Butterflies in the Kremlin, Part 3: Boris, Natasha . . . But Where’s Bullwinkle

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"Order Kameroff to take his battalion to the west." The barely bearded Russian wearing two stars on his collar moved his finger along the map, over a set of hills then northwest along a river. "He is to take dispatch riders and notify us at the first sign of the enemy."

"Yes sir," said the grizzled veteran with the graying beard half way down his chest and a single silver bar on his collar. There was probably a bit of amusement in his voice. But if the "general" felt any offense at that amusement, he kept it to himself.

The "lieutenant" left to deliver the orders. The "general" hid a sigh. This was his first time in the War Room and he was trying hard to keep up a good front. But he was scared. He had been doing fairly well in the standard games. A little too well, it turned out. He looked over at "Captain" Timrovich. At least Boris wasn't looking too happy either. The "general," actually Third Lieutenant Igor Milosevic, had made the mistake of cleaning up at the standard board games sent by Vladimir Petrovich Yaroslavich. They had become all the rage in Muscovite military circles. With serious wagering on the outcomes.

Igor looked back at the map, then pointed at a hill just north of the map piece that represented his main army. "We'll build the temporary fort here." He then described how he wanted it organized. He really was good at this stuff when he managed to forget for a moment about the real generals breathing down his neck. Before he had finished the "lieutenant" returned. Igor didn't even notice.

****

The "lieutenant" did notice. Gorgii Ameroff was an old campaigner. His rank was between that of a major and lieutenant colonel. Just at the moment, he was caught between being thoroughly impressed and heartily offended. Impressed because the "general" was mostly doing it right. For too long, the years of campaigning had taught him not to expect "doing it right" from soldiers that young. Offended for mostly the same reason. Gorgii Ameroff was a member of the bureaucratic or service nobility and held, roughly, middle rank. Totally aside from his youth, the "general" was from a modest family, more merchant class than nobility. Gorgii was still trying to work out how he felt about that. It just didn't seem right that this baker's son would have such talent or potential to gain such rank. The changes brought on by the Ring of Fire were disturbing and they would be increasing now that Vladimir had sent not just books and games but a person. A real live up-timer.

****

Bernie was going nuts. He had been at the dacha for a while now, and was frustrated. He had run headlong into a massive wall of ignorance and arrogance. Mostly, but not entirely, his own.

"What is a gravity feed?" Filip Pavlovich asked. "How can one make water grave and serious? Water does not flow because it is serious. Water flows because water wants to return to its proper level. Aristotle said it. So to make this 'seriousness feed' the book speaks of, you would have to make the water serious. How do you do that?" Filip Pavlovich was in part having a bit of fun with Bernie, but only in part. The use of the word gravity in describing the system of getting a liquid from one place to another was confusing and a bit irritating. It obviously meant something different than seriousness but he didn't know precisely what. Besides, explaining that new meaning was the up-timer idiot's job. Filip Pavlovich saw no reason not to have a little fun in the process.

"It didn't say water falls because it is serious." Bernie tried clenching his teeth and counting to ten. "It said that the force of gravity causes it to fall. It didn't say anything about water being serious, for crying out loud. The force of gravity is a force of nature. Oh, hell . . . never mind. Let me think a minute."

Bernie stormed away from the workshop. He had never thought himself arrogant. He just figured that among people who thought there were only six planets, he'd do all right. He'd tell them how to make stuff and they would. The problem was, Bernie didn't really know how to make stuff. He had quite a bit of the knowledge needed, but he had no idea how to put it together into a form that would produce a product.

That should have been all right. There were a number of very bright, very creative, people at the Dacha. They had been arriving a few at a time. However, as yet there was very little crossover between what Bernie knew and what they knew. Their map of the world and his were so different that communicating, even with a good translator, was difficult.

Right at the moment, the problem was with the toilets. The manuals talked about a gravity feed. To the local experts, gravity meant "dignity or sobriety of bearing." In fact, though Bernie didn't know it, the gravity feed was something they already understood quite well. However, the terms were different. They would have called it a "natural flow feed" or something similar. That would have referred to Aristotle's assertion that there were natural and unnatural types of motion. Water flowing down hill was natural motion. There was no force that made things fall. Things fell because things had a natural desire to go where they belonged. Steam went into the air and rocks onto the ground because that's where they belonged. Water, as was the case here, just naturally wanted to travel to the lowest point. Granted, Galileo had chipped around the edges of Aristotle, but just around the edges. Besides, few people here had read Galileo.

