They Drew The Queen Of Diamonds


vf_elisabeth_icon.gif vf_ygraine_icon.gif

Scene Title They Drew the Queen of Diamonds
Synopsis Is an alternate reality version of a friend still a friend?
Date November 14, 2011

Music Room

Elisabeth is starting to get the lay of the land… and it’s dismal. Not unexpected, given the realities that the people of this world face every day. As she meets people, she can tell who the ones are who have completely given up hope and accepted this as their life. The children, though, still have the spark within them. And the adults who are near them nurture it for both the children and themselves.

Sadly enough, it brings to mind for Liz the music she recorded for Ygraine not so long ago. “Silent Running” has almost more resonance now than it has at any other time in the past for her. Teach the children quietly, for someday sons and daughters/Will rise up and fight while we stood still… Her fingers pick out the tune on the piano, her mind turning over and over with thoughts of what she can do to help these people during the time she’s here — however long that is. She cannot think about the possibility that this is forever yet, so she has to lend hope where she can… for her own sake as well as theirs.

Even without the intimate connection to musical endeavours of her timeline’s Ygraine, Elisabeth’s playing and singing are sufficient to draw this iteration closer and closer - almost in spite of herself, as memories and long-suppressed interests are stirred into life. But she did agree to try to help the newcomer with this, so she finally succeeds in drawing in a lengthily shaky breath and stepping into clear view, raising a hand in greeting - but not ventring to speak, lest she interrupt proceedings.

Glancing up from the keyboard, Liz grins at the sight of the other woman. In both worlds, it seems, Ygraine is going to do that… and the familiarity of it is actually soothing. “Hi,” she greets easily. “I wasn’t sure if you had a work detail today or something — I still can’t quite sort out what the rotations are around here.” She hasn’t been included in those as yet, so it’s a little harder to figure it out when people move about a lot and aren’t generally in any one place at one time. “I’m not keeping you from something, am I?”

Ygraine quickly shakes her head. “No, no. You’re fine.” A swift, nervous smile accompanies a slight closing of the distance. “I wouldn’t dare to miss anything I was supposed to be doing, I promise. I’m, ahh, glad to be here. Though I’m not at all sure how much help I might be. I’m rather hopelessly rusty, when it comes to anything musical.”

“It’s not really about being great at it,” Elisabeth points out. “It’s about being willing, wanting to make things a little brighter, and having some fun at it.” She shrugs. Something about that phrasing bothers her just a little, but Liz for the moment leaves it to one side. “Do you mind if I ask you some other things about living here? I mean… I’ve only been here a few days, and I’m not … I’ve met a few people, but most seem to keep to themselves. Is that the norm?”

Ygraine blinks, glances around for eavesdroppers, then finally moves right up to the piano. “I….” She pauses, frowning, gaze unfocusing a little in a familiar ‘cogs turning’ expression.

“You’ll frighten people. Even as you’re a symbol of hope, you’re a walking, talking reminder of the world outside. I referred to myself as one of the ‘walking dead’: those of us who go on runs aren’t always accepted, and we’re known quantities. People want what we bring, but don’t necessarily want to be near us. You’re… beyond that. And furthermore, you’re disrupting things. Causing changes. Even this” - she gestures to the piano - “might be seen as a threat. Some outsider coming in and making it clear that life here sucks. That something so simple as restoring the piano lessons for the children could make a difference. That’s going to make some of them think afresh about just what it is they have here.

“And more generally…?” The Briton shrugs broadly. “Even those who’re still trying to make things better tend to find routine comforting. We can’t control any of the big things. We’ve lost most of the freedoms we used to take for granted. But life ticking along day by day as if everything’s normal and no nasty changes can happen… that can provide a little safety. Or the comforting illusion of it, anyway.”

Pulling in a low breath, Elisabeth looks down, digesting that. “I don’t know what to do for that,” she admits. “I don’t have any intention of waltzing through here telling people their life sucks and claiming to make things better. I’d like…. To make some small corner of it better.” For as long as she’s here. “And maybe someday… there will be a better option for all of us.” Like getting the fuck out of here through a terrifying portal into the unknown.

Sighing quietly, she looks up. “Is there anything you can suggest that would make it easier? Because I’d really like to figure out a way to at least gain the trust of some people. Obviously you can’t make all the people happy all the time, but still…”

“Oh, winning the trust of some of the people would be quite easy,” Ygraine says dryly. “Actively seek out the laziest people and offer to do more of their work for them than they presently manage to dodge. Find those who prefer to bitch and snark, and join with them. Play the piano for the kids, and win their trust. But whichever little clique or faction you pick, at least some of the others will look at you askance and wonder what dreadful game you’re playing….

