Project Xerxes Preview and Lots of Starfield

A sneak preview of the upcoming science fiction novella Project Xerxes (Lost Colonies Book 0). Starfield. Oooohhh, Starfield. SPSFC3. Food. A special auction for a special person. Red Rising, Wool, and more!

A ship and astronaut on an icy planet backlit by a brilliant sun and black, starry sky.
Screenshot from Starfield by Bethesda.

Despite all the craziness out there, it's been a good month. My half-brother visited from Pennsylvania, so I took him to some of my favorite Bay Area restaurants (including Yummy Szechuan, Robin, and Copra), to meet my mom for the first time, then out to see my other brother for a first-ever all-brother get-together in June Lake. Sad to see him go, but we had a blast. On top of that, Baldur's Gate 3 and Starfield have made it difficult to get any writing done. Glad to say that Starfield is every bit as engaging as I'd hoped it would be. I'm sooooo happy I upgraded my gaming PC last year, because that game really needs it. The feature image is a breathtaking view that fell in my lap while exploring a planet.

Okay, I may have snuck some writing in there. Project Xerxes is about halfway done, although I did have an "Oops!" moment when I realized I'd used the wrong spelling (Xerces vs Xerxes). All fixed now. I've also been learning about rock climbing, which is the choice hobby of the Protagonist, Emra, and something I've never done personally. Still some more research to do to make it feel authentic, but I'm getting there. Learning is part of the fun! Check out the sneak peek of Project Xerxes below, which includes a taste of Emra's climbing prowess.

In other exciting news, Holtondome has been accepted into the third-annual Self-Published Science Fiction Competition! My book has been assigned to the Sciencefiction.news team. No idea if it will progress to the semi-finals, but I can dream. Wish me luck! 😇

In this newsletter

  • Project Xerxes — Sneak Preview
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  • Other Authors You Might Like

Project Xerxes — Sneak Preview

Chapter One Excerpt

Project Xerxes (Lost Colonies Book 0) is a work-in-progress novella introducing the new Lost Colonies series, set 10,000 years in the future far from Earth. Enigma (Lost Colonies Book 1) takes place on a different planet than the protagonist's home world, which felt a shame because it has so much promise and culture to offer.

So I decided to write an optional novella centered on a side character, Commander Telawani, who ends up sacrificing her treasured career to help the protagonists. The novella gives insight into why Telawani's career is so important to her, while also introducing the reader to the main protagonist's home planet, Galileo. Project Xerxes has a few other surprises that I won't spoil here, but if you enjoy world building and deep culture immersion, the novella will be released ahead of Book 1 as a free download to newsletter subscribers, and will be a good spoiler-free introduction to the Lost Colonies universe.

Also, I'm trying a new book-like format for excerpts. Feedback welcome.

Enjoy!


A human shadow whisked over Emra’s steaming afternoon tea. She and her commanding officer jumped out of their chairs an instant before a burly man in Marine uniform crashed onto their table. Delicate china shattered under his back, splattering tea in an outward fan, and squashing their half-eaten finger sandwiches into pancakes.

The man who’d thrown him—also a Marine—dove toward him, fingers outstretched.

A full year of executive officer training burst from Emra’s throat. “Marines! Atten-sion!

The attacking Marine stopped mid-dive. His brown eyes took in her Space Force uniform, and dismissed her just as quickly.

Typical, Emra thought. She would have reacted the same if an officer from a different military branch had barked an order, but it still irked her.

He lunged again for the man on the table. A swift front kick from Emra knocked him sideways before he reached his target, if barely. Stars, it felt like kicking a rolling boulder.

“Marine! Stand down!

He faced her and lowered into a defensive crouch. Emra did the same, swallowing a pang of fear. She stood zero chance against a Marine in hand-to-hand combat. His smarmy grin said he knew it.

But she was an Executive Officer. She couldn’t just stand by and let these two endanger innocent civilians, even if they belonged to a competing military branch with a long, competitive history.

Commander Gherig circled around the Marine’s other side, also crouched for combat. Although not quite as fit as Emra, the commanding officer of the Galilean Starship Infinitum looked intimidating nonetheless. Galileo’s sun glistened from his short, graying hair, and from the sweat on his brown skin.

The Marine backed a few paces away, a smart move to avoid being flanked. He glanced at the patch on Gherig’s shoulder, identical in rank to Emra’s, except for the command insignia. A smile crossed his face that she liked not one bit.

He started for Emra. She hopped lithely out of the way, but it turned out to be a feint. Gherig closed from behind to grapple, only to be met by the Marine’s fist in his gullet. Wind exploded from her commanding officer, who doubled over and sank to his knees.

