Come and Find Me A Novel of Suspense - By Hallie Ephron

Chapter One

If it were up to Diana, there’d be weather. Rain, snow, even the occasional hurricane. But climate was one of those things that were out of her control in this always blue-sky world. The terrain, on the other hand, was her choice: a replica of a spot in the Swiss Alps at the base of Waterfall Pitch with the towering North Face of the Eiger looming overhead.

Nadia, Diana’s alter ego in the virtual reality of OtherWorld, was barely visible standing at the base of a cascade of frozen water sculpted against the nearly vertical slope. Diana zoomed in on her avatar, who wore wraparound sunglasses, a fitted black leather jacket with a zipper and upturned collar, slim jeans, red boots, and a red newsboy cap. In the real Swiss Alps, she’d have lasted about thirty seconds in that outfit; the bitter cold turned any exposed bit of skin pink, then red, then white. Diana recalled the stillness into which tinkling cowbells and voices from the valley below had risen like whiffs of smoke.

Waterfall Pitch had been nearly unclimbable—every placement of ax or crampon risked fracturing the ice, sending chunks crashing down on climbers below. The challenge had only added to the thrill.

With a gentle touch, Diana twisted her 3-D mouse with its oversize trackball to crane the angle of view and take in the pristine beauty surrounding Nadia. In this version of reality, you didn’t have to wait days for clouds to shift. It took only seconds for the computer’s vector graphics engine to rez, revealing the Eiger’s tip.

Diana twisted the view downward. Even though she knew this was artificial reality, a place she’d created herself, fear flickered in her chest and a tremor passed through her as icy crevasses below came into focus. She forced herself to look, picking once again at the unhealed wound as she remembered Daniel’s last echoey cries. Reaching out with trembling fingers, she touched the frame of her computer screen. It calmed her to trace the boundaries of the image.

Diana had made it back. Daniel hadn’t.

She pulled up on the mouse and nudged the space bar. Nadia rose into the air, landed on a narrow outcropping near the top of the peak, and stared out at the void. At her desk, Diana crossed her arms and hunched her body to staunch the shudders of pain that rippled from her core.

With a ding, a text message popped into a corner of the screen.

JAKE: RU there?

Where else would she be? Diana swatted away the message with a click of the mouse. She had a timer ticking down in the corner of the screen, reminding her of their meeting with MedLogic. It wasn’t for another twenty minutes. Whatever Jake needed from her could wait.

Diana typed /pray. A single violin keened the opening of Pachelbel’s Canon, and her avatar dropped to her knees and lowered her head. The somber, stately notes stepped down the scale, stepped down again, and then melodies intertwined and the pace quickened as more violins joined in, their melodies swirling and circling one another.

Diana splayed her fingers and rested them on the screen. Rest in peace. The words repeated themselves in her head, a chanting counterpoint to the music.

A discreet buzzer sounded a fifteen-minute reminder. With a few clicks, Nadia was home. Pixel by pixel, a virtual room resolved itself around her. It was identical to Diana’s real office in the house where she’d grown up in a Boston suburb, right down to the brightly colored Peruvian weaving that hung on the wall. Nadia’s “office” was much neater, though, and its plants were green instead of brown.

Diana shot a note to Jake, telling him that she’d be ready. Quickly, she put the finishing touches on their presentation and dragged files for the meeting across the screen and into Nadia’s briefcase. She was scrolling one last time through her notes for the meeting when a Klaxon sounded. INTRUDER ALERT flashed in the corner of the computer screen.

Diana’s heart lurched and her breath caught in her throat. She swiveled to an adjacent monitor. Live video feeds from cameras stationed outside her compact ranch house showed a brown UPS van parked out front, a hulking shadow on this bright sunny day. A uniformed man had just breached her electronic fence and was on his way to her front door with a good-size package.

Diana took a deep breath and steadied herself against the edge of the desk. The alarm continued. The doorbell rang. The meeting buzzer went off—ten-minute