Razor Mountain — Chapter 28.3

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

They walked to a less populous, more industrial-looking neighborhood at the edge of the main cavern. Christopher felt a sense of familiarity, even more so as Cain led him to a door and unlocked it. Once again, they were back in the maze of dull hallways.

“We might still be able to turn your unexpected arrival to our advantage. If it surprised me, then the others are even more in the dark.”

“There’s just one big problem,” Christopher said. “I hardly remember anything, and what I do remember is a disconnected jumble.”

“Well,” Cain said, “we could wait for you to recover more of your memories, but everyone has their spies. They’ll all find out eventually. If we give you more time, we give them more time.”

“Including the killer, if they’re still around,” Christopher said. “How many of the original secretaries are still working?”

“Most of them,” Cain said. “Everyone has just gotten older. The Secretary of Justice was replaced. The Secretary of Education died of cancer ten years back. Her deputy took over as well. That’s been the way that succession has been handled. But her deputy wasn’t as interested in the role once she found out more of the details of the job, so we had to pull the next in the hierarchy. There’s too much distrust in the group for any kind of election process.”

“If we reveal…me…what was your plan?”

Cain stopped walking and looked at his watch.

“There’s a cabinet meeting scheduled for today, about thirty minutes from now.”

“I just sit down with them and tell them I’m God-Speaker?” Christopher said.

“Something like that. I can do as much of the talking as you’d like.”

“And then all hell will break loose?”

“Undoubtedly. Some of them might be willing to believe, especially if you can offer them some proof. Others will be skeptical. If the person who killed you is in that room, they’re going to be extremely worried.”

“It’ll paint a target on my back,” Christopher said.

“You’ve already got a target on your back,” Cain replied. “This way we’ll know to watch out, and everyone else will be watching too. If we wait, we won’t know when or if they know about you. They’ll still have an opportunity for a cover-up. If we reveal you to everyone, then you can hunker down and wait for your memories to return. The traitor will know that they have very little time. They’ll either slip up, or be forced to flee.”

“So I’m the bait,” Christopher said.

“You are the bait.”

“I’m not entirely excited about this plan,” Christopher said.

Cain nodded. “Do not misunderstand. I am only making a suggestion. The moment you opened your eyes in that room, you became my leader again. You are God-Speaker. Whatever you want to do, we will do. I’ve spent half of my life trying to bring you back, and I didn’t do it to order you around.”

Christopher sighed.

“No. I’m practically a stranger here now. You’re the one who has been in the middle of this for years. If you really brought me back here, then I think it’s only right that we continue to follow your plan.”

“You say that like this is all carefully thought-out,” Cain said. “The truth is that I’m improvising.”

Christopher felt a twist of fear in his stomach, but also excitement. It would be dangerous, maybe deadly.

“Then let’s improvise together,” Christopher said.


Razor Mountain — Chapter 28.2

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

The walk back up from the depths was slower. Christopher felt shaky and a little weak, like he had been running laps for too long. They took the elevator back up into the utility hallways, where every corridor looked more or less the same. Christopher recognized it, or at least pieces, in a way he hadn’t before. This was familiar. This was home.

Cain led him out into the city. They stuck to the side streets. There were people going about their business here and there. Christopher felt like someone who had moved away from the town where they were born and raised and returned for a visit many years later. Most of the familiar landmarks were in their expected places. In fact, very little had changed. He found himself studying the faces of the people they passed, looking for any that he recognized. An older woman stood out to him, but he couldn’t place her or summon her name from his jumbled memories.

Their journey was accompanied by a faint murmuring, and Christopher eventually realized it wasn’t the voices in his head. It was Cain talking to himself. He seemed to be having a mumbling internal debate.

“You seem uneasy,” Christopher said. He wondered at the choice of words. Would he have said it the same way before his visit to the chamber below the cavern? Was he speaking, or was it God-Speaker? Was there a difference?

“I had so many plans,” Cain said. “Years upon years of plans, and none of them worked out. Then you fell out of the sky, quite literally, by the stories I’m told.”

“This wasn’t part of the plan?” Christopher asked.

“Not exactly. All at once, everything is falling into place. I wasn’t prepared, but we just have to make the best of it.”

“And how do we do that?” Christopher asked.

“Exactly what I was trying to figure out,” Cain said.

“What’s the situation?” Christopher asked.

Cain looked up, his distracted gaze refocusing, as though seeing Christopher for the first time.

“Of course. I’m sorry if I overstep my bounds. It’s just that you’ve been gone so long. We’ve had to make do.”

Christopher laughed. “Assume I know nothing about what’s going on. Overstep away. I’m not even sure I know who I am yet.”

“There’s something very important,” Cain said. “Do you remember what happened to you, before…”

A flash of memories assaulted Christopher. Pain and blood. The dark office. Falling. Scrambling. A looming shape and a glint of light on the edge of a knife. The memories did not form a neat sequence. They tumbled out in a disordered mess, like some cartoon closet overflowing with forgotten things.

“I was stabbed,” he said. “It was unexpected.”

“Yes,” Cain said. “We found your body. Your former body. Do you know who did it?”

Christopher tried to piece the memories together. He had known the person in the moment, but the memory was focused on other, more immediate concerns. He shook his head.

“No. Someone I knew. Someone I trusted.”

“Do you remember a face? A name? Anything?”

Christopher could sense long pent-up frustration behind Cain’s words. He shook his head.

“It’s all a blur. I remember the pain and the knife. I don’t know whose hand held it.”

Cain sighed. “This is the mystery that has haunted me these long decades while you were gone.”

“There were no clues?” Christopher asked. “I…it was a meeting with someone.”

“You had many meetings, every day,” Cain said. “But who you were meeting with was not common knowledge. You had a tendency to keep things secret, unless others really needed to know.”

