He stood behind his frozen allies and gagged. In the center of the store, hundreds of bodies had been dragged together and were being slowly devoured by the invading fungus. From eye sockets and burst rib cages, yellow tendrils wove through the pile. Atop it, a pillar of tendrils held a red orb with white fungal frills all around it. As it pulsed and glowed ominously, he could feel it watching him without eyes.
Derrick tried to say something and found that he couldn't. His body was was no longer his to command. He felt pure fear and despair overcome him. Yet, only for a second before that too was smothered by some outside force. He fell to his knees and after a few seconds of gagging vomited across the floor before stilling.
How had he not noticed? It hadn't just been watching them with Auril. It had been infecting and controlling them. They'd been drawn here, just like very other corpse in that pile.
He could feel it now, the alien invisible Auril tendrils reaching inside him and destroying. Nothing so crude as violence, but the cold annihilation of his very self. Every thought of resistance, every attempt at resolve was crushed inevitably and permanently. Piece by piece, memory by memory, it was damaging his mind in ways he would never recover from.
His basic auril abilities offered some resistance, but that only made it worse, forced him too feel it. His Auril was simply too basic and uncontrolled to do much good against this absolute monster. With his basic Auril senses, he felt it tear apart his very being and couldn't muster the will to resist. His heart would simply stop soon, he knew. It would be slow but inevitable for his entire team. The monster was in no rush, in would watch them die slowly over days. Bodies turned off like toys by the cold will of some alien monstrosity.
His Auril channels flickered, spurred slightly by that thought. It strained to take some new shape and he found the motivation to try and move. He flopped forwards, his forehead landing in his own vomit. A sigh escaped his lips. It was futile, even with that surge, he had only barely had the energy and resolve to propel his limbs around like a broken puppet for a second. What good would that do? There was nothing that could help...
He flopped on his side as he tried to slide a disobedient hand into his pocket. It took a few tries but eventually his fingers wrapped around something small, hard and round.
Nothing happened, he was still slowly dying. Meh. Still face down in his own vomit, he frowned.
There was something. It felt like footsteps behind him... or whispers? Weirdly it also could have been barking? He couldn't tell what it was, it got under his skin though, coiled there and repelled the lethargy that attacked him.
One footstep became a dozen, became legion.
It grew louder and closer and he felt his Auril power responding to every step. It tasted like acid but he desperately embraced it, trying to fill the emptiness in himself with whatever he could take from the stone. The changes were small and temporary but even that helped, seemed to confuse whatever Spore Tyrant process was destroying him.
He tried to gather his strength and fill the emptiness inside of himself. His will ebbed and flowed until a shiver ran up his hand and into his brain.
“Stand and die on your feet,” something alien whispered in his ear and he felt phantom fingers grasp his shoulder. Automatically, he pulled himself up from the ground and his hand twitched, almost starting a salute. That change had been neither small nor temporary. Something dangerously cold and alien had wormed itself inside him. He'd take it, considering the alternative.
Spur, he commanded his implant and a wave of drug fuelled strength entered his limbs. He got a couple of steps but most of the energy faded quickly, leaving him better off but still helpless. His arms were heavy at his sides and it took all his concentration to stay standing.
His weakness had to be entirely mental or Spur would have worked. He needed to use Auril to fight back. How though?
I am both programmer and Auril Pioneer, Derrick thought and concentrated. I can do this. He gripped the bloody stone in his hand so hard it hurt. He tried to will whatever was empowering him from the stone into himself faster. Nothing happened. So, he switched tactics.
What was Auril Power? An energy, created by an Aurilin based device that interacted with living bodies and as the last few minutes proved, living minds. If pumped into a body, it naturally formed channels and flows, allowing limited manipulation through mental commands.
His guess was that styles were an artificial change to these channels and flows. Like the complicated pattern that gave him Quantum Awareness. So far, his attempts to change his flows had been pathetic and temporary. Just the plucking of strings when he needed a symphony.
The stone in his hand contained a style, or at least part of one. Yet, all he got from it was a feeling and a steady rhythm. What was he missing?
The only conditions he knew of, was that it interacted with living things... Life, emotion, rhythm and patterns. He tried to concentrate on these as he manipulated Auril energy inside himself to match what he blurrily felt from the Auril heart he'd ripped out of a Vanguard. The first thing he noticed was how patterns and rhythm helped. Trying to just force a flow of auril to change didn't work, but moving a few together or alternating quickly was more successful. One needed to be in the right frame of mind as well, something he was having trouble with. His mind was still... damaged.
