Mecnita. I thought of this bakery the few times I had gone to Impulse Robot Works in Idparcaps, as Ulmla is nearby, just north of Idparcaps, and though Jilmzbra is famous as the largest bakery on the planet, I had never actually been there. Now I was enjoying enough of a break to do a little sightseeing. I left Nunu with Ezneraudia and Zevanardia. I decided just to drive instead of using the metro, my excuse being my recent pregnancy and parturition. I took Jonannistan Expressway once I had driven along the Avenue of Ung as far as Eldor Palace.
Nearly 4000 coverable highside railroad gondola cars, 90' by 12' by 12', full of wheat, reach Jilmzbra Bakery each day from Psebol Field in the northwest of Eb, the local continent. Gargantuan grinders produce some 7 tons of white flour per second, day and night, all year long, from torrential cascades of wheat spilling from the leviathan hoppers where the trains discharge it. These tonnages are funneled into rows and rows of 50-foot stainless steel pots, two stories high, along with oil, milk, honey, yeast and other ingredients. Rotors as large and strong as cylindrical steel columns mix and knead the ingredients into a delicious white dough tasty enough to eat even without baking. This dough is spread in thick layers on square metal slabs, each four acres in area. Cutters crop out hundreds of thousands of loaves on each slab, the slabs expand, pulling the loaves apart, and the loaves are pressed down by cyclopean hydraulic presses and allowed to rise again two times. Then the metal slabs, bearing their bread, are rolled into ovens as large as stadiums, and baked at a temperature of 500 kelvins, with 600,000,000 loaves a day emerging from the ovens into a wrapping area and then into a vast labyrinth of tunnels, where the bread is transported on conveyors to outlets throughout the metropolitan district, with its 350,000,000 people. The facility in Ulmla is awesome beyond belief, and walking among those great hoppers, pots and ovens, I felt like an ant, tiny and insignificant. This bakery had been built by King Zhwem 150 years earlier. Zhwem was the last of Ung's male monarchs. Since then, ladies have ruled the realm.
The people at Jilmzbra Bakery recognized me. How could they miss, with my well-publicized horns? In addition to asking for my autograph, they presented me with a loaf of their finest bread. I took this home, and Zevanardia, Ezmeraudia and I ate it right up, with warm frseh butter. It was scrumptious. Jilmzbra would be catering at the 10th anniversary of Udis's coronation, as always. I jotted down my impressions in my diary, as I usually do. Perhaps one day I'd enjoy recalling what I did in this time frame.
Right after the 15th, I began to do a few dance steps. By the 30th or so, I was hoping to resume performances of The Siege of Candle Tower, the ballet about Ajinblambia's deposition of Queen Oa, the evil Vrikshaya who ruled Ufzu until that time. Ajinblambia then installed Shandra on the throne of Ufzu. Though Ajinblambia had never had horns herself, she thought that my horns added an intriguing touch to the ballet, in which I danced the part of Ajinblambia herself. What an honor it was to dance Ajinblambia! I had put so much into my impersonation that once I remarked at a meeting of the Royal Council of Ung, "I did not dance Ajinblambia, I was Ajinblambia!" All the other ministresses and Ajinblambia herself chuckled patronizingly at this boastful little remark, as if I had been a child trying to act grown up. Queen Oa was now imprisoned in Slanchgav Prison in Slanchgav, a suburb of Mecnita. She was still spitting venom, so her release didn't seem imminent.
A few days after Nunu's first visit to Ajinblambia's office, Ajinblambia told me she had contacted important personages on the island of Pi'i, in Ungonesia. Pi'i is known to tourists who have visited Ungonesia because of its talking babies. Infants on Pi'i are born capable of a sort of rudimentary speech. The language spoken on Pi'i, Bhassa Pi'i, is little known in Ung and is utterly unlike Nuu, which is often called Ungi and is the official language of Ung. Most visitors to the island assume, correctly or incorrectly, that Bhassa Pi'i is some sort of primitive pidgin or cant. So the talking babies have been only a minor tourist attraction, with Ungonesia so full of marvels and wonders that one more hardly merits notice. A few linguists had written papers on this phenomenon, but so far, nothing more serious had been done. Ajinblambia said she was arranging to have ten of the talking babies brought to the University of Mecnita for intensive study and observation, with magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography and all the other latest medical techniques. She was hoping to gain insights that we could apply to Nunu and to Ungian children generally, instead of allowing this highly interesting, possibly invaluable, manifestation lie idle as a mere curiosity for travelers. I went with Ajinblambia to the university when the children had been received and housed in a special ward in the Child Development Department. One could see at once that they were Ungonesian, with their brown sturdy little bodies, and they were adorable jabbering to each other in their patois. If only we could fathom the mental mechanism at work! Whether or not enough could be accomplished soon enough to benefit Nunu while she was at still so tender an age, it was certain that the research would be useful to others. The mere fact that divinely-intelligent Ajinblambia was sponsoring the research constituted evidence, in my mind, that something would come of it. Her arrows rarely miss the mark.
