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Crying again wasn’t going to change anything. Anastasia pushed aside the emotions, doing her best not to think about how things might be for her sister, and instead focused on Lauren. Of course she was surprised to find Woody was gone. The last time she visited he was still pretending he was normal, still making it seem like he was the man he had always been, still doing his best not to push her into doing something it was obvious she didn’t want to do, even though that pretence had quickly faded once she was gone. After that his emotions had been all over the place. He didn’t believe that she didn’t want to join with them. Like so many things he’d been able to blame the World Government for her choice, wanting to believe she was trapped by them. Forcing her to stay would be nothing more than rescuing her.

“Okay.” Lauren raked a hand through her hair, looking between Anastasia and Fenwick. “I should have seen it. I should have realised there was something wrong.”

“When someone is trying as hard as Woody was to make it seem like there’s nothing wrong it’s so hard to see past the act. It wasn’t until he stopped trying around me I realised there was a problem.” Anastasia sighed. “To me he was just Woody. Had it not been for him I don’t think I would have survived the first few days of this, let alone be here now. He did so much for us. He did it for the wrong reasons, but that doesn’t matter too much when it helps you to survive the most difficult thing you have ever lived through.” She shook her head. “Then it does start to matter. Then you start wondering what he might actually be capable of. When he told Fenwick to leave I knew there were some real problems. We need someone else’s help. Without that we weren’t going to get through the winter.”

Lauren still didn’t look entirely convinced, but that didn’t surprise Anastasia. It had taken her a long time to accept that Woody’s paranoia was going to be a real problem for all of them. The day he’d sent Fenwick away was the day she came to believe he was more of a danger to them than anything else. Having to accept it wasn’t easy, but she’d done what she had to do for the people who relied on Woody. So far it seemed to have been the right choice. Fenwick wasn’t Woody. He was almost the total opposite if Woody, and that was what they needed, obviously. With anyone else she wouldn’t have been in time to talk to Lauren.

“You truly believe Fenwick is the better choice?”

“He didn’t kill you when you challenged him.” Anastasia shrugged. “Someone else would have done, but he tried to talk you down.”

Nodding, Lauren looked at Fenwick again. “You could have explained all of this.”

“For you to accuse me of lying.” Fenwick smiled. “Lauren, you had to hear the truth from someone you trusted. The only problem was I had no idea who to call upon. When I knew you were close I sent someone to find Ana, hoping she was closer than she was, because she was the only one I could think of. I knew how close she once was to Woody.”

There was a moment when it seemed like Lauren might argue, but then she smiled. “You’re right. I wouldn’t have believed you. I’m not sure I believe Ana, either, but Woody isn’t here.”

“Instead he’s out there waiting for you. Should you leave he’s going to take you to wherever it is he’s holed up now, to protect you from the World Government.” Anastasia stepped forward, and took both of Lauren’s hand in hers, their eyes meeting. “If you leave today I won’t see you again.”

“Being trapped here wasn’t what I wanted.”

“Unfortunately I don’t think you have much of a choice. I’m not going to stop you from doing what you believe is right for you, but you’re going to be just as trapped if you leave. Woody… you were the one person he couldn’t convince to stay. He believed the time would come when you’d see ‘sense’, as he put it, only I knew you were never going to change your mind. Now, finally, I think he’s come to the same conclusion, and that means he has no choice. In order to keep you safe from anyone who might hurt you he has to make you stay with him.”

Nodding, Fenwick moved to stand behind Anastasia. She felt him put a hand on her shoulder. “I’ll send someone to get your things if you’ll tell me where you were staying. If I had any idea of how many people Woody might have with him I’d let you go yourself, but I can’t put my people in that sort of danger right now. There’s too much that needs to be done before winter comes.”

Slowly, a mix of emotions in her eyes, Lauren looked between Anastasia and Fenwick. “You aren’t the only one who was preparing for winter. I have my own garden that I’m going to be leaving behind.” She shook her head. “That’s not what I want to be doing.”

“I can’t imagine it is.” Fenwick sounded thoughtful. “How far away is your place from here?”

“About an hour’s walk.”

“To make this work I’m willing to compromise, Lauren. It is just you, right? No one else.”

Lauren nodded. Anastasia couldn’t understand why anyone would want to be alone with the way the world was after the injection, but Lauren seemed to be one of those people who preferred to be alone. “I never wanted to work with anyone else. I still don’t.”

“Like Ana said there are times when circumstances that are out of our control force our hand.” Fenwick sighed. “I never wanted to force you to stay. Had Ana not told me how obsessed Woody was with you I would have let you leave the same way you have done before. Knowing Woody is out there waiting for you changes things.”

