Beta comes in many forms, over wire.

Most of it is purchased. Subscription, from services, or through private arrangement you make yourself and generally pay a great deal for. The IS provides their operatives with a constant stream that varies according to job, rank, clearance and your own preference.

Beta is comprised of facts, images, statistics, trends. It is never static, and the content itself is less critical than how it's sorted. Most beta is ranked according to two things, coming in: relevance, and accuracy. Because the nature of information is change, it is rare that any given piece of information is 100% accurate, at least not for long.

The most widely available form of beta is rumor. Often presented as fact, it is had over wire for next to nothing, or even for free. It is anonymous, unreliable, and difficult to sort both because of how quickly it changes, and the sheer volume of it.

My beta coming out of the training facility was thin. I could risk neither contact with Ace nor establishing hard sources such as tap or cameras. I had, out of habit and to cover all bases, put a request for beta up on one or two high level, underground bulletin services.

To my surprise, ten minutes after the hit on Hagemeier, information came in.


I was jumping a series of low hedges--juniper, by the smell--fingers of my left hand clamped hard into the brachial artery of my right, which left no hand free for a gun. Then again, I'd been closest to the window and first out it after the gunman, and my chances right now of catching him were good.

Catching, though what I was going to do with him once I got there still somewhat in question. But we were running out of garden, headed towards the high stone wall that surrounded the property. He was a moving shadow among shadows. Fast, but I was faster, and now he'd reached the wall and had nowhere left to go.

He was turning to fire: I launched myself at him before he got a shot off. A leap I would have attempted back when I was still wired.

A leap I shouldn't have attempted now, regular joe dry.

A leap I seemed to make, despite that. That would sink in later.

I hit.

We both went into the wall. I heard the crack of his head connecting, and got him in an arm bar before he could bring the gun up again.

He struggled, wire strong. Stronger than me, and I had almost enough pressure on his arm to break it. Blood was dripping down my fingers, making it difficult to grip, but I also had Edie in my ear.

“Hold tight. Almost there.”

“That was a live round you just put into me,” I told the guy under my knee, who was still struggling, mostly for show. Contract, for sure. Powerful, fast, obviously wired, and not trying as hard as he should be, or I'd expect.

And sure enough, he stopped struggling altogether when I said that.


“A live round,” I said and wondered if I shouldn't have. About that time Edie arrived, and Hagemeier a moment after that.

“Get up,” I said. “And shut up.” I hauled him to his feet with the others arriving, and a car across the lawn, and still more cover.

Then I fell back, letting the others take over in a swarm of suits and sidearms and crisscrossing beams of light. I wasn't sure who had seen, who knew I'd been shot for real. It was training, and there would be tapes. But depending on the angle, it's possible no one knew still. Except for me, and the guy who shot me, aiming for Hagemeier.

I wondered who he was, and where he'd come from.

Blood was still dripping off my fingertips: I jammed my hand in my pocket and bit down on a wince as Buller came over and shone a flashlight my way. “You good, Jenkins? Damn, you're fast.”

“Yeah, I'm good.” I turned my right side out of the light, managed a grin at him. “Thanks,” I said.

Later, I sat in a roadside chop shop and watched a disinterested tech only half paying attention dig the bullet out of my arm. He looked at me and shrugged when I asked him for it.

“Sure, if you want.”

I paid extra to have the wound hidden under a skin patch. Nothing that a wired operative wouldn't see past, but at a glance would fool dry eyes.

I mulled over the irony of that, on my way back to the facility. That and the size of the leap I had made, a foot or so farther than I should have been able to without wire.

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