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1636: The Kremlin Games: Chapter Two
Last updated: Thursday, February 23, 2012 19:43 EST
“I would like some information.” Boris said to the woman behind the desk.
“Your name is?”
“Boris Ivanovich Petrov, of Muscovy.”
“Ah.” The woman smiled. “Russian, then. I wondered about your accent. All I could really tell was eastern European. I’m Cecelia Calafano.”
“Da, Russia. That is what we have called the motherland for some time now. It is the rest of Europe that still calls us Muscovy. That has changed in the future?”
“Yes, it has,” the woman Cecelia confirmed. “How can I help you?”
Boris smiled at her. “We’ve been sent to determine if this place is real.”
Cecelia laughed. “I’ve lived here all my life. Trust me, it’s real. What did you want to know?”
The man behind Boris was clearing his throat, as though Boris were taking too much time. Boris was much too much of a professional to turn and pound the oaf into the floor. Not too much to want to, though.
It was a moot point. Cecelia gave the oaf a look that melted him on the spot. Apparently, librarian was a post of some importance here. Boris gave her a list he had written in consultation with young Vladimir. Cecelia took a quick look. It was in English, carefully written. She sighed and Boris wondered why. Consistent spelling was some time in the future; it wasn’t something that Boris had ever known so wasn’t something he missed. It was, to Boris’ eye, a perfectly legible list.
She began to read aloud carefully. “How to make telephones. A history of the Romanov family. How to make cars. A history of Muscovy, or Russia. I think you’re probably in the wrong place.”
Boris looked at the woman. Here it came the runaround. Yes, we give such knowledge away, but not here was what he was expecting to hear.
What heard instead was, “Never mind,” followed by another sigh. The meaning of this one was clear. She had seen his response before. “Some of this you will be able to find here. Like the history of Russia or part of it. I’ll get you some books.”
Boris examined the books. Russia Under the Old Regime by someone called Pipes. He looked at the table of contents. Chapter 4: The Anatomy of the Patrimonial Regime. Boris tried to translate the words to Russian. The body parts of the fatherhood rulers? That sounded positively obscene. Boris worked it out. Anatomy meant the structure of a body . . . perhaps it was used here to represent the structure of the government. Patrimonial regime . . . might mean inherited rule or it might mean government by the church. Was Russia going to be ruled by the priesthood? Considering the relative political strengths of the patriarch and the czar, it could happen. This would be monstrously time-consuming. He looked at the other book. Perhaps it would be clearer. What was the USSR? What was the revolution of 1917? For that matter, what was St. Petersburg? At least, that’s what he thought it said. There was no St. Petersburg in his Russia.
He read through the books as well as he could for several hours, making notes. Some things were clear enough. The year of birth and death of the czar and his son and his grandson. Others weren’t. The analysis was just weird. It was all there, Boris thought, but looked at as though through a prism. The light split into the spectra and the image was lost. Was this Pipes an idiot? Upon considering the matter, Boris didn’t think so. So might a citizen of Caesar’s Rome respond to a history of Rome written by a modern scholar who had never seen the Coliseum or been present at a triumph.
The woman stopped by a time or two. Handed him what she called a magazine. “Here,” she’d said. “You might find something in this.”
It was an old, fragile thing, this magazine. And what did perestroika mean? Boris knew what “restructuring” meant, but the word seemed to be used a bit differently here.
Much befuddled, Boris gave up for now. It was getting late and he needed to get back to the room they had rented. He wasn’t going to figure it all out in a day.
It was as he was putting things away that the librarian came and sat down at the table. “Can I give you some advice?”
Boris nodded cautiously.
“If what you wanted was a nice place to come and read an occasional book, this would be the place for you and I encourage you to do that. However, this isn’t the place for what you’re after. The Grantville Public Library was never intended to be a center of research. It was designed to be a small-town library at the tail end of the twentieth century. We had inter-library loans and the Internet. Before the Ring of Fire, if we didn’t have the book someone wanted, we could get it in a few weeks through inter-library loans. What we had on the shelves were the books most likely to be wanted in a small town. A small town that didn’t need to make telephones or automobiles. We could buy them. We have books on how to fix an automobile. Those books usually tell the reader how to install a new part that they are expected to buy from an automobile parts supply store that got its parts from a manufacturer in another state. What I mean is, they tell you how to fix a car, not how to make one from scratch.”
