How NOT to Save the World (S2, E3)

Season Content notes: fictional bigotry

“Thank you for meeting with me after hours, Major,” Colonel Bo Cheung, commander of the Space Forces, said as Major Shin of M9 slid onto the bar stool next to them. A public bar might have seemed an odd place for two high-ranking military officers to meet. Especially these high-ranking officers. But this bar was a favorite hangout for many Space Forces personnel, and Cheung had their reasons for choosing it.

Shin didn’t seem to notice e was the only non-Space Forces person in the building — even the bartender and wait-person were ‘retired’ Space Forces. (Unlike the old US Marine Corp, there was such a thing as a ‘former Space Force,’ but you wouldn’t find any of them here.) “Colonel. I’m happy — and under orders — to do anything I can to support the Space Force.

“Before we get down to business, though, I was asked if I’d be willing to backchannel a… personnel matter.” The major signaled for the bartender and ordered something on tap.

“A personnel matter?” Cheung asked. “That sounds suitably ominous. Out with it, Major.”

“It is not meant to be ominous. You are more aware than I am of the work that goes into running Space Forces. With how much it’s grown in the last six months, it is no longer really a colonel’s command.”

The bartender glared at Shin as she passed over the major’s beer, and so did several soldiers close enough to ‘happen to overhear.’ Shin ignored them.

“You were not offered a promotion when you moved to Space Forces both to avoid the appearance of a bribe and because it was believed you would not accept one. Since we were meeting anyway, I was asked to find out if you would now be open to accepting a promotion to Brigadier General.”

The room had grown hushed, and Cheung slowly looked around. Many soldiers found reasons to be busy with their drinks or food, and the noise level returned to something approaching normal. Then Cheung looked at Shin — a look just short of a glare.

“It is said the military runs on paperwork, Major, but I have found it also runs on gossip.”

Shin grinned. “Have you, Colonel? I must admit I had noticed the same. Did you plan to discuss something gossip-worthy this evening?”

Cheung’s almost glare broke off with a little chuckle. “Alright, Major. You can tell… her… that I will not argue if she chooses to offer a promotion. This time.”

“Thank you, sir. I’m sure higher will be happy to hear it.”

The bartender returned, and Cheung accepted two small shot glasses and a bottle of baijiu. Pouring the glasses full, they offered one to Shin.

Shin accepted the glass with a somewhat put-upon expression and tapped a finger on the bar top. Cheung picked up their glass, saying, “To military intelligence — may it not be an oxymoron!” Shin held his glass up as well, and when Cheung said, “Ganbei!” e tossed it back with a grimace.

Then followed it up with a long drink of beer.

Cheung laughed and clapped em on the back. “You are a good sport, Major Shin, even if you are a disgrace to Mother China.”

“Should I ask how you learned I don’t like baijiu? Or should I just accept that whoever failed to recruit you for M9 should be shot?”

Cheung laughed again and poured themself (and only themself) another glass. “I am good at reading personnel files. Including what is not there,” they said, “Now. What news do you have for me?”

Shin sighed and grabbed a handful of pretzels. “Not much, I’m afraid. We have some new projections of possible threat levels, and progress on Project Apollo goes well.” Project Apollo was the name of the great lasers being created by Ameohne’e pet engineer. “I also have proposals from T for several new ship and boat designs.

E popped another pretzel in eir mouth and slid the computer ship e had palmed onto the table for Cheung to pick up. Cheung did with a grimace. “That is something. I worry we focus too much on a few bit weapons and not enough on the small things.”

Shin grunted. ” ‘An army marches on its stomach’ and good boots.

“Yes, she is not military, and it shows. Do you have specific needs? We are limited only in time, and higher says you get anything you want, reasonable or not. But you are the one who best knows the logistics needs you will face.”

“I…” Cheung picked up the computer chip and a few pretzels, slipping the first into a pocket. “…am not sure. It is hard for me to take seriously. And not the kind of task Space Forces is used to.”

“Colonel, you understand that preparing for absurd situations is part of what M9 does? I swear that somewhere there is a team devoted to planning how to hold off an amphibious attack from Emperor Penguins. Or another Emu War.”

