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1636: The Kremlin Games: Chapter Thirty Five
Last updated: Saturday, May 26, 2012 15:20 EDT
“Well, let’s see.” Bernie said, pointing. “The acquisition is recorded here and here because it’s a . . .” He continued doing his best to give Anya an idea of what the accounting book said about how to prevent or catch different ways of cooking the books. By now Anya was better at accounting than Bernie was or wanted to be. But the expertise was in English and while Anya was learning accounting, English and the way of thinking that went with modern English was still mostly foreign to her. By now Bernie had gotten really good at translating between modern English and seventeenth-century English. And not bad at taking the next step and translating from modern English to seventeenth-century Russian. So he explained about the esoterics of accounting, and neither he nor Anya noticed Filip Pavlovich standing in the background listening. Not till Filip cleared his throat.
“What?” Bernie looked up. “Oh, hi, Phil. What are you doing up at this –” Bernie looked at his watch. “– ungodly hour?”
“The bathroom woke me,” Filip said sardonically. “Chamber pots are quieter and they can be emptied in safe ways.”
“Can be,” Anya said, “but rarely are.” Which, though Bernie didn’t notice it, brought Filip up short.
“That’s an interesting observation, Anya,” Filip said. “And not the sort of thing a maid would say.”
Bernie felt himself stiffen and Filip waved a gentling hand. “I wasn’t criticizing. I know I often sound like I am even when I’m not.” Filip grinned at them. “Which is rare enough.”
Bernie’s lips twitched.
“It was simply an observation. What drew me up short when Anya spoke up wasn’t that she was getting above herself, but that I didn’t mind that she was getting above herself. If that makes any sense?” He looked between them. “Bernie, before you arrived in Moscow I would have been offended. Deeply offended. Offended enough to have her dismissed or seriously punished. I would hazard a guess that before you arrived, Anya would never have thought to say such a thing in my presence.” Filip looked to Anya for confirmation and got it from a clearly anxious woman.
“There is nothing to worry about, Anya, at least not here,” Filip said. “What it did was bring into focus something that has been bothering me for some time now. Petr was explaining to me yet again how everything was an interaction of forces.”
“For the hundredth time,” Bernie said
“Oh, much more often than that,” Anya said.
“And I couldn’t get him to shut up about it. ‘Fine, yes, water flows downhill because of gravity. I understand already’ I told him. ‘No you don’t’ he told me ‘It’s not just water and it’s not just gravity, it’s everything. Magnetism, electricity, alchemy . . . it’s all forces acting on things.’ Well, naturally, I didn’t pay all that much attention to it, but still there was something about it that bothered me. Something I couldn’t quite figure out or get out of my head. Not till just now.” Filip paused, lost in thought again.
“Well, go on!” Bernie said.
Filip looked over at Anya and there was something in his expression like he was, well, almost scared. Certainly cautious. Then he visibly squared his shoulders, and went on. “If a rock doesn’t keep going on and on forever because of external forces, if rocks aren’t lazy by their nature as Aristotle said, what about serfs?”
“What about serfs?” Bernie asked.
Still looking at Anya, Filip said. “Are serfs tied to the land because it’s their nature to be so or because some external force like social drag or social gravity is holding them down?”
“Because they are held in serfdom, of course.” Bernie was more than a little confused. There were laws in Russia that prevented a serf from leaving the land he was bound to. Filip knew that. Hell, Filip was the one who had told Bernie. Bernie looked at Anya and she was looking at Filip like she was seeing a ghost.
“Okay, guys,” Bernie said slowly. “I’m clearly missing something here. Serfs are serfs because they are forced to be. There are laws that tie them to the land. Slaves are slaves, again because they are forced to be. Once again, there are laws that allow them to be held against their will, bought, sold, and generally abused.” Bernie hesitated, then went on. “I know I’m a stranger in a strange land here. I know I was not hired to change your society or your laws. But the laws that make people be treated like property are wrong. They are self-evidently wrong. But they are there and I can’t change them and if I try it will destroy all the good I’m trying to do here. I figured that out before I left Grantville and I was drunk as a skunk then. That’s why I’ve never made an issue of it. I knew it was wrong, and, to be honest, I figured you had to know it was wrong too. But you weren’t about to give it up, so what was there to say?
“So, now you’re both sitting there shocked as hell about something as simple and obvious as water flowing dow . . .”
Filip was looking at Bernie like yes, go on, shove your foot the rest of the way into your mouth.
“But there are laws,” Bernie said “Clearly an external force. Right?”
“Yes, Bernie, laws,” Filip said. “But laws to do what? To force the serfs and slaves into a state of servitude or to keep those whose nature is servitude from misbehaving and causing trouble?”
“I have, you know,” Anya said, “always believed deep in my heart that I should not be a servant . . . but I never really thought that forced servitude was wrong. I just felt that it should be forced on someone else, not me.”
Bernie looked at Anya and Filip and they were looking at each other like they were both watching a horror movie and couldn’t look away. Servant and master, not directly, not to each other, but the odds were pretty good, Bernie knew, that Anya was actually a runaway serf or possibly a slave. She’d been working as kitchen help, and whatever else she could find, when the job at the Dacha had come up and she’d gotten it because she was pretty.
Bernie was still confused. He knew something important had happened, but he didn’t know what. Another truth, as important, or perhaps more important, than the change from Aristotle to Newton had occurred in this candle-lit room, and somewhere deep down inside Bernie sensed that this was a lot more dangerous than Newton’s three laws. He wondered how long it would be before the pebbles dropped in this room started an avalanche.
