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Civil war had ravaged the Union for generations; still there was no end in sight. The battles frothed over the sides of peace and stability. There was no stopping it from boiling over. That was until BEAST, Battle Engineered Advanced Soldier Technology. The finest scientists of both sides contributed to the endeavor, all just wanting to end the conflict, and so five hundred of them were "born." Extensive tests were run to prove their abilities. Needless to say all of them passed these with flying colors. Still, through it all, they learned about themselves. They all had incredible endurance, strength. In appearance they were all fairly similar. All of them were shorter than average, but incredibly dense. Nano-bots coursed through their blood that gave them amazing powers of recovery, but had the slight down side of attacking, and destroying their bodies from the inside out if they were to have so much as a mutinous thought. It’s happened before, and it wasn’t a pretty sight.
They were unleashed on the unsuspecting Union’s soldiers with grim results. These less ethical soldiers were mixed in with the armies as the latest recruits. Battle after battle was fought, every time they would emerge victorious. The carnage left behind rarely included any of their own men. For ten years they existed this way, knowing nothing but their weapons and the fact that if they left they would be destroyed.
Finally there came a day that there was no need to fight. The cowed enemy had begun peaceful negotiations, which would most likely lead to their disadvantage. With this came the thought that they would be able to live away from the grief and pain that was associated with battle. But it was not so, the government no longer had any need for them. All of them were to be put away.
However their bodies would not allow the foreign invaders that were the Nano-bots in their bloodstream. Their immune system had destroyed them. With this came the realization that they were now free, the government's tenacious hold had finally loosened. This meant one thing, revolution.
With three hundred of them remaining they began their lengthy campaign against the rulers. Their small numbers would not do for an all out war; they would be destroyed with absurd ease by the millions that were at the call of the reformed Union. To be effective they would have to work in the shadows, install fear in the people, and when the moment was right begin the "removal" of key political figures. Unwittingly, their creators had not only given them abilities that made them such effective soldiers, but they also made them the perfect assassins. They exploited these talents again and again, doing all they could to make them regret that they had ordered them to be destroyed. But all good things have an end. The Union would not sit forever, twiddling their thumbs while they were so flagrantly abused.
They sat there, all of them, around a circular table. The table was supposed to make them all feel equal, but they all knew were the power really was.
He was small man with indistinguishable features that were forgotten as soon as you looked at them. That is except for his eyes. They danced with a flame that betrayed his true intelligence. He was Bane, the military dictator of the Union, or as he preferred to be called “Lord Protector.”
He had started life as the third son in a middle class family. All of his other siblings were content to remain were they were, but he, he had ambitions. All through his formal education his teachers recognized this, along with his genius, and many a time it was he who was the teacher. The doctors he visited were sent gibbering to their own hospitals, none could understand him. That is except perhaps himself. He entered politics in a fairly low position, but climbed quickly through the ranks due to his ruthless nature and natural cunning. All of it had brought him to the climax on which he now sat, ruling the Union with impunity.
Right now he sat with the lights dimmed, so that the only illumination came from the various pieces of technology in the wall that provided a greenish glow that made everything appear rather ominous. A man in a white lab coat was in front of him giving a report that he listened to with mild interest.
“Thhhhe nano-bbbbots thhhhhey have failed. The BEASTS immune system destroyed them,” he said with a voice that rose in pitch and speed as he spoke.
“Then you shall have to devise a new method for their removal,” Bane said with an air that bordered on indifference. He continued. “We can’t have the public knowing that we have meddled with human genetics, we will be thrown back into civil war.”
Clearly relieved that he had not received any punishment the scientist interjected, “What if we were to create another battalion of the troops? We would change their immune system; the nano-bots could be their immune system!” Suddenly remembering his place he fell once again into silence.
“You may leave,” Bane said. As soon as the door closed behind him Bane turned to one of his many body guards.
With out a word the bulky man left for his violent, but not unexpected duty. Anyone who displeased the Lord Protector so was soon to disappear.
“His last thought, on building another battalion of BEAST, it has some merit to it. We only have to work out the kinks with the immune system.” Suddenly he turned to the others.
“All in favor?”
Not a hand stayed down. When the Lord Protector asked for a vote, it was only because it was a nicety that had to be observed. With or without the other’s consent he would continue through with his plans. All thought it best to be on the winning side.
“Excellent,” Bane said with an evil grin.
Just then the sharp report of a pistol came to them.
“Aw, that must be our poor scientist, what a loss, but then he did fail me.”
But it was not as Bane thought, for even as the echoes of the shot died away, hundreds more rang out. The shriek of an alarm cut through all, flashing red lights began to activate adding their colors to the confusion, and a ten inch metal alloy door slammed shut, hissing as it sealed making the room airtight.
In the extra light from the alarm Bane saw something that chilled his blood. It was a BAD, Biological Annihilation Device. Quickly glancing about to see if the others had noticed it, he began to formulate a plan.
So paranoid was he that a small capsule had been disguised a molar. It served to counter almost any poison known to man. Hopefully it would keep the weapons agents from affecting him. He bit down. He received an unexpected result. He fainted.
His body guards and governors could only look on in shock at the slumped form of the present’s most powerful figure. They didn’t even notice the hiss as the BAD detonated, nor the noxious cloud of blue that came rushing at them. Only when they were consumed did they know, but by then it was far too late. With only the time for a strangled cry they died. Their bodies crumpled to the ground, blood cooling.
Minutes passed without movement. It was a strange sight, the corpses laying there with no mark upon them. They might have been asleep if it weren’t for the fact that no pulse beat in their exposed necks.
A gasp broke the silence as air was drawn into a pair of lungs; the heart resumed its natural tempo, and with this phenomenon came conscious thought.
The scientist had left the room, barely able to suppress is glee at finally having done it. All of those corrupt leaders would soon be mummified, an unfortunate side effect of a BAD.
The next step in the plan was to let in his little babies, his wonderful creations that were to destroy the destroyers. He had already contacted them, and if all went according to plan they would be waiting to flood the building. All that now had to be done was the simple opening of a door.
Quickening his pace to lessen the time to the fruition of his beautiful plan he failed to notice the stealthy movements of the behemoth of a man behind him. The body guard hit him at the nerve cluster at the base of the neck dropping him instantly. He bent down to pick him up and received a surprise from the weight of the body. Grumbling about the importance of a healthy life style he shifted the scientist into a more comfortable position, and set off for the nearest exit from which he could give the carcass back to mother-nature. Who said they didn’t care about the environment?
