Razor Mountain is a serial novel, with new parts published every week or two. For more info, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.
Christopher guessed that they walked for at least an hour after coming outside, though he was sure he was slowing them down. It was harder than he would have guessed to hike without being able to see or use his hands, even with someone else guiding him. His captors must have felt the same way. After another muffled disagreement, they stopped, sat him down on an uncomfortable rock, and unceremoniously pulled the bag off of his head.
The light was so bright after the forced darkness that he couldn’t see anything clearly for a moment. It wasn’t sunlight though, it was the full moon high above them. Christopher was still blinking and squinting away the blurriness when the gag was pulled down and he could breathe the icy air.
“Please don’t shout,” Harold said, “or we’ll have to put it back on.”
Christopher felt something prod him in the side, and saw the indistinct shape of Garrett next to him, holding a rifle.
“Be good, like you have been, and we won’t have any problems. You’re slow with the hood on, and I’d like to go faster.”
It was apparent now that it was just the two men with him. They were stopped next to a cluster of boulders on a lightly-forested low hill. Far to the right, half-hidden by trees, Christopher thought he could see an escarpment, perhaps the foothills of the mountain. It was the same sort of terrain he had come through with Amaranth just a day or two ago, but he didn’t see any specific landmarks that he recognized.
“Where are we going?” Christopher asked. “Why are you doing this?”
Garrett smiled grimly. “We’re turning you in.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that nobody comes here by accident. I don’t know exactly where you’re from or what you think you’re going to accomplish up here, but I’m sure that people on base will be very interested to find out.”
“Well, you’re wrong,” Christopher said. “I’m either incredibly lucky to be alive, or incredibly unlucky to be alive here, but I definitely did not end up here by choice. I don’t know what I can tell you to make you believe me.”
“Nothing,” Garrett said. “Don’t bother.”
“What about the others?” Christopher asked.
“What about them? They still think Ema is going to come up with some brilliant plan to get out of here. She doesn’t know any more than the rest of them. They’ll either be stuck out here, starving until they get picked up by patrols, or they’ll die out in the wilderness.”
“So you’re abandoning them?” Christopher asked.
“They made their choices. Now I’m making mine.”
“No choices for me, huh?” Christopher said.
“’Fraid not,” Garrett said. “Now let’s keep walking.”
They made their way through the forest, the long shadows of the trees slowly shrinking as the sun rose higher in the sky. The two men had packs, and Harold gave Christopher a few bites from a granola bar, but it was just enough to make Christopher acutely aware of his own hunger.
“What’s the point of bringing me with you if you’re just going back,” Christopher said. “You really think I’m that dangerous?”
“You don’t seem that competent to me, but somehow you had everyone else fooled,” Garrett said.
Suddenly, Harold held up a hand. They all stopped, silent, and listened. Harold and Garrett’s heads swiveled as they squinted into the trees.
There was the snap of a branch breaking to their left, and Garrett brought the rifle to bear. After a few seconds there was another sound, like a small animal scrabbling up a tree with sharp claws. The pair let their breath out slowly.
“Maybe we should find someplace without snow,” Harold said. “Throw her off the track.”
Christopher frowned. “You’re worried about Amaranth.”
Harold nodded. “You’ve traveled with her right?”
Garrett shook his head irritably. “Even if feral girl figures out where we left the compound, she’s not going to have time to catch up. We don’t have that far to go.”
They kept walking. They were traveling steadily upward, and Christopher caught glimpses of the mountain through the trees. From this angle, he could clearly see the black crack that split the peak in half, one side slumped, the other tall and sharp like a blade.
It was hard going, and not just because his hands were still bound and his shoulders ached. Christopher realized that when he had walked with Amaranth, she had been navigating the easier paths up the slopes, avoiding the areas of woods with tangled undergrowth, avoiding the areas with rough, rocky ground. Garrett kept them going in more or less a straight line toward Razor Mountain, regardless of minor obstacles.
“You know,” Garrett said, “you’d be better off telling us what you’re really up to. We’re a lot more pleasant to deal with than the professional interrogators on base will be.”
“I told you what I know,” Christopher said. “You didn’t seem like you wanted to hear it.”
Christopher thought for a minute. “You know, I think you should be the one who’s worried about interrogators. It sounded to me like all of you are going to be branded as traitors, and I’m guessing they’re going to expect you to tell them all about the others and where they’re hiding.”
“Not a problem,” Garrett said. “I’ll tell them whatever they want to know.”
“Just going to sell out your friends? That seems shitty.”
“Friends?” Garrett asked. “You think we were just out on a camping trip? Ema convinced everyone that the chain of command was lying to us, and that she knew how to get out. She’s a liar. I don’t owe anything to any of them.”
“That’s not what it was like,” Harold murmured, “and you know it.”
“Shut up,” Garrett said. “You’re just like the rest of them.”
Harold sighed. “This is going to go badly.”
“I said, shut up.”
They walked in silence for a while. Garrett was clearly in his own head, getting worked up and irritated. Christopher could see his shoulders hunch as he stalked ahead. He wondered how much he dared to push the man.
“Why are you doing this?” Christopher said quietly, hoping that only Harold could hear.
Harold shrugged. “He’s my brother.”
“Huh. I’m sorry.”
Garrett stopped and turned. “You think you’re going to turn us against each other? You pretend you’re just a bumbling idiot, but I see you trying to get information out of everyone, trying to manipulate them. I don’t know if you think you’re clever, but it’s obvious to anyone who’s paying attention.”
Garrett grabbed him by the shoulder and shoved him forward. Christopher stumbled and narrowly avoided falling on his face. He walked in front now, with the brothers a few feet behind, whispering irritably to each other.
Christopher knew that every conversation he had been in with these people, he was, in fact, trying to get information out of them. It wasn’t nefarious. He just wanted to know what was going on. On the other hand, he realized that he had been searching for ways to manipulate the two brothers without really thinking it through. It just seemed natural. They were so different, Christopher thought he might be able to get them to turn on each other. He had never thought of himself as manipulative. Where had that inclination come from?
The next time they stopped to rest, the faint pink light of dawn was beginning to color the sky and lend texture to the mountain ridges. They sat and ate from an unlabeled foil bag of mixed nuts. Harold shared his with Christopher. Garrett, unsurprisingly, did not.
After staring into the sky thoughtfully, Harold looked at Christopher, then at Garrett.
“I think there’s a pretty good chance that the 550th will just shoot us all on sight.”