1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 07
“No!” Marat said. “Under no circumstances. Those barges are Princess Natasha’s and so is the gear on them. Not Czar Mikhail’s.”
“Captain!” Tim said.
“No!” Marat said. “I’m sorry, General.” And he sounded sorry, Ivan noted. He even sounded like he believed in Tim’s new rank. “It’s not my choice. Those goods belong to the princess, and I have to make sure that they get to her in Ufa.”
“And we will get them there, Captain. Believe me, we will. Even if we have to carry them on our backs.”
“I guess we could do that,” Ivan offered. “There are wagons. We could take some of it with us overland. And if we go overland, that will free up more space on the boats.”
They were in Bor for another day as they rearranged the gear and let everyone make up their mind what they were going to do.
Tim insisted that people be allowed to make up their own minds, saying it was Czar Mikhail’s will that joining him be a free choice by free men. Ivan looked at Tim, and Tim explained. “You weren’t on the steamboat with us coming down from Murom. We talked a lot about what it would take to make the new Russia work, and a big part is having people have a stake in it. Czar Mikhail is convinced that those who follow him to Ufa must decide freely, not be forced into it. There is some psychological study that the up-timers did about it.”
Ivan shrugged. It wasn’t up to him. No. It was. It had been his decision in a way, even if he had fallen into it. He couldn’t honestly say he had been forced or coerced, not really.
Finally the boats left and the army — such as it was — marched out along the shore of the Volga.
Russia House, Grantville
Prince Vladimir Gorchakov sat at the computer and typed out a letter. He then encoded it using the program Pretty Good Privacy and saved the encrypted file to a floppy disk. After pulling the floppy out of the drive, he handed it to Gregorii. “You know what to do.”
Gregorii would go to the Higgins Hotel and upload the floppy to the Grantville Wide Web from there, leaving no way to trace where it had come from. In a day or two, one of Francisco Nasi’s agents would pick it up and send it to him in Magdeburg, where he would decode it.
“Do you think he will go for it?” Brandy asked.
“I don’t know,” Vladimir admitted. “We have a lot of wealth. We’re just short of cash. So a loan on our interest in the microwave research isn’t unreasonable. They are making decent progress, after all.”
Three days later, they got a response. It was encrypted and put up on the “Secret Message” news group. All the spies in Grantville — at least all the tech savvy spies in Grantville who had access to a computer — downloaded the full contents of that news group on a regular basis. Vladimir did it daily.
Once the message was unencrypted, it simply read “Have a talk with Ron Stone.”
Which was interesting in itself. Vladimir didn’t think Ron Stone was any sort of spy. But he went ahead and made the appointment.
“Have a seat, Prince Vladimir. What can I do for you today?”
Ron Stone rose politely from behind his desk and gestured toward a chair against the side of the wall nearby. The chair he indicated looked quite comfortable — quite a bit more so, in fact, that the very utilitarian chair Stone himself was using.
Ron Stone looked much like his chair. On the new side — he was still a very young man — and well-made in a plain, undecorated, functional sort of way. His eyes were hazel and his hair was straight, a sort of dark blond in color. He was not what you’d call a handsome man, but not so far from it, either.
Stone was of medium height, for an American. His physique was perhaps a bit stocky but there was little fat on him. Like his older brother Frank, he had been something of an athlete in school.
(Soccer, though, not one of the Culturally Sanctioned Up-time sports like football or basketball. As Brandy had explained the matter, in up-time high school — at least of pre-Ring of Fire vintage — this placed Ron Stone on the nerd side of the dark and bitter chasm between nerds and jocks. Americans could be peculiar, sometimes.)
“Are you aware of what’s going on in Russia?” Vladimir asked, after he sat down.
Stone resumed his own seat. “I think so, at least in broad outlines. A powerful nobleman named Sheremetev tried to supplant Czar Mikhail by placing the czar under what amounted to house arrest. But he escaped, with the aid of the American Bernie Zeppi and Russian associates of his, and is now setting up what he claims to be the legitimate government of Russia in a place called Ufa that’s far to the east. I think it’s close to the Urals although it’s not in Siberia. And… that’s where things stand at the moment. So far there hasn’t been much military action but that’s bound to change before too long.”
He shrugged apologetically. “I’m afraid I haven’t delved into any more detail than that. We just don’t have that much business with Russia and I’m constantly pre-occupied with more immediate matters.”
Vladimir had no trouble believe that. Ron Stone was the middle oldest of the three sons of Tom Stone, the man who had founded Lothlorien Farbenwerk. But Tom was not well-suited by temperament to be a businessman and preferred devoting his time to teaching. So, initially by nothing more complex than a process of elimination, his son Ron had wound up running the business instead. His older brother Frank was off being a revolutionary in Italy and the younger brother Gerry had devoted himself to becoming a Lutheran pastor.
It soon became evident, however, that Ron had a natural aptitude for the work he was doing. Brandy had told Vladimir that she thought it was because Ron had been raised a hippie and still pretty much had that mindset. For him, making money was a purely practical affair with no emotional baggage that got his ego tangled up in the process. Whether she was right or not, the one thing that was now clear was that Ron Stone — a man who had just turned twenty-one years of age — was the very capable chief executive officer of the world’s largest and most profitable chemical and pharmaceutical company.
“What it all comes down to is this,” said Vladimir. “For the moment I am cut off from a large part of my family’s wealth. I don’t expect to be permanently cut off from it, but it could happen. Meanwhile, I’m not going to be receiving the goods I have promised to deliver, giving me a serious cash flow problem and I am considerably over-extended. A mutual friend suggested I have a talk with you about it.”
“Yes. He wrote me about it.” Ron said. “I think I can help, and because our friend gives you good references, I’m inclined to. But I’m not running a charity.”
Vladimir opened his briefcase and pulled out document detailing his level of ownership in various projects. Vladimir wasn’t a great businessman. In fact, he wasn’t even a very good businessman. But he had had three things going for him over the last few years. He started out rich, Grantville was a boom town, and Vladimir had a spy network. It was focused on political and technological intelligence, but business intelligence fell right between political and technological. So he had acquired a fair amount of financially useful information over the years. There was also the Dacha, which had until very recently been sending him regular updates of what they were doing and what they had learned. Between those advantages, the disadvantage of not having an abundance of business acumen had been swamped. So Vladimir’s portfolio was both large and diverse.
In exchange for a carefully selected quarter of that portfolio, and agreements in regard to the data that they both hoped would be available from the Dacha, Ron Stone provided the cash that Vladimir needed to make good his debts.