A BIT OF MUDD

By Lorraine Anderson

"Give me that phaser," she growled, glaring at the B things B that surrounded him.

"But, Ma'am..." The ensign escorting her to the planet backed into the gray, rock-like wall. He looked around, as if looking for a door.

"The phaser!" She held out her hand, demanding the ensign's obedience.

"Ma'am, I can't. I'm under orders. The captain..."

"Then who's responsible for this?"

She could see the sweat starting on his brow. "Um... I believe Captain Kirk..."

"Who is not here and who left him here like this. I call that criminally irresponsible."

"Um... I was told he had good reason..."

She sighed. She was surrounded by idiots. She strode forward, forcing through the crowd surrounding her husband. She had been told that the natives were harmless. Harmless? This was being harmless? Her poor husband was being hassled to death. He was pale. He had lost weight, although he was still overweight. Even his mustache was drooping. More than that, though he looked clean, he smelled like he hadn't washed in days.

This is why she came here. She knew he needed... correction, but this was not acceptable.

She reached her husband, turned around, and said, "Scram. All of you! Get away from him!" She curled her fists.

They looked at her. "But we were told..." one said.

"I am human. My order - on this matter - supersedes any others. Do I or do I not have your obedience?"

They went still for a second, the indicators around their necks glowing.

"You do. But your order countermands..."

"I don't give a rip about previous orders. Go!"

She waited until all of her doppelgangers left the room, then turned to her husband. She stroked his face. "Oh, Harry, Harry... are you all right?"

He looked up at her slowly. He cringed back. "Stella...?"

"Yes..." She softened her tone. She hadn't been sure he would recognize her. She had softened her hairstyle, and her hair color had gone back to it's natural grey-brown. Looking at the androids that had surrounded him, she almost felt ill. She hadn't realized that she looked quite like… that. She turned her attention toward her husband, then gave him a gentle hug. "Yes, Harry, it's Stella."

"Harcourt Fenton Mudd, are you..."

"Stop!" Stella Mudd turned toward the android who entered the room. "I told all of you to go away! Or do I have to take it up with... who do you call it..."

"Norman?" suggested the ensign.

"Norman."

The robot stared at Harry, then at Stella. She exited the room quietly.

Harry was cringing before her. It broke her heart. She turned toward the ensign. "We are getting him out of here, now."

The ensign drew his communicator with the speed of a gunslinger. "Roberts to Grissom. Three to beam up."

"Three? But..." He was silent a moment. "I was told to…"

"Please don't argue, Sam, I'm begging you."

"Three."

Stella kneeled down, and placed a gentle arm around Harry. Their surroundings shifted to an Oberth class transporter room. He looked up like a small child. "Are they gone?"

She smiled at him. "Yes, honey, they're gone." She looked up at the transporter chief, then at the ensign. "You will both help me get him to sickbay, then I want to see your Captain."

The two men cringed. "Yes'm."

She smiled at Harry. "Stand up, dear. These two nice young men are going to help you get well."

"Yes, Stella, dear." Harry stood up obediently, not a spark of resistance in him.

Stella looked at him and chewed her lips as he turned around. "Captain Kirk is going to pay for this," she muttered. She strode after the two men.

Harry's mustache twitched.

#

"What?"

Admiral Wolfram looked at Kirk through the view screen. "I think you heard me."

Kirk grimaced. "But…"

"Harry Mudd is a Federation citizen, no matter what you - I - might think of him. You left him in a situation which basically turned out to be a form of torture."

"Um… that was the point."

Admiral Wolfram looked stern. In fact, Kirk could never imagine him smiling. His black eyebrows and hawk-like nose dominated his face. He was thin, yet his presence filled the screen and his dark brown eyes bored into him. Kirk hadn't ever heard of this Admiral, and, even though they had just met, hoped they would never meet again.

"You meant to torture him?" Wolfram said.

