"You're sure you're okay with doing this now? Once we pop that bubble, there's no going back."
Peridot's shaded eyes shifted to glance over at Steven as she held the red bubble in her hands. Resting inside in stasis was a gemstone identical to her own.
"Theoretically, if she poses as a direct threat to either of us, we could poof and rebubble her," she postulated. "That can be interpreted as "going back", certainly. It would be a justified regression, Steven."
Steven looked doubtful of that entirely. "Peridot, how's 5XF gonna be any kind of threat? She's unarmed, and you know your kind wasn't made for combat. I'm sure she could be crafty just like you were, but your sister isn't exactly gonna have a bathroom to use to make a stalemate between us here."
Peridot took a brief glance at their surroundings: they certainly weren't in a residence of any kind, and the pair was a good distance removed from civilization in these vast swamplands.
"I know you said this place ranked extremely high on the most dangerous areas within your country, Steven, but so far I'm not really seeing it," she flatly stated. "Still, she would be a stupid idiot to run off in a place like this, I suppose. This sodden marsh terrain won't allow her to get far, either.
"Peridot, it's only been a couple of hours since we got here," Steven pointed out. "Believe me, before the end of the day we're gonna see no less than a dozen alligators for sure. I really hope we don't come across any coral snakes…"
To that, Peridot smirked. "Perhaps 5XF will get herself into some trouble here and we'll win her trust by saving her. And no, Steven, I'm not suggesting we engineer such a thing. If this environment is as dangerous as your Earth media claims, then the problem will easily make itself."
Steven just smiled nervously and shook his head. "Sorry; I still wouldn't put it past you to stage something like that. I'm just not sure why you decided we'd commit to 5XF now when we've barely gotten to experience this place."
"Steven, it's already Thursday," a sullen Peridot pointed out. "We've… said what we needed to say, vented out our frustrations, cleared up all doubts and misunderstandings, we are very much on the same page now, and we've – ahem – experimented optimizing our mutual affection and pleasure levels in about as many ways as we're currently permitted. To my knowledge, anyway."
Of course, the shy Steven blushed at the mention. "Anything beyond that is gonna be loophole territory, so… we're gonna have to be careful."
"Exactly," Peridot concurred. "5XF will be more of an asset as a deterrent from letting our, ah, primal urges completely take control of us. I really almost lost my resolve last night… and I'm very sorry for that, Steven."
"It's kinda extra unfair for you because I know how curious you are by nature," Steven laughed out. "So you've got nothing to be sorry about. I guess you're right that we'll probably need 5XF at this point to come between us. I'm really not holding out much better than you right now, Peri."
Peridot's focus shifted back to the bubble as he nodded. "Precisely. Our vacation is past the halfway point; we definitely should not hold off on this task until the last minute. And I kinda want to… get this over with before I change my mind, Steven." She looked back to him pleadingly. "Believe me, a large part of me is screaming to just let us remain a pair for one more day. "Three's a crowd", that Inner Me keeps chanting…"
"Right." Steven looked much more serious now. "I know how much you've been dreading this… now that you're at a point where you're at least partially ready to do this, we gotta take that chance. I've been waiting to meet her; I can't wait to tell your sister how far you've come and how proud I am of you, Dot!"
As much as Peridot wanted to chastise Steven for still insisting on referring to 5XF as her sister (even though she truly was the closest thing she had to a sister in the conventional sense), she couldn't resist nearly melting in pure bliss to hear Steven praise her like this. The heat from that beat down on her far more than the sun and ungodly level of humidity in the air.
"You're always so good to me, Steven," Peridot told her boyfriend with a tone of enraptured fondness. "I'm sure you'll prove to be just as infectious to her as you were to me. Just make sure you don't make me too jealous, okay?"
"Haha, good one!" Steven laughed out loud at that. "I know there's a lot of 'em that share your name, but you're the true Peridot; don't you ever forget that."
He punctuated that dictation with a brief, but heartfelt smooch.
"I have been thinking a bit about renaming all of 'em, you know," Steven added, now less confident in his tone. "We really can't just call them all "Peridot", but just calling 'em by their cut series code doesn't feel right, either. It's too… uh, I wanna say mechanical. Unnatural, maybe."
"That is a valid concern," Peridot calmly acknowledged. A good kiss always seemed to help settle her often-rattled nerves. "But we're doing this one step at a time, Steven. Designating a new moniker is probably more like… Step 7 at the earliest. Just try to endure the rigid ID system courtesy of Homeworld until then."
The young gem gulped as she felt her hands shaking; the bubble still in her grasp. "Because I'm this close to conceding to my fickle rationality, which is right now very adamant in believing that 5XF shouldn't be released today."
"That's just your self-doubt," Steven told her. "I know you hate admitting that you of all gems have that, but the truth is, well… we all do. But don't listen to it, Peridot. Listen to the part of you who was strong enough to decide we're doing this today. Listen to me, too! We're both cheering you on!"
That brought about a mental image of Steven standing out among the massive Peridot army of negativity in Peridot's imagination; her beloved imaginary Steven stood high above the gemsonified representations of every facet of Peridot's self-doubt, fear, and paranoia. She could hear him shouting and cheering for her; bouncing about and waving up his arms with a simple "Hooray, hooray Peridot!" cheer bellowing out repeatedly.
Peridot was so touched… and Steven was pleasantly surprised to see his girlfriend look not only surer of herself, but much softer in demeanor. Times like this made the absurdly young gem look so… grown up, for lack of a better adjective.
"Didn't realize how much I needed that until you gave it to me," Peridot said in a tone that matched her peaceful demeanor. The technician quickly looked to be on par with Iridescent Diamond with her serene demeanor.
"The whole time Lapis, Bismuth, and myself worked on making our ship just outside your house, I was messing up so much… so I felt I was justified to doubt my own level of competence in upholding a leader's responsibility. I remember telling your paternal unit one night that even if I didn't believe in myself, I still had to because you believed in me. That it would be so insulting and disrespectful to you to disregard your support, so… I learned to believe in myself vicariously through your belief in me. And ultimately, that helped me come to truly believe in myself on my own."
