“Are you aware of who you are? If so, please state your full name,” began the investigator, having just pressed the red recording button on his tape recorder. The film in the cassette whirred quietly in the background.
“My name is Elena Madolyn Paige,” said Elena unexpressively. Her words were a blend of distant sorrow and certain indifference. The unwavering cadence and intonation of her speech reflected the emotionless expression adorned on her face.
“Please state your age and date of birth,” rebounded the Marshal in a programmed response. The routine application of protocol and procedure had made this process a tediously, robotic task.
“I am 37 years old and I was born on November 2nd, 1941,” replied Elena with no change in her demeanor or voice.
“You may refer to me as Marshal Ivan Maxwell. Are you aware of what year it is and do you know where you are currently, Ms. Paige?” asked Ivan curtly. His poignant, steel blue eyes aimed to meet the gaze of Elena, who sat looking down at the minimally decorated table. The overhead light reflected off the polished wooden surface, casting off a wavy gleam of amber.
A faint frown formed on her youthful face, but her eyes did not falter in the slightest. They continued to stare into the empty space of the table in front of her as she spoke. “The year is 1978. I am in Lander, Wyoming. This is the Lander Police Station where I am being interrogated for my involvement in the deaths of Wallace Rooke, Kenneth Hale, Yvonne Hale, and Henry Anderson.”
Ivan grabbed and pulled over a leather-bound dossier next to him, containing rows of dividers and stacks of yellow and white paper. Sticky notes could be seen protruding in certain sections of the binder. He looked down for a moment to flip through the dividers, scanning for the files of his choice. As he carefully combed through the plastic barriers for the articles he was hunting for, the room filled again with a quaint silence disrupted only by the ambiance of humming lights above and a spinning tape recorder. Elena sat unchanged, not even so much as blinking unless it was absolutely necessary.
The marshal stopped at a particular section and pulled out a goldenrod, formal-appearing envelope. Crimson trimming decorated the edges and a small buckle kept the letter shut. On the back of the envelope was the word “HUNTERS” stamped in black, fading ink. Ivan unfashioned the strap to flip open the letter, allowing its contents to become exposed. He reached inside the envelope and pulled out four photographs, laying them neatly in a row before Elena. It was hard to tell if Elena was now focusing on the images presented to her or still lost in her pseudo-trance, but this appeared to not be a concern to the detective who continued on with the interrogation.
“Do you know who these people are?” Prodded the Marshal. His fierce gaze had returned to look back at Elena, who had yet to even look at Ivan directly herself.
Elena’s head lifted up slightly as she gazed down at the photos in front of her. Her visage turned as she finished examining one picture and moved on to the next. Ivan sat patiently with a firm and steady scowl. His relatively sprightly mug had conducted numerous investigations before this but never had he handled a case of this magnitude at any point in his decadent career.
“These are the four people that died and the reason for my being here,” responded Elena, only now with a very subtle twinge of discontent.
The Marshal was at an expert level of shrewdness and appeared to detect the minute change in Elena’s composure. Sensing this he pressed forward, choosing his next words carefully.
Ivan leaned in towards the photographs and placed his index finger down on the far most right picture. “Can you tell me who this is?” asked Ivan pointedly as he looked directly at Elena with his ever-present scowl.
It was the worn, black and white image of a man dressed in the clerical vestments of a priest and standing outside of a small church smiling jovially. He appeared to be in his late fifties, sporting a clean-cut appearance and short, kempt hair. His arms folded inward as his right hand rested over his left, hanging at his waist. Elena paused for a brief moment as if to search the recesses of her memory.
“This is Kenneth Hale,” she said matter-of-factly. The hollowness of earlier had returned to her voice. The Marshal grabbed a notepad of clean, yellow paper and a pencil, placing the graphite tip above the first line of the page.
“What is your relation to Kenneth Hale?” inquired Ivan with his hand ready to jot down Elena’s response.
