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PRINT: The Weltall File (SIGNED Mass Market Paperback)

PRINT: The Weltall File (SIGNED Mass Market Paperback)

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


Signed by both David Weber and Jacob Holo. Contact us at holowriting (at) for personalization requests.

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A mystery in the Gordian Division universe.

The Weltall Tournament’s professional VR games were supposed to be a symbol of cooperation between SysGov and its militaristic neighbor, the Admin. But that was before star Admin player Elly Sako received a death threat, written in blood next to a copy of her own severed head. The Admin’s Department of Temporal Investigation swiftly seizes control of the crime scene, and the tournament transforms into a flashpoint of charged politics and conflicting jurisdictions.

SysPol Detective Isaac Cho and DTI Special Agent Susan Cantrell—partners in the officer exchange program—are sent in to take charge of the investigation and bring the situation under control. But solving this mystery won’t be easy, and the pair struggles to determine who is telling the truth. A jilted relationship between players soon explodes into signs of a far-reaching conspiracy, and the two detectives find themselves racing against time before the tournament ends.

Because the killer will be the only one who wins, should they fail.


“. . .moments of humor amid the expected culture clashes, and the exploration of the authors’ well-realized far-future world. . .It’s pure entertainment.” —Publishers Weekly on The Janus File

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Enjoy a sample from THE WELTALL FILE


“You dumped me for a fucking tin man?!” Grafton Lacan spat from just outside the open hotel suite door.

Elly Sako crossed her arms underneath her breasts, shook her head at him like a disapproving parent, then sighed wearily and even gave the idiot a roll of her eyes for good measure. She stood at the threshold, weight centered over her back leg, dressed in a pair of sweatpants and a baggy T-shirt while water dripped from her short, black hair. She tried to avoid public appearances while looking this frumpy, but the hotel hallway was private enough, and Lacan had arrived—uninvited—at her door moments after she’d finished her shower, so it wasn’t like she had much of a choice.

Except for ignoring him. Which, in hindsight, might have been the better option.

A glistening lock fell over her eyes, and she combed it back with her fingers.

Lacan stared at her with his reddened, teary, uncomposed, and utterly unattractive eyes. Moist trails rain down his cheeks, and his lower lip quivered. He seemed like a different person now, no longer the cocky young man with the gorgeous blonde braid, the mischievous baby blues, and those wonderfully adventurous hands of his. Those physical traits remained, of course, but they no longer added up to the same total anymore. Somewhere along the way, the vibrant young man she’d bedded during the Admin’s universal qualifier had been replaced with this sniveling, emotional wreck standing before her, a wreck that insisted on having a pointless heart-to-heart when all she wanted to do was go to take a nap!


Lacan sniffled. Not in a subtle way either, but loud enough for her to hear suction moving viscous snot further back up his nasal cavity.

“Seriously?” Sako raised an eyebrow at him. “Of all the things you could say to me, that’s what you picked?”

“He’s not even flesh and blood!” Lacan whined.

“Oh, please,” she scolded, her patience growing thin. “His mommy carried him in her womb, same as our moms did. He just transitioned into a synthoid, is all, and not that long ago either. Besides, I didn’t ‘dump’ you. That’s what I’ve been trying to drill through your thick skull! There was never anything to dump. It was a harmless diversion. Nothing more.”

“A diversion?” He sucked in some more snot. “Is that all I mean to you?”

“Well, yeah.” She shrugged her shoulders. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.”

“But I love you!”

She sighed, put a delicate hand to her forehead, and rubbed her brow.

Fuck. Me.

He’d used the L-word. Why in Yanluo’s burning hells did he have to toss that loaded word into the conversation?

You really should have seen this coming, she thought to herself.

She’d known Lacan wouldn’t take this news well, and to a certain degree, the blame for that fell on her. After all, he’d used the L-word once or twice or…five times before? She wasn’t sure, but she also had failed to make her own feelings clear at the time. In her defense, she’d been too busy saying things like “Yes! Harder! Like that!” to really concentrate on the long-term consequence of her nonexistent reply.

And so here we are. Fuck.

She’d known he’d take the news poorly—it was one of the reasons why she wanted to be done with him—but she never suspected he’d handle it this poorly, good grief! Honestly, she would have preferred not to say anything, instead letting him shuffle around blindly until he stumbled into the truth on his own. But he could be so dense, and then he’d wanted to try out sex in zero gravity on the way over, and so she’d made the nature of their relationship—or, more specifically, their lack of a relationship—crystal clear to him.

