"Got 'im! Scratch one Deathstalker!"

Flash Gordon had no time to rejoice in the excited cry of his girlfriend, Dale Arden. He glanced at the circular electro-scanner on his console and bit his lower lip.

"One down, three to go."

Dale didn't respond. Electric crackles filtered through the ship as she kept firing the aft ray gun batteries.

Bright yellow beams streaked past the cockpit windows. Flash jammed the control yoke to the right, then the left. He hoped it threw off the enemy's aim.

It would also throw off Dale's aim, but that couldn't be helped. They couldn't afford to take a hit before reaching Earth.

"Doc!" Flash called to the pudgy, bearded man in the co-pilot's seat. "Any luck raising Earth?"

Dr. Hans Zarkov shook his head. "I've tried. Those ships must be amplifying the anti-radio wave field Ming's forces are sending through the space gate."

Flash grunted in frustration. He then threw the ship into another violent turn.

Damn you, Ming. Part of him wanted to be back on Mongo. He couldn't help but feel like he'd abandoned Barin, Thun, Vultan and Aura. But Earth was now threatened by Ming as well. Barin even insisted Flash and his friends return to their planet.

"We'll keep up the fight on Mongo," the Arborian prince had told him. "You get back to Earth. Warn your people. Do not let Ming's evil spread any more throughout the galaxy."

Another beam sizzled past the cockpit, missing the ship by only a few feet. Flash pulled back the yoke. The ship's snub nose rose. Flash then banked hard left.

"You know," Dale called out. "It makes it hard for a girl to aim when you're jerking the ship all over the place."

"Better you miss than they hit us," Flash replied.

"I suppose." More crackles came from the aft batteries, followed by an unlady-like curse from Dale. She must have missed again.

More twists. More banks. The three Deathstalker-class war rockets stuck to their tail like glue. The flurry of beams continued, each shot missing. Flash wondered how much longer their luck would hold.

"There's the Moon." Zarkov pointed.

Flash spotted the large, pockmarked rock hanging in the blackness of space.

"Almost home," uttered Zarkov.

Flash banked the ship again. He kept staring at the Moon, and the blue-white orb of Earth beyond it. The old adage came to mind.

So near, and yet so far.

Another beam whizzed overhead. Flash jerked the ship left. He then pointed the nose with its needle-like projection at the Moon.

"Flash, what are you doing?" asked Zarkov.

"It's time we went on offense." He gave the scientist a quick grin. "Trust me, Doc."

Flash kept dodging beams, all the while keeping the Moon in view.

A shudder went through the ship.

"Everyone okay?" asked Flash.

"Yes," said Zarkov, whose face suddenly went pale.

"I'm fine," answered Dale. "Looks like they singed one of our tailfins."

Flash banked left and right. The ship responded fine. The damage must only be superficial.

Thank God.

The Moon loomed closer. Flash put the ship into a dive. The cratered landscape filled the window.

"Flash?" Zarkov pressed himself back into his seat.

Flash kept the nose pointed at the Moon's surface.

"Flash!" Zarkov cringed, nearly shutting his eyes.

Teeth clenched, Flash pulled the yoke toward him. The ship pulled up. Beams from the Deathstalkers drilled into the Moon.

The ship streaked over the craters. Flash glanced at the electro-scanner, then out the window. He swerved, avoiding enemy fire, as he approached the northern pole.

He streaked over it, mindful of the Moon's curvature as he neared the other end of the pole.

All three Deathstalkers vanished from the electro-scanner. Without a clear line of sight, the device wouldn't work.

It also meant the Deathstalkers couldn't see them either.

Flash figured he had just a few seconds before the enemy rocketships cleared the pole and their electro-scanners picked them up again. He looked over the surface quickly.

"There!" He activated the braking thrusters. The top thrusters went off next. Flash lowered the ship into a crater. He raised the nose and kept the craft in a hover, waiting . . . waiting.

The three Deathstalkers flew overhead. Once they were out of sight, Flash silently counted to three.

"Hold on!"

The ship blasted out of the crater. Flash's eyes narrowed and locked on the three Deathstalkers in front of him. His thumb mashed the fire button.

Yellow beams shot out of the nose cannons. The center Deathstalker vanished in a white flash. Flash fired another volley of rays at the rocketship to his left. The tail section exploded. The front half spiraled into the lunar surface and shattered into hundreds of pieces.

The remaining Deathstalker shot toward space. Flash flicked a couple of switches on the console. Lights flashed, indicating the guided rocket launchers were ready. Six projectiles zipped away from the ship and homed in on the Deathstalker. The enemy ship continued to climb. Flash followed the rockets as they closed with the Deathstalker.

An intense ball of white light formed high above the Moon's surface.

Flash let out a long breath. Zarkov looked like he was hyperventilating.

"You okay there, Doc?"

Zarkov nodded, a hand over his chest. "Remind me never to doubt your piloting skills again."

Flash chuckled and looked over his shoulder. "Dale?"

"I'm fine." She headed back to the cockpit, an olive green Mongo flightsuit nicely hugging her slender frame. "I just wish those were the only Ming ships headed for Earth."

The smile faded from Flash's face. "So do I, Dale."

XXXXX

Emperor Ming sat up straight on his cushioned, squarish throne. Fingers steepled, his black eyes flickered from one viewing globe to another. Soft laughter bubbled up from his throat. Cities in Arboria, Frigia and the Land of the Lion Men were afire. Resistance against his forces crumbled.

Mine. Soon, all of Mongo shall be mine again.

But he could not feel total joy, not while the planet's most notorious traitors remained free. Prince Barin, Prince Thun, Prince Vultan and his vile, treacherous daughter Princess Aura.

They would die. He would personally watch them die right here in his throne room. He envisioned them writhing, bleeding, screaming, begging for his mercy.

That thought made him laugh. As though anyone would be granted mercy from the emperor with the moniker of "The Merciless."

He only wished the Earthman Flash Gordon would be part of that suffering. But more than likely, he and that fat fool Zarkov were but atoms floating through space.

Along with the lovely Dale Arden.

A tiny hole formed in his chest. Oh, how he wanted the Earthwoman, to ravage her luscious body while Flash Gordon looked on, his arms and legs cut off, unable to help the love of his life.

Then when he finished with Dale Arden, he would throw her into the radioactive mines, where she would die a slow death.

Once they were all dead, the other rebels on Mongo would lose hope and surrender. Ming would kill them all, of course. Then no one would ever challenge his rule again.

"Your highness."

Ming stared over the viewing globes. A man in a gold breastplate, helmet and cape strode up to him. He thumped his fist against his chest and bowed.

"Report, General Zyk."

"The space command center reports they have lost contact with the four Deathstalkers we sent after Flash Gordon's ship."

"And Gordon?"

Zyk swallowed and trembled slightly, as did most who brought him bad news. "It would appear Gordon and his companions survived. They have no doubt reached Earth by now."

Ming settled back in his chair. He remained silent for several seconds. The nervous expression on Zyk's face intensified.

"It doesn't matter. Even if the Earthmen know we are coming, there is nothing they can do to stop us. Flash Gordon, and his entire planet, are doomed."

TO BE CONTINUED