Except everything is made of chocolate.
Optional Style: Scribbled down by a person hunted by monsters.
I’m writing as a record of the . My name is Lennus Glass and three weeks ago I was an astronomer working at the Ajo Massive Array. The place was the newest, largest radio telescope in the world, 5500 20-meter dishes on 10,000 square km of land with more than two orders of magnitude the sensitivity than any other wide wavelength facility. It took fifteen years– well, nevermind the details. The point is about a month after we caught first light, we were still running calibration tests and pointed our fancy new tool at a calm yellow star about 500 light-years away. That’s when we picked up the signal.
The signal was obvious to us right away, but we were too shocked and careful to do much about it but confirm it. It’s amazingly exciting and stressful to find something so, well, unexpected. We studied it for a full week, ruling out every potential terrestrial source before quietly reaching out to colleagues. I don’t think any of the team wanted to sleep or eat. Makeshift beds were set up in the air-conditioned server room and someone bought a hundred microwave meals, filling the lunch room freezer.
One of those colleagues leaked a recording of the signal before we could inform the Secretary General of the United Nations. There are rules in place before you announce this stuff to the public, so you don’t panic people needlessly. Well, that didn’t really turn out to be the problem. Sure, there were some cults that took this as a sign they should kill themselves, or throw giant orgies, or that group in Oregon that started hundreds of forest fires for some idiotic reason. But for the most part, people contained their insanity to online forums and kept going to work and went on vacations and what not. The biggest problem for us was that it meant every government and governmental department that thought it had some right to our data was calling every fifteen minutes and making demands.
The signal itself was tremendous. It repeated every three minutes or so. It contained a lot of data in it. This meant that it was not a broadcast sent in all directions. No, this signal was a directed laser signal at us specifically. It couldn’t have been aimed anywhere else, our solar system was the only place this signal was going to hit with enough strength to receive the data. When we figured this out, we knew it was serious. Someone– something was directly communicating with “us” and were sending that information at least 400 years before we even knew what radio was.
The majority of the signal was the exact same every iteration. But there was a portion at the end that changed in a pattern every time. Lenard Oberman, a genius mathematician figured out that it was a count down the same day the first leaks went out. I wish I had time to explain the logic there, but it was a countdown in sequential descending numbers. And it was counting down to a time only 10 days away! This information was fortunately kept secret from the general public. But given what’s happened, maybe they should have at least known something was coming.
From the countdown we figured out it was using a base twelve number system. And from there, we found all kinds of patterns in the signal. The first numbers were the first 10 primes, then there was some mathematical formatting language, and then a long sequence of numbers, thousands, in this format.
It took another week and a kid from Cleveland, OH figured out it was a DNA sequence. DNA! From an alien planet! We thought it was the cure for cancer, but later that same day a researcher plugged the sequence into the national DNA sequencing project database. It was Cocoa! A native tree from Earth that we used to make chocolate. Everyone was flabbergast. Were these aliens making an order for chocolate?
In the signal, after the DNA portion, there was another large sequence using the same formatting as the DNA, but deciphering this happened too late. The countdown reached 0 but the signal continued without the countdown at the end. Not six hours later reports of meteor showers hit the news and meteorites were landing all over South America.
The panic didn’t set in right away. For the first day, people were glues to their TVs, tablets, and phones watching the images come from places like Rio, Bogota, Lima… Depending on when you are reading this you probably know what we were seeing. It was like watching a brown mold in time-lapse creep over everything. Supermarkets, apartments, trees, the ground itself, fading to a dark brown color and depending on the density of the object, sending out jagged spikes of the crumbly stuff. Heavier material produced more of the protrusions. It spread through objects and along the streets, crawling at a steady pace through cities, farms, wilderness, and… people alike. It moved at about 100 meters/hour through things like loose dirt and slightly slower through concrete.
Among the early reports from people that escaped the slowly expanding menace was the description that it smelled and looked like chocolate. A description so crazy as to be disregarded by any sane person. But those of us that knew about the DNA sequence in the signal… well, we knew then this wasn’t some interstellar shopping list. It was a warning. We, you and I, know now that it was chocolate, spreading by some unknown process like a grey goo.
