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Return to the apocalypse

The ultimate offboarding

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January 29, 2024

When would my badge stop working? The C-suite was dead or holed up in some bunker without corporate network access. Either way, I still hadn’t gotten a layoff notice since the apocalypse four years ago.

Today I got a slight nod from the lobby security bot.

The HR policies are hard to adhere to, but I’ve been able to stick around so far. Of course, I had to talk to the performance bot or whatever the simulated name was, probably Karen, since the main event. And before everything went to shit, I’d thought I was doing pretty well. 

Probably the most important vest and rest I’ve ever done. 

My manager had died that first day. Currently, I’m waiting for someone to be assigned as my manager but there are no takers. Or maybe all people with the appropriate level are dead.

At first there were a handful of people in the building. A few of them had started to go a bit crazy and were terminated for violating the policies against creating a toxic workplace. 

I looked at the ragged reflection of myself in the mirrored lobby, pressed the elevator button, and waited. A small cleaning robot spun past and vacuumed up the dust I had sullied the entrance with from outside. 

“I wonder where you take it all. Or do you just dump it right outside?” 

The robot didn’t respond. There was probably some overly complicated system that used the dirt to grow some fresh food somewhere deep underground. At least that’s probably why the fruit bowls still had apples. No more tangerines though. 

On the top floor were rows of cubicles of various levels of decoration—all empty. Meeting rooms showed their “join a meeting” screens, but nothing was scheduled. At least not any more. There was a time a year or so ago that we would try to do socials across the various offices that still had people, but there were fewer and fewer. In the last two months there have been zero social groups. 

In those days, I’d even been able to find love. I was updating my weekly status report and someone had commented that they were working on a dependency project. This was code for “let’s talk.” We started having a regular 1:1 sync up and we hit it off. 

I was updating my weekly status report and someone had commented that they were working on a dependency project. This was code for “let’s talk.”

It only lasted a few months. We were getting a bit hot and heavy in coded terminology in a video call, but they slipped up and got terminated. Honestly, I don’t know why we thought talking about how badly someone needed a paper tray unjammed wouldn’t be flagged as inappropriate. This became especially problematic because they were more senior than me. 

I sometimes wish I’d see them waiting outside of the campus perimeter waiting for me, but that was a pipe dream. They were hundreds of miles away with little chance of surviving the journey.

We were all bound to slip up eventually. 

My morning breakfast was an energy drink, an apple, a protein bar, and a pack of popcorn. They were still tasting pretty good. How much food had already been automatically removed because of a slightly past due expiration date? Or maybe they were making new snack items on campus? I didn’t have access to the systems that ran the buildings. I’ve tried, a bit, to learn more, but I didn’t want to be flagged and deactivated due to a violation of policy. 

I took a quick shower and brushed my teeth. The last thing I wanted was a cavity with the urgent care locations closed throughout the building.

I went to the largest conference room and sat down in a chair closest to the window. The building right next to this one looked as nice and shiny as the others but the expanse beyond was orange dust. Fallout from some series of jackpots during the initial collapse. 

No plants grew outside. Inside the campus perimeter, tended by gardening bots, they looked spectacular, even right up to a sidewalk barrier that was used for walking 1:1s before it became too dangerous. A few, slow decaying bodies lay just outside it. 

In the distance there was a dust cloud—probably from a Motorhead searching for the last few remaining survivors. Thankfully the windows were reflective from the outside. 

The conference room looked nice as always. Fabric chairs of various, whimsical colors and whiteboards. I wished I could just sleep in this room but security bots would come by and remind me to work on my “work-life integration.” No matter what I put here, it was always cleared away later. If I was lucky, some of it would show up in the lost and found by security. The only things I managed to keep around were items that fit on top of my cubicle’s desk and didn’t violate policy. For example: a small fake fern, a small dumpster with a fake fire that was a little too on the nose, my copy of Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard.

I wished I could just sleep in this room but security bots would come by and remind me to work on my “work-life integration.”

Thankfully the nap pods still worked when I needed them. 

I wasn’t sure when this would all fail, but I also wasn’t sure where else I would go. The small dirt hole outside the perimeter I was sleeping in wasn’t nice. It was a stark difference to the clean smelling conference room. I wanted to be here. What else would I do with my life?

I called a friend. 

It took a while but they eventually picked up from another office across the country. The themed name of their conference room was locally inspired but I had no idea what it meant. They looked haggard. 

“What’s going on out there?”

“I almost got stuck under a building that collapsed. Pretty crazy. How’s it in your neck of the woods?”

“Good, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to meet all expectations…” I trailed off and mugged for the video camera to zoom into my facial expression. 

Usually that would warrant a laugh, but he wasn’t in the mood. “Actually, I just got PIP’d. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

“How long do you have?”

“They said I had to improve my performance in the next month or I’m out.”

The ultimate offboarding. Before the main event, I would have given him advice about building a narrative around the departure, about leaving for somewhere else in time to avoid the unpleasantness of the role winding down. Now there was no place else to go. “Can I send you a teamwork award to help?”

My friend looked out from the conference room towards whatever hellscape their office campus faced. “I don’t think it matters anymore. What are we even living for now? I’m tired of being here. I’m tired of… here.”

The call wasn’t really cheering me up, so I asked what they were making in the kitchen. I had been working on a beef jerky Wellington that wasn’t going so well. 

Work can really take a lot out of you. I didn’t know if it was the fact that the world had ended or if it was that I was just in an uncaring, automed work environment. Either way, this sucked. Where was I going to find a new job?

It was time to fill my calendar again. It wasn’t official company policy, but the people who managed to stick around had full schedules of workshops and “focus time.” Productivity was through meetings. 

I still knew of a few aliases that belonged to actual people, but honestly they didn’t like to be bothered. They preferred to pack their schedules with their own soldiering. So I’d add aliases of people I was pretty sure were dead to my workshops, hoping that someone would show up. No one ever did. It was a way to fill time.

I scheduled a few different time slots, with assigned meeting rooms of course, with the agenda to consider the impact of my project and what we might do next. There were of course ways to check in code, but no one really saw it other than the bots checking engagement. My KPIs were way up since I was focused on internal tools. 

Just as I was about to hit the nap pod for a siesta, I got an urgent meeting request on my calendar. I was only invited to these types of meetings when they were announcing that executives had “left the company,” a.k.a. were probably dead by the hands of their own bunker security guards. There hadn’t been one for a while.

When I stepped into the conference room, I knew it wasn’t good. The avatar on the screen had a neutral expression rather than one of joy or irrational exuberance. My layoff was due to recent restructuring. By whom, a great question. I was given severance and a good referral. 

I knew it wasn’t good. The avatar on the screen had a neutral expression rather than one of joy or irrational exuberance.

The really amazing part was that they still had a cache of those crappy cardboard boxes to put your stuff in. I put the dumpster fire in the box but left the fake fern. The security bot even let me grab a few snacks on the way out. 

Maybe there was more to life than work?

At least, I could finally take some time for myself.

This is the end mark. You have reached the end!

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