Boris nodded politely, but he was wondering if this was perhaps how they were hiding the important information. That concern decreased as she continued.
“Shortly after the Ring of Fire, it was decided to use the library at the high school as our national library, our Library of Alexandria.” The woman gave him a questioning look and he nodded his understanding.
She continued. “In it, we have at least one copy of almost all the books that came through the Ring of Fire. In those books there is enough information to tell you how to make an automobile, at least most of it. Even there, it’s not all in one book. It’s scattered around in books designed to teach children the basics of how things work, in biographies of the people involved in the inventing of the automobile and its mass production and so on.” The woman took a deep breath. “That makes it a treasure hunt. It’s hard even for a professional to know which book to look in to find the thing you’re after. Trying to do it on your own . . .” She shrugged. “I recommend you hire a professional researcher. If you don’t have the money for that, you can put in information requests and the library researchers will get around to it as they have time. Your other option is to take the library science basic course at the high school and pay the usage fees.”
Boris considered. The little talk she had given him was well-rehearsed. “How often do you give that little speech?”
She smiled. “About twice a week.”
“About the usage fees you mentioned . . . you don’t have them here. Why not?”
“We’re funded by the national library. We have been since a few months after the Ring of Fire. There was a minor fight in the emergency committee about that, but public libraries being free for public use is a long standing tradition up-time. There was a bigger fight about having fees to use the national library.” She laughed. “By the time that fight got going there were already millions of dollars worth of products coming out of the library. People were wondering why the cash-strapped government should pay to make a bunch of people rich. A compromise was worked out. You can get anything you want out of the national library and research center free, if you’re willing to wait your turn. And it can be a long wait. You can also pay to get it faster. Quite a lot of people pay either by paying a professional licensed researcher or by taking the course and paying the usage fees.”
Boris had a lot to think about as he walked back to the room they had rented.
“So, Boris how did it go?” Vladimir asked as Boris looked for a place to sit. The difficulty had to do with the size of the room. Population growth had far outstripped new construction. Even their small room was expensive.
The lodgings were fantastically well appointed but horribly cramped. The four of them shared a single bedroom with its own “half bath,” an indoor toilet and sink with “faucets” that provided hot and cold water. They had access — from two to four in the afternoon — to the main bath, where they could take hot showers.
“Confusingly, Prince Vladimir,” Boris said as he sat on the bed. He shook his head. “It’s early yet to tell, but I don’t think they are lying about it. Understanding the information is a problem. The English language . . . it has changed. Very much. The woman at their public library freely gave me books to look at. Books that will need to be looked at again. I’ve made notes.” Boris waved a sheaf of papers in the air. “Pages and pages of notes, but very few of them make sense.”
Vladimir started going through the notes. “This is clear.” Vladimir pointed at a line. “Czar Mikhail will . . . have only a few more years. The patriarch . . . much less.”
“Perhaps not.” Boris’ face showed very little. “I asked about that. These up-timers . . . they do not understand what has happened. But their arrival changed many things. The librarian said that those changes will — already have — changed history. In ways not imagined. When I saw that place in the book, I, too, was shocked. The woman was very kind. She asked what was wrong, and then saw the page I looked at. She said that there were things we could do. ‘Send the aspirin,’ which they have here. It might help or it might not.”
Vladimir nodded. “We shall, with the first courier.”
Boris waved the notes aside. “That is not what I wished to discuss. We can use the public library with no trouble but the real wealth of knowledge is in the national library. From what the woman said, using the national library will entail some cost . . .” He shrugged. “. . . or unacceptable delay. I am not that concerned about the fees to hire a researcher.
“I am concerned about two things,” Boris continued. “First that the researcher might edit the reports and second that he might sell reports on what we were looking into to agents from other lands. I think we need someone to take the library science course and, at the very least, watch any researcher we hire. For some questions we will want to do the research ourselves.”
“That sounds like a job for me,” Vladimir said. “I speak the language and am less experienced in some of the other work we will need to do here.” In other words, I’m not a very good spy.
Boris was nodding. “That was my thought.” He smiled. “That will leave the rest of us time to learn how the rest of Europe is responding to this place. Also if you would write the letter to Patriarch Filaret, I would be grateful. That is an area where I suspect you have more skill than the rest of us combined.”
