1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 37
Mikhail looked at his wife for a long time, just taking in the bubbling excitement. She fairly glowed with it. Could Petr Nickovich’s assemblage of balloons really produce such a reaction? And if it produced that sort of reaction in the Russian heart, what effect would it have on the Polish heart and the Cossack heart? “Very well. I will support the project. I can make no promises, mind.”
Somehow, as pleasant as his wife’s smile was, it made Mikhail a bit nervous.
Bernie had spent most of the last three days explaining that it was really Vanya, Misha, Filip, Gregorii, Lazar and even Andrei at the Gun Shop who had actually worked out all the improvements. He had just helped a bit. It was becoming increasingly clear not everyone at the Dacha agreed with that assessment, though. Some of the folks who worked here had even said so, though that was less common.
Bernie had been in Russia long enough to know how dog-eat-dog the bureaus were, so he was surprised and impressed that any of them were willing to share credit. But some of them were. Not Andrei, of course. But some were, and not just with Bernie, but with each other. Which was even more impressive.
All of which didn’t make orbital mechanics one whit more interesting. When Gregorii Mikhailovich started explaining orbital mechanics and Newton’s laws of motion, Bernie’s brain started to fry. He just didn’t want to hear it again, not right now.
He was having a beer in the kitchen when the door opened unexpectedly. At first Bernie was afraid that one of the brain cases had come looking for him again. But, no . . . the boss.
“Howdy, Boss.” Bernie snaked out an arm and grabbed a chair. “Have a seat.”
“Thank you,” Natasha said taking the offered chair. “Petr Nickovich is going to be impossible.”
“Why?” Bernie asked.
“Because the czar — and as of this morning, a majority of the Boyar Duma — wish a dirigible or half-dirigible built. They are going to build a facility at Bor on the Volga to build the main ship and others to follow it, but we will be building a test device here. Things are going quite well.”
Bernie thought, but it’s still a pain in the butt. “Glad to hear it.” he said.
Natasha lifted an eyebrow at him and he shrugged.
“I am. It’s still a pain, but I am glad it’s going well. The politics are something I’d just as soon avoid, but I realize that it’s necessary.”
“It is necessary, Bernie, and I’m not sure how much we’re going to be able to avoid them.” She then told him a bit more about the structure of the Russian government. How the bureaus were traditionally non-political — at least how they had remained non-political in the Time of Troubles, working for whichever claimant was holding the throne at the time. How Mikhail Fedorovich Romanov had been a dark horse candidate who didn’t want the throne.
Bernie snorted. Then at Natasha’s look, he elaborated. “Isn’t that the standard line? After working for years to get the throne, the new king or dictator or whatever says ‘I didn’t want it, it was just my duty.'”
“Perhaps that is how it happens in most cases, but my family has known the czar since before he was the czar. And my father was with the delegation that went to him. Mikhail was a teenager, old enough to know that being declared czar was a short step away from being declared dead. His mother and father each had more than their share of ambition, but they passed none on to Mikhail. He was precisely what the Boyar Duma and the Assembly of the Land wanted, a figurehead to move the battle for control of Russia back out of sight. Even so, the Boyar Duma and Assembly tied his hands with a set of restrictions.”
Bernie held up his hands in surrender. “I wasn’t there,” he said, “and I don’t doubt you. It’s just that the king that doesn’t want the throne is a stock item in fairytales, but pretty darn rare in a world of elected officials, where if you don’t want the office you don’t have to run.”
“In any case, the czar is generally quite impressed and so are the patriarch and Prince Cherkasski.”
Bernie knew that Cherkasski was the czar’s cousin and was the boss of three of the bureaus that ran Russia.
“With their support,” Natasha continued, “Sheremetev won’t be able to do anything.”
“What bugs this Sheremetev about the Dacha?” Bernie asked.
“Primarily that he doesn’t own it,” Natasha said. “The Sheremetev family are famous for their corruption, but also very good at politics. They know all about bribery and blackmail, having accepted more bribes than any other great family in Russia. But we’ll be all right here, as long as Patriarch Filaret can keep a leash on Sheremetev. The brain cases will be fine.”
Mikhail and his father were already consulting with the “brain cases,” as Bernie called them. Mikhail wanted a way out of the trap the up-time history had put him in. Since the history of that other future had leaked, people with power were not happy. He and his father, as czar and patriarch, had been carefully dancing in the mine field of Russian politics, focusing on the danger of a return to the Time of Troubles to keep the various factions in check. Even so, power was shifting between the factions. The one led by Fedor Ivanovich Sheremetev, for instance. Their cousin or not, Sheremetev felt that the information from the up-timers and the actions of Peter the Great really destroyed the Romanov credentials as arch-conservatives.
“Interesting, perhaps.” Sheremetev set his glass on the table. They had been discussing the history of the United States of America and its constitution. “Interesting, but not that impressive. It was their day in the sun, that’s all. The Mongols had theirs and this United States had theirs. They were only two hundred years old. Barely a youth, as nations go.”
Mikhail looked across the table at him. There were only three men at dinner tonight. Filaret, Mikhail and Fedor Ivanovich Sheremetev. Mikhail wanted Sheremetev’s support. “I am more concerned with something else,” he said “The general agreement — and I read this over and over again — was that Russia continued to lag behind much of the rest of the world. We can change that, and I believe we should. Right now, we should start. Because right now, everyone is four hundred years behind Grantville. We have Bernie here and Vladimir in Grantville. We can modernize.”
Sheremetev nodded, but Mikhail didn’t think he was listening. Not properly at any rate. “The army, most assuredly. Right away. That I agree with. But this other? This constitution? Why? A firm hand on the reins. That is all that is needed, Mikhail. A firm hand on the reins of Rus.”
Mikhail shook his head. No, Sheremetev wasn’t listening.
Fedor Ivanovich Sheremetev left the dinner and considered the evening most of the way home. He understood what Mikhail and Filaret were contemplating. Let every peasant vote. Introduce a constitutional monarchy, then gradually give away the power, not only of the monarchy, but of the great families as well.
He would not, he could not, let that happen. They said it was to prevent the revolution that had come in three hundred years hence in that other history, which they thought would probably happen even sooner in this one if they didn’t act to forestall the causes for it. But to Sheremetev, such reasoning bordered on sheer insanity. Who could predict what might happen in three centuries? In any event, if preventing a revolution was the issue, surely a policy of more severe and consistent maintenance of order would work far more reliably than introducing chaos.
But Sheremetev suspected that the real reason for their schemes, at least for the czar himself, was that Mikhail was afraid of power. When they had offered him the crown he had cried like a babe.
Sheremetev had a lot more sympathy for Joseph Stalin than he had for Nicholas Romanov. And more for Nicholas than for Mikhail. It was God’s whimsy to sometimes put a peasant in the blood line of kings, or a let a king be born in a peasant’s hovel.
Stalin was a king born of base blood. And Mikhail was a peasant borne of some of the noblest blood in Russia. But that whimsy of God’s didn’t invalidate the concept of royalty, any more than the occasional sport in a fine bloodline of hounds or horses invalidated breeding.
Filaret would have made a better czar, except for his fanatical hatred of Poland. Couldn’t they see that the Swede was the danger now?