Gears in Motion
“Peridot, oh my gem I’m so glad you picked up!” said Bixbite in what Peridot thought was a significantly flustered way, even for her. She whispered: “Listen, I can’t talk for long. There are two Gems here, pearls, to see me; they’re from the House of Diamond. I think they’re from the Triumvirate Diamonds themselves: if I’m right then that probably means that there’s one on the way to see you. They haven’t said what it’s about yet, but it’ll be the Red Eye launch. I… I just wanted to give you a chance to escape, if they hadn’t already got to you yet. And, umm.. I love you, Peridot. I mean, I’m sure you already know, but I just wanted to say it, in case I never get another chance to.” she said with a pained smile. “It— what we did… was worth it though.”
Before Peridot could give a word in response, Bixbite blew a kiss at the screen and with a ’blip’ she disappeared.
Six hours and forty two minutes earlier.
“…would be a good way to start, but”
With Corona there always seemed to be a ‘but’, Pavilion thought: her caution was understandable, and in some situations would be a good thing, but there were times when a direct, forceful first move was the best way forward. The planets she had in mind were practically a gift, they needed to be exploited as soon as possible; Corona of all people should understand that an investment like the one she had proposed had incredible potential.
“…butwe have a thousand years, surely we can spare a decade or two finishing projects that have already been started? And who knows what we could learn; we may well discover something that makes world seeding as trivial as the lives of organics.” she finished.
“Of course, there’s no reason that we couldn’t do both, is there?” Essence suggested, “After all, those involved with one or the other wouldn’t be from the same departments—”.
“But you’re forgetting about the cost—” Corona interrupted.
“The gains we would make from colonising the worlds I have in mind would more than make up for the money we’d spend starting work there. In a very short time there would be more than enough to finish even the most unviable of the previous projects, on the farthest worlds.” Pavilion interrupted her, trying to appeal to Corona’s inner financier.
“Empresses, if I may interject.”
The three Diamonds turned to look at look at Covellite. They were an intimidating trio — especially Yellow Diamond, with those piercing yellow eyes— but she had been working with Diamonds since before the inclusion era, these three were just the latest in a lengthening line of intimidating leaders. She knew from experience when it was time to speak, and when it was time to withhold her thoughts or information; now was the perfect moment to inform them of something they had been monitoring for about a month.
“Please.” said Corona, inviting Covellite to speak with an extension of her hand.
“Two days after the Ceremony of the Sword, one of our geostationary satellites detected the unauthorised launch of an interstellar device. This particular unit is old tech, a Red Eye species identification and basic terraforming unit. From observing its direction and eliminating the systems that it’s already passed, it has been predicted that the device is following a course to a planetary system containing the planet Earth.”
“The rebellion planet? Why?” asked Pavilion.
“Currently we don’t know—”.
“More importantly, why were we not told before?” snapped Essence; irritated that even at this stage information was not being given to her as it was generated.
“Forgive me, Empresses. As far as we are aware the problem is one that can be very easily dealt with, but at the same time its solution requires knowledge of the true cause of the inclusion era; knowledge that you did not possess at the time because we did not want to distract you from the traditions of ascension.”
“You think that we’re so easily distracted that we couldn’t learn and visit a few regions, or give a few speeches at the same time?”
“Not at all, Empress. We merely wanted to give you some time to adjust to your new positions, and get the tedium out of the way before moving onto more exciting matters.”
“Thank you, councillor Covellite,” Corona said quickly, before Essence could escalate things.
She shot Blue Diamond a meaningful glance; there was no doubt that she was as shrewd as a Gem could be, but her temper would lead to friction between the Triumvirate and its council if it was allowed to get in the way. That would be most unfortunate: a respectable number of the councillors had been part of the Authority since before her gem had formed, and having them on side would make their rule much easier. Essence would understand…
“But know that in future it is unnecessary to make such allowances on our behalf.”
“Of course, Empress.” agreed Covellite, glad of White Diamond’s interjection.
