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In the Matter of Savinkov: Chapter Five

       Last updated: Saturday, August 4, 2018 14:33 EDT



    Charlotte’s reaction to her cabin was very different from Alexander’s. She found it all quite exciting, and was especially charmed by the complex design that allowed the cabin to function with two different axes of gravity. Or centrifugal force, she reminded herself. One had to be careful to understand the distinction, even if in practice it would mean very little while they were in flight.

    “Oh, look here, Mrs. Smith.” She pulled a drawer out all the way in order to better examine the mechanism. “It’s on some sort of gimbal system. After we pack away our belongings they’ll remain undisturbed even when the ship begins to rotate and our present floor becomes a wall.”

    The governess with whom she was sharing the room stared at her. It was obvious she hadn’t understood anything Charlotte had just said.

    Well, it had been foolish to make the statement. Charlotte reminded herself to accept Mrs. Smith’s limitations. It was hard, at times. The limitations were so… so…


    “Yes, dear,” said Mrs. Smith. She continued to stow away their belongings, quite oblivious to the sophisticated engineering that had turned a simple closet and cabinet drawers into mechanical masterpieces.

    Charlotte didn’t offer Mrs. Smith any assistance. That wasn’t laziness on her part, simply long experience at work. The governess had fixed views concerning what her duties consisted of, and those views did not allow for the possibility that a teenage girl might be perfectly capable of packing away her own clothes.

    “I think I’ll go down to the observation deck.”

    “Yes, dear.”



    The first thing Charlotte did when she came onto the observation deck was subject it to the scrutiny she’d given the closet and drawers. She was delighted to discover that the same marvelous engineering had been applied here also–except on a much grander scale.

    The deck was huge, with a ceiling about sixty feet high. That was more than a quarter of the overall length of the Agincourt‘s central hub, measuring from bow to stern.

    (Or should that be top to bottom? She wasn’t sure if sea-going terminology applied to spacecraft. She’d have to inquire. It was important to get these things right.)

    The reason for the towering ceiling was obvious at a glance. Once the vessel entered deep space and began to rotate, centrifugal force would turn that sixty-foot wall into the floor of the observation deck. The ceiling would then become the forward wall. She knew that once in flight, the observation deck would also serve the Agincourt as its main dining room. None of the chairs and tables were present at the moment, though. They’d have to be attached directly to the wall to keep from falling off in the ship’s present configuration.

    There were windows all along the deck, forming the final six feet or so of each wall/floor. Heavy steel borders joined them together where they met at a ninety degree angle. One would be able to look through them either way the ship was…

    What term should she use? Heading? Flying? Proceeding? Configurating? It was a bit confusing.

    Most of the people on the observation deck were standing, although there were a few comfortable-looking chairs scattered about. The reason for that was also obvious–the observation deck circumnavigated the entire hub and people were walking slowly along the rail that kept them from stepping onto the windows.

    The Earth was not visible from Charlotte’s current position. The ship was already rotating, but very slowly; not enough to provide any significant centrifugal force, just enough to eventually bring any part of the deck into sight of the planet below them. Most people, however–as Charlotte planned to do herself–were not waiting for that to happen but were walking toward it.

    There had been perhaps thirty people visible from where she had first come onto the deck. Once she got a third of the way around and came into sight of the Earth, the population got much thicker. There were at least a hundred people crowding at the rail, looking at the spectacular view below them.

    Far below them, Charlotte saw, once she squeezed her way into a space at the rail. The Agincourt must have begun its departure almost as soon as the last passengers came aboard. The transfer station, hovering some 45,000 feet above the planet’s surface, was no longer in sight. They were very high by now. The curvature of the Earth was quite visible and the sky had not a trace of blue left in it. Stars were appearing against the darkness of space.

    She’d known in the abstract that aether drives produced very little in the way of acceleration–not more than one or two percent of standard Earth gravity. They did not operate by applying brute force to the laws of motion, the way a cannon or rocket did, but by seizing hold of the very fabric of space and drawing the craft forward. Hence the supremely smooth manner of its motion. Undetectable, really, unless you had instruments or could visibly see the progress.

    Her brother tugged at her elbow. “Let me see, Charlotte. Please let me see.”

    Reluctantly, she allowed Adrian to take her place at the rail.

    “Oh!” he exclaimed. “We’re already in outer space!”

    A man next to him looked down and smiled. “We’re still in the atmosphere, in fact. What they call the mesosphere–that’s the part above the stratosphere but below the thermosphere.”

