"PLATO WAS ESSENTIALLY RIGHT about everything."
The words startled Jeremy out of his reverie, and he became conscious of the amiable young man, walking alongside him.
"Yes. Odd thing, that. He didn't really have all that much to go on. You have to think it was mostly blind luck."
The fellow flashed him a brief and merry smile, then frowned at nothing in particular, lost in some thought of his own.
Jeremy thought his companion looked a bit peculiar, but couldn't determine whether it was the tennis shoes and enormous scarf or the alien something in his eyes that produced the impression.
The young man's attention suddenly snapped back to Jeremy, and he wrinkled his eyebrows.
"You are Jeremy? Jeremy Smythe?"
"Yes. I am. And you are...?"
"It doesn't matter. Call me "Bones" if you like." He beamed a sunny smile. "You haven't realized, yet. Have you?"
Jeremy looked around, and noticed for the first time that they were walking along a path in a grassy field. There were others, behind them and ahead on the path, all moving in the same direction.
He wondered, first, where he was, and, almost immediately after, how he came to be there.
And then it came flooding back.
The hellish morning—one investment vanishing after another—the growing realization that he was ruined, the recognition that Dorothy would abandon him the moment she knew, the knowledge that the world would soon know about what he had done to the employees' pensions, the dull emptiness in his stomach as he had climbed the stairs to the roof, the wind at the top of the skyscraper, the moment standing on the edge...
Bones watched him with interest.
"Shock," he said. "Happens a lot. You don't remember at first, a sort of daze, really. But you've got it now."
"Where am I? Who are you?"
"You're out of the cave for the moment. I'm, well, no one at all really, in the sense you mean. I'm a form, you see. Reality. Not one of the impressions you're used to. Call me a guardian. Or, better yet, a docent. That's closer to my job at the moment."
"So this is—what? Heaven?"
"Honestly, now, that's not too likely in your case, is it?"
"I guess not."
"Lucky for you, there's no such place. Which means, of course, that there's no such place as the alternative either."
"There isn't. But there are still consequences."
"Punishments, you mean."
"Hmmmmm. Not exactly."
They reached the top of a small rise.
"Look over there."
The path curved off to the right, then back toward the left, until, in the middle distance it came to the end of the field. It wasn't clear what was beyond. Jeremy could only see the edge, and then sky.
A figure had come to the end of the path. He stood there, looking out over whatever was beyond, while his "docent" spoke. Then the docent put a hand in the middle of his back and pushed. He dropped, over the edge, and out of sight.
Jeremy turned to Bones.
"Was that an... an execution?"
"That would be a bit of overkill, wouldn't it? Sorry—bad joke. But you can't really kill somebody once they're here."