SAMPLE CHAPTERS

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters

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Chapter One

When most children have a birthday, they are given a bicycle, or a doll, or if they have been very good, maybe a sasquatch butler. When Finn Harwood turned twelve, his parents gave him a jetpack. “Maybe we should call you ‘Jetboy’ now,” said his mother, Maggie. She tousled Finn’s red hair, the same color as her own, and grinned so broadly that her freckles squished together. She was always excited when showing off one of her new inventions. Brilliant inventors usually are. “I like ‘Rocketboy’ better,” said his father, Lucius. He peered at the jetpack with gray eyes that matched his wavy gray hair, eyes the same color as Finn’s. He took a pair of spectacles out of his pocket and cleaned them on his shirt. He did this when he was nervous, which wasn’t often. World-famous Adventurologists don’t get nervous very often. Finn set the jetpack down on the dining room table.

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters The jetpack had a pair of leather straps that crossed over the shoulders, another that passed under the legs, and a belt that went around the waist. The straps fastened over

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the chest with a large brass buckle decorated with a winged woman, the signature on all of Maggie’s inventions. On the back the straps came together in a tangle of copper tubes, beneath a pair of gleaming metal wings folded back against each other like those of a resting beetle. At the tip of each wing was a little motor. A pair of pivoting control arms rested against the jetpack. A throttle lever on the right-hand arm was set to “MAXIMUM.” A brass fuel gauge on the left-hand arm read “FULL.” “Why are the jets on the end of the wings?” Finn asked. “I tried putting the engines on the back at first,” Maggie said, “but it didn’t work.” “Is that why all my pants have burn marks?” Maggie shrugged. “We had to put something on the test dummies.” “How do you like it?” Lucius asked. “It’s the only one in the world.” Finn grinned. “It’s a lot better than last year’s present.” Maggie frowned in mock disappointment. “You didn’t

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters like my aprickle hybrid?”

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“It’s a plant that grows fuzzy pickles that taste like rotten apricots,” Finn said, wrinkling his nose. “At least they don’t set fire to your pants.” “Depends on how many you eat.” Lucius turned a laugh into an unconvincing cough. Maggie glared at him. “How does it work?” Finn asked. “You push the button on the right lever to start the engines,” Maggie said. “Move the lever forward or back to make them go faster or slower. The button on the left stops the engines. That’s why it has a cover! There’s even a gyroscope to stop you from spinning.” “Keep your fingers away from the motors when you turn it on,” Lucius said, “and make sure to fasten all the straps tightly before you take off. There’s only enough fuel in the tanks for half an hour, so you should probably come back after fifteen minutes, just to be safe.” “Oh, shush!” Maggie said. “It’ll last much longer than that if you don’t go too fast. Besides, it’s got fasteners for you to wear a parachute on the front, just in case.” “Can I try it out now?” Finn asked, running his hands over the folded wings of the jetpack. “Well,” Lucius said, “we’ll have to see if the wind—”

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“Yes, let’s!” Maggie said, clapping her hands together in excitement. “The weather’s perfect!” Finn tossed the jetpack over one shoulder and dashed out of the wood-paneled dining room. “Don’t forget to put on your flying jacket!” Lucius called out after him. The dining room opened into a vast, round space where a catwalk ran between huge bags of lighter-than-air gas that held the family zeppelin aloft. Beyond the floating bags, the metal framework that held the zeppelin’s skin taut was barely visible in the dim light. They had lived in the zeppelin as long as Finn could remember. He couldn’t imagine any other home, especially one as silent and stationary as a house. At the far end of the catwalk, Finn threw open the metal door to the hangar and ran straight into a whitefurred yeti twice his height. “Excuse me,” Finn muttered. “Quite the toy you have there,” the yeti rumbled. He peered down at Finn with one real eye and one made of glass. A row of circular, hairless scars ran in a line across his cheek and forehead. “What is it?” “A jetpack.” Finn looked down at his feet, trying not to stare at the yeti.

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters “Did your mother make that for you?” “Yeah. How did you know?” “She’s quite the inventor.” The Glass-Eyed Yeti

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grinned with sharp, white teeth. He moved aside to let Finn pass. Alfred, the family’s sasquatch butler, stood on the other side of the Yeti. Alfred folded his thick arms across the broad chest of his suit and frowned in disapproval. “How many times has your father told you not to run when the hangar doors are open?” Alfred said in a voice like rocks rolling down a hill. He pointed to the open side door. A metal ramp led from the door to a loading dock at the top of the highest building in New Venice. Yetis wearing overalls cursed and growled as they hauled crates of supplies up the ramp and stacked them along the hangar walls. “I know, I know,” Finn said, rolling his eyes. “Furthermore, your mother has told you to look through the porthole before entering the hangar. If the bay doors are open, the pressure change could suck you right out of the zeppelin.” Alfred nodded towards the big double doors on the floor of the hangar. The family biplane hung from a crane above the doors, ready to be launched at a moment’s notice.

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters “But we’re docked!” Finn said. “You should make it a habit. That way, in case of emergency—”

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The door to the catwalk banged open and Maggie hurried through with Lucius close behind. “See?” Finn said. “They didn’t check.” “Check what?” Maggie asked. Alfred sighed. “I don’t know why I even try.” Finn set the jetpack down on a worktable, darted over to the flight lockers and pulled out his gear. “Yetis?” Lucius said to Alfred. “I thought the Venetians only used them as soldiers, not laborers.” “I’ll keep a close eye on them,” Alfred said. “They told me the regular longshoremen were on strike.” “Yetis have a bad temper.” Alfred frowned. “That’s not necessarily true, sir.” Finn stopped in the middle of strapping on his leather helmet to listen more closely. Alfred only called Lucius “sir” when they disagreed about something. “People say the Irish have a bad temper as well,” Alfred said, “but none would ever say that of your wife.” Maggie, buttoning up her own flight jacket, pinched her finger and loudly cursed the jacket’s makers, personal history, and parents.

