The Shaking

Seismic terror is about to strike...

Maverick geologist Brian McLean was ridiculed when he warned London and south east England were at imminent risk of suffering a major earthquake. But when the unthinkable happens buildings collapse, power grids crash, transport is gridlocked, and high-tech life grinds to a shuddering halt.

In the stunned aftermath courier Ryan Buckland journeys through a shattered city to be reunited with his family, Deputy Prime Minister Stuart Pullman sees the emergency as his chance to seize power, while nuclear engineer Alan Carter desperately tries to avert a far greater catastrophe. If he fails, destructive aftershocks will be the least of our problems...

A homage to penny dreadful natural disaster potboilers, The Shaking will rock you to your very core!

A 103,000 word novel. Rated PG 16.


5. Chapter Five

11.16. UKGeoScan head office; Cambridge.

Dr Brian McLean's busy fingers typed out a series of complex instructions: Finishing, he tapped the enter key with a final emphatic jab and waited for the powerful mainfraime connected with his terminal to process his commands. It didn't take long for the request to be completed and the data returned.

The results startled the geologist. Never before had he seen anything like it. On his monitor a map of south-east England was displayed, upon which was superimposed a diagonal slash running from Kent northwestward towards London; it was the well-known minor intraplate fault underlying the area which produced weak earthquakes from time to time. Rendered in a scale of vivid colours it showed the electrical potential of the ground as neasured by a newly installed experimental array of deeply buried resistivity sensors.

To a lay person the data would be meaningless, but to McLean what he saw shocked him - no, scared him shitless. If the readings were correct, and he hoped they were wrong, the piezoelectrical signals indicated the tectonic forces were building rapidly again along the underground fissure; the squeezing of the fault being reflected in the increased potential. Put simply, the risk of a significant earthquake was growing.

But it wasn't only the strain building on the known feature which alarmed him, McClean suspected pressure was being transferred to the fault from a deeper rift laying far below the Kentish fracture, beyond the detector array's range. Just as a champagne cork contained the carbonated gases held within a shaken bottle, so a triggering of the upper fault would remove the restraint preventing a far greater force from being loosed. And just as uncorking a gaseous bottle, the energy would be released abruptly.

Brian felt impelled to act on these findings, but first he needed to absolutely sure of his facts; he ran the programme again, only this time changing a few of the variables and excluding some of the more spurious measurements. Then he conducted a further series of calibration and diagnostic exercises. Despite some expected differences in the detail, the results came back much the same as before.

McClean called over to his colleague Michael Wilson, who was also in the office.

"Hey Mike, can you take a look at this please?"

"What's up?" replied Wilson, walking over to the terminal.

Quickly Brian summarised his observations and hypothesis. Michael pondered for a moment.

"I'm not convinced." he said. "There could be any number of reasons for what we're seeing; the most obvious being the electroseismic aftereffects of the previous tremor there. Or it might be a case of electrical earthing into the soil; don't forget there's quite a lot of construction and ground disturbance activity going on in the area, not to mention those exploratory fracking drillings, any one of those factors could explain it."

"Well explain this!" McLean retorted, his swift keystrokes and mouse clicks bringing up another image. "This was the same area a week before the last 'quake; this the day before, and this nine hours prior to the event.

"Yes, but it's easy to spot things in retrospect..."

"Now let's run the model into the future. What do you see now?"

Wilson watched as new branches of false coloured stress began radiating from the fault; the branchlike tendrils spreading into the Kent Downs and as far as St Mary's Bay on the coast.

"Whoa there!" Wilson exclaimed. "You know as well as I that correlation does not equal causation. At a guess, and this is a pure gut reaction, I'd say you were dealing with a model artifact. It can't cope with the data because its not had a long enough baseline to work with. The algorithms are extrapolating an incomplete dataset and presenting outliers as the mean. They're adding two and two together but coming up with five, or in this case several thousand. That or it's being swamped with too much poor quality data as a result of the event and can't discriminate what's real from the background noise. If you were to aggregate everything you'd be bound to arrive at an apocalyptic outcome."

"And if you're wrong?..." McLean asked. "We might be ignoring an early warning of a future disaster."

