Scarlet Tear

B.J. McCall
Available from Ellora's Cave

Answering an urgent summons, Captain Wytt Sann marched into the private headquarters of Prince Xxan Thrane on the Merck Space Station. Wytt fisted his right hand over his heart and waited for the prince to acknowledge him.

As the Commander of the Anti-Pirate Defense Force, the prince used the Merck station as his base of operation. Prince Xxan turned away from the massive communication center dominating the room and rose to his feet. The prince was taller than Wytt. His long brown hair was tied at the nape and fell almost to his waist.

"Wytt."

Although the prince was dressed casually in the loose sand-colored pants and shirt common to Sark, the ring on the prince's left hand marked him as one of the most powerful men in the Aktarian Federation. The ring's three stones representing the planets of Aktares, Sark and Glacid flashed as the prince strode toward him.

"It's good to see you."

Bowing his head, Wytt responded. "Your Highness."

The prince extended his hand. "At ease, my friend."

Wytt shook the prince's hand.

"You're looking fit," the prince said.

"I've spent the last four weeks at the academy training with the cadets. I haven't been so physically challenged in years."

"Remember when we entered the academy. We were ready to conquer the universe."

Wytt had been the prince's roommate. Despite the differences in their social status, they'd become lifelong friends.

"I'm glad you're here, Wytt. I have need of your skills and what I'm going to ask of you is very dangerous."

The prince's encrypted transmission summoning Wytt to Merck had piqued his curiosity. Wytt rubbed his hands together. As he'd advanced in rank, his job had become more involved with the planning of the mission than the execution of it.

Wytt followed Prince Xxan into a room adjacent to his office, a space meant for relaxation with thick carpet, muted colors and comfortable looking sofas and chairs. A wall of permashield provided an incredible view of Aktares. Beyond the ringed planet and to its left, the steady golden light of Sark glowed in the dark void. Deeper in the starry void was Glacid, the ice planet.

"I'd never tire of this view," Wytt said.

"It humbles me," the prince said. "It's been a long day for both of us. Join me for a glass of wine."

After the prince was seated, Wytt eased into a chair. On the table before them was a carafe of wine and two glasses. Next to the carafe was an electronic tablet.

The prince poured two glasses. "The wine is from the Armath region."

Thanking the prince, Wytt accepted a glass of the fine Sarkian wine. He sipped. "Excellent. Nothing better than an Armathian grape."

"You've heard of the pirate, Kirxx.?"

Wytt nodded. "I know my brother died trying to capture him."

The prince's gaze narrowed. "Hadr was a fine soldier."

"My mother still hopes. Without his body, she refuses to accept his death."

"I am sorry for your mother's pain, but the details of Hadr's last mission remain classified."

"Your Highness, I meant no disrespect. My family is honored to serve the Federation."

"Show me your hand."

The request surprised Wytt. Except for the Elite, a military unit assigned to the Prince's father and his family, few were skilled with the falx, a Sarkian sword. The calluses on his open palm bore proof of his dedication to the ancient art.

"Daily, I practice, but I'll never be as skilled as Hadr."

Each time Wytt wrapped his hand about the hilt of Hadr's sword, Wytt felt a connection to his brother.

"Excellent," the prince said. "We must spar. It's been a long time since I've had a good opponent."

The prince was one of the best swordsmen in the Federation. "I'd be honored."

"Do you still play zap?"

The game invented in Sark had become popular throughout the universe. "Every week."

The prince picked up the tablet and handed it to Wytt. "My staff has compiled an extensive dossier on Krxx. The pirate is a skilled zap player.

Wytt's heart pounded. He'd finally get to revenge his brother's death. "My mission is to capture Kirxx?"

"Your mission is to impersonate him."

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