In The Matter Of Savinkov Snippet 10

In The Matter Of Savinkov Snippet 10

Chapter 6

As the hours passed while the Agincourt moved slowly away from the Earth, Vera kept a wary eye out for the two men she was almost certain were with the Okhrana. They would be looking for Savinkov, not her, but it was still essential that she do nothing to draw their attention. If at any point the Okhrana agents took an interest in her of a political nature, they might be able to ferret out the identity and whereabouts of Savinkov.

The younger agent seemed like something of a dolt, from what she could see of him. To begin with, he apparently found it next to impossible to spy on people surreptitiously. Where a glance should have done, he stared. And if the object of his scrutiny was an attractive female, the stare bordered on an outright ogle.

That was all to Vera’s advantage, though. She was in her mid-forties, much older than the young Okhrana agent, and her figure had long ago lost what it had ever possessed in the way of supple nubility. But it was still, as it had been since she was fourteen years of age, a demonstrably–one might even say, flamboyantly–female figure. Her clothing, moreover, though certainly respectable, had been designed to subtly emphasize her impressive bust. She was sure that the not-really-glances the agent sent her way whenever he passed near her had failed to register anything about her beyond her membership in the biological class of mammals.

The other Okhrana agent, unfortunately, was a different matter. He was older, for one thing. Still quite a few years short of Vera’s own age but no longer a callow youth, if he’d ever been one at all. He had an intelligent air about him, and the glances he sent at the people he was inspecting–quick glances; no dull-witted staring here–seemed to absorb a great deal in a small amount of time.

From his appearance and habits, she was fairly sure she even knew his identity. He was probably Alexander Evalenko, one of Rachkovsky’s top agents.

Thankfully, she’d been able to attach herself to the Luff party before Evalenko caught sight of her. No matter how shrewd a man might be–even a woman–it was exceedingly difficult not to let first impressions sway one’s assessments unduly. The first sight he would have had of Vera would have been her conversing with a vivacious teenage girl; and the second, the obvious interest taken in her by the girl’s father. The fact that the father was several years younger than she was wouldn’t matter. A man entering middle age; with children; a woman somewhat further into that period of life but still very “well-preserved,” as the expression went.

The exact nature of the relationship would be unclear to Evalenko. But the one thing that would have registered on him was not the one I’m looking for. Not Savinkov, certainly; not anyone of interest.

She’d need to maintain the connection with the Luffs, at least in public. But Vera didn’t expect that to be problem.

She’d first considered encouraging the father’s interest. Vera was not exactly what the French meant by the term femme fatale, but she was not far removed. A member of the genus, as it were, if not the species. Given Professor Luff’s obviously healthy and active constitution, she’d probably have a good chance of seducing him.

That was still an option. But there could be complications, and to follow that course at the outset would almost certainly alienate Luff’s daughter, whom Vera judged to be a simpler and easier target. All she had to do, really, was be herself–at least, part of herself. Besides, the girl seemed likeable and might very well prove to be more enjoyable company than her father. Such men could sometimes be…

Tiresome. She should know, being the widow of a university professor. The fact that her husband Vladimir had died in a Tsarist prison because of his revolutionary sympathies did not alter the fact that he’d often been buried in the minutia of his scholarly pursuits. During the worst of such periods she might as well have been married to a cabbage.

Yes, the girl, definitely. That meant dealing with the brother as well, of course. But Vera was of an age where the behavior of boys was no longer very annoying. It was certainly no worse than the behavior of academics.

****

By the time the Agincourt reached the turnover point, Alexander had come to the same assessment of his associate’s abilities as Vera Duchesne. To put it simply, Ilya Drezhner was a dolt.

Other terms came to mind as well, in several languages. Lummox, dummox and dimwit, from English. Dummkopf, from German. Durak from his native Russian. And of course imbecile was always ready to hand from English, French–oh, any number of languages.

Was it impossible for the man to examine someone without calling attention to himself? Couldn’t he understand that at this stage of their endeavor all they could hope to do was a rough winnowing of the terrorist chaff from the innocent–or at least irrelevant–wheat? All they could do at the moment was narrow down the potential suspects to a manageable number.

