Science Detectives: The Post-Singularity Casefiles of Marie Magnum

New Shanghai Surprise

Marie Magnum awoke from a bio-pod in the bowels of the Old Fritz in Martian orbit. Despite her recent experience, restoring herself from backup was not a particularly pleasant activity. After getting changed, she looked nearby and saw two other people needed to be restored as well, Charlie and Doktor Bizarro. Looking over a computerized readout that was covered in red warning signs, Marie quickly surveyed the text scrolling across, and cursed to herself. Someone had been trying to send a virus into her ship's backup archives. The virus had been contained, but there was going to be at least a delay of weeks before the backup system was fully functional again. If the Red Queen herself hadn't installed the cybersecurity, the backup modules would have been totally compromised. Marie kicked the console, and swore to herself in a tone the others rarely heard. Someone had tried to e-ssassinate all of their backups, and almost succeeded.

"Ah, so our stoic leader is more impulsive than she seems," Bizarro mocked as he climbed out of one of the tubes. "I should have estimated it myself, since you repress your emotions more than that self-important bag of hormones in the armor."

"Dok, you're easier to read than a kid's book," Marie muttered. "You're even more pathetic than baseline humans at their worst. Your insecurity gives ya an ego bigger than a galaxy, your shoddy inventions are obsolete even before ya build 'em, and you're a goddamn hypocrite to top it all off."

"Yes, you project your failures upon me!" Bizarro mocked. "But why would dare insist my superior intellect is capable of hypocrisy? Doublethink is something I have long since transcended!"

"You become more defensive than a two-bit thug after his buddy rats him out, chump," Marie continued, observing the mad scientist's green form twitch away from her. "I know exactly what makes ya tick, Dok. You moan about everyone else being inferior, but ya ain't got to be no shrink to see why. You make those rants about horrid books and all, but in the end, you'd be sad if your plans did work. Everyone gets turned to zomborgs, you're left all alone."

Marie saw him involuntary twitch. He was about to respond, but Marie preempted him.

"Vox off and shaddup," Marie ordered, switching the madman's voicebox off. "No one ta compare yourself to. No one but your-goddamn-self. Yah can't help but screw yourself over, ya goddamn loon. Ya hate yourself, and just do it all for the damn theatrics."

Bizarro's angular plastic face jerked forwards like a coiled spring, but Marie stood her ground. Bizarro raised his finger in a futile and puerile attempt to evoke a response from Marie. Instead, Marie clenched her fists, and tossed a hook at the side of Bizarro's head. The mad cyborg recoiled from the hit, and backed away.

"That never gets old," Marie cracked her knuckles. "But you know why I saved your almost worthless hide, instead of just tossing you out the airlock?"

Bizarro jerked forward, speaking invisible words through his plastic face. "Because yah want other people around somewhere, Dok," Marie continued. "Which means you don't want to see everyone else buy it for good. The greater the galactic population, the more chumps you look down on. Like it or not, Dok, you're already trying to help transhumanity avoid goin' the way of the dinos or the dodo."

Bizarro was now looking at the ground, defeated verbally and physically. Marie grinned as she savored every moment of his internal pain. "Only difference, Dok, is if we ain't around no more, ain't no one is gonna be around to bring us back."

There was a hydraulic hiss as the muscular, gaunt form of Charlie climbed out of his bio-pod. Marie had ensured Charlie's recently uploaded backup heard the entire exchange.

"Yeah, Dok," he looked down at the defeated madman. "Like we say in the Science Corps, extinction is not an option."

Bizarro fumed to himself, and vanished around a nearby corner. Marie saw the shirtless Charlie step to follow Bizarro, but shot out her hand to grab him.

"Let 'em stew," Marie muttered. "We got bigger problems, Charlie."

"Like what?" Charlie looked at Marie with an uncertain look on his face. "Oh, you mean the fact we're all being regenerated?"

"Yup, Charlie," Marie muttered. "Means the old you's dead. Thanks to a literal deadman's switch, we got regenerated from backup a day after our mission failed."

"You mean, that mission to check out the Unifist front company failed?" Charlie asked. "And gone FUBAR?"

"Yup, Charlie, 'fraid so," Marie sighed. "All three of us could be worm food, or worse."

A look of fear appeared on Charlie's face. Marie saw his jaw drop, and eyes start to widen, as if frozen in a silent scream. "You mean, the original me, the one who went down there, is dead and gone?"

"Or worse, Charlie. Or worse," Marie said in a deadpan voice. "I know this is a first time for ya, but I have to be honest with you. Being dead sucks. We're just forks of the people who went on that mission."

"But you took it so well after New Chicago!" Charlie protested. "Not even a word!"

"Because I literally bailed at the last second, Charlie, and I did it before," Marie began to run a trace on the virus' origin. "Wakin' up in the bio-pod's just something ya gotta take with the job."

"You mean, the person I remember being is gone for good?" Marie saw Charlie shudder in ways that even a baseline human would find obvious.

"Only if we don't find out what happened, Charlie," Marie sighed. "That's the case, we can just link up with 'em and fix it."

"Assuming our stiffs are still there or haven't been disposed off," Marie sensed Charlie's increased blood pressure and muscle contractions. "So, we've got to go back ta the scene o' the crime, and find out why and how we died."

"Okay, I can follow," Charlie exhaled deeply, relieving some of the stress. "But what if we get killed again?"

Marie pointed her finger at the row of bio-pods leaning against the wall, like some mad scientist's specimen jars. "We try not to," Marie mused. "I traced a virus from the Unifist chumps that directly put 'em outta commission for a while."

"So, the Unifists know we're coming for 'em, and probably boosted security," Charlie muttered. "Charming."

"It means this time, Charlie, we bring out the big guns," Marie grinned. "They ain't too popular down in New Shanghai, so we visit a few friends, and call in some favors."

"Some of my folks still like there, Ree," Charlie added. "What're they going to think now the kid they raised is dead?"

"They might've accepted it would happen, Charlie," Marie mused. "Believe me, Charlie, most of 'em been through what just happened with you at some point."

"Back in the Corps, I thought backups were just something you did to be safe in a worst case scenario," he mused.

