Rose opened the door wider for Ink, and together they walked back to where the pearls were waiting patiently.
“Series seven, I have some wonderful news: Rose Quartz has decided which of you to take back to the surface with her!” Ink explained gleefully. Her beaming smile was infectious, spreading across the faces of the assembled pearls in no time. “Ma’am, who have you chosen?” she asked, her desire to know which was the lucky pearl as overwhelming as any of the series sevens’.
“You’re all so very sweet. I wish I could take you all with me… But there’s someone that’s touched my gem in the short time that I’ve been here.”
She took a step closer to the pearls. Very gently, she laid her hand on the shoulder of the nervous, brilliant, exceptional pearl in the kimono. Looking deeply into her widened, light blue eyes, Rose asked her a question, a question she suspected no pearl had ever been asked before, and one she felt they shouldn’t need to be asked at all.
“Would you like to come to the surface with me?”
The room descended into silence.
The other pearls watched in awe, utterly transfixed by the scene in front of them.
The nervous pearl’s mouth fell open in stunned surprise.
Ink produced a handkerchief and wiped the tears from the corners of her eyes.
And for a good few moments, nothing else happened... until Rose’s soft, easy laughter broke through the silence and filled the air. The melodious noise brought everyone back to the room, ending the peculiar freeze frame.
“You look a lot cuter than I do when I make that face.” she said, chuckling as she removed her hand from the pearl’s shoulder. Her remark made the pearl blush furiously, this time a deep blue instead of the turquoise from before. She quickly closed her mouth and smiled shyly up at Rose, but still had yet to answer the question.
Setting aside her professional air, Ink addressed the pearl in a noticeably more familial tone than Rose had heard her use before. With an encouraging smile she quietly said, “Ummmm, Pearl? Aren’t you going to give her an answer?” as though it was only the two of them in the room.
She glanced at Ink briefly, returning her smile, but the nervous pearl was much too preoccupied with Rose to spare any more than that. Rose laughed again as the pearl turned back to her, looking up at her apprehensively, like she expected some trick to be revealed at any second.
“You don’t have to decide right now, if you need some—”
“No,” she said abruptly, cutting off the rest of Rose’s sentence — it was as though allowing her to finish would revoke the offer, “no ma’am, thank you, I’ve decided. I... I would be honoured to go to the surface with you.”
If someone had told her this morning that she would be here, at the Nacrarium, overflowing with joy because this pearl had agreed to go back to the surface with her, Rose would have laughed at them. But now that she was here, and it was actually happening, she knew that there was nowhere else she’d rather be — indeed, nowhere else she could even see herself being.
The pearl’s eager response delighted Rose so much because it came from her: any of the other pearls would have also said yes, as going to the surface was virtually the only thing they desired at this point, but the pearl she had chosen was different. Rose knew that she was sharp enough to have considered the very real possibility of being shattered for declining the offer (’because how much use could such an ‘impudent’ pearl ever be to a collector?’), which at a glance made her question seem needless, there being only one logical answer (for a logical pearl). But the question wasn’t needless, not to Rose; she loved the pearls, both as living things and as Gems, and as such she wanted to treat them with the esteem that they deserved. That was why she’d asked the question (despite its drawback), and the fact that the pearl had answered in the way that she had thrilled Rose to the deepest part of her gem.
She would have to thank Blue Diamond most sincerely (though nothing over the top, that might end with an increase in the already precarious familiarity between them. What a disturbing thought…) when she got back, because if not for her interfer… intervention, she would never have met her pearl, or realised just how urgently something needed to be done about the treatment of pearls at the Nacrarium.
‘She can wait for a while,’ Rose said to herself. What was important now was that her pearl would be returning to the surface with her because she wanted to, and not because she had to.
“Yes!” Ink exclaimed, clapping her hands together theatrically. It was her turn to blush when the assembled crowd turned to see what the exclamation was for. “Yes, well… Forgive me, but this, has never happened before. It’s just so exciting! Especially because it’s you, and unit 7.1.18. It’s just perfect!”
“Me and unit... 7.1.18? Is that significant?”
