Back again you are welcomed, to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread. Herein the Vorkosigan Saga I am synopsizing and commenting on, by chapters one or two. At the moment, the novella “The Borders of Infinity” I am in the middle of; divided it I have into three parts, of which the second one this is. (Annoying this is probably getting, yes? When 63 posts into a reread blog you get, perhaps your jokes so good will be not.) No further ado there is being, as Miles with the prison camp on Dagoola IV is dealing.
The Borders of Infinity (cont.)
Suegar asks Miles where he thinks he’ll get 500 troops; Miles indicates the women’s group, but Suegar is dubious. They never ever let him in to preach, and he gave up, though he assures Miles it’s not because of any residual guilt for past transgressions. Miles wonders if the pressure is really high enough to keep the group together, and Suegar says that it comes and goes, like phases of the moon. Miles makes the connection to menstrual cycles and is thankful that “time-release anti-ovulant” is required for female prisoners under the IJC rules, though he wonders whether having actual children to care for would be a stabilizing or destabilizing force.
“Well . . .” Miles took a deep breath, and pulled an imaginary hat down over his eyes at an aggressive angle. “I’m new here, and so temporarily unembarrassed. Let he who is without sin cast the first lure. Besides, I have an advantage for this sort of negotiation. I’m clearly not a threat.” He marched forward.
“I’ll wait for you here,” called Suegar helpfully, and hunkered down where he was.
Miles timed his forward march to intersect a patrol of six women strolling down their perimeter. He arranged himself in front of them and swept off his imaginary hat to hold strategically over his crotch. “Good afternoon, ladies. Allow me to apologize for m’beh—”
Before he can finish, he’s dumped on his face, then picked up, swung around, and flung away to land near Suegar. Miles asks Suegar if he’d calculated the trajectory that precisely, and Suegar admitted he hadn’t been quite sure, because of Miles’s size. Miles gets up, his ribs aching, dusts himself off, and picks up his invisible hat, gathering himself for a moment before heading back. Suegar tries to stop him, but Miles tells him that he’s pathological persistent, so Suegar sits down to wait for him. He is thrown back two more times, the second time much less far.
After that he follows along beside them, out of reach but parallel, telling them about his bone disorder (where he must clarify he is not a mutant), telling them he’s not a threat, and exhorting them to slow down so he can talk to them. He plants himself in front of them and says that if they’re going to break every bone in his body, they might as well go ahead, because that’s what it’ll take to get him to stop.
A tall redhead suggests they take him at his word; she and another woman take his arms, offering to break them, and Miles says that it’ll be worth it if they listen to him for five minutes. He braces himself as the pressure increases, before the women let up. The redhead, Beatrice, asks him if he gets off on being beaten up, and Miles suggests they stop beating him up, to serve him right. The leader calls her off and tells him he’s got five minutes.
Miles first apologizes for his nudity, his clothes having been stolen, which Beatrice confirms. He says he’s approaching them because they’re the largest pocket of civilization, and he wants to help them expand and “improve the tone” of the prison camp. The patrol leader isn’t receptive, saying they have all they can do just to hold their borders, and Beatrice adds that he’s not getting “any” from them either.
Miles sighed, and turned his hat around in his hands by its wide brim. He spun it for a moment on one finger, and locked eyes with the redhead. “Note my hat. It was the one garment I managed to keep from the ravages of the burly surly brothers—Pitt’s bunch, you say.”
She snorted at the turn of phrase. “Those jerks . . . why just a hat? Why not pants? Why not a full-dress uniform while you’re at it?” she added sarcastically.
“A hat is a more useful object for communicating. You can make broad gestures,” he did so, “denote sincerity,” he held it over his heart, “or indicate embarrassment,” over his genitals, with a hang-dog crouch, “or rage—” he flung it to earth as if he might drive it into the ground, then picked it up and brushed it off carefully, “or determination—” he jammed it on his head and yanked the brim down over his eyes, “or make courtesies.” He swept it off again in salute to her. “Do you see the hat?”
Amused, Beatrice says she does. Miles asks her about the feathers on the hat, and she plays along, describing two of them, close together, but she draws back when Miles asks her about their colour.
“When you can see the color of the feathers,” said Miles softly, “you’ll also understand how you can expand your borders to infinity.”
She was silent, her face closed and locked. But the patrol leader muttered, “Maybe this little runt better talk to Tris. Just this once.”
