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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39. Chapter Thirty Nine

Dungeness Power Station. 07.53.

"I still don't think you ought to be doing this." Paul Glover attempted to dissuade Alan Carter again.

"Yes, I know; you're beginning to sound like my wife. Now would you give it a rest and help me on with this?" Carter replied.

"OK; turn around a bit more..."

Both men were in a small closeted space located near to the control room. This was where the never to be used except in case of the direst emergency hazmat clothing was stored, and as the garments were never expected to be called upon the fitting area was tiny; about three times the floor area of a phone box.

"That's it. Now help me with the pack." Glover picked up one of the life support units - about the same size as a piece of airline approved carry-on hand luggage - off a rack and after checking the attached label for the date of its last inspection, held it up for Carter to wriggle himself into.

Alan was dressing himself in a protective suit prior to entering the inner core of the reactor building and manually operating the failsafe lever which would release a cloud of tiny boron balls into Unit Two's cooling system. Carter could have called some workers back from their on-site evacuation points to do the job for him, but he was determined to personally see the task through despite his deputy's protests.

Carter shouldered the life support system, and Glover connected the hoses leading from it to the ports on Alan's garment. A self-contained combination of air supply and portable air conditioning unit modelled on a spacesuit backpack, it was designed to make life tolerable for people working in extremely hot conditions, such as those found in close proximity to an operating nuclear reactor. Switched on, the pack began humming and Carter felt the temperature inside the airtight coverall begin to cool.

"OK, helmet on and check for integrity." Paul read from the laminated checklist as he lowered the astronaut style helmet over Carter's head. "Radio check." Glover's voice sounded faint from outside the helmet's acrylic faceplate yet simultaneously intimate and grainy through the loudspeaker/microphone curled around Alan's right ear.

"I hear you fine." Carter's voice reflected back at him with surprising loudness from the inside of his claustrophobic fishbowl.

"Now select positive pressure, give us a twirl, and I'll check your seals." Alan did as he was asked; the suit puffed up and stiffened slightly, but at least the slightly higher atmospheric pressure within it should keep any radioactive contamination out in the unlikely event of the the tough material being holed. Glover checked the connection to the suit's gloves, boots, and helmet; as well as the access zip for the slight hiss of escaping air which would warn of a problem. He found no leaks.

"Seal integrity verified. How's your cuff reading?"

Carter checked the suit control and display unit worn over the left wrist like a large manacle. All the readings were well within the expected levels.

"All systems good."

Paul ran through the final few items before announcing "Checks completed; you're good to go!"

Right; let's not hang around!"

Glover picked up a canvas tool holdall and together the pair set off for the containment access airlock. Alan flipped up his faceplate so that he could talk to Paul on the way without using the radio.

"Once I'm through the airlock don't wait around; go back to the control room and keep me updated from there. While you're at it, you and the other techs in there should get your barrier suits on and have your masks to hand, just in case..."

"There isn't going to be an In Case; you're going to turn the valve and snuff this pile." Glover said. "I'll have a reception squad waiting to unsuit you when you come back out, and if there's the slightest trace of contamination on your gear, it'll go straight into a stainless steel waste drum and you'll be choppered out to hospital - no arguments! If you're not out in ten minutes I'll send a crew in after you: I mean it!" Alan didn't doubt Paul would do exactly as he said.

The men approached the access airlock, a circular door set into the reinforced concrete wall of the Outer Containment Vessel. The portal resembled a watertight hatch between submarine compartments or a thick bank vault door. A small armoured glass peephole near the airlock's centre allowed a view of the space inside. Surrounding it were sterm notices warning in block black print against a vivid nuclear yellow background that the area beyond was a No Lone Zone and any admittance or works to be undertaken within had to obtain the written authority of the site's Director of Operations. Next to it a tiny screen displayed the environmental conditions on the other side of the access. Beyond the threshold the air temperature was much higher and the humidity far lower: Fortunately the radiation levels weren't too far elevated beyond the norm.

"You realise that by going in there by yourself you'll be violating all manner of regulations; the Safety Committee are going to drag you over the coals in the Post Event Revue. Then once they've finished, Health Physics will start..."

"I'll justify my actions with them after the fact." said Carter. "We need to act quickly because we don't have long: There isn't the time to prepare a Plan of Operations in advance or even bring someone in from the evacuation points to do this; it's up to us, here and now."

"Agreed: Time to put your overgloves on and close your faceplate." Alan slid his visor down and locked it into place, before donning a heavy pair of heat resistant work gloves. He noted Paul had also put on a similar pair.

