The next day Evan Grant picked up Sheridan in a black limousine. Slipping into the plush leather seat, the oak aroma of forty-year-old whiskey roused his nostrils. His mouth watered as he watched Evan nose the snifter and take a leisurely sip. Taking note of Evan’s blue sharkskin suit, Sheridan wiped at a stain on his khaki jacket and moved to smooth the wrinkles in his pants.
They pulled away from the rundown storefront under the escort of two machine gun–topped military vehicles manned by blue-helmeted UN Peacekeepers. Nothing was said as they headed down a street littered with abandoned cars and uncollected trash. The unending ribs of low hanging coal-dusted clouds, blocked out a long-forgotten sun.
The occasional rumors and tidbits of news that reached Sheridan’s secluded neighborhood hadn’t prepared him for the specter of pestilence and decay revealed around every corner.
Entering the borough of Brooklyn, combat-armed police directed their procession around a heavily-guarded bastion of government housing. The Reclaimed Homes District was one of many created when the government bought great swaths of foreclosed homes during the Second Great Depression. Even from outside its gates, Sheridan could see the desperate faces of its restless residents. A few blocks further, signs warned they were entering a precinct under its jurisdiction. With wary eyes they pressed through one of the many urban zones where the scarcity of fruits and vegetables had led to an outbreak of a powerful new strain of scurvy. Like the of biblical times, their pronounced bruises, yellow jaundice, and rotten teeth marked them for certain death. Sheridan looked away. For years, he had intentionally averted his gaze from the misery that had begun to permeate all of life. He had his own pain and it was more than he could bear.
It wasn’t long before they found themselves driving past the ghost town that was once , before its international influence was outsourced to . The eerie quiet of the abandoned investment quarter was suddenly shattered when a flock of birds crashed headlong into the limousine windows. Wipers slid across the windshield shooing away the birds and spreading a tint of red across its surface.
Evan’s right hand dipped into his coat pocket, quickly reappearing with the ancient gold coin winding between his fingers.
“It’s all spinning out of control,” Evan commented dryly, twisting his neck as he pulled at his starched collar. “Even the birds have lost their bearings.”
The motorcade approached the United Nations headquarters where the poor condition of the iconic buildings looked more fitting for a third world country. But there was only one world now and it was falling apart. Outside its high fortress walls a crowd of angry protestors carried signs that read: “Freedom = Chaos,” “Planet Warming or Planet Warring—Choose One,” “One Nation Planet Earth.” And the ever-present sentiment: “Is This the End?”
Once inside the UN, Sheridan was taken deep into its bowels. He was led through layers of security, each level more sophisticated than the one before, until they entered an austere hallway made of tightly woven strands of steel.
The hallway dead-ended at an imposing barricade of polished steel where the floor became an open grill of metal bars. There, on the wall, a kaleidoscope of lights danced across a small blue screen. Evan, noticing Sheridan was reluctant to step onto the metal grate, cracked a wicked smile.
“It seems your years of tomb raiding have served you well,” he said, glancing down to the metal bars under his polished Berluti shoes. “You’re right to be concerned; the floor becomes electrically charged the moment this touch screen comes in contact with unauthorized fingerprints.”
He placed his right hand on the screen. The six-inch-thick steel door slid to one side, revealing a large room where personnel sat at computer monitors tracking events around the world.
Sheridan entered the room hesitantly. His wide-open eyes began to flit from screen to screen. He drew near a monitor where a scene of stunning wilderness was marred by a lake of fire with molten lava bubbling up from its depths.
“It’s the ,” Evan explained. “It’s been threatening to blow for months now. When it does . . .”
“Global nuclear winter. Volcanic eruptions along the Pacific Ring of Fire have already devastated the earth’s atmosphere, a super-volcano at Yellowstone could tip us over the edge.”
Sheridan stepped toward a second computer screen. Live camera feeds monitored a barren landscape bordered by miles of fences and military defenses.
“Korea?” Sheridan asked. Evan shook his head.
“The Mexican-American militarized zone. Behind those walls lies the self-proclaimed country of Amexico, ruled by the North American drug cartel. And beyond that the remnants of what was once the sovereign nation of Mexico.”
A third screen showed a massive evacuation in process. Thousands of desperate citizens trudged through hip-deep floodwaters, struggling to reach the shoreline where ships of every shape and size had amassed to carry them to safety.
“It’s being called the Iceland Miracle. It’s the biggest evacuation since the in World War II.”
“The geothermal energy that once powered their nation is now destroying it.”
