All Her Buzzing Eyes
Ophelia walks down the long boulevard to her father’s court. Everyone she passes averts their eyes: the business captains in their sharp, metallic suits, the tight clumps of workers sitting on glass-stone benches eating lunch, the idle aristoboys absorbed in the glowing screens of their Webyrinth keys. The few women she passes seem especially perturbed; all of them have their hair neatly bound beneath plain hats or, in the case of the lone nun, a head plucked clean of any hair at all.
Ophelia’s hair is exuberantly loose, dangling and curling and jutting every which way. Her hair is a riot of red, a forest of giant weeds erupting from her scalp, a sunset forced—struggling—into duty as a halo.
Overhead, the flycams circulate in lazy circles.
Ophelia walks past a guard dressed in black synth-leather. After a few more steps, she tilts her head. A smile spreads across her face. She turns back.
"I see you!" she shouts to the guard. Her smile breaks into a rapid stream of laughter.
The guard watches silently from behind the metallic goggles implanted in his skull. His face betrays no emotion.
"Yes," she says, wagging her finger at him. "I do." She flings her arms out. "All your buzzing eyes that go zzz zzz zzz and flit and flat like archived bats. Now, they boomerang. And now. I. See. You."
Ophelia pauses, her eyes wide. The guard remains impassive. The flycams buzz steadily along their trajectories.
"Oh," she says. She laughs like a child. "It hasn’t happened yet," she tells the guard, "that’s why."
"You’re lucky you’re the daughter of the King," the guard mutters, "that’s all I can say."
"I’m not lucky," Ophelia says. She pulls out a locket from beneath her shirt. A holo of a woman shimmers into the air, her hair as red as Ophelia’s, though much, much tamer, and her face more lined with age. "See how luscious Mom’s smile was?" The woman turns and smiles, over and over, like a ballerina spinning in a music box. "But now her smile’s been swallowed by the river and all the air I breathe is syrupy grief, sticky and staticky and I don’t want to eat and her face keeps popping up like a floatie, I can’t stop watching the way her smile changes when she realizes—oh!" Ophelia looks up at the guard, pure terror on her face. "I can’t tell you that."
The guard only grunts in reply.
"I know," Ophelia says, suddenly calm. "You’re on a need-to-know basis. And no needs. All I can say is, my luck’s not good. What’s yours?"
But the guard stays silent, his face as blank as his goggles.
The heavy gates close behind Ophelia with a soft click. After a moment, the line between them vanishes, leaving the wall smooth and seamless.
Ophelia sucks at her finger where the gate took a prick of her blood. "Auto-vampiric," she says, and laughs.
She walks through a circle of rosebushes with flowers of black and white. She pauses at a fountain. The cascading water shimmers and gleams with tiny flecks of gold. She stares into the flow, mesmerized. Her left pupil grows wide, while the right remains unchanged. "Seesaw," she whispers, "ghosts bouncing back. Echoes and oh nos and apotheosis, that’s my luck."
"Hi there!" A blue bird flutters into view. "Sounds like you’re interested in learning more about this fountain! The shiny bits are actual neo-gold! All the waterways have been seeded with neo-gold nano-fils to make them more conductive of info-flows! Most of the Webyrinth runs through the river! And the—"
Ophelia hisses at the bird. "The river’s full of blood," she cries. The bird blinks and blinks again. "Oh," Ophelia says. "This isn’t now. Nevermind."
"Okay, then," the bird says. "Have a pleasant visit! Shout at me if you have any more questions! I’m part of a free service provided by the Webyrinth Guild! Bye-bye!"
Ophelia shakes her head. "Silly puppet," she says.
She keeps walking. She passes a tree laden with a diversity of fruits: apples, oranges, pears, persimmons, grapes, cherries. She is nearing the end of the garden; she can hear voices.
"…to the new king and his lovely wife: may your lives be long and fruitful!" A chorus of hear-hears fills the air.
Ophelia pushes her way through the hedge wall. Branches and thorns scratch at her face, but she does not stop.
