Inspired by the Song ‘The End’ by The Doors
The Presidio San Francisco July 27, 17:32 FST
If it hadn’t been for his crisp white dress uniform, he would have easily blended in with the many other Starfleet officers who were making their way across the scenic green landscape.
He stood alone, just about fifty meters from the large bronze statue that had been erected on the small hill a couple of years ago. Three Starfleet officers, a human, a Vulcan and an Andorian stood around a Federation flag, each with one hand firmly gripping the tall pole and with their heads cranked upwards to watch it waver in the wind.
Just beyond it a few children were enjoying the warm summer breeze, playing on the neatly trimmed grass. Most of them too young to understand the significance of the monument nearby.
A young boy spotted the Starfleet officer as he reverently watched the statue. And the officer saw him too. The child, with a large grin plastered on his bright face, waved to the man, impressed by his shiny uniform.
The man looked at the boy for a moment and then waved back. But only hesitantly as if it was an altogether foreign concept to him. What the boy couldn’t see and probably wouldn’t have been able to comprehend were the tears in the man’s eyes.
Finally the boy gave him a serious looking military-style salute and then turned around to join his playmates again.
The man watched him leave.
Then he knelt down and retrieved an amber, pistol-shaped device from a bag he had brought. He stood and raised the weapon.
The many civilians around him where at a loss at what this Starfleet officer was doing, the device in his hands mostly alien to them. Some ignored him entirely, some just watched him curiously.
Most of the other Starfleet personnel however knew exactly what he was holding in his hand and after a second of stunned hesitation at most they jumped to action, yelling or shouting at him to drop the weapon even while they carefully approached.
It was all way too late.
And it was all over in an instant.
People screamed in terror when the phaser went off and the white-clad Starfleet officer fell face first into the soft grass.
Department of Internal Affairs, Starfleet Headquarters San Francisco July 28, 08:32 FST
“Would you mind removing your boots from the furniture?”
Lieutenant Junior Grade Stanley Colburn turned his head to see his partner, Lieutenant Maxine Bernhardt enter the office and a large smile formed on his lips. She didn’t appreciate that he had put his feet up onto the desk again, a pet peeve which apparently really bothered her.
“And a good morning to you,” he said and left his boots exactly where he had placed them.
She sat down on her side of the desk with a fresh cup of raktajino in hand. “Pretty early for you,” she said.
“It’s this suicide from yesterday. Did you hear about it?”
“Of course,” she said. “It’s on every newsfeed in the city. Damn shame.”
Colburn nodded absentmindedly. His entire focus was concentrated on a padd he was studying.
He peaked over the padd and looked into her stern visage which gave no doubt that Bernhardt had been a fighter once. Much unlike Colburn. “Yes, ma’am,” he said and put them down.
Bernhardt rolled her eyes. She hated to be called ma’am. It made her feel old. And judging from Colburn’s boyish grin, he knew it all too well.
“Lieutenant Commander Varnado Goodspeed. Distinguished Starfleet career, more medals than I got fingers and toes. And one day he just decides to walk right into a public place and fry his brain in front of hundreds of people,” said Colburn and looked out of the window. He couldn’t see the spot where Goodspeed had decided to take his own life but it was within walking distance.
“They say he was on extended leave for medical reasons. He’d been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sadly a rather common occurrence since the war. Some people just didn’t deal with it well. I’ve seen it myself.”
“We need to look into this, Max.”
“Trust me, nothing gets to me more than to see a fellow officer die like this but this isn’t anything that hasn’t happened before. If there is anything to look into here, it’s why the counselors didn’t catch the warning signs sooner.”
“What about his note? ‘Remember Alteres VI’. I looked at his service record. In ’75 he and his crew responded to a distress signal from a small research outpost near the Cardassian border in the Alteres system. They were too late. By the time they arrived all they found was a massacre.”
“Well, yeah, seeing something like that will mess with your mind for years to come.”
“But the outpost was on Alteres III. Alteres VI is a small and uninhabited Y-class planetoid. There is nothing there, I looked it up.”
Bernhardt took the padd off him. “A mistake. The guy is about to kill himself, clearly he wasn’t thinking straight.”
