How NOT to Save the World (S1, Season Finale)

Season Content Notes (incomplete): violence, anti-nonhuman bigotry, consensual violence

After Cheung left, Ameohne’e paced the room, eventually finding herself standing in front of her framed copy of The Evil Overlord List. “Number 15: I will never employ any device with a digital countdown.”

She shook her head and checked the countdown tracker. Of course, it said exactly what she expected. Her meeting with Cheung hadn’t even lasted an hour.

Wu and Deborah came in and stood behind her.

“Was I wrong? Was there another way?”

Wu and Deborah glanced at each other. “My friend…” Wu trailed off.

“Of course there was another way.” Deborah smacked her. “There were lots of other ways. Would any of them have worked? Were you capable of following them? Will daisies begin singing?

“Who cares? You picked the best path you could, and so far it is working. What more do you want, the voice of God to guide your steps? Tough luck, the Age of Prophetcy ended 3,000 years ago.”

Ameohne’e rubbed the side of her head and looked at Wu. “I suppose you’re going to give it to me too?”

“This one would never speak so.” Wu gave an almost mocking bow. “But you ride upon the tiger. Wonder ‘what if’ when we all survive this.”

Ameohne’e took a deep breath and nodded. “Alright. Alright. Cheung isn’t on board, but ey isn’t going to cause trouble right now.”

“This one will message Shin, she is best suited to being Cheung fully on board.”

Ameohne’e turned away from the List. “Good. If Shin can get Cheung on board, then we’ll bump up the schedule for going public.

“Deborah, I should have asked yesterday, but any new updates from our collection of seers?”

“What little new came in was also contradictory. Overall analysis shows our chances of success dropping.” Ameohne’e and Wu grimaced. “I’m hopeful that was just the risk of Cheung turning on us, and the numbers will improve over the next week.”

“How bad are we looking at?”

Deborah hesitated. “Last night’s results gave us one in three of enough people surviving on Earth to rebuild when everything is over.”

“Well. That’s reassuring.” Ameohne’e rubbed her eyes. “Wu, do whatever you need to get us a night off. I need some family time; remember what we’re fighting for.

“Join us, Deborah?”

Deborah smiled but shook her head. She enjoyed being an unofficial grandmother to Ho’neheso when she got the chance, but tonight she had other commitments. “My granddaughter has consented to join me for dinner tonight. I’ll bring leftover kugel to share tomorrow.”

Ameohne’e took a deep breath, straightened her back, and nodded. “That’s for tonight. For now, back to work.

That evening, Deborah slipped out of the World Government building, looking not much different from any member of the cleaning staff. Like Ameohne’e, she had taken a new name within the rebellion. Unlike Ameohne’e, she never ‘died’ in her old life. She had simply lived two separate lives. A challenge at her age, but one worth doing. With a bit of care, some cosmetic changes any community theater could pull off, and the slightest bit of magic, she could show up on international news and not even her family could recognize her.

It wouldn’t last forever, of course. But once she went public, she dragged her granddaughter into the limelight with her. That, she wanted to avoid as long as possible.

Sadly, neither her daughter nor granddaughter had ever been interested in the study of Torah and Talmud necessary to become a Baal Shem. But they had their own paths to walk, their own purposes to fulfill in the world.

Avigail, as she was known in her private life, reached home without incident and started work on a simple kugel for dessert. She had just put the kugel in the oven when the fronted door opened.

A woman with short spikey hair in a long trench coat with a subtle triangle pattern running around the hem strode into the kitchen carrying a takeout bag.

“Joan!” Avigail smiled and opened her arms for a hug. “Running late again; your job keeps you too busy.

“What did you bring for dinner?”

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How NOT to Save the World, S1 E11
Webserial Catalog

Continue to:
Season 2 (coming in May 2022)
Spin off prequel (Coming Summer 2022)


Well, that’s going to be a problem sooner or later.

We’re saying goodbye to our Evil Overlord and her friends and enemies for now, but they’ll be back next season.

In the mean time, we’ll be starting a new story. This is one of my rare pieces of contemporary fiction and an experiment in the kishotenketsu story structure which is popular (in several variations and names) in East Asia.

Family is supposed to be natural. Spontaneous.

Relationships are supposed to be born out of star dust and moon beam.

Love isn’t supposed to be something you decide to feel.

Emeka won’t wait any longer.

Orli doesn’t like star dust.

Andi always needs a plan.

They are done with ‘supposed to.’

Together, they are

Building Family


The first 6 posts of Building Family are already up on my Substack. If you want to get caught up, pick a paid subscription option today.

How NOT to Save the World, S1 E11

Season Content Notes (incomplete): violence, anti-nonhuman bigotry, consensual violence

T minus 1 year 235 days

Ameohne’e welcomed Colonel Cheung and their subordinates into her office and waited until Wu left the room. Colonel Cheung’s eyebrows rose as they realized that Ameohne’e was meeting with them alone. Even with modern security, that was a significant sign of trust.

Cheung introduced their subordinates, and Ameohne’e offered drinks, which were politely declined. Then Ameohne’e got down to business.

“Gentlefolk, I appreciate you being willing to talk. For what it’s worth, Colonel Cheung, I always intended to have this discussion with you. I had simply hoped to build a stronger working relationship first.”

“Very well, Ms Littlesun. For now, I will accept your assurances at face value. Perhaps, however, you might share with me why you felt it necessary to create that specific… special project… in the first place.”

“I’ll do that. But first, I want to say that my goal today is not to convince you to believe me. Or to convince you to do anything other than what you’ve already been doing. If you walk out the door thinking I’m insane but are willing to keep doing your job, I’ll count that a win. I asked you to bring some of your staff partly as an assurance that this meeting wasn’t a setup. But also, on the off chance that you believe me, you’ll need some people you trust on the inside to start making plans with.” She stood up and moved to the small dry bar. “Excuse me. I know it’s rude to drink alone, but I’ve been anticipating this conversation for over eight years. Liquid courage and all that.”

Cheung took a moment to absorb everything Ameohne’e had said — and not said.

“Ms Littlesun, I also hope we will come out of this meeting with a working relationship. And, as I have thought you insane for quite some time now, I doubt anything you say today will change my opinion.

“I would, however, appreciate information. May I suggest you follow the advice of an old Englishman and ‘Begin at the beginning.”

“Continue through the middle, and when you get to the end, stop?” Ameohne’e tossed back the ouzo she had poured and shrugged. “I’ll try. Though we haven’t gotten to the end yet.” She poured himself another shot, then capped the bottle and put it away.

“Do you believe in prophecy, Colonel Cheung? Or in destiny?”

“Magical predictions of the future? Of course. We live in a world powered by magic. Predictions are tricky; many become self-fulfilling. Others never come true because people take action to change them — intentionally or otherwise.

“Destiny, I am suspicious of. This story begins with a foretelling, I take it.”

“My version of the story begins with a vision quest. Oh, there was a prophecy before that, but I thought it was a joke. Random person stopping me on the street, not something I was inclined to take seriously at the time.

“But I was in a bit of a bad way at the time, my divorce from my wife was finalized after several years of separation, I’d just met Wu, was on the outs with my father.” She shrugged. “It’s a familiar story, I’m sure.”

The senior NCO who had come with Cheung snorted. “Very familiar, sir.”

“I decided not to be a complete fool about it and sought out my tribe’s… wise woman, you might call her. She helped me on a vision quest.

“Are you familiar with vision quests, Colonel?”

“Not particularly.”

