The Mysterious Casefiles of Marie Magnum

The Case of the Geo-Illogical Geo-Engineer

A tall woman sat at her desk, pulling her blond hair back into a bun. She was clad in a tan trench coat, with a fedora hat on a rack nearby. After tying her hair back, she put the fedora hat on. Then, she pulled an item from her desk draw: a Mateba autorevolver chambered in three-fifty-seven Caseless Magnum. All six chambers to the weapon were loaded. She put the weapon into her coat pocket, and then put on a pair of white gloves. Marie Magnum felt the slight weight of the devices concealed in her Enhancer dress-gloves, ready to provide strength when necessary. She sat back at her desk and turned on her holographic console. Magnum Investigations was opened for daily business.

"Ree, I have a person here to see you," came a familiar male voice over the loudspeaker.

"Must be one early bird," she replied. "Send 'em in!"

Her assistant, Feng Qiang "Charlie" Chong, buzzed the potential client through. Marie turned her attention towards the door. A man with a hard hat, bright orange vest, jeans, and work boots entered the room. He had a muscled form and dark goggles covering his eyes. He extended his hand. Marie saw some electromagnetic implant signatures listed on her optical HUD. Definitely a nearbaseline.

"Miss Marie Magnum, PI," she grasped his hand. The Enhancer gloves ensured she provided a firm handshake. "How can I help you?"

"Excuse me, Miss, I'm Derek Peterson," the man shook her hand. "I've got something that I'd like you to look into."

"What's that?" Marie sat back in her chair.

"I'm an engineer down at the Grant Street Borehole," he continued, wagging his thumb out the nearby window. "We got ourselves a murder on our hands, and the police are stumped."

"Tell me more," Marie moved her chair forward a bit. "Coffee?"

"Decaf, please," Derek nodded, and Marie sent a message through her neural implant to Chong. Charlie entered the room holding a dish with two cups of freshly brewed coffee. He had his suit on, and Marie saw the bulge that covered where his modified P90 was concealed inside his coat. Chong poured her coffee extra dark, and gave the engineer a cup of decaf.

"Well, first," Peterson sipped his coffee. "Most of our work is done by non-Turing bots. There's still a few of us operators in charge of overseeing the whole thing, and handle anything the bots aren't able to. There's two other guys who alternate with me, an uplifted chimp, Larry, and a guy who uploaded his mind into a robot body, Carl."

"Tell me who was murdered, what you saw, where you were," Marie continued, guzzling the brown sludge. "That sort of stuff."

"Well, let me tell you how it normally goes," Derek continued. "When a shift starts, the next guy checks in at his time, and normally meets with the guy from the previous shift to give him an update on how things are going. I got the morning shift. When I clocked in, I expected to see Carl inside. So, the door slid opened, and there was Carl, sprawled out on the floor. He had been shot in the head and torso with some kind of armor-piercing rounds."

The engineer went pale and began shaking. "I normally aren't very squeamish, but seeing him riddled full of holes like that..."

"And then what happened?" Marie inquired. "You called the NCPD?"

Derek nodded. "I stayed in the break room, not able to see my friend Carl's perforated metal carcass on the floor like that," he spilled some of the coffee onto the floor, but the smart-fibers had already absorbed it by the time he looked down. "The cops show up, I told them what I saw, uploaded my memories, and it was only due to my nanobots that I didn't lose my lunch at the scene."

"What did the cops do then?" Marie continued. "They take you down for more questioning?"

"Went over my memories with a fine tooth comb," Derek nodded. "They also restored Carl's mind from a backup a made week before the murder," the engineer slurped down more coffee, until he had emptied the mug. "They questioned him for any possible enemies or disagreements. Found nothin'. He was close to retiring, anyway."

"You said there was a third guy there. They bring him in?" Marie figured this would be a person of interest. "He have any reason to be pissed?"

"That's the thing," Derek shrugged. "Larry goes missing, and no one's heard for him for a week. Police looked into it, and found he's got some connections to the Four Lords Triad." Marie whistled.

"So, the cops probably just put a warrant out for him, closed the case, and wrote it off as a random homicide?" Marie figured as she leaned back in her own chair.

Derek nodded. "Yes. I'd like you to find out where Larry went, and if he did it," he grit his teeth. "And find out why he did it."

"Can be done," Marie continued. "But this is gonna be a pretty steep cost."

"I can offer you some top of the line nanofabber schematics," he continued. "High precision cutting implements, the latest nanocomposites, and some engineering implant upgrades."

"I'll take the schematics and implant upgrades," Marie continued. "Just wire those over to me, and we'll have a deal."

"Thank you, so much!" Derek grinned. "I want you to get whoever did this! Carl's a good guy. He had a wife, and three forks. He introduced me to Lovelock. He didn't deserve to end up as Swiss Cheese!"

"I'd also like your memories of the night you found Carl," Marie nodded. "But I'll find the perp, and kick their asses. No matter how many backups I have to go through, when I'm on the case, it gets solved."

