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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12. Chapter Twelve

Eastbourne, East Sussex.

Miyahira Tsuki couldn't believe it when she felt the first familiar trembling through the soles of her shoes. Such events were common in Japan of course, but here in England? Surely this was not possible? But then after four months living here she doubted anything about this strange country could surprise her further.

Tsuki, a student at Nagoya university, was spending a year in England as part of her International Development and Cooperation course. Two months into her stay she was still struggling to cope with the shock of a total immersion in an alien culture and doubting if she ever would be able to do so.

It wasn't just the absence of anything familiar here; it was the fact of everything being so different, such as the way English people used their family names after their first names; that had caused some initial confusion and mild embarrassment before she fully grasped the fact. Then there was the spoken english itself; the vernacular and the way it was used here was far different to what she had learned or expected. Tsuki wondered exactly what language she had been studying all of these years because she was having trouble both understanding and making herself understood: It was almost as if she had become an uncomprehending small child again, and she found the experience a humiliating one.

What she also found stressful was just coping with daily life in the UK. This was the case as well for many natives, but for a young Japanese woman it was far worse. Incredible though it seemed, the cost of living here was actually higher than in Japan. And getting to grips with the public transport system was an ordeal in itself; the fares were so expensive and many of the buses or trains were decrepit or obsolete; the timetables a vague hope rather than something to rely upon: Back home such a poor service would be regarded as a national disgrace. Not only that, but travelling on it brought her into close contact with british people. While some of them were really nice and helpful, many more were standoffish or occasionally even rude; though Tsuki had yet to suffer any incidences of the racism she had been warned about during her student induction briefings.

British food was another thing to be endured; she absolutely hated it. Though international meals were available in the form of takeaways and fast food was more or less homologised whether it was served in London or Nagoya, Tsuki still felt nauseated at the thought of what the average Briton ate, and obviously enjoyed: She found the cuisine disgusting.

The UK both geographically and culturally was indeed a long way away from Japan: Tsuki was suffering from a bad case of homesickness. She'd spoken to counselors and fellow students who had been here longer than she about her problems; they told her this was a temporary thing everyone suffered, and she like them would eventually adapt to living here. Tsuki wondered when that might be as nothing ever appeared to improve. Without the support of her close friend Nakagawa Ishi, also from Nagoya, Tsuki felt certain she'd have admitted defeat by now and flown back to Japan in tears of shameful failure.

But though Tsuki didn't notice the fact, she was acclimatising just enough; day by day, week by week, to make staying here more bearable, though she was very much looking forward to returning home. In the meantime she resolved to make the best of her time here, which was why she'd agreed with Ishi's suggestion they spend a day on the coast.

The girls planned to do all of the stereotypical english seaside things this pleasantly warm summer day; to take a bus tour of the genteel town; have a meal of fish and chips; go paddling on the beach... Already they'd eaten some of the strange pink cotton wool candy floss (it was quite nice actually) and seen the various attractions on the victorian pier. They'd also taken plenty of giggling selfies to share with their online contacts and family back home. The friends were admiring the floral displays in the busy Carpet Garden running alongside the beach next to the pier when they felt the shaking and knew at once what it was.

Oh! This is a strong one! Tsuki thought as the panicked crowd swirling around her were thrown sprawling to the ground. Cars on the Grand Parade road running parallel to the gardens slammed on their brakes but some of them couldn't avoid shunting each other with crumping thuds. Rattled by the trembling lawn she'd fallen on to Tsuki's vision was blurred, but she could see pieces of rendering falling from the stately Georgian frontages of the seaside hotels on the other side of the parade, and hear only too well the crunching, rending, sickening sounds of destruction.

Japan being such a seismically active group of islands prone to being struck by strong earthquakes, every citizen had bousai disaster preparedness training drilled into them from an early age. Once Tsuki got over her initial shock she remembered exactly how to react: In her case this meant staying on the garden's lawn curled up with her arms and handbag shielding her head until the tremors were over.

After what could be no more than a minute the earthquake ceased. The immediate silence was broken by the moans of people in distress, the keening of activated car alarms, and the clatter of still falling debris. In the aftermath Tsuki expected to hear the shrill blowing of police whistles as the immaculately uniformed officers began to attract the attention of those nearby and yell orders at them; but those sounds were absent, for this was not Japan. Nor was there the electronic whooping of street corner public address loudspeakers issuing advice. She remembered being told the UK had very little in the way of organised civil defence; how very neglectful of the government! she thought.

"Ishi?" Tsuki called out to her friend in japanese. "Are you OK?"

"Yes, I think so! Wow, that was powerful! Look at all the damage and the dust in the air! What are we going to do?"