Peridot turned her head slightly to smile at Steven; her peaceful momentum was being threatened with tears forming and threatening to stream down her cheeks.
"Steven… if there's ever a time you're feeling down on yourself; if you feel worthless or that you failed everybody and it feels like it's impossible to redeem yourself, I want you to remember one thing," the young gem urged as she fought to maintain her serenity. "You made me. Not literally, of course… but the Peridot I am today would have never existed without you. You helped me find my true identity, and you nurtured it every step of the way. No matter what you do wrong from here on out, I don't want you to ever feel like you don't belong, or that you shouldn't exist. I won't allow for that, Steven. There is absolutely nothing you're unworthy of. We bear each other's burdens… we're together in sickness and in health, well before we even formally unite in holy matrimony."
As Steven had said many times before, he was very often uncomfortable receiving high levels of praise. From most of his peers, it felt like they were embellishing their sentiments a bit, or even forcing it along just to help him feel better.
He absolutely loved hearing every word of Peridot's praise, however. Steven was beginning to understand why Peridot had an insatiable hunger for it. She always meant every word of what she told him, no matter how ridiculously exaggerated it sounded coming from anyone else. Unlike the other gems in Steven's life, Peridot's sentiments were raw and unbridled; there was nary a trace of a maternal instinct nor a big-sister impression in her words.
When Peridot spoke to him, their eyes were perfectly on level with each other. They shared the same role in each other's lives.
Being Steven's equal made Peridot's sentiments mean that much more to him.
Consequently, it suddenly became very hard – in more ways than one – to resist throwing himself at Peridot in that very moment.
"You won't let me forget," Steven finally said after taking a deep breath. "If we keep sweet-talking each other, Peri, we're both gonna end up backing out on this, you know… I wanna think the idealized Steven in your head is trying to steer you in the right direction, at least."
Peridot smirked at the mention of that particular "Steven". "Oh, trust me. He's gone above and beyond; he's resorted to a full cheerleader outfit and pompoms. He probably shouldn't have made his skirt so short… what a little show-off…"
Steven couldn't help but laugh at that. "That's his inner Peri coming out, I think. Heh, it's so hard not to be jealous of Imaginary Me! Hard to believe I actually met him…"
"You'll catch up to his accomplishments sooner than you think," Peridot deviously suggested. "Besides, he's nowhere near as wholesome and pure as the genuine article. I bet he never told you what you interrupted when you came for me…" She looked back to the red bubble. "Mm, that'll serve as a nice story for later."
Steven was taken aback a bit by this, surprisingly. "Wh-what? This is– I don't think you ever told me–"
"You've given me something of an idea for later tonight," Peridot teased with devilish eager glee, while purposefully dodging Steven's question. "But that's several hours away; we need to focus on the here and now. Let us liberate our first Homeworld refugee!"
"I–…" Steven couldn't get another word out; Peridot finally bit the bullet and popped the red bubble.
The peridot gemstone fell with a patch of grass cushioning its landing. The loving couple watched as seconds later, the gemstone glowed brightly as a beam of light poured out. And precisely as Steven remembered it months ago when he liberated his future girlfriend in the Burning Room, a familiar form began to take shape.
And déjà vu hit Steven hard when the light gave way to reveal the form of the entity within the gemstone. He had never met this particular Peridot, and his girlfriend didn't care to remember any details of her whatsoever, so both were taken aback by her appearance.
Though Peridot knew she should have expected this; a matching facet, a matching cut series, and being alphabetically side-by-side together meant a high likelihood that there would be very little, if any distinction between 5XF and 5XG.
This definitely appeared to be the case: the coloration was absolutely on point. Her height matched pre-ascended Peridot's, she wore the same uniform (that, at least, was actually very helpful in distinguishing the two now – well, that and the minor ascension growth spurt). The shape of her visor perfectly matched the one that was brutally shattered in Peridot's failed escape attempt, and the shape of her nose and eyes matched her little sister's completely. The gemstone was centered squarely atop 5XF's forehead; another identical trait.
There were only a handful of deviations from 5XG's appearance: 5XF's mouth seemed quite rigid and never once showed a trace of the upward curl that always reminded Steven of a cat. While neither could see for themselves at this moment, there was no doubt that 5XF's eyes were uniformly colored; no heterochromia to be found. Finally, while it was a minor detail, this seemed to be a running theme with all Peridots: 5XF's hairstyle was almost identical to 5XG… save for the lack of minor curls that framed the great and lovable's face. 5XF's sideburns hung straight down slightly past her chin.
Once 5XF was fully brought back to her senses, said senses became immediately overwhelmed as she found herself in a location absolutely teeming with organic life, and then…
"Welcome to Earth!"
5XF looked directly to where that bizarrely warm and cheerful greeting came from; the voice was startlingly similar to her own, and sure enough, the gem found herself face-to-face with a fellow Peridot. She looked way happier than she had any right to be, was somehow taller despite being easily identified as an Era 2, she was not in the proper uniform, and for whatever reason wore some kind of accessory on her gemstone.
The only explanation for this was that this Peridot was defective. Despite her height, that jolly look on her face told 5XF she wouldn't last for long in this world… until 5XF remembered this absolutely was not Homeworld. Seconds later, 5XF took notice to this strange defect's gesture: extending her arm towards her kin with her hand held out, as if she was offering it.
"–Oh, right, I forgot," the taller Peridot chuckled. "This gesture means you hold my hand and then we both shake them. This is how you greet someone on this planet."
This explanation did nothing to encourage 5XF to accept Peridot's hand. Instead, the shorter green gem chose to glare, until she nearly jumped at the louder greeting of a new voice.
