1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 27

1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 27

Chapter 23


August, 1632

“Well, the problem is that we can’t foreclose on it.” Dori Ann Grooms hesitated and Vladimir saw the blush rise. “I’m sorry. That really wasn’t the best way to put it, Herr Gorchakov. What I mean was that your collateral is simply too far away for the Bank of Grantville to accept it as surety for a loan. It’s not like it was in the old . . . ah, new . . . back up-time. And even then there would have been issues with using property in a different country.”

Vladimir nodded. He’d thought that might be the answer, but it had been worth a try. He needed more money, cash on hand. Most of his family’s wealth was tied up in land. Much of the rest was tied up in the Dacha research center. “Do you have any suggestions, then?”

Dori Ann shook her head. “Edgar said you might have better luck with the Abrabanel Bank. Seems like they’ve got agents everywhere.”


The young man ushered Vladimir into Uriel Abrabanel’s office in the Bank of Badenburg, closed the door and left. Uriel was behind the desk, while Don Francisco Nasi sat in a corner and grinned.

“Ah . . .” Vladimir was clearly unprepared to discover that Don Francisco would be sitting in on his conference with the president and primary owner of the first down-time bank to become a member of the New US Federal Reserve System.

Don Francisco waved reassurance. “I’m not here to interfere in your business with Cousin Uriel, Prince Vladimir.” He smiled at the look on Vladimir’s face.

“You do understand that I will not . . .”

“Betray your people? Please. Do I look like John George of Saxony?” Francisco waved away the whole idea. “All that is going on here is that when I learned of your appointment with Uriel, I decided to take the opportunity for a semi-private meeting. But I am more than willing to wait my turn. Please go on with your banking.”

Then for a while Francisco mostly watched as Vladimir and Uriel discussed banking matters. He did put in a comment here and there. “Vladimir’s Dacha has already produced half a dozen products that are being licensed to various groups in Russia. Are you sure, cousin, that speculative venture is the right description?” That got Francisco a dirty look from his elder cousin. And a curious one from Vladimir.

Then, some time later, Francisco said, “Paper rubles with the printing in the hands of the Boyar Duma? No disrespect intended, Vladimir, but the czar’s cabinet isn’t exactly known for its restraint.”

“A lot of that was simply not being aware of the consequences. Printing gobs of money would not benefit the great houses,” Vladimir said.

“If they realize that and if they care,” Uriel said. “Printing gobs of money, as you put it, may not be good for the economy but in the short run it can be very good for the printers. Even if they show restraint, determining the amount of money needed to run the economy without causing hyper-inflation is no easy task. Not even with computers. I can’t avoid the conclusion that accepting payment in the czar’s paper would be a speculative investment. I really have to insist on New US dollars.”


So it went for about two hours. Francisco mostly watched the exchange, and kept Uriel from skinning the Russian prince too badly. Vladimir wasn’t as good at this as he apparently thought he was. But, finally, agreement was reached and Vladimir was provided with a letter of credit.

At which point, by prior arrangement, Uriel excused himself and it was Francisco’s turn.

“The reason I invited myself to your meeting was that I wanted to talk to you about where you think the alliance between Sweden and Russia is headed. Also what role you see the New US playing in those relations.”

At first Vladimir demurred, pointing out that mostly his mission had to do with information that was mostly free for the asking, from the National Library and the Research Center.

Nasi grinned. “That is true enough, but incomplete. Yes, your shop is getting most of its information from legal sources, but you are also involved in what the up-timers call ‘industrial espionage.’ For instance, the sewing machine that went to Moscow with Bernie Zeppi was accompanied by rather copious notes on how it was made and what machines would be needed to make more. And your tour of the power plant was unusually focused on their new steam engines.”

Vladimir smiled. “The twins were more than happy to explain how it was done. It isn’t like I broke into their factory in the middle of the night and stole the designs. And as for the tour of the power plant, that was all perfectly legal. ”

“And Fedor Ivanovich Trotsky? Is he also staying within the bounds of law?” Nasi laughed at Vladimir’s expression.

“Never mind. Trotsky is competent but unimaginative. We aren’t that worried about him. However, I’m not here to threaten or browbeat you. I have an offer to make. I can provide you with information that Trotsky would find difficult to gather and all I want in return is the same consideration. Please consider my offer. There are things I won’t tell you, but I won’t lie to you unless absolutely necessary. All I ask from you is the same courtesy.”