“What about the fact that he used a Cardassian phaser? Doesn’t military tradition demand that you shoot yourself with your service weapon?”
She glared at him. “There is no military tradition for suicide. At least not in Starfleet.”
“Whatever. All I’m saying is something doesn’t add up here and we should look into it. I think something happened to him and the Von Braun in the Alteres system during the war.”
“The Von Braun? Under Koster?”
“You know him?”
“William J. Koster. He’s a war hero. Great man. I served under him shortly before the war. I think he’s an admiral now.”
“A war hero, huh? Like Goodspeed. Like you. Let’s see where this takes us. Let’s do it for the war heroes out there.”
“I’m not a hero, Stan. I just did my duty.”
“Sure. Modesty suits you much better anyway. Come on, let’s go,” he said and was already on his feet.
Sanders Beach Pensacola July 28, 10:12 FST
“The Von Braun was lost with most of her crew at the Battle of Cardassia at the end of war,” said Colburn as he walked alongside Bernhardt on the sidewalk of a residential neighborhood. “I’ve already tried to contact the handful of survivors but I’m getting the distinct vibe that they don’t really want to talk to us.”
“Must be your charming personality,” said Bernhardt.
“That, or they’re hiding something.”
“People don’t like to open up about things like that. It’s painful to think of it especially after losing your ship and all those friends and comrades.”
“I tried Koster. Surviving the Von Braun’s demise must’ve really flown into his face. Not going down with the ship and all that jazz.”
Bernhardt glared again. She did this quite a bit.
“Anyway, he’s apparently way too busy with important meetings and the like to meet with us. But I’ve tracked somebody down who also lives on Earth,” he said and looked at the padd he had brought. “Chief Petty Officer Lesley Medina. He has since retired and settled down right here in sunny Florida.”
“Does he know we’re coming?”
Colburn stopped in front of a plain, white two-story house. “Here we are.”
He walked up to the door but before he could knock a middle aged man approached from behind the house, wearing a straw hat and holding large hedge cutters for garden work.
“Who the hell are you?”
“Ah, you must be Chief Medina,” said Colburn.
“I say again, who are you?”
Colburn nervously glanced at the cutters. The blades gleamed in the sun. They were sharpened to a hilt.
“This is Lieutenant Colburn and I’m Lieutenant Bernhardt. We’re with Starfleet’s Internal Affairs and we were hoping we could speak to you about–“
“I’m not in Starfleet anymore and I’ve nothing to say to you. Go away.”
“Maybe if we could just come in and–“
Medina harshly interrupted Colburn. “I know your kind. Always sticking your noses into other people’s business. I had to put up with you for a long time. But no more. You will leave my property or I’ll call the Sheriff. He’s a good friend of mine and he doesn’t like Starfleet officers either.”
“Of course. We’re sorry for disturbing you,” said Bernhardt and walked away.
Colburn didn’t. “How well did you know Vernado Goodspeed?”
Medina walked to the door. “None of your business. Now, if you’re still here by the time I reach the comms system, you’re going to get real well acquainted with the Pensacola jail.”
“Did you know he killed himself yesterday?”
“Publicly. Right in front of the War Memorial in San Francisco. It’s because of what happened in Alteres, wasn’t it?”
He turned around very slowly. “Goodspeed’s dead?”
“He was always a coward. A damn coward. Bastard thought he could get out of it by killing himself. Doesn’t change anything. Doesn’t make a bit of a difference either way. And you, you get the hell out of here and leave things that don’t concern you alone.” And with that he went inside and slammed the door shut behind him.
Main Promenade McKinley Station July 28, 18:48 FST
“I must say I was surprised when I heard that Internal Affairs wanted to speak to me. I’m not in trouble, am I? Is this about me taking those two extra R&R days? My CO is still bouncing off the walls about that. To be fair, she gets a panic attack if I’m two minutes late to my shift. She’s a real ice queen, that one.”
Petty Officer Hugh Turner sat with Colburn and Bernhardt at a replimat on the busy promenade, nursing a cold beer. He had an easy smile on his lips when he spoke, indicating that he wasn’t really that concerned about his superior.
“It’s not about your shore leave,” Colburn assured him.