“Ma’am, you’re unlike any collector that I’ve ever had the pleasure of speaking with, and unit 7.1.18 is… special. I don’t know how to explain it. She’s nothing less than perfect of course,” she made sure to inform Rose, “but… It just feels right that you would pick her.”
“I see.” she replied thoughtfully, smiling fondly at the nervous pearl.
It certainly did feel right.
After a pause in the conversation, Ink turned to Rose’s pearl. “Unit 7.1.18, you’ll be leaving us pretty soon — if there’s anything you need to take with you, now is the time.”
The pearl gave a single nod of understanding and hurried off, disappearing around the curve of the circular room.
The ‘name’ that Ink had been using to address her pearl was getting to Rose, ’They’re people, not units of any number.′ she thought angrily. It irritated her because it was so degeminizing: in her department they used number codes to identify stars, planets and galaxies, and it appalled her that the pearls at the Nacrarium were being treated in the same way as the celestial bodies that she studied. Apparently, both groups were just ‘prospects’ or ‘articles of interest’ — not worthy of real names.
‘I have to calm down.’ she realised. But there were certain things — not too many, she thought, just the ones that truly mattered — that really inflamed her ire; the setup of the Nacrarium was now one of those things. It wasn’t Ink’s fault though, and Rose knew that there was nothing to be gained by directing her indignation at her.
“Series seven,” Ink continued to the remaining pearls, “thank you for cooperating with our guest, but there’s no reason for you to be here anymore. You may return to whatever you were doing before. Unless ma’am has anything else to add?”
“No thank you, Ink. That’s all.”
She felt bad at their curt dismissal, but there wasn’t anything more to add, she had already thanked and wished them well. Strangely, even though they were allowed to leave, the pearls stayed where they were.
“If it’s okay with you, we’d like to say goodbye to Pearl… to unit 7.1.18 before she goes, ma’am.” said one of the pearls in a strained voice.
This was the second time that Rose had heard unit 7.1.18 referred to as ‘pearl’ in a way that suggested it was more than an identifier. She wanted to know if that was her name, and if the pearls of the Nacrarium followed the same naming principles as other manufactured Gems.
She had already taken notice of the pearl that had spoken because she resembled the nervous pearl, but it was only now that she was in direct conversation with her that she realised how similar the two actually looked: they both had their gem in the middle of their forehead, they shared the same white skin, their eyes were the same shade of pastel blue and their faces were almost identical; however, this pearl had a shorter, narrower nose, and her eyebrows had a steeper angle, giving her resting face a more serious expression. The only major differences were cosmetic, in their clothes and hair (where Rose’s pearl wore her hair in a neat bob, this one wore hers in a fishtail braid) — if they were to dress like each other, Rose expected she might have trouble telling them apart.
“Of course you can say goodbye,” she said sympathetically. “You don’t need to ask; what sort of person do you think I am?”
“Thank you, ma’am.” said the pearl with a look of relief.
“What’s your name?”
“Unit 7.1.16, ma’am.”
“I couldn’t call you that — it’s a serial number, not a name. Ink and Moll have names, and you called unit 7.1.18 Pearl, didn’t you? Don’t you have a name like that?”
“Ink and Moll aren’t part of the collector exchange program, ma’am, so they were allowed to choose their own names. We call unit 7.1.18 Pearl informally, but her actual name is unit 7.1.18.”
So that was her name. ′Pearl,′ Rose turned it over in her mind. She found it odd: why would they call her Pearl when there were so many pearls in one place? Still, she found it far superior to her ‘actual’ name. If Pearl had an informal name then it was more than likely that all the series sevens did, Rose regretted not taking the time to ask them earlier.
“Oh. And what do they call you informally?”
“May I call you Shell?”
“Of course, ma’am.”
“You don’t need to keep calling me ma’am,” Rose explained; she turned to the group at large, “any of you. I won’t be offended so please, just call me Rose.” They vocalised their acceptance in unison.
“Good. Now, the rest of you, what do you call each other?” she said with interest.
