Excerpt: Our Lady of the Streets

Excerpt: Our Lady of the Streets

Our Lady of the Streets is the third and final book of The Skyscraper Throne Trilogy. The adventures of Beth and Pen started in The City's Son and continued in the sequel The Glass Republic. Our Lady of the Streets was released on the 7th of August earlier this year by Jo Fletcher. Below you can find the synopsis and an excerpt of Our Lady of the Streets, read through it and onc again you will be amazed with what Tom Pollock devises in his story the supernatural creatures are a blast to read about. The first book was a great starter and Tom Pollock really out did himself with The Glass Republic, I have high hopes for the conclusion which I will plan to read very soon.

Synopsis of Our Lady of the Street:
Ever since Beth Bradley found her way into a hidden London, the presence of its ruthless goddess, Mater Viae, has lurked in the background. Now Mater Viae has returned with deadly consequences.

Streets are wracked by convulsions as muscles of wire and pipe go into spasm, bunching the city into a crippled new geography; pavements flare to thousand-degree fevers, incinerating pedestrians; and towers fall, their foundations decayed.

As the city sickens, so does Beth – her essence now part of this secret London. But when it is revealed that Mater Viae’s plans for dominion stretch far beyond the borders of the city, Beth must make a choice: flee, or sacrifice her city in order to save it.
Excerpt (pp 55-63):

Pen usually avoided the electronics department, but it was where many of the human refugees tended to cluster. Voices in a dozen languages blared loudly from the display TVs as trapped tourists fought to keep the news from their home countries audible. It wasn’t the jaw-clenching decibel level that made Pen steer clear of the place, though; it was the faces of the men and women as they watched the feeds coming in from Beijing and Moscow and New York and Delhi. She’d watched the disbelief, then the anger and then the hurt in their expressions as the rolling twenty-four-hour coverage of the crisis in London had given way to stories about house price rebounds and livestock health scares and a (Pen had to admit, truly terrifying) twelve-year-old boy who had a six-pack like a male stripper. London now rated only a thirty-second segment each night on most overseas stations, if that. The world had got bored of them; it no longer cared about the fates of the people stranded here. They were expendable, and Pen found it too painful to watch them realise it.

Tonight, though, all the screens were black except for the sixty-inch plasma on the back wall. Pen saw Beth fumbling with her hood as though her fi ngers were numb, and like a mother with a small child, she pulled it up for her. Without a word, the two of them slipped into the edge of the crowd clustering around the one  active television.

Above the scrolling BBC News banner was a placid suburban street: semi-detached houses, manicured gardens, branching trees and electricity pylons. The moon was bright and clear, etching every shape in silver and shadow. The picture went to split-screen, the left side staying on the street while the right cut to a doughy man in an illfitting suit, standing on the steps of some town hall and speaking into a collar of microphones.

Once again’ – some problem with the Beeb’s sound-mixing rendered the man’s voice weak and tinny – ‘I am calling on the acting Prime Minister to abort this operation now, before its too late. Too many of our brave servicemen and women have already given their lives in pointless raids.

Someone behind Pen booed at the telly. Next to her, Beth huddled closer into her hoodie.

This is just another sign of a government that is both reckless and out of ideas,’ the doughy man went on, ‘and frankly, yet more evidence that the acting Prime Ministers previous position as a junior minister cannot possibly have prepared him for his present responsibility, nor’ – there were spots the colour of raw bacon in his cheeks – ‘can the British public be reasonably expected to have ever anticipated his ascension to the leadership of the Conservative Party when they voted for it. The acting government has no legitimacy. We need a general election, and we need one now!

‘Shut it, tit-face,’ someone snapped at the TV.

‘Call your damn election,’ said another. ‘If you come and collect my vote in person, you can have it.’

Shh!’ Pen put a finger to her lips and hissed. Everyone fell quiet and Beth threw her an impressed look from inside her hoodie. ‘Just watch.’ The picture was back to full-screen again. Bright white halogen lights washed over the suburban street. With a rumble low enough to make the speakers rattle, a battle tank rolled into frame. A soldier in a camoufl aged helmet leaned out of the turret aiming a mounted machine gun directly between the genteel houses. A string of armoured vehicles followed behind, their passengers watchful behind the sights of their automatic rifl es, engines growling impatiently at their cautious progress. A hissing sound like static, just audible from the TV speakers, underlaid it all.

‘Jeez Louise,’ someone said. ‘They’re coming in heavy this time, aren’t they?’

‘Where are they?’ someone else whispered.

‘I dunno – Ealing?’

‘Nah, that’s Beckenham. My daughter . . . lived there.’

‘Have they tried there before?’

‘No, not yet.’

‘Come on,’ someone close to Pen was muttering. She could feel their breath on her ear. ‘Come on, come on, come on.’

Shadow divided the road: a place where the streetlights cut out. From that point on, only moonlight lit the street and everything was spectral and sharp. Pen drew in a breath as the tank approached that line. Radios crackled faintly in the air as the tank rumbled into the shadow . . .

. . . and carried on rumbling.

Pen exhaled. Someone at the back of the crowd whooped. The camera zoomed in on the soldier in the turret. His shoulders relaxed and he reached back and beckoned those behind him onwards. The tank purred up a  gear as they followed. Chatter broke out around Pen, voices shaky with relief.

‘How far is that from here?’ someone was saying eagerly.

‘About fifteen miles.’

‘Do you think they’ll make it all the way?’

‘What about the hot streets?’

‘They must have satellites,’ another voice said knowingly, ‘thermal imaging. They’ll know what streets to avoid. Maybe they’ve found a way through!’

‘A way through,’ someone echoed, and the crowd cheered.

‘A way out.