“I knew Kenneth Hale as Pastor Hale when I was growing up here in Lander,” commenced Elena. Despite her voice coming across as cold and distant, there was a minor contortion of her face that expressed a deep-seated, agonizing anger. “My mom, dad, two older brothers, and I would go to Lakehill Church every Sunday to listen to his stories and worship. He was always a really friendly and humorous man. Someone you could trust, I guess.”
“Do you know when and how he died?” asked the Marshal again, observing for any slight deviations in Elena’s appearance or tone.
There was another pause as Elena delayed her answer. She leaned in marginally, eying the photograph as if she were inspecting it for flaws. “He died a few years ago, but I don’t know the exact date. It was around the time that I was still on the field treating patients in Harken,” she answered unflinchingly. “As to how he died,” continued Elena, “I was told he ended his own life by setting himself on fire.”
“Where you mentioned Harken, you are aware of the events that transpired there?” teased Ivan with his question as if he was baiting his line to lure in a fish.
“Yes,” said Elena briefly. “That’s where this mess began.” She lifted her arms that were resting at her side and laid them on the table in an arch, clasping her hands.
“What was your business being in Harken, Ms. Paige?” questioned Ivan, slowly and lightly tapping the tip of his pencil on his notepad as he waited for her reply.
“Before it was destroyed and quarantined, I was initially a researcher for the Maverick Corporation, but when sightings became more frequent, my superiors made me into a field operative, and I was sent there with the sole purpose of tracking and containing what we called ‘aberrations’.”
“How long did you work for Maverick?” asked Ivan as he looked down while writing in his notepad.
“I started there in 1963 shortly after earning my bachelor’s degree in biology. I remembered that there was a job fair at the school where Maverick had attended. They brought in their corporate representatives, explaining their involvement in medicinal technology and human genetics,” answered Elena who periodically squeezed her clasped hands together as if to relieve herself of pressure. “I left somewhere in 1974 to work with my father at his bank in Lander.”
“I see,” said Ivan with an unconvinced utterance. “Do you remember the night of August 8th, 1974, Ms. Paige?”
Elena paused for a minute as she thought. She scoured her mind again, but was unable to determine her exact whereabouts that night. It felt as if she were peering through a fog within herself to access her memory.
“No,” she stated. “I don’t really know what happened that night. I was probably at home after working all day.”
“I see,” he stated again. As if suddenly switching gears, the Marshal set his pencil down and pointed to another image in front of Elena. He placed his finger on the image adjacent to the far left photograph. It was an in-color image of a tall, slim man dressed in a dark-grey suit. A white and baby-blue striped tie contrasted against the matching dark-grey vest and white undershirt beneath. He too was clean-cut and sported slick white hair that ran slightly past his neck. A thin pair of rectangular-framed glasses sat on his matured face accompanied by a warm, but disconcerting smile. The photograph appeared to be taken in his office as filing cabinets and a work desk can be seen in the background.
Originally, Elena had scanned this image in addition to the other photos previously without any hesitation. However, upon a second glance, Elena’s demeanor changed enough to become visibly apparent to marshal Ivan. Her body appeared to be quivering as Elena unclasped her hands and placed them on the edge of the table, gripping it sternly as her fingers tensed up. Ivan waited a little longer than he had with other questions as he saw that this photo had struck a nerve within Elena. He looked down at the photo of the man in the suit and then back up at Elena who remained silent.
“Can you tell me who this person is?” asked Ivan again with precise intent as indicated by his lowered voice.
Elena felt the gaze of the Marshal on her as she sat silently, finding the words to properly identify the friendly-appearing man in a suit. She breathed in deeply before lifting her head so that her eyes met Ivan’s for the first time during the interrogation. Ivan leaned his head back slightly as he looked into her honey-gold eyes, expressing the maximum amount of surprise that one who expects everything could possibly express. He then waited for Elena to speak.
“His name is Wallace Rooke,” said Elena with a touch of shakiness to her voice as she struggled to finish uttering his name. “He was in charge of the operative division at Maverick, and he was also one of the representatives that came to speak at my school all those years ago. He-”
Elena paused suddenly.
