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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34. Chapter Thirty Four

Whitehall. 06.45.

 

Approaching the checkpoint on foot with their hands raised above their heads, Gail Burton and her crew had to show their press passes and driving licences to the stern faced troops at the Outer Cordon before they were allowed through. The soldiers were on edge for good reason, concerned the crowds of survivors gathered in Hyde Park might became restive to the point where merely grumbling about the haphazard scraps of aid doled out to them was no longer enough and collectively take it upon themselves to march the short distance to the Whitehall government enclave where food, clean water, as well as electricity were still in abundance.

Once past the line of threatening light amoured vehicles with their weapons pointed toward the likely source of trouble Burton walked up the gentle incline of Constitution Hill toward Buckingham Palace; itself screened by another barricade. She wondered how the army had managed to assemble all the men and materiel here so quickly; they must have had them on permanent standby in the nearby Wellington Barracks for eventualities such as this. Their ceremonial uniforms, drills, and horses put aside for the moment, the reason for the guards' presence was laid starkly bare; to preserve at any cost this island of privilege in an ocean of need, even if that meant going to war against their own desperate fellow citizens.

At least Gail felt safe within this bubble of relative tranquility: When the mob's anger had flashed over at Speakers' Corner earlier this morning and the retreating police fired shots over their heads Burton had feared for her life. Hustled into an escaping police truck her invitation to interview the deputy PM had come over the police radio net, a bizarre interjection amid the frantic calls for back-up. From what she was able to gather from the other messages the forces of law and order were losing the battle to contain the unrest in Hyde Park; the attractions of the high class shops and hotels nearby proving too great a temptation to the rabble. No doubt her C24 van had already fallen victim to the disorder. Without it, and the mobile signal lacking in this area, she was incommunicado.

Gail had been informed her interview with Stuart Pullman would take place near Mountbatten Green. When she arrived there an aide, incongruously wearing an army helmet with his suit, was waiting for her. "Just in case an aftershock were to dislodge something." he explained. "I'll let them know you're here." he continued, reaching for a compact radio.

A short time after his call the Deputy Prime Minister, surrounded by a ring of heavily armed bodyguards walked into view and greeted her. Like a wax mannequin in Madame Tussaud's he seemed smaller in real life than he did on screen.

"I'm sorry but I'll only be able to give you a short time." he said "As you can imagine we're extremely busy dealing with the effects of this disaster, but we wanted everyone to know we're making our best efforts to mitigate it and get back to normal as quickly as possible."

"Thanks for talking to us." Burton replied. "Let's get ourselves set up." Pullman's minders spread out into a wider semicircle out of camera shot while Stuart took up position with the government buildings behind him. He's a canny sod the presenter thought, choosing his spot with the government buildings behind him showing signs of minor damage. It was a subtly cunning message: Look, we've suffered as well, so we're all in this together...

"Can we go live with this?" Gail asked Pullman.

"If you can get a connection you're welcome to, but the government networks are reserved for emergency communications." he replied.

Burton looked over to her cameraman, who on checking the comlink display shook his head. That's strange, given that this is likely to be one of the most connected places in the country. Perhaps he's worried about making a faux-pas live on air, or wants to confiscate the footage if it reflects badly on the government. Still, we have to manage as best we can...

"OK, I'm ready." she said. "I'm speaking with Deputy Prime Minister Stuart Pullman in the aftermath of the worst ever disaster to strike the UK. Deputy Prime Minister; what message does the government have for those so badly affected by the earthquake?"

Pullman slipped into an obviously well-prepared reply. "Our message is that we share your pain, and are doing everything within our power to help you. Given the scale of the catastrophe we face and the disruption to services it has caused, in some places we're not yet been able to do everything we've wanted to; but be assured the government is busy coordinating an effective response to this unexpected shock."

"But it wasn't unexpected, was it?" Gail retorted. "You were warned about it in advance. Why didn't you take any action?"

"If you're referring to the hyperbolic paper which Dr Brian McLean sent to the government just a few days ago, then I don't consider that to have been a valid warning-"

"He was right though."

"No he wasn't!" Pullman was beginning to show the first signs of irritation. "The report was his own individual flight of fancy which was neither peer reviewed or endorsed by UKGeoScan. To be frank it read more like a Daily Post article than a credible scientific prediction."

"Yet the earthquake happened."

"Our scientific advisors tell me it was purely a coincidence; it's the expert consensus that seismic forecasting is an impossibility at the present time, and likely to be the case well into the future, just as is the case with long-range weather predictions."

"But the short-term weather forecasts are generally accurate."  grilled Burton. "If you'd only listened to Dr McLean you might have had enough time to prepare an emergency response."

"But the fact is the government wasn't warned. We received Dr McLean's paper - as we do numerous prophecies from all manner of sources all of the time claiming an imminent disaster is about to occur - only a few days ago. Now despite the outlandish claims contained within it the document was treated with the seriousness it deserved given Dr McLean's connection with UKGeoScan; even if its' author has a reputation as an eccentric. It was passed all the way up to my desk for consideration-"

"You read it and took no action?"

Pullman choked down his obvious annoyance with Burton's line of questioning. "I read the paper, but was unconvinced by his arguments. In fact given the many flaws in his reasoning I'd have been perfectly justified in throwing it in the waste bin, but I didn't: Instead I placed it in a holding file to be sent on for further consideration just in case there was something within it worth taking note of, but sadly events overtook the process and now we find ourselves where we are."

"So you admit Dr McLean was right after all?"