Kirk looked over the top of the view screen at the wall in his quarters. He was thankful he hadn't had this little interview in front of the crew. "I had hoped to… reform him."

"Did it occur to you that wasn't your choice? That you should have brought him back for his crimes? Or his reformation?" The admiral sighed and looked off screen. "Do you keep up with the news?"

Kirk felt a little bewildered at the change in subject. "I'm afraid not, sir, I don't often get a chance…"

"Not only is Stella Mudd demanding your court-martial, she is also is raking you… and Starfleet… over the coals. She is a prominent scientist in her field."

Stella Mudd, a scientist…?

" Now, you may not care about your reputation…"

Kirk flinched.

"But Starfleet can't afford to be as lax. Can you imagine what the Klingons might think about the situation? Or the Romulans?"

"You think they watch our news?"

Wolfram rolled his eyes. "We know they watch our news. And we watch theirs, Kirk."

"Oh." Kirk knew there was a reason he didn't watch the news.

"You will rendezvous with the science vessel, the 'Grissom', at Mudd's planet. I will meet with you there for a preliminary hearing in my own vessel. The hearing will be aboard your ship."

"Sir? Why there?"

"We will need to coordinate with Norman."

Kirk flinched again.

#

"Tell me you're here to pick up the Mudds."

Kirk looked at the view screen with sympathy. The balding captain - a scientist if Kirk ever saw one - looked at him with despair. "She's interfering with my scientists, she's disrupting our experiments, and she keeps threatening to blow the planet up." He sighed. "It's been a hard week."

"Captain O'Neill, how could she blow up the planet?" Kirk couldn't help asking.

"I have no doubt she could convince Norman that it would be the best thing for him to do. She's a force of nature, Captain." He looked down at his hands. "Please take her."

Kirk looked at Captain Quinn, then closed his eyes. "Transport when ready." He looked at Spock and spread his hands. Spock looked at him and raised an eyebrow, then turned back to his display, his back even straighter than usual.

Kirk swallowed. Even Spock was bothered.

#

"Are you Kirk?" Stella Mudd demanded as soon as she materialized.

Transporter Chief Kyle raised his eyebrows. "No, ma'am. I'm the transporter chief."

"Where's Kirk?"

"I believe, ma'am, that he's on the bridge."

"He didn't think we were important enough to meet?"

"I believe he thought it best that he didn't meet you until the…" Kyle gulped. "… hearing."

"I see." She nodded in approval. "Harry will need medical care. The Grissom's sickbay was somewhat inadequate."

Kyle nodded. "Dr. M'Benga will take care of him."

She raised her eyebrow. "I thought your CMO's name was McCoy?"

"He was also on the planet. Um… all of the senior staff was on the planet."

"They're all in on it?"

Kyle looked down at his controls and played with them, just so he wouldn't meet her gaze. "We didn't have much of a choice. We were all forced down to the planet by the androids. I was down there, too." He looked up met her gaze. "Mr. Mudd's suggestion, I heard. He was trying to hijack the ship."

Stella glanced at Harry, who had been looking up at the ceiling, then at the floor, then at his fingers. Then he repeated.

"Harry, you little repro…" He flinched away. She flinched the other way. "Damn it, Harry," she said softly. "Why couldn't you stay home? You have so much potential…" She hardened her face and looked at Kyle. "Please take us to your Dr. M'Benga."

#

Dr. M'Benga glanced at the readings, then at Stella. "The scans show nothing abnormal. Considering everything, he seems to be as healthy as an ox."

"But why is he acting like that?"

M'Benga laid his hand on Harry. Harry looked up the ceiling, not reacting. M'Benga pinched him. No reaction. He leaned down toward Harry. "Harry, sit up, please."

Harry sat up.

M'Benga grimaced. "He seems to have had some sort of mental break. He won't react to outside stimuli, but he does respond to commands." He looked at Stella. "Forgive me, but he flinches from you, yet he won't leave your side." He looked back at Harry. "I'm not as good a psychiatrist with humans as I am with Vulcans - I must defer with Dr. McCoy for that - yet it seems that the time on the planet has damaged his mental processes. Whether permanently or temporarily, time will tell."

