The sun had gone down on Lion's Mane Farm and the woodlands surrounding it had become more mysterious. The only thing that was certain were that the overlapping chirping noises were made by crickets. Peridot managed to acquire an article of clothing that went along with her brushed-down hair; a lacy, flowery white top which belonged to Pranna. Peridot starred at the forest even though the only things that were not obscured by the darkness was some of the bark on the trees.
Cilantro and Pranna had cleaned up their dinner, which Peridot had sat and observed part of. Pranna was cleaning the dishes when she noticed that Peridot still hadn't come back to the house.
"Do you think we should talk to her?" she asked.
"I should talk to her," said Cilantro as she put the spices back into the cabinet.
Cilantro walked onto the porched and stood in the same direction as Peridot. He also rested his arms on the railing just like she did.
"I can tell that something is bothering you, Peridot," said Cilantro.
Peridot groaned a bit.
"It's nothing, really," she said.
"C'mon, Star Child. I hate to see a creature bearing such a lovely gemstone on her body looking so melancholy."
Peridot sighed. "If you want to know the truth, it's because I don't know where I'm going right now. I was originally friends with The Crystal Gems."
"Oh, those three cosmic women in that beachside tourist town. I've met one of them."
"Yeah. The eight-foot-tall one with the puffy pink hair stopped by my parents' van once. I remember her being very gracious and fearless. But we mustn't change the subject. Please continue."
"Anyway, The Crystal Gems do all that they can to protect this planet from outside threats. They saved me from my old life and they taught me things like the importance of peace and love and music. They saved me from my old life."
"Peace, love and music are all good things. So why did you run away from them?"
"It's because I don't know which side to be on. I would tell you more about my past but then you might not like me."
"I like you the way you are right now. I don't think telling me about the person you used to be is going to change my mind about that."
The Current Peridot closed her eyes for a few seconds before coming clean about the Old Peridot. "All right. I used to work for an intergalactic government and what I used to do is that I would create life."
Cilantro turned his head toward Peridot and listened intently. His brown and blue eyes opened a bit more than usual, almost owl-like. "Go on…"
"The empire would go from planet to planet mining resources so that more sentient gems such as myself could be made. This drained the planets of their life force, ultimately destroying them. I used to be a certified kindergartner, one of the makers of the quartz soldiers that would help us with our cause. I didn't particularly care that I was destroying the life already living on those planets. To me, it was at best, something that occurred in the background and, at worst, a violent obstacle that needed to be overcome. I was mostly following orders, lest I be punished.
"I was like this until recently, when a gem/human hybrid by the name of Steven showed me something that I never felt before. He showed me love and kindness. It made me not want to destroy his home. From there, I decided to disavow my leader Yellow Diamond to her face. I couldn't go back to the way I used to be so I joined their side."
"What seems to be the problem?"
"Well… I feel like I only joined their side because I can't go back to the side of Homeworld. Part of me feels like I'm only protecting Earth because they're telling me to. Truth is, I barely know this planet. I only know about the abandoned Kindergartens and the town where Steven and the gems live. Why should I protect a planet just for them?"
"Peridot, where did you come from?"
Peridot looked up with intrigue peppered with a little impatience. "Why are you answering my question with another question?"
"I just want to know where you come from."
"Well… like all gems, I was created on a planet in a kindergarten."
"So you were created, just like the quartz soldiers. Judging from the artificial nature of your origins, I would wager a guess that an advanced race of people invented your kind."
"I don't know. I was never programmed with that knowledge."
"Well I highly doubt that you created yourselves. If you were, indeed, created by an advanced race of people, those people must have been organic beings that evolved over millions of years."
"Yes. Humans haven't always looked this way. We came from a smaller, less-intelligent species whose form changed based on environment. We've been doing this since all the way back in the beginning, when we were single-celled organisms living on a planet of limited oxygen."
"So your kind was once punier and weaker than it is now?
"Well, all things have to star out somewhere, Star Child. It seems to me that you don't appreciate how truly unique life is in this huge universe. There are countless millions of planets and stars within countless millions of galaxies. Out of all of those, only a handful of planets have exactly the right conditions to support life. They need to have the right atmosphere, the right chemical reactions, the right sources of nourishment and be at exactly the right amount of distance away from the star that they orbit. The fact that Earth and whichever planet your kind comes from has met all these conditions is nothing short of a miracle."
Peridot took this time to look at the sky. The house was situated in an area where the night sky was unobstructed by the ugly artificial lighting of civilization. All of the stars could be seen. They were etching a wide path across the sky along with areas that were bright enough so that they looked like they were opening up to swallow something.
"I never really thought of that," said Peridot, "On my journeys, I never saw very many planets that were quite like Earth. For all I know, many of them were probably destroyed by the Gem Empire before I was even created."
"Well it's not too late for this one. I have faith in it. We all have things in our past that we regret and we can move on from those."
"Trust me, I have for the most part."
"But those past regrets can give us valuable knowledge, which we can use for good."
"How can the knowledge of how to create gem soldiers using the Earth's resources do any good other than for a select few?"
"Technology is morally neutral. It's only the intent of its use that makes it beneficial or destructive. Take genetically-modified organisms, for example. People in my social group are largely against them. They can be used to make corporations money at the risk of losing biodiversity or eroding people's health. But it doesn't have to be that way. When put in the right hands, genetically-modified organisms can help the planet and its people. It could produce better food and housing and answer questions that we've been pondering about the natural world."
