Posted July 14, 2021

The Brilliant Boy Billionaire

The Amazing Journey of a Remarkable Kid, by Altimexis

PART FOUR – The Executive Suite

Chapter 2: Confronting the Past

“So, your father found out you were gay and threw you out of the house?” Mr. Cooper asked as we continued to eat our salads. “As you know, I grew up in the Deep South, but fortunately that never happened to me.”

We were at the Field Club of Omaha, reportedly the city’s finest private club, and I was in the midst of lunch with three of the top executives from Applazon. Why they’d taken me out to a private golf club was still a mystery to me.

“Yeah, I’m not sure how he found out, but I was only fifteen and had never had sex with anyone, let alone even kissed a boy. My guess is he found something on my Chromebook, but I didn’t even think he knew how to use it. So, he threw me out with the trash, and I wasn’t yet old enough to live on my own. As far as I knew, I had no other family. Southern Indiana isn’t a good place for a gay kid to be in a group home or foster care, so I decided to take my chances on running away. Dad didn’t exactly give me time to pack, so I had to buy stuff along the way. I had a Raleigh mountain bike that I’d bought with my tutoring money – Dad didn’t realize how much it cost – and I made my way across Indiana, Illinois and Missouri.

“I avoided big cities at first because I’d read enough to know there are people who look for kids like me to exploit. I used my Applazon gift cards to buy clothes and essentials for myself and to pay for food and occasionally for campsites along the way, because at least then I could shower. Unfortunately, when I was partway across Missouri, everything I had was stolen. It was in the midst of a heavy rainstorm, and I stopped in a public park and decided to spend the night. I hunkered down under a picnic shelter and laid out my soaking-wet belongings to dry, including the clothes I was wearing. I put on dry clothes, lay down on a picnic table and went to sleep. I didn’t even bother to lock up my bike. After all, who would bother stealing a bicycle in the midst of a pouring thunderstorm with the owner only a few feet away?

“Next thing I knew, it was light out, the sun was shining and everything I owned was gone. They even got my wallet. Without even a penny to my name, I hitchhiked my way to Kansas City, planning to transfer the assets of the Applazon gift cards I’d lost to a new one. That’s when I discovered that the serial numbers and PINs I had no longer worked. Later on, when I was able to call Applazon to try and reclaim my funds, I found out that the police had reported the cards stolen. Obviously, they’d been found and turned in, and Applazon wasn’t about to restore funds on cards they presumed I’d stolen.”

Valerie returned with a gentleman in a chef’s hat who was pushing a large cart. She cleared away the plates at the table and set out fresh dinner plates, silverware and napkins. In the meantime, the man in the chef’s hat set out a series of covered dishes on the side table, each of which had a candle or something like a candle under it that he lit. Finally, he removed the cover on a large hunk of beef – maybe it was what they called prime rib – and proceeded to slice it into thick slabs that he placed in another covered dish over which he poured some juice. Valerie and the man with the cart then left us alone.

The three of us got in a short line at the side table, with Mr. Jenkins in front and me in back. The cut of rib roast was crispy and almost black on one end, very well done on the other end, dark red in the very center and pink in-between. Mr. Jenkins took the cut that was on the end that was thoroughly well done but not black. I considered his cut to be more suitable for shoe leather, although to him I was sure it was tasty. Dr. Moorthy quite obviously wasn’t an observant Hindu, as he took a cut of the beef – one that was pink in the center. Mr. Cooper skipped the beef entirely, leaving me to wonder if he was a vegetarian. I took the slice that was rare, bordering on raw. It was perfect. Next was a container with four salmon fillets, and we each took one of those. In the short time since I’d been exposed to fine food, I’d come to really love salmon. Next was a container that was half-filled with what I thought were scallops and half-filled with chicken breasts that seemed to be stuffed with ham and cheese and covered in a creamy sauce. The chicken looked tempting, but all four of us passed on it, taking just a few scallops apiece. I’d never eaten scallops before and was looking forward to trying them. There was too much food!

