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Beer and Politics
Takeo's beer was getting warm. Imported from his homeland, the Kirin label had been peeled off in one expert show of boredom, revealing the familiar smiling chibi face of the company's founder, flashing the ubiquitous two-fingered peace sign of his generation. It was supposed to signify that the bottle had in fact been molded and filled in Japan, though Takeo knew of at least two counterfeits in Moscow alone. He took a long drink and set it down silently on the almost black petrified table. Drops of perspiration twinkled in the amber glow of ancient chandeliers hung low over the elevated deck and splashed cooly against the back of his hand.

The building had once been an opera house. Another import, this time from former Germany. Before that, however, it had been a mansion, a decadent palace all but ignored by the powers that be. Fallen into disrepair, the Germans had plucked it up for a steal before losing their heads in the Dominance stock race. Now the building was a vintage monstrosity of its former glory. Divided and parceled to a half dozen boutique sharks, Takeo sat in a loft built over the old stage, which currently held a quartet of nude performers. Two were singing a cover of a current chart-topper Takeo had never heard before. The other two were either dancing or having sex, he couldn't quite tell.

"We're in," Kasumi said, her voice little more than a groan. The girl - technically a woman at 22, though Takeo never thought of her as such - sat crouched over a pair of custom computer cubes and enough cords and wires to pacify all four of the performers downstairs.

Following the cables to a monitor showed little more than static signals and shards, but, as Takeo watched, the screen skipped a beat and the void was replaced with Nikolai Brandon himself, speaking into camera at what was soon revealed to be the American President. There could be few others who would earn such an instructor's backhand from Brandon.

The President did not take it well, as was no doubt the plan. Takeo raised his mostly empty bottle aloft and one of his kids - Haji, this time - skitted off down the stairs. Only the Privileged's people were allowed up that grand inclination.

"He's nervous." Jun was one of those people. His false blue eyes were transfixed on the screen. He had an awkward profile with those odd blue irises and that too-round nose, but a square jaw clenched in nominal compensation.

"Obviously," Kasumi hadn't looked up from her own miniature dual screens, green-lacquered nails flying over her instruments. Whatever she did, Takeo was glad to have her doing it for him. "Wouldn't you be nervous talking to Bra--"

"Not the gaijin!" Junichi barked, shooing her words with an absent wave of his hand. His eyes flashed to Takeo, and Takeo met them, curious, then watched the screen with him. "The Ascendancy..." Jun said, pointing at the hacked footage not four feet from his fingertip.

Takeo accepted a cold beer from his winded assistant and watched his old friend Nikolai. Jun was perceptive about people. It was one of the reasons he was on Takeo's payroll. But, Takeo did not think it was nerves that had the most powerful man in the world straight-backed and straight-faced.

He's excited.

Takeo eased back in the relaxed leather loveseat he occupied by himself. Nikolai had reason to be excited. The President had walked into this trap willingly; only he could walk himself out. It seemed so obvious, though. The man knew he couldn't keep his head around Nikolai. So why agree to this 'private' conversation? Nothing was private in this Age.

Or had he agreed? Takeo took a closer look at the American. He could be an actor. That could be CG or makeup or some other illusion.

"Get confirmation from the President's office," Takeo said to his staff. He looked across the table, specifically at Sergei. Kasumi nodded to herself, and Takeo added, "Legitimate confirmation." She grinned to herself, nodded again, and turned off one of her monitors. After the world leaders' little public tiff was over, she put on a collage of news screens. Takeo ignored them for the moment. He watched Sergei as he made a few calls. Kasumi would get him what he needed, but he wanted to see Sergei's process.

"The Whitehouse confirms there has been a breach," Sergei said, his crisp accent a mix of German and Russian that always made him sound harsh somehow. He spoke forcefully into the phone, rattling off his identification and demanding to speak with the Press Secretary in person. A moment later, a wallet sprang on and a miniaturized projection of the Secretary stood on the table next to Takeo's beer.

