Or as it's also known, Feels on Wheels (I just like that title too much to let go of it). Why yes, it is indeed a Steven Universe/Mad Max;Fury Road fusion. Prior knowledge of my Breaking Down fic series is recommended but not required.
It started, as many cataclysms do, with pure greed.
The zoatox menace had been dealt with and Homeworld, along with its many colonies, were finally safe. But gem production had reached a peak, where there had once been two hundred gem individuals living peacefully on their own planet there were now millions, and they saw no reason to stop reproducing.
The planet itself was a waterlogged expanse of trees growing through the wet murk, spinning between three suns. Crude, but capable of supporting the birth of thousands of gems. The machines were altered for submerged creation and the growing gems sucked what nutrients they could from the water, the soil and the trees.
A humble society filled the planet, six townships supporting Kunzites, a handful of Emeralds and their respective entourages. They looked forward to when the last useful gem would be plucked from the planet and they could go back to Homeworld for a more comfortable existence. But just before the mission could be completed, the first in a series of earthquakes shook the planet and took out the primary warp pad.
At first, the citizens weren't worried. The warp pad was just a supply line, and in any case it wasn't the only one on the planet. They had their ships, they just needed to get the substrate through the next nearest warp pad to fuel them.
The trees had been slowly dying as the water supporting them became contaminated with gem production run-off, and the water levels lowered enough to expose their rotting roots. As the trees crumbled away, the full force of the planet's three suns began to make itself known. The smaller two suns were close by but the planet's orbit took them out of the worst of the glare for three quadrants every cycle. But the biggest of the suns glared down at them for all but a single quadrant out of every cycle. Without the trees to shade the water, the planet's lakes and oceans rapidly dried up, and without the water to support the trees, they shrivelled up in the heat and turned to dust.
Now, the gems worried. The nearest warp pad had been found snapped in two by a falling tree, and they lacked the resources to fix it. There was only enough substrate to support a handful of gems leaving the planet to go for help. A council was called, and the gems leaving the planet were chosen. One of them just happened to be the leader of the entire mission.
Word of their leaving spread furiously amongst the working gem encampments and the barracks. Those gems were the most vulnerable, working outside under the heat of the three suns and blasted by the winds that threw burning sand at them, scratching them to pieces. They suspected that the mission leader and the other higher class gems would leave and not come back, abandoning them all to their fate.
The tension finally came to a head when a Pyrite, one of a set that had been sent to root out active warp pads, returned from her mission alone, declaring that the warp pads were all dead and the planet was poisoned. She had travelled the entire planet, something that was said to be impossible without cracking. Sure enough, her gem was scratched but in one piece. Murmurs around the encampments called her the Everlast.
Pyrite whipped the lower class gems into a frenzy, claiming that her mission leader, an Emerald, had tried to save her own life by sacrificing the other Pyrites and that the rescue mission was the same thing. A riot broke out, five hundred soldier class and a few thousand worker class against less than fifty upper class gems. Even the remaining Emeralds were torn down in a heartbeat.
Pyrite seized control with barely any effort. The last few upper class gems were given a show trial and executed. Their property, which included twelve pearls, were confiscated and handed over to Pyrite. The township structures were torn down and rebuilt as a single enormous tower, and all vehicles were converted to adapt to their desert environment.
The Everlast recruited her generals from the most brutal and most efficient of the worker and soldier classes. They enforced her laws, harsh as they might have been, for the promise of grafts taken from Pyrite's own gem to patch their wounds and give them her strength. She gave them great rewards for their loyalty, a high shady place to rest one's mass, the best of the resources they could salvage, even access to the pearls, who were securely locked away in the Everlast's own chambers and rarely seen.
Life was hard. The sands scored the gems until they were hunched and misshapen. Long missions away from the fortress had a mortality rate that took out all but the strongest warrior gems. Punishment for disobeying the Everlast's laws was exile to the salt dunes. As time went on and the gems settled further into their existence, they forgot there was a universe outside of the sand and sun.
They really should have known better.
The warp pad was cracked across the base, but it still looked functional. They debated it for close to an hour, Pearl was adamant they shouldn't use it, Amethyst was probably just determined to use it to rile Pearl up, and Garnet seemed torn in both directions. In the end they let Steven cast the deciding vote, and since there was the season premiere of Rusty Blades waiting for him when they got home, he took what he assumed was the fastest option.
The warp stream was unstable from the get-go, it fizzled and crackled all around them. When it burst and bent off in the opposite direction they were just glad it didn't fling them out into open space. Up until they saw where it had flung them out.
Sand. Nothing but sand as far as the eye could see. Even the distant mountains were made of sand.
