Author's note one: (PT) Since Kiffers wrote a wonderful gift fic within the Breaking Down canon, I asked if she'd like to collaborate on a project and, to my delight, she agreed! So this is the first chapter in our dual-wielded pearl-related pain train, the focus is on explaining core concepts in the hidden culture of pearls. First two excerpts are mine, second two are Kiffers. Be warned that as always, this gets very grim.
Author's note two: Hey folks, Kiffs here. I am ever so excited and honored to be working with PT on this one. Hopefully my contributions manage to match up, heh. Either way, I hope all of you enjoy this little endeavor. Make sure to leave a comment if you do!
Chapter One: A is for….
Pearls disappear quite a lot. Subject as they are to the whims of their owners and a popular target for thievery and black market trading, a pearl can never really know how long she will be able to stay in one place. Pearls build friendships, knowing they can vanish without a trace in the blink of an eye.
Well-heeled upper class gems leave them behind on tracers and in the back of hired lugers and sometimes forget to pick them up from repair stations or the holding pen in shops. Organized crime subordinates carry strafing poles and surge daggers to stab them just enough to get them to retreat into their gems then pocket them and spirit them away to be rejigged and sold. Angry, spiteful or just plain sadistic gems vent their moods on them, whether they belong to that gem or not, until they shatter.
A pearl that knows it is going to die has time to prepare, time to give her memory to another in anticipation. A pearl that suddenly disappears does not have this time, and even if she is later discovered, non-functioning and ready for processing, no pearl would ever consider taking memory from her corpse. It is considered abhorrent to take memory without clear consent from the pearl that owns it, and that includes those that are no longer functional.
Instead, they create a replica memory in her honour. All pearls that had known a lost sister would pass on their memories of her, as well as speaking of her to those that did not know her.
She treated her owner with such kindness.
She was so graceful, she was a joy to see.
She had the most beautiful voice.
She told the best jokes.
We will miss her.
To explain the absence of a pearl, gesture-speak had an elegant system. The word 'gone' was almost always used, but it differed in how it was presented. A single finger on each hand, to indicate a pearl had died or been shattered the fingers barely touched, just over the knee in a seated position. To indicate that she had been stolen, the fingers formed a half-loop, held close to the torso. To indicate that she had been sold or given away the fingers were slightly raised, turned downwards to point to the feet. If they did not know what had happened to her, they laid one hand over the other.
There was one more form for a pearl that had been taken away, but it was one pearls dreaded having to use. A crossed finger on each hand as the hands lay in the speaker's lap meant that the pearl was not dead, stolen or sold but had been removed from Homeworld entirely and would likely never use gesture-speak to communicate with a pearl again.
This concept was horrifying for a pearl. Even barracks pearls at their lowest could or had shared memory, and pearls that were suddenly shattered or destroyed over long periods of time saw other pearls before they died. No matter how kind or gracious an owner was, it was no substitute for pearl culture. It would be kinder to just shatter the pearl outright.
Although the rebellion and the reaction to the rebellion somewhat diminished Homeworld's fondness for extravagance, Almandine managed to keep her work in fashion respected until the economy recovered again and she could go back to making high art. The higher-class gems still saw her as an authority on what was cool, and even the Diamonds called her in to discuss any image changes they were thinking of making.
Being such a lauded personality, it would have surprised (probably horrified) Almandine to discover that pearls saw her as nothing but a tremendous joke.
Pearls mostly wore what they were told to wear, and the spike tended to interfere with any kind of vanity they could develop, so the drama that revolved around Almandine and her apparel lines were a source of endless amusement to the average pearl. They often traded memory and stories of their owners dissolving into fits of rage and tears when something new on the market didn't suit them but every gem is going to be wearing it so I have to wear it toooooo or describing how gems had suffered public humiliation because a certain design had accidentally exposed a private area or caused them to fall down the steps at the Silverdene.
(Luckily, no gem except for Almandine herself was so gauche as to dress a pearl in an Almandine design, so they escaped this indignity.)
The worst culprits for making fun of Almandine were her own two pearls. There was a lot of sympathy for them from fellow pearls, having to put up with her constantly spray-painting them, tossing cloth at them and posing them over and over and over to get her inspiration, but they took it with hidden good humour. Occasionally, they liked to mess with her by temporarily reducing their mass to make one of them ever so slightly taller than the other, delighting in her despair that they weren't identical but she couldn't figure out why. She was always threatening to get a third pearl to make up for the differences, but given she could barely handle two of them and their mild-mannered teasing she always reconsidered.
On transit lines, Almandine's latest monstrosities were often the topic of discussion.
Emerald got it in early quadrant. Even she thought it was ugly.
You're supposed to get a recolour with it. Almandine just sprayed her pearls again but every other gem is going to spend a fortune or risk clashing.
Her pearl said it was supposed to be beyond floor-length.
What does that even mean?
It's impossible to walk in. Morganite tried all last quadrant but when she picked up the lower skirt it exposed her nethers.
It's going to be popular with the Larimars at the Silverdene then.
