The First Lady


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Scene Title The First Lady
Synopsis Mrs. Rickham introduces herself to Elisabeth. While the two recognize one another, neither is aware of the gravity of the other's true identity.
Date November 10, 2011

The Hub: Common Area

It’s late in the afternoon, they’ve been here for … has it really only been a full day? Meeting Kain Zarek face to face has Elisabeth a little on edge, as she realizes that … it may not be just Edward, Rickham, and Kain who are familiar faces. People she knows but yet doesn’t. She’s already done several laps of the tunnels in here, learning her way around, but the community area is the only place besides the room she shares with Magnes that has anyplace to really sit… and she can’t stand being cooped up in that room except to sleep. At least out in the Hub’s common area, despite the fact that it’s concrete and wet and cold, it’s large and open and NOT dark. She’s honestly grateful that between Felix and Richard, she had made the time to work on being able to be in the dark spaces like subway tunnels — if she hadn’t, she worries that she might have already simply gone catatonic.

Finding a place where she can curl up and read is not as easy as it might sound, but she there are at least tables and things. And tea. There’s some tea. So she helps herself to some of it and settles in at one of the tables off to the side with her back to the wall, savoring the hot drink while she browses through the files that she took from Edward’s boxes.

The piano sits quiet. Lessons should be starting soon, but the one who gives them… Well, some things are more important. Stephanie Rickham - Steve to her friends - runs her fingers over the wood surface of the upright. It’s seen better days, but the woman who insisted on its retrieval took a rag to it and polished until she could get it to shine at least dully, in spite of the splits and gouges that Steve’s fingers slide roughly over. Before she passes by it fully, she walks her fingers over the last five yellowing ivory keys, plunking out the little little tinny notes at the high end of the scale.

Her smile stays as she moves along, faint but present. Maybe K-Mart found some coffee? Of course that hope is rather vain. There’s no aroma to greet her when she arrives at the common kitchen set-up. But there’s hot water and there’s a scavenged box of Irish breakfast. A little stale, but better than nothing. With a bag plunked in the bottom of a periwinkle mug, the heated water is poured over the top. With the handle grasped in one hand and the string on the end of the bag in the other, she makes her meandering way through the common area. People greet politely. They always do. There are so few of them left, and she occupies a position of some renown among the last dregs of humanity.

Steve’s eyes fall on a face that is both not familiar, and yet unsettlingly so. Confident strides bring her over to where Elisabeth Harrison sits. A ghost from the past. Or maybe just a product of Steve’s imagination. A passing resemblance her mind has seized upon and tried to make have more meaning than it deserves. But she coordinated the visit of the President-Elect to Washington Irving. She remembers the dead all too well. Then and now.

“I don’t believe we’ve met,” Steve greets in a smooth voice that doesn’t betray her uncertainty about this matter of the other woman’s identity. “You must be one of the newcomers. I’m Steve. I hope I’m not interrupting, I just make it a point to make sure I say hello to everyone.” Like it’s her job. It is, because he has made it to be.

When the woman walks up to her, the blonde with the improbable violet purple streak through really long blonde hair looks up and stares. Elisabeth’s shock is patently obvious, though it lasts only a moment. “Steve?” she asks, hesitantly. Setting her own mug down, closing the files in front of her, she can’t take her eyes off the woman. “It’s… nice to meet you,” she says, feeling perhaps a little off balance. “Elisabeth.” The name is offered along with her hand to shake, if the other woman so chooses. “I’m sorry for staring… you just look like someone I … met.”

Clearing her throat, she retrieves her hand and then gestures. “Please… have a seat. You’re not interrupting at all. I’m … struggling to get the lay of the land around here. It’s very different.” She definitely feels like a fish out of water. “And being underground is… a little nerve-wracking for me.” Not to mention being NEGATED. But she doesn’t say that… because how the hell else could she have survived this world?

It’s not the most unexpected reaction, but the way the blonde woman delivers her mild incredulity is slightly different. Steve takes the offered hand, eyes narrowing just faintly at the name offered back to her. Her skin is warm, but not unnaturally so when one considers the mug it’s just been settled over. The offer to sit is accepted, and she settles down in her seat with a sort of practiced grace. Politics is all about performance, and everything is a performance at the end of the world, as far as she’s concerned.

“It takes some getting used to. The first few months, I had a lot of panic attacks,” she admits easily, inclining her head and smiling with a genuine empathy. “I almost volunteered to go scavenging just so I could see the sunlight again. I was fortunately surrounded by people sensible enough not to allow me to engage in that kind of foolishness. I’m wasn’t cut out for it.” Now? That’s perhaps a different story.

“You seemed to react to my name.” Though she has the suspicion it’s her face, same as she reacted to the other woman’s face and the name to go with it. “Short for Stephanie. I’m Allen Rickham’s wife.” It’s her natural assumption that Elisabeth would have heard of her, thus prompting the confusion. Little does she know… “When you work in a man’s world, you put a man’s name on your business cards.” She leans in then, a slightly conspiratorial twinkle in her blue eyes. She takes a sip of her tea before continuing. “But I suppose you’d know a lot about what that’s like, Miss Harrison?”