She liked the new White Diamond; she was the most diplomatic of the three (though that was to be expected, really). She was already beginning to understand the subtleties of how the Triumvirate worked with the council, and that Gems such as her were there to assist, not to hinder. As for the Blue one… it was like they’d accidentally snuck a yellow diamond in with the blue Shard triumviriti. She would be difficult to deal with when she felt like she was being crossed, but Covellite had dealt with worse, and the other two would keep her in line.
“Back to the matter if you please, councillor.” prompted Pavilion.
“Yes. As you know, the seeding of Earth was left unfinished because of a rebellion; but in addition to the regular mineral transmutation, there were a number of secondary projects being carried out. You may enjoy perusing the details of these projects before you continue your discussion, and naturally we have reports on the conversations and movements of the one involved with the launch of the Red Eye.” Covellite concluded.
“Why did she send such a device to Earth; what does she gain from sending it there?” Pavilion asked.
“The Red Eye was developed in an attempt to automate the world seeding process: a target world would be identified, the Red Eye sent in to neutralise any existing life forms, injectors and plant equipment deployed, and then transmutation occurs as normal. It would remain in orbit until the first Gem life signatures were detected, at which point it would return to its point of origin to notify us that the new Gems would be ready for teaching and training very shortly. At this point we are assuming that the one who sent it is looking for Gems on Earth; as I said before, we don’t know why.”
“’The one involved with the launch of the Red Eye’.What information do you have on this individual?” asked Essence bluntly.
“She is a bixbite, and a first class planetary spotter,” Covellite explained. “We know that it’s her because the launch site can only be accessed with a special key, and she is the current holder of that key. There isn’t really much to say about her: she isn’t permitted to summon a weapon, no military training, not even basic; she’s been with the spotters for a long time, working her way through the classes. A specialist in interstellar craft design… I can send you a more detailed report if you wish.”
“No, that won’t be necessary.” Essence responded, a little disappointed; she had hoped that the bixbite might be more… dangerous.
“Very well, thank you councillor Covellite.” said Pavilion.
“Well then,” said Corona, smiling around the room at the assembled Gems, “it seems that we need to have a little chat with our inquisitive friend, doesn’t it?”
“Actually, Empress, friends might be a more appropriate word. Within the Icosahedron’s archives there are certain books and files that we keep a watchful eye over; the Icosahedron staff are required to send us details of every instance involving these materials. Earlier on the day of the launch, a file involving the planet ‘Earth’ was accessed by a peridot. She works for the Department of Clarity, Research and Development branch.” said councillor Opal.
“On top of that, many of the outgoing calls from the bixbite’s phone are to a peridot whose image matches the description of the librarian who submitted the report.” added councillor Cerussite.
“Are there any others who may be involved with the incident?” Essence inquired.
“Not that we know of, Empress.” Opal replied.
“In that case, please have the relevant documents sent to me, I will have these two apprehen—”. Pavilion began.
“Why should you get to have all the… the burden of bringing them in?” Corona asked sweetly.
As a Triumvirate they hadn’t much to do in the way of ruling yet, and while apprehending a couple of scientists was something that any one of them could take care of, she didn’t want to be left out of any stage of this developing case.
“The Red Eye is able to neutralise targets on a planetary scale, which means that this Gem has sent a planetary grade weapon to an officially declared neutral zone; that makes this a military offence. And, due to the planet’s direct link to the Department of Planetary Spotting, I think that this part of the operation is a matter for me to settle.” Pavilion said definitively.
Though for all intents and purposes she, Corona and Essence were equals, she was determined that she would be the one that was actually in charge. So even at this early stage it was important to exert her authority whenever possible, like now.
“Your points are valid, but the fact still remains that the peridot works for the Department of Clarity, which — I believe — is my domain.” countered Corona.
Essence smiled at their juvenile bickering: though the clarity department was for covert and internal matters concerning Homeworld’s security (and thus in the power of white Shard representative), she knew the most about it, having worked there. Whatever they were, her fellow Diamonds weren’t foolish, and it was unlikely that they’d leave her and all her expertise out of this interesting affair.