Tris turns out to be an actual female trooper, not a tech, muscular and angry. Miles knows that how he deals with Tris could make or break his whole scheme. He takes a deep breath and offers her command of the camp; she is not impressed. She says it doesn’t exist, so he can’t give it to her, and tells Beatrice to get rid of him. Miles says that he can create command of the camp–power, not revenge.
Tris uncoiled from her sleeping mat to her full height, then had to bend her knees to bring her face level to his, hissing, “Too bad, little turd. You almost interest me. Because I want revenge. On every man in this camp.”
“Then the Cetagandans have succeeded; you’ve forgotten who your real enemy is.”
“Say, rather, that I’ve discovered who my real enemy is. Do you want to know the things they’ve done to us—our own guys—”
“The Cetagandans want you to believe this,” a wave of his hand embraced the camp, “is something you’re doing to each other. So fighting each other, you become their puppets. They watch you all the time, you know, voyeurs of your humiliation.”
He tells her that power is grasping the future, while revenge is being held back by the past. She holds out a muscular arm and tells him this is power, and she can tell he wants some to protect him, but he isn’t getting any there. Miles taps his head and says that that’s where true power is. The Cetagandans are trapping their bodies, which affects their minds, but the mind is more powerful if they turn it around. When the prisoners forget that, when they reduce themselves to their brawn and their bodies, then the Cetagandans win.
Tris says that the Cetagandans have won anyway–they’re prisoners, nothing they do will matter, because the Cetagandans control their environment. Nobody’s come to rescue them, so they need to think about the long haul. Miles says that they’re not there forever, or else the Cetagandans would have saved time and killed them all. They’re there so the Cetagandans can break the best Marilacan freedom fighters and send them back to preach their gospel of surrender to the rest of their people. He says the Cetagandans are really still waiting for the surrender of Fallow Core.
Tris says that if he’s right, then keeping up the fight just pushes their freedom farther away. Miles, dismayed that she’s also got a keen, logical mind, says that there’s being a prisoner, and then there’s being a slave, which is what the Cetagandans want. Tris notes that Miles doesn’t seem to include himself among the prisoners, and Miles, thinking fast, says that he’s not really a Marilacan soldier, but an outsider–a pilgrim passing through, according to Suegar. Tris dismisses Suegar, having missed Miles’s hint.
Tris asks what Miles wants out of this–command of the camp himself? Miles says he just wants to be an advisor, a spiritual advisor. Tris reacts to the word ‘advisor’, and runs her hands over Miles’s face, noticing the distinctive indentations caused by frequent wearing of a space helmet, like the ones on her own face. She asks again where he served before; Miles insists he was a clerk in the recruiting office, hoping that she’ll see the absurdity of that assertion. She tells him to keep talking.
Suegar is asleep when Miles returns to him, so Miles wakes him and asks if they still have to remain naked, or if they’re allowed to get dressed. Suegar is confused until he sees Beatrice standing there impatiently with two bundles of clothes. She tosses them to Miles and stalks off. Miles assesses them as he puts them on, only a little too long, stained, probably taken from a corpse. Suegar is amazed that Miles got the women to give him clothes, and Miles said they’re giving him more than that. He says they have to find Oliver, and wonders if the chow calls are on a predictable schedule or not.
They see a man running around the camp, weeping to himself; Suegar says it just happens to people like that sometimes. Miles notes he’s coming towards them, and says they should catch him. They hit him high and low and sit on him, and Miles notices how young he seems. After he quiets down, Miles invites him to a “major party” and tells him to take the message to Sgt. Oliver, and bring his friends, and to say that Brother Miles sent him. Then they set out to find Oliver themselves.
Oliver has 46 men, 18 more come back with the running man, and they induct anyone who happens to drift close to the edges of the group. They pick up 75 more who see them being actually given access to the women’s area. Miles cuts them off at 200, in deference to Tris’s nervousness. He tries to convince her to use all of her personnel, not leaving half to guard their territory, because only this once will they have the advantage of surprise, so it’ll give them the best chance for success first try, before anyone else realizes what they’re trying to do. Tris says that after too long at war, losing it seems better than prolonging it, but Miles asks if she wants to lose to _those_ bastards. Oliver, when he sees the size of the group they have, suggests splitting up into twenty groups, to speed up distribution. Miles says it has to be fourteen, a “theologically significant” number, for the fourteen apostles.
