1 and requiring only the most passing of familiarities with Robotech and other masterpieces of that Eastern genre in which dashing young men and underdressed women use battlesuits, song, and the power of love to conquer alien armadas; but still retaining a deep debt of gratitude to the works of Jane Austen, thus:
JONATHAN Browning, having distinguished himself greatly in the Valar War, attracted a certain measure of favourable attention from the throne. In addition to a letter of nobility and a trifling annuity, he received warrant in full for possession of his robotic battlesuit, Destiny and Disappointment. This robotic battlesuit remained in the possession of the Browning family for three generations before disappearing under mysterious circumstances upon Emmett Browning’s death. Emmett’s two children, D—- and M—-, blamed one another for the robot’s loss, creating a resentment that grew from this bitter root and flowered through both family lines, until D—-‘s daughter Margaret and M—-‘s children Beatrice, Flora, and Jack could scarcely talk without acrimony.
Of the four scions of the Browning line, Margaret received the most favour from the townsfolk. Her radiant disposition and lustrous hair was reliable in its ability to turn heads and inspire pleasantness in others, while the mellifluous timbre of her voice, so efficient in turning aside alien battle fleets, inspired nothing save positive comment in those that the local choir protected. She would no doubt have found a sufficiency of happiness in engagement to one of her many admirers, save that — to express a certain indelicate but unavoidable truth — her heart held no capacity for human affection. Beneath her warm and affable manner ticked a dark and mechanical mind.
Beatrice, conversely, concealed a discerning intellect and a remarkable talent for the arts beneath a facade possessing neither beauty nor deportment. Thus it was that while Margaret could scarcely step outside her home without encountering an appreciative young beau, Beatrice had drawn only one man’s affections, and him unsuitable: Matthew, the local rake and scapegrace, whose only redeeming quality, she would often state, was a game smile that could charm a rabbit from its den or the sun down from the sky.
Although the forces of Her Majesty had soundly defeated the Valar, the strange hybrid monsters created as the alien armada’s hunting dogs still troubled the rural areas of the Earth and Mars with some frequency. People of discernment rarely troubled themselves to flee the great slow ijri beasts, whose creation showed a noteworthy lack of taste and discretion on the Valar’s part; but the swift and deadly pengali provoked some concern even in the most refined individual. When a pengali assaulted the town, the people set even the most serene and meaningful occasions aside and rushed to arrange for the town’s defense. Thus, there were no words that a young lady should like to hear less, when making her debut into society, than “Alien monster incoming!”; but it is this very shout that greeted Flora as she descended the long stair.
Oh! There was a terrible ruckus. The guests rushed from wall to wall, arming themselves with the monofilament swords and laser pistols favoured by the gentlemen of the time; and more than a few ladies, finding themselves unobserved, touched the grenade projectors they had secreted about their person in event of the unthinkable. As for Flora, the situation was too much for her. Not even thinking about her safety in the event that the cat-like beast tore through the wall and leapt upon her, she clutched at her forehead, sank down upon the step, and moaned. She contemplated the ruin that had suddenly visited itself upon her young life; and, as she did so, the wall shuddered, once, twice, thrice, and split. The pengali was upon them.
“Granted,” shouted a strangely familiar voice, “the situation now seems desperate enough; but surely alarmist thinking serves only as a distraction from the more virtuous consideration of maximising the potential benefits one can derive from one’s circumstances?”
Startled by this observation, Flora looked up. Beyond the hole in the wall, she saw the elegant robotic battlesuit that for generations had served her family. With a delightfully understated motion, it seized the tail of the pengali and dragged it back; then, abandoning decorum in the heat of battle, it struck the pengali a fierce blow to its chin. Its head swam and the sound of blood sang loudly in its ears; then the pengali swooned and collapsed, entirely senseless, upon the fainting couch.
“Destiny and Disappointment,” whispered Beatrice.
“Ah!” exclaimed Margaret. “How familiar the unfamiliar can seem, when it is bound to one’s affections by ties of blood! Good sir, the refinement of your bearing allows me only one hypothesis — this is Destiny and Disappointment, gone from my family these past several years. Surely you have brought it here to return it to my hands? For no other alternative is conceivable for a gentleman of worth.”
The battlesuit’s eyes sparkled with great mirth. “It has lain concealed against the roots of the world for a goodly number of years, building up a grime of dust and destiny. It’s no fit present for a lady such as youself — to display such a filthy battlesuit would diminish your peerless charms.”
“The gentleman is a tease,” said Margaret. “But come now — you mustn’t toy with a lady’s heart. Already my toes tingle and my being bubbles with suppressed affection for my family’s savior, waiting only for the revelation of your name and position that I might release it; you cannot righteously leave me in such a state!”
