Butterflies in the Kremlin, Part Four

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Yaroslavich Dacha, outside of Moscow

 

A Dissertation on the Value

of Freedom and Security

"Those that give up their freedom for a little temporary security deserve neither freedom or security and ultimately will lose both." So goes an up-time quote. This humble writer doesn't know if that's true or not. It is demonstrably true that the nation it comes from—founded on principles of freedom—grew to be one of the richest and most powerful in the world.

That nation had no greater resources than the Russia of its time. But it had a great deal more wealth. Why is that, I wonder? The question troubles my sleep at night.

The 'Time of Troubles' is a weak name for what Muscovy went though at the beginning of this century. It has perhaps made us a bit timid, afraid of freedom. It's so much easier when everyone knows their place and no one is allowed to argue or try something new. So much safer it seems. But I wonder, safe for how long?

The bandits are mostly gone from our roads and villages now. Surely that is a good thing. It seems worth a bit of freedom. What use, after all, is freedom to a man murdered by bandits? Is it worth, perhaps, the right of a serf to leave the lands of his lord? Some of those serfs might become bandits and make our roads unsafe yet again. Yet, why was this America, with its freedom, so rich? Where did its great wealth come from?

Much of it came from people leaving their work and striking out on their own. From people who left their homes and tried to do something that they had never done before. A man named Bell tried to find a way to make the deaf hear. Instead he found a way to send his voice and thousands of other voices thousands of miles along a wire. Another man, named Edison, hated transcribing the messages he received to send on. So he made a machine that did the job. This type of event happened again and again and made the land that the up-timers came from the richest in their world. Was it the freedom that did it? I think it may have been. For the same rule that prevents a serf from becoming a bandit also prevents him from becoming an inventor, or a merchant.

As I think of these things I can't help but wonder if we are beggaring our children to buy a bit of security for ourselves. The history of Holy Mother Russia that was written in that other time saw the fading away of the Zemskiy Sobor. It is barely even mentioned in their records. How did we allow that to happen? Are we, perhaps, afraid of the responsibilities of voting for representatives we trust? How will Mother Russia compete with nations that have spent a bit of their security to buy a little freedom for themselves and their posterity?

The Flying Squirrel

What Russia was, Natasha decided, as she set the pamphlet aside, depended a lot on how you looked at it. She had looked at it one way all her life now she was looking again. "Aunt Sofia, what do you think of democracy?"

The woman chuckled. She was tiny, four foot ten and weighed all of eighty pounds. Yet, when needed, she could put on such an expression of fierceness that boyars and bureau chiefs blanched. Fortunately at the moment she didn't have her game face on. Her eyes twinkled. "Bernie again or the one of the pamphlets? I don't know enough about it to have much of an opinion. From what I've heard, I cannot imagine it working, but obviously in some way it did. It must be different from what the Poles have that leaves their government so paralyzed."

"Well, according to Bernie, women vote as well as men, peasants as well as princes."

"I approve of the first and disapprove of the second. Peasants lack the knowledge of the wider world to understand the issues of a great nation. They lack the intellect for matters of state. Instead, they have low cunning." The eyes laughed. "Of course, I am a woman of the nobility. Were I a man—and a peasant—I might have a different opinion."

Natasha looked up at her smiling aunt with some irritation, then back down at the piles of papers on her worktable. The pamphlet on the cost of freedom and security was in one corner. In another were letters from Grantville. She picked up one of them. "Vladimir's friend Brandy wrote an answer to my question." Natasha felt her face flush a bit. She'd been wondering what life in Grantville must be like for weeks now. The Victoria's Secret book, along with translations of Brandy's letters, was in her bag for this visit to Evdokia. The czarina had been asking a lot of questions about up-timers lately.

"And what does she say?"

Natasha felt her face heat, with a blush. "So much and so . . . different. Brandy, she says I'm to call her Brandy, says that every person gets the same opportunities and it is up to them what they make of them. And that many, many up-time women choose not to marry and not to have children and not to live with parents and not . . . "

Aunt Sofia lifted her arms and patted the air. "Calm, child, calm. Stop and think a moment. Women do the same in Muscovy. Not all calls to holy orders are calls to God. Quite a few are calls away from the restriction of the outside world."

