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, e 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?”


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 (Season 1, Episode 2)

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

The security team hit the doors and spread throughout the building. It looked choreographed because it was. The team had spent hundreds of hours drilling in a virtual mock-up of the World Government Building.1

As she stepped out of her armored car, Tracey wondered again why no one had come up with a more original name for it.2 (If she’d thought it worth researching, she’d have learned ‘World Government’ and ‘World Government Building’ were classic political compromises — no one got anything they liked, but no one hated it enough to keep fighting. The final selling point had been that you could translate ‘World Government’ into any language, and it would still work.)3

Wu, now in late 20th Century grunge,4 flanked her, scanning the gathering crowd. Word of the World Government’s surrender had spread quickly. The streets were filled with mostly-peaceful demonstrators — both those who supported and opposed Frederickson. More supporters, truth be told. If dissatisfaction with the World Government hadn’t been so high, she never could have pulled off her coup. But Wu was well aware that it only took one person willing to become a martyr. Tracey, after all, had sent out several such martyrs.5

Behind Wu, hidden by her sheer tininess, Tracey could hear Deborah’s quiet chanting. Deborah looked more like someone’s sweet old grandmother6 than one of the most powerful Kabbahlists in the world.7 (Like many whose power came from connection with a/the Greater Power, you called her ‘magician’ at your peril8). She was, in fact, both a sweet old grandmother and an incredibly powerful mystic. (That term was acceptable in most contexts.) Tracey had asked Deborah to explain her work one time and quickly learned that you only ask a Kabbalist to explain /anything/ if you have a spare decade or two.9 Deborah would only act offensively under rigorous circumstances that no one else understood.10 But her defense Tracey had trusted her life to many times. As always, Tracey found the sound of her invoking the NAMES of God reassuring. (Not ‘her’ God, something else Tracey had learned the hard way. There was only one God, Deborah insisted. It was just that people don’t all see God the same. Tracey eventually stopped asking Deborah questions.)11

By the time Tracey and her team took six strides, they had reached the door and the security team called the first floor clear.

Gunshot!

Forty feet of golden dragon wrapped around Tracey. Outside the coils, words of fire hung in the air before her, trapping the bullet. Deborah said something and the words faded, taking the bullet with them.

She, Wu, and Deborah held positions while security scrambled. The shooter was found and dragged away. Wu shimmered, hir golden scales fading and reforming into the human-seeming Tracey was familiar with. Wearing the ancient garments Wu called “hanfu.” Why, Tracey wondered, always hanfu when she transformed? And what happened to the grunge gear?12

Pushing aside the inanities, Tracey examined the various people gathered around her.

Outside the building, the sidewalks (and a good chunk of the street) were full and overfull. Security personnel had erected a barrier that kept Tracey’s supporters (a healthy mix of magical people and humans) and detractors (almost all human) away from each other.

Inside the building were humans (and perhaps a few magical beings in human seeming). Both inside and outside the building emotions ran high. Uncertainty, fear, hope, resentment, anger, exhilaration…

And above them, just outside the legal privacy limit, hovered the cam drones.

Tracey decided it was as good a moment as any. She signaled Deborah, who stepped back, fading into the crowd of staff, guards, and bureaucrats-to-be who were still climbing out of their vehicles. Then she waved the cam drones closer.

“Not how I wanted to start my first day on the job,” she said, “But first days tend to be shit anyway.” The tepid joke got a bit of a laugh. To her relief, the crowds settled a bit.

“All of you,” she took in the bureaucrats, “are probably wondering what to expect. There are going to be a lot of changes, and you aren’t going to like some of them. But I hope some of them you will like. For now, keep doing your jobs and focus on making sure food and energy keep moving to the people who need them. You’ll have plenty of time to gawk at me later. Promise.”

She refocused on the cams and the crowds. “To my supporters thank you. And go home! We have a lot of work to do, so don’t wear yourself out here. The real fight hasn’t begun yet. Now we need to fix things.

“If you want to help, stop blocking the street and check in with your cell leaders. Gene,” He gestured to the balding bespectacled man wearing his usual tweed and khakis, who waved at the crowd, “you may know him as Abbadon66613, is keeping the task boards running.”

They needed an outlet for all their emotion. Normally, that would be some kind of speech and event. But Tracey was self-aware enough to know she wasn’t any kind of speechmaker. So instead, she gave them something to do.

“To the protesters, I’m not going to silence you. I’m not going to arrest you. I’m not going to attack you. As long as you stick to making noise in the street, you can knock yourselves out. Any of you thinking that rebellion or armed resistance might be a good idea–let’s just say you do NOT want to join your friend with the gun.”14

As she finished speaking security called in to report the upper levels clear.

“For real this time?”

“Ah… yes, sir. For real this time.”

“Good.”

She signed forward and he, Wu, and the rest of the team that had gathered behind them moved for the lifts.

It was going to be a long day.

