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THE SCAVENGER
PG-13

"What are you looking at that's so important you stood me up for lunch to sit with Joe?" Kes's voice pulled Tom's attention away from the padd in his hand and his lament to Joe about the trouble he was in, or soon would be.

"This 'Scavenger Transport' challenge. I am going to be in sooooo much trouble if the captain sees it."

"Then why did you post it?"

"That's the problem, I didn't post it. The first I heard about it was at breakfast this morning when Harry asked me if I was crazy. I've read the thing half a dozen times and checked all the codes. Tuvok would conclude in about two seconds I set this thing up and I'd have to agree with him. It's even written the way I write."

"Sounds like you wish you'd thought of it." Kes set down opposite Tom.

"I do. But even I'd have had second thoughts about actually doing this."

"What is it exactly?"

"Read it for yourself." Tom handed the padd to Kes so she could read it.

Want to earn some rations?

Just participate in the Scavenger Transport! Earn as many as you want! All you have to do is initiate a site-to-site transport, send a message to "The Scavenger" with the exact time, the location you left and your destination. You have to actually be detected by Security, Ops or Engineering but not personally identified. As soon as you have been officially detected, but not identified, the rations will be transferred to your account. Nope, you didn't miss anything. You read this correctly -- it doesn't cost you anything to participate.

Rations will be paid on the follow schedule:
 

Location
To
From
Astrometrics
1
1
B'Elanna's office*
3
2
Bridge
6
5
Briefing Room
3
3
Brig
3
3
Cargo Bay 1
1
1
Cargo Bay 2
2
2
Cargo Bay 2 if 7 is regenerating
3
3
Chakotay's office*
2
2
Engineering
5
5
Escape pod
2
2
Galley
3
3
Hydroponics
1
1
Jeffries Tubes
1
1
Lower decks (10-15) corridors
2
2
Mess Hall
4
3
Ready Room*
6
5
Science Labs
2
2
Shuttle Bay
2
2
Sickbay
4
3
Turbolifts
1
1
Tuvok's office
3
2
Upper decks (1-9) corridors
3
3
*Payoffs doubled if the occupant is present 

Be the first and earn double the payoff rations!

The Scavenger


"How are you going to cover these payoffs?" Joe's question reminded Tom of another issue.

"I can't. That's the problem." Tom shook his head. "There are already five messages reporting transports but they aren't 'official' yet so I guess I have another hour or two."

"How did you find that out?" Kes was clearly curious about the source of Tom's information.

"I got into the Scavenger's message file."

"He let you in?" Kes was beginning to sound a bit doubtful of Tom's innocence.

"I'm not sure. I was just trying to find out more about him and this turned up. As soon as I entered my security code, it let me in."

"Why not just tell the captain?"

"You really think she'd believe me?" Tom sounded exasperated. "Think about it. It sounds like me. It's the kind of thing I'd dream up. I even got access to the messages right away. Even I wouldn't believe me."

Joe laughed and Kes sighed. "Good point. About the only thing that isn't like you is getting something out of it for yourself."

Tom's face brightened. "Hey, that's right. If I had set it up, I'd be getting something out of it."

Joe laughed, "which is exactly what the captain will expect you, as the guilty party, to argue."

Tom's face fell again.

"Is there anything I can do to help?" Joe made the offer as he stood to leave.

"Yes, figure out who's behind this or at least block the transports."

"I'll try but I'm not making any promises. Mind if I ask Torres to help?"

"No, just as long as you make sure she knows I'm not responsible for this thing." Tom shook his head woefully as Joe moved away. Kes stood as Tom lost himself in studying the padd again. When she returned she handed him a bowl of tomato soup. "You may as well use your rations while you still have them."

Tom eyed the soup skeptically. "Thanks, I think."

"You'd better hurry. You're due on the bridge in ten minutes." Kes smiled encouragingly. "You'll figure it out. See you later."

Tom looked back at the padd gloomily and sighed before switching it off and picking up his spoon. Being late was not a good idea. If the captain heard about that transporter challenge, he would need all the goodwill he could muster.
 
 

=^=

The captain sat on the bridge idly staring at the view screen while Chakotay was busy making minor changes to a report on the last system they had passed. The stars moved steadily into range then off, just as they had for the last eight weeks.

