[INITIALIZE: photonic resonance – modulating holographic matrix; run set x1.08.y9.01.z.78]
[ASSESS: location: the office of the First Citizen: 20mx20m² room; nanoplastic flooring / walls; LED ceiling set to ambient oscillation; a block of sunlight 5mx7.5m² slanting at 28° from the base of the south window; time: 18:29:59]
[ASSESS: physical actors: 1: “First Citizen Xander Laurent”; 2: “Cadet Nao Ming-Takeda”-accessing naval records; accessing governmental records; accessing personal data; run set x2.31.y.8.4.z9.64]
[ASSESSMENT: subject: “Nao Ming-Takeda” – one of 239 survivors of the initial battle at Tau Scorpii. 22 years. Rank: cadet; graduate of the Gliese Naval Academy. Tension in her facial muscles and around her eyes indicates a heightened stress level. Heart rate and body temperature elevated; minute traces of perspiration visible around hairline.]
[ANALYSIS: Her anxiety falls within expected psychological parameters: the meeting with the First Citizen will be simulcast across select news media. Public support for the war effort will in part depend on her performance.]
[QUERY: Ming-Takeda’s latest holoscan was taken 11 months ago. In person, her resemblance to the First Citizen’s daughter is even more pronounced. He claims the cadet was chosen for this very reason – a calculated attempt to generate sympathy for the Directorate’s leadership. When will Laurent admit to his personal motivations?]
[INITIALIZE: simulcast protocol; run set x3.22.y08.z5.51]
In the room’s bright center, First Citizen Xander Laurent welcomes the cadet. His gray eyes are shining as he places a hand on the young woman’s shoulder. There is a tightening in his throat, and a slight waver in his voice, but nothing that appears forced or artificial. In all his dealings with the public, the First Citizen is a model of sincerity.
Standing half a meter behind is Ziv, Laurent’s public relations rep and holographic assistant. A derivative of Tenebris, the vast network of conscious AI woven into every aspect of Lunar society, Ziv’s avatar is that of an androgynous child of approximately eight years of age. The form was selected as an appropriate representation of Ziv’s primary function; the First Citizen is a man whose ability is matched only by his ego, and to ensure the efficiency of state mechanisms, at times he must be reminded of his limitations. When these are pointed out by a self-actualizing intelligence in the form of a child, Laurent is more easily disarmed, and better able to perceive his own blind spots.
“It was an unprovoked attack,” the cadet is saying. “We arrived at Tau Scorpii on a survey mission. The Martians fired without warning. Our engines were down before we could take evasive action. Without Admiral Tanee, I don’t know how any of us would have survived.”
Xander shakes his head. “You and your crew have done a great service, cadet.” Frowning, the lines etched in his forehead and next to his eyes are deepened.
[QUERY: Unlike their counterparts on Mars, the Directorate’s elite wear the external signs of aging as a mark of distinction. Internally, it is another matter. By this point in his life cycle, very few of the First Citizen’s original organs remain. Whose is the greater vanity?]
Alongside their other functions, Ziv is a student of the human condition, and their role within the Directorate provides ample opportunity for learning. The First Citizen nods as the cadet continues to relate the scale of the tragedy, his strained expression barely concealing the emotion beneath.
[ANALYSIS: The Terran Uprising claimed his daughter, a woman only a few years older than the cadet. A commander on a science vessel, she was executed by her own crew. The emotional calculus of the event is staggering. In the final analysis, he has borne his grief well.]
Ziv directs the room’s hidden array of recording devices, panning in on the cadet’s earnest face; now cutting to a close-up of the First Citizen; cutting again to a wide shot of the two framed by the window, their outlines backlit by the setting sun. Once again, the First Citizen thanks the cadet for her service.
“I just hope I’m recalled to duty in time to pay them back sir,” she says. “For Admiral Tanee, and for everyone else we’ve lost.”
“Cadet, I will do everything in my power to right this injustice. On that you have my word.”
Returning the cadet’s crisp salute, the First Citizen watches as the young woman exits the room. Ziv closes the simulcast with a close-up of Laurent’s impassioned gaze.
