First Leg - A World Without Gods

From Moana's Log - Arguing Over First Principles


Moana spun on the ball of her foot, turning in place easily with the aid of a small, smooth divot worn into the ground. She made it two steps forward before glancing down the path toward the slowly gathering crowd at the end, only to whip her gaze back in front of her. One step, another, a third, and then she spun in place.

“Will you stop that already?” Hine asked, exasperated.

“Don’t you think I’ve tried? I’ve practically worn a canal into the ground!”

Hine let out a sigh that could only be described as disgruntled. “You’ll do fine, Moana. You’ve spoken to the council a hundred times before, and you usually get your way.”

“I have a reputation, Hine. The moment I so much as passingly mention boats, or sailing, or the ocean, or anything, you know what's going to happen.”

“Yes, yes,” Hine said, rolling her eyes. “You know, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but people listen to you when you talk.”

“Never about this.”

“Just relax, already. You win practically every debate you start.”

“But they’ve never been about anything actually important before!”

“Oh?” Chuckling darkly, Hine said, “I’ll just go tell everyone that the work you’ve had them doing isn’t important, then.” Moana was on top of her before she could get to her feet, pushing her back down onto the ground by the shoulders.

“That’s not what I meant, and you know it.” And then Moana returned to pacing.

“You do realise that if you act like this at your meeting, they’ll think you’re just making excuses to get out on the ocean, right? They watched you grow up and are well aware of what you’d really rather be doing with your life.”

Moana gasped, the sarcasm leaking out of her almost thick enough to touch. “Really? Oh, wait. They remind me of that every time I mention that water is wet.” She glared at Hine, who dared to laugh at her distress.

“You’ll be fine, Moana. You really will. It’s hard to argue with ‘obey me or starve’.”

Oh, yes, I’m sure that would go over so well. “I told my dad about that only because he would dig in his heels and resist every argument I gave and every proposal I made otherwise. The last thing I want is Motunui to have starvation hanging over its head. The last time our village had a really bad famine, we ended up fighting each other over food, sometimes to the death.”

Hine rolled her eyes, thus demonstrating just how much she was underestimating the seriousness of the situation. “You’re such a pessimist.”

Just for the moment, Moana allowed herself to reply in jest. “It’s the lei. It’s cursed.”

“See! That’s the Moana I know. Now all you have to do is go up there and tell the council what’s what. If they don’t like it, then too bad for them.”

“Urgh. Hine, just because I can ignore their decisions doesn’t mean that I should. They can make life very difficult for me. You don’t like them, and I don’t like them, but that’s because we work with them – or because we work despite them, as the case may sometimes be. That’s us. Everyone else, though, respects them and listens to them, too, not just me.”

Quirking her brows, Hine said, “I’m telling your dad you said you don’t like him.”

Moana slapped a hand across her face. Hine then took advantage of her momentary lack of vision to spin her by the shoulders, pushing her ever closer toward the gathering council thereafter with every forced step.

“Just remember why it is you’re doing all this, and you’ll get your way. You’re stubborn like that. You’ll see. As soon as you open your mouth, you'll forget you were ever nervous, and the moment someone irritates you, you’ll be completely focused.” With those last parting words, Hine gave Moana one final shove forward before saying goodbye and vanishing into the night.

Sighing and noticing that most of the council had already gathered off in the distance, Moana forced herself forward. All the way she mumbled to herself that reason Hine had mentioned as if it were her own personal mantra. “Motunui is the people, not the land. They must have the tools necessary to survive. The needs and prosperity of my people outweigh any other consideration.”

By the time Moana’s slowing steps had brought her to her destination, the large, wall-less building in which her grandmother had once told her and the other then children of Motunui stories, the entire council had gathered – as had their audience.

Joy. Why do these things have to be public? Moana sighed inwardly. At least there are slightly fewer bystanders tonight. Slightly. That said, at least half the village had to be here.

One by one, Moana glanced over the council members to get a feel for their mood – and vote – tonight. Although he hid it very well, Tui looked resigned and defeated. Unfortunate though it was, she hoped that meant she could count on at least his neutrality in the coming meeting. Even the mere act of his not rejecting her plans should give her a swell of support among those she suspected would be otherwise undecided.

