Inner Beauty and the Eye of the Beholder
For a lot of the holiday she’d been listening intently for the ‘ping’ of a new message, or a call, or a ‘buzz’ at the gate; even vague, everyday noises had started to sound like communication tones. For a few days she was terrified that something had happened to Peridot: some of the things she’d heard about the Department of Clarity were pretty dark, and her imagination had been playing some increasingly horrifying games with her. But she took comfort in the knowledge that Peridot was cautious and smart, and if anything did happen then it’d be Peri who escaped (and Bixbite hoped that she would be the first person to come into Peridot’s mind if she ever needed a place to hide; then they’d fuse in secret, assume a new identity and move somewhere far from the gaze of the Authority… it was wishful thinking, but it was a scenario she enjoyed thinking about).
But eventually anticipation gave way to boredom, and boredom gave way to despair. After making up her mind that Peridot wasn’t going to get back to her, she’d accepted an invitation to go to one of the parties with some of the third class spotters; there she’d spent nearly the whole night taking extended looks at Gems which she thought might be Peridot, but none of them turned out to be, and though the night should’ve been good, her gem just wasn’t in it. That morning she’d drifted back into her room and slumped into a chair, staring dejectedly out of window; waiting for some Peridot related event that was never going to happen...
So when her phone started to ring she didn’t bother looking to see who it was, she figured that if they wanted her enough to interrupt her newfound appreciation of overcast skies, then they could leave a message.
“Bixbite, it’s Peridot. I haven’t been able to answer any of your calls because I’ve been occu—”.
The last time Bixbite had this much of a shock was when she was an apprentice: a group of them had been sent to do maintenance work on a starship engine, and she had eagerly volunteered to make sure that the power couplings were doing their job properly. She gave the signal, the link was tested, and then she’d found herself receiving most of the energy meant for generator six. When she eventually regenerated the others were still laughing, but she was fine and had to laugh as well (after all, electrocution happened to her from time to time, and the others probably just misheard her instruction… yes, that was obviously what had happened).
Leaping from the sofa, the bright red Gem made a mad dash towards the hologram of Peridot’s face. She tripped, but her subsequent fall was close enough for the phone to register it as the answer swipe, and for the first time in ages she was communicating with the green Gem of her fantasies.
‘Victory!’ she thought, gazing up at the hologram from the floor.
“Huh? …Bixbite, are you there?” asked Peridot, seeing no one on screen though the call had been answered.
“PERI!” Bixbite yelled, forcing Peridot to turn down the volume of the call. “Yes, I’m here! I’ve been calling you, where’ve you been? Are you alright? What’ve you been doing?” she asked excitedly, scrambling to her feet.
Peridot had forgotten just how high energy her former colleague was, and how high-pitched her voice was…
“I had noticed that you’d been calling—”
“Oh good! I was wondering if they were getting through. I was beginning to think something had happened to you, you know; it’s been so long since I’ve heard from you. How’s the clarity, by the way!?”
“It’s good, thank you: there’s a lot of…” she started. It was easy to discuss the numerous advantages of her new department, but now wasn’t the time to get side-tracked, “listen, Bixbite, are you still a part of the spotting department?”
“Yeah, I am! I actually— Oh. My. Gem! Are you thinking of coming back? You really should! I mean… only if you want to, obviously, but we’ve got a lot of new stuff… but not too much, nothing you wouldn’t pick up fast… It’d be great to have you back!”
“It’d be great to be back,” Peridot lied through her teeth. In reality, she’d rather have an injector dropped on her than going back to being a spotter: the job was far too routine for her, and they’d failed to promote her to first class (probably because the first class spotters at the time loved having her work on their projects so much, she thought smugly), “but if its anything like it used to be then I don’t think I could go back to being a second…” she said leadingly.
“Oh nonononono, it’s… well… okay, you wouldn’t know the difference workwise. But I’m first class now! Yay! So if you’re thinking about coming back I’ll make sure you work with me. U—until you get promoted, I mean. I really don’t know why they didn’t promote you before. I’ll make sure they take a serious look at you when you come back, if you come back… They’re sure to promote you!”Peridot laughed; their separation had done nothing to dampen Bixbite’s incomprehensible fixation with her.
