Posted September 11, 2021

The Brilliant Boy Billionaire

The Amazing Journey of a Remarkable Kid, by Altimexis

PART SIX – World Traveler

Chapter 5: I Want to Be a Part of It

“Welcome to New York, Dr. Jeffries,” a young man holding a sign greeted me as I approached him holding out my hand. After a couple of years of social distancing, wearing masks and avoiding physical contact at all costs, going back to normal behavior still seemed strange. The young man took my bag from me as we shook hands and then headed into the airport proper at breakneck speed. I guess he figured that as a teenager, I’d have no problem keeping up, and I didn’t. However, I was still feeling the effects of having been cramped up on a plane. Although Applazon seemed to be sparing no expense on this trip, they still booked me in coach, and I felt like I’d spent the last six hours as a sardine in a sardine can.

It was a bit of a letdown, as they’d flown me business class all over the world, and I’d become spoiled by it. Then again, I guess there was a policy of flying economy for all domestic travel. However, I was almost six-and-a-half-feet tall and didn’t really fit into an economy seat. I was going to have to talk to HR about flying nothing less than economy plus from now on. There had to be a mechanism for such things.

When I left Omaha in the early morning, even though it was sunny, the temperature had been well below freezing and I was dressed accordingly in jeans with thermal underwear, a hoodie over a t-shirt and my cashmere coat. Such wintry weather was common in the northern plains well into May and sometimes even June. Walking through Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey, I was positively roasting. A quick check of my phone told me it was 57 degrees outside. How could it be so warm in early March? I was so used to the extreme temperatures of the plains of eastern Nebraska that I’d forgotten what normal, late-winter weather could feel like. However, New York was on the ocean, and the ocean temperatures undoubtedly moderated things throughout the year.

The young man led me down an escalator to a series of luggage carousels, and looking up at a large flat screen labeled, ‘Baggage Claim’, he quickly identified my flight number and headed off in another direction before I could even process that he’d identified the carousel where my bag would be delivered. I’d splurged and bought myself some new luggage for this trip and had no trouble spotting my plum-colored bag in a sea of black. It matched the color of the carry-on bag the young man was carrying for me. “I’ll take that,” he said as he took my checked bag from me and deftly balanced the smaller bag on top of it, rolling both of them along on the larger bag’s wheels.

We headed out a set of doors and straight for a large black limo that was parked directly in front of us. I couldn’t help but notice that ours was the only passenger vehicle parked by the curb. All the others seemed to be circling and picking people up from an island on the other side of the roadway. The young man got into the limo with me, and we both buckled up and were on our way.

“I’m sorry, but I just realized I never introduced myself,” the young man began. “You can call me Jeff, Dr. Jeffries.” He couldn’t help but laugh, nor could I.

“You can call me J.J.,” I replied. “Somehow, it still doesn’t seem right for people to call me Dr. Jeffries when I’m just a kid.”

“I wasn’t gonna say anything, but how old are you?” Jeff asked. “I was expecting someone in their thirties, but you look like you’re sixteen.” After a pause, he added, “Sorry, I probably shouldn’t have said that.”

Truthfully, I was seventeen but looked more like sixteen due to the lack of facial hair and despite my extreme height, but that wasn’t the age on my birth certificate. I could never tell anyone my true age. “No sweat,” I replied. “I know I look young for my age, but I’m nineteen.”

“Damn, you must’ve skipped a few grades along the way,” Jeff responded. Although I’d skipped middle school as well as two years of high school and tested out of most of the college undergraduate program, I couldn’t tell him that without making him realize just how young I really was. I had to constantly remind myself that even a relatively minor gaffe could screw things up. The truth was always the best explanation. I just left out the part about having skipped two years of high school. I’d been doing just that for years now, and it made for a clean explanation.

“I was always smart,” I explained, “but growing up in a dinky rural town, kids didn’t react well to anyone who’s different, so I did my best to stay under the radar. I tried to fit in as an ordinary student who didn’t speak up much in class, albeit one who got straight A’s. When I was near the end of fifth grade, however, my teacher became suspicious, and he tricked me. He gave me the eighth-grade achievement test instead of the one for fifth graders. I scored in the 99th percentile and ended up skipping middle school. I was placed in high school and started as a freshman at the age of eleven.”

