1879: Personalities: Dr. Olga Vyshenko vs. The State

In a month or so, this will be transformed into a Personalities dossier, complete with five Connections, three Adventure Hooks, and five Weird Science Goodies. In the meantime, here’s her Backstory and character sheet.


So, you want to know about Dr. Vyshenko, da? Pfsht, a drink, what, you English don’t know how to drink. You buy wodka by the bottle like a Russian, we talk. Pod stolom!

Now, you want to know about this scientist, this, your word, physicist? Let me start with the thing you people are always asking about. You have Queen right now, nyet? You have had queen before, but you always worry about role of women. You want to know how we feel about important scientist being woman, da? Understand, we have had a Tsarina in her own right before, and that was Catherine, one of the two Tsars we ever give title of The Great to. In England, you try to keep women from coming into power with boundaries made of proper manners. You see how well this has worked in your military, nyet? In Russia, we are more direct about keeping women out of power, and this is being for one very simple reason. You do not know how someone will handle power until they achieve it, what sort of person they will become. Men and women never understand each other since beginning of time, you know? So men in power, they have trouble predicting what in specific a woman in power will do. What we do know is that she will do one of two things. She will either fail terribly, in way remembered in legend and song, one of those tragic stories we drink to, or she will succeed terrifyingly, in way remembered in history books, and that will be another reason we drink.

I am telling you story of Doctor Vyshenko and you are making up own mind why you drink. Order another bottle, there will be need of it.

So Feodor Alexeyevitch Vyshenko, he is minor professor, what you might call reader in Russian history in small college on outskirts of Kiev. Very old neighborhood, built when Kiev was capital and we call ourselves Rus. Some attitudes linger from those days perhaps. His daughter Olga Feodorovna is raised in genteel academic poverty, among people who still tell stories of Kievan court. She has few siblings and friends, her parents had years go by between each birthing and many of the other children in the neighborhood, they have jobs, for you cannot eat gracious airs. Her father, he has enough stipend from college he can pay rent and buy bread, and he tutors many students on the side as a junior professor is expected to do, so they are not quite so poor as their neighbors, and that sets them apart maybe just a little. This is a people still very conscious of bloodlines and social standing, even from hundreds of years ago, Russian memory is long you know.

Olga grows up mostly her father’s library for friends. She devours it like countess with caviar, satiating herself but at the same moment determined to get every last bit of enjoyment from it she can. By fourteen, she has maths tutor and sciences tutor, although he was Lamarckist, had to be dismissed before end of year. So many crazy theories running around, you know? Russia is still very new to idea of science and new things are only to be trusted if they are given to you by your mother. But Olga, her mother has no idea what to give her, watching her daughter fly further and faster and higher than she ever could and at such a young age.

There was attempt to marry her off, of course, her mother could maybe give her husband. Nobody will talk about why it suddenly fell through. There was a fight at the Vyshenko house, big loud one, crockery thrown so you know it was serious. Feodor Alexeyevitch, he storms out and he goes to bar and drink until he is put in cot in back room. The next day, a wagon arrives, Olga Feodorovna is loaded aboard with most of her worldly belongings, and off she goes with her mother to St. Petersburg. Her mother returns alone, her daughter now in St. Petersburg University as youngest to date female full time student, at school that had not admitted female students as full-time but for few years.

Dr. Olga Vyshenko

Time goes by. Olga Feodorovna devours the introductory courses, is allowed to test out of latter half. She begins to get some harassment from older students, mostly boys, but she is sturdy Kievan girl, city girl but knows how to see for herself, you know? So she attracts a few other girls, they stand together, Russians are knowing the power of unions and holding ranks long before Western culture finally starts to become civilized. At eighteen, she does not hold first position in mathematics only because rules say it goes to boy with the highest scores. There is unrest over this, and maybe Olga Vyshenko she foments a bit of it, but there is unrest all the time at St Petersburg University those days. It all blurs together. She avoids arrest, completes her courses, and then her life is torn out from under her.

Russian history is dangerous thing to explore, like walking out on river to see if ice is thick enough to walk on. One wrong step, not your fault, is being treacherous grounds that bear weight one moment and not the next, and into the dark waters you go, most like not seen again until spring and then not in such good condition, you know? Feodor Alexeyevitch had published a paper some years back, just a small rambling, minor details of a lesser figure, nothing really at all you understand, in a journal that only printed a hundred copies. But he made an assertion, and he put his name to it, and then ice broke, and the crack ran from where he’d taken that step and it caught up to him and down he went. Suddenly Feodor Vyshenko must explain his radical theories to faculty board, he must defend his ideas and take consequences, or he must retract them, and apologize, and be satisfied that he retains his position at the cost of any advancement ever in his life. But he is not radical, Feodor says, and with that, he has disagreed with those in power, and the path is set. The Vyshenkos are evicted from their apartment, Olga’s childhood home is gone and her parents turned out on the street. They have to be taken in by relatives, and not anyone local, no, they must leave Kiev. They find a place with distant cousins close to Tsernobyl, but on a farm very far out in wilderness, not a place for a lecturer and writer.