“I think I understand,” Vladimir said, “However, I’m just a part-time spy. Little more than an apprentice. You’ll have to be more explicit.”

“Because of its situation, Grantville has a large group of spies working here. When you combine that with the ease of transferring information provided by the phones and computers, you get a situation ripe for counterespionage. The fact is that spies tend to know a lot about what their employers have in mind, both because you tell something every time you ask a question and because if a spy lacked curiosity he’d probably have gone into another line of work. Put it all together and you have a whole other reason to come to Grantville to spy. Information is our stock in trade. We trade it amongst ourselves. So a spy for Monsieur Gaston and one of Cardinal Richelieu’s intendants, while not fond of each other, might trade information about the actions of Spain and Sweden. And each benefits by being able to inform their employer both bits of information.”

Vladimir nodded sagely and Don Francisco grinned at him.

“All of which puts you in a most enviable position,” Don Francisco said.

“Ah, how?” was all Vladimir could come up with.

“Because with only a few exceptions, nobody cares what Russia knows about anything,” Don Francisco said bluntly. “Poland, certainly. England, if it has to do with trade. Sweden, if it’s to do with the grain Russia sells to the king of Sweden every year at very low prices. Other than that? No. If you should learn Spain’s military dispositions for the next two years the king of Spain would lose not a wink of sleep over it. Cardinal Richelieu’s upset would be strictly a matter of principle and what the cardinal doesn’t know won’t hurt him. Ferdinand II, under other circumstances perhaps. But between the Lion of the North and the Turk to the south?” Nasi shook his head. “Russia barely makes a blip on the radar.”

None of which was very complimentary but all of which Vladimir had to acknowledge was true. He nodded reluctantly. “And this situation is enviable how?”

“Because as a spy who must report back to the embassy bureau you have every reason to be asking the sorts of questions that will make you look good to Moscow and there is very little reason for people to be unwilling to answer them. I, on the other hand, am all too well known as an associate of Mike Stearns.” Nasi gave a histrionic sigh. “No one wants to talk to me.”

Vladimir barked a laugh. “So you want me to gather information and give it to you instead of my government.”

“Oh, not at all. In addition to, not instead of,” Nasi said. Which was precisely what Vladimir thought he was going to say.

“And for providing you with a carbon copy of the information, you will provide me what?”

“Why, carbon copies of the information I gather about places like Poland and England. And occasionally I’ll be able to direct you to people who won’t talk to me, but will talk to you.”

“I see a problem,” Vladimir said. “No one is going to be all that surprised that you happened to be visiting your cousin while I came seeing about a loan . . . once. But if we keep meeting like this, what will it do to my reputation as a titled nonentity? People might stop talking to me. That would be a disaster for me and inconvenient for you.”

“That’s what makes Grantville such a nice place with its phones and computers.”

“Even I know the phone system has been penetrated,” Vladimir said. “If you start calling me a lot or I start calling you a lot, someone will notice.”

“That’s where the computers come into play. You know that the local nodes of the internet came through. There is in Grantville a local area network that covers the town and several outlying areas. You can post encrypted information to various sites and no one will the wiser about who is posting what. There’s also an encryption program that is called Pretty Good Privacy that came though the Ring of Fire. Apparently it was free for anyone up-time. I understand you bought a computer?”

“Yes.” That was one reason that Vladimir had needed the loan. He knew that they were only going to get more expensive for the foreseeable future.

Nasi passed him one of the compact disks. It was unlabeled in its jewel case. “On that disk is a copy of the program Pretty Good Privacy including the source code and one of my public keys.”

“What’s a public key?”

“The thing that makes this such a good system is that it has two keys. One key encodes and the other decodes. What you encode with the public key can only be read with the private key. What is encoded by the private key can only be read with the matching public key. I would suggest that after you’ve had the program checked you make yourself some keys and post a key to one of the message boards listed on the CD. Encode it using the public key I included on the CD and only I will be able to read it, so you know that any message using that key is from me.”