Bernie didn't know it, but an extension of this Aristotelian world view had led to many of the concepts that the up-timers thought of as superstition. After all, if water just naturally wanted to flow down hill, didn't it make sense that a wheel would just naturally want to turn, that a candle would just naturally want to burn? That any device that was made well enough would want to perform its natural function and, given the opportunity, would do so on its own? And if water had a natural desire to flow down hill, what about people? Was it not self evident that people were innately good or innately evil? Innately superior or innately inferior, good blood, bad blood?

It was a subtle but profound difference in the way people thought about the world. The early modern period, the period the Ring of Fire had thrust the West Virginia mining town into, was when that notion of a world where things did what they did because it was their nature to do so was being replaced. Slowly, one chip at a time, with the notion that things happened because of external forces like gravity and drag. But it hadn't happened yet. It would have been Newton who really shifted the world view and he hadn't been born yet. He probably wouldn't be born in this universe. Here it would be Grantville that the change spun on, and the change would come much faster. Worse, Muscovy, in general, was lagging about two hundred years behind the rest of Europe.

Bernie didn't know any of that; he didn't even know that Aristotle had gotten it wrong. He knew Newton had some laws—three, he thought. He sort of thought that Einstein had gotten it right and corrected the bits that Newton had gotten wrong with his theory of relativity. That was how the A bomb worked. More importantly, Bernie didn't know that the problems sprung from a difference in world view. Half the time he thought they were playing with him. Half the time he thought they were idiots, and half the time he thought he must be the idiot. There were too many halves of Russia.

Bernie entered the kitchen of the dacha and sat at the table. "Marpa Pavlovna, may I have a beer, please?" When the cook nodded, Bernie leaned back and tried to figure out how to explain gravity.

The cook handed him a beer. His "Thanks" was a bit absent minded. At the same time she also put a plate of ham and cheese sandwiches in front of him. He'd had a little trouble explaining to Natasha Petrovna that no, he didn't want to stop work in the middle of the day and have a big meal then take a nap. It was weird. Everybody in Russia took a siesta in the middle of the day. Bernie had thought that only happened in, like, Mexico.

Bernie rubbed his temples with his fingers, trying to ease the headache he invariably got when he tried to explain a complex concept to Filip Pavlovich. In a few moments a pair of cool feeling hands began rubbing his temples for him. Bernie leaned back against the chair and let one of the maids, Fayina Lukyanovna take over. One of the things Vladimir had not lied about was the availability of willing women. Bernie had been being hit on ever since he had reached the dacha. Boris had told him that it was probably because they wanted to get information from him. That was fine with Bernie. He'd tell them anything they wanted to know.

"What is now, Bernie?" Her voice was low, gentle. "'Sewer system' again?"

Gravity was the least of his problems with the sewer system. Bernie had arrived at the dacha with complete designs for a toilet and complete designs for a septic system. But it wasn't working right. The toilet had backed up, the sink had backed up, the bathtub had backed up. Each and every one of them was producing the most awful stinks it had ever been his misfortune to smell. He couldn't use the indoor bathroom anymore. The room had been closed off and some pretty horrible sounds came from it. Bernie was pretty sure that the problem was in the septic system or in the pipes. He had finally remembered the U shaped pipes just below the sinks. He had had those installed and that had seemed to fix it for a little while. But then things got worse.

"I don't know how to fix it." Bernie groaned. "God, your hands feel good. The bathroom is going to drive me crazy until I figure it out."

"Natasha Petrovna wishes to speak to you." Fayina stopped rubbing his temples. She was dark haired and short, well padded. He noticed that she was wearing one of those crown-looking headdresses with her hair loose. Customs were different here. Confusing. Single women wore a smaller headdress than married women and left their hair loose. Married women kept their hair covered all the time. "New books have arrived from Grantville."

****

"I have good news for you, at any rate," Natasha said. "Here. You have letters. I have letters from Vladimir as well. And more books. Perhaps the answer will be in the new books."

Bernie took his stack of letters, wondering who had written him. Dad wasn't much of a letter writer and his sisters, well, they were busy. The handwriting on the top one was vaguely familiar. And the envelopes, some of them, were from up-time. Bernie opened the first one carefully and read:

 

Dear Bernie,

Gosh, it's been a long time, hasn't it?