“There’s an old joke about academia, which I’ve also heard applied to things like amateur dramatic societies. ‘Why are the rivalries so bitter, and backstabbing so common? Because the prizes are so small.’ That applies here. There’s so little for people to fight over - to feel they have any control over - that even small ripples can be responded to like tidal waves. Or wholly ignored by people who don’t want to admit they exist.”

A sudden throat-clearance accompanies a bashfully apologetic look. “Sorry. I… used to study conflict. I can be depressing about social division and the conflict spiral for hours, if you want.”

It would be funny if it didn’t make her heart ache so much. There’s the woman Elisabeth knows. She smiles slightly. “And there, my dear, is why you stuck in my head. Not because you’re depressing… but because you know people. Please don’t ever be sorry for being bloody brilliant at it? Because in all honesty? I have a feeling that I’m going to come to rely on that with you.” She certainly did in another place and time. God, she misses her friends.

Turning back to the piano so that Ygraine can’t see the effect that she has, Elisabeth’s hands slide along the keys in a peaceful series of notes. “Usually when teaching kids to play the piano, you use a lot of classical stuff and books. We don’t really have that here… and a lot of the music I know by heart is not exactly stuff that they’ve probably ever listened to. I’d love some song suggestions. If I know them — I mean, not on the piano — then maybe I can work out some of the tunes on the piano for the kids to play.”

The phrase ‘bloody brilliant’ is sufficient to get Ygraine to cough, squirm, look down, and rather brightly blush. In the little realm of Edward Ray, the unPresident, and his First Lady, perhaps analysis of how things might fall apart is not at the top of the list of things sought out. Certainly, it looks as if the compliment has caught the Briton wholly by surprise - and touched her, to boot.

Indeed, when she looks up her expression is guilty, one hand reaching out, withdrawing a little, then reaching out again to touch Elisabeth’s shoulder. “I am so sorry that I can’t remember you. I know how much having a… a connection amidst all this can mean. But, well. If I can help, I’ll try to. As well and for as long as I can.”

“Someday, perhaps, I’ll explain that connection to you,” Elisabeth smiles. “What meeting you did for me. I’m forever aware that a simple smile for one person can change everything for another… so please, please don’t feel bad that what was a simple meeting for you was something else on my end.” Especially since that something else is something this Ygraine never lived. “Just know that you made an impression and it was an amazing one.” She reaches up to squeeze the hand on her shoulder.

Then she pulls in a breath, sits up straight, and tells the other woman, “Now… tell me a little about the ruins, why don’t you? The places other people don’t see. What’s been your best run so far?” Because she needs just a little distance to keep from things getting really maudlin.

Ygraine’s blush deepens - along with her confusion. But she does smile, shrugging awkwardly. “I… well. I’ve been working on developing elements of my ability that I never previously paid much attention to. Ummm. Basically, I’m a glorified wall-crawler. Spiderman, without the webs, or the strength, or much else. But I’m working on developing my Spidey-sense, at least. I can, when I think about it, feel things that are nearby. Even if they’re on the other side of a wall, or whatever. It’s short range, but it’s turned up some old hidden stashes in places people had already searched. Not necessarily the best for winning friends among the people I upstage, but… finding supplies where there’re supposed to be none at all left to find - that’s definitely a good day.”

“Sounds like a good thing,” Elisabeth tells her. “Do all of the people who go out scavenging go without the negation shots? How does that work? Masks and rebreathers? I know there’s a significant risk of infection because it’s airborne, but I also… don’t exactly know the specifics. Didn’t exactly get a lot of news about all that where I was. Just that it was deadly, mostly.”
Her fingers continue on the keys, the music soft as it moves through the room. “How many people with abilities risk it regularly?”

“Hazmat suits. They’re… cumbersome. And if they rip, you run the risk of getting locked outside.” Ygraine’s back to being solemn, cheeks starting to fade back towards their previous pallor. “It’s not the best for any of us, and hinders a lot of the things I’d like to be able to do, with movement. But still, I’d far rather go into a building six storeys up and scout around on walls and ceilings than have to go in at ground level and use floors and stairs. As for how many? Ummm. I’m honestly not sure of what the proportion is. Some who used to go on runs don’t any more - Lynette, for example. Others who didn’t, do. Me. But there’re ‘mundane’ people risking their necks out there, too. And dying for it.”

