“This guy is useless. Let’s kill him.” At least that’s what I imagined Scyla was saying, while what I really heard was, “aehcb.”

“aebf,” came the response. “Don’t kill him. Not yet. Let’s milk his eyeballs and sell them to whales.” They both looked at me with unrestrained medical lust. I was an organ donor in a room of grave robbers. I didn’t need to be desecrated, but they were going to do it anyway.

“Good idea.”

“Better yet, let’s slowly dissemble his nervous system.”

“We’ll start with his toes. No one needs toes.”

And then we’ll move up his body. By the time we turn off his brain, he won’t even remember what it was like to feel his legs while running.”

“Nah. Too much work.”

“Let’s just kick him in the groin.”

I’m really starting to go crazy. I have been cooped up too long, and I have no control over anything happening around me. The water never turns the color they want. It’s always yellow, brown, or orange. They have tried new tuning forks and new metals, new combinations of forks and new numbers of new worms; they have tried dressing me in new suits and keeping me nearly naked. But no dice. The test results must be disappointing, because they never stop testing. If they could synthesize a cure, why all the tests?

Pincoy came for a visit today just as the two healers were bickering back and forth about the orange pool. When the Consort arrived, however, Bubble Teeth and Eager Fingers settled down and excused themselves from the room.

“Have great joy, David Mann. Today is good.”

“Hey, Pink. Thanks for visiting.”

“I would come every day. There is much and more happening in Zebulon. The games are a rallying point for our people, a gift to the Queen. And this year the Queen has an even greater gift to give in return. You are that gift, David Mann. The people are excited you are working with our healers. Heqet is hopeful we will find expiation.”

“Pincoy,” I asked, feeling as if I’d tried to start this very same conversation half-a-hundred times, “where did you learn that word?”

Pincoy, as always, was evasive. “We have teachers, David.”

“I have asked you about those teachers before.” My tone was impatient. I wanted answers, and these word-games were getting less cute every time. “How do you know English? And, in particular, how did you learn a hundred-dollar word like expiation? Most Ph.D.s don’t know that word.”

“Please be patient. You will always want to know more than you can. For now, I must ask that you focus your mind on harmony, and frequency, and vibration.”

“The tests are not successful.”

“No, David. It is a feast of failure.”

“When I first left for the capital, the man who brought me assured me that my friend Lin would be allowed to come soon. She is not here. I would like to see her. And Iara. I’d like to know how they’re doing.”

I posed these questions, and many more besides, to Pincoy, and he did his best to help me understand. It all goes back to their goofy system of gifts and exchange.

“Everything is a gift. Everyone is a gift. A gift cannot give itself. Lin wants to be with you, but she cannot until she is gifted.”

“Pincoy. I like you. But I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Ah, David. You are so funny. I will tell you one of our stories.”

“Perfect.”

“Grandfather showed me, once, how all our riches come from chayot.”

Chayot.” My exegetical awareness piqued. “I know this word. It’s a mystical angel, a living chariot.”

“I don’t know ‘chariot.’ I know chayot. They live in the waters, far above us. They have wide and beautiful wings. Two great horns divide the sea in front of them, and their tail is like a coiled whip.”

“You mean a manta ray?”

“Hush, questioner. You ask the wrong things. Chayot brought us air and light and taught us the working of metals. He came at night, and while we slept he placed the seed of his knowledge inside our dreams. We dreamed the future, and woke to make it.

“But some wondered where this dreaming came from. We did not know it was chayot. Not yet. We wondered.” Pincoy lifted his face to the sky, searching for the truth. “We wanted to know who put these thoughts in our heads. A man and his brother hid and watched, and when they saw chayot making the dreams they called to him and thanked him. But chayot did not want to be recognized. He did not want his gift to be cheapened.

“And now he does not come.”

When he was finished, my delicate friend looked a hundred years older. For him, this was no mere story. This was Scripture. This was cosmogony. He was telling me their salvation history, their lore, their Genesis.

“Pincoy, that was a fantastically cool story. But I’m more confused than ever.”

“Good, David,” he said, standing up and stretching out his arms. “That is where we must all begin.” And with that, the Consort shuffled his feet out the door, a new energy coming into his body. He danced a little like he was in the water, while I stayed in the Healing Center, floundering like a fish on the deck.