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In the distant future...

It is a time of legends and myths, of technology and magic,
of epic struggles and journeys to the stars...

A time when great heroes confront the forces of darkness...

A time when adventure beckons across the Billion Worlds of Outlaw Galaxy!

Outlaw Galaxy 3: Hunter's Truth and Other Tales

An Outlaw Galaxy short story collection
by Bill Smith

www.BillSmithBooks.com | www.OutlawGalaxy.com

See the Author's Note following this story to find out about other books in the Outlaw Galaxy series.

Sign up for Bill Smith's newsletter: Email bill@billsmithbooks.com and type "subscribe."

Preview

Five short stories filled with the adventure and wonder of the Outlaw Galaxy universe:

* "Hunter's Truth." There's more to being a bounty hunter than capturing a target.
* "Just Names and Dates." A young woman gets a history lesson that she'll never forget.
* "A Glorious Enterprise." A fleet of colony ships sets out to tame a planet full of riches.
* "Three Simple Questions." Whatever happened to Diamond Black Joe after Outlaw Galaxy 1: Trip and the Space Pirates?
* "Hopes, Dreams, Fears." Trip thinks back to the adventures of Outlaw Galaxy 1: Trip and the Space Pirates.

Just 99 cents! Short story collection, 18,500 words, about 60 pages, reading time: one hour.

Order the book at: Smashwords (all formats), Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo or buy direct from the author.

Hunter's Truth

The energy bolts explode around me, lighting up the night, flashes of blue dancing along the wall. They blossom into clouds of flame and light, like the fireworks I used to enjoy so much when I was a child...except, of course, that these colorful flashes are intended to kill me.

I feel the concussions of the blasts -- after all, the energy bolts are exploding just a foot or two away. Some are closer than that.

If I weren't suited up, the blasts would blind me, leave me temporarily deaf. They'd send me falling to my knees, disoriented, unable to respond. I'd feel the fragments of the bright yellow brick, the heat of the flames.

With my armor on, though, I can watch with a certain detached amusement. The helmet's auditory and visual sensors dim the intensity of the blasts to comfortable levels. The armor plates and the bodysuit underneath shield me from the explosions and molten fragments of brick that would otherwise sear my skin.

I have nothing to fear so I can enjoy the pretty lights, the hypnotic allure of the flickering flames.

I stare at the man shooting at me. His name is Kriagen. He's been very bad. He's angered the wrong person.

No, not me.

I don't care. I'm just doing a job for somebody else. Her name is Jinda Othor and she's one mean old lady. Given me a lot of work over the years, though.

Think of me as Madame Othor's messenger. I'm a humble servant...a herald of fate, inevitable and relentless. An angel of death.

My face hidden underneath a blast helmet, my body protected by armor, my senses augmented by sophisticated electronic sensors, I am certainly no longer an ordinary mortal.

Kriagen is using a standard blaster pistol. He's standing there and firing at me -- hasn't even touched me yet, I note with a grin -- but he isn't smart enough to know that his weapon might as well be a toy. Sure, it's enough to kill an unprotected man. But with my armor on, a direct hit might sting. Might.

Doesn't matter. I'm standing still, an easy target, and he still can't hit me.

The fires from his off-target blasts burn themselves out on the wall behind me.

My helmet's infrared visual sensors show him pausing. He's confused.

I can see another emotion written on his face. Fear.

He's wise to be afraid.

I smile to myself, not moving, just watching him. I'm waiting to see what he's going to do.

He hesitates. I know what he's thinking. He's supposed to be dead!

But you've got to actually hit me first.

I raise my blaster rifle. Its targeting grid flashes to life on my helmet's viewscreen. I adjust my aim just a bit, stopping as the crosshairs settle on the pathetic little pistol Kriagen is pointing at me.

I smile. I can't help it. I know I shouldn't enjoy this, but his reaction will be amusing.

I squeeze off one shot. Just one is all I need.

My crimson energy beam flashes across the courtyard, the bolt striking the pistol's barrel. There's a flash of light and then an enormous burst of flame as the pistol lights up like a flashpod. More fireworks for my amusement.

He lets out a startled yelp -- probably more surprise than pain -- as the engulfed remains of the pistol fall to the ground. Kriagen clutches his hand.

"On your knees," I warn him. I'm calm, polite -- professional, above all else -- but my voice booms, enhanced by the helmet's speaker.

He doesn't respond. Too scared.

I start walking towards him, keeping my blaster aimed at him. "You're not going anywhere. Now, on your knees."

