Intergalactic Medicine Show     Print   |   Back  

Flying Children - Part 2
    by Orson Scott Card
(Excerpted from The Gate Thief)

. . . continued from issue 30 . . .


By the time Danny got to the farm in Yellow Springs, Marion had already suspended a rope over the central beam of the cowbarn. "Ladder work?" asked Danny.

"I'm a cobblefriend," said Marion. "I can't fly, nor can my clants, such as they are."

"Then why didn't you wait for me to make a gate and carry the rope up there?" asked Danny.

"Hard for you to believe, I know, Danny, but before you ever came to this farm, I was able to wipe my butt all by myself."

Danny grinned. "Are you suggesting that you want me to install a rectal gate? Outbound only, I promise."

Marion made as if to smack Danny, though he never had and never would. But then he stopped. "Could you?" he asked. "Not rectal, but a gate that's attached to a person instead of to a place?"

"When Hermia gets here," said Danny.

"Hermia. Veevee. They'll only know what's in books."

"And I only know what I've tried," said Danny. "All those years I tried to figure out how to lock gates and how to take them back inside myself, and I couldn't figure any of it out until I saw it done."

"Somebody had to be the first gatemage," said Marion. "And from what Hermia says -- if you can trust a Greek --"

"It's only a problem if they're bearing gifts," said Danny. "And she's Pelasgian."

"From what she says you may be the most extravagantly gifted gatemage ever. So you're going to have to break new ground to reach your potential."

"Parents always think they're children have more potential than they actually have," said Danny.

"What about gatemage surgery?" asked Marion. "Those tracking devices inside Hermia -- can't you gate them out of her?"

"I have a map in my head of all the gates I've made," said Danny. "But I can't map the inside of a person's body. Going through a gate heals people of any injuries or dysfunctions, but if I start making gates to remove bits of Hermia, it would only be by chance if I found the tracking devices her family installed in her."

"At least now I understand why you want to gate up to the roofbeam to hang a rope -- it's something you know you can do."

"Don't you mostly do things you know you can do?" asked Danny, a little resentful now.

"Yes," said Marion. "Tell me. If you took one end of the rope down here, then gated to the roofbeam, would the rope just follow you and string out from here to there, or would it get cut off where the gate began?"

"It would look cut off," said Danny. "But it would still be connected. It would go up to the mouth of the gate down here, and the very next inch of rope would then emerge from the gate up there."

Marion shook his head. "Stonemages like me believe in solid connections. Not sudden leaps through spacetime."

"Where's Mom?" asked Danny.

"Out scouting for anybody's clant or heartbeast. You're making a Great Gate again, which is exactly what all the Families want, not to mention rogue Orphans we might not even know about."

"I can't believe that passing through a Great Gate allowed her to sense anybody's outself within a couple of miles," said Danny.

"And I can feel all the disturbances in the rock, not to mention the flow patterns, for a hundred miles in every direction. There's a reason why people had to go through Great Gates before the drowthers deigned to call them gods."

"So that's what you and Mom are now?" asked Danny. "Gods?"

"If I had already been a stonefather, and then went through a Great Gate, then yes, I think I could put on a show that would make drowthers feel a strong desire to let me have my way. But as a cobblefriend? Let's just say that my affinity is much more useful. I have more to give the stone, and so the stone replies with greater strength. That's all."

Danny stood there, looking at the ground, thinking of how Marion had opened up the earth near Perry McCluer High School and swallowed a pickup truck. Thinking: What will I be able to do, after I go through a Great Gate? And Veevee and Hermia? What does it do to a gatemage?

Wasn't that what they were making this Great Gate to find out? With no Gate Thief left to threaten him, and with Marion and Leslie primed to keep all danger at bay, Danny could experiment a little. He could stay a minute or two on Westil. Not very long -- not long enough to be in danger. But long enough to see the place where Marion and Leslie had lingered for only a fraction of a second. "We blinked and then came back," Marion explained at the time. "It was daylight and there were rocks and grass, that's all I know."

"And he only knows about the grass because I told him," Leslie had said. "Stonemages don't care about grass, but cowsisters have a real eye for it."

Danny put a little weight on the rope that Marion had suspended. He was so hungry to make a Great Gate that he almost couldn't wait until the others arrived.

No, that wasn't true. Danny wasn't hungry for it. What he was feeling as a powerful yearning was coming from many of the outselves trapped inside him. The Gate Thief's old prisoners, not the Gate Thief himself -- his gates were all about blocking Great Gates, stealing them, not using them, and certainly not building them.

Could Danny use some of the captive outselves in making a Great Gate, as if they were his own? Hermia had told him that in the old days, mere pathbrothers would sometimes contribute to a gatefather their three or four or dozen gates to help reach the critical mass to make a Great Gate. Could he use these captive gates the same way?

Danny tried to use one on an ordinary gate. That is, he did the inward thing that felt like gatemaking, only tried to access one of the captives to do it. The result was almost a physical pain, the rebuff was so sharp and strong.


It felt like a shout from somewhere deep inside him. Not the word no, but the meaning of it, the idea of utter rejection.

It made sense. Danny could not force another mage's gate. In Hermia's account, the pathbrothers would donate their gates willingly. These gates had all been stolen, from gatemages who most assuredly would not want their captor using their long-lost outselves to make his gates.

It would have been interesting to see the result of a Great Gate made out of so many different mages' gates at once. But if they wouldn't let him, the question was moot.

It made sense. If gatefathers could make use of stolen gates, then they'd have done it all the time. The Gate Thief wasn't taking gates in order to use them, he was taking them in order to prevent their being used.

And again he wondered why. Something about the semitic gods. Something about Bel, the ancient Carthaginian deity.

I won a battle when I beat the Gate Thief, but I didn't even know what war I was fighting in. For all I know I just intervened in the American Revolution on the side of the British. I have no idea who the good guys are. There are so many enemies; but what if my enemies are right to want to destroy me? What if my defeating the Gate Thief was the worst thing that ever happened in history?

"Stop brooding, Danny, it makes your mouth turn sour," said Veevee.

So she had taken the gate from Naples, Florida. She was almost quivering with excitement. This Great Gate was more for her than anyone. After all her years of not knowing whether she was a gatemage or not, her complete vindication upon finding Danny's gates and realizing she could unlock them had been the greatest joy of her life. But then came the frustration of not being able to do anything but unlock gates -- that and teach Danny all the gatelore she had learned in a lifetime of study.

Now she had hope, however meager, that by passing through a Great Gate she might have her power augmented in some interesting way. It was all she had talked about, whenever there was nothing else to talk about, so that Danny knew that it was where her thoughts always turned in moments of idleness. She hadn't nagged him, but he felt the pressure of her yearning all the same.

He felt some of the same curiosity himself, and Hermia was, if anything, even more in need of some kind of boost to her abilities, since as a lockfriend she could only close gates that Danny wasn't leaving open anyway. But Hermia's presence here would be dangerous, since she would bring her Family soon after. So she and Danny, left to themselves, might have waited.

Danny, for his part, was afraid. Yes, he had beaten the Gate Thief before, but that might have been a fluke. What if the Gate Thief was waiting for him again, this time prepared for him, this time armed in some terrible way. It could be something as simple as a sword. Danny appears, the Gate Thief swings a mighty sword, plop goes Danny's head, and even if somebody dragged him through a gate, even a Great Gate, and even if they set his head on his neck and held it there through the passage, Danny didn't think the healing properties of gate travel would do the trick.

It wouldn't happen. There was no way the Gate Thief could know where Danny's new Great Gate would appear on Westil. Danny didn't even know.

"It does look so unfortunately like a gallows," said Veevee, looking up at the rope and then down to the dangling end. "Did Marion have to put a noose in it?"

"It's not a noose, it's a loop," said Danny. "It's so I don't have to hold on so tightly while I spin. I want to have my mind clear."

"You could just spin around on the ground, like a dervish," said Veevee.

