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.


29. Chapter Twenty Nine

Bromley Common. 17.46.

Ryan Buckland lay dozing on a plastic groundsheet under a donated blanket, using his rucksack as a pillow. Along with Michelle and Grace he sheltered under a tent jury-rigged from a large blue builder's tarpaulin, supported by a rope and scaffold pole framework hammered into the earth.

Looking like a festival site gone wrong or a post-apocalyptic settlement the community founded camp had mushroomed in size during the short time he'd been here as more people heeding the official advice to evacuate quake damaged buildings arrived: Now the local authority had taken charge of it. After quite a search he found Michelle and Grace as Wesley had said; camping together with the other residents of their block. With the family's tearful but ecstatic reunion they exchanged survival stories. Ryan learned that as soon as the major tremor had begun Michelle and Grace had run from the flat and with their equally terrified neighbours fled to the Common for safety.

Grace was delighted to see her guinea pigs - who she had given up for dead - again; the thankful look on her face made the risk her father had taken to save them worthwhile. However the pets' rescue was scant consolation for the loss of their home; Michelle seemed to accept the news as well as could be expected, but Ryan worried that in her shock she'd not fully taken it in.

Under police supervision groups of people had gone out salvaging food and other supplies from local shops; a community kitchen was being set up at the camp, along with other services. The survivors were promised a mass dinner later. In the meantime the Bucklands exhausted the edible contents of Ryan's ready bag; even Squeaky and Fudge were given a few morsels of cereal bar which they eagerly devoured.

Now, being temporarily safe, there was nothing else for the family to do but stay here and await further developments. Ryan eased his trousers off and took a closer look at his leg which, though stiff as well as bruised, was less badly injured than he had first thought. After another application of the freeze spray he settled down to rest for a while.

His snooze was interrupted by a cacophony of electronic noises and ringtones. At least in this area the mobile signal was back. As one the newly homeless - Michelle among them - scrambled frantically for their devices to retrieve their messages before the networks crashed again under the demand, but this time the service appeared to be more resilient. A new chorus of sounds heralded more information arriving, and as it did so came the first murmurs of surprise, then confusion, followed by annoyance, anger, and fear from the displaced people.

"What's this all about?" Michelle asked her husband, thrusting her phone at him. She was confident enough using it but always got him to sort out her technical problems when they arose.

"I dunno. Let's have a look!" Ryan replied, as he read the text which had appeared on the display.


Under the State of Emergency Decree issued under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, the Government has assumed temporary control of all communications networks in the national interest and to assist recovery.

Two apps have been automatically sent to your device. The downloads are free, and will not count against your data allowance whether you are a contract or prepay customer. They will help you to obtain any assistance you may need, and also provide warning of possible exposure to harmful levels of radiation. THE RADIATION DETECTOR APP DOWNLOAD DOES NOT MEAN A NUCLEAR INCIDENT IS INEVITABLE: THIS IS ONLY A PRECAUTIONARY MEASURE.

You should learn to use these apps now in case you need them in the future. You should also keep up to date with the news via the Emergency Announcements section of the GOV.UK app.

Another message which has been sent to your device explains what you must do, and what you MUST NOT do while the State of Emergency is in effect. YOU MUST OBEY THE EMERGENCY LAWS. YOU MAY BE LIABLE FOR SEVERE CRIMINAL SANCTIONS INCLUDING THE DEATH PENALTY IF YOU BREAK THE LAW, SO OBEY ALL OF THE EMERGENCY LAWS AND ANY OFFICIAL INSTRUCTIONS GIVEN TO YOU. You should read that message now.

"Bloody hell!" said Ryan. "They're not messing about, are they? It's almost as if we're at war! I know we've missed out on the news, but surely it can't be that bad, can it?"

With a sideways flick he dismissed the message to find Michelle's phone had two new prominent icons on the home screen. One was an official black and white crown marked GOV.UK PORTAL while the other, a stark yellow and black radiation trefoil was named RAD DETECTOR. Clicking on the GOV.UK tile he found himself facing a menu of newly added options.

Apply for a compulsory identity card.

Apply for a compulsory ration card.

Register a new, changed, or temporary address. (Registration is compulsory.)

Register a mobile device. (Registration is compulsory.)

Apply for emergency housing.

Register for compulsory national labour service.

Register a missing or deceased loved one.

With a mixture of fear and revulsion Ryan shut the app down. Then he touched the radiation app. On opening a caption said, This app can warn you about possibly harmful radiation in your vicinity. It uses your location to check for alerts. Do you want to check for alerts now?

Given the choice of YES or NO Buckland tapped YES. After a brief wait which seemed a lot longer the screen read, No radiation warnings are in effect in your area at the moment. Check the app regularly for updates.

After a pause the app reverted back to its home page. Ryan noticed another button there; Use device camera for radiation detection? Out of curiosity he pressed it. A list of instructions were shown.

"It says to keep your thumb pressed down over the front camera, or shield it from sources of light while it's calibrating itself." he announced. Buckland didn't have any electrical tape to hand in order to cover the camera lens so following another idea the instructions suggested he put the phone in his trouser pocket. After a few moments there was a startling double beep. Heart pounding, Ryan whipped the device out of his pocket to find No radiation detected showing on the display. For an unfathomable reason he didn't feel reassured.

