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Winnie Bravo, Space Pilot: Lunar Base

Sci Fi Space Junk Adventure

by Kate Rauner

Lunar Base - Kate Rauner - Winnie Bravo, Space Pilot
Part of the Space Pilot series:
  • Winnie Bravo, Space Pilot: Lunar Base
Editions:Kindle: $ 3.99
Pages: 437
Paperback: $ 12.99
ISBN: 9798840023532
Size: 6.00 x 9.00 in
Pages: 318
Hardcover: $ 19.99
ISBN: 9798840024911
Size: 6.00 x 9.00 in
Pages: 318

Humanity's future in space depends on audacious pilots, and it may help if they're a bit crazy.

Winnie Bravo is brash, reckless, and more than a little annoying as she sets out to prove herself, careening from adventure to adventure with her partner Bertie never far away.

In orbit, across the Moon, and on Earth, she pursues the truth about a nefarious probe and a scoundrel who will stop at nothing. What she discovers brings her closer to the truth than she bargained for, and may get her killed, or worse, fired. Complete trilogy now available. Read Book #1, Lunar Base, today.


Chapter 1

Blast Off




Winnie Bravo tightened her harness straps. The space capsule's seat motors hummed as they adjusted to her small frame and tilted into launch position. She had nothing to do but listen to her heart pound. The craft was entirely autonomous with no controls to manipulate and no readouts to monitor.

In capsules outfitted for paying customers, the walls would be covered with all-around display screens, but not in an employee transport craft. She stared at nothing but the smooth white curve of the inner hull, interrupted only by dot-sized lenses aimed at each seat.

Ridiculous way for a newly fledged pilot to launch on her first space mission, but Winnie would board her own ship in orbit. That's where she'd prove herself.


Vibrations faded away as external support equipment withdrew. Somewhere below her, valves clunked closed. She held her breath, waiting for a final thump. There it was. The rocket now stood free of its service tower, just as the orientation video had shown.

Launch Control's voice came through a speaker in her seat. "Fuel loading complete. Are you ready for liftoff?"

Winnie nodded at the one lens ringed with light. She was the sole passenger on board, so the controller had activated a single camera. He wouldn't see that she'd strapped her bag into the empty seat crammed in beside her. Not exactly what the employee handbook required, but more convenient and certainly secure.

"Is this your first trip into space?" the Launch Controller asked.

She must have been grinning like a fool to make her newbie status that obvious. "Yes, sir."

"And you plan to rendezvous with Orbital Services' Green Junk Collection Team?"

"Yes, I'm the replacement for Green Two's pilot."

"Good. When we're running a special launch, I like to confirm I activated the correct flight plan. Your ship left the Moon under autonomous control and is waiting for you in orbit."

Maybe the controller's chit-chat was intended to calm her, but Winnie didn't want to relax. She wanted every glorious thrill, sweaty palms, butterflies, and all. After a long uphill slog in training, this moment was the roller coaster about to crest its first peak. "Winnie Bravo to Launch Control. I'm ready to go."

"I'll give you a count down. Ten, nine, eight..."

Winnie gripped the arm rests until her knuckles ached. No space suit cushioned her hands or muffled her ears. Not necessary since the capsule's basic design was safe enough to send tourists into orbit.

"... five, four, engine start..."

Tremors rattled her bones and blurred her vision.

"... two, one, and liftoff. We have liftoff for Winnie Bravo on her first mission for Orbital Services, LLC."

He had to be kidding with that fancy send-off, but Winnie didn't care. Her shout joined the rumble of engines.

"Have a nice flight. Control clear."

Tingling filled her chest. The capsule moved slowly, and for an instant she feared the rocket would topple over. Then a gasp escaped her throat and acceleration crushed her into the seat, beginning the rocket experience tourists paid a fortune for. She whooped once more, then concentrated on breathing against the weight of three-gs.