Bixbite had always amazed her: she had managed to combine being hopelessly lovestruck, with exasperating ditziness and an unparalleled flair for astronautics, and turned it into a mystifyingly successful career in planetary spotting. For all her eccentricities she was one of the smartest Gems that Peridot knew, and so she just couldn’t figure out why she seemed to lose all reason whenever she showed her the slightest hint of intimacy.
But it was that that Peridot had been counting on; she needed some specialist tools and she needed them fast, and the only Gem that had both the know-how and that she trusted enough to help was Bixbite; if she had to use her desires to secure a huge favour then so be it. Now that she had confirmed the full extent of her usefulness, Peridot was prepared to put a lot more effort into indulging Bixbite’s little fantasy.
“Thanks, Bixbite, I’ll get back to you on that. And congratulations on your promotion, I know that’s what you always wanted.” She was genuinely happy for Bixbite. Less genuine was her intention of bringing up joining the department again.
“Awww thanks, Peri! It’s everything I hoped for. And they gave me my own office, and workshop, and now I get to choose the work I want to do, mostly! I’d umm, love to show you around sometime, show you some of the things I’ve been working on…”
Through the display of her integrated computer, Peridot could see her start to play with the ends of her wavy red hair (though the screen made it appear green), one of the many things she did when she was nervous. ‘Too easy.’ she thought.
“I’d like that. I won’t be doing much for the holiday, so if you’re free we—”
“YES! Yes! I mean no… No, I mean yes! I’m free, I mean. All this week, and next, whenever you’re free, probably.”
“Great. But before that, do you have any plans for this evening? We should meet up. It’d be really nice to see you in person.” Peridot said seductively, making another reduction in the volume of the call as she did so.
“I am so free this evening! Are you at home? Did you want me to come round now? Or did you want to come here? Or we can meet someplace else. I don’t mind… I mean, I do mind because it’s important that we meet somewhere we both like, but I don’t mind mind. Hehe-he.” she finished her rambling with a nervous laugh. ‘Cool’ was not one of her strong suits, as hard as she was clearly trying.
“I’ll come to you; we can decide where to go from there. I’ll see you in an hour and a half.” Peridot said. She needed some time to steel herself for the evening, and Bixbite had a nasty habit of turning up very early to their arranged meetings.
“Okay great! Yeah I—”
Peridot’s hologram disappeared from Bixbite’s phone. She sighed happily and took a moment to enjoy her excellent fortune; so great was the difference between a quiet evening alone, and a quiet evening alone with Peridot. She couldn’t wait. There was work to be done before her arrival though, and she sprinted upstairs to prepare.
Fifty shapeshifts later she had decided what to wear: a white dress, liberally decorated with pale pink flowers, and white ballet pumps to go with it; for her hair she’d opted for a single large plait. The dress was quite short, but with purpose — Peridot had made her blush once (though thankfully the red on red was hard to notice) with a comment on her legs, and if that’s what she liked then Bixbite was both willing and able (there was quite a lot of her legs) to oblige. Next came the matter of securing the changes; she began the hunt for her light destabilizer…
One regeneration later she was finally ready.
Most of the buttons on the gate that led to Bixbite’s room were red, belonging to others of her variety. It was like they were drawn to each other, kept close by the same energetic and permanently cheery disposition; even thinking about it made Peridot want to take a rest. Luckily the button she needed was in the top right corner of the rectangular seal, number ten of one hundred and fifty. She pressed it and waited for a response.
“Hello? Who is it?” asked Bixbite expectantly, her voice seeming to come from the door itself.
“It’s me.” Peridot replied flatly.
“Oh yeah! I forgot you can’t get in with your gem. Ahhh, but I wasn’t expecting anyone else! That’s not why I asked! And I hadn’t forgotten you, I… let me just let you in.”
“That’s probably a good idea.” Peridot shook her head slowly.
A number of randomly curving lines danced across the gate from its centre; then the pieces of the now divided door slid apart, allowing Peridot to step into Bixbite’s room.
It was just as untidy as she remembered it: machine parts lay on shiny surfaces and in small groups all over the floor, clumps of rock and exotic looking drill bits could be spotted on shelves, there were even a few of what looked like tiny, patchwork injectors, slowly crawling across the walls and ceiling. Charts, diagrams and mirrors were to be seen all over the walls (except where the windows were) and on makeshift screens that provided extra space for them.
