Prompt: Cordelia, was she ever considered a war criminal or traitor or something on Beta?
Length: 1776 words
Warning: no more triggery than Shards of Honor, but covers similar ground
Summary: Dr. Mehta and Commodore Tailor discuss options
"The fact remains, Commodore, that this is now an espionage case."
Chandra Mehta folded her hands on the desk, two letters lying in front of her. One, crumpled, had been retrieved from the household disposal of Elizabeth Naismith's apartment. The other, neatly folded, had been retrieved with significantly more effort and a planetary security warrant from the jump mail to Escobar.
Tailor, across from her, had a deeply unhappy look. "Are you serious about this, Dr. Mehta?"
"Escobar's just broken the encryption on the Barrayaran battle communications. I am entirely serious." She took a deep breath. "The Barrayaran command learned about the plasma mirrors before they encountered them in battle. She was the only one with that information."
Tailor's response was slow in coming. "We did assume that they'd discover that if they were captured. A prisoner has few options under chemical interrogation, and we didn't want to induce an allergic reaction in our folk and put them in a position where the enemy would feel obliged to torture them."
Chandra nodded. "The issue is that Captain Naismith indicates she was not interrogated."
Tailor frowned, listening.
"She answered in the negative to that question on our handover questionnaire. I do wish we had one of our own debriefers out there, but there were only the five of our POWs behind their lines and all those Escobarans." Her fingers tapped idly on the desk. "Captain Naismith didn't indicate what she was doing during that specific time period. Now, the Escobarans say she said she was hiding out on the ship. And in speaking with her mother, I learned that Naismith said to her that she was being concealed in Admiral Vorkosigan's quarters."
Tailor drew in a breath at the name and slowly let it out. "Look..." he said. "She's not well. She's been through a lot."
"According to her, she hasn't been through anything." Chandra observed. "The Barrayarans were perfectly civil to her. We're all the bad guys for not accepting that at face value. If her medical records show she was tortured, it's the medical records that are wrong."
"I thought the theory was that her memory had been altered," Tailor said. "You're making serious accusations against a woman who may just be trying to heal from trauma the best way she can."
"Maybe she was interrogated and she's just not aware of it?" Chandra raised her eyebrows. "Perhaps. Or perhaps she was interrogated and she's lying about it. Or perhaps she wasn't interrogated, and she volunteered the information. Each of these possibilities raises serious concerns."
"Or they could have found out some other way. It's not like we haven't rooted out enough of Negri's spies in the last few months."
Chandra shook her head. "We've had a tap on their communications from here since the blockade. There was no mention of the plasma mirrors in the timeframe we're talking about. Either the information wasn't new, or it was very new."
In some ways the blockade had been an intelligence blessing. Instead of sending their clandestine communications through Escobar to Komarr via Jackson's Whole on diplomatic fast couriers, the Barrayaran network here had been forced to use tight-beam to get time-sensitive material about Betan war plans home. Though they weren't foolish enough to tight-beam from Betan space, Betan companies had built a lot of the network and their encryption was... insufficient.
Of the six high-level spies given code names in the intercepted documents, three had fled, two had been arrested, and one remained unknown and at large and, surely, nervous. Chandra smiled tightly. Eighty percent of the Barrayaran embassy staff had been expelled, and one illegal agent identified.
"I don't see any criminality here." Tailor said. "We don't know what they did to her out there."
"I agree, actually," Chandra admitted. "There's clear symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, and we really don't know what happened, except that it's not what she says happened. I'm disinclined to blame innocent memory loss, though. That woman is actively concealing information, and doing it so obviously that it would take an idiot not to notice. However they did it, they created an agent out of her."
"That's ridiculous. Cordelia Naismith? A secret agent?"
"I didn't say she was good at it," Chandra said with irritation. "But fundamentally, what we have now is a person who is putting her personal relationship with Admiral Vorkosigan over her duty to her planet, and whose loyalties lie primarily with him, not us."
"What personal relationship?"
She silently slid the sent letter across the table. Waited.
He read it, wincing at a few key phrases. "Where did you get this?"
"Jump-mail. Today. The address triggered an automated investigation, and our surveillance on her also noted her mailing the letter. I should add that Captain Naismith was actively trying to evade surveillance at the time."
"Any reason for that?"