Cheung started, then started choking on a pretzel. After they could speak again, they asked incredulously, “Another?”

“Old news, Australia lost,” Shin grinned. “And I believe the old Americans would have called it a ‘police action.’ ”

“Lost. To… Emus? Those big birds that are the closest we’ll ever see to the raptorial dinosaurs?”

“No… I think those were ostriches.” Shin called up a hologram of a tall brown bird with an evil-looking orange glare, “Emus are their less scary cousins.”

“Humans lost a war… to giant birds.” Cheung shook their head. “And you and I are supposed to figure out how to survive…” they trailed before finishing their thought. That was not anything they wanted to be gossiped about.

Shin grinned and finished off eir beer. “Does kind of put it in perspective, doesn’t it? Sir.”

Cheung shook their head. “It is a good thing you are all delusional, and this is not a real threat.”

The grin disappeared from Shin’s face. “With all due respect, sir, we have a duty to treat it as a real threat, regardless of your personal beliefs. If you cannot do so, send me officers who can.”

How NOT to Save the World (S2, E2)

Season Content notes: fictional bigotry

T-minus 1 year 85 days

Lerato Schlender squeezed her partner Johlene’s hand and looked around the room. Officially, the cell network that supported the coup was dismantled. The message boards were made semi-public so most anyone could join.

Unofficially, Lerato and a few others had pulled together a new, tighter, cell network of trusted comrades. Lerato’s team, though, was the same one she had fought with throughout the coup. They’d nearly died (or killed each other) more than once. But now they were the tightest team at Ma’evoto’s disposal and the reason Lerato had been invited onto the council.

Like most members of the team, Lerato looked human but wasn’t. They dressed and acted to blend in, and their IDs said human, which pre-coup had given them access to places many magical people were cut off from.

They hadn’t thought the coup would magically fix everything, but they had thought they would be done with their human aliases. They might have been wrong.

“We have two jobs.” Lerato told her team. “We need to take one ourselves and pass the other one on.

“The first is the most dangerous. Higher wants to get some our of folks recruited by ‘the good guys’.”

Like many magical creatures, especially among Ma’evoto’s people, they had owned the labels ‘monster’ and ‘evil’. They were the bad guys, the villain protagonists of the story who were going to kick ‘the heroes’ ass because fuck so-called heroes anyway.

“Higher thinks that at least a few of the old so-called ‘elected’ leaders are running the resistance. They’ve got the start of a cell structure, but it’s tinker toys compared to what we’re used to. Ideally, two of us would be recruited, with the rest running support and backup.

“The other job is less risky, but may be more critical. Like I said, the other side is running a tinker-toy cell structure, and some of their cells have been identified. A few of those cells haven’t been broken up, because higher has further use for them.

“One of those cells has been given to us to shadow. The cell we’re looking for has gone to ground, so we’ll need to find it, then keep it from disappearing again.

“We are not to interfere with it unless we get orders from higher or they are doing something that will kill civilians.”

“Good,” Ani muttered from the back. Ani was a rarity even in their magical world — and an actual vampire: died and reborn with a hunger for blood. Most of those rare vampires were truly monstrous, reflecting the pre-Stoker folktales. But a few of them, such as Ani, realized that they could fight against their instincts; could be something other than a monster. Though it was a near thing, Ani had controlled herself long enough to reach her town’s wise woman. After the return of magic, they had appeared in Eastern Europe like dandelions in spring and were just as tenacious. Ani more than any of them understood how easy it was to let laziness or lack of care create innocent victims.

She (since her rebirth Ani literally covered herself in triangles — including a few tattoos) looked at each of her fellows in turn, waiting for a nod or agreement. They gave it, of course.

“Any word from Mama Stoica?” Johlene murmured.

“Two,” Ani said with a smile, “she managed to save both of them. She promised to introduce us next time ‘work’ gives me a month off.”

Lerato cleared her throat, “Back to business, folks,” but she smiled at Ani as she said it. Two more vampires saved since Ma’evoto took power was very good news as far as the team was concerned.

Johlene shook her head, “I’m surprised we even got that first job. I know most of you can blend, but I’m the only actual human, and the ‘good guys’ can’t be foolish enough to let recruits in without testing them.