There was a further alert tone. A new message icon appeared in the status bar; it was probably the one regarding the Emergency Regulations referred to earlier. "I don't like this..." Michelle said quietly. "Something's wrong; it must be worse than they're making out."

"Yeah, but what can we do about it? We've got no home to go to and we're being told to stay where we are for the time being if we're no danger. I overheard some people in the reception tent saying they were forced to come here under threat of being arrested if they didn't. And I don't fancy another long walk..."

"Well I don't feel safe here. Have you noticed how the mood is changing as more people arrive? You see there are more armed police around now, and everyone knows what they did to those two men who tried demanding money for the standpipe water... Ryan, let's go. Please..."

"But where?"

"We can go to Addiscombe and stay with Nan. Now the phones are back on I'd better ring her to see if she's all right."

Michelle dialed the number but instead if a connection got an off-key warning tone. "Oh for fuck's sake!" she exploded. "Look at this!"

Ryan read the new dialogue box. Due to network restrictions, only emergency calls are permitted. The font matched that of the other government notices.

"It must be those bloody government apps taking over my phone." Michelle was obviously annoyed as she made a point of not swearing when Grace was present. "Get rid of them, would you?"

Buckland did as he was asked but when he tried to delete the apps a stern admonishment warned, This app cannot be uninstalled until the State of Emergency is over. Ryan decided to keep his phone switched off to prevent it being infected with the official virus.

"That's just taking the piss!" Michelle was on the verge of tears now. "C'mon, let's go now, I'm worried about Nan!"

"You could both stay here while I go home and rescue my bike from the garage. I'll ride up there and-

"No Ryan, we ought to stay together. I was worried out of my skin earlier wondering if you were OK. When I heard about the pile-ups and the fires on the M25 I thou-"

"I worried about you and Grace as well, babe." Ryan hugged Michelle. "You're right, we don't want to get split up so-"


"Right, that settles it!" decided Ryan. "Grab your stuff, we're going!"

It took less than a minute for the Bucklands to gather what little they had from under their tarpaulin, shoulder their packs, and slip quietly away through a clump of bushes. Ryan knew this spot, it was around here that he and Grace had last seen Rusty only a few days ago, though that seemed a long, halcyon age ago now. Yes, this was the place; there was a faint trace of a path through the dense shrubbery the family could use to avoid being noticed by the police patrols. A trickle of other would-be escapees followed them

As they hurried away from the Common Ryan looked behind to check they'd not been spotted, but it appeared no one was actively engaged in watching for people leaving without authorisation at the moment. Instead the camp functionaries seemed more concerned with the three flatbed trucks which had drawn up near the reception area. The lorries were laden with an assortment of crowd control barriers; large sheets of the sort of plywood used for building site hoardings; and rolls of wire fencing, along with bundles of long tubular metal support poles for it. Buckland also glimpsed coils of barbed wire. Obviously a perimeter was going to be established around the Emergency Centre, but was its purpose to keep people out or incarcerate them within its bounds?

From this distance he observed an ant sized figure wearing a fluorescent vest supervising the unloading of the vehicles. Though it was impossible to make out what was being said from this far away the foreman's hectoring tone was clear, directed via a loudhailer at the groups of men obviously unused to heavy labour as they struggled to offload the cargo. Further beyond the lorries Ryan thought he spotted a micro digger working alongside conscripts with shovels excavating more toilet pits, but a second look revealed plastic wrapped bundles and full body bags being taken out of the back of a van parked at the end of one of the parallel slots; these were mass burial trenches being dug. Buckland shuddered, feeling as if a goose had walked over his grave. Michelle was right, this place had a growing air of malevolence about it; they were better off getting out.

The family set off for Nan's warden assisted first floor single bedroom flat. Even being crammed together with their grandmother, under constant harassment to move on by the social services or the caretaker would be better than nights spent shivering under canvas or in poorly insulated portacabins. Ryan was still had on his Wizzit uniform, his ready bag on his shoulders; Michelle wore the lightweight summer clothes and flip-flops she stood up in, her other meagre possessions contained in a handbag; her knitted polyester shawl would be scant protection against the cool of the coming evening. Grace walked hand in hand between her parents, carrying the guinea pigs' cage. Ryan hoped her vividly coloured Disney character backpack or his camouflaged rucksack wouldn't attract any envious attention.

Though they didn't know it the family represented this disaster in microcosm. Like so many others this day their lives had been turned upside down; from the mundane coping with daily problems to living with fear, hunger, thirst, and discomfort: From struggling to just get by to losing everything they had, as well as the unease of an unknown future gnawing at their minds. Suddenly finding themselves homeless and fleeing the dystopia being constructed on the Common the newly destitute Bucklands were like so many others seeking whatever asylum could be found from it all.

Ryan checked the time; it was early evening. Given the distance to Addiscombe the family would need to increase their pace if they were to arrive before the twilight began to dim, the clear sky turn a cruel deep cobalt, and the temperature drop. The darkening would also see the lawlessness of the day worsen, and judging from what he'd seen earlier the police posed as great a danger as the desperate or criminal elements. Buckland felt as a herbivore observed by a pack of carnivore predators; he imagined myriad hostile eyes staring at his family from the depths of every shadow. The sooner they could be sheltered at Nan's and be off the streets the better.

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