"We must do what we can do to help these people." Tsuki gestured around her to where some of the stunned, silenced crowd were beginning to rise, slowly and sometimes painfully to their feet. "We should call for help and give first aid."

"Good idea!" Ishi replied.

A distant male voice shouting interrupted their conversation. "Hey! The tide's going out!" The girls looked round to the source of the bewildered cry. The man was right; the sea was swiftly retreating from its current high water level.

Dame! Both Tsuki and Ishi knew what the phenomenon meant was coming, and obviously so did some of the gaijin. Those who understood the danger the receding sea foretold ran off along the streets leading inland; some of the aimlessly confused herd following them. The rest of the gathering stayed put, collectively gawping at the unprecedented spectacle and waiting to be told what to do.

Didn't these people understand the imminent danger they were in? Did they not know what they must do in these circumstances? Tsuki's observant vision noted the lack of blue and white tsunami evacuation route signs; obviously there was no contingency plan in operation here. She felt torn in a way only a Japanese could understand; on the one hand she was a stranger here, it would not be the done thing to speak out of turn, or worse cause a needless panic in which people might be injured. However she could not remain silent and allow casualties to occur as a result. In the end Tsuki's public spirited ethos gained the upper hand.

"Ishi, we have to warn them!"

"Hai!"

Two faint, high pitched young female voices rose above the crowd's uncertain murmuring. "WARNING! GREAT DANGER! TSUNAMI IS COMING! PLEASE, YOU MUST ALL GO INLAND AT ONCE!" Slowly, like a fire catching hold along the length of a flat sheet of paper, the understanding spread and a human tide began to flow inland toward the town centre. With remarkable speed and calmness the gardens, beach, and the pier emptied of people, leaving Tsuki and Ishi among the last to go. They set off after the nervous crowd, anxiously looking behind them all the while for the expected wave.

 

Prospect Business Park. Dartford, Kent.

Kevin Norris impatiently checked his phone again: On the Wizzit app screen the little pin marking the position of the courier van with his consignment aboard crawled with an annoying slowness closer to his position. The delay was due to the traffic of course, and there was nothing anyone could do about that. Still, he wished it would arrive soon so he could collect his latest delivery of promotional items and then get on the road. Norris didn't have any appointments arranged for today; instead he'd act like the road warrior he was by dropping in to some of his regular customers to see what trade he could drum up. Those visits were usually successful to some degree, and provided you didn't make a nuisance of yourself by turning up unannounced too often, they kept you, along with your business, to the forefront of your clients' minds.

At long last the icon marking the van's position neared the off ramp which led to Prospect Park, a mixture of office and light industrial/warehouse units where Kevin was located. Norris had a small temporary office in Enterprise House, a designer ugly brick built office block on a short-term let while he waited for one of the current tenants to vacate a nearby warehouse unit so that his company could expand into it. His was one of the few businesses which were struggling to keep up with demand at the moment; but then fear always was good for sales...

Rather than wait for the driver to report to the common reception desk, Kevin decided to go out and meet him. After all, being proactive was what had got him where he was today. He locked the office door and trotted briskly down the flights of stairs to the lobby. He'd just flashed the pretty young receptionist a goodbye smile and left the building when he was roughly thrown to the pavement.

What the- thought Norris, but no sooner had he done so his training took over and he was ready to defend himself against whoever had blindsided him, but then he understood what was really happening. Christ! Not here... No! This isn't possible... Yet there was no mistaking it; he was reminded of the smaller scale event he'd experienced while on a business trip to Japan. It's a fucking earthquake!

Galvanised into action Norris understood the danger he was in and how to get out of it. Though the ground was still shuddering, making walking nearly impossible, he realised he must move now or risk serious injury or possible death from debris falling from the building. Unsteadily he heaved himself into a crouch, and part running, part crawling on wobbly legs, scuttled for the safety of the car park. A dislodged roof tile crashed near by him, then another, then more followed; shattering on impact with the tarmac and pelting him with stinging fragments. Jagged shards of glass shaken out of window frames cascaded down; much of it landing on the roofs of nearby cars, settling there like sharp hail.

Behind him and off to the right he heard a thump which sounded like a load of rubble being dumped all at once into a skip. That must be a part of the building detaching itself thought Norris, as he lurched between cars rocking on their suspension and shrieking their electronic distress at being disturbed from their slumber.

It had been many years since he'd been made redundant from a promising junior officer's career in the Army; during the intervening time a life spent in seats of various kinds had left him unfit and even pudgy, but the adrenaline response lent him speed and soon he reached the safety of a neatly mown grass strip located at the edge of the car park. Hey, that's not too bad for a bloke in his late forties, but I really must get back into shape he resolved.