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters Finn grinned as he slipped on his gloves and pulled a pair of goggles over his head. He hefted the jetpack onto his back and strapped himself in. Maggie stepped over and fussed with the straps, making certain everything was tight, then fastened a parachute to his chest. “You can fly it right back into the hangar to land,”

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she said. “Just turn the engines down to the lowest setting and you won’t even feel a bump.” “Have you flown it?” “It’s too small to carry your father or me, but we did plenty of tests in the lab.” Finn glanced over at a pile of scorched and broken tailor’s dummies in a corner of the hangar, all of them just about his size. “Was that the explosion I heard?” he asked. “The one you told me not to worry about?” Maggie laughed nervously. “That was a much earlier model.” “Loading complete,” Alfred said. Finn watched the last yeti walk back down the ramp to the mooring tower. When that yeti reached the bottom, he turned to look back up at Finn, a glass eye glinting in the light. Alfred pushed a button at the side of the door and the loading ramp rattled back up into the zeppelin.

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters “Bring us to altitude,” Lucius called out. He scrambled up the ladder to the biplane. Finn felt a heavy, hairy hand on his shoulder. “Be careful, young sir,” Alfred said. He ducked through the catwalk door and closed it behind him. “We’ll follow right along behind you,” Maggie said.

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“If anything goes wrong, pull the ripcord on your parachute right away.” Finn nodded. “Don’t take off until we’re out of the zeppelin and give you the signal,” Lucius said. Finn nodded again. His stomach was beginning to feel the way it did after too many aprickles. “Pulling the arms down opens the wings,” Maggie said. “Moving the arms steers, but you’ll have to turn your body as well. It’s just like parachuting, and you’ve done that dozens of times.” She kissed Finn on the cheek and started up the ladder to the biplane, then stopped halfway. “Wait!” she said. “You can’t go out yet!” “Why not?” Finn asked, suddenly frightened. “What’s wrong?” “I never made you solve a puzzle before you opened your present! That’s the tradition!”

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Finn rolled his eyes. “I’ll solve one later, okay? You can even make it extra hard.” “I guess so. Just this once!” Maggie blew him a kiss and climbed up into the biplane’s rear cockpit. There was a faint rumbling and the floor shook as the zeppelin’s engines started. Finn stood far back from the open side door, looking out at the dazzling blue sky. He took a deep breath. The hangar smelled of old leather and fuel oil, the happy odors of home. He stepped closer to the open door, holding tightly to a metal handle on the wall, and peered down. The high stone towers and tiled roofs of New Venice fell away as the zeppelin rose. A little white cloud passed beneath the floating city. Much further down, a winding river glittered amidst a patchwork of green fields and tiny villages. The bay doors beneath the biplane slid open with a clatter of gears. Finn turned to look at his parents. Lucius gave a thumbs-up from the pilot’s seat and started the propeller. Maggie pushed a switch on the magnetic grapple gun beside her seat, lowering the plane out of the hangar on the gun’s long cable. She switched off the electromagnet and the plane plummeted out of sight. A moment later the biplane buzzed up alongside the

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters zeppelin. Maggie waved and Finn waved back. He pulled the jetpack’s control arms down past his shoulders, and the

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wings snapped open behind him. With his elbows at his side and his arms straight out, the controls fit neatly into his hands at the end of their metal poles. He pulled his goggles down over his eyes and stepped to the edge of the door. A cold wind roared past, nibbling at Finn’s cheeks. His mouth suddenly felt a little dry. He pushed the button to start the jetpack and realized, too late, that he had forgotten to turn down the throttle. The jet engines roared on with a force like a great shove, knocking Finn off his feet. He put out his hands to stop his fall, but there was nothing below him. Finn shot from the door of the zeppelin, the world around him a spinning blur. The wind sucked his breath away. He fumbled for the parachute ripcord on his chest. Just as his fingers touched the end of the cord, he stopped spinning. The gyroscope had worked! Trying not to vomit, he grabbed the jetpack controls, closed his eyes for a second, and took a deep breath. When he opened his eyes again, the biplane was flying alongside. Lucius’s face seemed a little white as he glanced over at Finn.

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters “Are you alright?” Lucius yelled. “I think so,” Finn yelled back. “Do you want to go back?” Lucius asked. Finn glanced back at the family zeppelin, quickly receding into the distance. “I think I’ll fly around a bit first.” “That’s my boy!” Maggie said. Lucius didn’t seem as excited. Finn looked down at the countryside below. There was nothing beneath him. He was flying, really flying! He gently moved the steering arms to the left and turned in that direction. He did the same to the other side, and grinned. By leaning in any direction and pushing the arms

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that way he could move up or down, left or right. Twisting the arms made him roll. He spun all the way around and gasped at the sensation, then pulled back on the arms and made a loop. It was terrifying, and exhilarating. He laughed with glee, then choked on the wind rushing into his mouth. He could fly! He swooped around to face New Venice. High above it, the family zeppelin looked like a tiny brown cigar. Finn turned the jet engines up to their highest speed and hurtled toward the floating city.