The crowd kept cheering, chanting, ‘A way out!’ It went through them like a wind through rushes. ‘A way out, a way out.’

Pen was still watching the soldier in the tank turret. He was tiny now, a long way from the camera: a toy figurine silhouetted by the headlight wash, but he wasn’t getting any smaller, she realised. She kept watching. Long seconds passed. The column had stopped advancing. The soldier’s silhouette was bent over, his hands braced on the edge of his hatch. He was staring at the road beside the tank.

‘Everybody shut up!’ Pen yelled over the din in the room. Heads turned irritably towards her, but the cheering cut off . In the silence that followed, soft and distant and mediated by microphone crackle, she  could hear the soldier shouting.

The camera zoomed in until he was in close up, pointing and yelling – his voice still surreally quiet; the microphone was as close as it could get. The camera panned downwards in the direction he was pointing end Pen hissed.

The tank tracks were half submerged in the road. The asphalt lapped at the steel wheels like seawater.

‘It’s a Tideway,’ she breathed in horror.

The vehicles were sinking. Liquid tarmac was pouring in through the smallest gaps. The soldiers were standing on their seats, already up to their knees in it. They held their discipline, snapping into their radios, but the camera mercilessly homed in on their wide, panicky eyes.

With a groan of metal, the tank tipped backwards. The massive gun barrel stuck up into the air like a flagpole. The soldier was hanging backwards out of the turret, the asphalt licking at his uniform as the tank slid in deeper. The camera zoomed in on his hands as they fumbled with his gun-strap, his helmet. He was getting ready to swim for it.

‘No,’ Pen whispered. ‘No. Don’t. No.’

The helmet came free and an instant later he dived into the road. There was barely a splash as the asphalt swallowed him.

Pen stared. They all stared. For silent moments there was nothing, and then . . .

There! He erupted from the surface of the road in a fit of coughing and fl ailing. He was only a few feet from his stricken vehicle, as far as his leap had taken him, but no further. He windmilled his arms raggedly, trying to drag his body into a front crawl, but he just splashed. He didn’t advance a single inch.

A weight settled in Pen’s stomach as she watched.

‘Why isn’t he swimming?’ a thickset man in a turban demanded.

‘The liquid’s not dense enough,’ Pen answered, trying to keep her voice from shaking. ‘There’s no resistance, nothing for him to push against.’

He was sinking. The road was already up to his chin and the tide was pushing it into his mouth. He spat and gasped. His mates were hollering at him to swim, holding out their rifles for him to grab hold of, but they were just out of reach. They swore and revved their vehicles, but though their wheels spun and churned up the road, they went nowhere. There was a commotion in the foreground of the picture: more armed fi gures, sprinting up the road, but as soon as they reached the line where the streetlights cut out they reeled back. They milled about, toeing the edge of the shadow: the liquid street, lapping up onto dry land.

The soldier wasn’t even splashing now. His arms were fully submerged. His head tilted back, desperate for breath.

And then, like sudden thunder came the sound of helicopter blades.

A dark shape swooped into the picture: the chopper, black and angular as an insect, a light fl ashing on its nose. Pen saw the ripples its rotors threw up in the centre of the road; she watched the soldiers raise their arms in greeting as it came to hover over them, but the whup whup whup of its blades drowned out their cheers. It drowned out another sound too, Pen was sure of it. One she’d forgotten and remembered only as it disappeared: the static hiss she’d heard earlier from the TV.

A man emerged from the chopper, his silhouette bulked out by a life jacket. He bobbed on a cable like a cat’s toy as he descended towards the sinking soldier.

‘Thank Christ for that,’ someone exhaled.

Pen stirred uneasily and looked at Beth, who shook her head. Something wasn’t right, but she couldn’t quite—

‘The hissing!’ she exclaimed suddenly. ‘Why would static from the TV set get drowned out by a sound inside the broadcast?’

It was only then she realised the windows of every house on the street were open.

With a bang like a thunderclap, fire erupted over the road. A pair of dragons, their outlines drawn in blue fl ame, beat their wings and shot towards the helicopter. Inside Beth’s hood, Oscar crooned.

The soldiers babbled in panic and struggled to bring their rifles to bear. The air filled with the rattle-roar of machine-gun fire, but the Sewermanders didn’t even fl inch. They lifted their talons and bowed their backs like hunting falcons as they crashed one after the other into the side of the helicopter.

Orange flared into blue as their claws found the fuel tank, then, shrouded in fi lthy smoke, the chopper plummeted towards the ground. The liquid street swallowed it with barely a splash, though the hiss of the extinguished fire carried clearly to the news team’s microphones.

The Sewermanders bent their necks as though calling, but they made no sound Pen could hear. They twisted in the air and began to circle the sinking men.

Two more gunshots sounded, then nothing. The soldiers stared upwards, their faces lit blue by the fire.

Pen waited. They all waited. She imagined the gas-drakes swooping down, incinerating their prey with fl aming jaws, but they didn’t. They just beat the air, riding their own thermals, waiting.

Beth forgot herself and put a street-laced hand over her mouth, but it was the man in the turban who spoke.

‘My God. They’re just leaving them.’

The soldiers splashed and struggled, fl ailing their arms like children who didn’t know how to swim. They were up to their necks now, the vehicles invisible under them. Pen could almost read their lips as they prayed and begged and fought for breath.

Their outstretched fingers less than two feet from the pavement, one by one, they slipped below the surface.

No one spoke. Pen switched oW the TV. She turned to Beth, looking for someone to share her horror, but Beth wasn’t looking at her. She was bent over, crooked, staring at the floor.

Beth’s hand was still clamped across her mouth, but cupped, as though to catch something, and from between her fingers a liquid the colour of asphalt was dripping with a plack plack plack sound onto the marble floor.


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