Their names were simple, and it was easy to see where most of them might have come from: Red — whom she had spoken to before — Sunset, and Coral, probably named for their striking red, orange and purple eyes respectively (and Coral’s light pink skin); Anemone (who also happened to be pink) perhaps called that because of her short, brightly coloured curls of hair.
She found out that One had obtained her nickname not from being the only green pearl of the series, but because she was the only one that had been cultiured in arc four, wherever (and whatever) arc four was… It made Rose wonder how many arcs there were, and reminded her that the place was in essence a factory (albeit a high class one), just like the kindergartens.
The reappearance of Pearl concluded the introductions, so she didn’t learn how Sand or Shell had come by their names.
“Pearl, your friends want to say goodbye to you, so Ink and I will be outside when you’re finished.” Rose said to Pearl.
“Okay, yes ma’am.”
Rose led a mildly surprised Ink out of the room and the two waited outside of one of the stone doors. After a few moments had passed in silence, her long-suffering guide spoke:
“I know that the Authority is covering your exchange fee so this isn’t really relevant, but would you like to know the exchange fee for a member of series seven?” she asked excitedly.
Rose frowned, unimpressed that Ink thought that this was something she wanted to talk about. But she was curious — if a little afraid — what they thought the lives of the pearls were worth.
“Why not; what is the exchange fee?”
“Forty million lustre.” Ink said with pride.
“Would you like me to tell you something?”
“Yes please!” she said attentively.
“I don’t believe that a person’s worth can be described by something as simple as an ‘exchange fee’. There isn’t a price high enough for that.” Rose told her. Her short declaration had the intended effect, because after Ink got over her initial shock she went quiet, gazing ahead in a thoughtful sort of way.
Rose smiled briefly — you really couldn’t put a price on people… but if they were going to try then forty million lustre sounded like a passable place to start.
After five minutes or so of silent waiting, Pearl came out of the room.
“I’m sorry to have kept you waiting, but I’m ready now, ma’am.”
“You don’t need to apologize. I hope you didn’t rush your goodbyes.”
“No, ma’am. They were as long as they needed to be.”
“Okay. And I asked the others to call me Rose; I’d like you to as well.” she said, smiling at Pearl.
“Ink, I think it’s about time we were leaving.” Rose prompted.
For the most part their descent was filled with Ink’s gossip about the few collectors that had come to Nacrarium in person, punctuated by the occasional ‘yes’ and ‘mhmmm’ from Rose. Apparently wrapped up in her own thoughts, Pearl elected to say nothing — something that didn’t trouble Rose at all as she knew there would soon be plenty of opportunity for the two of them to talk.
She remembered going up as taking a lot longer than coming down, the five floor trip they made to the second floor didn’t feel as long as it really was (though between the three of them, the amount of excitement in the air hardly made it surprising).
“You’re back!” Moll said happily as the three of them approached the central counter, “And you picked unit 7.1.18! She’ll be a lot of use to you in particular, ma’am: she’s very knowledgeable, she likes to read.”
“I’ll keep that in mind, thank you Moll.”
“You’re welcome, ma’am. I hope you didn’t have any difficulty in making a selection…”
“No, Pearl made it very easy. I couldn’t see myself leaving without her.”
“Awwww! That’s wonderful! I’m very happy for you both.” said the blonde Gem with a dazzling smile. Focusing more on Rose, she went on: “I’m sure you’d like to leave as soon as possible, but I just need to add a few things to our records and then you two can be on your way.”
“Okay.” said Rose.
“Great.” she said, sitting on the chair in front of the computer. Leaning forward, she reached into a draw that Rose couldn’t see; when she found what she was looking for, she sat back up and handed Ink a shiny, black rectangle, topped with a small greyish-white cube.
“Thanks.” she said, accepting the device. She pressed a hidden button on its side, bringing it to life: the cube began to glow, and a blue dot appeared underneath it to the left. “Pearl, could you tilt your head towards me, I just need to check your gem.”
Pearl lowered her head so that her pearl faced Ink directly: the device was held in front of her gem, causing it to glow and the device’s dot to flicker. Blue text rained down the screen of the rectangle and Rose looked on with curiosity at the strange spectacle. Near the end of the process a red light appeared next to the blue one, with some red text accompanying it on the screen.
