"Everything they care about is what I am."
At the outset, the Corundum cluster appeared to be a complete success. It was uncanny, how much some of these gems resembled their template. Viability was only slightly lower than the average cluster, and every gem produced here had at least a minor affinity for the second sight. These new additions to the gem populous had the potential to take the empire past its old boundaries and towards previously unthinkable heights.
However, every gem grown here could sense that something dark was on the horizon. At least, all of the stronger gems could sense it, and even the weaker ones could feel a quiet sense of dread settling over their individual units. This cluster planet was doomed to fail, and if luck was not in their favor, then all 100,000-something gems here would die. All of that potential could be snuffed out by a single organic anomaly.
Ruby didn't know when the disaster was coming, even if some of her friends did. All of their visions were hard to control, but hers were especially so. They were sharp, vivid sensations that cut into her consciousness without warning and left without telling her anything useful. In the final days before the collapse of her unit, they distracted her mercilessly. First, intense heat and light were everywhere. Now, cold and darkness, and tears were falling from her eyes without any sign of stopping.
Now, she was alone, wandering through the desolate landscape of this planet, far away from any cluster unit. The wind beat at her body, forcing her back, but she forced herself to keep plodding onwards. It was her only hope. She had to keep going.
Now, a multitude of hands were reaching for her, pulling at her, trying to drag her down with them. She couldn't stay with these gems. They were too far gone. She could still keep going. She had to get out of here.
Ruby shook her head, clearing the morbid sights from her three eyes. She told herself over and over again that nothing that horrifying could ever come true. Her visions couldn't hurt her. They weren't real.
This planet, this heat and motion and matter, that was real. The energy that thrummed in every living being, that was real, too. Her fellow gems were real. The broken and malfunctioning communication equipment was real. The creeping, brown mold growing nearby her cluster unit was real.
When the feeling of intense, sickly exhaustion struck Ruby's body, she realized how real her visions could be, too.
Sapphire was tired, so tired. She'd been tired for the past year and a half, wandering the long distances between cluster units and looking for survivors. Her sight had told her that she would most likely find another dozen or so gems who had escaped the initial outbreaks. Luck had not been in her favor. She'd only found one.
Ruby clenched Sapphire's hand a little tighter and spoke. "So, we're here, I guess."
They had finally reached the volcano. Sapphire could feel the slow, inevitable progression of this massive beast of plate tectonics. It would grow, stretching farther and farther upwards until the gradually shifting plates of this planet cut the mountain off from its lifeblood. Then, the giant would slowly flicker out and begin its eternal sleep.
Sapphire was aware of how distant this particular future was. In a much closer section of the future, the gem Homeworld would likely send a handful of forces to investigate why this planet's communications had gone completely dead. When they arrived, they would discover that the communication network was only one of the many things that had died here.
"Are you doing alright?"
Ruby's voice pulled her back to the worrying present. All things considered, the two of them had held out for an impressively long time. In fact, Sapphire had predicted many times that the two of them would not make it this far. Yet, here they were, and their only hope was something that, in all likelihood, was going to kill them.
"We're not going to live," Sapphire spoke softly. Very softly. The infection had reached her throat about a month ago. She hadn't been able to sing a note since.
"We're going to live," Ruby replied almost immediately. Her voice was even rougher that Sapphire's, but it was determined. "We're gonna make it happen. This is the volcano, right? And it's hot enough to burn away the infection, right?"
Sapphire, once again, consulted her second sight. Looking towards the future was a happy alternative to facing the grim reality of the present. "It is hot enough to put an end to all life. Both the infection-" Her voice hitched. She gave a cough, clearing the mold from her throat. "And the two of us."
Ruby had already known that the lava would kill them. Sapphire had told her about it countless times. But, Ruby also understood that this was their only way to survive. Do nothing, and the infection would slowly consume them both. She couldn't let that happen, not when they were both so close.
She knew the two of them still stood a chance at survival. She'd seen visions where it happened: both of them, arms wrapped around each other, begging to stay together as the rescue party dragged them back to the Homeworld. Ruby couldn't see things from an impossible future, could she?
Of course, she'd seen far more visions of their death than their survival. Sometimes, Ruby was the first to fall. In the others, it was Sapphire. Ruby wasn't sure which future she preferred. Either she could watch her only friend slowly perish in her arms, or her friend would be forced to endure that same fate.
Their story could have had an entirely different ending. They could have been in each other's arms for completely different reasons. As different as the two of them were, both in terms of ability and personality, they both rang with the same chords. They were built off the same template, and the two of them had learned to cooperate in the past year. They knew each other better than they knew themselves.
Ruby knew that Sapphire was, without a doubt, giving up. She couldn't let that happen, not now, not after everything.
"Sapphire, you have to-"
A vision hit her without warning.
