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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19. Chapter Nineteen

Clapton, East London. 10.40.

'"COME ON!" Kelly Thorpe, Connect24 reporter and sometime news anchor, stops and shouts at Ethan Parr her cameraman, who is lagging behind her. He is less fit than she who is a keen jogger, and is weighed down carrying the Satellite Broadcast Backpack. Gasping, he catches up with her and leans against a stretch of the ubiquitous grey aluminium railings used to corral pedestrians on the pavement and prevent them from wandering into or jaywalking on the busy city roads; now gridlocked by stalled traffic

"I... can't... keep... this... up!" His words come in strangulated gasps. He's not in too bad a shape himself, Kelly thinks. If I wasn't in a relationship I'd- Her lascivious train of thought is interrupted by the unmistakable screeching siren of an approaching emergency vehicle; most likely a London Fire Service appliance. The sound echoing and rebounding through the city streets plays tricks on her ears' directional sense, but Thorpe is sure it is rushing - well moving as quickly as it can through the chaos - toward the docklands which is where they are headed. The area is bound to be a prime spot for any action which may be happening.

Kelly pats Ethan on his strong shoulder, letting her hand linger there for a while longer than would be considered appropriate in such circumstances. She knows how to get results by less than subtle flirting and doesn't hesitate to do so. "A few more good deep breaths, and let's go for it!" With that she is away again; come chase my pert rear you gorgeous hunk...

Normally they'd have the resources of an OB van at their disposal; but these are far from normal times and a vehicle wouldn't even make it out of Connect24's car park, let alone be able to drive to the financial district in a matter of hours, perhaps even longer given the state of the roads... Christ, what a mess! she muses, but what a story! This one is bound to run and run; it will be a stunning chance to advance her reputation, and it is all the better for being so unexpected.

A short time ago Kelly had been in the Connect24 headquarters dreading being dragged in as a roving reporter to the royal illness saga. After working at the station for a year now she feels she's progressed beyond grabbing random street sound bites from mouth-breathing pedestrians, but fortunately it seems Gail Burton, the empress of C24, has already got everything sewn up on that account and she's welcome to it. The prime time prima donna is anchoring the programme live from outside the hospital where the royal kids are being treated for the 'flu and overindulging in her typical emotional carpet bombing style.

It's nauseating to see that dried-out old dyke has-been hogging the limelight. Not that Thorpe wants to be standing around aimlessly in her place, but what really rankles is she feels her career is being obstructed by a luvvie clique of senior C24 presenters: Given the chance, Kelly could do so much better than they.

Thorpe is young, attractive, talented, and ambitious. Aged 26 she's a dedicated gym bunny, keeping her petite body lithe and lightly tanned. Her naturally black, raven glossy hair is cut into an easy to manage TV bob. Kelly's cultivated all-action danger girl image has got her noticed and quickly promoted; yet she is driven by an impatient desire to progress further.

Stopping, she turns to check on Ethan's progress. Unsurprisingly he's been distanced, but is faithfully loping along like a loyal dog, determinedly closing the gap. While she waits for him to catch up Kelly tries her smartphone again. Still there's no signal. Bloody typical! The slightest problem in this pathetic country and everything crashes! When I was in Kurdistan last year and it was all kicking off at least you could get some sort of reception, even in the heart of the conflict. It might only have been 4G, but despite all of their difficulties they did better than this...

Thorpe had been planning to return there to cover the latest developments in the ongoing regional war. She and Ethan, her assigned buddy cameraman, were going through their final preparations and briefings at C24 prior to flying out when the earthquake struck.

As they both were there in the office ready to go it was only natural that Dominic Paige told them to grab their gear and get out on the streets. He suggested Canary Wharf was as good a place as any to begin. If anything would be going on, it was most likely to occur in the densely packed cluster of Thameside offices and transport hubs. They'd considered driving there or even using one of Connect24's powerful motorcycle taxis to reach the area, but a first sight of the stationary traffic convinced them it would be faster on foot. And so they are jogging their way to the story, wherever and whatever it may be.

 

Poplar, East London. 11.43

Kelly Thorpe and Ethan Parr are making reasonable progress with a combination of walking and running, but the effort is beginning to tell on Parr. Now his breathing has become a rapid asthmatic heaving. His olive skinned, strikingly handsome Mediterranean features are beginning to glow pink and beads of sweat are running off his forehead into his eyes.

"OK; we'll stop here until you've got your breath back." she says. "Slip off that pack and I'll see if I can call in. Let me help you." Moving behind Parr, Thorpe tugs at the shoulder straps of the rucksack, easing it off him. Kelly enjoys being so close to Ethan; there is something about him that is just so... Snap out of it girl! You have a job to do! Ethan shrugs his way out of the harness and slides to the pavement, slumping against a signpost pole. Kelly squats down next to him.

She reaches into the custom made pack and pulls out a small grill pan sized antenna. Built into the pistol grip handle attached to it which converts into a tripod stand is a satellite detector; it beeps as Kelly sweeps the sky searching for a signal. The tones increase in tempo, then change to a five second continuous note as Thorpe locks onto one and establishes a connection. That done she can phone the studio. To counteract the sound attenuating effect of the open air she boosts the call volume to maximum.

Dominic Paige answers almost immediately. His voice rasps loudly out of the portable terminal's speaker. "Where are you?"