It was hard to feel anything but tired and hopeless, so he raised his hand to his mouth and bit until his teeth ground into bone. The pain helped, things became clearer and Auril manipulation easier. He was quickly picking up the art of it.
Too slow. This was pointless.
“Fight anyway,” his new shadow whispered to him and caused him to shiver. “Exact your life's price.” He knew these words were not be trusted, they were not really his. But what choice did he have? He could not imagine a fate worse than the one before him, to be invaded and reduced to nothing at all.
Yes. They were not his truths but he could learn from them.
“I am alive,” he spoke to himself and felt his Auril stir. Encouraged, he continued, stoking the fires.
“Life doesn't fucking die on command.” he said bitterly and with growing defiance. “It will bite, howl, claw and kick until the last beat of the heart, no matter how much greater the enemy. That's how life works, dammit. That is law, red and savage.” By the time he finished speaking, the apathy was gone, replaced by a simmering rage.
This was wrong and he would fix it. He threw himself forward, far beyond caring if he fell or tripped over soem corpse. He needed to move, to tear this thing apart. Worse than trying to kill him, It had offended him to his core.
A stalk shot out of the ground and speared towards him, he dodged and seemingly by luck manged to avoid injury. Another soon followed and again it missed. Now he was at the edge of the pile of bodies. Without a second of hesitation, he began to climb it. His fingers fought for purchase in decomposing flesh, cold and disgustingly soft.
Until at last, he stood before the great pulsing orb and swung. He hit and grinned maniacally as spongy flesh was parted. The entire thing shuddered as he cut it apart. Good, he hoped it was in pain. All of the pain. Forever.
He swung again and again, cutting through the glowing red orb and the fungal frills that covered it. Eventually the monstrous bulb thing died, growing still. At that point he'd shredded it, reducing it to a sagging sack of oozing flesh. When he was done, he stood drenched in red and white fluids, panting heavily from having spent every last speck of his energy.
He felt a tiny sliver of energy replenish and used it to reach into the gooey corpse and rip out a small stone, this one only a tiny bit bigger than the ones he'd taken from the Vanguard. He was careful to shove it in his pocket before it could influence him.
The System threw some notifications at him but he dismissed them and turned to his fallen allies. They lay unmoving where they had fallen. He threw himself to his nearest ally, Kate and stabbed her with an antidote injector. It took him a couple seconds to scrounge up injectors for Blake and Jenny.
God, he hoped he wouldn't have to carry them out of here. He checked them all for pulses and was relieved to discover that he'd killed that fucking flower in time to save them. Nothing to do but wait he supposed. He needed at least one awake to try and move them. He brought the notifications back up.
United Support System
You have created a new Auril style. Ranking...
Rank (D) Style, Red Law confirmed and recorded.
You are the 12th Human from Earth to adopt a Auril Style. You have unlocked the title Auril Pioneer II.
You are now level 1.6!
You have reached the Level Cap. Level locked for 2.3 hours to prevent damage from excessive modification.
Fighter 1.6 has unlocked the Basic Combat Drug Package (E) trait.
Auril Cultivator: Adopt an Auril Style +100 USSP
Auril Pioneer II: Be among the first 100 members of your race to unlock Auril Energy and adopt an Auril style. +300 USSP
Scrappy II: Destroy two types of advanced enemy before level 1.9 with only a basic melee weapon + 3 Auril Capability
Red Law (D)
An Auril style that grants regeneration and Auril defences.
An imitation of Grey Legion's regenerative abilities allows the rapid healing of wounds that human bodies are not normally capable of healing, such as regrowing extremities or organs. This places a high level of physical stress on the cultivator however, requiring already greatly enhanced healing abilities and large amounts of Auril energy.
This style grants an adaptive and subtle defence against Auril. Subtly repulsing foreign Auril energy without needing the direct control of the style's cultivator. An effective means of avoiding detection against weak Auril detection.
Red Law's Auril defences requires the Quantum Awareness trait to work fully.
