The Preparation, 2

Wyndemere was unusually quiet in the wake of the exodus of guests originally scheduled to stay the weekend. Outside the shelter of Spoon Island the world was in a panic, with people rushing frantically in search of a future other than the one that had been pronounced. All across the globe shell-shocked people had abandoned their daily responsibilities, and a sense of recklessness filled the air. Still, to the casual eye, life at the palatial Cassadine dwelling was exactly the same as before the announcement. Servants came and went, providing service with the proficiency required by their wealthy employer.

Anyone bothering to take a closer look could see that the staff was operating on automatic. Normally there was a subtle hum of activity long before daybreak. The arrival of the daily supplies, the stir of the kitchen staff preparing for breakfast, the stable hands readying the horses for a morning ride about the island...these sounds were like a familiar heartbeat. In light of the devastating revelation of impending doom, however, on Spoon Island there was only silence.

Faith found her mind dwelling on the subject of Wyndemere's servants. She could only imagine their thoughts in the wake of yesterday's announcement. Most had reacted to the news with an outward semblance of calm, undoubtedly the result of a lifetime's instruction in dealing with the unexpected. No training in the world, though, could shield them from the private moments of fear and uncertainty that were growing with each news conference. Faith glanced at the clock. Just before midnight Stefan had gathered the staff by thirds and confirmed for them what had been announced. Most had been waiting to hear from their employer, aware that he possessed resources that surpassed most governments. Stefan had reassured them that he was in the midst of negotiations to return them to Europe. At a time when only the comfort of family could help absorb the shock, he was aware that the servants were separated from their loved ones by at least six time zones.

A large number of servants voiced the desire to remain at Wyndemere - at least for the time being. The scientists agreed that it would be several months before the anticipated ramifications of the meteor's gaseous atmosphere began to show its effects on the earth. For those servants who had offered to stay, there was no reason to return to their homelands just to sit around, wring their hands and weep. That point would come soon enough.

Faith shook off her dark thoughts and dutifully swallowed the last bite of froutalia (a Greek omelette with sausages and potatoes) on her breakfast plate. Her appetite had waned halfway through, but the image of Mrs. Landsbury's concerned face was enough to push Faith to finish the specially prepared food. It was funny, she thought, how the government's revelation of the impending disaster made everything real again.

She'd been numb with disbelief at the original discovery of the meteor and the subsequent conclusion of global destruction. Back then she and Stefan played off her struggling appetite with the cover story of a nagging stomach infection picked up at the Ward Software offices. The most difficult part of it all had been to convince the family that it was nothing more.

"Mrs. Landsbury will be pleased at your effort." Stefan stood just inside the doorway.

"I believe she will," Faith nodded. Already the light, fluffy omelette had begun to steady her nerves. "Shall we begin the day, Dear Heart?" The previous night had been for sorrows and regrets and tears. Now was the time for strength.

Intense green eyes stared unblinkingly into her own. Faith was not unsettled by the gaze. Early in her marriage she had grown accustomed to her husband's single-minded focus - especially where she was concerned. Now such attention brought her comfort. "Indeed."

"In that case, I thought I might reach out to the others," Faith proposed, already reaching for the handcrafted computer system she had tailored just for her needs. "An early report might be useful." Unlike most of the world, communication remained unbroken among the hacker cells. That was due to all the accepted rules of careful hacking being tossed out the window. Hackers silently invaded the secure servers of Google, the CIA, the NSA, and Homeland Security and used their powerful signals to boost the digital packets of information they were sending out. All across the globe the scene was repeated using servers from the Staatsveiligheid (Belgium), the Ministry of State Service (China), Mossad and MI6.

Faith took a different path in reaching out to the others. She slipped effortlessly into the powerful computers inside the headquarters of the National Football League. It was not very well-known, but no expense had been spared to provide the NFL with computers that rivaled all the 'alphabet organizations' themselves.

"Red?" The speakers came to life.

"Hello, Alec." Faith was pleased to hear from the young hacker. His work had come to her attention while he was still in high school. Faith had been impressed by both the ingenuity and audacity of his work. "How are you?"

"'I'm alright."

"And your friends?"

"They're all off thinking." The call grew silent. " You don't con your own crew."

Faith understood Alec's seemingly obscure comment. Though he was a hacker, he had taken up with a group of world-class thieves and grifters. They had become family to him. They would not have taken well to Alec concealing such a huge truth from them."Give them time." Faith got down to the business of the call. "How are the conditions in Portland? I have not yet contacted any of the other cells."

"Things aren't that great," Alec replied. "I think we underestimated how quickly things would go bad. People don't care that the scientists say that there's still a couple months before the meteor becomes visible. Folks are looting and burning stuff… The police here are talking about going to no-leniency martial law."

"And what of the travel situation?" Stefan posed.

There was a noticeable pause after Stefan's question. Hackers were a suspicious lot, and even though Alec knew that Stefan was Faith's husband, she also knew that he'd had virtually no face-to-face interaction with the billionaire magnate. "Stefan is here with me," Faith explained.

"Hmph...Well, the streets are pretty crowded with folks trying to go…somewhere. It ain't the zombie apocalypse, I mean, but it's pretty close. Forget about buses or trains or planes...if you could even get to them. Until folks calm down, I think everybody's gonna have to stay where they are."

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