Fifth in a monthly series of excerpts from The Book of All Cities.
Ylla's Choice is a spherical city of several million. Its bonsai gardeners should be famous throughout the galaxy; its actors orate well; its corridors are clean, and through the shielded glass windows of a marvelous design, the glowing swirl of gas outside is beautiful.
Its citizens continually register their political opinions, and the city reconfigures itself to allow each inhabitant to be ruled according to the system he or she believes in. Almost the only violence in Ylla's Choice is among the poets, for the Formalists and the Tragicals often come to blows.
It is true that, due to its peculiar situation, the city is of strictly limited size. A less sophisticated polity might require some coercive sort of population control. But in practice, the membership of the Uncontrolled Breeding Party is always a small fringe; the Tragical poets provide a continual advertisement for the virtues of Death; and those who do procreate usually wait until the semicentennial Generation Year, so that their children can go to school together.
The teachers at the Children's School have found that it is wise not to reveal the particular situation of Ylla's Choice too soon, or the children may suffer from depression in adolescence -- a time when they naturally long for travel, adventure, and upheaval, and yearn to escape their calm and moderate city. Only when the students have understood quantum astrophysics, the dance of topology and time; only when they have understood the war, poverty, hatred, and violence still found -- forever found -- on places far from Ylla's Choice; only when they have learned the story of Ylla, whose advances in computational social science allowed for a society free of the evils of history -- only then are they told the truth.
They learn that Ylla's design for a perfect society worked only for a closed system of a certain size. In any open system, according to her simulations, some outside force -- war or revolution elsewhere, barbarians at the gates, the plagues and weapons that are the natural result of expansionist societies -- would always destroy her dream.
But Ylla found a way to keep her city safe from all that, safe from solar flares and stray comets, safe from any future cataclysm, no matter how great.
The students, when they learn the final lesson of the Children's School, are taken to the shielded window to look into the glowing swirl of charged gas that surrounds and powers Ylla's Choice. And there they are shown the marvelous machines that protect their city from the tidal forces below. For Ylla's Choice is not in orbit: it is falling straight into the beam of the strange pulsar Yoruba-7, into its great burst, not only of electromagnetic radiation, but also of chronons, the quantum particles of time. It is these chronons, surging through the city and its inhabitants, that give the city its leisurely ages of history. Because the chronons so dramatically exaggerate their experience of time, the torrent of energy surging from the chronopulsar appears to the inhabitants of Ylla's Choice as a gentle and nurturing cloud of light.
The students learn that, on Earth, it is 10:47:58.2734 p.m. UTC, August 22, 2369. And it always will be. For at 10:47:58.2735 p.m. of that same day on Earth, long after their furthest descendants have led full and happy lives in the perfect city, Ylla's Choice will be torn apart in an instant by the pulsar's burst.
Copyright © 2001 Benjamin Rosenbaum
Image © 2000 Lee Moyer.
Benjamin Rosenbaum lives in Basel, Switzerland, with his wife and baby daughter, where in addition to scribbling fiction and poetry, he programs in Java (well) and plays rugby (not very well). He attended the Clarion West Writers' Workshop in 2001 (the Sarong-Wearing Clarion). His work has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and Writer Online. His previous appearances in Strange Horizons can be found in our Archive. For more about him, see his Web site.