Holding on for dear life to a diamond mesh wire cyclone fence he heard the squeals of urgently applied brakes and the hollow thumps of multiple collisions on the foliage screened major road running alongside the business centre: The noises were followed by a deeper scraping of skidding tyres on tarmac and far heavier impacts. Jesus Christ! It sounds as if there's going to be utter carnage over there! he mused.

 

Near Prospect Business Park, close to the A2/A2018 junction

By now Ryan Buckland was well into his schedule. Constantly on the alert for an idiot driver to make a mistake, he remained hyper aware while flicking between RSE and SportsTalk on the radio. Faced with the choice of Neil Simpson's inane verbal diarrhoea or an all day autopsy of the England cricket team's latest woeful performance he decided to switch the set off.

At first Ryan thought the juddering was something wrong with the van's steering transmitted through the wheel and pedals, or something must have broken loose; but the sight of other vehicles fishtailing around while trying desperately to drive in a straight line made him realise it wasn't the van at fault. He knew what could happen on a multilane highway when just one driver made a fatal error and the cascade of misfortune spread - he'd nearly been caught up in a pile up once with only his quick reactions saving him - and he didn't want to be involved in a multiple vehicle shunt.

He'd already been slowing down in the inner lane in preparation to turn off up a slip road to the junction which led to the business park, so he drove onto the hard shoulder and gunned the engine: He needed to get out of here now! The van surged forward but as he wrestled with the wheel Buckland noticed what appeared to be small cracks in the road surface, widening and racing in parallel along with his vehicle. Holy shit!

The shaking vibrated the periphery of his vision into an indistinct blur, but in the brief look he caught in his rear view mirror he saw the heart stopping sight of a large articulated lorry behind travelling all but broadside on and it was catching up with him!

In panic Ryan trod the accelerator all the way down to the carpet; the engine laboured from being revved this way in too low a gear but he gained precious space from the looming wall of metal chasing him. As he began to climb away from the dual carriageway to safety Ryan glimpsed the HGV driver trying to turn into the skid to bring his rig back under control, but he ran out of road and time. Part of the juggernaut's trailer hit the crash barrier at the junction where the the off ramp began, rending it before becoming caught for a moment. This was enough to flip the boxy trailer on to its side, pulling the tractor unit over with it.

The jackknifed truck ground along the road in a shower of sparks and shredded metal before smashing into a concrete truss of the overpass; slewing across most of the carriageway. Ryan knew there would be little or no chance of the drivers behind being able to avoid the grimy underbelly of the lorry swelling into their windscreens, but even as the horrific scene was replaced by the sight of a rough grass verge rushing by in his right hand window he saw his problems were far from over.

Ahead of him a woman driving a Japanese micro car had done the sensible thing and slowed right down when disaster began to unfold around her morning commute; but now as she eased to a halt at the stop lines leading onto the large interchange roundabout her car was directly in the way of Ryan's van which was about to rear-end it at high speed. There was no time to sound his horn, and no point; she wouldn't be able to move out of his way. Instead Buckland spun the steering wheel hard left and stood on his brakes as much as he dared. He could feel the anti-lock brake system in action; tyres scrabbling for grip as the brakes operated. Narrowly missing the hatchback and its startled driver, Ryan's van sailed over the white line and on to the double lane traffic circle, fortunately there were no vehicles on a collision course with him as he continued to slow.

As the tremors ceased Ryan regained control over his van and instinctively aimed it at the usual exit he took when making a delivery. As he left the roundabout Buckland noted a flashy looking BMW had gone off the road, leaving a wiggly set of skid marks behind before coming to rest in some ornamental bushes, the hapless driver surrounded by mushrooms of deflating airbags. Further along, a motorcyclist had been less fortunate; the quake had unbalanced him and he'd wrapped himself and his machine around an aluminium sign pole. Dispassionately Ryan thought it likely the rider had been killed by the impact.

Buckland, still shaking, eased his van into Prospect Park and spotting an empty parking space, reversed into it: A wise courier always does their reversing first when parking for a delivery, just in case some dozy bugger blocks you off; at least pointing in the right direction you have a greater chance of being able to drive away from someone else's poor parking choice. There, not understanding he was in a state of profound shock, Ryan Buckland sat immobile; his hands tightly gripping the wheel, waiting for something to happen.

 

Whitehall.

Stuart Pullman had dismissed his confidantes for the time being. In the run-up to the Prime Minister's return to London and the momentous cabinet meeting due to begin later this morning he wanted to be alone with his thoughts in anticipation of the battle which surely lay ahead.

When the earthquake struck his initial thoughts were that it was a bomb going off or an improvised mortar attack; what with the sudden rumbling sound, the vibrating of the bullet proof windows and the frames of the government owned paintings on his office wall clattering against the venerable wooden paneling distracting him from his meditation. But then he understood this wasn't a blast wave at all. His concentration was scrambled by the deafening emergency alarm which had just begun to sound, but once he retied his broken mental threads he began simultaneously considering how to deal with this emergency and what this event might mean for his political ambitions. It was a certainty Ian Campbell would try and use the fact of this new tremor against him, the bastard.