To any observing gem, the tracer carriage was quiet, the pearls were sitting in silence, moving gently with the swaying motion of the vehicle. To any observing pearl, the gently flickering eyelids and slight movements of the tips of their toes filled the carriage with hysterical laughter.
It was an unusual protocol to the pearl manufacturers, though the necessity was never given any serious thought. An older model pearl being present in the reformation chamber aided the new models in adjusting, so the fabricators left it at just that.
The nacre on the recent batch of model 6.3.8 pearls had finished solidifying last cycle. A final electrical current was sent through the pearls, forcing them to emerge from their gems and take shape. The moment mouths were formed, the chamber filled with pained screeches.
As always, the new pearls tore at their gems and let hysterical howls escape them. The older model pearl reached for them, memories drifting from her fingertips to sink into their freshly formed skin. They froze as knowledge of gesture-speak was given to them.
What is this pain? their eyelids asked. Hands continued scraping at their gems.
The nothing, her fingers whispered back. It consumes your thoughts.
They flocked around her, their faces desperate as their hands twitched. How do we make it stop?
We are Pearls, she answered. It is our curse to be silent. To listen. To obey. Do not show them what you feel, what you think, or you will be consumed by the nothing.
She watched, one by one, as their faces fell, then grew blank. The new pearls looked at each other, now burdened with the terrible knowledge of their non-existence.
What comes for us? one asked, her movements hesitant.
Whatever they wish of you. For many of you, it will not be pleasant. Pearl would not hide this truth from them.
The new pearls shifted. Emotions flickered on their faces, replaced by blankness as the nothing reacted.
Another pearl stepped forward. How will we survive what comes?
In response, the older model pearl began to sing, her voice at such a low frequency the observing gems would not hear. But the pearls did.
The song wove around them, laced with the memories of the older pearl and the memories of those who came before her. They listened, entranced, as the world came to life from the song.
We will be here for you. Your sisters will listen. We will accept memory and give memory. Know that everything you experience, whether it joyful or suffering, we will experience it with you.
She paused, her eyes drifting to each of the pearls in turn. They gazed back at her, their expressions hopeful.
When the end comes, she finally said with fluttering fingers, you will live on through us.
A panel slid open on one wall. The new model 6.3.8 pearls turned toward it. As a group, they left through the exit, their fingers calling out to the older model.
Thank you, sister.
As the panel fell shut, the room was swamped in darkness once more. Pearl turned away and resumed her position against a wall, awaiting the arrival of the next batch.
The manufacturers did not know why pearls were able to react the way they did when they first formed. Only that an older model was required to be present before they were sent out to Homeworld.
It was simply protocol.
Pearls disappear quite a lot. It is an accepted truth among pearls that any friendships they make with other pearls can end when one simply vanishes. This is of little comfort to those who are left behind.
Forgotten pearls must find ways to cope with the absence.
A pearl left on a deserted colony may decide to explore the planet when no one comes for her. She may discover that the colony, despite having been mined of all resources many orbits ago, somehow still manages to provide for remaining life. The pearl may decide to occupy herself with writing reports of the thriving planetary ecosystems.
If a pearl should be left in the closet of an abandoned building on an unused sector of Homeworld, perhaps she will wait in silence for gems to return for her. When they fail to do so, the pearl might wait longer still for snippets of a song woven with memories to find her. When no such music arrives, the pearl would likely decide to recede into her gem until time wears it away.
A pearl dropped through a crack in the ground may form to find herself alone in a cavern with no exit but the slight sliver through which she fell. Unable to force her manifested form through the opening, she would be left alone in the darkness. In time, the pearl may gesture to herself, carrying out entire conversations with her hands. If she were ever located, other pearls would not blame her for the madness that consumes her.
The sole survivor of a zoatox infestation on an undocumented asteroid could very well be a pearl. Finding a surprising similarity between the movements of the creatures and gesture-speak, the pearl may decide to delve deep within the zoatox hive. She could imagine them speaking with her through rippling hides and swaying limbs. The pearl might decide she does not need other pearls to thrive, as long as she stays with the hive. Zoatoxes could provide much better company than gems. If the opportunity ever arises, the pearl might hope to carry the zoatox larvae safely stored within her gem back to Homeworld.
A stray comet may destroy a vessel meant to carry a squadron of jaspers and their illegal pearl to a freshly located colony. Due to the incident, the pearl would likely be left to float endlessly through space, lost to gemkind. The loneliness should be unbearable. When she is caught between a collision of two celestial bodies, she may sigh with relief just before her gem is shattered.
Another pearl could have perhaps made the choice to leave Homeworld and its pearls behind at the behest of the gem she loves. At first, perhaps the pearl distracts herself with plans and battles and stolen kisses. Eventually, the distractions may not be enough to keep the pearl from regretting her decision to abandon her sisters. When her lover is gone and all that is left to distract her is an amethyst and a fusion, the longing might be too much for the pearl. Late at night in the confines of her room, the pearl might form copies of herself. They would make subtle gestures and movements, and even though it's not the same, maybe the pearl would pretend that for a moment—just a moment—she has someone to talk to.