This story is in Eric Flint’s collection Worlds 2 which has been released so this is the last snippet.
In The Matter Of Savinkov Snippet 11
It didn’t take Charlotte very long to figure out three Profound Truths about space voyages that would last for weeks and keep what was actually quite a small number of people, somewhere around five hundred passengers and one hundred and fifty crewmen–once you factored in “weeks” and “rather limited space”–in close proximity forever and ever and ever.
The first of the Profound Truths was that confining hundreds of people for long stretches of times in an enclosed space which could not in the nature of things be aired out–the vacuum of space not being suitable for the purpose–produced aromas that could most delicately be described as “fatiguing.” Privately, she did not disagree with her brother’s preferred term of “stinky” but she found his constant use of it also fatiguing.
The perfumes and colognes that many people started slathering on to compensate for the problem only made it worse.
The second of the Profound Truths was that listening to scholars like her father and the Shankar couple discuss the arcane complexities of their field was to tedium what little brothers were to aggravation.
The third of the Profound Truths was that sophisticated, intelligent, friendly, middle-aged women of somewhat exotic origin were to salvation from boredom what water was to thirst in the desert.
The only fly in this ointment was that Adrian figured out the Truths as quickly as she did. Still, even little brothers were not as irritating as usual when you had someone like Madame Duchesne around. The German widow handled Adrian’s eleven-year-old lack of couth gracefully and easily, without ever needing to neglect her primary mission on this voyage, which was to keep Charlotte herself from going mad.
“Oh, no,” Madame Duchesne said, smiling. “German bureaucrats aren’t everything legend makes them out to be. I assure you, they don’t refuse to eat breakfast until their wives have presented them with the menu in triplicate.”
She paused, to admire a particularly striking vine that wove all through the grid making up the side of the corridor. Charlotte was not familiar with the vine, despite its flamboyantly-colored flowers. That was not surprising, since they were in a portion of the hydroponics promenade that was tropical in its temperature and humidity. None of the flora was remotely English.
Still examining the vine, Madame Duchesne pursed her lips. “Well… Prussians, maybe. But certainly not Bavarians or Swabians. Do be careful, Adrian. That glass panel–”
Turning her head, Charlotte saw that her brother was reaching out to touch one of the huge glass panels that allowed sunlight reflected from mirrors to bathe the hydroponic garden.
“Oh, it can’t be that fragile,” scoffed Adrian, “or it’d be too risky–ow!”
He snatched back his hand and stuffed his forefinger into his mouth.
“–is likely to be quite hot,” Madame Duchesne finished, in a mild tone of voice. “They have some sort of shielding embedded in the glass to deflect radiation. Quite effective, but it tends to absorb a lot of energy. You do need to be cautious in space, you know.”
Adrian winced, and kept sucking on his finger.
Served him right!
“It has to be one of those four men,” insisted Ilya Drezhner. “Who else could it be?”
Alexander stifled his temper. By now, halfway through the voyage, practically anything Drezhner said was aggravating, due to the man’s insufferable self-assurance. For Drezhner, all things came in clear hues and tones. He recognized the existence of gray, yes–but for him, gray had no shades, no indistinctions. It was a color every bit as clear and sharp-edged as black or white.
Alexander didn’t even disagree with him, in this instance. He was almost sure himself that Gavril Savinkov had to be one of the same four men Drezhner’s suspicion had fallen upon. But…
There was always a “but,” in their peculiar occupation. The only colors one encountered in counter-revolutionary work were hues of gray.
The simple truth was that there were no clear descriptions of Savinkov, despite the assassin’s notoriety. The man was reputed to have organized the assassination of Dmitry Sipyagin, the Minister of the Interior, as well as that of two provincial governors and a deputy commander of the Imperial Corps of Gendarmes. Yet, somehow, less was known of him than any other top leader of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party or any member of the SRP’s Combat Organization.
According to the reports available, Savinkov was male, probably of average height and build, probably in his late thirties or early forties. If various rumors were to be believed, he was probably Jewish too, but that was of little help. A very high percentage of Russia’s revolutionaries were Jewish in their origin, though almost none of them observed the faith any longer.