“He-”, she tried again but choked on the next line of dialogue. Elena tried once more but to no avail. She halted mid-sentence as her eyes darted down at the table as she continued to fight to say the words she wanted to say. Again, her attempts to access the memory of this person, as with previous recollections, were stifled by some mass of confusion. Her shoulders hunched over as her body appeared to reverberate in total stress from battling to remember. Her hands trembled from how hard she was squeezing the edge of the table, turning her knuckles white from her iron grip.
“Ms. Paige,” questioned Ivan with traces of concern in his voice, “is everything okay?”
Her body visibly relaxed as her shoulders fell into their unburdened posture and her hands ceased shaking, slowly returning to their natural color. Her eyes returned to meet the Marshal who sat with trained patience. The emotionless mentality that had been with her since the beginning of the interrogation returned and her gaze became that of a robotic being incapable of showing interest in anything.
“He is responsible for the suffering that happened in Harken,” stated Elena without any inflection of feeling.
Ivan finished up writing his next note and then motioned again for the leather-bound dossier sitting next to him. He slid it his way and pulled out a folded piece of notebook paper. The marshal unfurled the paper and used his hand to iron out the creases from the page as best he could. He then passed the paper to Elena and looked at her. Her stoic gaze met his when he looked up.
“What can you tell me about this message, Ms. Paige?” asked Ivan. He returned to grab his notepad and pencil.
Elena looked at the letter, wrapping her hands around the sides of the paper and slightly lifting it off the table. The dilapidated state of the note had made some of the letters difficult to distinguish, but nonetheless, her eyes went down the page as she read the words in her head.
“*May 16th, 1974*
*Tuesday – 11:13 PM*
*Miller-019 expired last night from a brain aneurysm following the injection of the new serum. Her wounds from the day before rapidly sealed together, but it looks like the chemical makeup of the serum and her weakened state caused her to seizure. Kidrah, Hammond, Paige, and Pierce are the only Hunters we have left until Wallace sends us new ones in the coming months. I don’t know how long they will last. One of them is close to awakening, but they just need to get to the shopkeeper before that happens.*
Elena set the letter back down and then returned to look up at Ivan.
“This note was one of the few traces of evidence we found when we raided the laboratories in Harken,” explained Ivan. He then motioned to grab the photo of the one woman in the pictures still in front of Elena. “It seems that Maverick did an exceptional job covering up their tracks and burning any shreds of damning evidence in Harken. Though, they weren’t able to destroy everything.”
Ivan pointed to the corresponding portion of the note. “Do you know why you are mentioned in this message or who the individuals named in the message are?” he asked. “Or do you know who Dr. Hale referred to as being ‘close to awakening’?”
Elena paused again, reflecting on Ivan’s question. The names struck like bells in her mind, but when she went to implore the thought further, she found nothing. It was like a trap door of memory falling into a grey fog of unknowing. The knowledge she needed escaped her.
“I cannot say for certain,” replied Elean unconfidently as she slowed her words towards the end, hesitating to complete her sentence. She felt as if she should know them, but the memory to recall who they were was blocked.
Ivan then placed his finger on the in-color photo of the woman. The image showcased a woman also in her mid to late 50s wearing a standard white lab coat. A periwinkle, button-up shirt lied underneath her doctorly garb. She was holding a clipboard and sitting at a desk with stacks of notes, folders, and diagrams of some unidentifiable machine in the background. Unlike the seemingly idyllic expression of the other people in the previous two photos, she displayed a rather solemn expression similar to Elena’s. Her mid-length, palish-blonde hair hung around her worn face. It appeared that her eyes were somewhat sunken in as marked by faint black rings beneath them. She appeared more exhausted than anything.
“Can you tell me who this is?” asked Ivan again with his jabbing, deep voice.
Elena narrowed her eyes ever so slightly as she prepared to speak. Her hands began to ball up and she straightened herself upright. The fragments of memory of this person slowly began to manifest within Elena’s mind.
“This is Dr. Yvonne Hale. She was the chief research director in Harken and the wife of Kenneth Hale. She also ran the clinics in the area,” stated Elena.
