by Casey J


Do you remember the Spring of 1701? No, of course, you wouldn’t. It was such a long time ago, centuries before your time, but my memory of it is still clear. Who would have guessed what would happen when the TARDIS fetched up at that particular point in time and space? Did you ever you hear about that time, the Golden Age of Piracy?

Most people would say that Blackbeard was the most reviled and bloodthirsty pirate of all time. But he wasn’t. At least, not in 1701. Back then the title belonged to a man by the name of Captain William Kidd...

No doubt most of your exposure to the concept has been in the pages of books or programs on television. You think of them either as childish, exciting adventurers or terrifying, murderous scavengers. But if you met them face to face, you might revise your preconceptions...

You don’t believe me?

Well, then, let me tell you a story...

***

William Kidd had never been to England before. He had been born in Scotland, but forced to move to the colonies at the age of five when his father perished. Since then, he’d spent most of his time on land in New York, where the air was clearer and warmer than England and the natives much friendlier.

Here the streets stank, everyone looked sinister and malnourished and their ridiculous accents made it hard to understand them. In the normal course of events, Kidd would have limited his visit to the pub down by the docks as he waited for his ship – the Antigua – to be unloaded before setting sail for home and Sarah, his beloved wife of four years.

However, this was not the normal course of events.

Kidd had been summoned to an audience by the most powerful men in England, but was not entirely sure why they wanted to speak to him. Perhaps they had heard of the high esteem Kidd was held in back home? Not everyone was honored by the New York Assembly for being a distinguished naval captain, let alone be awarded one hundred and fifty pounds in a citation for being “a gentlemanly and clever man”. At home, Kidd was lauded and hailed by passers by, he was the confidante of the governor and he held a pew at the Trinity Church which he, himself, had helped build!

Yet even Kidd found it a bit hard to believe that a bunch of noble lords on the other side of the globe wanted to chat about his good deeds over a pot of tea and plate of buttered scones. Still, the Captain brooded to himself, there was only one way to find out what they did want...

Kidd was broken out of his thoughts as he turned a corner and crashed into someone hurrying the other way.

The other man was tall, lanky with wild, long hair. Kidd couldn’t help but noticing the fine quality of the man’s clothing – beneath the long green woolen coat neither the white silk shirt nor bright red bowtie were in the slightest bit threadbare. Unlike almost everyone else Kidd had seen in England, this man had no headwear.

‘Ooh, sorry about that,’ the man apologized in an educated tone, and the accent was hard to place. From his confidence, finery and appearance, Kidd quickly deduced the man was a merchant of some kind, and probably quite rich.

Not wanting to argue with someone who could be a potential client in future (and mindful for his appointment), the Captain smiled politely. ‘My mistake, sir. Excuse me,’ he said, and tried to navigate around the merchant and resume his journey down the street once more.

‘You wouldn’t happen to be Captain Kidd, would you?’ the merchant asked, frowning slightly in concentration. ‘Captain Billy Kidd! Well, this is brilliant! I haven’t met many pirates in real life, you know – well, as a matter of fact, I was only chatting to Avery the other day and...’

‘Pirate?’ Kidd exclaimed. ‘You are mistaken, sir. I am no pirate!’

‘You aren’t?’ the merchant asked, shocked. ‘You sure? I mean, it wasn’t you that was apprentice on a pirate ship in the Caribbean? That’s not how you became captain, is it? You and the other mutinied on the Blessed Billy...

‘You mean the Blessed William,’ the Captain corrected automatically. ‘And it wasn’t a pirate ship, at least not when I was aboard. I am afraid that you must be confusing me with someone else...’

‘Billy the Kid?’

‘Possibly,’ Kidd shrugged. ‘Look, I must be on my way.’

The Captain hurried across the cobbles, but the merchant seemed determined to follow him. ‘Just to be absolutely sure – you’re not the Captain Kidd who looted Mariegalante for everything not nailed down?’

‘That is a gross distortion of what actually happened,’ Kidd snapped over his shoulder. ‘We were at war with France and the governor of Nevis gave us authority to take goods to the value of our pay from the enemy, since he could not afford to pay us for our services – which were defending the innocent!’

‘So… you’re not a pirate?’

‘No, I’m not a pirate!’ Kidd fumed, aware passers-by were starting to look at them oddly. ‘I am a respected naval officer. A privateer at most...’

‘A privateer?’ the merchant echoed. ‘That’s different from a pirate, then?’

‘Of course,’ Kidd retorted. ‘A privateer is authorized to attack foreign ships during wartime, we help defend those unable to protect themselves and spare the official naval their resources and officers. We do not plunder ships for treasure, we receive prize money from capturing enemy cargo – and since we capture rather than sink ships, there is no destruction or waste.’

‘Ah, so a pirate is a privateer, only unauthorized during peace time with a greater tendency to sink ships?’ the merchant surmised. ‘You know, that’s a very fine line when you think about it. A lot of people might not even be aware there is a difference, let alone what that difference is...’

Kidd increased his pace. The merchant did likewise.

‘I am very busy, sir, I must bid you farewell,’ the sailor grunted.

‘The Earl of Orford, for example,’ the mad merchant continued, as if he hadn’t been interrupted. ‘Do you think he really appreciates that? Or the Baron of Romney? The Duke of Shewsbury? Has Sir John Somers ever given the matter much thought?’

Kidd froze in mid-step, and the merchant stopped as well. He was certain those names were the noble lords who had summoned him here today. How did this madman know about them? Was he part of the appointment?

‘Piracy or privateering, privateer or pirate,’ the merchant mused sadly. ‘Not everyone sees a difference, and that can be very dangerous. Innocent people can get hurt. You should bear that in mind, Billy.’

‘Should I?’ asked the sailor suspiciously.

‘Bear it in mind all the time, Billy,’ the merchant ordered him firmly. ‘It could save your life, you know. Just because you can tell the difference doesn’t mean others do, and might be asking you to do one in the name of the other. Anyway,’ he continued in a brighter, happier voice, ‘you’re busy, I must be off...’

The merchant turned to leave, but Kidd caught his arm.

‘Hang on a moment, what are you talking about?’ Kidd demanded.

‘You’re a clever chap Billy,’ the merchant grinned. ‘You’ll find out soon.’

