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.

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44. Chapter Forty Four

Dungeness Inner Exclusion Area. 07.12.

"Hold it! What's that? Over there to the left, in the hedgerow! There! Yes; that's it!" Even with the latest image stabilisation technology the surveillance drone's sudden camera movements made Hanns Pichler feel motion sick as he watched the image centre in his monitor.

Pichler's independent media company had chartered the state of the art Uncrewed Aerial Vehicle to breach the Dungeness Inner Exclusion Area and find out what was really going on there. The X-shaped, four propellered flyer had been secretly launched from just outside the French Zone de Controle near Cassel, then skimmed across the Channel to Kent. Initially they had given the Dungeness Power Station complex a wide berth to avoid suspicion; instead flying almost as far north as the south London suburbs before doubling back and hedge hopping across the Kentish weald. Once they arrived on the scene the plan was to quickly circle around the Dungeness spit and hope they weren't detected or attacked by the army units who patrolled the area before barrelling home at just above wave height.

By some miracle they'd entered UK airspace without being jammed, intercepted, or shot down. Either their lazily erratic imitation 'seagull' course had fooled the British radars, or more likely the RAF were preoccupied doing other things. In any case were their presence to become known, they would find themselves treated with extreme hostility. The new British government actively discouraged independent observers of any kind from monitoring the scene of the 'release' as they were now attempting to euphemise the meltdown.

A fortnight on from the event the official spin was that the situation was under control and contained. The short-lived 'discharge' plume had only briefly blown over parts of Kent, Surrey, London, and Essex before the wind changed back to its prevailing southwesterly direction, carrying the worst of the contaminants out into the North Sea; though needless to say the countries downwind in general and Scandinavia in particular were unconvinced by the reassurances. Many of them were openly sceptical and calling for greater openess from the stonewalling British authorities.

The Dungeness event had been a serious occurrence but not an utter disaster, claimed the new Prime Minister Stuart Pullman in a speech he made to his newly reshuffled cabinet, meeting soon after the national service of commemoration held in a rapidly shored-up Westminster Abbey. Compared to the multiple Fukushima meltdowns or the Chernobyl explosion, the limited duration 'excursion' hadn't been anywhere near as severe, he said. The average radiation exposure of the general public had been "minimal". Plans were in hand to permanently 'encapsulate' the reactor units and enclose any residual problems within the immediate area. In time it would become apparent to all but the ideologically motivated doom-mongers that the facts on the ground bore no relation to the now discredited alarmist first reports. Given that another earthquake of that magnitude was unlikely to occur for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years; the British people, working together, would quickly surmount what transitory difficulties remained.

Already the heroes had been chosen to be written into the official narrative. There was Alan Carter, along with his staff, of course. They were due a nation's grateful praise for their courageous efforts in trying to avert, then limit the effects of the 'incident'. They would be out of the public eye for a while they received treatment for their radiation injuries. Unmentioned was the fact that many of them - Carter included - were not expected to recover from their exposure.

All of the emergency services had, as ever, responded magnificently to the catastrophe. The fact the government's cuts had left them stretched so thinly beforehand would of course be quietly airbrushed away.

The fearless devotion to their work of Connect24's Kelly Thorpe and Ethan Parr who died while trying to inform the public about the scale of the earthquake would be recognised in due course, along with the sacrifice of the public spirted patrons and staff who died in the Woppa Burga restaurant tragedy. Ordinary people such as Sam Bicknall had risked their lives in order to save others; in his case the pensioner couple he'd pulled from their sinking caravan. Such had been the cloying nature of the quicksand dragging it down it had sucked their clothes off their bodies as they were rescued. Now the Fennings, who had become minor celebrities, were rehoused in a requisitioned caravan on a Dorset pitch; no doubt annoying their new neighbours yet again as the pair revelled in their survival. Also not to be forgotten were the actions of the Japanese students, Miyahira Tsuki and Nakagawa Ishi, both now safely returned home to Nagoya. Such examples of selflessness in the face of disaster should be inspirations to us all.

As for the villains of the hour, the Shadow Man had dropped out of sight, though not out of mind. A wise move on his part as under the State Of Emergency laws, Treason was once again a capital offence. Meanwhile Dominic Paige, former editor at Connect24, was languishing in custody facing a whole raft of charges connected with his gross recklessness which had resulted in the deaths of his staff. As for Gary Sheldon and Nathan Rookley, their previous trivialisation of the risks severe weather or natural disasters posed to the country by blowing them out of all proportion had helped create a blasé attitude to preparedness; the pair's preventitive detention was a clear signal that such poor journalistic practices would no longer be tolerated.

