1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 05
Bernie wasn’t drunk but he did have a little buzz going. He’d mostly had something of a buzz going since the Battle of the Crapper and in the process had pretty much alienated everyone in his family. Mostly everyone he knew except Brandy, a waitress at the Club 250. He was a functional alcoholic; he didn’t drink enough most of the time to render himself incapable of doing his job, but often he had enough of a buzz to keep him from doing it as well as he might. Most days since meeting Vladimir in the Gardens, he had dropped by and talked with Vladimir or Boris about whatever was on their minds. Or they had dropped by his place to talk and use his computer. Today they were at Bernie’s house. At least till his dad threw him out, which was looking like it might come any day now.
Boris was slowly and carefully tapping keys on the keyboard and Vladimir was sipping his beer.
“Bernie,” Vladimir said, “we have an offer to make you.”
“They’ve been pretty good offers so far, Vladimir,” Bernie said. “What have you got in mind?” Bernie was sort of hoping that Vladimir wanted to hire him full-time so he could quit the road gangs.
“How would you like to live in Russia?”
That pulled Bernie up short. Russia had had a sucky reputation in the twentieth century and it had an even suckier one in the seventeenth. Bernie sat back and gave Vladimir a serious look. “Honestly, Vladimir? I probably wouldn’t. Nothing against your homeland, but from what I understand, life there isn’t pleasant. Even less pleasant than it is here, and Germany is in the middle of a war. I’m used to hot and cold running water, flush toilets and the like.”
Boris snorted from the keyboard of the computer. “Granted, we don’t have hot and cold running water, but we have pretty servant girls in plenty to carry the water. And carrying water isn’t all they do. The quality of life in this century — and I would imagine in yours as well — is greatly dependent on your status. Here you are one up-timer among many and while up-timer carries a certain status . . .” Boris turned from the computer and looked Bernie in the eye. “Your status here is close to the bottom of that of up-timers. In Russia you would be the only up-timer and vital to a project that would be of value to all of Russia. That would naturally entail considerably higher status than you enjoy here. Status in Russia carries more privileges than it does here.”
Vladimir shrugged. “Give it some thought, Bernie. But think quickly if you will. Boris must return to Moscow to report soon, and I would like to send you with him.”
Bernie did give it some thought, enough that he almost sobered up to think about it. The truth was that there wasn’t much here for him except harsh looks from his family and manual labor. Besides, the notion of willing serving girls appealed to him, although it wasn’t the big draw that Boris seemed to assume it would be. Even screwed up the way he’d been since the Ring of Fire, Bernie never had much trouble getting laid.
The big attraction was simply that it would be a big change. Bernie wasn’t given to what he considered excessive introspection, but he’d have to be a complete dimwit not to understand that if he didn’t do something to turn his life around — and dramatically, at that — he’d just keep sliding down into a pit. If he stayed here he’d probably drink himself to death in the next few years.
Still, much as he had come to like Vladimir, it was Boris that he would be going to Russia with and he wasn’t at all sure that he trusted the short, bearded, fireplug of a man. So he consulted a lawyer and insisted on a contract of employment. Bernie knew the contract might not be enforceable once he got to Russia, but what the hell. He figured it was better than nothing.
Bernie went to the national library and looked up Russia. That led him to look up Cossacks and Poland. And it occurred to Bernie that Russia was a very dangerous place. In a way, that made it easier for him to decide to go. The risk, in its way, was as appealing as anything else. Risk was usually coupled with opportunity. In Russia, however it turned out, he might actually be able to do something important. Here, he was just pissing his life away.
It was on a cold blustery November morning in 1631 that Bernie, Boris, and some gear, loaded onto the small hovercraft that would take them down the frozen Saale River to the Elbe. The hovercraft would have to make three trips to get their gear and the rest of the party to the Elbe. And each trip would take a day.
Four days later Boris had hired a barge and a small company of guards to take them down the Elbe to Hamburg. Germany was still a war zone, after all. He had also made arrangements with an innkeeper in Barby on the Elbe to forward mail going each way to Grantville and Hamburg. Boris was setting up a secure mail route from Grantville to Moscow and back. From Barby it was two weeks to Hamburg. In Hamburg, Boris renewed his acquaintance with a merchant who had been sending broadsheets from Hamburg to Moscow for years. And informed him that if things worked out he would be shipping a lot more both ways and his recompense would likewise increase. From Hamburg to Lübeck was two and a half freezing, wet, days in wagons. And Bernie was seriously wishing he had never agreed to come.
The Baltic coaster that carried them from Lübeck to the Swedish stronghold of Nyenschantz, near what in the original timeline would have become St. Petersburg, was, if anything, less comfortable and more crowded than the wagons. They didn’t actually visit Nyenschantz. Boris was in no hurry to bring Bernie’s presence to the attention of the Swedes. Instead, they stopped at an inn in the town of Nyen, across the river from the stronghold. Boris sent a courier on ahead while he organized the sleigh trip to Moscow.