Vision Rising Excerpt



April 2287

The four figures in military camouflage were impossible to spot as they traversed Ganymede’s icy surface. The only reason Joe Kovacs could pinpoint his fellow teammates was due to the IFF signal transmitted by their suits. The Identification Friend/Foe chip embedded in the armor rendered them as transparent green shadows on his helmet’s head-up display.

They’d rucked a good fifty kilometers, the hike made easier by the Jovian moon’s fifteen percent gravity. The path Joe had charted had the team hugging the shadows cast by one of Ganymede’s deep ice trenches. With nearly fifteen thousand such furrows scored into the moon’s surface, the additional cover was both plentiful and welcome.

Joe slowed and held up a fist as they neared the mouth of the trench, its sloping sides looming over them by a good two hundred meters. Amanda and Dee flanked him. Ramon had their six.

Joe turned to face the comms operator. “Anything from Chaos?”

Ramon came to a stop, his gloves resting atop the rifle slung crossways over his chest. “Hang tight; I’ll run another sweep.”

The commo had been monitoring local radio traffic the entire time they’d humped their way from the drop zone to their target. He’d been hunting for a preset signal, an identifier buried in local chatter. It would be coming from the fifth member of their team. Tony, call sign Chaos, was their sniper and advance scout. The operator had infiltrated their target, a dome outpost that lay on the icy plains two klicks away, days earlier to recon the area.

Ramon’s gaze remained fixed in the distance, but Joe could tell the man’s focus wasn’t on the icy landscape. It was on the display projected inside his helmet. Abruptly, Ramon nodded, his eyes meeting Joe’s.

“Got it. I sent a pingback. He should reply in…” His words cut off with a grin. “Confirmation. Packet’s coming your way.”

An icon flashed in the lower third of Joe’s vision. He lifted a hand to acknowledge receipt, then turned his attention to the file unpacking across his field of view.

When he saw the recommended time Chaos suggested for a rendezvous, Joe turned to Amanda. “Rendezvous in twelve hours. Pop the tent. We’ll hole up here for now.”

She gave a crisp nod, slung the bag from her shoulders, and bent to open it. The movement caused wisps of blond hair to obscure the medic’s lightly freckled face. Somehow, her hair always managed to escape the balaclava she wore like a watch cap under her helmet.

The bundle she pulled out was vacuum-sealed and looked like a mottled, white-on-tan brick. She rotated it, seeking the tent’s auto-inflate button.

‘Tent’ was a bit of a misnomer; the structure was more like a glorified canopy. Once deployed, it would harden, providing protection from stray micrometeorites that could penetrate the moon’s thin atmosphere. Its surface was made of the same thermal metamaterials that coated their suits, tunable to the environment. The camo was the best the Terran military had to offer. It functioned by using transformation optics to scatter light, hiding them from view.

Leaving Amanda to finish setting up, Joe turned to the others. “Chaos says the best ingress time is oh-three-hundred, so once we get inside, we’ll hole up until—”

A beam of light sliced through the thin atmosphere, close enough to set off his suit’s proximity alarms. It slammed into the ridge above them with the power of a dozen mortar rounds. The ground bucked from the impact.

“Shit!” The expletive ripped from Dee when it tossed her skyward, arms flailing in the low gravity. Both Joe and Ramon lunged for her. Ramon beat him there, snagging Dee by the belt just before she flew past the mouth of the trench.

Dee landed, bouncing lightly on her toes as she fought to regain equilibrium. “Thanks, that was close,” she began, turning to face them. Her head jerked back, eyes widening as something above Joe caught her eye. “Behind!”

Joe’s head whipped around, his gaze following hers, to see large chunks of ice falling toward them. Dislodged by the laser’s impact, they tumbled in dramatic slow motion, the moon’s low gravity lending them an otherworldly air.

Joe knew better than to be lulled by the avalanche’s sluggish start. The danger it posed was considerable. Worse, it was encased by a cloud of smaller, jagged shards. A by-product of the strike, the knifelike ice had been formed from water vapor, refrozen into a hail of crystalline death.

Joe knew the suits could handle whatever the avalanche dished out, instantly repairing any rupture. But that task would strain the system, and he couldn’t risk losing any operational camouflage. They also couldn’t afford the time it would take to dig themselves out from under the fall.

“Go!” Joe matched action to words, hoisting his ruck over his shoulder. He hooked his free hand through the crook of Amanda’s arm and pulled her along with him.

The medic grunted, still wrestling with the half-inflated tent. The thermal camo pattern made the woman seemingly appear and disappear, disrupting her IFF signal as her hands frantically scrabbled to reach the auto-retract button.

Years of training in low-gee environments showed as the team propelled themselves forward instead of up, a maneuver that minimized bounce and maximized efficiency. Joe spared a quick glance around, confirming their suits were fully stealthed.