Bite, howl, claw and kick until the last beat of the heart
+ 530 points for successfully destroying 3 Tyrant Spore Nodes
+ 100 points for earning Auril Cultivator title
+ 300 points for earning Auril Pioneer II title
+ 3 Auril Capability for earning Scrappy II title
Return to Support Station to spend points for vital rewards!
Minor Siren Node ©
An advanced Spore Tyrant node that uses powerful and subtle Auril abilities.
It uses these abilities to draw in and disarm mobile resources. If it gathers enough Aurilin, it can extend its reach for miles. Networks of them have covered the entire surface of planets in defensive Auril projections.
A mid tier intelligence, it can grow and command more advanced defensive mutations.
Wow, OK. Was that flavor text under his style? He hoped no one could see that. It was clear his ordeal had made him a little delirious and.... dramatic there for a second. The entire thing felt like a dream really. The weight of apathy giving way to what was basically a berserk rage seemed unreal to Derrick, the average programmer from Westhills.
That he'd dosed himself with Lash probably wasn't helping. He felt... tingly and not in a good way.
Those rewards were no dream though. 400 points from titles alone. Nine hundred and thirty in total. Plus some Aurilin, which was nice. He was assuming that would make Red Law stronger. That name sounded dumb even in his head. Why couldn't the System let him name his own damn style? Not that he had any idea what he would call it.
Also, 12th? Really? Eleven people had beaten him to adopting an Auril style? He'd basically stumbled right into what he needed to create the Red Law but eleven people had beaten him to it. He sighed, it wasn't a small world world after all.
One of the bodies next to him stirred and sat up.
“You're covered in horrible ooze,” said Jenny, mildly confused. “And... vomit?” She quickly checked herself and was obviously relieved when she found herself mostly clean. Derrick watched her heave, causing her to take off her mask. “What is that smell.” She said before turning around and seeing the small mountain of sprouting corpses, vomited into her hands.
Derrick winced and pulled their allies away from her and each other. Well this was going to be fucking lovely.
Blake was next. He managed to stumble a couple feet before emptying his stomach. The blond sword wielder was quiet as he recovered. He looked at Derrick when his name was called but didn't respond. There was a empty look in his eyes, it was frankly disturbing.
Kate, worryingly, didn't wake at all. Didn't even move, beyond a few tremors. Concerned Derrick checked her pulse and was relieved to find it strong. She just wasn't waking up. He slapped her on the face, to no effect. He looked to Blake but he just shrugged and sighed.
The creator of the Red Law frowned, they had no time for this. Jenny had recovered, so he took advantage of her confusion and got her to throw Kate onto his back. Once they began moving, a stumbling Blake followed along.
Head on his shoulders, Derrick heard her mutter in her sleep.
“Can't breathe. Save me,” she whispered in his ear, her voice laced with such fear that Derrick stumbled. That was... unexpected. He frowned and winced, she must be having a nightmare. One about her past.
Fuck that fungus. He wished he could kill it again.
“I will,” he replied after a second. “I promise.” He reached behind himself and patted her on the head. He felt her relax. He guessed that had helped? His instincts kicked and he quickly withdrew his hand, just barely avoiding a bite from the unconscious woman.
How did she even get her mask off? He sighed, he was going to have to keep an eye on her or he'd lose an ear. He saw Blake reach over and reattach it without comment. Both of his allies seemed at a lose for words. Well, he was too.
All of them pale and stumbling, they reached the entrance to the store.
Immediately, Derrick used an Auril pulse to detect stalks and found none, it did warn them that something was coming for them. It crawled across the lawn towards them, just slightly smaller and slower than a small car.
It was the white starfish creature they had seen when they first arrived. The many limbed thing scuttled towards them at high speed, twisting and turning without a clear front or back.
It didn't seem to be able to control itself well, it scattered them by barrelling right through their group and impacting into the cement wall behind them.
It stood still for a second both writhing back to life and stumbling at him. Why him?
“Fucking run, you idiot,” Blake shouted, breaking his silence and brandishing his blade. “Get Kate out of here.”
“What he said,” added Jenny, a look of determination on her face. She drew her gun but didn't fire it. No doubt not seeing much of a point in firing into that mass of armored flesh. What would she even aim for?
As Derrick retreated, the creature scuttled towards Blake, trying to crush him with tentacles the thickness of tree trunks. Even a glancing blow would be dangerous, its tooth like armor looked sharp.
