Necessity (Thessaly #3) - Jo Walton



I have lived for a very long time however you measure it, but I never grew old before. I aged from birth to adulthood and stayed there, poised in the full power of glorious immortality. The mortal body I had taken up to experience and understand the joys and sorrows of human life aged as other mortal bodies age. My son Phaedrus, like my older son Asklepios, had healing powers. Our City had begun with a generation of ten-year-olds, and as our bodies aged he was kept permanently busy. Even with all he could do for us, aging was an undignified and uncomfortable process. Souls grow and flower and do not decline, so each mortal life inevitably ends with soaring souls enclosed in withered failing bodies. While death is necessary for rebirth, I could find neither necessity nor benefit in this slow ebbing of vitality.

I died on the day the first human spaceship contacted Plato. After that, I did all the things I’d been promising myself I’d do once I was back to my proper self. I established the laurel wreath as a symbol of poetic victory, in memory of Daphne. Then I spent a little while assembling the chronicles of the City—weaving together Maia’s journals with Simmea’s and Arete’s, and composing a memoir of my own brief but intense period of mortality. Then I settled down to study sun formation, beginning with my own suns, naturally. Once I’d started looking into it, I became fascinated with the whole process. The song of suns, the dance of gravity and hydrogen, the interplay of radiation and magnetism and heat, the excitement of the symphonic moment when it all comes together and fusion begins—I never tire of it.

I can’t say how long I spent alone studying the birth of suns. I was outside time, and when I went into time, it was a time aeons before the evolution of life. It’s normal for me to live outside time, and step into it as and where I choose. The years I spent incarnate in the Just City were the exception. Then days and years unfolded in inevitable and unchangeable sequence. My more usual experience is personally sequential, but entirely separate from time, human time, history. I could go off and study stellar nurseries in the early days of the universe for as long as I liked without neglecting any duties. I could pay attention to my duties afterwards, they’d still be there. I could be aware of a prayer, watch the entire sequence of a sun being formed, and then respond to that prayer in the same moment it was uttered. (Not that I pay any more attention to the constant dinning of prayer than any other god. That’s only an example.) I can’t be in time in the same moment twice, but that’s not much of a hardship, usually, because time splits up into extremely small increments. Despite being the god of prophecy, I don’t know my own personal future any more than anyone else. I know what happens in time, more or less, depending on how much attention I’ve paid to it, exactly the same as you might know what happens in history—some of it sharp, some of it fuzzy.

Studying sunbirth was good for me. It was a relief to be on my own and not have to worry about other people and their significance. It was good to be able to focus completely on a fascinating and abstract subject and forget about Plato for a while—both the philosopher and the planet. I loved my children, and I loved Plato and the