She wasn't speaking specifically to them, of course. She was fielding probably hundreds of calls. In fact, after a few minutes it was obvious she was only a recording. On a loop. The President has no comment at this time but is deeply upset by the behavior of the Ascendancy - funny how he remembered Nikolai's title this time. The President would address the press at 2000 PST. Others added it to calendars. Takeo took a drink and turned to watch the performers. There was time.
Honors were unfurled to welcome the newest member of the Sphere to Moscow. Takeo Onodo was a celebrity, an entrepreuer, and protégé of hard skills. The man was something to aspire to; a role model for the generations old and young alike. His celebrity was a beam of light the CCD meant to wield through the darkness.

Once the newest Privilege was awarded the honors due to him, the Ascendancy took the time to meet with him one on one. Takeo was, after all, within the Ascendancy's innermost circle now. He was an advisor and counselor; but he was also useful in more literal capacities. He was a master of manipulating the media.

"Greetings Takeo. As you are aware, the Custody Press Corps have invited members of the foreign press to rotate in the Kremlin with the express effort of better communicating our message internationally. The invitations were extended to only elite members of the international press, but none are more important than the representative of the United States. As you are also aware, Nicholas Trano has a poor history dealing with us. I am asking you to personally see to his welfare during his stay in Moscow. Introduce him to the many benefits of living in the greatest city in the world. Ensure his interests are met. And represent your nation boldly and proudly, my friend.
-The Ascendancy

Along with the communiqué, a series of documents were shared with the Privilege. These included a briefing by CDPS intelligence which outlined a more private goal which Takeo was delegated to carry out.
Five minutes passed. The blonde performer, some form of Scandinavian, was moaning in the precursory throws of what promised to be a dramatic climax while the Poljak mounting her smiled triumphantly out at the crowded tables nearest the stage. A young man from the balcony across the room was dropping coins on them with the intensity of a game show contestant. Takeo had the distinct impression the boy was waiting for an opening.

A face was watching him from the edge of his periphery, long enough to draw Takeo's attention, and when he turned, he found Jun. And his garish blue eyes. "Messages," he said, bowing his head slightly. Takeo nodded and pressed his thumbnail to the tiny square button embedded in the pad of his ring finger, which activated his tips. New on the market, Takeo was beta-testing a pair for Nintendo. They made him look insane at times, but he could see the appeal. Everyone wanted to play God, right?

With a wave of his fingers, his wallet powered on, and another motion brought up his mail. There was already a chain started by two of his fellow Priveleged regarding Brandon's performance. He scanned only a few words in any message - 'genius', 'transparent', 'cocky' - before pointing at a subject line that read simply "We Need Tokeo."

A new layer appeared, largely obscuring his inbox, though the message within was succinct and surprisingly personal.

Hosting a live panel to discuss the big dicks' makeout party. On in 10. Please say you'll chime in! - D

Takeo closed the message by making a circular motion with his pointer finger and leaned back to have a drink. Daigo Takahashi - D - was a colleague, and as close to a friend as most come for Takeo. He hosted a gossip rag popular in many cities across DIV, and now that Takeo had accepted the odious title of Privelege, he received messages like this almost hourly.

Jun was still watching him, to an extent. His pupils were darting and dilating. He was surfing. "Give me a cam," Takeo called over to Kasumi, who was entrenched in some virtual duel over her computer. She didn't miss a beat. Without looking up, she reached over and tapped a few commands on Takeo's wallet, which brought up another layer - his camera app. After a second, his own face was staring back at him, from an extreme angle that made him look like a giant peering down on a miniaturized version of himself. He checked his reflection for any unsightliness but, as expected, he was as pristine as when he'd come into this farce of a club.

Takeo grabbed the wallet and threw it at the woman. Not surprisingly, she did not see it coming and turned her head at just the right moment to catch the brunt of it against her forehead. Fortunately for her it was Takeo's leather wallet, though it still held enough chips to make a satisfying slap against her brow, before falling into her half-eaten bowl of noodles.

