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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

Part One

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”).

Part Two

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”).

Part Three

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”)

Part Four

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.

Comments

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.

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Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  I hope you had a nice week off–I know I did–but now it’s time to get back to work, put the pedal to the grindstone and nose to the metal.  So let’s start with the first two chapters of Brothers in Arms, a classic tale of Miles Vorkosigan.  It’s “classic” in the sense that it’s one of the earlier works to be published, predating Barrayar, Cetaganda, The Vor Game, and the Borders of Infinity novellas, even as it is an almost immediate sequel to “The Borders of Infinity” itself.  It took five years before she finally followed it up with Mirror Dance.  It’s set against the backdrop of Earth, of all unlikely places.

Chapter One

In a repair bay in a shipyard in Earth orbit, Miles stands in front of the battered combat-drop shuttle from the Dagoola IV rescue, months past, and points out the design flaws of the ramp to the Kaymer Orbital Shipyards sales engineer.  Miles tells him, when the ramp was damaged, the hatch couldn’t close, and people died as a result, Miles almost one of them.  The engineer inspects them, then says that Kaymer can certainly fix them; Miles says there are twelve, thinking of the two that were destroyed and all the personnel, Dendarii and prisoners, that were lost.  Miles says that Commodore Jesek also wants to talk about Necklin rod recalibration for their jump drives, though he realizes Kaymer won’t deal with weapons, or damaged jump pilot implants.

The engineer asks Miles why the mercenaries have come to Earth, which is a little off the main routes these days.  Miles says that they’re looking for a little peace and rest.  The Dagoola rescue had been brilliant, one of the largest POW escapes in history, but the pursuit by the Cetagandans afterwards, with ships and assassins, had worn them down.  The engineer asks about Dagoola; Miles says it’s a covert operation, so he can’t talk about it, but the engineer points out that it was a big news story.  He asks Miles if there’s really a price on his head, and is taken aback when Miles agrees that there is.

The engineer turns the conversation back to payment.  Miles says that the terms of Kaymer’s bid (the lowest they considered) specified cash on delivery, after approval of the work done, but the engineer says that he’s not sure they can really offer that to a mercenary fleet, whose business is a bit riskier than their usual customers.  They won’t raise their price, but they’ll need payment up front.  Miles protests that that leaves them no protection against bad workmanship, and proposes half up front; they compromise on full payment left in escrow.  Miles agrees, not wanting to hint at the cash flow problems the Dendarii are currently suffering.

As they leave the repair bay, Miles contemplates Earth, with its wealth of human history; a planet where every world who can manage it strives to have an embassy, including, unfortunately, the Cetagandans.  Admiral Naismith will have to steer clear of them.  Elli interrupts to tell him that Ky Tung is calling for him, and Miles takes the call in the engineer’s office.  Tung, a native Earther, is taking home leave, and lets him know about the arrangements for medical treatment of their most seriously wounded, including the frozen dead, half of whom will probably be revivable.  The cost for their treatment is high, particularly for the injured jump pilot, but Miles grits his teeth and authorizes the payment.  Tung asks for reassurance that they will be paid for the Dagoola operation, and Miles says that’s his next goal.  Tung says that he’ll heading off home to Brazil, then, to see a new grandchild and visit with his sister and many cousins.

Elli points out that Miles could use some downtime himself, with the wounds he suffered, and the funk he was in even after he recovered.  Miles says that broken bones barely count as wounds, for him, and he should know better than to get involved on the front line anymore; he hadn’t realized Dagoola was going to get so physical.

“My impression was there was more to it than that.”

He whirled the chair around to face her with a snarl. “Will you back off! Yes, we lost some good people. I don’t like losing good people. I cry real tears—in private, if you don’t mind!”

She recoiled, her face falling. He softened his voice, deeply ashamed of his outburst. “Sorry, Elli. I know I’ve been edgy. The death of that poor POW who fell from the shuttle shook me more than . . . more than I should have let it. I can’t seem to . . .”

“I was out of line, sir.”

Chastened by her reaction, Miles wishes, not for the first time, that he hadn’t established the no-fraternization policy in the Dendarii.  He’d put off more than one pass from Elli, and wishes that he didn’t have to.  He’d made excuses to send her off on missions, including the advance team to Earth, rather than have her close by as a constant temptation.  Elli makes it worse right then by telling Miles that he really needs to get laid, and, in a panic, he changes the conversation back to getting their money.  He suggests they could do some sightseeing on Earth, since he’s going to need a bodyguard anyway, and Elli seems faintly disappointed.

Miles’s civilian clothes got left behind several planets back, so he’s forced to wear his Dendarii admiral’s uniform when they go Earthside, and he feels somewhat conspicuous.

The spaceport city of London, a jigsaw of nearly two millennia of clashing architectural styles, was a fascination. The sunlight falling through the arcade’s patterned glass arch was an astonishing rich color, breathtaking. It alone might have led him to guess his eye had been returned to its ancestral planet. Perhaps later he’d have a chance to visit more historical sites, such as a submarine tour of Lake Los Angeles, or New York behind the great dikes.

Elli is scanning the crowds, acting the bodyguard, and Miles is glad of the opportunity to be tired.  He suggests that Admiral Naismith could use an opportunity to vanish, and take some heat off the Dendarii.  He tells Elli he’s used to total strangers trying to kill him, and it’s actually refreshing for the assassins’ motive to having nothing to do with his Barrayaran relatives.

Elli points out their contact arriving, a Barrayaran sergeant named Barth.  Miles explains Elli as a bodyguard, but he can tell Barth makes a less flattering assumption about his beautiful female companion.  They follow Barth as he leads them through a shop, down to the underground utility corridors, and finally to an underground entrance to the Barrayaran embassy’s stark basement.  Miles tells Elli they need to get rid of all of their weapons; he’s switched to his Barrayaran accent, which Elli isn’t used to, since Naismith talks like a Betan.  Miles gets to keep his family knife with the Vorkosigan seal; the Barrayarans are impressed despite themselves by Elli’s miniaturized personal arsenal.

They travel up to the embassy’s main floor, which is less stark, and Sergeant Barth leads them to a small office and introduces them to the commanding officer, who is now technically Miles’s.  Miles wonders why he looks so unhappy to see them, until the captain asks about Miles’s father.  Miles contains his anger at the assumptions in the man’s statement, about nepotism and slurs on his competence, and asks who he is.  The captain, who has an accent Miles can’t place, introduces himself as Duv Galeni, senior military attaché and head of Security for the embassy.  He admits he’s not quite sure what to do about Miles appearing in his chain of command.

Miles explains that he hadn’t planned to end up on Earth, but the Cetagandans made it impossible for them to get to their original rendezvous point at Tau Ceti; he says that Dagoola got a little out of hand, and mentions that he does have a full report.  Galeni expresses surprise that Dagoola was actually an ImpSec operation, and asks Miles what the relationship is between ImpSec and the Dendarii Mercenaries.  All Galeni himself knows is that they’re not to be attacked, they should be given military assistance, and report to HQ for anything beyond that.  Miles explains how they’re a covert military unit on ImpSec’s payroll, with Miles as the go-between.

The captain drummed his fingers on his desk console and glanced down at a display. “None of this is in your official dossier. Twenty-four years old—aren’t you a little young for your rank, ah—Admiral?” His tone was dry; his eyes passed mockingly over the Dendarii uniform.

Miles tried to ignore the tone. “It’s a long story. Commodore Tung, a very senior Dendarii officer, is the real brains of the outfit. I just play the part.”

