Coral took a deep breath as she entered the room and surveyed the scene before her. She seemed to have developed a reputation as the more… unreasonable of Pearl’s two halves, and she wouldn’t mind proving the opposite was true.
Still… this was pushing her limits. She felt Steven poke her in the elbow and looked over to see him silently holding out one of Bismuth’s bracers. She took it in equal silence and slipped it on, feeling the refreshing energy surging through her body. There. Much better. She could totally handle herself now. She turned to Peridot. “I’m going to ask this as calmly as I can,” she said, massaging the bridge of her nose. “What happened out there with Jasper and what is she,” she pointed to the couch, where Yellow Pearl still sat quietly, “doing in here?”
“An excellent question,” Peridot said.
But before the green Gem could elaborate, Yellow Pearl stood and spoke. “We’ve struck a little deal,” she said. “I gave her the information she requested and she, in turn, led me here to meet the famous renegade Pearl of the Crystal Gems. I was excited, I admit. But this…” she extended one hand towards Sea Glass and the other towards Coral. “I never expected this.”
She walked towards Coral first, walking a circle around her and looking her up and down before crossing the room and doing the same to Sea Glass. Greg inched uncomfortably away as she did so, although since Sea Glass still had a firm grip on his arm, he couldn’t really go anywhere.
“Fascinating. Absolutely fascinating,” Yellow Pearl concluded. “I know all about fission, of course. Yellow Diamond shared all sorts of information with me. But the last I heard, the process was still in its experimental stages. How interesting to see that it finally came to completion.” She made one more circle around Coral, her wings twitching the whole way. “I must say, for a Pearl your age, I’m surprised the process didn’t shatter you.”
Coral turned up her nose at that remark, but it was Sea Glass who spoke up. “A Pearl… our age? We’re not any older than most Gems.”
“Most Gems, yes, but for a Pearl? You’re ancient!” She emphasized the word as if she had found some exotic Gem artifact standing here in the living room.
Coral found herself pondering how hard it would be to de-feather this little nuisance, but her curiosity won out over her irritation. “Well, how old are you, then?” she snapped.
Yellow Pearl patted her spiked-up hair with a delicate, clawed hand. “Only seven decades. I’m a very recent model.” For just a moment, the smug smile fell from her face, but her mouth twitched and she brought it back up again. “Not the newest, of course. But hardly an older model.”
“So, um… what happens to older models?” Steven asked nervously. Coral noticed that Peridot looked rather uncomfortable right now, as if she anticipated what Yellow Pearl was going to say next.
“Well, some might be gifted to lower-ranked Gems. But otherwise, they’re shattered.”
Peridot cringed. Steven’s eyes went wide. “Sh-shattered?” he asked. “Who would do something like that?”
“The Pearl herself, obviously,” Yellow Pearl said, with a roll of her eyes.
The Pearl… herself?! Coral found herself ignited with fury all over again. She didn’t remember anything like that happening on Homeworld before the rebellion. Then again, she didn’t remember anything in general. She turned to Sea Glass, but found that the indigo Gem looked as shocked and horrified as Steven.
“That wasn’t… that didn’t happen back in our time,” Sea Glass said, almost as if in defense. Did she think Coral was about to accuse her of hiding something on purpose? For being so smart, she didn’t seem like she understood Coral at all.
“Well, naturally things were different in your time,” Yellow Pearl said. “Technology advances were so slow back then. A Pearl would die from natural deterioration long before becoming so obsolete that no one wanted her.” She patted her hair once again. “But these days, it’s different. And Pearls are so easy to make that it’s much simpler to have them dispose of themselves than try to update them. But enough of Homeworld etiquette. Tell me about you two. Aside from the obvious issue of messing with technology beyond your comprehension, what else has the infamous Crystal Gem Pearl been up to since the Rebellion failed so miserably?”
Coral gritted her teeth. Her dagger was suddenly in her hand; she couldn’t even remember summoning it. Peridot and Steven both inched away from her, and she could practically feel the heat emanating from her body.
“We. Did. Not. Fail,” she said, barely in control of herself. “We’re still here, and we’re still protecting Earth.”
Yellow Pearl raised an eyebrow at the dagger’s appearance, but otherwise, she seemed unfazed by it. “Hmph. You know, you’re so impressive as I thought you’d be,” she said, nose in the air and everything. “Anyone who discussed you said that you were the only Pearl to ever act like her own Gem, to make decisions without any input from an owner. But that’s not true at all.”