“The situation obviously needs to be kept as quiet as possible, and to that end I suggest that we leave the apprehension of these two to the pearls: they have all the required skills and know most of the details already. And,” she chuckled, “it would mean that nobody needs to feel left out.”
Corona smiled: mainly because of Essence’s remark, but also because for the time being they would be occupied by this curious Red Eye business, and so Pavilion’s ideas for yet more world seeding would be put on hold. Yellow Diamond had to be credited with boldness, but at least one of the planets she’d chosen was occupied and really, who wanted a war (of any scale) on their hands so soon after starting their rule? She certainly didn’t…
“I think that’s the best idea that either of you have had all day.” Corona announced drily. “Essence, with your permission I shall send Shell to bring the bixbite in: she doesn’t appear to be a threat, and people don’t tend to find Shell as intimidating as Étoile or Apex.”
Shell smiled smugly.
Étoile gave a derisive snort.
Apex rolled her eyes and folded her arms.
Blue Diamond nodded her assent.
“Marvellous.” Corona continued. “And Pavilion with your permission, I shall send Apex to retrieve the clarity technician. If this is something more than a case of misadvised curiosity, then she is best suited to taking care of any resistance the peridot may mount.”
“That sounds like a fair assessment; Apex you will do as White Diamond has instructed.” said Pavilion to her pearl.
“Yes, mistress.” Apex acknowledged.
“Étoile, I leave to you the decision of whom you will accompany on their errand.” Corona finished.
After thinking about it for a moment, Étoile said: “I shall go with Shell, mistress.”
Apex had a much better sense of humour than Shell, but Shell made better conversation. In the end neither mattered, because Étoile really wasn’t in the mood for a fight (if it came to that) nor making small talk with delinquents: Apex was hardly likely to do it if she was there, and she so hated awkward silences.
“Then it’s decided. Councillors, please ensure that the information the pearls need is sent to them.” Turning to the three pearls, Pavilion said, “pearls, you are to acquire these Gems as quietly as possible, and watch over them in the secure rooms until the general council reconvenes tomorrow. We will hear what they have to say then. I don’t need to tell you that this is a sensitive subject: if for any reason you cannot bring them in today, notify us and return, you can try again tomorrow if need be.”
“Yes, mistress.” the trio replied in unison.
“Unless anyone has anything else to add…” she waited. The council, the pearls, Corona and Essence all remained silent. “then today’s meeting is at an end.”
Peridot thought her options over:
She could take advantage of Bixbite’s warning and run, but that would make her look guilty; what good would running do anyway? How far would she get before they caught up with her? And if she did manage to evade the Authority for a reasonable length of time, then when they did find her they would not be happy; the punishment would be a lot more severe than if she just went quietly. Besides, an escape without Bixbite didn’t sound that appealing.
But really, they weren’t guilty of anything: all they’d done is send an identification probe to a planet that nobody had heard of, she could probably make it look like they had overlooked the secret history part…
Two high-grade engineers… sending a specialized and unauthorised identification probe… to a carefully concealed planet… out of scientific curiosity.
’Yeah, because the Authority are definitely going to believe that.’ she thought sardonically.
And she’d undeniably taken a look at the archive records; they were never going to ignore that.
No, the best thing to do now was focus on the practical application of what they’d done. While the launch was technically illegal as the Red Eye wasn’t a registered unit, the protected information aspect of the situation was what would get them… in trouble, if anything. But if she could bring the Authority’s attention back to how the planet was an incredible (and largely untapped) resource, then that should outweigh their status as ‘security risks’. By proving that they could be useful to the Authority, they might just get through this in one piece…
‘Could, should, might. This disturbing profusion of uncertainty has got to be bad for my gem…’ she thought, frowning in frustration.
But she decided that it would work, as long as Bixbite didn’t fall to pieces under the stress and say anything unhelpful before she got a chance to save them. A part of her wished that they’d come to get her first, and that she’d been able to tell Bixbite to keep as quiet as possible.