But now we’re having this blasted heart-to-heart, or whatever he wants to call it.

“Do you actually love him?” he blubbered.

“Oh, grow up.” Sako sighed heavily, frustration welling up within her. “How much clearer do you want me to make this?” She cupped her mouth and leaned toward him. “It’s none of your business!”

“It is my business! I love you!”

“Well, I don’t love you!” She shrugged her arms. “Sorry, but not sorry. What the hell do you want me to do about it?”

“Is this all I mean to you?”

“Oh, please!” she scoffed. “You’re acting like we were married or something. You were a quick fling, Lacan, nothing more! It was fun while it lasted, but you know what? It’s over now! Move on, already! I certainly have!”

“He’s behind this, isn’t he!” He pointed an unsteady finger at her. “He’s trying to drive a wedge between us!”

“No, he’s not!” she snapped, her frustration boiling over into anger.

“And how would you know that?”

“Because I’d choose him over you any day of the week, you fucking idiot!” she snapped, and immediately regretted her words. She’d wanted to end this stupid and pointless shouting match, but instead the sniveling wreck he’d become morphed before her eyes into a font of indignant rage. His back straightened, eyes ablaze with an inner fire, and he took a step toward her and poked her collar bone with a finger.

“Then why don’t you do him already!” he bellowed in her face.

“No fucking need!” She flashed a condescending smirk.

“And why’s that?” he shouted.

“Because I already did!” She glared at him with fierce, unflinching eyes.

“Fuck you!”

“Been there, done that,” she countered. “And you know what? He’s a better lover than you’ll ever be!”

“Then you’d better enjoy it while it lasts! Because next time I see him, I’m going to rip off his metal dick! And then, I’m going to find you and use it to beat the living shit out of y—”

“Excuse me.”

The newcomer’s voice was not particularly loud or forceful. Quite the opposite, in fact. It was almost a whisper, though it had the immediate effect of silencing both Lacan and Sako. Not because of his soft voice or simple words, but because of the body those words originated from.

Neither of them had noticed Agent Miguel Pérez’s quiet arrival. The hotel hallway bent in a gentle curve, and Pérez stood just far enough around it that Lacan had to back up and turn to face him while Sako had to peek her head out past the threshold. Pérez’s synthoid body was tall and broad shouldered with gray skin and yellow eyes, harkening from a time when closed-minded fools like Lacan were far more common throughout the Admin and the public had demanded these artificial supersoldiers be distinct from flesh-and-blood humans. He wore the blue uniform of an Admin Peacekeeper, peaked cap fitted neatly on his head, and a heavy sidearm at his hip.

“Is something wrong?” Pérez asked, as if he were unaware of their hormone-fueled shouting match. “If so, may I be of assistance?”

Sako hadn’t heard him approach. Granted, she’d been preoccupied, but Pérez moved quietly for such a big man, synthetic or not.

“Umm. I, uhh…” Lacan sputtered, backing off, the fury gone from his eyes.

“Yes,” Sako answered.

Pérez nodded to her. “What seems to be the problem, Miss Sako?”

“Lacan and I were engaged in what you might call a…” She smiled suddenly. “A scholarly debate.”

“A debate, is it?”

“Yes. Perhaps you could help us sort it all out.”

“Well, I’ll certainly try. What’s the subject?”

She flashed a toothy grin. “Synthoid genitalia.”

“I see,” he replied in a tone more appropriate to discussing the weather than his own synthetic anatomy. “I suppose, of the three of us, I can rightfully claim to be the expert on that front.”

“Wonderful!” She clapped her hands together. “You see, Lacan seems to believe male synthoids in SysGov have metal dicks.”

“Ah. Well, that’s a bit different, then. I can’t claim any direct experience with SysGov synthoids, though I can certainly share what I’ve heard.”

“Oh, do tell,” she said brightly. “I’d love to hear your take on this.”

Lacan glared at her use of the word “love.”

“Perhaps we could have that discussion some other time,” Pérez said. “Agent Arlot?”

“Sir!” A second gray-skinned synthoid stepped forward. She hadn’t heard this one either. She stuck her head out further and glanced down the hallway, wondering if Pérez had a whole squad of synthoids waiting nearby, but the rest of the hallway was empty as far back as she could see.

“I believe Mister Lacan would like an escort back to his suite.” Pérez faced the young man. “Isn’t that right, sir?”

