Note: So I finally got around to watching the new episodes. I'm starting to think either I am ever so slightly psychic, really tuned into a zeitgeist or someone on the SU crew is reading my fics (and that is a possibility that makes me shudder a bit). Either way, I had to write this while the thought is still in my head and I have a scrap of free time.
PS: Previous reading of my Orthoclase-and-Pearl shorts is advised to make sense of this fic. Although anyone reading the Chorus fic will know Orthoclase's pearl as Ginger, this fic takes place a good few thousand years before she was named and so she is referred to as Pearl here. Hope it's not confusing.
The call came in close to the end of the cycle, just as Orthoclase was reconditioning her tools in a lye bath and Pearl finishing up the latest sets of schematics. The message was from an Aquamarine three districts away, a gem that often put through jobs by proxy.
"How urgent is this, exactly?" Orthoclase asked once she had the Aquamarine onscreen. "I charge extra for latecomers, you know that."
"It's extremely time sensitive," Aquamarine told her.
There was something odd in Aquamarine's stance. She was as well known for her discretion as Orthoclase herself was, and was noted for being calm and stoic. She seemed rattled. It was alarming, to say the least.
"It's worth forty thousand credits if you can fix it," Aquamarine continued.
"Forty thousand?" Orthoclase scoffed. "They could buy a new pearl for that much. Top of the range one, even. This a military operation?"
"I am not at liberty to say," Aquamarine said. "Will you take it or not?"
"Sure I'll take it," Orthoclase said with a shrug. "You got me curious. Drop it off at the fifth rendezvous..."
"No, we can't let it be done in your workshop. We have a location. I'll send the co-ordinates."
With that, she was gone. Orthoclase sighed, flopped across the couch and started polishing one of her blades in earnest.
"'I'm not at liberty to say," she scoffed. "Imperious little shingle."
"What do you think you'll need?" Pearl asked. She was already packing a bag for Orthoclase.
"I say bring everything," Orthoclase said. "You might as well come with me. It sounds like this is going to be a tricky one."
Tricky was a vast understatement.
After journeying to the other side of the city, through some very rough areas, they had been picked up by a private luger with the windows blacked out so they couldn't see where they were going or who was driving them. They were let out in a huge empty facility (if she had to guess, Orthoclase thought it might have been one of the pre-zoatox war ship hangars) and to top it all off, Aquamarine wasn't even there.
A Morganite stood in the middle of the darkened hall, nervously shuffling in front of a table covered with a tarp. Orthoclase scanned her carefully; excellent posture inconsistent with military service, neatly dressed, hair pinned severely back, almost too pristine. This was someone's caretaker, or assistant. Someone very high up in Homeworld's chain of command.
"Thank you for agreeing to do this," she began by way of a greeting.
"I haven't seen what you want me to do yet," Orthoclase said, declining to shake her hand. "I may not be able to do anything."
"I've been told you're the best," Morganite said, brandishing a tablet. "The forty thousand was a starting price. If you can help us, I'll double it."
Orthoclase whistled. That was a lot of money for one job, even a difficult one. Someone was desperate.
"All right, might as well take a look..." she said, lifting the tarp.
She put it down again a parsec later.
"Yeah, I can't fix this," she said, consciously blocking Pearl's view with her body even though the tarp was down. "I'm good, I'm not that good."
"It doesn't need to be perfect. Functional will do," Morganite responded.
"Functional?" Orthoclase laughed scornfully. "I have no idea what's even holding it together anymore! What in Core's name happened to it?"
"That is not to be discussed."
"Right, whatever. Point is, it would be a lot easier to just get a new pearl and disguise it as this one, and send what's left of this one for processing. Cheaper, too."
"No," Morganite said firmly. "The owner is adamant she wants to keep this one. And she will know if it's replaced."
"I'm telling you, I can't do anything with this. It's too damaged. Anything I do will be purely cosmetic, and even that's not saying much. If it has any function at all, it's probably fried."
"Please, at least try."
Orthoclase rubbed her temples.
If I reroute the nacre channels...
No, it's beyond help.
