Butterflies In the Kremlin, Episode 2: A ‘Merican in Moscow

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Spring, 1633

 

"Home," Boris sighed then waved at the white stone walls of the Kremlin which stood sixty feet tall and dominated the mostly wooden city of Moscow.

Bernie Zeppi, after the long trip, didn't care if it was home or not. Didn't care about the view. He just wanted in out of the wet. And, judging from what he'd seen so far, Muscovy just wasn't . . . well, wasn't much. Not that there wasn't a lot of it. Lots and lots of what amounted to log cabins, all crowded together. "Where do we go first?"

Boris pointed toward a street. Well, river of mud masquerading as a street. "My townhouse. I must make a report and get instructions."

****

Boris burst into the house roaring, "I'm home." His arms were raised in a dramatic pose, in full conquering hero mode, as though he had just returned from being the first man to reach the North Pole. Which, come to think of it, wasn't that far from the truth.

"Yes, dear," a short, plump woman said and lifted a cheek to be kissed. From her response, it seemed that Boris had gone to the corner store for milk. You'd think that after being gone for a year a guy would get a livelier reception than Boris had, Bernie thought. Mom had always run to greet and hug Dad when he came home from a trip. But not this lady, presumably Boris' wife, Daromila. Bernie shook his head. How formal could people get?

Boris deflated and gave the woman a kiss on the cheek. She looked to be about forty, maybe forty-five. She was wearing blue, mostly. Her overdress anyway. Sarafin, they called it. Reddish brown hair, with a sprinkling of gray, and twinkling blue eyes. It was almost like a game of some sort. Bernie had no clue as to the rules but Boris had lost this round. Then he saw the woman's half grin. Maybe not.

The townhouse seemed to be pretty typical. Log, like almost every building. Small windows that weren't made of glass, but he didn't know what they were made of. One corner had several of the religious cartoons that were called icons, and the other had about the biggest stove he'd ever seen.

"Come in, come in." Boris waved at him, expansive again. "My wife, Daromila. This is Bernie Zeppi. He'll be staying with us for a day or so, until I can get in touch with Natalia Yaroslavicha." Boris spoke English and Bernie was surprised when she answered in that language. It must have shown on his face.

"Boris taught me a little years ago." Daromila smiled at him. "And there is Julia, the wife of Captain Johnson. Learning English has become quite the rage since we learned of Grantville." She lifted her cheek again, this time for Bernie to kiss. Not really sure what he was supposed to do, Bernie kissed her cheek.

"You owe me a kopeck." Boris said it like it was a normal comment. Then, receiving a hard look from the little woman, Boris hastily said, "A ruble. At least."

Bernie just stood there confused. "Huh?"

"It's the custom," Daromila explained with that twinkle in her eye. "When a man enters another man's home as a guest, even just for dinner, he pays to give the wife a kiss." She laughed. "Come. I will make you tea." She turned toward that gigantic stove, where it looked like she had all the makings of a meal ready. "Sit, sit."

Bernie sat where Boris indicated. Damn, it felt good to get in out of the wet. He listened, letting the sound of the Russian language and the strangeness of it all roll over him.

It sounded weird, that bit with the kopeck and the ruble. Some weird custom or other. There were a lot of those around. This might be a joke of some kind. Bernie had no way of knowing where the custom came from, but he had plenty of time to think about it. Boris and Daromila had switched almost entirely to Russian.

****

Boris looked at Daromila, feasting his eyes. "Vasilii said I was to report directly to the patriarch. Otherwise I would have taken the outlander to the Yaroslavich townhouse. Vladimir, I wrote you about him, has arranged for his sister to house him rather than putting him up with the other outlanders."

"Is that wise?" Daromila busied herself at the stove. "The bureaus are in an uproar. " At Boris' curious look, she explained. "They didn't want to believe that the miracle was real. Even after all this time and the letters and books you have sent. They were arguing that it was a fraud right up until Vasilii arrived to say you were on your way. Some still are."

Boris shook his head. "I didn't want to believe it either, but after over a year to get used to the idea, I would have thought—" At his wife's look, he hesitated. "I guess it is an unbelievable story. But you can't not believe after you've seen the glass smooth cliffs of the ring wall."

"Is it really that special?" Daromila sounded a bit wistful. Unlike her husband, she had never been out of Muscovy. "I got your letters but . . . "

"Yes and no." Boris tilted his hand back and forth. "In some ways it is the most miraculous thing you could imagine and in others quite everyday." He shook his head. "Enough of that for now. I will tell you all about it later. Now I need to know what is going on in the bureaus." So they discussed the different factions that were shifting around the miracle in Germany. The fraud faction, the work of the devil faction, the God's will faction. Which bureau chiefs were leaning which way. How the great families were lining up. The most common reaction was "wait and see," then "how can my family benefit or be harmed," followed closely by "how will it effect my bureau?"

