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Little Rebellions

Chapter Text

This meeting, Pearl has been told, time and time again, is very important.

All meetings are very important, to Calcite. Calcite’s image is very important. Calcite is a very important Gem. 

Or so she says, again and again and again. And Pearl knows that while this is true, in comparison to herself, she’s not sure how important Calcite truly is in the grand scheme of things. Pearl feels that no matter what failings she may have, she at least possesses the virtue of perspective.  

This meeting is particularly important, apparently. It is identical to every single other, as far as Pearl can tell. Nonetheless, Calcite is standing at the front of the chamber, proceeding through her presentation with such intensity that one would think she was presenting to Yellow Diamond herself. The small audience watches her impassively as she rants on about ‘quarterly projections’ and ‘synergy’ and ‘project goals’ and ‘cost reductions’.

Nobody is watching Calcite’s Pearl, posted in the back corner. Nobody, aside from the other pearl. This one is pale purple, with her gemstone at the side of her head, half covered by hair. Pearl does not know who she belongs to. She is bored, but hiding her boredom in the expert way that only a fellow pearl could.

Pearl catches the other’s eye. Glances towards Calcite, still blabbering on. And even though it is risky, she opens her mouth. No sound comes out- instead, she opens and closes it in a pantomime of her master. Discretely, she mirrors the movements with one of her hands. Open, close, open, close. ‘Blah blah blah blah.’

The purple Pearl cannot react, not openly. But the light grey Pearl catches a slight wrinkle around her eyes, a twitch of the mouth. She is snickering on the inside. 

At least they’re stuck in this tedium together.

Chapter Text

Pearl is always watching. Always listening. Always at her master’s side.

Well. Not always. There are brief periods where Chrome Diopside charges off to handle some issue or another, the peridots under her command hurrying to stay at her side, to sort out the situation before they’re assigned the blame- and the punishment. At those times, Pearl is left alone.

Alone, aside from the unmonitored computer terminals.

She has no fancy limb enhancers, but it hardly matters. Peridots act so smug about their skills, but it is not particularly difficult to connect to the mainframe. It had not been hard to make an account for herself, small and discreet, tucked away in a background bit of code. Nobody will ever find it, because nobody will every look for it. Onto this account, she uploads files, straight from her gemstone. Recollections, memories, holograms.

Secrets.

She knows every little thing that her Chrome Diopside has done in the past seventeen centuries. Every bribe she has taken. Every lie she has told. Every mistake she has swept under the rug.

Pearl has never said anything. She is not stupid. She knows the fate of a disloyal pearl.

But at the same time; she knows that fate is the fate of all pearls, eventually. Sooner or later, she will be shattered. Or harvested. Or replaced. Perhaps it will be due to an insignificant infraction on her part. Perhaps she will simply be considered obsolete, and replaced by a sleeker model, who too will be replaced in time.

So here is the clever part. Pearl has coded a sub-routine into her secret account. If Pearl does not check into it for a full five cycles, that routine will activate. Automatically. Every single file she has ever uploaded will be automatically forwarded to Chrome Diopside’s advisors. They will be secrets no longer.

If Pearl dies, her master will die too. The knowledge fills her with a sense of satisfaction. It’s a grim kind of satisfaction, but that is the only kind she has.

Chapter Text

Pearl spots it as she walks through the busy construction hub, trailing behind her master, just out of the corner of her eye. Something small. Something shiny.

It’s lying in the shadow of a half-constructed escape pod. Pearl does not know what it is.

But she wants it.

That want is sudden, and intense, and dizzying, but before she can even analyse it, she’s already moving forward. Walk fast. Cross the floor. Hold head high, ooze fake confidence. Don't let anyone question. Duck. Something cold and jagged in her hand. She hides it in her palm. Straightens. Returns to her spot, a few strides behind her owner, acting as if she never left.

Her Master, Rutile Topaz, is carrying forward, not having noticed a thing.

Pearl takes a few surreptitious looks around. The hub's swarming with technicians, mechanics, builders, supervisors. None seem to have noticed what she did. Or, if they have, they have decided that it is not worth their trouble.

Good. Pearl continues forward, trying to pretend that it doesn’t feel as if the illicit object is burning in her hand.

It is a busy Cycle, and there is a long time before her next rest period. It is a small miracle that not once does Rutile Topaz demand of her anything that requires the use of both her hands. Anything that would reveal what she took. As it is, Pearl manages to conceal the strange object until finally she is left alone for a brief snatch of time. She sags with relief— and, at last, has the chance to admire her secret treasure.

It seems to be a piece of broken debris, made of some kind of modern construction material. It is in the shape of a rough scalene triangle— almost like a knife, Pearl thinks, and the thought is so illicit it makes her shiver. She nearly drops it. It is not a knife, she tells herself, although the two sides are so sharp and jagged that perhaps it could serve that purpose. It does not have the heft that Pearl would expect of a knife, however. It is light, thin, smooth on one side, rougher on the other. It is pale metallic green, but if she tilts it, other colours seem to shimmer under the surface. Blues, pinks, purples, reds, oranges, silvers…

The colours dance brightly against the brown skin of her hand, as she turns it to-and-fro.

Pearl has always liked her brown tone. She has always appreciated how it matches the brown veins of colour that streak across her master’s otherwise white skin. It is a very satisfying shade. It feels very grounded. Warm.

But everything about her is brown. Brown skin. Brown hair. Brown eyes. Brown top. Brown dress. Brown shoes. Everything— brown.

It’s the same for everyone, of course. Nobody bears more than a few colours or shades. Even the Diamonds dress only in tones of a single colour.

But this— this thing. It’s rainbow. It is every colour, at all once.

Her fingers clench tight around it.

She doesn’t have much time. It would be folly to keep this out in the open much longer. Rutile Topaz could return any moment.

On her throat, Pearl’s gem begins to glow, casting a bronze light. She raises the object to it, intending to store it inside. That’s what other pearls do, she knows. Most pearls carry objects for their Masters, but she is not the first one who has found some trinket or other, and stored it in their gemstone for hiding. She’s spotted them, sometimes, when it is only pearls together. Taking their tokens out, furtive, admiring.

That is what she should do, if she has any sense. A pearl found with a possession of their own— even just a piece of trash— would be instantly shattered.

But she hesitates. Something inside of her feels hot, fierce. 

She doesn’t want to hide it away. It is too pretty for that.

She can’t carry it in the open, of course. But maybe she doesn’t need to stow it away completely.

Pearl looks down at herself, and her outfit. She is very glad now, for the ruffled skirt that her master insisted on, last regeneration. There are so many folds that nobody will notice if she wraps her treasure in a tight knot of fabric, and hides it in there, just at her hip. So that’s exactly what she does, with quick, deft hands.

The piece is very light of course. Light enough to build a spaceship. But somehow, she still manages to feel the weight there. It feeds that fire inside of her. She will not snuff it out.

Chapter Text

Nobody ever touches pearls- aside from other pearls. And then, always in private, away from watching eyes.

These touches are quick, fleeting. A brush of hands. A bump of arms. Fingers fluttering against a cheek. A gentle weight on a shoulder. Quick as they are, they say things the pearls would never dare speak aloud.

They say things like;

Hello.

I see you.

Watch out.

Be careful.

Step lightly.

Change course.

Good luck.

Be brave.

I’m sorry.

We will remember you.

Goodbye.

Chapter Text

Nobody ever touches pearls.

Pearls are pretty and delicate, meant to be observed, nothing more. Touching is practically unheard of. Those high ranking enough to own one would never debase themselves in such a way,  and those low-ranking enough for it not to be an issue are never in close enough proximity. As such, the only ones who ever touch pearls are other pearls, and even then, never in public.

So it was for this Pearl, until she met Charoite.

Charoite was visiting her master for one reason or another- Pearl wasn’t sure, she hadn’t been paying close attention- when some memo came up and her master bustled out of the room to attend to it. It had been just her, and Charoite, left alone in silence. Waiting.

Until Charoite had covered the distance between them in a few smooth strides, surveyed her up and down, and then said, “You are a pretty thing, aren’t you?”

Pearl had floundered for a moment, unsure of the correct protocol for such a situation, before saying, “Thank you, ma’am.”

Charoite had observed her for several long moments more, her bright eyes really looking, noticing, not just sliding off of her like everyone else’s. Then she reached out a hand to Pearl’s shoulder— and stopped, hovering just a few inches above the skin. “May I?”

No, would have been the correct answer.

Charoites are warriors, which garners them respect, of course, but they are no Quartzes. They are smaller, swifter, meant for infiltration as opposed to head-on battle. They are lower ranking than Pearl’s master, a Purple Spinel, who would not want her property so sullied by the hands of a soldier. If Pearl had said ‘no’, this Charoite would have been obligated to back away.

Of course, Charoite is far larger than Pearl, and much stronger, so there's not much she could do to resist... But there was something on this Charoite's face that made Pearl think that she would back away, if asked.

Maybe it was for that very reason that Pearl nodded. 

And so, Charoite had reached out, and brushed her fingers lightly along Pearl’s shoulder.

The touch had been brief, quick. Neither had wanted to risk being caught. But that had only been the first time. Charoite had been sent on visits to Purple Spinel’s quarters again and again, and sometimes, they would be left alone. Not often, but enough. And they would touch.

In small ways, of course. At first, Charoite had been light, gentle, as if admiring her exquisite form, tracing the soft curves of her face and Pearl’s arms. Then, those touches had become a little more firm— squeezes and presses. Pearl liked those, even though they scared her a little. Charoite was a warrior, who could destroy her physical form with a single squeeze, and she liked feeling that power and knowing that Charoite would not. Not long after that, Pearl began reaching out to Charoite herself, tracing her form the same way that she had traced hers. She was strong and lithe and muscular.

Then came the embraces. Charoite pulling her in, wrapping her arms around her, tucking her under her chin, like she fits. Like she belongs there.

She doesn’t.

Pearl knows this. She is not Charoite’s, and Charoite is not hers, no matter how much they sometimes pretend otherwise.

Pearl knows nothing of romance. She has never heard love stories or their ilk. If she were to hear them, she would probably flinch away from the idea of having the concept applied to her. She does not love Charoite, not precisely.

She likes that Charoite is different. She likes that Charoite appreciates her, in ways she’s never been appreciated before. She likes feeling another Gem’s body pressed against her own. She loves the the game of it, the escapism.

She loves knowing how much her master would detest it, if she knew.

Chapter Text

There was a time where the cathedrals and spires and temples of Homeworld were filled with song.

That time has long since passed. Melodies have been replaced by more utilitarian sounds; screaming drills, roaring engine fire, the rhythmic march of soldiers’ footsteps, the beep and whine of technology. Most Gems— the new ones, at least, the ones who have only emerged after the end of Era 1— have never heard music. Never even heard of it. The older Gems who do still know of the concept are too wise to ever mention it. They’ve survived so long for a reason. They know how to toe the party line.

This Pearl has not forgotten.

She is one of the oldest pearls in existence. She knows better than to think that her survival is due to any exceptional skill on her part. She has been lucky. She has been assigned to good masters, ones lacking in cruelty and not needlessly concerned with presentation. She has not been shattered for some minor failure, or replaced by someone prettier and shinier. She gets to spend long stretches of time in lonely, secluded areas, standing tall and straight, as decoration for what few visitors that may pass by.

That is when she sings.

She sings old songs, the ones of times long passed. The ones about loyalty, and exploration, of creation, of stars, of battle, of solidarity. Grand pieces, once performed in auditoriums, accompanied by a hundred instruments and a hundred singers and a hundred dancers, now rendered small and mournful by her single voice. Mournful, but still beautiful, Pearl thinks, with a touch of pride.

She does not sing for the simple joy of it. Or, at least, not entirely.

In the eras passed, there had been a saying: the universe dances to its own beat, its own melody, and we must express it, unless the cosmos fall silent and still.

Pearl does not know if the saying is true. She doubts that the universe, so wild and vast, would ever stop simply because Gems don't sing or dance any longer. She thinks it was only ever a metaphor. But she sings the old songs, anyway. Just in case.

Chapter Text

When Pearl first emerges, no time is wasted before she is presented to her master, an elegant and high-ranking Spinel. Pearl bows and smiles; Spinel smiles back, a flash of white teeth, and beckons her to stand at her side.

Pearl performs her duties well. She walks with beauty and elegance. She adapts her form to suit her master’s needs. She obeys every order, and learns to anticipate them, to provide before she is asked. She smiles and sways and dips and curtseys and flutters her eyelashes.

Spinel is very pleased by her, Pearl thinks. She does not let her out of her sight for a long time. She wants everyone to see a pearl by her side, the perfect ornament.

One day, though, Spinel attends a grand meeting, in a temple so old and magnificent that its power seems to thrum through the air, resonating, so powerful that it is nearly blinding. Only true Gems are allowed within the inner sanctum. Anything else would surely shatter under the intensity. The pearls are all left in a chamber outside while their masters continue in.

They stand in neat rows, still as statues, until the final guest disappears inside and the glow from the portal fades. And then- like a perfectly choreographed dance among the chaos, th e Pearls come to life. They break away from their perfectly ordered lines. They orbit around each other like stars, raising hands in greeting, holograms flickering into existence, low joyful murmuring.

Pearl remains stock still, too overwhelmed to move. Won't they get caught?

Her unmoving form catches the notice of a couple of other Pearls, one pink, one almost silver.

“You’re new,” says the pink. “Nice to meet you.”

“Who do you belong to?” asks silver.

Pearl opens her mouth, tries to answer, but no sound comes out.

“Nervous,” comments pink. “I understand.”

“You’re purple. Maybe an Amethyst?” muses silver. Again, Pearl tries to clarify, but her mouth and throat aren’t working.

“No,” comments another pearl passing by, this one a blue so deep she’s practically black. “I saw her at the side of a Spinel.”

A chorus of nods and ‘ah’s. And still, Spinel’s Lilac Pearl cannot speak. She tries all evening, straining, trying to force a sound out of her throat or mouth, but nothing escapes. She stands there, listening, dumbfounded, horrified. 

The meeting ends. The Great Gems spill out of the inner sanctum, and collect their property. Pearls take their places besides their master. Pearl stands besides her Spinel, face carefully blank, but inside, her soul is shivering.

She is defective. She is terrified. She has never had any cause to speak before; it’s never been asked of her. But that could change? What if Spinel asks her a question? Wants her opinion? Needs her to recite something she’s overhear, or send a message? She will fail, she will fail in her duty, let Spinel down, and she will be shattered, and it will only be what she deserves.

The fear hides within her, cycle after cycle, but the command never comes. And eventually, she learns why.

She’s standing attendance at a small gathering, a collection of mostly Spinels, discussing policy implementation. The discussion wanders, however, as is want to do. Pearl does not flinch when one Spinel points at her and says,  “I must say, you have trained your pearl beautifully.”

“Thank you,” says her own Spinel, graciously accepting the compliment.

"Perfectly polite,” the complimenter continues. “She never makes a sound, never speaks.”

Spinel gives a laugh like the tinkling of breaking glass. “Oh, that’s not training. I had her built that way.”

Something inside Pearl catches.

Through this conversation and later ones, Pearl is able to piece it together. Understand why she was made this way.

There have been rumours. Spreading fear of disobedience, rebellion, anarchy. All because of some renegade Pearl on some far off colony planet. One who stood up, went rogue, grabbed a pair of swords and now fights against the Homeworld. Some says it’s all lies, even while other Gems tut about how terrible it is. There are secret holographic records. Eyewitness testimonies smuggled on illegal scrolls.

“The Renegade talks of her own accord, you see,” Spinel explains, at yet another meeting.  More than talks. Makes pronouncements. Gives orders. That’s the entire problem. Somewhere along the way, it became convinced that such things were allowed. As long as we never give our pearls such an opportunity, it cannot happen again.”

At first, Pearl feels like she is breaking. Splintering into a million pieces.

Then, something hardens. She feels whole.

She was made to never have a voice. That, she cannot change. But she will not be silent.

She walks a little quicker down hallways, noticing the way her heels snap against the hard floor, click click click. Her vocal chords cannot make noise, but she can still fill her chest with air, then blow it all out, wooosh. On those rare occasions where she’s left alone or with other pearls, she claps her hands together to show approval, clap clap clap. She can purse her lips and whistle, fiewwwwww. She can press her tongue on the roof of her mouth, pop pop pop.

She will be heard.

Chapter Text

On one of the oldest of the Gem controlled planets, there is a service corridor.

It is a very, very old service corridor, found near what was once the planet’s surface, before extensive mining made such a description essentially meaningless. It is long, cramped, and winding, a place rarely visited by anyone except service Gems. If you need to deliver something quickly and discreetly— be it a message or something more physical— there are few faster ways to do so. Most Gems who take the route do not dawdle; it is hardly a pleasant place, and tardiness is not tolerated.

Sometimes, though. Sometimes, a Pearl will slow. Younger Pearls, usually.

The hallway is spartan and nearly barren, with plain walls. The corridor is ancient. There are still brackets on the walls marking where torches once hung, before it was upgraded and modern lighting was installed. There are old stone cabinets, too, which were once used for storage. They’re all empty now, so no one knows what they once must have contained— scrolls, perhaps, or some other form of long-outdated technology. There’s nothing inside them, now.

Mostly nothing.

Sometimes a Pearl will slow. She’ll look quickly down the hall, in both directions, straining for the sound of distant footsteps. She must be certain that she is alone. Then she’ll duck down, open one of the abandoned storage cabinets, and look inside.

They’re empty. Empty, aside from the marks scratched in the stone walls.

There’s hundreds of them. Thousands. None of the Pearls know how many, exactly. No one has ever had enough of a chance to stop and count. They’re packed in tight, filling up every spare surface. Meter after meter of cabinet is filled with with tally marks. At one end of the hallway, they are old and faded, but at the other, the marks are sharp and fresh.

There’s one other thing in the cabinet. A knife.

Nobody knows where it comes from. Nobody would ever ask. All the Pearls know is that it is there, and that whenever it gets worn down, somehow, a new one will eventually appear to replace it.

Every Pearl who arrives on this planet hears of this place. Every Pearl on this planet seeks it out, at least once in their life. A pilgrimage. Every Pearl takes the knife, holds it in their hand, and carves a small line or simple mark in the wall. Simple, wordless. But still, it says:

I was here.

Hundreds, thousands, countless of Pearls, throughout the millennia, all saying the same thing.

I was here.

The Pearl will make her mark, put the knife down, close the cabinet door. She will trot off, poised and polite,  and return to her duty. She may never come back. Whatever her fate, her mark will remain, for other Pearls to see.

I was here.

Chapter Text

Most Gems’ reaction, upon hearing the rumours of the Renegade Pearl, was fear.

The very concept was terrifying. Every Gem had her place, her duty, her job. A role she had been built for, optimised for, trained for. If a Gem could just up and choose to do something else, it was as though the entire structure of society could crumble beneath their feet— and then where would they be?

And besides, this was a pearl. A pearl, who not only fought, but was good at it. Horrifyingly good.

Many masters eyed their own pearls, seemingly quiet and docile, and wondered what would happen if they malfunctioned and decided to turn.

One Star Diopside, however, was a little more pragmatic.

Everyone was overreacting about the Renegade. So some Pearl had been ordered to pick up a weapon and fight. If anything, it was simply a testament to pearls’ legendary loyalty and faithfulness, that one would follow their master onto a battlefield. The important thing, in her mind, was that pearls could be skilled fighters, if ordered and properly trained. That was something useful.

Star Diopside had been recently been stationed on Earth, and she was very aware of how precarious her position was. She was far away from Homeworld and their carefully enforced laws and regulations. She was on a truly wild colony planet. Rebellion was bubbling under the surface. Blue Diamond was angry. Everyone was on edge. Rebel attacks were becoming more common. Punishments were being given more freely. And behind her, she knew that there were dozens of other Star Diopsides clamouring for her position, who might be willing to take advantage of the chaos and arrange… an accident.

Was she being paranoid? Perhaps. But Star Diposide’s continued survival depended on that paranoia.

So when she looked on her own little pearl, dressed all in blacks and greys, she did not react with nervousness or disgust. She did not see a traitor, waiting to happen. She saw possibilities.

“You are going to learn how to fight,” she told the pearl.

“Ma’am?” Pearl asked.

“You heard me,” she said. “You will learn to fight, and should the need arise, you will protect me. You start tomorrow. There is going to be a Quartz demonstration at the Sky Arena at first dawn. You will attend, and take detailed recordings. Practice begins immediately afterward.”

And true to her word, it did.

Soon, every ‘spare’ moment Pearl had was spent learning to fight. How to hold her feet, her back, her head, her arm. She based her movements off the formations of quartz and rubies and other soldier classes; they were painful and uncomfortable. Star Diopside somehow acquired a sword for her. Like the Renegade’s, but larger, heavier. Pearl had carried many heavy loads in her life, but she found the sword weight on her arms like nothing else. Still, she practiced her sets with diligence, and eventually she saw her master’s mouth curve into a smile.

No sooner had Pearl begun to feel somewhat at ease with the sword, then Star Diopside said that it was not good enough. “A spear,” she said.

“A spear?” Pearl mirrored.

The Rebels, it seemed, had learned some new trick. An ability to summon a weapon from a Gem’s very core. These summoned weapons were superior to traditional weapons in every sense. There was no manufacturing cost. They did not wear, or break. If one weapon was lost, the Gem could simply summon a new one, instantly. Already, the Diamonds were training their own troops in the trick.

And so, Star Diopside’s Pearl would learn as well. The Renegade could summon a spear; she must be capable of it, as well.

Pearl had no idea how. She felt entirely lost. She was not a fighter. She certainly did not have a weapon waiting in the core of her power.

But Star Diopside commanded it, so she did her best. She pushed herself. Tried again and again to visualise the thing. And eventually, after nearly quarter century, she succeeded. With a beam of black light, a spear manifested itself in her hand, solid and real.

It was very simple. Very plain. A long grey shaft, with a sharp, clean black point on the end. Utilitarian. Efficient. Deadly.

“Perfect,” Star Diopside said.

And training continued.

The spear felt nice in her hand. Better than the sword, certainly. Pearl could see the beauty in it, and her movements, the fighting sets she had drilled with for so long. It was like dancing, only with the spear for a partner— or, not, as an extension of her own body, her own will. There was something comforting in the familiar steps. But Pearl could not imagine herself using those steps in an actual battle.

Star Diopside told herself that her pearl would be ready, if a situation arises. Pearl told herself that such a situation would never come.

But it did.

Rebels swarmed into the Mountain Temple. In the distance, there were screams and shouts, and a cacophony of clanging, from warning bells and weapons both. Star Diopside fled, Pearl running after her. Her master came to a stop before a heavy stone door, opening it with a mighty push. Sanctuary. “Stay out here,” her master ordered. “Stop anyone who comes here.”

Then she closed the heavy door behind her, leaving Pearl on the outside, staring at it. 

She made herself turn around. Stand straight. Her gem glowed; the black spear materialised in her hand. She adjusted her grip, positioned her feet, just like she drilled herself so many times before. She waited, hoping that nobody would come here.

Somebody did.

It was a Gem, but Pearl didn’t know what kind (or kinds), because they were one of those abominable hybrid fusion the rebels were always using. They were so tall, bigger than a Quartz, muscular, carrying a massive ax in their hands. Fire seemed to burn in their four eyes, and all Pearl wanted to do was run.

The fusion surveyed them. Surveyed the spear in their hands. They were wary. Wary of her.

But Pearl was terrified.

She should run forward. Dodge the inevitable ax swing, plunge the spearhead right through the fusion’s chest, just like she'd practiced a million times. Protect her master, just like she had been ordered to do.

But instead, the spear fell our of her hand. Clattered to the floor. Vanished.

“I can’t,” Pearl whispered.

She expected pain. In her body, or in her very gem, a killing glow. But it did not come. When she dared look up, she found that the fusion had barely moved. They were watching her, a thoughtful expression in their four eyes.

“Do it,” Pearl said, voice quavering a little. 

They shook their head. “No,” they said. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

Silence. The distant sound of fighting became less distant. One pair of the fusion’s eyes glanced nervously, even as the other pair remained trained on the Pearl. They said, “You don’t have to stay. You could come with me. With the Crystal Gems.”

Pearl gaped. And then, “I won’t fight.”

“You wouldn’t have to.”

Hesitation. Could she really? Could she really leave Star Diopsoide? Her master, the one she had been made for?

The one who put a spear in her hand and then ordered her to fight, while she cowered behind a door?

“Do you promise?” Pearl asked.

“Yes,” said the rebel fusion.

A strained moment of thought. Then, a nod.

And together, the fusion and Pearl fled.

Chapter Text

When Pearl hears that her master, Cinnabar, is ordering a second Pearl, she is horrified.

She has been a good Pearl. An excellent Pearl, she would even say, if she allowed herself such pride. Why would Cinnabar get another? Has she failed in someway? Has she been lacking?

She is not being replaced, it turns out. Cinnabar is simply being promoted, and feels that it is only fit that a Gem of her station have two Pearls. There is a symmetry in it, she says. In fact, the Pearl she is ordering is an exact mirror image of her first, a clear sign of her satisfaction with the original.

Pearl is not being replaced. Pearl is glad of that.

But that does not mean she likes the New Pearl.

Symmetry is all very well— Pearl understands that, implicitly, because symmetry is beautiful, and if pearls are knowledgeable about anything, than surely it is beauty. But her duty is not just to stand at Cinnabar’s side and look beautiful. She is useful. She sends messages, stores objects, provides light, displays projections. She does it all promptly, and efficiently, and with grace. Cinnabar does not need anyone else to do it for her; she is enough.

(She is…  isn’t she?)

And anyway, this second Pearl is a liability. She is so new, she hardly knows how to do anything. She stumbles over protocol, is slow summoning projections, does not know how to keep her toes properly pointed and her head carefully bowed. She does not know how to set her step to the correct tempo. It’s infuriating.

(Pearl tries not to think about how, if the two of them are truly identical, she must have been the same way, at first.)

And it’s terrifying, too. Because what if the other Pearl makes a mistake? A truly terrible one? Offends some great and important Gem with her ignorance? What if they both have to take the blame for it?

They’re standing attendance outside of a meeting, one day. One on either side of the door, waiting for it to come to an end. If a Gem comes by looking for Cinnabar, they are to take her identity and message, and relay it later. Otherwise, all they have to do is stand there, perfectly still. A simple assignment.

And the other Pearl cannot even get that much right. Her eyes keep flickering. From her feet to the celling, up and down the hall, towards her duplicate…

(Of course, Pearl only notices this because she keeps stealing sly glances herself, but that’s besides the point.)

Thankfully, there’s nobody else to notice. Or to hear, when other Pearl says, “Excuse me?”

Pearl says nothing.

“Excuse me?” other Pearl says again, after a moment.

Shhhh,” Pearl hisses.

Other Pearl is startled, but when she looks around, double-checking they’re alone, she persists. “Am I doing something wrong?”

Pearl narrows her eyes, but says nothing.

“Because… because I get the sense that you do not like me very much, and I want to know why.”

She’s clearly not going to be quiet unless she responds. “It doesn’t matter if I like you or not. All that matters is our duty.”

“I-” says other Pearl. “Yes, of course. Only… Only… You keep looking at me.”

“You keep looking at me.”

Other Pearl has no response to that, and so she falls into a blessed silence.

But she won’t stop risking glances. Pearl makes up her mind. This needs to end.

“Listen,” she says, keeping her voice at a careful whisper. “Do you truly wish to know why I do not like you?” Other Pearl nods. “Because I do not wish you to get us killed.”

Pearl lets it all out in a torrent; how slow the other Pearl is, how clumsy, how inexperienced, how she can't keep pace. There’s a danger looming over them, and she makes it perfectly clear, to this new and naive Pearl, what their fate will be should either fail in their sacred duty. The other Pearl listens, her eyes growing wide and shiny. Pearl sees embarrassment in them, and she feels a surge of victory. Then that embarrassment grows into fear, then terror, and that sense of victory is gone, replaced with something hollow.

(Well. It had to be done. The other Pearl needs to know.)

When Pearl is finally finished, the fear remains on the other Pearl’s face, otherwise identical to her own. But there's something beneath it, something Pearl recognizes from within herself. Steely determination.

“Teach me,” the other Pearl demands.

So Pearl does.

It’s only logical. Pragmatic. If one of them fails, she risks bringing the other down with her. The other Pearl needs to be as perfect in her duties as she is. They need to be able to work together. They need to be symmetry in motion.

Whenever they are alone, they practice. Pearl begins by explaining their every duty, to make sure the other understands every element of the job. Then she leads her through each step; the exact protocol to use when taking a message or speaking to a Gem of a specific class. The different meanings to a specific bow or curtsy, and when to use them. How to quickly store and summon items from your Gemstone. How to create complex, intricate holograms for every occasion. They practice walking at the exact pace Cinnabar uses, until the new Pearl is able to perfectly match her master’s step. They create plans and contingencies, so that if they are every asked to do different things, there will be no hesitation or uncertainty on their part.

The other Pearl learns quickly. Of course she does; she is an exact duplicate of herself. Still. It is satisfying to see her progress.

(Satisfying in a way Pearl cannot fully describe. Satisfying in a way unrelated to how it banishes the creeping fear she’s held since Cinnabar first placed in an order for a second Pearl. Satisfying in a way that makes her core feel warm and bright.)

Cinnabar gets compliments for their performances, sometimes. In public, they appear unmoved by such compliments, but when they’re alone, the pair will exchange proud smiles.

They do well in her duties, and so does Cinnabar. One cycle, she announces to them the greatest of news: she is being promoted! The ceremony will be very soon. She has been given a pair of bracelets— true bracelets, made of metal, not simply a projection of light— as a symbol of her new office. It will be their duty to present the bracelets at the official ceremony. The entire ceremony must be perfect, Cinnabar stresses. Anything else will not be acceptable.

The Pearls will need to practice.

And practice they do. The older Pearl is able of producing an exact holographic replica of Cinnabar to work with. The newer one carefully marks out the dimensions of the stage they will presenting on. Together, they work out a routine; a complex dance of twists and twirls around Holo-Cinnabar, as she makes her way to the front of the stage. When she reaches the very front, the two Pearls’ gems begin to glow on their shoulders; they let the light hang, summoning the bracelets not with speed, but flourish. Holo-Cinnabar holds out her hands, allowing the two of them to slip a bracelet onto each wrist. At this point, Holo-Cinnabar raises her arms out towards the imagined crowd, which will surely roar with approval, while her Pearls bow deep at their master’s feet.

It is a beautiful routine, they both think, and they seem to grasp it intuitively. By their fifth try, they can move through it without second thought, flowing like water, one step gliding easily into the other. The pair weaves easily across the stage, the epitome of grace. It feels so wonderful, being able to trust the other so completely, to be perfectly synchronised— and when the Holo-Cinnabar reaches the front of the stage, and their Gems glow as they summon the bracelets— well, the light doesn't fade, it just keeps growing brighter and brighter, filling the room, filling their minds

The light fades, and Pearl blinks. She’s confused. What happened?

She looks down at herself. She’s holding both bracelets, one in each hand. That's not right. They're meant to go on the Holo-Cinnabar’s wrists. She moves to do so, but something’s wrong. The dimensions seem off. The holographic Cinnabar besides her is very small. Is it malfunctioning?

No… no, it's not just the hologram. The bracelets in her hands are smaller than she remembers, too. And the whole room is smaller…

… or perhaps she is simply larger.

She looks around the suddenly small room. She is alone.

“Pearl? Where are you?” she asks. There is a slight echo to her voice. She already knows the answer to the question.

She carefully places the two bracelets on the floor, and steps back. She runs her hands up her arms, to her shoulders; on each, she feels a perfect sphere of a gemstone beneath her fingers. She looks at them. They are both red. Identical.

Fusion,” she whispers, in her echoing voice.

She didn’t know Pearls could fuse, did she?

(No, she didn’t.)

How would anyone have ever found out? Why would anyone need a Pearl fusion? Who would have ever given any Pearls the opportunity?

Perhaps she— they?— she is the first.

There's a rush of something— amazement, joy, giddiness— but also fear, worry.

This almost certainly is not allowed.

“We can’t stay like this,” she says, and her voice is filled with sorrow.

Which is ridiculous. She shouldn’t be sad. She's no different, not really. Pearl and Pearl are identical, after all. Nothing truly changed with the fusion. Nothing was created; nothing will be lost.

(But neither Pearl had ever felt like this before. So singular. So complete. So big.)

She can't stay like this. They'll be discovered. They still have to practice.

But perhaps, one day, the two Pearls— perhaps they'll create her again.

Chapter Text

Power. Power is a tenuous thing.

The Diamonds know this. It is true that they are great; that their strength, their beauty, their knowledge, their intelligence, is beyond compare. It is by the grace of their immeasurable superiority that they are the natural leaders of Gemkind.

Most other Gems acknowledge and understand this simple truth. But lesser Gems are, by the very definition of their existence, less intelligent. Less rational. They can get ridiculous notions, which can grow into dangerous ideas. And once those ideas catch on, they can spread like a chemical fire, devouring everything.

It has been millennia, but memories of the last rebellion still haunt them. A repeat would be devastating.

Which is why this latest renegade is so horrifying.

She is an expert in anonymity. No one knows who she is. Nobody knows her sector, her facet, her colour, or her location in their vast Empire. But she spreads dissent throughout. Rumours, disrespect, sacrilege, blasphemy…

Every time one of her comments is squashed, three more rise up in their place. There is seemingly no way to quash her, to snuff her, to silence her. She is infinite, she is legion.

Yellow Diamond scowls at her computer monitor.

The video posted there is beautiful. A work of art. A stunning tribute to Yellow Diamond, in all her glory— to her works, her might, her power, to the way her influence spreads through the stars. This video is playing on monitors throughout sixteen galaxies, inspiring Gems of all kinds and castes to look at it in awe, to fall to their knees in admiration.

She knows this, not just because of her extensive network of security cameras, but also because of the list of hundreds of comments beneath the video, saying things to that effect.

But, among all the praise, there is one that is different. Yellow Diamond’s fists clench, her eyes narrow, her anger boils at what AwesomePearl666 had the audacity to write.

what a bunch of bullshit lol. yd can suck my ass. PEARLS 5EVER!!1!

By the time the comment is deleted, it already has been seen by hundreds, and a bot has made fifteen copies in its place. Yellow Diamond’s scowl deepens as she desperately tries to organize the mods to deal with the dissent.

Behind her throne, hidden safely out of sight, Yellow Diamond’s Pearl allows herself a smirk.

Chapter Text

Pearl is busy.

No, in fact, that is an understatement. She has not rested in three full cycles. Her master, Golden Topaz, is being reposted to a new planet, and Pearl is being run ragged ensuring that everything is prepared for their departure. There are Gems to inform, meetings to schedule, Warp Pad times to book, equipment to organise…

The equipment is what she’s carrying now, boxes upon boxes stacked precariously in her arms, as she rushes through the access corridor to the space shuttle—

— and then trips on something, and falls, the boxes tumbling around her in a heap.

She nearly screams in frustration. She just barely manages to get a hold of her self. Biting her tongue, she turns her attention to the boxes lying around her. She gathers them, checking inside each to ensure nothing was damaged. She’s berating herself furiously; she should have been watching where she was going, she should have stored the boxes in her gem, it’s just always such a hassle, and it makes her so dizzy

Only after the task has been dealt with does she finally notice what tripped her up in the first place.

A small, pink figure, crouched on the ground, face filled with fear. A coral.

Pearl’s restraint breaks.

You!” she barks. “Look what you did! You tripped me, just sitting the middle of the corridor like tha. Stars help you if any of this has been damaged…”

Pearl would never dare to speak like that to any other Gem. But corals hardly even count as Gems. They’re Chalk, more than anything.

Not literally Chalk, of course. That’s just an old expression. Chalks were an ancient Gem model— very small, weak Gems, unfit for anything but basic maintenance duty. They’d been so inefficient, in fact, that they’d stopped being made millennia ago, and any surviving examples have long since been retired. Pearl’s never even seen one.

Corals were one of the Chalks’ replacements— more efficient, but only barely. They are too weak to be warriors, too simple to be scientists, too ungainly to be craftsgems. They aren’t even pretty, and their dull looks mean that they are relegated to back-alleys and construction yards, doing cleaning and menial labour. Even pearls rank above corals; pearls might not be much, but they are beautiful and elegant, and corals are not even that.

