An entire day had passed after the AAR before Viktor found it appropriate to approach Kassy regarding KJ. This discussion between them was long overdue due to the sensitivity of the topic. Even as he walked to Kassy's room, he wondered if he was making the right call. Kassy had already gone to see KJ earlier and would be gearing up to go about the rest of her morning. Now was a better time than ever but he could feel something pushing against his advance. An apprehension. A fear. It won't deter me.
He reached the door and gave it three very firm knocks. “Kassy, it's Viktor. Do you have time to talk?”
There was quiet for several moments before Kassy’s voice hit his ears. "Yes, I suppose."
The door opened to reveal the worn-looking girl. She didn't bother faking a smile. "I'm so tired… do you think you could make me some Atlantean coffee?"
Truthfully it was more almond milk and sugar than coffee, but it didn't leave her crazy. "We are overdue for a chat, aren't we?"“We are.”
Viktor was frowning at her current appearance. He folded his arms across his chest. “But you were supposed to get rest, Kass.”
He should have expected that Kassy wouldn't have. A low grunt escaped him before he spoke again. “This can wait.”
It wasn't what he wanted but Viktor didn't want to push the topic of interest if Kassy was tired."I… tried."
She shrugged mildly. There was no point in discussing the nightmares that had shattered her sleep before she simply gave up."Let’s just get this done."
With that said, she stepped past him. She was unbearably thirsty. “Fine.”
Viktor almost said begrudgingly as he followed behind her. “Kila and Ja. You and I. We both know things about their mind… You know how I feel about solving problems myself but… I need your help. And that starts with you telling me everything you know about his mind.”
Viktor had tried to be softer with how he rolled his words out but he wanted to get to the point.
Kassy was quiet as they walked to the kitchen. She pulled out a large jug of what looked like water, labeled 'mermaid juice' in loopy, bubbly handwriting. (Zach had insisted on the name.) She popped the lid open and didn't bother with a cup, drinking straight from it. Almost 30 seconds later, it was empty and she felt marginally more sociable."I'm sure you do need my help. But I'm not telling you anything until you tell me exactly what you mean by solving problems."
She tipped her chin up, her tired gaze still resolute. "If you're in agreement with anything Pei said, I'll not waste your time and go back to bed."
She strode to the sink, putting the jug under the faucet. Viktor held back the desire to scowl at her back. He was not a fan of how everyone was looking at this scenario. There was too much emotion stewing in it for his liking. Too many extremes."Do you want to fix him? Or do you want to help him?"“Quit it with that, alright. Fixing is solving. Helping is solving. Adding a different tone to choice words isn't getting anyone anywhere. We both know Pei is a poor orator so I'm not going to entertain whether or not I agree with what she said.”
Now he was scowling… “It's as simple as this. Ja and Kila have an issue and they need our help. Benching them is just the beginning of what might happen. I don't want what happens next. Do you agree with that?” "..."
Kassy balked slightly at Viktor's words. He was right. Completely right - it was so obvious a cavefish could see it."No, I don't. I can't let him keep hurting, or hurt anyone else."
The jug was overflowing. "I won't let the League lock him away."
She shut the water off and lifted the very full jug. Water slopped on the floor; her hands were trembling. Viktor sighed, more so at himself for laying out how felt with such rawness.“Kass…”
He decided it might be best not to make the situation any worse. “They won't… We both know Ja and Kila respectively better than most. Two personas inhabiting the same body. Ja is deeply in tune with the Red. Kika, not so much but he seems to have a tighter grasp on his training with the BSF. The 'Red Beast' is what I believe we've been dealing with. What he's been dealing with… And you faced it twice, correct?”
Viktor was aware of the closeness of Kass and KJ. This felt like a Hail Mary, but Viktor felt Kassy was a paramount piece to some sort of solution."I didn't realize what it was until recently. I should have, but…"
She shook her head. "When he changed in Atlantis, it wasn't like now. He didn’t seem to be in the same sort of pain. Instead, he was just… furious. I got hurt, and he was at my defense before I could recover."
Grabbing some paper towels, she wiped the wet floor, the rest of her story slipping free."I thought he was going to break that man's neck. So I … stopped him from the inside."
The reluctance in her voice was palpable. Even now, what she had done didn't sit right. "There hadn't been enough time for another plan. I hated myself for it, but… he didn't."
She straightened up, a soft look in her eyes."He thanked me for it. He said he'd… lost control."
A half smile lit her face. "Heh. Ironic, right? I terrify an entire auditorium and he's the one who…"
The smile flickered. Her thoughts spun, a whirlpool of things she'd been too close to see properly. "Viktor, if he lost control, wouldn't that mean he had it before?"“Exactly…”
Viktor was about to continue but felt the need to say something to her “I… I can hear the guilt in your voice. You didn't do anything wrong. At least not in my eyes.”
