Puzzle
rating: +38+x

Now that I think about it, the old man wasn't trying to keep it away from us so he could solve it. He was trying to keep it away from us so we couldn't. He was dirty and unkempt, his hair a matted mess and his clothes in tatters when the police caught up with him, carrying that cursed box. A concerned citizen had called them in because they thought that the old bum had a bomb, or at least stolen something from somewhere. Cornered, he screamed that they couldn't have it and pulled a gun on the police officers. He died before they could even call in for a paramedic.

I was just a junior assistant researcher at the time. I don't even remember exactly how it came to the Foundation's attention, just that it was brought in by field agents, and we were ordered to figure out how to open the thing. Come to think of it, I don't even have any idea how we could have possibly known that the thing could be opened. It was a perfect cube, thirty centimeters to a side, with thousands of engraved runes in its surface. It was eerily beautiful too, though none of us could ever put our finger on exactly why. We only knew that we had to figure it out. We had to solve the puzzle.

It took a team of almost a hundred researchers ten years to figure it out. The best and brightest minds at the Foundation were transferred to our project to unlock its secrets. Billions of dollars were spent on equipment and everything else put on hold so we could do our work. Ten years, and we all crowded around with anticipation, gathered as the final piece was put into place.

I can't remember exactly what happened next that day, but I remember that the first of the things came down three days later. It impacted savagely into the Russian tundra and unfurled into a creature of nightmare that glided impossibly fast on its four-jointed legs and hunted any human it could find until we put it down. We lost almost thirty agents.

Two more came in as many days, landing in Brazil and Australia. We sent three MTFs and only four men came back. The things were dead, but the news was leaking out. A fourth one came down in San Francisco at the end of the week, and the whole world knew that something terrible had happened.

Almost a hundred had landed by the time we lost contact with High Command at the end of week three. Our task forces were completely overwhelmed, and the world's police and military forces were unable to fight off the monsters. From fragments of surveillance footage, we saw that they were eating our dead.

There are only a few of us left, hiding in the dark corners of the world. Most of the major sites were compromised within weeks, broken in without a fight. I think they managed to absorb the information from the bodies they consumed, and used that to find our hiding places. The only ones still alive are the ones who could find places where no one knew to look. I think the puzzle was the key, a beacon that called them to our world when we became intelligent enough to solve it. They fed on our intelligence and wiped us out completely.

We haven't stepped outside for years. Food and water are running low, and sooner or later we'll have to go out to search for more. Out there where the monsters are. If anyone should find this message in the future, hear our words across time. One day, a puzzle will appear on your doorstep as well. Resist the urge to solve it. Lock it away. It doesn't pay to be smart.

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