DOMESTICOMICS (the Honey-Moonsters)

I. The Sipping/Gripping (Hobflex)

Virsted called on me, both distally and through the vortex, because there was going to be a sipping/gripping. "Coldenquirst bought up an entire shipment of nectar," he said, unable to contain the random octaves in his voice. "The problem usually is one of satiety, not being able to get enough..."

"I know what satiety means," I said, bristling and hurling just enough urspines to express my annoyance, "but I don't want to go."

"I have a lot of people to call on," he said in an efficient and indifferent way. "If you want to come, do so."

I thought about it all day, thought about it most of a sleepless night. Fortunda would disapprove, that was for certain. And there was always my head to think of. The disarray. The broken vessels. The fearful end of self-respect. But at last I convinced myself that absolute satiety was something worth experiencing at least once in life, so I made up an excuse about working late at the pit and I went to Coldenquirst's sipping/gripping.

I was the first to arrive.

"Hobflex!" Coldenquirst shouted as he showed me into the ceiling arena. "Virsted said you might not be coming. Something about abstinence."

"Well," I mumbled, draggling my octopols a little, "it's more a goal than a reality."

"So often the case," he said, heaving a philosophical sigh. "How's Fortunda, by the way?"

"She's virtuous as the days are long and not going to be pleased," I mumbled, but by that time my tubes were deeply, deeply entrenched and the sipping had commenced.

"Get a good bit of suction worked up," Coldenquirst warned, "so you don't lose your hold and fall. After all, this could go on for a very long time."

"Fortunda expects me by the fore hour," I tried to say, but all was occluded by the action of the tubes.

Virsted came next. "I knew you'd make it," he said, slapping me annoyingly behind the deltoid relapse. "The idea of satiety -- it's not just compelling; it's irresistible."

I had a righteous excuse for ignoring him, so I took it. I also ignored Bendomel when he came with his usual pretense of "just checking to see who's here." In minutes he was as deeply embedded as the next fellow.

Long past the hour when I could pass this off as an unavoidable delay at the pit, long past the time when I could disguise the odor with some cologne or by sleeping in the longhouse, long past the moment of possible salvation, I gripped and sipped. We had ceased trying to converse, ceased trying to be civilized, and the only noises besides a certain random bubbling were our grunts of pleasure and the occasional bursting of a feldenlauser seam. Usually, of course, there's the fighting and the struggling, the pushing back and forth, the annoyance and irritation and the hideous reality that even your best friend can be your competitor for the next and seemingly hopelessly necessary swallow. But not tonight. Satiety! There is nothing in the world like it.

Increasingly, however, as I clung and luxuriously engaged my smallest tubules without any interference from Bendomel or Virsted, I began to feel as though something was missing. Where was the camaraderie of the moment? The idea of the good loser and the magnanimous winner? How was I different, in fact, from a nellienannie clinging to its mother's underbelly? I began to long for the feel of rough-and-tumble. I began to lose self-respect, just as surely as if I had landed on the fardel mats, vorst-end-up.

It was, not remarkably, Eldalapner who brought an end to the celebration of satiety. I won't describe his method, but suffice it to say that Coldenquirst's fardel mats were soaked through and through. And then, having accomplished his jettisoning of the sufficient and having engineered a new sense of scarcity, he aimed a blow at the back of my head so accurate in its aim and perfect in its intent that the resulting melee was nothing compared to the truths it brought us.

II. The Spinning Mall (Fortunda)

Would you say that I anger easily? Haven't I attained maximum health gauge time and again? The control of life as we know it is based on the teachings of the mortlanburg. But I digress. Fortunda, you may say, you are a picture of the guided soul and the icing on the porstalcake of salvation. Fine. Be that as it may, but when Hobflex came in so long past the fore hour that it was indeed time for the next one, I grew as full and round with anger as a loaded plane in a berry storm.

"Fortunda, glove of my fisticuff," he said, first thing into the longhouse, where I was waiting for him like any intelligent and well-read one would. "So sorry for the long, lost time at the pit."