‘This is hideous,’ Peridot thought to herself, “just… ugh.”
She didn’t have to think about it for long because soon after the gate closed behind her, Bixbite slid down the helical banister of the staircase and made her way through the obstacle course to greet her guest.
“Hey, you’re here! And you look amazing!”
In place of her standard bodysuit, Peridot had worn some baggy, high-waisted trousers and a tank top, both in black. When she returned from the Icosahedron she couldn’t be bothered to replace the complex pins that held up her hair; her loose style obviously pleased Bixbite greatly.
“Thank you. So do you.” she responded, slowly scanning Bixbite’s tall red form from bottom to top.
“THANKS! I hoped you’d like it! …Sooooo, I thought of somewhere we could go, if you hadn’t had any thoughts about it yet.”
“I hadn’t thought about it yet, where do you have in mind?”
“Ummm, I thought it’d be nice to surprise you… But… d’you really wanna know?”
Peridot groaned inwardly, she really hated surprises (especially when they involved Bixbite, as those tended to be either loud or horrifyingly sentimental): she liked to know in advance how bad things were likely to be. But maybe Bixbite would surprise her; if not, she wasn’t planning on this being a regular thing; she could manage one evening every so often…
“No, you can surprise me.”
“Yay! Let’s go!” Bixbite said excitedly, practically skipping past Peridot and through the open gate.
“…reckoned that it was fake: I mean, the only one I know of is offworld, in a vault. But if it was a genuine replicator wand… What do you think? ...Peridot? …Perrrridot? …Peri? Oh my gem! I’m sorry, I’ve been talking so much; you must be so bored. You can always stop me if you get bored, you know, I won’t mind. I know I kinda go on sometimes, but umm… we don’t see each other that often anymore. I have to make the most of it.” Bixbite said with a shy smile.
Peridot had expected her to talk a lot because she always did, but she had really outdone herself this time. Part of her wished that she’d been paying more attention, because now she found herself asking what one Gem could possibly talk about for two whole hours, pretty much non-stop… But the break in conversation was perfect; it was a good time to sneak in what she was here for.
“It’s my fault, I’m always so busy. I’ve missed you though,” Peridot said softly, laying her hands on Bixbite’s, “And I’m not bored, I’ve just been a bit distracted lately.”
That intrigued Bixbite, Peridot never got distracted; the serious Gem had resisted even her best attempts to divert her attention to more romantic endeavours. Whatever was behind this was already worthy of note (though not as worthy as the fact that she’d missed her; she would have to find out more about that…).
“What’s on your mind, Peri?”
Peridot leaned in closer and whispered:
“I need your help with something, but it’s sensitive... Authority sensitive...”
Bixbite’s gem was tingling. She had always daydreamed about things like this: dashing agent Peridot finds herself in a predicament, and the only person who can help her is Bixbite, her steadfast lover and right-hand Gem; they’d always get the job done in the end, and live to die another day.
But now that it was happening she was a little bit scared, in reality you didn’t live to die another day, not when it came to the Authority…
Most of the time people were happy; they were well looked after, and had enough freedom to keep them content and abiding by the law. However, very rarely a person (or persons) would cross the Authority — you never found out how, but you could assume it was very serious, and possibly (probably) a threat to Gemkind —that was where the Department of Clarity came in. Nobody knew exactly what they did, or how they did it, or the scale of its operations; but everyone had their theories, and when things around you changed too rapidly, or something (or someone) just didn’t exist anymore, it seemed reasonable to assume that they were involved. That was the world that Peridot had joined, and was now offering Bixbite a way into.
She had a choice: she could either be sensible, and take Peridot’s statement no further; or enter into the shadowy, perhaps bottomless world of the clarity department…
But what choice did she really have? It was difficult to get hold of Peridot a lot of the time, and she could be hurtfully gruff, but when she really needed her, Peridot had always managed to be there; now that the roles were reversed, she could finally be there for Peridot in a tangible way. It wasn’t a question of if she would help, but how she would help.
And anyway, what kind of Gem would she be if she couldn’t face danger for a loved one?
“Okay,” said Bixbite, ready to engage the analytical part of her mind, “what do you want me to do?”
