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PRINT: The Dyson File (SIGNED Trade Paperback)

PRINT: The Dyson File (SIGNED Trade Paperback)

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Book Five in the Gordian Division series. Published by Baen Books.

About this premium SIGNED TRADE PAPERBACK:

Signed by Jacob Holo. Contact us at holowriting (at) for personalization requests.

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NEW GORDIAN DIVISION NOVEL: When a top engineer on Saturn commits suicide, Detective Isaac Cho and Special Agent Susan Cantrell are called in to review the case. But what seems like an open-and-shut case spirals into the strange. And if Cho and Cantrell don't solve the mystery soon, they may be the next ones to wind up dead.

The Atlas Corporation was all set to tear apart the planet Mercury—converting its resources into a swarm of solar-collecting megastructures—when Esteban Velasco, lead Atlas engineer, is found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

Detective Isaac Cho and Special Agent Susan Cantrell, both eager to return to active duty despite close calls on their last case, are sent in to assess the situation. Their superiors expect a simple declaration of suicide, but Velasco’s death proves anything but typical.

The detectives soon find themselves embroiled in a mystery far more complex—and strange—than anyone expected, leading them to a church for Mercury-loving weirdos, a “nudist” colony open to Saturn’s unbreathable atmosphere, an exclusive park for hunting dinosaurs, and a ghost town where forgotten machines wage war over condo floorplans.

What was meant to be an easy return to duty for the detectives takes a sudden dark turn when ruthless mind-hackers ambush and nearly kill them, making one fact crystal clear:

If they don’t solve this case soon, it’ll be their corpses that turn up next.


"The Dyson File rocks." —David Weber, NYT best-selling author of the Honor Harrington and Safehold series

"In The Dyson File, the far-future SF elements are (thank goodness) far more than window-dressing. Instead, they permeate the investigation on every level, creating an increasingly complex and very satisfying police procedural." —Jane Lindskold, NYT best-selling author of the Firekeeper Saga

"The Dyson File is a fun and engaging science fiction mystery, but it was the wild moments of the main characters' highly relatable lives that made me laugh out loud so many times while reading this delightful book!" —Joelle Presby, best-selling coauthor of The Road to Hell and author of The Dabare Snake Launcher

“Legwork, interrogations, shady corporate interests, gangsters, and raids gone bad, The Dyson File is as real as it gets.” —Griffin Barber, 20 year veteran of the SFPD and author

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Enjoy a sample from THE DYSON FILE


“A dark and stormy night,” the man uttered with a deep frown. “How appropriate.”

He gazed through outward-slanted windows to the black, roiling thunderheads. Ferocious streaks of lightning revealed the caramel hues of ammonia ice clouds, and a dusting of ammonia snow melted off the window’s vacuum-insulated outer layer.

Technically, it wasn’t night at all. Not according to his wetware’s internal clock, but that was because Saturn’s ten-hour-and-forty-two-minute days were ill-suited to the biorhythms of organic citizens, leading most places in and around the gas giant to follow an Earth-centric calendar.

The man harrumphed, took a sip from his wine glass, and continued to gaze out the window with heavily lidded eyes. The skin of his round face was pale and slightly moist, his salt-and-pepper hair oily and uncombed. He wore a dark green suit—mostly because he had to for the party—though the garment’s precise tailoring seemed to hang off his slouched shoulders in a slovenly manner, as if both he and the suit didn’t want to be there.

His dynamic scarf hung around his neck like a thick piece of limp linguini, its surface animated with a looping pattern of abstract shapes in muted colors.

He raised the wine glass to his lips once more.

His name was Esteban Velasco, Senior Macrotech Engineer for the Atlas Corporation, and though he stood on the cusp of his greatest achievement, his brooding demeanor and unkempt appearance hinted at the dark thoughts within his mind.

A distant bluish light drew his eyes, partially obscured by the ammonia clouds. The source of the light was a tall floating megastructure called Janus-Epimetheus, named in honor of the two moons demolished during its construction. The locals called it the “Shark Fin,” for it did indeed resemble a brilliantly white downturned fin, though one that measured over one hundred kilometers tall and flared at the top into an expansive oval plateau two hundred kilometers across and fifty wide.