The man in the bowtie strode off down the street, leaving Captain Kidd shaken, disconcerted, and directly outside the tea house where he had been requested to meet the nobles for this mysterious appointment...

***

In the months that followed, Captain Kidd often thought about that strange merchant and his uncanny insight. Not only had the passer-by somehow known about his meeting with the noble lords, but somehow had predicted exactly what would come up in casual conversation.

Piracy or privateering?

Kidd had been puzzled at how his straightforward life was seen by these wigged fops – they too believed he had lead the mutiny (he was duly elected as acting captain by the rest of the men due to his nautical skills!) on a pirate ship (balderdash!) and his subsequent appointment by Governor Chris Codrington was merely to get the Blessed William to join the war effort against France (give us strength!). The Whigs seemed obsessed about Kidd and his men taking their pay from the French (only goods to the value, and Kidd’s share was used to help build a church!) and accused him of marrying Sarah only because she was a wealthy widow (he truly loved her – and given she’d been widowed twice before she was 20 years of age, if anyone should have been under suspicion it was her...)

It was the High Chancellor of England, Sir John Somers’ cruel, leering face that hung in Kidd’s memory as they finally got down to business. ‘Captain, you can see – as we do – that there is a distinction between piracy and privateering. Even though some may see it as the same.’

You should bear that in mind...

‘We should like you to commission you as a privateer,’ Somers continued, ‘to plunder the trading vessels of France – and, of course, any pirates that you should come across. You have considerable experience doing both, do you not?’

Kidd had nodded and from then on everything had slowly begun to spiral out of his control. The nobles were willing to pay for 4/5ths of the venture, and heavily hinted their funds were being fronted by none other than King William himself. The remaining fifth, however, was down to Kidd to provide. At some point he must have agreed to the deal, despite its disadvantages, and within a week had found himself selling the Antigua to get the cash.

However, Kidd was not without a ship for long – in a few months the Adventure Gallery/ been built, a formidable 237-ton galleon with 34 cannons and plenty of sails. Kidd had oars installed, a key advantage when the winds calmed. While other boats would be left dead in the water, the Adventure Galley would be able to maneuver in battle.

The old Antigua crew, however, were not keen to join up. Many believed that the Adventure Gallery’s mission was illegal and immoral, and as the merchant predicted, could not see any difference between piracy and privateering. He needed one hundred and fifty men to crew the ship, and finding those without such scruples meant a crew of much rougher and aggressive sailors than Kidd would have preferred to choose.

Their mission was straightforward – to attack every pirate and French ship they came across. While Kidd was initially determined to focus on the former, in particular famous pirates like Trew, Wake or Maze, the difficulties of finding them soon became insurmountable. The letter of marque Kidd was given meant that the Crown received 10% of all loot, the rest to be split amongst Kidd and his crew.

***

It took a year before the Adventure Galley set sail.

It was only fifteen minutes into its voyage before disaster struck.

The Adventure Galley wasn’t even out of the Thames as it passed a Navy yacht at Greenwich. Custom dictated that the crew should salute a vessel of His Majesty, but Kidd had been lost in thought and did not do so. The Navy yacht took offense and fired a warning shot, determined to get the Captain to show respect.

Kidd’s crew had their own response to this challenge – dropping their britches and baring their backsides to the other vessel. Those not bent over in laughter chanted ‘This is for Your Majesty!’ at the top of their voices.

Mortified with embarrassment, Kidd held his head in his hands in shame and kept it there as the yacht boarded the Adventure Galley and all the offending crewmembers were suddenly and rapidly pressed into naval service at gunpoint. Despite rampant protests, Kidd had lost more than half his crew to his own side before he’d even left England.

Depressed and humiliated, Kidd decided to head straight back to New York City and get a replacement crew. For all their faults, his lost crewmen had been loyal and moral, many family men from New England. The chances of finding another hundred such men at short notice would be nigh impossible, especially if Kidd wanted to be back on the high seas before news of this embarrassment reached America...

There was no choice – to get experienced sailors with loose morals, Kidd had to lower his high standards. Many of the new crew were well-known as hardened criminals, and some of them were undoubtedly pirates. The rest could generously be described as “cutthroats” or “misfits”. This compromise left Kidd more troubled than before over the morals of the Adventure Galley’s mission.

The catastrophes that followed soon put morality out of his thoughts...

***

The Adventure Galley had left New York for the Cape of Good Hope – which proved to be a Cape of anything but good hope. An outbreak of cholera slaughtered the remaining third of Kidd’s original crew, and the Adventure herself soon developed a multitude of leaks.

Worse, every pirate seemed to have vanished from the oceans.

Kidd and his surviving crew went from Madagascar to the Red Sea to East India and failed to come across a single pirate, let alone a French frigate. The days turned to weeks and the weeks turned to months. Soon, a year had elapsed and Kidd rapidly began to grow worried.

A massive amount of money had been poured into this operation and there had been no return of any kind. Paying off the backers and the crew hadn’t been a problem on paper, when they had been attacking and plundering every ship they had come across – but in the real world time and the cash was running out. The only course of action was for Kidd to pay the expenses out of his own pocket, and even with his wife’s wealth, the costs of this enterprise would ruin him...

And then things got worse.

Aware of his problem, the crew came up with another course of action. Instead of limiting their privateering to impossible-to-find pirates and French cargo vessels, they should simply plunger any ship they came across. ‘To hell with the mandate!’ they cried. Kidd was horrified, and forbade the crew from attacking the next few boats that passed, from Dutchmen to New York privateers.

Kidd’s refusal cost him many of his crew, who deserted the Adventure Galley the moment it was next anchored off-shore. Even those who remained aboard the ship openly threatened to mutiny against him if they did not get their pay.

As 1698 dawned, there was only one course of action now.

***

Kidd’s first foray into what everyone would describe as piracy was attacking a Mughal convoy from the East India Company. Then, the trading ship Mary fell to the Adventure Galley but ultimate nothing was taken. While Kidd had been talking to the Mary’s captain, Thomas Parker, several of the Adventure crew tortured their new prisoners, drubbing them with cutlasses. Outraged, Kidd had returned all the stolen property he could. Not all of it, though, since some of the men had already hidden their shares of the booty and refused to speak.

And then they spotted the Quedah Merchant.