"I made the gate on the end of a rope last time," said Danny, "so until I know more I'm doing it the same way this time. For all we know, the strength or endurance or power of the gate depends on the speed of my spin."

"Or it has no effect at all."

"Time to experiment with that is after we gatemages have passed through the gate ourselves."

"And back again," said Veevee.

Danny knew what she was thinking of. "We don't know for sure if Ced decided to stay there or not. All it would have taken was a moment's hesitation. The Gate Thief was on me almost instantly. It could easily have been Marion and Leslie trapped there as well."

Stone appeared at the tail of the gate to his house in Washington, DC. "Hello, Veevee," he said.

"'Veevee'?" she said indignantly. "Not 'My darling' or 'My love' or --"

"O glorious Gatemage," said Stone. "O most admirable of women. O thou wife."

"There we go," said Veevee, preening playfully. "It may take a little prompting, but you know how to make a girl feel all princessy."

"It'll be interesting to see what a meadowfriend becomes after passing through the Great Gate. I have visions of being able to make every lawn in America grow so rapidly, with grass so tall, that people can't find their houses."

"And the buffalo herds return to roam all over North America, consuming lawn grass at a prodigious rate, and yet the grass leaps ever higher," said Veevee.

"Grass growing from cracks in the sidewalks and asphalt tears it all into little chunks," said Stone. "In this profuse jungle of life, no vehicle can move; even helicopters can't land for longer than a minute or two before grass grows up so thick that the blades can't turn again."

"And three hundred million people die of starvation," said Danny dryly.

"But the vast lawns make such a lovely cemetery," said Veevee.

"Don't worry, Danny. Even if I could do it, I wouldn't," said Stone. "Lawns are the least interesting plants in the world. Everything interesting has been bred out of them. A true meadow has at least a hundred different species of grass, clumping here and there, with a thousand wildflowers and bulbs and tubers and mosses and ferns and --"

"Daylilies," said Veevee. "I do love daylilies."

"The poodles of the plant world," said Stone scornfully.

"So pretty," said Veevee. "Alone or in great fields of them. Don't leave them out of our meadow, darling."

Stone looked at Danny and rolled his eyes.

"I saw that, Peter," said Veevee. "Eyerolling is rude."

"Rude but necessary," said Stone. "For your own good. Make your gate, Danny. The longer I stay here talking with Veevee, the more extravagant the trouble I'll get myself into."

"I'll tell Hermia we're ready," said Danny.

Because his gatesense already told him exactly where the gate he had made for her in Rio was -- her latest hiding place, the theory being that if she had to keep moving around, at least she could go to warm and interesting places -- he was able to make a new gate straight there.

She wasn't in her hotel room. That was a surprise. She knew that it was nearly time for the making of the Great Gate. She was supposed to be waiting.

Danny immediately made a return gate and stepped toward it just as the shotgun blast went off. He felt the pellets tear through his body and then ... no pain at all, because he had passed through the gate back to the barn. He still gasped from the pain he no longer felt, and the others turned toward him.

"They found Hermia," said Danny. "She wasn't there, and they weren't waiting around to talk about it."

"Are you hurt?" asked Veevee, fingering his tattered shirt.

"I was, for a moment," said Danny. "I may still have all the pellets in me. I can work on that later. The gate healed the wounds, and I have to find Hermia."

"It can't be her own people," said Stone. "The Greeks may do many terrible things, but they wouldn't kill the world's only living gatemage."

"But they're the only ones who could track her," said Danny.

"They might be tracking the trackers," said Marion.

"Or they might have a sniffer of their own, whoever they are," said Stone. "The Greeks track Hermia, but a sniffer could simply have found your gate and then waited for you."

"Some fanatic group that really thinks we shouldn't go back to Westil?" asked Veevee.

"Or some minions of the Gate Thief," said Marion.

"I'm going to look," said Danny. He made a tiny gate, really just a viewport, that showed him the room where someone had shot him.

Two men were standing there, one carrying a shotgun. "I know I hit him before he disappeared," said one.

Danny made a gate and pulled it over them.

They arrived twenty feet above some spot out in the Atlantic Ocean, far from the nearest land. Danny's new viewport was in place before they hit the water. The shotgun sank at once; the men cried out for help as they tried to swim.

They weren't good at it. In fact, one of them was panicking and clearly had no idea how to swim.

Not Greeks, then. Hermia's Family were proud of their heritage among the thalassocracy, and they were all taught to swim as babies.

Danny needed a way to hold them in place, where they'd be helpless, unable to escape, but in no danger.

Gravity would have to do the police work for him. Danny made a gate that scooped them out of the water, then dumped them twenty yards over it; he moved the mouth just under them to catch them. They fell a half inch into the gate's mouth, which tossed them back up that half-inch and dropped them again. It gave them a continuous sensation of falling, but they could breathe and they could hear.

Through the viewport, Danny spoke to them.

"I could have put you a thousand feet down and the ocean would already have crushed you."

The man who had held the shotgun was weeping. But the other seemed capable of listening.

"Where is the woman who lived in that hotel room?" asked Danny.

"Woman?" asked the man.

Danny moved the mouth of the gate so now they fell twenty yards before rising again. He let that go on for a minute and then returned them to a half-inch fall.

"Try again," said Danny.

"She go to the beach," said the man. "Then we go in her room. She not come back yet."

Now that Danny had a chance to study the men, he could start making guesses. "Persians?" he asked. "Hindi?"

The assassin managed to look scornful in the midst of his ongoing terror.

"Tell me what Family you're from," said Danny.

"Never," said the man.

So it was a Family -- an Orphan would have declared his non-Family status proudly. And it was a Family that regarded hiding its identity as more important than life itself. Any of the known Families might have wanted to do this assassination stealthily, but the secrecy wouldn't be important enough to die for it. After all, killing gatemages was something they were all sworn to do.

A Family, then, that everyone thought was extinct?

Danny ran through a mental list. Middle eastern, from the look of them. But all the Families were Indo-European, and in the middle east that list wasn't very long. "Hittites?" he asked.

"No!" shouted the man.

Hittites they were, then. Interesting. Exciting, even. How had the Hittite Family remained hidden all this time? They were supposed to have been wiped out before Pompey came to Syria, though some Family historians speculated that they might have adopted the Armenians and helped them surreptitiously.

But historical interest would have to wait. "If Hermia is dead," said Danny, "so are you."

"Alive!" the man cried. "We not touch her."

"No Great Gates!" shouted the other man, the weeping one. "Bel comes! Bel goes to Yllywee!"

So they were allies of the Gate Thief. Or shared his fear; Illywee was an ancient name of Westil. Danny remembered the runic inscription in the Library of Congress. "We have faced Bel and he has ruled the hearts of many." Manmages from another world -- a world not Earth and not Westil. "Loki found the dark gate of Bel through which their god poured fear into the world." Why would it matter whether Danny made a Great Gate if Bel already knew how to make gates of his own?

The Hittites knew something, and he had to find out what it was.

Danny moved the tail of the gate that suspended them to the barn. They plopped in a sodden mass amid the straw near a milking stall. At once Danny brought back the mouth of the gate, scooped them up, and hung them in the air ten feet above the barn floor.

"What's going on, Danny?" demanded Marion. "How can you bring strangers to --"

"Hittites," said Danny. "They shot me, and they know something about Bel."

There had been enough discussion of the runic passage that everyone immediately understood the significance.

"I need you to question them while I'm gone," said Danny to Marion.

"I'm not an interrogator," said Marion.

"I didn't say torture them," said Danny. "Ask them questions."

"You're torturing them," said Marion. "Look how afraid they are! They're falling and falling!"

"People pay money to go up in airplanes and freefall like this before they open their parachutes," said Danny. "It's not torture, it's just a way of keeping them where we want them."

"Not here," said Marion.

"Fine," said Danny. "I'll put them back out over the Atlantic till I find Hermia."

"No!" shouted Leslie from the door. "Let them go at once!"

"They killed me!" shouted Danny. "They're assassins."

