In The Matter Of Savinkov Snippet 08

Chapter 5

Charlotte’s reaction to her cabin was very different from Alexander’s. She found it all quite exciting, and was especially charmed by the complex design that allowed the cabin to function with two different axes of gravity. Or centrifugal force, she reminded herself. One had to be careful to understand the distinction, even if in practice it would mean very little while they were in flight.

“Oh, look here, Mrs. Smith.” She pulled a drawer out all the way in order to better examine the mechanism. “It’s on some sort of gimbal system. After we pack away our belongings they’ll remain undisturbed even when the ship begins to rotate and our present floor becomes a wall.”

The governess with whom she was sharing the room stared at her. It was obvious she hadn’t understood anything Charlotte had just said.

Well, it had been foolish to make the statement. Charlotte reminded herself to accept Mrs. Smith’s limitations. It was hard, at times. The limitations were so… so…


“Yes, dear,” said Mrs. Smith. She continued to stow away their belongings, quite oblivious to the sophisticated engineering that had turned a simple closet and cabinet drawers into mechanical masterpieces.

Charlotte didn’t offer Mrs. Smith any assistance. That wasn’t laziness on her part, simply long experience at work. The governess had fixed views concerning what her duties consisted of, and those views did not allow for the possibility that a teenage girl might be perfectly capable of packing away her own clothes.

“I think I’ll go down to the observation deck.”

“Yes, dear.”


The first thing Charlotte did when she came onto the observation deck was subject it to the scrutiny she’d given the closet and drawers. She was delighted to discover that the same marvelous engineering had been applied here also–except on a much grander scale.

The deck was huge, with a ceiling about sixty feet high. That was more than a quarter of the overall length of the Agincourt‘s central hub, measuring from bow to stern.

(Or should that be top to bottom? She wasn’t sure if sea-going terminology applied to spacecraft. She’d have to inquire. It was important to get these things right.)

The reason for the towering ceiling was obvious at a glance. Once the vessel entered deep space and began to rotate, centrifugal force would turn that sixty-foot wall into the floor of the observation deck. The ceiling would then become the forward wall. She knew that once in flight, the observation deck would also serve the Agincourt as its main dining room. None of the chairs and tables were present at the moment, though. They’d have to be attached directly to the wall to keep from falling off in the ship’s present configuration.

There were windows all along the deck, forming the final six feet or so of each wall/floor. Heavy steel borders joined them together where they met at a ninety degree angle. One would be able to look through them either way the ship was…

What term should she use? Heading? Flying? Proceeding? Configurating? It was a bit confusing.

Most of the people on the observation deck were standing, although there were a few comfortable-looking chairs scattered about. The reason for that was also obvious–the observation deck circumnavigated the entire hub and people were walking slowly along the rail that kept them from stepping onto the windows.

The Earth was not visible from Charlotte’s current position. The ship was already rotating, but very slowly; not enough to provide any significant centrifugal force, just enough to eventually bring any part of the deck into sight of the planet below them. Most people, however–as Charlotte planned to do herself–were not waiting for that to happen but were walking toward it.

There had been perhaps thirty people visible from where she had first come onto the deck. Once she got a third of the way around and came into sight of the Earth, the population got much thicker. There were at least a hundred people crowding at the rail, looking at the spectacular view below them.

Far below them, Charlotte saw, once she squeezed her way into a space at the rail. The Agincourt must have begun its departure almost as soon as the last passengers came aboard. The transfer station, hovering some 45,000 feet above the planet’s surface, was no longer in sight. They were very high by now. The curvature of the Earth was quite visible and the sky had not a trace of blue left in it. Stars were appearing against the darkness of space.

She’d known in the abstract that aether drives produced very little in the way of acceleration–not more than one or two percent of standard Earth gravity. They did not operate by applying brute force to the laws of motion, the way a cannon or rocket did, but by seizing hold of the very fabric of space and drawing the craft forward. Hence the supremely smooth manner of its motion. Undetectable, really, unless you had instruments or could visibly see the progress.

Her brother tugged at her elbow. “Let me see, Charlotte. Please let me see.”

Reluctantly, she allowed Adrian to take her place at the rail.

“Oh!” he exclaimed. “We’re already in outer space!”

A man next to him looked down and smiled. “We’re still in the atmosphere, in fact. What they call the mesosphere–that’s the part above the stratosphere but below the thermosphere.”

He was a rather nice-looking man, younger than Charlotte’s father but no longer in his twenties. His English was fluent and idiomatic, but had some sort of accent Charlotte couldn’t place. A bit Frenchy, but there was something else. Not German, she didn’t think.

“Really?” Adrian looked profoundly disappointed. “When do we reach outer space, then?”

“That depends on your definitions,” the man continued. “The term ‘deep space’ is ambiguous. It’s generally agreed that low earth orbit begins about one hundred and sixty kilometers–that would be one hundred of your English miles–above the surface. Anything lower that, and your orbit degrades very quickly. But even low earth orbit is still in the highest reaches of the atmosphere, so you get some drag. You need to get two thousand kilometers away from the planet before your orbit is really stable.”

“So that’s where outer space begins? Two thousand kilometers?”

The man shrugged. “So some would say. But the diplomats wrangling over the matter seem to be settling on a definition that would begin much lower, at one hundred and sixty kilometers–that is to say, low earth orbit. On the other hand”–he smiled again, more widely–“space voyagers themselves seem to believe that ‘outer space’ is a purely practical term, which they define as that point at which they begin rotating their craft and centrifugal force replaces gravity from the standpoint of the vessel’s crew. And passengers, in our case.”

“When is that?”

“It varies from ship to ship. At five hundred kilometers altitude your weight will only have decreased by a little over ten percent. There’d be no point in beginning the centrifugal rotation, since the most that will achieve is between ten and thirty percent of standard Earth gravity, depending on the radius and speed of the rotation. You need to wait until the gravitational force of the Earth has declined below that.”

Adrian was frowning, as he tried to follow the logic. Charlotte was a bit at a loss herself and had to concentrate on maintaining a smooth brow. Frowning was uncouth, in her opinion, especially for girls.

“Well, then…” Adrian shook his head. “When will this ship start rotating?”

“I don’t know, since I’ve never traveled on it before. But it’ll be quite a while, I suspect. The Agincourt is a luxury liner, not a naval vessel. Spinning too rapidly makes a lot of people uncomfortable”–his easy smile re-appeared–“which is not something the BEPC wants to inflict on wealthy customers. So they’ll use a very modest rotation. I don’t believe the resultant centrifugal force will exceed fifteen percent of gee. That’s just enough to counteract the medical problems caused by microgravity, at least for a voyage lasting weeks instead of months or years.”