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"Kathryn, are you all right?" When I came back later that night, she was sitting on the couch, poring over another padd. I pulled her over to me and started to rub her neck.

She sighed and settled in. " Thanks. And yes. I'm fine. I just -- oh hell, it sounds ridiculous."

"What's ridiculous?"

"The turbolift's ridiculous. I'm ridiculous. I can not for the life of me figure out why the stupid thing is still acting up. I've looked at the specs a dozen times. I've gone over every component there is. There is NO explanation for why it's running 2 seconds slow."

"What does B'Elanna say?"

"I don't think I should repeat that."

When I stopped rubbing her neck, she continued. "Don't misunderstand. She's helped every step of the way.... it's just that I think she thinks I'm crazy."

"I'm not going anywhere near that one."

She sighed. "You too, huh? Well, you're all probably right. I don't know why it's bugging me. Probably it's just that what should have been a nice, sweet, simple fix is turning out to be impossible."

I smiled. "Easy fixes are hard to come by in the Delta Quadrant."

"Tell me about it."

I stopped rubbing her neck, and pulled her into my arms. "Kathryn, you'll work it out. Just use some of that Starfleet ingenuity you're so famous for. Give it time. You'll find the answer."

She shook her head. "I doubt it. And I think this one requires Maquis ingenuity. You know, now that I think of it, you've stayed completely clear of this and..."

"Oh, no."

She laughed. "Coward."

I returned the smile. "I'm serious, Kathryn. You're the one with the skills in this arena. Do you know how the phrase Starfleet ingenuity became common slang on the ship?"

She shrugged. "No. But I bet you're going to tell me."

I laugh, I can't help it. "Yep, definitely, I am."


Chell's Story
or The Truth about Starfleet Ingenuity
by Sam


It was a thing of beauty, of glory, of absolute brilliance unrivaled in the universe, or at least unrivaled in the Delta Quadrant. His father had always said it was better to be modest. It was intricate, detailed and stupendously designed. It was a true measure of Maquis ingenuity --- the ultimate example of how even the worst materials, combined with the best of minds, could result in excellence.

Of course, it was also illegal by Starfleet standards. That was, as Tuvok often said, "irrelevant." Still, Chell sighed silently. If they were in the Alpha Quadrant, he'd make millions of latinium on the machine. Of course, if they were in the Alpha Quadrant, he'd probably be dead. He smiled, and decided that all things happened for a reason. Here he was in the Delta Quadrant, ready, willing and able to try out the first, the only, the most brilliantly designed illegal still that had ever been made. There was true beauty in the universe.

Vodka, beer, wine, whiskey, hatnotivi, risan liqueur -- all of them, all readily available immediately. Just put in water, carbohydrates of any sort, and a few secret ingredients, and press the right button. And it WASN'T a replicator. No, this used real ingredients. Unbelievable. It was a critical and entirely necessary piece of equipment for the Delta Quadrant, considering Janeway's bad habits of putting them IN danger and OUT of replicators with regular frequency. And it was beautiful. It'd taken him months to perfect. Dalby and Gerron had even started to worry about him, claiming he was obsessed. But he'd been determined. And now it was done.

He had to try it out. But...it was obviously no fun to drink alone and if he was the only one who knew about it, the beauty of the design would remain unappreciated. That would be sad; it deserved to be cooed over, to be examined with awe. Of course, none of the Starfleet straights would understand the significance of his break through. Only someone who understood the importance of making something out of nothing, of seeing connections where there weren't any, would understand the brilliance of his design. This was clearly a Maquis maneuver.

Pushing out his chest, and smiling at the thought of the accolades soon to come, he went to find Dalby and Gerron.

Dalby ran into the bathroom, barely making it to the sink before he began to heave. "Damn it, Chell, you're trying to poison me."

Chell turned a slightly darker shade of blue. He coughed and swallowed. And then he coughed again. "I'm not. All right, so maybe it does need a few adjustments. But the design is there." He thought about the possibilities. "Leola root probably doesn't have the right amount of carbohydrates, that's all."

Dalby came back into the room, a greenish tinge to his skin, and a murderous expression on his face. "Leola root, my ass. That's just nauseating. *This* I nearly died from."

Chell bristled, defending his design. Dalby just didn't seem to understand. All inventions required a few adjustments at the onset. "It'll take time to perfect the mix, that's all, but it's still.."

Dalby interrupted. "It's still one of your stupid schemes that never works out." Dalby turned away and sighed. "Look, Chell, you're good at alot of things, and you saved my skin on Liberty a couple of times, so I'm gonna forget this one. But get it clear --- you are NOT an inventor. Never have been. Never will be. The idea's crazy."