As he came with the body slung over his shoulders heads were quickly pulled back into doorways. They knew they were in the employ of a corrupt government, but tried to avoid looking at it head on.
He reached a door and punched in his access code and waited for the locks to engage.
“Curse this high security,” he mumbled to himself.
At last the door slid open, but instead of seeing the usual desert landscape that surrounded the facility he met the barrel of a pistol. There was flash of light and the retort of the weapon. The guard fell, blood spattering the wall behind him.
“Why did you have to shoot him?!” Zeta asked furiously.
“Would you rather he shot us?” Sigma countered.
Seeing no more point in arguing with Sigma’s stubbornness, Zeta fell silent. They entered the building. Quickly, they checked the corridors for enemies, and then signaled to the others to follow. Eight of their number slipped into the building, leaving the remainder of the BEAST army outside the facility. If it weren’t for the dead man adding his blood to the otherwise white hallways, all would have been going according to plan. They would have to hurry now.
To emphasize this point a patrol of guards came around a corner, and spotted them. Faster than thought they raised their weapons and fired into the men. The guards fell were they stood, looks of surprise just barely starting to appear on their faces. But the damage had already been done. The gunshots had finally attracted the attention of other security. Alarms began to add their voices to the confusion, and more guards came pouring around the corners.
The BEAST were equal to the task however, eliminating them with the same ease that they had the first few, but they couldn’t hold them off forever.
Sigma began issuing orders,” I’m taking a group into there to find that data. The rest of you begin planting the explosives. If we aren’t out in twenty minutes detonate them.”
Tau, Gamma, and Zeta followed Sigma into the building running low so as to minimize the target they presented. The other forty began walking the perimeter planting their explosives as they went, and scanning the walls for the omnipresent security cameras.
“Take a right here,” Gamma said, glancing at the GPS at his wrist.
The map of the institution was one of the many gifts that their scientist had provided, but nobody had felt sorry for his death. In letting in the BEAST he had only been working for his own personal gain.
They saw no guards as they ran. With their history of assassination, the men would most likely be guarding their lieges. Still it was rather disconcerting when the loudest sound that could be heard was breathing.
Finally Gamma’s GPS led them to a locked door. Sigma raised his weapon to blow it aside.
“No!” Zeta hissed, “Do you want to bring them down on our heads?” Zeta pushed Sigma aside and began examining the keypad next to the door. In that moment Gamma thought he saw a dark look pass over Sigma’s face, but it was gone to quickly for him to know what he had really seen.
Then they were in. Hurriedly Tau ran to the computer bank, and began hacking his way in.
All of the BEAST had been given knowledge of computers, but Tau had been the one who truly excelled with the machines.
He pulled up screen after screen, while the others guarded the entrance.
Finally a cry of success came from Tau, and he pulled out a memory storage device. While the file loaded he impatiently drummed his fingers on the desk top.
“Will you stop doing that!” Zeta said, “I think I hear someone coming.”
Sure enough the tramp of feet could be heard approaching the door. Their game was up. Glancing at the monitor, they all saw that it was only half synced. They would have to fight.
Sigma began the battle with a grenade. The resulting explosion along with the cacophony of dying men told of its success.
While the after affects of the explosive were still being resolved, Gamma and Zeta leapt out into the corridor, turning the first wave into bloody shreds with their weaponry.
“That thing almost done?” Gamma yelled amid the roar of gunfire.
“Nearly,” Tau shouted back, barely glancing from the screen.
“I got it, I got it,” he shouted suddenly.
“Alright let’s blow this place,” Sigma said, “cover your eyes.”
Without further explanation he lobbed another grenade at the guards. The others were ready and as soon as the flash grenade detonated they sprinted past the confused guards.
“Where’s Zeta?” Sigma asked suddenly.
All of the others made noises of surprise that is except for Gamma. He continued to run his expression unchanging
Sigma noted this, but decided it wasn’t the time. We’ll deal with this later.
They continued running, and where ever resistance was met it was quickly dealt with. Coming around a corner Sigma crashed head on into Zeta. In a tangle of limbs, both went down. Quickly they extricated themselves and raised weapons, only to realize who the other was. With nothing further they began the sprint once more for the exit.
They reached the door, and Sigma blasted it aside. There was no longer any need for secrecy.
The landscape the emerged in was in chaos. A battle raged with the BEAST hopelessly out numbered. They were bravely defending themselves, sending sprays of bullets into the oncoming enemy, but it was hopeless. Sigma could see it even now. While being super human their blood could still be shed like any other man’s.
“RETREAT!” Sigma shouted, “TO THE BASE!”
As much as he hate to it was necessary, he wouldn’t throw away their lifes. He radioed the small fleet of vehicles they had kept in hiding in case they were in need of an escape. It would take precious minutes for them to reach them here. He leapt back into the fray, sighted down the barrel of his automatic rifle and fired. Streams of bullets leapt into the vital organs of the enemy, like marionettes with their strings cut, they fell before him. With grim satisfaction he saw his comrades acting in a similar manner. Heedless of their loses, the combatants kept rushing on, as inexorable as the tide.
In the confusion Gamma set off about the business of disabling the bombs, Zeta had given the orders himself. For what reason he could not guess, but he trusted Zeta and that was enough.
From his vantage point the charge of the Union soldiers appeared surreal, like homing pigeons returning to their masters. The front ranks dissolved from the defending fire of the other side. Their end only heralded by the flash of a shot, and the rifles report. From behind the slew of rebel vehicles opened fire, the turrets thundering into the backs of the unsuspecting soldiers. They were clearing a path through crazed mass of enemies to their beleaguered comrades.
How pointless it all seemed. Each and every one of those men had their own pasts and dreams; yet here they were anonymous, defined only by the uniform they wore. For these were the soldiers of the Union; and they would live or die at the command of a single man. With Zeta this would all come to an end, this destroying of lives to decide conflicts. It was ironic then how so many would have to die to make this possible.
Gamma finished with his sabotage of the bombs and returned to the battle, his own weapons adding to the carnage. They needed to get out of here before the Union’s heavy artillery was rolled out. The jeeps arrived at last, barely holding the enemy at bay with their powerful mounted turrets. Using the covering fire, the vehicles were quickly filled.
“How is it goin Gamma?” the driver asked mockingly.
