Maker of Makers: Part 03.

Colonel Degrelle swallowed a handful of iodine pills against radiation sickness and looked out through the shaded window of his office with a grim expression on his face. He was on Adlerhorst, the largest ESA colony, and the largest of all Off-world colonies in fact. It was famous for its silvery oceans and never-ending canyons, but Degrelle could see neither from his office. All he could see was the city of Noveau Marseille: monstrous buildings with the colour of rust; neon signs and video billboards everywhere; a forest of smoke stacks at the horizon. The New World was already beginning to look like the Old World.

"Incoming transmission," the cold voice of the Automatic Office Organizerô suddenly echoed in the room. "Line six. Priority one." Degrelle sighed.

The blank eyes of Peter Van Effen III appeared on the VidPhone screen. He was the youngest Van Effen brother, chief of CorpIntel, the business intelligence division of Van Effen Industries, and - according to many employees - the son of Satan. Petty-looking evil indeed: a conventional haircut, a face unrecognisable in a crowd of five, and an insanely expensive suit of a conservative cut.

"Greetings, colonel Degrelle. I have seen the preliminary reports. You failed, to say the least."

Small drops of cold sweat surfaced on Degrelle's bald pate.

"Mr. Van Effen..." Degrelle wet his lips. "We believe we have been betrayed. The enemy knew exactly where and when to strike against us, sir. Sensors that can detect our stealth ships are yet to be invented. Miller-Matsudaira intelligence must have obtained insider information."

"Ah, how convenient! And who is this insider then?"

"We..." Degrelle hesitated. "We believe it's a replicant, sir. A command model."

"Did the neutron charge damage your brain, colonel?"

"I was fortunate to be in Enforcer's cockpit at the moment of the detonation, sir. It's protected by lead lining. That's how we managed to evacuate our replicant troops and escape the enemy, sir."

"Yes, an expensive safety measure, but obviously worth the investment. Now, I wasn't really interested in your well-being..."

"I see, sir." Degrelle was unable to suppress a joyless smile of irritation. "I can't explain how the replicant in question could have contacted the enemy. We keep them completely isolated in accordance with corporate regulations. There are no unsanctioned, external transmissions in the battle log either. Yet, we have strong evidence."

"A replicant traitor?"

"I'm not a replicant psychologist, sir. I'm a soldier."

The CorpIntel chief starred at Degrelle for a lesser eternity.

"Keep me updated on your progress." He paused. "Make sure this never happens again, colonel Degrelle. I will not be as forgiving the next time. By the way, general Zorn was killed in a most unfortunate spinner dive today. May he rest in peace. The new commander-in-chief will be appointed before the end of the weekend."

The screen went black.

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