There was no chance that Savinkov would expose himself in any obvious manner. So what was the point of drawing attention to oneself by an excessively drawn-out scrutiny of the persons on the observation deck?

He’d even managed to irritate one fellow enough to cause a small verbal ruckus. Thankfully, that had resulted from Drezhner’s ogling of the man’s wife, not the man himself. Since the woman in question was obviously not Savinkov, Alexander could hope that if Savinkov had been present and witnessed the affair he would simply conclude that Drezhner was a boor rather than a Tsarist agent.

Not that the two were mutually exclusive. The Okhrana had its full share of boors.

Still, most of those boors were at least competent at their work. If only the Paris office hadn’t been so short-handed when the news arrived! Alexander could have picked one of his known associates to accompany him rather than this numbskull just arrived from St. Petersburg.

Ah, well. Such was the life of an Okhrana agent. It was still better than dealing with cavalrymen and the slightly dumber beasts they rode.

****

“Attention! Attention! Ladies and gentlemen, may I please have your attention.”

The hubbub of conversation on the observation deck died away. Everyone present in this section of the deck turned to look at a ship’s officer who’d just stepped onto a small platform he’d positioned by the railing. Not much more than a stool, really.

In the distance, both to her left and right, Charlotte could hear the voices of other officers calling out the same summons.

Attention! Attention! Ladies and gentlemen, may I please have your attention.

Attention! Attention! Ladies and gentlemen, may I please have your attention.

The observation deck went all the way around the ship, and there was no way to see all of it from any one vantage point. Apparently the passengers were being assembled in several groups simultaneously.

The officer addressing Charlotte’s part of the deck continued:

“We have reached the turnover point and we will shortly be re-orienting the ship. As you have no doubt noticed, your weight has been steadily dropping as we’ve moved farther from the Earth.”

He gave them all the too-sweet smile of a man pleased that his charges had not behaved badly over the past period. “Let me take the occasion to thank all of you once again for not indulging yourselves in potentially dangerous gymnastics.”

That had been a bit hard to resist, in truth. The constant reiteration by the ship’s officers and crew of the perils of cavorting in low gravity had been counter-productive, in Charlotte’s opinion. They served more to remind the less responsible passengers of the possibilities at hand than to deter them from partaking in them.

At one point, their father had had to physically restrain Adrian from leaping about. When a boy his age discovered himself weighing not more than a fifth of what he’d weighed back on Earth, he was inevitably tempted to emulate a gazelle.

No one had been forced to physically restrain Charlotte, needless to say. But she’d not deny having been tempted herself.

“We are now ten thousand miles removed from the Earth’s surface,” the officer went on, “and effective gravity has dropped to approximately ten percent of that experienced on the planet’s surface. Hence, it is now time to begin rotating the ship and substitute centrifugal force for gravity. As I’m sure most of you know, prolonged exposure to null or even very low gravity is deleterious to health.”

“How fast will we be rotating?” asked a portly middle-aged man a few yards away from Charlotte. He shook his head irritably, realizing that he’d posed the question badly. “What I mean is, what will be the effective gravity produced by the centrifugal force of the rotation?”

“About fifteen percent of standard gee,” replied the officer.

“Will that be sufficient?” nervously asked a woman standing next to the man who’d spoken. She was probably his wife, judging from her matronly appearance. “In terms of our health, I mean.”

“For this length of voyage, most certainly. If we were an exploratory ship headed for the outer planets with the prospect of a voyage duration of months rather than weeks…” The officer’s expression indicated some mild uncertainty–you could hardly call it apprehension. “I suppose we might want a somewhat faster rotation.”

Adrian leaned over and whispered to her: “Ha! I’d like to see that, on this ship. Start spinning the Agincourt like a top! Half the people here would start puking their guts, you watch!”

He obviously found great satisfaction, even glee, at the thought.

Boys.

