1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 40

1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 40

Chapter 33

May, 1633

Vladimir had just opened the packet from Moscow when Gregorii knocked on the door. He looked at Gregorii, then looked at the clock and stifled a curse. Time had gotten away from him again. Brandy Bates and her mother, Donna, had agreed to come to dinner tonight. It would be a quiet dinner, just the three of them. “All right, Gregorii, show them in.”

One of the letters in the packet caught his eye. Surely it must be important. As all of them were — to their originators, at any rate. Vladimir was beginning to dread the packets, in truth. There was yet another over-large stack of letters in this packet. Vladimir knew they would contain more requests, demands, and commands, depending on who the writer was. And probably half of the questions would have already been answered.

The turnaround time for communications was over two months. The message packets came every week or so. Often he got requests for clarification of some point, did the research and sent an answer. Then a week or two later he got another message saying “never mind, we figured it out.” They had obviously solved the problem before he ever got the request. Sometimes their solutions matched the answer he had sent and sometimes not.

Sometimes their solutions were better than the answer he had sent. That meant opportunities Vladimir could take advantage of here in Grantville. There were, as of his last report, something like a hundred of the brightest minds in Russia living in his dacha a few miles outside of Moscow. This wasn’t anywhere near the number of bright minds that were in Grantville by now, but still constituted a fairly robust R&D facility, to use an American term. Sometimes they came up with solutions that the up-timers wouldn’t because the up-timers “knew” it didn’t work that way.

Vladimir averaged sending one message packet a week back to Moscow. Usually it would include the most recently copied up-timer books and what answers he had been able to get for the lists of questions that came in every packet.

Gregorii announced Brandy and Donna moments after he broke open the impressive looking letter. As they were shown in, he read the first paragraph. “Will you look at this!” Vladimir stood and stomped around the room. “Just look at it!” The letter had the imperial seals as well as those of the Russian Orthodox Church. It was from Filaret, the patriarch of the church. Who also happened to be the father of the czar.

“Well, I could.” Brandy shrugged. “But it wouldn’t do much good since I can’t read your language. Not enough, at least. Suppose you just tell me what it says.”

Vladimir stopped his pacing and looked startled for a moment. “Ah . . . yes. I forget. You’ve learned so much about me and my country that I feel you must know the language better by now. Silly of me, I suppose. Come, ladies, come. Sit down, please. Will you have a glass of wine?”

Brandy smiled. “I do the same thing. It always surprises me when you need a word translated these days. Anyway, what does that very impressive looking letter say? It must be important, considering all the seals and ribbons. And yes, please. After this day, I could use a glass. I could use several, for that matter.”

“Tell me, Donna Ivanovna, was the government in your America as impossible to please as mine is?” Vladimir’s face was still a bit flushed with irritation. “The patriarch, of all people, sends me a request to have the entire library sent to Moscow. Impossible, totally impossible. Have they no idea of the size of such a project? Have they any idea of the expense?

“Oh, and you will love this part.” Vladimir waved the paper again. “At the same time, I am to prevent the sale of up-timer books to other nations. Especially Poland and nations ruled by the Habsburgs. And I am to prevent the books from falling into the hands of the Roman church. The group that’s reprinting the Americana has three priests and an agent of a Polish magnate in it! Let me read you this. It is impossible.”

“To Knaiz Vladimir Petrovich Gorchakov

It is most necessary that the knowledge of the up-timers be limited to those of the true faith or at the very least provided to those of us of the Orthodox Church first. This must happen before it becomes available to those influenced by Rome. You must acquire the library, especially the National Library, mentioned in your dispatches and send it to the Church as soon as possible.

You are to be congratulated on sending so many books so rapidly. As you know, I am an expert on books and the time it takes to make copies. It is clear that you are somehow acquiring originals of the books you have sent because so many could not have been copied so quickly.

The spiritual tracts and philosophical knowledge gained by the up-timers must especially be sent to the church first. This is so that they may be reviewed before they are released. We wish to avoid partial understanding and crisis of faith among the followers of the true faith.

Further, it is essential that advances in techniques, new techniques and the knowledge of science be limited to nations that share in our beliefs. Some Protestant nations, particularly Sweden, may be allowed this knowledge but it must be kept from Poland and the Habsburgs. Especially, knowledge of medicines and healing must be controlled, lest the unscrupulous Roman clergy use it to bolster faith in their misinterpretation of God’s word.