“Damn, I can imagine what that must’ve been like,” Jeff interjected. “The teasing must’ve been fierce.”

“Not just teasing, but outright bullying,” I replied. “My home life wasn’t great, either. My mom died in childbirth, and my dad was abusive, so I spent all my time in the school library, and once I turned twelve earned some cash by tutoring students in middle school. I would’ve tutored the high-school kids, but they didn’t want to be shown up by a kid half their size.

“Then, when I was fifteen and a senior, my dad found out I was gay and threw me out of the house. I was so close to graduating, too, but there was no place for me to stay, and he’d threatened to kill me if he ever saw my face again, so I got on my bicycle and ran as fast and as far as I could.”

“Damn, I can’t imagine doin’ something like that when I was only fifteen,” Jeff related.

“In retrospect it was incredibly stupid of me,” I replied, “but I was shaken, and I just couldn’t deal with the police or going into the system. It’s a miracle I kept on going, but I ended up in Omaha, and when I turned sixteen, I got my GED and got a job as a data-center technician with Applazon.”

“Don’t you need training to do that?” Jeff asked.

Waving my hand to the side, I replied, “I did it online and finished the certification process in under a day. So I started working for Applazon in their Omaha data center, and I took some courses online and got my computer-science degree and my Ph.D. I took my time at it, so it took me nearly a year.”

“Show off,” Jeff responded.

“That wasn’t the half of it,” I added. “For my dissertation I designed a data server that was much more compact, more reliable and several times more efficient than the existing design that Applazon used. They put me in charge of the development of a prototype. Then Covid hit and they rushed the new servers into production and put me in charge of upgrading their data centers all over the world. I ended up being crazy-busy, spending the next two years traveling all over. With everyone working and learning from home, the need for more server capacity was critical.”

“Damn, and now they want you to move to New York?” Jeff asked.

“And to get another Ph.D. in machine learning and artificial intelligence,” I added.

“First time in New York?” he asked as the limo virtually came to a stop in heavy traffic.

“I came here a few years ago with my boyfriend at the time, for his sixteenth birthday,” I related, “but we flew into LaGuardia. Is the traffic always this heavy going into the city?” I asked.

“It used to be a lot worse, ” Jeff said. “There’s always a backup from the Lincoln Tunnel, so this is nothing unusual. They call this part The Helix for obvious reasons. It’s a full loop from an elevated roadway down to the tunnel. There used to be toll booths at the bottom and before they put in license plate readers, the backup was epic. We used to bypass much of it once we reached the EZ-Pass lane, since most of the tourists didn’t have an EZ-Pass account and had to wait in line to pay the toll. Now, EZ-Pass is used throughout most of the East and the Midwest and most of the rental cars have transponders, which the rental companies are all too happy to offer customers for a hefty surcharge —”

“How nice of them,” I interjected with sarcasm.

“Definitely. Of course Applazon wouldn’t think of doing such a thing,” Jeff added and we both laughed. “For people without a transponder, a license plate reader is used to send the owner a bill. If it’s a rental car and the renter declined to rent a transponder, the company bills them the usual fee, plus a hefty surcharge, so they get you coming or going.”

“They use license plate readers all over the world, particularly in Europe,” I noted. “In the U.K., they don’t even use transponders and expect you to log into a website and pay your tolls online, or face hefty fines. There are signs warning drivers of A.N.P.R in use, which stands for automatic number plate recognition, but a lot of American tourists have no idea what that means and are caught unaware. Most rental companies assume their customers know about the automated toll system. Unless you read the fine print in the rental agreement, you’ll not even know until you get a bill from the rental company for the tolls and fines, plus a hefty surcharge, long after you’ve returned home. With all the travel I’ve done for Applazon, it didn’t take me long to learn to visit the best sites for looking up such things online.”

Soon, we entered a brightly lit tunnel that seemed to go on forever, and then finally we exited into daylight – and endless crowds of people. We made a turn, and then our speed picked up considerably. “We’re near Times Square,” Jeff explained, which is always wall-to-wall people. We’re also near the Port Authority Bus Terminal, which is how a surprising number of people enter New York. It’s not that old, but they’ve been talking about replacing it for years. It’s way overcrowded and pretty sleazy.”