Charlotte knew what he was referring to, since she’d taken the time to familiarize herself with the basic issues involved in space travel. She’d done so partly out of curiosity but mostly to forestall her brother from bombarding her with loftily knowledgeable and exasperating little lectures.

The range within which a spacecraft could establish what amounted to artificial gravity using centrifugal force was determined by several factors.

First, obviously, diameter of the craft. Diameter of the rotation, rather, using the term “diameter” loosely. The Agincourt‘s torus design was the most common but not the only one possible. You could accomplish the same thing by spinning two nacelles around each other connected only by a pylon or even a cable.

The limits here were set partly by engineering but mostly by economics. Building an aethership the size of the Agincourt was fiendishly expensive. The cost of building one that significantly exceeded its torus diameter was simply not practical. Not today, at least.

Second, the existing diameter determined the possible centrifugal force by adding the simple element of rotation. It would be very easy to rotate the ship fast enough to achieve a full standard gravity at the rim of the torus. Theoretically, you could do that with a ship whose diameter was much smaller than the Agincourt‘s.

Unfortunately, a large percentage of people simply couldn’t handle rapid rotation. They got queasy, even sick. A naval vessel or exploratory vessel could select its crew from those people who were resistant to such effects. But not a passenger vessel; certainly not a luxury liner.

In practice, it was not possible to rotate a ship the size of the Agincourt at a speed much greater than one revolution per minute. That was enough to produce an effective gee force of about fifteen percent of standard Earth gravity. As the ship’s officer said, just enough to counteract the medical risks of microgravity.

There was a slight bustle at the edges of the crowd as a few newcomers made their appearance. Mrs. Smith was among them, looking quite aggrieved.

“They made me leave the cabin,” she complained. “Quite rude about it, they were.”

Charlotte discounted that last. Their governess was firmly of the opinion that anyone who contradicted her desires, unless that person was her employer, was by definition being rude. Never mind how politely they spoke or comported themselves.

“We’ve moved all passengers out of the cabins and assembled everyone here on the observation deck,” explained the officer. “This is the best place for everyone to be as we make the transition from one configuration to another.”

“Oh, this’ll be splendid fun!” said Adrian.

****

It was rather entertaining, actually–although certainly not to the extent Adrian imagined it to be.

All the passengers were first assembled against the railing. Then, the crew brought out bizarre-looking staircases–portable steps, rather–that could be swiveled to span the gap between the railing they were against and the railing above them that stood out from (what was now) the wall of the deck at a ninety degree angle.

Then, very slowly at first but soon picking up speed, the ship began to rotate. As the stars began wheeling past, Charlotte could feel the centrifugal force starting to force her against the railing. (In that direction, rather; there were two rows of people between her and the railing itself.)

Once the force became palpable but before it became a problem, crewmen extended the staircases and began assisting passengers in making the combined climb and transfer over to the wall that was becoming a floor for the newly-configured observation deck.

Had the existing gravity remained at one gee and the centrifugal force been of equivalent effect, the result would have been calamitous. Particularly athletic or agile people–Charlotte herself, for instance–could have made the transmission without mishap. But most people would have suffered injuries of one sort or another, up to and including broken bones.

At an effective gravity of 0.1 gee in both directions, however, even the plumpest and most sedentary person could manage the business quite easily. At least, with the assistance of crew members.

Not without complaint, however. Many complaints; great complaints; constant complaints. The clientele of a luxury aethership like the Agincourt was mostly made up of very wealthy and (self-)important people. That is to say, the class of people for whom complaint, reproof and criticism of their lessers comes trippingly off the tongue.

Charlotte refrained from blowing any raspberries or making other rude and ribald remarks at the expense of the complainers.

Her brother did not. And for once–she had to be honest about this–Charlotte was pleased by Adrian’s rambunctious behavior.

So, she was quite sure, were the ship’s crewmen.

****

Finally, it was done. The transition complete; fancy chairs and tables brought forth to provide solace to the passengers as they rested from their labors; the finest delicacies and drinks made available to assuage all grievances and griefs.

“Oh, what a splendid adventure!” said Adrian.

 

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