“The rebellion is doubling down on their bigotry. I’ve been approached three times in the last month by folks wanting to ‘commiserate’ on how rough it is to be human these days. Nothing overt but… I think some rumor of Mama Stoica’s work is getting out because the last one was talking about humans being locked up in blood brothels.”

“What the hell?” “Fuck!” “How dare they!” “Oy ve…”

Johlene nodded. “I know. And they’re the good guys, right?”

“Only in their delusions.”

“Hey, I’ll have you know I am 100% villain. I even have a membership card!”

“Yes, you got it out of a cereal box.”

This time Lerato whistled.

“Johlene’s right,” Benjy said. He was a leprechaun, and you asked him about pots of gold at your peril. You asked him why a creature of Irish folklore had an English name at even greater peril. “But I think she’s trying not to mention that we had our own traitor two years ago. I know we think that… that…,” failing to find a strong enough insult, he growled and moved on, “didn’t get much information out, but it’s still possible they identified some of us.”

“I doubt it,” Lerato said, “We accomplished a lot since ditching that asshole, I can’t imagine they wouldn’t have targetted us before now if they could have. Still, better safe. On both counts.

“Kay-kay, we’ll pass the infiltration on to… Pan’s team, you think?”

“They usually know what they’re about.”

“And they’ve got at least two humans, right?”

Ani shook her head — Pan’s team was hers. “You know I can’t confirm that. But they’ll do well with it.”

“Right, right, sorry.”

“That leaves us the shadowing.” Lerato pulled up a grainy security image on her PDD and projected it onto the wall. “This is our first view of them. They were involved in an attack on a warehouse right after the coup. We think there’s five of them, including one technomage, but only two showed up on the security cam.

“As you can see, one is an android, unusual design. You’d think he’d be easy to track, and the security teams did back-track him and identify some of the people he spent time with. He disappeared right after this. Someone in the nerd branch back-tracked his design to a 200-year-old movie and suggested that he might have a ‘skin suit’ he can wear when he wants to blend in and look human…

How NOT to Save the World (S2, E1)

They’re back! You can re-read Season 1 on my website.

You may recall that last year our Evil Overlord had a different name/gender on the website and newsletter. This year we’re flipping them. So Newsletter Season 2 has Ameohne’e/she and Website Season 2 will have Ma’evoto/he. I’d say sorry for any confusion but…

T-minus 1 year 92 days

Ma’evoto leaned back in his chair and finished off his beer. “Nine months. We made it nine fucking months.”

Around him were the few members of the revolution’s unofficial leadership who had actual government roles. Wu and Deborah, of course, but also Major Shin, Gene, and a few others.

When Ma’evoto’ss daughter, Ho’neheso, had suggested a party for the first anniversary of her father’s rule, everyone in the room had cringed. There was no way the holdouts (Ma’evoto refused to dignify them with the term ‘rebels’) wouldn’t use the anniversary as a chance to try to cause trouble. But a party had still sounded like a good idea.

So, they bumped the date up a few months.

“So we did,” Wu saluted him. “You have exceeded everything your servant dared to hope for. Your rule is secure. Cheung is committed to you and the Space Force with them. Tessaro makes good progress on our defenses. And…” zi held up a hand to get everyone’s attention. “… attacks by the holdouts have dropped off by 50% in the last two months. Your servant believes they are finally wearing themselves out.”

That was met by a general cheer.

“Oh, hush!” Deborah grumped. “No business tonight. The next person to bring up official government business doesn’t get any cheese blintzes.”

Gene gasped. “Cruel and unusual punishment! That’s against the law.”

“Is it?” Ma’evoto smirked. “I might need to change that.”

“Oooh!” Gene wagged a finger at him. “Don’t say that where the camera drones might catch you!”

Ma’evoto stood up and struck a pose. “I must! My approval numbers are over 50%. If I don’t do something properly evil soon, I’ll lose my membership in the evil overlord club and need to take down my Evil Overlord list.”

Shin, off duty (official and unofficial) for once, was in the corner with Ho’neheso talking fandom. For security reasons, neither of them took part in any fan sites or discussion groups, but they lurked endlessly and had their own private shipping wars. Looking up from the art Ho’neheso was showing them, Shin said mildly, “Wu, your master is developing delusions of grandeur.”