They talked about processes and procedures, which mostly came down to neither seeking each other out nor avoiding each other. They would use the local area internet in Grantville to transfer data. For the foreseeable future if anyone wanted to transfer information without anyone else knowing they were doing it, Grantville was the place to be. In effect, each became a part of the other’s spy network. For Nasi it was one more tiny link in an increasingly extensive network. For Vladimir, even with the filtering that he was sure Francisco Nasi would do, it represented a doubling of his capabilities or more. It was not a bargain he could afford to pass up.


When Vladimir got home he found mail had arrived from Moscow and the Dacha. There were several letters, requests for specific information for him, packages of goods for trade, mostly furs and pearls. There were also a set of letters and packages, to be delivered to Brandy Bates, some from his sister and some from Bernie. Vladimir thought for a moment about delivering them himself. He was a bit curious about what they might contain. But the truth was he simply didn’t have time. He was snowed under trying to find answers to the questions sent to him. He sent his man Gregori.


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24 Responses to 1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 27

  1. js says:

    Hmm… I wonder what kinds of computers are in circulation… I bet old Commodore PETs and Vic-20s have been dusted off and sold as computers. Certainly Amigas, Atari STs, and original PCs would still be useful, given that you can run Lotus-1-2-3 on them and dBase II

  2. david carlson says:

    he sent his man Gregori

  3. Blackmoore says:

    he sent his man Gregori Gregori is the object.
    still sounds weird when read vs. spoken.

  4. dave O says:

    I don’t want to deny the existence of computers. I don’t even want to deny the possibility of a LAN. But wouldn’t it be a lot simpler for Vladimir to communicate with Don Francisco by mail?

    Then there’s the question of V’s willingness to work with Don F. Anti-semitism in Russia was probably a lot less prevalent in the 1630’s than the 19th and 20th century in Russia. But the Orthodox church had pretty strong anti-semitic leanings. It’s surprising to me that any Russian would be quite so cosmopolitan as Vladimir. He looks like he is more or less unaffected by Russian culture.

  5. John says:

    In regards to computers available to Grantville, the Ring of Fire occurred in 1999 so I would imagine that town would have had a number of Windows and Mac based computers. Most of them running Win95 and some running Win98. In addition to the “older” computers mentioned that could be brought out of storage and used for simple work processing. I think this is the first time I have seen mentioned that a local area internet of computers exists after the Ring of Fire.

  6. Matt says:

    @ dave O
    Spies are usually chosen for their ability to blend in and adapt. It makes sense that a spy would not be overburdened with prejudices that may make it impossible for him to do his job. Since we have already had the Roths move to Poland and the events there, Russia would be well aware of the need to send someone who wouldn’t put religious fervor above their intended purpose in blending in and making contacts. Russia very likely knew the Abrabanel’s were in tight with Grantsville before even deciding to send someone there. They would not send a religious zealot.

  7. dave O says:

    #6 Matt: Roth didn’t move to Poland. He’s in Bohemia.

  8. DG says:

    I think the service nobility was a lot more pragmatic about working with Jews than the peasants. Jews served as factors or intermediaries to a good number of Russian nobles during this period. That led to an increase in animosity on the part of the peasants because Jews would often be employed as tax collectors, then stigmatized or blamed by the nobility in order to deflect peasant hostility.

    On the whole, I suspect many upper class Russians were, by the standards of the time, not anti-semetic. The serfs almost certainly were, as their entire worldview was formed by the viciously anti-semetic Russian Orthodox Church.

  9. DG says:

    BTW, the reason why Jews were often employed as factors or tax collectors in 1600s Russia was touched on in an earlier snippet – the ethnic Russians were almost entirely illiterate. Jews were literate, almost universally.

  10. Robert H. Woodman says:

    I wonder if the people of Bohemia have been exposed to the “Bohemian style” that was popular a few decades back? :-)

  11. akira.taylor says:

    @4 dave O – Remember that the public mail system(s) of the time wasn’t secure, just about anyone could read your mail. That was why anything important was sent by reliable private courier. Private couriers would attract similar attention to meetings.

  12. Kurt Winn says:

    @ Matt

    The Roths moved to Bohemia, not Poland.

  13. dave O says:

    #11 Akira: Where’s the evidence that the mail system wasn’t secure? Yes, governments could probably read private mail. But only governments. And they would have to have a reason to do it. In the canon, Don Francisco receives information from one of his agents by mail. So why not Vladimir? Remember that both are in the USE, V in Grantville, DF probably in Magdeburg.