We made a left turn, followed by a couple of right turns, all of them involving long waits for traffic lights and pedestrians. Finally, we pulled into a loading zone with the Marquis for Marriott Hotels. There were two doors, one labeled the Marriott Vacation Club Pulse and the other labeled SpringHill Suites and Fairfield Inn. I knew from doing some research that Fairfield Inn was Marriott’s budget brand and kinda figured I’d be staying there, but instead Jeff took me up to the desk for SpringHill Suites. That was Marriott’s business-traveler brand, with amenities targeted toward business executives. It wasn’t their high end, but it wasn’t budget, either, although I suspected that even the Fairfield Inn wasn’t cheap in Manhattan.

Jeff bypassed the line of waiting guests and went directly to a gentleman behind the desk, announcing, “Dr. Jeffries is here.”

The guy at the desk looked up at me and smiled, handing me a glossy folder as he said, “Welcome to the Marriott SpringHill, Dr. Jeffries.” Then, opening the folder for me, he continued, “Inside you have your access card, which lets you into your room as well as the fitness center and the pool.” Then seemingly scrutinizing me, he added, “I’m assuming you’re over twenty-one. Inside is your bar key, which gives you access to your full-service bar. Any items taken from the bar will be billed directly to Applazon at no cost to you. There’s a room-service menu, with room service available 24 hours a day. Again, anything you order from room service will be billed directly to Applazon. You have full access to Applazon Plus from either TV and can watch anything available on Applazon Plus at no charge. Your schedule is inside as well, Dr. Jeffries. If you wish, I can arrange wake-up calls for an hour before you have to leave the hotel. Would you like that?” he asked.

An hour was probably more time than I needed, but I didn’t want to be late, so I agreed, “An hour would be fine.”

“The breakfast buffet is included with your room —” he continued.

“But that’s the same as the Fairfield buffet, is it not?” Jeff interrupted.

“Yes, it is,” the gentleman answered.

“J.J., take my advice,” Jeff interjected. “The breakfast buffet is heavy on carbs and not very tasty. Inside your room is a card that hangs on the doorknob outside your room, right over the ‘Do Not Disturb’ card. When you go to bed tonight, just check off what you’d like for breakfast and when you’d like it and hang the card outside your door. When you wake up in the morning, your breakfast will be waiting for you right outside your door.”

“You can order things like eggs, bacon or sausage, pancakes, French toast, hash browns, juice and coffee,” the hotel clerk added. “It’s really a nice way to start the day.

“Do you have any questions, Dr. Jeffries?”

Truthfully, I had lots of questions, but I figured they’d all be answered soon enough, so I shook my head and said, “No, I think that covers it.”

“Excellent,” the gentleman replied and then motioned for a kid who looked to be about my age.

The kid brought an elegant luggage cart with him and loaded my two bags onto it. As we wheeled away from the desk, he said, “If the color of your bags means anything, I can give you advice on clubs, if you have the time.” Slowly it dawned on me that he was talking about gay clubs. Whoa. Did that mean he was gay? Was he interested in me, or was he just being helpful?

“Are there any clubs for people like me, who are only nineteen?” I asked.

“Eighteen’s the magic number,” he replied. “There are a ton of gay clubs in the Village for guys like us who are underage.” We approached a bank of elevators, and he pushed the up button. Taking my folder from me, he removed my keycard and said, “You’ll need to use your access card to push the button for the sixteenth floor.” He tapped the card over a black pad with the wireless symbol on it, then pushed the button for sixteen. “The health club and pool are on the eighteenth floor. You’ll need your access card for that as well.”

When the elevator doors opened, he led us out into a hallway and then down the hallway until we stopped in front of 1623. He used my keycard to open the door and motioned for us to go inside. Directly in front of us was a small living room with a wall-mounted TV, a sofa, a couple of plush chairs and a desk with an expensive-looking desk chair. I noticed there was a covered tray waiting for me on the desk. Jeff hand-carried my bags inside and set them up on a shelf in what appeared to be an open closet. There was a door across from the closet, and he flipped on a switch to reveal a very nicely appointed bathroom. Beyond that was a bedroom with another wall-mounted TV and a king-size bed.