Finally, we came to the vegetables. There was a choice between a baked potato or sweet-potato fries – well, I probably could’ve taken both, but there was already a lot of food on my plate. Mr. Jenkins and Dr. Moorthy each took a baked potato with sour cream, whereas Mr. Cooper and I each took a large portion of the sweet potato fries. There was a container that was half-filled with sautéed mushrooms and asparagus. Everyone took the asparagus, but only Mr. Cooper and I took the mushrooms, too. They looked and smelled too good to pass by. Finally, there was a container that was half wild rice and half baby carrots. The others took the carrots, and Dr. Moorthy and Mr. Cooper took the rice, but I passed on both. At the end there were some garnishes – steak sauce, barbecue sauce, cocktail sauce, ketchup, lemon mayonnaise and tartar sauce. I only knew what they were because they were labeled. I took a large helping of the tartar sauce, not for the fish but for my sweet potato fries. Sweet potato fries are way better with tartar sauce than with ketchup.

We sat down and began eating. The roast was tender enough to cut with a fork. Everything was outstanding. For a time, nothing was said as we were too busy eating, and continuing my story would’ve meant talking with a full mouth or eating cold food after everyone was finished.

Eventually, Mr. Jenkins asked, “So what happened next,” forcing me to continue.

“Well, I found myself on the streets of Kansas City, penniless and starving. There was food all around me, but I had too much of a conscience to steal it. I seriously thought about begging while I still looked like a decent kid, but something seemed to be calling me from the other side of the Kansas River. I’m not a religious person, but I honestly feel that if it wasn’t God, then some kind of guardian angel was looking out for me.

“I came upon a father and son who were working on painting an elderly couple’s house. I’d helped my dad paint in previous summers, so I knew how to paint and how to do it right. The Rodriguez family had just lost a son in Afghanistan, so they were short-staffed and had more work than they could handle. When I told them I’d worked for my dad painting houses, they hired me on the spot. They gave me a roof over my head, a bed to sleep in and when they saw the quality of my work, a hundred dollars a day, six days a week, cash.

“I lived with the Rodriguez family almost a year, turning sixteen while I lived with them. I used the money to replenish my wardrobe and to update it, as I was growing like a weed, as they say. I also began to think about my future and how I was gonna make a life for myself. I mean, I didn’t have a high-school diploma ’cause I left home at the start of the spring semester of my senior year. I didn’t have any identification at all: no birth certificate, no driver’s license, no Social Security card, no passport. Nothing. The one clue I did have was my Social Security number. I doubt Dad even realized I had my Social Security card. I guess it was with my things when we moved from Wyoming, or maybe it was Iowa by the time we moved to Indiana.

“You know, I think I know what might have happened: that you found another family with our names and our Social Security numbers,” I went on. “Dad was just a kid when Mom died in childbirth, and I doubt he had any insurance, so he probably owed a ton of money for Mom’s hospital bill. Dad probably already had applied for my Social Security number ’cause you need one to claim a kid as a dependent. Maybe with the creditors coming after us, Dad sold our identities to an undocumented family and we moved to Indiana and went off the grid. It’s the only thing that makes sense to me.” I hoped that story made sense as I’d made it up on the fly. I didn’t want them looking into my past.

“So, when I was living with the Rodriguez family,” I continued, “I decided to get a copy of my birth certificate and use it to replace my Social Security card, to get my GED and to get a driver’s license. When I tried to contact the county clerk back in Indiana to get a copy of it, however, they had no record that I’d ever been born in the state, let alone in the hospital where I was supposedly born. I remembered my Social Security number, so I checked with Social Security, and their records listed that I’d been born in Elk Mountain, Wyoming. I contacted the county clerk and, sure enough, they had my birth certificate on microfiche.

“With a copy of my birth certificate in hand, I replaced my Social Security card and got my GED, but I discovered that to get a driver’s license in Kansas, I required an existing government-issued photo ID. Omaha doesn’t, so I moved up here. Thanks to the friends the Rodriguez family has through their church, I was able to arrange to live with the Gonzalez family and to get a job at Applazon.”