“They are usually very personal, but sometimes they have a …wider import. Mine warned of a great danger coming. Something with the potential to destroy the world.”

Cheung’s eyes narrowed. “You believed this vision quest. And rather than warn anyone, you decided to set yourself up as dictator and savior.”

“I’m a controlling, power-hungry bastard, colonel. I’ve never denied it.

“But before you ride off on your high horse, you might talk with Deborah or some of the other mystics in my organization. I’m not the only one who received a warning, and others did try to warn the government; for what good it did them.

“There’s a reason such a high percentage of magic workers follow me. Actually, I’m not sure why me and not someone else — unless it’s just that I’m driven and ruthless enough to see it through. But a reason they share my goals and support me. I know damn well why they didn’t follow my predecessors.”

Cheung grimaced. They could have argued, but… not very well.

“At the moment, Ms Littlesun, the greatest danger I see to the world is you. No one else is building a weapon powerful enough to destroy the world. Your pet engineer is doing just that.”

“Three lasers, actually. Collectively powerful enough to destroy the world. We couldn’t manage a single laser of that power.”

Cheung blinked. “Forgive me if that does not reassure me. Or answer my question.”

“You didn’t ask a question, but I know what you meant.

“In approximately 1 year and 8 months, we will be invaded, conquered, and wiped out, unless we can find a way to stop it.”

“Invaded by who? You lead the world government! There is no one else in the… world…”

Ameohne’e nodded as understanding dawned in Cheung’s eyes. “Want that drink now?”

“Please.”

After Ameohne’e poured and passed the drinks, Cheung said, “I see now why you expected me to question your sanity, Ms Littlesun.

“I will need time to think on this.”

Ameohne’e nodded and looked out her windows. “Some of us have done our best to develop… you can’t exactly call it ‘intelligence’… on the threat. Whatever scraps we can piece together. Major Shin at F9 will be available to discuss that with you if you want.

“Questions of my sanity aside, Colonel, do you have any other concerns I can address today?”

Colonel Cheung Bo of the World Space Force shook their head. “No. Though I would appreciate being copied on new weapons development proposals in the future.”

“I’ll see to it.”

“Then, with your permission, I think we’re done here. Ma’am.”

Ameohne’e didn’t even try to hide her relief. “Thank you, Colonel Cheung.” For a moment, her eyes went hard and flat, reminding Cheung of the odd moment in the first meeting. They recognized it now. Fanaticism. For all her casual manner and charm, the world’s new dictator was as great a fanatic as any in history. “Hold the orbitals, Cheung.”

There was only one answer any member of the Space Forces could give to that order. “Yes, Ma’am.” Because that was what Space Forces did.

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How NOT to Save the World, S1 E10

Continue to:
How NOT to Save the World (S1, Season Finale)

How NOT to Save the World, S1 E10

Season Content Notes (incomplete): violence, anti-nonhuman bigotry, consensual violence

T-Minus 1 year 240 days

Though the public didn’t know it, the two dozen people gathered in the large dining room were most of the true leaders of the rebellion-turned-dictatorship. Two-thirds of them were magic users or mystics, three-quarters non-humans. They sat in a circle in long-established sequence, ordered by the length of their service. Service to their greater cause and Ameohne’e (in that order). It was a system Ameohne’e had introduced shortly after her death and funeral. Few knew where she learned it from, but it had worked for them.

The people gathered there did not all hold official positions. Wu was there, of course, at Ameohne’e’s right hand. And Deborah, a few spots down the circle from Wu. But some were like Claudia. The low-level security guard had no interest in advancing, but everyone knew she was the go-to if you had an on-the-job problem you couldn’t go to your seniors about. Or Goran, who had worked the laundry in the old hidden base and now did whatever odd job needed doing. He had a chronically wet shoulder from being the substitute parent figure for everyone who knew him — even people three times his age.

Shin, the highest-ranking member of the military to join the rebellion (and survive — she had been one of the people to argue for Winehurst’s… permanent dismissal. But then, she’d had more dealings with the man than most) stood to lay out the background for the meeting. “As most of us know, Colonel Cheung Bo leads the Space Forces because the Forces are loyal to them, and they will support the status quo as long as Ameohne’e does not cross a line they cannot live with. That line being deliberate harm to civilians. Cheung has no loyalty to Ameohne’e, no knowledge of this circle, and no idea of what our true cause is.

“There have always been plans to bring in both Colonel Cheung and other top military leaders, but we had wanted time to cement the loyalty of the troops before taking such a risky step.

“Five days ago, Cheung learned that Tamrat Tessaro has been begun work on the offensive weapons we will need to survive what is coming. Cheung has not confronted Ameohne’e yet, but they have been talking with other high-ranking officers. And not just in the space forces. Removing Cheung would be risky, especially if other officers believe it is part of a cover-up. Bring them into our secrets so early is also risky. Leaving them in place without trusting them is perhaps the greatest risk of all. Which risk shall we take?”

Sitting to Ameohne’e’s left was the newest member of the circle, Lerato Schlender. This was only her second meeting with the circle: she’d joined after Ameohne’e took office. Like most invitations to the circle, it had been a simple message. Gene had identified her as one of the emerging leaders of the no-longer-cell organization that had supported Ameohne’e’s coup. “There’s a meeting next week. Be there.” And she was.

Still unfamiliar with the format, the person next to her (relieved to no longer be the ‘youngest’ member) had to give her a nudge.

With a gulp, Lerato stood up and said shortly, “I don’t know Cheung to have a feel for how they might react. But you — we — can’t keep the big secret forever. I know there’s a timetable, but if there’s one thing running a cell teaches you, it’s that plans only take you so far. So bring them in. See how they react. Worst case, they can have an accident, and we deal with the fallout as best we can. Need be, I’ll handle the accident myself.”

She sat down, forgetting to be embarrassed when she noticed several others glaring at her. Leading a cell in an underground rebellion also taught ruthlessness and practicality. She glared right back.

Her neighbor, one of those glaring, stood next. “There will certainly be no need for ‘accidents,’ but bringing Cheung in is the wisest course.”

Around the room, some speaking only to say which approach they favored. “Relieve him,” perhaps. Or “We should wait.” Others would have put a Roman Senator to shame with their speech making. The mystics and magic users might refer to their art and the lessons it gave or rely on more mundane arguments.

It took several hours — one reason these meetings were rare and held late at night. Even if it meant a long tired day for most of the circle tomorrow.

Finally, almost all had had their say. Wu stood up briefly. Zi said only, “I cannot see which way this cast will fall. If we do tell them, we must have security ready to deal with fallout beforehand. If we need an ‘accident,’ it will not be the first. But I would avoid it if possible.”

The room was silent for a moment. Waiting while Ameohne’e weighed everyone’s words. Sometimes she had come to a circle already sure in her decision. Sometimes she came knowing what she wanted but unsure of how to accomplish it. Rarely she came, like tonight, with no idea of a right answer.

But hours of listening, letting the wisdom and experience of her colleagues guide her, brought her some measure of surety.

As always, her was the final voice. She didn’t advise, she decided.

“I will tell Colonel Cheung and two of their subordinates that they trusts. Wu and Deborah will handle security for the meeting. Wu, make sure to include Claudia on the guard roster. Lerato will plan ‘accidents’ for all three but not activate any of them without explicit orders from myself or Wu. The rest of you, start putting together contingency plans for if we end up needing to go public in the next two months.” She sighed. “I know it’s hard for us to get together, especially now. But we’ll plan another meeting in four weeks to deal with any fallout. Hopefully, we won’t need it.”

