Here is your preview of the story.
Boris Ivanovich Petrov pulled the horse to a stop and looked around. "This place is almost worth the trip. See the cuts in the earth where the land was changed. Look at these hills. The structure is different from those outside the ring. Everything inside this Ring of Fire is different."
Vladimir Yaroslavich nodded and pulled his horse to a stop beside Boris. Then glanced at Grigorii Ensheevich who was staring his mouth agape. Vladimir hid a smile. A speechless Grigorii was an unusual sight. Perhaps it might shut him up about having left the trading in the hands of Fedor Ivanovich Trotsky. Grigorii was a family retainer. Specifically, he was Vladimir's man. He had been with Vladimir since Vladimir was six. A huntsman on the family estates, he had had more to do with the raising of Vladimir than his father had. He spoke only Russian and was illiterate. But he had a sure instinct for the ground and spotted things most people missed. He also bargained like a Moscow fishwife and had no respect for the dvoretskii, the bureaucratic nobility. He had been complaining since they had left Jena, about leaving "that bureau man" in charge of trading the rest of their goods. They'd traded furs for the horses and some cash. As usual, they had brought more goods, mostly furs, than money. Muscovy was always short of cash, which didn't make being a diplomat easy.
Most of their entourage was still on its way from Jena, but neither he nor Boris had wanted to delay long enough to sell all their trade goods or drag what was left along with them. They had left the matter in the hands of Fedor Ivanovich and ridden on ahead, with just Grigorii Ensheevich and Makar Labkovich.
"I was convinced it was a fraud of some sort." Makar Labkovich was shaking his head in wonder. "But anyone who could fake this kind of thing would have too much power to need to fake anything."
Vladimir nodded to the bureau man and patted his horse. "I believed it was a preposterous lie right up until we got to Jena. It was the up-timer and that APC that made me start to suspect it might not be. Once you've seen one of those 'cars,' well, you must believe that something has happened."
"For me it was the view from Rudolstadt." Boris grinned. "But I am a cynic. Cars can be made by men. Not the 'Ring Wall."
Vladimir remembered his first sight of over a mile of the ring wall. It had been beyond impressive. It was as though God had taken a scoop out of the earth and replaced it with a scoop of something else. He could see Boris' point.
Vladimir looked over at Boris. Boris Ivanovich was an unassuming little man. The sort of man who could blend in anywhere and not be noticed. He didn't look at all impressive. Appearances lied. Boris was a bureaucrat of Muscovy, specifically of the Posol'sky Prikaz, the Embassy Bureau or State Department. He was an experienced spy and a well traveled agent. He spoke, read, and wrote Russian, Polish, Danish, German, English, and, of course, Latin and Greek. He had been assigned to accompany Vladimir Petrovich on this 'fool errand' by the czar's father in an attempt to keep the czar from looking any more foolish than could be avoided. And probably, Vladimir acknowledged, to keep me out of trouble.
Boris had his own thoughts about the situation. Prince Vladimir Petrovich Yaroslavich had actually been quite easy to babysit. Vladimir spoke English, a result of his sister's being married to an English count—and what a scandal that had been. More important, though, Vladimir listened.
Boris' rank in the bureaucracy that ran Muscovy was higher than Vladimir's, or had been. He had been demoted without prejudice for this mission since Vladimir was a knaiz, a prince. Vladimir, as a prince with almost independent lands—combined with his friendship with the czar—was almost certain to end up as a boyar of the cabinet. It would be totally inappropriate to have him under the orders of someone with Boris' lack of pedigree.
The fact that Grantville wasn't a hoax presented Boris with both problems and opportunities. Powerful people didn't like to be proven wrong and there was more than a little bit of a tendency to kill the messenger in the Russian government. On the other hand, the fact that Grantville was not a hoax meant that keeping the czar from looking foolish in sending the mission just got a whole lot easier. Certain people at court were not going to like that, either.
Still, since Grantville did exist, a network of spies would have to be put in place to watch it. Boris was in an excellent position to head up the Grantville office in Moscow, which would be an important one. Poland was Russia's great enemy at the moment and Germany was just the other side of it. Now a section of Germany was peaceful and relatively prosperous instead of being torn up by war. The up-timers, as the locals called them, had to be encouraged to take Sweden's side. So far they had friendly relations with the Swedish king but nothing more than that.
"It is not such a large place." Vladimir was still staring at the scenery, patting the horse's neck now and then. "And there are not so many up-timers as I had thought."
