Part of a fictional series about The Culture alliance and the Screeps world.
“Did it die? Show me.”
Without waiting for a response, Primus walked up to the table and opened the container. Her left arm gave off a slight hum as she reached in and lifted out the severed HEAL device.
“The armor’s gone.”
“Yep. We went back and double checked, it’s not anywhere near the portal.” Bovius coughed and cleared his throat, shifting his weight a bit more onto his cane.
Primus held the device up for several moments, turning it in the light. Holding it briefly in her right hand, she extended her left arm toward the wall. Light arced momentarily between her fingers, and then the room went dark.
“Gods damn it, Primus, now I have to replace the wiring in here. The light switch is right there.”
“Busy.” A green glow flicked on, emanating from Primus’ left eye and illuminating what was left of the creep part recovered from Hernanduer’s territory. She stared at it for half a minute, the aperture of her eye expanding and contracting every few moments.
“Where’s the courier?” she asked, still turning the part and looking at it from underneath.
“We’ve still got it in the lab. But we empt–hey!” Primus was already half way out the door.
“You missed something, Bovi.”
Bovius cursed under his breath and followed, favoring his right leg. She stepped at a brisk pace across an open, dusty courtyard in the middle of a ring of white tents and canopies. Clusters of extensions and communication equipment could be seen peeking out from behind the tent flaps. A few passing creeps slid out of the way and emitted a slightly melodic, autotuned apology as they passed.
Bovius caught up with Primus as she stepped between a tower and an overworked creep spawn. A gust of wind whipped dust around them as they passed, obscuring the view of a concrete structure just beyond the ring of tents. Primus looked back and smiled as she walked toward it. “You okay back there?” Bovius shielded his face from the wind and said nothing.
They stepped into the foyer of the lab compound and shut the door behind them. Cold flourescent lights flickered on to reveal a set of displays by the entrance, a few marked doors leading to reactors, and a lone creep, sitting motionless to one side of the room.
“We’ve been keeping him in here so he’s out of the way, just wheel him out to get renewed every hour or so. He’s just move and carry parts, Primus. There’s nothing in there.”
Primus moved smoothly over to the creep, lifted a boot, and planted it squarely over the creep’s outer shell, pinning it to the ground. “Oh, so it’s a ‘him’ to you now? I didn’t know you spawned your couriers with those parts. And anyway, you’re clearly not looking in the right places.”
“You know what I…” Bovius trailed off. Primus had pulled back a seam of the creep’s shell and was reaching in with one hand. The metal cracked and bent as the opening widened. The creep gave off a worried whining noise with its communicator.
“See, you just — have to look — in the right — places!” Primus punctuated every few words with a yank at the split she’d created, opening it further each time. Finally, she reached in deep with her left arm and her shoulder tensed for a moment. The top half of the creep splintered and collapsed, fragments spilling out around onto the floor around it.
Bovius rolled his eyes and walked over, kicking a scrap of fresh debris out of the way as Primus’ arm molded itself back into its normal shape. “Really, Primus?”
She stopped smiling and turned to stare back at him. They looked at each other, motionless, for what seemed like a long time.
Bovius finally looked down. “…okay, fine. I will humor you. But tell me where you’re going with this.”
Primus grinned again and looked down at her handiwork. “I can’t tell you. I have to show you. Hold this for a second.” She tossed the fragment she had carried over from the command post to Bovius, and started fishing around in the inner workings of what remained of the creep. After about a minute of digging through wires and broken metal, she stopped and looked into the mess she had made.
“You know how portals work, right?”
Bovius stared blankly and then shook his head. “Not really. I mean, a little. We know how to use them, and we have some theories about space folding between sectors and quantum entanglement, but-”
“Okay, this won’t make much sense to you, then. Yes, there is some curvature of spacetime involved, but you still have to obey the laws of physics. Conservation of energy-” she brought her arm back out of the creep’s wreckage, and reached for the Hernandian part Bovius was holding. Bovius mutely handed it back to her. “-and, in this case, conservation of mass.”
There was a flash of light when the device touched Primus’ hand, followed by a faint buzzing sound. Both looked to see the armor plating flickering in and out of existence around the HEAL part she held.
“You sent this through a portal and thought that some of the pieces went missing. But everything that goes through a portal has to come out somewhere. This little mystery still follows that rule, but the somewhere isn’t so cut and dry. In short, Bovi, this creep part you found is in two places at once.”
“I’m pretty sure you heard me. In fact, I expect this applies to the whole creep. This fellah-” and she kicked the remains of the courier over, sending bits of metal and plastic everywhere, “-just got a little tangled up in the mess, that’s all.”
