1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 03
The lodgings were fantastically well appointed but horribly cramped. The four of them shared a single bedroom with its own “half bath,” an indoor toilet and sink with “faucets” that provided hot and cold water. They had access — from two to four in the afternoon — to the main bath, where they could take hot showers.
“Confusingly, Prince Vladimir,” Boris said as he sat on the bed. He shook his head. “It’s early yet to tell, but I don’t think they are lying about it. Understanding the information is a problem. The English language . . . it has changed. Very much. The woman at their public library freely gave me books to look at. Books that will need to be looked at again. I’ve made notes.” Boris waved a sheaf of papers in the air. “Pages and pages of notes, but very few of them make sense.”
Vladimir started going through the notes. “This is clear.” Vladimir pointed at a line. “Czar Mikhail will . . . have only a few more years. The patriarch . . . much less.”
“Perhaps not.” Boris’ face showed very little. “I asked about that. These up-timers . . . they do not understand what has happened. But their arrival changed many things. The librarian said that those changes will — already have — changed history. In ways not imagined. When I saw that place in the book, I, too, was shocked. The woman was very kind. She asked what was wrong, and then saw the page I looked at. She said that there were things we could do. ‘Send the aspirin,’ which they have here. It might help or it might not.”
Vladimir nodded. “We shall, with the first courier.”
Boris waved the notes aside. “That is not what I wished to discuss. We can use the public library with no trouble but the real wealth of knowledge is in the national library. From what the woman said, using the national library will entail some cost . . .” He shrugged. “. . . or unacceptable delay. I am not that concerned about the fees to hire a researcher.
“I am concerned about two things,” Boris continued. “First that the researcher might edit the reports and second that he might sell reports on what we were looking into to agents from other lands. I think we need someone to take the library science course and, at the very least, watch any researcher we hire. For some questions we will want to do the research ourselves.”
“That sounds like a job for me,” Vladimir said. “I speak the language and am less experienced in some of the other work we will need to do here.” In other words, I’m not a very good spy.
Boris was nodding. “That was my thought.” He smiled. “That will leave the rest of us time to learn how the rest of Europe is responding to this place. Also if you would write the letter to Patriarch Filaret, I would be grateful. That is an area where I suspect you have more skill than the rest of us combined.”
Most esteemed Patriarch,
This is not what you expected to read in my report. Nor is it what I expected to write. Tilly’s officer was neither insane nor a liar. No one knows the why of it but the Lord God has seen fit to do something remarkable here. I am sitting in a room that has a window covered with a large, flat piece of glass. It lets in the sunlight and the scene outside with no noticeable distortion. In the next room you can turn a knob and have hot water. These things could be the work of skilled artisans of our own time. However, they are not all we have seen. There are works of man that could not have been done by the men of our time.
The Ring of Fire itself could not have been made by men of any age. I do not believe that it could have been made by any power short of the infinite power of God. What they call the Ring of Fire is a circle, as near as anyone can tell a perfect circle, six miles across. Within that circle the land has been replaced with land of a different nature, made of different sorts of stone. The hills are as different as though in a single step you traveled a hundred miles. In the months since the event there has been some weathering. In spite of that, it is easy to see the perfection of the cut. The evidence we have found is too consistent to be false. They are from the future.
As I write this, I know that you will realize that I am only reporting what I have determined from this up-time history. The news is not good. War with Poland, right now, is destined to fail. Russia does not have the resources needed. As Colonel Leslie has said many times, the army lacks the proper training and discipline.
I must urge that the attempts to modernize the army take precedence. Also, that any attempt against Poland be delayed until that is complete. See the report attached.
Additionally, and this is most important, you are at risk, as is your son, our Most Holy Czar. The death of either of you would leave Russia exposed to more troubles. I include in this package a vial of medicine that may assist you both, in the hope that it may help. The histories speak of your death in the year 1633, but they do not specify the cause. I have spoken to the up-time physicians, who tell me that this medicine is often prescribed to those at risk of heart failures. It has the added benefit of relieving aches and pains.
Also, see the pamphlets translated with the aid of up-timers. They tell much about the avoidance and treatment of disease. I urge you most sincerely to give them full credence. The doctors from up-time are already considered miracle workers by the local Germans . . .
Vladimir had struggled with that letter. How did you tell a man that the goal of his lifetime was a disaster and that he was scheduled to die soon? Perhaps, though, Patriarch Filaret would be comforted by the rest of the information he was sending.
“When do we go home?” Trotsky asked.
It was a tender subject. Trotsky was a bureau man from the lower nobility. In essence, he was the expedition’s secretary and ranked fourth or fifth in the group — but only second to Boris as a secret agent. So if Vladimir and Boris left for home, Trotsky would wind up in charge. He would run the network completely enough, but with little or no imagination.
“That has become a rather more difficult question,” Vladimir said. The mission was to come to the Ring of Fire, find out that it was nothing, then go home. “The Ring of Fire does exist after all, and is a repository of great knowledge.”
“Trotsky does have a point, Prince Vladimir,” Boris said. “We’re here only to confirm the existence of the place, not to immigrate to it.”
“I know. But there is so much here that we need in Russia You know as well as I do that as soon as Patriarch Filaret hears what we have found, he will want a permanent presence here.”
“Probably,” Boris agreed. “Assuming he believes us.”
That’s a touchy point, Vladimir thought. It wasn’t that the patriarch or the czar lacked faith in their powers of observation. But a town from the future wasn’t the easiest thing to believe. “We’ll take proof or send it.”
“Send it?” Trotsky asked.
Trotsky was a bit of a stickler for authority. A tendency that hadn’t been diminished at all by Vladimir’s pointing out that he shared a name with a famous revolutionary of the future.
“Yes, send it. I realize that some of us are going to have to go home but . . .” Vladimir paused, trying to figure out how to put it.
“The histories we have seen have shown Mother Russia lagging behind the west in wealth and prestige,” Boris finished for him. “I suspect that the prince is concerned that we will fall even further behind in this timeline.”
“Well, at the least I see the Ring of Fire as an opportunity to let Russia avoid the errors of that other history,” Vladimir said. “An opportunity that might be lost if we just go home. There will be factions at court that won’t want to look ahead and will oppose anything that might upset the social order.”
“If some of us are to stay here,” Boris said, “we will have to send as conclusive a proof as we can manage.”