The first thing that hit Bergamo when he walked through the door of the Mission was how time had changed. In Ash Fork he hadn't noticed he was on computer time because there was nothing to compare it to, but now there was. There was a sky full of rolling, gray bellied clouds and an afternoon shower was tapering off toward the East. There was the dark, musty perfume of damp Janet. There were holes in the clouds and no matter where they broke, one of her seven suns would be trying to get a look at her in wet clothes. "They always see me through the atmosphere," she said.

"What do you mean by that?" Bergamo asked. He was adjusting his senses to organic life again. The entire field of Ash Fork was here, but integrated into the smell and feel of water and earth. There was even a river flowing along the east side of town where there was once a Poppy Trail. He considered what she had told him about his being inside an information collector, and that everything he was dealing with was information.

"I mean you can't separate a planet from her atmosphere," she said. "The suns live in Space the same as you've been living in Space. There isn't an atmosphere around you that retains water."

Bergamo shifted uncomfortably and fought the urge to play with the words.

Janet looked at him with exaggerated disgust. "You've been on the road too long."

They stepped out into the planetary atmosphere of a confusion of smells. There was the scent of animals, connected to memories programmed inside him, down in hidden layers, waiting to be activated by the smell of hay and manure on the fields. There was the smell of bread baking coming from one building, and from another there was the smell of meat cooking on a big half-barrel grill, hitched to the back of an old Ford pickup truck. "This is just like earth, isn't it?" Bergamo asked, wanting to escape her watching his thoughts because they were of how pleasurable it was to be inside her atmosphere.

"A reproduction," she said. "It's very popular, early twentieth century."

"I'm seeing a lot of it myself," he said. "I first came to Ash Fork on a train, but it didn't make any noise on the outside. It was all on the inside, where it did sound and feel very much like a train."

"Imagine that."

"I thought I was."

"I remember your saying that."

"What else was I to think? 'It's your dream,' the psychologists always told me, and I had become accustomed to the idea that when I was going inside, it was, well, you know ..."


"Yes, personal and private. So I thought what was happening to me was just a more realistic dream, and that I'd made a breakthrough into another reality."

"So you did."

"But you tell me that it's a giant computer, and I'm just information moving through processors."

"No, I didn't use the word, 'just.' Aren't you ever happy to just be self-aware, whatever form it takes?"

He nodded, wondering if he could have any effect on his own reality. He knew he could walk into the bakery and have a coffee and roll, and taste them, and enjoy them, and at the same time he knew it was the smell and the taste he was digesting, not the substance. She was standing still, watching him look out over his town from the door of the Mission.

"You could take on substance, if you wanted to," she said.

"Maybe for a little while," he said, and he was flooded with a feeling of warmth. She darted a quick smile at him and laughed. This time she was just happy. Across the street he saw Memphis sitting on a bench outside the bakery with a tall blonde-haired woman. She was wearing riding breeches and boots and casually flicked a fly away from his donut with her riding crop, which made him look at her adoringly. Chief Jolly came out of a tailor shop in a new suit and with a woman on his arm. At first she looked fat, but on second inspection she was large framed, without any excess on her stomach and hips.

"Luther's having lunch with a redhead," Janet said. "That leaves you and Cisco."

"Cisco's not going to be with anybody. He's got Mary."

There was laughter and commotion as a 1955 Ford sedan pulled to the curb beside the diner, where Luther and a freckled woman with fiery hair were leaning close to each other. Cisco was driving, and Mary was in the back seat with another woman. They were chatting incessantly as they got out of the car, ignoring Cisco, who held the door for them, except for an aside from Mary of, "Thank you Cisco."

"Of course my love," he said. They moved their attention back to each other and he followed at a short distance, his hands in his pockets, singing off key, with a hesitating, poignant, sincerity,

"Burned down the house with the coal oil lamp,
never do gather the eggs.
Wrote you a letter but it has no stamp,
it's a letter that has to beg to be delivered,
hope it finds you blue for me,
the way I am blue for you."

"That leaves you," Janet said.

"You changed as soon as we came into your atmosphere," Bergamo said. And she had changed. In Space she was stripped of everything except form, while here she was alive with the rhythms of living. He could feel desire baking along inside of her like bread in the oven. She was a planet consciousness, and changed as she pleased to best accommodate the circumstance, and when she was inside her atmosphere, she was highly sexual and at the same time untamable.

"It's my nature," she said. "Take it or leave it. Most men do both."

"I guess I can always leave it later on."

"You can, but you might not want to."

"And then I could take it again and leave it again."

"We could go cycling together. But right now let's check out the diner.

Posted: Sat - September 8, 2007 at 10:53 PM