"Like having all of one's "private" encounters with their hands or in VR, right, Charlie?" came Bizarro's mocking voice over the vessel's intercom. "Though I'm sure our mutual employer's already well aware of this! MWUHAHAHA!"

Marie did a quick system scan and found out how Bizarro was speaking. His voicebox was disabled, but he was using a backdoor through his aux implant to give commands to the intercom system. She quickly locked Bizarro out, and sent him a recording of him getting punched in the face again.

"Can it, Dok, or I drive nails into your face," Marie muttered. "And activate every goddamn pain receptor in that body of yours, and maybe add a few you ain't never experienced before."

"Thanks, Ree," Charlie exhaled. Marie saw his vitals weren't lit up with the telltale signs of anxiety like a Christmas tree anymore. "Well, it'll be good to see New Shanghai again. As much as I never thought I'd say that."

Marie brought up a satellite display of the compound she had attempted to investigate earlier. Power signatures were decreasing, and cargo crates and personnel were being loaded onto a shuttle. The Unifist presence was decreasing, and the anarchy of the surrounding city was increasing. She compared the soon to be abandoned spaceport to the sat-feed of the arcology where Charlie's folks resided, and noted a mob descending like a horde of locusts. She shared the feed with Charlie.

"Ree, my folks aren't home, but the family friend Phil is there," Charlie replied meekly. "But we gotta focus. The Unifist compound's our main objective, and they're clearing out."

"That arcology ain't got the manpower to hold the line, Charlie," Marie mused, looking over notes on security systems and personnel of the structure. "Even with your friend there. If the Unifists know who we are, they probably got ways of findin' out who our friends are."

"I think I get it, Ree," Charlie nodded. "They sent that mob to kill my folks as a distraction to cover their escape."

"So, Unifist compound or your friend Phil," Marie reviewed some tactic data. "Your call."

"We have to focus on the mission, Ree," Charlie winced. "Please, this shouldn't be my call! You give me orders, Ree!"

"Where do you want to go, Charlie?" Marie replied. "And before ya ask, we ain't splittin' up."

"The Unifist compound," Charlie winced during his response, as if he had uttered some horrid blasphemy. "The mission comes first."

"Don't worry, Charlie. Go get dressed," Marie gestured. "Meet me and Dok in the shuttle bay once you're ready. Shoggy should be there, too. Ain't got time for hesitation. There's the plan, and objective, and that's what matters."

"You remind me of Phil sometimes, Ree," Charlie nodded, and went to change into his spare equipment. Marie went towards the Old Fritz's docking bay, and readied the nearest rectangular drop-shuttle. She realized that despite limiting the damage the virus caused, there was still a rather disturbing implication. If they had been killed or captured, the Unifists had managed to hack into their vessel and perform a brazen electronic attack. The enemy knew they were coming, and probably had accelerated what had been planned.

Marie closed her eyes and plotted their descent. She piped the ship's sensors into her vision, and saw the red skin of Mars below. The sprawl of New Shanghai was reduced to a brown dot near the edge of a sea created by terraforming. The city was one of the first Chinese colonies on the world, but had mutated into something its original architects never intended it to. Unlike the other Chinese colonies, it had developed infamy, rather than success. Marie had been here before, and figured that this was the Red Planet's evil answer to New Chicago. As she and her crew descended in the drop shuttle, she saw the urban scar in greater detail than she cared to. Fronts for Rogue Clades, the Triad, petty local gangsters, and worse roved the biled-choked arteries it called streets.

"So, what's the plan, Ree?" Charlie asked Marie from his seat. Marie could see he had calmed down externally. "We just walking back in there, again?"

"Nah, Charlie," Marie shook her head. "We gotta assume those chumps are waitin' for someone to start looking for answers. So, I got a few surprises for 'em."

"Like what?" Charlie asked.

"A few surprises in our new gear and bodies," Marie grinned. "Ain't got too much major changed, but hopefully enough to make a difference. You'll find out if it really comes down to it, trust me."

"Ah, Charlie," Bizarro mocked. "Have you never considered what the worst that could happen to your body is?"

"It dies, or gets mind-hacked, right?" Charlie asked.

"I'm sure you're familiar with how the Unifist Church recruits new members," the mad cyborg mocked. "Those morons stole the schematics for my zomborg virus to make mind controlling nanobots. A far more efficient method of spreading a second rate pyramid scam of a cult, if you ask me."

"You mean, they might've mind controlled our former selves?" Charlie's look of apprehension appeared. "How the hell do we beat ourselves?"

"With a few surprises they ain't gonna see coming, Charlie," Marie grinned. "How much you know about fill?"

"A bit," Charlie replied, glaring at the ground. "He was the one who trained me and my sister in martial arts and marksmanship. But Ree, we've got to focus on the mission! Not my family friend!"

"Your friend is our mission, Charlie," Marie replied.

"What?!" Charlie's jaw dropped. "But why aren't we going for the compound?"

"Let me ask ya something, Charlie," Marie changed the subject as she searched over recent news from across the town. "Why'd you join up with the Sci-Corps?"

"Oh, it must be because of their utter lack of recruiting efforts, aside from that slogan, "Be More Than You Can Be," a few years back," Bizarro mocked. "They keep themselves shrouded in relative obscurity to compensate for their utter lack of numbers and generate a false mystique. My zomborgs would crush them, if they ever fielded their miserably thin ranks in one place!"

"Dok, you know we kicked your ass in both Zomborg Wars," Charlie replied. "Let me tell you the reason. All throughout history, soldiers were primarily agents of governments, and thus, politicians. They'd often let pettiness, corruption, and pissing contests between branches destroy them from within. The Sci-Corps was an exception since they weren't a single clade's military, nor even the Compact's military. We were a security force for a non-profit group that wasn't interested in spreading a particular religion or retread of a failed ideology. We expanded our role to handle things that regular forces had problems with. Unlike other militaries, we couldn't didn't like to use hordes of cannon fodder. Instead, each soldier was a highly trained specialist in their own right, even before basic training. We were all cross trained in different areas, as well as regular training. This versatility was essential to our job, which included handling this regular forces would be ill-suited for, without taking massive casualties or excessive loss of life."

