1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 18


Bernie wasn’t sure whether to be elated or scared to death. He had just repeated, almost word for word, the two lectures he had received the first day he worked with the scraper after he joined the road crew. The combination of his wrenched arms and the fear in the supervisor’s eyes had impressed the lecture on him. Petr Stefanovich was a big mother, and proud of it. Bernie should have figured that he would push it, but he hadn’t. Worse, Bernie hadn’t even considered that Filip Pavlovich, the Russian nerd, would stick his head in the way of the handles. Somehow, it hadn’t occurred to him that someone could get killed using the stuff he helped the Russians build.

“Look, guys. This stuff can be dangerous. I guess most of the stuff we brought back in the Ring of Fire can be dangerous, even the medicine.” Filip was looking at him funny and Bernie sort of ran out of steam, not really knowing how to say what he wanted to say. He really didn’t want to be responsible for getting someone killed.

“I understand, Bernie. You came to help us, not to get people killed. It’s all right. People get killed using shovels to smooth a road or dig a canal, too. Believe me, this will help.”


As soon as the test was finished, Filip informed Natasha and sent a message to the Grantville desk in Moscow. So much he was supposed to do. He also sent one to his cousin who worked in the bureau of roads. That, he did on his own.

The Grantville desk had been pretty much in limbo since Boris had left for Grantville. It was known that Boris would be taking over the Grantville desk when he got back, so not much of anything was being done till they had a boss to blame it on. Put more kindly, they didn’t know what to do. Especially, they didn’t have a clue what to do with information coming out of the Dacha. It wasn’t, after all, coming from Grantville, not directly. So, like several other items, it got tossed on Boris’ unused desk to await his return.

Natasha, on the other hand, knew what to do. She sent letters to several potential customers about the new device that could be seen at the Dacha. Among others, the letters went out to the main bureau of roads and several of the local bureaus of roads, the ones for various cities and districts. In part because of Filip’s letter to his cousin, Natasha’s letters were accepted with less reservation than they might otherwise have been.

Still, things have to go through channels. It was some weeks before they could arrange for a viewing of the scraper and the drag board. In the meantime, both devices had been put to use. The primary purpose of that use was to familiarize the crews with the equipment. But the still small dacha team also wanted to show off.


Yuri Mikhailovich was in charge of assigning crews to specific roads in the area around Moscow. Yuri pulled up, staring at a ridge in the road — path rather — he was riding on. About a hundred yards from the dacha, the road suddenly rose about six inches and became quite smooth. Much smoother than Yuri would have expected of a good road crew. There were bare sections on either side, where an inch or two of top soil had been scrapped away, clearly where the new surface of the road had come from. Slowly, Yuri approached the road. When he reached the road he climbed down and examined the new road. Evaluating.

Yuri climbed back onto his pony and proceeded to the Dacha. Looking for the scraper but not finding it.


One of the kitchen boys came and fetched Natasha. She met Filip Pavlovich, with Bernie in tow, on the way to the door. Filip identified his cousin Yuri while he was getting back on his horse.

“Come, come.” Filip Pavlovich waved at his cousin. Rather pompously, Natasha thought. Then led the way around back, where the scraper was in use.

Natasha and Bernie let Filip do the explaining. In Bernie’s case, it was because his Russian still wasn’t good enough. Natasha wanted to see how Filip would present the equipment.

The drag board was just a board with spikes sticking out the bottom. It was used to cut the ground and loosen the soil. In combination with the scraper, two men and four small Russian ponies could do a phenomenal amount of work — more than twenty men with shovels could accomplish.

As they turned the corner and could see behind the main house, Filip’s cousin Yuri stopped and stared.

“You see?” Filip Pavlovich waved at the project. “You see what can be accomplished?”

The trench was about seventeen feet, just under three scrapers, wide. It was a hundred feet long and about three feet deep, not including the mounds on either side of it. It had ramps on either end which allowed the horses to get in and out of the trench, which the team pulling the scraper was doing now.

“It will take planning for proper use.” Filip Pavlovich waved at it again. “With that planning, a team can cut a six foot wide trench at a rate of approximately one mile in four hours in this sort of soil. The trench will be approximately two inches deep. The second pass is actually slightly faster than the first because the ground is smoother. Three teams could do the same but with the trench seventeen feet wide. Or a six-foot-wide trench, six inches deep, could be cut. As the depth of the cut deepens, it gets harder to do, of course. You need a ramp about every hundred feet.”

Yuri nodded, still watching the scraper as it dumped a load along the side of the trench. It had climbed the ramp then gone around to the side of the trench to dump the load. He finally pulled his eyes away from the scraper and looked at Filip Pavlovich. “I am impressed with the scraper, Filip Pavlovich. Considering your comments about planning, why didn’t you take your own advice and plan the placement of this trench to serve some purpose? You could have made a fish pond if nothing else.” There was a grin in Yuri’s voice that indicated he was getting back at Filip for his pompous presentation. If so, Natasha couldn’t really blame him.

Natasha had found herself twitting Filip on more than one occasion. Filip was what might be thought of as an intellectual snob. On the other hand she knew that Yuri was of higher rank in the bureaus and, according to Filip, had a tendency to lecture.

Filip Pavlovich sighed, and Natasha tried not to laugh as he explained, “It’s for the tile field, part of the plumbing system. See the notch half way down the trench? That will be dug deeper for the septic tank.”

“What’s a plumbing system?” Yuri Asked.

Filip explained.

“As I said, why didn’t you do something useful?”

“We are making something useful,” Natasha spoke up. “I have it on good authority that much of the disease we suffer from in spring is caused by the thawing of frozen human waste.”

Yuri froze. He’d forgotten that he and his cousin had an observer from a high house, Natasha thought sardonically.