She forgot to count off the minutes as the seat rattled under her. Another thump sounded, and the crushing force lessened. Winnie sucked in a breath, knowing the final stage was about to ignite. The ship slammed her into her seat again.

With a final bang, the engine jettisoned, belly-flopping its way back to a landing on Earth. Her stomach floated loose, and the rest of her body followed.

Winnie released her harness and pushed off with fingertips. She breathed through her mouth for a minute until her stomach settled. There wasn't much headspace above the six empty seats, but she didn't need a lot of room. With one foot crammed under an arm rest, she yanked open a cargo pocket in her khakis and pulled out her earpiece. She shoved the ear gel into place, positioned the voice tube mic along her cheek, and sucked in a deep breath. She'd be hearing from her new partner soon and wanted to sound as cool as any grizzled old grunt.

Comms opened right on schedule. "This is Bertram Miller in sweep ship Green One. Are you there, Winnie Bravo?"

She yanked at her bag's straps as she answered. "Yes, Bertram. I'm ready to transfer to my skiff."

"The drones are capturing you now."

Two clunks followed. That would be the robotic craft snagging her capsule with their manipulators. She drifted into the hull as they towed her along. More thumps and bumps, and the capsule's access door swung open.

Winnie kicked off to the short, constricted airlock. It would be a tight fit if the skiff's door was closed, but since the pressure ring had sealed, it stood open. She floated through and grabbed a hand rung. The skiff's snug interior was spherical with a single pilot's seat in the center - the command scaffold, an exoskeleton bolted to a jointed stanchion. If she hovered there and stretched her arms straight over her head, she could almost touch the inner hull with her fingertips and toes.

Winnie pumped her fists, pirouetting in the narrow space around her pilot's seat, fending off an impact on the command scaffold with an arm. That might not have been the best idea because her head joined her stomach in a woozy spin. She ran a hand through her dark hair, cropped short since the day she'd begun training, and waited for the dizziness to fade.

This was her space skiff now, all hers. Well, not only hers. She opened a pocket in her khakis and slid out a sophisticated memory pack. It was as big and thick as her palm and stored the ginormous amount of data accumulated over months and months of practice with her artificial intelligence accessory.

She pushed it into a programming slot by the airlock door. "Zazz, are you with me?"

It replied immediately through her earphone. "I'm here." Winnie thought of her AI as female and had given Zazz an appropriate voice. "I'm installed in an actual spaceship, aren't I?"

Winnie remembered to grab a rung before slapping the bulkhead. "You sure as hell are. Merge with the ship."

"Interface proceeding as expected. All systems operating within optimum limits. I found a number of files related to our mission and am incorporating them. Sealing the airlock." The door swung shut, followed by more clunks. "The transfer capsule has been released. We are receiving a transmission from our partner, Bertram Miller."

Winnie tugged at her new green polo shirt, her name embroidered on one side and Orbital Services' round company patch stitched to the other.

"Put him through. Winnie here."

"Welcome to the Green Team. I'm Green One and you're Green Two. That's what Adrian Base will call us, but you should please call me Bertram."

A thrill zigzagged through Winnie's chest. She was out of school at last, learning real pilot jargon.

"I'm sorry to do this to you, Winnie, but if you're willing to dispense with the usual pleasantries, we're in a time crunch. Our flight plan is logged into your skiff, and I'd like to start our run."

"Absolutely ready." Winnie grabbed the command chair, and pulled herself into position. Sliding into the control gloves, she pressed her butt against the hip support. Micro-motors whirred as Zazz adjusted the scaffold to her settings and closed the inertial cushions around her body. A layer of gel built into the skull support shielded her brain from cosmic rays. Not a hundred percent effective, but Winnie accepted the dangers of space.

She flexed her limbs, confirming the joints operated exactly like her simulator on Earth. "Ok, Zazz. Engage for the mission." She glanced to her right.

Most of the skiff was hidden in the space between its double hulls, all its systems, fuel tanks, and life support packed out of sight. The inner walls were a dull, blank gray, but unlike the transfer capsule, these were about to embed her in a surge of data.

