On a world that had the dubious distinction of being renowned for its therapists, Doctor Indrani Mehta was the therapist. In other words, the President of Beta Colony's personal psychoanalyst.
It was a position of great responsibility, she reflected, leaning back in her comfortable chair. She'd reached it after decades of research, both as a civilian and in the Betan Expeditionary Force. The salary wasn’t much, but she’d found a way to deal with that.
In fact, to most of her colleagues, it was the pinnacle of their profession. Unfortunately, that was scant consolation to somebody who had to listen to Steady Freddy's unending stream of woes, day in and day out. It became worse with each passing day, as re-election time approached. These days, her client seemed unable to open his mouth without launching into a rant about one or the other of the opposition candidates.
Freddy was winding down now. “And that damned warmongering herm Dubauer's even worse, he'll drive me crazy harping about the defence budget... y'know, if that idiot ever gets elected, he'll bankrupt the whole planet. It'll be, it'll be like...”
She pinched herself to stay awake. For God's sake, who ever voted for this guy? She hadn't.
“Like those things, what d'you call them, plasma mirrors... destroy you with your own fire... mustn't tell you about 'em. Classified, like...”
She sat up a little straighter and gave him a blinding smile. “Of course you mustn't tell me anything that's secret, Freddy. By the way, you don't mind if I smoke, do you?”
Six months later, their sessions had become much more interesting. “She kicked me,” moaned Freddy, from the couch. “In front of the cameras! D'you know what Dubauer said about me next day? I swear, all I did to the woman was give her a medal! I'd like to put that lunatic in a hospital for the rest of her life!”
Mehta's lips twitched as she remembered the truly... unique press conference she'd witnessed. Personally, she was inclined to give the woman another medal.
“Now, Freddy,” she admonished, keeping a straight face. “It's very unhealthy for you to have feelings of resentment about this. It's completely understandable for Captain Naismith to be traumatized right now, considering all that she’s been through.” Considering the way the Barrayarans had treated their prisoners, it ought to have been expected, she thought. But it was absurd to imagine that Freddy or his media managers might take another human being's feelings into account.
“I'm sure a little therapy will take care of her personal issues,” Mehta continued with a smile, “And then she'll be as effective a spokesperson as you want. In fact, if you publicize her abuse, it could work to your advantage when you put her on the stage at election time. A wounded heroine will capture the public imagination so much more effectively.”
“But she's not in therapy at all!” whined Freddy. “She says she's completely fine, she wasn't tortured, and the Barrayarans are good guys!”
Mehta's eyebrows shot up. “Well, that certainly upsets your plans.” She paused. “That kind of denial can be very dangerous, I know. I've seen a few such cases in my career.”
“Yeah. She should meet you. A couple of hours with you'll straighten her right out.” Freddy sat up suddenly. “Say, that's an idea...”
Really, manipulating Freddy was like taking candy from a baby.
Later that evening, she browsed through Captain Cordelia Naismith's medical file, until the section on allergies caught her attention.
“I can't believe this rubbish!” Commodore Tailor slammed her report down on her desk. He was nearly incoherent with rage. “You complete incompetent-”
“I will let that remark pass, Commodore,” snapped Mehta. “I assure you that I am an expert in my field, and I have reached my conclusions after careful study. My client's responses in our last session were...” She paused, remembering Cordelia Naismith’s hysterical outburst, “shocking and irrational. My discussions with her mother - transcribed in that report – support my conclusion. Which is that Captain Naismith has undergone a very extensive form of Barrayaran mental programming.”
“That woman, Doctor, is the best commander who's ever served under me. I don't care what your expert analysis is, Cordelia is not some sort of Barrayaran zombie!”
“I can fully sympathize with your feelings,” continued Mehta. “I had trouble believing it myself. If it hadn't been for her cover story being so patently absurd... really, do the Barrayarans expect us to believe that a woman like her could fall in love with the Butcher of Komarr?”
Tailor was still glaring at her. Time to offer him the stick.
“Allow me to make myself clear, Commodore. We are dealing with a senior Expeditionary Force officer who has concealed important information from her superiors, both about her treatment in captivity and her relationship with her captor. An officer who has been caught attempting to pass information to the commander of the enemy forces. If Captain Naismith is not under compulsion, then I must conclude that she is acting of her own free will. And I will have no choice but to so inform the President.”
He blanched. Mehta leant forward, meeting his gaze squarely. “Understand this, Commodore. I am giving Captain Naismith the benefit of the doubt. I need not do so.”
She watched Tailor's expression calmly, reading in it the progression of his thoughts. Disbelief, fury, and finally resignation. She leant back, satisfied. Bill Tailor would not protest her report, and if he did, let him try. She had Freddy on her side.
You're wrong, Commodore. I'm very, very good at my job.
Mehta staged the final act in Naismith's mother's house. She selected her words carefully, watching the desperation grow in the woman's grey eyes, twisting until it reached breaking point. When the bewildered face hardened into determination, she knew she'd won at last.
Yes. You have only one place to run to, Cordelia Naismith, and you know it.
She had requested Tailor and the medtech to give her some time alone with her client, using medical confidentiality as her excuse. So the two of them were left alone in the bedroom while Naismith pretended to pack. The woman was a hopeless actor, but Mehta was still shocked when the chain snapped around her neck with brutal force. “How many men does Tailor have planted around this building, and what are their positions?”
Can't tell her on the first go. She'll suspect.... “None!”
“Bill's not inept either.” Naismith dragged her to the aquarium with unexpected strength. Mehta had time for one last thought before she was shoved under, struggling.
Negri, you bastard, you'd better pay me triple for this one.