"And Hittites," added Veevee. "So they're evil and interesting."

"This is not what a good man does," said Leslie coldly.

Danny knew at once that she was right. His fear and anger had made him act by reflex. Yet he had also shown restraint, and he wanted credit for it.

"I could have killed them," said Danny. "I didn't kill them."

"They're sopping wet," said Leslie.

"I didn't know they couldn't swim," said Danny. "But I pulled them out of the water, didn't I?"

"Get them out of my barn," said Leslie. "Now."

Back to the ocean, then. Again, Danny had to move the tail of the gate first, which put them back in the water, flailing and sputtering, and screaming whenever they could catch their breath. Then he got them back up in the air. By now they thought of that continuous freefall as a good thing, no doubt, compared to drowning.

Danny followed them this time, suspending himself in the air. No falling in the water -- when he was moving himself through space, he was much quicker, more deft about it.

"I'm going to go see where my friend is," said Danny. "If she's hurt or dead, I'll do the same thing to one of you while the other watches."

"We not to touch her, we not talk to her!" the less-panicked man insisted.

Danny gated himself back to Hermia's hotel room in Rio. It was empty this time, no shotguns waiting. They door was undamaged -- they must have bribed their way in. Danny went to the balcony and looked out over the broad beach. So many people lying there or milling around. But after a few minutes he spotted someone who might be Hermia. He made a gate near her. If it was Hermia, she'd see it and step into it; if it wasn't, she wouldn't.

It was. She did.

"Is it already time?" she asked as soon as she was in the hotel room.

"I came here for you," said Danny, "and I was met by a shotgun blast."

Hermia saw the pellet pattern on the wall, Danny's punctured clothes, and exclaimed softly. "My Family wouldn't --"

"Not your Family," said Danny.

"They just shot to kill? Without a warning?"

"No negotiations. Just ... bang."

"Who was it?"

"Hittites, I'm pretty sure." He grinned.

"Extinct gods with shotguns," said Hermia.

"Extinct for two thousand years, no less. They didn't actually admit to being Hittite, but it's the one they denied instead of being evasive. I have them hanging over the Atlantic."

"I want to talk to them."

"You want to lock the gate they're using so they drop into the water and drown," said Danny.

"Eventually, yes," said Hermia. "You're too soft, Danny. People who shoot first can't be left alive."

"People who talk about Bel have some explaining to do," said Danny. "And they didn't actually kill me."

"They killed your clothing," said Hermia. "Walk around like this and you'll start a new fashion. Perforated clothing. Shotgun Style by Calvin Klein."

"I want to make the Great Gate before anything else happens," said Danny. "Those clowns aren't going anywhere. We'll have plenty of time to question them after."

"If we make it back," said Hermia.

"If we don't, then someday somebody will find a heap of bones and some empty clothing hanging in the air over some spot in the Atlantic. It'll make the cover of the Enquirer."

"You sound like you don't care," said Hermia, "but I know you do."

Danny sighed. Leslie thought the worst of him, Hermia thought the best of him, and they were both right. Danny gated the two men into a single cell in the county jail in Lexington, Virginia. "They're on dry ground now, all right?" he told her. "Now let's get this gate made before somebody notices them and lets them out."

"Where are they?" she demanded.

"In jail," said Danny. He made a viewport into the cell and showed her.

Hermia spoke to them. "Don't make a sound," she said. "If you try to get out or if you talk to anybody at all, it's back to the ocean for you." Then she added a few words in a language Danny had never heard.

"Yes, they understood me," she said to Danny. "The Hittite-Armenian theory seems to have some merit."

"You speak Armenian?" asked Danny.

"It came up," said Hermia. "I'm a gatemage, it's a language."

Danny reached out his hand, and the two of them gated to the barn.


"What did you do with them?" demanded Leslie.

"They're alive," said Hermia. "And safe."

Leslie looked at Danny suspiciously. "I want to hear it from him."

"Because you think you can tell if I'm lying?" asked Danny.

"We assume you're lying," said Stone. "Because we're all hoping you killed them and had done with it."

"I'm hoping no such thing!" said Leslie.

"We can't control a gatemage anyway," said Marion to Leslie. "He did what he did, he'll do what he does."

"I can make him feel guilty about it," said Leslie.

"That's not very sporting," said Veevee. "Danny feels guilty for being alive."

"Make the Great Gate," said Hermia. "If the Hittites are onto us, then everybody knows that there are gatemages in the world again, and they'll be looking for a Great Gate."

"That's an argument against making one," said Stone.

"It's an argument for making one now," said Hermia, "and all of us going through it except Marion and Leslie, because they've already gone and somebody has to keep watch."

"You're coming right back, aren't you?" Leslie asked Danny.

"Unless the Gate Thief gets me this time," said Danny.

"Do you think there's any chance of that?" asked Veevee.

"He's weaker than he was," said Danny, "but he knows a lot more than I do." Danny walked to the rope, took hold of it, pulled the noose wide open.

"I hate that noose," said Veevee. "It looks so grim."

Danny made no answer, just pulled the noose down over his head and shoulders, then tightened it under his armpits. Now he could put his weight on the rope while keeping his hands free.

His feet were still on the floor of the barn. He turned around and around until the rope was so twisted that it lifted him off the floor. Only the tips of his toes touched.

"Want us to wind you tighter?" asked Hermia.

"I'm pretty tightly wound already," said Danny.

"Very funny," said Veevee.

"I'm still not sure whether I should go through it," said Stone.

"Do it," said Veevee, "and keep me company."

"It will give you the power to make plants grow and cover everything," said Marion.

"That's kudzu," said Stone. "It doesn't need any help from me."

Veevee took hold of his hand. "'Come and go with me to that land where I'm bound,'" she sang.

"Is that a real song?" asked Stone.

"A very old one," said Veevee. She sang again: "'I'm gonna walk the streets of glory on that great day in the mornin'."

"I need to concentrate," said Danny. "And I need the two of you to be watching, so you know when to go through the gate."

Veevee smiled. "'They'll be singin' in that land, voices ringin' in that land. There'll be freedom in that land where I'm bound.'"

"Nobody's ever heard of an obedient gatemage," said Stone.

"Serves you right, Danny," said Leslie.

Danny silently raised his feet, leaned back, closed his eyes. He began to spin. Twenty gates at once this time.

Only this time he wasn't alone -- there were all the other mages' gates inside him, and many of them, most of them, were clamoring, demanding that he use them to make the gate.

One by one he drew them in, until now he was spinning a score of other mages' gates along with his own. He couldn't tell if they were making the Great Gate stronger, by adding more threads to the connection, or weaker, by adding new textures that didn't fit well with his own. Danny knew nothing about what he was doing. Yet it seemed fair to him to include the outselves of these long-dead mages, which had been stolen from them because of their attempts to make Great Gates.

You lost your magery by doing this. Did I capture you to keep you imprisoned, or to set you free and let your power live again in the world?

Free free free, answered the gates inside him.

Me me me, demanded so many gates that he had not yet used.

Enough, thought Danny. Twenty of mine and twenty of you.

He was spinning rapidly now. Not as fast as he had been spinning in the gym, but it was enough. This time he could feel the power in it, this time he understood that what mattered was not the speed of the spinning, but the intertwining of the gates. It truly felt like a rope -- four great strands, each consisting of ten gates. Because he had made a Great Gate before, and learned so much in the making of it, he could understand it better this time.

Two of the strands were made entirely of Danny's gates, and the other two were made of the other mages' gates. He wove all of his into the return gate, whose tail would be here in the barn to bring them home, and all of theirs into the gate of sending, whose mouth would be here. They spun themselves together like forty slender tornadoes, all of them spinning on their own, weaving their own patterns.

And then he cast them upward and outward, with all the strength of his inself, and felt rather than heard the song of rejoicing as the strangers' gates leapt out into space, into time, carrying his own gates with them.

They connected in another world. The Great Gate was made.

"Now," said Veevee.

