Authors: Kevin J. Anderson
Tags: #Action & Adventure, #Steampunk, #Comics & Graphic Novels, #Fiction, #Suspense fiction, #General
On the edge of a century's turning, London was a sprawling mosaic of crooked
tile roofs, shuttered windows, cobblestone streets, and garbage-strewn
alleyways. Fog crept through the city like pestilence, mixing with the foul
breaths of smoke from coal grates and great belches from factory smokestacks.
Cold buildings huddled together as if seeking warmth against the nights
Nearly two millenia of history had seen London evolve from a Roman settlement
to a Saxon stronghold, then a burgeoning commercial center and religious axis.
Ultimately, London became a pinnacle of European political might as well as a
powerful industrial hub. World-shaking events would begin—or end—here.
For decades now this place had endured the turns of the industrial
revolution, which had transformed it from a grand city of one million
inhabitants into a vast metropolis teeming with more than four times as many
people, all of them trying their best to survive.
In the distance Big Ben chimed its lonely but predictable tones. Most people
no longer even awakened to the clock towers hourly ritual, especially not so
late. The steady sequence of gongs drifted past like a lullaby, reassuring the
city's sleeping inhabitants that all was well.
Big Ben fell silent again, and so did the streets.
Then a low rumble started deep underground, as if the convoluted sewers near
the Thames suffered from indigestion.
In Moorgate Passage, a pair of dogs hungrily dug through garbage in search of
edible scraps, as they did every night. They half-heartedly snarled at each
other, too hungry to notice the mysterious sounds.
But the noise rose steadily in volume, like buried, restless thunder. The
ominous trembling grew louder and louder, shaking forcefully until it rattled
loose roof slates and chimney pots…
One mutt lifted his head and pricked his ears. The second dog used the
opportunity to seize a rank-smelling fish head from the trash heap and bounded
away with his prize. Then he, too, paused, whining. His jaws opened and the
moist fish head fell to the slick street. The rumble grew more ominous, a
different sort of growl.
The two dogs snarled at the sound that seemed to come from everywhere beneath
and around them, then they scuttled away in fear. The second mutt doubled back
to snatch up the fish head, then sprang down the alley just as the sound reached
an explosive roar.
A dark brick wall at the opposite end of the alley split and broke as
something huge, black, and mechanical hammered its way up from beneath the
streets, knocking bricks and timbers apart. Walls fell, brushed aside from the
leviathan as if they were little more than dust and dry leaves.
Both dogs ran for their lives as the immense subterranean machine roared and
clanked after them.
Though he had been deeply asleep, immersed in dreams of playing in the park
with his father on a Sunday afternoon, Bartholomew Dunning sat up quickly in
bed. The pallid six-year-old boy clutched an old woolen blanket and stared into
the faint light that came through the window of his cellar bedroom. On a narrow
brick windowsill above the bed, his tin toy horse and buggy shuddered and
rattled, as if they had come alive.
The rumbling made the entire tenement shake. Dust sprinkled down from the
ceiling, captured in the hazy moonlight that penetrated the fog.
Bartholomew wanted to call out for his father, but he knew Constable Dunning
would be out walking the streets, keeping London safe, as he did every night…
all night. But right now the boy wanted his father. He pulled the blanket up to
his chin, hoping to hide. But the noise grew louder.
The toys jittered and wobbled, then finally tumbled off the windowsill. More
dust sifted down from the tenement ceiling, and Bartholomew could hear shouts
from the residents in the floors above.
Gathering his courage, thinking of his father in his fine policeman's uniform
striding down dark alleys and arresting pickpockets and murderers, Bartholomew
scurried out of bed as the monstrous noise came deafeningly close. Someone
upstairs let out a loud yell.
Because his father worked every night, and slept most of the day, Bartholomew
could spend time with him only on Sunday. But Constable Dunning put food on the
table and coal in the grate for the boy and his two sisters; they had to care
for themselves without a mother to watch over them. His sisters snored together
in the inner room, not even awakened by the noise. It was up to the boy to see
what was happening outside.
Shrill whistles pierced the growing noise, and he took comfort in knowing the
police were rushing to the scene.
Bartholomew went to the window, stood on tiptoe, and used the flat of his
hand to wipe fog from the pane. The glass remained blurry from the grime
outside, but an immense shadow passed along the street. When he pressed his face
close, the boy could see well enough that his eyes widened in fear.
Massive mechanical treads rolled past at street level, crushing cobblestones,
clanking and clattering like the loudest factory line.
Bartholomews windows splintered and fell in. He screamed, scrambling backward
as the whole frame came crashing down. Part of the wall and ceiling slumped
under the crushing passage of the huge vehicle. Broken bricks and crumbling
mortar buried and destroyed his toy horse and buggy.
He crawled for shelter under his bed, a place usually reserved for nighttime
monsters. Right now, though, the boy was only afraid of the very real and
tangible beast outside.
Then the mechanical juggernaut surged past, smashing gutters and shouldering
aside brick corners that got in its way.
As dust and rubble continued to patter all around him, Bartholomew peered out
from his hiding place. Safe, for now.
But he knew his father was out in the streets, armed with little more than
his whistle and truncheon. Even a stern constable in a clean uniform would be no
match for that thing.
Tabard Row had been quiet all evening, and Constable Dunning paused in his
rounds to smoke his pipe. He took a long draw on the tobacco, savoring the
moment of bliss.