 

“Colonel Cheung?”

“Yes, Ms Littlesun?”

“I realize that you have some… let’s call them concerns at the moment. I’ve never played games with you, and I’m not going to start now. But I’d rather discuss this in person.”

“As you say, Ms Littlesun, we have not played games. So, I will ask your assurance that this meeting will only be to talk.”

“Only to talk, Colonel. In fact, I thought maybe the clean rooms here. Some folks find the lack of windows reassuring.”

“I am sure. But as I do not have a fear of heights, I am not concerned about windows.”

“My office then, next Tuesday at… let’s say 10am. It’s a big office, so feel free to bring a couple of staff. Just make sure they aren’t the type to play games either and know the meaning of ‘top security’.”

“Everyone on my staff knows the meaning of ‘top security,’ Ms Littlesun, or they wouldn’t be on my staff. I will see you then.”

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How NOT to Save the World (S1, E9)

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How NOT to Save the World, S1 E11

How NOT to Save the World (S1, E9)

T-minus 1 year 245 days

Ameohne’e and Wu looked over the city from the windows in her office. Or, rather, Wu did. Ameohne’e was staring at her friend and trying to pick her jaw up off the floor.

“What did you say?”

“Should I repeat it in Chinese?”

“Wu…” Ma’evoto growled.

Wu grinned but bowed hir head. “The latest approval ratings are in. To make a historical analogy — you’re doing significantly better than Hitler in 1945, but in 1939 he’d wipe the floor with you.”1

Ameohne’e rubbed her hands over her face. “Alright. I don’t see why it matters. I’m a dictator, after all. As long as Cheung doesn’t turn on me,2 there’s only so much they can do.”

She rubbed her face again. “I used blackmail, bribery, small scale revolts, and threats of wide-scale assassination to get this job. I’m holding it in part through threat of wide-scale orbital bombardment. Why am I worrying about approval ratings again?”

“Every government worries about approval ratings.”

“Every government?”

“Of course. The democracies worry about what the people think, and the dictators worry about telling the people what they should think.”

Ameohne’e snorted a laugh, caught herself, glared at Wu. “That was bad. That was…”

“The only reason you aren’t laughing is your worried the security feed might get out.”

 

In a carefully hidden base, constructed shortly before Ameohne’e Littlesun pulled off her coup, the same numbers were being discussed. “No one likes the asshole, but no one hates her either. They don’t care that she overthrew the most successful democracy in the world’s history. Or that she set herself up as a dictator.”3

“We always knew that half the world was fools and sheep.4 That’s why we knew we’d need to fight back from the beginning. And that will work to our advantage. Those same fools and sheep will accept our victory5 and the restoration of the rightful government without a fight.”

“Fine. What’s the status with Cheung.”

“Negative,” another voice said. “Cheung Bo has always been… you can’t really call them apolitical, but that comes closest. They’re loyal to the civilian government of the moment, no matter what they think of it. They aren’t well thought of in the Army, and if the asshole had just promoted them there, we’d have plenty of disgruntled officers to work with. But Cheung has too much loyalty in the Space Force. Hell, that’s why they were pulled out of SF in the first place — council worried they were turning it into a personal fiefdom. They’re untouchable there and not willing to talk to us. At all.”

“Damn it. What does that leave us?”

“Our beloved dictator isn’t a fool. But she isn’t going to order orbital strikes in cities for anything short of outright revolt. We keep with what we’ve been doing. Small scale actions, generating word of mouth and building resistance. Finding her weaknesses. If Cheung Bo wakes up one morning to find the dictator is dead and a new government installed…”

“They’ll shut up and take it.”6

“Exactly.”

 

“Hey, kid.”

“Hey, Joan.”

The trees had lost their leaves, and a chill breeze skittered through the park.

“Look, I’ve been thinking about this. And I can’t keep coming here.”

Ho’neheso pouted. “But… why? I like you, Joan. You’re my friend.”7

“I like you too, kid. But…” Joan sighed and sat down on the ground in front of Ho’neheso’s swing. “I don’t think I’m supposed to know who your mom is.”8

Ho’neheso’s stilled. “Oh.”

“Truth is, kid, I like you. But I don’t like your mom much. And neither do my friends.”

The kid slid a hand into eir pocket. “You want to use me to hurt my mom.”

Joan snorted. “I don’t want to use you to hurt your mom. That’s why I need to disappear.” Another sigh. “Sooner or later, some of my… friends are going to realize who you are. They are going to want to use you to hurt your mom.9 But you’re a kid. You don’t deserve to be stuck in the middle.”

It was Ho’neheso’s turn to sigh. “And if you don’t, you’ll get in trouble with your friends?”

“Something like that. Your mom is smart, kid. Much as I hate to admit it. I don’t think you are as unprotected as you look out here. I also think you’ve got something more than an alarm button in that pocket.” Ho’neheso sheepishly pulled her hand out, not revealing what she had reached for. “I think if my friends did try to use you against her, she’s got a plan for that. A lot of people will get hurt without us accomplishing anything.

“I don’t want you to be one of those hurt people.”

Ho’neheso nodded. “You’re wrong, you know.”

“Wrong?”

“About my mom. She says she’s the bad guy too. Even has this ‘evil overlord list’ thing posted outside her office. It’s kind of funny. But she’s not the bad guy.”10

“She’s your mom, kid. If you thought she was the bad guy, something would really be wrong–”

“No.” Ho’neheso hopped off the swing and reached into a different pocket. Ey pulled out a single-use comm card and offered it to Joan. “You don’t know. You can’t know. Not yet.”

“Kid…”

“Take the card? Please? Later… when you know… when everyone knows… call me?11 Maybe your friends will be okay with it then.”

Joan sighed and accepted the small card. “Alright, kid. When this is over, if there’s a time when I think it’s safe to call, I will.”

“Thanks.” Ho’neheso hesitated, then reached out and gave Joan a hug. The technomage awkwardly patted her on the back. “I don’t know if she’s doing the right thing. But she’s not doing the wrong thing, okay?”

Joan couldn’t bear to argue with the kid. “Okay. If you say so.”

Ho’neheso nodded. “You’ll know. I promise.”

Not knowing what to say to that, Joan gave a last wave goodbye and walked out of the park. She nearly tossed the card. Should have. There was no guarantee that it wasn’t tampered with. Didn’t have a tracker or something, but she wasn’t a technomage for nothing. She could check it at home. And she wanted to trust the kid. Wanted it enough to risk a bit.

Ho’neheso watched Joan go and called up the count down ey and eir mom’s most trusted people always had somewhere.12 1 year and 8 months. Then ey’d have eir friend back. Ey had to.

 

Colonel Cheung Bo hadn’t accepted a promotion.13 Yet. But they were pleased with the progress they had made in rebuilding and restoring the Space Force to what it should be. Littlesun had been true to her word. She hadn’t interfered in the day-to-day operation and hadn’t even suggested using the Space Force’s orbital assets against the small-scale resistance she’d faced. Cheung was coming to actually trust the world’s new dictator.

Which made the newest report to land on their desk that much more of a shock.

“She’s building what!?”14

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How NOT to Save the World (S1 E8)

Continue to:
How NOT to Save the World, S1 E10


How NOT to Save the World (S1 E8)

Season Content Notes (incomplete): violence, anti-nonhuman bigotry, consensual violence

It was an unusual group that gathered on the roof of an old warehouse. Amal was a slim man in his thirties who looked like the stereotypical intellectual — right down to the old-fashioned glasses and wide skirts. What most wouldn’t notice was that the skirts were actually split skirts — a fashion even older than the glasses. They allowed him the same freedom of movement as the gusseted pants of truly committed active lifestylers. Even fewer would notice the weapons those voluminous skirts concealed.