“It’s a fine thing,” Beatrice said, softly, “to handle a woman’s heart with caution; so I’ll leave you, Margaret, to your disgrace, while I see how my sister should best be consoled. To our guests,” she said, speaking louder, “may I ask that you turn your gaze from the stairs and restore the convivial atmosphere, that Flora may debut anew when she has recovered from the strain?”
Margaret drew Beatrice aside. “This is my crowning moment,” she said. “For I have found, in one instant, my legacy and my husband; it cuts like a knife that you should divert attention to Flora at such a time. For all that’s gone between us, still, let me have my feast of joy; I shouldn’t begrudge you such happiness as this, had it knocked instead at your door.”
“As long as I have known you,” Beatrice answered, “you have fended off suitors with the charming ingenuity of a Denebian firefish; yet I can’t help thinking that you’re too easy in your intentions today. Surely, love calls for affection as much as a battlesuit, and a heart of romance that cannot transform into a jet.”
“Call me emotional if you like, but where sweet words and flowers could not sway my heart, this battlesuit succeeds — but ah! Your family’s still jealous that it’s passed into my line!”
Beatrice frowned thinly. “The inheritance is not so clear and untroubled as that, but you’re an obstinate woman. If you choose to say that my actions are jealous, no wisdom could shake that — and if I’m simply concerned for my sister, whom I have watched over and guided since my father’s death, then it’s a sentiment that you could scarcely understand.”
“You must learn to focus on the larger picture if you want to succeed at life,” answered Margaret. “Your sister’s impractical distress, at a time of an alien monster’s attack and a great treasure’s recovery, is the kind of senseless emotion that I feel will drag you down into unhappiness. If you want stability for her and yourself, why don’t you accept that fool Matthew’s attentions? He’s not rich, but he can at least keep you in some comfort.”
“He’s feckless,” said Beatrice, “with no more concern for the cares of others than you yourself possess. Oh, his smile can warm me and his vigorous proclamations can turn my thoughts in a tender direction; but while he might care for me, I’ve seen no evidence that he’d bestir himself to answer Flora’s needs.”
“It’s strange,” said the man in Destiny and Disappointment, “but this battlesuit appears to include auditory enhancement. This has left me with no alternative save to eavesdrop upon your conversation; but this may be a fortunate thing, for I can relieve every worry in your heart.”
With that, he jauntily removed his helmet, and Matthew stood before the gathered town. “It’s embarrassing when a lady of quality must make her debut in such a simple dress. It shows taste, perhaps, but flaunts a lack of wealth when a woman’s financial and other qualities are most on people’s minds. I can make no truer gesture than to offer you, Flora, this gift of a battlesuit, for elegant descent; and if another monster should invade this gathering, then you may deal with it yourself without interrupting the pattern of the dance.”
Matthew bowed low. Margaret’s cheeks flushed and she turned away from the room. She stood, paralyzed by this turn of events, as the battlesuit changed hands and Flora, once again, began her descent down the stairs. Then, with a sudden terrible shout of rage and disappointment, Margaret turned upon the gathering. “D—- was the older child,” she told them all, in a low and deadly tone, “and therefore there is no legal argument that you can make to support this transaction; and moreover, while you milled about with the futility and pathetic lack of dignity that characterises your race, he instructed me in the ways and passions of my superior species. For years, I have held back the disgust that wells up in me upon observing you humans and your folly; but now that you have set aside your false and cloying affection and turned against me, I shall set aside my restraint in turn.”
In one great shout of power, Margaret transformed, unlocking her hidden genetic potential and becoming a ravening ijri.
“Is it my destiny,” wondered Flora, “that my attempts to make an impression on society shall always be muddled and interrupted by the assaults of strange alien monsters?”
“It’s only an ijri,” cautioned Beatrice. “If we don’t pay attention to her, she’ll probably go away.”
“Though she’s a mutated and tasteless monstrosity who has for years plagued me with disdain and enmity,” Flora said thoughtfully, “I cannot entirely refrain from a certain affection for my blood kin; and, for all the alien influence that infected D—- in the womb, I do not think that our grandfather’s genetic material was entirely displaced. It’s too cruel for an ijri used to every man’s esteem to suddenly find herself outcast from polite society simply because her father possessed a disgraceful secret — so I’ll blast her with my laser rifle instead.”
“Raar!” declared Margaret, to the general disinterest of the room. Flora blasted her with her laser rifle.
“Look,” someone said, “Margaret’s evolving into some kind of giant battle form. I wonder if she’s more than an ordinary ijri, after all?”
Beatrice did not look. In the wells of Matthew’s eyes, she had for the first time seen the light of compassion and grace; and Beatrice found that she had, for the moment, no desire to look upon anything else.