Just you make it until morning, and I'll show you something special.
Once, a long time ago, far away from here, on a rocky little backwater moon orbiting a moody, glowering gas giant, some folks lived their lives, farming and fishing and whatnot. One day, a warlord showed up with a lot of guys and guns and declared that he was there take over the place. So, the farmers and the fishers, they didn’t have any guns or anything, or much inclination toward fighting, so they went right on farming and fishing.
The warlord’s thugs hung around and made life difficult on principle, and the farmers and the fishers paused sometimes in their work and asked them their names and how they got into thuggery as a career and did they like thugging. “Not especially,” the thugs said, “but it’s thug or be thugged.” The warlord told them this when he sent them out to make an example of folks or to bring back their stuff to his stronghold. “Hmm,” the farmers said. “Hmm,” the fishers said. And when a bunch of the thugs got sick from eating something they shouldn’t, the farmers and the fishers showed them what other things to eat to make them better. And things went on like that for a while, the folks and the thugs doing their respective jobs and, in between, talking to each other.
In the deepest part of the winter when the sun didn’t do much more than roll along the horizon and then go back to bed, and the farmers had to shovel trenches through the snow to get to the outhouses, and the fishers lived way out there on the ice to be closer to the open water, one of the warlord’s lieutenants got hurt real bad—how’s not important—and the warlord did what he always did when something wasn’t useful to him anymore: he threw it away. The lieutenant wandered in the snow under the stars glittering up there in the black sky and under the weight of that gas giant leaning hard on the land, and he knew he was pretty much a gonner, so he said good-bye to his mom, who he missed, and to his dad, who he never knew, and sat down to die.
But a farmer found him slouched against her fencepost, the blood on him stained black by the cold light of the giant, and she and her family dragged the lieutenant home and stitched him up and did all that other tending-to someone on the threshold of death requires while they’re making up their mind whether to step through or not.
And she said to him, “Just you make it until the morning, and, if you are alive when I come in with the kindling, I’ll show you something special.” The lieutenant’s body wasn’t too keen on it, truth be told, but he decided he wanted to see something special before he died, so he was still alive in the morning when the farmer came in with the kindling. The farmer and her biggest sons, they lifted him out of his bed and wrapped him up good and warm and carried him to a hillside and showed him the sun rising.
The next night, when the candle was guttering inside him, the farmer’s smallest children came to him and said, “Just you hang on until the morning, and, if you’re alive when we come in from feeding the cow, we’ll show you something special.” And just like the day before, he made a decision, and he was alive when they came in from feeding the cow, and the farmer and her biggest sons and smallest children, they wrapped him warm and carried him to the hill and showed him the sun rising.
This went on, morning after morning, all through the winter and into the spring, until the lieutenant could walk himself up the hill with the farmer and her family to see the sun rising. And it was special.
When planting time came, the lieutenant worked with the farmer in the fields, neck bent under the weight of the gas giant. The thugs came from the warlord’s stronghold and they found their old lieutenant wasn’t dead like he was supposed to be. They went and told the warlord and, furious at this defiance, he sent them back to make an example of folks.
The thugs came back to make an example of the farmer and her family and their old lieutenant, but the old lieutenant stepped out into the dusk, into the blue light of the heavy planet, and said to them, “Just you hold off on this until the morning, and, if we’re all still alive when the giant sets, I’ll show you something special.” And the thugs, who hadn’t seen something special in a long time, sat uneasily at the edge of the firelight with their guns across their knees until the gas giant set, and everyone was still alive. Their old lieutenant took them up to the hill and showed them the sun rising.
When the warlord heard his men hadn’t made an example of the farmer and her family and his old lieutenant like he wanted, he sent more thugs, and then he had to send more the next day, and the next, until one day he woke up and he was alone in his stronghold, and all of his old thugs were standing on the hill watching the sun rising.
See, the thing fellas don’t understand is about power. Some guys think power is about beating on someone until they submit. And you can get a long way on that. You can beat someone into obeying you. But you can’t beat them into loving you. You can’t beat them into loving themselves enough to believe that they should get to see the sun rising, not because you allowed it, not because some government half a galaxy away decreed it, but because they are alive, and that’s enough.
by Lisa Dickson