Emra harbored no love for the man, but the sight boiled her blood anyway. There was a big difference between not liking her hard-nosed CO, and not caring when some cocky turdball Marine assaulted him. She spared a moment to send an alert through her ’ware to the military police, along with a snapshot of the Marine’s scarred face.

Then she shrieked a battle cry and charged.

She expected to hit a meat-wall of resistance. Instead, the bastard flashed an infuriating grin and ran.

Emra chased after him, dodging tables and leaping benches through the busy marketplace. Had they been on military grounds, she might have yelled for someone to stop him. But anyone crazy enough to belt an officer was nobody she wanted tangling with civilians.

“Pardon me. Pardon! Coming through!” Emra zigged and twisted through the crowded square, barking half-hearted apologies, while keeping a sharp eye on the retreating Marine. Thankfully, he proceeded with almost as much caution, which slowed him down just as much.

At least he isn’t a complete nutjob.

As if to prove her wrong, the Marine hopped a short wall and barreled through a crowded outdoor restaurant. Emra hesitated only a moment; if she didn’t follow, she would need to take the long way around, and would surely lose him.

Which is undoubtedly his plan.

Gritting her teeth, Emra hopped the wall.

A message appeared on her optics.

Welcome back to Cafe Saturnus, Commander Telawani! How many in your party?

“Just passing through,” Emra said curtly. Her ’ware sent it as a message.

Thank you for visiting. The dining area is private property. For normal foot traffic, please use the public sidewalks outside of the dividing walls.

“Noted.”

Cafe Saturnus and its patrons appreciate your courtesy.

Emra accidentally hip-checked a lady’s chair on her mad flight through the cafe. The woman spat her tea across the table in a loud, unappetizing spray.

“Sorry,” Emra said.

She returned her eyes to her prize only to find a waist-high serving bot rolling in front of her. She leaped headlong over the tray of food sitting on its flat top, curled into a forward roll, and kept running.

The Marine, who’d encountered no such obstacles, flashed an infuriating smirk back at her, then dashed out the exit.

Oh! You son-of-a…

Emra sprinted ahead, more determined than ever to catch and detain him before the MPs did.

And, Uu’nok take him, I won’t be gentle.

She brushed by a pair of white coats on her way out. They were fold scientists, she guessed from the word “gravimetric” that caught her ear. The smartest of the smart, which on Galileo was saying something. She tipped a respectful nod back at them, then resumed her chase through the crowd outside.

The Marine slid through the throng with a grace belying his large frame. Even when he reached the street, he dodged between scoot traffic as if he’d been training for it his entire life. The scoots predictably stopped the moment he set foot in the lane. Passengers gawked at the dangerous, brazen, and quite illegal act of jaywalking, then again when Emra dashed after him.

One scoot apparently hadn’t detected her and started forward. She twisted in time to avoid the passenger standing on the small platform. He teetered, but the two-wheeled vehicle zipped sideways to help him stabilize. Emra mumbled an apology and kept running.

What am I doing?

The MPs would catch the Marine soon, and then he would be their problem. He’d assaulted an officer. If that didn’t end his career, it would land him in prison, and might even lead to a demotion or dishonorable discharge. Emra tackling him wouldn’t change that.

But the officer he’d assaulted had been hers. Pride was a powerful motivator; it gave the noblest of people false permission to perform ignoble acts, like trespassing through crowded restaurants and causing traffic accidents, in the name of some higher, fabricated ideal.

It was alluring. Blinding. And it propelled Emra as surely as if the Uu’nok were nipping at her boots.

Through the foot traffic, she spotted the Marine heading for a long, crowded stairway cut into the red-rock stone. According to her ’ware, those stairs were the fastest way up to Upper Nova Veritas. The nearest escalator was two hundred meters east, and likely just as crowded.

“Pardon, pardon, excuse me,” she heard him say ahead, squeezing past the climbers with polite but reckless speed.

Damnit!

She would never catch him at this rate. She needed a shortcut.

Emra dismissed the pursuit path suggested by her ’ware, then turned off her optics to fully focus on her surroundings. The stairs cut east-to-west, then angled north. A sheer, unscalable wall of white marble faced her. The supporting wall running north-to-south, however, sported a faux natural texture, complete with jutting rocks at semi-regular intervals.

Perfect for climbing.

While the Marine slowly pushed and excused his way up the stairs, Emra dashed left. As she’d hoped, a vacant garden of flowered succulents abutted the rocky wall.

She raised her foot to step onto the soil, but paused. Her headlong pursuit through the restaurant may or may not count as trespassing, but trampling a public garden definitely would be.