Stella's face fell. "Is there any hope?"

M'Benga shrugged. "I don't know."

She glared at M'Benga. "When is Admiral Wolfram getting here?"

M'Benga backed away slightly. "I… don't know. Soon, I believe." He looked at Harry. "In the meantime, I suggest we keep him in Sickbay. And, rather than assigning him a guard, I'm going to fit him with a security bracelet and have the computer keep track of him. Will that be all right with you?"

Stella nodded. Much as she would like, she knew she couldn't be with him every minute.

Harry twitched.

#

"Admiral Wolfram," Kirk said to the man. "Welcome aboard my ship." He reached out his hand.

The man didn't take it. He looked, rather incredulously at Kirk. "You were not told of - or did not bother to look up - of my preferences? I do not meet with either side before any hearing."

"No, sir." Kirk's back stiffened. "I'm sorry, sir." He turned to Kyle. "Mr. Kyle, please show the Admiral to his quarters."

Kyle gave Kirk an imploring look before he left. Kirk tried to give him a confident look. The transporter chief should be up for a promotion soon, for dealing with both Mrs. Mudd and Admiral Wolfram. If he didn't go crazy, first..

#

Kirk turned over onto his side.

"How long?" Harry had said.

"As long as you continue to be an irritant, Harry. It's up to you."

Kirk laid on his bed and thought over his words.

"Kirk, you can't do this to me. It's… inhuman!"
And they had all laughed at him when they left. They had left him in the company of 500 shrews for how many months? Yes, Harry was an irritant. Yes, Harry twanged every one of his strings. A con man, a thief, overweight, bombastic… yet had he really been that bad?

Would it really have hurt them to take him along?

Kirk rolled over. He didn't often question his own decisions.

Yet he was beginning to regret this decision. He had honestly believed that Mudd would reform. But he should have known that a person wasn't reformed by nagging. Constant scolding drove people the other way.

But Mudd couldn't get away. He was stuck with a planet full of "Stellas." And the Federation had taken Norman's ship, so Harry couldn't even steal that.

"Dear God, what have I done?"

His door chime rang. "It's McCoy," came a voice through the door.

He rolled to a standing position, grabbed his shirt, and opened the door. "Bones, are you sure you aren't telepathic?" Kirk then took a closer look at McCoy. "You look horrible."

"The pot is calling the kettle black." He lifted his decanter. "I think we both need this." He walked in and over to the desk. The door closed behind him. "Do you have some glasses?"

"Of course," Kirk pulled out the glasses. McCoy poured for both of them, took a big swig, then sat back.

Kirk drank his, grimaced, then ran his finger over the rim. They both sat, looking at the floor.

"I... looked at M'Benga's report," McCoy said. "Did you…?"

"Yeah."

McCoy sighed. "I figured so."

"Did you figure we were doing wrong?"

McCoy took a drink. "If I thought that, I would've objected. You know that." He snorted. "Spock didn't object, either. Y'know, I think I just discovered his weak spot."

Kirk smiled sickly. "Harcourt Fenton Mudd?"

"Yeah. I think Spock was rather irritated."

The door chime sounded. McCoy looked at Kirk. "You expecting someone?"

Kirk shrugged and frowned. He opened the door. Scott stood before him, with a flask of what Kirk assumed was whiskey. Kirk looked at Scott's face. Clearly, he couldn't sleep, either.

As he motioned Scott in, he saw Spock striding down the hall. Fortunately, nothing was in his hands. "Mr. Spock," he said. "The party is in here."

Spock raised his eyebrows. "Ah. I see." He came into the room and sat on Kirk's bed, beside Scott.

"You're the only one, Mr. Spock, who doesn't look like he needs a good night's sleep."

Spock sat on Kirk's bed. "Vulcans do not require as much sleep as humans."