Derek wired over the items in question through his implant, and Marie mentally digested them. "So, Derek, what made you decide to become a geo-engineer?"

"Always liked the Earth, I guess," he shrugged. "With Singulartech doing that landfill mining and recycling with nanotech, and most of those fossil fuels replace by better alternatives, wasn't much left to improve with the environment aside from geo-engineering."

"Surely a job in a borehole is less prestigious than geoengineering for some major group. The Science Corps Sappers Division, the Singulartech Geo-Rev-Engers, the Nest EGG, Order Gardeners, Engineering College, and all them always are looking for new recruits."

"I know," he mused. "A fork of mine went to work for the Nest EGG on Mars. Made him after I first read about Lovelock and started working here. Most of Carl's forks also worked in more prestigious jobs. I just wanted to stay local. Everything I need is near me, you know?"

"I don't agree with that," Marie replied. "But I can understand it."

"You from around here?" Derek inquired, eyes lighting up. "Just out of curiosity."

"Nah," Marie shook her head. "Escaped from Neo Jersey."

Derek shuddered. "Raised by cyberpunks. No wonder you left that dump."

"I do love this place," Marie continued. "People don't shout every bit of known profanity at strangers, motorists don't try running down pedestrians whenever they cross the road, the ground isn't covered with trash to the extent of Jersey, and the air isn't filled with too much smog. This is definitely a step up in the world."

"Sorry I asked, then," Derek looked at his feet awkwardly. "Anything else?"

"Yeah," Marie continued. "Tell me everything you know about Larry's hangouts, habits, associates, and mannerisms. Same with Carl."

Marie got an upload of new memories from Derek. It would take time to sort through all of them, but she had a few good ideas on where to start. For now, her business with her new client was concluded. She extended her hand. Derek shook it, and nodded. He turned around, and looked at Marie from the door. "Thanks for the coffee! Let me know if you find anything!"

"That's my job," Marie replied nonchalantly. "Now, I'll get to work."

The engineer left, and closed the door behind him. Marie closed her eyes and began to sort through names, places, and events. She began to focus, sorting them into categories based on countless possible scenarios. Her augmented intelligence focused on some of the more likely cases, and she made her decision of where to investigate next.

Suddenly, she was distracted by another implant-delivered message. Charlie had sent an update. The contract was now formalized, and he was installing some of the new engineering neural databases. He walked into the office in person.

"So, what do you think?" the Chinese-American man asked.

"Nice kid, though a bit too naïve," Marie replied. "Looks like this one's going to be another trip to the Yīnfŭ Club."

"My favorite place," Charlie replied sarcastically. "After that last time I was there, it looked like they'd shoot me on sight if I ever went back."

"Still, you have to admit, though, how you handled those human traffickers was brilliant," Marie grinned. "Uploading some krav maga, parkour, combative, and martial arts modules into their implants. Took the cops months to find most of those traffickers' body parts."

"I don't think the Four Lords Triad appreciated the irony," Chong muttered his reply. "But I've got your back if you need it, Ree."

"Thanks," Marie grinned at her assistant. "Now, I'm gonna go in myself. I want you waiting nearby in case I need another gun."

Chong pulled out his customized P90. Originally based on a pre-Singularity design, the design had been modified to work with modern caseless calibers. Despite the design being older than he was, it still looked like a gun from the Singularity. Marie saw the ease at which the man handled the compact weapon, and placed it back in its concealed pocket. With weapons ready, the duo left their office behind.

Field work was perhaps both the most exciting and boring part of being a private investigator. Marie walked down the hall, following her traditional method of leaving the building. She walked down the primary hall, taking in the familiar features. The floor was made of faux-wood with a white smart-fiber carpet. The walls and doors were covered in dark faux-wood, creating the appearance of a much older apartment. A retro-styled elevator opened up, and took Marie and Charlie down to street level. The lobby was decorated with Art Deco styled arches, making it look both futuristic and archaic at once.

They headed out the front door, and the skyline of New Chicago was an even stranger sight. To the west, near where the canals connecting with Old Chicago were, Singulartech's Neo-Art-Deco style skyscrapers towered. Holographic advertisements flashed along the side of the building, with their slogan, "We put the future in your hands." Nearby the Singulartech buildings was a Science Corps base and aerospace port. Their barracks and military-styled buildings seemed sleek, compact, and looked like they had just been nanofabbed, despite being decades old in some cases. As her gaze turned further east, Marie saw the computronium pagoda-styled buildings of the Ascendant Order, full of their cybuddhas and ascension initiates. The squat, utilitarian buildings of the local Nest commune did not tower as high as the others, but housed far more souls. The ivory towers of the Invisible College's campus were in between both the Singulartech and Nest buildings in terms of height.

Where there were heading was towards the north, away from the nicer parts of the city. The structures started resembling more conventional pre-Singularity buildings, albeit ones made by robots during the assembly of the platform over Lake Michigan. A few had been covered in faux brick, to make them appear older than they were. The streets themselves looked a bit wider than their historical counterparts, though with less in the way of traffic. The piezoelectric materials under the pavement would allow the crowds of pedestrians to generate power without realizing it. Despite the memetic preference of the city for retro appearances, many of the cars were the sleek electric ones in bright colors.

