Most would have thought it weird; a family of four racially mismatched children with four parents, but to them it was the most natural thing in the world; there was mom, mama, papa and daddy who loved each other.
That day, the eight of them packed into the van and travelled to the marina where they would take an early spring boat tour around the coast. When they arrived, Uncle John was already waiting for them.
Uncle John wasn’t related to them but he’d been a friend of the family ever since they had been little and thus the native american man had earned the title.
The went sailing through the coast and although the others had fun, Ronald the youngest was clinging to the boat mast in terror.
“What’s wrong?” His mom asked.
“I don’t want the sharks to eat me.” Ron said, his memory still freshly scarred from seeing Jaws after Malkie had taken it from their parent’s collection so they could watch it in secret.
“Then you better not get close to the edge because they’ll jump and snap. Then they draw you underwater and eat you..”
“Victoria, it’s not funny, leave him alone” Her sister Shana said.
“There are no sharks here, Ron.” His mom said.
It was a lie, but it reassured the six years old who took a few steps away from the mast and toward the bow and he looked into the water.
That was when his sister decided to sneak behind him and grab his waist with a roar.
Ron didn’t think, in the surprise he pushed her away and she tumbled overboard and into the sea.
The water was frigid and the current dragged her away before anyone would react, she found herself under the partially broken ice sheet where she hit her head. She tried to remember her swimming lesson but it didn’t help. Salty water entered her lung and she tried to couch it out, only letting more in.
Her lungs burned from the lack of oxygen, she felt her thoughts become muddied, she knew she was going to die...
That’s when it happened.
Her mind broke; suddenly she was on another world, in another time, in another form. In a split second she relived her life as something else. But the dream faded, erasing itself from her conscious memories, becoming a distant dream only remembered in hazy glimpses come morning.
Still, she felt stronger. She swam correctly this time, propulsed by her powerful limbs. She reached the safety of the ice shelf and collapsed there, her mind was hazy and her mind shut off and everything became black.
She awoke sometime later, her mind was clearer now. Enough to realize the change that had happened. She wasn’t the little girl she had been in the morning, her skin had been replaced by thick white fur, her nose had become an elongated black snout and her limbs had changed too.
She didn’t know what to do so she remained there, waiting for someone to find her. After many long hours three men came close and she went their way. Alarmed, the men pointed their weapons at her. Rather than continue she flattened herself and his her head with her paws
She tried to say her uncle’s name but the sound came distorted, she didn’t know how to properly vocalize in her new form, she tried to repeat it but with no success…
Her uncle came forward to examine her and she slowly rose up.
She tried to think of a way to tell him who she was and after a moment it came to her. With her finger, she spelled her name in the snow.
“Victoria, is that you?”
She nodded her head frantically.
‘Help’ she wrote.
They took her back to the city and her Uncle called her parents saying they had to talk.
“We’ve found Victoria.” She heard her uncle say. “But there’s something you need to know… Actually, it would be better if you saw for yourself.
Victoria took a step toward her parents but her mother recoiled in horror at the sight of her. She started screaming; it wasn’t her daughter, it was a monster…
All she wanted was to tell them; ‘I'm okay’ or ‘It’s me.’ but she couldn’t.
Instead she ran. Not far, only to the next street corner before collapsing and crying. Her parents wouldn’t look at her. They didn’t want her… She was a monster now.
Her uncle called for help and they came to pick her up. Allowing her to take a few things with her before leaving. Her siblings were nowhere to be seen.
“I’ll visit.” John said in farewell.
He never came… Neither did anyone else...
The center they took her was slightly out of town and surrounded by walls to keep intruders and snoops at bay, an old lady calling herself the director escorted her inside and into what seemed like a normal living room.
The room she’d entered had a few others who like her had been transformed into monstrous creatures; a boy with dark skins broken by luminous cracks, a girl who was more plant than human and another girl made of amorphous dark liquid who lived inside of a bubble.
“This is going to be your new home Victoria.” The woman said. “We’ll take good care of you and help you adapt to your new form and soon you’ll be just like a normal girl.”
The plant girl came her way. “Hello there.”
“Thea, this is Victoria. She will be staying here from now on. She transformed this morning and currently can’t speak yet. I expect you and the others to help her adjust and that you will be good to her.
Over the next few days, she learned more about the others. Thea was the most well adjusted of the group, unlike Ricken and Julie she liked her new condition, it had taken her out of a broken home and she was at peace with herself. Ricken the glowing boy was hard to approach, he was angry and bitter at what had happened to him.
Last was Julie the bubble girl, she was simply sad. Unlike the others her parents hadn’t abandoned her, but she lived in the center because she was too dangerous to keep elsewhere, anyone she touch would be dead or severely injured, parts of them just annihilated and she couldn’t control herself, she tried to attack anything at arm’s length, hence why she spent all her time inside of a containment bubble the others lugged around for her.
