So… Steven Universe, am I right?
This “Summer of Steven” has been a wild ride, opening audiences’ eyes further to the injustices going on on Homeworld, the internal struggles of the Crystal Gems, the increasing grey morality of everything, and how Earth and its inhabitants keep moving on through all of this. While the Crystal Gems are focused on the immediate problems on Earth—allowing Jasper to run around is probably not great for gemkind or mankind alike—today’s fic takes a look at the current situation from another point of view: the view of Homeworld’s Pearls.
Under the rule of the Diamonds, Homeworld lives and breathes by its extremely strict caste system—as we know already, Quartzes are soldiers, Sapphires are high-ranking mystics, Rubies are disposable grunts, and Pearls are no better than servants made for aesthetic purposes. The Crystal Gems are blatant threats to this system and supposed stability, but perhaps things back on Homeworld aren’t as set in stone as they seem. Little Rebellions by CompletelyDifferent focuses entirely on Homeworld’s Pearls and how they cope not only with their station in gem society, but how the actions off Homeworld are beginning to inspire something many Pearls never deigned to have: hope.
Rather than having a flowing chronological narrative, Little Rebellions is a set of small vignettes, each chapter focusing on a different Pearl or a different aspect of the culture the Pearls managed to cultivate despite their position. As in the title, most of the actions the Pearls take are small, subtle, largely ignorable by the upper crust who spend little time thinking about the Pearls in the first place. Yet the effect of these actions on gem society as a whole is largely unimportant. What’s more important are the deeply personal results that each Pearl goes through. There are stories about Pearls participating in “illicit” relationships with other gems, stories about Pearls learning to think beyond their station no matter how much it may scare them, lending helping hands when society dictates they should not, and many other actions that deepen the fissure that has been building on Homeworld for what I can only guess is millennia.
One of the vignettes I liked the best focused on a lilac Pearl who was specifically requested by a Morganite (in this universe, a Homeworld scientist). Their story gives a sense that it’s not only the Pearls who grow tired of the stagnancy on Homeworld, but also some of the higher ranked gems—albeit for different, not entirely humanitarian reasons. Additionally, it seems that while the Diamonds are trying to quash any ideas of flourishing, others are beginning to realize that a gem’s designation is not the end all and be all of their lives.
Morganite eyes close. And through the numbness, the horror, the embarrassment, Pearl feels anger rise. She should stay silent, should be quiet— but she can’t, and the words burst out of her. “Is this all I am?” she demands, yells. “Just— just a test? An experiment? ‘Sub-Optimal’?” She quotes the proposal; “An assessment into the possibility of adapting pearls to other roles in order to make their production more cost-effective?”
But what else could she be? What else could she have ever been? Pearls aren’t made to work in labs. They are made to dance, and sing, and hold things, and be pretty. Why else would they possibility assign her to a role from so far out of her field, if not as part of some grand experiment?
But she’d never even considered. She’d let herself get deluded into thinking she was something else— an inventor, a scientist, an equal—
“Pearl,” Morganite says. “I’m sorry.”
Pearl stops. Tense, faced flushed, she watches as Morganite falls into a seat at the nearest work table. The other Gem runs a hand of her face. “I should have realised you’d discover the truth. I should have told you. But… yes. You’re part of an experiment. An important one.
“There’s an… opinion, among certain groups of Gems. An opinion that the current system— the system of assigning each Gem type to a specific role, and only ever training them in that role— is limiting. That we could accomplish so much more, all of us, if only given the chance.
“I wanted empirical evidence. Irrefutable proof that Gems could learn roles outside their designated purposes. So I proposed a study to test my hypothesis. You’re part of that study.”
Pearl forces her voiced to be detached, clinical, when she asks, “Why a pearl?”
What she means is: why me?
“Practicality, foremost,” says Morganite. “I knew they’d never allow me to use a rare or highly specialised Gem for the test. Pearl duties are seen as non-essential, so they could afford to spare one. Not to mention that although Pearls are coveted, their rarity is artificially constructed. Pearls are, in fact, relatively fast to produce. Part of my proposal argued that, should pearls be proven trainable in other positions, new batches could be produced more quickly and efficiently than Gems of other types. It was a tempting prospect, one that they couldn’t turn down out-of-hand. And…” Morganite begins to say, but then she trails off.
Pearl narrows her eyes. “And what?”
Morganite sighs, again. The sound is heavy and bitter and wistful. “And there were… stories. Rumours, legends, almost. They say that there was once a Pearl who rose above her station— that she was a warrior, a scientist, and a general. I wanted to see if the results could be replicated.” Morganite droops, as though drained, exhausted. Her holds her head in her hands. “It was foolish.”
Pearl’s anger feels drained. She’s never seen Morganite like this. “It doesn’t seem foolish to me. Replicable results is the foundation of the scientific method.”
Morganite looks up, offers her a wan smile.
“So,” Pearl says, voice trembling a little. “Have the results matched your hypothesis?”
“They have.” Morganite stands, strides towards her, puts a hand on her shoulder. It’s the first time she’s ever touched her. “You’ve performed perfectly, Pearl. You’re intelligent, adaptable, quick thinking. You’ve proven yourself exceptionally capable.”
Pearl’s core burns with pride.
On Earth, the Crystal Gems are preparing for one of the biggest battles of their lives, but CompletelyDifferent asks the audience not to forget the smaller, but just as important acts of disobedience happening on Homeworld every day. Those Pearls that are regularly dehumanized and looked down upon still have their own hopes, dreams, and emotions, no matter how society has tried to tell them that these things don’t matter when you’re a Pearl (or any other lower caste gem). And this, in the end, will be Homeworld’s true downfall. As of now Little Rebellions has thirty out of a planned fifty-four chapters, and seems to be updating regularly. At around 24k words currently, CompletelyDifferent has brought so much worldbuilding to the table that it almost seems like a new series all their own. I’d definitely recommend checking out Little Rebellions here at AO3!