"TOM! Come, quick!"
Tom drops his textbook, jumps to his feet and tumbles down the stairs. "Trine?"
"Look! Look! There he is!"
She is not pointing at some shady character come to kidnap them and put their home to the torch, however. Rather, the stylish metallic black box where the entire front is their window to the world: The InterView. Thanks to the incomprehensible magic of modern technology, people all over the world can watch anything from local trade fairs to international news. In this case, it is the latter.
"They're in Moscow!"
Right. Ben had mentioned it, just briefly. He would be traveling with his mother and sister this weekend. That wasn't really a big surprise, the Starborn travel a lot.
There he is, indeed. Together with his cheerful little sister and their majestically beautiful mother. And they are surrounded by a sea of people. They are all cheering and singing. The camera zooms out, out, out. Cut to footage (wingage?) from a plane above the city. There must be hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps a million or two. Tom isn't an expert on such things. But the whole center of Moscow is packed with people.
Tom stares vacantly at the screen, where the picture is now taken from so far above the city that it looks more like a map. Somewhere near the center of that map is a tiny dot, and in the middle of that tiny dot is the boy who uses to sit beside him in class every day. OK, there would probably not be that many people if only he came and not his mother. But even so. It is as if he deliberately masks this part of himself when he is with his friends. Tom suddenly remembers the awe he felt when he first saw the Starborn in the flesh. But after their eyes met the first time, it is as if he stopped caring about it. He can still remember it, he can still feel it, but it doesn't matter, because they are friends. How strange.
The map picture disappears suddenly, replaced with a closer picture from the street. Someone is waving a crutch in the air, triumphantly. It is not hard to guess what has happened. These things always happen when there are Starborn and lots of people. Others may go to a control one of the next days and find that their cancer is mysteriously in remission. An alcoholic comes home and finds that he has no interest in liquor anymore. There are lots of miracles that don't show on Interview. But crutches look good on IV. He suddenly remembers a quip he read somewhere: "Religion is like a crutch. If you need it, it makes your life better. And even if you don't need it, you can still use it to bash people upside their head."
This really does look like religion. People coming together to witness miracles, to hear a message of love and unity, and to just be together in a good way. Perhaps this is why the churches are mostly empty these days ... it is a new age, where religion is not found in old books but in the world where people live. Or perhaps not religion exactly, but faith. And hope. And love.
He glances at Trine, who is still eagerly following the screen, no doubt hoping to catch a glimpse of the wonderful Benjamin Betelgeuse Starborn. The scary thing is that he can understand her, even though he is a boy. The kind of words people use when they are in love, those are the only fitting words to use about someone like that. But he can't admit that, of course. People would start thinking weird things. Especially Trine.
The screen changes again, zooms in to the trio on the platform. Trine squeals. Then it zooms all the way in to Anita Starborn, and she looks into the camera and starts to speak. Of course, being in Moscow, she speaks Russian. While small countries such as Norway have adopted English, and much of the world uses it as a second language, the large countries still use their own national languages. And Anita speaks them all fluently. Of course. It is probably not even some spiritual gift. He has already noticed that Ben can learn anything, whether a new word or a new skill, simply by studying it once. If you tell him something, he will remember it for life and can recall it whenever needed. He never falters or searches for the right word when asked about anything in class. In fact, the teachers have already stopped asking him, perhaps to not discourage the other students.
Since this is an English feed, the speech is subtitled in English with a short delay. She is talking about the need to give each other room to grow as different people, because it is through the sum of our differences that we can reach the full measure of what it means to be human. No one can be everything at once. We need each other's different experiences. But in truth, she could have talked about the price of fish in Madagascar, and people would still have wept with joy. Her melodic voice, the wisdom and confidence that radiates from her face, would be enough to stun anyone even if they did not understand a word.
At this moment, people in China are surely watching this, at least those who can afford InterView. The same in Brazil, France and many other places where they don't speak English. They are probably thinking the same thing as he is. How strange ... one world, united, is all Tom has ever known. But in times gone by, the rule was that countries were at war or recovering from a war or preparing for the next. For thousands of years, violence was the natural way to solve misunderstandings and conflicts of interest. If not for the Visitors, perhaps it would still be like that. If civilization had even survived. Probably not.
After Antares' heartfelt plea for peace and love, the camera zooms out again. Predictably, Trine squeals again. And for a moment, Ben looks straight into the camera, and his lips and his eyes form that shy little smile, exactly like he does at school. Tom could have sworn that Ben was looking right at him. But of course he wasn't.
"I wonder who he was smiling to?" says Trine.
Tom reels as if from a blow. Ben's family is right there with him. He is not smiling to them. His smile must be meant for someone else he know. Could he possibly know that Tom would be watching? No, that's madness. Everyone who has met him at some time is probably thinking the exact same thing right now.
"We will now switch to the Conference on Environmental Repair in Cairo..."
"Well, that was it" says Trine and disconnects the feed.