1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 41
Vladimir believed in going to the best source he could find. He discussed the matter of book copying with the staff of the research center. Then sent the patriarch information on the book-copying system they had instituted. Parts of it, like scanning pages into computers, could not be replicated in Russia. Other parts could, like the waxed silk sheets for the new duplicating machines.
Having, he hoped, explained to the patriarch, or whoever the patriarch thought was reading their mail, that he could not just buy the National Library and ship it off to the Kremlin, he set to work on the next impossible demand. He made an appointment with Wilkie Anderson, the Tech Center teacher of auto mechanics. The man had the strangest desk he had ever seen. It was red and appeared to be the front end of a truck. Wilkie noticed him staring and pressed a button. The blaring noise rocked Vladimir back on his feet.
Wilkie grinned. “That always got the students’ attention. Yes, it is the front end of a S10 pickup truck. And I’ve hooked the horn up to the electricity. I don’t honk it that much, but I still enjoy seeing people jump. Now, what can I do for you, Mister . . . ah . . . Gorchakov?”
“I came because I have a question. Is it possible to ‘pull the engine’ of a ‘car’ and have it transported to another place?”
Wilkie nodded. “Sure You can pull any engine. But some of them won’t do you much good. What kind of engine is it? And what do you want to use it for.”
“I’m told it is a 1972 Dodge Charger.” Vladimir waved the bill of sale Bernie had sent. “I don’t really know what that means, but that’s the car. Bernie Zeppi wants me to pull the engine and transmission and send it to him in Russia. I’m here to find out if that is possible.”
“Not a bad choice.” Wilkie leaned back in his chair and motioned Vladimir to another. “It’s a good bit less complicated than some. No computers in it, at any rate. And I remember that car. Bernie bought it for a couple of hundred dollars back when he took my classes. We restored it together, out in the shop. Me, Bernie, all the class. Leon McCarthy, from the body shop classes, even got involved and fixed a couple of dents. But why pull the engine? Why don’t you just put it in neutral and pull it with horses? Bernie’s car has a stick shift so you don’t have to worry about protecting an automatic transmission over a long tow. That car’s got a rear wheel drive, though,. so make sure you disconnect and remove the drive shaft or you’ll wreck the transmission. How far does it have to travel and what are the roads like?”
Most of the response was meaningless to Vladimir, beyond the apparent assurance that the vehicle could be towed intact as long as certain precautions were taken. He could figure those out later. For the moment, he concentrated on the last question, which he did understand.
“It has to go to Moscow and will make a good part of the trip by way of the Baltic Sea.” Vladimir shrugged. “The roads are fairly bad. Horrible, by up-timer standards. On the other hand, we can use more than two horses if we have to.”
“Russia used to have oil wells up-time.” Wilkie leaned forward. “Are you folks planning on getting into the oil business or do you figure on buying gas from the Wietze oil fields? I gotta tell you, they aren’t getting much high octane yet.”
“I have no idea,” Vladimir admitted. “For all I know they want to use the engine as a planter for up-timer roses. I am also told to send those.”
“Well . . .” Wilkie shrugged away the possibility of Russian oil fields. “If you can get it onto and off of the boat, it really might be easier just to tow the darn thing. Sure, it weighs more than a wagon. But it’s also got shocks and ball bearings on the wheels. Most of the time it’ll be easier to pull than a wagon, even with the engine in it.”
Brandy was in the research center when Vladimir found her. “What’s up?” she asked.
“Your Mr. Wilkie says that Russia in the up-time had oil fields. If they were there in the up-time, they will be there now. I wish to locate them. And I shall have to arrange for some people to come here for training at the oil field. In fact, I should probably have a number of people come here.”
Brandy sat down at the table across from Vladimir and nodded. “Probably not a bad idea. Who will you have come?”
“We already have a fair sized staff at the residence.” Vladimir had bought a half-acre lot in Castle Hills, the upscale housing development that had grown up just north of the Ring of Fire. Then he’d put a fair-sized mansion — or smallish hotel — on the lot. “But this is too much for just a few people to absorb. I’m going to write Natasha and have her pick the best of the people from our lands. As well, I’m sure she knows some students who would be interested.” Vladimir looked Brandy in the eyes and said in a serious tone, “Russian politics are not pretty, Brandy. Not pretty at all. It hasn’t been that long since Czar Ivan the Terrible and the Time of Troubles. It will take a lot of work, but I believe most strongly that Russia must take advantage of the knowledge in Grantville. That is why, although it will be atrociously expensive, I will send Bernie his car. I will send books. Eventually, I hope to send teachers.”
“You’re not trying to be Peter the Great, are you?” Brandy asked. “I just don’t see you going around cutting off beards and all that silly stuff.”
“Not silly, my dear. Not silly at all.” Vladimir made a vague gesture and frowned. “It was a symbol. And symbols can be very powerful. The beards might have been the wrong symbol at the wrong time, perhaps. But something had to be done. Or rather, would have had to be done, had it not been for the Ring of Fire.”
Vladimir sighed. “The history of my country isn’t a happy one, not according to the very few books here in Grantville. These books, they barely mention the time of troubles after the death of Ivan the Terrible, the three false Dmitris that left Russia bleeding and broken. Poland invaded and took Patriarch Filaret prisoner. The Poles held him prisoner for years, Brandy. That was after he was forced to take a vow of chastity by Boris Godunov. The purpose of the vow was to disqualify him from the throne.”
Vladimir stared into the distance. “It hardened him, Brandy. Which may well be to the good. I don’t know whether it was being forced to take holy orders or the imprisonment. Whatever it was that caused it, he was different when he came back. There is a cold-blooded practicality that wasn’t there before. He manipulates everyone. The czar most of all. Mikhail Fedorovich is not in control. His father is.”
“Do you know him?” Brandy settled in for a long talk. “The czar, I mean.” She couldn’t help but be interested. Vladimir attracted her in a way that few people did. She wanted to understand him and his country.
“Yes. My family is very wealthy, on the whole. And the treasury was bare when Mikhail came to the throne. My sister and I are the last of our particular branch, which concentrated the wealth even more. So we were invited to court quite a bit. Not as much as some, but fairly often. Our father traveled for the embassy bureau for many years; it gave us a different outlook. Natasha and I were educated more than most.” Vladimir’s face grew more animated. “Natasha does know the czarina quite well, and I have sent her letters and books. Perhaps the czarina, with Natasha’s help, can become more of an influence.”
“I’ve gotten to know the czarina fairly well through the letters we’ve traded,” Brandy said. “I don’t think that she’s in a position to do much. You said once that the czar supports Gustavus Adolphus, didn’t you? Or is that his father’s doing?”
“Some of both, I think.” Vladimir leaned forward. “Money. Always a problem, the money. The Poles cleaned out the Russian treasury. The Time of Troubles left roving bands of thieves that traveled through Russia, some of them even now, after nearly twenty years of Mikhail’s rule. Mikhail is loved by the people but he is not very strong. He is governed by the boyars and the great houses. I respect your system of government, Brandy. I really do. But how much of it can be adapted to Russia . . . that is hard to say. I don’t know how much we can do. We have Natasha. We have your Bernie, even. I will work for change, with all my heart.”
“I’ll help.” Brandy stood up. “As much as I can.”