"The Borders of Infinity", written by Lois McMaster Bujold and published in 1989 as part of Borders of Infinity, is a novella in the Vorkosigan Saga. It was first published in 1987 by Baen Books as part of an anthology of novellas titled Free Lancers (from the collection Alien Stars; number 4) and is available as part of the Miles Errant collection.
"The Borders of Infinity" came in seventh place for a Locus Award for Best Novella in 1988.
When the Cetagandan Empire invaded Marilac, Barrayar saw an opportunity to prolong the war as much as possible. So Simon Illyan charged Miles and his Dendarii Irregulars to stage a rescue from one of their prisoner of war camps. The plan was to infiltrate the camp and conduct a lightning raid to snatch Colonel Guy Tremont, a military genius, from under the nose of the Cetagandans to organise a new Marilacan resistance movement. This would not be easy, however, since the Cetagandans were employing a state-of-the-art force dome, impossible to breach from the inside, to keep the prisoners in check with minimal effort.
- "How could I have died and gone to hell without noticing the transition? "
- ―Miles's arrival in the camp[src]
Miles set himself up as the inside man for the job, arranging to have himself captured and interred in the camp as a military prisoner. The plan almost immediately went awry when he found that all semblance of order amongst his fellow inmates had long since departed. The Cetagandans had been employing psychological warfare to break the prisoner's spirits. The food was delivered twice daily in a single pile randomly located around the perimeter of the dome, forcing prisoners to fight each other for their food ration. Since the Cetagandans would not intervene to keep order, some of the men had been preying on the women in the camp, leading them to band together in a single exclusively female grouping to defend themselves. Miles found himself violently relieved of his few possessions (no more than clothing and a cup), and nursing two broken ribs and an injured wrist thanks to a "self help" group Miles mentally dubbed "The Burly, Surly Brothers." Naked and in pain, Miles was helped by the only person in the camp willing to talk to him, a seemingly half-mad man named Suegar. Suegar had half a page ripped from an ancient book which he claimed was scripture, and considered it his job to find the "other one" in the camp that his presumably prophetic writings referred to.
- "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.'"
- ―Miles changes his plans[src]
Miles persuaded Suegar to help him find Colonel Tremont; however, when they got to him they found he was dying. Hastily rearranging the plan, Miles decided to follow the spirit of his contract rather than to deliver the catatonic Tremont to Illyan. Convincing Suegar he was the "other one" that the scripture mentioned, he set about organising the camp into the "Reformation Army", a pseudo-spiritual outfit dedicated to restoring order in the camp. Through force of will, Miles gained himself a meeting with Tris, the leader of the women's group, though her guard Beatrice was clearly disapproving of admitting a man in to their circle. Offering her command of the camp, Miles convinced her to take him on as her "spiritual adviser" and chief strategist. With the women on board, Mile's Reformation Army had sufficient manpower to begin his planned reforms – which only amounted to improving the food distribution system. The idea was to take control of the food pile as it was delivered, and distribute the food fairly to each person in line.
Despite some trickery by the Cetagandan monitors, the plan to control the food pile succeeded and order was restored in the camp with Tris as de facto commandant. With each successive food delivery, Miles proceeded to refine his distribution system. First, he introduced fourteen piles (extemporising that fourteen was a "theologically significant number, for the fourteen apostles."), and then he specified that the food bars should be handed out to people in blocks of two hundred at a time, with thirty minute breaks between each block. However, despite the new-found order in the camp, some inmates were not satisfied with the new order of things. Pitt, one of the Burly, Surly Brothers and one of women's former attackers, refused to acknowledge Tris' authority and got in a fight with some of her enforcers. Miles, realising that letting the women bring Pitt to the justice he doubtless deserved would polarise others like Pitt against him, instead alleged that Pitt was a Cetagandan spy sent to sow seeds of discord in the camp. Pitt was then released to be murdered by his fellows as a traitor, leaving the commandant without blood on her hands.