"No; the receipt of the McLean report and the unprecedented earthquake were purely an unfortunate happenstance. Dr McLean did not predict yesterday's event, and nor will he explain why he failed to do so to you or anyone else. Instead of presenting his case to the scientific community he acted in a totally irresponsible manner by manufacturing a deliberately alarmist story to sell to a sensationalist tabloid. And having done so he then took an unauthorised leave of absence from his job at a time when he was most needed. Our information is that he is currently pedaling his crackpot ideas to the unlawful Scottish secessionist government and is being paid a handsome retainer from the public purse while he does so!"

Gail changed tack. "On the subject of Scotland, where does the Scottish government's rejection of the State of Emergency leave relations between Westminster and Holyrood?

"At a time when everyone needs to be pulling together this cynically flagrant attempt to take advantage of the situation amounts to a slap in the face for the victims and survivors of the disaster. At least the Scottish administration has had the decency to provide aid and coordinate emergency assistance with the lawfully superior government of these isles, but that in no way excuses their treachery."

"Treachery? That's a rather strong way of putting it, isn't it? After all, the point Elsa Maxwell was making is there had been no earthquake in Scotland and so there was no need to apply a nationwide State of Emergency."

"The reason the government declared a State of Emergency was to maintain law and order, as well as ensuring we had the lawful authority to mobilise the resources required to deal with the 'quake's aftermath. As I mentioned just now, the Scots have so far been cooperating with the relief effort, but in times like these when the nation must work together as one we need to be absolutely certain we can count on the support we need, rather than having to ask for it and take even the slightest risk of having the request denied."

"But the Scottish government has never-"

"This is a national disaster Ms Burton, and no time to be playing politics as certain factions in the Assembly are attempting to. The fact this has happened at this of all times is a reflection of the rotten state of affairs north of the border, and how the laxity of successive administrations have allowed the situation to get this far. At the moment the government is preoccupied in dealing with the earthquake's after effects, but let me make this clear; the Scottish parliament has crossed a line and their disloyalty in the face of this crisis will not go unaddressed."

"So how will the government respond?"

"That has yet to be determined, and at the moment our attention is concentrated elsewhere, as you would expect. But we will respond in due course, have no doubt about that."

"What do you think the government should do?"

"Personally I think the rest of the UK have indulged the Scottish nationalists for far too long. In my opinion Holyrood's powers should be severely curtailed, or better still the petty parliament should be abolished and the governance of that province returned to a reborn Scottish Office. The separatists have caused no end of trouble out of all proportion to their importance for many years and the time for firm action to be taken against them is long overdue."

"I'm sure some of your cabinet colleagues would be very unhappy to see that happen."

"Although we may occasionally disagree on some matters of policy, we as a government are united supporting the rule of constitutional law and the administration's writ running without question, especially now."

"Surely not everyone agrees with your hardline stance? Ian Campbell would be bound to disagree!"

"Unfortunately the Chancellor has been laid low by the Mexican 'flu; he's undergoing intensive care and although expected to make a full recovery is likely to be recuperating for several days yet. Otherwise I'm sure he'd be happy to talk to you directly, but it would be wrong for me to speak on his behalf."

"And what about Pippa Slater, one of your leading opponents? Despite both of you being in the same cabinet, apparently you and her aren't on speaking terms, with it rumoured you are actively attempting to undermine her position. Do you believe she should resign as a result of the Omar Muneef scandal?"

"I won't comment on silly rumours and tittle-tattle. Such trivial matters have for the moment been eclipsed by the immediate issues we face in recovering from this calamity. As a government we are moving forward with that aim in mind; it is our exclusive focus. It's why the Prime Minister is at present engaged on an early morning whistle-stop helicopter tour of the affected region, seeing for himself the extent of the problems we face and learning at first hand what needs to be done about them. He's going to be busy this morning as I will be, and it is for that reason I must now express my gratitude for this necessarily brief opportunity to speak to the British people and return to my duties. Thank you, but that is all for now. Goodbye Ms Burton."

With that Pullman turned and walked away; his guards forming a protective huddle around him as they returned to one of the many PINDAR entrances hidden amid the government buildings.

Gail was left lost for words by the Deputy Prime Minister's brusqueness. To her it seemed as if Pullman's mind appeared to be elsewhere, occupied with matters even more important than coping with the earthquake. Something was afoot; that much was a given, and he was greatly agitated by the matter, whatever it was. His brazen outspokenness was also intriguing; it was rare indeed for politicians of his stature to be so forthright and go that far out on a limb, especially given the state of the government at the moment. Pullman was either about to throw in his hand or was extremely confident he would be in a position of strength to do as he proposed. Was he planning to launch a leadership challenge in the midst of the chaos?

Her cameraman had stopped filming. Quickly Burton improvised a piece to camera conclusion to her report, then the pair were escorted from the Whitehall Secure Zone. They had their astonishing interview 'in the can'; now all they had to do was find a means of uploading it to C24.

 

What a bitch! Though Stuart Pullman as he and his entourage began descending the long flights of steps leading underground. Still he'd done what he needed to in fending off Burton's barbs while simultaneously putting his provocative marker down by sounding as if he were already Prime Minister. His presumptuousness would have been noted by both friends and foes. It would be nice to just shut the cow up, but she was only doing her job. And besides, you can't lock up everyone... In any case once she understood The Rules had changed for good Burton might even turn out to be a useful 'multiplier' of information.

But still there was no news on the fate of Anthony Rampling. If the Organisation weren't able to eliminate him then Pullman would be obliged to throw down the gauntlet; he'd gone too far now to do anything else. Come on! I need news - any damn information, and soon! The anxiety continued to consume Stuart's attention as the party went deeper into the depths of the labyrinth.

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