I just wanted to let you know that the folks in Grantville haven't forgotten you.

Also, your Dad and sisters are just fine. The CPE is having an effect on Grantville. Lots of people are moving. To Jena and Suhl and even Magdeburg. There's a contingent off in Franconia and a lot of the folks that got rich since the Ring of Fire have bought estates in the country with servants and the whole bit. But for every one that moves out, two or three down-timers move in. Then there are the tourists. Grantville is more crowded than ever. A lot of people are talking about moving their businesses to Magdeburg. Partly because its gonna be the capital of the CPE but partly because it's on the Elbe and materials will be cheaper there. Not to mention real estate.

The new anchor at the TV station is all right, but she's no Becky. You felt like Becky was talking to you, not just reading stuff off a prompter.

Anyway, things are rocking along just fine here. Wanted to let you know. Write me, why don't you? Tell us about life in the wilds of Russia.

Best,

Brandy.

 

"Thank God." It was a relief to read something that wasn't an encyclopedia. "Someone who speaks my kind of English. Natasha, when can I send a letter back to Grantville?"

Natasha looked up from her own letters. "The courier will leave tomorrow. You can send a letter with him." Bernie knew Natasha didn't approve of his tendency to sit in the kitchen. She was also the reason he was growing a beard, even though it itched. He still wasn't going to wear some silly robe out in public, though, no matter how much she nagged at him.

"Good. I'll get right on it and have Grigorii make a drawing as well." When Bernie had arrived at the dacha, he had been introduced to a secretary and an artist. Grigorii Mikhailovich was the artist whose job it was to take Bernie's descriptions and very rough sketches and turn them into usable drawings. "Brandy can probably find out what I've done wrong. It's a darn good thing your brother stayed in Grantville. When I've finished the letter, I'll take a look through the books and stuff he sent. Maybe I can figure out how to explain gravity."

"Seriousness?" Natasha's voice was curious. "Don't they know what seriousness is?"

Bernie groaned. Then headed back to face the brain cases.

****

"Bernie Janovich, what is the center of gravity?" Pter Nickovich had been waiting impatiently while Bernie was out of the room. His English was not good and the discussion of gravity was more confusing than helpful. He knew there was something there because the notes he had received on flight mentioned gravity regularly. Center of gravity, specifically. He sat and thought, giving no sign how much it hurt him not to understand about gravity and how to fly. Finally, Bernie returned with the letters and Pter asked his question before the sewer system could distract them again.

"Hey, I actually know that one." Bernie grinned at Pter. "Cars need a low center of gravity for stability."

Pter just looked at him. As usual, Bernie hadn't explained anything.

Bernie lost his grin. "Okay. Try it this way. Bend over." Bernie bent over. "As your head moves forward, your rear end moves backward, otherwise you fall on your face. That's to keep your center of gravity over your feet." Bernie stood up again. "Try to balance something on one finger. It's the same thing. To keep it balanced you have to keep your finger under the center of gravity."

"You mean that center of gravity just means the point of balance?" Pter couldn't help his look of shock. "The place where you would place the fulcrum?"

The outlander shrugged. "Pretty much."

Pter considered, then asked. "Then why does how high the center of gravity is matter?"

"There is other stuff besides gravity. Centrifugal force and stuff."

"Explain that, if you would." Pter tried not to grit his teeth. He knew he was close to something but wasn't sure what. He listened to Bernie's rambling explanation. It was there he knew, if he could just grasp it. The secret to everything. It came in bits and drabs . . . gravity was a force like centrifugal force. Then another piece when Bernie squared his stance and had someone push from the side. The person pushing on him to try and over balance him was a force. The key came when he asked why they used rockets to get to the moon. "Why not wings?"

"No air in space."

"Why not?"

"Gravity, dude," an obviously frustrated Bernie insisted.

Pter froze. He could see it in his minds eye. "How much does air weigh?"

"I don't know." Bernie shrugged. "It's pretty light; we can look it up. Uh . . . maybe not, but we can write Vladimir about it."

The outlander didn't realize. How much air weighed didn't really matter. What mattered was that air weighed. That it had weight. It was pulled down to the ground by a force; water was, too, but more so. They wouldn't have to look the weight of air up, Pter could think of several ways to work it out. Looking it up might be easier if it was in one of the books. The important point was that air had weight. That was how the balloons worked. That was how it all worked.