Chell turned and looked at Gerron, hoping for some support. Gerron just shrugged and said, "You know I don't drink, Chell." Chell could have sworn he heard Gerron mumble something like "thank the universe" under his breath, but he decided he was mistaken. Gerron was always up for new ideas.

But Gerron let him down when he continued. " Dalby's right. The design makes no sense. Let it go. Why don't you go play pool or something -- you know, do something safe that will relieve some of the stress you've been under lately."

Chell shook his head. Dalby and Gerron both clearly thought he'd lost his mind. But he knew better. Well, no inventor ever met with immediate approval. He was just a man before his time. They'd come to understand the significance someday. He'd prove it to them.

The problem was that he needed to use something besides leola root. He thought it through. Neelix probably wouldn't let him into the stores without some explanation. But then again, Neelix was always talking about the need for the crew to have hobbies. Maybe he could appeal to the Talaxian as the "morale officer" and squirm his way into the stores. It was worth a shot.

He got up and looked at Dalby and Gerron with disdain. "Brilliance is never understood."

He ignored their groans as he left the room loudly.

Chell plotted his approach to Neelix thoughtfully. The best time to ask for his help was between meal shifts, while Neelix was alone. Chell waited until 1400 hours and then skulked discretely into the Mess Hall, vigilantly protecting the device. He didn't want to have to make any more explanations than were strictly necessary.

The Talaxian was delighted to see him. "Mr. Chell, what can I do for you? And well, don't you have something interesting there? What is that?" Neelix pointed to the still.

Chell smiled. "It's a surprise. It combines real foodstuffs and makes Alpha quadrant beverages out of them. It's a real breakthrough, Neelix, but I need your help. It needs just a few tiny adjustments."

The Talaxian's smile grew. "Of course. Glad to help wherever I can. What is it you need? I'm sure the Captain would be delighted if you could make some real coffee that's not replicated."

Chell sighed. All right, maybe he hadn't told the exact truth, but, well, it WAS possible that someday he might be able to adjust the mix to make coffee. And it was the design that was important anyway. What were a few untruths in the overall scheme of the universe and the pursuit of knowledge and beauty?

At first, Neelix was wonderful help, marvelous help, a truly thoughtful co-inventor. They tried a variety of liquids and carbohydrates. Unfortunately, the Talaxian's tastebuds weren't quite in line with Alpha Quadrant delicacies. Or perhaps that was fortunate. The Talaxian's tastebuds were also unfamiliar with Alpha Quadrant alcohol.

They were happily into the middle of a discussion between the values of using potoka and leola root, when Neelix suddenly stopped and looked at him with a saddened expression.

"Mr. Chell?"

"Yes, Mr. Neelix?"

Neelix said knowingly, if slightly blurry-eyed, "This machine is a still."

Chell sighed sadly, wishing the Talaxian hadn't noticed. "Yes, sir, it is."

Neelix continued slowly. "An illegal still."

"Yes, sir."

"A still that Lt. Tuvok would throw you in the Brig for developing and me in the brig for Collusion."

Chell shuddered at the thought and said urgently, " Neelix, it's not the alcohol that's important. It's the beauty of the design.... it's such a beautiful, beautiful baby." Chell ran his hand lovingly over the instrument.

Neelix looked down at the machine and smiled sadly. "It *is* lovely. I used to invent quite a bit in my day. I understand what you mean."

Chell looked at Neelix in relief. "I *knew* you'd understand."

Neelix sighed with resignation and regret. "It's shtill a still."

"Yes, it is."

"It's got to go, Mr. Chell. You need to ... dismantle it."

Chell gasped. "You can't mean it."

Neelix groaned. "I have to mean it, Mr. Chell. Lt. Tuvok is quite capable of being... logical about this sort of thing."

Chell sighed. He'd had such hopes, but the Talaxian just didn't understand inventing, not really. "I wouldn't want to get you in trouble, Neelix. I will accept your advice."

The Talaxian got up. "Thank you."

As Chell walked to the door, Neelix turned to him once more. "Mr. Chell, I do believe the problem's in the way you've adjusted the mix. You need a thingamabobby to adjust the whatdoyoucallit. Not that that matters, of course. It's still got to go."

Chell nearly started to cry. "Of course."

He wasn't done yet. He was down but he wasn't out for the count. Chell determinedly wandered toward Engineering. He knew he was a braver man than most. This proved it. He was willing to face... Tuvok, if necessary. He was slightly ... tipsy, but he was a man with a mission. Tipsy wasn't important; his invention was. This was a break through. He was the inventor par excellance. So, maybe, just maybe, there were a few problems. But he was sure Neelix was right. The Talaxian had given him the idea. He needed to adjust the mix. It was going to be easy if he could get his hands on the right thingamabobby.