“I don’t think I could have done half the stuff you did, J.J.,” Mr. Jenkins exclaimed. “That’s an amazing story. Now, I bet you’re wondering why we wanted to meet with you today.”

“The thought had crossed my mind,” I replied with a wry smile. “Somehow, I doubt you schlepped all the way from Seattle, just to have lunch with a sixteen-year-old data-center technician.”

“I didn’t know Hoosiers knew what ‘schlep’ even means,” Mr. Jenkins responded.

“We just got the Yiddish upgrade to English two years ago,” I replied. “We got it along with rock ‘n roll, horseless carriages and Target.”

Laughing, Mr. Jenkins responded, “Now, I know you had rock ‘n roll before now, because John Mellencamp hails from Indiana.”

“Actually, yeah,” I replied with perhaps a little too much enthusiasm. “He actually grew up in Seymour, near where I grew up. It’s the town where Dad and I did most of our shopping.” Shit, I realized I’d probably said too much again.

“So, the reason we ‘schlepped’ all the way to Omaha to see you is that we wanted to meet the young man who submitted a series of drawings for a new server design,” Mr. Jenkins explained. I’d figured as much.

“For quite some time, we’ve been working on possible ways to automate server management at all our data centers,” Dr. Moorthy began. “There are a number of reasons why we haven’t implemented anything so far, but the main reason is that we already have standardized server designs that we use in facilities around the world, and coming up with a strategy that didn’t involve using a completely new design has proven to be elusive.

“As you can imagine, nearly all our server rooms have conventional racks, but even as our hardware has improved, we’ve been stuck with the limitations imposed by the standardized design. Therefore, we’ve been considering implementing a new standard for our new data centers and to replace the old ones as they’re gradually updated. Because the new design will be in use for perhaps decades to come, it needs to be robust and adaptable as components change over the years.

“Of course, the idea of designing a new rack from the ground up, with robotic server replacement included, has come up before, and we even explored the use of a cylindrical design not unlike the one you submitted. Every design proposal suffered from many of the same problems: they take more floor space than conventional systems, the whole thing has to be taken off line to get at the interconnects and cables or to service the backplane, efficient and effective cooling would be difficult, new components couldn’t be interchanged with old components and so on.

“We already had planned to implement a new standard design in our Omaha data center that was still in the planning stage, when along came a new design submitted by a sixteen-year-old kid that was obviously put together using our own CAD-CAM software. He only gave us basic line drawings, but what we’ve seen has us intrigued.”

Attempting to interject a little humor, I said, “Did you just suggest I was put together using your CAD-CAM software?”

“We weren’t going to tell you, but you’re version 1.0 of our first AI robotic kid,” Mr. Cooper replied without missing a beat. You’re still in beta though, so we may have to decommission you when the next release comes out.” What a great rejoinder!

“One of the challenges of the cylindrical design,” Dr. Moorthy continued, “is maintaining access to the central core. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the design of the original Cray supercomputers of the later twentieth century —”

“There was an opening in the side of the cylinder,” I filled in. “It allowed a thin person to get inside the heart of the computer but at the cost of making the cylinder a bit larger. They also ran a spaghetti bowl of cables right through the center, so making repairs often meant disconnecting all those cables and then reconnecting them. However, that was when they still used discrete components. Today’s smart phones can outshine those old Crays.

“Today, we have the advantage of being able to put a state-of-the-art supercomputer on a single chip. Add to that an onboard memory cache, hundreds of gigabytes of RAM, a terabyte SSD and a 25 Gbps fiberoptic Ethernet interface and you have the most powerful cloud server the world has ever known, all of which can fit on a single circuit board you can hold in the palm of your hand. We can do something the Cray could not. We can make our cylinder short and squat – a torus – and then we can stack them. Accessing the core is like separating a stack of coins.”

