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Harriet only just managed to dodge the bullet. She swore she had felt it slice through her hair. Her heart was in her mouth. She could taste it. The sinewy arteries were clogging up her air supply and their was a reservoir of blood pooling beneath her tongue. 

The man that had been targeting her cursed from within the thick copse of trees and stumbled out into the open. He no longer had his gun - maybe he had run out of ammunition. Harriet stepped behind a tree and reloaded her own gun. 


She looked around her. Her escape through the forest had led her to a dead end. Sort of. Harriet might be able to walk along the edges off the cliff face if only she knew she were alone. But she wasn't. She would have liked to take in the surroundings a little longer but she could hear an engine in the distance. And the whipping of helicopter blades. And she knew he would keep coming after her. 


She quickly peeked from behind the tree and came face to face with the man. He slapped her hard across the face and jammed his knuckles between her teeth. She felt heat where his fingers had hit her and could smell the sweaty, muddy scent of his military uniform.


He took his hand away from her face but didn't release the grip he had on her hair. She could feel individual strands beginning to pluck away from her scalp. She desperately grappled for a weapon but it was useless. He had kicked the gun from her arms and it had clattered down the rocky summits that led to the plunge pool below. 


'Why did you do that, you stupid pig?! You could have taken it for yourself'


The uniformed man had tactfully pulled a rope from somewhere and had begun to tie Harriet's arms to her own torso. He didn't acknowledge what she had just said but stepped back, arms crossed and admired his handy work. He waited for her to speak again.

Harriet searched for the correct phrase to use in such a situation and was left with a meagre three responses; 'Untie me and I'll double your earnings for hunting me', 'If you let me go, I'll order my men to leave you unharmed' or 'Kill me, coward.'


None of that is really going to get me anywhere, she thought, but opted with the first option. She had spent all her money already - but he wouldn't know that. 


He smiled mockingly at her, his angular face revealing a perfect set of shiny white teeth. Then he stepped around her. She felt the rope tauten on her skin and then felt a small nick on her wrist where he had overenthusiastically freed her with a knife. 


Nice detail, she thought.


He faced her again. Harriet tried to move but was paralysed until he had his say.


'Well? Hand me your purse'


Harriet raided her backpack. Why hadn't he just opened the bag and took the contents while he had her bounded her up? 

She tossed him a small leather bag. It had a single coin in it but the man didn't bother checking the contents. Instead he gloated.


'Freedom has to pay a price! And you have made me a rich man.'


He sauntered away back into the forest. Harriet laughed at the bizarreness of the situation. He had chased her all the way from the military base, some six or seven miles, had called up a search party, risked his life, ran out of ammunition, just to leave her alive and having gained next to nothing in a copper coin. 


She listened out for any further danger, but it seemed that the helicopters and jeeps had also been paid off. All Harriet could hear now was the steady activities of nature; the flowing and crashing of the waterfall, the wind rustling the trees, birds flapping their wings and calling to each other's mates.


Harriet traced the area on her face where she had been hit. She swore she could feel a light swelling. She took a swig from her canteen and felt the icy, earthy water run down to her stomach. Then she remembered her gun, and with a leap, dived into the ravine to retrieve it.

A shroud of blackness enveloped her.

Steven was beaming down at her from the top of the sensory deprivation tank. She removed the electrode patches from her temples and stepped out. He handed her a towel.


'Well, how was it? Was it realistic?'


'The storyline is ok so far but sometimes the interaction with other characters is a bit limiting.'

Steven smirked. 'Well, I don't want you to start getting too invested. You might forget about me.'


Harriet raises her eyebrows. 'Oh and what do you suppose I'd do with them, hm?'


Steven pulls her towards him. 'Nothing that you wouldn't do with me, I hope.'

She brought his hand up towards her face. She placed it on her cheek. 'Well, if you can make the sex as intensely real as that slap, you might just lose me to a virtual lover.'

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