Elli’s eyes widened in outrage; a severe glance from Miles tried to compel her to silence. “You do a lot more than that,” she objected.

“If you’re the sole connection,” frowned Galeni, “who the devil is this woman?” His wording rendered her, if not a non-person, certainly a non-soldier.

Miles explains how there are a few Dendarii who know of his true identity; Elli is one of them, because of her presence from the beginning, and often serves as his Simon Illyan-ordered bodyguard when he’s transitioning from one identity to the other.  Galeni says he’s going to send to HQ for orders, and hopes this isn’t some Vor lordling’s idea of a bad joke.  Miles gives his word as a Vorkosigan, and from Galeni’s reaction to the name he realizes that Galeni’s Komarran.  He tells Galeni he needs to get orders from his superiors; when Galeni points out he’s a superior officer, Miles blandly asks him for orders.

Galeni decides he’ll have to add Miles to his staff temporarily.  Miles tells him about the Cetagandan assassins, and Galeni says he’ll have to confine Miles to the embassy for his own safety.  Miles requests to maintain contact with Quinn, since Ky Tung is on leave, and they need their payment, which Miles quotes as 18 million marks.  Galeni is flabbergasted, saying that’s more than ten years’ budget for the entire embassy, and there’s no way he has that on hand.  Miles again asks him to contact the sector HQ, and Galeni says he’ll be only too happy to make Miles someone else’s problem.  He asks Miles to wait, and leaves them alone in the office.

Elli asks what it was about Galeni being Komarran that made Miles back off from his earlier attitude.  Miles explains how Komarr was conquered by the Barrayarans, and Miles’s father put down a Komarran rebellion and gained the unearned epithet of “Butcher of Komarr” for his troubles.  With the colonization of Sergyar to bleed off excess energy, Komarr has calmed down quite a bit, and Komarrans are making some inroads into being accepted into Barrayaran society; they were first allowed into the Barrayaran military eight years ago.  To be a Captain, Galeni must be the cream of the Komarran military contingent, and yet he’s in a relatively unimportant posting, and not privy to a lot of intelligence information that Miles, his subordinate, knows all about.
But because of Miles’s father’s reputation, any Komarran in the service must be extra careful to keep Miles safe, or else the inevitable accusations of revenge against the “Butcher”‘s son will badly damage the progress of interplanetary peace.  So Miles is going to have to let Galeni do everything he can to keep him safe.  In the meantime, he doesn’t have the Dendarii’s money, and doesn’t know when he will…

Comments

Apparently Miles agrees with me about the drop shuttles’ design flaws.  I wonder where they got them in the first place?  If they’re still equipment from back in The Warrior’s Apprentice era, like Triumph and some of their other ships, then at least Miles might not have been responsible for buying them.  I suppose it’s not a flaw that’s immediately obvious, either, until it happens to you…

How does Simon Illyan’s “constant bodyguarding” requirement stretch to letting Miles be the inside man in the Dagoola prison camp in any case?  Unless he claimed that Elli and Elena’s constant monitoring was kind of like guarding him, except for their complete inability to intervene on his behalf…  Well, maybe it was one of these cases of “seek forgiveness rather than permission”.  I believe we do see Simon Illyan in the Borders of Infinity framing story, so maybe he gives Miles what-for at that point.

I recall seeing a lot of Elli Quinn in this book, and Ky Tung’s got his excuse for being out of the picture, but somehow I don’t recall Elena, Baz Jesek, or Bel Thorne showing up much.  Baz is mentioned in the first chapter, but the rest?  Well, if Miles is confined to the embassy, safe and sound, for most of the book, I guess he won’t get into much trouble, right?  Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.

It’s a little amusing to see Earth not the centre of some kind of human federation, but instead a backwater off the main trade routes.  I guess that there was never any big commonwealth, since the colonies all seem to be mostly independent.  The first colonies were off course sent off sub-light, but one would think that Earth could have tried to maintain hegemony using jump-drive ships…  Except that Earth probably never achieved a world government unified enough to pull that off.  Also, one sees Bujold’s forecasts of rising ocean levels in the flooding of the coastal cities, but people seem to have adjusted.

Chapter Two

Elli reaches for Miles, and he resolves that if she hugs him, he’s going to kiss her and see what happens.  Instead, Galeni’s office doors open and Miles and Elli fly apart, as he hears a familiar voice.

“—brilliant, sure, but hyper as hell. You think he’s going to slip his flywheel any second. Watch out when he starts talking too fast. Oh, yeah, that’s him all right.”

“Ivan,” Miles breathed, closing his eyes. “How, God, have I sinned against You, that You have given me Ivan—here. . . .”

God not deigning to answer, Miles smiled crookedly and turned. Elli had her head tilted, frowning, listening in sudden concentration.

Galeni is indeed accompanied by Lieutenant Ivan Vorpatril, Miles’s cousin, who asks Miles what he’s doing there.  Miles responds with the same question, and Ivan says he’s on Earth as another attaché, to get cultured.  Ivan asks after the Dendarii, and Galeni is nettled that yet another person knows more about them than he does.  Ivan explains his relation to Miles.

“Oh,” said Elli Quinn in a tone of sudden enlightenment, “this is your cousin Ivan! I’d always wondered what he looked like.”

Ivan, who had been sneaking little peeks at her ever since he’d entered the room, came to attention with all the quivering alertness of a bird dog pointing. He smiled blindingly and bowed over Elli’s hand. “Delighted to meet you, m’lady. The Dendarii must be improving, if you are a fair sample. The fairest, surely.”

Elli repossessed her hand. “We’ve met.”

“Surely not. I couldn’t forget that face.”

“I didn’t have this face. ‘A head just like an onion’ was the way you phrased it, as I recall.” Her eyes glittered. “Since I was blinded at the time, I had no idea how bad the plastiskin prosthesis really looked. Until you told me. Miles never mentioned it.”

Ivan remembers her now, and subsides, as Elli puts her arm through Miles’s.  Galeni says that since Ivan knows Miles, he’ll get Miles oriented to his duties, until his status can be clarified.  Elli can return to the Dendarii.  Miles asks for a way to contact her, and Sgt. Barth brings in a secured comlink for that purpose.  Elli leaves, with instructions to tell the Dendarii that their funds are “in transit”.

Galeni tells Ivan to take Miles to get a proper uniform.  Nettled, Miles tells him that the Dendarii uniform is as real as any other, and Galeni says his father could only afford toy soldiers for him as a child.  Miles is incensed, but waits until they’re out of earshot before venting to Ivan.  Ivan tells Miles that Galeni is all right, he’s just wary of mercenaries, since there’s some very patchy outfits out there.

Miles gets his new uniform, machine-tailored to his form but still not quite up to the standards of his own tailor at home.  He considers taking a break from Admiral Naismith, vanishing into Lieutenant Vorkosigan’s role for a while.  Ivan shows Miles his current job, to distill large amounts of data about Earth to be sent back to Barrayar.  Most of the data is public, which they crunch down to see if any numbers don’t match up, but they usually do because the people who publish the numbers have run these checks themselves.  They also track ship movements, as well as a number of people ImpSec wants to keep an eye on; on Earth this is mostly the group of Komarran expatriates who have formed a community there.  Miles asks if Galeni has any contacts there, but Ivan says they avoid him like a leper.  Some of the Komarrans are refugees, but some are wealthy merchants who left before the actual troubles and took much of their wealth with them.