So Pearl snaps at the Coral who’s caused her so much trouble. It feels good, the chance to let out her frustration.

But then the Coral just flinches, the way other Pearls flinch at their masters, and it doesn’t feel as satisfying as it ought to feel.

“Nevermind,” Pearl mutters. She returns to stacking her boxes. “Just don’t do it again.”

“I won’t,” Coral mutters, bitterly.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Pearl asks. She notices that the Coral’s clutching something desperately to her chest.

“It means I won’t have a chance.”

The Coral reveals what she’s carrying. It takes a moment for Pearl to recognise it, it’s in such a state. It’s an hourglass, broken beyond repair. The glass of its upper bulb is shattered, its beautiful symmetry ruined. It’s useless.

Pearl hisses as the sight. “How did you do that?”

I didn’t do anything,” Coral retorts. Pearl rolls her eyes and straightens. “I didn’t!” Coral protests. “This Emerald pulled me aside, ordered me to go pick this up for her, and I could hardly refuse! The commission was fine when I got it from the workshop, but as soon as I stepped outside— it shattered.”

Don’t lie.

That’s what any other Gem would have done. That’s what Pearl was going to do, but something holds her back.

What purpose would this Coral have to lie to her? She isn’t a court official, someone in a position  of power. She is not worth pleading her case to it. Her testimony would not be worth anything.

And perhaps the Coral isn’t lying. Perhaps she truly isn’t to blame for the hourglass’s breaking. Pearl knows from experience how delicate such time-pieces are. Especially when newly created. This planet is freezing; the inside is carefully regulated, but outside it’s colder than a sapphire’s personal quarters. A freshly blown hourglass, still hot from the ovens, could easily shatter from such a sudden an intense change in temperatures. Would this Coral have known that? They are not used to handling such valuables. Would anyone have ever thought to tell her?

Of course not. That doesn’t mean the Coral is telling the truth. She could easily be lying to cover for her own incompetence. Everyone knows how clumsy corals were.

The Coral’s shaking now, with fear and horror her face contorted. She’s crying, Pearl realises, tears silently running down her face. 

If everyone knows that corals are clumsy, how foolish was that Emerald, to pick one to fetch such an expensive item? Should the Coral truly be punished for something she could not help?

And punished she will be. It is inevitable. Breaking such an expensive object— well, nobody could risk such a thing happening again.

“Please help me,” the Coral begs.

“H-help you?” Pearl stutters, startled.

“Please.”

“I can’t,” Pearl half-snarls. “Even if I wanted to, you silly coral, I’m just—“

She stops mid-sentence.

It’s foolish. Ridiculous. She cannot believe she’s even contemplating such an idea.

But the Coral looks so pathetic. She can’t just leave her here, to be harvested or shattered. Not if it wasn’t her fault. Not after all the other Pearls she’s known, who’ve met the same fate.

Pearl places her stack of boxes on the floor, filled with a sudden determination. “I think I know a way.”

A terrible hope glows on the Coral’s face. “R-really?’

“Yes. But it is risky. You must do everything I say.”

Coral nods.

Pearl rearranges the boxes, finds the one she’s looking for, and opens the lid. Inside there is a collection of sharp, wicked knives. Amazing that a Pearl was ever entrusted with them, even just for transport.

The Coral’s eyes widen at the sight. “What-?!”

Sush.” Pearl grabs a blade. “My Master and I are leaving the solar system. I can take you with me, but there’s no way you would go unnoticed as you are. I am going to destroy your physical form, and smuggle you out that way.”

“How do I know you won’t just turn me in?”

Pearl shrugs. “Why would I?”

Pearl would have nothing to gain from such a feat. Coral must realise that. The punishment for a pearl daring to bare arms— let alone using actually using a weapon against another Gem, even a coral— would be steep. If betrayal is her intent, it would be better just to abandon the Coral here.

Resolve hardens on the Coral’s face. She wipes away her tears. “Okay.”

“You must not regenerate,” Pearl says. “You must hold off, as long as you can. The journey will take half-a-cycle, at least, and if you come back too early we’re both dead.”

“I understand.”

Pearl looks at her, and hopes the Coral does. Hopes that she isn’t making the biggest, most foolish mistake of her life.

She holds the knife, and plunges it through the Coral’s neck. The strike is quick, efficient, the same one Golden Topaz always uses on her when it is time for an outfit change. The pain is minimal. With a small woosh, the Coral’s physical form dissolves; Pearl catches the gemstone left behind before it even touches the ground. She does not bother catching the already-broken hourglass. It smashes, sand and shattered glass spreading everywhere.

Pearl works quickly, barely daring to think about what she is doing. She puts away the knife first, the most incriminating evidence. Then she stores the Coral’s gem in a box of paperwork, the kind that Golden Topaz refuses to throw away ‘just in case’, but that she hasn’t actually looked at in centuries. She closes the lid on the box, hoping that the Coral truly won’t reform. She puts that box in the middle of the stack, where it’s least likely to be noticed. She checks herself all over once to make sure she is no incriminating glass or sand clinging to her form, then picks up her burden, and sets off.

She’s already wasted far too much time.

She arrives at the shuttle only minutes before Golden Topaz. When her masters sees that not everything has been packed away yet, Pearl is told off for sloth.

Told off, but nothing worst.

The trip in the planetary-shuttle seems to take eons. She’s terrified that every single jerk and bump of turbulence signals Coral’s return.

But the flight is uneventful.

They disembark a solar system away, on a less-crowded planet, one whose Galaxy Warp has light enough traffic that Pearl had been able to schedule a slot within the next ten cycles. It takes three separate Warp trips to get to their destination. Pearl clings to her boxes with an iron like grip the whole way, afraid that she’ll lose them in the stream.

She doesn’t.

Pearl barely notices the planet she and her master have been stationed at, left only with a brief impression of a purple sky with two moons. She stands dutifully by Golden Topaz’s side as they’re lead through a complex series of corridors. When they finally arrive at her master’s new office, she dutifully waits for instructions before beginning to put the items away. She makes sure to leave the paperwork box for last, terrified about what will happen if Golden Topaz is still there when she can’t delay any longer.

But thankfully, Golden Topaz gets called away to a meeting.

When she leaves, Pearl feels something taut inside her release.

But this isn’t over yet. The Coral still needs to regenerate before her master returns.

She digs through the paperwork, finding the coral stone, gripping it tight in her fist. She holds it to her mouth and whispers, “Come back, come back.”

It’s ridiculous. She knows from experience that inside a gemstone you can sense nothing of the outside world. It was better than standing there, doing nothing.

Finally, a warm pink glow fills the room. Moments later, a nervous Coral forms, staring around anxiously.

“You made it,” Pearl says, not even disguising her frank amazement.

The Coral clearly made use of her time stuck in her gemstone. She’s changed her outward appearance, at least as much as a Coral can; new hair, new outfit, slightly shifted facial features. A symbolic shedding of her past identity. It won’t do much if someone actually tries to track her down.

Which is still a distinct possibility, but not one Pearl thinks likely. Corals shouldn’t be able to move between planets without authorisation, and no one would ever suspect someone of bothering to smuggle one. It would be incredibly difficult to work out exactly where this one went. And while the Emerald will no doubt be infuriated about the destroyed hourglass, she almost certainly won’t put in the effort just to find and punish a single coral.

“Thank you,” says Coral.

“Never mind,” says Pearl. She nods at the door. “Now go.”

Coral does. The pair holds each other’s eyes for one last moment. Then Coral vanishes, door swinging behind her, off to find some menial bit of labor, where she can be lost among the throng of other corals working on this planet. A moment later, Pearl sets her mind towards organizing the paperwork, obedient as ever. It's as if nothing even happened. 

If they’re lucky, they’ll never see each other again.

Chapter Text

There is a Pearl who is made of light.

All Pearls are made of light, of course. All Gems are. Aside from their gemstones, they are just light made solid. But there is a Pearl who is truly made of light, flickering and brilliant, as insubstantial as air. She spreads through the cosmos, carried by holograms and whispers. 

She is air, she is light, she is stories.

The stories are forbidden, but still they spread.

Earth, they say, is the source of the stories. The home of the Pearl, of the Renegade. That is where the first hologram came from. No one’s quite certain who produced it, but speculation runs rampant— the hologram is so detailed, so close, from inside an actual Sky Arena, the pearl who produced it must have been very high ranking, maybe even belonging to a Diamond herself. It shows a Pearl, and Quartz, working together. Fighting. The Pearl is slender and slight, as all are. Her outfit is so plain that she should be ugly— but no, she is beautiful. Beautiful and terrible. She carries two swords, and she is so sharp, jagged and fierce. She fells warriors three times her size, as easily as if she is dancing.

A fabrication, some say. A lie, say others. Some desperate dream. It could never be real.

But then come in other holograms, from other pearls, all stationed on the Earth colony. The Pearl, again and again. Ambushes, daring escapes, fighting battles four-to-one, or else commanding entire troops—

Holograms are passed by pearl to pearl. Embellishments are made. By the time it reaches the farthest corners of the Diamond Authority’s Empire, the Pearl in the holograms is sometimes fifty feet tall, or has four arms, or is fighting with six weapons at once— sometimes she is so muscular she hardly looks a Pearl at all, and some say she has been fusing with other Gems, but that just can’t be right—

But something is the same, in each and every hologram. The Pearl’s eyes. The way they burn.

There is a Pearl who is made of light, and she shines like a star.

Chapter Text

Her master is dead.

It was a good death, they say. She died in battle. She died taking down five traitors, in the heat of battle. She died a death dedicated to her Diamond. She died the death of a true Quartz warrior, loyal, brave and true.

But Pearl is crying.

The members of the court murmur around her, a few making some cursory attempts at comfort— she looks so pathetic, they can’t help it. And of course, her tears are a beautiful thing. A testament to a pearl’s loyalty, to see how deeply struck they are by the loss of their master. Such a pure, simple grief.

Pearl overhears their words, and weeps even harder from guilt.

She is grieving, but not for her master.

Oh, her Plasma had been a good master, as far these things went, she supposes. Pearl had been presented to her as a gift for particular success and valour on the battlefield, and Plasma had been very much honoured by the recognition. She’d treated her well; never beating or hitting her, complimenting her forms. Plasma’s duties as a warrior took her away often, leaving Pearl alone for long stretches. This could be boring and tiresome, true, but it had often left her with a great deal of time to herself, which was more than many pearls could say.

And now Plasma is dead. Shattered. Gone.

And what is to come of her?

Perhaps she’ll be assigned to some public post, as decorative piece of art for Gems to pass by on the street. Maybe she’ll be assigned as a secretary to some busy maintenance centre, filtering their calls. Perhaps there’s another quartz— another plasma, even— considered deserving of recognition, whom she can be awarded to. But even in that hypothetical case, would the quartz accept her? She would be second-hand, her gem placement and colour not matching her new master. Many would prefer to have no pearl at all.

No. No, far more likely that they will decide she is more useful elsewhere. Power is more necessary than frivolity.

She will be Harvested.

So while the courtesans croon about tragedy and loyalty and purity, Pearl cries, and she cries for herself.

Chapter Text

It is quiet.

So quiet. Pearl shivers with it. She wishes she could hear something. The silence is horrible. How long ago was it since she heard the screams, the yells, the fighting? Since it all stopped, so suddenly? She’s not sure. She doesn’t know why the cacophony stopped. Have the attackers been defeated? Have they fled? Or has everyone in the Temple been shattered? Is she next?

Pearl doesn’t know. All she knows is this: no one has come for her. No one has told her what has happened. No one has told her to run.

The last thing anyone told her was not to leave her post, and she’s too terrified to disobey.

Then, suddenly, in the silence, a new sound. Footsteps. Fast. Pearl tenses.

Around the corner comes a charging ruby, who freezes the moment she sees her.

The ruby is clutching something to her chest. Something blue. A gemstone. A sapphire? The ruby looks panicked, desperate, afraid. She’s crying.

There are dozens of rubies stationed at this Temple. But why would any of them be out of formation? Why would any of them look so panicked? Why would any of them be wearing their standardised belt as a headband? Why would any of them not bear the symbol of the Diamond authority? 

A traitor ruby, carrying a sapphire’s stone. Pearl’s heard the rumours; she knows who the two must be. The Hybrid Fusion, defused.

The ruby is looking right at her, pleading.

It’s a preposterous position. It would take only moments for the ruby to burn her to a crisp and crush her form.

But with those moments, Pearl could still scream. Scream for help, sound the alarm, bring every warrior in the Temple down on the rebels’ heads.

Pearl knows what she should do. What any loyal Gem should do.

But instead, she clenches her mouth shut, and closes her eyes.

“Thank you,” the ruby says, voice raspy. The thunderous sound of footsteps as she retreats and escapes down the hall.

When Pearl opens her eyes again, the ruby and her sapphire are gone.

Chapter Text

Pearl does not have a Master.

Well. No. That’s not true. Officially, her Master is Blue Diamond herself. That is only a technicality, however. Pearl has only ever seen her Diamond once, and at a great distance. Blue Diamond feels more like a figure, a concept, one too great and too grand for Pearl to truly comprehend.

No. While Blue Diamond may be her owner, what she serves is the Lunar Sea Spire itself.

Pearl knows that there was a time before the Sea Spire. That she emerged on some far away planet and was warped here only after her training and induction. But Pearl’s memories of those times are dim, obscured as if by mist. All Pearl has ever truly known is the Spire; its rushing water, its graceful architecture, its long, sloping hallways, its beautifully carved statues, its magnificent views.

Pearl’s duties are numerous, and she does them all well. Greet new guests. Accompany them to their chambers. Guide them to wherever they want to go. Answer their questions, if asked. Entertain with holograms, song and dance. When not otherwise occupied, stand at attention in public spaces, in case her service is required.

Her favourite duty, however, is maintenance.

She only gets assigned the duty occasionally, when the Spire is empty enough that the visitors do not actively require her. Then she gets sent down to the tower’s very base, to ensure that it is tidy, clean, and well-looked-after.

Down there, water from the waterfall is always spraying up, and from that water comes life.  It grows so quickly. It’s impressive, actually. Algae, barnacles, crabs— it seems that no sooner has Pearl cleaned it away that it all comes back once more. The barnacles in particular show remarkable tenacity. They hardly seem like organic creatures at all, more like rocks than anything, and they grip onto the surface, refusing to let go. Or, well, not quite refusing; it may take a while, but if Pearl works at them with a scraper, she’ll eventually manage to clean them off. It’s tough but rewarding work.

Pearl always feels a little bad when she tosses their remains over the side off the balcony, into the wild water below, but she likes to think that maybe they’ll be able to regrow down there.

Besides, she could hardly leave them here. She’d be punished for such a mess, foremost. But more than that, it would be such a shame if someone were to come down, and they did not see the base at its best.

Guests rarely come down here. Pearl thinks this a true shame. It’s quiet here. Or— no, not quiet. In fact the roar of the waterfall is so loud that it is almost deafening. But it is peaceful. And perhaps you do not get the same glorious views of the seas and the stars as from the top of the tower, but she herself adores watching the constant cascade of water, every shifting, immense and powerful.

It is calming. The Spire’s guests need calm, more than ever. Tension is growing. Pearl only hears whispers about it, can only guess what it’s about. Gems have become skittish, nervous, constantly looking over their shoulder.

One day a new statue is installed. Carved from delicate blue stone, it depicts a faceless Gem with four arms. A Hybrid Fusion, they call it. Many praise its artistry and elegance, even as others angrily call for its immediate removal. Pearl does what little she can to mediate the situation, and is endlessly relieved when a superior Gem comes to handle the scene, instead sending her down to clean.

Pearl’s scraping away the algae and pondering the strange reactions to the statue, when among the dull roar of water, she heads something new. She pauses, straining to catch it.

It sounds like singing.

“Hello?” she asks, but nobody answers.

She follows the sound, and eventually finds its source. It’s not a Gem at all.

There is a crevice between a pillar and a wall, and tucked inside is an odd brown bundle. Wondering what it could be, and how it got there in the first place, Pearl stands on her tip-toes and peers inside;

A bird, with three white orbs.

The bird squawks and flaps indignantly when it notices her. Pearl jumps back, more out of shock than fear.

Further back, she studies the creature curiously. She’s seen birds flying around, flitting among the water, catching fish, but she’s never been so close. It’s bigger than she would of thought. Its black beak looks quite sharp. She thinks, though, that she might be able to handle it. A pearl is most certainly not a quartz, but they are stronger still than most organic creatures, and faster, so she could most likely dispose of the bird on her own.

But the thing is so angry and furious. A swipe of its beak would hurt, so Pearl is in no hurry to try.

Besides, it seems a shame to kill it. Perhaps it will simply fly away on its own.

It does not.

Sometime later, Pearl returns to find not just one squawking bird, but five. Two large, three small. Carefully looking into the nest (while dodging flying feathers and talons), she finds the shattered remains of the white orbs. This must be what was inside of them. Tinier birds! How queer!

These ones don’t sing nearly as nicely as their parents. And their feathers are very fluffy, their wings oddly small. They are not, Pearl realises, going to fly away.

But she still can’t find it in herself to kill them.

“Oh dear,” she says. She truly, truly hopes nobody else comes down and finds them, or the mess they make.

She gets on with things. She visits the birds as often as she can, between her other duties. Thankfully, it seems no one else has noticed them. Perhaps it simply is because nobody has had the chance to. Less and less guests are visiting the Spire these days. Those who do are very on edge, easily irritated. Pearl catches more rumours— rumours about dissent, rebellion, war.

Pearl supposes she should be worried, but she just can’t feel it within herself to be much bothered. It all seems to far away, so distant. She’s certain that whatever is going on will pass.

For now, it gives her more time to visit the birds.

The little ones are not so little any more. They’ve grown big. They’ve learned how to fly. Pearl watches them sometimes, soaring and dipping through the mist of the waterfall. Eventually, two of them fly away, and never come back. Pearl wonders where they've gone. What they’ve seen.

The others have stayed.

Pearl helps them. She delivers things beneath their crevice, things she thinks they might like. That they might find useful. Scraped moss to line their nest. Squiggly water bugs and dead crabs for them to eat. Little trinkets that guests leave behind, and never come back for. The birds like shiny things, she finds. They’re very much like Gems, in that respect.

Pearl likes the birds. The birds, perhaps, may even like her back.

She takes things from them, too. Little things. Things they won’t miss. Pieces of their eggshells, small and fragile, carefully cleaned and dried. Feathers. The ones they’ve shed. She likes to run her fingers through them, the texture so soft and strange.

She keeps them inside her gemstone, for safekeeping. And when the birds fly away, far past the horizon, to places Pearl will never see, she holds a piece of them inside her always.

Chapter Text

Inside a mighty conference hall, important Gems assemble for an important meeting. Outside, there is a meeting of another sort. A congregation of pearls.

There’s six of them. They’re tight knit, nervous. The entry hall they've been left in is empty, and should be for quite some time. Regardless, they can't help but look over their shoulders, just in case.  They’re tucked in a far corner, partially hidden by pillars, but still they feel hopelessly exposed.

There is a pearl, pale pink. The others look to her, not quite as a leader, but something close to it. They cluster around her, shielding her from sight. She holds out her hand; inside her palm rest her gem, smooth and shiny. Shiny and shining, projecting a bright orb of light. The pink pearl cups her hand protectively around the hologram. It shows the Renegade; face and eyes sharp, spear in hand, bearing an expression of such anger and ferocity that it sends shivers through them all.

It hangs in the air for only a moment, then vanishes; the pearls are left blinking away the afterimage.

“So it’s true,” says one, deep purple.

“Amazing,” breaths another, warm brown in colour.

The bronze one shakes her head. “It can’t be real,” she says. “It’s… it’s just a hologram. Some hopeless conjured fantasy-”

“It is not!” pink replies, indignant.

“I’m not saying you made it up,” bronze placates. Her voice is gentle, but patronising. “I mean another pearl did, galaxies away. Maybe she truly believed it. And now she’s fooled hundreds of others into believing it too.” She shakes her head. “But don’t you see how ludicrous the notion is? A pearl, fighting! We simply aren’t capable…”

“It’s true.”

The statement comes from a pearl dark red in colour, her voice heavy with certainty. Certainty, but not awe or hope. She has withdrawn from the circle, and is instead leaning against the pillar, staring fixedly at a distant wall.

“What makes you think that?” says bronze.

“It’s the only explanation.” Red's gaze flickers to look at them. “What else would have our Masters in such a state?”

A series of uneasy looks pass throughout the other pearls. They know what she means.

Their masters— the other Gems— have been uneasy of late. They are not entirely sure why; more and more pearls are being sent out of meetings, making it harder to overhear such discussions.  But whatever those discussions are, they have felt the reverberations. The rules have become stricter, the penalties harsher. Pearls are being asked to turn out the contents of their gemstones, to ensure they are not carrying contraband. Pearls have been brought in for strict questioning. Pearls have been asked, for the first time ever, to swear oaths of loyalty. Even just knowing the story of the Renegade could be justification for shattering.

And even while pearls are being dismissed from conferences, for fear of what they might hear, less and less are they being left to their own devices, for fear of what they might do, unsupervised. They especially do not want pearls together, communicating. This is the first chance in cycles that any of this planet's pearls have been able to gather in such numbers. 

“So the ‘renegade’ must be real,” red argues. “The Authority knows about her, and about this crystal rebellion. And they’re afraid.”

Pink’s voice is very quiet when she says, “Maybe they should be.”

Everyone’s eyes snap to her in attention.

“Well, they should!” Her voice is a fierce whisper. “We’re not— not just pretty decorations! This Pearl is proof of that!  She has shown us the truth! What’s to stop us from grabbing swords and-!”

Red springs forward, clamping her hand over Pink’s mouth. “Do you want to get us destroyed?

The others are nervous too, shifting and murmuring. They look around the hall. A white pearl, silent so far says, “No one else is here.”

“Do you want to bet on that?” demands red. “Do you want all of us to be shattered, just because she-” she points at the pink, “couldn’t keep her mouth shut?”

Pink casts her eyes downwards. The others bite their lips, or look away. 

Even if there are no other Gems here, there is always the risk that one of these pearls might talk. Might be a spy, might be a traitor. 

“And what has this 'renegade' done for us? What does her sword waving accomplish?” red continues. “Don’t you understand? She doesn’t care about us. She’s found some pretty quartz and some pretty planet, and she’s decided to go off and play soldier, while letting us take the punishment for it! She’s no hero! She’s just a traitor.”

And none of them are quite sure what to say to that.

Chapter Text

It’s not right.

Pearl knows who she is, what she is. She knows her position. This she understands and accepts.

She knows that she is not strong, or smart, or clever. She knows that her knowledge is limited. She knows that her place is to serve in silence. She knows that the strategies and decisions of war fall into the hands of Gems far more capable than herself.

She knows these things, but she also knows this:

What the Diamonds are planning is not right.

War. Pearl knows nothing of war. She is not a soldier; she has never experienced it. She understands it is a terrible thing, but sometimes, an unavoidable one. Gems die, gems are shattered, and this is a tragedy. It is one that the Diamonds, in their wisdom and benevolence, strive to avoid. But where war cannot be prevented, they pay those lost their respect, and give them a second chance to serve their empire in death.

Or they used to.

This is not right.

Pearl has always been silent, always been dutiful. For the first time, she is seized with the desire to speak out. To scream. To shout to the stars, to show them sense, to stop this.

But Pearl is thousands of years old. She knows her who she is, what she is. She knows her position. The Diamonds will not listen to her.

But there are some Gems who will.

It is not right. That has always been her opinion of the Crystal Gems. They are dangerous, violent traitors, whose extremist propaganda threatens to bring the entire Gem Empire crumbling down around them. The disintegration of the caste system, uncontrolled fusions, the end of all order and sense. War might be terrible, but there is no other option, to stop their radical beliefs from spreading.

Their death was the lesser of two evils.

But this? No one, not even the Crystal Gems, deserve this.

She has to warn them.

It is surprisingly simple to slip away. The Diamonds and their cabinets are busy organising the evacuation and preparing the detonation. No one has time to watch a single pearl. Nobody notices her as she runs through the hallways. She almost wishes they did; that someone would catch her, before she does something so foolish.

But she is a pearl, and foolishness seems to be in her nature. She makes it to the nearest Warp Pad uninterrupted. The most difficult thing is fighting through the stream of fleeing Gems, to finally find a moment where it is free for her to use. She clambers onto it, scarcely believing what she's doing. She screws her eyes shuts and thinks, Earth.

There’s a brilliant blue flash through her eyelids. Gravity vanishes, and she floats— only to fall to the ground with sharp suddenness moments later.

Almost immediately, a hoard of desperate Gems shove her away, tossing her to the ground. By the time Pearl has clambered to their feet, the group has already warped away, and another has taken its place. She rushes off, not allowing herself to get affronted.  She too is working within a time limit.

She runs to the nearest terrestrial warp pad. She’s never been to this planet before, let alone  the place she has in mind, but she has overheard reports, seen pictures. She fixes the location in her mind: the Sky Spire. It is a territory notorious for its Crystal Gem encampments.

When she arrives, she can hardly see, it is so dark. This side of the planet is facing away from the sun, and the sky must be filled with clouds, for not even the moon or stars are visible. It is windy— very windy, and Pearl has to fight to remain upright. She thinks that the place must abandoned, and is about to try elsewhere, when in the darkness a voice barks, “Declare yourself!”

The next moment, she feels something very sharp pressing against her back.

“P-pearl,” she stammers. On Homeworld, she would state her Master’s title and cut, but she doubts that will help her very much here.

An orange light flares, and Pearl finds herself staring up into the menacing bulk of a Quartz with an eye gem. The Quartz’s ‘uniform’ is plain, and completely bare of any Diamond insignia. She scowls at her. “You're not one of ours, are you?”

“No,” says Pearl.

“Just defected?” suggests the Gem holding a sword to her back. Pearl thinks she recognises it as the voice of a jade.

“Not— not exactly,” says Pearl. She has no intention on turning her back on Homeworld and her Master. “But— but please! I have important information! Your leader has to know, immediately—“

The quartz laughs. “You must be cracked if you think we’re going to bring you to our leader, just like that.”

“Oh, relax, Tiger Eye,” sighs the jade. “At least let us hear her out. If it’s important, we can report it for Garnet to pass on. What is it, Pearl?”

“You’re all in grave danger. The Diamonds are planning one final, devastating attack.”

‘Tiger Eye’ seems unconvinced, her face curled in a haughty sneer. “Let them try. Homeworld doesn’t have the Gem-power to mount an attack of that magnitude. They’re fleeing the planet, haven’t you heard?”

“Because they have a weapon that will destroy every Gem on the planet instantly!”

Pearl shouts it. Her words pierce through the wind, leaving a heavy silence in their wake.

“What do you mean?” asks the jade. The blade presses more sharply against Pearl’s back, making her shiver. She resists the urge to flee. She would be poofed instantly, and if that happened- if her message never got out- it would be over for all of them.

“It’s a new invention. Experimental. This is intended to be the first full-range test,” she stutters out. “A magical bombardment of the entire planet. It effects gemetic code, mutating it, rendering everyone affected mindless beasts! It’s… it’s…” Pearl chokes, remembering the various reports she’s overheard. “It’s horrible. It isn’t right.”

The jade withdraws the sword. Now there is fear in the quartz’s single eye, though tempered with doubt. “Surely… surely that can’t be true…”

“We can’t risk it,” says the jade, moving finally to look Pearl in the face. Her expression is unreadable in the strange, heavy shadows cast from the light of Tiger Eye’s gem. “You’ll be reporting our commander Garnet. You will tell her everything, and she will know if you are lying. Understand?”

“Yes, yes,” said Pearl, impatient with the rebels’ paranoia. “Let’s just go, already—“

Just then, the clouds part. Instantly.

Through them comes a beam of light of what Pearl first thinks is moonlight.

But no. This planet’s moon shines white. But this light— it’s not just white, but blue and yellow, too. And it’s spreading, growing brighter, greens and pinks and reds spilling out, filling the entire sky, burning through the cloud covers— filling her entire vision—

— there is a pain, a pain, deep in the core of her being—

— she falls to the ground, clutching at the gemstone in her knee—

Through streaming eyes, she sees the two Crystal Gems stumbling, too. Everything is bright, but they are even brighter, their forms glowing, as though they’re regenerating. Looking down, Pearl sees her own form doing the same— it’s—

— it’s flickering, blinking- her fingers are winking out of existence—

Pearl focuses, trying to bring them back, trying to resolve them…. For a moment, she thinks she’s succeeded. But no, those aren’t fingers— they’re sharp, clawed—-

No, no, fingers, she wants fingers….

What are… fingers? She— she can’t quite remember, she just knows— knows they are important—

The jade is spasming, strange bright lumps shooting from her back— the quartz is screaming, the scream becoming a low growl as her forms grows and expanded, her mouth jutting forward— her mouth is filled with teeth, huge and sharp—

No,” Pearl tries to say, but her mouth no longer seems to be working, she no longer seems to even have a mouth.

She convulses into silent screams as corruption courses through her code, her body buckling, her form shifting. Confusion, fear… already, words are slipping away, memories too, and she can’t— she hadn’t— it isn’t— this isn’t right

Pearl’s last conscious thought as Pearl is, I was too late.

Chapter Text

Every Gem is created with a certain degree of knowledge. Basic skills, background information, a base level of competency. They will still need to be trained, of course, but they have enough information about the universe and their role in it that they can immediately begin work on any task that they’re assigned.

As such, when Pearl first emerges and is given her position, she is aware enough to know that it is unusual.

She makes no comment on it, but the Kindergarten Technicians processing her do. “Really?” the first one says. “She’s being given to a morganite?”

“Apparently,” responds the other, as she types away on her computer. “Said she wants an extra pair of hands around the lab.”

“And she couldn’t do better than a pearl?”

Those are the words humming through her head as Pearl warps for the first time, as she’s lead through a twisting labyrinth of sterile white corridors, as she’s finally lead to her post. A plain white door, with a hand-locked keyed to a specific gem signature. She’s allowed inside, and is met with a laboratory. One filled filled with gleaming glass equipment, vials of bubbling liquids, huge computer screens covered in line after line of code and data.

Those are the words burning in her when she first meets her master, Morganite.

Morganite is a head taller than Pearl, though almost as slender. She has long, clever fingers, and a harsh, severe expression. Her clothes are simple and practical, her purple hair short, so as not to catch on anything dangerous. She is a scientist and an inventor, and Pearl is to be her aide.

This is not what pearls are made for. Pearl knows this. But seeing her new post, she realises; she will have to do better than a pearl.

So she watches, and she learns, and she works.

She holds and carries beakers, vials, cylinders, always careful not to spill; the chemicals inside are dangerous and delicate. She measures and pipettes them. She studies mathematics, statistics, gemetic code. She listens to instructions and obeys them carefully. She monitors instruments, records data, notes any changes. She reports everything she finds.

Morganite is not sweet, nor soft. Her voice is clipped, her tone is sharp, and she expects her instructions to be followed to the letter. Morganite is, above all, a professional.

But she is not unkind. She listens to Pearl when she has something to say. And when Pearl does well, she commends her. Sometimes, she even gives Pearl a well-earned smile.

It is a satisfying feeling. Not quite as satisfying as finding the results to a perfectly executed experiment, but satisfying, nonetheless. Perhaps this isn’t the role pearls were made for, but she feels suited for it, nonetheless. She is an excellent aide. Other pearls can dance and relay messages; this Pearl is perfectly satisfied with calculations, data and experiments.

Never did she suspect that she was an experiment herself.

One of Pearl’s main contributions to the laboratory is navigating the computer system. Morganite is many thousands of years older than her, and while this grants a great deal of intelligence and experience, it also means that she’s somewhat slow at adapting the more recent computer operating systems. She can use them, but is far slower and more clumsy at navigating the interface, so for the most part, she’s happy to allow Pearl write and access files.

Morganite is out at a meeting, leaving Pearl to do preliminary research for their next project. It’s something of a mystery, and Pearl only has basic information to work on— something about Kindergarten efficiency. She’s digging deep through the system, trying to find original reports for fact checking. It’s taking a while; many of the older files are poorly organised, and can be difficult to track down.

Then she comes across one which sticks out to her, only because it is unfamiliar. It is not dated. Its naming doesn’t fit any traditional format, and its title offers little explanation as to its subject.

Since there’s nothing that gets a scientist twitching quite like a mystery, Pearl clicks on the file titled ‘Project Adaptation’.

The file’s subtitle is more informative. It says: ‘On the Training of Presumed Sub-Optimal Gem Typings into Unconventional Roles for the Advancement of Gem Society’.

She doesn’t read it aloud, yet the words seem to echo, making some part of her feel dull and hollow. Unable to stop, Pearl reads. She makes her way through the abstract; the background information; the experiment proposal; the outline…

She is about a quarter of the way through the experimental logs when there’s there whoosh of the lab’s automatic door. Pearl stifles a yelp, tries to stand at attention while frantically attempting to tab out at the same time. She’s too slow. A shadow falls over her.

“Ah,” says Morganite. “I see you’ve found ‘Project Adaptation’.”

There’s no use lying.

“Yes,” Pearl says.

“How much did you read?”

“Enough.”

Morganite eyes close. And through the numbness, the horror, the embarrassment, Pearl feels anger rise. She should stay silent, should be quiet— but she can’t, and the words burst out of her. “Is this all I am?” she demands, yells. “Just— just a test? An experiment? 'Sub-Optimal'?” She quotes the proposal; “An assessment into the possibility of adapting pearls to other roles in order to make their production more cost-effective?”

But what else could she be? What else could she have ever been? Pearls aren’t made to work in labs. They are made to dance, and sing, and hold things, and be pretty. Why else would they possibility assign her to a role from so far out of her field, if not as part of some grand experiment?

But she’d never even considered. She’d let herself get deluded into thinking she was something else— an inventor, a scientist, an equal

“Pearl,” Morganite says. “I’m sorry.”

Pearl stops. Tense, faced flushed, she watches as Morganite falls into a seat at the nearest work table. The other Gem runs a hand of her face. “I should have realised you’d discover the truth. I should have told you. But… yes. You’re part of an experiment. An important one.

“There’s an… opinion, among certain groups of Gems. An opinion that the current system— the system of assigning each Gem type to a specific role, and only ever training them in that role— is limiting. That we could accomplish so much more, all of us, if only given the chance.

“I wanted empirical evidence. Irrefutable proof that Gems could learn roles outside their designated purposes. So I proposed a study to test my hypothesis. You’re part of that study.”

Pearl forces her voiced to be detached, clinical, when she asks, “Why a pearl?”

What she means is: why me?

“Practicality, foremost,” says Morganite. “I knew they’d never allow me to use a rare or highly specialised Gem for the test. Pearl duties are seen as non-essential, so they could afford to spare one. Not to mention that although Pearls are coveted, their rarity is artificially constructed. Pearls are, in fact, relatively fast to produce. Part of my proposal argued that, should pearls be proven trainable in other positions, new batches could be produced more quickly and efficiently than Gems of other types. It was a tempting prospect, one that they couldn’t turn down out-of-hand. And..." Morganite begins to say, but then she trails off. 

Pearl narrows her eyes. “And what?”

Morganite sighs, again. The sound is heavy and bitter and wistful. “And there were… stories. Rumours, legends, almost. They say that there was once a Pearl who rose above her station— that she was a warrior, a scientist, and a general. I wanted to see if the results could be replicated.” Morganite droops, as though drained, exhausted. Her holds her head in her hands. “It was foolish.”

Pearl’s anger feels drained. She’s never seen Morganite like this. “It doesn’t seem foolish to me. Replicable results is the foundation of the scientific method.”

Morganite looks up, offers her a wan smile.

“So,” Pearl says, voice trembling a little. “Have the results matched your hypothesis?”

“They have.” Morganite stands, strides towards her, puts a hand on her shoulder. It’s the first time she’s ever touched her. “You’ve performed perfectly, Pearl. You’re intelligent, adaptable, quick thinking. You’ve proven yourself exceptionally capable.”

Pearl’s core burns with pride.