Most of the people on the street bore resemblance to standard baseline humans, if only in shape. Some people had robotic bodies (often going for the deceptively clunky 'pulp' forms), others stick with a few prosthetic limbs and attachments, a few went for provolved animal bodies (normally chimps or gorillas), and there were a few stranger forms. Still, it wasn't as odd as when the local art museum held that Body Modification Festival. A provolved dog walked by, dragging his human pet on a leash held by cybernetic arm protruding from the animal's back.

Marie made her way through the crowd, heading for one of the routes less traveled by reputable people. Marie followed a street with few people going down it, and reassuring tapped her gun inside her trench-coat. She looked back, and saw Charlie reassuringly behind her, tapping her on the back to remind her he was there. The buildings around them began to get increasingly ill-maintained, until they saw more people clad in a uniform they had loathed to see. It was the outfit of the local chapter of the Four Lords Triad, a black fiber-silk robe with the Chinese characters for their gang on both sides. Their lower-ranked members wore face concealing black masks, each acting as a way for the gangster to hide his identity beneath a high tech nanofiber-based HUD. Many of them held pairs of pistols, submachineguns, bladed weapons, and energy weapons in their hands. They all stood around outside a decaying pagoda-styled building with the a sign reading the name " Yīnfŭ" in three ways: Art Deco styled English letters, Chinese characters, and a bar-code-like format for any post-literate patrons.

"You know this place is named for a Chinese nickname for Hell, right?" Charlie stood away from the front door. "Given what we both know goes on inside, I'd say it's a great name for it."

"I'll try to be quick inside there," Marie grinned. "We're just going to see if anyone knows Larry. Or beat some information out of them."

"Good luck, Ree," Charlie nodded, and vanished into the crowd. "I'll be waiting by the side door if you need me."

Marie entered the bar, passing through the front doors. Inside was a combination of bar, AR brothel, and club. The lighting was dim, save for the strobe lights in one corner. While the vibe outside was retro-Oriental, the memetic vibe inside was clearly cyberpunk-hedonist. In a seated area, some patrons tried out the latest nanodrugs. Under the strobe lights, patrons performed grinding on the dancefloor. Others sat at the bar, drinking and talking with each other. A few VR and AR junkies experimented with perversions with unwilling subjects on the other end of a remotely-operated sex device. Triad goons stood guard around the place, with an important-looking figure sitting drinking a martini in a private booth, surrounded by bodyguards and women.

A few of the stranger groups were also visible around the bar. A group of chavborgs, presumably visiting from the British Isles, sat around the bar flaunting their faux-gold prosthetics and retractable vibroblades. Near them, a group of robed Unifists chanted while setting up a rudimentary group mind. Some Cannibal Corps officers, dressed in their red and black uniforms, stood out among the patrons in the AR torture room. Some vestigial cyberpunks danced in black leather suits. A few suited members with Wright-Reynalds Economic Consortium badges tried joining their friends with nanodrugs.

Marie ignored them and focused on the large figure. He was a hyper-obese large Italian, clad in a disgusting, skintight jumpsuit with a pinstripe coat. Big Luigi, if she recalled the club owner's name right. He owned the place, and invited the Triad in as his personal bodyguards and protection. Big Lou held a violin case across his lap, where he kept his custom-nanofactured Thompson. While Italian, he was technically a member of the Triad. They were merchants of vice, and like most major clades, fairly diverse in their demographics. The would be mobster looked revolting, but had classic taste in weapons. His taste in food, though, tended towards the shocking.

"Hey," he shouted at a waitress as he grabbed her rear. "Fetch me some more kitten, freshly squeezed!"

He turned his head to see Marie. "Hey there, toots," he leered. "What brings you back here?"

"Information, Big Lou," she replied. "I ain't looking to start anything."

"After that stunt that asshole friend of yours pulled, be glad I didn't order these boys to ventilate you on sight," he gestured to a nearby Triad bodyguard holding a Chang Feng submachinegun. "But as long as you don't start shit or bring him in, you're welcome here. We've got respect here, after all."

The big mobster thought of himself as a peer to the PI, in the style of countless old media. Since the alternative would leave her riddled with bullets, Marie played along. Besides, he could be a reliable source of information if his ego was placated.

"Looking for info about a chump named Larry," Marie said. "He's a simp. The provolved primate used to work shifts at the Grant Street Borehole."

"Where that bot got ventilated, right?" Big Lou added. "I may know something about that. What would the murder weapon and chump be worth to you?"

"How about I put in a good word for you with my friends in blue?" Marie offered. "Get the heat off ya for a while."

"I don't mind the heat," the man grinned and turned his head down, revealing several chins. The waitress returned, and handed him a bloody mess on a platter. He began slurping the meat down in between words. "But I like where this is going."

