1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 24

Chapter 21

Bernie was going nuts. After all his talk about the joys of decadent civilization, he had failed to provide the decadent civilization. It had taken a while get the parts to the new bathroom made. Now they were made and installed, but there were a multitude of problems. And the brain cases wanted to know why. Heck, the brain cases wanted to know why everything. Bernie had tried to explain and 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, just as Aristotle said two thousand years ago. So to make this ‘seriousness feed’ the book speaks of, you would have to make the water serious. How do you do that?” Bernie was pretty sure that Filip Pavlovich was having a bit of fun at his expense, but there was a core of truth in the complaint. He’d run into the philosophers’ faith in Aristotle before. It was akin to their faith in God.

“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 wasn’t completely sure about it, but from the timing and some of the symptoms he’d seen in Moscow, the “slow fever,” whatever its proper name was, seemed likely to be transmitted by bad water. If that was true, then indoor plumbing, septic systems, and getting human waste away from things like drinking water or washing water, might mean the difference between hundreds of people dying of “slow fever” every spring and maybe none dying.

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 downhill 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 downhill, 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 downhill, 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. Now, because of the Ring of Fire, he wouldn’t be born at all in this universe. Here it would be Grantville that the change spun on, and the change would come much faster. Worse, Russia, 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 sprang from a difference in world view. Half the time he thought the people at the Dacha 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 and not nearly enough working toilets. At the moment there weren’t any working toilets.

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 absentminded. She also put a plate of ham and cheese sandwiches in front of him. He’d had a little trouble explaining 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. Well, not totally weird. Moscow in summer was as hot as Mexico, or at least he thought it was. Bernie didn’t have a thermometer. Bernie knew good and well that they could make a thermometer here but he needed an up-time thermometer to get temperature to make the marks on the thermometer made here. Not that he really needed a thermometer right now. What he needed was a plumber and the nearest one of those was in Grantville.

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 Boris had not lied about was the availability of willing women. Unfortunately, though, the woman who was increasingly working her way into his fantasies was unavailable. Bernie couldn’t quite imagine Natasha rubbing his temples for him. Well, he could imagine it, all too easily, but it wasn’t going to happen.

“What is now, Bernie?” Fayina’s 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.”

“Princess Natalia 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, 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 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: