Day 5 of NanoWriMo has begun and it’s a perfect, dreary, slightly-snowy day for it! Thanks to all the help from our crowdfunding supporters, Whiteout is officially going to be put into distribution networks for Barnes and Noble, Library of Congress, Ingress, Amazon and iTunes. This is a huge step for growing our readership, and I couldn’t be more excited about it. Thank you all for your support.
Now, we’re only 1/5th of the way to our goal, so we’re going to need to start spreading the campaign around more to help get our name out there, and to make Week 2 as successful as Week 1! Please, if you haven’t already, share the link, tell your friends, and donate if you can. Again, your support means the world to us, thank you.
Just a reminder, this is unedited, a rough draft, and CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR WHITEOUT AND DOWNPOUR. You have been warned!
Links to previous chapters: Prologue,
5. The City of Lights
The helicopter was surprisingly noiseless, traveling through the air with barely a whisper. The cabin still shook and vibrated, making my heart jump, but occasionally it almost felt relaxing. Below us, tiny winks of light passed by, marking the small towns that somehow still managed to populate the Nevada desert, but for the most part, the landscape was dark.
James and I were seated next to each other, across from the clean cut man. Even under his constant gaze and with the uncomfortable nature of the helicopter seat, I still felt myself beginning to drift off. I had no idea what time it was, but my best guess said at least half the night had passed.
“Aren’t you going to ask me where we’re going?” the man’s voice rang through their headsets, clear as a bell.
“Does it really matter?” asked James. “We’re either going to go there willingly, or you’re going to throw us out of this helicopter.”
The man cocked his head to the side as if the threat of murder caught him off guard. “Awfully cavalier about death for someone so young.”
“I’ve done it once before, it’s not so bad.”
The kid was keeping a tough face and I had to admire him for it. From what little I had experienced of his afterlife, it was clear that it wasn’t the best. I would have fought it more, but from the moment we set foot on government property, our fate had been sealed. Maybe even before that. The CIA doesn’t tend to take uncalculated risks.
“What about you, Mr. Venter? You seem to be fond of talking.”
“Let me guess, we’re headed to The Hexagon.” It was a conspiracy theory I had heard of years earlier and hadn’t put much stock in, but the look on Mr. Clean Cut’s face was worth it.
It was a mixture of shock and amazement. Quickly he covered it up and tried to act coy, but it was too late. “I’m quite sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“The fabled sixth side of The Pentagon ring any bells?”
“And I’m crazy for believing in aliens,” muttered James.
“Yes, you are.”
“Oh we’ve got aliens,” said the man, laughing a bit.
“Don’t encourage him. Now, let’s get back to The Hexagon, the secret shadow arm of the government involved in covering up and monitoring myths and legends in the United States.” This was a story monster hunters would tell each other after one too many drinks, but I didn’t have much to lose, so it was worth a try.”
“Seems like a fairy tale,” said the man, breaking eye contact to look out the window. “But I guess we’ll find out soon enough. We’re nearly there.”
I looked out in the distance and saw the last thing I was expecting. At the edge of the horizon was a towering city of lights, in the middle of the desert. Just looking at it, I could almost hear the clink of a thousand drinks and the blinging of slot machines. It was yet another miracle.
“Welcome Gentlemen, to Las Vegas.”
The helicopter descended towards the dancing sea of lights, cutting very close to the top of the fake Eiffel Tower, yet no one seemed concerned with its presence. “Flying a little low aren’t we?”
“The bottom of the helicopter is coated with projectors, makes it look just like the night’s sky. Besides, the people below are probably too drunk to notice anyway.”
As we got closer to the ground, the looming figure of the Luxor’s pyramid could be seen before us. A beam of light shone from the tip of the pyramid, making it visible for miles. “You have got to be kidding me. Not exactly inconspicuous, is it?”
“Not really,” the man admitted, “but it’s the last place anyone would look.”
We landed on a small helipad behind the hotel, just outside of the main strip. James and I were ushered out of the helicopter and greeted by a cadre of men and women wearing black suits and black sunglasses, despite the fact that it was the dead of night.
“Assets secured,” spoke one of them into a small headset.
“Apologies for the formalities,” said the man from the helicopter.
“You going to put bags over our heads again?” asked James, sarcastically. Under his veneer of toughness, I could see signs of nervousness.
“There’s no need for that. You’ve already seen far too much. I’d have you sign a non-disclosure, but I think you know the deterrent.” He lifted the edge of his suit jacket to reveal a pistol strapped to his side. “If it helps, I really am sorry.”
With that, we were both led, unbound through a back entrance to the casino. “If you’re going to be our new employer, can we at least get a name to call you by?” I asked, beginning to get confused by the identical attire of our captors.
“Smith will do fine,” he said.
“Smith,” I remarked, trying the name out. “What do you think James?”
He shrugged. “Obviously a fake.”
“Well yes, that much is sure, but I don’t even really like the sound of it. Too bland. I think we’ll call you Bartelby.” Part of the CIA’s power lies in their anonymity, and even if the label is artificial, it helps.
One of the women behind them laughed, but quickly covered it up.
“Yes, Bartelby it is.”
We stopped at the end of a long hallway with a pair of double doors at the end. The man, formerly known as Smith turned around to face us. “Call me whatever the hell you want, so long as it means you’re going to cooperate.”
“Whatever you say Bartelby.”
Bartelby stiffened and turned to James. “And you?”
“Sure thing Bart.”
