Posted November 10, 2021

The Brilliant Boy Billionaire

The Amazing Journey of a Remarkable Kid, by Altimexis

PART NINE – Summer Trip

Chapter 2: Catharsis

It was as we started to eat that Henry blindsided me and made good on his promise to help me work through the PTSD. The treatment of PTSD is controversial, but there is general consensus that counseling is the cornerstone of therapy. The military and the V.A. Hospital System have done the most research in the area, and methods that force the patient to relive the incident or incidents that caused the PTSD in the first place have shown particular promise. The premise is that PTSD symptoms are a defense mechanism to avoid remembering traumatic events. By confronting those often-suppressed memories in exquisite detail and facing them, the body no longer has a need to defend itself against them. The sessions are grueling and often have to be repeated throughout one’s lifetime. There is also a not-insignificant risk that one couldn’t face the trauma and would adapt through violence or suicide. It is for that reason that treatment should only be performed by licensed professionals.

Henry wasn’t professionally trained, but his soothing demeanor was one that I trusted, and his innate intelligence made him exceptionally good at delving into things others might have missed. And so he began, “Babe, I know you said the man you thought was your father made you jerk him from the time your hands could go around his dick, but that implies a very young kid indeed. Do you really remember back to when he first started doing that to you?” Shit!

“I have a good memory, but like anyone, I can’t remember back any earlier than when I was three,” I began. “I think I have memories of sexual encounters when I was three, but there were so many after that that I can’t distinguish them from each other. The one memory I can pinpoint from when I was three years old was when I lost my sweater. I know it was real because Dad had pictures of me on his phone wearing that sweater when I was three, and then there weren’t any pictures of me in the sweater after that. I remember wearing the sweater that morning because it was cold out, and I remember Dad being rough in putting it on me, and I cried, and he slapped me. I remember that clearly.

“I remember Dad strapping me into his pickup truck, and I remember how uncomfortable the seat belt was. It cut into the side of my face. Of course, he should have placed me in a proper car seat in the back, but there was no back seat, and I don’t recall ever having a car seat. We drove for a real long time and then went into this ginormous building. I’m pretty sure we drove to Seymour, and the ginormous building was the Walmart Supercenter. I remember sitting in a seat facing Dad as he wheeled me all over the building. Obviously, I was in a shopping cart. I was probably too big to ride in a shopping cart by then, but as fast as Dad moved, there was no way I could have kept up on my feet. Dad kept stopping, and it annoyed the hell out of me, but I remember knowing he’d hit me when we got home if I made a fuss. I remember knowing that, which is kind of weird. Do three-year-old kids even understand the concept of punishment and reward at such a young age? Obviously, I did ’cause I remember pretending to be a statue so he wouldn’t hit me.

“We waited in a long line forever, and then a woman scanned everything and loaded it in bags. Of course, I wondered why she slid everything over the red light and why it kept beeping, but then she finished, and Dad and I rolled the cart out to the truck. He loaded everything in back and covered it all with a tarp. I was getting real hungry; I remember telling Dad, and he slapped me, but then we drove to the white checkerboard building. It’s funny, but even though that was my first definite memory, I actually remember recognizing the Steak N’ Shake as a place I liked to go to eat.

“We went inside and sat down across from each other in a booth. It was too hot inside, so I pulled off my sweater and put it down on the seat right next to me. Dad ordered the food from the nice lady I liked, and, jeez, he flirted with her. It was kind of disgusting actually, and I remember thinking that. Fuck, even at three, I understood flirting. So, the food arrived, and I ate a hamburger and fries, and Dad gave me a little of his chocolate shake, and then we headed home. It was warmer outside by then, so I felt comfortable in my t-shirt and shorts.

“When we got home, Dad asked where my sweater was, and of course, I had no idea. I guess he figured out I’d taken it off in the restaurant and left it there. In retrospect, he should have called. In a small town like Seymour, someone would have probably turned it in, but knowing how he was, he would’ve never made a separate trip for a sweater. He’d have made me do without it. He gave me quite a beating though. That I do remember.”

“Wow, that’s an amazing amount of detail. Do you think you can go on?” Henry asked.

Nodding my head, I replied, “Yeah, but let’s clean up, make use of the facilities one more time and get back on the trail,” I suggested. “At least, we’ll be on the Medicine Root Trail. There shouldn’t be as much of a crowd on that hike to overhear us. Oh, we’d better apply more sunscreen, too.”