Coral repositioned her grip on the dagger’s handle. “What do you mean?” she said. Her voice sounded softer, for some reason. Almost like she was scared. But she couldn’t be. Not of Yellow Diamond’s stupid accessory. Not of a brainwashed Homeworld Gem.
Yellow Pearl ginned maniacally. “The Peridot implied you’d lost some of your memories. I suppose you don’t remember your old owner then, either. Well, let me enlighten you. You were originally created for Pink Diamond and accompanied her to Earth. However, shortly after your arrival, Rose Quartz began to discuss some potential Gem experiments. Life on this planet, it seemed, could adapt to change much faster than Gems could. Rose Quartz wanted to see if Gems could do the same, and thus Pink Diamond gifted you to her for the sake of the experiment. But Rose Quartz took things too far. She tried to teach you to change your very essence, to become a Gem in your own right. Pink Diamond ordered the experiment ended immediately, but all Rose wanted to do was try to change other Gems. That was how the rebellion began.”
She paced around the room, putting a little twirl in her step, like sharing all this was so delightful, her half-corrupted body couldn’t help but put a bit of a dance to it. “Do you know what Rose Quartz last order to you was? It was right at that glorious moment when we retreated from this planet and doomed any Gems remaining to corruption. Her last order was ‘Be free, Pearl.’ And all this time, you’ve been following that order as closely as you can, just behaving like your owner wanted you to. You’re no rebel. In fact, you’re the most obedient Pearl in Gem history. What other Pearl has followed the same order so loyally for thousands of years after her owner is gone?”
A sort of booming sound echoed across the room, shaking the floor and tables. Coral thought at first that it might have been a small earthquake, but then looked over to see that Garnet had stepped in, making the living room as crowded as the kitchen had been. Her fists were clenched in rage; it seemed her Ruby side was taking charge.
“Rose Quartz didn’t die in that battle, and she didn’t become corrupted!” she said. “She protected us! We’ve lived on Earth all this time, thanks to her! When she…” Garnet stole a glance at Steven, “…when she did leave, she did it on her own terms. Not yours.”
Yellow Pearl was unfazed. “I see. And in all that time, did she ever say anything else to her Pearl that could be construed as an order? Anything at all?”
Garnet opened her mouth, but only a blip of a sound came out. Her fists stayed clenched, but her stance said defeat. She had no good retort. And (if her infuriating giggles were anything to go by), Yellow Pearl knew it, too.
“Pearls can’t change their natures. No Gem can. All they can do is pretend. Rose Quartz was a fool, and the rest of you are, too.” She flicked her wings, smacking Greg in the face as she did so. Then she looked at Peridot. “I’m done here. I’m going back to that dwelling out in the field to rest.”
“Wait, the barn?” Peridot said. “B-but… but the barn is for me and Lapis!”
“Well, now it’s for me and nobody,” Yellow Pearl announced. Then she pushed her way past Sea Glass and opened the door. A surge of energy filled Coral as she watched her leave.
“Hang on!” she shouted. “I’m not just following Rose’s orders. I am my own Gem! And I’ll prove it to you.”
“Oh, please do,” Yellow Pearl said, with a dismissive wave of her hand as she walked outside. “That’ll be absolutely hilarious, and with all that’s happened to me, I could do with the cheering up.” And with that she was gone. Coral had had it. With no resolve left to hold her emotions in another second, she let out a furious scream and threw the dagger straight down. It sunk into the wooden floorboards almost up to the hilt.
No one in the room said anything. No one looked like they could say anything. Steven cautiously walked around the knife, giving it a wide berth as if it might yank itself out of the wood and attack him if he misstepped. Bismuth’s bracers clanged and clattered together in his bad as he made his way over to Sea Glass and presented her with one. She thanked him with a simple nod and then turned to Greg.
“I… I’m sorry,” she said, voice quivering. “That… was a lot to take in. But I know I promised you an explanation. Let’s step outside.” She headed towards the door.
“You can explain later, it’s okay–” Greg began, but Sea Glass shook her head.
“No. I think talking to you will be a good distraction. Let’s go.”
Reluctantly, Greg followed her. Coral scoffed. She didn’t understand how explaining this whole mess to Greg Universe could possibly help anything, but if Sea Glass wanted to waste time with that stupid human, let her. Coral had other things to concern herself with. She was going to prove to that ugly, half-corrupted Pearl that she took no orders. She had been her own Gem from the moment Rose Quartz set her free.
