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Polishing

Chapter Text

Gem Empire Starship: Endeavor

The Ship pulled out of light distortion and solidified above the planet Mayalx. Blue Zircon looked out the window at the dusty blue rock beneath them. Mayalx was in the process of being terraformed under the rule of Blue Diamond. The process was, like many of Blue Diamond’s projects, woefully behind schedule. The planet was still attempting to produce its fourth Kindergarten and had gone through six different sites. Each site failed to produce adequate Gems in their early batches and were abandoned. The Galaxy Warp was still being constructed and the original moon base had to be abandoned due to an instability discovered within the moon’s core long after colonization had begun.

Just two years ago the moon had collapsed. They’d been aware of the problem for decades and had long since stripped the base, but the process had taken a while and contributed to the schedule slip. Blue Diamond’s legendary period of mourning had caused her to lose focus on projects such as these and it was left to the Agates to try and keep everyone on track. Mayalx had, fortunately, managed to install a space port, two twilight elevators, and over a dozen warp pads, so there was at least some progress.

The Endeavor was approaching a twilight elevator now. An enormous metal tube that extended from the planet’s surface into space allowing cargo and Gems to drop into the planet without the need for a spaceship. Blue Zircon watched a handship detach from the Twilight Elevator and accelerate away from the planet; it was moving to the designated area to begin light distortion.

“Ah look at that ugly thing,” came the voice to her right.

Yellow Zircon was sitting next to her, craning her neck to look out the same window.

“Ugly, half-finished… ugly,” she continued, not bothering to find synonyms for Mayalx's ugliness. “But at least it’s blue. Keeps your color motif I suppose.”

“It will be done when it’s done,” Blue replied.

“We’ve sank way too much time and resources into this planet,” Yellow said.

“And abandoning it will mean that was all for naught,” Blue said, looking at the planet rather than at her counterpart.

“That’s not a good reason to keep this up,” Yellow said, the beginnings of a scowl starting to form at the edges of her mouth. “Cut our losses now before we lose even more.”

“Docking in thirty minutes,” came the pilot’s voice over the intercom.

“Alright, let’s get this done,” Hessonite said.

Hessonite and the Zircons had been called to Mayalx to pass judgement on a new scientific project. It was called “Gem Polishing” and it was a method of healing cracked Gems. The trio were part of an Ethics Committee, each brought in to ask a question:

“Will it improve the lives of Gems?”

“Is it ethical?”

“Will it benefit the Empire?”

The three would deliberate and ultimately decide if the experiment would be approved and distributed through the Empire. Should all the questions be Yes then it would be approved out right, if all three were No, then it would be rejected. If there wasn’t a unanimous decision then there would be debate on the benefits vs. the costs. Which yes’s were more important? Two no’s didn’t guarantee a rejection and two yes’s didn’t guarantee an approval.

The Endeavor attached itself to the twilight elevator’s dock and the passengers disembarked. The Ethics Committee exited through the main doors into the customs area. Their gems were scanned by a Robonoid and they were let into the main part of the base. Dozens of Peridots were at work. The interior was circular, with a massive hole in the middle enclosed by a gate. The elevator itself was returning from the surface and they had a few minutes. The walls were blue and arched over them in a dome with windows scattered here and there for a glimpse into space. Blue Zircon turned back to see the Peridots who had come with them using their tractor beams to lift up metal boxes full of supplies for the Colony.

The elevator finally arrived and the gates opened. The staff began levitating crates onto the platform and Robonoids were deployed to check for any wear on the hydraulics. One of the Peridots from the Endeavor walked over to them after dropping her crate onto the ship. She had a quiet air about her and her gem was on her navel. She pulled up her holoscreen and presented it to Hessonite.

“Peridot 5XB reporting. Ship has been offloaded,” 5XB said. “Two disassembled injectors. Spare parts for repairs for three other injectors who’s reports we received. 30 dormant Flask Robonoids. Spare parts ordered for a damaged Red Eye. Case of forged polearms for Guard Division 52. Parts ordered for completion of a surface to space cannon bordering Mayalx Kindergarten two.”

“Understood,” Hessonite said, signing the screen.

“I’m afraid the polearms need to be signed off for by the Agate in charge of Division 52,” 5XB said.

Hessonite nodded and tapped the screen, the order beaming itself into her gem. With that she turned and headed to the elevator; the other Peridots strapping the equipment down for the descent.

“Thank you,” Blue Zircon said to the Peridot.

“It’s my job,” 5XB said, shrugging. “I’m supposed to do it.”

“That doesn’t mean you can’t be thanked,” Blue replied, giving the Peridot a hug. “Say hi to 5XG for me.”

The Peridot smiled and hugged her back, “Good luck.”

The Zircons joined Hessonite and the other Gems on the platform, 5XB giving them a final wave before heading back to the Endeavor.

“We’ll be overseeing the delivery of the polearms,” Hessonite said to the two. “I’ve been informed that the Gem Polishing demonstration has been pushed back again.”

“Mayalx really is a mess,” Yellow Zircon said. “Delays after delays. Can’t even get the Galaxy Warp up and running.”

“Mm,” Hessonite said, nodding. “The orbital defenses are also significantly lacking. An Alternian Cruiser can do a number on this planet before they even knew what was happening.”

“Well, I suppose it’s good that we were sent with all this equipment,” Blue Zircon said, the need to defend her Court’s work prickling at the back of her head. “At the very least we can do something for the infrastructure.”

“Oh it’s hopeless,” Yellow Zircon said, waving dismissively. “The ground has a poor yield and the resources shipped off world are so meager. Like I said before, let’s just cut our losses.”

Yellow had a half smirk on her face, casually undermining the competency of the Blue Court in that smarmy indirect manner of hers.

“My Diamond clearly thinks that it’s worth continuing,” Blue replied, evenly. “You would question her will?”

“Hmph,” Yellow’s smirk faded.

Disagreement with a Diamond’s decision is a dangerous path to go down.

“Whatever the reason,” Hessonite cut in. “Let’s have this done with. I want to get back to my dropship overhaul project. The Nephrites are getting impatient.”

The three stood by as the Peridots finished securing the cargo. With final checks complete, the gates closed and the elevator began its rapid descent. The sheer g-forces involved with the plummet to the planet would kill many species, but with their hard light forms adjustment to gravity Gems didn’t even feel a thing.

“That Peridot,” Yellow said, speaking to Blue. “She’s one of 5XG’s friends right?”

Blue Zircon nodded.

“What’s 5XG up to?” Yellow asked.

“She’s working at the solar station orbiting Caminus,” Blue said, smiling. “She and I have some leave coming up soon. We’re going to go to Vort.”

“Those are some comfy couches on that planet,” Yellow Zircon said, nodding.

“You should come,” Blue said. “It’ll be fun, just the three of us.”

“Nah. I’ve got some property disputes to clear up.”

“Oh, those can wait.”

“Not for these Gems, they can’t,” Yellow said, shrugging apologetically. “You and Peridot should spend some time together. It’s been a while since you’ve gotten leave. I’ll be here when you get back.”

The elevator car had entered Mayalx's atmosphere and rocketed down to the base. They arrived in only a few minutes, the elevator slowing to a stop. The bottom of the twilight elevator was far grander than the top. It was part of an entire terminal; subterranean trains docked beneath them and three warp pads ferried Gems to and fro.

The base of the Twilight Elevator was three stories. They’d arrived on the bottom floor, above them Peridots and Quartzes moved about on the upper levels circling the elevator shaft. A group of Peridots detached the crates from the elevator and used their tractor beams to lift them out. The Ethics Committee exited through the open gates onto the main platform.

“Polearms are to be delivered to the Division situated at the current failed Kindergarten,” Hessonite said, pulling the holoscreen from her Gem. “We’ll accompany them immediately.”

“When has the review been moved to?” Yellow Zircon asked.

“Two days from now,” Hessonite said. “If there’s no more delays.”

The three followed the Peridot who lifted the crate of weapons. They moved to a levitation pad that took them down into the underground. Beneath the base of the elevator was the train station; thousands moved through it each day as it connected the main population centers of the still developing colony. Three trains were parked and lying in idle. Quartzes, Agates, and Garnets entered and exited while Peridots hefted their cargo into the freight cars. Hessonite and the Zircons followed their Peridot as she placed the crate onboard one of the trains. Blue Zircon thanked her and they got on. The interior of their cab was blue, and the seats soft. They got comfortable while the final arrangements were made.

“Are we married to this color motif?” Yellow Zircon asked. “I mean it get’s tired seeing yellow everywhere all the time and now it’s blue all the time.”

Hessonite and Blue Zircon ignored her. With preparations complete, the electromagnets activated and levitated the cars. The train took off down into the tunnel.

Chapter Text

At first the outside of the train was simple darkness. Hessonite reviewed a report from her Dropship Overhaul project while the Zircons planned out what they’d do for the first two days.

“These caverns look interesting,” Blue said, touching a holo map projected from her Gem. “Inkursian smugglers used them to hide contraband.”

“We can check out the Gamma Kindergarten after,” Yellow said. “Damn, there’s so little to do here. The leisure activities in the city seem lacking and so much of Mayalx's history is dull as dirt.”

“Oh I’m sure we can find something,” Blue said

It was an hour before the darkness gave way. The Zircons looked out the window at a massive quarry. Quartzes and Rubies scampered about below them, hollowing the area out and refining the minerals they unearthed; standard procedure for colonization. Unfortunately, like everything on Mayalx, the procedure was rife with problems. After the third failed Kindergarten, the Agates realized that this quarry site was a better location for Gem injection; this was discovered after much of the area had been cleared away. Work was halted for two years while the administration argued over what to do and if a Kindergarten should be created in spite of the area already partially mined. Ultimately it was decided that the site would remain a mine and operations continued. It was a tragic waste of time, but they had recovered enough material for the construction of the second Twilight Elevator.

“Can’t imagine the headache that whoever’s in charge of this cacophony of errors has right now,” Yellow Zircon said. “Stars, can you believe it? Working hard in the system only for this tragedy to be dropped into your lap for you to clean up. I’d hate to be a Blue Agate right now.”

“They’re doing the best they can,” Blue said.

“The Agates are spending more time figuring out who to pass the buck to rather than actually fixing this issue,” Yellow replied. “Nobody wants to be responsible for the failure of Mayalx.”

“You’re so quick to write this off as a failure,” Blue Zircon said. “They’ve made many strides for the betterment of the colony.”

The lack of attention Blue Diamond paid to colony maintenance went unspoken but it hung heavy in the air. No one dared question the competence of the Authority even as the lack of direction was turning the planet into a disaster waiting to happen.

An hour later they arrived at the current failed Delta Kindergarten. The train stopped at a station that was in the process of being disassembled. After a new Kindergarten was found this route would be stripped and abandoned, the train no longer having a reason to stop there. Various Peridots began levitating the cargo off while the passengers disembarked. The Ethics Committee followed their crate as it was hauled off by a limb-enhancer’s tractor beam.

Outside of the station stood the Kindergarten. Dozens of injectors and hundreds of holes dotted the landscape. Even now, as the equipment was being disassembled, they could see flashes amongst the rock as Gems emerged. As they continued, Blue Zircon noted the more oblong shapes indicating Quartzes with too many limbs or irregular forms. The ground was tainted, impure; those born were of an inferior quality. Glumly she wondered how many of them emerged into the world ready for the life promised to them only to find themselves face to face with a Shatter Robonoid.

She shook her head to banish the thought, but it remained; one of many blemishes on the reputation of their glorious empire.

“Hey Yellow, can I ask you a question?” Blue asked.

“You’ve already asked one,” she replied.

Blue rolled her eyes. “You ever think about what would have happened if you emerged defective?”

“Of course,” Yellow said, “I’d be smashed to pieces and nothing of value would be lost.”

The sheer matter-of-factness caught Blue off guard.

“What?” Yellow asked, shooting her a weird look. “If I’m defective I couldn’t do my job and serve My Diamond. If I can’t do that, then I’ve got no purpose. If I’ve got no purpose, why waste everyone’s time?”

“I mean…” Blue searched for the words. “That’s… well that’s-”

“Ruby talk?” Yellow asked. “Of course it is. But hey, simple minds sometimes articulate worthwhile concepts. Well some of the time anyway.”

“I just can’t think of life that way,” Blue admitted. “To see a Gem only as to what value they bring to the empire and to assign a negative worth to them. It’s depressing.”

“You’ve spent too long working as a public defender,” Yellow said, fixing her with a concerned look. “Surrounded with Off-Colors and traitors you start to see them beyond their worth. That thinking is dangerous Blue.”

It wasn’t a threat, Blue knew that, not a direct one at least. Speak out against the way things are too often and you’re liable to get a target on your back. Though the way things are, Blue Zircon looked up at the failed Kindergarten they’d spent so many years on and at the life they’d stripped from the planet, were far from perfect. It was hard to continue on with the current status quo. Even beyond the amoral treatment of life, the Empire was collapsing. The Blue Court was in recession, the White Court’s expansion was taxing their limited resources, and the Yellow Court was fighting far more wars than they could sustain. They’d preached utilitarianism at the expense of morality and yet they couldn’t even stay true to that. What good was an Ethics Committee to a deeply unethical empire?

“Hey, look, new Gems!” came a voice.

The Zircons looked up to see a short Carnelian running over to them.

“Been a while since I’ve seen a Zircon,” she said. “Been even longer since I’ve seen a Garnet!”

“Excitable little thing isn’t she,” Yellow muttered to Blue.

“What brings you?” Carnelian asked.

“Weapons delivery,” Hessonite said. “We need to see your supervisor.”

“They sent a commander and two Gems from the legal division to sign off on a weapons drop?” Carnelian asked, scratching her head.

“Makes about as much sense as, well, as everything else here,” Yellow said, gesturing at the failed Kindergarten.

Above them, two Amethysts were sparring on top of an Injector that was clinging to the side of a cliff. One struck the other and knocked them from it. They plummeted down onto the ground in front of Hessonite, their physical form giving out and leaving only the Gem.

“Aww, looks like 8XJ lost again,” Carnelian said, snapping her fingers. “She has to dismantle Injector 7B when she gets up.”

“You make a habit of throwing each other off cliffs?” Blue Zircon asked.

“Whatever passes the time,” Carnelian said. “We also try to see if we can fit into really small holes!”

“Uh-huh,” Yellow said, edging away from the small red Gem.

“Stop bothering them,” came another voice.

A blue Agate marched up to them. Her hair was done up in a pair of horns and when she turned her head up to shout at the Amethyst on the injector they saw the gem on the back of her head.

“Holly Blue Agate,” she said. “I’m the supervisor of this area and this Quartz crew.”

“We’ve a delivery of polearms,” Hessonite said, nodding at the Peridot to set the crate down.

The Garnet pressed a few buttons on the side of the box and the top slid open. The Agate retrieved a pole arm from inside and studied it.

“Hey, have we met?” Carnelian asked Yellow Zircon.

“Maybe,” Yellow Zircon said, not really paying attention to her.

The other Amethysts and Jaspers were approaching them. Holly was taking inventory of the shipment.

“Nah, I remember it,” Carnelian said. “Yeah with the Topaz and Yellow Diamond’s Pearl. It was at the Nemesis Outpost.”