We walked in silence while we were hiking among so many people, but once we turned off onto the Medicine Root Trail, we were largely alone. The trail took us out into the grassy prairie for a completely different perspective of the park, one without so many people. The park has an open-hiking policy, which meant we were free to hike anywhere it was safe to do so regardless of whether or not there was a trail. We ended up taking advantage of that in a number of places over the course of the next day and a half, particularly when we visited the park units located within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where the park was largely undeveloped. However, we made it a point never to hike off-trail beyond where we could see the main trail or the car, as we could’ve easily gotten lost.

Being able to hike off-trail as we talked gave us the privacy we needed to continue the discussion. “Do you feel ready to talk about the sexual aspects of your relationship with your dad?” Henry asked as he resumed the discussion.

Nodding my head, I had to take a deep breath. “First of all, his name was Alan Farmer. My name was Adam. I doubt that either name was real, but those were the only names I knew. The investigators at Applazon found out that he had a past as a predator and was never married, that I was probably kidnapped in my very early years. They didn't find out who my birth parents were.”

“Wait a minute!” Henry exclaimed. “Applazon knows all about your past?”

“Yeah, but only a handful of people there know.” I answered. “They had to know the truth when I designed the nitrogen-cooled server. They’d already done some investigation and faced me with what they knew. I had to tell them the rest.”

“J.J., I’m not an expert, but I think it’s important for you to divorce your conscious mind from the reality of what happened. I think that’ll make it easier. Maybe you should think about the situation in the third person, as if you’re observing the events from the outside.”

“I’ll try.” I replied.

“J.J., while you’re thinking about the events, you are not Adam Farmer; you never were. Adam Farmer was an invention of the creep who kidnapped you, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he was abused as a child himself. You weren’t even related to him, and like you said, Alan Farmer probably wasn’t even his real name. I suspect Alan and Adam Farmer represented his fantasy of the father he could never be and the son he could never have. They were his ideal of a father and son that could have a sexual relationship without fear of being judged by society, but none of it was real. He was just another person. It’s important that you realize that.” Henry said with great sincerity in his voice.

I nodded before I began. “You have to understand that the sex was just one aspect of the abuse,” I replied. “The beatings, and particularly the verbal abuse, were the worst of it when I was younger. It wasn’t until I was old enough to recognize what was going on that I realized just how bad the sexual abuse really was. When I was young, I didn’t realize there was anything wrong with it. People talk about safe and unsafe touching, but I loved being alone with the man I thought was my father, and compared to some of the other things he did, the sex was gentle, and it felt good, so I just assumed that sex between a father and his son was a normal part of the father-son relationship.”

“Wow, it’s hard to imagine something like that feeling normal,” Henry went on, “but you’re still talking in first person. I know those things really happened to you, but I think it might be easier to talk about what happened objectively as if it happened to someone else. Later on, you’ll be ready to see Alan Farmer as a guy who’d likely suffered abuse as a child and ended up fucking with another kid, and Adam Farmer as someone you used to be but from another lifetime.”

“I’ll give it a shot,” I said. “You grew up in a completely different household than I did, than Adam did,” I replied. “Alan Farmer really did treat Adam like his son – an abused son but a son, nevertheless. I think he kind of got off on the fantasy of being a dad, you know? They had meals together, they played games, watched TV, went to the park now and then and even went hiking. Adam really liked the hiking. Southern Indiana is much more picturesque than Omaha. Like this place, Omaha is on the prairie. In Southern Indiana, whatever isn’t farmed is forested. North Vernon has a small city park like most small towns do. There’s a public swimming pool, a series of basketball courts – gotta have that in Indiana, after all – and baseball fields. Just outside of town and near our shack is Muscatatuck Park. It encompasses a deep ravine carved out by the Muscatatuck River. It’s quite beautiful. The Farmer’s shack I guess was within the adjacent state forest, so their backyard was huge with lots of places to explore, and they spent a lot of time doing so.

“One aspect of the area is that it sits on vast deposits of limestone, and the limestone is riddled with caves. Alan and Adam discovered a number of small caves around the area, and there was a fairly big one right under their house. Only when I was older did I realize that we were squatters in an abandoned shack and that it was probably abandoned because of the cave underneath. The floor wasn’t level; it sloped by at least a few degrees. I’m guessing that the cave partly collapsed and whoever built the shack abandoned it. I know we had to keep drilling new wells ’cause the old ones dried up. That probably had something to do with the cave, too.