Velasco couldn’t make out much beyond a distant silhouette haloed by a faint aura created by the lights from external buildings and short-ranged craft, all obscured behind the churning storm clouds. The powerful glow from its banks of nine massive engines—aligned in compact triplets vertically along the megastructure’s trailing edge—grew brighter as it made what was probably a minor course correction through the comparatively gentle winds of Saturn’s fortieth northern parallel.

The senior engineer stood on the bottom floor of the Atlas mobile headquarters as it floated through the storm, trailing Janus-Epimetheus on its endless journey around Saturn. The building resembled a miniscule silver top drifting behind the giant, downturned fin.

Velasco raised the wine glass to his lips once more, but then paused and stared into the golden, bubbly fluid. His wetware interfaced with the glass, and an infographic for the beverage appeared in his virtual vision beside it. He skimmed over the summary.

It was an expensive wine. Not synthesized within the miniaturized chemical factory of a food printer, but produced the old-fashioned way, starting with grapes grown in a vineyard. A Saturnite vineyard, in this case. The infographic said the drink had been imported from Old Frontier, a large agricultural city located about two-thirds of the way down the Shark Fin.

“Boaz broke out the good stuff tonight,” Velasco muttered to himself. “A shame.”

He relaxed his hand, and the glass slipped from his fingers. At this altitude, Saturn’s mass produced a natural 1.065 gravities, and the glass fell to the floor much as it would have if he’d let go on Earth. It bounced once and rolled until it stopped against the outward slant of the window, leaving an expensive streak on the self-cleaning carpet.

“What the hell, butterfingers?” sniggered a man behind Velasco. “Can’t handle a few drinks?”

Velasco let out a weary sigh.

“This is all I need right now,” he grumbled under his breath.

“You say something? I’m sorry, but I’m having trouble understanding you over your booze slur.”

Velasco turned around—slowly and with great lack of enthusiasm—to face Leon Traczyk, another macrotech engineer, though not as senior as himself.

The two formed a stark contrast. Traczyk stood half a head taller than Velasco, with impeccable posture, chin held high as he looked down his nose at the other man. His tawny mane was slicked back, without a hair out of place, and his beard was neatly trimmed and combed. He wore a crimson business suit with a diamond pattern alternating between lighter and darker shades, accentuated by a large ruby at his throat.

The suit didn’t look very fashionable to Velasco, but knowing Traczyk, the pattern was probably based on some new Lunarian or Jovian fashion trend. Behind him, the party was in full swing. Around seventy people from Atlas’ senior staff mingled in the wide half-moon space at the bottom of the mobile headquarters. Catering drones weaved through the crowd, offering drinks and hors d’oeuvres, while their boss, Julian Boaz, climbed up onto a raised dais at the back, perhaps in preparation for a speech.

“Leon,” Velasco grunted to his coworker.

“Esteban,” Traczyk replied with a smirk.

“Don’t you have anyone else to pester?”

“‘Pester’? Don’t be absurd. Can’t I stop by simply to say hello?” He raised his wine with a twinkle in his eyes. “I’d offer you another glass, but it seems you’ve already had enough.”

Velasco didn’t say anything. He simply stared at the other man, his face sullen and his eyes dark with secret intent. Traczyk, while annoying and overly ambitious in a boardroom-backstabbing sort of way, had been reduced to the equivalent of white noise in his frayed mind.

Traczyk snapped his fingers in front of Velasco’s face. The senior engineer wasn’t sure how much time had passed.

“Something wrong with you?” Traczyk asked, then smiled. “Perhaps you should seriously consider retirement. Or at least a sabbatical.”

Velasco locked eyes with the younger man. “Why don’t you say what’s really on your mind?”

“Where’s this coming from?” Traczyk shifted uneasily from one foot to the other, perhaps taken aback by his colleague’s sudden directness.

“Go on and say it,” Velasco taunted. “Unless you’re afraid to.”

“Afraid?” Traczyk’s face reddened and his voice grew softer, yet more forceful at the same time. “Listen here.” He jabbed Velasco’s chest with a finger. “Everyone here might think we won the contract because of you, but I know the truth. I was in the trenches each night trying to hold your sorry excuse for a design together. The boss is about to get up on that stage, and I’m sure he’s going to shower you with praise. Praise everyone else thinks you’ve earned, but the truth is you didn’t earn shit. You know it, and I know it. I carried your worthless, deadbeat carcass across the finish line. I did! That should be me he’s about to recognize. Not a has-been like you!”