“I’m sure there are,” Elisabeth agrees readily. “I just wondered how virulent the virus actually is — I mean… does anyone know how long it takes after exposure to the air before you’re actually infected?” Not that she’s planning on chancing such things, but it would be good to know. “I’m … kind of trying to decide whether to volunteer my hand for such runs, you know?”

“You can be useful here. And I’d recommend at least settling in a little. People….” A sigh, and Ygraine glances around before looking back to Elisabeth. “Those who think that you are a Vanguard spy will think that asking to be let outside is absolute confirmation of that,” she says softly. “Now, possibly no one thinks that you are a Vanguard spy. But I’d be surprised. Scared people leap to frankly stupid conclusions at the best of times. And we’re currently a very long way from those, aren’t we?

“But virulence? I don’t know. There’re some indications that resistance varies. Some people seem to die much more slowly than others, from what I can gather. Some just seem to be luckier than others in dodging it, too. I don’t know enough to be able to analyse the small amount of data I have, there. My examination results could have got me into university to read a science degree of some sort… but I didn’t take that path. So I’m relying on decade-old high school classes.”

Fair enough, Elisabeth seems to say with a simple nod. “I’m pretty sure your decade-old high school classes are a sight better than mine. I was not a science kid.” She grins a bit. “And I’m quite sure some of them think that I’m a spy. And lord knows, I have to wonder if there’s at least one of them who are as well. I mean… Munin has indicated that this place is actually safe. For whatever reason Volken can’t locate it. But… is she telling the truth?” There’s a bit of a shrug. “Thus far, she seems to be. But who knows for sure?”

She considers and then nods. “Yeah, I think you’re right about the going outside part. If I’m going to earn some trust, I think it’s better to do it by sitting tight and doing what I can to prove myself without going out there. Until it’s necessary.” She looks up at Ygraine. “Someday, it will be necessary.”

“Yeah. They’re going to run out of all the nutters presently willing to do it,” Ygraine says dryly. Then she quickly shakes her head. “Sorry. That’s more than a little maudlin. But Munin? I can’t claim to know anything about her, really. I’d believe that if the Vanguard could find us, they’d kill us. Or at the very least stake out the entrance and wait for us to get desperate enough to do something hopeless. They’ve got weapons we don’t, and seem to be able to operate in the open in ways that we don’t dare to.”

“Yeah,” Liz replies in a tone of mild disgust. “Makes me seriously wonder how the hell they’re not infected, if you want the truth. If they’re negated, it actually evens our odds pretty significantly, in my opinion.” She glances up and grimaces. “Sorry… old training kicking in. Before all of this… I was NYPD.” She shrugs a little. “Some amount of tactical training came with my post as a hostage negotiator.” It’s the best way to explain it. “I find myself often considering things like that, even though it’s rather insane at times.”

“An obvious option would be someone with the ability to control the virus, or the human immune system,” Ygraine suggests. “That could work just as well as a loyalty reward and implicit punitive ‘stick’ as would drug supplies - while being unlikely to run out. Negation drugs might also be used, for those on assignment elsewhere, or the like. But I don’t think that we can count on our abilities giving us too much of an advantage. We’ve simply lost too consistently for me to think that’s likely.”

Elisabeth’s lips firm into a thin line. Because Magnes said something that has been percolating around in the back of her head for a few days now. Odessa Price is someone Elisabeth has had contact with. And in her world in 2011, the woman was supposedly assisting with a vaccine… along with one Yana Blite, who Magnes also mentioned. And now she has to wonder to herself… is it possible that Yana is in the hands of the Vanguard, either willingly or unwillingly? She was, early in 2011, according to Liz’s intel, helping to develop the virus… It’s a thought she’s going to have to explore in some detail. And probably going to have to bring up to a man she still doesn’t quite trust.

“Yeah,” she finally replies to Ygraine’s thoughts. “You’re right. And I haven’t been here long enough to really work up an adequate mental picture of the entire situation, obviously.” She looks up and smiles slightly. “Thank you… for being a sounding board. I find that I think better when someone who doesn’t have a horse in the race helps me sort through. I really appreciate it, Ygraine.”

