any fighter pilot his silence would be immediately explained by the sight of the long groove in his hull and the ruined aerial. No move was made to investigate him closely.

The chattering stopped after a while. Perhaps like human pilots they were accustomed to sleeping during periods of coasting. At any rate, Jason had a chance to relax from his first state of anxious vigilance. After several hours of silence, a sudden babble of chattering woke him to alertness. He deduced that some object had been sighted, but as he had no radar detector he was blind to everything outside visual range.

Watching anxiously he saw flickers of flame from nose-jets. Imitating the maneuvers of his neighbors, he managed to keep in formation while the ships turned through ninety degrees. Immediately after this turnabout the squadron formed itself into line astern. Jason did not need to wonder what was happening; some group of earth ships must have come into range, some squadron which had no business to be so far out, which ought not to be operating in this sector at all. Thus he found himself in the middle of an enemy formation rushing to attack his fellow humans.

There was nothing he could do about it without spoiling the plan; he must stay with the Jackoes, and hope that none of his friends got in position to take a shot at him.

Things began to happen with bewildering speed. In a moment seven familiar-looking shapes were in sight, rushing towards him. Jason knew the Jackoes always tried to maintain their line-astern formation so he kept his eye on the ship ahead of him. The two formations met. Jason’s field of vision was filled with wheeling ships and flaring jets, and the stabbing blue flame of D-rays. He saw the Jacko leader blow up. He saw—a thing he had often heard of but never seen before —a Jacko turn out of line and destroy one of his own companions who had been seriously damaged by gunfire. Then, how it came about he could not say, but he found himself pursuing an earth ship.

Admiral Dickenson knew that any military plan, however good, will inevitably show signs of breaking down during its evolution under the impact of chance factors. He knew that nothing but resourcefulness, decisiveness and intelligence could repair such breakdowns and keep the plan in being. He understood human nature and had picked Jason for this job because he believed the young man had the necessary qualities. He had picked him in preference to other more experienced and more dashing and picturesque pilots.

Jason marked time while the problem revolved swiftly in his mind. From the point of view of a Jacko pilot, he had a sitting target just ahead. Behind him, watching him closely, were a couple of real Jackoes. They were waiting to see him do his job. The ship ahead jerked back and forth on its lateral jets but there was no excuse for holding fire, and very little excuse for missing.

If Jason refrained from firing, would the Jackoes suppose that his D-ray was out of action? If so, would they refrain from investigating him closely? Jason concluded that he could not hope to get away with it. He would be examined, discovered, and destroyed, and the project which had taken so much time and effort to plan would be destroyed also—and destroyed finally, for it could not be made to succeed at a second attempt once the enemy had discovered the ruse.

His problem was clear. Either spare the unknown young man in the ship ahead, and lose his own life and ruin the plan, or kill him and save the plan.

At this moment Jason demonstrated that Admiral Dickenson had made no mistake in selecting him. His fresh young face was calm as he sighted along the tube of the unfamiliar weapon. His finger pressed the button without hesitation. A long thin ray lanced out ahead of him and licked the rear end of the ship in front. A brief instant, and then it blew up.

As Jason maneuverd his ship into line again, a sudden wave of heat poured through him. This hot sensation passed quickly, but the unpleasant prickling continued. He realized that he had been subjected to a backlash of hard radiation from the D-ray apparatus.

The fighting broke off. There were only four Jacko ships left, counting Jason’s ship as one. They reformed and resumed their journey—outwards.

The ships coasted forward, outwards, away from the sun. Jason had no doubt that his Jacko companions lay half-asleep as did all pilots in such circumstances. But Jason was not asleep. Although he had acted without hesitation, although his brain still assured him that he had made the right decision, he was filled with horror at what he had just done. He would be court-martialed, of course. For a moment he contemplated the fact that no one need ever know, but he knew he would have to confess and take the consequences—if he got back. A wave of prickling discomfort assailed him again and he began to wonder whether a man could really survive such a dose of hard radiation as he had experienced. If he did not, he reflected, his fate would have a flavor of classic justice.

As the ships slid forward through the velvet dark these thoughts went round and round in his mind.

Jason must have slept finally. He was awakened after what seemed like a long interval by bursts of Jacko chatter coming over the radio. He looked out around and ahead. His three companions’ ships were still in position beside him. A vast area ahead was filled with points of light. Not the haphazard, many-colored, variable brilliance of stars, but uniform reddish points of light lying in orderly rows. He was unable to attach any meaning to what he saw, but he pressed the button of the camera and let the machine take this in for three seconds.

He continued to watch. Passing like ghosts above him a squadron of Jacko ships accelerated inward. He heard further bursts of chatter, presumably from one of his companion ships. There was no impression of motion, but nevertheless the rows of lights ahead slid swiftly nearer. The pattern of them across the sky swelled till it filled his view.

A flicker of flame from the nose of the ship alongside, and for a few moments he was occupied matching speed and changing course. When he had time to look again, the picture had clarified. He saw that each point of light marked the position of a ship. The glow of starlight pouring through the emptyness of space shone dimly on their flanks, while each ship’s bulk made a patch of dark against the curtain of the stars. He pressed the button of the camera, and swept it slowly round the array. The supersensitive film would record this scene better than his eyes could see it.

So this was the answer to the problem of the Jackoes’ origin. They came not from one ship, but from many— from hundreds. And what ships! Immense fat cylinders lying in orderly rows and ranks and files.

Another change of direction. Some ships of a shape he had never seen before slid past below.

The group of four ships of which he was one slid in among the mother fleet. Like fishes in dim clear water they glided underneath a monstrous belly. Jason scanned it with his camera. Another lay ahead. A patch of its surface was brightly illuminated and three round objects were crawling upon it. Another shot of that.

The four scouts slid among these monsters, with only an occasional short flick of jets to change direction. Mounted on top of one of the monsters he saw some unfamiliar object which had the appearance of being a weapon. A long shot of that. Underneath another a huge brightly illuminated hatch hung open; as he watched a Jacko scout of standard appearance emerged from it.

A staccato burst of chatter on his radio, and a flicker of jets. The four scouts began to maneuver underneath the belly of one of the big ships.

A section of the hull swung ponderously outwards disclosing a brightly lit interior. Jason had the camera running all the time now. On a ledge round the open hatch he saw spherical objects moving purposefully, slinging out grapples; further inside he caught a glimpse of rows of scout ships stacked closely side by side and one above each other.

One of his companion ships edged forward underneath the open hatch. Grapples seized it and pulled it into the hold where it was maneuverd out of sight.

And now Jason knew that his time was nearly up. Once inside that hold his chance of escape would be negligible. As he reached this conclusion, and as he began to consider the moves he must make to escape, he had an inspiration, a wonderful and terrible inspiration.

A second ship was drawn into the hold. He heard a brief staccato rattle of Jacko speech. Just as certainly as if the words had been spoken in English, he knew this was an order to him to move forward.

He took a quick look round to determine the position of the fourth ship which still remained, then gave a touch to his jets, to send the ship forward into the hold. He checked that the camera was running, and grasped the controls of his D-ray. He was sweating and trembling with excitement; his teeth ground together and his mouth was clamped tight shut in a sort of grimace of concentration.

One of the row of stacked scout ships came into the line of his sights—he aimed at its stern, at the motors and fuel tanks, and flicked the firing button. Instantly he swung the weapon and did the same to the next ship—then

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