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Old Venice had been a mighty trading port, built in a lagoon by the sea to better defend against attack by land. Unfortunately, it was not safe at all from attack by sea, especially from krakens. After their city was pulled into the sea by giant, slimy tentacles, the Venetians vowed never again to allow kraken eggs to be sold in the market. They also decided to rebuild in a new location, just in case. And what safer place to build a city than in the air? Powered by vast amounts of levitatium, most valuable of all minerals, the floating city of New Venice was now capital of the skies, a center of world trade. It was also entirely kraken-proof, at least so long as it did not fly too low over the ocean. Finn swooped past the long metal runway sticking out like a tongue at the edge of New Venice and dived toward the loading docks underneath. Silver zeppelins and levitatium-powered battleships nestled between steam cranes hanging from the city like the legs of a giant, floating spider. Hairy brown sasquatch in overalls carried bundles up and down loading ramps to the zeppelins. Yeti police with fur that matched their white uniforms pointed at Finn and bellowed in surprise as he zoomed past. The biplane was a tiny speck in the distance, too slow to keep up. Finn checked his fuel gauge. He had plenty

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters left. He flew out from under the city and aimed at the family zeppelin high above. He tore a neat hole in a drifting cloud, just to impress his parents. Alfred waved from behind the control room windows at the front of the zeppelin. Finn waved back and spun in a barrel roll. He flew close enough to touch the brown fabric skin of the zeppelin, then dodged out to miss the steering propellers

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turning slowly on their mountings. With a quick turn and a loop he flew around the tall steering fins at the stern and down to the other side. He followed an outside catwalk from the fins to the bow, passed the control room with a whoop and turned back toward New Venice. Something went bang. Finn glanced back at the jet engines. They were on fire. He began to fall. He clicked the engine button and moved the lever back and forth. Nothing happened. The spires of New Venice rose toward him. Finn yanked at the ripcord of the emergency parachute. There was a jolt as the parachute spilled out of its pack and began to inflate. There was another jolt as the parachute lines broke.

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters The parachute spun off into the distance. With smoke pouring from his broken jetpack and his parachute gone, Finn plummeted toward the city below.

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Chapter Two

Finn fell toward the city below, his jetpack broken, his parachute ruined. His breath came in short gasps. His hands were slick with sweat. Time seemed to slow. His surroundings came into sharp focus. A pointed flagpole rose at him from the peak of a tower below. He twisted to avoid it and fell past only inches away. He yanked on his controls and pulled away from the rooftop, falling into a space between buildings. The alley below bustled with people moving between fabricroofed stalls. The cobblestones of the street looked hard and final. A woman glanced up at him and screamed. A sudden, terrible jolt knocked him breathless and nearly tore him loose from the jetpack. He swooped just over the heads of terrified shoppers as they dove out of the way. “Got him!” Maggie yelled from above.

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The jetpack dangled from the magnet at the end of the biplane's grapple gun cable. The biplane’s wingtips nearly touched the buildings on each side as it roared through the alley. “Go higher! Higher!” Maggie screamed. In the plaza ahead, a bronze statue of Poseidon pointed a sharp trident at Finn’s face. The biplane rose in a long curve and Finn swung at the end of the cable like a pendulum. His feet brushed against the top of the statue as he shot over it. “Pull up the cable!” Lucius yelled. “I AM!” Maggie yelled back. “IT’S TOO SLOW!” The grapple gun whirred as it reeled in the cable. Finn closed his eyes as he blasted through a laundry line hanging across the street. The line snapped with a twang and caught on the jetpack, clothes billowing out behind. Finn opened his eyes again, to his regret. Ahead, a glass gallery covered the central marketplace of New Venice. Even if the biplane tried to fly over it, Finn would never clear the edge. “Go over!” Maggie said. “Go under!” Finn screamed. “WHICH IS IT?” Lucius yelled. “Under!” Finn and Maggie said at the same time.

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters At the last possible second, Lucius dove beneath the arched gallery. The metal frame of the roof tore off the tip of the biplane’s tail. The plane lurched dangerously

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and dropped closer to the screaming crowd below. Finn came within reach and Maggie grabbed the straps on his jetpack, holding Finn against the side of the plane. “We’re almost out!” Lucius said. A shadow fell over the low opening at the far side of the gallery. A zeppelin descended into view, moving toward the dock at the end of the marketplace. “We’ll make it!” Lucius said. “We won’t!” Maggie said. The landing zeppelin blocked more and more of the opening. Sasquatches on the dock, standing ready to secure the zeppelin, yelled at the plane and waved it away. “YOU get of the way!” Maggie yelled back. The sasquatches dove aside. The biplane hit the ground with a terrible crunch and skidded over the edge, just below the belly of the zeppelin. Lucius yanked back on the controls and they soared higher on the other side, clear of the city. “I think we lost our landing gear,” Maggie said. “I think I lost my lunch,” Finn groaned. “We’ll have to release the cable on Finn before we

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters land,” Lucius said. “We can’t,” Maggie said. “There’s no room for him in

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my seat unless I let go of him and climb out on the wing.” “Absolutely not. Don’t let go of him, and don’t go out on that wing.” “I have my parachute. I could always—” “No. We don’t know if any of our chutes are safe now.” “Then what do you suggest? We can’t land on a runway without gear, and we can’t land in the zeppelin without the grapple!” “We’ll do a hard landing in the zeppelin.” Maggie’s face turned white. “We can’t,” she said. “We’ve never done it before, and we don’t even know if—” “We don’t have a choice,” Lucius said. “Alfred will know something is wrong and ready the hangar.” Maggie tightened her grip on Finn’s harness as they rose toward the zeppelin. Lucius buzzed the control room, and even at a distance Finn could make out the worried look on Alfred’s face. The zeppelin sped up, but Finn knew that it could never match the speed of the biplane, and the biplane could not slow down any further without the engine stalling. They would have to crash into the hangar from below. Then, even if the impact didn’t kill them or ignite the fuel tanks stored inside, the biplane might still