His children were home together, asleep. Their mother had died of consumption
two years earlier, and the boy Bartholomew had been forced to grow up much
faster than he should have. Once, he'd playfully tried on his fathers constable
cap, and it had nearly fallen down to his small shoulders. Bartholomew was the
man of the house whenever his father left to patrol the night streets, and the
boy took his responsibilities with admirable, heart-aching seriousness, though
his father occasionally saw him playing with his toys. Just a little boy, no
more than six years old.
At least he was safe tonight…
Constable Dunning's peaceful feeling was suddenly shattered by the pitiful
wailing of dogs. A moment later a monstrous rumble shook the ground, accompanied
by breaking glass and shattering walls.
Dunning drew his baton and trotted toward the sound, by habit tapping his
truncheon on the wall as he went, making a sound like rapid gunfire. Shrill
whistles sounded the alarm from other officers heading in the same direction.
Drawing a deep breath, he blew a long high-pitched note on his own whistle.
"Its down in Moorgate Passage!" one of the policemen called, joining up with
Dunning. They ran together, reacting out of instinct without stopping to worry
about the nature of the threat. From the sound of it, this was more serious than
a drunken brawl, a cutpurse, or a pair of whores trying to claw each others'
The two constables sprinted onto Threadneedle Street, heading for Moorgate.
Dunning stumbled and nearly sprawled on his face in a filthy gutter as he and
his companion collided with a pair of utterly terrified dogs racing in the
opposite direction, off into the night.
"Bleedin' ratbags! Whats gotten into 'em?" said Dunning.
Then again perhaps the mutts had the right idea.
Like a factory-made demon, a giant, armor- plated machine careened around -
a corner of the
narrow street, demolishing everything in it's path.
"Good Christ!" Dunnings companion skittered to a halt, eyes wide. His
truncheon drooped in his grip, laughably insignificant compared to the
mechanized titan lurching toward them with a roar of engines and a belch of oily
It was a tank vehicle plated with thick iron sheets, riveted into place on a
body that rode on implacably paired tracks. Glaring headlamps shone forward like
the baleful gaze of a dragon. It's reinforced bow slammed like a battering ram
through the wall, knocking it down without pause. The heavy treads crushed
fallen bricks into powder. Dunning couldn't even guess how many tons the vehicle
Three other constables converged from their own beats, stopped in their
tracks. "Its an infernal Juggernaught!"
"Run!" Dunning's tone was urgent as he backed away. Not cowardly—just
sensible. There would be no real protection against a mechanized leviathan that
could plow through solid walls.
While three of the policemen staggered backward, Dunning's companion took an
unexpected initiative. Swallowing hard, he raised his truncheon, stepped into
the middle of the street, and blew his whistle again for good measure. He stood
his ground in the glare of the behemoths headlights, raised his hand, and said,
"Halt! In the name of the Queen!"
"Get out of the way, you fool!" Dunning shouted.
When the land ironclad did not slow down, the man tried to dodge into a
doorway, but the lumbering vehicle filled the narrow street. The young constable
was caught between the treads and went down. His scream was cut short with a
wet, squelching sound under the increasing roar of the demonic engines.
The tank moved onward, without pause.
Sickened and angry, Dunning ran to his comrades aid, but he arrived too late.
Courageously—though futilely— he beat the metal monster with his baton and his
fists. He made barely a mark on the thick plating.
Ignoring him, the land ironclad rolled on down the street.
Dunning ran after the machine, not knowing how he might stop its inexorable
progress. The street opened up, away from the crowded slums, grimy pubs, and dim
opium dens. Ahead stood a particularly impressive building with an ornate
multistoried facade of marble columns, graceful statues, and stately blocks of
Dunnings stomach clenched as he glanced up at the deeply engraved words BANK
OF ENGLAND on the lintel over the building's main entrance. "Not the Old Lady,"
he muttered, hardly able to conceive of such a violation.
The tank rolled toward it, picking up speed.
The privately owned bank, often referred to as the Old Lady of Threadneedle
Street, had been established more than two centuries earlier. In the past two
hundred years, the Bank of England had become more than simply a financial
institution: The Old Lady was a symbol of England itself.
The juggernaut smashed into the bank's broad central door. Columns broke
apart and tumbled down; the massive locked door collapsed inward.
And the mammoth machine kept moving forward all the way into the financial
The tank's heavy treads, now bloodstained, clattered down a flight of marble
steps that groaned and cracked under the immense weight. Picking up speed, the
land ironclad ground its way across the polished marble floor of the lobby.
A night contingent of British soldiers guarding the bank drew their guns and
opened fire. Like hail pattering on a tin roof, the bullets ricocheted
ineffectually off the iron armor plates. The panicked soldiers leaped aside as
the tank smashed through teller desks, back offices, records archives, private
consultation rooms lined with security boxes—and finally into the vault
Constable Dunning came running after it, picking his way through the rubble
of stone and splintered wood and glass. He was aghast at the sheer carnage all
around him. The soldiers recovered themselves then yelled indignant threats
after the rampaging machine. Scrambling together, they all raced toward the
As if stymied, the mechanical monster came to rest against the massive iron
door of the vault.
Dust and debris settled in ominous silence as Dunning and the soldier guards
crept purposefully into the vault room. "Hah!" Dunning called, a bit disoriented
by the frantic activity going on around him. "That door's too solid even for a
beast like that!"
Several other constables, panting hard from their long run, entered the bank
and stared at all the destruction.