Joan squatted next to him, drawing a diagram with a circuit drawing pen, her trenchcoat flaring out behind her. Her tablet sat in the center of the diagram. The tablet chanted out the invocation as she drew.

Next to Joan was Ahnold, a skeletal cyborg with glowing red eyes whose creation was probably illegal. He was strong, usually silent, and fairly impulsive. Ahnold refused to wear clothing, and of those who were foolish enough to ask him to, no one asked twice.

Rounding out their circle was an older man, halfway to bald. He was on the short side but broad as a barn door. Most of it muscle, but in recent years he’d developed a bit of a paunch. Only his wife dared say anything about it, and she delighted in embarrassing him enough to make him stammer and blush. He went only by ‘Sargeant’ and wore gusseted pants that had pockets on their pockets as well as a fully stocked tool belt. Sargeant gave a nod to social convention with a pair of square-shaped silver earrings but otherwise had no decoration or jewelry.

Joan finished the diagram at the same moment the tablet stopped chanting. A holograph popped into existence over the tablet — one that wasn’t supposed to exist.

“Alright,” Joan said, “They got a kabbalist to help with the defenses.”

“So we’ll be facing strong defenses, but not much in the way of attacks.” Amal nodded.

“Don’t get overconfident. Most kabbalists prefer to stay on the defense, yeah. But the Golem was first created as a ‘defense’.”

Amal nodded. “Point taken.”

“Those assumptions’ll bite you in the ass every time, kid,” Sargeant growled.

“Still, I doubt we’ll find a golem here. It would be disrespectful to animate one to protect a warehouse.”

“Heavy defense, no golems, but don’t get overconfident.”

“Right.

“Luckily, kabbalists are usually traditionalists and don’t have much to do with technomagic, so I was able to get through the wards and get us a rough blueprint.”

“It looks nothing like the official layout from intel,” Ahnold observed. “How do we know this is the right place?”

Sargeant snorted. “If it did look like the official blueprint, we’d know we were in the wrong place. No one puts out official misinformation and heavy magical defenses unless they’re hiding something.”

Amal started laying out a plan. “Joan, you hang back and keep the defenses off of us.”

“But–”

“Yes, I know you like to go bursting in and making a scene, but we don’t want to rush into…”

Ahnold, done waiting, said, “Cover me.” He stepped off the roof and dropped to the ground hard enough they cracked the asphalt. A split second later, he was racing across the street and kicked in the door.

The other three ran to the edge of the roof.

“Levitating now,” Joan said, activating a stored spell on her tablet.

“I’m in first,” Amal said as they floated to the ground. “Then Joan, Sarge cover us.”

An electronic scream rang out from the warehouse. “Fuck that,” Sargeant said as they landed and ran for the door, Amal of necessity hanging back to cover the other two as they raced to be first in the door.

Another scream as they burst through the door to find —

Ahnold standing in the middle of a completely empty room. The entire warehouse was a single giant room with nothing in it. Ahnold had his head thrown back and hands fisted as he screamed at the ceiling. “Intel, you useless fuck ups!!!!!!!”

At breakfast that morning, Wu received a short briefing on all security issues during the night. “Of note,” his assistant reported, “three of our dummy warehouses were broken into, all by small groups with skilled magic users. Two of them, we have video of the intrusion and successfully tracked the teams back to their bases.

“Their magic users were skilled, sir, but their security left… a great deal to be desired.”

Wu nodded, flipping through the written report on his datapad. Zi could have done without the face-to-face entirely, but zi still read expressions better than zi read ‘between the lines’ of a report.

“The third group?”

“We wouldn’t have caught them at all if some of the team hadn’t entered the building before the mage finished their work. As it is, I can tell you that we’ve got a technomage working with a cyborg. The cyborg’s design is… distinctive. But if the team is as good as the mage indicates, they’ll have some kind of cover planned for the cyborg. Every system in the warehouse shut down before the cyborg left or the rest of the team entered — if they did enter.

“Worse, the alarms were corrupted, so they didn’t go off until after the intruders were gone.”

“Thank you, Akemi.

“Anything else of interest?”

Shortly after, Wu met with Ameohne’e for their daily briefing. “As expected, we’re seeing signs of an organized resistance. It appears the leaders are sending teams out on test runs: to test our defenses or weed out the useless. Possibly both.

“So far, there is one team that might be what we are looking for for our endgame. I’ll keep you updated.”

“Good. Very good.”

In one of several secret hideouts scattered across the city, Amal was out of patience.

“You were the one who couldn’t wait for the go-ahead. You were the one who had to go bursting in before Joan finished securing the site. You were the one who got caught on camera.

“So you will be the one to wear the damn skin suit over your skeletal ass.”

“Fine! But no clothes.”

Amal and the Sargeant (now fully bald, just in case) looked at each other and sighed. It was going to be a long day.

Joan was ignoring all three of them. Somehow that kabbalist had slipped something into the defenses that made Joan’s tablet display a false layout for the warehouse. She wasn’t resting until she figured out how.

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How NOT to Save the World S1E7

Continue to:
How NOT to Save the World (S1, E9)

How NOT to Save the World (S1 E7)

Season Content Notes (incomplete): violence, anti-nonhuman bigotry, consensual violence

T-minus 1 year 355 days

Ho’neheso checked the time. Ey waited ten more seconds, then stood up and walked out of eir room. It had taken eir just over a week to find the security break. Wu, ey thought, was getting sloppy.1 In fact, Wu was just as meticulous as ever, but with so much going on, things got missed. What had been missed this time was a coincidence of timing across several layers of security.2 Someone quick and agile (and lucky) could get from the penthouse suite to a back service door without security knowing. Probably.

The security teams knew better than to make their rounds on a timetable, so there was a chance ey would be caught. But not a big one.

Wu and Ho’neheso had played this ‘game’ from the time she was 5 years old. Wu and eir Mom had both felt guilty that she couldn’t have what they thought of as a ‘real’ childhood. So Wu had started leaving intentional breaks in security and challenging eir to find them. At first, the breaks were only internal, with the challenge being to get from eir room to, say, the kitchen or the basement. As ey got better at finding the breaks (and Wu made the breaks smaller and harder to find), ey started leaving wherever the current hideout was entirely.

The deal was that when ey ‘escaped,’ ey’d send Wu a priority message. Ey then had until zi came to collect eir to find other kids to play with, go shopping, or just enjoy a few precious minutes of freedom.

Two years ago, Wu had sat em down and told em that zi could no longer create breaks in the security for em. Eir mom was no longer hiding as a precaution, but necessity. People were actively hunting her. Zi apologized for taking away eir game but said it was necessary for eir safety.

It took em two months to find a break in security that Wu hadn’t known existed and escape for real.3

Wu had other people, paid people, who tested the security from outside. But Ho’neheso had become hir best internal security check.

Tonight, ey didn’t have any plans. Ey just needed someplace quiet and a chance to be alone for a few minutes. Wu and Mom wouldn’t be happy with em for sneaking out. Ho’neheso knew the game eir mom played and what rode on it.4 But no one except her most trusted people even knew eir mom had a daughter. Eir Mama had actually done some genetic theft and illegal gene slicing5 to have Ho’neheso, so even eir mom hadn’t known about em until after Mama died.6

Sure that no one could recognize em, ey pulled eir cowl low over eir face and slipped out the alley behind the building.7 A single press of a button alerted Wu to eir escape. But zi was in a critical meeting; it would take zir at least a few minutes to extricate zirself.

