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At 5:15AM yesterday a cryptic radio transmission was received from a top-secret research facility which lasted about 6 minutes.

After that we were unable to reestablish contact for nearly an hour.

The message was as follows (repeated 3 times):

72 68 116 15 108 99 103 59 80 99 57 46 84 13 81 1 8 31 68 41 112 118 28 69 79 53 93 99 48 110 53 38 44 63 32 18 37 99 66 9 92 22 92 75 68 81 104 85 41 38 25 53 38 21 53 76 28 51 105 99 62 81 44 8 39 90 80 53 51 9 13 24 53 2 53 81 39 53 25 42 68 66 53 47 81 99 116 70

At 6:02AM we finally reestablished contact.

A man who identifies as Dr. Azazel was first to respond. The voice seems to be the same as the one from the earlier cryptic message.

Here is a transcript of the conversation that followed (some information redacted):

Facility: "Hi this is Dr. Azazel at Facility [redacted] reading you loud and clear. Over."

Outpost: "Roger. This is [redacted] from US outpost [redacted]. We received a strange transmission we think from your facility at approximately 0515 hours which consisted of a series of random numbers. Do you know anything about that? Over."

Facility: "I wouldn't know anything about that. Just a bunch of numbers stated periodically? Here, maybe ask Dr. Abaddon who is on his way up." [short pause] "Hi Doctor, I was just talking to outpost [redacted]. They were just reaching out about a strange transmission they received. Sorry, I'm holding the button down. Over."

Outpost: "Roger that. Doctor, would you like me to read back the transmission? Over."

Facility: [Presumably Dr. Abaddon] "Yes, that would be fine."

Outpost: [Reads back transmission]

Facility: "That's unusual. Maybe you picked up a transmission from somewhere else.

Outpost: "Roger that. Sorry for the trouble. Over and out.”

At approximately 5:15AM this morning we received an identical transmission.

We have not attempted further contact as we think this is some sort of distress signal. We must assume the facility has been compromised and taken over by a hostile force.

When we tried to find more information on the researchers, we were not allowed to know who works there, but they could confirm that there is no Dr. Azazel or Dr. Abaddon at that facility.

What does the coded message mean?

Who (if anyone) has taken over the facility?

What should we do next?

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1 Answer 1

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The message decrypts to:

HELP HELP HELP PATHOGEN CONTAINE[C] DISREGAR[E]D FUTURE TRANSMISSIONS DESTROY THIS FACI[H]ITY IMMEDIATELY

which, once a few typos are ironed out and punctuation is added, should presumably read: HELP HELP HELP. PATHOGEN CONTAINED. DISREGARD FUTURE TRANSMISSIONS. DESTROY THIS FACILITY IMMEDIATELY.

Because the numbers represent:

The atomic numbers of Periodic Table elements (clued in the puzzle by an appearance of the word 'periodically'):