“Can you believe it?” Vladimir asked.

Mrs. Bates very nearly snorted wine up her nose.

Brandy was looking both concerned and confused. “He knows better, doesn’t he?”

Vladimir was still stalking around the room and waving his arms in the air, but Brandy’s question brought him up short. The answer was; of course, the patriarch knew that the demands were beyond impossible, well into the range of ridiculous. So what would make him write such a set of demands? It almost had to be that someone else was reading them or that they were being put on the record to demonstrate that the patriarch had instructed Vladimir thus and if Vladimir had failed to act on his instructions then it wasn’t the patriarch’s fault.”

But now wasn’t the time to go into all that. Vladimir slumped into a chair and poured his own glass of wine. “Every week I send a report. And every week I get more and more impossible requests. And I have no doubt that there are at least half a dozen more in this packet alone.” A piece of paper fell out of it.

“Well, if it isn’t going to violate national security or something, why don’t you pull them out and read them to us?” Brandy suggested. “That way you can blow off steam before you try to answer them.”

Vladimir dug into the packet of letters and grinned mischievously. “Oh, you’re going to enjoy this, Brandy. Here. You have a letter from Bernie.” He handed her the letter.

After she took it, he picked up another missive. He was glad to see it had fewer ribbons and seals.

“Oh, no.” Brandy stared at the letter like it might be a snake. “Two months ago it was ‘send me an egg beater.’ Last month it was ‘send me a generator.’ And we’ve done it, every time. What do you suppose Bernie wants now? I’m almost afraid to read it.” Brandy glared at the letter, suspicion all over her face.

Mrs. Bates stifled another snort at the look she wore. “Come on, Brandy! At least it will be in English. Read it to us.”

“Okay, Mom.” Brandy gingerly opened the letter. “I’ll read it. But hang on to your hat. There’s just no telling, there really isn’t”

“Hey, girl.”

“You know,” Brandy muttered, “he could use my name, just to freaking be polite.” She continued,

“Well, if Dad really wants the old car out of the way how about we do this? I’m sending you an authorization to take money out of my savings account. Will you give Dad some money for me? Tell him it’s a storage fee, or something. Anything to keep him from getting rid of the car. Then, if you could have Vladimir get someone to pull the engine out of it for me, I’d really appreciate it. I’m enclosing a bill of sale from me to you, just in case.

The body doesn’t really matter that much, but I want the engine and the transmission. Actually, I’d like to have all of it, but there’s probably no way to ship it, not in one piece. Ask Vladimir, will you? I’d take it all if I could get it.

I’ve asked Natasha to ask Boris (I love that . . . Boris and Natasha, the Russian spies) to authorize paying for the transport back here. If worse comes to worse, we’ll tear the whole thing apart and try to build our own version. God, I miss the car, I really do.

Thanks, Bernie

“Oh, Lord.” Mrs. Bates giggled. “Bernie wants his car. In Russia. In the year 1633. That makes a lot of sense.”

Brandy, Vladimir and Mrs. Bates laughed. “I can’t imagine what he’ll do with it.” Brandy shook her head. “What do you think, Vladimir? Should you send Bernie his car?”

Vladimir slumped farther into his chair but smiled. “I told you there would be more impossible demands, didn’t I? As to whether or not we should send the car, yes, we should. And also anything else that might help. I sent them information on the steam engines you built for your power plant months ago. They can’t build them. Natasha tried to have them built in Murom and they failed completely. But Russia needs some kind of motive force even more than Germany does.”

Brandy grinned. “The difficult we do immediately. The impossible takes a little longer. As it happens, there’s a new booklet out on making steam pumps. We can send them that. It might help. So what’s that other thing you got in that letter?”

Vladimir waved a piece of paper. “Money. Money like yours, in fact.” He passed it to Brandy, who looked at it and passed it on to her mother.

“Colorful,” Mrs. Bates said.

It was. About four by eight inches, printed in red, yellow and blue. “Who’s this?”

“Czar Mikhail.” Vladimir pointed at the images. “A cross, a proper cross, on the other end.”

Mrs. Bates flipped the paper over. “And that would be the palace, I suppose? Or a government building of some sort?”

“The Kremlin.” Vladimir took the bill back.

“And what does the writing say?” Mrs. Bates looked at him curiously.

“This bill is legal tender for all debts, by order of the czar, with the support of the Boyar Duma and the Zminski Sobor. One ruble.”

