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.

0Likes
0Comments
537Views
AA

1. Chapter One

The Shaking.

 

by John Curzon.

 

Copyright

©2016 by John Curzon. All rights reserved

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or in any means - by electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise - without the permission of the author.

John Curzon asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this book.

 

Disclaimer

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organisations, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

...or just hard luck.

 

Dedication

This book is dedicated to my father.

 

Thanks

Grateful thanks are due to Rachael, who has helped greatly during the writing of this novel as an encouraging critic and someone to bounce ideas off.

 

 

The Shaking.

 

Chapter One

 

The event was long overdue. The pressure building within the earth's crust below the area gradually increased as time too long to measure in fleeting human lifetimes passed, drawing inexorably closer to a critical threshold. One day it would be too much to contain and the pent-up energy which had accumulated over the millennia would be released. This was an inescapable fact of geology: The question was not If it would occur, but When, and how bad would it be when it happened?

The clever mammals who had recently come to dominate the planet they lived on might have predicted what was to come with their artificially enhanced superpowers, but when they looked deeper below their world's surface their limited knowledge and handicapped perceptions didn't allow them to see what was in plain sight. The majority of them believed - quite understandably and for a number of good reasons - that this area was only the site of a insignificant intraplate fault. They considered the risk of anything catastrophic occurring here was negligible, there being scant evidence of anything disastrous having taken place in the past and so no reason to fear a future calamity. The eternally restless earth may feebly shrug and shudder from time to time, but here such rare events were barely noticeable to the average person, and in the very worst case would cause only minor damage and few casualties.

And so reassured there was no cause for concern the majority of scientists and people continued to insouciantly labour under their delusions. Meanwhile, far beneath their feet, the enormous stresses continued to build; until one late August a few years hence...

 

 

Monday. 19.39. Bromley Common.

"Rusty!... Rusty... Rusty!" That bloody dog! It was always running off whenever it got the chance! Ryan Buckland called Rusty's name again, but there was no sign of the rough haired russet and white Jack Russell cross; nor any answering bark. If it had been up to him the dog would've gone to the RSPCA for rehoming, but his partner Michelle had insisted on taking Rusty in when his former owner - her separated mother - had died of cancer a year ago. It was what she would have wanted... So the Buckland family had ended up stuck with the mutt, and typically Ryan ended up taking Rusty for his daily exercise on the common, when Buckland's work as a delivery driver allowed him to.

To be fair Michelle did her share supporting the family working as a classroom assistant during the day; and doing an evening job in the local chain convenience store: She needed to in order to help make ends meet; but still Ryan felt as if the responsibility for looking after Rusty had fallen unequally on him.

"Rusty!" Grace, his nine year old daughter who had come along for the walk, joined in. There was still no sight or sound of him, which was no surprise, as it was normal for the dog to go dashing off out of view when he was let off the leash, but he always came back - eventually.

Rusty was a naturally excitable terrier and Michelle's mum hadn't trained him that well to begin with, but recently he'd been behaving strangely; whining and barking for no apparent reason. At first the Bucklands thought he might have been ill; but whatever was up with him seemed to be affecting the other dogs in their neighbourhood as well. Even Squeaky and Fudge, Grace's guinea pigs, had begun having episodes of madness: Fighting and running around frantically one day; digging furiously at the straw in their plastic cage or refusing to come out of their toilet roll cardboard inner den the next. Michelle was sure the animals were sensing Mum's ghost (she was a bit superstitious like that) but the other dog walkers Ryan spoke to were certain it was something we humans couldn't sense, but our pets could. The thing was, what was making them so edgy? No one knew.

"RUSTY!" This time the dog's name was a short, sharp bellow. Still he didn't come bounding back toward them through the twilight.

"Grace love." Ryan said soothingly. "I think we should go home for now and when Mum gets back I'll come back to look for him again; he's obviously run off a bit further than usual today, but he's bound to get bored after an hour or two, he'll get hungry, then he'll want to come home. Don't worry; he can't be too far away."

Grace looked, and sounded unconvinced; huffing a childish sigh which said so much without needing words.

"If I can't find him we'll call the Dog Warden and put him up on the lost pets' websites: We'll get him back!" Ryan said with emphasis.

