In The Matter Of Savinkov Snippet 07

Barring good fortune, therefore, Alexander had to assume that Savinkov would successfully complete the voyage to Mars. They’d have to catch him after he began his operation. The point where an assassin’s target was in greatest danger was also the point where the assassin himself was most exposed and vulnerable.

He’d take Tryddoc Aru, of course. That was the most important Martian city other than the multi-city area in the Vallis Agathodaemonis known as the Octad Gentillus and the city of Crenex, which dominated the rich lands around the Ogygis Regio depression.

More to the point, it was the city which Cecil Rhodes had seized outright in his initial expedition to Mars in 1898. He’d even killed the local despot himself, although Alexander had been told that was more a matter of surprised self-defense when the despot attempted treachery rather than any derring-do. The despot must have been mad to make the attempt. His forces had been overwhelmed by Rhodes’ mercenaries, hardened by years of fighting Boers and Zulus in southern Africa and armed with lever-action repeating rifles and revolvers that completely out-classed Martian weaponry.

Martian societies were highly ritualized and the customs in most Martian lands gave great weight to their version of a code duello. That gave Rhodes’ coup d’etat something in the way of cultural legitimacy, given his personal killing of the potentate. He’d made Tryddoc Aru his capital and the city had become a major commercial as well as political center under his rule. Rhodes maintained his own residence there, as did the Russian imperial envoy to the planet, Prince Vorontsov. Count Kamensky, the prince’s military adviser, resided there as well.

That would be Gavril Savinkov’s most likely destination. It certainly provided him with the richest targets.

Prince Saltykov and his own military adviser, Count Shuvalov, resided in Crenex. They were much less important figures and he thought it unlikely Savinkov would be aiming for them. The Esers, as members of the S-R Party were commonly called, were perennially short of funds. They wouldn’t have spent the money to send an assassin to Mars to attack a secondary target.

He spent a minute or so considering the possibility that Rhodes himself was the target. The Esers might be engaged in a complex tit-for-tat, allied at least temporarily with a non-Russian revolutionary organization. They’d kill Rhodes in exchange for their allies targeting a very prominent Russian official. The logic being that Rhodes’ security service and the various Russian police agencies would be looking for danger from the usual parties, not foreigners who had no personal involvement or motives.

It was certainly true that Rhodes had no shortage of enemies. What was left of the Boers hated him with a corrosive passion, for a start. While their own paramilitary forces had largely been crushed or dispersed, some Boer individuals had escaped with their fortunes, mostly to the United States. Any one of them, or a small cabal, could have financed a sole assassin’s voyage to Mars.

There were other possibilities, too. Rumors continued to swirl that Rhodes had been involved in the assassination of Queen Victoria, despite the official finding that Fenians had been responsible. What was no rumor at all but well established was that it was Rhodes’ aetherships which had bombed from orbit and destroyed or badly damaged several naval units from the North Fleet. The units had mutinied after the newly-formed Loyalty Party used its majority in Parliament to pass sweeping new laws and ordinances which shredded ancient British liberties and legal customs. Most of the United Kingdom’s military had accepted, however grudgingly, the new black uniforms decreed by the Loyalists–but it was open knowledge that many British officers and enlisted men still considered themselves “redcoats.” A cabal emerging from those disaffected ranks might have decided to employ Russian terrorists instead of risking direct action on their own.

All possibilities, certainly. But Alexander thought they were unlikely. Occam’s Razor applied just as much to assassination as it did to other areas of human activity. The more complicated you made a scheme, the more likely it was to fail.

Furthermore, Rhodes’ Martian stronghold was heavily guarded by his own security forces, whereas all the Russian officials on Mars had by way of protection was a small number of guards. Not more than half a dozen in any one place–and Cossacks to a man, to make things worse. Alexander didn’t doubt the Cossacks were splendid on a field of battle, but for this sort of work they were well-nigh useless.

No, he was sure the target was Vorontsov. The prince was a detested enemy of Russian revolutionaries. As one of the chief lieutenants for Police Director Vyacheslav von Plehve, during the early 1880s Voronsky had been responsible for the destruction of a number of terrorist groups affiliated with Narodnaya Volya–the so-called “People’s Will” organization. Two decades had gone by since then and Prince Vorontsov had left the Interior Ministry fifteen years earlier for the Tsar’s diplomatic corps. But the Socialist-Revolutionary Party had been founded largely by former members of Narodnaya Volya after they were released from imprisonment. They had long memories and were as unforgiving as a Siberian winter–which many of them had experienced firsthand, thanks to Vorontsov.

That explained why the Esers would send Savinkov. If anyone working alone could succeed in assassinating a Russian official on Mars, it would be Savinkov.

There was a knock on his door. Opening it, he saw Drezhner standing in the corridor outside. The young agent had a crooked smile on his face. “Weird cabins, ha? When will they shift all the furniture around?”

“It’ll be a while yet.” Seeing no reason to remain cooped up in the tiny cabin, Alexander came into the corridor and closed the door behind him. Then, after making sure it was locked, he headed toward the center of the ship. “We may as well go to the main observation deck and see if we can find out anything.”

The corridor was just as peculiar as the rooms. Ladders–rungs built into the walls, rather–ran horizontally along the ceiling of the corridor. Once the Agincourt began to rotate, the corridor would become a vertical shaft and they’d move to and from their cabins using those ladders. There were a few spiral staircases as well that would come into play, but none of them were nearby.

“What an adventure!” said Drezhner cheerfully.