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters tumble backward out the open bay doors. Finn clung tightly to the edge of the cockpit and

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glanced up at his mother. She looked back down at him with an expression of mingled love and terror. The bay doors in the belly of the zeppelin slid open. Lucius lined up the biplane with the zeppelin and nosed the plane gently upward, aiming them straight at the opening. “Wait!” Maggie said. A cargo net at the end of four long cables dropped from the bay doors and hung like a huge spiderweb, one end slightly lower than the other. “Alfred deserves a raise,” Lucius said. He pointed the plane at the net and cut the engine at the last second. The instant they hit the net, the cables holding the lower end lifted to pull it up behind them. They swung gently back and forth as the net rose into the hangar and the bay doors slid shut beneath them. Alfred stood next to a pair of motorized winches in the corner, looking very worried. “Alfred, you’re one in a million,” Lucius said as he hopped out of the cockpit. Alfred nodded and breathed out a sigh of relief. Maggie turned off the electromagnet holding Finn to the grappling cable and helped him onto the ladder beside

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters the plane. The moment they all reached the hangar floor,

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Lucius unbuckled the jetpack and flung it aside. He hugged Finn fiercely. Maggie joined the hug, none of them speaking a word. Finn’s hands trembled, and his legs felt weak. “Shall I secure the biplane properly?” Alfred asked, hands clasped behind his back. “Yes, please,” Maggie said. “Thank you. Thank you very much.” Alfred nodded again and went about attaching the plane’s grapple to the ceiling crane. Maggie bent over the jetpack and peered closely at the pipes on the back. “The fuel filter is broken,” she said. “It looks… chewed, or something. Too much fuel went into the engines. It’s a simple fix. I’ve got more filters in the toolbox, and we can replace it in a—” “I think we need to talk,” Lucius said, his eyes narrow. “Let’s go into the laboratory. Finn, you stay here.” He opened a door leading from the rear of the hangar and they stepped into Maggie’s lab. A row of portholes along one wall illuminated a room full of strange machines. Piles of curving pipes lay heaped in one corner, sheets of metal in another. Bookcases stuffed to overflowing lined the walls. Unseen motors whirred and clicked. Rows of tools

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters hung from the walls. Lucius shut the door. Finn closed the jetpack’s wings and lifted it onto a

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workbench by the door. He had worked on the biplane and the zeppelin with Maggie, and he was comfortable with engines. It only took a minute to unscrew the broken fuel filter and replace it with a new one. He was about to check the engines for damage when he heard yelling in the laboratory. “Never again,” Lucius said. “We knew it was safe!” Maggie said. “You thought it was safe. You told me it was safe.” “It was. We did all the testing we could—” “Testing? You tested it on Finn. You put his life in danger to test one of your damn inventions!” “It wasn’t about that!” “You care more about your ideas than you do about him.” “You have no right! How dare you say something like that when you’re the one who takes him out of school time after time to go chasing around the world looking for treasure!” Finn opened the door and stepped into the lab. His parents, their faces red, stood almost touching. They turned to him and were silent for a moment. “I’m going to check the other parachutes,” said

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters Maggie. She wiped a tear from her eye and stormed out of the laboratory, slamming the door behind.

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Lucius slumped down in a chair and put his chin in his hands. “Well,” he said, looking up at Finn, “I don’t suppose you’ll ever want to fly that thing again.” “I was the one who asked mom to build something special for my birthday,” Finn said quietly. Something clattered in a corner of the lab. Finn looked over just in time to see that same something scurry into a dark corner. “What was that?” Lucius asked, rising from his chair. “I don’t know,” Finn said, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end. Lucius picked up a heavy wrench. “Stay back,” he said. He stalked over to the corner. The creature darted across the room and into an open crate lying on one side. “Watch out,” Finn whispered. Lucius reached out ever so slowly. He grabbed the crate and flipped it upside-down in one quick motion, trapping the creature inside. The thing squealed in dismay and shook the crate. Lucius dropped the wrench on top of the crate to weigh it down. Finn bent to peer between the crate’s slats and

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters caught a glimpse of yellow eyes and green skin.

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“A gremlin!” Lucius said. “It must have snuck onboard when we were loading supplies. That’s what chewed through your parachute!” “Maybe it broke the jetpack,” Finn said. “I’ll break that gremlin,” Lucius growled. “No, no!” the gremlin squeaked. Finn jumped away from the crate in surprise. “I'm going to toss it out the door,” Lucius said. “Not my fault!” the gremlin whined. “Yetis told me. Yetis want distraction!” “Yetis?” Lucius said. “What yetis? A distraction?” Maggie screamed in the hangar. Lucius raced across the laboratory and flung open the door to the hangar. A yeti sat in the biplane’s front cockpit and another was climbing into the rear, Maggie struggling under one of his arms. Alfred lay on the hangar floor, unconscious. The bay doors were already open. The yeti carrying Maggie turned for a moment and looked at Finn with the strange, pink eyes of an albino. Before Lucius could do anything, the albino slammed one fist down on the grapple gun to release the magnet. The biplane fell from the crane and dropped through the open hangar doors. Maggie was gone.