“Oh, you know the usual, now just shut up and drive Theta!” Gamma retorted
“Yes your royal highness,” he answered in the same vain as before.
The jeep leapt forward, with the wills spinning, and turrets thundering. Those who were not cut down by the powerful gun were literally overrun by the vehicle. All was going well, or as well as could be in the circumstance. They were at least getting out of here in one piece, and more importantly they had the data.
“How much farther to the base?” Gamma asked.
“About twenty miles, we’ll be there in twelve more minutes,” the driver answered. The radio crackled, “This is Tau, we made it out! Are you guys still up there?” Before they could respond a large blip appeared on the radar.
“Ambush! Ambush on the main road! Abort Course! Abor-”
He never finished the sentence. A missile rocked the earth; in the epicenter was the vehicle. All that was left was a smoldering crater with unrecognizable parts of bodies scattered about. The VHAD pilot responsible for the destruction allowed himself a brief smile then fired again. Oh how he loved to play this game.
As soon as the object had appeared Gamma threw himself from the vehicle and began sprinting for cover. He wasn’t a second to soon. The concussion of the blast caught him and threw him through the air. He landed with what would have shattered the bones of a man; instead he succeeded in twisting his ankle. Cursing, he leapt to his feet, looking for other survivors. To his relief he saw that Theta, Epsilon, and Rho had seen the danger and made it clear.
The group continued down the road with Gamma leading the way. They had to make it to the base.
Nerves were stretched taught as they continued weapons raised, ready to shoot at the slightest sound out of the ordinary. Eventually the inevitable happened. A rabbit startled Theta, and he opened fire, his bullets throwing the now dead animal to the ground. Before it had hit the ground the fleas that had nestled in its fur were jumping ship. Gamma couldn’t help but think of how they were like that. Like the fleas who abandoned their useless host, they moved on to burden another. But unlike these insects, Sigma had the idiot idea of trying to return. There was no reviving a dead world.
Gamma was drawn out of his reverie by Theta, who was clearly acting as if the embarrassing moment had not happened.
“You think anyone else made it out of there?”
“Only their ashes,” Epsilon answered bitterly.
The group fell once more into silence. There was just the endless thudding of their feet and the intake of breath.
On either side of the road were rolling sand dunes. Though, while seeming beautiful, the sand masked something dangerous. In places there were sink holes that were the size of a mountain. Once drawn into a sink holes influence nothing would be able to rescue you. The road was the only way in or out. This was unfortunate for the escapees, as it left them terribly exposed. They had only been able to make it in due to the help of the renegade scientist. With him dead they would be at the Union’s mercy if they were found.
“Hit the ground,” Rho hissed suddenly. With instincts born of necessity the entire group dropped soundlessly to the road.
“Take a look,” he said, and handed a pair of binoculars around. A trio of VHAD sat there, nearly a mile away, malevolent intentions practically radiating from them. All of them sat facing them, effectively barricading the road. The vehicles had been designed in the early days of the country’s civil war. They wore an armor created by a technology that was unknown even to the BEAST. This armor while it made the vehicles incredibly slow, was nigh impenetrable. For all this there was still another flaw than just the lack speed. If a soldier were able to get close enough, the hatch could be opened, and those inside would be killed. This was all but impossible though, as they were usually surrounded by foot soldiers. In their absence the VHAD could utilize its most painful weapon, the fire cannon. The cannon fired a spherical shell into the midst of an opposing army, and the shell would burst, spraying all those in the vicinity with a jelly that ignited on contact with air. First to go would always be the eyes, the gelatinous orbs would melt and run in boiling streams down the dying persons face, while they screamed in pain. In the panic from losing his sight the victim would begin shooting his own comrades, and the rest of the army would turn on its self. When they had first been introduced in the war, entire battles had been won by ten of their number.
The group of BEAST that saw them knew all this but they were already set on destroying them. Revenge would be extracted no matter how painful. Gamma as the senior of the others was in charge.
“Surround them, once were all in position I’ll signal, and then we rush them. We’re going to hi-jack the one in the middle. For the other two you all know what to do, grenade down the hatch.”
They separated, careful to remain outside of the vehicles’ radar, even though Gamma doubted that something as small as a person would register. Safety first, he thought sarcastically. Just to make sure that they were all in position, Gamma gave the others another minute. Once he was assured of their readiness he spoke into his walkie-talkie.
“Go! Go! Go!” he shouted.
They had all made it nearly an eighth of the distance before the VHADs opened fire. Gamma and the others were ready for it though; all the while they had been calculating the trajectory the shells would take. As they drew nearer the shots began to become wilder. They became too close to the vehicles, and now the VHAD could no longer fire without endangering their comrades. The first man who popped out received a bullet between the eyes for his trouble. He fell back down knocking the other unfortunates in the tank back to the ground. Epsilon climbed up the back and dropped the first of the grenades after the dead soldier, then slammed the door home. Those sealed inside had only time for a prayer, then their world turned to flame. The tank’s armor effectively contained the blast. One down… Gamma couldn’t help but notice. Another muted explosion sounded, with Rho standing triumphantly standing on his tank’s carcass.
Now the tricky part; how to get the men without destroying the tank?
The problem was solved for Gamma as those in the surviving VHAD were climbing out, not wanting to be caught by the same fate as their comrades. It didn’t matter though. They were harvested all the same. Bullets cut through flesh and blood, wrenching life from them. Gamma led the way to the now unoccupied tank and climbed in. It wouldn’t be long before it was realized that a VHAD had inexplicably changed its allegiance, but they still had time.
“Well gentlemen, I believe we have an appointment to keep,” Theta said.
They strapped in and the vehicle began its journey.
It was dark where Bane was.
The air had already begun to stink with the heavy stench of death. Shapes lay haphazardly on the floor. No sound came except for the distant sounds of battle from outside. The only light came from the sullen glow of the machinery in the walls.
Bane moved through the room, careful to avoid stepping on any of the bodies. He reached an intercom and spoke into it.
“I would like out now,” he said. Seconds later the door gave a hiss as it opened, and Bane stepped into the much brighter light of the corridor.
The guard on the other side the guard saw a dead face, a corpse mask of emaciated flesh in a ghastly yawn. In alarm the man raised his weapon to shoot the monstrosity.
“Don’t shoot you idiot! It’s me!” Bane said in a phlegmy rasp. Confused, the guard made no more aggressive moves towards the walking corpse, but neither did he lower his weapon.