I heard Jeff say, “Thank you,” and turned in time to see him hand the kid a twenty-dollar bill. Shit, in Omaha you might tip a dollar or two – or maybe a five for a fancy place. The last time I’d been to New York, I’d avoided situations where I had to tip and only had left a five to the housekeeper for a couple of nights. I’d traveled the world, but customs vary by country and in most places, tipping is optional. Bribery to get a table in a restaurant or a seat on a train is common elsewhere, but the practice of tipping for ordinary service is uniquely American. Twenty dollars reminded me just how expensive things were in New York. They’d have to pay me awfully well for me to be able to afford the rent.

“Your first meeting is at 3:30,” Jeff notified me. “I’ll be back at 3:00 to pick you up and take to our new headquarters. That gives you a few hours to eat lunch, rest and get ready for the afternoon meetings. I took the liberty of ordering lunch for you from one of the best delis in Midtown Manhattan. I ordered a turkey and goat cheese wrap with potato salad and an assortment of homemade cookies. If that’s not to your liking, feel free to order anything else. You’ll be getting dinner later at corporate headquarters.” Then turning back around, he said, “I’ll see you at 3:00,” and then he left.

The bellhop handed my folder back to me and then handed me a card – his card. His name was Lyle. “If you need anything, feel free to call me.” Then, lowering his voice, he added with a smile, “I get off at 10:00. If you’re interested, I can show you some of the better clubs.”

Thinking for only a few seconds, I replied, “I might take you up on that. It depends on when I get back here this evening. It’s an hour earlier in Omaha, so I probably won’t be ready for sleep then, in any case.”

“Great!” he said with a smile as he left the room.

<> <> <>

“Hey, J.J.,” Lyle answered, almost before the phone had a chance to ring. “Are you ready for a night on the town?”

“More than ready,” I replied. After spending an afternoon in meetings with HR in which I had the pleasure of filling out a ton of paperwork, I underwent a typical employee orientation followed by a catered ‘working’ dinner. I was beyond comatose but not the least bit tired. A night on the town was just what I needed to unwind from the trip and the interview. Not that I knew what a night on the town was like in New York other than what Shaun and I had done when we visited, but hey, it was something I needed to explore if I was going to live here, after all. “Do I need to change my clothes?” I asked.

Laughing, Lyle answered, “You don’t have to, but I’d prefer you do. I have to change out of my uniform, and I only have jeans and a t-shirt or the dress shirt from my uniform. If you want to go someplace fancy, with a hundred-dollar cover and drinks that cost ten or twenty dollars, we can do that, but I’m not in that league, and I’m guessing you aren’t, either. Your jeans with a dress shirt and no tie would be perfect.”

“Shoes?” I asked.

“I’d definitely wear them,” he quipped.

Laughing, I responded, “I meant what kind of shoes. I only have black-leather dress shoes or sneakers.”

“They may not be elegant, but I’ll be wearing sneakers,” Lyle replied. “You can wear either.”

“Great,” I responded. “I’ll be down in a few.”

“I’ll be waiting for you.”

It took me less than five minutes for me to change out of my suit and tie into my jeans and sneakers, wearing the same dress shirt I’d worn all afternoon. Taking the elevator down, Lyle was waiting for me by the street exit. Outside, there was an Uber waiting, another first for me.

“Don’t you have to prepay for that?” I asked. “Please let me reimburse you.”

“It’s billed through the app,” Lyle explained, “but let me take care of it. You can take care of the cover and the drinks. I didn’t make the offer for you to take me out on the town. Most of the guests I serve are old fat men, with a few old fat women thrown in for good measure. Not that some of them don’t make passes, but I’m not at all interested. It’s so rare that I find a guest who’s around my age and certainly not someone as cute and sexy as you are.” Damned if I didn’t blush. “Come on, let’s get going,” he continued. “The sooner we get there, the sooner we can be dancing.”

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t row after row of quaint, brick row houses and cute shops, more reminiscent of a New England town than of New York City. Lyle had the driver let us out in front of one of the larger buildings, and already I could feel the pulsing beat of the music inside. There was a thirty-dollar cover for each of us and a two-drink minimum with soft drinks costing five dollars for a short glass. The drinks were a rip-off, but then it was a club and they had to have a way to make their money.

