Sasha Vasiliev, Vucari
I ran through the woods. Letting my mind drift in that space between animal and human. I just focused on feeling the cold night air on my snout, the way wind rustled my fur and the movement of my canine body.
“Sasha!” I heard my dad call, drawing me out of my trace. “It’s almost time to go!”
I turned around and ran back to the house where my father held the back door open for me.
“Come on, you don’t want to be late do you?” He asked in our native Russian, walking me to the bathroom door and opening it. “Get dressed.”
I went in and he closed the door behind me. Changing back to human form was easy, I just had to wish it and my body smoothly reassembled itself; first melding into an almost goo like form before becoming flesh and bones again. I could even grow or shrink, gaining or losing whatever mass I needed.
“Sorry, I had the jitters and I needed to take a run.” I explained from behind the door as I put my underwear and binder back on and fiddling with it until it flattened my chest acceptably. Even though I could become any animal, male or female, my human form was stuck in the way it’d been born as… I finished dressing up and left the bathroom.
“How do I look?”
“You look just perfect, zaychik.” My dad said, the shadow of a smile appearing at the edge of his graying mustache. He gently ruffled my short ashy blonde hair, one of many traits I hadn’t inherited from his Mongolian ancestry, being very much white passing. “Are you ready for this?”
“Ready as I could be. Where’s mama?”
“Finishing to pack the car.”
I nodded and grabbed my messenger’s bag and getting out the front door. As Dad had said, mama was waiting for us, packing the last of my things. Unlike my father, she was an ethnic Russian. We got into the family car and she drove off. It was a three hour ride to Voronezh and then I’d need to go through a twelve hour flight to America.
It was strange to think about it. Months ago I’d dreamed of leaving the country, seeing the world. In desperation, I’d secretly applied to Ravenhold; the american superhero school. I’d never expected it to work and yet out of thousands, I’d been selected… At least my parents had been supportive after they’d found out, mostly. As we went through the airport, I could see my mama tensing up.
“I guess this is it.” I said looking at the final gate.
“Sasha, baby,” mama said, dragging my against her chest tightly, “do you really have to go? I’ll miss you so much. We could get you into the Krasnoy Zvezdy, it’s only two hours away. We could visit you there.”
The ‘Akademiya Krasnoy Zvezdy’, or ‘Academy of the Red Star’ for English speakers, was the largest superhero academy in Russia, once upon a time it had been government sponsored during the height of the cold war, but after the fall of the union, it had been bought out by private investors.
“Mama, you know it’ll be better for me in America, at least for now.” After I had came out as trans two years prior I’d had to suffer bullying at school from staff and pupils alike. In a way, it was thanks to them I was leaving; my powers having manifested after three of them had ambushed me after school…
“Come on love, He’ll be on vacation before you know it and pestering you to make Pirozhki for the thousandth time that week. Isn’t that right Sasha?”
“I’m invoking article 51 of the constitution.” I said, raising my hands. That made mama smile. “I’ll come back as often as I can and I’ll write you everyday.” It was my turn to hug and kiss her.
The call for boarding rung through the airport. My father quickly stopped me to give me one of his sacred amulets, putting it around my neck before we all shared a quick prayer to Perun together. That done, I quickly gave them my goodbye before heading off to the plane. I sat down and opted to sleep the night off. Even though it was almost four in the morning, it’d be early morning when we’d reach America only to then take a bus to the school itself.
When we finally arrived at Ravenhold, after 23 hours of travel for me, I just wanted to transform and give my body the chance to move, but instead I stayed with the mass of new students as an American hero called the Raven divided us into groups. Much to my surprise, my own group even had a Tzari in it.
It was my first time seeing an alien in the flesh. Kursk and its outskirt were I lived weren’t exactly the most cosmopolitan place in the world and after the Tzari invasion, the few aliens Russia had had fled the country. After the bombing of Moscow had killed nearly seven million people at the end of the war, they hadn’t been welcome anymore, even if they had nothing with the Tzari.
