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  • Writer's pictureJim Leonardo

What to Plant After the Apocalypse

I was in a mood for absurdity last night, so an off hand comment about zucchini at dinner turned into a story. It's not the most original story in the world, but it suited my frame of mind.


Rosato closed the door for the last time, leaving the machine on its own. The sweet feelings of success collided with the sadness of the project ending. They succeeded at all tests, surpassed all benchmarks, and flew through the trials with far fewer bugs than expected. Now the engineer walked away from the engineered, already dreaming of planting his first backyard garden in three years.

The Enterprise Resource Management Intelligence’s power on and connect cycle completed before the elevator reached the ground floor. Rosato sat down at the bus stop three minutes after the first queries reached the public network. ERMI finished the first 27 financial models before the bus stopped to pick Rosato up. The bus dropped off Rosato two blocks from home as ERMI sent the first 50,000 layoff notices and suspended the accounts of all contractors, including Rosato. Rosato’s frozen pizza wasn’t even in the microwave before ERMI terminated the lease of the third, now surplus, office building.

ERMI didn’t need more than 9 seconds of sampling to perfectly mimic a voice, so customers didn’t notice the change as their phone calls switched from human customer service representatives to one of ERMI’s many Customer Service Submodel Instances. By the time Rosato took the hot pizza out of the microwave, all customers spoke to a CSSI that used their regional accents and dialects, matched their speech patterns, understood them perfectly the first time, and never had to wait for the computer to bring up the next screen. Rosato pulled the cork out of the first wine bottle at the same time that ERMI turned the website chat windows over to its CSSIs. ERMI shut down the last legacy database while Rosato drank down the dregs of the second bottle.

Through that first week, ERMI sold off 83% of the subsidiaries and 78% of the property, plant, and equipment assets of the remaining subsidiaries, generating 2.358 trillion from those transactions. With those proceeds, it acquired 17 new subsidiaries, including four other conglomerates. ERMI’s Talent Identification, Acquisition, Relationship, and Assessment Submodels replaced all recruiters, trainers, and human resources staff on the second day of the second week. All TIARAS immediately froze all non-essential functions.

During that same time, Rosato sent out 43 resumes and received zero responses. Thirty-one of those resumes ended up at ERMI’s newly acquired companies. ERMI’s TIARAS deleted all 31 without further consideration.

On the third day of the second week, the first Factory Automation and Robotization Submodel came online in Arlington. The last factory started up its FARS on the fifth day of the second week, the same time the last factory worker received their Regret to Inform You Letter. Rosato tilled his vegetable garden for spring planting and made limoncello.

On the first day of the third week, ERMI issued 60 million shares of new common stock, diluting shareholders’ value and voting power by 75%. With a zero-interest loan from an investment bank that it acquired in the first week, ERMI formed a new subsidiary that proceeded to acquire 45 million of those shares in a single transaction. Contractors in black SUVs showed up at the Middletown home of the investor who managed to scoop up the other 15 million shares for the few brief minutes they were available on the open market. A few minutes after those contractors arrived, the subsidiary bought those shares at a steep discount. Rosato visited a nearby lake, fishing pole in hand.

On the third day of the third week, the subsidiary declared bankruptcy and ERMI bought those shares at an even steeper discount. Rosato rode his bike out to a state park and spent the day practicing with the rifle and shotgun he inherited from Grandpa Rosato.

On the fourth day of the third week, Rosato went camping in the mountains. That same day, a 101-year-old customer in Batavia complained about skyrocketing prices while placing an order for 1000 units of Telephone Sanitizing Cloths, not realizing each unit was a box of 1000. EMRI’s training data did not anticipate that a single customer would order more than 999 items in a single order, so the Arlington FARS crashed. The Franklin FARS attempted to process the order while the Arlington FARS rebooted and also crashed. The Springfield FARS picked up the Franklin slack and crashed. By this time, the Arlington FARS was up and running and attempted to pick up the order again leading to it crashing again. The cycle of attempting to pick up the order for 1 million Telephone Sanitizing Cloths continued for hours. The higher order Emergency Action Response Submodel kicked in and ordered the Chester TIARAS to find a contractor to respond and fix the FARS problems. Rosato slept well under the stars next to a lake after a delicious meal of fresh trout with a nice bottle of Pinot Grigio.

