1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 25

Dear Bernie,

Thanks for recommending me to the Princess Natasha. What’s she look like, by the way?

I just wanted to let you know that I sent her a Victoria’s Secret plus some other stuff. So the consequences to Russian culture are on you. Anything else you want me to send them? I don’t think the library has a copy of the Communist Manifesto, but I’ll see if I can find Mao’s Little Red Book if you like.

Bernie’s reading stuttered to a stop as a sudden vision of Natasha in a black teddy swam before his eyes. With some effort, he brought himself back to the letter.

Also, your whole family is fine but still a bit pissed about your crawling into a bottle and running off to Russia after your mom died. Bernie, I know it was hard on you and your family does too, but, well, the world’s not a nice place sometimes. Deal with it.

Bernie snorted It was good advice he knew, but he figured that Brandy Bates ought to be taking it, not just giving it.

I don’t know if you were sober enough to notice but Grantville was turning into a boom town even before you left and you’re not the only guy that got hired away. Folks are getting rich right and left. I don’t know how, but they are. I’m still working at Club 250 which sucks, but what can you do. 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. There’s talk of people moving factories to Halle because the Saale’s closer to navigable that far down river. Others are talking about going all the way to the Elbe. But people are nervous about getting too far from Grantville.

Anyway, things are happening here even if it does seem it’s all skipping past me and Mom. Write me, and tell me what else I can do to save Russia from male shovanism.

Good Luck.


“Thank God.” It was a relief to read something that wasn’t an encyclopedia, Bernie thought, utterly failing to notice that Brandy had misspelled chauvinism. “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 Gregorii make a drawing as well.” Gregorii 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?” Petr 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 Petr asked his question before the sewer system could distract them again.

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

Petr 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?” Petr couldn’t help his look of shock. “The place where you would place the fulcrum?”

The outlander shrugged. “Pretty much.”

Petr 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.” Petr 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 overbalance 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,” an obviously frustrated Bernie insisted.

Petr froze. He could see it in his mind’s 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, Petr 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, Petr 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 buffoons? We can fly!”

“What in blazes are you talking about?” Filip Pavlovich was not one to accept being called an idiot by 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.”

Bernie almost laughed at the man’s odd combination of enthusiasm and exasperation. “Think you can explain a gravity-feed system to these guys, Petr?” he asked, half-jokingly.

Da,” followed by about three sentences in Russian said too fast for Bernie to understand. Which led in turn to several voices from around the room saying, “Oh, we understood that part! We thought he was talking about something else.” Bernie just shook his head and left the geeks to their talk. Somehow, he couldn’t stop grinning. These guys got such a charge out of this stuff. Now maybe they could get the plumbing to work.


That night, instead of studying, Bernie wrote a letter to Brandy Bates.

Hello, Brandy

If you really want to change Russia send me instructions for fixing the plumbing. Creating the plumbing, rather. They have a disease here that they call slow fever. It lasts a month or more with the fever getting worse and the people getting weaker. I watched a little boy and a lot of other people die of it this spring. We’ve sent its pathology to Prince Vladimir in hopes that he can find out what it is and how it’s cured from the up-timer docs. But diarrhea is one of its main symptoms and I figure it’s getting into the water supply and spreading that way.

I got to tell you, Brandy, these folks don’t wash much. Steam baths, sure. Washing your hands before you prepare food? Not so much. Washing dishes is pretty slapdash, too. I already had that fight with the kitchen staff here at the Dacha and won it, with the support of Princess Natasha. Working after school at the Burger Barn has paid off.

Anyway, if we want to stop the slow fever and probably a lot of other deaths, we need hot running water, hand soap, and toilets. I tried putting a septic system in here at the Dacha and it isn’t working. I haven’t been able to figure out what’s wrong but . . .

Bernie spent the next three pages describing in great boring detail what he had had installed and the symptoms of its failure.

Brandy, I’d write this on my knees if I thought it would help. Please find someone there in town who can tell us how to make this work. You’ll be saving lives if you do.

Bernie Zeppi.