Steve started to run hard. After five years in the SAS, and five more as a mercenary for an outfit known as Death Inc. within its deadly trade,he reckoned he was as fit as any man. Even so….

Against Bekker, and his four thugs?

Who the hell knows?

He pushed on, his boots crashing through the soft, damp ground. The Isle of Maree was a desolate strip of forest and windswept, craggy shoreline, on Loch Maree in the Scottish highlands. A mile long, and half that wide, it was isolated and uninhabited.

A perfect killing ground. If that’s what you wanted, reflected Steve.

He glanced left and right. The island was dominated by oaks, holly and birch, a dense mass of treacherous trees He’d been hired by Pyramid Entertainment, a huge games company designing a new ‘shoot-‘em-up’ for the Xbox 360. ‘Lethal Force’, it was called. A Special Forces soldier was dropped onto a remote island, then tracked by five assassins. It was kill or be killed. There were micro-cameras fitted to their combat fatigues. The whole island was wired. Today’s manhunt would be captured in crystal-clear digital images, then processed into the most realistic video game ever produced.

Left, Steve decided. He hurled through the trees. Escape and evade. He’d done it plenty of times during Regiment training. It was one of the most basic soldiering skills. If you can’t hide you can’t fight, his instructor had bawled in his ear on a wet day in the howling wind on the Brecon Beacons.

A shot.

Steve ducked

“Shit,” he muttered.

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