Ground Zero


Faith was not surprised to hear the quiet query behind her. It was the voice of her younger son, Andresj. More accurately, he was Stefan's younger son and her stepson. But Faith had fallen in love with her Dear Heart's sons long before she had fallen for the man himself. It was Stefan's love for Nikolas and Andresj that let Faith see beyond the arrogance and manipulation into the core of the Cassadine magnate. Faith turned and opened her arms to Andresj. He stepped into her embrace and held her tightly. "Are you alright?" he asked.

"I've had a year to reconcile myself to this news," Faith replied. She leaned back so that she could see his face. "How are you ?"

Andresj smiled wanly. "I am in shock, as I suppose is the rest of the world." His eyes searched Faith's face. "We will all...perish, then?"

"This disaster will happen. There is no changing that fact. But," Faith cupped Andresj's face, "whatever comes, we will face it as we do everything else - as a family."

Faith sent Andresj off to check on any of the others who still lingered nearby. She'd wanted nothing more than to provide a glimmer of hope to her younger son by telling him of the slim chance they had to survive the world-ending event. But she and Stefan had decided on a timeline for that particular revelation. It was too soon for such news.

Faith turned her attention back to the library door. Rodya and Ivan, Stefan's chosen sentries for the occasion, stood rigidly at attention awaiting Stefan's command. They were faithful, loyal men who had proven their unflagging support of Stefan's leadership of the family. It saddened Faith enormously that though Rodya's place was secure, the childhood accident which rendered Ivan unable to father children now eliminated him from a place in what Faith silently thought of as "the ark". The thought of all the others like Ivan who would not be given the very slim chance the family was to receive tightened Faith's chest and made breathing difficult. These were people she had come to know, people with families and loved ones of their own, people who had given a majority of their lives in the service of Stefan and his family. As she had done so often over the past year, Faith wished for a return to the moment just before she received the terse, one-word digital message: Summit .

February 26th. One day after Justus' birthday. And for the first time since her younger brother's death, Faith had celebrated the day joyously. Yes, she had shed a tear as she traced his name among far too many others in the Quartermaine vault. But immediately afterward she had dashed away the moisture rolling down her cheeks, given a shaky laugh and teased Justus about what it must be like spending eternity with their grandfather Edward.

No sooner had Petrov closed the limousine's door to take her back to Wyndemere when her phone chirped a simple but unfamiliar five-note progression. Each note had been modulated a half-step flat, giving the ringtone an odd quality. ' Summit ', the message read.

The single word, sent in English, meant that a meeting of only the highest tier hackers in America was to be convened in Detroit within the next 24 hours. Simultaneous meetings would take place in Europe and China as well. The American contingent attending the meeting would consist of Faith, Wolfe (a Native American forest ranger), Kenny (a first year freshman at Duke), Poe (a Mormon Deacon with multiple wives) and Arthur (a Canadian businessman in the automobile industry). The sixth member of this elite group, grifter/hacker Alec, was currently busy in Monaco and would not attend. No last names were given even though it would be childishly simple for anyone in the group to uncover such information. It was a gesture of good faith that no one did.

Upon requiring their private Airstream, Stefan insisted on accompanying Faith to Detroit. The abruptness of the summons made him uncomfortable, even with Petrov's presence at Faith's side. She didn't protest. The hacker's code 'summit' was the most alarming call that could be sounded. It was, Faith knew, the equivalent of the Cassadine family's most drastic security codeword, 'inferno' (a reference to Aligheri's dire writings of hell). There would be no one better than her magnate husband to have close by if it truly was a situation of that magnitude.

'Summit ' had been called only once before in the aftermath of the attack against America. Hackers the world wide had come together, anonymously dropping packets of information they hoped would be useful onto the servers of all the major governmental divisions...FBI, CIA, NSA. Most hackers put aside their running conflicts with these entities and helped where they could. Anonymously, of course. Because of her many military contracts, Faith could afford to be more open in her assistance. She became a safe conduit for her fellow hackers' information, earning her a seat at the table hosting the most gifted hackers of the day. These were people who saw the inner workings of computer systems and software the way others saw the world around them - simply and instinctively. For Faith it was not so natural.

Since the age of nine, she had been fascinated by numbers. She was a bright child, but easily bored by the long periods of isolation her parents' lifestyle generated. With numbers, she could get lost in a page of complex equations and spend most of the day attempting to work them out. When college introduced computers into her world, Faith was captivated. And adept at them. Computer code was, after all, just a series of ones and ohs. Numbers at their simplest form. While most other hackers saw the finished product, so to speak, Faith saw the nuts and bolts of its creation.

When she decided to immerse herself in the world of computers, the first dedicated hacker she met was an interesting cross of the old and the new. Wolfe unapologetically had one foot in the world of technology and the other in the ways of his Native American Heritage. It was this duality that helped alert him to the changes in the sky. It was Wolfe who sent out the single-word call to action.

The five people called to summit arrived in staggered intervals. Arthur, already a frequent visitor to Detroit, was the first to make the journey there. It was a simple four-hour drive from his home in Toronto and he alerted the others to his presence at the meeting place with a terse digital message...' Here '. Kenny was close on his heels, having 'reserved' himself a seat on the first commercial flight leaving Durham as soon as he'd gotten the summons. Half a day and two layovers later, Kenny repeated Arthur's message to the others. ' Here '.

Stefan's private jet made the trip to Detroit almost before its passengers had time to settle in. He would not allow Faith to join the other two hackers at the meeting place but instead had the waiting limousine bring them to a nearby luxury hotel to wait while Petrov did a security check on the location. It was, Stefan insisted, non-negotiable. Faith's lone alternative was to have himself or Petrov inside the meeting.

While they awaited Yuri's security assessment, the two remaining hackers arrived at the safehouse. Poe, 65, arrived by train from Pittsburgh, where he had been on a honeymoon with his latest bride, a seventeen year old girl given into marriage with her parents' permission. Wolfe, the last to arrive, piloted a single engine plane down from the section of the Huron-Manistee National Forests he'd been patrolling.

Ninety minutes after Wolfe's text message of arrival, Stefan quietly called for the car to take Faith to the meeting. He said something to Yuri that Faith could not make out, but she had no doubt Stefan had taken that moment to unnecessarily impress upon the guard the value of what he protected. Faith bussed Stefan on the cheek and followed Petrov out the door.

As soon as she walked into the meeting place, Wolfe ended his quiet conversation with the others. He checked his equipment, making sure they were safely connected to the two other cells assembled overseas. "There has been a change in the stars..." he began quietly.

Everyone watched Wolfe's digital display in silence. It would have been easy to dismiss the almost imperceptible changes he listed. He spoke of the kind of things that could be explained as nature doing what it had done throughout time - change. But all those assembled knew that the Native American hacker would not have brought them together for no reason.

"The next month," Wolfe pronounced, "will tell the tale."


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