It was the commonly-held opinion of the cavalry officers whose company Alexander had once shared that Jews could be easily detected by their mere appearance. One only had to look for a large, hooked nose, dark and close-set eyes, and a shifty expression. The same cavalry officers, of course, also subscribed to every idiotic superstition known to man or beast. Most of them could have been outplayed at checkers by their mounts if the horses had only had opposable thumbs to move the game pieces.
Alexander knew a great many Jews, partly because he encountered them as enemies and partly because the Okhrana employed many Jews. (Of necessity, and regulations be damned.) Of that number, only one of them shared any resemblance at all to the stereotype–and that was simply because the man’s nose did have a distinct curve, although it was not especially large.
The problem with Savinkov’s description was not even so much that it was hopelessly vague. Could it even be trusted at all? Years of experience had taught Alexander that revolutionists could at times be fiendishly clever. (Also, at times, incredibly foolish–but only an incompetent agent or one who was a fool himself relied on his enemy to make mistakes.)
It was possible, therefore, that Savinkov was tall, or fat, or bald. It was possible that he was considerably older than the reports. It was also possible that he was a young man, although that was unlikely given his long string of accomplishments.
For that matter, it was even conceivable that all the reports were entirely inaccurate and “Gavril” Savinkov was actually a woman. Russia’s revolutionary organizations had many women in their ranks, some of whom had become assassins themselves. As far back as 1879, in one of Russia’s very first terrorist incidents, Vera Zasulich had seriously wounded Colonel Theodore Trepov, the governor of St. Petersburg.
Zasulich had been captured but later escaped. In fact, she was still at large.
Alexander was quite sure Zasulich herself was not aboard the Agincourt. Her description was not only well-known, he’d seen photographs of the woman.
But it simply couldn’t be ruled out entirely that the Okhrana’s intelligence was wildly off the mark. Perhaps Savinkov was actually a woman. Perhaps he was indeed a man, but a woman impersonating him was undertaking this mission. For that matter, perhaps the whole mission was a figment of the Ohkrana’s imagination and he and Drezhner were wasting their time altogether.
Such was the inescapable epistemology of the counter-revolutionist’s trade.
To which truth his companion Ilya Drezhner seemed completely oblivious. Why had this man ever joined the Okhrana in the first place? He seemed ideally suited for leading cavalry charges.
Alexander reminded himself that another of the great truths of the counter-revolutionist’s trade was that you worked with the material available, as inferior as that material might be. He’d once even had to work with a Lapp reindeer herder, who had been completely illiterate and possessed of an odor that was quite indescribable.
But–he suppressed a sigh, here–the Lapp had actually been a rather intelligent man, given his limitations. He’d certainly not suffered from Drezhner’s rigidity of thought. It seemed that herding reindeer was a profession that taught a man to avoid dogmatic assumptions, whereas riding horses did the exact opposite.
Back to the matter at hand, he told himself firmly. His reservations and caveats were simply the product of the scrupulous intellect of a good agent. On balance, he did not really think the accepted assumptions about Savinkov were incorrect.
Which meant… he was indeed one of the four men Drezhner had pointed out.
“Look here, Edward,” said Vijay Shankar. “It’s a passage from the Black Yajur Veda.” He swiveled the volume on the table between them so that the writing faced Luff. Then, tapped his finger on a particular line of text.
Edward Luff’s knowledge of Sanskrit was passable, but only that. It took him a moment or two to understand the meaning of the lines indicated.
From Earth I have mounted to the atmosphere;
From the atmosphere I have mounted to the sky.
“And here,” Shankar said, laying a second, more slender volume atop the first. “This is in the White Yajur Veda.” Again, he tapped his finger on a line.
The line was very short:
Earth! Ether! Sky!
Luff made a face. “That all depends on the translator, Vijay. The term ‘ether,’ I mean.”
“True. But what’s indisputably clear is that a tripartite–not a dual–distinction is being made. Earth and sky, which is common to any ancient traditions. But then there’s something in between. Something else.”
“And it’s not just a reference to air, either,” said Vijay’s wife Sumati. She leaned over the table and flipped a few pages in the book. Then, mimicked her husband’s finger-tapping. “Look at these lines.”
From earth to air’s mid-region have I mounted,
And from mid-air ascended to heaven.
From the high pitch of heaven’s cope
I came into the world of light.
Edward had to admit, the passage did seem like a description of interplanetary travel. The first journey, via an airship, to a transfer station; then the journey into space aboard an aethership.