A 400-ton Armenian vessel, twenty-five leagues off Coirgi, no doubt stocked to the gills with satins, muslins, silks, gold and silver. The Adventure Galley raised French colours as a disguise to get close enough to the Quedah Merchant and after four hours had caught up with it. As soon as they were side-by-side, Kidd hoisted the English flag and the battle began.

The Quedah Merchant surrendered immediately. While his crew inventoried the loot they now possessed, Kidd was shocked to discover that the Quedah Merchant was actually captained by an Englishman named Wright. Looting this ship would definitely raise concerns back home, for this was not merely piracy but piracy against England itself.

The crew, however, were unimpressed. The ship was Indian-owned, Indian-crewed, flying Armenian colours, and the passes it possessed promised safe passage by the French Crown. In short, it counted as French and it was perfectly legal for them to take hold of the ship.

Kidd was terrified that once news of this reached England it would have them all dubbed notorious pirates. Although he had no doubt the noble backers could explain everything, Kidd knew that his reputation might never recover. He probably would have to pay some sort of fine and lose his share of the profits...

***

‘Hands off, buster!’ screamed a voice Kidd hadn’t heard before.

As he returned to the Galley, the Captain was stunned to see his gunner, William Moore, grabbing a young girl with long red hair wearing strange, rumpled clothing. She was too healthy and clean to be a stowaway, but where else could she have come from?

It was then Kidd saw the strange upright blue box on the deck, with its translucent windows and a lantern on its roof. Three people were standing outside it, their hands raised as old James Gilliam covered them with a blunderbuss. One was a scrawny-looking young man, an older blond woman and...

...the merchant in the bowtie. Looking no older though three years had passed.

Kidd decided that he had to be mistaken, especially as the merchant showed no sign of recognizing Kidd, and he had spotted him through the fog of a London backstreet. It must be someone else.

‘Heard a noise,’ Gilliam grunted. ‘Thought it was a dying whale or something, but when we got up here, this shack had appeared and these four were wondering around like they owned the place.’

‘Look, this really isn’t necessary,’ the merchant-lookalike was saying.

‘Hey, let go of her!’ barked the merchant’s friend, clearly concerned about the redhaired girl Moore was molesting on the poop deck. ‘That’s my wife!’

‘Good enough for me,’ Moore said, a lustful look in his eyes.

‘Gunner,’ Kidd barked. ‘Let her go! That’s an order!’

‘An order?’ Moore scoffed. ‘Maybe I’ll listen to you when I start getting paid. Two years I’ve been on this crate and seen nothing for my troubles, well – if you’re going to take your pay out of ships, I can take my pay out of her...’

The redhaired girl fell silent, but it was hard to tell if she was horrified by Moore’s intent or the sharpened chisel he was aiming at her neck. Delighted at the hush, Moore grinned a smile that showed how few teeth he’d kept over the years.

‘Now, poppet,’ he whispered huskily. ‘Got a kiss for a lonely sailor?’

‘Stay away from her!’ roared the husband.

‘Touch her and you will wish I killed you,’ vowed the woman. She meant it.

The merchant said nothing. Somehow that seemed far more threatening, as though whatever retribution he would take was too terrible for words. Kidd had no doubt though that, whatever the madman in the bowtie did, Moore would regret it for the rest of his life... if he had one.

‘You want to be next?’ snarled Moore at the woman.

‘I’m married,’ the girl said, her voice calm. ‘And, seriously, you’re punching above your weight...’

‘Oooh,’ Moore said, impressed. ‘Am I?’

His chisel slashed her cheek, drawing dark red. The girl hissed in pain and fear that was almost lost in the anger and rage from the husband and the woman, who was clearly a relative.

‘Let her go!’ Kidd roared at the top of his voice, drowning out all other noise. ‘Moore, you will release that girl this instant, you lousy dog!’

Moore giggled. He was insane. The redhead was white as a clean sheet.

‘If I am a lousy dog, Captain Kidd,’ the gunner said in a singsong voice, ‘then you are the one to have made me so – you have brought me to ruin and many more besides!’ he screamed in sudden fury, sweeping out the arm with the chisel.

Had Kidd been a step closer, his guts would have been sliced open.

In the distraction, the redhead tried to break free. Moore kicked out and the girl was thrown to the deck, fresh blood spilling from her cheek. Licking his lips hungrily, the gunner lifted the chisel, clearly intending to plunge it into the girl’s spine.

‘Amy!’ the merchant shouted in anguish.

Kidd had spotted the iron-bound bucket nearby and instantly snatched it up, bringing it down over the back of his deranged gunner’s head. There was a horrible scrunching noise and Moore toppled to the ground.

Gilliam was suddenly checking over his fallen shipmate as Amy scrambled over to her family by the blue box. She was hugging her husband while the woman crossed over to Kidd and Gilliam as they concluded that Moore was dead.

‘Fractured skull,’ the woman announced, not showing any real fear or disgust at what happened. ‘It couldn’t be anything else at that angle. Thank you,’ she said to Kidd, holding out her hand. ‘I’m in your debt, and I rarely let anyone get one over me outside the bedroom.’

‘Oi!’ yelled the merchant. ‘Spoilers!’

Kidd tried to ignore the blood on the deck. ‘I require no debt, Miss...’

‘River Song.’

‘Miss Song. Striking a superior officer carries the death sentence anyway,’ he explained. ‘I would, however, appreciate an explanation for what you are doing on my ship and who you are...’

***

Over the course of his life, William Kidd would have much more to regret but at the time he wished his mouth had been sewn up at birth. The explanation for who these people were came from four different, contradictory sources, even when all insisted they were telling the truth. It left him with a blinding headache and he retired early trying to make sense of it.

After half an hour of trying to wonder why they all insisted on calling him “Billy the Kidd” and how that could be so funny, Kidd gave up and reviewed what he had actually understood about the group.

It seemed the merchant was a surgeon, since he liked to be called Doctor, and his family were not blood related. Amy was married to the young man Rory, while River Song seemed to be living in sin with the Doctor himself, who explained the blue box was a kind of life raft that had somehow docked with the Adventure Galley by chance, and the explanations beyond that point left Kidd completely bewildered.

Either way, they had nothing to do with the Quedah Merchant and that was enough strife without adding to it. The Doctor and his friends were guests while the captured Merchant was renamed the
Adventure Prize, to go with the November (formally the Rouparelle).

