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In the Matter of Savinkov: Chapter Four

       Last updated: Monday, July 30, 2018 21:07 EDT



    Alexander Evalenko examined his cabin with distaste. The furnishings were luxurious, true enough, and the bed–it might be better to say, deluxe cot–looked comfortable. But the room seemed more like a glorified closet than anything Alexander associated with the term “cabin.”

    His claustrophobia was heightened by disorientation. The peculiar design of the cabin made the cramped quarters seem ever worse. He understood the reason for that design: the furnishings needed to be swiveled around and work at a ninety-degree angle once the aethership was in outer space and was set spinning to mimic gravity. But that knowledge did little to alleviate his discomfort.

    Perhaps that was just the residue of his provincialism at work. He’d been raised in the countryside on a large estate in Perm Guberniya. His family, although part of the hereditary nobility, had not been wealthy and had lived in rather primitive wooden dwellings. But even for the peasants in the region, a “cabin” had been spacious compared to this room. And there had certainly been nothing exotic about its construction.

    On the positive side, he wouldn’t have to share the room with Ilya Drezhner. The cabin was barely big enough for one person, much less two. Alexander found Drezhner’s company increasingly tiresome. The man was intelligent, technically speaking, but full of so many biases and fixed notions as to make him effectively a halfwit.

    Ah, well. The life of a secret agent tasked to seek out and destroy anarchists, revolutionists and agitators was not an easy one. Alexander had known that from the moment he decided to resign from the army and join the Okhrana. He reminded himself that Drezhner was a veritable sage compared to the imbeciles he’d had to contend with in the cavalry.

    Once he’d packed away the few belongings he’d brought with him, he drew out the message that Drezhner had brought to him in Paris. The only reason he was looking at it again was from long habit. He’d found that if he studied a message several times, over a period of two or three days, he could destroy it without fear of forgetting anything.

    The note was from one of Okhrana chief Semiakin’s assistants. The exact identity of the assistant was unfortunately not specified. Drezhner had not thought to inquire, and his description of the man could have fit any of three clerks stationed at the Okhrana’s headquarters in St. Petersburg. One of those assistants was brilliant, one was competent, and the third only had his post because of family connections. Alexander would have liked to know which of the three had composed this message.

    Gavril Savinkov reported en route to Mars. Probable conveyance BEPC vessel. Probable destination Tryddoc Aru or Crenex. Probable targets include:

    Cecil Rhodes

    Prince Mikhail Ivanovich Vorontsov

    Prince Pyotr Pavlovich Saltykov

    Count Vasily Fedorovich Kamensky

    Count Pavel Andreyevich Shuvalov

    Arrest Savinkov if possible for questioning. Essential his mission be thwarted by whatever means necessary.

    The last part was straightforward enough. Obviously, it would be ideal to apprehend the man and subject him to questioning in hopes of learning the identity of his accomplices and associates. But, above all else, his plot had to be stopped. If that meant killing him on the spot, so be it. Savinkov was a leader of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party’s Combat Organization and its most notorious assassin.

    The first part of the message was also reasonably straightforward. The Okhrana’s sources, whoever they might be, had not been able to specify the exact vessel Gavril Savinkov would be taking. That was unfortunate, of course, but in this instance not especially troublesome. There simply weren’t that many aetherships available for someone to travel to Mars. Narrowing the possibilities to those craft owned by the British Extra-Planetary Company was also helpful. It hadn’t taken Alexander more than an hour to ascertain that there were only two possible vessels unless the assassin was willing to wait another three months, which he thought highly unlikely.

    And, of the two possibilities, the second aethership–that would be the Blenheim–was a much smaller vessel than the Agincourt; and, better still, would not set off to Mars for another two weeks. That would give the Paris bureau of the Okhrana, the largest in Europe outside of Russia itself, plenty of time to assemble a sizeable counter-assassination team.

    The problem lay with the Agincourt. It was scheduled to depart…

    Alexander had literally yelped when he discovered the Agincourt‘s departure date. It was leaving on the morrow! There had been just enough time for him and Drezhner to race across the Channel and board the airship bringing the last passengers aboard–and even then, they’d only managed it because Rachkovsky had put through an emergency message to Rhodes to get the needed delay.

    It was the middle part of the message, however, that was now causing Alexander’s worries. Five possible targets, in two different cities–and he had only one agent beside himself. Once they reached Mars, they’d have no choice but to split up, each to a different city.

    Hopefully, of course, they would have apprehended Savinkov–or killed him, which Alexander thought to be more likely–before they arrived at their destination. But he was not sanguine about the prospect of doing so. Any assassin as successful as Savinkov would be expert at disguising himself. Insofar as the phrase “disguise himself” had any meaning at all in this instance. The Okhrana had never gotten a clear description of the man.

    There were hundreds of passengers aboard the Agincourt. It was even conceivable that Savinkov had somehow managed to infiltrate the vessel’s crew. That was extremely unlikely, in Alexander’s estimation, but the possibility couldn’t be ruled out altogether. For someone with the assassin’s skills, hiding himself in plain sight aboard the Agincourt would not be difficult.

    Had this been a Russian imperial vessel, Alexander could simply have applied force majeure. When need be, Tsarist officials would not hesitate to sequester an entire crew and complement of passengers and subject them all to rigorous interrogation until the assassin was uncovered. But that wouldn’t be possible here. Rhodes’ willingness to cooperate with Russian police agencies only went so far. The man was fiercely proud of his fleet of aetherships, especially its flagship. There would be no chance he’d agree to tarnishing his reputation, as he’d see it, by allowing Okhrana agents to effectively take control of the Agincourt.



