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."
"He was being sent back. To Earth."
"Is that going to happen to me, as well?"
"Then I survived the fall?"
"Survived? Oh, no. No-no-no-no-no... No. You were—ahhhh—they had to... Oh Arghhh!"
"Are you okay?"
"Sorry. Nasty image. I mean, really, really... Sorry. What was I saying?"
"That I didn't survive..."
"Oh. Yes—That is, No. No, you didn't survive. You aren't going back—not to the same body."
"Are we talking reincarnation?"
"Yep. I told you—Plato had it right."
"So who am I going back as?"
"That's the point of this walk, really. Just to bring you up to speed. Not that you'll remember any of it. We don't know, actually, if it makes any difference at all, for sure. But we're optimists, you see. Like to do what we can, just in case."
"The point is, my job, as "docent", is to sort of fill you in on your past—let you know why you're going to be, well, what you're going to be."
"All in good time. History first. You started out as an amoeba, a sort of one-celled..."
"I know what an amoeba is."
"Oh. Good. Well, you did very well at that. Most do. It's not all that tricky really. The ethical problems presented to an amoeba are, well, minimal for the most..."
"I understand. Is there some way we could skip ahead?"
"Yes, well..." Bones surveyed the distance between them and the edge. "I take your point. You would like to get to the interesting parts before..."
"Okay, then. Amoeba, several kinds of bacteria, an extinct form of sponge, a side trip in the starfish family—you didn't do so well there—back to sponge, several times, actually. Then a good spell, from fish to rodent to monkey to cow to..."
"From monkey to cow?"
"To cat, to squirrel, to chimpanzee, to human. You spent the first hundred human lives mucking about, sorry to say, not making much progress. A bit of a slacker."
"Well! Then you caught fire. Sacrificed your life for your tribe, and then, next time around, ruled as a great and benevolent king. Did a turn as a philosopher after that, then as a social worker. That was the one before last."
"So my last time..."
"You had a lot of wealth and power at your disposal, and the karma to use it well."
"But I didn't."
"No. That's the prob..."
"I got sidetracked trying to get more, when I already had plenty."
"Ooooh, that wasn't the problem. A little side-track never hurt anyone. I quite enjoy one myself from time to time. Noooo. The problem was you lost track of yourself, as well. Didn't make a good impression if you know what I mean. In the Platonic sense. So you didn't treat others well at all."
"Tell me about it. I was such a jerk."
"Well, there's always another chance, until you get it right. Of course you have to go back as a less superior life form."
They were standing on the edge. Jeremy didn't know what he had expected to see, but there was nothing but sky, above and below.
"So?" he said.
Bones raised an eyebrow.
"What do I go back as this time?"
There was a tone of sympathy in Bones' reply.
"It's pretty bad. I mean the starfish episode was dismal, but this..."
"Just tell me, and get it over with."
"This time, you go back as..."
Bones put a firm hand in the middle of Jeremy's back.
"...as a woman."