To be on the safe side, Kidd kept the French passes as proof justifying his capture of the vessel. Confident that the British admiralty and vice-admiralty would be satisfied and allow him to keep the ship, Kidd had a light heart as his newly-expanded fleet set sail once more.

***

A few days later, the Adventure Galley reached Madagascar and all hell broke loose as Captain Kidd found his first pirate: Robert Culliford of the Mocha Frigate. This was not the first time Kidd and Culliford had crossed swords – they were two of the only six British crew aboard the French privateer Sainte Rose, and been part of the mutiny against the French when the War of Grand Alliance broke out.

At the time, they had been brothers-in-arms, but the moment Kidd had left the renamed Blessed William, Culliford stole the ship in a second mutiny and head off, leaving Kidd behind in Antigua.

Kidd was not one to forgive or forget. Indeed, he had named his next ship the Antigua to remind him of how he’d been fooled and how he could never let others take advantage of his trusting nature ever again...

...well, until he’d had to sell the Antigua to help fund the current mess his trusting nature had got him into, anyway.

This time, however, Kidd had a cunning plan.

***

‘This man is, in every respect, our brother!’ Kidd was shouting to the crews of the Adventure Galley and the Mocha Frigate. ‘Let’s drink to the Captain’s health!’

There were much cheers as tankards of rum were handed out amidst the shipmates. To one side, five time travelers watched on with interest as some sweating sailors brought across the presents Kidd was giving to his former betrayer – two canons and a spare anchor, all of which were gratefully received.

‘Looks all very civilized,’ Amy observed suspiciously.

‘Why not?’ River asked with a shrug. ‘It makes a very tedious sort of sense not to pick a fight until the reinforcements arrive. The November and the Prize are due soon...’

‘How many men does Culliford actually have?’ asked Rory

‘About twenty,’ the Doctor replied, peering through a telescope. ‘Why?’

‘I wonder if Billy the Kidd knows that,’ Rory mused. ‘He might not be so friendly with them otherwise...’

‘Well, we’re not going to tell him,’ the Doctor announced to his companions. ‘Anything that delays a bloodbath has to be a good thing.’

It was then the Adventure Prize appeared on the horizon

‘Looks like the delay’s over,’ Rory observed grimly.

***

Kidd’s cunning plan should have worked.

But it didn’t.

He undoubtedly had the advantage in terms of numbers, strengths and arms, and had even managed to lull Culliford into a sense of false security. With two ships on his side, Kidd should have been able to take complete control of the Mocha Frigate in minutes.

Unfortunately, he had overestimated his own men’s eagerness to seize any available prize. They had passed that point, and now considered it a better option all round to stop any pretence and finally become fully-fledged pirates, under the command of someone who might be able to pay them for their services instead of keeping them hanging on for two years. Once again, Culliford had sparked a mutiny against Kidd – and, worse, hadn’t even planned it this time!

Not one of Kidd’s men obeyed the order to attack the Mocha, and quite a few aimed their pistols right at Kidd himself. Had it not been for Amy’s quick thinking, he could have been shot down there and then. Instead, he and the TARDIS crew fled to the sanctuary of the Adventure Galley and barricaded themselves in the Captain’s quarters as Kidd’s crew plundered their own vessel.

The irony made River laugh for ages.

***

As the tense hours passed, the five fugitives remained in Kidd’s cabin. Amy, for her part, wondered again and again why they hadn’t simply hidden in the TARDIS.

Kidd listened curiously. ‘You really think no one could get into your box?’

‘Billy,’ the Doctor scolded, ‘that “box” is Class 1-A Modular Tri-Dimensional Prydonian-Grade Time Capsule! A thirteen-megaton nuclear blast couldn’t get through those doors, let alone a handful of cutthroats!’

‘Why didn’t you simply climb inside right away?’ Kidd asked, confused.

‘Hey, Billy,’ Amy reproached him, ‘we couldn’t leave you out there. You saved my life, the least we could do is repay the debt, right?’

Kidd smiled. ‘Thank you. I do appreciate it. Thank you all.’

‘Don’t say that,’ the Doctor growled from his corner.

‘Why not?’ asked the Captain, surprised.

The Time Lord shrugged. ‘I don’t know. Just don’t say it – not yet.’

***

The TARDIS crew remained with the Adventure Galley, adding to the handful of crew that had not abandoned him to join Culliford. Both the Galley and Prize were gutted by the pirates, having lost every weapon, sail, rig and anchor. The November had been sunk outright. At River’s suggestion, Kidd decided to abandon the leaking, worm-eaten ship and salvage every last scrap of metal and patch up the Adventure Prize, getting one of the stripped-down ships into working order at least. As Kidd’s few remaining loyal crewmembers stripped down the hulk, the time travelers decided it was best to leave.

As they gathered around the battered police box, Amy was taking a final lungful of briny air. ‘Not quite how I expected to meet a historical celebrity,’ she conceded, ‘but it’s nice to know he’ll have a happier ending than the other Billy the Kid.’

The Doctor was still looking out to sea. ‘What makes you think that?’

Frowning, Rory turned to his daughter. ‘Do you know what happened to him, River?’

River modestly patted the underside of her blond curls. ‘Captain William Kidd, 1645 to 1701. Scottish sailor tried and executed for piracy after returning from a voyage to the Indian Ocean. Although actual depredations were both less destructive and lucrative than other contemporary pirates, Kidd’s reputation for savagery was sensationalized following his trial in England,’ she recited.

Amy’s eyes narrowed. ‘So the English just executed him? Yeah, he’s a grade-A idiot... but he doesn’t deserve that to happen to him!’

‘Who said it has to happen?’ asked the Doctor, still gazing at the horizon.

‘What do you mean?’ asked Rory, confused.

The Doctor turned to face them with a dazzling grin that gave the unnerving impression he was about to go for their necks. ‘You know, they say that unless the universe gets a little nudge occasionally it can dawdle along without fulfilling its potential,’ he explained unhelpfully.

At that moment a familiar blond figure scuttled across the deck towards them. ‘Heads up,’ Amy muttered to the others and then turned to face the newcomer. ‘Billy the Kidd! We were just talking about you!’ she announced with false good humor.

‘Nothing bad I hope?’ the Captain replied cheerfully.

