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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41. Chapter Forty One

Near New Romney, Kent. 08.09.

Neil Simpson's RSE colleagues joked about his motocross bike being a sign of a mid-life crisis, but even if it was, he was the one who was laughing now. The presenter twisted the throttle slightly and the white 175 cc trailster he'd brought second hand surged forward; the machine's long-travel suspension taking the broken road surface in its stride as easily as it cut through the traffic in more normal times.

Since leaving the studios Neil had ridden cautiously, being unsure of what the 'quake cracked roads might have in store around the next bend and concerned about unexpectedly encountering those people who had abandoned their vehicles and continued on foot. He was only too aware his MX was now a highly desirable commodity. Keeping both feet down he'd often had to make offroad diversions as he passed stranded cars and trucks parked by the side of the road or in laybays, their drivers still sleeping inside. At one point he'd had to risk crossing the M20 on the intact part of a partially collapsed overpass; the usually busy motorway below was all but empty of stopped traffic. The road's post-apocalyptic stillness unsettled him.

Simpson's journey was a slow groping in the general direction he wanted to go in as the quake had fragmented the road network; often blocking his way with deep chasms or impassable changes in ground level. Elsewhere he spotted those travellers who had not been so fortunate; the jack-knifed lorries which occasionally blocked the route or the motorists who had been literally shaken off the carriageway and out of control when the tremors struck. Worst of all were the places the emergency services had yet to reach, where the sound of his engine - even though he kept the revs down and the bike's headlight switched off to avoid making his presence too conspicuous - disturbed murders of crows. Neil imagined what they were clustered around and pecking at; the thought of it turned his stomach.

Eventually Simpson found himself in the open fields under the wide though presently overcast skies of the Romney Marshes. The Dungeness spit was close by. Approaching the outskirts of New Romney he spotted a road block ahead, and in a small pull-in located a few hundred metres away from it on the unpoliced side a sole vehicle was stationed. A sixth sense made Neil slow down and pull in there as the only person who would park a small silver car here at this of all times had to be Annie Bromhaar. As he drew up Simpson noticed a familiar solitary figure standing some distance beyond it, intently scrutinising through a pair of compact binoculars the far distant hedgerow which screened the view of the reactor complex. Switching off the bike's motor, Neil dismounted and kicked down the propstand. The woman, carrying a small video camera on a lanyard around her neck became aware of his arrival; she turned to look at him. Simpson's hunch was proven correct.

As a teenager Annie Bromhaar had hitch-hiked her way to England in the early 1980s to join a peace camp. When the cruise missiles were eventually withdrawn she stayed; falling in love with Gerrit - a Dutch horticulturist working in the UK who she met at a protest - marrying him and having two children. Bromhaar's husband had since died as the result of a stroke, and her grown up children moved away from Brexit Britain, returning to the Netherlands.

Annie kept herself occupied with her environmental and anti-nuclear causes. She was a well known face at public hearings and debates, as well as being a vigorous contributor to radio discussions; that was how Neil had come to know her.

Bromhaar had aged greatly in the couple of years since they'd last met. Her hair had turned grey-white and was cut much shorter now, though it still blew in the light breeze. The creases etched into her weatherbeaten face were more pronounced. But the intelligent sparkle in her eyes remained, as did her quick smile when Simpson removed his helmet and walked towards her.

"Ah Neil! You came! No one else has!" Having lived much of her life in the UK, Annie's brittilly slurred Dutch lilt had softened greatly. "This was as close as I could get." she explained, gesturing at the barricade. "So you got fed up of spouting the bullshit!" It was more a statement than a question.

"I did."

"What have you heard?" she asked.

"Not all that much, apart from what you sent me and the Potentia PR department's response so I thought I'd come down and see for myself. Needless to say my producer didn't approve!" Simpson struggled to make himself heard above the din of a military helicopter passing nearby as it roared along. "Whatever is happening there appears to be urgent!"

"I've seen plenty of them since I arrived." Bromhaar said. "Most of them landing over there." she pointed in the direction of the nearby Ashford airport. "And others closer to the power station; I believe they carried technical supplies."

"It does make you wonder what's going on." agreed Neil. "They wouldn't be conducting a drill now of all times, so something must be up."