Blake hadn't had the best time the last few hours but that didn't seem to affect him too much. His sword flashed and the creature found itself with one less limb. Like a car losing a tire, it careened to the side before coming to a stop twenty feet from Blake.
Blake gave it a fearless stare.
The creature seemed to consider him. It drew itself up and revealed a mouth like orifice framed by tentacles. It shivered.
Blake's tired eyes went wide and the blond User threw himself to the side, just in time to dodge something. Derrick guessed it was spitting something at Blake.
The question of what was answered when, after a splat sound, a small part of the concrete wall behind Blake began melting.
Derrick took a couple more steps back. With his luck he'd get that right in the face. He didn't want to find out how much protection his mask would offer.
Jenny fired four rounds into the creature, all near the mouth. A red sap oozed from the wounds for a second but she didn't seem to have done any real damage. The monstrosity fell forwards and thrashed towards Jenny. She dodge rolled away and Blake managed to take another tentacle with a blindingly fast swing. Just seven more to go.
Once it passed them again, it immediately stopped, aimed and tried to hit Jenny with a shot of acid. It missed, because all of a sudden it was missing one more limb. Blake hadn't retreated and instead attacked, dodging tentacles while trimming it like a tree. Jenny moved closer and put a couple more bullets inside it.
Apparently unhappy with being cut to pieces, the creature spat out a spray of acid in a cone instead of a bullet. Blake let out a scream as he only managed to dodge some of it, a small patch on his shoulder bubbled as acid ate through clothes and skin. He stumbled backwards, away from the monster.
Shit, he needed to get in the fight. He was two hundred feet away now, would it be safe to drop Kate here? He really didn't have choice, he kneeled down and let her slowly fall off his back.
Jenny had thrown a Sterilizer at the ground by the monster and help Blake to retreat. The alien creature seemed confused by the smoke, allowing them to get away safely.
At least until it backed up and spinning around the small poison cloud, unleashed another acid bullet.
Shit, Derrick cursed. He was still only halfway there.
Blake saw it coming as well, but Jenny didn't. Derrick could see the calculation in his eyes as he raised his sword.
Ahhh, that idiot he was going to try to...
Blake deflected the acid aside with his sword. The System weapon was unmarred by the attack.
The blond User's mouth was hidden behind his mask but Derrick could see the smile in his eyes.
Then the charging fungal monstrosity hit him with a tentacle and sent him flying away. Jenny turned to fire at it but it just ignored her and followed after the downed Blake.
Flailing limbs pounded Blake into the ground then propelled the starfish creature towards Derrick. Derrick dodged to the side and when the creature tried to position itself with it remaining limbs for another shot, he threw an axe right into its 'face'.
Acid bubbled out and burned the outside of the creature, he must have hit something important because it just thrashed in place until it stopped moving entirely.
Derrick felt no accomplishment, he'd killed it too late. He moved to Jenny who kneeling beside Blake. Blake was not doing so great. Jenny had removed his mask, letting them hear how he struggled for breath.
“Broken ribs,” said Jenny with a wince and reached out to touch his throat, immediately sending Blake into a painful spasm. “Probably collar bone too. He needs a medical facility.”
Universal Support System Implant
Multiple disabled Users detected in inaccessible region
Evaluating nearby Users... Conditions declining
Multiple Users at Level Cap detected
Examining local resources... Initiating evacuation to nearby medical facility
Users under threat. Prepare for Evac
The System did care. Now that they'd faced down the cosmic horror, it was willing to offer them a ride out of its lair. Bonus, it wasn't going to coma him this time.
He sighed and grabbed Blake's sword.
“What are you doing?” asked the concerned female policewomen.
“Guard these two, I've got something I need to do.” Derrick said, a brittle edge to his voice.
Jenny said nothing. It was clear what he was up to, the bonus mission to scavenge components from the support station. He needed Blake's weapon to complete it.
If they just left it, someone else would claim it. That's what happened with the Vanguard heart back at the legion infested apartment.
The rewards from the mission were important. Vital. He clenched his fists, he needed to become stronger. He'd been complacent. When he thought of how those people had died back in the furniture store... He'd underestimated the Scourges and the horror they were capable of. There were really things worse than just death.
Strangely this thought only made him eager to fight. A hard ball of emotion still sat in his chest from when he fought off the sirens influence. A mix of anger and a bone deep contempt, the emotions that had driven him to destroy the siren. He rubbed his chest and grimaced. He did not think it would ever go away. A consequence of the power he'd acquired.