The recognition slammed into Yellow Zircon like a meteorite. The Gem experiments, the Yellow Sapphire, the fight, and worst of all…

Yellow immediately whirled around to look at the advancing Quartzes. She scanned the face of each one looking for her.

“Oh no,” she muttered. “Oh no, no, no.”

“What’s wrong?” Blue asked, putting a hand on Yellow’s shoulder.

“This isn’t good,” Yellow said. “I know them, this is the Quartz Crew assigned to the Human Zoo.”

“Wow, they’re really far from home then,” Blue said.

“It’s not that,” Yellow said, turning to face her Blue Court counterpart.

The same realization struck Blue Zircon in that moment, “Oh stars no.”

“Hey there,” came a familiar voice.

The two Zircons slowly turned around. There she was, an Amethyst with neck length hair and a familiar shoulder Gem. She was speaking to the Peridot that had accompanied them.

“That looks like a heavy container,” Amethyst 8XA said. “Must have been a long haul.”

“Not at all,” came the Peridot’s nasally reply. “My limb enhancers make such busywork trivial.”

“Heh, I’m sure they do,” 8XA continued. “Really neat that you guys are so strong. We couldn’t do these jobs without you.”

“Hah, indeed.”

“Yeah. It’s neat seeing Peridots come by here. Mostly it’s us Quartzes and the she-beast in thigh-highs over there,” 8XA said, jerking her head in Holly Blue’s direction.

The Peridot chuckled at that, her laugh bringing a smile to 8XA’s face. That smile remained as she slowly looked up from the smaller green Gem to the two Zircons. It was a friendly smile, almost disarming if one were familiar with her; but in her eyes the two could see the contempt, the anger.

“Oh shit,” Yellow muttered.

“Everything looks to be in order,” Holly Blue Agate said.

Hessonite pulled up the holoscreen with the order on it and the Agate signed it.

“We’re about ready to withdraw from this area and leave it to the Robonoids,” Holly Blue said. “You’re going to oversee the new Gem Polisher right?”

“Yeah, we’ve come to evaluate it,” Hessonite said. “See if it will have value in the future of the Empire.”

“An Ethics Committee, huh?” Holly Blue asked.

“For a very loose definition of Ethics I suppose,” Hessonite replied.

Chapter Text

“What the hell are we going to do?” Blue Zircon hissed.

The train was heading to the main Gem city on Mayalx, Synthe, their accommodations were located there as was the laboratory where the Gem Polisher was being developed.

“I don’t know,” Yellow Zircon replied, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Stars how did we end up on the same planet as her?”

“Problem?” Hessonite asked.

“Oh, uh,” Blue said, scratching her head. “Well you see-”

“There’s an Amethyst in that Quartz Crew with an incredibly long criminal record,” Yellow cut in. “We’ve hit her with sanction after sanction and she has in turn assaulted and threatened us.”

“Huh, is that all?” Hessonite asked, chuckling. “I don’t know if should be surprised that you two desk jockeys acquired a mortal enemy or if I should be surprised that you don’t have more. I mean you are lawyers, I imagine a lot of Gems hate you.”

“She’s a known danger!” Blue exclaimed. “Assault, battery, sexual assault, violation of restraining orders, stalking-”

“Sounds like a piece of work,” Hessonite said.

“That’s all you can say?!” Blue asked, shocked.

Yellow shot her a look, mouthing off to a superior was a bad idea.

“She’s a small time criminal,” Hessonite said, unoffended. “Like it or not, that’s what she is. Unless it’s some grand act of treason, sabotage, or murder of someone important; I don’t really see a permanent solution.”

“So that’s it?” Blue asked. “She just gets to go around as she pleases? Hurting people like there’s no tomorrow?”

“Take a look outside,” Hessonite said, evenly. “This planet’s a mess. Thousands of broken schedules, wasted resources, defects that we can’t even begin to address. It’s everywhere in the empire. Some colonies basically rule themselves with how little Homeworld checks in on them. This Amethyst is nobody in the grand scheme of things. You two work the courts, you probably know this better than I do. There’s probably dozens like her on this planet all of them slipping through the fingers of the law because they haven’t done something to really shake up the system they’re a part of.”

“So long as the work get’s done,” Yellow Zircon said, with a sigh. “She can have her… habits.”

“That’s the way the rocks tumble,” Hessonite replied.

Synthe was a massive city full of blue buildings. A large dome could be spotted in the northeast sector, the science lab. The tallest building was at the center of the city; this was where the Administration was housed. Roaming Eyes flew and docked at the launchpad at the building’s top, Quartzes and Citrines filed in and out of the bottom.

The station was only a few blocks from the Admin building; and the trio got a good look at it when they disembarked.

“The central lab will keep us updated as to when our appointment will be,” Hessonite said. “Expect further delays, I suppose.”

“Where will you go?” Yellow Zircon asked. “To pass the time I mean?”

“They’ve prepped me an office in admin,” Hessonite said. “I will be in contact with the team back at the Dropship station. They’ve run into an issue with retrofitting a batch of pre-Earth war ships.”

“Well, good luck,” Blue said. “I’m sure you can work through it.”

“Thank you,” Hessonite said. “You know where you’re accommodations are?”

“They sent us the address,” Blue said.

“Entertain yourselves,” Hessonite said, heading off. “Try to stay out of trouble.”

“And just like that we’re here,” Yellow Zircon said.

“I wonder if 8XA will follow,” Blue said.

“It’s a big city and she’s assigned far away.”

“They’ll be moving to another post soon. They’ll probably even come here.”

“It’s a big city,” Yellow repeated. “She’d never know where to look.”

“I hope you’re right.”

 

Failed Delta Kindergarten

On Mayalx the Alpha and Beta Kindergarten were established easily; each produced an admirable crop of soldiers and workers. The establishment of the Gamma Kindergarten was where the cracks started to show. The ground was discovered to contain too many impurities far too late into the production cycle. It was then that conflict arose when the Kindergarten staff wanted to move the injectors over to an area designated for mining. The internal debate took years to resolve and ultimately they were forced to find another area to inject. The second area chosen was also proven to be insufficient, but the third time was the charm and the Gamma Kindergarten was formed in the southern hemisphere of Mayalx.

Then came the Delta Kindergarten. The Gamma Kindergarten faced two failures before finding a success, while the Delta Kindergarten was on its fourth failure. Nobody was happy. The Quartzes saw it as a waste of their time carrying and digging for equipment, the Peridots saw it as a waste of time assembling and disassembling Injectors, and the Agates grew angry at how many injections they’d wasted.

Temporary lodgings had been erected adjacent to the train station where the Quartz Crew was located. A kind of recreation area had been set up inside of the structure and dozens of Gems were spending their afterhours downtime there.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” Holly Blue said. “I can’t believe I’m saying this.”

“You haven’t said anything,” the Skinny Jasper said.

“I miss the Human Zoo,” Holly said.

“Ouch,” Carnelian replied.

The three sat at the bar. A Peridot moved behind the counter polishing glasses and mixing drinks. Drinking was an curious past time that the Gems had picked up from interplanetary exploration. Imbibing fluids to sustain oneself was such an alien concept, but nevertheless a few Gems decided to shapeshift a means to process the liquid.

“Those weird organics don’t constantly order me around to prop up Kindergartens that weren’t cleared properly,” Holly said. “It’s just babysitting a bunch of annoying children. Well on top of you people.”

“That hurts Holly,” Carnelian said, mock offended.

“Shut it,” Holly growled.

“I know what will fix you up,” Skinny said, gesturing at the bartender. “Number seven for my friend her.”

“I’m not your friend,” Holly said.

“For my weird acquaintance for whom I have an unspoken enmity with,” Skinny corrected.

The Peridot picked up a glass with her floating fingers and filled it up with a glowing pink liquid before sliding it over to them. Holly picked it up and looked at it, raising an eyebrow.

“Oof, a number seven?” Carnelian said. “I don’t think Holly can-”
Holly immediately threw back and drained the drink.

“Ah…” Skinny said. “I don’t think you should take it all at once.”

Holly blinked and then fell forward slamming her head on the table, unconscious.

“Ah shoot, she’s gonna be pissed,” Carnelian said. “Surprised she didn’t poof. Wait, what was a number seven again?”

“Enriched Nucleon,” Skinny said.

“The thing that the Cybertronians used to power their weapons?” Carnelian asked.

“I mean yeah, it merges well with the hard light body,” Skinny said. “Leaves no waste or anything.”

“Did you just trick our superior into drinking ammunition?!”

“Well, I didn’t trick her per-say.”

“You could have killed her!” Carnelian said.

“Yeah… that woulda been tragic,” Skinny said, only mustering a shrug at this revelation.

 

As the two Quartzes squabbled over blame, Amethyst 8XA and 2XO were seated at a game table playing Jenga. Or rather, Amethyst 2XO was playing Jenga with the Peridot who dropped off the crate earlier on in the day, sitting in 8XA’s lap with the Amethyst’s arm around her.

“I think Holly’s unconscious,” 2XO said, pulling a piece out with ease and stacking it on the top.

“Let’s draw on her again,” 8XA said, watching the Peridot slide a side piece out and put it to the top. “Nice one.”

“Thanks,” the Peridot said.

“I think I recognize those Zircons,” 2XO said, not noticing 8XA’s eyes narrow. “I asked the Blue one to help me with the rock theft once upon a time.”

“Rocky,” 8XA warned, her tone taking on an edge.

“What’s with you and rocks?” the Peridot asked, slipping another side piece out from the bottom.

“I don’t understand why liking rocks is strange,” Rocky said, pulling out another side piece. “I mean aren’t we rocks?”

“We’re Gems,” the Peridot said. “We have more value than a common stone found on the ground. I think -hey!”

8XA bounced the Peridot on her knee, causing her to lose her focus.

“Don’t break my concentration!” the Peridot snapped, pouting.

“Aw, you’re cute when you’re upset,” 8XA replied. “Besides, you didn’t drop anything.”

“Oh yeah,” Rocky said, pushing a middle piece slightly, only to stop when the tower swayed. “The Yellow one… we saw her at Nemesis Outpost right? Stars that was an assignment. Remember those Fusions?”

8XA remembered. She remembered the horrors of the Outpost. Those oddly beautiful perversions of Gem nature. She remembered the fight that broke out. She remembered what that damned Zircon had done to her.

“You seem to get up to a lot,” Peridot said. “It’s so dull here. Ever since I got out of the Alpha Kindergarten it’s just a daily comedy of errors.”

“We’re transient,” 8XA said. “Always shifted around.”

“Where’s your colony?” Peridot asked.

The two Amethysts went silent and exchanged a glance.

“Something I said?” Peridot asked.

“We’re from Earth,” Rocky said, avoiding eye-contact with her.

“Ah,” Peridot said, levitating her finger to push a piece out. “That’s… wow.”

“Yeah,” Rocky said. “Maybe someday we’ll go back.”

“Do you miss it?” Peridot asked.

“What’s there to miss?” 8XA replied. “It’s a dense rock full of monstrosities that the Diamonds quarantined. Frankly I wish I was created somewhere else. Somewhere respectable.”

“I miss it,” Rocky said. “So many rocks. So many interesting creatures. Even now we watch over a select few. Blue Diamond has set up an artificial ecosystem and lets the organics play there.”

“I’m happy to be away from there honestly,” 8XA said. “Those creatures are so demanding. Their life-spans are so utterly tiny. As soon as you memorize all their names the entire generation has died off and you need to learn the next one.”

“Sounds like it’s a good idea not to get attached,” Peridot said.

“I like shifting around. Lots of new sights to see,” 8XA bounced the Peridot on her knee again. “Finding a girl in every port.”

“Is that what I am then?” Peridot asked, smirking. “The Mayalx port Gem?”

8XA kissed her on the cheek, where her Gem was, “Well when you put it that way it almost sounds like a bad thing.”

Rocky pushed a center piece out near the bottom and the Jenga tower finally fell.

“Aw drat,” she said.

“Good game,” 8XA said, pulling the Peridot into a hug. “I knew you could do it.”

“What’d I win?” she asked, smirking at 8XA.

“Oh, I’ll be happy to show you.”

Rocky rolled her eyes and began collecting the fallen pieces. Behind them, Skinny and Carnelian were attempting to lift the still unconscious Agate.

“Stars she’s heavy,” Carnelian said, unable to make her budge.

“The Nucleon bonds with the form and gives us a temporary boost in mass as it’s being processed,” Skinny replied, trying to drag her. “I really wish she’d just poofed.”

“Crap, so we just gonna leave her here?” Carnelian asked.

“Step aside,” Peridot said, hopping off 8XA’s lap.

She fired her tractor beam at the Agate and lifted her to her feat. Upon releasing her, she immediately fell back down on the ground.

“I can drop her off at the barracks,” Peridot said.

“Yeah, but first,” 8XA said, producing a marker. “We know what we gotta do!”

Chapter Text

Synthe, the next day

The Zircons walked in front of the Admin building. The courtyard featured a statue of Blue Diamond, her eyes obscured, her head bowed, her left hand extended. Rock spheres hovered by her outstretched hand all in a line; her colonies. It was a spectacular piece of art commissioned at the founding of Synthe back when everyone had high hopes for Mayalx. The statue was still beautiful even as the mood around the colony had sagged.

The Zircons were going to the Synthe Museum located three blocks form the Admin building. Yellow was looking at the map projecting from her Gem while Blue shot cautious glances around them.

“You’re stressing yourself,” Yellow said.

“We know she’s here,” Blue shot back, her tone harsher than she intended.

“She’s stuck laboring away dozens of clicks from our location,” Yellow said, not raising her voice. “Even if she was here she can’t do anything to us in public. She’s a coward with far too little influence to justify being so bold.”

“You sound so blasé about the whole thing,” Blue replied. “We can’t just call her a coward and call it a day. She’ll try something. She’s already tried before.”

Blue trailed off at that last remark; Yellow slowed her pace and deactivated the map. She turned to look at her blue counterpart who in turn looked at the ground, thinking.

“Blue,” Yellow started.

She ruminated on the words.

“She’s built to fight,” Blue said. “We aren’t.”

“The truth is, I don’t know,” Yellow said. “Sometimes when I’m travelling alone I think about her. What if she’s looking for me? What if she used an iota of the effort she uses for Peridot to chase after me, or after you? What then? I can tell myself it’s a big empire right up until I come face to face with her.”

Blue met her gaze. Yellow’s expression was a mixture of concern, doubt, and what could have been resignation.

“I can’t have that thought occupying my mind all the time,” Yellow continued. “She’s living in my head and she’s not paying rent. But I can’t forget her, can’t dismiss her out right.”

Blue nodded, “You’re right.”

“You should say that more often,” Yellow said, smirking.

Blue jabbed her in the shoulder.

“All we can do is watch each other’s back,” Yellow said. “But don’t be too obvious about it, you look suspicious when you look around… suspiciously.”

Blue sighed, “Ok. You’re ri- you’ve got a point.”

“C’mon,” Yellow said, putting an arm around her. “There’s some fun learning to be done at the museum. Maybe we can find out why this place sucks so much. Besides shoddy administration.”

Yellow ignored the look Blue shot her in favor of steering her towards their destination.

Failed Delta Kindergarten

“And thus operations have concluded,” Holly Blue Agate said.