“Anyway, we found the entrance, but even with a bright lantern, you couldn’t see the bottom, and once I learned calculus, I timed dropping a rock from the time I released it to the time I could hear a splash and calculated that the cave was about two hundred feet deep. Dad forbade me to play anywhere near the cave entrance, which was why I went there all the time.”

Henry smiled at that. I stopped every now and then to photograph things that were beautiful or interesting in the park – and of course to photograph Henry.

“What did you do with your sewage?” Henry asked.

“We had a septic tank,” I responded, curious as to why Henry had asked.

“Did you ever actually see the septic tank?” he asked.

“It was underground,” I replied. “How the fuck was I supposed to see it?”

“If it’s buried under a lawn, you can sometimes actually see the outline of the pipes where the effluent is released ’cause the grass literally is greener there. Did he ever show you where it was?”

“No, he just explained what it was and how it worked,” I answered. “I was as curious as any kid and wanted to know where our poop went.”

Shaking his head, Henry said, “I’d be willing to bet you simply dumped your sewage into the cave under your house, polluting the water downstream, which probably included the Muscatatuck River in the park. He probably made up the story about having a septic tank. What’s really gross is that you probably got your water from the same underground source, which almost certainly was polluted by your sewage. It’s a miracle you didn’t get sick from it.

“Getting back to the sex,” Henry continued, “you’ve slipped back into the first person and I need you to tell me exactly what sorts of things you two did when you were younger and thought sex with your father was normal, but I don’t think you can do it justice unless you’re objective about it, and for that I need you to go back to telling me about it in the third person.”

“Pervert,” I responded, causing him to flip me off. “We had a lot of sex,” I began, but Henry gave me a stern look and so I added, “They had a lot of sex, at least every day and sometimes multiple times in a day. One minute Alan would be telling Adam how worthless he was and the next he’d be kissing him and telling him how beautiful he was.”

“He kissed you on the lips?” Henry asked, but then corrected himself. “They kissed each other on the lips?’

“Adam thought it was normal,” I replied. “Alan usually wore only boxers and he’d remove them. He made Adam go around naked, but he would’ve done that anyway, cause it was hot in the summer and the shack was heated with wood-burning stoves, which made it hot in the winter too.

So Alan would start kissing Adam all over, working his way down to Adam’s genitals. He’d lick and suck Adam for several minutes, and I hate to admit it, but that part felt good. I grew up thinking every kid had orgasms when their fathers sucked them off, or rather Adam did. Alan Farmer said that was part of showing Adam how much he loved him, and Adam had no reason to doubt it. He did tell me it was very private, though, and that talking about it in public was against the law. He told me I could go to jail for that or that I’d be taken away. Of course, I believed him, or rather Adam believed him. Why would Alan lie about something like that?”

“After that, Alan Farmer had Adam jerk him off?” Henry asked.

“Mostly,” I replied. “Until Adam got big enough to get Alan’s glans in his mouth. Alan was pretty big, so that wasn’t until Adam was seven or maybe eight, I think. By the time Adam was twelve, Alan Farmer expected Adam to deep throat him. There were times he was so into it that Adam nearly passed out, and he worried that someday Alan would take it too far and suffocate him.”

“Jesus,” Henry exclaimed. “No wonder you mentioned it when Darren joked about suffocation from mutual fellatio.”

“Once I could get him in my mouth, he expected me to swallow,” I continued, “and anything that escaped my mouth I had to lick up, but even when I jerked him, he liked to get his spunk all over me, and then he expected me to eat all of it.”

“I know that sounds bad enough, but I get the impression you’re not telling me everything,” Henry countered, “and remember that you’re talking about Alan and Adam Farmer, not you and your dad.”

“Alan did a lot of sick things,” I continued. “He liked to piss all over Adam, but Adam got used to it. It was just one more thing he had to put up with. The thing was, Alan told Adam he wasn’t worth wasting water on and that their well didn’t have enough water for both of them to shower. Alan sometimes joked that he was recycling it on Adam, who sometimes went days without a shower, smelling of piss. Of course, Adam couldn’t go to school that way, so when he started kindergarten, Adam let him shower once a week on Monday morning, but the moment he got home on Friday, Alan started pissing on him again. Then in the summers, it went back to no showers at all. Adam spent most of the summer outside, so he got used to going outdoors naked. He didn’t have any friends anyway, and they were isolated, so no one else could see him.

