Mudd’s Escape

Robert
H. Wallace Mudd’s Escape

 
Mudd’s Escape

 

 
Robert H. Wallace

 

 

 

 

Transcription type:

Record of testimony

Interviewee:

Harcourt
Fenton Mudd

Subject:

Interviewee’s
account of the events leading to the destruction of androids on
M-37, also known as “Mudd’s Planet” [colloquial term:
actual planetary nomenclature and location classified]

Interviewer:

Lieutenant
Commander Virgil Bartlett, senior advocate, Judge Advocate
General’s Trial Services Office

Location:

Investigation
Carrel 8, Starbase 11

 

 

 
Recording begins.

 
This is Lieutenant
Commander Virgil Bartlett of Starfleet’s Judge Advocate General’s
Corps. I’m interviewing subject Harcourt Fenton Mudd. Mr. Mudd is the
sole surviving Federation citizen to witness incidents taking place
around Stardate 5971.7, or the last few weeks of 2271 by Earth’s
calendar, on the planet classified as M-37, commonly called “Mudd’s
Planet” in unclassified Starfleet records.

 
Mr. Mudd, please state
your name for identification purposes.”

 
I am Harcourt Fenton
Mudd.”

 
And Mr. Mudd, it is a
matter of record that you last saw Captain James Kirk and other
members of the USS Enterprise crew around Stardate 4856 on the
planet Distrel. Is that correct?”

 
Yes, your honor.”

 
Mr. Mudd, I’m a lieutenant
commander and senior advocate in Trial Services, not a judge.”

 
Sorry. Force of habit.”

 
Ah, right. Would you mind
describing for the record how you came to return to Mudd’s Planet
from the conflict between Prastor and Distrel?”

 
That would be a very long
and boring story, Commander, and while these are very comfortable
surroundings, wouldn’t you prefer that I simply tell you who
destroyed the androids?”

 
Sir, please describe
completely the circumstances. Also, I should remind you that you’re
under oath, and that the terms of your plea agreement require that
you cooperate fully with our inquiry into the events on Mudd’s Planet
before the felony charges against you are dropped.”

 
Yes, yes, well, of course,
young sir. I was simply thinking of your time, you know.”

 
Mr. Mudd, please begin.”

 
Well,
as you know, I was on Distrel and, through a series of
complicated events, the Stella companion android with me was
destroyed. What you don’t know is that after my ‘death’ and
resurrection, I was beamed to an audience with the Arnhall system’s
council of elders. I convinced the council that I did not belong in
their Nirvana but should be shipped somewhere else in the universe –
preferably close to a profitable situation and far, far away from the
androids.

 
Alas, the council of
elders decided that I should instead be returned to the ‘planet of my
origin’; little did I know when I gleefully agreed to that
arrangement that the council was using their wonderful subspace
transporters to send me back to android-infested Mudd instead of
Antares Pi IV or Earth. The council thought my home planet was the
one I’d just come from, and they used computers and tracking
systems that they barely understood to send me back.

 
When I was unexpectedly
re-interred into the prison of Mudd, the androids and I settled down
to what became nearly a year of inhumane torture. Norman and his
integrated brood decided that my recent actions and the destruction
of a Stella android, which was clearly not my fault, constituted a
crime against the android population, and thus the cacophony began in
earnest. Day and night were filled with the sounds of the Stellas —
wailing, railing, berating, repeatedly cutting me to the quick with
blood-curdling shrillness. Nothing could protect me from the android
copies of my darling Estelle. They were everywhere from dusk to dawn
and after, hounding me; I couldn’t get any relief, and the
other androids would do nothing to stop them.

 
And then things became
truly horrible.

 
I remember the turning
point with crystal clarity. I was resting in my hammock, locked
inside the matter vault for a replicator bank that I had taken
offline. The vault had walls thick enough to cut the grievous droning
of the Stella robots to a harsh whine, and I had begun sleeping with
ear plugs that I gained from a misadventure involving a mining
colony. When used in concert, the walls and plugs blunted the Stella
chorus to the level of a mildly amplified Klingon operetta as heard
from third row, middle.

 
By that point in my
imprisonment, I had learned how to sleep with only moderate
discomfort. I was partially deafened by the incessant screeches of
the Stellas. Tinnitis rang in my ears so that I was never free of
sound. My dreams were always about escaping the infernal hell of
Mudd, or about using Type 3 phaser rifles on the Stellas, or maybe
just hanging myself in the sonic shower. In short, I was near the end
of my rope.

 
Suddenly I awoke from my
dreams of revenge and euthanasia and realized that something was
wrong. It was completely quiet; I couldn’t hear the Stellas
anymore. At first, I thought I had finally gone deaf or perhaps found
the peace that only death could bring; but alas, I could hear myself
snap my fingers, and I was reasonably certain that my afterlife
wouldn’t resemble those cool makeshift quarters.

