It was a brilliant summer’s day. A benevolent sun looked down from a cloudless sky to witness the very special event which was about to unfold.
A dais had been erected at the bridgehead to accommodate the Members of the Presidium and their guests. Above them, and all over the city, helicopters hovered, armed with batteries of cameras, while below, at strategic points all over the city, huge screens had been set up to relay scenes from other areas of Urbis.
Around them, crowds had gathered in festive mood, many with picnic feasts spread among the rubble. The crowds were themselves a testimony to Gus’ genius. These were men and women upon whom the war had taken a terrible toll. But there was not a scar to be seen on any face, still less a truncated limb, and not a soul among them required an artificial aid to enable him or her to move about. Further, irrespective of their date of birth, all present appeared to be in the bloom of youth: there was no trace of wrinkles, grey hairs or sagging paunches. Moreover, the debilitating diseases which might be expected in the cross section of any population were also remarkable by their absence.
Simone had masterminded the distribution across the city of Gus’ micro-machines for internal consumption, and once the word had been passed around that these tiny devices could work miracles for the sick and the healthy alike, the demand had been insatiable. But the most fundamental capacity of Gus’ creations was their ability to replicate themselves at an astonishing rate, and so supply had been well able to keep up with demand. The result was the unprecedented gathering of perfect human specimens.
In one corner of the dais, Gus sat fussing over a laptop. He had fed into his nanocomputers a veritable mountain of data, and now he was picking through it at random, making the occasional last minute modification. He was immensely grateful to Simone for taking on the donkey work of his `public health programme’, as he liked to think of it, leaving him free to fine tune today’s event.
Mickey Fitzwinn’s plans had won the approval both of his superiors on the planning committee and of the Presidium itself, and they had been passed to Gus for programming. Fitzwinn’s model had proposed 500,000 as being the maximum population desirable in any city, and so the vast megalopolis of Urbis had devolved into nineteen mini-cities, each of approximately that size. Sector one was to retain the name Urbis, while all the others had been given new names, such as Trencher Town, Marchetti, Crispin City, and Chapman Heights.
At eleven o’clock, Lyall stood up, resplendent in a ceremonial robe of pale blue, his usually unruly hair tamed, trimmed and oiled at Greta’s insistence, and his chest puffed up with pride. Above him, the cameras zoomed in to capture his every gesture for posterity. They saw him nervously lick his lips as he surveyed the crowd before him.
“Fellow Urbians, welcome.” His voice was strong, but taut with emotion. “We have endured much privation these past few years. We have been at each other’s throats. We have lost our loved ones. We have, in essence, lost the city that has been home to us. A few of you have found a new world in the country beyond the mountains, and I dare say that in time some of you will make your homes there permanently. But most will stay here. For this is the place we have known. But it has changed radically, torn apart by war. And today, as you watch, it will change again, a hundred times more radically, but this time for the better. For today is the day that we reward ourselves. Today is the first day of a new life for all of us who have given so much simply to survive.”
He looked around, beckoning to Gus to come forward. Clutching his laptop, which had a small transmitter attached, Gus stepped forward.
“This quiet man, Gus Trencher, will today perform a miracle. He will transform the world. Nearly all of you have already received treatment from him for injuries received during the fighting, mutations caused by the radiation, handicaps and diseases deemed incurable by the regular medical services. Still others have received, ah, cosmetic treatment. I might add that this has all been at a minimal cost, one which has been borne by the Presidium.” Lyall was learning the art of the politician, learning to capitalise on his party’s achievements whenever possible. “His microscopic robots, entering your bloodstream, have sought out damaged tissue, repaired cells molecule by molecule, neutralising infections before you were even aware that you had them. Almost any injury may be healed this way, including most that were hitherto deemed fatal. I want you to think about this very carefully, ladies and gentlemen. It is not the primary purpose of our being here today to dwell on this side of Gus’ work, but it is something, the ramifications of which will pervade every aspect of our lives, and which we will have to contend with over time. What Augustus Trencher has done is to render human beings well nigh immortal. Barring catastrophic accidents, death is no longer on the agenda. We will have to think very, very carefully about what this means.”
He paused for breath, and signalled for Gus to take over.
“Thank you, Lyall,” said Gus speaking with the reticence of an academic blinking in the unfamiliar limelight. “Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. I asked Lyall to speak on my behalf, as I’m not brilliant at communicating. I take the liberty of leaving it to others to explain what I’m about. Nevertheless, I am privileged to be among you today, and to be permitted to put my invention, which I call nanotechnology, to work in a way which I hope will be of benefit to all. Before I do so, I would like to offer my thanks, my heartfelt thanks, to Lyall, the Members of the Presidium, members of the Underground, and most of all to my darling Simone, for making this dream a reality. Ladies and gentlemen, Lyall has explained to you some of the possibilities of this new technology. There are still more that will come to fruition shortly. Among these will be the ability not only to repair physical damage, as you will observe in a moment, but also to put right some more intangible wrongs. Prior to the outbreak of fighting, some of my colleagues were engaged upon an examination of our environment, and were disturbed by the degredation being caused by our activities. The levels of heavy metals and other toxics out there in the bay have risen alarmingly in recent years. Meanwhile, our industrial processes are also polluting our air with carbon dioxide. Nanomachines will soon begin the process of detoxifying the bay, breaking down harmful chemicals into their more innocuous component parts, and removing the heavy metals to a safe place. Solar-powered nanomachines will also have the capacity to extract carbon dioxide from the air in the same way that trees do, and split off the oxygen for recycling.” He paused and smiled. “But I could go on talking about this all day. Let’s get things moving, shall we?”