But if I just cut some of the functions, it wouldn't need so much...
I'd be building it all over again, but worse.
Eighty thousand credits.
She glanced over at Pearl, who was standing in place serenely holding the bag with all of her operating tools.
"I'll try," she said, after wrestling with herself once more. "But I can't promise anything."
The Morganite looked so relieved she was on the verge of tears.
It had probably been a very nice pearl, once. Nice clean palette, although all-white was a bit austere for some gems' liking. The two little buns on the side of its head were a cute whimsical touch, its owner was probably a young gem.
And looking at the mess that had been made of its internals, Orthoclase had to conclude it was a young gem. All gems could be careless but only the recently hatched were so callous. The pearl's inner channels were scrambled and full of knots, which meant its owner had pulled them out and pushed them back in again for some reason. They had to be individually removed, untangled and sewn back in.
As Pearl held out her arms to act as a bridge for the untangling process, Orthoclase put out her theories.
"Reverse engineering, maybe? Someone wanting to set up a distillery on the down low?"
"Unlikely," Pearl said in response. "They would have started with the head."
"That's if they knew what they were doing," Orthoclase grunted, laying three arteries across Pearl's arms. "Which they clearly did not."
As they progressed down the pearl's body, Orthoclase hit a chunk of something and pulled it out with her forceps.
"Hm. Looks like a chunk of its gem," she said, wiping the nacre from the jagged surface. "What's it doing in the stomach cavity?"
"Perhaps an attempt at fusing that went wrong?"
Orthoclase chuckled. Even the stupidest of gems knew pearls weren't capable of fusion. Still, it would account for the damage done to this pearl if some gem had decided to muck around and try to make two pearls fuse. Maybe it would have even outright destroyed the other one.
When it came to the pearls' finer motor and cognitive functions, most of the nerves that held those pieces together were snapped or fried. The part that controlled speech was black, and it crumbled when Orthoclase tried to remove it, careful as she was. She kept sneaking glances at Pearl, to see if she was in any way distressed. It was by far the most damaged pearl they had ever worked with.
But she seemed fine. Even covered in the other pearl's bleeding nacre, holding a network of body parts in her arms, she stared resolutely ahead, waiting to be of use.
"Huh," Orthoclase said as they were just sewing things back in. "This doesn't look right..."
She tapped on the setting of the pearl's gem with her blade.
"There's no indent," Pearl suggested.
"Exactly! It's like it's been bolted on..."
She prodded the gem a little more, and watched the pearl twitch in response. The gem felt loose. If it had been bolted on, it was a sloppy job. Gems shouldn't move when touched.
"That explains the eye, then," Pearl said quietly.
Orthoclase hummed grimly in agreement. The eye was a lost cause completely. The current that ran from the pearl's gem through its body had burned the eye to a crisp, leaving scorched fissures in the eye socket and across the forehead. If the gem was supposed to be in the forehead, that wouldn't have happened.
"This isn't even a bad remodel job," Orthoclase muttered. "Some stupid gem just decided to try and move their pearl's gem placement. What kind of slag-addled clod does a thing like that?"
When she was finished, Orthoclase advised that the pearl was only capable of very basic tasks and should be replaced as soon as possible. The Morganite didn't seem disappointed in the job she had done, she gladly parted with the promised eighty thousand credits.
"You will speak of this to no-one," she said before she closed the luger door on them.
"Who would I tell?" Orthoclase scoffed as they were driven away. "Who'd ever believe me that someone was stupid enough to try and move a pearl's gem?"
Pearl didn't respond. She stared at the blackened window until they were dropped at their meeting point. All the way back to the workshop, she didn't say a single word.
When she walked past all the schematic work she had yet to finish and past all of the tools she usually sterilized after an operation, straight to the back room of the workshop and under the table she'd first hidden under when Orthoclase removed her spike, Orthoclase let her go without comment. Clearly it had distressed her a lot more than she would ever let on.
Even Orthoclase herself couldn't suppress a shudder, thinking of the pearl's scorched eye and the fissures burned into its face.
What kind of gem would even think to do such a thing?