When the Browning, as we came to call it, hit Mexico City out of the blue, jumping thousands of miles from the nearest infection, the panic went into full swing. I don’t know about other countries, but in the states it was bedlam. The national guard was called in for nearly every major metropolis. Charleston burned to the ground. The entire electrical grid in New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia went down and I don’t know what became of those places. People simply lost their minds.
Somehow the news was still coming in from places in Brazil. There were the first reports of the “Candy Men.” Those mobile blobs that spread the chocolate disease far and wide and hunted down people, turning them into new Candy Men. And the famous video of the firefighters at the Vila Formosa fighting off the approaching Browning with jets of water from their fire hoses gave the world the first clue how to fight the infection.
It turns out the, remainder of the signal’s contents were a chemical formula how to generate water from other chemicals. I speculate that whomever sent the signal must have lived on a very dry planet. Unfortunately, as the browning started popping up everywhere around the world, there was little left of governments to rally against the infection. Still some notable efforts in China and New Zealand saved the lives of millions.
By this point I was making for the coast with my family and my knowledge of what was happening in the world gets a little sketchy. We met up with the San Francisco flotilla. I’ve never seen so many boats in one place lashed together. But last week someone must have accidentally brought some chocolate with some supplies on their boat. Four boats, one of which was a large fishing trawler, had turned completely in the dark of the night before they were noticed and cut free. 20 people were killed. My family decided it was too dangerous to stay tied to the flotilla and we moved south.
Last night we were caught in a storm and the boat tipped and we lost all of our fishing gear, so this morning I went inland to scavenge or barter for some new poles and nets in San Diego. Last we heard on the radio the nearest infection front was 15km south of where I landed. There were still people around, but they skittish like wild animals. I and they avoided each other for the most part. I found a marine store around noon which owasn’t entirely looted. I was packing up a nice net when I heard a scream outside.
I went outside and saw a woman and a girl running from five Candy Men. As far as I knew Candy Men never strayed this far from the infection areas. I was paralyzed, hoping the chocolate monsters wouldn’t detect me. But the woman tripped and the Candy Men were on her in a moment. Her screams turned to gurgles as she was surrounded. The girl, who must have been about 12, continued to run, but slowed as she looked over her shoulder at her mother’s fate. I knew the girl wouldn’t last on her own. With more hesitation than I like to admit, I ran out to help her.
I don’t want to know how close to doom we were when the now six Candy Man eventually came for us. We found a golf cart with the key in it a block away and by the time I hit the accelerator, one of the monsters had grabbed one of the roof supports. I don’t think they can actually grab anything with their “hands”, but it did infect the golf cart and the infection started to spread. The girl was hyper ventilating terribly in panic as we pulled away from the chasing blobs.
I headed for the smell of salt water and we got to a bridge before I ditched the cart into the bay. We were now more than 2 miles from the boat where my family are even now waiting for me, I hope. The bridge we ended up at led to the Sea World park, so we headed into the abandoned park hoping to find a kayak or boat of any kind. If there were Candy Men in the city, it wasn’t safe to travel by land.
Keeping the girl moving was a problem. The trauma and crashing adrenaline high was shutting her down. In my frustration and terror, I was more or less dragging her by the arm. There were no kayaks and no boats. We searched for two hours in the enormous park. But we did spot the Candy Men coming across the bridge we had used to enter the park. There were ten of them.
The girl screamed and I don’t know if they can hear sound or if they just smell us, but they seemed to react and came running and galloping at us. I grabbed the girl and made for the main set of buildings. The doors were, of course locked. I dug out my crow bar from my pack and smashed in the glass. I had no idea where we were going and that realization hit me when we got to the large entry hall of the main building. I spun around maybe 5 times before it hit me. I was in the middle of a park filled with water. I spotted a sign that read “Dolphins” and ran that direction. Before the path took us outside again, I passed a gift shop and on the top shelf was one of the largest water guns I had ever seen. So I grabbed it and we shoved through the back door deeper into the park just as the Candy Men got to the entrance doors on the other side of the building.
