The room ahead was wide and open, the size of a small factory. The expanse was lit by dim floating grey spheres. In the center, a set of rooms rose up, two or three stories high. There were windows in some of the rooms and brighter light came from some of them.
The inside of the building walls were the same brick as the outside. The floor was dusty cement for the most part. Dotted across the floor were squares of bare dirt. There were people laying in about half of the squares. Four people to each square. There were cobwebs everywhere. The air was thick with an odor that seemed to be a mix of old dog food and rotting fruit.
Charles swallowed. “Are they dead?”
Sums cocked her head. “I hadn’t considered that. My first thought was that you’d found a slave distribution center. Dead people would be much less dangerous.”
“I think we should leave and come back with a police escort.”
“Providing you can find a way out, I agree.”
Charles groped back through the alcove. His voice came out. “No shelf. No button.”
Sums walked forward. The nearest square was only a few paces away. The people in it were covered with cobwebs. She bent to examine them. The cobwebs were wrapped tightly around them – completely around them. They were laying on part of the wrapping.
Not wanting to touch the strands, she picked out the nearest square with uncovered people in it and walked over. She could hear Charles insulting the button behind her. It was worth a shot, she supposed. She bent again and touched a foot. It was cold and stiff. The shoe it wore was scuffed and dirty. The rest of the clothes were also the worse for wear.
She stood and did a rough count. When Charles came back out, he hesitated at walking into the room. She considered having pity on him, but decided he needed to get over his repulsion and waited for him to come up to her.
“There are more than a hundred,” she said. “Maybe more on the other side of the center, there.”
“They’re dead, aren’t they.”
“Yes. I’m surprised they don’t smell worse.”
“Do you know why some of them are wrapped? Have you heard about any spells . . . “
“No. I don’t know anything about the cobwebs, either, but I have a strong suspicion that you’re going to be having some committee meetings about how to interpret the zoning laws.”
“What? What about the zoning laws?”
“Does industry include research is one question, I suspect.” Charles relaxed a little hearing that. “Then there’s the question of whether residential density requirements apply to zombies or whether they’re considered to be mechanisms.”
“Zombies? There’s no such thing as zombies!”
“If there are no such thing as zombies, that will simplify matters. Assuming, of course, that Mr. Asmundson is not doing research regarding the creation of zombies.”
“Let’s assume simplicity.”
“Yes. And let’s scan to see if there is a heavier magic flux than is allowed in an area zoned for light industry.”
“Yes. Let’s.” Charles patted his belly and looked around. Sums pulled a couple of metal dowsing rods out of her shoulder bag. She checked the handles.
“You don’t use the forked sort?”
“No. I triangulate better with the L-rods.” She turned in a circle, holding the short ends of the L shape of the rods in her outstretched hands. The long ends wavered over the tops of her fists, either tipping together or apart, as she turned. “The door is magical, but low energy. The bodies are, well, dead.”
“And zombies would show magic, yes?”
“I have no idea. So far as I know, there are no such thing as zombies. There’s a higher reading over there.”
“In those rooms?”
“Or on the other side.” Sums dropped her hands. “Let’s go check. You might want to call out. To keep from surprising anyone.”
Charles took a few deep breaths, gathered his authority, and raised his voice. “Hello, the building. I am Charles Lindwood from the Department of Permits. We are conducting a routine inspection.” Charles waited for a reply. Sums walked toward the rooms in the center. “Hello?”
Charles trotted to catch up. He was looking happier.