The heavy wooden door to Pullman's office burst open without ceremony and two of his bodyguards rushed in; they wore kevlar helmets and had thrown bullet proof vests over their normal suits. Though their weapons remained holstered they looked nervously around for any potential threat.

"I know!" said Pullman, preempting their instructions. "Down the Hole we go." referring to the emergency bunker. "No, I'm not going to bother putting on my helmet and vest; let's just get going!"

With one guard leading the way and the other following Stuart the trio made their way down the wide flights of plushly carpeted stairs to ground level. As they exited an obsequious staff member arrived on cue to lock Pullman's office door.

Once they reached the 'rabbit hole' - the name given to the inconspicuous door which led to the subterranean levels and passed through, the opulence above was replaced by austere governmental functionality. Following the route practiced so many times before during rehearsals Pullman reached the Operations Centre which was rapidly coming to life.

"What's happened?" he demanded of the Duty Officer.

"First reports indicate a powerful earthquake has struck London and the south east of England. The Prime Minister has been informed and will be returning to Downing Street by helicopter immediately rather than travelling by road. Plan Cascade has been activated; all members of the royal family, along with cabinet level ministers and their families are being accounted for: As prearranged they will be convening here shortly or moving to their designated Safe Locations."

"Very well." Pullman replied. "In the meantime until the PM returns, I will be taking charge."

"Very good Sir."

"I'm convening an emergency cabinet which will operate in rolling session until further notice; we'll be in the Situation Room, so direct any data streams there."

"Yes Sir."

With that the Deputy PM, along with John Fanning, his private secretary who had caught up with him, turned away and walked the short distance to the situation room. They were closely shadowed by a naval officer carrying a toughened black attaché case - the nuclear 'button'. Once there Pullman settled himself in at the head of the large oak table which dominated the room. No sooner had he done so a civil service functionary placed an open ring binder in front of him; in it was a single sheet of paper requiring his immediate signature, a written confirmation he was assuming executive responsibility for the time being. Even in the midst of a developing disaster there were still bureaucratic formalities to observe, documents to be signed and minutes to be taken. With a flourish he scrawled his name in the space provided at the bottom of the form and handed the file back.

Pullman was suddenly struck by the fact that this wasn't an exercise; it was for real and he was in charge - at least until he would have to vacate his place for the PM. An almost electric jolt ran through him, one he'd felt before when he'd been first selected as a candidate, then elected an MP, and every time his career had progressed since. Now that he occupied the prime ministerial hot seat - even if only for a short time - the feeling returned, but this time it was different, reaching a heightened intensity. So this was how it felt to have Made It!... I like this... I must not allow myself to be cheated of what is my right...

However Stuart couldn't luxuriate in his new authority for long. With a bustle the Home and Health Secretaries arrived along with their aides, both ministers looked pale and shocked. Soon they were joined by other members of the cabinet who arrived via the network of reinforced Whitehall tunnels. Officials began removing protective wrappings from binders of emergency procedures and standby secure government laptops were booted into life. While everyone was getting settled in around the cabinet table Stuart looked across at the large wallscreen, currently divided into eight segments. Some were blank while one of the tiles displayed the Connect24 news. Bizarrely the network knew as much as the government did at the moment, which was very little apart from the fact an event had taken place.

"Ah! There you are Sir John! I'm pleased to see you safe and well. We shall be relying heavily upon your expertise in the times to come." Pullman's confident greeting to the newly arrived Sir John Underwood, the Chief Civil Servant, silenced the room's muted hubbub. "When might you be able to give us an initial briefing on the emergency?"

"In approximately five minutes when the intelligence has been collated, Deputy Prime Minister." Sir John replied.

"Excellent! In the meantime ladies and gentlemen, I suggest we call this emergency cabinet meeting to order. As you are no doubt aware, the royal family and the Prime Minister have been safely accounted for, with the PM returning here from Chequers. He's expected back shortly. In the meantime we will be holding the fort as well as coordinating the response to this event. As per the standard procedures we'll follow the generic Major Incident Contingency Plan until we learn enough to tailor our response to the specific requirements of the situation.

What I would say at this moment is that it appears this earthquake has been a far stronger event than the previous tremor, so accordingly the government's reaction will have to be equally larger in scale..." Stuart felt in his element as he continued, buoyed by the effervescence of power, almost euphoric in fact, though he couldn't allow it to show. He hoped this sensation would keep him energised through the interminably long hours that were certain to lie ahead.

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