Seventh in a monthly series of excerpts from The Book of All Cities.
The guiding intelligence of New(n-1) Pernch is every citizen's friend and counselor, mediating disputes, guiding a citizen's choice of career, singing infants to sleep with a lullaby.
If differences of philosophy or politics emerge that cannot be resolved, or if a tragedy occurs and some citizens no longer want to live where they are reminded of it, the guiding intelligence will counsel them to emigrate, and found New(n) Pernch on some other world.
The voyage is long, with endless empty stretches and harrowing adventures. The founders of New(n) Pernch grow wise and hardened, tested by their travails. They rely on each other.
Eventually a bountiful world is found, a site is chosen, and the city is built. With the founders' wonderful machines, it takes only a few days.
There is only one thing the machines cannot build, and that is the guiding intelligence of the new city. For the guiding intelligence must be wise and kind and human. It must love New(n) Pernch and its people. And wisdom and love cannot be manufactured; they must be won. No safe and static automaton can win them, regardless of how much it observes, but only a being in a vulnerable body, with its own particular hope and lust and guilt, its own failures and redemptions.
The voyagers elect the wisest and kindest among them, and she is put to sleep and given to the machines, which eat her body.
In later years, the children of the founders of New(n) Pernch will rely on the wisdom and humility of their city's guiding intelligence. They will ask its advice, demand its services, and complain about its limitations, with the arrogance of those accustomed to being taken care of. They will regard it as senile sentimentality when their parents stay up all night talking to the spirit of their city; when sometimes, in the mornings, their parents' eyes are full of tears.
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.