“Things do not look good,” Pincoy said, seated across from me on a bench. I was sitting in a shallow pool with tuning forks being chimed all around. “They are going to try something new today.”

The experimental logic has become clearer. When the tuning forks are placed in their pools, the water turns green. No matter what happens though, no matter what they try, my water doesn’t. Their water won’t orange, and mine won’t green. My DNA doesn’t match the Zebulani’s, though they have other names for all that. Whatever evolutionary adaptations must have occurred to allow them to live under the water must also prevent my frequencies from harmonizing with theirs to form an antitoxin.

“What’s that?” I asked, splashing water over my Atlantean wetsuit with cupped hands.

“They are bringing in one of the atah.” I didn’t know what that was. He could tell. “One of the infected.”

I stopped splashing and stared at him. Pincoy didn’t crack a smile or change his expression. He just sat there, on that stone chair, an intermediary for bad news. “I don’t think that’s a great idea, Pink. I’ve been attacked by one of these things before.”

“Yes,” he said, bobbing his head in the affirmative. “But that was in the open water. You were together on the ‘subrail,’ I think you call it. This will be different.”

“This room isn’t very big.”

“No. It isn’t.” As if to underscore Pincoy’s finality, two Knumai brought in one of the infected, an older man, with hanging skin and white eyes. He was strapped into the pool next to mine, perhaps ten feet away. The straps were about two-hand-widths, and the Knumai pulled them tight against his chest, waist, and knees. His veins were black, and red lightning cracked open the white landscape of his pupils, the effects of the spinefish toxin clearly evident.

The Knumai held him down while Scyla and Schylla did some preliminary tests. The crustacean armor was so thick that the crabmen had no need to be afraid of the man. He struck them and wrestled them, but the spinefish needles embedded themselves harmlessly in their protective covering. Some of the needles broke off and clattered to the floor, some stuck back into the old man, enraging him further. It was all a bit much for Pincoy, though, and he moved himself to the back of the room as soon as the confrontation began.

Like all the others, the old man’s water resonated with a mossy-hue when the tuning forks rang out. Despite his age and relative frailty, the old infected still presented himself as someone strong. He strained the bonds. He gnashed his teeth. He screamed and called and never once stopped jerking and struggling against his restraints.

I got out of the pool and shook the water droplets off onto the floor. Giving the old man and his unpleasant pool a wide berth, I came next to Pincoy on the floor. We sat there for a while, brooding.

“They think it’s all about your blood, David,” Pincoy said, looking worried. “The problem is how to get more of it. I told them that taking your blood is not a good idea. If you die, the supply will run out completely. I don’t like the way they look at me when I say that.”

“I’m somewhat partial to the six quarts of blood inside me,” I said. We both sat thinking.

“Have you ever heard the story of Mollai?” he asked, finally.

“Sorry, Pink, we tell different stories.”

“There is your humor again. I will tell it.” Pincoy settled in, ignoring the commotion at the other end of the room. He was the storykeeper once again, regaling his surface-dwelling padawan around what passed for a makeshift Atlantean campfire.

“In return for an act of charity, the Mollai King invited a midwife to a festival. This was a great honor, as Zebulani rarely go to Mollaitia. The King instructed chayot to bring the midwife. When chayot obeyed, he told the woman to be careful. Chayot, you see, was under a Mollant–an enchantment–and he gave instructions to the midwife so she might avoid his fate and return safely home. Gifts can be dangerous. And those who take them suffer.

“Chayot told the woman, ‘I will come for you when your time is done. The Mollai will gather about you and each one of them will give you a gift. You must take what is given. But do not spend the gifts, or give them away, until we see each other again.’

“Some time passed. A long time, perhaps. Chayot returned to gather the woman and bring her home. As he foretold, the Mollai gathered around her and gifted her, every one. She took everything. Then, as she swam off with her guide, chayot told her to sweep one of the Mollai gifts into the deep. She did, and it burst, flinging poisonous darts. The midwife threw each gift away, and each one burst like the others. ‘Now,’ said chayot, ‘if you had kept the gifts and hidden them in your home, your children and your neighbors would have been tortured and ruined.’”

Sensing the story was at an end, I allowed my inquisitive nature to take hold. “These darts, were they the spinefish? Did they come from the Mollai?”

“David. You have missed the story. It is not about the gift. It is about the person.”

Which person, I wondered. “This is about me?”

“This is about all,” Pincoy said. He got up from his chair and knelt in front of me, gripping both my hands in his, shaking them slightly. “I’m afraid, David. I’m afraid this is happening to Zebulon. You are a gift, a life preserved from death, but they cannot simply accept the gift. Heqet has to know. She must know what it is like to take the gift home and keep it for herself. And that desire to know…”

“…is mercenary,” I finished.

Pincoy left me alone to think. And I did. A lot. There was plenty to dwell on. Things are starting to feel hostile. I no longer feel safe. This is definitely enemy territory, and I am caught between wanting to be the good guy and not wanting to be the fall guy. I need to get out of here soon. I need to be with my friends. I need protection. I need help.

But from whom?