“Hey, check this out!” Peridot burst into the room, waving some sort of papers in Pearl’s face. From what Pearl could make out from the waving images (and based on the location of all Peridot’s escapades lately), the green gem had made some kind of new discovery around the kindergarten. It just wasn’t at all clear from Peridot’s tone of voice if she wanted Pearl to share in her excitement or if she hoped to crush any aspirations Pearl might have had about ever being more important than a lump of dirt.
With Peridot, it could be very difficult to discern these things.
“Yes, I see,” Pearl said, trying to push Peridot’s hand far enough away so that she could actually make out what was on the papers.
Peridot pulled her creation back and began stroking it hypnotically. “Fascinating thing, this… pay-pour,” she said. “You just make marks on it, and the marks stay. It never turns off and yet it uses no power.”
Pearl coughed loudly. “Yes, the wonders of Earth never cease to amaze. Now, your discovery?”
“Ah, yes,” Peridot said, clearing her throat. “I’ve done some extensive searching of the chambers buried within the kindergarten. Yes,” she said, putting up a finger as Pearl started to open her mouth, “there are more rooms down there than simply the Prime Kindergarten Control Room. Now, due to my superior intellect and uncompromising technical know-how, I’ve managed to open several rooms that were previously inaccessible. I’ve drawn a series of maps for the perusal of you clo–” She coughed over her insult as Pearl narrowed her eyes. “Erm, that is, for the perusal of you three. No, wait, there’s the Steven. That’s four. Does the perma-fusion prefer to be counted as one or two? That would make fi–”
Unable to handle the suspense any longer, Pearl snatched the papers out of Peridot’s hands. She studied the pencil scratchings with fascination. Peridot was no artist, but even Pearl had to admit, she’d really outdone herself this time. There were at least a dozen rooms that the group of them hadn’t been in yet. Which meant more spaces to explore for possible scrap parts. Was the drill technically ready? Yes. Would Pearl take any and all additional improvements they could make to it before Drill Day, as Steven had dubbed it? Yes and double yes.
Pearl traced her finger along Peridot’s notes and labels for each room.
“What’s this mean?” she said, pointing to an unfamiliar abbreviation. “Fis. room. What is that?”
“Oh, that?” Peridot suddenly looked nervous. “It’s a room. You know, like a space.”
“Okay, a space for what? What is ‘fis’ short for?”
“Um, it’s um…” Peridot was searching around the room almost desperately now. “It’s short for, um… fishing. That’s right. It’s a fishing room.”
“A fishing room?” Pearl asked, more than a little skeptical.
“That’s right, a fishing room,” Peridot said, snatching her papers back again. “Which means there’s nothing useful in it, so you have no reason to go there.” She set to the process of arranging the papers so they were perfectly aligned with one another. “We should definitely send a team to the other rooms, though. Might be some much better navigation parts than what we have on the drill now.”
Pearl huffed. It seemed that Peridot was under the impression that Pearl was simply going to let this go. As if Pearl ever let anything go. “There’s no fishing on Homeworld,” she insisted. “You didn’t even know what fish were until this morning, when Steven put some on a bagel and you wanted to know if it was a weapon.”
Peridot looked uncomfortable. “And… is fish a weapon?”
“It is not!” Pearl snapped. She ran her hand through her hair. Clearly, this was getting nowhere fast. If she wanted to know what was in this room, she was going to have to look into it on her own.
“You know what?” she said. “I’ll take an expedition out to see what we can retrieve from these rooms. You stay here and work.” She held out her hand for the map, but her gesture only made Peridot look all the more possessive of it.
“You… you do trust me, don’t you?” she asked.
Pearl smiled the sweetest smile should could. “After everything you gave up for us? I trust you 100%.”
This seemed to satisfy Peridot, and she at last relented and handed the map over. Pearl folded it up and kept smiling all the way out of the room.
“I don’t trust her one bit!” Pearl declared as Garnet led herself, Steven, and Amethyst down a series of flickering passageways in the depths of the kindergarten. “You should have seen her expression when I started asking questions! Oh, she’s hiding something, just you wait.”