“Okay, Pearl, you can look up now. Moll, take a look at this.” Ink said, moving closer to the counter to show her something on the screen.
“Oh… What is it?” Moll asked in a mystified tone.
“I don’t know.” she replied, similarly amazed. “Pearl, can you come over here please?”
Rose felt as nervous as Pearl looked; she had no idea what was going on, and hoped that whatever they’d found was nothing to be concerned about. When Pearl had moved over to the counter, Ink pointed to something on the screen:
“This article, the computer doesn’t recognise it. Do you remember being asked to store anything unusual in your gem?” she asked.
“…No, nobody asked me to…” admitted Pearl. Rose noticed the trouble she was having meeting Ink or Moll’s eyes.
“Oh, Pearl…” Ink said in a quiet, slightly fearful way. “You need to tell us what it is.”
“Yes, I’m sorry… It’s… It isn’t on the database because I made it…”
“You made it?” “What does it do?” the older pearls asked incredulously.
“It’s a game I read about; I made a board and pieces for it. You play with another person and advance your pieces around the board. You have to capture as many of theirs as you can while simultaneously protecting your own…”
“Pearl, you’re not supposed to do things like this, and you know you’re not allowed to take items that haven’t been accounted for to the collectors.” Moll said sternly.
“I know… I just thought that maybe someone might want to play…”
“I’m sorry, but you know I’m going to have to take it off you anyway. …I don’t even know wh—”
“Wait! We could ask Rose what she wants to do about the game, and about Pearl! I mean, all the checks are for the collectors’ benefit, and Pearl’s collector is here.” interjected Ink. Moll turned from Pearl to look at her in surprise, and then at Rose, who gave her a friendly smile.
“Rose?” Moll asked tentatively.
“Yes?” she said, confirming that it was okay for the pearl to address her like that.
“Is this… a problem for you? Would you still like to take unit— would you like to take Pearl with you?”
“Oh absolutely; leaving her here is totally out of the question.” Rose replied in a firm yet warm tone, making it clear to everyone that this hadn’t changed her mind at all. Truthfully she was proud of her pearl again: a willingness to bend — or even break, as it was — the rules was a quality she admired.
“And the game that she has stored in her gem, would you mind if she brought it with her?”
“Hmmm. I don’t see why there’d be any problem with that… as long you teach me how to play.” she answered, grinning at Pearl, who looked very pleased at the outcome of the conversation.
“Oh yes, definitely.” she said.
“Well then, that’s fine. Rose, let me get you something.” Moll suggested.
With everyone else in such high spirits, Moll seemed to realise that there was no need to be so serious. She walked from where she was to the opposite side of the counter and back, producing a small, pale green book upon her return. “Please accept this short guide on pearls, compliments of the Nacrarium!” she said, thrusting the book at Rose enthusiastically.
‘Instruction manual.’ was the only thing that Rose could think of as she briefly flicked through the book. Deciding that there was more to be found out about Pearl by talking to her that by reading any book, she closed it; there was little doubt that Pearl knew everything about herself that was covered in it anyway, and she was confident that Pearl would show her anything important when she felt comfortable doing so. Any of her gifts not mentioned in the book, well… they’d find them together, wouldn’t they?
Rose’s transition from Blue Diamond’s office to the Nacrarium had been so rapid that she hadn’t had time to get her bag — fortunately, Pearl offered her a solution before holding the little book became tiresome:
“Excuse me, Rose. Would you like me to store the book for you?”
“If you don’t mind, that would be very helpful. Thank you.” she said, handing the book to Pearl.
Like before, she carried out a sequence of arcane hand gestures and light began to radiate from her pearl. Rose didn’t think she would ever get tired of the little show, thoroughly entertained as Pearl brought the now glowing book up to her forehead and made it disappear into her pocket dimension.
“Everything is complete now; you and Pearl are all ready to go!” Moll announced.
“Thank you, Moll. And thank you for all your help, Ink. You’ve been a very informative and patient guide. I hope that one day that we’ll meet again.”