She was giving a speech to the Quartz Crew in the barracks. This was the day that they packed up and left the failed Kindergarten behind. The Quartzes were supposed to be standing at attention, but most were sitting around trying not to laugh.

“We will be moving to temporary lodgings while the higher ups debate on the fifth Delta Kindergarten,” Holly continued. “I expect you all to wait patiently and perform your duties with the professionalism that would bring pride to our Diamond.”

“Holy shit,” Skinny whispered, stifling a giggle. “She hasn’t noticed yet.”

“You guys went too far,” Rocky whispered back.

Holly was completely unaware of the markings added to her physical form. Her face was now adorned with a mustache on her lip (Skinny), a monocle around her right eye (Carnelian), and the words ‘Fuck Machine’ written on her forehead (8XA).

“Oh c’mon,” Skinny said. “It’s funny.”

“It’s mean,” Rocky said.

“She hits us with a whip,” Skinny replied. “I’m sure she can take some doodles on her face.”

“Where is 8XA anyway?” Rocky asked, looking around.

“Eh, where do you think?” Skinny answered.

 

Amethyst 8XA’s Quarters

8XA and her Peridot were still in bed, cuddling. After dumping Holly outside of her room last night, Peridot 3XI opted to spend the night. 8XA wrapped her arms around the smaller Gem, naked save for her limb-enhancers, and pressed a kiss to the back of her neck.

“Mm, don’t you have a debrief?” 3XI asked, sleepily.

“It can wait,” 8XA said. “Holly just needs to hear the sound of her own voice in the morning.”

3XI giggled and brushed her fingers against 8XA’s arms. It was nice to just lie there, feeling the sheets on her legs, the cool air on her skin, the Amethyst’s breasts press against her back as they spooned. Responsibilities seemed so far away.

“So, am I reason enough to come back to Mayalx?” 3XI asked.

“Yeah,” 8XA said, nuzzling her neck. “I’ll look you up when I’m in the star system.”

“I won’t wait up,” she said, earning a chuckle from the Amethyst.

“You shouldn’t.”

8XI shifted position a little, sliding her leg through 8XA’s, feeling the physical forms touch.

“Those Gems yesterday,” 3XI started.

“Don’t let them bother you,” 8XA said.

“No, really. Your rock friend seemed to know them too. Zircons.

“They’re nobody.”

“They made you angry.”

“This your idea of pillow talk?”

“8XA, don’t avoid the question.”

8XA blew out a long slow breath. “Fine. They don’t like me.”

“I gathered.”

“I had a girlfriend a while back. Like an actual long form relationship kind of girlfriend. Really cute Peridot. The Blue one got jealous or something; drove a wedge between us. Manipulated that Peridot into turning on me. It hurt you know? Having someone you spilled your soul to, just turn on you like that. Every moment we had she threw back in my face. I tried to square things away with that Zircon, but then the Yellow one hit me with a Destabilizer.”

“Ouch,” 3XI turned to face her. “You got destabilized?”

“Hurt like a bitch.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Eh, don’t be. They’re Zircons, they’ll hide behind their legalese and blow smoke at you instead of answering directly.”

“Did you love her?” 3XI asked.

“Interrogating me about my ex? You’re really bad at pillow talk.”

“You’re avoiding the question again.”

“Yeah. Yeah I did.”

Chapter Text

The Zircons watched a history vid of the Extinction Level Event that befell Mayalx, centuries before the Gem Empire had colonized it. A meteorite fell, kicked up a dust storm that killed off the vegetation. With the plants dead, the rest of the ecosystem followed; no species was advanced enough to achieve space travel so they were all lost. In the centuries after all life blinked out, the Inkursians came and used the hostile planet as a smugglers stop. Eventually the dust settled and the plants started to come back; then the Empire came to snuff it all out again.

“Cool,” Yellow said as the informational video wrapped up. “Good to know this planet has a history of not catching a break. At least the extinction made things easier.”

“Can you imagine that?” Blue asked. “Being snuffed out so quickly. An entire ecosystem collapsing because of a lack of food. I think I’ve lived longer than life on this planet.”

“Yeah,” Yellow said. “At least it made colonization easier. Can you imagine if we had to fight a native population on top of all the troubles we already have with this place?”

“That’s a really callous way of thinking about other life.”

“Whatever.”

“Yellow!”

“What? Tons of species survive at the expense of other species. If nature hadn’t sorted them out we would have.”

“What happens if something like that happened to us then?” Blue asked, annoyed. “A higher species came and stamped out the Empire?”

“Ok,” Yellow said, pressing her hands together. “Gonna ignore the vaguely treasonous implication our Diamonds could be conquered by another species and say this: If we can’t hold on to the life we built, then maybe we don’t deserve it. We take because nobody can stop us. We hold on to what we take because nobody can take it from us. That means we have a right to it. If we can’t hold on to what we make, then why should we deserve it?”

“That’s such a selfish outlook,” Blue said. “As if the galaxy hasn’t had a history of cooperation and empathy. As if the problem is the population rather than those hoarding the resources.”

Yellow shrugged.

“It feels like you just repeat that over and over,” Blue said. “As if to justify the harm we’ve done.”

They moved to the next room. There were samplings of the meteorite on display in glass cases. The Meteorite had come from a cluster of Meteoroids orbiting the nearby gas giant of Clos. Gem ships stayed away from there as there were sightings of a nest of Rock Lords, gigantic monsters made of stone.

“Hey,” Yellow asked, approaching an Amethyst who was sweeping the floor. “Do you have a section for the Inkursian smugglers?”

The Amethyst didn’t respond; just kept sweeping.

“Excuse me?” Yellow asked, unsure if the Amethyst had heard her.

She tapped the Amethyst on the shoulder. No response. She gripped the Quartz’s shoulder to turn her to face her… only for Zircon to realize she lacked the strength to move an Amethyst that was a head taller than her.

Yellow Zircon instead walked around to face her. The Amethyst stared down at her work, sweeping away, not noticing the Zircon. Zircon snapped her fingers in front of the Amethyst’s face. The Amethyst turned her head to face Yellow; she seemed to stare through the smaller Gem, never making eye contact, before returning to sweeping.

“Yellow, leave her alone,” Blue said. “Just let her clean.”

“Sorry about 7XW,” said a Peridot walking up to them. “She’s only really good for cleaning.”

“Is she ok?” Blue asked.

The Peridot raised an eyebrow, “She can still work can’t she? She’s fine.”

“What’s wrong with her?” Yellow asked.

“Don’t be rude,” The Peridot said.

“You just said she was only good for cleaning,” Blue said. “You can’t tell us to not be rude.”

“Ok ok,” The Peridot said. “Fine. She cracked and then got… uncracked, or something. Now she’s like this.”

“Uncracked?” Blue asked. “What does that mean?”

“I don’t know, take it up with Admin,” The Peridot said, exasperated. “Just let her do her work.”

With that the Peridot left.

The two Zircons regarded the quiet Amethyst. She had collected the dust in a centralized location and was now sweeping it into a pan.

“Well, she is thorough, I suppose,” Yellow said.

“This is related to the Gem Polishing,” Blue said. “I can feel it.”

Yellow walked up to the Amethyst, and looked at the Gem on her neck. It was shiny, but flat. Any raised facets, the kind that the Zircons and many other Gems had, were absent. Odd, but not unheard of. Yellow reached out and touched the Gem. The Amethyst winced slightly but did not cease her work.

“It’s going to be a long review,” Yellow said.

 

“I swear to the fucking Empress,” Holly said, as she scrubbed her face again.

Carnelian rolled her eyes at her bosses antics.

“If you want to remove them so badly, just poof yourself,” Carnelian said.

“I oughta knock the lot of you out,” Holly shouted.

“Hey, that’s the thanks we get for making sure you got home safely?”

“Pumice!” Holly shouted.

A Pumice Gem walked up to them. She was a lanky tall chalk white figure with a Gem on her forward.

“Yes,” Pumice said. “How may I serve you my Agaaaaa-”

Holly grabbed her and pressed Pumice’s face to her own, using Pumice’s gem to scrub the markings off.

“Stop screaming it’ll be over soon,” Agate snapped, scrubbing the last bits of marker off her face… using Pumice’s face.

Carnelian fell over laughing.

“There,” Holly said, looking at herself in the mirror. “All clean.”

“You’re dismissed,” Holly said to Pumice.

Pumice looked miserable and had bits of black marker smudged into her Gem stone. She bowed and headed out. Holly swiftly kicked Carnelian in the seat of her pants.

“Alright, stop goofing off, we’re heading out to Synthe now,” Holly said.

Carnelian hopped up and followed her, still rubbing her butt. The Quartz Crew had collected their belongings and assembled in the main hall of the barracks.

“Look alive Gems,” Holly said. “Our relief has arrived and we’ll be departing on the train momentarily.”

Outside a group of Amethysts, Jaspers, and Peridots marched off of the train in an organized single file. Holly Blue was almost jealous of the level of discipline on display, not a single one was making a stupid face or engaging in a useless conversation. Universal conformity, as the Authority intended.

Holly and her crew stepped outside as the new Gems marched past. The Quartz in charge brought up the rear and saluted her with the diamond insignia.

“Blue Lace Agate,” she said. “Taking charge of the final clean-up of Kappa Kindergarten.”

“Holly Blue Agate,” Holly said, returning the salute. “We wish you good luck.”

Blue Lace nodded and turned back to her crew. They were already fanning out to retrieve the disassembled injectors.

“They work fast,” Holly remarked. “Didn’t even need to put away their belongings or be assigned rooms.”

“They will not be taking breaks,” Blue Lace replied. “They will work and work until the job is complete. After which they will be returned to their idle areas.”

“Amazing discipline,” Holly said.

“They’re Polished,” Blue Lace said, smiling. “New procedure. Does wonders for productivity.”

“Really?” Holly asked, looking to the other Agate.

At that moment, a dubiously balanced beam laid against the Kindergarten wall slipped loose and fell. None of the Gems moved and one was crushed under it.

“Oh damn it,” Blue Lace said.

The other Gems didn’t take notice of their poofed teammate or the danger they were just in. They simply moved around it, two hoisting the beam up and taking it away.

“There’s still some kinks in the process,” Blue Lace said. “That’s why I need to be here. Make sure they don’t do something too stupid.”

“That one didn’t even flinch,” Holly Blue remarked. “She just took the hit and lost her form. Didn’t even try to dodge.”

“Like I said, kinks to work out. If you’ll excuse me,” Blue Lace took off towards the Kindergarten at a brisk jog.

Holly turned around to see 8XJ, 8XA, Rocky, Skinny, and Carnelian standing there.

“It’s rude to eavesdrop,” Holly said, annoyed.

“What’s wrong with them,” Rocky asked. “They didn’t say hi or anything. Just kept walking.”

“They’re disciplined,” Holly said. “Which is more than I can say for you.”

“It’s like they’re…” Carnelian searched for the word.

“Barely alive,” 8XA said.

“Blue Lace Agate said they were polished,” Holly said.

“What does that mean?” Carnelian asked.

“Who knows,” Holly said. “Maybe it’s something I can have done to you lot. Now get on the train.”

Chapter Text

“Alright,” Hessonite said.

She and the Zircons had reconvened in front of the Science Dome; today was the day.

“No more delays,” Yellow remarked. “I’m almost surprised.”

“Let’s get this over with.” Blue Zircon said.

The Ethics Committee entered into the large blue dome. Inside Peridots and Robonoids scampered past. They moved to the reception desk where a Pearl was taking calls.

“Yes, that makes sense. Keep us abreast of the situation.”

“Hello, yes? Again? Fine.”

“Yes, there’s a fire in lab nine again. Yes, again. I don’t know why, just put it out!”

“No, no. I said no!” She slammed that phone down.

“Can I help you?” she asked the trio.

“We’re the Ethics Committee sent to review the Gem Polishing project,” Hessonite said.

“Eighth floor, Lab two,” the Pearl said, before picking up a phone and shouting, “What?!”

The three left her and moved to the elevator. They got in and waited as it climbed the floors. When it arrived, they disembarked. They passed by two Peridots carrying armfuls of Robonoids and a Ruby that was mopping up some of the repair liquid on the ground. She stared vacantly at the puddle much like the Amethyst in the museum did.

They passed by the Ruby, Blue sparing her a look of concern. They arrived at Lab two and were greeted by a Yellow Sapphire.

“Salutations!” Sapphire said, excitedly, her bangs covering her eye like most Sapphires. “My team and I bid an exuberant welcome to you.”

She beamed at them. Yellow Zircon recognized her as the lead scientist from the Forced Fusion project at Nemesis Outpost.

“I knew we’d run into each other again,” Sapphire said, addressing Yellow Zircon. “How is your fusion friend?”

“She’s off on an assignment somewhere,” Yellow Zircon said, curtly. “We don’t keep in touch.”

“You should, she’s so powerful and determined,” Sapphire said. “An excellent specimen.”

“We’re here to review your project,” Hessonite said, cutting to the point. “There better not be any more delays.”

“This way!” Yellow Sapphire said, stepping into the lab. “I apologize for the last minute reschedule, our attempts at collecting the gases from Clos ran into some difficulties. We lost a ship there.”

“Unbelievable,” Hessonite said, shaking her head. “They engaged the Rock Lords didn’t they?”

“Unfortunately,” Sapphire said. “Regardless the military has taken over that issue and I was able to return to the Gem Polishing.

“This is not going to be pleasant,” Yellow Zircon whispered to Blue.

“I think… I think I’ve put together what the project’s about,” Blue said.

Yellow looked at her, Blue seemed on edge, well more so than usual. She was fidgeting with the hem of her uniform and wiping beads of sweat from her brow. Inside the lab there were numerous computer terminals which had Peridot’s typing away. There was an operating room in the center closed off by plexiglass. Within that operating room was a chair with restraints and a table with a dozen rocks on it. An Amethyst with a cracked forehead Gem sat on a chair near the entrance to the operating room.

“Amethyst, we’re about to start,” Sapphire said, excitedly.

The Amethyst smiled, but then winced, the movement of her face hurting her Gem.

“This is Amethyst 1XK,” Sapphire said. “She was injured in a cave-in in one of our mines. She will be used to demonstrate our Gem Polishing to you first hand.”

The Amethyst gave the thumbs up, “Hey, as soon as I can get back to work.”

“That’s the spirit!” Sapphire said.

A pair of Peridots helped the Amethyst up and lead her into the operating room.

“Our gems, the core of our very beings,” Yellow Sapphire said as the Ethics Committee projected holoscreens to take notes. “Are extremely durable. Yet we are not invulnerable. Many Gems have found themselves chipped or cracked, or damaged in some way. These damages, when left unchecked, can grow; tearing apart our very being. A Gem breaks and she is lost to us forever. As we examine the many acts of healing and shaping I have found a means to repair damaged gems.”

Hessonite nodded and the Ethics Committee watched as the Amethyst was lead to a chair in the middle of the Operating Room. She was sat down and her arms and legs strapped in.

“The subject needs to be restrained?” Yellow Zircon asked.

“Yes,” Sapphire said. “Flailing in the procedure can lead to damage to the operator or to themselves.”

“Is the patient in pain during the process?” Blue Zircon asked.

“Yes,” Sapphire replied. “A sad side effect for many great ideas.”

“How is the crack healed?” Hessonite asked.