"Pit, my vorst," I answered without any of my usual wit and delicacy. He was already so bruised and shuffled that there was no sense in adding injury to his insults. I stormed out of there and went to my mother's.

He began to call on me almost immediately. First, timidly, distally. Then through the vortex again and again as though it was raining supplication. And then he began ventral and dorsal, which I rebuffed mightily. We all have our limits, after all.

After a while, I grew weary of my mother's hospitality. One can only play so many games of raster-jet without massive boredom. Then, too, there were the lectures. "I told you Hobflex was unripe and unwholesome," she said more times than I can count, as though he were fruit on the vine. "Remember that nice fellow, Rolxixix?" I, in fact, could not.

Finally, I decided that the best thing would be to avenge myself, simply and gracefully, so that I could get on with my life. I thought about what they so often say: the best revenge is living above your means. Or something on that order. I decided to go on a shopping spree.

The spinning mall is in some ways a tiresomely cliché place, but it serves its purpose. My every sac, every cavity, every crevice was filled to utmost before I was through. Once home, I could barely stagger through the door. I scarcely had the strength to store things alphabetically. I had little or no equanimity to endure Hobflex's humming. But the roiling, searing fever of our reconciliation made my prizes all the sweeter, and anger is an experience I plan to have again, despite my wholesome attainment of cosmic serenity.

III. Please Stand By! (Fortunda)

Like any well-read one would, I appreciated Hobflex's life at the pit. Seldom did a real-time occasion go by when I didn't make a celebration. I found recipes in all the periodicals delivered through the vortex. I found inspiration on the raster-roof. I found hope in the realization that I was younger than I might have been had it been later in life. But it wasn't always fulfilling.

I remember the time when we celebrated his fiftieth version, and I invited Maglinomia and Persnex to come for candles and cones. It was delicious, and the cold air was thrilling, despite what it did to the flaming. But when the party was over and Hobflex and I had settled into our fore hour focus, I began to ask myself, "What about me?"

Oh, I know what you're thinking: Once the nellienannies are gone, this kind of thing is inevitable. But the fact of the matter is I'm a qualified zelio pilot, and I decided it was time to bring my license to fruition. So the next time Hobflex was safely on his way to the pit, I called an old casting operation to which I was connected by right of fruntlinghurst. Prudently, I tried to make a spectacle of myself, though subtly, distally, and with just a touch of moodiness in the mark-up lights. Not surprisingly, it worked, and I was called by a sifting agent a little past aft.

"So you're the one," he said. He draggled his octopols so as to appear indifferent, but the deltoid display he couldn't conceal told it all. "Yes," I said, helping myself to spritzing and other amenities. "I'm very interested in getting back into the pilot's seat."

We talked about old friends and aberrations for a while, and then he took out a map of the real-time arena. "Here," he said, pointing casually at a blotched and very important-looking polling station. "This is where the news is made. And some very good fardel mats, too, for that matter."

Without another word, though with more than one wistful glance, the sifting agent handed me a temporary ignition set-up. I can't describe the feeling in my head as I suited up, and I wouldn't want to describe the sensation in the pit of my hinderplast as the zelio took off. But soon, I was revving and roaring with all the other pilots, competing for a fast-breaking story. It was nothing short of exhilarating.

Somewhere near the upthrust on the far horizon I sent the zelio into a spin, marveling at the extent of my skill and control after all the pent-up boring times. And somehow, though this was as much luck as skill and something to do with the slippery hull of the zelio as well, I got good and close to the polling station. There I managed to capture an image of one of the deepest executives in his pink lace and helping straps. It was gratifying to hook up the feed and send the image whirling through the vortex. The screams of the enraged executive only added to my magnitude. Now I was really in perspective.