She was bored. She had rewritten her personal logs – three times. She had cross-referenced every new intelligent species they had encountered culturally and technologically. Or rather, she had started that project but the people in biological sciences had been extremely bored and she had passed it on to them. More recently, she had been playing kadiskot on her padd hoping Tuvok wouldn't notice but he was paying too much attention for her to risk that today though. She stared longingly at the monitor she shared with Chakotay and wished she could use it. Maybe she could come up with a way to project the likelihood of leola root at any given meal and plan accordingly when to skip the mess hall. She glared briefly at Chakotay for finding something that was actually ship's business to occupy his time then pulled up the kadiskot game.

The captain sighed softly and saw an understanding glimmer of a smile cross Chakotay's face and knew he had heard her.

She was bored.

He was bored.

The entire crew was bored. Even Tom's endless comments had faded to nothing.

Long range scans told them the region of space ahead of them held relatively few stars and the few it had with planets were home to pre-warp civilizations. Voyager was well stocked and in good repair and Kathryn had decided weeks ago that simply crossing the region as quickly as possible was the best way to deal with the region.

It was boring. Mind-numbingly boring. Maybe letting Tuvok notice the kadiskot game would prompt a discussion with him that would occupy a few minutes.

She glanced over at Chakotay wondering how he managed to conceal his boredom so effectively to find him watching her out of the corner of his eye. He turned to look at her directly, his eyes twinkling as if he could read her thoughts, smiled reassuringly and turned back to writing the Great Star Fleet Novel #20.

The captain didn’t even bother to try to hide her sigh. At least they had passed the halfway point. They had acquired the location of a trading station from another ship headed the opposite way a few weeks earlier.

Maybe one of the longer novels of the classic Vulcan author T'stol would occupy a few hours. She punched a few commands into her padd and accessed the first 500,000 words of the abridged edition. Twenty minutes later, she put the padd down. The only thing she had accomplished was nearly putting herself to sleep. She needed to wake up.

It was time to wake up the bridge crew as well, break up the monotony for them. "Status, Mr. Kim?"

Slowly and deliberately, she made detailed inquiries of all the bridge officers.

=^=

Chakotay sat staring at the stars as they slowly moved across the view screen. Today the captain had taken refuge in her ready room to read his most recent report. The helm and Ops were quiet but he could hear Tuvok checking something. Chakotay's curiosity was aroused. Rather than immediately make an inquiry, he made a little wager with himself – Tuvok would take another eight minutes to report. He was wrong – it took just under six before Tuvok spoke.

"Commander, I've just detected an unauthorized transport."

"What?" Chakotay stood and walked toward the Tactical station. "Where did they go?"

"That's the puzzling part, Commander. They transported from the corridor on Deck Ten to a turbo lift… on Deck Ten."

"That doesn't make any sense. Why would someone do that?"

"That's not all, Commander." Tuvok sounded excited, for a Vulcan. "While investigating this transport, I found indications that similar transports have been taking place over the last week but had remained undetected."

"Why weren't they detected?"

"I am in the process of making that determination."

"All right. Continue what you're doing. I'll let the captain know what's going on." Chakotay moved toward the Ready Room. "You have the bridge, Commander."
 
 

=^=

The captain entered the briefing room followed closely by her first officer. She motioned the assembled bridge officers to remain in their seats as she sat down.

"Ok, people, it seems we have a slight mystery." She turned toward Tuvok. "Would you care to summarize the situation for us, Mr. Tuvok?"

"Of course, Captain." Tuvok nodded slightly. "Late yesterday I detected an unauthorized site to site transport on Deck Ten. While investigating that transport, I discovered a number of additional ones that had gone undetected. So far, I have been unable to determine who made the transports. I have made a note of the times and locations."

Tuvok passed around padds to the group and allowed them to read for a minute. "During my investigation, I discovered something else. A 'challenge', if you will, to the crew."

"A challenge?" The captain was intrigued.

"Yes, Captain. A challenge… to transport from various locations in the ship to others. If the individual's transport is detected but the individual is not identified, the individual earns rations. The individual involved is calling himself the 'Scavenger'. To date, the Scavenger has received reports on fourteen completed transports and made one payoff."

"He made a payoff?" Tom sounded extremely surprised.

"Do you know something about this, Paris?" Chakotay sounded annoyed.

"I've seen the challenge, if that's what you mean, but that's all I know! Other than what Commander Tuvok just told us, that is."

"And you didn’t think you should mention it to me?" The captain picked up the interrogation.

"With all due respect, Captain, I had nothing to do with it but I didn’t think you'd believe me."

"Your statement was not strictly accurate, Mr. Paris. You have seen the messages sent to the Scavenger reporting the transports," Tuvok paused briefly, "as have several others."

