Tasha looked around from the corner of the street to pinpoint the restaurant name she was looking for. It was night time and the shops were all open and bustling with customers flowing in and out every second. Many simply stood on the footpath and chatted away. Soda bottles in hand or posing for a group selfie.
A cold air blew. Tasha crossed the street when the lights turned red and got inside the restaurant which emanated golden lights from the inside.
The moment she got in, warm air rushed to meet her face and when the entrance door shut close, she only heard a faint silence.
This restaurant, in contrast, didn't have many people in it. There were a few scattered here and there, couples and newlyweds, mostly. You knew it by looking at the flustered expressions on their faces.
Sliding her lock screen away, she pressed the call button on the most recent number.
"You're here?" Haffar asked immediately.
"Yes," Tasha looked around the restaurant to see a middle aged man who looked like he belonged to the HR department. She had no other clue who this man might be. "La Farina Dorado, right? I'm here. Where are you?"
A waiter came to stand in front of her, "Good evening ma'am how may I help you?" Tasha nodded but waved her away and walked to the other end of the restaurant as per Haffar's directions.
"Towards the female restroom, and then you'll see two path ways. Take the one that leads to the back garden."
Tasha slowly pushed open the glass door and stepped into the cold air once again. "I could have just walked around the restaurant to come here. Why go through it?"
"Oh no, no, no. Nobody can know about our encounter. I took the path around the restaurant. If anyone spots us both taking the same route, the Spiders will report."
"The Spiders? What are you talking about?"
"Do you see the janitor's room?"
Tasha looked over to the left and saw a tall mop leaning over a door.
"Walk towards it, but don't enter."
She did as she was told and stood right in front of the room. At that very moment, the call got cut. And it was just silence for a while.
"Hello," she heard Haffar's voice from beside her and turned around in surprise to hear the voice in real life. He was hiding behind a stack of buckets and a tiny torch illuminated his pale face.
"God, you scared me!" Tasha placed a hand on her heart and stepped closer to Haffar now that she finally found her.
"No worries. I'll get straight to the point," he said looking at his watch, "We have exactly 6 minutes."
Tasha nodded. "So, who is it?"
"Truth be told, I don't know."
Haffar placed a finger on his lips, "Shh, shh, shh. Let me finish. I'll start from the beginning."
Tasha nodded and dug her pocket inconspicuously and felt for the device she had hid inside her pants. Feeling it there, she clicked a button on the device. Haffar's words were being recorded now.
Oblivious to any of that, Haffar spoke.
"I was at the office on the night of September 9th. There had been a lot of visas to approve so I thought of staying in late to get that done, but I fell asleep," he chuckled to himself, "And then next time I woke up, it was somewhere around 3:00 AM and the entire building had been closed and shut down.
I stashed all the pending work under my desk and walked out of the dark office to try to figure out a way to get out of the building. On my way to take the stairs to the ground floor…I saw light in the far end of the hallway.
And I was slightly scared at this point. I got even more scared when I heard heavy whirring sounds coming from the source of the faint light. I decided to check it out so I abandoned the staircase and walked over to the light.
I hid behind a pillar and saw that the light was coming from the Locked Room."
Tasha nodded her head in disbelief. Why hadn't Haffar said all this before? All this were starting to sound like highly potential leads, at least compared to the futile ones the detectives had come up with.
"At first I didn't see any person as such. Then suddenly a black cloaked being just appeared inside the Room."
"A man?" Tasha asked, "Did he have weapons? Software equipment with him? Anything you could recognize about this being?"
Haffar shook his head, "His face was completely covered with some sort of black duct tape. Allah knows how he breathed through all that plastic. I saw him play around with the Beamer prototypes, so I was positive that he was trying to tamper with the plans of Systema Games."
"And? What did you do?" Tasha asked. She looked at the watch on Haffar's hands. 3 more minutes.
"I pressed the emergency fire button of course!"
"What? You did? But there were no reports of fire-fighters at the headquarters since last year's short circuit."
"Exactly. The button didn't go through. At least it didn't reach the fire department," he guessed, "But it reached the black cloaked man."
Tasha covered her mouth.
