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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38. Chapter Thirty Eight

Dungeness power station control room. 07.41.

Alan Carter was supposed to be resting; allowing the relief shift headed by Paul Glover to take charge of the ailing reactors. But there was no way Carter could put the state of the complex out of his mind even for a short while; so he was secretly relieved when the call came through to the Contingency Control Centre urgently requesting his presence in the control room to assess the latest rise in Reactor Two's core temperature.

By now the aftershocks had become less of a surprise as the earth began settling into a new equilibrium; though to Alan the most recent ones actually felt more intense than the seismologists had forecast. This latest one brought to mind a mis-spent childhood watching science fiction series; the control panels blurred and people staggering as if on the bridge of a starship suffering the effects of Vorgon blaster strikes against a weakening force field. He wondered if in fact the tremors weren't becoming stronger; perhaps the shaking had yet to peak, but instead the newly opened fault was extending its way toward the power station?

"Alan!" Paul Glover called as an alarm began to sound. "Temperature and activity increasing rapidly around the Reactor Two hot spot we've been monitoring!"

"It must have been that last shock which did it. OK, silence that alarm and flood Two with nitrogen!"

"I'm on it!" Glover undid the clear acrylic protective panel covering the control switch. Turning the button through ninety degrees he pushed it firmly down. A confirmational tone and green light confirmed the operation had commenced.

"Nitrogen gas flood of Reactor Two initiated electrically and proceeding!" he announced. Both men watched as a display tracked the effect of the injected gas flowing through a schematic diagram of the reactor; after a few nerve-wracking minutes the temperature began to stabilise along with the neutron flux. Then at last the readings began falling.

"Phew!" sighed Glover, relieved. "That was too close for comfort!"

"Too bloody right!" Carter agreed. "Let's hope the nitrogen can keep it under control until- uh-oh!" he said as he noticed the indications beginning to rise again.

"That does it!" Alan decided. "For the record I, Alan Carter, the Operations Manager am initiating a boron bead shutdown of Reactor Two!"

"Williams is going to go mental when he learns about this." cautioned Paul.

"Well as he was so eager to get flown out of here that leaves me as the most senior person on site as well as the best technically qualified to decide the matter."

In a stride Carter was at the recess set deep into the control room wall where the bead release switch was located. The transparent plastic door to this panel was secured with a substantial catch which Alan flipped open; the actual lever was itself secured by a tear away plastic safety strip. Tugging that away he grasped the handle firmly, pulled it up, and turned it 180 degrees. Carter expected to hear the discordant fingernails down a blackboard keening of an alarm; the reactor's dying scream, but instead there was nothing.

"First attempt failed: Resetting: Trying again." Once more he attempted to start the boron bead shutdown; again there was no response. An indicator lamp located in the corner of the recess glowed green, showing the circuit was powered up and so the fault preventing the beads from being released into the cooling system must lie elsewhere.

Alan Carter was a level-headed highly qualified senior nuclear engineer; used to acting calmly and methodically under pressure: His able intellect capable of finding a solution to any concievable problem and not one given to panic or casual profanity. However there was only one response which came to mind as his second attempt failed.

"Oh... shit..." he moaned.

 

Connect24 07.43.

Ian May had spent a uncomfortable night of fitful sleep on a folding bed in his office. In the small hours the restlessness became too much to bear and he'd gone up on to the roof with a pair of binoculars to scan the urban horizon. Little could be made out in the cloying darkness save distinct patches of yellow-orange smoke; the clouds illuminated from below by the fires causing them. There was a thick, nose wrinkling smell of burnin carried on the swirling breezes, evoking a primal fear within him. But at least the blazes remained separated for now; the valiant efforts of the overstretched fire crews and citizen volunteers holding them in check for the moment. May feared the conflagrations might join together to create a firestorm; in his career he'd seen enough Second World War library footage to know what that would lead to... Occasional bright flashes followed seconds later by distant crumps revealed where the Army where creating firebreaks with explosives: More than 350 years after the Great Fire of London the same arbitrarily desperate methods were being employed again.

After an hour firewatching and seeing no sign of the blazes encroaching toward the studio complex, May went back to bed; but awoke gritty eyed still feeling drained by a melancholy not even a tepid cup of tea and limp plastic wrapped sandwich for breakfast could alleviate. He needed a wash and shave; but crouching over a sink in the toilet with a cheap razor from a travel kit while trying to use the part of the mirror unobstructed by a handwritten self-adhesive label urging water saving did little for his mood or stubble.

The studio and control room lights were darkened, a more symbolic than economical measure; however a few monitors remained lit. It being almost the top of the hour, Ian decided to watch how the story was being reported from New York.

The Global News Network sister station's grandiosely brash introductory theme, graphics, and colour balance even more lurid than that used by Connect24 made him wince; they set an unfortunate contrast to the mourning border surrounding the picture. Then the camera angle changed to show two Barbie doll presenters on set.

"Hi, this is Courtney Doran and Cassandra Jansen with your GNN headlines: Raul Shae and Lilly Mojica slug it out in court as their megabucks divorce hearing gets really acrimonious; we'll tell you all about it later. Consumers line-up around the block as the latest iPhone premiers today. Ponguito becomes the most downloaded mobile game ever, but we ask is it about to be dethroned by the latest release of Guns 'n Gear? The President vows his new Effective Corrections executive order will make time in federal prisons so tough that no one will dare to commit a crime; and England struggles to clear up after its unexpected earthquake: Controversial pastor Griffin Nixon of the Wolfesboro Baptist Church has claimed the disaster is God's punishment of the British for their carnel sins. We'll have more on these stories in a moment."

As the commercials began Ian once again cursed Euan Rees' decision to temporarily move the ConnectMedia news operations out of the country. Already the real life tragedy of post-quake Britain was sliding down the news order to be replaced by a contrived fantasy.