Currently speaking with Tui was Rua, his brother-in-law and, unfortunately, Moana’s uncle. I swear, if that man tries to use this to set me up with his dolt of a son again, I’m going to toss him into the ocean. Shaking her head, Moana moved on. Rua rarely spoke during their meetings and almost always voted with Tui on matters and so was of a lesser concern.

Ah, Areta, Aihe, and Arana. No surprise that they all look tired. Those three should really retire and let someone younger take their position, preferably people not all from one family again. Still, if this goes on long, all three will vote to maintain the status quo just to get to bed. That’s not ideal, but it might be worse if they were wide awake. They’ve never been my biggest fans.

The next to catch Moana’s eye was Ngaio, who was already inside, seated, and waiting patiently for everyone to stop wasting her time, as she would put it. She looked as grumpy as usual at these meetings, but outside of them, Moana considered the short-haired, older woman her own personal goddess. If Hine was Moana’s right hand, then Ngaio was the brain. She attacked any problem that caught her interest with a fervour no one could match and would vote for anything that would give her an intellectual challenge. There was no doubt she would literally be salivating when Moana asked her to find a good way to map the sea; the ocean was a little larger than Motunui.

It was frustrating, really. While Moana was grateful that her ancestors had left instructions on how to sail and navigate – if vague ones that required interpretation and hands-on experience – she would have been so much more grateful if they had also left directions. Even something as simple as ‘sail towards these stars’ would have been immensely helpful. If only one of them had bothered to think, “Hey, maybe we’ll need to sail again one day. Maybe we should keep a record of where other islands are.” That would have saved Moana so much time, a courtesy she intended to perform for her people’s descendants.

That familiar, creeping sense of doom Moana felt when she looked at the ocean poked at her mind again like an insert continually finding cracks in her confidence, but she batted it aside. They had plenty of time. She had plenty of time.

Standing in a group off to the side were Hare, Marama, Marika, and Ropata. Marika had taken over as the village storyteller after Moana’s grandmother had passed on, often placing more emphasis on the importance of tradition than Moana would prefer Motunui’s children be exposed to, rather than the traditions themselves. Sailing the ocean? I’d be better off asking her to jump off a cliff to get her to abstain.

Marama and Ropata had both been fishermen when they were younger and had loved every moment of it. Their vote could go either way. The ocean was new and potentially very dangerous, putting the lives of anyone sent out into it at risk. On the other hand, Moana had a feeling their opinion would be that if the fish refused to come to Motunui, Motunui should go to the fish.

And then there was Hare, who loathed Moana. “An airheaded brat who would rather be gallivanting about in the water should never have been made chief,” he had once said. Even so, he served surprisingly well at helping her refine her plans and ideas, not that she would ever tell him that. Although, her deliberately prodding him at council meetings on occasion might have made him suspicious he was being unintentionally helpful – the horror! That said, he was a practical man who had never deliberately undermined her authority and who would bend to a well-reasoned argument.

Or he would after tearing it to pieces and remaking it stronger and in his own image, that was.

Finally, there were the true airheads, who as usual stood as far away from Hare as could be considered inoffensive. If she possessed the authority to do so, Moana would have tossed Haeata and Hauku out of the council the moment she met the women, both literally and figuratively. That would be the one thing she and Hare would agree on wholeheartedly and without debate. But worse, they were gossips. If the council wanted to discuss something in private as a group, the usual tactic was to stall until their audience had all gone to sleep. With those two, though, one never knew how long they would – or could – keep their tongues from wagging.

Well, let’s get started. “Everyone!” Moana called out, drawing both the crowd’s attention and their silence. “Now that we’re all gathered, let’s sit down and begin this council session.”

While the audience was regulated to the surrounding area of the meeting house, the twelve council members made themselves comfortable at their usual places on the floor, forming a circle in the very middle of the room. As was tradition, Moana was left with the most inland position, thus facing the sea. From it, she had a full and unobstructed view of one of the darkest parts of the ocean near Motunui. At least there was a new moon tonight. Moana could barely see past the village’s shores. With any luck, that would be enough for her not to become distracted.

“For those of you not aware,” Moana said, tearing her gaze back to those gathered around her, “I’ve called this meeting to address the village’s fishing problems.”

“What’s to address? The problem is you have our fishermen gardening.”

