Waylee Freid is an intense young woman who works as a nightlife journalist for the Baltimore Herald until her nemesis, MediaCorp, buys the paper's parent corporation. She has tried to raise awareness of MediaCorp's secret deals with the government during the Internet upgrade, their relentless march to monopolize information, their suppression of critical thought, and their empowerment of an international plutocracy, but has thus far been unable to reach a significant audience.
Waylee seethes with inner anger, which arose from a violent childhood, poverty, and a hatred of injustice. She was sixteen, and her sister only seven, when they fled Philadelphia and the drunken fists of her stepfather and mother. Baltimore was as far as the contents of her mother’s purse could take them. Waylee vents most of her anger now through music and community organizing. She leads an electro-punk band called Dwarf Eats Hippo that is locally popular but financially unsuccessful. Influenced by authors like Goldman, Chomsky, and Klein, she is active in the local anarchist scene and with a grassroots social/political movement called the People's Party.
Waylee is outgoing and charismatic, and has a large circle of friends and acquaintances. She is extremely creative, resourceful, and intelligent, and has a quick wit. She struggles with cyclothymia (a type of manic-depressive disorder), but can't afford medicine (which doesn't help anyway) or therapy. She embraces her hypomanic phase, which increases her creativity and energy. Other times, she fears her life is pointless and the world is hopeless.
Settled now after years of moving from place to place, Waylee lives in a refurbished house in West Baltimore ("The Band House") with her boyfriend, sister, and a shifting set of roommates. She’s willing to risk everything, though, to bring down MediaCorp and their political allies.
Charles Marvin Lee, 17, is an intelligent and talented hacker from a crumbling neighborhood in East Baltimore. An only child with a devoted mother but no father, he took to code and operating systems faster than he learned English, first mining his mother’s smartphone and data pad, then school and library equipment. When he was twelve, his mother died of septicemia and he had to move into public housing with his well-meaning but overwhelmed grandmother, alcoholic aunt, and an army of cousins and neighborhood kids who didn’t have any place else to go. Constantly bullied by older boys, and afraid of the nightly gunfire, he ordered immersion gear on a stolen credit card and retreated into BetterWorld, the virtual reality run by MediaCorp, with over a billion subscribers. He cracked the puzzles deployed by the Collective, a loose association of anonymous hackers, and impressed the others enough to enter their inner circle. Using the avatar Dr. Doom, he created an army of AI “vampire bots” that scoured the virtual clubs of BetterWorld and infected other users, allowing Charles to control their accounts and computers.
Charles is individualistic and anti-conformist at heart, but as a teenager, tries (unsuccessfully) to fit in with others. He values knowledge and competence, and thinks people should be able to do whatever they want. He is quiet and reserved, and although he understands how people think, has difficulty making friends. He loves a challenge. Sometimes he dreams in Qualia or Edict, the languages of the Comnet, commands weaving together like songs.
At 16, Charles hacked into MediaCorp and posted a fake news ticker about a zombie attack. A schoolmate turned him in and he was sent to the Baltimore Juvenile Correctional Facility. Waylee contacts him there and says she’ll free him if he helps her take over a major broadcast. If he succeeds, he thinks, he’ll be recognized as one of the greatest hackers of all time.
Pelopidas Demopoulos, 26, is Waylee's level-headed, tech-savvy boyfriend. A computer science graduate from Towson University, he works as an IT technician at the Independent News Center, a non-profit center for investigative journalism, until MediaCorp buys their building and evicts them. He also does freelance programming, but makes most of his money trading information in the Collective's Emporium. Like Charles, he is in the Collective's inner circle.
Pel grew up in a conservative middle-class family in Baltimore’s Greektown neighborhood. Although free spirited and a committed leftist, especially since meeting Waylee, he is still close to his family and boyhood friends. He first saw Waylee on stage in Fell’s Point, fronting a fempunk band called Bombshells For Breakfast. An instant fan, he attended all her shows, no matter which band she was in, then helped her put Dwarf Eats Hippo together, supplying electronic rhythms and soundscapes. He fell hard for her and ditched his childhood sweetheart, Audrey. His family disapproves of Waylee, but he convinced them to buy an abandoned house ("a great investment!") which he and his cousins fixed up.
Pel loves tinkering with computers, car engines, and anything else electronic or mechanical. He built his own supercomputer ("Big Red") with a former classmate. He is a die-hard gamer and an early adopter who collects the latest technology. Like Waylee and Charles, he values personal freedom and freedom of information. He is loyal to his peers, but not concerned with laws and rules if they get in the way of getting something done. He is usually serious and analytical, but willing to take risks, and enjoys cheesy jokes.