 
Confusion soon gave way to
an unguarded joyfulness as I realized the implications of silence.
Something had happened
to the Stellas; I was very hopeful that something
was vicious, deadly, and thorough. I rushed to the reinforced door
and threw off the hardened deuterium crossbars. Heedless of any
potential danger, I grabbed the doors and swung them open so hard
they crashed into replicator walls and rang from the force. I ran
into the hallway, smiling and giddy as a schoolboy. . . .

 
And then I saw the
carnage. The parts from dozens of androids, Barbara models and Alices
and some I’d never even seen before, were neatly arranged on
the floor outside the replicator vault. The poor, wretched automatons
had been ripped limb from limb and their parts gingerly stacked,
apparently by type, along the walls.

 
I was completely stunned
by the site. It was … orderly
chaos.
I staggered and fell ignobly on my bottom smack in
the middle of the eerie wreck. Shaking, I picked up a chop-fallen
Alice head and stared at it as if I were a portly Hamlet, searching
for some hint of the once-active being that jested with such twisted
mouth. I looked around me, stunned, disbelieving what I had
discovered. Brightly beautiful but empty eyes stared at me from neat
stacks in every corner of the hall, delicate hands and arms were
pyramided like tent-poles near the walls, and perfectly formed
torsos, sorted apparently by model, filled every available space of
the floor. I sat there, slumped and slack-jawed as my destroyed
captors, staring vacantly at the orderly destruction all around me.

 
Eventually my shock wore
off, and thoughts of self-preservation began eking into my overspent
brain. Whatever could shred the androids so completely could turn me
into a slick spot of protoplasm without much effort. I had to get off
that rock, or at least to find a defense against something that had
the strength, speed, and destructive power of a Klingon strikeforce.

 
With great effort, I
staggered to my feet and began shuffling toward the facility’s core.
I wanted to find the chief android, Norman, and ostensibly find out
what was going on or perhaps warn him of the apparent invasion. Of
course, secondary to that noble act, I also intended to invoke my
rights as a prisoner and demand his protection.

 
Wires, servo-motors,
fluids, chips, and chunks of syntheskin were littered throughout my
travels to the hub. The monster that had destroyed the androids and
had arranged them in an orderly manner outside my keep had evidently
gone mad, or at least was no longer so tidy. The halls looked like an
abattoir in a robot’s nightmare. I shuddered at seeing a
disembodied arm shoved shoulder-first into the floor, piercing a
power conduit and discharging thin bolts of energy from its charred
fingertips into the surrounding walls. I could not imagine the sheer
power of whatever had done
such a thing.

 
As I neared the core of
the complex, such devastation became more dramatic. Walls and
ceilings were covered in dents and embedded with unrecognizable
android parts. The floors were slick with hydraulic fluids. The scene
was unnerving to me. It looked like a Federation-Klingon battlefield,
soaking in the blood and flesh of warriors and soldiers alike.”

 
Mr. Mudd, your description
sounds like first-hand experience.”

 
Oh I have, boyo … er,
Commander. I most sincerely have.”

 
May I remind you, Mr.
Mudd, that I have reviewed your records completely, and there is no
mention of your service in any military order.”

 
Ha. Well, that’s not so
surprising. You see, I wasn’t in Starfleet, Commander, but I was on
Janni IV when the Klingons overran it.”

 
Excuse my incredulity, Mr.
Mudd, but I find this hard to believe. If this is true, then can you
explain to me why Starfleet has no record for you on Janni IV?”

 
You’ll have to ask the
Federation teams that ran the refugee camps in the Janni and
Andromeda systems during the war.”

 
Mr. Mudd, the skirmishes
between Klingon and Federation forces during that time were ‘police
actions’ – there was no official ‘war’ according to the
Federation, only actions to ensure safety of Federation interests.”

 
Believe what you like,
Commander. No matter; I saw firsthand the horror of those
battlefields. Oh, I suffered no physical injuries to my person during
those ‘police actions,’ as you call them. But it was war to those of
us on Janni and Andromeda and Genmarx Prime and Lyclydun III. Though
I escaped virtually unscathed, I held more than one friend’s
hand as he or she slipped into the Great Unknown. Have you ever been
in a war zone, Commander?”

 
No, Mr. Mudd, I can’t say
that I have.”

 
Good, good, that’s
excellent. I pray you never will. Life during the battle is often
nasty, brutish, and short, but for those of us who survived,
sometimes living with the memories is even harder.

 
For that long final night
that I spent on Mudd, sometimes I saw the faces of long-dead mates in
the android rubble. Many times I had to close my eyes and steady
myself before continuing.