Finally, they keep track of other embassies, such as the Cetagandans, who are only a couple of kilometres away.  Miles wants very strongly to keep away from them, since they’re trying to kill him, as Admiral Naismith, at least.  Ivan says that Naismith has disappeared, but Miles says that with Admiral Naismith and Lieutenant Vorkosigan on the same planet around the same time, it won’t take long for somebody to figure out his secret.  Miles says that Ivan’s counterpart, ghem-lieutenant Tabor, will already be tracking the Dendarii and any movements and purchases.  Ivan reassures him that the Barrayaran embassy is larger than the Cetagandans’, because of the Komarrans, and they’ll have to wait for orders too.

Miles gets restless throughout the day as he learns Ivan’s job.  He begins to suggest ways to speed up the work, but Ivan protests that he likes to stretch out the work to last the day, so he won’t be stuck with nothing at all to do.  Ivan says he looks forward to going out partying after quitting time, but after Miles points out that he’s confined to the embassy, Ivan offers to keep him company, maybe get some exercise in the gym.

They spend the next ten days exercising and doing Ivan’s work, which Miles soon takes away to do more efficiently, preferring the extra time to read and study.  Miles watches vid dramas with Ivan and travelogues without him, and talks with Elli daily on the comlink, prolonging their talks as much as he can get away with, and afterwards wondering if he really dares try to date her.

On the day the courier from HQ is due, Miles is a jittery ball of pent-up energy waiting for Galeni’s news.  Ivan points out that in peacetime everyone has time to write lengthy reports, and Miles says they’re spoiled relative to the Dendarii.  Their discussion is interrupted by Galeni’s call.

Miles cut the com and plunged for the door. “My eighteen million marks, at last!”

“Either that,” said Ivan genially, “or he’s found a job for you in inventory. Maybe you’re going to get to count all the goldfish in the fountain in the main reception court.”

“Sure, Ivan.”

“Hey, it’s a real challenge! They keep moving around, you know.”

“How do you know?” Miles paused, his eyes lighting. “Ivan, did he actually make you do that?”

“It had to do with a suspected security breach,” said Ivan. “It’s a long story.”

In Galeni’s office, Miles is a little surprised at the orders conveyed from HQ.  He’s assigned temporarily to the embassy, with duties almost identical to Ivan’s, which will include “escort duties”, attending local social functions and “being Vor” for people who enjoy hobnobbing with nobility.  Galeni notes that Ivan is actually good at it.  Miles is somewhat annoyed, but decides somebody must have decided that he should acquire some social polish, given his likely career trajectory into the upper reaches of the service.  He accedes to the orders, which Galeni says dryly is very good of him.

Miles asks, somewhat humbly, about the Dendarii funds, and Galeni said that no funds were sent with the courier.  Miles is shocked, and says there must be some mistake; Galeni says that if everything is as Miles says, it will surely be straightened out.  He will be sending another courier; Miles volunteers, and Galeni considers it, but says Miles’s orders are to stay on Earth for now.  Miles braces himself to wait ten more days, hoping HQ will have straightened itself out by then.

At an afternoon reception, Miles is squiring the Lord Mayor’s chattering wife, while the Barrayaran ambassador is escorting a fascinating woman from Tau Ceti.  Miles attempts to numb himself with wine, but discovers that he’s being served apple juice instead.  He stiffens as he notices a Cetagandan ghem-lord approach, who turns out to be Lieutenant Tabor.  They make small talk before Miles’s attention is drawn by the laughter of Ivan’s young and pretty companion, who proves to be the Lord Mayor’s daughter.  Miles realizes that, as Ivan’s social superior, he’ll be stuck with the dowagers while Ivan gets all the daughters.  The Mayor’s wife asks Miles about his relations, and Miles gives her a brief summary of his and Ivan’s descent from Prince Xav Vorbarra’s daughters.  She seems to find it all terribly romantic, though Miles does spare her a lot of the details of the uglier side of Barrayaran history.

Miles starts dropping crumbs into the nearby fountain for the goldfish.  He spots one near the bottom which doesn’t seem to be going for them as eagerly as the others, and, thinking of Ivan’s story, instantly wonders if it’s some kind of sophisticated spy robot.

He might pluck it out with a feline pounce, stamping it underfoot with a mechanical crunch and electric sizzle, then hold it up with a triumphal cry—”Ah! Through my quick wits and reflexes, I have discovered the spy among you!”

But if his guess were wrong, ah. The squish! under his boot, the dowager’s recoil, and the Barrayaran prime minister’s son would have acquired an instant reputation as a young man with serious emotional difficulties. . . . “Ah ha!” he pictured himself cackling to the horrified woman as the fish guts slithered underfoot, “you should see what I do to kittens!”

The big goldfish rose lazily at last, and took a crumb with a splash that marred Miles’s polished boots. Thank you, fish, Miles thought to it. You have just saved me from considerable social embarrassment.

Miles has lost track of the dowager’s conversation, and is trying to lead it into a discussion of Ivan’s history of disease and inbred genetics, when his secure comlink beeps.  He finds a private spot and answers it.  Elli tells him they have a Situation, and he’s the nearest Dendarii officer; four or five of his soldiers are reported to have taken over some shop, barricading themselves in with a hostage, reportedly armed.  She and Tung are too far away to get there anytime soon, but it’s only about ten minutes for Miles.  Miles promises to try to defuse things for her.

Comments

Ah, the fish.  Reminds me of one of those interactive fiction games, where a lengthy examination of a pool of fish leads you to notice one of them is red…”perhaps a herring of some sort?”  One wonders how much use a fake fish would be for surveillance, given that sound and light would be somewhat distorted and blocked off.  In a fishbowl on a table, perhaps…or if it could swim through the plumbing system.

I love the scene where Elli spikes Ivan’s hopes by recalling how he treated her when she was a plasma-burn victim.  You can’t really say that she misjudged him, either, since at this point, at least, he was all about superficiality.  Maybe even then he had hidden depths, but if so he was hiding them a bit too well for them to do him any good with people who could see past the surface.  One does get the feeling that there might be something going on between Miles and Elli, but perhaps it’s too early to tell…

The chapter begins to set up the wheel-spinning that I recall happening a lot near the beginning of the book.  Maybe there isn’t as much as I remember, but it feels like there’s a lot of Miles waiting for his money, and doing busywork at the embassy, and not much of plot showing up.  Next chapter promises to be a bit more exciting, but, of course, it will be yet another Vorkosigan’s-run-off-again situation to get him in hot water with yet another commanding officer.  I guess it was Cetaganda where I most remember him getting into trouble for that, which wasn’t written yet at this point, but still, it’s a recurring theme, at least while people keep trying to assign him to higher-ranking officers to keep track of him.


Next week, the Dendarii situation continues to deteriorate, I think, but maybe the rest of the book’s plot will begin to manifest.  This book may be a little longer than the last couple of novels I did, so I suppose I should give it a little leeway to get moving, and I hope you will too.

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Good evening, or morning, or afternoon, or stroke of noon, and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein I recount and discuss the sundry events chronicled by Lois McMaster Bujold concerning the life and times of Miles Vorkosigan & his esteemed colleagues, family, friends, and foes.  This week we are concluding the tripartite (as subdivided by me, in any case) story of “The Borders of Infinity”, a short novel of Mr. Vorkosigan’s exploits (as his alter ego Admiral Miles Naismith, and with the occasional assistance of his loyal troops, the Dendarii Mercenaries).

The Borders of Infinity (Concl.)

