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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7. Chapter Seven

Thursday.

04.48. The B2677 approaching Alston, Cumbria.

The squalls of argument in the McLean's car which had raged on and off for the last two hundred miles had blown themselves out by now; leaving a stilted, tense atmosphere in their wake. In the rear seat eleven year old Sophie McLean was suffering the withdrawl symptoms of being dragged out of bed and having her phone confiscated by her father: She'd gone into a uncommunicative sulk before dozing off into fitful episodes of sleep. Her parents - now that the anger and recriminations had subsided to an extent for their daughter's sake - were beginning to come to terms with their new lives as public fugitives.

The McLean's had done as Michael Wilson suggested; stopping briefly at a nearby hypermarket soon after they'd left home, brimming the car with fuel, emptying the cash dispenser, then conducting a hurried trolley dash for supplies of ready to eat food and bottled water. Paying by card at the self-service checkout Rosalyn McLean was relieved to find its transactions were still being prcessed without being queried for the moment. That done, the family left; driving north and hopefully off the grid for a while.

They'd kept off the major roads as far as possible, keeping within the speed limits to avoid attracting unwanted attention; but there were times when there was no choice but to use them. Brian couldn't help but notice the normally inconspicuous roadside grey boxes and wonder how many of them, or the many traffic cameras dotted around were betraying his whereabouts at this very moment. At least the McLean's car was an older model; one of the newer versions with their always-on interactive GPS, smart traffic warning and real-time telemetry systems would have given away their position long ago. With the cutting edge models it was possible the police would have been able to flag the vehicle as stolen, in which case their engine might have been remotely shut down and the doors locked, leaving them stranded by the roadside awaiting their arrest.

Fortunately that wasn't the case and McClean had switched off the dashboard console sat-nav just to be sure, relying instead on memories of previous journeys and a large-scale road atlas to get him this far. Even so, every sighting of a police car had his heart leaping into his throat; he took particular care to stay well clear of them and their live linked Automatic Number Plate Recognition system onboard cameras. Though innocent of any crime, Brian now understood how it felt to be a hunted man.

He yawned deeply, the accumulated stress and lack of sleep beginning to catch up with him.

"Do you want me to take over?" Asked Rosalyn; the first words she'd spoken for twenty minutes or so.

"No, I'll be alright, but I might pull in to the next quiet rest area I see and stretch my legs for five minutes."

"Have it your way!" There was still an unreconciled edge of bitterness to her voice, and frankly Brian could hardly blame her; not after having a quiet evening so suddenly disrupted and within the space of a few minutes being hustled out her home, her daughter dragged out of bed, and forced to go on the run with her husband, now the subject of a media feeding frenzy.

"Besides, we're not far from the Border now." He said. Their plan - thought up as they fled - was to head for Scotland. With its separate legal system and police force along with an increasingly militant independence minded nationalist government it seemed the best place to drop out of sight for as long as it took for McLean's uncertain position to become clear. Rosalyn had family there, though as yet Brian hadn't decided whether to try and seek shelter with them; relatives' addresses might be one of the first places the authorities may check. If they got that far...

Joining the A269 and driving through Kirkhaugh the silent but rapid approach of flashing blue lights in his rear view mirror evaporated Brian's fatigue. Oh shit! And we were so close... With a bowel loosening sinking feeling he began to slow down in anticipation of being ordered to pull over but the police car swept past, momentarily filling the car's cabin with disorienting strobing light before speeding away unheeding of them into the distant brightening dawn. As the sudden spike of fear began to ease back down to the gnawing background worrying of his predicament McLean wished for the umpteenth time that he could rewind the past day and decide against sending that email to Nathan Rookley. Brian vowed if he were ever to meet that sly little runt in person he'd make sure the bastard would never be in a fit state to write another misleading article or ruin other peoples' lives ever again.
 

07.27. The B724 westbound, Annan, Dumfrieshire.

The McLeans were in Scotland, and still at liberty. By now their shocked and angry argument had run its course, replaced by a sober realisation the situation the family found themselves could not be escaped, only resolved one way or another.