"So you respect nature… but also like tinkering with it?"
"Exactly. It's good to leave nature alone to do its own thing but we forget that nature likes doing random genetic experimentation of her own. If you want proof, just look at my eyes."
Peridot took a look at Cilantro's dual-colored eyes again. "You do stand out from the other humans in that way."
"So I figure, if nature can do it, why not us? We've evolved these brains. Why not use them? Not only do I grow mushrooms but I experiment with crossbreeds and even breed new types of hallucinogenic mushrooms that have varying effects."
"Like this one type I made that has the opposite effect on you from a normal hallucinogenic mushroom. Instead of making you feel at one with everything, it splits you up into parts. I created it with the intent that maybe people could understand themselves a bit more if they look at themselves that way, whether as a personality type or yourself from the past."
"Well… even if it was physically possible for me to ingest these mushrooms, I think I'd rather not interact with my past self. After all, I've been trying to get away from her."
"But you have to admit, your past self still learned things that may be harmful at the time but prove useful later on."
"Yeah… I guess…"
"Very useful…" With that, Cilantro turned around and walked back into the house. The only words that could be heard when he got inside were, "Pranna, do you think I could talk to you in private?"
Twenty minutes passed and Peridot twiddled her thumbs the entire time. She tried whistling but she never did have the mouth for it. An owl vocalized from the darkness. Its soothing call could calm the nerves of any person who was nervous about the nature of a certain secret conversation.
Cilantro and Pranna opened the screen door and walked onto the porch. Both of them had smiles on their faces.
"Peridot," said Ciltantro, "Pranna and I have decided that we would like you to study under us and help us run our business."
Peridot stood up and burst into a smile herself.
"Really?!" she asked, "But… how? Why me?"
"Well, Star Child, we see a lot of potential in you. You're the kind of person who is not only actively searching for her place in the universe, you're also someone who actively looks for meaning and significance when it comes to this planet. Even though you didn't know much about life earlier, even though you didn't know why you wanted to protect Earth, you didn't just give up on it. You wanted to know it. You wanted to find a reason to protect it and cherish it. Getting a chance to understand one of Earth's most amazing organisms would put you on the path to doing that."
"And besides," said Pranna, "You look like you have nowhere else to go."
Peridot grinned. This time, she had her Steven Universe-trademarked stars in her eyes.
"I have potential…" she said.
And, from there, her journey into mycology had begun. What Cilantro had told her about those mushrooms wasn't all there was to learn about these fascinating organisms. There were many more species and subspecies out there, almost as many as there were types of gem. During her time on the farm, she got used to the rhythms of nature, such as the eating and sleeping cycles that her human companions were experiencing. But the mushrooms had their own cycles as well, which included eating (but not with their mouths) and growing, the latter of which would happen quite fast compared to other creatures.
She also learned the business aspect of the whole operation. Once the mushrooms were nice and ready, she would harvest them, clean them, dry them, chop them up and send them off to a packaging plant so they could be sold in stores. As a helper, she would escort certain costumers to the underground tunnel so that they could purchase the special mushrooms that couldn't be found in stores. All in all, she found purpose in what she was doing and felt a bit closer to the planet that she swore to protect.
But then there was the cellar.
During Peridot's foray into mushroom-farming, she kept passing by the cellar with the "KEEP OUT" sign. She would have simply ignored it if it weren't for the fact that every so often, she saw Cilantro and Pranna move the bushes aside and venture down there. Every time, they made sure to shut the door behind them so she hadn't a clue what was going on. Every time she would bring it up to Cilantro, he would either change the subject or say "That doesn't concern you right now." She would ask him why the thing behind that cellar door was top secret to her but the secret farm where the illegal mushrooms grew wasn't, and he would still give that answer.
And then it hit her: all this time, she could have easily found out on her own because of her metal-manipulation abilities. After a year and a half, she was finally going to use them.
The clock read 11:30 on that cold spring night. As Peridot ventured into the house's backyard, the wild wind whipped her blonde hair and whistled an erratic tune. She had faced far more dangerous things than wind or darkness, so she carried on. She treated the flashlight in her hands like it was a useful function from the days of her limb enhancers. But it could only fight a narrow cylinder of darkness. It had to do.
When she came upon the cellar door, she confronted it with all the dignity of a knight about to slay a dragon.
"All right, forbidden thing," said Peridot, "Cilantro is willing to imbibe on me the secrets of the universe, various meditation techniques and which species of cactus make the best juice but he's not keeping me from you!"
She tossed the flashlight onto the ground, stood legs apart and held out the palms of her small hands. She concentrated intently on the right side of the door, opposite of the hinges, as well as the top of the door. As she used her power, she groaned a bit and twitched her eye.
Little by little, the side and top of the steel door was starting to cave in. This was a heavy door, so she had to work harder than usual. Over the next five minutes, she made progress but at certain points, she nearly resorted to going up to the door and physically pushing it while using her powers. However, for the most part, she had trust in her abilities.
Soon, the side of the door caved in enough so that it popped open. What Peridot saw was a stony stairwell. It wouldn't have been out the ordinary if it weren't for the eery buzzing and unnaturally green light that was flashing from an unseen area of the room. She was being rewarded for making use of her gem powers after all this time. She couldn't turn back now.