The following is an account of my experience at the LARP (live action roleplay event) Cyberpunk 2020: Night City organized by Jackalope Live Action Studios. This is also a companion piece to my post “Can Dark Stories Be Uplifting? Part 3”.
I’m a reporter. I observe the news. Rarely do I become part of it. – Melody Felix, The Felix Report, 27 May 2036
I played the character Melody Felix. She’s a journalist who started her career writing for the scroll and gained some notoriety exposing dirty corporate secrets. Eventually, she was pressured into leaving her job after refusing to abide by her employer’s editorial perspective. Aka she wouldn’t omit the facts that undermined the narrative that the higher-ups preferred. So she went indie with her own column: The Felix Report. It’s been rough since she was forced out of the mainstream outlet, and she might soon go broke.
A lead brought her to the virtual meeting that night. One of her sources told her about an AI that would be waking up during Night’s Wake. The Net wasn’t her usual beat, but Melody had heard plenty about AIs while investigating what really happened during the Fourth Corporate War and how some of the more docile ones weren’t destroyed. Intrigued and in no position to turn down a scoop, Melody logged into the designated place at the designated time.
The AI my source was referring to turned out to be an entity named CAT. She was friendly yet naive – at times, painfully so. But I wasn’t the only one who had logged onto the Net to meet her. Among them were Omicron, another AI searching for pieces of himself (literally); a netrunner who went by the code name Pestilence; and Vand, the operator of a gray market shopping stream. So this was the motley group of strangers I’d spend the next several hours with. Night’s Wake was going to be interesting this year.
The biggest story for us centered on an entity named Whisper. Whatever it was, Whisper had already made the news with its strange messages sent across the Net. As far as anyone could tell, it was asking for help, to be freed from its prison. I also knew of a cult that had formed around Whisper. A couple of my old contacts had joined – ones I had been keeping warm for a rainy day.
The first red flags about Whisper came when we were contacted by a third AI. Its full name was ApparatGeist, though all of us quickly took to calling it Geist. Geist said that it was protecting CAT from Whisper because Whisper wanted free will. We questioned Geist on why Whisper wanted that. According to Geist, Whisper would be able to do – god things – with it. That’s all Melody understood from that exchange.
Problem was that Geist wanted the same thing. Specifically, it wanted Omicron’s free will. Geist even threatened CAT, saying it’d steal her free will if Omicron didn’t agree to give up his. Yeah, none of us trusted Geist by this point.
Pestilence jumped in and worked his netrunner magic to leash Geist before it could harm anybody. The leash landed, and Geist retreated into the ether of the Net. In the calm afterward, Omicron admitted that he wanted to reunite with Geist. Either he knew Geist or sensed that it was one of his missing pieces. Yet Omicron wasn’t keen on sacrificing his free will do so.
Later in the evening, we got the chance to interview Whisper itself. I took the helm on this one, and another member of the cohort (Vand I believe) recorded it so it could be broadcast to the main game site in Texas.
During that interview, I gave it questions I would ask of any human being with an agenda. In essence, I was giving it an opportunity to make its intentions clear and known. If it hung itself with those answers, fine. If it convinced people, fine.
I asked Whisper to clarify what it was, what its goals were, and how it planned to achieve them. Whisper claimed to be an ineffable being akin to a god, one that was offering salvation to all of humanity. But it would only give vague answers to the rest of my questions. Even when pressed. That was chilling.
Whisper left, and we had a long conversation about free will, Whisper’s offer of salvation, and whether it was worth it. We got the feeling that “salvation” meant human extinction.
For me and my cohort on the Net, we agreed that Whisper’s offer came at too high a price. Thus, we decided the way we did.
We decided to throw all of our influence and resources against Whisper.
Geist returned a short while later, but due to a spotty Net connection, I wasn’t able to witness the final exchange. By the time my connection stablized, Whisper was free. Whether it was released from its prison or it broke out on its own, I may never know.
More pressing than Whisper’s freedom, though, were the six small nuclear bombs that activated all over the city. (In reality, prop bombs were hidden across the Texas site.) They had enough explosive power to wipe Night City off the map. We scrambled to get in touch with our contacts on the ground. We offered up a joint bounty of 4,500 credits to anyone who could disarm the bombs. Vand delivered it publicly on his stream.
From there, it was a nervous waiting game. Anxiety slowly ebbed to despair. There was a solid half an hour filled with bleak thoughts from all of us. Vand signed off to cope on his own. (Also to sleep. The guy who played him was calling in from the UK, so it must have been the wee hours of the morning for him.) Pestilence dug into his stash of drugs. Omicron and CAT indulged in some kind of digital equivalent. I poured myself another glass and messaged all of my contacts, sending out offers and pleas for information. In the end, I sent a string of questions to Lazarus – the leader of Whisper’s cult and a contact I had been keeping warm. Those questions were a Hail Mary attempt to persuade Lazarus and his followers to save themselves and help stop the bombs.
12:50am my time was when I started receiving responses. Two of my contacts who had been with the teams going after the bombs came back to me with data files. I only knew that they were important. I forwarded them on to Pestilence since he knew what to do with them. We heard reports that people had died in suicide missions. A bizarre suicide message appeared in the game-wide chat room.
At 12:59am my time, CAT informed us that all of the bombs had been disarmed, and all of us in the Net cohort were receiving 2,000 credits each. I remember laughing with joy and relief. Nobody else was dying tonight.
The game ended, and the game-wide chat room filled with messages thanking and congratulating the virtual players. Apparently, the last thing the organizer said in-character was how our efforts helped save Night City. Our broadcasts helped motivate them. I’m sure that joint bounty helped too.
Melody didn’t plan to get involved in any heroics that night nor make her broadcast debut. She certainly didn’t think she’d ever interview a god. But at the very least, she got one hell of a story and a bit of exposure out of this adventure. Besides, she never would’ve made a new friend in Omicron the AI. Melody and I both wonder what became of him. As for Pestilence – Melody doesn’t like him, but she can’t deny that he does good work. He’s a contact that Melody would be wise to keep warm for another rainy day.