"I'm not quite sure." Kelly replies. Her phone GPS keeps hanging with a never ending "loading..." swirl chasing its tail. Her London knowledge is hazy around this area, the last street sign she saw read Hind Grove. "But I don't think we can be more than a klick away from Canada Square."

"Well get there as quickly as possible and let me know if there's anything worth reporting. If there us we'll run a live PTC. If not then see if you can make it to the Millennium Dome, there are reports of a large fire breaking out there, or take a look at St Paul's cathedral; just before the mobile networks dropped out again there were pictures being shared of large cracks in the walls and a partial collapse of its dome."

"Hey! We're on our feet remember! We can't just go running around London on a whim looking for juicy shots!"

"Have you tried getting a hire bike?"

"You what?! Get a bloody grip man! With the power down the docking stands won't recognise the dedicated swipe cards or phone module proximity, and you can't just pull the locks apart! Besides, we're lugging a SatPack with us in case you hadn't noticed!

"OK! It was just a suggestion..."

"Yeah, and a bad one! I doubt even if we could find a couple of bikes we'd get very far before we punctured. There's glass and debris all over the roads and the closer we're getting to the River the worse it's beginning to look."

"Is it worth doing anything from where you are now?"

Thorpe looks around. Groping their way toward the docklands they've been forced to divert from their original planned route and into a residential area of modern brick built, spirit sucking banality: Tan coloured blocks of low-rise flats which probably started off as social housing before becoming unaffordably privatised. Superficially they appear to be only lightly damaged. Dotted between the young trees of a nearby pocket park a scattering of bewildered looking people are staring into their phone screens. From their uncertain postures it appears as if none of them have a signal. This is an island of unreal, disbelieving calm amid the mayhem.

"No."

"Alright; I'll leave it with you; do what you can and call in when you get there, but let's hustle! This is going to be mega and we want to stay in front of it." Paige hangs up before Thorpe can reply.

"Hustle!.. Mega!... The prick!" Kelly spits out her indignation.

"What a twat!" Ethan agrees, the rest allowing him to catch his breath.

"You ready to go again?" asks Thorpe as she repacks the sat kit back into its bag.

"Yeah, I think so."

"Good. Do you want some water? she asks, taking out one of the plastic bottles of mineral water she keeps on hand in her own small daypack.

"Oh yes please!"

Kelly hands it to him. "Thanks!" Eagerly he tears off the safety seal and thirstily chugs it down. She pulls out another bottle and joins him.

"You need to stay hydrated." she tells him.

"I know; I was with the Grief Whore when she covered the Santiago 'quake two years ago."

"You were?" Kelly hands Ethan a small microfibre towel from her bag to mop his face with.

"I was. And by the end of our time there the Chileans were so thoroughly pissed off with her antics it was politely but firmly suggested to us that we left the country and didn't come back."

"You don't say!"

"Oh there's a lot you don't know about Gail Burton. One day, when we get a long and boring layover somewhere, I'll tell you all about it." he says, flashing Kelly a perfect white toothed smile which sets off a quivering explosion of warmth in the pit of her stomach. Oh God; I'm falling for him and I think it's uncontrollable...

"I'd like that!" Thorpe is having a hard time trying not to show her feelings. The flip-flopping of her insides she can keep to herself, but she's sure her face is betraying her with a girlish flush beyond that caused by her running, or her eyes letting her down with a lustful gaze.

"And that reminds me!" Ethan blurts out. "I think I know what the problem with our GPS is! Damn! Why didn't I think of it before!"

"Eh?"

"We had the same problem back then." he replies. "The 'quake was so strong that it moved the earth's surface by metres; up, down, and sideways. When we opened the GPS, the app didn't realise this and when it compared the real time satellite data against its preloaded maps the values didn't match, it couldn't handle the discrepancy, and crashed each time it was launched."

"You think that's happened here?"

"Yes, I'm certain of it. It's not a problem for pure GPS measurements that aren't tied into a database, and once the area has been resurveyed from space the cartographic files can be wirelessly updated; but until that happens I suspect most smartphone satnav apps are going to hang or crash. It's back to paper maps and the good old A-to-Z for a while... Of course!"

"What?"

"I've got an old London street atlas downloaded on my moby that doesn't need GPS to run!" He fumbles the phone out of his pocket and checks it; there is still no signal but he doesn't need one. Quickly he locates the app icon and the familiar lozenge shape of London appears. "Yes!"

Ethan has a rough idea of where they are. Searching for Hind Grove on the app's inbuilt gazette he can soon plot their position exactly. He shows the screen to her.

"Here we are! If we go to the end of the road and turn right - south - we can follow Saracen Street all the way to the East India Dock Road and then work our way down to the Limehouse Link. Once we cross that we're there!"

"Great!"

Stiffly Ethan heaves himself back up. He winces as he does so.

"You all right?" asks Kelly.

"I think it's cramp." he answers rubbing the back of his left leg just below the hem of his three-quarter length combat shorts.

"Possibly." she replies "It can happen when you go too hard too soon. I could massage it if you wanted me to."

"I think I can walk it off, but if not that'd be good of you. We'll just have to take things more slowly and see how it goes."

"OK." says Kelly, disappointed that she won't get to massage Ethan's shapely calf right away, but also gratified he's not rebuffed her. She helps him into the SatPack and together they set off at a fast walk this time toward the unknown scenes awaiting them at the Docklands.

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