"But they don't . . . " Aunt Sofia was holding up her hand.

"I understood what you meant," Sofia said. "My point was that there was already an acceptable way to avoid the responsibilities of family. And how do these women live? They get jobs, I assume."

Natasha nodded cautiously.

"What jobs? Something like what your friend Brandy does in Grantville?

"Well, yes."

"And, Natasha, what do you do in the Dacha?"

Natasha stopped dead. What she did in the Dacha was run it. She used Vladimir's authority as head of the family, but she ran the Dacha. Her authority there was pretty much unquestioned. "I wasn't just thinking of me. Though I would like to see Grantville. Perhaps even live there for a time. I was thinking of all the other women of Muscovy."

"Of course you were." Aunt Sofia sounded doubtful. Then she laughed at Natasha's expression. "I know you were, dear." Aunt Sofia's voice was much more understanding now. "But all the women of Muscovy can't move to Grantville. What would the men do? Nor can we make Muscovy into a copy of Grantville, not without losing Russia and ourselves in the process. Quietly, calmly. Think each step through. Plan. You are a knyazhna, not a peasant. Consider the church, also. Think about what the church will have to say. If that doesn't calm you down, consider how most of the women of Muscovy will react."

Sofia held up her hand. "Consider," she insisted again. "If a woman can be a soldier then a woman can be made to be a soldier. Yes? Would you have women of the boyar class working in the fields like peasant women? Would Madame Cherkaski agree to have her status based on her position in the bureaucracy? She can't read, you know. And she heartily disapproves of those who can. It wasn't the men of Muscovy who poisoned Mikhail's first choice for a bride. Think about that. For now at least, leave politics aside and concentrate on the Dacha."

****

The sound of the toilet flushing woke Filip Pavlovich from a light sleep. That was the disadvantage—well, the largest disadvantage—of the toilets Bernie had insisted on. The noise. The sound of running water had the usual effect. He got up, threw on a heavy robe and headed to the bathroom to answer the call of nature. When he opened his bedroom door, he saw Bernie, carrying a candle and a book, heading toward the back of the house.

After taking care of business, Filip decided that he would investigate Bernie's whereabouts. Probably the kitchen, he thought. Bernie seemed to have a strange attachment to kitchens.

Not the kitchen after all, he was surprised to see. Another room close to it. Filip walked in just as the cook's assistant was lighting a few more candles. Bernie was opening a book, preparing to study for a while. "Another night owl?" Bernie grinned. "Feel free to join me. Anna Stefanovna will get us a beer and a snack if you want."

"Why aren't you asleep?" Filip yawned. "It's the middle of the night."

"Not really." Bernie looked at his watch. "It's only about 10:30. You know, that's one of the hardest things to adjust to, this living in what might as well be dark. I never used to go to sleep until about two in the morning, back home. Even after the Ring of Fire, I could still watch a movie on my VCR if I wanted to. I hate going to bed early, always did. Even when I was a kid it felt like sleeping was a waste of time. There was always something else I wanted to do."

The servant was placing a plate of Bernie's sandwiches in front of him along with a mug of beer. "You want a beer?" Bernie asked. "You're up anyway. Have a seat."

Filip nodded. "Why not? The older I get the less I sleep, anyway. Tell me about up-time. Did no one sleep the night through in your up-time?"

Bernie took a sip of his beer as the girl placed another mug in front of Filip. He shook his head. "Hardly anyone. Kids, maybe, and people who had to get up real early for work. Back there, all you had to do was flip a switch and you had lights. You could read all night if you wanted to and it would be just like daytime." Bernie grinned a bit. "There was a story they told. All about a man who became president way back when. The story said that he stayed up, reading by firelight, and educated himself that way. He was a really great president, too. And I've got a lot more respect for him, now that I know just how hard it is to read by candlelight. Not that I ever did that much reading."