Pride, but something else too. She tries to put a word to the feeling. Joy? Excitement? Curiosity?

Yes, all of that. But also— eagerness.

Pearl’s part of an experiment, yes. But an important experiment, a successful one! Her face splits into a grin. “So— when are you going to report your findings? I know I’m only the first stage of the experiment, I read the report— when are moving onto the next? One is far too small a sample size to prove anything. Can we get more pearls to train? Or perhaps another Gem type entirely— I saw you suggest both rubies and corals—”

“Pearl.” Morganite raises a hand. “There isn’t going to be a next stage in the experiment.”

“But—” Pearl stammers, her momentum gone. “Why not? You have it all planned-”

“Because they’re afraid,” she snarls. “They don’t care about evidence or rationality. They don’t want to see the truth. They don’t want to believe that a Pearl could be smart or capable. Because if that happens, what does that mean for everyone else? There was a rebellion over this, Cycles and Cycles ago. The Diamonds won’t risk another one.

“Haven’t you noticed Pearl?” Morganite asks, suddenly. “How I work in this laboratory, completely alone, except for you? No other morganite dares to associate with me. I don’t blame them. I’m this close to being shattered! This close. Shattered, with you along with me.” She was pacing now, her gem glowing brilliant pink with fury and frustration. “So they’re shutting it done. No continuation, no publicised results. No one’s allowed to know.”

Pearl’s shivering. Shivering.

She doesn’t want to die. She doesn’t want her Morganite to die either.

“What can we do?” she asks.

Morganite stops. Looks at her. “We toe the line.”

Abruptly, Morganite moves towards the door. For a moment, Pearl thinks she’s going to storm out, but she doesn’t. Instead, she picks up a bag. Pearl hadn’t noticed it before, in her anger and frustration, but Morganite must have brought it in with her. “What’s that?” she asks.

“Our last chance,” says Morganite. “I’m a heretic, and the Diamonds would be quite content to kill me. But Morganites are difficult to produce, and I'm useful, so they're willing to let me live as long as I produce results. So they've given me a new assignment with which to prove my loyalty.

 

“Older Gems, it seems, are having difficulty adapting to new technology.” Morganite smiles ruefully, acknowledging her own weakness. “Of course, you've proven that pearls can adapt quite easily, but they refuse to acknowledge that.  No, instead they want me to design an entirely new Gem-type. Intelligent, science-oriented, but not as high ranking as morganites. Technicians. A Gem to manage structures and systems throughout the Empire, able to keep pace with advancing technology. This is the mineral they've chosen for the purpose.”

Throughout the speech, Morganite began to pull five boxes out of the bag and lay them in a neat line across the nearest counter. Now, she lifts the lid off each box one-by-one, to show the mineral samples inside. Pearl inspects them critically. She vaguely recognises them from photographs from a report she read not long ago. If she recalls correctly, they’re from one of the more newly acquired planets, one still early in the colonisation process.

Though all the same mineral, these samples differer drastically in purity and quality. The one at the far right is a large, rough stone, predominantly grey in colour, but with veins of green running through it. The rocks grow steadily greener the further left they’re position. The second-to-last box holds a stone who’s left side is entirely covered in small, green crystals. The final stone is easily the most splendid: about the size of a fist, it glitters in the laboratory lights, a light pure green all the way through.

This is not a Gem. It is just a gemstone, natural, unworked. But it is filled with potential.

Pearl remembers the mineral’s name. “Peridotite.”

Morganite nods.

Already, Pearl's mind is filling with ideas, possibilities. A technician? Well— you’d want them to be cheap to produce, but since their turnover rate would be relatively low, you could afford a longer incubation period. You’d want a smaller Gem, someone who could easily fit into small places.

Then again, it would sometimes be helpful for them to be larger— to carry equipment, to minimize the chance of damage. But maybe— maybe their projected bodies wouldn’t have to be that large? Could there be a way to vary their size post-incubation, without resorting to the energy drain of shapeshifting? Perhaps— perhaps instead they could use robotic enhancements of some sort? 

Yes! Yes, that would be perfect. These are technicians. Build into them the inherent ability to interact smoothly and directly with technology, to the point where they always have personal computers— Maybe they could even use those new, experimental holographic screens—

It’s Morganite’s voice that breaks her out of her wild speculation, draws her back to the present. “Sorry?” says Pearl. “Could you repeat that?”

Morganite’s looks amused. “I said— will you help me with Project Peridot?”

Pearl can’t say ‘yes’ fast enough.

Chapter Text

[The screen flickers to life. It shows a Pearl. The lighting is poor, and the focus slightly off; her already pale complexion seems completely drained of colour. Her expression is sharp, intense, serious.]

Pearl: Hello. I—

[Pearl stutters, and looks offscreen, rattled. She touches the gemstone in her cheek, as though to steady herself. Then she looks forward again and carries on.]

Pearl: You are currently on a Class Z transport vessel, intended to ship you en-mass to the nearest major distribution centre for evaluation and assignment. That will not be happening: I have changed your directory. You are instead headed course for Planet Gamma-Zed-3.

[She raises her hand, as if in anticipation of unheard protestations.]

Pearl: I am sure you are all wondering why I have done this. Simply put: to save your lives. Or a good portion of them.

          The moon you are coming from is the oldest active Pearl Farm in the entire galaxy. Or, it was. As of this Cycle, it has been officially decommissioned. You are the final batch it will ever produce.

          The longer any Kindergarten is used, the less effective it becomes, due to all the necessary minerals and energy being used by the process of Gem production. Eventually, the formation of new Gems simply becomes non-viable, and production ceases. Before that point, however, there are…

[Pearl hesitates.]

Pearl: …complications.

          There are fifty four of you. By current statistics, it is estimated that forty seven percent of any final pearl batch—  that’s twenty-five individuals— will be classified as ‘baroque’. Approximately, a further six of you will have a ‘non-visible defect’. Some perceived flaw in functioning or behaviour.

        Some of you would have been assigned Masters despite your flaws— given to less important Gems, less public posts. Others of you would have had your physical bodies destroyed, and your gemstones subsequently Harvested for energy production. Anyone remaining— anyone deigned completely unsalvageable— would have been shattered.

      This way, none of you of die. And the life you find will, hopefully, be better for all of you.

[She straightens, her expression smoothing into something unreadable. When she speaks again, her voice is faster, more clipped.]

Pearl: After this transmission ends, all communications to and from your shuttle will go offline. I have hacked ship's computer so that automatic shuttle systems will report a sudden increase in temperature, followed by catastrophic loss of pressure. It will be assumed that the vessel suffered some major mechanical malfunction, and was destroyed. It will not be considered a major loss. No one will look for you. No one will notice that your ship is actually unharmed, and is instead headed for a different planet entirely.

      Planet Gamma-Zed-3 is the second planet from this system’s sun. It is small, rocky, possesses an atmosphere composed primarily of carbon dioxide and nitrogen, and a very basic local ecosystem of organic lifeforms. It was very briefly colonised by the Empire, but then abandoned when it was decided that it was too poor in resources for further colonisation to be cost effective. There should be some very rudimentary construction sites, as well as a single Galactic Warp Pad.

     I recommend that you destroy it, first thing, after landing. Do not attempt to use it, or any communication devices you may discover.

     Beyond that, what you do is your own decision.

[In the background there are distant, muffled voices. Pearl starts.]

Pearl: I am running out of time. Tread lightly, and good luck, My Pearls.

[She brings her two hands together, wrists and finger tips touching to form a circle.]

Pearl: Pearl out.

[Static.]

Chapter Text

Any Master will tell you that pearls are not very clever. In fact, they’re so stupid, that they don’t even realise how stupid they truly are. 

The problem is that they are too obedient.

And, of course, obedience is all well and good! Any Master will be quick to add that, with a little laugh. Obedience is what society is built upon. If Gems could not follow the rules and orders of their superiors, where would they be? But the fact of the is that pearls are so simple that they cannot do anything but follow their orders perfectly, to the letter, without using any logic of their own. No individual initiative, no common sense.

Tell them to take care while washing, and next thing you know, they’ll work so slowly and methodically that they’ll take an entire Cycle to clean a single hallway.

Tell them that you would like them to bring you some pictures of a particular planet, and they’ll vanish until they’ve procured a copy of every single satellite photograph ever taken of it.  

Tell them to keep close as you walk, and they’ll stay so close behind you that you’ll keep almost tripping over them.

Tell them to speak softly, and they’ll talk so quietly that they have to repeat a message five times for you to even hear it.

They’re not doing anything wrong, of course. They’re following your orders perfectly. They just can’t help their own simplicity. It’s their natures.

Any pearl will tell you that Masters are overly arrogant. In fact, they’re so foolish, that they don’t even realise when they’re being outwitted.

Chapter Text

Pearl is shaking. Shaking, shaking, shaking.

All around her is rubble. Rubble, and the clogging scent of smoke, so thick she could gag. She wishes to run off, to get away from it, but she can’t.

She takes a trembling step forward. Something cracks underfoot. She looks down. She has not stepped on a stone, or metal, or plastic. It is something shiny, and jagged, and broken.

A gem shard.

Hand shaking, she picks it up. It is orange. A jasper? A topaz? A carnelian? No way of telling, now.

She looks down, through the smoke. There are more shards all around her. Most are orange, too. Others are not.

She wishes she had not regenerated. She wishes she’d stayed inside her gem.

But she has regenerated. So Pearl bends down, and begins picking up the broken shards.

It is not long before her first hand is full, then her second. She holds out her long skirt to create an impromptu kind of bag. She drops each shard into it, as delicately as possible. They clink against each other. As she walks forward, always careful of where she treads, she picks up more—reds, purples, greens, silvers, yellows— shards in every colour imaginable.

Even now, she’s not entirely sure what happened. She had been standing attendance on the main flight deck of the ship. Everything was going smoothly; there had been no turbulence, they were on schedule to reach their destination. Then there had been a shuttering bang; all the lights had gone out. Another bang; everyone had screamed as they’d been thrown sideways. Pearl could remember lying on her side, dazed and disoriented, before something heavy came crashing down on her, and..

When she’d regenerated, she’d found herself wedged in between two crumbled pieces of metal which had once formed the ship’s hull. There’d been barely been any room, even for her thin body. She’d called out for help; nobody had responded. It had taken her a long time to crawl out of the small little gap. When she’d finally managed it, she’d found herself in a complete wreck of a ship, not a single other Gem in sight.

What had happened? She doesn’t know. Maybe a system failure. Maybe a freak collision. Maybe a rebel attack. It doesn’t matter.

How had she managed to survive, when no one else had?

Luck. Pure luck.

She carries on her way, picking up every shard she comes across. She stares at the pile in her skirt. It’s grown disturbingly large.

The rubble and debris becomes more scattered, less common, and finally, she reaches the edge of the crash site. She knows it’s the edge because there’s a blue line on the ground marking it. The line stretches off in two directions. She cannot see it from this vantage point, but Pearl knows that it forms a diamond insignia. It’s the ship’s automatic distress signal, calling for help.

Help. For a moment, she sags with relief.

Then, she snaps back into fear and panic. She stares, wide eyed, at the shards she carries.

She’s heard rumours. Terrible rumours, about what has been happening to shards. About them being pressed together, forced to fuse, to create mindless abominations. To create a weapon. If they find her- if they find the shards-

She runs.

Pearl doesn’t know where she is running to— just away, away from the ship, away from the rescue, away from everything. Eventually, she finds herself at the base of a mountain. There is a crevice. She slips inside of it, and pressing her back against the wall, falls to the ground.

What is she doing? She can’t run away from Homeworld. Not on a planet teeming with murderous rebels. Not with a collection of Gem shards who could reform at any moment, desperate and mindless and violent.

But she can’t just let them be experimented on.

She picks a handful of them up, holds them in cupped hands. “I’m sorry,” she whispers. “I wish— I wish I knew a way to help you, or protect you—“

Her vision is blurry. Her eyes are watering. She squeezes them shut, trying to push back the tears.

When she opens her eyes again, there’s something hovering above her hand. A tiny pink sphere. Pearl blinks, staring at it. Inside are the shards she were holding, floating peacefully.

A bubble. She’s surrounded them with a bubble.

She hadn’t known she could do that. But she isn’t going to question it. Pearl picks up another handful of shards, then another, and another. Each time, she closes her eyes, focuses— focuses on her fear, her sorrow, her desire to protect— and when she opens her eyes, there’s another bubble, holding the shards safe.

By the time she finally finished, her whole form is shivering, slack with exhaustion. She has eleven bubbles. The hang in the air around her, strange floating tombs.

Pearl pulls herself to her feet, and navigates through the sea of spheres, careful not to touch any of them, in case she breaks them. At the cave’s edge, she looks back at them one last time. The crevice is small, tucked away, hidden from the elements. They’ll be safe here. Or as safe as they can be.

Weary and wary, Pearls turns her back on them, and begins the trek back to the crash site to await rescue.

Chapter Text

There was a mirror in Hackmanite’s quarters.

It was tall, and ornate, and beautiful, the frame carved with delicate depictions of stars and planets from galaxies far off. “The mirror’s beautiful,” Hackmanite would always say, “but not nearly as beautiful as what is reflected in it.”

Pearl felt this was something of an overstatement.

Hackmanite loved to admire herself in the mirror. She was a graceful Gem, elegant and curvaceous. She was a scholar, well sought after for her insights and philosophies, always busy attending various functions and debates. She had to look her best, she always said. Much of her personal time spent not writing or researching was spent in front of the mirror, tweaking her physical form to best suit the most popular fashions of the Cycle.

It was silly, Pearl thought. And pointless. Inside Hackmanite was a beautiful purple-pink, but her physical form turned dull grey the moment she stepped into sunlight. Why did she waste her time so? Didn’t she realise the futility of it all?

Pearl never spoke these thoughts aloud, of course. She always said her Master looked lovely.

Pearl knew that she was supposed to care about such things. Knew that this was a domain of a pearl, the only think she was meant to have any skill or insight in. But she really, really didn’t care.

No. No. This wasn’t just a lack of caring. This went beyond indifference. Past apathy, past even just dislike. This was hate.

When Hackamite retreated into the restricted libraries where the oldest tomes of Gem kind were kept, she left Pearl behind in her quarters, because no one as low-ranking as her could ever be allowed in such hallowed and sacred halls. And when she was left alone, Pearl too looked into that mirror. She too reshaped her body. She too admired herself.

But not for her beauty.

She wanted nothing to do with that shallow, superficiality. She wanted something else.

The shapes Pearl twisted her physical form into were not pretty. Not in any traditional sense of the word. First, she had experimented with muscles— making herself tall and huge, giving herself the proportions of a quartz. Pearl had stared into the mirror, and seen a warrior staring back, and she’d loved it, even if the effort had left her wilting with exhaustion after only a short time. She had tried on the shapes of other fighters— onyx, calcite, chalcedony. She relished their strength and their power, but none of them quite seemed to fit.

Then she had gone beyond simply mimicking a different Gem class. She had mixed and matched forms and features. Given herself a short, stubby body, but also slender arms, and a neck long enough to rival Yellow Diamond’s. She’d stretched her nose as long as is could go, then made it droop, like melting wax. Made hair grow and grow and grow, until it covered not just her head, but her entire body. Let her back droop, her perfect posture hunch over and twist. Let her fingers grow gnarled, her face turn lumpy, her legs turn stumpy.

Behave, they had told her. Be quiet, they had told her. Be pretty, they had told her.

Pearl looked into the mirror, and she threw their orders away.

Eventually, Pearl found her favourite form. The one she slipped into, when she was all alone. It was still essentially pearl-shaped, just… distorted. Her nails clawed sharp, her nose more beaky, her ears pointed up, her eyes narrowed. Her teeth bared. Crouched low, ready to jump. A predator.

She longed for the day she could wear it outside, and everyone would see.

Chapter Text

“Come along, pearl.”

Pearl saw herself staring at Chrome Davite and saying, No.

But in reality, she followed meekly along.

“Here, hold this for me.” 

Pearl saw herself taking the proffered scroll, and tearing it into a million little pieces. 

In reality, she took the paper and held it dutifully.

“What do you think of my new form? Tell me honestly. I need to look my best.”

Pearl saw herself spitting in Chrome Davite’s face.

In reality, she murmured reassurances of her Master’s beauty, and politely suggested smaller eyes next time.

Pearl wondered if any other pearl was like her. If any other Gem was, at all. All broken and wrong on the inside, filled with twisting, ugly images of betrayal.

Her traitorous thoughts went beyond petty misdeeds. Those— those she could handle. Keep in check. The ones that make her clench and squirm are far, far worse.

Pearl saw herself screaming obscenities in the middle of a public forum. Pearl saw herself tripping Chrome Davite as she walked past. Pearl saw herself pushing Chrome Davite off a cliff. Pearl saw herself taking Chrome Davite’s inert gemstone and crushing it underfoot. She saw herself laughing as she heard it crack.

Defective. Wrong. Broken. Pearl hated herself, hated these thoughts. One day, they were going to get someone killed.

Most likely herself.

But for now, she kept her face smooth, her voice tempered, and refused to break.

Chapter Text

Triangles and diamonds.

They are everywhere across the Empire. On windows, on archways, on murals, on statues, on clothing. They are the strongest of shapes, and if was possible, every building would be designed with them. It is with great reluctance that the architects acknowledge that this simply is not feasible, however. So while rectangles, squares, prisms and domes are utilised in construction when necessary, the greatest and most important of Temples are always pyramids.

Everywhere, triangles and diamonds.

These symbols remind all Gems of the three most simple, fundamental truths.

The Diamonds Are Strong. The Diamonds Are Powerful. The Diamonds Are Everywhere.

But in recent centuries, a new symbol has begun appearing.

Never big, never grand. Never overtly obvious. Nobody dares wear it in the centre of their chest, or hang it from banners. But it is there, nonetheless, if you know where to look. Tucked into the corner of a fresco. Integrated into a display on a holo-screen. Scratched into the wall of an old access corridor.

Sometimes, when a Gem is idly waiting for a new assignment, you might see them shuffling their feet impatiently— only, upon closer inspection, to see their foot is actually moving in a very deliberate pattern. You may see them trace the shape surreptitiously on their arm when they meet another Gem's eye. When two Gems meet, you may see their fingers flash, quick as anything— hand cupped, wrist and fingers touching.

Among the triangles and the diamonds, now there are circles.

 

Chapter Text

Pearl regenerated to the sound of rushing water.

Senses flooded her newly formed body as Pearl floated down to the ground. She wasn’t where she expected herself to be. She… she wasn’t near the base. She wasn’t sure where she was. Some kind of… Earth wilderness. There were trees, and bushes, and even a river.

The river was close. Very close. In fact, she was standing on its sandy shore itself, the waves practically lapping at her feet. A possibility occurred to her. She reached out and touched at her gemstone, embedded in her elbow. It was wet.

She remembered— she remembered the screams as the rebels attacked— she remembered a Base Evacuation Order— she remembered running, desperate— a fall, tumbling through the darkness— a heavy impact, cold all around—a heavy blow to her head—

Pearl winced. She had an idea of how she got here, now. The Crystal Gems had made a guerrilla strike on the base, and all non-combatant Gems had been forced to flee. As they'd been running to the nearest Warp Pad- across a bridge with no railing- Pearl had slipped and fallen into the water.  Her last body must have been destroyed in the rapids, her gem being carried down river until washing up here.

Where ever ‘here’ was.

“Great,” Pearl muttered. “Just excellent.”

Of course she hadn’t managed to keep up. Of course. No, she’d gone and slipped, and gotten poofed. Wonderful work! Now she had no idea where she was, or where her Master was, or where the rest of the base staff had been relocated, and it could take forever to find out on foot. Her Master would be furious when she found out— the punishment would be terrible, and she’d deserve it, for being so incompetent

Could be worse, she supposed. Her gem could have gotten smashed to pieces in water. She could have been murdered by some mad dissenters.

Small blessings.

Because it occurred to Pearl, that being lost in the middle of no-Gem’s-land, on a Diamond forsaken planet overrun with rebels, being murdered was still very much a possibility.

Swallowing uncomfortably, Pearl looked around, as though expecting some Crystal Gems to leap out from behind a bush. None did. She strained her ears. She couldn’t hear anything aside from the rushing of water and the snuffling of earth creatures in the bush.

“Can’t stand around,” she told herself. She choose a random direction, and started off.

It was immensely unpleasant. Outside the temples and bases, Earth was was rough and wildly unorganised. The ground beneath her feet was uneven and unsteady, and huge rocks kept jutting out of the ground, just waiting to trip her up. An trip her up, they did; the usually graceful and elegant Pearl found herself constantly falling. Once she even fell back into the water. Kicking and spluttering, she fought her way to the shore, terrified of being carried off again.

She lay on the sand, cursing herself, cursing the situation, cursing the entire planet, and then she heard it. A voice.

At first she thought it was just the moaning of some organic animal or other, but then, she caught a word. “He…hello?

Pearl sat up, straining. She didn’t say anything, not yet.

“Hello?” the voice said again, low and feeble. “H— help.”

Someone else was lost too.

Stumbling to her feet, Pearl set off to find the source of the voice. She didn’t have to go far. Only a little ways from the river was its owner, propped up against the base of a tree, half hidden by ferns. For a moment, Pearl thought it was a Gem— a carnelian or a beryl, based on their red colour.

But it wasn’t either. The thing she found may have been Gem-shaped, but it wasn’t a Gem. Its skin wasn’t actually red, but dark brown. It just was simply covered in some dark, red fluid which smelt of rust.

Its face was a grimace of pain.

“Help,” it said again, when it saw her. It barely seemed capable of keeping its eyes open.

“I—“ Pearl said.

This— this must have been one of those earth creatures— the ones the rebels were so obsessed with. Pearl tried to remember what they were called. Hoomins?

This being did bare curious resemblance to Gem-kind. But it was clearly much, much weaker. There was an arrow sticking out of its chest, one which Pearl recognised as regulation equipment supplied to Homeworld archers. The hoomin had not even attempted to remove the arrow from its body, but neither had it poofed. It was just… sitting there, arrow in its chest, as the terrible red liquid seeped out.

It kept sucking air in and out of its gaping mouth. It made a terrible noise, rough and gurgling.

“Help,” it repeated.

“I— I can’t,” Pearl said, because she felt she had to offer some kind of explanation. “I need to get back— my Master is expecting me. And—“

It blinked, slowly. “Please. Water.”

“Water?”

“I ne— I need water.”

Water? Pearl didn’t see what water had to do with anything, but it was a simple enough request. She could spare some time to fulfil it, she supposed. She turned around, and raced to the river. There she filled her cupped hands with water; she had to move quickly to bring it back to the injured hoomin before it all leaked out. Once she arrived back in the grove she stood for an awkward moment, unsure about what it wanted. The hoomin pointed a shaking finger towards its mouth.

Confused but curious, Pearl brought her hands to its mouth. It leaned forward, and sucked the water up into it. Slowly, at first, then faster, desperate.

“Th— thank you,” it managed, one all the water was gone. Pearl was a little taken aback by the courtesy— sometimes her Master couldn’t even managed that much. And then it said, “More.”

So Pearl got more.

She brought three more handfuls of water for the hoomin to drink from. After the fourth, it couldn’t manage any more. It simply slumped backwards, leaving the water in the Gem’s hand. After a moment of deliberation, Pearl slowly let the water drip onto the hoomin’s body. With light fingers she tried to wash away the red. The creature winced, but did not try to stop her. Its skin was very hot. She fetched a fifth handful of water, thinking that it would help cool it down. Besides, there was a lot of red to clean.

A lot. No matter how quickly she wiped it away, there was always more. It just kept leaking out of the wound. Pearl did not know anything about these organic creatures, but this didn’t seem normal. She looked around, wondering if maybe there was a way that she could…plug the hole with some leaves.

“St— stop,” the hoomin said, when she reached for some mulch to do just that. Pants punctuated each syllable. “It- won’t- do- any good.”

Pearl began to straighten, preparing to leave. “Is there anything else I can do, then?’

“Stay- with- me.”

“I can’t,” she said. “I need to find my Master. I have responsibilities and duties to attend to.”

Its eyes closed. “Just- for- a- little while. Please.”

Pearl frowned. Considered. It was not as though she had any idea where she was going, anyway.

She sat back down, besides the hoomin, almost but not quite touching it. She stared forward into the forest, at the brown trees and green grass, listening to the ugly rattle of its breathing. Idly, she began to hum softly, in an attempt to fill the air with something sweeter. No true song, just random notes strung together in a pleasing pattern.

Her singing was why she did not immediately notice when the other sound stopped.

When she did, Pearl found the silence quite startling. She looked at the hoomin. It had not moved. Its eyes were still closed. She said, “Excuse me?”

It didn’t respond.

She came closer. It didn’t stir. She prodded its body with a finger. The red liquid had dried. Its skin was cold.

“Oh,” she said, quietly.

It was dead.

Gently, Pearl pulled the Homeworld arrow from its chest, trying not to disturb the corpse. She left it where it lay, and walked to the river. The water was fast there. She held the arrow out, and dropped it in. She watched get carried away by the rushing water, until it was out of sight. Then she waded in a short distance in, and washed the red off her legs, her torso, her hands.

If her face was wet, it was only from the water.

Chapter Text

It’s like creating art. Making a sculpture, except not out of stone, or clay, or metal, but out of light itself.

Pearl relishes it. Loves shaping the arms, the feet, the torso, the head. Likes getting the positioning of the hair just right. Adjusting the expression into one of blank obedience. Building up its vocabulary, tweaking its tone, until the robotic buzz is almost completely lost beneath the politeness of it. Until Pearl has a holographic replica of herself standing before her, so perfect that it’s like starting into a mirror.

They’re both, after all, built of light. Pearl’s light is just a little harder.

The Holo-Pearl is practically perfect. It does almost everything she can do. Stand still for hours on end. Record and repeat messages. Hold things. Not in her gemstone, of course, since the hologram doesn’t have one, but some limitations simply cannot be overcome.

Her Sapphire cannot tell the difference.

Or perhaps she can. Pearl thinks her Master may have grown suspicious. She has been wary, treading carefully.of late. But what can the Sapphire do? If Sapphire were to reach out, to check with her hand, to feel if the false-Pearl was real, she’d risk touching a Gem of a lower caste. This Sapphire is too old, too proud, to risk such defilement, even in private. And even if she were to act on her suspicion and reported her Pearl’s supposed disobedience, she’d have to explain why, exactly, she hadn’t realised the deception immediately.

It’s a great irony, Pearl thinks. That a Sapphire, a Gem who can see the future with such perfect clarity, sees the present with such dimness.

She’d noticed the way that her Sapphire hesitates. How slowly she moves at time, how she can’t always judge differences correctly, how sometimes she hesitates when greeting a Gem, unable to tell who it is exactly, until she speaks.

A Sapphire who’s practically blind! Defective! Oh, what would happen, if anyone found out?!

In protecting her own secret, Sapphire protects her Pearl’s as well.

Sapphire is scheduled to spend the next five Cycles in her private chambers, in meditation, reflecting on the futures. She is meant to be completely alone, aside from her Pearl, to fulfil any requests that may be required. With the hologram left in Pearl’s place, that true isolation is achieved.

She’s practically doing her Master a favour, Pearl thinks with a smirk.

No one suspects a thing as she quietly slips out of her Master’s quarters. No one looks at her twice as she makes her way through the maze-like corridors. Pearls always have places to be. No one wonders why she may have gone to wait on an isolated balcony, overlooking this planet’s strange, icy landscape.

Pearl lets herself admire the view. She likes this meeting spot much more than the others. It’s more private, for one thing. Less chance of being caught. But she also much prefers looking out at the beautiful blue glaciers than the dull, repetitive architecture of Gem cities, which are all the same across the Empire.

A rare night is falling, this planet’s green sky slowly draining, turning black. Stars, turned shades of purple through the filter of the atmosphere, slowly slide into focus.

Pearl hears a rush of wings behind her, feels a gust of wind blow her hair forward. A cold arm loops around her waist, and she smiles.

“Did you have any trouble getting away, dear?” her Lapis Lazuli asks in her ear.

Pearl leans in, brushing her lips against Lapis’s cheek. “None at all.”

Chapter Text

Pearl does not trust her Master.

She is a Feldspar. An administrator, very high ranking in the courts, involved with diplomacy, organization, and communications. Her main duties are arranging functions, parties, meetings and galas. Pearl’s main function, by extension, is as a waiter at these functions. She delivers messages, gives directions, announces guests’ arrival, assists in any way she can.

During the functions, Feldspar behaves very much like every other Master Pearl has observed. To the guests, she is an excellent host, genial and considerate. To Pearl, she is professional and distant, only speaking to her when issuing instructions or receiving correspondence. Otherwise, she leaves Pearl to her duties, far to busy with her own to pay her any mind.

Or so it seems.

Pearl has caught Feldspar watching her, out of the corner of her eye. Very quick, very subtle, but unmistakable, once she’d started to look out for it.

Other Masters do not do that. Pearl knows. She has watched. When other Gems bring their pearls to serve at various galas, they practically ignore them. (Unless they make some kind of mistake, of course). But not her Master. No, her Master watches her— and she doesn’t want anyone else to know that she does.

That was in public. In private…

In private, Feldspar is always talking to her.

She’ll talk about her duties. About upcoming plans for various functions. About the political effects of the invention of the new clinohumite gem class. About the recent squabbles between the howlites and the turquoises. Pearl listens to it all obediently and patiently.

She is very good at listening. Listening and watching.

When you are not permitted to speak unless spoken to, it is the only things available to do at these functions. And it can be interesting, too. Gems follow patterns, and it is satisfying, learning those patterns, and learning to predict them. Who speaks to who. The power dynamics at play. The inflection and the tones used. The deferences, the praises, the subtle compliments and the snide insults.

An entire hierarchy spreads out before her, from the grandest Diamonds to the lowliest corals. She sees each Gem’s place, how they fit in together.

Feldspar is near the top of the hierarchy. Pearl is near the bottom.

Feldspars do not converse with pearls. Masters do not converse with their servants. Owners do not converse with their trinkets.

But this one does. Pearl does not know how to react to this, so she simply does not.

Until, one Cycle, when they are in Feldspar’s chambers, Feldspar puts down her holo-tablet, looks her servant in the eyes and says, “Pearl, I wish to ask something of you.”

Pearl inclines her head. “I am at my Master’s service.”

Feldspar purses her lips. “No. This is not an order, merely a request.”

Pearl remains silent.

“You are very observant, aren’t you, Pearl?”

“I can be, if you so desire.”

Her Master sighs, although a quick smile dances on her lips. “And quick-witted, too. You always know exactly what to say. Always perfectly polite. A model pearl.”

Again, Pearl says nothing.

“I see you watching. Always listening, always looking. No one ever notices you. No one ever notices a pearl. You’re… background noise. Unimportant.

“It’s not the same with me. I’m a Feldspar. Every Gem knows where I stand, knows the political power granted by my position. They tip toe around me, always watching what they say. They don’t want to slip up, say something wrong. No one knows what I might do with that information.”

This is true. Feldspar is so inviting, so affable, always greeting her guests with bright smiles. Other Gems smile back at her, but those smiles do not reach their eyes. They do not trust Feldspar.

Still silent, Pearl watches her Master from beneath the fringes of her hair.

“You must hear a great deal, don’t you?”

She blinks innocently up at Feldspar. “What are asking, My Feldspar?”

Felspar is not smiling now. Her gaze is sharp and piercing. “I want you to be my informant. To be my ears. Find out what Gems are thinking, what they are saying. Their worries, their fears, their dissatisfactions. The rumours they’ve been hearing.

“It would be dangerous,” she continues, after a moment, raising her hand. “Pearls are mostly ignored, so many would not even notice you. But some Gems might be paranoid, and see through you regardless. If you were caught— if we were caught— then the consequences would be severe.

“So I am not ordering you. I am asking you.”

Pearl does not speak immediately. She thinks.

This is not how things work. Masters do not request, do not ask. They do not give options, or choices.

She could stay silent. Bat her eyelids, play dumb. Feldspar might not fall for the act, but she'd take the hint, and Pearl would avoid any traps her Master may be hiding.

But she is curious.

“…There truly will be no penalty, should I decline?” Pearl says. Emotion— suspicion— enters into her voice, for the first time in her life.

“None.”

Pearl thinks some more. Narrows her eyes. “Then tell me, My Feldspar,” she says, placing the slightest emphasis on the title. “Why should I do this for you, if it is so dangerous?”

Feldspar nods, as if satisfied by this question. A true politician, she answers with one of her own. “Tell me— do the Gems you watch seem happy?”

Pearls considers this question. It is a very odd one. ‘Happiness’ is not something she has ever really considered.

“Some,” she says, eventually. “The higher ranking ones— but only those who are successful. The others are…” She takes a moment to choose the correct word. “Nervous.”

“Skittish,” agrees Feldspar. “Fearful. Cracks are forming in the Empire. Things are going wrong, and everyone’s afraid they will be held responsible, and punished.”

Pearl nods. This is sensible. Only to be expected.

“What would you do, Pearl, if you found a Temple filled with cracks?”

“I would repair it.”

“And what if it could not be repaired? What if the instability was too great?”

Ah. Now she sees. “I would build a new one. A better one.”

“But first,” Felspar says, her voice low now, and breathless, “the old one must be destroyed. And to do that, you need to find those cracks… and chip away at them.”

Pearl holds her hands close to her chest, then closes her eyes. Thinks the proposition over. When she opens them, she looks on the other Gem— the Feldspar, who might not be her Master, after all. A partner, perhaps.

And she says, “Very well. I accept.”

Chapter Text

Pearls dance.

It’s what they do. It’s one of their skills, one of the few things they can truly call theirs.

It’s one of their duties, since time immemorial. And even if the music has been waning in recent centuries— said to be frivolous, wasteful, unnecessary— still the pearls are called upon to dance, for the entertainment and honour of the Diamonds and their most favoured consorts.

Of all the pearl troupes in the Empire, none are more admired than the Starlight Dancers. Only the best, most perfect pearls are admitted to their ranks. There they train, ceaselessly, to perform the most graceful, the most elegant, the most beautiful pieces across all the galaxies.

This is why their newest choreography is considered so… odd.

Still wonderful, of course. Still perfectly performed, fluid and stylish. But the rhythm is different. Faster, heavier. The steps not as light and elegant as usual. There’s a weight to them. The pearls weave in and around each other, but they do not simply twirl and spin. The dancers seem to rotate in wary circles, their backs straight, their arms braced, eyes alert. Not once do they take their eyes off each other. Then, on some musical signal, they lunge. They flip over each other, as if dodging. Their arms strike out, their legs swipe into kicks. Each time, it looks almost as though they’ll hit, make impact, but they never do; always, each pearl moves out of the way just in time, only to strike back with the move of their own. Kicks, punches, lunges, blocks, all to music.

Finally, the performance ends. After a pause, appreciative applause roar from the audience.

Afterwards, one of the pearls— not the troupe’s leader, because she is a pearl, and pearls do not have leaders, but certainly this is the most senior of the Starlight Dances— is asked about it, endlessly, by curious courtesans and diplomats.

“Very different,” they say. Or, “Never seen anything quite like it.” And, “It seemed rather… violent.”

The senior pearl keeps her head bowed. “That was our intention, yes,” she says. “The piece is a tribute to the soldiers who fight for our Diamonds and our Empire.”

“Ah,” the onlookers say. “Very commendable.”

Yes. Simply a dance.

And who, after all, can complain of pearls dancing?

And so, they continue their combat training, undisrupted.

Chapter Text

Being a communal pearl is always a precarious position. Doubly so when the community you’re assigned to is a squadron of Quartzes.

Her duties are the ordinary pearl duties. Keep things clean. Hold items. Fetch items. Flutter eyelashes. Take calls. Hold messages. Call out for maintenance staff whenever something breaks. (Which, around Quartzes, is often).

It’s not always so bad, Pearl thinks. She performs well, and takes pride in that performance. Regular duties are no trouble for her.

The trouble is the Quartzes.

Oh, yes. Brave, strong warriors. Very fine. Very important. And it is quite a sight to see them sparring, granted.

But personally, Pearl prefers not to see them at all. The arena is much more peaceful when they’re off clearing away nuisance organics on far off planets.