“Good. I don’t need the extra aggravation. Oh and about the ice queen reference. If that could stay between us, I’d appreciate it.” He glanced towards Bernhardt who apparently hadn’t appreciated the comment. Maybe because she wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with it herself.
“Our lips are sealed,” said Colburn. “We’re here to talk about the Von Braun. The Alteres incident, to be precise.”
Turner nearly dropped his glass. “Alteres, huh?” he said, clearly much more nervous all of a sudden. “I’ve heard about Goodspeed. Damn, what a mess. I guess I should’ve known somebody was going to look into that. But listen, I was just a lowly crewman back then. I wasn’t kept in the loop much. You should try to talk to somebody who was higher up on the food chain.”
“We tried to talk to Chief Medina but he wasn’t exactly forthcoming,” said Bernhardt.
“Medina? Yeah, I bet he wasn’t. There’s a reason we used to call him Chief Crusty back on the Von Braun.”
“What do you know about what happened in the Alteres system?” asked Colbun.
“Not much. I mean I was just a lowly crewman, right? Nobody told me much of anything. We answered the distress signal and the away team found the crew dead. Massacred, I guess.”
“By the Cardassians?” asked Bernhardt.
“Who else? We were about a stone’s throw away from the border. You have to understand the mood on the ship was low. Real low. We’d just heard about the attack on San Francisco. People were angry. That outpost was just a little research station with a crew of a dozen. They weren’t soldiers or anything.”
“So what happened after you found the outpost?”
“The captain wanted to find the ones responsible. But I don’t think we ever did. We ran some combat drills to let out a bit of the frustration and soon after we joined our fleet again. But as I said, I was just a–“
“Lowly crewman,” said Bernhardt. “Yes, so you’ve been telling us.”
Turner nodded and stood. “I’m awfully sorry I can’t be of more help. My shift is about to start. I have to get back. Maybe if you can track down Redera, you can talk to her. She was pretty close to the command staff. I really have to go now.”
Department of Internal Affairs San Francisco July 29, 11:08 FST
“Turner said to talk to me?”
Colburn nodded to the Bolian lieutenant he was talking to over subspace from her ship, the Venture which was currently deep inside the Beta quadrant. “Yes. He said that you might know more about what happened in Alteres.”
“I’ll be honest with you, Lieutenant. Alteres is a name I hoped I would never hear again. The truth is, hardly a day goes by that I don’t feel devastated over what happened there. You have to believe me I wish for nothing else than to be able to go back to that moment in time and do things differently. Be stronger this time.”
“There is nothing to be ashamed of, Lieutenant,” said Bernhardt who sat next to Colburn. “It would have been difficult for anyone to see something like that.”
Redera’s sad eyes focused on the investigator and she slowly shook her head. “No, we have much to be ashamed about. In a small way I envy those who never got off the Von Braun alive. Sometimes I think they didn’t try. I know Goodspeed didn’t. He was perfectly content to blow up with the ship. I found him and carried him to the lifeboat. He never forgave me for that.”
“Why?” asked Colburn. “What could have happened to drive him to that?”
Redera looked away from the screen, contemplating carefully. “I can’t talk to you about it. Not over an open line,” she said. “I’ll contact you again tomorrow once I’ve been able to make some precautions. Speak to Turner again. If he thinks he can get out of this by claiming ignorance he’s got another thing coming. He was one of the pilots. He saw it all first hand. Redera out.”
Her image vanished from the screen.
“Pilots?” said Bernhardt. “Why would they have needed pilots? And why does she need to make precautions before talking to us?”
“I don’t know,” said Colburn and activated his computer. “But Alteres III has no atmosphere, they wouldn’t have needed pilots to get down to that planet. Alteres VI on the other hand is loaded with high-energy storms and interference which prevent the use of transporters to beam down. What if Goodspeed didn’t make a mistake? What if he did mean Alteres VI?”
“But there’s nothing there.”
“Nothing we know of. I’m going to send out some inquires. Maybe a mining company or a local government operates on that planet. In the meantime we should talk to Turner again. I had a feeling he wasn’t being straight forward with us.”
Shuttlebay Eight McKinley Station July 29, 16:23 FST
“Transferred? What do you mean he’s been transferred?”