She’s WHO? Elisabeth raises her mug to her lips, using the tea to hide any possibility of further astonishment showing. But you know what? If Steve wants to play a bit, a few months in the Shark’s chair dealing with Capitol Hill has definitely given the blonde the ability to hold her own. “About working in a man’s world, Mrs. Rickham? Oh, I definitely know a lot about that. Never felt the need to hide behind an ambiguous name to get done what I wanted done, though. Might have considered it if my name lent itself to it, though.” Her tone isn’t snarky — there are more than enough women who have done exactly that and Liz doesn’t think any less of them.

Why is Nicole going by Steve? What the hell? Elisabeth studies the other woman, seeing plenty of similarities. But it’s only because she’s been reading Edward’s files that her brain finally pulls up the name Caiati and her previous post as Rickham’s assistant. Does Edward know? She has to wonder if the tidbit is important, what with Steve’s proximity to Rickham.

Keeping those thoughts firmly behind her teeth, she asks candidly, “So you know we’re newcomers… what else has your husband said?”

“I know you’re supposed to be dead. But nobody had to tell me that.” That much is the honest truth. Nicole Nichols as Liz knows her was a shark herself. For a decade she worked for Daniel Linderman, public facing and presenting the façade that the Linderman Group’s business dealings were entirely legitimate. Steve Caiati traded that experience instead of the political arena full-time. It’s a bit like being thrown into the deep end of the pool. She’s had to be more than just good at reading between lines. Memorizing faces, placing dates and importance to them.

“That wasn’t meant to be antagonistic,” she says with a quiet sigh. “I was trying to pay you a compliment.” The smile offered is apologetic. One hand spreads out in front of her, placating. “I helped write a speech about your selfless sacrifice. About how you saved lives.” There’s astonishment in Steve’s voice and in her eyes. She shakes her head slowly, confusion pulling her brows together. “Were you in witness protection?”

So Rickham hasn’t given even his wife the inner scoop. Interesting. Because if anyone can keep secrets, it’s Nicole Nichols. Elisabeth tilts her head slightly and then relents just a bit. “I’m sorry. Please, chalk my bitchiness up to being on edge down here?” She offers a faint smile that doesn’t quite reach her eyes. And how the hell is she going to explain this one. Pulling in a slow breath, she considers the best way to respond. “I think I’d probably be very embarrassed to know what got said about me back then, if you want the truth.” She isn’t exactly one for public shows of appreciation.

Witness protection. It’s something that might explain the situation, at least. She sticks as close to the truth as possible. “I was hurt badly at Washington Irving. Things in the world spun out of control pretty fast after that, and I wasn’t in a position to really be very much use,” she replies, implying that yes it was Witness Protection without saying so. “Congratulations on your wedding, a bit belatedly,” she says with a grin.

“It’s okay,” Steve is quick to assure, a smile flashing across her features once more. “No need to apologize to me. This place requires a lot of adjustment. You get used to it eventually.” Unfortunately. The First Lady wraps her hands around her tea mug and listens intently, nodding at the explanation.

At the congratulations, she blushes and chuckles softly. “Thank you. I’m very happy.” All things considered. “It’s remarkable you were able to find your way back to us.” If she’s skeptical, if she’s fishing, she isn’t showing it. Her curiosity seems to be genuine, all her cards out on the table before the other woman. “I am so glad you did. We need strong leaders.” She’s quick to uncurl the fingers of one hand from around her mug, holding them up in a gesture that begs her indulgence before she can protest. “I have no intention of telling people who you are if they don’t recognize you. You can be a leader without having to be canonized.”

Again, Steve finds herself shaking her head, her long dark hair slipping from its catch behind her ear to fall in her face. She lets it be. “I’m not telling you to rise up. I just… know a natural leader when I see one. I hope once you find your place here, you’ll find you step into that role like a comfortable pair of sneakers.”

“I’d very much appreciate that discretion,” Elisabeth replies immediately when Steve says she won’t tell people. “I didn’t do anything different than any other teacher was doing that day — those were our kids.” The hurt of that day still shows in the intensity of her tone. Her whole life changed that day; it put her on the path that led her here. And she smiles just a little. “Well, your husband seems to agree with you that I need something a little less like laying low to do,” she admits on a smile. “Apparently Edward Ray doesn’t hop-to for very many people.” There’s a wicked twinkle as she says that, as if Liz takes an evil sort of amusement at the thought of bossing EDWARD RAY about.

She pauses just a little and tilts her head. “And no one ever has to tell me to rise up… it’s what I do.” There’s a long moment, as if she is debating the matter, then adds very deliberately, “Nicole.”

“Of course.” Discretion is the name of Mrs. Rickham’s game. And she’s sincere when she speaks of keeping Elisabeth’s secret. Making a symbol of her doesn’t serve anyone. Not now. It may have done before, when there were more of them. When things looked a little less bleak. But now? Nothing short of a miracle will lift the people’s spirits. Steve doesn’t know yet that she’s staring right at one.