I was shocked at first that more than half the guys were shirtless, but then the dance floor was so crowded that the heat generated by all the gyrating bodies was intense. However, it dawned on me. I was gonna hafta dance, and I didn’t have the foggiest idea how. During my years of traveling the globe I’d had a fair number of hookups, but never in my life had I gone someplace to pick up guys. I’d never actually been to a club before. Maybe Lyle could sense my unease as he shouted over the loud music, “Don’t worry if you haven’t danced much before. If you watch the guys on the dance floor, you’ll quickly realize that half of them don’t know how to dance at all, so there’s nothing to be self-conscious about. Just move with the music and let your body follow with the beat.”

Then he added, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m gonna unbutton my shirt, and you might want to do that too – or even take it off. It gets hot out there.”

As I started to do so and watched Lyle do the same, I felt a bit self-conscious because of how skinny and undeveloped I was. The truth was that I was only seventeen and I looked it, but then Lyle, in truth, didn’t look any older than I was, so I continued to unbutton my shirt and then took it off entirely, and Lyle did the same.

Taking my hand, Lyle led me out onto the dance floor and started gyrating around to the music. I tried to mimic what he was doing, but quickly realized that what worked for him looked ridiculous for me, so I just did what felt right, and it seemed to work as he grinned and gave me a big thumbs-up. Damn, he was cute when he grinned, and so I grinned right back. Dancing was intense, but it was fun! I’d never heard house music before and was surprised that it was continuous. I figured there’d be a pause between songs, just like at a high-school dance – not that I ever went to any dances when I was in high school – but the songs just segued from one right into the next without any pauses at all. Underlying it all was a beat that never stopped. How did they do that?

It didn’t take long to work up a sweat, and I was glad we’d removed our shirts. Otherwise, I’d have returned to the hotel soaking wet. Actually, the sweat glistening on Lyle’s chest was incredibly sexy. We danced until the end of the set, then sat down and ordered our first set of drinks and rested for a while. When the music started back up, though, we went right back to it. I had a blast!

When we’d been at it a while and were taking another break, I noticed it was already 2:00 AM and suggested that perhaps we should go back to the hotel since I had a full schedule in the morning. Lyle agreed.

Riding back in an Uber, I told Lyle, “I had a wonderful time tonight. Thanks for taking me. It was great.”

“Like I said, I don’t get to go out with guys that often,” he replied. “Especially not ones as sweet and sexy as you.” He then leaned over and kissed me on the tip of the nose, and then he gave me a brief peck on the lips. I pulled him back to me and kissed him with much more intensity. This was really the first time I’d ever been to a gay club, and I didn’t want the evening to end.

Pulling away from the kiss and with more nervousness than I’d felt in a while, I asked, “Could I interest you in coming back to my room?”

“I’d love to,” Lyle answered, “but you need to understand that I could lose my job if anyone found out I slept with a guest. Don’t get me wrong, it would be worth it, and I’ll very willingly take the risk, but we hafta be discreet.”

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Very,” he answered and then kissed me deeply. Then, looking me right in the eyes, he added, “Just understand that this is a one-time thing. You’ll go back to Omaha, and who knows if you’ll return, and I have my career to think about. Like most waiters, bellhops, cleaning staff and Uber drivers, I’m an aspiring actor, and I’ll go wherever the jobs are.”

“You’re an actor?” I asked. “Really?”

“Always hoping for a major part,” he replied.

“Have you been in anything I might have seen?”

“I’ve been in several episodes of Law and Order: SVU and Blue Bloods, along with every other aspiring actor, and I’ve had a few bit parts in Off Broadway productions.”

“Whoa, I’m impressed,” I responded.

“Nothing during the pandemic though,” he continued. “A lot of actors left New York, leaving more work for those of us that stayed once things picked up. Things were tight for a while since there were so few guests, and much of my income is from tips.”

By then we’d pulled up in front of the hotel.

<> <> <>

The wake-up call came way too early, but the stirring of the boy next to me reminded me that it had been worth it. “What time is it, J.J.?” Lyle asked.

“Seven,” I replied. “I ordered breakfast for both of us,” I added. “You passed out before I could ask you what you wanted. I hope you’re not allergic to anything ’cause I ordered pancakes, two eggs over easy, bacon and sausage, with coffee for both of us. It’ll be here by 7:30.”

