This is part of my ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain. Be forewarned, there are spoilers ahead! You can start from the beginning here.
I fleshed out the secondary characters that interact with Christopher in Act II. Then I wrote chapter-level summaries for 11 of his Act II chapters.
My Act II plans for God-Speaker are a lot more nebulous than my plans for Christopher. There are several things I’ll need to figure out. Once I solve those problems, I need to fit the results into the chapters, or make some modifications to make them fit.
I left 5 open chapters in my Act II outline while I was working on Christopher’s plot. That doesn’t feel like much space, but I’ll start with that. Those chapters need to work like little self-contained stories from different time periods, while still contributing to the overall plot and illuminating God-Speaker as a character.
Before I start on the summaries for those chapters, I need to figure out what information I have to present, what changes God-Speaker undergoes, and come up with supporting characters so all that can happen.
I need to figure out what the artifacts can do, and some back-story for them (even if it’s only hinted at in the story). I need to figure out the progression of Razor Mountain, from God-Speaker alone in a cave to a city-sized hidden society. Finally, I need to figure out how God-Speaker grows steadily more obsessed with and fearful of death, how he evolves into an emotionally hardened despot, how he slowly becomes disconnected from his own humanity as he lives for thousands of years.
God-Speaker finds the artifacts when he first comes to Razor Mountain. They’ll barely be seen in the story, but their power drives the plot. They are essentially magic, even if they’re masquerading as technology. I need to make sure that I explain clearly what they can do, and also what their limitations are. Otherwise, their effects will feel like deus ex machina instead of being grounded in the world of the story.
The artifacts have three purposes in the story:
- Intelligence – When God-Speaker first finds the artifacts in a cave, his mind is altered. He suddenly sees the world differently than his stone-age cohorts. He can make cognitive leaps that are beyond them. He is able to manipulate them and make himself appear to be a god.
- Reincarnation – When God-Speaker grows old in body, he doesn’t die. Instead, he transfers his consciousness and memory into another person. For this transfer, distance is no issue. However, his thoughts are dormant in that person until “activated” by the artifact at close range.
- Altering the timeline – A person or their consciousness can be sent back to a particular point in time, with the power to alter the timeline. God-Speaker uses this to fix any catastrophic mistakes he might make by ensuring he is sent a warning from the future, before the mistake can ever happen. This also facilitates the ending, when Christopher goes back and stops God-Speaker from initiating the whole chain of events.
Although I’ve been referring to them as “the artifacts,” they could take whatever form is convenient. I think I may prefer them to be more abstract and mysterious. Maybe they’re not items at all. Perhaps there’s a chamber, deep inside the mountain, embedded in some much larger structure of unknown size. A crashed alien ship? A construct of some ancient, extinct race? In any case, it helps to explain why God-Speaker is so bound to the mountain.
The powers of the artifacts need not feel so precise either, as long as they still fulfill their functions. The transfer of consciousness that allows for reincarnation might just allow the transfer back in time. The intelligence or insight given by the “artifacts” might really be due to other consciousnesses or fragments of consciousnesses, trapped in the chamber in a way that God-Speaker can access their collective wisdom.
The Building of Razor Mountain
When God-Speaker emerges from the cave, he suddenly understands a great many things. He has become stone-age MacGyver. Resources are still scarce, but he has advantages in survival. He finds that he has expertise in plants, in the instincts of animals and trapping them. He can create better tools, from finely knapped flint spearheads to spear throwers that increase his range and accuracy.
Having satiated the immediate needs of his own survival, he begins traveling further afield. There are still migrating tribes nearby. Perhaps he even finds members of his own original tribe. He has a better understanding now of social manipulation, and he becomes a leader through careful application of flattery, bribery, intimidation and trickery.
With more labor at his disposal, he can begin to develop technology like agriculture, animal husbandry, mining, smelting, and simple medicine. His group prospers, and he builds up a little kingdom in a harsh environment; far more advanced than the neighboring tribes.
However, his kingdom draws the attention of rivals. He is attacked and even betrayed by some of his own. The bloodshed disturbs and disillusions him. He decides that it’s best not to expand his kingdom or draw more attention to himself. Instead, he and his kingdom turn their focus inward. He begins excavations under the mountain.