Waylee convinces Pel to help her bring down MediaCorp, but the technical challenges and Waylee's mercurial nature put him to the test.
Kiyoko Pingyang, Waylee’s younger half-sister, draws no lines between fantasy and reality. She is a Princess in BetterWorld, with a virtual club, her own realm (Yumekuni), and legions of followers. In the unglamorous “real world,” she calls herself “the Princess of West Baltimore,” and wears costumes of her own design every day, symbologies and colors selected to aid her quests. Kiyoko has striking features and is paid to model in costumes. She plays bass in Dwarf Eats Hippo, and does her best to promote the band. She yearns for success and wealth, and escaping Baltimore for Tokyo or Shanghai, “the centers of world culture.”
Waylee was Kiyoko’s defender during childhood, calling the police against her abusive father (and occasionally fighting him) and filling in for her drunken, neglectful mother. They ran away and Waylee raised her in Baltimore. They are very different, though, and clash frequently.
Kiyoko is artistic and kind. She is gregarious, with many friends in the Baltimore cosplay, anime, gaming, and club scenes. She is easily hurt, though, and withdraws from the source of pain. All her romantic relationships end unhappily; she considers her cat, Nyasuke, to be her true soul mate. Kiyoko worships a pantheon of gods, and prays to them for luck and success.
Kiyoko helps her sister’s mission, but Waylee keeps her on the periphery. When things fall apart, though, she must step up and save everyone.
M'patanishi (“M-pat”), 28, is the neighborhood "peace facilitator" - part diplomat, part conflict resolver, part problem fixer, part policeman, and if necessary, soldier. He works for the People’s Party and also teaches Krav Maga, the Israeli street fighting art.
M-pat was a drug gang enforcer as a teen, known as a shrewd tactician. He was also a master at B&E and stealing cars. He was arrested a dozen times, but never pinned for the three murders he was ordered to commit. In prison for possessing stolen firearms, he read the books of Julius Nyerere, and decided to bring Ujamaa (community-scale African socialism) to Baltimore.
M-pat left his gang when he was released and met Latisha, his future wife. They rented a townhouse in a working-class West Baltimore neighborhood surrounded by factories, warehouses, and junkyards. A few months later, Waylee, Pel, and Kiyoko bought the corner house up the street. Waylee and Shakti brought in the People’s Party and helped M-pat organize the neighborhood to be self-sufficient, no longer relying on declining city services or far-away supermarkets. M-pat and Latisha had a son, Baraka, who became the main focus of his life.
M-pat is practical and organized, and values security. He has clear visions of the way things should be, and prefers to be in charge. He is exceptionally capable at organizing and running activities.
Waylee asks M-pat to help end control by the plutocracy, saying you can't protect your family or neighborhood without addressing the bigger picture. Reluctantly, he agrees to help - they can’t succeed without him.
Dingo, 23, is a witty, streetwise anarchist who fights Authority every chance he gets, mostly for the fun of it. He is M-pat’s chief deputy, and works part-time in a small print shop with Shakti. Like M-pat, he knows Krav Maga, but is not as adept as he thinks he is.
Dingo ran away from home at 15 and settled in West Baltimore. He never finished school, considering it a waste of time. He moved into the Band House and hooked up with Shakti. He considers Waylee, Pel, et al. to be his family now. He never goes anywhere without his “bag o’ pranks”: a backpack full of spraycans, gloves, stencils, lockpicks, and other “tools o’ the trade.”
Dingo is extroverted, spontaneous, imaginative, and action-oriented. He is an impatient risk-taker who focuses on immediate results. He is extremely loyal to his peers, but scoffs at laws and rules. He loves pranks, joins every street battle, and is virtually fearless.
Dingo is Waylee’s most enthusiastic supporter about taking over the MediaCorp feed. It would be the ultimate prank, a chance to stick a finger in the eye of Authority.
Shakti is a passionate organizer for the People’s Party, and Waylee’s best friend. An ethnic Indian, she was born in rural Guyana, but grew up in Towson, Maryland. She seeks an end to environmental destruction and global warming, and a more just, sustainable, world. She works in a print shop as a graphic designer, but only for the money - she finds it uninspiring.
Shakti shares a room in the Band House with her new boyfriend, Dingo. She finds him occasionally irritating, but he is the most interesting man she’s ever met, and she loves his passion for action.
Slightly introverted, Shakti is nevertheless forceful and determined (sometimes stubborn). She is an idealist, devoting her life to serving humanity and the world. She is stable and good-natured, with a strong sense of empathy. She strives to live in accordance with her value system, and loathes hypocrisy. She is a committed vegan and has converted half the people she knows.
Shakti believes in Waylee. She thinks Waylee’s quest is hopeless and dangerous, but agrees to help, and will be there if things go bad.