We ran and found the huge raised tank of water. Through the glass I could see through the blue tinted water that nothing resided in the tank. Someone must have rescued, I hope rescued, the water-bound animals sometime during the panic. I lifted the girl up to the edge of the tank before skittering up the glass wall myself. After jumping into the water, I help the girl in and told her to hold onto my back. I swam to the opposite side of the pool to where the dolphin trainers would command their aquatic animals to jump through hoops and splash the audience. I really wished there were some dolphins still there to do that.
I dumped my pack off onto the concrete and treaded back to the middle of the tank. I filled the water gun I was still holding and we waited. A few minutes later a crashing sound came from the building and the chocolate monsters skulked around the corner. The girl clinging to my back whimpered and I hushed her in what I hoped was a reassuring way.
The Candy Men seemed to be searching for us. Even though we were clearly visible through the glass wall that held back countless gallons of water. They wandered passed us spreading out into the bleachers surrounding the tank. Cautiously, I swam back toward the trainers’ platform while watching the ten monsters. But it wasn’t all ten of them. I heard a shuffle behind me and turned at the same time the girl noticed and screamed. Candy Men can definitely hear.
The monster on the trainer’s platform lurched toward the girl’s scream, tripped over my pack and landed in the tank next to us. I flailed, pushing us away from the thing as it thrashed in the water. Before our eyes the humanoid blob melted and disintegrated into the blue water leaving a brown cloud dispersing outward. I looked and saw the other Candy Men who were all now making their way to the front of the tank.
They reached the glass wall and began probing at it. At each spot of the glass they touched, there was left a brown smudge. That smudge then took on it’s own life and began to expand, eating away at the glass. I sat the girl on the trainers’ platform and swam to the glass wall. I held my water-filled firearm over my head and shot a stream of water at the monsters and tried to to get the outside of the glass wall wet.
And while the monsters reacted to my attack, they didn’t back off. And the outside of the glass was still dry and transforming. Then I remembered the dolphins and with my free hand splashed and arm-load of water out onto a couple of the monsters. This was far more effective as the two monsters backed off. Letting go of the water gun, I used both of my arms to send more water out onto my hunters. One by one they backed away from the wall.
My small success was dashed when I saw from my vantage point that the glass was being converted from the inside still from the couple of dozen points where the Candy Men had initiated the infection. The transformation caused the chocolate to push out the front of the glass and I could hear a tinkling sound coming from inside the wall. I backed off just as a large crack shot across the width of the wall. With great haste I swam for the trainers’ platform. I planted my hands and as I was pulling myself up I heard what sounded like a gunshot. Looking over my shoulder I saw the glass wall break into a million pieces of glass and chocolate.
Water rushed out of the now crumbling damn. The flow pushed into the bleachers and the Candy Men standing dumbly in the path of the flood. I felt the water pull at my legs and with effort I was able to pull myself onto the ledge before it tugged me back down. I turned and sat and watched the melting monsters get carried away by the water rushing towards corners and drains out of sight.
The girl and I ventured into the building where we smashed open a vending machine and ate along side of the silent pumps and machinery that filtered and processed the water. I found the desk where I’m writing this. We’ve heard movement elsewhere in the building, so we’re staying hidden here for now. We also hear thunder. God, I hope for rain. We’ll wait until sunrise or the sound of rain and then try to make the run back to the marina where I hope my family is still safe. I don’t have high hopes though. If the Candy Men are here in these numbers, the Browning isn’t far behind. We’ll be lucky of we make it.
And that’s why I’ve written this… letter, I guess. In the plastic bag I’m putting this letter in you should also find a USB. On it is the recorded signal we detected and the coordinates in the sky where it’s from. I don’t know why I’ve held onto it, but it’s going to do you more good than me if there’s anything left when you find it. Maybe if things get sorted out, we can radio the aliens back. Tell them we survived too.