“What was your relation to Yvonne Hale?” asked Ivan without a moment of delay.
“I knew her from my childhood because she was the Sunday school teacher at Lakehill Church,” began Elena. “She taught us bible verses and sung to us as kids. I remember her having a lovely voice and adoring the story of the Nativity. She had an overall interest in birth and the process of pregnancy.” Elena’s voice wavered slightly, but she continued after steadying her airflow. “I didn’t hear much of her when I left for college. Afterward, when I was still in training at the new research center in Nevada in ‘66 and found out I would be transferred back to Wyoming, I learned that she had also been the chief supervisor for the Harken district. It was the first time I’ve seen her name since leaving Lander, so it came as a bit of a surprise to see her also working for Maverick.”
Ivan’s eyebrow raised in acute suspicion as Elena finished up her recollection. He looked down at his notes again, then quickly shot his eyes back up at her.
“You stated earlier that you went to Harken to ‘treat patients’,” started Ivan, “however, medicinal application was not what you were assigned to do once you reached the town.”
Elena remained quiet as she watched Ivan resolutely, waiting for his next question.
“Our investigation indicated that Maverick had assigned in total twenty-nine doctors and fifty-two or so nurses as well as other medical personnel to Harken. Your name was not listed among them. Those numbers decreased following the outbreak of sightings. In addition, they also sent out Hunters to attempt to handle the situation.”
Ivan halted his calm, but the unnerving torrent of summation of Elena’s past. He reached again into the dossier and pulled out a photo of something truly eldritch. A small sticky note at the bottom of the photo had one word written on it, plainly reading “ABERRATION”.
“Elena,” stated Ivan with a different, more innocent tone to his voice,” what do you know about the awakening process?”
Elena considered his question, attempting to find an answer in the few memories she had. “It happens to operatives who are overtaken by their inner aberration,” she answered. “Those who cannot suppress their hunger awaken.”
He carefully placed the image down in front of Elena, removing the sticky note from the photograph. Her eyes widened as she looked down at the shadowy formation captured in the photograph. A small quiver could be seen on her hands as she balled them up fully and firmly. She gritted her teeth as she slowly stood up from her chair. Her eyes never left the photograph, paralyzed by a crippling terror. Ivan remained seated, now looking up at Elena. The auspicious fervor of his narrowed eyes indicated his own ruthlessness towards uncovering the truth, even at the cost of one’s sanity.
“Elena,” asked the Marshal, chillingly hanging on the last syllable of her name, “Is this Elliot Pierce?”
Elena lifted her head to look up at Ivan who waited for an answer. She met the marshal’s serious and contemptuous glare. The stalwart and seemingly unbreakable resolve Elena carried herself with had instantly shattered in the presence of a forbidden memory. Her mouth shook open with her reply.
“How is this possible?” retorted Elena in a whimper of disbelief. “Where did you find this?”
“This was an image found in the personal office of Henry Anderson’s shop in Harken. I believe it was called Nextworld Emporium,” responded Ivan with machine-like precision. He pointed to the final, unidentified photograph. “Henry Anderson was a collector of sorts, obtaining and archiving numerous trinkets and devices of unknown origin. Anderson would then resell these trinkets as novelty knick knacks to locals. Is that correct, Ms. Paige?” finished Ivan, already knowing her answer.
Elena froze as she looked down at the marshal, overwhelmed by the weight of her sins as brief flashes of what took place on that awful August night started to return to her.
“It turns out that Anderson also had some kind of connection with Maverick and their research, who were conducting unspeakable experiments within Harken,” continued Ivan in lieu of Elena’s silence. “There was a substantial amount of correspondence through letters amid Anderson and Dr. Hale between the years of 1961 and 1973. Though much of their discussions were coded, our investigation has determined they frequently were discussing something called an ‘awakening’,” concluded Ivan as he relaxed back in his chair.
