The pilot managed to keep the plane’s nose up, so that it did not crash head-first into the ground, spreading itself and its sole occupant over half a mile of barren Nevada desert. Instead it came in at an angle, but its velocity was much too great to make a safe landing. The landing gear broke off the instant it touched the ground. The plane skidded on its belly with a scream of tearing metal, trailing sparks and smoke. First one wing broke off, then the other, before it skidded to a halt. The pilot managed to clamber out of the open-air cockpit just before the whole thing burst into flames.

He stumbled away until he got clear of the smoke, coughing and choking as he went. He pulled his ridiculously old-fashioned aviator goggles off his face and looked around, trying to get his bearings.

Forgetting the old adage about any landing you walked away from, he said to himself, “Stan my man, you fucked up, big time.”

Stan Owens, billionaire, entrepreneur, aviator, adventurer and explorer, found himself in a land covered in dust, rocks, and not much else. An empty desert landscape stretched away to the limits of his vision in all directions. It was the quintessential desert; a harsh, rugged scene unsoftened by vegetation. He couldn’t see a trace of green anywhere, not even cactus. Only infinite shadings of brown blending upwards through the heat haze to the pale, harshly sunlit sky.

The land stood in sharp contrast to the airport in Reno from which he had taken off mere hours earlier amid the camera flashes of dozens of photographers. Using his antique airplane, which he had paid some highly skilled restorationists a great deal of money to rebuild, had been part of the show. He was going to look for a dried-up lake bed, over which he planned to set a land speed record in a rocket-powered motorcycle. He had made a second career out of breaking world records ever since retiring as CEO of his aerospace company, Owens International. He held the world speed record for circumnavigating the globe in a glider. He was the oldest man to scale Mount Everest, and the only man to have visited the highest point on Earth and the lowest to which human beings could go, having set a depth record in the Mariana Trench off Guam in a specially built submarine. He had visited both poles and all seven continents, and was the toast of royalty and world leaders. And now here he was, stumbling away from his ruined, five million-dollar plane, lost in the desert.

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