Heat and light were everywhere. It was raw and sweltering, but she could definitely handle it. Against all odds, she'd won. Intense elation lit up her body and sizzled across her skin. She'd done it. She'd saved herself, and in a strange way, that meant that she'd saved them both.
Ruby remembered this vision. It hadn't been that clear in the past, but now that she was closer to the future it represented, maybe…
Maybe she could be more than herself. Maybe the two of them could bind themselves so tightly together that even lava couldn't hope to tear them apart. Maybe they could finally be safe in each other's arms.
Ruby was laughing, laughing so hard that her chest hurt. She gave a loud, racking cough, which only made the pain worse, but she managed to settle into a smile. There would have plenty of time to laugh later, after they'd burned this infection out of their gems.
"Sapphire," she said, her voice still hoarse. "I need you to trust me."
Sapphire trusted Ruby. She'd known the gem for a year now. Ruby had a simple progression, and after all of their experiences together, she was easy enough for Sapphire to predict. She knew that Ruby would never hurt her. The gem never intended to harm anyone unless she was upset, and right now, Ruby was not upset. If anything, she was more joyful than Sapphire had ever seen her.
However, Sapphire was very tired. The infection would claim her by the end of the day, she was certain. She shouldn't have been able to render the future with that level of precision, but she didn't need a second sight to know when her end was coming.
Through her haze of exhaustion, she could feel Ruby shaking her shoulders and shouting. "Sapphire, listen to me. I just had a vision. I know how to get us out of this. We're going to live!"
Sapphire tried to keep herself in the present, but it was exhausting. She wanted so badly to retreat into her gem, even though she knew what the exact outcome to that would be. Once an infected gem lost their physical form, that was the end of them. There would be nothing left but for the infection to devour her crystal, grow its stalks, and spread its spores.
Sapphire could not survive like this. She was going to die, the nutrients of her gem fueling the growth of this insidious organism. She would crumble and vanish, and then this world would return to the default state of its progression: empty. It would be completely devoid of sentient life, nothing but the mold that ate everything in its path.
Even the equipment in each cluster unit would rust and wither away. In a few hundred years, there would be no sign of the miraculous gems who had once been given life there. The gem empire would need to look somewhere else for their colonization efforts.
Sapphire could feel something wet on her face. Wet? Rain wasn't likely to come on this planet for another few days. What could possibly-
It was Ruby. If Sapphire ended here and now, then Ruby was going to watch her die.
Through the kind of willpower that only accompanied sheer panic, the present snapped back into her awareness. Ruby was still shaking her, face shining with tears. If Sapphire continued to do nothing, then those tears would likely continue to fall until Ruby herself expired.
Gently, Sapphire reached up and placed her hand on Ruby's face. The red gem froze at the contact, shocked that her friend had suddenly returned.
"I trust you," Sapphire spoke. "What do we need to do?"
In this late stage, even Ruby's immense strength was failing. Still, she pulled together one last bit of energy and lifted Sapphire off the ground by her waist. A few twirls were all she needed. A few steps, just enough to make this work. She needed it to work. She didn't know what she'd do if it didn't.
Ruby could feel the life draining out of Sapphire, evaporating far faster than life had ever drained out of Ruby. Sapphire's weakness would soon become her own. It was a terrifying thought. But, Ruby hardened her resolve and pressed on. She forced herself to match the beat of Sapphire's dwindling life force.
All she wanted was for Sapphire to be safe.
Sapphire felt the shift coming. It was welcome, yet overwhelming. She could sense Ruby's constant heat and energy, her instability and desperation, crashing down upon her and filling her up from the inside. It was almost too much for Sapphire's hurt, sick body, too much for both of them. She sensed Ruby's panic upon discovering the deep, dark hole that Sapphire knew herself to be.
They were not the same person. The differences between the two of them rubbed abrasively against each other, sending a discordant ripple through their melding forms. Sapphire, somehow, managed to scrounge together one last little bit of willpower. She forced the rough patches flat. She resolved their chords into something beautiful, something alive and wonderful and stable.
All she wanted was for Ruby to be safe.
Garnet didn't smile. This was not an occasion for smiling. Both halves of her were very worried, and they wanted nothing more than to keep the other half safe. Therefore, Garnet wanted nothing more than to climb the side of the volcano as fast as possible. Which, taking into account her considerable strength and speed, was quite fast, even with the infection slowing her down.
One quick application of her vision told her that it would be best to stay inside the volcano for at least three years. It would be about that long before the Homeworld decided this planet's extended silence was cause enough for alarm. Then, it would be safe for her to emerge from the lava, meet the investigation team, and give them the bad news.
Three years of solitude was more than any part of her had ever known. Her clusters had once been full of bright, young gems, personalities with a million things to say about the future and barely enough time to say them. Three years of being alone with their visions would have been enough to drive any of them to madness.
Garnet, however, was not alone. She was together, and that meant she could survive anything.
She could even survive the Homeworld gems who, upon rescuing her from this planet, would want nothing more than to tear her apart.