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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25. Chapter Twenty Five

Sidcup. 14.11.

The moment Ryan Buckland spotted the car he knew it meant trouble. It must have been the way the glossy raven black, boxy high performance hatchback with the notice me but don't look at me opaque window glass squatted out of place among the stopped line of middle-class estates and Chelsea tractors; or how an endless string of rapid monotonous beats thudded from the vehicle, obliterating the crystalline notes of a classical piano concerto wafting from another car stereo he passed by as he drew near.

While most of the other stuck motorists had turned off their engines and sat quietly waiting, the ugly car's motor continued to idle restlessly; the sound booming out through a ridiculously large exhaust pipe. It only confirmed Ryan's hunch that both the car and its occupants were best given a wide berth. Unconsciously he drifted away from the edge of the road closer to the other side of the pavement as it widened and joined a large grassy community play area.

He walked past the brutish little car, but had only taken a few steps onward when he heard its engine rev menacingly with a metallic harshness. Buckland knew better than to look back, for to do so was to admit his intimidation and encourage more of the same, so continuing to gaze straight ahead as well as maintaining his stride, he kept on. But what he heard next couldn't be ignored; along with a deep throated burbling there was the scuffing of low profile alloy wheels and plastic side skirts grating against the curb; one-two - three-four Ryan counted, the impatient driver had bumped his vehicle off the road. Buckland heard a triumphant tyranosaurian roar and snapped his head around in time to see the car launch itself at him with a carnivorous snarl.

Ryan understood from where he was placed there was no hope of finding sanctuary in among the traffic jam; he'd never reach it in time. Instead he leapt out of the vehicle's way into the park, the hot hatch just missing him as it sped past. Unfortunately the driver wasn't finished with his sport yet; he slammed on his brakes, turned sharply around, and aimed the car directly at Buckland, the spinning wheels kicking up divots of turf like a dog scratching at a lawn as it accelerated. What was up with this dickhead? thought Ryan as he dodged the charge.

Buckland felt like a matador trying to fend off a raging bull, but unlike in a plaza de toros he had no helpers to wear down the beast. Instead he faced alone a psychopathic driver who had decided to vent all of their frustrations by attempting to run him down. Whatever the reason Ryan had been chosen as the man's prey - he was the fastest moving thing on the street, or seemed to have a sense of purpose which everyone else lacked; the fact he wore a rucksack, or was merely there - the lunatic behind the wheel clearly demonstrated their murderous intent toward him.

With a loud bellowing and a turbo dump valve sneeze as it changed gear the street rod drove again at Buckland, now stranded in the middle of the park. Ryan managed to dash out of the car's way at the last moment, but this time the margin was far narrower: If he couldn't get out of its way and into a place where it couldn't follow him soon, the chances were that his luck would run out.

Buckland considered where he might flee to the next time he had the chance, but the sadistic driver was expert at drifting the hatchback around quickly and turning it at him again before Ryan could think of running to safety. There seemed to be no nearby park benches, trees, or bushes which Buckland might use for shelter, and a fenced off childrens' playground was unfeasibly far away. None of the other drivers looking on who were in a position to do so made any move to interpose their cars to aid him, but if only he could somehow work his way closer to the road he'd be all right...

As if reading Ryan's mind the madman turned at him again, gouging more tracks in the grass and cutting off his most likely avenue of escape. It was almost as if the nutter was playing with Buckland as a cat does with a mouse. With a loud throaty rasping the hatchback came at him. Ryan swerved out of its way, but this time as he did so the passenger side door was flung open, clipping him painfully on the side of his leg near the knee as the car passed.

Senses overwhelmed by an explosion of pain Ryan was bowled over and lay stunned on the ground. He heard the engine racing again as well as the frantic pounding from the stereo gathering itself into a quickening crescendo. He knew that if the hatchback didn't finish him off this time the passengers he glimpsed leering at him through its darkly tinted windscreen were likely to get out and dish out a vicious kicking while the other motorists looked on from the security of their vehicles.

Buckland gathered himself for one last effort while the car as if a pawing toro prepared itself for the final charge. Numbed leg or not he was going to have to run for his life. Then he heard the shrill of an approaching siren at the same time as noticing the flickering of intense blue lights at the periphery of his vision: A white police motorcycle with large yellow and blue panels arrived at high speed, riding along the pavement before coming to a stop at the edge of the green.

The boy racer noticed the biker cop's arrival as well, but instead of attempting to get away the driver lunged straight for him at full throttle. Unfazed the rider unholstered his pistol and gripped it in a two-handed Weaver stance while straddling his machine.

Crack! Crack-crack-crack-crack-crack! The officer fired a volley of flat sounding firecracker shots at the speeding vehicle. Abruptly its engine note changed to an unhealthy high pitched whine and the windscreen in front of the driver's face starred into milky splashes.

