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Chapter 1:
We Meet Again

Mars Sugarhill was the head of Facepalm Inc., a business known for its social media application of the same name. It got this name from the fact that a large portion of its userbase had a propensity for posting up self-incriminating evidence, and that the business itself was only a thinly-veiled attempt to sell that information to the highest bidder. Those rich enough to play the game were often from the marketing departments of other multinational corporations or government organizations of the alphabet soup variety.

It has waned in popularity as of late due to a certain tape that was leaked from a private meeting. On the tape Mars exclaimed that he did not care about any of this because, and I quote, "my pockets are fatter than a kangaroo pregnant with triplets, eating a double cheeseburger dipped in lard".

Needless to say, he was praised by the press as a model of the "American Dream", only to be vilified shortly thereafter. Apparently one particularly sharp reporter noticed that the net worth of the company was larger than the GDP of most countries, and that Mars' daily salary was more than the monthly income of all of the journalists in the room combined.

But these events were the furthest thing from Mars' mind. This evening was CESS, the largest tradeshow for electronic goods in existence, and he was extremely excited to be attending. Orange Inc. was going to announce its new tablet and smartphone lineup, something that he always looked forward to with a child-like sense of glee. As his wife Melody helped him to get dressed, he fantasized about being on the main floor of the tradeshow, affectionately known as "the CESSpool" by those within the industry.

Still glassy-eyed, Melody waved in front of Mars' face to get his attention after finishing the knot in his bowtie. "Hey, we're going to be late if you keep staring at the ceiling like that," she chided.

After a few slow blinks, he jumped up, grabbed her hand, and made his way to the 5-car garage. Because the affair was somewhat formal, he chose to go in something a little more subdued, a canary yellow Bougieauto with matching neon underglow lights and black spinning rims. Other than his wife, it was the most expensive thing in his life.

"Nothing says class like money being thrown in your face," he guffawed as he peeled out from his own driveway.

The building in which the show was housed was absolutely massive, taking up multiple floors of a combination hotel, casino, and fast food chain. The foyer alone was the size of a small sports arena, and they had to demolish a lot of low-income housing nearby to get it to fit. After leaving behind his wife in the car and tossing the keys to the valet, he hustled up some steps and through the glass doors standing between him and his dreams.

He was met with a wonderous sight as he crossed their threshold. A profusion of different booths poked out from the sea of people adorned in businesswear like ragged rock cliffs breaking the surface of a human ocean. Mars was ecstatic. However, as his head swiveled around to take in all of the sights and sounds, he met the eyes of someone within the crowd that he had hoped he could avoid. That person was Johnny Orca.

Johnny was his nemesis, head of Tweeker, a competing social media app known for its "Tweeks", short messages barely long enough to hold an incomplete thought.

"Lizard Boy! What are you doing here?," Johnny shouted with a smile as he approached Mars with an open hand ready for a handshake. A feeling of annoyance arose within him as he took Johnny's clamy hand and limply squeezed. Feigning a smile in return, he said, "Probably the same thing you are Blowhole!"

There was an awkward moment of silence as they looked at each other with a slight glare. Finally, Johnny tried to make some small talk. "Say, how's business?"

"It's fine," Mars replied curtly.

"Come on Marzipan, don't be so bitter," Johnny said.

Unsure if he was making another joke or if he was attempting to be friendly, Mars decided to relax a bit. "It's doing alright, considering the situation", he released with a sigh.

"Ain't no thing as 'bad press' eh?," Johnny teased as he tapped him with his elbow and winked.

They started to walk together through the booths, conversing as they looked at all of the technology that would be released within the coming year. For a moment it felt like old times.

Suddenly, the room fell into a hush as the intercom clicked on. An announcement was about to be made. In joyful tones a woman stated, "The illustrious, luxurious, and ever sensuous, Orange Inc. will be making their presentation within the main auditorium in five minutes. I repeat, within five minutes!"