After the chow calls were regulated, things quieted down for a while, but the amount of violence, including that from the Enforcers themselves, is on the rise. Miles takes to walking the perimeter of the dome after every call, as much to burn off energy as to inspect things.  Suegar joins him sometimes, and on one walk Miles asks him if his sermons are getting any better response.  Suegar says he doesn’t have as much time as he used to, but at least he doesn’t get beaten up anymore.  He tells Miles about a mining camp he was once at, which had gotten subdivided into hundreds of tiny claims.  Like the Dagoola camp, lots of people going hungry, suffering from accidents and disease, fighting a lot, but they also worked hard because there was hope for the future.  On Dagoola IV, though, he has to keep going or else the inertia of the place will suck him down.

They reach the point on the edge farthest from the women’s camp, and Miles suddenly notices a group of four men ahead of them, and more visible beside and behind.  Miles recognizes one of them as a former friend of Pitt’s, and thinks one of the others is actually one of his own Enforcers.  He berates himself for having fallen into a predictable routine.  Pitt’s lieutenant pulls out a rag rope braided into a strangling cord.

“You,” said Pitt’s lieutenant hoarsely. “I couldn’t figure you out at first. You’re not one of us. You could never have been one of us. Mutant . . . You gave me the clue yourself. Pitt wasn’t a Cetagandan spy. You are!” And lunged forward.

Miles dodged, overwhelmed by onslaught and insight. Damn, he’d known there must be a good reason scragging Pitt that way had felt so much like a mistake despite its efficiency. The false accusation was two-edged, as dangerous to its wielder as its victim—Pitt’s lieutenant might even believe his accusation true—Miles had started a witch-hunt.

Miles and Suegar try to fight, but to little avail.  One of the men removes the rope bracelet holding Suegar’s scripture to his wrist and taunts him with it; he starts to tear it up, then decides to eat it.  Enraged, Miles punches the nearest attacker, breaking his hand and wrist, as Suegar chases the paper-chewer.  The cord goes over Miles’s neck, and he manages to get one hand, the broken one, underneath it.  His vision is closing in when rescue arrives, in the form of Beatrice and some Enforcers and commandos.  When he recovers a bit, he sees Suegar lying on the ground, curling up around his stomach.

They carry Suegar back to the camp, and Beatrice finds a doctor, but all she can say is he has a “busted belly” and lament about how few medical skills she seems to have without the technology she was trained with.  She says all they can do is keep him warm and see if he lives or dies; personally, she doesn’t think much for his chances, and Miles agrees.  Beatrice asks Miles what they should do with their attackers, and Miles says they should let them go; they’re not the enemy.  He pleads with Beatrice until she agrees, with ill grace.

Miles sits next to Suegar, giving him water from time to time, and nursing his own injured hand.  A chow call passes and Beatrice brings their rat bars by.  Miles contemplates the pain of losing friends, and wonders if Suegar will be as bad as Bothari, or worse.

He lay back and stared at the dome, the white, unblinking eye of a dead god. And had more friends than he knew already been killed by this megalomanic escapade? It would be just like the Cetagandans, to leave him in here all unknowing, and let the growing doubt and fear gradually drive him crazy.

Swiftly drive him crazy—the god’s eye blinked.

Miles opens his eyes wide, wondering if he’d blinked, or hallucinated, but he sees the dome flicker again, then blinks out, leaving them in the unaccustomed darkness of real planetary night.

“CHOW CALL!” Miles screamed at the top of his lungs.

Bombs start to land on the buildings encircling the former dome, lighting up the night again.  Miles grabs Tris as she goes by, and yells to her to get the group leaders organized, to get their groups of 200 set up around the perimeter, and keep the chow call discipline so they won’t mob the shuttles.  Tris is flabbergasted, and Miles repeats that they just need to follow the drills they’ve practiced.  As more explosions and flares light up the camp, causing Miles to wonder why his people had decided to pick them up at night instead of in daylight, he grabs Beatrice and tells her the same as Tris, telling her to try to calm people down by explaining they get a shuttle seat instead of a rat bar.  Then he asks her to come back and guard Suegar once she’s spread the word.  Beatrice doesn’t know what he’s talking about until he indicates the fourteen shuttles (including one he’d only been hoping would be repaired in time) already dropping down from the sky around the perimeter of the camp.

Beatrice stood with her mouth open, staring upward. “My God. They’re beautiful.” He could almost see her mind start to ratchet forward. “But they’re not ours. Not Cetagandan either. Who the hell . . . ?”

Miles bowed. “This is a paid political rescue.”

“Mercenaries?”

“We’re not something wriggling with too many legs that you found in your sleeping bag. The proper tone of voice is Mercenaries!—with a glad cry.”

Miles continues accosting people and spreading the news himself, commandeering a tall commando at one point to help him see what’s going on.  The fourteen groups do seem to be assembling at about the right positions as the shuttles land.  He walks over to the nearest shuttle, hoping that his plan will keep the shuttles from being overrun with prisoners.  The shuttle disgorges armed troopers, a small group pointing their weapons at the prisoners and a larger one heading to the Cetagandan buildings outside the circle.

He spots Lieutenant Murka and calls him over; Murka immediately notifies Ky Tung of Miles’s presence through his headset.  Miles grabs Murka’s headset to talk to Tung directly, asking whether Elli and Elena have been retrieved yet.  Tung says they don’t have the two women yet, and informs Miles they have about two hours for the lift.

The first group of 200 is assembled ready for the shuttle, and the second group is being organized to sit down and wait calmly.  Miles notes an odd procedure as the prisoners are boarded onto the shuttle–cutting open the back of the uniform, using a medical stunner, then ripping out the serial numbers the Cetagandans had tagged them all with.  Bel Thorne appears, with a doctor and some clothes.  Before Miles can change, the doctor does the same operation to him, and he yelps in pain before the stun kicks in.  The doctor explains that Elli and Elena discovered that the barcodes were done in a special ink with embedded chemicals that would begin to dissolve an hour after being removed from the dome, leading to a very messy death.  Miles shudders at the news and tells Thorne to authorize a commendation for the two women, promising to take their (Barrayaran) employers to task for missing the vital bit of information.  He also asks for a quick stun for his broken hand.

Thorne expresses concern about the increased size of the operation, which was supposed to just be a pickup for Colonel Tremont, and turned into a full jailbreak, using the full resources of the entire Dendarii fleet.  He points out that there’s twice as many prisoners as Dendarii.  Miles promises that their employers will pay for the operation, but he’ll have to deliver the bill in person.

Ky Tung appears just as the first wave of shuttles is launching, each as it fills up rather than waiting for the others, so Miles judges timing is extremely tight.  He tells Miles that they’re loading the prisoners into some used freighters, which can hold 5000 prisoners each, though not particularly comfortably, but they’ll be okay if they lie down and don’t breathe too much.  The local Cetagandan military are on practice maneuvers on the other side of the solar system, so all they have to deal with is some local police shuttles for now.  They’d had to wait for the maneuvers, which had been the holdup, after the revised and expanded plan was put into effect.  Tung says that the defense forces on the planet have been reduced substantially since Miles went in, stripped off to other hot spots, but they only have two hours.  Getting the fourth and last load into the air will be cutting it rather fine, depending on how fast they can load them in the first place.

“Have you found Elli and Elena yet?”

“I have three patrols out searching.”

He hadn’t found them yet. Miles’s guts tightened. “I wouldn’t have even attempted to expand this operation in midstream if I hadn’t known they were monitoring me, and could translate all those oblique hints back into orders.”

“Did they get ’em all right?” asked Tung. “We argued over some of their interpretations of your double-talk on the vids.”