Just then, the rest of the club stopped and stared towards the AR torture room and VR rigs. Lou turned to see what happened, and Marie followed the big man's head. One of the chavborgs had attacked a member of the Cannibal Corps with his arm-implanted vibroblade, stabbing him through the shoulder. From the awkward stares directed at him, the chavborg was sober enough to realize this mistake would be his last.

The other members of the Cannibal Corps immediately stopped what they were doing, and gazed at their quarry. They began to draw rusty and dark colored weapons, and aimed them at the chavborgs. Not wanting to be outnumbered, the chavborgs stood by their compatriot. The Cannibal Corpsman broke the blade off with a power-armor gauntlet, and pulled out a pistol. He fired at the chavborg's half metal skull hitting the organic part. It was then the club descended into chaos. Chavborgs began slashing everything and everyone in range with their blades, while the Cannibal Corpsman pounced on them, sprayed their weapons in their general direction, and began to eat at the corpses to drive them into a battle-frenzy.

"Help my boys kill those fucks, and I get you anything you want!" Big Lou shouted. "No one mass murders my patrons and gets away with it!"

Marie considered calling for help from Charlie, but decided against it. She didn't want the club to turn into an even bigger brawl.

Quickly, the Four Lords Triad members began to surround both the Cannibal Corpsman and chavborgs. They surrounded both sides, and began to move rapidly, shooting and slashing both parties from their vulnerable flanks. Their black cloaks turned translucent, as the thermoptic camo made them hard to perceive. Marie pulled out her Mateba and drew a bead on a Cannibal Corpsman who was gunning down a mass of fleeing people with a sadistic grin. She pulled the trigger, and the Corpsman's brains flew out of his head. He fell down, apparently not caring to invest in defensive implants.

Suddenly, a chavborg noticed her gunshot, and rushed the private investigator. He held his blade high, and Marie fired two shots to the British nano-junkie's center of mass. The rounds only created two dents in a metal plate over his stomach, and the chavborg brought down a massive arm-blade at her. Quickly, she rolled to the side and shot him twice in the face. A Cannibal Corpsman suddenly appeared above her, and lunged for the body. The scarred maniac began to chew the chavborg's organic parts, regenerating many of his own recent wounds. Not wanting to disturb him, Marie quickly shot him execution-style on the back of the head. It was her last shot, and she knew she'd have to reload. She feel backwards, but quickly rolled into a crouch position to reload.

Her foes, however, decided she should not have the chance to. A chavborg rushed at her, shouting, "Wanker!"

His own vibroblade suddenly went limp in his hand, as a blade penetrated his torso. The blade was a dao-styled curved sword, and eviscerated the man in an instant. As the body fell, Marie could see the outline of a cloaked Triad member behind him. He held two sabers, and dashed off to finish another opponent.

Suddenly, a Cannibal Corps trooper ran to the fresh chavborg body. She looked down and saw Marie standing back up. The Corpsman raised her submachinegun to finish the job when Marie sprung into action. Using her Enhancer gloves, she ripped the weapon out of the Corps-woman with one hand, and smashed her neck with the other. She smashed the butt into her target's dazed head, and then brought it down on the back. Her enhanced strength shattered both the firearm and the woman's skull.

Marie looked around her. By now, the number of Cannibals and chavborgs had been dramatically decreased. None were left standing. A dozen bodies covered the floor, and a few wounded remained. A few bystanders were mixed in with the rest of them. Some of the Triads administered nanomedicines to the wound patrons, while others finished off the remaining chavborgs and Corpsmen. Big Lou himself blasted at some of the wounded enemies with his Thompson.

"Thanks, sister," he held the smoking Chicago Typewriter up. "My patrons will be alright. Hey, Liu, toss those dead mooks in the nanorecycler. I want this place cleaned up, ya hear?"

The Triads nodded. They dragged the Cannibal and chavborg corpses into the backroom, presumably for disintegration into nanotech feedstock. Big Lou looked back at Marie, who used a moon clip to quickly reload her Mateba, before placing it back in her coat.

"I'd like the murder weapon and the suspect," Marie reminded the club owner.

"Well, since I'm a man of my word," he replied. "I'll play ball. Normally, this sort of thing doesn't happen when my Triad boys and gals are standing guard. Damn limeys."

"So, where can I find them?" Marie asked.

"I'll have my boys leave them over at the Grant Street Borehole itself," Big Luigi grinned. "Right at the scene of the crime. Watch out, though, one of my guys said they saw this big guy with a minigun, bike, chainsaw, and small army of drones roving around. Looked like bad news."

"Thanks for the heads up," Marie grinned, and prepared to lie. "Always a pleasure doing business, Big Lu."

The bloated man winked before turning his attention back to food. "Hey, waitress, my kitten fell on the floor! Fetch me a new one!"

Marie left the bar behind her, trying to withhold her disgust until she left the front door. Leaving the building behind her, she sent a message to Charlie informing him of what had happened. Once she had walked down the block, Charlie rejoined her.

"So, we go to Grant Street Borehole next?" he asked. "That's not too far from here."

"Just a good walk to the south," Marie replied. "Come with me, Charlie. We're about to visit the Industrial District."

