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At the end of the school year, I challenged some of my 8th graders to help me with some columns over the summer. They gave me the first and last lines of a potential fictional short story. My task was to take those lines and write the middle. I was given seven ideas from the kids, so that’s the plan for the foreseeable future! This week’s lines were provided by Daniel Nydegger.

I had to sell all twelve fingers. Wait, twelve? How is that possible – am I some kind of mutant? And sell them? Let’s take a step back.

When I was a youngster growing up in Yuma, Arizona, I became entranced by my first Lego set when I was four. It was some kind of boat with a cheesy shark that went with it. I lost the shark early on, but found that I could create much more than just the ship shown in the instructions. As I added more sets, I would always first build the item pictured, but would then combine all my Legos and come up with bigger and cooler designs.

While other kids were playing video games and sports, I was defying gravity with six-foot towers of varying colors. Then came the magical day when my dad dug out his old Erector set, a metal construction toy that predated Legos. I started finding ways to combine my Legos with the Erector sets, and by the time I was in middle school, I found that the math and science curriculums were easy since I had seen many elements of those subjects in my play with those building materials.

My parents recognized this talent and transferred me to a STEM school to help foster my natural abilities in these areas. This school had a robotics team, which I quickly joined. The team became my focus; who needed those obligatory English classes? As long as I got a C, it didn’t matter, so I whipped out my homework for classes that weren’t associated with my robotics group. I stayed at A’s in science and math, because those were clearly much more important anyway.

By the time I was a junior, our robotics team was entering national and world competitions. We traveled all over, and our team became very close-knit. We were recognized as the best team in the world my senior year, and scholarship offers rolled in for everyone on the team. I headed off to MIT to continue my studies. I expanded my group of friends while there and ended up rooming with Paulo, another robotics expert from Mexico.

After graduating with honors, I moved back to Arizona and joined an up and coming company as a robotics engineer. While all this was going on, however, my brother had joined the Marines and spent time in the turbulent Middle East. His company was on patrol one day when they encountered an IED. My brother was severely injured and lost three fingers in the explosion. After that, I started to dedicate my time to creating robotic fingers to help injured veterans resume a normal lifestyle.

After two years of hard work and long hours, I invited my brother in to be my main test subject of the new fingers. After a number of stops and starts and plenty of frustration for both of us, we finally hit on the answer to the glitches we’d been having. This was, in part, due to my Facetime sessions with my old roommate, Paulo. He had returned to Mexico after graduating from MIT and was working on some similar items. Something he said one evening sparked the idea that led to the completion of my project.

With my brother fitted with his robotic fingers, my company wanted to push further testing so we could go public with these soon. As I headed home after a board meeting, exuberant at our success, I was stopped by a limo near my parking spot. When the window rolled down, I was surprised to see Paulo inside. He offered to take me out to celebrate, and I hopped in the back seat.

However, there was no celebration. Little did I know that Paulo’s father was the head of a large Mexican cartel that maintained plenty of legitimate businesses, but also ran plenty of criminal operations. The limo brought me to an old warehouse in a nearby town. Paulo and a couple of thugs escorted me inside where I met his father for the first time.

I was basically told that I had to give them the designs for the various types of robotic fingers I’d come up with or there would be trouble. The cartel needed an infusion of cash, what with the Mexican government cracking down on their illegitimate activities, and these robotics breakthroughs would be just the thing.

I tried to penelopize to give myself time to think and figure a way out of this mess. I told them I had to go back to my lab for my notes, even though I knew I could access them through my phone. So we trekked back to my work building, and I further delayed things by punching in the wrong code outside my door. When I felt a gun prod me in the back, I decided I had wasted enough time.

We had barely entered the room when my brother showed up behind us. He had seen us all enter the building, and since he hadn’t yet turned in his security badge, he’d followed us. I was worried about what this might push the cartel to do, but Paulo and his father were thrilled to see the robotic fingers in the, er, flesh, so to speak.

And then something truly unexpected happened. The cartel offered to pay me for the twelve designs I had. I would have to destroy my records and make up some excuse before quitting my job, but at least everyone would be safe. Plus, I’d have a good cash cushion to start my own company, my dream. Sure I broke the law, but that’s how I escaped the Mexican cartel.

Word of the Week: This week’s word is penelopize, which means to gain time to put off an undesired event, as in, “She kept finding ways to penelopize through chores instead of calling her boyfriend to break up.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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