Chapter 47

In the great multipurpose hall of the Orleans Installation Facility, the walls echoed with the loud murmur of scores of employees spending the last of their time together at the retreat. They milled about in clumps, gossiping and sharing stories of the day. On a raised stage at the end of the hall, Securemarket™ CEO Thorvald Volnocht approached the podium with slow steps.

He looked over the crowd, then spoke. The microphone point on the podium caught his voice and routed it to the walls’ resonators.

“Securemarket™ employees.” Volnocht’s voice sounded clearly throughout the room. The employees hushed and turned to look at the stage.

“When I was fighting in the Aramis-Sawtooth War,” he began, “I made some acquaintances behind the sandbags. Don’t think I would have done what I’ve done if not for those soldiers. When you’re getting shot at most hours out of every day, and it’s just these people watching out for you, you start to forget about ideology and religion and all of that. It’s just you and them and the guys on the other side, and you just need to get done what you came there to do. The men and women fighting with you are the closest thing you’ll have to friends, even if you wouldn’t give ’em a word outside of the sandbags.”

Volnocht cleared his throat.

“We had a lull in the action,” he continued. “And we started talking about kids. Some of us had ’em already, some of us was going to. Some of us, like me, had no intention, but we got talking anyway because that’s what’d been brought up. The topic was how hard we were going to train our kids to fight and why. Back then, the arms culture hadn’t settled in quite so much, and many folk didn’t wear weapons on the streets at all. Well, being soldiers most of us agreed that we would train any kids we had in how to fight properly. Then the question came up of why.

“Most common answer was ‘Because it’s dangerous.’ The post-Snowfall world doesn’t suffer weaklings, and nobody wants to see his kids die early. Just about everybody was bound and determined to make sure that any successors would be well able to defend themselves. Another interesting answer was just ‘So they’ll be strong.’ Kinda macho thing that I don’t really hold so well to, much as you might not think it of me. The answer I thought was just the best came from Private ‘Big Bird’ Daniels—who we all called ‘Big Bird’ for reasons I’m not going to discuss here. He just looked at us and he said, ‘Because this is what I know, and I’ll be damned if I can’t pass something on to my kids.’

“That struck me right deep. It’s a big world and there are a lot of us sentients on it. All of the great philosophers have discussed this business of significance and finding your place in the world, but when you get right down to it everybody wants to leave something behind.

“Well, kids, I’m good at two things: fighting and making customers feel cared for. I was a grocery clerk, then a store manager, then a soldier, then a store manager again. Now that I run the Securemarket™, I’ve finally got the chance to pass on everything I learned from all of those jobs.

“I am happy to say that at the end of this, the sixty-seventh Securemarket™ retreat, I am pleased and relieved to see the progress and dedication that I have seen out of all of you. You have all done me proud. Now stuff your faces with my food and guzzle my booze, y’ungrateful dogs. You’ve earned it.”

Volnocht grinned as the employees roared.