That word, “secret,” reverberated within Christopher. It was deep in his core, the desire to hide things, the inability to trust, the unwillingness to let his guard down, or show any weakness. For all the good it had done him.

“I think you’ve probably barely begun to understand the secrets I’ve kept,” Christopher said.

Cain smiled.

“These things happen over a few thousand years.”

“There were no clues left behind?” Christopher asked.

Cain sighed. “Precious few. There are surveillance systems throughout the city, but not in your office or home, or the immediate surroundings. At least none that we were able to find. Nobody knew who you might have met with, or nobody was willing to say.”

“What about the office itself?”

“There was plenty of blood,” Cain said. “Two or three smeared footprints that yielded no matches. No murder weapon ever found.”

“So whoever killed me was never caught?”

“Things got messy fast, once you were found,” Cain said. “The cabinet met, and accusations were thrown around. There’s no hierarchy among us, and nobody trusted anyone. The investigation was difficult because of it. There was a sort of trial held, but you can imagine how well that goes when everyone is simultaneously prosecutor and possible suspect. In the end, we held a vote. The Secretary of Justice was imprisoned.”

“You don’t think he did it?” Christopher asked. He couldn’t call up a memory of the Secretary of Justice.

“She,” Cain said. “There was some circumstantial evidence, but nothing concrete. Nothing that would have held up in an actual court. It wasn’t a trial, more like a desperate attempt to put the thing behind us and try to keep the place running.”

“Who do you think did it?” Christopher asked.

“I don’t know. There wasn’t enough evidence to say. I abstained from that vote.”

“What happened after that?”

Cain shrugged. “Some of the others pretended that it was resolved. Myself and one or two others quietly decided to keep looking into it. The Deputy Secretary of Justice was promoted to the council.”

“No more murders?” Christopher asked.

“Not among us. Murder isn’t unheard-of in Razor Mountain, but it’s rare. There’s been nothing that seemed related.”

“I would have assumed this person was trying to consolidate power,” Christopher said. “Maybe it was really just a grudge.”

“Maybe,” Cain said. “Maybe they were after power, but they knew that another killing would completely upend the system. Putting the Secretary of Justice away at least had some semblance of a resolution to the whole bloody ordeal.”

“Was there some attempted coup then?” Christopher asked.

“Nothing so obvious,” Cain replied. “Just years of endless jockeying for power. Arguments over little slivers of administrative control that fall somewhere between our individual domains.”

Christopher shook his head. “Of course, I never bothered to think about what might happen if I were gone.”


Razor Mountain — Chapter 28.1

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

Christopher lay on the floor, groaning.

“What did you do to me?”

Cain still stood in the doorway of the room, as though he were blocked by an invisible wall.

“What does it feel like?”

Christopher rolled onto his back and struggled to push himself to the edge of the room, eventually coming to rest with his back against the curved wall. There was a deep thrumming behind it, an endless note played below the range of human hearing.

“It feels…crowded,” Christopher said, squeezing his eyes closed, hands pressed against his temples.

He lay with the wall inches from his face, a matte gray, not-quite-metallic texture with strange shapes etched into the surface. But it was distant and unreal, like an image on a screen. Christopher felt lost inside his own head, a misty void filled with half-formed shapes. They milled around aimlessly, whispering. They were lonely, desperate for someone to listen to them, but Christopher also sensed a frustrated haughtiness; a royal irritation. They needed him, and they hated him for it.

It was possible to ignore the voices only because there were so many of them. If he concentrated, he might be able to pick out coherent ideas, but when they all washed over him it was just noise. That noise was a carrier signal, and he could follow it back to its source.

It was above, in the darkness and the weird, eye-rending purple light. Or perhaps it was in the walls, or the mysterious throb of hidden machinery beneath his feet. Despite his difficulty tracking its physical location, he was sure that it was buried with him under the mountain. Mentally, he had no trouble following that thread back to its origin. It was a vessel and a prison. It had brought the voices here, saving them from one disaster, only to deposit them into a new one. The voices had brought their tools with them, but they were unable to use them.

Christopher found himself laying on the floor in the fetal position. Cain squatted in the entrance to the room, watching him with some sort of pent-up emotion that Christopher couldn’t read. The scene barely registered.

Christopher found a place of memories. With a jolt, he recognized them as his own. They were past lives, a long, unbroken sequence back through time. He could see they were there, but he couldn’t fully process them. They went back so far that the world, the people, became almost unrecognizable.

When he reached the end of this human lineage, it didn’t stop. Shrinking back in horror, he saw another sequence of lives. The voices. They went back much farther, in endless generations before humanity; before any life on Earth was more complex than sludge in a fetid tide pool. They had experienced so much, and knew things far beyond human understanding.

He reeled away from those ancient, foreign memories, but the sequence of human memories called to him. He felt his connection to them. They wrapped around him like a warm blanket that threatened to suffocate. He could see flashes of the past, moments of memory, but they were jumbled and confused.

Instinctively, he found a balance between this new internal world and the external world he had lived in before entering this room. He couldn’t tell if it was something he had discovered or something remembered. In any case, he sat up, his head no longer spinning. He took a deep breath.

“I think I understand,” he said.

“Do you remember?” Cain asked. Christopher could sense the excitement under the calm facade.

“Some things,” Christopher said. “This place…jostled everything loose. I remember your face. I remember you, but younger. I know bits and pieces. I think it will take a while for everything to come back.”

“Do you remember who you are?” Cain asked.

“Tutanarulax Qatqa,” he said, his tongue stumbling over the strange words. “I’m God-Speaker.”

Cain nodded.

“But I’m still Christopher. It’s…not comfortable.”

“You never told me what it was like,” Cain said, “so there’s not much I can do to guide you.”

