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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21. Chapter Twenty One

Canary Wharf. 12.29.

It took longer than expected for the C24 news duo to get here. If the mobile networks had been working no doubt Kelly Thorpe would've become increasingly irritable fending off Dominic Paige's nagging calls. But the service is intermittent; no sooner does it flicker back into life than it immediately crashes again under the weight of demand.

The closer the pair get to the Isle Of Dogs the slower their progress. Firstly they encounter stalled lines of literally bumper to bumper traffic with scarcely a gap between the vehicles to squeeze through, then they find themselves swimming against a current of quietly desperate evacuees heading in the other direction. The Docklands workforce is estimated at more than 120,000 Thorpe remembers, and it seems as if most of the soberly dressed office workers are pressing against the pair. The streams of people are bizarrely quiet - shocked most likely - as they walk calmly north and away from the riverside. From random snatches of gossip overheard among the subdued hubbub along with brief conversations with a few of the displaced employees Kelly gathers One Canada Square may have begun to lean by as much as two degrees from the vertical or might topple over completely; the markets have been suspended; a mass evacuation of the district has been ordered, and it will be conducted by foot as the complex multilevel nexus of tube, Crossrail, and Docklands Light Railway stations have all been shut. Thorpe wonders how everyone will get away from the area and where they will go.

Getting here they endured a couple of anxious moments. One was when there was an unexplained surge of panic in the crowd and the couple were nearly pushed over in the tumult. Quick-thinking Ethan held Kelly close up against a wall and shielded her with his body until the moment of danger had passed. Being pressed that close to him, feeling his strong warmth was one thing; but looking deeply into his dark brown eyes as he asked if she was OK was like touching an electrified livestock fence. Kelly felt something inside her move, and she feels it will stay that way.

The other was when they reached the elevated section of the Limehouse Link road. As they were about to rush under the heavy concrete flyover a distant figure wearing a security guard's uniform shouted at them to stop. His words were indistinct but they gathered there was a doubt about the structural integrity of the thick grey columns supporting it. Ignoring the warning they sprinted beneath the hulking structure, uncertainty speeding them through even though no cracks were visible.

Those obstacles overcome they begin newsgathering, and manage to find their way through to the North Quay to get a photogenic view of the Canary Wharf complex as a background for a Piece To Camera live report. Though the taller towers were visible from a distance and they had an idea of what was in store, it is only closer to them - here - that the full impact of what has happened can be fully appreciated.

They'd both seen the imposing complex of steel and glass buildings rising above the former dockland pools many times before; but never like this. The silt laying below the normally silver-grey waters of the wharfs has been agitated by the tremors into a dysentery brown suspension; reflecting in a distorted bathroom window privacy glass crazing the once glittering expressions of corporate wealth and power. Now the tableau resembles those darkened post-apocalyptic artists' impressions of a future long after the extinction of humanity, with all of mankind's magnificent works falling slowly into ruin. One of the futuristic brushed silver tubular metal bridges crossing the former port basin has become detached at one end and fallen into the turbid pool. Nearby an eye-wateringly expensive modernist houseboat is listing badly after being swamped by a seiche wave. Against a background of a sepia coloured grimy smoke haze flecked with darker sooty clouds - possibly originating from the reported Millennium Dome fire - the towers still soar proudly, but many of them echo the skeleton frameworks they had been during their construction, with large swathes of their large glass windows having been shaken free. It reminds Kelly of the footage taken when an F4 tornado devasted the business district of Dallas, Texas last year. In the foreground there are still a steady flow of evacuees, like a column of worker ants escaping a doomed nest or a routed wave of human refugees fleeing an advancing alien invasion. "Christ!" she exclaims.

"Yeah..." Ethan as well is lost for words; they just seem so inadequate to express the sight before them. This scene won't need to be enhanced with any toned filter effects; it is startling enough as it is unaltered.

"We'd better get this!" says Kelly. "Even if we can't go live, the studio will want it!"

Ethan slips off the SatPack and extracts the compact but fully featured HD camera from its place above the comlink and multiple battery packs which comprise most of the bag's weight as well as bulk. As he does so he notices the comlink's dimly illuminated monitor - set on standby - has messages and icons on it.

"Hey! We've got a link! We can broadcast!"

"Seriously?"

"Yes! I'm surprised it's still going, but if anywhere would be, it would be here..."

"I'm not." replies Kelly

"Why?" asks Ethan.

"I did some background reports a while back, it was about the time when the Caliphate was finally getting bombed to pieces. You remember all of that panic about how Daesh was going to go for broke by unleashing a swansong of terror upon the West in revenge? Well it never happened of course, like all of those scare rumours; but we were researching the most likely targets if it did, including this one. Our efforts attracted a bit of attention from certain organisations, but they were OK about it once they'd realised we were legit. We were given a few deep briefings - nothing secret, but things they'd rather not were made widely known - in return for us not using too much of it and promising to produce a reassuring series of features. In the end it worked out well for us and them.

Anyway, there's a lot around here you don't see or know about. What with this being not just the centre of Britain's economy but also a european and global hub as well, resilience is key. They've got multiple redundancies in power supply and connectivity, along with contingency plans for everything from severe weather to an outbreak of weaponised Ebola. The thing is..." her voice tails off. "...I don't think they were expecting anything like this."

Ethan syncs with the C24 studio via the SatPack's multi mode mobile broadband connection. Handing Kelly a wireless microphone and earpiece combination, he shoulders his minicam and begins to frame the scenes of destruction in the viewfinder. "I'm rolling!" 

 

Connect 24 studio. 12.31.

Dominic Paige is becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of developments on the 'quake story.  The few scraps of sporadic information he gets come in short video clips and rumours; somehow they must be transformed into a continuing narrative. Paige feels like a goldsmith hammering a tiny ingot into a bigger sheet of thinner leaf; it is laborious work and it is gnawing at him.

"About bloody time!" he exclaims when the feed from Thorpe and Parr comes through. "Have we got talkback? Good!"

"Kelly! Can you hear me?"

"Yes!"

"What took you so long?"

"Oh, you're all fucking heart, aren't you? I nearly got crushed by the crowd getting here! Are you getting the images we're sending?"

"Yes." replies Dominic. "That will do to introduce the PTC; but once that's done, get in a bit closer and-"

"What? Are you serious? Have you seen what's falling off those buildings? We'll be fucking killed! Anyway, we've heard they're clearing the area - no one's being allowed near. I-"

"You'll be alright if you're careful! You can do it Kelly; go on and get in there! You've got to be fearless and get that story before we get scooped by some other daredevil."

"Hey! I'm the one out here and it's my neck on the line! I'm doing it my way!"

"Listen-"

"I'll do the PTC," she replies testily, attempting to assert a measure of control. "Then we'll try to get through along..." Kelly consults Ethan's A-Z, now shared directly to her phone " ...West India Avenue for some shots of the central transport interchanges if we can; then aim for the dock entrance for a view of the Dome across the river. I've heard rumours of flooding in both of the Blackwall tunnels and of passengers stranded in the SkyWay cable cars; have you got any updates on that?"

"Not yet." Paige replies.

"Well I'll try to find out more as I go. My journey will make a good narrative hook to weave it all together with." Reluctantly Dominic has to agree she is right on that score. "Are you ready for the PTC?"

"In about a minute." he says. "We're just briefing Andy and then you're on. Keep us updated as you go, and if it looks good we'll go live again."

"OK. Standing by."

"I don't think you should push her too hard." advises Ian May.

"When I want your opinion I'll give it to you!" Paige snaps back.

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