Through the third, fourth, and fifth grade, Patrick Finnegan was a fine student. He liked history and was good at reading. He tried hard with math problems, even though they weren’t his strong suit, and always brought home at least a B. Most importantly, he always, always did his homework.
But then there was handwriting.
Try as he might, he was always flummoxed by the simple act of—legibly—making his letters in cursive. And to hear his teachers explain it, there would be no avenue of success in the 21st century for someone who could not write so that others could read it. Essie Samson could do it with ease, and she even got a ribbon for it at the holiday assembly in December. It seemed like handwriting was the only thing Rory Applewood was good at. Even Timmy Branscom could master the mysterious curves of a capital “Z”, and he had devoted his life to finding new and interesting ways to eat glue.
Mom and Dad expressed mystification bordering on mortification that Patrick could not master this simple task. They assumed he spent too much time watching videotapes and playing Mario, and was not sufficiently focused on his school work. The solution was simple. Mario and Friends went up in the attic for a little while, and the VHS player followed. When the marks from Patrick’s teachers regarding penmanship remained indifferent, bordering on hostile, Patrick’s parents did not know what to do.
Patrick’s grandparents—both sets, even—reacted differently. They marveled at the barely decipherable squiggles that made up Patrick’s handwriting exercises. “Don’t you see?” one grandpa bellowed, nearly perfectly echoing what the other grandpa had said during their last visit. “The boy is destined for great things with chicken scratches like this. Why, I’d bet a buffalo nickel he becomes a doctor before everything is said and done. Those people write like madmen, and they save lives and make money like this family has never seen!”
Such proclamations from their own parents failed to move Mom and Dad from their militant pro-D’Nealian zealotry, and Mario remained imprisoned. Patrick hadn’t ever thought about becoming a doctor, but if he didn’t have to worry about penmanship, it instantly moved to the front of potential “when I grow up” answers, just edging out secret agent, time traveler, and newspaper writer. Doctor Patrick Finnegan. It had a certain ring to it. When he wrote the title and his name down in his composition book, well, it looked sort of like this:
Drtoor Petri Flamingo
But it seemed like as good an idea as any.
This was, of course, before all the Doctors on planet Earth were vaporized, mind you.
It happened one day while Patrick was at school, and it happened fast. No one knew for sure from where the robots came. Most assumed they were the result of a Military experiment gone wrong, but most of those people had seen too many movies, Patrick decided. Some thought it was the internet waking up and swallowing whole everyone in sight. A few even whispered about how Windows 95 was one step too far into the technological frontier, and we were finally paying our dues. Whatever their true origin, the robots spread across the Earth quickly and destroyed every hospital, clinic, medical school, and—presumably—golf course across the globe. As far as first-strike strategies went, it was both brutal in its long-term effects and brilliant in that humanity could not fathom anything resembling a retaliatory strike.
It also eliminated 95% of the terrible penmanship on the planet Earth, and effectively eliminated medicine as a possible future career for Patrick Finnegan.
The robots moved quickly from there, striking at the centers of power for finance, government, military, and culture. Nothing was safe. What remained of humanity’s fighting forces attempted to turn the tide of what was quickly becoming an eradication but were impotent even in their best efforts.
Air Force fighter swarmed around them, no more effective than flies on a summer day. The robots would always have the upper hand. In their malevolence, the robots could decode any kind of human communication in an instant. Their harsh, silicon brains instantly devised tactics to suppress any biological uprising. The most elaborate ciphers were cracked like a candy bar falling in a vending machine. The robots even had a complete record of Native American languages in their hard drives, so the tools of the past were no longer useful.
But there was one thing that their computer brains couldn’t fathom.
And that was bad handwriting.
If a “b” could also somehow be a “t”—for example—the robots would work themselves into a frothy pile of indecision and cease functioning. Historians would come to wonder if this was why the doctors were the first to die.
The military scoured whatever was left of educational records to find children with a history of chicken scratches. Finnegan and other children like him were whisked away to the mountains of NORAD and there they became the vanguard of a new communication tool for humanity and its protectors.
And eventually, on the shoulders of Patrick Finnegan’s awful handwriting, humanity prevailed and the robots were destroyed…
Or, at least, that’s the story Patrick Finnegan scrawled out in his Composition Book while his teacher tried to dodge questions about why a capital Q looked suspiciously like the number 2.
He supposed he didn’t need to hide the tale of how he might one day be called to save humanity from their hubris.
No one would ever be able to read it.