"He stopped tampering with all the things in the Locked Room and simply stood there, doing nothing after I pressed the button. Then, he slowly turned his head around to look at me," Haffar shivered in front of her.
"Why are you shivering? Are you cold?"
Haffar shook his head, "No, it's not that…I was just thinking about how his face looked like. It was taped, like I said, except the area were the eyes were supposed to be."
"Supposed to be?" Tasha asked incredulously.
Haffar nodded with remorse. "It didn't have any eyes."
"Oh my God…" she breathed out. What were we dealing with? At first, she had thought all this was Evertech's plan. Naturally. But with every word Haffar spoke, she doubted that fact.
This was something way, way worse.
"So I turned to run away and halfway down the stairs, I tripped. And I went stumbling down. By the time I hit the ground, I was lifted back up again by a strong hand and I saw its dark face up close. Before I could do anything, it hit me with a huge metal rod and dropped me to the ground.
But I hadn't died yet, like it thought I would. My vision was still there and I saw a huge flash from the upper floor, from the Locked Room. That was probably when the game came to life. I saw the being walk away from me then, carrying a bag.
I tried to focus and saw what was in the bag. There were so many of them!"
1 minute more, Tasha noticed. "So many of what?"
"CCTVs. It took them all down. Every single one."
"Was it wearing gloves?" She asked, remembering how they had found no finger prints at all.
"Yes. There was no trace of skin at all. And he simply stood in front of the entrance door. But didn't open it."
"You'll probably think I'm crazy now…" Haffar turned reluctant.
"Just say it!"
Tasha tilted her head in confusion, "Faded?"
"Yeah like," Haffar lifted his hands in the air, "Disintegrated to dust. Poof!"
Tasha was at a loss of words. Till one point, she believed him. Even the fact that whatever it was didn't have eyes. But this…what fallacy was this?
She wanted to know more, but then Haffar's eyes darted to a point behind her and he clicked his torch off and dipped down to hide completely behind the stacks of buckets.
Tasha turned around in bewilderment and her eyes found the waiter who had welcome her earlier. His face was annoyed now as he held garbage bags in both hands.
But his face softened to that of a kind waiter's when he saw the 'customer'. He put the garbage down, "Ma'am are you lost?"
"Uh…" Tasha looked around and remembered the area she had passed before she came out here, "I was looking for the female restroom and kind of got diverted," she laughed nervously.
The waiter smiled as if he understood that people could be clumsy sometimes and lead her to the restroom. Tasha thanked the waiter this time and went inside.
Haffar had known the waiter was going to come out to throw out the garbage, which explained the 6 minutes countdown. He had put so much effort into planning this encounter. But what Tasha couldn't understand was, who was watching them?
She splashed cold water on her face and watched it drip down her face as she imagined a human being simply disintegrating into thin air. What would she have done if she had been in Haffar's place?
Probably died. At least Haffar lived long enough for the cleaning staff to find him at 4:00 in the morning. They all had thought that he simply fell from that stairs. He refused to admit anything back then.
There was more. Otherwise Haffar wouldn't have shut up about all this. That black cloaked man must have contacted him after September 1st somehow.
And the Spiders? What were they?
Tasha decided that she needed to meet Haffar again. He was her only lead now. Who cared if she wasn't a part of the company anymore? Letting a strange being like that lurk in the streets of New York was not just creepy, it was lethal.
Tasha bought a salad for herself from the restaurant to avoid spending much and made her way back home, her mind running with thoughts. She replayed the recording in her ears repeatedly on the way back.
Still, she did not understand any more of it as she had the first time.
Before she went to sleep, she decided to scroll through the news for a while. Mostly to catch up on what the government thought about the six boys. 'They are AI-IRL Translations, for goodness sake! Not mere robots!' Tasha wanted to scream at them every time she saw a retarded article referring to them as robots.
Her body went still as she found a highly trending live stream on a popular news page. The only reason she clicked it was because of its strange familiarity.
Her jaw dropped and she forgot how to breathe as she watched it all unfold on her phone.
There, captured by the cameraman, were a bunch of police men surrounding a dead body on the road. Blood oozed out of the dead man's head and his hands were all twisted in weird angles.
Something else caught her eyes which she suspected none of the others did. Around him were little crawly things that blended in with the black asphalt of the road.
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