Dr. Fraud tapped the Enter key on his keyboard and a wisp of smoke rose gently from the vents at the back of the computer. He sighed, three times, heavily, sounding very put upon and, looking around his desk, found a glass of water he’d been drinking earlier. He picked it up and poured it into the vents of the computer. The smoke disappeared and a few blue sparks dances in the air over the keyboard for a moment. Dr. Fraud waited for them to disappear too, then pressed the button on the office intercom.
“Miss Phelps, the computer needs seeing to again,” he said, his crisp German accent making him sound rather authoritarian. There was an audible sigh from the other side of the intercom.
“I’ll send Sebastopol in,” said a gruff female voice that suggested a heavy cigarette habit. “It would help a lot if you’d tell him what you poured into it this time when he gets there.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” said Dr. Fraud picking the glass back up and looking for somewhere to hide it. “Please ask the nice young man to hurry.” He took his finger off the intercom button, cutting Miss Phelps’s reply off before it really got started. Then he opened drawers in his desk at random until he found one with some space in all the clutter, forced the glass in, and closed it up again.
There was a tap at the door, and he called out “Come in, Herein! Open it, it is unlocked already!” A late-middle-aged man with a shaggy mop of grey hair interspersed with white ones ambled through the doorway holding a wet mop in one hand and an aluminium spanner in the other.
“Dr. Fraud? You broke your computer again?” His voice was soft and sounded educated. It was a perennial puzzle to Doctor Fraud that someone who sounded like they should be debating philosophical issues at Cambridge appeared to enjoy doing maintenance work and cleaning other people’s lavatories.
“It attempted to catch fire,” said Dr. Fraud. “It certainly wasn’t my fault!”
“Let’s take a look then,” said Sebastopol putting the mop on Dr. Fraud’s consulting couch. It squelched, and Fraud frowned, wondering why the noise sounded familiar.
“I was attempting to complete my app, you know,” he said. “We are very nearly there now.”
“What’s it do then, this app of yours?” Sebastopol picked up the laptop and shook it experimentally, tilting his head to listen. Then he turned it sideways and a sooty liquid drained out and into the inch-deep pile of the carpet.
“It will interpret dreams,” said Dr. Fraud. “You place your head inside the special apparatus and let yourself go to sleep. While you dream the app records your physiology and how you respond, and from that we infer what you were dreaming about and then provide you with an automatic interpretation. Of course, it’s not as good as coming to see me on a regular appointment basis as the app can only provide an analysis on the dream in isolation, but it would give people like me a starting point for interpreting the whole suite of dreams in the context of your own life.”
“That sounds quite interesting,” said Sebastopol. “Reckon you’ve got a leak in here somewhere Doctor, that’s the third time your laptop’s been full of water.”
“Can you make the silly thing work again?”
“Let me open her up and see,” said Sebastopol. He produced a swiss army knife from a pocket, and then a second from another pocket. “See these? Between them they’ll deal with 90% of all screw-heads on the market. Not many people know that. What’s this special equipment then for you app? Is it waterproof?” He chuckled, to Dr. Fraud’s evident bemusement.
“I do not see the humour,” he said, but Sebastopol said nothing to enlighten him. “For now, I am using the photocopier,” he continued. Screws rattled on the desk as Seb took them out of the machine. “It is not perfect, but if you close the lid firmly enough people pass out and go to sleep quite quickly. I was hoping that we could get some pictures of their eyes as well, but the bright light seems to wake them up again.”
“Right,” said Seb. The computer was open now and he was staring at what looked like rust eating into the motherboard. The hard-drive case had holes in it, and the power-supply unit was sparking despite not being connected to the mains.
“Dreams are often the most profound when they seem the most crazy,” said Dr. Fraud. Sebastopol poked some solder on the board and it oozed away from his finger almost as though it were alive. “I have tried it now on several guinea pigs and we have had most interesting results. Obviously I cannot name names, but the young lady who comes here on Tuesday afternoons between 2 and 3 had a detailed dream that involved you. It seemed that in the dream, when I spoke to her afterwards, she’d fallen on an inappropriately sign-posted patch of wet floor and you’d come over to rescue her. As she reached out to let you take her hand you too had slipped and fallen on top of her, and then somehow, unaccountable as the dream recorded it, all the buttons on her blouse flew off from the force of the collision. Is it supposed to do that?”
“Do what?” asked Seb, who had stopped looking at the computer and was paying close attention to Dr. Fraud. “Buttons don’t normally fly off no. You should introduce me to her and I can probably fix that problem.”
“Don’t be silly,” said Dr. Fraud. “I explained to her that the dream is her subconscious telling her that she should sue you for improper conduct in the workplace and she was quite happy with that idea. No, I meant that big black thing. Should it move like that?”
“This is America,” said Dr. Fraud. “It’s practically a national hobby. I gave her lawyer your address.”
“Well, I didn’t want anyone coming her to serve you papers. It would give me a poor reputation. Look, it did it again, it moved! It pulsed!”
“Yeah,” said Sebastopol, his voice oddly dull and heavy. He put the lid back on the laptop. “All good in there, Doc,” he said. “Plug it in, give it two minutes to get warm, and then if nothing’s happening shove that letter opener of yours in the yellow slot at the back. Steel it it?”
“Silver,” said Dr. Fraud. “Though I don’t hold it against you, when would you have ever had reason to encounter the precious metals?”
“Yeah, stick that knife in there several times then,” said Seb. “Gotta run, I have an appointment with someone else on the faculty!”