“Bit late for that!” Wu snorted.

“Um…” Aliz, who replaced a fled bureaucrat in budgeting, put a hand up. “It’s none of my business, but I’ve always been curious. What’s with the ‘this one’ and ‘your servant’ stuff? You two have been together as long as the rest of us have known you. But you don’t tend to share much.”

Ma’evoto and Wu looked at each other and smiled. “It’s your’s to tell Wu. If you want to.

“You would tell it better anyway.”

Wu snorted. “That is surely true!” The dragon rubbed at the golden scales on hir cheek a moment. “So. It began nearly 15 years ago. This one had traveled to North America and found a very energetic kink community…”

***

They met in darkness and secrecy. Slipping in one at a time, cowls, veils, and cloaks pulled close so none could see them.

“This cannot be allowed to stand!” One said. Ey was only partly concealed, eir confrontational nature (announced to all the world by their power suit covered with bold geometric patterns) not letting them hide. “It’s been over 9 months since that bastard ousted us and we have achieved nothing.”

“Calmly, Ayyub,” another replied. They were veiled and wore a generic cheap lounge suit will flowing skirt. But the old-style pocket PDA they checked as they spoke was worth more than many houses and their accent spoke of generations of wealth and education. “None of us is taking this ‘Ma’evoto’ quietly, or we wouldn’t be here. But some things take time.”

“Hugh is right,” said a man whose face was obscured not but cloth, but magic. He carried a staff that shone softly in the dim room and smiled gently at his colleagues. “Evil doers can do harm faster than we can heal it, but they always are undone by their own evil in the end.”

“I have the latest reports from our cell leaders,” said a quiet woman. She moved around the room handing out old-fashioned paper folders to each member of the council. “My own assessment is that our initial operations allowed us to winnow out the ineffective or uncommitted while convincing… him… that we can’t mount a real challenge.”

Another member of the council took his copies with a smile. “Very good, Thierry!” He was the first to sit down, shaking out his business skirt first to be sure it fell right and began skimming through the file. “You always come through.”

“Yes, well done,” murmured a short woman who was fully covered in a heavy cloak and veil. “Let’s see what we have then. The sooner we can get rid of the interloper, the sooner things will return to normal. I have a farm to get back to.”

“Thank you, Hina, Rosa.” The quiet woman, Theirry, was the last to sit down. She stayed on the edge of her seat, ready to get up in a moment if anyone needed anything.

No one said anything for a time as they read through the files.

After a few minutes, Hina sighed. “I don’t like how many of our people have been captured or killed. I know the cell system is necessary, but there has to be some way we can give them more support.”

“Not without more risk than we can afford,” Ayyub replied. “We need to stay compartmentalized.”

Fingers tapped the table in a gentle pattern as Hugh leaned back and crossed his legs. “I wonder how he did it? You know he didn’t have a standard cell set up.”

The mage scowled. “He combined magic with technology. Abomination, but it allowed him secure communication that we didn’t even know how to look for. Now that I know it is there, I am tracing their network.”

“Why can’t you do the same, Fernão?” Ayyub demanded.

“It is an abomination! We cannot defeat evil by becoming it.”

“Excuse me?” Thierry raised her hand. “I’m sorry to correct you, Hugh, but I think the proper word is ‘does.’ How he does it.

“If I’m reading the reports right, he’s still running her underground cells; those cells are hurting us more than any official security teams.”

“We won’t beat him by challenging his strength,” Rosa said. “We need to attack where he is weak.”

“Sun Tzu,” Hugh commented, “Ancient Chinese sage. Not particularly original.”

Rosa glared at him. “It works.”

“Agreed,” Fernão said, “But where is he weak?”

“He thinks he has the high ground.”

***

I’m not going to try to footnote tropes the way I did last year. But I will be listing a few tropes that went into each post at the end — see if you can recognize them, and feel free to comment with other’s you recognize.

Recap

The Omniscient Council of Vagueness

Benevolent Mage Ruler

Lady in Waiting

Cinncinatus

Gentleman and a Scholar

Benevolent Boss

Geo Effects

Shout Out