Maker of Makers: Part 02.

Enforcer orbited Dracon's Folly, silent and threatening in the dark void. The ship looked like a monstrously large insect: a flat stealth construction with graphite-coloured, non-reflective armour plating and hundreds of antennas in every thinkable and unthinkable shape and form.

The air locks opened slowly and The Artificial Angels left their nest gently like soap bubbles. Their Tormentor combat suits had the same dull colour and the same insectoid appearance as the ship. Where a standard suit for humans had a plexiglass visor, the replicant combat suit had a confused heap of camera lenses; they had the same aura of faceless, mechanical horror as 20th century tanks. The nitrogen-thrusters on their backpacks ignited without a sound in the cold vacuum and The Artificial Angels began their silent descent to Dracon's Folly.

Renard meditated over the panorama on the vidscreen in his helmet - it was a vision worthy of gods. A giant nebula dominated the view: ethereal gas clouds with the colours of burning bronze and copper, stars looking like frozen explosions of silver and chrome. A glimpse of oblivion, a lingering echo from the beginning of eternity.

Renard's moment of meditation was ended abruptly when his Tormentor suit injected a carefully calculated dose of amphetamine into his veins. Soon, everything would become sharp and clear, all too sharp and clear.

He focused on his target: the barren rock without atmosphere called Dracon's Folly. As they were attacking from the night side, it was merely a gigantic, black orb hiding a dozen star constellations. Not a single light could be seen from the subterranean research colony. Within an hour, automatic gunfire and nuclear micro-ton detonations would flash on the dark surface, as Death would make a visit to the colony. Then the first sunlight appeared above the horizon, a golden splinter that foreshadowed the last dawn of the colonists. The light...

"Go to 4-45," Renard suddenly commanded over the comlink. "Open formation."

"Sir?" It was Max's voice, hoarse with tension. "We have been ordered to maintain radio silence."

"Do as I say, soldier," Renard said impatiently.

"We've been ordered to rendezvous at 8-47," Max persisted.

"We'll be retired," Ralph added nervously.

"We'll be dead anyway if we don't do as I say." Renard hesitated. "Listen, Biomek has spoken to me. We'll die."

Neither Max nor Ralph answered, but they followed orders and so did the others in Renard's group, six soldiers all in all. Reluctantly, it seemed. They drifted away from the rest of the attack team, silently propelled by the gas-thrusters.

They travelled through the void for several minutes without any notice from Enforcer's command central. Then a fiery arrow suddenly blasted by a few miles away.

"Whatta hell...?!" Max began, but he was interrupted by a white flash that made their minds go blank; the polaroid filters never had a chance to compensate. The missile detonated in silence as the cold vacuum could not transmit any sound. Two heartbeats pondered in Renard's ears, then the shockwave hit them and threw them in all directions. For a moment, reality was ripped to pieces.

Then C-beams glittered in the dark: golden nails of death spewed out by automatic ground batteries. In the distance, whirling as an insane kaleidoscope, Renard could see how combat suits glowed when the beams made lethal holes in the armour. The replicant soldiers died in silence, except for the horrors heard over the comlinks: cries of pain and anguish, whistling air, the indescribable sounds of explosive decompression.

With much difficulty, the soldiers finally managed to compensate with their gas-thrusters and regain control over their whirling combat suits. They regrouped hastily, as the C-beam fire slowly died out and the void became dark and silent again.

"What the hell was that?" Max asked over the comlink, breathing heavily. "A 2 kiloton nuke?"

"The blast was to small for that," Renard concluded. "It must have been a tactical ERW." ERW - Enhanced Radiation Weapon: a neutron bomb, the smooth radiak killer. "Nothing on the comlink; Enforcer is silent like a graveyard. The enemy obviously want to examine the ship, search for intelligence tidbits. Standard zaibatsu procedure I've heard."

"What do we do now?" Max asked.

"We're combat models, too expensive to sacrifice. In case of unexpected solar radiation, we were supposed to be evacuated from the 3rd sector. A stealth transport will pick us up, no doubt. Activate your beacons." Renard checked his wrist esper. "Go to 3-21. Open formation."

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