How NOT to Save the World (S2, Season Finale)

Season Content notes: fictional bigotry,

Joan waited in the darkness of the tunnel, and prayed as she hadn’t prayed in years. She’d stopped believing in God years ago and without God, she hadn’t seen the point in keeping the traditions and rituals. It hadn’t been until years later that she realized in walking away from those traditions, she’d also lost her people.

She’d never admitted how much that loss had hurt, not until she huddled in an improvised and reinforced escape tunnel listening to the dust and debris settling.

“Hear, O Israel –” she couldn’t hear anything except the ringing of her ears. Not even the words coming from her mouth. But she’d stopped /hearing/ the Shema and all it meant years before. It wasn’t just about God. It was about family. People. Belonging. The lord is one — /and so are we/.

And she had cut herself off from that.

Amal grabbed her hand, pulling her. Without thinking, she nodded (of course, he couldn’t see her) and grabbed Ahnold.

Carefully they felt their way through the tunnel, praying — figuratively this time — that it wouldn’t decide to collapse on them. On the other side, they shoved the washing machine out of the way and dusted each other off.

“What now?” Ahnold asked.

“We have to get out of here,” Sarge said. “We don’t want anyone to know we were there when that whatever it was went off.”

“Joan, are we free of the ward?” Amal asked.

She tried conjuring a small light spell. “Yeah.”

“Alright, try to get us out of here without the neighbors noticing. Then we’ll go around the block and split up. We’ll meet at the backup location in three days. We’ve all got emergency supplies in drops, so we should be okay until then.”

“Right.” Joan took her time setting up the stealth spells. They could not afford to rush. When she was done, they all crept upstairs and out the front door — the neighbors weren’t even home to notice them.

Once out the door, she saluted the team and headed west. Once she was in a safe place, she could use magic to try to find out who had attacked them. Not that there were many options. The usurper must have found them somehow. Nervously, Joan fingered the contact card she’d carried with her for 6 months. It didn’t have any trackers — tech or magical. She’d tested it six ways to Sunday. Besides, if the card had given them away, why hadn’t someone tried to take them out before now?

No, this had nothing to do with the kid. Something else had given them away. “I hope you’re okay kid,” she muttered to herself, “but I am so taking down your mom if I get the chance.”

Did the kid feel safe there? Did she have people she belonged with? Joan hoped so. But if the kid did, then Joan would be ripping them away from em.

With a sigh and a shake of her head, Joan turned for her grandmother’s place. Savta might not be home, but she’d never mind Joan dropping in. And some time in her grandmother’s tradition-grounded space… Joan might not belong there anymore, but it would still be a comfort just then.

***

Lerato and her team got home late, exhausted, and messy. They’d heard about the explosion on the net when they were halfway to the location. Then they’d started running. The house was (obviously) in pieces when they got there. But the fire was out, and when they showed their EMS cards (fake), they’d been allowed to join in the efforts to dig through the ruins and look for survivors (or bodies). It had been Jolene who noticed the nearly-destroyed tunnel. She hadn’t said anything at the time but filled the others in on the way back to base.

The worst part was none of them saw anything about what had caused the explosion. The only thing they knew, was that something had happened before the explosion to alert The Dragon something was coming.

They’d been back at base only a short time when the phone rang.

Lerato and Jolene looked at the phone, looked at each other, looked back at the phone.

With a wince, Jolene answered the call. “Hello.”

“The code is braid, Chicago, 1400, Donagh was framed.”

“Yes, mx. We don’t have much to report. The house you said they were in exploded shortly before we arrived. We were able to insert ourselves into the ‘rescue’ operation. No bodies, but a possible escape tunnel. As far as we know, no one else noticed the tunnel.

“Mx, is there anything you can tell us about how you were alerted?”

“I’ll send copy you in the final report. Obviously, we are more interested in this group than we were when you received this task. I can tell you that we know they were in that house less than a half hour before I called you.

“Use that to get eyes on them again. I will be in touch.”

T-minus 1 year 64 days

Brigadier General Cheung of the Space Force was wrapping up (and looking forward to a late dinner) when someone knocked on their door.

“Come in,” they called, grumbling about last-minute things when they were trying to get out the door.

The grumbles cut off abruptly when Lu Xia Wu stepped into the office and closed the door behind hir.

“Would you mind turning off your surveillance briefly, general?” the dragon asked.

Cheung hesitated a moment, assessing their unexpected visitor. They would not be surprised if Lu Jia Wu was the dictator’s choice of assassin. But they couldn’t imagine the dragon would walk openly through Space Force’s main headquarters intent on an assassination.

They carefully keyed in the sequence that would turn off all surveillance in their office.

“Very well.”

“Thank you, general,” the dragon stepped further into the office. “May I sit?”