“Bernie or you, Vladimir? I mean, this isn’t the sort of thing that Bernie would come up with.” Brandy had known Bernie Zeppi for years. This wasn’t his sort of thing.

“Me, mostly. I started sending information about your banking system before Bernie left. On the other hand, I’ll wager any amount you name that members of the Zminski Sobor, that’s the Assembly of the Land, consulted with Bernie before they signed off on it.”


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15 Responses to 1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 40

  1. dave o says:

    John Law and the Southsea bubble, coming to Russia soon!

  2. Mark L says:

    @1 — We will see about the South Sea Bubble. Currency inflation was something Bernie was warning about in an earlier snippet, as I recall.

    But then again . . . The Gods of the Copybook Headings must be appeased.

  3. ET1swaw says:

    @1 dave o: John Law was the “Mississippi Bubble” and that did involve a bank with insufficient banking capitol (and hit the the French). The “South Sea Bubble” was an investment trading concern (think OPM) that started AFAIK/IMO as a public-issue version of BEIC but for South America (and hit the British). Both rapidly expanded rapidly past any secure capitalization and when they burst took their respective economies for a major hit.

    @2 Mark L: Currency inflation was vaguely warned about (Bernie has a very dim handle on economics; less even than his peripheral medical knowledge); and there was the discussion Filaret had about Russia’s lack of a true economy ATT. But they have basically given the keys to the mint’s currency printer to the nobility (with their internecine self-centered intrigue; the Zminski Zobor (the legislature); the Orthodox church hierarchy (who make the Boyar Duma look like they play nice); and the Bureaucracy (self-explanatory mistake). Even worse is that without an established economy (which the west has, but Russia DOES NOT), a recognized reserve (like Wisselbank’s or even the Swedish bank in 1632 Slush), and any real base to their basically fiat issue; IMO they are toast trying to switch to paper currency. (AFAIK over 90% of their people are still mired in a strict barter economy without even the concept of currency transactions)

    IMO the Russian Ruble is going to rapidly make John George’s paper Thaler (which if I’ve got my timeline straight hasn’t been issued yet as we are still with the NUS and the CPE) look healthy and robust. We are also about the time of ‘A Trip to Amsterdam’ and the saving of the Dutch guilder (and byproduct prevention of the Dutch Tulip Bubble), and the massive influx of investment trading companies (with the attendant fraud potential). The currency market is in major flux and Russia IMO is an infant given not just a loaded unsafetied weapon with a feather trigger, but a balnced and braced flamethrower that requires but a whisper to ignite!!!!

    And Filaret (who was the ‘biggest gun’ of a supporter that Valdimir and his sister had) has sent a CYA/Impossible-Demands letter (complete with every bell, whistle, siren, ribbon, seal, etc. he could burden it with) to Vladimir (basically IMO saying (wordlessly): “You are on your own, I can’t-and/or-won’t fully cover you anymore”). And AFAIK in the byzantine snake-pit that is current Russian politics, that letter illustrates that now a deadly ‘Sword of Damcles’ is suspended over Vladimir and his entire family/clan and the thread is thinning fairly rapidly.

    And Bernie wants his car!! Isn’t that going to be fun to ship to Moscow/the-Dacha!!!!!


  4. PeterZ says:

    @3 Rob, the ruble may not have purchasing power abroad, but will make the transfer of goods and services within Russia much more available. For those in Russia interested in foreign trade, use gold or buy foreign currency. The initial discussions about the russian currency revolved around sparking the internal economy. Once international demand builds for russian goods, demand for the ruble will also build.

    To some extent the lack of international value for the ruble will help the russian economy grow faster IF someone within Russia is producing comparable products produced abroad. Someone like the Dacha and Bernie’s Buddies.

  5. dave o says:

    #4 Peter Z: Introducing a paper currency into Russia is an invitation for someone, or lots of someones to use it to rob their neighbors. John Law seems to have been honest, but he was unable to resist the machinations of French nobility and moneymen. Their Russian equivalents are even greedier and less restrained.

    Given the current state of the Russian society: small towns,almost no middle class, lots of serfs, lots of nobles, I doubt that anything can do much to promote the production of goods and services to transfer. Not even the Dacha.