“Of course I didn’t,” Christopher said. “I hardly told anyone anything. This is so odd. It’s like seeing different viewpoints out of each eye.”

“Do you need some time?”

“I’m fine,” Christopher said, standing. “I mean, I can stand up again without falling over. I can tell what’s real and what’s not. Mostly. But it’s going to take a while to integrate. Days, maybe weeks. It’s never happened like this before.”

They stood together in silence for a moment.

“That last jump did not go well,” Christopher said.

“Yes, I know,” Cain replied.


Razor Mountain — Chapter 27.3

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

“Don’t be a fool,” God-Speaker said. He shielded his body with his already bloody arm as he slid backward across the carpet, away from the man. “You know how this will end for you.”

In the back of his mind, God-Speaker was enraged. How had he missed this? The rest of his thoughts were focused on the moment, on the loaded gun in the drawer of the table a few feet away. The voices also echoed in his thoughts. They were locked in their chamber far below, but omnipresent in his mind, screeching their many opinions of the situation.

Reed loomed, following God-Speaker with steady determination.

“I don’t care.”

The man lunged and God-Speaker flung himself backward. He found the leg of the table and pulled it, tumbling the heavy copper and stained glass lamp into Reed’s path. The man took his time stepping over it, then dove onto God-Speaker knife-first.

God-Speaker fumbled desperately with the drawer of the table. He managed to get his hand on the handle of the gun, but the knife caught him below his ribs. He felt a hot, wet rush as the blade sank into his abdomen.

The pain pushed out everything else. It was beyond anything he had physically experienced in the centuries of his many lives. The world was obscured by a red fog. He no longer knew where the gun was. Worse than the pain was the fear. What lay beyond the darkness that threatened to engulf him?

The voices screeched, and God-Speaker reached out to them with his thoughts. Proximity to their chamber mattered, but only a little. It was easier to connect up-close, but the distance was as much a function of his mind as it was of the physical space between. It didn’t really matter.

The voices had power. They wanted desperately to use it themselves, but they couldn’t. They were trapped. So God-Speaker used their power. He reached out from himself, from his physical body that lay bleeding on the floor of his office, from his physical brain slowly being drained of oxygen.

He reached out into the Razor Mountain, seeking the candidates he had already identified. Normally, this would be done in precise ritual, with everyone in their designated place. He did not know where to find them. He groped out with his mind, but it was imprecise. Even this sixth sense began to fade as his body shut down.

He found his consciousness floating far afield. He was beyond the city now, out of the rock, skimming over landscapes, chaotic and varied. Places and people appeared and faded in vague, disconnected visions. His mind was lost in the vastness of the world.

Somehow, all of his carefully laid plans, all of his contingencies and protections had failed him. The universe was powered by an inherent entropy, a randomness that could never be fully tamed. That was why the voices were here. Even their immortal kingdoms had eventually fallen. Despite their incredible powers, they had been forced to flee, bodiless ghosts in search of compatible hosts. Would the same thing happen to God-Speaker? Would his mind fly out beyond this world, eternally searching for someplace to land?

No, he was not one of the voices. He didn’t have their machines. He would die. Really die.

This revelation was enough to give him one more burst of desperate energy. He reached out, groping for anything he could catch. He anchored himself in a place: a city, a building, a room. By feel, by intuition, he found a presence that felt welcoming, unresisting. Why were some people amenable to him, and others incompatible? That was still a mystery; one that even the voices couldn’t answer.

It didn’t matter. He had found his escape hatch. Teetering on the edge of death, he found a person, a personality, that he could sink into.

It was a new mind, still shocked by light and the blurred shapes it brought with it. This mind sensed a warmth, the smell of life, of satiation, of comfort. It already had felt the great loss of the peaceful, quiet warmth where it had begun. Everything was too bright, to rough, too cold. On top of all these shocks, God-Speaker intruded, an alien presence. One more shock.

God-Speaker sank into that mind, that sea of thought-subsuming darkness. There was nothing else to do. He felt the sharp edges of consciousness blur and fade.

As the faculties of language fell away from him, God-Speaker heard words: human voices speaking.

“Did you decide?”

“I think so.”


“I think he looks like a Christopher.”

“Then that’s his name. Christopher.”


Razor Mountain — Chapter 27.2

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

God-Speaker left Cain in the borehole chamber, shuffling his papers. This was the furthest extent of the cave system, so he had to walk for a few minutes before reaching the secured door that led back into the outer neighborhoods of the city. From there, he made his way into the bustling city center. Among the shops and offices was a central pillar made in the tapered hourglass shape of a stalagmite and stalactite that had fused. It was actually engineered—carved from the rock over many years, like almost every space in the city.

The bottom of the pillar was sloped, and some of the tallest buildings were piled up against it. The upper half was painted like the ceiling so that it would at least partly blend into the artificial sky.

God-Speaker walked to a narrow space between two larger buildings, where there was a nondescript door with no handle. He waved his hand over the hidden chip reader in the wall nearby, and the door clicked open.

Inside, there was another door set up in a sort of airlock system. God-Speaker glanced up at the corner of the little room, where the glint of a reflection was the only sign that a small camera was watching. Anyone entering this space would be observed, and if they weren’t authorized they could be held until someone came to retrieve them. God-Speaker waved his hand next to the door on the opposite wall, and it opened to let him past.

From there, he was in the little catacomb of hallways and back rooms within the pillar. Although it was smaller, it was much the same as the restricted-access areas out beyond the exterior neighborhoods. Down the hall from the entry vestibule was an elevator. One wall was made entirely of glass, and God-Speaker looked out over the city as he rode up. To provide this visibility, narrow slits had been carved from the stone, cunningly hidden from below. The view took on a stuttering kinetoscope quality that made the city appear small and artificial, like an elaborate model village. The elevator continued up beyond the sky-painted ceiling of the cavern, and the tiny buildings vanished from view, blocked by a blur of rough rock speeding by outside.