“Bow before the Lord Protector scum.” Bane said. Finally the man lowered his weapon, and knelt. Without looking up he spoke.
“My lord, what has happened to you?”
“An attempt has been made on my life, but what of the battle?” Bane croaked.
“They have been destroyed, but several have escaped the attack,” the guard replied.
“Have men been sent to search for them?”
“Yes my lord.”
“Call them off; the BEAST will leave us in peace now.” In obvious confusion the guard could do nothing but stare. By now he had noticed the other bodies in the room behind Bane. In shock he regarded the Lord Protector with awe.
“Sir what happened in there?” he said, looking stunned.
“The attempt made on my life was through the means of a BAD.” This was too much for the guard; he almost fell down and worshipped his leader.
Even the guard -- the poor, poor, poor guard didn’t know how twisted his mind was. He had been too sly, for all of them. If they had known he would never have reached his position. The mysterious disappearance of political rivals had never been attributed to him. He had always had a perfect alibi that had exonerated him from any suspicion in their deaths.
The BEAST were leaving. The bomb that had disfigured him so, had removed the other leaders. Now those who came to power would be hand selected by him. He would have complete control of the Union; nothing could stop him.
The game begins, thought, and his ruined face twisted into a smile.
Gamma sat in the VHAD and watched the desert landscape slide slowly by through a view screen in the wall. The sun was at its zenith, leaving no shadows from the seemingly endless sand dunes on either side of the road they followed.
The last hour had been curious. He had expected pursuit, but the Union’s men were either criminally inept or not searching for them at all, and he found that very odd. It had worried him more that if they had been hot on their trail. Surely they would know by now what they had taken, and what it could mean? And yet they had effortlessly stayed ahead. Such good fortune was frankly suspicious.
He looked back towards the others, all of them were absorbed in their own thoughts, but Epsilon looked up sensing his stare.
“We’ll reach the base in another twenty minutes,” he said.
Sooner than was expected they came upon a tunnel, borrowing through the earth. It swallowed them, and they were thrown into temporary darkness. The vehicles high beams were activated and the vehicle proceeded once more. Eventually they came upon a fork in the road, without hesitation they choose the one on the right and continued. All was silent but for the steady roar of the tank’s engines. The next turn was too narrow for the VHAD to fit through. With sadness they abandoned their vehicle and continued on foot. Just enough light reached them here for their eyes to see.
“There’s the passage way,” Gamma said, unnecessarily. They all flicked on their LED flashlights and continued. The tunnel had been created by nature, as was obvious in the rough hewn stone that made up the sides and ceiling. In the dirt floor footsteps could be seen, someone had beaten them here. They doused their LEDs and began to sprint up the path, but the traitorous echoes of the tunnel made it impossible to remain silent. The LEDs shone once more and the continued racing forward.
“Suppose its Sigma and the others?” Epsilon said, “We could end up killing each other.”
“Can we pilot it by ourselves?” Gamma asked, “A whole lot goes into manning something like that.”
“It’s an autopilot. We can figure out what we need to do to keep it going,” Theta said, catching on at once.
“What about the others with Sigma? Do you suppose they made it?” Gamma said.
“I don’t know; by the look of things no.” said Rho.
“Alright,” Gamma said, “let’s go back a little ways and see who these people are.” Silently the retreated back around the last bend in the tunnel, and doused their LEDs. They waited in silence with guns poised, waiting to shred the next thing that came around the bend. For an eternity there was no sound, no matter how they strained their ears.
Then suddenly there was the pounding of running feet, and the illumination of a flashlight. Checking his weapon over one more time, Gamma readied himself for what was sure to be a short and bloody skirmish. The beam from the flashlight was sure to have killed the night vision of whoever was holding to it. They would be shot before they even saw their foe. Laughing quietly to himself Gamma sighted down the barrel and pulled the trigger.
His weapon roared into the still tunnel air. Even before he had fired though, his opponent pulled back, and the bullets hammered uselessly into the wall, igniting on impact. The light from around the corner disappeared, and all was silent once more. Gamma was puzzled. There is no way that any of the Union’s soldiers have that fast of reflexes. He motioned for his companions to follow, and silently they crept forward. They came around the corner and the brilliant white of an LED blinded them. All that could be seen was the outline of a man ready to fire. Out of nowhere another figure appeared, taking the first on down. The pistol fired harmlessly into the ceiling.
“Aaargh! What are you doing?” the first man said, struggling to shoot again.
“It’s our men! They’re on our side! They survived!” the second one said. Gamma recognized those voices.
Sigma effortlessly through Tau off of him and inspected the new comers.
“What the… How did you survive? We thought we were the only ones left!” was all he could manage.
Gamma breathed a sigh of relief. “We barely escaped the ambush; I guess we just got lucky.” he began, “After sneaking into one of the VHADS, we eventually ended up in the tunnel where they were investigating where you guys had been shot down. We snuck into this passage, and, well, here we are.”
“We don’t have much time,” Sigma said, suddenly impatient. “Let’s just bust down that door and get off this miserable rock.”
“Sorry I had to do that,” Tau said, and he headed towards the door at the end of the tunnel to make a fresh attempt at opening it; this time with the aid of a grenade.
“Are you sure that no one knows we’re here?” Gamma asked.
“The Wanderer is a top secret project,” Sigma answered, exasperated. “It would take months just for them to figure out we’ve taken control of its base. We’ll be light years from here by then.” Behind Sigma’s back Zeta gave a knowing smile, then spoke.
“I was hoping it would never have to come down to this,” he said.
“They’ve killed every last one of our troops. We’re all that’s left, and we’re not going to stay here where we will be hunted like dogs. Don’t worry though. We’ll be back.”
“Why come back? Why must we need to go so far to get revenge?”
“We were created for a reason,” Sigma started, his eyes narrowing, “We were meant to overthrow these corrupt people! Or do you not remember?”
“And now with the science to create BEAST at our disposal we can do just that,” Sigma finished with an air of finality. To further his point he held the memory device aloft, with it so close to Zeta’s face that he was in danger of losing it to Zeta’s nasal cavities. “Why do you think we had to assassinate so many political figures? They were corrupt. This world will be an engine for destruction. A never ending cycle of rise, corruption, and fall until we return someday with a new army, a real army to restore eternal tranquility.”
