Built of Dirt and Earth
Chapter One: Birth
With a sudden, crystal clarity, Pearl became aware of herself.
It was not like waking up. There was no confusion, no sleepiness, no slow dawning of consciousness. It was like a light switching on: everything snapping into place. Where a moment before there had been nothing but inert, mindless rock, there was now a sentient, thinking being.
I am a pearl, thought Pearl. I am a Gem. I am alive.
And then, a moment later, I must dig.
So Pearl did.
Pearl dug, and dug, and dug. She dug with a simple, methodical certainty. She dug as fast as she could. She got dirt and grit underneath her new formed nails, and in the darkness, she grimaced. She did not like the sensation. She pushed the unpleasantness out of her mind. That did no matter. She had just finished incubating. She could not remain in the ground any longer. She needed to get out.
Finally, fingers scrabbling, she felt the dirt in front of her give way. Her hand broke through into open air. Dim rays of light, the first she had ever seen, filtered into her hole.
Pearl felt herself smiling.
It took only a short amount of time for Pearl to break herself completely free of her hole.
Once she had, she looked around. The huge cavern of the Kindergarten appeared empty. There was no one else there.
She felt the first twinges of uncertainty then.
Pearl pushed that uncertainty down impatiently. No matter. She still had work to do. She looked down at the piles of dirt laying at her feet. It looked horribly untidy.
She pushed all remaining dirt out of her hole, until there was nothing but a perfect imprint of herself left behind her. She took all the loose dirt, and pressed it with her feet it into the ground of the canyon. Nobody came to tell her to stop, so she kept pressing. She pressed, and pressed, and pressed. She pressed until the dirt had been pounded so thoroughly by her feet that it was completely flat, indistinguishable from the rest of the ground surrounding her. Neat. Tidy.
She looked around once more.
Still, she could see no one else.
If Pearl felt the first flickers of anxiety, she ignored them. Pearl did not know a lot, but she knew this: pearls were not meant to be anxious. They were meant to be patient.
So she cleaned out the dirt from under her nails. Then she stood herself straight, folded her hands behind her back, looked forward. And waited.
Pearl was aware that Gem society ran on a set of standard measurements. There were units for time, for distance, for weight, for energy, for speed. For everything that could ever be cared to be measured. She knew of them, but she did not know them. As such, she had no given, set unit of time with which to measure how long she waited.
Eventually, she simply decided to make up her own. The concept was uncomfortable- it grated against the very core of her being- but allowing the time to go unmeasured was even worse. After some consideration, she decided to count the periods of light and the periods of dark.
These were by no means a perfect unit, of course. While Pearl had initially had her fears about them being inconsistent, she only realised how much the light-and-dark periods varied in length after she had been using them for so long that she could not change to something more standard. But it was frustrating that as the air grew colder and colder, the periods of dark became longer and longer.
This planet's axis must be tilted in relation to its star, Pearl reasoned, because she had very little else to do. There are periods during its rotation where any given area is therefore facing the star, and receives greater amounts of heat and light. During other periods, it faces away, leading to subsequent decrease in both.
Understanding the reason for the phenomenon did little to make her more comfortable with it.
Pearl stood, and waited, through pounding heat and icy frosts, precipitation that fell from the sky, that stung or froze. She did not flinch at any of it, or shiver, or sweat. Just waited, patiently, as was proper for a Pearl.
Or as patiently as she could.
It took, by Pearl's count, four-hundred-and-twenty-three periods of light for her patience to begin to fray.
It started with exhaustion.
Gems do not need to sleep, of course. But they do get tired, both physically and emotionally. And while standing perfectly straight for such a stretch of time was not physically demanding to a Gem's body, it did pay a toll on their mental state.
So, eventually, Pearl began to nod off.
She jerked into wakefulness. IIf she had had a heart, it would have been pounding, filled with terror. She had no concept of what 'sleep' was. All she had known was that her concentration had wavered. Her body had begun to droop. She had fallen from her post, failed in her only duty.
She could have kicked herself.
She didn't, of course. That would be unseemly.
She merely made herself stand up straighter, and vowed that she would not let it happen again.
And it didn't. At least, not for another thirty-one periods of light.
After that, Pearl let herself take a step back, and lean against the cavern wall behind her for support.
It was not professional. Pearl promised that when she heard someone coming for inspection, she would step forward and ensure she was standing properly at attention.
The leaning helped. A bit.
