Zola wiped her eyes. This HAD to stop, this crying, or she was going to ruin her career. You couldn’t be the world’s foremost eyelash model with puffy red eyes. While “eyelash model” didn’t seem like a real job even, she had made quite a nice life for herself being just that. She was constantly in demand for commercials, live shoots, body doubles (if you could call it that), and most CGI was modeled after HER eyelashes. They were that good.
But it had been a whole week now since her friend disappeared, and Zola was still having crying jags. There were no clues, no notes, nothing to suggest foul play (which was good), but....where was she? And her dog was gone also, like they had both gone for a walk and gotten very very lost. Search parties had carefully gone through the woods for days, and the scent dogs had plenty to work with, but had come up with nothing. Zola sighed. She knew her friend hadn’t been very happy lately, after losing her long-time partner, but suicide didn’t seem her style. Hopefully she would show up soon, having gone away on an impromptu trip, and be horribly embarrassed at the trouble and worry she’d caused.
In the meantime Zola had her own life to deal with. Worry about her friend wasn’t the only thing making her eyes puffy and her lashes less than perfect. Every morning she found several eyelashes in her sink as she washed her face, and the same thing in the evening. At this rate she would be eyelashless in a few months! How would she support herself? There was nothing special about the rest of her looks, so modeling was out. She’d have to rely on her mind to support herself....she was so screwed!
Still, she WAS pretty good at solving puzzles. Maybe she could be a PI, that was a real-world application. Solving the mystery of her friend’s disappearance could be a test for her, both to see if she could do it, and to see if she liked the process. She resolved to put her mind to it in the morning. She grabbed some herbal tea bags that were soaking in cold water in her refrigerator, put them over her eyes (one did have to take care of one’s greatest asset!), and went to bed.
The next day, she set out for her friend’s house. Zola knew that the house wasn’t considered a crime scene, as no body had been found and there was no evidence that a crime had been committed. The only reason they had even searched for her friend was because it was a fairly small community, and there was a chance she had fallen in the woods somewhere and hurt herself. So she knew she could let herself in with the spare key hidden in the birdfeeder, and look around for clues.
She was almost as familiar with this house as her own, and yet it felt quite foreign to her this morning - the absence of her friend made it like a stranger’s house. Good, she thought to herself, that will help me to be objective. Even though she had walked through it last week, after first becoming concerned about her friend’s absence, she did so again, trying to see things through the eyes of a PI, pretending she’d never been there before. It wasn’t easy. She found herself tearing up each time she entered a new room and her friend wasn’t there. The house didn’t even smell like her anymore, as if it knew its owner was not returning, and had released her scent to make room for someone new.
Finally she sat down at her friend’s computer. Zola had saved this for last, as she felt sure she would find some clues here, and she didn’t want to overlook any others in the rest of the house. She jostled the mouse and the computer came alive - Zola was startled to see new wallpaper. Her friend hadn’t changed her wallpaper in years: Zola was constantly berating her about having Christmas on her computer all year round but her friend would just smile and say, but it’ll be Christmas soon!
She examined the new scene. It looked like a watercolor - quite nice really, although a little odd, as if more than one person had painted it. She thought hard, she didn’t remember seeing this last week when searching the house to make sure her friend hadn’t fallen and was lying injured somewhere. But then, she hadn’t paid much attention to the computer, so it was possible it had been on here. Stop being paranoid, she told herself. Of course it was here then, no one else would change anything on this computer.
She clicked on her friend’s email, lots of unopened messages; she scanned the senders but didn’t see anything alarming or out of place. She went into her documents, again nothing out of the ordinary. Hovering over the icons in the dock, they were all just normal programs except for one called Second Life. She vaguely remembered her friend mentioning it several months ago, but Zola hadn’t been interested, and that was the last time her friend brought it up. Checking the history, she saw that it was the most recent site visited, and there were several related sites also: a dashboard, a marketplace, forums; almost everything in the history had to do with Second Life.
Well, it was all she had to go on. Being familiar with her friend’s habits, she went to her rolodex where she was sure to find a password; in fact she found several! Each attached to a different name. The first combination didn’t work, but the second one did, and she found herself staring at some virtual horses in a virtual stable. This is silly, why am I wasting my time with this, and she closed the program and sat there brooding.
Toto woke up when he heard Mistress exclaim, “omg, someone just logged in one of my alts!” He licked her hand, trying to comfort her, he could tell she was very upset. The Man hugged her and said, “Babe, are you sure?” “Yes,” she replied, “I checked local chat and my alt logged in and logged out. Someone’s hacked my account!” The Man was silent for awhile. Toto thought he might have gone to sleep. Mistress was pacing. Finally The Man said, “Babe, maybe they’re looking for you.” Mistress sighed. Toto signed too, and lay down at her feet. Mistress had been so happy this past month, like she hadn’t been in a long long time, and Toto had been the beneficiary of her renewed attention and joy of life. He hoped whatever had just upset her was short-lived. Wait, he knew what to do! He jumped up and grabbed Shiny Thing and laid it at her feet, wagging his tail. Mistress looked at him and smiled, then looked at The Man. “Shall we?” “Sure why not,” The Man replied, smiling also. He picked up Shiny Thing, and said, “Come on Toto, let’s go play Frisbee!” Shiny Thing glowed.