Razor Mountain — Chapter 23.3

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

Speares let Christopher finish his food while she politely flipped through a small gray notebook and occasionally tapped on the pages with a pen. From what Christopher could see, the notebook was filled with precise, hand-written notes that could almost be mistaken for a printed font.

When he was finished, she snapped the notebook closed.

“Can we walk and talk?”

Christopher stretched his sore limbs. “I think so, if we go slow. Maybe limp and talk.”

“Sure. Leave the tray. Take the bottle, if you like.”

Christopher slid to the edge of the seat and levered himself to a standing position. Then he picked up the one water bottle that was still half full. Speares waved a hand over a black plate next to the door, and Christopher heard the lock click. Then she held the door open as he stepped through. It felt like crossing a magical threshold, even though it only led into the dingy hallway he had seen when he first entered.

She stepped past him and went right, down the hall, notebook in hand, shoes clacking on the stone floor.

“I’m going to tell you a few things up-front,” she said. “Then, unfortunately, I’m going to need you to answer some of the same questions, one more time. We’ll take breaks, and you can ask me questions. I can’t promise that I’ll answer everything.”

“Alright.”

The area around the jail room really was a maze of identical corridors in varying shades of beige and gray. Here and there, Christopher saw places where the paint had chipped away, revealing more layers underneath, or sometimes bare gray stone with white or black flecks. It looked as though the hallways had been cut directly out of the rock and merely had a coat of paint applied. The lighting was mostly indirect, from narrow gutters that ran along either side of the ceiling. It was bright, but still somehow gave him the feeling of the light just as the sun began to set. Here and there, he did see electric bulbs set into the ceilings as well.

“Outsiders coming into our custody isn’t unheard-of,” Speares said. “But it’s not a common occurrence either. There are procedures in place, and—off the record—Meadows was way out of line. My determination is that you are a low-threat individual. However, I’m going to be honest and tell you right now that you are never going to go home, and that’s something you’ll have to come to grips with.”

She paused to look at him, gauging his reaction.

“Why?”

“Everything you’ve witnessed since you found that bunker is classified. We can’t let you go back out into the world with nothing but a pinky swear that you won’t tell anyone. Assuming you’re trustworthy, there are still bad people out there who would use coercive methods to get whatever information out of you they could.”

Christopher nodded. “I’ve had enough of coercive methods for a while. But I’d still like to go home. What’s supposed to happen to me if you’re not going to keep me in a cell?”

“The best option is that you integrate into Razor Mountain society. You rest up, you heal, and eventually, we find you something productive to do. In short, you stay here, and you’re…lightly supervised. It’s a bit like being out on parole.”

“Except I never committed a crime,” Christopher said.

Speares resumed walking without responding to that comment, but Christopher thought she had the good grace to look a tiny bit guilty.

“If you don’t mind, tell me about your rough landing and finding the bunker,” she said.

Christopher recounted his story yet again, starting with an overview of his sales trips and job, and ending with his entry into the bunker. Speares stopped him here and there to ask clarifying questions, but otherwise just listened. She flipped pages in her notebook, which he realized must contain notes taken from his sessions with Meadows. Occasionally, she paused to jot a note in the margins.

Their path took them through a set of wide double doors and out into a different series of branching pathways. These were wider, and they entered into what appeared to be a sort of residential area. Small stacks of apartments lined the road. They were all carved directly from the rock, but only a few had stone facades. Others had brick or stucco or tile, and a handful even had wooden shakes or painted siding. There were tiny neighborhoods in different styles, giving the strange impression of moving from an older small town in rural America to some nondescript Mediterranean village, to New York brownstones. Except, of course, that there was a stone ceiling high above them, instead of a sky. In most of the neighborhoods that sky was painted blue, but the illusion only really held up when you weren’t looking directly at it.

There were unusually bright street lights, and they were all lit, even though it seemed to be what passed for daytime here. More indirect light brightened the ceiling-sky and shone down from above. The sources must have been cleverly hidden—Christopher couldn’t see where the light came from.

The path was sparsely populated, but they did pass people. Many wore uniforms, but others wore ordinary civilian clothes. Christopher noticed glances directed toward Speares, and wondered if her uniform somehow marked her in a way that made people take notice.

“I need to rest,” he said.

“Sure.”

She directed him to a nearby bench that had been carved from the wall in the space between “neighborhoods.” Christopher drank the remainder of his water bottle.

“What is this place?” he asked. “Why is everything classified, and why does it look like someone picked up little pieces of different cities and jammed them underground? This doesn’t seem like an ordinary military base.”

“Of course it isn’t,” she said. “Although I could certainly show you areas that I imagine are pretty ordinary-looking. Regardless, the entire mountain is considered a military installation. We just have a large civilian population. This place is a carefully hidden, potentially self-sufficient society. A place that can act as a last bastion if something really astonishingly bad happens. Nuclear war, or a meteor impact, or climate catastrophe. That sort of thing. In some of those scenarios, we just need to be able to take care of ourselves, but in others, secrecy would be vital to our survival.”

“So this whole place is one big bunker,” Christopher said.

“You could say that.”

“What do you mean by potentially self-sufficient?”

“We’re not completely disconnected from the outside world,” Speares said. “But we could be, if we needed to.”

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Author: Samuel Johnston

Professional software developer, unprofessional writer, and generally interested in almost everything.

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