This is another story set in the world created in John Birmingham’s “End of Days” series of books (see notes on my “running dark” story for more info on this),  This is the second vignette I developed to share with his Patreon backers, also in June 2019.

If you’d like to support John’s work, the first book in the series is Zero Day Code. The Audible version is very well narrated.

This story is also set not long after the start of Zero Day Code, when the world has very much fallen apart. Not only have utility networks stopped working, but the organisational structures of society which we all rely upon have ceased to exist, as people focus on just surviving. Well, most people, anyway…


Margaret Jenkins moved quietly through the rows of dead faces rising above her. Only her soft footsteps interrupted the silence. Motes of dust reflected in the golden afternoon sunlight streaming through the windows near the ceiling.

The Egyptian Sculpture Hall of the British Museum was hers to enjoy. Alone.

The professional curators had continued to come in for a few days after everything fell apart. But their families needed them more than the dead stones and artefacts did. And it was dangerous on the streets of London. Margaret understood them. Once, she would have done the same.

Since John died five years ago, lending a hand at the museum had helped give her a sense of purpose, of belonging. Helping to catalogue, organising events, acting as a guide. It all kept her connected to the world. And she had grown to love the feeling of being a part of the history of objects that had passed down through not just centuries, but millennia.

Now though, she couldn’t imagine what future they had. Since the electricity had gone off weeks ago, temperature and humidity was no longer controlled. The manuscripts, fabrics and wooden relics would be the first to go. The mummies too. Back to dust.

Nothing had been moved into the tunnels of the old Underground station beneath the museum. Unlike the two World Wars, society had just collapsed and fallen into chaos in a matter of days. It didn’t matter though. In a city without water, power, or food, artefacts that were priceless only a few weeks ago had no value now. No one was going to come and take anything. What was the point?

Margaret walked past the familiar figures of the gods and pharaohs. As ever, she stopped before the glass case protecting the Rosetta Stone, in the very centre of the great hall. Over two thousand years old, and the key to understanding a world thousands of years older. It would survive her, and would likely outlive civilisation itself, from the way things were heading.

And here He was. The immense head and upper body of Ramesses the Second. Standing five metres above her, looking down with unblinking eyes that had seen over thirty centuries pass by. Impassive. Solid. King of Kings. She stood silently before him. Ozymandias.

The statue’s arrival in London had been the inspiration for the writing of Ozymandias. “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” Indeed, she thought.

As far as her eyes could see down the four hallways radiating from here, ancient sentinels stood. Any of them could serve as the “trunkless legs of stone” in Shelly’s poem. Monuments to mankind’s triumphs and failures.


* * * * * *


That evening, Margaret found herself in her usual place, in a viewing gallery above the dome of the Great Court. From here, she could see London stretching off to the south. Dark and silent.

Alone in her thoughts, Margaret thought again of Ozymandias. Everyone knew Shelley’s poem, of course. But she was also familiar with the version composed by Horace Smith at the same time. Not so famous, but more poignant now. It told of a hunter in the distant future, coming across a huge fragment in a fallen London, and wondering:

     What powerful but unrecorded race
     Once dwelt in that annihilated place

In the distance, a red glow appeared. Over the next few hours, Margaret watched as it slowly spread, growing closer. No sirens sounded in alarm. No firemen raced off in response. London would have to take its chances.

She could make out the flames now. No matter. Ozymandias would remain.