The waiting wore away at her, slowly. Like water against a rock in a river.
When it finally eroded past some impossible-to-determine point, Pearl's first infraction was to allow herself to look around. Right, left. Up, down. Double check that someone hadn't been there this whole time, after-all, and that she had just managed to miss them.
"Hello?" she whispered. There was no response.
"Hello?" she called out again, this time in a more regular voice. No answer.
Finally, she yelled. "HELLO!?"
All that answered was the echo of her own words.
It was another fifty-seven periods-of-light until Pearl spoke again. When she did, it was only to say, "Where are you?"
"Was it something I did?" she asked, some time afterwards.
Of course it wasn't. She hadn't done anything. Except dig out of her hole. Everybody had already been gone by the time she did so.
Logically, therefore, it had to be something else.
"Is there- something wrong with me?"
Carefully, she inspected herself. Her torso, her legs, her arms. They all looked fine, Pearl thought. But then, if there was something wrong with her, maybe she wouldn't know.
She raised her hand to her temple. She felt it over with long, sensitive fingers. It was cool and smooth to the touch.
It was also, she realized, oval.
Pearls were meant to be round.
Well, she thought. That explains that.
Eventually, she convinced herself to go exploring.
Exploring wasn't the right word. Exploring brought to mind Gems far grander than herself, setting sail in space-ships to traverse the galaxy, find new planets. Not a little, lost pearl, taking the first steps around the Kindergarten in which she was made.
But she was so terrified that the two might as well have been the same thing.
I'm not meant to move, she told herself. Newly incubated Gems were meant to wait for instructions before moving. To do otherwise was wrong. It was against the rules.
But she had waited. She'd waited, and waited, and waited. And nobody had come.
What else could she do?
And besides, sometimes Pearl liked to think- to imagine- to hope- that maybe they hadn't deliberately left her. That maybe she was still needed out there, somewhere. That maybe, if she went looking, she'd find other Gems after all, and be able to make herself useful to them. Maybe she'd even be commended for her bravery and her initiative!
It was that thought, ultimately, that set her moving.
There was not a lot to see in the Kindergarten, but it took Pearl a long time to look at it all. She was meticulous in her examination. She looked at every boulder, every Injector, every crag, every pebble. She did not want to miss anything which might be important.
She walked all along the bottom level of the Kindergarten, seeing everything there was to see, recording everything to memory. It took her seventy-eight periods of light.
She did not find any other Gems.
She spent a very long stretch of time sitting on a large rock and examining an Injector.
Pearl understood its function. They were for injecting the first spark of life into the soil, deep into the planet's ground, where it was incubate and germinate, and eventually produce new Gems, like her. What she did not know was how it functioned.
The device intrigued her. She desperately wished to know more about it. She wanted to know the exact mechanisms, the calculations, the engineering.
Sometimes, she thought about opening one up, dissecting it, pulling it apart and reverse-engineering it.
And what would it matter? some terrible, treacherous part of her asked. The Injectors weren't being used. And they were evidently damaged. Perhaps she could fix them.
But no. That was thinking far too highly of herself. She had none of the knowledge required for such a task. And she didn't even have any tools.
And to damage property… How could a pearl even dare?
She instead settled for imagining the mechanisms and shapes inside, piecing them together in her mind. Projections of them blossomed from her gem, giving her light through the many long periods of darkness.
Sometimes, she lay on the rocky ground of the Kindergarten and stared up at the sky.
Down in the cavern, everything was varying shades of purples and greys and browns. But they sky could be so many colours. It could be roiling waves of greys and whites, especially when it rained. It could be a deep, beautiful blue. Sometimes the blue was speckled with white as clouds drifted past. During the dawns and dusks, the sky could turn a million different colours; oranges and purples and pinks and reds.
But her favourite time to watch the sky was on dark, clear nights. Ones with no moon, especially.
That was when she could see stars. They so distant that they appeared as only bright twinkles, nothing like the burning brilliance they must be up close. But they were still beautiful, and Pearl was captivated by every one of them.
That was space. That was where they came from. It was her legacy. It was the Gems' legacy.
Pearl hoped she could see it all one day.
At one point, she started climbing.
It wasn't difficult, once she'd gotten the hang of it. It was simply a matter of positioning. Of finding places to put your hands and feet. Then, you just had to keep moving.
She eventually reached one of the many holes that had always stared down at her. She peered in, cautious. "Hello?" she said.