He slowly drops to the ground and raises his hands.

"Please let me go," he begs.

I suppose he thinks his pleading will be persuasive. I suppose it hasn't occured to him that I've seen this before. That I've lost count how many times I've seen this before.

I stop a few feet away from him. I just keep my weapon pointed at him, silent.

He's trembling, frightened out of his mind.

Finally, I ask, "You know who I am, don't you?"

He nods. He looks like he's about to lose control and blubber like a baby. Tears roll down his cheeks. "You're her bounty hunter...she called you Surrender."

Sryndir, Surrender, close enough. Most of the time, at this point they're so scared they can't remember their own names much less guess mine.

"Good boy. It's Sryndir." I chuckle. "So you know who I am and what I do. That should make this unpleasantness easier." I pause, then add, "You also know why I'm here."

He shakes his head. No, of course not. I've done nothing wrong.

It doesn't occur to him that I've been through this routine a few times as well.

"Don't lie to me."

He looks at me, then nods, admitting his guilt.

"Wasn't the smartest thing to do, friend. Madame Othor frowns on people stealing from her. Especially her employees." I pause, smiling to myself. "Especially her son-in-law." My smile turns into a broad grin. It's a shame he can't see it under my helmet. "Correction. Ex-son-in-law."

"I've got the money," he sputters, sniffling between words.

"Really?" I nod my helmeted head towards his tailored clothes and the expensive rings on his fingers. "Looks like you've been living the good life. You sure you have any left?"

His big brown eyes go wide as he pleads with me. "I can get the money. I just need a little time."

"I'm paid to do a job. Waiting around is not part of that job." I shrug. "Bringing you back to Madame Othor -- now that is what I'm paid to do."

"But she'll kill me --"

"Should have thought of that before you took her money, eh? She's very unhappy with you."

"Please," he whines, his voice climbing almost an entire octave. "Just a day or two, that's all I ask...I can repay it all."

I wait a couple of moments, then raise my helmet.

It's important for him to see my face. I can look into his eyes, he into mine. We can establish a bond, a connection, man to man.

I stare at him, silent.

"Please," he begs.

Finally, my voice calm and detached, I ask, "Do you want to live?"

I see his reaction. He stares up at me. I see the glimmer of hope.

So many people take their lives for granted.

But when you've got a bounty hunter like me standing over you, a blaster pointed at your head...that's when you start to appreciate life. I've seen miserable, rotten people transform in an instant. They realize that they've squandered the gift of existence. Right then and there, with my finger on the trigger, they have a revelation. They vow to cherish every moment...if only, somehow, they can get out of this mess.

Right now is Kriagen's moment of revelation...of hope and wonder. Of rebirth.

It's almost spiritual.

"You can get the money?" I ask.

He nods furiously. "No question. Just give me some time."

"It's going to cost you," I warn him. Then I smirk. "I'm not cheap."

His eyes open wide. I can see...can feel his relief. "I can get it. Anything."

I look at him, considering his offer. I finally motion with the barrel of my blaster. "Get up."

He slowly rises to his feet, not quite believing. It's too good to be true. And then, when he realizes that he's heard correctly, he grins, relieved.

"Oh, thank you, thank you...."

I love to see that expression.

I've given him a moment of belief...of hope...of joy. It's a moment of grace.

It's nice to know that I've done some good.

Then I pull the trigger.

The beam strikes before he can react, perhaps even before he realizes what's happened. There's a burst of flame and he collapses to the ground, silent.

Madame Othor doesn't really care about getting the money back. She paid me double what Kriagen stole from her. She wanted Kriagen dead, simple as that. I came here to Vistrik and I did my job.

I holster my weapon and cross the final couple of feet, standing over his motionless form. I lean down towards his face. His unblinking eyes stare up into the night.

A look of bliss is etched onto his features.

With his last breath, he had one pure moment when he cherished just being alive.

Most people never have a moment like that.

"You're welcome."

Hopes, Dreams, Fears

Author's Note: This story takes place between the events of Outlaw Galaxy 1: Trip and the Space Pirates and Outlaw Galaxy 2: Fugitive Among the Stars.

* * *

Trip lay with his legs stretched out, hands folded behind his head to cushion against the cold metal roof. His eyes were fixed on the night sky.

Above him, the stars made their slow, twinkling crawl across the darkness towards the western horizon. Off to the north, a golden spot shimmered. It was the gas giant Maeswor, its presence in the night sky warning of the winter that would soon be upon Pennick's Crossing.