"Nice to finally meet you, 5XF! Welcome to the Florgalina Everglades!" Steven called out in a nearly harmonious tone. "I know this is probably super scary for you right now, but we're here to help! Honest!"
While 5XF didn't even know where to begin with this sentient organic, for some reason she had a strong feeling this creature wasn't lying to her. What she did find suspicious was the fact the organic and this bizarre Peridot were in some sort of alliance. She honestly expected to at least see Ruby in the vicinity, but alas, she only got these two weirdos as a welcoming party.
Then 5XF actually thought back to what Ruby actually told her after all her fellow Peridots were poofed and bubbled.
"No worries; I'll make sure your sister gives you a warm welcome."
She remembered it all now; how she ended up here and why. She knew now which "sister" Ruby was talking about. But this? This did not match up with what Ruby promised at all. Consequently, 5XF was now heavily inclined to not trust this pair, no matter how pleasantly they came off.
Even if this was somehow 5XG, that really wouldn't make 5XF feel much better; she had seen 5XG before, and she looked nothing like this. She heard many, many stories of 5XG's cutthroat nature that often led to the untimely shattering of several fellow Peridots. There were even a few occasions where she had witnessed some of 5XG's ruthless bullying from a great distance.
Ruby claimed 5XG had become an entirely new gem since she left for Earth, 5XF recalled… and apparently, this was Earth according to the chipper Peridot. It still made no sense; 5XF had no concept of what Earth truly was (besides crawling with organic life; that was easy to grasp) and no idea why this planet of all places had the power to change the very nature of a gem.
She also found it suspect how none of her fellow kin were anywhere in sight. 5XF had been rounded up by White Diamond with at least a few hundred other Peridots for the sole purpose of stalling some trapped rebels. But now she was singled out… and it there didn't seem to be any sign of a facility or civilization whatsoever in sight. She huffed out in frustration; it was high time she got some answers instead of platitudes.
First order of business: she roughly smacked away the hand of the weird friendly Peridot.
"These are not the conditions I agreed to," 5XF finally said; her tone stiff as a board. "Where is that savage Ruby who got me to agree to this madness? I should have known better not to trust her…"
Peridot was saddened, but not surprised that 5XF harshly rejected her greeting. Her smile faded, but she tried her best to maintain a friendly, patient demeanor.
"You'll see her again soon enough," Peridot assured her kin. "Of course, she didn't ask for my consent ahead of time, but she did promise that I would be the one to greet you once we freed you from stasis. I, uh… I know it's been a long time, 5XF…"
It was highly unnerving for 5XF that both Peridot and the strange organic next to her knew her cut series code. That wasn't something anyone could just randomly guess correctly; these two at least weren't lying about being affiliated with Ruby. Still, 5XF couldn't bring herself to buy into this Peridot's charade.
"You truly are defective if you think I'll believe even for a second that you're 5XG," 5XF icily replied. "You look nothing like her… hair aside. But everything else about you does not at all match up with your appearance before you were awarded the Earth mission. Your demeanor is even more of a mismatch."
"But she is 5XG," Steven insisted. "I know this is all a lot to take in right now, and yeah… I can see why you're doubting us, but at least hear us out, okay?"
5XF looked to Steven with pure disgust. "I don't even know what you're supposed to be," she spat. "I'll at least give you the benefit of the doubt, if only because you look too moronic to even know how to lie."
She then looked back over to Peridot. "Given my lack of options at the moment, I suppose I have no choice but to listen to your nonsense. I'll concede you are by far the strangest defective Peridot I have ever seen, but I insist you stop insulting my intelligence with this 5XG charade. What facet are you really from?"
"2F5L; same as you," Peridot told her immediately. "Listen, I can prove that I am who I say I am, 5XF. I never noticed you after we were assigned to our stations, but Ruby said you claimed to overhear and see several of my heinous acts before I went to Earth."
Peridot let out a shaky sigh for what she was about to suggest. Despite learning how to forgive herself for her past self's actions, it was no less unpleasant to recount her many sins.
"You never went into detail about specific incidents with Ruby," Peridot noted. "But if you give me a name, I'll be able to recount exactly what I did and why. It should match up perfectly with what you've seen or heard. Will that be enough?"
5XF was skeptical… but when she thought over this offer, she couldn't think of any way an impostor could accurately recount what she had seen over the years. There were so many incidents; no other Peridot would have remembered them all. She found it strange to see the clear remorse, regret, and guilt written all over the taller Peridot's face, however. These weren't expressions 5XF ever saw on her colleagues.
"It's a start," the elder Peridot gruffly admitted. "It won't explain your appearance…"
"Don't worry; I've got an easy explanation for that," Peridot assured; she was a bit cheerier in that moment. "Just promise me you'll listen… and I guess it's asking a lot for your trust right now, but at least acknowledge you're gonna be safer with us than out in the everglades on your own, please? Steven says this is a very harsh environment to survive in."
5XF raised her brow at the foreign word and immediately glanced to Steven again. "Would that happen to be the "Steven" next to you?"
Steven grinned and waved to her. This was very reminiscent of the very first time he talked to his Peridot. "If you're asking about species, human's the name you're looking for," he explained. "But Mom and Dad gave me the name Steven; think of it like your 5XF name. Well, sort of."
"Don't just carelessly assume I'll know what you're talking about when you keep throwing in your odd human terminology," 5XF grumbled. "I wanted to be sure because I find it pertinent to inform you, Steven, that you look like too much of a buffoon to take seriously in any way. Is this normal for your species, or are you just that defective?"
5XF didn't quite get the reaction she aimed for; mostly because Steven barely had a split second to register the insult before he panicked and leaped to restrain a suddenly furious Peridot.
"P-Peridot, don't! It's not worth it! I swear she didn't even hurt my feelings!" Steven pleaded; that was honestly his best weapon to use in hopes of neutralizing a royally pissed off Peridot, who could easily use her willpower to just break out of his hold and beat 5XF into the mushy ground.