High above the city, God-Speaker stepped out into hallways that were notably nicer than the utility areas below. There was carpet, doors and trim made from real wood, and occasional pieces of art on the walls. The lighting, hidden in the ceiling, was warm and inviting.

From the elevator, it was a short walk to God-Speaker’s main office. He had kept to his schedule, but he found Reed already sitting in a chair outside the office door when he arrived.

“You’re early,” God-Speaker noted, as he unlocked the office door.

“I wouldn’t want to keep you waiting,” Reed said.

The man stood and followed God-Speaker into the office. God-Speaker walked around to the other side of his desk and sat. Reed waited, standing, until God-Speaker gestured to the chair on the opposite side. God-Speaker noted that the lanky man showed signs of distress. He had a tendency to pick and fiddle, always doing something with his fingers when his mind was otherwise occupied; but when he really had something on his mind he was entirely still.

Now, he sat in the chair, his fingers steepled against his chin, unmoving as a statue.

“Did you find anything of interest?” God-Speaker asked.

Reed blinked slowly. “I have done extensive digging. I looked through all of his accounts myself. As you indicated, some of the accounting is a little…unorthodox…but I found no signs of anything nefarious.”

“What about other things? Anything outside the finances to raise a red flag?”

Reed sighed. “No. There are the usual interpersonal conflicts here and there. Some people find him a little bit grating. Some seem to appreciate his apparent earnestness.”

God-Speaker nodded. This was what he now expected, and perhaps it explained Reed’s tenseness. The man thought the absence of evidence would be taken as a failure on his part.

“I think it’s clear, but tell me, what is your opinion after this initial investigation?”

“I am sure there is more that could be done,” Reed said, “but I have found nothing to indicate that Cain is anything more dangerous than a young and opinionated person who is still figuring out his new position.”

God-Speaker nodded. “I agree. I’ve spent more time with the man over the past few days, and I realized that I may have misinterpreted some of his actions.”

“Are you sure that was wise, sir? What if he had turned out to be a threat?”

God-Speaker shrugged. “I have managed to take care of myself for quite some time.”

“Of course,” Reed said. “But people are unique. You have admitted that even you are not always able to read certain people.”

“I manage,” God-Speaker said irritably. “In any case, I think we can end this investigation. I am satisfied that we’ve come to the correct conclusion with Cain.”

“Very well,” Reed said. He was still nearly frozen in the chair. “Regardless of the outcome, I appreciate the trust you put in me for this…delicate matter.”

“Thank you for taking it seriously,” God-Speaker said. “Although I have noticed that some of your reports have been delayed while I distracted you with this.”

“It will be taken care of,” Reed said.

“Very well,” God-Speaker replied, standing. “I think we’re done here. You’re dismissed.”

Reed nodded and stood slowly. God-Speaker was struck once again by how tall and thin he was. He stood a head above God-Speaker, but surely weighed less.

Now that the situation with Cain was cleared up, God-Speaker could focus on the matter of his aging body. He stepped over to the bookshelf, trying to recall which of his replacement candidates was tallest.

He was not prepared for the searing pain in his right shoulder. He cried out and turned, his left hand instinctively reaching over. He felt wetness. Blood.

God-Speaker turned to face Reed. The man stood with a long, thin-bladed knife in his right hand, his face contorted, his jaw working as his teeth clenched.

“What are you doing?”

Reed struck again. God-Speaker raised his arm as a shield, and the knife cut deep into the muscle, scraping against bone. God-Speaker stumbled back and fell against the bookshelves before sliding down onto the carpet.

“I’m doing what that idiot Cain should have done. What we all should have done, years ago.”


Razor Mountain — Chapter 27.1

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

The borehole was unsettling. A perfectly-cut cylindrical hole in the stone floor, about three feet in diameter. A spotlight stationed at the edge shone down into the depths, only serving to highlight the endless darkness beyond the reach of the light. A few pipes snaked down the sides of the pit, test runs for much larger pipes that would eventually fill every inch of the available space.

Cain stood over the hole like a proud parent, shuffling nervously as he waited for God-Speaker’s opinion. God-Speaker leafed through the reports he had been given: charts showing temperature readings at various depths, reports of durability and heat dissipation for various materials and radiator arrays, and costs and expected maintenance for all of it.

God-Speaker had to admit it. Assuming all the numbers were accurate, Cain had actually undersold the project. He had diverted some funds in ways that God-Speaker didn’t like, but the project showed incredible potential. It would be an order of magnitude more efficient than much of their current infrastructure, and cheaper to maintain. Even more impressive, the improvements were all down to Cain and his engineers. God-Speaker hadn’t even contributed his usual breadcrumbs of knowledge gleaned from the voices beneath the mountain.

“There are some discrepancies in your accounting that we will need to address,” God-Speaker said, and he could see Cain’s shoulders begin to sag, “but I have to admit, you were correct. What we’re looking at here is the future of our heat and electrical generation.”

Cain’s back straightened, and he grinned.

“It won’t go through as fast as you’d like it to,” God-Speaker continued, “but I do think we will need to allocate more resources and move up the project timeline. Can you have all the necessary reports ready for the full cabinet meeting at the end of the month?”

“Of course. I can have them ready by the end of the week.”

God-Speaker peered over the edge again. He wasn’t particularly afraid of heights, but it still made him uneasy. This was the visual inverse of the voices’ chamber: an endless hole where light faded into darkness, in opposition to that room deep under the mountain where there was no ceiling, only the black void above and a harsh blue light that seemed to emanate from the darkness itself.

Cain shuffled again, clearly trying to find the right words to express himself.