The stone-faced Elena loosened her muscles again and the tension evaporated from her slender frame. The possession of total fear behind her eyes relented, and the look of control returned to her. She slowly sat down and scooted her wooden chair in closer to the table. Elena mirrored the Marshal’s penetrating glare. She was no longer a programmed machine but was neither asphyxiated by an oppressive fear. Her eyes indicated worry as well as determination. She looked down again at the photograph that had moments ago caused her to reel back in sheer terror.
The photograph displayed the image of a ghastly form vaguely reminiscent of a humanoid figure. The abyssal entity was much taller than any man, armed with four elongated, arachnoid arms, each of which were topped off with five-fingered, dagger-clawed hands. Its overall lean and narrow frame arched as it stood hunched over, resting three of its palms on the walls around it and extending one into the camera. It’s two legs were bent at angles similar to that of a raptor and three large tails hovered around the creature. More striking than anything was the darkness of the monster. It appeared as a pitch-black, smoky distortion with only select parts of its body–the wrists, ankles, and base of the neck–wrapped by hauntingly glowing, scarlet rings.
Its head was formed of shadowy horns with the two largest protruding from the sides of its and curving upward like those of a minotaur. Beneath its abyssal crown was a bulging mass of darkness pocketed by varyingly-shaped, glowing red holes. These appeared to function as eyes. The largest of which sat near the base of its horned scalp. It did not appear to have a mouth, despite forming the silhouette of a concave jaw. A gaseous, steam-like vapor outlined its aphotic shape and emanated from its body, warping its figure as if they were heat waves. It appeared to be leaning into the shot as the photo was taken.
To the untrained eye, there was not a trace of anything that could indicate that this thing had once been human. Elena, however, recognized the distinct symbol on the palm of its hand. It was a symbol belonging to a Hunter of Maverick. It was a unique icon representative of that individual Hunter, distinguishing him from his or her comrades. This symbol had belonged to Elliot Pierce, one of the six other members of the squadron Elena had been sent with to Harken.
Ivan turned his head slightly while his eyes remained fixated on Elena, displaying an expression of anticipation.
“Do you believe this is the awakening Hale referred to?” asked Ivan directly.
The weight of a memory burst through the membrane of her shell of dubiety. This small instance played like a film. Elena felt she could not contain the urge to retell this memory due to its sudden vividness. She announced it to Ivan as if it were a designed response built into a computer.
“When we lost Karen, we knew how desperate our situation became,” spoke Elena, deflecting the Marsal’s question. His left brow rose up in fascination. Her gaze returned down to the table, recalling bits and pieces of the horrid last nights in Harken. “We were thankful she didn’t awaken, however, the situation quickly became something beyond what were capable of handling. Dr. Hale was conducting something foul within Harken and we had unknowingly fallen into her experimentation.” Elena stopped to look back at Ivan who now had his notepad and pen in front of him. He awaited her next words.
“By Karen,” asked Ivan with an air of intrigue, “are you referring to Karen Miller?”
Elena nodded in agreement.
“She was one of our captains. We were sent in to investigate what Dr. Hale was doing in the town as Maverick had become concerned with growing numbers of sightings in Harken,” she began. “Her reports were no longer sufficient to clear her of suspicion from the higher-ups, so Rooke sent us there to see what the trouble was. He also instructed us to pay a visit to Henry Anderson, who as you mentioned, was one of Maverick’s partners. For what reasons, I can’t remember.”
“Are you certain that’s why you were sent there?” Started Ivan, continuing from where had left off. “Details of Anderson’s involvement with Maverick are highly convoluted. We believe some insight could be shed into this if we were fully capable of deciphering the letters of correspondence he had with Hale, but that is only speculation at the moment.”
He paused again as he opened the ornate envelope that held the original four snapshots and grabbed one final, small image with a note written on the back of the photograph.
Very simply, it read:
*“Treat her with care.*
*She’s our greatest chance.”*
The image was of a young girl of about eight or nine years of age, sitting next to three adults and with a fourth one standing behind them. They all appeared to be in a church ward. The two adults to the left of the girl were a young looking man and woman who appeared to be the girl’s guardians. To her right, was a priest that looked much like Pastor Hale. The man behind them held a serious expression and stood in a full black and dark grey suit with a white tie for contrast. His hands were folded behind his back. They were all looking up at the camera with Hale smiling the most genuinely out of the group. The two next to the girl had what appeared to be forced smiles plastered on their face as their fearful eyes indicated anything but a sense of placation. The little girl as well as the unnerving man behind her were not smiling and instead looked up at the camera with solemn stares.
