Chapter 8-

"Where am I?"

Nikko Binaldi raised himself to a seated position and glanced around the empty passenger cabin. The place looked faintly familiar, and as he slowly stood it all came rushing back to his memory. He replayed it all in his mind, up until the last thing he remembered. the ship descending wildly to the planet below, and then the heavy metal beam headed right for his.

His hand immediately reached up to touch his head and winced in pain at the tenderness his encountered. He must have been knocked unconscious--- but for how long? Had he missed it all?

The bile formed in his gut and seeped up to his throat. No one else was around, so that could only mean.

He ran to the exit ramp but had to shield his eyes from the painfully bright sun.

"Well, hello there, sleeping beauty."

Nikko's head jerked to his left at the sound of the voice and immediately wished he hadn't moved. He groaned in pain and rubbed the back of his neck. The speaker ventured into Nikko's line of vision, and Nikko moaned again at the sight of the dark haired Jedi.

"You," he growled, barely able to get the sound out of his parched throat.

"Yes, it's me, your very best friend," Ganner mocked. "Good to see you're awake. We were beginning to wonder if you were ever going to snap out of it."

"We?" Nikko asked in urgent curiosity quickly surveying the clearing around him. Off to his right sitting with her back leaning against a large rock was the woman from the ship. the pregnant one that couldn't keep her mouth shut. Only now she wasn't pregnant but was cradling a tiny infant in her arms.

"Of all the rotten luck," he muttered under his breath.

"Good morning!" she called from her resting place. "Why don't you join us for breakfast?"

While he couldn't stand the thought of sharing the company of these two, Nikko couldn't deny that his stomach was extremely empty and desperate for food. Taking slow, cautious steps, he finally reached the woman and lowered himself to the ground across from her. The Jedi was right behind him and started to sit as well.

"Wait, Ganner," she said. "Will you hold the baby so I can check our friend's head out?"

The Jedi glanced warily down at Nikko and then back to the woman who's face seemed warm and caring today, unlike the banshee unleashed on the ship. Ganner carefully took the baby from her and situated him in the crook of one arm while using the other to help the woman to her feet. She wobbled uneasily for just a moment before taking the few steps it required to reach Nikko's side.

"I'm still a little weak," she admitted with a small smile before plopping softly down next to him. "Now, let me that bump."

She began to tenderly prod around Nikko's head and ask him questions to see if he was mentally alert. All the while he continued to nervously glance around the clearing, none of which was missed by the Jedi.

"Where is everyone else?" Nikko dared to question even though he was fairly certain he already knew the answer.

"They're gone," Ganner answered, noting the flicker of anxiousness that flashed in Nikko's eyes. "Gone with the pilots to find the nearest settlement."

"Oh," Nikko uttered, almost sounding disappointed.

The baby in his arms wiggled and fussed as if on the verge of crying, and Ganner began to sway gently back and forth on his feet. The baby settled back down after the big man offered some calming words.

"What day is it? How long have I been unconscious?"

Analee returned to her resting place against the rock and gestured for Ganner to hand the baby back to her, which he did with the greatest of care. She then proceeded to explain their situation to Nikko.

"We've been stranded here for almost six days now," she said. "You do remember that the ship crashed, right?"

Nikko nodded while doing the calculations in his head. They were late.

"Well, Ganner believes that the ship was sabotaged and that was why we crashed. The rest of the passengers left five days ago to find help and, according to the charts, should be reaching the nearest town in another day or so. As you can see, I was unable to make the journey-as were you--, so Ganner kindly stayed behind with us."

Here she paused and gazed over at the Jedi who had seated himself next to her, offering him a loving smile. Nikko looked away, the pain their exchange caused too much to bear. It hadn't been so long ago that he had been the object of a woman's love and admiration.

But not now.

"So, now we're just waiting to be rescued," she added before turning her attention to her fussy child. After a few moments of trying to soothe him, she realized that there was only one thing that would satisfy him. "If you two will excuse me, I need to go inside and feed this little guy his breakfast." She struggled to stand, and Ganner was once again quick to offer his assistance.

"Thank you," she said softly, totally oblivious to the effect she was having on the Jedi. Nikko watched as his gaze followed her all the way up the ramp and lingered for a second even once she was out of sight. He could see the slight smile of contentment on Ganner's face and his heart constricted again. He needed to get his mind off of Evette.