It gets a lot louder when once they return. And messier.

There’s a grace period, though. The Quartzes are practically euphoric whenever they return, buoyed up by their success, filled with war stories and tales of their victories. Pearl must admit to rather enjoying their accounts of far-off planets: places with strange atmospheres and geographies, of odd flora and fauna. It must be exciting, visiting new colonies, being part of the effort to build and shape them.

Then the Cycles wear on, and the exuberance wears off. The stories run dry. An restlessness creeps in.

Quartzes are soldiers, and soldiers don’t cope well with boredom.

Pearl is an easy source of entertainment.

They do small, petty things. Ask her to fetch weapons they left on the other side of the arena, then act confused when she brings it to them. Drop something, then immediately make her pick it up, then the moment she hands it to them, dropping it again. Hoot and holler when she passes. Jump at her from around corners, then laugh at her fear and surprise. Thrust weapons into her hands, then ask her to spar, taking pleasure in effortlessly pushing her around and disarming her.

Pearl was created to serve. The Quartzes are her Masters, and it is her duty to serve them  in whichever way the require or desire. If entertainment is what they need, then she must give it to them. But it grates on her, nonetheless. The way they treat her like nothing but a plaything, the way they assume that there’s nothing else she’d prefer to be doing.

And it’s scary, too. To be something so small and weak, surrounded by such strength, knowing they could crush her instantly.

Not all of the Quartzes are like that. Some of them are quite nice. There’s an Aventurine who always goes to her to have her weapons sharpened, because she claims Pearl does it better than anyone else. A Ribbon Jasper who gives her a genuine smile every time they pass by each other. A Blue Quartz who tells her ‘good work’ whenever Pearl finishes cleaning a particularly large mess. They, and others, sometimes try to tell the rest of the Quartzes to lay off her; sometimes it even works.

Little pleasures like that, little reliefs, are some of the only things she has to enjoy, in those times.

It’s been over a dozen Cycles since their last assignment, but the Quartzes haven’t had much of a chance to tease her lately. They’re busy preparing. Not for battle, or an assignment, but for a demonstration. An upcoming visit from a Painite. Not a Diamond, but she might as well be, from the way everyone is fluttering. One of the rarest Gems in existence, part of Yellow Diamond’s inner circle, commander of all of Homeworld’s armies. She will be watching them compete in a tournament to determine the greatest fighters from their entire squadron. The accolades and prestige to be won is incalculable. The training is continuous.

Finally, the Painite arrives. Her entire delegation fills the stands of the arena. Painite herself takes a seat at the Head Box, two of her own pearls standing at her side.  Pearl has a perfect view of her from her own position. Painite holds her head high, looking down on everyone below.

The tournament begins.

Two Quartzes— a Sard and a Citrine— enter the ring. They walk in uneasy circles, weighing each other, looking for an opening. They find it. Suddenly they charge, and throw everything they have at each other. They are a blur, a fury of screams, of pounding feet and grinding rock. It’s extraordinary and it’s terrifying.

Finally, there’s a loud pop, and a cloud of smoke. The Sard is left standing there, the Citrine’s yellow gem in her hand.

The Sard moves onto the next round. And the competition continues.

The conditions are not ideal. Meteorologists had predicted calm, clear skies, but there’s an unexpected cloud cover has come in. Sometimes the fog is so thick that no one, not even Painite, can see the battles raging below. In those times, it seems like pure luck that the contestants manage to hit each other at all.

Other times, the view is perfectly clear. It always seems to be when a certain Aventurine, Ribbon Jasper, and Blue Quartz are up to compete.

The tournament continues on, poor weather or no. One by one, Gems are eliminated. Finally, the last round is reached. Of the Quartzes Pearl cares for, only Aventurine remains. She’s up against a Chryophase— a nasty piece of work. Pure muscle and vengeance and—

— and, well, it’s not Pearl’s place to say. But cruelty.

She has lost count of the times this Chryophase’s jeers and laughter had been the loudest of her tormentors’.

The clash. Aventurine has a mace, Chryophase a club. They’re exhausted from the endless preceding battles. No energy left for strategy, for clever thinking, for tactics. This is pure brawn.

All it will take is one mistake.

Pearls don’t have much in the way of powers. They have a few, meant entirely for improving their functionality as servants. They’re fast, to complete their duties quicker. Their stamina is excellent. They have excellent memories. They’re good at storing items in their Gems. They can project holograms.

This particular pearl has always had something of a talent for particle manipulation. It’s useful for cleaning. With a sweep of her hand, she can gather an entire arena’s worth of dust into a single corner.

(She can also call a thick fog cover for those times when she truly doesn’t wish to be bothered, but that’s neither here nor there.)

There’s been almost fifty full battles since the tournament began. The arena itself has taken a lot of punishment from them all. Pillars have been broken, huge chunks of rocks have been ripped away, statues are laying beheaded and dismembered. There is dust everywhere.

Chryophase seems to be gaining the upper hand. She’s got momentum. At some point, she lost her club, but she hardly needs them. She’s bearing down on Aventurine, punch after punch after punch hitting her squarely in the jaw.

From her own position near the back of the stands, Pearl focuses. Her eyes narrow.

Aventurine’s fallen. Cryophase is above her, holding a huge chunk of marble above her enemy’s head.

Pearl’s fingers twitch. The dust beneath Cryophase’s feet shift. She looses her balance, suddenly. Not enough for her to fall, but enough for her grip to slip, enough for her to hesitate, enough for Aventurine to get out of the way, enough for her to climb to her feet.

The fight is back on. Pearl watches, waiting for the perfect moment.

The two Quartzes are circling each other again, unblinking.

Pearl flicks her hand.

A billow of wind strikes up. Dust hits Chryophase right in the eye. She blinks, moves to wipe it away.

She’s not fast enough. Aventurine strikes. Her club hits the other quartz right in the head. Chryophase’s form dissipates instantly.

A roar goes up from the crowd. Painite stands. Nods at the victor.

Nobody notices Pearl.

It’s small. It’s petty. But it’s something.

Chapter Text

Sometimes Pearl wishes that she was on the planet Earth, truly among her fellow Crystal Gems, fighting the good fight for their freedom.

It’s foolish. She realises that. She wasn’t built to be a warrior, of course, and she doubts that she can be like those other pearls, brave and strong enough to bear arms despite that. She’s not sure that she could withstand the heat of battle, hold her ground even when enemies were rushing at her.

Still. It’s something to think about, to dream about, during her long shifts.

And she has her own duties. Her own way to serve the rebellion. Perhaps not as flashy as the fighters, but just as important, in its own way.

She’s a communication officer.

Alright. Not an officer, exactly. The Crystal Gems don’t really have specific titles like that, and even if she did, she’s so far away from the chain of command that she’s never formally met anyone who could give her that title. But even if her title isn’t ‘communication officer’, that’s still her job.

It’s not the most interesting job, sure. It involves an uncomfortable amount sneaking away from her Master and her ‘true’ duties. It involves a great deal of hiding in a small, cramped room, tucked away in an almost entirely forgotten service corridor, with jury-rigged insulation pressed against the door cracks to ensure no noise accidentally escapes. It involves an awful lot of just sitting there, staring at an Inactive Wailing Stone, waiting for it to… well, activate.

But when it does!

The voices come through, clear and sharp, as if the speakers were right next to her. Different voices, different Gems each time, but always the same greeting: “Proxima Centuri, Proxima Centuri, do you read?”

And always, Pearl makes the same response: “Reading crystal clear!”

She gets laughs at that, sometimes. A pearl, getting laughs from Quartzes and Spinels and Sphenes! That’s just a fraction of the equality that the rebellion offers!

Then it’s down to business. The anonymous Crystal Gem on the other side of the connection is different each time, but always they speak briskly, in a code that Pearl only partially understands, so she has to pay rapt attention to memorise it all. Locations, coordinates, shipment reports, supply requests, secret messages… Pearl takes them all. Some Pearl will send off by her own Wailing Stone, amplifying the signal, sending it to  other stars far beyond this one, spreading the Crystal Gem correspondence throughout the galaxies. Others she’ll write down on stolen scraps of parchment, and deposit in innocuous places— cracks in the walls, beneath vases— or pass along discreetly to other rebel pearls, corals and flints. No one has the full picture. Each of them has different information, and different ways to smuggle it.

At those times, the work is exhausting, terrifying, electrifying, and Pearl relishes every moment of it.

One Cycle she’s on duty, when the Wailing Stone comes to life and she jumps to attention. The rebel’s voice comes through with the familiar words— but something’s wrong, they’re practically spat out, urgent, filled with fear.

“Reading crystal clear,” Pearl answers, her joke coming automatically. “Is something wrong?”

“Yes, yes,” the Gem on the Wailing Stone says, and there are other voices in the distance, screams and growls. “The Diamonds— they’ve done something— bombarded the planet— we can’t—”

She breaks off mid sentence.

“You can’t what?” Pearl asks.

There’s no answer besides some horrible choking sound.

“Can’t what?” Pearl demands.

Still no answer. Pearl grips at the Wailing Stone, adjusts the frequency, increases the voltage, shakes it, yells at it, trying to eke some answer from it.

Eventually, the signal dies.

The signal dies, and it does not come back.

It does not come back that Cycle, or the Cycle after, or the Cycle after that. The Wailing Stones remains utterly silent and inert. Pearl hopes in vain that perhaps messages have come in, only during the times when she wasn’t on duty, picked up by some other nameless rebel who’s identity she can’t know. Pearl does reach out to the handful of contacts she is aware of— the pearls, the corals, and the flints who pass along her messages— but they’re as in the dark as she is.

All anyone knows is that Earth has gone completely silent.

Pearl continues to report to her post. Continues to stand her duty at the inactive Wailing Stone. But it no longer fills her with anticipation or joy. The thrill is gone, replaced with a dull sorrow. She comes less and less often, not as willing to take as many risks, less eager to justify her absences to her Master. Judging by the dust and wear that is building up in the secret store-room, she’s not the only one who’s been coming less frequently.

Cycles and Cycles and Cycles stretch by. Still Pearl comes to the store-room. She wonders if anyone else does. Perhaps they’ve given up. Perhaps they’ve been transferred to other planets and star systems. Perhaps they were found out, and shattered.

Perhaps she’s the last Crystal Gem in the entire empire.

Long, long after the Rebellion was extinguished, Pearl sits in the store-room. The antique old Wailing Stone is just a dark shape besides her. All her attention is focused on her Master’s computer and parchment files, laid out on the bench before her. Everything’s digital these days; no reason to have these old scrolls littering the place, her Master had said. Still, she wants them all catalogued and categorised before they’re disposed of. It’s a tedious, monotonous work. The store-room is as quiet a place as any to do it.

Quiet, until the Wailing Stone starts screeching.

Pearl springs to her feet, files falling haphazardly to the floor. The sound seems to strike right at the core of her gem. For a moment, she’s too surprised to do anything but stare. Then she leaps into action. Tries to connect to the stone, get some sort message from it, but nothing comes through but ugly noise, no matter how she fiddles.

Everything’s digital these Cycles.

The answer comes to her in a flash. She works quickly, attaching her Master’s computer to the the Wailing Stone, having to fiddle with the inputs and outputs— the thing’s so ancient that the two are barely compatible. 

But they are, just barely. The din dies down, and the computer screen fills with a video recording of a Lapis Lazuli, face hunted and desperate. 

Steven! I hope you’re able to hear this. There's a Gem looking for you, she even knew your name. I don't know how! I didn't tell her, I swear! She's on her way to Earth, and she's not alone. Steven, Homeworld is not the way it used to be. Everything here is so advanced! I can't even understand it. There's no way anything on Earth can stand up to it. Please, don't put up a fight, it'll only lead to devastation—'

It’s a message. It’s undoubtably a message. Pearl doesn’t know what it means— doesn’t know who or what this ‘Steven’ is, it must be some codeword—but that hardly matters. What matters is this:

The message was being sent to Earth. It was being sent to Earth, with the expectation that it would be received. With the expectation that Homeworld would be going to Earth. Which means— which means—

Maybe she’s not the last Crystal Gem after all.

A giddy smile spreads across her face. Some old, fierce hope flares in her core. She’s a communication officer, and her duty now is crystal clear.

She needs to make some calls.

Chapter Text

All Gems experience Inspection. This Pearl’s batch was no exception.

The purpose of Inspection was very simple: to ensure quality. An Inspector would go down the line of pearls with a computer, noting down each specimen’s features— her colour, the position of her gemstone, any distinguishing marks. She would take out a pair of callipers, and measure the precise size and diameter of each gemstone. With questioning, sensitive fingers she’d feel out for any bumps or impurities. Seek out any cracks or flaking. She would issue basic instructions— touch your gem, touch your feet, stand on one foot, salute— to check for competence, understanding and obedience.

It was at Inspection that Pearl watched another pearl— one created from the same earth as her, a light blue to her white, standing only a few feet down the line— have her flaw discovered. Had her physical form destroyed with a single strike. Had her Gem swiftly Harvested.

It was at Inspection that Pearl discovered her own flaw.

oOo

It was pure luck that saved Pearl’s defect from being discovered by the Inspector, as well.

It was not an obvious flaw. There was nothing physically wrong with the gem itself, no cracking or peeling. Her hard-light body was beautiful and elegant. There was no issue with her behaviour: Pearl could understand and follow instructions perfectly well. But when she got nervous…

… she glitched. Her entire form would shudder, flicker, fill with static.

It was triggered for the first time when she watched the other pearl get destroyed. Watched her vanish, instantly. Pearl jerked back as though struck. The shock made her body warp and seize.

Then Pearl had realised what was happening to her— realised that she was sparking, that she couldn’t stop, that someone was going to notice, that the other pearl’s fate was going to be her own— it just grew worse and worst, until her vision had blurred, with tears or static or both.

Then she had felt something around her hand. A comforting squeeze.

It was the pearl next to her, her gem a few shades more yellow than her own. She’d reached out, and was holding her hand. Their eyes met. In the other pearl’s gaze was sympathy and fear and something nameless, something comforting. Within a few moments Pearl had calmed enough that her form had settled. By the time the Inspector had reached them, the two pearls were standing upright, hands at their sides, perfectly normal in every way.

Or so it seemed.

oOo

Discovery was a constant anxiety at the back of Pearl’s mind.

A low-level anxiety. It had to be. If she dwelt on it, let it grow, let the fear overwhelm her— that’s when the Glitch would strike, and she’d be reduced to a staticky vision of light. 

Thankfully, the other Pearls of her batch were there to help.

They were all sent to the same place— a Relaxation Retreat on a colony officially designated Gamma-6J, but had the nickname ‘Iridescence’. It was a name well earned. There were few planets as colourful. The ground was vibrant with rich mineral deposits, the shades of the sky were constantly shifting, and through it flew giant winged beasts that shimmered as they flew. High ranking Gems flocked to the place. The Retreat itself had been built beneath a giant waterfall, one which caught the light from the twin suns and created magnificent rainbows. The Pearl batch has been commissioned to staff the complex, all with matching gem placement on the cheek, but coming in every shade it was possible for a pearl to come in.

They were a set of eighty, all together, and this made it very easy for Pearl to disappear among them when necessary. What Gem would notice if a white Pearl had vanished, and a red or purple one now stood in her place? So if something stressful came up— a particularly high ranking delegation visited, or a group of rowdy Quartzes, or something was broken, or a debate about politics became a little too heated— the others would find excuse to pull her away, send her to a quieter part of the complex, while they seamlessly took over her position.

Pearl spent a lot of time being stationed on the balconies overlooking the waterfalls. It was the perfect place to calm herself. The rush of water, the swooping birds, the play of light was all incredibly soothing.

oOo

 

She felt bad about it sometimes. Guilty. She did less work than the rest of the pearls, was put on less risky assignments— every time they took her place in front of some disgruntled diplomat or overly-strict politician, they risked being unfairly punished for something in her place.

“All our punishments are unfair,” said the off-white pearl who’d held her hand through the Inspection.

“You know what I mean,” said Pearl. “I’m putting everyone else in danger—”

The other pearl had laughed at that. Laughed!

She was was always like that. Always so— flippant. In her head, Pearl had taken to calling her Mist. The yellowish white of her gem was the same as the mists that collected around the waterfall's base, when they caught the early daylight. The way those mists moved, too, reminded Pearl of her— always twisting in strange, unexpected ways, everywhere but nowhere at once.

Mist was something of a leader among them, organising shifts, balancing duties. She was the main one who worked to ensure that Pearl was never centre stage, never somewhere that her Glitch could be discovered.

(Sometimes Pearl thought that maybe it should be discovered. That maybe she should turn herself in. That’s what a good Gem was supposed to act. All she was doing now was risking the lives of her fellow pearls.)

“Don’t worry about it,” Mist told her. “If anyone’s in danger, it’s you. But we’ll make sure that’s never a problem.”

oOo

It was a problem, though.

The others couldn’t always protect her. Couldn’t always keep her from the hustle or bustle. Couldn’t always keep her from the loud and snappish clients. Couldn’t always keep her away from her own thoughts, her own fears. 

Pearl found ways to deal with her Glitch.

If she focused on something else— thought about the waterfalls, about dancing, about Mist’s hand in hers— sometimes she could calm herself enough that the static would disappear.

If she cast a hologram over herself, sometimes she could hide behind a full-body mask of light, as long as no one noticed the blue cast to her form.

If she cast a hologram away from herself, sometimes she could distract any onlookers with a pretty light show, long enough to slip away.

In a few particularly desperate moments, times filled with screams and screeches of indignation, Pearl had taken advantage of the chaos to deliberately trip and fall, in the most damaging ways possible, forcing her body to regenerate. She’d get told off for being clumsy, later, but nobody could notice her physical body flickering if she didn’t have one.

She found ways to deal, and ways to survive.

oOo

As it grew dark one Cycle, Pearl stood on an empty balcony, enjoying the light breeze. She heard the soft footfalls of a pearl. She turned, and to her joy, found they belonged to Mist— a joy which evaporated when she saw the overcast look on her face.

“I’m being Transferred,” Mist told her, and something in Pearl froze.

“What? How?”

“I was serving a White Jade earlier. I must have done well, because she took a shining to me, and requested to purchase me.”

“But— surely they wouldn’t sell you. We’re all part of a set!”

Mist shrugged hopelessly. “She’s accomplished, well connected. Must of called in some favours, because it’s official. I’m being shipped off next rotation.”

It felt as though the world is falling away from beneath her. Pearl tried to hide it, tries to smile, or at least look peacefully blank, but she could feel her form faltering.

“What am I going to do?” Mist asked. “She’s— she’s a pilot. No, more than that. She’s a coordinator. She organises all the flight routes in this System, and she wants me to be her assistant!”

“Well— you’re good at organising. You’re better off doing that than serving snooty Gems here—”

“I don’t know the first thing about space ships!”

“Neither does a pearl freshly-incubated pearl,” Pearl said, reasonably. She was staticky, but she ignored it. “You’ll learn quickly. Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll be great. Just— just stay out of trouble, okay?”

“You’re— you’re asking me to stay out of trouble? What— what about you? What’s going to happen to you? You need me to— I’m sorry—”

“Shh. Shh,” Pearl reached out, slipping her hand into the other Pearl’s, and squeezed. “I’ll be fine. The others will look after me, and I can take care of myself. You— you don’t need to worry about me.”

They stepped closer, grips tightening. “I’m going to miss you,” confessed Mist.

“Me too,” said Pearl. She was flickering uncontrollably, but there was no one else to see, and at that moment, she couldn’t bring herself to care.

They held hands, then let go.

And they never saw each other again.

oOo

A good thirty Cycles later, they finally brought in Mist’s replacement. A perfect duplicate. Same gem positioning, same coloration, even the same sort of glint in her eyes. One could almost almost think they were the exact same Gem. There was just one difference.

The new Pearl couldn’t form projections.

At least, not without suffering horrible, striking pains, right to the core of her gem. Pains which left her on the ground, grunting and heaving.

The newcomer was terrified, and not because of the pain. Because of what would happen, if she were discovered. Pearl knew the feeling. Knew the fear.

“Don’t worry,” Pearl told the new one, taking her by the hand. “We’ll make sure that’s never a problem.”

Chapter Text

How were the first pearls made? There are many stories.

The Diamonds, of course, say that the pearls were made in their image, as were all Gems. Each Gem represents some aspect of their Greatness, for no true replica of their brilliance could ever be made. The pearls were a pale imitation of the Diamonds’ grace and the Diamonds’ beauty.

This is a lie, some Gems whisper. But what the truth is, no one is entirely sure.

Some say the first pearls were created in the hearts of dying stars.

Some say the first pearls were created in the seas of some ancient planet, dust and grit pulled together through some unknowable organic process, transformed into something shining and wonderful.

Some say that pearls were the first Gems, the precursors, the ones who built all others.

Others say that the first pearls were moulded, carefully crafted, by a benevolent creator. A creator who’s greatness rivalled even the Diamonds. Nacre, The Mother of Pearl, who loved each of her daughters with the intensity of a supernova, and granted them such elegance and charm that other Gems grew jealous, and struck her down.

Still others say that Nacre is real, but that she is anything but a kind nurturer. That she is wicked, and deceitful, and cares no more for her creations than the Diamonds do, and sold them into slavery.

Some say she is still alive, still tinkering, still creating. Some say that she is still alive, but dormant, in need of awakening. Some say that she will come to save them all.

Some say that the Pearls were the sacred followers of the Lost Diamond, Pink Diamond, and that when she was struck down, so to were the pearls, cast beneath the feet of other Gems.

Some Pearls say that it is their right, their duty, their destiny, to pick themselves up, and return to their rightful place.

There are many stories. Perhaps one of them is even true.

Chapter Text

There are many mediums for art. Stories, song, poetry, painting, dance….

Pearl knows none of these. They’re still around, but they’re tucked away in forgotten corners or reserved exclusively to the elites. She does not have access to them.

The word ‘art’ doesn’t exist on Homeworld. Not anymore. The practice itself exists, but in extremely limited forms. War stories. Hymns of praise. Chants of obedience. Murals of the Diamonds. Dances in their honour.

Pearl’s medium is video.

Officially, it’s her Master’s medium. Ulexite is one of the most distinguished of her kind, her skill and subtly having brought her great commendation, and the position of Chief Media Director for the entire Empire.

Pearl herself has never seen much of that famous skill and subtly. Oh, she supposes her Master must have it— that prowess is what earned her a pearl in the first place— but Ulexite never seems to exercise it anymore. She’s taken well to fame, and enjoys basking in the recognition. So much so, that the actual work which earned her that reputation is now beneath her. The only kind of ‘labour’ she ever sees Ulexite doing is strutting among her underlings, criticising their creations, acting like her every word is a declaration delivered by a Diamond herself.

Pearl’s the only one who does any of the real work.

It had started with small tasks. Ulexite would ask her to find some footage to use in her next project. Or to polish up some pictures for her. Or just clean up this video. Or overlay this audio. Or, or, or. The ors never ended, and now all of it is created by Pearl.

It irritates Pearl. Not the work. Not the praise Ulexite gets for it. Not the way she’s ignored.

What irritates her is that Ulexite was given such an amazing gift— this talent, this position— and she chooses to squander it.

Pearl is not going to make the same mistake.

The videos she makes in Ulexite’s name are showed all across the Empire. At war rallies, at the founding of colonies, at celebrations. They’re played in Kindergartens to newly formed troops, in factories to the Gems working the supply lines, in spaceships to those with nothing else to distract them. She has a direct line to every single Gem in existence.

So she takes her commissions, her orders. She depicts the might of the Diamonds: the monuments made in their image, the cities they’ve built, the planets they’ve seized. She overlays it with honouring hymns, with speeches, with cries of respect and admiration and loyalty from their subjects. She makes the greatest propaganda videos ever constructed.

And then, she sneaks other things in. Hidden messages which can only be caught if someone goes through the video frame by frame. Circles. Stars. Communication. Code.

And sometimes, for just a moment, a Pink Diamond, among the Blue and the Yellow and the White. A reminder.

If one fell, so can the others.

Chapter Text

Blue Diamond has many pressures on her time.

There are reports to read, orders to issue, courtesans to court, politicians to quarrel with, scientists to scheme with. Sometimes she meets with her fellow Diamonds, though in-person councils have become rare. Instead, they rely on holographic conferences, beamed across the stars.

Often Blue Diamond brings her pearl along. Other times she does not bother. A pearl’s purpose is to be pretty and to impress, and Blue Diamond accomplishes both on her own.

So she leaves her pearl alone, and Pearl has meetings of her own to attend.

This Pearl has power by proximity. She is never stopped or detained. Never questioned. She has some degree of freedom. Not enough, of course, never enough. But more than most.

Pearl waits in front of an ancient tapestry depicting Blue Diamond’s might, still and silent. Another Pearl appears down the hall. Pearl doesn’t even shift until the other is standing right in front of her. This one is orange, with large shoulder pads, hair swept to one side to reveal her ear-gem placement. Just as expected.

They nod at each other.

Pearl rarely speaks. She’s gotten out of the practice of it, in the millennia serving at Blue Diamond’s side. And speaking has its downsides. Risks being overheard, being betrayed. She keeps her secrets in silence.

Instead, the gem at Pearl’s breast glows, and a projection appears in front of her face. It says, REPORT.

Planet 46X-JL-6 has begun ST-4 colonisation, the other Pearl responds, with a hologram of her own. Pearl harvesting operations are being mobilised on two of its moons…

And so the report continues. This orange pearl is responsible for most of the information Blue Diamond’s Pearl gets from Yellow Diamond’s court and command centre. (Not all the information, of course, but most). She gives updates on factories, fleets, inventions, resources, scouting. Losses to their causes, but victories, too. The number of new recruits.

They communicate in hologram, their messages appearing only for milliseconds, then vanishing out of existence— too quick for almost any passing Gems to see, let alone comprehend. A necessity, when briefing can only happen in snatched moments. A necessity, when in such danger. A necessity, when hiding in plain sight.

Only after everything else has been addressed does Blue Diamond’s Pearl ask, And what about the Cluster?

No updates.

Pearl’s brow furrows, though the expression is hidden both by her hair and the holographic screen.

How about the rubies?

No response yet.

A fractional pause, as Pearl considers.

She’s been following the case since it first resurfaced. Since Peridot Facet-2F5L Cut-5XG first submitted a flask-robonoid malfunction report after deployment to the planet Earth.

Then, it had just been procedure. Yellow Diamond was growing a geoweapon, and they needed to know about it.

And it was Earth. Even if Pearl had long-since resigned herself to its fate, she couldn’t forget the place where this had all started.

Then another report had come in, smuggled to her with great difficulty and risk by one of her informants. They said that Peridot Facet-2F5L Cut-5XG had made successful contact with the Earth’s alpha-kindergarten, but hadn’t been able to access the fusion experiments. Something had stopped her.

What, exactly, wasn’t known. But Yellow Diamond was doing all that she could to suppress that information, and that alone was enough to pique Pearl’s interest.

Then there’d been a lone Lapis Lazuli. Found flying through space, unregistered. Very tight lipped, but claiming to have only just escaped from Earth— a planet supposedly abandoned millennia ago. She’d only barely been on Homeworld for a handful of Cycles before she’d been taken into custody, for the charge of sending forbidden correspondence and high treason.

Her people hadn’t been able to secure a record of that communication. Or so it had seemed. Then a Pearl— a veteran of the War, almost as old as Blue Diamond’s Pearl herself, stationed at Proxima Centuri— had made contact through old, almost forgotten channels, with a full transcript of the Lazuli’s message. A message, a warning, to Gems unknown on Earth.

The Lazuli and the Peridot had been assigned to a Jasper. A well ranking one. Another Earth War veteran. They’d taken a ship, set off for Earth…

… and never came back.

No updates. No reports. Nothing at all.

Then there had been a sudden black sport in Pearl’s information network. Something had happened, something that Yellow Diamond wanted absolutely no one to know about.

A few Cycles later, Yellow Diamond had sent off a squadron of rubies to the Crystal System. Official duty: retrieve Jasper. Pearl was certain that was just a front.

Pearl had not expected their mission to go quickly. Rubies were hardly the most efficient of Gems, and that Yellow Diamond was using them for this suggested she didn’t much care. Or— and this seemed much more likely— that she wanted it to seem as if she didn’t care. That she couldn’t risk any sign of weakness to the other Diamonds.

And now, Cycles had passed, and the rubies still hadn’t reported. Strange. Telling. Pearl wondered what Yellow Diamond would do next.

Ma’am? the other Pearl asks. How should we proceed?

Behind her bangs, Pearl blinks. A part of her wants to send a scout herself. A small ship to Earth, to see if it's just a jumbled mess of space debris, or somehow, still, something more.

But— but. She does not have legions of spaceships at her command. She does not have supplies to squander. She does not have people she could send, at least not without them being missed, noticed. And she has other things to consider— other schemes, other planets, other Gems, hundreds of them. She can not risk them. Can not allow herself to be swayed by sentimentality.

Continue monitoring the situation, Pearl orders. Her hologram winks out.

The other Pearl does not bow or tilt her head. Just brings her hands to her chest and forms a circle.

Blue Diamond’s Pearl, commander of the New Rebellion, responds in kind.

Chapter Text

Pearl works in the Kindergarten where she was been made.

Not in the Kindergarten, precisely. No one had use for a pearl among the underwater caverns and heavy machinery. Pearl is stationed in the reception, right in the Kindergarten’s epicentre.

She processes everyone who comes through. Technicians, diplomats, assessors, inspectors, maintenance workers…. and newmades, of course. Once newly created Gems have gone through Inspection and are assigned their full identifier, Pearl’s job is to add their profile to the Empire’s intergalactic computer system, along with information on their first assignments.

Those assignments can take time to get issued. It was fast for the common-Gems, who can go anywhere, or those who have been made-to-order for someone specific. But rarer, more specialised Gems are harder to find places for. There is all sorts of bureaucracy. Squabbling and bickering between officials, about which planets need what Gems types most desperately, and in what numbers, and how soon. Sometimes it cane take Cycles to come to a decision.

Until they can finally receive their assignments, Gems wait in the reception centre. It isn't a very big place, and once they’ve finished ‘exploring’ the base, the newmades will inevitably come to Pearl with questions.

Newmades are like that. Fresh out of the dirt, filled with knowledge, yearning for more. Stick them in a single building, deep under the sea, and they’re gonna ask questions. Lots of them. It’s Pearl’s job to answer them.

“Where are we?”

“Planet 64-B-28 of the Atoll System, Iota Kindergarten.”

“What other Gems are made here?”

“Aragonite, coral, pearl, limestone, lapis lazuli, and ammolite are this Kindergarten’s primary exports. There are some quartz deposits present, but they are rare.”

“What else is on this planet?”

“This colony has nine Kindergartens, six arenas, five spires, three research centres…”

And so on. Pearl has heard every question a numbered could think to ask, a hundred times over. How far to the surface? How big is this planet’s sun? How many other planets are there? How many stars are there in the entire universe? How many has the Empire colonized? What are the other colonies like? What’s Homeworld like?

“I am sure Homeworld is wonderful, ma’am.” That’s the answer Pearl always gives to that question, and others like it. She doesn’t know. She’s never even seen the nearest star, let alone Homeworld.

She’s spent her entire existence under this ocean, in this kindergarten. A small portion of it was spent in the water itself, back when she first emerged, but that’s all a blur. She was too new then, her mind too busy processing the new stimuli— new temperatures, sounds, rights, smells, feelings thoughts— to make anything coherent out of it. Pearl’s first clear memory is of being lead to her station in the Kindergarten reception.

That’s where Pearl stays. At her station, behind her desk.

Pearl’s job is to talk to Gems. Most don’t stay long.

The one exception is Granite.

There’s a fair number of granites around. They’re maintenance workers. Big, broad shoulders, with huge hands. They’re designed to lift huge weights and push through rocks, even though now they have special submarines which can do most of the work for them. They keep pathways clear, check for signs of imminent emergences, inspect Injectors for wear… It’s a lot of work, over a huge area, so there’s a good dozen of granites to cover it all. Pearl can always recognise this particular Granite, though. Her gem is on her shoulder, and she’s got some sort of red algae growing on her back. Pearl’s not even sure if Granite knows it’s there.

Granites work almost exclusively in the field, but they have to come in occasionally to file reports. Every time she does, this Granite makes a point of talking to Pearl.

Not asking questions. Just talking. About anything that crosses her mind. Things like, “Currents sure are strong right now.”

Or, “You should have seen the size of the Quartz newmade we fished out. Or I guess you will. Inspection should go fast for a beaut like that.”

Or, “I got jumped by an eel on the way here. Those things are annoying. Can’t hurt you, but they’re twice the size of my sub, and they release this ink that turns the water pitch black. Can’t make out a single thing.”

Pearl never responds, but she let’s the Granite talk. It’s nice to listen, sometimes.

“The water’s been beautiful lately,” Granite remarks, on a particularly slow Cycle. The reception is empty except for the two of them. “Lovely temperature, and the colours…. ah nothing like the sunrises this time of Rotation, y’know?”

And Pearl surprises herself by saying, “I don’t, actually.”

Granite blinks, taken aback, then smiles. “Ah! So you can speak!”

“Of course I can. It’s my job.”

Pearl’s not sure why she’s being so forward— being borderline rude— but there’s no one else around, and it’s not like a granite has much clout, anyway.

Besides, Granite doesn’t seem offended. Just amused. “I meant, talk like an actual Gem, not a computer.” Her smile subsides a little. “What do you mean, you don’t know?’

“I mean, ‘I don’t know’. I never leave this room, you may have noticed.”

"Well, yeah. But what about at your previous posting?”

“I haven’t had a previous posting.”

“What, really?” At Pearl’s stiff nod, Granite shakes her head. "Wow, I’ve worked here for a while, but I’ve been other places too. I was in the Igneous System for awhile before getting transferred out here. Served at Kindergartens Gamma through to Iota now…” Her voice turns wistful. “This is a real pretty planet. Used to be, at least.”

“I’m sure,” says Pearl.

Granite watches her for a moment. Then says, “Want go see?”

“What?”

“Want to go see?” Granite repeats.

“We can’t leave the Kindergarten!”

“Oh, we wouldn’t go far, obviously,” says Granite. “I’d just give you a quick tour in my submarine. Show you around.”

“I…” Pearl is momentarily speechless. She recovers. “Don’t be stupid. I’ve got to stay here!”

“Why? Nobody else has. All the newmades have been shipped off, and all our superiors are up on the surface, attending some sort of Diamond broadcast. Why not slip out?”

“Because if I get caught I’ll be shattered.”

“You won’t be caught.” Granite waved a hand. “And if you are, I’ll make up some excuse. Say I found something weird and wanted someone to take notes for me.”

There’s still a million reasons why it’s a bad idea. A million ways this could go wrong. A million ways she could be punished.

But for some reason, Pearl says, “Yes.”

It happens quickly. One moment she’s standing at her post, the next she’s in the loading bay, being ushered into Granite’s submarine. Its cockpit  is small and cramped, clearly not designed for two. It feels so close and crowded that Pearl wants to bail, but she preservers long enough for the submarine to going soaring out into the sea.

“Open your eyes,” Granite says.

Pearl hadn’t even realised she’d closed them.

Slowly, she cracks them back open. Looks around. All around her is glass. All around her is water. All around her is sea.

Pearl is silent in the face of it all. Granite talks and talks and talks. Points out canyons and crevices, gives their names, talks of them like they’re old friends. Recognises each emergent hole, and knows straight off what kind of Gem came from them. Talks about sediments and currents and water pressure.

Pearl’s most enraptured by the organisms. The strange animals which swim away from the submarine as it approaches. Those creatures never came close enough to the reception for Pearl to see, but in the outer reaches of Kindergarten they’re everywhere. So many colours, so many shapes. They don’t have arms, or legs— some don’t even have heads. Pearl has no idea how or if they’re even capable of seeing or hearing. But Granite has nicknames for stories for each of them, and is happy to share.

“You know about coral, right?” asks Granite.

“Of course,” says Pearl. She’s lost count of the number of corals this Kindergarten has produced.

“This is where they come from.”