No, she’d prove it to more than Yellow Pearl. She’d prove it to everyone, including Sea Glass, so none of them could have any doubt lingering in their mind. And most of all, she’d prove it to herself.
Sea Glass talked to Greg for much longer than she expected to. It was strange; when she’d been fused with Coral, she could barely tolerate being in Greg’s presence. Now, on her own, it was just like talking to any other human. Humans were humans, of course–strange and confusing and changing way too fast to keep up with. But nothing about Greg in particular bothered her when she was on her own. She rubbed the bracer, imagining herself with it all the time, never being together with Coral again. How could she like and hate the same idea so much?
“So…” Greg said nervously. The two of them had walked around the temple for their talk, finding a spot on the ground that seemed to be half grass and half sand. Greg kept trying to sit on the grass, but as most of it was hard and spiky as grass went, he kept moving more onto the sand instead. By this point, his pants and shoes were covered in it. “I’m really sorry about your, um… loss. Do you… I mean, I don’t wanna impose, but if there’s anything you want me to fill you in on about Rose, I’ll be happy to do what I can.”
Sea Glass let out a forced laugh. “I’ll be honest, as far as I’ve been able to piece together from what everyone’s told me, Rose was this unspeakable angel of goodness and perfection who caused peace and joy to erupt on every inch of earth she ever set her flawless foot upon.”
Greg stared at Sea Glass for a good long moment before finally bursting into a (much more genuine) laugh himself. He held his stomach, he was laughing so hard. Sea Glass didn’t understand it all. “Can you explain the humor here?”
Greg went on laughing for a moment longer before he wiped a tear from his eye and managed to collect himself. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s just… the thing is, that’s probably exactly how the two of us would describe her.”
“Then you’re saying… that description’s accurate?”
“Well, of course it’s not accurate!” Greg said, waving his hand for extra dramatic effect. “Nobody’s perfect, and Rose wasn’t either. I mean, heck, she left a baby at the top of a Ferris wheel because she thought it would be a good adventure for him.”
Sea Glass thought for a moment. “I seem to recall that in Pearl’s own ignorance, she did something similar with Steven and a small windmill.”
“Um, say what now?”
“Never mind. It’s not relevant.”
Greg opened his mouth as if to argue that it was indeed very relevant, but then he sighed and shook his head. “Look, the point is, everyone has their flaws. But when you really care about somebody, you notice the good parts of them over the bad.”
“So Pearl… I mean, so I noticed the good things, then?”
“If anyone said anything bad about Rose, I think you would’ve skewered them.”
At the word “skewered”, Sea Glass heard the sound of twig snapping. She turned to see Steven standing behind them, who gasped and covered his mouth when he realized he’d been spotted.
“Sorry for bothering you,” he said.
“No, no, you’re fine, Steven,” Sea Glass assured him, standing. “We were just finishing up, anyway.”
Greg seemed to suddenly realize he was the only one still sitting in the sand and got to his feet as well. Sand rained from his clothes as he dusted himself off. Steven looked between his father and Sea Glass with a healthy amount of caution.
“So… are you two all right?” he asked.
Sea Glass and Greg glanced at each other. “All right” was a very weighty term right now. By all accounts, Sea Glass was not all right. She was separated from her other half, potentially on a permanent basis, she fretted about Steven’s feelings on the whole thing, her most precious memories were still gone, and one of the Homeworld Gems closest to Yellow Diamond was hanging out in their barn.
But as far as her relationship with Greg went?
Sea Glass smiled and said, “Yes, actually. Yes, I think we are.”
Steven sighed with relief. “Oh, good. You know, I just kept feeling like the two of you were really meant to have this big moment where you came to understand each other, only it didn’t happen, you know?”
Sea Glass stared at him blankly for a moment.
“Never mind,” Steven said, shaking his head. “Listen, the reason I came down… Coral’s going in to look at all the data that Peridot got from Yellow Pearl. She thought you might want to come see it, too.”
“Oh, um…” Sea Glass shifted around, feeling the loose sand slipping beneath her feet. Just like the concept of staying separated from Coral, Sea Glass both liked and feared the idea of looking at that data. She’d finally started to feel comfortable with everything that had happened. Would looking over the data make her feel better or get her all upset again?
Well, I suppose there’s no knowing until I do it, now is there? She took a deep breath and nodded at Steven. “Okay. Tell her I’ll be right there.”