Snakehead

1

Ray Crisp, A.K.A. Berzerker, looked out the window to see a jet-black, high-end sedan pull into the Xavier School For Gifted Youngsters' driveway. Professor Xavier, Wolverine and Cyclops were there awaiting the school's newest student, and everyone was curious as to who he would be, what powers he would have. The back right door opened and a teenage boy emerged. He was of average height and build, with brown hair, though it was too far to see the color of his eyes. Something metallic glinted around his throat. He turned, and pulled a travel bag out of the car. The car left almost as soon as the door was shut.

Thomas Salmons watched as the car left him behind, and tried to subdue the anger he felt toward his father.

"Mr. Salmons, I presume?" Xavier smiled at the new arrival.

"Yes." The voice was tinny, metallic, and came, not from his mouth, but from the thin metal device encircling his throat. "I am." They shook hands, almost like businessmen completing a transaction.

"This is Mr. Logan and Mr. Summers." Xavier indicated the other two men.

"Wolverine and Cyclops?" His mechanical voice betrayed little emotion.

"You are familiar with the X-Men?"

"Isn't everyone?"

"Storm, Miss Monroe, wanted to be here as well, but she's feeling under the weather, no pun intended."

Thomas was too tired, too depressed to laugh. His father had arranged this, to protect the family name. Right now Marcus Salmons was telling his friends in The Hellfire Club that his youngest son was at a boarding school in Europe. He was somewhat grateful that his father was too ashamed to send him to The Hellfire Academy, he'd heard awful things about that particular school from his older brother, Richard, who worked for the club.

"How many of the students know sign language? In case my vocal projector is damaged."

"Most, it is part of the basic curriculum. Many mutants lack the ability to physically speak."

"Though I doubt from the same reason as myself." Thomas almost smiled, but didn't. He opened his mouth.

Ray's jaw dropped as the kid's jaw distended and a long, scaly form slithered out of his mouth into the sunlight. From his window he could see it clearly, an arrow-shaped head with glittering yellow-green eyes.

He had a serpent for a tongue.

It was about four feet long with the color and patterned scales of a rattler. It swayed in the air for a moment, its red tongue flickering, before withdrawing back into the boy's mouth. He couldn't see the expressions on any of the assembled staff, but he was practically floored. He wondered what Toad would think of that.

"How can you breath like that?" Scott asked in shock.

"I have two breathing tubes, one on each side of my . . . Tongue." Thomas stated, "But I have to eat through the serpent's mouth." He made a strange sound that was meant to be a chuckle.

"Very well. Do you wish to meet the other students now, or would you rather rest?"

"Perhaps after I unpack?"

"Your father . . . Didn't ask, but you'll have to share a room. The school has somewhat limited space."

"Who am I sharing a room with?"

"Let's go meet him, shall we?"

Thomas slung his bag over his shoulder, waving off Logan's offer to carry it. He followed Xavier through the doors and into the building, past several gawking kids. One was a teenage girl wearing a loud yellow coat, another a tall, skinny boy with straw-colored hair. As they reached the stairs Thomas was about to ask how Xavier expected to climb the stairs in a wheelchair when the chair lifted itself up off the floor and began floating up the stairs.

"Telekinesis. I am a telepath and telekinetic." Xavier answered the unasked question.

"Are you reading my mind right now?"

"No. I try not to intrude upon my students' privacy."

As they reached the top of the stairs two boys stood there, watching. One was tall, about six feet, handsome, with green eyes and blonde hair dyed orange in the front and made-up like a stylized sunrise. The other . . . He stood somewhat aloof to the side, a purple haired youth with an arrogant air about him and a t-shirt that read "Kill All Humans." He he was leaning against the wall with his arms akimbo.

I hope he's not my roommate. Thomas thought.

Don't worry about that, Snakehead. I work alone.

"Mr. Quire, we do not enter other peoples minds without good cause. How many times . . ."

"Blah, blah, blah. If you're not reading his mind, how did you know I was talking to him?" Kid Omega challenged.