According to all the maps, there was a small, almost forgotten park a few blocks away. A quiet park at night would be perfect.

 

Sitting on a swing, Ho’neheso heard gravel crunching behind em. Ey spun around to find a figure stepping into the moonlight.8 Ho’neheso found emself looking at a woman with short spikey hair in a long trench coat9 with a subtle triangle pattern running around the hem. The woman held up her hands in a ‘peace’ sign before lighting a smoke. “Hey, just wanted you to know you weren’t alone. No trouble.”

Ho’neheso reached into eir pocket and took hold of her holdout gun. “Okay. No trouble.”

A dragon flew by overhead, one from the Welsh clans.10 Ho’neheso recognized him and cursed under eir breath. So much for some alone time. After a moment, the dragon came back the other way and took up a circling pattern over the park.

“Huh. You know them, kid?”

“Yeah.” Ey sighed. “He works for my mom.11 I just wanted some time away from everything, you know?”

The woman laughed. “I think we all do, sometimes. But it’s good that your mom cares about you.”

“Yeah.” Another sigh. Then ey bit eir lip. There was a question she’d been wanting to ask someone but hadn’t. Ey was afraid of sounding foolish. But a stranger in the night, who ey might never see again… “Um… Can I ask something?”

“Sure, I got time to kill.”

“Um… how did you know that you’re a woman?”

The woman, a technomage named Joan,12 inhaled abruptly, then started coughing. When she had her breath back, she put her smoke out and squatted down in front of Ho’neheso. “Hell of an introduction, kid.”

Ho’neheso shrugged and traced circles in the dirt with her toe.

“Ah, like that, is it?” The last thing Joan had expected was to meet a rich kid in the pack having an identity crisis, but it wasn’t the strangest thing she’d ever seen. She thought a moment and finally said. “Hell kid, gender is like love. No one can define it, but everyone knows it when they see it. Damn sure no know else can give you answers.”13 She looked up at the stars and the dragon circling overhead. “I spent years worrying about it. What was I? What’s it all mean? Then one day, I looked in the mirror, and I saw a woman.”

The two sat quietly. The dragon circled a few more times, then peeled off and flew away.

A moment later, Wu walked into the entrance of the park. Joan stared at zir a moment. “Ah… that your mom?”

Ho’neheso smiled as ey stood up. “No, but zi’s here for me.” Ey paused a moment. “Do you think… you might be here again?”

Joan said nothing for a moment, then sighed. This was a complication she did not need. But she’d been that kid once… “Sure, kid. You come here again, you’ll probably see me around.14 My name’s Joan.”

“Thank you!”

She watched the pair walk away and sighed again.

A moment later, she pulled out another smoke and offered it to the young man who joined her from the shadows.15

“You’re here early,” he said.

“Yeah, we’re gonna need to find a new meeting spot.”

He blinked. “Why?”

“Did you see the per with the kid?” She nodded in the direction they had gone.

“Yeah.”

“Well, I’ve seen zir before. Standing next to our Big Bad on a netcast.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, oh.”

A few minutes later, two more figures emerge from the darkness.

“Sargeant.16 Ahnold.17” The man greeted them. “Let’s take a walk.”

“What is going on?”

“Not here.”

Return to:
How NOT to Save the World S1e6

Continue to:
How NOT to Save the World (S1 E8)


How NOT to Save the World (S1 E6)

Season Content Notes (incomplete): violence, anti-nonhuman bigotry, consensual violence

T minus 1 year 363 days

Ameohne’e Littlesun waited in one of the government building’s cleanrooms with a giant carafe1 of coffee2 and an aching head. She was not happy with herself, Wu, or the world at large. She was especially unhappy with the clock, which said her current appointment was running ten minutes late. Eleven.

On the other side of the door, Tamrat Tessaro pretended he wasn’t holding off a panic attack. Which meant he was slouched down, tapping his foot, and cracking gum every few seconds. The guard on the door was frustrated and growling. “Take them off.”

Tamrat popped a bubble3 to hide his shakes. “No.” He scratched the side of his head. “Look, the boss man wants me, I came. But if she wants to drag me away from my single day off4 this month, she can take me as I am.”

“It’s a cleanroom.”

“So you clean it after I leave. I’m not taking them off, and I’m not putting on the damn suit. Don’t like it? I’ll go write up my resignation letter.5 Tomorrow. Because, get this, I am off today.”

This argument, and variations on it, had been going on for most of the ten minutes Ameohne’e had been waiting. If she had known this, she would have been even less happy.

Before the guard could rebut, the door of the room opened, and Ameohne’e yelled, “What the hell is taking so–” she cut off abruptly as he saw Tamrat. Ameohne’e didn’t even notice the man’s clothes because her eyes were immediately drawn to the bunny ear headband6, one ear folded down, the other tall enough to Tamrat would need to duck a bit in most doorways.

Tamrat, who usually didn’t pay attention to what anyone was wearing, immediately noticed that she wasn’t wearing a clean suit.

“Tamrat Tessaro?” Ameohne’e asked.

“Evil Overlord?” Tamrat replied, too distracted glaring at the guard to watch his tongue. As soon as the words were out of his mouth, his tawny skin paled and he barely kept from cringing.7

Ameohne’e waved for the guard to stand down and grinned. “And I have the list8 in my office.”

“The List!” Tamrat’s jaw gaped. “You know the LIST!?”

“What self-respecting Evil Overlord9 wouldn’t?” Ameohne’e stepped back, suddenly much more at peace with the world. “Come into my parlor.”

“Said the spider to the fly.” Tamrat slapped his hand over his mouth, then banged his head into the wall. “I have no filter. I’m going to get myself killed. She’s going to throw me out a window because I can’t keep my damn mouth shut.”10

Ameohne’e laughed. The guard stubbornly muttered, “Ma’am, the cleanroom–”

“Can be cleaned. That’s what magic and modern technology are for.” She turned back into the room. “Oh, and Tamrat, you’d be safer in here. No windows.”

Tamrat followed the chuckling overlord into the room, muttering to himself.

“Alright, Tamrat, your name landed on my desk as someone who is always exceeding the mission brief, looking to build bigger, better, and out of budget.” With the door closed, the cleanroom was completely soundproof. Quiet enough that it usually pumped white noise into the impossible silence. Otherwise, folks working there ended up with unhealthy levels of stress and too many sick days. In that silence, Tamrat’s gum popping sounded loud enough it made him jump.11

“Um, well, yeah. I mean, why do a half-ass job, right? Hey, why is there a cleanroom here, anyway? I mean, it’s not like your manufacturing nanochips or something here.”

“Espionage. The computers here are supposed to be completely disconnected from everything else. Most folks have no idea how tiny a good bug can be these days, but you probably know something of that.”

Tamrat’s jaw dropped open, and he had to catch his gum before it hit the floor. He looked at it a moment, looked around for a garbage bin, then shrugged and popped it back in his mouth. “I mean, a bit, yeah. Not my area, but you have to know something. Still, this is, like, overkill. Or something.” He thought a moment. “I think.”

While Tamrat had been talking, Ameohne’e had been summoning up a holo projection.

“I need an engineer, with a background in spaceship and satellite design, who isn’t afraid to think big.” Ameohne’e pulled up an image, a sphere. Going by the scale notation is was around 6 miles across and had the Greek letter Lambda carved into one side.

