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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22. Chapter Twenty Two

The A223 near Bexley. 12.34.

For the third time in a mile Ryan Buckland was forced to stop. The bandage he'd stuck over the developing blister on his left heel didn't seem to be helping at all. Sitting on a grassy roadside verge he unlaced his shoe and rolled his sock down: The bandage came off with it, exposing the reddened, tender skin beneath.

Ryan thought his shoes and socks were comfortable; after all he wore them all day long while constantly getting in and out of his van as he made his deliveries, but the first twinges of discomfort had begun to make themselves felt some five miles into his journey. Despite covering the raw patch with a self-adhesive pad the problem worsened until he realised just periodically pulling up his socks wasn't doing any good; he'd need to stop and sort it out before it became more of an issue.

Reaching for his first aid pouch stored in his pack's top pocket where it could easily be reached, Buckland re-dressed his wound; this time using a padded square of an absorbent pad and making sure it stayed in place with several strips of the tenaciously sticky medical tape he'd substituted for the all but useless roll originally supplied with the kit.

That done he carefully slid his sock back on. Fortunately his skin hadn't broken; if it had and the blister weeped fluid into the sock's material, stiffening it, the injury would only be exacerbated as he walked on.

The problem deferred for the moment, Buckland replaced the first aid kit and gingerly slipped his shoe back on; taking particular care in re-lacing both of them. He decided to rest here for a while, eat one of his energy bars and drink some water before setting off again. 

 

Near Canada Square. The Docklands. 12.48.

Advancing as if they are infantry soldiers under fire in an urban environment, Kelly and Ethan move forward in rushes; using the buildings themselves as cover. So far none of the hi-viz tabard wearing safety marshals cowering in the imagined safety of foyers and entrances have attempted to stop them; they either not caring to act, or being preoccupied dealing with their own charges. Or it may be the fluoro yellow Connect24 bibs with their prominent NEWS lettering the pair are wearing permit them to get away with things the general public wouldn't be allowed to do.

Ethan leads gallantly in front of Kelly, which is just fine as far as she's concerned as it gives her the opportunity to admire his rather shapely bottom and glossy, collar length, tightly braided strings of dreadlocks. Perhaps its a side effect of the chaos and destruction unfolding around her, the proximity of disaster inspiring her procreational instincts, but Kelly is beginning to feel herself getting horny over him with the sort of intensity which has her wondering how he's fixed up at the moment and how easy it would be to tell her current boyfriend Justin with his on and off relationship, struggling artist persona, as well as - she suspects - a secret but developing cocaine habit, that it's over.

"Hey Kelly; how's it going? Dominic's voice, faint and scratchy, sounds through her earpiece. Thorpe can just imagine him impatiently sat eagerly at the master console, tugging at his ginger ponytail or twirling his goatee beard as he does when under pressure; almost salivating at the thought of a new stream of juicy copy.

"We're getting closer; we've reached Cabot Place!"

"Can you do a live update?"

"Yes, I think so."

"Stand by. You're on in thirty!"

"Is this a good idea?" asks Ethan looking around. "This doesn't feel too safe to me."

"No, I don't think it is." replies Kelly, wishing they'd thought to bring with them the kevlar helmets and body armour they usually wear in war zones. The sense of imminent peril looming above them poised to come crashing down at any moment is almost palpable. Her instincts are screaming to get the hell out of there. "Studio, cancel that; we're moving somewhere less exposed."

"Stay where you are!" orders Paige sternly; his brogue coming to the fore when he feels stressed. "Give us that report now! And make it a good one!"

"We're going to talk, you and I, when this is all over..." Kelly can hardly believe what she is saying as she hears herself; nor the venomously acidic tone of her rebellious words, but her patience with the hipster creep is fraying to breaking point.

"Fine! But in the meantime you've got ten seconds. You'd better be ready! Cueing you over to Andrew."

On the news set presenter Andrew Patterson has followed the exchange between Thorpe and Paige through his earpiece with incredulity; Dominic is really throwing caution to the wind! Still there's work to be done. He keeps one ear on Anna Coombes finishing up a Q&A with Gail Burton while awaiting his cue to introduce Kelly. So far Gail has been the lead on the earthquake with her live description of the evacuation by air of the sickly royal children away from the hospital where they were being treated. But with the hovering army helicopter and its Very Important Passengers long departed from the disaster zone for an unknown destination C24 has a problem: No matter how dramatic the scenes, there are only a finite number of times they can be rerun before the viewers tire of seeing them. And now the word has come done from On High that constant reminders of the unequal nature of society in the midst of this catastrophe are best avoided.

Freed of her reason for staying in place Burton and her crew have gone looking for stories, but like so many others they can hardly move in the post 'quake gridlock. So far all they have produced are live shots of an underground station entrance spewing out knots of passengers after they've been led to safety from the stalled trains and choked platforms far below. Each emerging group seems to be accompanied by pulses of miasmaticaly thin, misty white smoke. Gail tried to interview some of the coughing, streaming-eyed survivors as they exited but was told by both the disaster victims and the emergency personnel waiting to receive them she had no business being there; only they didn't use so many words to express themselves.

Warned if she persists with her intrusive questioning she'll be arrested or punched, Burton's reportage has come to a hiatus. Connect24 needs a new angle, and so the focus shifts to Kelly Thorpe in the docklands.

