You don't know a girl has money because she comes to school in a long black car. You don't know for sure just because she has a uniformed chauffeur. But you suspect she may have money if the uniformed servant who opens the car door for her is not the chauffeur but someone who evidently has been brought along solely for this purpose.
These are the lighthearted reflections that pass through Tom's head on a cloudy Monday morning. His mood soon becomes more somber. Takikawa seems more nervous than usual, but that's really no skin of his nose. Possibly it does involve Ben somehow, though. But Ben is immune to danger, so really no reason to worry. More disturbing, however, is the frustration on Andrea's face. And then he sees Jonas, and his heart becomes really heavy. His childhood friend seems on the verge of tears.
"Jonas! What's happened?"
"They ... the idiots! The stupid idiots!"
This is not a very exact description and could fit on a lot of people they both know, so Tom makes an effort to pinpoint the problem more exactly. Finally Jonas spills it all.
"We're moving. One of those foreigners have bought our house. Bought our home!! Just like that!"
"That sucks. That really sucks."
"Yeah. Dad says we could need the money. Of course, everyone always needs more money. We had a good life here. We would not have needed the money if they hadn't tempted him!"
"That's so unfair. But at least you don't need to move far."
"We can't buy anything here. The prices are wild now. We'll have to move to the next county at least. Somewhere people don't go to Sugar High."
"That sucks like a vacuum."
"I have all of my friends here. I have everything here! Why? I thought only good things was supposed to happen around the Starborn. This isn't a good thing at all!"
"Well, your dad may disagree very strongly with that. A few years pay for nothing but living in the right place is kinda a miracle."
"But I have to leave all my friends!"
"Perhaps you'll get new and better friends there."
"Stop making things up to comfort me! It's just not right! I trusted him, but he has ruined my life!"
"I don't know how it will work out, but I think the miracle power always work for good in the end. I just can't see how yet. Perhaps we'll see it later."
"Everyone just stabs me in the back. Ben, my parents, you. All of you. You don't really care as long as it doesn't hurt you!"
"That's not true! I'm gonna miss you too. I just don't think the miracle power cares much about loneliness. The Starborn seem to be more alone than almost any people on Earth."
"Well, they don't need to share it with everyone! I don't even want to see him. I'm going home. They can't make me go to school. I'm quitting this school anyway, so why bother?"
"No. I'm going. Have a very nice day and have fun with all of your friends."
OK, so that wasn't a very good way to start the day.
"You didn't know?"
"Not at all. No wonder he was upset!"
"But ... I thought ... you looked none too happy yourself."
"That wasn't for him, that was for me."
"Andrea...? Don't tell me you're moving too!"
"Hah! Not quite that far. I'm just going to be in class B from next week."
"Class B? Why?"
"Evidently there are already too many students here compared to there, and some Very Important Empress necessarily needs to be here in class A."
"The one who bought out Jonas."
"Could be. Unless there are even more of them."
"Perhaps we will all be squeezed out of class A."
"Ben alone in a class of snobby girls."
"Poor guy. Oh well, if so at least you and I will be in the same class again."
"Unless they buy up the whole town so we too have to move."
"My dad would never sell the farm. He would die first."
"Yeah. It's just ... I'm just not sure that would be enough to stop them."
"Not everything that happens around me is because of the Heritage, Tom." Ben looks at his friends with sympathy in those deep, clear blue eyes. "Not even here in the classroom, much less in the town, or in countries far away. I am not a god. Just a nexus, or that's what Murti calls it."
"One of my home school teachers, a friend of Dad. He is an expert on spiritual energy and things like that."
"But I thought your miracle energy protected you."
"It does. It protects me from being shot, poisoned, bombed ... all kind of things like that. But it does not protect me from being lonely. It does not even protect me from making mistakes, unless I stay aware. I take no joy in causing sorrow to others, that is true. But sometimes it may happen anyway. I don't control all things. Even my ancestors were not gods, much less I. Surely you knew?"
"I guess we were just asking you because we hoped you could comfort us somehow" says Andrea plainly. "Like telling us that it will all be alright."
"I am sorry Andrea. I cannot guarantee that even for my friends. But I can try to teach you how to Connect, so it will be easier to be at the right place at the right time."
"Uhm, I'm not very big on those kind of things."
"Most people are not" Ben says evenly.
Tom knows about Connection, of course. Some people call it the religion of the new age. Others say it is just what people used to call meditation or yoga or even prayer. Some say it is related to the Christian concept of being "born again". It seems to mean so many different things to different people that it doesn't really mean anything at all. Supposedly it is a way to shift the mind from its usual way of thinking to somehow becoming aware of the invisible force of goodness that surrounds us all. The Starborn are, well, born to it. Other people can supposedly achieve it, but details are vague to say the least, and it sounds like a lot of trouble.
"Mr Starborn, Sir?"
"Yes?" Ben turns toward the Japanese girl. They have spoken before, almost daily since her arrival, but always briefly and about inconsequential things. For some reason, Ben has never given her or Hoyenburgh the 'my friends call me Ben' speech. So they both address him with his last name, at the very least. If anything, she seems more than usual polite today.
"I was wondering if you would consider having lunch with me?"
Ben looks at her with large blue eyes. "Do you want me to share my lunch with you?"
"No, no! I... I made an extra lunch box. For you. If you would accept it."
"That does not make sense to me."
"I have come to understand that those who have more should share with those who have less, but those who have less are not supposed to first share with the more wealthy."
Miss Takikawa looks at him as if she suddenly does not understand English after all. As she does not answer, he continues.
"Certainly it would be more fitting if you, who have a much poorer life, asked me to first do you a favor. If you want, I will share my lunch equally with you." He pulls up a paper bag and shows two rather large sandwiches.
The girl backs away, as if the simple sandwiches were dangerous weapons. "No... no..."
"Then I would prefer to eat my own lunch today in the company of those who have sought my friendship by their own free will."
She turns and flees as if from a dangerous criminal. Tom and Andrea look until she disappears around a corner. "What was that all about?"
"I did not speak to her."
"Huh?" "Then who?"
"My words were for those who sent her. She is a slave. A servant will do his work, and then live his life. The two are not the same. But a slave can be forced to do that which should only be done by free will. A slave has no life outside what he is told to do. This girl is a slave. That is why I cannot speak to her, for she cannot choose to accept or discard my words. She must take them to her owner."
"Aiko is a slave??"
"Yes. Even though she is born to a family of great power, she has been raised a slave. Is it not sad?"