“Well?” Rose Quartz asked, looking joyous to the point of bursting. “What do you think?”
Pearl gave her surroundings a second glance, wondered if perhaps she had missed something upon her initial inspection. For the life of her she couldn’t determine what it was about this place that had Rose so excited.
“It’s very, uh, dark?” Pearl offered. Rose laughed in a way that flustered her, although she couldn’t pin down why.
“Oh, Pearl. You have quite the sense of humour,”
Pearl hadn’t been trying to be funny, but she was flattered nonetheless.
Quietly, Rose crept forward, motioning for Pearl to follow her through the lush, dense flora of the forest. The full moon and its company of stars peeked in and out of the leafy canopy above. Pearl couldn’t help but noticed how much lovelier it all seemed out here than it did when viewed through a window. The thought reminded her of her trespass; that she was gallivanting through the night without permission, following the lead of an esteemed – albeit highly unorthodox – quartz soldier. White Diamond would be absolutely livid if she found out.
The prospect drew a tight-lipped smirk across Pearl’s face.
“Here we are,” Rose whispered, crouching low and pulling Pearl down beside her.
Every small, innocuous touch from Rose made Pearl shiver. No other gem was allowed to lay a hand on her without White Diamond’s permission, and her Diamond was far too selfish to ever concede to such a thing. The feeling was so surreal, so foreign; Pearl was surprised to find she liked it.
If Rose was aware of the affect her behavior was having on her rogue companion, she didn’t let on. Instead she pointed wordlessly through the branches of the bush they hid behind to a small cluster of makeshift structures just beyond the edge of the woods.
“Another base?” Pearl asked, keeping her voice low.
Rose shook her head. “No, this is a human camp.”
Pearl had never heard the word before. Her unfamiliarity with the term must have shown on her face, for Rose smiled softly and continued.
“They’re one of Earth’s native species,” she explained. “I like to come out and watch them sometimes.”
“Why?” Pearl couldn’t hide the incredulity from her voice.
As if on cue, a human – with its pinked-skinned form and mussed grey hair – staggered out of one of the the shelters. It fumbled its way around the tent to a side that faced away from the others. With its back turned, the gems watched as it fussed for a moment before producing a steady stream of fluid from between its legs that splashed against the base of the canvas.
Pearl pulled a face. “What in the universe… Is it normal for them to leak like that?”
Rose did her best to stifle a giggle. “I don’t know! Aren’t they fascinating?”
“I can’t say I see the appeal,” Pearl huffed in reply, prying her eyes away from the strange – and possibly broken – human.
“Oh, they’re not all like that.” Even in the darkness, Pearl could see Rose’s face light up. “That’s what I love about them! They’re all different; each and every one of them. And they each live unique lives, filled with their own experiences. Isn’t that incredible?”
For the first time since she arrived on the planet, Pearl was finally starting to find Earth to be worth her attention.
“That sounds… nothing like us.”
“Exactly,” Rose nodded. “Don’t you find that interesting?”
A far-off expression washed across Pearl’s face.
“Indeed,” was all she said.
For a while, neither gem said anything. They watched the camp for other signs of life but all was still and quiet.
Pearl didn’t realize Rose had been watching her until she tried to steal a glance herself.
“May I ask you something?” Rose ventured, making Pearl blink with surprise. The notion that Rose, a decorated quartz soldier, was asking a pearl for permission to speak with her was so ludicrous that Pearl wondered if it was a joke.
Giving Rose the benefit of a doubt, Pearl nodded and watched as the quartz absentmindedly fidgeted with the hem of her voluminous skirts.
“The other day, at the inspection… Did I do something to upset you?”
“What makes you ask that?”
“The way you looked at me.” Rose grimaced at the memory. “You seemed so angry.”
Pearl glanced away. “I was. I mean, not at you I suppose, but at this whole ridiculous system. I looked at you and thought you were just another soldier, being praised for mindlessly doing what she was made for…” She trailed off, finally turning back to look at Rose. “But you… You’re not what I expected at all.”
“Because of this?” Rose gestured toward the camp. Pearl nodded.
“A quartz soldier isn’t supposed to admire a colony planet or wander around after hours without a directive. But you’re doing what you want, not just what you’re told. This isn’t what you were made for at all!” An almost manic gleam flashed across Pearl’s eyes.
“And you… think that’s a good thing?” Rose asked cautiously. She knew that her secret – this unrelenting love afraid with life on Earth – was more than unusual. By any gem’s standards, such a predilection would be considered a defect.
Any gem, that was, except Pearl apparently.
“I’ve never heard of a Pearl who had so much disdain for our way of life,” Rose remarked. She was testing Pearl, prodding at her conviction. “You seem to have some serious issues with your purpose.”
Pearl laughed bitterly.
“Rose, in this world I am nothing more than a pretty plaything,” she said, her tone sharp. “I am made to serve and take orders. I exist to be used. Does that sound like a life worth living to you?”
The world around Rose seemed to expand. For any gem to willingly defy their purpose was virtually unheard of. But to see a pearl even dare question her station was almost frightening, and yet Rose found it thrilling.
“So, you make trouble for yourself instead?” she pressed, watching Pearl carefully.
Pearl frowned, casting her eyes up into the stars. “What other choice do I have? Small acts of defiance are all a pearl like me has, and even then it’s all just make believe. My agency isn’t real, but pushing back makes me feel a little bit better.”
Rose’s thoughts wandered back to the humans, and to the beautiful lives they lead. She thought about all of the time she spent surreptitiously watching them grow and learn and choose. All at once, the curious and unidentifiable feelings she had grappled with as she observed from afar came into focus; she wanted what they had.
She wanted to have a choice.
Beaming with newfound clarity, Rose reached out to lay a hand on Pearl’s shoulder.
“You know,” she whispered. “We’re not so different, you and I.”
“Be careful,” Pearl laughed. “That kind of talk could get you into trouble.”
Rose stood, brushing the clinging bramble from her skirts before offering Pearl a hand and helping her to her feet.
“You know, I don’t think I would mind,” she admitted, eyes twinkling with mischief. “I think you have me feeling a little rebellious, Pearl.”