“I…I wanted to apologize for my behavior. I know it’s not an excuse, but I’m very excited about the things my people are working on. I’m sure you know…it’s the engineering I love. Interacting with people…I’m not so good at it. And the finances always seem to get in the way.”

God-Speaker had been watching Cain, and was beginning to realize that he had read the man wrong. What he had seen as aggression and ego was a combination of fear and passion: love of his work and the worry that he wasn’t good enough to do it, that it might all be taken away.

“I’m sure I have only exacerbated the issue,” God-Speaker said. “I failed to listen to your concerns, and I underestimated your abilities.”

Cain was visibly relieved. God-Speaker also noted the subtle changes in his stance when receiving even such a mild compliment.

“I will try to work on the ways I interact with the rest of the cabinet,” Cain said, “and I’ll be better at keeping myself in check in our meetings.”

“You don’t need to apologize, and you don’t need to worry,” God-Speaker said. “You’re new to the position. These things will come with time and experience. Remember, this is a job for life, or at least as long as you want to do it. Take the long view. You don’t need to accomplish everything right away. Pace yourself. Think about what will have the most impact over decades, and focus on that. It’s easy to become distracted trying to run everything, but you have people below you to help with that. This is a lesson I still need to relearn myself from time to time.”

Cain nodded, now the picture of the dutiful employee.

“I have another meeting,”: God-Speaker said. “Will you excuse me?”

“Of course.”


Razor Mountain — Chapter 26.3

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

The man stared at Christopher long enough for it to become uncomfortable.

“I was told you wanted to talk to me,” Christopher said.

Cain smiled. “I did, indeed.”

Christopher waited for more, but once again the silence dragged on.

“I’m sorry,” Christopher said, “I’m not sure what’s going on here.”

“Forgive me,” Cain said. “I’m afraid I was not quite prepared. You see, there’s a project I’ve been working on for a very long time. It’s a rather…emotional thing for me. It started years ago, and I have to admit I thought there was no hope of finishing it. Every time I thought I had solved it, there was a catastrophe. Recently, I thought I had finally seen it over and done with. The work of half my life, wasted. And for Razor Mountain, far more than that.”

Christopher frowned. “I don’t understand. What does this have to do with me?”

“I’m sure it will sound a little absurd, but you are vitally important to this project. You, here in Razor Mountain, have renewed my hope that I can finally succeed.”

“I…I don’t want to get your hopes up,” Christopher said. “I don’t really understand what this project could be that I somehow have to be involved to make it work.”

Cain nodded. He stepped forward and put a hand on Christopher’s shoulder.

“I understand. It sounds absurd. It’s difficult for me to explain. I think we had better take a walk, so you can see it for yourself. Then it will all make sense.”

“Lead the way, then,” Christopher said.

Cain walked past him, back to the elevator. Christopher followed him in, and the doors closed. Christopher watched as Cain took out a little key and unlocked the metal panel he had noticed on the ride up. Behind it was a ten-digit number pad. Cain tapped in a long sequence of numbers, and there was a prolonged beep. Then Christopher felt the elevator begin to gently descend.

Christopher counted silently to himself again. It had taken about thirty seconds for the ride up. Now, he gave up after hitting one hundred on the way down. They were clearly descending deeper into the mountain than he had before. The old man seemed content to stand side-by-side in silence, but Christopher felt increasingly awkward. Despite his companion’s apparent frailty, Christopher was acutely aware of the imbalance of power between them. Cain looked utterly self-assured, and as usual, Christopher had no idea what was going on.

The elevator doors opened onto a hallway of polished, unadorned black stone. Cain stepped out without looking back to see if Christopher was following. He looked as though he were just out for a stroll. Christopher exited the elevator, and the doors closed behind him. He reached out a hand and let his fingers trail over the slick, glassy surface of the black stone. He had expected it to be cold, but it was not.

“It’s surprisingly warm down here,” Christopher said, as much to break the silence as to suss out any information from the strange old man. “I suppose that’s part of what you do?”

Cain nodded. “I make sure the temperatures are comfortable in the city proper,” he said. “We love to pump up geothermal heat wherever we can. But down here, it stays warm with no effort on my part.”

The light in the hallway came from narrow slits in the ceiling every twenty feet or so, creating a pattern of alternating darkness and light that reminded Christopher of night driving on the highway, street lights passing by. It was almost hypnotic. The effect also made it difficult to judge how far the hallway stretched ahead, although Christopher could tell that it eventually curved to the left, out of sight.

“What is this place?”

“This is one of the oldest parts of the city, or so I’m told,” Cain replied, chuckling. “Much older than me, and that’s saying something.”

“How old is Razor Mountain?” It seemed like a potentially sensitive question, but Christopher sensed a guileless openness from his guide.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Cain said. “Maybe better.”

The walls, the ceiling, the floor were all perfectly smooth and seamless. As far as Christopher could tell, it was precisely square and the dimensions didn’t vary, although it was hard to tell with light reflecting off the polished surfaces.

As they made their way around the curve, Christopher began to realize that the path formed a spiral. It started gently, but steadily tightened. The light also began to change. The narrow slits grew further and further apart, and the gaps of darkness between deepened. Then, there were no more lights. But even as they walked away from the faint reflections, Christopher could still see the path forward.

For a moment, a memory asserted itself: waking on the dark plane, groggy and confused. The sensation of a lightless cave; looming shapes and smothering darkness.

At first, he thought he might be imagining the blue glow. Then he decided it must be a translucency in the surrounding rock. It was so faint that he had a hard time seeing it, except in his peripheral vision. But it had an electric energy that made him feel like he had been shuffling in his socks on carpet. He blinked, and the glow intensified. He could see it through his eyelids.

When the spiral could get no tighter, the hallway opened onto a cylindrical room.

