Srepska

Srepska

by Lucas Sterling

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780999338704
Publisher: Nurrebbul Productions
Publication date: 09/23/2017
Pages: 236
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.54(d)

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Nairobi, Kenya

JULIUS OMENDA HAD no idea that the city had already fallen. He put on his good blue shirt, along with his tan pants. He'd gotten a stain yesterday, down on the back side of one leg when a clumsy British woman dropped his coffee. He'd scrubbed and scrubbed it, but it wouldn't come out. At least it wasn't too noticeable now.

As he combed his hair in the hall bathroom mirror, he thought back to what he watched on television last night. This panic about everybody's money worried him. His family back home depended on his wages and tips.

In the kitchen, the coffee cups and dishes from the day before were still piled in the sink. His roommate, who left earlier than he did, hadn't made coffee. Perhaps because he never came home last night. He probably was asked to work another shift in the kitchen at the Hotel Intercontinental.

Julius glanced down at his phone. He was expecting a confirmation text from the two groups that he was scheduled to pick up at the downtown Hilton. But there were no new messages. Even though he knew he hadn't missed anything, he checked the text messages in his archive. In passing, he glanced at the text message from several days earlier from the man who had lent him money to purchase his white Hi-Ace Toyota eight-seater van. It was yet another reminder that without a payment he would lose his van. The one he needed to drive tourists around.

As he jumped up into his van, his cellphone flashed the message: "searching for network connection." He angrily tossed the phone into the console, cursing under his breath. He glanced at the picture of his wife and young daughter taped on the dashboard. He cranked down the window to let in some air. Why did everything have to go wrong all at the same time?

His nose wrinkled, and he wondered what was causing the nauseating smell. Miles off, he saw smoke rising from large portions of downtown. What in the world was going on?

As he drove toward the highway, he noticed a lot more traffic than usual. Practically every car had several people crammed into it. The drivers of mopeds designed to carry only one person were carrying a passenger behind.

He made the decision to suddenly turn onto a minor road. It would likely be a faster route to the hotel. But that road wasn't much better — and then he reached a point where the traffic was hopelessly stopped. He couldn't go any farther. Like many others, he put his car in park and stood from the door to find out what was happening ahead. He felt a spark of fear as he spotted a crowd of men using wooden planks and pipes to smash windows and overturn cars up ahead. The smoke, he realized, must be coming from burning cars.

He covered his face with a cloth to help muffle the repulsive smell. Nearly all of the dozen cars that were on fire were government vehicles except for a late-model Lexus SUV. He reflectively buckled his knees to take cover the first time that he heard, over the shouts of the crowd, glass from a window break and hit the concrete. Then it happened again. And yet again.

"What is happening?" he asked a man driving an old car in a hotel uniform.

"I just need to get to my job," the stranger replied.

"I can't reach my family. The phones aren't working. I need to get to work today so I can afford to go home and see them. And I think this is the last tour I am giving. We are going to find a way to make ends meet where we can all live together, you know."

The stranger's face didn't change. Everybody had their own problems.

The traffic wasn't moving. Minutes turned into what felt like hours. Enough cars behind him — and ahead of him — had been abandoned that turning around was no longer an option.

He eventually pulled his van off into a parking lot that had more vehicles than parking spaces. He had to park more on the sidewalk than in the lot, but the thought of getting a parking ticket never crossed his mind. Every lane within eyesight was blocked with cars. As he locked the doors, he noticed several others sitting on the hoods or bumpers of their vehicles, smoking cigarettes.

He came upon a little cart with an umbrella over it. A teenager wearing a faded New York Mets t-shirt and khaki shorts was handing over a small cup of mixed fresh passion fruit and pineapples to a customer, accepting a couple bills in exchange. He went up to the stand and chatted up the seller. "You must be busy with all these people," he quipped as he pointed to a coconut. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a dollar. "Be thankful. My business is slower than ever these days."

"It will get better, man," the seller said, disinterested.