"So, you joined because you wanted to save transhumanity? How altruistic," Bizarro mocked. "How naïve. The Sci-Corps merely allows the Singulartech Foundation to take more credit for handling issues than they should. Non-profit doesn't mean much when reputation helps your economic and political standing more."

"Dok, the only ideology we have interest in spreading is Pan-Sapient Rights and trying to fight extremist ideologies bent on starting the end of the universe. Singulartech originally started off as a think-tank, you know," Charlie continued. "Hell, some roots go back into the 20th century! The Lifeboat Foundation, the JASONs, and things even you'd be hard pressed to know."

"Yet, you can't even defend everywhere you're needed," Bizarro mocked. "Which is why that slave driving harpy and her lapdog keep getting drawn into these utterly pointless issues."

"Our task isn't to strangle civilization with some overbearing police state or hive mind, Dok," Charlie replied. "We're not meant to go toe to toe with large militaries in wars of attrition. We strike fast, hard, and do our job, and let more qualified people take over from there."

"You mean clean up your mess," Bizarro mocked. "Or send some contractors where you should be. Like at that dig site."

"We don't leave messes, and we try to avoid collateral as major priorities, Dok, unlike your chickenshit zomborgs," Charlie growled. "We're no occupation force. We're a specialized tool for a specialized job. We're just armed scientists trying to stop extinction through precise destructive action. You're just some rambling junk heap, Dok. I'm not arguing with you, since when I do, like any idiot, you drag me down to your level and try to beat me with experience. Vox off."

Charlie's posture grew a few millimeters taller as he relaxed and stretched against the wall. Bizarro slouched a bit lower, resigning himself to staring against the wall.

"Thanks, Charlie," Marie sorted through data feeds. The newsfeeds coming in from the ground were more disturbing than she first anticipated. Even for a day in New Shanghai, things were getting bad. Criminal gangs had began exchanging fire with each other and the local police at a simultaneous moment. Displays of blue-suited police exchanging gunfire with a motley army of thugs erupted across Marie's map like a volcano ready to blow. She could see all the carnage of the burning city from her optical display, and she tried to analyze the situation. Marie shared the feed with her group.

"Oh, shit!" Charlie shouted. "The whole city's on fire! Ree! We've got to get down there faster!"

"We ain't got gear for that, Charlie," Marie replied. "Looks like we'll have to find a clear spot at the spaceport and fight our way across town."

"No need," Charlie shook his head. "Ree, the arcology my family lives in keeps a private shuttle bay reserved."

Marie saw Charlie send a sequence of codes, and saw the image of a metal hatch opening on the edge of a sleek, knife shaped structure. Marie changed their descent course, and began drawing a tactical map of the archology from the sensors she could hack. She could see the ground floor was surrounded by a mass of attackers that would have been easy to mistake for a body of raging water. Looking closer, she could see a gigantic horde of figures dressed in dark blue and purple robes with star and galaxy motifs. In their hands were a variety of cheaply nanofabbed weapons, including serpentine vibro-daggers, firearms, and Gauss bows. If Marie had to guess, they were cypods, non-sapient clones, produced in bulk as cannon fodder. Their robes had a symbol that seemed surreal as it was out of place. There was a white clam shell, opened and placed horizontally, with a flying saucer hovering over an Egyptian pyramid inside. Marie recognized this as the insignia of the Unifist Church from her knowledge on Rogue Clades.

The archology's defenders were outnumbered and surrounded on all directions. Security officers, armed robots, and automated turrets created piles of cypod corpses reaching up to the first story. Makeshift barricades using wrecked cars and corpses had been set up, feeble defenses against the onslaught. Some malign super-intelligence was coordinating all of the disruptive actions in the city, Marie hypothesized. Every gunfight, atrocity, and battle between factions was a tsunami of chaos across the metropolis.

"Um, Marie?" Charlie glared at the arcology under assault on his own display. "My estimates don't give them much longer."

"Same here, Charlie," Marie replied. "We go in with a few new surprises."

Marie changed the rounds in her Mateba autorevolver. Ominous green shells that Charlie had never seen before were loaded individually and carefully by Marie's hand, and she calmly pressed the cylinder back into place. A grin crossed her face as swung the cylinder back into its proper position. "What till they get a load of me."

"Care to tell us what our new tricks are, Ree?" Charlie observed in curiosity. "I mean, it may help tactically. Or why we're going here instead of the compound?"

"Tell ya what, Charlie," Marie grinned. "If ya jump out the shuttle before we land, you'll find out firsthand. I added some gear to this version of your armor to slow your descent from orbit. And ya can also land with damn good precision. Oh, and ya can use two guns at once due ta some servomotor upgrades."

Bizarro looked over, raising his hands and silently throwing a hissy fit better suited to an irate toddler. Marie turned to him. "And you, Dok," she looked with a stern face. "You can make zomborgs with those wrist-mounted restored dart guns of yours. Don't go thinking you've got a clear path. The new zomborg virus can be fixed whenever I damn well please, chump. It does, though, give us a shot of those healing nanobots if ya use it on us or civilians. On enemies, though, it removes and simple mind control nanobots and turns 'em and any zomborgs that spread it to to our side."

"Nothing to fight a mob like a mob," Charlie muttered. "C'mon, Ree! This sounds cool and all, but we've got to get down there! Whatever your reasons, they aren't going to do much good if everyone's dead before we reach the ground!"

"Keep your pants on, Charlie," Marie replied. "Your friend Phil hopefully ain't goin' anywhere anytime soon if he's got any sense, 'cept off this rock."

"Knowing Phil, Ree, he's probably down at the barricades with a weapon in all eight of his arms," Charlie mused.

"Okay, so I'll look for some uplifted octopus near the ground," Marie mused, revising her plans a final time. "Now let's roll. Autopilot will put the shuttle on your family's pad, Charlie, and we'll be down there, ventilating those chumps."

With that, the door to the shuttle opened, and the bonfire that was the skyline of New Shanghai filled Marie's visions. The harnesses for the trio opened up, and Marie stood beside Doktor Bizarro as they stared out into the city. Marie pressed her Enhancers together, and held onto Doktor Bizarro.

"Now, now," Bizarro mocked. "If you weren't coercing me into doing this, I'd have vivisected alive you for daring to sully me with your vile, grease primate palms."