“Ms. Paige,” started Ivan again, “this photo was also found in Anderson’s emporium. It was actually found beneath the floorboards of his main office before the shop was torched to the ground.” He leaned in once again, placing his elbows equidistantly on the wooden table. His hands clasped, allowing his fingers to become interwoven in the familiar form of one showing intrigue. “Is the girl in this image you, Ms. Paige?” Elena was without reservations as her indomitable spirit had taken over once again. She answered him without issue or delay.
“Yes, it is,” answered Elena in her automated fashion. The instance of the memory captured on the photo once again played in theater that was her mind.“ This was the day I was taken to Harken to speak to Mr. Anderson. My parents told me I that was a talented child and that some doctors wanted to run tests on me to see if I would qualify for a unique learning program for gifted kids. I didn’t see Mr. Anderson again until I was sent back to Harken.”
“Project Arise,” stated Ivan. “ This was the name of the classified study begun by Maverick that Anderson and another handful of names had financially backed. One of the names mentioned was Lloyd Paige.” The Marshal paused for a minute to let the realization sink in. “Your father, if I’m not mistaken,” he continued.
Elena said nothing as she absorbed this fact. It was indeed new information to her.
“This was information pulled from bookkeeping records found in the Maverick headquarters in Harken,” continued Ivan. “Paige owned the local bank in Lander as well as smaller banks in surrounding towns. Anderson, as it turned out, had a much greater financial footprint than just his small emporium. It appeared that he inherited a substantial amount of wealth in his late twenties from an unknown beneficiary shortly after both his parents were killed in a train accident. He and Paige used their wealth for various projects and business moves, such as providing funding for Lakehill Church which also appeared to have aligned themselves with the interests of the Maverick corporation.”
Elena’s eyes looked back down at the table. Faint memories of her father began to return to her. Her brows furrowed in confusion as she was attempting to piece together the Marshal’s formulating theory.
“Why are you telling me this?” asked Elena as she could not see the bigger picture.
“It is important that you understand just exactly who you are and just how much this investigation centers around you,” answered Ivan calmly. “Your father and Henry Anderson have a complicated history with Maverick and it appears that you were caught somewhere in the middle of their foray, even if those memories escape you now.”
Ivan stood up and walked to the shelf behind him where he grabbed a closed, wooden box. He gingerly lifted it up from the dusty space and sat it down in front of Elena. He looked at her before opening the box. She returned his look, uncertain of what to expect. Ivan unhinged the lock on the box and opened it up to reveal a soft, black-colored velvet interior. Resting neatly in the center was a metal badge belonging to a Maverick Hunter. The platinum trimming and carved imprint of an outline of a split human eye gave the silver badge its unique design.
“I imagine this insignia should feel familiar to you. We found it on top of Anderson’s mutilated, beheaded corpse,” stated Ivan as he remained standing, now looking down at Elena. “He was one of the many of the bodies that lied dead in streets of Harken that night. That night was August 8th, 1974, which was a little over four years ago.”
Elena, who had managed to offer a reply to Marshal Ivan so many times before, was now lost for words. There was a lapse in her memory from anything that occurred since today. The memories Elena recalled felt true to her but were not recollected in a natural way. They felt almost activated as Elena struggled to supply answers throughout the interrogation. Her memories were stimulated based off questions and images asked by Ivan as if he knew what words would elicit which memories. Now, it seemed as though she could not formulate a single thought.
“It’s understandable if you have gaps in your memory. It’s how Maverick has been able to control you Hunters,” stated Ivan as if he read her mind. Elena looked up at him with a dogged look. She was the one desiring answers now. “You’ve been asleep for almost 5 years since that August night. We’ve kept you in our recovery ward until you were cognizant enough to be questioned.”