"I am not going to be seen by millions on a wallet cam," Takeo said, amidst the laughs, including those of Kasumi herself. He ignored the obscenity she flashed at him. "Pause your game and set me up," then, with a semi-apologetic smile, "please."

As she set up, Jun fished his wallet out of Kasumi's bowl and casually wiped it off on his napkin. He handed it back, then made his excuses to exit to the latrine. He often disappeared when the cameras came out. Takeo only nodded and read through the last of his most recent messages.

Shockingly, the last was the most important of all. Brandon's request required immediate attention. He waved off Kasumi - who now looked positively peeved - and tapped out a response on the table, his tips relaying the gestures as though he were using a full keypad. It was clunky, but it got the job done. His reply was not long, only a few sentences. He accepted his task with pride and humility.

After shooting off a quick note to D - "I can give you 2 minutes -Tok"
- Takeo shelved the Ascendancy's attachments and adjusted his tie and ran a hand over his already immaculate hair. He nodded to Kasumi and immediately the cam was on and his wallet projected D's program, already in progress.

"And, for an inside perspective on the Ascendancy's behavior, we have Privelege Tokeo himself."

The screen cut to Takeo, sitting comfortably in his large leather loveseat, the lights and quiet din of the club behind him. It was actually a rather ideal backdrop, and Kasumi would edit out any untoward sounds while his men kept any visual distractions off-camera.

"Thank you for joining us, Privelege," D's newsman English greeted him.

"Happy to be here, Daigo," Takeo said with a small smile.

Cut to D. He was in a newsroom that Takeo knew was in the basement of the man's large house. He wore a white button-down and thin pink suspenders. His hair was romantically disheveled and wireframe glasses adorned his face as pure ornamentation - his eyes were corrected as surely as anyone born to any means in the last forty years. Grey-black eyes and a pensive tilt to his head meant he was in serious mode. Takeo smirked off-camera. "Privelege, you know our Ascendancy pretty well, wouldn't you say?"

Cut to Takeo. "I like to think so."

Daigo's voice, light and amused, "What do you make of this "leaked" video." The air quotes were audible in D's tone. "Surely it was staged, no?"

Takeo's pleasant smile never faltered. "You give the Ascendancy too little credit, D, and the President too much." He paused for viewer laughs. "Clearly the President has a lot on his mind. It's unfortunate the world audience could not enjoy a candid conversation between these two powerful figureheads as I'm sure was the intention." Daigo began a second question, but Takeo continued. "For anyone to believe that a remote conversation of this magnitude would not be seen by any but the two men involved is pure delusion. Perhaps Freud was right."

Cut to Daigo, laughing. "Perhaps, Tok. Perhaps."

Takeo smiled, though he did not care for the pet name. It made him sound like a dead head.

"What do make of the Ascendancy's claims that he will be appealing to the US House of Representatives? That was obviously provoking the President, no?"

"Possibly," Takeo stated plainly, "Though previous interviews with President Frederick show him to be relatively easy to provoke." Relative to the calm Ascendancy, the viewer might think. "Addressing the US Congress is just a formality. By now the people of that nation will see reason. Trusting their lands, their safety, to the Ascendancy is their best and only option. Just as it was for the people of Japan," pander to the base, "and the rest of our fine Dominance." Bright smile. "It's just a matter of time before the Americans rise up and elect peace over pride."

He sent a blip to D, who glanced off screen and nodded, eyes slightly widened and nodding at the gravity of Takeo's words. "Thank you, Privelege, for your time. I know you are a busy man." A humble smile and a seated bow from Takeo, then cut back to D who brought in another perspective.

Takeo motioned for Kasumi to watch the end of the program, then rose and stretched a bit, before heading outside for some air, his wallet, and Brandon's documents, the pressing news of the day.

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