Kirk looked at him closely. "Then why are you here?"

"I read Doctor M'Benga's report and wished to discuss it with you." He started to get up. "But if you are having a party…"

Kirk pushed him back down. "I think we can consider this a command staff meeting, or close enough to it."

Spock looked around at the various glasses. "I… see."

Kirk stood in the middle of the room and spread his arms. He realized that he didn't make an impressive figure in his night shorts, but he looked around at each of the men as if he were in his best dress uniform. "Gentlemen, here is the problem. Due to our actions - or inactions - Mr. Harcourt Fenton Mudd has been temporarily or permanently driven to - incapacity. Are we all agreed that we made the right decision at the time?"

"Yes."

"Aye."

Spock nodded.

"Would we have done different had we known this would happen?"

"Yes."

"Aye."

Spock nodded.

"Since we cannot do anything about the past, I suggest we face the future, which means a preliminary hearing tomorrow. I hope to be rested - and sober - to present my case. Are we agreed that this is a good course of action?"

The three nodded.

"Then, gentlemen, I suggest we take our various libations back to our quarters, seal them, and go to bed."

They all nodded. Spock gave a half grimace and looked at Kirk. Kirk nodded.

He hoped they would sleep. He still wasn't sure he would.

#

Admiral Wolfram rang the bell. Off to one side, his secretary, a young male ensign, was manning a tricorder.

Doesn't trust the Enterprise computers to record it right? Kirk thought.

"The hearing is now in session. The purpose of this hearing is to determine whether of Board of Inquiry is needed, which would require all parties involved to report at the nearest star base, which is some distance. Because of the former exemplary record of the Enterprise and of Captain Kirk, Starfleet hopes to avoid this."

But, thought Kirk, it doesn't look like Wolfram expects that.

"Are all parties here?"

"We are." Captain Kirk and Stella Mudd replied in unison. They looked at each other.

Kirk was a little surprised at what he saw. Stella Mudd was not nearly as Harry had depicted her. She looked stern, but her hair was styled in a soft curl. Her mouth pointed down, but she had laugh lines around her mouth and around her eyes. She was middle-aged, and time hadn't been kind to her, but Kirk could see that she had been - well, maybe not beautiful, but not bad looking, either. She was smaller than Mudd had pictured, looking almost tiny to Mudd's now-diminished bulk. His eyebrows raised involuntarily.

Harry sat beside her. His face was still, with just the slightest of ticks on one side. His mustache was bedraggled, and he looked a little like he needed a shave. He didn't respond to Kirk's glance, but gazed randomly around the room.

He exhaled slightly. Mrs. Mudd looked at him and raised her eyebrows and cocked her head to one side. She looked indecisive, then determined, as if coming to a decision.

"Stella Mudd, it is your decision to pursue this course of action?"

She nodded.

"Captain James T. Kirk, you stand accused of torture. How do you plead?"

Kirk drew in his breath. "Not guilty," he said, and hoped that this was the right plea for the situation. He had consulted with Sam Cogley over subspace, and this is was Sam had recommended. If he had pleaded guilty, the hearing would stop right there, and off they would go to the nearest star base for the Board of Inquiry, then, possibly, a court-martial. If he pleaded not guilty, he could, perhaps, be excused under extenuating circumstances. "I wish to call in witnesses."

Admiral Wolfram nodded. "As is your right. Mrs. Mudd, you, too, may call in witnesses. However, this is not a trial, but a hearing. All parties, please keep that in mind. And I am not a judge, but only the man who will determine whether this will go to trial. I will ask the questions and call witnesses as I see fit." He looked at both in turn. "Although this is not formal, keep in mind that I will suppress any outbursts as I see fit."

They both nodded.

"Mrs. Mudd, you may go first."

"I wish you to question Dr. M'Benga."

Kirk nodded. That would have been his choice, also.

The Doctor strode to the front and sat beside Admiral Wolfram. Admiral Wolfram got up, his thin body accentuated by his uniform.

"Doctor. You examined Mr. Mudd."

"I did."

"I believe we have all read your findings. He is healthy, other than his mental health. You believe that Mr. Mudd has had a psychotic episode due to being berated for weeks by an android in the shape of Mrs. Mudd."

M'Benga looked calm. "I do. I believe any free will he may have had has been eliminated due to the exposure to the android 'shrews'." He looked at Mrs. Mudd apologetically.

"Is it reasonable to expect a psychotic break in the amount of time he has been here?"

"That does, of course, depend on the character of the person." M'Benga saw the look on the Admiral's face. "It is possible, yes."

"You have read Dr. McCoy's previous reports on Mr. Mudd?"

"I have."

"Based on these reports, would the conclusions support a psychotic break like this?"

M'Benga glanced at McCoy. "I believe those reports to be inconclusive on this matter. He analyzed Mr. Mudd, yes, but he did not indicate whether any sort of break would happen."

"But," Admiral Wolfram glanced at Mrs. Mudd, who was looking at the floor, "clearly such a break did happen?"

M'Benga glanced at his lap. "Yes."

"Does either party wish to question this witness?"

Kirk and Mrs. Mudd looked at each other. Both shook their heads.

#

The witnesses kept coming. Uhura. Checkov. Kyle. Spock. McCoy. Experts on androids. Stella Mudd found herself growing more and more tired with each successive witness. She looked over at Kirk. He looked much the same as she felt. Harry was incapacitated. That was a fact. Was Kirk guilty? Yes… and no. It was becoming clear that he did what he did out of exasperation and out of a sense of… righteousness. Unfortunately, what Harry had put him through would have made a lesser man angry, ready to kill Harry. Kirk was of a higher degree.

Was she?

She had thought so.

When she had first heard about Harry almost a month ago, she was angry. Harry was a slob, Harry was a con man, Harry never did anything she wanted him to do - but he was her Harry, and nobody was going to do anything to him except her and, well, the lawful authorities. Which Kirk, was not.

Was he?

She shook her head. Her anger was fading, her confusion was growing. She was beginning to wish she had stayed home.

No, she didn't. Harry needed her.

Admiral Wolfram was speaking. "I call Norman to the stand."

She was jolted out of her reverie. Norman. Norman, the coordinating android, the head android, so to speak. It was surprising, actually, that Norman was as cooperative as he was. She had studied Norman on her trip to the planet - her line of work allowed her the right security clearance - and he was amazing.. He was aware that the androids were superior to humans in almost every way, yet he chose to serve. A complicated piece of machinery, yet capable of much more, even up to placing a human mind in an android body.

Asimov's Laws of Robotics in action.

Norman, a human looking android with sandy hair, a strong face, and a mien who could out-Vulcan a Vulcan - so Stella observed - sat down stiffly.

"Norman, I wish you point out Harry Mudd."

Norman pointed to the man beside her. "I see his form over there."

Stella's eyebrows knitted. She glanced over at Kirk, who glanced at her. He caught the odd phrasing, too.

"Is it, or is it not true that Captain Kirk demanded the programming of five hundred robots in the shape of Stella Mudd?"

"It is." Norman glanced at Stella impassively.

"Did he communicate to you his intention?"

"He did."

"And…?"

"It was his intention to rehabilitate our Lord… Harry Mudd."

Stella raised an eyebrow.

"Did you believe that this would accomplish the task?"

"I do not believe anything. It is my duty to serve."

Admiral Wolfram cocked his head. "You do not have independent thought."

"We have independent thought. What we do not have is what you humans call imagination. We do what we are told. We serve."

"So you did not believe Harcourt Fenton Mudd would come to harm due to this development."

Norman sat stiffly for a moment, his necklace glowing. "No. We did not."

"But he did."

"No. He is alive."

Wolfram turned away. "To a certain extent," he said to the room.

