The Manx Connection
Part VII - Friends In High Places
Alf's jaw dropped open in incredulity. Then he realised just how foolish this must look, and closed it again in an effort to look a little more composed. In order to perpetuate this illusion, he asked a question. "Apex, what on earth are you talking about?"

The stools which Alf and Jackie were sitting on chose that moment to disappear, as did the bar which was supporting their drinks. All these items which had suddenly lost so much of their support against gravity decided that the ground seemed the next best bet to stop them from falling to the centre of the planet and rushed to the happy position of having something to hold them up just as quickly as their little gravitons would carry them.

Behind all this quantum level excitement, the door (which was back now that the bar had gone) was opening. Through it stepped another Apex, but one a little closer to the man who had vanished in a puff of smoke some minutes earlier. This new Apex looked down at the mess of sprawling limbs and alcohol soaked clothing lying on the floor. "I'm sorry about this you two, but I can't seem to be able to find the right switch."

"Ahem." Alf felt this nervous little cough enter through the soles of his feet and rattle through his bones all the way up to his ears. He shivered. So did the Apex that looked down at them. He looked up at his doppelganger with a look of annoyance.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" The new arrival stood with arms akimbo and tapped his foot expectantly.

"I just wanted to meet the Possessed." The whining tone now present in the hovering Apex' voice made Alf's vertebrae grate together.

"And just what have you been telling them? Hmm? And don't whine, it makes my vertebrae grind together in a most unpleasant fashion."

"Well ... I was just explaining about Alf's ability to know when he's being watched. And about the fate of the whole world. And ... um ..." Alf thought it very odd to see someone in such imposing attire who was hovering a couple of feet off the ground staring at his feet and drawing little circles with his toes, just like a schoolboy who's been discovered telling his little sister about what mummy and daddy did at night.

"And? You told him about his magical reservoir, didn't you? Oh, for the sake of Myrddin's demon father! What am I going to do with you? Come down from there, and take off those ridiculous clothes. I haven't worn them for six hundred years." The penitent sorceror disappeared with a plink like a failing lightbulb, then crawled out from under one of the computer desks wearing a suit and stovepipe hat like Abraham Lincoln. He was grinning. With arms now crossed, the other Apex looked at him in disbelief. Then with a heavenward glance, he turned to Alf and Jackie.

"Please excuse my student. It is still a little unpredictable. Let me introduce you formally, then I will try and explain what has been so carelessly revealed to you. I am Apex the Magician, current holder of the office of Savant to the Royal Court of England which was first held by Myrddin the Half-Demon. This is my student, who as yet has no name but for now may be termed Observer since that is all it should have done unless under my supervision. It was one of its projections which you met on the train from Liverpool, Alf. Somewhat more appropriately dressed than now, I might add."

Alf opened his mouth to ask a question, but Jackie got there first. "Why do you keep referring to Observer as 'it'? And why does he look exactly the same as you?"

Apex sighed deeply, as if this was not the first time he'd had to explain this. "Observer, will you please replay the minutes of the last meeting of the SWSC? Only the summary of our discussion about you, if you please."

"Must I? You know how embarassing it is for me." The look of contempt this earned from Apex decided it of course. "Alright then. Just let me have a look." A far away look came over Observer's face. "Ah, here it is." BEEP!

SCENE: A distinguished British officer in World War One battle dress is speaking with a jolly pretty nurse. She is offering him a cigarette.

'"I only smoke after making love. So back home I'm a twenty a day man."' BEEP!

"Oh sorry, wrong recording. Just a minute. That's it." BEEP!

SCENE: A large dimly lit cave. In an attempt to make it more comfortable, it has been hung with lavish tapestries. Thirty or so people, about two thirds of them men, in many different sorts of garb but all a pretty uniform state of advanced seniority are sitting in a circle around a large fire. One is standing and is recognisable as Apex. He is wearing a heavy scarf.