"A small place, yes, but it will play a large role." Boris had seen 'cars' or 'APC's,' whatever they were called. He had seen the improvements in the roads outside of the ring as well as a horse drawn device that made those improvements faster and with less work than you could imagine without seeing it. This place would affect the world. "We will need to find any centers of learning they have. Gather quickly the information they give freely. If they really do give it freely."
"I would like some information."
Cecelia Calafano looked up at the man in front of the circulation desk. Not all that far up. He couldn't have been more than five feet four or so. She didn't recognize his accent, it sounded vaguely eastern European. "Your name is?"
"Boris Ivanovich Petrov, of Muscovy."
"Ah." Cecelia smiled. "Russian, then. I wondered about your accent."
The man standing in front of her nodded abruptly. "Yes, Russia. That is what we have called ourselves for some time now. It is the rest of Europe that still calls us Muscovy. That has changed in the future?"
"Yes, it has," Cecelia confirmed. "How can I help you?" He was a fireplug shaped man, short and solid with a thick, heavy beard going gray. He was well dressed with a lot of fur trimming.
The bearded fireplug smiled, she thought. It was a bit hard to tell under the beard and mustache but his eyes smiled. "We've been sent to determine if this place is real."
Cecelia laughed. "I've lived here all my life. Trust me it's real. What did you want to know?"
Herr Swartz, the next in line, was clearing his throat again. Cecelia gave him a look and he settled down. You don't mess with the librarian. Mr. Petrov handed her a list. Cecelia took a quick look. It was in English carefully written but idiosyncratically spelled. She sighed. Consistent spelling was some time in the future. She could make out most of what he wanted. "How to make telephones. A history of the Romanov family. How to make cars. A history of Muscovy, or Russia. I think you're probably in the wrong place." The bearded fireplug was giving her a doubtful look. "Never mind." She sighed a bit. She had run into this before, though they got it more at the National Library and Research Center at the high school. "Some of this you will be able to find here. Like the history of Russia or part of it. I'll get you some books."
She got her new Russian customer settled and went to help Herr Swartz.
Boris examined the books. Russia Under the Old Regime by someone called Pipes. He looked at the table of contents. Chapter 4: The Anatomy of the Patrimonial Regime. Boris tried to translate the words to Russian. The body parts of the fatherhood rulers? That sounded positively obscene. Boris worked it out. Anatomy meant the structure of a body . . . perhaps it was used here to represent the structure of the government. Patrimonial regime . . . might mean inherited rule or it might mean government by the church. Was Muscovy going to be ruled by the priesthood? Considering the relative political strengths of the patriarch and the czar, it could happen. This would be monstrously time consuming. He looked at the other book perhaps it would be clearer. What was the USSR? What was the revolution of 1917? For that matter, what was St. Petersburg? At least, that's what he thought it said. There was no St. Petersburg in his Russia.
He read through the books as well as he could for several hours, making notes. Some things were clear enough. The year of birth and death of the czar and his son and his grandson. Others weren't. The analysis was just weird. It was all there, Boris thought, but looked at as though through a prism. The light split into the spectra and the image was lost. Was this Pipes an idiot? Upon considering the matter, Boris didn't think so. So might a citizen of Caesar's Rome respond to a history of Rome written by a modern scholar who had never seen the Coliseum or been present at a triumph.
The woman stopped by a time or two. Handed him what she called a magazine. "Here," she'd said once. "You might find something in this."
It was an old, fragile thing, this magazine. And what did peristroika mean? Boris knew what restructuring meant, but the word seemed to be used a bit differently here.
Much befuddled, Boris gave up for now. It was getting late and he needed to get back to the room they had rented. He wasn't going to figure it all out in a day.
It was as he was putting things away that the librarian came and sat down at the table. "Can I give you some advice?"
Boris nodded cautiously.
"If what you wanted was a nice place to come and read an occasional book, this would be the place for you and I encourage you to do that. However, this isn't the place for what you're after. The Grantville public library was never intended to be a center of research. It was designed to be a small town library at the tail end of the twentieth century. We had inter-library loans and the Internet. Before the Ring of Fire, if we didn't have the book someone wanted, we could get it in a few weeks through inter-library loans. What we had on the shelves were the books most likely to be wanted in a small town. A small town that didn't need to make telephones or automobiles. We could buy them. We have books on how to fix an automobile. Those books usually tell the reader how to install a new part that they are expected to buy from an automobile parts supply store that got its parts from a manufacturer in another state. What I mean is, they tell you how to fix a car not how to make one from scratch."