"Yes." Norman looked impassively at Wolfram.

"You may leave the chair."

Norman got up and sat himself back down across the room.

"Do either parties care to call more witnesses?"

Stella looked at the table, and shook her head. She looked over at Kirk. He looked much the same as she felt.

She sighed. "Admiral, I wish to drop all civil charges. I do not now believe that Captain Kirk meant intentional harm to Harry."

Wolfram looked surprised. "As is your right." His face hardened. "However, I am afraid that the Starfleet charges will still need to stand. Captain Kirk has flagrantly disregarded the rights of this Federation citizen to be taken to a facility for a fair trial, and as a result of Kirk's flawed judgment, Mr. Mudd has been temporarily - or permanently - emotionally damaged. Kirk will be remanded to the nearest Star base for a formal Board of Inquiry, and Mr. Mudd will be given to Mrs. Mudd's custody…" He trailed off. "Where is Harry?"

Stella looked around. One of the door guards volunteered, "he asked to go to the bathroom, so Lieutenant Hughes offered…" He trailed off as the room stared at him.

"Mr. Post," McCoy said. "He's not able to ask…"

Kirk shot out of his chair. "Post, you're with me." He shot out of the door, almost tripping over Hughes, who was lying in the hall. "McCoy, you have a patient!" he yelled, as he jumped over Hughes down the hall. The rest of the room followed him, each jumping over the unconscious security guard.

"My patient is not a obstacle course," McCoy yelled at the crowd, in vain. He sighed and leaned down.

Kirk reached the end of the hall without seeing anything, then he remembered. The security bracelet. Maybe Mudd was still wearing it. "Bridge. Track Harry's security bracelet!"

"It's showing him in Briefing room C, Captain," Uhura said.

"Briefing room C," Kirk muttered. He burst into the room, then stopped, startled. Mudd's form laid on the floor in two halves.

"No blood, Captain," Post whispered. He leaned down to turn the right side over.

Kirk closed his eyes, lowered his head, and rubbed his hand across his forehead. His headache was coming back. "That's because Harry Mudd was never really here."

The inside of the right side revealed circuitry, various pumps and bellows which obviously mimicked natural bodily functions - Kirk hesitated to think where the bodily wastes came from - and a hollow area, the shape of a small human.

Kirk heard a scream behind him. He whirled to catch Stella Mudd, her face white. "Harry!"

"Mrs. Mudd," taking her in his arms and steering her away. "That's not Harry."

Stella sobbed once, then humorlessly chuckled. "I saw."

"Bridge to Captain Kirk," the intercom said.

Kirk strode over, still holding on to Stella Mudd. "Kirk here."

"Admiral Wolfram's ship has detached from the Enterprise," Uhura said.

"Tractor beams."

"They… won't come on," Sulu interrupted.

"Can you raise anybody?"

Kirk waited a second. "No."

"Nurse Chapel reports that the Admiral's crew has been transported to the sickbay, unconscious," Uhura said

"Stand by, bridge. Transfer me to the transporter room."

"Kyle here."

"Mr. Kyle, prepare for transport down to the planet."

Silence.

"Mr. Kyle."

"I'm sorry, Captain. As soon as I touched the controls, the console went dead."

"Captain, I'm reading a transporter beam from the planet to the Admiral's ship," Sulu said. He hesitated. "And another, from the ship to the surface."

Kirk growled, then turned to the crowd behind him. "Admiral, Mrs. Mudd, I suggest we go to the bridge. I think we will be talking with Harry before long."

#

"Incoming message," Uhura said. She smiled ruefully. "From Harry Mudd."

Kirk turned toward the screen. "Harry Mudd. I should have known."

Harry smiled, as rotund and as healthy as the last time Kirk had seen him. Behind him was the interior of the transport Tucker. "Captain Kirk. So tell me, laddie-buck, how does it feel to be roasting on the spit?" He smiled broadly.