Miles confirms they were right, but is surprised they have actual vids.  Tung says that they got a burst transmission daily, and some people found Miles’s efforts entertaining.  He says Elli and Elena were in contact as of yesterday, and assures Miles that his three patrols wouldn’t do any better with Miles himself helping.  Miles can’t help but worry about them, though, especially knowing that Cetagandans killed spies, after interrogating them thoroughly first.  He tries to reassure himself that there would be more resistance here if the Cetagandans had captured them…unless they were killed by friendly fire, of course.

He tells the soldier with his clothes to go and fetch Beatrice and Suegar; he enjoys the experience of being able once more to give orders without having to give a sermon for each one.  He feels exhausted, and has trouble dressing himself one-handed until Thorne comes to help him out.  Miles asks where his headset is, and Thorne says he was scheduled for immediate evacuation.  Miles swallows his annoyance and admits he’s not yet enough in the loop on the details of the operation to be giving orders, but he’s available to bring up the rear.

The soldier returns with Beatrice and Suegar.  Miles’s personal surgeon takes a look at Suegar, gives him synergine for the shock, and pronounces him in bad shape.  Miles tells him he’ll see Suegar personally brought for surgery on the command ship.  Tung receives a message on his comm set; Elli and Elena have been found and are being brought to the drop site, and haven’t asked for a medtech so are probably okay.

Miles asks Beatrice to get Tris and Oliver so he can talk to them before they go up.  When they arrive, he congratulates them on having “achieved an army”.  Tris is pessimistic, wondering what will happen if anything goes wrong, or if anyone starts to panic.  Miles says they can ride with him if that makes them feel better, though he will be going up in the last load; Tung receives this announcement with consternation.  He also tells Tris and Oliver that his original mission had been only to rescue Colonel Tremont, so he could raise an army to fight off the Cetagandans, but when that didn’t work out, he decided to just raise an army himself.  Tris and Oliver are now the new Marilac resistance, Miles tells them, overriding their protests of inexperience.  Oliver says his time in the military actually ended while he was at Fallow Core, and wonders when he’ll be able to retire now.

“The odds were worse for Barrayar, in its day, and they ran the Cetagandans right off. It took twenty years, and more blood than either of you have seen in your lives combined, but they did it,” asserted Miles.

Oliver seemed more struck by this historical precedent than Tris, who said skeptically, “Barrayar had those crazy Vor warriors. Nuts who rushed into battle, who liked to die. Marilac just doesn’t have that sort of cultural tradition. We’re civilized—or we were, once. . . .”

“Let me tell you about the Barrayaran Vor,” cut in Miles. “The loonies who sought a glorious death in battle found it very early on. This rapidly cleared the chain of command of the accumulated fools. The survivors were those who learned to fight dirty, and live, and fight another day, and win, and win, and win, and for whom nothing, not comfort, or security, not family or friends or their immortal souls, was more important than winning. Dead men are losers by definition. Survival and victory. They weren’t supermen, or immune to pain. They sweated in confusion and darkness. And with not one-half the physical resources Marilac possesses even now, they won. When you’re Vor,” Miles ran down a little, “there is no mustering out.”

Tris says they will still need supplies, and Miles says there will be covert support of the Resistance as long as there’s a Resistance to deliver it to.  Tris asks Oliver if he’ll be joining her, and he says he will.  Miles asks Tung how they’re doing, and he says they’re a few minutes behind, unloading.  Miles tells Tris and Oliver to go up in the next wave, on separate shuttles, and help speed up the unloading.

Beatrice lingered. “I’m inclined to panic,” she informed Miles in a distant tone. Her bare toe smudged whorls in the dampening dirt.

“I don’t need a bodyguard anymore,” Miles said. He grinned. “A keeper, maybe . . .”

A smile lighted her eyes that did not yet reach her mouth. Later, Miles promised himself. Later, he would make that mouth laugh.

The second wave begins to lift, even as more first wave shuttles are still landing; the fog has turned to rain.  Tung swears suddenly and then tells Miles that two shuttles have been destroyed by a Cetagandan fighter–one full, one empty.  Miles is relieved that Tris and Oliver weren’t on them, but is saddened by the loss of the 200 prisoners, and the six Dendarii crewmembers.  Beatrice asks for a task, to keep her mind busy, and Miles sends her to tell the leaders of the two groups now without a shuttle to divide up among the others; the last wave will have to go up overloaded.  Tung says they were already overloaded, this will make it worse.  Miles asks him to calculate how far behind they’ll be when the rest of the Cetagandans return.  Tung works it out and says that five shuttles will still be waiting to unload.

Tung makes a few suggestions–don’t send those five shuttles down, and leave a thousand prisoners on the behind.  Miles isn’t keen on the idea, and points out that the last groups of prisoners have been watching Miles carefully, and any sign they’ll be left behind will likely lead them to riot.  Tung says they won’t notice, with the shuttle timing so skewed.

“So we just leave them standing there, waiting for us?” The sheep look up, but are not fed . . .

“Right.”

“You like that option, Ky?”

“Makes me want to puke, but—consider the 9,000 others. And the Dendarii fleet. The idea of dropping them all down the rat hole in a pre-doomed effort to pack up all these—miserable sinners of yours, makes me want to puke a lot more. Nine-tenths of a loaf is much better than none.”

Miles proposes an alternate option.  The freighters are the slowest ships, but the Triumph is faster.  If they can take the last five shuttles and have them dock to the Triumph instead, jettisoning five fighters to make room, then the Triumph‘s shields can protect them while they cram the prisoners into the corridors.  The added mass of people may slow it down, but they can jettison some of the drop shuttles to offset it.  They should have enough oxygen to make it to the jump point, after which they can redistribute people.  Tung begins to protest the cost, and Miles stops him and says he’ll tack it onto the bill to their employers.  Tung runs the calculations and says it’ll buy them 15 very expensive minutes.

The second wave of shuttles begins to return, and, after giving Murka strict orders to not bother returning to the ship without Miles, Tung boards his shuttle with the third wave, leaving less then two thousand prisoners still on the ground, waiting.  The last wave of shuttles begins to return just after the last of the third wave leave, but the Marilacans’ discipline seems to be holding.  Miles sees Suegar onto the shuttle first, noting that he’ll actually reach Triumph faster this way than he would if he’d been loaded onto a freighter first.

The last of the armored troops that had been occupying the Cetagandan ground installations reaches the shuttle, reporting to Murka.  Plasma fire bursts out of the darkness, some Cetagandan holdout who’d found a weapon.  One immobilizes a Dendarii trooper’s armour, another flies off harmlessly into the air; rear-guard soldiers pick up weapons and head off after it, but Miles calls them back, saying there’s no time.  Miles helps the trooper out of his armour and they dash for the shuttle.  As Murka is waiting for the last few to board, he gets decapitated by a plasma beam across his neck.  Miles grabs Murka’s headset and runs up the ramp, partly melted by the plasma beam, and tells the pilot to lift now.

The shuttle begins to lift off as the ramp retracts…and jams on the melted section.  They can’t pull it in further, or seal the hatch, so Miles tells them to jettison it.  Now it’s stuck, though, and can’t slide back out, either.

Hands reached out to thump on it urgently. “You’ll never get it that way!” Beatrice, across the hatch from Miles, yelled fiercely, and twisted around to kick at it with her bare feet. The wind of their flight screamed over the open hatchway, buffeting and vibrating the shuttle like a giant blowing across the top of a bottle.

To a chorus of shouting, thumping, and swearing, the shuttle lurched abruptly onto its side. Men, women, and loose equipment tangled across the tilting deck. Beatrice kicked bloodily at a final buggered bolt. The ramp tore loose at last. Beatrice, sliding, fell with it.

Miles dove at her, lunging across the hatchway. If he connected, he never knew, for his right hand was a senseless blob. He saw her face only as a white blur as she whipped away into the blackness.