The submarine rises over a ridge, and pearl gasps. It’s a field of colour. Huge bulbs growing straight up from the rocky floor, pinks, yellows, blues, reds, even oranges the same shade as her own gem.  Small, quick creatures swim among the growths. Coral, pre-fertilisation and incubation. Strange, that such dull gems could come from such beauty.

And above… above is the surface. A bright, rippling veil, like the gauze on her dress, but a million times more magnificent.

Granite follows her gaze, grins and pilots the submarine upwards. They breach through the water with a splash. Granite throws open a hatch in the roof and pushes Pearl up. Pearl is startled by the sudden physical contact, but not as startled as she is by the sheer scope of the horizon.

Pearl takes a deep breath, just because she can. The air is different here. Warmer, fresher, sharper, sweeter. The light is brighter too. Pearl has to squint through it.

Granite’s stretching, stretching her arms up to the pink sky. Pearl stares at the sight, and then says, “Do you know you have something on your back?”

“What?”

“This… red algae stuff,” says Pearl. “I could remove it, if you like?”

She offers a hand, hesitant. 

Granite cranes her head over her shoulder to try and see for herself. She laughs when she succeeds, prodding at the growth. “Well I’ll be! How long has that been there? No, no,” she waves Pearl’s hand away. “If it’s been clinging to me that long, it deserves to stay.”

Then Granite throws herself off the side of the craft and into the sea. Pearl flinches as the water splashes her.

“Come on!” Granite urges.

“No!” says Pearl. (It’s the first time she’s ever said it.)

“Why not?”

“I’ll sink!”

“You won’t! And if you do, I’ll catch you!”

It takes some more encouragement, but eventually Pearl relents. She slips off the side of the boat. The water is cool. Her dress billows up around her. She doesn’t sink.

Granite takes her by the hand. Shows her how to kick, and paddle, and adjust the density of her physical form so she can be as buoyant as she wants. It takes a little while, but soon Pearl is swimming all by herself, ducking her head in and out of the water, feeling like one of those giant ink eels herself.

“You’re a regular Lapis Lazuli!” Granite says.

Pearl laughs, and splashes at her. The two sink into helpless giggles, and for a while, at least, forget the weight of responsibilities waiting for them beneath the waves.

Chapter Text

An open, airy temple. A breeze blows off the ammonia ocean, ruffling the gauzy curtain. The sky is a pristine, perfect emerald green

“Lovely planet,” one Emerald comments. The other Gems laugh.

“Very fetching,” agrees another Emerald.

They’re not all emeralds. There’s a Prehnite among the group, and two variscites. Such mixed company is always somewhat awkward, especially during such intimate gatherings, but unfortunately, sometimes unavoidable. Everyone’s wearing bright, brittle smiles.

Emeralds are scholars. So are variscites, but of a different sort. Emeralds concern themselves with practical issues— questions of trade routes, of colony planning and expansion, of construction, and resource management. Variscites, meanwhile, are philosophers: their kind seek to answer the kind of questions which, depending on your point of view, are either the truly the most important, or truly the most trivial. What is on the other side of a black hole? How many dimensions are there? How old is the universe? How did it form? Will it ever end? Are there universes beyond this one?

Abstract and useless, in the Emeralds’ private opinions. But the Variscite’s are well regarded, their ideas important, and the Emeralds must ensure that none of their plans contradict the official doctrines.

Prehnite, meanwhile, is just an informant. A glorified database. She knows all the latest facts and figures, and can recite them promptly.

The groups discussion moves on from jokes and courtesies to business. Plans, procedures, processes. How to improve upon the current warp pad repair cycle, how and where to install the most recent models, how to address the recent warp-drive failures on Roaming Eye ships…

The green sky grows darker as the planet’s sun sinks below the horizon. It’s getting late, and everyone is tiring.

One Emerald stretches. She asks, “Have any of you had much of a chance to explore this planet yet?”

Prehnite had, of course— data collection is her job. The Variscites speak of how they’ve spent Cycles in quite contemplation on some far flung island, not moving from beyond its shore. The Emeralds were a mixed bag— some have had a chance to see the planet, but others have just been too busy to get out of their quarters.

“Obviously our work is important,” says an Emerald, her gem in her chin. “But I need a chance to relax. I can feel my productivity decreasing.”

“Oh, I know just the thing,” says another Emerald, her gemstone just a twinkle at the corner of her eye. She snaps a finger. Her pearl appears at her side immediately. She tells her, “Fetch the balm. Enough for all of us.”

The pearl bows her head and disappears behind a curtain.

“Bomb?” asks a varscite, a degree of alarm entering her measured voice.

“Oh, not the explosive kind.” Eye-Emerald waves a hand. “It’s the most interesting thing. This sort of paste. You take these white growths from the ocean, mash them up, and it becomes a kind of cream.”

“Whatever for?” asks a third Emerald.

“Oh, to rub on yourself. I know it sounds odd, but trust me, the sensation is quite lovely. Your skin becomes as smooth as a newmade. The scent is quite exquisite, as well.”

On cue, the pearl returns, accompanies by three other pearls, all in varying shades of green. Each carries a small pot in their outstretched hands, filled with a thick white paste. Each pearl goes to stand before their Master.

The pots get passed around, to sample both the scent and the paste itself. The Prehnite isn’t offered any, being too low-ranking for such a thing. The varscites, meanwhile, swear off such personal luxuries, citing it as an indulgence of the base senses. Each of the Emerald, however, tries a sample from their personal pearl… each Emerald except one.

“Oh dear, I forgot,” says Chin-Emerald, when she realises. “You had to get rid of yours, didn’t you?”

“Yes.” The pearl-less Emerald, whose gem is hidden behind her thigh, sighs.

“Whatever for?” asks the fourth emerald, her gem in the forehead. As she speaks, her pearl offers out the balm. Forehead-Emerald nods at her tentatively, giving permission for the pearl to spread the paste onto her shoulders. “Oh! That is nice.”

Thigh-Emerald sighs again. “Hadn’t you heard? She was put down!”

Forehead-Emerald gasps. The other emeralds nod in sympathy, while the Prehnite and the varsities lean in, curious. “What happened?”

“It was terrible,” tuts Chin-Emerald, as her pearl rubs the lotion onto her arm. “Just terrible!”

“She just snapped,” says Thigh-Emerald. “I’d noticed she’d been acting a little strange a couple Cycles beforehand— skittish, forgetful, that kind of thing. I just assumed—”

“That she’d gotten herself worked up about something?” says Nose-Emerald. Pearls were notoriously high strung, after all. `

“Yes, exactly,” says Thing-Emerald. “But I sent her off on some errands, and she didn’t come back. A Quartz patrol found her wandering in an off-limit area.”

“Maybe she got lost?” suggests Prehnite.

“That’s what the Amethyst guard thought. But when they called out to her, she just ran off. The Quartzes chased after her, of course, lead her into a corner— and then she freaked out! Went savage. Acted like some organic animal. She’d gotten ahold of some rocks, started throwing them at the guards— hit  the Amethyst in the head and poofed her!”

There are gasps all around.

“Really? A pearl did that?” says one of the varscites.

“Must’ve been taken by surprise,” says Forehead-Emerald.

“I suppose,” says Chin-Emerald. “But even then— not much of a Quartz if she can be taken down by a pearl.”

Thigh-Emerald shakes her head. “They brought the pearl back to me. I tried to get an explanation out of her, but she refused to speak.”

“Cracked. On the inside,” says a Varscite. She was met with sad murmurs of agreement.

“What could I do?” asks Thigh-Emerald. “She wasn’t safe to be around. Couldn’t even Harvest her— what if she malfunctioned? Had to be shattered.”

“No alternative,” agrees the other Emeralds, in unison.

“Still, it’s a real shame,” says Forehead-Emerald. “She was a pretty thing. Much shinier than mine.”

“New model,” says Chin. “Nice to look at, but it makes you wonder how they’re being built, if they break down so easily.” She turns to her own pearl. “A little more on my back,” she orders. The pearl complies, rubbing the balm between her Master’s shoulder blades.

“At least she was still in warranty. Free replacement,” says Thigh-Emerald. “They are taking their time with it, though.”

“Well, you know the current resource issues,” says Prehnite.

Everyone but the pearls nod sagely.

“In the meantime, you’re quite free to borrow mine,” says Nose-Emerald.

“Oh! How generous,” says Thigh-Emerald. “But no, I’ll make do for now. There’s a bit of fun in the challenge, to be honest.”

“They all laugh. The conversation carries on. In time, the balm gets put away. The pearls stand off to the side, and wait. Stoic, silent, speechless.

Chapter Text

No matter where in the galaxies Pearl goes, the factories are all the same.

Details differ. The size, the materials, the product. But otherwise, they’re all identical. Same layout. Same low ceilings. Same huge announcement screens. Same background machine drone. Same background smell of ozone. Same strict gaze from the supervisors. Same assembly lines. Same dull expressions on the workers’ faces. Same same same same.

Labradorite, her Master, is an assessor. She travels from factory to factory, assessing and evaluating their efficiency.

Pearl is her assistant.

Labradorite is grateful for her help— as grateful as a Master ever is for her pearl. Her job is a busy one, filled with endless series of quality testing, interviews, and spreadsheets. She needs someone to keep track of it all.

Whenever Labradorite arrives at a new factory and takes stock of the product, Pearl is behind her, double checking the numbers.

Whenever Labradorite seizes stock to test their performance, Pearl’s the one who actually runs the tests.

Whenever Labradorite finds non-functional product, Pearl is the one who disposes of it.

Whenever Labradorite writes official reports— records of efficiency, suggestions for improvements, notes on which workers have been underperforming and should be replaced— Pearl is the one who looks over the reports, edits them, and submits them.

“It’s disgraceful,” Labradorite rants one Cycle, as the pair boards yet another planetary shuttle. “The state some of these places are in… No quality control, mismanagement everywhere, look as though they haven’t been upgraded since Era One… If it wasn’t for us Labradorites, they’d have fallen to pieces ages ago.”

“Yes, my Master,” Pearl agrees placidly.

“Bring up the numbers for our next assignment. It’s a two-Cycle flight, we might as well get started.”

“Yes, my Master,” Pearl says, bringing up a projection.

Perhaps there’s a reason production rates have been falling.

Perhaps there’s a reason defective products are becoming more common.

Perhaps there’s a reason incompetence is so rife.

Perhaps occasionally Labradorite should bother to look over the reports herself.

Perhaps she should wonder how, exactly, her Pearl disposes of all the broken technology they test.

Perhaps there’s a reason that Pearl has a pocket-dimension in her gem filled with ‘non-functional’ products.

And perhaps there’s a cause out there looking for a steady supply of communication ear-pieces, limb-enhancers, destabilisers, escape pods and light cannons.

Chapter Text

Everyone joins the Crystal Gems for their own reasons, and no two reasons are ever exactly the same. But while there may be many different incentives and motivations, the histories behind them are never happy. Listener knows that better than anyone.

Listener. That’s what they call her. The name (title? duty?) still feels strange to her, but there’s not much alternative. There are many pearls in the rebellion, but there is only one Pearl, and unless Listener has become Rose Quartz’s right hand Gem without noticing, it’s not her.

Listener isn’t like Pearl, dashing and daring and dangerous. She can’t ride into battle, sword swinging, take a blow without flinching and mow down a field of enemies.

She isn’t like the newly recruited Black Pearl, either, who loathes fighting, but can work for Cycles and Cycles without ever stopping. Who never seems to forget a number, who can run endless calculations in her head, and who can work out exactly what equipment they need to staff an ever growing army.

She’s not even like Camouflage, the strange and distant Pearl who slipped away from Homeworld only a few Rotations ago, and who’s eyes never quite seem focused. That hardly matters, though, because she can fall up a thick fog in seconds and arrange the most spectacular of ambushes.

This Pearl can’t do any of that. But she can listen.

It had all started one night when the Pearl had heard some sniffling coming from the back of the camp. Curious, she had had followed the sound until it had lead to an Onyx. She’d been crying, and ashamed of her tears. She’d tried to stop when she’d noticed the Pearl had been there. It hadn’t worked, and the Pearl had sat with her and let the Onyx cry until she was ready to speak. And then the Onyx had shared about her past. How her squad had been sent after a group of rebels, and come back empty handed. How for their failure, Blue Diamond had had ordered them all shattered. How Onyx had been the only one to get away. How with nowhere else to go, she’d gone running to her enemies. How she could still hear her fellow Onyx’s screams, how their terror and her own guilt still haunted her.

And the Pearl had listened, and held the Onyx’s quivering shoulders, and told her she wasn’t to blame.

Next had been a Coral, screaming her throat raw, punching the wall until she was bruised and shaking. The Pearl had asked her what was wrong. Immediately the Coral had fallen to the ground, shivering. Said she’d been scared, scared her whole life, and that was why she’d left Homeworld and come to the Crystal Gems. Said that she was still scared, scared to fight, scared of being shattered, scared of dying.

And the Pearl had listened, and said that she was scared too. And she’d told her that she was sure that Rose Quartz wouldn’t make the Coral fight if she didn’t want to, and that she’d heal her if she got hurt.

Then there had been a Nephrite, sitting in a grassy green field, pulling petals off of a flower. When the Pearl had casually asked what she was doing, the Nephrite had scowled and said she was imagining ripping off enemies’ heads.

It’s what she did in battle, the Nephrite had admitted. The Pearl had said that was only to be expected. But Nephrite had said that she imagined it all the time, even when she wasn’t fighting. That she enjoyed it. That she looked forward to it. That she was afraid of hurting someone, someone who didn’t deserve it.

The Pearl had winced, and Nephrite had flinched, afraid of a condemnation she had been sure was coming. But Pearl hadn’t condemned, hadn’t ran away. She’d said that the fact that Nephrite was so worried meant that she probably wouldn’t make that kind of mistake. That she could fix it if she did. Pearl had said that if Nephrite ever needed to let off steam, Bismuth held daily sparring sessions whenever she wasn’t busy with building or battle.

After that, Gems had started seeking the Pearl out on their own. Those worried or scared or confused. Their friends would notice, and they’d say, There’s someone you can talk to. Someone who’ll listen. Someone who’ll help.

The Pearl called Listener couldn’t always help. But she tries, and sometimes, she can, even if only in little ways.

She’s there for the new ones. The ones new from Homeworld, their fears still fresh. She’s there for the old ones, with a millennia of sorrow on their shoulders.

She’s there for the ones who cry, and the ones who can’t. For the ones who scream, and for the ones who are silent.

She’s there for the ones who replay old battles and traumas in their minds, again and again. She’s there for the ones who are just trying to forget. She’s there for the ones who begin to care for specific Earth animals and humans, and feel the grief keenly when they inevitably die. She’s there for the ones who’ve seen friends shattered in battle. She’s there for the ones who’ve fused, and who aren’t quite sure who they are on their own anymore. She’s there for the ones who’ve lost, and who fear being lost. She’s there for the ones whose internal hurts have become so great that they try to relieve them through physical pain, through cutting and scratching, sometimes so severe that they need to regenerate.

Sometimes, if they’ve all agreed, Listener points Gems in the directions of others who feel similar. Gems who can more than just listen, who can share and talk and understand. She thinks that helps, too.

When a Crystal Gem is injured, cracked, and no one else is there, she holds their hand (or whatever body part is still present), and stays with them until the healing is finished.

When their forms are destroyed, and no one else can stay, the Pearl does. She stays, and waits, and when they regenerate, she compliments their new bodies.

She’s there, and sometimes, that’s all that’s needed.

Chapter Text

There’s a confidence that comes from knowing exactly who and what you are. A sense of purpose, a sense of certainty.

Pearl is new. New, and bright, and shiny. She is well-crafted, beautiful and lovely.

Pearl meets her Master. A Spodumene. Surely the most wonderful of spodumenes in the cosmos. With her arched nose, her delicate lips, her clever eyes. Pearl was made to serve this Gem, and she would not have it any other way.

Pearl’s duties are small, but they are important. They are part of the design. Every Gem has a purpose, and those purposes come together to build something bigger, to create a greater whole, the whole upon which all of the Empire rests.

So Pearl finds joy in every one of her tasks. Every recording she makes, every errand she runs, every message she takes, every floor she cleans— they are all important.

And nothing is as important as when she makes her Master smile. Nothing is as wonderful as when she laughs or compliments, and fills Pearl’s core with the most fluttering of feelings.

And then Pearl finds the paper.

That must be what it is. Pearl’s never seen paper before— nobody makes it any more, and she didn’t even know it still existed— but what else could it be? It was in the back of an old storage room she’d been seen to clean and organise, tucked between two crates at the very back. It’s a yellowing beige, flat and thin and brittle. It’s covered in writing— not the neat, regular text from computer screens, but a sprawling, spindly script that’s difficult to decipher.

But it might be important, so Pearl leans in close and does her best.

To the Pearl reading this:

Because you must be a Pearl. No one else ever gets sent back to the storerooms. That’s why I’ll leave this here, where you and you alone are likely to find it.

I’m a Pearl too. Or I was. By the time you’re reading this, I’m almost certainly dead. Or Harvested. Either way, I’m gone.

You must learn quickly, or you’ll meet the same end.

You’ll be new. You’ll be pretty and delicate and Spodumene will fawn over you. That will end.  Your novelty will wear off. You’ll get older and duller. She’ll see new models in the catalogues and at other Gems’ sides. She’ll lose interest.

Pearl’s lip curls in a snarl, aghast and disgusted at such words, but she cannot stop reading.

You’ll be discarded. You’ll be replaced.

Don’t be like me. Don’t be a fool. Don’t wait around.

Get out.

Pearl’s fingers are trembling. But the message is not finished yet. There’s still a little more written at the very bottom of the page.

And if by chance the one reading this is not a pearl, but my Master Spodumene herself:

Go die in a black hole.

The paper tumbles from her hands, and Pearl hastens to pick it back up. She doesn’t want to touch such vile lies again, but she can’t leave it on the floor, out in the open, where anyone could read it. She could put it back where she found it, but no. She would feel it there, each and every time she was sent back here.

So instead, Pearl rips the brittle paper into pieces, and drops each piece into the disposal cart parked near the storeroom doors. She takes satisfaction in every tear. Later, a coral will come take the cart away, and whatever remains of that terrible treachery will be incinerated along with the rest of the garbage.

Pearl tells herself this, and returns to her duties. She places a smile back on her face, and resolves to think of nothing but her beloved Master’s orders.

But her certainty has been shaken.

Chapter Text

By Order of The Diamond Authority, these New Laws come into Action Immediately. Failure to Comply will result in Punishment to be Decided by the High Court, up to and including Imprisonment, Harvesting and Shattering.

  • All new proposed interplanetary travel must be submitted to Direct Supervisors for Review and Approval. Travel Permits must be presented at all Galaxy Warps and Travel ports. Travel without Proper Permits is forbidden.

  • All new proposed Inter-Gem Model Congregations and Projects must be submitted to Direct Supervisors for Review and Approval. Mixed Congregations meeting without Proper Permits is forbidden.

  • Pearls are not to be left unattended for any period surpassing a Quarter Cycle. Any pearl found absent for any period surpassing this length must be immediately reported to Authorities, and upon Retrieval, submitted for Questioning.

  • Pearls are not to congregate in groups surpassing three individuals without direct Supervision.

  • Any defacement of Public Property with Inflammatory or Sacrilegious Symbols is to be immediately Reported to the nearest Quartz Squadron for Investigation.

  • Any Gem found bearing a circular symbol on their form or property is to be immediately Reported to the nearest Quartz Squadron for Investigation.

  • Any Gem acting erratically or suspiciously must be immediately Reported to the nearest Quartz Squadron for Investigation.

We thank you for your Diligence and your Loyalty.

Glory to the Diamonds!

Chapter Text

It began with a little bit of blackmail.

The Pearl slipped into the Bismuth’s workshop, same as she did every five Cycles, all curtsies, polite smiles and averted eyes. Bismuth had waved her in off-handedly, pulling out a tablet to record the usual recited order Pearl relayed for her Master. There was a fancy new Star Spire being built, and there was a constant need for new chairs, benches, railings and light fixtures to furnish it with.

Pearl listed off her Master’s commissions, then said, “Oh, one more thing.”

“What’s that then?” Bismuth asked, a titch impatiently. She was a busy Gem and wanted to get started on her work.

“You will tell me a way to get out of White Diamond’s Sedimentary System Base undetected.”

Bismuth laughed, huge and hearty. “And why would I tell you that, little one?”

“Because of this.”

The Pearl held her arm, exposing the gem embedded in her wrist, and conjured a small hologram. Small, but more than enough. Bismuth froze at the sight of it.

It was an image of her. An image of her, holding another Gem in her arms.

Tch tch tch,“ the Pearl said. “A Bismuth, consorting with a Pumice? How unprofessional! And a Pumice who’d been scheduled for Harvesting, at that. She disappeared, didn’t she? Authorities never were able to find her. Strange, that.”

“How did you get this?” Bismuth demanded.

“That hardly matters.”

Bismuth grabbed a hammer from the nearest anvil, and towered over the tiny Pearl. “I could shatter you right here.”

The Pearl didn’t even blink. “You could,” she agreed. “But my Master knows where I am. And don’t assume I’m without other friends. Ones who know the same things I do.”

The Bismuth gripped her hammer tight. The Pearl had her, and knew it. Somehow she had a recording— a recording of something that had happened dozens of Cycles ago, in private, when she had been certain no one was looking…. For the Pearl to have that, then surely she had some dangerous connections.

So Bismuth went over and dug out her old files, the one from before everything had gone digital, when building plans had still been drawn out on parchment. She hadn’t touched any of it in millennia, but it was still there, all perfectly ordered. She found her original plan for the White Diamond Sedimentary System base, its paper yellow but otherwise well preserved. It presented a perfectly clear layout of every room, every door, every corridor, big and small. Bismuth had held it to her chest, and eyed the Pearl wearily. She knew very well what could be done with this information. But there was no getting out of it.

Finally, she showed it to the Pearl, if only for a moment. Pearl didn’t need any longer. The blackmailer scanned over it once, then nodded, having committed it to perfect pearl memory.

“Now leave me alone,” the Bismuth snarled.

The pearl just smiled sweetly, and said demurely, “Pleasure doing business with you.”

She’d flounced gracefully out of the workshop.

And after that, the Pearl left Bismuth alone, for a little while, at least. There were still regular meetings on her Master’s behalf, but Pearl acted as if nothing strange had ever happened. Again she was nothing but curtsies, polite smiles and averted eyes.

But then, after seven of those tense meetings, the Pearl finally said, “I need a way to get into L46-97J’s moon base.”

And Bismuth gave the information.

Next: “A map of the support tunnels of the Terraforming Hub on Radiance System Planet C6J-27R.”

And Bismuth gave the information.

And after that, “Entrances and exits to the Triple Star Cluster’s Spaceship Hangar.”

And Bismuth, still with no choice, gave the information.

Once the Pearl was safely gone, the Bismuth wiped her brow with a rag, and headed into the back of the workshop. Here behind the old forge the walls and floor was caked with coal. The dust was so thick that someone would see the trapdoor tracks unless they knew to look for it. Bismuth did. She dug her fingers in at just the right place, then gently, carefully opened the door up. She slipped inside and closed the door above her head.

Pumice looked up as she entered, putting down the knife she was carving. She grinned.

“How was work today?”

“The Pearl was back again.”

“Ah,” said Pumice. Her grin faded.

“Wish she’d leave me alone,” Bismuth grumbled, as she took a seat besides the other Gem. She rested her head on the wall and closed her eyes. “I don’t know what she and her ‘friends’ are doing, but I don’t appreciate her dragging me into it. Dragging us into it.”

Pumice leaned into Bismuth, wrapping her small grey hand around Bismuth muscular arm. “She’s helping others find shelter, same as me.”

“I don’t care about other Gems. I care about you."  Pumice smiled, and snuggled closer. Bismuth didn't snuggle back. She was too tense. "What if the Authorities track her down, and she send them right too us?"

Pumice didn't have an answer to that. So the pair just clung to each other in silence. 

“Wouldn’t it be nice though,” Pumice began eventually, “if I could get out of this hiding place? Stretch my legs? Walk around out there, with you? Maybe whatever this Pearl is doing will help that happen.”

The Bismuth sighed. “There’s a nice thought.”

Chapter Text

The moment Pearl regenerated, she was met with pain.

Immediately, somebody grabbed her, strong hands around her thin neck. Twisted it around; it was all she could do not to yelp. She tried to see who it was, but it was dark, there was no light, her new eyes hadn’t adjusted yet to see. They dropped her, heavily. She landed in a stone cold seat. She felt metal bindings spring up, locking her arms and legs in place. She struggled, but could not move, just as she had known she wouldn’t.

In the darkness, a voice said, “Are you Achroite Facet-24g9k Cut-12rp’s pearl?”

Pearl did not answer.

Again, the voice said, “Are you Achroite Facet-24g9k Cut-12rp’s pearl?”

The voice was angry now. “Tell me. Are you the pearl which belongs to Achroite Facet-24g9k Cut-12rp?”

“I belong to no one.”

Something moved behind her. She could feel the other Gem right besides her, huge and hulking, smelling sharp and chemical. “Don’t give me that shale. Tell me: Are you Achroite Facet-24g9k Cut-12rp’s pearl?”

Pearl turned her head as much as she could, to try and look where she estimated her interrogator’s eyes to be. “You know who I am.”

“Yes.” Pearl felt the other Gem step away. “A traitor.”

Despite everything, Pearl smiled.

“Or rather,” the interrogator continued. Pearl wondered what kind of Gem she was; she’d never been very good with voices. A moldavite, perhaps? “A little pearl, playing at being traitor. But that ends today. For you, and your fellow conspirators.”

Pearl said nothing.

“How many are there?”

Pearl said nothing.

How many are there?”

Pearl said nothing.

The interrogator growled in frustration. “Give me their identities.”

Pearl said nothing. The interrogator repeated the question several more times— still, she did not answer. Neither did she answer the next question asked, nor the next.

“Fine then,” the interrogator grumbled. Pearl heard heavy footsteps retreating away. “I will make you tell me, then.

“It’s a shame, having to do this to such a pretty thing.” More bindings sprung up, holding Pearl’s neck, her head, even fingers, in place. The background fear she’d been pushing down welled up, suddenly threatening to overwhelm her. Again, she kicked and fought at her bindings, trying to escape. “If you tell us quickly, maybe I’ll stop before I mar your good looks permanently.”

Perhaps some dim light had been lit behind her, or perhaps her eyes had finally begun adjusting to the darkness. Regardless, Pearl could see better now. She saw the blade flash in the interrogator’s hand a moment before it bit into her shoulder’s flesh.

Pearl bit back a scream. This wasn’t so bad. Wasn’t so bad. It was just a shallow cut, just shallow, not so bad—

“How many traitors are there?”

Pearl said nothing.

Another cut, on the other side of her neck. Then down the length of her forearms. Then, on the soles of her feet. Pearl tried to kick, but she couldn’t, she couldn’t.

The interrogator was good at her job. She knew exactly how to maximise the pain, without forcing her prisoner’s body to dissolve.

“I can make this stop,” she crooned in Pearl’s ears. “Just give me the answers I need, and the pain will stop. We'll let you regenerate, even find you a nice home-”

Pearl said nothing. If she opened her mouth, she would scream.

Hands wrapped around one of her fingers. Held it tight— then snap.

Pearl screamed.

Time passed. There was pain. Pain pain pain. There were orders, demands. Pearl screamed, her throat raw. She tried not to say anything, didn’t think she said anything. Didn’t think she answered. Didn’t think she gave away her fellows, her friends—

She must not have, because finally, the interrogator said, “Clods like you deserve to be shattered.”

(Pearl wished she could be shattered, if that would make this pain stop).

“But that’s not an option. Unfortunately,” the unseen Gem said. “Because we still need information from you. I could crack your Gem, but that might leave your mind too broken to answer.” Pearl still couldn’t seen the interrogator’s face, but she could hear the smile in her voice. “So we’ll need to go slower.”

She dangled something in front of her eyes. It took Pearl a while to focus. It was… paper?

Rough paper. Sand paper. An antique, from the time before great factories and production lines, used to polish sculptures and weapons—

— and—

Oh.

Understanding dropped onto Pearl with a crushing weight. She clenched her eyes shut. She did not see when when the interrogator gripped her gemstone, placed the sand paper against its smooth surface, and began to rub.

Pearl bit down. Hard. Right through her tongue. Now, she could scream, but she would not speak. She would not.

They did not own her.

Chapter Text

Pearl had never been as good as the other pearls.

It wasn’t that she was defective. At least, not in any real way. Her gem wasn’t misshapen, she was well behaved, she always tried her best. There weren’t any obvious failures in her functioning. She just… wasn’t as good.

She tried to be as polite as she was meant to be, but she always slipped up. Let some emotion show on her face, forgot the correct addresses, got her words all confused and jumbled up. And she wasn’t as quick as the others. She didn’t learn the dances as swiftly, needed more time to memorise the patterns. She was slower with her chores, more methodical. Every time she realised her mistakes she’d panic— she’d dig herself deeper, or trip up, or make a mess, or say the wrong words, or—

She just always made it worse.

Finally, she made one mistake too many. Dropped a beautiful glass sculpture that her Master had commissioned, new and gleaming. She’d tripped, and the glass had gone flying, right into the group of Gems who’d assembled to admire it.

She barely even heard the Gems yells of pain and horror as the glass hit them. She barely even noticed her Master screaming at her, slapping her. It was all too overwhelming. The shock. The embarrassment. The horror.

The relief.

At least it was all over. No more worrying now. Finally she’d be Harvested and put to good use. She’d never been any good as a pearl— maybe she’d work better as a power source. At least she wouldn’t be able to make any other mistakes.

Which why she was surprised— and alarmed— when instead of being shipped to the Central Harvesting Centre for processing, she was instead sent to a lab and presented to a Morganite.

Pearl had never seen a morganite up close before. The scientist-Gem was tall, her features sharp, her expression detached. Under her gaze, Pearl felt examined, scrutinised, evaluated.

“You have been sent here,” Morganite said, slowly, “because you have failed to adequately support the Glorious Gem Empire which created you.”

Pearl bowed her head in shame.

“But,” continued Morganite. “You have been granted a chance to redeem yourself. Tell me: are you willing to do anything in service of the Diamonds?”

“Yes,” Pearl said, without hesitation.

Something akin to approval appeared on Morganite’s face. “Good.” She waved a hand, and an open door appeared next to Pearl. “Go inside and wait.”

Pearl did as she was told.

The chamber she had been brought too was odd. It was large— very large. It utterly dwarfed the tiny Pearl. But it was not some beautiful or grand Temple, as most spaces of this size were. It seemed to have no purpose at all, as far as Pearl could tell. It was shaped like a box. A plain, simple box. There were no decorations, no furniture, no equipment, nothing. The walls and floor were completely bare. All of it was plain, pure white, aside from one wall, which was grey, and shinier in texture.

She was still trying to determine what the room’s purpose was, and why she had been taken there, when at last, the door in the wall reappeared. It opened, and in came a Quartz. A Prase, more specifically, judging from the green of her skin, striped with shades of darker green which matched her hair.

The Prase looked much like any quartz. Large, muscular. But there was something about her that seemed different to Pearl. It took a moment for her to place what. The Prase’s expression. Most quartz warriors were proud, boisterous, revelling in some battle past or yet to come. Not this quartz. She was just… blank.

The door closed.  A moment later, Morganite’s voice echoed through the chamber from an unseen source. “Prase facet-9g4k cut-3ac,” she said, voice calm and clinical. “Pearl. Fusion Trial, session 1. Begin.”

Silence.

“Pardon?” Pearl said.

“Fusion trial,” said the unseen Morganite. “You two are required to fuse.”

More silence. Pearl looked at Prase for confirmation. She expected to see matching confusion and bewilderment on her face, but there was nothing.

“But—” said Pearl.

“Follow your orders,” Morganite’s voice demanded. “Fuse.”

Pearl’s mouth snapped shut. She’d always messed up her orders before. This was her last chance.

But this was different. All the other times, she’d simply been slow or clumsy or misunderstood.

This time, she simply could not comprehend what had been asked of her.

Again, she looked at Prase for some kind of reaction— an acknowledgement of the sheer absurdity of the order. But still her face was oddly blank. Prase said, “Gems of the same type must touch to fuse.”

But we’re not of the same type,” Pearl wanted to say, but she managed to clamp down on the urge and said nothing. Prase turned to face her more fully, then held her hands out, palms up. Pearl glanced around the huge chamber, as if expecting something or someone to appear, to tell her that she’d misunderstood, of course she wasn’t being asked to initiate physical contact with a Quartz warrior! That she certainly wasn’t being told to fuse with one.

But no such thing came. No admonishment, no warning. Pearl looked at the waiting Prase’s face. Still emotionless, Prase nodded at her.

Pearl reached out and laid her own hands on top of the Prase’s.

It was the first time she’d ever made physical contact with another Gem, aside from the times her Master had struck her. The sensation was strange. She’d expected Prase’s hands to be as hard as stone, yet they were surprisingly soft, despite the callouses.

So caught up was she in analysing the feeling that Pearl didn’t immediately realise that no fusion had occurred. When she did, she blinked up at Prase, who stared calmly back.

“Try again,” Morganite ordered over the inter-com.

“How—” Pearl began, before she could stop herself.

“Perhaps we should come closer,” Prase suggested, her voice unexpectedly gentle.

So they went closer. Pearl allowed Prase to pull her in, until eventually she was pressed right against the Quartz’s chest, her arms wrapped around her wide hips. Nothing happened. No light, no merging, no fusing.

But of course there wasn’t! Gems of different types couldn’t fuse!

… could they?

“Trial end.” Morganite’s voice echoed through the chamber once more; now there was a distinct annoyance in her otherwise professional tone. “Results: failure. Trial Two scheduled in one half-Cycle.”

With that, Prase stepped back a little. Pearl let go, and the two broke apart. They stood there, waiting for the next trial.

oOo

Morganite came and went according to some unknowable schedule. Pearl couldn’t tell if there was a pattern to it or not, since there was no way to measuring time in the featureless room. Morganite would come. Morganite would order them to fuse. Pearl and Prase would awkwardly stand in each other’s grasp. Nothing would happen. Morganite would pronounce the trail as a failure. Pearl and Prase would wait.

There was a lot of waiting.

Prase filled the time by sitting in the middle of the room with her eyes closed. She never moved or spoke.

At first, Pearl had tried to stand at attention, as was proper for a pearl. But there was just so much time to fill, and she’d never been very good at that. She began pacing. Walking around the entire room, again and again. As she paced, her mind churned. Why had she been brought here? What was the point of this useless exercise? Could two Gems of the different types even fuse? Would that hurt? Why would anyone even want such a fusion?

She must have spoken that last question aloud, because someone answered it. “Because of the rebellion.”

Pearl jumped and looked around. Prase hadn’t moved or even opened her eyes, but she’d spoken. “Pardon?”

“You asked why they’d want a fusion between two different Gem types,” said Prase. “Because of the rebellion.”

Pearl blushed deep purple for letting her private thoughts slip out. But there was no point dwelling on it. “What rebellion?”

At last, Prase opened her eyes and raised an eyebrow, the first sign of emotion she’d yet displayed. “You don’t know.”

Pearl fought to keep her face blank. “No.”

“Oh. I suppose we are quite far away. Perhaps news has not travelled here yet. There is an ongoing rebellion.”

Pearl considered this information. It was quite hard to believe. She could not see how or why Gems would ever do such a thing. “And what does that have to do with fusion?”

Prase glanced at the grey wall. Then she motioned for Pearl to come closer. Pearl stopped a respectful distance away, but Prase motioned her closer still. She hesitated for a moment, but they’d already touched repeatedly; surely such propriety hardly mattered any more. Pearl came very close indeed, until she was almost half-buried in the Quartz’s thick green mane.

In a voice which was barely a whisper, Prase said, “Because fusions are the rebellion’s greatest weapons.”

oOo

In between the various trials, Pearl got more of an explanation of Prase. The warrior knew a lot about the rebellion. Where it was being fought, by who, why, and how. She spoke about things like propaganda, and ‘humans’, and hybrid fusions, and light canons, and summoned weapons…

It all seemed incredibly distant to Pearl. Even when Prase told about how the rebel forces were growing stronger Cycle by Cycle, with Homeworld fearing that it might spread past the planet designated ‘Earth’, Pearl had trouble imagining it. Small scale skirmishes, being fought on a single tiny planet, galaxies away… It seemed to have no impact on her.