"From what I hear . . . " Daromila lifted the pot of water. " . . . the czar wants to see the outlander as soon as he can but the bureaus want a chance to talk to your Bernie first so they can formulate policy. They have managed to fill the czar's schedule for the next week or so to give them a chance to do so."

They went back to English to explain to Bernie that Boris had to go see the patriarch.

****

Half an hour into the conversation and Boris felt wrung out. Patriarch Filaret apparently remembered every fact he'd read about Grantville, not to mention every bit of the history he'd read. They'd already been through the butterfly effect and every bit of Boris' knowledge of the spies in Grantville. Now, Filaret changed the subject.

"So this Bernie, he has come to work for us?"

"Ah . . . not quite." Boris twitched in his seat. "In fact, he has come to work for Prince Yaroslavich. Who has paid—and is paying—his salary so far. And there is a personal contract." Boris produced the contract for the patriarch's perusal. Filaret took it and read through it rapidly. Several times during the reading he gave Boris sharp looks.

His brow creased. "A rather large salary. Do you feel it will be worth it?" Boris was surprised at the choice of first question. By custom, outlanders were always hired to work for the czar, not members of the court or the bureaus.

Boris raised his hands. "I can't say for certain. The up-time knowledge is worth a thousand times that salary. Patriarch . . . " He paused. " . . . They could fly up-time. I have seen the movies, heard the stories . . . they could fly. And I have no doubt they will again . . . if they survive another five or ten years."

****

Filaret leaned back in his chair. This was the reason he'd called for Boris Petrov to see him. He wanted to hear, first hand. "Yet they don't fly now. None of the machines, the airplanes, was it? None came with them."

Boris nodded. "True. It was a poor village of peasants that was sent back to us. Yet even there they have miracles in every art and philosophy and in things we had not even dreamed of. Undreamed of wealth, Patriarch. The products of mass production, they call it. Everything identical, made by machines. If we can make the machines, well, we should be able to do the same."

Filaret raised an eyebrow. "Yet you say you're not sure?"

Boris sighed. "You know the problems with hiring outlander experts. If they were really experts they would be getting rich where they were. What we get are the second raters or the ones no one is willing to hire for some reason. You and I have seen that, time after time."

"Your outlander is a second rater?"

Boris squirmed a bit. "You must remember that there were only around three thousand people brought back in the Ring of Fire. That includes babes still at their mothers breast and those so . . . sick that they could not survive without constant intervention from their medical practitioners." Boris had, Filaret was sure, almost said "so old" but caught himself in time. Filaret hid a smile. He was over eighty and Boris was afraid to offend. "By their standards, it was not a particularly educated group. Most adults had high school diplomas . . . never mind." Boris clearly didn't want to get sidetracked.

"The point is," Boris continued, "that anyone who had much in the way of special skills or unusual talent was already employed by their government, getting rich right there in Grantville, or both.

"Berna is friendly, willing, and doesn't lie about his abilities. That, above all else, Vladimir insisted on. I agreed. We have had too many master cannon makers who were more familiar with gold than bronze."

Boris paused and Filaret considered. Boris was good at his job and Vladimir was clever. He didn't think that Vladimir was planning anything against the czar, partly because Vladimir was a good lad and a friend of the family, but mostly because he was staying in Grantville. Manipulating court politics from such a distance was almost impossible. Not entirely impossible; Filaret had done it from imprisonment in Poland. But that was a special case and hadn't actually worked out the way he had wanted.

"Then," Filaret leaned forward with his fingertips steepled, "if he is so unskilled, what is he doing here? And why did Vladimir hire him into the Yaroslavich family's service instead of the czar's? Why agree to pay him so much?" He motioned toward the contract. "This is what we would pay for a colonel of artillery."

****

"His salary is the least of the expense of this project," Boris admitted. This was one of the most important parts of the plan. "Vladimir had an idea. He will be having copies made of the books in Grantville. They will be sent here. But they are only copies, Patriarch, not translations. Not even Latin translations, much less Russian. He doesn't have the staff, or the cash on hand to pay to have it done. The books will have to be translated here."

"I still don't understand what we need this outlander for. Not that I object to his presence. The czar has been anxious to meet an outlander from this miracle and I am curious myself. That, however, doesn't justify this salary, or this change in our traditional ways." The patriarch waved a hand at the contract again. "Contracts like this . . . well, I suppose I can understand the idea. But it's not the way we have done things and I don't like the precedent it sets."

"I speak the English of England in this century quite well," Boris said. "The American English of the tail-end of the twentieth century is full of words that I don't even have the concepts for. What is an excited atom?" Boris used Russian for excited and English for atom.

At Filaret's look, he answered his own question, sort of. "Had someone asked me that before I went to Grantville, I would have had no idea. Even if I had looked up atom in a dictionary from Grantville, I would still have thought it a nonsense phrase. The dictionary would tell me that an atom is the smallest piece of material. A piece of material cannot be excited.

