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The Enigma Gamers - A CATS Tale
Cyber extortion has surfaced from the dark net. Businesses & cities are invaded by gaming avatars escaping their virtual landscape. Who’s behind this ransomware trap? The Enigma GamersCATS team, led by Julie & Juan, is committed to administering justice to evil doers in every corner of the real and virtual worlds. Breakfield and Burkey take readers into our grittier technology dependent world.
Chapter 1 – So far and yet so very near
The drone of the commercial aircraft was unmistakable, though First Class was undeniably quieter than the Coach seats behind the engines. Conversations were muted, or passengers dozed. The distinctive aromatic smell of heated nuts wafted from the forward galley. The aircraft had almost reached the cruising altitude that would allow comfort services to begin. They were on the last leg of the long flight from Zurich to Macau. Juan had grumbled about taking a trip so far away, but Julie had sold him with her vivid description of the small peninsula across the Pearl River Delta from Hong Kong. As Portuguese overseas territory until 1999, it reflected an extraordinary mix of Portuguese and Chinese influences. What seemed to put the glint in Juan’s eye was its nickname, the Las Vegas of Asia.
Macau was one of Julie’s favorite places, but she had never gone for pleasure, only for work purposes. Julie, also known as JAC or Cyber Assassin Julie at work, had originally visited the city to meet with Ling Po. Julie had been hooked the first time she walked over the beautiful black sand on Hac Sa Beach with her thick light brown hair ruffled by the breeze. Her legs, which made up most of her 1.7 meters, gobbled up the sand as she’d traveled to her destination.
Since then, Julie had maintained her overall agility with the martial arts training sessions with Juan and chasing after their twins. That seemed a lifetime ago. Even now, she carried almost no fat on her supple body, just the way Juan liked it. She was delighted with their current lifestyles even though it had some elements of risk in their professional endeavors.
So much had happened since the last trip she’d made to Macau. It felt as if she were looking through an entirely different lens. She and Juan had started their own business, known as the Cyber Assassin Technology Services or CATS team, shortly after they were married. Their business was supported by her family’s business yet thrived nicely on its own merit. She leaned back into her seat to relax as the fragments of the history and in-between events went through her mind.
Julie, adopted as a baby, had grown up as part of a family which was part of an ongoing business formed during World War II that now stretched around the world. The business, which was referred to by the family and close associates as the R-Group, had interests in real estate, finance, technology, security, and information resources. Their clientele were both private elite families, initially serviced post-World War II, and public entities including Interpol and the intelligence agencies of various countries. The primary pillars of the R-Group were to uphold the rights of the individuals or governments that stood for freedom and justice.
Originally, the family founders, three daring young men, had taken a copy of the Enigma Machine. These intelligent and resourceful men had joined their skills to slightly modify the device and then had used it to undermine the German Nazis through encryption of information shared in just the right places. Though many of the core family members had changed over the years, the foundational beliefs of the operations had not. Their span of power and influence had increased though much of the operation was only known within the family business.
Juan and Julie had met during an R-Group assignment where Julie had worked to locate an heiress, Lara Bernardes. Lara, the head of a now successful fashion house of Brazil, was also the love of Juan’s brother, Carlos. Julie had provided both Juan and Carlos with new identities at the end of that assignment, though he had mightily protested erasure of his past.
Juan, the crazy flyboy, had captured Julie’s heart with his quick wit and ability to unconditionally love her. She knew she was in love with Juan when she had beat him in a martial arts challenge at a gym. He told great stories, kept his cool under pressure, loved their twin children, and was deliciously passionate.
Julie glanced over to her resting partner. His thick ebony hair was a nice topping to his nearly 1.83 meters of rippling muscles and clean-shaven face. When he smiled, she had no doubts that he adored her. Julie was known for her never ending smile and leveraged it often with her delightful male, as well as in some undercover roles. As if aware of her stare, Juan’s hand reached over and gently cradled her hand in his with a slight smile appearing on his generous lips. If they weren’t on a commercial flight with people all around, she might have started something, hoping Juan would finish it.