"So, now we just wait for someone to show up?" he asked snapping the Jedi out of his infatuated stupor.

Ganner cleared his throat and turned to face the red-haired man. "The pilots have our coordinates. As soon as they can, they'll send help." Again he plopped down onto the ground across from Nikko. "Until then, I guess you'll just have to enjoy Analee's and my company."

Nikko snorted. "Analee? So that's her name?" he spat distastefully, regretting his words once he saw the snarl curl Ganner's lips. His scar made him look even more menacing.

"Yes, that is her name, and if it weren't for her you wouldn't be alive right now, so I'd watch your tone if I were you."

Nikko eyed the Jedi in confusion, so Ganner explained. "Analee is a nurse. If not for her medical skill, that bump on your head would have been the death of you. Lucky for you, she believes in helping everyone. no matter his IQ. A 'thank you' might be nice."

Nikko chuckled and nodded at Ganner. He couldn't fault the man for defending the woman he loved. He had done the same plenty of times. only the last time it hadn't been enough.

"I deserved that," Nikko admitted, still gazing around a bit too nervously for Ganner's liking. "So, we've been here for six days, and no one has shown up at all? No other people live around here?"

Curious questions, Ganner thought. "I've scouted around and there are no signs of sentient life forms anywhere nearby. It's been relatively quiet. Why? Expecting someone?" Nikko's eyes betrayed him, even if his flash of guilt was short-lived, and Ganner jumped instantly to his feet. The snap- hiss of the Jedi's lightsaber jolted Nikko to his feet, as well and he soon found himself backed up against the hull of the transport.

"It was you, wasn't it?" Ganner accused with a low, threatening voice. "You sabotaged the ship and sold out all those people. and Analee."

The thrumming of the blade sounded unbelievably loud in Nikko's ears, but he wouldn't cave so easily. "I-I don't know what you're talking about."

Ganner moved in closer, his face within inches of the other man's. "You know exactly what I'm talking about. friend. So who is it? Who's coming to check out your handiwork? Peace Brigade? Vong? Tell me who the hell it is!"


Both men snapped their heads around to see Analee standing on the ramp, a worried look on her face.

"Ganner, what are you doing?!" She moved quickly down the ramp and over to them.

"Stay out of this, Analee," Ganner warned. "Our friend here is the one who caused the crash, and we were just having a little chat."

"I-I am not!" Nikko asserted. "He's nuts!"

"Ganner, I'm sure that if we handle this in a calm, peaceable manner-"

"Analee," Ganner stated calmly, "go back inside the ship while I talk to Nikko."

Analee looked first at Nikko's terrified face and then at Ganner's, which was showing barely contained rage. She had never seen him so fiercely determined.

"Are you sure he's the one?" she asked.

"No! I'm not! I haven't done anything! I swear!" Nikko protested, Ganner never easing up on his suspect.

"Then why have you been looking around like a kid with a secret? You're expecting someone and I want to know who it is--- NOW!!!" Ganner swung his blade up right next to Nikko's face, the light causing the man to wince.

"Ganner!" Analee cried out ready to pull his hand away from Nikko.

"Okay! Okay!" Nikko yelled. Analee stopped in her tracks. "It was me," he admitted.

Ganner pushed the man back into the hull and took a step back flipping off his saber as he did. He glanced over at Analee to see a look of terror and disbelief on her face.

"Who is it?" Ganner asked, more calmly now. "Who is coming for us?"

Nikko straightened himself up and glanced ashamedly over at Analee before looking back at Ganner.

"Peace Brigade," he stated as he hung his head.

Ganner felt the anger rise inside him, but fought it down when he saw the fear on Analee's pretty face. He knew she was already imagining the horrors she might face along with her new child if the Peace Brigade captured them. It was common knowledge that captives of the Brigade had limited options. They would either be sacrificed to the vulgar Yuuzhan Vong gods or turned into barely recognizable slaves doing the vile bidding of their Vong masters. Ganner had seen firsthand the life such slaves would endure, and it wasn't an outcome he was willing to accept. He had helped her and her son survive this far.

He wasn't about to give up now.