When she emerges into the courtyard, everyone falls silent. The whole slew of them: all the aristos in their finery, the few business captains looking nervous and out of place, the guards standing discreetly in corners. Even Polonius and Gertrude, resplendent in a tuxedo and a lavish gown, their outfits topped by crowns.
"You’re all sieves!" she shouts. "Glass rivers! Empty beds! Don’t you see this gruesome feast? The shattered vows beneath?" She knocks over a tray of fruit, scattering cherries and apple slices. She points at the bride and groom. "Lace can’t cover up blood. But there was no blood, was there? Only water. So much." She closes her eyes. "Smooth as glass. Lapping like a thousand tongues, hair twining with weeds, medusa dreams…Oh." Her eyes pop open. "Oh, I see, now is now. I’m not talking about the not yet. I’m talking about Mom. I saw her die. She died! And what was her funeral, a prelude to this farce? Vomit! I would if I could. But he stole my face." Her fists tremble and shake. "My loverliar. Lovers are liars." She turns in a circle, addressing the whole crowd. "All of them. What use are the vows of a traitor?" She stops to laugh, an edge of bitterness in her voice. "And that’s how you see me, say of me. Scrambled brains you’ll christen. Hello, how are you today, Miss Mad-With-Grief." She curtsies mockingly. "But I seesaw. You’ll see. No, I will see. Me me me."
Now, no one has their gaze averted. They all stare, open-mouthed, at Ophelia. Her childhood friends, dressed in their finest suits and gowns; their parents, the Barons and Duchesses; her own father, Polonius, with the king’s crown fresh on his head. Hamlet’s mother, Queen Gertrude, who has been like an aunt to her. They are all aghast.
Ophelia stands alone, as confused and crestfallen as a little girl who has somehow wandered into a party full of drunken strangers. The fire that turned her into an angry prophet has gone out. "I’m sorry," she says, "please don’t send the knife-men. I can’t say it right." She slides down into an awkward sit. "My tongue falls down."
She is crying now, her face pink and raw. The tears only flow from her right eye.
The whole party stands frozen and awkward, as if posing for a painting that has gone horribly wrong. The moment spools out, on and on. Ophelia’s quiet sobs are the only sound.
Into the quiet, the king’s voice falls like a dropped plate. Everyone cringes. "Ophelia?" Polonius says, "Is this really you? You’ve always been such a sweet, quiet girl. And now…of course, your mother’s death has hit you hard." He bows his head. "As it has us all." His voice sounds pinched. "But what are we to make of this display? This sheer madness. Well, we have heard you were in an accident. But the messenger said you were recovering well, and were under the care of Prince Hamlet’s own private physician. Was this false? Did the accident shred your mind to bits? So it seems. The doctors will know for sure. Ophelia, please be calm. They’re on the way—"
Ophelia springs up, eyes fierce once more. "You!" she hisses. "I saw you. Seesaw you. You play the fool so you can rule. You pushed her…you…" Her face is twitching. "Rue…flew blue…" Her eyes are wide as twin moons. But her pupils are mismatched; the right is shrunk to a point. The left is wide and slowly growing.
"What has happened?" Polonius says. "I don’t understand." He loosens his bow tie. "My sweet daughter…" Polonius fumbles with his hands, clutching at the air as if the right words are flying from his grasp.
"Father," Laertes steps forward, and touches Polonius on the shoulder, "let me."
Polonius nods, gratitude brightening his face.
Ophelia flinches away from a warm hand on her shoulder.
"Ophie, it’s me."
She opens her eyes. Her brother stands before her. Behind him gleams the river. They’re on the other side of the court, far from the wedding crowd.
"Listen," she says, clutching at his outstretched hand, "there’s no time. What time is it? I can’t tell anymore. I can’t tell anyone."
"What happened to you, sis?"
She begins to sob again. Laertes touches her gently on the cheek. A soft click, and half her face swings open, like a mask slipping off. Beneath is a cityscape of gray and gold and blue-green, a topographical map of circuitry.