The foaming zealot who resembled Sigma didn’t get an answer from Zeta. There would be no point in arguing. Though Sigma had been created as the most advanced BEAST, Zeta was starting to question his authority in the matter.
In an uneasy silence they walked up the path, and through the now open door to join the others. Already one of them had found a light switch. In the illumination provided, they could only make out the vague outline of a gargantuan, subterranean cavern. The walls had been smoothed and covered in sheet metal; the rivets gleamed dully in the light. In the center was a circular launch pad. And on top of that was… Wanderer. The behemoth rose hundreds of feet into the air, making them all feel small and insignificant. Its shape was cylindrical, with the nose coming to a point. Escape pods clustered around the middle like a baby chimp nestling into its mother’s fur. A confusion of scaffolding surrounded the ship, providing the only way to the entrance. Already Xi and Tau had ascended a quarter of the way. Zeta, Sigma, and Gamma hastened to catch up.
The cockpit had ten chairs; they all faced forward, and were covered in a mess of safety restraints, so that the user could be rendered immobile. A complex board of computers provided steering, and other operation. They all buckled up and waited for Sigma to command something further.
“Let’s fire it up,” Sigma called.
“Systems functional,” Theta said from the main computer. “Alarms and security are all fully dismounted.”
“We’re opening the gateway,” Xi called from another computer. The grinding of gears overhead seconded his statement.
“Alright this is it. No turning back. Five minutes to launch,” Theta said.
Theta, Xi, Sigma, Zeta, Tau, Gamma, Rho, and Epsilon, the last of the deadly legion known as BEAST, once there had been three hundred of them, now they were reduced to eight. How had it happened? With their abilities they should have won. But somehow, somehow, the Union had always known their battle plans, impossible as it seemed. The only explanation was a traitor, it could only be hoped that he was dead now.
A final few switches were flipped, key strokes entered, and the engines engaged. The giant roar of the engines didn’t give gravity a fighting chance, and they were space bound. Computer monitors afforded them a last glimpse of their home world. Only Zeta didn’t look back at the planet.
“No turning back,” Zeta whispered.
The ship picked up speed, rapidly reducing the size of the planet until it was nothing more than one bright point among millions.
Zeta sat their contemplating his decisions that he had made on that miserable rock that they had left behind. His hand was not pure, but it was better to get dirty, than be bathed in blood. He had deemed it appropriate at the time, but now looking back… With so many dead… No! He had succeeded; this new planet had to be better than the one they had left behind. It would give another chance at life, the one they had always wanted. Well some of them. He looked over at Sigma, valiantly attempting to ignore Tau.
Theta halted all further discussion as he called out, “We’ll begin the wormhole operation soon. Everybody needs to get to the securing room.”
They company followed Theta down a corridor, and down a short flight of steps. At the end of this corridor was a door, a short access code was punched in, and they were inside the securing room. The stark whiteness of it blinded them. Squinting through the sudden brightness they all saw that several doors lined the walls.
“Alright everyone pile into a compartment and strap in!” Sigma said. Obediently they filed in and waited for the countdown process to initiate.
“Do you think it will really work?” Xi asked the others through the intercom system built into the ship.
“Who knows?” Gamma answered. “They were smart enough to build this thing; they were smart enough to build us, easy to believe they’re smart enough to defeat us.” Sigma looked up briefly at this, and then once again focused on the screen in front of him.
“10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1,” a mechanical voice said.
“Oh, no! Here it comes!” Rho yelled anxiously. That was it, it was now or never. They didn’t know if the ship’s hull could stand up to a black hole, but it was much too late know.
Machinery flared to life around Gamma, and an alarm sounded. Indescribable pressure was put on him as G-forces pummeled him near unconsciousness. The alarm rose to a piercing shriek, blocking out all other noise. Gamma could hear someone yelling wildly over the tumultuous noise. The ship was becoming blurry and dark around him. He felt ready to puke.
An all clear alarm blared, and this time Gamma did puke. The safety restraints slid back, and he fell to the floor, barely avoiding the pool of sick on the floor. Unable to stand, he slithered out the doorway into the corridor beyond. The others were just beginning to tumble out of their own compartments. Tau attempted to stand, but abruptly lost his balance and did a face plant into the floor. Epsilon had flopped to the ground as soon as his restraints had loosened. He lay on his side humming merrily, clearly dazed.
Of all of them Sigma and Zeta had fared the best. Both were standing, though Zeta needed the support of the wall. Both of them were looking about to see if everyone, as well as the ship had survived. “Theta, go and see if we made it.” Sigma ordered.
Theta vainly tried to stand but went down in a confusion of limbs. He opted for Xi’s method of crawling, and headed for the control room.
Epsilon had still not moved himself. As Gamma steadied himself he sarcastically called out,” Great Epsilon’s dead. Now where gonna have to eat him.” Epsilon moaned, and attempted to kick Gamma. But the action proved too much for him, and he compromised with a few good suggestions on what Gamma should do.
Sigma watched the sad display before him with no sympathy. “Come on! We don’t have time for this!”
They eventually made it out; though it was a long and hazardous journey that involved several stubbed toes and a bloody nose.
In the control room, some like Xi still lay on the floor moaning piteously. Tau and Gamma had made it seats, and it was taking all of their concentration to stay upright. Zeta stood drunkenly staring about in a dull amazement.
“Keep in mind, we will do this for as long as it takes until we find an inhabited planet,” Sigma said.
It was too much for Tau and Gamma, and they joined the others on the floor.
The planet was devoid of any life. Crew members cursed at the supercomputer for the results it displayed. Still, there where one-hundred and forty-eight possibilities left. Gamma didn’t think he could stomach it.
“We must do it again! We have no choice! Pull it together and let’s try once more,” Sigma said.
“You seem awfully rushed, Sigma,” Zeta remarked. “You speak as if we were pressed for time.”
“Yeah, what’s the big rush Sigma?” Gamma said. He in no way felt ready to go through the ordeal of the wormhole operation again. Looking around for support, he found none. All the other soldiers had their jaw set in a defiant matter. Deflating instantly he began to scrounge for the courage he would need.
“A few hours sleep is all I request. But if it must continue, then we will.”
Sigma gave Zeta the look that a cow would at an oncoming train, but remained calm. “We will continue, but I will consider your request.”
Some of the tension in the room dissipated at his answer, and the soldiers grinned rather sheepishly at one another. But there was a shroud of suspicion upon Zeta. He was becoming mutinous; even a fool could see it.
