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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43. Chapter Forty Three

Two weeks later; Dungeness Outer Exclusion Area. 06.58.

"WE'RE ABOUT TO LAND!" the loadmaster shouted to Michael Wilson. It was difficult to make out what the soldier was saying above the throbbing cacophony inside the Chinook helicopter's hold, the man's voice being further muffled by the full Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear protection suits, along with respirators that both he and Michael were wearing.

"OK" Wilson mumbled in reply. Both his military escorts made ready to get up, unclipping their safety belts; they montioned him to remain strapped in and seated. Michael couldn't see the ground rising  through the small porthole windows in the side of the large aircraft and didn't know the machine had touched down until he felt the jolt of landing. Then things happened quickly; the rear cargo ramp door was lowered, and having had his harness released by his minders they urged him to squeeze through the thin space between the foldable seats mounted on the cabin wall and the cargo of supplies lashed securely down in the centre of the deck. Once he'd done so the pair almost picked him up and carried him along with them, his bodyguards pushed Wilson's head down as they ran underneath the rotors viciously slashing at the air above them. No sooner were they clear than the rear door began to rise and the chopper dusted off with a renewed shrill of turbines amid a hurricane of its own making. Climbing at full power it shrank in size as the whopping of the contra-rotating blades faded away.

As the silence began to return to the landing zone - a grassy field adjacent to a minor road - both of Wilson's companions looked cautiously around them. One - Corporal Stevens, the navigator - holding a map and GPS unit in sealed clear plastic cases was responsible for ensuring his arrival at the objective's location. The other, Private Turvey, the monitor, swept a radiation detector in front of him. Both men shouldered compact automatic weapons: During his briefing Michael had been told the troops were authorised to use deadly force in order to protect him from harm.

"Are you all right Sir?"The corporal asked, his words distorted through the pig snout of the gas mask. Wilson, just beginning to recover from his flight and the rushed disembarkation, gave a thumbs up sign. "OK, let's go then, it's just over there!" Stevens pointed further away toward a small boxy concrete structure with a large angled solar panel mounted on its roof. The building was about half the height of a telephone kiosk, surrounded by a high aluminium palisade fence which split into nasty looking toothed spikes at the top of each of its thick slats. If that didn't deter any casual vandalism of the Deep Scan measuring station, nothing would.

Wilson and Stevens followed Turvey who scanned the road ahead with the olive drab coloured geiger counter. Even though his ears were still ringing from the noise of the Chinook's engines and despite outside sounds being deadened by the thick material of his protective suit, Michael could hear the unit emitting a background drizzle of clicks. With a start he realised the trio were being irradiated at this very moment by fallout particles settled on the tarmac and within the bordering roadside hedges. He also noted the utter absence of any birdsong.

A few steps further on the drizzle became a squall of noise; the individual counts meging into an indistinguishable roar. A redundant alarm beeped urgently. Turvey quickly stepped back and gestured the other two over to the left hand side of the deserted carriageway, away from the hotspot. The agitated detector calmed as he did so. Even so, as Wilson followed exactly in the footsteps of his guide as he'd been instructed to during his brief introduction to CBRN procedures, he felt his body temperature rising, along with a light-headedness and a queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach, almost like the sudden onset of a virus, even though he'd been told the radiation exposure couldn't affect him so quickly. The scientist prayed he was merely experiencing a psychosomatic response.

"We should get this done and get out of here as quickly as possible." said the corporal; Michael nodded his agreement. The men increased their walking pace, even though they risked overheating in their suits and misting their mask lenses by doing so.

They arrived at the monitoring outpost without the radiation meter sounding any more alerts. The corporal turned toward Michael. "If you'll give me the keys Dr Wilson; it's best if I decontaminate and open the locks for you."

The geologist didn't argue; instead he fumbled with the fastening on his belt pouch holding the keys for the enclosure gate and metal door of the Deep Scan shelter. Tugging apart the sides of the clear plastic seal bag containing them, Wilson handed the key ring to Stevens. The soldier took out a medium sized paint brush from his webbing pocket and began to carefully dust the hasp and body of the heavy gate padlock before opening it. Meanwhile Turvey took up a sentry position, observing the area and his instrument's display with equal attention.

Once inside the fence Stevens began working on the door lock. If the key didn't fit or the lock refused to operate, the soldiers had large pairs of bolt cutters in their patrol packs, and if all else failed, they carried a small amount of plastic explosive with them; but given the overriding instructions not to disturb the sensitive measuring apparatus inside the strongbox unless absolutely necessary, that was a last resort.