Tamrat leaned closer and blinked. “Troy?” he blinked again. “You want me to build Troy?!”

Ameohne’e started to reply by Tamrat kept talking. “Alright, you know the List, so I suppose Troy isn’t too surprising. A bit more obscure.12 Also, you realize the maneuvering systems were shit, right? And the whole giant mirror thing… those kinds of AIs are still fiction and probably always will be. Argus we do not have. Also, I don’t think much of his politics.

“The basic idea is doable, I suppose. I mean, hollow asteroid designs as a practical matter go back to the early 21st century. But that’s not what you are looking for, is it?”

He actually stopped this time, and Ameohne’e hurried to answer. “No, it’s not. Don’t get me wrong, giant space station is cool. But I’m more interested in giant space laser.”13

“So why not the Death Star?”

Ameohne’e grinned and fiddled with the hologram controls. “Would you believe I hadn’t heard of it until last night?”14

“How the hell do you know Troy and not–”

The hologram exploded in a shower of sparks. “Also, for all its flaws — in both politics and physics — at least Troy was built with functioning armor and couldn’t be taken out with a single lucky shot.”15

Tamrat blinked at the fizzling light show. “You do have a point.”

He thought a minute. “Given modern technology, a profligate use of magic, and enough money, could probably do something in 5 years or so. Can’t imagine why you’d want it, but every Evil Overlord has to have some ridiculously over elaborate secret base, right?”

Ameohne’e grinned. “Exactly. But you have 18 months.”16

“Whaaat!”17

Ameohne’e ignored his sudden hyperventilating. “There will be bureaucrats over seeing the project. Their only job will be to make sure you have what you need, when you need it. Personnel, money, magic, you name it, you get it…”

An hour later, Ameohne’e and Tamrat shook hands and left the clean room. Tamrat had mostly regained the ability to breathe normally.

If Ameohne’e figured right, it would be about six months before Cheung Bo learned about this little project.18 She was almost looking forward to the Colonel’s reaction. Almost.

Return to:
How NOT to Save the World S1E5

Continue to:
How NOT to Save the World (S1 E7)


How NOT to Save the World (S1 E5)

Season Content Notes (incomplete): violence, anti-nonhuman bigotry, consensual violence

The triumphant heroes took their bows, and the screen faded to black. Wu shook hir head. “That was…”

“Classic.” Tracey spoke quietly, trying not to wake the child curled up in her lap.

“Not the word I was looking for. And I’m not sure how it got on your ‘Evil Overlord’ list. That trash compactor was never intended as a death trap.”

“Come on, the explosions? The laser beams you could see? The aerodynamic starships? You don’t see vids like this anymore.”

“For which blessing, I will make a large donation to the next artistic fundraiser that hits you up for money.”

“Ha.”

Tracey shifted, preparing to stand.

“Would you like me to take em to bed?”

Tracey shook her head and pushed herself up out of the person-eating couch. Ho’neheso stirred, opening eir eyes to look at her a moment before snuggling back into her arms. “You’ve stood in for me too often the last few years. I’m grateful, but Ho’neheso needs me to step up and be eir mother again.”

Wu followed her as she carried Ho’neheso carefully to eir new—and well protected—bedroom. “You never asked em to change eir name.”

“No.” Tracey laid her child on eir bed and pulled the covers up. “Ey lost so much already. As long as I could keep em hidden…”

“And what of you? You no longer need to hide who you are.” They started back down the hallway towards Tracey’s rooms. “Taking an Anglo name made sense when you wanted to move unnoticed in North America. Even with the tribes reclaiming so much of their land, Anglo is still the ‘norm’ north of Mexico.”

Tracey grunted. Wu only stated the obvious when zi was building towards something big.

“You will be remaking the world in a new image. As you once remade yourself. But is Tracey Frederickson the person who should be remaking the world? Or Ameohne’e?”

“Does it matter? I’m me, whatever I call myself.”

Wu shook hir head. “Deborah has some interesting things to say on the importance and meaning of names. And I believe some of the First Nations have similar beliefs.”

Tracey let herself collapse on her bed. ”Wu… just drop it. I can’t think about this right now.”

Wu said nothing. Zi knew that sometimes it was best to sit back and let Tracey argue with herself.

Which is exactly what Tracey did. Argued, and remembered. Her thoughts circled endlessly until arguing stopped and only memories remained.

Setting up Tracey as a fake identity. The last time she saw her father. The day she read her obituary. The… No matter how hard she tried she couldn’t push the pain and the memories away. A sob caught in her throat.

With hard-learned patience, she steadied her breathing. I control nothing if I cannot control myself. Stepped back from the painful memories and watched them, like clouds scuttling across the sky. She looked for the meaning that tied them together. The belief behind the pain.

“Ameohne’e is dead,” she finally whispered, “They named her dead and did the rites. I walked away from that name, from that life. I killed her. There is nothing to go back to.”

“We live in an age of magic. Your servant would be honored to find a necromancer to resurrect her.”

“Ha. Ha.”

Wu knelt beside her, hand outstretched. Tracey sat up and rested a hand on Wu’s head. “What would you ask?”

“Only this. Does your soul bleed for the loss of who you were? Tell your servant it does not and I swear by the heavens I will never speak of it again.”

“I…” Tracey couldn’t say it. “I can’t answer that.”

Wu’s head bowed further, hir hand pulled back to hir heart. “As you will.”

Tracey’s fingers tapped against the bed, quick and discordant. Never before had she refused Wu an answer. It was her right. But she had never…

She pushed herself up and began pacing the room. On her third circuit, Wu stood.

“With permission,” the dragon said, “your servant will retire for the night.”

Pacing wasn’t helping. The buzzing in her head grew worse.

“Yes, go.” Another circuit before Wu reached the door. Quickening her steps brought her to the door as Wu opened it. “I’m sorry.”

Wu bowed. “Your servant will do all zi can. But I cannot fight your demons for you.”

“No.” Tracey smiled. “Zi can only precipitate the battle.” She stepped back from the door. “You can go if you want. But I would rather have you with me while I fight them.”

Wu closed the door. “Then I will stay.”

Tracey had been right — she did not have the time or energy for a crisis of identity. Certainly not one that kept her up and cost her sleep. She had stolen two hours from a too-short night already to spend time with her child.

But Wu was also right — she could not do what she must if she was not sure of herself. And that meant knowing who she was — and who she would be.

It was when she found herself wishing she could seek out the medicine woman who had guided her on that long-ago vision quest that she realized it had never been a question. Tracey was a mask she created. She was — had always been — Ameohne’e. She had come to believe the mask was the truth, like an actor playing a role for too long. It was time to take it off.

It was far too late when she finally crawled into bed. Wu climbed in behind her and wrapped hirself around her. Zi had been a supportive but silent presence throughout the night. Now Ameohne’e murmured, “One day you are going to be wrong, and I’ll be there to see it.”

“I have been wrong often. But not tonight.”


Note on names: You might recall from episode 1 that our Evil Overlord went by Trevor in the newsletter and Tracey on here. Similarly, there he reclaims the name and identity of Ma’evoto and on here she reclaims the name and identity of Ameohne’e. To the best of my knowledge, Ma’evoto (like Tracey) can be gender neutral, but I decided to continue the split naming, and Ameohne’e is explicitly a woman’s name. Feel free to mix and match names in your personal headcannon.