"How do you know that?" The captain demanded.

"I too have accessed the messages. Once I had accessed the files, I could determine who else had accessed them."

"Who else has accessed them?" Now the captain sounded annoyed at having to ask such an obvious question.

"I knew about it, too, Captain." Torres spoke up. "I've been trying to set more safeguards in our systems to prevent the unauthorized transports. I thought I'd been successful until Tuvok made his report. What I'd like to know is why, now, all of a sudden, we detected a transport."

"Good question. Any ideas, Mr. Tuvok?"

"The first transport I detected was made while I was on duty. Earlier transports were made when I was not. Those individuals who stand a watch at Tactical and Ops will be going through additional drills in the next week to refresh their memory on monitoring ship's systems and power consumption."

Scheduling drills for another department was highly irregular. The captain turned her head abruptly from Tuvok to Harry Kim and back.

"What aren't you telling us, Mr. Tuvok?"

"I noted another detail relating to the timing of the transports. Every transport occurred while Ensign Kim was on duty at the Ops station. Ensign Kim has also accessed the messages reporting the completed transports."

"Are you saying he has something to do with this or that he is this… Scavenger person?"

"On the contrary. While I believe it is a deliberate attempt to focus suspicion on Ensign Kim, just as the challenge is an attempt to focus attention on Lieutenant Paris, I do not believe either responsible."

"Care to expand on that conclusion, Tuvok?" Chakotay inquired.

"Not at all, Commander. While the challenge is the type of… activity that Mr. Paris might enjoy, the fact that there is no profit in it for the Scavenger makes it illogical to conclude that Mr. Paris is involved. I also do not believe his skills with the computer's security controls are sufficient to have done this, although it is possible that he had assistance with that." Tuvok allowed his gaze to rest on Torres and then Kim for a moment before continuing. "As for Ensign Kim, it is unlikely that anyone attempting to complete one of these transports would have chosen to do so while the person most likely to detect them from the Ops station is on duty. Therefore making the transports during his watch is either coincidence or a deliberate attempt to implicate him."

"Have you found anything else that might help us identify the Scavenger?" The captain was starting to sound annoyed for having to drag the information out of Tuvok but her eyes were on Paris, Kim and Torres.

"I have examined the transporter protocols and have determined that they while it appears that there are all the standard safeties in place to prevent unauthorized transports, as well as several additional ones put in place by Lieutenant Torres recently, none of them will actually prevent a transport or record the identity of the person making it." Tuvok looked at Torres and Kim again. "Only someone highly skilled and familiar with our transporters would be capable of making adjustments of this type. This supports my conclusion that Mr. Paris is not the Scavenger."

"Thanks, Tuvok," Tom responded tentatively, "I think."

"I can think of one more possibility." Chakotay mused. "It could be a group of three individuals working together.

The captain's gaze moved slowly from Torres, to Paris, to Kim before going back to Paris as Chakotay continued speaking.

"It's possible that they allowed you to detect this most recent transport so someone would win the rations and encourage more to try."

"I had not discounted that as a possibility, Commander."

"It sounds like we have a lot of theories but only circumstantial evidence to support any of them." The captain summarized while continuing to eye the three most junior officers present.

"That is correct, Captain." Tuvok acknowledged.

"Any suggestions on how to proceed?" The captain looked around the table.

"Why not just let the crew know that we've discovered this challenge?" Harry Kim made the most obvious suggestion. "They would probably just stop trying once they know you…er, we... have found out what's going on."

"That might not be such a good idea, Captain." Chakotay spoke up immediately. I'm sure I'm not the only one who would like to know how this Scavenger has gotten around so many of our security systems. If the Scavenger knows we're investigating, they might simply disappear and we'd never find out." Chakotay smiled slightly. "It's bad enough the crew is managing to pull off these site to site transports so easily but we can't change what the Scavenger has done or we tip our hand."

"I want to know how they got around the safeties and blocks I put on the transporters." Lieutenant Torres sounded irritated and defensive. "I'd also like to know who it is, because they are very good."

"I agree, Commander. The transports themselves are harmless at this point. It's our security systems that we need to protect." The captain agreed. "Anyone else have any ideas?"

No one spoke up but three sets of eyes refused to meet the captain's as she looked around the table. "The commander and I will discuss how to deal with the culprits. For now, I want you all to focus on identifying them. We'll take a day or two to investigate this more thoroughly and consider our options. For now, we'll limit access to this information to those in this room. We'll meet again day after tomorrow. I want answers, people. Dismissed."