"Because I was reading your mind, Quentin. I know you too well . . ."

"You don't know anything about me." Quentin Quire replied haughtily, then jerked his thumb at the blond boy, "He's your roommate."

"Ray Crisp." Ray extended a hand and smiled, "They call me Berzerker."

"Thomas Salmons." Thomas shook his hand, "I guess I'm Snakehead now."

"Salmons? Of the New Haven Salmons?" Quentin asked, though he knew the answer already, "Your dad's a big-shot member of The Hellfire Club, why'd he send you here?"

Thomas' brown eyes sparkled wickedly, "To see what a true jack-ass looked like. Now that I've seen you, I guess I can go home."

Ray and Logan laughed, and Xavier had to stifle a smile.

"Whatever. " Quentin turned and walked away.

"Don't mind him." Ray smirked, "I think a rabid badger crawled up his butt and had babies."

"Ray. Please, let's be civil." Xavier interjected, but he was glad to see a smile cross Thomas' face. He seemed a very unhappy young man, and maybe they could help him.

...

The room was about the size of a hotel room, two beds, a dresser, a TV and a bathroom. There was a large window facing the driveway, and several posters for Punk and Heavy Metal bands adorned the walls. A few personal affects were placed on a small table at the head of the bed closer to the window.

"I take it that is your bed." Thomas pointed at the window-side bed, "It doesn't matter to me."

"I'll let you get settled in, then introduce you to the other students." Xavier turned and left the two alone.

"So, Ray, what's your mutation? Too darn good-looking?"

"Yeah, there's that. And this," Ray held out his right hand, and visible electrical arcs began dancing across his palm and around his fingers. "By the way, if you're hitting on me, I'm straight. Now Anole . . ."

"I'm not hitting on you. I'm just saying you don't look like a snake or a fish or something. You can pass for 'human'." He reached up and touched his collar, "Please, be careful with that, I'd hate to lose my voice or get burned to a crisp."

Ray smiled, "Don't worry. I'm careful with my powers. I have to be. If I should start sparking in the pool or the shower . . . I'd fry myself with everyone else."

Tom snapped his fingers, "I remember now. I saw you on TV. You blew up two police cars." He smiled, "It was totally self-defense, from what I saw, but how'd you get away with it?"

"Yeah, that. Some nuts had just blown up the school, with me and everyone else in it, then the cops came after us. When it all calmed down, they knew they couldn't make the charges stick without the ACLU jumping on them. So they let it slide. But let's just say I'm not on the police department's Christmas card list."

"You're lucky you're not in The Vault doing Iron Pig's laundry."

Ray laughed, "Iron Pig?"

"I hate that guy."

"Me too."

Thomas pulled a small, heavily wrapped item from his bag. He carefully unwrapped it, revealing a small Egyptian sphinx made of some sort of shiny black stone. It sat serenely on a base covered in cuneiform. He set it carefully on the table next to his bed.

"Cool. Can I see that?"

"Sure. I got it in Egypt. I guess you didn't have much time to see the sights when you were fighting Apocalypse."

"What's it say?"

"My best guess, Made in China."

They both laughed.

Ray set the statuette back on the table.

"No doubt you saw my . . . Power from the window." Thomas said softly as he unpacked his clothes, a few photos and books, "It was so sudden. One day I woke up and I had a rattlesnake for a tongue. I panicked and bit myself, fortunately I'm immune to my own poison. My father was already angry that my brother fell in love with a mutant, then I turned out to be a mutant. I thought he was going to have a stroke."

"At least he didn't throw you out into the street. I lived in a sewer for two years before I came here."

Thomas turned in surprise, "You were a Morlock?"

Now it was Ray who was surprised, "How do you know about the Morlocks?"

"Richard, he's my brother. His girlfriend Tommy is a Morlock."

"The rainbow girl?"