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Chapter Three

His mother had been kidnapped by yetis. It was all Finn could think about as he ran with his father along the zeppelin’s central catwalk, toward the control room. Something shattered in the dining room ahead. Lucius pulled open the door and stopped in surprise. The wood floor was covered in broken glass and china. Silverware, plates, and glasses slid off the table and spilled out of the cupboards. “We’re diving!” Finn said. Lucius stepped into the room and dodged aside as a cupboard toppled over. Finn followed, slipping on broken dishes and glass. They ran into the control room beyond, where Lucius sat down at the steering column and buckled himself into the pilot’s chair. Finn grabbed the back of the chair for support. The horizon rose past the top of the floor-to-ceiling windows as the zeppelin tilted down toward

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the ground. Lucius yanked back on the controls, but nothing happened. “The steering lines are cut,” Lucius said. “We’ll have to find where it happened and reconnect them.” “What about Mom!?” “It won’t do her any good if we die in a crash. We have to save the zeppelin first.” Alfred staggered into the control room, holding onto the doorframe with one hand and pressing a bloody rag against his ridged head with the other. The jetpack hung from his back. “They destroyed the outside ladder,” Alfred said. “I saw it behind them as they came into the hangar.” “Why didn’t you stop them?” Lucius snapped. “They shot me, sir. In the head.” Finn gasped, but Lucius said nothing. “They must have cut the lines at the fins,” Alfred said. “We can’t get up there now. The parachutes?” “All ruined.” Lucius smashed his fist down on the controls, shattering one of the gauges. The fields outside tilted at a nauseating angle. Alfred slid across the sloping floor into the control panel. He looked dazed.

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters “I’ll take the jetpack up to fix the control wires,” Alfred said. “I only wanted to make certain there was no other option.” “You can barely even walk,” Lucius said. “Besides, it’s broken, and even if it wasn’t, it couldn’t carry either of us.” “I’ll take it,” Finn said. “It’s fixed now.” “Absolutely not!” “Then I’ll die for sure. We’ll all die.”

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Lucius was silent for a moment, his jaw clenched. Finn crouched at the base of the control panel as the floor became too steep for him to stand. “Very well,” Lucius said quietly. Alfred took off the jetpack and handed it to Finn. The zeppelin’s nose pointed nearly straight down at the ground below. Finn stared out the observation windows, now more like a glass floor, with a stomach-knotting sense of dread. Careful not to slip, he kicked out a window with one foot. Shards of glass flashed gold in the sunlight as they fell away below. Wind tore through the control room, sending charts and papers flying. Finn strapped on the jetpack. The fuel gauge read nearly empty. He took a metal clamp offered by Alfred and put it carefully into a jacket pocket. He pulled the

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jetpack arms down and the wings snapped open. Finn saw that the wings, when open, were too wide to fit through the metal window frame. But the engines could only be started with the wings open. Finn closed the wings and stepped out the window with the engines off. He heard Lucius screaming something, but Finn was already falling. He snapped open the jetpack’s wings and clicked the button to turn on the engines. Nothing happened. He clicked the button again and the engines blasted on, shooting him back up toward the bow of the zeppelin. It was perfectly vertical now, falling straight down even with the engines thrumming in reverse. Finn pushed the throttle as high as it would go and rocketed past the control room, flying up the length of the zeppelin toward the fins at the rear. The wind tore at his face and made his eyes water. Finn dodged the mounted propellers and slowed the jetpack as he neared the base of the fins. There it was--a severed wire that hung just beside the ruined outside ladder. He grabbed the now-sideways ladder and hooked one foot under a rung to keep from rocketing away, so that both his hands were free. He snatched the dangling control wire with one hand and fumbled for the clamp in his pocket with

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters the other. Just as he pulled the clamp out, the jetpack engines shut off. He dropped sickeningly, flailing. One hand caught a ladder rung and he slammed against the side of the zeppelin. The broken cable swung away. The clamp slipped from his hand. Clutching the ladder with both hands, he turned and glanced down. The ground below was so close that he could make out sheep grazing along the banks of a river. He wrapped one arm tightly around a ladder rung and grabbed for the hanging wire with his other hand. It slipped from his sweaty fingers. He grabbed it again and pulled the severed ends together. With his feet dangling

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against the side of the zeppelin, he worked his other elbow through a rung so that his hands were free again. He twined a few of the broken strands from the frayed cable ends back together, then gave it a yank, hoping that Lucius would feel it on the controls. The cable pulled taut and the steering fins snapped up. The zeppelin’s nose began to rise, slowly at first, then faster and faster. They leveled out just above the river, so low that Finn heard a splash as the tip of the lower fin dipped into the water. He found the ladder with his feet as it swung back to vertical.

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters The zeppelin turned to follow the river, just above

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the glimmering surface of the water. The gap in the ladder below Finn, where the yetis had torn part of it away from the zeppelin’s skin, was too long to climb past. He clambered as close to the gap as possible and peered down. A moment later, Alfred looked up from the doorway below. “Is the jetpack still working?” he asked. Finn shook his head, no. “Out of fuel. You’ll have to catch me!” “As I feared. Take off the jetpack first.” With one hand, Finn undid the jetpack buckles and wriggled out. It fell, bouncing, down the curved side of the zeppelin. Alfred reached out and grabbed it with an “oof.” Finn waited until Alfred had set the jetpack inside, then let go and slid down the sloping fabric into Alfred’s arms. Alfred gently deposited Finn next to the jetpack, then brushed off his suit. “Your stunt with the cables was most impressive,” Alfred said. One corner of his mouth twitched upward in what seemed almost like a smile. “I don’t think I’ll ever try that again. Will you be all right?” Finn asked, staring at the patch of damp fur on Alfred’s skull.