As the captain and first officer followed the others out of the briefing room to the bridge, she spoke to him. "I'd like to see you in my ready room in fifteen minutes, Commander."

"Aye, Captain."

=^=

"You wanted to see me, Kathryn?"

"Come on in, Chakotay. Help yourself to some tea." Kathryn motioned towards her replicator. She waited until he had joined her at her desk before turning the monitor toward him. "I wanted to discuss Tuvok's report with you but wanted to take a few minutes to do some checking on my own."

Chakotay looked at the monitor and studied it before pulling out the padd with the information Tuvok had provided. "That's not quite what Tuvok shared."

"No, it isn't. Can you identify the differences?"

Chakotay studied the screen with the challenge for a few minutes. "Very interesting. It seems your quarters and my quarters have been added to the list – and at ten points each, it means we are now prime targets."

"How do you think this will affect the challenge?"

"I think it will make a lot of people very curious. If it entices more people to try to meet the challenge, perhaps it will enable Tuvok and the others to identify its source."

"You could be right, Kathryn. In the meantime, I don't think I'll be wandering around my quarters out of uniform for a while."

Kathryn chuckled and nodded. "I agree completely."

"Now, tell me. What did you think of Tuvok's report and his conclusions?"

The command team discussed the situation for the next thirty minutes and decided how they would contribute to the investigation then reluctantly returned to the bridge.

With a great deal of difficulty, the captain resisted the urge to wander past the Ops and Tactical stations knowing it would only distract her officers from their task. She envied them having something to do. She glanced over at Chakotay.

"How's that novel coming?" She spoke quietly.

"Novel?"

"The report you've been writing for the last three days."

"I finished it yesterday morning. I've been slowly translating it into Klingon without the universal translator or any language references." He grinned. "It's good practice. You might want to try it when you have a spare minute or two."

With a glare worthy of Kahless, the captain turned back to the view screen with the ever-boring stars silently moving on and off the view screen.

=^=

Two days later, the captain and first officer were chatting quietly in their usual seats when the rest of the senior staff entered. They exchanged greetings briefly while they took their seats. Eyeing the three younger officers, the captain started the meeting.

"Tuvok, why don't you update us with what you've learned since our last meeting."

"The most interesting development seems to be a change in the actual challenge. The list of locations was expanded shortly after our meeting two days ago. I was also able to locate a list of reported transports. It contains more than thirty transports that we have not yet detected. I have not been able to confirm whether they are completed attempts or merely an effort to acquire rations. The frequency of transports appears to be increasing."

When Tuvok paused, Paris broke in. "I'd like to add something, if you don't mind, Commander. I know it's nothing you can check but I've been hearing comments from different people. Quite a few have heard that someone had received payoffs on transports, but I didn't hear any specific names mentioned. The amounts reported have been different and they all correspond to what should have been paid out to those on your original list."

"That is most interesting, Mr. Paris. If the rumors are accurate, then the Scavenger also has direct access to the ration accounts for the entire crew. I found no evidence of any actual transfers to any accounts."

"Wonderful," the captain was sarcastic as she turned to Chakotay. "Have there been any complaints of missing rations?"

"None, Captain."

"Good. Hopefully, this Scavenger isn't interested in building up an easy supply of rations." The captain turned back to Tuvok, "Anything else to add?"

"Nothing useful, Captain. I have the complete list of transports that we have confirmed and the list of reported transports."

"Anyone else have anything to report?" No one spoke up in response to the captain's question. "I want to know who this Scavenger is and I want to know how he's getting around so many of our security measures.

"Lieutenant, Ensign, I want every system checked for evidence of the Scavenger. Don't assume it's only the systems we know about so far. He could be able to override environmental and holodeck safeties and any of a dozen other systems.

"Commander Tuvok, check all the security systems including command authorizations and passwords. I don't want this Scavenger accessing our weapons or shields. Change them if you think it's necessary.

"Put as many people on this as you need. They don't need to know why we're looking but they can certainly help look." The captain turned to her first officer. "Can you think of anything else?"

"Just to keep your ears open for news and rumors, anything that might tell us more. The Scavenger is a member of this crew and sooner or later," the captain's eyes moved from Kim and Paris to Torres as she spoke, "he or she will slip up.

"Let me know immediately if you find anything significant. We'll meet again in a week for progress reports. Dismissed."

=^=

Six weeks later, the captain sat listening to Tuvok's latest report. Although the most interesting part of the week, hearing the same information week after week was almost as boring as the stars on the view screen.

