The Preparation, 1

24 hours had passed since the government's shattering announcement. Much of that time had been occupied with trying to calm panicked guests who wanted nothing more than to depart Wyndemere and return to their loved ones. Before dusk this morning, the American contingent – about a third of the previous night's guest list – were quickly driven to a private airstrip nearby where a series of small planes were waiting to transport them to their various destinations. At the same time, the remainder of the guests (friends and family from across the ocean) sat anxiously aboard the Cassadine jet idling on the runway of the Port Charles Airport.

Despite the delay, there was no question of 'if' the plane would be allowed to leave. Securing clearance for transatlantic flight would have been nearly impossible in light of the morning's announcement, but Stefan had greased the right palms nearly a month prior. The flight crew was in place and the jet was at the head of the line among those out on the runway. One of the commercial fleet, the jet had none of the amenities Cassadine guests were accustomed to receiving. For security purposes all distinguishing marks had been removed, leaving only an eight digit series of alphabets and numbers on its tail. Anyone tracing the jet's registration would be led through many a digital tangle and end up at a shell corporation created for the occasion. Stefan's already stringent security measures had been doubled in anticipation of whatever desperation the announcement might foster.

"They are safely off," Yuri Petrov ended his phone call and concluded his report to his employer.

"And what of Hanne Bogaerts?" Stefan Cassadine asked. 73-year-old Hanne Bogaerts was the oldest living member of the Belgian branch of the Cassadine family tree. After Stavros' death, paternity whispers about the infant Prince Nikolas traveled cautiously among the most interested factions of the Cassadine family. A small, vocal contingent of one such faction argued that Hanne's grandson Mats had a more legitimate claim to the leadership of the family than Nikolas. Despite the breath of truth in the argument for young Mats' claim, Hanne Bogaerts steered clear of those very dangerous waters. Mats was the first male child in many years, and the light of her life. She had no wish to thrust him into the viper's nest that was the struggle for the Cassadine family leadership. Hanne assured those closest to her that her decision to shield young Mats from the dangers inherent in seeking the family leadership was the right one for the time. They all assumed that Helena was the danger that Hanne spoke of. But it was, in fact, the other family faction -led by the Baron - that posed a far greater threat. Hanne knew that if it ever came to an open battle, the Baron would stop at nothing to gain the leadership for his children in Macau.

Yuri glanced at his watch. "Madame Bogaerts is moments away from landing at her gentleman friend's private airstrip." Immediately after hearing NASA's prediction of Earth's demise, Hanne approached Stefan and requested that, instead of Belgium, she be transported to Dallas, Texas. If the world was truly to end, she explained quietly, she did not wish to waste any more time paying heed to things that did not matter. Hanne's 37-year-old lover (a Texas oil speculator who'd hit the mother lode) had been after her for the past several years to make her home on the sprawling ranch he called home.

"Very well."

The two words were both approval and dismissal. Yuri wasn't bothered by his employer's curt manner. It was a sign of Stefan's confidence in him that Yuri would complete the list of tasks he had been assigned at the morning's security review.

The morning's review was really just a formality. Detailed plans had been in the works for quite some time now. Only Yuri and two others were privy to them.

The longtime housekeeper Mrs. Lansbury walked up beside Yuri. Together they silently watched their employer stride purposefully down the corridor. It wasn't until he turned the corner did they speak. "Everything went well?"

Yuri nodded. "Everyone reacted as Master Stefan anticipated they would upon hearing that the world is soon to end. Of course, they do not know the rest."

"He could not have anticipated Hanne Bogaert's response," Mrs. Lansbury countered. "I do believe she surprised even herself." The two Cassadine servants enjoyed a moment of quiet amusement.

"Yes," Yuri confirmed, "Master Stefan was caught by surprise." He paused. "There is one other I know that he would still wish to be surprised by."

Mrs. Lansbury huffed impatiently. "Enough, Petrov!"

"No. Not enough."

"I have given the Master my decision." The irritated housekeeper punctuated her words with an abrupt nod of her head. Though uncommon, it was a gesture that Cassadine employees were loathe to see...as it generally did not bode well for them. "I will not change my mind."

Yuri was unfazed by her anger. "I did not think I would see the day when you would be so selfish."

"Selfish?" Mrs. Lansbury's precise diction took on just a hint of a burr. "It would be selfish of me -at my age- to take a spot that could best be filled by someone young and capable. I saw in young Miss Greshneva my replacement the second week she was with us. I have been training her ever since."

"I have no doubt," Yuri said quietly, "that she can run an efficient kitchen. Or that she will know how to make the most of the limited supplies there will be. But she will never have the one thing that you have…the Master's ear. Perhaps in a way that not even the Mistress does." Yuri reached out and gently laid his hand on the housekeeper's arm, a startling interruption of the rigid protocols maintained by the two longtime servants. "You love this family, you have given them a lifetime of service. And there will be only one chance for their survival. Do you truly believe that there exists another, no matter the age, who increases their odds better than you?"

 

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