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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32. Chapter Thirty Two

Friday

As the break of dawn heralded a new day, the nation which had suffered such a grevious blow began to groggily pick itself off the canvas. Throughout the affected region those invisible people whose jobs were underappreciated by society until their skills became so acutely required went about their work as best they could; patching as far as posible the fragmented infrastructure with what few resources they had at their disposal.

Health workers did what they could for the sick and injured, despite coping with damaged or destroyed facilities. Surgeons worked non-stop under difficult conditions and with poor lighting, they were often forced by expediency to perform the sort of brutal operations their predecessors of two centuries ago would recognise, often without anaesthesia.

Utilities staff, having been stranded where they were by the 'quake and deprived of overall coordination started fixing what they could, where they could. Their efforts were puny and piecemeal compared to the task ahead of them, but raised the morale of those depending on their efforts.

Emergency service personnel worked themselves to exhaustion, but were aided in their tasks by members of the public who temporarily joined their ranks. As often happens in the wake of a tragedy communities came together for the common good, sharing what little they had with people who had been strangers up until recently. With no one else to look after their needs they formed their own anarchistic self-help networks; not being weighed down by the dead weight of bureaucracy these impromtu communes achieved a great deal very quickly.

From outside the zone of destruction aid started to trickle in despite the difficulties encountered in transporting it. More was due to follow as the effort became more organised and cohesive. Relief convoys and staff traveled as close to the region as they could get, moving along roads and tracks which had been newly blazed or hurriedly repaired. Even so, it would be months, years perhaps before all of the damage was made good.

Meanwhile, in a world far removed from the discomfort of nights spent in garages, sheds, and cars; people in high office were still preoccupied with gaining advantage from the tragedy.

 

PINDAR. 04.49.

Stuart Pullman had passed a fitful few hours drifting in and out of sleep; his agitated mind struggling against his fatigued body. He rested alone in his quarters, having insisted Elizabeth board the helicopter shuttling the governmental next of kin to safety at Chequers. His attention was jolted from the boundary of slumber and consciousness by a quietly insistent knock at his door.

"Come in!" mumbled Pullman.

A lower rank civil servant entered and announced "Sir, Ian Campbell has collapsed with the 'flu and been taken to the medical unit. His deputy, Owen Walker, has assumed his duties for the time being. The doctor recommends everyone in PINDAR is given precautionary antivirals; an initial injection followed by a course of tablets. He's organising the distribution beginning in ten minutes."

"How is Campbell?"

"He's listed as serious, having been put on supplementary oxygen but the doctor expects him to make a full recovery in due course, though he's likely to be hospitalised for several days."

"I see: Thank you for telling me; that will be all." replied Pullman. The dismissed functionary left and quietly closed the door behind him.

Fate had just given Stuart's megalomaniac fantasy about a new order rising from the rubble of the old a masive fillp. With his rival temporarily incapacitated Pullman could almost feel the weight of the keys to Downing Street in his hand. All he needed now was for the Organisation supporting him to remove the one roadblock preventing him from attaining his goal and for he to successfully handle the interview scheduled with Gail Burton which the Prime Minister had dumped in his lap. Then the cards he had dealt would give him a winning hand.

 

Radio South East studios.  05.10.

Neil Simpson looked out of the studio window as finished his four hour shift monitoring the nationally produced emergency broadcast retransmitted through the RSE facilities. He saw the muscular police vehicle which had been sent to protect the station from any roaming mobs was still parked in place outside the reception. Once again he wondered what he was doing here. Granted there wasn't much else that could be done under conditions like these, but as a broadcaster he felt superfluous. This type of event was what the station was supposed to be there for; yet the few staff who found themselves trapped in the undamaged outskirts of town studio building had been able to add little in the way of local information to supplement the coverage generated from beyond the afflicted area.

Neil decided to try to get his head down before his next shift was due; his early morning show having been suspended until there was enough content to fill it. In the meantime he, along with the other presenters, were reduced to reading out what scant local content there was as an addendum once the national on the hour news bulletins were over.

But try as he might, Simpson couldn't get any sleep. It might have been the unfamiliar camp bed and envelope sleeping bag, taken from the BBC Contingency Stores hidden away in a cupboard; shrink wrap sealed in the expectation of an emergency but still exuding a faint air of mustiness. Or more likely it was the appallingly strong coffee he'd been drinking to keep himself going. Whatever the reason Neil felt irritable, as if he ought to be doing better.

Rather than stare restlessly at the meeting room ceiling Simpson quietly got up, and moving carefully as not to disturb the room's other snoring occupant, slipped back into the production office. Chloe Hall was there, poring over her monitor, the screen's light reflecting off her face showing her middle age wrinkles deepened by worry.

"Any news about your family?" Neil asked softly.

"Yes, they're safe thank God! Gary finally got a text message through ten minutes ago saying they were all OK. He sent it hours ago but it only arrived as an email just then. The system must be really overloaded! Any word from Leslie?"