 
I had seen the price that
must be paid to live within the protective arms of the Federation,
and that night on Mudd was the first time since Janni that those
images returned so dramatically. My own nightmares of the war still
color my memories of the androids scattered about the complex. At the
time, I was horrified by the devastation instead of joyous from
seeing my captors rendered into scrap. To this day, I still find the
images of those hallways confused and intensely disturbing.

 
Commander, may I have
something to drink? And perhaps some time to regain my composure?”

 
Certainly, Harry. Yeoman,
would you please get Mr. Mudd a drink? What would you like?”

 
How about coffee, please?
With milk and honey?”

 
The record shows that the next
interchange is between Yeoman Maria N’guen, assistant to Commander
Bartlett, and Harcourt Mudd.

 
Mr. Mudd, the station
replicators make raktajino but not coffee. Would that be okay?”

 
Never heard of it, my
dear.”

 
It’s a Klingon drink
similar to coffee.”

 
Well, then, I may as well.
Seems fitting, given the conversation at hand.”

 
Record is silent for
approximately three minutes before Yeoman N’guen speaks.

 
Here you go, Mr. Mudd.
Raktajino with milk and honey. I hope it’s okay.”

 
Mmmm. Hmpf. Who would’ve
thought that Klingons would enjoy something so … well, tasty
comes to mind. Excellent. Wonder what the real, non-replicated
version tastes like?”

 
Commander Bartlett restarts
the interview.

 
Harry, I’m sorry, but we
need to continue.”

 
Of course, Commander, of
course. As I said, I was quite disturbed that night. Nevertheless, I
drew up the courage to wend my way cautiously toward the center of
the facility. During my trek, I listened intently for the sounds of
battle, but nothing could be heard save the drip of lubricants from
the walls and ceilings. The eerie quiet was so out of place that at
the time I would’ve been happier if the melee opened up right in
front of me, just so that I could hear something.

 
Finally, I turned the last
corner and saw the core. Norman was there, standing stock-still in
the middle of the empty room, his back turned to me. I rushed toward
him, strangely comforted in seeing an intact android.

 
‘Norman!’ I nearly
shouted, ‘Thank the stars, Norman, you’re still in one piece.
You must know what’s happening. Did a troop ship land? Has
someone declared war on our little planet? What’s going on,
Norman?…’

 
I trailed off as I grabbed
Norman’s shoulder and turned him around. Norman’s face was
completely blank; his eyes were unfocused and his jaws were slack. I
shook him gently at first, then more vigorously, but he was
completely unresponsive. For a brief second, I felt as if I were
touching a corpse, and I recoiled.

 
‘Oh, Norman, my poor
boy-robot, you’re not here with me anymore, are you?’ I said as
I realized what had happened to him. The distributed network that
made up the single mind he shared with his mechanical kin had
suffered irrevocable damage when the other androids were destroyed.
Now Norman was nothing but a handsome statue. My once-captor was now
an empty vessel, unthreatening. He seemed pitiful now, and
inexplicably I felt a paternal urge to pat his head.

 
I saw that Norman’s
computer viewscreen was still active, so I gently lay down the rigid,
defunct android and started operating the machine. Before the
massacre, the androids kept me away from this terminal, which was the
only terminal in the complex with access to the systems’ master
control computer. I was surprised to find that the terminal had no
security restrictions in place; I had full access to every record and
file in the system.

 
It dawned on me that
security protocols wouldn’t make sense to Norman and his
helpers. As part of a unified mind, no android would access the
system to harm it, and since my return to Mudd at least one android
guarded this room at all times. The master computer couldn’t be
accessed through any other terminal — the physical connections
simply weren’t in place anywhere else. I chuckled at my good
fortune and said to Norman, ‘Honorable men expedite the cozener’s
work, my dearly departed friend.’

 
I felt the urge to rush as
I examined the files in the system. Everything was written in an
alien language, but the file structure was a standard 3-D matrix, and
I was looking for images more than text. Although I knew the androids
did not have warp ships readily available, I also knew that they
regularly mined titanium and dilithium from the asteroids in this
system. I wasn’t very excited about traveling in a mining ship
at sublight speed, but the alternative was staying on this planet, an
option I found quite unpalatable.

 
After several minutes, I
accessed the security interface within the internal sensor subsystem.
The interface featured a three-dimensional view of the entire
complex, so I started accessing visual sensors in areas that were
candidates for docking stations or ship bays.

 
What I saw was unreal.
Every area, every room, every open space that I viewed contained
either pieces of androids or whole, inactive androids. As I searched,
I began to see a very disturbing pattern, and cold chills ran up my
spine. My stomach knotted as I used the sensor viewer to trace the
swath of destruction, which ran in a single, straight line from the
core to my makeshift quarters in the replicator. And every image of
every corridor in that straight line were unified in one singular
absence.

 
There were no Stellas
anywhere in the carnage.