Three hours later, with Grace safely at home being consoled by Michelle, Ryan was back on the Common. He shouted half-heartedly a few times; and shone his torch around the deserted park, now tinted a dim dirty orange by the glow of distant street lights. But it was clear Rusty was nowhere around. To be truthful Ryan wasn't that bothered if the dog never returned; Michelle and Grace would get over his loss in time, and Buckland would be spared taking him for walks every day.

Ryan called a final time, more for the sake of it than expecting any hope of success. Hearing no joyously reunited rustling from the undergrowth he turned for home. Maybe Rusty would be there; waiting for him all the time, but Michelle hadn't phoned to tell him so. If not, then too bad. He'd have to put his foot down with her about not getting a replacement pet; the savings on dog food and vets' bills would come in very useful with their family finances teetering on a permanent knife edge.

"Bloody dog..." Buckland muttered to himself as he considered how to break the bad news to Grace.

 

22.14.

Being free at night was a new and strange experience for Rusty. Up until recently he'd been happy enough to sleep indoors, but over the last few days the atmosphere had changed. He knew it; the other animals appeared to be aware of it as well; yet the people who had adopted him into their pack seemed blissfully ignorant. How could they not feel it? At first it had been a vague sense of unease growing over time; similar to what he'd felt just before his previous owner died, but now it was stronger, more insistent; the foreboding of imminent peril was almost palpable. He'd tried to warn his new family but they just couldn't understand. They lacked the senses to do so and he communication gulf between the species was too great to be bridged.

Eventually the frustration of confinement and inaction became too much for him to bear. He had to escape when the next opportunity presented itself. The moment he was let off the lead in the park was the instant the overpowering instinct took hold and made him run off.

Now he was freed from the cloying restraints of home, Rusty's acute panic subsided slightly. But still there was a sense of wrongness. His fur stiffened and prickled at the roots; as if from the static electricity of an approaching thunderstorm. He could smell the fear and the barely controlled panic in the scents left by the other animals who used the Common. In an eloquent chemical language far too subtle for humans with their poor senses to comprehend; from animal to animal - sometimes between different species - the message spread like a wildfire: Great danger, coming soon; flee!

 

 

Tuesday.

01.56. The M4 motorway, eastbound.

So it's finally come to this... Prime Minister Anthony Rampling thought. Sneaking back into the country in the early morning in the hope few people would notice... Not that he'd had much choice in the matter; the G7 summit in Warsaw had overrun and the delay had thrown his schedule into confusion; again...

At least his security detail would be pleased at the unpredictability of his small hours arrival back at Heathrow. Even though the darkness might provide cover for those who wished him harm, on balance his protectors considered it would also make a repeat of the previous attempt on his life more difficult.

Rampling recalled the incident once more: In truth he could rarely keep it out of his thoughts as it constantly preyed on his mind. The event had occurred ten months ago upon his return from a visit to China, a new trade agreement just signed. The Prime Ministerial convoy was driving along this same motorway through the western outskirts of London when he was startled out of his dawn jet lag by a loud crack-crack and sudden appearance of two multipointed white stars surrounded by coronas of newly frosted glass on his rear window.

His bodyguard, realising an attack was in progress, yelled a codeword over the radio while his driver and the rest of the motorcade accelerated to a frightening speed in an attempt to escape the area. Five terrifyingly high speed miles and a change to an alternative route - along with an alternate destination - later, the immediate danger was deemed to be over.

The subsequent investigation revealed the bullets which struck his limousine had been tipped with depleted uranium; the remaining fragments of which were analysed. Their unique radiological fingerprint pointed to their originating from an American reactor. It was surmised the material had come from cannon rounds first fired by a ground attack aircraft, most likely over Syria or Afghanistan, or else it was the remains of an anti-tank warhead. Someone had taken the trouble to gather some misshapen scraps of the spent munitions and refashion them into amour piercing bullets which might, had the circumstances been more favourable, have penetrated the bombproof window glass.

The marksman, who had yet to be caught, was obviously good at their trade. They'd managed to set themself up in a spot overlooking the motorway, take the shots and depart from the area undetected, taking their weapon with them; leaving scant forensic or surveillance video clues behind. Their motive remained a mystery: Was it money or ideology? Rampling's fear was the rabble of a small but increasingly popular anarchist resistance who wanted to see his government overthrown by force had entered into an alliance with an implacable enemy of the UK. Whoever it was, the shooter - now characterised by the media as 'The Shadow Man' - was still out there and might be biding their time; planning to try again. The thought chilled Rampling to the core..