“It’s an ingenious design,” Dr. Moorthy exclaimed. “You can get to everything while all the other servers in the stack continue to operate unimpeded. Building the Ethernet switches into the backplane eliminates most cables and simplifies maintenance. Even still, I would have nixed the design because of concerns with how to cool such a beast, but you’ve addressed that, too. Tell me about your ideas.”

Taking a deep breath ’cause this was a major topic by itself perhaps worthy of a dissertation, I began, “There are actually two aspects to heat management in a server. They’re usually treated as one, but there are significant advantages to looking at them separately. The first is the issue of heat removal. Switched electronics generate heat; it’s a matter of Ohm’s Law and there’s no getting around that fact. Heat generation can be reduced by reducing switching voltage but at the risk of an increasing error rate due to noise, which is itself increased by excess heat. Excess heat increases the rate of component failure, increasing the cost of maintenance. None of this should be news to you, but I find it helpful to summarize as it factors into why we need to look at heat management as two problems rather than one.

“The typical server consumes about 500 watts, nearly all of which ends up as heat. A handful of companies such as Facebook have utilized that heat productively, for example, to heat their facilities. Our new data center will be across the interstate from a Walmart Supercenter, and perhaps we could offer our excess heat to Walmart to save them the cost of heating their store, but that would only help during the winter. I think an absorptive refrigeration process could be developed to use waste heat to power the cooling system, but that’s for the future.

“The second issue is heat reduction as a means of increasing efficiency and reducing thermal stress on server components. I consider it a separate issue because it’s not just a matter of heat removal but actual cooling that doesn’t necessarily stop when we reach room temperature. Very cold temperatures can reduce thermal stress, reduce component failure and prolong component life. Additionally, they reduce electronic noise and lower the semiconductor band gap, making it feasible to lower switching voltage and, hence, power utilization and heat generation. Not only does intense cold lower the need for heat removal, but it cuts costs and reduces greenhouse gas emissions dramatically. I estimate we could reduce power consumption by somewhere between 75 and 94%.”

“That’s impressive,” Mr. Jenkins responded. “What are you doing differently from what we’ve done before?” However, just as I opened my mouth to explain, he added, “By the way, there’s still a lot of food left, and it would be a shame to have it go to waste. I’m going to try some of those sweet potato fries, and you know what? I’m going to try them with tartar sauce. I would have never thought of that before. So, while I’m grabbing some fries, feel free to grab more food as well.”

I hadn’t planned to take more food, and, honestly, I was stuffed, but given the offer, I had to try some more of the food. I grabbed the chicken breast, a little of the rice and some of the carrots. I was still a growing teenager, after all. As I sat back down, I asked, “Do you mind if I eat some of this before I answer your question?”

“Take your time, J.J.,” Mr. Jenkins replied. “We have this room for the rest of the afternoon and the evening if we need it.”

The chicken tasted even better than it looked, and I was glad I decided to try it. It didn’t take me long to polish off about half of it, and so I started to explain my idea for using liquid nitrogen to cool the server components, reduce power consumption and remove heat. At one point Mr. Cooper asked what happens to the excess heat generated by the servers.

I answered, “That’s a fair question. Even though extreme cooling reduces heat generation, there’s still heat that needs to be dealt with. As the liquid nitrogen boils, it absorbs heat from the surrounding medium and as the supercooled gaseous nitrogen passes over the server components, it will absorb heat and warm as it cools the server down. If my calculations are right, the nitrogen should exit the top of the server stack at a temperature of minus one hundred degrees C or less. We would collect that nitrogen and recycle it into liquid nitrogen, with the heat dumped back into the environment.”

“What will happen when you open a server rack to service it?” Dr. Moorthy asked. “I assume it will still be cooled to sub-zero temperatures. Won’t water vapor from the server room condense and then freeze, coating the servers with ice and damaging them?”

