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JOHN POPPED THE bottle of champagne. The cork hit the ceiling of the cabin of his private jet. Fine bubbles frothed over the rim and down the neck. He filled a glass and passed it to the woman sitting in front of him, setting the bottle in a bucket of ice.

"This will tide you over for a while. I have to finish a few work details, but then I'll come back and join you, okay?"

"Do you promise?"

"I promise, it'll be worth the wait."

The woman, the blonde reporter from the press conference, took a sip, set down the glass and put both her hands on John's chest. She pressed into his firm body, kneading with fingers, drawing him closer with her eyes. John allowed himself to be pulled over her, brought up to her face like a magnifying glass. She focused on his lips.

Her lips parted, tongue coming outside to play. She ran the tip up his chin and washed it across his mouth. When John failed to contain his smile, she thrust her tongue between his lips. In-out-in-out ... in.

John put up his hands, forced himself to pull away. "Your bad for the—"

She snaked her hand over her breasts, down her slender waist to her thighs. Between now.

"—bottom line."

She bit her lower lip. "I've been very bad."

He cleared his throat and gave a reassuring nod as he excused himself.

John entered his private office and locked the door. With the information now decrypted, he did not need any interruptions while exploring the thumb drive obtained from Tom Gunn. He had to admit, his curiosity went into orbit when he'd learned that the data required a virtual reality headset to view most of it. A push of a button and a sound test rang out from speakers integrated into a pair of VR goggles on his chair.

He donned the headset, snugging it into place. A low buzz filled his ears. The screen rested a few inches from his eyes, flashed white, then flickered to full color in crisp definition.

And John left the plane and entered a virtual world.

A Heads-Up Display illuminated a breadth of information for John. At the top, it read GUNN, displayed the date, and a timeclock wound up, keeping track of the elapsed length of the mission. A green padlock flashed in the upper-right corner.

SECURE RECORDING.

"I'm inside Tom's head, his video feed from some sort of helmet camera."

On the left of the display ran the vitals, body temperature, heartbeat rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate, stacked upon one another. On the right side, the external functions appeared: ambient temperature, humidity and windspeed.

The audio kicked in, a digital deep base tickling his sternum. The first-person viewer perspective sucked John in with amazing ease and he soon found it difficult to discern reality from what wrapped his sensorial palate.

Tom checked his heartbeat in the HUD which pumped in synch with the ticking seconds of the mission counter. Inside the belly of the aircraft, a dull red light turned on, signaling the time to jump neared. Wind tore in through the open door of the plane in a perpetual scream.

The aircraft shuddered.

Tom tugged at the straps of his harness. Good to go. He snapped down the visor on his rig, the air-tight seal producing a hiss. A dim white light flickered on inside the helmet.

He leaped from the plane into the blackness, falling away from the droning engines. Dual Rolls Royce turbofan engines boomed as the Cessna Citation X thundered away, a glittering canvas of stars blanketing his descent.

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