But right now the unquantifiable threat of another assassination attempt was the least of his problems. His immediate concern was closer to home where Stuart Pullman - his deputy - had no doubt been busy plotting against him while he was out of the country; and while the cat is away...

The Prime Minister knew he ought to bring the issue to a head, and stamp his authority on the cabinet; maybe demoting Pullman to teach the young upstart a lesson, but the truth was Rampling neither dared to, nor cared that much any more. Never mind being in an assassin's cross hairs, just the continual stress of the job was wearing him down, and he had become jaded with it all. Had his predecessor not surprised everyone by anointing him as heir apparent when they retired mid-way through their term of office it was doubtful if Anthony could have ever gathered the support required to win the post on his merits; but after a series of party splits and short-term leaders the job had unexpectedly fallen to him so he'd had to make the best of it.

The pundits considered Rampling to be a disposable stop-gap candidate; someone thrust into the position because he was the least offensive to the divided factions within the party. It was a given the unpopular government would be voted out of office at the next election, and Rampling's leadership would fall with it: Then the real contenders would declare themselves.

But events didn't happen as predicted. The feeble Opposition once more snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, and against all expectations Rampling managed to stay in power, but with a greatly reduced majority. His many critics were forced to hold their peace for the time being. Though now, midway through this parliament, the concerns within the party about the direction the government was taking were beginning to surface again.

The PM knew his time was coming to an end. He'd managed to pull off the surprise victory (with the aid of a little careful gerrymandering in a few critically important marginal seats; but of course that never happened) though there was no way he could repeat the feat. With his government suffering mid-term unpopularity, the sharks - led by Pullman - sensed his blood in the water and were circling closer before going in for the kill.

His cabinet he could keep at bay, at least for a while longer; but it was the others he couldn't ignore, those who really held power. Rampling had met Them before on numerous occasions. Some of their number were well-known public figures, though the true extent of their influence remained concealed; such as Euan Rees, the son of the deceased global media magnate, who's Connect Media Group of companies proved stubbornly resistant to scandal, regulation and government influence. Stepping into his late father's shoes Rees' opinions were even more extreme, and he was only too eager to use the electronic means at his disposal to manipulate the views of those they misinformed around to his way of thinking.

The names of the other kingmakers were unknown to the general public, yet it was they who were even more powerful. It was at a recent unpublicised 'informal' meeting at Chequers - the Prime Minister's official country mansion - when Anthony realised the tide was turning against him and their support for him ebbing. The puppet masters didn't spell their concerns out in direct language; instead they spoke in nuances and code, but one who understood the subtleties as Rampling did was left in no doubt as to their meaning: They weren't happy with the way things were going; and expected to see an improvement soon or...

Anthony understood only too well what the Or... would be. Words would be whispered into the ears of the tame political hacks; murmurs of disquiet would surface within the parliamentary party. Speculation regarding a possible leadership challenge would gather momentum; the intimation that events had been getting on top of the poor tired man would coalesce into a private delegation of party grandees regretfully expressing the fact he no longer had their confidence... His deposal would be polite, but equally quick and brutal; done according to the unwritten conventions which governed this sort of thing. Then he'd be elevated to the House of Lords as a reward for his services as long as he didn't kick up a fuss, which of course he wouldn't.

Yes, Anthony knew The Rules, but also understood his seniority allowed him a certain amount of leeway. He could grasp the nettle himself, and decide to bow out with dignity at a time of his choosing on his own terms. And frankly he was tempted to; but not just now. He might yet begin to turn things around; to regain the wavering support of his paymasters for long enough to really leave his mark behind as a Man Who Made A Difference. But in order to cultivate such an image he'd have to stop skulking around like a thief in the night. From now on his prime ministerial travel arrangements would have to be bold as befitting a Man Of Action, and proudly visible in the light of day.

As his motorcade sped on - untroubled this time - along the orange lit  near deserted city streets toward Downing Street, Rampling made a fatigued mental note to talk to his staff about his future travel protocols.