Ajinblambia decided soon afterwards that it might be helpful to allow Nunu to play with the ten Pi'ian children for an hour a day. Maybe Nunu could fall in with them. After the play period, she'd go to Ajinblambia's office for a while so that our lady king could record her own thoughts in regards to Nunu's progress on her voice recorder. Then Clixbong, Glafcroc or Shvampronx would drive Nunu back to Bo House. I was excited with the possibilities that this approach seemed to offer.
Alpha Zhrinx, commonly known as Orobux...
Early in year '400, Barti, the Prime Ministress of Ung, who also had oversight of aerospace technology within the realm, announced a new program that everyone was keenly interested in. The star nearest our star Dyo is Alpha Zhrinx, the brightest star in the circumpolar constellation Zhrinx. Alpha Zhrinx, commonly known as Orobux, at a distance of 2.02 tellurian light years, functions as a north star for us. I say tellurian light-year, meaning the distance that is called a light-year on Earth, for our year is longer than yours. The distance, according to our method of reckoning, is 1.76 Nyatic light-years. So it will be simpler to use tellurian light-years. Our fastest spaceship, Photon XVII, traveled at about 13,500,000 kilometers per hour in that era, which is around one-eightieth the speed of light. So it would have taken about 141 Earth-years for Photon XVII to reach Orobux. No flights had been made yet, because of this time element. But Barti and her people had been working on a new propulsion system that bade fair to multiply Photon XVII's top speed nearly fifteenfold, which would bring Orobux within 11.5 Earth-years, or 10 Nya-years, of Dyo. Let me mention that the ancients had a tradition that Ungians had come from Orobux originally, in prehistoric spaceflights. This idea had been completely refuted. But the future possibility of such flights looked promising. At least seven planets were known to revolve about Orobux, and astrobiologists speculated, from examination of photographs enlarged thousands of times, that at least one of the seven planets had forests. One astrobiologist claimed that there may have been microorganisms in the Orobuctic solar sytem that fed on arsenic and other poisons, but she was laughed to scorn. Anyway we were all eager to see how the denouement of Barti's program would look. Of course, she was talking about year '410 as a target date to send a space vehicle with women aboard. So we'd have a good, long while to wait, but it was something to look forward to.
I vaguely dreamed of Nunu as a future astronaut, and not just a volleyball commissioner like me, nor a maker of bras and panties for royal ladies, like me. But her happiness rather than her achievements and recognition was the important thing. Is it not always the case that personal happiness is the most enviable of all states? One can never achieve enough by herself to affect the life of the planet materially, but one can sometimes reach happiness. And that is the good life. If in attaining happiness, one can be useful to the community also, so much the better.
In those days, I always wore a wrist computer, which, among other things, could play any music I wanted to hear. It played the music aloud ordinarily, so that anyone in the same room with me would hear it too. But my earring had a special little ball on a tiny cord that I could withdraw and insert into my outer ear so that I alone would hear the music. For Nunu, I obtained a necklace with about 50 bright hard marble-sized plastic balls on a string. Each ball was of a unique color--emerald green, olive, navy, black, white, rose, peach, yellow, russet and so forth. Each ball also had a tiny pushbutton that when pressed caused a little melody to sound. Nunu would press one button after another and hear jingle bells, violins, drums, piano, harp, harpsichord, pipes, flutes and the rest. Apparently she liked the silver ball that played carillons and chimes and the brass ball that played trumpets and gongs. It was a joy to watch her listening to the sounds that she liked, giggling and swaying delightedly. She was still too young to deal with a wrist computer, so the melody necklace was perfect.
