Circumstances attendant to the Napoleonic wars in Europe and in Franconia where he was born caused Dr. George Anton Schaeffer (1779-1836) and his wife Barbara to travel to Moscow, Russia, where Tsar Alexander I's army had offered employment to foreign physicians. George quickly rises into a position of administration of the foreign physicians in Moscow and he and Barbara become Russian citizens. The Tsar's brother, the Grand Duke Konstantin, sends George to Constantinople to find a source of opium for the manufacture of laudanum as a military anesthetic, and George, successful in this venture, begins an enterprise to provide laudanum to the Russian military, making him quite wealthy. When Napoleon Bonaparte violates the Tilsit Treaty of friendship with Russia to invade it in June of 1812, an influential friend of George's recommends him to the Moscow Governor-General Fyodor Rastopchin to administer a secret project assigned to him by Tsar Alexander. A German-speaking piano technician named Franz Leppich has brought a team of German craftsmen to Moscow to construct a shark-shaped, hydrogen-filled, rotor-wing-powered, and rudder-steered aerostat from which to drop timed-fuse explosives on Napoleon and his soldiers, who were advancing daily on Moscow. Leppich is given the code name of "Schmidt," and George quickly fulfills the role of his provisioner in a race against time. By the time of the key Battle of Borodino (August 26, 1812 on the "Russian Calendar/September 7, 1812 on the French and European calendars), the aerostat has shown dramatic promise, but it fails to rise at the crucial time and Napoleon and his army occupy the city. The "balloon project" is evacuated to the Volga city of Nizhnii Novgorod, where George and Barbara and the other members of the project spend a very hard and cold winter. The Tsar's government threatens an investigation into the ballon project's failure and George disassociates himself from it. He buys a stone mansion in St. Petersburg and joins a circumnavigation on the Russian navy ship Suvorov, leaving his wife Barbara and infant daughter Inga in the Russian capital as he travels to Russian America...and on (related in the subsequent books of the trilogy) to Hawaii, China, and Brazil.