“Yes, of course,” Cheung hurried to wave to one of the seats across from their desk. “Can I offer you a drink?”

“No, thank you.” The dragon seated hirself and took a moment to look around the office. Zi nodded as if in approval. Cheung bristled a little — the lackey of an usurper had no right to pass judgment on them! But tried to keep their reaction off their face.

From the look on the dragon’s face, they failed.

“I was worried when she gave you control of Space Forces. As usual, she knew what she was doing.”

That was neither question nor command, so Cheung chose not to respond.

“You’ve extended Ms. Littlesun a great deal of trust, General. I hope you feel that trust has not been abused.”

Still, Cheung said nothing. This sounded like a fishing trip, but the dragon would not have come for a fishing trip.

“We have — largely through chance I must admit — learned that a group of rebels is planning to assassinate you, General. They believe they can kill you in a way that will implicate Ms. Littlesun.

“It will take some time, but we can track down the rebels who wish to attack you. However, if we capture them, we lose our chance to trace their communications back to the ones who gave them their orders.”

Cheung leaned back in their chair and steepled their fingers. These people always managed to come up with something completely unexpected.

“You wish to allow this attempt to proceed.”

“Yes, General.”

The general nodded. “You did not need to tell me this. You could have done as you wished.”

“That is not how trust is earned.”


Needed to wrap this season up early. Next week we’ll start a month of snippets followed by a new schedule that I had notes on… somewhere. Anyway, after Snippet month it’s Season 2 of The Bargain and continuing with What You Will.

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Webserial Catalog

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How NOT to Save the World (S2, E1)
How NOT to Save the World (S2, E5)

How NOT to Save the World (S2, E5)

Season Content notes: fictional bigotry

Ho’neheso frowned as she listened to the transmission. Her ‘games’ with Wu had taught her to break security from the inside. No one in her father’s organization was better. But from the outside, she was a lot weaker. So there were a lot of reasons her bug might have gone silent just then.

The calling card she had given Joan all those months ago didn’t have any bugs or trackers on it. Ho’neheso had known better than to try. But she hadn’t needed to. Even before Wu had collected Ho’neheso from the park, the first night she’d met Joan, hir teams had been tracking her. It hadn’t taken them long to find her public information. Nothing in it had tripped any red flags, though. Ho’neheso had done a deeper scan herself but hadn’t had any hint of Joan’s involvement with her Dad’s enemies until Joan herself admitted it.

Still, knowing who Joan was had made it possible — not easy, but possible — to eventually track her down. Arranging the bugs in their hideout had been harder — especially without Wu finding out.

Ho’neheso hadn’t wanted Wu or her Dad knowing that Joan was an enemy. When her conscience started bugging her, she reminded herself that it was traditional for the Evil Overlord’s daughter to have a crush on the Hero. (There were several notes about it on her Dad’s Evil Overlord List.)

And if her Dad insisted on being the Evil Overlord, that made Joan the Hero, right?

Her conscience hadn’t given her much trouble, though. For over six months, Joan and her friends hadn’t said anything about the rebellion. There’d been nothing Ho’neheso could have reported except that Joan and her friends didn’t like Ma’evoto. Which made them no different than the majority of the world. (Ho’neheso thought. According to Wu, her Dad’s approval numbers were going up. But not by that much.)

Except now she had heard something. She’d heard them plotting to attack General Cheung and blame it on her Dad. Right before the transmission cut out.

If Joan and her friends had found the bugs, they would have shut the bugs down before talking about killing General Cheung. Right?

And if they hadn’t shut down the bugs something else had. Or someone.

Someone like one of Wu’s strike teams. Or Gene’s action teams. Which meant Wu already knew everything, and Joan and her friends were… Ho’neheso swallowed and rubbed at the blue triangle in the center of her shirt. It had been Joan who’d helped her be okay with being a girl. She owed Joan.

And if it wasn’t her Dad’s people? If it was someone else?

Then Joan might be in real trouble.

Ho’neheso swallowed again and picked up her comm. She wanted check on her friend, but she couldn’t. She wouldn’t make it even halfway through Wu’s security without time to prepare. But Wu and her Dad had told her she could come to them with anything. No matter what.

And if they could, they would make it right.

They hadn’t let her down yet.

“Wu? I need you to help a friend.”

***

Lerato was pissed. Over 20 days trying to track down this rebel team, and every lead came up dead. She’d known better than to think it would be easy, especially with the sparse information higher had been able to pass on to them. But she was pissed. Jolene had pinned her down and was rubbing her shoulders, trying to get her to relax, but it wasn’t helping.

“We know they are in this city–”

“Were.”

“Just how hard can it be to find a group of people with a technomage and a skeletal cyborg in a city of 1 billion people? They can’t be that–”

The phone rang.

