In The Matter Of Savinkov Snippet 06

Chapter 4

Alexander Evalenko examined his cabin with distaste. The furnishings were luxurious, true enough, and the bed–it might be better to say, deluxe cot–looked comfortable. But the room seemed more like a glorified closet than anything Alexander associated with the term “cabin.”

His claustrophobia was heightened by disorientation. The peculiar design of the cabin made the cramped quarters seem ever worse. He understood the reason for that design: the furnishings needed to be swiveled around and work at a ninety-degree angle once the aethership was in outer space and was set spinning to mimic gravity. But that knowledge did little to alleviate his discomfort.

Perhaps that was just the residue of his provincialism at work. He’d been raised in the countryside on a large estate in Perm Guberniya. His family, although part of the hereditary nobility, had not been wealthy and had lived in rather primitive wooden dwellings. But even for the peasants in the region, a “cabin” had been spacious compared to this room. And there had certainly been nothing exotic about its construction.

On the positive side, he wouldn’t have to share the room with Ilya Drezhner. The cabin was barely big enough for one person, much less two. Alexander found Drezhner’s company increasingly tiresome. The man was intelligent, technically speaking, but full of so many biases and fixed notions as to make him effectively a halfwit.

Ah, well. The life of a secret agent tasked to seek out and destroy anarchists, revolutionists and agitators was not an easy one. Alexander had known that from the moment he decided to resign from the army and join the Okhrana. He reminded himself that Drezhner was a veritable sage compared to the imbeciles he’d had to contend with in the cavalry.

Once he’d packed away the few belongings he’d brought with him, he drew out the message that Drezhner had brought to him in Paris. The only reason he was looking at it again was from long habit. He’d found that if he studied a message several times, over a period of two or three days, he could destroy it without fear of forgetting anything.

The note was from one of Okhrana chief Semiakin’s assistants. The exact identity of the assistant was unfortunately not specified. Drezhner had not thought to inquire, and his description of the man could have fit any of three clerks stationed at the Okhrana’s headquarters in St. Petersburg. One of those assistants was brilliant, one was competent, and the third only had his post because of family connections. Alexander would have liked to know which of the three had composed this message.

Gavril Savinkov reported en route to Mars. Probable conveyance BEPC vessel. Probable destination Tryddoc Aru or Crenex. Probable targets include:

Cecil Rhodes

Prince Mikhail Ivanovich Vorontsov

Prince Pyotr Pavlovich Saltykov

Count Vasily Fedorovich Kamensky

Count Pavel Andreyevich Shuvalov

Arrest Savinkov if possible for questioning. Essential his mission be thwarted by whatever means necessary.

The last part was straightforward enough. Obviously, it would be ideal to apprehend the man and subject him to questioning in hopes of learning the identity of his accomplices and associates. But, above all else, his plot had to be stopped. If that meant killing him on the spot, so be it. Savinkov was a leader of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party’s Combat Organization and its most notorious assassin.

The first part of the message was also reasonably straightforward. The Okhrana’s sources, whoever they might be, had not been able to specify the exact vessel Gavril Savinkov would be taking. That was unfortunate, of course, but in this instance not especially troublesome. There simply weren’t that many aetherships available for someone to travel to Mars. Narrowing the possibilities to those craft owned by the British Extra-Planetary Company was also helpful. It hadn’t taken Alexander more than an hour to ascertain that there were only two possible vessels unless the assassin was willing to wait another three months, which he thought highly unlikely.

And, of the two possibilities, the second aethership–that would be the Blenheim–was a much smaller vessel than the Agincourt; and, better still, would not set off to Mars for another two weeks. That would give the Paris bureau of the Okhrana, the largest in Europe outside of Russia itself, plenty of time to assemble a sizeable counter-assassination team.

The problem lay with the Agincourt. It was scheduled to depart…

Alexander had literally yelped when he discovered the Agincourt‘s departure date. It was leaving on the morrow! There had been just enough time for him and Drezhner to race across the Channel and board the airship bringing the last passengers aboard–and even then, they’d only managed it because Rachkovsky had put through an emergency message to Rhodes to get the needed delay.

It was the middle part of the message, however, that was now causing Alexander’s worries. Five possible targets, in two different cities–and he had only one agent beside himself. Once they reached Mars, they’d have no choice but to split up, each to a different city.

Hopefully, of course, they would have apprehended Savinkov–or killed him, which Alexander thought to be more likely–before they arrived at their destination. But he was not sanguine about the prospect of doing so. Any assassin as successful as Savinkov would be expert at disguising himself. Insofar as the phrase “disguise himself” had any meaning at all in this instance. The Okhrana had never gotten a clear description of the man.

There were hundreds of passengers aboard the Agincourt. It was even conceivable that Savinkov had somehow managed to infiltrate the vessel’s crew. That was extremely unlikely, in Alexander’s estimation, but the possibility couldn’t be ruled out altogether. For someone with the assassin’s skills, hiding himself in plain sight aboard the Agincourt would not be difficult.

Had this been a Russian imperial vessel, Alexander could simply have applied force majeure. When need be, Tsarist officials would not hesitate to sequester an entire crew and complement of passengers and subject them all to rigorous interrogation until the assassin was uncovered. But that wouldn’t be possible here. Rhodes’ willingness to cooperate with Russian police agencies only went so far. The man was fiercely proud of his fleet of aetherships, especially its flagship. There would be no chance he’d agree to tarnishing his reputation, as he’d see it, by allowing Okhrana agents to effectively take control of the Agincourt.