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In the Matter of Savinkov: Chapter Two

       Last updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2018 22:20 EDT



    The expression on the face of the airship’s officer was decidedly unfriendly, as Alexander Evalenko and his companion Ilya Drezhner came aboard. But he said nothing, and Alexander thought silence on his own part was the best course. It was hardly surprising that employees of Great Britain’s premier transportation company would be irritated at having the departure of their flagship delayed in order to await the arrival of two unexpected passengers.

    Alexander wasn’t happy about the situation himself. If word got out, as it almost certainly would, the conclusion anyone would come to was that political pressure had been brought to bear. There was no doubt at all that their quarry would draw that conclusion. And, having drawn it, be made more alert to the possibility that he was being pursued.

    Alexander moved toward the other side of the airship, seeking to get away from the unfriendly scrutiny.

    “He seems a bit testy,” Drezhner said softly.

    Alexander’s mouth quirked. “Puzzled, too, I suspect. He’s probably trying to figure out how the Russian government could bring enough pressure to bear to make such a schedule change. Given that we are not–ah–held in any great regard in Britain these days.”

    Relations between the United Kingdom and Russia were always shaky, despite the two nations being officially allied. Right now they were on particularly edgy terms, given the tensions over the Peshawar Incident. Even the Irish nationalists, normally so pragmatic in accepting aid from any party in their quarrel with the English, were hostile to Russia. As such malcontents almost invariably were, the Irish were rabid republicans–and the Tsar of All the Russias was universally considered the world’s premier autocrat.

    As it happened, although political interference had been necessary to get the last airship shuttling passengers and supplies to the Agincourt to delay its departure, it had not been pressure from the British government. So far as Alexander knew, the British authorities were quite unaware that the BEPC’s premier interplanetary aethership’s schedule had been altered.

    “Luckily for us,” Alexander said, in the same soft tones, “Cecil Rhodes thinks well of the Okhrana. Rachkovsky himself sent the radio message to Rhodes–a polite request, no more–and, voila, c’est fait.

    His French was fluent and unaccented, as you might expect of one of Russia’s top secret agents in Paris.

    He and Drezhner came to a stop against the windows on the far side of the airship cabin. The craft had lifted as soon as they came aboard and they were now at least a thousand meters high. Through the panes they could see the soft countryside of southeastern England below them.

    “I hadn’t known that,” said Drezhner. “About Rhodes. I thought he despised Slavs. What did he call us? One of those most detestable…” He waved his hand in a gesture that indicated a minor loss of memory.

    Alexander smiled wryly. The pronounced racial views of Cecil Rhodes were a byword in Europe. To be born English is to win first prize in the lottery of life was his best-known axiom on the subject, but he had many others.

    “The phrase he used was ‘the most despicable specimens of human beings.’ He wasn’t singling out Slavs, however. And the man’s theories have their quirks as well as their… ah, fervor. He’s quite partial to Germans; considers them almost as good as Englishmen. And while he generally sneers at Slavs, he makes an exception for the Russian aristocracy.”

    “Ah.” Drezhner smiled. “That old business about Kievan Rus being ruled by Nordic conquerors and adventurers.”

    “Exactly so. And since the Okhrana officially recruits only from the Russian army, and the army does not allow Jews in the officer corps unless they convert to Christianity, Rhodes has concluded that the Tsar’s secret police are stout fellows. It doesn’t hurt at all, of course, that we generally co-operate with his own intelligence service.”

    Alexander spent a moment contemplating the view before continuing. “The odd thing–the man has his foibles, there’s no doubt about it–is that Rhodes is not particularly hostile to Jews. Or, at least, no more so than any English gentleman. It’s that he presumes–so I was told by Rachkovsky, who knows him rather well–that the Russian army’s anti-Semitism indicates a generally stringent attitude toward the acceptance of lesser breeds. By his logic, if you won’t find Jews among the Russian secret police, you won’t find lowly purebred Slavs and Mongols, either.”

    “Ah.” After a moment, Drezhner said: “But we have a number of Jews in our ranks. Including–”

    “No names, please.”

    There was silence for a bit, as the airship continued to rise, heading toward the transfer station. When they were perhaps three miles high, Drezhner commented: “Can’t say I much care for the yids myself.”

    Alexander shrugged. “Such is the world we live in.”



    The steward who welcomed them aboard the transfer station was more polite, or at least more diplomatic. As they came into the main waiting room, they were greeted with the sight of three rows of chairs, all of them now occupied.

    “Marvelous,” muttered Drezhner. “A tribe of gypsies. How on Earth did they get aboard?”

    In point of fact, the people in question were obviously south Asians, not gypsies. Hindus, at a guess, although they might be Muslims. But by now, more than a week since they’d made their acquaintance, Alexander understood that his new junior partner was something of an ignoramus as well as a bigot.

    The second fault was minor. The first was not. Especially since, in Alexander’s estimation, Drezhner’s ignorance was willful. Lack of knowledge could be repaired. Willful ignorance was not far removed from outright stupidity.

    But such was the nature of the world he lived in.