Moana spared the old man only the slightest of glances. “Which, of course, Arana, is because they have nothing better to do. I have Ropata’s boys” – she sent a nod the man’s way, receiving a proud smile in return – “spend their days paddling about the coast to see if things improve, but there are simply no fish to be found.”

Arana looked like he wanted to say something to that, but a warning frown from Ropata silenced him. Sometimes it paid to have doting fathers on the council. No one would put forth any inane arguments suggesting his sons were incompetent in his presence.

“Now if you haven’t noticed, there’s been a significant decrease in the plant life along our coast, especially around the reef.” Where ‘a significant decrease’ means everything is gone except the dead coral. “Seeing as this coincides with the emergence of a strange disease afflicting our crops near the village, I would find it odd if the two weren’t related.” Which is technically true, if misleading.

Marama, who like Ropata was recognised as an expert on all things fish, added his own opinion, earning Moana’s silent gratitude. It was always so much better when other people picked up on, agreed with, and made her arguments for her. “And if there’s nothing for the little fish to eat, they either die or find better waters, leaving the fish we catch with nothing to eat. I don’t suppose you and Ngaio have mysteriously and suddenly learnt how to farm underwater, have you?”

Immediately, Moana shook her head at Ngaio, heading off that challenge before it could take root in the woman’s mind. Ngaio caught on just as fast, and her face warped into a hungry look begging for whatever far more interesting project she was no doubt now certain Moana had for her.

“I would imagine it’s a lot like growing plants on land, but you have to hold your breath longer.” That drew a few laughs from the half of the room that both had a sense of humour and liked her. Once they were done, Moana continued, “If we had a reasonable number of live fish, we could try to breed them the way we would pigs and poultry.”

“Requiring more labour,” Areta said.

Aihe then added, “Not to mention it’s something we’ve never done before.”

Rather than open the floor to arguing about tradition or the benefits of experimentation, at least not yet, Moana immediately jumped on those complaints. “Neither of which is relevant, because we don’t have the required fish to make the attempt.” But it’s something to think about. I’ll ask Ngaio to look into it when she has a bit of spare time. It can’t be very hard compared to how beneficial developing fish husbandry would be. Probably.

Annoyingly and unfortunately, Hare decided it was time for him to speak up. Directly across from Moana, his disapproving expression made it only too clear what he was about to say. “None of this is relevant. Our chief is obviously just trying to justify indulging in her daydreams under the guise of fishing. May we skip the theatrics?”

Moana was only partially successful in biting back her sigh. She had known going into this that she would have to deal with that exact accusation, although she had hoped for a little more time before she had to confront it.

Before Moana could say a word in her own defence, Marika said, “What! Tui, will you learn to control your daughter already? I don't care what she does in private, but this is an embarrassment.”

Calmly, yet sharply, Tui replied, “The far greater embarrassment is that you think I didn't teach her well enough to be our chief before stepping down.”

Marika recoiled as if slapped. More importantly, except for the two airheads, no one missed that he said nothing whatsoever about Moana's plan, a plan which she still had yet to even suggest.

“Enough!” Now that Moana had the council's attention back and their audience silent, she pushed down any insults of her own. If her council wanted her to be the only adult here, so much the better for her. “Now then, fish is a staple of our diet. This is an issue we must address. Ropata, if you would, could you tell us how long you think it would take for the plant life in our coast to regrow on its own?”

Roptata turned to Marama next to him, and the two held a whispered conversation between them. As they did, Moana counted the number of facial expressions that had already decided to vote against anything she suggested. Marika’s was among them, of course, as were Arana’s, Areta’s, and Aihe’s, unsurprisingly. Hare was as churlish and unreadable as always, but everyone else looked at least open to discussion. Moana caught Tui’s eyes and mouthed, “Thank you,” to him.

Done with his conversation, Ropata gave his report. “Under ideal conditions, less than a year. But without knowing what’s happening to the plants–” He shrugged. “We’ll have to wait it out. Arana, how long does an outbreak of a disease last with land plants?”

“As long as it takes to uproot the afflicted plants and burn them.”

Taking the answer for what it was, Ropata turned to Moana and said, “I don’t know, then. It’ll take at least a year for both the plants and fish to return, but if I were to guess, I’d plan on it taking a lot longer than that. Three or four years, maybe?”

