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"What the hell does that mean?" said Forry, who almost neverswore.

"I mean that Childe is the only Captain in existence. But hedoesn't know it as yet."

"Why not?"

"Because he was born half-human and raised by human parents. Because a Captain has a delicate psychic constitution and must be handleddelicately untilhe has fully matured. Childe is a fully mature man in the physicalsense, but heis a baby in regard to his psychic powers."

"Just one minute," Forry said. "I don't want to digress, but ifyou beingscan come back to material life after being killed, why haven't theseCaptainsthat were killed come back to life?"

"Some did and were killed by one side or the other because theirexistence could not be kept secret. Others never made it because conditionsweren't right. You see, if we had a Captain and a Grail, we could not only return toour home world. We could also bring all our departed comrades back intocorporeality. TheToc or Og in his pure energy-complex phase is a rather mindlessbeing. He hassome intelligence, but the main reason he gets back to matter is thathe has a drive to do so, an instinct. He wanders around until he happens tocome across a locale with the proper setup for reconverting him. And reconversiontakes a longlong time generally."

"Pardon the interruption," Forry said.

If he had not seen that transformation from middle age to youth, he would have thought he was experiencing the world's biggest hoax. But he wasconvinced. He was actually talking, face to face, with an extraterrestrial. Onethat would have made the strangest creature of science-fiction, or even those inWeird Tales magazine, rather mundane.

He thought, In a sense, she's telling me the story of theMartians and Venusians waging an underground war for control of Earth. Hugo, youshould be here! Oh, boy, if I could just flip a switch and let the sci-fi fansand the Count Dracula Society in on this!

And then he sobered. If this was true, and he believed it was, this was no mere fiction story or child's delight. It was a deadly war.

"Childe?" he said.

"Let's go back to 1788," she said. "To the birth of the male whowould become George Gordon, Lord Byron, the famous, if not great, Englishpoet. At thetime he was born, of course, no one, including us, knew that he wouldbecome world-famous. Nor did we have any way of predicting whether he wouldbecome a Captain or just another human being. Or just another Toc."

"I'm bursting with questions," he said, smiling. "But I refrain."

"He was our first birth," she said. "On Toc, where conditions areoptimum, births are very rare. That is, births from a copulation between, oramong, ourenergy configuration phases do not happen often. But then that iscounterbalanced by our lack of a death rate.

"Here on Earth, we had never succeeded in producing an infant inthe energyconfiguration. Then a Captain was reconverted into material form. Oneof us had the idea of preserving his genetic abilities in case he should getkilled, whichhe was later on. The Captain happened to be living near the Byrons atthat time, and he became the lover of Lady Byron with the purpose ofimpregnating her. There were a hundred of us, almost our full complement, gatheredtogether nearby the night she conceived George. I suppose it is the only case, exceptone, wherea hundred people copulated to produce one baby. We poured our mentalenergiesinto Lady Byron, and we succeeded. Coexisting with the fusion ofsperm and ovumwas the creation of an energy embryo. This embryo was attached, no, was fused with the body of the infant Byron. You might say that he was the onlyhuman being up to then who actually had a soul."

"Pardon me, but how did that energy embryo develop? Did it becomea separateentity or...?"

"It fuses with the nervous system and becomes one with thecorporeal entity. Not identical but similar. It survives after the death of the body.

"However, this creation of an energy baby requires muchoutpouring of energyon our part. At the same time that we were concentrating our metalenergies, wewere fucking like mad corporeally. It was probably the biggest gang- bang inhistory, if you will pardon such language, Forry dear. I know youdon't like to use dirty words or especially to hear them.

"Unfortunately, though the baby grew up to have some remarkabletalents, itdid not develop the psychic abilities of a Captain. Not that thatwould have done much good, anyway, because we did not have a Grail. But we hopedto make the metal for one; we had been creating the metal, bit by bit, overthousands of years. On Toc we could have done it in a year, but here, where theminerals are scarce and the materials for building the potentializers are evenmore rare, wetook an agonizingly long time getting what we needed. Then the Ogsmade a raid and stole what metal we had.

"They knew that Byron was to be our Captain. They moved in, became acquainted with him, and we could do little about it. Then theyabandoned him when they found out that he lacked the Captaincy.

"We were in despair for a while. But Byron still had the geneticpotentiality for a Captain, and we decided to take advantage of that. If he couldn't be a Captain, perhaps his child could be."

"Childe?" Forry said, ever alert for the chance to pun. Shenodded and said, "Exactly. We got specimens of his sperm by a method I won't go intoand froze it. Not with ice or liquid hydrogen but with an energy configuration. And we waited.

"We waited while our enemies, the Ogs, obtained more metal, enough to make aGrail. Then we chose a woman with suitable genetic qualities, humanlyspeaking, because those have to be considered, too. You wouldn't want theCaptain to be aninferior physical or mental specimen. And we deliberately settled on

Mrs. Childe because of the name. And its association with Byron, too. After all, we use human languages and so we think something like humans. Only like, notexactlyas."

"Thus, the Herald Childe from the Childe Harold?"

"If you said H-E-R-A L-D, yes. Herald. The Child that Heralds therebirth of our Toc energy ghosts, their rematerialization. And our return to thePromised Land of our native planet. The dead shall rise and we shall cross theriver Zion into the land of Beulah, if I can mix up a few quotations. You getthe idea."

"And what about Childe and the Grail?" Forry said.

Alys Merrie opened her mouth to reply, but she shut it whensomeone beat at the door and shouted

CHAPTER 33 | Image of the Beast | CHAPTER 35