The Echo Chamber Media headquarters building is a connected row of three buildings with a taller tower in the center. A big FU to the world. A video screen covering one side depicts a boot that smashes down on the faces of the struggling masses below. The boot's laces are red, white, and blue, and are entwined with a cross. A moving banner of electronic text across the base of the complex reads: Ignorance is Power. Intelligence is Confusion. Follow Only My Orders.
Vanity's office and apartment occupy the entire top floor of the central tower. There’s gold plated filigree and red velvet fabric everywhere. She reclines in a bubble bath that overlooks the city at night. Her mindnet imposes a virtual overlay on top of the buildings as she imagines the destruction of her adversaries.
As virtual missiles strike individual buildings one at a time in a sequence, she says out loud, "That's you gone, and you gone, and you, and you. You see, Daddy, I am a winner after all."
In a tall condominium tower, Smugly sits in a rotating chair in the center of a well-appointed office. Little-known awards from the kookside, and pictures of himself receiving those awards, cover the walls. In the open spaces between the furniture in the room, his mindnet replays three-dimensional reenactments of the pathetic ceremonies.
As Smugly rotates the chair to take in all his accolades, he mumbles, "Yes. Thank you. You're right, I'm great." He lifts a wine flute to toast himself and takes a sip of red.
In his plush country estate, Senator Trator sits at a heavy wooden desk where he opens a briefcase filled with cash. A vase of flowers and a 'Thank You!' note sits next to it. Almost every surface in the room is covered with open briefcases stuffed with cash, and flower vases. Many of the flowers are long ago wilted.
He says to the new note on his desk, "You're welcome. Now, if you want to keep your foreign tax breaks, you will keep sending the cash and the flowers to me." He looks at the bouquet of bright yellow daises. "Cheapskates."
Within the flaming red letters atop Power Tower, Power manifests himself as a hologram of a huge gargoyle perched at the very top. He stands up and stretches his hands to the heavens. With a bright crack of lightning, he is struck by a thunderbolt that sucks him into the dark cloud.
After a whiteout flash in their mindnets, Vanity, Smugly, and Trator appear as virtual avatars of themselves inside a huge courtroom. While their physical selves remain at home, their avatars sit in high chairs in a circle that overlooks a model of Home City in the center. A fourth chair, higher than the rest, remains empty. Above, a domed ceiling rises up and disappears into the night sky. Circling around the base of the dome is an inscription that reads: The Supreme Court of the Land — Dissent Shall be Prosecuted.
Fortunately for Vanity, their avatars are dressed in long black robes. She's startled by the sudden transition, but quickly recovers. She nets, 'Power! I've asked you, three times, to not do this without warning. I'm in the bath!'
Smugly's avatar fumbles his now wineglass-less hand against his mouth. When he looks out to where he is, he freezes. 'Oh, no.'
The senator shakes his head. 'Not this again.'
The empty fourth chair crackles with electricity as Power's avatar takes shape. Once he's fully there, he booms into their mindnets, 'This is an emergency that cannot wait.'
Vanity nets, 'You cannot go around imposing virtual realities into people's minds willy nilly. It's not decent.'
Power nods toward the inscription at the base of the dome. It detaches and floats down to encircle Vanity's head. She waves it away. "Yes, yes, I get your point. Now, what is the emergency?'
The inscription vanishes from the air and reappears at the base of the dome. 'This team for the academy might put up a good fight. Do we have a strategy to beat them?'
Vanity rolls her eyes. 'Of course we do.'
Power rumbles, 'What is it?'
She points at the senator. 'We're going to cheat. Right Mister GameMaster?'
The senator uses both hands to smooth the front of his robes. 'Cheat is such an awkward word. It implies that there might be evidence of it later.'
Electricity crackles across Power. 'Evidence! Evidence? I remind you that we cannot tolerate outsiders on the ECM board of directors because of the evidence they may uncover. Evidence of suppressed facts, exaggerated heresy, offshore accounts, money laundering, and all the other outright collusion. You three alone represent the collusion of business, entertainment, and politics. It's your own skins that you should be concerned about.'
Smugly nets, 'I just say what they tell me to say!'
With contempt, Vanity nets, 'And you do it so well! Award winning puppetry.'
Smugly isn't sure if that's an insult or not. 'Thanks. I think.'
The senator asks, 'Have you and Homes finalized the design of the game yet? If we can understand their goals, then we can create the counter-narrative. Because the game is audience-scored, we just need to be ready to craft the frame.'
Power nets, 'She's holding back final approval to the last minute. A smart move. I'll let you know as soon as I have it.'
Smugly nets, 'And, that's cheating, right?'
Power glowers, 'Of course it is, you nitwit. But no worries, I promise you won't remember a thing about it once the game is over. None of you will. No memories, no crime.'
The senator sputters, 'But, but. The audience—'
'The audience won't remember a thing either. Trust me. I have a surprise for you at the end of the final fight. Just be ready on my signal. Now go.'
Vanity pops back into consciousness in her bathtub. She's slid down so low in the tub that the bubblesuds are in her face. She sputters as she thrashes them away. She sits up and ponders, "Okay Power, your signal at the end? A hundred to one that your puppet senator drops the ball."
Smugly reverts to sitting in his chair in his office. He quickly checks his social media summary score. No change. "Thank heavens that was all actually private." Looking down at his feet, he sees the wine flute on the floor. A red stain bleeds out into the carpet. "Damn, I just had that cleaned!"
The senator jolts back to his desk with the briefcase of cash in front of him. He picks up a bundle of bills and smells them, then looks around the room at all the other payments for favors. "What do I care about ECM anyway?"
In his secret lair within a data haven on a lonely outpost in the middle of the ocean, Power chews through the calculations of all the possible outcomes. There's only one winning move. 'Kendra Wunder must die.'