Ophelia’s left eye looks out from the center of this strange new mechanical region. This eye appears to be exactly the same as the other one, down to the shade of blue in the iris, but when she moves her eyes, a ripple of green-gold washes across the circuitry, like a sunset in fast motion.
Laertes releases her hand and steps back. "Who did this to you?" he demands, his face twitching.
"It doesn’t matter." Ophelia curls her arms up, turning away.
"Was it Hamlet?"
She turns back. She’s pushed the mask back on. Her face appears the same as it did last week. There is no mark, no seam. "Sometimes an eye is a bomb. Did you know that? All the clocks explode and you’re running around with sharp hands trying to pull down the shades but you can’t. No, no, you can—" she flings her hands around— "but it doesn’t matter ‘cause the sun is inside the room, it’s your face that’s exploding. Burning eyes, shattered sky, kaleidoscope mind." She blinks and blinks again. "Wait, is this happening now? Laertes, have I told you yet? They put a robot in my face, can you see?"
"Yes, Ophie, I can see. But—"
"But you don’t see. Not like the robot sees…The robot—" Ophelia’s voice turns urgent "—the robot scatters broken glimpses of the future, the robot slices into the past, opening old wounds with his shrapnel eyes. Oh! Now is when I tell you. I saw her die. The lady with the red crown. The water lapping like a thousand tongues, the river pulling her into deep embrace." She closes her eyes. "Hair twining with weeds, medusa dreams, poison swirling into golden threads—No." Her eyes pop open. "Stop. Not the right part. Rewind." She takes a deep breath. "She’s not alone, Laertes. He’s yelling at her. Her loverliar. He—"
"I knew it." Laertes’ jaw is set and grim. "Time to hunt down that bastard Hamlet."
Ophelia shakes her head. "No. Bastard, yes, but the wrong one. Wrong time. He stole my face, not my mother."
Laertes isn’t listening. He’s loading his gun. He kisses his sister on the forehead. "I’ll be back soon, Ophie. Hang tight 'til then."
He jogs away.
"A plague of boys," Ophelia mutters. "Ingrown ears, deadly toys. Glass streets."
She sits down in the grass. Her breath comes fast and erratic. Her hands scramble over each other like rats frantically seeking a way out of a maze.
The branches of a nearby bush rustle and out comes Hamlet, his hair mussed, his vest adorned with sticks and leaves.
"Hello, Ophelia," he says, his lips turning up into a rueful grin.
She stares at him, open-mouthed.
"Oh, my sweet," he says, spreading his hands, "why didn’t you tell me that you saw your dad had murdered your mom? Then I could—"
"Why didn’t you tell me? No warning, just a stab through the curtains." Ophelia shakes her head violently, shoving the air in front of her. "Oh no, I am not having this conversation. Not here, not now," she says. "Not with a bomb like you. Go away."
"I’m sorry," Hamlet says, looking away, at the river. "I don’t know how to tell you how sorry I am. I wanted to tell you. I started to, half a dozen times…I just… I didn’t know what to do…I didn’t think I could tell you that I meant to murder your father. Of course, now I know you might have been sympathetic…" He smiles his lopsided smile again.
"Hindsight is perfect. Perfectly useless." He shakes his head. "But, listen, you have to come back. Rosencrantz has a new idea that might make the interface work better. I know it seems terrible right now, but you have to remember that you’re the first person with such a large implant. And you’re alive. God, Ophie, I’m so glad you’re alive."
He takes a step towards her, reaching out with his hands.
She spits at him. "You stole my face! Lured me to your house with pretty lies, rose-words. Hide-and-seek. You found me and then you said hello with a sword." She stabs the air with her fist. "Hello, hello, hello." She tilts her head, her lips curving into a sharp smile. "How are you, my sweet?"
"Ophelia, please. I told you, at the hospital. I never dreamed it was you behind the curtain. I thought your father had followed you and was hiding to spy on us. I never lied to you, you have to believe me."