"No Brian, I don't think so. The Deep Scan network we were able to install recently was only half of what we originally asked for so we're nowhere near getting the resolution we wanted, and it being so new we're still working through the teething problems. No one's going to take you seriously based on what you have at the moment; let alone if you go running around shouting the sky is about to fall in on us. There's nothing you can do with this at present, so let things settle down for a while; take a longer term view of it and see where it leads. When our Deep Focus programme gets underway in a few months we'll have a far clearer idea of the underlying structure of the area and then see if your theory about there being a hidden thrust fault lying deeper below the one we can detect holds any water."

"And in the meantime?" sighed McClean. "What if there is a blind fault there which causes a major mass casualty 'quake soon? Or what if the Deep Focus budget is cut again, as I fear it might be. What do we do then?"

"You show the world the data you've saved in the meantime and shout loudly you told them so; then smugly collect any panic grants they throw at the problem."

"But that won't help the victims; it'll be too late for them by then."

"You won't be doing them, yourself, your career, or your family any favours by running off half-cocked." countered Wilson. "Frankly I think you'd be better off lying low for a while; particularly given the attention you've been attracting."

"News travels quickly, eh?"

"Yes. Peter Currie is seething you sent your paper to the Cabinet Office; even if it was done in your own name and not under the aegis of GeoScan. It's a good thing we're completely detached from the government now or the Director would have been leaned on to dismiss you. As it was he got a call from Downing Street that made his ears burn. He wasn't best pleased..."

"I know; he personally told me so."

"And if it hadn't been for all hands being needed on deck to process the data from yesterday's 'quake you'd have been starting an enforced leave - sabbatical - call it what you want while they worked out what to do with you. Thank your lucky stars that we can't do without you at the moment! I know you haven't actually done anything wrong, but there are conventions - ways of behaviour - which should be followed. For God's sake stop ruffling feathers; especially when you're dealing with a vindictive wanker like Stuart Pullman; he's bad news which will only get worse if he ever becomes Prime Minister. Just let it be for now; if you're right you'll be vindicated in due course. Hopefully Pullman will forget about you in a few days and go picking on another disadvantaged group instead."

"OK! I get the message! As usual you're making a lot of sense. Thanks Mike."

As Wilson drifted away to tend a large scale printer creating yet another chart of the previous quake's effects. McLean pondered what he should do. These days to step out of line or blow the whistle was to take an enormous risk; one which could have serious implications for his future career and his family's financial security: Such a decision was not to be taken lightly.

In the meantime Brian copied the data to his personal cloud service, as well as the keychain memory device he always kept with him. If his worst fears were proved to be correct and the event he dreaded actually occurred, he would most likely be set up to be the fall guy, for it is easier to shoot the messenger rather than take heed of their bad tidings. But Brian McLean had no intention of being cast as anyone's scapegoat.


14.36. UKGeoScan.

By mid afternoon Brian McLean had run the most recent sets of ground resistivity data through his predictive computer model. With each new analysis the outcome became visibly worse in terms of certainty an event would occur, its likely magnitude, and timing now no longer reckoned in years or months in advance, but days at the most.

Brian felt a gnawing sense of dread and impending doom, along with the growing conviction he couldn't keep this knowledge to himself. The public had the right to know, but how could he warn them without ruining his career in the process? After some consideration an idea came to him: There might be a way which entailed relatively little risk on his part and would be certain to get the word out. After checking no nearby inquiring colleagues were overlooking his activity, McLean began composing an email.


15.41. St Albans. Hertfordshire.

Nathan Rookley's eyebrows rose as he scanned the anonymous email he'd just received. In all his years as a self-employed 'journalist' he'd never seen the like of it.

Rookley made his living from writing outrageously sensationalist features about conspiracy and weather related topics. It was his name which invariably featured on the byline of apocalyptic prophecies splashed over tabloid front pages; the sort of 'stories' which foretold SIX MONTHS OF ARCTIC WINTER TO COME, to be followed by warnings of a HOTTEST SUMMER FOR 300 YEARS THREAT, or FLOODING HELL ON THE WAY. If not those evergreen standbys there were many other ways of exaggerating perfectly normal meteorological events into cataclysmic terrors.

Over the years Nathan had developed the hyperbole into a fine art, having the knack of being able to season his articles with just enough factual content or quotes taken out of context from reputable sources to convince his gullible readers what they were skimming through was true and not a carefully contrived fiction.

It continually surprised him that even after all this time, and his 'predictions' routinely being proved wrong, people still fell for the alarmist reports; in fact some of them positively lapped them up. It was almost as if his readership perversely reveled in calamitous scare stories, just as long as they never came to pass.