 
I had been blind to the
probable cause of the massacre. In retrospect, my blindness was
sensible, given the conditions of my captivity, but at the time I
only felt lucky to be alive considering what I just discovered. The
urge to run blindly away from the core, run anywhere and hide, was
almost overpowering. My life was in incredible danger, easily more so
than ever before, and I had to find a way out of there immediately.

 
My sudden realization –
that the Stellas had destroyed the other androids – was a
powerful motivator to escape Mudd by whatever means possible. I
couldn’t imagine how Spock or any member of the Enterprise’s
technical team could have made the Stellas dangerous, but
here I was. The proof was in the pudding – and if not there, it
was certainly in the wanton destruction apparent all around me.
Half-a-thousand super-strong mechanical Furies had gone mad and were
killing their kinsfolk. I couldn’t imagine what horrifying fate
would befall me, the being they were programmed to harass
incessantly, if we crossed paths during their insanity. And I didn’t
want to find out.

 
I fought to remain calm as
I focused on the information from Norman’s terminal and the
complex’s internal sensors. I changed the view from one hallway
to the next, trying to ignore the carnage while searching every
screen for a hint of escape. I worked that way for what felt like
forever, scrolling screen by screen through the silent halls. And I
saw nothing promising.

 
I also saw no Stellas.
Where had they gone?

 
I was almost afraid to
look for them, but I realized that I needed to know exactly where the
beasts were. I brought up the three-dimensional sensor overview again
and started following the horrible path from the source. I jumped
straight up when the viewscreen showed someone standing and moving in
the middle of a room, and then silently cursed myself for a fool when
I realized that the person on the screen was me.

 
The path continued in a
line from the central complex to the androids’ maintenance
centers, and then turned directly toward the manufacturing facility.
Several sensors in the facility were no longer functioning, and many
others appeared deactivated by some form of security lock. I finally
found access to the low-resolution visual sensors used for pest
control and set them to view the facility’s innards.

 
My blood ran cold for the
hundredth time that evening. The Stellas were in the manufacturing
facility. Not just most of the Stellas, but all
of them; I had the computer count them three times to be sure. All
500 Stellas were hard at work creating dozens of new androids —
new Stella androids.

 
I began trembling so hard
that I was afraid to touch the terminal. Terrified, I backed away,
hundreds of questions forming in my mind. Why are they making more?
Why did they destroy all the other androids? Why did they become so
vicious? And why didn’t the Stellas lose consciousness when
Norman went offline?”

 
Commander Bartlett interrupted
the interviewee at this point.

 
I may be able to help you
with that last question, Harry. According to records from Commander
Spock on Stardate 4513.3, he and the engineers of the Enterprise
modified the Stellas to be partially independent from the other M-37
androids. This allowed the Stella androids to engage in their primary
program of, ah, managing you
without interfering with the day-to-day operations of the
others.”

 
Well, Commander, I’ve long
since suspected something of the kind. Kirk and Spock found me …
irritating. I always thought, too, that the Stellas went mad; perhaps
the conflict between Spock’s orders and those of Norman’s collective
simply were too much for them.

 
In any case, once I
stopped shaking, I set the internal sensors to search for antimatter
— which should have been the first thing that I did, even
though I knew that the androids never used warp-capable ships. Almost
all the spaceships in service during that time used a
matter-antimatter reaction to power impulse engines or form a warp
bubble.

 
The first source I found
was the antimatter pile used to power the entire station. I tuned the
range to restrict the quantity, and soon I was staring at a dot on
the sensors that was the size and shape of the antimatter source for
a very small starship. I pulled up the three-dimensional overview
again and overlay the two sensor views. Two seconds later, I was
staring at the viewscreen in disbelief.

 
The androids had repaired
my own vessel! My lovely Coronado,
a Denebian ship that I had appropriated,
was inside a vertical take-off bay about a mile away from the central
hub of the complex. I was dumbstruck; why would Norman and his
cronies repair my ship? Were they still planning to leave Mudd and
take over the Federation? That didn’t seem possible after
Kirk’s technicians finished fine-tuning their collective
consciousness. Surely they weren’t going to let me leave this
prison planet. . . .

 
Time was getting away from
me, so I decided to ponder these questions after I left the Stellas
and their carnage far behind. I looked around the core for some kind
of output device for the computer system, but I found nothing.
Androids don’t need personal display devices or printouts or
the like; all they have to do is see the data once and they retain
all that information. Humans like us usually don’t enjoy the
advantages of such excellent data storage systems. I needed a map of
the complex and the hangar, especially since I wasn’t going to
take the most direct route to the hangar. I meant to stay hidden most
of the time and hard to see the rest of the time, which meant a
fairly convoluted trek over narrow service catwalks and through
maintenance conduits.

 
But I had no way to make a
map. I didn’t have a PADD, piece of chalk, or even a sharp
stick in my pitiful collection of personal items, much less a
positioning device or tricorder. At this point in my travels, I had
little more than my clothes and my brains.