Julius kept walking, remembering that the promise of the next big series of groups kept him going. They always came, the tours that resulted in him hiring others to help. But when they came was difficult to predict. He had to be patient during the slow weeks as he waited for a phone call or email inquiring about his availability to conduct a tour.

Julius soon joined a group of people walking toward the city center. This was also where the Hilton was located. As he got closer, the crowd grew louder and bolder. Yet he was pleased to realize that he wasn't the only passive bystander. Despite what the crazy activity would suggest, only a small minority was instigating the chaos. Everyone else was trying to ignore them.

Julius took out his phone and recorded video of all that was happening. He could not readily tell who was leading the riot, if anyone was.

He followed the crowds, heading in a westerly direction. Soon he reached the State House, the traditional home of the president of Kenya. He didn't have a good view, but he could hear people shaking the gates in front of the presidential residence. Soon, the loud clangs of metal pipes being swung against the metal gate eclipsed the chanting of the crowds.

A television in a window of a coffee shop that amazingly was unscathed was playing CNN. He poked his head up to the window and saw that the news was covering what was happening in Kenya. "In Kenya, from farmers being paid for crops to ordinary citizens paying everyday expenses, the cellphone is the tool of choice. Many farmers and workers are paid via a transfer of money to their phone, which is in turn used to pay everyday bills. For Kenyans, the cellphone is basically their bank account, as only about ten percent of the population have a traditional checking or savings account. The Central Bank estimates that around forty percent of the nation's monthly gross domestic product is transferred using cellphones. Cellphones have largely replaced cash as the medium of payment for everyday people in this African nation," the anchor said.

The TV showed footage of people banging on the doors to get into the governmental complex downtown, some distance away from where he was. The footage showed how some people had begun attacking the iron bars around the windows with sledgehammers.

"The throngs in the streets are becoming angrier, louder, and harder to control. A fire is burning in a large bank building across from the governmental complex. The headquarters for the phone company is also on fire. Fire trucks cannot get to the buildings because the throngs of people are keeping the fire trucks a safe distance away."

"We are seeing what happens when cellphones, which happens to be where a sizable percentage of the population keeps their money, suddenly doesn't work. Stay tuned as this story continues to develop."

Julius took his eyes off the television as he heard loud arguing at the check-out counter. From the back and forth, he realized that the neatly dressed person seeking to make the transaction needed food for an elderly diabetic mother, yet he had no cash. And, his credit card could not be processed to pay for the transaction.

Julius turned around and headed out. As he did, a young man stuck a sign in his hands. "March with us to take back your country."

Julius dropped the sign instantly. "I want no part of this," he said. "This is insane. I cannot work, I cannot earn money. This is all crazy talk."

The man yelled to his compatriots, "We have a government plant here. He doesn't want us to succeed. He wants us to be taken advantage of ..."

"Take the sign!" another man said.

Julius repeated what he said earlier. "How am I supposed to take care of my family with all this?" he shouted as he pointed his finger in the man's face.

Another in the group quickly approached Julius from behind as he was arguing and swung a two-by-four at his head. One swing was followed by several more swings, even after Julius had crumpled to the ground, helpless.

The marching and shouting went on, all captured on cameras from an independent tele-journalist who would soon sell the footage to BBC. "A man has been savagely beaten for merely not going along with the protesters. It is too early to determine if he is dead or alive."

Srepska had claimed another victim.

CHAPTER 2

OVER FIVE THOUSAND miles away from the erupting chaos in Kenya, Fredric Ulrich maneuvered his white carbon-fiber road bike through the traffic in Munich. To his left cars whizzed by him, some so close that he could feel being pulled toward them. With all the maniacs on this autobahn, he didn't want to end up as road kill.

The GPS unit on his bike showed that he had finished his sixty minutes. Fredric, wearing a thick yellow long-sleeve vest and compression bike pants, had covered the equivalent of twenty-two miles on this ride. That was the kind of fast pace he liked. There was no snow, although the splotches of sand and salt on the pavement were testament to recent snow that had since melted. Braving the cold for a midday workout gave him a nice edge. That way he could survive much worse.