The ensign sighed audibly. She was halfway buried under a shuttle, performing maintenance work. “Exactly what I meant, sir. He received new orders last night for a transfer to a different post.”
“This is important, Ensign, what exactly happened?” asked Colburn.
The young woman stopped what she was doing and emerged from underneath the shuttle. “Let me spell it out for you, sir. He wasn’t particularly good at his job, alright? Nobody much cared for him, he was never on time and recently he pretty much went AWOL for two whole days. I’d asked for him to be transferred before,” she said. “This time my prayers were answered and he was taken off my hands. Good riddance.”
“Did he say anything about the transfer orders?” Colburn asked.
She looked at the junior lieutenant suspiciously. “I don’t think so. What is there to say?”
“Do you know where he was transferred to?”
“A new outpost in the Gamma Quadrant, I think. Very, very far away from me. Now, I’m quite busy here. If there is nothing else I–”
“Do you know who authorized the transfer?”
Another sigh. “Personnel, the station commander, some top brass at headquarters. How should I know?”
Colburn turned to Bernhardt.
“Transfers are not unusual in Starfleet. They happen every day,” she said.
“A bit convenient though.”
“What are you suggesting? That he got himself a transfer to avoid talking to us? He’s a Petty Officer. He wouldn’t be able to pull off something like that.”
“That’s right,” Colburn said. “Somebody wanted him gone and I’m not talking about Miss Congeniality over here.”
“Hey,” the ensign protested.
Department of Internal Affairs San Francisco July 30, 08:35 FST
“I’m really starting to worry about you. You’re never here this early,” said Bernhardt as she stepped into the office, finding Colburn sitting at his desk, loaded with a myriad of padds.
But Colburn was way too distracted to even notice her approach. Only when she placed the mug of raktajino loudly on her desk, did he snap out of it.
Her smirk turned into a frown. “What’s that smell?” she said and gave him a suspicious look. His uniform looked wrinkled and he had a prominent five o’clock shadow on his face. “Wait a minute, did you stay here all night?”
“I was waiting for responses from my inquiries.”
“Yeah,” he replied. “Listen to this, the Venture is no longer within com-range. I can no longer reach Lieutenant Redera.”
“The Venture was assigned to a deep space survey mission. That’s what Starfleet does, in case you had forgotten.”
“First Turner gets reassigned to the other side of the galaxy and now Redera is out of reach too. You don’t find all this a bit concerning?”
Bernhardt sipped her coffee. “I think you are getting paranoid which by the way is very concerning. Some more sleep should help with that.”
“See if you think this is paranoid,” he said and dropped a padd right onto her desk.
“The Cardassians replied to my request,” he said. “They had a civilian mining outpost on Alteres VI. They lost contact with it at some point during the war. Apparently nobody took much notice of it as they had bigger things to worry about. And after the Dominion wiped out half of Cardassia Prime most of the records were destroyed. However, I tracked down a Klingon survey vessel which visited the Alteres system two years ago. They found absolutely nothing on that planet.”
“They’re Klingons, they probably didn’t do an in-depth analysis but there were no signs of an outpost or of the sixty-five civilian workers plus families who reportedly lived there.”
“So what do you make out of this?”
“I think Koster snapped after finding the Alteres III outpost raided. They looked for somebody responsible, anybody they could let their anger out on. They found the Cardassians on a nearby planet and–“
Bernhardt stood up, fiery anger in her eyes. “Be careful of where you’re going with this, Stan. You’re talking about a Starfleet crew here. A decorated captain who has served the Federation with distinction. Those people don’t just snap.”
“You mean like Goodspeed?”
“I know Koster.”
“You served under him once. As a starry-eyed ensign fresh out of the Academy. You weren’t on the Von Braun with him. Don’t try to make excuses for somebody just because you fought in the same war.”
“It’s easy for somebody like you to start pointing fingers and make accusations. You never fought a Jem’Hadar, you were never on a battlefield with just a phaser rifle between you and a battalion of Cardassian soldiers trying to kill you. You’ve never seen your friends blown to pieces around you. So don’t start besmirching their memories because of a theory.”