Having already planned on that situation never resolving itself, at least not in her lifetime, Moana took the news with far more grace than most. “Thank you. Now personally, I enjoy yams, and coconuts, and bananas, and eggs, but I wouldn’t want to subsist on them. Pork and poultry are delectable, but their production is very resource intensive. As I said before, fish is a staple of our diet that we need returned to us. It accounts for approximately half of what we traditionally eat.” Glaring at Hare, she then said, “Now that the theatrics are over, yes, the obvious response is to sail further out–”

The rising chorus of objections from both council members and the audience drowned out the rest of what Moana had wanted to say – not unexpected, but still frustrating.

Moana took a deep breath in. “Be silent!” And that was exactly what she got: silence. With every eye on her, she was unable to help a small smirk forming on her face. In all honesty, she had expected to be coughing right now after that. “Hare, since you haven’t said a word, why don’t you go first?”

“Bah! I am not a fish, and I will not take your bait. I will not debate without time to gather my thoughts. Find someone else to be your straw man, clever fool.”

Frowning for a moment, Moana eventually decided that Hare’s words were entirely accurate, minus the part about her being a fool. Chuckling, she turned to Ropata and Marama on her right. “Would you two like to raise objections as fishermen, or would you like me to present my whole argument while everyone listens?”

The two looked to each other before Marama spoke. “There are a few things we would like addressed before you continue any further.”

“Feel free to ask, then.”

“Well, I think I speak for both of us when I say the challenge would be exciting.” Ropata nodded in agreement. “But it’s always the case that danger is exciting. The waters beyond the reef have historically not been kind to those who choose to venture into them…”

Most everyone’s eyes shifted slightly from Moana to Tui on her immediate right, although she made a point of not doing so. She mumbled an apology to him before responding, knowing that when she was done, everyone would assume she had uttered some obscenity. “I’m well aware of what happens when a headstrong girl heads off into the sea without ever having so much as learnt what a sheet is. I wrecked a boat when I was sixteen, and Tala told me to, and I quote, ‘blame it on the pig’.”

Moana ignored Tui pinching the bridge of his nose, muttering what she thought was, “That explains so much.”

“It’s the rope used to control the sail, by the way.”

“Are we to presume you’ve been making successful voyages, then?” Marama asked.

“Not as such, no. I can only imagine the deafening amount of flak you all would give me if I put myself in danger without permission or even informing you. That said, I have a strategy mapped out in some detail for gaining the necessary experience with minimal risk. Those are details we can quibble about later if we proceed, however. The main problem previous attempts have had is that the canoes we use for fishing aren’t meant to endure the rigours of ocean travel.”

Naturally, most everyone turned to look at Ngaio, who was frowning and glaring at Moana, silently accusing Moana of holding out on her.

Answering the unasked question, Moana said, “Yes, I do happen to have seaworthy ship in my possession. I won’t be asking for the resources or labour to build one. Sorry, Ngaio. I have something to make it up to you later.”

Her glare lasted a moment longer as she searched Moana for any sign of deceit. Finding none, because Moana really did have something for her, Ngaio nodded and went back to whatever it was she thought about when she was bored – probably trying to deduce what project Moana had for her.

Although Marama looked sceptical, he did take Moana at her word. “Another issue, then. I wouldn’t even know where to begin with deep sea fishing. Our waters are no deeper than two or three men anywhere.”

“Admittedly, that would be part of the learning process. I have a few ideas that I think will work but need to be tested.” Passing off the mysterious acquisition of a better boat without too many questions being asked was already going to be a difficult task. Moana refused to add where she obtained all the tools necessary for ocean fishing to the list of questions and complicate matters further, at least not right now. Openly proclaiming that their ancestors were voyagers would start a firestorm that would end any semblance of order this meeting possessed. She knew someday she would eventually have to, though, considering she and Tui would not be able to move the larger ships out of storage alone.

Although, if Marika starts blathering on about tradition, it would be so amusing to drop our heritage on her. I can just imagine the look on her face the moment she realises I’m trying to revive old traditions.

It was only with a great effort that she shoved that thought and the encroaching smirk aside. Instead, Moana said, “I'm not terribly worried about the matter, though. Terns fly out to sea every day and come back either fed or with fish. I don't imagine they can dive much deeper than we can, so there must be fish near the surface out on the open ocean, too.”