Ygraine narrows her eyes a little, peering closely at her companion. “I rather have the impression that you have been reaching some conclusions… or at least finding some suspicions,” she says quietly. “But I know that you have precious little reason to trust me. Logically, my own suspicion should probably be that I am being consciously cultivated as a ‘source’ or asset - I’m afraid I don’t know NYPD parlance. Your kind words could simply be a means of exploiting a stranger’s evident vulnerabilities.”

Lips pursing, Ygraine frowns a little. “Of course… depending upon quite how and why you know me, you might well be as aware as I am that I was once certified insane. It’s the sort of thing that might have been picked up and put in a police file, isn’t it? So I get to pick whether I think that you’re exploiting that sort of knowledge… or if I bear it in the forefront of my mind, to remind myself that I’m a batshit paranoiac and that it’s me rather than you whom I should doubt….”

Elisabeth laughs outright. Her hands come off the keys and she moves to stand, facing the Briton. Then she reaches out and hugs her, VERY tightly, for a long moment. “I will… when I can… tell you everything. I promise you. For what it’s worth,” she says as she draws back, her eyes seeking out Ygraine’s, “I’m not cultivating you for anything but your friendship. I … can’t explain why right now. And I know it’s a lot to ask of someone to trust a stranger that far. But… I hope you can do it until I can fill you in.” And she tilts her head, her smile a little impish even. “And I’m well aware of your prior certification, Ms. Fitzroy. And I’ve essentially found it to be baseless… at least in the time that I knew you.”

Even though it’s the second time it’s happened, the hug catches Ygraine wholly by surprise. At least this time it’s held long enough for her - initially cautiously - to return it. Indeed, she keeps her hands lightly upon the blonde when they separate, blinking rather nervously as she listens.

“I… want to believe that,” she says softly. “Truly. It’s… it can be hard. There’s… even before all this there was a lot of darkness in here.” One hand comes up to rap at her temple. “It wasn’t a misdiagnosis, I’m afraid. But I do try not to… not to let it govern everything I do.”

Ygraine shoots Liz an apologetic look, then finds a lopsided little smile. “Sorry. I… want to be trustworthy. And to trust people. To trust you. It just, well. It can be hard. Both bits of it. But thank you for having faith in me.”

“It can be hard,” Liz agrees quietly. “Especially when someone acts like they know you but you don’t even remember them. It’ sokay, Ygraine. I promise. I won’t hold it against you. Paranoia, especially in this world, has its place,” she assures the other woman softly. “Just… bear with me for a while, if you can. And if you believe nothing else that I say to you, believe this — I will never do anything to purposely hurt the people here.”

Ygraine intently searches Elisabeth’s face, gaze flickering to and fro for long moments… before she inhales slowly, and nods. “All right. I’ll try to fight down my fears again. I… actually, you probably can imagine how badly I could do with a friend. Sorry. You’ve been more forcibly isolated than I have. I’ve at least had other people around, even while I was wallowing in grief. You… just one step from solitary confinement? This must seem like paradise in comparison, for all our worries.”

Her smile is a little sad. “Let’s just say that I haven’t really had time to wallow yet,” Elisabeth replies. She squeezes Ygraine’s shoulders lightly and then says, “Let me get back to searching my brain for songs the kids will like. You go do something fun, okay?” Whatever passes for fun here, anyway.

“I… would you mind if I sat and listened? I might even come up with a suggestion or two. Maybe. If you don’t object.” Ygraine is diffidently hopeful, this evidently counting as a better prospect of ‘fun’ than anything else she has in mind. “I’ll keep out of the way.”

“Not at all,” Elisabeth replies immediately. She moves to resume her seat in front of the instrument and draws in a slow breath to relax her shoulders. Her fingers play across the keys as if she’s just running a scale, not sure what to play.

Ygraine dithers for a little while. With access to her ability, she might well settle onto the nearest open patch of wall, and lie there to relax and listen. But floors tend to be dirtier, grittily uncomfortable, and things that people don’t expect to find adults sprawled upon. Thus, rather than risk being taken for a casualty of some sort, she eventually settles for a compromise - folding herself up cross-legged, forearms resting on her thighs as she focuses rapt attention upon the stranger’s voice and playing. Her eyes drift shut and open, alternately watching the deft motions of fingers, and shutting out the world so that she can lose herself in the sound…

The notes settle in on a song Elisabeth hasn’t sung in months. Her voice is low, a little rough, and there’s an ache to the sound but here’s a faint smile as she plays despite the hint of sadness, perhaps remembering something cherished.

Desperado… why don’t you come to your senses? You’ve been out ridin’ fences… for so long now…

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