1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 10
“I think we can use him,” General Kabanov said. He was in charge of guns and weapons for the Streltzi, the musketeers who served Russian cities as guardsmen as well as providing much of the army’s infantry. “He does seem to know a great deal about guns and their use.”
Bernie had just finished disassembling and reassembling his up-time rifle and then loading it and emptying it into a set of targets. Boris nodded in response to the general’s assessment. He saw no need to point out that Bernie’s familiarity with the rifle was not particularly unusual among up-timers. Grantville was a town of hunters.
“Why can’t we make these repeating rifles?” General Kabanov asked Bernie. But he didn’t speak English, much less up-timer English, so questions were funneled through Boris. Which was probably for the best, as it allowed him to edit at need.
“Primers,” Bernie said. “You can’t make the primers. We went over all this in Grantville.”
“In the brass cartridges,” Boris translated, “are compounds of a chemical that is difficult and expensive to make in quantity –“
So it went. It was the third interview that day and there were three more to go and still more tomorrow.
“Why did you have to bring us an idiot?” Filip Pavlovich Tupikov was pacing back and forth, scratching furiously at a rather weak beard. “They know how to fly. They can make materials we never dreamed of. And you bring us this? Not a doctor, not a . . . what is the word? Engineer. Not an engineer. Instead you bring us this . . . this . . . barely a craftsman. Why, Boris Ivanovich?”
Boris Ivanovich looked at Filip Pavlovich. The man was a brilliant artisan and a skilled natural philosopher, but had no understanding of how the world worked. Besides, Boris had been getting some version of this from about half the interviewers for the last two weeks. “Ah, how foolish of me.” Boris snorted. “I should, no doubt, have asked their president, Mike Stearns, to give up all he had in Grantville and come be a servant in Russia. Or perhaps the master of machining, Ollie Reardon, would have given up his factory with its machines and the electric to run them. Better yet, I could have tried to persuade Melissa Mailey, a qualified teacher in their high school. Of course, she has been heard to say — more than once, I should point out — that they should start by executing nine out of ten of the nobility of Europe. She then suggests that they go up from there. I’m sure she would have been happy to serve the czar.”
Filip Pavlovich flinched a bit. Boris felt he’d gotten his point across. “I brought Bernie Zeppi because he was who I could get. He has graduated their high school. He is a qualified auto mechanic with tools. I should know. I had to arrange for their transport. He speaks, reads and writes their up-timer English. English which is not so similar to the English we know as Polish is to Russian. You can get by with practice but the words have changed their meaning and pronunciation as often as not. Believe me, Filip Pavlovich, there are people I could have recruited that you would have liked much less.”
Bernie sighed. “When is this sh . . . ah . . . stuff going to be done with? Let me get to work, will you?” Bernie wasn’t all that anxious to get to work, just to get out of Moscow and away from the interviews.
“Soon, Bernie, soon,” Boris said. “We have the audience today. Princess Natalia will be down soon and we will leave.”
“The makeup again?” Bernie chuckled.
Boris glared at Bernie, remembering the silly business about Boris and Natasha. “I trust you will be able to control your sense of humor.”
“Wish she’d hurry up.” Bernie’s complaint brought Boris back to the present. Then Natasha arrived, walked to Boris and said in a deep sultry voice — not her own — but which Bernie claimed was a fairly good imitation of the cartoon Natasha: “Welcome, my little Borisky. This time we will capture that naughty moose, yes?”
Bernie grinned and Boris turned red.
Bernie tried to suppress his grin as Boris and Natasha coached him very carefully for his meeting with Mr. Big. Mr. Big, otherwise known as the Czar of All the Russias. Armed with Vladimir’s gifts, as well as his own, Bernie followed their instructions carefully.
Boris whispered names and positions while they stood in the line of people waiting to be presented. “Patriarch Filaret, the czar’s father, there to the left of Czar Mikhail. On the right, Fedor Ivanovich Sheremetev, the czar’s cousin; he is in charge of the bureau of records. It is an especially powerful post, because he can cause so much trouble for the other bureaus.” The list of names went on and on. Bernie quit paying that much attention, except for the fact that they all seemed to be related to the czar. Natasha had left them, and gone off to see the czar’s wife. When they got a bit closer, Bernie started looking around a bit. Fortunately, he had good eyesight. The room was huge, at least eighty-feet long and broad in proportion.
Mr. Big — no, that really didn’t seem to fit — was a pretty ordinary guy when you got a look at him. The czar looked to be in his mid-thirties. He also looked like he didn’t want to be here. Sort of bored and sad. He seemed like the kind of guy who got stuffed in his locker in gym class. The patriarch guy, his father, was really old, but looked to be a tough old bird. And all these . . . boyars, they were called. There was some serious money tied up in their clothes. At the same time there was something a bit tawdry about the whole thing. The cleaning staff hadn’t done that good a job on the great hall and most of the fancy outfits needed cleaning but not as much as the people wearing them.
“Dmitri Mamstriukovich Cherakasky.” Boris nodded toward another man. “Not a man to cross, that one.” Well, Bernie wasn’t going to cross anyone if he could help it. This place was to the period movies Bernie had seen as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was to Roy Rogers.
Finally, they got up to the front of the line. Boris did all the talking, which was just as well. Bernie hadn’t had much luck figuring out the lingo yet. Boris gave the agreed upon signal and Bernie bowed. “Your Majesty.”
Mikhail Romanov smiled kindly back at Bernie’s attempt to bow. “Welcome to Moscow.”
Bernie bowed again and Boris made a gesture, so Bernie presented his gifts. Czar Mikhail looked at the watch curiously.
“It is an up-time ‘watch.'” Boris spoke softly. “If you will press that button there, it will light up.”
The czar, clearly with some trepidation, pressed the button and managed to say “Very interesting.”
They finished the interview, so Bernie and company were ready to leave the next day.