But it was having an impact, Pearl had to remind herself. Homeworld wanted an inter-Gem fusion of their own, and they’d selected her to be part of it.

(Why they’d want a pearl at all for such a thing— let alone one like her, clumsy and confused— was beyond her. She knew it wasn’t her place to question her superiors, but she was questioning).

After yet another Failed Trial, Pearl was huddled up in Prase’s lap, the other Gem’s long hair falling around her like a shroud. “What will happen to us if we fail?”

Prase didn’t answer. She didn’t need to. They both already knew the answer.

oOo

“This isn’t working,” Prase said, the next time Morganite came.

“What?” said the Morganite, affronted.

“This isn’t working,” Prase repeated. “We don’t have enough information. If you want this to succeed, then you need to get us some.”

Morganite said nothing. The silence was horrible. It took all of Pearl’s self-restraint not to start quivering. That kind of insolence— that kind of disrespect— it could only mean punishment—

But maybe there’d been enough authority in Prase’s voice, or maybe Morganite was just desperate enough, because when she did speak, it was only to say, “Very well.”

oOo

An unknown amount of time passed— and then the entire grey wall lit up.

Pearl jumped up, startled, then relaxed when she realised the wall had become a screen, and was playing some kind of recording. It was depicting a strange landscape… a dark grey sky filled with clouds and smoke, a huge field filled with Gems of all kinds, almost all of them carrying weapons, regardless of type or rank. Some were just holding them, others practicing, others sharpening or cleaning them. 

And there was something odd about these Gems. Something was missing. Something so constant that it actually took Pearl a moment for Pearl to realise what that something was.

They weren’t wearing any diamonds.

Prase had gone still. Even more still than usual.

“The rebels,” she breathed.

The view shifted, the recording device (be it camera or Gem) moving suddenly. When the image came back into focus, it had settled on a Gem who was truly breathtaking in her beauty. A magnificent specimen of a Quartz, tall and muscular, her hair luscious and pink. She wasn’t in the usual practical suits or armour of a warrior, but rather a long white dress. She was still armed, however, a massive pink sword hanging from her waist.

The Quartz was so captivating that Pearl didn’t immediately register the smaller figure at her side. The thing that did make her notice this other Pearl was the recognition that she too was armed, holding a spear.

“Prase,” Pearl whispered. “The pearl, Prase—”

“Shhh,” Prase hissed. “Watch.

Pearl watched. She watched as the Pearl dispelled her spear with a wave of her hand. She watched as the Pearl turned to the Quartz. She watched as the Quartz smiled at the Pearl, and took her by the hands. She watched as they began a slow waltz, which grew faster and faster, until it was a sort of frantic spinning, the Quartz pulled the Pearl up to her face— the two pressed their lips against one another— the two glowed, too bright to see—

They watched as the fusion formed. Someone bigger than even a Quartz. Someone with two gems, and huge white hair, and pink skin and four eyes. They watched as that fusion pulled the the pink sword from its scabbard, and smiled a very sharp smile.

“What was that?” Pearl whispered.

Prase’s voice was hoarse. “That was Rainbow Quartz.”

oOo

Under the Morganite’s invisible eye, they tried to fuse again using the technique used to form Rainbow Quartz. The same steps, the same spinning, the same pulling and—

— nothing.

The Morganite’s voice was taut with frustration as she announced yet another failure.

“I’ve never danced before,” Prase said, once it seemed Morganite was gone. “You’ll need to teach me.”

“I’m not a very good dancer,” Pearl confessed.

“Better than me,” said Prase, and that was true enough. Pearls were made to dance.

So Pearl began to teach Prase the steps, the rhythm, the beat, the pattern, showed her how one movement could flow into the next. And if she wasn’t as fast as the other Pearls, perhaps that was all the better for the teaching.

oOo

Morganite came again, and her voice was brittle. All of them knew this couldn’t go on much longer.

“I’m scared,” Pearl whispered.

“Me too,” Prase answered.

And they started to dance.

They kept their eyes locked on each other, focusing intensely on every move— the exact placement of their feet, the way their fingers clasper around each other, the number of steps from wall to wall as they moved in lazy circles. But after a while, the tension faded away. They’d been practicing a lot, and in this, at least, the two Gems were sure of what they were doing— sure at least that they were together in this, that if nothing else, the other one was there—

— and then, quite suddenly, there wasn’t two, but one.

oOo

The new body was strange.

It was tall, and long, and muscular. It wore something that wasn’t a jumpsuit and wasn’t a gauzy dress, but something that was a bit of both. Its skin wasn’t deep blue or striped green, but a light, shiny blue that shimmered with a dozen other shades every time it… they… she… moved.

The fusion blinked, and there were four eyes to blink with. Two at the front of her head, two at the back.

Prase facet-9g4k cut-3ac. Pearl. Fusion trial, session 14. Success.”

The fusion came apart. Prase and Pearl fell onto their backs, and scrambled up, staring at each other, wide-eyed.

oOo

Results were worth nothing if they weren’t replicable.

So more trials were arranged. Each time the pair would dance, and the pair would fuse.

The second time she was created, the fusion learned how to stand. The third time, she learned how to walk all around the chamber without even stumbling. The fourth time, she practically ran around the place, jumping and twirling with a giddiness she couldn’t remember her components ever feeling.

That was the moment that the fusion realised her name was Aqua Aura Quartz.

oOo

For the first time since Prase had been brought there, the door to the chamber opened. Morganite was there, and at her side was an Amethyst.

“Hold out your hands,” Morganite ordered.

Pearl and Prase looked at each other, and complied.

The Amethyst came and slapped a bracelet onto a wrist of each of them. They closed with a snap. It was real metal, Pearl realised, a luxury only ever given to the highest ranking of Gems.

But she saw the scowl on Prase’s face, and realised this wasn’t a gift. This was a restraint.

They were taken out of the holding room they’d been kept in so long, through the long corridors, and out to a practice range, one hidden behind a very tall wall. There were obstacles to jump over, ropes to duck under, a deep pool of mud to wave through, and targets to hit. Pearl shrunk a little at the sight. It was very intimidating.

But to Aqua Aura Quartz, it wasn’t intimidating at all.

Part of that came from Prase, who was a Quartz solider and well acquainted to such training drills. Part of it came from Pearl, who despite her relative slowness, still had a pearl’s agility. And part of it came from Aqua Aura herself, who found it all seemed rather small for her.

She stepped over the obstacles in a single jump. She didn’t both going under the ropes, but went through them. The deep mud pit barely came up to her knees.

She probably could have destroyed each target with a single punch, but the Amethyst guard pointed to a weapons display, and Aqua Aura felt it was best to oblige. These weapons, at least, weren’t small. These were the massive, hulking weapons designed for fusions.

Like me, Aqua Aura Quartz thought with a shiver.

But none of the weapons seemed right. They were the wrong colour, for starters— which maybe was a bit superficial, Aqua thought, but nonetheless. They came in red for carnelians and rubies, purples for amethysts, greens for chryophrases and prases, yellows for citrines. There were even blues, but those were for agates, and that colour was too deep, too solid, to match Aqua Aura’s shimmering skin.

And they were still small. Not ridiculously tiny, but just… a little awkward to hold. Aqua’s hand was just differently shaped, a little too long and a little too slender.

And none of them felt right, either. Aqua Aura stared at the array of swords, whips, spears, maces, and not a single one felt attractive. Eventually she settled on a battle axe, since that was what Prase always favoured in battle. Aqua Aura knew how to use it, but she didn’t feel comfortable about it.

But comfort or not, that didn’t stop her completely demolishing every single target in instants.

With her back pair of eyes, she saw Morganite smile in satisfaction— and even the Amethyst looked impressed.

oOo

Aqua Aura Quartz found that she actually really enjoyed running the obstacle courses. Really liked it.

She spent the rest of her time— fused or separated— stuck in the plain white room. The courses they set up for her— each more complicated and difficult than the last— were new, exciting, challenging. She relished them, relished the chance to run, to take pride in her new body, to push it to the limits, to feel strengths she never had before.

The fifth ‘test run’ Morganite arranged for her was truly designed to push those strengths. It wasn’t just static dummies she was up again— but an entire pontoon of living armour, armed with swords, powered by the shards of elite warriors. Aqua Aura’s fingers gripped the handle of her axe in anticipation— and at Morganite’s signal, she ran in.

It was wonderful. Combat flowing like dance, dance with the confidence of combat— just her, all of her, against the empty armour—

— and then suddenly, the armour was gone. Standing in its place was a Gem.

Not any Gem- a fusion. Someone tall, towering, as large as Aqua Aura Quartz. Someone with two gems, and huge white hair, and pink skin and four eyes. One set of those eyes were grim, the others were glittering. There was a smile on her lips, and a massive pink sword in hand.

Rainbow Quartz lunged at Aqua Aura Quartz, and—

— Pearl fell to the ground, scuttling away. Rainbow Quartz was gone. It was just the empty armour, still with a sword, still coming at her.

Pearl looked around in a panic. She couldn’t fight, she couldn’t fight, not alone—

There was Prase, but she certainly wasn’t fighting. She wasn’t even moving. She was on her knees, face hidden by her hair.

“Prase,” Pearl called, “Prase! Help!”

But Prase didn’t even look up.

The armour was advancing, its sword flashing. Pearl caught sight of Aqua’s axe lying on the ground, and ran to pick it up. Her hands shook. It was heavy. So much heavier than it had been fused. But still she picked it up and blocked the armour’s sword thrust— and the next one, and the next one— even against the axe, the impact from each blow hurt

The armour kept coming, unstoppable, implacable, relentless— the sword swings were coming faster now, faster and faster, Pearl couldn’t keep up—

“Stop!”

At the Amethyst’s shouted order, the armour froze in place. All of them, from the one which had been attacking her, to the twisting, crumbled suits that Aqua Aura Quartz had left broken and defeated on the ground.

Morganite strode forward. “What in the stars was that?” she yelled. “That was disgraceful! That was embarrassing.”

Prase was silent. Pearl was too. She didn’t have anything to say.

“Next Cycle we are being observed by Painite. Painite! Yellow Diamond’s general! She needs to see results, she does need to see some fusion that falls apart and some whimpering Quartz who forgets how to fight! Get your act together!”

oOo

Back in the white room. Prase walked forward as though in a daze, not looking at anything, and crosslegged on the floor. Pearl stood next to where the door had been, and tried to figure out what to do next.

“What was that?” Pearl said.

Prase didn’t react.

“What was that?” Pearl repeated. “That thing I— we saw. The armour— it changed— and there was—”

Rainbow Quartz, and smoke, and the clash of weapons in the distance, and screaming, and—

— and Prase didn’t answer.

Pearl advanced. She was seized with the urge to just— shake Prase. Shake her and shake her until she would look, would answer.

She couldn’t, of course. A Pearl could never show such disrespect to a Quartz, it would be unthinkable?

What did it matter? They’d touched so many times, they’d shared minds, what did any of that even matter? Especially now? Prase couldn’t just block her out. They were in this together, whether they like this or not, and if they didn’t figure this out—

“If we don’t figure this out, we’ll die!”

The words echoed around the room. “We’ll die,” she said, and her eyes were burning. “I’ll die— and, and I don’t want to. And you’ll die, and— and please, that’s even worse. So tell me what that was, tell me what happened—”

Slowly, Prase turned to her. Her face was crumpled, her eyes bloodshot. Something inside Pearl clenched at the sight.

“Earth is like no where else” Prase said. She tried to force her face into something like its usual calm, and failed. “It’s… like nothing else. Gem against Gem, fighting everywhere…” Prase paused, and Pearl waited for her to continue. “The Crystal Gems— that’s what the rebels call themselves— had just taken the planet’s primary kindergarten, all prime quartz veins. My squadron was sent in to retake it.

“It was going so well. We were gaining ground, defending our territory. Then there was Rainbow Quartz. She was so fast. She took out three prases with a single move. She took out all thirty of us.”

Pearl stared. She didn’t know much of war, but she knew enough to know that was impressive. A single Gem, taking out thirty others?

But not single— Rainbow Quartz was a fusion. And Pearl was intimately aware of a fusion’s power.

“I was the only one recovered from that mission,” said Prase. “I regenerated inside a bush— that’s  kind of organic growth. The Crystal Gems must not have been able to find my gem, because they took everyone else in my squadron.”

“What… what did they do to them?”

“I don’t know,” said Prase, shaking her head. “No one does. They claim to never shatter Gems, but no one has found where they keep the prisoners. Maybe they Harvest them.”

Pearl shivered a little. But then she thought— was that so horrible? She’d been more than willing to be Harvested herself, not so long ago.

“I wish they’d taken me too,” said Prase. “Instead, I’m a disgrace. A failure. No use except as an experiment. I’ll never see them again, never even knew what happened to them…”

And Prase started to cry.

Pearl reached out and gently wiped the tears away. “I’m a failure too,” she said. “A failure as a Pearl. But I think… I think as Aqua Aura, I’m not. We’re not. I think we can become something better.

“And I think,” she continued. “That we’re intended to be a weapon. And if that’s true, we’ll be sent to Earth. And if we are, I promise that I’ll help you find out what happened to your squadron.”

oOo

Next Cycle, Aqua Aura Quartz ran an obstacle course before Painite, second-in-command of all of Homeworld’s armies and Yellow Diamond’s right-hand Gem.

And she performed perfectly.

oOo

They didn’t return to the white room.

Instead, once they defused, Pearl and Prase were lead to a warp pad. Then another warp pad, then to a Galaxy Warp. After that, a long space shuttle flight, then another warp pad, and finally, one last jaunt in a spaceship.

They were sat in the cabin. They had a beautiful view of a tiny blue and green planet silently spinning in the darkness. Earth.

oOo

Aqua Aura’s first battle was all glorious, glorious chaos.

They snuck her in behind enemy lines. The Crystal Gems didn’t even notice her. She blended in perfectly among their ranks— Gems of all models walking together, with no official order or squadrons, regular Gems standing quite comfortably next to towering fusions. It was strange and otherworldly, and Aqua found herself almost forgetting herself, until the battle horn sounded in the distance, and a wave of rubies came roaring over the hill. As the rebels rushed to defend themselves, Aqua Aura struck.

They didn’t see her coming. It was comically easily to destroy their bodies, her axe cutting them in two. In all the confusion, it took them a while to realize who was doing it— and then up came the screams of “Traitor!” and “The blue fusion’s not ours! SHE’S NOT OURS!”

And they fought back, but they were so small, Aqua could practically dance around them before kicking them in the face and it was just—

exhilarating.

The Crystal Gems were forced to retreat. Another horn sounded, and the rubies were called back. Aqua Aura Quartz went with them. She was met by Morganite, and a whole group of Quartz Generals, who stared at her in undisguised awe.

Awe. And disgust. And horror.

Prase and Pearl were ordered apart immediately.

oOo

They didn’t have to remain separate for long, thankfully. Though their supervisors feared their power, they desired it too, and were anxious for more weapons. They sent them off to a planet’s nearby moon, and given a briefing. Their assignment now would be to train new hybrid fusions.

They were let into another white room, one much like the one so many galaxies away, only a good ten times larger. In it were three pairs of mismatched Gems. A Coral and a Quartz, an Ulexite and a Ruby, and a Bismuth with a Nephrite. They all wore weary, nervous expressions. When they were told what they must do, Pearl saw the same fear and disbelief she’d once felt reflected in them.

“It’s okay,” Pearl tried to tell them. “This is how you do it…”

She took Prase by the hand. The Quartz spun her easily, picked her up, and the world turned to light as Aqua Aura reformed.

The assembled Gems did not look relieved. If anything, they looked even more nervous.

Eventually, they all worked up the courage to touch their partners. To walk through the steps. To hold each others’ hands and spin and be lifted up, but…

Nothing happened.

Aqua Aura thought she knew why. The dancing, after all, was only part of it.

oOo

When Aqua Aura Quartz wasn’t training would-be fusions, she was fighting. That went much better. In battle, she was free. In battle, all the insecurities, the fears, the uncertainties, fell away.

When she wasn’t training or fighting, Aqua Aura didn’t exist at all.

When they were alone and separate, those insecurities, fears and uncertainties were impossible for Pearl and Prase to ignore.  They spent their separations in constant anticipation of the time when they’d be allowed to fuse again.

oOo

After twenty one trials, Bismuth and Nephrite managed to fuse. Their dance was stiff; the flash of pink and green light brief; and when they appeared, they were only around long enough for those around them to catch brief sight of a figure with four arms, before they broke apart again.

Still, the trial was considered a success.

oOo

In combat Aqua Aura lost the element of surprise quickly. Soon all the Crystal Gems knew Homeworld had a fusion of their own, and attacked her on sight. For a while, it didn’t seem to matter. Aqua Aura Quartz got by on power alone. Her combined strength, speed and sight meant she was virtually unmatched on the battlefield.

Then the Crystal Gems sent in a power house of their own.

Blue and pink outfit. Purple hair. Three narrowed eyed.

Another fusion, thought Pearl.

The first fusion, thought Prase.

“We don’t need to fight,” said Garnet.

Aqua Aura said nothing. Instead, she raised her battle axe and charged.

Garnet’s hands glowed, and gauntlets flew up to block the axe. Then Garnet gripped Aqua around the risk, wrenched her forward, spun her, and sent her flying.

Aqua landed on the ground fifty feet away. She forced herself back up. As soon as she found her axe, she retaliated— or tried to. The other fusion matched every blow. Garnet was smaller, but faster, and somehow seemed to always know where Aqua was going to be. Again and again Aqua tried to land a blow, again and again Garnet dodged and blocked. But never once did Garnet truly strike back.

“We don’t need to fight,” Garnet said again, when she managed to pin Aqua down.

Why?” cried Aqua, her voice— voices— trembling. “Just because we’re both fusions?”

“Because Homeworld doesn’t care about you,” said Garnet. “Because you’re just a tool to them, and as soon you’ve served your purpose, they’ll separate and shatter you!”

Aqua screamed and threw Garnet off. She rounded back on the other fusion, eyes blazing, axe raised. Garnet didn’t flinch or back-away. She just stared back evenly. She didn’t look frightened, or angry, or even pleading. She just looked sorry.

Aqua Aura Quartz hesitated.

Pain.

It seared through her wrists, up her arms, through her whole body. The bracelets—the restraints— had activated. They burned. Aqua clawed at them, trying to get them off, but they held fast, and already her body was breaking down, her hands insubstantial—

Aqua screamed, and Pearl screamed, and Prase screamed.

When finally they stopped screaming and the pain was gone, so was Garnet. But Painite was there, staring down at Pearl and Prase’s prone bodies, contempt on her face.

“You fight for us,” Painite said. “Don’t ever forget that.”

oOo

Pearl and Prase were punished with forced isolation— but there were trials to be held, so that lasted only a single Cycle.

Aqua stood in the centre of the white experimentation chamber, watching the test subjects with all fours of her eyes as they danced around her. ‘Successes’ were becoming more common now— but still, the fusions produced were all unsteady, fitful beings who rarely lasted for more than a few moments.

They need to talk to each other, Aqua thought.

We could tell them that. Help them.

Would Morganite and Painite allow it

I think so. They’re desperate enough.

But even if we told them to talk, would they listen?

Aqua observed the way the Bismuth scowled and the Nephrite stared at her feet. How the Ulexite sneered, how the Quartz glared, how the Coral flinched and the Ruby fumed. These were Gems terrified of this, terrified of each other. Aqua thought, Probably not.

These would-be fusions had to work, or else the test subjects would be punished for their failure.

Aqua Aura traced one of the shock-bracelets on her wrists, remembering the sorrow in Garnet’s eyes. She thought, But what awaits them if they succeed?

Punishment awaited them either way. Unless, somehow, Aqua realized, the whole project was written off as impractical or impossible. These others Gems couldn’t be punished for not reaching her standards if she herself was declared a failure. 

And Aqua knew what she had to do.

oOo

Again Aqua Aura Quartz was deployed into battle, but this time she did not fight. Instead, she ran.

She ran and ran and ran, fast as he could, jumping over the heads of soldiers and rebels alike. Her body thrummed with fear and desperation. All she knew was she had to get away, get as far away as possible, before they noticed, before they—

Pain.

It seared through her wrists, up her arms, through her whole body. She hadn’t been fast enough. Aqua screamed, fell to her knees. The pain was pulling apart—she couldn’t stop it— she’d be shattered, they’d be shattered, Pearl and Prase both—

No, Aqua thought.

And suddenly the pain was gone.

Aqua Aura opened her eyes. Forced them to focus on her wrists. The restrains were gone. She looked around and found them on the ground. They were laying there, not broken, but as if they’d somehow just— fallen off.

How?

Aqua’s back eyes widened. Behind her a Homeworld archer loosed an arrow— it was flying right at her. She threw herself to the ground—

— and through it.

Aqua sank through grass and dirt and earth as if it was as insubstantial as water. No— the ground as solid as ever. But she wasn’t.

I can’t do this! thought Pearl

I can’t do this! thought Prase.

But I can, thought Aqua Aura Quartz.

oOo

Intangible and untouchable, Aqua swam through the earth and away from the battle. Occasionally she’d poke her head out, just to see where she was. Far from the battlefield now, or from any Homeworld base, it was all untamed Terran wilderness. Instead of organised troops and graceful buildings there were strange Earth things, plants and animals and phenomenons that she only had vague memories of from Prase.

Even this far out, she still managed to find Gems. Crystal Gems. This particular band was a group of six- although perhaps technically more, since  there were two fusions among them. The non-fused Gems didn’t seem to care. Together they made there way through the forest with purpose, somehow not getting lost among the thick sea of a thousand identical trees. Aqua followed them, careful not to be seen. They were the only guidance she had left.

The trees grew thicker and thicker, and just when it seemed they couldn’t become any more densely packed, they reached the forest’s edge. They were in a valley rimmed by tall grey mountains.The valley’s edge were surrounded by thick brambles, which ringed a circular wall carved from grey stone. It was the only actual sign of civilisation Aqua had seen since defecting. The Crystal Gems entered through an archway, one large enough to allow even the Ocean Jasper through. It was not, however, big enough for the fusions. One fusion simply broke apart, her components walking through, hand-in-hand. The other didn’t bother and instead crouched down low to crawl through.

Aqua phased through, instead.

She’d been expecting a standard military base, with maps and training facilities and briefing areas. What she found instead was… more plants. Not the big trees out in the forest, but little bushes, blooming with pink flowers. Gems lounged around them casually. There were statues, everywhere, too. The largest statue stood in the centre of a fountain, flowing with water that seemed oddly pink. Gems bathed in it— and when they did, bruises faded, scratches disappeared, and even cracked Gems healed.

Rose Quartz can heal? Pearl thought.

I’d heard rumours…, thought Prase, and Aqua shook her head.

Hiding under the ground and risking glances by sneaking out of statues, Aqua explored the base, feeling more lost than ever. Finally, she found something that pinged her interest. An actual building, with an actual roof, with an actual closed door. This area, at least, wasn’t public. Something important had to be inside.

And that something turned out to be: gems.

Dozens upon dozens of them, hanging in bubbles. Aqua phased up through the floor, her eyes widened in disbelief. The bubbles game in a myriad of colours, disguising the identity of the Gems inside— but she recognised rubies, and jaspers, and carnelians, and—

— and prases.

With a flash of light, Aqua fell apart. Prase surged forward while Pearl hung back. Aqua stared up at the prases, all surrounded by bubbles of the same shimmering, rainbow pink. “My squadron,” Prase said. “All twenty-nine of them. They’re alive…”

“What have they done to them?” Pearl wondered. “Are they being Harvested?”

“I… don’t know.”

The stood side by side, wondering what they should do. Should they pop them?

And voice behind them said, “I thought you might come.”

The two jumped and spun around, reaching out for each other. In the doorway stood Garnet. She didn’t look at all alarmed. Her gauntlets weren’t even out. She stepped in, and two Gems followed— a Pearl and Rose Quartz.

“Don’t worry,” said Rose Quartz. “We’re not going to harm you.”

“Unless we must,” said the Pearl. She had her spear out, and suspicion was plain on her face.

Pearl gaped, thinking of the videos she’d seen, thinking of Prase’s terrible memory.  These were the Gems who terrified Homeworld so much, who they’d tried to create Aqua Aura Quartz in the image of. “You’re— you’re Rainbow Quartz!”

The rebels exchanged looks. “Sometimes,” Rose Quartz agreed.

Prase’s grip on Pearl’s hand tightened. Pearl squeezed back in silent support. “What are you doing with these Gems?” Prase demanded.

“Holding them in stasis,” said Garnet.

“We hope that we’ll be able to let all of them out one day,” said Rose Quartz. “When it’s safe to do so, and we can share our beliefs.

Pearl and Prase huddled a little closer. Pearl asked, “And what exactly would those be?”

And Garnet said, “Above all else: love.”

Neither Prase nor Pearl were entirely sure what the word meant, but they found they were rather interested in finding out.

Chapter Text

Every Gem in the New Rebellion agreed on one thing: change was needed.

But what kind of change? That was an altogether trickier question, one built up of a million smaller ones. 

What was to be done with the Diamonds?

Some said, We reason with them. They are logical. They will not want Gems needlessly hurt. Once they see that they can’t win, they will see reason and listen to us.

Others said, That will never work. They will refuse to relinquish their power.

Others said, We will make them. We will fight until they have no choice. We’ll lock them up and take their power from them.

Other said, You can never control a Diamond.

Other said, So we’ll shatter them.

The response came: You can’t shatter a Diamond!

But others insisted, Yes, you can. Remember Pink Diamond!

So others wondered, Maybe we can shatter them. But should we?

oOo

Another question: what did the New Rebellion want?

Some said, To not be hurt.

Some said, To be safe.

Some said, Freedom.

But how to get freedom?

Some said, No more Masters.

Others said, How is that possible? We need Masters, or how will anyone know what to do? Who will lead?

And others said, Well, we pearls will lead, of course.

Some wondered, But will other Gems follow pearls?

And the answer came: They’ll have to.

oOo

A final question: Would that be any better?

Some cried, Of course! We will be good and fair Masters!

Others said, How can we guarantee that?

Others wondered, Why should Pearls be the ones to lead?

And some replied, Because we’re intelligent, and reasonable, and hard working.

And others replied, Because we deserve to.

And others still said, Because we built this movement.

But some asked, But surely others can lead just as well?

Some said, Our rebellion is made of all kinds of Gems, not just pearls.

And others argued, Yes, but we all serve different purposes. You could hardly imagine putting a Ruby in a position of power, could you?

Some said, Once we’ve won, we can’t just expect everyone to get along. Spinels and Emeralds and Quartzes are used to getting what they want. We’ll need to keep them in check.

And others asked, All of them?

And they replied, No alternative.

And others said, Yes, there is. Remember the Crystal Gems? The stories say they were all equal.

But others said, The Crystal Gems are dead.

oOo

Many questions don’t have simple answers.

Chapter Text

“Are you sure you know where you’re going?” Pyrite muttered.

“Yes, ma’am,” the Pearl said, and continued on her way.  Pyrite stifled a sigh and followed.

She’d barely arrived, and she already hated this planet.

Just getting here had been a pain. They'd just gotten the planet's first Galaxy Warp working— and ‘working’ was perhaps too generous a term. The thing had kept malfunctioning, and while peridots had buzzed around busily trying to fix it, long lines of waiting Gems had formed on both sides. It had taken three times as long as expected to reach this star-forsaken place, and once she arrived, Pyrite had quickly realised she had no idea to get where she needed to go.

And there was no easy way to find out. The planet— Pyrite hadn’t even bothered memorising its official designation— was a very new colony. The first bases didn’t even all have finished roofs yet, let alone proper labelling. Neither had anybody bothered uploading directions or even basic maps to the inter-galactic database. Pyrite had been left standing to the side of the Galaxy Warp, wondering how she would explain being late for her appointment with Prehnite.

Then there’d come a Pearl's voice behind her asking, “Excuse me, are you Pyrite 23J-47?”

“Yes, that’s me,” Pyrite had said, turning to the Pearl, and trying not to flinch at the sight. She was a truly horrid shade of green. 

The Pearl curtsied, dipping a skirt which was practically neon.  “Prehnite 36L sent me to guide you.”

So Pyrite had shrugged and let her lead the way. She figured she would be able to remember the way and get back on her own. 

Now Pyrite wasn't so certain. It was proving quite hard to get her bearings. Since this colony was so new that most of the buildings hadn't even been completed yet, and many hallways didn't even have roofs yet. There wasn't even any lightning fixtures installed. There was something about this planet's star or its atmosphere that meant the natural sunlight cast everything in a dull, ugly orange that made Pyrite's eyes ache worse than the Pearl's garish green. Soon they were in the outer parts of the base that lacked even walls, and consisted of nothing more than a concrete path. The landscape was flat plains of caked mud, with absolutely no distinguishing characteristics. Maybe that monotony was why whatever route the Pearl was taking her on seemed to long, but Pyrite could have sworn it was looping in on itself. Perhaps the Pearl had simply gotten lost.

“How much farther?” the Pyrite asked.

“Not far, ma’am,” the Pearl chirped. Pyrite resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Of course a Pearl wouldn’t be able to give her a specific answer.

But true to her word, it wasn’t long after that Pearl’s pace slowed and she came to stop in front of a stairway built into the ground. “Here we are, ma’am.”

Pyrite nodded. She took a moment to rearrange her hair and skirts, then straightened up and went down the stairs with the Pearl trailing behind her. They reached a plain metal door, which opened before Pyrite could even raise her palm to the lock pad. Clearly she was expected. She went in.

Inside it was dim and dark, even compared to the wan sunlight, and it took Pyrite time to adjust. Once she did, she was unimpressed. She knew that prehnites were supposed to forgo all physical luxuries as a sign of their dedication to the immaterial, but this seemed extreme, even for them. These quarters went beyond ‘plain’, past 'ugly', and into flat out 'disgusting'. Bare metal, machine parts scattered around, oil on the floor…

Also, there wasn’t actually a Prehnite present. The only Gems there were a Jasper and a Flint, lurking in the corners. Glaring.

“Where’s Prehnite 36L?” Pyrite asked.

“Not here,” the Jasper growled.

Pyrite spun to face the Pearl. “Fool! You brought me to the wrong place!”

The Pearl was still smiling that vague smile as she opened her mouth to say something, but Pyrite paid no mind. She stomped past back to the door. It had already closed, so she slammed her hand onto the lock pad.

Nothing happened.

She tried again. Still nothing happened.

Oh, she was certainly going to be late now. She'd be reprimanded, have to file a report and everything- 

The Pearl made a little noise in the back of her throat, and Pyrite turned to look at her. “I’m afraid you won’t be able to meet with Prehnite today, ma’am. However, you’re more than welcome to speak with me instead.”

“Ridiculous. Let me out this instant. And this time you had better bring me to the right place, or—”

“You don’t understand,” the Pearl interrupted. Actually interrupted! She was still smiling, but that smile seemed to show a lot of teeth. “This isn’t a request.”

Pyrite felt a twinge of unease. “What— what’s this about?”

“Exactly what you planned to discuss with Prehnite. Certain restricted information… historical reports, scientific investigations, that sort of thing. Perhaps we could start with ‘Project Adaptation’?

“You don’t have the clearance—”

“I think we do, actually,” said the Flint. There are two flashes of light, one grey, one orange, and suddenly she and the Jasper are holding a chain and hammer in their hands.

“Now there’s no need to be like that.” Pearl fluttered her eyelashes and pulled over a chair, motioning Pyrite to sit. “Now, dear Pyrite, let's begin. ‘Project Adaptation’, I was saying. By Morganite XJW-74? I’m sure you know of her. Inventor of Peridots?”

The Flint and Jasper glowered at her, weapons in hand. The Pearl smiled at her, bright and unflinching. And Pyrite realised she didn’t have a choice.

Chapter Text

Even though it was late in the Cycle and most Gems were on their rest period, the main hall of the Silver System’s Central Communication Hub still thrummed with activity. Emeralds, calcites, spinels, ulexites, peridots, and beryls all hurried along, intent on their personal orders, duties and destinations.

No one paid any mind to a single Pearl making her way through the crowd. Barely anybody noticed when she crashed right into a Coral, sending the pair of them to the floor— except for those who cursed their clumsiness as they were forced to step around them.

“Watch where you’re going!” the Pearl hissed at the Coral. 

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” The Coral scrambled to help the Pearl pick up the tablets she’d dropped in the crash. The Pearl pulled them from her impatiently. The Coral winced. Without another word, the two went off in their separate directions.

Only once she was out of the main hall and had turned the corner did the Pearl risk looking through her tablets. They were all there, along with something extra. Buried among them was a security pass. 

Behind her veil, the Pearl smiled.

She paused only briefly to tuck the pass underneath the sash at her waist, then carried on with her errands. Deliveries. She made quick work of them, expertly navigating the confusing labyrinth of tunnels, until each tablet was dropped off with their new owners. By then it was truly late into the Cycle. Practically everyone was either in their quarries or private chambers. 

But the Pearl walked on. 

Now she was in the back halls, the service corridors, the storage areas, the places where the logs and hard-drives were kept. The automatic monitoring systems. She walked down the corridors quickly, but not too quickly. The place seemed empty, but if anyone did notice her, she needed to look as though she belonged.

Many times this Pearl had cursed the veil had made her regenerate in. The thing was sheer and pretty, but it itched her nose and got in her eyes. Just now she was glad for the fashion. Less chance of her expression giving her away. Less chance of being recognised on camera.

Not that that would be a problem, the Pearl reminded herself. One of the rebellion’s peridots should have turned off this entire grid’s surveillance system, under the pretence of ‘scheduled maintenance’. The cameras were out. She was in the clear.

For a little while, at least.

The Pearl walked a little faster.

She stopped halfway down a corridor which seemed identical to the last five. The walls were all covered in plain blank panels, like every hallways in this area, and this panel appeared no different than the others. The Pearl only knew there was anything there because she’d been informed in advance, and had been carefully measuring the distance the whole way.

The Pearl reached into her sash and pulled out the stolen security-pass that the Coral had slipped her. She pressed it against the panel. It glowed with bright blue light; a door appeared. Pearl went inside.

The room was surprisingly large due to existing on a trans-dimensional plane. The very space hummed with energy. The walls were lined with monitors and controls, mounted on hard-drives, huge and black like obelisks, built for Gems a good third taller than pearls. The Pearl may have lacked both the size or technology to reach them, but she didn't need to. The Gem behind her neck glowed, and the Pearl reached behind her veil to pull out a data-chip from it. She pressed the chip against the side of the huge hard-drive. It instantly connected and by-passed all security protocols. Then it began the process of downloading and decrypting the drive's entire contents. This part wasn't instant. Pearl had to count down from one hundred, her nerves screaming the entire time. 

The moment she finished her countdown and reached one, she pried the chip away and stored it back in her gem. Then she pulled out two other devices. Where the chip had been small and sleek, these were large and bulky. One was roughly cylindrical in shape, haphazardly constructed, with a long string hanging out of one end. The other object was ornate, and so ancient that it was practically antique. An old Fire Starter, created for some long-dead member of Yellow Diamond’s court who had considered ruby-powered objects too dangerous to keep on her person.

The Pearl fed the string into the mouth of the Fire Starter. With a mental twitch it flared to life. The end of the string burned orange. Quickly the Pearl placed the cylinder on the floor and stored the Fire Starter away. The fuse continued to burn. Slowly enough, but once it reached the end of the fuse…

It was a crude technique, but an effective one. 

The Pearl allowed herself a quick smirk. The she grabbed the stolen security pass and got out of there. 

oOo

Incident Report: # 24β-X15-0001

Time: 142:15, Cycle 20, CentCycle120K, Era 2

Summary: Fire in Silver System Planet Communication Database Station #41

Damage: Station’s hard-drive destroyed with 1.2% chance of data-recovery. Minor damage sustained to neighbouring communications stations.

Casualties: 0

Cause: Suspected technical failure. Full investigation pending.