  6. PeterZ says:

    @5 Certainly. I would also direct attention to the shares of companies given to workers after soviet communism fell. They were sold for peanuts, because very few understood what they were worth. Enough people will understand as they did when Grantville began selling shares in firms. All you need is a backstop, like gold.

    Gold will act as a second currency. One can take the paper and redeem it for gold. Some people will keep their own gold secure and circulate the paper currency. Those that can’t afford gold will use the paper currency. If that paper can buy things that are valuable, then that paper has value. There will always be crooks, but a paper money system will facilitate both honest and fraudulent activity. On balance more people will be helped than harmed.

  7. Bret Hooper says:

    @1 thru 5 – Dave, Mark, Peter, and Rob: A very important issue you haven’t mentioned is counterfeiting. Recall that the continental dollars were made worthless, not because the Continental Congress overproduced them (they didn’t) but because the British counterfeited them wholesale while loudly proclaiming that the Continental Congress was irresponsibly printing worthless currency. Sort of like when those appointed by a certain administration stole a large share of the money they were supposed to be using to benefit the public, and laid the blame on the other party (which controlled congress) for appropriating the money in the first place.

  8. ET1swaw says:

    @6 PeterZ: But the thing is AFAIK the Russians don’t have a montary metal reserve (they primarily still used foriegn currency when they used currency at all (which AFAIK was only in the international markets ATT)) to go the route of the Wisselbank (or even enough to go the route of the proposed Bank of Stockholm).
    And they don’t (and IMO won’t) have sufficient productivity to go the route of the USE (The Dacha is a very small lone point source and is a R&D facility, NOT production.
    And they definately don’t have sufficient trust/internal-economics to go the route of the Beckies.
    They do have a somewhat abundance of natural resources (if nothing else mica and Ural’s metals; though nothing to compare to what their greatly expanded borders contained during the Empire or USSR); but almost all are still in the ground or in potential only (agriculture, etc.).
    Their stratification is so extreme (with almost no productive middle (where IIRC IS where your economy mostly derives)) that iniating a currency economy will be a miracle in itself IMO.
    There is gold in Russia (in Siberia and the Urals), bur almost all of it is still in the ground not the Treasury!!
    Almost no one in Russia is really familiar with applied economics (even the pre-ROF downtime version) and maybe at best 10% are even familiar with currency vice barter economics.
    A preponderance of Russians (even and/or especially nobles) are illiterate. IIRC much of their current international commerce is conducted by expats working their own and /or a patron’s deals (and that includes the ROC AFAIK).
    And AFAIK they are extremely resistant to (even top-down forcibly mandated) change in almost any form (passive-agression thy ideal is Russian (G)).

    @7 Bret Hooper: Is it still counterfeiting if it is someone who holds the keys to the mint’s printing presses (not just access, but authority to print) does it?
    AFAIK the following groups have access/authority over currency production: 1) Filaret and the ROC (Russian Orthodox Church) hierarchy; 2) Sheremetev and other Boyar Duma; 3) the Zminski Zobor; and 4) the bureaucrats, Streltzoi, and Service Families even marginally/peripherally involved in the economy (Treasury, Interior, Commerce, etc.). That is way too many pigs with access to the trough capable of continually refilling it long past the survivability of the supply!!

    The Russians make the squabbling of the PLC Sejm and Schlacta look tame, and Russian politics can be deadly!! They are barely 20 years past the “Time of Troubles” and the residua is still resonating.

    Vladimir BETTER have someone watch his six IMO!!!!! (Filaret may have partially abandoned him after all; and even the Patriarch isn’t the only (or possibly not even the biggest/meanest) dog in this fight!)


  9. PeterZ says:

    @8 Let me see, Rob. They know where lots of gold is located. They have massive numbers of serf/pesant labor. They can find digging tools and manuals for proper mining. Why can’t they get the gold they need? Of course, they can’t go the Beckies route. They can go the gold backed currency route initially until local industrial production begins. The trench diggers are just the beginning. Exports with Muscovite Mica can speed things up, but they can pull it off. The increasing facility of engaging in economic activity will free the pesants from the aristocrats quicker than anything.

    I haven’t read the short story, so EF may well have writen-in valid reasons why they didn’t. Valid as those reason may be, the xenophobic Russia of this period may well have succeeded in launching a paper currency.