"Untie me," said Danny, still spinning.

Strong hands stopped his spin; other hands loosened the noose and pulled it over his arms. He still hadn't opened his eyes. He didn't need them. It was with another sense that he saw the Great Gate. It was very different this time, as if the earlier gate had been woven of one color of thread, while this one was of many bright colors that combined and recombined. Gate of many colors, thought Danny. What does it mean to have a gate of many colors?

He felt Veevee and Hermia take him by the hands. The mouth of the gate was wide. Danny stepped into it. Joined to him, they did not need to step; they were with him as the gate gathered him in and there they were, in bright sunlight on the other world.

Danny opened his eyes. The light was dazzling after the relative darkness of the barn. But he could see that they were surrounded by tall stones, rough-hewn, set on end into the grassy ground at the brow of a gently sloping hill.

"Stonehenge," said Danny.

"A gatecatcher," said Stone.

"Fool," said another voice. A stranger's voice. A man.

Danny turned to where the voice had come from. But it wasn't the voice that told him who the man was. It was the inself. It was the few gates the man had inside him.

"Gate Thief," said Danny. "Why are you here?"

"Fool," said the Gate Thief. "To use those angry wild gates."

"They wanted --"

"Centuries in prison have made them uncontrollable. Insane." The Gate Thief spoke Westilian with a strange accent, but Danny understood him perfectly.

"They wanted to be part of the Great Gate," said Danny. "Are you here to do battle with me again?"

"He wants to come through the gate," said Veevee.

"He's here to kill you," said Hermia.

"You know nothing," said the Gate Thief. "Someone has to teach you."

"Lock the gate behind us, Hermia," said Danny.

"Do we have to go so quickly?" asked Veevee. "This is Westil, and the sun is so bright I can hardly claim to have seen it."

"I don't want him to follow us," said Danny.

"You'll be back here soon enough," said the Gate Thief. "Begging me to teach you how to undo this terrible thing you've done."

"Why did you eat all the gates?" demanded Danny, his curiosity overpowering his good sense, making him stay long enough to ask.

"You know why," said the Gate Thief. "My captive gates have told you."

"They say the name of Bel."

"Bel, the gatemage from the other world," said the Gate Thief. "The world of soul stealers. The world of manmages. Fool."

"Let's go," said Hermia. "Who knows what he's plotting to do while he keeps us talking?"

Meanwhile, Stone knelt in the grass, his hands splayed out, digging into the soil. "It's so alive," he whispered.

"It's you that's alive," said the Gate Thief. "Coming through the Great Gate has made you strong. All of you too strong. You have nothing to fear from me."

"That's what he wants us to believe," said Hermia.

"Gatemages are such liars," said Veevee -- rather proudly, Danny thought.

"What do I call you?" asked Danny. "Loki?"

"Wad," said the Gate Thief. "It's my name since I came out of the tree."

Danny had no idea what that meant. "I'm not giving you back your gates," said Danny.

"I don't need them," said Wad.

"Do you know what happened to Ced?" asked Stone. "He came through the earlier gate and he stayed."

"A windmage," said Wad. "I know where he is."

"Is he safe?" asked Stone.

Wad laughed. "Is Westil safe, with him here? The most powerful mage in the world now -- the winds that he blows!"

"Is he causing harm?" asked Veevee.

"He doesn't know how not to cause harm," said Wad. "Any more than you do. And there's no one to balance him, no one to teach him. That's what you're doing here. Setting monsters loose in the world."

"Becoming monsters ourselves, by that reckoning," said Danny.

"We're all monsters," said Wad.

"Let's go back," said Hermia.

Danny could see him clearly now, standing between two stones, leaning on neither. A slight man -- like Danny, he was neither tall nor short, neither strong-looking nor weak. And his face was neither young nor old, but ageless, with eyes like deep water, grey as the belly of a thundercloud, looking into Danny with such sadness, such anger, such understanding.

"Don't look at him," said Hermia. "He's too strong for us."

"I'm weak," said Wad. "You have most of my outself inside you now. What do I call you?"

"You don't," said Danny. He gathered the mouth of the Great Gate around himself and they were in the barn again.

The sunlight was gone. The stones. The grass.

Stone knelt, his fingers pressed against the floor. He was weeping. "It's a desert here, compared to there," he said.

"We met the Gate Thief," Veevee told Marion. "He was almost as pretty as Danny, and as old as the stars."

"I can't lock the other gate," said Hermia. "The outbound gate, the one you made from the hearts of strangers."

Danny could see that she had locked the return gate, and was trying to close the other. "You can't control it because there are twenty mages in it," said Danny. "You have to close them one at a time." He began pinching off the gates.

But by the time he got to the third gate, the first was open again. "It won't stay closed," he said.

"I see now," said Hermia, and instead of trying to close the whole Great Gate, she began to join him in closing the individual gates. "I can see everything more clearly. I'm so much stronger. You'd think I could close them."

Danny could see that she was getting no better results than he was.

The inbound Great Gate, the one made entirely from Danny's own gates, was closed and locked, but the gates of other mages were not so obedient. They willed themselves to be open, and though Danny and Hermia could close them, they would not stay closed.

"We have a wide-open public gate here," said Veevee. "I can see what you're doing, and they won't stay closed. They don't want to be closed."

"Wild gates," said Danny. "'Angry wild gates,' he called them."

"Angry at him, not us," said Veevee.

"I held them prisoner, too," said Danny. "And it doesn't matter who they're angry at. They aren't people, just the wraiths of people, the lingering memory of them. But strong."

"Going through a Great Gate strengthened us," said Veevee. "But they are a Great Gate. How strong is that?"

"Let them stay open," said Danny. "It isn't going to work, no matter what we do."

"Are you saying that you can't close the Great Gate?" asked Marion.

"I closed the one coming back to Earth," said Hermia. "But not the one leading to Westil from here."

"So my barn is now a Great Gate, and you can't close it?" demanded Leslie.

"Why did you use those gates?" said Hermia.

"They wanted it," said Danny. "It seemed only fair, after so long in prison."

"But you didn't know them -- what kind of men they were," said Hermia. "A wraith preserves the character of its maker, and these might have been very bad mages."

"Yes, that seems obvious now," said Danny. "I chose the most insistent. The most selfish. But it never occurred to me that I couldn't control these gates."

"You've never faced a gate that wasn't under your control," said Marion. "You've never seen a gate that wasn't of your making."

"But he did make it," said Veevee.

"I wound them together, I threw them into spacetime," said Danny. "But Marion's right -- they aren't my gates."

"Then move them," said Leslie. "Get it out of my barn."

Danny tried. The gate wouldn't budge. Only when he stopped trying to move it did it move -- in the opposite direction. And it widened.

"It's trying to eat us," said Hermia, alarmed.

It was true. The mouth of the Great Gate was seeking them out.

"Take them!" cried Veevee. "They were captive before, capture them again!"

Danny tried to unmake the gate as he had done with his previous Great Gate, but these were not his own gates, and they dodged him. He could work on one at a time, but they all resisted him. They refused to be captive again.

"I thought passing through the gate was supposed to make me irresistibly strong," said Danny.

"They're stronger, too," said Veevee. "Dead as they are, it made them more powerful, to be part of a Great Gate."

"Wad took them, though. Loki, I mean," said Danny.

"They weren't all woven together like this," said Hermia. "And he knows more than you."

Now Danny understood what Wad had meant: "You'll be back here soon enough, begging me to teach you how to undo this terrible thing you've done." Danny wanted to go back right now, to demand answers from Wad.

"No!" shouted Hermia.

"No what?" asked Danny.

"Don't step into that gate!" she cried. "Don't you see? It's not yours. What's to stop it from moving itself into the depths of the sea?"

"What have we done?" asked Veevee miserably.

"You don't control it at all," said Leslie. She wasn't just angry now. She was afraid.

"It could go out and look for the Families that are hunting for it?" asked Marion.

