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 this morning 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 of 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 officer 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
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.”
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 making 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
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. “Yes you do, sir. Actually I’m surprised you remember me. I served under you on the Constantinople
“Of course. You’d just come aboard. 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 founds 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
“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 couple of scientists, massacred for nothing.”
“Your damned right I was mad!”
“And you needed somebody to take responsibility for it, didn’t you? 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. 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.”
“THERE 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
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 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 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 have 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.
__ __ __
For links to the other great challenge entires visit the voting thread