A fight with the Crystal Gems has left Peridot cracked within an inch of her life. Trapped on Earth, with no one and no way to get home, Peridot's all but given up hope. But she doesn't know the lengths Steven is willing to go to in order to keep her alive.


16. 16

Cinnabar entered the control room with a presence larger than her physical body. She moved with a weight, a pulling, draining, sparking atmosphere that lit like a match in the minds of everyone else on the ship. They hadn’t dared to speak to her since she re-entered. They hadn’t dared to look at her.

Cinnabar’s twitching hand contracted, then loosened. Her blade dropped to the floor with a damning thock. Howlite stiffened at the noise. She kept forward, kept focused, keenly aware that she was the only in the control room: Cinnabar made it two. Howlite inhaled, braced herself, and thought of a greeting to issue her commander.

She quieted instantly as Cinnabar threw herself at the nearest shelf of supplies.

Digital notepads, quadrant calculators, and radio transponders crashed in waves against the floor of the ship. Cinnabar’s motions became wild, each swipe at her hapless attendants’ equipment earning another strangled cry. Her hair had been whipped in all directions, peppered with salt and sand and ocean spray. Little Howlite crouched in on herself as she struggled, unblinking, to focus on the path ahead. Her world exploded around her as Cinnabar tore everything to the ground.

There came a pause in Cinnabar’s destruction. Howlite’s heart beat fast in her chest, though she didn’t dare to breathe, as three seconds of absolute silence sat between her and her commander.

“Why was the Rose Quartz gem not there?” Cinnabar finally asked. She spun, swung her arm to her gem, and resummoned her blade. It arced out in Howlite’s direction, who only squeaked at the air’s harsh shing. She turned to face Cinnabar with her back pressed against the controls.

“She…” Howlite swallowed in a desperate attempt to refind her voice. “…cracked, I-I guess? Sometime. It’s been—we haven’t visited Earth in 5,000 years. Who knows? Who knows really?”

Cinnabar kept her blade out, pointed at Howlite’s nose. Howlite’s eyes crossed as she focused on the weapon in her face.

“Why would Jasper say she had it then?! Jasper’s a moron, but she’s not stupid enough for that.”

“W-w-w-w-we could try and—I mean she’s here. In the ocean. Maybe—we can fish her out? And ask?”

Cinnabar’s sword hooked another arc. It caught the co-pilot seat and tore thick threads of foam out of its backing. The space had grown hot, cramped, wet—a modest, semi-circular room with hardly enough room for Cinnabar to stand. One-way glass coated the front, blipping dials and levers speckling the rounded dashboard. A dim red light swallowed the room, robbing saturation from everything. A singular smoke detector signal beeped passively overhead.

“I don’t care about Jasper. I care that she was wrong.”

“Maybe it’s a good thing?” Howlite tried. “If Rose Quartz were here, she probably could have beaten u—“ Howlite watched her superior spin in wild aggression and immediately shoved herself back against the control panel, hands splayed, “Ope, nope, nope, not what I meant. I didn’t meant that. I didn’t—“

“Shut up for once!” Cinnabar hucked her blade against the warping window at the ship’s front. It bounced off with a beveling clang, and Cinnabar used her now-free hands to grab at her hair. “I don’t care what you think!” Cinnabar could no longer stand still. She paced in circles, military boots clacking at each step.

“And that’s an excellent opinion, ma’am.” Howlite cocked a salute, her large eyes darting over Cinnabar top-to-bottom. She nodded her head, her one large curl bobbing with the motion.

Cinnabar stared down at her. Her eyes were wide, pupils small and thin. Her lip twitched, revealing gritted teeth. “Shut…up.

“Yes’m!” Howlite went stiffer. Her hand dug into her forehead in her maintained salute. Cinnabar passed another moment with her wide, acid glare on her underling before moving on. She stalked aimlessly, hands churning in the empty air.

“I have nothing. Nothing to show for this.” Her hands shot back to her hair, ripping through knots that had been twisted in by the ocean currents. “The cluster data? Just the cluster data!? That I was supposed to have four months ago.” She slammed her foot into the copilot chair. She spun with the motion, tearing its base right from the steel flooring. Howlite gave a strangled moan. “The ship is lost the Gems are lost like I could even return Yellow Diamond’s worthless Peridot now that she’s cracked to hell.