"Ten seconds Andrew and Kelly" Paige warns. "Three - two - one. Cue Andrew!"

Seamlessly picking up from his introduction, Patterson ignores the few hastily scribbled notes appearing on his teleprompter; he's professional enough to handle this sort of thing in his stride. "And now we're going live to Canary Wharf - which for our international viewers is a major business district in London - to join our reporter Kelly Thorpe who has been battling her way there through the disruption. Kelly, are you there?

"Yes Andrew, this is Kelly Thorpe reporting live for Connect24. I'm not far from Canada Square in Canary Wh-" Her next few words are drowned by an astonishingly loud boom which reverberates around the area with a stomach trembling intensity. "We don't know what that was and we can't see anything from here, although it may have been a gas explosion; many gas and water mains have been ruptured by the earthquake. It's a reminder that the situation is a dynamic, developing one. We're on a mission to find out more about it, and getting closer to the heart of the area.

Looking around I can see that some of the skyscrapers here have been damaged by the 'quake but so far appear to remain structurally sound; although there are rumours - and I must stress this is unsubstantiated as yet - that despite being anchored by its enormous weight to the bedrock rather than the London clay this area lies on, the One Canada Square building may have shifted on its foundations. Apart from that, most of the problems here seem to have been caused by the towers' large sheet glass windows which have been rattled loose and fallen; a thick carpet of broken shards is covering the plaza. Some parts of this business district have been evacuated, while workers in the less damaged buildings have been told to remain inside for the time being as that is the safest place for them to be at the moment, or when the inevitable aftershocks follow. Others have taken their own decisions and as you can see are leaving the area." The camera pans to show a few nervous people in expensive business wear running across the open spaces while looking fearfully upward.

"I understand that there have been some serious injuries here as well as unconfirmed reports of deaths, but so far the police have yet to-Oh my God!" A large falling pane hits the ground not far away with a discordant breaking sound, creating an explosion of high speed transparent shrapnel.

"Kelly; get out of there! Find somewhere safe!" urges Patterson, not caring if he is breaking any on-air protocols or blunting the story's dramatic edge; the live report is already arresting enough.

"I'm moving!" Kelly replies, having taken the decision for herself in advance of hearing Patterson's tinny voice in her earpiece. From what Andrew can see It looks as if a couple of small sharp fragments have embedded themselves in her cheek and another lodging close to her eyebrow has started a cut from which a tear of blood is welling. Patterson expects Dominic Paige will cut away from the scene and tell him to summarise for a few seconds, giving Anna Coombes a chance to pick up another aspect of the story, but the images remain on the set's live output monitor. Andrew can hear Dominic's furious voice in his earbud, but he tunes out the editor's ranting; he is fully engrossed in Kelly and Ethan's flight.

For a few seconds there are wobbly pictures of the nearby buildings and fleeing people, then of Thorpe as Parr turns round to check on her. Patterson notes that the delay-to-air icon in the corner of his cue screen is absent; this is being broadcast live. Paige is going right out on a limb this time.

"OK, let's try it here." gasps Kelly, dabbing at the trickle of blood with a tissue. "Are we on? Can you hear us studio?"

"Yes, we can hear you Kelly." Andrew replies. "Are you sure it's safe?"

"I think so!" she answers. "As I was saying the pol-" Unnoticed high above the news crew, another large windowpane which was partially shaken out from its frame by the quake has been dislodged by the explosion's shock wave; the laws of gravity prevailing against the weatherproof seal's loosening grip after a short delay. Falling, then gliding at a shallow angle it is temporarily borne aloft like a leaf on the wind by a thermal which suddenly dissipates.

Stripped of its lift the sheet swoops earthward. Plummeting at near-terminal velocity at an almost vertical angle the edge of the toughened pane strikes the unsuspecting Kelly on her right collar bone close to her neck with a sickening butcher's hatchet through meat thud. Barely slowed by slicing through her body like a giant guillotine blade, it hits the pavement and shatters upon impact. Ethan Parr is riddled by the resulting blizzard of splinters. Felled, he drops the camera which although it bounces on the pavement, continues to send live video. The view through its partially gore spattered lens shows Thorpe's bisected form in the centre of a spreading pool of her own dark red blood.

For a moment there is nothing but a thunderstruck silence. The Anna Coombes vomits her revulsion all over the newsdesk. Ashen-faced and eyes brimming with tears, Andrew Patterson, acting on gut instinct intones solemnly, "I think at this moment it would be appropriate to pause our broadcast for a time." A studio technician startled into action cuts both the live link and the studio feed; then brings up a placeholding screen with a C24 logo.

"Fucking hell!" Ian May seethes at Dominic Paige across the console with a withering stone faced stare that could kill. "You've really gone and done it now!" May's anger is barely suppressed; he feels like punching the reckless little shit right in the face, and will do - bugger the consequences - if Dominic says the wrong thing, but Paige remains mute; he has no answer. Instead Dominic sits immobile like an accident victim in numbed shock by the roadside waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Paige knows his Connect24 career is over; the enraged phone call or email from Euan Rees won't be long in coming, and in any case losing his job is likely to be the very least of his worries...

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