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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How NOT to Save the World (S1, E9)

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How NOT to Save the World, S1 E11

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)