Chad Grayson

Preview of ‘Slipstream Serenade’ from The Divergent Realms anthology

This is an excerpt from my science fiction story, ‘Slipstream Serenade,’ which was recently published in ‘Divergent Realms,’ edited by Riley O’Dell. This is a collection of science fiction and fantasy stories about neurodivergence, written by actual neurodivergent people. It’s gotten great reviews and I am very excited to be included.

They brought him coffee, at least. Cash sat in the uncomfortable chair, at the spare metal table. There was nothing to look at. No artwork adorned the space, only a two-way mirror on the far wall. He wondered if they were watching him, and, if so, why they would bother.

He sipped at the coffee, merely to have something to do. Why had they brought him here? And now that he was here, why were they making him wait?

They’d showed up right as he was leaving for work. Two agents, flashing badges. They just told him to come with them, that he was needed, and everything would be explained. When he explained that he was not part of the program anymore, and that they had no hold on him, they just stared at him. He’d gone, because … well, because they did still have one hold on him. Patrick.

He hadn’t heard from Patrick in three weeks. Maybe he was about to find out what was going on.

If they ever bothered to show up. He looked at his watch. It felt like it had been several hours, but really it had only been about thirty minutes. They’d taken his phone, so he had nothing to distract himself with. 

Maybe it would be worth it. Maybe Patrick was the one who was going to walk through that door, and all of his worries would have been for nothing.

He was missing work. Rodney was going to fire him. They hadn’t even given him a chance to call in, they’d just told him it had already been taken care of. What did that even mean?

And why was he in this room? He knew the base had nicer meeting rooms.

When the door finally opened, it wasn’t Patrick who stepped through. Major Bakshi, accompanied by an aide. Bakshi was in her uniform, but it looked like she’d been wearing it for a while. Her hair was pulled back into a tight bun which was threatening to disintegrate. She peered at him with bloodshot eyes. Bakshi was usually so well put-together. What had happened?

“Mr. Bancroft,” Bakshi said, settling into the narrow seat across from him. “Thank you for coming.”

“It didn’t seem like I had a choice,” Cash said, trying to keep the bitterness out of his voice. “I thought when I failed out of the program that I was done.”

“You signed a contract to be of service whenever we needed you in the future. Didn’t you read the whole thing?”

“That thing was like a hundred pages long. Who had time?” He ran a hand though his hair, which had grown out a bit since he’d been let go. “What’s happened? Is Patrick all right? I haven’t heard from him.”

“You knew the runners were being asked to maintain silence with the outside world for the duration of the mission.”

“Yes, which was why I wasn’t freaking out about it until your goons picked me up this morning.”

“Yes, I see you’re dressed for work.” She glanced down at the Java Nation logo on the right side of his knit brown polo.

“Speaking of … I can’t afford to get fired.”

“Your supervisor has been called. He is aware that you’ve been detained by a matter of worldwide security.”

“Is that what you told him?”

“I was very convincing.”

“Just tell me, Major. What’s happened … is Patrick all right? And why have you brought me here? I doubt it’s just to give me an update.”

“We’ve sent our runners into the slipstream,” Major Bakshi said, drumming her fingers on the metal table.

“And did you find a suitable world?” Surely not, if they’d brought Cash back in. Cash the burnout.

“The runners’ efforts to pierce the brane were unsuccessful.”

“So, keep trying.”

Major Bakshi centered Cash in her gaze and said, “I’m afraid the runners have been lost.”

A cold hand gripped Cash’s heart. Patrick. “What does that mean?” he asked, trying to keep his voice from shaking. “Are they dead?”

“Just lost,” Bakshi said. “Which is where you come in.”

“You think I could find them?”

“You’re the last one who can. But that is not your mission. Your mission is to weave through the slipstream, penetrate the brane and find us a new world. If you find Takashi and the others along the way, so be it.”

“If the others couldn’t do it, what makes you think I can? I washed out.”

Bakshi shrugged. “Maybe you can. Maybe you can’t. But it was the way in which you washed out that gives me hope.”

“Because I was a scattered mess?”

“Slipstream responds to consciousness. That’s why we can’t do this with drones. It might be that it needs a consciousness that is less linear than we thought. At any rate, you are the only one we have left who’s trained.”

“You’ve lost three people already, and I would be no great loss, so …”

“That is not what I meant, and you know it.”

“You think the others might still be alive?”

Bakshi shrugged again. “Slipstream exists outside of time and space. Time means nothing there, which means it is not passing for them, as much as we can understand anything about what is going on.”

“You have recordings of their runs? So I can get an idea of what I’d be getting myself into?”

“All the data we have will be made available to you,” Bakshi said. “Bancroft, I know this is a big ask, but you might be our last hope. You might be the world’s last hope.”

“You could always start over with a new group.”

“The agency is cutting our funding after this. If we don’t get results, they’ll shut us down, and look for new ways to save the world. They won’t find any, but they’ll look.”

“So, no pressure …” Cash said. He didn’t have the energy to laugh.

“So, will you help us?”

“Do I have a choice?” But he already knew he’d made his choice. Beyond the hope of finding a new world that would save the old, dying one, was the idea that this was the only hope that still existed for the man he loved. He didn’t care about the world that much, but he cared about Patrick. Before Bakshi could answer the question, Cash stopped her.  “I’ll do it.”

get the book here!

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