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Bias and Vanity

by Bertil Falk

Chapter 1

This story adapts Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with a plot that is condensed and turned somewhat the other way around. It pays homage to one of England’s greatest novelists.

It is not universally understood that rich spinsters need a husband. But at least that kind of understanding went without saying among the settlers in certain parts of the XP25309 system somewhere at the outskirts of the Milky Way. For the asteroid belt within that particular system was not only a habitable archipelago in space, it was also a place with a longstanding matriarchal structure and culture and a kind of male-female courting or “dating” system supposedly the most advanced in the known universe.

Girls and boys were not permitted to meet in private. They could meet at parties and dances, where they were under the supervision of their parents. According to anthropologists, a similar kind of advanced culture had been common in certain patriarchal parts on a planet called Earth thousands of years before, during the 18th and 19th centuries. It was most vividly described in an ancient document existing in a copy from the 25th century and written by a certain John Austin, whoever he was. Its title: Prajd änd Predjodiss.

”Have you heard the news, darling?” Mrz. Tenneb’s husband said to her one day. “A rich young girl, most probably well worth getting hold of, has moved to that neighboring asteroid Dleifrehten, which is a veritable fairground on the inside as well as on the outside.“

“So what?” Mrz. Tenneb said.

“This is an opportunity to get rid of at least one of our five boys.”

“I don’t want to get rid of any of my sons,” his wife said.

“My dear wife,” Mr. Tenneb protested, “you know we must get them married. We can’t afford having them hanging around our necks like unstockpiled nuclear missiles. The only career open to boys of a poor family is marriage. If you die, your syssling, as they call second cousins here, Mizz Mailliw Snilloc, will take over the premises for good, unless she cares for your sons.

“We must try our best to see to it that they’ll be taken care of. Enaj is handsome and Thebazile is a real hunk. If we can fetch a rich girl like the tenant of Dleifrehten for any of them, that will be good.”

“Oh, come on, Mizter Tenneb,” exclaimed Mrz. Tenneb. “Enaj is too shy to be approached by a woman, and Thebazile won’t go for money, only for love. Besides, I don’t want to lose them.

“The other three are silly fools. Aidyl and Yttik are running after uniforms. No one in the regimentals of the Women’s Royal Spacerines is safe from their efforts. And Yram is pretty dull. He reads books and plays that horrible horn.”

“Anyhow, you know the social rules,” her husband argued. “If you don’t pay this girl a visit, we can’t expect to be invited when she throws her parties. I’ve heard that she loves dancing. She’s the daughter of the late Mrz. Yelgnib, and it’s well known that she has inherited a few specimens of the universal currency.”

“True,” his wife said. “Mizz Yelgnib is the most eligible spinster in this section of the universe. And you think she’s come here to find a man?”

“She must be on the lookout for a man!” her husband exclaimed.

“How clever of her to decide to rent a stately asteroid mansion just around the corner from our five boys. You mean that was intentional?”

“Mrz. Tenneb, you’re twisting my words.”

“But not your intentions. Well, to be honest, I’ve already called on her. She was very nice and she does not look bad.”

“You did? Thank heavens. Our boys are saved.”

“Don’t jump to conclusions like that!” protested Mrz. Tenneb.

The couple had not noticed that their conversation was being overheard. But now they were reminded forcefully that they had produced five sons. They came running from all five points of the local compass, four of them in a happy mood and the fifth showing a more reluctant attitude.

“Is she a member of the troops, mom?” asked Yttik. He was no doubt excited.

“She’s too rich for that, idiot!” scolded Aidyl.

“Stay out of this, snotty kid!” snapped Yram. “You’re too young to grasp the ...”

“Boys, calm down,” urged Mrz. Tenneb.

“I’ve read about her in the gossip columns,” Aidyl explained. “She’s said to be the most perfect cyborg, almost totally artificial, next to an android.”

“Rubbish! She looked like a perfect human being.” Mrz. Tenneb dismissed Aidyl’s suggestion.

“But mother, that’s proof that she’s artificial! You can hardly look perfectly human if you’re not modified and manipulated.”