Velasco let Traczyk’s scorn pour off him like the pointless bleating it was.

“Well, I wouldn’t worry too much,” he replied evenly. “I have a feeling you’re about to get exactly what you’ve wanted all this time.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“You’ll see.”

Traczyk frowned as Velasco slid past him. He weaved through the crowd, heading in the general direction of the room’s center.

Julian Boaz, Atlas CEO, stood on the dais and surveyed the crowd. He was a big, bald, broad-shouldered man that exuded an air of approachability despite his physical stature and position within the company. He surveyed the crowd with warm eyes and an affable smile, though Velasco knew those features masked his real personality. Boaz could put on whatever friendly airs he wanted, but he knew—and had been on the receiving end—of the man’s ruthless nature. All Boaz wanted was to see Atlas on top, and he didn’t care who got caught in the grinding treads of their progress, be it their competitors or the company’s own engineers, programmers, and physicists.

“Ladies and gentlemen!” Boaz began. “Your attention please!”

The room grew quiet, and all eyes focused on the CEO.

Boaz held out a cupped hand, and an abstract document materialized over it.

“I have here the letter from the Senate’s Megastructure Subcommittee. I won’t bore you by reading through all the legalese, but suffice it to say, Atlas has been awarded the Dyson Realization Project. We did it, people! We’re the ones who’ll go down in history as the builders of the very first Dyson swarm!”

A cheer rose from the crowd.

“I know this project has had its ups and downs. I was so proud of all of you when our bid was selected as one of the two finalists”—he paused for dramatic effect—“alongside SourceCode.”

Someone in the crowd booed, and Boaz chuckled on stage.

“Now, now. Let’s all keep it classy. Our competitors have had a very bad day.”

The crowd laughed in agreement.

“And, in a way, what they’re going through now isn’t all that different from what we faced earlier this year. I know I shared everyone’s shock and disappointment when our first major replication trial was sabotaged.”

Sure, you did, Velasco thought. Which was why you called me to your office afterward and screamed in my face for an hour straight. I still remember the flecks of spittle hitting my eyes.

“But all of that is behind us now,” Boaz continued. “Our design—and design team—came out on top. In fact”—he wore a sly grin and held up a finger—“I’ve got something of a treat for everyone. A . . . friend, shall we say, on the subcommittee passed us a video from SourceCode’s botched trial. Who’d like to see it?”

The crowd cheered and laughed.

Velasco felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Hey, Esteban?” asked a soft, concerned voice, the sound cutting through the cheers by using his virtual hearing.

Velasco turned to find Horace Pangu, a senior consultant on the project, standing next to him. The slender man possessed a narrow face with sunken cheeks and sharp, dark eyes that nonetheless exuded a sense of warmth and genuine concern. He wore a subdued dark blue suit with a slowly changing starscape on his scarf.

“You okay?” Pangu asked, giving Velasco’s shoulder a friendly squeeze.

“I’m fine,” Velasco lied.

“You sure? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

Velasco winced at the word “ghost” before he could catch himself. He tried to pass the gesture off as a shrug.

“Something wrong?” Pangu asked.

“It’s nothing. Just a lot on my mind.”

“Want to talk about it? We can slip away while Boaz isn’t looking.”

“No, thanks. Maybe later.”

“Okay, but you know my door is always open.”

“Thanks, Wiz.” Velasco gave the man a thin smile. “I know it is.”

“Get a load of what happens next!” Boaz crowed as the video played at high speed in a virtual window behind the dais.

Velasco had missed the start of the video, but he knew how the trial would play out. SourceCode’s design utilized microbot swarms to reassemble raw material into components for the Dyson project. One of their swarm seeds had been fired at a test asteroid from a SourceCode construction cruiser, which also played host to the megastructure subcommittee and members of the press.

The initial deconstruction and replication phase had gone well enough, with the swarm reaching ten times its initial size before the first errors occurred. It should have stopped at that population level and switched from replication to construction, but instead the swarm continued to self-replicate. SourceCode engineers had attempted to halt the rampant replication, but unidentified errors prevented the shutdown command from being accepted, and the swarm continued expanding at an exponential rate until the entire asteroid had been converted into self-replicating microbots.