"I don't care!" Peridot growled, looking every bit as vicious as she tried to uppercut her kin with her other arm, only for Steven to hold it back before it could make any contact.
She got awfully close this time; 5XF winced and braced herself for impact before she dared to open her eyes and saw a shaking fist mere inches away from her face. Steven was the only reason it hadn't yet been smashed in. This rightfully terrified the refugee gem, as this was the polar opposite of what the supposed 5XG made herself out to be from her introduction. Ironically, that actually made her closer to the version of her sister who 5XF was familiar with.
"You should care!" Steven yelled to his girlfriend in protest. "Peridot, you're better than this! You didn't see me blow up at her when she dissed you, even though I've really been holding back on how annoyed I am having to hear her talk about you like that!"
"It's not the same!" Peridot argued. "When she's insulting me, it's justified! Everything she says about 5XG is objectively true; you watched me humiliate 9FC in front of all our colleagues, Steven! You witnessed what I did when 3UI's life was in my hands! I could have spared her, but I was such a vindictive, hateful clod that I chose not to! You're nothing like that, Steven, and her slander against you is entirely unfounded and shallow!"
Of course, Steven knew that. He knew 5XF was being unfair and mean to him needlessly, but to her credit, she hadn't yet tried anything nefarious, either. Then again, she had only been let out for a few minutes at this point, and unlike his girlfriend, didn't have any means of truly threatening him as he pointed out to Peridot earlier.
"Sure, it is shallow, but you've stopped being the 5XG that 5XF thinks you are a long, long time ago!" Steven countered. "Peridot, we're gonna have to go through this routine in a few days with every single refugee who's ever heard of you! Don't you think it's gonna drive me up the wall hearing them constantly bring up your past when I know you're not that gem at all anymore?! You don't think it's gonna kill me to see you own up to your past mistakes over and over again because no one realizes how much you've changed for the better?! Geez, Peri! It wasn't that long ago that you finally had it in you to forgive yourself for all that! You were so weighed down by what you did in the past, you didn't think you deserved to even fuse with me, remember?!"
5XF kept quiet as she absorbed these words; it was much more obvious to her now that they were both speaking honestly, and they brought up a few key details that she honestly didn't expect anyone other than the genuine article would know about to this extent. Whatever the nature of this partnership was, 5XF could tell this little blow-up was definitely not something they rehearsed.
"Steven, it can't be helped! It's not their fault that they don't know what's all happened to me since I went to Earth!" Peridot yelled back. "And we're the only way they'll ever know the truth for sure! It's normal of them to still be bitter over what I did as Homeworld 5XG; they've not seen or even heard of what I went through to come this far! Of course they're going to doubt me, okay?! I'd doubt me too if I was in their position! In their eyes, I left as the horrible tyrant they know me best for being, and you honestly expect them to believe I've completely turned around that quickly?!"
"I expect them to at least give you a chance to explain yourself!" Steven insisted. "None of them would be alive right now if it wasn't for you! Heck, neither of us would be alive, either! I really, really am gonna feel their pain when they realize how messed up their lives are now and how much change they'll have to adjust to in order to adapt to their new home! That's not even getting into how they're gonna handle what we really are now!"
The more she listened, the more 5XF felt that perhaps she would be safer fending for herself on this bizarre alien world. She could clearly see this pair had a very loaded story to tell her, and they were both aware of how low the chance was that she'd believe a word coming from their mouths.
She did remember Ruby insisting that she was doing her and the other Peridots a favor by poofing and bubbling them; it just sounded like a needless exaggeration for the hotheaded brute to claim Homeworld as a whole would soon no longer exist, and everything the gems knew and loved would soon crumble into nothingness, along with whomever remained on the planet as it approached its explosive conclusion. If that really happened, it would at least explain why she was on this strange, unfamiliar world.
That still left her with more questions than answers, however. And the more 5XF listened to this couple bicker, the less she wanted to entrust her life in their hands.
"Yeah, okay, talk to me as if I don't already know you're just as responsible for saving the Homeworld gems and our own lives; that's not insulting my intelligence at all!" Peridot huffed; if nothing else, she was understanding what 5XF felt before, though that wasn't nearly enough to make the younger gem inclined to forgive her sibling. "You know what? I think we're better off consulting with 5XF individually; we're not getting anywhere like this, and I absolutely refuse to tolerate her baseless disrespect for you any longer. I strongly recommend you bubble yourself within the next ten seconds, Steven."
"W-wait, what? Why?!" Steven was admittedly agitated with his girlfriend; their disagreements had never escalated this high since their vacation started, and that was a startling detail for him to acknowledge. One minute they were perfectly working together in harmony – now they were nearly at each other's throats. "Peridot, what do you think you're doing?!"
He soon got his answer when he found his body levitating from the ground on its own and slowly floating up higher. Peridot was exerting her willpower over him; something she went out of her way to not do unless a situation truly called for it.
"We're gonna scare 5XF off at this rate, so the best course of action is to take just a bit of a break from each other," Peridot sternly decided. "And we'll deal with her individually; we can obviously handle any insult she throws our way… we're just not as resilient in handling the slander towards the one we love most of all."
She took a momentary glance in 5XF's direction that actually terrified the latter: everything pleasant about her demeanor was completely gone; what supplanted it was the look of an immoral cutthroat competitor… the same look 5XF witnessed and heard matching descriptions of from 5XG's direct victims.
"If she knows what's good for her, she'll keep her slander focused only on who she speaks to," Peridot ominously added. "So, Steven – I told you to bubble yourself, you clod – you're going on a nice little expedition a few miles from where we are. Be sure to show me any alligators you find, and stay inside the bubble at all times. If the everglades are truly that dangerous, you're not to leave it under any circumstance. By the time you make it back to this point, I'm sure I'll be finished with my turn. Then we'll switch places."
The intention was good, but Steven didn't look okay with this at all. Just so she would stop nagging at him, he did bubble himself, but tried his best to protest this snap decision.