Juan rested comfortably against the window and almost dozed, though he was aware of his surroundings. It was odd to be flying somewhere and not piloting the aircraft. The feeling of Julie’s hand in his, warm and soft, was not exactly the scenario he had been thinking about, but it would do until they reached the resort. Julie had told him that the resort offered more private and scenic rooms than the large, over-crowded casino hotel. But a promise to go and check out the gambling at some point was fine with him. Juan liked to gamble a bit and had even brought some of his reserves from his Pre-Julie Mexico investments to play, thus presenting no risk to their business. The business was doing well, and Juan knew that Julie’s family had money, but it was something they were building together for their family dynasty.
Juan missed the twins, Gracie and Juan Jr., with their constant babbling and laughter. Regardless, he was going to make the most of four days alone with his beautiful wife, partner, and love of his heart, right next to him where she belonged. He opened his eyes at the sounds of services beginning, and Julie rewarded him with one of her megawatt smiles. He toasted them when their wine was served and knew he was very lucky to have her.
Julie and Juan were laughing while they deplaned, finally at their destination. Their driver was there with the correct placard on display as they walked outside. Julie’s father, Otto, who was enjoying the time with his grandchildren almost as much as her mother, Haddy, had insisted they have a driver on call so they could go anywhere, anytime without needing to worry about the vehicle itself. It had been his gift for them to enjoy.
Otto, as one of the primary heads of the R-Group, rarely took time off, but the twins seemed to somehow make it easier to set aside those responsibilities. Maude was the children’s full time governess, but Haddy and Otto insisted on staying to enjoy Gracie and Juan Jr. in peace. Their time with the twins was also being referred to as the Grand Spoiling Time. Julie chuckled as her fruit phone indicated another text message with likely a candid photo arrival. Her giggles erupted anew as she showed the picture to Juan, and he laughed too.
Their driver, Chen Lee, smiled as he greeted them and proceeded to tell them, in his perfect English, that his name meant morning. His non-stop oration included the points-of-interest they drove past, things he liked, his family, and how much he approved of their choice of the beach front villa that afforded privacy. Privacy and seclusion was expensive and limited in Macau. Chen was lean and a bit shorter than Julie but had a welcoming smile and a twinkle in his dark eyes that reminded Julie of espresso. Chen boasted about his twelve children, and Juan privately remarked that working must be the only time Chen was able to speak, so Chen obviously made the most of it. After delivering them to their villa and making certain the arrangements were in place, Chen indicated he would pick them up that evening for dinner. At their request he promised to provide several options for after-dinner activities.
Their room was magnificent! The floor to ceiling windows dominated the two sides reaching into the corner with a breathtaking view of the water and a view of the city. Quiet music was in the air but gentle like a breeze. The furniture was sparse with the oversized bed, covered in white and ivory silk covers and overflowing with huge pillows, as the dominating feature. Bold-colored silk flowers offset the whites and ivories of the interior and bedding. The bathroom contained a shower as well as a four-person, sunken Jacuzzi with a private window view toward the sea. Everything was elegant and yet seemed practical to a fault.
Juan called for room service while Julie made quick work of unpacking and settling into the luxurious suite. Room service had already arrived when Julie emerged from the bathroom. She was comfortably garbed in the almost-bikini that perfectly matched the blue in her sapphire and diamond wedding ring. Ahead of where she walked, she spread fairies of light across the room as the sun caught the surfaces of her ring.
Juan leered at her, grinned and then groaned, “My darling, if you keep dressing like that we will never see more of Macau than this room.”
Julie wagged a finger toward Juan as she firmly explained, “Juan, we need to establish some rules. I want to go curl my toes in the black sand and perhaps bring back just a little for our kids. I want to swim with you in the South China Sea and enjoy all the historical sites with you.” Then she insisted, “Juan, you need to behave.”
