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Travelling from one world to another is something I have never much enjoyed. People judge me based on what they see, and, of course, what they see is only a tiny part of who I am. My clothes might not be the newest fashions, but they keep me safe from the things I know I’ll be dealing with when I finally get to Deotis. I’d rather be protected than look good. Of course that tells them I’m a treasure hunter, which means, obviously, I have no morals. I am willing to do whatever I have to in order to get whatever it was I was hired to get. Yet, to me, that defines a thief, and I’m not a thief. I would say I’ve never stolen anything from anyone, but that would be a lie. I have to admit I have stolen, from the bodies of people who would have killed me had I not killed them first, and I don’t have any regrets about that choice. Sometimes it’s been the only way I was able to survive.

Fortunately, on this journey, I’m not the only treasure hunter. They study me in the same way I study them, and I know the time will come when one of us, although I’m not sure which one it will be, will make the decision to actually say something to me. There are four of us. I am the only woman, but then that doesn’t surprise me. We are rare, female treasure hunters, because our job often means finding ourself on dangerous planets, and most of the women I have met through the years look at me like I’m insane when I tell them what I do. Then again maybe I am insane. I’ve never been normal, and I was always okay with that. Father, on the other hand, was never okay with it. He always wanted me to be someone I wasn’t, so he spent far too much of his time trying to shove me into this little box he created for me. I know he’s disappointed in me now. I’m more than disappointed in him, but it’s not as though it matters. I have seen him in five years and I don’t plan on seeing him any time soon either. Granted being on Deotis will make that difficult.

As I was saying the other treasure hunters on the ship are male. They all get stared at in very much the same way I do, only there’s more envy. Instead of being viewed as being not quite right in the head they are lucky enough to be seen as different, unusual, worth a moment of someone’s time. Me… well, I would say I’m not bitter about it all, but I very much am, because I’m no different to them. Yet there are those who still think that they would be willing to do anything, when really we spend a lot of time on worlds that are different to the worlds most people spend their time on. Take Deotis as an example. Everything I’ve read about the world makes me think I’m never quite going to be ready to deal with what it will throw at me. Pretty much everything there will try to kill you, including some of the flora. I’ve done what I can to prepare, but I don’t think it’s ever going to be enough.

Normally I am the only treasure hunter on a ship. It’s been a very long time since I met another hunter, and then… there are times when you wish you’d never met someone. That was one of those times. He and I just didn’t get alone. I didn’t think we would, but sometimes it’s nice to talk to someone who understands you, and I thought I would try to talk to him, to see if maybe I was wrong. I wasn’t. He was one of those types who believed he was the best at what he did, only I found out a few months later he’d died in the middle of a job. I probably shouldn’t have laughed at his misfortune, but I did. If anyone deserved that type of death it was him.

When I look at the three other hunters I don’t have the same misgivings. I can tell by the way they look they are true hunters, people who have probably been doing this far longer than I have, and had I been a little older I might well have been the one to make the first move. Only I told myself it was best to wait for one of them to do it. They were all older than me, more experienced than I was, so I felt like going up to them might seem a little like I was trying to get some lessons from them. I probably wouldn’t have said no if one of them did offer me some suggestions, because I knew there were a couple of times I had only escaped dying thanks to pure luck. Yet I knew better than to be the one to make the first move when there was that much of a different. I didn’t want to have to deal with an ego.

Sitting there, alone, I sipped my drink. My eyes were on the eldest of the group. He was lean, and strong. The more I looked at him the more certain I was he would be the best of the group for me to get to know. Every so often he would look back at me, this half smile on his face. That was part of what made me wary. I didn’t know how he would react to a female hunter. Before, when I met the other one, he’d made it obvious he didn’t think I was serious. He laughed at me when I said I was going to Ascario, telling me there was no chance a ‘little girl’ was going to survive that world. Only I did, and now I was going to Deotis, which was probably the most stupid decision I could have made. There was no going back though. My decision was made, and I would survive Deotis, in the same way I survived Ascario. Well, hopefully not in exactly the same way, because some of that was just dumb luck, and I hadn’t truly been ready to take on a place like that alone.