“That sounds great, J.J.,” Lyle responded. “I don’t have to be at work until ten, so why don’t you get ready first. I’ve got time if you don’t mind letting me lock up your room after you leave.”

“Of course,” I replied. “After all, I know where to find you. I’ll go take my shower and get ready, and by then, the food should be here.”

“I’ll probably be asleep when you finish getting ready,” Lyle responded. “You were a wild boy last night.”

Grinning, I asked, “Not used to an aggressive bottom?” as I got out of bed and arched my back, then threw my elbows backward with my hands behind my head and stretched up on my toes.

“Oh, my god, that’s sexy, J.J.” Lyle replied. “Yeah, you were incredible last night, but what you’re doing right now is enough to arouse a corpse.”

Sighing, I responded. “Too bad I don’t have any time this morning, and besides, I’m not into necrophilia.”

“How long will you be here, J.J.?” Lyle asked.

“Today and tomorrow, and then I fly out first thing Friday morning.”

“Would you be interested in getting together again tonight?” Lyle asked. “I could order pizza from the best place in town, according to Time Out New York. Don Antonio in Hell’s Kitchen was rated number one, and their fried pizza has to be tasted to be believed.”

“That sounds wonderful, but I’m being taken out for dinner tonight,” I replied. “I have no idea when we’ll finish or if they have anything planned for me after dinner, so I’d better take a pass.”

“Too bad,” Lyle replied. “You take a pass and I’ll take a piss,” he added as he threw back the covers and plodded to the bathroom, where he let loose his stream.

“How about tomorrow night?” I asked.

Pouting, he replied, “It’s my day off, but fuck it! I’ll come back in. It’s a quick trip on the PATH train.”

“Where do you live?” I asked.

“I have a small apartment in one of the waterfront high rises in Jersey City,” Lyle replied. “So, if you’re game, I’ll grab a couple of pizzas from Don Antonio’s on my way in.”

“That sounds fantastic,” I replied. “I need to hit the shower though. I’m starting the day up at Columbia and they’re picking me up at 8:00.”

<> <> <>

“Dr. Jeffries, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” a very young-looking man said as he greeted me.

“Dr. Silver, I presume,” I replied as I extended my hand to shake his hand. I hadn’t expected to meet him until later, but he was in the office and filling a mug with coffee. I’d done my homework in advance of the visit and had read the faculty biographies on the department website as well as on Wikipedia, where applicable, and I’d read their key papers. I was scheduled to see Dr. Silver after my interview with Dr. Weller as well as at lunch.

Frank Silver was one of the best-known names in the field of machine learning. Although often considered equivalent fields in the press and although they held meetings jointly, artificial intelligence and machine learning were separate, closely related fields. Machine learning had more to do with the acquisition, processing and digesting of information, whereas artificial intelligence related to computer-based decision-making. Although people in the field were known for vigorously differentiating between the two, I saw them as two sides of the same coin. I had to be careful in how I approached that assessment, however, for fear of stepping on toes.

“I’m impressed with your accomplishments,” he continued. “A Ph.D. in computer science by seventeen, a revolutionary server design with potential supercomputer applications, and I hear you’ve designed a supercomputer and server that leaves even that model in the dust.”

“If you have a quarter-billion and change to spare,” I replied. “And I think the Feds will buy up most of them for the better part of a decade until the next advance comes out.”

“That happens a lot in our field. Even your original design is expensive for us, but a quarter-billion would be well beyond reach,” Dr. Silver responded. “We’re grateful for Mr. Barlow’s generous gift of one, but of course, that will have absolutely no effect on our decision whether or not to admit you.”

With a chuckle, I replied, “Even with all the research I did in anticipation of these interviews, I didn’t know about the donation. It’s amazing to think Mr. Barlow considers me worth that kind of money, though. I’d much rather think the donation’s a reflection of his respect for the work done here. I expect that, if anything, you’ll have to count it against me to counter any appearance that Barlow could buy a slot.”

“That’s the sort of thing I leave to the chairman,” Dr. Silver replied. “I try to steer clear of politics.”

“For good reason,” I chimed in.

