—Transcript of conversation between Agent X-23 and Alo Cultural Eccentric designate Heyoka. Also in attendance: Alo Ranger Captain John Cheveyo, his lieutenant Luke Pallaton, and a captured Nukpana.—
X-23: I should compliment you on the mind reading, I suppose.
Heyoka (shrugs): Just a trick of the trade.
X-23: I suspect it’s a little more than that. The only other person who’s been able to read my mind recently was a man touched by an extra-dimensional snake god.
Heyoka: How do you know I’m not?
X-23: You don’t seem the type.
Heyoka: Huh. Not good enough for your fancy snake gods, am I? Maybe I don’t want to tell you a story after all.
X-23: My apologies.
Heyoka: Apologies won’t fill my belly, White Devil. But they’re a start. Now, sit down.
Heyoka (stands): Good. Now. What do you know about snakes?
X-23: Not as much as I’d like.
Heyoka (nods): Nothing, then. Why did they send you out in the wild, fool, if you know nothing about the thing you’re here to confront?
X-23: My boss is a firm believer in on-the-job training.
Heyoka (rolls eyes to the heavens): Save us all from the amateurs. Well, I know a lot about snakes. Been dealing with them all my life. (pauses) Or at least the last forty years. Or maybe it’s sixty. Or… No, I think it’s all my life. Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another. But who’s to say what’s real, eh?
X-23: Certainly not me.
Heyoka: Definitely not you. Me? Maybe. Hmm. Where was I?
Heyoka: Oh, yeah! Snakes. Hate the bastards. They’re sneaky. Creep in under the grass, and you don’t know they’re there til you step on them. But by then, it’s too late. They’ve been doing that in Pannawau for forty… sixty… maybe two hundred years. Whichever. But they’ve been doing it, and I’ve been watching them do it, and trying not to step on any. But they’re getting thicker, and there are fewer places to step.
X-23: Two hundred years? That’s… around the time the first white settlers arrived in Pannawau, isn’t it? How old are you?
Heyoka: Old as I need to be. Now tell me something else, White Devil. What do you know about owls?
X-23: I know they eat snakes.
Heyoka: Ah, so you do know something!
X-23: I’m a fast learner.
Heyoka: Not fast enough. But I’ll try to get you up to speed. So. The snakes infested Pannawau… a long time ago. And the owls helped keep them under control. This is the way of things. This is nature. And when something from outside of nature interfered with that balance, the snakes and the owls worked together to expel it.
X-23: But aren’t the snakes from outside nature?
Heyoka: Who’s telling this story, me or you?
X-23: Just asking.
Heyoka: Well, don’t. Shut up and learn something. Now… Dammit, lost my train of thought again…
X-23: Snakes and owls, working together.
Heyoka: Right! Like in that horrible winter of 1816.
X-23: The Year Without a Summer.
Heyoka: What did I tell you about shutting up?
Heyoka: Yeah, yeah… So! 1816! They called it… The Year Without a Summer! Did you know that?
X-23: I may have heard of it.
Heyoka: Smarter and smarter! I must be rubbing off on you. The Veil was thin that year, let me tell you. Spirits and men crossing back and forth at will, the Dream leaking out into the Waking World… A year of chaos! A year of monsters! The Alo barely survived. The White Man didn’t. Except for the snakes. The snakes always find a way… (stares off into space)
X-23: But they worked with the owls that year?
Heyoka: Yes! When death came ripping through the Veil! Monsters! Raping and reaving, marauding and killing… The owls and the snakes worked together, to save our people. Mighty were the battles! Blood splashed the snow! And in the end, we drove them back. Back up the Mountain! Back through the Veil!
But the hole they had made in coming through was terrible indeed. Even the wisest among us could not heal it. But we could make a door! A door in the Mountain! One we could lock! Up where only eagles dare! And so we did, the owls and the snakes and the shaman. The Alo and their white children, so long lost, now returned. Those were good days. The worst days. So of course, they couldn’t last.
The White Man had been hurt badly by the monsters, and didn’t survive the winter. But the snakes did, and they brought more of the White Man to replace the dead. The old rivalries, and the old balance, returned. This is the way of things.
X-23: But the snakes aren’t happy with the way of things.
Heyoka: Idiot! Of course the snakes aren’t happy with the way of things! Who is? But most of us are helpless to change it. Not the snakes, though. The snakes have stepped outside of nature, and in doing so, seek to overturn its order. Forty years, they have stayed off the Mountain, away from the owls, gathering strength in the dark. Now there are too many snakes, and not enough owls.
We have neglected the owls. Spurned them. Banished them from our homes. Locked them up in cells. (turns to John Cheveyo) And for what? So you can interrogate them? You haven’t even bothered to learn their language! How were you going to do it? Let the White Devil rip the information from his mind?
(Luke Pallaton crosses hall at brisk clip, unlocks Nukpana’s cell, and enters. Kneels before it, takes one of its hands, and speaks in series of low hoots and coos. Nukpana uncovers face and responds uncertainly. Pallaton continues, speaking gently, reverently. Occasionally gestures at X-23. Nukpana stops cowering, responds, and stands. Pallaton stands with it, and walks it to cell door.)
Pallaton (to Heyoka): You’re right. But you don’t have to be an asshole about it.
Pallaton (to Cheveyo): I’m gonna drive this fellow back out to the Wambli Waste now. Okay, boss?
Cheveyo: …Yeah. Yeah, you go ahead. I don’t think he’s gonna tell us much, anyway.
Pallaton: He wasn’t even there for the killings. They just sent him out after Matthews.
X-23: Who did?
Pallaton: Whoever’s behind this. He doesn’t know. (shrugs) We all look alike to him. (leaves)
Heyoka: That kid doesn’t get my act at all.
Cheveyo: I think he gets it pretty good.
Heyoka: Hmph. You would. But I’d watch my back if I were you, Cheveyo. That boy’s gonna have your job.
Cheveyo (smiles): Looking forward to the day.
Heyoka (scowls): Me, too.
—Note: Heyoka was released an hour later, after a further conversation which X-23 has barred us from accessing in his brain. This is a severe breach of protocol, and an official complaint has been lodged with the Uni-Mind, pending judgment from Chief Roberts.—