Her fist swung around next. It connected solidly with the glass at the ship’s front. Nothing cracked; it was designed to hold up against the vacuum of space. Nothing short of an enemy lasercanon would shatter it. The light dusting of blue sky was growing thin. Blackness encroached, the vast boundary-less emptiness of space. Damning, infinite, dead.

“And I have to report it! Every time I have to.” Cinnabar threw her arms down and out. Howlite lurched to the right, losing purchase in her seat and falling out. “I have to tell Yellow Diamond I’ve lost her ship, lost her Gems. For nothing! That falls on me, Howlite!”

Howlite scrambled back into her seat, nodding profusely. “I-I-I know, Ma’am. It’s a shame, Ma’am. I know it’s not your fault, though! I know you work hard, and don’t deserv—“

“I don’t care, Howlite.” Cinnabar took to pacing again. She skimmed her right hand along the sloping ceiling. The floor clicked with her movements, pale red and flashing under the barrage of control lights. It flooded both Cinnabar and Howlite in a wash of cold, dying crimson.

Cinnabar turned away. She held her arms stiff at her side. Silent.

“Ma’am?” Howlite asked.

“…Am I scared, Howlite? Am I a coward?”

“I—huh? No ma’am!” Howlite shook her head frantically. “Ma’am you’re lovely: fierce and brave and strong an—“

“Then why did I run?” Cinnabar moved her hands behind her back. She crossed them over each other, clinging together, tense. She kept her chin angled upward as she stared into the pale gray door leading into the ship’s interior. The direction of earth, the direction behind the ship.

“You didn’t run!” Howlite insisted. She hopped out of her chair, coming up to Cinnabar’s side. Her head only reached Cinnabar’s waist, no higher. “It was strategy.”

Strategy?!” Cinnabar didn’t move. Her pupils only shot to the bottom corner of her eyes, watching Howlite. “I left because a cracked, feral Gem got the better of me. She had me wrapped around her—aha!—her finger, one of the five she had left.” Cinnabar threw her head back and laughed. “I’m an idiot!  I left because of a few empty threats!? Why? Because Jasper’s waterlogged and Peridot’s hacked into pieces. They are nothing. I am in charge.

“Yeah, you’re way better than any of Yellow Diamond’s underlings!”

“What do you know?!” Cinnabar twisted on her heel and dug her palm into Howlite’s face as she passed, headed toward the control panel. “You fight with a slingshot. You don’t know anything about battle.”

“N-no I don’t know anything about battle, Ma’am! But it’s obvious you’re great! You’re so wise and strong and—what are you doing? Why are you touching that? Ma’am? Ma’am?”

Howlite twisted her hands together, drawn up to her chest as she watched Cinnabar tear through the controls.

“The ship’s laser—where is it?” Cinnabar demanded.

“Y-ya know, by interstellar treaty, we should have at least one authority signing off permission before we activate—“

“Where is it, Howlite?”

“Second panel!” Howlite answered, shielding her arms over her head. She kept her eyes shut a moment before glancing back to her commander. She had hardly a moment to prepare before Cinnabar spun the wheel 180 degrees. The entire ship rocked to the side, careening suddenly in a circle as its path redirected. Cinnabar wasn’t fazed by the shift. She threaded her fingers into the projected control, tearing through in search of access to the laser.

Howlite braced herself against the pilot’s chair. A slurry of beeping and screaming alarms sounded overhead. They bled together into one mass cry of distress. The red-tinted room exploded with an array of blipping lights. They flashed like strobes, screeching and shrieking and dousing the room in hot spurts of white light. Together, together, all at once, as the ship sensed its internal hijacking.

They flashed along Cinnabar’s face in glimpses. Like a stop motion film, her smile stretched wide over thin cheeks. Her eyes turned large, pupils pin-points. Howlite caught one last still-life image of her commander as Cinnabar readied the laser.

“Like I said…Die here!” Cinnabar announced, and clamped her palm around the trigger.

“What? …What?!” Amethyst trudged back through the sand. Her feet carved streaks in the beach, until she stood face-to-face with Tourmaline. “Earth to Tourmaline! What’d the hands say?”

Tourmaline only turned to her with glassy eyes. They spared a moment to glance to the sand, at the mechanical arm they’d dropped.

“…She’scomingback,” Tourmaline all but mouthed. Their whole body rocked with the raw wall of hatred and manic glee that had pulsed through the radio connection. They’d caught just a glimpse of Cinnabar—eyes wild, ship lights exploding in flashes, dredges of emotion from her one terrified underling—the sharp chills of it still tingled in their limbs. It turned Tourmaline’s tongue to lead.