Chandra pursed her lips. "Our first session ended somewhat poorly. We made a great deal of progress, but she objected to an aerial relaxant I used and attacked my equipment. Then she assaulted me." She tried to keep her tone calm and nonjudgmental, but the sudden and un-Betan outburst of violence had truly spooked her. It had seemed funny when Naismith had turned on the President at his own press conference, but this was different. Seeing it close up, there was no question that something had gone fundamentally and deeply wrong with Cordelia Naismith.
She kept her tone light. "The thing is, her reaction wasn't to contact you or a lawyer or my superiors or any sort of healthy response like that, it was to skip the next session, write a letter to her... paramour and then slip out of the house again to try to post it unobserved." She met Tailor's eyes. "She hasn't contacted any friends, either, in the week she's been back, or any relatives other than her mother. She's in this tight defensive spiral, and can't bear to hear any criticism of him. Anyone against him is her enemy. Us. Even the Escobarans, I suppose."
"I meant, was there any reason for the surveillance."
"I asked for it after she skipped our second session. I'm almost glad she did. It gave me an opportunity to talk to her mother about my concerns, and listen to her concerns. I'm not the only person that's seeing this."
"Maybe she's just in love?" Tailor asked. "Though it does seem unlikely."
Chandra shook her head. "Whatever this is, it's not her natural response to him. After she came back from that mission where she met him before, she turned around and volunteered for the current war. There was no confusion of loyalties, nothing like this. She understood that, however likable someone like that might be, when they make war against innocents, they're in the wrong. Admiral Vorkosigan's no child soldier, forced to war. Nothing is stopping him from resigning - if he fights these battles it's because he wants to fight them. She understood that. But now? Now, I think she'd still be apologizing for him if he'd murdered the Escobaran government too." Another tap of her fingers upon the desk. "If he really loved her, he'd leave them all behind and come to us. Nobody's beyond rehabilitation. He won't do that, though. He's content to use her affection to turn her against us."
"But why would she choose him over us? That doesn't make sense to me."
She sighed. "This kind of identification with the captor isn't unheard of even in a undrugged subject, if they're sufficiently isolated and only exposed to the captor's point of view. There are drugs that can trigger a similar response. If her behavior's erratic and obvious, one can only hope it's because she's fighting what they did to her. It'll make it much easier to integrate her back into society."
"And how do you propose to do that, Dr. Mehta?"
"To start with, I want a fast-penta interrogation. Her story, as she sees it. In my professional opinion, I don't think we can trust her not to perjure herself if questioned any other way, and the faster we resolve what has been done with her, the more efficiently we can treat it."
"You'd need to lay criminal charges," Tailor said grimly. "There's no way you could keep that private. The public relations fallout would be brutal."
"Or I could get her committed for treatment." He looked up, startled. "Her behavior towards the Escobarans - and towards me - tells me we're never going to get voluntary cooperation from her. They've broken her too badly for that. I would prefer to have her committed, really. It's the least public option. I don't want to do any damage to her reputation that can be avoided."
"Do you really think she's a danger to herself or others?"
Chandra took a deep breath. "A danger to others, yes. She's committed two batteries over the course of a single week. As long as nobody mentions Admiral Vorkosigan or Escobar she seems to be fine, but her mother says she tends to loop the topic of conversation back to him several times an hour. I hate to imagine what she'd do if a journalist latched on the subject. And that's not even going into the intelligence implications. It's honestly not clear to me if she's a danger to herself, but she apparently has barely slept for months, and has developed some worrying symptoms like the stutter. She's not all there. You have to have noticed this."
There was more, too, that she didn't go into. The way Captain Naismith's tone changed, sometimes, as if quoting someone unconsciously, their words seared on her brain. Elizabeth Naismith had noticed that too. They'd talked at length after her daughter had missed the second session, and Chandra had learned who, precisely, 'had an aversion to politics'. And more, too, the unconcern Elizabeth had noticed. She didn't seem to care about the crewmates who had died to Vorkosigan's men anymore, or the women raped in that aborted conquest. Nor did she care about his failings. He was a murderer, she'd said, as if that was the most natural thing in the world.
"I'm not sure I can support this, Dr. Mehta," Tailor said.
"Do you think the criminal charges are more appropriate?"
Chandra looked him dead in the eye. "If she's in control of herself, she is betraying you. She is betraying the Expeditionary Force. She is betraying the trust our 'duly elected' government put in her. She is betraying the memory of the Survey personnel his people killed and putting her imaginary romance above her clear duty to you and her nation."
He frowned at her.
She leaned back in the chair. "The question is, Commodore Tailor - do you think Cordelia Naismith is that kind of woman?"