Welcome to a special installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread. Last week I finished Brothers In Arms, and normally I take a break between books, but there is one odd little piece of the series that, due to popular demand, I’m going to be including. You see, after Lois McMaster Bujold had published three novellas–“The Mountains of Mourning”, “Labyrinth”, and “The Borders of Infinity”, her publisher ended up collecting them in a single volume, which was called Borders of Infinity (no “The”). As often happens in these cases, she ended up writing a framing story to kind of unify them and link them together. For whatever reason, this story was set chronologically after Brothers In Arms.
Later releases, though, have packaged the novels and novellas of the series into different volumes. “The Mountains of Mourning” ended up in Young Miles, where it belonged chronologically, “Labyrinth” ended up at the end of Miles, Mystery and Mayhem, and “The Borders of Infinity” was placed at the beginning of Miles Errant. The framing story kind of makes little sense without the stories to tie it together, though, so it kind of fell by the wayside. But, for the sake of nostalgia, I’ll be dealing with it in a special installment this week.
It’ll be a little more challenging than the others I’ve done so far, because, of course, not being part of the rerelease, it wasn’t released in ebook form, so I’ll have to deal with a physical book, picking it up and putting it down to type rather than just switching windows, not to mention having to manually type any quotes (so please excuse any inaccuracies); plus, as a framing story, it’s scattered all over the book, which will make it more time-consuming that way. (And it’s not like there’s any helpful table of contents with page numbers or anything, noooo.) So I hope you all appreciate the extra effort here. It’ll be good practice for Memory, anyway…
Borders of Infinity
A medical corpsman announces a visitor to Miles’s hospital room, one who apparently makes him nervous; it turns out to be Simon Illyan, head of Imperial Security. Miles is in bed, his arms completely immobilized; he’s just undergone surgery to replace his arm bones with plastic, apparently because of the extreme damage they suffered on their last mission. He tells Illyan about all the bone fragments they had to pick out of his right arm, and comments that he’s still waiting for the bone marrow transplants to take, so he’ll “be a little anemic” for a while.
“I hope you are not going to make a habit of returning from your mission assignments on a stretcher.”
“Now, now, this is only the second time that’s happened. Besides, eventually I’ll run out of unreplaced bones. By the time I’m thirty I could be entirely plastic.” Glumly, Miles considered this possibility. If more than half of him became spare parts, could he be declared legally dead? Would he ever walk into a prosthetics manufacturing planet and cry, “Mother!” Were the medical sedatives making him just a little spacey…?
Illyan asks Miles about his recent missions, making it clear this is not just a social call. Miles says Illyan has his reports, which Illyan dismisses as “masterpieces of understatement and misdirection”. Miles points out that he can’t put everything in there for just anyone to read; Illyan says that they are highly classified, but he gets Miles’s point. The real problem, though, is the money that Miles has gone through. He assures Miles that his results have been satisfactory, though they will have to talk about his recent adventure on Earth; Miles says there a couple of higher authorities to discuss it with first. Illyan says that the charges are about earlier affairs, like Dagoola…”Charges?”, asks Miles
Illyan says that one of the advantages of Miles being offplanet with the Dendarii is that it makes it more difficult for his father’s enemies to use him in their plots. One group, though, are claiming that Miles’s expenses are ridiculous, and are trying to hit him with charges of systematic peculation, and bring him up on a court-martial. Illyan says it hasn’t quite gotten to that stage yet, but he needs more information from Miles so he can effectively quash the charges without getting blindsided. He mentions having ended up in prison himself once because of one of these plots (in The Warrior’s Apprentice, no doubt). The plotters have managed to convince the highly respectable Count Vorvolk that there’s something to these allegations, and Vorvolk has the Emperor’s confidence, so he can’t be dismissed out of hand, even if he is mistaken. Miles catches the hint that Illyan isn’t 100% confident that Miles is completely innocent, and realizes this is why Illyan is questioning him now, when he’s still dopey from surgery.
Miles asks Illyan why not just use fast-penta; Illyan says he’s already noted Miles’s odd reaction to it. Instead, he’s letting the surgeons “twist Miles’s arms”. He says that he will quash the matter, regardless of the truth, to keep his father’s agenda safe, but he wants to know for sure, and promises none of it will leave this room. Miles asks if he’s offering amnesty; Illyan says he will, if necessary.
Miles couldn’t clench or even feel his fists, but his toes curled. He found himself gulping for air in the pulsing waves of his rage; the room seemed to waver. “You…vile…bastard! You dare call me a thief…” He rocked in the bed, kicking off tangled strangling covers. His medical monitor began to bleep alarms. His arms were useless weights hanging from his shoulders, flopping nervelessly. “As if I would steal from Barrayar. As if I would steal from my own dead…” He swung his feet out, pulled himself upright with a mighty wrench of abdominal muscles. Dizzied, half-blacking-out, he toppled forward precipitously with no hands to catch himself.
Illyan catches him, just as the doctor rushes in, asking him what he’s doing to his patient. The corpsman points out who Illyan is, but the doctor says that any “interrogations” can take place at ImpSec headquarters, not in his hospital. Illyan tries to explain what happened, and Miles whispers to him that he’s not the only one who needs to be careful of appearances. Illyan helps Miles back into the bed, and Miles tells the doctor that it’s all right.
Miles begins to wonder if the trust that Illyan had seemed to place in him, letting him have so many independent missions, wasn’t really just a way to get a “dangerously clumsy Vor puppy” out of his way. The accusations still enrage him, though; as if he wasn’t aware of where the money came from that paid the costs of his decisions. And Illyan must have at least a modicum of doubt or he wouldn’t be here. Tired and dopey, he feels tears begin, and Illyan says that he needs to be ready to depend the expenditures by tomorrow, but he can come back after Miles has had a chance to rest.