Their mission objective stood undefended. The corner where the evil starfish had been attached was warped and melted, clearly it had been using its acid to melt its way inside.
Derrick walked up to the lifeless vending machine, raised Blake's sword and struck the dead box and began to scream.
“Fuck you!” he shouted hoarsely with wide eyes. “Fuck all of this! Make this easier you dumb machines.”
“Why was that thing allowed to exist,” Derrick hissed hatefully. “It defiled my... Fuck you! This is exactly the type of shit you nuke from orbit.”
He kicked the dead Pandora machine hard enough to hurt himself and then began to cut his way inside.
Blake's admantium blade cut into the frame of the dead station with ease. In less than five minutes, he'd hacked his way to the prize. A small cube about the size of his fist. He lowered the sword and inspected it.
Universal Support Implant
You have reached the Level Cap. Level locked for 2.2 hours to prevent damage from excessive modification.
+ 150 points for successfully scavenging failed Support Station.
System Station Manna Core
The core of Universal Support System Stations. Manna Cores power most advanced devices across the universe.
Return to a working Support Station for rewards.
Low Grade Siviril
A rare and valuable material. It is the foundation that advanced civilization is built upon. It is necessary for any device that manipulates Manna.
Different grades have different uses.
Bleeding Mouth Behemoth (E)
A tool created by advanced nodes to eat through defences. It is capable of great feats of strength and producing extremely powerful acid. One of the few Tyrant Spore creatures that are armored. Have been known to explode on death if full of unused acid.
Should he give the core to Jenny? If the reward for the core worked like an Auril hearts, it was better for someone with manna to turn it in.
He jogged back to the rest of the team, such as they were and threw the core to Jenny, telling her to sell it once she got a manna core.
She caught it reluctantly. Her shoulders sagging and a frown dominating her face.
“This is my fault,” she said, causing Derrick to smile darkly.
“It is your fault,” he agreed, paused, and then continued speaking. “And mine, and Kate's and the fucking System's. Mostly though, it just is. Blame is pointless and really, kinda silly.
“Except for Blake. He was clearly asking for it.” Derrick added. “I'm honestly surprised we got this far without anyone dying. We must be doing something right.”
“It's not just Blake,” she answered bitterly. “It's everyone. All the people suffering and dying. How could this just happen? One day everything is normal and the next... I couldn't save anyone. That was my job.”
A long pause.
Oh god, Derrick thought as he camr to a horrible realization. She was looking for emotional support. From him. His brain ramped up to panic mode instantly as he tried to come up with something to say.
“There was nothing you could have done,” Derrick said tentatively. “You can't blame yourself for things so incredibly out of your control. Alien invasion was not in your job description.”
Bam. Instant leadership.
“That seems like an excuse,” Jenny said coldly, unimpressed with his answer. “I failed to save anyone, letting my own partner get injured.”
Fine, harsher truths it was.
“So you're pathetic,” Derrick answered and sighed. “Objectively useless. You're coming at this like you made mistakes but the simple fact of the matter is that it never mattered what you did. There existed no possibility of you ever mattering during the start of the Scourging, in any real way.”
“When we first met, I was impressed.” Derrick continued honestly, remembering her holed up in the apartment. “You did everything you were supposed too. You were brave, selfless and dedicated. It simply didn't matter. You were probably an amazing cop but you can't talk down an earthquake. You can't put a tidal wave in handcuffs. The Scourges were never something you could prevent or even mitigate. There's a part of your brain that needs this to be untrue. It's telling you that you could have made a difference if you were just a little smarter or faster but that is total bullshit. ”
Jenny visibly withdrew into herself.
“That sounds like giving up,” she whispered. “Then what's the point?”
What was the point? Derrick had never really thought his motivations out. It was surprisingly difficult to take the forces that drove him and put them into words. Also probably unhelpful, he realized after a few seconds of introspection.
She needed something simple.
“Hope,” answered Derrick with a half truth and sighed. “That you can make a difference in the future. You're not incompetent, Jenny. You have made a difference for the better. Hell, even just being alive at this point is an accomplishment.”
“And you're full of hope?” asked Jenny, eyeing him skeptically.