“As you may have noticed, our chairman isn’t here yet,” Dr. Silver noted. “Unfortunately, he tends to run chronically late. I make it a point to fill in until he shows up, so I won’t need as much time when you’re scheduled to meet with me later on. So, if you don’t mind, I’m going to ask you some questions.”

“That’s excellent, actually,” I replied. “If there’s something I can’t stand, it’s being kept waiting by someone who thinks their time’s more valuable than mine. Please don’t tell that to Dr. Weller, though,” I added as what I hoped would be a point of humor. Dr. Weller was the chronically late department chair.

Laughing, Dr. Silver agreed, “None of us like that, but he deserves some deference for having built this department from scratch. He was one of the pioneers in the field. But that brings up my first question, J.J. May I call you J.J.?” he asked.

“Thanks so much for asking,” I replied. “That actually matters to me. So many people presume they can call me by my first name when they haven’t earned my friendship or my respect. You have earned my highest respect, Dr. Silver.”

“You’re not going to ask me if you can call me by my first name?” Dr. Silver asked. “You have a Ph.D. in your own right, after all.”

Laughing, I replied, “Even if you asked me to, I’m not sure it’s appropriate. For one thing, I’m still a teenager. You yourself are young for someone of your stature, but I think it would be presumptuous of me to consider my Ph.D. to be equivalent to earning years of respect through publications and scholarly research. Thanks to the pandemic which kept me busy, I’ve only published a pair of scholarly articles so far —”

“One of which is already considered seminal,” Dr. Silver interrupted.

“That may be,” I replied, “but I have yet to publish anything in the field of A.I., and I’m a long way from matching your record. More importantly, I’m interviewing for a position as a student, and because of that, I strongly believe it would be inappropriate to use your first name.”

“Fair enough, J.J.” Dr. Silver replied, “but if you come here, I hope you’ll call me Frank. Your work on hardware design is likely to start a revolution in the entire field, and I, for one, can’t wait to get my hands on the data mini-server Mr. Barlow is giving us.

“However, that again leads to my first question. You have a stellar record in computer-hardware design and you’re not even twenty yet. Why not continue to build your expertise in hardware design? Why the switch into A.I. and machine learning?”

“I think the two go hand-in-hand,” I answered. “I didn’t go into hardware design by design, no pun intended. I’m self-taught in web design, and I went into data-center management because of a desire to work on intelligent interfaces. I’m not exactly popular in Seattle because I believe quite strongly that Applazon has a responsibility to police its third-party sales. I think most of us recognize that the same issues pertain to Facebook, Twitter and Google’s YouTube. The potential to game the system and spread disinformation is particularly acute when it comes to politics. Our enemies have already exploited this. Freedom of speech is essential to viable democracies, yet technology has allowed for the deliberate subversion of the truth and that nearly led to a coup. Lies are lies. I see artificial intelligence as the best hope for building socially responsible technology.”

“Don’t you worry that the opposite is true?” Dr. Silver asked. “How do you prevent the same technology from being used for evil? Don’t you worry about the danger of A.I. being misused?”

“Of course, I do,” I answered. “I’d rather not have nuclear weapons on our soil, but if our enemies have them, we’d damn well have better ones. However, A.I.’s even more important because judicious use can help to prevent war. The bottom line is that we’re building incredibly powerful, massively networked computers. That’s already well underway regardless of A.I. Conventional algorithms are woefully inadequate when it comes to the architecture I’ve helped build. Self-learning networks and artificial intelligence will be essential to the future of computing. I have the advantage over most in the field that I have intimate knowledge of how the hardware works and how the future hardware will work. Now I’d like to focus on the software aspect of my creations.”

Dr. Silver began, “Stephen Hawking called A.I. the greatest threat humanity would ever face —”

“I’m very familiar with his quote,” I interrupted. “Perhaps that’s why you chose to focus on machine learning, although I consider A.I. and machine learning as two sides of the same coin. I have no intention of building a machine to mimic the human brain. We don’t need to create a machine that mimics the likes of Donald Trump. A.I. should never be open-ended. It must be based on logic and designed to value human life above all else. My dissertation will focus on how to do that.”

“That’s excellent, J.J.,” Dr. Silver responded. “I’d be delighted to be on your committee. Just tell the chairman what you told me, and I’ll see you at lunch. Speaking of which, here comes Dr. Weller now.”

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.