Author: David Barber

Insect morals, insect politics, insect Hamlet. Some notions do not translate well.

Jomo had hired a theatre for the Jirt Princess. She, her human guide and her security swarm would be the only audience.

They had to walk a short distance as there was nowhere close for the bubble to land, but the Princess did not complain.

Ragged men on the corner shouted as they passed and Jomo waved back, offhand. Their faces clenched, but Jirt security darted overhead like jewelled dragonflies.

“What did they want?” the Princess asked.

“They are envious of me.”

Which one is Hamlet? she kept asking during the play. Jirt are face-blind and rely on other cues. The Princess assumed smaller humans were workers and the larger ones some other caste. She recognised Jomo because of his skin colour.

Of course Hamlet wanted to replace Claudius, such struggles being universal. But the ending, with bodies littering the stage, seemed to disconcert the Princess.

“What was her name, the Queen who finally seized power?”

“Fortinbras.” Jomo did not correct her. Science had removed the need for Jirt males.

“It was a tragedy,” he explained. “So they were all fated to die.”

He had arranged for these once famous actors to answer questions afterwards. Now they waited in front of the curtain, staring blindly into the lights, but the Princess hurried from the building, claws clacking on the marble floor of the foyer.

“Fortinbras was gifted with good fortune,” she said dismissively, as Jomo hurried to keep up. “And Hamlet was overly obsessed with revenge. To seize power she needed a plan to defeat them all.”

Nearing the bubble, Jomo was puzzled by trails of smoke suddenly arcing from windows of the surrounding tenements. He was still staring when they detonated and blew him off his feet.

Deafened and stunned, he remembered thinking how undignified the Jirt Princess looked on her back, legs waving. Some of those legs were missing, yellow fluid leaking from the stumps.

Then row after row of tenements boiled into white dust as Jirt security opened fire.

Do not move, ordered a glittering dragonfly buzzing in Jomo’s face.

Later, as a trembling medic sutured his scalp, Jomo asked about the Princess, but the man avoided his gaze.

No talking, ordered unseen Jirt.

Hypothesis one. You belong to a disaffected human group that attempted to assassinate the Princess…

“She’s alive then?”

In which case you will tell us everything before we make an example of you.

Hypothesis Two. You were acting for an individual Jirt, or Jirt faction at Court. In which case you will tell us everything before we make an example of you.

Jomo protested. He knew nothing of factions or rebels. There had been men who shouted abuse. Perhaps they had a weapons cache and improvised the attack…

He faltered. It made no difference.

They brain-probed him, but it revealed nothing. Still, a nearby city was reduced to dust as a warning.

The Princess was soon clattering about on prosthetic limbs, having gained enormous prestige at Court. If there had been a plot against her, it backfired. The Queen made her a Favourite, to discourage assassination as a policy perhaps. Or as she remarked privately, at least not to botch it.

“Hamlet should have tricked the Court into thinking she was the victim, not the plotter,” the Princess confided. “Thereby gaining favour while discrediting rivals.”

Jomo stared dully, his mouth hanging open. Her secret was safe with him. Brain probes had side-effects.

The Princess drummed her prosthetics on the floor. “Of course, such a plan does involve some risk.”