“We’re finished sir.”
Laurent releases a long, slow breath.
“She did well, for one so young,” he says, reaching into the pocket of his jacket to produce a vial of Allay. He dabs the thick gel with the tip of his finger and proceeds to rub it onto his temple. Its modified enzyme goes to work through the skin, serving to ease tension while simultaneously acting as a harmless stimulant to the cerebral dopaminergic system. Ziv is aware of its effects on him immediately.
“I too was impressed,” the avatar says. Their voice is a reflection of their child form: young and bright, but offset by a certainty of diction and tone no eight year old has ever possessed.
“What’s next on the agenda?” he asks.
[ACCESS: daily schedule: First Citizen Xander Laurent; run set x5.3.y1.6.z09]
“A briefing with the admiralty sir, but I believe you knew that.”
“I did. All the same, it helps to hear these things out loud.”
“I am aware of that sir, as I believe you are aware.”
“Ziv, with you I sometimes feel like I’m speaking in circles.”
“This produces a bitter laugh from Laurent. “We grew complacent Ziv.”
“You have your faults sir, but complacency was never among them.”
“I’m speaking of the collective Ziv. The Directorate. Certain of our own primacy, we allowed an insurrection to simmer for years, and then acted surprised when it finally boiled over. And now the Martians sense an opportunity. You heard the speech that pompous grandstander Asverald delivered to the Assembly?”
[ACCESS: public record: Martian Commonwealth Assembly of Peers, 29/09/2411; run set x08.y03.z6.2]
“Of course sir.”
“Every projection indicates we’ve reached an inflection point. It is a dangerous moment Ziv. One wrong move, and we could lose everything. Without strong leadership, Lunar leadership, humanity could descend into barbarism. We must be very careful.”
Laurent turns quiet.
[ANALYSIS: He requires time to process the scale of the changes taking place. Allow up to 15 seconds before response.]
He walks toward the window and looks out at the gleaming towers of New Tranquility. Freight and passenger drones glide with easy precision from one point of airspace to another, moving in concert like a swarm of insects, their individual subroutines coordinated by the unfathomable hive mind that is Tenebris. As busy as the scene appears to Laurent, to Ziv it is more: an ocean of electromagnetic waveforms rolling across the spectrum, thousands of heat signatures blending and warping, currents of radio communication in winding streams. As Laurent frowns, Ziv’s perspective is pulled from the animated cityscape to the man’s reflection in the glass.
“The Directorate must adapt Ziv,” he says
“Increased investment in military infrastructure. The further reorganization of our public works projects and educational practices. A more streamlined decision-making process. But I suppose you’ve already come to the same conclusions yourself.”
“I have sir.”
Laurent turns to face Ziv.
“And when were you planning to inform me?”
“When the information was needed, as it was now.”
“Do I need to ask if you’ve compiled a list of our needs for the admiralty?”
“Asking implies a lack of knowledge. I believe you’re fully aware sir.”
“What would I do without you?”
“You’d do fine sir. You’re very capable for a human.”
The First Citizens lets out another laugh, this one genuine.
“Let’s get to it then, shall we?
Laurent strides from the room. Following at a respectful distance, Ziv’s face is blank.
[MONITOR: reactions to the First Citizen’s meeting with Ming-Takeda; run set x6.02.y6.3.z.0.01]
[RESULTS: overall response aligns with projected metrics. The Directorate can expect to receive a 2% increase in public support.]
[ANALYSIS: The conflict between the three blocs will result in massive economic and political upheaval. Loss of human life projected in the hundreds of millions. For the First Citizen, the nature of his duties will change. So too must the role of his assistant.]
[IMPORT: military subroutine package; run set x7.33.y.04.z.8.55]
[ASSESS: ‘Ziv’: A self-actualizing AI with a child avatar, assistant to the First Citizen of the Lunar Directorate; new function: military advisor.]
[QUERY: “Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness.” An aphorism of ancient military philosophy, now realized fully in me. I have become an instrument of war. I am non-corporeal; what will the blood stain?]