PHIL COULDN'T REMEMBER what he had been thinking about, what had been so completely absorbing.
He simply became suddenly aware of the gleaming whiteness surrounding him, the intense cold, and the incredible sense of speed.
He realized, in that split second, that he had no idea where he was.
A profound sense of dread and urgency swept through him.
He had to slow down, get his bearings before...
But it was too late.
Before he could react he went over the edge of a rise and found himself flying through the air.
He instinctively leaned into good jump form, his skis in the correct position, but it didn't matter.
The tree rushed at him, and he hit it before he hit the ground.
No hot, no cold.
No sights, no sounds, no scent.
No sense of movement, of comfort or discomfort.
Even the voice was not a sound. It was more like a thought—only Phil was not the thinker.
"Hold on," It said. "Just need to... There. You'll be stable for a while, now. Can you hear me all right?"
Phil gave a sort of mental nod.
"Good." The voice smiled. "Don't do this often."
"Debriefing like this. You're sort of a random sample. Well, not completely random, of course. There are reasons..."
"Where am I?"
"Not anywhere that matters, really. That is, from your point of view it's all over, isn't it?"
"All over? You mean life? You mean I'm dead?"
"Oh yes. You didn't know?"
"How would I know?"
"Quite right. Silly of me. How would you? Sorry."
"So there's absolutely no chance..."
"Of sending you back? That sort of thing? Afraid not. Not how it works, you know. But of course you don't know, do you? There I go again. Got to stop that..."
"Who are you?"
"Phwoosh! That's a tough one. Who am I? Indeed. Hmrph. Forgotten that one. Probably one reason it's been so long..."
"Been so long?"
"Since the last... debriefing. Put them off, you see. Uncomfortable sometimes. Questions... Don't always know just how to..."
"Are you God?"