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters “Quite all right. The bullet simply bounced off. We sasquatches have very thick skulls, you know.” “That’s what dad always says.” “Hmph.” Finn stepped past Alfred into the ruined hangar.

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Shattered crates and scattered equipment lay in dark pools of spilt oil. He put the jetpack down on a workbench, then hurried after Alfred out the door and down the catwalk to the front of the zeppelin. “You don’t think they’ll hurt Mom, do you?” Finn asked as he picked a way through the wreckage of the dining room. “Certainly not,” Alfred said. “If it’s money they want, there’s no reason to harm her, and if it’s her knowledge they’re after, then they’ll want her as healthy as possible. I’m certain your father is already formulating a plan of rescue.” Finn nodded, slightly reassured. In the control room, Lucius sat at the steering column, staring out the broken window at the reflection of the setting sun on the river below. He leapt from his chair as Finn entered. “Thank God you’re alright. This has been the worst day of my life,” Lucius said, hugging Finn. “You’re choking me a little,” Finn gasped. “You saved us.”

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters “Does that mean we can get rid of my bedtime?” Lucius laughed. “We’ll see.” “Now we have to find Mom.”

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Lucius stepped back from Finn with a look of terrible sadness. “We lost track of the biplane. I don’t know where they’ve taken her.” “Maybe the gremlin knows,” Finn said. “Gremlin?” Alfred asked, raising one bushy eyebrow. “I’ll explain later,” Lucius said. “Alfred, take us back to New Venice for repairs. We have an interrogation to make.” Lucius stormed into the dining room, his shoes crunching on broken glass, and Finn followed. “We’ll find who took our Maggie,” Lucius said. “We’ll find her and bring her back.” “Do you really want her back?” Lucius stopped and turned to Finn with a look of disbelief. “What do you mean by that?” “You were so angry earlier that I just thought… I mean, I wasn’t sure if…” “Finn, we fought because I never want you to be in danger, and we disagreed on what was dangerous.” “I can handle myself. I’m twelve years old.”

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“Yes, well, you did do pretty well with that steering cable,” Lucius said with a chuckle. He put a hand on Finn’s shoulder. “Look, when I first met your mother, she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Imagine my surprise when she opened her mouth and I realized she was also the smartest! You don’t think I’d let someone like that go, do you?” “I guess not. You do kiss way too much and use lots of disgusting baby talk when you think I can’t hear.” Lucius’s cheeks flushed red. “Right, then,” he said. “Let’s go interrogate that gremlin. They didn’t use to call me the ‘two-fisted terror of the skies’ for nothing.” When they reached the door to the laboratory, Lucius motioned Finn to stop. “He may have escaped from the crate in all the excitement,” Lucius whispered. “Be careful.” He slowly opened the door and peered into the dim laboratory. A broken light flickered near the ceiling, casting darting shadows over toppled instruments. “Looks safe,” Lucius whispered. “I’ll go—” The gremlin leapt from a pile of wreckage and raced for the door. Startled, Finn stepped back and tripped. He fell on his side, face to face with the snarling gremlin.

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Lucius snatched the gremlin by the neck and held it up as it squirmed and kicked. “Going for my son?” Lucius asked. “No, no!” the gremlin squeaked. “Trying to get away!” “You want to get off the zeppelin, is that it?” The gremlin nodded frantically, chest heaving with fear. “Fine by me. Finn, open up the side door.” Finn scrambled to his feet and ran to the door controls in the hangar. “So thanks!” said the gremlin. “So nice!” The side door opened with a rush of cold wind. The sky had darkened to a deep blue, and the last, ruddy rays of the setting sun spilled across the farmlands below. The gremlin’s eyes went wide. Lucius grabbed the

gremlin by one ankle and dangled it, upside-down, over the edge. “Here’s your way off,” he said. “Not that way!” the gremlin shrieked. “Then tell us how you got on board.” “Yetis bring me! Yetis buy me!” “Buy you? From whom?” “Don’t know. All dark!”

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Lucius shook the gremlin and it squealed in terror. “I hope you fly better than the jetpack and parachutes you ruined.” “Sorry! Please!” “Dad,” Finn said, “how could he have had time to ruin the jetpack and all the parachutes?” “Parachutes?” the gremlin asked. Something scurried across the hangar behind them. Lucius turned to the speaking horn of the intercom. “Alfred,” he bellowed, “as soon as we get to New Venice, find a gremlin catcher!” “Very good,” came the tinny reply. Lucius tossed the gremlin into an open locker and slammed the door shut. “You weren’t really going to drop him, were you?” Finn asked. “Of course not! That would be too kind.” “I don’t think Mom would like it if she knew you had been hurting gremlins.” Lucius sighed. “You’re right. Besides, that creature doesn’t have anything more to tell us.” “But how will we find his dealer? Isn’t that how we’ll learn about those yetis?”

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“I know just the people to ask. Finn, put on your best dinner jacket, grab a bottle of your mother’s homemade pear brandy, and find a piece of raw meat. We’re going to the Explorer’s Club.”