"I don't know what it can do," said Danny. "Wad was right, I am a fool."

"At least the return gate is closed," said Hermia. "If the Families go to Westil, they can't get back."

"But that's terrible," said Danny. "What right do we have to set them loose in that world? I have to reopen the other gate. I have to make it so there's no space between them, so that if you go through the gate you come back here immediately. No pause, no chance to see the sights."

Danny acted even as he spoke. But no sooner did he move the mouth of the return gate directly in front of the outbound gate than the wild gate moved its tail away. Not far -- the two Great Gates were so woven together, so inseparable, that it was only a few yards between the tail of the wild gate and the mouth of Danny's return gate.

"It can't get away from my gate either," said Danny in relief. "As long as I keep mine anchored, it can't go far." Danny tethered the mouth of his own part of the Great Gate to the walls of the barn. It was like hobbling a horse. The wild gates could move the mouth of the combined gate, but only a few yards.

"This is our worst nightmare," said Leslie. "A gate you can't control, here in our barn. Do you understand what the Families will do now?"

"Whatever it takes to get to this gate," said Hermia.

"They don't know it's gone wild," said Veevee. "I don't plan to tell them. Do you?"

"The gate is hungry," said Danny. "It wants to be used. It'll find a way."

"Then let's feed it," said Hermia. "Negotiate with the Families, let them each send a couple of mages through, exactly as we planned all along. They don't have to know that we can't close the gate or move it or ... anything. You gate them here, two at a time, and send them through -- how will they know that you aren't as much in control of the Great Gate as you are of the gates you make here on Mittlegard?"

"Or make another Great Gate, one you control completely," said Veevee, "and starve this one to death."

"I don't know what to do," said Danny. "Wad was right. I have to go talk to him. I have to ask him."

"Terrible idea," said Stone.

"If you do go back, make another Great Gate," said Hermia. "Don't ever step into this one again."

"She's right," said Veevee. "This is an angry gate, isn't that what Wad said?"

"Who's Wad?" asked Marion.

"Loki," said Danny.

"The Gate Thief," said Hermia.

"He's dangerous," said Stone. "He makes me believe in the devil."

"I'm screwing everything up," said Danny.

Stone was sitting on the floor now. "What else did you expect?" he asked. "Nobody's done this in fourteen centuries. And it's not your fault that the Gate Thief had all these captives. It's his fault, not yours. The only thing you did was not let him capture you."

"That was my first mistake," said Danny.

"No," said Leslie. "Not a mistake."

"We'll figure this out," said Marion. "We'll find a way to get it all under control."

"But first," said Leslie, "we're getting all my cows out of this barn."


Danny had first come to Perry McCluer High School as a long-dreamed-of adventure. And the dream had come true. He had made friends. He had learned how to use his power and he had done good things with it. A few pranks, too, but he hadn't used it to win races and he hadn't hurt anybody, unless you counted humiliating Coach Bleeder.

Now, though, he came as if he had graduated, then found out he had flunked a test after all and had to come back. Only nobody knew he had been gone. Nobody knew he had failed. His friends didn't believe him when he told them.

They were gathered in the old smoking area -- the one that the teachers regularly checked. But since they were only talking, not smoking anything, it was a good place for Danny and his friends to gather.

"So can we use the gate?" asked Pat.

"I told you, nobody can."

"I thought you said it was wild," said Wheeler. "Anybody could use it."

"We're not letting anybody get near enough to use it," said Danny.

"Then what's the big deal?" asked Hal. "Is it, like, the last gate you can ever make?"

"No, I can make as many as I want."

"So can you take us to that other world?" asked Laurette.

"Why would I do that?" asked Danny. "You're not mages, it wouldn't do you any good, and what if you got stranded there? It isn't a safe place."

"You're right," said Pat. "Here, you can only get run over by cars or catch some hideous disease or get blown up in chemistry class."

"I didn't blow anybody up," said Hal.

"But you tried," said Wheeler.

"I tried to get them to cancel school for the day," said Hal.

"Can we stop talking about your failures, Hal?" said Xena.

"Yeah, let's go back to talking about mine," said Danny.

Xena gripped his arm and spoke so earnestly and pressed so close that he could feel her breath on his cheek. "You haven't failed at anything, Danny North," she said. "You're, like, a god."

"The god of screw-ups," said Danny.

Xena kissed his cheek. "Your screw-ups are better than other people's successes."

"So you went to the other world. Westil," said Laurette. "That was supposed to make you more powerful."

"I don't feel any different," said Danny.

"Well, can you do stuff you couldn't do before?"

"I don't know."

"Why don't you know?" asked Laurette.

"There isn't a manual," said Danny. "They kill mages like me. They don't exactly provide me with instructions."

"Who reads the instructions?" asked Laurette. "Haven't you tried anything?"

"I wouldn't even know what to try," said Danny. "I made gates before. I can still make gates." He shrugged.

"So you can take us to Disney World?" asked Sin.

Danny hadn't expected that -- not from the goth with constantly-infected piercings. "You want to go to Disney World?"

"I'd say Paris, but I don't speak French," said Sin. "Come on, I've never been."

"Me neither," said Xena.

"I don't want to go," said Pat.

"I don't like using gates to steal," said Danny.

"Who said anything about stealing?" asked Sin. "Just get us in."

"And then get us through all the lines and into the rides without tickets," said Laurette. "Is that so much to ask?"

"They'll catch me," said Wheeler. "I always look guilty."

"How about Cape Canaveral?" asked Hal.

"You provide the security badges, and I'll get us in," said Danny.

"This isn't even fun," said Pat.

"What about all those people trying to kill you?" asked Xena. "Are you safe now?"

"I don't know," said Danny.

"And what about teaching us how to help you?" asked Hal. "Or is that off, just because you screwed up and made some gate angry?"

"I can't have you help me," said Danny. "I'd just screw that up, too, and then you'd get killed."

"Wow, he's really down on himself," said Laurette.

"He needs cheering up," said Xena. She kissed his cheek. Not a sisterly peck. Her lips brushed his cheek and lingered. It made him feel a tingle in his legs and in his butt. He didn't know that tingling could be so weirdly dislocated.

"Don't go there, Xena," said Hal.

"Even if you are a warrior princess," said Wheeler.

"Jealous?" asked Xena.

"Yes," said Wheeler.

Everyone looked at him in surprise.

"It's just Danny, and all of a sudden you're getting all kissy with him," said Wheeler.

"Yeah," said Laurette. "Just because he's a god, why would you want to kiss him?"

"You're right," said Xena, clinging to Danny all the more tightly. "I want to have his baby."

At that, Danny pulled away. Joking around was one thing. This was something else. "I just have to think," he said.

"He can't think if all his blood has rushed out of his head," said Laurette.

"I'm just trying to figure out if there's a way I can keep you guys safe," said Danny.

"We'd be safe in Disney World," said Sin. "It's the safest place on earth."

Danny thought of what he needed his friends to do. Gate them as emissaries to the Families, to explain the terms they'd have to agree to in order to pass someone through a Great Gate. Danny couldn't go himself, and he couldn't send Veevee or Hermia, either. The Families would set traps for them. But what would be the point of trapping drowthers?

That was the problem. Since the Families didn't regard drowthers as having any value, they wouldn't hold them as hostages. If they got annoyed, they'd just kill his emissaries.

In fact, as soon as anyone realized that Danny had friends, they might try to use them against him. Threaten them. Follow them. Kidnap them. Kill them. Without waiting for Danny to send them anywhere.

He couldn't concentrate on all of them at once. He couldn't keep them safe. "What have I done to you guys?" asked Danny.

"What are you talking about?" asked Laurette.

Danny explained his worry.

"Cool," said Wheeler. "It's like being inside a comic book."

"Except we're collateral damage," said Hal.

"We're the red shirt guys," said Pat.

Danny made a gate, a very small one, and put it directly above a small stone lying in the clearing. "Hal," said Danny. "Would you pick up that stone?"