Brian McLean was another who had let everyone down when his expertise had been most needed; his incompetence in not providing specific enough warnings regarding the earthquake threat had no doubt cost many lives. The fugitive broadcaster Neil Simpson and anti-nuclear activist Annie Bromhaar were reported to have claimed asylum in Scotland as well. The rebellious province would be dealt with firmly and brought back into line in due course, once the immediate priorities had been dealt with...

Those wrongdoers would be joined soon enough in jail by the disaster profiteers, spivs, and price gougers; along with those looters fortunate enough to be taken alive rather than shot on sight. Anyone who spread false rumours, or tried to hinder the national recovery should know they were courting some serious trouble promised the new, forthright leader; but Pullman also reassured such antisocial elements were but a tiny minority. By and large people were performing astonishing feats to bootstrap themselves above adversity: The world would be impressed by both the speed and scale of our recovery efforts. The Nation had been tried and tested, but would ultimately emerge stronger from the challenge.

So, thought Pichler, if everything was so hunky dory why the Exclusion Areas, Air Exclusion Zones, and the indefinite extension of the draconian National State Of Emergency as well as the media censorship orders? What was there to hide? There were rumours of course: The real number and condition of the casualties being cared for in rapidly set-up radiological treatment centres. The conscription - sometimes at gunpoint - of the labour required for the Dungeness site; prisoners being offered extra remission of their sentences in exchange for working there; the mentally ill, and of course the unemployed being coerced into 'volunteering'... Commercial satellite images showed all manner of inflatable structures, marquees, and hastily delivered containers in the staging area close to the Ashford airport, itself not far away from the ruined plant; along with the temporary giant tarpaulin cover which was being stretched with the aid of cranes, people, and teleoperated robots over the open remains of the reactor block. Even the white dots of personnel clad in protective clothing working on the nearby makeshift sea defences were visible at maximum magnification. But photos taken from a distance could only reveal so much: To know more Pichler needed to get much closer; hence this flight. Whatever the truth of the matter he intended to find out and tell the world in the documentary he was producing.

The stealthy drone's powerful camera zoomed in on the point Hanns indicated with a touch of his finger on the interactive screen. Though he in his Hamburg studio and the flyer's pilot were separated by some distance and several anonymous deep web cut-out links, the immediacy of the response made it feel as if they were in the same room.

"Yes, hold it here for a moment please!"

It was a slight movement where there should have been none on the periphery of the UAV's vision as it moved in furtive rushes toward the border of the Inner Exclusion Area which had caught his eye. Now the object of his curiosity became clear. It was a small russet and white dog, a terrier of some sort, and it was obviously in a bad way. It looked feeble as well as emaciated; barely able to raise its curious head. The fact it was still alive at all in a place like this was a miracle in itself. Flicking to another display of the drone's telemetry, Pichler was astonished to see the same scene rendered in bright splashes of warning colours. This area was such a radioactive hotspot that any person or animal staying here would receive a lethal dose in a matter of a few hours.

"Stay on that spot!" Hanns instructed. "I'm taking control of the camera." Though the entire flight would be recorded in ultra high definition, Pichler wanted to make the most of this opportunity to get the shot he wanted; the one which would be the defining vignette of his forthcoming exposé. No matter what they would see as they flew around Dungeness or whatever else he would include in his film, Hanns knew that despite the ongoing plight of the British people it would be the suffering of the dying dog which would evoke the raw emotional resonance he sought to elicit in his audience.

The drone operator's concerned voice startled Pichler. "We can't loiter in this spot for too long; we risk being detected hovering, the radiation is affecting the drone, and our fuel state is tight. Get your pictures and then we must move on!"

"Very well! Give me a slow movement away to your right; yes, that's great. Thank you: OK, we're finished here; let's go!"

 

Awakened from his torpor by the humming of the drone's rotors, Rusty tried to get up, but failed. His weakened legs could no longer support him. He was gravely ill, he knew that, but couldn't understand what ailed him. His fur was falling out; not just the usual shedding but in clumps, revealing bare patches of pale skin underneath along with a growing number of pustulant sores which had begun to develop and spread. No matter how much he licked the tender bald spots on his body they still remained red, raw, and uncomfortably itchy. Recently it had become painfully difficult to even try to bend his head around to ease the discomfort.

He felt lethargic, and had no appetite despite not having eaten for days; yet he was still periodically racked with agonising spasms of diarrhoea as well as vomiting. Along with the bitter tang of vomit, he tasted blood in his mouth.

Rusty's senses were beginning to fade; his vision dimming and becoming less focused; hearing becoming mushy, as if his head was underwater. He felt himself becoming detached from his dying body, but even as his life ebbed away he still felt that tingling; the now familiar sensation of foreboding experienced just prior to the times when his world began to shake and fill with noise. The dog knew it was going to happen again, very soon - almost immediately in fact - and this time the shaking would be unimaginably worse than before...

 

The End.

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