Sorry folks, don’t have the spoons to footnote this one. I’ll try to come back and update later, but no promises. FWIW, this episode was rather light on the tropes iirc.

Return to:
How NOT to Save the World (S 1, E 4)

Continue to:
How NOT to Save the World (S1 E6)

How NOT to Save the World (S 1, E 4)

Season Content Notes (incomplete): violence, anti-nonhuman bigotry, consensual violence

T minus 1 year 364 days

Tracey watched as Kasmir Teufel hurried from—it wouldn’t quite do to say that he fled—the office. Filling Kasmir’s place in the government hierarchy would be difficult, but Tracey hadn’t even tried to convince him to stay.

Let the scared ones go, Wu had said, forcing them to work with you will only lead to problems.

So Kasmir would get a generous retirement bonus and a chance to escape.

After a few minutes, Tracey’s temporary secretary (a security guard vetted by Wu, Deborah, and Glen) escorted in Narges Khoroushi, the head bureaucrat for Arcane Persons and Artifacts.1

She walked stiffly, her starburst earrings chiming with each step. She wore a simple white cap covering her head that contrasted with her dark brown skin and curled black hair. Her pants were dark with intricate floral embroidery climbing halfway to the knees. A robed upper garment that fell to mid-thigh and mimicked the embroidery around the cuffs. Together, her outfit gave an impression somewhere between an active or relaxed lifestyler. An impression Tracey knew was false. She’d done her research and there was nothing ‘relaxed’ about Narges.

She stopped a few steps from Tracey’s desk. “Fredrickson.”

Keep the evil ones close to you,2 had been the second part of Wu’s divination. ‘Evil’ was a flexible concept.3 But Wu said that in this case, it meant those who would cause or force division. Which Tracey thought fit Khoroushi to a T.

“Thanks for coming. Please, sit, have a snack.”

On cue, her ‘secretary’ returned with a tray of finger foods.

Narges glared at Tracey. “There is no need for courtesy between us. Say your piece and have done with it.”

“I want you to step down from APA.”

She sniffed. “And if I don’t?”

“Then I can’t put you on the team that is going to be restructuring the World Peace Force.” Tracey leaned back in her chair and sighed. “You heard about Winehurst?”

Narges jerked her head.

“He was… typical of our so-called ‘peacekeepers.’ We need a military, with an emphasis on marines and space forces.” Narges opened her mouth but Tracey rolled over her. “We don’t need a bunch of bullies and jackboots who use chemical weapons on protesters and demonstrations.”

Khoroushi pursed her lips. “You watched my speeches.”4

“We were enemies.” Tracey smiled. “I try to know my enemies.”

“We are enemies. And if I’d been more willing to support… harsh measures against your street mobs you might not be sitting in that chair right now.” The stiffness was gone now. She leaned in, anger glinting in her eyes. “And you know damn well that not all your engineered protests were peaceful.”

“You and I both know your boss’ personal cowardice5 is the reason my butt is in this chair.”

Khoroushi glared but didn’t try to deny it.

“The protests,” Tracey waved out to windows, “helped me build grassroots support to take power without instant chaos or rebellion erupting. All the arrests, and beatings, and chemical attacks did was prove to my supporters that I was right. The World Government was a corrupt oligarchy in service of the elites.6 And don’t tell me they were democratically elected. When a full third of the world’s population couldn’t vote there was nothing democratic about it.”7

“Monsters.”8 It was quietly stated, without the venom most people would imbue in the word.9 But Tracey found it no less hateful for that.

“No. People.10 My people. And one way or another, I am removing you from power over them. But I’d rather make peace with you than toss you out a window.” She smiled again. “If nothing else the repairs will get expensive after a while.”11

“Ha!” Narges looked at her for the first time with interest. “So you’ll let me fix the problems with the peacekeepers if I buy into your revolution.”

“Not buy in. Just stop fighting me.”

She said nothing for a full two minutes. Tracey waited. Then Narges sat down across from her. “Tell me how this brainstorm of yours will work. And why you think we need a military at all.”

Tracey took 10 minutes to eat a quick lunch and check in with Wu, overseeing the set up of her permanent on-site security. Aside from that brief break, the rest of the day was much the same. Meeting with bureaucrats powerful enough to need an individual touch and cajoling them or coercing them into working with her. Or kicking them out of her government.

Three hours after the dinner hour, Wu messaged to confirm that zi was satisfied with the on-site security and would be getting Tracey’s household moved in that night.

Tracey relaxed and poured herself a celebratory drink. She was halfway through that drink when Colonel Cheung Bo12 reported to her office. They wore, as always when on duty, their tailored uniform with small trapezoid pins at the shirt cuffs.

Cheung Bo had never liked Winehurst, wasn’t surprised to learn the man was a traitor. Winehurst’s death was, as far as Cheung Bo was concerned, the only good thing to have come out of this ‘peaceful transfer of power.’13

But it did make them a little… apprehensive about receiving orders to report directly to the new dictator.

Of all the things they might have expected, being greeted with a cheerful “Colonel Cheung Bo, welcome. Would you like a drink?” never occurred to them.

“Sir.” The colonel saluted and took the indicated seat. “Yes, thank you.” In the military, it is generally considered unwise to refuse a drink from a superior officer. Cheung Bo figured the same applied here, only more so.

Tracey poured a second glass and waited while they sipped appreciatively. “I’m curious, Colonel. Did you realize my people tried to recruit you?”

The colonel had good control of their face — their surprise only showed in a slight widening of their eyes. “I have always been loyal to my government.”14

“That’s not an answer,” Tracey observed but continued without waiting for one. “You haven’t resigned your commission. Will you give me the same loyalty you gave my… predecessors?”

Silence.

“I have yet to establish my legitimacy in the eyes of most people. Assuming I ever can. Still, the best chance of overthrowing me would be in the next few months, before I have time to establish my control. And using the many people I can’t afford to remove.”

More silence.

“Give me your opinion, Colonel. What will happen if I am overthrown?”

Cheung Bo took a deep breath and set their glass down. They hadn’t expected to be able to avoid taking a stand. “Chaos. You have not established legitimacy, but your… predecessors have lost it, ma’am. Your followers would need to be crushed to keep endless rebellions from happening. There would be no guarantee that whoever picked up the pieces to form a new government would be able to hold it.”

Tracey smiled soberly. “I’m glad we’re on the same page.” She reached into a draw of her desk and pulled out a very thick, very old-fashioned paperfile. “This is your file Colonel. You have more disciplinary write-ups than any other officer of your rank, and those same disciplinary issues are the reason you have never become a general officer, despite your long and otherwise exemplary service.”

“I have become reconciled to it, sir.” The comment had an edge, a warning for Tracey not to think of bribing Cheung Bo with the rank they had been denied so long.

“These,” Tracey pulled out a much slimmer file, “are my plans for expanding our space forces and centering further military development around it. You started in the space forces,15 didn’t you Colonel?”

The colonel nodded, their face tightened. They understood now that the bribe was nothing so simple as rank.16

“He who holds the orbitals…” Tracey trailed off.

“… holds the world.”17 Colonel Cheung Bo finished the old space aphorism that their former superiors had refused to heed.

“I need an officer I can trust. Not because they are loyal to me. Not because they supported my coup. Not because I’ve bribed them.

“But because they want the same thing I do: to keep people safe.”

She picked up the thin folder and held it out to the colonel. “I think a soldier with a dozen write-ups for arguing against punitive actions18 might be that officer.”

Cheung Bo stared at the folder, then at the man holding it. They felt the sand shifting under their feet. Their commitment to hold themself aloof from this usurper and just do their job eroding. “What would you expect of me?”

