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1636: The Kremlin Games: Chapter Thirty
Last updated: Friday, May 11, 2012 21:23 EDT
Natasha alighted from the sleigh at her family’s dacha outside of Moscow, along with her aunt, Sofia Petrovna. Both were wearing full regalia. And they were attending this function almost against their will. Over a year ago the Dacha had been converted into a research and development shop. For a while there had been very little notice taken of what was going on at the Gorchakov Dacha, but for months now there had been increasing pressure to provide demonstrations of what rumor said the Gorchakov family was keeping secret. Natasha had resisted for several reasons. But resistance had proved futile. Well, not entirely futile. She had gained time and, though the Dacha leaked like a sieve, there was a difference between hearing about something and seeing it. Meanwhile, through some mystical combination of personalities and mutual support, the Dacha produced magic. Magic which had allowed the family to gain support and favors from several of the most important bureaus and great families.
The Dacha was still not profitable in terms of money and it would be some time before it would even start to pay back the money invested in it, at least to the family. But politically it was a gold mine. Natasha, with Aunt Sofia’s guidance, had been selectively generous. Rewarding friends for friendship and strengthening the more liberal factions at court.
Aunt Sofia served as her chaperone, necessary in Muscovy’s culture. While her brother, Vladimir Petrovich, was away in Grantville, someone had to assume responsibility for the lands. That responsibility fell on her. Young for it she might be, but she and Vladimir were the last of their branch of the family. It was a wealthy branch. Thankfully, she and Vladimir had been raised by a free-thinking father who had been rather enamored of the west. She had been educated alongside Vladimir. Fashionable or not, someone had to take care of things.
Aunt Sofia turned to Natasha. “Well, girl, what do you suppose Bernie has done this time? I thought the stinks and noises from his bathroom were quite enough. And the hundred ways he has discovered not to make a light bulb was rather less than impressive.”
Natasha looked at her diminutive aunt and raised an eyebrow.
“Fine, he and the electric nerds have made working light bulbs now and their light is much better for reading than candlelight. But it took them long enough, considering the information Vladimir sent.”
“It’s not Bernie we need to worry about. It’s the nerds,” Natasha corrected.
What she was worried about wasn’t Bernie. It was Russian culture. In the Dacha they had developed their own little world of cooperation. But in the bureaus, among the service nobility and great families, there was a culture of back-stabbing and credit-stealing that had been all that Natasha had known until the Dacha. As unnoticed as the sea to a fish till the Dacha, and now she was very afraid that with the presence of the guests the nerds would revert to bureaucrats.
But it was unavoidable. After spending too long informing their superiors and themselves that the Dacha was an unimportant flash in the pan, that the items that were pouring out of it were all there were or were ever going to be, and besides, they were all really coming from Grantville anyway — the bureaus, the monasteries and the great families had suddenly noticed that the Dacha was changing the political equation. Now the members of the Boyar Duma and the high and the mighty in general wanted to see what was going on and how much things were going to change. There was also a faction that was anxious to shut the place down and set the clock back.
The czar and czarina, Patriarch Filaret, several members of the Boyar Duma and some of their wives, and three of the highest-ranking prelates representing three of the most powerful monasteries in Russia, arrived over the next few hours and had to be provided quarters in the Dacha for their stay. The normal inhabitants of those rooms had been moved into outbuildings, and some of them even into a large, heavy, double-walled tent. Natasha greeted each guest as they arrived.
Natasha listened to the lecture on soil chemistry with half an ear. It wasn’t that it was unimportant. In the long run, it might turn out to be drastically important. But Natasha had already read the reports on fertilizer and had other things on her mind.
It had taken a while for the other great families and the bureaus to realize what the deal her brother had struck meant, but eventually they had gotten it. By now there was considerable pressure to provide them with up-timers or, better yet, to shift Bernie to their service. The roads bureau wanted Bernie to spend all his time on road-making equipment. The farming bureau wanted him making farming machinery. He was also wanted to make medicines, concrete, steel, plastics, and who knew what else.
There had been time for some of the effects to be felt since Bernie had arrived in Russia. Some road crews had the equipment he introduced and had been building and repairing roads much faster. A new quick-loading rifle was in limited production. Bernie insisted on calling it the AK3. And Natasha, after some explanation, liked the joke a lot better than she liked Andrei Korisov. Andrei Korisov was head of the team that had developed the new rifle, after all, and the up-time AK47 had been simple and massively produced, just like the AK3 was supposed to be.