“I…” Lacan’s face twisted in a snarl, as if he were about to lash out at her again, but instead he let out a sharp exhale and looked away. “Fine. I’m done here.”

“Very good, sir,” Pérez said. “Arlot?”

“This way, sir.”

Arlot stepped up behind Lacan and gestured down the hall with an open palm.

Lacan glanced over to Sako one last time, grief and rage swirling in his eyes like a tempest. His lips cracked open, as if he wanted to get in one last word, but then he shook his head and stomped off with Arlot close behind.

Sako waited for him to disappear beyond the hallway’s curve, and then she let out a long, tired sigh.

“Thanks, Pérez.”

“My pleasure. Now, before I head out—”

“Oh no!” Her eyes twinkled at him. “You’re not getting off that easily!”

“Excuse me?”

“You still owe me an answer.” She leaned her shoulder against the doorjamb. “What exactly have you heard about SysGov synthoids?”


“Come on. This is important cultural information.” She spread her arms. “Lay the truth on me, baby!”

“It’s more along the lines of secondhand testimony than truth.”

“Yeah, yeah.” She made a shooing gesture. “Just get to the good stuff.”

“Well,” he said with a brief, resigned exhale. “If you must know, it’s my understanding that the cosmetics on SysGov synthoids, genitals included, are comparable to our own newer models. I doubt most people could tell the difference between a synthoid and an organic body, even under”—he smiled ever so slightly—“close, personal inspection.”

“Yeah, that sounds about right.” She nodded, but then tilted her head. “Wait a second. You said ‘most.’”

“Just something I’ve heard while working with the people over here,” Pérez continued.

“Anything juicy?” she pressed.

“I suppose a little. Truth be told, I haven’t witnessed one myself, but I hear the people from this universe’s Oort cloud are quite…adventurous in the kinds of bodies they inhabit.”

“Adventurous how?”

“I’m afraid that’s the limit of my knowledge. You’ll have to ask someone else if you’re still curious.”

“I just might do that.” She stepped away from the door and was about to palm it shut when Pérez placed his hand in the way.

“Actually, that’s not what I was about to say.” His eyes flicked past her. “I need to check your room.”

“What? Again?


“What the hell for? One of your minions checked it like, I don’t know, half an hour ago.”

“True, but the perimeter has been compromised.”

“Come again?”

“You opened the door.”

“Oh, good grief!” She rubbed her forehead.

“I’m sorry, but these are the rules. You opened the door, so now I need to sweep your room again.”

“But I was standing at the door the whole time!”

“There are plenty of miniaturized drones that could have escaped your notice, just to name one possibility.”

“Do you really think our hosts would be that nefarious?”

“Doesn’t matter what I think. These are the rules. I just follow them.”

“Can’t this wait?” She yawned into her fist.

“Isn’t it a little early in the day to be yawning?”

“Yeah, well, I was up partying all night before the flight over to Luna.” She paused, and then grimaced. “I mean the flight over to this Luna. Which was a flight from our Luna.” She crossed her arms. “You know what I mean?”

“Yes, I know exactly what you mean.”

She nodded at the remark. The Admin’s Department of Temporal Investigation was handling all their transportation and security needs, which meant Pérez and his minions were all veterans of the DTI’s counterterrorism ops. Never mind that the “temporal” part of their name was something of a misnomer nowadays, since the DTI had expanded its role to regulate both temporal and transdimensional travel to and from the Admin’s True Present, as well as taken the lead on foreign relations with SysGov.

“Okay, fine.” She stepped back and waved him in. “Just hurry up and secure my perimeter again, or whatever you want to call it.”

“Thank you. This won’t take long.”

Pérez took a device off his belt shaped like a stubby baton then walked past her and closed the door. He began a slow circuit of the room, holding the baton in front of him, occasionally raising or lowering it. It took longer than she’d have liked because this wasn’t the only room in her suite, which sprawled over three floors and included four bedrooms, its own gravity lift to get between floors, a three-story waterfall along the back, and a private pool shaped like a giant leaf on top! She wasn’t sure what their hosts thought she needed so much space and luxury for, but she wasn’t about to complain.

She rested her back against the wall and yawned again, her thoughts wandering as she waited for Pérez to finish his sweep.

Am I doing the right thing? she asked herself, and not for the first time, though her thoughts always led her back to the same answer, the same firm resolve to see where it all would lead. She didn’t know what the future held, but Opportunity or Fate or Good Fortune or Whatever-You-Wanted-To-Call-It had knocked at her door, and she’d answered.

