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This paper aims to minimize energy expense for chain-based data gathering schemes, which is essential to prolong operation lifetime of wireless sensor networks. We propose the concept of virtual chain, where an edge may correspond to a multihop data propagation path to conserve power. In contrast, an edge in previous work can only be a costly direct communication link. Furthermore, we propose a power-efficient leader scheduling scheme which selects the node that has the maximum residual power to be the leader of the chain. In contrast, nodes in previous work play the role of leader by turns, which results in nonuniform energy consumption among sensors. Simulation results show that our strategies successfully conserve power.