    Vera knew who they were–had to be–the moment the two men came aboard. She hadn’t been expecting them, precisely, but from the beginning there had been a chance the Okhrana would learn of the project. Not very much, probably, but enough to send a team in pursuit of Gavril Savinkov.



    She wasn’t especially worried that the Okhrana agents would be able to spot Savinkov. But she’d have to take steps to evade detection herself. Fortunately, the arrival of the new party presented her with a better opportunity than trying to fit herself into the large group from Hyderabad. That had been her best option prior to their arrival, but it hadn’t been a very good one. Her features could pass as those of someone from south Asia, but her skin tone was far too light.

    Being careful not to move too quickly and draw attention to herself, she slid into a seat behind a tall young girl sitting next to a man she assumed to be her father. The girl was pretty, in a modest sort of way. Northern European, clearly: pale skin; dark blonde hair; blue eyes. Not one to draw the attention of most boys immediately, but a girl who’d have no trouble fascinating any boy who did become attracted to her.

    Vera leaned over the shoulder of the girl and asked: “How much longer will the wait be, do you know?”

    The girl turned to look at her, a bit surprised. She hadn’t heard Vera take her seat. “I’m not really sure, Madame. But I don’t have the impression it will be much longer.”

    “Let’s hope not.” Vera smiled ruefully. “These chairs are sturdy but not very comfortable for long stretches.” The rueful smile expanded into something more cheerful. “Fortunately, I am–ah, how to put it in English?–‘well-padded,’ perhaps? In my native German, I would say zaftig.

    Vera extended her hand. “I am Vera Duchesne.”

    The girl extended her own and they shook hands. “Pleased to make your acquaintance. I am Charlotte Luff. I thought Vera was a Russian name, not German.”

    Vera took a brief moment to wish a silent curse upon all precocious girls. Only a brief moment, though. Having been one herself, the curse was half-hearted anyway.

    The best way to deal with such girls was to intrigue them. Trying to fend off their curiosity was pointless.

    “You’re quite right–although the name is widespread across the Slavic lands, not just Russia. My given name, however, was Verena.” Here a bright, gleaming smile, hinting that the girl was being drawn into conspiracy. “Which, despite its Latin origin–from vereri, it’s thought–is now properly Teutonic. But my late husband was half-Russian on his mother’s side and since he thought the name was a bit grandiose–”

    The girl clapped her hands gleefully. “Oh, yes! If it’s from the Latin, it would mean ‘to fear’ or ‘to respect’. Certainly nothing a husband would favor.”

    Vera took a brief moment to wish a silent blessing upon all precocious girls. “Exactly what he said himself. So he insisted on substituting Vera. Being honest, I prefer the name myself. ‘Verena’ is so… so…”

    “Stand-offish,” the girl supplied.

    “Precisely.” Now joined in mutual conspiracy, the plump middle-aged woman and the slender teenage girl exchanged gazes of mutual admiration.

    Mission accomplished. Immediate mission, at least.

    The girl shifted on her own seat. “They’re really not very comfortable, are they? I think they’re designed this way in case of emergencies. Look–they even have some sort of safety harnesses.”



    The spirited discussion Charlotte was having with Madame Duchesne drew her father’s attention. He’d left off his discussion with Mr. and Mrs. Shankar and taken a seat between Charlotte and Adrian. He looked over Charlotte’s shoulder and smiled.

    “Indeed, they are,” he said. “Aetherships have difficulty with strong magnetic fields at times. The engines which keep this transfer station in the air are essentially the same as those in aetherships. If the Earth’s magnetic field gets unruly, which can happen from time to time, the transfer station could undergo rather severe turbulence. Hence the design of these chairs. They keep the passengers from being flung about and injured.”

    Adrian’s attention had also been drawn and, as usual, he became obstreperous. “But that doesn’t make sense, Father. Shouldn’t they have them all around, then, instead of only on one side?”

    “I imagine the weight in those compartments across from us fairly well counter-balances our own, Adrian,” their father replied. “In any event, as heavy as this transfer station is, I doubt if the weight of the passengers is all that great a concern.”

    “How fascinating,” said Madame Duchesne. She returned Edward Luff’s smile with a very friendly one of her own. For a moment, Charlotte wondered if the woman might be trying to flirt with her father.

    No, that would be ridiculous, she decided. Madame Duchesne was apparently a widow and she was attractive enough, in a fleshy sort of way. She had intelligent eyes, so dark a brown they were almost black. Quite striking, really.


    She was much too old; at least five years older than her father.

    It was too bad, really. After Charlotte’s father celebrated his fortieth birthday, just a few months earlier, she had set herself the goal (among many) of seeing to it that he remarry. Madame Duchesne was an interesting woman–quite perceptive, obviously–and would have otherwise made a suitable match. Preliminarily speaking, that is. Inquiries would have had to be made, naturally. A woman from the continent–formerly married to a Frenchman–one never knew what one might encounter under such circumstances.

    It would have made for an interesting investigation, actually. But there was no point to it, given the age difference between her father and Madame Duchesne. Five years. Practically an eternity, even for someone at the mature age of fourteen. Had the genders been reversed… possibly…

    But, no. Out of the question. They were not Hindus, after all.

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