Once they get organized, they have to wait, and Miles hopes that the food arrives before he loses his tenuous control over the group. When the dome begins to bulge, a third of way around the edge from them, Oliver points it out to Miles. Miles thinks the timing is too perfect, since the Cetagandans are obviously watching them; if it’s not early or late, it must be a trick. He orders them to wait, and they do, though reluctantly, as other prisoners begin to head for the bulge. Miles hopes very strongly that he’s not wrong about this, as he gets Suegar to boost him on his shoulders. Sure enough, the bulge disappears to reveal nothing…and another bulge starts on the opposite side of the camp.
Miles orders them to go toward the second bulge, and Tris sends her troops off. Miles limps after them, hoping he can keep ahead of the redirected mass of the other prisoners. He sees the troops beginning to break down the food pile, on guard and ready to distribute it, just as he is overtaken. Suegar yanks him back to his feet and he makes his way through the lines, where he finds Beatrice, who is given ample personal space.
It was working, by God it was working. The fourteen command groups, still bunched rather too closely along the dome wall—but that could be improved next run—were admitting the hungry supplicants one at a time. The expediters kept the lines moving at top speed, and channeled the already-supplied along the perimeter behind the human shield wall in a steady stream, to flow back out into the larger camp at the edge of the mob. Oliver had put his toughest-looking bravos to work in pairs, patrolling the outflow and making sure no one’s rat bar was taken by force.
Not a few of the guards are taking out their frustration on attempted thieves, including some of the “burly surlies”, and Miles reluctantly sends Oliver to restore order. The women are mostly in charge of the actual handing out of food, which seems to have a quelling effect on most of the men, some of whom are even polite. Pitt is not one of them; Miles spots three of the women attempting to beat him up for his offensive behaviour to them. He sends four men to grab Pitt and take him over to the wall; Tris and Beatrice arrive to reinforce them.
“I’m gonna rip the bastard’s balls off,” Tris was saying. “I command—”
“A military command,” Miles interrupted. “If this one is accused of disorderly conduct, you should court martial him.”
“He is a rapist and a murderer,” she replied icily. “Execution’s too good for him. He’s got to die slowly.”
Miles doesn’t feel right in handing him over to Tris, and Suegar points out that Pitt is far from the only guilty man there. Pitt spots Miles and tells him that the women aren’t going to last long, they don’t have the muscle. He says the women are the reason they lost in the first place, not like the Barrayarans, who fought off the Cetagandans; Miles wonders how much Pitt really knows about the First Cetagandan War. Finally, tired of bandying words with him, Miles points out that Pitt is likely a Cetagandan spy and provocateur, sent to undermine them and help with their defeat. Oliver whispers to Miles that Pitt is no spy, but Miles shushes him. He tells them to take off Pitt’s shirt, as the whispers begin, and with the jagged edge of Suegar’s broken glass, he carves the words “CETA SPY” into Pitt’s back. Then he tells them to give him his rat bar and throw him out.
Tris asks Miles if he was really a spy; Oliver denies it, and Miles says that they had to deal with him, but without condemning the many other men who may share his crimes to a greater or lesser degree, or else they’ll split the camp for sure. This way, he’s dealt with, anyone tempted to follow his path is warned off, and Tris’s hands are clean.
When delivering rat bars to the sick and injured, Miles finds that Colonel Tremont has died. Miles, Suegar, Tris, Beatrice and Oliver carry the body to the rubbish pile, where it is given the rare dignity of not being stripped. Not long after they find Pitt, who has been beaten and strangled; Tris is sobered by finding the body, and Miles tells her that even Pitt’s death is a loss for their side.
After the distribution is finished, Miles commends Tris, her “general staff”, and the group leaders on an excellent job. The food distribution will get easier as they practice it, people will get used to it, and they already forced the Cetagandans into action, which means they’re back at war. He encourages them to wonder what the Cetagandans could do next, then yields the floor fo Tris, since he’s just the “chaplain” and she’s really the one in charge.
Tris suggests they might send in a short pile, so they’ll have to keep track of who gets food so they can make sure noboby gets short-changed too often. Miles adds that they might send in too much, leaving to deal with extras. Tris says that they could divide the pile. One of the leaders asks if they aren’t doing the Cetagandans’ thinking for them, if they’re listening in, and Miles says that every response from their captors gives them more information about how they think. Another leader asks if they won’t cut off the camp’s air, permanently; Miles says that would cancel out the hard-won PR coup of following all the IJC rules about their prisoners, which the Cetagandans are relying heavily on. Even though the high death rate at the camp has already been noticed, the Cetagandans have managed to explain it away but 100% would be a bit much. Later, Oliver asked quietly about the information, and Miles tells him he’s glad it sounded convincing.