Letting loose a sigh, he stepped closer to her. “Yes, I scolded you for not talking about this but I understand why.”
Viktor made a curt nod toward her bracelet. “I am also prepared for you to return the favor…”
He knew Kassy would set him straight if it needed to be done.“I have been thinking about Ja and Kila for a while… months. I knew his mind was divided in a way but I was curious as I am with most things, especially concerning my team. So the Red Beast having already existed prior to the last two missions isn't a surprise to me. The way reacted toward the team… also isn't a surprise to me.”
Viktor let that sink in before what he was about to explain next. He was being careful with taking his time with this. Ever so careful.
Kassy straightened up, silent in the wake of Viktor's blunt honesty. Love it or hate it, she always knew where she stood with him. "You're leagues ahead of me, aren't you?"
She chuckled, then peered up at him sharply. "And what did I tell you before? Strike, or don't."
This was said with a smile. "There's more, right?"“Yes, there's more. And I don't know if it's leagues ahead but the goal here is to put both of us on equal ground concerning our friend.”
He narrowed his eyes at her before his lip formed a slight smirk. “And you're correct. I shouldn't hesitate with you. You can take it.”
Viktor rolled his shoulders as he felt his tenseness ease.“Kila, Ja, and the Red Beast all inhabit one body. While one is free, the others are held back.”
Viktor pressed his fingers together like a cage but… “It's like they're inside of a house and everything outside of it is… the rest of the world. Kila comes out. Ja goes inside, watching from… a window. Ja can remember what Kila was engaged in but from a limited perspective, so to speak. They've been swapping places, so it makes sense that they've formed similar connections. To me, Kila is almost like a rivaling close-in-age brother, while Ja is more like a whimsical younger brother… I don't have any siblings but…”
Viktor's eyes lowered, feeling his lapse in knowing that type of bond could make his words seem empty. “Nevermind. What's important is that the Red Beast has been kept inside. I believe that it doesn't know what's supposed to happen when it's out. It just reacts. I don't know why it attacked Quiver or Talos but, I know them. They strike first. Even if they didn't, I'm sure they were prepared to…. I think we should try to communicate with the Red Beast. Maybe there's some way to meet it in the middle or teach it or just make it understand what it's causing.”
His last bit of words gave off a subtle tone of desperation."I don't know, Viktor. I understand what you want to achieve, but… the only way to reach the Beast involves drawing him out of Ja. It hurts him, so that's not an option."
She started to pace the kitchen. "I've been researching in my downtime. There are things that can cause… conditions… like he’s going through. The issue is that the more professional sources all point to one thing."“Strike.”
He requested, though his expression was serious now. "The movies get it wrong. Though that's no surprise… there is no 'evil split personality', basically. Even the harsh ones are made for self-protection."
She could only hope that Viktor would understand. "Whatever the Red Beast is… he's not evil. He is protecting Kilamanjaro, possibly the only way he knows how."“But with that truth, it only makes more sense to communicate with it- the other persona. I read the post-mission report. You were able to talk him down…”
Viktor reached for Kassy's arm and held it up, showing the bracelet in all its glory. “Without your powers. You assured him that everything was fine. That there was no threat. I don't think I could accomplish the same on my own. Kila, Ja, and the Red Beast trust you more than anyone else. And if Ja allows it, and with preparation on our side, we can commune with the Red Beast safely. I thought of asking Daphne to join us but I don't want him to think she's there to sedate him.”
Viktor realized he was still holding Kassy's arm and released it. “And don't worry, this is not something I would enact without your presence.”“I feel the Red’s fury boiling within me; wanting to lash out at you. If my resolve to contain it weakens, and it becomes a threat to both you and Zach: Does that mean that your best option is to kill me?”
The words echoed in Viktor's mind. It likely hates me…
Kassy looked off, pushing at the bracelet like it burned her. "...we have to present other options. All of them, any of them. I don't want to risk hurting him."“It's the only idea I have the most faith in but yes, we should have other options.”
Viktor couldn't help but frown. “We can't suppress the third persona. I think that would be impossible. Kila and Ja also have no control over who comes out. Are we sure we wouldn't just permanently remove the wrong persona from the equation or worse, only have Ja or Kila left at the forefront… Then there's the option of going into their mind and confronting the Red Beast, a capability we don't have... Or perhaps, Ja could do it but then you'd have to think about how it views him.”
Viktor was making short work of the ideas he was listing off. “I doubt he can convince a persona that lacks faith in his ability to protect himself..”
