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

Chapter 15[]

Dead Man's Hand: Family Values[]


"What!?" Joker looked around, surprised to find herself standing on the shore of a large, almost perfectly smooth lake. Across the water, she could see a forest leading off up to towering, snow capped mountains, the air rich with the scent of pine leaves, "Where am I?"

"Now, that is a matter of opinion." A voice off to one side answered, "As a life-long atheist, I would say that your heart stopped, and your brain is slowly dying of oxygen starvation causing you to hallucinate. But, that then implies that I am nothing more than an hallucination myself. So I do not know why you would listen to me in the first place."

Joker looked round, surprised to see a table set up a few meters away, around which were placed three chairs. At one sat Elizabeth Ngo... and at another, Natasha Kerensky.

"I, on the other hand, have a different opinion." Liz took a sip from a delicate looking tea cup, "Yes, your heart stopped, and you're dying, and as such, you're having what's commonly called a 'near death experience'. I'm personally not sure why I'm here, because that lake doesn't seem to be made of burning sulphur..."

"WILL SOMEBODY PLEASE JUST TELL ME WHAT THE ****** IS GOING ON?" Joker yelled, her voice carrying across the clear lake to echo off the distant shore.

"Sit, have some tea, and we'll talk." Natasha Kerensky pointed to the empty chair.

Begrudgingly, Joker sat, glaring at the two women.

"You're dead." She looked at the former Khan of Clan Wolf, "You died on Twycross, at what they're calling the Second Battle of the Great Gash."

"Oddly enough, I do remember that." Natasha Kerensky admitted as she poured out a cup of tea from a fine china pot, "Honestly, I was expecting, well, nothing. Instead, I find myself here. Assuming, for arguments sake, that I am not simply a projection of your own subconscious mind."

"Well, that much at least I could believe." Liz turned to Joker, "I'm sorry, but you do have a narcissistic streak running right through you."

"If that's true, aren't you also a projection of my subconscious?" Joker asked as she accepted the offered tea.

"Oh, I'm very much me. This isn't my first time peeking beyond the vail." Liz insisted, "Although, last time, there was a creepy man in a black suit and sunglasses who thanked me for my part in the war effort."

"So, what? You're gate-crashing my near death experience?" Joker snorted, "Egotistical, much?"

"This from a woman who named herself after the lyrics to a thousand year old song?" Natasha Kerensky asked.

"Let us just assume for the sake of argument that this is actually happening and isn't just move on from there." Liz suggested, "Joker, it seems that there were certain, complications, from the birth of your daughter. Although, given she's not here, I would like to believe that she's alive and well. You, however...that is yet to be determined."

"Yes, this is all rather... confusing." Natasha Kerensky agreed, "As I said before, I was an atheist, and yet I find myself in, well, somewhere outside of the physical world. Please forgive my slight existential crisis."

"What about you?" Joker turned to Liz, "Last thing I remember clearly is you having some kind of fit..."

"Yeah, I bet that wasn't pretty. I've always avoided watching any recordings, but now I have to contend with Morgan Kell and his son... and possibly ComStar having it in glorious HD." The Duchess of Kowloon frowned, "I have second stage Degenerative Neural Sheath Annihilation Syndrome, perhaps more commonly known as Cholmann's Syndrome. I have, maybe, another ten years before it gets to the point where I blow my own brains out before going into Stage Three. There's no cure: there's barely a treatment beyond doping me up to the eyeballs with increasingly high doses of pain killers and anti-seizure medication. Unfortunately, one of the side effects is my body becomes increasingly resistant to the medication. If I took anything like the levels they tried to give me, I'd be a drooling, spaced-out vegetable by now."

"Okay, if this is all some kind I hallucination, how do I know all that?" Joker asked.

"Because you are far more observant than you realize?" Natasha Kerensky suggested, "You obviously subconsciously picked up on more than you realized."

"Evidently, denial isn't just a river on Terra." Liz rolled her eyes.

"There's nothing anyone can do?" Joker asked.

"NAIS like to claim they have a theoretical treatment, but all they ended up doing was subjecting my great uncle to months of living hell with absolutely nothing to show for it." Liz shook her head, "No, not even the Star League could cure me: there's a reason why they call Cholmann's one of the 'Incurables'."

"Well... that sucks." Joker pouted, then clutched her chest, "Owch!"

"Ah, they are starting with the defibrillators." Natasha Kerensky nodded, "I have been told that they are somewhat... uncomfortable."

"You can say that... OWCH!" Joker winced again, "You can say that again!"

"Not long before you leave here, one way or another." Liz warned, "Anything either of you want to say or ask, now's the time."

"You did good, kid. I am proud of you." Natasha Kerensky raised her teacup in salute, "And, please, do not give Phalen too much of a hard time. He can be a little... dense, but his heart is generally in the right place."

"I think I'm beginning to understand you." Joker admitted, "I certainly don't blame you for giving me up. It would be... hypocritical of me, under the circumstances."

"Well, isn't that nice." Liz smiled, just as a bright light appeared behind Joker, "I think your ride is here.";;

The mercenary looked like she was about to say something, when she was suddenly pulled out of her seat backwards, vanishing in a flash of light.

"Well, this was nice while it lasted." Liz smiled as the world around them started to grow dark, "Where will you go now?"

"Honestly, I do not know." the Black Widow admitted as she started to fade, "But, wherever it is, they better have whiskey..."

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