"Peridot, there's gotta be a better way of going about this!" he pleaded. "If we just talk this through, I'm sure we can still do this together!"
"We'll come across plenty of problems in life where trying to solve them together will only backfire," Peridot told him as she narrowed her eyes. "And clearly, this is one of them. Just trust me, be cooperative, and we'll get this taken care of the right way."
A certain set of words triggered Steven then and there. "Trust you?! I trusted you to have enough self-control to not lash out at people every time they insult me, Dot! You promised you wouldn't act out on that anger no matter how much you wanted to beat up anyone who dissed me! Just like how you promised me you wouldn't hate Lapis no matter how much you wanted to!"
Peridot knew what Steven was talking about… it felt like years ago when they had that conversation on the roof, but in truth a month hadn't even passed since that night. The technician visibly flinched as she realized she inadvertently went back on her word. Steven trusted Peridot to control her instinctive urges to hurt anyone who would dare hurt him – physical or verbally – and she swore to uphold that vow.
Had Steven not interfered, Peridot would have broken her promise. Multiple times. Just in this moment.
That made Peridot all the more certain she needed a bit of time away from Steven; it killed her to even face him, knowing now why exactly he was so angry with her.
"Steven, if you really end up in some trouble you can't get out of, just use your aura-whatever to message me," Peridot instructed; fully downtrodden and unable to even look Steven in the eyes now. "And I'll bring you right back here immediately. But for now, I'm fully convinced we need some time alone to work this out. Be safe, Steven."
With that, before Steven could get another word in edgewise, a flick of Peridot's fingers sent her bubbled boyfriend flying far off into the distance until he was no longer visible. Peridot had no idea what kind of area of the everglades she was sending him to; she just tried her best to have faith that Steven could take care of himself. She desperately needed some time to herself to work out this major problem that was assumed to have been resolved a while ago.
And obviously, in regard to 5XF, Steven was only being a distraction for her. Peridot needed to face this issue with her fellow gem one-on-one right now. Teamwork would come into play later.
"Oh my stars… you're both insane," 5XF finally remarked; she was very quiet in saying so, and most likely didn't mean for her sibling to overhear that statement. Seeing Peridot's dead-eyed stare turn to face her proved that was unintentional.
"And I see you really don't know what's good for you," Peridot coldly replied as she turned her full attention back to 5XF. "One more derogatory statement meant for Steven out of you, and you're going right back in a bubble," she warned. "And maybe I'll just forget to take you back home. Are you clear on where you stand now with me, 5XF?"
5XF wanted to simply agree, but she was too overwhelmed with everything she saw and heard over the past few minutes. There was one alarming detail that made it impossible for her to keep her cool now, and she absolutely needed an explanation to that first.
"Wh-what even are you?!" she cried out of genuine confusion and fear. "Not even Era 1 Peridots can manipulate gravity like that! You're looking and speaking much more like 5XG now, I'll admit, but not even she had supernatural abilities! You can't possibly be her; you're obviously more than a defect! It's more accurate to call you a gemetic freak!"
Peridot just realized she had displayed her post-ascension powers right in front of 5XF. She remembered that even the metal powers she developed a while back was just a byproduct of her latent potential that was very much exclusive to her; even that would have rightfully frightened her kin.
Much of her anger dissipated just then, as Peridot did feel a degree of regret for a blunder like this. Still, she remembered this happened primarily because 5XF had the gall to insult her boyfriend to her face for no reason… even though Peridot was sure, much like herself when she was new to Earth, that 5XF didn't even understand the concept of a romantic partner. That helped temper her rage even more so.
"Well… you're not wrong," Peridot finally said; her demeanor softened greatly in hopes of calming the refugee's nerves. "I intended to talk to you about this matter after I proved to you I'm 5XG, but I suppose I need to address this now since I slipped up."
After a few seconds of concentration, a pair of decent-sized flat-topped rocks appeared right by each gem, as per Peridot's will. 5XF jumped back in shock at their sudden existence; that was understandable.
"Take a seat," Peridot urged as she sat on her respective rock. "I imagine you'd rather not sit on that nasty waterlogged soil."
5XF was more comfortable about taking a seat after watching Peridot do so, but she was still fully terrified of what was really going on here. "Did you make these rocks appear? If so, how?"
"I did," Peridot answered. "As for how… that's going to be a little complicated. I believe the best way to aid your comprehension of this mess is to see what I truly look like. Believe it or not, I didn't know I was anything other than an ordinary Peridot until very recently."
"L-look, I see you are clearly a Peridot that came out very wrong," 5XF stuttered. "But it's very evident that you are at least an Era 2; you're too short to qualify as a genuine Era 1. Era 2 gems cannot shapeshift."
"Well, I wasn't talking about the shape of my body," Peridot admitted as her fingers grazed the rim of her shades. "But what I'm about to show you should explain the majority of my abnormalities. I only ask you remain seated and let me explain this to you."
5XF nodded and begrudgingly elected to be compliant for now. Much of this terrified her, but much like the Peridot sitting right across just a couple of feet away, 5XF was undeniably curious about so much of this… and she desperately wanted to know what was going on in general.
"I will… refrain from any further derogatory language directed at your organic companion," she conceded. "Is that truly the only reason you were about to hurt me?"
Peridot nodded, now saddened by the reminder of what led to her fight with her boyfriend. "I'll explain that, too. 5XF, the reason you're not seeing anyone else of our kind around here is because… to be blunt, you were let out so I could practice before I address all of our fellow Peridots a few days from now; presently, they're all still bubbled, but very safe and sound. I'm sure many of them are going to be just as difficult as you are, so I'm trying to figure out how I can diplomatically go about this in a way that everyone will hear out. Because I'm well aware those who know and/or suffered by the old 5XG's hand will have no reason to trust me. Regardless, they need to know what life will be like from here on out… it's my responsibility to not only educate you, but guide you all… to help you adapt to Earth, and especially help you find out who you truly are now that you're liberated."