Drink in hand, one of them made his way over to me. It wasn’t the eldest, sadly, but instead the hunter who looked like he was closest to my age. We’d been playing the watching game for five long days. He wasn’t the one I thought would be first, and yet I was almost glad he was. Maybe he would actually see me for who I was. I couldn’t help thinking I wasn’t going to be that lucky. Not after the last time. “May I sit here?” His voice was deeper than I expected it to be. “I was hoping we could talk a little, if you were willing.”

I nodded. “You’re welcome to join me.” As he sat I found myself smiling. “I’m Layla.”

“Beauregard, but most people call me Beau.” He smiled back, seeming far more normal than the other guy had done. “You’re a hunter?”

“What makes you think that?”

He laughed. “Ah, now, I should know better than to assume, shouldn’t I?” Our eyes met for a moment, and I could see he was truly amused. “I have seen you practising a couple of times. It’s not many people who can use a crossbow the way you do.”

“That is a slight give away. I am a hunter. I’m currently on my way to Deotis.”

“Now, that is a surprise. I’m also on the way to Deotis. Can I ask what it is you’re going there for?”

Shaking my head, before realising how that was going to be seen, I looked over at the other two hunters. “You can, but I think this is a conversation the four of us should have.” I glanced back at Beau. “Four of us on the same ship? I should have known there was something unusual going on, but it never once crossed my mind it could have been something like this.”

“You believe we were all hired for the same job?”

“Four of us means there’s a better chance of one of us surviving.” I raked a hand through my hair. “If someone wants something then sending multiple hunters is the way to make sure they’re going to get it.”

Slowly, he nodded. “You’re right.” He glanced over at one of the other hunters. “I think you’d be best off talking to the guy in the corner. He’s been far more interested in you than he has either of us, but then I’m sure he’s had to deal with male hunters before.”

“Okay.” For once I was almost glad I was unusual. “If you can get your guy to come over here. We’re in a good spot not to be overheard, and there are no cameras that will reach us.”

“How do you know that?”

“I like to be careful, Beau, and I never trust someone who doesn’t come to me himself.”

“Good point.” He smiled. “The quicker we get this done the better.”

Nodding, I stood myself, drink in hand, and made it so I sashayed my way over, in case someone was watching. I might be a hunter, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t still female. From the way the hunter looked at me I could tell he knew I was faking. Maybe that was a good thing. When I reached the table I didn’t bother to take a seat. Bending over, being very careful to make sure I was close enough to him to speak in a voice no one could hear, I tried to find the right words to say what needed to be said. “I take it I’m right when I say you’re going to Deotis.”

He studied me for a moment, before glancing over at where Beau was talking to the fourth hunter. “You’re right.” He took a sip of his drink, looking concerned. “The two of you going to the same place?”

“Yeah, we are, and that makes me think there’s something more going on.”

“Then you’re smart.” Our eyes met. “We need somewhere we can’t be seen, and can’t be heard.”

“I know. Where I was sitting works. The cameras can’t see that table, and it’s nicely out of the way, so no one should be able to hear our conversation.”

“By doing this they are going to know we’re talking.”

“Maybe that’s not a bad thing. Four of us is going to be better than one. It is Deotis.” Standing, I shrugged. “Follow me over in a couple of minutes. Make it seem as natural as you can.”

Without waiting for his response I made my way back to the table, making it seem as though I’d been disappointed by whatever it was he’d said. Keeping people misjudging me was probably the best thing I could do. If they thought I was the weak link then they’d go for me, instead of one of the others, and I knew I was more than strong enough to take on whatever it was they might me willing to throw at is. Or I could be wrong. Maybe there wasn’t some other reason all four of us were being sent to one of the most dangerous worlds a hunter could go to. Sighing, I slipped back into my seat, glancing over at where Beau was still talking. If the other hunter didn’t believe us… it didn’t matter that much. I’d like for it to be all of us working together, but if that wasn’t the case I wouldn’t be losing sleep over it. Instead I’d be losing sleep over the whys I wasn’t going to know until it was too late.

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The Many Worlds of K. A. Webb

July 2017

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