Trip's eyes flashed from star to star, but then his attention was drawn to a burst of light far to his right. The flicker of flame came from a cargo freighter maneuvering for final landing approach, dropping towards one of the docking bays scattered across Pennick's Crossing Cargo Port. As the ship closed in, the flicker of flame became a brilliant fireball. Trip could hear the roaring engines of other ships in the port. The brisk business of trade and cargo shipping did not slow even in the middle of the night.

Trip heard a rattle from the ladder leading down into the house. His uncle's voice carried up from below. "Care for a little company, Trip?"

Trip nodded in the darkness. "Come on up, Uncle Craz."

The ladder creaked and groaned as Craz made his way up.

Finally, Craz's face appeared, his eyes focusing on the boy he'd adopted so many years ago. He stared, thoughtful, as Trip looked up into the night.

"You didn't need to come up here, Uncle Craz. I'm all right," Trip said, even though he felt quite far from all right.

"Oh, I know," Craz said in that Sure, I'll play along tone he adopted when he was trying to get Trip to open up to him. A great grin split his white beard. "Just wanted some fresh air is all. It's a beautiful night. A fine time to come on up and look at the stars."

Trip heard a high-pitched yrow. Craz rose up another rung on the ladder, revealing that Comet, Trip's pet drannet, had hitched a ride on the old man's shoulder. The creature looked more or less like a miniature dragon, perhaps weighing about ten pounds, with a long tail and neck, and a pointed snout. He was covered in thick blue-black fur.

Comet jumped towards Trip, his tiny claws skidding across the metal roofing. The small creature was on Trip in three leaps, pouncing on Trip's chest as his claws dug into the boy's shirt. He flopped down on Trip and extended his long, winding neck so that he could nuzzle his furry head against Trip's cheek, a contented hruff-hruff-hruff-ing coming from him like a soft, growling purr. The thick fur felt like a heavy scarf, warding off the chilly breeze that was blowing in from the open desert.

Trip reached up and gently stroked the creature's back, muttering, "Glad to see you too, Comet."

"Your pet," Uncle Craz began, a smirk on his face, "was a large part of the reason that I couldn't sleep. Started whining when he woke up and realized you'd left him. There was only so long I could take him digging at the side of the bed and yelping at me to bring him up here."

"Sorry, Uncle Craz," Trip said. The melancholy he felt slipped into his voice. "Didn't mean to cause you any trouble."

"No, no trouble at all, Trip." Craz pulled himself up, cautiously balancing as he crawled up the final couple of steps. He dropped to a sitting position on the roof, swinging his legs around, easing towards Trip.

"It's a long way up here," Craz admitted after taking a deep breath.

Trip nodded.

Craz stared at the boy. Then he let his gaze rise up into the sky. "But it is a marvellous view. The stars are gorgeous tonight."

Trip nodded again, still silent, still caught up in his own troubled thoughts.

Craz let the silence hang in the air for a moment, listening to the rumbling drone of starship motors over in the cargo port, watching the flickers of flame and blinking navigation lights as freighters crossed the sky.

Craz finally turned to his nephew. "It's not the same, is it?"

Trip's first instinct was to protest, to say that nothing was wrong. He wanted to put up that familiar wall and hide his emotions, to not show the fear and anxiety he felt. But he couldn't lie, not to his uncle...not to the man who'd been the only caretaker he'd ever known.

He looked quickly at his uncle, then stared back up at the night sky. "I used to spend so much time dreaming about the future. I'd lay up here at night -- for hours -- just watching the ships pass across the night sky. Watching the stars. I dreamed about the day I'd be able to go up there, to fly in space and visit other worlds. It was all I ever wanted in life."

Trip stopped and swallowed. He took a deep breath and tried to fight back the memories and emotions that threatened to overwhelm him. When he began to speak again, Trip couldn't help but hear the sadness in his own voice. "But now? I still look up at the stars. I don't know what else to do with myself. But after everything I went through...fighting the pirates, the battle in space, trying to save Jinx and the rest of the Sh'nar...." Trip's voice trailed off and he blinked back tears. "Diamond Black Joe joked about killing me. I nearly died up there. Now I look up at the stars...and I'm afraid."

"I know, Trip," Craz whispered.

Trip looked at his uncle, feeling the hot tears rolling down his cheeks. "I'm scared, Uncle Craz. Scared of going back up there."

