Friday, October 12, 2007

The Friday Challenge

Arrr, Mateys! Hoist the portholes and batten the landlubbers, 'cause sure if we don't have a salty seagoing Friday Challenge for you this week! We're talking a rousing tale of thud and blunder, with gold doubloons, pieces of eight, the Spanish Main, and the Twin Terrors of the Caribbean, none other than Anne Bonny and Mary Read, the absolutely historically authentic Thelma and Louise of the 1700s!

This is a tale near and dear to my heart, because it starts in the pirate haven of New Providence, the stronghold of pirate captain Henry Jennings, who apparently was some sort of shirt-tail relative of mine. Or maybe we should start it a wee bit earlier, in County Cork, Ireland, where wealthy attorney William Cormac had an affair with the family maid and produced Anne, an intelligent and attractive spitfire of a girl. When the affair became public Cormac took off to South Carolina with his new wife and daughter, where he subsequently made another fortune and became a wealthy planter, while Anne in turn took off at age 16 with a small-potatoes pirate named Jack Bonny and ended up in New Providence. (Modern day Nassau, in the Bahamas.)

It was there in New Providence, a veritable hive of scum and villainy, that Anne traded up to the far more attractive pirate "Calico Jack" Rackham, and after some unpleasantness with Bonny the pair stole a ship and went to sea, yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me! As Captain and Mistress of the Revenge they cut quite a swath across the Caribbean, stealing, looting, burning, capturing prizes and blowing all their ill-gotten gains on drunken binges, and they say Anne was a devil with the cutlass, a dead-shot with the pistol, and twice as bloodthirsty in a fight as any man!

Meanwhile, back in London, a sea captain's widow gave birth to an illegitimate daughter, and in an effort to fool the paternal grandparents into keeping the child-support money coming dressed the girl in her older, deceased, and legitimate brother's clothing and for years passed her off as the boy. (Apparently dear old grandmother had poor eyesight.) When the money finally ran out in her teenage years, Mary Read, still cross-dressing, joined the army, and in a blatant violation of the "don't ask, don't tell" rule fell in love with her tent-mate, with whom she left the army and took up life as a married woman. Shortly thereafter he died of a fever, though, so she returned to cross-dressing and went to sea as a sailor, and had the peculiar luck to be on a ship that was attacked and taken by Calico Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny!

This is where the tale takes a strange turn. The line between common sailor and pirate was very thin in them thar days, and Read chose to turn pirate and join the crew of the Revenge. For her part Bonny found herself strangely fascinated by this new "Dutch boy" on the crew, quickly discovering that he was neither Dutch nor a boy, but Calico Jack was enraged by his new romantic rival and one day burst in on Anne and Mary with gun and sword in hand, intending to kill them both. Instead, only a quick topless duo scene saved them both.

Thereafter, the story comes to a conclusion in a suitably desultory way. Read came out as a woman, took a new lover from among the crew, and the three of them continued on the path of piracy, with some notable success. Calico Jack took to drinking even more heavily, though, and in October of 1720 the Revenge was captured by surprise while Jack and most of the crew were in a drunken stupor. They were all taken in chains back to Jamaica, where the men were hanged, but Bonny and Read "pled their bellies" and were given stays of execution, because under the English law of the time it was illegal to execute an unborn child.

The parentage of the children was never settled: Bonny's child was perhaps sired by Calico Jack, or perhaps by one Dr. Michael Radcliff, a prisoner they took in one of their raids and to whom Anne had taken a fancy. Read's child was also possibly sired by Calico Jack, or perhaps another member of the crew, or perhaps even one of her gaolers, as that apparently was a common way to cheat the hangman in those days. Read died in prison, either of disease or in childbirth, while Anne simply disappears from history, with no record of her either having died in prison, been executed, or been released. There is some suspicion that her wealthy and influential father bought her release and that she lived out her days under another name, or possibly was transported to Australia, but absent the discovery of some 300-year-old "smoking gun" letter...

Wow. Heck of a tale, innit? Now here's the challenge: Starting with this as an historical model, how do you rewrite this story for the science fiction or fantasy market?

As always, we're playing for either a signed copy of Rebel Moon or what's behind Door #2. Post your entries in the Comments, and if you don't have an entry yourself, feel free to vote for and comment on the other entries. The winner will be announced next Friday.

Now, ready? Set? Weigh anchor!