The King of Hearts

Character Background Story

SGT Jack Reese

Staff Sergeant Jack Reese woke up, stretched, and grimaced. He could hear the rain beating on the side of the tent. It seemed to be always raining in India in this year of 2043. That meant firing up the platoon's 10 Vampires was going to be awfully messy. Oh well, what were Privates for anyway? Reese wasn't an overbearing non-com, but there were always one or two young Soldiers who needed some corrective training in any platoon.

After shaving and dressing, he made his way through the mud to the Headquarters tent. When he got there, he was surprised – it looked as though most of the battalion leadership was there. As he was trying to figure out what was going on, he felt a hand clap him on the shoulder.

"Ah! Reese!" he turned around to see his Platoon Leader smiling at him, "Glad to see you up and about already. Looks like the whole 3rd Recon is heading out today."

"What for? We making another big push into Tibet?"

"Looks that way. I know there's a lot of heavier 'mech units being brought up to the staging areas. And the security on this has been very tight. You might want to have your boys stock some extra rations this time."

"Thanks, LT McSlattery." He was about to continue asking questions when the Battalion Commander began to speak.

"Okay, ladies and gents. Here's the mission brief for today. The Chinese have been slowly withdrawing units from their frontier. We think they're trying to retake Burma from us, but are trying to keep our units tied up here by withdrawing them one and two 'mechs at at a time. Last night they withdrew an entire heavy 'mech company. If they are indeed heading south to Burma, quick attacks both here and there will catch them unable to respond to either action, and their commands split.

The entire 3rd Recon Battalion, that's you folks, are gonna make a diversionary strike on the left flank, and then the heavy units are going to sweep in from the right and take them from the rear.

LT McSlattery, are your Volunteers Mk 5 Vampires working right today?"

"Yes sir!" the lieutenant answered quickly. The platoon had just received these new Scout 'mechs a week ago. They were a significant upgrade from the previous Dragonfly 'mechs and were equipped with a new gadget – an intangibility device. And like any new piece of equipment, there were always bugs to be worked out.

"Good. Your boys get to lead off the whole shebang. Since that's rough territory, the other 'mechs will be slow to advance. I want you guys to go THROUGH those hills and keep the Reds tied up until the rest of the 3rd gets in. Think you can handle it?"

"Of course sir."

"Good, you'll find the full details in the Op Order..." Reese paid scant attention to the rest of the briefing. The Mk 5's were almost untested. The previous four Marks of the Vampire battlemech had a solid reputation as a combat machine, but the rumors surrounding the new toy were not terribly reassuring. More like something out of the classic film The Philadelphia Experiment. Stories of half-melted 'mechs, pilots being driven insane, pilots melting into their 'mech...They'd had a few skirmishes with Chinese sentry units and 'mechs but not enough to know how they would respond to serious battle damage.

The Mk 5 was as ugly as all the other Vampires. It was about 3 meters tall, of which two and a half meters were spindly legs with oversized 'knees' ending in triple-spade-bladed feet. The bathtub like cockpit area sat between two flat oval shaped weapon/power pods. Right in back of the cockpit was a General Atomics FPP-13L 60 MW fusion plant. United States Steel provided the heavy FlintSteel framework while Raytheon added the musculature that made the Vampire move. General Dynamics armored the battlemech with Boron-whisker ceramic fibercoil giving it far better armor than an old M1A2 Tank.

A 40MW Hellbore plasma rifle and a 40-mm Autocannon slung under the cockpit with their barrels projecting several feet gave the Vampire its 'fangs'. The left weapons pod held a Cottonmouth stun cannon and the Starburst flare-grenade launcher. The right side weapons were 40 mm grenade launcher and the Tanglefield projector. Slung underneath each pod was an Archer rapid-fire anti-vehicle missile launcher. Hidden behind the canopy was the Bloodworm launcher.

The Bloodworm was a high velocity poison needle coated with a blood toxin. In rapid succession its target would sweat, convulse, drool, flatulate uncontrollably, and finally the poor bastard collapsed into a quivering pile of jell-o. Very useful for sneaking past sentries.

The fusion drive also powered the combat computers, the sensors, and the defensive capabilities of the Vampire. A Viking Engineering force-field was also included, which could allow the Vampire to absorb a limited amount of energy, or to deflect incoming rounds in addition to the extra protection.

