Broken Beyond Repair: Brendan Palmer 2023

John (Jack) Sherwin had slept fitfully, his pillow and bedclothes damp with sweat from a combination of the thirty degree clammy heat, which was now almost the norm for late April in Dublin, Ireland, and his brain racing because of the company meeting he had been called to for ten o’clock the following morning.

By eight am he had showered, shaved and dressed in his best business suit, including a tie, something he hadn’t worn since his Debs ball fifteen years previously.

Before leaving the office the previous day, he had been advised that full business dress was  required as the meeting would include people from the top floor, people he would seldom see except occasionally through the glass wall of the executive canteen.

The written briefing he had been given instructed him to bring the report of the investigations he had conducted into the effect the latest statistics on climate change would have on the company’s business. A wave of stomach churning anxiety flowed over him, how would they receive the news? what would the consequences be once he told them?

Jack had worked for Metgrow for two years following his graduation with a PHD in agricultural molecular physics, a subject he had first become interested in while conducting a school, transition year, research experiment into global food production for the Irish Young Scientist exhibition.

Metgrow was the world’s largest supplier of genetically modified seeds for almost all the worlds grain production, including wheat and rice. They were also the world’s largest supplier of genetically modified feed for animals.

While Jack had some reservations about their Corporate Social Responsibility record, the salary offered was twice the size of anything offered elsewhere, allowing him to just about afford to buy his small apartment on the twenty fifth floor of a shared living complex in the Dublin Docklands . He also believed that his input to improving the quality of global food production would outweigh any negative Corporate Social Responsibility issues. His expertise and dedication quickly propelled him to becoming the company’s head of global research.

Over the previous thirty years, as the world’s population had continued to soar, Metgrow had consolidated their position by buying up their competitors or using their enormous financial power to destroy those companies who refused to sell out.

Effectively, no Government in the world could make decisions regarding food production or crop management without the agreement of Metgrow. Most of the world’s leading politicians were beholden to them because of the huge amounts of money they contributed to election campaigns, and the even bigger amounts of money spent by Metgrow in political lobbying and the sponsorship of almost all official Governments academic research into food production.

At the company Head Office, he was met in the foyer by two huge, unfamiliar security personnel, neither of whom were wearing the uniforms of Metgrow’s usual security company. He suppressed a smile, noting that their SWS crests are almost identical to the British Army’s SAS emblem, they reminded him of caricature security guys from Bond movies.   Flanking him, one of them griped him painfully by the elbow and without a word, they escorted him directly to the executive lift that stopped only in the foyer and the top floor.

They almost filled the lift, crushing him between them and filling the air with their overpowering body odour.  He realised from the shape of the chest area of their uniforms that they were armed and he stomach churning anxiety turned to fear. He cursed himself because, when dressing that morning,he had forgotten to use deodorant and now, mingled with their body odour, he could also smell his own fear sweat.

The lift doors opened, and he was pushed forward into the centre of the office of Paul Wincanton, global head of Metgrow. The doors closed behind them and the security guys stepped back and stood impassively on either side

Paul Wincanton is the quintessential global male chief executive, tall, iron grey hair, immaculately dressed in an expensive Savile Row suit.  He stepped forward, hand outstretched, his handshake the firm, dry grip of a person used to being in charge.  “Let’s not waste any time Jack, we need you to fly to a meeting in Zurich to represent Metgrow at a G5 conference that has been called to discuss global warming and its effect on food production”

Wincanton turned to the two security guards “Mr Sherwin is travelling to our HQ in Zurich, you will accompany him and make sure he has a pleasant trip and arrives safely and refreshed” “Good luck Jack, we’re counting on you”. Another brief handshake and he turned his back and picked up a sheaf of papers from his desk. Unsure of himself Jack hesitated and then realised that he has been dismissed.

One of the security guys opened the lift door and held it open. The other one stepped aside, pointing at the lift, his arm wide in a gesture of deferential guidance saying “this way Mr. Sherwin, please”

The journey back to the ground floor was just as nasally overpowering as coming up but at least the two security guys displayed what he was sure they believed to be friendly faces.  They still reminded him of a couple of dangerous rottweilers but thought, “the difference now is that they’re my Rottweilers”.