They spend time planning out their responses to the various possibilities; by the time they’re done, Miles is flagging. Tris asks about the possibility the Cetagandans will just do nothing, and Miles says it’s most likely, allowing them to blunt their momentum and eventually lose focus. Tris asks what then, and Miles says they’ll have to pray for a miracle. He wakes up only enough to let Beatrice roll him onto a sleeping mat.
Miles is, unfortunately, correct, and the rat bar schedule returns to normal. He tries to keep them interested, using a prisoner with a steady pulse to time them, and getting them work on speeding things up. At one point he starts issuing the bars 200 at a time, with half-hour breaks between, as a “spiritual exercise”, telling Tris that it’s a way to provide variety for themselves. He gets them to carry the bars around the perimeter to distribute from evenly-spaced piles. By the twentieth chow call, probably ten days in, the system is perfected, and he laments that he’s done too early.
By the thirty-second chow call, the system was still running smoothly, but Miles was getting frayed.
“Welcome to the long haul,” said Beatrice dryly. “You better start pacing yourself, Brother Miles. If what Tris says is true, we’re going to be in here even longer because of you. I must remember to thank you for that properly sometime.” She treated him to a threatening smirk, and Miles prudently remembered an errand on the opposite side of the camp.
Miles realizes that for people who’ve been in for years, sixteen days is nothing, but Miles is beginning to climb the walls, and wonders if he’s going to go crazy, or manic-depressive. He thinks about leaders who have been wrong about their predictions of armageddon, and wants his miracle to happen now, now, now.
So does Marilac have a moon, for Suegar to be so familiar with their phases? A moon large enough for everyone to see them? Because I gather that, for Earthlike planets, that’s considered unlikely, unless you’re going with one of those “Rare Earth” hypotheses that they’re required for habitability. (Or was it just required for the evolution of intelligent life? I don’t remember.) If they were more Phobos/Deimos-sized, seeing phases might be trickier. And, for that matter, Miles makes a connection between the moon and menstruation, which it seems to me would require not only a moon but also one with an orbital period about the same as the menstrual cycle. Maybe that’s not unreasonable–anything orbiting at the same radius as our moon would have the same orbital frequency–but then, if it’s smaller, it’d be less visible… Especially considering that Miles is a Barrayaran; I don’t even know if it has a moon, or Beta Colony, or any planet we’ve been to. Miles doesn’t get to go to Earth until the next book…
There are just over ten thousand prisoners in there, but I suppose that the Marilacan military is still far from sexual equality, because there’s no way that Miles got five thousand women to go with Oliver’s 200 men when they first take the food pile. It’s not quite clear from the text, but probably not more than 1000 total, maybe closer to 700, so there’s about 500-800 women, 5-8%.
The sort-of-romance with Miles and Beatrice is interesting. It starts with Miles being attracted to her because of her red hair (buzzcut as it is), and probably her height as well, and her disdain turning to respect, probably starting with the invisible hat scene. One presumes Miles is between relationships right now (since Taura is likely an actual Dendarii and so not allowed to fraternize), and Beatrice is beginning to learn the attractive force that Miles can wield when he turns his interest on you…and at the moment he’s fairly distracted, too. I’m not quite sure how Beatrice went from not-even-a-patrol-leader to Tris’s second-in-command, whether is entirely due to her bringing Miles to meet Tris, or if she’d been in a decent position beforehand and just wasn’t always a patrol leader. Maybe ranks in the women’s group was just not formalized before. I was surprised, on rereading, to discover that Beatrice wasn’t the patrol leader, because, in my mind, she was in charge there. After all, the real leader didn’t even get a name, did she?
I wish I could have quoted the whole debate between Miles and Tris, or even the scene with Miles and Beatrice, but I think that would be crossing over the line. Still, it is awesome dialogue, and convincing convincing, if you know what I mean. Read it yourself, if you haven’t, or reread it if you have.
We’re now two-thirds of the way through the borders towards infinity, so next week will bring us to the end of it. Then I’ll take a week off before starting Brothers In Arms, which may almost be the first time the break in the reread is longer than the actual time passed between books. Keep with it; we’re in the good stuff, but we’re almost up to the really good stuff, which, to me, starts with Mirror Dance, but we have to get there this way first, because that will make the whole thing so much better… Anyway, next week, “The Borders of Infinity” concluded, be here or be squere.