It wasn't an assignment she'd expected, or one she wanted, at all, but she wasn't exactly given much of a choice - an assistant technician position for an operation establishing Gem presence on a backwater, unpopulated planet directly prior to exploitation. She'd worked maintenance all her life, and she'd crewed ships for fairly long journeys, but always to safe, sanitized, Gem-controlled ports of call.
It seemed almost like a punishment. And perhaps it was, or perhaps she was just an embarrassment they wanted out of sight.
Either way, the morning saw her pack a few meagre belongings and board a mass transport headed for a place called Earth, farther away from home than she’d ever been.
The planet, however, was nothing like what any of them had been told to expect. For one, it wasn’t unpopulated - far from it. It was lush and green and teeming with life, and it seemed determined to fight back against all of their construction efforts.
And then there were the humans.
Surely, Pearl thought, there were protocols for this, legislation that demanded all Kindergarten scouting procedures, no matter how nascent, be stopped in the event of sentient life. But for all that their commander Rose Quartz sent reports and enquiries and carefully worded complaints back to Homeworld, no order to cease came. She shifted construction and production priorities to warp pads, which nobody could really argue against, and temples, which both the general workforce and the higher-ups were too thankful for to cause complaints or even doubts as to their commander’s motives.
The work they had Pearl doing was rather pedestrian, but it wasn’t bad, in general, and certain aspects of it could occasionally even be considered interesting. She wasn’t exactly popular among her co-workers and the Emerald who acted as her direct superior seemed very fond of shutting down her suggestions as outlandish or unnecessary, but this was already par for the course, and Pearl didn’t think much of it all.
She went to the Lunar Sea Spire whenever she felt homesick or even stranded, which she wryly noticed happened more and more often as the days went on. The Spire was truly awe-inspiring, especially for something built so quickly, and an impressive testament to Gem culture, knowledge, and skill. Pearl liked climbing the many stairs to the Spire’s very top, the better to enjoy the spectacular view of the countless constellations completely new to her, wondering what wonders could be hiding among them. Sometimes, when the moonlight wasn't too bright, she blotted out the view of the sky and projected a different set of far more familiar stars to sit under and gaze at.
Tucked away in a valley not far from their next planned expansion point, Rose Quartz had a garden. And for some reason entirely unfathomable to Pearl, this was where she chose to conduct all her personnel meetings.
Pearl came to her appointment deliberately early, then stood by the garden entrance, trying to keep her fidgeting to a minimum. It was hard, considering all the many, many scenarios running through her mind explaining just why the awe-inspiring Rose Quartz herself had asked her to come, ranging from probable to probably outlandish. But she wanted to keep up some sort of cool, collected and highly professional image, at least for their first official meeting. It was probably mostly for naught, seeing as how she almost fell over herself when a surprisingly loud, warm voice suddenly came from the garden entrance behind her. “Oh, there you are! Come in, come in. You should have just called out to me, I was right over there by the bushes and didn’t hear you arrive.”
“But I was early to the appointment,” Pearl stammered out, trying to calm down her completely unnecessary breathing, “I wouldn’t want to disturb you.”
“Oh, I wasn’t doing anything important, you’re not interrupting. And really, even if you were, no reason to have you just waiting around like this – you could have at least made yourself comfortable inside while I finished.”
Pearl had no answer to that, so she just followed Rose inside. The garden, if it could be called that, seemed less a garden and more simply a fenced off bit of wilderness – there was nothing outwardly tended, or tamed, or Gem-made about it at all. Still, Rose had called it a garden, so Pearl went along with this rather incomprehensible designation. It really seemed Rose Quartz was nothing if not determined to be the most unconventional commander of any Gem operation or project Pearl had ever heard of.
“Here, sit down,” Rose settled down on one of the smaller green rises overlooking a clearing, arranging the seemingly endless waves of her white dress around her, and patted the ground next to where she sat. “This grass is very soft. I wanted to ask you some things.”
“Well, you should be able to see my service file in the database, and I made sure to submit an updated record-”
“Oh, no, I’ve read all the files, and your most recent reports. I’m really impressed with your proposal for the communications hub! Please rest assured I read and deeply appreciate suggestions for future development, especially when they come from obviously knowledgeable Gems such as yourself.”
Pearl bit her lip to prevent any… undignified sounds from escaping. It had taken her a full month to gather up the courage to send in a document outlining some of her ideas, and she’d even done it behind her immediate superior’s back – mostly because she was convinced if she’d gone through the proper channels, her message would have been discarded quickly enough, certainly never reaching Rose Quartz herself. She gazed down, blue-faced, at where her long fingers were tangling in the grass – it really was soft – and smiled, as Rose continued. “Your ideas are wonderful, and your daily performance is impressive as well, the reports make this clear enough. But what I wanted was to talk to you.”
