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.”
“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
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.”
“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.”
“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
How NOT to Save the World (S1 E8)
How NOT to Save the World, S1 E10