“Thank you,” she said with a curtsey and a huge, satisfied smile, “but I was just doing my job. And I hope so as well.” After hugging Pearl (who’s awkward response made Rose laugh) she said to her, “It’s sad to see you go, but I’m really glad that you’re going with Rose… You’re going to be a tribute to your name on the surface, I know it.”
Moll also hugged Pearl, leaning over the counter to do so. “Bye, Pearl. I’m going to miss you, and our conversations, and your dancing. I’ll never forget you.”
“Goodbye, both of you. And thank you for everything.” said Pearl.
“You’re welcome.” they said together.
Rose began to walk away from the counter to the central part of the room, which hid the slope to the first floor.
“Rose, don’t you want to warp back to the shore?” called Ink.
“No, thanks. I’d like to take a walk with Pearl.” she called back.
The Nacrarium’s imposing, intricate gate closed behind them, leaving the pair alone on the long thoroughfare back to the beach. At last, it was just Rose and Pearl.
Pearl’s reverent contemplation of her surroundings did not go unnoticed to Rose: her eyes darted around, drinking in everything the ocean had to offer. It was so simple, yet one of the most beautiful things that Rose had ever seen.
“It’s extraordinary isn’t it? To think that these are the first steps of our adventure together… How do you feel?”
“I feel… complete. I’m excited... to finally be out here, with you. I want to be useful. I—”
Rose watched as Pearl raised her hand to her eye and quickly ran her fingers across it with a loud sniff. She wasn’t as good at hiding it as she probably thought she was, because Rose could plainly see that she was crying. They only managed a few more steps before Pearl stopped, quite without warning, and brought her hands up to her face: she shuddered, and the quiet of the path was interrupted by the breathy, uneven sounds she made.
For the moment it didn’t matter why she was crying, only that she was. Instinctively, Rose moved to comfort the smaller Gem, gently guiding her hands away from her face, before encircling her in her arms, drawing her into a warm embrace. From the way that Pearl stiffened in surprise Rose expected that this was a relatively new experience for her, but she got the hang of it soon enough, putting her arms around Rose’s middle and holding onto her tightly.
“It’s alright… Everything’s going to be alright, you just let it all out.” Rose said soothingly, stroking her hair as the pearl sobbed into her dress.
They stayed like that for a long time. It was a small thing to be able to comfort her, but Rose understood just how important the small things were sometimes. She was willing to spend as long as necessary cradling her new friend if it would make her feel better.
Finally, Pearl let go of Rose. Rubbing the last tears from her eyes she said:
“Thank you. I’m sorry, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I don’t normally do things like that… There’s just so much, all at once… and it —and you, you’re just so different from what I expected, but you’re so much more: you’re so considerate, even though you barely know me…”
“I don’t need to know you to be considerate. You’re alive and you have feelings, that’s what counts. …But what were you expecting?” she asked, curious to know how Pearl had imagined her before today.
“Umm…,” Pearl hesitated, colour coming into her cheeks, “I expected a collector more in keeping with the archetype… but you don’t treat us like they’ve always taught us the collectors would.”
“Pearl, from now on I don’t want you to think of me as your collector, because you’re not a ‘thing’ to be collected by anyone. I know how proud you must be to be a pearl, but that isn’t all you are: you’re a Gem at the same time — a unique, complicated person. That’s how I see you, and that’s how I’m going to treat you.”
On hearing those words Pearl looked happier than Rose had seen her all day (even if she did look like she’d been crying…). “Okay.” she said firmly. Rose could see the gratitude on her face and in her eyes. She wondered if she was going to cry again.
Then there was a break in the conversation, long enough for Rose to remember that she’d wanted to find out if the origin of Pearl’s name was as obvious as it sounded (something she doubted highly, knowing what she knew about her).
“Shell told me that they call you Pearl, so I’ve been calling you that because I didn’t like unit 7.1.18: it just sounds… wrong. But is that okay? Is Pearl what you’d like to be called?”