After exchanging a few words with Ropata, Marama said, “We’ll need to see your ship and plans, but otherwise neither of us have any further concerns at the moment.”

Moana nodded, silently crying her victory at having won at least two people over. “Right, then. That covers most of my argument for ocean sailing, actually. In summary, our people need fish for the normal and healthy functioning of our society. That is self-evident. There are no fish nearby, but there will be elsewhere. I already have everything ready and waiting to begin sailing; I won’t be drawing resources that could be allocated elsewhere. And lastly, I've done my best to minimise the risk while learning, both for my test subject and even more so thereafter with further students as we work out the problems.

“There is, however, one other important point to make. Once we have the ability, we won’t lose it. We can only lose it if we choose to forget it.” Again, Moana added in her head. “Even after our waters return to normal, we will still have the option to fish elsewhere. That would make it much easier to manage the local population and thus to avoid overfishing, which I know has been a problem at times in our past. It would also provide access to a greater variety of fish, including making us less dependant on luck to catch such delicacies as shark and ray.”

Moana silently scoffed at how much more the thought of delicious fish affected her council members than a well-reasoned argument. Even Ngaio had a bit of a glassy-eyed look about her, although one could never be sure what was going on in her head. For all Moana knew, she might be dreaming of domesticating and riding a manta ray rather than eating it.

Still, at least that probably got the two airheads on her side. Moana could live with debasing her intellectual integrity if it got her the votes needed to save her people. The airheads, Ropata and Marama, Ngaio – that’s nearly all the votes I need. Dad and Uncle Rua are a wild card. An abstain from both or an aye from either would be enough. I’d feel better if I could get a yes from Hare, though.

Before Moana could poke the sleeping dragon, Marika spoke. “Tui, you’ve been awfully quiet. What’s your opinion on…Chief Moana’s…idea.”  No doubt remembering the verbal slap from earlier, her voice was more timid than usual, which with her meant she was speaking politely instead of babbling her opinion uncensored to anyone who would listen.

Time passed agonisingly slowly as Tui considered the question. Fidgeting, Moana tucked her right hand beneath her to keep it from doing anything foolish in this context. Not father and daughter here, she reminded herself.

Rather awkwardly into the silence, Marika continued, “Your daughter has little respect for our traditions–”

“If I may,” Moana interrupted. “While I do place necessity and practicality over tradition, I don’t go out of my way to trample them. I can honestly say I have nothing but the deepest respect for our heritage.” Tui, the only other person here who knew the deeper meaning to those words, clearly had no idea what to say or feel about that. Moana silently chuckled at the strange expressions passing over his face.

Marika shook her head, still addressing Tui instead of Moana. Despite herself, Moana found that rather irked her. “You see? She doesn’t get it. Every time she changes something, a little more of us dies. She won't be satisfied until she's torn us apart and left shambling husks in her wake. Ocean travel isn't a job. It's a lifestyle. And she wants to takes ours from us; she wants to take our culture, our very identity.”

As slanted as Marika’s words had been, Moana understood the feelings behind them. It would be impossible for her not to. Sighing to herself, she tried not to dwell on how the culture she so strongly identified with was long since dead and gone. Maybe that made her more willing to give up Motunui’s current one, but Marika was mad if she thought that would result in them becoming ‘shambling husks’. Motunui was the people, not the culture.

Tui finally gathered himself well enough to speak. “Marika, I know you mean well, but so does Moana. I assure you she always acts in what she feels is in the best interests of Motunui.”

“Maybe she should try thinking instead,” Aihe said. Moana glared at her and silently promised an unspecified doom if she said a word more. She quickly looked away, looking very uncomfortable. Everyone else simply pretended the remark had never been made.

“You can't tell me you actually support this fool’s errand,” Marika said, aghast.

“It's…certainly a different direction for us. I don't feel qualified to say any more on the matter.”

Stunned, Marika’s mouth hug open. To be fair, Moana would be just as surprised had she not been the one to talk Tui into at least entertaining the idea.

“We're not mariners, Tui,” Areta said. “We're not explorers. We're not voyagers. We're certainly not pioneers. We never have been.”

Moana quietly chuckled at the irony, trying not to draw Areta's attention as she did.