Bovius paused for a moment. “…So you’re saying the creep this belonged to, uh, belongs to, is still out there somewhere?”
“Well, yes. But you combed the ruins pretty well, and you didn’t find anything else.”
“Maybe we can find it with this! We’ll track it down through my portal network and-”
Primus shook her head and stopped smiling again. “I still don’t think you get it. But here, let me see if I can find where it went.”
She held the flickering part in front of her, closed her eyes, and concentrated.
“What are you-”
She turned the part slowly, as if examining it from different angles, but her eyes remained closed. Several minutes of this went by. Bovius eventually sat down on the broken frame of the courier, which emitted a muffled blip of protest. The wind outside picked up again, rattling the doors and windows of the lab complex.
Bovius was idly examining the head of his cane when he heard a muffled crash from Primus’ direction. He jumped and looked up.
Primus’ eyes were open wide, her hand still extended where she held the device a moment ago. It lay shattered on the floor, each piece winking in and out of existence around her feet.
“Primus, what happened!?”
She blinked twice, then her fingers grasped the air, as if expecting something to be there. She looked around, seeming surprised to be in the room where they both stood. Finally she turned to Bovius and opened her mouth to speak. Then, she vanished.
A clap of thunder reverberated around room, and a quick rush as the space Primus had occupied filled with air. The remains of the device she had held were gone as well.
Bovius looked around the room. “Primus?” He stepped toward where she had once stood, but stopped as he felt the ground begin to vibrate beneath his feet.
The vibration grew, shaking the frame of the building, spreading creep debris further across the room. Bovius staggered, then fell to his knees and crawled toward the nearest wall for support. The tremors grew stronger, and he could hear crashing equipment from the nearby rooms. Then, an abrupt stop, silence, and stillness.
Bovius sat shaken for a moment before springing up and rushing to the comms array. He flicked on the alliance channel and grabbed the receiver.
“Fucking hell, did anyone else feel that? My equipment wasn’t set up to track it this time. Ted?”
Tedivm responded after a moment of static. “Confirmed, we just had a heavy earthquake here, way bigger than what we’ve seen before. Lost a couple construction sites, we’ll be on backup comms for a sec. You okay?”
Bovius continued without answering his question. “Anisoptera, were you able to track the epicenter of this one?”
“INADEQUATE DATA TO RESPOND TO SEARCH CRITERIA. PLEASE BROADEN YOUR QUERY OR REQUEST A DIFFERENT DATA SET.”
Bovius sighed and held the back of his neck with his free hand. “Uh…Primus is gone. She was right here, and then she disappeared.”
Tedivm’s voice came back through the speakers. “Really? Shit…okay, we’re getting primary comms back. Not seeing radiation from any dropped nukes nearby. Terminals up, segments up…uh, I can see our own network, but I’m not reading any Coalition services as online. Can you confirm?”
Bovius leaned toward a nearby display, stretching the receiver cord, and tapped it a few times. “Nope, nothing but Culture here either. Hold on a sec.” He leaned back and twisted a knob on the comms unit.
“CoPS, do you read me? We’re not seeing anything from you guys on our network.”
Even with a poor signal, Bovius recognized Kotarou’s familiar voice coming through the speakers. “Kotarou here, everything’s running fine but we just had a major earthquake. Let me check…”
Bovius didn’t wait for him to finish and turned the knob again.
“YP, come in. You okay over there?”
“Ypsilon Pact, this is Bovius of the Culture, we are not reading any of your services as online, please respond.”
Second after second of silence filled the room. Bovius slowly lowered the receiver to the desk. He sat there for a few very long moments, then turned to look at the bright orange phone wired to the wall behind the desk.
No. Surely not now, not after the treaty. But…
After several more agonizing moments, he reached for the phone.
“–Cultu–s is adm–”
Bovius grabbed the receiver again. “Hello, this is Bovius. You’re cutting out, could you repeat that?”
Garbled static filled the line for several seconds, and then suddenly cleared up. “This is…this is admon of Ypsilon Pact, responding to the Culture and requesting immediate assistance.”
“What’s going on, admon? We just had a big quake over here.”
More silence, and then: “Bovius, we’re still getting information here, but about half of Ypsilon lands are gone, and we’re getting no signal from most of our member states.”
“Gone!? Who did this!? Did SUN attack? Have you sent in creeps to see if any controllers can be salvaged?”
A long, long silence. “…no. I don’t think you understood me.”