“It is polished away,” Sapphire said, as the Peridot’s left the room.

Yellow Sapphire turned to press a few buttons on her console, and a series of instruments dropped down from the ceiling attached to metal arms.

“How are you holding up?” Sapphire asked.

“Doing good doc,” Amethyst answered.

“Brace yourself,” Sapphire said, tapping some more buttons.

An instrument moved towards the Amethyst’s head. It was an object resembling a rotary buffer and it began to spin. A whirr of noise filled the room as it moved towards the Amethyst.

“It’s similar to stone grinding,” Sapphire said. “We strike at the cracked part of the gem and shave down the affected area. The crack is buffed out and the Gem is no longer in danger of shattering.”

“Wait, you shave off part of our gem?” Blue asked. “You’re physically removing a piece of our core?”

“Yes.”

“But aren’t you inflicting further damage to the gem?” Blue asked.

“Yes, but damage to stop the spread of the damage that’s already there,” Sapphire clarified. “If left untreated the crack will expand with the Gem’s movements resulting in a fatal break. Polishing removes the entirety of the area stopping the crack from further spreading. I was partly inspired by organics cauterizing their wounds. Certain species apply fire to burn the wound shut, a painful process that prevents a fatal end.”

“Is she aware of this?” Blue Zircon asked. “Amethyst 1XK?”

“Completely,” Sapphire said. “She needs to get back to work after all.”

“I just…” Blue said. “What effects are there of this procedure?”

“You’ll see,” Sapphire said, hitting a switch.

The polisher made contact with the cracked gem. Amethyst 1XK tried to smile through the pain. The polisher ground into her gem; small dust fragments that were once her flew off. Grinding continued, Blue Zircon ultimately turned away, unable to keep watching. That’s when the screaming began; Hessonite and Yellow Zircon continued to bear witness, transfixed. Yellow Zircon watched the Amethyst struggle in her chair, her face contorting in pain. 1XK was trying to restrain her shouts, trying not to cry in the face of her gem being scraped off of her. Her determination in the face of such agony was admirable but ultimately futile.

Then it was over. The Polisher withdrew from the Amethyst and retreated into the ceiling. The patient no longer struggled; she slouched in the chair, a blank look on her face, bits of the gem caught in her hair like powder. Her gem was no longer cracked. The crack had been ground out, as had several facets.

“Come, come,” Sapphire said, going into the Operating Room.

Hessonite and the two Peridots followed her, Yellow Zircon tugged on Blue’s arm to get her attention before gently pulling her in. The Peridots undid the restraints on the Amethyst and the Sapphire stepped forward.

“Stand,” she commanded.

The Amethyst did so, her expression never changing.

“On this table,” Sapphire gestured at the table next to her. “Are the three rock types: sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous. I want you to group them together by type.”

The Amethyst stepped forward and began to do so.

“As you can see, the subject retains basic knowledge and productivity,” Sapphire said. “They are obedient and can perform the same job as before.”

“Fine motor skills are still intact?” Yellow Zircon asked.

“Yes,” Sapphire said.

“They do not need to be retrained?” Hessonite asked.

“No,” Sapphire said. “And further in this state they can still be taught to do other jobs.”

“How about more intensive jobs?” Yellow Zircon asked. “Fixing machinery, calibrating ships?”

“The ones who already had that knowledge continue to retain it,” Sapphire said.

“Can they be taught it?” Hessonite asked. “If they don’t already know complex mechanical procedure, can they be taught it in this state?”

“That is, I’m afraid, a work in progress,” Sapphire admitted. “Teaching them complex jobs like that does take longer after the procedure than it would before it.”

Hessonite jotted that down and stepped forward. She looked the Amethyst up; 1XK didn’t acknowledge her. Hessonite swiftly knocked the rock out of her hand and slapped her across the face. The Amethyst stumbled back, surprised and hurt, before her face returned to its neutral state. She bent down, picked up the rock, and returned to her sorting.

“She doesn’t register as being in danger,” Hessonite said. “What’s her use in a fight?”

“Ah, I’m afraid that’s one of the negatives,” Sapphire said. “Polishing seems to indefinitely dull reaction time and self-preservation. I’m afraid that they can no longer fight.”

“That is a big negative,” Hessonite said, jotting that down. “It’s a process for workers not warriors.”

“Can she still use her gem to store things?” Yellow Zircon asked.

“Not as of now,” Sapphire replied. “The procedure leaves the gem extremely tender for a few days. They cannot store nor withdraw items from it but after a week or two they will be able to again.”

“Has any items stored in the gem been damaged by this procedure?” Yellow asked.

“No,” Sapphire said. “We’ve conducted studies with various items, even fragile and sentient ones, stored in the gem.”

“Can… can she speak?” Blue Zircon asked.

“We are still studying that,” Sapphire said. “As of now, no polished Gems have been able to form words.”

Hessonite stepped forward again and pressed her index finger to the Gem’s gem. 1XK immediately winced and dropped her rocks. As she went to reach for them, Hessonite pressed harder, preventing her from fully bending forward. It was a sad sight; 1XK did not divert from her path and though her face twisted in pain, she would not cry out. She could have simply backed away and bent down for the rocks but the mental capacity was no longer there.

“Hessonite, please,” Blue Zircon said, stepping towards her.

1XK looked like she was about to cry. Hessonite released her and let the Amethyst bend down for her rocks.

“How long will the polished gem be like that?” Hessonite asked.

“The first few weeks will be the most intense,” Yellow Sapphire said. “After that it will calm down to an ache.”

“Is it chronic?” Yellow Zircon asked.

“In all likelihood, yes,” Sapphire replied.

“A lifetime of pain?” Blue Zircon asked. “That’s what the procedure yields?”

“A life that will continue,” Sapphire said. “A polished Gem will live for millennia. A cracked Gem will not.”

“A polished Gem will be useful for a millennia,” Blue Zircon remarked.

“Now you’re getting it!” Sapphire said.

“You will hand over the notes, cases, and procedures,” Hessonite said. “We will deliberate on them and decide if this process is to continue.”

Sapphire nodded and began sending the files.

“Until deliberation is concluded you will cease these procedures,” Yellow Zircon said.

“Understood,” Yellow Sapphire said.

Hessonite and Yellow Zircon turned to Blue Zircon who said nothing.

“With that done, I move we adjourn,” Yellow Zircon said. “Mull over our findings and reconvene tomorrow.”

“Seconded,” Hessonite said. “Dismissed.”

“Thank you for coming to judge my project,” Yellow Sapphire said. “I hope you find merit in it!”

They deactivated their note screens and Hessonite turned to leave. Blue cast one last look at 1XK, the Amethyst had finished organizing her rocks and stood at attention, waiting for new orders. Yellow Zircon stood waiting, only turning to leave when Blue did.

Chapter Text

Synthe

“Well?” Peridot 3XI asked.

8XA looked her over. The Peridot was adjusting her outfit, this one was much more revealing, cut high on her thighs like a bathing suit and no sleeves.

“Look’s great,” she said. “Really highlights your legs.”

“It’s a bit much,” she said, turning to the mirror and shifting back into her original outfit.

“You’ll make the other Peridots jealous,” 8XA said, with a small laugh.

They were inside of one of the soldier barracks in Synthe. Holly Blue Agate’s Quartz crew had a small bit of downtime in-between assignments and 8XA decided to look 3XI up. She’d asked the Peridot about the strange Quartzes that they’d passed before getting on the train. “The Polished” was what 3XI called them. She’d worked to help train some of them to work with computers; she’d had only limited success. 8XA learned about Gem Polishing, and how their gemstones were shaved down; bits of themselves just cut out forever.

“Hey, about the Gem Polishing,” 8XA asked, pulling her eyes away from the Peridot’s rear. “There’s no going back right?”

“No. It’s creepy really, having them just stare through you. I think I’d rather shatter.”

“There’s something…” 8XA searched for the word. “Kind of calming about them? I don’t know; it’s eerie but beautiful in a way.”

3XI stopped admiring herself in the mirror to fix her companion with a strange look. “You think they’re beautiful? Being mindless shuffling zombies is beautiful to you?”

“I said I didn’t know,” 8XA replied, in a huff. “There’s just something to be seen in the rigidness to them.”

It was the helplessness that really got to her, but 8XA didn’t say that. None of The Polished could do anything to defend themselves or to make trouble. They’d just stare and do nothing if you were to walk up and drive a knife into one. They could still feel pain though, 3XI made that clear.

“Would I be more beautiful then?” 3XI asked. “Staring at you doe-eyed and dead inside?”

The Peridot said it with a chuckle indicating that she was just joking. But a part of 8XA ruminated on that. She thought about 3XI as a completely submissive puppet hanging onto her every whim. 8XA squashed that thought; 3XI would be no fun drained of personality. But her thoughts strayed elsewhere to other Gems that would perhaps benefit from the procedure. Once again her mind wandered back to 5XG. To have her like that. Polished, Perfect, Pretty. She wouldn’t fight back anymore.

“Hey,” 3XI said, snapping 8XA from her thoughts. “You weren’t seriously thinking about that were you?”

“Pfft,” 8XA blew out. “All work and no play makes a dull Peridot.”

“Comforting,” 3XI said in a deadpan tone. “Oh yeah, I actually did some digging into that other request.”

8XA perked up as the Peridot manifested a holoscreen from her fingers.

“You asked about some delegates from Homeworld and where’d they stay,” 3XI said. “I can think of a few places.”

 

Blue Zircon was quiet on her trip back to their room never answering any of Yellow’s attempts to start a conversation. The Polishing project sanded away the Gems’ higher functions leaving an obedient hardworking husk of a person. Approval or no, this procedure had been applied to an unknown number of Gems. What would become of them, Blue Zircon wondered. They’d most likely be forced to labor away until death. And what if the procedure were to be approved?

Blue thought about the Polished becoming an everyday fixture in society. Their presence would almost serve as a warning to everyone to not get cracked. She imagined the procedure happening to herself or the Gems she knew. She imagined 5XG simply staring with dead eyes typing away at a computer for the rest of her life.

“I can’t do it,” Blue said.

They were back at their room. Yellow was sitting on the table reviewing the documents they were sent while Blue was sitting on the bed, staring off into space. Yellow looked up at her.

“I can’t believe this is a viable procedure,” Blue said. “1XK will never be the same again. They’re found a way to lobotomize us and pretend it’s for our own good.”

“Well,” Yellow said, leaning back in her chair. “Remember what the Sapphire said. This procedure is only for cracked Gems and with how fatal cracking can be, maybe it’s not so bad.”

“Are you kidding me?” Blue asked, staring at her.

“I’m not saying it’s good,” Yellow clarified. “Just that when given the alternative, this should be taken in as something that could be a modicum of improvement.”

Blue stared at her blankly.

“Blue,” Yellow started.

“If this gets rejected as a medical procedure,” Blue said, her face unchanging. “Then it will be reapplied as a form of punishment to anyone who dissents. And if it does go through as a medical procedure it’ll be that on top of grinding down the injured. This is unethical, this is monstrous, this is a violation of a Gem’s right to their autonomy, it’s a cruel selfish act that devalues us all to whatever job we can do!”

Blue was shouting now.

“How, how in the galaxy, can you look at what we just witnessed and say that could be a net positive?! At its core the mindset behind Gem Polishing is wrong. It treats us like tools, no, it’s just the latest in a long, long series of ideas that treats us like tools. Like we’re no better than the rocks we use to build our settlements. How can you justify that? How can anybody justify that?! Why is this goddamn society run by people who can justify that?!”

Yellow sighed and rubbed her chin. “Blue, I’m sorry, but that’s just how things are. We’re a collectivist empire; Gems will always look to efficiency over personal happiness. If a few need to be polished for maximum output-”

“Oh just a few?” Blue said, much angrier. “Just a few? Just a few we can lose to make everyone else feel better. What if it was you?”

“It would be unfortunate,” Yellow said, her tone even. “But ultimately-”

“You’re going to say yes aren’t you?” Blue interrupted. “Will it improve the lives of Gems? You’re going to say yes. You don’t care about a few Gems violated to such a degree so long as it’s the collective right?!”

“Blue, calm down.”

“Don’t you fucking tell me to calm down!” Blue screamed. “How could you say yes? You saw the Forced Fusions.”

“That was different,” Yellow shot back.

“Why?” Blue asked, tears beginning to run down her face. “No collective benefit? Cruelty with even less of a point than this?!”

Yellow forced herself not to respond; doing so would only make the situation worse.

“I’m tired of this,” Blue continued, sobbing. “I’m tired of being so goddamn weak. I have to look over every callous uncaring decision that our leadership makes and just nod along with it. I’m called in to enforce those decisions; I work myself into complicity because I’m too fucking scared of what would happen to me if I did otherwise. I’m tired of watching the harvests, I’m tired of every single attempt at stopping that Amethyst being worthless, I’m tired of waiting around for the newest cruel and unusual obedience scheme that our Empire cooks up.”

Blue took off her monocle and wiped her face on her arm.

“I’m going out,” she said, hopping off the bed. “I can’t do this. I can’t be a part of this.”

“Blue,” Yellow said, standing up. “Hold on. Let me come with you. I know this is difficult-”

“I’m going out, on my own,” Blue said, her glare making Yellow stop in her tracks. “I need some time to think. And if you come after me I swear I will leave you.”

With that Blue Zircon exited, slamming the door behind her. Yellow was left alone in their room; her counterpart’s icy condemnation weighing heavily in the silence.

Blue headed down in the elevator, trying to clean her face and not look like she had just had a scene. By the time she arrived at the lobby she’d only partly succeeded. She swiftly exited the hotel and took off down the street to nowhere in particular. Blue Zircon thought she’d just find something to do or at least a good walk would clear her head. She didn’t see the familiar short haired Amethyst sitting across the street watching the hotel; nor did she notice that Amethyst get up and begin to follow her.

Chapter Text

Blue Zircon moved through the streets at a brisk pace; her mind a simultaneous flurry of anger and misery. There was nothing she could do. Nothing except continue to exist as a cog in the vile machine that was the Gem Empire. The Empire’s cruelty could be so pointed at times and yet it could also be so aimless.

Blue Zircon had seen many acts of deliberate cruelty; she’d prosecuted them, she’d defended them, and she’d witnessed them first hand. Yellow Sapphire’s actions weren’t done out of a sadistic joy in hurting other people but rather they were done out of a kind of moral laziness. She wanted efficiency even at the cost of Gem autonomy; it seemed that’s what their leadership wanted as well. She thought of Blue Diamond, her mourning numbing her to the plight of her subjects.

Blue sighed and crossed the street. She pushed her way into a hole in the wall called "The Blue Cocktail." A couple Rubies were inside attempting to consume a cannister of condensed air harvested from the gas giant nearest to Mayalx; absorbing it into the physical form was said to be incredibly relaxing. She ordered an extremely weak glass of Nucleon and took it to a booth in the back of the bar. She threw herself down on the chair and stared at the pink liquid.

She could die right now and nobody would notice. Another Zircon would be selected and moved to her position, her remaining duties would be divided up and solved by other parties. Yellow Zircon might even get a promotion. It felt hopeless. Even if they somehow declined Yellow Sapphire’s project, there was a dozen other similar procedures out there visited by Ethics Committees that wouldn’t hesitate to ok the procedures. Blue remembered reading up on the cluster experiments and how dead Gems were welded together to become shambling half living horrors; there was no depths to which the empire wouldn’t sink.