Pulling a handbrake turn the hot hatch tried to escape, but the gun spat more rounds at it, thunking into the bodywork and shattering the rear window. Ryan heard one of the tyres bursting at the same time as the motor died and the sound system lost its power source. Both of the car's doors burst open, figures scrambled out and began running off, but the shooting wasn't over. Two more reports echoed across the park in quick succession; the driver, then the front seat passenger slumped limply to the ground, poleaxed. Buckland saw a dark crimson patch suddenly appear on the back of the driver's hoodie as he fell.

Calmly the policeman got off his bike and reloaded his pistol with a spare magazine drawn from one of his many black nylon body pouches. Flipping up his helmet visor he walked unhurriedly over to the two motionless bodies and looked down at them. Satisfied with his handiwork he moved toward the stalled car.

"YOU TWO; GET OUT NOW!" Ryan heard the cop bark at the terrified rear seat passengers frozen in place. Slowly they eased the folding front seats up and exited the cabin at gunpoint. "LIE ON THE GROUND, FACE DOWN, HANDS IN FRONT OF YOU! " he ordered. Meekly the two gangling youths complied.

What happened next shocked Buckland to the core of his being. The weapon in the officer's hand jerked twice - crack - crack - as he callously executed the two men laying prone at his feet. It was like watching one of those sickening Daesh videos, but instead of this happening far away and the victims' heads being pixellated this had just occurred before his very eyes.

Gun still in hand by his side the policeman walked toward Ryan; was he going to shoot me as well? he wondered.

"Are you all right?" growled the cop.

"My leg..." said Buckland. "They opened the door on it. I think my knee got hit the worst."

"What happened?"

"I was trying to get home; just walking past this traffic jam when they started driving their car at me."

"That doesn't surprise me at all; they were a nasty little bunch of scrotes, part of a local postcode gang who've been no end of trouble to us. Well their luck ran out today!" the biker said with an obvious sense of relish. "With a State of Emergency declared they should've kept their heads down and their noses clean, but they learned the hard way all police officers have been granted emergency executive powers. We're judge, jury, and executioner in our own areas now!"

"I'd not heard about that."

"It's been broadcast everywhere for the last couple of hours. How long have you been walking for God's sake?"

"I was on the A2 when it happened. I parked my van up in an office park near Dartord and started walking home."

"Where do you live?"

"Bromley: I need to know my wife and daughter are OK."

"That's a bit of a journey on foot, isn't it? How do you feel now?"

"My leg's gone numb. I dunno if it's broken or just bruised."

"Well just lie there for a bit while I organise the rest of them." he motioned to the line of cars. "We'll get you sorted out."

Turning, the cop strode over to his motorcycle and flipped a handlebar mounted switch. His amplified voice crackled from a loudspeaker mounted on the machine. "EVERYONE; GET OUT OF YOUR VEHICLES AND GATHER AROUND ME!" After seeing what had become of those who got on the wrong side of the law the motorists were only too eager to obey.

Once assembled the policeman informed the small crowd that under the Emergency Powers Decree he was going to order them to clear their cars off the road and drive on to the park. There they were to stay and await further instructions. He delegated some people to organise the task while others were allocated the grim task of recovering the gang members' bodies, putting them in the bullet riddled hatchback, and pushing it out of sight.

Ryan was assigned someone to look after him for the moment. "I'll be back in a few minutes with something which might help you." the officer said, straddling his machine. "Don't go anywhere." Roaring away the man was as good as his word, soon returning with a can of sports freeze spray requisitioned from a nearby chemist's shop. "Give that a go." he said as he passed it over.

"Thank you!" Buckland gave the canister a vigorous shaking, rolled up his grass stained trouser leg, and gave his yellowing knee a good spraying. The bone chilling cold seeped deeply into it, making him feel better.

After organising a group of people to follow him and commandeer supplies for the impromptu encampment from a corner shop, the policeman stomped back toward Ryan.

"Are you feeling any better? Can you stand up and walk? If you can then you're free to go; there's no reason to keep you here."

"I'll give it a try." Buckland replied. With the aid of his nurse Ryan struggled to his feet and took a couple of numbed steps.

"Yes, I think I'll be all right." he said as his assistant stuffed the spray can into his backpack before helping him on with it.

"OK." said the cop. "Try to get home before dusk as there's going to be a curfew tonight, though given the number of newly homeless people on the streets that'll have to be enforced sensitively. And the best of luck finding your family"

"Thanks!" replied Buckland - relieved to be getting away and not facing the enforced prospect of spending the night in a stranger's shared car - as he hobbled away. Ryan would drag himself on his hands and knees back to Bromley if that's what it took be with his loved ones: He wanted to be there to protect them against the dangers of a broken city sliding into anarchy and arbitrary justice.

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