Among Galactic Ruins

By: Anna Hackett

Chapter One

As the descending starship hit turbulence, Dr. Alexa Carter gasped, her stomach jumping.

But she didn’t feel sick, she felt exhilarated.

She stared out the window at the sand dunes of the planet below. Zerzura. The legendary planet packed with danger, mystery and history.

She was finally here. All she could see was sand dune, after yellow sand dune, all the way off into the distance. The dual suns hung in the sky, big and full—one gold and one red—baking the ground below.

But there was more to Zerzura than that. She knew, from all her extensive history training as an astro-archeologist, that the planet was covered in ruins—some old and others beyond ancient. She knew every single one of the myths and legends.

She glanced down at her lap and clutched the Sync communicator she was holding. Right here she had her ticket to finding an ancient Terran treasure.

Lexa thumbed the screen. She’d found the slim, ancient vase in the museum archives and initially thought nothing of the lovely etchings of priestesses on the side of it.

Until she’d finished translating the obscure text.

She’d been gobsmacked when she realized the text gave her clues that not only formed a map, but also described what the treasure was at the end. A famed Fabergé egg.

Excitement zapped like electricity through her veins. After a career spent mostly in the Galactic Institute of Historical Preservation and on a few boring digs in the central systems, she was now the curator of the Darend Museum on Zeta Volantis—a private and well-funded museum that was mostly just a place for her wealthy patron, Marius Darend, to house his extensive, private collection of invaluable artifacts from around the galaxy.

But like most in the galaxy, he had a special obsession with old Earth artifacts. When she’d gone to him with the map and proposal to go on a treasure hunt to Zerzura to recover it, he’d been more than happy to fund it.

So here she was, Dr. Alexa Carter, on a treasure hunt.

Her father, of course, had almost had a coronary when she’d told her parents she’d be gone for several weeks. That familiar hard feeling invaded her belly. Baron Carter did not like his only daughter working, let alone being an astro-archeologist, and he really didn’t like her going to a planet like Zerzura. He’d ranted about wild chases and wastes of time, and predicted her failure.

She straightened in her seat. She’d been ignoring her father’s disapproval for years. When she had the egg in her hands, then he’d have to swallow his words.

Someone leaned over her, a broad shoulder brushing hers. “Strap in, Princess, we’re about to land.”

Lexa’s excitement deflated a little. There was just one fly in her med gel.

Unfortunately, Marius had insisted she bring along the museum’s new head of security. She didn’t know much about Damon Malik, but she knew she didn’t like him. The rumor among the museum staff was that he had a super-secret military background.

She looked at him now, all long, and lean and dark. He had hair as black as her own, but skin far darker. She couldn’t see him in the military. His manner was too…well, she wasn’t sure what, exactly, but he certainly didn’t seem the type to happily take orders.

No, he preferred to be the one giving them.

He shot her a small smile, but it didn’t reach his dark eyes. Those midnight-blue eyes were always…intense. Piercing. Like he was assessing everything, calculating. She found it unsettling.

“I’m already strapped in, Mr. Malik.” She tugged on her harness and raised a brow.

“Just checking. I’m here to make sure you don’t get hurt on this little escapade.”

“Escapade?” She bit her tongue and counted to ten. “We have a map leading to the location of a very valuable artifact. That’s hardly an escapade.”

“Whatever helps you sleep at night, Princess.” He shot a glance at the window and the unforgiving desert below. “This is a foolish risk for some silly egg.”

She huffed out a breath. Infuriating man. “Why get a job at a museum if you think artifacts are silly?”

He leaned back in his seat. “Because I needed a change. One where no one tried to kill me.”

Kill him? She narrowed her eyes and wondered again just what the hell he’d done before he’d arrived at the Darend.