Both the Swedish and Polish sections of the embassy bureau wanted Bernie transferred to them, and the Grantville Section shut down. The Swedish Section claimed jurisdiction because Bernie had become a subject, sort of, of the king of Sweden since he had left Grantville. The Polish Section claimed jurisdiction because Bernie was teaching what he knew about firearms. In fact, both claims were to get Bernie into the control of the great families most connected with those bureaus.
The knives were out, all over Moscow. Some of them were political and some made of steel. The political ones were by far the more dangerous.
“By introducing nitrates into the soil . . .”
For a moment Natasha was distracted from her thoughts. Nitrates and the nitric acid that could be produced from them played an important role in the production of smokeless gun powder and that process was looking to produce nitroglycerin and then TNT in the next couple of years. No, the lecturer was talking about using clover and beans to enrich the soil on the Gorchakov family estates last summer. It had only been test plots but the tests had been quite successful.
Vladimir had made his deal with the patriarch and the family had gained the Bernie franchise. It had been an expensive investment, both in goods shipped to Germany and in wealth spent here. The return on investment was small so far. But the favors flowed like rivers. And favors were the currency of political power in Russia. If the mining bureau wanted a road to a new mine, it would not have to come just to the roads bureau, not now. Now it would have to come to the Grantville Section and the Gorchakov clan. Boris Petrov had collected more favors since being made head of the Grantville Section than in all the rest of his career. And Boris’ gains in influence hadn’t even really compared to the Gorchakov clan’s gains.
And that was dangerous. While they had been a minor, mostly unconnected, family with few important ties, they could be safely ignored and mostly were. But over the last year and a half, they had become noticeable. The unavoidable consequence of success in Russia. The Sheremetev clan was showing particular interest in wresting any potential profits from the Gorchakov clan though they seemed happy enough for the expense to remain with the Gorchakov’s.
With Bernie placed in their Dacha, it was unavoidable that the Gorchakov family backed and influenced the Grantville Section. So far, no one had had enough influence to change that. Which also meant that the Gorchakov family was passing out favors. Natasha was picking up more and more owed favors from the high nobility. The Gorchakov family weren’t being stingy in a monetary sense, but there was a degree of political selectivity in their choices.
But this was Moscow. Alliances could change at a moment’s notice. Now the patriarch was nervous, Natasha knew. There were rumors that the Gorchakov clan would try for the throne, which was insane but power carries its own implications.
A more realistic concern was that they would gain influence with the czar. Which in fact was true indirectly through Czarina Evdokia. Natasha, and now Brandy, had considerable influence with Czarina Evdokia and the czarina had considerable influence with the czar. Czar Mikhail was loved, but not that well respected. Not considered . . . particularly strong. Of course, his hands were tied. The Assembly of the Land, the Zemsky Sobor, had seen to that when he was elected. Those limitations might well explain why he was so popular. When the government got blamed for something it was usually his advisors, not the czar, who got the blame. It was known that Mikhail had cried when told he had been elected czar. As well, it was known that he had refused the crown. He had continued to refuse until told that if he didn’t accept, the blood of the next Time of Troubles would be on his hands.
Natasha knew the czarina, Evdokia. Before Bernie, that acquaintance would have given her family protection, but not much influence. Now that acquaintance was a way for up-time ideas to reach the czar without going through his father, who was also the patriarch of the Orthodox Church. And the ideas had gotten to Mikhail. Some of them, anyway.
Fedor Ivanovich Sheremetev, Chief of the Bureau of Records, had read the reports. That was one of the reasons that he had pushed for this general demonstration of the products of the Dacha. One of the reasons — the other being his increasing concern about the influence of the Grantville Section and the Gorchakov family. He had been forced, almost against his will, to realize the importance that the Ring of Fire was going to have on the rest of the world, including Russia.