Rory tried to remain looking relaxed and cheerful. It was harder than it sounded. ‘We were just saying that, um, we hope the rest of your trip goes a lot easier,’ he lied.

The Captain shrugged. ‘The crew that remain are loyal enough, and once we get to the next port I can recruit some more – of much higher quality of men this time!’ he promised them with a chuckle.

‘You’re not worried?’ asked Amy.

‘Not at all. Thanks to all the advice from Miss Song,’ Kidd replied, nodding graciously across at the archaeologist-assassin, ‘I have no doubt that the Adventure Prize will get us all to the Caribbean safely.’

‘What about the whole “piracy” issue?’ Amy wondered.

‘That was crew,’ Kidd reminded them. ‘They mutinied. I did nothing illegal.’

‘That might not be how other people see it,’ warned Rory.

‘Nonsense. I had full right to attack the ship, and the incriminating passes to prove it. Once I get to New York to show them to Governor Bellomont, the whole business will be resolved.’ Kidd realized that none of the travelers seemed reassured. ‘Mark my words,’ he told them confidently, ‘I’ll be exonerated!’

‘Well,’ the Doctor said after a pause, ‘best be careful in the meantime. You’re still a wanted pirate now, at least until you get home. And remember: the Prize is a marked vessel for any men-at-war. It’ll be risky just traveling on it.’

Kidd’s expression fell. ‘Oh yes,’ he mumbled, ‘I hadn’t thought of that...’

‘Safe journey home,’ River said with a sly confidence, then strolled inside the time machine.

Rory and Amy waved farewell, not quite keeping their game faces intact, then followed their incredible daughter into the TARDIS without another word.

The Doctor shook Kidd’s hand. ‘See you earlier,’ he promised, and then followed his friends into the blue box, pushing the wooden door shut behind him.

A few seconds later, the light on top of the TARDIS flashed and the sound of grinding engines filled the air as the tall blue box faded to nothingness. The wheezing, groaning noise soon disappeared, leaving a heavy silence in its wake.

Kidd stared at the empty space the TARDIS had been for a long time, struggling to work out how to explain what he had seen... and gave up entirely after about thirty seconds. Right now, the Captain had enough to sort out without disappearing cupboards to explain as well...

***

‘I’m sorry, that’s it?’ Amy scoffed. ‘A polite and cryptic warning?’

The Doctor was recalibrating the triple-vector zigzag plotter, composing a precise string of spatiotemporal coordinates and laying them into the flight computer. ‘What’s wrong with a polite and cryptic warning? It was good advice,’ he muttered, studying the dials and monitors.

‘It’s hardly going to save his life,’ Amy agreed.

‘We have to start somewhere,’ the Doctor grunted, busy fixing their course.

‘I’m confused,’ Rory said, scratching his head. ‘If Billy’s fate is a recorded historical fact, then we can’t change it, can we?’

The Time Lord fiddled with a few controls. ‘In theory,’ he said vaguely. ‘River, explain!’

River Song sighed, rolled her eyes, then addressed her parents. ‘There are fixed points in the continuum which cannot be altered, but as far as history is concerned, Billy’s done everything the nexus of events requires. He doesn’t have much left to do on Earth apart from get caught and be executed. If he just sensibly disappeared, the overall effect will be the same. A few pages in a few books are different, not much else.’

Rory turned to Amy. ‘So it’s not a big change,’ he summarized.

‘No,’ she agreed with an owlish expression, ‘it’s a little change.’

‘Different to a big change,’ Rory nodded.

‘Yeah, and, raggedy man, one problem – I thought all changes were off the menu?’

‘That’s because you don’t know what I’m doing.’

‘The question is,’ Rory began.

‘Do you know what you’re doing?’ Amy concluded.

The Doctor looked up from the controls with a bad-tempered expression. ‘Do you mind?’ he demanded irritably. ‘This isn’t a simple hop-skip-and-jump, you know! I’m navigating on pure instinct through thirty-seven separate dimensions, and there aren’t any maps or charts for that! One wrong move and we’ll be light years, minutes or centuries off target...’

‘Sor-ree,’ Amy replied, hands raised in exaggerated surrender.

‘If it’s so difficult, I could always drive?’ offered River with her shark-like smile.

The Doctor glared and slammed down the materialization lever. The circular wall screen lit upto they were no longer at sea but in the middle of a foggy grey city of brick buildings.

‘So,’ said Amy, unimpressed. ‘Did we make it?

The Doctor was already stumbling towards the doors. ‘Only one way to find out,’ he muttered. ‘You lot stay here and mind the stall,’ he ordered and stepped out into the polluted city air of the deserted backstreet, and tried to get his bearings. Flying blindly towards a random temporal tipping-nexus was hard enough at the best of times...

‘Spot on,’ the Doctor mused as the pedestrian crashed into him. ‘Ooh, sorry about that,’ he exclaimed as he staggered backward.

The blond-haired man in the blue coat shook his head politely. ‘My mistake, sir,’ he said, trying to slip past the Time Lord. ‘Excuse me...’

The Doctor assumed a shocked expression. ‘You wouldn’t happen to be Captain Kidd, would you?’

***

River and her parents watched on the scanner as the Doctor chatted to the much younger William Kidd, and then finally returned to the time machine. He crossed the control deck to the console and set the TARDIS in motion once again, hurtling back towards the future.

‘You know, Rory?’ said Amy over the grumble of engines, ‘something tells me it’s not going to be that easy.’

‘I don’t understand,’ Rory agreed, joining the Doctor at the console. ‘You always say that we can’t rewrite our own pasts!’

The Time Lord seemed fascinated by the rising, dipping time rotor. ‘But it’s not our own, is it? History happens as we remember it. Billy still signs up as a privateer, loses his crew, turns to piracy, and then we meet him. But everything after we departed is now up for grabs.’

‘So what good did you do?’ asked River, bored with the explanation.

‘Well, now Billy knows he ignored a warning not to get into this mess,’ the Doctor explained. ‘He’ll be a lot more cynical and suspicious now, and I doubt he’ll be foolish enough to let himself get caught, especially when he knows English men of war are out searching for him. He’s probably already abandoned Adventure Prize and found some other way to get back home... probably hitched a ride on a sloop or some such...’

River wearily stretched out an arm to tug the overhanging bakelite display unit into view. With her other hand she tapped at an old-fashioned typewriter wired into the console and gazed, unimpressed at the data that scrolled across the monitor screen.

