Professor Jones grinned and pumped Mikkel’s hand enthusiastically. “Such a pleasure to finally meet you.”
Mikkel murmured something suitably similar in reply and glanced around him, the hallway of the Archaeology Building seemed unusually dimly lit.
Professor Jones grimaced. “We seem to be having some trouble with the electricity, or maybe the wiring, this morning. The maintenance people are looking into it but in the meantime, we’ll soldier on as we always do.”
Mikkel gave him a faint smile. “Just so.”
The ebullient professor grinned, and led the way down the hall, saying over his shoulder. “We’d best take the stairs, I’m not sure I trust the lifts with the power acting up and it’s only one storey after all.”
Something inside Mikkel’s mind came alert. The power was acting up was it? Maybe he should have stopped by a little earlier.
A scream echoed up the stairwell just as they reached it and, glancing at each other, the two men headed down towards it. They were met near the bottom by a panting, wide-eyed research assistant. “In the lab, Professor, there’s someone there and he says there were two others but they… I think he’s delirious, Sir.”
Mikkel asked. “Which way?”
The young man stammered. “Sorry?”
“Which way is this lab and the person?”
The assistant pointed wordlessly, and Mikkel strode in the direction of his pointed finger.
Easy enough to find the drama once he reached the base of the stairs, there was a clamour of voices from behind a half-open set of doors at one end of the corridor.
He made for them, trying to cover the ground without running. The damn power.
Striding through the door, Professor Jones on his heels, he raised his voice to carry above the panicked hubbub.
“Step back, towards the door, all of you. I need this area clear.”
Most the group, ten people in all, obeyed him, clustering together in a whispering huddle, watching the room with shock-filled eyes.
Of the rest, one was a young man, sooty and drooping. A woman and a man were talking to him, quiet tones, with calm, soothing cadences. They managed to get him to his feet and slowly brought him over to where Mikkel stood.
Mikkel nodded to them. “Thank you for being useful. Send one of your rabbit-eyed friends behind you for a medical team and keep up the good work.”
They gave him confused nods and he heard them talking to the others as he crossed the floor to the remaining two. One was approaching a blackened part of the floor with a broom and a disapproving scowl.
Mikkel put a hand in front of her. “What do you think you’re doing?”
She glared. “That stupid boy has made a mess in my lab and I’m going to clean it up.”
He glared in turn, she blinked and stepped back a little. “Your lab? So you are the laboratory manager?”
Her chin went up and she tried to look at him down her nose. “No, I’m one of his assistants. But I take responsibility for things.”
He raised a brow. “And you are about to take responsibility for contaminating a crime scene.”
She scoffed. “Oh please. He’s just bluffing.”
“‘He’ being your shell-shocked friend over there?”
The other person, the one combing through the tray of relics on the centre table replied. “Trevor’s not our friend. He’s Sarah’s boyfriend and a soggy-spined wimp. He says Sarah brought him and Gary down here last night and these relics fried them.”
Mikkel managed to cover both of them with a glacial stare. “And have you tried to contact Sarah? See where she is?”
The two glanced at each other. Mikkel sighed. “Of course not, you’re too busy being self-righteous. Get over there with your friends and stop scuffing about in the remains of your classmates.”
The broom-wielder’s scoff was cut off by Professor Jones, who’d approached during the exchange. “I was right then? There are some alternate energy artefacts in amongst this lot?”
Mikkel shrugged. “All the signs are pointing to it, I’m afraid. The interference with your lighting, the way they kept rearranging themselves and whatever it is that sorry, soggy Trevor saw here last night. I would get as much information from his as you can before he’s carted off by the medical people. Odds are he’ll start to forget things very quickly.”
Broom-girl was trying to decide between fear and disbelief. “You can’t be serious. It’s just drunken ravings.”
Mikkel gestured at the floor she was trying to clean. “Drunken ravings in a lab full of newly unearthed relics, with two piles of ash in the dead centre of a badly-drawn casting circle.”
He pinned her with a stare. “A casting circle you were about to knowingly and deliberately erase.”
The girl’s gaze went wide. “I never.”
Mikkel picked up one of the relics on the table, ignoring the whimper from the other student. “Tell me, were you hoping to work out which ones they were and sell them off on the dark web? Or did you come in here with a specific commission?”