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Living on the Edge

Chapter Text

The ship was going to crash. Sam Carter knew this, even anticipated it, but she never was one to go down without a fight. The tel'tak careened over the tree tops, straightened out, then took a nose dive toward the ground while Sam struggled with steering and Colonel Jeffrey Bolton pulled up on the control.

"Come on," she heard Colonel Jack O'Neill say urgently from behind her. Sam appreciated the encouraging tone in his voice, but she didn't dare turn to acknowledge it. Bolton finally gained some control, but the strange keening noise coming from the engines didn't bode well. Sam pushed another button in order to try to divert the power, and nearly growled in frustration when she realized she was too late.

"Hang on!" Bolton yelled. He tried one more time to get the control he so desperately needed, and failed.

Sam didn't bother to respond. Instead she turned her face away from the trees slapping against the window and put her hands up to protect her head. The ship landed with a loud bang, skidding several kilometers until finally stopping with a jarring thud. She slowly looked up, elated that she survived, but now worried if they really were in the clear. The sound of the ship's engines dying down to a slow drone didn't exactly build up any confidence in that train of thought. The chance of the engines catching fire was still a very real possibility.

"Everybody okay?" O'Neill asked.

"Yeah," Sam responded with a nod. She looked over to see him checking on Bolton, who seemed to be unconscious.

"Bolton," O'Neill said as his fingers searched for a pulse. Sam finally freed herself from the restraints and went over to check on him for herself, unwilling to believe she survived and he hadn't. "He's unconscious," O'Neill said, relief apparent in his voice. "Looks like he rammed into something though." He held out his hand to show Sam the blood, then turned back to do what he could for the man who was slumped over the console. "What went wrong, Carter?"

"I'm not sure sir." Sam said, as she looked out through the window. They were surrounded by trees, a forest of some kind. "The engines locked up for a second then the power surged, almost as if..." She shook her head. No way, she thought. "I'll have to do a complete diagnostic to know for sure. I'll help you with Colonel Bolton before I get started on it."

O'Neill nodded, clearly relieved that she wasn't going to go off on a more detailed description of the problem. She knew he hated when she spoke in technical terms, and she really did try to curb that tendency whenever possible. She helped O'Neill pull Bolton out of the chair, then ran to get the first aid kit while O'Neill dragged the man over to the cargo bay. Bolton was stretched out on a built in bench when Sam got back.

"He's a mess," O'Neill mumbled. He grabbed the kit from Sam and she moved around to get a better look. The Colonel was right. Blood seeped from a hole in Bolton's chest, while a bruise began to show up on one side of his face. She helped with staunching the blood as O'Neill dug out a makeshift bandage. They worked quietly and efficiently, knowing without being told that Bolton's wounds were first priority. Sam was determined he'd make it.

"That's all we can do for now," Sam said, when they tied off the last of the bandage. She looked up to see O'Neill nodding, and Sam grinned when she saw that he was checking his gun to make sure it was serviceable. She already knew what he was planning.

"I'm going to go out and check out the perimeter," he told her. "See what you can do to get this thing up and running again."

"Yes sir."

She watched him leave then went to check on Bolton one more time. He was still asleep, which didn't ease Sam's mind, but at least he was still alive. She grabbed her gun and went to see what she could do to coax the engines into working again.

*~*~*~*~*~*
More trees, Jack thought as he traipsed through the woods that surrounded the tel'tak. This time, though, he was pleased. The trees hid the ship from anything that flew over it, which was an important aspect to their survival. Then again, a tracking device could still possibly detect it. Jack refused to think about that, figuring Carter would take care of the problem, or at least hoping she'd know how to take care of it. She always seemed to be way ahead of him in the technology department anyway.

The woods thinned out after a few kilometers, giving way to a river that flowed toward the west. Jack squinted as he faced the sun, noting that it would be dark soon. He wouldn't have much time to scout around if he didn't get moving.

He found what looked like an abandoned mine north of where they crashed, while the rest of the area was entirely covered in forest. There were also tracks on the ground, although he had yet to see any actual animals. He decided to make extra accommodations when he secured the immediate area around the tel'tak. Protecting themselves from wild animals or possible enemy attacks was his next priority. It never hurt to be careful.

He found Carter kneeling next to a panel aligned with crystals when he got back. She had surrounded herself with tools, a few boxes and spare crystals, and was totally immersed in the problem of getting the engines back online.

"Carter?"

She looked over at him, the frustrated expression on her face telling Jack everything he needed to know. They weren't going to be leaving any time soon.

"Not yet sir," she told him with a sigh. "I can't figure this out. These crystals are undamaged, from what I can see, but they're not emitting any kind of energy. Nothing." She gave him a disgusted look as she shook her head, then held out the crystal that she was holding in her hand. "And what's worse, I just pulled this one out of that panel."

"That's bad?" Jack had to ask.

"The equivalent of crossed wires, sir."

"Oh," Jack nodded sagely. "Bad." He gave her a sheepish grin then told her, "I knew that."

She didn't appear to believe him, but she knew what to say in response. "Yes sir." It was apparent that he wasn't helping and was possibly starting to get on her nerves, so he decided to go secure the area before it got dark.

"I'm going to check on Bolton then set up camp," he told her. She nodded vaguely, obviously intent on the problem again. Jack decided to give her the one thing he knew he could count on in order to help - his faith in her. "You WILL fix this, Carter."

She looked up at him in surprise. He could see the doubt in her eyes, but she nodded bravely. "I hope so, sir."

"You will, Carter. And when you do, I'll be the first one to say I told you so."