"More!" shouted the sifting agent into my control buckler, "More!" I hovered and swooped, feeling my own power in a series of bursts that sizzled me from hingst to vorst. In fact, I was feeling so powerful, that when the executive in question tried to confront me directly, I broke with protocol and yelled, "Please stand by!" to my sifting agent. Then I buzzed that executive like a diesel bird in the heat of combustion, so that he was able to record my maneuvers with a minimodel time and time again.

Later, at home, after Hobflex and I had finished our meal, Virsted called on us through the vortex. "Did you see it?" he asked, and, of course, because Hobflex hadn't, we had to. "That's what I did today," I said, shivering my urspines in anticipation of a certain amount of evocation. But instead, Hobflex began to sputter like a volcano on the diminutive planet, and he said, "That executive who's screaming in such an enraged fashion is my most senior enforcer at the pit, you know." Which, of course, I hadn't.

Luckily, I'm a licensed pilot with a future. Luckily, Hobflex was ready for a change of pace. Luckily, the hinderplast readily engages with things the head has finally acknowledged.

IV. Spin Dry (Hobflex)

This morning, as I was washing the verticlever, Fortunda buzzed the longhouse in her zelio. Recovering from a near tumble into the haunting moat, waving valiantly, I tried to remember the Fortunda who was calmly in touch with her cosmic intuition, who could focus on a leaf of whorstle for the entirety of aft, who found maximum health gauge when I was still humping the grass. But I couldn't. This utterly successful Fortunda is someone very new, and she is responsible for both my loss of attainment at the pit and my present variety. It is also true that variety is the spice of life, and many battles have been waged in search of a little ur-nutmeg. I think you see my point.

Washing, waxing, bowling the far crystal, ventilating upwind -- these are things Fortunda has been complaining about for most of our shared habitation. But I find them satisfying to an almost disturbing degree of magnitude. Is our exchange of roles a fortuitous one? Are we perhaps where we belong? Am I disturbed both axially and deliberately? Who can say?

Take, for example, the clothing exchange. In go the dirty and out come the verified. So far, so good. I see no reason not to enjoy this simple ritual. But then comes the drying wind, and I begin an almost ecstatic involvement that may be untoward. Yesterday, as a matter of fact, I was standing at attention during spin dry. At that moment it seemed such a glorious achievement that tears had come to my eyes. But, quite unexpectedly, Bendomel came calling, both distally and in cross-section, and my emotions went into over-comp. I began to sob and couldn't stop until spin dry was attained.

Bendomel just stood there looking at me for a very long time. Then he said, "Hobflex, old thorn of my sidebar, you need readjustment."

"Oh?" I said, whirling on a cusp. "And who's to say what's adjustable and what is not? Do you think just because you have right of fruntlinghurst at the pit, you can judge me and my new vocation."

Bendomel sucked awkwardly on an emergency nectar hoard and nervously rattled several of his tubules. Finally, he took a deep breath and said, "As a matter of fact, I do."

"Spin dry is a very fulfilling thing," I said, gathering up the dry and verified clothes and heaving the dirty ones into the maw.

"Sure," he said, bubbling nectar down his hingst-front. "You get spin dry while Fortunda whirls and gyros over the wild horizon. Doesn't sound like a fair trade to me."

"If you've come here to sow the mingus of discontent," I said, grabbing the basket and trundling until I was breathless, "you've come to the wrong longhouse."

"Actually, I've come to tell you about a new position that's just come open at the millhurst mill. Foundling executive, 50% off, no indices and half elevation. You'd be perfect for it."

"Hmmm," I said, setting the basket on top of a newly planted ridge plant, which wriggled faintly while I thought about this. "Why don't you come inside for some margo, and we'll talk about it?"

"Now you're sounding like the old Hobflex," he said enthusiastically and even helped me wrestle the ridge plant into alignment.

Over margo, however, my interest waned. Bendomel tried to tell me about the raster-jet rallies sponsored by the company in question, but I couldn't stop remembering the glories of spin dry. Finally, he said, "I don't think you're even paying attention. This is a salvation crossroads for your misery. Let Fortunda maple the hedges, or hire a pixiemangle. Whatever you do, don't waste your last chance in the clutches of domestic servitude."