“Remove the Winehursts, prevent chaos, prepare for anything.”

Cheung Bo reached out and accepted the folder, not entirely believing they were doing so.

“Hold the orbitals for me, Cheung Bo.” A hard light gleamed in Tracey’s eyes, the charming politician stripped away to reveal the fervor that toppled a government. “Hold the orbitals for us all.”

“I will, ma’am.”

They meant it.19

Return to:
How NOT to Save the World (S1, E3)

Continue to:
How NOT to Save the World (S1 E5)


1 https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MugglePower
2 https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/KeepingTheEnemyClose
3 https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WhatIsEvil
4 https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/YouKnowWhoSaidThat
5 https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DirtyCoward
6 https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Cliche
7 https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SuffrageAndPoliticalLiberation
8 https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WhatMeasureIsANonHuman
9 https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FantasticRacism
10 https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/EvenEvilHasStandards
11 https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HeroInsurance
12 https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ColonelBadass
13 https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AndThereWasMuchRejoicing
14 https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MyCountryRightOrWrong
15 https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SpaceNavy
16 https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/EveryManHasHisPrice
17 https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DeathFromAbove
18 https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WouldNotShootACivilian
19 https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/StandYourGround

How NOT to Save the World (S1, E3)

Season Content Notes (incomplete): violence, anti-nonhuman bigotry, consensual violence

In the silence only excellent soundproofing could create, the quiet rustle of reeds was loud.1

Wu sat in the middle of the floor, manipulating a double handful of dried stalks, while Tracey watched. Zi split the stalks, placing some on the floor in front of zir, a few at a time. Then set a handful aside before starting again with the rest.

Stillness had never come naturally to Tracey, but she held herself as still as possible. Only her fingers moved, tapping out a soothing rhythm on the seam of her skirt.2

Eventually, Wu placed the last handful aside and closed hir eyes.

Tracey had watched Wu cast hir reeds dozens of times over the years. She’d never shaken the edge of fear it brought her. And tonight, the night of their first great victory, the fear was worse than ever. Tracey knew she had good people behind her. But she didn’t think she could do this without Wu beside her.3

Wu opened hir eyes and smiled. “We have danger, but also opportunity.”

Tracey sighed, tension running out of her. But she couldn’t stop himself from asking, “We?”

Wu, not understanding, bowed, hir shoulders drawing inward. “Forgive this presumptuous one. Your servant only meant— your servant would not lay claim to what is rightly yours.”

“What?” Shocked, Tracey knelt beside the dragon. “Oh, damnit, Wu, I didn’t mean…”

Wu looked at her, and Tracey could see the confusion and hurt in hir gaze.

“I’m afraid of losing you.” Tracey reached out and took Wu’s hand, rubbing a finger across the braided ring zi hadn’t removed in over 10 years. “When you gave yourself to me, you said…”

“Your servant said many things. Do you doubt them now?”

“No! No.” She took a deep breath. “But… I guess I feared I would need to pay a price for winning today.”4

“Tracey.” Wu’s hand cupped her cheek. “Talk sense or I’m going to put you to bed and call a healer.”

“Your first loyalty, you said, would always be to your ‘path of heaven’ or whatever it is.”

“And you thought… what? That I would leave? Now?”

“If your Heavens called you, yes. Of course, you would.”

Wu sat back and covered hir mouth. Hir eyes sparkled. And every once in a while a strangled laugh slipped through hir fingers.

Tracey didn’t see the joke.

“That… That’s not how it works.”5 Wu said finally.

Tracey leaned forward and tapped Wu’s knee. “What’s not how it works?”

“The Heavens…” Wu took a deep breath and fought down hir laughter. “They aren’t like Deborah’s God, Trevor. They don’t issue commands or expect people to serve them. They… they are. Their path is the path of righteousness. Of right conduct.6 Not… whatever you have been thinking.”

For a moment, Tracey was still. “…you mean I’ve spent over a decade worrying that one day you’d up and leave on some kind of divine marching orders for nothing?”

“Apparently.” Wu’s lips quirked.

“Are you smirking at me?”

“No.”

Zi was smirking at her.

“Where in the world did you get that idea anyway?”

Tracey glared. “Wu, I conquered the world because of a prophecy and a vision quest. Over half the magic workers and soothsayers in the world support me — many of them because they got some kind of divine marching orders7 from whatever it is they follow. You have not once in over a decade talked about your beliefs or faith or whatever it is you follow except to say, on the day you took my collar, that your first loyalty was to the path of heaven. What did you expect me to think?”8

“Oh.” The humor drained from hir face.

“It was pretty obvious you didn’t want to talk about your culture or past, and I respected that. I didn’t go researching Chinese belief systems behind your back or digging into your family and background.9 I figured you’d tell me if you wanted to. But… damnit, Wu…”

“Oh.”

This time Wu gave her a full bow, face pressed to the floor, hands clasped behind hir back.10 “Your servant most humbly begs forgiveness for hir foolishness. Your servant has… reasons for not speaking of things past. But your servant owes you the knowledge you need to make full use of your servant. And… your servant regrets, bitterly, the pain hir foolishness caused.”

Tracey grabbed a fistful of Wu’s hair and pulled hir head up. A frisson of energy danced along her nerves, stronger because of the fear and frustration which had come before. She knew why she took such pleasure in control. Knew also how dangerous it was for a woman who had set herself up as a dictator and tyrant. But she and Wu had shared this bond almost since the day they met. She wasn’t giving it up unless she had to.

“Let me be sure that this time I understand.11

“Your path of heaven is a guide for your actions. A code of ethics or moral strictures.

“You have given yourself to me, and there is no person, entity, being, or god that can make you leave me. But your path of heaven comes before your loyalty to me, and if I tell you to do something that violates your code, you will disobey.”

She gave Wu’s head a little shake. The dragon winced but remained passive under her hand.

“Do I have that right?”

“Yes, you are correct.” Wu swallowed. “Only at your word will your servant leave.” Wu met her eyes for a moment, long enough Tracey glimpsed the fear in them, before looking down again.

“Wu…” she released the dragon’s hair and cupped hir chin. “Do you really think I would cast you off over this?”12

“No.” Zi swallowed again. “No. But one day you will learn of your servant’s past. And I fear that day.”13

Tracey’s fingers tapped on her thigh, but this time the rhythm didn’t soothe. “We will deal with that day when it comes. But I can’t imagine anything from the past that would change how I feel.” Tracey had killed a man earlier that day because Winehurst was no longer useful to her and couldn’t be trusted not to interfere. She couldn’t imagine what in Wu’s past could be so horrible zi feared to tell him.

Tracey pushed the question away. It was for the future, and this was now. She pulled Wu up and into a hug. “It’s okay. We’ll be okay.” They held each other for several minutes until Tracey said. “Now, tell me about your divination.”

Return to:
How NOT to Save the World (Season 1, Episode 2)

Continue to:
How NOT to Save the World (S 1, E 4)


1

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/QuieterThanSilence

 

2

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CharacterTics

 

3

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/VillainousFriendship

 

4

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/PowerAtAPrice

 

5

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DidYouActuallyBelieve

 

6

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CodeOfHonour

 

7

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MissionFromGod

 

8

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/PoorCommunicationKills

 

9

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MysteriousPast

 

10

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/PoseOfSupplication

 

11

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/LetMeGetThisStraight

 

12

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DidYouActuallyBelieve

 

13

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DarkSecret