The white blur loops over and over in Miles’s head, as he finds himself crouched on the deck, pinned by the shuttle’s acceleration, the hatch finally closed.  He sees Pitt’s lieutenant, who had grabbed a weapon near the end, standing over him, and tells him he’d better kill a lot of Cetagandans, because otherwise the price they’d paid was too high.

He crawls forward to talk to Suegar, who’s barely conscious with the drugs and the pain, telling him how it worked out according to the scripture, “up through the regions of air” with “agility and speed”.  Suegar tells him he knew it wasn’t scripture, they both knew it, but Miles make him laugh weakly anyway.  Miles himself manages not to weep until they’re through the wormhole.

Comments

Whew, that’s intense, that ending.  Even though they’d taken out a lot of the Cetagandan defense, the whole operation was, in some ways, so precarious that it didn’t take much to jeopardize it.  The one fighter who managed to take out two shuttles, the single sniper killing Murka (poor Murka, you were so brilliant on Jackson’s Whole) and, indirectly, Beatrice…  Those two deaths haunt Miles for a long time, as I recall, particularly Beatrice’s.  The whole scene with the ramp, though, I always found confusing and hard to picture.  Maybe now I have it down, but I guess I always had a problem with the relationship between the ramp and the hatch, and wasn’t sure why you couldn’t close the watch without retracting the ramp.  I suppose the ramp must retract to inside the hatch, but, evidently, it’s a bad design if all it takes is a little bit of plasma melting to make it unworkable.

She was set up for most of the story as a potential romantic interest for Miles, at least once he broke through the defenses that she had put up against the dangers of the camp.  How precisely their relationship would have worked, I don’t know, since I imagine she would be following Tris into the Marilacan Resistance.  I suppose Miles could have tried to make her join the Dendarii instead, but that would have been a really bad idea, since she’d have been torn between the two and probably ended up bitter and resentful.  Probably wouldn’t have made a good Lady Vorkosigan either, though I guess it’s hard to say; we don’t really know much about her beyond the hardened exterior.

The first time through the story, for sure, I had no idea what was coming, what Miles was waiting for, and when the dome shut off and the shuttles came down I had a sudden flash of recognition of how brilliant this plan actually was.  Especially when Miles was concocting it on the fly after the failure of the original plan and only able to communicate it to the Dendarii officers through indirect means, spouting sermons and hoping that Elli and Elena would be able to pass them along.  To think, the best thing the Cetagandans could have done to stop the plan would have been to just stop recording everything.  But I guess Elli and Elena (who are some kind of inseparable bicorporate Cetagandan-infiltration machine in this story) were probably prepared to make sure things got recorded anyway.

All those extra costs that Miles incurs just to try to save a few more lives–well, losing the two shuttles isn’t really his fault, but preparing to sacrifice five brand-new fighters, and maybe two or more of the freighters, can’t be cheap.  Even just mobilizing the entire mercenary fleet to save all the prisoners rather than just trying to sneak one out must have been a costly decision.  And that ramp will probably need to be replaced, too.  The original Borders of Infinity anthology had a scene with Miles trying to explain his cost overruns to Simon Illyan (set after Brothers In Arms), which leads into the story itself.  You ever wonder about those poor Barrayaran peasants whose taxes are used to subsidize Miles’s little adventures?  Well, I’m sure they tax the nobility as well…or, at least, get them to give the Emperor gifts on his birthday every year, but I’m not sure who the main tax burder really falls on.  I guess that somebody, at least, thinks they’re worth it, even if all they’re doing is secretly giving a black eye to the Cetagandans.

Still wonder whether the Cetagandans recognizes Miles, and if they did, if they recognized him as Miles Naismith or Miles Vorkosigan.  I guess, after the fact, unless the records got wiped by Elli-and-Elena, they’d be able to figure out who was behind it all, but in the context of Miles Naismith, for sure.  There’s no evidence that they ever connected the two, and if they did, maybe they just decided that Miles Vorkosigan had a clone or something.  Which would be ridiculous, of course, since clones don’t really work that way, do they?


On that note…we’re done “The Borders of Infinity” and ready to start on Brothers In Arms, wherein we ask the question, “What if Miles had a clone?”  I’ll start week after next, because I get another week off now before leaping into another full-sized novel.  Not quite into my favourite stretch, but without this one Mirror Dance doesn’t stand up, and without Mirror Dance, Memory doesn’t stand up, so it’s a necessary step, and in some ways encompasses a major transition in Miles’s life which begins to throw everything else out of balance.  So there’s that.  In two weeks, then…

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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.

Comments

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.

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Good evening, and welcome again to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  This week I’ll be starting on the novella “The Borders of Infinity”, which originally featured prominently in a collection of (alm0st) the same name, together with “The Mountains of Mourning”, “Labyrinth”, and a framing story.  The more recent omnibuses have split these stories up, so that “The Mountains of Mourning” is in Young Miles, “Labyrinth” is in Miles, Mystery & Mayhem, and “The Borders of Infinity” leads off the omnibus Miles Errant.  I think that’s actually a sensible decision, since “Borders” is linked closely with Brothers In Arms, which follows immediately after it in the omnibus.  There’s not much to the framing story, so I doubt I’ll be covering it.  So, without further ado, let’s on to the beginning of…

The Borders of Infinity

Miles and three other prisoners enter a gigantic force dome through a temporary doorway, and Miles is taken aback by what he finds inside, half-wondering if he’s arrived in Hell rather than the Dagoola prison camp.

Dagoola IV Top Security Prison Camp #3. This was it? This naked . . . dinner plate? Miles had vaguely visioned barracks, marching guards, daily head counts, secret tunnels, escape committees.

It was the dome that made it all so simple, Miles realized. What need for barracks to shelter prisoners from the elements? The dome did it. What need for guards? The dome was generated from without. Nothing inside could breach it. No need for guards, or head counts. Tunnels were a futility, escape committees an absurdity. The dome did it all.

Miles’s fellow prisoners are also disturbed by what they’ve found; having known each other before, from the same unit, they instinctively band together.  All their possessions were taken away, and what they’re left with is tunic and trousers, sleeping mat and plastic cup, and a tattoo on the small of their backs.  A group of men approaches, and Miles wonders who they might be, out of the numerous prisoners in the camp.

The battered remnants of the 3rd and 4th Armored All-Terrain Rangers. The ingenious and tenacious civilian defenders of Garson Transfer Station. Winoweh’s 2nd Battalion had been captured almost intact. And the 14th Commandos, survivors of the high-tech fortress at Fallow Core. Particularly the survivors of Fallow Core. Ten thousand, two hundred fourteen exactly. The planet Marilac’s finest. Ten thousand, two hundred fifteen, counting himself. Ought he to count himself?

The welcoming committee stops a short distance away; Miles’s three companions sensible retreat, and Miles realizes he’s alone, and all too conspicuous.  Miles knows it’s not going to work, but he asks them anyways, about where he can find Colonel Guy Tremont of the 14th Commandos, as they move to surround him.  They tell him there’s no ranks or companies or soldiers any more.  They kick him to the ground and take all his possessions, planning on trying to trade his clothes to the women.  A smart response from Miles brings a second beating, which leaves him broken ribs and an injured left wrist, as well as many bruises.

After a timeless interval of pain, Miles is approached by another man, gaunt and bony, also naked, seeming older but hard to tell.  All the prisoners had their hair follicles stunned to prevent growth, but this man had a strip of beard where they must have been sloppy.  He offers Miles a drink in a broken plastic cup, which he gratefully accepts.

