"Heather, I don't think I can do it anymore," said David. "I mean what's the point?"
David had spent the last few days driving around aimlessly and wasting away on the couch. Eventually he decided to put on some pants and go see his sister. Heather was the only person left in Portland who would still talk to him. The first thing David noticed when he arrived was the smell of stale bleach, vaguely like elementary school halls. He'd always hated that smell. Maybe that was why he had been so hesitant to visit her, he thought. But no, that was a lame excuse. He should have made more effort.
"It's like nothing I do is good enough for anyone anymore. I try to make a better life for Megan and she dumps me. I give up one startup to join Andrew and he quits. Fair-weather friends. Everywhere I turn, it's just roadblock after roadblock—problem after problem. Why can't the world work in my favor just once? Why can't I catch a break?"
David was making a big show with his hands as he paced back and forth in Heather's room. She sat patiently as David continued.
"I mean, am I stupid? Is every idea I come up with stupid and I just can't see it? Maybe everyone around me can see it, and I'm the only one who can't. I don't think I ever told you this before, but when we were growing up I always wondered if I was retarded and the reason I was never quite certain was because nobody had the courage to tell me. But now I know I am not a retard. And I know Cryptobit isn't a stupid idea. Maybe the jellyfish tank was a bad idea, I can concede that. But Cryptobit is different. I mean, we got an offer on Pitch Deck. That's something. I guess I wasn't supposed to tell you that because of a stupid NDA, but fuck that. I didn't get a deal and this is all going to hell, so what's the point of all the secrecy?"
Heather smiled softly and said: "Are you done yet?"
David looked at her with surprise and a touch of hurt. He nodded and sat down at the edge of her bed. It looked like any regular bed, with a dark wood faux finish, but had a remote control that could assist the patient in getting in and out easier.
"David, I love you. You know I love you. I am your biggest fan, and always will be. I know you are onto something big, and that you are on a path to greatness. But it's time to get off this pity party. It doesn't suit you and doesn't help anything. Either do something about it, or give up like everyone else around you."
"Jesus, Heather. Everything in my life is going to shit, can't you have a little compassion?"
"Nobody forced you down this path. Nobody made you buy the jellyfish website or join Andrew. You can't always be playing the martyr. Especially when you made all your decisions freely. You always knew startups were risky. You knew they were hard and were going to test you. You can't keep blaming the world for your own choices. You're a brilliant programmer but you're surprisingly dim when it comes to common sense. It's time to take ownership and accountability. If it fails, let it fail. If it doesn't fail, stop complaining. Don't worry so much—you will figure it out. You always do. You always will."
David made himself comfortable on her bed and started fidgeting with the remote control. First the bed went up, and then down. Up, and then down.
"The nurses hate when you do that, you know?" Heather said.
"Let me ask you something."
"Since when did you get so wise?"
"Wrong question, David. Since when did you get so stupid?"
David threw a pillow at Heather's head.
"Hey," Heather said. "I have something for you. Can you open the top drawer of my desk over there?"
David walked over to the desk and pulled out a small box. "This?"
"Yeah. Mom gave it to me before she died. It's her old wedding ring from Dad. He had his flaws, but picking a bad ring apparently wasn't one of them."
"Either that or Mom picked it for him."
"True. Anyhow, she asked me to pass it down to my daughter. I said I would, but I have no interest in passing along my disease to another generation."
"But it's a recessive gene—if you have kids they probably wouldn't get it."
"Still, I want you to have the ring. I think you will have more use for it than I do."
David kissed his sister on the head.
* * *
The next day David woke up early, made a large pot of coffee, and began putting his house in order. First he gathered up and threw away the trash. Then he organized what was left of his belongings. By the end of his first cup of coffee, the disaster area had been cleared. He was ready to take inventory. Things weren't as bad as they had seemed the day before. Megan hadn't taken his favorite T-shirt, the black one that said: Vinyl is Killing the MP3 Industry. He slipped it on and took a deep breath.
Determined, David sat at his desk and began checking in on statistics. It seemed like a new article about Cryptobit hit Hacker News every week. Another white-hat cryptanalyst would review it and write his opinion about how novel the approach was, which would draw a ton of new attention. He checked the waiting list. It was over a hundred and twenty thousand now, which was pretty amazing since the Pitch Deck episode hadn't aired yet. The organic demand had always seemed outlandish to him, especially since he hadn't spent a dime in publicity. But it kept spreading. News articles about Edward Snowden in mainstream press even started mentioning Cryptobit.
Next, David checked on his servers. Though he didn't have to pay for as many servers as a traditional startup might, he still needed servers to manage a few aspects of the system, specifically around registering new customers. The last batch of customer invitations seemed to have finished a while ago (he hadn't checked in on the system in a few weeks), so David decided to try to play catchup and invite twenty thousand new users instead of the normal ten thousand at a time rule he had set up for himself. As long as people didn't all sign up at once, it should be fine.
Finally, he reviewed his bills. As he expected, most of them were overdue. They had attempted to use his credit card, which failed, and were threatening to shut down service if he didn't pay immediately. He was just hoping that the systems in place were a little more lenient than their angry emails let on.
To avoid being pulled back into a dark place, he decided to distract himself by cleaning the floors. He pushed the couch to the side and found a load of dust bunnies and a few scraps of paper. Megan had taken their broom, but that wasn't going to stop David. He picked up a piece of paper that looked to be a receipt from some old Chinese takeout, and began using it to scoop up the dust bunnies. As he poured them into the trash, he recognized an advertisement on the floor. He sat there and stared at it for a few minutes. David tilted his head. It was an ad for the online auction marketplace that he had used to buy the jellyfish website.
Before he could finish his thought, his phone beeped. He pulled it out and read the screen.
His new user registration servers had crashed.
"Shit shit shit."
The twenty thousand new invitations apparently did want to use his service all at the same time. He logged into the control panel. It warned him to pay immediately or face imminent shutdown. He needed to buy one more server to handle the extra load. He went to the screen to add a server and hovered his mouse over the button. He spent a minute carefully considering the pros and cons. Then he clicked his mouse.
YOU ARE READING
The Term Sheet | Wattys 2016 WinnerMystery / Thriller
2016 WATTY AWARD WINNER - HQ LOVE THE TERM SHEET is a fast-paced technothriller about entrepreneurship, startups, encryption, and the delicate balance between national security and individual privacy. Its complex characters explore thought-provoking...