5XF's skepticism progressively rose the more her fellow gem droned on. "Perhaps you should find a place to start; I believe the outline of what you're giving me now is hard enough for me to buy into."
"R-right; you're right," Peridot nervously agreed. She knew she had a bad habit of rambling uncontrollably… "Let's start with a simple explanation for why I look so irregular and have these inexplicable powers."
For that, Peridot didn't have to say anything. All she needed to do was take off her shades and watch 5XF react to the colors of her eyes.
"WHAT?!" 5XF cried out. She was given some time to let this sink in so she knew this wasn't her imagination; she was speaking to a gem who had heterochromia, but was not fused with anyone. "How can that be?! I-I know it's a historical fact gems like this existed, but it's been–"
"Thousands of years since then," Peridot finished for her. "You're right; they stopped appearing by the beginning of Era 2. And I should inform you that the Diamond Authority is responsible for these gems. They were the ones conducting scientific experiments on randomly-selected gems to see if their inherent skills would be optimized with diamond dust added to their injector fluid. Evidently, that was the case, but I imagine you're aware how they all met their end."
5XF quietly took this in. It didn't really surprise her the Diamonds were responsible for the heterochromatic gems; for something like this to happen as often as it did before it abruptly stopped, it made sense that only the Diamonds themselves could get away with that. And they never owed any gem any explanation if they didn't feel the need.
"Indeed," she affirmed to the junior gem. "I presume that's why no more gems with the condition emerged after Era 2, but then here you are…"
"Being what we are, the Diamonds felt it would have been a waste of resources to "enhance" us when we're destined to be inferior to our Era 1 counterparts no matter what," Peridot told her. "But White Diamond had a special experiment in mind… and she didn't act on it until Homeworld's final gems were being created… and we were in that batch. White Diamond had a splintered piece of Yellow from several millennia ago that she wanted to use in one of the experiments, but she was indecisive… until there was only one more opportunity to implement her scheme. By virtue of being her only option, that's why the Diamonds decided to try this again, even though they knew they were forced to select subpar gems. So I ended up not only with the diamond dust, but a diamond shard in my injector fluid while I formed in our rock. The shard ended up layered under the peridotite, which is why it was never visible."
5XF thought to ask of a certain detail that bothered her, but had not yet addressed out loud.
"S-so, what is that trinket over your gemstone?" she inquired. "Is that the diamond shard? It looks a bit too big to qualify as one… and what was this added element supposed to do, exactly?"
Peridot sighed and looked up to her hopelessly conspicuous gemstone. "White Diamond oversaw this project herself; usually Yellow and Blue were behind the other experiments. With the shard, White Diamond wanted to see if she could create a gem capable of ascending to a greater level. You're well aware of how rock-bottom low we are in the caste system, I'm sure; White wanted to engineer a gem who could evolve from the lowest to the low to the greatest height any gem could hope to achieve."
"That sounds absurd," 5XF remarked. "It implies she intended to create a new Diamond entity… through a Peridot, of all gems. An Era 2, at that!"
Peridot nodded in agreement. "That's exactly what White's intention was, and I reacted pretty much the same as you when she first told me. The thing is, 5XF, I spent most of my life not even knowing any of this. Although my superior skills were acknowledged, I was never treated as anything other than a Peridot. A terrible, monstrous one by our peers, of course, but still just a Peridot."
"I've overheard some testimonies where witnesses claimed to see you mocking Yellow Diamond while you insisted it was an homage of sorts," the smaller gem recalled. "I suppose I'll admit your behavior does seem far too aggressive and self-entitled to be a proper Peridot; some of them likened you to Yellow Diamond, or at least acknowledged you were especially devoted to getting her attention."
"That's true," Peridot confirmed. "I worshiped the ground Yellow Diamond walked on; I was ready to do absolutely anything for her praise. I admired her greatly and aspired to be like her, despite such a fantasy being completely irrational and impossible. I was aware Peridots were never meant to rise above the role they were made for, but I still strived to do it."
It was very uncomfortable recounting these details, but Peridot willed herself to suck it up; at least she was finally getting somewhere with her sibling. "You can take solace in knowing that despite being hand-picked by her for the mission to this planet, Yellow Diamond still thought nothing of me. I tried to appeal to her to spare Earth because it has so many unique and valuable resources that would logically help our empire flourish even more than it had already… and she dismissed my proposal on the grounds that she wanted the planet destroyed for extremely petty reasons. Yellow Diamond was openly acting on her feelings at the empire's expense, which went against everything we've ever learned about her. She outright said she had no interest in the "puny thoughts of a Peridot"… and when I declared that I knew more about Earth than her and called her a clod, well…"
5XF's eyes widened. "… how are you still alive, if that's the case?!"
"I assure you it wasn't for her lack of trying," Peridot grumbled. "She did try to remotely detonate the communication device I used to contact her, but my friends got rid of it in time. She probably assumed she shattered me there, or failing that, would have been decimated along with the rest of the planet by the Cluster – er, that was the primary objective of my mission here; to ensure the geo-weapon built within the Earth's core would detonate the planet. It almost came to that, but with the aid of my friends, we were able to neutralize it."
While 5XF paid attention to every bit of what her fellow Peridot said, she was mentally stuck on a certain word. "… Friends. You, of all gems, claim to have made friends here."
Peridot just realized how insane that sounded from the viewpoint of someone who only knew her as the 5XG of Homeworld. "A-ah, right. That. I denounced that very concept and took advantage of every Peridot who attempted to befriend me. You probably know how I went out of my way to humiliate 9FC because she was so persistent in her attempts to befriend me. And I used her without a second thought every chance I got."
"I wasn't there to see it in full, but I'm certain you're referring to the one you enforced the alternate alias of "Green Pearl" onto," 5XF figured. "I heard you mention 3UI earlier as well; several traumatized coworkers of yours talked about that as they passed by me after our shifts ended. They claimed you performed in such a way that nearly made a sizable portion of your coworkers faint in how diabolical you came across."