He watched Petr Nickovich pace about in a dither, getting in the way of the workmen handling the ropes and found himself tempted to do the same thing. He knew what was about to happen; he’d read about it in the reports. Then, as the ropes were let out, the thing began to rise. Two poles, about five feet apart with ropes going from them to a basket below and balloons above. He had thought that he knew what was going to happen, but he hadn’t realized what it would feel like. Twenty feet into the air, then twenty-five, thirty, supported by nothing but air. Its only connection to the earth the ropes that held it down. And in the basket that hung below the dirigible test bed, Nikita Slavenitsky smiled and waved to the crowd of dignitaries.
Sheremetev waved back; it was absolutely the least he could do. What he wanted to do was jump up and down and shout. A Russian was flying in the air, held aloft by the knowledge and craftsmanship of his fellow Russians. He had read that the up-timers had already flown. But knowing about it from a report was one thing, seeing it was something altogether different. The up-timers with their machines doing it was one thing. Russians making a flying device out of wood, rope and cow guts — that was something altogether different. Even in his excitement about the flight, he realized that it meant that one of his goals in forcing this demonstration had backfired. If anything it would increase the influence wielded by the Grantville Section. He looked over at the czar’s pet up-timer, in time to see Bernie looking bored. Then the outlander snorted a laugh.
Bernie could understand why Petr Nickovich was so nervous. Today the czar, the czarina and some members of the cabinet had come to see his baby fly. Bernie looked over at the big shots. They were gawking. Totally gone. You’d think the aliens were landing or something. Then he thought about it. Granted, it wasn’t that much of a dirigible. It had no power and there wasn’t much you could do with it, not yet. But, Nikita was the first Russian to fly in this timeline.
Wow! This was history. For here and now, this was like the first rocket ship to the moon or something. Bernie found himself giggling a bit. Nikita Ivanovich Slavenitsky was a nice guy and usually had a joke to tell or a dirty story. But he wasn’t the sort of guy you would think of as Yuri Gararin or Neil Armstrong. But Nick was going down in history anyway.
One of the big shots was looking a bit offended. “You find this funny?”
Bernie had forgotten the guy’s name. He was the head of one of the bureaus, Bernie knew that much. “It’s not that, sir. I just never thought that a guy I had a beer with every now and then would make history.”
“History?” The guy paused. Looked up and nodded. “The first Russian to fly.”
“Yes, sir,” Bernie said. “Nikita Ivanovich Slavenitsky and Petr Nickovich have done Russia proud today. Real proud.”
The big shot looked at Bernie a bit sharply for a moment, then he smiled. “You will excuse me, Bernie Janovich. I must speak to the czar.”
Fedor Ivanovich Sheremetev headed back to the czar in a rather bemused state of mind. He wasn’t sure what to make of the up-timer. Bernie Janovich hadn’t tried to take credit for the flight, even though Sheremetev knew that his explanations had been a large part of making it possible. Nor had he been demeaning of the Russian efforts. Sheremetev didn’t know what to make of the man, and that bothered him. Over all, he rather liked Bernie Janovich. And that was unfortunate because sooner or later the Gorchakov clan had to go. There was too much power in the Dacha, even with the Gun Shop separated out. He glanced up at the flying carriage. Much too much power. Control of such devices and the knowledge that allowed them to be built must be tightly held and controlled, lest it destroy the social order. Control of such knowledge was important; important in more ways than one. Nikita Ivanovich Slavenitsky, a deti boyar of the Gorchakov clan, would go down in history as the first Russian to fly. More status to the Gorchakov clan. Too many things like that could change the rank of a clan. Things like that flowed out of the Dacha, and the Gorchakov clan was gaining too much status to be allowed to survive.
Fedor Ivanovich was effusive in his praise of the device and the Dacha in general and concerned about leaving such an important project in the hands of such a minor house. He argued intensely that even the flying device wasn’t enough to justify any renewal of the conflict with Poland. And he argued that, with the changing state of things, Poland was less of a threat and the Swede was more of one. “The CPE is potentially the most powerful nation in Europe and we are likely to be thankful for Poland as a buffer state in a few years.” That position didn’t please Patriarch Filaret, but much of the Boyar Duma was more worried about the Swede and the CPE than they were about Poland.
The first radios were now working, though less well than they had hoped, and there was one in the Moscow Kremlin and the test one at the Dacha. Fedor Ivanovich Sheremetev wanted one for the Gun Shop and he wanted one for his estates. Actually, it would take more than one radio to reach his estates. They had limited range. More power for the Gorchakov clan, even if that idiot cousin of Pavel’s had done most of the work developing it.