She grinned at that, which pleased Jack to no end. He liked it when she smiled at him like that. He turned to head out the door, knowing that she would do her best. They would be out of there in no time.

*~*~*~*~*~*
Things seemed to be pretty hopeless for Sam. Even though she had extensive training on the intricate details of repairing alien ships, the dead crystals laid out so carefully before her might as well be an instruction booklet written in a foreign language. Someone had tampered with them, and Sam was at a complete loss as to how to fix it all.

Still, she spent several hours working on it, trying everything in the book, always hoping that she would be able to figure out the problem with each solution she came up with. She sat back after a few hours, stretching her arms up over her head. The answer had to be here somewhere.

"Hey," O'Neill said as he came into the room. "You hungry?" She shook her head dejectedly. Maybe if she tried diverting the power through the capacitor...

"Come on," he insisted. "Bolton's awake and you need a break."

It was the news that Colonel Bolton was conscious that prompted Sam to get up. She was a little ashamed that she forgot about him, a fact that she hoped he never found out about. He was a superior officer, after all.

"How is he?" she asked.

"Not good." He turned to look behind him, then back at her. "I think you'd better come and check him out. You're much better at this stuff than I am."

She nodded and followed him to the cargo bay, her only concern now was for Colonel Bolton. She knelt down next to him, reaching over to feel his forehead as she said, "Hi, sir. How are you feeling?"

"Like crap," Bolton responded with a groan. Sam smiled at the understatement. She had expected as much. Soldiers and pilots always displayed bravado no matter how much pain they were in.

"Just lie still," she said as she dug in the first aid kit O'Neill had brought over for her. "We have some aspirins in here, but if you need something stronger..."

"No!" Sam was surprised at the urgency in Bolton's voice. "That stuff makes me loopy. Aspirins will work just fine."

"It's not like you are in any condition to get up and do anything," O'Neill said sarcastically. Apparently he knew where Bolton was coming from as well. Bolton wanted to be awake and aware just in case.

"We've got things handled, sir," Sam said to appease his concerns. "You just need to rest."

Bolton nodded then took the pills Sam handed to him. She helped him take a drink, wiping up the water that dribbled down his chin, then sat with him when he settled back down. The wound in his chest worried her. It looked pretty deep and still oozing blood. She placed her hand over it, pressing down slightly to try to staunch the flow. Bolton moaned, his face turning almost gray as he tried to deal with the pain.

"I'm sorry, sir," she said, although she kept the pressure on the wound.

He nodded, but didn't say anything. He was gritting his teeth, she noticed, which caused her to feel worse about the whole thing. If only she had spent more time with him than with the crystals...

"He's going to make it," O'Neill said, as he sat down next to her. "You got that Bolton? You are not going to die on us."

Bolton grinned at the Colonel, a sign that he was still trying. "Is that an order, O'Neill?"

"Damn straight." This was said with a growl although Sam saw the slight smile he tried to hide. She and Bolton both knew that he was kidding, and she couldn't help but wonder at the man's optimism. He never let anything get him down.

"Well, for once, I'm going to listen to you," Bolton said, as he closed his eyes.

"Just stay here and rest," Sam told him. She eased up the pressure, relieved to see that the blood no longer seeped through. She cleaned up her mess, putting things back into the kit while O'Neill went outside. She followed him out once she was able and accepted the cup he held out to her.

Sam sat down and stared at the fire O'Neill had started, watching as the sparks crackled and danced among the flames. She was mesmerized by what she saw, but her mind was whirring with possibilities and scenarios that could help in fixing the engines. She thought about diverting the power from the life support systems, but worried that it wouldn't be enough to keep the engines going, let alone get the ship back in the air.

"What's the verdict?"

Sam jumped a little at the Colonel's question, but immediately went into a lengthy explanation of terms that were almost automatic to her. He stared at her as she talked, his expression bored and slightly irritated. She had forgotten that he hated it when she used scientific words.

"Sorry, sir. Basically the crystals were switched, whether by accident or sabotage, I don't know."

"Sabotage?"

The look of intrigue on his face gave her the incentive to voice her suspicions. Besides it might be good to talk it over with him to get his opinions.

"It can be easy to switch the crystals if you're not trained in the maintenance of tel'taks," she began as she turned her attention back to the fire. "But the only people who can get near the ships are official personnel, highly trained personnel who wouldn't make a mistake like that." The flames flared as she tried to work out how to say this without actually accusing anyone. "The work is double and triple checked by at least three different people to make sure everything is working smoothly."

"Yet this time something went wrong," O'Neill said. She looked over at her commanding officer and nodded. He was angry now, glaring at the fire as Sam tried to think of something to give him some hope.

"I'll keep at it sir, but it's going to take some time."

"Bolton needs a doctor now Carter." He glared at her, although Sam knew it wasn't really directed at her. She nodded quietly as she realized he was right.

"I'll do what I can." She took a sip of her coffee, savoring the flavor. Maybe General Hammond will realize that something went wrong and send out a search party. Daniel and Teal'c would insist on it, she thought with a smile. If there was one thing she could count on...

"I'm going to take another look around," O'Neill said. "Stay with Bolton..." He stopped, seeming to realize something, then grinned at her. "Correction, check on Bolton whenever you can." She smiled at his statement. He knew her better than anyone.

"Yes sir," she told him. "I'll stay with him as much as possible."

He nodded sagely at her then got up to move off into the woods. She watched him until he was beyond the trees on the other side of their campsite then turned to go check on Bolton again, taking her coffee with her.

Bolton had drifted off to sleep, so Sam set the cup down on a different ledge and headed back into the engine room. She hadn't tried the crystals from the heating and cooling systems yet.