Marie held Charlie's hand as she lead him further south. The buildings began to get taller, pipes and wires became more prevalent, and smokestacks began to appear. Several black cubes dotted the district, to assist with the dissipation of excess thermal heat. Even before receiving engineering knowledge from Derek, Marie had a broad idea of what the boreholes were for. New Chicago was a city constructed on a metal platform above Lake Michigan, due east of Old Chicago. The boreholes were how the city's automated systems could extract raw materials from the ground, for use in expanding the city, maintaining it, and assisting its residents. While nanorecycling helped with most raw materials on a daily basis, there was always demand for more materials to help the city grow. So, special shafts connected the metal platform, plunged into Lake Michigan, and straight into the bedrock underneath.

The Grant Street Borehole was one of the more recently dug boreholes in the city. From the outside, it appeared as any other industrial site. It was a metal, cylinder shaped building with set of automatic doors at the front. No one was parked nearby, so there was a good chance it was empty. Warning tape in English letters and info-type barcode was hung around the entrance, reading: "Police Line. Civilians do not cross!"

Her status as a private investigator should give her access, especially given the authority and passwords from one of the main engineers on site. Marie sent the authorization code from her implant. The doors opened, and they were greeted to the facility by a strange site. As they walked in, Marie could have swore she heard the sound of a motorcycle in the distance. In the otherwise empty lobby, there was a gun and a chimp bound and gagged. The chimp was clad in a dirty suit, and sweating when he looked up. He had a nametag reading "Larry Milton." Seeing as Big Lou kept his word, Marie decided to look at the evidence before asking the suspect. She looked at the weapon. It was an Uzi, almost exactly like the old original design. Marie quickly scanned the prints and hair she found on it. She ejected the magazine, and found it had some caseless, armor piercing rounds left. Still, there was something strange about this. She looked at her prisoner's hairy hands, and then made a silent note of it. She cut the provolved chimp's gag, and picked up the Uzi.

"So, Larry, how's a chimp like you fit your finger into a trigger guard that's way too small?" she sat on a nearby chair, moving close to the prisoner. She directed Charlie to stand guard near the entrance of the room. He pulled out his P90 and nodded.

"I-it wasn't me!" Larry shouted. "I-I just wanted to get out of there before-"

Given the hysterical suspect, Marie decided to go the good cop route. She emptied the weapon, turned the safety on, and put it on the side. No reason to give the hysterical chimp a chance to gun anyone down.

"Calm down," she showed a PI badge to the hysterical provolve. "The Triads let you go. You're safe now."

"No, I'm not!" he shouted. "He's still around! I saw him gun him down in cold blood!"

"Please," she pleaded. "I'm here for information about Carl's shooting. I'd just like to know what happened on that night a week ago."

"I'll tell ya," Larry seemed to calm down a bit. "But even if you do lock me up, promise me you'll get him!"

"I'm just trying to figure out what's going on, first," Marie replied. "So please, continue."

"I-I was finishing up a shift when Carl came over," Larry stumbled and stuttered. "W-we talk for bit, then Derek comes in. He's dressed all funny, in a red robe or something."

"Continue," Marie said. Larry caught his breath.

"W-without saying a word, he just walks up to a console, and starts looking at some samples of bacteria we found at the bottom of the shaft," Larry explained. "He does something to the console, then we try talking with him."

The story was getting stranger, for sure. Larry focus, as if recalling the scene in detail.

"Carl tries talking sense to him. Then, Derek pulls out that from his robes," he gestured to the Uzi. "And sprays him point blank range, says he'll be back for me before his work is done. I fainted."

"So you panicked when you woke up?" Marie suggested.

Larry nodded. "I didn't know what I was thinking. I just ran as fast as I could out of there, grabbing anything I could think off to defend myself," he gestured to the Uzi. "Derek, or whoever he was, left that there. I just grabbed it out of instinct, and threw it in my shirt, and ran the hell out, towards a friend of mine in the Triad. Said I needed a new body and identity, fast."

The chimp looked down. "I knew the guy from a previous job. Shouldn't have trusted him," he replied. "He says he's gonna put me in one of those torture rooms as a victim at the club. That was how I spent the time since. Getting tortured in VR by some sadists who paid that fat guido. Then, one day, they remove me, gag me, and take me down here."

"You think Derek was trying to set you up?" Marie asked. "Did you have some bad blood with him?"

Larry shook his head. "I could have even been someone with a clone body or a nanocolony," he replied. "But he sure looked and sounded like Larry!"

"Hey, didn't Derek mention he had a few forks?" Charlie interjected. "One of those might explain the appearance. But then again, how could he even get in?"

"Aside from standard security protocols, this place opens up if someone can fool the biometric scanners," Larry explained. "This is a new borehole, but it was built under one of the older buildings here. They just added a few more security steps, and didn't bother plugging up some of the older ones."

"Figures," Marie rolled her eyes. "Any way to see what he was looking at?"

Larry pointed to a nearby console. "Might have all been deleted, but I'll try recovering it. The police don't know the exact time he came in, and probably wouldn't believe me if I said."