It was a rousing speech, I'll admit, but just then I heard the blasting bell on the clothing exchange. Spin dry was calling. I thrust Bendomel roughly out the door, injuring his deltoid relapse and spilling nectar on the margins. "I don't care," I shouted into his disappearing and bewildered manifestation, and I ran to the drying wind, inserting myself along with the clothes, having decided to live spin dry rather than simply observe it. Nothing at the pit can compare with this, I thought, and I ended up battered but convinced I was right.

Today, I managed to accomplish enough dirt to justify use of our clothing exchange again. I am impatiently awaiting the need for the drying wind, hinderplast engaged to the utmost. This is the life I was born for. The next time Fortunda buzzes in the zelio, there will be a banner waiting to greet her. "Pea of my pod, avenger of my inconsistencies," it says in iodine lettering, "I dry your nightie." I expect a very exciting fore hour when she at last returns.

V. Sharing (a Duet)

"It was my fault. The day was so gripping, to the maximum thordenhorstle, that I had to stop at home unwisely and unexpectedly. As a result, I left the zelio unattended, which was without doubt the leading cause of the effect in question."

"No, it was my fault. If I had stayed in spin dry where up until that point my hinderplast told me I belonged, I would never have been where I was when I shouldn't have been. Nothing is unavoidable when you learn what to avoid."

"And nothing is unachievable when you find what most achieves you. Oh, Hobflex, pest of my garden blight, how could I have let it go unnoticed? Thinking that you wanted domesticity above all other spiritual pinnacles, I left you yearning in the spin dry to go off and shoot strangers, news wise at least. Now that I know, I have disfiguring remorse."

"Why remorse, Fortunda? Verification of the clothing has its well-known place. But constant obedience to gravity is like a plenitude of meringue on the teeth of life -- sweet and apt to decay."

"Your wisdom is what was hidden when I came home to find you wrestling the ridge hedge, trimmers in an alluring compartment on your vorst. The sight was a simple and warming one. So I left my ignition set-up behind and began to nap. I forgot your achievements at the pit. I dreamed only of my own compilation of greatest news hits. But you, too, are a destination of life's tourist railway. You, too, are an entree at the table of desire. You, too, Hobflex, are a hawk among plaster birds. What, then, now?"

"Is it true, porch of the house of my ancient inheritance, that you hate the life of domesticity?"

"To the contrary. Only that I miss the open skies when too much time is spent inside the dusting cabinet or at the roadside rest of life's transport. When I know that there will be time in the zelio, time to report the late-breaking news and have margo and sipping bread with my raster-jet companions, I endure washing, hashing and ventilating to an unendurable degree."

"So, then -- come here, my octopol of geometric perfection -- have we not an answer built for the bicycle of our duet?"

"Have we? I assure you, I await it batedly."

"Sharing, of course. Half the time, you will fill our home with happenstance while I zoom the friendly skies in the zelio; the other half, the other way."

"But the problem of licensing..."

"Not to worry. This afternoon I renewed my vows of oculo-motor reflexes and can pilot with the best in the troposphere. And besides, I have an honorary redemption badge from the service of our great rasting place and cannot be refused except for matters of legal, civil or zoomorphic congestion."

"So we can share the zelio as well as the dusting cabinet?"

"I see no other, better way, tooth of joy's denture."

"Onward, then. I'll race you to spin dry."

VI. Speed and Its Limits (Hobflex)

For days the news had been slow as eppingcourse dripping down a bib, slow as rain on a raster-rally night. No matter how we whirled in the zelio and defied the double-vested interests at the polling station, Fortunda wasn't having any luck and I wasn't getting any either. The sifting agent was as underwhelmed as his contract allowed. He blamed my incursion into the team for the limits to speed and said as much when he called on Fortunda, distally, in her nightie. His trouble finding real-time nighties is commonly known, and that may be the cause of his antics. Nonetheless, I seriously considered speed control, both axially and elsewhere.

