Prologue – Lost in the blink of an action – ten years earlier
Darkness had settled over his dreary dorm room. He hadn’t bothered to eat after answering the University Chancellor’s endless questions. He was too stricken with the deep fear of being expelled from school and, worse, the humiliation it would bring to his family. Nothing had been threatened or decided when the conversation ended, but a promise of a disciplinary decision before the end of the weekend had been suggested.
He reviewed the consultations and joking that had led up to today. It had been one of those days with events that begged to be changed and forgotten. Choices that seemed so innocent in discussions that had turned so horrible after the fact. He had been a loner for the three years he had been in the program, with no social life. On the rare occasion that he worked with other classmates, he’d found that he had been responsible for most of the work to complete a given project. It really had not bothered him, but during this semester the poor students and laggards had been weeded out. The remaining students were all A-type personalities with an unyielding drive to succeed. He had finally felt he was with men who had equivalent capabilities in logic, reasoning, and forward thinking, even from their different disciplines.
From the beginning, he had focused on database programming, using the logic and forward views of the times to leapfrog the generally accepted thinking. The thought leadership that was coming out of the Ivy League schools or the newly emerging technology businesses were dwarfed by visions he and the few classmates he considered near equals had roughed out. The late night studies and conversations with these men had allowed him to lower his guard, as he thought about being accepted as one of them. He had honestly believed that he could step out from his old structured world and easily move into this new one. He was confident that this world was filled with people who spoke and understood the possibilities of the digital realm.
Sadness with his choices as he reflected on the reasons caused him to shake his head in disbelief. How would he be able to honor his family name with this hanging over his head? Even though the others had laughed it off and cried ‘college prank,’ he would clearly not be able to make this excuse the focus of the upcoming discussion with his uncle. Guilt had slowed every thought, action, and response during the day.
He had not spoken to his co-conspirators at all since they had been taken away from the hospital, even though, as he passed, one of them grinned and quipped, “It will all work out. Keep a stiff upper lip, old chum, and your inscrutable face intact.”
At that moment, regardless of the punishment meted out by the university, he knew he needed to plan how he would make amends. He practically choked every time he considered how he had come to the University robed in honor but had now replaced it with unendurable shame.
As the oldest son of the oldest male in a long line of an honor bound culture, he had no excuse for tainting the family name. True, he was thousands of miles from home in a culture that usually shrugged its shoulders at college indiscretions, but he knew distance was not a safety net as it might have been before telephones, fax machines, or even telegrams. He had been given the opportunity to gain advanced education at the European university. His uncle and other family members had sacrificed to meet the costs even though he had qualified for some scholarships. Those might even be at risk after this stunt.
If he were able to complete the program, he needed to increase his course load and finish faster to save the family any additional expenses. In the forthcoming discussion with his uncle, he planned to lay this out as one in a series of steps in his path to forgiveness. He also had been outlining for months a series of programs, a bit before their time, which could gather information in new ways and use his yet to be completed programs to make deterministic decisions. Technology that wasn’t available he could create. He had the brains, he had the dreams, and he had the tenacity to use what was available, stretching it to the limits, or create the rest. The cruel luck of this escapade was what made the focus of his next avenues become clearer.
Armed with the confidence of his plans and cash to pay for the privilege of using a semi-private telephone, he went to purchase his cellular phone. Until this time he had been confident enough to send long letters home at the end of each semester, along with his grades and class standing. Now a private conversation was needed, and to hear the voice of his uncle was critically important. Getting the device, some instructions and a plan that afforded international calling with a controllable cost element, he placed the call to his uncle’s offices, which were just beginning their day. When connected to the receptionist, he formally asked to be connected to his uncle.
His uncle answered quickly with concern in his voice. “My esteemed one, are you ill or in danger?”
“No, my uncle, but I am in trouble and need your forgiveness.”
With all the concern removed from his tone, he sternly replied, “Why would my ward and the son of my deceased brother need forgiveness? What have you done?”
He could feel the stern iciness in his uncle’s voice but was determined to petition for a second chance. As had been outlined in his head in his dorm room, he related the activities, point by point. There was no soft-pedaling on his culpability in the matter at hand as he related the activities to his uncle and sketched his go forward plans. After thirty minutes of one-way conversation, he went silent.
As the seconds stretched into minutes, concern heightened in the young man’s chest, threatening to crush his heart and stop his breathing. He finally could take no more as he begged, “Uncle, can you not speak to forgive me?”
“Silence!” his uncle demanded. “You have disgraced your family and your ancestors. There is no amount of planning you could do to rectify the steps already taken by you. You will never call here again or show your face to your former family. You are dead and gone. The funds you have in your account as of now is all you will get from me, ever. You will never amount to anything good or pure again. Do not embarrass this family again by using our name from this day forward. You chose dishonor as a life’s course, so make the transition complete and answer to another name. You are a ghost in shame and will be alone for eternity.”
With that last remark, his former uncle disconnected the call, as well as cast him out alone into the world. Each of the statements made by his uncle replayed in his head, growing colder and harsher each time he rewound the conversation. He made his way slowly back to his dorm room and replayed all the events that had led to his demise. As he finished packing his bags, turned out the light, and shut the door, he completely accepted that his past was now gone.
Those simple activities, coupled with the realization that his past had been stripped from him, had helped him reach a decision. As he stared into the night’s darkness, a new resolve grew within him. He announced loudly and with deep-seated conviction as he strode through the darkness toward the bus stop, “I will show you all! I have the patience to endure this obstacle, but I will win back my honor even if it is only for myself! A man without a past is free to reinvent himself into the image of his choosing! I will become the ghost, not mourn the loss, and I will win for my new family of me.”
In Breakfield and Burkey’s (The Enigma Gamers, 2016, etc.) latest series installment, predatory pricing in the commodity markets may be part of a much bigger and more sinister plan.
Mike Patrick, the CEO of multinational commodities broker ePETRO, notices a conspicuous increase in oil companies’ production numbers. It’s soon apparent that none of the companies are overproducing, so someone must be tampering with the figures. This scheme not only hurts the companies themselves by dropping commodity prices, but it also harms other firms that are developing renewable energy technology, as they could lose investments. Mike calls Jacob Michaels, who did security work for him before joining the R-Group, a family-owned and -run business that combats cyberattackers. An unnamed U.S. government agency also requests R-Group’s help in explaining the plummeting prices of oil and other materials, such as coal. Jacob immediately suspects that the culprit is a “Dark Matter Organization,” manipulating commodity markets for its own purpose. It turns out that a DMO is indeed responsible, and its leadership assigns an enforcer named LJ to make sure that no one identifies them or their “carefully orchestrated plan.” This puts both Jacob and his lover, Petra, in peril when they take their investigation to London. Readers new to the series may be intimidated by the many characters in Breakfield and Burkey’s book, most of whom are returning, such as R-Group veterans Otto, Wolfgang, and Quentin “Quip” Waters. But the authors handle their players as skillfully as casino dealers handle cards, and the various subplots are consistently engaging. The main storyline is energized by its formidable villains: LJ is dangerous, but his boss is unquestionably more so—a bad performance review, for example, can end in death. The authors also sprinkle welcome touches of romance throughout, involving quite a few couples—one of whom plans to get married. The humor is more subtle but equally satisfactory, such as Mike’s private insults regarding his boss, the ePETRO chairman.
Another exciting thriller entry in a series that shows no signs of slowing down.