****

Vesuvius erupted. Russian words spewed forth. Bernie didn't understand. Didn't want to understand after he caught the Russian words for idiot and uncultured repeated several times. At least this time everyone was an uncultured idiot, not just Bernie. Which was a relief. Everyone, Pter included, everyone from Adam to Aristotle . . . especially Aristotle. Everyone in the entire history of the world, both histories. Only two exceptions could be made: God and Sir Isaac Newton. God for creating such a complex world from such beautiful simplicity and Sir Isaac Newton for understanding it.

"Don't you understand, you uncultured outlander? We can fly."

"What in blazes are you talking about?" Filip Pavlovich was not one to accept being called an idiot by much of anyone. "Of course we can fly, once we know how. If the outlanders from the future could do it we can learn to do it." He froze then. "You know how?"

"It's all forces don't you see . . . damn Aristotle to the worst region of hell. Innate desire. Natural tendency. Bah . . . it's forces. Water is heavy, air is light, the force of gravity works better on heavy than light, that's what makes it heavy."

Jeez, Bernie thought, you'd think he just found out that Jennifer Lopez was a sure thing. Bernie left the geeks to their talk. Somehow he couldn't stop grinning. These guys got such a charge out of this stuff. Now if only he could get the plumbing to work.

****

That night, instead of the studying, Bernie watched as Gregorii Mikhailovich drew out another Rocky and Bullwinkle episode for Daromila. One of the other letters was one from her, pestering him about it. And he had promised, after all. It was kind of hard, sometimes. Gregorii didn't like the dress the Natasha of the cartoons wore. He even blushed a bit.

****

The older he got, the less he slept. Filaret stalked around his room, thinking. They were on a dangerous path and he didn't think Mikhail realized just how dangerous it was. Mikhail was a good boy, but too gentle for the real world. Still, something he'd said kept coming back to Filaret. Knowledge, freely given. Filaret had started the only print shop in Muscovy. Like most things, it was a royal monopoly. He had also been instrumental in starting schools in monasteries. Again a monopoly, this time of the church. Giving things away didn't come naturally to him, especially something as valuable as knowledge. Freely giving knowledge had its drawbacks, didn't it?

But the more he thought about it, the better it sounded. Freely given. Charity. A gift to the poor. Alms of knowledge? What an interesting idea. The agreement with the Yaroslavich family was that the government could do what it wanted with the knowledge from the Dacha. It wouldn't do to give everything away. But some of it . . . . Things that would help a lot of people and would cost a lot to administer. A gift from the czar, granted freely to every citizen and serf in Muscovy. The right to make the turning plow. One of the new plows produced by the Dacha. And, of course, the Yaroslavich family could still sell the right to make the plow to anyone who would buy what had already been given them for free. It would serve as a reminder to the Yaroslavich family who was Czar. At the same time, it would remind everyone that even knowledge was the czar's to give and withhold at his will.

****

Boris stared. A flying ship. Not a little one that they talked about in Grantville, but something the nerds—Boris liked that word—at the Dacha were calling a half blimp. There were drawings, still rough sketches, rough estimates of carrying capacity, all of which seemed to agree that bigger was better to the extent that they could build bigger. Everyone in the section would have seen it by now. The rumors would be flying faster than the half blimp could travel. And he had to come up with a recommendation. How was he supposed to know if it would work? Meanwhile, he had dozens of requests for things he knew they could make. And suddenly hundreds of requests for transfers to his section. "Pavel, get in here."

Pavel came quickly enough. Boris smiled. Pavel looked nervous, as well he should. "You will be missing dinner at home again." Boris handed him the report. "Go out to the Dacha and find out about this."

"But, Papa," Pavel started to complain.

Boris cut him off. "I know all about the party at the Samelovich house. They want you to get their little Ivan a job in the section, but he doesn't speak English and the only thing I've heard he's good at is getting drunk. Make your apologies, but get out to the Dacha."

Boris put the rest of the reports in his case and headed for home.

****

Daromila was snickering again. Boris looked up, a bit bleary-eyed from reading reports. "Woman—" he put on his "stern patriarch of the family" voice. "—what are you on about this time?"

She snickered again. "Nothing, dear. Just a letter from Berna."

"Oh ho!" Boris puffed out his chest. "I shall have to have words with him. Stealing my wife's affections from me. That's what he's doing."


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