1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 28
Brandy Bates woke up the morning after her mom had read her the riot act about getting her G.E.D. rather less sure of herself than she had been the night before. Yes, it would be a lot of work and what would it actually get her? It wasn’t like she was going to go to the library and find a way that the down-timers could make microwave ovens or washing machines. She was sitting at the kitchen table half-trying to work up her nerve to go see Mrs. Whitney about getting her G.E.D. and half-trying to come up with an excuse for her mom as to why she hadn’t. Brandy’s procrastinating was interrupted by the doorbell.
“Yes, can I help you?” Brandy asked the rather dangerous-looking bearded man at her door. He was carrying several packages.
“Have . . .” He paused looking for the next word. Then apparently gave it up as a bad job. “Stuff. Have stuff for Brandy Bates.” The accent was almost unintelligible and it wasn’t German. Something eastern-European.
“What sort of stuff and from who?”
He pointed at the packages. “From Berna Zeppa, from Kazrina Natalia, from Czarina.”
Oddly enough it was the word “Czarina” that clarified things. The stuff was from Bernie and Natasha. And apparently something from the czarina.
She let in the man, who muttered his name. Gregorii something, she thought he said. He stacked the stuff on the coffee table in the living room and went on his way. Then Brandy started sorting through the stuff. The packages were from Natasha and the czarina of all the Russias. Apparently she, Brandy Bates of Grantville, was now pen pals with one of the crowned heads of Europe. Maybe if she’d graduated high school she could show them all up at the ten-year reunion. Then she stopped and thought. No, probably not. Her classmates, the ones who were caught in the Ring of Fire . . . Well, a lot of them would probably know crowned heads of Europe by the time the ten-year reunion came around. It would be “which crowned heads do you know?” and Russia would be near the bottom of the list.
Brandy laughed out loud. “Gee, Brandy. Only pen pals with the czarina of all the Russias? You can’t win for losing, can you, girl? They do keep moving the goal posts, don’t they just!”
She read Natasha’s letter first. It was full of questions and observations that girls talk to girls about. It had requests for items that she might be able to send: plastic just about anything, aspirin, marijuana, medicines in general, pictures printed or photographed. It acknowledged that acquiring that sort of thing might be difficult and professed to understand if she was too busy to worry about them. A nice way of saying “we understand if you can’t afford such things.” Which, to be honest, Brandy mostly couldn’t.
The letter directed her to a couple of the packages. One contained forty matched pearls. Another contained, according to the letter, enough treated pelts of Russian mink to make a mink coat for winter. These were not payment but a simple thank you for the magazines and makeup.
The letter also introduced the czarina and her letter. The czarina’s letter was similar but different. There was a feel of condescension about it. Perhaps because she was the czarina or perhaps because she was a married woman. But mostly, it seemed to Brandy that the czarina was a bit nervous and a bit stilted. Both letters were written in seventeenth-century English with all its irregularities in spelling and differences in word usage. The czarina’s was probably written by a scribe, which might well be part of the slightly more distant feel that the czarina’s letter had. The czarina was a bit more upfront about payment and made it clear that she was interested in those things that were of interest to women and tended to make men uncomfortable. Her package also had pearls, as well as Chinese silk fabric.
Finally, around noon, Brandy got around to Bernie’s letter and almost wrote nasty letters to both Natasha and the czarina. There had been a plague outbreak in Moscow and all they wrote about were doodads and trinkets! She actually wrote the letter to Natasha and started the one to the czarina. It was in that one that she stopped and thought. She wrote, “What if it had been your kids?” And that was what had stopped Brandy from irrevocably putting her foot in her mouth. The czarina and her children had been in Moscow when the outbreak had happened this spring. She went back to Bernie’s letter, yes. It happened every year. Every year the czarina, the czar, and the czar’s children lived in the path of the disease, whatever it was. They didn’t write her about it because it was a part of life that you lived with, not something you could do anything about.
But Bernie wanted to do something about it. Football jerk Bernie, quiet drunk Bernie after the Ring of Fire. “Off to Moscow for the vodka and the hot and cold running servant girls” Bernie. What had happened to Bernie? Had something made the friendly but perpetually spoiled boy grow up? His letter sure read like it had.
Maybe it was time for Brandy to grow up, too. There were indeed people who were worse off than she was. In a way, the czarina of all the Russias was worse off than Brandy Bates. At least if Brandy got sick she could go to a doctor who wouldn’t bleed her to balance the humors.
She would send Natasha and the czarina everything she could. She’d get the czarina’s little girls plastic baby dolls if she had to sell the pearls and the mink to pay for them. She would send Natasha naughty underwear and strappy high-heels to help make her feel pretty. She would do those things, but first she was going to find out about the plumbing. And if she could, she was going to find out about the disease, too.
As it turned out, requests for help had already gone out to the doctors from Bernie and Natasha by way of Vladimir. The disease, the doctors were almost sure, was typhoid, spread by human waste in the water supply and curable with antibiotics. Of which there were not nearly enough to go around. The techniques to produce the one they could produce down-time had been sent to the Dacha but it would be a while before the Russians could develop the tools to follow the recipe. How long a while was anyone’s guess.
Washing hands before preparing food, using antibacterial soap and only using water that had been boiled to wash foods were all essential to stopping the disease, or at least decreasing its spread. All this information had already been sent to the Dacha, though it might not have gotten there yet. Yes plumbing was essential, too. If the waste didn’t get into the water supply and the cooks washed their hands, the disease couldn’t get to the victims. Absent antibiotics, the treatment was to fight the fever, replace electrolytes lost through diarrhea, and otherwise fight the symptoms while the patient fought the disease. That treatment would decrease the percentage of deaths, but it would still be the very young and the very old who were hit hardest.
Vic Dobbs was helpful; he went over Bernie’s letter and made recommendations focusing on the vent stacks. Which Bernie had apparently not known about. With the help of her mom, Brandy put together the second care package, selling the pearls, mink and silk as needed to gather the goods. Which included some children’s vitamins, dolls for the royal daughters and a cap pistol for the heir to the throne, along with various odds and ends to make ladies feel pretty and information on the rights of man and the rights of woman, too.
Brandy’s mom took the care package to Prince Vladimir for further shipping because by then Brandy was hard at work on her G.E.D. while working as a researcher in the New US National Library.