She had a number of stuffed animals, but seemed to prefer dolls of human girls. Even more, she enjoyed geometric figures, like cubes, cones, cylinders, hemispheres and tetrahedra, always managing to assemble them in interesting combinations. They had mildly adhesive surfaces, as if they had been covered with hook-and-loop fabric, so, providing Nunu did not get too enthusiastic, they clung to one another. Should I have interpreted this fascination of hers as a sign of geometrical ability?
Dolomarps, the aged director of Ceveristan and Paltievsk Oil Company's facility in the Ceveristan-Paltievsk region of Ub, which included both wells and refineries, passed away in the first part of year '400, at the age of 160, which is a ripe old age on Nya, but certainly not unheard-of. Petroleum extraction and refining fell in the province of the Ministry of Land, under the superintendence of Vinja, one of the ministresses of the Royal Council. Vinja was personally busy overseeing the construction of nuclear desalination plants in western Ub, as part of a land reclamation project, and could not herself take charge of Capoco, as we called the petroleum company for short. She put Rozanna in charge. Rozanna had doctor's degrees in chemical engineering and mining, with years of experience in related fields. Her appointment was another case of a man's being succeeded by a woman and another step forward towards absolute gynecocracy, a cherished Vrikshaya objective. I had personally met Dolomarps. He was a good enough old fellow, I guess, but why not have a woman instead, I myself had wondered, and here it was, as if I had had a premonition. It seems I had tailored my own thinking to the House of Vrikshaya's doctrine. Their slogan was, "Nya belongs to women!"
Dolomarps had also been building ultrasupertankers for oceanic shipment of petroleum and petroleum products. His calculations had led him to believe that a fleet of ulttasupertankers in the Northern Ocean, north of Ub, would cost less than a steel pipeline from Ceveristan-Paltievsk to Bihaka. With his death, the ultrasupertankers were put on hold temporarily, pending further study by Vinja and Ajinblambia. It was likely they would continue with the construction, but it was convenient to pause at this time to check. Of course, Rozanna would get involved too. Rozanna was not a Vrikshaya and probably would not be adopted into the House of Vrikshaya. She was an Ubbic lady and spoke both Ceveri and Kholodi, as well as Ungi.
Sundari and Ivandra came to Bo House one morning unexpectedly just for an informal visit. The two beautiful ladies were said to be inseparable, and I wondered if they would marry. Whenever I saw Sundari or Ivandra I felt embarrassed. My acquaintance with Ivandra dated from the time that Ajinblambia made her my equestrian babysitter, having her hold me safely in a large drum-like cylinder mounted on the horse we were riding, so that I wouldn't fall. It was terribly embarassing, but Sundari had said it was "epic, mythic, iconice, folkloric ," and the publicity I had received as the most outrageous pantywaist in Mecnita was what had led me to my commissionership of the Girls' Volleyball Association of Greater Mecnita. I blushed deeply again to see them, but they had nothing but respect for me now, because of my successes with Gvagma and Cissi's. Ezmeraudia ran over to Rose Verandah I to get eggs Paradise and potatoes Mecnita for everyone to breakfast on. The ladies loved Bo House and they were absolutely captivated with Nunu. It was a fine morning, warm and sunny, with just an occasional little white cloudlet scudding by. So after breakfast, we sat out on the terrace for an hour. Then the pair left, waving and smiling. But, oh, those bodies, so sleek and shapely, smooth, clean and beauteous! What a joy just to behold them! So fresh, so fragrant, so touchable!
According to Ajinblambia, Nunu was getting along very well with the babies from Pi'i. She was starting to make little vocal sounds that might have been construed as syllables or word fragments, but whether she had any notion of meaning was still doubtful. After all, she began playing with the little Pi'ians even before she was 50 days old. The Pi'ians included both little boys and little girls. Ordinarily we would expect the first little snatches of speech after an Ungi year of 418 days, but if we could hear something by day 209, I would be much gratified.
Right after I had gotten back to my old routine, sometimes, when I was at home at Bo House in the morning, I noticed a young girl, perhaps 8 or 9 years old, and pretty enough, loitering about outside. It looked as if she may have been prying or snooping, or perhaps seeing what she could steal. She seemed like a polite, senstitive lass, so this was puzzling.
One morning when I had caught sight of her, I went out to her and asked, "What are you doing? Are you looking for something?"