“When Adam was eight and about to turn nine, Alan got him an old used bicycle, but to Adam, it didn’t matter how crappy it was. To him it meant his freedom. Once he could ride his bike to the library, he started using the garden hose outdoors to wash himself off before going anywhere, but then they had sex when Adam returned home for what they called supper, and he still had to sleep with piss all over him at night. It was then that Adam began to realize that Alan was only using him for sex, that there was something wrong with it and that the piss was because Alan enjoyed it and not because there wasn’t enough water.”

“Did Alan ever shit on Adam?” Henry asked.

“He tried it once that I remember,” I related. “It smelled so bad that it grossed even him out, so they never did that again. However, Alan did make Adam rim him, which was bad enough. Sometimes Alan didn’t even bother to wipe back there and made Adam rim him right after taking a dump. It was pretty gross, but Adam got used to it.”

“God, J.J.,” Henry asked, “How do you get used to something like that? How can you stand rimming me now after something like that?”

Shrugging my bare shoulders, I responded, “I don’t really know, Henry. What we do is nothing like what he made me do, though. What Alan Farmer made Adam do was all about his power over the boy. What we do is all about pleasure. It’s a difference of night and day.

“Sometimes things are just the way they are and you either accept them or your whole world falls apart,” I continued. “It’s kind of like the way you survived in school before I came along. Most of the time I just survived, and then there were the times when I thought about suicide. There was his gun, and there was that 200-foot drop at the entrance to our cave. Either one would have ended it, but then I got lucky. Starting high school when I was eleven was a real low point in my life, particularly when I saw how bad the bullying was gonna be, but then a librarian took an interest in me, and my life got better. She saved me, like I saved you.”

“I guess we both got lucky,” Henry agreed, but then he asked, “Did Alan Farmer do anything else?”

Tears flooded my eyes as I recalled the worst of the abuse. “He tortured me, Henry. You hear about kids with cigarette burns and welts, well he was especially good at inflicting pain without leaving any marks. When I was young, he’d do things like twist my ankle until I burst into tears. I tried not to cry ’cause he only hurt me worse when I cried, but the pain was so intense. He really seemed to get off on my pain.”

“That’s horrible!” Henry exclaimed.

“It only got worse. When I was older, he squeezed my knuckles until I thought he was going to break my hand. He squeezed my nuts until I thought they were gonna be crushed. Once I was ten or so, I think, he began to strangle me. That was his favorite thing of all. I told you how he liked to deep throat me until I nearly passed out, but sometimes he’d just strangle me with his bare hands for the fun of it. Sometimes he’d even cum, just from strangling me.”

“That’s so fucked up,” Henry responded. “It’s no wonder you killed him. Speaking of which, do you feel up to telling me about the day you left home, or rather the day Adam left home?”

“I don’t know, Henry,” I replied. “This is more emotionally draining than I thought it would be, but I’d like to continue if you’re up to it, too.”

“Let’s give it a try, and if it gets to be too much for you, just say so and we’ll stop,” he suggested. “Tell me everything that happened leading up to Alan Farmer’s death. Don’t tell me about the death itself, but I want to hear all the little stuff you may not have told me before.”

“Okay,” I continued. “I think I already told you how Adam talked Alan into getting him a bike for his thirteenth birthday. His old bike was way too small by then, and it was a piece of crap. So Adam scoured the Internet, looking for a used road bike, dirt bike or mountain bike that was good enough, not just to get him around town, but to take him away from home if it ever got bad enough. If he was going to run away, he needed something that couldn’t be traced back to his home, but most of the better bikes are registered with the police to discourage theft. The best thing was to look for a bike that was maybe ten years old and had had at least two owners before. A bike like that wouldn’t likely still be registered.

“Adam searched on eBay and Craig’s List, but there were also specific sites he checked out, too. He knew what he was looking for and figured he’d have to spend around two- or three-hundred dollars, not including the helmet and other accessories he’d need. He had over two thousand saved in Applazon gift cards, which he discovered could be used to launder his cash without leaving much of a paper trail. But Alan Farmer would’ve been suspicious if Adam suddenly had a new bike. He didn’t know about Adam’s tutoring jobs, and he’d have taken all of Adam’s money if he did. Adam thought he could probably talk Alan into buying him a bike for his thirteenth birthday, but left to his own devices, Alan would get him something really shitty. He’d balk at spending a few hundred bucks, so Adam had to figure out how to make up the difference without Alan knowing about it, and that’s what got him in trouble.