“English, buddy.” Amethyst snapped her fingers in Tourmaline’s face. “Use your words.” Amethyst’s eyes flickered to the sky. They shot wide as the speck of the ship in the air whirled around.

“She’s. Coming. Back,” Tourmaline repeated. They turned, legs dredging through the thick, cold, wet sand. Aimless, aimless wandering back to the shoreline. “She’s angry—furious—wants to blast us to pieces a-and enjoy it. She doesn’t care what we might do. She’s past caring. I don’t… I don’t…”

It was Pearl at their side then, her thin arms steadying Tourmaline’s shoulders. Her head was cocked to a 90 degree angle, locked on the blooming ship. “O-okay. What else? H-how much time do we have? We can think of a plan. We can work this through.”

Orrrrr we could high-tail it the hell out of here.” Amethyst danced on spot. Her legs hopped up and down in agitation. The sky was bleeding back to a steady hot red; the air started to ignite. “We can’t fight a ship. Not from here!”

“We cannot run. There isn’t enough time,” Garnet answered. Her gauntlets flashed to life along her hands, as if of their own accord.

“Tourmaline, come on! You’re the psychic! What’s Cinnabar’s weakness, huh? Where’s the weak spot on ol’ Death Star up there?!” Amethyst was at Tourmaline’s other side. She clamped her hand to Tourmaline’s shoulder, rocking it aggressively. Tourmaline only wobbled with the force. Tourmaline didn’t answer, not at first, as they shook their head.

“I-I-I-I-I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know…” Tears sprung up unbidden in Tourmaline’s eyes. Their breathing grew fast, shallow, overwhelmed by the sudden panic that surrounded them. Support vanishing, they crashed to their knees. Tourmaline’s head sunk low, eyes to the sand. “I dunno know I don’t I don’t We don’t have time she…” Tourmaline breathed in deep, slamming their fist down on Peridot’s dropped arm. It fizzled with a burst of static, a puff of smokey exhaust. “Her thoughts. I-I-I don’t want to see them. Stop it. Stop them. Please. Please.

“Pearl, pick Tourmaline up,” Garnet ordered, though her instructions stopped there. She kept her feet spread, staring the ship dead-on. It bloomed larger, and a sharp green light ballooned from its tip.

Pearl nodded, crouched to Tourmaline, but drew her hands back when Tourmaline got up of their own accord. Tourmaline looked to Pearl, and the panic had faded entirely from their eyes. The new expression was brighter, calmer, meeker.

“Hey Pearl.” They glanced up to the blooming ship, eclipsing the sun. “So uh…I guess that didn’t really go right?”

Pearl watched, silent, analyzing.

Steven?” she asked. Without waiting for an answer, she wrapped herself around the Tourmaline body, squeezing for all she was worth. She shut her eyes, pressing out two thin streams of tears.

“Y-yeah. Tourmaline needed a break. It’s me now.” Steven returned the hug one-handed. He let it last only a moment before he drew it away, placing the palm of his hand into the sand below. He pushed himself back into a standing position. It took him two uncertain steps to find his balance; Pearl released him.

“Yeah, so, are we running or what?!” Amethyst’s too-wide eyes shot from Steven, to Garnet, to Beach City. She paced a rut, hardly a foot wide.

“We don’t need to.” Steven’s voice was drowning steadily. The roar of the returning ship crescendoed, filling their ears, blocking out the sun. It whipped up a steady storm of sand. He glanced among the Gems with cracked eyes. “I thought of a plan.”

Pearl took to aggressive nodding. She summoned her spear and clamped it close to her chest. “Good, good, and?!” Her eyes flickered to the ship, barreling forward. It shrieked with the charging laser at its tip.

“We do the same thing we did last time. Duh.” Steven, in Tourmaline’s body, twisted his body to look at the Gems. His whole face was heavily contoured in shadow, the edges of his body haloed in the blooming white light of the ship. Tourmaline’s hair whipped around his face, and the horizon turned to blinding white light.

Steven lifted his only arm, toward the ship, head still turned to the Gems. He smiled at them, as Tourmaline’s shield appeared in a shrieking blaze. Rectangular, octagonal, stretching, beveling, coalescing at the center with tangling vines. It expanded far past its original barriers, until it covered all four Gems with ease.