 
So memory was all I had
left. I split the screen on the terminal and set one half to keep an
eye on the Stellas. I set the other half to display only maintenance
conduits and other limited-access areas, and then I started plotting
my way to the hangar.

 
I spent about twenty
minutes charting a course, but every second seemed like a lifetime.
Every sound, real or imagined, made me cringe and check the status of
the Stella army. Fortunately, the unbelievable stress seemed to
reinforce my powers of rote memorization; I can still remember the
course today, a hundred years later. ‘First conduit in the common
room. Turn right at the next intersection and go 85 meters; then go
right and travel for 20 meters. Go up to the catwalks in the
containment area, turn left, travel 25 meters….’ I chanted the
directions to myself dozens of times before I left the terminal and
started heading through the pile of android bodies to the common
room.

 
After committing the
coordinates to my now-crowded memory, I returned to the task at hand.
I entered the common room, hopped into the maintenance conduit, and
started the long, slow, cautious trip to the hangar bay. I literally
crawled in some places, determined to stay as concealed as my stocky
profile would allow me. From tube to catwalk to dimly lit hallways, I
skulked, padded, and generally sneaked my way to the hangar and the
docking port for the Coronado.

 
My
ship was in drydock, the force-field that served as hangar doors to
the vertical bay was engaged, and I had no idea how I would fly my
ship away from Mudd during the whole time that I was creeping toward
her. But part of successfully living by your wits is believing that
you’ll find an answer or take full advantage any given situation, and
I had every intention of leaving that hellish planet. I knew I would
find a way or make a way.

 
My path crossed the
destructive path of the Stellas only once through the whole
painstaking, five-hour-long trip to the hangar. I had to go from one
side of one corridor to another, traveling maybe 20 meters down the
android-strewn hall, so that I could enter the hangar bay without
being detected. I tried to avoid even that junction, but no other
entry into the bay offered as much concealment.

 
As I stepped into the
hall, I noticed a difference in the carnage. Many of the Barbaras,
Maisies, and other androids in the passage were complete machines,
still standing and with heads cocked like confused puppies. Some of
these small-sized androids had been cannibalized by the Stellas for
parts to build more Stellas; missing limbs and the occasional absent
head were signs that the ghoulish harpies were recycling the other
androids.

 
I edged warily down the
hallway, feeling more exposed than ever. I was certain that a
contingent of Stella drones would appear out of nowhere, grab me, and
start tearing me into spare parts. I stepped nimbly through the
lifeless mannequins, careful not to tip over those still standing.
The resounding thump
as an Alice hit the metal floor would surely bring the wrath of
Stella upon me.

 
I was sweatily dancing my
way through the throng of android parts when realized that one
android on the floor was not like the others. Her mousy hair and
pear-like build made me jump nearly a meter in the air. A Stella! I
hopped back from her as if she could bite me – which she could
– and immediately lost my balance. Arms flailing, I turned as I
fell and caught myself on my hands and knees. The hall echoed with
the sounds of my flesh solidly hitting the floor and the resultant
wheeze as my breath left me in one tremendous gush.

 
Immediately, I flipped
onto my backside and threw up my arms, protecting my face from what
surely would be both the most painful and the last beating I’d
ever receive. When no such beating came, I opened one eye and looked
at where the Stella should be. Sure enough, she was still on the
floor. Now I could see her face. Mouth agape and eyes open wide,
Stella 125 had a look of intense surprise upon her visage. Something
had certainly caught her attention in a most decisive manner.

 
No longer fearful of the
android, and so curious as to become unaware of how much my knees and
arms really hurt, I crawled toward Stella 125. I could see that her
head somehow was on backward, and that her lavender-swirled dress was
in disarray around the small of her back. I tugged gently at her
clothing, still half afraid that she’d spring to life and
decapitate me on the spot. But I found that Stella 125 was no longer
capable of lifting a finger, much less removing any of mine. The
dress at the small of her back was singed, and so was the syntheskin
underneath the material. The skin also was quite lumpy, as if someone
had injected the guts of a wind-up toy under it.

 
I gently flipped Stella
125 over to look at her stomach, and was astounded by what I saw.
Something had blown a 5-centimeter divot into Stella’s midriff.
She had been shot at close range and quite recently with something
very stout – I thought perhaps a plasma rifle or Klingon
disruptor.

 
When I first viewed the
Stellas at work in the hangar, I set the computer to count them and
verify the number. All 500 Stellas were accounted for in that initial
viewing, and from what I could tell all those Stellas were numbered.
So Stella 125 must’ve been in that head-count; she couldn’t
have been a newly activated Stella.

 
Which meant that someone
or something new had
entered the complex in the previous four hours or so since I’d used
the internal sensors. Whatever it was, it had some spectacular
firepower.”

 
Record is silent for
approximately one minute.

