When Lancaster came to, he was groggy and felt the immediate need to vomit: as sure a sign as any that he’d been struck by a phaser blast. His wrists and ankles were bound, and all he could see was light when he opened his eyes. As things started to come into focus, he realized that he was still on the Janice Rand, as evidenced by the pale beige wall panels and purple carpet which were certainly relics of 2360s design philosophy. Aesthetic death by a thousand cuts of muted pastels. His thoughts swum and he couldn’t help but laugh at the realization that it was that was the first thing that came to his mind after being shot.
“Michael?” he heard Sheppard’s voice ask. “Can you hear me?”
“Are we in Hell? Or just on this godawful little tiny ship?” Lancaster asked.
“We’re still on the ship. It was Lieutenant Pressman and the Tarl passengers.”
“Shoot you, too?” Lancaster asked, groaning as he rolled over to find the source of the voice. Sheppard was also tied up, but sitting up against the bulkhead. Thankfully, he looked unharmed. Evandrion, on the other hand, had several nasty bruises on his face. Ohala was gagged as well as bound; an irony, for sure. The room was otherwise empty. There were no windows, so it must have been an internal compartment on the lower decks.
“Just you, sir,” Evandrion replied. “I’m sorry. I tried to stop them, but they literally were playing dead,” he said, with a groan; it looked like it was painful for him to speak, and not just because he didn’t like what he was saying.
“Not your fault. I’m the one who fell into this trap,” Lancaster grunted. “I would very much like to puke my guts out and then break Mister Pressman in half.”
“They took our shuttle. Slapped us all with lifesign monitors slaved to the distress beacon so they could spoof our lifesigns. He said he’d trigger the powercell to overload remotely if there was any sign we’d tried to get out, but medical tech like that can’t produce a fatal overload” Sheppard said.
Ohala nodded emphatically. He must have been removed from the shuttle by the hijackers.
Lancaster’s heart sank. Not only were they trapped on ship that was likely disabled, their shuttle was headed straight for the Arcturus’s hanger with a group that was at the least pirates and at the worst terrorists onboard, and they wouldn’t be able to catch up even if they did manage to get the engines back online.
“We’ve got to get in contact with the Arcturus. And get out of these restraints. Maybe not in that order,” Lancaster groaned. “I would murder someone for an asprin,” added. “Can you two reach each other’s?”
“Yes, but we can’t see what we’re doing,” Sheppard said.
Lancaster slowly inch-wormed along the ground towards Sheppard and Evandrion, using his core strength and legs to close the few meters between them. “I’ll try to guide you,” he said. When the two turned back-to-back, Lancaster could see that they weren’t standard Starfleet restraints, which would make things harder. He wasn’t a security specialist, after all.
“What do you see, sir?”
“Duranium cuffs. Joined in the center by a cylinder of approximately three centimeters in diameter. There’s an unusual raised triangle on the cylinder,” Lancaster said, squinting.
“Sounds like a standard Tellarite design. There’s a triangle on the other side as well that needs to be twisted in the opposite direction as the one on the top to release the cuffs,” Evandrion explained.
That was one problem solved. Now, between the three of them they still had to find a way to actually manipulate those pieces of metal. Given that they hadn’t been able to feel that detail, Lancaster was hoping that didn’t mean that the two of them couldn’t at least reach that point on the other’s cuffs. It took Sheppard several tedious minutes to feel around and find the triangle under Evandrion’s cuffs with Lancaster’s guidance. Lancaster hauled himself upright and scooted back to them, feeling around for the triangle on the top, but his fingertips could barely reach it, with the way his own cuffs pushed against Sheppard’s and Evandrions, keeping him just out of reach.
“If you tell anyone about this, bad things will happen,” Lancaster noted, darkly, before flipping back over onto his stomach gripping the upper triangle with his teeth. “Count of three,” he said, before going his best to grip the metal and barely managing to twist it. There was a pop and the cuffs sprang free from Evandrion’s hands, which also caught Lancaster’s lip in the process, leaving it bloody and bruised. He felt momentarily woozy from being so close to the Deltan, or possibly just from having recently been stunned and having to bend up and down so many times while still recovering.
“Very resourceful, sir,” Evandrion said, respectfully, before unlocking his two shipmates as well, and then his own ankle restraints. “I do not believe that they bothered tying us up more securely because they knew that this ship would be incapable of catching them,” he added.
“Lucky us,” Lancaster quipped. He whimpered in a way that he found uncaptainly when Sheppard touched his bleeding lip, as Evandrion freed Ohala.
“I’ve never known you to try so hard to get out of restraints,” Sheppard quipped.
“Really?” Lancaster scolded, even though his husband’s voice had been very low.
Mercifully, the two medical kits that Sheppard had brought were still sitting on one of the tables. Smirking, the doctor went over to retrieve a hypo and loaded it with a vial, while also grabbing a dermal regenerator. He pressed the hypo into Lancaster’s neck without asking, and then steadied his face with his hand to start regenerating.
“–No talking, unless you want your face to be lopsided. Electrolytes and saline. It will help with your phaser hangover. I could give you something stronger, but I’m betting we’re going to need your brain at 100% to stand a chance of getting any parts of this ship back online,” Sheppard said, smiling at his husband as he worked. After a few dutiful minutes, he set the regenerator down, and then frowned. He pulled the collar of Lancaster’s uniform to the side and furrowed his brow.
“Evandrion. Need you over here,” Sheppard said, grabbing a tricorder from his medkit. That was not a statement that inspired confidence or calm in Lancaster.
“What is that around the edge?” Evandrion asked.
“You two are not helping my stress levels,” Lancaster interjected, as the two of them prodded at his neck. As they did, he was suddenly aware of something attached to him.
