1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 04

1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 04


Chapter 3


          Vladimir had been told that the Thuringen Gardens was a good place to relax and have a beer and he was feeling in need of both. The very large beer hall was crowded and noisy. Vladimir found himself a seat against one wall and waved to a waitress, then looked around again while he waited for his beer. At the next table was what appeared to be an up-timer somewhat in his cups. You couldn’t always tell. Many of the down-timers had adopted up-timer dress. But the fellow was muttering into his beer in English with the up-timer accent. Vladimir’s beer arrived, he paid and drank. It was good beer, substantial.


          “I wish all this hadn’t happened,” the up-timer muttered.


          “You wish what hadn’t happened?” Vladimir asked.


          The up-timer looked at Vladimir a bit blearily, raised his mug and indicated the world around him with a sweeping motion of his hand. Unfortunately, about half the beer spilled. “Damn. Something else to wish hadn’t happened.”


          Vladimir chuckled. “You should be more careful. The beer is good, and should not be wasted. It’s a bit, ah, high-priced to throw around the room.”


          “No shit, Sherlock.” The up-timer snorted. “Oops. Sorry. I forget sometimes that I’m not back in the world. I guess I shouldn’t say things like that anymore. Somebody might take it the wrong way.”


          No and shit were words Vladimir knew, though he could think of nothing offensive about “No shit.” The term “sherlock” was unknown to him. Perhaps it was the offensive party.


          Vladimir stood up. “Might I join you at your table?” He walked the two feet that separated them. “I would like to know what ‘no shit, sherlock’ means. You Americans, you have such odd expressions. Another one I don’t understand is ‘a screw loose.’ How that is different from ‘being loose’ or ‘screwing around’?” Vladimir had spent some hours reading a novel yesterday, trying to gain a better understanding of the changes in English.


          “Sure, join me.” The up-timer used a foot to move a chair out from under the table. “Have a seat. I’m Bernie Zeppi”


          “I am Kniaz Vladimir Gorchakov of Muscovy,” Vladimir said, taking the vacant seat. Vladimir waved at the waitress and mimed his desire for a pitcher of beer. The waitress nodded.


          “Is Kniaz your first name?” Bernie Zeppi asked, which told Vladimir that even in his cups the man was observant.


          “No. Kniaz is a title. It can be translated into English as anything from a prince to a duke or perhaps a count, if the Englishman is being particularly rude.” Vladimir shrugged. “I am a relatively low-ranked kniaz. So, what did you mean by ‘all this’?”


          “I mean all of it.” Bernie waved at the room, this time with the hand that didn’t contain a mug of beer. “The Ring of Fire, it killed my mom, gave me PTSD. I did my part. I was at the Crapper and Jena. But there’s too many mechanics for the private cars we have running. And I don’t want to sit in a factory, babying an old engine that’s been pulled to power it. No way I’m going to tie myself down into the Mechanical Support Division working for the government. So now I’m stuck on the work gangs, trying to get by.”


          “You are not in your army?” Vladimir asked. “I thought most of the young men were in the army.”


          “I told you I was at the Crapper and Jena. I’m in the reserves. I go if they call, but not until. I didn’t end up covered in glory like Jeff Higgins. Imagine a nerd like Jeff Higgins ending up a hero.” Bernie paused and shook his head “Not me, though. Just the breaks. They haven’t been running my way since the Ring of Fire.” Another pause. “What’s Muscovy? Your turn to answer a question.”


          It was a question Vladimir had gotten before. “Russia, but most nations of western Europe don’t call it that yet.”


          “So what are you doing in Grantville?”


          “Spying.” Vladimir grinned.


          “Are you supposed to tell people that?” Bernie grinned back. “I wouldn’t think an espionage agent would just walk up to someone and say ‘Hi, I’m a spy.'”


          “Well, it saves time. Officially I’m a representative of the czar, here to determine if the stories about Grantville are true.” Vladimir grinned again without a thought. It came easily to him. “Everyone in Europe has spies in Grantville. I’m expecting spies from China to show up any day now.”


          Bernie laughed. “Yeah, China. Why not? So, what vital secret are you trying to get out of me, Mr. Spy?”


          “How many planets are in the solar system?”




          “How many planets are there?”


          “Why do you want to know that?” Bernie looked at Vladimir with puzzled face.


          Vladimir took a sip of beer. “Do you know?”


          “Well, yes. Nine, but so what? Everybody knows that.”


          “I’m afraid not. What people outside of Grantville know, if they know anything, is that there are six.”