 

06.47. Woppa Burga branch 114. Maidstone, Kent.

For Jason Wallace, every second of every hour at work dragged, but hopefully he wouldn't have to be here for too much longer. By rights he shouldn't be doing this, it wasn't part of his job description, but if he wanted to progress further in the company he felt obliged to.

Wallace was a junior executive at Woppa Burga, a rapidly expanding fast food chain. From a standing start just a couple of years ago the company's primary coloured logo with the trademark infantile cartoon lettering had become a feature of the country's decaying high streets; their branches sought after 'anchor tenants' of otherwise emptying shopping centres and a familiar addition to the totem poles of retail mediocrity found at the entrances to out of town retail parks. Aggressively expanding as its competitors retrenched, the unrepentantly downmarket company - a combination of corporately owned and franchise outlets - now had 'restaurants' in most towns and cities.

Unlike the majority of graduate managers Wallace had joined the business as a 'crew member', but before long he'd worked his way up to supervisor and then deputy branch manager when the previous incumbents left as they often did for better jobs outside the organisation. After completing a management course at the company's online 'Academy of Excellence' in his own time and at his own expense his hard work was repaid by a promotion to run his own unit, then a 'cluster' of outlets, before finally obtaining a coveted position in the company's regional office a year ago.

Then this emergency came up, and Jason found himself called upon to take temporary charge of a troubled franchise located in this Kentish town. Now he was back at the sharp end with a chance to make a name for himself and plenty of hands on sorting out to be done.

Only an utter incompetent could screw up a Woppa Burga outlet, it was a perennial cash cow; but somehow the previous manager had let things go to the point where the local authority were threatening a prosecution due to breaches of the food hygiene regulations and the fact it had become a focus of anti-social behaviour. The local notoriety was beginning to reflect badly on the public image of the chain in general. Drastic measures needed to be taken, and Wallace was sent there.

When he'd taken control of the place he found the situation was even worse than he expected. The staff were slipshod and demoralised; discipline had gone to hell. Blatant drug dealing and taking was going on in the toilets; pilfering of the takings as well as the food was rampant. A local councillor and the police were calling for the takeaway's late opening hours to be restricted, or better still for it to be closed down.

The first time Wallace saw the branch was late on a Saturday evening when he visited incognito to discover for himself what was going on. Contrary to the company's rules stunningly loud nu-rave tracks pounded from a boom box brought in by one of the employees; the uncouth noise filled the air at such a volume it felt as if it could be cut with a knife. It was all but impossible to speak over the din, so Jason shouted to make himself heard. In the guilty tinnitus ringing silence prevailing after his introduction Wallace made a cursory inspection which revealed numerous breaches of the Health and Safety regulations as well as basic standards of cleanliness. No wonder the family customers had been driven away, leaving only the assorted night crawlers behind!

He acted swiftly and decisively. It was an unpleasant thing to have to do, but the entire evening crew needed to be dismissed en-masse immediately, with the restaurant being closed until replacement staff could be recruited and trained. Having done that, he weeded out the bad apples from the other shifts. Once the process had been completed the outlet reopened, but now things would be very different. The police were encouraged to patrol nearby, and the drugs problems disappeared elsewhere. Private door security was employed to keep the creatures of the darkness under control, and the disruptive elements moved on. The council hygiene inspectors re-examined the kitchen and declared themselves satisfied; the constant drizzle of complaints dried up. The branch became once more a place where normal people could feel safe visiting. In Wallace's opinion within just two weeks at the very most the replacement manager and deputy he was mentoring would be ready to take over unassisted: Then at long last he'd be able to leave them to it and return to his original role; whether the Woppa Burga management wanted him back or not.

It would be just too bad if his superiors complained but they'd asked him to turn things around here, and that was what he'd done. Jason was damned if he was staying any longer than he felt he needed to: There was no reason to do so, and frankly he'd had enough of the long hours, not to mention the interminable commutes involved in this project. He'd achieved everything they'd expected of him - more in fact - and deserved a Manager Of The Month award for putting up with this hassle.

With this successful turnaround to his credit Wallace's career prospects were bound to be enhanced, but... there was one big problem developing he wasn't sure how to deal with: Like so many of his underlings he had grown to hate working for Woppa Burga; so much so that as he began the depressing drive in to waste another day of his life at the franchise he was preoccupied by thoughts of leaving for the first job - any job - he was offered elsewhere.

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