Fredric veered off the highway and biked a half-mile along a quiet road to an office park. He sped through an intersection just as the light turned red and smiled. A last burst of freedom before joining the grind.

With the skyline of Munich visible in the distance, Fredric approached a building that resembled a random distribution center. It had no signs on the outside. Only a few windows dotted the façade of the building, and they were lined with bars. Nothing made the building notable enough to draw attention.

Fredric pedaled along the fence surrounding the perimeter of the building and its parking lot, which was filled with cars. The fence was the biggest giveaway that the building was somehow different from any others in this industrial complex. That, and all the cars. If only more people biked to work like I do, it occurred to him there wouldn't be so many cars in the parking lot.

Fredric biked up to the little guard station at the parking lot entrance and flashed his ID. The guard waved hello, and the guard rail lifted so he could wheel on through. He drove up to a nondescript door and unclipped his shoes from the bike. He carried the bike over one shoulder as he walked in, making loud clicks on the floor with the large cleats on the bottom of the cycling shoes. He looked askance at a discarded candy bar wrapper, a glaring omission in this spotless place.

He stared ahead to the clear plastic barrier. I wish the plastic doors could just sense me coming and slide forward. He walked halfway through a turnstile, setting off a blue light flashing on the clear plastic side walls. He took off his sunglasses and stared down into a black box with a clear plastic cover. He then scanned his ID badge over a reader. Quickly, the doors opened.

On the wall inside, the logo of an outstretched bird with the words Bundesnachrichtendienst circling it hung prominently on the wall. This phrase stood for the German intelligence agency BND.

He was heading to the building's gym to shower and change when he saw a man twenty years older, dressed in a turtleneck sweater and sports coat, stood stiffly waiting for him.

Walter Schneider barked tonelessly, "Come to my office as soon as you can. We are going to have a meeting there in twenty minutes." He regarded the bicycle with distaste. "By the way, you'll be flying out tonight, so you better stow that securely."

"Is this a formal meeting or just you and me?" Fredric asked.

Schneider did not answer the question. "Go," he coldly replied.

You'd get more love out of a stone, Fredric thought as he went downstairs to the gym to shower and get ready. He was a stocky six-footer with a square face, piercing blue eyes, and short black hair. He didn't take care of his body like he used to. He had built his well-developed chest and arm muscles, and equally thick thighs, in the German armed forces. But for the past few years he'd been hitting the bottle, leading to a faint beer belly.

Within twenty minutes, he was dressed in a pair of crisp blue jeans and a heavy black sweater. He went to his small office cubicle and tossed his gym bag under his desk. Unsleeping his computer to check for messages, he saw "Zhivago," a jazz tune by Kurt Rosenwinkel, still mounted on the screen.

As he entered the cramped office of his boss, he was the only one not carrying a pen or pencil. He didn't need one as his ability to recall details precisely was unrivaled by any one of the spies in the room. His boss was sitting at his conference table with two senior-level officials. Fredric pulled up a chair and sat down, directly facing his boss, looking for cues of what might be happening. He looks uncomfortable, Fredric thought.

"We have a new job for you, Fredric. Budapest. Tonight. And, it's exactly your type of assignment — one where you get complete freedom to carry out the mission without worrying about guidance on how to proceed from us."

Fredric ignored the sarcasm. "Oh, I get it. Send me off to Budapest in the dead of winter. This is a punitive assignment, because of that blown tip in Hamburg?" His soft, airy voice belied his intimidating presence.

Walter Schneider shook his head. "We really do need you for this assignment. You're good with numbers, with tech. We have a possible disaster on our hands, and I want you to find out what the hell is going on. Do you think you can manage that?"

Barbara Nahles, a special assistant to the agency director, spoke up. "Have you been paying attention to the civil disorder in Kenya?"

Fredric nodded, not sure what this was supposed to mean to him.

