Summary: Victor killed a man, three days before they brought him to America.
Notes: Written for dark_fest 2012.

Cultural Relativity

Victor killed a man, three days before they brought him to America.

It was self-defence, though no doubt the ignorant children around him wouldn't think it so. They would claim he should have tried to find a non-violent solution - as if there could have been any other outcome except to let himself be killed. The soldier would have shot him dead, dragged his corpse before the Baron to claim the reward for ridding the country of a witch child and a dangerous Gypsy rebel. If Victor had left him alive to rejoin his patrol, he would have brought the Baron's army down on the Zefiro camp.

The only way out had been to make sure he struck first.

Afterwards Victor had run from the scene of his crime; he'd vomited and shaken. He'd seen the face of his victim in his dreams... but he had killed. And he knows now that, should the need arise, he could kill again.

His hands will be steadier next time. It was necessary. Necessary. He refuses to be weak.

The nightmares have faded since his arrival at the college. He no longer sees his victim's face in lurking shadows, but the knowledge of the act is burned into his perfect memory, like every detail that he's ever learned. He knows now how muscles tremble in moments of extremity, how long it takes for wheezing, throttled breaths to die away. He has learned that dealing death is slow, unpleasant and ugly... but not difficult. In the end, all it takes is to be strong and stay relentless.

Victor has learned those lessons well throughout his life. Yet they place him now among these callow American children who know nothing of hardship, and expect him to regard them as his peers. How can he look with anything but the utmost contempt on those who have the great resources of this college handed to them, and choose instead to spend their hours in mindless thrall to intoxication, pointless sports and hormones?

Tonight yet another party has spread into the hallways, idiots braying laughter and sweatily groping in corners while they spill their much prized alcohol over each other and everything. The forces charged with preventing such things are absent or indifferent, if not part of the revelry themselves. No one here in this decadent country has any concept of duty or dedication.

Victor would avoid the area entirely if he had any choice, but tonight his lab work kept him occupied too late to have a chance to eat his evening meal. The cafeteria is closed up and dark, and striking out into the city in search of food would pull him from his studies for too long. The American stores and restaurants always make him dizzy, dazzling lights, too many brands, too many choices.

All the visible evidence of the glut of plenty in this land can't overcome the voice of gnawing instinct that reminds him the winter months are coming, that starvation will all too soon arrive to howl around the campsite like a wolf driven down the mountains by the snows. He has to eat while there is still food, every meal in his belly a thin layer of insulation against icy death. Even the vile artificial snacks that are heaped in plastic bowls around the fringes of the party are better than the rancid, rotten scraps he has choked down in past days of desperation.

So he prowls the party, a predator among a crowd of fat and pampered show dogs, too dull-witted to recognise that he is not their kind.

An overmuscled muscled oaf in a football jersey stumbles into his path, draping an uninvited arm over Victor's shoulder. "Hey, Doomsie!" he says, overloud. "Finally crawled out of your lab to visit the real world?"

As the girls beside him giggle, desperate for his attention, Victor finds himself staring at the footballer's thick neck, wondering how much of a struggle he would put up if Victor were to strangle him. Not much, no doubt; his muscle is the product of unnatural, controlled exercise, absent the calluses and scars of true back-breaking work. On the inside he is weak, as all Americans are weak.

No one else in this room has ever buried the dead with their own hands; had to watch powerless while men were kicked and beaten for the crime of being Gypsies, while the women suffered worse indignities at the hands of the Baron's men. No one here has ever known what it is to be without the most basic requirements of survival.

Victor itches to throttle this imbecile until he sees the realisation dawn, the first glimmer of what it is to truly fear those who have power over you. He wants to kick and scratch and bite his way through the crowd until they understand, until they see the world for what it is and cower before his greater strength instead of looking down on him with their unearned contempt.

But he is still a foreigner here, permitted access to the college only while he serves the US military's bidding, while he plays along with their smug delusion that those of every country in the world want nothing more than to be like Americans. If they come to realise that he has goals of his own beyond making weapons for them, then he risks everything.

So he shakes the oaf off coldly with a sneer that hardly conveys the true depth of his loathing. "If you believe that butting heads with your fellow simpletons on the football field in some way constitutes 'the real world', then I fear your life outside these halls will be neither very long nor satisfactory," he says, and stalks away.

As he pushes his way through the crowd, he hears laughter bubble behind him. Some snide remark, no doubt; they mock him for his accent, his intensity, his hard work, the simple fact that he exists outside their narrow understanding. Like zoo animals, incapable of the higher reasoning required to comprehend that the world extends beyond their artificial habitat.

Victor is their superior in every way, and one day they will know it.

For now, he might be forced to walk among them, but he refuses to be dragged down to their level. Having filled his stomach, he hastens back to the sanctuary of his lab. This nauseating event holds no allure for him with its loudly thumping music, the stink of sweat and alcohol, the crush of many bodies packed in far too tight a space. American teenagers and their activities repulse him.

Besides, he couldn't join their inane festivities even if he wanted to.

He's sixteen years old, and in this country, he's not old enough to drink.