"The same. Dad practically disowned Rick for that." He pulled out a picture and handed it to Ray. It depicted a young man with brown hair and beautiful woman who seemed to made of translucent streaks of brilliant colors.

Ray nodded, "Yeah. That's Tommy alright. I wonder what Callisto thought about that."

"From what I understand, she wasn't happy."

"Sounds like Callisto. Her power is permanent PMS." He paused, "That . . . er, snake . . . Is it poisonous?"

"Deadly. I call him Junior." He said casually, "Tommy told me about a Morlock with a long tongue with a head on the end . . ."

Ray nodded, "Bliss! I thought I'd seen something like that before. Only her bite just knocks you out, and she doesn't have scales."

"Maybe I can meet her some time." He smirked, "So, is this Quentin person always a dick?"

Ray laughed, "I think 'dick' is his middle name."

There was a knock on the door. Ray opened it to reveal a small, reddish-brown creature that looked like a cross between an insect and an alligator stuffed into a schoolboy's uniform. He was wearing wearing wire-rim glasses that almost distracted from his blood-red eyes and maw full of fangs.

"Greetings, Ray. I heard we had a new classmate." The creature walked into the room and extended a taloned hand, "I'm Broo. I would like to welcome you to The Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters."

"Hello," Thomas said, shaking the chitinous hand, "Thomas Salmons. They call me Snakehead."

Well, up till meeting Quentin Quire, nobody had called him that, but it had a certain ring to it.

"Snakehead. A rather curious appellation. Why do they call you that?"

Thomas showed him. The serpent was even more impressive close up, it was about as thick as Ray's wrist with glittering scales arranged in a diamond-shaped pattern. The eyes were yellow with vertically slit green pupils.

"How do you fit that thing in your mouth?" Ray asked, amazed.

"I have no idea. I just do."

Broo scratched his chitinous chin with a thick talon, "Fascinating. How do you eat?"

"The snake eats for me."

"Incredible."

"Sorry. Broo's an alien, and subtlety isn't his strong point." Ray explained.

"Really. What kind of alien?"

"Have you ever heard of the Brood?"

"No."

"You will, eventually. My . . . People are, sadly, savage parasitoids who implant their eggs in the bodies of others species and when they hatch, the host is physically and mentally transformed into a new Brood."

"Like the Mind Flayers from D&D?"

"Yes, the analogy between the Brood transformation and Illithid ceremorphosis is quite appropriate. Most people use a flawed Xenomorph analogy, however, we transform the body, we don't burst out of it."

"Who was your host?" He seemed remarkably unmoved by the horror that was the Brood reproductive cycle. Of course, his vocal projector had a limited range of emotional tones.

"I do not know. I was removed from the unfortunate's body and artificially grown in a government laboratory. . . They can do that, you know. Save the host and the Broodling, though most of the time they kill the Broodling."

"Rather unfair. It's not their fault they got implanted in somebody."

"Perhaps. But, unfortunately, most of my race are not like myself. You see, I am a mutant as well. I feel kindness, friendship, love. The Brood hate and fear these qualities so much that they tried to kill me several times. They see me as an abomination. Most Brood are born full of fear and hunger, totally amoral. They kill without mercy. They simply can't feel mercy or kindness or friendship, and those that do, like me, are killed or driven away. All other races fear them. They don't believe that they can risk letting them live."

"What will you look like fully grown?"

"Don't encourage him," Ray whispered in Thomas' ear, "He'll go on forever." The blond boy stood straight and smiled, "I'm sure Broo will show you the file on the Brood later, but they're expecting us downstairs."

As the trio headed down the stairs, Thomas turned to the young Brood, "I really would like to learn more. I'm an amateur entomolgyst . . ."

"What a coincidence! I am an insectoid! I think we will make great friends!"

...

Later,

I can see his guts! How can you stand it! Thomas signed to Ray.

"We get used to it. Besides, Glob's Quentin's friend, and about as friendly," Ray whispered as Thomas tore his eyes away from the translucent youth known as Glob Herman.

He could at least put on some clothes! Thomas signed back.

