Below is an excerpt of By Gods Damned and Bounty Blessed by Nathan Crowder, from the Have Blaster, Will Travel anthology. This anthology is a collection of high-space adventure stories in the Bulldogs! universe. Right now we have a Kickstarter going on to fund the print run of the anthology. We’ve already reached our first goal, and if we reach our second goal of $3,000, we plan on adding three more writers to the project!
If you like what you read here today, and want to read the rest of the story, you can contribute at the $8 level and receive all of the stories in the anthology in an electronic format. $20 gets you the softcover copy of the book, and higher levels of support include the hardcover book, t-shirts, patches and even a Transgalaxy flight jacket! Other writers on this project include Greg Stolze, Nathan Lowell, Eddy Webb, Gareth Skarka, Jared Axelrod, Christiana Ellis, and Mur Lafferty.
We hope you enjoy this excerpt of By Gods Damned and Bounty Blessed:
By Gods Damned and Bounty Blessed
Ogra wouldn’t call it love, but Myyryawl had fought fang and claw next to her for two years of her contract on the Gynn Aquatina, and in the arena that counted for something. On other planets—other ships—the two might have been rivals or even enemies. Ryjyllians such as Myyryawl were known throughout the Frontier Zone as honorable warriors, feared and respected. But Ogra was Hacragorkan, and thus regarded as little more than a space-worthy savage who just liked to fight. Even she had to admit that it was a fair assessment at the time. Yet the aging Ryjyllian engineer took Ogra under his wing when she signed on, a former pit-fighter with dreams of chasing bounties across the Frontier Zone. On a five-year loss-opt contract with Trans Galaxy, working Class-D cargo, finding someone like Myyryawl saved her life in more ways than she could name. No, it wasn’t love. But deep within her leathery green breast of the hard-as-nails bounty hunter, it was something close—something like family.
Her Ryjyllian mentor deserved a warrior’s death. With the kinds of jobs the Gynn Aquatina took, he was damn near guaranteed one, until a conman named Reeve Sklarr took that away from him.
“You must really need the money to go after a bounty this small,” Seth Eck quipped behind her. She glanced over her meaty shoulder, having momentarily forgotten the Aquatina’s newest crewmember had been sent with her. She saw him, framed between the delicate spirals of two ember-mite nests on the path behind her. The trail up from the port was thick with the things, and she made a note to be long gone before sunset and the pernicious pests woke up.
Seth seemed oblivious to the uniform structures, as if they were sculptures or natural rock formations barely up to his chin. That made him a little tall for an Arsubaran, but still a full head shorter than her, and probably half her mass. His skin was the color of an over-ripe Kulufruit, and without scar or blemish. After five missions and seven combats, Ogra had yet to see the kid fight. She scowled and turned back to the path. “Some things are more important than money.”
Under the oppressive azure sky, his reedy voice seemed to carry far too well. “The sheet said something about him selling inferior grade tech?”
Ogra knew the bounty sheet for Reeve Sklarr like it was tattooed amid the writhing black vine pattern on her left arm. It had been her highest priority search at every port the Gynn Aquatina hit since Myyryawl’s death. She could still smell the ozone and burning hair from the cybernetic eye that shorted and set her friend’s skull on fire from the inside. “Cybernetic implants, kid. He set up on the edge of war-zones and sold knock-off and inferior grade cybernetics that he installed himself—for a fat fee, of course.”
There was a pause as Seth thought it over. “I wouldn’t think there’s much call for that around these parts. I heard N’vida is a small mining operation.”
“Different angle this time,” Ogra said, her broad jaw clenched as she made out the low, flat roofs of the encampment before them. Her info said N’vida only had about a hundred people there, almost all Arsubaran. The town looked like it could handle twice that many residents at least. “I’m told Sklarr found religion.”
“Religion?” Seth stopped walking, forcing Ogra to choose between stopping or leaving him behind.
She sighed before half-turning to face him. “Apparently, he’s a messiah or something.” She tried figuring out why the sensor operator looked so conflicted by the news. His arms hung straight down at his sides, fingertips almost to the hem of the ridiculous oversized red coat he always wore, with sleeves that would have been baggy on a giant. Then she remembered. “Weren’t you with a church on that planet where we hired you?”
Seth swallowed hard. “I was…am…I am a priest.”
Well, Orga thought, maybe that explains why he’s avoided fights. Funny it hadn’t really come up before now. “And now you’re a Class-D sensor operator. That’s quite the demotion.”
“It’s a big universe. There are countless faiths. How do you know Reeve Sklarr isn’t a legitimate messiah?”
Ogra blinked, caught off guard by the question. “I guess I don’t. But his God better not get in my way, because I have a bounty to collect.” She turned and pressed on, her long stride faster now that she had her destination in sight. She’d be damned if she had to take that path with an unconscious bounty over one shoulder and ember-mites trying to get into her boots.
After a few seconds, Seth jogged after her.
Once she spent a few minutes scanning the rough homes made of scrap wood and shipping containers through her binoculars, Ogra was able to identify Sklarr’s likely hidey hole. There were only two buildings too large to be the homes of struggling miners. One flaunted wide open windows and a flickering neon sign of a bar. The other was more conservative, a simple wooden structure backed up against a low hill and with no adornment other than multi-paned windows along the side. The frugality suggested it was a church, while the expensive convertible low-altitude flyer parked nearby meant money. If Reeve Sklarr wasn’t there, Ogra was confident she’d find someone who could point the way to bounty.
She got lucky, after a sense, and found Sklarr the first place she looked. Several minutes later, while she was falling backward into darkness Ogra wondered briefly where it had all gone wrong. The answer was simple: she shouldn’t have underestimated the power of faith. More importantly, she shouldn’t have let a few dozen true believers get behind her when she was so close to the sacrificial pit. Usually, she could count on her Hacregorkan heritage and imposing physique to keep dirt farmers in line. But a mob? That was something else entirely.
And that bastard Sklarr had whipped this town full of hicks into a wide-eyed mob.