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Authors: Orson Scott Card

Gatefather

BOOK: Gatefather
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To Kyle Rankin:

a fellow dreamer

of the greatest dreams,

devoting your life to making them all

come true

 

1

It was Pat who called the meeting of Danny's friends. “Right after school, in the place,” she said to each of them. Then she immediately changed the subject, to forestall questions. Parry McCluer High School was not the place to have this discussion. They couldn't afford to be overheard.

Pat cut her last class of the day, so she was already in the small clearing in the woods overlooking the high school when the others began to arrive. As she expected, they each popped into existence in their regular spot. First Laurette and Sin, because they had last period together. Then Xena, who arrived talking, as if she had used her gate in mid-conversation with somebody else.

Xena caught Pat's glare and glared back. “I was talking to Wheeler,” she said, “behind the school with nobody else around. I'm not an idiot.”

“Wheeler is,” said Laurette.

“Wheeler is what?” asked Wheeler, who arrived wiping his hands on the back of his pants. Pat wondered idly if he had come a few moments after Xena so he'd have a chance to pick his nose and wipe his finger on his clothes. Well, give the boy credit for wanting to do it when nobody was looking.

“Drop it,” said Xena. “You're here
now
.”

“What about Hal?” asked Pat.

“He's doing some kind of computer experiment thing,” said Wheeler. “Might as well start without him.”

“Might as well not,” said Pat.

“What's this about?” asked Laurette.

“When Hal is here,” said Pat.

“So mysterious,” said Sin.

“You like mystery,” said Xena. “It's like we're living inside
The X-Files
.”

“Is this another intervention?” asked Wheeler.

“Do you see a sign?” asked Laurette.

Pat thought back to the time when they forced Danny to tell them the truth about himself by staging an intervention disguised as a birthday party. Only Danny
hadn't
told them. He took their ultimatum—tell us who or what you really are, or we're not friends—and made the wrong choice. They followed him home and it was the Greek Lockfriend, Hermia, who ended up telling them that Danny North was a Norse god, after a fashion. A gatemage, who could create passages through which people could pass instantaneously from one place to another.

Hermia also enlisted them as Danny's servants. She was very cold about it. They weren't Danny's equals, and so the only way to be his friends was to serve his purposes. They had all agreed, though they really had no idea what it meant at the time. At first it was really cool—the amulets he made for them, that brought them to this clearing in the woods; the occasional trips anywhere in the world. The time he enlisted Hal and Wheeler to help him dig out an ancient cave opening in Egypt. The time he had them memorize a proclamation, then gated them to each of the great Families to recite it to them. It felt so much bigger than anything they had ever imagined.

Laurette and Sin immediately got flirty with Danny in a way they had never been before, but it was Xena who quite openly started lobbying to have his baby. Danny rejected her advances, kindly but clearly refusing to father children on anybody. Xena hadn't let go of it—she imagined that because Danny wasn't actually cruel to her, he was secretly in love with her.

Pat saw all this with something halfway between amusement and disgust. The only girl who worried her was the Greek gatemage, Hermia. Because she was a mage like Danny, only weaker—she couldn't actually make gates, only find them and open and close them—he spent a lot of time with her. But Pat saw something about Hermia that Danny couldn't see—that she was using him, that she could not be trusted. Hermia didn't show any close bond to him. She wasn't
his
.

And when Pat went to his house late one night to warn him about Hermia, something happened. Pat ended up confessing to him something she hadn't realized until that moment: that she herself was in love with him—the only one of the girls who really
was
. And Danny responded by kissing her and telling her that he loved her in return. It was so overwhelming, emotionally, that if he had wanted to, she would have made love to him then and there.

But Danny refused. He wouldn't do it. He wasn't going to have sex with anybody until he actually made a lifelong commitment and married someone. Period. No exceptions, not even for true love.

After she left, Pat was stunned and humiliated by her own audacity in going to his little two-room house, alone, and practically throwing herself at him. She felt as stupid and obvious as Xena.