Her smile is broad when that miraculous traveler tells her rising up is what she does. Yes, Steve likes her very much already. They’re going to get along just fine. — Except… What was that?

The smile runs away from her face when she’s called by a name that isn’t hers. Confusion clouds her features. There’s no recognition. “Nicole? No. Stephanie. Charlotte Stephanie if you want to get technical…” There’s a knot in her gut that tells her there’s nothing being misremembered here. But she can’t fathom the significance of the name just given to her. It feels like some kind of threat almost. But what she did to deserve it, she isn’t sure.

“I’ve perhaps taken enough of your time.” Steve’s eyes flit to the files Elisabeth was looking over before she arrived, not long enough to study them. Maybe she doesn’t have to. “I’m sure you’re very busy. But… If you need anything at all, just ask. I want to help however I can, Elisabeth.”

Sensitive to the shift in the feel of the conversation, Elisabeth apologizes. “I’ve alarmed you. I’m sorry. You just… look so much like someone else I knew, I … couldn’t help but wonder if you were her, just using a different name. ‘Rising up’ was definitely something she would do, as well,” she tells Steve, soothingly. It certainly was never meant to be threatening in any way. “I once… fought alongside her. She was very brave.” Brave enough to walk into the line of fire while pregnant.

“Honestly, I’m really not that busy, if you’d like to sit a while. It’s … kind of astonishing how much you look like her,” Liz admits. “They say everyone has a twin, somewhere in the world, though.” She smiles a little. “I really didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

While Steve is used to expecting duplicity in people - that’s politics for you - Elisabeth is good with assurances, and those hackles start to ease back, visible in the way the dark haired woman’s shoulders start to lower slowly. The tension winds away and she’s less inclined to go darting off.

She pinches the bridge of her nose in a gesture that could be a mirror of Edward Ray, but without the annoyance that usually accompanies it coming from him. “I’m sorry. It’s been…” A long three years, honestly. “You must have many questions.” It’s easier to deflect from her own concerns by addressing someone else’s. Steve slips her feet out of her sensible shoes so she can pull them up to rest on the cushion of her chair. “I won’t ask you about what it was like out there. Frankly, I hear enough about that and I don’t want to know. But I’m happy to talk about things here.”

“I would love to know about things here,” Elisabeth replies promptly. “Out there… is just flat terrifying.” Her tone is grim. She’s getting these people out of here if there’s any humanly possible way. “I’ve met your husband and Edward… a couple of other people. But I gather there’s about 200 or so. How… how does that even work? I mean, how do you all manage to live in such confined spaces without all hell breaking loose? Disaster brings out the best in people, but also the worst…” It actually does intrigue her. “Do you have a way to keep conflicts to a minimum?”

“We don’t always.” Steve shrugs her shoulders slightly. The mug is brought to her lips for a generous drink. She probably doesn’t need the caffeine, but it gives her exactly what she wants right now. “There used to be many more of us. Those who are left… We’re the ones who learned to get along, even when we don’t get along.” It’s pragmatic, really. And if it’s depressing, either she’s gotten good at not showing it (likely) or it’s been this way for so long that it’s become normal (equally likely). “There’s security. We break up skirmishes when they happen, send all parties to neutral corners to cool off. It works better for some than others.”

A small, sly smirk curls upward one corner of Rickham’s mouth. “I understand you’ve met K-Mart.”

Elisabeth laughs quietly. “Indeed. He’s… an interesting character.” Probably one of the more useful people in the Hub, too. “Your husband seems to think I might be good for bringing a little order to the world here. I used to be a cop.” She shrugs a bit, sheepishly. “The President-Elect seems to have an eye toward keeping things civil. Although I don’t really know that I’m the person to help that.” She sighs. “This place… is hard to see. There won’t be many who remember what we used to be in a few years.”

“That he is.” And Elisabeth is not wrong in her assessment of Kain Zarek’s usefulness. “The President has faith in you.” It doesn’t quite sound like a statement, but doesn’t edge completely into the realm of question either. Something she’s mulling over. So he may realize who she is. She’ll have to ask. Later. “You’re right. We’ve got kids here who don’t know any other kind of life. And adults that aren’t sure we’ll ever have another life to show them again.” This time her smile is sadder. “But we get by. What’s in short supply around here is hope. Any of that you can supply is invaluable.”

“I would like to think the answer to that is yes,” Elisabeth replies carefully. “But I guess we’ll see.” Her smile is soft. “It’s been really nice to meet you today, Steve. I think … the fact that you somehow manage to make people smile in these circumstances speaks very well to your strength and ability to lead. I hope… that we have more opportunities to talk. I would like it very much.” She seems entirely sincere in that hope, and the blonde sighs quietly. “Unfortunately… I should probably stick my nose back in here for now, and see if I can work out the answer to the question Edward asked me.”

Steve unfolds her legs to push her feet back into her shoes again before rising from her seat. “Thank you. That’s very kind of you to say.” It visibly lifts her spirits to be paid a compliment like that. “It’s been very nice meeting you, Elisabeth. I’m sure we’ll talk again soon.” And then, she takes her leave. Of Harrison’s company. Of the common area.

She has to find her husband.

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