The door undid itself with an unassuming click of a latch and swung inward. It was dim, lit only by the natural light filtering through the thinning marine layer of clouds and fog outside, but not dark. The entryway was large and deceiving in its grandeur; Brooke knew money when she saw it, even with plain walls and spartan furnishings. Two large paintings hung in the foyer: if she were to guess, they were probably around 100 years old, and from some early European abstract movement. Surely worth hundreds of thousands each.
The floor was Italian marble, and the only pieces of furniture nearby, a console table and bench, were hand-cast bronze. “Wow,” she whispered. But it was time to gather herself and stop gawking at the scenery. “Hello?” she called, taking a few nervous steps further into the house. “Mr. Ilyin? Dad?” There was a draft, she noticed.
“I’m afraid you won’t be seeing Master Ilyin today,” came a gentle voice from a hall to her left. She recognized it as the same one from the comm at the gate, and –
The folder fell to the floor as Brooke stifled a gasp at the creature standing there. He – it – was about her height, and bore an uncanny resemblance to… well, C-3PO, maybe? This one was a glossy white plastic instead of brassy metal, though, and instead of a face it had a single green light in the middle of a smooth, featureless mask. It tilted its head at her in an oddly human way before straightening back up again.
“I am AMOS, Master Ilyin’s Autonomous and Mobile Household Servitor. That is, using the ‘O’ in household instead of the ‘H’. Acronyms can be pesky things, sometimes.”
Brooke eyed the robot, now noticing the Orcasoft logo neatly printed along his left shoulder panel, and below that, the word ‘prototype’. “You must be what Google wants,” she muttered to herself.
“I’m afraid that such matters are for Master Ilyin to worry about,” the robot said in that lilting warmth of a well-designed AI. “May I interest you in some food or drink?”
Brooke was only half-listening to the robotic servant as she took more tentative steps into the hall and looked around. The end of the foyer was a wall that hid the expanse of the great room on the other side. On the far wall was a bank of windows, floor to ceiling, that gave a breathtaking view of a courtyard flanked by the two sprawling wings of the house. What was breathtaking about this view, however, was not its beauty, but the fact that the whole space looked as if it had once been utterly torn apart.
Sliding doors had been unmoored from their tracks and cast aside, the delicate landscaping in the courtyard beyond the glass a trampled mess. The carpet near the doors was dark with moisture and moss, and the furniture – expensive couches, coffee tables, side tables, lounges, credenzas – all thrown against the walls to make room for a bizarre pile of blankets, pillows, and mattresses some twenty feet across in the middle of the room. The only thing that appeared to have remained untouched was the 80″ flatscreen TV against the west wall. That explained the draft, at least.
Brooke realized she’d been holding her breath as she stared, and it took Amos to bring her out of her horrified stupor.
“Ah, yes, that,” it said with a touch of embarrassment. “I can assure you that at the time, Master Ilyin had his… reasons.”
“Where’s my dad?” she demanded. This was a bad situation. A bad situation and they needed to get out ASAP. “Tell me where he is or I swear to god I will call the police right now.”
The robot seemed startled, if a faceless toy could be startled – its light blinked at her a few times before slumping its shoulders and turning to head down the hall in something almost resembling a pout. “Mr. Foster is perfectly safe, I can assure you.” They passed trashed art, guest rooms and pool rooms and smoking rooms (none of which seemed to have been used in years), and rooms with the ceilings apparently caved in and their door frames ripped out. There was water damage, and in some areas, mold creeping up the walls. “And he has, I should note, met the master of the house.”
The way those words came out sent a chill down her spine. Brooke wasn’t sure she wanted to meet ‘the master of the house’ anymore.
Amos led her down a short flight of stairs to a basement of sorts. It had once been a wine cellar, and still may have been one yet – this space had been mostly spared the treatment of the other parts of the houes, and most of the wine bottles themselves sat unharmed in their racks, gathering dust. At the far end of the cellar, and below a strangely macguyver’d trap door, sat her father at a table, surrounded by papers. He was reading intently, but cradling his head as though the weight of the world was on his shoulders. An empty wine glass was on the table beside him.
“Dad!” Brooke shouted, breaking into a sprint.
Martin Foster, P.I., glanced up from what he was doing and suddenly had the look of a man who thought he’d never see his daughter again writ on his face.”Brooke!” He immediately rose from his chair and hugged her tight. “What in the world are you doing here!” he exclaimed, then remembering something, he repeated himself in a low and panicked tone as he grabbed her by the shoulders. “What in the world are you doing here?”
“I was about ready to file a missing persons report!” she replied, narrowing her eyes at him. “What are you doing here? We gotta get you home!” She fumbled through her small bag and produced a bright orange bottle. “Here, I even brought you your medication.”
He was suddenly a haunted man, and looked to the trap door above them as though any minute something terrible might fall out from it. “No, no… you need to go. I-I have a job to finish here.”
“Dad, bring the papers with you. Read them at home. You can call this creep when you finish, and -”
“It’s not like that,” Martin said curtly, taking the pill bottle from her. “It’s… it’s gotten complicated. I can’t leave now.”
Brooke’s heart began to race and her hands went clammy cold. “Did he threaten you?” she whispered. “My god, dad, we gotta get you out of here. This is kidnapping!”
He just shook his head and pushed her toward Amos. “It’s not like that,” he repeated. “Just go! I’ll be fine here until I finish the job. Now go, before he…”
There was a rumbling all of a sudden, a slow, steady, beating tremor that grew louder. Something was drawing near, and damn well shaking the foundation of the house as it approached. Then it stopped, but just for a moment before the trap door was opened up above them.
Brooke’s face lifted skyward and was greeted by a pair of large blue eyes, hard like chips of Siberian ice as they bored into her from high above.
“Who the hell is this?” came the deep, loud, and growling voice.