The walls here were different, metallic and dull.. The blue was searing, and for a moment Christopher held up his hands to cover his eyes. It did nothing to it out. He realized he was still holding the tattered paperback, and felt momentarily silly, hauling it around for the sake of a brief joke.

He couldn’t help but take a step into the room. He looked up, and saw darkness. The room extended upward beyond his sight. The blue glow pulsed deep in the center of that darkness, like the iris of a distant, giant eye trying to focus on him.

“This is your project?” he muttered.

Cain came up slightly behind him and made a small gesture that seemed to encompass both the room and the two of them. “This. This is my project.”

“What exactly do you expect me to do?”

“Just look around and tell me what you see,” Cain said.

Christopher took another step toward the center of the room. The book slipped from his hand, his limbs far away and oddly disconnected.

“I see…symbols and shapes on the walls. Incredibly delicate. There’s some kind of pattern there, but I can’t quite tell what it is. It’s all in that blue light. What is that light?”

Cain sighed. “I’m afraid I don’t know. I can only ever see it out of the corner of my eye. I’ve spent so many nights pacing around this room, but I can never quite see it.”

There was a distant thud that reverberated through Christopher’s body. Somehow, he had fallen to his knees, but he didn’t feel it. He was numb. He could hear someone whispering, many voices whispering. It was a crowd speaking over one another, many languages that he couldn’t understand.

And then he could.


Razor Mountain — Chapter 26.2

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

She opened the door, and he followed her out and down the stairs. They walked down the street toward the big cavern crowded with buildings that Christopher had come to think of as “downtown” Razor Mountain. The few people they passed ignored them. It felt strange to be even slightly anonymous.

“So what’s this Secretary of Energy’s name?” Christopher asked. “What should I know about him? Or her?”

“His name is Cain Dolus,” Speares said. “I’d suggest you call him Mr. Dolus though. As far as important government officials go, I think he’s pretty laid back, but it wouldn’t hurt to be polite in your situation.”

Christopher almost replied with, “Thanks, Mom,” then thought better of it. It was probably best to not irritate one of only two people who had shown kindness to him since his rough landing. He realized he had begun to think of Speares as a friend, but he suspected his calibration for social interactions was a little broken thanks to all the loneliness and torture.

“I’m honestly not sure what else to tell you,” Speares said. “I don’t know why he’s taken an interest in you.”

“Have you talked with him before?”

“Sure,” she said. “I do work for the cabinet from time to time. But I don’t know him particularly well. It’s a relatively small circle of people who interact with them on a regular basis.”

“Sounds like a lonely job for them,” Christopher said. “Kings and queens of a tiny little kingdom.”

“Not even. They have bosses just like the rest of us. Only my boss isn’t the president of the United States.”

They followed the road into the big cavern, but this time Speares led Christopher down side streets, around the outer edge where other avenues led back into the smaller caves. The underground complex already seemed impossible to Christopher, but he began to realize it was even larger than he had initially thought. He wondered how far out all those caverns went, and what was required to maintain the structural integrity with a million tons of stone above their heads.

They took one of these side streets, and something about it struck Christopher as more bland than the others he had seen. This wasn’t one of the odd little neighborhoods with its own transplanted style. It was more like a warehouse district, a road lined with low gray stone rectangles in the shape of buildings. Some of them had wide roll-up garage doors that looked like loading docks, although Christopher wondered what the purpose was when he had seen no vehicles to load and unload.

“Are we meeting in a warehouse?” Christopher asked.

“No. But the higher-ups have their own private areas of the city, and the entrances tend to be in…nondescript areas.”

“I see.”

They stopped at one of the loading docks, and Speares banged on the metal door three times. For a moment, there was silence, then the door rattled and rolled up, revealing two men in uniform with submachine guns, lit from behind by bright fluorescent lights.

“This is where I leave you,” Speares said.

Christopher looked into the impassive faces of the soldiers, then back at Speares. He suddenly felt like a kid being dropped off at the first day of school.

“Thanks for treating me like an actual human being.”

She nodded. “I hope this works out for you.”

“If not, maybe I’ll see you around.”

Christopher stepped through, and the door clattered back down behind him, locking out the outside world. One of the soldiers waved him down the hall. The other followed behind as he went.

The hallway was similar to the maze of corridors outside his old prison cell. Their footsteps echoed ahead and behind. It led to a heavy metal door that retracted into the wall when the soldier swiped his hand over the reader. Beyond that was another door, and this one turned out to be an elevator. The soldier stayed outside while Christopher entered.

“Where do I go?” Christopher asked.

“Only one way to go, when you get up there, sir,” the soldier replied. He gave Christopher a slight nod as the doors slid closed.

Christopher counted to himself as the elevator went up. It didn’t feel like it was going particularly fast. There was no floor indicator and no buttons, although there was a locked metal panel in the wall that Christopher thought might hide some controls.

He stopped counting at thirty-three as the doors opened. On the other side was a short hallway, but this felt completely different. The walls were painted a soft cream color here, and adorned with little landscape paintings. The floor was carpeted, a pattern of overlapping squares in various shades of gray. There were baseboards of some dark red wood. The lighting was softer and warmer than the harsh fluorescents down below.

It wasn’t exactly opulent, but it had the feeling of a nice corporate office or private doctor’s waiting room.

Christopher stepped out, and the elevator doors slid closed quietly behind him. Upon closer inspection, he saw there were four of the little paintings, two on each side of the hallway, depicting the same scenery in four seasons. Ahead were a pair of plain wooden doors that matched the baseboards. They had been left open to an office. Christopher could see a big, old-fashioned wooden desk, a bookshelf, and a side table with a lamp and a bottle of liquor on it.

