Bigger Fish

Family and guests who decided to attend breakfast the next morning were greeted by the sight of their host and hostess already seated at the table engaged in quiet conversation. Faith greeted each person with a gentle smile, Stefan with a simple nod. "Please, sit. Eat."

Unlike the previous day, breakfast consisted of simple breads, meats and cheeses. Perhaps 'simple' was not an accurate description. The laden trays which covered the buffet-style sideboard contained buttery rolls and still-warm slabs of artisan breads, paper-thin slices of Caciocavallo Podolco and Pule cheeses, and delicate cuts of Culatello di Zibello, Iberian ham and Kobe beef. For those of a more vegetarian slant, there were bowls of freshly picked raspberries, cubed Yubari King melon and wedges of rare Densuke black watermelon.

The first breakfast guests to arrive paused hesitantly just inside the doorway and awaited a clue on how to proceed. Stefan rose from his seat and moved to the sideboard. He accepted a bone china plate from the serving girl and began to make selections from the various offerings. When he was satisfied with his selections, he returned to the table and placed the plate before Faith. "Beloved?"

Faith smiled up at him. Her eyes glistened at his thoughtfulness. "Thank you, Dear Heart."

"Good morning, Father. Faith." Nikolas' dry greeting wafted in from the doorway. He stood there, accompanied by his wife and younger brother. "I am glad to find you"

Despite the even tenure of the Prince's voice, his disapproval was evident in his rigid body language.

The gazes of those guests in the room were suddenly focused everywhere but on the tableau involving the 'royal' contingent of the Cassadine family. No one was naive enough, however, to believe that the same could be said of their attention. Most had not understood the tension of the previous evening; they'd merely reacted to the reactions of those within the inner circle. For just the blink of an eye, they had all -Nikolas, Andresj, Alexis and Sabrina- allowed their concern to show. It was just as quickly thrust back behind the mask of stoicism that all Cassadine children are taught to affect. But that fleeting lapse had been enough for certain guests whose sole intention was to observe and recount.

"It is not the time or place for this discussion," Stefan replied calmly. He gestured to the serving girl for another breakfast plate.

"If this is not the time or place," Nikolas repeated, "then let us take this discussion somewhere more private." He would not be deterred. Despite his determination to remain stoic, he still smarted from what he felt was the previous night's public disrespect. "I won't be put off again."

Stefan shared a fleeting glance with Faith. "Very well," he gave Nikolas a brief nod of assent. "Let us adjourn to the library." Stefan turned and addressed the guests, who now made no pretense of their interest in the seeming confrontation between father and son. "Please, stay and enjoy Mrs. Landbury's offerings."

No further explanation was offered for the family's departure from the room. Stefan and Faith followed Nikolas, Gia and Andresj down the passageway to the library. Along the way they encountered Alexis, Sabrina, Jack and Marcus on their way to the dining area. "What's going on," Alexis asked. Nikolas shook his head and continued toward the library. It was Andresj who answered. "Nikolas has demanded an explanation." Andresj's reply raised the eyebrows of both couples. Silently they altered direction and followed.

An air of tension surrounded the group. It seemed to ratchet higher with each step taken closer to enlightenment.

Nikolas stopped just inside the doorway of the library. Most of the rest of the family crowded close to him so that they could peer over his shoulder. Furniture had been rearranged and the far wall of the room was now lined with a procession of oversized plasma televisions that at first glance seemed to form an unbroken picture. Their black screens all crackled with the dancing white-flecked display that spoke of a poor video connection. "What is this?"

The screens had not been there the previous day. Nikolas knew this. He had taken a moment before yesterday's party to tug Gia into a secluded corner of the shelves, lift her gown to her waist and give her a teasing glimpse of what awaited her when they returned to their suite. While it was true he only had eyes for his wife and the designer gown she wore, Nikolas was certain there was no way he would have overlooked such a thing.

Stefan stepped past his son and gestured for the others to come fully into the room. Rodya and Ivan, two of the more massive Cassadine guards, effortlessly pulled shut behind them the library's heavy, ornate doors. "Have a seat," Stefan offered. When it looked like Nikolas would refuse out of sheer stubbornness, the older man added a quiet, "Please."

When everyone had settled, Stefan reached out a hand and drew Faith to his side. "We had hoped," he began without preamble, "to delay this for as long as we could. Circumstances will no longer allow it." He pointed a small, black remote at the screens. Vivid high definition video appeared upon the screen with a clarity that was impressive.

"...repeat," the world famous news reporter intoned. "In a shocking press conference only minutes ago, President Schoenberg revealed that NASA astronomers have sighted in the furthest ionosphere an asteroid roughly one third the size of Earth. After months of observation and calculations by the finest mathematical minds of our time, it has been concluded that the asteroid's orbit will carry it on a direct course for collision with Earth. The effects of such a collision has been deemed catastrophic, not only for North America but the entire planet.'

Although the panel of scientists and astronomers could be seen on the giant screen discussing and debating the ramifications of President Schoenberg's terrifying announcement, silence reigned in the library in the aftermath of what was revealed. Everyone assembled (with a few exceptions) sat in stunned silence trying to simply process the enormity of the President's words.

"... demise of life as we know it. Details to follow on the hour throughout the day."


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