The man squatted in studied politeness until Miles finished drinking, then leaned forward on his knuckles in restrained urgency. “Are you the One?”

Miles blinked. “Am I the what?”

“The One. The other one, I should say. The scripture says there has to be two.”

Miles asks about the scripture, and the man quotes a line about two men leading pilgrims up a hill, leaving their garments behind.  Miles asks the man, whose name is Suegar, and Suegar confirms that he is sure he’s one of the two men.  He notes that Miles doesn’t look like a soldier, and Miles claims to have been a recruiting clerk.  He asks how Suegar came to know his true identity; Suegar said it came gradually, when nobody else seemed to believe in his scripture.  He tells Miles it’s only a few sentences, so it’s not very clear; he’d torn out of a piece of paper from a book to wedge into one boot heel, and kept it in his hand when he came into the camp, since the guards didn’t seem bothered by it.  Only later did he realize it must be scripture, as the only writing in the whole camp.

Miles asks Suegar about the water, and where they get food.  Suegar says the water comes from taps at the latrines, but they don’t always work, and they don’t always get the “rat” bars either, only sometimes.

“Sometimes?” said Miles angrily. He could count Suegar’s ribs. “Dammit, the Cetagandans are claiming loudly to be treating their POW’s by Interstellar Judiciary Commission rules. So many square meters of space per person, 3,000 calories a day, at least fifty grams of protein, two liters of drinking water—you should be getting at least two IJC standard ration bars a day. Are they starving you?”

“After a while,” Suegar sighed, “you don’t really care if you get yours or not.”

Suegar seems to slump as Miles’s novelty begins to wear off.  Miles says that he’s looking for a relative of his in the camp, Colonel Guy Tremont.  Suegar says the old groups don’t stay together too much, and officers weren’t too popular with some of the groups inside.  Miles asks Suegar if he can take Miles to someone who might know where Tremont or somebody from the 14th Commandos might be, and Suegar says he’ll try.  He’s taken aback by Miles’s sense of urgency, until Miles prods him into recognizing that part of his scripture mentions “agility and speed”.

They pass other groups, giving some of them a wide berth.  The “surly brothers” who beat up Miles earlier seem to be a group of about sixteen with a large collection of mats, but most groups are smaller, and there are other loners, most of them keeping their distance from the others.  Miles spots a large group of hundreds of women who have staked out a large area, including two latrines, and are actively patrolling it.  Miles asks about the women; Suegar says they don’t “put out”, and Miles expresses some surprise that some of them haven’t turned to sex to relieve the boredom.  Suegar says that everything in the dome is monitored, down to every word…unless, of course, their captors have just automated the food delivery and abandoned them entirely.  Miles assures that the Cetagandans are still out there.

Suegar says that the monitoring inhibited some people at first, until they discovered that the Cetagandans didn’t interfere, so things began to deteriorate, and after a few rapes the women began to band together.  The Cetagandans do interfere in extreme cases, as when there’s riots, by cutting off oxygen and letting everyone pass out, or compressing the dome to extreme discomfort.
Miles notices a bulge in the dome and asks Suegar if it’s more new prisoners.

Suegar glanced around. “Uh oh. We’re not in a real good position, here.” He hovered a moment, as if uncertain whether to go forward or back.

A wave of movement rippled through the camp from the bulge outward, of people getting to their feet. Faces turned magnetically toward the side of the dome. Little knots of men came together; a few sprinters began running. Some people didn’t get up at all. Miles glanced back towards the women’s group. About half of them were forming rapidly into a sort of phalanx.

“We’re so close—what the hell, maybe we’ve got a chance,” said Suegar. “Come on!”

Suegar jogs towards the bulge, and Miles follows, hampered by his broken ribs.  As the bulge disappears, Miles sees a big pile of rat bars, acceptable IJC rations, containing half the daily nutritional requirements and guaranteed to keep you alive as long as you kept eating them.  Miles realizes that there must be one rat bar for every prisoner in that one pile.  The Cetagandans have delivered the food, they leave it to the prisoners to distribute it, and there’s no way that all ten thousand-odd of them are going to each get their even share.

The first to arrive at the pile grab armfuls and try to sprint to safety.  Those who don’t make it get beaten up by the surly brothers and other kindred spirits.  After that it gets harder to get away because of the crush of new people arriving.  Miles and Suegar are caught in the press.  Suegar grabs a bar and hastily starts to eat it, but Miles can’t keep a grip on his, trying too hard to keep from getting trampled, which terrifies him.  He eventually extricates himself from the crowd as the pressure eases, and sits and shakes in the dirt for a while.  He made it out this time, with nothing more than a trampled foot, but he’s afraid now that he might die at the hands, or feet, of potential allies rather than friends.

Eventually Miles forces himself back to his feet, telling himself it’s time to find Colonel Tremont, the hero of the siege of Fallow Core, who held to the last.  General Xian had promised to return, but been killed himself, and HQ had fallen to the Cetagandans.  Fallow Core had held out a long time, but had eventually fallen–not surrendering, but taken.

Looking around, Miles locates Suegar, being driven away by an unappreciate audience; he walks closer and calls Suegar over.  Suegar says he has to keep trying, in case he missed the Other One the first time.  Miles asks Suegar to lead him to the guy who would know where Tremont is.  As they walk, Miles asks if that’s a typical chow call, and if so, why somebody hasn’t just taken that arc of the dome; Suegar says it moves around all the time, so it’s hard to tell where to wait for it.  Suegar asks the date, and Miles tells him; Suegar is surprised that it hasn’t even been three years yet.

They reach a group of men, who aren’t happy to see Suegar; Suegar point out a man named Oliver, introduces Miles to him, then backs away.  Miles appraises Oliver, noting he’s still got his original equipment, but no stolen extras.  He tells Oliver he’s looking for Colonel Tremont; Oliver says there’s no colonels in here anymore.  Miles says he’s a relative, and the only person he might know in the whole camp; Oliver allows as he might have a right to see Tremont, for all the good it’ll do.

Oliver leads them to another group of mats, on the edge of which a figure lies curled up on a mat.  Oliver says it’s not Tremont, just his remains, but Miles sees that Tremont is breathing.  However, Tremont seems entirely catatonic, surrounded by urine-soaked mud but obviously cared for.  Oliver pushes some food into his mouth but Tremont makes no move to eat it.

“Was—was he injured when Fallow Core was overrun?” asked Miles. “Head injury?”

Oliver shook his head. “Fallow Core wasn’t stormed, boy.”

“But it fell on October 6th, it was reported, and—”

“It fell on October 5th. Fallow Core was betrayed.” Oliver turned and walked away before his stiffened face could betray any emotion.

Miles wanders off, wondering if his mission is over.  He looks up at the dome, considering how the Cetagandans have twisted the IJC rules.  Ample allotted space per prisoner; no solitary confinement, no excessive periods of darkness (because there’s no darkness at all), no beatings or rapes–by the guards, at least, since there are no guards at all.  The rat bar distribution, leaving it to the prisoners to come up with their own unequal distribution.  No forced labour; access to medical personnel, because they still have their own medics, though no actual equipment…  No communication with the outside world, of course.

This lack of word from the outside world might drive even him crazy shortly. It was as bad as prayer, talking to a God who never talked back. No wonder they all seemed touched with a sort of solipsistic schizophrenia here. Their doubts infected him. Was anybody still out there? Could his voice be heard and understood?

Ah, blind faith. The leap of faith. His right hand clenched, as if crushing an eggshell. “This,” he enunciated clearly, “calls for a major change of plans.”