“In the meantime, Christmas came and went, and as usual, Alan didn’t get Adam any presents, nor did Adam get him any, but a lot of kids got new bikes for the holidays and had old bikes they no longer needed. Adam spotted an ad for a twenty-year-old Raleigh mountain bike that originally cost over two grand, but was listed for $250. He got the seller to agree to sell it for a $200 Applazon e-gift card plus $40 in cash, and then he showed Alan a printout of the listing for the bike and the invoice and told him he’d negotiated the price down to forty dollars. Alan Farmer knew nothing about bikes, and he actually praised Adam for getting such a good deal. He would’ve balked at spending more than that and been suspicious if it had been less, so Adam had indeed priced it just right for Alan’s idea of what a bike for a thirteen-year-old boy should cost. Alan paid the forty bucks that night, and the bike was on its way.

“The bike just happened to arrive right on Adam’s birthday, and he was thrilled. It came in a plain-brown, corrugated cardboard box, so he carefully unpacked it, inspected it, assembled it and took it for a ride. It rode like a dream. However, when Adam got back to the shack, Alan was visibly upset. It was obvious he’d been drinking, which was nothing unusual, but from the way he was acting, Adam could tell he’d polished off an entire six-pack, if not more. Then Alan showed Adam the receipt that had been in the box, which he’d found when he went to break the box down for their next trip to the dump. The receipt showed the full purchase price, and Alan went ballistic. He pummeled Adam, and then he tried to strangle me. His hands were around my neck, and he just wasn’t letting go. As angry as he was and as much as he was raving mad at me, I could tell that he didn’t plan to let me go. I was on the verge of passing out when I did the only thing I could do, which was to knee him in the balls. That made him let go, but it only bought me a second or two, so whatever I did, I had to do it immediately.

“Gasping for breath, I remembered that he kept a handgun behind the headboard in his bedroom,” I continued. Henry started to open his mouth, but I cut him off. “Yeah, I know guns have to be kept locked up, but he was already violating enough laws to put him away for life. So, I ran into the bedroom and grabbed the gun. At the last fraction of a second just as he barged in the room, I remembered that guns had something called a safety, and I quickly found it and flicked it off. I aimed the gun right at the center of his chest and shouted, ‘If you come any closer, I’ll shoot, you bastard.’ Those were the exact words I used. I’ll never forget what I said.

“Then there was the loudest sound I’d ever heard in my life. Eerie blue flames were spreading out from the tubing, and the light was unnaturally brilliant as the flames got bigger and bigger. Suddenly, there was a huge explosion that blew the roof off the building. Flames shot up into the air, and everyone around us was consumed by the fire. The Dewar vessel that housed the server prototype literally melted.”

I was sobbing uncontrollably now and had to stop talking.

I had no idea how long it had been since I stopped talking. When I regained awareness of my surroundings, we were sitting on a large rock and Henry had his arms around me, comforting me. I looked into his eyes, and he said, “You kinda blacked out, Babe. More than that, you had an event, a waking nightmare. When you got to telling me about shooting Alan Farmer, you became confused and started talking about the explosion in the lab.”

“I did?” I asked. “Fuck!”

“Yeah, it was a classic PTSD flashback, except you never were there in the lab during the explosion. I’ve read up a bit on this, and people with PTSD sometimes attach more recent traumatic events to the original traumatic event that set off the PTSD. It’s not unusual. If we can get you past the episode with your so-called father, the flashbacks to the server explosion should disappear, too.”

“I don’t think I can go through this,” I said.

“I wouldn’t want you to right now,” Henry replied. “Desensitization is a process that should take months, Babe. I really think it would be better done by a professional, though.”

“I can’t,” I countered.

“Are you willing to continue with me?” Henry asked. “We’ll take it slowly, and we won’t talk about the actual shooting until you’re ready to face it.”

“Frankly, I don’t know if I’ll ever get to that point, but I think I need to try. Just not today,” I answered.

“Then let’s stop for now, and we can discuss that at another time,” he suggested as we got up and resumed the hike. “You’re doing great, though. Let’s talk about something less draining for the rest of the hike back.” Then after a pause, Henry went off in a different direction, starting a lengthy discussion by posing an intriguing question. “Why don’t zoom lenses exist in nature? The evolutionary advantage of them would give any species that developed an eye with a zoom-lens capability a distinct leg up on all the other species.” It was not the typical question asked by a fifteen-year-old.