So they talked. Pearl found, to her amazement, that the gentle, encouraging prompts and brief questions Rose provided soon left her feeling far less nervous and tense than she’d been when she’d entered the garden, and much freer with her words. They discussed everything, from the final touches currently being applied to the newly-constructed Homeworld warp, to the planned communication system overhaul and maintenance schedule on all temple spires.
“Tell me, Pearl,” Rose began during a slight lull in their conversation, “what did you do in your spare time back home?”
It was one of the most unusual questions Pearl had ever heard from a superior. As if there was anything usual in the situation she found herself in with Rose, really - but this was what she chose to focus on. “Well, I fixed things,” she began, somewhat hesitantly, “and sometimes I... made things. Not like you make things here, not... not living things. But. Small things.”
“Small things?” Rose was smiling down at her, and Pearl focused on that smile, that expression, meeting Rose's eyes with a straightforward determination unusual for her. Yet no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't find a single hint of derision, or contempt, or anything even slightly mean-spirited or mocking about Rose.
Rose actually and genuinely liked her and was interested in her. It was... new, and refreshing.
“Tell me about your small things, then.”
“There is, um, a Speeder,” Pearl faltered, clearing her throat completely unnecessarily and trying to get her rushing thoughts in order.
“Please,” Rose urged her gently, “I'd love to hear about it.”
This seemed enough to finally snap Pearl out of her block and launch her into explaining - one of her favourite activities, even if it did tend to be so very unappreciated and didn’t exactly endear her to others. But really, it wasn’t Pearl’s fault people simply didn’t like listening, and Rose was right here and actually asking her things, so obviously she wanted to hear what Pearl had to say.
“Right, well, there is a Speeder model I've just started working on? It's an XR-3, actually, and I've had some trouble finding accurate references since it's such an outdated ship line. In all honesty, I think my scale might be a bit off, I'll really have to look into it when I get back. I did do an excellent job on the starboard thrusters, if I do say so myself! There's this pair of stabiliser plugs that sit at a strange angle, and cross over some wiring, and- really, it's all a bit difficult to explain like this, here, I'll show you-”
Pearl honestly thought nothing of the tiny holographic projection of various schematics she called up to better illustrate her impromptu lecture, nor did she think the 3D scan of the half-finished ship model her gem was now showing was particularly impressive. Rose seemed taken by it, though, to the point of clapping her hands in delight when Pearl made its little simulated engines ignite and glow in something resembling a take-off sequence.
“Oh,” Rose gasped, her voice sinking to an excited whisper, “can you make it fly?”
“Well, if I widen the beam, it shouldn't be a problem-” Pearl focused on her gem briefly, feeling the familiar mild tingle in her forehead as the holographic field expanded to include a miniature city skyline. The tiny Speeder launched soundlessly, whizzing over the recreated rooftops and spires of the view from Pearl's single capsule window back home, as true to life as she could make it purely from memory.
“Its propulsion systems leave much to be desired, sadly,” she commented, adding a bit of stutter to the bright blue jet trails left behind the ship as it completed a loop and zig-zagged through a few tight turns, “but I think its manoeuvrability remains unmatched in the low-cost R-3 line. True, I only got to fly on board an XR-3 the one time, but it was quite an enjoyable experience. It's such a shame the entire series was retired due to a few defective models, I-”
The little ship was just about to reach the zenith of its trajectory when the projection shook and suddenly blinked out.
“I'm sorry,” Pearl cut herself off and laughed awkwardly, her demeanour otherwise subdued, “I must be boring you by now. I get a bit... detailed and technical in my explanations sometimes.”
“No, no, no, on the contrary! You talk wonderfully. It is all very interesting, and it's clear you're very knowledgeable on the subject.”
“R-really?” Pearl was certain her face was taking on a rather unsightly tinge of blue again. But Rose sounded genuine and almost offended on Pearl's behalf to hear such criticism, even if it came from Pearl herself.
“Yes! And you are a joy to watch – so very animated, and so very much in love with the field! I'd be ready to call it inspirational.”
Pearl tried to stammer out a reply around the sudden lock in her throat, but failed miserably. Rose's kind smile widened. “I'd like to make you my chief engineer.”
The communications hub was completed, and extensive testing proved it easily outperformed all expectations.
Still no answer came from Homeworld.
Rose soon had them refining and expanding the domestic warp, and Pearl found that plotting out warp pad distribution for optimal coverage wasn’t nearly as easy as it seemed.