"I understand, my boy." Craz bit his lower lip as he thought about what to say. "That's a decision you'll have to make, whether you want to stay here on Karrison or -- " Craz's voice trailed off.

"But that's the problem. I don't know what to do."

Craz shook his head. "Trip, you're young. You still have to finish school. You have time. Time to think...to find out what your heart is telling you to do." Craz paused. "All your life, you've dreamed of someday having a ship. But no one's forcing that path on you. There's a galaxy of choices out there. You can always change course."

"That's good to know," Trip said, nodding slowly. He appreciated his uncle's advice. "I just...I just was always focused on that one thing. Owning a ship, flying across the galaxy. That's all I ever thought about. But now? Now it's different."

"Now there's fear," Craz said softly. "But think about this, Trip. You saved your best friend. You saved a lot of people from those slave camps. Most people wouldn't risk their lives...but you did. Most would just look away and say, 'That's a shame but it's not my problem.' You didn't turn away from Jinx and her clanmates. You saved them. You may feel fear...but I see courage."

Trip paused, then let slip a trace of a smile. "I never thought of it that way."

Craz smiled back. "Trip, life is full of things to be afraid of. Life always throws challenges at you. It always tests you. It can make you feel as if you're not good enough. It can make you ask yourself how badly you really want something. But if you follow your heart...if you do the right thing...well, even if you fail, you're not wrong."

Trip frowned. "I don't understand."

"Trip, most people have hopes and dreams. They've had them for a very long time...but life is full of hurts and disappointments. People learn to doubt themselves...to be afraid. Lots of people -- maybe most people -- forget about the dreams they had once upon a time. They do what they think they're supposed to do. They do the safe thing." Craz was silent for a moment, taking a deep breath before he continued. "They give up a part of their souls just to survive. It takes courage to try, Trip. Better to try and fail than to never try at all."

Trip looked at his uncle. "Isn't the end result what matters, though? Trying doesn't mean anything if you fail, does it?"

"I once heard a very wise friend say something like that, true. But even the very wise can be wrong." Then Craz dropped his voice to a whisper. "One thing I've found, Trip, is that just showing the universe you have the courage to try, to really try...to be brave and keep at something you love even when things look like they're not going to work out...well, the universe seems to sit up and take notice of that. Things have a way of working themselves out."

Trip nodded and the smile widened. "I like that, Uncle Craz."

Craz shrugged. "As for right now, just take a deep breath. Take some time to...wait. There's no rush. Your heart will tell you what to do."

Trip turned his head and stared up into the night sky. He was quiet for a long time, just stroking Comet's fur. When he finally spoke, his voice was calm, thoughtful. "Boy, the stars haven't looked this beautiful in...in a long time, it feels like."

Craz watched his nephew. For the first time since Trip had gotten back from his adventure in space, Craz saw a sparkle in the boy's eyes.

Craz turned and lay back on the roof. Trip was right. The stars hadn't looked this beautiful in a long time.

Afterword

"Let me tell you a story."

To me, there are no more magical worlds in the universe. (Save, perhaps, "I love you" or "let me do you a favor" or "you've just won the lottery," all of which come with their own unique complications and challenges.)

In the stories in this collection, the complications and challenges consist of aliens, starships...and adventure for all.

Many readers are familiar with Outlaw Galaxy through the stories of Benjamin "Trip" Trippany, but there's much more to this setting than the tales of a pre-angsty, somewhat clever and oh-so-earnest teenager determined to right wrongs and look out for his friends.

I believe the Outlaw Galaxy crawl says it all:

In the distant future...

It is a time of legends and myths, of technology and magic, of epic struggles and journeys to the stars...

A time when great heroes confront the forces of darkness...

A time when adventure beckons across the Billion Worlds of Outlaw Galaxy!

I started writing stories back when I was a child. Even then, my heart was in space fantasy. I knew it was a genre that would always appeal to me.

No offense intended towards more conventional writers, but I find "realistic" stories set on our world rather dull compared to the sense of wonder to be offered in a setting where amazing worlds lie just a hyperspace jump away, where history is measured in millennia instead of decades, and where fantastic futuristic technology, even if drab and dirty and quite banged-up, is complemented by a current of magic.

But most of all, I believe in science fiction (even when dosed with a good measure of fantasy, as this saga is).

What do I mean by that?

Science fiction is a literature of optimism. Its mere existence suggests that there will be a future. Perhaps not one as grand and glorious as the future of our utopian dreams...but certainly not a future as dreary and dismal and frightening as the apocalyptic nightmares some of our contemporaries would have us believe in.

