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The Arrivals

Hampton raised his head to look at the orderly lines of people serving themselves at the breakfast buffet in the rear of the hall, at the chatting groups seated at the round tables to the side. He frowned. "Nobody here seems in need of treatment for exposure of shock," he said. "Matter of fact, no one seems to need much more than breakfast and dry clothes."

Kate looked at him with interest. "What's your take on that?"

Hampton gave an uneasy shrug. "What do you mean?"

"You're fighting it. Look, do you remember those last minutes before you lost consciousness?"

The muscle in Fred's cheek twitched. "The cushion wasn't enough to keep both of us afloat," he said at last. "And the piece of metal I was holding onto had lost its buoyancy. I couldn't use my legs, couldn't swim." Hampton cleared his throat, closed his eyes. "I remember--warmth, light. I was aware of shining people about me, kindness." He opened his eyes. "I guess the helicopter must have picked me up then, just as I went under."

Kate shook her head, the trace of a smile on her lips. "You're a clergyman, right, Mr. Hampton?"

"Fred, please," he said. "Yes, I am."

"How many times have you conducted funeral services and spoken of the person being 'in a better place'?"

"Of course I've used that expression."

"And just what did you visualize about that 'better place'?"

"I didn't visualize anything, really. After all, none of us knows what lies beyond. How can we?"...

"Come on, Fred, hasn't it crossed your mind that you, along with all these people here this morning, may have left the natural world?"

"My dear woman, you're not trying to suggest...?" Hampton looked at her, concerned. "You really do believe what you were about to imply, don't you?"

Kate nodded.

"You're saying we're dead?"

"Obviously not."

"Obviously not," Fred repeated, relieved. Then suspicion crept into his eyes. "You're playing with words, aren't you?"

"The words 'dead' and 'death' mean something very different to us than they do to you," she said.

"Hampton took a handkerchief from his breast pocket and wiped his forehead. "And that would be?"

Kate touched his arm. "I can see you aren't ready to hear this. Later, maybe. Relax, Fred. Take things one at a time. Why don't you get some breakfast?"