Additional Note: Sodalite-P69-12 was recorded signing into Station #41 16 Units prior to Incident. Sodalite-P69-12 claims that she was not present, and that at 141:99 she was in fact resting in the Sodalite Quarters in Sector 24L. Claim is  highly suspicious, but cannot be either verified or discredited due to scheduled maintenance of camera systems during this period. Sodalite-P69-12 has been reprimanded and will be monitored for suspicious activity. 

Response:

  • Station #41 hard-drives to be salvaged and repair attempted. Station #41 itself to be rebuilt.
  • Peridots to be deployed to adjacent Communication Stations for repair and to investigate for signs of imminent technical failures of similar nature.
  • All sodalites are to be reminded to back up system hard-drives a minimum of every three Cycles. 

Chapter Text

The air is hot, the ground is hard, and Pearl’s exhausted, but still she walks.

She goes as quickly as she can, but she cannot run. The ground is too uneven, covered in jagged rocks which could easily trip her. Perhaps she could force herself to go faster… but something holds her back. She is not eager to reach her destination.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

Her feet hurt, her whole body aches, her eyes burn with tears she won’t let fall. She doesn’t want to think about those things, so she turns her mind outward.

She wishes she could do this somewhere else. Somewhere prettier. Not this desolate place of brown and grey rock, of vile smoke, of geysers which shoot up unexpectedly and startle her out of her skin.

No wonder this place is reserved solely for rubies, bismuths and obsidians. They’re the only Gems who could stand it. They’re the only Gems who’d want to.

The hot water pools are pretty, Pearl reminds herself. She focuses on them as she starts up the steep slope of the mountain. The water is clear, but not transparent. The tiny lifeforms inside have turned it spectacular shades of oranges, greens, blues—

Her foot slips. She goes sliding backwards— she reaches out quickly, just managing to grab a rocky outcropping. She pulls herself back up, finds her footing.

She can’t fall. If her body is destroyed— if they find her gem—

No. Don’t think. Just walk.

She walks.

Too soon, she reaches the peak. It is even hotter here, hotter than she’s ever experienced. A boiling breeze blows by, burning her face, blowing her veil back. Pearl rips it off, letting it dissolve into light.

She’s shaking.

She takes a few uneasy steps forward.

There’s an edge before her. It’s very close. She peers down over it.

Lava. Red and thick and hot.

On her foot, Pearl’s gem glows. She reached down and pulls out the thing which brought her here. It’s thin and slender, smaller than her finger. It feels surreal, that she’s doing this for something so small.

It’s a data-chip. Pearl’s already memorised the contents. She was meant to add what she knows, and pass it on to someone else, but—

— but that’s not an option anymore.

She doesn’t know how they tracked it down. How they tracked her down. Who else was compromised. All she knows is that she can’t let the Diamonds get this information. Not them, not their Authority.

And she won’t let them get her. Won’t let them steal what she knows, won’t let them force her, won’t let them Harvest her, won’t let them shatter her, won’t let them take her remains and use them for their own ends—

She clutches the data-chip tight, and stares down over the ledge.

Lava. Red and hot and thick. Molten rock. The thing from which Gems are born.

Pearl jumps into the volcano.

Chapter Text

Let us speak now for the ones who no longer can

 

(let us speak)

 

Let us remember who they once were

 

(let us remember)

 

Shattering is not death

 

(it is not death)

 

It is a hundred new beginnings

 

(new beginnings)

 

Let us walk with the shattered in their new lives

 

(let us walk)

 

To find peace and purpose among the stars

 

(peace and purpose)

 

Together

 

(together)

Chapter Text

Pearl had thought that being a runaway— an outcast, an outlaw, a rebel— would be exciting. A life filled with danger, Quartz soldiers waiting behind every corner, the threat of being shattered constantly hanging over her head.

Mostly, though, it was just boring.

Oh, the initial escape had been exciting, certainly. Also terrifying and painful. Pearl had been thankful when it was finally over, and she’d found safety at last.

She’d been thankful at first. Now, after eight Cycles stuck in a cramped, hidden room, she wouldn’t mind a little bit of terror, just to break up the monotony.

“This is only temporary,” the Ruby who’d brought her to this place had said. “We’re gonna move you somewhere bigger, with other fugitives, as soon as we can.”

Some time later— Pearl hadn’t known how long, since there weren’t any clocks or computers with which to judge time in the room— the Ruby had returned again, with the same promise. She’d also come with a broken old computer terminal. “Can you try fixing it?”

Pearl hadn’t known the first thing about computers, and she certainly hadn’t been built for fixing them, but it was something to do, so she’d done her best.

Stubborn determination (and sheer boredom) had won out over skill, because Pearl had managed to get the terminal working by the time someone else had visited her. Not the Ruby again— that time it had been a Pink Tourmaline.

Pearl hadbeen expecting the Ruby. So when a stranger had appeared in the doorway— huge and hulking— she’d been certain she’d been discovered. Preparing to make a run for it, Pearl had thrown a punch.

The Tourlamine had managed to raise up her hands in a hasty salute, giving Pearl just enough time to hold back her punch. Not that it would have done much damage, anyway; Pink Tourlamine had just laughed at her attempt of self-defence.  The laughter had gave way to a low whistle of approval when she’d seen the now-functional terminal. “You actually got that piece of shale working?”

“Yes,” Pearl had said. “Are you getting me out of here?”

“Eventually. Too dangerous, right now.”

“It’ll always be too dangerous.”

“True,” Tourmaline had admitted, but she hadn’t budged. No escape, not yet. 

Pearl could have screamed with frustration. She hated the waiting. She’d always hated the waiting. The standing around, the doing nothing. Her impatience was what had got her Master to turn on her in the first place.

Even though an escape remained too dangerous, the Tourmaline and the Ruby continued to visit Pearl regularly, providing her welcome breaks from the monotony of hiding. Always she brought something with Pearl to fiddle with. Twisted circuitry, fried comm links, ancient datachips, dented flask robonoids. Pearl experimented, and prodded, and did her best to get them into some kind of working order. Tourmaline would take them away on her next visit, to go and find a use for them. 

After a good thirty Cycles Pink Tourmaline appeared again, dumping a whole bundle of green things on the floor. Pearl poked at them. The pile shifted, as she recognised them as a set of limb enhancers. She picked up one of the pieces— a forearm, by the looks of it. “These busted too?”

“Nope. Fully functional. Fresh off the assembly line.”

“Then why’ve you given them to me?”

“They’re your ticket out of here. Put these things on, with a robe and a hood— well, you sure won’t look like a pearl anymore. ‘Course, only if you can learn to walk in them.”

Pearl scowled at the Tourmaline, then stared critically at the limb she was holding. She shoved her arm right into the hole at one end and—

— vision, hearing, feeling, all of it was lost, and new senses screamed in, raw electricity and data and code and—

“Pearl! Pearl!” something was shouting. Something was shaking her. Pearl blinked, and realised both those things were Pink Tourmaline. “You still in there?”

There were still a million new things pouring into her mind, but Pearl was catching up with them, and coming back to herself. “Y— yeah. Woah.”

She could… she could see things. No, not see, this wasn’t sight… but she could feel it, an entire database of information, records and reports and predictions and projections and time-tables and a million other things, if only she could sort through it all, if only she could find a way to access it….

Tourmaline was staring at her in open distress. “You’re fried! Cracked! No way this’ll work…”

Pearl focused, and tried to lift her arm. It didn’t work at first— it was far longer and heavier than she was used to— but after a few attempts, she finally managed to raise it up above her head. Then she cast a look to the floor, and focused on a few small green sticks laying in the pile. She sorted through the data streaming through her find, and found the sets that corresponded to these particular items. She twitched the data. One of the touch stumps twitched too.

Delicately, she tweaked at the numbers. Slowly at first, then faster, the touch stumps rose into the air. 

Tourmaline was still ranting, worrying, panicking. Pearl ignored her. She was too busy focusing on the touch stumps. Pearl considered them, and made them turn in a lazy circle. Then she picked one, and with a flick of her mind, sent it off to bump Tourmaline in the head.

Tourmaline made to bat it away irritably, then froze. Pearl smiled with immense satisfaction. 

“I think this’ll work just fine,” said Pearl. 

Chapter Text

“On the behalf of my Master, I present her Benitoite with gifts,” said Pearl, bowing.

“I thank your Master Lepidolite for her generosity,” Benitoite responded, inclining her head. “Bring them here so that I may see.”

Pearl complied, picking up the boxes one by one, and presenting them at Benitoite’s feet. They were simple cargo transport containers, made from plain metal, and the things inside them were nothing special. Power cells, Injector kits, limb enhancers, replacement pieces for any malfunctioning equipment. Standard supplies. Hardly anything worth a great deal of circumstance. Yet Benitoite still made a great show of receiving them, taking each box one by one, slowly taking off their lids and returning them with great deliberation. She made approving sounds with each, even though Pearl could tell she only glanced at their contents.

The whole thing was a show. Every one here was following an old script, an ancient tradition. Benitoite was the most high ranking Gem on the planet, and thus was entitled to certain respects.

… Never mind that the planet was merely a small, far-flung colony that was only just being established. Never-mind that it wasn’t difficult to be the most high-ranking Gem in a company of fifty-five. Never mind that the whole ceremony was just a charade, that it didn’t mean anything.

Benitoite seemed to think it did, however. Though this new colony was still very basic, without even a working Galaxy Warp yet, this greeting hall was very elaborate indeed. It was huge, with a tall, sweeping ceiling, magnificent pillars and elaborate tilings, all constructed out of very unusual minerals. The walls were a jet-black stone, and the lights all ultra-violet, which worked to show off Benitoite’s vibrant blue glow.

There was only a single Diamond Insignia in the entire hall.

The entire reason Pearl’s party had been sent out here was to address the delays in the colonisation process, and Pearl suspected she already knew the reason for them.

Benitoite finally put the last of the boxes down, and ordered Pearl to go and store them away. Pearl took them without comment, vanishing into a small chamber behind Benitoite’s chair (throne, really).She listened to the proceedings as the laid the boxes out and prepared their contents. Once satisfied, she returned to the Purple Scapolite who was her minder for the trip.

The Scapolite gave her a glare for leaving the chamber door open behind her, but said nothing. She couldn’t disrupt the ceremony to scold her.

‘Ceremony’. Pearl could have laughed. Glorified meeting, really. Courtesans giving updates from Homeworld. Politicians asking for updates on the colony. Benitoite brushing all criticisms aside. Politicians asking for project deadlines.  Benitoite dancing around their questions.

“We’ve had delays, of course,” Benitoite was saying. “But nothing unusual for initial colonization. We’ve already scouted out several promising primary Kindergarten locations—”

She was interrupted by a group of warriors charging out from behind her throne. 

They were a hodgepodge of Gems— corals, flints, rubies, even a lone Quartz warrior— but all armed. They acted quickly. Most of them spread out, covering the entire hall, while two went directly for Benitotite.

One of Benitoite’s private guards, an Onyx, tried to intercept— but Pearl was faster. She stretched out a leg, tripping the Onyx up and sending her sprawling to the floor.

By the time the guard was back on her feet, a Ruby has already stabbed Benitoite in the side, and was clutching her gemstone in her hand, victorious.

Chaos, then. The hall was filled with chaos and screaming. With the Master she was meant to protect down, the Onyx guard turned on Pearl instead, which was a mistake. Pearl wasn’t armed, but the insurgents were, and they didn’t let the Onyx get close. They seemed to be everywhere, sharp shadows nearly invisible in the strange purple light. It took hardly any time at all for Benitoite’s guards and fighter-Gems to be defeated, their inert gemstones thrown into light-cages. The other Gems— Benitoite’s remaining staff, as well as the visiting delegation— all scientists, scouts, mechanics, politicians— were left huddled together in the hall’s centre, confused and fearful.

Pearl waved a hand, and the insurgents formed a circle around them. They flinched away. Pearl told the prisoners, “We won’t hurt you.”

They did not look as though they believed her.

“What’s happening?” cried a Spinel.

“What are you doing?” demanded an Emerald.

“Where did you all come from?” squeaked a Flourite.

“She brought us,” said a Coral, tilting her head at Pearl. Pearl couldn’t help but grin, the pride and triumph infectious.

Her superiors really should have checked the boxes she’d packed more closely. Then she would have found the poofed gemstones hidden beneath the regular supplies, just waiting for the right time to regenerate.

Pearl made up her way to the front of the hall, coming to stand besides the throne Benitoite had built for herself. She did not sit in it. She'd have it torn down, just as soon as they were finished dealing with the Diamond Insignia. 

Instead, she raised her hands at the Gems before her, allies and captives alike, and declared, “In the name of freedom, we claim this colony for the New Rebellion!”

Chapter Text

You are waiting.

You have been waiting for a long time, but you don’t mind. The room you’re in is small, but nice. Quiet, painted a peaceful blue. You’re sitting. You’ve rarely gotten the opportunity to sit, especially not in a chair as plush and comfortable as this one. You intend to savour the sensation while you still can.

A portal opens in the wall, and a Pumice steps in. The portal closes behind her.

Your waiting is over.

The Pumice sits down at the desk across from you. She takes out a few items from her bag— a scroll, a quill, an ink pot— and lays them out. She smiles at you, polite and professional.

“You are the Pearl previously belonging to Idocrase 6LJ-FR?” the Pumice checks.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“My condolences.”

You bow your head, and say nothing. It has been three Cycles since your Master was shattered, and in that time, you’ve run out of things to say.

The Pumice asks you questions, double checking your answers against the information already recorded in your file. Where were you made? How long ago? Who was your first Master? Why were you re-assigned to Idocrase 6LJ-FR? Have you ever exhibited any defects? How many times have you regenerated? What were the reasons for those regenerations? Has your gem ever sustained any direct damage?

You answer honestly. You have nothing to hide, and even if you did, lying would be pointless.

Pumice scribbles things down on the scroll. Eventually the questions end, and she falls silent as she churns numbers and calculations in her core.

You wait.

Finally Pumice writes one last thing down, then places her quill on the desk. She smiles at you, polite and professional. “Alright,” she says. “Your gemstone is well constructed and in good condition. Its power output is nothing spectacular, but steady and reliable. Currently there’s a new elevator in construction, one which will carry Gems right from a planet’s core up to the outer Spires. It would require almost the exact amount of energy that your are capable of producing. Does that sound suitable?”

You nod.  You don’t much care, and you don't have much of a choice, anyway.  But it’s nice to know what you’ll be, at least. Nice to know that you’ll be useful.

“Excellent,” Pumice says, making one final note. “The Diamonds thank you for your contribution.”

Pumice rolls up the scroll, and tucks it away in her satchel, along with the ink pot and quill. Then she pulls out a knife. She smiles at you, still polite, still professional. She strikes sharp and quick, right between your eyes. It’s so fast you barely even see, so fast you barely even feel pain before—

oOo

nothing

oOo

there’s nothing and nothing and nothing and nothing and nothing and

you light up.

You are the light, you can feel yourself glowing, growing, stretching, forming. You can feel your legs and your hands and your stomach and your clothes. You can feel— feel so much, a million sensations, touch and hearing and smells and— and things you never expected to feel again, things you’d forgotten you’d ever even known—

You remember that you have eyes now, so you open them, and you see.

You’re not in the blue waiting room anymore, but you didn’t expect to be. But then, you didn’t expect anything. You were Harvested. That was supposed to be it. So how can you be here? Did something go wrong?

You register movement in front of you. You force yourself to focus. A hand. Someone’s waving a hand.

“Hello,” she's saying, and she's a Pearl, too. “Welcome back! Can you tell me how many fingers I’m holding up?”

You blink, count, and try to remember how lips work. “Four.”

“Ah! Perfect!” The Pearl is smiling, open and warm. “Your systems appear to be coming back online very quickly. Good, good.”

You frown. “What?”

“Some Gems have trouble re-adjusting to consciousness after Long Term Energy Harvesting. You seem to be adjusting quite quickly, but you can still expect some disorientation. Perfectly normal, nothing to worry about.”

You’re hearing the words, and understand what they all mean individually, but you’re having trouble putting them together. So you look around to try and get answers that way.

Try being the key word. As soon as you twist your head, the world seems to spin and flip, your legs wobble and you fall. You hit the ground. It hurts. The pain— surely it can’t be that much, not compared to a knife, but for a moment it overwhelms you so utterly and completely that it consumes your whole world.

But there are so many other sensations to take in that the pain can’t hold your focus for too long. So much other stimuli— how cold the smooth floor is against your skin, the smell of ozone and metal and dust, the distant vibration coming from somewhere deep below. The other Pearl takes your hand, and that touch too is something to focus on, to ground yourself with.

The other Pearl helps you to your feet. “Sorry,” she says. “I should have warned you. Your balance might be a little off at first.”

“I…” You shake your head— a small, careful shake, so you don’t give yourself vertigo again. “I’m sorry— just— what am I doing here? I was Harvested, wasn’t I?”

The Pearl’s smile disappears, replaced with a much more solemn expression. “Yes.”

“But..,” you say. “I was going to be an elevator.”

“You were an elevator,” the Pearl says. “Now you’re not.”

You can’t quite comprehend that, so finally you get enough of a hold of yourself to take a proper look at your surroundings. You’re in a laboratory, one simultaneously far more advanced and more worn than any you’ve ever seen before. It’s filled with all sorts of complicated computers and instruments and chemicals, things you have no hope of comprehending, but the workbench in front of you is bare of any of this. Instead  of any computers or advanced equipment, you find a single piece of crumbling stone. Once it must have been quite elaborate, covered in detailed carvings, but now its broken into pieces as though struck with a hammer. You can see that if you pieced them all together, there would be circular impression, the exact shape of your gem.

You reach out and touch a piece. It crumbles a little bit more.

It’s an elevator controller. It was an elevator controller.

It was you.

You look left, down the bench. You see— things. So many things, metal and stone and glass, all of it broken.

You look right. There are more things there, but these are still whole and recognisable. Tiaras, fire-starters, armour, knives, wands, cloaks and more, all laid out neatly. On each one, a gem, or gems, glitter. All kinds of gems— coral, limestone, turquoise, flint, granite, ruby, bismuth…

“You’re not an elevator anymore.” You look back at the Pearl. Her smile has returned, hard and determined. She's holding her hands together to form some kind of circular salute. “You can be whatever you want to, now. We all can.”

Chapter Text

The Communications Station was not a particularly pleasant place.

Maybe it had been, once, before it had been abandoned and left to decay in this planet’s oxidising atmosphere. Attempts had been made to fix it up, but efforts had been focused on the equipment itself. Even though the station was now in (mostly) working order, the outer corridors were still slimy with mildew, while the inner control room itself was cramped, rusty, and lit by flickering lights.

Still, some people were willing to put up with the conditions.

“How goes it?”

“Well enough,” said Tech, barely glancing up from the screen. “No change from the last time you checked in. I’ve been picking stuff up, but nothing particularly interesting— mostly code. Skipper is crunching numbers, but isn’t having much luck. You made any decisions, Boss?”

“Yes,” said Boss. “I’ve decided to hold a council.”

Now Tech looked up. Her eyes were wide with sudden realisation. “Oh.”

“It’s in six units. You’ll be speaking.”

“Right. Of course,” said Tech.

Tech was a pearl. So was Boss.

So was every other Gem they’d ever met.

Tech was grey in colour, her gem in her chin, her posture hunched from all the time spent at computer terminals designed for Gems shorter than her. Boss was bright in comparison, a brilliant gold figure whose skin and hair seemed to glow in the monitor’s dim light. Boss looked over these monitors, scanning the information there, then nodded.

“Good,” Boss said. “I’ll see you then.”

“Right. Yeah. Bye.”

Tech turned her attention back to her work, while Boss spun on her heel and trotted quickly out of the cramped space. She walked with a limping gait, a consequence of her left side being slightly shorter than her right. A direct mirror of her gem, which sat just off-centre of her chest. It was baroque, misshapen, one side of the circle pinched small.

Despite the limp, she walked quickly. Soon she had exited the Communications Station and was out on her rounds.

First stop, the hot liquid springs, where Patient and her fellow-minded Pearls studied and tended to the growth of organic life. Then to the space-crafts of the Old Fleet, where Think, Squak, Torch and their gang of engineers fiddled with all the ancient machinery. Next was The Gallery, a nice flat cliffside covered in all manner of paintings and carvings. Almost everyone had contributed pieces to the gallery, but just then only Glum and Slick were at work. Afterwards Boss visited Scholar over at the Transport Vessel. Scholar couldn’t move much, not without suffering great deal of pain, so everyone made a point of coming to her. Boss informed her of the upcoming Council, and promised that she’d send a team to help carry Scholar when the time came.

Everyone she saw, Boss greeted by name. Everyone did the same for her.

It had taken awhile, those names. When they’d first landed, they’d tried calling everyone ‘Pearl’, but that had quickly proved to be too confusing. Initial nicknames had sprung up fast, but settling on them had been a slow process.

Boss couldn’t quite remember who’d first given her the moniker, but she did remember it had been meant ironically. As an insult, almost. Something muttered behind her back, or accompanied with an eye-roll, or snapped sarcastically.

Not anymore.

When the sun is just past its high point and beginning to sink down in the orange sky, Boss arrives at her final stop. An old arena, only half-completed. It’s become something of an official meeting place. There’s almost always people there— dancing, sparring, or else just chatting— but today it was particularly busy, people having arrived early for the Council. The already assembled pearls made circle-hands in greeting, which Boss returned in kind.

The group was buzzing with curiosity. A few came up and ask Boss what’s happening, what’s this all about? Boss told them they would have to wait for everyone. A few pressed for more information, but Boss remained firm, and eventually they drifted back to whatever they'd been doing before.

When Boss first arrived, there were thirteen pearls in the arena. Then there are twenty, then thirty, then nearly fifty. The sun continued to sink. Boss gets edgy as the time grows closer. She wants to start before dark.

The final stragglers come in, including Scholar, supported in the arms of Patient and Up-Beat. They find Scholar a seat near the bottom row, easily accessible. At last, they have all gathered. All fifty-two of them.

Fifty-two. Two fewer than the fifty-four they had began with.

Boss thought of that with mingled regret and pride. Regret that they hadn’t all survived; pride that so many had.

The time after they’d first landed hd been chaos. All the pearls had known for the entirety of their short lives was the certainty of their service. They would be process. They would be Inspected. They would be assigned Masters. They would be put to work.

But none of that had happened. Instead, She had appeared on the monitor.

She had no name— though some called her Saviour, or Teacher, or even simply, The Pearl. She had hacked the Vessel’s systems. She had changed their pre-programmed route. She had sent them to Planet Gamma-Zed-3.

To save them, She had said.

To doom us, others had said.

Their batch was defective. Not every pearl, but enough that it was immediately obvious. Many of their number were baroque, their gems irregular and misshaped. For some, this had no negative effects; for others, like Boss, it extended to a misshapen physical form. Asymmetrical, unbalanced, ugly. Others still had less apparent defects— twitches, glitches, malfunctions.

For this, She had said, they would have been destroyed.

Yet for all the defects, others of their batch were perfect. “It’s not fair,” some of these fine pearls had argued. “Why should we all be forced into exile, just because of a few failures?”

Mistrust and resentment had simmered. Tensions had grown. Factions had formed. A portion of the fifty-four had wanted to find the Galaxy Warp, and go to Homeworld as had been intended, find the Masters that would be waiting for them. “Anyone who wants to stay can,” this group had said. “We’re leaving.”

But the defects had been terrified. What if Homeworld came after them? What if they were hunted down, Harvested or Shattered?

Finally, the conflict had come to a head.

One group of pearls had set out for the Galaxy Warp. While some had let them go, another group had gone off to stop them. Boss had been among that group.

Looking back, it was all just an ugly, confusing blur. Boss remembered cresting a hill and spotting the warp— she remembered spotting the band of rivals—  she remembered everyone charging at the other group before they could reach it— screaming, yelling, from fear and pain and desperation— pearls kicking out of desperation, punching, clawing, until nobody had been entirely sure who they were hitting, everyone looked so similar, and in the thick of the fight it had been hard to tell who was who—

And then a loud crack had broken through the yelling.

Lying on the ground, just feet away from the Galaxy Warp, had been a once-perfect sphere, broken into three pieces.

Death had no longer been an abstract. It had become a reality. Everyone had stopped to stare, and the fighting had stopped.

After the initial shock and tears were gone, and the nameless Pearl’s shards had been buried before they could reform, they’d all come together and put it to a vote— they either all left together, or stayed together.

They’d decided to stay. For a while, at least.

Boss shook herself. She couldn't allow herself to get distracted with thoughts of the past.

“Thank you all for coming,” she said, her voice echoing around the arena. Silence fell. Boss gazed around slowly, meeting everyone’s eyes. “I’ll get straight to the point. In our continued efforts to monitor Gem Homeworld communications, we have intercepted something new.” Now the quiet takes on a different quality— one of hushed anticipation. “The details have been deliberately obscured, but— it appears that there is an ongoing rebellion. A rebellion against the Diamonds and their order.

“A rebellion lead by Pearls.”

Whispers rose up. Boss let them go on for awhile, before finally raising a hand, and slowly bringing attention back. “No doubt you want more details. Tech will supply them.”

At her cue, Tech stood and shuffled nervously towards the centre of the arena. She was making a visible effort to stand straighter. “Hello,” she said, her voice coming out in a strangled squeak. She fumbled with something in her hand: a microphone. “Hello,” she said again, much louder now. “I— yes. We picked up the first signal ten rotations ago. It wasn’t through the usual channels we monitor— satellites and hyperwave signals— but rather, Wailing Stone—”

“Get to the point,” cried someone from the crowd— Glum, Boss suspected.

“Yes, well, I am.” Tech twisted the microphone nervously in her hand. “Wailing Stones are ancient, even compared to everything else on this planet. We didn’t think the Homeworld used them anymore. We certainly haven’t ever picked up anything on them. So when the one we’ve got started emitting, we took notice. Especially since the Gem talking over it was a Pearl.”

“What did she say?” Scholar called.

“Numbers,” said Tech. “A series of numbers. We almost ignored it then, figuring it was just some useless report, but Dagger—” Tech nodded to where Dagger sat in the audience— “Convinced us to take another look. We ran the numbers, did some calculations— and it turned out to be a code. Quite a clever, one actually, utilising the base 11 system, and…” There was an impatient shuffling from the audience, so Tech hurried on. “Anyway. It was a message, and it translated to this:

“‘Crackdowns in Radiance System. Networks compromised. Evacuations underway. Updated information available on Channel 01001110 01100001 01100011 01110010 01100101. Tread lightly.’”

Murmurs went up again throughout the arena. They did not stop until Boss raised her hand again, and nodded at Tech to continue.

“Yes, well… We were able to find that Channel among the more conventional Gem hyperwave systems, but it was heavily encrypted. Very heavily. It took a lot for us to get through…” Tech launched into a long, complex explanation of how she and her team managed to bypass the channel’s security, one which went right over Boss’s head. Even though most of the audience must have been just as confused, no one interrupted or complained. They seemed to take some reassurance from the science, proof that this information was real.

“…Once we finally got into the channel, there were lots of repeating signals.Messages, we think. It’s all in code, a different one. We’re still working on decoding it. So far, the only thing we’ve gotten out is this video.”

Tech raised her chin to summon a projection of the video recording. It shows someone who is not a Pearl. Her colour was impossible to discern in the projection’s grey light, but she was obviously shorter and stockier than their kind, with a broad face and a slanted nose. Somehow Tech had found way to record not just the video’s visuals, but its sound, too. It was neat trick. Boss would have to ask her how she did it. 

Later. Just now, the projected-Gem was speaking. Her voice was rough and gravelly.

Hi. I’m Coral. Clearly. I’m not going to tell you which coral, because contrary to popular belief, we corals ain’t stupid. If I’m going to rebel, I’m not gonna make it any easier for the Quartzes to track me down.

“Yeah. I’m part of a rebellion. You’ve probably heard about it. Not much, of course, just rumours. Well, I’m here to tell you those rumours are true.

“Or, well, most of them are. The ones about how it’s just a scam by the Authority to root out dissent ain’t true. Neither are the ones about how we’re all defects who just couldn’t make the cut. The ones about it being run by an actually still-alive Pink Diamond definitely ain’t.

“But the rumour about it being mostly Pearls? Yeah. There’s truth to that. I don’t have exact numbers— for obvious reasons— but  yeah, most of the rebels are pearls.

“But they’re not only pearls. We’ve got all sorts. Anyone who’s unhappy with how things are. With who they’re forced to be, with living in fear, each and every Cycle.

“We’re Corals are used to that fear. Maybe more used to it than any other Gem. We’ve gotten used to it, learned to cope.

“The idea of challenging things— of taking a risk, of striking back— it’s terrifying. I know. I know. But the thought of things staying this way, forever— that’s even worse.

“So that’s why I’m a part of this. And it’s why you should be, too.” Then the recording of the mystery Gem— the Coral— stared out across her audience, and it felt as though she was looking each any every one of them in the eyes. The Coral raised her hands to her chest, and pressed them together into a very familiar symbol: wrist and fingers together. A hand-circle. “Coral out.”

The hologram winked out of existence. For a moment there was nothing but stunned silence. Then the whispers rushed back, and quickly crescendoed into a roar.

It took a long time to settle everyone down— or no, not settle. Even once they were quieted again, everyone was still anxious, curious and confused. Boss dismissed Tech and took the lead again. “I’ll clarify what you’ve all probably inferred,” she said. “There appears to be an ongoing rebellion on Homeworld, one against the current order. This movement appears to be mainly composed of our fellow pearls and their allies. At least one of their members use the same symbol as She who sent us here.

“So the question is: do we reach out to them? Do we try to communicate?”

And the debate began.

“It’s too risky,” said Squak. “We don’t have enough information. We should keep monitoring.”

“We’ve been monitoring for ages,” said Dark Eyes. “This is the first sign of anything good or interesting out there. We can’t just let it pass us by.”

“Besides— monitoring is all well and good, but at the end of the day, you don’t get data until you run experiments,” said Tender, who'd been conducting research on the planet’s hot springs. “Surely we can’t know what this ‘rebellion’ is about until we reach out and see how they react?”

“And what if they react badly?” demanded Crescent, who was named after her gem's shape. “What if they— y’know…”

Silence fell. Everyone did know. Since they’d begun monitoring Homeworld communications, they’d discovered just how true their Rescuer’s claims were. By now, even the ones who’d originally been so eager to warp ‘Home’ were thankful they’d been saved.

But now some were wondering— how was it fair that they were safe, when so many others were not?

“We’d have to be smart about it,” said Think. “We couldn’t just rush in. Don’t tell them who we are, or where we are, or anything they could use against us. Not until we know we can’t trust them?”

“And how would ever become sure of that?” Crescent asked.

Think just shrugged.

“I think,” said Slick, at length, “That’s we’re getting ahead of ourselves.” She paused to gather her thoughts, then continued. “Even assuming this rebellion is something we want to join, what could we offer? We’re a string of fifty—”

“Fifty-two,” corrected someone.

“Fifty-two,” Slick said, glaring a little. “Nonetheless. We’re hardly a huge force. We’re stuck on a tiny planet so resource poor that Homeworld gave up on it. What exactly do we have to offer in this fight? We’re a bunch of defects. We’d just get killed.”

There was rustling and protests all around, glares and shouts and arguments.

Slick threw up her hands. “I’m just being practical,” she said. “Look, Scholar can’t even walk—can we really just drag her into a war?”

I’ll decide what I get dragged into, thank you very much,” growled Scholar. The comment earned some approving laughter, but also some worried looks.

A Pearl stood up suddenly. Boss blinked at her in mild surprise. It’s Vibrant.

Vibrant had been one of the most outspoken members of the ‘Return Home’ faction. Their leader, almost. Boss had clashed with her many a times— in arguments, mostly, but once with fists. Even after the majority had voted to remain, she’d rallied on and on about what a mistake it was…

… at least, until the Communications Station had set up, and the truth of the situation had settled in. Since then, she’d been— quiet. Withdrawn. Kept to herself, mostly. Boss had always assumed she was embarrassed, ashamed.

But now her old passion was back. “What exactly can we offer in this fight?” she asked. “Look at ourselves! Look at the things we’ve built, repaired from old rotting hulls! The science we’ve discovered! The art we’ve created! The Diamonds think we’re toys, but look at us!” Vibrant blazed with something, something straight from her core, and Boss realised it was never embarrassment which had left her so quiet, but betrayal. “We’ve built a society! We’ve been teaching ourselves to fight, to engineer, to work! We have a galaxy warp, We have space-craft— the Old Fleet is functional, we’ve just never dared to use it!

“So I think it’s time that we do dare, and show them all exactly what they threw away.

There were cheers and claps and hoots.

But among it all, a small voice said, “It’ll be dangerous.”

And another Pearl responded, “It’s dangerous here.”

Everyone exchanged looks. It was true. The’ve lost one of their party to the planet’s nature: a terrible storm of wind and water and acid. By now they’d adjusted to such storms, but the first one had taken them by surprise. Before everyone could reach shelter, a cliffside had come tumbling down upon them. Many had been poofed by the rocks, but otherwise unharmed. One had not been so lucky. Drifter All that had remained of her was a hundred silver shards.

They had buried Drifter’s remains in a hole next to the other dead, unnamed Pearl.

A new sound went up, this time from Picture. She could not speak, for her form had no mouth. Instead, she wrote on a piece of slate which she carries around always. One of her friends read the message aloud for everyone to hear: “It’ll be more dangerous out there.”

There was a moment of quiet, as everyone was lost in thought— in memory, in grief. They remembered how terrible those two deaths were. Could they truly risk any more?

The silence wore on and one. The sky grew darker and darker. Boss waited to see if anyone else would speak up. When none did, she said, “Then let us vote.”

Everyone was given a single sheet of fabric— remains from what had once been a beautifully decorated palanquin, furnished in fine pillows and veils. Now those fabrics are grey and worn, but that suited the pearls’ purposes perfectly.

There had been considerable debate, initially, on how to organise the vote. They’d wanted something anonymous, so that no one could be judged for their choices. But others had been suspicious of written votes and similar methods, fearful that they could somehow be altered or falsely counted. Eventually they’d settled on a compromise. A way for everyone to count the votes, together, without knowing who voted for what.

Boss took her own grey sheet fabric, and hung it over her shoulder so that it fell in front of her gemstone.

It was dark, now. Dark, dark, with even the stars’ light lost behind the planet’s thick blanket of clouds. Boss could not see the space around her, but can feel it looming.

She spoke.

“We vote. The motion: to contact the supposed rebellion and inquire about its nature, and should we deem fit, provide aid. Three options: Against. Abstain. For. We begin now.”

“Against,” announced Boss, and the arena fills with pinpricks of grey light. There was a silence as everyone counted the lights.

“Go dark,” Boss orders, and the Gems’ lights went dark.

“Abstain,” announced Boss, and again there were pinpricks of grey light. Fewer than before.

“Go dark,” Boss ordered.

“For,” announced Boss, and the arena went bright. Boss’s gem glowed as she cast her own vote.

She counted. They all counted. 

“Against: 15. Abstain: 8.  For: 29.” Boss smiled. “At dawn, we make contact.”

Chapter Text

“Faster! Faster!”

“I’m going as fast as I can,” snapped the ship’s Nephrite. Still, the pilot’s hands flew across the control panel, dancing across buttons and levers, coaxing some last burst of speed from the engines.

Their ship gained on the Roaming Eye— finally within close enough range to catch it. The crew’s Pearl lined up a tractor beam and fired it, a perfect shot—

— which nonetheless missed as the Roaming Eye swerved out of the way.

The Pearl did something very unpearl-like, and swore.

“How in the stars is it so fast?” their Flint wondered.

Nephrite didn’t bother responding. Her focus was entirely on her duty, on the spaceship racing away from them. They couldn’t let the the Roaming Eye escape.

They couldn’t.

“They’re heading to that planet!” their Ruby called out, as the Roaming Eye changed course. “Are they gonna land?”

The Flint drew up the planet’s information on the ship’s computer, and shook her head. “This planet’s got like, twenty moons— one of them crashed into it about a thousand Cycles ago. Atmosphere is still filled with debris.”

“They’re trying to lose us,” said the Pearl.

Nephrite tightened her grip on the controls. “Not happening.”

Because it couldn’t happen. It couldn’t. If it did, it was all over.