As it happened it wasn’t long at all, though avalanches do take time. The next pebble was dropped by Filip. “Did you know,” he said to Natasha, “that Anya is learning accounting?”
“What? Bernie’s tart?” Natasha asked. “What on earth for? It’s not like she gets paid by the . . . encounter.” Natasha wasn’t pleased with Bernie’s extracurricular activities but men were men, especially in Russia. Then Natasha noticed that Filip had stiffened.
“Never mind, Princess, It wasn’t important,” Filip said.
“I think perhaps it is,” Natasha said. “Clearly it’s important to you. Why don’t you tell me why?”
Filip did, stumbling a bit and clearly impressed by Anya. He explained about his finding Bernie and Anya studying accounting and the ensuing discussion. Filip impressed by Anya? Filip, who couldn’t see past the edge of the book he was reading and didn’t care about breast size, just brain size? Anya had a brain? Well, yes, apparently she did. That was a pretty astute observation about chamber pots and the safe emptying of same.
After Filip ran down she thanked him for his help, asked a few questions and let him get back to work. Then she thought about it a bit and had Anya fetched.
“You called for me, Princess?” Anya entered the princess’ office with more than simple trepidation. She was scared to death. She remembered the conversation of the night before and she was very much afraid that in spite of Filip’s assurances that it was all right here at the dacha, it wasn’t. At least it wasn’t when a great lady was looking for a reason to discipline a maid who was having a bit of fun with a guy the great lady was interested in. Women in power were dangerous to girls like her.
“I understand you’re having Bernie teach you accounting?” Princess Natasha said.
Anya thought this was a set up to punish her for getting above herself. “Yes, Princess. Of course, if you feel it’s interfering with my duties . . .”
“Not at all.” The princess actually smiled a bit. Much to Anya’s surprise.
“I said, not at all,” the princess repeated. “I’m a bit, um, startled by it, but why would you want to learn accounting . . . considering your other assets?”
The princess was blushing a little bit as she said that. There was an edge. Natasha didn’t like what Anya was doing with Bernie. Or no. Anya realized Natasha didn’t like that she was doing it with Bernie. The princess really was jealous of the serving girl, though she probably didn’t realize it.
They talked about Anya’s observation about chamber pots. Which led to questions what else Anya had observed. They talked books. Bernie had taught Anya to read and she had picked it up well. Anya had gotten the job in part because she had a bit of English from a previous employer who had been all hands. “Why did he teach you to read?”
“Because I asked.”
“Why did you ask? I don’t mean, why did you want to know how to read, I mean why did you think Bernie would teach you?” The princess’ blush was even brighter now. “When men are, ah, with girls like you, that’s not what they’re interested in.”
“Not all men are the same, Princess, not even about that. The English merchant who was all hands never would have taught me to read.” Anya shrugged. “Bernie likes smart women. That’s why he likes you. Besides, he’s a nice man and wanted someone to talk to in his up-timer English and teaching me to read helped with that.”
They ended up talking girl talk for quite a while that afternoon and the beginnings of a friendship were put in place. Anya became Natasha’s personal maid and confidant.
Lazar Smirnov barely noticed that Anya’s status had changed. Lazar had his own companionship and wasn’t any more interested in politics than he could avoid. The gradual change in attitude of Filip Pavlovich Tupikov that had been crystallized by conversation over accounting books a few nights back had passed him by completely.
Lazar had his own problems. Granted, none of them were all that severe taken on their own but they couldn’t really be taken on their own. Lazar was trying to build an entire infrastructure. Storage batteries required lead plates and sulfuric acid. Enough batteries to power a spark gap transmitter of good range required lots of lead plates and lots of sulfuric acid. Not that much of a problem. Lead, after all, was not gold and improved processes for the production of sulfuric acid had been forwarded to him by Vladimir and his friend Lady Brandy Bates, G.E.D. So there was a factory on the Muskova River that producing the stuff by the gallon. Which was good, because he needed gallons for each spark gap transmitter.
He had serfs on his estates making clay battery jars to hold the acid and the lead plates. Or at least they were till a few weeks ago. Now they were planting, sowing the seeds of the fall harvest. But once that was done, many of them would go back to making the parts he needed to create an electronics industry.
Copper wire to make the generators to charge the batteries, to use to make the permanent magnets to make more generators. And it wasn’t just radios Russia needed, whatever the Boyar Duma said. What Russia needed was the whole infrastructure. Even if they had only needed radios, the number of parts in a radio network was significant. The transmitter tuning coil, the transmitter spark capacitor, the transmitter spark coil, the transmitter spark generating buzzer, a telegraph key, a switch to switch between the receiver and the transmitter for the antenna, an earphone, a receiver tuning coil, a receiver capacitor — which was not the same thing as a transmitter capacitor — a grounding rod, wire going to the grounding rod. None of these things were really hard to do, not by themselves. It was just that there were so many.
There were four radios in Russia. Two that Lazar had made and two that had been imported. Of the two that he had made, one was here at the Dacha and one was in the Kremlin. But Lazar was also building, a bit at a time, the infrastructure to build more radios, faster. They would have one for the Gun Shop by month after next, and by then — if all went well — they would be turning out about one spark gap transmitter a month. It would be a while before the government got the network it desired.
In a vague way Lazar Smirnov knew that he was making central control in Russia much easier, but he didn’t give it much thought. That the increasing awareness of the rights of people in other parts of time and space were making the ties to the land insufferable to some and others were increasingly threatened by the notion of freedom? That, he didn’t notice at all.
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