          “Yes. Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. And they only know that if they’re educated and not too conservative. Otherwise they think that the sun, the moon, and all the planets go around the earth on crystal spheres. Now that I have done my work for today, care for another beer?” Vladimir took up the recently delivered pitcher and poured Bernie a refill. “And after that, we can do tomorrow’s work, if you like. What are the names of the other three planets?”


          “Gee, I don’t know, Vladimir.” Bernie smirked. “Well, I might know. But a beer isn’t going to buy that information. A sandwich might, though.”


          Vladimir pondered something Zeppi had mentioned earlier. He cleared his throat. “I do not mean to be rude, but is this ‘PTSD’ a disease I need to worry about? What do you call it? — an ‘infectious disease,’ I believe.”


          Bernie stared at him for a moment and then barked a little laugh. “No, you can relax. It’s not exactly a disease. More like a mental condition. The initials stand for ‘post-traumatic stress disorder.’ I got it at the battle of the Crapper.”


          Vladimir considered that information for a moment. He knew enough English to make rough sense out of the expression, but the precise meaning still escaped him.


          “You were badly injured?” he asked.


          Zeppi drained his beer and set the mug down carefully. “No. It was the other way around. I’m a very good shot and it turns out I don’t freeze in combat like a lot of guys do.” His face was completely expressionless. “I killed a lot of men that day. At least five, probably more. I get flashbacks about it, still.”


          The term “flashback” was unfamiliar, but Vladimir thought he understood the essence of the matter.


          Interesting. It seemed there were some depths to the man not apparent at first glance.




          Bernie wasn’t quite sure how it happened but by the end of the evening he had a part-time job. As a spy, no less. He did make it clear that he wouldn’t betray the folks in Grantville. That didn’t seem to be what interested the Russian spy, though.




          Vladimir grinned at Boris’ expression or lack of one. “I know that he’s not a trained agent or in a particularly valuable position, but that’s all to the good.”


          Boris looked at him, face blank.


          “Yes, I want to send him to Russia,” Vladimir said. “And not just as proof the up-timers exist. That too, but I’ve been thinking.”


          Boris’ face got even blanker, if that was possible.


          “I can probably get copies of up-time books and pamphlets but translations are another matter. You speak English as well as anyone I know, Boris. How well have you done translating the language the up-timers speak to the English of our time? We want him for his up-time knowledge, Boris, not his abilities as a spy. And he’s not as stupid as he seems at first. Just undirected. Remember, these up-timers have their own time of troubles with the Ring of Fire. Bernie’s mother died on the day of the Battle of the Crapper for lack of up-time medicines. He’s having trouble adjusting to the strange new world he has been thrust into. Also, his life so far has been one of privilege. I know dozens of sons of great houses who are like him. Nothing they really need to do, so they play with their horses and their hawks and ignore the wider world. Bernie has his cars, his computer, and video games.”


          Boris shook his head. “I don’t disapprove, Prince Vladimir. I realize that he has value. Just access to his computer is worth more than we are paying him. I take it you mean to stay here while I take Bernie back to Russia in your place.”


          “That’s an interesting way of putting it,” Vladimir said. “But I mean it more as an example of why I have to stay here for a while. We’ve talked about this a bit, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I think I have come up with a plan that will help Russia and us.”


          They talked it out, Boris’ part and the part that Vladimir expected his sister to play.


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12 Responses to 1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 04

  1. VernonNemitz says:

    It’s not mentioned in this snippet, but perhaps we can assume that if Bernie learns Russian, then he can do a better job of translating up-time stuff, than down-timers who don’t know uptime English –and who might take longer to learn it, because (A) you really need immersion in a language to learn it thoroughly, and (B) all the up-timers are already learning German, reducing the amount of immersion available.

  2. VernonNemitz says:

    OK, not all the up-timers, not yet in 1631. The Club 250 gang will hold out as long as possible. But I don’t expect them to want to talk to Russians, just as they don’t want to talk to Germans.

  3. VernonNemitz says:

    “Perhaps it was the offensive party” –shouldn’t that “party” be “part”?

  4. Richard Y. says:

    Note that Bernie said that there were “nine” planets. That was the commonly held view as of 1998 when the Ring of Fire is supposed to have happened.

  5. VernonNemitz says:

    The uptime ROF date is April 2, 2000. Astronomers had been arguing about whether Pluto should be a planet since about 1970, but most ordinary people didn’t hear about it. The International Astronomical Union formally demoted Pluto from planet status in 2006, so the uptimers in 163x certainly wouldn’t know about that. Pluto is now a “dwarf planet”, a “Kuiper Belt object” (lots of which are known, and at least one of them is actually bigger than Pluto).