Slowly, 5XF was becoming more open to the possibility that the gem she spoke to was 5XG after all. There were still tons of inconsistencies she needed to answer for, but if she could correctly describe the details she overheard in this infamous incident, it would go a long way in helping the refugee accept this living improbability.
"That was one of my darkest moments," Peridot solemnly confessed. "3UI caught me skipping work because that.. diamond part of me compelled me to act out. I already had those gullible followers 7SJ and 1YA covering for me. 3UI thought she could rat me out to upper management, but I had already resumed my work by the time she brought in the enforcers to apprehend me. Because I had covered my tracks so well, 3UI couldn't prove I did anything wrong and none of my coworkers were bold enough to stand with her even though they very well knew I was guilty. So it was then interpreted that 3UI tried to sabotage me out of jealousy and ended up being the one apprehended instead."
"They said she could have survived that," 5XF supplied. "If only you had given her a second chance…"
Peridot did all she could to steel herself from getting too emotional about this; her bold and colorful nature would only make it harder for her to prove her identity to 5XF.
"R-right; I was given the choice to pardon her or have her executed on the spot since I was the one she targeted," she affirmed. "I allowed her to speak and give her the illusion that she had a chance to come out of that situation alive if she explained herself… but I was going to have her executed regardless of what she said. I-it honestly sickens me nowadays, knowing I was reveling in 3UI's shattering."
5XF was not comfortable going over these details, either, but she wanted to be thorough with her analysis. "I gathered even that wasn't the most disgusting act you performed that day," she pointed out. "Do you have anything else to add? If you're 5XG, you know you're leaving one part out."
"I suppose I can't blame you for leaving no stone unturned in your investigation," a weary Peridot groaned as she pinched the bridge of her nose and squinted her eyes. "After the deed was done and the enforcers left the station, I realized a well-sized portion of 3UI's shattered gemstone ended up in my hand. So I turned my attention to my coworkers, all of whom watched the execution playing out right behind them. All eyes were on me… and I held up the chunk of peridotite for all to see, and I said…"
Peridot took in a deep breath and tried to refrain letting her body visibly shudder too much. She bit her lip and held back her tears; she was reliving what had to have been one of her most purely evil moments.
"And I quote… "I know this hasn't been the first time I made an example out of an envious Peridot, but let this be a refresher course to remind everyone what will become of you if you even entertain the notion of snitching on me. Mind your own business, and you'll live a long, fulfilling life for our Diamond"…"
Another deep breath later, Peridot concluded her recollection. "… and to sear that into everyone's memories from that point forward, I crushed the piece of 3UI into dust with my own hands… w-well, with the aid of the limb enhancers, but that's besides the point. I made them all watch 3UI's powdered remains fall to the floor… I believe that was the last time anyone tried to rat me out to upper management before I was assigned to Earth."
That was far more than 5XF expected to hear. She probably would have accepted a generic abridged version of this heinous act, but the Peridot before her recited word-for-word what the sinister 5XG told her coworkers in that moment. 5XF wasn't there personally to hear or see it as it happened, but after this testimony, it almost felt as if she had been there. It felt too real.
What convinced her beyond a shadow of a doubt was the tone Peridot took when she recited her quote. The bright enthusiasm usually present in Peridot's tone disappeared in that recital. Any trace of empathy or morality was supplanted with the rapture of feeling drunk with power and authority in that moment – possibly even a hint of anticipation for the next time someone followed in 3UI's footsteps just so Peridot could do it again in the future and revel in a gem's destruction once more. The words were spoken by a gem full of confidence and willingness to stab any fellow Peridot in the back to get ahead in this lowly life.
It was such an effortless transition, on top of that. Peridot wasn't even trying to imitate her past self; it just seemed to slide in on its own. And Peridot wondered if perhaps this was the upside of accepting the darkest, most despicable version of herself into her entire persona; she would have had a hard time emulating how menacing and calculating her voice once was otherwise. It wasn't the first time this happened to her in recent memory, either; Peridot recalled feeling the chill of her inner cold, remorseless killer when she confessed to her team en route to Homeworld how many disturbing executions happened around her in her short life… and yet none of them got a reaction of any kind from Homeworld's Peridot.
That was very much the opposite of how present-day Peridot handled being in close proximity to explosive executions.
And a short time later, after being heavily medicated to function after the vicious assault from 9FC and the subsequent traumatizing experience of having said gem be shattered all over her, the eerie Homeworld Peridot seemed to take over completely for the entirety of her mission to poof and bubble Yellow Pearl.
In hindsight, Peridot wondered if it would have even been possible to function as her true persona at that time. Surely, there was no way she could carry out her mission after being tortured, reminded of her own crimes, and sent into catatonic shock as 9FC's remains and limb enhancers fell right on top of her prone body.
The backstabbing, overachieving Homeworld Peridot would have been able to shrug off the assault and revel in 9FC's execution. She could easily no-sell the pain; being overly medicated probably made it all the easier for her old self to take over. And considering she had to leave Lapis and Bismuth outside and handle this matter on her own while surrounded by a mass of gems who she now clearly remembered – and more importantly, remembered hating to the point of hoping for their imminent demise – it almost felt like her diabolical persona took over as a defense mechanism. Peridot knew the entire time how risky her plan was; she anticipated casualties, and while miraculously everyone in that room survived (albeit poofed), she realized back then she really didn't care if she inadvertently gotten any of them shattered, save for Yellow Pearl.
And the only reason she prioritized Yellow Pearl's survival was because she served as a vital function to her overall mission; namely as Homeworld's skeleton key.
The hateful Peridot of old faded away gradually once her objective was achieved, but that left a highly traumatized and mentally unstable Peridot of the present day having a devastating nervous breakdown before she finally lost consciousness.
