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art by Jonathan Westbrook

The Death and Rebirth of Anne Bonny

The Numbers Quartet is a collaboration between Aliette de Bodard, Nancy Fulda, Stephen Gaskell, & Benjamin Rosenbaum

Aliette de Bodard lives and works in Paris, where she has a day job as a Computer Engineer. In her spare time, she writes speculative fiction--she is the author of the Obsidian and Blood trilogy of Aztec noir fantasies, and her writing has been nominated for a Hugo Award, a Nebula Award and the Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Visit aliettedebodard.com for more information.

Nancy Fulda is a Phobos Award winner, a Vera Hinckley Mayhew Award recipient, and a two-time Writers of the Future finalist. Her near-future space exploration story, "That Undiscovered Country," was jointly honored by Baen Books and the National Space Society. Nancy's writing has appeared in Asimov's, Apex Digest, Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, and many others. Her web site is nancyfulda.com.

Stephen Gaskell has published fiction in Interzone, Nature, and Clarkesworld, amongst other places. His SF novella, "Strata", a high-tech thriller set in the sun's chromosphere, co-written with Bradley P. Beaulieu, author of The Winds of Khalakovo, has just been released through Amazon and B & N. He is currently working on his first novel, a near-future SF tale set in Lagos, Nigeria. More of his work and thoughts can be found at stephengaskell.com.

Benjamin Rosenbaum lives near Basel, Switzerland with his wife Esther and his children, Aviva and Noah, who demand logic puzzles, classic rock, and childrens' suffrage . He's recently become Swiss, which means of course that he is on the board of a club (in his case, a little synagogue). The Swiss have a deep reverence for clubs; they consider them the backbones of democracy, and the constitutional "right to assemble" actually translates to "the right to form clubs". No lie. His website is benjaminrosenbaum.com.

i: the imaginary quantity equal to the square root of minus one--symbol i, first quantified through the work of Rafael Bombelli in 1572 AD.