This made the man grimace, but he smoothed the emotion over back to his implacable stare. “Alright. To get to the command room we’re going to walk through the casino. You will walk behind me and not deviate, is that clear?”
“Can we get a drink on the way?” I asked hopefully.
“If the commander likes what you have to say, I’ll comp you a suite for the night.”
“I didn’t ask about accoma—”
“Jesus Christ, there’s a mini bar alright?” Bartelby’s confidence was beginning to be replaced by frustration.
“Deal.” I grinned at him as best I could for someone who was being pressed into service.
“If you scream or try to make a run for it, my associates here,” he gestured to the black-dressed individuals surrounding them, “will call you out as a card counter, take you out back and shoot you. We clear?”
“Crystal.” The thought of running had crossed my mind, but only momentarily. One could only outrun the CIA for so long, and I had no intention of changing my citizenship. There was a flat with a full liquor cabinet waiting for me whenever I got back to Midway.
With that, Bartelby opened the doors and revealed a bustling casino floor. It had been a long time since I had been to Vegas, and stepping through the doors to the smell of spilled booze, sweat, and damp cigarette ashes felt like coming home. “My kind of place.” I sighed, happily. “After you, Bart.”
Bartelby walked out onto the floor and took on the air of a generous Casino owner, patting gamblers on the back as they lost their hard-earned paychecks and smiling at the underpaid waitstaff. Above them, elevators ran up diagonal shafts on the sides of the pyramid leading guests to their rooms. Once more, there were no visible clocks, but despite the time, the floor was packed.
I quickened my pace to catch up to Bartelby. “So, why The Luxor?” I asked, casually. A great many conspiracy theories came to mind, but I wanted to hear it from the horse’s mouth.
“In the early 90s, places like Area 51 were beginning to draw too much attention.”
“Only in the nineties?” James interrupted, catching up.
Bartelby laughed. “I suppose you’re still referring to Roswell and the idea of close encounters?”
The mocking tone he took about it brought me great pleasure.
James’s face reddened deeply.
“Don’t be too embarrassed about it. Yes, we were obviously involved in Roswell, but it was a coverup for something else. The population was obsessing over aliens, and they seemed to be the easiest scapegoat. Truth be told, even if they did exist, they likely wouldn’t fall into our department.”
“And what department is that exactly?”
“I thought you knew, Mr. Ventner?” Bartelby smiled triumphantly. “No? Lucky guess then.” He paused to congratulate a woman who had just won an obscene amount on a roulette game, prompting a celebratory song and dance from a man dressed as Anubis himself.
“The Sixth Side is real, and if I recall your file correctly, this isn’t the first run in for either of you.”
Memories of a cold mountain in Clearwater came back, and the unfortunate fate of a reality TV show host. “So that was you?” I had always suspected, but never been sure.
“That was one of our top performers you took out Mr. Venter. Not that we could have let him stay up there after he killed Rick Mansen on live television, but it was still a shame. We’ve been monitoring your process ever since.”
We reached the center of the casino, where a smaller black pyramid raised from the floor. On one side, guests lined up to experience a 4D movie adventure, promised to contain ‘real mummies’. We walked around the queue to the seemingly deserted back side. Our escorts spread out, forming a perimeter, closing off the back side of the pyramid.
“The best secret entrances are always hidden in plain sight, but it does mean we have to be careful.” Bartelby motioned to the guards. When they signaled back that the coast was clear, he stepped up and placed his palm on the smooth black surface of the pyramid. A green light illuminated the underneath it, moving slowly from top to bottom, scanning.
After a moment, the black surface moved aside to reveal a small passageway. Bartelby entered and motioned for them to follow.
We did so without question.
“Now, I believe you were asking why this casino? The truth is, the gambling industry is lucrative, and it keeps the conspiracy theorists from snooping around. They’re more concerned with the Washington monument and all the Egyptian symbolism in Washington.”
“Illuminati?” asked James.
“That’s certainly what they think,” answered Bartelby. “But, truth be told, the Illuminati hasn’t been in service for years. All that’s left of them is a few masonic temples where old fogeys get together to commiserate about just how rich they’ve become.”
The passageway ended in an elevator. Bartelby opened the doors and beckoned us inside. “Now, on to a more pressing matter. The Sixth Side has called upon you for a reason, and I’d brief you on it, but that’s the general’s job.”
“Meaning you don’t have the clearance?” joked James.
“Meaning, that I don’t jump rank and spill secrets I’m not supposed to.”
The elevator began to ascend rapidly.
“Now, the general does not have a sense of humor about this matter. In fact, he didn’t even want to call you. We tried for Manchester, but imagine our surprise when we found an impostor running his organization…”
Both James and I grimaced, remembering The ‘Great’ Manchester’s face at the gates of Shangri-La.
“After a little bit of interrogation, it was revealed that the great Manchester has been dead for over six years now.” Bartelby eyed us suspiciously, as if waiting for a confession.
Neither James nor I said a word.
“Well, foul play aside, with the real Manchester out of the picture, that makes you the next best.”
“We’re flattered,” I said. Truthfully, I was flattered. Even with Manchester gone, there were still a great many decent monster hunters operating worldwide.
Bartelby snickered. “Next best operating out of the United States anyway.”
“There it is.”
The elevator stopped, its doors opening on a long, carpeted room, lined with carved pillars and glass. We had come to the top of the pyramid.
“Alright, this is where I leave you.” Bartelby motioned for us to get out. “First door on the right. If the general likes what you have to say, then I’ll be seeing you later. If not, it’s been a pleasure.”