‘Captain William Kidd recorded as leaving the Adventure Prize in the Caribbean Sea on the grounds it was a marked vessel. He continued his journey to New York City aboard a sloop,’ she read.

‘Hah!’ the Doctor roared triumphantly.

‘Unsubstantiated reports suggest Captain Kidd stopped on Gardiners Island in eastern Suffolk county in June 1699 to bury treasure worth thirty thousand dollars in a secret location on the island,’ River continued to read out. ‘The proprietor Mrs. Gardiner was given a piece of gold cloth and a bag of sugar for her troubles. Ostensibly, Captain Kidd intended to use the knowledge of its whereabouts as a future bargaining tool.’

‘Finally, the guy takes out some insurance,’ Amy said, impressed.

‘Captain Kidd reportedly threatened to kill the Gardiner family if they tampered with the treasure before his return.’

‘That doesn’t sound like Billy,’ Rory frowned.

‘Of course it doesn’t,’ River agreed, scrolling through the data. ‘Allegations proved completely unfounded in 2055 during the excavation of the ravine between Bostwick’s Point and the proprietor’s manor house showed the area was not disturbed. This casts doubt on the authenticity of the gold dust, silver bars, rubies, diamonds and candlesticks collected as evidence against Kidd in his trial in Boston.’

‘Trial?’ Amy groaned. ‘He still gets caught?’

Rory took over reading off the screen. ‘Governor Bellomont, also known as Richard Coote, lured Captain Kidd to Boston with a promise of clemency for his actions and to be exonerated for the taking of the Quedah Merchant. The Captain was arrested on July 6 that year.’

‘The son of a...’ Amy fumed. ‘He must have been in on it!’

‘Which is why he turned on poor Billy,’ the Doctor sighed. ‘Presenting the infamous Captain Kidd in chains was the only way he could save his own neck. Ironic, since Billy was probably quite happy to return to England voluntarily, but instead he ends up in chains for the next year.’

‘Guess we’re going to have to be more pro-active,’ Amy said firmly.

‘It’s not that easy, Amy,’ the Doctor warned her. ‘Tampering with wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff is very difficult. The only way Billy can get out of this is by his own actions, not any of ours. Which makes things much more difficult...’

‘But not impossible,’ River reminded them all with a flirtatious wink.

***

Captain Kidd had no idea how long he’d been trapped in prisons. He’d lost count of the days and nights, and several times was moved from cell to cell. A few times, he had been lucky enough to find some other prisoner to talk to, but for weeks on end he would be entirely alone. Some guards said he was so weak and puny that imprisonment was driving Kidd insane. Other times the guards flew around the room on soap bubbles, speaking medieval Latin. Maybe he was being driven mad... after all, he hadn’t seen his wife in so long, and she had apparently been imprisoned as well. It was enough to make a man scream. Or weep...

One day, the monotony was shattered by familiar voices outside the cell. Kidd scrambled to his feet and peered through the barred window of the door. Two familiar figures were approaching, dressed in the respected finery of the time – but while their dress was different, Kidd instantly recognized the faces.

‘Doctor? Rory?!’ he gasped.

‘Yes, that’s right,’ said the Doctor loudly, for the guards’ benefit. ‘I’m Dr. Oldish, and this is my assistant Mr. Rory... Lemon.’

‘Why do I have to be Mr. Lemon?’ hissed Rory, irritably.

‘Look,’ the Time Lord hissed back, ‘when you’re the one trying to plot out unraveling an entire temporal nexus in five dimensions, you can call yourself whatever you like! In the meantime, Mr. Oldish and Dr. Lemon would just sound silly and also get us caught in the act, so shhh!’

Kidd watched them both wearily. ‘What are you doing here?’

The Doctor gave the prisoner a dazzling grin. ‘We’re your lawyers!’

Kidd’s expression fell.

‘Oh, don’t look like that, Billy,’ the Doctor scowled. ‘Do you have any idea how many times I’ve been locked up and put on trial for false charges? More times than you’ve had hot dinners!’

Or listened to sensible advice,’ Rory grumbled.

‘And how did you win your cases?’ asked Kidd, still wary.

The Doctor began to answer, stopped, scratched his neck, and was suddenly fascinated with the fingernails on his right hand. ‘Oh, you know... few surprise witnesses... a couple of obscure clauses... occasionally lead a people’s revolution and brought down the entire government...’

‘But you can’t bring down King William!’

‘I thought you were Scottish, Billy!’ Rory exclaimed. ‘Proper Scottish, like Amy!’

‘For once our Captain is actually talking sense,’ the Doctor sighed. ‘Probably best this time the corrupt regime stays in place. Just because we’re trying to revise your destiny doesn’t mean we go all Grand Theft Auto 5 on anyone else. Speaking of destiny, you know what’s happening, Billy?’

‘I doubt it,’ Rory muttered.

Kidd frowned. ‘English Parliament wants to question me,’ he replied.

‘Yeah, they want to know all about how your little privateer racket got started,’ explained Rory quickly. ‘And more importantly, who got you started. The Tories have just got into power and they’re looking to keep it that way by making the opposition look bad. Right now, they think it was the Whigs behind this whole thing, trying to turn a quick buck. If that gets proved then all those white-faced jerks who set you up will get what’s coming to them.’

Kidd frowned. ‘You want me to impugn my backers?’

The Doctor nodded. ‘Think of it as telling the truth.’

‘I am no traitor!’ the prisoner said firmly.

Rory couldn’t believe what he was hearing. ‘Those Whig-wearing clowns let you rot in this prison for over a year! Those geeks aren’t going to help you out this side of Judgment Day, whether you back them up or not!’ he fumed.

‘You cannot be certain of that!’ Kidd retorted. ‘It could be they simply have not had the opportunity to intercede on my behalf. And if I allow myself be used as a tool to discredit them, well, that is the one way to ensure they will turn on me!’

The Doctor grabbed the bars of the window, pressing his face right up against the gap and staring at the prisoner with wide blue eyes. ‘Billy, listen to me. Your backers are very, very nasty people. They are quite prepared to let an innocent man die for their own selfish reasons. Why else did they employ you to slaughter sailors and steal their cargos?’

