1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 30

Chapter 26

“Why not an airplane, Pete?” Bernie asked.

“We’re not sure of the math, Bernie,” Petr Nickovich said, and then grinned when Father Kiril held up his cross as though fending off an evil. Father Kiril, Bernie had long since learned, was quite good at history, language and medicine. But math, especially algebra, gave him the heebie-jeebies.

“Don’t worry, Padre, airplanes work. I’ve even flown in one,” Bernie insisted.

“I don’t doubt you,” Petr Nickovich said, “but according to Newton’s second law the wings should be much larger than this Bernoulli seems to think and . . .”

“You trust Newton like he was holy writ,” Bernie finished for him. “Bernoulli, not so much. I get it.”

“And if we are calculating all this properly,” Fedor continued, ignoring Bernie’s interjection, “we can probably build a half-dirigible easier than we can build an airplane. The problem is with the engines. A dirigible gets its lift from its lightness, not its motors, so it needs a lot less motor to move a given weight.”

The discussion went on and Father Kiril was forced to bring out his cross several more times. Also the D book of two encyclopedias from Grantville were brought forth. Drawings were made and calculations calculated.

Anya brought sandwiches and Magda apple cider, only slightly hard. Gregorii Mikhailovich drew pictures. Bernie did calculations on a solar-powered calculator from Grantville, while Fedor checked him by doing the same calculations in his head and writing them down. By evening they had a plan. There would be a series of tests with hot air, then hydrogen. Each of increasing size.


Boris stared. A flying ship. Not a little airplane that they talked about in Grantville, but something the nerds — Boris liked that word — at the Dacha were calling a half-dirigible. There were drawings, still rough sketches, and rough estimates of carrying capacity, all of which seemed to agree that bigger was better, to the extent that they could build bigger. Everyone in the section would have seen it by now. The rumors would be flying faster than the half-dirigible could travel. And he had to come up with a recommendation. How was he supposed to know if it would work? Meanwhile, he had dozens of requests for things he knew they could make. And suddenly hundreds of requests for transfers to his section. “Pavel, get in here.”

Pavel came quickly enough. Boris smiled. Pavel looked nervous, as well he should. “You will be missing dinner at home again.” Boris handed him the report. “Go out to the Dacha and find out about this.”

“But, Papa,” Pavel started to complain.

Boris cut him off. “I know all about the party at the Samelov house. They want you to get their little Ivan a job in the section, but he doesn’t speak English and the only thing I’ve heard he’s good at is getting drunk. Make your apologies, but get out to the Dacha.”

Boris put the rest of the reports in his Grantville-style briefcase and headed for home, wondering how Princess Natasha’s meeting with Czarina Evdokia was going.


“So, now that you’ve had a chance to get to know him, what is this Bernie like?” Czarina Evdokia took a sip of strong Russian tea.

“Different from when he arrived,” Natasha said. “When he first arrived he was very sad and he didn’t, I think, care very much for anything or anyone. He was useful enough, helpful and willing, and the things he knows are so many and varied that he has no idea how much he does know. Yet it’s not as though he knows more than we do. He doesn’t.”

Natasha paused because this was something that she wasn’t sure she really grasped. “A carpenter knows wood and he knows his village. A blacksmith again knows iron and his village. I know my family’s lands, but the individual villages . . . not so well as the blacksmith or the carpenter each knows his own village. And I know more of the rest of the world than the carpenter or the blacksmith. Bernie might as well be from a village of magi in a nation of magi in a world of scholars. He knows auto mechanics as a carpenter knows wood, but he also knows his much wider, wealthier village. In his village there are aircraft and fruits delivered from around the world. There are cartoons, computers, television and a thousand other things we have never heard of. None of which he really understands, but all if which he knows enough about to make understanding possible with effort.

“Last winter, when he first arrived, he was willing enough to give the knowledge but the effort was to be all ours. He simply didn’t care if we succeeded or not. Still, even then he was worth the money my family pays him, because between him and the books my brother sends, we could work out what was meant most of the time. But then came spring in Moscow and the slow fever.”

“Yes, I know,” the czarina said. “It’s still the talk of Moscow. You should be aware that there are factions in the church that want to burn Bernard Zeppi as a witch. Mostly in response to those who want to saint him. Saints are much more convenient when they are safely dead.”

“The words ‘saint’ and ‘Bernie’ don’t really belong in the same sentence,” Natasha said. smiling. “But something happened in Moscow that changed him, or changed his attitude anyway. For a little while after Moscow, he was fierce in his focus on study. But that’s not the sort of pace that can be maintained. Now he’s mostly gone back to being Bernie, but there is a core of fire there that wasn’t there before. He’s pushing everyone in the Dacha to learn something. Servants, craftsmen, scholars, even our guards, and it’s catching.

“Honestly, it started before Moscow just from having all the scholars and craftsmen together but with Bernie’s fire it’s changed. There is an awareness that what we are doing is important. It helps that a cook from the dacha who has learned techniques from the future has better opportunity. But that’s not all of it, not even most of it. We are saving and improving lives and the people at the Dacha know it. There is a feeling around the place that this is the most important thing any of us have ever done or ever will. You can smell it in the wood chips and lacquer, see it in the new things being built and modeled, hear it in the conversations. You breathe it in with the air and all you want to do is get on with it.” Natasha ground to a halt, embarrassed by her outburst.

The czarina kindly changed the subject. “I find the possibilities of the future amazing,” she said. “Do you believe they sent someone to walk on the moon?”

Natasha considered. “Yes. I do believe it.”


“Partly because Vladimir confirms it in his letters, but mostly because Bernie talks about it the way we would speak of Ivan the Terrible or the Mongol rule. Not a fantastic tale, just something that happened in the past.”

“Can you imagine? And women went, too. Russian women.”

“Valentina Tereshkova. Vladimir wrote about her and Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin. Bernie didn’t remember her name but didn’t dispute that the first man and the first woman in space were Russian.” Natasha paused and looked at the czarina. There was a look in Evdokia’s eyes. A dreamy, hungry look. To Natasha the fact that the first man and woman in space were Russian was an interesting piece of information and made her feel good about being Russian. For the czarina, it seemed more somehow.

“I have always dreamed of flying,” Evdokia’s voice had a soft faraway tone. “Since I was a little girl. Floating up to the clouds and looking down to see the whole world spread before me.” She visibly pulled herself back from dreams of flight, but a bit of the smile lingered. “Child’s dreams, but it warms me somehow that it was done, and by Russians first.”

“Who knows?” Natasha offered. “What those people from the future could do, we can learn to do. Petr Nickovich says we can fly. He thinks he understands gravity and has built model hot air balloons that work. You may fly yet.”

Evdokia laughed a bit sadly. “Even if we learn to fly, it will not be allowed. It is a pleasant thought, though. Now tell me of the progress of the Dacha.”

Natasha grinned as she began her report. “As I said, Petr Nickovich thinks he understands gravity. Fedor is not convinced . . .” Not of the feel of the Dacha this time, of the particulars. She would give a very unofficial report on the doings at the Dacha. Then there were the letters from Grantville. Natasha almost always had a new one to share and now the czarina had her own.