 
So, Harry, your testimony
is that the androids modeled after your ex-wife Estelle destroyed the
M-37 androids, and that in turn some other agents attacked the
Stellas?”

 
Yes, Commander, that’s
precisely the point of my little narrative.”

 
So then, did you see who
or what engaged the Stellas?”

 
Well, yes, actually, and
I’m getting to that. Yeoman N’guen, lassie, would you mind popping
over to the replicator for another raktajino? Once you get used to
the flavor, that drink is positively addictive.”

 
Record is silent for
approximately three minutes before Harcourt Mudd continues.

 
Thank you, thank you, my
dear; that’s just perfect. Simply perfect.”

 
Now, Commander Bartlett,
let’s see; where was I? Oh, yes – the fate of the abominable
Stellas.

 
As I said, Stella 125 had
been the recipient of an energy weapon’s close-range discharge.
Given that the Stellas had wreaked their particular brand of havoc on
the other androids in a hand-to-hand manner, and given my gut feeling
that Stellas wouldn’t murder one of their own, I felt safe in
assuming, like you did, Commander, that at least one entity of
unknown origin had arrived on the planet. Furthermore, the entity or
entities were able and willing to defend themselves, or at least take
potshots at homely, screeching androids.

 
I should have been at
least cautiously optimistic at this point. After all, if whatever was
on the ship had already met the Stellas and had found them
exceedingly unpleasant, then surely I could convince the new arrivals
that I shared in their dislike. I normally felt pretty confident
about first impressions, and this situation gave me at least a
starting point in winning over the newest visitors to Mudd.

 
I should have been
optimistic, but I wasn’t. Instead, I eerily felt certain that
things were worse than before. And that very feeling was confirmed
soon after I found the deactivated Stella.

 
But I’m jumping
ahead of myself yet again. As I cradled Number 125, I decided that I
really did want to know why she and her kinsfolk had suddenly chosen
to commit mayhem. I searched around her midsection with my fingers
until I found the pressure switch for her central access panel. The
Stellas, like all the others, kept their brains in their heavily
armored chests, and I wanted to take Miss 125’s mind to my
ship. I knew that, if and when I did make it off the planet, I’d
go insane unless I knew what prompted their destructive rampage.

 
Fortunately, the divot in
her midriff shattered only the android’s positronic processing
unit and network interlock; the six small sheets of crystal engrams,
each capable of holding a terabyte of data per centimeter, were still
intact inside the tungsten-alloy chest casing. I pulled the casing
from the wrecked android’s body and, having no pockets in my
garb at the time, stuffed the case in my shirt.

 
Finally ready to continue,
I stood up. My arms and legs were stiff from flopping around on the
floor after encountering Stella 125, so I promised myself a massage
on Rigel after all this was behind me.

 
No more did I get fully
upright than a tremendous explosion shook the complex, and I fell yet
again, right on top of the defunct android. When I finally got my
bearings from that new shock, I realized the light grid in that area
was no longer lit. The floor-mounted emergency lighting had become
active, which meant that the main power systems were not online in
this part of the complex. The sound and feel of the explosion led me
to believe that the main systems were probably offline all over the
complex. The steely grip of panic was beginning to wash over me once
more.

 
I stood up, crouching this
time, and made my way to the access panel for the conduit that would
take me directly into the bay. As I unlatched the panel and entered
the conduit, I began hearing the sounds of a firefight taking place
at the other end of the tube. Someone was firing energy weapons in
the hangar bay! Fearing the worst, I ignored my aching knees and
moved as fast as I could toward the access panel at the other end. I
had to see whether the combatants had damaged the Coronado,
my last hope of getting away from Mudd and the Stellas.

 
The air in the conduit
smelled strongly of burning ozone and ever-so-slightly of burnt
flesh. Bent over, back just barely touching the top of the tube, with
bruised knees and sore,
sweating hands on the steel floor, I was incredibly uncomfortable,
yet the mix of scents made me freeze in place. Suddenly I was a young
man again, watching through memory’s eyes as the Klingon forces
swept through our settlement. Phasers and disruptors flashed their
fire and the bloodied steel ba’at-leths spun in the moonlight
as my innocence was stripped away for good. The battlefield was alive
for me again, and suddenly the bright focus of a desperate refugee
took control of my thoughts. A part of me that had lain dormant for
many years was now awake, ready to get me out of a very deadly
predicament.

 
Steeling myself, I opened
the conduit panel a few centimeters and surveyed what I could of the
hangar. Two Stellas, each heavily damaged by energy weapons, had
their backs to me less than two meters away. I could see the outline
of my ship and vague suggestions of figures in the shadows, ducking
for cover or stepping out to open fire. The Stellas were moving
swiftly and with military precision from one tactical position to
another, avoiding fire and evidently moving toward the unseen enemy.
A few Stellas appeared to be firing weapons, but most were unarmed
and were defending themselves only through their formidable
dexterity.