The ’wares of at least fifty people would record her crime. She would be charged. How much was her selfish pride worth?

A child cried from high above, followed by another “pardon” from the Marine.

Emra sprinted through the garden, snapping leaves and bending stalks with every step. The Marine was willfully endangering civilians. A few plants were a small sacrifice to stop him from hurting anyone else.

She paused at the rear wall and looked up. The top of the stairs towered three hundred meters above. Could Emra scale faster than the Marine could muscle through the crowd?

Let’s find out.

Emra grabbed two rocks above her head, locked another under her right foot, and began her ascent. A familiar thrill surged through her: the challenge of using nothing but the power of her own body to conquer Galileo itself.

The ground below shrank smaller and smaller. Emra spared it not a glance and concentrated wholly on the rhythm of her movements. She would normally wear a safety harness for a sheer climb like this. If she fell, even her ’ware’s auto-healing wouldn’t save her, nor would the best physicians be able to piece her together.

This was true freedom.

Galileo’s merciless sun beat down upon her. Sweat drenched her from head to toe. Oh, what she wouldn’t have given for a cool breeze, or a single cloud. But monsoon season was still months away; she may as well have wished to be back on Earth, where it supposedly rained year-round, covering most of the planet in lush green vegetation. Assuming, of course, the Uu’nok hadn’t completely destroyed it after the colony ships had fled.

She shook her head. That was ten thousand years ago. Even if the Uu’nok had devastated her ancestral home, the planet may well have recovered by now.

With the recent perfection of space-fold travel—the Uu’nok technology her ancestors had used to get to Galileo—she idly wondered if Galilean scientists were already planning a return to Earth, but dismissed it just as quickly. Humanity’s dramatic escape had been a one-in-a-million play. While even a chance remained that the Uu’nok still occupied Earth, Galileo wouldn’t risk exposing their location to a follow-up invasion. None of the colony planets would.

Well, none that we’ve reconnected with, anyway.

Of the nine colony ships that had scattered across the galaxy during the Exodus, Galileo had thus far discovered only three. Granted, space fold technology was younger than Emra; they still had a mind-boggling amount of the galaxy left to search, while hoping against hope they didn’t accidentally stumble across the Uu’nok again.

Sad that the only intelligent life we’ve ever encountered seemed hell-bent on destroying us.

How extensive was the Uu’nok’s territory? Even the white coats could only guess.

But more importantly, what sort of technology might the undiscovered colony ships have developed over the last ten millennia that may finally be a match for the Uu’nok? Galilean tech was superior to that of Vice, Entropia, and Fortunus, which didn’t bode well for the five colonies they had yet to discover, although it was difficult to guess how many of them may have already perished.

Who knows? Maybe we four colonies are all that survived. The last remnants of humanity, scattered across the galaxy.

Emra’s foot slipped, yanking her from her musings.

This was no time for daydreaming. She had a wall to conquer, and a miscreant to catch. She redoubled her grip, carefully replanted her boot, and resumed her ascent.

A glance below showed a crowd had formed at the edge of the garden. They pointed up at her with hushed awe. Stars, they looked so small. She’d climbed a long way in a very short time.

Could be a new personal record.

But it would mean nothing if she didn’t beat that Marine to the top.

“Hey!” a woman shouted from the stairs above, to Emra’s right. “Be careful!”

Fantastic. She was still ahead of him, but not by much. Another ten meters and she would reach the stairway entrance. It would be close.

Tempted as she was to sprint the remaining climb, Emra maintained her steady pace. She wore no harness, no safety equipment. A fall from this height would be her last. Neither the Marine nor Emra’s professional pride were worth dying for.

At long last, her hand crested the guard wall and clutched the railing on the other side. Curious murmurs became gasps when she heaved herself up and over, then landed with surprisingly steady feet on the stairs. She ignored their inquiries about her wellbeing and glanced down the stairs. A series of startled exclamations told her she’d beat him, if only by a few meters.

The Marine pushed between a couple holding hands, and nearly tripped when he saw Emra standing in his path.

“How on Galileo…?”

“GSF training,” Emra said, struggling not to sneer.


Yay, she caught him!

Or did she? Fortunately, you won't have long to wait. Project Xerxes will be ready soon. As a subscriber, you'll be the first to know when it's available, and will be able to download it free.

If you enjoyed this preview, please share the love and forward this email to (or share the web link with) your sci-fi-loving friends!

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Then recently, during a long road trip, my brother began playing the Audible version. What rankled me in print felt perfectly natural as an audiobook. Go figure! Sadly, the road trip wasn't quite long enough, so I bought the e-book and will finish it the old fashioned way.

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