72 Hf (Hafnium)
68 Er (Erbium)
116 Lv (Livermorium)
15 P (Phosphorus)
108 Hs (Hassium)
99 Es (Einsteinium)
103 Lr (Lawrencium)
59 Pr (Praseodymium)
80 Hg (Mercury)
99 Es (Einsteinium)
57 La (Lanthanum)
46 Pd (Palladium)
84 Po (Polonium)
13 Al (Aluminium)
81 Tl (Thallium)
1 H (Hydrogen)
8 O (Oxygen)
31 Ga (Gallium)
68 Er (Erbium)
41 Nb (Niobium)
112 Cn (Copernicium)
118 Og (Oganesson)
28 Ni (Nickel)
69 Tm (Thulium)
79 Au (Gold)
53 I (Iodine)
93 Np (Neptunium)
99 Es (Einsteinium)
48 Cd (Cadmium)
110 Ds (Darmstadtium)
53 I (Iodine)
38 Sr (Strontium)
44 Ru (Ruthenium)
63 Eu (Europium)
32 Ge (Germanium)
18 Ar (Argon)
37 Rb (Rubidium)
99 Es (Einsteinium)
66 Dy (Dysprosium)
9 F (Fluorine)
92 U (Uranium)
22 Ti (Titanium)
92 U (Uranium)
75 Re (Rhenium)
68 Er (Erbium)
81 Tl (Thallium)
104 Rf (Rutherfordium)
85 At (Astatine)
41 Nb (Niobium)
38 Sr (Strontium)
25 Mn (Manganese)
53 I (Iodine)
38 Sr (Strontium)
21 Sc (Scadium)
53 I (Iodine)
76 Os (Osmium)
28 Ni (Nickel)
51 Sb (Antimony)
105 Db (Dubnium)
99 Es (Einsteinium)
62 Sm (Samarium)
81 Tl (Thallium)
44 Ru (Ruthenium)
8 O (Oxygen)
39 Y (Yttrium)
90 Th (Thorium)
80 Hg (Mercury)
53 I (Iodine)
51 Sb (Antimony)
9 F (Fluorine)
13 Al (Aluminium)
24 Cr (Chromium)
53 I (Iodine)
2 He (Helium)
53 I (Iodine)
81 Tl (Thallium)
39 Y (Yttrium)
53 I (Iodine)
25 Mn (Manganese)
42 Mo (Molybdenum)
68 Er (Erbium)
66 Dy (Dysprosium)
53 I (Iodine)
47 Ag (Silver)
81 Tl (Thallium)
99 Es (Einsteinium)
116 Lv (Livermorium)
70 Yb (Ytterbium)

The message is extracted by reading off only the first letter of the elemental symbol (not the name itself, note, as the first letters of Mercury, Gold and Silver, for example, do not match those of their symbols and would make the message unintelligible).

What does this all mean?

My reading of it is that the top-secret research facility is a laboratory working with potentially dangerous biological/chemical substances. One of the pathogens they have been working on has been accidentally released but has at least been contained within the facility itself.

The correct previously-agreed course of action in such a situation is to burn the facility to the ground, and this is suggested in the transmission.

The unusual behaviour of the scientists in the ensuing communications is presumably the result of exposure to the pathogen. The names they go by (Azazel and Abaddon) are those of fallen or destroyer angels mentioned in the Bible - Abaddon, specifically in the book of Revelation in connection with complete annihilation. It appears they now act as some kind of host for an agent that might possibly bring about the end of the world. 'Future transmissions should be disregarded' because once exposed the scientists are no longer in their right minds due to its effects. It is imperative that swift action is taken to prevent this outbreak spreading further - act now!

As an alternative to this last paragraph - as I think the OP may be hinting in a comment below this answer - it may be that the first scientist, 'Dr. Azazel' (a name meaning 'scapegoat'), is merely attempting to convey the instruction to destroy the facility to the powers-that-be without 'Dr. Abaddon' (a name meaning 'destruction') realising this, as Dr. Abaddon is the one responsible for an outbreak of the pathogen, doesn't yet realise his plan has been rumbled, and must be stopped at all costs.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ah yes, but rot13(jul qvq gur svefg qbpgbe frrz gb or va uvf evtug zvaq gb tvir gur uvag bs "crevbqvp" naq gura checbfryl tvir snyfr anzrf bs "Nmnmry" ("fpncrtbng" be "fnpevsvpr") sbe uvzfrys naq "Nonqqba ("ehva" be "qrfgehpgvba" sbe gur bgure qbpgbe. Gura ur nyfb unq gur pyrnearff bs zvaq gb fraq gur fnzr pbqrq zrffntr gur arkg zbeavat. Boivbhfyl gur raq erfhyg fubhyq or gur fnzr, fb lbh tbg vg evtug sebz gur pbqrq vafgehpgvba, ohg creuncf guvf vf unccravat sbe fbzr bgure ernfba guna n zvaq nygrevat cngubtra.) $\endgroup$
    – Hawkeye
    Feb 5, 2023 at 15:48

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