“Unfortunately, I was forced to attend the worse one. Not only did they lack the superior educational resources for me, but the kids here were rough – extremely rough. I remember that there were these thick fences around, and bars on the windows of the labs with the expensive equipment…but anyway. I had to learn to stop raising my hand in class. I had to learn that my friends here weren’t really friends – they were always looking for bully me into doing their homework, or blackmail me, or enough of them would gang up on me…
“Learning introversion was a survival tactic. It drew less attention to me, and I began to harden up from the experiences. But the problems continued, because there were also multiple high schools…and the same division lines. So, I was sent to the wrong one, still trapped with these teenage thugs, surrounded by disaster at every turn.
“My parents didn’t know how to help. I reached out to the school board myself, but the impression I was given was that they wanted to keep me where I was – to help raise the test scores. So I went above them, writing to the superintendent. She took pity on me and made an exception in my case, and I was placed back in a high school with accelerated programs. With dedication, I was able to gradually claw my way back up, to compensate for the weak schooling I had received for five years…but the tradeoff was that I didn’t have time for friends or a social life.
“So, I passed my SATs with flying colors, I won a few essay contests, and I was given options. I had drawn the attention of several Ivy League schools. Every university in the closest three states was headhunting me. It was a good time for me.
“My parents were even prouder than before…but horrified. They could never afford to send me somewhere like Harvard or Brown…Yale eventually offered me tuition assistance and one of their heftier scholarships, and combined with my other grants and student aid opportunities, I was able to make it work – and the rest went onto what still wound up being a large student loan.
“Fast forward to my second year at the Business University of Yale. I made the only real friend I’d had since I was a child. His name was Hunter, and he was my assigned roommate in the dormitories. He was an eclectic character, highly insightful, very unhygienic, and his head was filled with all these ideas…he was fascinated with the opportunities inherent in the Internet.”
I smiled, remembering him as he had been, all that time ago.
“He was a computer whiz. Constantly seeing all these bugs and database errors in even the biggest e-commerce retailers… Somewhere along the line, he figured out some kind of pattern. An algorithm that could predict the success of entire companies Key. He could ‘see’ the future, and he could manipulate it. Small changes to marketing and corporate policy changed the math. The man reduced the rise and fall of empires to something you could solve as simply as one plus one equals two… And nobody believed him.”
I took a momentary pause, holding in the desire to cough once more. “He hoped to acquire a business degree from Yale to legitimize himself, finish his thesis, and revolutionize the world… But he failed to attract the kind of attention he wanted. He fell into a bitter depression, and sometimes he’d just shut himself away from the world for days at a time. I tried harder to pull him out of his shell, to convince him to see a therapist, but I was so wrapped up in my studies. Remember that I hadn’t been close to someone my age in a long time. I thought people just did that sometimes.”
Key gave me a sideways glance, and I continued.
“One day, I came back from a final exam to discover that he’d hung himself in our dorm room.”
Kiona stroked my arm as I paused, taking a deep sip of water. Her eyes were filled with pain for me, but I pressed on.
“I dropped out immediately, shouldering an immense amount of student debt with no plans, no money, and no way out. I only had one saving grace.”
“Hunter’s algorithm…” Kiona whispered.
“Hunter had left me all of his notes, and the basics for the database infrastructure he had built. A stack of hard drives, binders, and a laptop computer with a customized build of Linux that tied everything together. All I had to do was turn that computer on, connect it to the internet, and feed it the stock symbol of a company.”