"The residents of the New Romney, Lydd, and Greatstone-on-Sea have been evacuated." Annie replied. "We are just beyond the Exclusion Zone boundary but that is a sure sign that something is gravely wrong. Ah!" she grunted. "Can you see those soldiers on foot patrol?" she passed Simpson her binoculars. "Just by those trees."

"Wait a minute... Yes I see them."

"I think they are sweeping the area a final time before they begin extending their Zone further. They know we are here and watching them; my face is certain to be on their dossier so we must be careful; they would arrest us without hesitation to keep their dirty little secrets. If the men at the barrier make a move in this direction we shall have to leave quickly."

"So what do you think is going on?" he shouted above the racket of another helicopter circling the area. This one - along with the pair of roadblock guards - seemed to be taking a closer interest in the both of them.

"I will be happy to tell you if you want to sit in my car." Bromhaar invited. "It will be more comfortable and perhaps a quieter place for an interview. We can-" Unexpectedly both of them were thrown to the ground by a stong aftershock. Annie yelled a gutteral Dutch expletive. Jesus Christ! thought Neil. This must be the worst yet!

The pair were bounced and shaken as they sprawled painfully on the bucking earth; Simpson was stung as the lay-by's gravel chippings were agitated into the air by the force of the seism. Neil wasn't sure if it was his imagination or a real effect of the 'quake but he glimpsed the countryside rolling along in humped waves as if it had become the sea; he was deafened by a sustained deep rending moan emanating from the very depths of the earth which resonated through his body as well as a myriad of other awful noises; his along with Annie's screams of terror being the least of them. He watched disbelievingly as a part of the land he was looking at was thrust up fully two metres or more.

The tremor appeared to grind on intermably but finished abruptly after what could have been no more than a short time, leaving Neil as well as Annie lying winded, bruised, soiled, and pummelled on the ground.

"Annie, are you all right?" Simpson called out.

"I think so, but I hurt all over!" Bromhaar moaned as she carefully peeled herself away from the dirt. "Aw neuken! My car!"

Neil looked over to where Annie's hatchback had been parked. Now its wheels hung over the lip of a newly opened fissure, the vehicle's body grounded just behind them. Even if the car hadn't been front wheel drive, a specialist tow truck would be needed to recover it.

"Neil! Look over there!" Bromhaar's shout grabbed Simpson's attention and he spun around to see where she was pointing. Oh my God!... the broadcaster thought as he understood what he was looking at.

"Annie, we've got to get out of here!" Neil shouted as he ran toward his toppled motorcycle, their only chance of escape now Bromhaar's mini was imobilised. Simpson reached his machine and wrestled the heavy bike up. Hoping it hadn't been damaged by falling over he turned the ignition key. There was a click, but the motor didn't start. He tried again, still nothing happened. If he couldn't get the machine running and the two of them out of the way quickly they risked whatever was in that rising cloud reaching them.

Giving up on the electric ignition Simpson flipped out the kickstart pedal and threw his whole weight on it; the engine turned over but didn't fire. Had he flooded the cylinders? Waiting as short a time as he dared for any fuel to drain Neil stood on the lever again, this time the motor burst into rasping life. Scooping up his helmet off the ground and jamming it on his head, the presenter mounted the bike, then kicked down its folding pillion foot pegs before throwing it into gear. Turning the 'crosser Neil saw Annie, camera in hand, filming the distant scene. He rode closer to her. "GET ON AND HOLD ON TO ME TIGHTLY!" he shouted. Bromhaar did so.

Spinning the bike around to leave Simpson glimpsed a line of small dirt puffs stitching near to them. He couldn't hear anything over the waspy note of the engine but realised the troops manning the barricade must be firing at them! Giving the MX as much throttle as he dared with his frightened passenger clinging on to him for dear life Neil sped bumping over the newly broken ground and was soon out of range; any shots which followed his retreating form going well wide.

Neil Simpson had certainly got the story he'd come for: Now all he had to do was stay alive long enough to broadcast it. He still wore his Sat-Pak; once the pair were well clear of the exclusion zone he'd upload the footage to all of the various online outlets he knew would leap at the chance to distribute it, so bugger the Beeb and their authoritarian censorship!

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