The Gate Thief - By Orson Scott Card

1

FLYING CHILDREN

On a certain day in November, in the early afternoon, if you had just parked your car at Kenney’s burger place in Buena Vista, Virginia, or maybe you were walking into Nick’s Italian Kitchen or Todd’s Barbecue, you might have cast your gaze up the hill toward Parry McCluer High School. It could happen. You have to look somewhere, right?

You might have noticed something shooting straight up out of the school. Something the size and shape of, say, a high school student. Arms waving, maybe. Legs kicking—count on that. Definitely a human being.

Like a rocket, upward until he’s a mile above Buena Vista. He hangs in the air for just a moment. Long enough to see and be seen.

And then down he goes. Straight down, and not falling, no, shooting downward just as fast as he went up. Bound to kill himself at that speed.

You can’t believe you saw it. So you keep watching for a moment longer, a few seconds, and look! There it is again! Too far away to be sure whether it’s the same kid or a different one. But if you’ve got someone with you, you grab them, you say, “Look! Is that a person? Is that a kid?”

“Where?”

“In the sky! Above the high school, look up, I’m saying straight up, you seeing what I’m seeing?”

Down comes the kid, plummeting toward the school.

“He’s got to be dead,” you say. “Nobody could live through that.”

And there it is again! Straight up!

“That’s one hell of a trampoline,” somebody says.

If you noticed it early enough, you’d see it repeated about thirty times. And then it stops.

Do you think they’re dead? I don’t know, how could anybody live through that? Should we go up and see? I’m not even sure it was people, it could have been, like, dummies or something. We’d sound so stupid—hey, you got a bunch of kids getting catapulted straight up and then smashing down again? It can’t be what it looked like. Maybe we’ll see it on the news tonight.

Three different people got it on their smartphones. Not the whole thing, but the last five or six, and one guy got fifteen of them. High quality video it wasn’t, but that actually made it more credible. All three videos got emailed to people. All three ended up on YouTube.

Lots of comments: “Fake.” “Why do people bother making crap like this?” “You can see that the lighting’s different on the flying dummies.” “Cool. Something new and fun to do with your old G.I. Joe’s.” The usual.

The local news stations aren’t all that local. Lynchburg. Roanoke. Staunton. They don’t give a rat’s ass about Buena Vista—the town never amounted to anything even before it died, that’s what people think in the big city. If those are big cities.

And the footage is so implausible, the flying figures so tiny that it wouldn’t look like anything on TV screens. Besides, the fliers were so high that at the top, all you can see is a dot in the sky, not even the mountains. So it’s sky, clouds, and a dot—makes no sense. Has to be a bird. Has to be a trick of the light. So it doesn’t get on the news.

But scattered through the world, there are a few thousand people who know exactly what could cause those kids to fly. Straight up, straight down, incredibly fast and yet no news stories about dead kids at a Virginia high school. Oh, yeah, it makes sense to them, all right.

It’s an act of a god. No, not an “act of God,” to use the weasel-out-of-it words in insurance policies. Not God. A god.

Or at least people used to call them gods, in the old days, when Zeus and Mercury and Thor and Vishnu and Borvo and Mithra and Pekelnik were worshiped wherever Indo-European languages were spoken.

Nobody called them gods anymore, but they were still around. Weaker now, because they could no longer pass through the Great Gates that used to carry them from Earth to Westil and back again, greatly magnifying their powers.

Only a gatemage could send someone from one place to another instantaneously, but there hadn’t been a gatemage since 632 A.D., when the last Loki of the Norse destroyed all the gates on Earth, disappearing through the last Great Gate and closing it behind him.

In the North Family compound, only a few miles away from Buena Vista, one of the kids spotted the longest YouTube video only a few hours after it went up on the web,

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