1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 13
“We can’t do it,” Andrei Korisov said with disgust. “You don’t understand what we have to deal with. Less than half the service nobility can read, and just one person in three hundred is of the service nobility. Even with the occasional priest and overeducated Streltzi, less than one person in a hundred can read, even in the cities and large towns. In the countryside, probably less than one in a thousand.” He paused, allowing the translator to catch up, before adding: “This is not Germany. It’s not even Poland.”
Bernie listened with a certain amount of irritation. Not only because having a translator was a pain in the rear, but because Korisov was a generally irritating guy. He was very good at his job and more. The man was a master gunsmith who had taught himself to read and calculate ballistics. Through skill and hard work he had moved from the Streltzi to the service nobility. Not an easy thing to do in Russia, Bernie had already learned. Still, Korisov’s contempt for the average Russian was irritating to Bernie, and he wasn’t even Russian.
Meanwhile, Natasha spoke up. “Why isn’t it possible, Andrei Korisov?”
“Because they’re too complicated. No, it’s not simply that. It’s a combination of things. I could build a rifle like the American’s by hand. It would take me about a month and it wouldn’t be as good as his Remington model 7400, but it would work and it would fire a 30.06 round, if we had some to put in it. Then I could build another, and it would take me about a month again. And ten years from now, after Poland had invaded and taken Moscow, I would have made about one hundred and twenty rifles.”
Natasha just looked at him and Andrei blushed, then continued. “I’m sorry, Princess. But it’s hard to explain. To make rifles like Bernie’s, in any number, we need so many tools that we don’t have that I can’t even imagine them all. Most Russians are still spending all their time growing food.”
At this point, Bernie took up the argument. “It’s the ‘tools to build the tools’ problem, Natasha. We had the same problem in Germany, although apparently not as severely. Up-time we could do incredibly complex things, precisely the same way, time after time, very quickly by using a variety of machines, each of which did one simple thing. But to get there, you have to build a lot of machines. I think Russia can get there, and that’s what your brother hired me to do, help you get there. But it’s not going to be fast. And from what I’ve been hearing about the political situation, it’s not going to be in time to help you at all with Poland.”
“Well, can’t you build the machines you need to build the rifles quickly?” Natasha asked.
“We don’t even know what most of those machines are, much less how to build them,” Andrei Korisov said dejectedly.
Natasha nodded and switched to English. “Very well. Bernie, I want you to get together with Andrei, and try to figure out something that we can make. Something that will only take a few machines.” They had their marching orders, and if Bernie didn’t like them much, it was pretty clear that they didn’t thrill Andrei either.
Natasha looked around the table, then switched back to Russian. “Now, what’s next, gentlemen?”
“I have made a battery,” Lazar Smirnov said. “However, coils will take longer and I’m just beginning to study the theory of radio. It will be a while, Princess.”
After this, the people at the table began to discuss other projects. The Fresno Scrapers were ready to test, but the ground was still frozen, so that project had to wait. They also had a plow, but again, they would have to wait for the spring thaw.
Filip said, “I understand the steam engines. The principles behind them make sense. I’m not sure of their practicality because of the amount of work involved in producing even one.”
Filip was the translator, so Bernie interrupted him. “They’re worth it. Believe me, engines are worth it. I’m not a big fan of steam, but limiting yourself to muscle power is the wrong way to go.”
“It’s not that I doubt you, Bernie,” Filip said, “but we’re back to the tools to build the tools problem. We don’t know how much power we’ll get and they are going to be built by hand like Andrei’s handmade Remington that he is even now building for the czar. Granted, we don’t have to make bullets to go in it, but we do have to make boilers and, well, we’re a long way from anything useful.” He turned to Princess Natasha. “We’ll keep working on it, but don’t expect much progress soon, Princess.”
“The aspirin is not a problem,” said the apothecary, Anatoly Fedorov. “But the antibiotics are well beyond us. Certainly we’ll try for penicillin, but don’t expect much. We don’t even know what mold it comes from, much less how to process it to get the effect we want.”
Nikita Ivanovich Slavenitsky, who was there by grace of being one of Natasha’s most trusted armsmen, spoke up with a smile in his voice, clearly trying to lighten the mood. “Bernie has been teaching us about up-time football, which is played with a ball that is not round, and strategy games. So at least we’ll have an amusing winter, Princess.”
The princess gave him a quelling look, but Nick wasn’t noticeably quelled and Natasha turned back to the table. “What about aircraft?” she Natalia asked, but Bernie was shaking his head before she’d even finished the question.
“Not without some pretty powerful engines,” he said. “And I don’t know anything about aerodynamics. Nor is there anything in the books we brought with us.”
The meeting went on for a couple of hours, a disheartening mix of “not yet” and “it can’t be done,” with only a sprinkle of things they could do.
Disheartening, yes. But not that disheartening. It was early days yet and they all knew it.