Marie raised her other fist, and punched Bizarro in the face. She then held his torso as tight as she could, and shoved him out of the shuttle. Together, their two joined forms tumbled down through the air, as Marie directly took over Bizarro's body. She made the mad scientist launch his grappling line at the silver side of the archology, and made contact. The device reeled them towards the structure with the speed of an accelerating race car. Below them, Marie could see the deluge crashing against the rocks below. Human waves came from all directions, and the streets leading to the arcology were all clogged. Nearby, Marie grimly noted some other arcologies were not as fortunate, and two neighboring structures still smoldered and smoked.

Out of the corner of her eye, Marie saw a cluster of small metal objects falling towards the ground. Looking up, she saw Charlie liberally tossing plasma grenades at different targets below them. Recalling one of her own new toys, Marie pulled out a cylinder of her own from her trenchcoat. She yanked the pin with her teeth, and tossed the armed device down towards the mob. Marie watched it explode shortly above ground level, scattering the contents among the massed dregs of transhumanity.

Marie saw a familiar blob emerge from the pressurized casing, and its puke-colored tendrils eagerly lashing out in all directions. Dangling above the ground, the form resembled like a splotch of melted chocolate. The hideous protoplasmic form engulfed several hapless Unifists, and Marie heard Shoggy's battlecry. "Te-ke-li!" the nano-shoggoth chittered as it dined on the feast around it.

"I don't recall seeing that device before," Bizarro muttered. "Strange even my superior intellect did not consider such a potentially useful weapon."

"That's 'cuz I just made some, Dok," Marie replied. "Now, let me go. You take the south side. Charlie'll come down on the west side. Make some zomborgs, Dok."

"Let you go and make some zomborgs?" Bizarro mocked. "Oh, I have never thought I'd hear that you worthless sack of hormones. But, thanks for nothing, toots."

With that, Bizarro released his grip as Marie gave him the order. Marie punched the nearby wall with her Enhancer gloves, and another new toy of hers kicked in. Microscopic suction pads and macroscopic teeth within the Enhancer gloves and boots emerged at Marie's reflex, and sparks few as Marie slid down the side of the arcology with both hands and legs pressed tight against the sleek metal structure. Marie turned her body into the color of water as she heard bullets ricocheting around her. Even with thermoptic camo up, her entry had not gone unnoticed.

Marie pulled out her Mateba, and aimed it at some of the cultists taking potshots at her. She leveled the muzzle at the rough center of the group, and pulled the trigger. An instant later, a crimson blossom erupted as the explosive round cut the cultists down to size. She switched to thermal vision to see which of them had hot weapons, each red-white blob a dangerous heavy weapon, and selected them for termination. Adrenaline flowed through her body as she recalled there were five more chambers to unload on them. Each shot was a drop of antibiotics on a petri dish of bacteria. Marie saw Shoggy greedily devouring the blasted remains of her enemies.

Suddenly, a laser struck Marie square in the back. Her active camo shorted out, and she plummeted towards the ground faster as though the laws of gravity were anxious to claim their prize. Marie flailed her arms helplessly, trying to reach for the edge of the arcology with her Enhancer gloves. Her hands were just millimeters out of reach of contact, when she saw projectiles embedding themselves within the wall. Thick Gauss bow bolts were fired at the edge of the wall, and Marie reached for the closest one to her. She barely grabbed it, and held on for dear life. Her weight drove the embedded projectile down along the side of the arcology, carving a deep laceration in the metal. After a panic-filled fraction of a second, it finally came to a stop. Marie exhaled and relaxed the instant it came out.

Marie would have panicked more had she not realized how close she was to the ground. She had fallen into a tall, thick, hedge, and struggled her way out of the green brambles. Mare looked up and around, and saw several soldiers leveling weapons at her. She put her hands up, and set her autorevolver down in front of her. "I'm here ta see Phil," she looked at the urban-camo clad soldier who seemed to be in command. "Tell 'em Charlie's here to see him, and I'm his friend. Sorry 'bout dropping in unannounced."

The soldier turned, keeping his laser rifle trained on Marie. "Hey, boss!" he cupped his hand next to his mouth.

"Yeah, what is it?" came a gruff reply.

"Some twist fell from above! She says she's with some guy named Charlie, and he'd know you!" the soldier replied.

"Why didn't ya say so?" the speaker said as he approached. Marie looked up and saw a figure she recalled from memory, but was otherwise not surprised to see him here.

An uplifted octopus with a hover belt floated towards her, clad completely in bandoleers of explosives and ammunition. In each of his eight arms was a different weapon, from firearms to energy weapons. Some bandaged wounds and laser burns were visible on his green armor, indicating to Marie even he had been in the fight long. He looked down at Marie with both of his large eyes, and both went wide.

"Marlene, that really you?!" Phil asked.

"The name's Marie now, Phil," Marie nodded her head. "Or should I call ya Philemon?"

"Ain't heard that since my days in the Maitreyastrani monastery," Phil nodded. "They trained me well, though. Anyway, Magnum, what the hell are you doing here? There's these Unifist cultists, and now some of these milksop guards say they've seen zomborgs."

"Because they have," Marie replied. "Dok Bizarro's here, and he's on my leash. Didn't ya hear about that?"

"'Fraid not," Phil shook his head. "Where's Charlie? I hope that boy's putting my damn lessons to good use!"

Marie looked up into the air, and pointed. "Here he comes now," Marie pointed at a bright object falling from above. "I've mark all of us as friendlies, so there ain't gonna be no friendly fire."

A brilliant spectacle of light rained down from above. Charlie, now completely covered in his shimmering metal armor, fell in a controlled velocity as retrorockets on his back ignited. In each hand of his was a separate firearm, and he swept both of his arms upwards and across, as if a bird stretching his wings. The flash of his Mauser's muzzle and plasma rifle, together with the plumes of exhaust behind him, gave Charlie the appearance of an avenging angel laying judgment upon the horde beneath him. Pausing only for a few seconds to reload as he descended, Marie saw him descendant comfortably next to them. He put his back towards the crowd and kept firing. Bullets and bolts of plasma ripped apart cultists, penetrating and boiling their skin. Marie swore she could smell roasting flesh as Charlie stopped to reload. Off in the distance, she saw Bizarro leading a horde of zomborgs as he dangled from the side of the archology.

"Charlie, get your ass over here!" Phil shouted over the cacophany of battle.

Charlie turned his helmeted head to see Marie and Phil, but twisted his head and raised his head as he strolled towards them calmly. Marie looked up to see an object streaking across the heads of the swarm of attackers towards her, arcing over the guards' makeshift fortifications. In the time it took Marie's neural implant to identify the object as a Cobra Mark IV smart mini-missile, Charlie leap into the air with his jumpjets. He collided with the object, and the ensuing explosion catapulted him backwards against the arcology.

Charlie's crumpled, battered form smashed against the ground. Marie looked down at him, and saw his armor covered with black scorch marks on the torso and shoulder. Charlie's form suddenly vaulted back upright, as if doing a back handspring.

"Next time, try armor piercing missiles!" Charlie shouted. "Since you morons suck at physics, here's something way over your heads!"

Marie saw Charlie hurl two more plasma grenades into the mass of Unifists, each aimed at where the missile had likely originated from. An instant later, the telltale flash of green plasma gobs erupted deep within the crowd.

"They fail at chemistry and ballistics," he muttered. "And I guess plasma physics was way over their heads."

"Get over here and stop flappin' your gums in the open, you moron!" Marie ordered from behind the nanofabbed barrier she crouched behind. Phil hovered in a lower position, sticking the muzzles of several weapons over the top of the barrier. Charlie slid into position next to her, and pulled himself into a full crouch.

"Weight of numbers is the only thing these idiots have," Charlie muttered. "Maybe some big guns tossed in there, but honestly, can't we hack these things and send 'em back where they came from?"

"They're individually cut off from the mesh after being sent on suicide missions," Phil replied. "And whoever's fabbing these things ain't running out anytime soon."

"Do we at least know where these things are coming from?" Charlie hurled another grenade over the barricade. "Can we cut off the source?"

"Charlie, don't you remember anything I mentioned on strategy?" Phil shouted. "There's not enough manpower to hold the line, let alone go on the offense! These aren't regular foes we can't catch off guard! They're a goddamn horde of suicide attackers locked onto burning this place down!"

"That's why we came to get you out, old man," Charlie shot a glance at Phil, Marie saw. "We screwed up some mission against the Unifists, probably hacked our minds, and they're trying to kill our friends here to cover their escape!"

"Here I thought it was them trying to shut down my spying on them for the Compact," Phil muttered. "Or maybe it's because he defected."

"Phil, listen up," Charlie moved closer to the octopus. "We need to get you out of here! We got a shuttle waiting for you! We'll talk later!"

"Can't go yet," Marie saw Phil toss two grenades with two of his arms while the other six kept firing guns. "Got someone who needs protecting from these goons."

"Can't he get on the shuttle too?" Charlie asked. "We're going to be overrun if this keeps up any longer!"

Just then, a cultist vaulted over the wall, and Marie saw him raise his vibroblade. He held the weapon in both hands over his head, preparing to plunge it on Marie. Marie vaulted up onto one knee, snapping her leg straight at the cultist's shin. Her enhanced boot hit like a pile driver to his shin. Far too close for her explosive bullets, she instinctively went for her kill in another way. Compromising his balance, Marie yanked the injured cultist down behind cover. She smashed his head into the concrete ground, until it was nothing but a red smear. She grabbed his vibroblade, and tossed it at the forehead of another cultist coming over the top. The second cultist fell dead, just as a Gauss bow bot grazed Marie's face, giving her a scar before impaling itself in the wall behind her. Marie felt the warm blood dripping down her face, and lowered herself back behind cover.

"There's too many of 'em!" Charlie shouted. "Ree, we need to get everyone back! Phil, why don't we just hold them off at the front door and bottle neck them?"

"They could just plant explosives around the perimeter, Charlie!" Phil shouted over the staccato of gunfire and explosions. "Bring down the whole structure. Or at least try gettin' their worthless hides in!"

Over the shouting and carnage, Marie noticed a subtle due to her augmented hearing. It was a subtle, cyclic motion, similar to an old jet engine. Marie estimated the source, and looked up to see sleek shapes that were the color of water. The shapes moved in towards the archology, and stealthly landed next to their shuttle on the landing pad.

"Charlie! Phil!" Marie pointed up. "We got company up in your place!"

"A little busy here, Ree!" Charlie shouted back over the gunfire. "Think you can take it?"

Dok, get your rear back here and get me up to their flat, Marie auxed Bizarro.

Marie shifted to the mad scientist's senses and saw through his bioptronic eyes. An unholy marriage of optical, electronic, and organic components in the Doktor's vision piped Bizarro's direct visual input into her vision. Marie saw the Doktor dangling above the mob below, opening fire at the cultists with his QBZ rifle while cloaked. Every few moments, he'd scramble to a different position like an excited electron. Below him, a growing mass of green and black in the crowd of dark blue and purple showed his new zomborg army could withstand the Unifists, and then turn them into unwilling allies. Just outside the range of the Zomborg Legion, Marie saw puke covered gobs growing and absorbing unwitting cultists. Shoggy had undergone mitosis and split into several smaller blobs, each spitting acid and eating cultists in all directions.

Marie overrode Bizarro's warped nervous system without resistance. She fired his grappler towards her position, and the mad scientist swooped downwards at her. Marie saw herself firing her explosive shells from behind cover, and saw each round of hers was an artillery strike, scattering masses of foes as though they had been hit by Thor's hammer. She reached out her hand at the right instant Doktor Bizarro swung by, and the mad scientist tossed her into the air as he reached the apex of his arc.

Now flying like a circus acrobat, she got as close as she could to the walls, and rammed her Enhancer-clad fists into them. Punching the wall as hard as she could, she scrambled upwards as fast as she could go. Doktor Bizarro swooped back in, and gave her a more direct assist. The mad scientist grabbed her torso, and launched his hook directly at the hovering Unifist shuttle. Both of them shot upwards, and the mad scientist steered their center of mass towards a gap between the arcology and transparent aircraft. Marie held the evil cyborg close, resisting the overpowering stench of rotting organic matter. It was only due to physics she held on, rather than desiring to get anywhere near the horrid abomination.