“If I’m right people need to know about this. And there is only one person who can tell us for certain.”
Office of Rear Admiral Koster, Starfleet Command San Francisco July 30, 12:35 FST
“Nobody was more affected by his death than me. Varnado was one of the best officers I’ve ever had the pleasure to serve with. I still can’t believe what he did. It’s not a way for a Starfleet officer to die.”
Koster stood by the window, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge as he spoke.
He turned to face his two guests. “I wish he had tried to speak to me. He knew he could trust me. He could have talked to me about anything. Together we would have found a way to get passed whatever it was that bothered him.”
“Apparently it had to do with what happened in the Alteres system,” said Bernhardt.
He looked at her. “Maxine Bernhardt?”
“I know you, don’t I?”
She smiled. “Actually I’m surprised you remember me, sir. I served under you on the Constantinople.”
“Of course. You came to use straight out of the Academy. Security, right?”
“I never forget a face or a name, Lieutenant.”
“Alteres, sir,” said Colburn.
“Yes, of course. It was horrible. We saw a lot of atrocious things during the war but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to ban the images of those bodies on Alteres III out of my mind. They were tortured before they were killed, did you know that? Some had all their fingers cut off, some entire limps. Goddamn Cardassians.”
“Goodspeed’s suicide note mentions Alteres VI not III. Can you explain that?” asked Colburn.
“God knows what he was thinking in those last hours before his death,” he said and sat down behind his large, wooden desk. “It was a handwritten note, wasn’t it? Maybe his hand slipped. Maybe he wasn’t thinking right anymore.”
“Did you know that there was a Cardassian outpost on Alteres VI. A small mining station. It apparently disappeared,” Colburn continued.
“No, I didn’t know that, Lieutenant,” said Koster. “Most of the system if I remember correctly was uninhabitable and so we didn’t go around looking for other outposts.”
“But wouldn’t the ship sensors have picked it up? After all you had just found a Starfleet station attacked and were looking for the people responsible.”
“Lieutenant, Alteres VI is a Demon class planet. Completely hostile. It’s certainly not someplace where we would have looked.”
“So you remember it was a Y-class planet?”
“Yes, I do, Lieutenant. I have a good memory. Now is this going anywhere because I’m quite busy?”
“We understand this Admiral and we appreciate you taking the time to speak to us,” said Bernhardt and stood. “I think this is all for now. Lieutenant?”
Colburn stood and followed Bernhardt to the door but before he had reached it, he turned around again. “Did you know that Petty Officer Hugh Turner was transferred yesterday?”
“Who is Petty Officer Turner?”
“He served under you on the Von Braun, sir.”
“A lot of people served on the Von Braun.”
“Yes, but you never forget a name.”
The admiral stood. “Lieutenant, I wasn’t familiar with all the enlisted crewmembers on the Von Braun. The ship had 600 people onboard.”
“I think you know Turner, I think you had him transferred to the Gamma Quadrant so he couldn’t talk to us.”
Bernhardt made an about face and quickly stepped next to Colburn. “Lieutenant, we’re done here.”
“Why would I want to do that?” the admiral asked.
Colburn stepped closer. “Because you did find the Cardassians on Alteres VI. You found their outpost and you decided that they had been responsible for the attack. And then you exacted your revenge on them by making them disappear. After all who would miss a small civilian settlement in the middle of war?”
“How dare you? How dare you come into my office and throw these preposterous accusations into my face. Who the hell do you think you are, Lieutenant?”
“Sir, I apologize. This is not what–“, began Bernhardt.
“I’m the one to bring this whole thing to light. I’m going to expose you Admiral and what you’ve done. The entire Federation will know once I’m through.”
“You’re already through, you just don’t know it yet. Get the hell out of my office before I have you carried out here by Security.”
Bernhard put a firm hand around Colburn’s arm.
“You were mad as hell, weren’t you, Admiral? To see all those people killed that way. And they weren’t even soldiers. Just a few scientists, massacred for nothing.”
“You’re damned right I was mad!”
“And you needed somebody to take responsibility for it. And then you found that Cardassian outpost practically hiding right under your nose. You went down there with an armed team in shuttles. Maybe you were just going to talk to them first. Find out if your suspicions were right but it didn’t quite work out like that, did it?”