“Why didn’t the wheel evolve in nature?” I asked in counterpoint. “It too would have conveyed such an advantage that it’s hard to imagine why it didn’t evolve even once. However, it’s hard to imagine how a wheel would work in nature short of having the entire animal roll, which some animals actually do. What’s probably most telling in the case of the wheel is that not all civilizations discovered the wheel as a means of transportation. Native Americans, for example, used the wheel for making pottery. Why didn’t they conceive of using it to move carts more easily over vast distances? Why did they hunt horses for food to the point of extinction? Why didn’t they domesticate them as did the humans in Europe and Asia?”

“Although horses originated in the Americas, they were about the size of a large dog or a small pony,” Henry countered. “It was in Asia, I believe, that domestication and selective breeding led to a practical beast of burden. Suffice it to say that wheels and horses conveyed such an advantage to the white migrants from Europe that the native Americans didn’t stand a chance.”

“I think that guns also played a role, but our diseases were the biggest factor, you know,” I reminded Henry. “Something like 80–90 percent of the native population died because of them. Let’s also remember that the immigrants weren’t all white. As slavery took hold, blacks made up a significant portion of the settlers.”

“Yeah, okay,” Henry agreed, “but it’s curious that the wheel and zoom lenses never evolved in nature.”

“Evolution is a crapshoot,” I replied, “right back to the first single-celled organisms and even before. In the movie Avatar, the Na’vi had a carbon-fiber skeleton. Our skeleton is based on a hydroxyapatite crystal matrix that’s lightweight and strong, but very brittle. It evolved from the calcium carbonate that was the structural element in primitive marine life, whose remains are evident in vast limestone deposits all over the world. But what if our skeleton had evolved instead from silicates, the basis of sandstone. We could’ve had a fiberglass skeleton that would’ve been quite durable. But why not carbon-fiber composites, which had the potential to provide a stronger, lighter, much more durable structure without the need for any mineral content at all. Carbon fiber was a missed opportunity. The wheel was another missed opportunity, as was the zoom lens.”

“Still, the eye is so essential to survival that it evolved independently in multiple forms in multiple branches of animal life,” Henry added. “Not counting the compound eyes of the insect world, the eye evolved in nearly identical form in both vertebrates and cephalopods like squid and octopi. The design is strikingly similar to that of a camera, with a fixed outer lens, an inner adjustable lens, an adjustable aperture and a sensor. The design in cephalopods is nearly the same as in the vertebrate eye, except that the retina is less complex. So why didn’t nature ever add a second or third adjustable lens, allowing for zooming in and out?”

“You could argue that nature came up with an even better solution,” I suggested. “The fovea centralis has densely-packed cones that provide exquisitely detailed color imaging, whereas the rest of the retina consists mostly of rods that are more sensitive to movement than detail. In some bird species, the retina is sensitive to infrared light, and in some the fovea takes the form of a line, providing central vision across the entire horizon. Would it be helpful to be able to identify an animal in the distance? Certainly, and one could again argue that the impetus to invent telescopes contributed to the development of human intelligence. However, had evolution found a way to provide telephoto imaging, it would have probably done so with an additional eye, much as with the interpolated zoom feature on a lot of phones.”

“That’s an interesting point!” Henry agreed.

“And what about bats?” I pointed out. “They hardly use their vision at all, but they have a sophisticated system of sonar that lets them locate and capture insects in midair. Or dolphins, which have such an advanced sonar system with beam steering capabilities that our military didn’t develop anything like it until near the beginning of the millennium. With our eyes, we can estimate distances by the parallax effect, but with sound, distances can be measured precisely, giving bats and dolphins a distinct evolutionary advantage.

“Of course, it’s hard to beat the convenience of a long zoom lens on a camera —”

“But why do the optics have to be so complicated?” Henry interrupted. “If we had lens elements made with something with a higher index of refraction, like diamonds, a zoom lens could be much more compact and light-weight.”

“Diamonds!” I replied in surprise.

“Well, it would have to be something transparent, and it sure wouldn’t be transparent aluminum,” Henry noted. “That made for a good story in Star Trek IV, but aluminum is a metal. The free-flowing electrons in metals are what reflect, rather than refract light. Transparent solids have electron shells that don’t absorb visible wavelengths of light, and they’re either amorphous, like glass or acrylic, or made from a single crystal, like a diamond. The tetrahedral crystal structure of the carbon in diamond is the only one that locks up the electrons and prevents them from absorbing light. It’s a far cry from coal or graphite, which are among the blackest substances known.”