“Woody is obsessed with me?”

“Yes, Lauren, he was. You knew him before, didn’t you?”

“In passing. It wasn’t as though we were friends before everything happened. After that… well, it made sense to have an ally I could rely on, and I truly came to like him. Of course there were times back then he’d talk about the World Government in ways that made me wonder what exactly he thought they could do, but it was so easy to set that aside.”

“Only it’s not that easy now.” Anastasia sighed. “He used to switch between two positions. The first was that you were trapped by the World Government, and being used for some sort of breeding scheme he’s come to believe they’ve set up, so by making you stay he’d be rescuing you. Nothing anyone said would convince him the World Government probably suffered the same fate as the majority of people did at the time of the injection. If he wasn’t scheming ways of rescuing you he believed you needed to stay here to protect you when the World Government came for everyone, because he believed that was going to happen. He truly believes this was all their plan.”

“He could well be right.” Fenwick shrugged. “The problem is we don’t know who could have survived this. Maybe they are out there creating some sort of breeding centre for the survivors. Personally, I doubt it, and I think it’s far more important that we focus on keeping ourselves alive.”

Sighing, Lauren shook her head. “You truly believe he’s out there waiting for me?”

“I know he is. You are so important to him.”

“Then I don’t have a choice, do I?” Lauren looked at Fenwick. “You mentioned a compromise.”

“Asking you to leave something you’ve worked so hard on isn’t something I wanted to do. Had you made the decision yourself you want to have a chance to work with us then things would be different. Unfortunately Woody is forcing our hands. So, what I’m willing to do, is send someone to check over your farm every other day, and make sure whatever you’ve grown is harvested. It will be yours to do with as you wish. I’m not going to take it from you. However I would ask that, while you’re here, you help with our farms, or with anything else you might be willing to do. We could always use someone who can train the younger generation with weapons. You’re good with a sword.”

Nodding, Lauren looked deep into Anastasia’s eyes. “You trust him?”

“I trust him. I didn’t to begin with, even thought I believe he was the better choice, but he’s proved himself to me. He will keep his word.”

Breathing deeply, Lauren looked at Fenwick. “I don’t trust you. I do trust Ana.” She glanced down at the floor for a moment. “I will give you my address, but I want something in return.”

There was a long silence. All Anastasia could see was the look on Lauren’s face, and, like so many times before, she wasn’t giving anything away. “What do you want, Lauren?”

“Everything you harvest is yours to do with as you will. I grew it, mostly, for trade in the first place, because I knew there were people who would need it more than I did. All I want is for you to let me go out there to find Woody.”


“He’s a danger to me. I get that. The problem you have, Fenwick, is that when he realises I’m here he’s going to do what he has to do in order to get me out. As there are children here I don’t want anything to happen to them. I know you’d do your best to keep them out of it, but innocents get caught in the crossfire all the time. Going out there and dealing with the problems means we won’t have to worry about when that might happen.”

“She’s right.” There was a flicker of surprise in Lauren’s eyes, but it quickly faded, becoming relief instead. Someone was on her side. “It’s not going to take long for Woody to realise she came into the building, but she didn’t leave again. He’s more than willing to do what he has to in order to protect her, and we both know how he feels about you, so it’s probably best to take him out before he can do anything to hurt us. Especially considering what we have to do before winter comes.”

“Woody isn’t going to do anything stupid.”

“Of course he is. He’s Woody.” Anastasia laughed. “If you won’t let Lauren go at least let me.”

“How about we talk about this later? For now you can get Lauren settled in, and then we can talk about what needs to be done about Woody.”

“There is no later.” Lauren smiled. “We make the decision now, or I walk away.”

“I can’t allow you to put your life at risk.”

“Can’t allow me? You’re not someone who can make decisions for me. Either way I’m going to be putting my life at risk. Do you really think, after the way I reacted to you before, I’m going to let Woody trap me? I will do what I have to do, Fenwick. It makes sense to stay here, at least for now, to give me some time to work out how to deal with Woody. In the end, though, this is something I have to do, because if I don’t I’m putting other people at risk for me. That’s not something I’m willing to do.”

Another long silence followed Lauren’s words. Finally, after what felt like hours, Fenwick sighed. “If you’re going to do this you aren’t doing it alone. We go together.”

“That’s fine with me.” Lauren shrugged. “Just make sure you don’t get in my way.”
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The Many Worlds of K. A. Webb

July 2017

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