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Chapter Four

It was dark by the time the zeppelin arrived back at New Venice. Finn, wearing an uncomfortable suit and jacket, hurried after his father along the narrow, cobbled streets of the city. The only sounds were the echo of their footsteps and an occasional burst of voices or song from an open window. The city smelled like spices and rain. “I don’t think you should have made Alfred stay behind,” Finn said. “Someone has to oversee repairs,” Lucius replied without looking back. “He wants to help!” “Then he can do what I ask.” They stepped out of an alley and into a broad plaza dominated by an ornate stone building. Bright squares of light fell across the paving stones of the plaza from tall windows. A wide stone staircase led to thick double doors guarded by yetis in polished armor. On each side of the

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters door loomed an identical statue of a man fighting a lion.

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Finn thought it was meant to be inspiring, but the lion was definitely winning. Perhaps it was supposed to be inspiring to lions. One of the yetis pulled open the doors when he saw Lucius. “Good evening, sir,” the yeti rumbled. Lucius nodded and stepped inside with Finn. The vaulted entryway was lined on each side with glass cases full of strange artifacts. Finn noticed a clump of red weed growing in a bell jar, a pair of shrunken heads wearing shrunken top hats, a fan-shaped footprint in a piece of rock, and what looked like a poorly-stuffed, very odd chicken. Below it was a label that read “Challenger Expedition.” “What’s that?” Finn asked, pointing to the feathered animal. “Dinosaur,” Lucius said. “That’s stupid. Everyone knows dinosaurs didn’t have feathers.” Lucius shrugged and stepped into a sitting room warmed by a blazing fire in a gigantic stone fireplace. An old man with a bushy white beard and a long, lumpy nose sat in a chair reading a newspaper. Beside him crouched a four-legged machine made of springs, gears, and

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters pistons, holding a tray of drinks on its back. At a table in the corner, a fur-covered, eyeless creature with a bulging forehead, wearing nothing but a stained necktie,

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tore at a piece of raw meat. His eyes weren’t missing—there simply was nothing but smooth fur where eyes might have been. “Good evening, Mr. Haggard. Evening, Savage Troglodyte,” Lucius said. “Finn, say hello.” “I’m Mr. Haggard,” said the old man, “just to avoid any confusion. By the way, children aren’t allowed in the club.” “Perhaps he’s a midget,” Lucius said. Haggard sighed. “Lucius, would you attend to the club’s clockworkbot? I’m afraid it’s stopped working again.” Lucuis bent over the machine and wound a handle on the back. The clockworkbot straightened out with a clatter. “Nobody ever remembers to wind it,” Lucius said to Finn. “It’s not that they forget,” Haggard said without looking up from his newspaper, “it’s that they’re afraid to go near the damned thing. We still haven’t got the stains from the carpet, and that poor boy’s mother… Well, I’m just glad I wasn’t the one to tell her.”

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“Pay no attention to him,” Lucius said. “The accident involved a reporter, not a child, so no harm done.” Finn noticed that Savage Troglodyte was… well, not looking at him, but at least facing him. “You brought the meat?” Lucius asked. “Go ahead and toss some to him.” “Not hungry,” Haggard said. “To Mr. Troglodyte.” Finn nodded, fished a chunk of meat from his pocket, unwrapped it and tossed it into the corner. Savage Troglodyte caught the meat in mid-air, swallowed it with a gulp, and grinned at Finn. “But he’s— I mean, how could he—” stammered Finn. “How could he see it without eyes?” Lucius asked. “We’re still not sure, but we think he emits some sort of high-pitched noise, like a dog whistle, that somehow helps him sense his surroundings.” “He’s not dangerous, is he?” “Not if you’re properly introduced,” Lucius said. “And Savage Troglodyte is also quite tame.” “Hmph,” Haggard said. A thickset man with a huge, bushy mustache that covered most of his flushed face hurried into the room.

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters “Lucius! I thought I heard your voice. So sorry to hear of your wife. Let me know if I can help in any way!”

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He grabbed one of Lucius’s hands with both of his and shook it heartily. “H.G., nice to see you,” Lucius said. H.G. turned to the man by the fireplace. “Haggard, old chap! You’re looking a bit haggard this evening, I must say.” “Never heard that one before,” Haggard muttered, turning his newspaper to block the view of H.G. “I see you have the clockworkbot functioning again!” H.G. said. “You know, Tesla was working on a way to beam power straight to the things before he vanished. Poor chap.” “I’m not here to chat,” Lucius said. “I’m looking for someone who can tell me where to find a gremlin dealer.” “A gremlin dealer?” H.G. whispered, leaning close. He glanced around and tugged nervously on his moustache. “You know I’d never be involved in that sort of thing, but I heard Blackwood knows where to find them.” “Is he here tonight?” “Yes, he’s in the ballroom showing off his new discovery. Haven’t you heard? Let me show you!” H.G. hurried out of the room.

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters Lucius bent down to Finn. “That was H.G. Wells, the famous biographer.”

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“I know,” Finn said. “You made me read all his stuff.” “Didn’t you like it?” “It’s all Martians and time travel. I like fiction better.” H.G. stuck his head around the corner. “Aren’t you coming?” he asked. “No children in the club,” Haggard said. Lucius elbowed Finn in the side. “The brandy,” he said. Finn took the bottle of brandy from his pocket and tossed it to Haggard, who caught it in one hand. “I suppose we might make an exception, just this once,” Haggard said. Lucius and Finn followed H.G. down a wood-paneled corridor lined with jars full of preserved animals. Finn stopped at one labeled “Mongolian Blood Worms” that seemed to be filled with nothing but sand. He put his face up against the jar and tapped on the side. Something that looked like an intestine with a mouth full of sharp teeth burst from the sand and thudded against the side of the jar, snapping. Finn jumped away.