“I don’t know…” Steven said, walking beneath a broken pipe that Garnet had to duck under. “She didn’t have any good reason to yell at Yellow Diamond like that. When she says she’s on our side, I kinda believe her.”
“Yeah, Peri’s cool now,” Amethyst agreed.
“I’m not saying she isn’t on our side,” Pearl began. “I’m just saying–”
“You’re just saying,” interrupted Garnet, “that you think she found something highly dangerous down here and for some reason, she’s refusing to share it with the rest of us.”
Pearl’s cheeks went blue. Why did Garnet have to phrase things in a way that made Pearl sound so… suspicious? This was a healthy exercise in precaution. Nothing more. And if Peridot really wasn’t hiding anything down here, then there was no cause for concern.
“The room should be coming up soon,” she muttered. Nothing like diverting the topic of conversation when things got rough. Garnet gave a “hmph” of agreement and continued leading the group forward. After another few moments, the questionably lit hallway became even darker, and the strong smell of chemicals and burnt-out wires filled the air.
“Let’s see,” Garnet said, holding the light from her left hand gem up to each door they passed. “Looks like this place should be right about…” she held the light over the frame of a door that had opened just a crack. “…here.”
Garnet thrust her hand out, banging the door open all the way. Steven yelped at the sudden sound. (Okay, that might have been Pearl herself who yelped. Who could really tell in all the excitement?) There must have been some sort of motion sensor activated by Garnet’s actions, as the inside of the room immediately flooded with light. Pearl stepped cautiously forward. This wasn’t like any place she had seen before. There were pipes and cables leading in every direction. Most of them congealed on a set of chambers that looked uncomfortably sized for a gem of her height, though Amethyst could have no doubt fit inside one of them as well. The chemical smell only got stronger the closer Pearl edged to the door frame.
“This must be where they were doing those forced fusion experiments,” Garnet said, her anger barely contained as she tightened her fists.
“Now, now… we don’t know that,” Pearl said, but no one seemed to hear her.
“I ain’t going in there,” Amethyst said, backing away. “That place looks creepy.”
“Yeah, I’m with Amethyst,” Steven agreed. “Only less ‘creepy’ and more ‘super creepy.’ Let’s go check out some other rooms for spare stuff.”
“I’ll go in,” Pearl said. She had no clue why she felt so confident. Maybe she had some connection to this place she didn’t know about. Or maybe it was just her unhealthy obsession with proving herself right about Peridot. Either way, she couldn’t walk away. Not without knowing exactly what this room was supposed to be.
She crossed the threshold, only to feel Garnet’a strong hand on her arm. “Pearl,” her friend said firmly. “There’s nothing to be gained by going in there. Let’s go explore the other rooms Peridot opened.”
“This is the most intact technology we’ve found so far,” said Pearl. “I mean, even the lights still work. You seriously think we’ll find something better by digging around in garbage in the dark?”
“I like garbage!” Amethyst called out, already starting back down the hall. Steven followed after her, but Garnet stayed, staring at Pearl for a good long time before speaking again.
“Listen, if this is what you need to comes to terms with Peridot being on our team, then go ahead. But be careful. Don’t do anything stupid.”
“Me?” Pearl exclaimed, far louder than she needed to. “When have I ever done anything stupid?”
“The time you tricked me into fusing with you,” Garnet said, with zero hesitation.
“The time you tried to take me to space!” Steven called from halfway down the hall.
“The time you ruined dinner with Connie’s family because you hate food!” Amethyst added.
Pearl gritted her teeth and tried to resist the urge to yank her hair out. “All right, already! You’ve all made your point!” she yelled, turning decidedly in the direction of the evil-looking machinery. She half-expected some buzz of activity from it, the way everything looked so strong and intact. But the room was silent. “Go on ahead,” she said quietly. “I’ll catch up with you once I’m done here.”
“You sure you don’t want–” Garnet began.
“I’m fine,” Pearl answered quickly, making no attempt to hide the fact that she was hurt. Why did Garnet have to go and bring up the past like that? Didn’t forgiveness mean not rubbing reminders in the offender’s face? As if Pearl wasn’t still guilt-ridden every day about what she’d done. “Go,” she said again.
Garnet said nothing and she turned and walked away, her heavy footsteps eventually fading down the hallway into silence.