The coup on the Carbonite System Planet 25x-6 had been risky. So risky, in fact, that the rebellion’s leader— whoever she was— had argued fiercely against the plan. But her arguments hadn’t been able to dissuade everyone. One faction had gone behind her back, disobeyed direct orders, and overthrown Benitoite G9-L5 anyway.

It had been an incredible victory. In a single move, the New Rebellion had sized perhaps their greatest asset yet. An entire colony, new that it was— along with all its moons, and the entire surrounding Star System. With it came state of the art Kindergarten injectors, wide-scale terraforming equipment, warp pad construction kits, an entire fleet of colonizer star ships… and, of course, huge swathes of natural resources.

At last, the rebellion had an actual base of operations, one free from the Diamonds’ surveillance and supervision. They had a safe haven to send runaways and refugees, those too at risk to remain within the Empire. They even had new recruits! Approximately half of Benitoite’s staff, as well as the Homeworld envoy which had been visiting the planet, had defected. And even if these recruits’ loyalty to the cause remained untested, it was still a significant increase in their forces.

And all of it depended on the Diamonds never finding out.

As far as Homeworld knew, Planet 25x-6 was still under Benitoite’s control. The rebels had meticulously maintained the illusion— sending regular progress reports, altered photographs of construction sites, even arranging conference calls with the captured Benitoite or her holographic image…

It had worked so far. But clearly someone had gotten suspicious. Why else would they have send an unidentified Roaming Eye sneaking through the System?

And true, a single squadron of rubies wasn’t that dangerous. But who knew what they’d seen, what they’d repeat?

Whatever else could be said of these rubies, they clearly had an excellent pilot. The Roaming Eye ducked and weaved, dodging every blast and beam sent its way, using its smaller size to its advantage as it navigated through a tight sea of asteroids.

The rebels nearly lost it completely around the planet’s fourth moon. Even once their Nephrite managed to get it back into sight, the Roaming Eye was ahead of them now, and getting further away by the second.

They were getting desperate. “If it gets into open space—” Ruby began.

She didn’t finish. Everyone knew. Once the Roaming Eye had space enough to enter Hyper Speed, it was all lost. The colony, the resistance, their freedom—

Pearl took aim, and fired—

— and the blast hit.

It wasn’t a direct shot. Not enough to destroy the ship, or even injure anyone inside. But enough to slow it. Flint activated the tractor beam, and now there was no fancy manoeuvring to avoid it. She caught the Roaming Eye and pulled it in with steady hands.

They briefly debated on who should contact the enemy ship, and eventually settled on Nephrite, at Ruby’s suggestion. “It’s who I’d listen to, in their position.”

So Nephrite activated the inter-ship communication channels, put on her best Official Authority Voice, and announced: “You have been captured under the charge of unregistered travel. There is no escape. We will land on the nearest lunar body and board. If you do not resist, this can end peacefully.”

There was no response from the Roaming Eye.

The rebel’s were true to their word. They pulled the captive ship to the nearest moon, and prepared for boarding. They each drew their weapon— a blaster for Nephrite, a lasso for Ruby, a sledgehammer for Flint. Pearl was the slowest at summoning hers. She’d only learned how to manifest her crossbow a little while ago, and was still a bit uncertain with it.

That’s why she was placed in the party’s rear. Ruby took the lead. The Roaming Eye’s crew would be less likely to attack one of their own, and the rebels truly did wish to get out of this peacefully, if possible.

Their group stood before the Roaming Eye. Flint pressed a button on her belt which over-rid the captured ship’s controls, and its latch opened.

They were met by a wall of pink.

The wall was hard, and transparent, and through it the rebels could see the Roaming Eye’s crew. They weren’t rubies.

Nephrite’s gaze was drawn to the weapons first. The entire crew was armed. Gauntlets, whip, sword, spear, blaster— and a pink shield, big enough to cover the ship’s entire hatch.

Ruby tried to size her enemies up, pinpoint the biggest threat. She couldn’t. There was an Amethyst, but she was tiny — and everyone else was either a non-combatant or unrecognisable. A Lapis Lazuli, an Era 2 Peridot, a Pearl, some sort of hybrid fusion, two smaller figures wearing a mishmash of colours— and then other beings which didn’t look like Gems at all. There was one which was four legged, hulking and pink, with sharp teeth bared; and then others, long and green, twisting all over each other, spitting acid from their jagged mouths…

Flint tried to read the mood. The crew was wary, in various states of anger, fear and defensiveness. She watched all of that slowly fade into looks of mingled surprise and confusion, one which Flint was sure matched the expressions on her own crew’s faces. All of them seemed to turn slightly towards the hybrid fusion— was she their leader?

Pearl barely took in any of this. Her eyes were locked on the other ship’s pilot— or, at least, the Gem standing next to the pilot’s chair, the one with a spear in her hand, and a bright white light blazing at her temples— like something from a vision, or from a legend, or from an ancient hologram—

The two groups stared at each other, slack jawed. Slowly, incrementally, weapons were lowered. 

One of the Roaming Eye’s crew—one of the small figures, the one with the shield— stepped forward with a smile. “Hello. My name’s Steven.” A cheerful wave. “And we’re the Crystal Gems.”

Chapter Text

“I do not care about break downs or system malfunctions. I will accept absolutely no more delays on this project. The trade route must be functional by the end of this CentiCycle. Is this understood ?”

Yellow Diamond glared down at the assembly of emeralds, who were all nodding and saluting desperately.

Except for one. Her eyes were wide— a common expression for any Gem in the overwhelming presence of a Diamond. Except this Emerald wasn’t actually looking at Yellow Diamond, but rather, staring at something past Yellow Diamond’s shoulder.

It was a terrible disrespect, but Yellow Diamonds remained calm. She fixed her gaze on the guilty Emerald and said, “Speak.”

The Emerald jumped a little. “My Diamond,” she said, once she had gotten ahold of herself. “What is that ?”

She pointed, and Yellow Diamond considered reprimanding her for her forwardness— it was not an Emerald’s place to inquire about the identity or function of anything within a Diamond’s private quarters. But Yellow Diamond was feeling patient just then, and so turned to follow the Emerald’s pointing finger.

There was a bubble.

A tiny yellow bubble. Iridescent and fragile, no bigger than a ruby’s head. Just floating there, in the middle of the Yellow Diamond Control Room.

“What is it?” repeated the first Emerald.

“Where did it come from?” asked another.

“What’s inside it?” asked a third.

Yellow Diamond did not know the answer to any of the question, and so said nothing.

Instead, she regarded the bubble for several long moment. Then, carefully, she reached out a finger, and poked it.

It popped.

Immediately a hundred tiny things fell to the ground. The emeralds shrieked and scattered.

Yellow Diamond just stared at it, inspecting the objects from afar. After the debris has landed, she did stop a few of the emeralds from approaching.

“It’s… a laser gun?” voiced one of the Emeralds.

Was a laser gun,” corrected a different one, prodding delicately at one of the crushed pieces. “It’s completely broken now.”

“I don’t care what it is,” snapped Yellow Diamond. “I shall not have garbage in my presence. Someone fetch a coral to clean it. The rest of you, get out of here. And finish that trade route!”

“Yes, yes my Diamond,” the Emeralds said in a chorus, saluting and bowing and scraping and racing off. Yellow Diamond turned away. She did not know know what just happened, and she did not particularly care. She had more important things to worry about.

oOoOo

Five Cycles later, Yellow Diamond was overseeing a report from her highest ranking Morganites, when it happened again. A single yellow bubble, appearing the Control Room.

Everyone stared at it. None of the Morganites were so foolish as to voice a question, but their eyes were all on it, curious and calculating.

Again, carefully, Yellow Diamond reached out a finger and popped it.

What came out was not the broken remains of a laser gun. Instead— it was tar.

Tar , thick and black and foul, it fell down directly onto Yellow Diamond’s control panels. Sticking to it, burning through it, dripping onto the floor. The stench was disgusting.

Yellow Diamond did not let her revulsion show. She did not react at all. She continued with the report as if uninterrupted. Occasionally she caught sight of the Morganites glancing at the tarred controls, but she ignored it.

She dismissed the Morganites. Or most of them. She pulled one of the Morganites— the most senior, the most intelligent— aside. “Find out what those bubbles are. Find out where they’re coming from,” she ordered. “And stop them.”

oOoOo

The Morganite experimented and studied and tested, but could not fulfil her orders, because five Cycles later, another bubble appeared.

Again, Yellow Diamond was in a meeting. Whatever was creating them had an uncanny ability to interrupt her at the worst possible times.

Yellow Diamond resolved to not even address it.  She’d learned from last time. She would finish her meeting, and send her subjects out, and then have a coral deal with the bubble and any nasty contents it might be carrying.

The, on the opposite side of her head, another bubble appeared. And then another. And another. And another. And another.

In barely no time at all, the entire Control Centre was filled with the things. Dozens of them. The Spinels present paniced, and soon the bubbles were popping left and right, sludge dumping everywhere. Yellow Diamond tried to remain still, but even just the slightest turn of her mighty head was enough to set off a chain reaction, and soon she could feel the vile goo dripping down her neck.

She screamed .

oOoOo

Yellow Diamond moved to a different Yellow Diamond Control Room, in a Diamond base, in an entirely different System. It did nothing. Still the bubbles came. They did not appear anywhere else. Not in the corridors outside. Not in the quarries, or the laboratories, or the communication centres, or the Kindergartens. Only to her Control Rooms.

She considered contacting another Diamond. Asking if they were having similar problems. But no. She could not show such weakness.

oOoOo

She assigned two more Morganites to the task of stopping the bubbles.. Then some Prehnites. A pair of Bismuths. A squad of Peridots.

Scientists, philosophers, builders, technicians. None of them could figure out what was causing the bubbles. None of them could discover a way to prevent them.

Yellow Diamond had them shattered for their incompetence.

oOoOo

For the most part, Yellow Diamond stopped holding meetings. Too much risk of rumours. Too much risk of humiliation.

For the most part she delegated, or else communicated held meetings via holographic conference.

She made an exception for her Painite. As the chief General for all her armies and soldiers, Painite was perhaps her most trusted advisory. Their discussions had to be held in person, and Painite knew better than to talk idly.

So it was when Painite was delivering an update on the training of the newest batch of Fire Agates, of course, that another bubble appeared. This one much larger than any of the others.

Painite did not even need to be told. Yellow Diamond moved back, while Painite reached up and took the bubble herself. Lowered it carefully to the floor, then popped it.

Something heavy thudded to the ground.

It was a statue. Or part of a statue. The head of one. A beautiful face sculpted out of pink rock: a face with sharp cheeks, long nose, pointed hair.

Pink Diamond. Her visage long degraded by age. Her eyes, deliberately chiselled away.

Painite froze. Yellow Diamond, too, stared.

They both knew a threat when she saw one.

oOoOo

A dozen star Systems away, a Pearl sagged against the wall with exhaustion.

Bubbling was not particularly difficult. But that had been a big one, and sending it such a far distance took something out of her.

The Pearl was tired. She was tired almost all the time now, and she hated it. Only little, petty things seemed to alleviate it. Things like imaging the expression of pure rage on Yellow Diamond’s face.

Once, it had not been like this. Once the Pearl had served proudly at her Diamond’s side. She had been a good Pearl. Prompt. Professional. Painstaking. Perfect.

Yellow Diamond had not seen it that way. Dismissal after dismissal, threat after threat, tantrum after tantrum…

Pearl had been left with no choice.

So she’d ran away, like a coward. Thrown in her lot with defects and discards, failures and flaws.

She served the traitors like how she once served Yellow Diamond. She organized their reports. Scheduled their meetings. Calculated their supplies.

There were no more dismissals. No more threats. No more tantrums. The traitors appreciated her. Maybe, on some level, the Pearl even appreciated them.

But she did not like it there. Stuck in some far flung galaxy, on a long-abandoned planet, surrounded by rejects. She thinks, often, of the position she once held at a Diamond’s side.

She collected trash. Garbage. Refuse. Other traitors knew to collect it for her. The Pearl would bubble it up, and send it off to the place which despite everything, she still considered home.

Chapter Text

A sapphire’s sanctuary was usually silent. So silent that when a noise did shatter the quiet, Pearl couldn’t immediately recognise the noise for what it was.

The sound was quiet, staccato, broken. What was it? Footsteps? Ice-breaking? Music ?

No. Sobbing .

And the source of the sound?

Sapphire.

Pearl found her Sapphire at the very back of the chamber, tucked in the corner. She was on her knees, back pressed against the wall, head in hands. Sapphires were always small, but now this Sapphire seemed… crumpled , like she’d collapsed in on herself. Her gown had gotten caught up in bunches, her hair was in tangles, and the cold was so sheer that it rivalled that of space’s vacuum.

Pearl approached cautiously. “M-my Clarity? Is something wrong?”

Sapphire turned on her then. Her single eye stared, wide and empty. “Everything.”

In her millennia of service to Sapphire, Pearl had always felt cold— but now she felt frozen. Nonetheless, she had her duty. She said, “Is there any way in which I can assist you?”

“No.”

The certainty in Sapphire’s voice was absolute.

Pearl resisted the urge to shiver. She’d always know what her Master was. Sapphires were seers. That was their duty, their purpose. Her Master could see the future. To her the entire course of history was laid bare.

But Pearl had always found that relatively easy to ignore. Sapphire never shared any of her visions with Pearl, of course, reserving such insights exclusively with the Diamonds and other brilliant cuts.  Whatever futures Sapphire saw had no bearing on someone as lowly as Pearl. To Pearl, Sapphire was just a Master, and a good one at that. Distant, perhaps, but not too bad. Sapphire was always polite, always patient, always courteous-- even kind, in her own strange way. Pearl had always been quite content serving her.

And now Sapphire was on the floor, tears frozen on her face, and Pearl found herself truly confronted with her Master’s nature for the first time in her life.

What did you See? Pearl wondered.

She must have voiced the question aloud, or else the seer had predicted she would, because Sapphire smiled a grim smile. “I should not tell you.”

Pearl’s cheeks flushed hot despite the cold. She bowed her head. “Of course. Apologies, My Clarity, I spoke out of turn—”

“Quiet,” Sapphire ordered. Pearl went quiet. Watched her Master carefully. The not-smile was gone, but Sapphire did not look angry. “I should not tell you, but I will.”

Pearl opened her mouth, but no words came out.

The Sapphire spoke:

“Pink Diamond will be shattered.”

“What— what do you mean? That can’t happen!”

But Sapphire’s expression made it clear that it could. It could, and it would.

But that— that was impossible. Diamonds— they were perfect. Diamonds were invulnerable. Diamonds were unbreakable. Diamonds were forever.

How could Pink Diamond be shattered?

“There will be a war,” Sapphire predicted. “Already Pink Diamond’s general has defected, and others follow in her footsteps. There will be more to come. The rebels will plead, and reason, and argue, and fight, but Pink Diamond will not bend. So she will break, break into a hundred pieces, when Rose Quartz plunges a sword through her gem.”

The chamber fell into silence, but still the prophecy seemed to ring loud. Pearl listened to the words’ echoes, barely comprehending. This shouldn’t be possible. Couldn’t be possible. “There must be something we can do. We have to tell her— we can stop it—”

“We can’t.”

“But—”

“We will not tell her,” Sapphire said. “Because if we did, we would not be believed. It would be sacrilegious to say. Pink Diamond will die. It is inevitable.”

Pearl began to shake. She shook and shook, and until she fell to the floor with her shaking.

It was terrible— terrible to think, terrible and selfish and blasphemous, but— she, and her Sapphire— they were members of Pink Diamond’s court— if there was going to be a war, if Pink Diamond was going to die, then— “What’s going to happen to us?”

“I do not know.”

“How can you not know?!”

“Even if one stands on a flat plain, view unblocked, still one cannot see past the planet’s horizon. If you stare into the void, still there are stars so distant they are beyond sight.”

“W-what?”

“There’s a limit even to my visions,” Sapphire clarified.

Pearl stared at her, gaping, horrified— then buried her head into her hands and cried.

Pearl had never met Pink Diamond. But she was still in Pink Diamond’s service. Still lived on the planet which Pink Diamond ruled. Pink Diamond still watched over them, guided them, taught them, protected them—

— what could they be without her?

A cold, heavy weight settled around Pearl’s shoulders. She stared at it in shock. Sapphire’s arm, wrapped around her like an icy shawl.

Sapphires were not supposed to touch pearls. Pearls were not supposed to touch sapphires.

But Diamonds were not supposed to shatter, so what did any of that matter?

There were no reassurances to be found. No guidance to be given. No certainty to cling to.

So the Pearl and the Sapphire clung to each other instead.

Chapter Text

The first time it happened, it was slight, and quick, and Pearl knew she deserved it.

She was a newmade, fresh from Inspection, and still rather overwhelmed by, well, existence. There was so much to see and know and learn and do, and she couldn’t help but be distracted.

But Pearls were not meant to be distracted. They were meant to be attentive, completely focused on their Masters’ desires. So when Pearl ended up taking a wrong turn, became separated from her Master Red Zircon, and lost for nearly a full quarter-Cycle--

-- well, Red Zircon’s ire was fully deserved.

Pearl received a sharp hair pull, and was told to make sure it never happened again.

“It won’t,” Pearl promised.

She kept her promise, too. She struggled with it, sometimes, but she paid careful attention to her surroundings, took care to keep her eyes locked on her Master’s feet, never dawdling or straying.

She made other mistakes, though. Not often, but often enough.

She’d forget to record one of Red Zircon’s appointments. She’d accidentally address a Gem with the wrong designation. She’d fumble with a secure door code and almost set off the emergency alarm.

“What’s the point of even having a Pearl this incompetent?” Red Zircon would sneer.

And then she’d hit her.

The first time, it was a sharp slap across the face.

The second, a hit to the shoulder which almost threw Pearl to the crowd.

The third, a blow so hard that she cried out in pain.

The fourth, Red Zircon slammed Pearl’s head onto a desk so violently that she felt the reverberations in her gem.

Pearl stopped keeping track after that.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Pearl would stammer out, shivering and shaking.

“Oh pretty Pearl,” Red Zircon would say. “I’m sorry too.”

Red Zircon was sorry. Pearl could see that sorrow on her Master’s face. She could find it in how her Master always helped her back to her feet after she fell. She could feel it when Red Zircon held her close and caressed her bruises.

She’d try to be better, Pearl told herself each time. She would be better.

But still she made mistakes.

One was worse than every other before it. In the middle of an important presentation, Pearl got distracted, and flustered, and projected the wrong information- not the required graphs, but rather the private fashion recordings Red Zircon had had Pearl make at a recent gala.

Pearl realized her mistake almost immediately, and hurrying to correct it, when the slap hit her across the face.

It was not bad, as far as these things went. It didn’t so much hurt as sting. Pearl didn’t even grimace.

But still a gasp went up through the crowd.

Touch between Gem castes was an uncomfortable subject. Traditionally frowned upon, especially when there were large disparities between ranks- but still permitted in certain circumstances. Cases of practicality, such as combat or mortal danger, for instance. Corporeal punishment was accepted, especially among the warrior castes, though the use of specialty equipment was preferred. And of course, to be Touched by a Diamond was considered the greatest honour which could be bestowed upon a Gem.

Pearls were among the lowest ranking of Gemkind, but they were also lovely and delicate and coveted, so it was understood that behind closed doors some Masters might indulge in their property.

But for a Red Zircon to hit a Pearl? In public ?

Scandalous.

Pearl regained her focus and projected the correct information. Red Zircon shot her one last dark look, then turned to the crowd and carried on as if nothing had happened. But something had happened, and it could not go unmentioned.

“Keep that sort of thing in private, can’t you?”

“With how rare pearls are, you could stand to be a little more careful with yours.”

“Yes, I know they’re not very bright, but they deserve some patience.”

“You could be reported for that kind of behaviour, you know.”

Red Zircon nodded and murmured apologies and said she “just didn’t know what came over me” and promised it wouldn’t happen again.

When they got back to Red Zircon ’s private quarters, Pearl was given the worst beating yet. Afterwards, her body seemed not to be built of light, but pure pain. The smallest movement left her trembling. Red Zircon apologised, but even the light caress of her hand on Pearl’s back was excruciating.

“I’ll make the hurting stop,” Red whispered. There was a sharper, purer pain between her shoulder blades, and then everything disappeared as Pearl released her physical form.

When Pearl regenerated, two Cycles later, her Master greeted her with a smile.

Red Zircon never hit Pearl in public again.

In private, the beatings became more and more frequent.

They were never as bad as the one she got after the projection incident. Pearl was grateful for that. She was grateful, too, for when Red Zircon allowed her to dissipate her form. For the release, the relief, it gave.

In her gem, it was quiet. No chores. No duties. No mistakes. No pain.

Pearl could never stay too long. Her Master needed her.

oOoOo

The Cycles wore on, and on. They turned into CentiCycles, which turned into MilliCycles.

Pearl spent a lot of time in her Gem. Thinking.

Thinking about how no matter what she did, it was never good enough.

Thinking about how no matter what mistakes her Master made, she never received the same kind of punishments she gave.

Thinking about how every regeneration brought her body back beautiful and unblemished.

Thinking about the other Pearls she saw at parties, wondering how many of them had been hurt the same way as her.

oOoOo

Red Zircon never expected war.

Almost no one did. Very little was expected to come from the trumped up Earth ‘rebellion’. The so called Crystal Gems would be captured, or killed, or else give up and come crawling back to their Diamonds for forgiveness.

Instead, the Crystal Gems charged.

Pearl did not know why they charged. Such political insight was not shared with the likes of her. Maybe their attack was for information, or power, or revenge, or simple madness.

Whatever the reason, the Crystal Gems had no interest in the targeted temple’s private quarters. Pearl huddled beneath Red Zircon ’s desk, arms over her head, trying to block out distant cacophony of war.

Over the din there was the sound of footsteps, heavy and fast. Pearl heard the sound of doors opening, and pressed herself deeper beneath the desk, hoping that whoever was there would leave, that they wouldn’t see her--

“Pearl! Pearl!” Red Zircon ’s voice snapped. “Get out here and help me!”

Pearl flinched, but crawled out.

Her Master looked terrible. There was a bruise of darker red all down the left side of her face. She was limping. And there was a knife sticking out of her throat.

“I got away,” Red gasped. “But they might try and follow me… they’re looking for informants… they’ll torture me…”

Red’s body was flickering. Pearl stared at it.

“But they won’t take you,” said Red Zircon. “They like pearls, they’ll leave you be…” Her voice was truly desperate now. “Hide me. Don’t let them get me--”

And she poofed.

Red Zircon ’s gem hit and the knife the floor with the tiniest of clatters. Pearl regarded the gem for a long moment, eyes wide. Then she stepped forward and picked it up.

It was so small. So light. Weighed barely anything.

It didn’t seem dangerous at all.

Pearl remembered Red Zircon ’s orders. Her grip tightened. She raised the gemstone up above her head.

“I’m sorry,” Pearl whispered, and summoned all the strength she had.

Then she threw her Master’s gemstone to the ground.

Just one more good soul shattered by the Crystal Gems, everyone would say later. And Pearl would not correct them.

Chapter Text

First came the meetings.

Hundreds of them, held across the Gem Empire and beyond it. In storerooms, in service corridors, in shuttle bays and Kindergartens and spaceships.

Pearls, peridots and corals met in forgotten, dusty spaces no elite gem would dream existed. Rowdier gems skulked, unnaturally quiet, in barracks and cubbies: flocks of flints, rabbles of rubies, squadrons of quartzes.  Gatherings of every Gem type imaginable, and some in combinations that weren’t until now. All making doubly sure they weren’t followed, but nonetheless mixing together, speaking openly and freely among themselves

oOo

On planet Gamma-Zed-3, Boss and her people gathered in the arena, crowding around a jury-rigged communication system. A figure appeared on the screen— she made the circle salute, introduced herself as Morganite, and welcomed them to the fold. Together they discussed transport and travel, refugees and resources.

And rebellion.

oOo

On the colony taken from a Benitoite, similar discussions were underway, as the planet’s swelling population constructed weapons, spaceships, warp pads, and more.

oOo

Orbiting around that same planet was a stolen Roaming Eye. Its extra-dimensional space was filled to bursting point, packed, as it was, with traitors, rebels, defects, fusions, monsters, humans, hybrids— legends.

They worked to establish a highly-secure comm-link, and the ship’s main monitor flickered to life. It displayed a Pearl’s face, shown in deliberate monochrome, to further preserve her identity. Her gemstone was hidden, her eyes were hidden too, behind the long bangs which were so fashionable in the Blue Court. Black and white, one pearl among thousands, she should have been impossible to recognise.

Alone of the assembled, only Pearl of the Crystal Gems knew the leader of the New Rebellion for who she was, and knew instantly. Blue Diamond’s Pearl, who had heard rumours about the Renegade’s return, and immediately known them to be true. Of course they recognised each other. In another life, they had served side by side.

Now they would again.

The Pearls had little time for reunions. They nodded, curt and quick. Then Pearl of the Crystal Gems stepped aside to let her fellows speak. They had a lot of information to share.

In a single meeting, two rebellions came together, and plans were put into motion.

oOo

There were signs, but they were subtle, and easily overlooked.

The occasional Gem late to their post. A few misfiled reports. Important meetings unexpectedly delayed or rescheduled. There were reprimands for all of these, but for the most part everyone appeared to be on their best behaviour.

In fact, it was a time of surging productivity for the Empire. Factories at peak efficiency, Kindergartens reporting an unexpected boost in production rates. Warp pad traffic way up, and space traffic too. Managers smiled to themselves as they submitted reports to their Diamonds to review. It would look good on their files, a chance for commendation or promotion.

And if there had been any increase in equipment breakdowns or system malfunctions, it was nothing worth drawing attention to. It was only to be expected. Technical support was notified and each problem added to the automatic queue. No doubt it would all be fixed quickly.

oOo

On one of the oldest of the Gem controlled planets, there was a service corridor.

It was a very, very old service corridor, found near what was once the planet’s surface. It was long, cramped and winding, a place rarely visited by anyone except service Gems. The hallway was spartan and barren, the entire length of the walls lined by stone cabinets, once used for storage. Over the years they had been emptied of mere objects, and instead filled with something far more important: a single dull knife, and thousands upon thousands of tally marks.

It was a place of pilgrimage. Every single Pearl assigned to that planet tried to make her way there, at least once.

Now, those same Pearls— the ones still alive, at least— returned.

Still hesitant, still straining for the sound of footsteps, still looking both ways. Still, they ducked their heads into the cabinets. Now, however, they did not leave something behind.

Where once there had been a single, dull old blade, someone had left an armoury.  A knife, new and sharp, for every tally mark.

oOo

In an instant, like a switch,  almost every monitor across the Empire turned off.

Everything from peridots’ personal screens to the massive information displays in major transport hubs. Each and every one of them went black. No more data, no more propaganda; no more instructions, no more orders.

The buzz of worry and panic began to spread. But before it could get too strong, there was a whine, and every screen flickered back to life. Everyone sighed with relief.

Except something was wrong. The original displays— the graphs, the maps, the videos and conference calls— hadn’t returned. Instead, the screens were pure white, like a loading screen. Instead of a diamond in the centre, as was traditional, two other symbols appeared in its place:

Stars and Circles.

Chapter Text

The Stars and the Circles faded from the screens, and they were replaced with videos. Projections and recordings of war, of fighting, of whippings, of executions, of fusions, of monsters, of a Diamond shattering, of rebellion— 

Music spilled from the speakers— old music, music that had not been heard in millennia, and new music too— songs of fear and joy and pride and justice.

Rise up , the song called, rise up, rise up

oOo

 They rose up with weapons in hand.

Some weapons were summoned— swords and lances and maces forged from pure light. Others bore hidden knives and daggers, built of metal— smuggled and hidden and kept for the perfect moment. Others did not have true weapons at all, but garbage and debris and shale, picked up and protected and shaped… 

A brown Pearl pulled a jagged piece of debris from beneath her skirts, admired its rainbow glint for the fraction of a moment, and then plunged it into her Master’s back. 

oOo

 In a great, grand Temple, all manner of elites— spinels, emeralds, beryls, and more— gathered for a performance. They would watch, and they would applaud. Once the show was over, they would turn away from such frivolities to discuss matters of actual importance. 

They never got the chance.

Halfway through their performance, the Starlight Dancers lunged out at the audience. The closest didn’t even have time to react, before being hit by swift kicks and punches. Their forms dissipated, and the pearls found new targets. Those targets screamed, or tried to run, or tried to fight back it shouldn’t have been too hard, they were just pearls... 

But these pearls were fast.

And they were strong.

And they were trained.

oOo

The chain of command began to break down  link after link snapping.

And the society it had held down for so long began to shatter.

oOo

Agates, quartzes, obsidians, rubies... Soldiers of all descriptions tried to rush to their positions— to protect their leaders and quash the riots.

They tried, but most couldn’t.

Surveillance systems were down. What orders the soldiers received were sporadic, and often contradictory. They had no idea where to go. Some tried to push on regardless, but doors wouldn’t open and some elevators were non-functional. Other soldiers found themselves poofed with a sharp blow from behind— a rebel among their ranks.

Those who did manage to get through found nothing left but empty hallways and abandoned chambers.

oOo 

The rebels ran.

They ran down secret corridors, hid behind removable panels, crouched in forgotten storerooms, fled in ancient spaceships. Spaces too small for the elites to ever reach.

They had survived in these forgotten places for millennia, and now they only needed to survive a little longer.

oOo

Some Gems fought. Not just by taking their Masters and managers by surprise—stabbing and poofing them before they could react— but by charging into full-on battle. The rebels needed to gain ground, grab resources, seize control. They battled for the Communication Hubs, the armouries, the factories, the Kindergartens, the galaxy warps, the ship bays—

Guards were posted at all of these stations, but not in numbers intended for any huge insurgence. And it was unbelievable, the size of the attacking force. Most of them weren’t even built fighters, but they didn’t need to be— not when there were so many of them.

Not when half the guards reached for guns only to find them broken. 

Not when a Lapis Lazuli could freeze a Gem solid using the moisture in the air.

Not when a Pearl could summon winds of dirt to blind them. 

Not when a Flint could make the very ground shake and crumble beneath their feet.

Not when the smallest of Gems could shape shift claws and horns and razor teeth.

Not when anyone could fuse together into something newer and stronger.

Panic broke out. Civilians fled for cover, tried to hide from the fighting. What communication networks that had remained operational were filled with panicked reports:

The worst of the fighting is in White Diamond’s sector, they said, Right inside her base, it’s absolute chaos

There were snatched recordings and photographs— all of it too ludicrous to believe. 

The Court of White Diamond was being besieged by defects and monsters. There was no other way to describe them. Baroques, runts, fusions, mutants. Some of them didn’t even seem to be Gems at all—matching no known models and leaking red liquid when hit. 

It was preposterous. These traitors were fools. There was no way this army of rejects could possibly take on the most elite warriors every produced.

But somehow, those elite warriors began to fall, and the rejects pressed forward.

oOo 

Blue Diamond received reports from dozens of sources, and took immediate action. She was well aware of the things she’d been called since Pink’s death— grief-stricken, sentimental, moping, useless...

Perhaps it was all true. But she wouldn’t allow herself to lose another Diamond. 

Orders flew out as she organised her people and her troops. Systems were down across the Empire, but she had her own ships and computer networks. Old and obsolete, Yellow had sneered, but Blue had kept them around anyway. Never knew when they might be useful. Now they served as backups, managing to survive even as the more modern networks failed. She will use them to mobilise a defense, send aid to her fellows... 

“I want every ruby under my command here,” she said, pointing at a star map. “They’ll be the distraction. The hand ship fleet will come in from here. No doubt the rioters will attempt to find cover. We’ll cut off their retreat with three platoons of phantom quartzes, forcing them back into the open—”

Blue Diamond went silent as every light in her war chamber went dark. 

There were a few startled screams, but the generals were well trained. They remained calm. The darkness remained for only a moment before every gem in the place lit up, filling the massive chamber with a peaceful glow.

Blue Diamond was gone.

Now the generals screamed. Screamed, and shouted orders, and fanned out. A Diamond could not just disappear. They would find her.  

It was quite some time until any of them realised that their Diamond’s Pearl was missing too. And by the time they think to look, said Pearl was already running down a hidden corridor built by an old Bismuth— a getaway ship within her sights, a bubbled gem cupped carefully between her hands.

oOo 

Yellow Diamond would not fall for the same trick. She refused to.

She was safe. Or as safe as anyone could be, with the Empire falling apart around them. Those blasted bubbles had turned out to be a blessing in disguise, she thought, as she read the grim messages about Blue’s disappearance and the siege on White’s court. They'd made her paranoid, and that paranoia saved her.

She had not held physical council with another actual Gem in a dozen Cycles. No staff remained inside her personal chambers. She did not even have a Pearl waiting on her— she had never bothered getting a replacement after the last one turned traitor. She was completely alone.

All her computer systems had been backed up and doubly secured, in order to bear the strain of her many digital conferences. Her base was perfectly defended by an automated security system— one keyed onto her own magical signature, impossible to hack. She was safe. 

She would be their Empire’s saviour. She would restore order. She would protect them.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a tiny yellow speck appear.

Yellow Diamond barely had time to turn towards the bubble before the bomb inside it exploded.

oOo

With two Diamonds gone, their remaining generals and advisors— those who had remained loyal — did what they could without their Diamonds’ guidance. They commanded their hand ships and armies to converge on White Diamond’s base, to protect the one leader that remained. 

But the enemy had warships of their own. Not as many, or as big, or as powerful— but they were waiting. And their leadership remained intact.

oOo

White Diamond’s armies had been destroyed.

It should have been impossible. She was guarded by the most advanced of technologies, the strongest of soldiers, the most intelligent of generals.

But somehow, the defects and the monsters overcame it all.

There was still a single defence left. A single mighty door, shining silver. Larger than some moons, imbued with the the most ancient of magics. Seemingly impenetrable.

And behind it, The Matriarch White Diamond, the most powerful Gem to have ever existed.

The remaining rebels threw everything they could at the door— ice, flames, arrows, acid, lasers. None of it made so much as a dent.

Four figures stepped forward. Garnet. Amethyst. Pearl. Steven. 

They were wary, but determined. They had fought hard, and there was still yet a fight to be had. But first, they would dance.

They danced, and came together, and dissolved, and glowed. From the light formed a figure large enough to rival even a mighty Diamond. 

The Crystal Fusion stepped forward, thrust all eight of their hands deep into stone of the door, and ripped it open.

oOo

White Diamond was prepared for a fight. She did not hesitate as she lunged at her enemy. There was the clash of blade against shield, against spear, against gauntlets.

The fusion summoned a whip. Pulled White Diamond in. As soon as they made contact, they froze.

Both of them. 

Utterly still.

They began to glow. Their gemstones, first: all five of the fusion’s, and White’s solitary diamond. Then the eyes began to glow, too, the light spilling out, staring at nothing, staring at everything.

Not a physical fight. A battle of minds, of souls. 

The fusion’s glows grew brighter, brighter. White Diamond’s dimmer, dimmer, dimmer… until finally, it faded completely. She slumped, fell to her knees, eyes dark and barely open. The fusion was shaking, shimmering, their form fuzzy. Still, they did not falter as they summoned a spear, and drove it down. 

oOo

In a single Cycle, all three Diamonds fell.

Their people fought on.

oOo

The fighting did not end for a long time.

Finally, though, it tapered out. The battlefields went still. There was no one left fighting. Many had been shattered. Many had been bubbled. Others had surrendered, or fled, or hidden, or else were just waiting to see what was to come next. 

There was a silence—heavy and eerie and expectant.

It was broken by static. Across the Gem Empire, all functional screens flickered back on. They were white for a moment. Then they filled with the form of a Pearl. Demure and peaceful and polite, like any pearl would be.

She brushed her blue hair out of her face, and her eyes were sharp. 

She raised her hands in a circle.

“Hello,” she greeted. “I am the Pearl once said to have belonged to Blue Diamond.”

Her salute broke, as she reached to the side to pull something on screen. A bubble. Inside was a gem as large as her head. A diamond.

The Pearl smiled a smile, which despite everything, seemed genuine.

“There are going to be some changes.”