“Are you nuts?!” Amethyst thrust her arms out, head shooting left and right. “Pearl, Garnet, c’mon. We’re running! Look at the ship. That’s nuts. That’s nuts. Steven’s gonna die.”

Two thin streams of tears eked from under Garnet’s glasses. They evaporated instantly in the maelstrom of sand and heat and sound. “…There is nothing else we can do,” she all but whispered. Her gauntlets vanished, arms going slack at her side. “We can’t run…”

Steven offered a singular smile, a wink to Pearl, who’d clamped her hands over her mouth. “So lemme try.”

Almost reluctantly, he turned his head back to the encroaching ship. He squinted against the blinding light, his face a mask of pure white and sharp shadow. The surroundings bled to green as the laser hit its peak charge, shrieking, careening, crying.

Somewhere, in the ether of emotion assaulting Steven’s body, he felt Cinnabar clamp her hand around the trigger.

The charged laser exploded off its hold on the hull. It shot down like an arrow, ripping hot red streaks in the super-heated air it split. Building, screaming, sharpening to a single precise point at the tip.

The thing struck the Tourmaline shield with the force of a falling meteor. The impact was deafening. The sonic blast split off in all directions, churning up sand ten feet deep. The ocean itself blasted back from the shore at the connection.

The shield didn’t break. Instead the laser blast exploded and split. It rolled like crashing waves over the surface of the shield. Electricity arced and sparked in all directions, and at that moment, the surface of the shield was on fire. White, blinding, hotter than the sun.

The rolling blasts hit the shield’s edges, whipping up, and found themselves paralyzed in the crackling air. It was a singular moment, a fraction of a second, where all sound vanished.

Until the blast was steadily, magnetically, gravitationally sucked back down to the surface of the shield. It was dragged in spindling, spider-web arcs toward the very center of the shield. The energy coalesced there, warping the very space around it, for just a moment.

The same exact sound split the air a second time. A second sonic boom cascaded outward, a second blinding flash of light. The anomaly repeated itself, not from the impact of the blast

but from its release.

It retraced its path perfectly, and like the vacuum of sound that exists before the burst of a firework, a breathless, dead moment followed as it shot out to space.

and connected, the sound like a distant, muffled gunshot.

The ship’s exposed laser screamed as it exploded. White flames first, then blues, then red spread along the ship’s hull. The machine dropped like a stone, like a flaming shooting star, to the beach below. It gathered speed, gathered ferocity, a sharp whine careening over its surface. The Earth shook as the ship crashed fifty feet to the left of the Gems. An explosion of sand coated it, dousing the flames, and leaving a halo of glassy spikes ringing the near molten ship, smoking, sputtering, dying…

And it was then that Steven, like the ship, dropped into the sand.

All three Gems shot forward, Pearl filling the ringing static in their ears with one strangled “Steven!” The air grew sharp with the stench of gasoline. It had spiked several-hundred degrees, and shimmered with the aggressive heat. The atmosphere crashed inward on the Gems like a vice. For sound, only a steady crackle remained: the noise of the ship’s residual molten burning.

It was Garnet who reached him first. She grabbed the shoulders of Tourmaline’s body, flipping the fusion over. Steven stared out at them through his cracked eyes, now half-lidded, and smiled. He shut his eyes as his mouth opened.

“That….was the coolest thing ever. Being a fusion rocks.” He laughed, before falling into a stiff, suffocating silence.

Garnet jostled him. Amethyst and Pearl collapsed into the sand beside him.

“Steven?!” Pearl asked. She wrapped a hand over his cheek.

“Yo, Ste-man. Come on! That was way too wicked for you to go passing out on us now. I didn’t even tell you how cool it was!” Amethyst spoke through unblinking tears. She didn’t look at his face. Her attention, along with Pearl’s and Garnet’s, stayed fixed on Steven’s exposed stomach.

Somewhere behind them, an escape hatch to the ship crashed open. None of the Gems turned. None of the Gems acknowledged it. They drank in the thrumming silence, eyes set to Steven.

The Rose Quartz gem, still tinged green in the fusion, bore a singular, deep, vertical gouge down its center. It pulsed and flickered, uncertain how to route its energy after the shield blew it past capacity. It fizzled out instead. Boots made contact with the beach, out toward the ship.

Sunlight found purchase on the beach again, and the overheated sand surrounding Steven sparkled with an explosion of tiny, splintered gem shards.

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