The eggs appeared overnight, clogging the streets and sidewalks, each of them as large as a very small car. The thickest clumps lay along the base of the Three Towers themselves, of course, every supervillain’s favorite attack site. Anybody who saw those eggs, who noticed the way that they throbbed and wiggled, would have told you that nothing good was about to crack out of them.
Not that anybody panicked. Residents of Bledsoe City were used to these kinds of days. New Yorkers might be proud of their reputation for smack talk and tiny apartments. Los Angelenos may always be the first to tell you how superficial their lives are, how fragile the connections that bind them to their friends and so-called loved ones. The occasional supervillain siege was part of what made living in Bledsoe special. Everybody knew the drill: you stayed at home and waited it out, in the basement if you had one, in the bathtub if you didn’t. It was no more and no less frightening than inclement weather.
So nobody witnessed Snake-Boy’s birth. Nobody realized that he had come out different. His brood-brothers, the other snake-boys hatching all around him, didn’t even notice. To be fair, he did look exactly like them: snake-faced, human-bodied, scaly all over, tan in the front, black in the back. His brothers had stepped bright-eyed out of their shells, though, the kind of powerful young henchpeople who always stand, who always lean back on their heels when they stand, who always face the sky slightly. Not Snake-Boy. He had tumbled out of his broken egg with a mewling cry, like a startled kitten. And there he remained.
He tried to say, “Hello?”
But his brothers didn’t hear him. They had begun to sing, each of them using all five of his mouths (the face-mouth and the ones belonging to the four actual snakes twisting out of each snake-boy’s shoulder-blades). “He is the SerpenTerrorist,” they sang. “He is the rightful ruler of the Solar System. He is the rightful mayor of Bledsoe City. He is handsomer than God.”
Then they bolted, as one, toward the Three Towers.
What is wrong with me? Snake-Boy wondered, as he staggered up onto his feet. Where did they learn that song? Who is the SerpenTerrorist, anyway? He stretched his half-awake shoulder-snakes into the sky behind him, like wings. Was this an interesting enough pose? He wanted to be like everybody else. He wanted to be ready to “bite for and fight for and die for” (as one part of their song went), “snake-strong, snake-proud, snake-sure.” But he was none of those things. Maybe, though, if he just went along, stepped into the running stream, pretended to be what his brothers had been born being, he might somehow transform into one of them. He broke into a trot, hoping to catch up, but he was too slow, too clumsy and dumb. He fell down onto his tender knees.
His own shoulder-snakes twisted themselves around in front of his face. They hovered there, slippery against one another. He thought for a second that they might even bite him. They did not. They flicked their tiny forked tongues, though. They blinked their bright, empty eyes. They spoke into his brain: Loser. They laughed at him, snake-laughter, from the very bottom of their throats, which were their whole bodies.
“Okay,” he said. “That does it.”
It was fine for him to question himself, but he wasn’t about to answer to his own appendages. He grabbed the shoulder-snakes just below their jaws, two to a hand, shoved them behind him, held them there, until he felt them slacken, become a part of himself again.
He got up. He took one step, to test his feet. He took another. He took a third step. And so on. And then he ran, beautifully and well, toward the growing, glistening, rumbling clump of his brothers at the base of the Three Towers, as if he had always known how to run, as if he had always known why he was here.
That’s where he met Sky Prince.