That Yellow Zircon would even consider defending these actions made her angry but not surprised. She wondered if Yellow would answer yes to the question. She wondered what Hessonite would say. Will it benefit the Empire? Hessonite might say yes because a quiet lobotomized Gem could work, but Hessonite also placed a lot of importance on the ability to fight and the procedure would nullify that. Ultimately that would be the way Hessonite saw the problem: a Gem’s value based on her usefulness. Even if they were all to say no to the procedure those would be the reasons and the underlying callousness inherent in Homeworld’s mindset would go unchanged and unchallenged.

She wondered what Peridot 5XG was doing now. Caminus’s colonization was going much smoother, perhaps Peri was having fun fixing up her machines. She hoped Peridot was having a better time than she was.

She sipped from the nucleon, even in its diluted state it was still powerful. She shivered as the liquid merged with the hard light projecting from her gem.

Blue wondered if maybe she was the crazy one. If everyone went in one direction and she was the sole one to go against the tide that would make her the deviant. That would make her the one with the values completely out of sync with the world. She’d yell until she was even bluer in the face but in the end, who was she to say that her values were any more right than Homeworld’s.

She shook her head. No, the way they disposed of Gems without a second thought; that had to be wrong… right? Blue didn’t know. It was hard to think for yourself in a collectivist society. Even if you fought against the group think, maybe you were only doing to try and position yourself as different, as unique. This was a philosophical rabbit hole Blue didn’t want to go down.

“Room for one more?”

Blue Zircon looked up, standing over her was a familiar Amethyst wearing a green over the shoulder cape connected with a blue diamond pin. Blue had never the Amethyst’s approach from behind her. She fumbled with her drink, her pupils contracted, and she scampered back… only to end up pressed against the wall of her booth.

8XA just chuckled and sat across from her.

“Don’t get your panties in a twist,” she said. “I’m just here to talk.”

Blue Zircon regarded her for a moment. 8XA had a casual air about her; a laid back smile and both her hands lying flat on the table showing she wasn’t hiding anything.

“Now,” 8XA said. “I’ve been stuck on this rock for a while and I never expected to see-”

Blue immediately bolted from her seat. 8XA’s claim that she just wanted to talk was meaningless to the Zircon who wasn’t soon to forget their last meeting. Unfortunately, 8XA anticipated this and grabbed hold of Blue’s wrist before she could fully get out of the booth. Her grip was especially strong and Blue’s attempts to run simply resulted in her shoulder getting hurt and her falling back into her chair.

“Oh no,” 8XA said, her casual demeanor not slipping for even a moment. “You’re going to stay. And you’re going to listen.”

Blue tried to get up again, to pull her arm away from the Amethyst, but 8XA was too strong. She grabbed at 8XA’s fingers; trying to do something, anything, to loosen the grip. Blue was desperate, she could feel herself sweating as she tried in vain to get out. In response, 8XA’s grip tightened.

“I appreciate the effort,” 8XA said, her grip becoming painful. “It’s fun to see people like you struggle. You think you’re so powerful, so capable behind your desk; but you’re nothing in person.”

Blue’s desperation was growing; the Amethyst’s grip could shatter a Zooman’s limb with ease.

“Hurts don’t it?” 8XA asked, before pulling a knife from her Gem with her other arm.

She laid it flat on the table, blade pointed at Blue in a silent threat.

“This is just in case you decide to scream,” 8XA said, tightening her grip to such a degree that Blue was afraid her wrist would break. “But it doesn’t have to come to that.”

“Wha-at do you want?” Blue asked, her voice breaking from the pain.

“Like I said,” 8XA replied, her tone still never changing. “I just want to talk.”

 

Yellow Zircon sat, alone, back in their room. Notes from the test were displayed in front of her but she wasn’t paying attention. She drummed her fingers on the desk, thinking on Blue’s words. This wasn’t the first time they’d had a fight like this. Blue Zircon had always had a degree of resistance to the Empire’s doctrine that Yellow hadn’t always understood. Though she tried to deny it, Yellow began to understand Blue’s point of view more and more. The Forced Fusion experiments on Nemesis Outpost and the Gem Polishing they’d just witnessed were fully approved actions that the Gem leadership allowed to continue. She’d told Hessonite directly about 8XA’s actions and was told that the issue wasn’t important enough to act on.

It was becoming harder for Yellow to rationalize her revulsion at those actions with her complicity with the Off-Color executions or the Gem Harvesting. Blue had argued that it was all wrong, even as Yellow tried to explain the necessity of it all. Yellow hated it, but there was a part of her, deep down, that would agree with her Blue counterpart.

Her console flashed with an incoming call, drawing Yellow from her musings. She hit the receive button and Hessonite’s face flashed onscreen.

“Hessonite?” Yellow asked. “What seems to be the problem.”

“Have you two been deliberating?” Hessonite asked.

“Of course,” Yellow said.

“I take it that Blue Zircon objects to the procedure?”

“You’ll have to ask her directly about that.”

“And you?”

“I’m still thinking on it. There are different ways that it improves and diminishes the lives of Gems not only as the individual but as the collective.”

“Understood,” Hessonite said.

Yellow couldn’t read her expression or tone. She wondered if Hessonite was trying to pry her for information on Blue’s mindset. Her reaction to the Gem Polishing may label her as a dissident.

“I’ve called to give you a heads up,” Hessonite continued. “It turns out the incident at Clos was much more of a problem than they made it out to be.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. There was an explosion in the asteroid field. Rock Lords have woken up and begun making their way towards Mayalx.”

Yellow furrowed her brow, this was serious. Rock Lords were massive alien monstrosities and most were around the same height as Yellow Diamond. They were a particularly violent race of silicone based creatures; large multi-eyed beasts made of rock.

“Tomorrow we will announce it publicly,” Hessonite continued. “As of now, most of the administration staff are heading to the bunkers and the space force are being mobilized.”

“Thank you for the forewarning,” Yellow said. “What will you do?”

“I’ll coordinate ground defenses,” Hessonite said. “Deal with them if they make planetfall.”

“Do you think that will come to pass?”

“Don’t know. Planetary defenses aren’t great, but a Rock Lord can’t do much to defend against the ordinance that Mayalx does have. Either way I figured I’d give you the heads up so you can seek safety, should you be interested.”

“Thank you,” Yellow said. “I will inform Blue Zircon.”

“Over and out,” Hessonite said, terminating the call.

It would be better if they got into one of the subterranean shelters before evacuation turned the city into a panic.

“Best grab her then,” Yellow said, heading out the door. “C’mon Blue, where are you?”

Chapter Text

Blue Cocktail Bar

The Amethyst and the Zircon sat away from the front facing each other in their booth. 8XA was still holding onto Blue’s arm but had lessened her grip. The knife was still on the table; an unspoken threat.

“You know,” 8XA said, as cavalier as ever, “As painful as it was, I kind of respect your girlfriend coming at me with the destabilizer. I mean, it hurt like hell, but there’s something about stabbing me in the back I gotta admire. It’s better than running at the first sight of trouble like you did.”

8XA’s grip turned painful again, Blue winced.

“What do you want?” Zircon asked, trying her best to keep her voice steady.

“I want a lot of things,” 8XA replied. “I want off this rock, I want to be free of that zoo, I want to see my little Peridot again, and I want you smashed in the most painful way possible.”

“Quaint,” Blue said.

8XA’s grip tightened even further, and Blue lurched forward in pain.

Don’t snark at me,” 8XA said, through gritted teeth. “You’ve made my life miserable enough.”

“Ok, ok,” Blue said, grabbing at 8XA’s hand again to try and pull her off. “I get it.”

“Where is she?” 8XA asked.

“I don’t know!” Blue snapped.

8XA backhanded her across the face, knocking her monocle off.

“Lying’s all your good for,” 8XA said, “Shame really; I thought you’d be better at it.”

“You don’t need me to tell you,” Blue said, wincing at the hit. “You always manage to find out on your own anyway.”

“Yeah,” 8XA said. “Funny how you try so hard to keep us apart. I’ll move the universe to be with her you know?”

“You’d do anything,” Blue replied. “Except take no for an answer.”

8XA punched her then; struck her square in the cheek. Zircon smashed her head against the seat, stunned from the blow.

“You really like pissing me off,” 8XA growled, relaxing her grip. “But I’ve got the feeling you didn’t travel all the way out here for me. You’re here about the polishing aren’t you? I’ve seen them wandering around, The Polished, is what the Peridots call them. You’re here to tell us if grinding a few millimeters off of our own kind is the right thing to do?”

Blue was still reeling from the hit. The Amethyst packed a lot of anger behind that punch.

“What do you think about it?” 8XA asked.

“It’s cruel!” Blue Zircon spat, trying to orientate herself. “We’re stripping our own of free will. Slicing out bits of them because we want them to work harder.

“Stars, you actually give a shit about them?” 8XA said.

“I knew you wouldn’t,” Blue said.

“Yeah, me and thousands of others who pass them every day. They just tell us not to get cracked, that’s all. Hell, the Agates love them; little drones they can order around and beat on without them hitting back.”

“People do care! Gems have always helped other Gems; we’ve survived so long because of our cooperation.”

“You know,” 8XA said, scratching her chin. “Frankly, I think that you would probably benefit the most from a good polish. It’ll wipe away all that anxiety you seem to have.”

8XA laughed at that and that’s when Blue took her chance. Her physical form flashed as she shifted her body; thinning her arm and allowing it to slip from 8XA’s grasp. Before 8XA knew what was happening, Blue had bolted from the seat and was running for the door.

“I – hey!” 8XA shouted, grabbing her knife and getting to her feet.

By the time the Amethyst started running, Blue had already reached the door and pushed through it. When 8XA crossed the threshold and got outside, the Zircon had receded into the throng of Gems. The curved moon like shape of her head could be seen in the distance.

“Clever bitch,” 8XA growled, before giving chase. “Fuck me.”

Blue weaved in and out of the crowd with ease, altering her form to slip through Gems that were closed together and under anything that they were carrying. 8XA by contrast shoved her way through the crowd, taking the most direct path to the Zircon. Blue rounded a corner and slipped through an alleyway. She sprinted towards the chain-link fence at the end; reaching it just as 8XA rounded the same corner. Zircon shifted her form again, pressing her gem through an opening and pushing the light body right along with it. 8XA followed her, hopping on top of a crate and jumping over the fence.

Blue cleared the alleyway and found herself faced with the, now closed, Synthe Museum. With little choice she sprinted towards the service entrance, 8XA barreling after her. Few Gems in the Museum’s courtyard paid her any mind. The door wasn’t locked, and Blue pushed through with ease. She ran through the silent exhibits, her projected form not making a sound. Within the silence of the museum she could hear the door she’d entered bang open and a grunt from her pursuer.

“I need to lose her,” Blue thought. “How, damnit?!”

She ran through the history of Mayalx exhibit, thinking about the different places to hide in the museum or anything she could use to defend herself with. Sadly there was no weapons display. She couldn’t hear the Amethyst behind her, 8XA likely also adjusting her form to mask her footsteps. As she rounded the corner she spotted a lone Amethyst mopping the ground.

“Please, I need some help!” she yelled, only fully realizing her mistake as soon as the words left her mouth.

This was the Amethyst they’d met earlier, 7XW, one of The Polished. Blue slowed and grabbed the Amethyst’s arm.

“Please,” she said. “Can you hear me?”

The Amethyst didn’t indicate that she’d heard Blue Zircon at all, and kept mopping.

“No, no, no,” Blue muttered. “How could I be so stupid, I need to run.”

Blue heard an odd swishing noise behind her and turned to see a knife coming towards them; flying blade over handle until it embedded itself into 7XW’s back. The Amethyst left out a small cry of pain and stumbled forward, dropping her mop.

“Oh my stars,” Blue gasped, covering her mouth.

“There you are!” 8XA exclaimed, sauntering up. “Shouldn’t have called for help.”

7XW righted herself and reached down to grab her mop, only for her form to collapse in a puff of dust. Her gem and 8XA’s knife clattered to the ground.

“Amazing really,” 8XA said. “Even their loss of physical form is delayed. Really kind of sad they’re useless for fighting.”

Blue grabbed the fallen knife and held it up in both hands; 8XA only let out a whistle.

“Careful with that. You never know who could get hurt,” 8XA let out a curt smile as she advanced on the Zircon.

Blue backed away, still holding the knife out, her mind searching for what to do. She couldn’t fight the Amethyst, there was no way she’d overpower someone like her. Running wouldn’t do her any good, without the distance in-between them, 8XA could catch her easily.

8XA wanted to laugh but chose not to, thinking it would ruin the intimidation. The lawyer was shaking, holding her knife out in an absolutely terrible stance. 8XA counted the different openings that the Zircon had left open in her pitiful defensive form.

“I’m curious, do you even know how to use a weapon?” 8XA continued. “I mean any Gemling can work a destabilizer, but there’s an art to the knife.”

“Stay away from me,” Blue said, trying and failing to keep the fear out of her voice.

“Bit late for that I’m afraid,” 8XA replied, still slowly walking towards her. “You really thought you could get away didn’t you?”

Blue continued to back away, knife pointed at her.

“It’s like that time back on the Skipjack. Remember?” 8XA said. “Just you and me. It’s funny, you’re even more helpless than Peri was.”

With that 8XA suddenly lunged forward. Blue could only yell in surprise as the Amethyst closed the distance between them. 8XA struck the flat of the blade with the back of her left hand and demanifested it, taking it from the Zircon’s grasp. With her right hand she swiftly grabbed Blue by the neck and slammed her against a pillar choking out the rest of her scream.

Blue’s form flashed as she tried to shift out of the grip, but 8XA tightened her hold and Blue was forced to return to her normal form.

“Stop me,” 8XA said, her voice low. “C’mon, try to stop me.”

Blue struggled against 8XA, clawing at her arm, trying to kick her.

“I want you to feel powerless,” 8XA said. “You’re less than a Pearl, less than a Ruby. You can’t do anything.”

“Please,” was all Blue managed to choke out.

8XA’s grin got wider at that. The small little verbal validation was worth a hundred positive performance reviews. The once proud Zircon was begging; she was out of options. 8XA punched her in the stomach, a hard straight hit that would have perforated an organ if the Gems had any. Blue let out a noise that was part strained cough, part cry of pain.

“Ahem,” came a new voice.

8XA and Blue Zircon turned to a Peridot coming up to them, light emitting from the Gem on her shoulder.

“For Star's sake, settle your grudges outside of my museum would you?” she said.

Blue recognized her as the curator Peridot she and Yellow had met earlier who told them to stop asking about the polished Amethyst.

“Listen,” 8XA said, turning to the Peridot. “If you just give me a minute or so-”

“What the hell?!” the Peridot said, casting her light at the polished Amethyst gem lying on the floor. “Did you poof her? The museum cleaning schedule’s off now because we need her to reform!”

She glared at the two Gems. “Which one of you did this?!”

“Uh,” 8XA said.

It wasn’t that hard to determine the culprit of the situation. One had clearly over powered the other and was in the habit of throwing Gems into pillars, while the other was terrified and quite beaten up from the night’s events.