As she'd climbed, she'd allowed herself dreams, illusions, of finding someone else in there. Another Gem. Another pearl, even. Just as lost and forgotten as herself. They could work together. Give each other company, perhaps.
But the hole was empty. Whichever Gem who'd been incubated there had left long ago.
Quietly, and for the first time, Pearl began to cry.
She climbed back down, and huddled by her own hole for exactly thirty-three periods of light.
It took a long time for Pearl to work up the energy to climb again. When she did, she did not go to explore any of the other holes. She knew she would not find anything inside them. Instead, she set her sights on the level just above. When she reached it, what she saw left her mouth hanging open.
It was a warp pad.
Well, of course there was a warp pad. There had been other Gems here, once, even if there weren't any, now. They would have needed a way to travel here. (And to travel away).
She stared at it, desire burning in her gem, at her temple, throughout her entire being.
She could step onto that pad, and with a single flash of light, go anywhere. Just like that. No more sitting here, or standing around, or waiting, or-
But where would she go? She had no idea. Literally, none. She had no names of places, no destinations. Even if she did, what place would want her? The oval-shaped pearl, so unsuitable that nobody had even came to claim her?
No. No, Pearl couldn't leave. Not by warp, not by foot.
But she couldn't bear to go away and let the pad out of her sight. Instead of returning to her hole, she sat by the inactive warp pad, watched it, and tried very hard not to think, or cry.
Pearl continued to count the days and nights, but if someone had asked, she wouldn't have been able to tell them clearly what she did to fill them.
She walked, sometimes. Or stared at the sky. Or climbed. Or did something almost like dancing, twirling, leaping from boulder to boulder. She created holographic projections, and visualised space-ships flying across the night sky.
Sometimes, when she had no more energy left to stop herself, she slept.
Then, one day- a day which had appeared to be a day like any other- something changed.
The Warp Pad activated.
A bright pillar of light burst up into the sky. There was a loud whoosh which echoed through the caverns. Pearl, surprised and frightened, jumped behind the nearest boulder. She crouched there, fingers digging into the rock. Carefully, she peaked over it. She was at the wrong angle. She couldn't see who had arrived on the ledge above.
She could hear something, though. Very dimly. Footsteps. Voices. She couldn't make out what they were saying.
What should I do?
She slid back down the boulder, then pressed her back against it. Pulled her knees up to her chest. Began to rock slightly.
She should show herself. Of course she should. Of course. This is what she had wanted, wasn't it? Wasn't it?
But why should I? that treacherous part of her whispered in response. They left me here. Left me. Do they think they can come back and collect me, just like that?
It's my duty, she retorted back. And what else have I to do?
She sat there, frozen with insecurity, as the Gems from the warp pad approached. She clenched her eyes tight, to stop the burning. She started to rock harder. She didn't realise it, but she was whispering to herself.
As they drew closer, somebody heard her muttering.
"Who's there?" a voice commanded, loud and ringing with authority. Pearl's eyes snapped open.
"Come out," they said. There were heavy, crunching footsteps as they approach. "If you surrender yourself peacefully, I promise that you will not come to any harm."
Pearl swallowed. She felt, suddenly, as if there was something very large stuck in her throat. She disentangled herself, made herself stand up. Rod straight. Head bowed.
She stepped out from behind the boulder, and turned face the unknown Gem.
Despite her terror, the words she'd rehearsed so many times in her head came out came out automatically, certain and steady. "Greetings," she said, hands folded behind her back. "Pearl. Undesignated. Reporting for duty and assignment."
There was no answer.
For a little while, at least. But Pearl was done with waiting, so it was not long until she raised her head to look at the Gem who had called for her, but now did not respond.
She was huge. Tall. Towering. A magnificent vision of white and pink, like the most glorious of sunsets she'd ever observed. A mane of hair flowed down past her shoulders. She had a sword in hand, and a shield at her arm.
She was beautiful.
She was staring at Pearl. Not speaking, not saying anything, just staring at her, eyes wide with surprise. Her sword lowered.
"Oh," said Rose Quartz.
First: this entire AU was based on this post by quillandinkpot on Tumblr, suggesting what a Earth-borne Pearl AU would be like. The idea was so wonderful that I couldn't help but try my hand at it.
Second: Endless thanks to my dear friend LadyRavenEye, who beta'd this for me. She is wonderful. 3