"Berna would probably say he doesn't know, but won't see it as nonsense. He will look it up and tell us enough of what it means that we can make something approaching an accurate translation. As for the contract, Bernie insisted on it . . . . Patriarch, it's hard to explain unless you have seen what they can do and how freely they give out their knowledge. I am convinced that if we don't have someone like Bernie, if we don't gain this knowledge and do it now while the door is opened—" He paused and took a deep breath. "Russia, without the knowledge—the up-time knowledge—facing a Europe with that knowledge, will not survive a hundred years. "

"Why is Vladimir paying for this?" The patriarch was nodding. Good, Boris thought. He understood why Berna was needed.

"He wants to set up a think tank." Boris spoke entirely in Russian but the concept didn't translate well.

"A gathering of minds." Boris tried again at Filaret's expression. "Also a research center. A place where concepts and devices from the books and notes he is sending can be tried. Tests can be done to see what will and will not work. A place where the knowledge from the future can be combined with the talents of Russians to make both the things he sends us designs for and new designs of our own."

The patriarch nodded, his mind jumping ahead of Boris' explanation. "Where?"

"The Yaroslavich family has a large and comfortable dacha and hunting park a half-day ride from Muscovy. Close enough to Moscow for convenience, yet far enough away so that it can be kept fairly private. He promises not only its use but money for the materials needed for the experimentation. Some thousands of rubles a year."

"That explains what he wants to do, Boris Ivanovich Petrov. It does not explain why the contract with this Bernard Zeppi is with Vladimir Petrovich Yaroslavich, not Mikhail Fedorivich Romanov, Czar of all Russia."

"Vladimir is willing to commit the Yaroslavich family to the primary funding of the project."

"And he wants what in exchange?"

"The exclusive rights to produce and sell the products of the dacha." This was common. One family might have exclusive rights to mine iron ore in a certain area, rights they had purchased from the government. Another might have exclusive rights to sell the furs of another area. And Filaret was no babe in the woods when it came to that type of negotiation.

"No, that won't work," Filaret said. "The Yaroslavich family is rich but not that rich."

"He plans to sell the rights to produce individual products," Boris explained. "The research center will make a working model of, say, a reaper and designs for the parts to it, then sell the rights to make reapers to another clan or to a set of villages."

The patriarch nodded and considered. "Exclusive except for the government. I'll not have the government giving the Yaroslavich family the rights, then paying for the research as well." That too was standard. The government of Muscovy maintained first call on everything. If a family gained exclusive control of a mine what that family got was what came out of the mine beyond the government's share. The extra.

"Of course, Patriarch." Boris nodded. As each new device was made both the government and the Yaroslavich family would have the right to produce it if they chose. In the case of the reaper, the government would be able to either make reapers itself or have them made; so would the Yaroslavich family. The Yaroslavich family might want to sell its rights to make the product but that would not affect the governments rights. "Of course, the research center will need experts from some of the bureaus."

Filaret nodded thoughtfully. "That can be arranged. And the church?"

"Vladimir would prefer not to make an open grant to all the church." Boris' answer was delicate. "There have been abuses of such grants in the past. I am very much afraid the bureaus would not like such a blanket grant either." The Russian Orthodox Church was neither monolithic nor free from corruption. Monasteries vied for power and wealth with the great families and each other.

The patriarch grinned rather sardonically and nodded. "The patriarch's office, then." He laughed at Boris' expression. "Not even that?"

Boris steeled himself. "Who will be the next patriarch?"

Filaret nodded, but lost his smile.

"Vladimir did wish me to convey his warmest personal regards to you, Patriarch Filaret. His concern, and frankly mine, is that the next patriarch may not share your concern for the czar or for Muscovy as a whole. Do you remember mention of Patriarch Nikon from the histories we sent?" Boris really wished he could avoid this part of the conversation. He was used to bureaucratic infighting but not at this level.

Filaret grimaced but nodded. "However, I am patriarch now."

"As long as that happy situation remains, the patriarch's office will receive anything the dacha can provide."

Filaret's fingers made a drum roll on the desk as he thought about it. "It is a great risk for young Vladimir. He could ruin his family if it doesn't work." Then he stared at Boris. "What about you, Boris? What do you gain in this? What do you risk?"

"It has been suggested that I would make an excellent candidate for the head of the Grantville section of the embassy bureau." He shrugged. "That is both the reward and the risk. If it doesn't work, well, my position in the bureau would become untenable."

"Yes." Filaret's eyes glittered. "It would." Another pause while the patriarch's fingers continued to tap out a strange beat on the desk. "Very well. I will talk to Fedor Ivanovich Shermentev, then. I'll even do what I can to get the appropriate people assigned to your section and loaned to the Yaroslavich dacha." He paused a moment. "You understand what you're risking?"


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