Science fiction is a literature of hope. Of looking forward and upward, towards what we might become...towards our potential instead of dwelling on past failings and our weaknesses. It says we are worthy creatures despite being imperfect and flawed and sometimes selfish and fearful and ignorant. These things are all true, now and most likely in the future, too. But science fiction also suggests that we are capable of becoming so much more than we are now. And that is a liberating idea.

And so, here is Outlaw Galaxy 3: Hunter's Truth and Other Tales. The short stories in this collection offer brief glimpses of some of the worlds and characters that populate this vast and wondrous universe. Most of the stories are set in the Trishellian Frontier, the loosely organized pocket of space that's home to Karrison, Trip's home planet. It's a sleepy little corner of the galaxy where not much of interest happens at all...or so we've been told. But Sryndir the bounty hunter, the space pirate Diamond Black Joe, and the other folks populating this collection would beg to differ.

Some of the stories bring us back to the characters and situations introduced in Outlaw Galaxy 1: Trip and the Space Pirates and Outlaw Galaxy 2: Fugitive Among the Stars. Some are introductions to characters you'll no doubt become more familiar with in the future, while others feature new faces that you may not see again. But all of these stories highlight the action and thrills and swashbuckling adventure that is the essence of the Outlaw Galaxy setting. And don't worry, there are a multitude of additional stories to come after you've polished off this collection -- that I can promise you.

So sit back and enjoy. If you like what you read, tell your friends. Let me know what you think by stopping by at www.BillSmithBooks.com or www.OutlawGalaxy.com. And feel free to drop me a line at bill@billsmithbooks.com.

To the Stars!

Bill Smith

This ends the free preview. Order Outlaw Galaxy 3: Hunter's Truth and Other Tales

Just 99 cents! Short story collection, 18,500 words, about 60 pages, reading time: one hour.

Order Outlaw Galaxy 3: Hunter's Truth and Other Tales at: Smashwords (all formats), Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo or buy direct from the author.

Check out the entire Outlaw Galaxy series, where you can order and read sample chapters.

Author's Note

Bill Smith is proud to be an independent author and publisher. Rather than depending on a large publishing company, I do it all myself. It's more work, but it's also a lot more rewarding. Being indie gives me the freedom to write the stories I want to write and the ability to share them with readers around the world.

Check out the complete library of Outlaw Galaxy books and stories at BillSmithBooks.com and OutlawGalaxy.com. Outlaw Galaxy books are available directly from Bill and through all major ebook retailers, including Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble/Nook and Kobo.

If you like my stories, please tell your friends and have them look up the Outlaw Galaxy series at Smashwords.com, their favorite ebook retailer, or at my sites, BillSmithBooks.com and OutlawGalaxy.com

As a small, independent author, every single reader and every single sale really matters. Thank you for your support!

Outlaw Galaxy ebooks are published DRM Free (No Digital Rights Management). That means you can make backup copies, change formats and read these ebooks on any of your devices. I believe that DRM only harms honest customers while slowing pirates hardly a bit (if at all).

I believe that being DRM-free is more important than the risk of "piracy." I've found that most readers are honest, decent folks who understand the importance of supporting and paying the authors they like. Readers know that authors need to be paid so they can write more stories for readers to enjoy -- authors have families to feed, too.

I also understand the importance of word-of-mouth -- I discovered most of my favorite authors through libraries or by borrowing copies of books from friends -- so I offer substantial samples of Outlaw Galaxy books at all ebook vendors and at my websites, BillSmithBooks.com and OutlawGalaxy.com.

You can also show your support by making a contribution to the Tip Jar.

The Tip Jar

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You can also throw a donation into the Tip Jar. Your donation goes directly to this author (instead of some big, faceless corporation) and your generous support enables me to keep on writing new Outlaw Galaxy stories for you to enjoy. Thank you!

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The amount you contribute is up to you. It is all appreciated -- dimes and quarters, a dollar or two or even more -- whatever you send, thank you! Just as a guide, I sell my stories based on word count: 25 cents or so for a solo short story, $1 for 15,000-word collections and $3 for 45,000+ word novels and collections.

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Copyright Notice: BillSmithBooks, Outlaw Galaxy, Outlaw Galaxy Tales and Imagination Forge are trademarks of Bill Smith. Copyright 1998-2013 by Bill Smith. Please respect my copyright. Please don't copy, post on torrents or otherwise duplicate my stories without my express permission. Copyright infringement makes me sad.