Screens flicked on, covering the cabin walls with a view of space. Gripping her skiff were a pair of robotic craft, the rest of Green Two's little fleet. Left Drone and Right Drone filled their respective displays. The robotic craft were her hands in space, controlled by gloves that interfaced Zazz with the drones' own onboard intelligence.

Those bots would do the actual work of collecting space junk, so they weren't designed to look cute. Each was several times the size of her skiff. An open cage of bars like longitude lines bulged around a central shaft and fuel tanks sat above compact rocket engines. Two telescoping arms reached out from a frame around the tanks, ready to snag a piece of space junk, large or small, because the point of her little armada was to remove decades of trash from orbit.

Her drones towered over the skiff, cutting off Winnie's view on both sides. She spread her fingers, and Rightie and Leftie released their holds, drifting away on thruster puffs.

With her body's momentum, she spun the scaffold and thrusters rotated her ship in response to her movements until she spotted Bertram's identical trio of craft. He was a fair distance away, but close enough for Winnie to see his two drones, each three times the size of his skiff, wave claws at her.

The skiff's bulkhead displays weren't simple camera shots. A thousand kilometers below, the bright curve of Earth dimmed and stars faded away. Broad bands of debris were enhanced. Isopycnic outlines of constant density surrounded clusters of small particles alternately spreading and aggregating, and halos highlighted large individual chunks.

The detritus remaining from two hundred years of exploiting space around Earth formed an irregular mass of debris ranging from paint flecks to defunct satellites. The endlessly circling, colliding, reshuffling chaos threatened to entomb humanity forever on the planet's surface, because no company's spacecraft could escape the atmosphere without a fatal collision.

Not unless they hired Orbital Services to clear pathways through the clutter. One very important client had advanced their launch date, which created a scheduling crisis that pulled Winnie from her training to join Bertram Miller and save the day.

"Ok, Zazz. Let's go." They arched through space and into position at the bottom of their clients planned flight path.

Bertram drifted in a gap between clouds of junk that were closing fast. Winnie had to get to work. "Zazz, activate your 3D presentation."

The space around her filled with targets. Ships and debris shifted into perspective, and her sense of kinesthesia, her perception of muscle force and movement, linked to the drones through haptic sensors in her gloves.

Winnie became her ships. "Zazz, are you integrated with Bertram's AI?"

"Yes, Fido downloaded the required flight path to me, and we are ready to coordinate our sweeps."

Fido? But Winnie had no time to wonder at the other AI's name.

"Bertram." Winnie trusted Zazz to route communication to her partner. "I'm in the gloves. Let's get cracking." Winnie prepared to deploy an electrically charged web. She extended her arms and the drones drifted away, spreading engineered mesh that could encompass acres, driven by a body-machine interface faster than any human could consciously perceive.

Winnie crept the drones up slowly behind their targets. Relatively slowly. Along with the junk, they traveled at thousands of kilometers per hour. A small piece of debris hitting the mesh directly could tear through, so she swept them up like netting butterflies.

Something shot toward the debris cloud she followed. Zazz saw it - a red highlight blinked around the object as soon as it entered sensor range. Winnie slammed her feet down and twisted, activating thrusters to arc the skiff out of its path. At these speeds, even a small item could damage the outer hull and possibly penetrate through to the cabin. A square tumbled past her, dark blue, maybe a solar cell.

"Zazz, increase brightness on objects inclined from our current path." Her training simulated the actual systems perfectly, but one thing was different, and Winnie's skin prickled. This sweep was real.


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About the Author

Kate Rauner writes science fiction novels and science-inspired poetry, and serves as a volunteer firefighter in rural New Mexico, USA. She's a retired engineer and now lives on the edge of the southwest's Gila National Forest with her husband, cats, and dog. She says she's well on her way to achieving her life-goal: to become an eccentric old woman.