Bingham "Bing" Madsen wakes up, prepares for his daily routine, and confirms that he still has over 15 million merits. He brushes his teeth, paying for the toothpaste with merits. A porn ad for Wraith Babes plays, and Bing shuts it off and then puts in a pair of earplugs. Bing then goes to work: pedaling on a stationary bike along with dozens of others. Overweight yellow-suited "lemons" do the menial duties, and when Bing's co-worker Dustin glimpses one of them, he abuses the woman.
Later, Bing takes a break and a co-worker, Swift, helps him get food out of the jammed food dispenser. He vaguely thanks her and sits down to eat, and Swift looks disappointed. Back at work, one of the less fit pedalers, Oliver, coughs and clutches at his chest, and Dustin figures that he'll soon "turn lemon."
At home, Bing is playing a first-person shooter when a commercial for the talent show Hot Shot comes on. They interview one of the top singers, Selma Telse, and talk about how she used to be a pedaler just like millions of others. Bing pays merits to bypass the ad, and tries to stop watching when a porn ad comes up. An alarm goes off warning Bing to keep watching, and Bing pays the merit price to bypass the ad.
The next morning, Bing takes the elevator to work and sees a new pedaler, Abi Carner. When he gets to his bike, he discovers that Oliver is gone, and Swift tells the others that he was demoted to lemon. Bing starts pedaling, while another pedaler, Kai, picks out hair for his avatar and asks Swift for her opinion. She isn't interested in him and glances over at Bing. Meanwhile, Dustin comes in to do his new job as a lemon, and Dustin cheerfully abuses him.
In the uni-sex bathroom, Bing is washing his hands when he hears Abi singing in a stall. She comes out and he tells her to have fun, just as a porn ad comes on. Abi smiles at him and then leaves.
Back on their bikes, Bing is pedaling and watching Abi, while a disappointed Swift notices. They break for lunch and Bing watches Abi make an origami penguin out of her food wrapper.
That night, Bing goes home and mutters the song that Abi was singing. When another Hot Shot ad comes on, he pays the penalty to bypass it.
The next day, Abi is trying to get food from the dispenser, and Bing helps her. She explains that she ended up at Bing's work facility because her sister's was full, and Bing compliments Abi on her singing. He tells her that she's good enough to be on Hot Shot, but Abi points out that even if she was that good, it takes 12 million merits--six months of work--to buy an entry ticket. Bing offers to buy it for her, explaining that his brother left him 15 million merits and he's been careful not to spend it. Abi wonders why she doesn't spend it on himself, and Bing says that there's nothing real that he can buy... except her singing. He tells her that he wants something real to happen, just once, and Abi accepts his offer. Back at work, Abi puts her origami penguin on her back and smiles over at Bing.
That night, Bing starts to buy an entry ticket and discovers that the price is now 15 million merits. He goes ahead and sends the ticket to Abi. She has her avatar blow Bing a kiss, and he shuts down a porn ad to keep watching Abi's avatar.
Later, Bing and Abi take the elevator to Hot Shot and she gives Bing an origami penguin. He takes her hand and they enter the audition area. The receptionist stamps both of their hands with a two-month access tattoo and then sends them into a warm-up room with dozens of other would-be contestants. The guard calls Abi in and one singer, Glee, complains that she's been there all week. Ignoring her, the guard takes Abi and Bing out.
The next assistant has Abi recite a line stating what she does, and then she and Bing are escorted backstage. Another assistant gives Abi a drink, Compliance, insisting that it's mandatory to drink it. Once Abi does, they escort her out on stage in front of a virtual audience and three Judges: Hope, Charity, and Wraith. Wraith, the hot street-wise punk, tells Abi to take off her top and she refuses.
At home, Dustin, Kai, and Swift watch the top show.
As Bing watches from off-stage, Abi sings. Hope finally says that she's good, but that's all she is. He suggests that she go on Wraith's erotic channels, and the guards drag Bing away when he objects. Abi looks over to where Bing was but finds him gone, and Wraith tells Abi that if she accepts his offer then she'll never have to pedal again. The judges assure Abi that they'll medicate her so she doesn't feel any shame, and the avatar audience cheers her to do it. Hope says that he figures Abi deserves to stay on her bike because she doesn't want to get off it, and Abi finally accepts their offer.
Later, Bing is at home playing with the origami penguin. He goes to work and sees Dustin watching Abi on a Wraith Babes reality special, talking about how her life is wonderful. On break, Bing eats alone and has to listen to Abi talking about her wonderful new life.
Back at his apartment, Bing is losing at video games when a Wraith Babes ad comes on. He's unable to bypass it, and the show promises Abi's erotic debut. Bing tries to ignore it, covering his eyes, but the alarm goes off and the door locks so that he can't leave. He finally screams and beats on the monitors, cracking one. A shard of glass falls to the floor and Bing picks it up contemplatively, and then looks at the Hot Shot tattoo on his hand.
For the next few months, Bing works early and late, watching ads without paying to bypass them and using as few necessities as possible. He takes money from the jammed food dispenser that belongs to the other workers, and rehearses a dance number in his apartment. After a month, Bing has enough money to buy a Hot Shot entry ticket.
Bing gets into the studio using the old tattoo, and waits in the warm-up area doing nothing. A guard finally escorts him out on stage, using Abi's discarded Compliance container to convince the assistant that he has already drunk the mandatory drink. Once he gets on stage, Bing merely tells the judges that he's there to perform. Intrigued, they tell him to begin and Bing performs his dance number... and then pulls out the glass shard and says that he'll cut his throat if they don't let him say his piece.
Surprised and intrigued, Hope tells Bing to say what he has to say. Bing rants about how wants them to really listen to what he has to say, rather than just pretending that they're interested. He talks about how nothing that they do is real, and the authorities just turn them into fodder and use their anger to make them desperate. Bin finishes by saying that anything real would choke them, and damns everyone for going along with it.
After a moment, Hope congratulates Bing on giving the most heartfelt speech they've ever heard on the show. The audience applauds and Hope says that Bing is just saying what they all feel, even if they don't understand it. Hope offers Bing a stream to talk authentically whenever he wants, and Charity and Wraith agree. Wraith concedes that Bing's throat-cutting gimmick works. The avatar audience cheers Bing on, telling him to do it.
Later, Dustin is watching Oliver on a lemon show dedicated to torturing them. On Hot Shot, Glee gets her chance to sing but the judges tell her that she's lousy. Abi is performing on Wraith Babes. Meanwhile, Kai watches Bing holding the glass shard to his throat and talking about how they spend their money on new clothing apps and it all means nothing. He tells his audience farewell... and then says that he'll see them next week.
In his new expensive apartment, Bing carefully puts away his glass shard in a padded case. He pours himself a glass of real orange juice and glances briefly at a penguin statue on his table. Bing then goes to a virtual window and looks out at a "real" virtual forest stretching as far as he can see as virtual birds fly by.
Written by Gadfly on Sep 14, 2015