(by Gordon R. Dickson, from The Forever Man)
The human race had been in war with Laagi so long, over five generations, that the contest had become something that was almost as taken for granted as the physical facts of the universe itself. It seemed they had always been at war with the Laagi. They would always be at war with them… these aliens, these people no human had ever seen, whose worlds no human had ever seen; but only the hulls of their heavy-bellied space warships. It was almost as if Mollen had suggested altering all the continents of Earth into unfamiliar shapes.
It was not just what he wanted, of course. It was what everyone wanted. No more of this war which had drained Earth’s resources and brought her nothing in return – unless it was the feeling of being safely entrenched behind a line of fighting spaceships. But with no more Laagi to fight, what was next?
Hopefully, they could then go out to colonize livable worlds, wherever these could be found, which had been what they had been engaged in when they found that there were no ready-to-live-on planets within practical phase-shifting distances, they were the world already occupied by the Laagi or in that area of space to which the Laagi barred the way.
No one even knew why the Laagi fought. They had attacked, on contact, the first unarmed human spaceships that had encountered them. Clearly, they would have followed this up by carrying their attacks against Earth, itself, if the aroused world had not hastily combined to arm and man the defensive line in space that was the Frontier. Clarly, the Laagi wanted colonizable planet-space, too: and in spite of the fact no human had ever seen one, Earth must be enough like their world or worlds to be usable.
In the early years after human and Laagi ships had first encountered each other, their ships had come close enough to be observed just outside Earth`s atmosphere. But meanwhile Earth had been frantically building ships fitted for space combat; and by the time the first of these went up in effective numbers, hunting for the Laagi, they had to travel almost as far as the present Frontier before encountering any of them.
But beyond the Frontier all the military strength of Earth had not been able to push, in well over a hundred years. The larger a fleet of fighter ships with which they tried to penetrate, the greater the number of Laagi ships that came to oppose them. Were the Laagi from one world or many? Were they paranoid or reasonable? What were they, physically and mentally?
No Laagi ship ever surrendered. They fought or ran, but once engaged in combat they kept fighting until they were destroyed, or destroyed themselves. Continual efforts to find a way of capturing a Laagi ship had been without success. There seemed to be the equivalent of a dead-man`s switch in each of their ships that triggered its destruction if it became too badly crippled either to run or fight any more.
Did you ever know a spaceship to tell a lie? (Gordon R. Dickson) Illustration : © Megan Jorgensen