He handed her a glass of champagne and raised his to toast to them both. Juan grinned then replied, “Sweetheart, it is far too late to start trying to establish rules. I will of course behave as your servant and lover. All your wants will be fulfilled as will mine. Then, I promise, we will see about the sights on your list.”
He pulled her close as they sipped the wine. The glasses were magically resting on the table empty as Julie found herself horizontal on the giant bed with Juan leaning over her with a familiar look of passion burning in his eyes.
“We have not been alone in far too long, my beautiful wife.” Running his hands over her skin that somehow had lost the minor inconveniences of the bikini, he continued, “Your skin is so soft, so smooth, and well, so kissable.”
Juan kissed her lips and every available inch of her body, while she returned the kisses and the touches, lost in the wonder of the magic they shared. She had never felt as much heat or ardent pleasure as she did when he had her in his arms. Juan knew all the right places to touch and lick until she begged for him to get closer and deeper.
“Sweet Mercy,” he groused as her inner thigh muscles clamped down on him as she pushed her hips up against his to continue the pleasure, “why did I wait so long to finish.”
Another female might have been insulted at the comments had she not known, heart and soul, that to this point he had only considered her fulfillment and her pleasure. He had repeatedly given her everything she wanted and needed. He cared about her satisfaction in a way that was absolute until the precise moment when it shifted to being about him. He allowed her to be on top and drive him to the end of the precipice as he pulled her bottom into him, growing bigger and harder with each thrust until they both felt as if they were launched into space and flying. Afterward they tumbled as an entwined pair and drifted into a soft slumber after their exhausting lovemaking.
Minutes or hours later, Julie murmured, “We really need to see the sights while we are here.”
Juan shifted them slightly and gripped her a bit closer as he whispered, “From my perspective, the sights are perfect from here.”
In this spinoff of Breakfield and Burkey's (The Enigma Always, 2015, etc.) techno-thriller series, someone's hacking companies and places with automated services and demanding ransoms.
Julie Rodríguez plays her part in family-run information/security organization R-Group, but her latest job is being handled by her own Cyber Assassin Technology Services. CATS is keeping an eye on a number of hacked computer systems and corresponding demands for money. There may be a pattern, as each incident involves tampering with an automated process. The Consortium of mines in Australia, for example, loses control of its digital mining equipment, while U.S. airline Fast Flyers' fully automated flight service confronts problems like a website erroneously promising free travel. Julie and her pilot husband, Juan, dispatch CATS members around the globe, including Brayson Morris, who's in Spain to help Baby Perez, mayor of the ultramodern, digitized Smart City. Meanwhile, the persons behind the cyberattacks are, it seems, little more than gamers--Russian Dmitry Vasnev and Chairman Chang in Macau, China--engaged in a serious competition on their respective supercomputers. The CATS team tries to regain access to the machinery or networks but is encumbered by people's willingness to abide by the hackers' ultimatums. Julie and company race to track the source as the ransom deadlines approach. The authors wisely chose cyberassassin Julie as a focus, as she's one of the series' best characters. Though it's a bit disappointing that she doesn't get more of the spotlight, the story provides excellent coverage of the hacked systems and the team's varying degrees of success--one business pays the ransom and effectively terminates its contract with CATS. An unmistakable distinction from preceding books is evident, primarily a lighter tone. There's concentration on Julie and Juan's intimacy, for example, as well as relative distance between Dmitry and Chang's game and its real-world consequences. Still, grim events build anticipation; a crew's work on nonoperational vehicles proves lethal, and even Juan faces trouble, with his plane losing a battle with a hijacked drone. Readers returning to the series will appreciate recognizable faces, while the authors' comprehensive back story gives newbies a warm welcome.
A cyberattack tale that's superb as both a continuation of a series and a promising start in an entirely new direction.