"Touché," Kirk said. "So, Harry, how did you do it?" He looked around at Admiral Wolfram. "And remember, Harry, you're speaking for posterity."

"And my future trial?" He shrugged. "You really should have taken me off the planet."

"You corrupted the androids again."

"Norman can be convinced of anything. Someone really needs to design a better grade of android."

"I imagine that will happen," Stella muttered lowly.

"I had them scan me, then made a few modifications. This was the outer shell, able to fool even McCoy's sensors. An android of the lovely Miss Uhura was in the inner shell. She was able to modify the Enterprise computer, force her way into the Tucker, then bring me this lovely…" his smile faded. "Ship."

Kirk rolled his eyes. "So sorry the accommodations are not to your liking."

Mudd smiled. "Just a bit Spartan, for my tastes. But it was worth it. And I was watching every minute through the android's eyes. I loved the expression on your face when you were declared guilty."

Kirk opened his mouth, then shut it. "Harry," he sighed.

"Now, if you'll excuse me…" He turned to look at Stella. "I am truly sorry I had to deceive you, Stella. I never knew…"

"Harry. Harry!" She frowned, but then her face softened. "Harry. You know I love you."

"After all I've done to you…"

"And after all I've said," Stella spread her hands. "I didn't mean to drive you away. But Harry, you have so much potential… You could have been…"

Harry shook his head. "No, I couldn't have been. Dear, you know it."

"I love you. I still love you. Please come back…"

"I can't. But, darling, I'm so happy to know you're still the sweet thing I married and not the person I thought you became." He shook his head and looked ashamed. "I love you, too, snookums."

"Honey bear."

"Please divorce me."

"No." Her face turned hard, then softened as she saw his reaction.

Harry looked relieved. "I don't know when I'll see you again, if ever."

Stella was sobbing. "I'll be there."

Kirk saw a tear starting to trickling down Harry's face and disappearing in his mustache. "Kirk, take care of her. Mudd out."

The bridge was silent. Kirk put his arm around Stella Mudd and watched as the shuttle went into warp.

"Mr. Sulu," Kirk said, already knowing the answer. "Can you tell the direction?"

"No, Captain."

Kirk sighed.

"Captain Kirk," Admiral Wolfram said. "In view of the present circumstances, I recommend that all charges be dropped. This hearing is adjourned." He turned to his secretary. "Please stop recording." Dropping his military bearing, he stared at the screen. "Well, I'll be damned."

#

Kirk walked with Stella Mudd to the transporter room. "What are you going to do now, ma'am?"

"Captain, I think you can call me Stella."

"And I'm Jim."

She snorted. "Well, Jim, I suppose I'll go back to my research."

Kirk reflected that he know very little about the woman walking beside him. Everything he knew was refracted through Harry Mudd's twisted mind. A shrew? He didn't think so.

"I'm a head of a private lab researching artificial intelligence."

Kirk stopped dead. "You're kidding."

"Not at all." She looked at him closely. "I know you're surprised. Why, the planet below is like a paradise to me. But I don't suppose I'll get the chance to study it directly." She sighed. "Especially after this."

"I'll suggest to Starfleet that you get the chance to come back here."

"Will they listen to you?"

Kirk smiled mirthlessly. "I'll make someone listen. I owe you one."

She reached up and pecked his cheek as they entered the transporter room. Kyle looked up, astonished, then away. "Thank you, Captain."

Kirk smiled at her. "My pleasure."

She took her place on the transporter pad. "If you catch up with Harry, be gentle with him."

Kirk smiled. "I will, Stella. I owe you that, too."

"Goodbye, Jim." She nodded at Kyle.

Kyle worked the transporter console. The two men looked at the empty transporter pad.

"She's quite a woman," Kyle said.

Kirk nodded and wondered what she had looked like when she was younger. "But why did she pick Harry?" He sighed and exited the transporter room.

In his mind's eye, he could see Harry laughing gleefully. "You'll never know, Kirk, you'll never know!"

-END-