Olga is called in by history department, and questioned as to her standing. She is a mathematics student, a scientist, she cares not for history, she has very little opinion on the issue at all. Her father has been shamed, though, and sent into exile, and has lost his position at the college, which means Olga no longer has an academic connection to protect her or a father able to pay her tuition. She is denounced as a radical. The police escort her from the building and warn her that she will be arrested if she sets foot on University property again. Her academic career is over.

Olga declares herself done with men entirely, something her mother had known years before. She and her female friends begin rabble rousing in earnest. She applies her scientific knowledge. She builds a few things – a sort of javelin thrower, there is a Greek word for it, I forget, is like Maxim gun except is giant crossbow throws bolts a meter long. They put that on back of a flatbed steam lorry. Then she sees newspaper reports of Prussian blitzschützen, and next truck has a sort of cannon that throws lightning bolts. That puts police hot on her trail.

She arrives at safe house in Yaroslavl to find someone waiting for her, a tall, graceful woman, not Russian, maybe Czech. She has an offer. Come to Nizhny Novgorod, this woman says. I represent a patron who wants to see what you will build next. She wants you to have more schooling, to learn things the men have not yet discovered. Let us introduce you to a private salon and to women more brilliant than you, to keep you challenged. Olga Feodorovich says da, but my parents? The college we are building at Nizhny Novgorod has room for a lecturer in history, the woman says. Those who do not remember history will be ruled by those who do. She never gives her name and is gone a quarter hour later.

Olga Feodorovna makes her way to Nizhny Novgorod. It is large town, nearly city, home of the great trade fair of the region, lot of people they come and go all the time, lot of cargo, easy for people to get in and out, or stay. This patron, Olga maybe meets, the story is not clear on this, she becomes hard to see once she enters the town. Literally, you are asking? Maybe not, is still a year before your Rabbit Hole opens and wakes Baba Yaga, but that is another story for much more wodka. What I can say and be certain is that Olga Feodorovna enters the city, and Dr. Olga Vyshenko emerges. She presents a paper in a salon in Paris, a very private salon, very powerful women in attendance. She goes to Berlin, to New York, to Madrid. She has well funded research facility at edge of city. What she researches, she does not share but to a select audience. As for her patron, well, a year after Dr. Vyshenko was hooded, the White Countess’s personal guard begin carrying new weapons. They look like a bastard child from a Prussian blitzen rifle and a Heron’s wet dream. They throw balls of electricity that can paralyze, knock down, or kill.

There is one society I know of, one academic circle, that meets at women-only private salon in Paris. I will not use their names, but the woman who builds the shoreline defense battery at Dover, what you call the Sun Gun? She goes to that salon. Dr. Vyshenko still attends as well. So if a mathematical genius who took her first university degree at eighteen, built a lightning thrower after seeing a newspaper article about one, equipped a rising power in Nizhny Novgorod with electrical weapons, were a man, she would be competitive, and would want to build something bigger than the Sun Gun. Let us finish this bottle and be glad women are not competitive like men, da? And remember what I said – she has come to power. We do not know what she will do, and that is why we drink. Pod stolom!

Character Sheet

See the PDF, and note the following.

  • Her Profession abilities are:
    • She gains +2 to her Mystic Defense, +1 to her Social Defense, reflected on the character sheet.
    • Her base Karma step increased from 5/d8 to 6/d10, reflected on the character sheet.
    • She may spend Karma on PER-only Tests, and on the Effect Test when using Craft Device to build a spell or other power into a device.
    • Hasty Bodge-up: The Weird Scientist can build a device in the field out of spare parts that performs its function once and once only, then falls apart, with key components too badly damaged to re-use. The character makes a Craft Device Test and pays 2 Strain. On one success, the device performs as designed, once. On two successes, the Effect Step of the device gains +1. On three or more successes, the Weird Scientist may use Karma on the Effect Test. On a Rule of One result, the device misfires when assembled, doing its Effect Step in damage to the Weird Scientist, and potentially to an area of effect, as determined by the Gamemaster.
    • Temporary Performance Gain: The Weird Scientist can make a series of quick adjustments to a device or machine in the field to briefly improve its effectiveness. The Weird Scientist makes a Craft Device Test against the device’s Mystic Defense. For each success, the device gains +1 Step to any statistic. All Step gains must be applied to the same statistic. For example, the Weird Scientist could improve a device’s Effect Step by +2, but could not improve the Effect Step by +1 and the Physical Armor by +1. The Step gain lasts for the Weird Scientist’s Craft Device Rank in minutes. At the end of the duration, the device’s statistics revert to normal. On a Rule of One result, the Weird Scientist does their Craft Device Rank in damage to the device.
  • Her clothing and accessories have improved substantially in the last year, and her patron has sent her to a series of finishing tutors to touch up her social graces. Whether Dr. Vyshenko is comfortable in her new role as an emerging leader in the scientific community or not, there is no question that she is being groomed for leadership.

Tally Ho!