1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 35
Natasha alighted from the sleigh at her family’s dacha outside of Moscow, along with her aunt, Sofia Petrovna. Both were wearing full regalia. And they were attending this function almost against their will. Over a year ago the Dacha had been converted into a research and development shop. For a while there had been very little notice taken of what was going on at the Gorchakov Dacha, but for months now there had been increasing pressure to provide demonstrations of what rumor said the Gorchakov family was keeping secret. Natasha had resisted for several reasons. But resistance had proved futile. Well, not entirely futile. She had gained time and, though the Dacha leaked like a sieve, there was a difference between hearing about something and seeing it. Meanwhile, through some mystical combination of personalities and mutual support, the Dacha produced magic. Magic which had allowed the family to gain support and favors from several of the most important bureaus and great families.
The Dacha was still not profitable in terms of money and it would be some time before it would even start to pay back the money invested in it, at least to the family. But politically it was a gold mine. Natasha, with Aunt Sofia’s guidance, had been selectively generous. Rewarding friends for friendship and strengthening the more liberal factions at court.
Aunt Sofia served as her chaperone, necessary in Muscovy’s culture. While her brother, Vladimir Petrovich, was away in Grantville, someone had to assume responsibility for the lands. That responsibility fell on her. Young for it she might be, but she and Vladimir were the last of their branch of the family. It was a wealthy branch. Thankfully, she and Vladimir had been raised by a free-thinking father who had been rather enamored of the west. She had been educated alongside Vladimir. Fashionable or not, someone had to take care of things.
Aunt Sofia turned to Natasha. “Well, girl, what do you suppose Bernie has done this time? I thought the stinks and noises from his bathroom were quite enough. And the hundred ways he has discovered not to make a light bulb was rather less than impressive.”
Natasha looked at her diminutive aunt and raised an eyebrow.
“Fine, he and the electric nerds have made working light bulbs now and their light is much better for reading than candlelight. But it took them long enough, considering the information Vladimir sent.”
“It’s not Bernie we need to worry about. It’s the nerds,” Natasha corrected.
What she was worried about wasn’t Bernie. It was Russian culture. In the Dacha they had developed their own little world of cooperation. But in the bureaus, among the service nobility and great families, there was a culture of back-stabbing and credit-stealing that had been all that Natasha had known until the Dacha. As unnoticed as the sea to a fish till the Dacha, and now she was very afraid that with the presence of the guests the nerds would revert to bureaucrats.
But it was unavoidable. After spending too long informing their superiors and themselves that the Dacha was an unimportant flash in the pan, that the items that were pouring out of it were all there were or were ever going to be, and besides, they were all really coming from Grantville anyway — the bureaus, the monasteries and the great families had suddenly noticed that the Dacha was changing the political equation. Now the members of the Boyar Duma and the high and the mighty in general wanted to see what was going on and how much things were going to change. There was also a faction that was anxious to shut the place down and set the clock back.
The czar and czarina, Patriarch Filaret, several members of the Boyar Duma and some of their wives, and three of the highest-ranking prelates representing three of the most powerful monasteries in Russia, arrived over the next few hours and had to be provided quarters in the Dacha for their stay. The normal inhabitants of those rooms had been moved into outbuildings, and some of them even into a large, heavy, double-walled tent. Natasha greeted each guest as they arrived.
Natasha listened to the lecture on soil chemistry with half an ear. It wasn’t that it was unimportant. In the long run, it might turn out to be drastically important. But Natasha had already read the reports on fertilizer and had other things on her mind.
It had taken a while for the other great families and the bureaus to realize what the deal her brother had struck meant, but eventually they had gotten it. By now there was considerable pressure to provide them with up-timers or, better yet, to shift Bernie to their service. The roads bureau wanted Bernie to spend all his time on road-making equipment. The farming bureau wanted him making farming machinery. He was also wanted to make medicines, concrete, steel, plastics, and who knew what else.
There had been time for some of the effects to be felt since Bernie had arrived in Russia. Some road crews had the equipment he introduced and had been building and repairing roads much faster. A new quick-loading rifle was in limited production. Bernie insisted on calling it the AK3. And Natasha, after some explanation, liked the joke a lot better than she liked Andrei Korisov. Andrei Korisov was head of the team that had developed the new rifle, after all, and the up-time AK47 had been simple and massively produced, just like the AK3 was supposed to be.
Both the Swedish and Polish sections of the embassy bureau wanted Bernie transferred to them, and the Grantville Section shut down. The Swedish Section claimed jurisdiction because Bernie had become a subject, sort of, of the king of Sweden since he had left Grantville. The Polish Section claimed jurisdiction because Bernie was teaching what he knew about firearms. In fact, both claims were to get Bernie into the control of the great families most connected with those bureaus.
The knives were out, all over Moscow. Some of them were political and some made of steel. The political ones were by far the more dangerous.
“By introducing nitrates into the soil . . .”
For a moment Natasha was distracted from her thoughts. Nitrates and the nitric acid that could be produced from them played an important role in the production of smokeless gun powder and that process was looking to produce nitroglycerin and then TNT in the next couple of years. No, the lecturer was talking about using clover and beans to enrich the soil on the Gorchakov family estates last summer. It had only been test plots but the tests had been quite successful.
Vladimir had made his deal with the patriarch and the family had gained the Bernie franchise. It had been an expensive investment, both in goods shipped to Germany and in wealth spent here. The return on investment was small so far. But the favors flowed like rivers. And favors were the currency of political power in Russia. If the mining bureau wanted a road to a new mine, it would not have to come just to the roads bureau, not now. Now it would have to come to the Grantville Section and the Gorchakov clan. Boris Petrov had collected more favors since being made head of the Grantville Section than in all the rest of his career. And Boris’ gains in influence hadn’t even really compared to the Gorchakov clan’s gains.
And that was dangerous. While they had been a minor, mostly unconnected, family with few important ties, they could be safely ignored and mostly were. But over the last year and a half, they had become noticeable. The unavoidable consequence of success in Russia. The Sheremetev clan was showing particular interest in wresting any potential profits from the Gorchakov clan though they seemed happy enough for the expense to remain with the Gorchakov’s.
With Bernie placed in their Dacha, it was unavoidable that the Gorchakov family backed and influenced the Grantville Section. So far, no one had had enough influence to change that. Which also meant that the Gorchakov family was passing out favors. Natasha was picking up more and more owed favors from the high nobility. The Gorchakov family weren’t being stingy in a monetary sense, but there was a degree of political selectivity in their choices.
But this was Moscow. Alliances could change at a moment’s notice. Now the patriarch was nervous, Natasha knew. There were rumors that the Gorchakov clan would try for the throne, which was insane but power carries its own implications.