Belatedly, a voice sounded inside Joe’s head. “Gumby Actual, this is Gumby Variable. Be advised, the dome is setting off its lasers.”

“Gee, thanks for the warning, Variable,” Dee muttered as she raced past the lip of the trench and out onto the wide-open plain. Risk of exposure was no longer an option; their choices had been ripped from them by the laser blast.

“Check your channels, Actual.” The dry rebuttal, a reminder that the team’s chatter wasn’t to be sent in the open, was typical of Major Holden. The troop commander was in orbit, on board the stealthed ship that served as their forward operating base.

With a glittering slide of ice hurtling toward them, Joe didn’t bother with a verbal response. He blinked a two-click instead.

Silence descended as the four-person team came to a stop more than a hundred meters away, just in time to see the frozen fall crash majestically to the ground, kicking up a cloud of icy regolith in its wake. Dismissing the close call, Joe stared out across the dun-colored tundra, ignoring the uncomfortable, exposed feeling the wide-open space evoked.

Their objective, the dome some twenty-five kilometers in diameter, shone like a beacon on the horizon. Its silicon-glass panels, each three meters thick and inserted into a titanium frame, resembled a high-tech version of an ancient leaded-glass window. Unlike its predecessor, this structure was made to be impenetrable to both ionizing particles and larger kinetic strikes. Its inhabitants relied upon it to hold in atmosphere, while keeping cosmic rays and meteors at bay.

“Think they spotted us?” Ramon asked, coming to a stop on Joe’s right.

Another spear of light caught Joe’s eye. He turned to follow it. “Nope. Just saw another ridge go down. Looks like the dome’s conducting a maintenance sweep of all the nearby trenches.”

Dee shook her head. “That shouldn’t be happening. The dome schedules that for off-peak hours, to avoid overloading the power grid.”

Joe made a thoughtful noise. “They’re early.”

“Or they suspect someone’s out here,” Ramon said, “and decided to bump it up in the hopes that—”

“That they might scare us out of hiding, like they just did?” Amanda said dryly.

Joe silently conceded the point. “Can’t rule it out.” He pointed to the dome. “New plan: contact Chaos. Tell him we’re inbound. ETA…” His eyes squinted as he mentally calculated the time it would take. “Thirty mikes.”


“Hope that doesn’t jack things up too much for him,” Ramon murmured. “Thirty minutes ain’t a whole lot of time, brother.”

Joe flashed the commo a fierce grin. “He’s Delta. D-boy like him should be able to handle things on the fly, am I right?”

A chorus of soft hooahs sounded over the channel.

They fanned out, each slipping on pairs of detachable cleats to gloves and kneepads before falling into a low crawl and moving out. In Ganymede’s near vacuum, Joe felt more than heard the crunch each time the cleats dug into the ice. It wasn’t the most comfortable way to traverse an icy plain, but it was the safest. The last thing they needed was to be spotted by the enemy, with no cover in sight.

Still, he kept one eye pinned to his HUD and the meter that monitored their pace. Thankfully, they remained well within the green zone that indicated maximum camouflage.

Despite his earlier reassurance to Ramon, Joe felt a moment of concern over the change in plans. He knew all too well how last-minute adjustments could throw a wrench into things. But he also knew Chaos, and the man was damned good at his job.

The sniper’s role as the team’s advance scout was to conduct a standard ISR, Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance, on their objective. Joe had done it himself plenty of times. The job was painstaking, tedious, and dangerous as hell. There was no backup.

Three days ago, Chaos had approached the domed habitat, much like they were doing now. He’d skirted its circumference and then slipped inside—all without being caught. His objective was to reconcile the intelligence they’d been given to plan the mission against actual conditions on the ground.

What Chaos learned could mean the difference between success and failure.

The mission was straightforward. Get in, neutralize the organized crime cell, get the hell out. As usual, instructions regarding the cell’s leader were ‘capture if possible, eliminate if not.’

Simple. Routine. Just another day at the office, and the kind of mission Terra’s ODD Sabre Squadrons did on the regular. Operational Detachment–Delta was Earth’s best. The hunter-killer teams operated at the tip of the spear and on the black side of the wire. They took on the most dangerous missions, in the most austere locations known to humankind.

Like a domed habitat, on a frigid cold moon, orbiting a gas giant nineteen astronomical units—nearly three billion kilometers—away from the sun.

Piece of cake, Joe thought with gallows humor, his hands, knees, and toes crunching in time with the slow, rhythmic pace he’d set.

Dee’s muttered “damn frozen tundra” had him glancing at the petite Asian low-crawling alongside him. She was their newest member, and this was her first deployment with them. Her actions today would tell Joe all he needed to know about the woman. If she could be trusted to have his six when things got heated. If she’d break under pressure. If her personality meshed well with the others on the team.