 

Tracey’s new office was at the top floor of the building. It gave her a panoramic view of the crowds. Many of her supporters had started to disperse. Others had sat down right in the street to pull up the holoboards and see what Gene had going for them.

Tracey couldn’t afford to tear down the whole government apparatus. She had to somehow control it and bend it to her needs. That task had broken better revolutionaries than he. But those people, with their numbers and drive, with her clearing the way, might just do enough in the short time they had.

Wu stepped up beside her. “General Winehurst wants to speak with you.”

“Already? He knows the timetable, damnit.” Tracey sighed.

“I believe he has his own timetable,” Wu said.

“Okay. Might as well get it over with. Send him in.”

Wu bowed and left. Tracey turned away from the window to survey the office again. Three cream-colored walls, bare of decoration, and one wall of windows rose 15 ft to a ceiling that had been painted with a mural of the world and its peoples. Or at least, it’s human peoples. The floor…

Winehurst burst in before she had finished the survey.

“We did it! I told you my troops were the ones for the job.” Winehurst’s milk-pale face glowed with excitement. Tracey almost hated to disappoint him. Almost.

Tracey smiled and took the general’s hand in both of hers. “You did, and they did. Your people have done us all proud.”

“So when do we start cleaning up?”

“Why, now, actually.” She tightened her grip, making the general wince. “I am delighted to accept your resignation general, dated immediately. Your assassination and leg-breaking teams were invaluable in creating this new world, and I know you’ll want to rest from your labors.”

Winehurst tried to pull away, but she had trained with weapons 30 years ago. Tracey trained in hand-to-hand daily with Wu. She couldn’t beat a real fighter–she hadn’t kept in real training for nearly ten years herself. But the general wasn’t escaping him by main strength.15

“What! No. Damnit we talked about this. You promised me a chance to rebuild the military, make it a real fighting force again! Let go, damn it!”

Tracey timed her release so the general lost his balance, stumbling backward and nearly tripping over Wu and Deborah.

Tracey’s biggest weakness as a world-conquering villain was poor improv. She was a planner, and Winehurst had arrived early.

Looking around she saw Deborah wore a distant look and her lips moved in a silent murmur. Tracey looked around and saw an almost-shimmer on one of the windows. So.

“I have every intention of keeping my promise, general. But I’m afraid you and I have very different ideas of what a ‘real’ fighting force will look like. My idea does not look like the murderers and bullies you’ve gathered around you to abuse and extort civilian populations. It looks like a military force. With discipline and a purpose.

“So I suggest you take your retirement bonus and go. You won’t get a better offer.”

Winehurst strode towards Tracey, getting in her face and looming over her. “I’m the only military officer you’ve got. Without me, you can’t hold the troops. And without the troops, your ass will be dead before the week is out. You may be the one with the big chair, but you don’t scare me.”

“I see. Well, I admit I was warned that even if you took retirement you’d be likely to try to… meddle. Better to have everything out in the open, then.”

“Darn right I would. Now let’s talk salary.”

“Of course.” Time to follow Deborah’s lead. Tracey stepped back, giving way to the general. A hand behind the general’s elbow turned him toward one of the conference tables. Then the grip shifted, and the elbow lock forced Winehurst to keep moving until he walked into–and through–the glowing 30-story window16 that should have held up to a shoulder-fired SAM. And it had before Deborah cast her spell.

Winehurst screamed all the way down, of course. Tracey sighed. “Goodbye general. I told you you wouldn’t get a better offer.”17

A squad of the security gryphons winged down to hover before the window. “Ma’am?”

“I’m fine. However, we need to up our weapon search procedures.” Tracey shook her head. “I don’t know what he thought he was doing, attacking me with Wu and Deborah right here. And please order a cleanup crew for the sidewalk.”

Deborah came to stand beside her and looked down at the splattered remains of the general.

“Thank you, Deborah. That was quick thinking.”

“Gevorah,” she said. “It was justice.”18

“Was it?” Tracey heard herself ask.

Wu put a hand on her shoulder, “Honored friend, not all the deaths on our hands will be just ones. But your servant has seen his work first hand. Even if he had accepted your offer, he would have continued doing harm to many. This death was indeed just.

“And having it known that you can defend yourself against attack at need? Your honored servant will sleep much better at night knowing that your enemies will know you are no easy target.”

With the window gone, the noise of the crowds, now punctuated by screams and shouts, came to her clearly. She looked down at them and waved, doing her best to show them that she was alive and unharmed. Cam drones zoomed towards her. “Wu, deal with those please.” She turned her back on the broken window and sat at the desk she had done so much to claim.

“I have work to do.”

1

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

 

2

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

 

3

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

 

4

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

 

5

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

 

6

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

 

7

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

 

8

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

 

9

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

 

10

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

 

11

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

 

12

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

 

13

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

 

14

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

 

15

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

 

16

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

 

17

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

 

18

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