He walked forward slowly. It was oddly quiet, and he realized he had grown used to life underground where there were echoing stone surfaces everywhere.

He started when a man stepped into the doorway from inside the office. He was older and a little paunchy, with thick gray hair, neatly combed, and jowels beginning to show on his lined face. He looked up, saw Christopher, and smiled, but there was some strange emotion in it. Sadness, Christopher thought, or maybe exhaustion.

“So,” he said, “You’ve finally arrived.”


Razor Mountain — Chapter 26.1

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

After his conversation with Speares, Christopher had expected that things would happen fast, good or bad. Instead, his comfortable confinement continued for two more days without any communication. He had food and a good bed, and the view of the street below, but he began to wonder if he would continue to trade one prison for another for the rest of his life. The bunker, the holding cell, the slightly dingy apartment: a never-ending limbo, waiting for some sort of final judgment.

When he fought back the existential weight of the situation, he knew that his basic circumstances were objectively better. In the bunker, he had been surrounded by the beauty of nature, seemingly free from any signs of civilization, but there had only been a handful of moments where he was really able to stop and appreciate that. The sheer loneliness, and the question of whether he would ever see people again, had made the landscape feel too desolate.

He was just as much a prisoner here, below the mountain, but the trappings of civilization surrounded him. The apartment could have existed in hundreds of other cities, apart from the view. And the view allowed him to look out over the rooftops of the neighborhood, and the place at the end of the road where it opened out into the central chamber of the city. People walked the streets, coming and going, having conversations. He was trapped for the moment, but no longer felt alone. There was some emotional value in simply being near people.

Beyond that, and in spite of Specialist Speares’s warnings, he had hope that his situation might still improve. He had been wildly optimistic when they had last talked, although that had been tempered by the intervening days with no visits and no news.

There was another way he felt changed, one that he was only just beginning to understand. When he woke inside the bunker, he had been gripped by absolute fear, and he had lived for weeks, maybe months, with those black claws wrapped around his heart. But, somewhere along the way, they had begun to loosen. By the time he was released from the interrogation room and Sergeant Meadows, they were gone. Having been a risk-averse person most of his life, he had the strange feeling that he had made his way through circumstances more difficult than he had ever imagined, and that he was capable of more. An unreasonable fatalism had gripped him, and it made him think that circumstances had guided him to this time and place for a reason, though he couldn’t articulate what it might be.

He was sitting in his place by the window, half-reading a ragged paperback of Stranger in a Strange Land he had found in one of the cupboards, when he saw Speares walking down the street. She looked preoccupied, flipping through her notebook as she walked, passed his door before she paused in the street and realized where she was. Then she looked up and saw him. He raised a hand in silent greeting, and she responded with a tight smile and a nod. Then she snapped her notebook closed and walked through the front door.

He waited for her knock at the door and said, “Come on in.”

The door opened and Speares stepped inside. She closed the door and paused as though unsure whether to enter any further.

“I was beginning to wonder if you’d forgotten me,” Christopher said. He had intended it as a lighthearted greeting, but as soon as he said it, he wondered if he might just sound bitter.

“No,” Speares said. “You’ve actually been the focus of quite a bit of debate.”

“Am I still in administrative limbo?”

“No,” she said again. “I think things have been resolved. It turns out that Sergeant Meadows had some connections to call on as well. He’s been fighting to keep you locked up. He made a variety of…interesting claims about you.”

“Like what?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. The man doesn’t care about anything except his own hide and ambitions, and I think that’s been exposed now. With any luck, he’ll face a court-martial. But even if he doesn’t, I think he’s likely to stagnate in some forgotten corner of the city.”

“So what happens now?” Christopher asked.

“Exactly what I thought was going to happen a couple days ago,” she said. “You’ve got a meeting with the Secretary of Energy.”

Christopher frowned. “Why?”

Speares shrugged. “Honestly, I have no idea. He seems to be the one who took an interest in you, but I’m not in a position to know what exactly that is.”

“What does the Secretary of Energy do?”

Speares pointed up, at the light fixture above the entry way.

“He keeps the lights on. Manages the electric generation, the heat, the distribution, and probably a hundred related things I’m not aware of.”

“Huh,” Christopher said. “We might actually have some things to talk about. My job dealt with that kind of thing too. Before I vanished, never to be heard from again.”

“For some reason, I don’t think he’s going to be asking you to consult on the city electrical grid.”

“Hey,” Christopher countered, “you said I was probably stuck here for good. Maybe it’s a job interview.”

Speares smiled. “So when you got your old job, was it the CEO of the company who interviewed you?”

Christopher made an irritated face. “Fair point. So when is this meeting?”

“As soon as I take you over there,” Speares said.

“You’re really trying to keep me on my toes, huh?”

Speares sighed. “I realize it’s frustrating to not have any idea where you’re going and when, but it’s out of my hands.”

“No, that’s fine. I was getting bored in here anyway.”

She gestured to the door. “Shall we?”

“Hold on,” Christopher said. “Let me just gather my things.”

She stared at him as he looked around the bare room, first left, then right. He grabbed the grubby novel from the table.

“Guess I’m ready.”

Speares frowned. “You sure you weren’t employed as a professional comedian?”

“You’re the one running the background checks.”


Razor Mountain — Chapter 25.2

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

A long shaft of light slid across the room when Reed opened the door, scattering new angular shadows across the space. God-Speaker could see that Cain was indeed waiting outside. He was a big man, both rotund and taller than Reed. His shadow stepped out of view as he made space for Reed to exit. The two men exchanged perfunctory greetings; God-Speaker couldn’t make out Reed’s whispery voice, but Cain’s jovial response was clear.

“You look tired. Better get some rest.”

The big man entered and closed the door behind him, shutting out the external light and plunging the room into half-darkness again.

