Seven couldn't quite restrain her sigh of relief as she saw her companion's skipping pace ahead of her through the undergrowth slow to a measured walk. The sheer physical, and emotional, toll this day had taken on her had caused her innate stubbornness to wane slightly, enough for her to admit to herself that she was exhausted. Perhaps Chakotay had been wise, rather than inefficiently thoughtful, to allow her the couple of extra hours sleep this morning. Unfortunately, as the Doctor frequently reminded her, she needed to regenerate regularly to function properly for an extended period of time. The nanoprobes now beginning to degrade in her bloodstream were gradually bringing on a dull but persistent ache to every remaining Borg implant in her body, adding to the purely psychological burden she carried of being permanently on edge in this alien, wild environment. She shivered as she remembered the unrelenting panic of when she'd lost her tricorder. Despite having no idea if the girl was leading her anywhere useful, and the fact that her sunny, unconcerned manner was going against her own current mood and circumstance, Seven wasn't ashamed to be grateful for her presence.
Just then, the girl stopped at a gap in the trees, leaning through before beaming back at Seven with a delighted smile. "We have reached your destination?" Seven asked tentatively as she carefully made her way over. Part of her argued that it was pointless to talk to someone who couldn't understand any oral language let alone of from a planet a quadrant away, but she found that she now wholly empathised with Chakotay's attempt to communicate. It felt comforting, necessary even, to at least try. The girl seemed to read the uncertainty on her face and reached for Seven's arm, her gaze reassuring as she gently pulled her through the gap along with her.
An amazed gasp unconsciously left Seven's lips as they left the cover of the trees. They stood in a lush green clearing, bushes of berries hugged the ground and bright wildflowers lay colourfully underfoot, but the main thing that captivated Seven stood proudly in the centre of all that like a crowning glory. It was a waterfall, crystal clear but still mesmerizingly blue, which cascaded down in a graceful arch from the shining granite rock face which enclosed part of the clearing and into a circular pool framed by more flowers. She could feel herself relaxing as she took in the scene, she was unable at that moment to imagine a more perfectly picturesque place; even the splash of the water was rhythmical and calming. She realised, as she watched the girl have a similar reaction beside her although she must have seen this before, that perhaps this was the relevance, the power, of beauty. A wry smile passed briefly over her lips, the Commander had proven his point to her, though certainly not in the way he had intended. She caught the girl watching her expectantly and returned her smile, in a slightly more restrained manner, as the girl pointed again to the waterfall. "Yes, it's very impressive." She murmured, her gaze captured by the sight again for a moment, "But I need to find my shuttle, I can't remain here."
The girl, of course, didn't understand her, just pouted at Seven's serious expression before walking to the pool and scooping up a few handfuls of water to her lips. Seven knew this was a sensible idea and headed to the water herself, drinking the cold, deliciously fresh water greedily, the replicated drinks offered on Voyager couldn't compare with it. The girl seemed to relish her enjoyment and came to her side holding a handful of small maroon berries, gulping a few down herself before pressing the rest into Seven's palm. Seven eyed them sceptically, just because the girl could eat them didn't mean they weren't poisonous to her, but the hungry growl of her stomach won out as she rationalised that she'd need to eat something in this forest eventually and it would be better to take what the native people offered. Swallowing them all in one go, she was pleased to find that they tasted a lot like cranberries but sweeter, without the parched feeling in her throat afterwards. The girl grinned knowingly and brought her another handful before dunking her feet into the pond with a contented sigh. Watching her, Seven's feet, hot in her dirty, tattered ankle boots, gave a jealous throb and within minutes Seven had cast aside protocol and added her feet to the water, echoing the girl's earlier sigh of contentment.
They sat there in silence for a little while before Seven noticed the girl playing with a few round stones, giggling as they snapped back together every time she pulled them apart. "Magnetism…" Seven mused thoughtfully, "May I see those?" she asked politely, showing the girl what she meant by holding out her hand and making the sign for "please" she could remember Chakotay practising. The girl happily gave a couple of them to her and Seven tested their qualities, seeing which were positively magnetised and which negatively. She realised after a minute or so of study that the magnetism of these stones wasn't natural, something had triggered it, and the only thing she could conclude was that components from the shuttle were creating a magnetic field…
Dragging her feet hurriedly out of the water, and barely remembering to tug her shoes back on in her haste, she stood up and signalled to her friend, "Come on!"