Hal didn't bother looking to see exactly which stone. He just lunged for the general area, reaching for any stone, and when his hand brushed the gate, he fell into it and he was sitting ten feet away. "That is disorienting," he complained.

"That wasn't what I wanted," said Danny. "I'm trying to see if I can tie a gate to a thing instead of a place. Just move the stone, somebody. Laurette, keep your hand low and move it slowly and I'll tell you which stone."

She moved carefully -- though Danny also noticed that she bent over at such an angle that her considerable cleavage was aimed right at him. Was that because it was her habit, or because she was thinking the same way Xena was, that because Danny could do magery he was suddenly cool enough to be worth flirting with?

"That one," said Danny.

Laurette picked up the stone.

The gate stayed in the air above where the stone was.

"Damn," said Danny.

"Didn't work?" asked Laurette.

"I was hoping I could do it because I went to Westil. The enhancement of my powers."

"Bummer," said Hal. He was back in the circle now.

"Who cares?" asked Sin. "It's just a rock."

"He wants us to be able to carry gates around with us," said Pat. "So we can stick a finger in a gate and be somewhere else."

Sometimes she surprised him. Sour as she was, she was always thinking. Maybe when you don't care whether other people like you, you have more brainspace for analysis.

"Well, try again," said Hal. "Didn't you say it took practice?"

Danny nodded. He picked another stone.

Meanwhile, Sin had a question. "How do you know we don't have magic?"

"Don't talk to him, he's making gates," said Laurette.

"I don't know you don't have magic," said Danny. He tried to hold the image of the stone in his mind and create a gate solely in relation to the stone, and not any other surrounding feature.

"So send us to Westil," said Sin. "Maybe we'll come back with superpowers."

"Yeah," said Hal.

"Cool," said Wheeler.

Danny's concentration broke. He must have shown his impatience with himself.

"Why don't you hold it in your hand and really focus on it?" asked Xena.

Laurette handed him the first stone. Danny took it, bent over it, stared at it, made a gate.

He moved the stone a little to the left.

The mouth of the gate moved with it.

It was that simple. Just a little concentration, and he had an enchanted stone.

"You look happy," said Xena. "Does that mean you're thinking of me naked?"

"It means he attached a gate to the stone," said Pat. "We all try not to think of you naked."

"So ... what now?" asked Hal. "You give us each a stone to use if we need to make a quick getaway?"

"A stone's a lousy idea," said Laurette.

"Why?" asked Danny. He had thought it was a pretty good idea.

"First," said Laurette, "what if we drop our stone? How could we tell which one was ours, except by brushing our hand against it and taking off like Hal just did? And then we still don't have the stone -- but maybe whoever was chasing us finds it and follows us."

"Don't drop the stone," said Wheeler.

"Right, like none of us ever drops anything," said Pat.

"Second," said Laurette, "suppose somebody handcuffs us and searches us and finds a stone in our pockets or purses or whatever? How many people our age carry rocks around?"

"OK," said Danny, "Not a stone. I was just learning how to do it, and there are plenty of stones."

"A ring," said Sin.

"A nose ring," said Xena. "Then every time you blow your nose, you'll transport somewhere."

"Or you sniff and you get sent to the moon," said Wheeler.

"One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them," intoned Hal. "One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them."

"Are you saying we're on Sauron's side?" asked Wheeler, a little angry.

"Sauron doesn't have a side," said Danny. "You forget, the Families are all the gods, all the fairies, all the elves and ghosts and werewolves and poltergeists and everything. Good and bad, the Families are on both sides of everything. There's no good or evil with them. Just ... whatever they feel like doing, and have the power to do it."

"That sounds like as good a definition of evil as I've ever heard," said Pat.

"Well, look what I just did," said Danny. "I felt like attaching a gate to a stone, and when Xena suggested that I really focus on it, then I could do it. Was that evil?"

Pat shrugged. "Depends on whether you throw the stone at some other high school's quarterback and jump him ten yards back and drop him on his ass."

"That's just a prank," said Wheeler. "Can you do it?"

"He wouldn't need a stone," said Hal. "He could just do it."

"And it would be evil," said Pat. "Hurting somebody else just for the fun of it."

"So was it evil when I messed with Coach Lieder?" asked Danny.

"A little bit maybe," said Pat.

"But mostly funny," said Hal.

"And he deserved it," said Wheeler.

Danny remembered the men he had terrified into submission out over the Atlantic, and then stashed in a jail. They were murderers, or meant to be. They deserved worse than he had done to them. But it didn't make him feel all that great about the fact that he had the power to torture them like that. And that he had just done it, the moment he thought of it.

"Something you already carry with you," said Danny. "And I'll try to put the gate on it in such a way that you don't just accidentally pop through it. So don't give me your wallet."

"Wheeler can give you the condom he always carries," said Hal. "He's never going to use that."

Wheeler glared at him. "They gave it to me in fifth grade. It's like a rabbit's foot, I'm not going to use it, it's older than my dick by now."

"Ew," said Laurette. "You made me think of your weenie."

"Said the girl with the constant cleavage," said Wheeler.

"Please," said Danny. "Something you carry but you don't touch, but you could get to it in an emergency."

Pat already had a tampon out of her purse.

"Our turn to say 'ew,'" said Hal.

"Every girl carries them and nobody thinks anything about it," said Pat.

"I don't," said Sin.

"I carry extras," said Laurette, getting two tampons out of her purse.

"Then I am using my condom," said Wheeler, reaching into his pocket.

"I don't carry a purse," said Sin. "What am I supposed to do, tuck it behind my ear?" She handed the tampon back to Laurette.

"You don't carry a spare just in case?" asked Laurette.

"I'm never early and I'm not afraid of a little blood anyway," said Sin.

"Are you afraid of a little vomit?" asked Hal. "Because this is making me sick."

"Welcome to girlville," said Pat. "But since you're never going to have a girlfriend or a wife, it won't matter if you're squeamish."

"What if I'm rummaging in my purse for something else and I brush against it?" asked Xena, looking doubtfully at the tampon she was holding. "And should I unwrap it?"

Danny took it out of her hand.

"He's touching one," said Hal.

"Girl cooties," said Wheeler.

Danny studied the thing. Squeezed it. Pushed his finger against the end. "Just give me a second," he said.

He made a really tiny gate completely inside the end of the tampon. He tossed the tampon around on his hand and nothing happened. But when he pushed his finger into the end, he jumped through the gate -- this time only a few inches away. But it still made him lose his balance.

"Oh, a three-inch gate," said Pat. "That'll show 'em. 'Better be nice to me or I'll move another three inches!'"

"I'm just testing," said Danny. "You have to push your finger into the end before the gate will work."

"What happens if you forget which one is the gate and you use it?" asked Hal.

"I thought you didn't like talking about messy girl stuff," said Laurette.

"I can't help what pops into my head," said Hal.

"Please tell me you're not picturing me using it," said Pat.

"Well now I am and thanks so much," said Hal.

"I don't have anything that isn't hard and shiny," said Sin.

"Your lip gloss," said Pat.

Sin pulled a tiny canister out of her pocket. "It's hard and shiny," she said.

"The stuff inside is black and squishy," said Pat.

"I can put the gate down inside," said Danny.

"If you hide a gate in here I can't use it and my lips will get pink," said Sin.

Laurette pulled a stub of black licorice out of her purse. "Here, it's black. And it's squishy."

Sin took the licorice and studied it. "What century was this made in?"

"It's old, it's black, and it's gross," said Laurette. "Nobody will be surprised that you have it in your pocket. Or does your mother wash your jeans?"

Sin gave a disdainful toss of her head. "Washing is so bourgeouis."

Ten minutes later, they all had something flexible with a tiny gatemouth inside it. Three tampons, a licorice stub, a condom package, and a lion-shaped eraser that Hal had in his pocket.

"Why a lion?" asked Sin.

Hal shrugged. "Got it as a prize at the dentist one time."

"And you carry it with you," said Sin.

