I wrote this story last spring, and you could say it's timely. But I'll let it speak for itself....
Power Is Better Than Love
by Camille LaGuire
"YOUR PEOPLE LOVE you," said the First Advisor to the Dictator. "It must be wonderful to have the love of your people."
The Dictator laughed. He knew, of course that the advisor was full of it.
"I have power," said the Dictator. "I can demand love from anyone. Is that not so, Aline?"
A quiet woman from among the cadre of concubines, looked up at him fondly.
"I don't know, Dictator," she said. "I don't anything about power. I only know about love."
The Dictator shrugged, and then turned back to the Advisor.
"She is a simpleton," he said. "But everyone else here loves me because it's good for them to love me."
The Advisor nodded in hasty agreement. "That is the nature of love," he said. "Love is good for us."
"Loving me is good for you," said the Dictator.
Aline was a puzzle to the Dictator. She alone among his followers and sycophants never asked him for anything. She never tried to advise him. She never tried to gain advantage. He was sensitive to the most subtle manipulations, but she never tried any of it. When he was in a generous mood, she stayed firmly at his side while the others fought ever his gifts. When he was dangerous and angry and unfair, she stayed as his side no matter what. She kept her head down, but she never cringed, and she never stepped back.
When the neighboring country cast a jealous eye on the Dictator's holdings, and saw itself as stronger, the Dictator found himself in a terrible war. Some of his people defected, and he shot several others -- killing them with his own hand in front of the others. His people got back in line quickly, and they fought valiantly, because the knew he could do much worse to his enemies, so they were not his enemies.
But there were some hairy moments, and when the foreign troops came close to the city, the Dictator was persuaded to send the women to a safer location. The other women packed and fled, but Aline didn't even look up. She stayed near the Dictator.
"You may go," he said to her. "You do not have to fear my displeasure." When she didn't go, he added, "It is not safe here."
"I don't know anything about safety," she said. "I only know about love. I will stay with you."
"And if their troops crash through the gates? And the bombs bring down the building?"
"I will stay with you to the very end."
The war came to an end, but part of the Dictator's territory was in enemy hands, and threats to his safety and power continued.
Even when the neighboring country's government fell, it brought no relief, because their people only incited the Dictator's people to rebel. He did not have the power to command their love, or their labor or their loyalty. Not all of them. Not any more.
Through it all, Aline stayed at his side. When he made an appearance, and there was fear of assassination, she went with him though she didn't have to. And when he went to rally his troops at the front lines, though it was dangerous, she stuck to him even closer.
It seemed to him that the more dangerous it was, the closer she came. There were even times he felt like sending her away because whenever she came closer, he would look over his shoulder.
And in all of it, she never asked for favors, never objected if he grew paranoid and insisted that everyone be searched and everyone be tested. She only looked at him with quiet energy that he came to understand was passion. Adoration. Even as his power faded, he had power over her, and that was a consolation.
At the very end, when the guards abandoned their posts, and the rebels were celebrating in his outer courtyard. He gave her a last chance to flee, but she said again:
"I will stay with you to the end."
"Then we shall die together?"
"If that is the end."
He smiled at that answer because though she accepted death, she also left the outcome open to hope.
He led her down to the bunker, where he revealed that he had kept one secret from everyone. There was a tunnel for escape. They had somewhere to go, just the two of them. He had been moving his money for years into an off-shore account. He'd put the money in her name, and the World Court would not find it to seize it.
He pulled back the covering from the escape tunnel, and she looked into it...
And then she pulled away his gun and shot him in the belly. It made a horrible wound, and pierced his spine, so that he lay helpless on the floor, dying as his heart and lungs still yet worked.
"Power," he said, "is stronger than love. You see, I knew it!"
"You know power," she agreed. "But I don't know anything about that."
He choked and laughed. "You think you will be rich? The accounts are in your name? That's nothing. You must have the number and the password."
"I don't know about money," she said.
"And you will never escape through that tunnel. You must know where to go. You are trapped."
"I don't know about escape," she said. "I only know about love. I loved my mother. I loved my family. They had no power, and you killed them all. So perhaps power is better than love. I don't know. Is it? Can you tell me?"
He could not speak now and so she continued.
"I have stayed with you so that I could one day see you die, because I have no power to do anything else, only the power to love my family. But I don't know about power, only love, so perhaps I should let you should die alone."
And with that she took the gun and considered the tunnel, but instead she went back up the stairs toward the palace. There was sunlight up there, and though it might be dangerous, she didn't know -- or care -- about danger. She only knew about love.
Tomorrow some short story notes on the writing of "Power Is Better Than Love."
See you in the funny papers.