Before Elena had a chance to reply, the door to the interrogation room suddenly burst open and a man belonging to some faction of the military walked into the chamber. He was dressed in a uniform but not that of any known police or government attire. His pants were tucked in knee-high combat boots. His waist was cinched by a utility belt carrying all sorts of gadgets and tools. An interesting, gun-like weapon hung in a holster at his side but it was no recognizable firearm. A patch on his right shoulder was eerily familiar to Elena as she stared at it. He approached the Marshal, seemingly ignoring Elena’s presence. Ivan paused the tape recorder as the officer neared him.
“Lieutenant Maxwell,” announced the soldier with respect followed up with a formal salute. “I apologize for the interruption, sir, but there has been an update on Rooke’s location.”
Elena’s visible confusion was noted by Maxwell as he looked over to her. He stood up again. His impressive height was fully noted when compared to his subordinate who himself was at least six feet tall. Maxwell must have been at least four or five inches taller than him. Ivan gestured for the officer to go outside the room as he followed behind him.
“This will only take a moment,” he said to Elena before exiting the room shortly afterwards.
Elena sat alone in the room picking up on the muffled chatter between Ivan and the mysterious soldier. It was the first time she had been alone in that room. She attempted to remember periods of her past, but was unable to recollect the memory. It was as if she felt the presence of a remembrance, but was unable to explore it any further. This began to send a sensation of worried panic throughout Elena’s body as she felt that something was not adding up here.
Not even five minutes later, Ivan entered the room again alone. He coolly returned to his chair where he sat down and looked back up at Elena.
“My apologies, Ms. Paige,” said Ivan with seemingly earnest sincerity. “Where I am leading this investigation, I have to stay informed at all times.” He straightened the jacket of his suit with his hands before placing them again in the familiar arched, pensive-indicating posture.
“Now,” he continued, pressing the recording button again, “I believe that I was addressing the gaps in your memory. There is a reason why some memories are harder for you to remember than others.”
Ivan collected up all the images and documents he had shown Elena thus far and placed them back in the dossier. He flipped through the dividers again and pulled out a cream colored folder with various notes inside. He opened the folder and almost instantly pulled out a sheet of white paper of a medical diagram. Ivan laid this image in front of Elena whose eyes searched it for answers. It was a very detailed sketch of a female figure with numerous explanatory lines pointing to parts of her body. Boxes formed at the end of those line filled with name of the identified section. The image included replications of the circulatory and skeletal system. Each line was labeled with scientific terminology relating to the selected body part. The top of the page read ‘Hunter Serum Chart: Paige-022’.
“From our investigation, it turns out that Hunters were injected with a special serum to aid them in the fight against aberrations,” revealed Ivan as Elena sat listening closely. “This serum appeared to grant Hunters a greater depth of awareness, vastly sharpened reflexes and senses, increased speed and agility, and an innate ability to locate and track aberrations.”
Elena looked at the graph of her own body. She read varying numbers indicating percentages of fluids in her body as well as measurements of other findings such as bone density and viscosity of blood.
“Maverick was in the process of creating a new serum that would aid in rapid regeneration of injuries, but it evidently turned out to be too potent of a solution,” spoke Ivan again, interrupting Elena’s concentration. “This happened to be the case with Karen Miller along with other Hunters before her, who died shortly after receiving the experimental serum.”
Ivan took out and unfolded a three paneled brochure, laying it out next to the serum chart in front of Elena. The chart was labeled “VCF Serum: Compounds and Effects”. It went on to describe the different chemicals involved in the production and distribution of the serum. A particular section on the final panel elaborated on the proper procedure to harness what was identified as “void residue”. These particular words also stuck to Elena who grew more anxious with each passing minute. Ivan, however, had finally reached the core of his objective and his reason for meeting Elena.