As they drove silently toward Rosalyn's sister's home in Dumfries - the first port of call they thought of trying - the couple were trying to think of ways through their predicament: Brian considering how he could fight any disciplinary charges or outright dismissal from his post, let alone any legal consequences; and if all else failed where a notoriously maverick geologist might find a new job. If the worst came to the worst upon his release from prison he might be reduced to school teaching... Rosalyn wondering how to explain her sudden, unannounced absence from her workplace; perhaps given the well publicised circumstances her employer would sympathetically allow  it to be taken as part of her annual leave entitlement... Whatever happened from now on, it was a given they'd both be in need of professional advice, and perhaps relationship guidance; Brian's actions and Rosalyn's angry response to them had put their marriage under severe strain.

The family's lay-by breakfast comprised of what they'd bought at the hypermarket late yesterday evening. The sight of a Woppa Burga Drive-Thru sign had Sophie clamouring for her parents to stop there for a Bigga Brekkie but Rosalyn refused point-blank; she didn't eat at those sort of places as a rule and didn't want her daughter to acquire a taste for that sort of junk food. And besides, there were the cameras...

Neither Brian nor Rosalyn were hungry anyway; being satisfied for the time being with a prepacked sandwich or a cereal bar. They had little in the way of an appetite; the discomfort in their guts wasn't that of hunger, but worry: Uncertainty which could only be resolved by hearing more news; be it good or bad.

By unspoken mutual agreement the radio had been kept switched off most of the time, apart from catching up with the headlines on the hour as the journey progressed. Music was a distraction the McLeans could live without right now, and the incessant jabbering of the lowbrow rolling news station which monopolised the BBC's nightime frequencies was too much to bear, especially when they were the focus of its attention.

With the dawning of the new day - grey and overcast though it may be here - came the beginning of a new news cycle. Brian in particular wanted to know in greater detail what was happening. Now with a greater variety of stations to choose from he could escape the yammering of BBC NewsNow or the even more lumpen commercial SportsTalk in favour of Radio 4.

"Do you mind if I turn the radio on?" He asked Rosalyn. She gave a resigned sigh he took as a yes. Still feeling as if he were walking in eggshells Brian turned the car volume down to a barely audible murmur and tuned in. His heart sank when he found himself listening to an interview with the Daily Post editor Gary Sheldon regarding the publication of Nathan Rookley's article. His revelations were still a hot topic it seemed, but as the interview continued McLean was encouraged to hear the newspaperman withering under a severe cross-examination of his journalistic practices by the heavyweight presenter. At least someone had the rare courage to take his side and was giving Sheldon a really hard time of it

The segment finished, and segued into a sombrely voiced recap of the headlines: "Environment minister Pippa Slater is coming under intense pressure to explain her reported affair with her Parliamentary Private Secretary, Muneef Omar. Ms Slater has denied any allegations of impropriety regarding Mr Omar's appointment. Last night the Prime Minister, who hosted an informal dinner at Chequers with the departing Indian ambassador - rumoured to be launching a presidential campaign upon his return to Delhi - was unavailable for comment. The Downing Street media relations office have so far refused to say anything about this latest turmoil affecting the government.

Fourteen people are reported dead and scores more injured in a high speed train derailment in northwest China: As yet the cause of the incident near the city of Lanzhou is unknown.

Mystery surrounds the whereabouts of the controversial geologist Dr Brian McLean, who warned yesterday the UK was at imminent risk of suffering a major earthquake. A spokesman for UKGeoScan, Dr Michael Wilson, said Dr McLean's work was highly theoretical as well as speculative in nature and had yet to be peer reviewed or substantiated. He claimed the tabloid media had taken Dr McLean's views out of context and there was no cause for alarm.

In sport the England cricket team have lost the final game of the-" Brian flicked the radio off. At least he was beginning to slide down the news order; hopefully he'd be out of the limelight soon, eclipsed by far greater sorrows. Mike Wilson had done what he could to smother the flames of controversy without condemning Brian completely. Given the pressure he must have felt under to do so, it was a self-evident act of bravery on Wilson's part; McLean would be forever in his debt. In the meantime he planned to park up out of the way for a time while his wife walked to her sister's home to ask if they could hole up there. If the place was beset by the media or appeared to be under observation, Rosalyn could unobtrusively turn around and they'd have to reconsider their plans.

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