In The Matter Of Savinkov Snippet 09

In The Matter Of Savinkov Snippet 09

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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