"Lost a tooth, got a lion," said Hal.

"It's Aslan," said Wheeler.

Hal looked really angry.

"Stop it," said Danny. "Have some loyalty, Wheeler."

"He told about my condom," said Wheeler.

"So if one of us pisses off another one of us, then suddenly we're all about getting even?" asked Pat. "Oh, that'll work."

"We don't tell each other's secrets," said Laurette. "And we don't make fun of each other."

"Does that mean I can't mention your cleavage, ever?" asked Danny.

"We don't make fun of things that matter," said Laurette. "Making fun of my cleavage is just another way of telling me that it's working."

"I think that's a good rule," said Danny.

"We all make fun of how Laurette shows her boobs?" asked Xena.

"We don't make each other feel bad," said Danny. "We don't tell each other's secrets to outsiders."

The others agreed.

"All of your gates," said Danny, "they'll take you here. But there's a chance one of the Families will find out about this place, so when you get here, if it's an emergency, just reach out to this tree." Danny showed them the one. "And here under this branch, there'll be another gate. Can you all reach it?"

They all proved that they could, even Xena, whose arms weren't all that long.

"Where will that gate take us?" asked Pat.

"Someplace far away. Someplace where I'll put a stash of money and a weapon. You'll never have to use it, but it'll be there, in case somebody's following you through the gate."

"So you don't have any idea yet where it'll go," said Pat.

"I'm thinking Disney World," said Danny.

"A weapon in the Magic Kingdom?" asked Sin. "That's just wrong."

"I'll find someplace safe, where I can stash a weapon and nobody will find it," said Danny. "For now, though, I'll make it lead to a place in DC. And then I'll make another gate there and show you all where it is, so you can get back to Buena Vista but in a different place."

"So we can try it out? It'll just be sitting there and if we want to go to DC we can use it?" asked Wheeler.

Everybody looked at him. "Once," said Danny. "You can try it once, to show that you know how to use it. But if you do it any other time, somebody might see you and then they'd know. It only works as an emergency escape if nobody knows, and that means you never use it. If you want to go to DC I'll send you there."

Wheeler laughed nervously. "This is really, like, serious and all."

"I thought you already understood that," said Danny. "If you stay friends with me, if you help me, you're going to be in real danger. And you'll need a real escape route. But if you want to beg off, then do it now. Let's not go any farther. I can leave this school any time. Without me here, you're safe. You haven't been seen doing anything yet."

"No," said Xena.

"We'll be good," said Hal.

Only Wheeler said nothing.

They all waited.

"I feel like I've already totally screwed up and you won't ever trust me no matter what I say," said Wheeler miserably.

"I'll trust you until you do something that shows me I shouldn't," said Danny.

"But I'm an idiot," said Wheeler.

"I told you he knew it," said Sin to Pat.

"I mean, I forget stuff. I blab stuff without thinking."

"Well, don't," said Danny. "That's all."

Wheeler nodded miserably. Then he suddenly disappeared and there he was over by the tree. He put his finger up where the next gate was going to be.

"Wheeler," said Danny. "You can't get away from me that way. Every gate I make is a part of me. I know where they go, and I know when people go through them. I also haven't put a gate in that tree yet."

"I just wanted to see if you had taken away my gate," said Wheeler.

"If I ever do," said Danny, "I'll tell you. Or I'll take away the condom." At the thought, he made a small gate that swallowed the condom even though it was in Wheeler's hand. He made it plop onto the ground in the middle of the group.

"Wow," said Wheeler. "You can take it right out of my hand?"

"No, I did that," said Xena.

"Really?" asked Wheeler.

"He really is an idiot," said Pat.

"Wheeler, I trust you," said Danny. "Now trust me, too." But in his heart, Danny knew that he would never really trust Wheeler. Would never send him out to deliver a message or run an errand more serious than buying sodas or picking up pizzas. Because his first instinct had been to use his gate carelessly. To test Danny. He doesn't know how to keep a promise.

They're all young. Maybe none of them do.

But he was in high school. These were the friends he had.

And it was cool that he could attach a gate to an object. I've made enchanted amulets, even if they are just tampons and napkins and a condom and a little-kid's eraser. No magic writing on them, nothing but a tiny gate embedded in them. It made him feel clever and powerful.

And there was Xena's hand on his arm again. He liked it there. He didn't pull his arm away.

Then he remembered that he didn't actually feel any attraction to Xena.

That was before she was attracted to him. Now she was very attractive.

I'm such a teenager myself, thought Danny. He remembered Lana, Ced's wife back in DC. How she made him feel. Xena was much nicer than Lana, and a lot less crazier. What if Danny had a girlfriend for a while? Not somebody who would seduce him and mock him for succumbing. Not a succubus. An actual girlfriend.

Then he remembered the stories of Zeus raping women all over the Aegean. And Hermes -- how many women did the old myths have Hermes seducing? There was no lock on a bedroom door that could keep him out.

Xena's basically saying I can have her if I want. I could go into her bedroom tonight and sleep with her and her parents would never see me come in or go out. And she'd let me. She'd think it was cool.

Until we'd done it. Then she'd think we were together. And we would be. What if she got pregnant? What if she thought it made her cooler than the other girls and it caused a rift in the group?

Keep your pants zipped and your brain out of Xena's bedroom, Danny told himself.

She leaned her head on his shoulder.

Danny turned his body to face Xena. She put a hand on his chest. He took the hand and held it between his. "We're friends, Xena. And fellow soldiers in a war. Let's see what happens when the war is over."

Xena tossed her hand and stepped to Pat. "I told you he was gay." Then she laughed as if it had been a joke. Which it was. Mostly. Maybe.

I have no business trying to lead a group of any kind. I should take back all these gates and leave right now and never come back. Everybody will be better off it I do that.

Everybody but me.

He'd been lonely his whole life. This was the first time he had friends. And he couldn't give them up. He didn't want to give them up, and he could do whatever he wanted, and so he was going to stay here with them. Because they thought he was cool. They liked that he was powerful. They weren't trying to kill him. And they liked him before they knew he could do this thing with gates.

And he was going to be thinking about Xena in spite of the fact that he wasn't attracted to her. Or to any of the girls. He was sixteen now, so any offer was going to make him obsess for a while. Knowing that it was just his hormones making him feel this way didn't make the feelings go away. Might as well enjoy the feeling. As long as he didn't do anything about it.

That night Danny went to DC and Stone agreed to let him put the tail of the emergency gate in his attic. "But no gun," said Stone.

"What if someone's coming after them?" asked Danny.

"Be creative," said Stone.

What Danny came up with was a stack of pennies with gates on both sides. As long as you handled them by the edge, you didn't go anywhere. But if you touched heads or tails, you found yourself someplace interesting and public. Just inside the gate of the White House. The middle of the Capitol rotunda. Lincoln's lap. On the nose of the giant in the Awakening statue. If one of his friends was getting chased through the gates, they come to Stone's attic closet, grab a penny, and throw it at whoever comes through the gate after them.

"Weaponized money," said Stone. "But if one of your friends comes through just for fun, I get to throw a penny at them."

"They're nice," said Danny. "I don't want them getting treated badly just because they're drowthers."

"You know me better than that," said Stone. "I'll treat them badly because they're teenagers."

When Veevee and Hermia heard about the portable gates, they both demanded some of their own. Veevee had a charm bracelet which she loaded up with rings, each one a gate leading to a useful place -- her condo, the Silvermans' farm, Danny's house, Danny's school, Stone's bedroom. "I'm his wife, I don't have to use the attic," she said.

"What if somebody steals the bracelet?" said Danny. "I suppose if Hermia locks them for you and you only open them when you --"

"While you were playing with your little friends," said Hermia, "we were working."

"We can't make gates," said Veevee, "but now I can lock them and Hermia can unlock them. We both have lock and key now."

"We're working on moving gates," said Hermia. "I think I moved one. Just the tail."

"But she can't do it again," said Veevee.