The adverts finished and what passed for the news returned. Ian was about to mute the monitor's volume and walk away in disgust when scenes of yesterday's courtroom histrionics were replaced by a livid crimson BREAKING screenwash.

Courtney Doran seemed perplexed that such an important story would be supplanted, but carried on nonetheless. "We're going live to London, England where our reporter Bill Pruett has a breaking story. Over to you Bill."

"Courtney, Britain which has already suffered an unprecedented earthquake is now being rocked by reports Prime Minister Anthony Rampling has been gunned down while he was paying an early morning visit to a relief center set up near the London orbital freeway. Witnesses say they saw blood streaming from the Prime Minister's head before he was dragged into his official helicopter and quickly flown away to an undisclosed location.

At present the state of Rampling's health is unknown, with government spokesmen refusing to comment further at this time; but if the the reports about head injuries turn out to be true the prognosis doesn't look good. Already, despite global stock markets being suspended on account of the British earthquake, the pound sterling and London shares have been marked sharply down on the unofficial 'grey exchanges' - a problem the embattled goverment could do without.

This latest crisis comes in the wake of an administration suffering from a sluggish economy; party splits over policy; and most recently of all, just before the tremor struck yesterday, a cabinet level sex scandal: Now it seems the Brits will have to pick themselves off the floor without their leader.

Deputy Prime Minister and noted hardliner Stuart Pullman is reported to have assumed control of the government in the meantime, promising to hunt down those responsible for the attack. Police have yet to say anything about the motive of the shooter, but have confirmed they treating the case as a terrorist incident. That's it for now, but when I know more, you'll know it! This is Bill Pruett in London handing you back to the studio."

"Thanks Bill." said Cassandra Jansen, taking over. "And that's not the only problem the British have to deal with: The ultraconservative French president Ameline Lajoie has ordered that country's coast guard to blockade the northern French coast after refugees desperate to leave the UK began to make their way across the English Channel by small boat; ferry services having been suspended due to tsunami damage at both English and French ports, along with the Channel Tunnel being closed by flooding, as well as possibly collapsed in places, causing an unknown number of casualties on board the two high speed trains which were caught inside it when the tragedy struck.

Madame Lajoie said France had enough problems dealing with the tremblor's effects on the northeastern regions of her nation without coping with an expected influx of British migrants. Meanwhile German finance minister Edgar Schöffer has ruled out a European Union reconstruction aid effort for the UK, saying although the bloc would provide short-term humanitarian assistance, in the longer term it would be Britain's own responsibility to rebuild itself, having decided to quit the EU. We'll have more on the UK 'quake later this hour"

With barely a pause Cassandra changed subject. "So Courtney;" she asked chirpily. "What's the latest on the divorce case which has everyone talking?"

Well done Euan, thought Ian, on deciding to cut us out of the loop in time for one of the greatest stories of our time to break on our patch. Just then an incoming voice only call rang through to the desk. May recognised the caller ID only too well; it was Rees.

"...Yes; I'd noticed..." he answered sarcastically. "Though what do you expect me to do about it now?... ...It's a bit too bloody late to restart broadcasting! Especially as I allowed anyone who wanted to leave to go... ...We've but a handful of people here now, and certainly not enough to give the story the coverage it deserves... ...Well how do you expect me to react? C24 and I aren't something you can switch on and off like a sodding lightbulb!

... Wait a minute; I'm looking at the rump of the BBC news channel and they're just reporting an official source claiming the PM has only been lightly injured. They've beaten GNN to that update because looking at New York's output the most important thing in the world at this very moment is the release of a new phone which looks like and does much the same as the previous model!

...And now the news agencies are picking that announcement up so it's a confirmed false alarm; what a shame our stateside colleagues decided to jump on it and make utter fools of themselves! Ah well, never mind... ....Oh at last! They're updating it now. Yeah, way to go guys!

No I don't know where Gail Burton is... And anyway I've told her she'd be bonkers trying to go live from Hyde Park...   Isn't that what I was supposed to be doing?... What?! ... Isn't losing two members of staff enough for you without putting more of them in harm's way? You're taking the piss aren't you?... No?... Well as you put it that way I'll consider that a case of constructive dismissal... Yes, that's right! I've had enough of this and I'm out of here! See you in court if they ever get them back up and running again! Good-Bye!"

May slammed the handset down. The phone began to ring again: Rees would be furious about being hung-up on. Angrily Ian yanked the connecting wire free and hurled the receiver clattering against the studio wall. There was no one else in the control room to witness the act.

Seething with indignation May stomped to his office and threw the few things he wanted to keep from there in his leather messenger bag. That done he made his way toward the exit and the freedom which beckoned.

On the way out he passed by the 'Play Room', a product of C24's stress management consultants. Within it were adult sized soft play toys along with the more traditional table tennis set and darts board. For the duration of the emergency it had been adopted as a dormitory for the staff who remained. One of them was the sylph of an intern who Dominic Paige had bawled at the day before. She was curled  under a blanket on top of a large beanbag visible through the partly open door. On hearing him approach she startled awake.

"You're after a position in this company, aren't you?" May addressed her sharply. The girl, confused, nodded. "Well you can have your pick of them in there!" he jerked his thumb in the direction of the studios. "Though you'd be better off becoming a personal assistant somewhere, or a pole dancer, or even working at Woppa Burga! This job is shit; nothing but a mug's game, it'll suck you dry and spit you out... ah, fuck it all!" Leaving her peplexed Ian strode angrily past the dozing reception security guard who came to life and asked him to sign out on the register. Ignoring the gatekeeper, the former employee walked determinedly away down the studio complex's access road; his form softening, then fading into the smoky haze.

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