She spent three years in the center. Three years to learn how to talk again, how to manipulate things with her new four digit hands, how to handle and identify the new range smells and sounds open to her and to adapt to the loss of her red color vision.
Others came and went; a lizard girl who died of an illness they couldn’t treat, a carapaced boy who ran away and joined a villain group, but the three who had been there stayed along with a new kid; a non anthropomorphic feline boy who could teleport around who was calling himself blink that quickly became her friend.
And then one night she saw a declaration, the anchorage branch of the guardians was officially creating a young guardian team.
She made her way upstairs to the office and knocked on the door.
“How may I help you Victoria?” The director asked.
“I want to join the young guardians. They announced it.”
“Ah yes. I’m aware of it, tell me why do you want to join?”
“I want to do things. I want to help however I can… I don’t want to stay caged here forever…”
“I will think about it.”
Heart heavy, Victoria left the office.
A week later, a letter came in the mail. It was an invitation; an opportunity to become a hero and it had Victoria’s name on it.
“I’m proud of you.” Thea said, giving her friend a hug.
“How can you join the guardians? Why would you risk your life for those who hate us?” Blink snapped, unlike her, he wasn’t thrilled.
“I want to see the world, I want to help people.”
“But you’ll get hurt. I don’t want to lose you like we lost Emily…”
“I’ll be alright. I’m tough you know.”
Blink still didn’t look any happier to she licked his furry head gently in a reassuring fashion. Although he had transformed far later than she had, Blink was a few months older than her.
“Listen, I’ll visit. All the time.”
After a few days she was taken away to the local military base for training. Nineteen teenagers had been accepted into the program for a twelve week training that would root out those who would not do and over the following weeks, the the recruits dwindled from nineteen to only six. Five humans and one protean.
Ingot, Volley, Buzzkill, Ballista, Tomboy and Her who was then named Wechuge.
It had come to her one nostalgic night, remembering the stories uncle John had told her about beaver mythology.
Shortly before her graduation she was called into the supervisor’s office. There were two men in suits along with her instructor.
“What is it?” She asked.
“These men are from the public relation department, we’ve been working with them to finalize the launch of the new team and make sure everything goes well.” Kickback explained.
“I’m Davis, this is Anderson.” One of them introduced himself. “We have some serious concerns about a few issues with your image.”
Victoria sat down and let them talk.
“First of all,” Anderson said. “We need you to wear some form of outfits. Despite your current condition you are still technically subject to decency laws and we want to avoid the potential outrage that could result in potentially showing a minor’s genitalia on television.”
“Our second problem; We can’t let you call yourself Wechuge.”
“Why?” Was all she said.
“For one, you are not athabascan. We can’t endorse cultural appropriation without repercussion, after the wooden samurai disaster we’ve doubled down on problematic imagery. For second we’ve worked very hard to salvage cape reputation after detroit; project a family friendly image, make televised violence palatable to the masses and reassure the people that the days of roving gangs of superpowered thugs are no longer a thing. Naming yourself after a mythological monster is a step in the wrong direction.”
“What am I supposed to call myself? Cuddly the teddy?”
“We’ve brainstormed. How much do you like Lewis Carroll as an author?”
“My parents used to tell us the stories, Alice was my favorite when I was in first grade, I went as her for halloween once...”
“Well then, we’ve thought of the name Bandersnatch from Mr. Carroll’s Through the looking glass.”
“I like it.”
A week later the team became official and she was part of it as Bandersnatch for the next two years, living through good days and tragedies.
And for all those days, Anderson and Davis remained on her case; to growl less during fights, to avoid clawing her enemies and instead rely on strength and body weight to incapacitate foes, to be children friendly. Visiting hospitals, schools and other venues became routine.
All to show that she wasn’t one of the scary one. That bandersnatch was a good protean...
Giving kids rides, posing with them, playing demeaning games, letting them pet her; nothing was more important than PR, especially her dignity and pride.
When they were almost done the PR guys gave away official merchandise. Including a popular plush of her.
When Victoria looked at the plush of herself, there was always a sense of dread that arose in her guts. She couldn’t help but think about it. There were more plush of her in the room alone than there were Bandersnatches in the world. She was alone, two or three million divergents on earth, between one to two hundred thousand of them protean, but none of them were like her…
“Is it my turn?” One of the kids asked, taking her out of her bubble.
“Of course.” She put him on her shoulder and played with him.
When they were done, she went back to the headquarter and went to wash up, remove the children’s scent from her.
When she came out of the shower room and saw a dazed looking girl in a hoodie sitting on the couch and staring at nothing. She didn’t mind her and strutted to her mat, laying down and stretching her muscles.
She felt a hand touch her and begin stroking her.
Any other day she would have snapped but that day, she was just too tired. The girl’s hand gently caressed her, rubbing over erogenous zones on her body and making her feel hot and excited.
It’s nice... She thought.