Miles turns over and remembers…(and, for some reason, what he remembers is “The Mountains of Mourning”).
Illyan returns some hours later to find a somewhat recovered Miles sitting up in bed. He apologizes for doubting Miles’s word, but says that he hopes Miles appreciates how important it is, as Count Vorkosigan’s son, to not just be honest, but appear honest. Miles says no, not as his father’s son.
Illyan says that apart from the Dagoola affair, Count Vorvolk has also seized on the Jackson’s Whole pickup mission. Even though it was two years earlier, the theory is that Miles’s success with peculation there led him to try for bigger prizes later. Illyan says they don’t have much to go on, but he wants to take away anything they can, and convince Vorvolk that there’s nothing out of the ordinary for him to look at. So he wants Miles to explain his expenditures on the mission, in particular the half-cargo of weapons they abandoned on Fell Station. Miles says that that loss was necessary to keep from losing “a scientist, a ship, and a subordinate”.
Asking Illyan to keep it strictly confidential, he then tells the story…(of “Labyrinth”).
After Miles finishes, Illyan asks after Taura; Miles says she’s made sergeant, and they’re trying various drugs to slow down her metabolism and hopefully prolong her life. Illyan says that it’s time to move on to Dagoola, where the only report he got from Miles was a very short, preliminary one sent from Mahata Solaris. Miles says the mission started out simple enough, but then went very, very wrong.
Illyan tells him to start at the beginning, and so Miles tells the story…(of “The Borders of Infinity”)
When Miles finishes, he’s somewhat shaky, and tells Illyan he thought he’d gotten over it a little more by this point. Illyan says that it must be “combat fatigue”, pointing out that his entire time in the prison camp was really combat time.
“If your Count Vorvolk wants to argue that I should have traded lives for equipment, well…I had maybe five minutes to make a decision, under enemy fire. If I’d had a month to study it, I would have come to the same conclusion. And I’ll stand behind it now, in a court martial or any goddamn arena he wants to fight me in.”
Illyan reassures Miles that he’ll deal with Vorvolk and his “shadow advisors”, and they won’t disturb his recovery any further. Miles apologizes that his carelessness made Simon doubt him, and he’ll try to be more intelligent in future; Simon says that he will too.
Cordelia enters the room then, telling Simon the doctor has asked her to make sure he leaves, because the medical monitors are claiming that Miles needs to rest now. Illyan says they’re finished and leaves. Miles, watching her, suddenly realizes why he was so shaken up by the death of that tall redheaded woman in the Dagoola escape.
She turns to him and says that he looks terrible, and that Elli Quinn tells her he hasn’t been eating properly. He asked if Quinn could visit, but as an offworld soldier she’s excluded from the grounds of ImpMil hospital. “Barrayarans!” she swears, and tells him Quinn is staying at Vorkosigan House. As soon as he’s released, she’ll take both of them to Vorkosigan Surleau, and hopefully Quinn can help him recover. Miles says he does have a lot to tell her about Earth; she kisses him and tells him to rest and heal.
All told, this “story” comes to about thirteen pages in my paperback copy, over half of that in the opening scene, and half of the rest in the ending. So it really doesn’t stand on its own, but I suppose it does have a few bits in it. In the timeline it’s always labelled as “Miles undoes another plot against his father while flat on his back”, which makes it sound like he’s some kind of bedridden detective putting together clues, rather than just providing information to Illyan so that Illyan can defuse the plot.
It does show that Elli Quinn has definitely been on Barrayar, and spent some time there with Miles… She’s not comfortable planetside, so there could have been a few amusing scenes, but mostly I’m sure they get to carry on the affair that they started on Earth, and that they may not have had much time to devote to on their hostage rescue mission. Which, by the way, we get zero details on, apart from the fact that Miles apparently broke his arms, one of them apparently a compound fracture, to the point where they decided to replace them with plastics.
The bone marrow transplant was an interesting consideration; after all, bones, despite their hardness, are something that our bodies grow themselves, and the marrow is important in its own right, so they’d need to find some way to get it to work in a non-living environment. One hopes they get this technology from offworld, because it doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that Barrayar would have naturally acquired or developed on their own. Must have been all part of the process of trying to keep Miles alive and give him a skeleton…though of course they couldn’t make plastic bones that grew, so they had to wait until he’d reached his full growth, at least. Did they do the finger bones, too? It wasn’t clear in this scene, and I’d think that would be much riskier and more complicated, what with all the manual dexterity considerations, muscles and nerves and all.
I’d forgotten the bit about Miles realizing why he felt the loss of Beatrice, the tall redhead, so keenly. Does that make his initial attraction for her a little Oedipal? Well, I recall hearing that we are “naturally” attracted to those who are genetically similar to us as possible without actually being related, but on the other hand that could be complete nonsense, so who knows? Still, even if there hadn’t been that attraction, losing her might have hit just as hard. I agree that Miles is probably suffering from…well, these days we call it “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder”, which always makes me think of George Carlin talking about how it developed from “shell shock” to “battle fatigue” to PTSD as an example of bureaucratic language. (Not that I necessarily agree with him that a short, catchy, but inaccurate term is better than a long, fussy, more encompassing and less evocative one…)
And that’s it, really. The end of the Dagoola sequence, in a way, since so much of that underlay Brothers In Arms (the motivations of the Cetagandans, at least, and the source of their expenses), so we’re free to carry on with the clone-brother arc started in that book as well, into Mirror Dance… Though we’re now getting into my favourite part of the series, I will still be taking a week off, so be back here two weeks from now for me to start on that book…back on my digital copy again, thankfully.