 
A flash of light suddenly
blinded me, and I ducked back into the tube, pulling the panel back
into place and twisting away from the most likely area of impact. I
heard thumps against the panel; then nothing. After almost a minute,
I tried to open the panel, but something apparently was blocking it.
I pushed harder and harder, finally wedging myself tightly in the
conduit and thrusting my legs against the panel. The firefight raged
on, so I didn’t even attempt to do this quietly.

 
My legs were able to push
open the panel against tremendous resistance, and as soon as I
thought I could squeeze out, I spun in the tube and looked out again.
The two Stellas who had been leaning against the panel were now lying
in front of it, fresh disruptor holes still sparking in their sides.
I could finally see the Coronado,
and she appeared undamaged, at least on the side that I
could see.

 
I could also see the
invasion force. Still focused by the inner survivor, I quickly
counted more than a dozen helmeted Romulan regulars in various
concealed areas of the bay, waging a fairly spirited and apparently
one-sided war against the Stellas.”

 
Romulans? Harry, did you
say you saw Romulans?”

 
Yes, m’boy. That’s right.
Twelve angry men, pointy-eared and dangerous, nearly all of them
wearing round, silver helmets that really didn’t seem to help much in
combat….”

 
How did you recognize
them? I mean, how did you know they were Romulans?”

 
Oh, well, I guess you’re
asking because Starfleet at the time had only a couple of visual
encounters with the Romulans, right?”

 
Sir, that information is
classified….”

 
Yes, yes, of course. You
see, Commander, although Starfleet and the Federation had seen very
few Romulans up to that point, those of us who lived, let’s say, on
the fringes of Federation hospitality sometimes had indirect
dealings with them.

 
But that’s really not such
an important question, now, is it? Since that time, what I wondered
most about was, why were Romulans there? What did they hope to gain
from a planet full of androids? And furthermore, how
were they there? Did they find Mudd on their own? That seemed highly
unlikely, all things considered.”

 
I see what you mean.”

 
Record is silent for more than
a minute. Trial Services records show that Commander Bartlett
composed a note on his PADD for further investigation of these
revelations by the subject.

 
I’m sorry, Harry. Please
continue.”

 
Oh, of course. Well, as I
made my way into the hangar, I could see that the Stellas were
inflicting casualties on the Romulans in a most unusual and primitive
way: They were flinging anything they could get their hands on at the
soldiers, and with deadly accuracy at that. I saw one Stella pick a
piece of shrapnel out of the inactivated remains of another and, with
the flick of her wrist, cut down in mid-stride a Romulan running for
cover.

 
The battle raged in
earnest off to my right, but I was behind the main engagement. I
squeezed out of the conduit and crawled over to the two defunct
androids that had temporarily blocked me in the narrow tunnel. For
one spine-tingling moment, I heard one crone cackle ‘Harcourt!’
softly, but the sounds of power units finally giving up the ghost
silenced her voice forever. I checked them to see whether either one
had appropriated a disruptor in the battle, but neither had been so
fortunate.

 
‘You’ve helped me
even less in death, dears, than you helped me in life,’ I said, more
to myself than to the androids, and began looking for the best way to
get into the Coronado.
I was no more than thirty meters from the ship’s
ventral access hatch, which I could reach just barely from the hangar
deck. I would have to travel thirty meters, unlock and pull open the
hatch, pull myself into the ship, and lock the hatch before anyone
saw me. Given the number of eyes roving around the room and the
general antipathy that either side of the warring parties were likely
to feel toward me, I was convinced that my odds weren’t good.

 
And then Lady Luck smiled
at me, not once or even twice, but thrice.

 
Within seconds of
beginning my thirty-meter race against the Devil, an explosion rocked
the entire deck. I was hardly aware of it, as focused as I was on the
Coronado, but it had a
dramatic effect on the combatants, knocking android harpy and
helmeted legionnaire alike to the plating. I was able to make it to
the hatch without a single incident.

 
That was the first
fortunate happenstance. The second presented itself after I opened
the hatch and pulled myself into the Coronado. As I began
closing the hatch door, I met the eyes of a Romulan regular not three
meters from the ship. He raised his disruptor and, just as he fired,
I saw a Stella tackle him devastatingly from behind.

 
My world erupted in a
miasma of yellow flame, and I was thrown back against the rear wall
of the compartment. Stars were exploding around me; the bells of
Saint Mary’s were ringing in my head. For a moment I couldn’t
breathe, and I was sure that my end had finally come.

 
In what seemed like both
an eternity and an instant, I realized that my chest was very, very
hot, but it wasn’t burning, and it seemed to have no additional
ventilation. Breathing was difficult but not impossible. Still
somewhat confused, I reached into my tunic and burned my hand on
something metal.