"All clear Sir!" The corporal announced, sounding as if he was suffering a heavy cold. He beckoned Michael in: Now it was all up to him to justify the risk involved in bringing his expertise to the site.

There was enough daylight to illuminate the contents of the cabinet. Remembering what he'd been told - Keep your kit off the ground; that's where the contamination will be - Wilson clumsily shrugged off his backpack and offered it to Stevens to hold before extracting the tablet the army had issued him from inside it.

Now he could get down to business: Squatting as he'd been instructed rather than allowing his knees to touch the concrete floor of the instrument housing, Michael grasped the data cable protruding from the tablet's waterproof, airtight bag and inserted it into a socket in one of the many electronics boxes which comprised the interior of the node. Once connectivity had been established Wlison launched one of the programmes he'd downloaded from his GeoScan laptop to run a series of diagnostic tests.

As they were being conducted he performed a visual and physical check of the equipment; everything appeared to be undamaged and in order. The tablet signalled its scan was completed; again no obvious or immediate problems were flagged up. The station was calibrated and operating correctly, which meant there could be no questioning of the measurements it collected. His work nearly finished here now, Wilson copied and downloaded the system's data cache to be examined in greater detail later.

Michael rose. "I'm done here; you can close up now." he said to Stevens. As the corporal resecured the gate Wilson looked around him at a scene so normal, yet invisibly hazardous, and tried to make sense of what he'd learned.

Ideally all of the Deep Scan stations would have been checked over, but the pevailing radiological conditions in the area rendered that too dangerous. Instead three of the safer locations had been chosen to be representative samples. If all three were working normally and accurately - as Wilson expected they were - then the network's data could not be discounted. That being the case, what was going on deep underground at this very moment was way beyond even Brian McLean's wildest imaginings. If only he were here now... thought Michael.

But McLean wasn't here. He was fortunate enough to be in Scotland, having had a head start on the tens of thousands of displaced people who had rushed north seeking an undamaged roof to shelter under and distance from the effects of the Dungeness meltdown. Now he was working as a consultant for, and under the protection of the rebellious Scottish government. His theories suddenly pushed into the limelight by events it was rumoured seismology's hottest property had been invited to help create a independent Scottish Geological Survey, or had been offered several jobs in the United States. Wherever his future lay, it certainly wouldn't be with UKGeoScan; that much was clear.

Following Peter Currie's crisis of confidence in the wake of the earthquake, his subsequent resignation and being told by no less than Stuart Pullman to stop wallowing in self-pity and get back to work, the GeoScan boss had chosen to scapegoat Brian McLean. The geologist's access to the company's computer system had been suspended prior to his eventually certain dismisal, leaving Wilson - the second most knowledgeable about it - in charge of the Deep Scan project. Michael was struggling to keep on top of it all and come up with the definitive predictions Currie and Graham Madden - the nasty piece of work Stuart Pullman had appointed to oversee GeoScan's operations - demanded.

Fortunately Michael wasn't completely deprived of McLean's insight; Brian had privately emailed him from his secret location, and when not working long emergency shifts Wilson collaborated and shared the latest data with him. Despite their differences of scientific opinion they both realised there could be no disputing the growing body of evidence. Just thinking about the implications made Wilson's pulse quicken and his breath rasp still louder within the tightly constricting respirator.

Michael's nose began to itch, but he'd been strictly forbidden to remove the thick rubber mask cinched down by a locking cord under the cowled hood, and even to avoid touching it with his tape oversealed at the wrists gloved hands as much as possible. If rubbing the spot from the outside didn't relieve the irritation he'd just have to put up with it until one of the many busy helicopters retrieved the party, then flew them on to the next two targets, before returning the group to base where a team of specialists waited to decontaminate and unsuit them. Wilson just hoped the beads of sweat he could feel forming on his forehead didn't trickle into his eyes...

"Try thinking about something else." advised Stevens, noticing his discomfort. Michael tried to; after all he had the mother of all problems to solve: How was he going to convince his hostile superiors - still in a state of denial - that the increasing swarms of earthquakes, heightened ground resistivity levels, and steadily rising groundwater temperatures the Deep Scan network had recorded signalled within weeks or months at the very most the Garden of England would suffer the noxious sulphuric gas pollution and runny molten lava flows associated with an emerging fissure volcano?

Wilson's concentration was broken by a faint but approaching sound, that must the helicopter! But then he realised the engine note was different. Looking around he just caught sight of what looked like a survey drone skimming low along a far off field boundary; then it was lost to his view.

Stevens, busy on his radio calling for their pickup, seemed not to notice it and Michael saw no reason to interrupt the corporal. The soldier had enouugh to be concerned about at the moment; let alone with what he might have to be dealing with in the near future.

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