Razor Mountain — Chapter 18.2

Razor Mountain is a serial novel, with new parts published every week or two. For more info, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.

Time was difficult to judge in the cell. There was no window to observe the cycles of the sun and moon. The bright lights set into the high ceiling were unrelentingly bright. Every cough, sniffle and movement echoed back at him from a room full of hard surfaces.

At first, he sat quietly, assuming that someone would eventually come to interrogate him. He tried not to think about what they might do to him, but was mostly unsuccessful. He thought about what he ought to say, how he might word his story so that they would believe him. There would be evidence of his stay in the bunker. The ruins of the crashed plane would still be scattered across some nearby mountainside. The airlines would have records of his ticket. His company could vouch for him. Unfortunately, day jobs and plausible excuses were probably the sort of thing a real spy would also have.

There was also a long list of unlikely events that he could not explain. Why had the plane gone down in the first place, and where had the other passengers gone? How had Christopher managed to survive the fall? How could he have guessed the code to the bunker while almost delirious and verging on hypothermia?

Could someone have set him up? Maybe he was a distraction to turn eyes away from something or someone else. Maybe he was a contestant on the world’s most sadistic game show. So far he hadn’t liked any of the prizes behind the doors.

He wondered if there was something he should have done differently. Even now, he couldn’t say it would have been any better to stay in the bunker indefinitely. If he had been found there, it was just as likely that it would be the Razor Mountain people doing the finding. Staying there, completely passive, might look slightly less suspicious. Or it might look odd. After all, who would simply accept their fate and decide to stay in a place like the bunker without making any effort to be rescued.

Instead, he had gone out questing, a sad little knight-errant in strange lands. He had let himself be guided by Amaranth. He had accepted imprisonment by her people. He had gone along with Harold and Garrett in their doomed scheme to curry favor with their superiors. Was there anywhere he could have gotten off that path once he had followed Amaranth through the frozen doors to the ruined underground office building? Could he have tried to escape? All along he had felt a deep unease, like he was a train headed for disaster, but unable to jump the tracks and turn away.

Christopher stood and paced in slow rectangles, walking the perimeter of his cell. He took deep breaths, trying to fight down the rising panic in his chest. He studied his surroundings. The slight dents in the stainless steel toilet. The metal shelf: a bench or a bed. The table in the center of the room, the brackets welded to the top hinting at darker purposes than facilitating friendly conversation.

When he had entered the mountain, the air had been warm compared to the outside. Now, a clammy chill gripped him. He rubbed his arms with his hands. His skin certainly felt cold.

He rubbed his eyes. Had the lights gotten brighter as well? The white walls and glaring stainless steel suddenly felt blinding. He sat on the “bed” and pressed his back to the wall, eyes closed. He breathed, feeling his heart thumping.

The room wasn’t actually silent. Though the small noises he made still seemed abnormally loud, there was some ubiquitous noise, an almost imperceptible whine. As soon as he noticed it, it grated on him. He felt a headache coming on.

As he breathed deep, he felt his panic subsiding. It was overcome by a wave of misery and self-pity. How long had it been since he had last been able to actually relax? How long since he had been free of the nagging knowledge that the universe had turned against him, that he had to fight to stay safe, or even alive?

It felt somehow childish to be so miserable. Hadn’t he led a perfectly mundane life before this? He had been comfortable. He was hardly the first person in the world to be subjected to such hardship. How many people lived through wars? How many refugees were left to fend for themselves and their families for months or years? How many lived their entire lives in abject poverty? It seemed only fair that he take his turn.

He felt petulant. He didn’t want to do this anymore. He wanted to throw a tantrum. He wanted to go home.

Even the bare comforts of the bunker would be luxurious compared to this place. The barely-discernible whine pierced his brain like a dentist’s drill.

Christopher held his breath. In all of his misery, there was one thought he hadn’t let himself think. There was another way out, an exit that he had been studiously looking away from. The ultimate exit. The idea filled his guts with lead. No, he wasn’t ready for that.

And yet, he felt the strange realization that the idea of death no longer terrified him quite as much as it once had. Out in the woods, when the snow had fallen and he knew he didn’t have the supplies to make the trip back to the bunker, he had been forced to look death in the face. Christopher knew death, at least a little. They were old friends, even if they hadn’t seen each other in quite some time.

He thought back to that moment in the woods when he made the choice to keep going. It was terrifying, but also oddly freeing. He wasn’t sure if it was fatalism or nihilism or something else, but it was a peaceful feeling. For the moment, he gave up his expectations for the future, his desperate belief that the universe owed him something.

He didn’t realize that he was slipping into sleep until he was jerked awake by a violent banging outside his cell.

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