Boris nodded politely but he was wondering if this was perhaps how they were hiding the important information. That concern decreased as she continued.
"Shortly after the Ring of Fire it was decided to use the library at the high school as our national library, our Library of Alexandria." The woman gave him a questioning look and he nodded his understanding.
She continued. "In it, we have at least one copy of almost all the books that came though the Ring of Fire. In those books there is enough information to tell you how to make an automobile, at least most of it. Even there, its not all in one book. It's scattered around in books designed to teach children the basics of how things work, in biographies of the people involved in the inventing of the automobile and its mass production and so on." The woman took a deep breath. "That makes it a treasure hunt. It's hard even for a professional to know which book to look in to find the thing you're after. Trying to do it on your own . . . " She shrugged. "I recommend you hire a professional researcher. If you don't have the money for that, you can put in information requests and the library researchers will get around to it as they have time. Your other option is to take the library science basic course at the high school and pay the usage fees."
Boris considered. The little talk she had given him was well rehearsed. "How often do you give that little speech?"
She smiled. "About twice a week."
"About the usage fees you mentioned . . . You don't have them here. Why not?"
"We're funded by the national library. We have been since a few months after the Ring of Fire. There was a minor fight in the emergency committee about that but public libraries being free for public use is a long standing tradition up-time. There was a bigger fight about having fees to use the national library." She laughed. "By the time that fight got going there were already millions of dollars worth of products coming out of the library. People were wondering why the cash-strapped government should pay to make a bunch of people rich. A compromise was worked out. You can get anything you want out of the national library and research center free, if you're willing to wait your turn. And it can be a long wait. You can also pay to get it faster. Quite a lot of people pay either by paying a professional licensed researcher or by taking the course and paying the usage fees."
Boris had a lot to think about as he walked back to the room they had rented.
Master Vladimir was overly generous, Grigorii Ensheevich thought. They sat in a small room. All eight of them, now that the rest of the party had arrived from Jena. Finding room in the over-packed Ring of Fire had been a challenge. Finding enough room had been effectively impossible.
The lodgings were fantastically well appointed but horribly cramped. The eight of them shared a single bedroom with its own 'half bath,' an indoor toilet and sink with 'faucets' that provided hot and cold water. They had access—from two to four in the afternoon—to the main bath, where they could take hot showers.
For this they were paying more than they would pay for four rooms in a good inn. And that would have included meals and servants. That was beside the point, though. The up-timers, as they were called, were claiming that they would provide most any of the knowledge they brought with them to anyone. Which was an obvious lie. As he'd just said.
But the bureau man Boris Ivanovich Petrov was shaking his head. "I don't think they are lying about it." He was too clever by half for a bureau man, Grigorii didn't say out loud. "Understanding the information is a problem. The English language . . . it has changed. Very much so. The woman at their 'library' freely gave me books to look at. Books that will need to be looked at again. I've made notes." The bureau man waved a sheaf of papers in the air. "Pages and pages of notes. But very few of them make sense."
Grigorii watched as his prince read the notes the bureau man handed him. Vladimir looked at them closely. "This is clear." He pointed at a line of the writing that Grigorii couldn't read. "Czar Mikhail will . . . have only a few more years. The patriarch . . . much less."
"Perhaps not." Boris' face showed very little. "I asked about that. These up-timers . . . they do not understand what has happened. But their arrival changed many things. The librarian said that those changes will, already have, changed history. A lot. When I saw that place in the book, I, too, was shocked. The woman was very kind. She asked what was wrong, then saw the page I looked at. She said that there were things we could do. Send the 'aspirin.' That it might help." Boris nodded to himself. "With the first courier, we shall." The bureau man waved the notes aside. "That is not what I wished to discuss. The public library we can use with no trouble but the real wealth of knowledge is in the national library. From what the woman said, using the national library will entail some cost . . . " He shrugged. " . . . or unacceptable delay. I am not that concerned about the fees to hire a researcher." Grigorii snorted at that. He couldn't help it. Boris was a tight one.
"I am concerned about two things," the bureau man continued. "First that the researcher might edit the reports and second that he might sell reports on what we were looking into to agents from other lands. I think we need someone to take the library science course and, at the very least, watch any researcher we hire. For some questions we will want to do the research ourselves."
Vladimir nodded. "That sounds like a job for me. I speak the language and am less experienced in some of the other work we will need to do here." In other words, Grigorii thought, Vladimir is not a spy like the bureau men.