Mars and Johnny looked at one another with excitement. Without another word, they started to speed walk towards the auditorium, rushing past others and stepping on a few feet. They wanted to get a good spot among the standing crowd before the room filled up. They were able to get a place right in the middle of the room in front of the stage, perfect for seeing all of the action.

Before they knew it, the lights dimmed and everyone grew silent, anxiously waiting with bated breath. This was not so much out of anticipation, but a mild asphyxia from the thick clouds of smoke belching out of the fog machines on either side of the stage. Lasers waved and ominous sounding techno music pulsed out of some large speakers, rattling the crowd.

A red carpet rolled out towards a podium and another announcement came through the intercom, this time within the room itself. "Now introducing, the CEO of Orange Inc., Mr. Stefon Works!" The entire hall erupted in thunderous applause. Stefon Works was a living legend within the tech industry, and he had the sycophantic adulation of customers, employees, and rivals alike.

A lanky, bespectacled man trotted onto the stage with a smarmy grin. He gave the crowd a small wave before coming to a stop at the podium. He cleared his throat and took a small sip of water before commencing his speech.

"We have been working hard at Orange Inc. over the past year...And we are proud to announce a revolution in tablet computing, the NEW...iFad Fog™!," he exclaimed as he held up a small screen in his hand. Everyone cheered as he continued on.

"This little beauty features the new Iris display technology, with a brighter, sharper screen that induces eyestrain more rapidly than our previous model!" He stayed silent for a moment and looked around at the crowd slowly. One could almost hear the saliva trickling.

Then he turned his back to everyone and strolled up the stage. Abruptly, he turned around again, pointed his finger at the audience, and shouted, "But I know what YOU are really here for! YOU are here for the NEW...iClone 77x™ smartphone!!!" He raised up both hands with palms upward in a triumphant pose. Confetti started to pour from the ceiling as a projection screen came down behind him.

Immediately, a video came on. White screens with black text flashed in quick succession. They read:

"The Future..."

" NOW."

"Meet the NEW..."

"...iClone 77x Con Extra™"

This cut to a montage of clips of half-naked men and women stroking and grinding, not on each other, but on human-sized mockups of the iClone.

Both Mars and Johnny looked at one another wide-eyed. Johnny fiddled with his tie uncomfortably and coughed out, "I know advertising has been getting progressively more sexual over the years, but this is...ummm...interesting." Mars tittered nervously. They both turned back to the stage, but the screen had already started to fade to black. It rolled back up and Stefon stood there with his hands on his hips.

It seemed that everyone else was also unsure of what exactly it was that they had just saw. It was so quiet that you could hear a computer power on.

Then, the audience exploded. Whistles and clapping shook the room. Flashes from hundreds of cameras went off. It took a solid five minutes for it to calm down again.

Afterwards, Stefon came back to the podium and stated plainly, "We will now be taking questions from the press."

One person in the front raised their hand, to which he pointed.

"Mr. Works, there has been some controversy behind several of Orange Inc.'s tactics, such as using sweatshops to produce products, ignoring manufacturing defects, and refusing to allow customers to repair their own devices. Do you have anything to say about these issues?"

Stefon glowered down at the reporter, and silently lifted up one hand. Snapping his fingers, two burly security guards came up behind the man, each grabbing an arm and lifting him up about a foot off of the ground. He whimpered as they "escorted" him out of the auditorium. Someone shouted after him, "What a hater! Bringing up stuff like that."

Another journalist raised their hand.

"Mr. Works, the iGoons app store is already one of the most popular in the world, but how do you plan on promoting it with these new products?"

"That is an excellent question! We are drumming up as much hype...I mean...excitement that we can leading all the way up to launch day. We hope to team up with some of the larger app developers here to cross-promote. They will have a prominent place on our storefront and we will develop some new peripherals that are compatible only with their software."

The energy in the room instantly shifted. The ravenous desires of all of those who wanted to be highlighted on iGoons became quite palpable. It could very well mean the success or failure of their company.

Johnny and Mars took a step back from one another, looking each other dead in the eye. Whatever formalities or friendship that had been built up over the past couple of hours together evaporated in its intensity.

The race had begun.

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