In a few long moments, Marie flew up onto the platform, and broke her momentum with a forward roll. Bizarro anchored himself with his grappling hook before settling down. Marie had both of them engage their cloaking. Marie vanished from the visible spectrum, and loaded standard gyrok rounds into her Mateba autorevolver.

Dok, you get my back, and I'll say when tah ventilate 'em, Marie auxed over a secure frequency.

Her mute cyborg puppet only moved up behind her, preparing to give her fire support. Marie noted a steel door had been forced open, and pressed her ear to the wall to hear what was going on on the other side. The sound of someone breathing heavily and sobbing could be heard, as well as a disturbingly familiar voice.

"So, chump," the voice mocked. "Tell us when ya started ratting us out, or you'll spill your guts literally."

Even though she had considered the possibility, Marie was briefly taken back by her own voice echoing outside. Bizarro remained silent and stacked up behind her.

"Please! I've told you everything I know!" came a man's voice pleading. "I just couldn't let you do it!"

"The Annunaki's return cannot be stopped by you, nor any of this worthless excuse for a civilization!" came a voice that made Doktor Bizarro seem to shudder and step back. "All shall bow before the Lord of the Dark Between the Stars, Jim Justice and his Annunaki wisdom!"

Marie considered the logical end point of the trend as a fourth voice spoke up. It had a cold, electronic reverb added to it, as if each syllable was produced by some ancient synthesizer. "There is no resisting the mind control nanobots," the voice mocked. "You shall return with us willingly in your last moments of free will, or you shall know true pain for eternity."

There was the sound of a fist making contact with flesh, and then a coughing that went straight into hacking. Marie peaked, and saw the abominations her former body and friends had become. A feedle, frail man in a blood-stained labcoat was held by a man in sinister purple and dark blue armor covered with Unifist insignias. Instead of the familiar helmet, Marie saw only stone-like material comprising a dome two sizes too small to fit a human head inside. Marie assumed this was what Charlie's remains had been perverted into.

Punching the captive scientist in the stomach was a woman in a robe the color of space. Her skin was an alabaster shade of white, and her hair was covered by a long hood. Her eyes flashed in strange, unnatural colors. A battered autorevolver dangled from her belt, and her Enhancers were covered in blood. Her own former body had been hijacked and turned into this walking abomination. Marie noticed the bust size on the body was larger and waist was smaller, much like the surgery-spawned celebrities of the late twentieth century. She shuddered to think at whatever the cult's leader had done for his own perverted amusement with her former body.

The final form in the room was what Marie presumed had been Doktor Bizarro's old body. It mostly resembled his standard outfit, save that the colors on his cloak had been changed to the same atrocious dark blue and purple that the others had.

Dok, I'm gonna need you to blast the scientist with your dart gun, Marie ordered. That'll flush out those Unifist mind control nanobots. Blast the others, if you can. I'm gonna see if I can crack that evil Charlie open. If we mind control 'em now, we'll see what they're up to.

Marie saw Bizarro's transparent head nod up and down in anticipation of injecting people with the revised zomborg virus. Instead of converting them, though, it would liberate their minds, or at least knock them out of the fight. Marie breathed deep, and prepared for the fight. She sent a message to Phil and Charlie, requesting help at fighting themselves. Then, without further hesitation, Marie enacted a plan she had hoped never to use. The odds against her were slightly better than being struck by lightning, she mused as she took aim with her Mateba.

Go, she auxed the sole minion she had in the room.

Doktor Bizarro's transparent hands raised, and two darts flew out of each palm. One struck the scientist in the center of the chest, and the other penetrated into cultist-Marie's shoulder. No sooner did the woman yank out the dart in her than her associates sprung into action. The sinister Charlie opened fire with a plasma rifle in the direction the darts came from. The even more abominable Doktor Bizarro lasted out with a pair of tendril-like grapplers.

Marie saw the (somewhat) sane Doktor take a blast of plasma to the chest and crumble to the floor. His active camo disengaged, revealing his presence to the trio. Marie Magnum saw their reaction time was a lot faster than she first anticipated. Modifying her plans slightly, she reacted to take out the one she considered the greatest threat to her.

Her Mateba erupted as her intended target instinctively turned her head at an angle impossible for anything close to natural anatomy. Instead of dropping the mind-controlled Marie in one shot, her bullet only formed a red gash across her cheek. The cultist-Marie looked up, her eyes now turning deep purple. She drew and fired her Mateba at the same instant the evil-Dok and evil-Charlie pivoted around with their weapons drawn. Plasma and bullets filled the cubic meter of space Marie had been occupying an instant ago.

Red warnings assaulted on Marie's ocular implants as she rolled forward. Her body was being pushed beyond its safe boundaries. Ignoring them out of instinct, Marie took up position behind the possessed Bizarro. The mind controlled maniac spun around, but a quick blow to the head disrupted his functions. A satisfying crack came as Marie's fist smashed through her target's head. With another blow like a mass driver, Marie felt something in the mad scientist's head give out. She could feel this version of Bizarro had been augmented slightly in the cranium, but not enough to avoid having his face smashed in. A final hook punch knocked his head off like a baseball from a tee, and excitement filled Marie's nervous system.

The Unifist modifications to her target were not just making his head thicker, as Marie found out. The now headless mad scientist continued his swing, smashing her comrade into her with the centrifugal force of debris carried by tornado winds. Marie and Doktor Bizarro flew backwards across the room, with the headless possessed Bizarro and two companions assuming positions around the room to block their escape.

Marie felt the force of a maglev train hit her as she smashed against the wall. Struggling to move herself into some sort of cover, she heard the ripsaw-like sound of bullets ripping into the walls around her. Looking down, she felt several of the slugs make contact with her jacket. With more bullets in the air than water molecules in a maelstrom, she crawled back behind an open doorway. She yanked Bizarro's malfunctioning body behind her, using every bit of her increasingly depleted strength.