Bernhard tried to pull Colburn away but he wouldn’t budge.
“We were at war. The Cardassians were the enemy,” Coburn continued, “and who knows, maybe they did do it. And if not, they still had plenty to answer for anyway. Chin’toka, Betazed, San Francisco. They were butchers, all you did was give them a taste of their own medicine.”
“THEY WERE BUTCHERS!”
Koster let himself fall back in his chair, deflated.
“Of course they were,” said Colburn. “And you did what was necessary. You made them pay for what they did.”
The admiral looked up. “You have no proof of anything.”
“I don’t need proof, Admiral. All I need to do is put the story out there and sooner or later it will catch up with you. You cannot hide from your past. Goodspeed couldn’t.”
Department of Internal Affairs San Francisco July 30, 15:51 FST
“Well, now you’ve done it.”
Colburn was packing up his desk.
“Suspended indefinitely for gross misconduct. You should have listen to me, Stan. Confronting Koster achieved nothing.”
“I wouldn’t say that. At least now he knows who I am. And you’ve heard him. He never forgets a face.”
“This isn’t funny, Stan. He might have you drummed up on charges for a full court martial.”
“I doubt that very much. He’s too scared about his dirty secret to come out. He wouldn’t dare to try and get any more attention.”
“So what are you going to do now?”
Colburn removed his combadge and placed it on the desk. “I’m not sure but I’m through with Starfleet. But I’m not done with Koster. I’m going to keep digging until I find some proof of what he’s done. I can’t let him get away with it, Max.”
She looked skeptical.
“You don’t think he did it, do you?”
“I just don’t know what to think anymore. I’ve always looked up to the man and no matter what you say it’s difficult to put all that aside. It’s hard for me to believe he could be capable of something like this. Maybe there is a reasonable explanation.”
“I guess it’s different for you,” said Colburn. “You were right, I wasn’t in the war. I didn’t experience what you and Koster and Goodspeed went through. But there is a difference between fighting a war and killing out of revenge. There is a fine line there somewhere and Koster crossed it and he needs to pay for that otherwise he’s no better than the Dominion. If we don’t make him pay than we are no better.”
Colburn took the box with his personal belongings and walked towards the exit. “Take care, Max, I’m going to miss your motherly concern. It was always touching.”
“Motherly? I’m five years older for heaven’s sake.”
“And so sensitive.”
But before Colburn could reach the doors a man stepped inside to block his way.
“Chief Medina?” Colburn said surprised.
The man looked unsure of himself now, the complete opposite of how he had presented himself a few days ago when he had thrown them off their property. “We need to talk.”
Colburn shook his head. “Not with me. I’m retired, like yourself. Any good places in Florida you’d recommend?”
Medina was irritated.
“Look, talk to Lieutenant Bernhardt.”
“It’s about Alteres VI.”
Colburn exchanged a glance with his former colleague.
“Alright, Chief,” she said, sit down and tell me everything you know. Start at the beginning.”
Medina did as he was told.
Colburn remained by the door.
“I suppose you want to hear this too?” she asked.
He nodded eagerly, placed down the box and took a seat.
“It was a massacre,” Medina began. “A goddamned massacre. It wasn’t supposed to be but somebody started shooting and then some of those Cardies started shooting back and all hell broke loose. We killed them all. Men, women, children, every last one of them. And after it was all done, Koster told us that we could never talk to anybody about what had happened. He said that we had to take it to our graves because people back home wouldn’t understand. He told us that the Cardassians deserved what they got but that Command would never see it that way. He wiped out what was left of the outpost from orbit and then altered the logs.
But he couldn’t alter our memories. By God I wish he could have. I wish it would’ve been that easy. I suppose that was our punishment. To spend the rest of our lives with the knowledge of what we’ve done.
Goodspeed tried to stop it but Koster had him overruled. In the end he managed to convince him, convince us all, that we didn’t have a choice. That there was nothing we could’ve done differently. Oh, we had a choice alright. We could have turned around and left them all alone. We could’ve taken prisoners. Instead, we butchered them like animals.”
And then Medina began to cry.