Filip Pavlovich was gradually reconsidering things. Filip was a very smart man. He was also of reasonably good family and had an excellent education for his time. He was familiar with much of the work of the great minds of his era. He had worked quietly in the Embassy Bureau for most of his adult life, coordinating the reports of the agents around Europe on matters of natural philosophy, what the up-timers called science. His position and the nature of his work made it unlikely that he would ever be recorded in a history book. This didn't mean Filip wasn't as bright and capable as the more famous western scholars. It just meant that his work rarely bore his name.

Bernie had been sort of an insult. It was amazingly unfair that this up-timer should, by no other virtue than the accident of his birth in the future, know so much that Filip Pavlovich didn't. That was bad enough. Worse, though, Bernie Janovich couldn't explain it to him in a coherent way. At first he had occasionally wondered if Bernie was pretending ignorance just to frustrate him. Or, perhaps, Bernie didn't want the czar and people of Muscovy to have the benefit of the knowledge that he was being paid to provide. By now Filip knew that was not the case. He had seen Bernie's frustration and knew it was real.

Filip knew Bernie wanted to help. Bernie had seen little of the grinding poverty of the Muscovy peasants and the town poor, but even that little bit was apparently too much for him. It was the kind of poverty that made taking out someone's chamber pot a position to be sought after. Filip had seen this poverty anew, through Bernie's eyes. He didn't like seeing it, not at all, and he knew Bernie hated it. Filip was beginning to wonder if being smart was the best thing a man could be.

Bernie was good. Good in a way that almost no one outside of a saint was good in the here and now. Not that Bernie was a saint, exactly. He liked girls and beer too much for that. And, Filip was saddened to note, Bernie didn't really care for church.

Somehow, over the time that Bernie had been here, Filip had come to like the young man. He liked that Bernie was willing to admit when he didn't know something and try to learn it. And, Bernie had made it clear that he respected Filip for his knowledge and ability to understand Bernie's bits and pieces of information. He even liked that Bernie somehow saw people as equal and felt that all of them were deserving of respect.

Without even realizing it, Filip had decided he would teach this man from the future to understand the knowledge he carried in his head. Enough, at least, so that Bernie would not be discarded as a used up receptacle in a few years. The fact that Bernie would probably look at the prospect of such an education with dread didn't bother him in the least. In fact, he rather enjoyed it. There was a touch of sadism in Filip's soul. Not a lot, but enough so that the prospect of making Bernie's life miserable for a while—in a good cause, of course—was kind of pleasant.

"So." Filip grinned. "What do you study tonight, Bernie? And what noisy, smelly experiment will it lead to this time?"

****

It was nice of Filip to help him out, Bernie thought, but it would be okay if he went to bed soon, too. He'd been teaching Anya stuff for a little while most nights. And Anya was too shy to sit down at the table with Filip there.

Finally, after about an hour, Filip gave it up for the night.

"Yeah." Bernie stretched a bit and yawned. "I'll be crashing pretty quick. One more chapter, though."

Filip's eyes were getting bleary. "Without me, I think." He yawned. "I don't have the stamina of youth." He stood and yawned again. "In the morning, then."

Bernie watched him leave, then grinned at Anya. "Finally," he whispered. "Alone at last."

Her blue eyes were merry. "Oh, yes, my dahlink. Fearless Leader has left the building and now we may play." She retrieved the papers of their latest project and sat down beside him. "Now, check my homework, please."

"It would be a lot quicker if I'd thought to bring a calculator," Bernie grumbled. He added up the columns of figures and checked that she'd posted the imaginary expenses to their correct imaginary accounts. "You got it, babe. Everything is in the right spot."

Anya clapped her hands, quietly. "Good." She checked the accounting textbook. "Trial balances and closing entries are next."

Bernie groaned and reached out to grab her by the shoulders. "Come, my little babuska." He used his Boris voice. "We will attend to the moose later. Right now, I merely wish to enjoy myself. No more studying tonight."

****

"Alexei?" Bernie had begun to wonder about this. "What about taxes? Do you deduct it from my income or what? Like the man says, there's two things certain in this world, death and taxes."

Alexei Alexandrovich stared at Bernie. "You want to pay taxes, Bernie? Why?"

"No, I don't want to pay taxes. No one wants to pay taxes. But, I don't want to go to jail for not paying my income tax, either."


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