    He was a rather nice-looking man, younger than Charlotte’s father but no longer in his twenties. His English was fluent and idiomatic, but had some sort of accent Charlotte couldn’t place. A bit Frenchy, but there was something else. Not German, she didn’t think.

    “Really?” Adrian looked profoundly disappointed. “When do we reach outer space, then?”

    “That depends on your definitions,” the man continued. “The term ‘deep space’ is ambiguous. It’s generally agreed that low earth orbit begins about one hundred and sixty kilometers–that would be one hundred of your English miles–above the surface. Anything lower that, and your orbit degrades very quickly. But even low earth orbit is still in the highest reaches of the atmosphere, so you get some drag. You need to get two thousand kilometers away from the planet before your orbit is really stable.”

    “So that’s where outer space begins? Two thousand kilometers?”

    The man shrugged. “So some would say. But the diplomats wrangling over the matter seem to be settling on a definition that would begin much lower, at one hundred and sixty kilometers–that is to say, low earth orbit. On the other hand”–he smiled again, more widely–“space voyagers themselves seem to believe that ‘outer space’ is a purely practical term, which they define as that point at which they begin rotating their craft and centrifugal force replaces gravity from the standpoint of the vessel’s crew. And passengers, in our case.”

    “When is that?”

    “It varies from ship to ship. At five hundred kilometers altitude your weight will only have decreased by a little over ten percent. There’d be no point in beginning the centrifugal rotation, since the most that will achieve is between ten and thirty percent of standard Earth gravity, depending on the radius and speed of the rotation. You need to wait until the gravitational force of the Earth has declined below that.”

    Adrian was frowning, as he tried to follow the logic. Charlotte was a bit at a loss herself and had to concentrate on maintaining a smooth brow. Frowning was uncouth, in her opinion, especially for girls.

    “Well, then…” Adrian shook his head. “When will this ship start rotating?”

    “I don’t know, since I’ve never traveled on it before. But it’ll be quite a while, I suspect. The Agincourt is a luxury liner, not a naval vessel. Spinning too rapidly makes a lot of people uncomfortable”–his easy smile re-appeared–“which is not something the BEPC wants to inflict on wealthy customers. So they’ll use a very modest rotation. I don’t believe the resultant centrifugal force will exceed fifteen percent of gee. That’s just enough to counteract the medical problems caused by microgravity, at least for a voyage lasting weeks instead of months or years.”



    Charlotte was able to make sense of that, thankfully. More for the sake of seeming intelligent than because she really cared about the answer, she asked: “Couldn’t they increase the centrifugal force if the ship had a bigger radius?”

    Now, the man chuckled. The sound was good-natured rather than derisive, however.

    “In theory, yes. But this is already–by a large margin–the biggest spacecraft in existence. Its hub has a diameter of one hundred meters or so. That’s more than twice the diameter of any other space vessel.” He waggled his hand. “Well, at least vessels using the torus-on-a-spindle design. There are some ships using other designs, that can attain much greater gee force. But those aren’t very practical for large passenger vessels.”

    He seemed a pleasant man. Charlotte decided introductions were in order.

    “I am Charlotte Luff. This is my brother Adrian.”

    “I am Alexander Evalenko. From Russia, although I’ve lived in Paris most of my adult life.”

    That explained the accent. Slavic with a heavy French overlay. Charlotte was pleased with her perspicacity.

    “We’re accompanying our father,” Adrian said. “He’s Professor Edward Luff. He’s a scholar of Martian history.”

    “I am on a business trip, myself.” Alexander made that same hand-waggling motion. “Too complicated to explain easily.”



    Alexander thought that sounded better than I am here to apprehend or execute a notorious terrorist. Probably the latter. They seemed like nice children.

    A large man came up and placed a hand on Adrian Luff’s shoulder. “There you are! I’ve been looking all over for you.”

    If that was a reproof, the tone was mild. As it should be, given the boy’s response:

    “I did wait for you, Father. But you and Mr. Shankar got–”

    “Yes, yes, I know.” The person now revealed to be Professor Edward Luff grimaced ruefully. “We got rather pre-occupied. But all’s well that ends well. What a magnificent view!”

    “Isn’t it?” Charlotte gestured toward Alexander. “This is Mr. Evalenko, Father. He was kind enough to explain some of the–ah–astronautical matters to us. He’s a businessman. From Russia originally, but he’s lived mostly in Paris.”