Peridot slid around the u-shaped booth, coming to sit next to Bixbite. Opening her hand computer and zooming in on the planetary system containing Earth, she said:
“Back while we were seconds, I noticed that this planet didn’t fit my model of its system. I managed to have a look in the records at the Icosahedron; the planet has a name, Earth. We’ve even been there before: there’s a kindergarten there, or there was. That’s where the file stops making sense.”
From Bixbite’s wide eyed expression it was clear that the beginning of the file could stand to make a bit more sense…
“It says that we destroyed this kindergarten, because a rose quartz was attempting to use it to claim the planet for herself. We destroyed it, and that started a war, and then we destroyed her and her rebels. Resources had been exhausted by the end of the war, so we left. Obviously we’ve never gone back, and now the spotting and main library records have been tampered with.” she finished, waiting for Bixbite to reach the same conclusion as she had.
For long minute Bixbite sat with her hand over her mouth, staring at the table in front of them. Peridot watched her in silence until she turned her head to the right, her expression worried.
“So... you don’t believe the war ended how it did in the records?”
She had no doubt that every word Peridot had said was true, she was a no-nonsense sort of Gem; she knew that if she were to check herself, everything would be as described. The results of Peridot’s search posed some scary questions, and those questions were sure to have equally scary answers…
“No.” said Peridot.
“And now, I guess you wanna send a… something to the planet, right?”
“Yes. If there are Gems there...”
Bixbite nodded. She knew how significant the discovery of Gems on an officially unrecognised world would be. Peridot continued.
“The tools the clarity has for identifying gem signatures are much too small for a planet-wide search. That’s why I— … What? …Why are you smiling like that?”
Things were really beginning to look up for Bixbite: first Peridot had called her, then suggested they go on a date (she’d even let down her hair for the occasion!), she’d asked for her help and now, fate had handed her exactlywhat she needed to give that help (well, almost exactly... she was sure that what she had in mind would be fit for purpose). She had every reason to smile how she was smiling. She said a silent thank you to the Goddess of the House of Beryl.
“Peridot! I have what we need!” she said in the loudest whisper that Peridot had ever heard.
“Excellent. What is it?” she asked, genuinely curious.
“Wellllllllllllll… I could tell you, but it’d… you wouldn’t… no. You have to see them.” said Bixbite. The red Gem entered into a fit of giggles at some private joke. “Come on, Peri, I’ll show you now! Ooooh, wait! I’ll need to get the key from my room first! Let’s go!”
There wasn’t time for Peridot to ask any questions or make any protests, because Bixbite was already sliding out of the booth, chattering excitedly about visibility and sunrise.
It was a totally clear night, and the stars above Homeworld shone down in their countless millions. Tiny points of light in yellow, white and orange covered the midnight-blue sky, while the closest stars, the ones of Homeworld’s own galaxy, were so close together that they formed a cloud like streak across the sky: a glowing stripe of purples, blues, oranges and greys. It had been a long time since Peridot had seen a sky so beautiful with her own eyes; and she was glad that her task had brought them to this place.
Stepping off the warp pad, she knew immediately why Bixbite had suggest a change of footwear; her combat boots shifted ever so slightly in what could only be sand, and she had to watch her step to avoid the rocks that littered the ground.
“Bixbite, where are we?”
“The Lesser Amorphous Desert!” was the enthusiastic and unnecessarily loud answer. Other than what they said, the desert was completely silent; Peridot felt like they were disturbing the tranquillity of the place.
Glancing around the area made her wonder what Bixbite had planned, because as far as the eye could see in every direction, the land stretched out unchanging (except in front, where a jagged chain of mountains could be made out a great distance away).
A shuffling sound to her left caught Peridot’s attention; Bixbite rummaged through the handbag she’d brought from the room, and after a short while produced a hand-sized, pale green tetrahedron that glittered in the starlight. She turned towards Peridot, closed one eye, and held the shape at roughly the height of her head.
“What are you doing?” asked Peridot.
“I never noticed before, but the key looks just like your hair! Not now, obviously… usually, I mean… Oh! And you hair’s kind of blonde, not green; but you’re green, like the key, that’s what I was saying.”
She folded her arms. “Seriously?”
“Ehehe-he… Yeah… Sorry, Peri.” mumbled Bixbite sheepishly.