Viktor shrugged. “Your turn.”"I think… I think you're adding a thought and emotion where none exists."
She paced the cold tile, trying to organize her mind. "Anger is not the same as hate. Anger is…"
How had Black Canary put it? "What you express when you feel you've been wronged. When your boundaries have been crossed. If we consider that the Beast's main priority is to protect Kila and Ja… trust and faith don't figure into it."
Since the bank, she'd been researching various aspects of psychology and the mind. It was all very fascinating to her. Granted, some of it was well beyond her understanding."And if that's the case… then that is why I was not attacked. I didn't push a boundary, or threaten."
But there was a glaring hole in her theory. "It doesn't quite fit right, though."“So more one-tracked is what you're getting at. It doesn't have a primary objective to protect… Its only objective is to protect. But you also say that observation doesn't fit. Why?”
Viktor's manner of speaking always seemed like daggers were flying off his tongue but Kassy knew it was simply his typical directness. He raised an eyebrow inquisitively to hear her answer."It's as if…"
She frowned and shut her eyes. "I need more information…"
And time to parse it."Tell me what you remember about the bank mission, before things went wrong."
Viktor shrugged before answering this. He wasn't there during the trigger but he could go by the aftermath and the information from the mission's debrief.“Kila was leading us, and very well at that. He was on comms… Giving Squad A, my squad, orders to proceed from the lobby…”
Viktor slightly squinted his eyes trying to piece it all together. “He was going to issue an order to Cora before he seemed to have been attacked. That part I can't be certain of since he simply grunted before he cut out. After that attacked every single robber in his path. He…”
Viktor's eyes widened as new pieces of information from Kassy fit in place with the old pieces he had studied on his own. “Hmm… Many if not all were left with broken limbs. Brutal, yes. But also the second most effective way to eliminate threats. I am now more certain he was attacked before his message was cut short.” "I was thinking the same thing. Something had to have pushed him into that state. But… what?"
She rubbed the back of her head in a subconscious way, thinking out loud. "The missions had nothing in common aside from a leader…"
Viktor remained quiet as he walked by Kassy to access the refrigerator. Retrieving an espresso coffee pod he made his way over to the coffee maker. “I disagree.”
He said plainly as he shut the pod inside the coffee maker. “I found both missions to be oddly assigned. We are heroes but given the purpose of our team, bank robbers and city gangs aren't adversaries I'd ever see us dealing with.”
He pressed the brew button and set his black mug beneath the dispenser. “Besides that, Quiver is also a variable attached to both missions… But I don't suspect him as being a direct cause of the third persona surfacing. There was also the difference of Kila being present during one mission, while Ja was present during the other… Lastly, the missions both have two respective instances that I cannot figure out, though they don't seem connected in the slightest.”
He frowned, feeling like he was just spinning his wheels in place. He felt so close but there was a piece he was failing to connect."You have a point. Gang busting seems like a job for the city police, and aside from the amount of them - and the weird weapons Cora found - the criminals in the bank weren't anything special. I mean, what were they even there for?"
She followed him, leaning on the counter while the scent of coffee filled the air. "And what do you mean by 'instances'?"“I have my theories on the bank heist but I'll first explain the two instances. The weapons are one. They were all hi-tech but their capabilities did not match the intent of their users. Electrified bolas, hardening foam, shockwave generation, and sound emission. If you were holding hostages, you'd want to threaten with the most lethal weapon. A standard firearm would have served them better. At the docks, it was the wounded man who disappeared from Pei's provided shelter. The detail seems miniscule and didn't affect our mission but I found it abnormal.”
Kassy frowned, looking up at him. "What do you mean, he disappeared? Wasn't he hurt?"“He was injured, yes. It was a flesh wound. He could have gotten away but Pei made sure the container we placed him in couldn't be easily opened. Now, even if he found a way to break out, the thought of leaving a shelter after being wounded due to your exposure is unfavorable.”
He grabbed his mug filled with freshly brewed coffee and took a quick sip. “It is indeed strange but it doesn't seem connected to the problem at hand. I suspect the sound-emitting weapon to be the culprit of his first… episode. But at the docks, there wasn't anything like that weapon present. I've even tried to connect these instances to his unconsciousness in Taos, which was also abnormal despite there being no Red Beast…”
Viktor narrowed his eyes as he took another sip.
Kassy made a non-committal noise, lost in thought. "In Taos, I always thought that green-eyed cloaca ambushed him somehow. I mean, the Beast only becomes present when KJ is conscious." “KJ?”
Viktor raised an eyebrow. “Kila-Ja… Hmm… KJ.”