 
The engram casing! The
Romulan soldier’s aim had been true; he hit me right in the heart,
but I had stowed the engram casing from Stella 125 in my tunic’s
inner pocket. Shakily, I struggled to arise, only to slip on some
metal object lying on the deck.

 
Somehow I gained my feet,
though just barely. I looked down and saw a disruptor. Apparently, by
tackling the Romulan who shot me, the Stella had knocked the
disruptor from his hand and into the hold of the ship.

 
I no more than grabbed the
pistol when I heard the vile cry:

 
‘Harcourt Fenton Mudd!
There you are, you elusive rascal. Where do you think you’re going?’

 
The Stella behind the
voice was crawling through the open hatch toward me. She was badly
damaged by disruptor fire, and yet she seemed quite determined to
continue shrilly demeaning my character. I noted that this Stella was
unnumbered, which confirmed my belief that just before the Romulan
invasion, the Stellas were … well, were reproducing, for
want of a better word.

 
I said, ‘Stella, dear?’

 
The android whined, ‘Yes,
Harcourt, you weasel?’

 
‘Did you knock down the
nice man who tried to kill me?’

 
Commander, at the sound of
my voice and from my choice of words, the Stella’s ruined features
softened somewhat. It was almost enough to make me feel compassion
for her. Almost.

 
‘ Why yes, Harcourt,
dear. I did.’ She attempted a smile, but because the lower half of
her face was almost completely free of syntheskin, the effort
resembled a terrifying rictus etched on a metal skull.

 
‘Then thank you, Stella,’
I said, and fired the disruptor point-blank into her chest. And I
don’t mean to sound hard-hearted, Commander, but anthropomorphic
robot or not, even rescuer or not, shooting it was the most
satisfying experience of my life, before or since.”

 
Understandable, Harry,
considering what you went through on M-37.”

 
Well, then, Commander, so
now you know everything that I know about the denizens of Mudd’s
Planet, their little civil war, and the Romulan invaders that mopped
up the victors. Thank you very much for this meeting. And thank you,
Yeoman, for introducing me to this wonderful drink. Now, I really
must be going….”

 
Sorry, Harry, but we’re
not finished here. You gained your ship, but how did you escape the
hangar bay? How did you outrun the Romulan ship that brought the
ground forces? What did you do with the Stella’s memory engrams?”

 
Commander, my friend, I’ve
told you what you wanted to know – the Stellas destroyed the
other androids and the Romulans destroyed the Stellas. My escape
really doesn’t change those facts. Haven’t I fulfilled the
requirements of our agreement?”

 
Harry, I really don’t….”

 
Commander … Virgil,
please, let’s not quibble. You’ve got what you need. I can’t fill in
any of the blanks for you or your superiors. Starfleet Intelligence
will have to answer the most pressing, the most important,
questions that remain. Like how did the Romulans learn about Mudd’s
Planet? Why did they send troops? Did they salvage anything useful –
or more significantly, something that could be used against the
Federation?”

 
Well, yes, but….”

 
Of course, of course. I
understand; you want to be thorough. You have been, my boy,
completely and unequivocally. You’ve interrogated me fully; I have
nothing left to give. And quite frankly, some of the memories are
simply too horrible to recall.

 
I’m just an old man now,
Virgil, ready to stop roaming the sector for the next opportunity. I
shall retire soon, maybe return home to Antares Pi, or maybe even go
to Earth and start a simple business to occupy my time.”

 
But….”

 
Virgil, please. The galaxy
belongs to young commanders like yourself, not old men like me. I
have nothing left to give. Just let me go now, to reminisce with all
the others who remember the early days of the Federation. I promise,
if you need me, I shan’t go far.”

 
Harry, of course, you’ve
been a great help. Thank you very much for your testimony in this
matter. Please, I have to tell you this: The location of M-37, the
nature of the facility and its inhabitants, and the events leading to
the destruction of the facility are classified by Starfleet Command
as top-secret. Anything you’ve shared with me today should not be
repeated outside these chambers.”

 
Virgil, my boy, of course.
I can keep a secret with the best of them. It’s been such a pleasure
working with you today, young man. You’re a credit to the uniform,
yes, yes. Um, Yeoman? Could you escort me out, please?”

 
Yeoman N’guen responds.

 
Certainly, sir. This way,
please.”

 
Recording ends.

 
Record notes from the Judge
Advocate General, Admiral Insik Queem: Lieutenant Commander Virgil
Bartlett was reprimanded for allowing Mudd to leave the interview
without a complete, accurate account of his actions leading up to and
including his escape from M-37. Command review of testimony recorded
herein deems Mudd’s account to be highly suspect. Also, far from
“retiring” to the Altair system or within Sector 001,
Mudd disappeared almost immediately after the conclusion of this
interview. His current whereabouts are unknown.

 

 
-end-

 

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