Finally, there was the relatively untested 'Spectre' desolidification device. Although small and lightly armed compared to the heavy battlemechs, the Vampire was a terror against conventional tanks and infantry. A platoon of them could even give a squad of heavy 'mechs fits – they were just too fast.

The real beauty behind the Vampire was its Stark Enterprises combat harness and psychotronic helmet. The two combined made its pilot faster, tougher, and more agile. The biggest problem with any combat vehicle is driving it while utilizing its weapons and maintaining situational awareness. The more complicated the vehicle, the more of the pilot's time and energy it takes to drive it. The Vampire's systems nullified the problem to a great degree. You didn't drive the Vampire, you thought at it. It used your brain power and your instincts to avoid damage and move while you went about your job – killing the enemy.

The attack jumped off without a hitch. All 10 Volunteers were making good progress through the broken terrain towards the Chinese positions just over the next large hill.

The lieutenant's voice came through his earpieces, "Okay boys, on my mark, activate your black boxes and begin to move through the hill. Remember, we've only got about two minutes of intangibility. We'll use about one getting through the hill, so use the next sixty seconds well. Cause as much confusion as you can, then blip back and start the slaughter."

After each unit signaled ready, they activated their units and moved through. It was, as usual, a SNAFU. Reese thought to himself, "Army Intelligence has fucked up yet again." They came out into a Chinese staging area that was crawling with heavy 'mechs, tanks, and infantry. Several sentries began firing at him almost as soon as he cleared the hill. Kicking his Vampire, named The King of Hearts, into high gear, he began plowing THROUGH the enemy 'mechs. Several took hits from their own weapons when seeking missiles followed a desolidified Vampire into a friend, or when one of their own units fired through a Vampire and the rounds kept going.

Reese got to work. He began firing every weapon he could bring to bear at every 'mech he could see. With only ten of his Volunteers in the area and dozens of enemy 'mechs and over a hundred tanks, he didn't have to worry much about hitting a friend. The Chinese had no such luck. Reese's Archer missiles, usually followed by a Hellbore or Autocannon burst badly damaged a number of heavy 'mechs and destroyed several tanks. The other Volunteers were causing similar chaos.

Even so, he was taking damage. Several lights were blinking on his console and the fibercoil armor had several glowing gouges in it – 2nd squad had lost one Vampire when PFC Patterson's 'mech took a point-blank volley from a Chinese heavy 'mech. From the radio chatter, it was apparent that the heavy American 'mechs were entering the battle now, so it was time for his unit to withdraw. At last, LT McSlattery gave the order.

As the last of his mens' Vampires went intangible, Reese fired one last Hellbore at a Chinese 'Fan Song' heavy 'mech and activated his black box. Just as he pressed the button, one of the enemy 'mechs fired from almost on top of The King of Hearts. Reese felt the chassis buck under the Hellbore discharge, and then rock again, hard. Then all the lights went out. He felt like he was being turned inside out and struggled not to vomit.

It was totally black around him. The status board was shut down and he was sure the gyros had tumbled. Groping blindly, he deactivated the black box and again felt the sensation of his insides trying to become his outsides. He vomited onto the cockpit floor as lights swirled and daylight returned.

Instead of being in a rough part of Tibet, his 'mech was standing on a large patch of concrete with steam rolling off of it. Molten bits of metal were dripping off the hull from some of the gouges, and what looked like frost was all over the rest, sublimating into steam almost immediately. Instead of hulking Chinese battlemechs, there were green trees and tall buildings.

The Vampire responded to his thought and struggled into a turn. There were very old-fashioned cars all around his 'mech – he had just missed stepping on one. He wasn't quite sure what was going on right now, but he was sure as hell going to find out. 'Cause if he didn't know better, he was back in time about sixty years. "Well, if so, there sure as hell 'aint much that's gonna stop a 21-ton battlemech in THIS time!" he chuckled to himself.

Just then, the Gulf Coast Avengers showed up. He had to stop himself from laughing out loud. In HIS time, the Gulf Coast Avengers were a comic book. But unless he was seriously mistaken, coming towards his 'mech were Dasher, Starman and Sunman, Necromant, and Ash. Probe and Outside Chance were nowhere to be seen. Somehow or other, he was in a comic book. He decided that he might just be able to have a little fun with this. After all, he hadn't joined the Army yet. In fact, he hadn't even been BORN yet.