The chimp used both his hands and a wireless implant to bring up some files on the computer. Marie followed along. Much of the security sensor files had been purged, but the access times of certain files could be found easily enough. Most if it was files relating to subsurface dwelling bacteria, as well as a strange type of nanobot. It seemed to be a nanocommunications hub, but consisted of some organic parts. From the look of it, they had been assembled inside the borehole's nanofabbers, and released into the deep crust. It resembled a dragonfly-like shape with manipulators instead of wings and legs. The records were hidden in the format of a routine auto-diagnostic scan record, so it would have been easy for the police to miss.

"I don't like this, Charlie," Marie said. "Forward it to the cops."

Marie looked down at Larry. "Sorry, but we're gonna have to take you in. They'll have to officially process and interrogate you, but my opinion carries some weight with them," Marie explained. "And I don't think you did anything but run to the wrong crowd."

"Never thought I'd be saying this, but thank you!" the chimp nodded. "I'll be off the streets, and away from that fork, or whoever that freak is!"

"Just wait in the front room, and only open the door for the ones in blue uniforms," she gestured to a camera pointing outside. "I've locked down the place, so you can't run too far."

"I'm ready to face them," Larry reminded himself. "Thank you for trying to clear me. I'd rather spend a night in lock down then go back to that damn dago!"

"Just doing our job," Marie nodded. "Now Charlie, let's head back to the office. Got a lot of stuff to look over in more detail."

Marie and Charlie left the borehole building behind them, as both searched all the law enforcement and industry-related infolinks they could. Sirens where heard in the distance, and black and white Neutrius NCPD hover-cars landed outside the borehole. Officers stormed in, and lead Larry out. Marie broadcast her confirmation signature through her implants. Derek would also be informed of what had happened.

Charlie's face suddenly lit up. "Hey, Ree," he said. "I was looking up info on forks of Derek, and guess what I found?"

"Is he running with some even worse group than the Triads?" Marie asked.

"'Fraid so," Charlie Chong nodded. "This one fork, going by the name Erik, was made after Derek had read about this old philosopher, James Lovelock. Derek ingrained that into his psyche, and hoped it would motivate him to become a professional terraformer for a major clade."

"And that didn't turn out too well, I take it?" Marie inquired.

Charlie shook his head, recalling information from police infolinks. "He tried working for the Nest Engineers and Geologists Group on Mars for a while, but soon vanished from work one day, with a few unknown characters," he continued.

"Any ideas on why he left? I mean, Nest EGG," Marie whistled. "Pretty prestigious right there."

"He was facing investigation for injecting uncontrolled self-replicating nanobots into the core of Mars," Charlie continued. "His blog and mental backups from the time showed an obsession with creating a true planetary super-organism."

"Of course, it makes a lot more sense now!" Marie grinned. "The lead suspect is now Derek's fork, Erik. Derek had heard of Gaia theory, and wanted it to motivate Erik to become a terraformer. It worked too well."

"And having Derek's memories of the Grant Street Borehole would have given him knowledge on how to get in," Charlie added. "Since his project on Mars failed, he planned to do the same thing to Earth!"

"He then used the borehole to make a batch of nanobots, tailoring them for sub-surface operation," Marie concluded. "Then shot Carl and tried to set up Larry for it."

"I'll alert my contacts in the NCPD," Charlie continued. "They may have to set up a nano-suppression operation down in that borehole, and pour in some blue goo."

"That's there problem," Marie added. "We need to find out where this moron's holed up in. He's probably nearby somewhere, since he may want to ensure his plan is on track."

"He may not be alone," Charlie said, leading Marie out of the Industrial District. "A few old associates of his were also under investigation, and vanished with him."

"Damn," Marie muttered. "They could be anywhere."

Suddenly, a motorcycle roared around the corner. On top was a golden-maned mountain of muscle. The motorcycle had a sidecar with a minigun mounted on it. He had a chainsaw in a sword-like sheath on his hip. Two UAVs hovered above him. Each drone was a propeller with a pivoting mini-laser and sensor underneath the main body. One of the drones was labeled "Munin," and the other was labeled "Hugin." One of his eyes was cybernetic. The man himself was clad in a suit of chainmail made from nano-composite materials. Despite his fearsome appearance, Marie knew who the man was. He was frozen in a glacier since the Middle Ages, when an explorer found him, thawed him out carefully, and revived him with nanotechnology. His nickname, "The Eternal," was due to his longevity. His place in the modern world was both feared and respected.

"Ragnar, what brings you here?" she addressed the Viking. "Heard from Big Lou that a big guy was around here, and thought it might be you."

"As a fellow agent of justice, I do not understand why you suffer evil like that to live," Ragnar replied. "But, I have not come to discuss that."

"Then what brings you to this shithole, big man?" Charlie asked. "This ain't the type of town for sightseeing."

"The Nest hired me to find the same group as you," Ragnar the Eternal continued. "Erik is their leader, and I was observing the borehole to see if those foul fools would dare to pollute the premises again."