"You want to tell him that?"

Thomas shrugged. He'd met most of the students and faculty, some seemed nice, some seemed annoying, and some were world-class jerks. He already foresaw clashes with Cyclops, Quentin, Glob and a few others.

Oh well, he was used to it. Except the bullies he'd known before didn't have super powers.

...

That night,

"Ray, I'm sorry about being such a jerk."

"What do you mean?" Ray was genuinely surprised, Thomas had been very friendly toward him, and had a streak of wicked humor that put him in stitches.

"Here I've been bitching about my dad for being ashamed of me, when your parents . . . Well, you know."

"You think you're being selfish? Insensitive? Nope, you just had your dad shuffle you off. Your life has been turned upside down. You have genuine pain, and just because other people have suffered doesn't mean you can't admit you're hurting too." He sat up in his bed, "What you can't do. What you can't ever do is give up. Don't let it beat you. And don't hold that resentment, that hate inside, or you'll go crazy. If you feel like you can't handle it, or you just need somebody to talk to, well, talk to me. Or Xavier, or Logan. Now there's a guy who understands pain. Both our lives together are a picnic compared to what he's been through."

"Thanks, Ray. It's all so . . . Confusing."

"That's life, man, that's life. An' it's a lot better than the alternative."

"I never thought about that. But you guys have all been pretty close to The Reaper before. And, if I'm going to be one of you, I'm going to have to accept that, too."

Ray smiled, "It's usually not that bad, but there have been times . . . Like with Apocalypse, when I thought I'd bought it. But we're well trained, and we're fighting for something bigger than ourselves. That's what makes it worth it."

"I'm . . . Weak." Thomas said softly, "I'm not super strong, I can't heal wounds in seconds. I can't call down lightning or summon ice or cause explosions. I can bite people with a deadly venom if I'm within four feet-six inches of them. And X-Men don't kill. So what can I do?"

"You don't have to be superhuman to learn how to fight. And not all X-Men are suited for battle. It's important to have people who can take care of things behind the scenes; communications, repairs, tech, research and intel. All the power in the world wouldn't have stopped Apocalypse if no one had known anything about him and his weaknesses. You have to give yourself credit. You haven't even started yet for God's sake, who knows what you can do."

"I . . . You're right." He smiled softly, "I have to be good at something."

"Be good at whatever you want. Your only limits are the ones you make for yourself."

"Thanks Ray. You're pretty good at this."

"I learned from the best. You think I was all super-soldier when I crawled out of the sewers?" He yawned, "Now shut up, we need to get an early start tomorrow."

"Sure Thing."

Thomas removed his vocal projector and set it on the table, he never could sleep with that thing on. As was his habit, he moved the pillows to the foot of the bed and his feet toward the headboard. That was how he slept, always had. Ray was somewhat baffled by this, but he was used to weird habits.

After a few minutes Thomas got out of bed, went to the window and silently looked down upon the lit driveway.

"Are you alright?"

Tom turned and signed Yes. Just . . . Thinking.

Then he crawled back into bed and fell into a silent sleep.

...

To be continued . . .

Notes:

This is a multiple cross-over, combining characters from X-Men: Evolution and various X-Men titles. Ray and some of the students, like Bobby Drake and Jamie Maddox and the staff are from Evolution. Toad and the others, Evo. Broo, Quentin, Glob, Anole and the Morlocks are from the comics.

The Hellfire Club is the old Hellfire Club, the one NOT run by psychotic 12 year olds, but they have The Hellfire Academy, under Emma Frost.

Thomas' older brother, Richard is a Hellfire Club operative. In the comics, Richard Salmons fell in love with the Morlock Tommy (who is a she, by the way) and was killed by The Marauders trying to protect her. He's a canon character.

If they get married, both Rick's brother and his wife will be named 'Tommy'. Awkward . . .

Thomas Salmons/Snakehead is my character. And yes, I do sleep with my head at the foot of the bed and my feet at the headboard.