A smoldering glass bottle zipped past Constable's left ear and smashed into what was left of the corner-shop window. The flames roared up again, huge, and he knew there was no chance in this hell of going back in and salvaging anything more. He hitched up his charred army bag and made a break for it.
He heard shouts echoing down one of the side streets, probably from the old Russell Square station, and ran faster. His breathing, through the respirator, was loud in his ears, and the pounding of his footsteps seemed painfully audible. His boot crunched into something wet and sticky; he didn't want to look.
To one side was the grey, fenced-in hulk of old St. Pancras church, miraculously unscathed. He didn't know how the fifty-odd people who'd holed themselves up in the main transept had managed to survive up here. It had been four months since martial law had been declared, after the Religious Riots started. The riots were still going. Some good martial law did, Constable thought bitterly. Look at us.
The bells of St. Pancras started to chime, faithfully as ever, the artificial faith of the electronic timer. 12:30 a.m. Constable looked around him. There was nobody in immediate sight, but the shouting voices were closer, and he thought he could hear the sharp bark of the Soldiers of Order. He suddenly banked right and ran into the middle of Euston Road, past the blackened skeleton of a burned-out bus. He thought he could see a pair of eyes, two or three pairs of eyes like small children or raccoons, watching him from the darkness of the bus wreckage. Too late to worry now; they'd be coming up the street any minute, from Woburn probably at the same time as they came up from the encampment at Cartwright Gardens.
Skirting broken hunks of asphalt, Constable reached the center of the empty road. It was dark except for the waning moon; they'd long ago shut off the electric lights and the blinking traffic signals. He lifted the manhole cover, crouched down, and swung himself back into the Lower Blooms.
Lower Blooms. The city beneath the city. Under Dickens' house, beneath the home of Virginia and Leonard, the plumbing that served the Yeats museum. All those places had been either looted to nothing--a lucky thing, if it preserved any of the treasures within--or leveled by the Preservation of Order special corps. Constable crouched in the trickle of storm water at the bottom of the tunnel, removed his helmet and respirator, and gasped for breath in the stagnant air. At least it didn't smell like smoke down here. At least he wasn't breathing the ashes of hundreds of years, the ashes of London.