He finds Suegar again, telling him he’s found his “cousin”, but he’s dying.  He asks what they do with dead bodies, and Suegar says they get put on a rubbish pile near one side of the dome, which is periodically enveloped and taken outside–after being incinerated first, of course.

Miles tells Suegar that he’s realized he is the Other One, which Suegar takes with surprising equability.

“It came to me in a vision,” he declared dramatically, following his script anyway.

“Oh, yeah?” Suegar’s attention sharpened gratifyingly. “I’ve never gotten a vision,” he added with envy. “Had to figure it all out, y’know, from context. What’s it like? A trance?”

Shit, and here I thought this guy talked with elves and angels. . . .  Miles backed down slightly. “No, it’s like a thought, only more compelling. It storms your will—burns like lust, only not so easy to satisfy. Not like a trance, because it drives you outward, not inward.” He hesitated, unsettled, having spoken more truth than he’d intended.

Suegar looked vastly encouraged. “Oh, good. I was afraid for a second you might be one of those guys who start talking to people nobody else can see.”

Suegar says he recognizes the sensation, and is a little relieved.  He’d tried to evade it himself at first before giving in to God’s will.  Miles says that he should know that when he’s given a task, he’s also given the power to accomplish it.  Miles says that they’ll need more than two for the task, though, and tells Suegar they need to recruit his friends, and acquaintances, and anyone they can find, because they’ll need them all in the end.  Suegar says that Miles reminds him of an officer he used to have, and seems a little skeptical when Miles reminds him he’s still a clerk.

They visit Oliver first.  Miles tells him they need to change the way things are run around here, which doesn’t impress Oliver much, until he threatens to pound Miles unless he shuts up, and turns away.  Miles grabs Oliver and tells him that cynicism is a nice comfortable moral position which claims that it’s okay to do nothing.

“You listen up, mutant,” Oliver snarled. “We’ve done it all already. We’ve done drill, and games, and clean living, exercise, and cold showers, except there ain’t no cold showers. We’ve done group sings and floor shows. We’ve done it by the numbers, by the book, by candlelight. We’ve done it by force, and made real war on each other. After that we did sin and sex and sadism till we were ready to puke. We’ve done it all at least ten times. You think you’re the first reformer to come through here?”

“No, Oliver.” Miles leaned into his face, his eyes boring into Oliver’s burning eyes unscorched. His voice fell to a whisper. “I think I’m the last.”

Oliver laughs, saying that Suegar has found his soulmate at last.  Miles turns to Suegar and asks him to read the full text.

Suegar rustled around and cleared his throat nervously. ” ‘For those that shall be the heirs of salvation,’ ” he began. ” ‘Thus they went along toward the gate. Now you must note that the city stood upon a mighty hill, but the pilgrims went up that hill with ease, because they had these two men to lead them by the arms; also they had left their mortal garments behind them in the river, for though they went in with them, they came out without them. They therefore went up here with much agility and speed, through the foundation upon which the city was framed higher than the clouds. They therefore went up through the regions of the air . . .’ ” He added apologetically, “It breaks off there. That’s where I tore the page. Not sure what that signifies.”

Miles absorbs the raw material he has to work with, finding the last line aptness particularly creepy.  He tells Oliver that he’s working for all of their salvation, which Oliver says sounds very uplifting.  Miles tells him that ‘uplifting’ is exactly correct, and he takes his scripture very literally.  Oliver looks at Miles with a new sharpness, and says that will take a miracle.  Miles says it will be a miracle for all of the masses, not just the chosen few, but they need to be prepared for the miracle to come.

“Sh . . .” Oliver’s voice trailed off. He glanced for confirmation, oddly enough, at Suegar. “Is this guy for real?”

“He thinks he’s faking it,” said Suegar blandly, “but he’s not. He’s the One, all right and tight.”

The cold worms writhed again. Dealing with Suegar, Miles decided, was like fencing in a hall of mirrors. Your target, though real, was never quite where it looked as if it should be.

Oliver asks more about their salvation, and Miles says that they will need a “priesthood” to organize the rest.  Oliver points out that the absence of a miracle may well lead to a human sacrifice.  Oliver says he can bring in about twenty, and Miles tells them to make him the corporals of the…Reformation Army.  Miles says that for now they’ll just work with reforming the food.  He tells Oliver to bring the twenty before the next meal call, pointing out that despite appearances, they don’t have all the time in the world.  He wants them to take the food pile; Oliver is dubious, saying it’s been tried before, but Miles says they just want to distribute it equally.  That’ll give them leverage with those who’ve been shorted in the past.  Oliver says it’s impossible with twenty guys, and Miles says he never said about doing it with only twenty guys.  He promises five hundred, and walks off with Suegar.

Comments

What makes the dome all that impenetrable from the inside?  I suppose if you don’t have a big plasma cannon or something to overload it…  I suppose it’s just like the other force domes which we saw in Cetaganda.  It just feels like, if it can be made selectively permeable to oxygen and other gases, there should be some way to trick it, or use that somehow.  Like quantum tunneling, or port forwarding, but yeah, that would probably also require more tech than they have available in there.  And I guess they’re trying to be all about the subtle right now, and assuming extreme clairvoyance on the part of the enemy, but still.

There’s something about the initial supplies the prisoners receive that makes me think of Riverworld, somehow.  Basic garments, water cup, sleeping mat…  No “grails”, though.  The situation always makes me remember Larry Niven’s story “Cloak of Anarchy”, except lasting more than a few hours.  “Lord of The Flies” is a bit obvious, but I suppose you could mention that one too, though I confess I’ve only seen one of the movie versions of it, haven’t read the book or anything.

A quick Google shows that Suegar’s “scripture” is an excerpt from “Pilgrim’s Progress”, so I guess it is practically scripture after all.  I wonder if Bujold started with the scripture, or searched for something appropriate once she had the idea.  I kept wondering if it actually contained the phrase “borders of infinity”, but I guess not.  Miles does use the phrase, or a similar one, later, so I guess that can account for it.  It is a good title, one of her better ones.

This story is, as you can probably tell already, another one where you get to see Miles’s fast-talk ability in action.  Since he comes in with, literally, nothing but himself, and his body has never been a major asset, he’s left with just his mind, and, of course, his voice.  Except that, even more problematically, he knows that it’s likely every single word of his is being monitored.  Do they recognize him?  After all, Miles Vorkosigan did make a visit to Cetaganda (even if that wasn’t necessarily in the works yet when Bujold wrote this), and his body shape is fairly distinctive.  Admiral Naismith doubtless has a bit of a reputation by now, and surely a few people know what he looks like, though the description may have gotten distorted through transmission.  But it may just be that nobody cross-referenced, that the ghem-lords (one presumes, unless they’re just rank-and-file soldiers) who processed him never thought of doubting his story, where presumably he had to pretend to be a Marilacan to get picked up and sent to Dagoola IV.  That’s a part of the story that is never clearly drawn, though, Bujold deciding to start with Miles being thrown into prison, only slowly beginning to imply that he may have planned it that way…

When I first read it, of course, I had no idea what was going on, and why Miles was there, so I took him at face value, though I would hope that I began to be suspicious of his clerk story.  I certainly didn’t think at the time that there was someone, besides the Cetagandans, monitoring him, but there’s a few lines in this section (which I’ve quoted) that are very telling when you take that point of view.


I wasn’t quite sure whether to do this story in three parts or two, so I chose three, since that’s less work for me.  Still pretty long, if not necessarily two full-length chapters.  Two more weeks of “The Borders of Infinity”, then, so see you for the next one in a week’s time.

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