A Slight Case of Indulgence
(A Langford Joh Story)
by William Alan Rieser
One of the most startling discoveries by the Confederation's League of Sentients was the existence of Enclat, a system in the center of the galaxy that took them by complete surprise. It had been used as a pleasure planet by diverse species for centuries, but no one knew why it exhibited the fantastic features it displayed until examined in detail by Confederation scientists. Until that time, a species desiring almost any kind of relaxation, including sport, sexual fantasy, war games for devising strategy and tactics or simply uninterrupted dreams, would arrive at Enclat expecting a unique and satisfying experience. Some species tried to keep the place a secret, but it was too marvelous for such privacy to endure. Not only could an entity resurrect his dreams, but he, she or it could do it in its own natural atmosphere and they could all be engaged simultaneously without interfering with one another.
The mystery could not last, however, and the suspicions of some scientists proved accurate, that there were one or more hidden intellects involved capable of reading and acting upon the thoughts of visitors. That it would turn out to be a single creature was nearly beyond credibility, a being of such massive thought and benevolence that its reality nearly stimulated chaos throughout the sentient corridor.
But there it was, at the center of the planet's core, the Enclat. And when finally confronted by a group of determined fact-finders, it admitted what it had been doing furtively for eons, reading the thoughts of others, creating huge, believable apparitions from alien memories and offering a short-term paradise for any entity who wished to indulge. Visitors need only have the ability to dream to participate in the Enclat's magnificent displays. It could produce the most complex structures, the most beautiful scenery, and the most pleasing sights for any number of supplicants. All they had to do was conceive a dream.
So everyone knew about the Enclat and appreciated it for what it was. That is, everyone except Langford Joh, who didn't require stimulation. The Enclat was one of the few creatures he consulted before delving into oddities in the galaxy, checking to see if it might know of something that had eluded others. At times, he would discuss alien moralities with the creature, and decided its fiber was probably similar to the superiority of the Prail. But he detected something peculiar in the Enclat's thinking process one day and decided to ask Nadirian about it.
"I can't be certain, but I think the Enclat has developed a small neurosis," he said.
"Do you know what the Enclat is? Have you asked him?"
"No. Would he tell me?"
"He has no reason to hide it. He is the end product of a unique species. Like the Prail, he is very much the culmination of evolution. Unlike the Prail, he chose a physical path, whereas the Prail chose pure energy forms."
"I don't understand."
"The Enclat found a method to combine their intellects into a communal brain. They discovered the maximum concentration to be 1,185,921 souls. More than that and no enclosure could hold them adequately and they would go mad. Less had the same result. What you see now is a single, combined being, the ultimate individual."
"There is something my sensors are telling me about that number."
"It is the square of 1,089, Langford."
"Oh yes, the magic number that galactic mathematicians have been struggling to solve for endless lags. I remember. Take three different digits, reverse them, subtract the smaller from the larger, reverse the result, sum the two, and they always equal 1,089, no matter what configuration."
"Correct. But the Enclat solved it by physically becoming what it represents, the eventual, final intellect."
"But there is more. The Prail also discovered a flaw. By being what it is, nurturing thoughts and creating images, it has trained itself to develop its telepathic powers to the extent you have seen. What it has not done is given itself what you would call a system of checks and balances. In other words, if someone introduces dark or evil ideas, it will use every neuron of its capability to see that the dream becomes true for the thinker, even to the point of being destructive."
"It hasn't done that."
"No, because no one has had the effrontery yet to plague the Enclat with anything other than desirable, pleasant concepts. The Prail believe that the creature is capable of going insane if abused by a psychotic or malevolent personality. It abandoned such thinking long ago and may not recognize the threat, but it exists. All it might take is just one bad thought to begin a chain reaction. If that happens, it is hard to predict the outcome. The Prail are of the opinion that it will self-destruct, rather than harm other species. Personally, I feel it could do a great deal of damage before it reaches that conclusion."
"I see. Barring some kind of brain surgery, is there another way to help it?"
"Not in my vision nor the Prail's."
"It's another test for me, isn't it?"
* * *
Ironically, it was an Earth visitor who triggered the alteration bringing about the great change. The new Queen of England wanted to fulfill a fantasy of her own, without the participation of her Consort. She felt entitled to a vacation and had a desire to fulfill a certain whim, denied her on Earth. But Enclat had no difficulty in conjuring a medieval castle, replete with period accouterments, knights in armor, ladies in waiting, ornate apparel, and even a Sir Lancelot to entertain the queen privately in her bedchamber. Her lust, having been rather satisfied, the queen then imagined a satanic incubus to rid her of her imaginary lover, so as to remove any possible rumor or suspicion of their illicit tryst. She then returned to Earth in a distinctly joyous mood.
For some incomprehensible reason, the incubus remained in Enclat's enormous memory to affect another visitor. This was a different queen, from distant Acerus. Her dream was not dissimilar to that of the English monarch. And at the appropriate moment, Enclat automatically reproduced the incubus. This time, however, it did away with the queen.
All activity on Enclat abruptly ceased.
* * *
"I know why you are here, Langford," moaned Enclat. "I remember our talks about morality and have already engaged myself in analyzing every engram, synapse, and neuron for a physical anomaly. I have found nothing."
"I suspected that was your reason for shutting down. Have you considered psychoanalysis? I wouldn't presume to assist such a complicated being as yourself, but surely you are capable of doing it."
"I haven't tried, yet. I've been attempting to resurrect her, but my powers have failed me for the first time."
"As predicted by the Prail. They have told me that the flaw is inherent in all corporeal forms. There may not be anything observable physically."
"So I have seen. I have ended a life form, Langford. That specifically opposes my reason for existence which, as you know, is to cherish life and beautify it."
"I am aware of that. I am so sorry for this, Enclat."
"Thank you for your concern, Langford. I will dwell, as you suggest, on finding the psychological error, if I can."
"Then I will leave you in peace and wish you good luck."
* * *
On Manic, Langford received a transmission from Enclat.
"The Prail are correct to have chosen energy forms. Surely they must have experimented, even as I, and experienced failure. I don't blame them for not warning me, because the lesson is too involved without having endured its intimacy. Perhaps this was simply a final step in the evolution and I will now become like them. That is my wish. Farewell."
The planet Enclat was seen to undergo an alteration not unlike the glittering radiance of a nova. When at last the environment cooled, Confederation scientists returned to examine what had happened.
The terrain yielded an unbelievable variety of natural amusements that duplicated the most scenic vistas of virtually every planet in the Confederation. There were exquisite waterfalls and oceans, like those of Earth; gorgeous jewel-encrusted caverns like the cathedrals of Cygnus; multitudes of lava baths and streams of singing magma, like the volcanic fountains of the Tunkati. Each species was represented by something magnificent from their own worlds and none were neglected.
The greeting stone, where prior visitors once announced their presence to Enclat, spoke to them. At one's approach, a private message resounded in the visitor's mind, regardless of the thousands of languages known to the League of Sentients. It said:
"Welcome all beings and enjoy this place in peace."
On that day, when the Confederation learned of Enclat's wonderful sacrifice, Langford Joh mourned.
Story © 2003 by William Alan Rieser firstname.lastname@example.org
Artwork © 2003 by Alain Valet email@example.com
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