    The professor extended his hand and Alexander shook it.

    So. The first suspect could now be eliminated. Under other circumstances, Alexander would have given Luff a careful and thorough scrutiny. Youngish–somewhere around forty–and of a seemingly athletic build despite his reputed scholarly status. Perfect British accent but Savinkov was reputed to be a superb linguist.

    But Alexander couldn’t imagine even the most ruthless assassin bringing his own children on a mission. And these had to be his children. The boy couldn’t be more than ten or eleven years old; not the age for the sort of hardened accomplice such a mission would require. As for the girl…

    Alexander recognized the type. Teenage; precocious; not as mature as she fancied herself but not so far off, either; given to questioning established wisdom but only within acceptable limits; rather charming, in a gawky sort of way. The sort of girl the English seemed to produce as if they had a factory for the purpose.

    If he’d still been a teenage boy, Alexander would have found her very attractive. But those days were far behind him now. What remained as evident as the full moon in a cloudless sky was that Charlotte Luff was no sort of revolutionist, much less an Eser fanatic with a revolver or bomb always ready to hand.

    He looked around, examining the crowd without seeming to do so.

    He spotted Drezhner some distance off. He was sightseeing! All his attention fixed on the slowly receding blue orb below them.

    To a degree, Drezhner’s distraction was understandable. This was, after all, the young Okhrana agent’s first voyage into space where it was Alexander’s third–albeit the first to another planet instead of Russia’s orbital station. He could well remember how exciting, even exhilarating, he’d found the first such experience. Still, even then, he’d never left himself lose sight of his mission–which had been a far less critical one than the task they’d been charged with here.

    The damn fool. This was probably the best opportunity they’d have to detect Savinkov, or at least narrow the number of possible suspects. Most of the passengers, having found their cabins and stowed their belongings, would be coming to the observation deck. Until they neared Mars, this was the most splendid sightseeing opportunity they’d have on the voyage. “Outer space” sounded very dramatic, but there was only so much time one could spend staring at stars wheeling slowly across the view as the ship rotated.

    He gave the professor and his children a polite smile. “I must be off. Business to attend to, I’m afraid.”

    The Luffs paid him no mind at all, outside of an answering smile from the daughter. They were quite engrossed themselves in the magnificent vista.

    He’d have to give Drezhner a subtle elbow as he passed him by, since they couldn’t risk being seen engaged in conversation this early in the voyage. Part of the reason they had separate cabins was to establish that they didn’t know each other. The main reason, of course, was that Okhrana field offices–even the Paris office –were also chronically short of funds. The only exceptions were the occasions when members of the imperial family traveled abroad. At such times the Okhrana was showered with money to make sure no harm came to whatever grand duke insisted on enjoying the glaciers on the Ile St. Louis or the view of the Eiffel Tower from the Trocadero.

    Alexander was skeptical that the deception would work very well. The problem, as always when Russian agents operated in Western Europe, was that the accents were almost impossible to disguise–especially an accent as pronounced as Drezhner’s. It usually worked better to employ local agents; mercenaries, hired for pay. But such people would have been unusable for this sort of mission.



    He gave Drezhner the requisite elbow, then passed on his way without looking back to see if the idiot got the hint. In any event, he was pre-occupied with trying to spot someone who might be Savinkov in the crowd pressing against the rail on the observation deck.



    Savinkov had considered staying in the cabin but decided that might look suspicious. Almost no passengers except those ill or indisposed or blasé from many space voyages–there couldn’t be more than a handful of those in the entire world–could resist the urge to see the Earth receding from view as the spacecraft departed for Mars. All an Okhrana agent would have to do would be to get access to the cabin logs to see which passengers had stayed in their cabin. At one stroke, they could narrow down the list of suspects far more quickly than they could looking for their target in the mob.

    So, a sightseeing jaunt it would have to be. Besides, Savinkov could use the opportunity to start gauging the members of the crew. Before this voyage was over, there was a good chance the SRP agent would need to suborn one of them, in whatever manner proved possible.

    Blessedly, Cecil Rhodes shared the most common characteristic of great capitalists. He was a cheap, chiseling bastard when it came to paying his own employees, however much largesse he might spread elsewhere.

    The tools of the trade the public at large associated with revolutionists were incendiary pamphlets, incendiary devices, bombs and pistols. In Savinkov’s experience, however–very extensive experience–they were often cast in the shade by the humble bribe.

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