Jack Ilyin bore little resemblance to the man in the TED Talk video. His face and bare shoulders were ruddy from sun exposure, his dirty blond hair long enough to tie into a sloppy ponytail, and his chin was burdened with a beard that would make the most discerning of Portland wanna-be lumberjacks green with envy.
Of course, there was also the minor detail that Jack Ilyin was inexplicably huge.
“Oh dear,” Amos said.
Martin grabbed his daughter by the shoulder and pushed her behind him as they gawked up at the giant. “Th-this is my daughter, Mr. Ilyin. She w-was just on her way out, alright?”
Brooke stared at that face above them, scowling, vaguely suspicious, but mostly, it appeared to her, deeply bitter. All the analysis in the world wasn’t worth squat, however, when he reached down with an arm girthier than a telephone pole, hand ready to grab her. She didn’t make a sound, but she did give into instinct and ran as fast as her feet would carry her. Up the stairs, down the hall, and out the still-open, ten-thousand-dollar front door. Brooke ran down the walkway, out the gate (which was only locked from the outside, it seemed) and down the cedar-planked path through the trees, trying not to trip over her own feet.
The dock and the yacht came into view below, but as she neared the tree line, her legs started numbing. When she couldn’t feel her feet anymore, she stumbled and fell. Brooke cursed under her breath, wondering what the hell was going on, but when she heard the sound of those footfalls approaching from the house, she willed herself to stand. When that didn’t work, she resorted to a crawl, but soon her hands and arms were numbing and weakening too, and not ten feet further down the gentle slope did she collapse onto the ground, sprawled and tangled up in her own limp limbs, and unable to move.
It was all she could do to watch as the giant man approached at a leisurely pace, appearing like a twenty-foot shadow among the fog and the trees. And it was all she could do to keep her heart from exploding when he knelt at her side and cocked his head at her.
“It’s part of the curse, I’m afraid,” Jack Ilyin rumbled flatly. “All designed to keep this place isolated from the rest of the world.” He reached down with both hands and slid his fingers underneath her, lifting her up off the ground with not a little care. Brooke still couldn’t move anything but her head.
“What did you do to me!” she cried, not even trying to sound courageous at this point. “Why can’t I move, dammit! Put me down!”
He tossed her onto his shoulder, still limp as a rag doll, and held her there with his massive hand on the backs of her knees. She glanced down, remembering she was deathly afraid of heights, and bit back a scream: it came out as a long, whimpering moan instead. Brooke tried to close her eyes, but that didn’t last for long. The view of his broad back and his long powerful strides far below was too strange and mesmerizing to miss.
It was a few moments later when they reached the house again, and she felt her strength returning. They went right past the front door, heading around to the back. She finally saw just how big the building was, and how, once upon a time, it must have been a gorgeous place to live.
“I used to be able to fit in my own house,” Jack growled. She saw him glance unhappily at his reflection in one of the second-story windows as they walked. They came to the end of the wing, revealing an Olympic-sized swimming pool in the rear of the house surrounded by terraces, hot tubs, a sauna, and pool house. “Used to be able to helm The Carpe Diem,” he went on. She could almost hear him grinding his teeth together. “Used to be able to enjoy a steak. Fit in my clothes.” Jack knelt down abruptly, sending butterflies shooting from her stomach and up into her throat, but at least she had the means to hold on now instead of loll around helplessly. They were beside the trap door, Brooke noticed as he removed her from him and set her down beside it. “Believe it or not, I used to be normal. Until that bitch came along.”
“Who?” she blurted.
“That’s what Mr. Ilyin has hired me to find out.”
Brooke turned to find her father being escorted out of the great room by Amos. “…Dad?”
“As far as I can tell,” he said sadly, giving her shoulders a squeeze. “Hocus pocus is the only thing that would explain any of this. If I can track down the woman who supposedly did this to him, we might be able to get him back to normal.”
“But what about Patel? And… and the buyout?”
“Suchara blyad!” Jack ferociously spat. So that’s where his accent went; the bile of his hate and the deep harshness afforded to him by his size just made him sound all the more Russian. But then he continued in near-perfect newscaster English. “I’m surprised the fucking bastard hasn’t ordered a hit on me. He could certainly afford it.” He shook his head gravely then gestured to himself. “No. There’s no dealing with that mess until we deal with this.”
Jack moved over to the edge of the pool and sat down to put his feet in. Even at the deepest end, the water would have come up to his waist. This seemed to relax him a little – Brooke could see a little of the anger and frustration leave him.
“I can arrange for someone to pick you up and take you back to Anacortes,” Jack said.
“Take him up on the offer, Brooke. Please. I’ll be fine, I promise. I’ll be…” Martin trailed off, and Brooke noticed that he’d suddenly broke into a cold sweat. Amos was there to grab his arm to steady him before he fell to the ground.
Brooke knew what she was looking at, and it suddenly occurred to her that he would not, in fact, be fine. “Dad, dad. Your pills. C’mon, you gotta take one.” She quickly popped open the bottle and shook one out into her hand for him.
“I… I’ll…” He panted as if simply being awake was exhausting. “I’ll be fine…”
Brooke looked on with severity. “You’ve got high blood pressure and you’re diabetic. Take the damn pill!” she snapped. “No. You’re either going home, or you’re going to get a heart attack out here. Or with your luck, one and then the other!”
Martin couldn’t argue.
“Amos, get him some juice or something please.”
“Of course, Miss Foster.” The white robot quickly disappeared inside, and returned a minute later with a glass of orange juice. Martin was breathing heavily when he took the glass and raised it to his lips. Brooke watched him, worried about how many times this has happened since being without his medications. He seemed to be doing a little better when he was done with the juice, but it would still be a few minutes before his glucose levels and blood pressure were back to normal.
“He’s hypoglycemic,” Jack Ilyin idly noted from where he still sat at the pool.
“No shit,” Brooke snapped. “Which is why we need to go home.”
“Nuh-uh, nope. He’s not leaving until I get what I need,” he said. “And don’t even think of trying to make another run for it.”
Brooke narrowed her eyes at the giant.
“That’s because nobody leaves the island unless I let them.” A pause. “Unless…” Another pause as he rubbed his beard and thought. “You said you were his assistant?”
Martin struggled to get to his feet, but still had to hold onto Amos to keep from swaying. “Dammit, Ilyin, leave my daughter out of this!”
“Can she do the job?” he suddenly boomed.
Brooke cowed, but was beginning to see that a deal had to be made for her father’s sake. “I… I can get access to the same resources as my father can. I’m not licensed, but… I could if I had to.”
She swallowed and turned back to him. “Dad, I can do this. I’ve been helping you for four years now, I know how this goes. It’s just research. I can do that. And if we get him back to normal, then he can take care of the Orcasoft affair all by himself.”
Martin Foster nodded, seeing that, perhaps, this wasn’t a death sentence for anybody – just an unusually high-stakes fact-finding case. The giant Jack Ilyin looked on as the two exchanged words, then nodded at his servitor. “Amos, charter something for Mr. Foster so he can get out of here.”
“Of course, sir.” The little light on his face flickered and blinked for a minute as it processed the request. “The boat will arrive in approximately half an hour,” he declared.
“See him out.”
Brooke stood there, frowning at her new… client. “So what about me, then? I don’t have any clothes, any toiletries, no computer… How exactly, is this going to work?”
He chuckled darkly. “As my grandparents would say, uspokoysya, durochka. Don’t worry your pretty little head.”