Chapter 1

"Jets on!"

"Jets on," responded Commander Dan Comet. He pulled the engine control lever back and the cabin filled with the roar of atomic engines blasting through the exhaust jets of the Rocket Patrol Cruiser Antares. The force of the deceleration pushed him and Rusty Morgan, his copilot, into the padding of their seats.

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The mighty space ship fell through the thick clouds that eternally blanketed the planet Venus. The ship's gyrotron stabilizers kept it balanced on its fiery exhaust until the radar signaled the approach of the planet's surface. Commander Comet saw the numbers on his control panel and activated the switch to lower the landing struts. The circular pads of the landing gear pressed into the soil of Venus even as the rocket's exhaust incinerated the jungle vegetation in a spreading circle around them. When the compression of the landing gear shock absorbers indicated they were on firm ground, he cut the engines and all was silent except for the hiss of steam rising from the superheated jungle.

"Whew, it's good to be on a planet again," Rusty said as he unbuckled his seat belt and stood up, stretching to test Venus' near Earth gravity.

"Yes, but this is no vacation trip," Commander Comet replied. "King Alano would not have called the Rocket Patrol for help if the situation were not serious." He turned to the cruiser's third crewmember, Thomas 'Sparks' Clark, ship's engineer and all-round electronic genius. "How about the Antares, Sparks, any problems?"

"Every thing checks out, Skipper. We're copasetic."

They climbed down a ladder to the compartment below. From racks on the bulkhead, the Commander and Rusty took their planet-side equipment. They slipped into the harnesses of atomic rocket packs, strapped on holstered ray-guns, and put on finned helmets. Rusty pressed a button and a large section of the bulkhead swung down to form a platform extending from the side of the ship.

"She's all yours, Sparks," Commander Comet said to the engineer.

"I'll be listening through your helmet radios, Skipper. Anything goes haywire and the Antares and I will be there pronto with all cannons blasting!"

The fliers stepped out onto the platform, high above the wild jungle surrounding the silver spire that was the Antares. Leather-winged flying reptiloids circled the ship and the roar of a giant carnivore sounded above the noise of countless other creatures of all sizes. The jungle life had already recovered from the shock of the spaceship's landing.

"Ready Rusty?"

"You bet, Commander!"

Commander Comet turned the dial of the control panel on his chest and the atomic engine in his rocket pack kicked in. He rose from the platform in a flash and streaked across the sky. Rusty Morgan followed right behind him. From their altitude they could see the walls and towers of Venusia, the capitol city of Venus. When they turned toward the upland city one of the flying reptiloids dived at them.

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Comet streaked out of its way, leading it away from Rusty. The reptiloid was huge with a wingspan of at least fifty feet. It was quick, too, and its beak sported a menacing display of large pointed teeth. But there was no way it could match the speed of a rocket pack. The Commander pulled his ray-gun and thumbed it to its lowest setting. He fired a beam that struck squarely on the creature's snout. It did no permanent damage but the shock of the blast startled the flying monstrosity and it veered away to join its fellows.

The two Rocket Patrolmen covered the miles to Venusia in minutes and settled to a gentle landing on a wide balcony of the Royal Palace. They removed their helmets and tucked them under their arms. A uniformed guard led them into the Palace where King Alano and Queen Leilani waited for them.

"Your Highnesses, I'm Commander Comet of the Rocket Patrol. This is Cadet Morgan. We came as soon as we could. Luckily, we were on our way back to Earth from Mercury when we received your call. How can we help?"

"Commander, it is a pleasure to meet you," the King answered in a rich, accented voice. "And given the gravity of our situation, a man of your reputation is needed. Come, let me show you on the televisor." The King nodded to a servant who switched on a large televisor mounted on the polished green stone of the wall. The oval screen lit up, revealing the dour countenance of Dr. Sinister, evil mad scientist and self-styled 'Ruler of the Universe.'

"Your Highness," the recorded image of Sinister said, "I have taken your daughter hostage." Behind Sinister, the beautiful Princess Liana struggled in the iron grip of one of the mad Doctor's robots. "Deliver to me the Crystal of Belli and she will be returned to you. Otherwise she will die. You have twenty four hours to hand over the Crystal."

The screen went black. "We received that message twelve hours ago," the King said. His antenna twitched, a sign of the concern and fear he concealed behind an otherwise dignified and calm expression. The Queen did not try to conceal her feelings for her daughter, but she did not say anything. The King signaled and two servants brought out a small, gold-chased chest. King Alano lifted the lid to reveal a glittering blue crystal about six inches long. "There it is, Commander. It is the only one of its kind. Deliver it to Dr. Sinister and bring our daughter home to us."

"We'll do our best, Your Highnesses."

Back on the Antares, Rusty said, "Gosh, Commander, what do you suppose Dr. Sinister wants with the Crystal?"

"My guess is that he needs it to power some diabolical weapon that he plans to use against the free people of the Solar System."

"Then we can't really give it to him, can we?

"No, Rusty, somehow we have to keep the Crystal out of Sinister's hands and rescue the Princess." Commander Comet pulled back the engine control lever and the powerful space cruiser blasted off Venus, a stream of fire jetting from its tail.

Chapter 2

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All text, illustrations, photographs and design are 2001-2002 Dan Thompson, except where otherwise noted.