Somehow, in the midst of it all, her talks with Rose became a regular occurrence, shifting from official reports to her superior, to spending time with someone Pearl was ready to call a friend. And although she couldn’t quite understand what Rose found so amazing about the Earth, or why she took such an interest in the humans’ (admittedly rather rapid) development, she felt determined to stand by Rose’s side in her efforts to ensure they all had the chance to find out.
The feeling that bloomed in Pearl’s chest whenever she listened to Rose describe her latest Earth- or human-related discovery, eyes filled with genuine wonder and glee, was something no hologram or words could accurately portray. Upon minor reflection, Pearl found she firmly believed that if the joy the Earth brought Rose felt like even a fraction of this, then the planet was undoubtedly worth protecting.
“…and besides, triggering the end of the incubation period early, as I’ve seen outlined in the original plans, would substantially increase risk of corruption for all newly produced Gems. This is completely inadvisable and moreover unnecessary – the entire project has been mismanaged from the planning stage, and I am doing my best to make something of it. I can understand you disagreeing with my methods, but I cannot have you undermining my efforts like this. I am sending you back to Homeworld as soon as the warp is active again, since I cannot currently spare a ship to take you.”
From her vantage point near the entrance of the garden, Pearl couldn’t see who it was Rose was talking to. She sounded… angry, yes, but mostly disappointed, and Pearl had never felt more like an unwanted intruder. She turned and left as quickly as she could without drawing too much attention to herself, and spent the rest of the night berating herself for being a coward.
Rose Quartz was being reassigned.
The news spread like wildfire, drawing dramatic reactions both from her supporters and her critics. The many complaints she'd sent to Homeworld weren't being ignored after all, it seemed, only the end effect wasn’t the one she’d desired. She was to come home and give her reports in person, while another Gem took over operations crucial for the construction of the first Kindergarten on Earth. There would be no break, and no more possibility of stalling production.
There was also an entire fleet coming to support and supply the Kindergarten effort.
“I had hoped they would listen,” Rose sighed, sitting with Pearl in what had become their habitual spot, after the latter had come running to her openly distraught. “I've known them for so long, and yet, still, I had such high hopes...”
“Well, now you have a chance to go and convince them in person, at least.”
“Oh, Pearl. If only that was how it worked. No, they don’t want to hear me out – I’ve made my intentions quite clear. They just want to get me out of their way.”
Pearl shuddered at the thought. She’d never seen a Kindergarten in person, but just reading what incubating thousands and thousands of Gems could potentially do to a planet had left her feeling vaguely ill. The Earth’s naturally occurring tectonic disturbances were bad enough – the damage even one grown batch could cause would be disastrous.
“I won’t let them.”
The proclamation was sudden, and the intensity of the determination Pearl could sense emanating from Rose was impressive. “What… what are you going to do?”
“I’m going to stay, and if they want me off this project, they can come here to discuss it in person.”
“Then I’m staying with you,” Pearl blurted out almost immediately and without thinking. She knew she sounded overeager, but her voice didn’t tremble and her ever-nervously fussing hands were stilled in her lap, hopefully giving credence to her determination and dedication.
“I can’t do this to you,” Rose answered her sadly. “There is a very good chance this will become very dangerous, very soon. And besides, I don’t think you were eager to come to Earth, or that you are particularly fond of the place. I would think you'd want to go back home as soon as possible – and I don't want to stand in the way of your comfort and happiness.”
Comfort and happiness. Pearl looked up, and briefly wondered when those two terms had become so intimately intertwined with the name Rose Quartz in her mind.
“Well,” Pearl barked out a surprisingly sharp laugh, feeling a strange surge of anger she couldn’t bite back combine with bitter self-pity, “I wasn’t eager, but they didn’t exactly seem to want me there anymore - so why would you want me with you? You told me once you read all the records you got. Well, then you couldn’t possibly have missed the designation of Defective they took great care to stamp all over mine! It was very silly of me to assume, obviously, that the great Rose Quartz would have use for my… help… such as it is-”
“Don’t say such things!” Rose interrupted her sternly, and Pearl immediately regretted every word she’d so unthinkingly let spill out of her mouth. “I won’t have you, or anyone, believe that awful garbage. Nothing about you makes you inherently worse or less valuable than anyone else.”
She was gripping Pearl by the shoulders now, not unkindly, but it felt as if she was trying to physically make the words she’d just spoken take root.
“I was never meant for this,” Pearl said quietly, looking anywhere but at Rose herself. “Pearls don’t make important decisions and command Gems. We- we fix things, and…”
“Well, then. You can help me fix this planet.”