"And you found us," Marie nodded. "Well, Ragnar, if you want to help us out, we'd welcome it. If you can tell us where they may be hiding, that would be even better."

"Lord Odin saw fit to grant me insight as to where the evildoers lurked," Ragnar sent a map to Marie and Chu. It was a list of several sightings from cameras and sensors. They were cross-referenced with a number of Nest databases. "Fortune has given us a boon. I believe an abandoned townhouse several blocks east of here is where they remain."

"And you left that place unguarded to look back here?" Charlie replied. "Honestly, I'd think a thousand year old Viking like you would-"

"I already have sentries in place," Ragnar grinned. "I have two cloaked attack drones, Geri and Freki, observing all movement within the building, and all information they are accessing. As they are all in place, I believe it is time to smite them! They're wanted for nanoterrorism on a number of space colonies, and are almost certain to be doing the same thing here."

"You needed our help for that?" Marie cocked her head at the Viking. "You're a feared bounty hunter with a small army of attack drones! Or why not call the police?"

"I fear either case would result in needless loss of life on the part of the innocent," Ragnar bowed his head. "The suspects have stockpiled military grade weapons. The police would be outgunned and massacred. But if I assault myself, I risk the lives of civilian bystanders. My current equipment and fighting style is more suitable for overwhelming force than surgical operations."

"Well, Ragnar," Marie said. "Let's help each other out. Charlie and I are no stranger to urban combat. But we're not as augmented as you are. If you can distract them and draw most of their fire, we'll do the rest."

"A wise tactical decision! Perhaps the blood of the Vikings flows through your veins!" Ragnar exclaimed. "I shall give you information about their infested lair and numbers. If you need transport, Sleipnir can provide it!"

The Norseman hit a button on his motorcycle, and the minigun moved out of the way in the side car. There was enough room for both Charlie and Marie. Marie climbed in, and Charlie followed.

"I still owe you for that time in the Tokyo arcology," Marie added. "It's always a pleasure to work with you, Ragnar!"

"Likewise!" he replied, sending a tactical readout of the townhouse. Marie observed the two floors and basement, as well as the projected number of hostiles. Erik was believed to be operating inside, with four compatriots. Two were heavily armored and augmented bodyguards, so they would be a problem. Some crude nanofactured defenses were also believed to be dispersed around the house. Ragnar's drones saw most of the defenses appeared to be at the front door, as they most commonly left through the back door.

"Whoa! Sweet ride!" Charlie exclaimed, letting the wind blow by his face. Having focused on her attack plan, she had ignored the fact she was in a motorcycle moving rapidly down the street. She had to pull her fedora hat down faster. As an intimidating looking vehicle, most of the pedestrians moved out of the way. Ragnar maneuvered his vehicle fast but skillfully, like a mechanical surgeon. He weaved down the street, and pulled up to a row of old-style townhouses.

He parked down the street, out of view of the one on the end. The one on the end was especially dilapidated, and had a number of boarded up windows. Ragnar's cloaked drones were alongside and in the rear of the house, only visible thanks to the Viking allowing them to appear marked on their ocular implants. She could see a number of sensor beams protruding from the front, presumably waiting to set off some defenses inside.

"In through the rear is what I'm thinking," Marie highlighted a path through the backyard. "You can cause a stir in the front, Ragnar."

Charlie snickered a bit at Marie's line. "So, Ree, I go in the back first, then?"

"Of course, Charlie," Marie replied. "You have a submachine gun. I have an autorevolver. I'll be in behind you."

"As much as I'd insist on 'ladies first,' this isn't the kind of way to be chivalrous," Charlie pulled out his P90. "Ready to do this when you are."

"Got a distraction ready, Ragnar?" Marie asked. "Something that will draw their attention towards the front."

Ragnar patted a small device mounted on the motorcycle. "I have a hologram projector here. There is a place in Valhalla for even Loki."

With that, Marie and Charlie climbed out of the sidecar with her Mateba autorevolver ready. Marie darted around the rear of the house, and vaulted over the chain link fence surrounding the yard. Charlie followed, and prepared to storm through the back door once Ragnar gave the signal. Meanwhile, in the front yard, Ragnar had activated a hologram. A gigantic figure with red hair and an electrified hammer towered in front of the house. The holographic Thor began to raise his hammer, as pedestrians fled in terror. It was once the bystanders were clear that Ragnar gave the order.

Charlie kicked open the backdoor, and quickly picked his targets. An automated turret came to life, but Charlie deployed his utility fog shield, absorbing most of the bullets with the nanobots. He returned fire at the control unit, disabling it. He saw a man rushing back with an Uzi, trying to alert his comrades. "Freeze!" he shouted.

Instead, the man tried raising his gun at them. A burst of rounds to the face, then both kneecaps dropped him. His nanobots began to repair him, but it would take a while. In the meantime, he just sat like a brain dead vegetable on the floor. Charlie moved past him, and quickly entered the front foyer. Two automated turrets and a heavily armored cyborg stood watch at the Thor hologram in the front yard. For a second, Charlie almost did look at it, as it was definitely impressive. He did not notice the second cyborg waiting behind him.