  10. Bret Hooper says:

    @7 Rob: Good question; I don’t know, but clearly it is a breach of trust if the print run is unauthorized, and the person responsible could at least be fired, and probably prosecuted as well (unless it is the king or queen or some such). But the example I cited was clearly counterfeiting; nobody in England was authorized by the Continental Congress to produce written promises on their behalf. Of course, the British government could produce such, as evidenced by the fact that they did it, but that does not make those ‘dollars’ genuine.

    BTW, the same stunt was described in the novel WASP, by Eric Frank Russell, but in this case it was the ‘good’ guys counterfeiting the ‘bad’ guys’ money.

  11. ET1swaw says:

    @10 Bret Hooper: Eric Frank Russell and his “Space Willies”, yay!
    And it may not be totally illegal, but it is unethical and inflationary.

    @9 PeterZ: The directions available for the gold in the Urals and in Siberia is pretty much extremely general: along the lines of “in the Ural Mountains” or “in the XY area of Siberia”.

    And by act of law (renewed yearly by the Czar): no Serf is allowed to buy-off from his assigned land-debt and leave the environs of the land’s owners lands (IIRC they can redistribute serfs among their lands, or even reassign a land-debt (effectively sell the serf), but the serf CAN NOT be freed from the land).
    Also by law manumission/emancipation of slaves was mostly prohibitted.
    This was a main driving fact of the second serfdom in OTL.

    Though (unlike later) ATT there was still some minimal limited upward mobility allowed withiin those boundaries.

    Even more so than the ACW plantation owners; all of the groups with access/authority to the mint (and their like-status brothers) were dependent upon their serfs and slaves for production (agriculture and otherwise).
    And they are readily/eagerly prepared to usher in effective industrial serfdom/slavery (many times more binding than indenture or “Company Store is the only choice”) to follow upon the now running second serfdom (and that was re-imposed by them and/or their immediate forebearers)!!
    Do you think they will stand by if Czar Mikhail gets a wild hair and allows manumission/emancipation/an-end-to-serf-ties?

    Even Natasha at the Dacha (no matter how much she may want to) can not unbind serfs or slaves from their legal chains!

    IMO their success with the paper ruble may be more as a company script than any true currency. They have nothing (and no one trustworthy) to back it with!!!!!
    Even John George’s paper issue had some use internal to Saxony, but it was basically toilet paper (and not that good a substitute (inked, stiff, and odd-sized) either) economically (especially as JG made it treason to attempt to redeem it for silver)!!!!

    And with the introduction of paper currency (of various types and validity) and uptime economics knowledge; the west is rapidly changing over their economic big-picture!!!


  12. robert says:

    But what effect does WAR have on any economy? I mean a real, all out, do or die war like WWII. All guns, no butter and really tight inflationary controls. Here come da Poles.

  13. Bret Hooper says:

    @11 Rob: IIRC ‘Space Willies’ was in PLUS X, not WASP, but I agree with you: Yea for Eric Frank Russell! And while we’re at it, for Edgar Pangborn, too! And of course for our favorite living SF author, Eric Flint! BTW, company-issued (or anyone-else-issued) paper ‘money-substitute’ is scrip, not script.

    @12 Robert: War creates inflationary pressure, and if prices are controlled by law as with OPA in WW2, greater shortages, partly because goods needed for the war effort are given priority, and partly because production of price-controlled goods is less profitable. Then when price controls are lifted, a (probably brief) surge of inflation will occur.
    All-out war necessarily causes full employment, because of the urgent need to produce those goods needed for the war effort. But a significant portion of the goods so produced are to kill people with, and provide little or no benefit after the war is over: bullets may be used by hunters, and the supply of them on hand at war’s end is likely to keep the market price down for a while, but tanks and warships and fighter planes are of little use (or value) during peacetime. The net result of all this is that much of the money spent/goods produced contributes little or nothing or less than nothing to people’s well-being (definitely far less than nothing to the well-being of those killed and their parents, spouses, and children).

    A full description and explanation of the effects of war on an economy would fill a book, but the above describes at least some of the most significant effects.

  14. TimC says:

    Eric Frank Russell. Anyone remember the name of the secret police in WASP? was it some thing like Kaitepi? One of the old greats, along with EC Tubb and today’s EF and The MWW.

  15. Mark L says:

    @12: What effect does WAR have on any economy?

    The answer to that question can be found in the book “Keep From All Thoughtful Men” by by Jim Lacey, Naval Institute Press, 2011. It is a look at economics and World War II. A review of the book can be read at http://galvestondailynews.com/story/225622.

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