**Note: Although the following is part of a previously self-published eBook, portions have been modified. However, it has not been professionally edited and likely contains typos and other errors. It is offered as an example of raw science fiction storytelling.**
A knock came to the outer room door.
“Come,” Raven shouted loudly enough to be heard.
“My apologies, Master. It was time for brunch,” he wheeled a cart into the room.
“Very good, Dom. Sit the tray on the table by the couch. We will be out shortly.”
“Will there be anything else?” Dom asked.
“Are you staying for dinner, Cristina?”
“I have a concert tonight. There is a sound check this afternoon. Anyway, I usually don’t eat before performing.”
“Then there is nothing else for now, Dom. You may stand down until I call.”
“As you wish, sir.”
Raven said to his guest, “I’ll give you a rain check, then. Perhaps later tonight?”
“Why don’t you come see the performance? I can arrange for a place backstage.”
“I would love to but leaving the house is no longer a viable option.”
“What you see before you is mainly an illusion, my dear. And it only exists within the confines of this modest abode.”
“I wouldn’t agree there is anything modest about a castle.”
“I assure you it is a scale replica. I have lived in a real castle, very much like this. One significant difference is this one is not drafty.”
She tilted her head to one side, considering the mystery of the man before her. No longer did she feel threatened or nervous. He was a gracious host. Still, there was a lot she wanted to know and he was less than forthcoming.
“By then way, I don’t agree with your assessment of mankind.”
“It doesn’t surprise me. Someone as young and full of potential as you would never discount possibilities.”
“I don’t think we are headed for extinction.”
“Certainly not you.”
“Are your patronizing me?”
“Not at all.”
“I hope not.”
“But for a lot of other people it is only a question of when and how.”
“We are survivors,” Cristina countered.
“Yes, that we are. In many ways we are already living in time wrested from oblivion. We destroyed our mother world, but we were clever enough to adapt some other places to suit us. We have survived as long as we have because we can change the rules of existence to a very real degree, as if survival is a game. Still, I am mindful of one truth. Many of the greatest advances in mankind’s history have resulted from seemingly accidental discoveries while in search of entirely different knowledge. What has distinguished mankind is that we seem to have an innate ability to recognize the worth of something unexpected and capitalize on it.”
“I hope you won’t mind if I pray that you are wrong about the our inevitable demise.”
“If I am right, it is not anything I would ever gloat over.”
She sought to change the subject. “You are an artist. Chase told me. I saw the paintings in the hall.”
“I painted for a time and then sculpted for decades. I have written books and dabbled in poetry and music.”
“You have a multi-faceted talent.”
“I have had the time to learn how to do many things to assuage the tedium of a very long life.”
“I have never heard of you. I mean, as good as your art is, I would think that everyone would know Raven.”
“It is an assumed name, of course”
“I figured as much.”
“It would not be well for some people to know that I am still alive, let alone know my current whereabouts.” He exited the concealed room and once Cristina was clear of the bookcase he clicked the remote to close it.
He returned to the mantle over the fireplace where the artificial fire raged. He pointed to it and commented, “I am amazed at what the engineers and technicians can do with replication and simulation, though. I have to give them kudos for this castle, even the rocking chair you just sat down in and this wonderfully radiant fire that is also environmentally friendly. They even programmed settings to allow the fire to seem to die down to embers. Whenever men are not trying to kill one another we can become most clever creatures.”
“Who are you?” she inquired.
“A fellow traveler.”
“No I mean really, who are you?”
“I have been around for a while, as I have suggested. Some would think it has been too long if they realized it. Gratefully most of them who knew me back then are now long gone.”
He turned to face her. “That remains to be seen, does it not?”
“What if I can guess it, your name? I mean, will you tell me?”
“Do you think you know who I am?”
“Not yet, but I am just…well, I am pretty good at figuring things out.”
“I’ll bet you are, my dear. But there is only one other human yet alive that knows my real name. He was my contemporary on Earth. But as he remained there he is in a worse predicament than me.”
“He is like you but actually lives on Earth?”
“On an island, last I heard. If you know Earth geography, it is southeast of Puerto Rico, part of the Virgin Islands.”
“I thought no one lived on Earth.”
“Research teams are here and there, and of course, my friend. He accumulated a good deal of wealth. So, he decided to spend everything he could in order to fix the problems of that troubled world through terraforming it back into what it once was.”
“Is that possible?”
Raven smiled, “I don’t know. It’s a crazy idea, but sometimes those are the best ideas of all. And if he succeeds mankind might actually return home and the curse upon the entire race may be lifted.”
“Fertility rates have continuously declined for humans since they left the good Mother Earth. It was negligible at first. But recently, for the first time, there will be a negative population growth in all of the colonies, including Pravda.”
“Scientists think it is something they can fix. They would because they always believe that. But the truth is that when you remove a human from the complex interactions of gravity and electromagnetism of the world of origin, suddenly some things in the tiniest parts of cells begin to alter ever so slightly.”
