1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 16
Chapter 5: News from Home
Fedor Ivanovich Trotsky handed over the bundle. It was from Moscow, and the news from there had been chaotic, at best, for the past week and more.
“Is it as crazy as the rumors?” Vladimir Gorchakov asked.
“The messages to me were, Your Highness.” Fedor Ivanovich had been in Magdeburg to meet the message boat. Vladimir had sent him there as soon as the first rumors began filtering over the USE radio-telegraph system. “Boris Ivanovich Petrov had nothing but the first reports when he prepared the messages. He sent one to his son in Magdeburg, one to me, and one to you. I suspect that they all say basically the same thing.”
Vladimir doubted that. He was pretty sure that Boris had sent his sons additional information and instructions. But he didn’t correct Fedor Ivanovich. Instead, he took the packet of letters to his desk and sat down to read.
Two hours later, he was still confused. But it was now more a question of why than what. He was also cursing himself for ever having sent Cass Lowry to Moscow. He should have sent the car by itself.
He got up and called in his staff, and his wife Brandy. Especially Brandy. He had come to rely on her advice even before he married the up-timer girl. And now that he and all the Russians he brought to the USE were facing their own political Ring of Fire, cutting them off from all they knew and depended on, her advice would be all the more important.
Iosif Borisovich Petrov brought his own letters to the meeting. He was nineteen, a squat, solidly built young man whose placid, even bovine, expression hid a solid and surprisingly creative brain. For the past year and more, he had been coordinating the information from the Dacha and was responsible for several industrial patents based on work done there.
“Father says I should stay here for now,” Iosif said placidly. “He doesn’t exactly think that this will blow over, but he does want me and Viktor out of the line of fire for now.” He placed a sheet of paper face down on the table and passed it over to Vladimir.
Vladimir took a quick look and nodded. The sheet said what Iosif just said, but it also instructed him to change to the third code set and to arrange a new pad to be sent to Moscow. Vladimir put the sheet back on the table, still face down, and passed it back.
“I never should have . . .” That was as far as Vladimir got before Brandy interrupted.
“Don’t be silly. It wasn’t Cass. It was Sheremetev, and you had no say in putting him in Russia. All that bastard Lowry did was bring things to a head, and get shot for it.” Brandy paused a moment then continued. “I’ll need to tell his dad, and we’ll need to write to his brother. There are a couple of the guys who were on the football team with him that we’ll need to talk to. I don’t want this to turn into a feud, and it’s going to get out that he got himself shot while trying to attack your sister.”
“I will be willing to pay reparations within reason,” Vladimir said, “but we will not take the blame for what happened. Not me, you, or Russia. From what we know so far, his killing was a fully justified act.”
“That is, I think, a minor issue compared to the financial situation this puts us in and the political ramifications,” Iosif Borisovich said. “Father would prefer it if we were to keep our relations with Moscow as cordial as we can manage.”
“In other words we should let Sheremetev screw us with our pants on,” Brandy Bates said. Sometimes, in moments of stress, her habits from Club 250 and similar places came out. It was rather less upsetting to the down-timers, who had little difficulty with profanity but were deeply uncomfortable with taking the Lord’s name in vain.
“Well, we should at least let him think we will,” offered Iosif, placatingly.
“Frankly, at this point I’m more concerned about Ron Stone than I am about Sheremetev. Ron had every expectation that we would be getting supplies from Russia eventually. Now it looks like that’s not going to happen. And totally aside from the fact that Sheremetev is in Russia and can’t hurt us nearly as much as the Lothlorien Farbenwerk could if they wanted to, Ron has dealt fairly with us and we have an obligation to deal fairly with him.”
“You’re going to have to go have a talk with him,” Brandy said, “and see what we can work out.”
Vladimir picked up the phone and had the call put through. Ron, it turned out, was out of the office and they ended up playing phone tag for a good part of the rest of that day, and arranged a meeting for the next day.
By then, another source had it that Czar Mikhail had reached Ufa and set up a court in exile. The second message had made better time, traveling a good part of the way by dirigible.
Iosif left, and Vladimir started reading the personal letter from Natasha. All the packets of letters had arrived on the same ship from Nyen. The rumors had come from the sailors of that ship talking before the letters could make their way upriver. They had received Boris’ version of events at the same time they received Natasha’s and Czar Mikhail’s. Suddenly, Vladimir stopped reading. “Bernie Zeppi?”
“What about Bernie?” Brandy asked. She had been reading a long letter from Czarina Evdokia.
“Natasha wants to marry him!”
“Bernie?” Brandy shook her head. “Well, from all reports, he’s changed a lot. He’s probably not the same failed football jerk I remember from before the Ring of Fire. After all, look at me.”
“Yes, perhaps. But the political consequences . . . Bernie’s a peasant, even if he is an up-timer.”
“You do remember I used to be a barmaid, right?” Brandy’s voice carried a chill.
“That’s different. You’re a woman.”
Brandy blinked. For the moment, her anger was drowned in confusion. Why on Earth would it be worse if a princess married a peasant than if a prince did? It made no sense.
That slight pause gave Prince Vladimir time to realize that his foot was lodged in his mouth with the leg poised to follow it down his throat unless he started extracting right now. “I’m just concerned about the political consequences.”
“What political consequences? Czar Mikhail is in Ufa, which is so far east that I had never heard of it. And Sheremetev is probably raising an army right now to go fetch him back, dead or alive. And you’re worrying over the political consequences of your sister marrying a peasant?”
“It could affect how some of the other great houses respond. . . . Besides, it’s Bernie Zeppi we’re talking about. I don’t think that I ever remember seeing him when he didn’t have at least a light buzz on.”
That stopped Brandy again. Because after the Ring of Fire and the battle of the Crapper, Bernie had spent most of the rest of the time before he went off to Moscow drunk.
“I remember. But he changed after he got to Moscow. You know that. Especially after he ran into the annual typhoid outbreak and saw all those people die.”
“Maybe, but he’d have to have changed a lot.”
“Well, it’s not your choice. Or it shouldn’t be. It’s up to Natasha.”
Vladimir wasn’t convinced but wisely kept his mouth shut and for now, at least, Brandy let him. “So what happens now? About Russia, I mean.”
That was a good question. Within a few months of his arrival in Grantville back in 1631, Vladimir Petrovich Gorchakov had realized that Russia had to change. But he had imagined that change as a gradual thing, a tweak here, and then an adjustment there. He hadn’t expected to see the end of serfdom in his lifetime. And at first he had assumed that the up-timer experts were right, that serfdom and a technological society couldn’t coexist. That the machines themselves and the skills needed to run them would preclude it.