But what Nathan read now was a radical departure from the typical submissions he received. Obviously not the crackpot raving of an obese, lank haired, socially inept bedsit dweller in their late forties - the type who rarely washed or shaved but lived barefoot in a grubby jogging pants and vest combination - the contents of this message caught his eye as nothing had before. Though the unhinged theories contributed by his misfit fanbase were amusing and on occasions a useful peg to hang a story on, in general they were too obviously deranged to be credible, believing their lone insights would uniquely overturn the conventions of modern technological science. However that didn't stop Rookley from exploiting the losers for all they were worth.

Instead this correspondent's well presented argument, though tendacious in places, was calmly and carefully reasoned; backed by data which could only have come from rigorous scientific measurements. Clearly not a deluded fantasist, this person spoke with a qualified authority on their subject; and whoever it was appeared to be a gravely concerned intellect at that.

But who were they? Evidently someone highly intelligent, and who wanted their identity to remain a secret. They'd sought him of all people out, knowing his ability to publicise outlandish theories in the mainstream media; but had exercised a degree of caution in doing so via a covert disposable email provider. Though clever as they had been, they might not have been careful enough to elude Rookley's detective skills...

Firstly Nathan checked his social media accounts and discussion forum, but saw no sign the informant had left any messages or contact details on any of them; instead he saw only the usual mix of fawning adulation and vitriolic condemnation. He'd block all of the critics from posting and delete their naysaying comments as was his custom later, but now there were more important things to be done, such as employing the suite of powerful search engines he had at his disposal to match the writing style and scientific text passages quoted in the email to published sources. Maybe in that way the mysterious source's identity could be unmasked?

Instantaneously Rookley's query produced a list of possible correlations, the most likely of which were very similar to publications authored by a UKGeoScan seismologist, Dr Brian McLean. Excited by the thrill of the chase, Nathan used the man's name for a more specific search. Yes! He was on the right track now! From academic sites Rookley downloaded McLean's biographical details and published papers. Ever more confident this was his target, the hack stopped his online trawling and began reading through the haul of information.

Forty minutes later Nathan had abandoned his attempt to contort a few pleasantly sunny late summer weeks into the beginning of a MEGADROUGHT in favour of making the most of this MEGAQUAKE lead instead. Practiced in his craft as he was it didn't take Rookley long to cobble a story together; one so headline grabbing he felt justified demanding an increased fee in the covering email which accompanied the submission to his most likely client. Nathan was confident his tame editor at the Daily Post would agree to the terms.


17.50. Daily Post office, One Canada Square, London.

Well Nathan; this is your best yet! Thought Gary Sheldon, editor of a lower mid-market and rapidly sinking further down the scale tabloid newspaper, as he read Rookley's story. This one is so good it's well worth what you're asking for it. We'll recoup the money easily enough in terms of increased paper sales and hits on our website. All that was required now was to send it to one of the paper's in-house law subs - a specialist legal sub-editor - to ensure the article wasn't too obviously libellous before it would be splashed on the front page of tomorrow's edition and receive lead billing online.

The law sub's approval didn't take long, even though this feature stretched the boundaries to a new extent. Rookley, true to form, had been clever in his writing, using phrases such as "sources within the geological community" and "theories very similar to those postulated by people such as..." rather than coming out and directly naming the report's author. If this McLean had wanted attention he'd get plenty of it now; though it may not be the sort of publicity he hoped for; the official backlash might prove extremely detrimental to him...

But that was no skin off Rookley's or Sheldon's nose. If well-meaning people were naive enough to trust unprincipled exploitative journalists like them and got burned in the process, well too bad - that's life! The Daily Post wasn't there for the public good. Its articles might use longer words than the red top titles but the principle was still the same; feed the readers plenty of bullshit; be it about future house prices; health issues; immigration and asylum seekers; or get them involved with the latest official hate campaign against the disadvantaged: And if the punters grew weary of it all, there was always this entertaining form of silly season scaremongering... That should get their attention, especially given recent events! Sheldon thought as he finished composing a banner headline for the piece.

Gary smiled as he imagined how later this evening and early tomorrow morning vacuous 'news' or 'paper talk' programmes with nothing better to do than regurgitate press stories; corner shop billboards, and mobile device screens would be blaring his screaming caption, UK QUAKE TERROR MAY KILL THOUSANDS!

Join MovellasFind out what all the buzz is about. Join now to start sharing your creativity and passion
Loading ...