Sheridan moved from screen to screen as Evan broke it down crisis by crisis: London buried in snow as the mini–ice age overstays its welcome; Russian oil pipelines ablaze as rebels interrupt the flow of oil to Europe; tanks in the streets of Rio de Janeiro where the military is fighting to take back a city ruled by gangs; rioting in Europe as bankrupt countries struggle to maintain order; and the death toll mounts in the streets of American cities as class warfare turns violent.
Sheridan stepped back from the array of monitors. He had seen enough.
Evan took advantage of the opening to introduce his military attaché, a muscular soldier with a strong jaw and the detached gaze of a battle-hardened veteran. “This is ; he watches the world while I figure out how to fix it.”
The tightly wound officer shoved his hand into Sheridan’s, firmly gripping it in a hearty handshake. The cold metal of the soldier’s oversized ring dug into the flesh of Sheridan’s fingers.
“Welcome to Command Central,” he said as Sheridan jerked back his stinging hand.
“Helluva ring you got there.”
Wrapping his fingers into a closed fist, his thick forearms rippled as he twisted his hand in toward his chest. Looking down his nose, he displayed a unique ring that depicted three sets of eyes, each eye set off with a small green emerald.
“This ring can’t be bought with money; it can only be bought with blood.”
“Can’t say I’m in the market.”
He gave Sheridan a quick once-over before nodding in agreement.
“Wouldn’t think so.”
In the center of the room a large table caught Sheridan’s eye when he glimpsed holographic images dancing above its surface.
“This is what I brought you to see,” Evan said, motioning to the holographic table. “Display Mount Kailash.”
The 3-D holographic map flickered several times before displaying Mount Kailash and the Gangdisê Mountains of Tibet.
“We’ve done some probing inside the mountain using magnetic imaging.” Evan remarked. The holographic image stuttered and an x-ray image of the mountain appeared, revealing a city hidden within. Flickering lines of blue outlined a world with a lake on one side and, rising from the heart of the underground metropolis, a tower.
Could it be?
Evan stepped back to give Sheridan an unimpeded view.
“I give you—the city of Shambhala!” he said with a wave of his hand. “We’ve been planning an expedition for months. According to your book, the Baton of Shambhala remains in a temple atop the King’s Tower. But we haven’t found a way in and can’t use explosives; rumblings of war over Tibet’s water resources already has the Chinese military on edge.”
Sheridan was drawn in, his eyes captivated by the quivering outline of the subterranean city. Looking closely, he examined the image, wanting desperately to believe his eyes.
Something doesn’t add up.
He cocked his head toward Evan.
“Why exactly is the UN looking for the Baton of Shambhala?”
Evan motioned to an uber-tweaked, geeky archetype who responded with a few clicks of his keyboard. Suddenly a holographic image displaying an artist’s rendering of the Baton of Shambhala came to life.
“You know the power that the stones from this baton possess.”
Sheridan winced. “If the legends are true . . . if they are . . . the three Chintamani stones have been used more for bad than for good. It’s better they are never found.”
Evan unbuttoned his suit coat, narrowing his eyes with sincerity. “That’s the problem. We have to stop an escalation of the war in the Middle East,” He motioned to the image of the baton. “And that baton is our only hope.”
“That is your only hope?” Sheridan was appalled. “Now the UN is turning to ancient folklore to keep the world from sliding into the abyss?”
“You have to see the big picture.” Evan said, carefully weighing his words. “One of the stones from that baton was made into a necklace that was worn by Alexander the Great when he conquered the world.”
“That stone has been lost for centuries.”
“And you know why! Alexander the Great cast the stone into the Well of Choara so that one day a great warrior worthy of the stone would come to unite the world again!”
Hmm, he had done his research.
“Myths and relics can’t save the world!”
Evan leaned across the holographic table, looking Sheridan in the eye. “A Persian descendent of Alexander the Great has surfaced,” he said, as if schooling Sheridan in his expertise of current events. “In just a matter of days he’ll be celebrating his coming of age at the . If the prophecies are true, the stone will rise up from the well and anoint the boy as king of the ancient lands of Persia. I don’t need to tell you; if the stone does appear, it will embolden the Muslim world and push us into a world war.”
Sheridan set his eyes on the holographic image of the Baton of Shambhala.
“I need your help.” Evan said intently. “The world needs your help. I know you were punished for seeking the truth. And I know what a dear price you’ve paid. But just think of it. This baton represents your redemption. A chance to restore your reputation . . . to finally get your life back.”
Sheridan considered the animated baton.
“We’ll show the world you were right. All I am asking is that you help us get the baton. Then we’ll take it from there,” adding smartly: “And I’ll personally take care of that eviction notice on your shop.”
Agreeing with a weary nod, Sheridan dropped his head as a vacant countenance eclipsed his face.