    Barring good fortune, therefore, Alexander had to assume that Savinkov would successfully complete the voyage to Mars. They’d have to catch him after he began his operation. The point where an assassin’s target was in greatest danger was also the point where the assassin himself was most exposed and vulnerable.

    He’d take Tryddoc Aru, of course. That was the most important Martian city other than the multi-city area in the Vallis Agathodaemonis known as the Octad Gentillus and the city of Crenex, which dominated the rich lands around the Ogygis Regio depression.

    More to the point, it was the city which Cecil Rhodes had seized outright in his initial expedition to Mars in 1898. He’d even killed the local despot himself, although Alexander had been told that was more a matter of surprised self-defense when the despot attempted treachery rather than any derring-do. The despot must have been mad to make the attempt. His forces had been overwhelmed by Rhodes’ mercenaries, hardened by years of fighting Boers and Zulus in southern Africa and armed with lever-action repeating rifles and revolvers that completely out-classed Martian weaponry.

    Martian societies were highly ritualized and the customs in most Martian lands gave great weight to their version of a code duello. That gave Rhodes’ coup d’etat something in the way of cultural legitimacy, given his personal killing of the potentate. He’d made Tryddoc Aru his capital and the city had become a major commercial as well as political center under his rule. Rhodes maintained his own residence there, as did the Russian imperial envoy to the planet, Prince Vorontsov. Count Kamensky, the prince’s military adviser, resided there as well.

    That would be Gavril Savinkov’s most likely destination. It certainly provided him with the richest targets.

    Prince Saltykov and his own military adviser, Count Shuvalov, resided in Crenex. They were much less important figures and he thought it unlikely Savinkov would be aiming for them. The Esers, as members of the S-R Party were commonly called, were perennially short of funds. They wouldn’t have spent the money to send an assassin to Mars to attack a secondary target.

    He spent a minute or so considering the possibility that Rhodes himself was the target. The Esers might be engaged in a complex tit-for-tat, allied at least temporarily with a non-Russian revolutionary organization. They’d kill Rhodes in exchange for their allies targeting a very prominent Russian official. The logic being that Rhodes’ security service and the various Russian police agencies would be looking for danger from the usual parties, not foreigners who had no personal involvement or motives.

    It was certainly true that Rhodes had no shortage of enemies. What was left of the Boers hated him with a corrosive passion, for a start. While their own paramilitary forces had largely been crushed or dispersed, some Boer individuals had escaped with their fortunes, mostly to the United States. Any one of them, or a small cabal, could have financed a sole assassin’s voyage to Mars.

    There were other possibilities, too. Rumors continued to swirl that Rhodes had been involved in the assassination of Queen Victoria, despite the official finding that Fenians had been responsible. What was no rumor at all but well established was that it was Rhodes’ aetherships which had bombed from orbit and destroyed or badly damaged several naval units from the North Fleet. The units had mutinied after the newly-formed Loyalty Party used its majority in Parliament to pass sweeping new laws and ordinances which shredded ancient British liberties and legal customs. Most of the United Kingdom’s military had accepted, however grudgingly, the new black uniforms decreed by the Loyalists–but it was open knowledge that many British officers and enlisted men still considered themselves “redcoats.” A cabal emerging from those disaffected ranks might have decided to employ Russian terrorists instead of risking direct action on their own.

    All possibilities, certainly. But Alexander thought they were unlikely. Occam’s Razor applied just as much to assassination as it did to other areas of human activity. The more complicated you made a scheme, the more likely it was to fail.

    Furthermore, Rhodes’ Martian stronghold was heavily guarded by his own security forces, whereas all the Russian officials on Mars had by way of protection was a small number of guards. Not more than half a dozen in any one place–and Cossacks to a man, to make things worse. Alexander didn’t doubt the Cossacks were splendid on a field of battle, but for this sort of work they were well-nigh useless.

    No, he was sure the target was Vorontsov. The prince was a detested enemy of Russian revolutionaries. As one of the chief lieutenants for Police Director Vyacheslav von Plehve, during the early 1880s Voronsky had been responsible for the destruction of a number of terrorist groups affiliated with Narodnaya Volya–the so-called “People’s Will” organization. Two decades had gone by since then and Prince Vorontsov had left the Interior Ministry fifteen years earlier for the Tsar’s diplomatic corps. But the Socialist-Revolutionary Party had been founded largely by former members of Narodnaya Volya after they were released from imprisonment. They had long memories and were as unforgiving as a Siberian winter–which many of them had experienced firsthand, thanks to Vorontsov.

    That explained why the Esers would send Savinkov. If anyone working alone could succeed in assassinating a Russian official on Mars, it would be Savinkov.

    There was a knock on his door. Opening it, he saw Drezhner standing in the corridor outside. The young agent had a crooked smile on his face. “Weird cabins, ha? When will they shift all the furniture around?”

    “It’ll be a while yet.” Seeing no reason to remain cooped up in the tiny cabin, Alexander came into the corridor and closed the door behind him. Then, after making sure it was locked, he headed toward the center of the ship. “We may as well go to the main observation deck and see if we can find out anything.”

    The corridor was just as peculiar as the rooms. Ladders–rungs built into the walls, rather–ran horizontally along the ceiling of the corridor. Once the Agincourt began to rotate, the corridor would become a vertical shaft and they’d move to and from their cabins using those ladders. There were a few spiral staircases as well that would come into play, but none of them were nearby.

    “What an adventure!” said Drezhner cheerfully.

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