She laughs scornfully, chuckles pouring out of her like boiling water. "One, two, three, four, I can think of several more. Dinner at the grove." She ticks them off on her fingers. "Old school ‘chum’ with luscious breasts. Breasts, breasts, breasts filling up your ‘rinth key. A mistake. Always a mistake, eh, Hammie? Just a tiny. Innocent as sky. Nevermind the blood."
"Please, Ophelia. Do you have to dredge up this stuff right now? You always take everything so seriously. You think everything I say ought to be under oath." He paces back and forth as he speaks. "Listen, I want to help you, Ophelia. I really do. But you’re refusing to be reasonable—"
"Reason is a razor grid. A sword shoved blindly through a veil. Vivisection. Apocalypse means unveiling, did you know that? Rip the skin from the world, pull all the jewels out, who cares? Bleeding organs set in crowns. What’s next? Shatter the sky, tear through—"
"Why you do always have to be so melodramatic?" Hamlet is standing still, his face flushed. "Even before the…before the…You’ve always blown everything way out of proportion!"
Ophelia smiles, a kind of bitter triumph on her lips. "The river’s full of blood," she says, "and tragic eggs and strangled gems. Womb tombs and stone bones and—"
"Enough. Okay." He’s shaking his head. "You want some bold statements? Try this one. I wish I could take it all back. Everything I ever shared with you. Every single bit of it. All the little jokes, the poems I wrote you, the times we snuck around at night to meet in your father’s garden. All the promises we made, all the sweets I gave you. Every single time we kissed. I’m taking it all back." He looks her full on in the face.
Ophelia’s right eye is obscured behind a wet gob of tears but she doesn’t cry.
"Listen," she says, her voice strangled, "So much new. You don’t know what my eye can see. Not the eye, I mean, I don’t know how to say. How to see even. Looking hurts. Not looking too."
"You’re right," Hamlet says, "I don’t know. And I don’t care." He begins to walk away. "Goodbye, Ophelia."
Ophelia stands as still as a statue. "Gone," she says. "All gone. Petals. Mothersmile. Fatherfool. Loverliar. Brotherwild." Unshed tears still block her right eye; her left pupil gapes and closes frantically, pulsing like the mouth of a fish drowning in air. "Can’t be only me." She walks slowly forward. "So empty. Now wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong."
Ophelia takes another step forward. There is nothing solid beneath her foot. She tumbles into the river.
Hair twining with weeds, medusa dreams, poison swirling into golden threads. Robot half-face bleeds into metal streams, info-ribbons. Drowning in flows of electric dreams, pulling deep, deeper. Glowing heart of ‘rinth. Enters, melds, now her heart. Now. Ecstasy of eyes, blossoming timelines, exploding archives.
All her buzzing eyes, watching, seeing, seesawing, so many moments at once. Kaleidoscope mind, insect hive. Echoes and oh nos and apotheosis.
Across a thousand keys at once, Ophelia’s face appears, emerging from the Webyrinth. Her hair streams out wild and thick, moving to its own serpentine rhythms, giving her the air of a mermaid sibyl. Her hair is tangled with threads of gold and silver, woven into the very fabric of the ‘rinth.
"I see you," she says. "Now is the time for me. For all the drowning girls, half-and-halfs, strangled gems, wounded monsters. Time is mine."
Overhead, the flycams hang in the air for a moment and then begin to fly in new patterns. Secrets appear on keys, hidden violence exposed for all to see.
Willow Fagan is a grad student, writer, Tarot reader, and pirate princess. They live in Portland, Oregon, which they like to imagine is a giant terrarium.
Their speculative fiction has appeared in Fantasy Magazine, PodCastle, The Dark Magazine, and The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy. Their essays have appeared in various anthologies, including Facing The Change: Personal Encounters with Global Warming and Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Sexual Violence Movement (forthcoming).
This is both their first published piece of science fiction and their first published piece of Shakespeariana.