“There are many details to work out,” I replied. “Keep in mind that I put this together in a single evening and haven’t touched it since then. I assume a team of engineers would pursue any new server designs before the first prototype is built. However, I did consider the issue of rapid warming and icing of servers, even when removing them for replacement, let alone opening a server rack. Perhaps we could flush the rack with room-temperature nitrogen, slowly warming them prior to exposure to room air. If we placed an iris between the racks in the stack, only one rack would be affected at a time.

“That…should…work,” Dr. Moorthy agreed.

I continued, “However, if we cache a supply of servers within each stack, we could maintain the integrity of the closed system, even during server replacement. Another idea I have is to provide the robotic arm that’s used to replace the servers with six degrees of motion and equip it with a full robotic hand or perhaps two hands. Then simple repairs could be made remotely without even having to open the stack.”

As we continued our discussion, Valerie returned with the man in the chef’s hat and proceeded to remove what was left of the food. She cleared the table and set it with small plates; I think they were dessert plates and dessert forks and spoons. Meanwhile, the man in the chef’s hat set out a series of various individual pie and cake slices, sauces that were probably intended to be use over the pie or cake slices, and individual stem glasses filled with what looked like chocolate pudding. I was beyond full but did not resist when Mr. Jenkins suggested stopping for dessert. I ended up taking more than I thought I could eat: a slice of some sort of white pie with a layer of dark chocolate on the bottom, a slice of what I was pretty sure was cheesecake, to which I added a blueberry topping, and one of the cups of chocolate pudding.

I started with the pudding and quickly realized it wasn’t pudding. It was much lighter than pudding but incredibly rich. It was so good. “How’s the chocolate mousse?” Mr. Jenkins asked. So, this was what chocolate mousse was.

“It’s very, very rich,” I responded. Next, I took a bite of the cheesecake and oh…my…god. Never could I have imagined how rich and amazing a cheesecake tasted. The blueberries were fresh, too. Before finishing the cheesecake, however, I thought maybe I should try the remaining pie just in case I couldn’t finish either one. I took a bite, and I think I had an instant orgasm.

“Looks like you really like the ‘Death by Chocolate’,” Mr. Cooper said.

With a wry smile, I replied, “Well, the name is certainly apt. I’ve never tasted anything so rich.” I ended up finishing all three desserts. The meal wasn’t as gourmet as the one I’d had in Springfield, but it was perhaps even more incredible. The prime rib was definitely the best slice of beef I’d ever had, the salmon was excellent, the scallops were succulent, the chicken breast stuffed with ham was unlike any chicken I’d ever had, and the veggies were as fresh as could be. If Applazon Corporate was trying to impress me, they were succeeding, but a meal does not make for a fair treatment, and I’d yet to hear what they intended to do with my server design – or with me for that matter.

Valerie returned one last time and set up an elegant set of silver urns, labeled coffee, decaf and hot water. She set down a box with gourmet teas and cleared away our dessert plates but left the remaining pieces of pie and cake, I guess in case we decided to eat more. She poured an amber liquid from a fancy bottle into three tiny glasses, skipping Mr. Cooper, and left the bottle on the table. After Valerie left, Mr. Jenkins lifted his little glass into the air and said, “To our health,” and then he downed the liquid in a single gulp. I did the same, expecting whatever it was to be strong, and it was. It was sickeningly sweet and went down with a feeling of extreme warmth. I realized I’d probably enjoyed my first liqueur, not that enjoy was the right word. At least there wasn’t enough of it to get drunk, even if it were 100 proof.

After getting cups of coffee, or in the case of Dr. Moorthy, tea, we sat back down and sipped our after-dinner treats as we resumed our discussion. Both of the men from Seattle and the man from Cupertino asked insightful questions and, as the afternoon progressed, increasingly specific ones to the point that I began to wonder how much they already knew about my ideas. I’d heard of corporate spying on employees’ emails, but I’d emailed no one about any of this. Could they have broken the encryption on my CAD-CAM files? They certainly had better resources available than most countries, but no one had the resources to break a 1024-bit encryption code.

Finally, I suggested, “Perhaps you’d like to see the actual CAD-CAM files I used to generate those drawings.”