Chakotay stumbled as his stick caught on a tree branch, but several of the people grouped around him immediately moved to stabilise him, all frowning in obvious concern. The entire population of the village seemed to have decided to go en-masse to the wreckage site, which had slowed down their progress significantly much to Chakotay's silent frustration. If Seven hadn't found the wreckage then he had no idea where to look for her… He took a deep breath to calm himself, leaning against a tree before looking to the medicine man who'd helped him and who helped guide the group. "How much longer?" he said tiredly, just to get the question off his chest rather than really expecting to be understood.
Something of what he was feeling must've shown however, for the man nodded at him sagely and pointed calmly at the hill in front of them. "So it's over that next hill?" Chakotay guessed with a relieved smile. The older man seemed to find his hopeful face amusing and Chakotay was suddenly reminded of his father giving him lectures about the value of patience throughout his childhood, Kolopak had often worn an identical expression to what he saw on his new friend's face right now.
Chakotay set off with renewed vigour, coming as close as he could considering his broken ankle to bounding down the hill as he heard the telltale sounds of repairs, clanging metal and muffled grumbles of frustration. Within seconds he spotted Seven's blonde ponytail and saw that she was crouched underneath what remained of the shuttle's cabin. "Seven!" he shouted to her eagerly.
"Commander?" she called back in a surprised tone, shock rapidly followed by intense relief flying over her drawn face as she scrambled out from among the wreckage and caught sight of them. He only saw a fleeting glimpse of those emotions however as her stoic, professional mask settled on her face and she headed towards him. "May I borrow your tricorder?" she asked abruptly, hands tucked neatly behind her back as if she were awaiting inspection at her console rather than standing in a jungle surrounded by smouldering shuttle parts.
That's all you have to say to me after hours of separation? Chakotay thought with a mixture of incredulity and hurt, having to take a sharp intake of breath to stop himself from vocalising that question in a reply. She looked up at him expectantly and Chakotay found a dry chuckle rising in his throat as he shrugged, holding out his tricorder to her, "Sure."
The impassivity of Seven's face faltered as she saw that she had offended him. "I lost mine." She explained, her eyes dipping away from his as it always did when she was embarrassed about an error.
Chakotay pressed the tricorder into her hand, smiling at her reassuringly as his moment of exasperation faded to leave him feeling guilty for putting her on the spot. She nodded in response to the smile and stepped back to watch as he surveyed the scene. "It looks bad…" He muttered when he'd taken it all in, glancing at her, "Can you do anything with it?"
Now it was Seven's turn to appear reassuring, although she explained the situation frankly. "I believe I can lower the shield. I found the shuttle because I realised there was a magnetic field across this area, I believe I can use it to disrupt the shield effectively but the shuttle must be moved somehow, I cannot access a vital component while the shuttle is positioned like this."
Chakotay grinned at her, "I think we'll have plenty of help." He told her, gesturing for his guides to come forward.
Seven shot him a confused look, "They followed you?"
Chakotay shook his head, "No, they led me here. I think they found it quicker than either of us." He pointed out the women who were wearing bits of debris to mimic Seven's implants and sighed in sympathy as she gasped in horror. "You were completely right, I'm sorry. We've exposed them too much."
"I do not think we could have done much to prevent it." Seven admitted to dismissing his apology and then glanced at him questioningly, "Although I fail to understand why they would imitate me."
"The same reason the men are painting my tattoo on their faces." Chakotay answered softly, giving her a weak smile, "Haven't you heard that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?"
Seven shifted uncomfortably. "Perhaps." She conceded, "But I think we should try to keep them away from here now, it's dangerous. They could have been electrocuted on any one of their trips here."
Chakotay grimaced at the thought but sighed resignedly as he took in the size of the main part of wreckage. "I understand what you're saying, but once again, do we have a choice? Without their help we'll never be able to move the shuttle enough to bring down the shield and get out of here."
Seven bit her lip for a moment as his point hit home, then regarded him seriously. "Do you think you can give them adequate directions?"
Chakotay nodded firmly, "Yes, I've been able to communicate what I need to say well enough so far."
Seven took confidence from his tone and turned back to the shuttle. "We should get started then."
A/n: PLEASE REVIEW! :D