"What happened there poses a significant potential risk for Germany's economy. It looks like the problem started as a brazen attack in cyberspace. Only these weren't just hackers. Their well-organized attack quickly destabilized the government. Germany could be next. We need you to figure out who is responsible and why."

She shuffled through several file folders in front of her. "Here it is," she finally remarked. "Here is the report on the situation: 'After the cyber-attack, no one could access the funds on their accounts because their phones showed that the balance was zero. People could not pay for their groceries because merchants said that there was no money on their cellphone account. Even large corporations in Kenya were shocked to find that the balance in their domestic bank accounts was zero, where there would normally be millions in cash reserves."

She continued reading. "The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has offered to discuss options to aid the government to help keep its financial house together. The major cellphone company, which is owned by a large telecommunications giant in London, issued a statement: 'Everyone will be made whole soon. We will issue service credits and waive fees for everyone who was impacted. We are finding the source of the issues impacting our operations in Kenya and will resolve them soon. We will make everyone whole.'"

She chuckled and everyone laughed. That was obviously a load of PR nonsense.

Fredric asked, "Question one: who benefits from what is happening? And that leads me to question two, why Budapest should be my starting point."

Schneider took back the reins. "The signals intelligence group in Department 2 flagged some chatter coming from gamers in Budapest in the days leading up to the breakdown in Kenya. It got on their radar screen because the phrases and words they were using triggered the algorithm we use. They were suggesting something big would happen. The chatter wasn't clear. Those same gamers then hijacked mainframes of telecommunications companies in Kenya and took them offline. The main guy they were watching said he was booking a flight to Berlin. Maybe Berlin was a code name. You know, it could be the proxy for the city that they were flying to. But we don't know for sure."

"Video gamers?" Fredric asked with raised eyebrows.

"Yes. Our unit that focuses on cyber-surveillance uses online games to identify bad guys. You know, virtual community-based games like World of Warcraft, EverQuest, or SecondLife. They are perfect covers for evil actors because everyone is already using an assumed identity. Not to mention that many gamers use person-to-person transfer services to transfer money fast."

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Srepska"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Lucas Sterling.
Excerpted by permission of Nurrebul Productions.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Srepska 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Literary_Titan More than 1 year ago
Explosions and mayhem make up the introduction to Lucas Sterling's debut novel, Srepska, immediately throwing the reader into the after effects of a massive cyber attack in Kenya. Personal, business, and federal accounts have been digitally looted leading to a state of emergency. Fearing repeat on a larger scale, Agent Frederic Ulrich is tasked with seeking out those responsible, though the feared group 'Srepska' is immediately suspect. The scant bread crumb trail points to the U.S. as the next target, but a possible mole leaves Agent Ulrich unsure of friend or foe. With the aid of Lars Christopherson, he must find a way to inform and prevent the next attack. Srepska is definitely deserving of it's place in the action genre. Lucas Sterling brings to the table an adrenaline packed story that is made all the more intense by it's relatability. Set in modern day, the Information Age as we like to call it, Srepska is a story you could very well see taking place in our own reality, the focus being a cyber attack. The suspense is therefore intensified given the fact that such attacks in the long scheme of things are still fairly new, meaning effective defenses are still being regularly updated and changed. This is felt throughout the book by many of the characters, with concern on how to combat such a threat that initially seems faceless. We follow Frederic Ulrich and Lars Christopherson through the story as they team up to put a stop to things. Sterling presents us with two characters very strong in their trade. We are treated to an inside look to their jobs, but the characters themselves lack some dimension. This could be due to how fast paced the story is, moving from action to suspense and back again in quick succession, leaving little room for character development.  Following the bread crumb trail of clues is exciting given how so many countries have been after this group for so long. Things just seemed to fall in to place too easily in some respects. And I felt that there were some sections where settings were over explained, when all I wanted to do was to get back to what this novel does best, the action! All in all, Lucas Sterling's Srepska is quite the page turner. The fast pacing keeps the reader engaged and the highly relatable and believable content adds to the feeling of suspense, leaving the reader all the more eager to see the success of the main characters in their goals. A very exciting read!