"You OK?" Glover asked over the radio.

""Fine!" Carter replied. "All systems Go here; would you pass me the toolbag?"

"Here you are: Contents; one spanner of the right size for the valve nut, a long adjustable spanner in case you need it, a spray can of penetrating oil, cloths, and the relevant pages from the technical manual, not that you'll need them; you know this place inside-out! Is there anything else you need before you go in?"

"I can't think of anything."

"Well good luck then!" Paul made to enter the access code on the airlock's keypad. "And if you encounter any unexpected problems, don't wait around or try to fix them; come straight back out and we'll organise a B-team to go at it."

"Of course. And Paul... If something does go wrong, boron bead Unit One, abandon the control room and get the operators back to the CCC. If I don't make it, tell the Public Inquiry exactly what happened - the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, you got me? Don't allow anyone to coerce you into giving a skewed testimony; no-one you understand! Promise me that!"

"Now stop it! In fifteen minutes we'll have got this bugger damped down and you can tell them all about it yourself. Now are you ready?"

"Yes."

Glover entered the code and there was the sound of heavy bolts being electrically withdrawn. The red light above the door changed to amber, then green. Paul grasped the locking wheel and spun it to the open position. "Hey, that feels warmer than I expected!" he exclaimed. "Better boost your aircon." Alan touched his control cuff and the whirring emenating from the suit's backpack increased in pitch.

Glover grasped a long handle located close to the door's edge. Pulling it sideways and opening the hatch there was a brief hiss as the outside air rushed in to equalise the airlock chamber's negative pressure. Paul swung the door fully open and Carter stepped inside.

"As soon as I've cycled through, don't wait around; get back up to the control room." Alan's voice issued from Glover's walkie-talkie.

"I will." Paul replied. He pushed the door shut with a clunk; ensured the lever had relatched; then spun the sealing wheel fully closed. The indicator light glowed crimson once more.

"Outer lock sealed; interlock disengaged; you are clear to open inner door." he announced.

"Copy that!"

Paul watched as Alan unlocked the other door, passed through, and resealed it; the process showing on a repeater panel. Once the door had been closed Carter gave a thumbs up sign through the inner door's porthole.

"I'm in!" he confirmed by radio, the disappeared from Glover's view.

 

PINDAR Medical Centre. 08.01.

"That concludes the test Prime Minister." announced the complex's duty doctor. The bunker's self-contained medical unit was stocked with items of diagnostic equipment equal or better in some cases to those found in many public hospitals, now either ruined or overcrowded with casualties, and more arriving all the time. Elsewhere in the mini-infirmary in an out of sight isolation room, Ian Campbell lay knocked out by the Mexican 'flu; his body flooded with a cocktail of antivirals and connected to a rehydration fluid drip.

Once he'd had his wounds cleaned and an initial assessment at RAF Northolt - the government's 'bug out' airfield situated in northwest of the capital - Anthony Rampling had been helicoptered back to the Whitehall citadel for a further examination.

His electrocardiogram examination had seemed interminable; especially since the physician had banned him from reading or hearing about the latest situational updates for fear they would set his heart racing even faster. Now, at long last, the electrodes had been peeled from his chest and the uncertainty would soon be at an end.

"You can button your shirt now, and take a seat over there." the doctor motioned to a seat next to a desk in the corner of the room as he scanned through the ECG traces on the device's screen. "I'll be with you in a moment."

Rampling could tell the man seemed unpurturbed, and hoped that indicated a favourable diagnosis. Satisfied that all was in order the medic came over to join the Prime Minister.

"Well the good news is that I can't see any underlying problems with your heart. Ideally I'd refer you on to a specialist cardiologist just to be absolutely sure, but under the circumstances I believe you could safely postpone a consultation for a while.

What I think has affected you is a case of Angina Pectoralis triggered by post traumatic shock. It's my opinion the effects will be temporary and you should make a complete recovery in due course, though it would be wise to keep an eye on your cardiovascular system.

In the meantime, however, I'd advise you to cut down as much as possible on your workload. Now I know that's going to be difficult at the moment, but it's something you should give careful consideration to if you at all can. Are you taking any prescription medications at present?"

"No."

"Well I'll pescribe some beta-blockers for you. They'll keep your heart rate down, but you must be careful about how you take them; only according to the instructions." The doctor scrawled something in an unintelligible hand on a pad. "Nurse Suri will get them for you. We've got a fully equipped dispensary down here which would put a major hospital to shame!" he said almost happily.

