It was a cold morning in a place once called Northern California. A team of fifteen people were packing up their gear for the day. Most of the men were military, hired guns by the leader of this expedition.
The last man was a few yards away from them, packed and ready to go. He studied simultaneously a journal and a radar global positioning tracker (RGPT), which could be programed to find any substance within a mile radius. The device was also set to track any warm bodies around. This area of the country was long ago abandoned to bandits, and while the man paid handsomely for his guard, he’d rather not take chances.
The United States was a much different place now. To start, draw a line between El Paso, Texas and Helena, Montana, and everything west of that line has been a no man’s land for almost a hundred years, even Alaska and Hawaii. Continue that line through Canada and it looks the same. The Southern half of Texas and all of Florida were set ablaze about fifty years ago, and no one bothers to look for survivors. 85% of the population of the rest of the country now lives on less than half of what two-hundred years ago was considered the “poverty line”. Overpopulation in the last century has led to a host of new diseases, wiping out millions of people. Crime rate is at a historical low, if only because no one has anything to steal. As for the rest of the world, it all looks the same.
The second in command, a man in his late thirties named Travers, came up to the younger man. “Mr. Bates, we’re ready to move on.” Travers was a rugged man, an experienced soldier. A veteran of the South American Wars, he was used to fighting and navigating the wilderness. His left hand was gone, and the rest of the arm was covered in scars. No one knew what happened to the hand; Travers never talked about it, and no one had the nerve to ask him. Surgery could’ve fixed him up, but a soldier’s salary wouldn’t cover it. He was brave and clever, and his men gave him incredible respect.
Shane Bates looked up from his RGPT and combed his long black hair out of his thin face. He was only twenty-five, but his hair was getting out of hand, and so was his beard. They had only been outside of society for a week, but Bates was starting to look, if not smell, homeless. “Good,” he replied. He looked up at the sky to get a sense of the time. Once great cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, and Vancouver, plus miles of forests had sent up enough smoke that it was only just discernible that it was in fact day. The only difference in this part of the country now was that night was even darker than this.
Shane reached into the pocket of his thick jacket and pulled out a large, thick metal coin. He then flicked a switch on the RGPT and two prongs came out of the top of the device. The small machine hummed, and Shane pushed the prongs, actually tiny drills, into the metal coin. This allowed the RGPT to get a microscopic sample of the metal and thus be able to scan for more in the surrounding area.
Shane put the coin back in his pocket and turned to Travers, who was looking at Shane curiously. Shane pulled the coin back out, figuring Travers ought to know by now, and showed it to the soldier. “It’s not just a coin,” he said. He held the coin out to Travers. “Take a close look.”
Travers took the coin into what light he could find and studied the cool surface. It was about an inch in diameter, and half a centimeter thick. In the middle was a strange crystal embedded into the metal. It was strange because the crystal had a soft purple glow coming from it. “What is it?”
Shane took the coin back from Travers. “It’s been in my family for generations,” he said as he held the coin and rubbed his fingers over its crystal’s surface. “This and my journal point to something being out here a long time ago. It’s something my ancestor kept secret, and now we’re here to find it. I’ve spent years studying my family’s notes. It’s called an “Amulet”, and I think there are more of them, or at least there were. The only other thing I could find is that this metal is like nothing ever found or created on Earth.”
Whether or not Shane was delusional was not Travers’ place to determine, so he played along. “If this isn’t an Earth metal, then how did it get here?”
Shane pocketed the Amulet and ran his fingers through his dirty hair. “That’s what we’re out here trying to find out.” He pressed some buttons on the RGPT, fiddling with the settings to get the best signal he could. The device was designed to locate materials within a couple kilometers’ radius, but since the sample wasn’t from Earth, nothing was being picked up. Enlarging the scan radius also weakened the signal, so metals of similar composition would register.
But where technology failed, history would fill in, namely Shane’s family journal. That journal had been everything. Parts had been muddled and confused and long sections were ramblings about “heroes of the ancient world”, “Alexander’s journey”, “the power of God” and other nonsense. Shane wasn’t a superstitious man, and thus disregarded most of the book.
One page, or rather, one section of one page, in particular though caught his attention. It described the landscape around the “Tomb of the Hero”. The Hero rests where the humble logger finds gold in peace. It took Shane too long to figure it out in his head, and when he did he couldn’t help but feel dumb. The State once known as Oregon also had the nickname “the Beaver State”, the logger. The gold it finds is California, “the Golden State”. “In peace” refers to the Pacific Ocean, which is what Pacific means. Whatever the tomb is, the RGPT was able to faintly pick up a large deposit of a substance very similar to the Amulet. So that was their destination.
Another day and a half of trekking and they finally reached the location on the west coast that the journal described. Shane had expected to run into marauding bandits or even militia at some point, but it seemed the whole western half of the former United States was officially completely abandoned.
From then on the RGPT was their best bet at finding the tomb. It pointed them north for a few miles, up more into Oregon. Tensions were rising among the men; even Travers was starting to look excited. Shane’s heart was pounding harder with every minute. The stories his mother had told him, and her father told her, and so on back for two hundred years were about to be proven.
They walked along the beach in the foggy afternoon when the RGPT’s screen flickered. Shane stopped for a second and looked it over, but the device seemed fine, so he kept going. After ten more minutes of walking, the thing went haywire. The screen flickered uncontrollably until the whole machine started sparking. Shane instinctively dropped it, and as soon as it hit the ground the thing burst into flames before all of them. Everyone stopped breathing and watched the device burn until it was a charred block.
Shane’s immediate thought was that his luck finally ran out. Travers walked up to him and asked the question on everyone’s mind. “So what now?”
Shane sighed and slipped his hands in his pockets, trying to think. He felt for the Amulet, but the metal was warm. Confused, Shane pulled it out to examine it. The purple crystal was glowing softly. Then it started pulsing and vibrating really hard, and it fell out of his hand. It landed next to the burned up RGPT and continued to vibrate. All of a sudden, it glowed really bright, and then emitted a force that blew everything around it away, including the men. Everything was shoved away a good ten feet, and the men all landed on their backs. When the dust cleared, Shane saw the Amulet lying where it was, except it had uncovered a metal plate.
Shane ran up to see before any of the others got to their feet. Kneeling next to it, he picked up his Amulet and ran his fingers over the cool metal. It was perfect, untarnished in any way, making it impossible to determine its age. “We found it!!” he called out excitedly, but no one responded. He turned back to see the soldiers still getting their bearings back. “Guys, come see this!”
The ground opened underneath him and he fell into darkness.