“We can fly,” Evdokia, Czarina of All Russia insisted. Mikhail looked at his wife and sighed. He knew he was going to lose the argument. They were in the best room in the Dacha and it had been an interesting day.
“I know how you feel,” he tried, though in truth he didn’t. He knew his Doshinka had dreams of flight but he never had. Mikhail’s dreams tended to be dark things, best forgotten. “But we have real problems that we must deal with.”
Evdokia, thankfully, didn’t ignore the problems, though Mikhail was fairly sure she wanted to. “I know, Mikhail. But I think that Petr Nickovich made some excellent points about the usefulness of such a flying ship. More importantly, though, is the useful thing he didn’t mention.”
“What useful thing is that?”
“Pride. Pride in being Russian. Pride in being a part of something great. Who is, ah, was . . . will be that up-time general that Mikhail Borisovich Shein is always quoting about eggs?”
Mikhail shook his head, not able to remember the name. He thought the general was French but that was all he remembered.
“Well, that’s not the only quote. The general Nappy-something also said that the moral is to the physical as three to one.” She grinned. “I think to the fiscal, it’s even more. Let us fill the hearts of the people of Russia with pride in who they are. Not with fear of the bureaucrats.”
Mikhail looked at his wife for a long time, just taking in the bubbling excitement. She fairly glowed with it. Could Petr Nickovich’s assemblage of balloons really produce such a reaction? And if it produced that sort of reaction in the Russian heart, what effect would it have on the Polish heart and the Cossack heart? “Very well. I will support the project. I can make no promises, mind.”
Somehow, as pleasant as his wife’s smile was, it made Mikhail a bit nervous.
Bernie had spent most of the last three days explaining that it was really Vanya, Misha, Filip, Gregorii, Lazar and even Andrei at the Gun Shop who had actually worked out all the improvements. He had just helped a bit. It was becoming increasingly clear not everyone at the Dacha agreed with that assessment, though. Some of the folks who worked here had even said so, though that was less common.
Bernie had been in Russia long enough to know how dog-eat-dog the bureaus were, so he was surprised and impressed that any of them were willing to share credit. But some of them were. Not Andrei, of course. But some were, and not just with Bernie, but with each other. Which was even more impressive.
All of which didn’t make orbital mechanics one whit more interesting. When Gregorii Mikhailovich started explaining orbital mechanics and Newton’s laws of motion, Bernie’s brain started to fry. He just didn’t want to hear it again, not right now.
He was having a beer in the kitchen when the door opened unexpectedly. At first Bernie was afraid that one of the brain cases had come looking for him again. But, no . . . the boss.
“Howdy, Boss.” Bernie snaked out an arm and grabbed a chair. “Have a seat.”
“Thank you,” Natasha said taking the offered chair. “Petr Nickovich is going to be impossible.”
“Why?” Bernie asked.
“Because the czar — and as of this morning, a majority of the Boyar Duma — wish a dirigible or half-dirigible built. They are going to build a facility at Bor on the Volga to build the main ship and others to follow it, but we will be building a test device here. Things are going quite well.”
Maybe, Bernie thought, but it’s still a pain in the butt. “Glad to hear it.” he said.
Natasha lifted an eyebrow at him and he shrugged.
“I am. It’s still a pain, but I am glad it’s going well. The politics are something I’d just as soon avoid, but I realize that it’s necessary.”
“It is necessary, Bernie, and I’m not sure how much we’re going to be able to avoid them.” She then told him a bit more about the structure of the Russian government. How the bureaus were traditionally non-political — at least how they had remained non-political in the Time of Troubles, working for whichever claimant was holding the throne at the time. How Mikhail Fedorovich Romanov had been a dark horse candidate who didn’t want the throne.
Bernie snorted. Then at Natasha’s look, he elaborated. “Isn’t that the standard line? After working for years to get the throne, the new king or dictator or whatever says ‘I didn’t want it, it was just my duty.’”
“Perhaps that is how it happens in most cases, but my family has known the czar since before he was the czar. And my father was with the delegation that went to him. Mikhail was a teenager, old enough to know that being declared czar was a short step away from being declared dead. His mother and father each had more than their share of ambition, but they passed none on to Mikhail. He was precisely what the Boyar Duma and the Assembly of the Land wanted, a figurehead to move the battle for control of Russia back out of sight. Even so, the Boyar Duma and Assembly tied his hands with a set of restrictions.”