Charlie's own evil counterpart stormed into the room first, displaying the original's instinctive small unit tactics. A quick scan of Charlie's armor indicated nothing but an anti-tank weapon could even put a dent in it. Suddenly, Marie noticed a new signature on her retinal display. One of the Unifist signatures stopped responding, and was replaced on her HUD by the refreshing blue dot of a friendly. A quick calculation and hack brought their new turncoat ally under her direct control. Control flickered on and off as the target's own electronic defenses waged an invisible, subconscious battle of attrition.

The cultist Marie raised her fist, a gesture her mind controlled minions recognized from their reprogramming. Bizarro and Charlie lowered their weapons. She pointed at an accusing finger at the wounded Marie and Doktor.

"Templar Brother Charles, find that egghead," the evil Marie glared at her uncorrupted counterpart. "Celestial Scribe Bizarro, turn these chumps to our side with some nanobots. Let 'em see the light."

"With pleasure, Sister Marie," the headless body mocked from an unseen voice synthesizer. The madman loaded a magazine syringe-darts into a pistol, and turned his head towards his patron. "Do you want to do the honors, or shall I?"

With great effort, Marie jammed her leg out, activating the adhesive surfaces on her footwear as she did. Her shoe made contact with the dart gun, knocking it out of the mad scientist's hand and adhering to his forearm. Marie jerked her legs in like a hyper-elastic polymer, yanking the mad scientist into her waiting clutches. The headless form struggled futilely as Marie locked her limbs around the snared body. She took over what remained of her Doktor's neuromotor system, and launched a dart into the gaping hole where the head once sat upon the evil twin's shoulders. The dart ejaculated the nano-spunk into the gaping orifice, penetrating the madman's cybernetic spinal column.

The warped Charlie blasted at Marie with his plasma rifle, not caring about Marie's human shield. Marie pulled herself behind her victim, allowing the decapitated Bizarro to take the brunt of the blast. The acrid smell of rotting plastic and burning flesh filled the narrow corridors of the penthouse, causing Marie to turn off her olfactory senses in all of the bodies she had controlled. The possessed Charlie knocked Marie's burned human shield out of the way, and prepared to deliver the coup de grace to the downed private investigator.

"Hold on, Templar Brother," the possessed Marie pulled out her Mateba. "I want to ventilate my unenlightened counterpart."

"Just finish her," came the reply in evil Charlie's sinister reverb. "Or allow me the honors, Sister."

Sister Marie loaded a blue colored bullet into her Mateba. "These oughta put 'em both out of commission for good," Marie grinned evilly. "Seeya, chump!"

Charlie stepped to the side, preparing to let Marie execute her backup and both Bizarros. He kept his plasma rifle leveled at them, an ominous warning of what would happen if they did not die this time. A quick look through Charlie's eyes showed him and Phil pinned down back on the ground, fighting the endless horde and unable to give them assistance in time. The sane Marie, now exhausted of tricks, laid prone next to the two prone mad scientists, apparently accepting her fate.

Just then, Marie saw her would be executioner snap and fire a pair of rounds at Charlie's torso. Switching to control of the now completely hacked body, Marie saw the rounds fired into the torso did their task. They were military grade armor piercing nano-rounds, able to eat their way through most alloys known to science and anything inside. Right now, the soft center of "Templar Charlie" was being partially devoured by nanobots. Watching the possessed Charlie twitch in agony reminded Marie of a constipated drunk in trying to balance in low gravity. The original Marie, now in control of the situation, lifted up Doktor Bizarro's arm, and aimed at the growing hole on Charlie's chest. A dart injected the zomborg nanobots into Charlie's body, halting the anti-armor nanobots, and flushing any of the Unifist mind control nanobots from inside his body.

Sorting through the memories of both of the bodies, Marie restored her mind as best as she could, filling in the gaps in her memory since the last backup. For someone who had not undergone it before, it would have been traumatic, but Marie was hardly a novice in this. As she sorted through her memories, she found the scientist from before cowering in a corner.

She retrieved her converted counterpart's memories on him. His name was Doctor Philip Milton, a man forced to work with the Unifists under threat of death. A quick search on one of Marie's internal databases brought up the fact he was a leading researcher Overfactor and Sovereign artifacts. He had vanished mysteriously from his job at Olympos Mons University one day, presumed dead. From what Marie recalled, this was Phil's double agent working in the Unifist Church.

"Don't worry, Doctor," Marie mused. "Those Unifist chumps are gone, and you're safe now."

The scientist, curled into a ball in the corner, stood up and surveyed the damage around the apartment. Marie followed his gaze, looking at Charlie's family penthouse. Furniture and artifacts she had not even noticed before were now broken, blasted, and scattered across the room.

"Um, thanks," Milton replied. "Are you really the good guys?"

"Are ya mind controlled?" Marie snapped back. "If I were, Doc, you'd be a Unifist zombie now. I countered their nanobots and brought 'em all under my control."

"Ah, yes," came Bizarro's snarky voice from a damaged voice synthesizer. "Doctor Milton of Olympos Mons University? I believe I've followed some of your work."

"Um, is that really Doktor Bizarro?" the scientist backed away from the barely humanoid hulk of melted plastic and dead flesh. "First the Unifists, and now him? Oh, holy Tesla! Can this day get any worse?!"

"Oh, shut up, you worthless sack of carbon," Bizarro mocked. "Your work, from what I recall, is why the Unifists kidnapped you. Your unauthorized experimentation on xeno-artifacts without proper precautions brought you into their sights."

With this, Marie saw anger flash on Milton's face. "Listen, you maniac!" Milton replied. "Those artifacts pose a threat to us we rarely understand. The better solution isn't to lock them up and hope some bad guys don't get them! It's to rip them apart, see how they work, and avoid it!"

"Pwah!" Bizarro shouted. "There's a reason I stick with technologies I only understand. The last thing I need is for some ancient cosmic deathtrap to annihilate the worthless species I'm trying to conquer. You, like so many other morons, have fallen for the allure and mystery of ancient artifacts, just like a an insect walking into a carnivorous plant."

"Both of you, shaddup!" Marie shouted. Both scientists fell silent. "Listen. Charlie and Phil are down there, still takin' the heat from that mob. We've gotta give 'em a hand."

"I-I've never used a gun before!" Milton took cover.

"I'm rather immobilized at the moment, you horrid pile of carbon," Bizarro complained. "Or do you require more zomborgs?"

