The humorless men in their dark suits showed up at Best’s office on Jefivah six months after he witnessed the missiles’ removal. They made no appointment, nor did any of Best’s staff announce them. They simply strode into his office as if they owned the place.
“Agent Rostov,” said the first one, a light-skinned Euro like Best. “Compact Security. This is a Major Liu of Naval Intelligence.”
“How did you get in here?” asked Best. “And who is that behind you?” He pointed to a short, mousy woman standing behind Rostov and Liu making little effort to be seen. “Interstellar Revenue? Where’s my refund?”
“We’ll be asking the questions,” said Liu, a stocky Asian whose accent betrayed an Earth upbringing. “Where are our warheads, Minister?”
“I’m sorry?” said Best. “What warheads?”
Rostov leaned on his fists over Best’s desk. “The last seven warheads you had removed from the planet now known as Marilyn so that full colonization could proceed.”
“Oh,” said Best. “Forgot all about them. JunoCorp, the company that’s customizing grain for our new colonies, contracted a firm to transport them to…” Best had assumed the warheads had gone to Tian, humanity’s largest world and the real hub of the Compact. “I assumed Naval Command took custody of them.”
“We did not,” said Liu, an edge creeping into his voice. He circled the desk so that, despite his short stature, he towered over the sitting Best. “In fact, the Zeus Arsenal has no record of any warheads scheduled to be transported from Marilyn, much less any receipt of them.”
“They tend to notice things like that,” said Rostov. “It’s their job.”
“What we do know is that there was some sort of mishap with the last torpedo to be extracted from the planet then called 978-0765309402d.” Liu leaned in, crowding Best. “And now that world has been renamed ‘Marilyn’, in honor of the goddess of a Jefivan cult.”
“You knew the Marilynists are on Compact Security’s watch list,” said Rostov. “And now you’re giving them an entire colony.”
Best laughed. “Can you think of a better way to get rid of a nuisance faction?”
“I can’t think of a better way to give a terrorist group a base away from the supervision of their world’s constituent authority,” said Liu. “And with those warheads missing, I have to question whether they even left Marilyn.”
Best stood, forcing Liu to back away. “Gentlemen, JunoCorp arranged to disarm Marilyn. And Gallifrey, which makes a much better colony in my opinion.” Turning to Liu, he realized he could now look down on the man in black for a change. “The Navy never responded to our requests for the disarmament of the three worlds we accepted. Not until our delegates to the Compact demanded it during a Security Council meeting. Mr. Luxhomme, JunoCorp’s agent, arranged for a private company to transport the weapons. Please tell me you received all the other warheads we shipped you.”
“We did,” said Rostov.
“Then I suggest you ask the shipping company about the remaining seven,” said Best.
Rostov turned to the woman who had entered with him and Liu. “We did, Minister. This is Magna Piori of Dasarius Interstellar.”
The mousy woman finally stepped forward and offered her hand. She looked like an accountant, which made her livelier than Rostov and Liu in Best’s mind. “I’m the asset loss investigator for Dasarius’s colonial operations. Mr. Best, your last warheads were scheduled to leave… You really called the planet ‘Marilyn’?”
Best smiled. “The colonists did. We wanted to call it ‘Sahara,’ but we don’t live there, do we?”
“Sounds like someone’s aunt,” said Piori. “Anyway, we sent the ship Etrusca Explorer to transport the warheads to a location to be determined later. Tian we assume, from what you told us.”
“Great,” said Best. “So question the captain and find out what he did with his cargo.”
“They can’t, Best,” said Rostov.
Not “Minister.” Just “Best.” Best felt his guts begin to turn.
“We can’t find the Etrusca Explorer,” said Piori. “It’s missing.”
Best went numb as Liu cuffed him and Rostov explained his rights under the Compact.