"We've got to do more to give our duo more," I said when I had touched down in the zelio just at the fore hour. Fortunda, home all that day, was still finishing the sudsing. "We can't have them all saying that we're after-beens, or that I am the cause of your lack of fruition," I added, shivering enough ur-spines to show I meant business.

A small dried jelly mold stood on the table, portent of a meal to come. The smell was beginning to accrue, and I was hungry from all that whirling in the not-so-friendly skies. The sign on my deltoid relapse might say "Press" but somewhere inside I was saying "Feed me." This was the life I had asked for and I didn't say that I didn't, but Fortunda was so long at the sudsing that I was forced to shout, "So what are we going to do and when are we going to eat?"

The sudsing Fortunda drew herself up into the Fortunda I had always known and left the room. Later, at the blank table, while I was still waiting, shriveling, for some sign of food or meat, she called on me, frankly, through the vortex. "I'm home but not to you," she said, indicating that I had to apologize, multiplex. Finally, when enough was enough, she said, "You've earned your supper, which will be delivered in a blister pac at a moment's notice. You've also earned the knowledge of my solution."

I draggled my octopols, somewhere on humility's doorstep. Then I nodded, indicating levels of competing hunger and awareness.

Fortunda, satisfied, broke off her transmission and appeared with a blister pac moments later. I sipped warily, tasting a little anger in the broth. She seemed hungry for understanding more than her own meal. "What we can do, morning thunder of my daily ablutions, is to become a creative news force. In other words, we engineer our own top story of the hour which puts us in the maximum efficient location from which to report it."

"Wait," I murfled, more than a little broth sliding down my hingst-front. "I didn't quite catch the brilliance of that design. We're where?"

"Here!" she said, overly loud, tumbling a mouthful still lodged in her apparatus. "We ourselves invite the comers and movers and shakers of our town. We ourselves have a soiree, if you will. And then the first sign of the untoward makes for hot news. Who else will be here with a zelio and a hook-up? Who else will scoop us, dense earth of my garden's weeding frenzy?"

"And if nothing happens?" I asked, eyeing the jelly mold, hoping for courses to come.

Exasperated, she thumped herself directly over the hinderplast. "Then we make it happen!"

Widening, I sucked breath along with my noodles, at least in part to express my admiration. I nodded and finished nearly everything on the table while Fortunda was out of the room making specialized calls to several harbingers-general she knows. When she came back, she was beaming and didn't appear to be hungry anymore anyway. "We're going to have a big to-do," she said. "Next week on Forstenfall." That sounded fine with me because she had also brought with her the desert. Big and steaming, it sat at my feet and filled me with its syrupy innuendoes. Little did I know how big our to-do would turn out to be.

All the intervening time, though nothing cropped up in the zelio, I reminded myself that Fortunda and I would soon make news whether news liked it or not. Then on Forstenfall, I was at home alone sneezing in the dusting cabinet, when Fortunda burst in, full of good cheer and razzle-dazzle.

"Get ready, pig of my ecstatic pen," she shouted. "Our guests will be coming a little past aft. I have changed our soiree from a soiree to a hasting-tasting."

"Without prior notification?" I asked, herding dust bunnies from the bunny bin. "And, besides, isn't a hasting-tasting overdoing it on our budget?"

"Get ready," she said in her best, worst voice, so I did.

Guests arrived before I had even lowered myself an additional octave, so my first appearance at the hasting-tasting was through the vortex. That is why, auspiciously enough, the harbinger-general's sign maker didn't see me as he concealed great quantities of hasting in every sac, cavity and crevice while the others were busy tasting theirs. When the harbinger-general himself ambled by with a tasting board and found the hasting lacking, he commented negatively to the sign maker, who clucked and chafed as his job description demanded. It was then that, finally buttoned and tied, I appeared in real-time, showed my footage to the gasping dignitaries and sent their reactions through the feed to the sifting agent. The harbinger-general, needless to say, will not work in this town again. Because of this, and because we got most of our hasting back out of the sign maker's every crevice, Fortunda was proud and resigned to my abilities.