He braced the machine on his left arm. His right index finger hovered over the `Enter’ button. He took a deep breath and jabbed.
The first sensation to be felt was akin to a benevolent earthquake. It was as if the entire skin of the earth was puckering, trembling as an undreamt of force permeated it. All the city was on tenterhooks.
Then the miracle became visible. Like an immense, slow-motion fireworks display, ruins were transformed into an architectural wonderland. Unlike fireworks, however, these creations did not fade, but would endure for so long as those who used them wished them to.
Gus had seen it all before on his computer, but the two dimensional representations paled in comparison with the real thing. He had recruited every architect who could be found in a search that had scoured the city, and they had been given free rein to come up with whatever fantasies they chose, and the results had all been channelled into the master programme.
Some were like crystals, assymetrical spires and extravagant walls of glass, domes and cones like bell jars surmounting other fanciful towers within. Others were more organic in their derivation, featuring plethoras of pods, spirals that owed their inspiration to the whorls within whorls to be found within seashells. Elsewhere were walls and banks reminiscent of cascades and towering ocean waves, and elsewhere still were magnificent curvaceous bridges and fantastic flying buttresses so slender it was hard to tell if they served a structural purpose or were merely decorative. Within and among the buildings were watercourses, winding their way about through chains of basins, spouts, ponds that were contrived to hang in mid-air, and stunning waterfalls that leapt from great heights or spurted from unexpected alcoves. Magnificent greenery sprouted everywhere, sometimes with a building growing around it, sometimes springing in absurd profusion from an orifice in the face of some fabulous tower. And all was pervaded with a sense of light and space.
Between the cities, the transportation links, the freeways and the rail lines, ran through superb parkland, sometimes clearly contrived and landscaped, but more often resembling untrammelled nature, with thick forests, open grassland and lush, exotic ferneries.
The developments did not stop short at the boundaries of old Urbis. In the mountains, solid rock evaporated to give rise to tunnels carrying roads and railway tracks through to the country beyond, rendering the labours of Crispin’s army irrelevent at a stroke. In the wilderness, the roads and the railways came to an abrupt halt, waiting, almost tremulously, for a future command to spring forth in a network that would bind the new cities to the smallest, remotest hamlet of Crispin’s country.
The cameras worked overtime, poring over each new apparition while the audiences gathered around the screens oohed and aahed in rapture, pausing only when their own immediate surroundings became transformed, and they felt the tremors in the ground beneath their feet, and some unimaginable new wonder rose up around them.
The speed of the change was sometimes alarming. Occasionally the crowds feared that something might thrust its way through the ground directly beneath them. But Gus had been meticulous in locating the giant screens where he intended public places to be, and the only changes the onlookers experienced directly beneath them were from dirt to lawn or terrazzo.
For those gathered on and about the dais, it was hard to know which was the more mind-boggling: the nature of the transformation or the speed at which it was taking place. It seemed no time at all had passed before Gus turned to Lyall and said softly: “That’s it. The show’s over.”
Lyall did not react immediately. When Gus’ words finally sank in, and he realised that the metamorphosis was in fact complete, he remained, lost in mute contemplation of the edifice nearest at hand for some minutes further before attempting again to address the populace.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he sighed, “welcome to your new home.”
The exultation reached fever pitch. The wine was flowing, and an atmosphere of carnival was spreading. It would not die down for many days.
“There are two simple announcements I would like to make,” Lyall continued. “One is that the name Urbis now applies only to the city that has hitherto been known as sector one.” He gestured out across the shining water behind him. “Each new city has a name. We have therefore settled on a new name for the entire region formerly occupied by Urbis. Henceforth it will be known as Urbana.”
“Urbana.” Some nine million tongues tested it simultaneously, liked the way it sounded, and approved.
“The second announcement is that this date is now very special in the history of our people. Last year, it marked the end of the old regime, and today, on the anniversary, we have witnessed an indescribable new beginning. One man has been at the centre of this whirlwind of change. His efforts on our behalf have been nothing short of heroic. His name is Crispin, and we of the Presidium wish to hereby declare this day Crispin’s Day, which will be an annual public holiday throughout Urbana.”
The cheering rose to a crescendo.
Josie turned to Crispin, her eyes glistening with pride. She drew him into a loving hug and kissed him long and hard. “Well, hero,” she sighed, as she let him draw breath, “what have you got to say?”
Crispin looked at her with a broad grin and a quizzical glint in his eye. “What’s a holiday?”
Josie stared at him. She could not tell if he was joking or serious. But it was of no consequence. Either way, she was determined that she would give him the holiday of his life.
End of ‘Urbis Rising’.
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