“Yes,” he replied instantly with absolute sincerity. He'd been barely alive before the Scourging he'd come to realize lately. He didn't love the danger or the fighting but strangely enough, that small and still part of himself that generated hope had quietly kicked into high gear. Now was not the time for deep introspection into the why though. One reason was obvious though.
He simply wanted to see what happened next, no matter how awful.
“Why,” asked Jenny. “No, how. With all the horror we've seen?”
“The line between wonder and horror is thin,” Derrick answered serenely but with enough certainty that she knew he wasn't going to explain more.
She decided not to challenge him on that.
“And everyone who died?” She asked instead. “Do we just forget about them?”
“One of the few things that made my life worth living is the idea that the dead are as free from us as we are from them,” he simply replied.
That got him an odd look from the ex policewoman. She looked like she was going ask something but changed her mind after a second of staring at him.
“Well then. What now?” she asked and considered the dead streets around them and what horrors might be lurking in them.
She seemed better, so Derrick pondered the question. Really, he had no idea. He was too mentally exhausted to consider it. His legged twitched involuntarily. Ah, that would be a side effect from Spur. Eventually that was going to run out of Spur juice and he'd probably get knocked unconscious.
How was Kate going to take this? Ughh, he had no idea about that either. Would she blame herself or worse, him? He decided to not pass the time worrying and to instead look over his stats and playing with Auril.
Show Title: Auril Pioneer II
Titles: Ambitious, Emergency Activation, Scrappy II, Counteragent, Auril Pioneer II, Multi Killer I, Auril Cultivator
Traits: Curative Blood © (Defensive)
Standard Auril Heart (D) (Auril)
Basic Combat Drug Package (F) (Offensive)
Crude Quantum Awareness (F) (Survival)
Auril Capacity: 7.2
Auril Style: Red Law (D)
Active Auril Skills: Regeneration
USS Manna Pool: 0
USS Manna Skills: None
Successful USS combat missions: 4
USS Points: 1504
Curious and because he felt like shit, he activated regeneration. He was fascinated as he felt the Auril inside himself naturally shift and spend itself to diffuse into every part of his body. For all of a second, before it was completely spent.
He guessed he felt a little better. None of his wounds had changed much though. His leg was still missing a small piece and his hip was still sore.
He guessed his body was just so battered, his measly amount of Auril energy was insufficient to fix much. He manged to replenish and spend his Auril twice more before...
Universal Support Implant
Due to the eradication of most immediate threats by its Users, the city of Westhills has officially been classified as an Enclave. Congratulation on your survival!
This city is the 31st Enclave. (No bonus)
Phase One (Local Defence) complete.
(A) You have earned 170 USSP and a rank (F) trait.
Analyzing User... Breathless (F) unlocked.
Phase Two (Expansion) Begins in five days and eight hours.
As a Fighter, your role will be on the front lines. Prepare yourself to reclaim lost resources and territory under the guidance of the System and human military forces.
User ID tags now visible in Westhills.
While no longer a battlefield, violence between Users is still forbidden within the Enclave. Obedience protocols will still be inacted in emergencies.
Oh, fucking wonderful. Welcome to the new phase, same as the old phase. Except now he'd be attacking even more fortified positions and have people telling him what to do.
“You were right. That was us,” said Jenny intensely, interrupting his self pity.
“What?” asked Derrick distractedly. What was she talking about. What was them? He turned to her and a small notification appeared.
Name: Jenny Barros
Title: Straight Shooter
“By killing the Siren Node, we saved the city.” she stated. “We made a difference.”
Maybe, thought Derrick darkly. Should he feel happy? Mostly he just felt like he'd been conscripted into an endless battle against alien horrors. Also, tired.
“Yes. And now they're going to reward us by sending us on a suicide mission,” he replied. “I can't imagine how tough the Scourges are out in the countryside.
Jenny gave him a confused look.
“Oh,” she said. “I got a different message. I'm a Guard, not a Fighter, so I guess I won't be going with you.”
Derrick felt like he should be mad at this or at least jealous. Instead, he was glad that Jenny would be reasonably safe in the future. If at least one of their little team wouldn't die during phase two, probably it was best that it was her. She seemed like she actually cared about people.
He managed to stay awake long enough to see two armoured vehicles come over the hill, they looked like jeeps but moved silently. Did they have electric engines, he wondered and faded away just as human figures poured out of them.