Except that Danny had
wanted
her. He
loved
her. So there was nothing to feel stupid about. That mantra kept her going.

Then Danny took them through a Great Gate to the world of Westil. He had been forced into making the Great Gate by Hermia's betrayal, and the purpose was to take the Mithermage Families through the Great Gate to Westil and then bring them all back to Earth, to Mittlegard. Passage through a Great Gate also brought mages to the peak of their powers. Danny had hoped that if any of his nonmagical drowther friends from Parry McCluer High had latent magical abilities, they would emerge after that passage.

None of the others reported having any changes in them. But that didn't prove anything, because a new power
had
emerged in Pat, and she hadn't told anybody. Though it was hard to imagine any of the others keeping something like that secret. Maybe Hal. But the others would blab or brag or be so scared they would have to talk to
somebody
.

Pat had no such need. She recognized what was going on the moment she felt the air of Westil moving against her skin. Then, moments later, when she returned to Earth, the same feeling was there. It wasn't
Westil's
air that mattered to her after passing through a Great Gate—it was air. Air in motion. Air with power.

She had always loved the wind, from breezes to gales. She was not surprised that this turned out to be her affinity, and she began to be able to spin little whirlwinds, to raise a breeze, even a wind. A few times, walking alone down a steep hill, she had created a wind that lifted her off her feet and carried her several yards in whatever direction she chose.

I can fly, she had thought. Yet she told no one, not even Danny. She
meant
to, but it never came up. And she was afraid he'd see what she could do and say, Is that all?

No, Danny would never show disappointment. He'd be very encouraging. But she'd see in his eyes that he was
not
impressed.

So she held off, working on her windmagery privately so she'd have something worth showing when she finally told him.

But today something happened that made her own pathetic magery seem utterly unimportant. Because Pat had reason to believe that Danny was in grave danger.

No. Not
danger
. She had reason to believe that the worst thing had already happened to him.

“So what is this meeting about, Pat?” asked Hal.

He must have arrived while she was in her reverie.

“I don't think this meeting should take place here,” said Pat.

Everyone seemed exasperated. “Then why did you bring us here?” demanded Wheeler.

“Because this is where the emergency escape gate is,” said Pat. “What I tell you about, I want to say in front of Danny's friend in DC. Stone.”

“Why?” asked Hal. “We don't even know him.”

“But Danny does. And Stone knows about magery. He can tell us what to do, and what not to do.”

“About
what
?” demanded Sin. “You're being so bossy and creepy.”

“About Danny,” said Pat.

She couldn't watch everyone at once, but it seemed to her that all the other girls flinched or stiffened or looked away when she spoke of doing something about Danny.

Pat rose to her feet and walked to the tree that held the small gate leading to DC. She touched the spot under the tree limb and just like that, with no physical sensation but the change of air, she was in a dark attic room.

By the light slanting through the shutters of the east-facing cupola window, she saw the low table with a stack of pennies on it. They were the arsenal Danny had created; each penny had gates on either side. If they arrived with an enemy in pursuit, they were to handle the pennies by the edge only, and throw them at the pursuer. The gate would hurtle their enemy to some far-off, awkward location, almost all of them with police or military close by.

But her pursuers this time were her friends, and she stepped away from the gate so they could come through without bumping her out of the way. Danny had told them about a time when he gated himself into a space occupied by Coach Lieder's hand, shattering the bones of his fingers into slivers inside little bags of flesh. Pat didn't want that to happen to her whole body.

She glanced over only long enough to see that it was Laurette who had come right after her. “Move out of the way of the gate,” said Pat, “and keep the others up here. I'm going to find Stone.”

“Can I turn on a light?” asked Laurette.

Pat was already out the door and heading down the stairs.

She found Stone in the kitchen, talking earnestly with two men in suits. For a moment Pat thought: We're betrayed, he's talking to the enemy. But then she realized that whatever enemy she was thinking of was not all that likely to be wearing suits, and there were a thousand perfectly honorable reasons Stone might be having such a conversation.

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