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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23. Chapter Twenty Three

PINDAR. 13.11.

Stuart Pullman hadn't been able to give too much thought to his political ambitions recently: Just coping with the ongoing crisis as part of the emergency cabinet had fully occupied his mind. But he was under no illusion that the disaster had prompted only a ceasefire between the warring factions in the national interest, not a reconciliation. Once the immediate problems had been dealt with, the rescue operations concluded and the long, slow recovery begun the vicious internecine battle would be joined again; only this time with no holds barred.

Already Stuart had been the target of a furious withering stare from Pippa Slater which would have turned lesser men to a pillar of salt, but he revelled in the fact his anonymous disclosure had left her so obviously rattled. He'd returned her look with interest, and was gratified to see her silent frosty countenance falter under his intense scrutiny. At heart Slater was a fearful and defensive woman; so much the better. Her cabinet allies were more civilly communicative, but only up to the extent required to coordinate the government's efforts. The cabinet was as visibly split as the Kentish countryside, now riven by a new eighty kilometre long gash of a slip-thrust escarpment.

At Rampling's suggestion the rolling cabinet session had broken up into smaller working groups. Chancellor Ian Campbell, still jet-lagged and trying to shrug off the 'flu like symptoms of the bug he'd picked up while in Mexico was revising the government's spending plans in the light of the disaster; preparing an emergency budget along with an offer of more state support to the banking and insurance sectors. The Foreign Secretary equally busy engaged in drumming up aid from the European Union. Pullman was occupied as well with his own task force: In a separate room, he along with Christopher Parsons and the pair's trusted junior ministers were in conclave, coordinating the wider national response to the earthquake. They were expected to report back to the reconvening emergency council in half an hour, though at the moment discussion of law and order had taken a temporary back seat to their political conspiring; this being their first opportunity to talk out of earshot of the rest of the cabinet since before the massive tremor had struck.

"Bloody typical! Just when we thought we had it in the bag, anearthquake of all things ruins our plans!" said Parsons. "I bet Ian Campbell and Mizz Miscegenation are relieved about this massive diversion; this will dominate the news for weeks to come!"

"Yes; events dear boy, events..." sighed Pullman ruefully. "But it's not over yet. You can bet Campbell and Co are still busy plotting at this very moment. They aren't giving up, and nor are we; we'll just have to wait a little longer for the right time to strike. I've got a gut feeling about this; that there will still a few unexpected surprises on the way.

Take for example the emergency budget to be announced tomorrow; that's going to be unpopular in the party and the country at large. Oh compassion is fine in the short-term as long as it doesn't cost too much, but people will soon begin to the resent the increased taxes and cost of living; then the old issues will resurface again. Have faith, our time will come.

Now, this partial State of Emergency we want to declare for south east England... I really think we need to extend it to cover the whole if the UK just to be sure. Yes I know the Civil Contingencies Act grants us the powers we need, but I think it's best to make absolutely sure; and it will be seen as a declaration of intent on our part, a firm planting of a marker in the sand and a poke in the eye for the Soft Faction. Do we agree to recommend a resolution asking His Majesty to sign an Order in Council to that effect be adopted by the cabinet when it reconvenes?" There was no dissension.

"Good." said Pullman with obvious satisfaction. "At times such as these people demand strong government. I think this disaster could turn out really well for us if we play our cards right."
 

Near Coombe Hollow, Kent. 13.20.

Kevin Norris had ridden this route about a year or so ago, just to prove its feasibility should he ever need to do it 'for real'. Yet now The Event had happened Kevin found himself suffering much more than he anticipated. The 17.6 road miles back to his home as measured by his car's trip computer should have only taken him about an hour and a half by bike to complete, but already he was beginning to feel really tired. He knew he was getting older and unfit, but surely not by this much?

He'd stopped by his warehouse earlier in the journey; after personally supervising the locking up of the premises he sent the handful of staff home for the day on full pay, though how long it would take them to get back who could say? Once the roads had been cleared and communications restored there was bound to be a surge in demand by people who had found themselves unprepared by this emergency; it was a shame they only cognizant of the fact when they were overtaken by events. Never mind, they'd be making up for their nonchalance by buying Ready Or Not's products at premium prices, perhaps even a post crisis mark up if Norris thought he could get away with it...

But first he needed to be able to do business. So far he'd not received any calls, texts, or email on his mobile; that was no surprise given the likely scale of the disruption, but what began to disconcert him was the absence of traffic on this rat run of a narrow road; he'd been riding for forty-five minutes but as yet seen no one else going in any direction. In fact the only sign of life he had spotted was a mile or two back when a small reddish-brown and white dog - it might have been a terrier but it was too far away to be sure - dashed across the tarmac and ran off into the countryside. It was in sight for a couple of seconds and then gone.

Kevin estimated he wasn't too far away from the isolated cottage he and Debbie called home. His partner made no secret of the fact she considered his preoccupation with preparedness an eccentricity to be tolerated, and at least it provided an income for them, but it was something she stoically endured rather than embraced. Well maybe now she'd see the light, if she was at home. The chances are she was away on a call as part of her interior design business - more of a dalliance than a serious effort - or she'd gone up to London on one of the shopping sprees she allowed her in return for her not complaining about the time he spent on the road.

Distracted by his thoughts Norris nearly fell victim to the unexpected hazard lurking just around a blind bend. There, unannounced and screened by hedges, the road had abruptly dropped by five feet or so as well as appearing to have moved some six inches or so to the left. It was a good thing Kevin had been labouring slowly up a slight gradient as he had just enough time to slam on the bike's disc brakes. He came to a slithering halt just short of the edge of the drop.

So that explained the lack of traffic. What sort of unimaginable force must it have been to rend the very earth like this? What if every road and railway link had been affected in this way? Imagine how much time, effort, manpower, machinery and money would be required to repair it all! And what about power cables and gas pipes? Had they been broken as well? The more Kevin considered the prospect, the less he liked it and the more urgently he wanted to get home to where his stockpile was located; the chances are he was going to have need of it.

No doubt quite a few extreme mountain bikers could handle such a drop off in their stride, but Norris' riding skills were limited to kerb hopping and he saw no reason to risk injury by trying to leap off the small, newly created scarp. Instead he took the safe option by lowering his bike and ready bag down first, then sitting on the edge and stretching his body down before letting go. Landing safely on bent legs he shouldered his pack and remounted. He was about to pedal off when he heard the sound of a slowly approaching car engine.

The car appeared cautiously around the next bend of the road. When faced with the new vista of the cliff the driver braked, then put the car into reverse.

"HEY WAIT A MINUTE!" cried Norris, hoping to learn what the driver had seen on his way here, or even possibly cadge a lift, but the car was already out of sight. He heard the whine of its reversing for another few seconds, then the engine note change as the driver performed a three-point turn, probably in a field entrance further along the road, before driving away.

Alone again Kevin stopped for a moment to dig out an aluminium sports bottle from his pack's side pocket and chug down a few gulps of water. That done it was time to get going again, though even as he pedaled away he kept turning his head around to catch another look at the newly uplifted land which stretched across his field of view for as far as he could see behind; it exerted a mesmeric fascination on him. That just shouldn't happen in England he thought: And nor should my heart be beating this fast, or I feel so hot and sweaty, or be this short of breath. When - if - this is all over I'm going to have to see a doctor.

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