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  Frank Richards thought it was an ordinary Wednesday morning. He was wrong. This was when it all started. Frank liked to arrive early and get in before the mad rush of demand for his services that was inevitable on most days. The old Head of School, Walt Dickinson, would sometimes beat him to it, but not anymore. Since the “Big Change,” Walt might arrive just in time for mid-morning coffee. So, Frank would have to open up. He delved in his trouser pocket for his keys. He looked up at the sign over the door. It was beautifully made with shiny stainless-steel letters on a polished black background. But it annoyed him every morning. It was now called The Centre for Industrial Design. As far as Frank was concerned, it had always been a School, and it still was. In Frank’s opinion, too many things at Deva University were changing.

  He let out a sigh as he put the key in the lock. It turned and withdrew the bolt with a satisfying clunk. Frank was an engineer at heart. He took pleasure in the way well-made things worked. These new front doors were a delight. They looked and felt substantial. They even sounded robust. They were not only secure but told you so. Frank thought you couldn’t have a Centre for Industrial Design with a flimsy-looking pair of doors. You could open one, or you could open both to bring a trolley in. All was satisfactory. The old School never had a proper front door. Frank approved of that change. Given the secret nature of the work they were doing now, extra security was essential.

  The front doors gave access to the studios, which were wide open spaces. There was just a waist-high wall separating them from the central walkway. Frank liked the way the architects had arranged everything. It was all simple and logical. He strode down the central walkway. To his left were the studios for first and second-year students. To his right were the degree year and postgraduate studios. The overall design was one of clarity and logic. However, the studios all looked like a complete mess. They always did. Drawings were scattered everywhere, as were half-constructed models. Frank knew that student designers at work almost always meant chaos. He marvelled at how they came up with such beautiful creations. One of the tutors, who he most respected, used a simple little phrase about design that he liked. Simplicity is on the far side of complexity. Frank knew he was not cut out to be a designer. He could not live with the chaotic mess that persisted for so long during the student design process. He was often in awe of their creativity. Secretly, he was fond of his students.

  Some of the old-fashioned drawing boards were still around, but these days, every student place has a large screen for their computers. The students would arrive clutching their powerful laptops, plug in a screen and start work. Frank smiled to himself. This was a metaphor for the research for which the Centre had become famous. Computers were everywhere, and it had all happened in Frank’s lifetime. When he first started as an apprentice, the University had one computer. Now, students design everyday products that have more computing power in them.

  Behind the studios on both sides, were the staff offices. Students always had easy access to tutors, and both liked that arrangement. Straight ahead was the computer lab and then the workshop. That was Frank’s area. It also had a locked door, which was more for safety than security. Some of Frank’s beloved power tools could remove the fingers, or worse, of careless students.

  It was when he reached the computer lab that it hit him. For a moment, he stood, mouth open in amazement. It looked as if a tornado had swept through. There was broken glass everywhere. Computer screens were on their sides and smashed. The floor was littered with documents and half-smashed models. Then he saw the worst of it. All the expensive design workstations had been battered. Their cases were dented and scratched. It looked for all the world as if a madman had attacked them with a sledgehammer. In a moment of anxiety, he rushed to unlock the room where the main computer disc servers were kept. The door was already open. It was smashed, and the architrave was hanging off the wall. As he feared, the high-capacity computer server discs for the Centre network were in pieces. As Frank knew from setting them up, they had substantial cases. Someone had taken a hefty hammer to them. He tried to do a quick estimate of the cost of replacing them. Mental arithmetic had never been his strong suit. He gave up. It would be an awful lot of money. But how had the perpetrators of all this got in, and why had they done it?

  A panic washed over him as he dashed over to his workshop. The door was ajar. Beyond, the outer doors to the delivery dock were wide open. Perhaps they had come in through the ground floor somehow, gone up in the service lift, through his materials store and then had free run of the whole place. His mind was in a whirl of confusion. He opened the doors to all his tool cupboards. His beloved tools were kept hanging on a pegboard screen. They were all exactly where they should be. Except! His heart sank. There was a gap where his heaviest and least used hammer hung. Had they used it to create all this havoc? Thank goodness, all his beloved power tools were still there. The least important thing, he thought. He slumped down onto a nearby stool.

  Frank was not given to emotional outbursts but felt tears filling his eyes. He sat shaking with his head in his hands. Feelings of fear and anger had taken over. He was paralysed. What on earth should he do?

  Frank suddenly sensed the unseen presence of another person and turned round. It was Walt Dickinson, the previous Head of the School. Walt’s face was twisted in an expression of horror.

  ‘Whatever has happened?’ he demanded.

  ‘It looks like we’ve had a break-in overnight,’ said Frank. ‘Everything is damaged, probably beyond repair. It’s years of work.’

  ‘I’d better phone Willem,’ said Walt. Frank admired his cool logic. Yes, of course, inform the Director of the Centre. That was the first thing to do. Walt pulled his phone out of his bag and pressed his most frequently used speed dial key. He stood impatiently, tapping his foot.

  ‘He’s not answering,’ he said. Then his phone bleeped, and Frank could hear a voice.

  ‘This is Professor Willem Kuiper. Please leave a message.’ ‘It’s Walt. I’m at the Centre. It’s been ransacked. Please get back to me ASAP.’

   Frank began carefully picking up stools and chairs that had been knocked over and started to collect papers off the floor.’

  ‘Perhaps you had better leave it,’ said Walt Dickinson. The police will want to see what has happened. Put a notice on the front door saying the Centre is closed for the day and bolt the main door.’

  Frank bustled around, complying with Walt’s instruction. Why hadn’t he thought of that? It was the right thing to do. Perhaps that’s why Walt got to be Head of School, and I’m a technician, he thought.

  For the next hour or so, Frank watched as Walt kept trying to call the Director of the Centre, Professor Willem Kuiper.

  ‘I can’t believe he isn’t answering his phone,’ he said as Frank came out of the workshop. He had made a small attempt to tidy up in the workshop on the pretext that this was for safety reasons. He knew well that this was the managerial equivalent of the ace of trumps. No one can argue about safety. He was about to put the kettle on when Walt let out a huge sigh.

  ‘This break-in,’ said Walt breathlessly as the reality of it all began to take over in his mind. ‘All the main computers have been smashed, probably beyond repair. What on earth are we going to do?’ Frank stood helpless, his arms outstretched, his shoulders shrugged. ‘I’ve been trying to call Willem, but he doesn’t answer. I’ve never known him not to answer a call. He spends his life on his phone. It’s ringing and not engaged.’

  ‘Something must be dreadfully wrong,’ suggested Frank. ‘Perhaps you should call Aletta. She will be furious at the damage to all her computers.’

  ‘I think she’s been at a conference the last few days,’ replied Walt. ‘OK, then. I need to take over again until Professor Kuiper arrives. No. Wait, why should I? I’ll give the Vice-Chancellor’s office a call. They get paid huge salaries over there. Let them earn their money and decide what to do.’  

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