1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 02
“I would like some information.” Boris said to the woman behind the desk.
“Your name is?”
“Boris Ivanovich Petrov, of Muscovy.”
“Ah.” The woman smiled. “Russian, then. I wondered about your accent. All I could really tell was eastern European. I’m Cecelia Calafano.”
“Da, Russia. That is what we have called the motherland for some time now. It is the rest of Europe that still calls us Muscovy. That has changed in the future?”
“Yes, it has,” the woman Cecelia confirmed. “How can I help you?”
Boris smiled at her. “We’ve been sent to determine if this place is real.”
Cecelia laughed. “I’ve lived here all my life. Trust me, it’s real. What did you want to know?”
The man behind Boris was clearing his throat, as though Boris were taking too much time. Boris was much too much of a professional to turn and pound the oaf into the floor. Not too much to want to, though.
It was a moot point. Cecelia gave the oaf a look that melted him on the spot. Apparently, librarian was a post of some importance here. Boris gave her a list he had written in consultation with young Vladimir. Cecelia took a quick look. It was in English, carefully written. She sighed and Boris wondered why. Consistent spelling was some time in the future; it wasn’t something that Boris had ever known so wasn’t something he missed. It was, to Boris’ eye, a perfectly legible list.
She began to read aloud carefully. “How to make telephones. A history of the Romanov family. How to make cars. A history of Muscovy, or Russia. I think you’re probably in the wrong place.”
Boris looked at the woman. Here it came the runaround. Yes, we give such knowledge away, but not here was what he was expecting to hear.
What heard instead was, “Never mind,” followed by another sigh. The meaning of this one was clear. She had seen his response before. “Some of this you will be able to find here. Like the history of Russia or part of it. I’ll get you some books.”
Boris examined the books. Russia Under the Old Regime by someone called Pipes. He looked at the table of contents. Chapter 4: The Anatomy of the Patrimonial Regime. Boris tried to translate the words to Russian. The body parts of the fatherhood rulers? That sounded positively obscene. Boris worked it out. Anatomy meant the structure of a body . . . perhaps it was used here to represent the structure of the government. Patrimonial regime . . . might mean inherited rule or it might mean government by the church. Was Russia going to be ruled by the priesthood? Considering the relative political strengths of the patriarch and the czar, it could happen. This would be monstrously time-consuming. He looked at the other book. Perhaps it would be clearer. What was the USSR? What was the revolution of 1917? For that matter, what was St. Petersburg? At least, that’s what he thought it said. There was no St. Petersburg in his Russia.
He read through the books as well as he could for several hours, making notes. Some things were clear enough. The year of birth and death of the czar and his son and his grandson. Others weren’t. The analysis was just weird. It was all there, Boris thought, but looked at as though through a prism. The light split into the spectra and the image was lost. Was this Pipes an idiot? Upon considering the matter, Boris didn’t think so. So might a citizen of Caesar’s Rome respond to a history of Rome written by a modern scholar who had never seen the Coliseum or been present at a triumph.
The woman stopped by a time or two. Handed him what she called a magazine. “Here,” she’d said. “You might find something in this.”
It was an old, fragile thing, this magazine. And what did perestroika mean? Boris knew what “restructuring” meant, but the word seemed to be used a bit differently here.
Much befuddled, Boris gave up for now. It was getting late and he needed to get back to the room they had rented. He wasn’t going to figure it all out in a day.
It was as he was putting things away that the librarian came and sat down at the table. “Can I give you some advice?”
Boris nodded cautiously.
“If what you wanted was a nice place to come and read an occasional book, this would be the place for you and I encourage you to do that. However, this isn’t the place for what you’re after. The Grantville Public Library was never intended to be a center of research. It was designed to be a small-town library at the tail end of the twentieth century. We had inter-library loans and the Internet. Before the Ring of Fire, if we didn’t have the book someone wanted, we could get it in a few weeks through inter-library loans. What we had on the shelves were the books most likely to be wanted in a small town. A small town that didn’t need to make telephones or automobiles. We could buy them. We have books on how to fix an automobile. Those books usually tell the reader how to install a new part that they are expected to buy from an automobile parts supply store that got its parts from a manufacturer in another state. What I mean is, they tell you how to fix a car, not how to make one from scratch.”
Boris nodded politely, but he was wondering if this was perhaps how they were hiding the important information. That concern decreased as she continued.
“Shortly after the Ring of Fire, it was decided to use the library at the high school as our national library, our Library of Alexandria.” The woman gave him a questioning look and he nodded his understanding.
She continued. “In it, we have at least one copy of almost all the books that came through the Ring of Fire. In those books there is enough information to tell you how to make an automobile, at least most of it. Even there, it’s not all in one book. It’s scattered around in books designed to teach children the basics of how things work, in biographies of the people involved in the inventing of the automobile and its mass production and so on.” The woman took a deep breath. “That makes it a treasure hunt. It’s hard even for a professional to know which book to look in to find the thing you’re after. Trying to do it on your own . . .” She shrugged. “I recommend you hire a professional researcher. If you don’t have the money for that, you can put in information requests and the library researchers will get around to it as they have time. Your other option is to take the library science basic course at the high school and pay the usage fees.”
Boris considered. The little talk she had given him was well-rehearsed. “How often do you give that little speech?”
She smiled. “About twice a week.”
“About the usage fees you mentioned . . . you don’t have them here. Why not?”
“We’re funded by the national library. We have been since a few months after the Ring of Fire. There was a minor fight in the emergency committee about that, but public libraries being free for public use is a long standing tradition up-time. There was a bigger fight about having fees to use the national library.” She laughed. “By the time that fight got going there were already millions of dollars worth of products coming out of the library. People were wondering why the cash-strapped government should pay to make a bunch of people rich. A compromise was worked out. You can get anything you want out of the national library and research center free, if you’re willing to wait your turn. And it can be a long wait. You can also pay to get it faster. Quite a lot of people pay either by paying a professional licensed researcher or by taking the course and paying the usage fees.”
Boris had a lot to think about as he walked back to the room they had rented.
“So, Boris how did it go?” Vladimir asked as Boris looked for a place to sit. The difficulty had to do with the size of the room. Population growth had far outstripped new construction. Even their small room was expensive.