He briefly mumbled to himself. “She did ambush him but after I faced her, I had my doubts she could put him in that state with her abilities so quickly. It was also out of the ordinary. Will was made into a slave. Mateo was made into a slave. Riley and the other teens were made into slaves. Ja was incapacitated. I was going to be made into a slave. What happened to him doesn't fit the pattern.”
Viktor set his mug down and crossed his arms.“She did something different. Specific to him... It was intentional.”
Viktor started to nod his head. “That might be why his episode at the docks was different than at the bank. The sound emitter was a fluke… This is not good. Not good at all.”
Viktor's hands balled tightly.
Kassy's hands were the same but for perhaps a different reason. "...I know we're heroes and all, but I am going to knock that girl's teeth into her skull when I see her next."
There was a frigid edge to her tone. "She won't be pretty once I'm through with her."“Focus, Kass.”
Viktor shook his head at her contempt against the Kobra agent. “What's important is that she may be involved. If she has something or an ability that manipulates his mind, she could prove to make our friend into our most deadly adversary. If what she did is connected to what's happening now, she doesn't need to get close to influence him.”
Kassy snorted lightly as Viktor admonished her. He wasn't wrong, though; saving KJ was much more important than revenge.
Viktor's face formed a scowl before continuing. “And at worst, if it isn't an innate ability, that means she may not be the only person capable of doing so. I suspect it's the worst case… Remote, invisible, instant, targeting.”
Viktor seemed to be rambling more to himself toward the end until he simply uttered. “A signal. A frequency.”
She listened, trying to follow his rapidly moving thought process. His theory caused a twist of dread in her stomach. It was plausible, far too plausible to dismiss.I could test it…"A frequency. Something only he could hear. And the rest of us would be unaware."
She dug her fingers into her curls. "How would we know, if that's true?"“What else could it be? I almost dismissed the idea due to my own acute senses picking up on higher frequencies but… Ja. When it comes to sensory prowess, he is unrivaled. I…”
He narrowed his eyes. “My new weapon is capable of producing the same frequency… I could test it, yes. Will I, no. Confronting Red Beast and our friend requires delicacy. Not force.”
Viktor grabbed his mug once more and started drinking his coffee again.
Kaasy let out a faint sigh, her shoulders slumping. There was a sudden relief tension in her. "Viktor, can I… can I say something important?"“Hm… Strike.”
Viktor raised an eyebrow, wondering what she might have to say."I know before, you said you forgave me for before, but… I still need to say this out loud."
She fidgeted for a moment, then sighed. "I was awful to you, before. Yes, I was frustrated, but some of the things I said to you? They were just meant to hurt your feelings."
Despite looking Viktor in the eye, there was a deep shame in her posture. "I don't like who I become when I'm mad. And I am working on fixing it."
A wan smile lifted her lips. "You aren't the same person you were in Atlantis. Not by a long shot. You've truly changed… and I recognize that now."
There was a slight dip of his head as his eyes averted from hers. However, he quickly recovered himself.“You were awful, yes, but I was worse. I put the mission before everyone else. I failed to trust my team.”
He placed a gentle hand on Kassy's shoulder. “I couldn't have changed without you… or Kila. So… don't fix yourself. Use that anger. That passion. Use it in a better way. You recognize your shortcoming, yes? So, make use of it. A pitfall is but a hole. Do what you want with it.”
Viktor shrugged but his eyes also glanced at her bracelet.
Kassy offered up a vague smile, but she too, looked at the binding weight around her wrist. "I will. Sooner than you think."
Her weary gaze turned upward. "You've made me change as well. The support and caring of the others, and… well."
A grin lit her eyes, just for a moment. "You can't build strength without resistance, right?"
But her statement was punctuated by a toothy yawn. "Ugh… I feel like I fought a riptide."“At least you can say you survived the fight.”
He managed to jest as his hand left her shoulder. “Unfortunately, it seems we both have a new fight on our hands. We know more but we can't move forward without Kila and Ja or ‘KJ’. KJ… I don't know if I like that name yet, but it does simplify things.”
Viktor nodded, quite pleased with what he and Kassy had discerned so far about the Red Beast. "Well, you don't have to call him KJ if it's weird. I mean, I can't do nicknames for people either."
She poorly stifled another yawn.“And one more thing…”
He stepped toward her, his eyes peering down at hers with displeasure. “Go. To. Bed. You can't help anyone if you don't get rest, yes?”"I'm not that tired-"
Kassy's own body betrayed her quickly, as she yawned mid-sentence. "Hah. Nevermind, point taken. I'll go. But you wake me immediately if anything happens, okay?"
She strode in the direction of the elevators but turned just before leaving."...Thank you, Viktor."