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters “Those are just the babies,” H.G. said, raising his eyebrows at Finn. Finn kept well away from the rest of the jars and followed the others into the back of a wide ballroom surmounted by a broad glass dome. A haze of cigar smoke

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floated above a small crowd of men sitting and chatting at round tables. On the stage stood a thin man with a huge nose and a fringe of hair that ringed his bald head like a sock that has fallen down around an ankle. Next to him was something that looked like a closet draped in blue cloth. “—honored to present what may be the greatest discovery of this, or any other age,” the man on stage said. “From the mysterious depths of the dark and wild seas, last of the Earth’s secret places, comes a creature strange and beautiful. For untold eons they have—” “Get on with it, Algernon!” someone in the audience shouted. The man on the stage, Algernon Blackwood, seemed flustered for a moment, but quickly regained his composure. “I present to you the maiden of the seas, the first living mermaid to ever be displayed!” He pulled aside the cloth to reveal a glass tank full of water. A grotesque, man-sized fish with long, narrow front fins floated belly up at the top of the tank.

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters Even from across the room, Finn could see Algernon turn pale. “Did you remember to feed it?” someone yelled. “It looks like my mother-in-law!” someone else said, and the room erupted in laughter. H.G., Lucius, and Finn threaded their way between

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tables and up to the side of the stage as the hall emptied. Algernon stood by the glass tank, knocking on the side and peering with concern at the huge fish. “Better luck next time, eh?” H.G. said, patting Algernon on the shoulder. “I heard you’re planning a trip to the Caucasus. Something about a centaur sighting?” “There won’t be a next time,” Algernon said with a sigh. “They’ll never fund my new expedition now, and with supplies so expensive, I can’t afford it on my own.” “Expensive?” Lucius asked. “A group of yetis bought up everything in town for some big dig. You can’t find anything essential now: no picks or shovels, no tents, not even alcohol!” “I’m sorry to hear that,” Lucius said, “but I need your help finding my wife.” “Yes, yes, I heard. So sorry.”

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters “The yetis that took her released gremlins on the zeppelin, and I’m trying to find where they purchased the creatures.”

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“Gremlins, you say?” Algernon ran a hand over his bald head. “I wouldn’t begin to know where to find them.” “Oh, come off it!” H.G. said. “Of course you do.” Algernon turned white again and stuck out his chin. “I would never engage in that sort of illegal transaction.” “But I’ve heard that you can find any creature in creation,” Lucius said. “Didn’t you bring the mermaid here?” “Yes, yes I did.” “And of course we know that you would never work with gremlins for anything other than scientific reasons. “Of course not.” H.G. grinned slyly and elbowed Lucius, but Lucius pretended not to notice. “I, ah, I suppose I might know where one could be found,” Algernon said. “For research purposes only, of course.” “Of course. I happen to have a pen and paper with me, if you might write down the address.” Lucius pulled a notebook and pen from his suit pocket and gave them to Algernon, who scribbled something down.

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“Thank you,” Lucius said, “and I wish you luck in your dissection of the mermaid.” Finn thought he saw the huge fish quickly open and then close one eye. As they walked back to the entrance with H.G., Lucius was strangely quiet. “Have you been on many expeditions?” Finn asked H.G. “Oh yes, I’ve almost been on several.” “Almost? You mean you haven’t actually gone?” “Well, no, not as such. I meant to, but something always comes up.” He sighed sadly. “That’s the life of a famous author, I’m afraid. But your father’s been on lots of trips searching for levitatium! ‘Teddy bear of the skies,’ they used to call him.” “Teddy bear of the skies?” Finn asked, looking at his father. “That’s not what he said.” “He was called that because he always tried to resolve things peacefully, even when dealing with pirates. Or yetis. Or yeti pirates, and those are the worst,” H.G. said, raising his eyebrows and elbowing Finn. “H.G.,” Lucius said, “you must have seen plenty of yetis come through here. Did you ever see an albino one?” “An albino yeti? How can you tell?”

Jacen Greene / Rocketboy Sample Chapters “Pink eyes. What about one with a glass eye and a series of scars across the face, like so?” He pointed to his cheek and forehead.

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H.G. chewed thoughtfully on one end of his moustache. “Not with the scars, but I do remember a yeti with a glass eye.” “Really?” Finn said. “See for yourself. He’s in the cloakroom.” H.G. darted through a door leading from the hall. Finn tensed, and Lucius clenched his hands into fists. They shared a nervous glance and followed H.G. through the doorway. The square room, lined with coat racks, was empty except for them. “Where?” asked Lucius. H.G. pointed to the top of the wall. Above the racks hung dozens of framed photos showing members of various expeditions in safari gear, caving equipment, deep-sea diving suits, and one group in tuxedos and top hats. “We keep them here so that we never forget,” H.G. said sadly. “Aren’t the staff the only ones who come in here?” Lucius asked. “We do well to remember the valiant men, women, sasquatches and yetis who gave their lives in the cause of

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exploration,” H.G. said with his eyes lifted and his hands clasped piously over his chest, ignoring Lucius’s question. “Ah, here he is.” He snatched a large photo off the wall and held it out for Lucius and Finn to see. A group of men and yetis dressed in heavy jackets with furred rims stood together on the deck of a ship. A vast glacier rose from the sea behind them. “That’s the one,” Lucius said, pointing to a yeti in the front row. “That’s the one who was on our ship.” “And there’s the one with the pink eyes!” Finn said, peering at the tinted photo. “Impossible,” H.G. said. “You couldn’t have seen them.” “Why not?” “That expedition was lost in Antarctica years ago. They’re all dead.”