"Unless anything else is bothering you and you want to talk about it you're free to resume your duties. I think I'm going to be on call here for quite a while yet, so if you feel your symptoms getting worse, or something else comes up, don't hesitate to consult me. But remember; please try and reduce your stress levels."

"Thanks; I'll try." Rampling replied as he rose to leave.

After pocketing a box of tablets - Take ONE 25mg tablet every TWELVE hours the physician had instructed - the Prime Minister, followed by his aides and bodyguards, left for his private bedroom suite: There were a number of them in PINDAR reserved for high ranking cabinet members.

"I'm going to freshen up. Would you please all leave me for a while and inform the cabinet I should be joining them again in about half an hour. Don't worry, I'll find my own way there."

"Very good Sir." the senior aide replied. All of his entourage turned and left.

Inside his compact bedroom/office Rampling washed, then changed out of his dirtied suit into a clean one from the wardrobe which had been prestocked with clothes in his size. Not feeling at all hungry after his ordeal he passed on the selection of wrapped snacks laid out for him but instead logged in to his private terminal to catch up with the news.

The civil servant who wrote the Prime Minister's regularly updated briefings was a master at their craft; being able with a mixture of terse brevity, yet providing greater detail when required to convey a great deal of information in a short span of reading time. As Anthony had expected the news was universally bad.

The damage assessment was still ongoing but it was clear the earthquake had taken a heavy toll; the fatalities numbered in the thousands already and estimated to eventually reach the tens of thousands. The regional infrastructure had been severely damaged with the motorways and railways of the south-east requiring urgent extensive repairs.

The London Underground had suffered particularly badly with tunnel collapses and severe flooding in major sections. Without it the capital would be effectively paralysed. The outlook in both costs of the repairs and the time it would take to accomplish them was depressing.

Hundreds of thousands of people were homeless, and would remain so indefinitely. Eventually some of the less damaged dwellings could be repaired, but widespread demolition and reconstruction of those homes too far gone to be saved would be necessary. The resulting building boom would offset the recession the disaster was certain to provoke to an extent, but at the cost of an added increase in the rate of inflation which was bound to rise anyway as a result of the growth of post-'quake public expenditure.

The Business, Trade, and Innovation minister had appended a note here that in his opinion there wouldn't be enough skilled tradespeople to fulfill the demand for their services; mass retraining of the workforce displaced from other occupations by the tremor and a relaxation of the immigration laws to attract foreign workers here should be a matter of priority. Rampling could imagine what the public reaction to a loosening of border controls would be!

But even that gloomy forecast didn't mark the end of the economic woes to come. An initial back of an envelope estimate was the Gross National Product would shrink by at least 8%, and that was before taking into account the knock-on global effects of having a major financial centre taken offline. Though the Docklands had their own standby power supplies and connectivity was gradually being restored, London's reputation as a place of stability in which to conduct business had been irrevocably harmed.

Fortunately it seemed the remainder of England and Wales were reasonably OK for the moment. After the initial shock to its system the National Grid had recovered; now with the southeastern power network isolated, most people outside the affected region had their electricity back, as well as access to basic media and some sort of telecoms, but not the unrestricted internet as yet. Scotland however, had surprised everyone by using technical means to circumvent the government's emergency online controls and declaring a de-facto digital independence to match its real world rebellion.

Yet even within the UK a new wave of discontent was stirring; despite at first being deprived of the means to express themselves online some ingenious minds were busy finding workarounds to defeat the censorship. On social media hosted beyond these shores the hashtags #thirdtimelucky and #betterlucknexttime had surfaced in response to the failed assassination, while jihadist websites gleefully ascribed the disaster as Allah casting His judgement upon the kuffar as well as posting video of some small, but highly visible celebrations of the earthquake in the predominantly muslim areas of some northern cities.

At the sight of those demonstrations a cold anger grew within Rampling. However he was satisfied to learn Stuart Pullman and Christopher Parsons had tasked the army to root the perpetrators out and ensure there would be no repeat of such disrespectful behaviour. No doubt they'd enjoyed issuing those orders.

And if all that wasn't enough there was a greater potential disaster brewing at Dungeness. Hopefully the situation there could be stabilised quickly or-. Rampling's thoughts were interrupted by a soft knock on his door. "Prime Minister; you wanted to be informed when half an hour had passed." his aide said quietly.

"Thank you. I'll be with you in a moment." Reluctantly he rose to walk to the Situation Room.

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