Ani jumped to check the number. “Unknown.” She shrugged and answered it, activating a tracking app as she did. “Hello?”

“This is The Dragon. The code is braid, Chicago, 1400, Donagh was framed.”

Ani’s eyes got wider and wider as the voice spoke. When it finished, she choked out, “Acknowledged.”

“The team you were supposed to track has been found. You are receiving an anonymous SMS message with their address now. Something is happening. Your team needs to get down there, see what is going on, make sure that team is safe, and, if necessary, keep them out of police custody or the hospital.

“We need that team alive and as well as possible. I am taking a personal interest in this matter and will call later for an update.”

“Yes, mx. We’re moving now!”

The phone clicked, but already Jolene and Lerato were on their feet. “What’s going on?”

“I’ll explain on the way,” Ani said. “That was The Dragon.”

“Fuck.” The Dragon did not make direct calls to the cell-based action teams. The breach of security alone…

The team was up and running in under ten minutes. They didn’t know what was going on, but it had to be important.

***

In hir office in the World Government building, Wu sighed and turned to Ho’neheso. “I’ve done what I can. I wish you had come to your Dad or me before this, but… I understand why you didn’t.”

Ho’neheso glomped on hir and squeezed. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Wu shook hir head. “Don’t thank me yet, daughter-of-my-heart. I’ve trained you better than that.”

Ho’neheso stared at hir a moment, then looked away. “You already knew about them, just not where to find them. You had a team assigned to them.” She swallowed. “What are you going to do to them?”

“Nothing yet.”

The door opened, Ma’evoto stuck his head in. “Wu, I got your alert. Everything okay?”

“For now, my friend. But it seems your daughter has much to tell us about a friend of hers. This one has a team investigating now.”

“Alright,” Ma’evoto said with a sigh. “Can it at least wait until dinner?”

“This one believes so. And Ho’neheso? You will get the answer to your question — or as much as we can give you — then.”

She did not like that answer, but there wasn’t much she could do about it.

***

When the lights went out, the team all reached for weapons. Or, in Joan’s case, her tablet. Ahnold took the lead, heading for the stairs. “The door is stuck,” he said. “I can break it. I don’t hear anyone.”

Joan finished sketching her spell into the tablet, then cursed as it fizzled before her eyes. “Someone’s got a mage ward on this place. A good one.”

“We’re under attack,” Amal said. “Get to the escape tunnel.”

As a group, they turned and moved to the back of the basement. The escape tunnel was an actual tunnel leading to their neighbor’s basement laundry room. The tunnel exit was hidden behind the washer machine and a light illusion. They’d never expected to need it, but Amal insisted — just in case.

With Ahnold bringing up the rear, they started moving through the tunnel — just as the explosion brought their house down

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How NOT to Save the World (S2 Finale)

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How NOT to Save the World (S2, E1)
How NOT to Save the World (S2, E4)

I done broke myself. Have a tease

Sorry folks, I pushed too hard getting Bound done and published and haven’t been able to write in a week. The next episode of The Bargain is drafted and I considered just posting as-is, but I’d rather give y’all good stuff late than sloppy stuff on time.

But I’ve been doing a bit of plotting on a spinoff of How NOT to Save the World. Y’all may remember Lerato. She got a brief mention as the newest member of the secret leadership, and the one who offered to arrange an ‘accident’ for Cheng if he couldn’t handle learning the truth.

This spin off is about how Lerato joined the rebellion and earned her spot on the council. Sort of. It’s also a story of love and magic curses and betrayal and learning to face our fears. It’s going to be a bit more serious than How NOT to Save the World, but still have some of the same troperific fun. In between angst and drama and espionage.

And here’s how it starts:

cw: violence, death

Donagh was dragged through the camp, his arms bound before him. All around lay the dead and dying. The few of his comrades still on their feet spat on his shadow as he past.

He looked everywhere for Aran. Aran had to be alive, he had survived so much, he couldn’t be dead. And Aran would listen to to him. Would believe him. Then together they would find the traitor and take revenge.

But Aran was nowhere, and he began to fear that Aran had died after all.

Before the fear could fully take hold, he was thrown to the ground. A familiar pair of leather boots appeared snd he struggled to his knees. ‘Aran! You’re alive!’

‘Yes. I’m sure that’s a disappointment to you.’

‘What? No!’

Aran drew his sword and set the point against Donagh’s throat. ‘Luckily for you we don’t have any time to waste.’

Donagh tried to speak, to say something but horror made the words stick in his throat.

“As you have betrayed, so may you be betrayed, in your next life and every life to come.”

Then there was a quick slice of pain, and the world went dark.

The beginning.


Lerato’s story will be coming sometime in 2023 or 2024. Haven’t fully worked out the schedule yet. In the meantime, you’ll probably see more of Lerato in the upcoming season of How NOT to Save the World.

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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