When I was twelve my father used to take me hunting for buried treasure. We'd rove the coast near his beach house looking for devil-fingered trees and rocks shaped like dragons' heads.
I felt close to him, out there between the sun and the sea, dreaming of studded chests and golden doubloons that pressed with the weight of history against your fingers. Waving goodbye and climbing in the taxi to head home; to Mom and winter life and the city... it always felt like yanking out a piece of my heart.
Maybe that's why I started taking Aye with me.
Aye was a Macaw with bright eyes and scruffy feathers, and he didn't really exist. Dad and I made him up one afternoon out on the pier, when I was pretending to be Anne Bonny and needed help escaping the law. Aye burst out of the palms and tugged Dad's hat over his eyes while Anne Bonny, the bravest and noblest of all female pirates, jumped from the pier and fled into the underbrush.
The parrot showed up again the next day, and I named him Aye, as in Aye, Matey. Because he was a pirate's bird.
I don't think Dad could really see Aye, although he pretended pretty well.
Mom had no tolerance for imaginary pets. I still recall the morning she lectured me on the importance of mature conduct while Aye hung upside-down from the chandelier, nibbling the iron links that supported the crystals and sending down occasional teardrops of sculpted glass.
When Mom found the broken pieces on the floor later that day, she fired the cleaning lady.
Aye spent the winters clawing my bedposts and nibbling at the corners of my books. He roved the beaches with Dad and me in the summers, searching for scratches in the rocks where dying pirates had marked the way to secret treasure. We never found anything, but I believed--really, truly, in the way only children can--that eventually we'd unearth a rich pile of doubloons.
And then one day I barged uninvited into Dad's private den.
It was late. I'd been reading a biography of Anne Bonny; a scholarly work that didn't shy from dirty details. Turned out she was just a plain old thief, not the selfless defender of justice I'd always believed in. I threw the door open without knocking and slammed the book on Dad's desk. "Why'd you tell me all that stuff about Anne?" I demanded. "None of it's true."
My Dad pulled off his spectacles, startled. If he'd had a chance to speak, maybe he would have found the words to soothe my anger. But just then my gaze dropped to the half-drawn treasure map spread in front of him.
Aye squawked and flew from my shoulder to pace along the inked lines. He raised his head to look at me in that funny, sideways way parrots have.
I don't know why it took me so long to realize that Dad's weather-beaten treasure maps were fabrications. But that night, watching Aye's tail sweep across the parchment, it was obvious. Dad had drawn the coastlines himself. The blood spatters were ink from an old fountain pen. The corners had been burned off in the flame from his desk candle.
"It's all a lie, isn't it?" I asked. "It was all always a lie!"
"Stop shouting," Dad said. "You'll frighten Aye."
"Aye doesn't exist!" I yelled. I felt bad afterwards, because Aye cocked his head and looked at me with the strangest, saddest expression in his bright eyes. But I was fuming, and I told myself I didn't care.
My summers with Dad had always been the most important part of my life. I'd treasured every hike across jagged rocks, every secret lagoon. And none of it had been real.
I stalked out the door. Five minutes later I was halfway down the cliff road leading to the bus depot. I was so angry, I didn't hear the rumble of the semi-truck thundering around the bend. The driver saw me too late. He tried to swerve, but it would have been better for both of us if he hadn't, because the truck rolled and one of the extra gas tanks caught flame.
The paramedics told me later I was very brave while they cut me out of the burning wreckage, but I don't remember any of it. All I can remember is Dad's face in the firelight, and the sound of Aye screeching.
I woke up in the hospital with half of my body burned so badly none of it looked like skin anymore. My right arm was gone and so was my right foot. The doctor who treated me said I was lucky my Dad had been close enough to hear the accident and call the paramedics.
I didn't feel very lucky.
Dad visited me every day, sitting by my bed and reading to me from my favorite books.
"Where's Aye?" I asked one afternoon.
Back at the beach house Dad always had a funny answer for that question, because Aye was talented at causing mischief. But this time he just flipped the page and kept reading. A strange, haunting emptiness hung in his eyes.
"It's just as well," I said, turning toward the wall. "He wasn't real anyway."
For years, I wouldn't go anywhere near a beach. I said it was because it's hard to walk through sand with a prosthetic foot, but Dad and I both knew better. The magic was gone; gone like my missing arm, gone like Aye.
There had never been any treasure.
"You know," my Dad said one day from the door of my bedroom. "Things don't have to exist in order to be important."
He patted my shoulder and left, but not before he placed something in the palm of my missing hand.
I couldn't see anything, but I could feel it, as real and indisputable as the phantom pain that sometimes plagues amputee victims.
It was a Spanish doubloon.
My Dad was surprised when I knocked at the door of his beach house two weeks later, but not as surprised as I was when I saw Aye, battered and scruffy, hanging from an overhead perch.
He gave a happy squawk and wobbled toward me through the air. Some of his flight feathers were missing, and I had to lurch and catch him to keep him from falling.
"Aye!" I whispered, my face buried against his wings. I told myself I was too old to cry. "Ahoy there, Matey."
"He came and got me," my Dad said quietly, "the night you were hit by the truck. Half his feathers were singed off. I don't know how he made it so far."
"Why didn't you bring him to the hospital?"
"He wouldn't come. I think maybe he was waiting for you. Waiting until you were ready."
Aye squawked and rolled onto his back in my arms. His feathers tickled against my hands; both the one that existed and the one that didn't. I stroked his scarred feet and let him nibble at my hair.
And for the first time since the accident, I laughed.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Author Comments

I knew a boy once who'd lost an arm and a leg in a car accident. I don't know what happened to him, but I've wished for twenty years now that I'd known how to reach out and make it all better. This story is my fumbling attempt to do so, even if only for pretend.

- Nancy Fulda
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