“As Marika said, that's a lifestyle, and certainly not one I'd enjoy, not even in my youth. Who of us would? You'd be gone for days at a time, barely ever seeing your family and friends. With maybe a third of our population missing most days, what would happen to our community? Where would we find time for our celebrations and rites?”

“Scheduling trips around important dates is hardly a difficult problem,” Moana said, pulling attention back to herself. Passively forcing her father to argue for her proposal was not on her list of good ideas. “Even when weather conditions are added to the mix, it's not as complicated an issue as you're making it.”

Areta frowned, obviously not convinced. There was little hope she ever would be, but Moana hoped no one tentatively on her side would take her pessimism too seriously.

“Perhaps Hare could provide us with a counterargument.”

Despite the suddenness of the request, Hare nodded. “Yes, I’m prepared now. Let’s first dispel any delusions anyone here may possess. Our chief clearly wishes to be her own test subject and will refuse to take anyone else.”

Unsurprisingly, that surprised no one. Shrugging, Moana passed on the opportunity to present even a token denial. She would take someone else if she absolutely had to, but the spirit of Hare's words was true. Besides, no one would believe her.

“For the moment, let’s forget that she has destroyed every boat she’s been in control of.”

Moana bristled at that. “One boat. One crash.” She went ignored.

“Our chief should have better things to do with her time than splashing about in the water.”

I've been working myself to exhaustion and training Hine to stand in for me!

“She still has no heir for when she dies.”

Moana cringed the slightest bit at that, something that, fortunately, only Ngaio noticed, as usual. I won't if I die, Moana silently protested, but if not Dad, then Hine is the obvious choice. If anyone cares, we're even second cousins.

“And,” Hare continued relentlessly, “she has an obsession with the ocean which this plan of hers would only worsen.”

Eh, that I can't deny.

“That said, I'm sure she was aware of each of those points coming into this meeting and has already taken steps to minimise the impact of the resulting problems.”

Oh. “Yes, actually.” Sometimes Moana forgot that Hare actually knew she was intelligent – clever fool, indeed.

“That,” Hare said, continuing on without missing a beat, “is the full context of our chief's proposal. I admit that I would, under the right circumstances, have no problem telling her to go have fun. These are not normal circumstances, and neither are they especially dire–”

Moana bit her tongue and said nothing to correct Hare.

“–thanks in no small part to our chief.”

What? Moana’s thoughts tripped over that, but only for a moment. No, he’d only compliment me to contrast it with something I’m doing wrong now.

“I confess I found myself impressed by the speed and vigour of her response to the outbreak of disease within our crops. I don’t believe any of us were even aware of the problem when she brought her proposal to us.”

Moana’s expression grew tighter the longer Hare spoke as she struggled not to look behind him at the dark, dead ocean. It had been impossible to miss that approaching; no amount of rationalisation or denial had stopped her mind from planning responses to every disaster that had graced her imagination.

“At first, her plan to develop ocean fishing would seem to be her jumping on another issue we had yet to understand the true extent of. She certainly makes a compelling argument. If nothing else, I'm now resigned to little or no fish in my diet for the foreseeable future.

“However, there are several aspects of this particular plan of hers that she has either failed to consider, has glossed over, or has underestimated in her naivete.” Turning to Tui, Hare said, “By which I mean she is young and untested. I fully believe you provided all the knowledge she required but that which no one can give: experience.”

“No offence taken,” Tui said, and Moana tried hard not to either. She was young; that she could admit, although it helped little. “That is why the council exists. Our chief sets the course while we guide her through the fog and the rocks.”

With a nod and a, “Well put,” Hare continued from where he left off. “Now let’s first examine the claim that no additional resources will need to be allocated for this project beyond our chief’s time. Designing a new boat, collecting and consuming the materials for it, building it, and ensuring it won’t fall apart would be a massive undertaking. It is certainly true that in comparison, the remaining labour and material costs are marginal at worst. This does not, however, mean they are insubstantial.

“If safety is a true concern of hers, then she will need several spotters capable of rescuing her from a wreck and from drowning.” Hare held up a hand against Moana’s oncoming protest. “We are all well aware you are an excellent swimmer, but” – Moana swore she heard the smirk in his voice – “safety first.”