All continued to go well through several iterations of the food distribution though Miles grew increasingly despondent that rescue had not yet come, assuming that something must have gone wrong on the outside and the Dendarii had evacuated Marilac local space. In his time spent living amongst the women's group, he fell increasingly in love with Beatrice and in time her attitude towards him softened as well. To keep himself occupied Miles took to walking the camp's perimeter daily accompanied by Suegar; but with his mind elsewhere, he allowed himself to be ambushed by Pitt's former minions. Having at last figured out that Miles' accusations against Pitt were baseless, they turned the tables on Miles, accusing him of being the spy and set out to murder him in turn as Pitt was murdered. Attempting to fight of his attackers, Suegar was seriously wounded and Miles only barely survived, saved by the timely intervention of Beatrice. Having no medical supplies, Suegar was carried back to the safety of the women's group with the expectation that he would surely die of his internal injuries and Miles began to accept that he might be stuck in the camp for a very long time indeed.
- "The dome blinked out. For a brief instant, planetary night swept in, fog and drizzle and the kiss of a cold wet wind. This planet's unfiltered air smelled like rotten eggs. The unaccustomed dark was blinding.
'CHOW CALL!' Miles screamed at the top of his lungs."
- ―Rescue arrives[src]
Just when all hope seemed lost, the dome suddenly flickered and disappeared. Miles instantly reverted to his role as Dendarii commander, and the inner workings of his plan were revealed. The organisation of the food distribution had been a covert method of drilling the prisoners in preparation for shuttling them in to orbit for evacuation. The fourteen Dendarii combat drop shuttles could hold 200 prisoners in each load, and would take thirty minutes to reach orbit, unload and return to the surface. Miles connected with Commodore Tung who had been running the evacuation operation and learned they had only a short window in which to load the prisoners before the Cetagandan space forces arrived in superior numbers. These logistical problems were exacerbated when a Cetagandan fighter succeeded in destroying two of the shuttles. Miles rounded up Tris and Oliver, explaining to them that he intended the troops rescued to become the core of the new Marilac resistance, and sent them to facilitate unloading onto the freighters in orbit. Desperate to buy time to lift the last load of troops Miles decided to trade equipment for men, commanding the slower freighters to boost for the wormhole while the last five shuttles loads were to go directly to the much swifter Triumph. Insisting on being on the last shuttle back, Miles was almost killed by the resurgent Cetagandan prison guards who managed to decapitate Lieutenant Murka with plasma fire.
Riding up in the shuttle to the Triumph with Beatrice and the stretcher-bound Suegar, they discovered that the shuttle hatch was jammed and couldn't be closed; they would not be able to leave the atmosphere without sealing the hatch first. In a desperate bid to jettison the jammed hatch, Beatrice kicked at the final bolt holding it to the ship and succeeded in tearing it loose but went sliding with it. Miles made a grab for her with his broken hand, but couldn't save her from falling.
- "... wasn't really a scripture," Suegar whispered. "I knew it ... you knew it ... don't shit me ..."
Miles paused, cold-stoned. Then he leaned forward again. "No, brother," he whispered. "For though we went in clothed, we have surely come out naked."
- ―The scripture is reaffirmed[src]
The tale ended with Miles, finally secure aboard the Triumph and under way allowing himself to weep for his lost love.
References in other novels
- In Mirror Dance, Mark finds a copy of Suegar's "scripture" hanging framed in Mile's room.
- In Komarr, Miles is revealed to still have nightmares about Beatrice's death. While attempting to save Ekaterin from falling into a pond, he finally comes to the realisation he couldn't have saved her.
Behind the Scenes
- Suegar's "scripture" is a passage taken from John Bunyan's book The Pilgrim's Progress.
- Inspirations for the tale include Escape from Colditz and Bridge over the River Kwai, two World War II-era books about prisoners of war.
- Lieutenant Murka
- Commodore Ky Tung
- Colonel Guy Tremont