They once more trooped down to the securing room, and two more eye-ball popping worm holes later, success still was not to be found. One of the planets had been habitable, but its inhabitants were too primitive for Sigma’s taste. These people would not have advanced enough to create BEAST.
After the second worm hole Gamma was not faring as badly in space travel. But, his store of energy was exhausted, and he was glad to see that Zeta’s request had been granted. It was obviously only because even Sigma could not take the strain of another wormhole.
The crew retired to their dormitories for a rest, but conferences were being held in all the dorms.
Epsilon was in bed, staring off into space. “Zeta’s up to something. I hope he doesn’t think we don’t know about it because it’s too obvious for anyone,” he said to Theta in the bunk above him.
“There’s some sort of quarrel going on with Zeta and Sigma,” Theta replied. “Whether it’s personal or mutinous, I can’t really tell.”
“It doesn’t matter either way. We should inquire of Sigma what’s going on, in case it all blows up in our faces.”
“Right then, we’ll wait for a while then sneak out to Sigma’s room. You know where he is, right?”
“Yeah.” Epsilon would have enjoyed simply being able to rest and let someone else deal with this potential mutiny. But it was best not to be caught sitting on the fence, you were to easily shot down. Plus he needed to rest his aching body. Of all the soldiers he seemed to fare the worst during the wormhole operation. For now he would just rest.
Zeta walked slowly back to his room. He entered the furnishings were Spartan. Nothing more than a bed and the white walls. He began putting the things from his utility belt down. Just as a precaution he checked one of his devices that would look for electronic bug. To his amazement it came up positive. Sigma…
He began to check his equipment, observing each piece carefully before putting it aside. When he had gone through his gear he looked over his utility belt that it had all been held in. He put his things down and thought it over. He instantly began scanning the closed. All of the drawers were opened in the dresser. He looked under the sheets and even the underside of the bed. Nothing, there was absolutely nothing.
He slowed the search, taking time to look in every crevice of the room. “****!” he cursed loudly. Then he stopped. In the illumination from the light fixture something glinted. He walked over to it, staring intently. From his bed he grabbed his miniknife, and raked the camera from the wall. Zeta proceeded to grind the device into the floor with the heel of his boot.
Gamma sat on his bed contemplating recent events. Zeta’s mutinous behavior was as of yet, inexplicable. He would back Zeta in almost anything, but this was just pointless. How did Zeta hope to stand up to the rest of the crew? Even with his help it was a hopeless cause.
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. Coming back to himself, Gamma called out, “Yes?”
“Gamma, I have something to discuss with you.”
As much as he just wanted to rest, he just couldn’t ignore Zeta. “Come in.”
Zeta entered, and without any explanation began searching along the walls. With a small cry of triumph he found something. He then turned back to Gamma. “Your room as been bugged,” he said. “Sigma is suspicious of you as well then,” he continued.
“Bugged? What are you saying Zeta?”
“Didn’t I just say that Sigma was suspicious?” Zeta said sounding exasperated. “Now if you will let me continue I was going to say something important. I’m planning a mutiny.” With no further explanation he turned on his heel and marched out the door. Gamma was only able to stand in stunned silence gaping like an idiot. He came back to himself and hurried out the door after Zeta.
“What do you mean?” Gamma called to Zeta’s retreating back. When this didn’t elicit an answer, he sprinted after him. He caught up only slightly out of breath. “Hey! What’s going on?”
Zeta continued to ignore him, but quickened his pace, and Gamma hurried along in his wake. At last Zeta reached his quarters. He ushered Gamma in then shut the door. “Alright we can talk now; the camera in this room has been removed.”
“All right then have it all out,” Gamma said impatiently.
“Have you ever noticed Sigma’s joy in violence?” Zeta asked. “Of course you have,” he answered himself. “If he were to raise a new army of BEAST he would overthrow the government sure enough, but would he be any better than the Lord Protector as a leader? He would grind the commoners under the heel of his boot. He would be a virtual dictator. That is why he must never be able to have this new army, or this ship,” he added savagely.
“And just how do you plan to go about that?” Gamma asked. Even though he had heard so little he already knew what Zeta said was true. The battle rifle seemed to be a natural extension of Sigma’s arm and the look of deepest content on his face when he slaughtered enemy soldiers were a testaments to Sigma’s violence.
“I have planted a web of explosives throughout the ship, once detonated it should take around three minutes for the ship’s systems to fail, enough time for the escape pods to be used. Also as I mentioned before, I have the coordinates of a colony of our planet that would have similar technology to us. We should be able to settle fairly easily. All that stands in our way is…”
“Sigma still has the memory device,” Gamma cut in, “and you want me to get it.”
“Exactly,” Zeta said. “I also want you to try to convince as many of the others as you can to join us, particularly Tau, Sigma tells him everything. If they won’t be converted kill them. Sigma probably has a similar strategy so be on the lookout.”
“Yes sir,” said Gamma.
“Oh, take this as well; I need to be able to communicate with you, no matter where you are on the ship.” He handed a small earpiece to Gamma.
In the corridor Gamma took stock of his situation. The most important of his objectives was to make sure that Sigma was unable to raise an army, which meant he would go for the memory device. The survival of Zeta and himself was secondary to a planet’s peace.
The door to Sigma’s room was locked. Good, Gamma thought, he’s away. The lock was no match for a man of Gamma’s capabilities and soon he was inside. A utility belt was laid on bed. Hurriedly he searched through it, but he came up unsuccessful. Unlikely, though it was Gamma had been hoping Sigma would have left the device in his room. But he might as well gain something from his venture. The room looked as it had before he had come, but now a camera of his own was affixed to a wall.
The next “day” for the Wanderer’s crew was not a happy one. Over breakfast Sigma announce that there would be another Wormhole operation in their crusade for a suitable planet.
“There is one out there,” Sigma said, trying to sound encouraging. “We’ll find it, and it won’t be too long.”
They were all beginning to have doubts; even Sigma’s words were no longer enough to completely reassure his men. But Zeta would blow their minds when he put in the coordinates for the colony planet. Hopefully he would be able to win their loyalty away from Sigma as well. If not… well he always had the explosives.
The all trooped down the dreaded path towards the securing room. None too eagerly, they all did the usual routine of strapping in and waiting for the inevitable. Zeta entered the coordinates for the jump, and then secured himself.