Not missing a beat, Hare continued, “On that topic, this boat of hers will need maintenance, and likely considerably more than usual as she pushes it to its limits to test both it and herself. That requires raw materials, spinners, weavers, carpenters. If she gives Ngaio free rein to implement her ideas for deep sea fishing, and we all know she will, that will further tie up a random selection of material resources and labour.

“Motunui is already taxed to the limit as far as labour goes. Where do you expect to find more, Chief?”

Well, it just so happens that my boat is slightly magical and not prone to damage. Oh, and also Ngaio doesn’t actually need to develop those new fishing tools. I already have them and know they’ll work. Yes, everyone would believe that.

Moana took a moment to consider how she wanted to deflect the concerns Hare had risen and then jumped right into her rebuttal.

“I didn’t think about having anyone on standby ready to rescue me when I planned for safety. The waters are calm enough inside the reef that I paid it no thought, and outside the reef, I would be on my own, anyway. It’s a good idea, though; I wouldn’t object to anyone watching me practice, especially not if they learnt something from it. And no offence to anyone when I say it, but I imagine we won’t be losing much by transferring, say, a few fishermen from ‘gardening’” – Moana glared at Arana – “back to what they’re good at: working in the water.”

Turning back to Hare, Moana said, “As for your other points, I have a reasonable stockpile of materials to make repairs with and can perform many of them myself.” While that was vacuously true, she still felt like she was lying through her teeth, and the feeling refused to leave her. “Other than that, I have no answer other than that by the time the labour and materials become necessary, I think things will have slowed down on the island. If not, we could delay until things have once we've reached that point.”

Unconvinced, Hare said, “I find it very hard to believe you would be able to put even a temporary end to it once you’ve begun.” There was a general chorus of murmured agreement at that, and Moana had to admit – to herself, at least – that he was probably right.

“Even if you could,” Hare continued, “you would have still already burned through time and resources that could have been saved and used elsewhere. Let me be clear. There is a famine approaching. As we’ve greatly expanded our agricultural efforts, I don’t anticipate it being a particularly difficult one – more of an annoyance, really – but we must still exercise caution.

“Now we have, of course, weathered famines before. When one mistake can turn a bad situation into a disaster, it’s not time to be flitting away resources experimenting with something new. The benefits of this fishing plan, assuming that it bears results within a time frame to be relevant, are not commensurate with the risk that we will need the resources she consumes in the effort. If we do nothing, we will go a little hungry. If we implement this plan, we further risk starvation. Even if the probability of success is a hundred times more likely than disastrous failure, that’s not a risk I would choose to take myself.”

Hare paused a moment to take a drink, his voice having grown a little raspy. “In five years, if everything has returned to normal, I might be willing to support this. Right now, however, we should remain cautious. We know that our current practises can see us through a famine. They have before, and they will again. Unless there’s something you’re not telling us…”

Once more, Moana had to fight off the urge to look behind Hare at the ocean. If this vote failed and if things got worse, then she would risk becoming Motunui’s next crazy lady and being forced to step down as chief. If that happened, especially this early when she could still quietly guide them toward survival, that would doom her people.

“Then,” Hare continued, “I would rather tolerate a slightly less than full stomach than risk a completely empty one. Like our chief, I agree that fish are necessary for the normal and healthy functioning of our society. That is, indeed, self-evident. But unlike her, I disagree that we necessarily must keep ourselves at that level. While desirable, it’s not always practical or worth the dangers. We know how to survive all but the worst of famines without risk, so I recommend we do just that. Thank you.”

Moana looked around the circle. She determined quickly enough that her firm supporters and firm opposition had almost certainly not changed their opinion, predictably enough. Ropata and Marama both looked pensive, but not terribly swayed. They would most likely vote yes with a few minor halting conditions attached – annoying but tolerable.

That just left Tui and Rua. With them right next to her in the circle, little opportunity had presented itself to observe their reactions, although there were a few hints to be had. Marika was not overly excited, so their final decision must be far from obvious, if even made yet. Deciding not to look and possibly pressure them one way or another, she took control of the conversation back.

“Does anyone have anything further to contribute?” Seeing no one jumping at the opportunity, Moana shrugged her shoulders. “It should be obvious, but I personally think this is worth what little risk it poses. If no one has any objections, let’s put the matter to vote.” Turning to her immediate left, she said, “Haeata, you first.”