He grabbed one last image from the folder. This time it was a picture of a pale woman who looked similar to be Elena. The woman was naked and covered in blood spatter inside what appeared to be a hospital room. Her eyes gave off an impression of pure malice as they were accompanied by an equally sadistic grin. Her dark-brown hair appeared damp, though it was uncertain if this was because of moisture from water or more blood. The imprint of a split human eye glowed a faint crimson color on her left breast where it was located. Elena was nearly taken aback by the image of herself, unsure of how she could give off a look of such wickedness.
“There was a reason I asked if you were aware of who you were, the current year, and the date of your birth,” replied Ivan now with his arms folded across his chest. “It appears that there were three significant side effects when the serum was administered that adversely alter the Hunter’s mind. Firstly, the serum suppresses the formation of lasting memories and has even shown to erase pre-existing memories altogether. In some more extreme cases, it was shown to cause fragments of memories of unrelated events to stick together and create authentic-feeling episodes of reality that never occured in the Hunter’s life. Secondly, Hunters cease aging at certain a point in their lives. Their bodies reach a point of peak maturity. This, of course, varies from Hunter to Hunter. Lastly and most concerningly, it begins to delete aspects of the Hunter’s personality and humanity as they take on the feral, inhuman traits of aberrations the more they were exposed to the serum.”
Ivan sighed while looking at Elena. His sullen eyes gave way to his expression of pity, but a constant scowl cemented a look of disappointment on his face. The Hunter Elena was now unsure of what to make of anything being told to her right now. Her wide-eyed face and slightly agape mouth signaled her shock.
“The effects of the serum are the reasons for why you can’t remember what happened on the night of August 8th, 1974 or anything that happened between the years between then and now. You must understand that something extraordinary happened to you that night, and we must know what transpired if we are to win this war,” added Ivan as he stood up. He pulled out a syringe from the inner pocket of his jacket. It was filled with a thick, dark-blue liquid. “An incomplete science has led to a lifetime of suffering for you. Luckily we still have use for you, Hunter. This solution here should help return your memories completely. You could say it’s a modified version of the serum produced by Maverick.”
A smileless Ivan approached Elena peacefully with the serum in hand, though his tranquil walk towards her grew more menacing the closer he approached. The Hunter who remembered nothing began to reconstruct her past steps towards her current state. Elena’s instincts told her to resist him at all costs, and she rose quickly from her chair. By natural will, she shifted her form into an unassuming defensive stance learned only by a Hunter of Maverick. Ivan stopped about a foot or so away from Elena. Compared to Ivan, she lost several inches to him in height, but the Marshal was wary of Hunters and their quirks.
“Not another step,” said Elena in a calm, but baleful threat. It was a level of intimidation unique only to a stalker of the abyss.
“You new ones are always difficult,” lamented Ivan in a deep growl. He stepped in closer and in response Elena began to crouch in preparation to counter.
“These people used us as disposable human weapons,” declared the Marshal. His condemning eyes lasering in on Elena. “We are trying to retain what’s left of your humanity before you awaken into an unholy nightmare.”
Elena’s muscles tensed beneath her clothes as they compressed themselves like a spring. Despite her perfectly still form, she was more than prepared to deliver a trained, impactful strike. Ivan’s imposing stature and now sickly scent jumpstarted Elena’s keen senses. He was registered as a threat, even more so given the sheer amount of information he knew about her. Yet, she noted he used the word “us” as if to include himself in Elena’s tragic history. This sent a new feeling of uncertainty through Elena who was unsure of how to process the situation. It was time that she needed to know just who she was dealing with.
“Who exactly are you?” asked Elena, staring up at the adversary before her with a fearsome glower.
Ivan lowered his hand holding the syringe. He placed it on the table, staring down at the Hunter before him with a look of understanding. Both his hands were donned in black leather gloves, but he gestured to remove the mitt on the left. With his bare hand exposed, he angled it so that Elena could see the back and view the Marshal’s secret. Elena slackened her form once again as her senses returned to normal levels. She straightened slightly as she looked up with astonishment and disbelief as suggested by her near gaping stare. Carved into the back of Ivan’s hand is the outline of a symbol of four fangs in an “X” shape with their pointed tips aimed towards the center crux of the figure. This symbol undoubtedly belonged to a Hunter of Maverick.