“Pearl is just an informal name, you wouldn’t have heard it if you hadn’t made a personal visit. The collector is supposed to give us a new name, if they wish to…” Pearl admitted sheepishly. “Are you… going to give me a new name?” she added cautiously.
‘You haven’t answered the question, you silly thing.’ Rose thought. But she was prepared for this kind of answer from her at this stage: she didn’t know how long Pearl had lived at the Nacrarium, but it was probably long enough that she wouldn’t change her thinking in a single afternoon. She switched to a different angle:
“Why do they call you Pearl?”
A faint swathe of turquoise crept across Pearl’s face, and she eyed Rose nervously before responding.
“Sometimes I… I compare myself to the others. I’m one of them, because we’re all part of the same series, but it doesn’t feel that way. I asked them to call me Pearl because I’m sure that’s how it works on the surface: you’re Rose Quartz because of your gem, I picked Pearl because of mine. It reminds me that I’m still one of them, even though I’m… different. That I am fit to be part of the program.”
“I thought your informal name might have a deeper meaning than your actual name.” Rose said after listening to what Pearl had said. “And no, I was never going to give you a new one, and it turns out that you didn’t need one. You already have one, a good one.”
Pearl gave her a big smile.
“But you could think of Rose Quartz as an informal name as well, it’s just a shortening of my full name.”
“What is your full name?” asked an interested Pearl.
Rose went through her name with her, using it to illustrate the conventions of naming for naturally formed Gems. When she had finished and Pearl didn’t respond, she was going to ask if she wanted her to explain again, but it turned out that Pearl had not only understood her, but applied it to herself:
“Pearl the Unfaceted, of the House of Quartz, of the Nacrarium, Series Seven, Arc One, Number Eighteen. Would that be correct?”
“There isn’t really a ‘correct’ when it comes to names, but it certainly fits well. Except… I don’t think that there’s ever been a pearl in the House of Quartz before…”
Pearl looked disappointed.
“Don’t worry, there isn’t a rule against it — you could be the first! But you don’t have to, you know. I don’t expect that pearls have an identifier like that, you could create your own if you wanted.”
“If it’s okay, I’d like to take on that part of your name… in honour of you choosing me.”
“You’re so sweet, Pearl. But me choosing you is only half the story; you accepted… Really, we chose each other. I’ll tell you what, we’ll share it; it’ll be our name. How does that sound?”
“It sounds perfect.”
“I think so too. It’ll be late when we get back though, so tomorrow I’ll make some time for us to go the Registry and have you inducted.”
Pearl looked at her adoringly, and the pink-haired Gem carefully wiped the new tear that had begun its journey down her face. Though it was a tear of joy, Rose could feel that there was still something worrying her.
“What’s the matter, Pearl?” she asked softly, looking into her vivid blue eyes.
“Nothing… I’m fine, really.” she answered, her smile letting Rose know that she was okay. “It’s just… what am I going to do on the surface?”
“You mean, for me?”
“I was hoping that you’d be interested in what I do — you could help me and my team with our work.”
“Yes. I’ve already seen how intelligent you are, and I think you’d be a real asset, given a few years to learn from us. The engineers especially would love you.”
“Oh… thank you!” Pearl said, blushing her now characteristic blush at the compliment. “Yes, I’d like to help you, I’ve always been interested in space, and space travel. I’ve been trying to learn, but the books at the Nacrarium don’t go into enough detail about most of the necessary subjects. Collectors don’t expect us to learn things like that.”
“The collectors have never met you before. If they knew what I knew they’d adjust their expectations very quickly. …Have you ever worn a jumpsuit before?”
“Is that… relevant?” asked Pearl, puzzled by the apparently random nature of Rose’s question.
“It is if you’re going on a starship.” Rose replied. She had to laugh at Pearl’s wide-eyed reaction to the statement; the hope that she meant what Pearl thought she was suggesting was unmistakable. She continued:
“In about a year, we’ll be going to have a closer look at some planets in this beautiful spiral galaxy we’ve been studying. The journey will be quite long, but you’re really enthusiastic, and I’d hate to have to leave you so soon after we’ve met. I’d like you to come with us, what do you think?”
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