And then the situation grew worse. The swarm began ejecting spores at nearby objects, which included the SourceCode cruiser and the government guests inside. Microbots began to eat through the ship’s outer hull, forcing the subcommittee to call for aid. It had taken a concerted effort from six Consolidated System Police cruisers to rescue the crew and contain the outbreak.

No one had been hurt in the accident, but in the following days the subcommittee passed a motion to disqualify SourceCode, resulting in the contract being awarded to Atlas by default, despite their own mishap earlier that year.

Velasco watched the video play out almost absently, as if he were experiencing events from outside his own body. It didn’t seem real to him, and yet paradoxically it felt more real than his own flesh and blood. His mind didn’t second-guess what the video showed, didn’t question how SourceCode had failed so spectacularly. Instead, it accepted the images as the pure, unfiltered truth they were.

Because he knew the swarm had done exactly what it had been configured to do.

“Wow!” Boaz put a splayed hand to his chest. “What a disaster! I thought replication was in SourceCode’s wheelhouse, but this makes it look like they’re experts at replicating failure!”

The CEO’s captive audience laughed at his lame joke with the enthusiasm of people who looked forward to continued employment and who enjoyed receiving large Esteem bonuses.

“Good one, sir!” Traczyk shouted above the crowd.

Velasco would have rolled his eyes if he’d cared enough.

But he didn’t.

None of this mattered anymore. Not the project. And certainly not the inane office politics.

He turned away from the dais and weaved through the crowd until he found himself on the edge of the room near the windows. He followed a path along the windows, which took him out of the half-moon hall and down a curved corridor with windows on one side. The executive floor of the mobile headquarters was split into two sections: the open half-moon hall and an equally large area split into about a dozen executive offices, including his own.

He palmed the door lock. Programmable-steel split open and he stepped inside.

His desk was a mess. Plates, eating utensils, and empty food wrappers littered the surface, stacked precariously high and shoved to either side in a vain attempt to form enough empty space in the center to work.

Abstract technical sheets were pinned in the air over his desk, and more hovered against the back wall, covering it from end to end in macrotech diagrams, programming language, simulations, and other documents of his trade. It must have looked like a chaotic mess to any outsider, but he knew where to find every file, even with his eyes closed.

A potted plant sat next to his desk as a reminder of one of the company’s “Personal Wellness Measures.” It was brown and dead. A few dry leaves lay on the floor, though most had been removed by the self-cleaning carpet.

He rounded his desk and collapsed into the programmable-foam of his chair. The foam morphed to support his body for maximum comfort, but it brought him no relief today.

He dismissed the abstract diagrams and stared blankly across his desk at the door he’d walked through. The door and the wall appeared as a thin crosshatch over an abstract view of the windows. The virtual imagery let everyone know that, yes, there was indeed a wall there, but here, have a nice view of the outside.

The storm had picked up, whipping flakes of snow against the pane while distant lightning forked from cloud to cloud. The blinking lights of a quadcopter flew past on its way to Janus.

“Enough,” he said after a long pause.

He set his jaw and unlocked the bottom drawer of his desk. He pulled it back and gazed down at the pistol. It was a Popular Arsenals PA7 “Judicator” heavy pistol, loaded with explosive-tipped rounds. There weren’t many civilian threats the weapon couldn’t handle.

He took it out and placed it in the center of his desk, adjusted it so the barrel aimed to the side. He wasn’t supposed to keep a weapon like this in the office. But then, there were a lot of other things he shouldn’t have done.

He’d spoken to no one about what he planned to do next. That, in a way, had been the easiest part. He’d become skilled at keeping secrets, given the company he’d kept recently and the truths they’d shared. This was but one last omission, one he felt no urge to share, lest people try to persuade him otherwise, to urge him back from the precipice.

Deep down, he knew he was running away. Someone stronger would face this problem head on, but not him. There was no fight left in him. Only weary resignation.

The only way through . . . he thought to himself, is out.

He picked up the gun and sent the keycode that unlocked its safeties.

The weapon was armed now.

His heartbeat quickened.

He licked his suddenly dry lips, turned the gun inward, and opened his mouth. He stuck the barrel down his throat, gagged a little, tried to take a calming breath through his nose, but gagged again and withdrew the weapon.

He stared at the gun once more, heart pounding in his chest.

“I just want out,” he said mournfully.

He placed the barrel back into his mouth, closed his eyes, took one last deep breath—

—then pulled the trigger.