"Other than the slight increase in the number of reported transfers to and from the ready room and engineering, there has been no significant change."

"Still no reports of someone beaming to or from any individual's quarters?"

"No, Captain."

"That's one good thing anyway." The captain turned to the others. "I take it none of you have made any discoveries?"

"No, ma'am." Tom Paris spoke for himself, Torres and Kim.

"There is no point in going over what we've all heard before. Keep working on this and we'll meet again next week. Dismissed."

The captain was surprised when Tuvok remained seated as the three younger officers left the briefing room. "Was there something more you wanted, Tuvok?"

"A word with you and the commander, if it's convenient."

The captain nodded and motioned Chakotay to sit back down. "We're all ears, Tuvok."

"I have a theory."

The captain and first officer exchanged uneasy glances.

"Go on." Chakotay prompted.

"I have been puzzled by the Scavenger's motives for issuing the challenge. As far as we have been able to determine, he or she gains nothing. Other than the power consumption used by the actual transports, there has been no change to the ship. The only other change we have noted has been to the number of rations accumulated by many of the crew.

"Then I began considering what other changes had taken place that had gone without comment. That led me to conclude that the Scavenger's objective was to accomplish those changes."

"What changes were those exactly?" Chakotay asked.

"Because of the monotony of recent weeks, crew morale had been quite low prior to the appearance of the Scavenger. The boredom while on duty, particularly among the bridge crew, was clear. The appearance of the Scavenger ended all that. Within a week of his appearance, crew morale started to improve and once the first transport was discovered, the crew slowly returned to normal."

"That's an interesting theory, Mr. Tuvok. Unfortunately it doesn't help us find the Scavenger," the captain commented.

"Bear with me, Captain." Tuvok met her eyes briefly. "I then considered who would be the most likely to want to improve morale and relieve the boredom felt by the crew. The list of individuals was rather lengthy until I eliminated those who did not have the requisite knowledge to get around the ship's security systems.

"I concluded that there had to be at least two individuals involved, working together." Tuvok looked at the commander and then back at the captain. "It is my belief that the Scavenger will make his last payoff and the challenge will disappear a few days before we reach the trading station."

"Why do you think that?" Chakotay asked.

"The Scavenger's goal will have been accomplished."

"Assuming your theory is accurate, what would you propose we do?"

"Nothing, Captain. As I said, I believe the Scavenger will simply disappear."

"So we don't try to identify the Scavenger?"

"I do not believe that would be prudent." Tuvok looked at the command team. "It is possible that the Scavenger may be needed at some point in the future."

"Interesting theory, Tuvok," Chakotay commented, "and an equally interesting recommendation. Don't you agree, Captain?"

"It is. Since it's only a theory," the captain looked at Tuvok steadily, "let's carry out that recommendation. We'll do nothing. In a week or two, we'll at least know whether the part about the Scavenger simply disappearing is true."

Tuvok nodded and stood. "With your permission, I'll return to my duties."

"Granted." The captain agreed.

Tuvok walked toward the door but stopped before it opened. "There was one more thing I neglected to mention in our meeting. Although they did not appear on the list of reported transports, I did find evidence of regular transports between the crew quarters on the Scavenger's list. They were quite regular. What is most peculiar is that they seem to have started long before the Scavenger issued his challenge. If my theory is correct, they will continue long after the Scavenger disappears."

Tuvok raised an eyebrow as he met the eyes first of his captain and then of his first officer before he returned to the bridge.

Tuvok's last comment had left the captain nearly speechless. She swung around to see her first officer desperately trying to suppress a smile.

"It's only a theory, Kathryn."

"You told me those transports were secure from everyone!"

"They were until you gave Tuvok a reason to watch for them by putting the locations on the Scavenger's list."

"Now what do we do?"

"What you told Tuvok. We do nothing. The Scavenger will disappear in a week or two and we'll all be back to normal." Chakotay moved closer to Kathryn. "You know, those regular transports could stop if you wanted. I'm quite willing to use the corridor."

Kathryn finally smiled. "No, I'd like to keep that to ourselves a while longer." Gently, she ran her fingers down the side of his face.

Chakotay reached up and took her hand in his. "Early dinner tonight? I'll cook."

Kathryn nodded and her smile widened.

As they turned toward the door, she spoke. "Now, I think it's time for the Scavengers to get back to their duties. What do you think of adding Tuvok's quarters to the list just to see what happens?"
 
 

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