Bernie held up his hands in surrender. “I wasn’t there,” he said, “and I don’t doubt you. It’s just that the king that doesn’t want the throne is a stock item in fairytales, but pretty darn rare in a world of elected officials, where if you don’t want the office you don’t have to run.”
“In any case, the czar is generally quite impressed and so are the patriarch and Prince Cherkasski.”
Bernie knew that Cherkasski was the czar’s cousin and was the boss of three of the bureaus that ran Russia.
“With their support,” Natasha continued, “Sheremetev won’t be able to do anything.”
“What bugs this Sheremetev about the Dacha?” Bernie asked.
“Primarily that he doesn’t own it,” Natasha said. “The Sheremetev family are famous for their corruption, but also very good at politics. They know all about bribery and blackmail, having accepted more bribes than any other great family in Russia. But we’ll be all right here, as long as Patriarch Filaret can keep a leash on Sheremetev. The brain cases will be fine.”
Mikhail and his father were already consulting with the “brain cases,” as Bernie called them. Mikhail wanted a way out of the trap the up-time history had put him in. Since the history of that other future had leaked, people with power were not happy. He and his father, as czar and patriarch, had been carefully dancing in the mine field of Russian politics, focusing on the danger of a return to the Time of Troubles to keep the various factions in check. Even so, power was shifting between the factions. The one led by Fedor Ivanovich Sheremetev, for instance. Their cousin or not, Sheremetev felt that the information from the up-timers and the actions of Peter the Great really destroyed the Romanov credentials as arch-conservatives.
“Interesting, perhaps.” Sheremetev set his glass on the table. They had been discussing the history of the United States of America and its constitution. “Interesting, but not that impressive. It was their day in the sun, that’s all. The Mongols had theirs and this United States had theirs. They were only two hundred years old. Barely a youth, as nations go.”
Mikhail looked across the table at him. There were only three men at dinner tonight. Filaret, Mikhail and Fedor Ivanovich Sheremetev. Mikhail wanted Sheremetev’s support. “I am more concerned with something else,” he said “The general agreement — and I read this over and over again — was that Russia continued to lag behind much of the rest of the world. We can change that, and I believe we should. Right now, we should start. Because right now, everyone is four hundred years behind Grantville. We have Bernie here and Vladimir in Grantville. We can modernize.”
Sheremetev nodded, but Mikhail didn’t think he was listening. Not properly at any rate. “The army, most assuredly. Right away. That I agree with. But this other? This constitution? Why? A firm hand on the reins. That is all that is needed, Mikhail. A firm hand on the reins of Rus.”
Mikhail shook his head. No, Sheremetev wasn’t listening.
Fedor Ivanovich Sheremetev left the dinner and considered the evening most of the way home. He understood what Mikhail and Filaret were contemplating. Let every peasant vote. Introduce a constitutional monarchy, then gradually give away the power, not only of the monarchy, but of the great families as well.
He would not, he could not, let that happen. They said it was to prevent the revolution that had come in three hundred years hence in that other history, which they thought would probably happen even sooner in this one if they didn’t act to forestall the causes for it. But to Sheremetev, such reasoning bordered on sheer insanity. Who could predict what might happen in three centuries? In any event, if preventing a revolution was the issue, surely a policy of more severe and consistent maintenance of order would work far more reliably than introducing chaos.
But Sheremetev suspected that the real reason for their schemes, at least for the czar himself, was that Mikhail was afraid of power. When they had offered him the crown he had cried like a babe.
Sheremetev had a lot more sympathy for Joseph Stalin than he had for Nicholas Romanov. And more for Nicholas than for Mikhail. It was God’s whimsy to sometimes put a peasant in the blood line of kings, or a let a king be born in a peasant’s hovel.
Stalin was a king born of base blood. And Mikhail was a peasant borne of some of the noblest blood in Russia. But that whimsy of God’s didn’t invalidate the concept of royalty, any more than the occasional sport in a fine bloodline of hounds or horses invalidated breeding.
Filaret would have made a better czar, except for his fanatical hatred of Poland. Couldn’t they see that the Swede was the danger now?
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