"So then it doesn't have to be a ring," said Danny. "I can attach a gate to anything, and it only works when you want it to."

Hermia handed him a euro. "Put a dozen or so gates on this," she said. "I'll only open the ones I need, when I need them."

Her list of destinations was longer than Veevee's, but she had to stay a jump ahead of her Family. Danny attached two dozen gates to the coin. At first he tried to arrange them in some orderly way, but Hermia just laughed. "Danny, I can see them all, I can tell them apart, I know where they go, and I can keep them all locked except the one I want to use. Go ahead and pile them on in a jumble."

He gave her Paris, New York, Dubai, Singapore, Katmandu, Accra, Brisbane, São Paulo, a dozen other cities -- not to mention the Greek Family's office building in Athens, the North Family compound in Virginia, and the Library of Congress. "It's practically the whole atlas," said Veevee admiringly.

"I'll add as many gates as you want," said Danny.

"No, I'm not jealous, and I know you'll open a gate to anywhere I want. What I'm worried about, Danny, is that there's no gate that takes me to you."

Hermia nodded. "We have all these gate mouths with us. But we need a gate whose tail always leads to wherever you are."

"I can't have you popping out of my pocket," said Danny.

"I know," said Veevee. "Have us come out of an old-fashioned oil lamp. We can be your genies."

"Amusing as that sounds," said Danny, "I don't want you popping up when I'm on the john."

"What if you need our help?" asked Hermia.

"I'll always know where these gates are. If I need to, I can move the tail of one of your portable gates to a place near me."

"Unless you're unconscious," said Veevee.

"I'll think about this," said Danny.

"You can lock it," said Hermia. "And then unlock it if you need us. We aren't going to intrude on your privacy."

"We unlock it ourselves only if we think something is really wrong," said Veevee.

"We peek through ahead of time," said Hermia.

Danny hated the whole idea. It was one thing to give them the power to go anywhere by using their amulets. But to give someone constant access to him -- that wasn't going to happen. Even if they promised not to use it.

"I don't think he sees a difference between peeking through a gate and coming through it," said Veevee. "He doesn't want to be spied on."

"You have to trust us," said Hermia.

"I said I'd think about it," said Danny.

"Meaning the answer is no," said Veevee.

"It's really unfair," said Hermia. "You can make a gate anytime you want, no matter what we're doing. We can't hide from you, but you don't think we can be trusted not to spy on you or intrude when you're kissing some girl."

"We won't take pictures," said Veevee. "Or at least we won't post them online."

"I said," Danny began.

"He's getting testy now," said Veevee.

"I don't spy on you," said Danny, "and I know you won't spy on me. But that's how power is -- just because you have a power doesn't mean you want other people to use their power on you. Fairness only seems reasonable when the other person is more powerful than you."

"As it seems to us," said Hermia.

"I hate to sound like one of the Family," said Danny, "but ... you're just going to have to live with it till I get used to the idea. Maybe someday I'll wish I had made gates that follow me around like puppies, so you can always find me. But right now I don't know how to do that, and I don't think I even want to, and so ... I won't."

"Tough guy," said Veevee.

"He's not so tough," said Hermia. "He sounds like he's apologizing. Real assholes don't even pretend to be sorry."

"True," said Veevee. "It isn't in his nature, so he's not good at assholery yet."

"Thanks," said Danny. "I think."

"Well," said Hermia, "I'd better go, or the Family will track me here."

"You've got to get those gates out of her," said Veevee.

She was right.

Danny studied Hermia, and then passed a gate over her, one that left her exactly where she was.

"What was that about?" asked Hermia.

"I didn't know what I might have gained by going to Westil," said Danny. "For all I know, I might always have had the ability to attach gates to portable objects. And maybe going through a Great Gate doesn't affect the mage who made it. But I think there is a difference. When you went through the gate I just made, I could feel a difference in you -- the places where the gate was trying to heal you and meeting with resistance. Maybe that's what it was, anyway. I counted five places like that."

"You should just send her through an airport scanner," said Veevee. "They'll show you exactly where the trackers are implanted.

Danny laughed. "Of course. Veevee, will you come along and make a distraction?"

He took them to the Roanoke airport. Veevee got to the end of the security line and then started wailing. "Where's my ticket! I had my ticket right here!"

Her noise drew everyone's attention, and in the moment, Danny put Hermia right in front of the security gate, ahead of the person at the front of the line. Then he opened a peephole over the shoulder of the TSA official working the screen.

Veevee, seeing Hermia in place, took off on an elaborate charade of searching for her lost boarding pass. The guard waved Hermia into the machine.

Danny had been right about the trackers. Five of them, exactly where he had felt the gate trying and failing to heal her. The trip to Westil had given him more power. A sharper focus, a greater awareness.

He moved the porthole to a spot an inch from Hermia's ear. "Gate to my house in Buena Vista," he said. Then he gave the same message to Veevee.

In a moment they were all there. "I spotted all five trackers," said Danny. "I think I can gate them out."

"'Think'?" said Hermia. "This is my body we're talking about."

"I'll have a nice big gate ready for you to pass through so when I get each one out, you can heal yourself instantly. What can go wrong?"

"Famous last words," said Veevee.

But after another minute of dithering, Hermia said, "Oh, just do it."

"Are you sure?" said Danny.

"Do it, gate boy," said Veevee. "Can't you tell when a woman's saying 'yes'? You really are young."

In about ten seconds, Danny was done. There were five chips on the table, and Danny had passed the healing gate over Hermia after removing each one. It was very quick.

"It did hurt," said Hermia. "Surgery is surgery."

"Sorry," said Danny.

"I was just reporting, so you'd know," said Hermia. "I never thought it would be painless, so it wasn't a complaint." She picked up one of the chips. "So my parents thought it would be a good idea to put these things in their baby girl."

"The question is, what do we do with them?" said Veevee. "I say gate them to an incinerator."

"Or implant them in somebody else," said Hermia.

"That wouldn't be nice," said Veevee.

"I was thinking, what about the President? Or Prince Charles?" said Hermia. "Or some dictator somewhere. Make my Family go chasing them."

"Or five different people," said Veevee. "Make them go crazy trying to figure out which one is you."

In the end, Danny gated one tracker under the skin of each of the Hittite-Armenian assassins and sent the other trackers about a mile deep in the Atlantic. Then he gated the two assassins from the jail to the Greek Family's offices in Athens. "Let my folks deal with them," said Hermia.

"Are you going to tell them what the bastards tried to do to you?" asked Veevee.

"No," said Hermia. "Let them try to talk to each other. They'll know we picked these clowns to receive exactly two of the trackers for a reason. They'll know it wasn't random. But if I tell my family, they'll just kill them. Even if they're seriously angry at me, they won't approve of assassins from another Family going after me."

"So you think the assassins won't talk?" asked Danny.

"My family won't dangle them upside down over the ocean," said Hermia. "Or maybe they will -- but they won't do it as cleverly and magically as you did."

"We are gatemages, aren't we?" said Veevee with some satisfaction. "It's so much fun to prank everybody at once."

They went to Veevee's favorite gelato place -- Angelato, on Arizona Avenue in Santa Monica -- and ate their gelatos on the Third Street Promenade. Then all three of them gated away to wherever they were going to spend the night. Veevee laughed in delight as she prepared to stick a finger into one of her rings. "Oh, I feel so powerful. Like the first time I got the keys to the family car." Then she was gone.

Alone in his little house in Buena Vista, Danny could hardly believe what he had done in a single day. Went to Westil and met the Gate Thief. Created portable gates for his friends. Removed the tracking chips from Hermia. Ate dessert in California and got back before bedtime.

Botched a Great Gate.

He really wanted to think about Xena as he went to sleep. But all he could think about was the angry gate that Marion and Leslie were tending now. How could he do something that stupid?

And then, inexplicably, he thought of Coach Lieder's daughter Nicki. How was she doing? Had they realized yet that she was healed of her cancer?

That, at least, was something Danny hadn't screwed up.

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