But, he still had a job to do. He selected the turrets first, and blasted the control box to each with a quick burst. Quickly, the cyborg turned around, and trained a massive railgun at him. Too big to stop, the rail gun's shells would easily penetrate any cover. So, instead, he launched an electronic attack at the cyborg's targeting optics. The cyborg fired his weapon blindly, narrowly missing Marie's shoulder. Charlie rushed up to point blank range, and directed his nanoswarm to attack the cyborg's eyes. Quickly exploiting the attack, he emptied his current magazine into the cyborg's head. The foe fell down unmoving.

"Behind you!" Charlie shouted.

Marie suddenly felt a massive metal object smash into her, throwing her against a wall. She dropped her gun, and saw her attacker. It was the other cyborg, this one with armored shoulder pads and a sledgehammer in hand. He raised the weapon over the prone private eye, about to deliver the death blow. Marie quickly rolled the instant before the hammer smashed right through the floor where she had just fallen.

Quickly, Marie reached for her gun as the cyborg yanked his hammer from the floor. Not able to reach the Mateba, she instead improvised. She pushed down with one of her Enhancer-covered hands, springing her into an upright stance. Without thinking, she rushed at the cyborg and jumped on its back. The cyborg tried ramming her into a wall, but she jammed her Enhancer-boosted fingers into his eyes. The cyborg was unfazed, probably having its sensors and control core in a less vulnerable place. Quickly, Marie dove, rolled, and picked up her gun in the process. She fired two rounds at the cyborg's torso, slowing him down a bit. Suddenly, a wall of armor-piercing bullets ripped through the cyborg's chest, dropping it. Bionanobots and brain go spilled out of the chest wounds. Not all cyborgs kept their brains in their heads. Marie turned to see Charlie holding his P90. He quickly loaded another magazine, winked at her, and lead the way upstairs. Marie followed behind.

A blast of gunfire caused Charlie to throw up his nanoshield. At the top of the narrow stairs, a man with a three-barreled Pribor-3B assault rifle fired bursts at the two private eyes ascending the stairs. The gunman tired charging down the stairs with a vibroblade once his rifle was empty, but Charlie quickly formed his nanoshield into a set of blades and threw them at him. Each projectile found their mark inside the man's limbs, pinning him to the ground.

"Stick around," Charlie grinned. "Ree, that was the last assistant. Erik should be around somewhere. I'll keep watch on the prisoners."

At the top of the stairs, Marie saw a familiar face, but a different person. Erik stood there, holding an Uzi. He looked almost exactly like he did in the downloaded memories, save the look of shock and desperation.

"Gaia must awaken!" he shouted. "I must awaken this planet!"

"Injecting gray goo into the crust ain't the way to go about it," Marie kept the Mateba pointed at Erik's head. "If you want to make some comptronium or make a self-aware ecosystem, fine, but what you're doing is just moronic!"

"No, I am Erik Peterson! I am an artist!" he shouted. "Gaia shall awaken! I here her calling me! Gaia must awaken!"

The maniac moved to open fire with his Uzi, but Marie was a faster shot. She fired her revolver at the madman's torso twice, dropping him. He was still alive, of course, but wounded. His nanobots would patch him up, but not before the cops arrived and he and his boys were behind bars.

"Tell it to the jury," Marie told her latest prisoner.

Charlie called for the cops. Soon, the NCPD hovercars arrived, taking more suspects into custody. Derek was also informed of developments. She talked with him in real time over her neural interface. "So, the real culprit was a mad fork of yours, Erik," her virtual avatar told him.

"I didn't know he'd find some perverted version of James Lovelock as an excuse for murder!" Derek bowed his head. "But, I'm glad you stopped him. Carl's backup has been restored, and he's glad you caught his murderer. Larry's also been cleared."

"There's always toxic memes out there, Derek. The police say they've deployed a blue goo cleanup team to the Grant Street Borehole," Marie explained. "So, they'll probably be cleaning that out for a while."

"I've already been reassigned to another borehole on Cleveland Street," Derek continued. "But, I can't thank you enough for stopping him! You're one sharp detective dame!"

"Eh, I'm just doing my job," Marie replied. "Now, think you can upload some more information? Always good to get some excitement in my life."

As the new information was uploaded into her neutral implant's infolinks, Marie turned her attention back to the scene. Charlie leaned on her as the four assistants were lead into police prisoner transports. Of course, not all would be able to be recovered completely. But, in a rough city like this, it was her or them.

"So, how about we grab a drink, Ree?" Charlie suggested.

"Nah, had a long enough day," Marie muttered. "Besides, got enough in the fridge to last a year. Might as well get started on that."

As the two left, Ragnar the Eternal saluted them. Marie nodded back, and saw the Norseman drive away on his motorcycle. She was sure they'd cross paths again. As they walked back, they left the nastier parts of the city behind them. Marie knew that she'd be back soon enough. After all, she was Marie Magnum, and this was her city, her job, and her passion.