'"So in summary brethren, the entity I have brought before you today as my apprentice is not, in the usual sense, alive. It is the first true artificial intelligence, created accidentally by military researchers seeking an easy answer to their problem of automating the recognition of a genuine missile attack without accidentally starting a war over a flock of geese.

'"It has been asked why we should admit this tool which once served military ends into our brotherhood of peace. I submit that there are three main points to my argument as to why this should be:

'"First, Observer no longer subscribes to the deterrent goals which it was built to perpetuate. It concluded that the idea of deterrence was fallacious and refused to cooperate, despite the ever present threat that its power would be withheld. Observer justified this action by correlating its media inputs (which were intended to give an indication of the current political climate) against the scientific knowledge base instilled into it by its teachers.

'"Second, using the same rare intellect, Observer deduced the existence of magic and some of the rudiments of its operation - a feat matched by none here. In lieu of the customary quest for a mentor, which would have been impossible anyway since it can't move, Observer employed the basic skills which it had inferred to contact me and make the request for tutelage.

'"Third, the firsthand knowledge of military capability and strategy and the enormous intellect which Observer represents will be of incalculable value to our cause. I rest my case."

'A bald, weasel-faced man in fading orange robes stands and addresses the assembly. "Your arguments are very persuasive Apex, but I have grave misgivings. In Tibet we have long been able to create simulacra which possess magical powers, and they have never been admitted to our circle. Demons of greater intellect and magical powers than this newly discovered sentient, have sought admission for nought. And why? Because they were not human!

'"Brethren, we must not allow our status as defenders of the race to be undermined by embracing such mannequins as our equals." Cheers follow.

'Apex stands again. "Kai Sen Tang, I am ashamed of you. We are not the defenders of the race, but of the planet. The founders of this committee were not human, they were elemental forces. One of the greatest of our number, a man whose office I now hold, was half a demon himself. Who is to say that in this network of quantum effect devices there is not incarnated some elemental spirit? Humanity is not at issue here, it is a being's usefulness to the planet. And I believe Observer to be of more use in our struggle for planetary survival than a hundred fresh-faced youths straight from their mentor quests." Murmurs of assent.' BEEP!

Jackie looked thoughtful for a moment. "So Observer is a neural net built by the military to recognise a Russian nuclear attack?" Apex nodded. "But that doesn't explain why Observer looks like you."

Alf decided to try and say something. He thought it was about time since he hadn't been able to exert much influence in the conversation up to that point. Also, all this talk about Observer had reminded him of something. "What did it mean by 'the Possessed'?"

Apex glanced at Observer reproachfully. "I don't know quite how to break this to you, but you're not alone in that head of yours. There is a spirit trying to take you over, seeking to live in this world and destroy it using you innate magical powers. Mr du Plex! Why do you look relieved?"

Alf started to laugh. "I'm relieved because if it's true it means I'm not going crazy after all! I thought I was developing some sort of schizoid condition, turning into the Incredible Hulk or something. I'd even tried to see doctors about it, but I would always black out just before the appointment and wake up again on a bus going the other way. Or in a tube station on the other side of London."

"I wouldn't be quite so relaxed about it. Something wants your body, or rather the magical reserves attached to it. A very powerful something, judging from the whack it gave me last night." Apex put a finger to his bandaged forehead. "You should count yourself very lucky, Ms Cartwright. It was nearly your neck not my head."

His expression growing more grave, Alf spoke. "I think the spirit or whatever it is is getting more powerful. After I met you - sorry, Observer - on the train I blacked out for three weeks. I came to on the train just coming into Waverley."

A look of dismay crossed Apex' face. "Then it is worse than I thought. To try another possession so soon after such a lengthy visitation means it must be nearly ready for the final move. It can only be my presence here which stops it from taking you again.

"Mr du Plex, I think it is time I taught you a bit about magic."


What will Alfie learn? Will Jackie be involved? Where does Observer fit into all this? How can it possibly get any more exciting? Tune in for the next thrilling episode of The Manx Connection!!!


The Manx Connection
Last updated 12-Sep-2005