Without warning she threw the little pyramid underarm in the direction of the mountains. Peridot watched as it arced through the air and landed in the sand with a quiet thump. As soon as it landed it started to glow a faint green, and slowly but steadily made a short trip a few feet to the right.
“Did you see that!? It was almost perfect! It must be you, bringing me luck!”
“I highly doubt that, Bixbite—”
“Shhhhhh, watch now.”
She could just about see the illuminated key balance on one of its edges and start to spin: the sand around it also began to move, caught up in whatever magic was being applied. Like a whirlpool in the sand, a widening spiral crept closer to the pair; Peridot thought about moving backwards, but Bixbite looked calm so she stayed put. Slowly, the key began to descend into the ground, becoming the point of an inverted cone of spiralling sand. The hole that was forming got deeper and deeper, until the key disappeared from view.
“Wasn’t that just the best thing?” asked Bixbite.
“It gets better though, come on, we’re almost there!”
Bixbite led her to the edge of the hole where inside, Peridot could see stairs winding around the wall. About halfway down, the rock (or was it hard sand? she didn’t even know) extended further out from the wall, creating a landing within the underground structure. Four tunnels were accessible from the landing: one facing back in the direction of the warp pad, another towards the mountains, one to the left and one to the right; their depth was such that she couldn’t she couldn’t see anything down the tunnels, but it didn’t matter because none of them was their destination.
When they got to the bottom of the pit, Bixbite picked up the still glowing key and dropped it into her bag. They walked towards a fifth tunnel, another facing in the direction of the mountains; when the panels that made up the floor lit up, Peridot could see that there was a marked curve in the path leading to the right — after a certain distance she couldn’t see where it led. After they had followed it for what seemed like forever, they emerged into a large control room. Rows of desks took up most of the space, with computers stationed on them at regular intervals. In front of a huge black screen on the front wall, sat the largest computer in the room, the main console.
“Ugh! This place is ancient! Look at these computers… do they even still work?” moaned an appalled Peridot. They were some of the oldest computers that she’d ever seen: ones where you actually had to touch a surface, physically! As in physical contact!
“I don’t know about the smaller ones, but the one that matters,” Bixbite said, sitting in front of the big computer, “definitely does. I’ve used it myself!” she said happily. “Get a chair, come sit next to me!”
Peridot did as instructed, looking on as Bixbite initialized the antique machine.
“This place is all mine, I inherited it from Jadeite when they made me a first. Yay! It’s like my own personal department; for me!”
“So what’s its purpose?” asked Peridot, impatient to learn what it was down here that Bixbite was so sure was going to work.
“You know how they always taught us that some steps of world seeding just can’t be automated; certain parts of the process have to have experienced Gems carrying them out? Well at some point — I think during the inclusion, or just before — they actually tried it. The idea was that as soon as gem signatures were detected on that world, a signal would be sent to wherever, and then they would come to decide what to do with the new Gems. The machines that were going to be detecting the life signatures, this is where they were kept. Okay they aren’t in here, they’re way too big for that, but we need to make sure everything is functioning properly first, and then we can launch one! Yay!”
“You could send it today?” Peridot was impressed and relieved at the same time; the sooner they sent the ‘thing’ the sooner they’d have a result, hopefully a positive one, to present to the Authority if… when they demanded to know what she was doing. She tried to forget about them for the time being.
“Yeah, sure! It isn’t a registered unit, so nobody needs it for anything. Well, except us; we need it. And it doesn’t have any forms and the like because it’s been out of use so long. That wouldn’t matter anyway; the Authority would want to know why it’s going to ‘Earth’ in the first place, even if this was official.” Bixbite said solemnly. “But anyway, this is for a good cause.” she added, trying to stay positive.
“How many are there, or were there?” asked Peridot.
“There are three— well, four… but three originals; but only one of them works. We’re— aha, we can start now!”
On the wide screen in front of them an ugly, blocky, but incredibly simple interface displayed four circles on a white background. Three of the circles were larger, and orange, with a red hexagon at the centre; the fourth circle was about a quarter of the size of the others, and coloured Authority green with a gold hexagon at its centre. Bixbite clicked on one of the orange circles. As she typed on the keyboard, running diagnostics on the machine represented by the orange circle, she explained a bit more to Peridot.
