Diving for Gods
IT RAINED GENTLY, FILLING the night with a rustling.
Three more canoes, Mau thought, staring into the dark. Three all at once, sailing on the gentle wind.
Now there were two babies and another coming soon, one little girl, one boy, eleven women including the ghost girl, and eight men not including Mau, who had no soul – and three dogs.
He’d missed dogs. Dogs added something that even people didn’t, and one of the dogs was sitting by his feet, here in the darkness and the gentle rain. It wasn’t bothered much about the rain or what might be out there on the unseen sea, but Mau was a warm body moving about in a sleeping world and might at any moment do something that called for running around and barking. Occasionally it looked up at him adoringly and made a slobbery gulping noise, which possibly meant “Anything you say, boss!”
More than twenty people, Mau thought as the rain dripped off his chin like tears. It wasn’t enough, if the Raiders came. Not enough to fight, but too many to hide. And certainly enough for a few good dinners for the people-eaters….
No one had seen the Raiders. They were coming from island to island, people said, but it was always a rumor. On the other hand, if you had seen the Raiders, then they had seen you….
There was a slight grayness to the air now, not really light but the ghost of it. It would get stronger, and the sun would come up and maybe the horizon would be black with canoes, and maybe it wouldn’t.
Inside Mau’s head there was one bright memory. There was the ghost girl, looking silly in the grass skirt, and there was him, looking even sillier in the trousers, and everyone was laughing, even the Unknown Woman, and everything had been… right.
And then there had been all these new people, milling around and worried and ill and hungry. Some of them were not even sure where
they’d ended up, and all of them were scared.
They were a rabble, according to the Grandfathers. They were the people the wave had not swallowed. Why? Not even they knew. Maybe they had held on to a tree while others had been swept away, or had been on higher ground, or at sea, like Mau.
Those afloat had gone back to people and villages that weren’t there, and had scavenged what they could and set out to find other people. They’d followed the current, and had met up, and had become a kind of floating village – but one of children without parents, parents without children, wives without husbands, people without all those things around them that told them what they were. The wave had shaken up the world and left broken pieces. There might be hundreds more out there.
And then, and then… from where had they come, the rumors of the Raiders? A shout from other refugees, fleeing too urgently to stop? An old woman’s dream? A corpse floating by? Did it matter when terrified people had set out again in anything that would still float, with little to eat and brackish water?
And so the second wave came, drowning people in their own fear.
And at last they had seen the smoke. Nearly all of them knew the Nation. It was rock! It couldn’t be washed away! It had the finest god anchors in the world!
And what they had found was ragtag – not much better off than themselves, with one old priest, a strange ghost girl, and a chief who was not a boy and not a man and didn’t have a soul and might be a demon.
Thank you, Ataba, Mau thought. When people are not sure what you are, they don’t know what you might do.