“Even the subatomic pieces that allow our DNA to work properly.”
“There could be other reasons for that.”
“I suppose there could, but I am right. And the scientists know it. I would tell them, but I know it just to piss them off. What’s the point? If I had a solution, maybe I would.”
“How do you know you’re right?”
“The same way you do. It comes from instinct. Then, I confirm it through observation and testing.”
“Like a scientist. You are one of them.”
“You are very astute. It was long before I became interested in the artistic side of my being.”
“You hate them so much because being one of them you understand them and their vulnerabilities.”
“I reiterate; you are astute.”
Cristina studied him, as his appearance even seemed to change before her eyes. Feathers seemed to erupt from his cheeks and he sprouted wings that rapidly populated with feathers, all of them black. “You’re playing with me.”
“Not at all. I’m demonstrating an illusion, and what an illusion can become. Can you venture why I would do that?”
“I can nearly hear you telling me that many things in the world are an illusion, so be skeptical.”
“Very good, because that was my precise thought.”
She shifted, suddenly uncomfortable where she sat.
“You knew you could do that. You knew it before I told you.”
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Certainly,” Raven allowed, already knowing what it was as she had as yet not locked her thoughts into her mind, assuming innocently that others would not have the ability to violate her privacy.
“You have been…”
“Famous and infamous. Each and both in ways you might never understand.”
“I think I could guess your name, especially if you were ever famous.”
“Perhaps you might. You are gifted.”
“Well, at least you have to give me some clues.”
“You really need no clues, but what would you like to know?”
“Something about your background, I guess.”
“My background,” he said, and then paused to draw a deep breath before continuing. “My natural grandfather was born and raised to the age of 5 in Miami. Do you know of it?”
“I have heard of the major cities of Earth. It was in Florida of the United States of North America.”
“Yes, well, that’s almost correct. My grandfather’s family moved to Texas.”
“Another State in the United States of –”
“I’m impressed. Most people your age don’t know those things.”
“I love history, human history is all that matters.”
“Well, then we have a lot in common. I grew up in the care of my great, great uncle who lived on North Padre Island near Corpus Christi. They fished for a living on the Gulf of Mexico. There were ample, harvestable fish near shore in the oceans of Earth back then.”
“So when was this?”
“Certainly, a long time ago.”
“Certainly. No one has lived on Earth…other than your friend…for several–”
“It has been too long.”
“You don’t want to tell me, not exactly.”
“I have already told you enough. You are astute. You can put the pieces together and fill in the gaps.”
“Okay,” she said as she sipped her coffee that had cooled down to a point that she could consume more than sip of it at a time.
“My grandfather’s uncle saved what money he had to fulfill his promise to his brother to pay his nephew’s – my grandfather’s way through college. He had to work as well just to supplement his way through college, but he made it,” Raven said with some pride.
“It must have been difficult.”
“Yes it was. But without his efforts, I doubt that I would be here. You see – my grandfather met my grandmother at college. She was the sole heiress of a vast estate and fortune. By marriage, my grandfather became a patriarch of a new dynasty. A year after they were graduated, my father was born. Five years later my grandfather took over the operations of a major manufacturing company that supported the petroleum industry on Earth.”
“Really,” Cristina said. “I have heard about petroleum. It’s use was discontinued as it was largely superseded as an energy source in the Twenty-first Century.”
“When the scientists you hold in such low regard discovered the efficiencies of adding nano-bots to photovoltaic collectors as well as the storage mediums to create electronic batteries.”
“You obviously have a good education,” Raven said.
“So why am I singing in a rock band?”
“That was not my next question, but if you are offering the information…”
“Well, it usually is the next question anytime I open up,” she complained.
“And as a result I’ll bet you do that very rarely.”
“You still haven’t answered my question. You are very good at misdirection and evasion, though. You make me misdirect your answers.”
“It’s a gift developed after years of practice,” she revealed.
“No you don’t. I’m not going to fall for that opportunity to venture down another tangent no matter how much I might want to.”
She smiled. “What about you?”
“There is more than enough time to explore everything you want. My dear.”
“Well I have to be back at the venue by 4,” she said as she glanced at the chronometer imbedded in her right wrist.
“And you think you are already running late.”
“Well I am, really.”
“You use that word – ‘really’ – as if it were as meaningless as an article in the meaning of a sentence. You have all the time you need for anything you desire, ‘really’.”
“Not unless I can stop time.”
“No one can stop time.”
“You can slow it down to suit your needs, though.”
“You do it already, without even realizing it. Have you ever had a project that was huge and you just knew you could not do it in the time allotted. But somehow with focus and desire you made the deadline?”
“Yes, I have done that a few times.”
“People can manipulate time, Cristina.”
“I’m not sure I’d draw that same conclusion.”
“Why not? It happened.”
“So I can stop time.”
“No, no. I told you that is impossible.”
“But I can slow it down.”
“Yes. You just need to have some manners about it so you don’t adversely affect anyone else.”