Unfortunately, getting the right tools required getting into Engineering, and that required getting past Torres. He paled. Torres was always... scary... when he'd tried to use her tools on Liberty. But this was a big ship, an important ship. No reason one additional person was going to matter. They wouldn't even notice him. He took a deep breath and walked in the door.

He was immediately relieved. The scene was a zoo; there were people scurrying all over. It was chaos. He snuck over to the first available bay and started looking for a ... whatdoyoucallit. Unfortunately, Ayala saw him nearly immediately.

"Chell, what are you doing here? Oh hell, it's got to be another one of your hair-brained schemes. You've got to get out of here. It's serious right now. The warp's down and B'Elanna's on a roll. Even Janeway's down here trying to help. If they see you, you're dead dilithium."

Chell looked up, defensively. "This is important. It'll only take a minute and ---"

Torres turned and looked at Ayala and Chell. "Kahless, Chell, not again. What have I told you about the tools? This is some damned idiocy of yours, isn't it? Not now. Ayala, get over here and help me with this. Chell, if you're not out of here in 10 seconds, I'm going to enjoy feeding you to a bevy of bemeloths when I'm done, piece by piece."

Chell turned back to the workbench, determined to finish, only to find Chakotay hovering over him. "Torres just told you to leave, Chell. I suggest you follow her advice."

"Chakotay, it'll just take a *second.* I swear this is important."

"I've heard it before. Look, Chell, we're busy now. Take it somewhere else. Talk to me tomorrow, or next week. Just not now. If you don't have enough to do, I'm sure Tuvok would be glad to extend the workout schedule. Laps, for example."

Chell paled. Chakotay turned away knowingly and started to consult with B'Elanna.

Chell stared in misery at his invention. They'd all let him down. All the Maquis -- Dalby, Gerron, Ayala, Torres, Chakotay --- none of them understood. All right, maybe there was an emergency, but he had brains, he had ideas, and he wasn't in the way. The invention was important. He just needed to use one little tiny space in one little tiny corner of one little tiny bay. Even the Talaxian hadn't really understood. It was hopeless. No one cared. He got up sadly, carefully holding his device, and began to leave.

Unfortunately, he wasn't as sure on his feet as he usually was. He stumbled and wobbled straight into ... oh, Kahless, it was the Captain. He panicked and they both nearly ended up on the floor. Chakotay came up immediately and steadied the Captain, his face implacable. Chell understood the expression. He'd seen it before. Death could only be minutes away. Well, that didn't matter anymore. The Maquis had let him down. He was a devastated man. What was death after devastation?

"What is this?" Janeway had her hands on the device. She was looking it over with confusion.

Chell choked and stayed silent.

"Ensign? What is this?" Janeway kept looking at the device, examining it carefully.

Chell thought it through ---name, rank and serial number... that's what Tuvok had told him in the training. That's all he had to say. He started to choke them out.

Janeway looked at him in surprise and then back down at the still. "Chell, are you all right? I know who you are. B'Elanna, come look at this."

Torres walked over and grabbed the machine. "I'm sorry, Captain. I--"

Janeway interrupted. "B'Elanna, LOOK at it. Didn't you just say that if we had a way to adjust the flow slowly and change the chemical composition as we went -- well, I think Mr. Chell has a device here that can do just that."

Torres looked carefully at the still. "Kahless, I think you're right. We'll have to change the metals, of course, and .. but it might work, Captain."

Chell realized suddenly that the room was quiet. They were all staring at him, expectantly. He gulped.

Janeway finally broke the silence. "Good work, Ensign. I knew a little Maquis ingenuity -- making something out of impossible connections -- was what was needed. Thank you."

Chell looked proudly at the most incredible, courageous, intelligent Captain in the Quadrant. Well, that's what he thought anyway. He said carefully, looking disdainfully at the Maquis in the room, "It was *Starfleet* ingenuity, Captain. It takes brilliance to understand brilliance. I'm glad my little device can help you save the day."


* * *

Kathryn smiled up at me. "Are you telling me that thing was a *still*?"

I smirk. "Yes. I'm afraid it was."

She sat silently for a moment. "Did he ever fix the mix?"

I got up and pulled her off the couch. "Hoping for the coffee, hmmm? That's another tale for another day."

She smiled and sighed. "Chakotay?"

"Yes?"

"Do you think it would be a good idea to put Chell on the turbolift problem?"

I laugh hard and pull her into the bedroom. "I think you should decide, Captain. Starfleet ingenuity can often go a long way."


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