He was pretty sure he knew the answer to the former. No one who passed Selection and made it through probationary eval was likely to break. Whether or not she was a good fit remained to be seen.

Dee spared a quick look at the gas giant that hung above them, eclipsing all but a sliver of the black sky. Joe followed her gaze to the angry red eye of Jupiter’s hurricane, shifting in a never-ending swirl. The gas giant’s glowing hues added incrementally to the weak light of the sun, bathing the area with a glow some idiot back home had poetically tagged ‘the eternal golden hour.’

Get your ass up here, spend fifteen minutes suited up in this balls-shriveling cold, and then see if you can look me in the eye and wax all poetic about Ganymede’s golden hour, he scoffed mentally.

His gaze returned to their objective, now a kilometer closer. A row of three large tanks had come into view, positioned between them and the dome. “Head for the one on the far right,” he said.

Two-clicks sounded in his ear.

“Got another ping,” Ramon announced. “Sending the feed over to you now.”

A chime preceded the stream of incoming words.



Following the words was an icon. Joe blinked it open, and a map of the dome unfurled across his HUD. A red dot flashed at him. More words followed.


He shared the data with the others.

“Too bad our timeline was pushed up,” Dee said. “Or we had access to a more out of the way airlock. That hydrogen plant’s going to be busy.”

“That can work to our advantage,” Amanda countered. “You know how it is; act as if you belong there and no one will question it.”

Ramon hooah-ed. “That’s right, sister. Nothing to see here.”

When they reached the cover of the outermost hydrogen tank, Joe let out a relieved groan. Ganymede’s icy crust wasn’t just cold; it was hard. It made him glad for the suit’s padding at knee and shin. Stripping the cleats from his gloves, he clenched and unclenched his hands to work feeling back into them.

Dee arrived next, followed by Amanda. The medic immediately flipped up the cover of her arm computer and began accessing the more detailed vitals that each of their suits provided to her.

Dee groaned as she worked the kinks out of her neck. “Gahhh, I hated that in basic, and I hate it now,” she muttered.

“Beats getting shot at,” Amanda replied absently, her attention on the readout from the portable medical bracer on her arm. From there, she could read the teams’ vitals, streamed from each suit. Nodding in satisfaction, she snapped the cover shut just as Ramon closed the final few meters and joined them.

He took a knee beside Joe. “No unusual chatter,” the commo reported. “Looks like we’re clean.”

Joe nodded his thanks. “Okay then. Let’s see what we’re dealing with.”

He pulled out a surveillance bot. The remote sensing platform had eight articulated legs that he carefully unfolded while his HUD established a handshake with it. Setting it onto the ice, he sent it forward. The bot cleared the tanks, its cameras giving Joe his first good look at the hydrogen plant and the airlock just beyond.

Dee leaned around Ramon to catch Joe’s eye. “Hey Top, care to share that feed?”

Joe routed it to her comm’s ID, and the woman settled back to watch the data stream. The bot’s camera zoomed in on the hatch that would be their ingress. The man approaching had a familiar gait. Years of training had Joe waiting for confirmation. When the man stopped to enter an access code, he turned. The camera’s recognition software pinged, highlighting a patch on the man’s sleeve, invisible to the naked eye. It returned a positive ID.

Joe stood. “Chaos is at the hatch,” he told the others.

Ramon had rolled to his feet at the news. “Ping him,” Joe ordered. “Standard iden confirm, ETA ten minutes.”

His words had the other two getting to their feet.

“ETA ten minutes,” Ramon repeated. “Copy that.” He paused a beat, then said, “Sent.”

Seconds later, Chaos turned to look at the tanks. The sniper gave a quick nod, followed by a flashed hand sign. Copy. Confirm. The man stepped into the airlock and its doors slid shut, hiding Chaos from view.

Joe turned the bot around to give them eyes on the space between the plant and the dome. The only activity came from a small group of people at the plant’s entrance. A closer look showed they were busy filling portable tanks and hefting them onto a transport bed.

“Looks like one of those cargo haulers they use to resupply the listening posts,” Dee said. “There are dozens of them scattered all over the surface.” She straightened and tapped Joe on the arm. “Hold up. We may have a problem.”

A moment later, she dropped a still frame from the feed over their shared network. She zoomed in on one of the workers, highlighting his face to initiate a search in their targeting database. Text began to appear, identifying him as a person of interest.

“One of our tangos,” Ramon said.

“Thought I recognized the guy, yeah,” Dee said. “But that’s not what caught my attention.” She nodded toward the dome. “Check out who he’s watching.”

Joe widened the field of view. Adrenaline coursed through him as he realized what Dee had seen.

“Shit.” He turned to Ramon. “Tell Chaos he’s been made.”