Most esteemed Patriarch,
This is not what you expected to read in my report. Nor is it what I expected to write. Tilly’s officer was neither insane nor a liar. No one knows the why of it but the Lord God has seen fit to do something remarkable here. I am sitting in a room that has a window covered with a large, flat piece of glass. It lets in the sunlight and the scene outside with no noticeable distortion. In the next room you can turn a knob and have hot water. These things could be the work of skilled artisans of our own time. However, they are not all we have seen. There are works of man that could not have been done by the men of our time.
The Ring of Fire itself could not have been made by men of any age. I do not believe that it could have been made by any power short of the infinite power of God. What they call the Ring of Fire is a circle, as near as anyone can tell a perfect circle, six miles across. Within that circle the land has been replaced with land of a different nature, made of different sorts of stone. The hills are as different as though in a single step you traveled a hundred miles. In the months since the event there has been some weathering. In spite of that, it is easy to see the perfection of the cut. The evidence we have found is too consistent to be false. They are from the future.
As I write this, I know that you will realize that I am only reporting what I have determined from this up-time history. The news is not good. War with Poland, right now, is destined to fail. Russia does not have the resources needed. As Colonel Leslie has said many times, the army lacks the proper training and discipline.
I must urge that the attempts to modernize the army take precedence. Also, that any attempt against Poland be delayed until that is complete. See the report attached.
Additionally, and this is most important, you are at risk, as is your son, our Most Holy Czar. The death of either of you would leave Russia exposed to more troubles. I include in this package a vial of medicine that may assist you both, in the hope that it may help. The histories speak of your death in the year 1633, but they do not specify the cause. I have spoken to the up-time physicians, who tell me that this medicine is often prescribed to those at risk of heart failures. It has the added benefit of relieving aches and pains.
Also, see the pamphlets translated with the aid of up-timers. They tell much about the avoidance and treatment of disease. I urge you most sincerely to give them full credence. The doctors from up-time are already considered miracle workers by the local Germans . . .
Vladimir had struggled with that letter. How did you tell a man that the goal of his lifetime was a disaster and that he was scheduled to die soon? Perhaps, though, Patriarch Filaret would be comforted by the rest of the information he was sending.
“When do we go home?” Trotsky asked.
It was a tender subject. Trotsky was a bureau man from the lower nobility. In essence, he was the expedition’s secretary and ranked fourth or fifth in the group — but only second to Boris as a secret agent. So if Vladimir and Boris left for home, Trotsky would wind up in charge. He would run the network completely enough, but with little or no imagination.
“That has become a rather more difficult question,” Vladimir said. The mission was to come to the Ring of Fire, find out that it was nothing, then go home. “The Ring of Fire does exist after all, and is a repository of great knowledge.”
“Trotsky does have a point, Prince Vladimir,” Boris said. “We’re here only to confirm the existence of the place, not to immigrate to it.”
“I know. But there is so much here that we need in Russia You know as well as I do that as soon as Patriarch Filaret hears what we have found, he will want a permanent presence here.”
“Probably,” Boris agreed. “Assuming he believes us.”
That’s a touchy point, Vladimir thought. It wasn’t that the patriarch or the czar lacked faith in their powers of observation. But a town from the future wasn’t the easiest thing to believe. “We’ll take proof or send it.”
“Send it?” Trotsky asked.
Trotsky was a bit of a stickler for authority. A tendency that hadn’t been diminished at all by Vladimir’s pointing out that he shared a name with a famous revolutionary of the future.
“Yes, send it. I realize that some of us are going to have to go home but . . .” Vladimir paused, trying to figure out how to put it.
“The histories we have seen have shown Mother Russia lagging behind the west in wealth and prestige,” Boris finished for him. “I suspect that the prince is concerned that we will fall even further behind in this timeline.”
“Well, at the least I see the Ring of Fire as an opportunity to let Russia avoid the errors of that other history,” Vladimir said. “An opportunity that might be lost if we just go home. There will be factions at court that won’t want to look ahead and will oppose anything that might upset the social order.”
“If some of us are to stay here,” Boris said, “we will have to send as conclusive a proof as we can manage.”
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