On reflection she realised that if it had happened in that order, Bixbite wouldn’t have said that she loved her: even thinking about those words had a greater effect on her that she’d anticipated, in a very good way.
‘There’s nothing like a worldwide conspiracy to bring two Gems together.’ Peridot said to herself with a smile, despite the circumstances.
Just then, a high-pitched electronic droning sounded through her room. A series of lights on the ceiling flicked into action, and a large image formed in the centre of the space, showing her the Gem that was pressing her button on the gate.
“Good evening.” Peridot said politely, not giving anything away.
“Good evening, Peridot .” the Gem replied.
This must be the pearl that Bixbite thought would be coming. The figure on the projected screen had completely white skin and a white gem; a smooth, pearlescent hemisphere in the centre of her chest. Her wide, midnight-blue eyes were the same shade as her hair, which was much shorter on the sides and the back than it was at the top. Peridot was surprised at how brawny the pearl was; her grey bodysuit exposed her arms, and while they were still quite thin compared to a lot of Gems, they must’ve been twice as wide as those she’d seen on other pearls. Maybe this one had been purpose grown… Based on her appearance, Peridot concluded that she was Yellow Diamond’s pearl.
The Gem waved her hand in front of her, extending and curling her fingers in a sequential, automatic way. Her gem glowed briefly and she held her hand out as if to receive something; from the gem appeared a flat rectangle, which floated into her outstretched hand.
“If you’d be so kind as to let me in, there’s something that we need to discuss.” said the Gem in an accent she couldn’t quite place, holding the rectangle up to the gate.
It was a badge; a badge signifying that its holder was very closely affiliated with the Authority, and a member of House of Diamond. Its main feature was a gold diamond with a small white circle at its centre.
“Wait a second.” said Peridot, moving to greet her visitor.
Opening the gate confirmed that the Gem was taller than her, and she had to look up slightly to look her in the eye. She stepped towards Peridot and confidently held out her hand in greeting.
“Apex the Pragmatic, of the Eternal House of Diamond, of the Nacrarium, Series Ten, Arc One, Number Fifteen.”
“Peridot.” she said automatically, confirming the name that she normally went by. She shook her hand, not failing to notice the firmness of Apex’s grip. The pearl already knew her variety and where she lived, so to suggest that she knew her full name as well wasn’t a wild conclusion to jump to.
“This won’t take long, but let’s take a seat anyway.” said Apex, gesturing towards Peridot’s chairs.
“You do know that this is my room?” asked Peridot, irritated by the stranger’s tone.
“I was aware, thank you. Now, does your question lead somewhere pertinent to our meeting? Because if not, take a seat.” she said in a firm and icy manner.
Peridot glared at the pearl for a while longer before giving her equally frosty response:
She was not happy about being told what to do in her own space by this pearl, but Apex was with the Authority, and engaging in some contest of dominance with her would not further her cause (the cause where she planned to stay alive).
When they were both seated, Apex said:
“You may or may not know this, but I am Yellow Diamond’s personal assistant, among other things. With her permission, White Diamond has sent me here to retrieve you. Tell me, Peridot, what is the reason that the Triumvirate has demanded your presence?”
“If you’re Yellow Diamond’s personal assistant then I assume you already know the answer to that, and if you’re here to ‘retrieve’ me on their behalf then you’re going to do it anyway. The only real question is why you bothered asking me that in the first place.”
The faint smile that Apex had worn slowly faded and she slapped Peridot hard across the cheek for her answer.
“I don’t think you understand the situation properly, so let me make things clear to you. You are the one that’s committed the offence, and I am the one representing the Triumvirate: when I speak, you listen; when I ask you a question, you give me the answer that I’m looking for; and when I tell you to do something, you cooperate. If you think that there’s some hierarchy in effect here then you’re right, but know that you’re at the bottom of it, even though I’m a pearl. I bothered asking you the question because I was interested in your response, and I thought that talking about the reason for my visit would make you feel at ease. Obviously you’re not that kind of Gem.”