Mrz. Tenneb was not in the mood to tell her offspring about her meeting with Mizz Yelgnib. It did not matter how much they begged her. They would have to wait until their neighbor, Mr. Sacul, came through the wall of their abode. He knew the young woman and considered her to be one of the most charming and good-looking things on this side of the Milky Way. 3D representations did not do her justice, and he estimated her fortune at some hundred thousand billiards at least.

“Billiards!” exclaimed Mr. Tenneb. “You mean billions?”

“No, she’s actually a multi-billiardair,” Mr. Sacul said in a serious voice.

“Then it doesn’t matter if she looks like an unsuccessful brain operation, equipped with a transparent globe instead of a head,” said Thebazile.

At that the other boys laughed.

“So you’ve already given up that idea of getting married only for love,” Aidyl teased his elder brother.

“No, I was rather thinking of you,” said Thebazile. “I think that an ugly rich girl would fit a silly pauper like you.”

“But you heard what Mr. Sacul said. She’s good-looking. She even looks better than in the gossip news.”

“I wouldn’t trust Mr. Sacul’s judgment. His idea of good-looking was formed long ago.”

“Trust my judgement,” said Mr. Sacul. “And she has a friend, Mizz Yzrad, who is even richer, twice as rich and at least thrice as beautiful.”

“That animal would be interesting to see,” said Thebazile.

“You will. A fortnight from today Dame Sacul will throw a party. Mizz Yelgnib is invited and it’s said that her friend Mizz Yzrad will be there as well. As will Mizz Yelgnib’s brothers.”

Mr. Tenneb considered his eldest son Enaj to be the handsomest young chap in the archipelago. And even though his judgement was not the best in other matters, he was not totally wrong in this particular case.

“Handsome but hopelessly poor,” people said about Enaj Tenneb, and on top of that he was very shy and reserved and very dependent on his one-year younger brother Thebazile, an ardent body-builder, who had turned himself into a real hunk of a man.

Thebazile was clever, outspoken and loved running around on foot — believe it or not — on the barren premises of the insignificant asteroid Enruobgnol where they lived. And almost every day he also trained at asteroid-jumping.

The only flaw, according to some observers, was his protruding jaw, but when people got to know him, they rapidly disregarded that blemish.

Someone had even said that Thebazile Tenneb was the one who had given the underbite a face. And he was well equipped with holographic tattoos here, there, and everywhere.

Thebazile was his mother’s favorite. He was in fact the only one she could carry on a meaningful conversation with. Enaj was also dear to her, but due to his retiring disposition, their relationship was of a more silent kind. She looked at her younger sons with some resignation. Mr. Tenneb on his part was most eagerly involved with the idea of getting his whole spectrum of sons married away.

The faster the better.

The information that Dame Sacul would give a party was a signal for lively activity and great expectations. The youngest boys spent hours improving their looks and complained loudly that they could not afford buying more up to date appearances. Instead they had to use their own ingenuity to keep up with the latest fashion.

Thebazile on his part adjusted the wall of his room, walked through it and thereby made a visit to his best friend Ettolrahc Sacul on the neighboring asteroid Egdolsacul. As Thebazile came through the wall in his friend’s room, Ettolrahc confirmed the rumor.

“Yes, that’s right. Mama will throw a party. The invitations will be sent out tomorrow. Most interesting young women will turn up. We mustn’t let this opportunity slip through our fingers.”

Thebazile was not as eager as Ettolrahc to get hold of a girl.

“They’re unreliable and stuck-up,” Thebazile asserted. “They’ve suppressed the male population for centuries in this part of the universe.”

“True, true,” Ettolrahc Sacul admitted, “but I cannot be a burden to my mother much longer. And one has to stick to the social traditions. The only thing mother has is that silly title. Dame! I’m the eldest child and there’s a lack of money here. If I could, I would close that gap by getting married. But it’s not easy for an ugly guy like me to be caught by some girl. I think you stand a much better chance.”

“If I ever marry it will be for love,” Thebazile said, “but the prospect of that seems not to materialize. I’ve not met one girl that comes up to the mark.”

“Oh come on. Mizz Yelgnib is rich like a troll.”

“I’m talking about love. Not money.”

“Money is the benchmark of our society. Not love.”

The two friends argued, but the difference in their opinions was not reconciled.

To be continued...

Copyright © 2008 by Bertil Falk

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