Parked outside was a Mercedes S class with blacked out rear windows. One of his now personal security guys ran and opened the rear door while the other walked protectively behind him and they both joined him in the huge slightly stretched limo.  The trip to Dublin Airport introduced him to a world he had only read about in books or seen in movies on TV. The private parking for limousines at the airport, a dedicated security check-in and another limousine to drive them out onto the airport apron to where an executive Lear jet hummed in preparation for take-off.

He climbed the steps with a security guy in front and behind him, stepped into the cabin and was stunned by a layout that would put a five star hotel suite to shame and certainly made his one bed, shared living apartment look like a tenement hovel.

There was no conversation on the two hour flight to Zurich. The two security guys sat quietly at one end of the cabin that was set out like a luxury living room. Jack, seated in a two seater couch at the other end of the cabin, realised that in fact they were sitting beside the only two exit doors. He smiled at his shoes thinking, “do they think I might grab a parachute and jump out of the plane, or maybe the aging Daniel Craig will crash through the doors with a gun in his hand”

He read through the report again. He had gone over it at least fifty times in the previous month, checking and double checking his numbers and assumptions, which had stunned him the first time they had been produced by the Artificial Intelligence algorithm he had designed and then processed through the latest Qubit1000 quantum computer he had had installed the previous year.

He went over again in his mind the presentation he would make to the meeting in Zurich and decided that “data doesn’t lie”, he can only present what he had discovered and let those who are in power decide how to handle the consequences.

They landed at a private terminal at “Flughafen Zürich”. There was no security check or customs and they went straight to another blacked out windowed Mercedes. This time a Maybach limousine, one of the most exclusive cars in the world that whisked them through the Zurich traffic with a six strong police outrider motorcycle escort, complete with screaming sirens.

The Wincanton offices occupy one of the most prestigious buildings in the financial district. A fifty storey, copper glass edifice designed to reflect daylight from dawn to dusk and transform itself into a beacon of artificial light during the hours of darkness. Right now, the early afternoon sun has turned two sides of the diamond shaped building into an amazing one hundred and seventy-five metre copper obelisk.

Jack and his by now two shadows, took another lift to the top floor meeting room that looked out on a three hundred and sixty degree view of the Zurich skyline and is dominated by a large oval mahogany table, around which were sitting some of the most powerful people on the planet. At the top Margaret Martinez, The President of the United States of the Americas. “Have a seat Jack” she said, pointing to a vacant chair half way along the right hand side of the table.

The air crackled with tension as he sat down and a bead of sweat ran down the inside of his shirt. President Varadkar of the European Union dived straight in “We need you to tell us exactly what your recent studies have shown Jack, apparently some hard decisions will have to be made”

President Martinez held up her hand, “excuse me Mr President, let us introduce everyone before he makes his presentation. I think you know me Jack, I am the President of the United States of the Americas North and South, you also know President Varadkar of the sixty member States of EU and the Russian Federation.  To your right across the table is President Chiang of the Asia Pacific region of China, Japan, The United states of Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Directly across from you is President Ellen Makeba of the African Continent and to her right is President Naresh Turakhia of the Indian Continent. You can see that you will be presenting your findings to the five people who have the power to implement any recommendations you may make to us and we look forward to your observations.”

He picked up a plastic bottle of water from the cluster of individual sized plastic bottles of water in the centre of the table, a testament to the failure of a young girl, Greta Thunberg, who, in 2023 had almost lost her life trying to convince the world to stop polluting the oceans with single use plastics. He opened the bottle, ignoring the “plastic glass” tumbler on the table in front of him and took a long drink, gathering his thoughts while easing his dry throat.

Holding his notes in shaking hands, he pushed his chair back, stood up slowly, looked around the table, pausing slightly as he looked at each of the G5 leaders, the “shoot the messenger” concept at the front of his mind, and began.

“From my investigations and the latest figures from our AI quantum computer extrapolations, there is nothing good I can tell you people, you need to prepare for chaos because, no matter how we parse or recalculate the data, the global environment is now broken beyond repair and it is unlikely that there will be enough food produced on the planet two years from now to feed one million people, never mind the nine billion people currently struggling to cope with food shortages. We should have addressed this issue thirty years ago in 2020.”

He placed his notes on the table and sat down to a stunned, silent room.