It was good timing for Peridot to silently reflect on this, as 5XF was mentally debating with herself whether or not to truly accept that the Peridot facing her was the real 5XG. It was the most conclusive proof one could ask for if they only knew 5XG as a Homeworld citizen. Her appearance was still very hard for 5XF to take in; they barely scratched the surface of that topic. But based on what 5XF knew now, her younger kin's very unusual demeanor and behavior did make sense if this was a side-effect of having her very essence tampered with.
She still had no idea what exactly happened to the home she knew and why the Diamonds were no longer around. 5XF couldn't possibly anticipate having to accept this foreign planet as her home and having to decide for herself what to do with her life from here on out.
More than anything else, though, 5XF wanted to know what in the world happened to 5XG that made her into someone else entirely. Talking about the past was the only time the refugee truly recognized this Peridot as 5XG. It all seemed so suspect… and for this high-priority topic, what 5XF was most curious about of all was that "Steven" by her side.
5XG was known to not care for anyone but herself; absolutely everyone who wasn't her superior was an expendable pawn. The ambitious worker gem wished to even rise above her superiors, so she could dominate them as well and reap the rewards of her treachery as she rose ever-higher on the lowest-tier pecking order. Yellow Diamond seemed to be the only one 5XG genuinely cared about, but often it seemed she really only cared about receiving praise from her Diamond. Even as a stoic sociopath, praise was Peridot's true source of sustenance.
Yet 5XF was met with that cheerful chubby organic being in very close proximity to her diabolical kin, and it was disturbingly surreal to see how much 5XG genuinely cared for him. The gem who would make no compromise for anyone was now much more considerate of others around her, and she was obviously far more offended by 5XF's slants towards Steven than the slants towards herself. 5XG seemed to almost entirely agree and own up to the slander thrown her way, and she did so without hesitation.
It felt like everything 5XF ever knew was wrong. She would soon find she wasn't far off, but it was through no fault of her own.
"There remains a shred of doubt in my mind, but that's mostly due in part to my ignorance of how you've become the gem you are today," 5XF finally said, which shook her sibling out of her own funk. "And you already promised you would explain everything to me. But if only for the sake of convenience… I will acknowledge you as 5XG. Only she would be able to recount a past event with such disturbing detail… and your tone just now… that was a perfect match. One cannot manufacture such a characteristic to disturbing levels of perfection."
"Trust me when I say that's not a trait I'm proud of retaining from my past life," Peridot glumly assured. "But… if that's what it takes to convince you that I am who I say I am, then I should be grateful for it. This is a hurdle we need to get past before I can explain anything else to you. And having said that… I'd like to formally apologize to you, 5XF."
"Pardon…?" 5XF was bewildered by this. "First of all, you've not yet wronged me directly despite your crimes to our kind, so there's nothing to apologize for in that regard. Secondly, since when has 5XG apologized for anything she's ever done?!"
Peridot smiled awkwardly at this reaction. "Um, prepare to get used to hearing me say that a lot when I address the rest of the refugees," she advised. "I at least wanted to apologize for how I've conducted myself so far; I could be doing a much better job of this, I'm sure."
5XF shrugged in response. "It's fine, I guess. I'm more concerned trying to decide what I need explained to me first: why I'm on Earth, where are the Diamonds, what is the full extent of the changes made to you now that you've proved you are in fact a born scientific experiment, what is expected of me from this point forward, and what in stars' name happened to you and how that "Steven" character turned you into the opposite of the 5XG everyone knows. Do you have any idea how absurd you sound when you claim to have friends, 5XG?"
"I'm certainly being reminded of why I'm coming off as totally cracked to you, at least," Peridot humbly admitted. "Since you're the guest, I'll leave it up to you what you want me to cover right now. Which part of this mystery intrigues you the most, hm?"
"You're letting me decide which direction this conversation goes?"
Peridot nodded. "We're going to cover everything eventually, but in the interest of easing this along for you as best we can, you can get the answers you want the most as soon as possible. Does that not sound optimal?"
"I suppose it does," 5XF gruffly admitted. "By the way, are you certain you did not send your "Steven" to his doom? He's been absent for a while."
"Nyeh, he's absolutely fine; I'm sure of it," Peridot dismissively assured her guest. "Keep in mind I will likely pulverize you on reflex if you dare mock him to my face again."
Her willingness to expend that kind of energy on the behalf of someone other than herself… 5XF couldn't get her head around that at all.
"Duly noted," 5XF acknowledged. "Since he isn't here… perhaps this is the best time to discuss him, 5XG? I would like to see what you have to say about this organic when he isn't right beside you. I don't know why, but I have a strong feeling he's responsible for the complete reversal of your identity. I'd like to know more about these "friends" of yours while they aren't present to interject."
"–O-oh, I see…" Peridot was a bit surprised. She agreed it was best to talk about Steven while he was still miles away in the heart of the everglades. Steven would definitely stifle her attempts to express how much the boy truly meant to her because of how humble he was. In order for 5XF to understand just how Steven recreated 5XG from scratch, Peridot needed full control of the conversation.
She was also amused how, despite knowing 5XF had no concept of it, her kin was basically suggesting the best course of action now was to talk about boys while boys weren't around. In a way, Peridot could somewhat feel that bond start to form… something similar to her bond with Amethyst.
"Very well, then! I'd be more than happy to talk about Steven," a chipper Peridot affirmed. "5XF, you're on the right track with your guess; we shall find out if you truly understand just how vastly you understated your suspicion."
"W-wait, understated? 5XG, that was an intentional exaggeration–"
"Shush; it's officially story time now. It all started when I was remotely inspecting Earth and found its Prime Kindergarten. While performing maintenance to resume its halted progress, an ignorant, immature human refuted my comment of Earth's technology being so unforgivably archaic on the grounds that he thought it was "pretty cool". Then and there, I knew this simplistic, unassuming organic had to be a Grade-A Top-Tier 100% Pure clod."
"I just didn't realize at the time he would come to be my clod."