    By the way, the asteroids were also unknown in the 1600s. Ceres and Vesta, the two largest asteroids, qualify as dwarf planets (they have enough gravity to force their shapes to be basically spherical). A dwarf planet must not be orbiting another planet (it would be a moon, instead). The key thing that distinguishes a dwarf planet from a true planet is the other junk in its “orbital region” around a star. A true planet will have gravitationally cleared out the junk; dwarfs don’t quite have that much gravity.

    Note that there needs to be a dividing line somewhere between moons and planets, because the Earth/Moon system in one way qualifies as a “double planet” –both actually orbit the Sun; the Sun’s gravitational control over the Moon is twice the strength of the Earth’s. I don’t know what that dividing line is (while our Moon is more than 1/4 the diameter of the Earth, it has only 1/81 the mass of the Earth; most of it is rock; it’s iron core is very small); the Moon is certainly at least traditionally on the “moon” side of the dividing line. But somewhere out there in the Universe will exist some true double-planets, that one day will need to be formally recognized as such. Note that Pluto has a moon, Charon, which is 1/3 the diameter of Pluto….

  6. B Taylor says:

    @5 VernonNemitz – I think the distinction between “planet and moon” and “double planet” is where the center of mass is – for the Earth-Moon system, it is inside earth, for the Pluto-Charon system, it is between them (for a little while, Charon was a planet, as was Ceres, but that only lasted a couple weeks or so).

  7. VernonNemitz says:

    @6, thank you. Just for the sake of completeness, I’ll mention that in the early 1600s Saturn posed a mystery. Its rings could sometimes be seen as two blobs to the left and right of the planet, which disappeared on occasion. The downtimers might really appreciate seeing some of the pictures of Saturn & rings that were taken by the Voyager space probes and published widely. Also, while Galileo discovered the 4 big moons of Jupiter, Saturn’s big moon Titan wasn’t discovered until 1655. Let’s see… the two moons of Mars weren’t discovered until the 1800s. Uranus has 5 moons about the same size as Ceres and Vesta (nothing really big), all as unknown as the planet (not recognized as such until 1781, although if you know exactly where to look and have good eyesight, Uranus is at least sometimes a naked-eye-visible object). And of course Neptune took even longer to be discovered. One of its moons is in the quite-large category, Triton.

  8. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Vernon, one of the Grantville Gazette stories (can’t remember which one) has a Grantville amateur astronomer working with a Jesuit astronomer to discover Uranus. IIRC the Jesuit worked out where to look for Uranus from the information provided by the Grantviller.

  9. Mark L says:

    It’s also worth pointing out that at one time the Solar System had 12 planets — Mercury through Neptune and the four largest asteroids. (This was in the first half of the Nineteenth Century.) Then they discovered so many other asteroids that they busted Ceres and co. down to planetoids.

  10. VernonNemitz says:

    For some really fun astronomical thinking, here: http://www.orbitsimulator.com/gravity/articles/cruithne.html There is an asteroid that interacts with the Earth so strikingly that this asteroid is sometimes called “Earth’s 2nd moon”. It’s not widely discussed like the traditional Moon, but it was discovered in 1986, so maybe one of the uptimers in 163x knows about it (there might even be something in the library about it).

  11. Stephen says:

    I’m quite sure that, if the up-timers somehow knew about all these debates about what exactly the planets were, or even if the official reclassification of Pluto had happened before the RoF, that a very large number of up-timers would have taken the same attitude that I have about it: as far as I’m concerned, Pluto is still a planet, gosh dang it!

  12. Stan Leghorn says:

    Bernie will be FAR better at translating American into English than any downtimer ever will. So many words need the educational background, both formal and by experience. An example is the “Loose Screw” comment. Without machines being so universally present, the danger of one with a loose part would not become part of the lexicon. AND this implies such parts are universally understood because they are pervasive throughout the technology. At this time NAILS are not normally used to build things because metal has not become so cheap we can leave it hanging from poles and not get it stolen. The first thing that happened in Somalia when they went independent was every necessary part of the Colonial infrastructure was stolen, down to the nails holding buildings together. Railroad tracks will need to be guarded until people accept the societal value of leaving them be. There was a dissertation on Clan trust and general trust in another book that showed this quite well: Clans think about themselves only, no matter the long term dangers. Most of the world of 1632 time thinks like clans.

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