“It’s a standard biomonitor, but it’s grafting itself to his skin” Sheppard said, looking at his tricorder.
Lancaster looked under Sheppard’s collar and found a silver disk with flashing green, yellow, and red lights moving around in a circle. It looked like it was somehow adhered directly to the skin, nearly embedded. A device like that should normally sit right on the surface of the skin with nanoadhering fibers.
“Yours is like that, too.”
“All of us ours,” Evandrion confirmed.
“Can you remove them?” Lancaster asked Sheppard.
“Not without a lot of scarring. They wouldn’t want them to fall off and make it look like one of us were dead, I guess. Probably also why the restraints weren’t particularly hardcore,” Sheppard replied, softly. “Plus, we might not want them to know we found them. He might not have been lying about some sort of self-destruct mechanism.”
Lancaster nodded. “I really don’t like this, but whatever you think is best,” he said, running his finger around the circumference of the circle he now couldn’t help but feel like was burrowing more deeply into his neck.
“Why didn’t he just take our commbadges?” Sheppard asked.
“The new model commbadge is too sophisticated to trick with spoofed lifesigns; they’d give it away that we weren’t really on the shuttle if he was scanned,” Ohala explained.
“Captain Lancaster, with your permission, I will search the rest of the ship,” Evandrion said.
“Granted. Take Ohala and do a full accounting of the ship and any damage. Meet us on the bridge when you’re done,” Lancaster said, starting to feel the effects of the hypo. “Assuming anything there still works” he murmured. He took the medical tricorder out of the second kit, and worked on switching it to standard functionality as he left the room with Sheppard.
“This is not how this day was supposed to go,” Lancaster said, weakly, as the two of them looked for the vertical access shaft.
Sheppard pulled him in for a hug that was definitely not standard procedure for an away team. “I am so glad you are OK. Seeing you on the floor like that was awful.” The two of them had never actually been together on a mission, for obvious reasons, and the way this one was going was validation for that strategy. Of course, Lancaster was also very rarely incapacitated while on duty, so at least it was unlikely to happen again.
“I shouldn’t have turned my back on that twerp,” Lancaster said, squeezing him back, and then disentangling himself. They found the access point and it took both of them to pry open the door leading to the ladder, where the signage told them that they were on Deck Three. It wasn’t locked, just unpowered.
“You had no way of knowing. He was one of us.”
“This is obviously a sophisticated plot to get our shuttle and get aboard the Lancelot,” Lancaster said, as he put his foot on the first rung of the ladder so that they could climb up.
“You mean the Arcturus.”
“Huh. What did I say?”
Lancaster chuckled. “Guess I must be having flash-backs to the last time I ended up tied up on an away mission,” he noted, as they moved up a deck. As a lieutenant commander while leading a team to recon a facility suspected of being operated by the Tal Shiar, he’d ended up briefly captured. The experience, suffice it to say, had not been pleasant.
“Well, just as long as you’re not actually having flashbacks,” Sheppard said, sounding a little worried, as they worked to pry open the upper deck doors.
“No. Just some sort of warped nostalgia for the days where we seemed to be in combat every other week I suppose. The Lafayette was comparatively sedate,” Lancaster clarified. The corridors were completely deserted as they made their way to the bridge, and when they got there, none of the consoles were working.
Lancaster slumped down within the horseshoe-shaped helm console as he tried to think of a plan that would allow them to either get the ship moving or to let Starfleet know what had happened, but the lack of sleep had caught up to him. However much time he had spent stunned wasn’t a substitute for actual REM sleep.
“Why did I want to go back to space, again?”
“Because you’re one of the best bridge officers in Starfleet and neither of us were meant to fly a desk,” Sheppard replied, sitting down next to him. “We’ll think of something. Well, you will think of something,” he added, taking his hand.
“Yeah. Just need to think a little bit,” Lancaster replied, leaning his head back against the console and running through what he remembered of the ship’s schematics in his head. The audio and physical commands were both not working. It’s like the computer wasn’t even there.
About twenty minutes later, Evandrion and Ohala entered the bridge and Lancaster was no closer to coming up with a solution to their problem.
“Sir, all escape pods and the ship’s only shuttlecraft have been jettisoned. We’re the only ones aboard,” the Deltan reported, crossing his arms. “There are forcefields around main engineering and the computer core, but they’re not tied to the ship’s systems; they set up portable generators within the fields. The emergency transponder has had most of its components removed to limit it to repeating the distress call with our lifesigns.”
“Probably one of ours, since theirs were locked to stun,” Lancaster replied. “So, we have no way of contacting our ship, as well as no escape pods. It will take several hours to disrupt either of those forcefields without phasers, and by that point the shuttle will be out of range to catch. Thoughts?” he asked the group.
Ohala was clearly hesitating.
“Speak up, Lieutenant. I can’t believe I have to tell you of all beings that,” Lancaster said, fixing him with a stare, frowning in a way that made him wince from the wound he’d taken to the lip.
“Well, sir, there is a message getting out, and even though we can’t change it directly, we can manipulate it,” Ohala said. He pointed to the biomonitor on his neck. “You can’t spoof biosigns with a recording. Starfleet analytics are too sophisticated for that.”
“So, if we got these off or disabled them, the Arcturus would know that we’re not on that shuttle,” Lancaster mused.
“Potentially, sir. But we could manipulate our lifesigns to send a message, instead. Not our actual lifesigns, but the same sensors on a medical tricorder that detect lifesigns can be altered to broadcast them, given a few tweaks. They didn’t take our tricorders,” Ohala added.
The idea was sound, Lancaster had to begrudgingly admit.
“It does seem preferable to find some way to send a message rather than letting silence be the message,” Evandrion suggested.
“The question is: what’s the message?” Sheppard asked.