“Doesn’t this all seem very… call it vague, if you will. Why use such poetic ways to depict what is ultimately a mundane matter? Would you use iambic pentameter and a slathering of classical allusions to depict a train journey?”
Shankar shrugged. “We know very little of Indian history during the Vedic period–any part of it, much less the earliest stages. The Rig Veda is the oldest of the sacred texts and it dates back at least three and half thousand years.”
Sumati chimed in again. “And remember that if our theory is correct, what we’re calling the Martian period would have antedated Vedic civilization, possibly by thousands of years.”
“Almost certainly by thousands of years,” said Vijay. “Which means that the references in the Vedas came much later than the activities they depict. The analogy might be with Homer’s epics, which were almost certainly composed long after the events they speak about.”
“Except, if you’re right,” mused Edward, “the gap between the actual events and the Vedic record was measured in millennia rather than centuries. That would certainly explain the imprecision of the texts. In essence, you have people in a technologically primitive period trying to depict what their ancestors remembered of an ancient society whose science and industry was highly developed.”
He chuckled. “And, of course, your theory has a built-in explanation for the lack of an archaeological record.”
The Brahmin scholar shrugged again. “Yes, granted. But the mere fact that it’s convenient to our theory doesn’t make it incorrect.”
“No, no,” Luff agreed. “It is indeed true, as counter-intuitive as it might seem to most people, that the archaeological remains of primitive civilizations will long outlive the remains of highly advanced technical societies. The pyramids of Egypt have survived for three thousand years and will undoubtedly survive at least that many years into the future. Whereas if modern civilization collapses, none of its works will survive much more than a few centuries except some gold, silver and jewelry–items which will reveal very little of the technical development of the society which produced them.”
He leaned back in his chair. “Is there more?”
Sumati brushed back her long hair. “For one thing, there are frequent references throughout the Vedas to two worlds.”
“Sometimes multiple worlds,” said Vijay. He smiled. “And before you raise the objection that most religions make a distinction between this world and a more spiritual one, these references seem–to use your term–rather mundane. It can’t be proved, but the… call it ‘feel’ or ‘flavor’ of the texts seem to be matter-of-factly referring to two actual worlds. That is to say, physical worlds.”
Luff nodded. “And what else?”
This time, it was Sumati who took the larger of the two books and flipped through the pages until she found the one she was looking for. She laid the book down in front of Adrian, after turning it so the text faced him again.
Her finger tapped three times in quick succession, indicating three separate lines. Luff leaned over and studied them.
That most auspicious One whose hue is coppery and red and brown
May he who glides away, whose neck is azure, and whose hue is red
Homage to him the Azure-nested, the thousand-eyed, the bountiful
When she saw that he was finished, Sumati leaned over and flipped a few more pages. Then, tapped twice. “These two lines also.”
Pursuer, Lord of Soma juice, thou cleaver, colored blue and red
…their necks are blue, their throats are white
He leaned back again. “Vague, so blasted vague. But…”
He cocked a semi-skeptical, semi-fascinated eye at the Hindu couple sitting across from him. He was by now quite oblivious to the murmuring voices that surrounded them. The table they occupied was just one of many in the crowded observation deck. “Do you really think these are references to the so-called Old Ones?”
Shankar raised his hands and spread them in a gesture that somehow mirrored Luff’s expression. Half-doubt; half fierce interest.
“At the moment, I can’t say. Ask me in a few weeks–best say, few months–when I’ve had a chance to examine the Martian texts in the vaults at Ghlaktora. But one of the things that all references to the Old Ones that I’ve seen share in common is their coloration. It’s always red–or reddish, at least–but especially blue.”
“The necks in particular?”
It was Vijay’s turn to chuckle. “Alas! One of the things the texts definitely do not share in common is a morphological depiction of the Old Ones, other than a general sense they were monstrous. It’s not clear that they even had ‘necks’ at all, at least as we use the term.”
“The clearest description seems to picture them standing on four legs,” said Sumati, “with a torso or some kind and a head at the top. But the shape does not seem to have been a terrestrial one. From what I can tell, the torso went straight up from the legs, the way a camera sits on a tripod–not the way you’d picture something like a centaur or a sphinx.”
She spread her hands also. “Whether there was any sort of neck is entirely unclear.”
“If they existed at all,” said Luff.
“If they existed at all,” agreed Shankar.