“This outta be fun,” Epsilon said, sarcastically.
The minute long countdown began, and they all attempted to relax as much as possible. Gamma sat in his compartment hoping the rest and rejuvenation would be enough to get him through this last jump in a single piece. The doors flipped shut, and the room was pressurized. What was hopefully going to be the last Wormhole operation he would experience was about to begin.
Suddenly the securing straps in Gamma’s compartment fell slack. What the heck?
“Stop the jump!” he yelled frantically. Nobody appeared to hear him though and the count continued mercilessly towards zero. The straps, no matter what he did would not resume their former securing position. He was really up a creek without a paddle this time. Surely someone would realize this horrible mistake?
Ten seconds left. He was acutely aware of the sweat that ran profusely into his eyes, causing him to blink from their acidity. Nothing was going to save him now. In a useless attempt to protect himself he assumed the fetal position, cradling his head in his hands so as to minimize damage to himself. Then it began. The inexorable forces of gravity multiplied a hundred fold, pulling him in all directions. His feeble attempts to protect himself were destroyed, and his limbs were pulled out, and he floated in midair spread eagled with his joints straining. The staccato crack of his arms and legs as they were dislocated punctuated his scream. The pain was unendurable; it was if the very knot of his being was being undone. Hemorrhaging massively he hung there. At this moment he realized that none of the myths about death were true. There was no light at the end of a tunnel, no concourses of angels singing. There was only pain, and the knowledge of how very much he wanted to live.
With a shuddering breath darkness mercifully claimed him. Seconds later the Wormhole operation stopped. Crew members scrambled from their compartments relieved that the jump was over. Zeta was the first to notice Gamma’s absence, and the room erupted into confusion around him.
The first one to reach Gamma’s prostate form was Zeta. He bent down to feel for a pulse at the other’s neck. With relief in his face he turned to the rest of the crew.
“He’s alive, but only just,” he said.
Sigma pushed his way to the front to see. “Tau! Theta! Run down to the health care deck and pick up some sedative drugs or something, and a stretcher! Splints, maybe!” Sigma looked back at the bloody mess of Gamma to see if anything else would be needed. They all waited in a painful silence for Tau and Theta to return with the necessary equipment.
When the returned with a make shift stretcher Gamma was carefully moved onto it. “Let’s get him out of here,” Zeta said. He picked up one end of the stretcher with Tau holding the other and they hurriedly carted him away.
Instead of going to the health deck Tau directed them to Gamma’s room. Gently they laid him down and Tau began thoroughly examining him.
“He’s got several broken ribs,” Tau said. “Shoulders have become dislocated. There’s some internal bleeding, but it’s not too serious,” he finished.
Looking relieved, Zeta got up to see if they would still have to go through another wormhole ordeal. Tau was finally left alone with his patient. “Fool,” he muttered to Zeta’s retreating back.
A sliver of light entered Gamma’s eye, causing him to see spots. More slowly he opened his eyes, allowing them to adjust to the brightness. He could see the silhouette of someone bending over him. His lethargic mind was still not able to quite comprehend exactly what had happened. Slowly, he was able to gather a recollection of recent events. The restraint in his securing compartment had come apart. Could it have been an accident? Gamma seriously doubted such an occurrence would happen, which meant it had to have been Sigma or one of his cronies. Of them the only one with enough computer expertise was Tau, which meant… Suddenly he realized who it was above him.
Tau was turned away at the moment, preparing something on the desk. Looking around for something to use as a weapon, all that turned up was the bedside table. How primitive he thought. The slight scraping noise from the moving furniture alerted Tau and he turned a syringe in his hand. He caught the blow full on in the face, he fell instantly, his nose gushing blood. For good measure Gamma bashed him a few more times.
Pulse racing Gamma looked down on the inert form of Tau. “I know you tried to kill me, but it’s much too late to stop us now.”
Gamma quickly gathered his things together, and then turned towards the door. As an afterthought he smashed the doorknob from its base on the inside of the door. He was just about to close the door when he noticed the syringe that had rolled from Tau’s limp hand, taking a second to pick it up he left the room. The door was locked behind him.
Zeta sat, watching Sigma with a cool exterior. Inside his innards were tearing themselves apart like a suicidal loaf of bread. He had expected something from Sigma, but an attempt on Gamma’s life? How could the insidious little worm try such an underhanded tactic?
“They’re pretty advanced down there. Not incredible, but it’s better than we could have imagined,” Theta was saying. “I’ll start intercepting some of their information.” He punched in several commands and sat back as the computer began downloading information from the planet. “Look at this; they’ve even evolved the exact same way. It will be easy here.”
“That’s boring. You’d think with a million and one different options that would have let them look different than the people were used to that something would be different.” Xi commented dryly. A
Sigma stalked over and peered at the information the monitors displayed. His face twisted into a scowl. “They’re just like the Union, corruptible, foul. They would probably attack us as well. Peaceful as the planet seems now, it will rise to its destruction in the same manner as will the planet we left,” he said as he continued scanning the information. “A more peaceful past, but nonetheless filled with corruption and evil. These beings, whoever they are, are just the same as the Union.”
“Should we take care of them the same way?”Epsilon asked. At this Zeta stood and joined the group.
“Just what do you mean by that?” Zeta prompted.
“It’s like Sigma always said. We were created for the purpose of preserving this peace -- ending the cycle of rise and fall. WE must make this planet our base for BEAST, so we might as well restore balance to it also.”
Sigma pondered this for a moment and then his eyes lit with the new idea. “I… Do you really think it would be possible? I had no intention of… but then again, it seems like a reasonable idea.”
“I’ll go for that,” Xi said.
“Let’s do it,” Rho agreed.
“This would mean two planets for the price of one where balance will be restored. It would no doubt lead to war,” Sigma pondered.
“Sigma, ever since you were appointed commander over the battalion, I’ve always seen you as a wise person. When we were freed from the nano-bots, you spoke to us of our destiny,” Epsilon said encouragingly. “I don’t want to just be some freak of nature vigilante, I believe in your words Sigma.”
With these words Zeta watched Sigma’s head balloon to twice its original size. The idiot, he couldn’t possibly decide to take another planet. All of is carefully laid plans were going up in smoke; the signal would undoubtedly be seen for miles around.