“And what kind of Gem am I?” Peridot asked contemptuously, still holding her cheek.
“A very lucky one,” Apex said enigmatically, “I’m in a good mood, so I’m going to give you some advice: the Triumvirate will probably find your spirit entertaining, if not endearing; just try not to take it too far.”
“Noted.” said Peridot angrily.
“Good. Now for the next few hours the other pearls and I are going to be watching over you; bear in mind that your body doesn’t have to be intact for you to get where we’re going, if you try my patience I will destabilise you. Okay?”
“I’m glad we’re on the same screen now. Let’s go.” said the pearl, rising from her seat.
Peridot saw one advantage to the secure room: being there meant that she wasn’t being imprisoned in an object, and that meant that she’d be leaving soon. Relatively soon…
Whenever soon was…
On the way to the Authority’s headquarters Apex had told her that the pearls of White and Blue Diamond had been sent to collect Bixbite, and that they should all arrive at roughly the same time. That was at least an hour and a half ago, though there was no clock on the shiny black walls of the room to verify her estimation. She hadn’t said anything, but Peridot could tell that Apex was surprised that the others hadn’t appeared yet.
But their time together had raised Peridot’s opinion of the pearl: they were similar in their practical nature, and focused on the efficient completion of tasks. Though she still found her rather contemptible, and wouldn’t soon forget the slap that she’d given her, Apex wasn’t a clod. Their short and turbulent relationship had developed to the point where they could stand to play a game with each other; projected from her gem, the pearl created a holographic board, covered with holographic pieces, which the pair took turns in moving across the chequered space in an attempt to outsmart the other.
Peridot was winning (‘as expected’ she thought) five games to three, and was in the process of adding a sixth when a vertical slit appeared in the opposite wall. The two halves snapped away from each other, and into the room flounced a very well dressed, pink haired individual with her gem also in her chest.
From what Apex had told her, this was Étoile, White Diamond’s pearl.
“Uhhhhhhhh!” the Gem groaned theatrically, “I thought I was saving myself some work by going with her. That was a mistake! Next time I’m going with you.” she said, perching on the table near Apex.
Definitely White Diamond’s pearl…
“How did you get here?” she suddenly asked Peridot.
“…We walked, and took warp pads.” she answered warily.
Étoile cursed quietly under her breath. Apex looked very pleased.
“You seem to have a way with people, peridot; hopefully you have enough charm left for the Authority.” she remarked in a matter-of-fact way. Turning back to Apex she said: “literally that’s all I’ve heard all night. ‘Peridot this and Peridot that.’ Honestly, you’d think she was perfect from listening to the bixbite.”
Her attention was brought back to the wall again as the split reappeared, and two new people stepped into the rapidly crowding room: Bixbite’s long, red form on the left; and a shorter, whiter Gem with dark-orange hair on the right. Just as Apex had described, this pearl’s gem was in her forehead, and so by process of elimination this was Shell.
When she saw Bixbite, Peridot’s mouth stopped obeying her, and a smile she couldn’t get rid of took over the bottom half of her face.
“Apex, sorry we’re late, but after meeting Bixbite I felt compelled to hear her version of the story. And y—” Shell started.
“They can’t both be in the same room like this, Shell. They’re not supposed to have any contact with each other until they’ve each stood before the Authority.” Apex reminded her.
“It’ll be alright, if you’d been with us then you’d know that they aren’t at all likely to try and change their stories.”
“How do you know that?? You’ve not even spoken to the peridot.”
“I don’t need to.” said Shell with an air of finality. She smiled at Bixbite, who blushed, and then went over and whispered something in Apex’s ear. The big pearl sighed.
“Fine. But if something happens then it’s on you…”
“Yes, yes, alright.” she dismissed Apex. “Anyway Peridot, if you hadn’t already guessed, my name’s Shell. Bixbite has told us so much about you; it’s a pleasure to finally meet you, even under the circumstances.”