[Chief Strategy Officer STIEG TARANE, wearing cargo shorts and a desert camo tank top, slides onto a bench press in the Habis Security Corp.’s company gym. He squares his shoulders and grips the barbell, then takes a glance around the room, spotting KENNITH FRAKES—a junior executive in charge of the engineering department—wiping his brow with a towel as he steps off a nearby machine.]

ST: Hey Frakes, could I get a spot over here?

KF (slinging his towel over his shoulder and standing behind the barbell, hands on hips): Of course, Mr. Tarane.

ST (begins a set of bench press reps): Call me Stieg.

KF: Okay, Stieg.

[The two men say nothing as ST finishes up his set. Then he flexes, claps his hands twice, and sits up.]

ST: You know about engineering, yeah, Frakes?

KF: That’s my department. We’ve got a simple relativistic drive in development right now, it’s very exciting stuff.

ST: I’m sure it is. What is it costing us?

KF: Well…I’m not sure off the top of my head, sir.

[ST sprays himself in the face with his water bottle and runs a hand through his hair, slicking it back.]

ST: Fuck it, don’t worry about it too much. I have a question for you though: Do you think HSC could build an Ascendant?

KF (laughs): You’re joking, right?

ST (deadpan): Habis has more venture capital than you may know about, Frakes. I asked you a question.

KF: No no, it’s not a matter of resources. It’s a matter of knowledge. And reputation. We’d need a copy of the Sephirot Map in order to safely construct a functional ARC. And then we’d need to find a Prophet for it.

[The men walk across the gym and ST picks up a kettlebell and begins tossing it from hand to hand while KF watches.]

ST: Don’t worry about the Prophet. They’re just kids, I’m sure we can convince one to be in our Ascendant. As for this “Sephirot Map,” just get an AI expert in here. Someone can figure out a way to do this without some phony religious document.

KF: I can put a team together, if you’re serious about this, sir. But may I ask a question?

ST (breathing heavily as he tosses the kettlebell): Fire away.

KF: Well, it’s jus that we’re not a military organization, we work with the police to set up security. What good is an Ascendant going to do us?

ST: It’s a new type of Ascendant: an entire city, run by a central, stationary ARC. All defense, security, and infrastructure are managed by the Ascendant. Municipal offices and the hassles of them will be completely absent. The first Ascendant city. Sounds like a paradise to me.

[The camera pans past ST and through the wall, rising about the dirty, broken streets of New Callais and up towards the enormous geodesic dome that incloses the entire city. Outside a sandstorm rages, and lightning streaks across the billowing clouds of dust.]


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