"I'm just wandering about to see what I can see."
"Well, this is my house, and I'm asking you kindly not to loiter here."
"I'll loiter where I choose."
"No, no, please go now."
These insolent words offended me, so I decided to lift her by the underarms and carry her off the property, threatening to punish her with a serious spanking if I caught her there again. But when I reached down to pick her up, she caught me by the right wrist, spun me around and jerked me so hard that I fell to the ground, landing in a seated position, that is, with my derriere on the grass. I was very angry now and I intended to get up immediately and give her that spanking right then and there. However, she rushed around behind me and grabbed me by my horns, so that I could not get up. I tried again and again, but she managed to hold me down.
Oh, I was furious! But I couldn't do anything about it. I finally just extended my legs forward and leaned on my arms, with the palms of my hands on the ground behind me, my fingers directed backwards. I was quite dejected and frustrated.
"I'll wander where I choose," said the girl, "and you won't do anything about it."
"This is my house."
"I don't care."
"I want you to leave."
"No, I won't leave, and if you tell me to leave again, I'll paddle your butt."
"Paddle my butt? How dare you?"
At this point she produced from her little purse a paddle of the kind used in playing paddle ball, which is somewhat smaller than a ping-pong paddle. Next, she rolled me over on the grass, and gave me a good sound spanking. From that day on, whenever I saw her outside, I pretended not to notice. I was like a prisoner in my own house.
So I had been going to give the little girl a good sound spanking for loitering on my property, but ended up having her give me a good sound spanking instead and establishing her right to loiter where she chose. What a humiliation! What irony! Oh, well, I'll live, I thought with resignation. It would have been simply too embarrassing to appeal to Ajinblambia or anyone else to be rescued from this aggressive little moppet.
So I learned later that the girl's name was Patsi, and that she was known as a troublemaker. I was advised to steer clear of her. A pity I got the warning after the fact!
At about this time, I got the idea of having the Gvagma Institute of Lacemaking make orchid lace. I went to Inokali, the Ungonesian lady who managed the Orchid Walk in Gvagma Village, and got her to cut a fine example of each of about 100 species of her most beautiful orchids. We would keep them in very efficacious preservatives to maintain the appearance of being alive. Then photographing them with the finest cameras, we would catalog all the colors and shades that we found. From these photographs, we would produce imperishable, colorfast dyes and spin colored threads in abundance. I had Pencilla make a massive drawing of an arrangement of orchids, 10 feet high and 50 feet long, with several orchids of each of the species scattered about in the drawing, in a sort of floral mosaic. Her assistants painted in the colors, following the photographs. Each corolla, calyx, stamen or other botanical part that was distinguished from the surrounding parts by a change in color was assigned a number. A map of the drawing was composed, with the numbers corresponding to the colors written in, and each of a whole bevy of lacemakers began making petals, sepals, stems and other parts, each in the color or colors found in the drawing. Sometimes there would be, for example, orange petals with brown spots, so a lacemaker would have to work two colors. Sometimes they would have to imitate subtler gradations of colors. As the pieces of lace were finished, they were laid out according to the numbers, and sewn together by other lacemakers. The final result was a huge lace-tapestry of hundreds of orchids of the 100 select species. This lace-tapestry was mounted in the front hall of the Lace Institute, with a protective glass. It was a masterpiece. Obscont carried a color reproduction of the lace-tapestry, the reproduction itself being worthy of framing.
Inokali and her two asistants, Loapuna and Mingotani, were delighted with the tapestry, which attracted many visitors to the Orchid Walk. A large color photograph of the three ladies, with their trowels and watering cans, working among the orchids in their little estate, was mounted on the wall next to the lace-tapestry. The ladies had trained several gardeners from Mecnita to tend orchids too, so they enjoyed the right to return to Molonolo whenever they wished. But they had opted to stay in Mecnita, the City of Ladies and the Lady of Cities. Who would not prefer to stay in this jewelbox of glamour and glory?
Some interesting revelations were coming from the Department of Child Development of the University of Mecnita with respect to the talking babies of Pi'i. The region of the brain that accounted for this phenomenon had been localized by magnetic resonance imaging, and it looked as if the possibility of stimulating that region in ordinary babies born incapable of speech was worthy of further exploration. My heart leapt when I heard this.
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