In The Matter Of Savinkov Snippet 01
Note from Eric: This is a novella I wrote for the Phoenix Pick Stellar Guild volume THE AETHERS OF MARS, which includes a companion novella by Chuck Gannon. It’s included in the upcoming volume of my short fiction, WORLDS 2, which Baen is releasing next month.
In The Matter Of Savinkov
By Eric Flint
“Look, Charlotte! Look!” said Adrian Luff. “It’s the aethership!”
Charlotte went to his side and peered up at the area of the sky he was pointing to through the window. She had to stoop a little to see under the swell of the gasbag. Her eleven-year-old brother was short for his age, and she was tall for a fourteen-year-old girl.
She had to restrain herself from exhibiting the same public enthusiasm as her brother. Charlotte was quite excited herself, of course, this being her first extra-planetary voyage. But she was a young lady now, no longer a child. Adrian could behave indecorously, but she needed to maintain a proper demeanor.
After a moment she spotted what he was indicating. “I don’t think…”
By then their father Edward was at their side. Being a large man, he had to stoop quite a bit more than Charlotte in order to bring the object into his view.
“That’s not the aethership, Adrian,” he said. “That’s the transfer station.”
Adrian frowned. “Are you sure?”
Impatiently, Charlotte was about to answer of course he’s sure! But her father placed a hand on her shoulder and said genially, “Well, I could be wrong, of course. Let’s ask someone who’d be certain.” He looked about, spotted one of the stewards on the observation deck, and waved him over.
That was typical of him. He was very careful not to be overbearing toward his children, especially since their mother had died. But while Charlotte generally appreciated his attitude, there were times…
Especially involving her brother!
Of course that wasn’t the aethership. After her father had told his children that his researches would be taking them all to Mars, she’d read up on the famous vessel that would transport them to the red planet. The craft they were approaching was much too small, for one thing. Now that the airship they were riding in had come closer, and she’d had more time to examine the object, she had a better sense of scale. That thing was not much bigger than their grandparents’ house in East Finchley. Taller, to be sure, but no bigger in terms of volume.
Granted, that house was large; much larger than the average home in England. Their mother Emily’s parents had been quite wealthy.
Charlotte made a face. She didn’t like her grandparents. They were polite to her and Adrian, when they visited, but were never very welcoming and certainly not warm-hearted.
From things her parents had let slip in her presence, from time to time, Charlotte knew that the Danbrooks–the entire family, not just her grandparents–had disapproved of Emily’s marriage to Edward Luff. True, he came from a respectable middle-class family, but he was a scholar–which is to say, from their viewpoint, barely this side of penury.
Had he been an economist, or a respectable historian of Britain–at least France or Germany–they could have let the matter slide, perhaps. But… but…
An historian of South Asia? A man who mucked about in the legends and myths–you could hardly call them histories–of Hindoos and Mohammedans?
Had Charlotte’s mother still been alive, the family’s scandal would have become even worse. After Cecil Rhodes publicly revealed his expeditions to Mars and the existence of intelligent creatures on the planet, in April of 1900, Edward Luff had shifted his field of study and become one of the world’s very first “areologists,” as such people styled themselves. That is to say, from the standpoint of the wealthy and oh-so-respectable Danbrooks, an outright charlatan–and never mind that his change of scholarly focus enabled him to obtain much larger grants to pursue his new field of studies, such as the one from the Meredith Foundation that had made this voyage possible. The Danbrooks viewed such financial acquisition as no better than swindling or embezzlement.
The steward arrived. “What may I do for you, Mr. Luff?”
Stooping again, Charlotte’s father pointed…
“Oh, it’s now out of sight.” The airship had come close enough for the huge gasbag to have completely obscured the view. Her father straightened back up. “I was wondering–my son and I were wondering–if the ship we were nearing–are nearing, I should say–is our aethership or the transfer station?”
“That would be the transfer station, sir. You’ll have a four or five hour wait there before the Agincourt arrives.”
“Why so long?” asked Adrian. He wasn’t being cross, simply curious.
For her part, Charlotte was wondering why the BEPC, the British Extra-Planetary Company, named their aetherships in such impolitic ways. Among the other dozen or so were included the Poitiers and the Crécy. Did Cecil Rhodes have some special animus against the French? To be fair, on the other side of the ledger was the Hastings. Then again, from what she knew of the famous man’s racial views, Rhodes probably didn’t consider the Normans to be French.
She’d asked her father once. He’d shrugged and said: “I don’t know. But it’s not as if anyone really cares what the French think. Politically speaking, at least, their nation is the joke of Europe.”
Which was also impolitic, of course–but at least it was said in the privacy of a home, not blazoned across the flanks of the world’s most famous and glamorous vessels.
Did one refer to the sides of vessels as “flanks”? She’d have to find out.
“…the delay,” the steward was saying. Charlotte had missed the first part of his response in her musings. “You were supposed to be the last airship, but there will be another coming, it seems. It’s expensive for an aethership to come this close to the surface, so the Agincourt‘s captain decided to wait until the final passengers were aboard the transfer station.”
Less than half an hour later, the airship docked at an entryway located on the very top of the hovering transfer station. It struck Charlotte as an odd arrangement–she’d been thinking more in terms of a traditional gangway by which one might board a steamship–but with the hindsight of this new experience she understood the logic. The huge gasbag that provided their airship with its buoyancy would have made it impossible to come alongside the transfer station. This way, aligning the bottom of the airship with the top of the spindle-shaped transfer station, they could lower themselves onto the station through a hatchway in the deck of the airship. Much the way Charlotte imagined one might board a submarine.
Once aboard the transfer station, they were greeted by a steward who murmured polite and vacuous phrases ending with: “Do make yourselves comfortable.” He gestured in the direction of chairs bolted to the floor some distance away, and then moved off to attend to other duties.
There were quite a few of the chairs; fifty or sixty, arranged in three arcing rows that spread across half the space of the transfer station’s central chamber. The chamber itself was perhaps twenty yards in diameter. The chairs were upholstered and looked very sturdy and well-made, with headrests, but were simple in design. Most of them were taken up already by other passengers waiting for the aethership to arrive.
Charlotte’s attention was drawn to one end of the seating arrangement, occupied by a large group of rather exotic-looking people. They seemed to be an extended family, judging by their obvious familiarity with each other.