Steven didn’t notice anything strange when he first arrived. The door to the room was closed now, but it had a tall window that even he could look through. Well, on tiptoes, at any rate. When Steven stretched himself and peered in, the room looked the same as it had when they left; Pearl was looking around at some machinery… something she pretty much did on a daily basis. That didn’t seem so bad. Steven even tried waving to her, although she didn’t wave back. Probably she didn’t notice him; Pearl could get involved in her work, after all.
Next, Pearl climbed into some scary-looking pod thing. That looked kind of bad. But surely she knew what she was doing. Pearl wouldn’t climb into anything dangerous. Then the machine turned itself on. That looked super-bad. Then, inside the pod, Pearl’s body began to glow with a white-hot light.
Steven grabbed the door handle, but it didn’t turn. He yanked on it as hard as he could. Still nothing. He let out a mighty yell and imagined that his gem had suddenly granted him the strength of five hundred Stevens. At this display, the doorknob held firm and gave the uncanny impression that it was silently laughing at him.
“Um, Garnet? Garnet!” Steven yelled. Within moments, Garnet was at his side, quickly enough that he suspected she’d already been running this way before he started calling her.
“What’s going on?” she demanded to know.
Without a good answer to that question, Steven stuttered over his words. “I… the… into thingy… glowing…” He pointed desperately at the window, hoping that Garnet would able to make more sense of this than he could. She peered through the window (unlike him, she had to stoop to see in), but to Steven’s huge disappointment and frustration, she made no reaction to what she saw. Steven tried to wedge his way in to get another look when Amethyst came barreling around the corner.
“What’s going on?” she asked. Then, without waiting for anyone to actually answer her, she ran forward and grabbed Steven, stretching her legs so they could both easily see in through the window.
Pearl was still glowing, more intensely now than before. Steven also noticed that the gem on her forehead seemed to be changing shape. It quivered violently until a crease formed down the center, making it resemble a double yolk in an egg instead of a single gem. It reminded Steven of the time he’d seen Ruby and Sapphire unfuse from each other as Garnet argued with herself.
“It looks like she’s splitting in two…” he whispered. Then, with a gasp, he asked, “Is Pearl a fusion too, Garnet?”
“She is not,” Garnet said, finally breaking out of her silence. Her tone was hardly comforting, but at the same time, Steven was relieved to hear Garnet say something. Garnet always led them through a crisis. She couldn’t freeze up on them now.
“I’m going in there!” Amethyst yelled, placing Steven back on the ground and raising her fist to give the door a massive punch.
“To do what?” Garnet snapped at her. “Pearl’s gem is under intense pressure right now. You go in there bashing things around, and you could shatter it.”
Amethyst gritted her teeth. “Hey, I might not be like the geniuses you two are, but even I’m pretty sure that building pressure tends to make things go boom, too! We gotta get her out of there!”
Steven held his head. He saw both their points, but he didn’t have any clue what was better for Pearl. He couldn’t even tell what was happening to her and had the infuriating feeling that both Amethyst and Garnet understood way more than they were letting on. Then, all at once, a glimmer of hope appeared in his mind.
“Wait, you can see with future vision, right?” Steven said hopefully. He gripped Garnet’s arm as tightly as he could. “You can tell if Pearl’s going to be okay, right?”
This suggestion only seemed to upset Garnet more, and she pulled her arm from Steven’s grip. She then yanked off her visor, rubbed her three eyes, and replaced the visor in one smooth motion. When she’d gathered herself, she got down on her knees and held Steven’s shoulders, the same way she always did when trying to explain something she knew would be hard for him to get. “That’s the problem, Steven. It doesn’t matter if we break down that door or just stand and watch. In both scenarios, I don’t see Pearl in the immediate future. She doesn’t exist.”
For a few moments, the world around Pearl disappeared. She felt the claustrophobic casing of the pod fade from her reality. Her body floated upwards, and she found herself standing in what looked to be some kind of fog against a dark, endless expanse of sky. Pearl tapped her toe experimentally on the ground. It seemed solid enough, though that hardly narrowed the options as to where she was. She searched the horizon, wondering where she should go in this featureless place when heard a familiar voice calling to her.
Pearl whirled around to see a distant, silhouetted figure approach. The figure was hard to recognize at first, but its voice pierced Pearl to her core. It was an owner. Her owner.
“Come, Pearl. Come over here.”
Pearl took a step towards the voice. Every vibration of sound reminded her of the truths she’d been born into: She was not an individual. She did not have her own identity; even her appearance merely reflected that of her master’s preferences. Without someone giving her commands, she was purposeless. She had to obey the voice or become a broken tool with no reason for existing.
“No, don’t go!” another voice called. Pearl’s chest seized. Rose? But that couldn’t be. Rose was gone. Had been gone for years. And yet Pearl heard her calling, clear as anything: “You don’t have to listen, Pearl. You’re more than that!”
Terrified of what she might see, Pearl turned around. The figure behind her was only a silhouette, just as the one that she’d been walking towards, but Pearl could still make out the trademark locks of pink hair.
“R-rose?” she asked horsely.
The figure did not immediately reply, but instead held out her hand. “Come. Come here.” Pearl turned and began walking. Whether this was a vision or a nightmare or something else, she didn’t care. She would always go to Rose.
“Are you broken?” the commanding voice asked. “Stop walking the wrong way. Come back.”
Pearl froze. Old thoughts flooded to her head, thoughts she hadn’t had in millennia. Walking to Rose Quartz was dangerous. All the masters said she had foolish ideas. What was Pearl thinking, anyway? She tried to turn back once again, only to hear the two voices clashing in her mind, darting in and out of her consciousness:
“You’re a strong fighter…”
“You could never fight…”
“You can teach yourself…”
“You’re incapable of learning…”
Pearl knelt down in the fog, grasping the sides of her head. Her brain felt like someone was drawing a line of fire through its core. “Please tell me what I’m supposed to be!” she yelled. “I can’t decide on my own!”
The two voices continued arguing with each other until Pearl couldn’t even make out any distinct words anymore. The pain became unbearable, consuming her. The line of fire crawled down her spine, threatening to snap her body in two.
Let it happen, then! Pearl screamed in her head. Let me break! I can’t take this anymore! I’m sorry, Rose. I can’t take it!
In the instant the thought crossed her mind, the pain blasting through Pearl disappeared, and the world around her went dark.