"You see," she said, tasting a little of her own hasting. "Our duality can be the source of profitability as well as satisfaction."

Just then the sifting agent called, distally, with no apologies anywhere on the agenda. "I'm hoping that you'll have a margin-fest as soon as it's convenient," he said, and signed off with a meaningful rattling of his tubules.

"Tomorrow I'll clean up the hasting, and you can invite the cream of your crop," Fortunda said with a satisfied sigh. "Nothing will ever go slowly again."

"At least not news-wise," I said, and after a long, locked and fondling moment, Fortunda was forced to agree with me.

VII. Cosmic Peace At Last (Fortunda)

Riding high is about the only word for what we were then, though that would, I suppose, be two words. But, however you say it, Hobflex and I were shooting skyward like brugga-bats fleeing a dank cave, and our fuel was our ambition (plus all that designer margo, of course, and an inflatable attitude). Then the off-worlders came.

Indisputably, these off-worlders were maximum in size, being ten epic units more voluminous and fifty bardic units more offensive than any other off-worlders known before. Undoubtedly, too, they were so fixated on the scientific notations of their expedition that they were unaware that they had stepped on Smolingped, the star of the Brunt Show. But, because we believed that was no excuse, Hobflex and I went on the air, both live and through the vortex, to stir our world to a frenzy of retribution and Brunt Show retrospectives.

Thanks to our focus on slogans and raster-rally rosters, the war with the off-worlders created media razzle and dazzle galore. Nearly every fore hour we won prizes (including the Frozen Holdencluster Award which is edible and the Bargain Legion of Newsmongers Citation which is economical because incorporeal) as we helped with the defense effort. We also became tacticians, inventing fearfully effective methods for the Alliance of Planetary Alliances. These consisted of numerous manifestations around the heads of the off-worlders (which are quite bulbous and round as Ordenpfeffer asteroids). Because the vortex seems to be unknown to them, the off-worlders were made confused and off-balance by this. We would appear distally, zooming with the zelios, then frontally, flivvering, then both dorsally and ventrally. The off-worlders, thinking we were present in each manifestation, laughed until they were helpless. This is how we finally overcame them.

Flopped and heaving, the seven enormous off-worlders lay somewhere near the base of the polling station and made unwholesome sounds. I was told by a special scientific commission that they were asking what was for lunch. Outraged, Hobflex and I discussed ways of vanquishing them completely or at least impressing upon them that they had no invitation to speak of. Our sifting agent was viciously calling for the latter and Hobflex was without mercy or an extra nectar pac. We were small but victorious and on the air at that.

Suddenly, as I spun in my zelio, victory humming through my octopols, I thought of the teachings of the mortlanburg. Is this how one who has attained harmonious attainments treats off-worlders? I asked myself. I answered, without provocation, that it was not. What was the use of maximum health gauge if war and endless zelio-spinning follow? "Wait!" I said to the sifting agent, who didn't want to but had to anyway. Then I sat in my cabin and ignored Hobflex as I composed the constitution of the Society of Friends of the Off-worlders.

Though fame has abandoned us like thieves dripping from a leaky spinning mall, Hobflex and I are not without lucrative possibilities. We wear the robes of cosmic attainment and spout the doctrine through every tubule. In addition, we run a friendly tourist trap for off-worlders that maximizes the vortex and minimizes expenses. In other words, we are pure but rich. Sometimes I long for a sober moment in the dusting cabinet, but there are pixiemangles to handle that now. Often I hope I can zoom in the zelio one more time, but there are metaphysical restraints. Above all, Hobflex and I are united in a common workhouse, with one will and one savings crevice. The off-worlders have changed our world and our lives forever. I would curse them, but it might jeopardize the hard-won cosmic peace.