“I know they use small diamond lenses for special applications, but I can’t imagine what a diamond-based zoom lens for a digital camera might cost. A large synthetic diamond big enough to fashion a lens from would be prohibitively expensive, and how could you machine and polish a lens made from the hardest substance known? Until we can figure out how to create optical matching layers for diamond, the internal reflections and chromatic aberrations would be monstrous.”

“Jeez, I’m sorry I asked,” Henry responded.

“No, don’t be sorry,” I countered. “Sure, there are a lot of complications, but perhaps you’ll be the one to solve them through the application of mathematics.”

“Hmm. Perhaps there’s a geometric solution, something shaped more like the eye with a gelatinous matrix and a flexible lens,” Henry suggested, “or a compound lens and sensor array with an onboard computer that could deconvolve the light field from all the tiny images.” Henry certainly loved to think outside the box.

“Backing up a step, you do know that transparent aluminum really does exist,” I added.

What?” Henry exclaimed as he stopped dead in his tracks.

“It’s probably not what you were thinking, though,” I hastened to add as we resumed walking. “You were thinking of elemental aluminum and aluminum alloys, but aluminum is a very weak metal with a single p-orbital electron in its outer shell. It’s malleable, conductive and light weight, making it suitable for use as a metal, but surface oxidation precludes its use as a reflector. Most other metals are transition elements from the middle of the periodic table with an outer shell of d-orbital electrons. Notable exceptions are the alkali metals lithium and sodium, which are highly reactive and unsuitable for use in metallic form.”

“Sodium’s a metal?” Henry asked in surprise.

“Yeah, it is,” I replied. “I forgot that you haven’t studied chemistry. That’s something we need to remedy ’cause it comes in handy. A common high-school experiment is to take a tiny nugget of metallic sodium, which is stored submerged in oil, and expose it to air. It will fizzle and dance as it oxidizes. Just don’t expose it to water, as it can actually explode. Some nuclear reactors use molten sodium as the coolant because of its excellent thermal properties. However, if you combine sodium with chlorine, a highly reactive gas, you get —”

“Sodium chloride, or common table salt,” Henry interjected.

“Right,” I continued. “The chlorine atom captures the free outer electron of the sodium atom to form an ionic compound that readily dissolves in water. As a solid, it forms a crystalline structure in which the electrons are so tightly bound that it’s —”

“Transparent!” Henry interrupted. “But salt is nothing like a metal. Hell, you can’t use it for building anything, because it would just dissolve away.”

“It’s the only stable, transparent solid that can transmit certain frequencies of ultraviolet light,” I countered. “In some applications of spectroscopy, that’s necessary to detect some organic compounds, so they use sample cells made of sodium chloride. Needless to say, they have to be kept in a desiccated container and must never be touched by human hands. They also cost thousands of dollars to make.”

“Wait, are you suggesting something similar with aluminum?” Henry asked as he, once again, stopped dead in his tracks.

“Yes, but it’s far more practical,” I answered. “Actually, transparent aluminum occurs naturally as aluminum oxide in crystalline form. We call it sapphire, and because it’s extremely strong, we use it for bullet-proof windows and watch crystals. Unfortunately, synthetic crystals are difficult to grow and very expensive.

“It only took until 2009 for Scotty’s ‘transparent aluminum’ to be fabricated in the lab. A team at Oxford used high-energy lasers to fuse aluminum oxynitride into a transparent ceramic that’s nearly as strong as sapphire, but much easier to produce. It’s four times stronger than tempered glass and heat-resistant to nearly two-thousand degrees Celsius, making it ideal for blast-resistant windows. It has an optical transmission of greater than 80 percent in the visible spectrum, but its high chromatic dispersion would be problematic in photography.”

“Damn, boy,” Henry exclaimed as we continued our hike. “With you around, who needs Wikipedia?” We both laughed.

We spent the rest of the day driving the Badlands Loop Road and the first part of the Sage Creek Rim Road, making stops at all the overlooks and hiking the short trails at many of them. The sun was low on the horizon by the time we got back to Wall, and we barely made it to the Wall Drug Café before it closed, eating dinner while the car recharged nearby.

We were actually too tired and drained to do more than snuggle up together in bed after our first day in the Badlands, and we were soon fast asleep.

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.