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"The trick is not becoming a writer. The trick is staying a writer. Day after month after year after story after book."
- Harlan Ellison

Automatic City  
  A city designed to protect itself and maintain itself over millions of years.  

The ancient alien city of Lemnos was well able to maintain itself for the long term - millions of years. Earthman Dick Mueller was its only inhabitant.

It surprised him that so much of the city should have survived. Archaeologists had concluded, from a study of the artifacts and skeletons found on Lemnos outside the maze, that there had been no intelligent life here for upward of a million years—perhaps five or six million. Muller was only an amateur archaeologist, but he had had enough field experience to know the effects of the passing of time. The fossils in the plain were clearly ancient, and the stratification of the city’s outer walls showed that the labyrinth was contemporary with those fossils.

Yet most of the city, supposedly built before the evolution of mankind on Earth, appeared untouched by the ages. The dry weather could account in part for that; there were no storms here, and rain had not fallen since Muller’s arrival. But wind and windblown sand could carve walls and pavements over a million years, and there was no sign of such carving here. Nor had sand accumulated in the open streets of the city. Muller knew why. Hidden pumps collected all debris, keeping everything spotless. He had gathered handfuls of soil from the garden plots, scattering little trails here and there. Within minutes the driblets of soil had begun to slither across the polished pavement, vanishing into slots that opened briefly and closed again at the intersection of buildings and ground.

Evidently beneath the city lay a network of inconceivable machinery—imperishable caretaker devices that guarded the city against the tooth of time. Muller had not been able to reach that network, though. He lacked the equipment for breaching the pavement; it seemed invulnerable at all points. With improvised tools he had begun to dig in the garden areas, hoping to reach the sub-city that way, but though he had driven one pit more than a dozen feet and another even deeper he had come upon no signs of anything below but more soil. The hidden guardians had to be there, however: the instruments that operated the viewing tanks, swept the streets, repaired the masonry, and controlled the murderous traps that studded the outer zones of the labyrinth.

It was hard to imagine a race that could build a city of this sort —a city designed to last millions of years. It was harder still to imagine how they could have vanished. Assuming that the fossils found in the burial yards outside the walls were those of the builders—not necessarily a safe assumption—this city had been put together by burly humanoids a meter and a half tall, immensely thick through the chest and shoulders, with long cunning fingers, eight to the hand, and short double-jointed legs.

They were gone from the known worlds of the universe, and nothing like them had been found in any other system; perhaps they had withdrawn to some far galaxy yet unvisited by man. Or, possibly, they had been a nonspacegoing race that evolved and perished right here on Lemnos, leaving this city as their only monument...

Had they been invaded by beings for whom the maze posed no problems, and had they been slaughtered in their own sleek streets, and had the mechanical wardens swept away the bones? No way of knowing. They were gone. Muller, entering their city, had found it silent, desolate, as if it had never sheltered life; an automatic city, sterile, flawless. Only beasts occupied it. They had had a million years to find their way through the maze and take possession. Muller had counted some two dozen species of mammals in all sizes from rat-equivalent to elephant-equivalent. There were grazers who munched on the city’s gardens, and hunters who fed on the herbivores, and the ecological balance seemed perfect. The city in the maze was like unto Isaiah’s Babylon: wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there.

The city was his now.

From The Man in the Maze, by Robert Silverberg.
Published by Avon Books in 1969
Additional resources -

The city was also able to protect itself:

In [concentric zones] H and G he had seen the remains of great dragon-like creatures, still clad in the shreds of spacesuits. Some day curiosity might triumph over fear and he might go back out there for a second look at them. Closer to the core lay an assortment of life-forms, mostly humanoid but veering from the standard structure. How long ago they had come here, Muller could not guess; even in this dry climate, would exposed skeletons last more than a few centuries? The galactic litter was a sobering reminder of something Muller already adequately knew: that despite the experience of man’s first two centuries of extrasolar travel, in which no living intelligent alien race was encountered, the universe was full of other forms of life, and sooner or later man would meet them. The boneyard on Lemnos contained relics of at least a dozen different races. It flattered Muller’s ego to know that he alone, apparently, had reached the heart of the maze; but it did not cheer him to think of the diversity of peoples in the universe. He had already had his fill of galactics.

The inconsistency of finding the litter of bones within the maze did not strike him for several years. The mechanisms of the city, he knew, cleaned relentlessly, tidying up everything from particles of dust to the bones of the animals on whom he fed. Yet the skeletons of would-be invaders of the maze were allowed to remain where they lay. Why the violation of neatness? Why cart away the corpse of a dead elephant-like beast that had blundered into a power snare, and leave the remains of a dead dragon killed by the same snare? Because the dragon wore protective clothing, and so was sapient? Sapient corpses were deliberately allowed to remain, Muller realized.

As warnings. ABANDON ALL HOPE, YE WHO ENTER HERE.

Those skeletons were part of the psychological warfare waged against all intruders by this mindless, deathless, diabolical city. They were reminders of the perils that lurked everywhere. How the guardian drew the subtle distinction between bodies that should be left in situ and those that should be swept away, Muller did not know; but he was convinced that the distinction was real.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Man in the Maze
  More Ideas and Technology by Robert Silverberg
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