“It took me months to look through all the code, but it was so worth it! I’ve only actually sent it on one trip before, a short trip; but nothing bad happened! And all the physical tests we’ve done on it so far have been encouraging. There’s nothing to indicate that it won’t fly exactly like it was made to!” she said confidently. “I think they were originally for terraforming, you know: while I was learning how they worked, I found this whole part of their code dedicated to foreign life forms: there’s a database of life we’ve studied so far, and a program for estimating compatibilities between them, and predicting unseen combinations. I’m trying to generate more interest in that section alone, but the biologists are avoiding me. I don’t know why… Anyway, from physically studying them we know that they could make huge vacuums, like people-getting-pulled-off-the-face-of-the-world huge. If you put that with all the non-Gem stuff… it has to be terraforming. It would’ve made even the conquest part of seeding operations automatic, if they’d had better technology for the rest… Right now I’ve requested that the department looks into automatisation again.”
The Red Eyes were something of a departmental joke: nobody who knew about them ever had use for them, and those who accepted them did so because their wild imaginations or current owners made them out to be more than they really were. With better propulsion systems readily available, all offworld colonies accounted for (until now), and a military as ‘selective’ in its methods as Homeworld’s was, there wasn’t reason to pay attention to the outmoded machines.
Their handing down was tradition; when new first class spotters were promoted, their departing predecessors would carefully decide which of them was the most gullible, and ‘generously offer’ the relic to them (armed with bent truths and embellishments). Naturally they had chosen Bixbite as the next unwitting victim in the chain, and found it only logical that she’d accepted. Many guffaws were had.
In the way she was renowned for, Bixbite had seen her acquisition as a positive thing. Her only complaint was that Jadeite had forgotten to tell her that the devices had originally been designed with terraforming in mind (in actual fact Jadeite had no idea what the Red Eyes were for, and had only taken the key to the facility because of its pleasing appearance), which meant that she’d had to work out for herself what that part of the code was meant to do. But worked it out she had, and now it was time to share her fortune with Peridot.
The text stopped flickering on the screen as the checks completed on all of the working Red Eye’s components. Bixbite clicked through screens until she had reached a map of the galaxies closest to Homeworld’s. A box in the sidebar pulsed, awaiting an input.
“Peri… it’s ready now,” she said gingerly, “All you have to do is set the coordinates.”
This was it. Even if no lines had been crossed so far, sending this machine to Earth would open up a new chapter for her, and Bixbite. This was the difference between normality and renown, ‘what if’ and the truth, continued existence and shattering…
A final thought came to Peridot.
“When will it come back with a result?”
“Well, its engine’s really old… I couldn’t retrofit a new one without changing everything else. … Maybe, three months; to get there and back? If it finds Gems there.”
“And if it doesn’t?”
“Then it won’t return. It’s programmed to remain in orbit around the planet if it doesn’t find anyone, anyone that’s a Gem, I mean. If it finds anything that isn’t a Gem it’ll just do its job and then go into orbit, but it still won’t come back.”
With her right hand, Peridot brought up the coordinates for Earth, typing them into the main computer with the left. She confirmed the command.
From the low metallic rumbling and way the room began to vibrate she could tell that something of incredible size and weight was moving somewhere above them. She looked up at ceiling to try and pinpoint the epicentre of the disturbance; Bixbite looked at her and grinned.
“I’ve been waiting for you to see this all night! …Hold on, you might want some of these.”
She rifled through her bag again and handed Peridot a pair of black goggles, beaming all the while.
Peridot slowed down when they reached the top of the staircase, having trouble adjusting to the scale of what she was seeing. In front of them, where there had once been an unbroken expanse of desert, there was now a truly colossal hole; to see the entirety of it, she had to turn her head through a quite significant angle. Through her goggles she could see that light of intensifying brightness was being emitted by something inside the immense pit.
Like Homeworld’s star did every day to bring in the morning, the curve of a giant, shining sphere slowly began to rise from the hole, creating an artificial sunrise. It was like nothing Peridot had ever seen before: it looked natural, with its segmented, shell-like appearance - appearing both pink and cream in colour as continued its upwards journey; but it was clearly artificial: its movement was too steady, too precise, and those lines were too regular and straight to be anything but Gem made.