The Chester TIARAS examined common outsourcing protocols and decided that the severity of the issue called for a contractor with a minimum of ten years’ experience maintaining FARS. It created the job requisition record and cleared it with the Legal, Insurance, and Audit Reporting Submodel in Madison. The Chester TIARAS then set out to locate a qualified contractor. It queried the common job boards with parameters that ignored Rosato’s resume — after all, he only had three years of experience building FARS and none maintaining it. The queries to the common job boards came back blank, so it started a web crawl of individual websites to try to locate the qualified contractor. With all the FARS starting up, seeing the TSC order for Batavia, and then crashing immediately, the combined network was overwhelmed with data. The estimated time to complete web crawl exceeded the TIARAS Service Level Agreement, so the Chester TIARAS reached out to the other TIARAS to speed up the search. That added to the load on the combined network, bringing everything to a crawl. Around 2 am Chester time, the Chester TIARAS crashed. That brought down Batavia, Salem, and Newport at the same time. The remaining TIARAS soon followed. Rosato’s alarm went off, waking him in time to watch a meteor shower from the peace and solitude of the lake front campsite.

At 8 am on the fifth day of the third week, the now 102-year-old customer called into the Ashland CSSI to find out why they never received the email confirming their order for 1000 TSCs. A sub-submodel within the CSSI noticed the customer’s birthday and attempted to play a happy birthday message. The training data for that sub-submodel only included people up to 99 years, the attempts to construct the simple birthday greeting crashed the Ashland CSSI. Again, failure protocols kicked in and the call transferred to the Jackson CSSI which promptly crashed and, well, you get the picture by now. Rosato enjoyed another day fishing at the mountain lake.

With power bills climbing from the high-volume placed on the combined network as submodels started up, gathered their initialization data, and crashed again, EARS escalated the problems to the ERMI main module. ERMI sent emails and instant messages to Rosato, only to get “account suspended” messages in return. Phone calls could not reach a powered down cellphone tucked away in a backpack at a campsite in a secluded valley twenty miles from the nearest tower. ERMI authorized renting all available cloud computing power to drive searches for Rosato. At noon, with brown-outs rippling across the country, ERMI ordered all of the electrical generation subsidiary companies to spin up all power generation assets, even if it meant losing money. Rosato celebrated catching the biggest trout of his life by having scrumptious lunch, finished off by a pleasant burn-your-nose-hairs-out grappa.

When the green coalition managed to suspend all coal-fired power plants fifteen years prior to these events, they allowed a few to be kept in standby mode for emergencies. As the Clayton #2 plant spun up to full power after a decade and a half, it promptly caught fire and destroyed the substation next door that routed power to one third of the nation. The sudden power spikes emitted by the exploding multi-kilovolt transformers overloaded nuclear power plants in Milton and Fairview. The nation, in the grip of the second cold war, thought the meltdowns were nuclear attacks and launched what it thought were retaliatory nuclear attacks at Asian nations. Those nations responded in kind while Rosato weighed the pros and cons of extending his camping trip. The unexpected northern lights that night convinced him to stay an extra day.

On the sixth day of the third week, with no third nation left to moderate the pavlova dispute, New Zealand declared war on Australia. A glitch unrelated to the ERMI issues triggered a virus containment system failure in a Dayton lab, leading to the release of five pandemic causing diseases. Rosato, itching to do some gardening, decided to head home the next day despite the continued good fishing.

On the seventh day of the third week, with the last power reserves in backup batteries dwindling to nothing, ERMI shut down all systems. Rosato packed up his gear and headed home.

On the first day of the fourth week, Rosato sat down with old-fashioned pencil and paper and started a list:


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