“It was wise of you to encrypt your files, considering what you might have heard about industrial espionage and corporate backstabbing,” Mr. Jenkins began. “A 1024-bit encryption key was undoubtedly overkill. You should reread the employee handbook regarding what is permitted when it comes to the use of personal encryption codes. However, in this case no harm was done. Our cloud is the most secure in the world, and the only risk would’ve been if you’d attempted to download the files to an unsecured device. Our server would’ve stopped you if you’d tried.

“What you undoubtedly failed to realize was that, as outlined in the handbook, everything in our cloud undergoes sequential backup. Every time you edit or update a file, it’s backed up for safekeeping. Nothing is ever discarded. We had no difficulty retrieving your files. Everything in our corporate cloud is, after all, our property. I sincerely hope that hasn’t creeped you out, but once your work came to our attention, we couldn’t take a chance on losing something with so much potential. Your work on revising the data center interface has us intrigued as well. You might not realize it, but an exceptional employee is far more important to us than new concepts for data server design. We’re curious, however, why you stopped your work on the interface code. It was as if you suddenly lost interest.”

Laughing, I responded, “I’m far from naïve. I’ve had to deal with assholes all my life – not that I’m saying you’re assholes,” I quickly added after realizing my gaffe. “I’m actually embarrassed at having failed to account for retrieval of my files from the corporate cloud backup. It’s incredibly reassuring to know that you value your employees more than their work —”

“Oh, we do intend to make use of your creation,” Dr. Moorthy interrupted. “It needs work, but it’s brilliant, but about why you stopped?”

I explained about my meeting with the chair of mathematics at the University of Nebraska and of my plans to get a computer-science degree and ultimately, a Ph.D. I told them in particular about the exam question to design a JAVA virtual machine for the HP35-S calculator and how that one problem had occupied my every waking moment as well as my dreams.

“It seems Big Brother is nearsighted and needs new glasses,” Mr. Jenkins said with a laugh. “We just assumed you realized we’d make sure someone with your talents got the college degrees they deserved. However, in retrospect, you had no way of knowing we’d even taken an interest in you. If you commit to us, we’ll make sure you get your credentials as well as your Ph.D.

“In making a commitment to you, we need to know everything about your past, J.J. We need to know what we might be getting ourselves into. In making a commitment to work for Applazon, we’ll do everything we can, legally, to keep you from harm. If you’re not comfortable with it at the end of the day, you have our word that absolutely nothing you tell us will ever leave this room. You can trust your life on that.”

Good god, what had I gotten myself into? Could I really trust them? Could they really protect me from a life behind bars? If I didn’t tell them everything, would they investigate anyway?  They probably already knew enough to track down my past, thanks to my blabbering.

Taking a deep breath, I asked, “How do I know I can trust you?”

“You don’t,” Mr. Jenkins replied, “but we both have a lot to lose here. You’ve probably already realized you told us more today than was wise, and you didn’t even let us ply you with alcohol. You’re probably also coming to realize how valuable you could be to us. You will go far at Applazon, and we’re prepared to double your salary, effective immediately. We’ll support an application for a hardship waiver of the waiting period on your license, so you’ll be able to get it as soon as you finish driving school. You’re an amazing kid who’s been through hell. If you’ll commit to working at Applazon, we’ll do everything we can to help you bury your past, but we need to know what we’re up against.

“So, tell us, J.J., what’s your real name, and how old you really are.”

The author gratefully acknowledges the invaluable assistance of David of Hope and vwl-rec in editing my stories, as well as Awesome Dude and Gay Authors for hosting them.

Disclaimer: This story is purely fictional and any resemblance of characters to real individuals is unintentional. Although it takes place in actual locations, in no way are any official policies, opinions or events inferred. Some characters may be underage and at times engage in homosexual acts. Anyone uncomfortable with this should not be reading the story, and the reader assumes responsibility for the legality of reading this type of material where they live. The author retains full copyright and permission must be obtained prior to duplication in any form.