The risks, though. And the reactions people would have…

What would my parents say? she wondered. Hell, what would everyone in both universes think of what I’m about to do?

She wasn’t on an Admin planet or moon, where even the strange possessed a certain comfortable familiarity. She was in a different universe, with laws and culture all its own! The scope and wonder and alienness of this place boggled her mind. This Luna had open air beaches, for crying out loud!


On Earth’s moon!

And that was hardly the most amazing spectacle over here. For one, her first experience with something as fantastical as artificial gravity had been when the grav tube had whisked her away to her hotel suite! What other marvels lurked around the corners of this society? And, more importantly, what treacherous pitfalls lay ahead, ready to snare her?

Because, after all, she was in a realm of powers and authority she had no true concept of.

And yet she was about to—

“All done,” Pérez said, walking over. “Thank you for your patience.”

She looked up at him wordlessly, and the two stood in silence for long seconds.

“Miss Sako?” he asked at last.

“Sorry.” She blinked and shook her head. “Lost in my own head.”

“Perhaps a nap might help refresh you. You don’t want to be drowsy for the finals tomorrow.”

“Well, I was about to take a nap, but Lacan showed up and then you had to secure the perimeter, and well…”

“Yes, yes. I’ll be going now.” Pérez opened the door, stepped through, then gave her a curt nod. “Have a pleasant day.”

“You, too.”

The door closed, and her exaggerated fatigue melted away. She walked purposefully over to the kitchen.

That was another thing about this place. The suite had a kitchen, of all things, but the hotel had also installed a high-end food printer, so why would anyone bother manually preparing their meals?

She picked her infosystem wearable off the counter and slipped the band around her wrist. Secure protocols in the wearable interfaced with her Personal Implant Network and translated the surrounding SysGov infostructure for her virtual senses. Artwork appeared over blank white walls, showing picturesque views from across the terraformed Luna, and a menu materialized beside the food printer.

She loaded the prepared order on her wearable, confirmed it, then leaned against the island counter in the middle of the kitchen. The timer ticked down, and she connected to the surrounding infostructure while she waited, sending a query for any news on the Weltall Tournament.

A segment from a news stream called the Nectaris Daily pulsed at the top of her search list, and she selected it and let the virtual presentation unfold around her. She smiled thinly as she watched an abstraction of herself taking her first steps in SysGov.

The DTI chronoport filled her virtual vision like a giant, looming manta ray with weapon pods slung under its delta wing and a ramp extending down from its armored belly. The virtual image of herself led the party down the ramp, waving and smiling at the press and tournament officials assembled in the hangar. The other five players formed a loose gaggle behind her with Pérez and another synthoid pulling up the rear.

Wong Fei and the other two SysGov finalists were returning from a two-week sight-seeing tour around Earth in the Admin, which she and the Admin players had accompanied them on.

He was a tall, handsome man with a dignified but not arrogant air about him and a pleasant, barely-there smile. His cool, dark eyes swept his surroundings studiously. He kept his dark hair short, which made him stand out from Admin men with their long braids or ponytails or hair spilling over their shoulders, but she kind of liked it. That and all the other ways he was different.

It was…refreshing.

Especially after Lacan’s blithering lack of self-control.

The thought drew her eyes to Lacan near the back of the players. Everyone else was waving and smiling, even the normally dour Shingo Masuda from the Admin’s Earth. But not Lacan. Instead, he glared at his perceived rival’s back. If his eyes had been lasers, they would have burned a hole through the back of Wong Fei’s head.

“Love,” she scoffed. “Ha!”

Her time together with Wong Fei had been short—barely a month since she first saw him at the universal qualifier—but it had also been dense, and once again a nervous flutter within her chest made her question if she was doing the right thing.

She pushed her doubts down, locking them away in her heart.

The food printer beeped, and she closed the news abstraction and pushed off the counter to walk over. Mechanisms built into the wall shifted her order up to the delivery port, the circular panel irised open, and a tray extended out—

But instead of food, the tray held a severed head atop a white plate. The head was her own, down to the very last detail, even though it couldn’t be. Her own eyes were rolled back into their sockets, and her own tongue lolled out of a loose, lifeless jaw. Words written in blood formed an arch before the severed head, and it took her wearable a moment to translate the SysGov version of English into her own.

The gory message read: LEAVE OR DIE.