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)

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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

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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.”

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How NOT to Save the World S1e6

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How NOT to Save the World (S1 E8)