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Dead Man's Hand - Family Values (Chapter Cover Art) 1

Chapter 11[]

Dead Man's Hand: Family Values[]

Ngo Family Estate
Hue, Kowloonn
Bucklands Province
Lyran Commonwealth
December 7th, 3057

"You look absolutely horrible!" Liz looked at the image on the screen with absolute shock, "What happened? Is the baby okay?"

"She is fine, she currently trying to rearrange my internal organs to be more to her liking ." Joker assured her.. friend? Certainly confident, over the video call, "I just... I couldn't sleep last night. I don't know why, but I just had this... this feeling that something was happening or I was missing something. I don't really have the words to describe it."

"I just wanted to check in. I've been... busy, last few weeks."

"It can't be easy, running a planet and a business empire."

"It keeps me occupied." Liz nodded, not wanting to explain why she'd actually been unavailable, "Do you have any plans for the holidays?"

"Go to church, eat too much, watch the others drink too much, and celebrate another year of cheating death." Joker shrugged, "Truth is... I spent last Christmas with Alex and his family, so I'm not sure I'll be much company this year."

"How are the locals treating you? I haven't had any reports of incidents..."

"I haven't come across anything that required my professional skills, if that's what you're worried about." Joker raised her right hand, displaying a simply gold band on the forth finger, "A little costume jewellery, a mostly black wardrobe, and I'm just another woman who lost her husband to...well, I'm a mercenary. So they fill in the blanks for themselves. Less gossip that way."

"I wish my problems could be solved so easily." Liz frowned, "Should anyone ask, I'm not actually calling you, but rather involved in critical closed-doors negotiations with a representative of the Free Rasalhague Republic over a multi-billion Kroner contract for machine tools needed to rebuild a factory on Grumium."

"Well, my Swedenese is a bit rusty, but I'll try my best..."

"I just need something to keep Tharkad off my back. In my experience, few things work as well as the threat of losing a significant amount of tax revenue."

"I take it this has something to do with the disagreement between Victor and Katherine? Lot of new, somewhat loosely defined contracts floating around on MercNet these last few months. Fortunately, we're small enough and specialized enough to fly below the radar, for the most part."

"Unfortunately, yes. Our new 'Archon-Princess' expects me to drop everything and go all the way to Tharkad to Bend the Knee in person, prior commitments and TDS be damned."

"One advantage to being effectively stateless is I don't have to worry about things like that. My loyalty is to my friends, and to my contract."

"I do hope I fall into the former, and not the latter."

"After everything you've done for us thee past few months... if you ever have need of us, we're be there. I don't know if my word is worth anything, given that you don't even know my name..."

"Your name is Joker, far as I'm concerned."

"Thank you." the Mercenary looked down, "Sorry, but someone here is using my bladder as a footstool, so I'm going to have to cut this short..."

"I fully understand." Liz laughed, "We'll talk later."

"Goodbye." Joker smiled and cut the link.

"Oh ****** me!" Liz slumped in her chair, the color draining from her face as she struggled to light one of her cigarettes.

Well, she called them those, even if they were made using medical grade New Avalon Red Leaf. Still the strongest form of cannabis known to exist. It was also highly illegal in the Commonwealth... Alliance, she corrected herself. Mere possession of it would have landed her in prison for a considerable length of time, were it not for the fact that it had been prescribed by one of the top neurologists in the entire Inner Sphere, as one of the few things know to at least take the edge off of Stage Two Cholmann's Syndrome, and the side effects of high dosage of anti-seizure medication she was on.

Besides, she'd be dead and buried long before any of the negative effects began to manifest.

Still, spending the last week in hospital, recovering from injuries received due to a bad fall during his last seizure left her feeling... helpless wasn't quite the word, but it was close enough. The doctors wanted to up her dosage, again, but she was only taking half of what they were prescribing her as it was. She needed her head clear and her wits about her if she was going to leave Kowloon ready to face an uncertain future. It still wasn't clear if it would be Henry or Evelynn Mosovich, who if the Clans had just held off invading Tamar for a single day longer, would have been Patrick's wife, would succeed her as ruler of Kowloon. Both were more than up to the task, and had been a godsend in keeping things running while she was incapacitated.

When the time finally came, she'd bow out under her own terms, and at a time and place of her choosing. But, until then, she needed to maintain the facade of the Black Duchess for as long as possible. Joker had a keen bullshit detector and absolutely no filter, so as long as she could maintain the illusion of still being fully in control good enough to keep her from commenting, she was still doing okay.

"One day at a time, Elizabeth." She told herself as she struggled to her feet, leaning heavily on her cane, "One damn day at a time."

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