"We still have the Desert Glass bubbled, right?" Pearl asked nervously, shielding her gem from the wind as much as she could.
"Yes," Garnet nodded, frowning visibly under her glasses. "This isn't Desert Glass sand, it's too coarse."
"This place reeks," Amethyst groaned, and indeed it did. Dry as the air was, it held an odour of cloying decay.
One look back at the pad that had plucked them from space told them it was beyond use; it was cracked even worse than the one they'd warped from, and was smouldering and crumbling into ash as they watched.
"What do we do now?" Pearl asked, looking to Garnet. They all looked to Garnet.
Garnet sighed, rubbed her temple, and answered.
"We walk until we find another warp pad or a gem that might help us get offworld. Let's hope they're not hostile."
Away they trudged in a silent, sullen line. Steven lagged behind, kicking himself for being so impatient. As they left the broken warp pad behind, he was more and more aware of how thirsty he was. The air was so dry it sucked the moisture clear out of his mouth, and the three suns glared down hard on him. The gems were unaffected, though it was clear the wind was irritating them given how much they were brushing sand granules off of their gems.
It was eerie how quiet it was. Even deserted planets had the sound of running water in the distance, or the rush of wind over valleys and plains. There was sound, but it was very faint and far into the distance, a sort of low rumbling and murmur. Until they crossed a third hillock of clustered sand dunes, so soft they crumbled as the gems stepped on them. Then they heard a light clanging sound, and wearily they trudged towards it.
Steven was getting desperately thirsty now, so thirsty he forgot to be frightened when he saw the vehicle. It was an ugly thing, long and segmented like a millipede, scored with deep gashes and rusty patches and scorch marks. Long spikes jutted out over the hull of the coupled trucks, and the main rig itself was armoured with thick plates. This was where the clanging was coming from, along with the sound of trickling water.
Steven was now so thirsty his feet half-carried him to the rig of their own accord. Garnet, finally remembering that he was there at all, pulled him back and the gems shunted him to the back of the group as they cautiously approached the rig. Whoever was manning the vehicle, they were on the opposite side.
They skirted around the back of the third coupled truck, Garnet in front, followed by Amethyst and Pearl, and trailing on the end, Steven. Their hands hovered close to their gems in case they needed to summon their weapons in a hurry. Their eyes traced the jagged edges of the spikes; even motionless, it was an aggressive vehicle.
But what they saw on the other side of the rig stunned them so much all thought of weapons fled their minds.
Five of them in all, possessed of the same spindly limbs, aristocratic face and arrow-straight posture as Pearl, but different from her and different from each other. They wore wispy scraps of white cloth wrapped around their bodies to preserve as much modesty as possible, exposed and barefoot in the burning sand. The one in the centre, a tall specimen with long blue curls, was grimly using the cloth to wipe clinging sand from the collarbone-set gem of one of the others, a shorter pearl with a lilac bob and pale yellow skin.
The other three were working a pump buried deep in the sand. The two working the handle, one with hair and skin white as a ghost and the other almost pitch black with dark red hair, strained to put their full weight on the pump, huffing with the effort. The pearl holding the basin to catch the water was a dainty bit of fluff with a cloud of pink fuzz for hair and a darker pink tint to her skin.
It was so incongruous to see them working at their task, as if they had been plucked from somewhere else and thrown into the wilderness at a whim, that they didn't take any notice of the gem making the most noise. When she suddenly tossed down the wrench she'd been using to knock sand out of the engine vents and stomped over to the pearls, they jumped.
It was a Jasper, huge and hulking and towering over the pearls. For a moment it looked like she wanted to do something awful to them, but the pink pearl merely handed her the basin and she threw the water over her head and shoulders, gasping with relief. The water dipped and trickled over the multiple scars and valleys were parts of her mass were missing. Her gem, defiantly winking at the sun from her bicep, was gashed and shredded; the water pooled in the centre where chunk had been gouged out.
At the sight of the water, Steven bit back a groan, but his stomach didn't do the same. It groaned audibly, and six pairs of eyes snapped up to see the Crystal Gems staring back at them.
The Jasper snarled, tossed the basin to one side and advanced on them. The pearls cowered behind the blue-haired one. Steven was pushed firmly behind the Gems as they summoned their weapons and prepared to fight.
But just as the Jasper was gathering speed, the blue-haired pearl dashed forward and caught her arm. To the Crystal Gems' surprise, the Jasper stopped.
"Listen," the blue-haired pearl told her sharply.
There was a booming noise on the wind, approaching them from behind. A thick, almost drumlike beat, laced with gleeful shouting and screaming. The roar of engines pushing it all upwards. It was faint, but it was getting closer with alarming speed.