“Look,” 8XA continued. “This… you see, well…”

In her distraction her grip had loosened and Zircon once more shifted her form, slipping free of the Amethyst. She hit the ground and scampered away.

“Again?!” 8XA shouted, but as she turned to go after the Zircon, a green beam enveloped her.

“You’re not going anywhere!” the Peridot yelled, having grabbed the Amethyst in her tractor beam. “Damaging museum property like that? Who’s going to work after hours cleaning? The Polished don’t sprout from the ground!”

“What the- Let me go!” 8XA shouted.

Blue Zircon rounded the corner and disappeared from sight. 8XA roared in anger.

“Oh pipe down,” the Peridot said tossing her onto the ground. “Since she’s gone, you’re going to have to clean up the history wing.”

8XA jumped from the ground only to be caught in the Peridot’s tractor beam and thrown back.

“No no,” the Peridot said, wagging a floating finger. “I’ve already scanned your Gem and reported this incident to your superior.”

Her hand formed into a holoscreen and Holly Blue Agate’s furious face appeared over video.

“8XA!” she shouted.

“Oh for Diamond’s sake,” 8XA groaned, slapping her forehead and dragging her hand down her face.

“You insufferable brat,” Holly yelled. “You just got leave and you’re already causing problems!”

The Peridot smiled smugly at 8XA’s anger.

“A Peridot, it’s always a goddamn Peridot with you,” Holly yelled. “Can you just keep it in your pants for once!”

“I – hey!” the Peridot yelled, offended. “That’s not what this is about! She attacked my janitor!”

“Even worse!” Holly exclaimed. “A Gem who actually was doing their job correctly too!”

“Holly,” 8XA said. “It’s not like that, see there was this Zircon and -”

“I don’t want to hear it,” Holly said. “Just clean up this mess, or I’ll have you listed as AWOL.”

With that Holly terminated the call.

“What a bitch,” Peridot said, before grabbing the mop with her tractor beam and tossing it to 8XA. “Get cleaning.”

8XA looked to the mop and then looked to the direction the Zircon had run. She was long gone now.

“That damned lawyer,” she thought. “It’s like the world conspires to get in my way.”

Chapter Text

Yellow Zircon pushed through a crowd of Jaspers drinking at the curb and moved down another side street. She’d been out looking for Blue for the last three hours. She’d left directions at the hotel lobby if Blue came back to have her wait at the room. She’d come back twice since leaving, asking the receptionist if Blue’d returned.

No luck so far.

She hopped over to a Pearl selling knick-knacks at a street side stall. They were knockoffs of the kind of accessories one would find at The Reef.

“Excuse me,” Yellow asked. “I’m looking for a Zircon from the Blue Court, have you seen any come by?”

“Huh,” she replied. “Don’t see too many Zircons here. Especially on a developing planet. Can’t say I’ve seen one tonight.”

“Yeah, that makes her stick out more,” Yellow said. “Thanks anyway.”

“Sure,” Pearl said, shrugging.

Zircon walked back the way she came. A drunken Jasper calling out to her, asking if she’d like to drink with them. Yellow ignored her and headed back. Yellow wondered where Blue was at this point; The Admin Building didn’t have a record of her coming in and the Science Dome was off limits to anyone with their clearance or below.

“Oh Blue, where are you?” Yellow thought, heading to another bar.

 

Blue was exhausted. She wasn’t someone who regularly shapeshifted and doing it in such quick succession had taken a lot out of her. Her cheek was still swollen from where the Amethyst had punched her and her neck was sore from the strangulation. She struggled to make sense of the street signs as she limped along. In the distance she could make out the shape of the Admin Building, still towering over the city.

Blue glanced behind herself again, making sure that 8XA hadn’t followed her. She turned down a side street and kept limping. To her right there was a closed marketplace, to her left a love hotel; there was a pub at the street’s end. As she got closer, she could hear a small group of Quartzes drinking and quarreling.

“Ooooh, it looks bad! I see a Science Dome visit in your future!”

“It’s just a chip!”

“Gonna grind you down into pulp.

“Guys stoppit, this is serious.”

“I wonder if the pulp still thinks. Like maybe bits of you will be on the ground staring up at the rest of you.”

That comment sparked a round of drunken laughs from the group, barring one Jasper who looked like she was going to cry. Zircon could see a small chip on the corner of one of the facets on that Jasper’s cheek gem.

“There has to be something else I can do?” the Jasper said. “I don’t know, maybe less intensive, so it doesn’t get worse?”

“You want to be lazy?” another Jasper asked. “Bum out of work while the rest of us slave away? Fat fucking chance!”

“Maybe they’ll let you keep the shavings?”

That elicited another round of laughs from the Jaspers; their intoxication turning a non-joke into the funniest thing in the world. The chipped Jasper was crying now.

“Excuse me,” Blue asked one of the laughing Jaspers.

“Wazzat?” she slurred, turning to the Lawyer. “Aw sis, you look like crap.”

“Thank you,” Blue said, too tired to muster a witty comeback. “How far am I from the Admin Building?”

The Jasper looked up at the huge structure in the distance and pointed, “’Bout this close.”

Blue stared at her, unimpressed.

“What’d you expect me to say?” the Jasper asked. “15 clicks? You can see the damn thing yourself.”

Blue sighed and kept going. One of the Jaspers started poking at her crying colleague’s chipped gem, asking her if it hurt. The shouts and revelry drifted further away from her as she moved on down the street. The drunken mockery of someone else’s misfortune didn’t leave her head; it mixed in 8XA’s callousness and the exuberance of the Yellow Sapphire. Blue didn’t have the brain space to do much more than doubt. She wondered why she was so concerned about it all if so many others weren’t. She wondered-

Blue’s foot slid off a curb and she fell forward onto the sidewalk, crashing her shoulder into it. She groaned and lay there.

“Serves me right for being lost in thought,” Blue thought to herself.

She tried to sit up but her sore shoulder limited her movement. She heard quick footsteps behind her and wondered what she looked like: a disheveled Zircon laying face down on the ground groaning to herself. She supposed it could be worse, she could have landed on her Gem.

“Blue!” she heard, the voice familiar. “Stars Blue, I’ve been looking everywhere for you!”

Blue let out a groan instead of a more in-depth hello. Yellow Zircon crouched down next to her.

“Are you ok?” she asked, trying to pull her up.

“AAAh, no!” Blue shouted, Yellow having grabbed the arm she fell on. “Other side!”

“Right, right, sorry,” Yellow said, stepping to the other side and helping her up. “I was looking all over for you.

Yellow lifted her up and pulled Blue’s arm over her shoulder. Blue stumbled to her feet and leaned against Yellow.

“Yellow we- we need to get out of here,” Blue said. “I saw her, 8XA, she probably knows where we are.”

Yellow’s expression turned serious as she helped Blue walk. “You saw her? Did she do this to you?”

Blue nodded.

“Stars Blue, are you ok?”

“No,” Blue said, trying to see if they were being followed. “We’re not safe.”

“C’mon,” Yellow said, lightly taking her arm. “We can go to the admin building. Security’s better.”

“Are you sure?”

“It’s the best we’ve got.”

Blue sighed and leaned in to Yellow’s grasp, glad to be held in a non-aggressive way.

“We’ve got a problem,” Yellow said. “Some of our ships tripped a nest of Rock Lords. They’re moving towards Mayalx now.”

“Oh no, oh no no no,” Blue said.

“Yeah, this isn’t our day,” Yellow said. “Those oversized Pebbles might make planetfall tomorrow. Hessonite let me in on it early before they sound for evacuation.”

Blue kept casting glances behind them, trying to see if 8XA was following.

Getting to the Admin Building was much quicker than Blue had thought; Yellow had her facilities about her on account of not spending the night being beaten and strangled. They arrived without incident and Yellow helped her inside.

“Let me see your gem,” Yellow said, as they got to the elevator. “She didn’t damage it did she?”

“No, no, my gem’s fine,” Blue said, leaning against the wall of the elevator. “I can walk too.”

When Yellow pressed the button for the floor, the circuit board scanned their gems, making sure they had the clearance.

“Your cheek’s swelling,” Yellow said, “And your neck… stars Blue, I’m sorry.”

Blue looked to her counterpart, Yellow’s face was a mixture of anger and worry. It was comforting in a way.

“Did she…” Yellow couldn’t finish the question.

“She only hit me,” Blue replied. “That’s all. I’ll be fine.”

“Blue,” Yellow said, concern on her face.

They exited the elevator and headed to the office that had been assigned to them. Blue rubbed her wrist; flexing her fingers to make sure they all still worked. Yellow opened the office door and let Blue enter first. The office was designed for one but big enough to accommodate the both of them. In the far right corner there was a desk and holo computer set up and a case of alien ornaments rested at the rear left corner. To their immediate right was a small table surrounded by two arm chairs and a couch.

Blue made her way to the office’s couch and threw herself on it; the night’s events rendering her legs useless.

“If I can get you anything,” Yellow started.

“Just let me sleep,” Blue said, her face buried in a pillow. “I’ve been beaten, choked, and I’ve been shifting. I feel like shit.”

“Ok, ok,” Yellow said, sitting down in one of the chairs.

“I dunno, wake me if the rock men come to kill us,” Blue said, turning over to lay on her back.

Yellow smiled and nodded as Blue shut down her higher functions and fell asleep. Yellow regarded her sleeping form; torn sleeves, disheveled hair, swollen “skin.” Injuries aside, Blue still looked quite cute in that semi-formal semi messy way. Rest would mend her form, though perhaps it would have been more efficient if they had one of the Quartzes on staff poof her for an easier recovery. Yellow pulled up a holoscreen and watched as a state of emergency was declared.

Chapter Text

Holly was not having a good day but then again bad days were becoming more and more normal for her. Amethyst 8XA was slouching in her chair, barely listening as Holly read her the riot act. The museum administration was not happy with 8XA’s little stunt with their janitor and Holly knew they were in for a messy pile of litigation. The Quartzes under her were all trouble, but 8XA always seemed a league above the others.

“Not only will we, in all likelihood, lose our shore-leave, but our group will be subject to yet another review!” Holly continued. “I swear to our Diamond, you’ve put us in a fine mess. I mean what were you thinking?!”

“It’s just a Polished,” 8XA grumbled. “It’s not like you care.”

“It’s not just a polished!” Holly snapped. “It was hours of work, a perfectly set schedule that you messed up because you got knife happy!”

“Look,” 8XA said. “I cleaned the damn floor, they didn’t lose that much time. You’re overreacting.”

Holly glared at her, 8XA just shrugged. Holly sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. She then pulled the whip from her gem and lashed it out, wrapping it around a chair leg and pulling it out from under 8XA. The surprised Amethyst hit the ground with a thud.

“You do not get to be so blasé about this!” Holly snapped. “Chasing a Zircon, that’s what the Peridot said. This is the same damn Zircon isn’t it?!”

“Yeah, so what?” 8XA asked, getting to her feet. “She can’t take a loss and keeps coming back to be a pain in my ass.”

“I know this is about that Peridot,” Holly said. “It’s like every other problem you cause ties into her in some way or another. I swear your little obsession will be the end of you.”

8XA rolled her eyes; Holly struck her in the leg with her whip forcing her to her knees.

“Don’t you roll your fucking eyes at me!” Holly shouted. “Just take no for an answer and cease this!”

8XA winced at the pain in her leg and clenched her fists. Holly massaged her temples.

“I try, I honestly do try,” Holly said, more to herself than anyone else. “My Diamond’s wisdom is infinite, but still I don’t know why she placed me here with you lot.”

Holly turned to her window, regarding the Gems outside moving about on their business. With her back to 8XA, the Amethyst glared at her; the many years of hatred she wished she could burn into the Agate’s exposed gem.

“When we fail,” Holly said, still facing away from 8XA. “Or rather, when you fail, you don’t just fail yourself. If you failed yourself, who would care? You’re just an Amethyst.”

8XA slowly stood, the Agate not bothering to face her.

“No,” Holly continued. “You fail more than yourself. You fail the unit. You fail your fellow Gems. When you fail, you fail our Diamond. You fail our empire. You fail our Homeworld. You’re actions have consequences that reach far far further than a simple Gem.”

Holly didn’t even seem to notice 8XA’s advance. The Amethyst took quiet footsteps and slowly slid the knife from her gem.

“We’re all cogs in the great machine,” Holly said with a sigh. “When we fail to work we let that machine down.”

8XA was so close to her now. She glanced from her knife to the Agate’s gem. Who would know? Who would suspect? And on Mayalx, who would care? Accidents happened, Gems went AWOL, the bureaucracy couldn’t keep track of them all.

Right as 8XA was about to lunge forward, Holly whirled with a speed 8XA didn’t know she had. The Agate manifested her whip in one fluid motion and struck 8XA in the chest. It was a painful searing blow right through her breast. 8XA screamed and dropped her knife. It clattered to the ground as Holly backhanded her across the jaw with a closed fist.

“I worked myself to the gem for years!” Holly shouted, roundhouse kicking the stunned Gem and knocking her to the ground. “Toiling with you sad excuses.”

8XA tried to get to her feet, only for Holly to slam her boot right into the place where she’d struck with the whip. She grinded her heel into the wound, wrenching another yell from the Amethyst.

“You epitomize the tragic reality of failure within our Empire,” Holly spat. “Your creation was a failure. You fail to accomplish your duties. You fail to live up to the potential of your fallen Diamond and to perform the duties for my Diamond. And in the end, you’ll die a failure.”

Holly leaned forward, putting her weight on the boot digging into the Amethyst’s chest.

“If you ever raise a hand to me again, I will shatter you,” Holly said. “Understand?”

“Y-yes!” 8XA yelled, the pain stabbing through her chest.

“Good,” Holly said, her face softening to a mockery of sincerity as she grinded her heel in harder.

“Aghh, p-please!” 8XA begged, trying in vain to grab and pull the boot off.

“Please what?” Holly asked.

“Please… stop,” 8XA choked out.

Holly let out a dramatic sigh, “Oh, if you insist.”

She took the pressure off of 8XA’s chest and stepped back. 8XA stumbled to her feet; struggling to keep her physical form.

“You’re dismissed,” Holly said, her demeanor returning to normal. “Get out of my sight.”

8XA nodded and left the room, still clutching her chest. An Electrified Agate Whip could poof a Gem with a single hit. Alternatively it could leave them in pain for a number of hours. 8XA got back to her room in a sweat. The pain in her chest burning as fresh as it had when the whip struck her. She pulled her top off and stared at herself in the mirror. A blue gash tore through her left breast. She touched it and winced as the pain throbbed outwards. Dejected, she laid down on her bed; she’d be out of commission for a while. Until then, all she was able to do was plan. She’d need to rethink her pursuit of the Zircons and figure out how to go about it without pissing Holly off again.

 

Attention Gems of Colony Mayalx. A group of Rock Lords have begun an advance towards Gem controlled space. In five hours they will be arriving within the atmosphere and engage in the planetary defenses. They will be making planetfall near the second failed Gamma Kindergarten. All ground forces in the northern hemisphere will be on alert be it to defend Gem settlements or to be called into an attack team based out of the failed Gamma Kindergarten. Civilian Gems in the northern hemisphere are encouraged to evacuate to shelters or use warp pads to move to Gem cities in the southern hemisphere. Reports will continue as the situation evolves.