“We have just barely come upon a stroke of unbelievably excellent luck, gentlemen. The perfect planet for creating BEAST has been handed to us on a silver platter. However, this was not a stroke of luck, but a stroke of destiny. Like you said Epsilon, we cannot ignore it while it has been placed before us.”
Feelings of considerable cheer were radiating from most of the crew members. They were dispelled instantly by the next words spoken.
“I cannot allow you to do that.”
Everyone’s eyes were magnetically drawn about to face Zeta, who they all now realized had not contributed anything to the prospect laid before them. Sigma’s gaze was more annoyed than anything else as he stared.
“Who are you to interfere with destiny?” he demanded.
“This â€˜destiny’ you speak of, is the foolish dream of a child. Do you really think destiny handed you this planet on a silver platter?” Zeta questioned.
“You’ve become too much of a nuisance already, Zeta. I’m beginning to think you might be getting in the way.”
“That’s exactly where I plan to be Sigma.”
“I’ll ask you nicely just this once. What is your problem?” Sigma demanded.
“You Sigma are an evil greedy murderer. You say that it’s all for the good of the people, but deep down your filthy soul delights in the killing of the ones weaker than yourself, and the gaining of power. Your idea of democracy is like to wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner.”
“Oh, and yours is all that much better?” Sigma said maliciously.
“I see a well armed sheep contesting the vote,” Zeta retorted. “You leave these people alone you insidious bag of scum.”
“Is that all? I have news for you: Our destiny dictates that we will restore peace to this world. Yours no longer does.” Sigma glanced back at his comrades, “Kill him.”
As one Epsilon, Theta, Xi, and Rho pulled out miniknifes. They circled around Zeta menacingly, and they advanced as one.
Zeta sneered at them, “Yes that’s it, be Sigma’s little tools. Take the bruises for him. I’m sure he won’t begrudge you replacing him in a fight.” He glanced over at Sigma, hoping for a reaction from his barbs. “I promised Bane no one would ever come back.” A look of blank surprise crossed Sigma’s face for the briefest of moments, and then he mastered himself once more.
“I said kill him.”
Theta sprang at Zeta, knife ready to scythe through muscle and sinew.
But Zeta was faster. He whipped out two pistols. “Die scum.” He shot Theta in the face and he fell back. At the sight of his weapons the rest scattered. Epsilon wasn’t fast enough and Zeta watched as bullets thudded into his body. Sigma however had made his move. He had thrown a chair that Zeta easily dodged, but the move made Zeta lower his weapons momentarily. It was enough. Incredibly swift, Sigma sprinted up. He lashed out at Zeta’s arms with his leg, knocking away one of the pistols. He latched onto the other arm, disabling further shooting. This however occupied all of his attention.
“I should have killed you when you destroyed the SpyCam!” Sigma hissed.
“Shoulda, woulda, coulda, pal, and say it don’t spray it,” Zeta replied, nastily.
Seeing Zeta momentarily disabled, Xi left the safety of the overturned table he had been behind. He had snatched up Zeta’s fallen pistol and was advancing slowly, trying to get an open shot. Sigma was trying to give it to him. Feeling this, Zeta took the initiative and turned around completely. He emptied his clip into Xi.
The click from the emptied weapon told Sigma everything that he needed to know. His hand moved snake like for the miniknife at his belt. The action gave Zeta enough leash to loosen his gun arm and he began clubbing Sigma with insane blows. Sigma retreated from the barrage.
Zeta stood waiting for the next attack, but he couldn’t resist on last jibe. “It wasn’t fate that brought you to this planet, Sigma, I did,” Zeta said.
Gamma hurried through the corridors, desperately trying to find Zeta. He checked Zeta’s quarters first. Nothing, but interestingly enough his weapons were absent, which could only mean Zeta was anticipating a fight. Quickening his pace substantially Gamma headed for the command deck. If Zeta was going to start a battle, it was the obvious place. The chairs would provide cover, and it was a large area.
He skidded around the final corner, adrenaline already whipping through, hopefully giving him the power he would need to fight. Already the sounds of a melee were crowding the corridor.
Rho and Sigma were circling Zeta; clearly they could sense their victory was imminent. Gamma was about to put a stop to that victory. Drawing a miniknife he advanced. He crept slowly towards Rho’s vulnerable back. Sigma would be the harder kill, but once Rho was gone…
Gamma picked his way forward carefully, always trying to stay in his opponent’s blind spots. Five feet away it couldn’t be helped; if he proceeded as he was he would be heard. Now came the time for predatory instincts; first the stalk, and then the lightning strike. Pausing for a second to calm himself, he completed the sequence.
The knife entered absurdly easily. Even the tough flesh of BEAST could do nothing to turn the blade away. Rho slumped forward with a gasp. Sigma gave a cry of despair at this new misfortune. Now it was Zeta’s turn to go on the offensive. He came raging forward, scissoring at Sigma with powerful kicks. The first one caught him in the back, causing him to lurch forward. Instantly Zeta had slipped behind him and grabbed an arm behind him, yanking hard and upward to the left.
With a stomach churning thunk the arm popped out. Normally dislocating the shoulder stopped most people cold, but not Sigma
“I… Can… Not… Be… Beaten…” he ground out.
Then he violently jerked upward, throwing Zeta off him, and his joint popped back into place. He grimaced, and then came back, murder in his eyes. Gamma could only watch in wonderment, the two were so incredibly fast. They traded punches, with Zeta only catching the odd blow.
Remembering why he had come, Gamma charged into the battle, knife ready to gut. However, Sigma was wary of him, and launched a powerful kick that caught Gamma just above the kidney. Gamma’s innards exploded with the pain of the blow. He was sent reeling backwards, his boots somehow unable to find purchase on the floor.
Sigma brought his leg forward and struck Zeta in the gut. His opponent subdued momentarily, he drew another miniknife, and held it to Zeta’s jugular.
“One more move Gamma and he get’s slaughtered like a pig” Sigma said menacingly.
“You do that Sigma and this ship gets blown back to the Union,” Zeta suddenly snarled. To prove his point he held up a thin cylinder, a pulsing red switch on the top.
“You’re bluffing,” Sigma said with bravado that he clearly did not possess. He dug his weapon harder into Zeta’s outstretched neck. A thin line of blood appeared, the small stream of life flowed along the edge of the knife to where it beaded at the tip. The small drop of crimson drew the eye, and all watched in some inexplicable anticipation for it to fall. At last gravity exerted its power and the bead fell, splatte