    #8 DG: So far as I know, there are practically no Jews in Russia at this period. The situation you describe is valid for the Ukraine, which was Polish at that time.

  14. Willem Meijer says:

    @5 What would be the total stock of burnable CD’s in Grantville? Are we not better of with floppies as a means of distribution, they can be re-used. Do we not run the risc of forgetting the tech-base of 1999?

  15. Mark L says:

    I lived in a town much like Grantville from 1994-2002. You could get blank CD-ROMs there in 1999-2000. There was at least several BBSs and WANs run by individuals. The local school district had a WAN. After dial-up internet became available (in 1995), the percentage of households that had internet accounts was soon greater than you would see in an urban area.

    Hi-tech redneck wasn’t just a song. It was a way of life, at least in rural East Texas. One reason why is simply the isolation of a small town. If you needed size 13-14 shoes, or something other than a book you could pick up at Wal-Mart, or any of a number of non-standard items, you got on the Internet. And rural/small town does not equal either backward or stupid. Successful farms and ranches are hi-tech things nowadays to survive.

  16. Blackmoore says:

    Can you implement a TCP/IP on an 8 bit computer? sure.. would you do that to securely/ covertly send messages? maybe.. (the source code would be available with any copy of linux in town at that time)

    Damn wonder why the USE hasn’t implemented this over the telegraph lines from the USE government, but then if it has to go “the last mile” (or 50) by radio you would be better off with a computer programmed to interpret morse code.

  17. dave o says:

    Just to make my point clear. We know that Don Francisco gets some of his information by mail. Anything he gets from Vladimir goes no further than from Grantville to Magdeburg, and is carried by USE mail service. In order for anyone to get access to DF’s mail. they would have to bribe or turn postal officials. As an experienced spy-master, DF must know this and have taken precautions. Furthermore he is in a position to see that his precautions are effective. Introducing a LAN and an encryption program into the story is UNNECESSARY AND IMPLAUSIBLE.

  18. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Dave O, yes Don Francisco gets info via the mail.

    However, what they are trying to “protect” is the fact that Vladimir and him are sharing info.

    If they are exchanging infomation via the mail, people are going to notice that there’s lots of mail between the two of them.

    Thus anybody who’s watching Don Francisco would believe that Vladimir is one of Don Francisco’s agents/informants.

  19. dave o says:

    #18 Suppose each of them leaves off a return address. DF gets lots of mail anyway. As V becomes more involved, he does too. I don’t buy it

  20. Bjorn H says:

    Note the date slug – August 1632. Don Francisco is not based in Magdeburg at this point.

  21. Stan Leghorn says:

    suspension of disbelief rattle, here. I cannot see anyone from West Virginia selling something like a computer to a RUSSIAN. The attempted Coup against Yeltsin is only a few years back, and the COLD war never really ended in some parts of the US. Setting up mutual friends for contacts would make a LOT more sense.

  22. hank says:

    Re @21, “Capitalists will sell the Proletariat the rope to hang them with.” or something like that. :)

  23. Mark L says:

    @21: I can see people from West Virginia circa 2000 selling computers to Russians. Again, this is because of my experiences in a small East Texas town in the late 1990s. One of the local churches sent a mission to Russia, expecting it to be an athiest wasteland, ripe for conversion. No one told them about the Russian Orthodox Church (or the fact that most of the worker’s homes at Chernyoble had icon corners at the time of the meltdown at the heart of Soviet atheism), or the church’s revival since the fall of the Soviet Union. But one thing that did happen was that some of the ones that went to Russia started sending their old PCs to contacts in Russia. A 386 was welcome there while most in my town had moved on to Pentiums. So, since you had Texans sending computers to their old adversaries, I don’t see that West Virginians would have been much different.

  24. Cypherpunk says:

    I wonder if he had the foresight to include a back door in the software? I notice that he did not provide a compiler, so Vladimir is stuck with the provided binary. (Heck, embedding a back door in the source code isn’t exactly difficult, given the calibre of the opposition.)

    Honestly, within Grantville, the simplest way to send reports back and forth without making it obvious they’re communicating is by dropping envelopes with false return addresses in the plain old postal mail.

    I’m sure Francesco sends and receives a great deal of mail, and I also expect that he makes some effort to be a participant in any spying on the post that takes place within the bounds of Grantville.

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