Chapter Text

Yellow continued to watch the news reports. The Rock Lords had broken through the planetary defenses nine hours ago and had crashed down onto the planet. Five were destroyed in space at the cost of two auto turrets and two battleships. The three that made it to Mayalx were currently engaging with Hessonite and the ground forces who had set up a temporary base out of the failed Gamma Kindergarten.

The fighting was fairly far from Synthe, but not that far all things considered. Yellow pondered on evacuation. Blue had been sleeping since they’d gotten in; two days now. Yellow crossed her legs and leaned back on the desk chair; she turned to Blue, still sound asleep on the couch. Her form had mended itself: the strangulation marks were gone, the swelling had gone down, and her torn clothes were whole again. Yellow had debated waking her and heading to a shelter or warp pad but decided to let her sleep.

She tented her fingers and thought back to her question on the Ethics Committee: “Will it Improve the lives of Gems?” Well, their lives would certainly improve if 8XA were to find herself on the business end of the Polisher. The Polished were a necessity. Perhaps they were the key to finally fixing Mayalx; an army of obedient builders keeping a schedule no one else could. The thought was tempting but ultimately futile. Mayalx’s problems lay primarily at an administrative level. Can’t polish the leadership of the planet and expect it to run smoothly.

“Mm,”

Yellow turned to Blue as the sleeping Zircon began to stir. Yellow got off the chair and strolled over to the couch as Blue slowly opened her eyes.

“She awakens!” Yellow said with a mock dramatic flair. “The beautiful dreamer returns to the land of the living.

“I- wait, what did you call me?” Blue asked, her monocle manifesting on her face.

“Unimportant,” Yellow said, waving her hand dismissively. “How do you feel.”

“Better,” Blue said, with a smile, sitting up on the couch. “Much better.”

“Good, good,” Yellow said, sitting down on the couch next to her.

Blue leaned against Yellow’s shoulder and Yellow put her arm around her.

“The Rock Lords?” Blue asked.

“Touched down in one of the failed Kindergartens. Danger’s far away, for now at least,” Yellow replied, slowly rubbing Blue’s arm.

“Was I dream projecting?” Blue asked.

Yellow remembered Blue projecting a memory of Peridot 5XG visiting her on Homeworld to show off a small solar tower she’d made. The memory had made Blue’s sleeping face smile.

“Nah, don’t worry about it,” Yellow said.

Blue lay against Yellow, thinking. She’d had a lot of time to think, carefully mulling over the events of that day. She let out a sigh and said,

“Yellow… you were right.”

“Hah! Yes, I love it when you say that,” Yellow replied. “What was I right about again?”

Blue didn’t look at her.

“I’m an idiot,” she continued. “Stars, I’m such a fucking idiot.”

Blue shrugged off Yellow’s arm and stood up.

“Blue, what’s wrong?” Yellow asked, concern on her face.

“I saw that Polished Gem in the museum,” Blue continued. “Ran into her when 8XA was chasing me. She cut her down and nobody cared. Museum Peridot was annoyed that they lost work. Back when you found me, I passed a Jasper who was going to get polished. She was crying… and everyone was laughing at her. Like getting your gem grinded down was the funniest thing in the world.”

Blue walked over to the desk, not once sparing a glance at Yellow as she spoke.

“I’m sorry I snapped at you,” Blue said. “But I realized something as I said what I said. This polishing business, it’s not that big of an issue as I thought. This really is just the latest in a long line of Homeworld ideas: the Cluster experiments, the Forced Fusion, the unstable injections, the Harvests, the Off-Color culling. If you step back and look at the big picture, it’s just a small act. Whether it passes or fails it’s just a singular atrocity with a wall of other ones we don’t even blink at. Hell we barely blink at this one. I see so many other Gems just laughing about it or going along with it. And I realize how fucking useless it is to just yell my head off about this.”

Yellow scratched her chin in thought as Blue circled the desk and pulled up a holoscreen. With the screen displayed she unplugged one of the com prisms from the desk, shutting it off.

“I was thinking about your comments on collectivism,” Blue said, finally turning to look at Yellow. “This screen needs all three of the Communication Prisms to function. Projection, Communication, and Data Saving. Unplug one and it can no longer fulfill its purpose. And I keep trying to turn away from this idea, to deny it, but it’s the reason for my creation.”

“Blue,” Yellow said, still concerned.

“I obsess over these things too much,” Blue said, putting the prism back in and sighing. “I think I’m right all the time and need to project that over everyone. I think we need to act a certain way and I want to force everyone to act that way. Gems don’t care. 8XA chased me around town and the only ones who spared a glance at me were ones who wanted a laugh. She nearly killed someone and was beating me up in the museum and the only concern was for lost time.”

“Blue, I don’t like where this is going,” Yellow said. “Are you sure you’re ok?”

“’Is it Ethical?’” Blue asked. “I said no. But that’s only through my definition of ethics. I’m trying to pretend my way of thinking is the correct one; a delusion of objectivity. Ethical procedures at an individual level rather than a collective one. I don’t know if I can say yes, but my earlier outburst was so… I don’t know, childish? A whiny rant befitting a Gemling.”

Blue smiled then. It was an uncanny hollow look far removed from her normally warm demeanor. Yellow tapped her knuckles and stood.

“We should get going,” Blue continued, glancing at the news reports. “The battle’s growing closer.”

Blue looked back to Yellow, the Zircon standing in front of her with a calm expression on her face. Yellow put a hand on Blue’s shoulder and said,

“Blue, you’re scaring me right now.”

Blue blinked, genuinely confused. “I don’t understand. I mean you said something similar didn’t you?”

“Yes,” Yellow replied. “That’s the problem. Blue, you can’t say this. I’m begging you, you can’t start thinking this way.”

“Why?” Blue asked, almost offended. “I mean, just take a look outside and-”

“That’s the point!” Yellow snapped, making Blue jump. “That’s why you can’t say this stuff. Damnit Blue!”

Yellow was gripping both of her shoulders now.

“Blue, a lot of people don’t care. We’re created and brought into this world with the express purpose to not care. Look at this society, lobotomizing Gems, forcing them to fuse, culling them because they don’t form right. I’m out there cracking jokes and signing forms and you’re one of the only people I know who looks at all of this and says it’s wrong! I need you to care, damnit! So many people don’t. So many Gems don’t spare a single thought to every terrible thing we’ve done. So many looked at what happened to 5XG that time and just shrugged it off. You at least try to fix things. You try to look at other Gems with something other than contempt or apathy! And I think – I think that there’s Gems out there who would agree. Gems who care and hate this system. Gems who’d find themselves on the wrong side of the Polisher if they spoke out.”

Yellow looked desperate, her grip was tightening and she was almost shaking her counterpart.

“I need you to care,” she repeated. “Before I met you, I wouldn’t have batted an eye at those Gems on Nemesis. I’m still struggling with that… that change in a mindset. It’s hard to stop seeing Gems’ worth as the value they can contribute and nothing more. It’s hard but it’s something we all need to learn.”

Blue stared at her. Yellow’s face was frantic; her eyes desperate, but they still stared back.

“My answer is no,” Yellow said, her voice much calmer. “Polishing will not improve the lives of Gems. If the higher-ups don’t feel anything for the Gems damaged by the procedure, then I’ll appeal to a sense of pragmatism.”

“Do you really think other Gems care?” Blue asked. “After all of this?”

“Yes. Yes they do. Maybe you took a hit to the gem or something, but I know you do too.”

Blue sighed, “We’re really in a mess here aren’t we?”

Yellow released her and slumped back on the couch, Blue taking a seat on the armchair.

“I’m sorry,” Blue said.

“What for?”

“Making you worry. And saying… saying those stupid things.”

“More Gems care Blue. I’m sure of it. They can’t do anything about it, but we can try.”

Blue smiled a small smile, “Yes, we can.”

“That’s the spirit!” Yellow said, giving her own small smile.

“You look like shit.”

“I’ve been up and moving these past few days while you were getting your beauty sleep.”

“Did the sleep work at least?”

“Yeah, yeah it did.”

Chapter Text

Failed Gamma Kindergarten II

The Rock Lord let out a roar, it’s voice an avalanche of stone ground together. It was a massive figure made up of stones fused together in a colorful amalgam of brown. It bore four eyes on a lumpy head with a mouth that opened into four mandibles of rock. It was hunched forward and had two massive forearms that nearly reached its legs. If it had stood at its full height it would have come up to Yellow Diamond’s chin.

It tore its way through the abandoned injectors, grinding them underfoot. A hastily set up lightcannon fired a shot straight into its torso from its position welded onto a cliff face. The blast pierced the rock but left only a relatively small hole; one of many from the continuous cannon fire it had received since landing on Mayalx. The injury was basically a pinprick, but it had received dozens since getting there and the pain was starting to make it furious. It swung an arm at the cannon, the two Peridots hopping off and flying away with their helicopter limbs as the weapon was destroyed.

With that action a five fusion Jasper made its way towards the creature. She came only to its chest, but that was irrelevant, she swung a massive axe and buried it into its for arm. The large orange woman let out a war cry as the Rock Lord staggered back. The axe was stuck in the beasts thick rock arm so she demanifested it and manifested another. The Rock Lord threw a punch and she met it with an axe swing. The axe severed three of the creatures fingers but in turn caused a shockwave that rippled through the Fusion, causing her to drop her axe. With a momentary stun period, the Rock Lord struck again, punching a gem on her shoulder with its other hand.

The impact cracked the gem and the mental agony tore through the Fusions members. Out of sync, the Fusion disappeared in a flash of light. Three Jaspers managed to land on their feet, their forms still intact. One Jasper gem hit the ground, the Fusion’s injury too much to keep her physical form. The cracked Jasper gem struck the ground as well and shattered. The Jaspers retrieved the still whole gem before absconding from the area; the injured Rock Lord lumbered forward.

It crossed through another canyon as a team of Fire Opals launched a flurry of arrows at it. They did even less damage than the Light Cannons did. As it rounded a corner it was met with the sight of a repurposed Orbital Cannon. It had been moved from the Beta Kindergarten, the parts to complete it having arrived a short time ago. The Rock Lord cocked its head at the creation, curiosity forcing its way through the pain. The cannon lay on the far end of the canyon that the Rock Lord had entered, Hessonite figuring that the creature’s path would take it straight to them.

“What’s the percentage?” Hessonite yelled.

They were inside the control room of the cannon. Hessonite sat in the command chair, reconfirming the targeting while a small group of Peridots swam their fingers through the control panels to monitor the weapon.

“76 percent, My Hessonite,” one Peridot said.

“When it hits 78, we will fire,” Hessonite said, opening up the command on the console.

The Rock Lord lumbered towards the cannon, roaring all the way. It swatted a Roaming Eye that got too close to it; destroying the ship. The Fire Opals continued striking it with their arrows, their blows no longer registering. Several flying Peridots fired blasts from their Limb Enhancers, chipping away at the behemoth.

“Cannon’s at 79 percent!” the Peridot at the monitoring console yelled.

Hessonite smiled, and pressed the fire button.

Nothing happened.

She pressed it again. Nothing continued to happen. Hessonite glared and punched it. Once again, nothing happened.

“Does nothing on this Diamond forsaken planet work?!” Hessonite shouted, putting her fist through the console.

“Stupid piece of shit!” she continued to shout, tearing her fist out and kicking the device.

The Peridots stopped their work to watch their CO reduce the console to scrap.

“Nothing*kick* can *kick* fucking *kick* work!” Hessonite shouted.

“My Hessonite,” one Peridot said. “The cannon is still charging, should I stop the process lest it overload?”

“No,” Hessonite said, turning from her destroyed machine. “The Rock Lord is coming this way. Remove any filters from the Orbital Cannon’s core, and disable all safety features. Then scuttle the base.

The Peridots nodded and went about carrying out her orders, while Hessonite sent out an order over the speaker system to evacuate. With the limiters removed and the cannon approaching 89% charge they left the command center.

Various Peridots and Amethysts were scrambling out, heading to the two drop ships and dozen Roaming Eyes outside.

“Status on the other two?” Hessonite asked.

“The second Rock Lord is still moving east,” a Peridot replied. “It’s being engaged with shell weapons, but success is limited. The third is still struggling in canyon six.”

“Excellent,” Hessonite said.

“Reports indicate a fourth is entering into the atmosphere,” another Peridot said. “Though it has taken so much damage from the orbital defenses that it will not survive entry. We expect its remains to crash down in a desert in the Eastern Wastes.”

“Good, good,” Hessonite said, as they exited the base. “We’ll need to more to sector – what are they doing?”

Hessonite stopped to look at a group of Jaspers that were meticulously adding armor plating to the southern outer wall of the Orbital Cannon.

“You’ve been given the order to evacuate!” she snapped.

They continued to add the plating, ignoring her completely.

“I’m sorry My Hessonite,” a Peridot said. “They’ve been Polished. They won’t act against their orders.”

“I’m giving them orders,” Hessonite said. “These are their orders. Why aren’t they responding?”

“They’ve likely been ordered by someone above you,” the Peridot said. “They were brought over with the other equipment from the Beta Kindergarten. Their orders are to build and break down the cannon, nothing more, nothing less.”

“If they can’t obey their immediate superior, then what’s the point?” Hessonite said, strolling over to them.

“My Hessonite?” the Peridot asked, scampering behind her.

“I have authority in a combat situation,” Hessonite said to the Polished. “You are to disregard orders to construct the cannon and escape.”

They worked on, no indication that they even heard the Garnet.

Hessonite sighed and drew her sword. She swiftly cut the entire team of six Jaspers down. Their gems clattered to the floor and she bubbled them. She handed the bubbles to the Peridots and said,

“There. Now we go.”

“Forgive me for asking, My Hessonite,” a Peridot said, following her leader to the ship. “Could we not have just left them?”

“No,” Hessonite said, boarding the dropship. “Leave them in the blast zone working on something that doesn’t matter? Perish the thought along with the base.”

With the staff on board the dropship took off. Hessonite watched as the Rock Lord stumbled and tore its way through the Injectors left lying on the ground.

“Get us to minimum safe distance and raise the shields,” Hessonite said the Nephrite captain.

“I’m afraid this is an early Era 2 ship,” the Nephrite said. “No energy shields, just the strength of the hull to protect us.”

“Son of a-” Hessonite muttered, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Well, get us to minimum safe distance for the ship’s hull.”

“Yes My Hessonite,” the Nephrite said, inputting the coordinates.

The Rock Lord finally arrived at the unstable cannon just as the ship hit the minimum safe distance. It put its fist through the roof and the cannon exploded right in its face. Hessonite smiled as a brilliant blue blast erupted from the canyon, consuming Rock Lord, useless injectors, and any remaining equipment they hadn’t had time to grab. The blast wasn’t nearly powerful enough to even reach the ship, much less be a threat to its nonexistent shields.

“One down,” Hessonite said.

Chapter Text

8XA frowned at her reflection. The scar still stood, raised and swollen, on her breast. It wasn’t as ugly or as painful as when she’d just gotten it, but it still throbbed. She gingerly touched it and winced at the sensation.

“That fucking Agate,” she thought.

3XI came up behind her and wrapped her arms around the Amethyst’s stomach, kissing the back of her shoulder.