‘And you didn’t do a bang-up job of that, anyway,’ Rory reminded him. ‘They think you’re a liability, Captain, and not worth rescuing. When you get dragged before the government, your only chance is to tell the Tories everything you know about this. Times, places, dates, names, everything. Get the picture?’

‘I am a man of my word,’ Kidd said at length. ‘I will tell them the truth, and the truth will set me free.’

‘Just remember,’ the Doctor warned him, ‘it’s the whole truth. Without fear or favor.’

The prisoner shook his head. ‘I’m not entirely naïve, you know!’

***

‘My lords, I have done nothing,’ Kidd announced to the assembled politicians in the great hall, ‘that I was not commissioned to do.’

There was an excited murmur amongst the Tories.

The Whigs looked up at him murderously.

Captain Kidd’s barely-adequate resolve cracked.

‘And that is all I have to say in the matter!’ he added quickly.

Kidd smiled hopefully down at the few Whig faces he recognized and waited for his salvation to get under way.

***

‘The Tories have decided, since you are completely useless politically-speaking, to send you to stand trial,’ the Doctor summarized glumly. He and Rory were standing outside the cell, speaking to Kidd through the barred window.

‘They could have got you out!’ Rory complained as he paced up and down. ‘If you had just named names you’d have been their biggest weapon against the Whigs! You’d never have seen this cell again!’

‘I am not a traitor,’ Kidd insisted unhappily. ‘I did not betray that confidence. I have saved my patrons and they will surely return the favor. It is only a matter of time before they intercede,’ he said confidently.

‘If they were going to help, they would have done so by now!’ the Doctor snapped. ‘You’re an  embarrassment to them, Billy, you’re a living testament to their own corruption and greed. The only way they can keep their reputations is if you’re a convicted pirate casting suspicion onto them!’

‘You’re paranoid, Doctor,’ said Kidd smugly.

‘Paranoid? Billy, I’m a time traveler! I don’t need to worry about the future, I’ve already been there and seen it,’ the Time Lord shouted. ‘Everything we’ve warned you about has come to pass, and unless you let us help you...’

The prisoner was serene. ‘I’m sure I don’t need your help.’

Rory stared at Kidd, wondering if the Captain truly had gone insane. ‘Billy, you’re stuck in Newgate Prison on trial for piracy on the high seas and you don’t think you need help?’

‘Well, not your help,’ Kidd replied. Seeing the look of annoyance and hurt on their faces, he held up a placating hand. ‘Please, don’t take offense. I mean to say, I’ve written several letters to King William the Third himself, explained the whole situation. I’m sure the whole trial business will be a formality...’

***

If the letters ever found their way to the monarch, they made no impression.

There was no delay in Kidd’s being brought before the High Court of Admiralty in London. The Doctor and Rory were waiting there for him, having explained that things were much more serious than Kidd had expected. A number of pirates, many of which the Captain had never clapped eyes on before, had bought themselves lighter sentences in return for testifying against Kidd. There were more than enough unscrupulous plea-bargainers for the prosecutions’ purposes, and no one bar the TARDIS crew willing to work for the defense.

‘It signifies nothing,’ Kidd said weakly as he heard the news.

‘It signifies this is a kangaroo court!’ the Doctor snapped. ‘Or whatever it was called before people knew about kangaroos at any rate... Half the evidence you could use in your defense has already been auctioned off as “pirate plunder”!’

‘Nonsense, Doctor,’ came the dazed reply, ‘I’ll be acquitted the moment the jury see those two sets of French passes I kept from the Merchant. I can’t be guilty if I had proof I’m not, now, can I?’ he noted triumphantly.

‘Yeah, about that,’ Rory sighed. ‘The jury won’t see the passes because they’ve both been conveniently misfiled with some other government papers that would have coincidentally brought your guilt into question. It will be over two hundred years before they find them.’

‘Oh,’ Kidd replied, disappointed. ‘Well, I suppose there are a lot of folders for them to look through,’ he continued philosophically. ‘But the Whigs are bound to come to my aid and will reward the loyalty that I’ve publicly demonstrated...’

Rory felt an overwhelming urge to bash his head against the wall.

***

It would be an understatement to say that the trial didn’t start well. The counsel for the prosecution opened the case by screaming the defendant an ‘arch-pirate and the common enemy of mankind’, while the Doctor and Rory found themselves given no voice.

Apparently, Kidd had chosen to defend himself and they could not speak on his behalf.

The increasingly disoriented and bedraggled Captain found all he could do was listen to invented testimony and occasionally be invited to cross-examine the witnesses. The trouble was, not having the faintest clue about the stories being told and no chance to spot any flaws, he couldn’t think of any questions.

The Doctor spent the trial doodling cruel caricatures of Kidd’s Whig backers.

Despite the privateer’s confidence in them, they had not done anything to help his case – if anything, they were doing their best to get a conviction. If it hadn’t been for some currency from the TARDIS and some well-chosen anachronistic research, Kidd would have had no money or information at all, let alone that which could have realistically defended him.

Returning to the TARDIS, the crew agreed that trying to win the case was a lost cause. Kidd was doomed to being found guilty, and they would have to concentrate all their efforts to ensuring that he survived.

***

The only person surprised by Kidd’s being sentenced to death was Kidd himself.

The ex-Captain was left stunned as he was found guilty all six charges – five counts of piracy and the murder of William Moore. Kidd was taken aback at the last one, as he had no idea he had even been accused of that particular crime.

His lawyers shook their heads in quiet despair as their client insisted on one final plea for clemency.

‘I am the innocent-est person of them all!’ Kidd protested loudly and stupidly. ‘I have been sworn against by perjured persons!’

Oddly enough, this did not have the desired effect.

The execution of Captain Kidd was scheduled at dawn the following day.

***

‘Your one chance!’ Amy was fuming as the court emptied. ‘No, your last chance and what did you do with it? Did you cough up the names? Spill the beans? No, just call everyone a liar and hope you were believed!’

‘They are liars!’ Kidd protested.

‘Yeah, and not one of them is going to be hanged in the morning!’ Amy fumed. ‘Damn it, Billy, half of those guys were actually pardoned! You know why, because they weren’t so stupid as to trust some politicians to get them out of this!’

Kidd scowled through his stubble. ‘If I am to die, I will die an honest man!’

‘If you were honest you would have told the truth!’ shouted Rory.