"No, we don't keep in touch anyway. The last I heard she'd moved to Crawley with her new flame so I expect she escaped the worst of it."

There was an awkward silence, eventually broken by Chloe.

"So you couldn't sleep either."

"No. I've got nothing to do here apart from hanging around like a spare wheel listening to other people performing our role; it's getting me down."

"I know what you mean, but we're stuck with it for the time being and I don't see it changing anytime soon. Still, while you're waiting you might as well take a look at these." she pointed to her screen. "I expect you've got them on your internal mail account; to be read as soon as possible."

"Oh bloody typical! Not even a disaster can stop our masters dumping more crap on us!"

"I think it's all because of the disaster actually. Anyway, they've got a bee in their bonnet about every member of staff taking it on board, and you know what they're like about compliance..."

"Only too well! Do we still have enough power to boil a kettle?"

"That shouldn't overtax the standby generator too much; we're supposed to have 48 hours of fuel, and after that it's anyone's guess."

"Well before I start wading through all that I'm going to make myself a brew; do you want one?"

"Not right now thanks."

His drink made, Neil settled down to read the latest directives. There was a large dossier regarding the duties of broadcasters during a State of Emergency, along with a policy statement explaining the planned transition from the breathless immediacy of the first reports through to an unemotional portrayal of the facts as they were as part of the public service output, then moving on to the post disaster environment where the media was to become a focus for public grieving as well as that being the cue to begin giving the news a more subtlely optimistic bias.

As part of the spin another message to editorial staff urged them to be ready to cover the Prime Minister's arrival at any of a number of locations in the region. The exact venues and times could not be released in advance due to operational as well as security concerns, but every opportunity should be taken to maximise the story's exposure with any chance social media content of the visits should it become available.

Obviously the internal BBC satellite internet was working, but Simpson wondered about the state of the rest of the online world and social networks; there was one way to find out. Logging on he found connectivity had been badly affected by the earthquake with availability of services patchy. Still there was some scant activity, even if the networks had been hobbled by the government restrictions and throttled by overdemand on what little capacity remained.

Neil checked his personal email account. There was little new in his inbox he needed to worry about, and he was annoyed to find that even during such a emergency spam emails were still sneaking their irksome way through. But then among the headings Simpson noticed an automated notification from his rarely used SpookMail account, alerting him to the fact a message had been left for him there. After navigating his way to the site which loaded extremely slowly, Neil entered both his passwords and opened the email. It was a screen grab of a social message group, with this topic regarding the Dungeness B power station, the posts discussing the reason for the venting of so much steam from the complex as well as why there were so many large military helicopters flying to and from the site: Was it a terrorist alert? Or was it something else wrong there?

Intrigued the presenter tried clicking on the hyperlink to the thread, only to find the page was 'temporarily unavailable'. He tried reloading it a couple of times; still no result. Frustrated Neil tried accessing the site via the satellite internet, but to no effect. The site was either not responding or had been blocked. But one thing which couldn't be obstructed was Simpson's curiosity.

"Chloe." he said to his producer. "Something's come up here which I think might be worth investigating."

"What's that?" she asked, trying but failing to stifle a yawn.

"A possible problem at Dungeness B."

"Where's the lead comming from; social media? If you remember just after the foreshock someone blurted that the reactor had melted down; there's alarmist panic like that all the time and it's invariably wrong. Who or what is the source of this anyway?"

"Annie Bromhaar."

"Oh Neil!"

"I know what your thinking but I've met her a few times and she's not given to exaggeration or making up stories. For an anti-nuclear activist she's actually very reasonable. Anyway I emailed the Potentia media relations unit about it and had an almost instantaneous autoreply claiming the steam circuit venting was a precautionary measure and the helicopter traffic was delivering essential staff and supplies: Of course they said this was no cause for alarm, as there never is, but the fact a statement had been pre-prepared arouses my suspicions ..."

"Maybe so; but do you think we'd be allowed to broadcast the story even if it were the case? We shouldn't set out to rock the boat at such a difficult time."

"Chloe, I can't believe you're saying this! Listen to yourself! I know I've been here a long time - too damn long it would seem - but I remember a time when the BBC used to fearlessly and impartially report the news as well as develop our own stories. What the hell has happened to the corporation? - to you! If there's something badly wrong there people ought to know about it!"

"But we're operating under a State of Emergency; all of our newsgathering has to be centrally cleared before it can be transmitted. Neil; where are you going?"

"I'm going to do what I'm paid for! I'll take a Sat-Pak, ride my bike over to Dungeness and see what's happening there; if the lead is a bust I'll amble my way back picking up plenty of human interest earthquake stories on the way; at the very least you'll have lots of multimedia content to send through to your beloved central clearing! Julie Drummond should be in soon, she can take over my non-job while I'm gone."

Leaving Hall speechless Neil shrugged on his leather jacket on and picked up his crash helmet before walking out. One way or another he was going to get to the bottom of this story.

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