"Neither," Marie gestured at the Unifist hover-cars. While they were cloaked, Marie could clearly see the distinctive bulges of a gun turret underneath their bodies. Their wireless consoles were left open, and Marie grinned as she had an idea. "Dok, you watch the other egghead."

Marie hacked the autopilot of both vehicles faster than an ancient geek could mod an early computer game. The two craft came online, and Marie gave them a patrol routine. A few tweaks of their IFF signatures meant they'd work for the good guys now. Viewing the battle below from the camera eyes of each craft, Marie unleashed both on the mess of Unifist cultists below. Kinetic and energy weapons unloaded on the mob below, blasting the horde into quivering chunks of meat. While Marie could not hear any sounds nor see the effects, seeing large masses of dots stop moving permanently was enough to mentally fill in the blanks. She was reminded of a colony of bacteria exposed to an antibiotic.

She could see the defenders, lead by Phil and Charlie, being to push the remaining invaders back. Shoggy and its offspring, together with the gray and green tide of the Dok's zomborgs, were beginning to outnumber the attackers by at least an order of magnitude. Even the reinforcements pouring into the region seemed to be thinning, Marie noted. Quickly adapting a few differential equations from chemistry to the urban combat scenario, the enemy had no chance of destroying the arcology with anything short of a tactical nuke or antimatter bomb. An hour later, the mob had been utterly annihilated. Charlie joined Marie in the penthouse. Marie could see scars, burns, and bits of armor blasted clean off. Phil remained cleaning up stragglers. Marie looked over some new information from the Red Queen after submitting what she had recalled and verifying it. Marie had sent her less injured body to load their wounded in the shuttle.

"So, Ree," Charlie whistled, looking at what had once been a bookshelf. "You did all this? I'm just glad my folks aren't here. They'd kill me if they saw this mess."

"I had some help from Dok," Marie replied, pointing at the somewhat recovered mad scientist. His healing nanobots had been working overtime, as everyone could see. "Now, Charlie, here's the short version. The Unifists attacked here to draw us out and whack Dr. Milton here."

The scientist nodded. "They found out I was leaking information to the Compact," he continued. "Since I had been forced to work on some nefarious project by those maniacs."

"Why didn't they just assimilate you like they did to us?" Charlie looked grimly at the still body that had once been his.

"Unifist nanomachines can cause brain damage in some cases. They did threaten me with them, should I resist," Milton continued. "Now, here is the most important part: That whole evil cult is planning to annihilate the Compact, and I fear I have provided them the means to do so."

"So, we go from just corrupt cults to X-Risk territory," Charlie rolled his eyes. "It always seems to come back to that."

"Are you familiar with the extinct Sovereign civilization?" Milton asked. "Specifically, their method of galactic colonization?"

"Yeah," Charlie nodded. "Wipe out or forcibly assimilate any other sapient life, and then bioengineer a version of the Sovereign race able to survive on their newly conquered homeworld."

"Remember the cult's interest in all those Overfactor and Sovereign artifacts, Charlie?" Marie added. "Well, the Good Doctor here thinks the Unifists are gonna try to bring the Sovereigns back after wipin' us out. Some part o' their kooky scriptures says they gotta do it."

"And if Overfactor artifacts are involved," Charlie mused for a moment, and his gaze shifted towards the floor. "Oh, shit."

"Charlie, we gotta roll, now," Marie replied. "Listen. I know it's gonna be hard to leave so damn soon, but the Unifists have shifted gears. They've left this place to burn, since they need a distraction for their main event."

"The Unifists forced me to work on a horrid weapon they retrieved from ancient alien devices," Milton's face showed remorse for billions of potential deaths. "Imagine a strong magnetic source near Sol and the stars of other Core systems coming online at the same instant, due to entanglement communicators."

"No pesky speed of light ta worry about, then," Marie mused. "So, Doc, what happens?"

"Controlled coronal mass ejections and solar flares flash fry the vast majority of transhumanity's population centers. The Unifists' own forces exploit the chaos and seize what ever's left, probably with a few revived Sovereigns as leaders or figureheads," Milton winced. "If there's anything left."

"And if these memories are right, Charlie, we gotta move, now!" Marie ordered. "I already told the Sci-Corps, and they and the Compact are gonna try to find and take out those damn solar toasters."

"Then what the hell are we going to do, Marie?" Charlie shouted. "Whenever those clowns want, they can end us all faster than light!"

Marie raised her fist, instinctively considering a strike, but lowered it instead. Shrugging off the weight of the two disabled mad scientists on her shoulder, she put her hand around Charlie.

"Not quite, Charlie," Marie grinned. "They got a secret main base in the Belt where their leader and commander is. And we're gonna take it out. The Sci-Corps are gonna do their thing, and we're gonna do ours."

Charlie looked up, and nodded. "Let's roll, Marie." Charlie looked at her as he headed for the shuttle with his gear. "Can I have the memories of that mind controlled version of me back? You know, it would help me reunite my original mind with my backup."

"Charlie, we'll do that on the way over," Marie replied. "Just remember. You'll be who you'll goddamn be."

"Thanks, Ree," Charlie nodded. "And thanks for coming here first. I know you probably figured out Milton was one of their real goals, but seeing Phil was definitely worth it."

"Charlie, I went here for more reasons than just goddamn mission importance," Marie answered. "Phil's a good guy, and I don't want some Unifist mooks tearin' through your folks' place."

"Thanks again, Ree," Charlie opened his visor and grinned. "Say, Dr. Milton, you want to come with us?"

"No thank you!" Milton stepped away from the shuttle. "I have some guards to protect me now. I desire to see no more violence."

"Then stay away from black market artifacts," Charlie said as he climbed into the shuttle. Marie followed him, and closed the door behind her. Deliberately forgetting many of her more powerful tricks was gambit, Marie recalled, but in the case of a rogue backup turned enemy, it was definitely worth it. What they couldn't remember, Marie could beat them with. Tired and drained beyond the breaking point of most nanomedicine, Marie took a nap as the shuttle ferried them away from Mars. She, Charlie, Bizarro, and Shoggy would need every trick they had for the next act. If there was no happy ending, she recalled, it would be all Earth civilization's last act.