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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24. Chapter Twenty Four

Dumfries. 13.51.

Brian and Sophie McLean had driven to join Rosalyn at her sister's house soon after the startling news of the earthquake had broken over the car radio. Now his warning had been vindicated by events Brian saw no reason to remain in hiding.

No longer fearful of arrest, McClean had tried logging on to the UKGeoScan systems from Rosalyn's sofa via his laptop while incredulously watching the news, but found his access credentials had been suspended: The stupid vindictive idiots! This must be Pullman's doing... He tried a different approach, this time visiting the site as an anonymous user. To his surprise he found the publicly available Deep Scan data had been taken offline; not just the real time information, which might be expected given the circumstances, but the entire archive had been removed. What were they trying to do?Did they really think they could suppress the truth? He thought.

Just then the doorbell sounded. Rosalyn answered it.

"I'd like to see Dr Brian McLean please." said a cultured authoritative voice.

"You'd better come in."

Hearing the door close Brian looked round to see a chubbily built balding man wearing an expensive looking black formal raincoat enter the lounge.

"Dr Brian McLean?" enquired the jowl faced visitor seriously.

"I am. But if you're from the police, or one of Pullman's stooges, or a reporter you'd better turn around and leave now, or so help me they'll be carrying you out!"

"I can assure you I'm nothing to do with any of those." the man replied, offering McLean an identity card; Brian examined it. Superficially the Scottish Parliament pass identified the man as Angus McDonald, a personal assistant in the First Minister's office. "Can we talk privately for a few moments, in the kitchen perhaps?"

Brian nodded his assent and followed the civil servant into Rosalyn's kitchen, closing the door behind him.

"So, what's your interest in me?" demanded McLean.

"I won't beat around the bush, Dr McLean." said McDonald. "I'm here to make you a proposal which you are quite at liberty to refuse if you so choose. You predicted an earthquake of this magnitude would strike in the area it has done and well within the expected time frame, but no one else did. That shows you have a unique expertise in your speciality which the Scottish government would like to avail itself of.

I'm authorised to offer you a temporary role as a scientific adviser for the duration of the emergency, along with the assistance of the First Minister's office in providing accommodation; assistance with any legal matters which may arise, and some privacy for your family. I'm sure we can come to an agreement on the details of any contract-" McDonald's phone began to vibrate. "Excuse me a moment..."

McDonald clamped the phone to his ear; Brian could only hear one side of the conversation. "Yes... What?! Thanks for telling me!... Is she releasing a statement?... OK... Yes, I'll be on my way back soon, whatever the outcome... Keep me updated!.. Bye!"

"Well!" resumed McDonald. "That was unexpected! Westminster has just unilaterally declared a State of Emergency throughout the realm without consulting the other United Kingdom governments. As you can imagine that is something we are taking a dim view of here. The First Minister is going to speak to the Parliament on the matter shortly; you may find what she has to say of interest. Shall we watch it on television or on my mobile?"

"Let's go back into the lounge." said Mclean.

The men reached the living room where the Manchester based BBC was still booming out the news "...International reaction to the disaster has been overwhelmingly sympathetic, with offers of aid pouring in to British embassies abroad." the newsreader voiced over scenes of candlelit vigils. "However there were celebrations in some Muslim nations when the news of the earthquake broke." shaky footage of men in islamic dress firing Kalashnikovs into the air and groups of burka-clad joyfully ululating women replaced the church service images. "Meanwhile in an unprecedented coordinated move, trading on major world stock markets has been suspended on learning of the closure of the London Stock Exchange, they having already reached their limits down."

Then the overused lurid BREAKING NEWS graphic flashed on the screen. "We'll be going live shortly to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, where First Minister Elsa Maxwell is due to make a statement regarding the recently announced nationwide State of Emergency. She is expected to appear within the next few minutes but already her office has made it clear that Holyrood does not accept the Emergency Powers decree as either legal or binding, and will not be enforcing its provisions in Scotland, so effectively provoking a constitutional standoff in the midst of the aftermath of this morning's earthquake; a political shock in addition to the seismic one, so it would seem-"

"Westminster's writ no longer runs in Scotland." announced McDonald with obvious satisfaction. "And so your liberty is guaranteed here whatever you decide to do. Though if you do want to work for us, we'd like to have you begin as soon as possible."

"He's offering you a job?" asked Rosalyn.

"Yes."

Well you'd better take it, seeing as how you're probably going to lose the one you've got!"

"That settles that then." said Brian.

"Good." Replied McDonald. "I can drive you to Edinburgh or you can follow me there if you feel up to it"

"I'll follow you." McLean said, still not trusting the man, but what other choice did he have?

As Rosalyn said her goodbyes to her sister, Brian asked McDonald "Out of interest, how did you know we were here? Were relatives' addresses the first places on your list to look?"

"No; that would be standard practice, but as a matter of fact we were able to listen to your wife and sister-in-law's conversation through the smart TV's microphone via its speech recognition software." McDonald replied, quite unabashed. Behind him Sue blushed a deep crimson, no doubt at the thought of the other activities in the lounge which may have been eavesdropped by the all-hearing ear.

"People don't bother to read the privacy notices in the operating instructions." McDonald added by means of justification. "And surveillance capabilities aren't only restricted to GCHQ; we in the Scottish government have been developing our own independent means for quite a while. Shall we go now?"

Leaving a dumbfounded Sue standing at her front door, McDonald and the McLean family set off to their cars. "Dad; can I have my phone back?" asked Sophie as the McLeans settled themselves in.

"Wait until we get booked in to whichever hotel they find for us." said her father. "I'm still not 100% sure about that man."

"Well I'm 100% sure about one thing." Rosalyn leaned over and kissed her husband. "You're a hero! I'm sorry for all the things I said on the way here; I was wrong."

"If only I'd been wrong as well!... But what else could I do? Knowing what I did I had to try and issue a warning. I admit I might have handled things better but I didn't have time to think it through... So yes, I screwed it up." McLean squeezed his wife's hand. "But fortunately I might just have got away with it this time."

McDonald's dark grey Range Rover parked in front of them began to pull slowly away: Brian eased his car into gear and followed it.

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