July 24, 2019
MarkBernstein.org
 
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from “Ophelia In My Pocket”

An excerpt from an unpublished short story. The narrator, midshipman Hopper, serves on an outmoded star frigate during the Rebellion. She has won a rare opportunity to solo a holodeck classic.

I didn’t know what Ophelia was for, so that’s where I decided to go.

She sat alone on a low stool, knitting something from dark crimson yarn. Her hair was light, the color of that straw pile I’d just fallen into. My initial thought was, “Lieutenant junior grade, possibly full lieutenant” and I had to stop myself from saluting. In other words, she was in her late teens. Her dress, or frock, or whatever they called it, was of ivory-colored cloth, neatly embroidered in greens and blues. It brought out her eyes.

A hearty blaze in the fireplace made the simply-furnished stone chamber almost cheerful.

Looking up, she jumped to her feet as I knocked on the half-open door. “My Lord!” she curtsied, eyes downcast. “Welcome to thy home.”

“You must be Ophelia?” It always pays, in these sims, to check and double-check. They trip you up, our officers.

“Your Prince’s servant, yes. Come sit down here and warm yourself. It’s much too cold.”

I glanced at her work, which had fallen to the floor. “I’m fine. Thanks. Please don’t let me interrupt: go on with your work.”

“Thank you, my lord. Be welcome, please, and make yourself at home.” Ophelia sat, eyes fixed on me as she gathered up her yarn.

“Are these your rooms? I’m surprised. I mean, I’d have expected you to have a suite of rooms, and servants, and all that.”

“I do indeed, fair Prince. I am well served: most royally I’m treated by their majesties. The generosity of our late king, your father, cannot be matched, of course, but our fair queen and her new consort both have treated my dear Dad, my brother and myself as well as we could wish. Nay better still, my Lord. These vacant rooms down here I sometimes use on nights like this, finding it hard to sleep.”

“Not sleeping is rough,” I agreed. “As my astrophysics teacher is going to remind me after she sees the exam tomorrow.”

“Come sit.” She pointed again to a simple chair of rough-hewn oak set by the hearth. “Tell me of your school, if you have time. Or, if the Prince is tired, well, my bed awaits within. But if the Prince has work to do, or eager friends await, please do not mind me.”

What was she for? I’d thought maybe this room would be optional instructions, or possibly some sort of side quest, but I didn’t see what I was expected to do to trigger the quest or to get the documentation. I looked in vain for a bookcase or a screen. Noting my hesitation, or perhaps some straw still clinging to my antique suit, Ophelia looked me up and down very deliberately, with a smile that suggested a knack for seeing through clothing. Of course, the deck ’suit knew everything there was to know about that was underneath my simulated garments, and presumably the Ophelia routines had access to all that.

Then, she looked me in the eyes. “Aren’t you a little—small to be Prince Hamlet?”

She got up and pulled the bedroom door shut. “I gather we won’t need the bed right now. That’s fine. Of course you never know how things might fall. But that’s all right with me, my Prince.”

I started to speak— something was called for, surely — but seeing my hesitation she continued. “And, Prince, before you ask — if I may be so bold — let me just say I don’t need to be rescued. If that’s your game, your princess in some other castle waits.”

“I see,” I said, bowing as the light went dim and the room faded from sight.