From there, things progress in small, incremental steps. His spies periodically go out into the world. The world progresses and he sometimes has people, materials and finished goods brought to the mountain. For the most part, his kingdom stays within a few miles of the mountain.
To turn God-Speaker into an emotionally deadened autocrat, he needs more than the challenges of managing a small kingdom. He needs personal pain and loss. He needs the person he loves most to die, while he lives on. He needs to be betrayed by a close friend.
If God-Speaker loves someone deeply, he would do everything in his now considerable power to protect her. I think this relationship is going to be cursed. She’s sick. Perhaps with his considerable knowledge he even has some idea of how sick she is, but he lacks the technology and resources to heal her.
Of course, he tries to use the artifacts to save her, but perhaps not everyone can use the artifacts. Perhaps his connection is unusual. (This might also explain why nobody is able to use them in the years when God-Speaker is trapped as a sort of ghost in Christopher’s subconscious). She tries to use them with his instruction, but is unable to send her soul into someone else.
Early on, even as God-Speaker is growing in power, he is still among the people he rules. This begins to change when he is betrayed by someone he considered a close friend. He sees greed and desire for power corrupt this friend. It continues to be an ongoing cycle throughout the years, and God-Speaker builds up defenses against it. His society becomes stratified, with fewer and fewer people able to get close to him. Eventually, only a few even know he exists.
Even when only a handful of people are in any position to threaten him, God-Speaker develops social structures to separate the greedy and power-hungry from those who are willing and loyal servants. He allows the potential betrayers to make their plans under surveillance, then promptly crushes them. The cycles of betrayal and distrust wear at him. He begins to evaluate people by the likelihood that they’ll betray him.
The Recent Past
The final puzzle piece in the history of Razor Mountain is a relatively recent development.
It’s challenging enough to keep this sovereign mountain compound hidden from the outside world through the expansions and explorations of mankind over thousands of years. Where it really becomes impossible is in the modern age of precision satellite imaging and worldwide instantaneous communication.
I could make this a little less challenging for myself by setting the story a decade or three in the past, so the technology isn’t quite so developed. But I think it makes sense that God-Speaker would be planning to handle a world where it’s harder and harder to remain hidden. He also still wants access to the people, manufacturing capabilities, and resources of the outside world.
His first problem is remaining hidden. This is partly resolved by the artifacts’ ability to go back in time and get a do-over. Carefully placed spies, both human and technological, can help. The advent of the internet also potentially allows him to use the skills and knowledge from the artifacts to hack into information systems around the world and adjust things as needed.
His second problem is internal. If he wants to send people into the outside world, they can’t be shocked and awed by what they find there. Likewise, he can’t run the risk of occasional deserters finding their way out into the real world and revealing Razor Mountain’s existence. His isolated little city needs to feel integrated into the outside world while still physically separate.
For this, he develops the faux military system that ties into the American military. To the inhabitants of Razor Mountain, the 550th Infantry is a battalion of the U.S. Army. To certain Army IT systems, it may be too. However, the 550th isn’t an ordinary battalion. It’s cut off, with limited supplies. Its soldiers live in Razor Mountain, but so do their civilian families. Travel is strictly limited.
For this, God-Speaker develops a mythological origin for Razor Mountain: it’s a city built under the auspices of secret laws, unknown to the outside world. These laws establish the place as a sort of fail-safe against catastrophe. Should there be nuclear Armageddon, worldwide plague, or devastating meteor impact, Razor Mountain will survive.
Part of this mythology is the secrecy and self-sufficiency of Razor Mountain. In the heart of the cold war, the communists can’t find out about this secret bastion. They’ll nuke it. If civilization is destroyed by plague, it won’t do to let outsiders bring it to the last safe place.
This story reinforces the secrecy of Razor Mountain, but it’s also a story that can be used to instill a sense of pride in the populace. They live confined and limited lives, but the hardships they endure are because they are special: unique in the world. They are important. They might very well be the salvation of humanity in the face of disaster.
I fleshed out the artifacts, although there may still be some work to do there. I worked through the building of Razor Mountain from a natural cave into what Christopher finds when he arrives there. I outlined God-Speaker’s emotional evolution, and some of the reasons why he becomes so heartless and cold.
Next time, I’m going to do my best to distill all of this into a sequence of chapter summaries for Act II.