Snake-Boy stayed on the edge of the plaza. The crowd of superhero kids playing their superhero games moved too quickly, screamed too loudly and tensely for his tastes. Snake-Boy had grown accustomed to his quiet cage, to the static ticking of the Clockwork Brownstone around him, the rhythm of life in the care of an older man. Even so, he felt drawn enough to the proceedings to circle them and stare. His shoulder-snakes, like dogs on leashes, hissed and wiggled, snapped themselves toward the center of the plaza, snapped themselves back, then looked at him with eyes and tongues agog, wanting to go play.
Settle, he said to them in his head. Down.
There went Aeroboy, holding a flaming football high above his head, passing it back and forth between his own hands like a hot potato. The Action Five flew circles in the air around him, to protect him from the opposing team, or to confuse him in his flight, or both. The Tornado and Shamzon gave chase, as did seven or eight others. On the sidelines opposite Snake-Boy, Ten Thousand Little Sisters and Space Grace and Cleopatra 9000 and Dangerous Belinda led the cheers.
“Push’em back, push ’em back, waaay back!”
Snake-Boy knew all of their names. He knew more than that. The Great Hunter had compiled notes on every superhero — “Character Profiles” he called them — and spent hours upon hours drilling their names, costumes, powers, and known weaknesses into his protege using flashcards and electroshock (for incorrect answers). This had been, so far, the sole extent of Snake-Boy’s “training.” If he hadn’t known better, he would have imagined that he was being trained to be a supervillain, rather than to be the sidekick of one of the world’s most beloved heroes.
Past the cheerleading squad, dozens of flightless hero kids, and even a few normals, watched the game. Lady Dogface and Sky Prince were sitting on a blanket together, sharing a cone of cotton candy.
Aeroboy fell out of the sky. He landed on the ground in front of Snake-Boy, then rolled into Snake-Boy’s legs, taking him down.
Aeroboy said, “Ouch.”
Snake-Boy said, “Oof.”