“Still hurts?” the Peridot asked.

“Not as much,” 8XA replied. “When I first got it, shit felt like she was going to tear the whole boob off.”

“That’d be a shame,” 3XI said, her fingers floating up to cup the Amethyst’s breasts. “A tragedy befitting the most sorrowful of Blue Court mournings.”

In spite of herself, 8XA smiled at that.

“Yeah, yeah, you just love me for my boobs,” she said, shrugging the fingers off.

“Maybe,” 3XI replied, smirking.

They were inside the Soldier Barracks. Holly Blue Agate’s Quartz Crew were on reserve for the potential defense of Synthe should the battle spill over into their zone. The city’s population had thinned considerably. Only a fraction of the crowds roamed the streets, the rest were either inside their homes, hunkered down in the subterranean shelters, or they’d teleported to a city further from the battle. Holly had been ordered away to a meeting in the Science Dome with the other Agates and Morganites. As such, the crew had been left to do what they wanted. 8XA wanted a Peridot while Skinny Jasper and Carnelian wanted to go out to the bar.

At least six of them had left to go do their own thing. Everyone else was just lying around, bored. 3XI’s form flashed and she was fully clothed again. As she checked her hair in the mirror, 8XA thought on what to do. She knew that the Zircons would have left their hotel room. They knew that she knew where it was after all. So she’d checked in with 3XI and the different places that a Zircon could go that would restrict access to other Gems. The Admin building was a safe bet, especially because they’d been given an office to use. Of course, numerous levels of the building were off limits to common Quartz soldiers but not to the tech staff that were needed to service the various floors… staff such as a certain Peridot that 8XA had acquainted herself with quite well.

“Alright, I need to report in,” 3XI said, turning to the Amethyst. “You ready?”

8XA’s form flashed and she was clothed again, “Sure thing.”

“Really surprised you’re interested in this kind of thing,” 3XI said. “It’s just a lot of server checking.”

“This is the big building where all of the decisions are made,” 8XA said. “Who wouldn’t want to see that?”

“Fair enough,” 3XI said with a shrug.

8XA grabbed her green hooded cloak from the wall and fastened it to herself before following the Peridot out the door.

 

The Admin Building was only a short walk from the Barracks. 3XI regaled 8XA with tales of tedium from the unglamorous job of a Mayalx tech.

“And with that done, she couldn’t even form properly!” 3XI continued, throwing her hands up in the air in exhaustion. “What was the whole point! She went from a cracked Jasper to one missing an arm and a leg.”

“I’m guessing that Sapphire didn’t quite know when to stop shaving down the gem?” 8XA asked, far more intrigued by the story than she’d admit.

“Yeah,” 3XI said. “I’m surprised we didn’t can the experiment right there. But there’s barely any officers out her to tell her no with any kind of authority so we kept going. The Polisher Prototype at least worked fine, we just had to keep guessing what fraction of a millimeter was too far.”

“I take it most tests weren’t performed in the Admin Building?” 8XA asked.

“Yeah. We just ground the Jasper down there because Sapphire thought the process was perfected. It wasn’t. We had to toss the Jasper to the shattering Robonoids,” 3XI said. “I just… Stars, I can’t stop thinking about that honestly. Getting your arm taken off getting your head rearranged and then getting killed for all the trouble.”

“What’s so wrong about it?” 8XA asked. “This sounds pretty normal around here.”

“Yeah,” 3XI said, rubbing her gem. “I dunno. It feels kind of… wrong? I guess. Especially because it’s gotten so normal. Well, it’s not that normal or… gah, I don’t know what I’m trying to say.”

“Where’s all this sentiment coming from? Polished Gems are everywhere here.”

“What if it happened to you?” 3XI asked, turning to 8XA.

“I’ll avoid getting cracked,” 8XA said. “It’s what they couldn’t do.”

3XI only sighed at that and said, “After the test, I don’t think we even sent the Prototype Polisher back. We just left it in Yellow Sapphire’s office. That’s a fucking catastrophe waiting to happen!”

“Really?” 8XA asked. “It’s just lying there? A full working Polisher? That’s rather careless.”

“Oh you know how Sapphires are,” 3XI said with a groan. “Always thinking about the next thing to care about the moment. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s left some half formed experiment in an unlocked cage somewhere. She doesn’t even use her Admin office, just her Science Dome one. I doubt she’s even checked back there since.”

A dozen thoughts crossed 8XA’s mind then, each darker and more repulsive than the last. She smiled softly, the Peridot never seeing it on account of her back being to her. Oh how fortuitous Mayalx’s fractured mismanaged state could be.

They made their way to the Admin Building’s elevator and 3XI selected an upper floor. Their gems were scanned and 3XI clarified that 8XA was there to assist her. Access was granted. 8XA’s anticipation grew with every floor they ascended.

“No matter what that Zircon does to me,” 8XA thought. “I always find a way to bounce back. That manipulative little bitch can’t keep me down.”

 

Zircon Office

The news was still covering the attack on the remaining two Rock Lords. One was locked in combat with a trio of Jasper Fusions while the other had exited the failed Kindergarten and was lumbering off into the desert, rounds and rounds of mortar fire chipping away at it. It didn’t seem like the battle would be over anytime soon, but it did seem that everything was contained. The final Rock Lord fighting in the atmosphere had been smashed by the command Hand ship; its remains burning up in Mayalx’s atmosphere.

The news reports were background noise to the Zircons as they typed away. Blue was finalizing her report on Gem Polishing while Yellow was working on one of the zoning violations from Pyrope’s Colony.

“I really hope they can take care of this soon,” Blue said, glancing at the news report.

“Yeah, Hessonite’s work is on pause until she deals with this,” Yellow grumbled, tapping at one of the prisms on the counter that started to blink. “They need to get the Handship down onto the planet and just blast them away already.”

“At least we get the time to finalize our reports,” Blue said. “I don’t know what Hessonite will end up saying, but perhaps lack of combat efficiency leans her towards no? I hope.”

Blue stopped typing and rubbed her chin, thinking. Yellow regarded her for a moment before saying,

“We’ll sink this thing Blue. I promise.”

 

Server Room

Rows upon rows of servers filled up the room as far as the eye could see. Blue light pulsated from them as Peridot 3XI grabbed a cord from one and plugged it into her arm. The Limb Enhancer’s fingers formed a display screen and she began shifting through the data, isolating the corrupted or incomplete files to be reported. While she went through them, 8XA had projected a map of the building from her gem and was looking it over.

“The Zircons’s office is 3 stories down,” she thought. “I can get there through the fire exit stairs. Dumbasses didn’t put a gem scanner for the upper floors as they connect together, just the divide between the lower and upper zones. I can drop down and approach from the south side. Security is laxer than usual with the evacuation. The room only has a single entrance so they can’t get out any other way but through me. Rooms themselves have sound dampeners so it shouldn’t be that much of a problem if they scream for help.”

3XI looked up from her holoscreen to the Amethyst; her concentration on the map worrying.

“8XA?” the Peridot asked. “What… what are you doing?”

“Ah,” 8XA said, her concentration broken. “Ah it’s nothing. Just giving it a read.”

“Are you looking for those Zircons?”

“Nah, they’re probably in the evac zones already or something. I’m just kind of curious about the offices. Never expected an Amethyst like me to be all the way up here.”

3XI wasn’t sure. 8XA was staring very intently at that map, and her little excursion and disciplining from the Agate was in relation to the duo. 8XA had asked her about where they might be earlier and the Amethyst seemed curious about the building’s layout. Now 3XI had allowed her access to the floor and let her roam around.

“8XA,” 3XI said, cautiously. “Why was Holly Blue angry at you again?”

“Cause she’s a bitch,” 8XA replied. “Likes to take it out on us. Hit the people she knows can’t hit back.”

“Yeah,” 3XI said, scratching her head. “You… I don’t know, sometimes you seem a little obsessed with those lawyer Gems?”

“Are you accusing me of something?” 8XA asked, immediately defensive.

“No – no, I-”

“Jeez 3XI, I just wanted to see where you worked and you turn this on me? I’m supposed to be confined to barracks right now; Holly could give me an even worse lashing if she found out. I’m risking a lot to be here!”

“I know, and… I just feel like, sometimes you get-”

“Get what? Defensive? You’re basically accusing me of… Stars knows what, just because I wanted to tag along. Most of the people in this building evacuated anyway. I just wanted to see somewhere new, somewhere that wasn’t a barracks or endless miles of rock in a Kindergarten.”

3XI faltered and searched for words. 8XA took the opportunity to strike.

“This really hurts you know? I just wanted to do something nice for you. Maybe it’s work stressing you out, but… gah I don’t know. I need to go for a walk.”

8XA stood and stormed off. She had been thinking of how she’d give 3XI the slip ever since they’d gotten into the elevator. She wondered if she’d ask to move something or if 3XI would get so distracted she could sneak out. She figured the Peridot wouldn’t want her wandering on her own, but this little moment of “righteous” indignation was perfect. 3XI was on her back foot and 8XA was out of there. As she walked down the hall she slowly waited for the Peridot to follow her, to try and get her to stop, but nothing happened. Maybe she felt guilty, but whatever the reason, this was her chance.

8XA rounded the corner and took off down the hall, heading for the emergency staircase. Three floors and then they were hers, but she had a brief stop to make first.

 

Zircon Office

“Damnit,” Yellow said, her screen flickering.

“Hm?” Blue asked, looking up.

Yellow shifted on her chair and tapped the flashing prism embedded in her desk again.

“Displays being weird,” she said. “What’s the number for IT again?”

“I’ll just walk it down,” Blue said, standing up. “Been sitting on the armchair for hours now. I need to stretch.”

Yellow unplugged the prism and handed it to her, “Don’t take too long.”

Blue smiled, taking it. “Oh I won’t.”

Blue left the office then, walking in the north direction to the elevator.

Chapter Text

Server Room

3XI stared down at her work, ashamed.

“Why the fuck did I say that?” she asked. “Stars I’m such an idiot. I hope she’s not too angry.”

She wondered if she should try and follow the Amethyst and apologize, or would that make the situation worse?

 

Zircon Office

Yellow Zircon pulled up another holoscreen from her Gem. She reviewed the report she’d written for the Ethics Committee while she waited for Blue to come back. She changed some of the wording to be more professional sounding and made some extra edits before hearing a knock on the door.

“It’s open,” Yellow said, not looking up.

Another knock.

“Blue, it’s open,” Yellow repeated, frowning at the door.

There was more knocking and Yellow stood up.

“I swear if the doors on this planet are as bad as everything else,” Yellow muttered, walking over and touching the touchpad.

The door slid open and Yellow Zircon was greeted with the smiling face of Amethyst 8XA. The Zircon froze, the situation not immediately clicking in her head. The Amethyst had made her way up through the Admin building and found them without alerting security. As the how’s and why’s jumbled themselves in Yellow’s mind, she opened her mouth to say something.

8XA punched her then, striking her cheek with the pent up rage that had been building since the Nemesis Outpost. Yellow Zircon staggered backwards, 8XA following her in and drawing her knife.

“H-how did you-” Yellow stammered before 8XA slashed at her side, cutting into her physical form.

Yellow let out a cry of pain as the door slid shut. 8XA grabbed her by her cravat and hurled the smaller Gem at the desk, Yellow’s uninjured side slamming against the edge.

“Did you miss me?” 8XA asked, still smiling. “No destabilizer now huh?”

“How’d you get in here?!,” Zircon shouted.

“I took the elevator. Security on this world is abysmal,” 8XA said, her next strike hitting the Zircon on the nose. “You can’t hide from me, you can’t run from me, and you certainly can’t fight me.

8XA punched the Yellow Gem in the stomach as she tried to right herself. Yellow bent over clutching her injured side while 8XA grabbed her other arm and slammed it on the desk’s edge, breaking it.

Yellow let out a scream then. The physical form’s damaged sending her gem into a fit of pain. She slumped against the desk and slid to the floor.

“No one’s here!” 8XA said, elated. “No one was there for me when we were in that observation room in Nemesis, and no one’s here for you now.”

She punctuated that with a kick into the Zircon’s injured side, causing another shout.

“Stars I’ve been waiting for this, do you know how many times I’ve thought about this moment?” 8XA asked. “What I’d say, how I could get you to scream. Sometimes that’s all I had to get me through the day.”

Zircon said something, only to interrupt herself with a cough.

“I’m sorry,” 8XA said, cupping her ear, “What was that?”

“I said, you probably rubbed one out to that didn’t you? Your little fantasies about beating me up.”

Yellow smiled, in spite of the pain. 8XA rolled her eyes and stomped on her broken arm.

“You’re so fucking annoying,” she said, grinding her heel into the damaged extremity.

Yellow let out another scream of pain and tried to grab the Amethyst’s boot. The pain was so intense she thought for sure she’d poof.

“The smug mean girl attitude is old hat,” 8XA said. “You sound like that annoying Pearl Yellow Diamond likes to keep on display.”

“Ok, ok, damnit, please!” Yellow shouted.

8XA relented, taking her boot off of the Zircon’s arm. She squatted down, and grabbed a handful of the Zircon’s hair, pulling her to eye level. Yellow Zircon looked like a wreck. The damage to her form made her yellow hue much paler, her hair was disheveled, and she was covered in sweat.

“I’m sick and tired of stupid Gems like you thinking you can get the whole empire bowing and scraping at your every command,” 8XA said, slamming the Zircon’s head against the desk. “That ends now.”

She released the lawyer and stood up. She smiled down at her handiwork; the Zircon was beaten, nearly crying, and utterly at her mercy. In spite of the pain, Yellow mustered up a glare at her attacker. A bit of defiance to try and bury how scared she was.

“I know you’re looking at that Polishing procedure,” 8XA said. “Trying to see if it’s worth it. Your little Blue friend is so terrified of it; it’s almost cute. You know, there’s a prototype in this building?”

8XA smiled, a toothy predatory smile, from her gem she summoned the prototype Polisher. It was a handheld version of the rotary buffer like instrument that Yellow had seen descend from the ceiling to grind off that Quartz’s gem.

“You’re gonna get a firsthand demonstration when I grind you into dust.”

“Makes… makes you feel strong,” Yellow said, struggling to speak through the pain. “Doesn’t it? Beating up civvie Gems that can’t fight… fight back. You’re such a big, ugh, strong Quartz… aren’t you? Bravely sneaking around and hitting anyone who can’t stand up to, you. You can’t- can’t even kill me proper. You need a sander to do it.”

Yellow smiled at her then, a half formed smile struggling against the agony. 8XA was unmoved.

“Damn, you still can find it in you to be a smug little Pebble can’t you?” 8XA asked, rolling her eyes. “But I’m just going to kill you. When it comes to your little girlfriend, I won’t be as kind.”

Yellow’s smile was gone. As her eyes widened, 8XA wished she could capture this moment and live in it for eternity. There it was: the pure unrestrained fear. It cut through her smug demeanor, through the pain the Zircon was in. 8XA had struck her at her most vulnerable position; the Yellow Zircon was undone. 8XA smiled at the other Gem’s horror, savoring it, before bringing her heel down on Zircon’s Gem.

With an explosion of yellow dust, the Zircon was gone. She’d returned to the small yellow crystal that formed her core. 8XA bubbled her and examined her handiwork.

“One to go.”