“Peridot, this is a Red Eye.” said Bixbite in a reverent way.
As though awakened by the sound of its master’s voice, the pearlescent plates of the Red Eye receded into each other with a mechanical clanking sound and disappeared from view. With its orange interior exposed, the quiet hum of whatever powered the arcane machine reverberated around the desert, and the artificial daylight that had lit the area a second ago was now replaced by a deep, ominous red.
A red hexagon swung round to the side that the pair were facing, causing Peridot to realise that the six-sided shape she had seen in the machine’s diagram was an aperture.
‘The Red Eye. How appropriate.’ she thought to herself as the opening widened and then contracted, focusing on them.
“Hey sweetie!” Bixbite said loudly and affectionately to the machine. Peridot closed her eyes and sighed. “This is my friend, Peridot, she’s the reason we called you!”
Coincidentally (or so Peridot thought, ‘it can’t really understand her, can it?’), the Red Eye chose that moment to rotate ever so slightly, seeming to look right at her. Seconds later it panned to their right, and Peridot looked to see if it had spotted something else.
Not too far away, fifteen or so figures with long hair had materialized while they had been watching the Red Eye prepare for its journey; cautiously, the little crowd made its way towards where they were standing.
“Ummm …Bixbite, who are they?”
“Wha— oh. Don’t mind them, they’re desert glass. They come to watch whenever we do testing at night.”
Peridot turned back to the desert glass, but they had no interest in her: they were in the process of sitting down, and laughed and talked amongst themselves in a language she didn’t recognise. Most unsubtly, Bixbite took a sideways step towards her, and carefully felt around the bottom of her arm, seeking her hand. She found her fingers, but after a minute or two of clumsily fumbling with the unattached digits, she gave up, sighing quietly.
Peridot had often wondered if Bixbite had some kind of defect within her gem: how could she still be pursuing her after so long, with so little to show for it? Any other Gem would’ve concluded that nothing like what she wanted was going to happen.
For a short time she was flattered, then, as time went on she was amused; amusement gave way to boredom as she grew tired of the slightly awkward conversations and bouts of sentiment, questioning whether Bixbite would ever get over her immature infatuation with her. But apparently this ran deeper than mere infatuation, and so Peridot had come to accept that that was how she would always feel. She had decided to treat her just as she would treat anyone else that wasn’t a total clod, reasoning that Bixbite was old and sensible enough (mostly) to understand that any emotional upset she suffered was her own fault.
Her plan had worked; Bixbite never mentioned her feelings explicitly, she never complained about a lack of reciprocation and her unannounced visits gradually became fewer.
But apparently real love never died, it only changed form; and like the carefully chosen Gem that had been responsible for looking after Peridot when she first found her way to civilization, Bixbite had always tried her best to help her and show her that she mattered. Even up until now Peridot had tried to keep her at a safe distance (she never could rely too much on others, she’d learned), but as irritating as she could be, and as easily distracted, and poor at taking hints, and loud, and… In spite of everything Peridot just couldn’t interact with Bixbite in the same impersonal, analytical way that served her so well with everyone else.
She realised that she hadn’t needed to try and entice Bixbite into helping her: the outcome would have been exactly the same if she had just asked her straight away. It made her feel a little bad that she was still trying to put Bixbite in the same class as every other Gem, while she was willing to put herself at great risk to help her. She looked at the group of desert glass: happy, together, relaxed; as much as she hated to admit it, she needed others (another, at least) a bit more than she liked to admit. She was glad of the support, and the company that Bixbite had always offered.
Peridot put an arm around her waist (her shoulder was awkwardly high).
“Thank you.” she said quietly.
“Don’t mention it, Peri.” Bixbite replied, putting an arm around her shoulder.
The Red Eye got smaller and smaller as it moved into position for the long journey from Homeworld, until the few Gems that were watching it saw nothing but a tiny red moon, just for them. It turned from red to a brilliant near-white as it closed its cover, and after a short, linear move forwards it sped off, vanishing in a twinkle of light.
“Bye bye, sweetie! Find us some Gems, okay.”
Peridot grinned at the pointlessness of the comment, and the absurdity of what they’d just done.
Just as absurd was the idea that both Gems and… ‘other’ could be on Earth at the same time. The possibility had never crossed either of their minds…