She was tall, almost two feet taller than I was. I knew enough about Tzaries to tell by the shape of her jaw and the lack of a second set of tusk that she was female. Although her body was covered by technological armor, it left her fingers exposed, leaving her bony-clawed fingers visible. Her cat-like eyes went over our group silently. Her hair had been tied into a complex set of braids that hung behind her back. But most striking of all was the tattoo on her cheek, looking a little like a sideways ‘phi’. I had to admit… She was beautiful in her own way.
My staring was interrupted as one of the academy staff lead us to our dorms, which turned out was a house larger than my own. People introduced themselves over the pizza we’d been provided with and I received a few surprised looks when I introduced myself as Alexander, but nobody reacted badly or laughed…
A list of room assignment had been left on a cork board but being the smallest, I couldn’t quite read the top of the sheet. I looked around and saw another classmate not far who’d stayed away from the group.
They were a little taller than me — not that that meant much, at five feet and one inch just about everyone was — they had dark skin but it was fairly pale, making me think they were of mixed race. I couldn’t really pin them as a boy or girl, lacking feminine or masculine mark; no facial hair, no breast, no Adam’s apple.
“Hello?” I said waving to them. “I’m Alexander, but you can call me Sasha. Could you tell me who I share a room with? It’s a little too high for me.” I said, making sure to chose my words correctly. Although I’d studied English, I didn’t speak it out loud often.
“I’m Clarke, pronouns they and them.” I couldn’t place their accent outside somewhere in Europe but it definitely wasn’t american. Like their appearance, their voice was neither masculine or feminine, just tethering on the edge in between.
“Where are you from?”
“The Netherlands. Let me guess, you’re Russian?”
They took a few steps toward the board and looked at the list, running a finger on it.
“You’re roomed with…” They stopped and glared at me. “Shekaree… You’re not going to be a bitch to her are you?”
“Why would I do that?”
“Do I really have to point it out? She’s an alien…” They said and I looked around, finding her standing in a corner, her posture stiff. Shekaree, that was her name? I had to say, it sounded rather nice. Of all people I was rooming with her.
“Because I’m Russian you think I am prejudiced?”
“Last I checked your type isn’t too kind to aliens. Plus, you’re openly wearing nazi symbols.” They said, poking the Kolovrat my father had given me.
“I’m pagan, not racist. And that’s a Kolovrat one of our holy symbol, just because racists have used it doesn’t mean it’s a nazi symbol.” I snapped. “And I might not look like it, but I’m half Kalmyk.”
“Doesn’t change the fact Russians aren’t exactly alien-friendly.”
“She isn’t responsible for what happened. Neither are the vast majority of Tzaries, in fact they rebelled against the leader who was responsible. I don’t agree with the way some of my countrymen act. Now goodbye.”
I stepped away, not giving them the time to say anything else. In only a few minutes, I’d already come to dislike them and their judgemental thinking. I hovered around for a moment, trying to think of what to do next when my eyes settled on Shekaree again, she was alone in her corner, apparently the others hadn’t felt like including her. So I decided to greet her.
“Zdravstvuyte!” I said a little too stiffly. With the nerves, I’d reverted back to Russian.
“What?” She replied, her accent fairly thick. “Se habla Español? Parle-tu Français?” I shook my head, I only understood enough to know I didn’t speak those language. “You speak English?”
“Yes! Yes, English! I mean hello. I’m Sasha.” I babbled.
“Karee.” She said, putting a hand on her chest.
“I thought it was Shekaree.” I mumbled, her lip pursed.
“Only for… close people.” She explained, searching for the word for a moment. “Karee for you and others.” She pointed at the crowd.
“Okay.” I nodded. I wasn’t familiar with the tradition, but I didn’t question it. “Are you hungry? Pizza is nice. Have you eaten it before?”
I nodded toward the counter and she understood, following me. As she came close, I noticed the others stepping away from her ever so slightly, a few glaring at her before looking away.
I picked a slice and took a bite, showing her how to eat it. She hesitated before picking one of her own and sniffing it before taking a very careful bite.
“How is it?”
“Very…” She paused. “Not expected?”
“In a good way?”
“I believe so.”
“I’m glad you like it.” I said with a smile.
“You are strange for human.”
“In a good way or a bad way?”
“I don’t know now.”
“Guess I’ll have to make sure it’s a good way.” I answered with a smile.