‘Look, we’re going to try and work out some way to get you out of this. In the meantime, you just try not to suffer any more suicidal insanity while we’re gone,’ Amy advised.

The couple stormed off, leaving the Doctor with Kidd. He pulled off his wig and scratched his hair beneath it. ‘We’re really trying to help you, you know,’ the Time Lord pointed out, stuffing his wig in his pocket.

Kidd nodded and sighed sadly. ‘You say you’re trying to change history,’ he began gently, ‘so what exactly will be changed if I survive this? How would I have been remembered by people?’

The Doctor shrugged. ‘I think Charles Laughton plays you in a couple of movies, the story of your life... and the story of Abbot and Costello when they meet you. Probably a bit apocryphal, that bit. Mind you, it’s all nearly 250 years from now. Apart from that, few songs, a couple of mentions in short stories, but most of your legacy is people trying to find your buried treasure.’

Kidd blinked. ‘But I didn’t bury any.’

‘Yeah, it is something of a slight flaw in the theory.’

‘So nothing good comes of my death?’

The Doctor scratched his chin thoughtfully. ‘No, no, I wouldn’t say that,’ he mused. ‘In New Jersey and Canada, you get holidays named after you. The Captain Kidd weekend, where all the children dig up treasure chests of candy buried on the beach. Oh, and I’m pretty certain that there’s a pub named after you in Wapping and Massachusetts...’

Kidd nodded. ‘A good enough legacy I suppose.’

‘You deserve a better one,’ the Doctor told him. ‘And you can have one if you actually let us help you...’

The guards were making impatient noises, eager to return Kidd to his cell and get to an early lunch. ‘Well, Doctor, if you could do just one thing for me, I’d be ever so grateful,’ the condemned man pleaded.

‘Oh? What’s that?’

***

Execution Dock was for the exclusive use of the Admiralty for dealing with seafaring criminals. This particular dock was just off the edge of the shores of the Thames (and thus inside Naval jurisdiction), where a scaffold was built. For nearly three centuries it had been used to hang smugglers, mutineers and pirates and allow their bodies to be submerged by the incoming tide.

There was quite a crowd at the dock on the morning of May 17, as they waited to see the death of the infamous Captain Kidd. As he was paraded across London Bridge and past the Tower of London, the TARDIS materialized in the shadows of a nearby building. The noise of the crowd masked its grinding engines.

Amy, Rory and River emerged. The plan was simple and foolproof – River would blast the scaffold with her hand-blaster, freeing Kidd before he could be killed. Rory was fairly confident that this meant an act of God had spared the criminal and they would be allowed to live.

‘Are you sure this is the right place?’ asked Amy with a frown.

‘Of course I am, mother,’ River replied with a smile. ‘Why wouldn’t it be?’

‘They’re all going on about Marshal dancing, not a hanging…’

‘Marshal’s dance is the nickname from the dying spasms of the victim,’ River explained casually. ‘The short rope means their necks don’t break and it’s slow suffocation.’

‘Like Spandau Ballet?’ Rory guessed grimly.

‘Except not quite as painful on the ears, yes…’

***

Not long after, the trio cheerfully returned to the TARDIS to join the Doctor.

‘OK,’ Amy laughed. ‘One miraculous escape as ordered, and Billy the Kidd didn’t have time to get a stiff neck! In your face, established continuity!’

Rory nodded happily. ‘River blasted the noose,’ he reported.

‘At worst he might have got a few bruises from the fall, but he’s alive,’ she agreed.

‘Let’s see!’ the Doctor cheered and switched on the scanner.

The group gathered before the screen to observe events unfold.

‘Well, none of the spectators look very pleased,’ the Doctor noted.

‘They won’t be getting their dancing today,’ Amy said confidently.

‘I suppose they want entertainment, a deathbed reprieve counts,’ Rory noted.

‘I can’t see Billy anywhere,’ River said with a frown.

‘Probably too busy releasing him,’ the Doctor assured her. ‘Look!’ he added, pointing. ‘You can see them helping him up, the chaplain and the executioner...’

‘They don’t seem to be untying him,’ River pointed out.

‘They’re taking the noose off, though,’ Amy replied. ‘See?’

‘Yes,’ Rory said grimly. ‘They’re putting a fresh one on. Can they do that?’

‘I thought you said they’d think it was an act of God,’ Amy protested.

‘I guess just they want to see God act again...’

‘He’s not even trying to fight them off!’ Amy wailed. ‘He’s letting them do it!’

‘He looks drunk,’ observed River.

‘Drunk?’ Rory exclaimed. ‘How could he be drunk? Who gave him the grog?’

The Doctor coughed very loudly and crossed back to the console. ‘Probably one of his backers, I expect,’ he lied. ‘Small gesture, I suppose, to help ease his final hours. Anyway, we probably best get moving while the going’s good. Nothing else we can do for him now...’

Dreadfully embarrassed, he set the controls to dematerialize...

***

Much to the relief of the executioner, and to the enjoyment of the impatient crowd, the second attempt at the hanging was an unqualified success. The spectators cheered and threw their headwear into the morning air, laughing and shouting long after the last trace of life left the body of William Kidd.

Admiralty Law of the seventeenth century could be quite brutal when it came to piracy. Just because Kidd was now dead didn’t mean his suffering or indignity was anywhere near at an end.

Rather than cutting his body down, it was left to hang there. For three days his corpse was either submerged in the cold waves or left at the mercy of hungry rats and gulls. At last, the now-rotting ex-Captain was collected and transferred to Tilbury Point at the mouth of the Thames. His body was to be gibbeted; turned into an exhibit, hanging from a gallows-like frame so as to deter any future waterborne criminals with a warning of what would happen if they were caught.

Kidd’s remains was jammed into a specially-constructed cage of metal bands and left on display. This was a fate for the most notorious of traitors, murderers, highwaymen, sheep-stealers and, above all, for pirates.

Or even rather unlucky privateers.
***[center]
Several years later, Kidd’s gibbeted corpse was now a roughly humanoid collection of bones and rags. It had gone from a gruesome warning to a blatant health hazard and now a mildly gruesome tourist attraction. As the sun was setting, four rather unusual tourists stood nearby, together with the police box they had used to travel there.

They regarded the dangling skeleton in silence for a few moments.

‘There’s just no telling some people,’ mused River Song.