“You certainly do like to lurk in the shadows, don’t you?” Cain asked as he approached, his shoes tapping across the stone floor until he reached the island of the huge plush rug that encompassed the desk and chairs.

God-Speaker smiled. “I was thinking earlier this evening that there’s something about the campfire aesthetic that appeals to me.”

“The light is only beautiful in its contrast with the darkness,” Cain said. “And vice-versa, of course. I know I’m in charge of keeping the lights on, but I think both have their allure.”

Where Reed was dapper in an old-fashioned way, Cain was much more casual, wearing a work coat and jeans that wouldn’t be out of place at a construction site. He carried a small leather satchel with a shoulder strap. As he sat, he adjusted it to sit on his lap and opened the flap.

For a moment, God-Speaker couldn’t see what was in the satchel. His thoughts flashed to the pistol under his desk and the small knife concealed on his belt. He remained still in his seat, his elbows on the desk, his fingers steepled in front of his face.

Cain took out a tablet and a folder of papers, setting them on the desk while he closed the satchel, unslung it, and set it next to his chair. Then he picked up the tablet and began tapping the screen.

“The agenda for this meeting was a little unclear,” God-Speaker said. “Did you have something in particular you wanted to discuss?”

Cain had been scheduling more meetings recently, and the topics were beginning to range far beyond the projects he had inherited from his predecessor just two years earlier. God-Speaker had known when he appointed the man that he was more of an ambitious and energetic personality than God-Speaker would typically appoint to a cabinet position. He had to ride the knife’s edge to find those who would do their jobs competently, but not overstep their bounds and start thinking too much for themselves.

“I wanted to talk about the new high-efficiency geothermal plans,” Cain said. “I know the initial proposal was for a pilot plant that would run alongside existing generation. But I’ve been running numbers. We set up a miniaturized version in one of the unused expansion chambers, and it’s already looking like it’s a good fifteen or twenty percent better than we anticipated.”

God-Speaker frowned. “Where did this miniaturized version come from? I don’t remember seeing any budget with something like that in it.”

Cain’s smile faltered only for a fraction of a second. He shifted in his seat.

“It was manufactured under the R&D budget. It’s only something like two percent of the total outlay. I thought it prudent to investigate the construction and maintenance process before we got to the pilot plant. Now, though, I’m thinking this could be the future of all our generation going forward. It could be a huge savings. It could pay for itself in a matter of a few years.”

God-Speaker sighed.

“The pilot plant isn’t even scheduled yet.”

“Yes, and I’d like to discuss that, too.”

God-Speaker held up his hands to stop Cain before he continued.

“The numbers are interesting, and I think it is quite possible that you are right about the technology. It probably deserves more investigation, and it may very well be revolutionary. But I am concerned about the reallocation of funds without any sort of accounting crossing my desk.”

“I think this is the most important thing my department can work on right now.”

God-Speaker rubbed his eyes. “You have made that abundantly clear.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“The problem is that you are acting unilaterally. I expect my cabinet to work together to look at all aspects of any major projects. That includes handling budgets and accounting with the Treasury, it includes scheduling the working time with Labor, it includes coordinating the manufacturing with Science and Technology. Most importantly, I expect to be included in the decision-making process for any major project, because I have the final say as to whether or not it goes forward.”

Cain clenched his jaw. “Do you think I’m incorrect in my assessments of this technology?”

“It’s not simply a yes-or-no, stop-or-go question,” God-Speaker said. “It is a matter of scheduling and budgets and resources. You have jumped into this position with both feet, and I appreciate your passion for the job. But you are only one member of the cabinet, and even if you have complete understanding of the concerns under your purview, you have relatively little experience, your department is only one slice of the pie, and you need to consider all of the other concerns that the other secretaries and myself must take into account. Every one of them was appointed because they’re competent, but it’s not enough to simply be effective in your particular area. You need to collaborate as well.”

Cain looked down at his tablet screen, shaking his head slowly.

“Is there any schedule for when these projects might move forward? What are other people working on that justifies the budget more than this?”

“I think that’s a bigger topic than I want to address this evening,” God-Speaker said. “If you’d like, we can do a round-table overview of everyone’s major projects at a full cabinet meeting. But that’s not something I’m going to throw at everyone last-minute. I’d need to give everyone time to prepare for a presentation like that.”

“And then we could discuss adjusting budgets?” Cain asked.

God-Speaker shook his head. “There are procedures for setting budgets. Is this an emergency? Because I’m not inclined to spend a huge amount of time rearranging budgets mid-year for something that isn’t extremely pressing.”

“It will pay for itself.”

“Not immediately.”

The two men sat and stared at one another.

“As I said,” God-Speaker continued, “I appreciate your passion. But I also need to know that you can work within the system and you can collaborate and make compromises. Sometimes that will be frustrating, but it is a necessity.”

Cain stood abruptly.

“I think you’re wrong. You’re not giving this due consideration.”

“You’re welcome to your opinion,” God-Speaker said. “As you might expect, I disagree with your assessment. I have to balance a great many things to keep this place running smoothly.”

“Fine,” Cain said, turning on his heel and heading toward the door. “I look forward to that cabinet meeting where we can see all these other vital projects.”

God-Speaker cleared his throat.

“Your bag.”

Cain turned, walked back, and picked up the satchel, shoving his tablet and papers into it. Without looking at God-Speaker, he turned again and left the office, closing the door hard behind him.

God-Speaker took a deep breath and let it out slowly. For a moment, he had thought that Reed might have been right in his misgivings about this meeting, but there was no bloodshed. His Secretary of Energy appeared to wear his heart on his sleeve, but God-Speaker sensed that he was holding something back. For some reason, despite his apparent openness, there was something hard to read about him. God-Speaker wondered if he was reading too much into Cain’s motivations, or not enough.